Standing where I am now, standing up at all
I was used to feeling like I was never gonna see myself at the finish line

Hanging on to parts of me, hanging on at all
I was used to seeing no future in my sight line

Sometimes it feels like they wanna remind me
Send all those villains after me

I'm not their hero
But that doesn't mean that I wasn't brave
I never walked the party line
Doesn't mean that I was never afraid
I'm not your hero
But that doesn't mean we're not one and the same

Feeling like I am now lighting up the hall
I was used to standing in the shadow of a damaged heart

Learning all I know now, losing all I did
I never used to feel like I'd be standing so far ahead

Sometimes it feels what I recovered you lost
Sending your peaceful loss to me
I'm not their hero
But that doesn't mean that I wasn't brave
I never walked the party line
Doesn't mean that I was never afraid
I'm not your hero
But that doesn't mean we're not one and the same

Sometimes it feels like the side that I'm on
Plays the toughest hand, holds the longest stand
Sometimes it feels like I'm all that they've got
It's so hard to know I'm not what they want

-Tegan and Sara Quinn

Pinch Hitter

Chapter 1: Moonlighting

It was a hot and especially muggy Sunday afternoon in Kasai City, in the heart of Edogawa Ward on the eastern edge of Tokyo. A young woman exited the train station in a confident, purposeful strut. She wore a lightweight, cream-colored dress, dark sunglasses and a large brimmed hat. A large straw tote bag hung off her left shoulder. A certain pigtailed young man trailed behind her, dragging somewhat in the enervating weather. He was clad in a red, cotton duangua with the sleeves rolled up and black drawstring pants. He felt defeated both by the weather and the current situation he found himself in.

"This stinks," Ranma Saotome groused. "I haven't slept since yesterday. And I got work later today."

"Girl job or boy job?" Nabiki Tendo asked, a smirk on her face.

"The family restaurant. Bleh." Ranma stuck out his tongue for effect."I can at least catch up on homework in between checking out library books."

"Well, you have only yourself to blame, dear Ranma. Your only work experience before college was waitressing for your exes. Don't worry, we'll be back home before you can say 'Stop pinching my ass, you creep!'"

Ranma's right eye visibly twitched at the tableau Nabiki had painted. His only response was to whine plaintively, "I really gotta go through this dog n' pony show a yours, 'Biki?"

"Oh, ho?" Nabiki turned back, raising an eyebrow, "Are you reneging on payment due, Saotome? I wasn't aware you were a deadbeat, like your father."

Ranma sputtered a protest, "But you didn't even get me a cure to my curse!"

Nabiki pulled out a legal-sized sheet of paper from her bag and flashed it in front of Ranma. "You requested information regarding the Permanence Shard which you hoped would be a cure for your curse. I gave you the most accurate and up to date information possible." She let a smirk escape her poker face. "It isn't my fault that 'up to date' meant 1922 and that, since then, the Great Kanto Earthquake and World War Two pretty much buried it under a thousand tons of city streets."

Ranma waved the paper away as though it was a swarm of mayflies. "Ya know, I thought about breaking up half of Yokohama to find it, but I had ta go to work."

Ranma took a moment to look around at the mostly mixed industrial and commercial streets of the neighborhood they were in. The foot traffic was rather sparse, save for a few pedestrians who, like them, were passing through. "So why're we here exactly?" he asked, wiping his brow with a sleeve. "Can't we at least walk by the river? There'd be a breeze there or somethin'. Too damn hot to be running around Tokyo like a couple of tourists."

"We're almost there," Nabiki chided, "Aren't you supposed to be a martial artist and not a baby?"

"Fine," Ranma huffed, as he put his hands in his pockets, "Seems like a lot of trouble to pay you back. I just figured you'd want to sell a couple of photos of me in a string bikini and not too subtly showing off my boobs." Ranma noticed a young man who stared at him from the corner of his vision. He looked over gave the man the evil eye before turning back to Nabiki. "Then again, I don't even know who the hell you can sell 'em to anymore. I mean, even if we still ived there, it ain't like there's anybody in Nerima Ward who hasn't heard of me." Ranma said this, initially complaining, but near the end, lilting up, almost prideful.

Nabiki chuckled to herself. She thought to herself, "Nerima's less than 1 percent of my market. I love the Internet." She looked at Ranma, her eyes narrowed and her eyebrows raised, a wry smile on her face, "Oh, I had something planned other than the typical gravure photoshoot, Ranma. I've found that there's a larger market than I expected in cosplay photos."

"Cosplay Photos?" Ranma asked, confused.

"You know, dressing up in costumes and such. The otaku set love to show their appreciation with their wallets." Nabiki continued, "And anyway, it really isn't too different than some of the outfits your twisted mind has come up with for one challenge or another. You can handle anything I can dish out, can't you?"

Ranma opened his mouth to retort, but, the words not coming, simply muttered, "... I guess."

"But I'm on a tangent. I thought if we can find the right props, it'll inspire me to come up with a few surefire outfits."

"So that's why we're here all the way on the other side'a town? Props?"

Nabiki didn't bother acknowledging Ranma directly. "There's a store here in Kasai that's frequented by TV and movie industry people. Set designers, costume makers, prop guys, that kind of thing. They sell all sorts of stuff used as props and set pieces for films and TV shows. On the cheap, to boot. Everyone in the know comes here."

"You're shooting some photos, not makin' a damn movie," Ranma countered.

