I claim no ownership rights to any of the works of Rumiko Takahashi, or anything I've borrowed from Scooter.
Important Author's Note: Like any other fanfic writer I suspect, I have any number of stories buzzing around in my mind begging to be released. However, one thing that I've found extremely annoying over the years I've been reading fanfics are fabulous stories that have been abandoned unfinished, and I promised myself that I wouldn't start any stories I wasn't going to finish. I've mostly been able to keep that promise so far (the only real exception being my Lemon Flu: Aftermath story at AO3). But that self-control has meant that I've had to seriously limit the number of stories I have in progress, which is its own form of frustration.
So, this chapter and others to follow. Awhile back I had a poll on what my next two stories should be. The continuation of The Raven won running away, and the continuation of Chained World eked out a lead over this one. The Chained World continuation has been started and The Raven has resumed, but what now? I could simply continue this one, or I could have another poll. Either way, I've decided that I'm going to write a collection of First Chapters of the stories I'd like to tell, so that the next time I have a poll I can refer voters to this "story" before casting their votes on which story they'd like to see continued. And maybe the plot bunnies in my head will ease off, a little.
This story, working title Phoenix Rising, has actually been bouncing around in my head longer than any of the stories that I've actually be writing. It's the result of the usual malady of new writers, reading something and thinking, I can do better than that! In this case, "that" is Phoenix, a self-insert story by Scooter (the only one I believe I've read). As with so many other stories, an interesting premise but not so good on the execution, and naturally I started thinking about how I could have done better. Whether this would be better is a matter of personal opinion, but it should certainly be more exciting. Of course, I could hardly leave it alone without mixing in some other sources, so there's another plot device here lifted from Sunshine Temple and Trimatter's Strained Harmony (still eagerly awaiting a new chapter for that one), and some others that won't pop up until later chapters.
And no, this will not be a crossover with Sailor Moon. It will, however, be a Ranma-chan lockfic with some lemons (rated M, obviously), mostly heterosexual. If that isn't your cup of tea, you should give this one a pass.
"Forty years I've been at sea. A war at sea. A war with no battles, no monuments ... only casualties."
— Captain Marko Ramius, Hunt for Red October
Ranma forced herself back to her feet and stood glaring up at her enemy, the selfish bastard that had found the open water kettle, used it to unlock his curse and recover his manhood, and sought to deny its use to anyone else. It had been a long fight, and Ranma felt tiny tremors of exhaustion running through her, but she hadn't lost yet no matter how badly she was outclassed! Somehow she would find a way, and wipe that arrogant smirk off the face of the still-immaculate prince of the Musk standing a short distance away. Then she would unlock the curse and return home to Akane, and all would be as it had been before. At least he was standing on the ground now, not flitting about in the air like a gigantic hummingbird, so Ranma had a chance to get at him.
Then she heard a shout from behind her and to the side — Ryoga! The redhead whirled to find the Lost Boy running toward them, the open water kettle in his hand — the key to unlocking her gender-changing curse, giving her back her manhood!
"Ranma, here it is!" her sometime rival shouted, and hurled the kettle toward her.
Ranma eagerly dove toward the arcing kettle, and instantly realized her mistake as Herb shouted from what was now behind her: "No, I won't let you have it!" She could feel the build-up of energy that was about to slam into her, unlike Herb she couldn't fly, there was nothing she could use to alter her trajectory — and from the corner of her eye she saw the second of the boys that had accompanied her, the bespectacled Amazon weapons master Mousse, with a weighted cord whipping from his billowing sleeve. Behind her there was a crack of metal on flesh and bone, and just as her fingers were reaching for the airborne kettle's handle Prince Herb's final energy blast clipped her, sending her spinning, skipping across the ground ... as it engulfed the kettle. She caught a split-second glimpse of the kettle glowing fiery red before it exploded. The shockwave picked up the redhead and hurled her against the side of the mountain, burying her as the rocky strata weakened by her battle with Herb collapsed.
