Love and fire collide as the fate of the sleepers is to relive their past in their future. Hino Rei, the child of fire walked along her path alone until that afternoon when Ranma crashed into her. Now she holds her hand out to the boy to join her path with his, but will he take it?

My Love's Flame
A Ranma 1/2 and Sailor Moon Crossover
by Ryan Erik

Chapter Fifteen

The bright summer sun warmed Rei's body as she watched Ukyo depart out of the front gates of the school on her bike. The miko stared at the empty gates for a moment before sitting at the base of the SAAS entrance stairway on the third step, resting her legs against the bottom two. Her long hair pooled in her lap as she looked down at her hands. Her fingers were still red from firing bows for over an hour.

What a day, she thought to herself, still reeling from Ukyo's revelation. I can't believe I never figured it out. After spending so much time practicing and hanging out with Ukyo since they joined the kyūdō club, she had never guessed that Ukyo wasn't a boy.

In the end, Rei only learned of it because of Ranma. She frowned. Everything comes back to him. Would Ukyo have ever told me if he hadn't come along?

Even after months upon months of pushing for Ukyo to open up, the little she'd got was that her father was a verbally abusive drunk, who couldn't keep steady work, forcing Ukyo to chip in to help pay rent. Had I been her, would I have done so well in my life?

Rei went over the girl's achievements in her head. Ukyo had infiltrated an all-boys school leaving none the wiser, become the undisputed champion of downtrodden boys by standing up to the school's numerous bullies, and had stolen numerous hearts over at the all-girls schoolsimply by being herself. It took someone extraordinary to do even one of those things, let alone all of them.

And if she gets found out, she would be expelled, Rei realized, putting her hands up to her face. Ukyo's only solace in life was the school and her friends. Rei couldn't imagine what the girl would do if she was expelled.

Rei inhaled deeply, and then sighed out loud, though it didn't seem to help with the load of stress that had just been dumped on her.

"Something wrong, Rei-chan?" someone asked from behind the girl, startling her.

Rei stood and turned to see her cousin, Hino Inori coming down the stairs from the school entrance. Shaking her head at the woman, the miko smiled as brightly as she could.

"Were you waiting for me?" Iori asked, her return smile a lovely sight.

"No, but I'm glad I ran into you by accident," Rei told her as the woman walked down the remaining steps to her.

Rei bowed to the young woman, who ignored that and embraced her younger cousin.

"You rarely visit me anymore!" the secretary exclaimed, rubbing Rei's back. "I miss you."

With a greeting like that, you wonder why? Rei thought, unable to put herself through being bear-hugged by her cousin in front of a dozen SAAS students. There'd inevitably be a photography club member nearby that'd sell the pictures the next day.

"It's good to see you, too," Rei responded, hugging the woman back. "I've had a long day."

Iori released the girl, and then slipped her arm around the girl's back. "Then let your elder cousin treat you to ice cream while you tell me all about it. It's about Saotome Ranma-kun, isn't it? That boy really is kind of a heartthrob."

Blushing at the thought of her cousin calling a student a heartthrob, Rei just shook her head. "No, not really. I mean, he's a part of it. I've known him for less than a week, and he's kind of inserted himself in every part of my life."

"You make it sound so ecchi," Iori said, waving her hand.

"That's gross," Rei complained, lightly jabbing her cousin with her elbow.

"Well, I'm glad you think so," the woman replied, giggling until they reached the gate. She then looked down at her little cousin and squeezed her shoulder. "So, ice cream and girl time before you go home?"

Nodding, she accepted the invitation. "It'll be nice to do something before having to set up for Tanabata."

"Oh, that's right, it's almost that time already!" the woman said aloud, taking long steps that Rei could barely keep up with. "I haven't even been to the shopping district this week, so I haven't seen any of the decorations."

"I haven't gone to look since last Saturday when I went shopping," Rei said. That's when I bumped into Ranma.

"Yeah, they don't usually start until the week of Tanabata," Iori said. "I'll come by the temple on Saturday as usual. I bought a really cute new yukata for the occasion."

The Hino cousins chatted about old memories for a while as they walked to the nearest sweets shop, which served ice cream until evening. Iori had an incredible memory for details, so when she reminisced, the details had a tendency to be pretty intricate.