"Most of the cosplay photo sets I've come across use cheap plastic props and flimsy costumes. I figure if we can up the production values, we'll have a higher quality product and we can charge more. It's a risk, but a calculated one. We can make some real money here."

Ranma raised an eyebrow, "We?"

Nabiki turned her lips up in a sly smile, "Well, if all goes as well as planned I plan on reinvesting some of my profits in a... shall we say 'secure, high-yield, long-term bond'."

"Come again?"

"I know you've been saving up for an engagement ring, Ranma." Nabiki said plainly.

Ranma rubbed the back of his head and turned away, embarrassed, "Who says I am?"

"Well the part time jobs make it obvious you're saving up for something. You already live in the most run-down boarding house in all of Tokyo and even with your food budget, you have to be taking in a lot more than you consume."

"So what if I am. I don't need a fancy apartment or nothin'," Ranma grumbled.

"Unless you're planning on a real fancy vacation, there's really only one thing you're saving up for. It's obvious. You're going to ask my dear little sister to marry her soon."

"Why? I mean we were 'engaged' back in high school, ya know," Ranma said gamely, playing at coyness.

"Oh please, that last person to take any of those 'engagements' seriously was Shampoo before she got beaten up by Pantyhose."

"Akane kicked my ass after being a real smug asshole about it for a week," Ranma recalled, "Totally worth it."

"That reminds me, how's the waterfowl doing?"

Ranma shrugged, "Alright. I tell you he's been seeing this girl at the juku he goes to, right? They're pretty serious, but I haven't met her. Mousse n' I started teachin' each other our special moves, but some of the hidden weapons stuff is killing me, especially when I'm a girl. My boobs take up too much space," Ranma casually remarked. A group of three middle-aged women turned and stared at Ranma in a mixture of shock and confusion. This time, perhaps cowed by his elders, Ranma couldn't shrug off the glares. He gulped audibly, face flushing with embarrassment.

Nabiki chuckled, "Smooth. Oh, and while we're catching up, did you get Ukyou's invitation yet?"

Ranma smiled and nodded, "Yep. Hand delivered, by Konatsu himself. I still say Ucchan's gonna wear a tux to the wedding."

Nabiki rolled her eyes, "That's a sucker bet and you know it, Saotome. You're underestimating how much that girl needs her femininity validated."

Ranma let out a wry chuckle, "I'll hold you to that."

Nabiki shook her head at the young man. "I shudder to even think about how your little brain works, but it leads to my conclusion. You stuck with Akane afterwards and so has she. You guys have been good to each other. You're gonna pop the question any time now. My money is on Akane's birthday in October, but maybe you'll be able to ask her by the end of summer if our little venture goes as planned."

Ranma blinked. "Summer, huh? All right, ya got me interested." Ranma smiled despite himself, "Ya really think we can get enough cash for a ring and stuff?"

Nabiki let out a small laugh. "Hell, if I plan this right, it'll be enough that Akane can give you a ring as well. After all, even a half-girl should get the whole 'will you marry me' treatment."

Ranma gave Nabiki a half-lidded stare.

"Hell, I would. If it doesn't work out, you can always hock it for gas money."

Before Ranma could reply to Nabiki's coldly practical suggestion, the enterprising young woman pointed to a large building.

"Ah! We're here," Nabiki said, pointing at the building, a bare wooden storefront with a sign that read 'Edogawa Curios' set above the door.

"Come on, Ranma. This should be educational for both of us."

The interior of the shop was decorated in wood, save the floor, which was tile stained gray with dust and grit. the open space made it feel more like a warehouse than a store and articles seemed randomly strewn in partitions organized seemingly by age.

"Aww, are you kidding, 'Biki? There's nuthin' but junk in here!" Ranma looked at the strewn piles of old toys, knick-knacks, picture frames, and books.

"Patience, Ranma. Take a look around. May I remind you that this is for your benefit as well."

"Fine," Ranma muttered. He saw a display by the register in the back of the shop that piqued his interest. Hanging on the wall above the counter was an array of Chinese, Japanese and Western swords. Alongside them were vintage, non-functional rifles that looked like they were from the Second World War. Inside the glass counter, ancient-looking scrolls were displayed. Ranma took a step towards it, but stopped when he knocked his foot against a table, jostling it. A small white and yellow object, seemingly made of porcelain fell onto the hard tile flooring, but strangely didn't shatter, merely dropping with a dull, vaguely metallic thud. The noise however, alerted Nabiki and the owner of the curio shop.

"Jeez, that was close," Ranma said aloud as he picked up the object in question. Looking at it more closely, he couldn't quite make heads or tails of what it was. It was a white cylindrical rod, about 20 inches in length. On the bottom was a small buttress, colored dark pink. Ranma thought for a second it was made of rubber, but realized it too was also of the same porcelain-like material. The other end was more interesting. A bright yellow crescent moon topped the wand, making the full length about 30 centimeters. A small, opalescent jewel, about the size of a small marble was affixed to the bottom of the crescent, attaching it to the wand.

"Where did you find that Saotome?" Nabiki inquired over Ranma's shoulder.

"I dunno... It fell offa table and I was just pickin' it up. I was scared I broke it. Looks kinda fragile, like one of the teacups at the Chardin mansion."

"Well no harm, no foul, I say," The owner, a frail, but kindly seeming elderly man, said. Adjusing his glasses, he peered at the object in Ranma's hands.

"Oh! This thing. I picked it up at an estate sale several years back. It was part of a collection of Ottoman Empire treasures, though it looks nothing like traditional Ottoman jewelry. It's an interesting piece though. So delicate looking, but probably stronger than most of the furniture in this place."