It took hours for Ryoga and Mousse to climb the new cliff face of what used to be a sizable chunk of a mountain and finally unbury the broken body of the still-unconscious girl.
Ranma lay on her back on the roof of the dojo, staring up at the star-speckled sky. The warmth of a cloudless summer day still radiating from the roof contrasted with the cooling night air, and Ranma shivered slightly as the faint breeze picked up for a moment (though it was more psychosomatic than real, certainly nothing like when he'd spent the night paralyzed on the roof after his second encounter with Kodachi). She considered telling Kasumi that she'd be sleeping on the roof again instead of in a futon on the eldest Tendo sister's bedroom floor (the very first thing Kasumi had insisted on after Ranma was released from Dr. Tofu's clinic was a change in sleeping arrangements), but she was finding it hard to push through the dark cloud that seemed to fill her mind enough to work up the energy to move.
The past weeks had been purest hell.
First, there had been her father, especially his reaction when his now-daughter came home from the clinic with Dr. Tofu's warning not to stress her partially healed ribs (said warning being that if she came back with her ribs and arm rebroken, he'd break her legs to make sure she stayed in bed). Genma's long rant had been histrionic and cutting, and ended only when Akane had physically pulled her former fiancé out of the room to keep the redhead from assaulting her father as Kasumi had calmly blocked Genma's attempt to follow the pair. Of course, that hadn't been enough for Genma, he'd had to follow that up by demanding that, since Ranma could no longer marry Akane and sire an heir, she had to marry Soun and bear an heir. For a few minutes Ranma had thought that Soun would actually grow a spine and reject his old friend's demand, but as usual he had eventually caved — until Kasumi had put her foot down, hard. Ranma couldn't remember another time he had actually heard Kasumi shout at someone, much less her father. Even then it had taken her threat to turn the cooking duties over to Akane to shut up the fathers, and they'd been surprisingly quiet since.
But Genma had never sparred with his daughter, had even rejected Ranma's demand for a match after Dr. Tofu had certified that her ribs and arm had healed. And he'd moved out of the dojo and into his wife's small home.
Mom. Unbidden, the memory of the last time Ranma had seen her mother surfaced, the older woman's face tear-stained and crumpled, all bewildered grief. Why had she let the others talk her into telling her mother that her son was dead? Of course, the fact that Genma had suggested it — demanded it, rather — hadn't meant much, had actually led to their last screaming match. Nabiki's offhand comment that Nodoka would probably prefer to hear that her son was dead rather than cut off "Ranko's" head while acting as second in a seppuku ceremony had given Ranma pause, though, and Akane and Kasumi's instant agreement with their sister had been the clincher. Still, she had never imagined someone in as much pain as her mother had been sobbing on her shoulder...
At least some good had come out of this mess, the Amazons had already packed up and left. But even that carried its own spike of pain — hadn't she meant more to them than just a breeder for Shampoo?
Ranma sighed and sat up. Ya aren't gettin' very relaxed, she thought with a grimace, admitting her failure to find some peace in communion with her old friends. Maybe you should check and see if Kasumi's ready ta call it a night and —
"Ranma? Are you up there?"
Ranma frowned — that was Akane's voice calling quietly, but coming from Kasumi's room. Normally the youngest Tendo respected her older sister's privacy, certainly much better than Nabiki. And Kasumi's room was dark. "Yeah," Ranma called back just as quietly. "What's up?"
"Get down here, now ... please."
Ranma's eyes widened — 'please' was a word Akane didn't use often, at least not when her fiancé was involved. Of course, Ranma wasn't her fiancé anymore (Ranma pushed away the stab of pain that thought caused), and Akane had been unusually gentle since by some miracle Ryoga had found the dojo, carrying Ranma's pain-wracked body and with a duck-cursed boy riding on his backpack. Still, Ranma couldn't think of a time that they'd been alone in the same room since then...
