Author's Forward: Prep for and running a booth at E3 is a lot of work. Unfortunately, I had to also keep my project running smoothly with a major release occurring next month. Hence, the delay in release. Sorry! I did finish the chapter a week ago, but I couldn't get it out in time as I couldn't respond to all of my beta readers' really good commentary quick enough to release it on schedule. Sadly, I found some more changes myself as well. Now that E3 is almost over, I should have some more writing time again. Whether that means I use it or not is the real question.

Thanks for reading! On with the story.

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

Chapter Twenty

As if she couldn't breathe, the young idol could only watch helplessly as the martial artist slid down to his knees. The moment the ball struck the boy directly in the small of his back, she had felt the air explode from her lungs as if the ball had struck her instead. Her heart skipped a beat as she moved forward without thinking, but a hand on her shoulder pulled her back the same moment, causing her step to stutter.

"You can't!" the middle-aged convenience store owner exclaimed, pulling the much smaller girl back.

Surprised by the suddenness of the woman's interjection, Minako stumbled, backpedaling. She had to take two steps to regain her balance, but even as she found it, her eyes never left Ranma's face. Their eyes met, determination in hers matching the confidence in his.

"Lock the door!" he commanded without a shred of fear or doubt.

Don't worry, I got this, was what she read in his eyes as two of the Dark Shadow gang members rushed forward to grab Ranma as he tried to recover.

The store owner slammed the door shut and immediately slapped the bolt in place, securing them in the room. The girl could only watch stare blankly at the spot where he had been. Shock quickly became anger as she gritted her teeth.

Damn cat! The words seethed in her mind as she began to shake. The sound of beating echoed in her ears as she clenched her fist so tightly that her nails dug into the palm of her hand.

What the hell kind of superhero watches thugs like that beat up the boy of her dreams?

Her heart stopped in that second, for the barest of moments, but the pause shocked her into inhaling heavily, having just remembered to breathe for the first time since the boy had been struck. Sweat leaked down her brow into her eyes as she fought against the inability to help.

Artemis has locked her ability to transform that morning, and nothing short of his or her life being in danger would allow her to change.

She coughed, putting her hand to her mouth as she did so, startling the woman in front of her.

"Are you alright, dear?" the woman said, her presence all but non-existent to the girl at this moment. "Did they hurt you?"

Minako heard the words, but they didn't form meaning in her minds as she inhaled pathetic, ragged gulps of air into her starved lungs.

"Oh, you're bleeding," the woman said, taking the girl's hands in hers.

Looking up, Minako regained a bit of reason as she stared at the gashes in her hands that she had cut with her nails. She then looked up at the woman and opened her mouth to say something, but all that came out was a gasp.

Goosebumps covered her exposed skin as she turned back to the spot where Ranma had fallen. The trembling faded into a blast of endorphins as the telltale rush of sensation that precipitated her transformation into a guardian of justice. Her jaw dropped in astonishment and she realized that her purse had fallen in the store.

My compact isn't even nearby, she thought as she looked down at her hands. The seal is gone. Her mind raced at the thought, even as her perception of time slowed. She recalled a conversation she'd had with her guardian, Artemis.

"The light that binds you to Queen Serenity's court is your birthright," Artemis had told her after she had regained the first fragmented memories of her past life as the crowned princess of Venus. "It is sealed to your soul, so even if you were to lose the compact, you'd only be temporarily unable to turn into Sailor V."

Minako had regarded the cat playfully, batting her eyelashes at him. "So, I could technically change without it?"

"Well," he had begun to say, looking away from her, a sudden rise in the pitch of his voice. "I can't say for certain, but it's theoretically possible."

"Like, could I turn with just the catch phrase?" she had asked moments after.

"No, definitely not," Artemis said much more confidently, shaking his head as he did so.

"But you said I could change without my compact," she had said, crossing her arms over her chest.

"I meant you could change without an object," the cat told her. "I didn't say you could change just saying a pre-determined phrase."

"So, what's that mean?" she'd continued the inquiry, her eyes wide in anticipation. "If I don't need an object, what do I need instead?"

"A focus," Artemis had told her cryptically, beginning to lick his paws intently.

"Isn't that the same thing?" She had raised an eyebrow at him and put her face in front of his so he couldn't look away.