"Huh... Interesting," Ranma politely offered, unsure what else to say. He thought about putting it down and continuing on his way, but he hesitated, looking it over once more in fascination.

Nabiki studied it as well with narrowed eyes. After some mental calculations, she turned to the shopkeeper.

"How much is it?" She asked.

"Oh, not too much. Even given its lineage, I haven't found a buyer for it. The sorts of people that usually come here, don't spare it a second glance... I'd say 30,000 yen."

Ranma cautiously set it back down.

"I see. We'll think about it." Nabiki said, grabbing Ranma's arm and walking out hurriedly.

"Hey! What's the big idea, 'biki!?" Ranma said as the door closed behind them.

Rounding the corner, they ducked into the alley. Nabiki let Ranma go and started rustling through her large tote bag.

"I have the perfect idea for the photoset, but I'm not sinking in that kind of money for it. If I'm going to haggle, I may as well bring in my ace in the hole," she said, pulling out a plastic bottle of water.

Ranma slumped. "Aw, maaaan... You serious? I was actually havin' an okay day for once."

"Oh please, like you haven't pulled this stunt a thousand times already. Just pretend it's an ice cream shop or a takoyaki vendor. Turn up the girliness and I'll do the rest."

"It ain't girly! I just say what I gotta to get guys to give me things!" Ranma said with a conviction in his voice that spoke to Nabiki both of the obviousness of the statement and the obliviousness of its speaker.

"Okay..." Nabiki said with a shudder, "I'm going to pretend I didn't just hear that. Just change already. I'm getting a bit unsettled."

"Fine." Ranma said, grabbing the water bottle from Nabiki's hand. "Story of my life. Can't live a day without this crap," Ranma muttered, the voice changing from a grumbling tenor to an irritated mezzo-soprano. The now female Ranma shook out the excess water from her head and stretched her lithe, leanly muscled arms.

Nabiki watched as Ranma returned the now empty bottle to her and began changing in more imperceptible ways. Ranma stood still for a moment, took in a few centering breaths. She then untied her hair, shaking it so it loosely draped on her back. She stretched the muscles on her face, loosening up her jaw and opening her eyes wide. Finally, she performed what appeared to be a kata, with the customary kicks and strikes replaced with shifting her posture, walking around Nabiki, and altering her body language bit by bit until any pretense of masculine demeanor, save her clothing, was hidden from sight.

"All right, Nabiki-chan," Ranma said, with a mixture of irritation and pride, "Let's do this."

"Scary. Absolutely scary." Nabiki uttered, shell-shocked as they exited Edogawa Curios. Nabiki was somewhat imbalanced by the weight of her tote bag on one arm and the multiple large plastic bags of items she left the store with on the other. Ranma followed Nabiki with a confident swagger, similarly full bag in one hand and the wand in another. Her hair was back in the customary pigtail and she was whistling idly.

"That was the mission right? You got the thingamajig here and a bunch of other crap and I got a new martial arts scroll outta the deal, ta boot!" Ranma added, adding a skip to her step.

Nabiki didn't respond, merely making her way towards the train station, the color slowly returning to her face.

"So what're you gonna do with this thing anyway?" Ranma said, twirling the wand in her hand in front of Nabiki.

"Ever heard of the 'Sailor Senshi'?" Nabiki asked.

Ranma furrowed her brow, "Think I read about 'em in a magazine once. They an idol group or somethin'?"

"Or something. They're a vigilante group. Word on the street is they beat up muggers, rogue yakuza, other lowlifes. Other folks say they're monster hunters. They're based in Central Tokyo, so it's out of your old 'stomping grounds', so to speak."

"Huh. Monsters, huh? I'm almost disappointed. All I ever seem to get to fight are assholes. Maybe that's what I get for livin' in the sticks," Ranma replied.

"Well either way, they have a rather unique look and a certain popularity I think we can exploit. With that little artifact we found, you'd make a convincing Senshi."

"What kinda outfit are we talkin' here?" Ranma asked.

"Oh, you'll just have to wait and see," Nabiki said, a hint of mischievousness returning to her voice. Nabiki turned back and said, "Speaking of which, are you gonna give that back anytime soon or..."

"Huh?" Ranma asked, before realizing she was still twirling the wand in her hand, "Oh yeah."

Ranma made a move to give the wand to Nabiki, but stopped and said, "Actually, you mind if I hang on ta this?"

Nabiki raised an eyebrow, "Something you want to tell me, Ranma?"

Ranma shook her head, examining the wand closely, "No. It... I dunno. Somethin' I can't put my finger on."

Nabiki shrugged casually, "Suit yourself. Just don't forget it when we do the photoshoot and..." she flashed a feral grin, "a tip, if I may? If you ever need to 'contemplate' other smooth cylindrical objects, there's a couple of specialty shops I can show you around."

Ranma nodded blankly before stopping in her tracks. "W-what are you sayin'! Jeez, Nabiki. That's just gross."

Nabiki's laughter echoed as they descended the steps of the train station, "My little sister has rubbed off on you and not in the good way. Come off it, Saotome. You're gonna be twenty one at the end of the month. You've been half-girl almost five years now. Hell, you got your coming of age photos of yourself in a suit and in a kimono! I know you've at least thought about it."

Ranma stayed silent on the matter, though Nabiki noted the slightest hint of redness on his cheeks.

"I seem to recall a certain thing you had for Ryouga back in high school," Nabiki said.