"Sure, get outta the way."
Moments later the redhead had swung through the window and across the bed to an easy landing. She repeated, "What's up?" Her gaze sharpened as she automatically took in Akane's mental state (a habit quickly acquired soon after arriving at the dojo). Akane was agitated, anxious — oh, plenty of anger, but she was scared. And on the floor beside the girl was Ranma's pack, bulging at the seams.
"Ranma ... Nabiki ... the fathers ..." Akane's voice trailed off as she struggled for words, then she burst into tears and threw herself at the redhead, wrapping her arms around the girl and burying her face in her shoulder. "They sold you!" she wailed into Ranma's shirt.
Ranma's arms had instinctively returned the hug, and now they tightened as she froze in shock. She gasped, "They did what?"
"They sold you," Akane repeated, sniffling. "Kasumi overheard Nabiki talking with Father in his room. Some businessman approached them — Father and Genma — at a bar and offered a lot of money to become your guardian. They didn't even bother to ask why, they just jumped at it."
Ranma was beginning to shake as it sank in. "I always knew Pop was greedy, but yer dad ... is he really that gutless?"
"Father isn't ... okay, he usually takes the easy way, but this time ..." Akane sighed, then pushed away from Ranma to stare at the floor. "He's afraid we're going to lose the dojo to inheritance taxes when he dies. He was planning on passing it on to us when we married, but now that's out and he's getting worried. At least, that's what Kasumi says he told Nabiki. He thinks that now that they have the money they can hand you over and you can just run away. Nabiki's demanding payment up front to slip a drug into your food. Kasumi told me what she heard, she thinks you should skip the being drugged and kidnapped part and just go on an extended training trip, for a few months. She gave me as much food as your backpack will hold and asked me to give it to you. Just be careful out there — you're female now, and there are plenty of perverts that'll try to take advantage of you."
"Sounds good, thanks." Ranma replied, practically lightheaded with the emotion battling it out for supremacy: anger at the fathers, fear of what the stranger wanted with her, happiness that there people that actually cared about her, sorrow that she had to leave them even for awhile. She hesitated, couldn't think of anything to say, and picked up her backpack and turned toward the window.
Ranma stopped and turned back around. "Yeah?"
"I'm sorry," Akane whispered, still staring at the floor.
"Sorry that my father's a coward, that my sister's a money-hungry bitch, that you and I ... that I didn't ... I'm sorry."
For what felt like the first time in years, Ranma smiled. "Yeah, me too. See ya around."
Akane finally looked up and relaxed at the sight of Ranma's smile. "See you around," she said, then stepped forward and bent slightly to kiss the redhead on the cheek. "Good luck."
Ranma stared at her for a long moment, wide-eyed, before rediscovering her voice. "Uh ... thanks. You, too." She turned again, leaped over the bed to the windowsill, and out into the night.
Leaning against the Tendo home's outside wall around the corner from the koi pond, Nabiki saw the dark shape of her sister's squeeze cross the night sky as she leaped above the narrow stretch of lawn from Kasumi's bedroom window to the top of the outer wall of the compound, then dropped out of sight to the outside street. The mercenary Tendo smiled. Perfect, Kasumi and Akane performed exactly as expected. So predictable ...
The page-boy-haired brunette straightened and walked around the corner and into the house, sauntering down the hallway toward the stairs as she hummed a happy little tune. Tomorrow Father will find out that Ranma is gone, and I can suggest to Shwei-san that I act as his eyes and ears here in Nerima until Ranma returns … for a weekly stipend, of course. That should be good for a few months until he gives up and goes away. Maybe I should hint to Akane that she can pay me to keep my mouth shut? After a moment, Nabiki regretfully decided against it. If Ranma came back before Schwei-san gave up, Akane would get mad when Nabiki told him anyway. She might even demand that her sister give her back her money, and either way Kasumi would find out. That could make things ... uncomfortable, until Nabiki left for college. Best to be satisfied with what she'd gotten from her father and would get from Schwei-san. It wasn't like Akane had much money to speak of, anyway, not worth the hassle.