"You cried over that spilt ice cream cone nonstop," she told Rei. "You were totally inconsolable. There was a smudge of rocky road on your nose, and tears and snot running down your face, and I didn't have enough money for another cone. I offered you my vanilla one, but you didn't want it."

Iori stopped chuckling over the memory, drying her eyes. "So I pretended to drop the full scoop of ice cream off my cone and directly onto my shoe. I made a big fuss about it, and you started laughing."

"I don't remember that at all," Rei admitted as they walked into the sweets shop. They found a booth and sat across from each other. I'm just glad we're not talking about Ranma.

"I'm not surprised," the woman said, her smile radiant. "You were what, six-years-old? I was your age then, and thought I was doing a terrible job as a babysitter."

"You were my favorite," Rei said quickly, planting her hand firmly on the table. "You shouldn't think that at all. I would get so excited to see you. I thought you were the coolest person in the world."

"Still am the coolest," she said with a laugh. She then took a menu from the rack on the wall. "Okay, get whatever you want. I have a seven-year-old debt that needs repaying."

"Come on, you've bought me sweets lots of times since then," Rei shot back, relaxing into her seat. She didn't need to pull out a menu.

"It doesn't count unless it's declared beforehand."

Why do I ever take her seriously? Rei thought, exasperated. "We're family. There's no need to balance any scales with me. I'll love you no matter what."

"Ahhh," Iori said after a moment, blinking to clear her eyes. "Got me all misty-eyed there. Thank you, sweetheart. I love you, too. But kissing up to me isn't going to make me forget why we're here."

"Huh?" Rei said, feigning ignorance.

A waitress walked up to take their orders, sparing Rei the boys talk another minute.

"So, I'll have a banana split, and my sweet cousin here will have a hot fudge sundae."

She remembered? I don't even remember the last time we came... Then she did remember. Rei hadn't been here since after the funeral, when Iori had tried anything to get the girl's mind off losing her mother. She had been staying with her aunt's family since her mother had passed, and did so until her father had found another place for her to stay that wasn't near his.

The waitress left, and then Iori stared at her intensely. "So spill it."

"What?" Rei asked, resting her chin in her hands. "My ice cream?"

"Funny. No, you're living with a cute boy, and you have to ask what I want to know about?" Iori shook her head. "I thought you could read the future."

Rei shook her head. "I just read people, not the future."

"Sure," she said, grinning. "But I'm still not hearing any spilling."

"So we live together," Rei acknowledged, looking out the window. The sun was starting to set, reminding her of her first sunset with Ranma. "He's nice, but he's conceited, and doesn't really care what other people think of him. He's really good at stress-testing the boundaries of my patience."

"Oh ho," the woman said with a wide smile that seemed to look a bit predatory. "What about accidents? Did you walk in on him in the shower yet? Maybe catch him dressing?"

Unsure how to answer the question, Rei imagined Ranma as he was in the morning, without his shirt on and his jacket on top. Every time she closed her eyes she'd see it clearly in her mind. Then she also remembered the time she had walked in on him in the bathroom after he had recovered from her bokken attack and had been wearing just a towel.

"Oh, that's a yes," Iori said, her voice excited.

"No!" Rei exclaimed a bit loud for her liking, and felt even more embarrassed. "Okay, maybe a few times, but it's not like that. He just has an aversion to shirts, and he doesn't have much modesty."

Iori's eyes opened wide. "I'm jealous. Why didn't I get a live in boyfriend when I was a JC? That's so unfair."

The waitress came back with their desserts, and Iori squealed while rapidly clapping her hands together in delight.

"You're such a kid," Rei said as she dipped her spoon into the hot fudge sundae, mixing its contents until it was one color.

"And you're such an old granny," Iori replied after recovering from a series of large bites.

"Don't repeat this to anyone," Rei said as she stared down at her sundae. Her face felt warm as she looked up at her cousin, who was staring at her with all of her attention. "But he's really sweet, and I think I might be starting to fall for him."

"I knew it!" Iori exclaimed, clapping her hands together. Rei looked around trying to sink lower into her seat as her cousin continued. "I could tell, even two days ago. You should confess to him, let him know you care so no one else worms their way into his heart before you claim him."

"You realize I'm thirteen, right?" Rei asked, not so sure that Iori wasn't living vicariously through her.