"He hit me with a magic fishing rod!" Ranma yelled back "I wasn't actin' at all like myself."

Nabiki tilted her head non-chalantly. "Well I've seen his rod, and while I wouldn't call it magical, it was pretty impressive. Not exactly my type, though." Nabiki replied with a straight face as Ranma seemed to shrink further into her already baggy clothes.

"Jeez, I still get nightmares about that Nabiki..."

"Oh please." Nabiki said. "Good to see it has occurred to you at least once that having that body poses some interesting psycho-sexual dilemmas. At the very least, don't you think it'll be an issue when you get married to my sister?"

Ranma turned to her, embarrassed. "You gotta be so... I dunno, crass about it, though?" He shook his head. "I ain't plannin' on doing anything like that, anyway. I don't like guys n' Akane don't like girls, so, that's it. Issue resolved. I guess," Ranma said, the finality in her voice more than a little forced.

"I swear this family's love of denial will be death of me one of these days..." Nabiki muttered to herself as they made their way back towards Nerima.

Late that night, in a large park near Azabu-Juuban station in Minato Ward, Five women stood alone, the enemy they faced having just been scattered among the winds as so much ash and dust.

"Just when I was getting used to having eight hours of sleep a night, here we are again," Sailor Jupiter groused, brushing off some of the youma dust from her green skirt.

"Don't be so sour, Jupiter. It stands to reason that the threats to Earth wouldn't end just because we were able to retrieve the star seeds from the abyss of chaos." Sailor Mercury replied, making notes on her handheld computer.

"Yeah! Besides, it's only the third one this month. It's good practice," Venus remarked.

"And it was only two last month and one the month before. I don't like where this is going, "Sailor Mars noted. She looked behind her to see her leader, Sailor Moon, sitting on the ground in a tired heap.

"Sailor Moon? Are you okay?"

Sailor Moon nodded weakly, "Yeah, Mars. I think..." She sighed. "I'm just tired. I'm trying to catch up so I can pass the entrance exams, but..." she slumped again, "I'm sorry for letting everyone down."

"What are you talking about?" Sailor Venus rebutted, "you always pull through in the latch!"

The other senshi stared at Venus briefly before they walked over to a secluded alley and changed. The five girls strolled back towards home.

"I understand you're going through a rough time, Usagi. It's understandable you're tired," Ami said. Minako nodded in agreement.

"Look, Mamoru will be back from Boston in two weeks and I'm sure he'd be sad to see his 'Usako' look so down." Rei offered.

Usagi nodded, "Right. I'll just keep doing my best!" she smiled warmly for a moment before she froze. A gurgling noise came from her stomach, prompting Usagi to declare, "oh, wow I'm really hungry! Can we stop for ramen before we go home?"

"Okay, she's feeling better now," Makoto said with a smile.

A few days later, Ranma parked his motorcycle, an old Yamaha from the early 80s, in a pedestrian alley behind his boarding house in the middle of Meguro Ward. The run down building was nestled in between Setagaya Ward, where Nippon Sports Science University was, and Minato Ward, where Nabiki lived. He trudged up the stairs and entered the single room apartment. Ranma quietly shut the door behind him and sighed in relief.

"What a day..." he said to himself as he tossed his duffel bag by the door, "I need a drink." Ranma walked over to the small refrigerator he kept in the room and pulled out a can of beer.

There was a knock at his door.

"Who is it?"

"Delivery," came a light-hearted voice.

"Come on in, man," Ranma called out.

The door opened and a young man entered. He was tall, with long black hair tied back in a ponytail and held by a baseball cap with "Damino's Pizza" embroidered on the front. He wore a hoodie jacket, unzipped almost all the way, a loose t-shirt, and blue jeans.

Ranma reached back into the fridge and threw a beer at the young man. "Hey, Mousse."

"You just got home?" Mousse asked as he caught the can with one hand.

Ranma nodded as he set the can down on a low table, brushing aside a few empty cans from the night before.

"Yeah. My feet are killin' me. Had the night shift at the Library. You? How's the pizza business?"

"Not bad. Just got home myself. Want some leftovers? I was gonna go over to Mako's, but she's busy with homework."

Ranma nodded. "Yeah, I'm starved."

From seemingly behind his back, Mousse produced a large pizza box. Opening it was half a cheese pizza, still hot.

"Nice. You gotta teach me how to keep stuff insulated."

Mousse set the box down at the table and sat down. "Depends. You figure out how to summon your riding gear yet?"

Ranma blanched. "Uh... One sec." Ranma stood and pulled his arms into his sleeves, producing a pair of gloves and a jacket. He then muttered, "Don't laugh at me, Peking Duck."He put a hand inside his jeans and produced a pair of racing leathers and, with a groan of effort, a motorcycle helmet.

Mousse rubbed his chin nodded. "Not bad, though really you should have enough room in the pants to put all of it so you can leave your sleeves free for weapons."

Ranma laughed as he reached over to grab a slice of pizza. He froze mid movement and shook his leg. From the cuff of his jeans, the crescent moon wand fell out.

Mousse let out a chuckle. "You know Ranma, I know your Jusenkyo curse gets you down some days, but that's no reason to compensate for any perceived lack of masculinity. Especially with something that pointy."

"Aren't we a goddamned comedian today?" Ranma grumbled as he picked up the wand. "'Biki found it at this junk shop she dragged me to last weekend. She's plannin' on some kinda cosplay photo deal. Makin' me up into a... watcha call it, a Sailor Sencha or something."