Nabiki stood at her open bedroom window, shivering slightly at the cool touch of a December evening breeze. She didn't mind the cold — preferred it, actually. It let her pretend that her shivers were because of the temperature instead of fear. How had everything gone so wrong? Schwei-san had been the very image of a lecherous pervert, trying to buy a victim for his lust that he was unable to acquire willingly. He had been happy to put Nabiki on retainer, and the time came to reciprocate when Ranma returned a month after she left. That was when the Mercenary Tendo got the first intimations that something wasn't right.
First, Ranma hadn't looked good at all. She was a little thin, and both she and her clothes were dirty — she obviously hadn't been eating well, or bathing regularly. Considering that Ranma enjoyed both good food (and lots of it) and a good soak in the furo, that said rather unpleasant things about her lifestyle on the road.
Second, Schwei-san's response when she called to let him know that Ranma was back had been ... well, not disproportionate, seeing how Ranma had been able to evade or beat down the thugs that showed up to "acquire" her, but beyond the resources Nabiki had expected a mid-level corporate expatriate of the Hong Kong Exodus to have. The small army that had shown up on Ranma's second attempt to return in October had finished off whatever hopes Nabiki had had that she was making a mountain out of a molehill.
Not that her hopes had been very high, after she'd tried to refuse the retainer after the first attempt with the excuse that she needed to leave for college. The file full of records of her minor scams and blackmailings Schwei-san had dropped on her desk when he informed her that she'd be putting off college until he'd acquired Ranma had been terrifying — sure, she was still a minor so the legal consequences wouldn't be much if he handed his evidence over to the police, but what it would do to her future schooling and job prospects would be devastating. And the fact that he had that file at all meant he'd forked out the money for some seriously good — and expensive — investigators, because she hadn't had as much as a hint of anyone poking around in her background as deeply as the file had required. And he'd been smart enough to keep paying her after his abrupt alteration of her near-term plans, meaning if the hunt for Ranma came to the attention of the police she'd be implicated. No, whatever this was about, it wasn't a case of a sexual predator with too much money trying to acquire an untraceable victim for his perversions, the resources being devoted to the hunt were simply too much.
At least the second time Ranma returned Nabiki been able to drop enough hints that Ranma had realized Schwei-san knew she was back quickly enough that her head start had allowed her to escape that small army. But now Nabiki's sisters weren't talking to her at all, and Kasumi was making her life miserable by little "mistakes" with her laundry and "forgetting" that she was home at mealtimes. She'd been taking more nights off as well, and turning the cooking duties over to Akane ... as "practice."
Nabiki wiped at wet eyes. Just the wind, she thought. It's cold out, and that breeze stings.
Then her cell phone rang, and she sighed as she glanced at the clock — punctual, as usual. She picked up the phone and pressed the "accept" button. "Yes?" she asked, voice bland.
"Any word?" The male voice was the usual, but also as usual he didn't identify himself.
"No, no hint of her. Anything on your end?" She winced.
"You know better than to ask. You'll see your usual deposit."
The call cut off, and Nabiki sighed again as she put down her phone and stepped over to close her window. Where are you, Ranma? And what do I do when you return?
Shivering in the doorway of a building empty for the night, Ranma hawked and spit out a thick greenish gob of something, giggling slightly as the spit punched a hole in the layer of snow covering the road, sidewalk and patch of lawn. The hole wouldn't last long — the thick snowfall drifting down would see to that.
She looked up, at the curtains of falling snow dimly illuminated by the streetlights. The view was blurry, jittery. She wished she could blame her now-constant shivering for the blurry sight, but she couldn't — with the lack of food and worsening winter weather as Christmas approached, she was drawing on the last dregs of her ki and her ability to hold off the cold was finally failing. Her eyesight was dimming as she sank toward sleep, and she didn't expect that she would be waking up again. After the last few months of trying to survive on the streets as a girl, the months of hiding and scrounging, she was finding it very hard to care.
For a moment an ember of anger burned as she remembered the dojo he and Genma had visited on their training trip and revisited after Jusenkyo, whose sensei had known of the curse and took her in after her second escape from Nerima — and whose home was now being rebuilt, because she'd trashed it while escaping the hunters that had found her (and left her backpack behind in the process). The only way they could have known to spy on Nakadan-sensei just in case she showed up was if her father had told them about him — and it wouldn't have been just him, Genma would have told them about the rest of the people willing to take her in for the winter. And she didn't know of anyone that her father didn't, she'd met them during the training trip.
But that angry ember died, too, as she felt herself sinking toward sleep.
"Hey, kid, are you all right?" The Japanese was flawless but accented, a foreigner, male.
"Lemme 'lone," she muttered. Couldn't he tell she was trying to sleep?
Apparently not, as she felt an arm slip under her knees and another around her back as he picked her up and began to walk along the sidewalk. "Come on, let's get you to a hospital."
It took a few seconds for that statement to meander its way through her brain, and there was something wrong about it — "No, no hospitals!" she gasped out. "Find me!"
The steps paused, continued again for a few seconds, paused. "Someone is looking for you?" he asked.
"Y-Yes." She was beginning to shiver again, but not from the cold. If Schwei-san's thugs caught up with her now there'd be no way she could hold them off, much less escape. When the man holding her started walking again she tried to struggle, tried to pull on the dregs of her ki, but found the world again going more gray than the falling snow warranted.
"Easy, I'm not taking you to a hospital."
Ranma sagged in relief at the words, and her relaxation was enough to ease her into sleep.
Air Force Lieutenant Wendell "Win" Blake gazed appreciatively at the snow drifting down as he took the long walk back to Misawa Air Base, an early first night for the fighter pilot's leave. He might be an ace, but it was nice to simply gaze up into the night sky without searching for threats. Not that becoming an ace was all that difficult, at Misawa Base, if the pilot survived, not since the Hong Kong Exodus. The flotillas that practically emptied Hong Kong of its people — everyone there that chose exile to every free nation that bordered the Pacific over falling under the authority of the Communist Chinese — may have solved the question of what to do with a population that could not be long defended and could not be willingly surrendered when Britain's lease expired, but the Mandarins in Beijing had been beyond furious. They had been counting on Hong Kong to magically invigorate their perpetually struggling economy, and watching all those prosperous businesses transfer their headquarters to Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, Australia and other Pacific states as their workforces followed under the watchful eyes of the US Pacific fleet ... well, the Cold War had very nearly gone hot then and there and had never really cooled down since.
For a moment, Win wondered what his own career would have been like if the pragmatic Deng Xiaoping had succeeded in ousting Hua Guofeng from power. Would China even be a Communist power now, the last major Communist country in the world? Or would it have recovered its earlier promise of a free republic? And would things have been quiet enough that Win and his wife would have been posted elsewhere?
Stop that! Tubal pregnancies can happen anywhere, and by the time we realized something was wrong there wasn't a hospital in the world that could have saved her. And even if being posted elsewhere would have meant the timing would have been different, there are other ways to die — maybe if I'd been posted to Germany our plane would have gone down crossing the Atlantic.
But he still hadn't expected to outlive his wife, certainly not by as many years as he probably had ahead of him — Mandy had been a homemaker, and he was a fighter pilot!
You are in a mood tonight, aren't you? he asked himself, as he realized he'd come to a stop and was staring at empty air. He shrugged, smiling wryly, and started forward again. Mandy would have some harsh words if she saw you. Good thing I made an early night of it. It was good of Stacy and David to ask me to join their bar crawl, I know they worry about me, but there's no point in ruining their own fun just because I'm not having any.