"A hundred years ago, you'd be betrothed or married by thirteen," the woman replied evenly. "So, don't let your age get in the way of your heart. Go for what you want if it's in your reach."

They talked for several hours at the ice cream parlor until they started to get hungry again. Iori excused herself after that, and then Rei left as well. The walk home felt longer than usual without the constant presence of the boy who had not left her side until today. As she passed the elementary school, she habitually looked up to the top of the wall, as if she had expected Ranma to just be there.

How can someone so new to my life change me this much? she asked herself, as her heart picked up, causing her to stop at the base of the stairs to the Hikawa Shrine to catch her breath. Anxiety stirred her grumbling stomach as she looked past the sign to the gates of her temple. Great, now I get nervous coming home.

After Ukyo's confession earlier that evening at the end of her club practice and talking with her cousin for hours, Rei had begun walking home on a high note. Now that she had been alone for the last half-hour walking home from class, she was doing a fine job over-thinking the whole situation. One piece of information stuck out as she took her first step up the temple stairs.

Ranma already knew about Ukyo being a girl.She realized for the first time what that could mean, even though Ukyo had told her hours ago. He didn't realize that Ukyo's father and his arranged their marriage, even if it was a scam. That means...

"They're still technically engaged," Rei said aloud, and even then it didn't sound real. She bit her lip as she walked under the shrine's sign. I wish I had that kind of right to him.

A gust of wind from the south blew across her out of the blue, causing her clothing and hair to get pushed up. The freak wind died down almost immediately. She disregarded that thought as she approached the unusually dark temple.

Am I petty, being jealous of my best friend? she thought to herself, taking in another deep breath. Who am I to be jealous of Ranma, anyway? He hasn't even shown the slightest bit of interest in me outside of being buddies. Though, he treats Ukyo the same way, so...

Interrupting her own thoughts, Rei slapped herself. "Get out of your head, baka."

Moonlight drifted through the clouds above, but there were next to no stars out, casting a long darkness over the exterior of the temple. The lamp posts at the base of the stairs were the closest light, and their reach ended just before the gates of the temple, which Rei approached cautiously. Except for the sliver of moonlight filtering in through the clouds, the entire temple was pitch black.

"Grandfather? Ranma-kun? Why are the lights off?" she called out, her voice echoing through the courtyard.

Her eyes fought to see anything as she took a hesitant step in. Even having lived in the temple for years, she still wasn't able to comfortably enter it blind. Great, just what I need, to trip on all of the random decorations and things lying around.

She entered into the temple, keeping to the stone walkway that she hoped would be clear of debris. As she hesitantly took a few more steps in, small white string lights illuminated the ground around the stone steps down the center of the temple grounds that led to the shrine. In the faint light, she could see that her way was clear, despite it having been a mess in the morning.

Did Ranma finish all of the preparations tonight? she wondered as she followed the pathway.

"Did the power go out, Grandfather?" she asked out loud, still not able to see much past the path and the dim sides of the booths that Ranma must have finished putting together while she was wasting time with her cousin.

Okay, now they're just messing with me, Rei guessed as she neared the temple. Just as she did, lights behind her caught her attention: the paper lanterns strung over the vendor stalls that were all distributed evenly down the whole path, in addition to dozens of their Tanabata decorations hanging from each of the stalls like UFOs with confetti attached to the bottom.

When did they have time to finish all of this? Rei soaked in the sight from her position standing just before the entrance to the temple. In addition to completing the hanging of the lanterns from this morning, the boy had also constructed the booths in record time, decorating them with a mixture of streamers; some from their shed had been used many times over the years, though a few of the prettier pieces looked new. One in particular caught her eye, a silver-and-gold metallic paper bell hanging from the nearest, a myriad of streamers dangling from its base like charms.

She also realized he had strung more holiday lights through the booths and the decorations, causing some of the decorations to appear to glow. The attention to detail really stood out to the girl as she wandered over to see a pink paper heart with silver streamers hanging from it, which had been hung under the nearest paper lantern. On it read, "I love you, Mom! Hino Rei 1987" in silver sparkles.

Touching it with the tip of her finger, she pushed it gently, causing it to swing back and forth on its string. She sucked in a breath, fighting a sob at the memory that flashed in through her head, of sitting on her mother's lap in a child-sized yukata when she had delivered the present to her. A tear slid down her cheek as she took another breath to calm herself.