"A Sailor Senshi?"

"Yeah. Ya heard of 'em before?"

"You do live in Tokyo, right? I mean, I know you go to jock school, but come on. You have to have read a newspaper every now and then. Shampoo and the ghoul collected newspapers clippings of those girls. I think in case they ever had to go to war with them," he mused.

"They're in the news?" Ranma asked, incredulous.

"Yeah. They've killed a bunch of monsters over the years. Recently, they've been stopping bank heists and other kinds of petty crime on top of the supernatural stuff in Central Tokyo."

Ranma nodded. "How come we never got any of that action back in Furinkan? The closest to a monster we ever got was the old pervert. Even the Bakeneko was just an whiny jackass."

Mousse nodded. "Cologne set up protective wards across most of Nerima, Itabashi, and Suginamu Ward," Mousse replied. "I have to check up on them every now and again to make sure they're still up. It was part of the deal we made so she'd help me get a visa to stay."

Ranma nodded as he stuffed a second slice of pizza into his mouth.

Mousse raised an eyebrow. "Anyways, why do you have that on you if it's Nabiki's? Planning on some kinky role-play with Akane later?"

Ranma rolled his eyes. "If she heard that, your ass'd be roasted with a side of orange sauce. It's... I dunno. Don't you think it looks kinda weird?"

"Lemme see that," Mousse said. Ranma handed him the wand. After a bit of fiddling, Mousse remarked, "I don't get it. Are you supposed to unscrew the bottom to put the batteries in? Does it light up or just vibrate?" He started laughing.

Ranma groaned. "It's always the sex jokes with you and Nabiki. What the hell?"

Mousse shrugged as he placed the wand back on the table. "If I had to guess about Nabiki, I'd say she was genuinely curious about being both sexes and teases you to not have to think about it."

"And you?"

"I just like fucking with you." Mousse chuckled at Ranma's reaction and then said, "I think I see what you mean, though. I'm getting a strange energy from it, but I can't say what exactly. If the old hag was still around, maybe she could help you. As it is, I'm stumped."

Ranma picked up the wand and twirled it in his hands, before inserting the wand into his back pocket, making it disappear.

"Oh!" Mousse gasped. "Nice trick. But you know, if you're gonna stick it up there, I'd recommend something with a flared base, instead."

Ranma blinked for a moment, before growing red with anger. "Get the fuck out of my apartment before I pluck all your feathers off, Mousse"

"Yes Ma'am," Mousse mock-saluted. He stood and put on his shoes. "Night neighbor."

"Night," Ranma said, waving as Mousse stepped out of the apartment.

After Mousse left, Ranma retrieved the wand from it's hiding spot. He studied it further, his eyes narrowing in concentration.

"What the hell are you?" he whispered. "And why do you seem so damn familiar?"

It was approaching ten in the evening when Sailor Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, and Venus arrived at Ueno Park. They gathered in front of the National Museum of Western Art.

"Where's Moon?" Mercury asked.

"Luna messaged me," Venus replied as she fiddled with the controls of the Mercury Computer. "Usagi's been ill the past few days. She has a bad cold."

"I never thought I'd say this, but that poor girl is working herself to death," Mars remarked.

"Well, let's do what we can. Anything, Mercury?" Jupiter asked.

Mercury shook her head. "No. There are a few spikes in nearby areas of the city, but no dark energy. It's strange, I could have sworn there was a large dark energy spike here this morning... "

"You sure it wasn't just a difficult homework assignment, Ms. 'Tokyo U. Freshman'?" Venus asked with a coy smile.

Mercury blushed, "I'm sorry guys. I wanted to stay one more year, but my mother and Principal Yamada insisted I try for the exams early and-"

Venus shook her head, "I'm sorry, Ami. I'm being mean. We're all really proud of you! You sure can unwrinkle while the iron's hot!"

"That's 'strike' while the iron's hot, Mina," Mars corrected.

"Why would you hit someone with an iron? That doesn't make any sense," Venus replied. "Anyway, let's keep our eyes and ears open. If we find another youma, call it in."

"Roger," The other three senshi said.

"I'm going to stay and run more tests," Mercury announced as she began analyzing the nearby grass and soil.

"I'll keep watch," Mars said.

Venus and Jupiter nodded and they walked away towards the edge of the park and back towards the city streets.

"Hey Venus," Jupiter asked, "Where are the Outers? I didn't see Hotaru in school today."

"They're off on another musical tour. North America this time. I think Michiru got Hotaru in the act singing," Venus replied.

"Aww... It was fun having Hotaru around, even if she's just a freshman," Makoto pouted.

"That's true. She looks super adorable in the Juuban High uniform!"

Upon reaching the road, they ducked behind some bushes and reverted to their civilian selves. The ended up on the streets walking home. It was somewhat busy with pedestrians and the occasional late-night jogger.

"So Mina..." Makoto said, "When are you gonna talk to her?"

"Huh?" Minako asked, distracted.

"You said this was gonna be the year, right? You announced to everyone at karaoke last Christmas that, and I quote, 'The Goddess of Love isn't going to graduate high school a virgin!'"

Minako rolled her eyes "I was drunk when I said that."

"I know. You puked on my couch afterwards," Jupiter reminded, which caused Venus to laugh nervously. "That doesn't make it any less true, Mina."

"Okay, okay," Minako said, raising her hands in defeat. "I'll think about it. It's just... How do you go up to someone and just say, 'Hey. I think you're cool and I know I'm a dork and we're both girls, but do you wanna go out?'"