"Not necessarily," he had whispered, turning away.

"So tell me what that is, it could be important."

But she hadn't gotten anything else out of him that day. He had proven to be elusive when it came to knowledge about her powers. Whether the cat knew and held it back, or didn't know and didn't want to let her know his limits, Minako could only guess.

The rush of power had already begun seeping into her when she realized what was happening. Despite the cat's lock on her ability to change, her punishment for unauthorized vigilantism the night before, her power was beginning to manifest itself in the backroom of the convenience store.

The popstar tried to catch her breath as she took a couple of steps back, breaking the shop owner's grip on her hands. The hair on the back of her neck rose as she looked around wildly.

"Mina-chan?" Ishinomori-san asked in an alarmed voice. "What's wrong?"

All she could focus on was the sound of her heart beating quicker and louder.

Oh my God, I'm turning into Sailor V right in front of someone.

She turned and lurched for the back door.

"Mina-chan, what are you doing?" the woman asked as the girl unbolted the door to the alley at the rear of the store that they had come through not ten minutes ago.

"I heard something outside," she frantically told the woman, doing everything she could to keep her power inside for another moment. Her limbs felt the sensation of pins and needles as cold power flooded her.

"No, child! Those gangsters could be out back!"

Minako ignored the woman's pleas, prying the door open and stepping out. She shut it behind her and slammed her back into the door to prevent the woman from following her. Not even a second passed before the physical part of the change begun.

"MOON TRANSFORMATION, POWER!" her voice reverberated in the alley behind the convenience store.

Every cell in her body buzzed with energy as the power of her past life consumed her. Her feet lifted off the ground as silver energy poured into her. Light surrounded her from all angles as she temporarily vanished from the world. Anyone watching wouldn't have noticed a thing. One minute they would have been staring at a girl with her back to a door, and then next they'd have been staring at Sailor V.

The luminescence of her home planet covered her in yellow light, stripping away her clothes and leaving her exposed to pure energy. She felt it first in her center, expanding, wrapping her in pure energy that coalesced around her chest. It was as hot as her body could withstand as it began to solidify. The energy formed into the white-and-blue seifuku of Sailor V. Next it pushed down her arms and legs, forming gloves around her hands and a skirt around her thighs.

She arched her neck back and closed as the final pieces began to form. Boots pulled around her feet, even as the red mask covered her eyes. The bow on her chest formed last, completing the transformation. She opened her eyes and saw the world again, but this time everything was amplified a dozen times over, sharper and more vivid.

The world seemed to move more normally again as the transformation completed, and she floated back down to the concrete behind the store.

As her senses heightened and a world of new scents and sounds began to filter into her awareness, she did all she could to rein them in and focus on her mission. The time after the transformation was always the hardest to recover from, as she transitioned from a normal teenage girl to become an instrument of justice.

Motorcycles in the front of the store revved their engines loudly, amplifying the sense of urgency she felt. The hero knocked on the door, and waited an excruciatingly elongated few seconds for the door to open.

"Mina-chan, what-?" The owner of the convenience store began, but trailed off when she saw the crime fighter. "Oh my..."

"A girl said you had a biker problem?" she asked coolly, even though inside was fire and adrenalin.

"Sailor V, yes," the woman said, opening the door to the hero. "I can't believe it's you."

Minako stepped through the door, and then wasted no time, crossing the distance to the inner door in one stride. She pulled the door open to see Ranma on the ground, where the gangsters held Ranma's legs up to their shoulders, giving him almost no leverage to escape.

Before she did or said anything, she heard one of the teenagers out of her view yell at the front of the store. "Some kid played hero and alerted the manager. Damn door is locked on both sides."

It was about that moment that one of the two saw Sailor V standing at the end of the hall, taking her first step towards them. As his jaw dropped open, he lowered his arms, dropping Ranma's leg far enough for him to pull it out of his captor's grasp. The boy quickly snapped his arm to the left, injuring the gangster out of her vision.

Sailor V walked over the spilt drink that had caused Ranma to lose his balance, and just as she saw Ranma free his right leg from one of the two thugs, and then use it to kick the other in the thigh hard, freeing him entirely. The boy rolled over, causing the leader of the three gangsters to fall over him and in view.

Despite his predicament, the leader's eyes bulged as he saw Minako.