"Where on earth did he find it?" she asked aloud, the sound of her voice tickling her ears against the silence of the evening. She unhooked the heart from its string, and pressed it against her chest.

"Now where do I go?" she asked of the darkness again as she turned around and walked back to the temple.

As if in response, another set of string lights lit the path around the temple through the garden. She bit her lip as she followed the path with her eyes, the light still too dim to see where she was going. Her feet met gravel as she stepped off the stone pathway to follow the string lights around the temple. She took small cautious steps, her eyes straining to see through the darkness having just been ruined by the lanterns in the courtyard.

I can't believe they went to this much trouble for me, she thought as she contemplated what must have got into the old man and the boy who had left school that afternoon in hunt of an arcade. Rei realized that her heart rate increased as she approached the edge of the temple, her mind anticipating the next reveal as her eyes struggled to see in the darkness.

Smiling widely as she turned the corner around the temple, the miko saw that the lights extended halfway down the temple, to where bamboo trees and flower bushes surrounded it. The white string lights were shaped in a circle at the end point, where she assumed she was meant to stand. She followed and dutifully stopped in the center with her breath held. Her peripheral vision caught the glow of additional lights behind her, so she turned and was stunned at the amount of lights that had been strung through the garden.

"Wow," she whispered as she took in the scene. A string of blue lights had been hung between the bench and the light post behind it, all the way up to the bottom branches of the trees above. Green and white lights had been strung through the flower garden, hooked between the temple and the bushes in a zigzag line. She could see clearly now due to the sheer volume of string lights surrounding her, even without the lamp above the bench being turned on.

"Surprised?" an enthusiastic voice asked as a hand touched her shoulder.

Rei started with a gasp. Her heart skipped a beat as she turned to face the boy who had surprised her. However, instead of fully turning, she planted her foot badly and tripped. Ranma caught her with an outstretched hand, grabbing under her armpit. Rather than face-plant, she instead rose back up with his help. He pulled her directly into his chest where he gently grabbed her right shoulder with his other hand to stabilize her.

Oh my God, she thought as she looked up, pressing against his chest in a warm embrace. She felt his breath as he quietly laughed, still holding her close enough to him that as she lifted her head to look into his eyes.

"You okay?" he asked as he released her arm with his right hand. His left lingered another moment as she stared at him, sliding down her short sleeve to the skin of her arm.

"Uh huh," she said, her mind still dumbfounded. She looked away, taking a tiny step back for the sake of her nerves. "What is going on?"

"Told you I'd get you back," he said, pointing to the ground where the circle was. "That's where you got the jump on me that first night. So we're even now."

As her surprise faded, Rei looked at the spot he was pointing at and remembered: that was where she had broken her bokken on his hard skull. She looked between Ranma and the beautiful decorating and couldn't decide what to focus on until he took a step forward to stand right in front of her again.

I can't even breathe with him so close.

"You got me," she admitted, breathing out a giggle as she nervously played with the ends of her long black hair. This is a lot more pleasant than getting surprise attacked; though, if he did the attacking...

"I did," he said, his smile illuminated by the green lights in the garden. She looked at his lips shining in the light, and remembered the first day when he had taken a sip from her water glass. Indirect kiss had been her thought, yet he had shrugged it off as though it were nothing.

Do you want to be near me, or do you just have no personal boundaries? she asked him in her mind, looking down. She reminisced about that day, her face flushing at the thought of all the amazing things that they shared, despite their short friendship. If he moved to kiss me right now, I don't think I'd mind.

"So whose idea was this?" she asked, trying to get the image of his lips out of her head.

"Well, I approached gramps with my plan to surprise you, and he came up with the idea to plug in the lights section by section, leading you around. I did all the set up." Ranma said as he placed his hands behind his back.

They're thick as thieves, she smiling at the boy for his ingenuity. "It's really pretty."

"Thanks," Ranma said, putting a hand behind his head. "So you like it, then?"

"Yes, very much," she told him. She felt warm inside as he grinned at her. It sort of started in her cheeks and went down into her chest. She couldn't help but smile back at the boy as his mood lifted hers.

"Good, it's kind of a combination of payback and also a thank you." He then surprised her again, taking another step forward, as if he wanted to stand right against her. Instead, he walked around her, picked up something from the ground, and then turned back to face her. "You dropped this." He held the paper heart out to her.

"Oh!" she exclaimed, taking it carefully from him. She tried to see if it had been damaged when she had dropped it, but couldn't tell. Walking over to the bench where the largest concentration of lights were situated, she moved to find a position where she could examine it. The row of lights hung low directly over the bench, so she sat down and placed it directly under them.

Looking at the pink heart in the blue light, she realized it was only dirty and wasn't torn or scratched. As she brushed dirt off the delicate decoration, she saw Ranma sit beside her on the bench. She looked up at him as he scooted over to her, only a few inches away. He leaned over to look at the heart.

"Looks okay," he said, angling his head up to smile at her.

Oh my God, she thought realizing that he was so close, she could feel the heat from his cheeks on her arm. Her mouth opened slightly as she tried to smile at him. He leaned back a moment later.

"Where'd you find it, anyway?" she asked, pressing it against her chest again, as she tried to calm her nerves. She sucked in a deep breath quietly, looking up at him as all of her feeling made it hard to think.

He scratched his head as he looked at her. "I dropped some nails when I was collecting tools to construct the booths. Some of them fell under the shelf unit in there. When I was sweeping them out, that came along with it, so I wiped it off and used it with the rest."

The girl nodded, setting it to the right of her on the gap between her legs and the bench railing. "Thanks, I didn't think I'd ever see it again."

"No prob. It important?" He fidgeted on the bench, unsure of what to do with his hands as he placed them on either side of himself.

"Yeah," she said, intending to explain about her mother, but unable to even speak. Her ears began to ring as she looked down at Ranma's hand.

"Well, I'm glad I found it then," he said warmly, completely oblivious to what she was feeling at that moment.

He's just going to be indifferent and walk off if I don't do anything, she realized. Every time they had gotten close, he'd pulled away, or didn't even seem fazed by it. Either he doesn't see me that way, or he's just super dense.

Fighting the butterflies in her stomach, she charged ahead with the crazy plan that Iori had instigated, and placed her left hand on Ranma's right. It felt terribly satisfying as she saw the expression change on his face, as he clenched his jaw in surprise. At first he looked confused, his eyes wandering down to where she had touched him.

"Thank you, Ranma-kun," she said, gently lifting his hand with hers so that she could slide her fingers underneath his palm. Please don't run away. She begged him in her own head.

"Uh, you're welcome?" he said, half asking, his awareness of the situation beginning to increase. She saw his jaw unclench, and took an uneven breath in.

Despite the sudden look of caution in his eyes, he didn't run away as she feared he might. As he looked forward, away from her, she felt him ever so slightly squeeze her hand in his.

Success! her brain screamed as she released a breath of air she hadn't even realized she had been holding.

A sudden ruffling in the trees caught both of their attentions, followed by the squawk of a crow, immediately followed by an answer from the other.

Phobos and Deimos are cheering me on, she mused, smiling at the night sky and her good fortune. I've never held a boy's hand before.

Unfortunately, after that she had no idea what to say or do. I need to find a first love user manual somewhere.

"There's leaves in your hair," Ranma whispered, pulling her mind back to him.

She looked at him staring at her in the blue light as she reached up, brushing off her head.

"Did I get it?"

He shook his head and scooted the remaining distance, lifting her hand onto his lap as his right thigh brushed against her left. She could do nothing but stare at him in awe as he leaned in.

OH MY, GOD! IT'S HAPPENING! She closed her eyes, unsure what to do when receiving a kiss. When she felt his hands in combing through her hair, she opened her eyes and arched her eyebrows in frustration. She looked directly into his eyes, only inches away as he reached around her head, pushing leaves out of her hair. With only inches between them, he still didn't seem to understand that she was making a move on him.

If he won't initiate, then I will.

Tilting her head, she moved to the right and leaned in the remaining distance, tucking her right arm around his waist and pulling him into a kiss. Every fiber of her body zinged with energy as she felt his lips against hers. They tasted soft and salty as she realized she had pressed her tongue against his top lip.

She felt his body stiffen up as she pulled him back to her, tightening her grip on the small of his back. Although she wanted to pull him closer into an embrace, she couldn't due to their positions sitting side by side. Instead, she had pulled him over her, as the hand he had used to comb her hair for vegetation had shifted over to the bench beside her right leg for support.

His lips did not reciprocate her movement, and doubt began to worm its way into her mind. Did I jump the gun? Is he not stopping just because he doesn't want to hurt my feelings?

She leaned her head back, breaking the kiss to look at his face. He looked absolutely stunned, his eyes wide as he stared back at her.

"I'm sorry," she began to apologize when his eyes focused on her, and she felt him really look at her in the way she had wanted. Something in his eyes had changed entirely as he stared back.

Before either of them could do any more, the lamp post above them buzzed and clicked on, showering them in light brighter than Rei's eyes were used to, causing her to cover them with her hand. When she recovered and looked up, the boy was on the other side of the bench, his face as red as a lobster.

"Gramps made dinner," he said next, turning to look at the dormitory through the trees. "I'll see you there." He moved like lightning, his feet seemingly barely touching the ground as he bounded away.

"Ranma-kun," she whispered, placing a hand against her lips. At least he didn't run away until after.

They had a very embarrassing and quiet dinner where her grandfather did all of the talking about their plans for the Tanabata festival. Every time she had looked at Ranma, he had done everything in his power to look away or find her grandfather's stories interesting and had provided a quick comment that would catapult the discussion in another longwinded direction. Directly after dinner, he had excused himself to his bedroom, where she had heard his door shut.

He is so frustrating! she thought as she roughly handled the dishes that evening. Leaving me to dishes alone right after we kiss.

Well, he didn't exactly kiss you back, another part of her mind answered, playing devil's advocate.

Washing dishes morosely, Rei's head was an understandable mess, conflicted between the joy of having her first kiss with a boy she liked, while conversely feeling miserable for not exactly getting the best response.

Leave it to that jerk to ruin the mood. But he did make the whole courtyard completely awesome. She sighed, scrubbing the last of the plates with hot water and placing them on the dish rack to dry.

After brushing her teeth, she wandered into her room sullenly, taking a moment to stare at Ranma's closed door.

"Baka," she said quietly, and then walked into her room and slammed the door loud enough for Ranma to hear. She found her pink pajamas in her dresser and dressed in them slowly, her mind still an hour in the past where the memory of his lips against hers made her cheeks warm. Except in her head, she pictured him pulling her into his lap where they could kiss uninterrupted forever.

Once dressed, she pulled the covers to her bed open, and then sat down. She had only slid one leg in, when she stopped.

The knock at her door surprised her.

What the heck? Didn't grandfather retire to his room right after Ranma?

She hopped out of bed and walked barefoot to the door. She slid it open and could only stare. Ranma stood on the other side with his hands behind his back and his head bowed.

"Ranma?" she said, concerned by his sudden appearance. "What is—?"

Before she could finish her sentence, he took a step forward and placed one hand on her left shoulder and the other reached out for her. She froze in shock as he gently brushed her cheek with his hand, and then reached around and placed his hand against the nape of her neck.

"Wha—?" she half verbalized as her mouth opened in confusion.

While their first kiss had been a clumsy attempt by her to make him truly see her as a woman and not just a friend, their second one erased any doubt as he tilted his head and kissed her fully on the lips. She reached both of her hands around his waist in response, pressing her body to his as she tasted his lips again.

Rei could not have told anyone if seconds, minutes or full hours had passed while they kissed as her perception of time stopped in that moment. For once, nothing else mattered. She had everything she wanted in her arms. And when the kiss ended, he didn't run away, but reached around her and embraced her as she held him.

"Don't be sorry," he whispered in her ear. "I think I finally know what it feels like to be home."

End Part One: Home

The first part of our story comes to an end after the two children move towards the realization of their true feelings for one another, each in their own way and time. The path so far has been smooth, but now that they stand together, the forces of the past and present will rise up to test their love.

Thank you for reading this far, and thank you for your patience waiting for the last chapter. Writing two stories at once, while also entering the second most busy time of the year for my profession has been a challenge. Preparing for E3 sucked away all of my time last week, so I barely managed to write this. I likely won't have a chapter of MLF for another two weeks after this as well, though I'll try my best to write from my hotel room.

Again, thank you for reading and I'm glad I managed to finish the first part of the story at a relatively good pace. I almost got one chapter a week done since I started writing it in February. I'm usually really bad, writing less in longer time periods, but your feedback has really motivated me to keep going.