"You could try that," Makoto said.

"No way!" Minako let out a disgruntled moan. "You just don't get how hard this is, Mako-chan. You have a boyfriend."

"Thank goodness," Makoto sighed in relief. "I don't think I could handle the drama of having a thing for a teammate."

"Thanks Mako-chan. Your words inspire confidence in me." Minako replied.

Back at Ueno Park, Sailor Mercury had pulled out a small forensics kit and began performing a soil sample analysis. Sailor Mars, meanwhile, stood nearby, keeping watch as Mercury focused on her task. Mercury, with a small tool, dug up a piece of soil near the museum steps and placed it in a glass tube before inserting it into a small crystal chamber. She plugged in a cable running from the chamber to the Mercury Computer.

"Hmmm. I'm picking up residual dark energy near the museum, but... it's too faint. Whatever it was, it hasn't been here in a few days. Hopefully the computer will give me something to work with."

"Oh..." Mars looked around. "Hey, Mercury, can I ask a personal question?"

"Always, Mars. What is it?"

"Do you... do you think that it's weird if..."

"If what?"

Mars audibly gulped. "Let's say hypothetically... If a girl... uh, likes another girl? Hypothetically, of course."

"You mean like Haruka and Michiru?"

Mars waved a hand in front of her. "Yeah. I guess."

"Do you think they're weird?" Ami asked pointedly as she adjusted a knob on the analyzing chamber.

Mars shook her head rapidly. "No!" She paused. "Okay... Maybe a little bit? But that's because Michiru is so refined and elegant and Haruka is... She's not exactly a regular girl. They also like being mysterious for no good reason," she said with a bit of a scowl.

Ami nodded as she inspected a grasshopper before gently letting it go. "I suppose so. But regardless, I don't see anything wrong with it." She began typing code into the computer. "I doubt any of us would give you a hard time over it."

Mars waved her hands. "I didn't say anything about myself! I said hypothetically."

"Yes, right," Mercury blankly nodded as she read the output on the Mercury computer. She let out a sigh, shook her head, and rubbed her eyes. "No good. I'm getting a directional pattern of the energy, eastwards, but once you hit pavement, it gets drowned out by all the other energy signatures." She looked up at Mars. "If we were in the countryside I could track them, but in Tokyo? It's too noisy to get a clear signal."

"So we're at a dead end?" Mars asked.

Mercury shook her head and she put away her materials. "Not at all. Now that I have a more detailed picture of the energy readout, I can make the detectors more sensitive to this specific form of dark energy. If whoever or whatever shows up nearby again, we can act more quickly."

Mars nodded. "That's good."

"And really Rei," Mercury said in a light tone as she stood and brushed her knees, "we don't care who you're with as long as you're happy. That's all that matters."

"Ah, yeah." Mars nervously chuckled. "Let's go home."

That Sunday, Nabiki had moved the furniture in her already sparsely decorated apartment to one side. It was a small, but well-kept apartment in Azabu-Juuban, only a few miles away from Temple University. For the sake of some background noise, she had the radio on, which was currently playing the tail-end of a news broadcast.

"And in science news, a treat for the whole country as tonight, at 10:56 PM, we'll have a total Lunar Eclipse visible in Japan. This marks the first total lunar eclipse visible in Japan since 1993 and the last total lunar eclipse of the century. In baseball, Akira Tsudou of the Nippon Ham Fighters was traded to..."

Nabiki put up a green curtain and set up a rather expansive array of fresnel lights and reflectors. She placed gaffers tape on the wood floor and set to work setting up the space. She looked at her phone impatiently when she heard a knock at the door. When Nabiki opened the door, the red-headed Ranma entered quickly, looking irritated.

"You're late, Ranma. It's almost ten," Nabiki said.

Ranma threw her duffel bag and motorcycle helmet aside. "Yeah, yeah 'Biki. My shift ran late. I swear, if one more lonely otaku spends alla' his time lookin' at my rack while buyin' 200 yen worth of fries and black coffee, I'm gonna splash myself with warm water and give 'em a piece of my mind."

"That would probably be awkward in that dress," Nabiki said as she pressed a button on a light meter.

Ranma glanced down at her uniform, which consisted of a jumper-style dress, which was similar to the Furinkan High uniform, except that it was cut so that the 'waistline' cut underneath her breasts, emphasizing that particular bit of anatomy to any and all customers. "Well I asked for the waiter's uniform, but my boss put the kibosh on that. Turns out, they don't make pants small enough for the girl type. I tell ya, Nabiki, why do I gotta be such a shrimp?"

"Jusenkyo has a sense a humor," Nabiki said as she adjusted a light. "Now get changed. Costume's on my bed."

"Yeah, yeah... no respect..." Ranma muttered as she wandered off towards the bedroom. A minute later, Ranma yelled through the wall, "This is the outfit!?"


Ranma traipsed out of Nabiki's room. To her chagrin, Ranma noted the white lyrca/cotton fabric of the leotard at least breathed and wasn't too constrictive. But the bright red skirt felt criminally short, particularly since a similarly low cut outfit worn to compete in Martial Arts Ballroom Dancing almost got her arrested. In contrast, the gloves seemed ridiculously long, and the red, mary-jane style heels seemed completely impractical to fighting gravity, let alone a demon.

"You gotta be kiddin' me!" Ranma moaned.

Nabiki bit back a laugh. "Nope. And you forgot the accessories, hair and makeup."