"Watch out, it's Sailor V!" the gang member with brass knuckles shouted, taking a step back.

Just as he said that, she jumped forward to land in between Ranma and the three gang members.

"Get away from the boy!" she commanded them, unnecessarily as they already backpedaled away from her. "In the name of Justice, I will punish you!"

"Sailor V?" Ranma asked behind her, his voice just as astonished as the gang members looked.

"Sailor V is inside!" a voice from the front called out. "Pull back, Riso!"

Taking in the whole situation, she watched two of the three gangsters who had attacked Ranma running for the front. The leader, who she guessed was Riso, crawled back away from her, holding his crotch with one hand and using the other to pull himself back. A fourth was unconscious against the right wall near the window.

The crime fighter walked up to the one on the ground and stepped on his foot to stop him from moving. He cried out as she did this, and then she leaned over him and grabbed the collar of his black jacket. She then lifted him up above her head, causing his feet to dangle above the ground a few inches. Despite their height and weight difference, her enhanced strength prevented any strain she might have felt from the move.

"Let me down!" the teenager with the ugly stack of gelled hair cried out, grabbing at her gloved hand.

"You're under arrest," she told him firmly, and then slammed his side down on the ground to stun him, but prevented his head from striking the ground. He groaned as she did this, unable to protect himself. She grabbed his collar from the back and dragged him forward.

She then walked forward and grabbed the unconscious gangster on the ground by the ankle. The crime fighter then pulled both of the teenagers with her as she casually strolled to the door. Neither struggled as she did, sliding them over the cold tile floor, until they met the rug at the front.

Dragging them over this, she lifted her foot and opened the door to the convenience store by gently kicking forward. The light of the late afternoon sun shone down on her as she walked into full view of over a dozen young men in black biker jackets and jeans. They all wore their hair slicked back or tall as they could stack their hair.

The entire gang looked enraged by her actions as she pulled their friends over the threshold of the store, onto the concrete sidewalk in front of it.

"I think these are yours?"

She immediately spotted the leader of the gang, a burly man, likely eighteen or nineteen. His jacket sleeves were ripped off, exposing his tattooed biceps and a rising sun armband. Unlike the others, he had a buzzcut and stared her down fearlessly.

"You're going to pay for that, Hime-chan," the man said with a twisted grin, his eyes echoing the sinister tone of his voice.

"We're going to mess you up, girl," another behind him told her, revealing a butterfly knife, which he flipped open skillfully. This one looked like a lieutenant of some sort as he stepped off his bike and walked to back up his leader.

Sailor V dropped the two injured gangsters, and walked a step forward, taking in her surroundings. There were only a few onlookers, but at least fifteen members of the biker gang were standing around their motorcycles. She noticed the two that Ranma had fought earlier whispering to one of the others. They looked much younger than the majority of the gang, which was likely all around seventeen or eighteen.

"The police are on their way, so I'd suggest you all surrender now." She told him, and then looked the leader in the eyes.

"You're outnumbered," The burly gang leader said stepping forward a pace in her direction. "I have almost twenty guys here, and all you got is that middle-school kid."

Middle-school kid? she wondered, and then turned to see Ranma a few feet behind her in a fighting stance. To her surprise, he darted forward just past her and caught a baseball in his left hand right before it struck her.

"Stay back," she told Ranma, putting a hand on his shoulder. "I'm a professional. Let me handle this."

"Not a chance," he said falling back to her side. "I'm not letting you fight these guys alone."

"This is what I do," she told him as the rest of the gang members began to line up, flanking around them. "You're just going to be a liability."

"I won't be," the boy said confidently. He slipped one arm out of his jacket. "I can more than handle myself in a fight."

He'd proven that he could take care of himself, but with this many people attacking her, she would hardly be able to protect him if things went wrong.

Sailor V regarded him objectively as he took his school jacket off and placed it on a newspaper rack for some idol rag. His eyes were wide, but not with fear, but with the absolute attention of someone calculating every person here and every move he had to make to win. He looked like a juvenile tiger falling back on its haunches, waiting for the perfect moment to strike.

In that moment, she envied him. He stood on his own power and entered into combat without hesitation and knew he could win. The next second, the boy turned his head to regard her, his mystifying blue eyes reflecting her own image clearly. His mouth curled up ever so slightly in a grin that betrayed a single weakness.