He glanced around as he walked and paused again — someone was huddled in the doorway of one of the old headquarters buildings and while it was a nice night for a stroll if you were dressed warmly and had grown up in the Colorado mountains, sleeping in the open without a bag was another matter. Whoever it was didn't look exactly warmly dressed, either. He stepped over, and his jaw clenched when he realized just how young the girl was. He asked, "Hey, kid, are you all right?"
"Lemme 'lone," the girl replied, her voice slurred and faint.
Not likely. He crouched, gathered her up into his arms, and rose to his feet to stride toward the base's gate. "Come on, let's get you to a hospital."
Within seconds, he had a frantically squirming armful. "No, no hospitals!" she gasped out. "Find me!"
Win slammed to a stop, staring down at his armful. Find her? He glanced around, then stepped over to the nearest streetlight. Under the grime the girl's clothes were good quality and showed signs of careful tending, the red hair dirty but healthy, and he could feel real muscle tone under his hands. Whoever she was, she hadn't been on the streets all that long — and in the brighter light, her face looked familiar...
He asked, "Someone is looking for you?"
Win could feel her beginning to shiver, and suspected that it wasn't from cold. He thought of all the forms entailed in signing someone into a hospital, even for someone that couldn't be identified — especially for someone that couldn't be identified. Right. He resumed his walk to the base's gates, and felt his armful resume struggling. "Easy," he said, "I'm not taking you to a hospital."
The struggling stopped, and within seconds the girl went limp.
The two guards at the gate saluted as Win approached, eyeing the girl in his arms. "Hey, LT, what's with the armload?" one of the two asked.
"Found her in a doorway a few blocks back," Win replied. "She's not exactly warmly dressed, a night like tonight will kill her."
"Gotcha. Do you want me to summon a medic, have her taken to the hospital?"
Win shook his head. "No, Airman, she isn't that bad off, yet." I hope. "A ride to my apartment would be appreciated, though."
"You got it."
Win thanked the flight chief that had driven him the rest of the way home for unlocking and opening the door to his apartment. Taking back his keys, he backed into his apartment, kicked the door closed, used the side of his arm to flip on the lights, and headed for his bedroom.
In the bedroom, he deposited his armful on his bed and quickly stripped off her wet clothes (noting the lack of a bra and presence of boxers instead of panties), bundled up her nude body in his blankets, and headed to the kitchen for Ziploc sandwich bags and the hot water faucet — improvised hot water bottles to be placed at strategic locations about his guest's body, where the blood vessels were closest to the surface of the skin.
His immediate tasks done, he pulled up a chair beside the bed and sat, gazing at the sleeping redhead. He was certain he had seen her somewhere before, he just couldn't think of where! It wasn't like he'd been off base much — at all, really, since his wife's funeral — and the girl was clearly Japanese. And other than the one patrol that had turned into a dogfight with some Chinese fighters, the only official excitement he'd had had been —
Win froze as he finally recalled where he had seen the girl in his bed, in video footage shown to him by some people from an unnamed intelligence organization, of what he had at first assumed to be a cheesy special effects movie blockbuster he'd somehow missed — shaky amateur telephoto footage of the girl in his bed and a handsome young male Oriental throwing balls of energy at each other, eventually ending in the massive explosion of a tea kettle, of all things. The only way they had been able to convince him that it was real were photos of a collapsed mountainside and the news reports he'd seen of the mysterious vigilantes the media was calling the Sailor Senshi.
Of course, the very fact that they had to convince him of the truth had meant that their visit had been a failure. They'd somehow known that his wife had been Wiccan — and so a practitioner of magic — and wanted to know if he had heard of anything like what they'd shown him, anything at all: legends, party tales, rumors, anything. They'd been that desperate for information.
And they'd left explicit orders that he was to report anything he heard along those lines to his commanding officer, whoever he was. Were they or others like them whom his guest was afraid of?
"Well, damn, what do I do now?" he wondered out loud.