Ranma opened her mouth to reply, but found herself speechless. She trudged back to the room, grumbling under her breath.

"This isn't stray youma cleanup anymore, is it?" Sailor Mars asked no one in particular as desperately flung a wave of holy fire outwards at the small group of dark beings in front of her. To her chagrin, many of them had dodge them with a dexterity not usually seen in minions.

What had begun as a late night 'cheer up' visit to Usagi, who had just recovered from a sudden illness the week before, had become, in a manner of speaking, a veritable clusterfuck.

"You got that right!" Venus said as she jumped out of the way of a blast of dark energy.

There were three youma assembled in front of them. They were vaguely humanoid shaped, but covered in a cloud of dark energy. They didn't really speak, aside from a hoarse grumble that sounded much like television static. To Jupiter's surprise, the youma were not preparing a magical attack. They had moved to a defensive triangle and placed their arms up.

"Is that..." Jupiter whispered before her eyes widened suddenly.

"Watch out guys! That's a kung fu stance!"

"What!" Mars said before she was knocked aside by a flying kick.

"Sailor Mars!" Sailor Venus cried out, looking back barely in enough time to block a strike.

"You bastards!" Jupiter spat before jumping in the fray, going toe to toe with one of the youma

"Defensive positions!" Mercury yelled as she helped Mars up.

Almost an hour later, Ranma was growing tired of the crazy gesticulating Nabiki had instructed her to do while in the abbreviated costume. Her hair was always warmer when it draped loose rather than put up and the clip-on star earrings were starting to hurt. She reached over and grabbed a towel, dabbing the sweat off her made up forehead.

"I'm sweatin' like a pig here under these lights, 'biki! I need a break."

"Okay okay, take five. Calm your tits, Ranma."

Ranma rolled her eyes. "Ha, fuckin' ha. You sure those senshi people wear this kinda getup?"

Nabiki inspected her shots. "I got it commissioned by a cosplay fan in my marketing class. I gave her known photographs and news footage. It's as accurate as it gets."

Ranma huffed. "It's like it was designed by a committee made up of Happousai, Kuno, and that creep in my social psych seminar."

Nabiki nodded in agreement. "Okay, break's over. Now look at the camera, Ranma. Smile! Do that innocent shtick of yours." Nabiki said.

Ranma nodded and tried to channel her best 'piss off Ryouga' routine, but something felt off-kilter as she danced around. "Shouldn't I be sayin' somethin' Sailor Senshi-like? What do they even talk about anyway?" Ranma said, somehow scowling behind the feigned smile and coquettish gesticulation.

Nabiki thought about that question as she kept taking shots. "Stuff about the Moon and the planets. It doesn't really matter, you know, but if you want to get into character, by all means 'Sailor Ranko'."

Ranma rolled her eyes at the remark, "You've been waiting all week for that joke, haven't ya? Lemme think of somethin'."

Outside of the apartment, a shadow grew over the moon, until, for a seemingly interminable moment, the night sky was swallowed in darkness.

Ranma stared at the wand for a moment, examining it's heft and how much it shined in the glow of the stage lights. Suddenly, a smile crept onto her face and she extended her arm out.

"Moon Crystal Power! Make Up!"

Then everything went black.

The battle had been a pitched affair with the Sailor Senshi being overwhelmed physically, but slowly whittling down the youma;'s attacks with the use of their energy attacks It was still a battle of attrition, however, and the Senshi were growing tired, Sailor Moon included.

Usagi still hadn't fully recovered from her sudden bout of illness. The doctor at the clinic couldn't explain it, though Luna had jokingly made fun of her for catching a cold in summer. She had gotten a few good hits with her old standby Moon Tiara Action, but the only reason she wasn't more hurt was because her fellow Senshi had thrown themselves out to protect her. It made her feel guilty she couldn't do more, but the buzzing in her head, the soreness on her muscles, and feeling of lightness started to come back. She felt a lump in her throat and swallowed.

"Everyone, give me an opening," Sailor Moon said as she grabbed the Eternal Tiare and began to focus her energy.

The Senshi looked at each other briefly, before nodding and forming a wall in front of Sailor Moon.

"Mercury Aqua Rhapsody!"

"Burning Mandala!"

"Love and Beauty Shock!"

"Jupiter Oak Evolution!"

The wave of attacks pushed the three youma back. They were weakened, but still alive.

"Now Sailor Moon!" Venus cried out.

With a twirl of the Eternal Tiare, Sailor Moon focused her energy. She seemed to brighten under the darkening night sky. She held the rod outwards and called out in slow clear words as the sky blackened.

"Starlight Honeymoon Therapy Ki-!" She barely got the last word out as the wave of pink light flooded outwards, enveloping the cornered youma, turning them to dust.

Of greater importance was Sailor Moon who, after sending out the attack, cried out in pain. With a flash of light, Sailor Moon turned back into Usagi. She fell to her knees, her eyes rolled back, and she fell over.

"Eternal Sailor Moon!"

The four senshi ran over. As Mercury and Venus were tending to Usagi a chill wind blew threw the park and ghostly laughter echoed around them.

Mars and Jupiter turned, searching wildly for the presence.

"Who's there?" Mars called out..

The voice called out, with a deathly cackling laugh, "Chaos has beeen rebornnnn..."

The sky brightened once more, the nearly full moon shining brightly once more. Jupiter and Mars actively scanned the area as Venus and Mercury gently lifted the unconscious Usagi. Within moments, they headed off into the night.