He wants to fight them, she thought, the realization confusing her just slightly enough to break through a piece of the armor that the ancient kingdom of the Moon granted her in times of challenge. She could feel the layers of it around her, like a second skin, as thick as a tank, but lighter than a feather. However, none of it would protect her from him.

"Let's kick their asses," Ranma said, his grin growing wide on his cheeks, flashing his teeth as he did so.

She nodded to him and turned away from him to turn her glare upon their mutual enemy.

"You're really going to fight us, kid?" the leader of the Dark Shadow biker gang asked, cracking his knuckles. He took a step. "Last chance to walk away before we beat down the skirt."

Minako looked back at Ranma, who laughed at the man. "Fat chance, jerk."

"Your funeral," a pimple-faced teen who stood invisibly next to his menacing boss called back.

"Alright, boys," the leader called out to his underlings. "Let's take out the trash."

"That's really your best line?" Ranma called back. Despite being a foot shorter than most of his competition here, he showed no signs of fear.

Six gang members stepped forward in a row in front of them, all wielding wooden training swords, each sharpened so that it could cause cutting damage. However, their blades appeared to be thinner than a normal bokken would be, reducing the amount of weight they'd bring to bear with each swing. They might break skin, but only a truly savage attack would do any real damage.

Not allowing their early maneuvers to distract her, Minako kept her head on a swivel as they fanned out around them. While the swords in the front showed they had some sort of plan, she realized they didn't have a plan once the melee began.

"In that video game, you have a laser gun," Ranma said idly, despite the fact that they were just about surrounded by vicious gangsters.

"I don't carry weapons," Sailor V replied, suddenly nervous that Ranma was biting off more than he could chew. She had watched him neatly take care of the younger gang members in the store, but now she realized they were likely the weakest of the bunch.

"Ah, too bad," Ranma told her. She spared him a quick glance to see an ear-to-ear grin splashed across his face. "That'd have been neat to see."

Her mind started running the scenario through her head. The fighters up front with wooden swords would pose the least threat to Ranma. He had traditional martial arts training and could likely handle novices with weakened weapons. She would need to take the guys with nunchaku and bats to make sure that none of them could catch him in the back.

"You take the guys with swords, I'll take the rest," she told him, dropping into a fighting stance. Unlike Ranma who was trained in martial arts, Sailor V relied purely on instinct. While she might not have learned to fight, she pulled from her past life.

"What?" he balked. "These guys will be down in ten seconds flat."

Grinning at his ridiculously believable confidence, she shot back, "First one to take out theirs gets to fight the boss."

"You're on," the boy said back as the first wave of sword-fighters attacked them.

The crime fighter prepared to fight them, but Ranma's initial move caught them off guard. Right when they all moved in to attack the both of them, the boy martial artist ducked into the center of their row and headbutted one of them before the goon could bring down his sword. The attack sent the line into chaos as they turned to fight him, but the boy was already in the air and kicking the next closest fighter square in the chest, knocking him back into two others.

Princess Venus, currently masquerading as Sailor V in the body of Aino Minako, burned through the thirteen-year-old exterior and burst into action in response. A ring had almost formed around them when, without warning, the vigilante burst forward, disarming a bat-wielding goon with a lightning-quick, left-handed chop to his arm. In the same millisecond, she drove her palm into his chest, sending him flying.

Even while the girl inside her watched with fascination as the teenager flew backwards into the street, Sailor V's body didn't stop to pause. Just as the two Black Shadow gangsters next to her unlucky first victim began to flinch, the vigilante seized the one to her right by the collar with only the slightest shift of her body. With just as much force as the devastating palm strike, she tugged him off balance, and then tossed him at the gangster to her left.

The crime fighter then took a half-step with her left foot and high-kicked the one she'd tossed, further sending the two combatants tumbling toward the concrete sidewalk in front of the store.

The speed and power of her attacks had the intended result, causing disorder in the flanking maneuver the gang initiated, failing to capitalize on their only advantage, their numbers.

Demonstrations of power will demoralize your enemy, a voice in the back of her head whispered. Minako closed her eyes and focused on the here and now as the voice from the past eroded through the veil of time to haunt her.

Fear is the only weapon that keeps us alive, it reminded her. Earthlings are numerous. Killing them is futile. Crushing their spirit is the only way to defeat them.

Her body moved on its own as the words echoed from a millenniums-old memory to be repeated in her contemporary mind. The gangsters had caught on that they would be summarily defeated, and half began to turn tail and run. She picked up the fallen baseball bat that had been dropped by her first opponent, and then threw it at one of the three fleeing gang members. It blurred like helicopter blades as it streaked through the air and struck the teenager in the legs, causing him to cry out and fall as he tumbled to the concrete.

However, despite the sinking morale of the Black Shadow gang, not all had fled after witnessing her attack.

If crushing their allies doesn't succeed, display the true folly of their plans. Prove they cannot harm you with their best efforts, and then cut off their head. None shall dare face you afterward. The words cut off their head echoed in her mind, over and over.

Despite the sickening feeling welling up in her, she could do little as the power of her long-dead past self turned to face the only ones brave enough to attempt an attack against her. Two early-twenties gang members, with a bat and a bike chain respectively, attacked her simultaneously.

She raised both of her arms outward and to deflect both attacks. The bat struck her right arm and shattered against the magical armor protecting her at the skin level, projecting the upper quarter of the bat forward to rebound off her shoulder and fall to the side. As wood splinters sprayed in all directions away from the impact point, she reached her left arm forward to catch the chain attack closer to the center. As the second attack struck her left wrist, it wrapped around her glove, giving her enough leverage to use it in a counterattack.

Pulling the guy on the chain forward, she used the momentum to kick the gangster with the broken bat in the stomach. She didn't use as much strength as she had before, but it was still enough to send him flying back into the nearest motorcycle, which crashed against the bike nearest to it, causing a total of three to fall over each other like dominoes.

In a split second, she scanned around her, and felt two enemies approaching from her rear. Ranma was still fighting three of the six swordsmen and looked safe, so she turned to the teen in front of her, whom she had pulled off balance by her chain attack. He stumbled forward, giving her an easy task of tugging the chain to bring him directly at her.

Sailor V turned to her left, pulling the chain around her body, and then lowered her center mass and body checked him. Her shoulder crashed directly into his abdomen as she continued pulling with her chain-wrapped arm. The hapless gangster released the chain as her attack sent him flying over her back and towards the attackers from her rear.

The crime fighter twisted to her left, sending the chain lashing out as she faced the next two members of the Black Shadow gang. Her swing met resistance as a younger member of the gang with messy black hair blocked the attack with a pair of nunchaku. Even as the chain began to wrap around the weapon, her opponent pulled it back, and then moved in to strike her.

As she reset her feet to a defensive stance, the young gang member came in swinging his nunchaku impressively, making it hard for her to follow his movements. She moved to grab him, but he flicked his wrist outward, sending the nunchaku directly at her hand. It knocked away her attempt, leaving he ropen for strike. In the same continuous motion, the martial artist pulled his arm back and brought the weapon around again to strike her directly in the shoulder.

A sharp resonated where it struck her, but the pain quickly abated from the magic of her powers. She then attempted to counter with a quick kick, but the boy immediately turned to his left and rolled out of the way of her foot. The moment he was out of reach, a second gang member moved in to attack from her other side.

This time she was more centered, as a teenager with an aluminum bat came in swinging for a homerun. She burst forward with her magic-enhanced speed, and then she hopped and lifted up her knees, roughly tackling her opponent. The momentum from the tackle enabled her to continue into a roll as she held onto the young man by the shoulders. As they tumbled together, Sailor V waited for the precise moment, and then kicked her knees out and extended her legs. When she kicked him off her, he went flying.

Rolling to her feet, the crime fighter barely had a moment to spare as she was attacked by the kid with the nunchaku again. The sharp swish and methodical, blurred twisting of the weapon was hypnotic as she tried to watch it closely. He struck her in the back twice with the weapon, sending her stumbling forward two steps. The boy didn't relent, forcing her to twist around and defend herself with her arms to avoid taking any more damage, no matter how slight.

Her mind rapidly reviewed her potential options, when a baseball struck the martial artist directly in the shoulder blade. The boy fell with a cry of pain as he and the ball rebounded off him and rolled back into the fallen body of one of his compatriots. Sailor V looked up to see Ranma at the other end of a pitch.

"Strike three!" Ranma declared, awfully proud of his achievements in combat.

He beat the six guys on him, she realized, impressed by his skill.

Surveying the fight, she realized that only three fighters still stood, including the boss. These must have been the best fighters, because they held close to the boss. One was a bare-knuckles fighter, maybe twenty years old and had a smile full of crooked teeth. His hair was almost non-existent as he'd likely shaved it recently. The other one was an unremarkable, shorter guy, but about the same age, and had a bo-staff that she hadn't seen before.

Probably had it hidden on the side of his bike, she thought.

The boss himself was at least six feet tall, a full foot taller than both of the thirteen-year-olds, and taller than even his allies. His face was red with rage as he stared back at the crime fighter.

"I beat your last guy, so the boss is mine," Ranma told her with a cocky grin on his face.

"Wait," she told him before he rushed in, but he didn't heed her.

The guy with the bo-staff moved in quickly, blocked Ranma's movement towards them with a lethal swing of his weapon. Ranma dodged, but lost his momentum on the attack. Sailor V moved in as the fighter with the bo-staff engaged Ranma. His weapon was a blur as Ranma dodged or blocked each attack.

"Nice stick ya got there," Ranma said as he continued his defensive efforts.

As Sailor V moved in to assist Ranma, the bald-headed bruiser rushed her. She had plenty of time to react, but his attack was viciously quick and efficient for a human. She jabbed at him, but he sidestepped and struck her arm as it extended past him.

Luckily for the Senshi, her arms were her least vulnerable place and she suffered almost no pain. Unfortunately, he used the momentum of her attack to strike her flank as well. The attack connected only once before she pulled her arm back and defended against his attack. Just as she reoriented her defense, the fighter moved as if strike her in the face. When she moved to block it, she realized it was a feint as she felt a sharp sting of pain in her shin.

What might have crippled a human only gave the girl a bruise, but she wasn't entirely used to experiencing a lot of damage in her fights. Only bullets were ever this much trouble, but her magic defended against those and other weapon attacks far better than punches. She'd never truly reasoned why, as it rarely mattered. A focus attack of speed defeated the majority of her opponents.

However, her last couple of opponents moved too much for her to really combat against. While her perception and speed increased, the kid with nunchaku and this bruiser were at the top of their game.

Why the heck are there fighters this good in a common street gang? she wondered as she defended against the bald-headed bruiser.

Even as she prepared her attack, the sound of motorcycles revving up caught her attention. She realized that the gang was attempting a retreat.

She didn't let her attention go as she did something no human would do in a fight. When her opponent moved to strike her again, she moved directly into the attack, absorbing the punches and bear-hugged her opponent. With her enhanced strength, she grappled her opponent, who tried to break the hold, but didn't get out quick enough to avoid her attack.

Sailor V delivered a bone crunching headbutt to the bruiser, stunning the man, and then kneed him in the groin. Whatever self-defense the guy had learned, couldn't defend against the power of the Silver Kingdom.

As her opponent fell to the ground, the crime fighter looked up to see Ranma barely holding his own against the stick fighter, who was amazingly good. She would have just broke his staff in half, but Ranma defended with a bokken. Just when it seemed the bo-staff user had overwhelmed the boy and pinned him against the convenience store wall, her friend ran up the wall and leaped high into the air over the bo-staff fighter. He then landed behind him and swept the man's legs out from under him.

Even as he did so, she realized that about half the gang had recovered and was using this distraction to escape. With Ranma taking the offensive, she looked for the boss, but he was long gone.

"Justice never rests, Black Shadow," she said aloud, addressing those fleeing as much as those with their head on the pavement. "If you continue down this path, I'll have to take you all downtown."

Dialing up their haste, the sound of nearby sirens caught everyone's attention. With her connections to the police force, Sailor V wasn't worried, but one look at Ranma a second later changed her mind.

I can't get him caught up in this any more than I already have, she thought as she walked over to him, abandoning her attempts to hold down the bruiser from escaping.

"I've never seen anything like that," Ranma told her as he stood next to his recently downed opponent, pressing the staff into his back. "You're faster than anyone I've ever seen."

"Comes with being a superhero," she said, examining his state. The boy had a few cuts on his arms, and at least five good bruises that were beginning to darken in color from where he must have blocked the staff.

I need him to go home before the police or press see him, she thought, and then remembered the security cameras. My magic protects my identity, but it won't protect him!

"Come with me, Ranma-san," she said, suddenly seizing him by the arm.

"Whoa, how do you know my name?" he said, as she forcibly pulled him away from his conquest. "Where are we going?"

"Later," she said, dragging him towards the front of the store. She heard the bo-staff bounce of the pavement as he pulled against her grip. She turned to see him grab his coat from the coin-operated newspaper rack.

"Where'd you learn to fight?" he asked her again as she pulled him into the store.

"Venus," she told him absentmindedly, taking him to the back of the store.

"Hah, what?" he said, as they stopped at the back door to the manager's office.

She knocked. "Excuse me, this is Sailor V. The fight's over. You can come out now."

The door poked open after a moment as the manager peeked out. She pulled the door open quickly when she saw Sailor V and the boy.

"Oh, goodness, you both are alright," the woman said, allowing the two to enter.

"Where's Aino-san?" Ranma asked as he entered, looking around.

"I told her to run home," the crime fighter said as she released the boy's arm. "Which is what I want you to do now, too."

"What, why? We won and the police will be here soon."

"Listen, Ranma-san," she started, walking over to where the security camera tape was. "This isn't the kind of thing you want to get involved in. I have a mask to protect me. You don't want anyone thinking you have anything to do with me."

She grabbed ejected the VHS tape recording in the machine, and then turned to the boy, who looked confused.

"Are you joking?" Ranma said. "Crime fighting is just about the most awesome thing I can imagine doing."

He sounds like I did at the start of the year, she realized, feeling sick in her stomach. While she did enjoy fighting crime, the cost had become extreme for her, even with magic and the ability to hide her identity at will. She couldn't even think of what he'd experience without her protections.

You've also lost the only you ever loved, a quiet voice in her head whispered, in a foreign yet familiar tone. Sailor V closed her eyes for a second and lifted her empty hand to her head, pressing two fingers to her brow.

I didn't love Ace, she thought back, but wondered if that was really the case.

She opened her eyes, and took in a deep breath.

"Just go home, Ranma-san," she said, staring down at the tape in her hand. I have to destroy evidence to keep you safe. Please, listen to me.

Ranma looked like he wanted to disobey, but he sobered, his body going still as he stared at her. She felt naked before those eyes, even if he couldn't see through the magic of her disguise.

"Alright," he said reluctantly, staring at her intently. He had only blinked once the entire conversation.

"Good, now I need to get-" She stopped as he shook his head.

"On one condition," he said a moment later.

Huh? she thought, frowning in response. What the heck? He has demands?

"Come see me at the Hikawa Shrine on Cherry Hill."

The sirens outside were loud enough now that she realized they must have been arriving at the front of the store. She took a step forward, but then hesitated.

"Why should I?"

"Because I have something you need," he told her, sending a chill down her spine.

A dozen possibilities ran through her mind as she took another step forward. "And what's that?"

"Just meet me there tonight, and I'll tell you," he said, walking towards the alleyway door. He stopped and turned to look at her. "It's important, okay?"

A small part of her felt deeply suspicious about his proposal, but a much larger part trusted him already. In the short time she'd come to know him, he felt like the most honest and honorable person she'd ever met. It was for that reason, that despite all reservations she might have had, she'd go.

If Artemis would let her, that is.

How do I sound mysterious without giving away the fact that I really want to go?

"If I have time during my nightly patrol, I'll stop by," she said as nonchalantly as possible.

With his hand on the door knob, Ranma stared her for a moment. She studied his lovely blue eyes, which the office's ceiling lamp gave a glassy sheen. His pupils dilated slowly as he considered her words.

"I'll be on the roof," he told her as he twisted the door knob, and then opened the door.

Artemis will have to let me attend this meet up, she reasoned to herself as she watched him depart. Maybe I can figure out what he's up to after I get the reading from the miko at the temple-who just happens to be his girlfriend.

She regretted not spending the rest of the afternoon with the boy as she dealt with the police. The problem with having an actual relationship with law enforcement was that she couldn't cut and run after she did their job.

Next Chapter, Ukyo helps Rei deal with the aftermath of bullying, and Rei helps her in return. They then go to the temple.