There was silence that hung in the air between Ranma and Nabiki. Part of this was due to the fact that power suddenly went out in the apartment, plunging them into near darkness. Part of this was because the reason they weren't standing completely in the dark was due to the fact a pale white light was emanating from Ranma.

"Um..." Nabiki's jaw dropped, unable to form a coherent sentence. Nabiki noted that Ranma seemed to almost hover in the air about an inch off the ground.

"Guess the circuit breaker tripped, huh?" Ranma said nervously, "is the breaker box in your apartment? Gonna be kind of late to call the super otherwise and..."

Ranma blinked as Nabiki stood there, silent unmoving, her eyes widened.

"What's with you, 'Biki? Fine! I'll go find the power switch." Ranma started slowly walking around. "That's funny," she muttered to herself, "I'm feeling kind of floaty. Like I'm tipsy or somethin'..."

Ranma shook her head. "Weird." She turned back towards Nabiki, who was slowly coming back from her brief visit to Catatonia. "That's it, I'm gettin' out of this getup," Ranma declared. "I think I need some water, maybe a sports drink. Gettin' dizz-" Ranma passed out onto the floor.

The odango-braided blonde slowly awoke, groaning softly.

"Usagi!" a chorus of voices exclaimed.

"Huh? Where am I?"

"You're at the shrine," Rei said. "It was the closest place to take you."

"Are you okay?" Makoto asked.

Usagi nodded. "I think so. I just felt so weak all of a sudden. My knees gave out and everything faded to black."

"Can you stand up?" Minako asked.

"I'm not sure..." Usagi removed the covers and slowly stood up. He legs were a bit shaky and she leaned against the much taller Makoto for support.

"Guys, I-" Usagi shook her head. "I don't feel good. I feel... empty."

The other girls didn't know what to say. Ami was looking at her computer furiously typing up notes.

Usagi felt a wave of nausea and dizziness and sat back down on Rei's bed.

"I... I think I wanna go home."

"Sure Usagi. We'll walk with you," Minako offered.

Usagi put her legs up on the bed and hugged her knees. She thought to herself, "Mamoru... help me."

After turning the power back on her apartment and pouring herself two fingers of scotch, Nabiki looked down at the unconscious Ranma Saotome. The red and black Sailor Senshi uniform she had commissioned has turned into a mostly blue and white affair, with red knee-length boots replacing the heels. Two red baubles were attached to her unbraided hair, pinning back her bangs. A golden tiara seemed attached to her head. Taking the whole thing in, faint glow included, Nabiki almost felt bad waking the cherubic figure she called her sister's boyfriend up.

Almost. She knelt down next to Ranma and lightly slapped her cheek. When she got a loud snore in return, Nabiki slapped Ranma again with less delicacy and more frustration. When that failed to rouse her, Nabiki filled a highball glass with water and ice and threw it at her face.

Ranma sat up immediately, spitting out water and yelling, "I'm late for work!" She looked around wildly.

"Welcome back, Saotome," Nabiki said before taking a sip of her scotch.

"What... what happened?" Ranma asked, rubbing her temples.

"No idea," Nabiki said. She sighed. "So what's with the light show?" Nabiki pointed to Ranma's torso with her highball glass..

"What're ya..." Ranma began to ask before looking down and seeing the faint glow her body and outfit emitted. "Oh. That ain't good, is it?" she asked.

"Hell if I know." Nabiki said before finishing her glass. She walked over to pour herself another and, after a second to consider, began to pour Ranma a glass as well.

Ranma took the glass with a nod and took a sip. After getting over the strong taste of the Scotch Whisky, she asked, "Um... how do I get outta this thing?"

Nabiki walked over to her couch, which she moved against the window of her apartment, and sat. "Again, I'm at a loss to what you even did."

Ranma started fiddling with the various bows, brooches, and ribbons of her costume. When nothing seemed to work, she threw up her hands and practically whimpered, "Oh, lemme out of this thing!"

As quickly as it appeared, the fancy costume was replaced with the comparatively plain outfit she was wearing earlier.

"Well what do you know..." Nabiki said, "Neat trick."

Ranma sighed. She grabbed her glass and downed the rest of the scotch, prompting her to almost retch afterwards.

"I'm done, 'Biki. I'm gonna take a shower. If you got any beer, I'll take one." Nabiki nodded and Ranma stormed off.

It was about five minutes later, when Nabiki was rifling through her fridge when she was startled by a distinctly high-pitched cry:


There was loud swearing for about fifteen minutes, then silence. About an hour later, Ranma, wearing a pair of loose jeans and a billowy t-shirt, walked out to Nabiki's living room. She was toweling off her wet hair. Her face looked pale, her eyes red, and her expression blank.

"I think I need more of whatever you're having..." Ranma said.

Author Notes: It begins. If anyone feels like trawling Wikipedia, they can figure out when exactly this story takes place. For the record, Ranma drives a 1984 Yamaha XS650. He spent 6 months raising the money for the license and required classes. Previously, he used 1980 Yamaha QT-50 Scooter which, if you search on google, you will note is essentially a gas-powered children's bicycle.

Next Chapter: Mourning the loss of power and, incidentally, penises. Also, the non-sexual harassment-related perils of the food service industry.

Thanks to Frice2000 and Kevin Hammel at fukufics for reading and my friend and collaborator Unsurpassed Travesty for being a sounding board for my ideas.

Please read and review this and all my other works.

From a sunny, if mostly internet-less, beach in Southern Florida: