Continuing Tales

Destiny's Child

A Crossovers Story
by Fire

Part 26 of 26

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Destiny's Child

Though fighting Mistress 9 and the Witches 5 had been hard, Michiru discovered that the experience was nothing compared to raising a baby. Since they had defeated their enemies four weeks ago - Mistress 9, Master Pharaoh 90, Saturn Knight and the corrupted Sailor Saturn - she had embarked on an even greater adventure, the adventure of new life.

When she had been younger, Michiru had dreamt the same things that every girl did: having children and raising a family. When she had fallen in love with Haruka she had realised that there were some sacrifices that their relationship called for, and children was one of them. While the midnight feedings and constant crying was not what she had dreamt about, words could not express just how much she loved little Hotaru. It gave both her and Haruka a sense of completeness in their relationship that they had never realised they were missing.

Despite the shadows under her eyes caused by too many nights of too little sleep, Michiru beamed as she walked down the Tokyo street pushing the pram with the snoozing Hotaru. She was a darling little girl, and whenever Michiru stopped for a moment, other women would compliment her on how nice her baby was. Although Michiru knew that Hotaru was not really her child, she cherished her as much as she would a child from her own womb.

Every day that she spent was a new lesson in fear for Michiru: the fears every good mother suffers. At the sound of the slightest sniffle, she or Haruka would come running. A single cough rose in their minds as the start of some dreadful disease or choking, wrenching them from their sleep. If Hotaru ate too little or ate too much, the girls would spend hours worrying about her. Nothing was ever as bad as it first seemed, and Hotaru thrived under their care.

Waking up every few hours at night had taken its toll, but Michiru was beginning to learn the lessons of every parent. Not every sound is the sign of a disaster, and sometimes you have sleep yourself. No matter what they put themselves through for Hotaru, it was all worth it. Every time the little girl had opened her big purple eyes and smiled up at them, it repaid every second of lost sleep. Her little smile and happy, baby laughter was a memory that Michiru could treasure forever.

School had suffered as a result of the adoption, but she and Haruka had hired a tutor to keep them up to date as the worked through the hardest time in their adopted child's life. Despite the cost, Michiru did not begrudge the extra time or the effect on her marks. She knew that for years to come, she would be able to cherish the look of love that Hotaru would share with her. Even these days the little girl would sometimes look up at her and grin, her big purple eyes shining as she gurgled happily.

It had come as a shock to her three weeks ago when Cologne had sent her a letter detailing some legal matters from China. Although the Inners seemed sure that Ranma had run off somewhere, Cologne seemed equally sure that he was dead. As a result of this, Cologne's tribe had been willed Hotaru and Ranma's entire fortune. Cologne's letter had included a check for several hundred thousand yen, and a statement saying that a lawyer would ensure that Hotaru's guardians received one every month.

Strangest of all, Michiru had been amazed at Cologne's assertion that as soon as Hotaru reached the age of twelve, Cologne had arranged for her to receive the entire balance of the wealth. Neither Michiru nor Haruka came from poor families, but when Cologne had mentioned some of the holdings throughout the world that now belonged to Hotaru, they had been lost for breath.

A brief sniffle brought her attention back to the pram in time for her to see little Hotaru start crying. Smiling beatifically, Michiru pushed the pram over to the edge of the street out of everyone's way. Brushing her thick green hair back behind her shoulder, she knelt in front of the pram and took Hotaru out of the blankets she had been sleeping in.

Lifting the little girl up to rest against her shoulder, Michiru hummed softly and rocked her charge back and forwards. It was a gentle little lullaby that Michiru's mother used to sing to her when she was young, and it brought no end of joy that she could now sing it to someone too. Hotaru might not be her biological daughter, but in every way that mattered, she was Michiru's.

After just a few minutes, Hotaru was sleeping again, holding tightly to a handful of the green locks that her questing hand had found. Not wanting to disturb the girl, Michiru held her securely in one arm and pushed the pram on ahead of her. Haruka would be meeting them soon for lunch, and Michiru would be happy to hold Hotaru until then.

Adjusting the girl so that they were both more comfortable, Michiru smiled. On days like these, with the sun shinning and the birds singing, she felt she could walk along holding her precious bundle all day long. The day was perfect, Hotaru was perfect, her relationship was perfect. Michiru knew that things would just keep getting better and better for the three girls in their little family, and it would continue happily for many years to come.

* * *

Kuonji Ukyo pushed back the writing pad and sighed. She knew she should not feel guilty, but she did. Five weeks ago, the insurance had come through for the Ucchan, and she had restarted in a better location. It seems that when she had initially taken out the insurance, she had made a slight error in her calculations. Now that the disaster was over and the Ucchan was operating again, she still had a nice little sum remaining.

The insurance money that was cushioning her rapidly expanding account was not what made her feel guilty. The insurance company had agreed to the amount, and she knew that they would not hesitate to short-change her if they had the opportunity. What made her feel guilty was the astounding success that the Ucchan was having.

Success in business was not something to be sneezed at. It took luck, preparation, skill and lots of hard work. It was all the hard work that she had been doing that made Ukyo feel guilty, and there was nothing that she could do to change that opinion. Initially, yes, she had been busy. Five weeks ago - when she had opened her new store - she had been run off her feet. By the end of the second day Ukyo had already placed an advertisement in the window for a waitress.

As word had spread about the quality of her food and the unsurpassed service that Ukyo insisted on, more business had flocked in. The simple fact that she had taken on an experienced chef two weeks ago was a testament of that. Keiko - the new chef - was a boon that Ukyo had not appreciated until she had been working there for several days. These days it was the lack of seating space that had Ukyo turning away customers at the rush hours; a business like that did not happen by accident.

It was eleven o'clock at night now, and Ukyo had been studying the numbers on the possibility of getting Keiko to set up a mobile Okonomiyaki yatai. The numbers had looked good all night, right up to the point where fatigue blurred Ukyo's vision and reminded her that she should have gone to bed hours ago.

Sleep was not something that she was expecting to come easily tonight. It had not come easily for the last three days since she had taken a couple of hours off to visit Hotaru. Hotaru was the source of all the guilt that Ukyo felt. It was nothing to do with the little girl, it was all to do with Ukyo. Every time she looked at the girl that had once been her closest friend, Ukyo wanted run away screaming in denial. The girl she had seen could not have been the real Hotaru; there seemed to be nothing left of the brilliant personality that Ukyo remembered so fondly from her childhood.

It had been bad enough when Hotaru had magically been turned into a baby by the evil woman that had attacked her. In those four weeks, Ukyo had been able to excuse her lack of visits easily. She needed to work on her brand new business. Hotaru couldn't tell that it was her. Hotaru was just a baby, it would be years before she grew up.

All that had changed less than a week ago. When she was visiting one day, Rei had told her that something strange had happened to baby Hotaru. Fearing the worst, Ukyo had left the store in Keiko's skilled hands and raced over to Michiru's place in the afternoon between the end of the lunch rush and the start of dinner. There she had been shocked out of her complacency by what had happened.

Overnight - literally - Hotaru had grown into a bouncy and enthusiastic six year old girl. Haruka - Hotaru's foster father - told Ukyo that he and Michiru had been awakened by Hotaru's screams late in the evening as the two of them had been preparing for bed. Fearing the worst, the two had run into their adopted daughter's room and been stunned by what they saw. Rather than a cute little baby, Hotaru had grown to a six year old size in just the couple of hours since they had last checked on her. Hotaru's screams had been easy to understand: the nice, warm, pink little baby suit she had been wearing had literally burst its seams when she had grown. When they had found her, Hotaru was still being pinched tightly by a few last pieces of cloth.

It was this six year old Hotaru that made Ukyo feel so guilty. Ukyo was charging ahead in her life with successes that she had never expected, and in the mean time, Hotaru had been set backwards by more months or years that she did not deserve. It was not just that, it was more that Ukyo no longer felt any plausible justification for why she was not visiting Hotaru more often.

The little girl was all alone in her age group, and Ukyo still thought she was supposed to be Hotaru's friend. While Hotaru had regained some of her memories, it was still only to a six year old level. Six year old Hotaru did not remember Kuonji Ukyo, and that really hurt. It hurt every time that she looked at her friend and saw someone that was not the girl that Ukyo knew. Ukyo's friend was gone, maybe she would return, maybe she would remember some day, but at the moment, the old Hotaru was still dead.

Ukyo had felt so awkward around this transformed Hotaru that she had not returned to visit since then. Worse still, she did not know when she would visit again. It was work, it was life, it was generally everything. Most of all it was watching a stranger in her friend's body. Ukyo was not sure if she could deal with seeing that every time she visited, so she had stayed away.

Standing up, Ukyo resolutely pushed all thoughts of magic, business and Hotaru out of her mind. Walking with the deliberate steps of someone who was tired beyond normal measure, she worked her way to her bed and collapsed on it. With a pained grunt, she sat up again and tossed her bandoleer of spatulas onto the floor.

Lying back on the firm mattress, she remembered when she had first started using spatulas as her weapon of choice. Hotaru had been with her then, both of them in junior high, just starting out as best of friends.

Sighing and covering her eyes with her arm to hide the light of the street lamps, Ukyo tried to sleep and stop thinking about Hotaru and her handsome brother. It always seemed to come down to Hotaru and Ranma in the end. She could not blame Ranma for running out on her again, no matter how much she tried. The space in her heart for him was just too big, and she knew that someday, somehow, he would come back into her life again.

Ukyo would wait for that day. She had waited years to find him and lose him again. Perhaps he was not meant to be the one for her, but she would let fate decide that. Fate, and a large, large spatula.

A smile played across her lips as sleep finally claimed Ukyo.

* * *

Rei plopped down in front of the sacred fire in an untidy sprawl. She sat like that for several long moments before slowly pushing herself to her knees so that she could present herself properly. Gathering the edges of her priestess robes around her, she neatly folded each corner and placed it around her. Once that was done, she moved slightly again and realigned them.

The third time she did this, Rei shook herself thoroughly. "I don't need this! It doesn't have to be absolutely perfect just for a fire reading!"

Looking down at the fire, Rei remembered the time she had done this with Ranma's help. It was when they were investigating the Vision of Silence. Things seemed so simple and free in those days. Ranma come around and help her study in the shrine for a while, then they would get into a shouting match at each other until she eventually threw Ranma out.


Rei sighed.

"Where are you, Ranma? I know you're out there, somewhere. Where are you?"

It was a whisper, but then there was no-one around to hear her. Her father was still away doing something important. He was always doing something important. She had considered telling Haruka and Michiru that raising a daughter was obviously not something that you needed to spend a lot of time on according to her father. She did not think that suggestion would go down too well, since all of the Outer Senshi absolutely doted on Hotaru and seemed to be with her almost every hour of the day.

"I bet she won't have any problems if any boy runs out on her later on. With a 'dad' like Haruka, who'd be game?"

Slowly she poked the corner of her robes again, moving them around on the floor. There was no worry about them getting dirty, she still washed and swept the room every day. She knew she had to attend the sacred fire, no matter what else was happening in the world. It was her duty. Unlike her love life, which apparently needed no tending at all.

"Where are you, Ranma?"

She could tell by the lengthening shadows that she must have been out here for a while. Time just seemed to pass so quickly whenever she went to use the sacred fire these days. Not like when she used it with Ranma in the past. Then it was like a gigantic roller-coaster. Everything was up and down, all the time. You never knew what was going to happen from one minute to the next.

Maybe that was why she was so willing to help Chibi-Usa today. Excitement. Everything seemed almost dead after Ranma had gone. So quiet. So very, very quiet. No egotistical martial artists. No strange, Chinese Amazons with their bizarre attacks and stranger names. No competition with Makoto for the best looking boy in Tokyo. No martial arts lessons.

No Ranma.

For the last few weeks, everything had even been quiet on the demonic front too. With Mistress 9 and her Witches gone for good, everything seemed positively deserted. There had been a couple of minor demons appearing to the west, but the local Mamono Hunters had taken care of them without the Senshi needing to travel all that way. Life was dull and slow and dead boring.

Dead... Just like Saturn Knight. Rei told herself that she did not care that he would fall in love with Sailor Saturn. It was his destiny, and she knew that Hotaru would someday grow up to be the right woman for him. Until then... Until then maybe he would need a friend, someone to talk to. She had hoped with all her might that Usagi had been wrong about what she saw at the top of Mugen Tower. Surely Saturn Knight could not be dead. She didn't think any of the royal families could ever be permanently killed, but if he wasn't dead, then where...?

Reminding herself of the times that they thought that Mamoru was dead or kidnapped, Rei had spent almost every night as Sailor Mars. She either prowled the city - fighting crime much like Sailor V used to - or she would find somewhere that they had once fought or talked and just wait. He never appeared. No matter how long she waited, Saturn Knight did not arrive.

Finally she acceded to Usagi's requests to stop. It was only when the little Moon Senshi had threatened to join her every night just in case Saturn Knight wanted to see his queen that Sailor Mars had decided to resign her dedication. She knew she had been running herself into the ground, but there did not seem to be much option. She had needed a friend, and she was not sure if she could talk to the other Senshi about what was bothering her.

She missed him. As much as she had yelled at the jerk, she missed Ranma. That was what it came down to. She missed Mamoru, she missed Saturn Knight, and she missed Ranma. Mamoru was Endymion and he was Usagi's destined lover. Saturn Knight was destined to fall for Sailor Saturn. Why couldn't Ranma be destined for her? Was there something wrong with her that she could never have a real boyfriend without him being seduced away by some other girl without them even trying?


With a practised motion, Rei uttered the sacred words and set the sacred flames into motion. She had done this every night for the past six weeks. Six weeks since Ranma had vanished without a trace and Mistress 9 had been defeated. Six weeks without a single sign in the mystic fire about him. She knew he was out there, he definitely was not dead. But... he definitely was not alive either. No matter how hard she tried, she could not summon a single image of his face, she could not extract the slightest hint of where he might be.

It was irritating and aggravating, much in the same way that Ranma was when he had been around. Trust him to keep annoying her like this even when he was gone!

Rei silently wished she could hear someone call her an uncute tomboy right then.


"Ranma? What am I always asking about him for? He never helped me before! Feh! He ran out on me, I don't need him, that's for sure!"

Her spiritual search for Ranma faded from the sacred fire, but Rei did not move for more long minutes. A look outside the door showed that it was fully dark now. She knew her grandfather would be pleased with how much time she was spending with her Shinto practises. He would be less pleased if he knew just how much of that time was spent mooning over a boy that had deserted her, but she did not see any need to tell him everything.

When she had come out here this afternoon, she had fully intended not to have anything to do with Ranma. She had not wanted to spend time searching for him, but it had happened anyway. The real reason that she had come here had been Chibi-Usa. The little girl from the future had been having a number of strange dreams, visions even, and Rei wanted to see what she could find out about it.

Pushing her long black hair past her shoulders, Rei shook her head and concentrated. The flame rose and the image of a pegasus appeared. Good! This was exactly what she had been looking for! Chibi-Usa had mentioned a pegasus in her dreams. Any further thought was lost as a deep voiced scream broke the night.


She was on her feet and running for the door when she scream of rage gave way to a muffled grunt of pain. Worried that the unexpected and unwanted guest may have hurt themselves, Rei continued to run, hoping that she could get to the entrance of the shrine where the voice was coming from before they were hurt any more.

Rei's sandals were clattering down the old stone stairs when she heard the voice waft up to her again. "Damn Shrines! Ever since the curse was broken, they seem to be the only thing that I can find... Hey, this one looks familiar."

The mention of curses and the person's distress at being in a Shrine brought Rei's Senshi instincts to the fore. Before she had consciously analysed why, she found herself ducking behind some bushes to the side of the stairs. Looking out, she noticed a oddly familiar boy walking up the stairs. He was large and strong looking, with unruly black hair barely held in check by a dirty looking bandanna. Although he was casting his eyes about curiously, he missed her hiding, which was surprising since she was wearing bright red pants.

He was almost exactly opposite her when he stopped and smashed his fist into his open palm with a meaty thud. "I know this place! It's Ranma's little girl's. I can feel you Ranma; I know you're out there somewhere. Feh, I bet you'll be back here any minute now."

A frightening smile crossed his face. Although he undeniably looked human, he had the largest set of fangs she had ever seen on a man before. The evil chuckle that accompanied the smile did even less for her feelings of comfort. "I think I might just have to wait here for him. When he sees cute little P-Chan, he'll never even suspect that the mighty Ryoga is back in all his glorious strength.

"Tendo Ranma, you shall forever regret the day that you crossed paths with the demonic might of Hibiki Ryoga!"

It had happened just a few weeks ago. He had been wandering along in Okinawa somewhere when he had felt an amazing amount of magic battering at the curse that linked him to Ranma. Suddenly, without explanation, he had felt the curse broken. Freed of the binding that had forced him to become a little piglet, he had relished charging through the woods in his natural form. Now he was back in Tokyo, and the only thing he needed to make his time on the mortal plane complete was the death of Tendo Ranma.

Before Rei's very wide eyes, the large sized Ryoga shrunk into a small, cute black pig. A cute little pig with an easy to recognise scarf around its neck. Quietly Rei drew in a breath of shock as she watched Hotaru's little pet P-Chan scramble its way up the stairs. P-Chan was a demon? Hotaru's pet was a demon? But Rei had held him before, surely she would have felt the power. But, if Rei could not have felt it, then what hope would a little girl like Hotaru have had?

A low snarl escaped her throat as she again cursed Mistress 9 and Souichi Tomoe. They had used the child to their horrid ends, even going to the extent of binding a demon to be her pet just so they could keep an eye on her. With a fire in her eyes that echoed the flames in her heart, Rei raised her wrist and tapped the Senshi communicator to open a channel to all the other Inners.

"Rei here. I've just had a demon walk into the Shrine, saying that he knew that Ranma was around somewhere, and that he was planning on killing him. I've got a few frustrations to work off at the moment, so there's no rush to hurry over. Whenever you're ready."

With another tap, the communicator shut down before the wiser girls could caution her against attacking a demon by herself. She knew that it would be a little dangerous, but that was what she needed now. It was like Makoto sometimes said: you need some action to take your mind off your troubles.

Rising in the bushes, Rei pulled out her Henshin stick and raised it to the sky. "Mars Star Power, Make Up!"

Covered in a cascade of brilliant light and fire, Hino Rei transformed in the Senshi, Sailor Mars. As always, the feeling of strength, speed and magic was almost a drug. Relishing the power that she now possessed, Sailor Mars paused for a moment, holding a striking pose as she drank in the feeling of near omnipotence that came with her transformation.

With a smile on her face, Mars leaped over the bushes in front of her and began to run up the stairs back to the shrine. After just a few moments, she was at the temple proper and looked around. A small movement in the corner of her eye identified Hotaru's pet P-Chan. She still had trouble believing that such a cute little piggy could really be one of the agents of darkness, but she had heard and seen the proof for herself.

Walking smartly across the flagstones, Mars stopped behind the little black pig. P-Chan turned around at the sound of her clicking heels and stopped face-to-face with the red toes of her shoes. A confused 'bwee?' escaped his throat as he contemplated the sight before him.

After a brief, fearful hesitation, P-Chan looked up. Long, perfect, shapely legs seemed to stretch up and up. Craning his thick piggy neck, he traced the lines of perfection further up past her knees, to see the short red skirt billow out over his head and show---

Sailor Mars' confusion turned to revulsion as first P-Chan keeled over to one side, then blood began pouring out of his snout. With a small yelp, she brought her knees together and both hands forced her skirt down as far as it would go. "Perverted little pig! Yaah!"

Drawing back a leg so shapely that it could stun a demon (as it just had), Mars delivered a kick that would have made any professional footballer proud. P-Chan still had not recovered to the point that he could think enough to yell in pain as he sailed into some bushes, but he did leave a small trail of red to point the way. It was not that Sailor Mars' kick had been strong enough to hurt a demon of Ryoga's calibre, it was simply that he was still in shock from what he had seen.

Breathing deeply to try and calm herself, Sailor Mars muttered imprecations under her breath. She had fought vast numbers of enemies before, and while not all of them had acknowledged the freedom of movement granted by the Senshi's uniforms, none of them had been so obviously insulting to her. "That disgusting little pig! I'll eat him for breakfast!"

Calm enough to think, Sailor Mars walked forwards to hunt out the demon piglet when she heard a rustling in the bushes. Reasoning that her target would shortly expose itself, Mars gathered herself and prepared to make roast pig. The rustling continued for a moment, then she could see a pig's snout. However, this snout was larger than P-Chan's, and it was getting bigger.

Forcing the bushes to each side, Hibiki Ryoga grew to his full demonic size. Any trace of the cute, loveable piglet P-Chan was gone. This was a ton of demonic death on the hoof. Despite the fact that his low hanging belly still almost touched the ground, the arch of his back would have topped Sailor Mars' head. His hide had become covered in thick, coarse, grey-black hair almost to the point of being quills along the ruff of his neck and down his spine.

The face was what had changed the most. P-Chan had seemed innocent, with big, caring eyes and a cuddly little snout. Ryoga the raging boar, a denizen of the nether hells of hideous forests, was built to fight. Built to fight and win. Massive tusks protruded from his jaws, and thick muscles were deeply corded down the side of his lean face. A boar the size of a car, he was all meat, bone and nastiness.

Eyes sunken back behind protective bony ridges eyed Sailor Mars speculatively as he idly pawed at the ground, dislodging an ornamental shrubbery. With a voice somewhere between Ryoga's easy patois, the snorting of a bull and the sounds of an angry cement mixer, the demon pig spoke. "Little Senshi. I remember our last dance. But I'm cured now, and you're all alone."

Suddenly Sailor Mars was not so sure about the idea of letting the other Senshi turn up a bit later so that she could work off her frustrations. This time it looked like she may have bitten off more than she could chew. Releasing the fireball that she had been preparing, Mars turned and sprinted for the stairs to the Shrine again. She need space to work against something that big. Just as importantly, Gramps would kill her if she let a demon demolish the Shrine.

With a speed that was totally at odds with his bulk and apparent mass, Ryoga charged his porcine body down the stairs after Sailor Mars. Hot on her trail, Ryoga followed the scantily clad girl across the street, completely failing to notice the building right in front of his nose.

Although Sailor Mars nimbly leapt out of harms way, the massive pig demon was unable to stop as quickly. With a crash that shook the ground, Ryoga's thickly boned head crashed straight through the brick and concrete wall, sending debris flying. By the time Mars touched down again - after having done an immaculate handstand over the travelling bulk - the dust was settling and the rubble motionless.

"Well, you're big but you just can't take it, can you P-Chan?"

When the earth started shaking again and a large, tusked snout pushed its way out of the rubble, Mars backed up again a little nervously. "Let me introduce you to a close personal friend of mine. Fire: pig. Pig: Sunday roast!"

While Ryoga bulled his way out, Mars took the time to compose herself and bring her hands together in front with index fingers extended like she was forming a gun. Summoning some of the elemental fire that her magic was based around, Mars let the ball grow. When she finally released the Mars Fire Soul, she immediately dodged to the side, once again allowing Ryoga's bulk to carry him through the attack.

To her dismay, Ryoga immediately turned around, trying to gore her with one of his huge tusks. Scrambling backwards, she could only watch in horror as the massive pig demon trotted towards her with complete confidence. As she watched, she could understand why: all of the burnt and fried skin across his nose was growing back, leaving him completely undamaged.

"I normally don't like to hurt pretty girls, but for you I'll make an exception. You seem like just the bait I need to draw out that vile Tendo! FIREBALL!"

A great gout of flame pulsed out of the pig's nose, impacting in the spot that had contained Sailor Mars just a short second previously. Moving around to the side, dodging several more fireballs, Mars remembered when she had seen this demon before. It was when they first saw Saturn Knight. She swallowed nervously as she remembered what a difficult fight she and Sailor Mercury had suffered. Worse still, this Ryoga demon looked even bigger and stronger than the last time.

Taking temporary safety on top of a concrete wall, Mars began firing her Burning Mandala at the demon. Forcing herself to concentrate, she tried to kept the small arcs of flame flying from her hands for as long as possible. By the time Ryoga had turned and started to retaliate, she had left a line of roasting pig from his tail to his shoulder.

And boy, did that make him angry!

For the next five minutes, Sailor Mars was reduced to almost constant dodging as Ryoga went berserk. No building was safe as he charged her and fired at every opportunity. Obviously suited to close combat just as well as ranged, Ryoga easily defeated her one effort to get close, and the fractured ribs that she received seemed to burn in her chest with every breath she took.

Moving under the power of her Senshi magic, Sailor Mars was able to prevent any more hits once she realised how dangerous he was to approach. Her main problem was that not only was he lethal at range with fireballs powerful enough to rival her own, but he also knew that he outclassed her thoroughly in hand to hoof combat, so he tried to close every chance he got.

With the number of buildings in ruins, the street was becoming a death trap for a girl in high heels. Ryoga's tough little hooves seemed to have no difficulty gaining purchase, and he crushed most obstacles under his feet with practised ease. Mars in turn had to spend more and more time just finding the right spot to step or jump, further reducing her chances to return fire.

An unfortunate landing after she had attacked mid-air seemed to spell the end. Mars landed awkwardly and was shortly flying again as Ryoga managed to belt her with the side of his head. After bouncing through someone's fence, she slid along the concrete sidewalk until she stopped.

The palm of her left glove was worn all the way through and the abraded skin smarted. Looking up past her red, scratched hand, Mars caught Ryoga's eye. He grinned. It would not be much longer; they both knew that she was weakened by his every attack, but he simply kept healing all the damage that she was doing.

Crabbing backwards on all fours, keeping her eyes on the approaching demon, they were both stunned when Ryoga jumped into the air at least three feet and landed on his belly with a loud thud, the sharp smell of ozone wafting through the air. In the temporary silence, Sailor Jupiter's voice carried like Gabriel blowing the trumpet on the last day. "Sorry, Pig. I've got some _shocking_ news for you."

"Don't worry, I've brought some _ice_ to the party. SHINE AQUA ILLUSION!"

Even as Mercury's ice froze a hind-leg solid from a second direction, Sailor Venus stepped up and sliced her ever trusty Crescent Beam along the side of the demon's face. One of the large ivory tusks fell of, severed by her power and Ryoga bellowed in agony as the pretty soldier in orange finished her speech then jumped down to stand next to the still sitting Mars.

"Hey guys, don't think you can _cut_ me out!"

The pain he could have tolerated. The damage he might have healed in time. The puns were an assault on his senses that Ryoga could not cope with. Bellowing in agony, Ryoga turned to the only direction he had not been attacked from.

Standing in his way was a single girl in a tidy little uniform, each bow in place, only disturbed by the very cross expression on her face.

"Barbecues are for the enjoyment of everyone! Not for the crime of smelling so tasty like well done roast, but for being so evil, you're in a world of trouble. I am Sailor Moon, and in the place of the moon, I shall punish you!"

Seemingly transfixed by the spectacle in front of him, Ryoga was too stunned to move as Moon inscribed a delicate arc through the air. As she made the movements, she slowly called out her attack, building energy.


The brilliant golden beam caught Ryoga fully in the face, outlining him in brilliant light. Soon, all that remained of the demon was his echoing scream as he cursed Ranma one final time.

Peace restored again, Sailor Moon trotted over to join her friends who were helping Mars to her feet. "How was that, Sailor Mars? Do you feel better now?"

Opening her mouth to yell at Sailor Moon, the taller girl paused for a moment. She had just fought for her life against a giant pig demon, demolished huge areas of property, been almost fried, knocked around and bounced of buildings and this nitwit was asking if she was feeling better?

A slow smile graced her lips, blooming into exuberant joy as she placed an arm around her leader's shoulder companionably. "I sure do, Sailor Moon. I sure do."

* * *

For a time, peace reigned throughout Tokyo after the events of Mistress 9's defeat, and the city needed it. In some ominous way, Ryoga's defeat seemed to signal the start of a new series of challenges and opportunities for the Sailor Senshi. Soon the citizens of the city were besieged by marauding villains set on world conquest yet again.

As had always been the case since Beryl first raised her flag and begun to renew her attempts at conquest; the Senshi were the only people who could stand in the way. As to be expected, it stated with the littlest things: the dreams of a small girl.

Chibi-Usa began suffering from new nightmares. While she had initially suffered terrible dreams after her Heart Crystal had been stolen, Usagi's caring presence had slowly helped to soothe those problems. Although the alter ego of the Moon Senshi was often abrupt and liked to tease the little girl with the rabbit fixation, she held a special place in her heart for Chibi-Usa. During the day they would still fight and carry on some times, but at night, when tears threatened, Usagi was there to hold and comfort her.

During those early days, the two Tsukino girls would also spend a lot of time with the Outer Senshi, trying to patch things up. Hotaru had been a close friend of Chibi-Usa, and she like to visit her and read her picture books to the baby every day, even though she knew the little girl in the crib could not understand what she was saying.

The sessions with the Outers were more than just a good will gesture, they were an exercise in fence mending. During the months that they had been awake, the Outer Senshi had done some very callous things. For what had appeared to be the right reasons at the time, the girls had resorted to tactics that Sailor Moon would never use, and it took many days of talking to reconcile some of those differences.

The person that probably did more to mend the rift between the Inner and Outer Senshi was little Hotaru. Just by being there, she brought out the best in the sometimes-cold older girls. The way they would coo to her and tend to her every need made it plain that they bore her no animosity; quite the opposite.

Hotaru's remarkable health also drove home the truth to the Outer's assertions about Sailor Saturn's actions at the end. Possessed and corrupted by both Mistress 9 and Saturn Knight, she had lashed out with lethal intent against the Outer Senshi. When Hotaru had been possessed, she had been weak and frail; now that she was free, her health was incredibly good. While they themselves had attacked first, they were obviously protecting the world from a dangerously unstable but highly powerful Senshi.

Usagi could only nod in agreement and join them playing with the darling little girl. Whatever Hotaru had been, she was gone. The child that the Outers were now blessed with could be brought up in a safe, comfortable and loving environment. The mature girls could teach her how to care for and love others. With them acting as the child's parents, there would be no chance of a repeat of the activities that had almost doomed the world at the same time that it was saved.

Less than three weeks after the schism in the Senshi had been healed; Chibi-Usa was again seeing strange things at night. Unrelated to the nightmares of her past, Chibi-Usa seemed to be the target of some external influence. It became even worse when she would occasionally see the visions during the day too.

Dreams of a pegasus. A beautiful, white, winged horse, flying through the sky. Calling her name and asking her help. She knew that she was needed, and that the poor pegasus needed her help, but she did not know what help to give. That was why she had turned to Rei in the hopes that one of the priestess' famous fire readings would be able to shed some light on the situation.

As it happened, Rei's reading was disrupted by the arrival and defeat of Ryoga. Sailor Mercury's readings on the demon indicated that it was just an exceptionally strong demon, but still a perfectly normal one. Oddly enough, it was the first of many attacks that the Senshi would face in the following months.

Time gave a name to their new enemy, and that name was the Dead Moon Circus. More powerful that any of the previous foes, the Amazonian Quartet had the Senshi against the ropes for many weeks, striking with impunity. It was only through the Senshi's constant vigilance and efforts that the evil warriors did not manage to kill any of the innocent inhabitants of Tokyo.

Throughout this series of events, Sailor Pluto had again vanished. She had been with the other Outers when Hotaru was first given into their care, but now she was gone. Always aloof and beyond the reproach of her peers, Usagi had initially been surprised by the fact that Setsuna had missed almost all her meetings with Michiru and Haruka, but it seemed clearer now.

The Senshi of time had always maintained a precious separation because of her vital and possibly dangerous knowledge. Now that their future was threatened, it was apparent that Setsuna's meddling and subtle guidance was the only way that she worked. Knowledge of the future might jeopardise the actions she would need to take in the present. Worse, if she assisted them in finding the right path to take, the leaders of tomorrow would never learn the confidence in themselves that they needed to command.

Somehow Setsuna also failed to mention to Usagi that she also believed that her special position of Guardian of Time also placed her above some of the criticisms that had been levelled at the Outers as a team. Sure in her power and duty, Setsuna chose the more politically correct measure of being busy whenever Usagi came calling. It was easier than directly confronting the assertive little princess.

When the Inners learned of Setsuna's faith that they could handle the new threat alone, it was a quiet reassurance to the Inner Senshi. When Sailor Saturn and Mistress 9 had risen, Sailor Pluto had been with them often, directing and guiding them with the deft subtlety that only she possessed. Her absence with a signal that the Inner Senshi were growing into their own power.

The powers of the Inner Senshi were growing quite remarkably too, much to the disquiet of the Amazonian Quartet and their leader Neherenia. Each of the Inner Senshi developed their Super Sailor forms, just as Sailor Moon had done before them. Faster, stronger and with better attacks, the Senshi dove into battle with more than their usual determination to win.

No-one took to the powers of the Super Sailor like Sailor Mars. Although everyone else had forgotten the letters that she had received from Saturn Knight, Mars had remained true to the man that she had loved; her forbidden, impossible love. Studying the letters, she had explored his instructions on magic and how to focus. With practice came skill, and with the increased power of her Super Sailor form, Mars proved that she now had the capabilities to handle the demands of that skill.

Second only to her queen, Sailor Mars lead the Inners as they saved the young boy named Elios. Elios had been the one who had sent the images to Chibi-Usa. As a servant of Prince Endymion, Mamoru's other name, Elios had been in a position to know the true goals of Neherenia and the Dead Moon Circus.

It would never be said that their battles were easy, but the Inners fought their way to triumph. While the Outer Senshi watched over the six year old Hotaru, the Inners protected them and the rest of Tokyo. In time, their efforts paid off in a confrontation with Neherenia.

Light triumphed, and four months after Mistress 9 had been dispatched, Neherenia was imprisoned in one of her own crystals, never to attack the innocent again.

Throughout the Inners adventures Tomoe Hotaru played and enjoyed herself. She was now Kaiou Hotaru due to her adopted mother Kaiou Michiru, and accepted her situation as perfectly normal. She had Michiru-Mama, Haruka-Papa and Setsuna-Mama. Although her childlike, six year old mind could not remember anything else, Hotaru could not conceive of a better family than the one she had now.

* * *

"Haruka-Papa! Haruka-Papa! Are we going for a ride? Are we? Are we?"

Haruka looked over the little girl's head to receive an indulgent look and a nod from Michiru. Kneeling down in front of her daughter, Haruka gently tapped her nose and smiled. "And what are you supposed to say when you want something?"


"Come here, you!"

Hotaru let out a girlish scream as her papa lifted her into the air and swung her around before planting her on top of the blonde's shoulders. With one last wave to Michiru, the two of them left the house in a chorus of yelling and happy sounds.

Trotting down the stairs, Haruka took them to her bike and lifted Hotaru off her shoulders. Sitting the six year old between her legs on the front of the bike where she would be completely secure, Haruka brought out a pair of helmets for them. With her own helmet securely fastened, she checked Hotaru's then started the bike.

"OK, Hotaru-chan. Where are we off to today?"


"Hmm, I think there's a race on there today. Where else?"


"Park it is!"

With a roar of the engine, Haruka surged the bike onto the street and began weaving through the traffic. Hotaru kept her little hands on her handlebar, just to help her steer, but Haruka never let her eyes rest on the happy body nestled in front of her for long. Despite her history as a racing driver and her tendency to drive as close to the limit as possible, Haruka drove more defensively today than she normally ever would.

Defensive driving was par for the course when Haruka took Hotaru anywhere. A motor bike was not the safest machine to ride, but she had never managed to convince Hotaru that they should use a car. The little girl lived for the thrill and for the excitement of being close to the road, and Haruka melted inside every time the big purple eyes went to work on her. How could she possibly deny someone like Hotaru anything?

It was only a short ride to the park, but Hotaru enjoyed every minute of it. When they arrived there and Haruka let her off the bike, Hotaru was bouncing on the spot with restrained energy as she waited for her papa to lock up their helmets. Haruka was just finishing when an excited voice yelled to her.

"Too slow, Haruka-Papa. Race you to the tree!"

Despite the lead, Haruka's longer legs quickly made up the distance to the girl and she slowed down, pretending to run all out as Hotaru raced for the big tree in the middle of the park. Hotaru's athletic ability never failed to amaze and delight Haruka who was an excellent track athlete as well. These days it seemed that Hotaru was always climbing on something or running and jumping everywhere. She was just so different for the sickly little girl that had become the corrupted Sailor Saturn.

"Ohh, you beat me again, Hotaru-chan! I bet I can beat you to the next tree."

They were off again, both girls with wide grins plastered across their faces. They had done these races so often, it was almost scripted. First the big tree in the middle of the park, then race to the eastern corner. After that they would usually chase each other playing tag for a while till one of them fell down exhausted. As much as Haruka hated to admit the fact, it was almost her that collapsed first some days. It was only the fact that her bold little Hotaru-chan would probably drag her back to the bike and try to drive her home that kept Haruka moving at the end of a session in the park.

Haruka was running away from Hotaru now, just staying far enough away that the six year old could not tag her. Although she had loved Hotaru as a baby, it was nothing compared to what she felt now. In Hotaru she could see a kindred spirit. Her daughter was just the same lively sort of firebrand that she was, and Haruka loved it.

Sometimes Hotaru would get on Setsuna's nerves. She was always climbing over the Time Senshi, playing games with her staff and trying to get the older woman to join them in games. Sometimes Haruka was willing to admit that a lively game of tag through the house just before dinner was a bit much, but you would be hard pressed to extract that confession from her.

Personally it could have been worse for Setsuna as far as Haruka could see. What if Hotaru had stayed sickly and taken after the more intellectually oriented Michiru rather than her? Setsuna might have been barraged with violin performances or Shakespeare recitals instead. Much better that their little girl was a healthy bundle of energy.

The only thing that worried Haruka - other than the fact that Hotaru had caught her, so now she had to try and tag the slippery six year old - was Hotaru's growth. Three months ago Hotaru had aged six years literally overnight. Since then, nothing. While Hotaru was her first child (and possibly only child ever), she knew that this was not entirely normal. Surely in three months the girl should have grown slightly.

Despite her growth problems, they held out hope that one day she would have another growth spurt and return to her proper age of twelve. Haruka's laughing smile grew even wider at that thought. She could just see visions of their little Hotaru competing in races just like her parents had done.

A while ago Haruka had raised the idea of getting Hotaru trained in martial arts once her growth stabilised. Michiru had been more in favour of the more ladylike gymnastics that most schools offered, and after a long discussion in bed, Haruka had agreed. With her Senshi powers, Sailor Saturn would never need mere martial arts. Even worse, there was the possibility that martial arts training might bring up some of the unpleasant memories of when Mistress 9 had been in control of her mind.

Seeing Hotaru tiring, Haruka lengthened her steps until she caught the girl in her arms and gently tackled her to the ground. After a little wrestling and quite a bit of tickling, Hotaru ended up sitting on Haruka looking down at her papa with triumph on her face.

"I win! You have to buy me ice-cream!"

"You'll eat you're dinner when we go home to your mama, won't you?"

Taking the nod as a solemn promise, Haruka lifted Hotaru off her stomach and onto her shoulders again, then stood up. Walking towards the ice-cream stand, Haruka was only dimly aware of mothers in the park who stopped to admire the handsome man and his daughter. Women who often wished their own husbands would be so good with children. Haruka never noticed them because as usual she was too busy thinking.

Thinking that she had Hotaru and she had Michiru. Life could not possibly be any better than this.

* * *

Ranma's eyes flew open and she held in a pained scream with all her might. Nothing more than the slightest gasp managed to penetrate her lips, as something squeezed her in a tight and painful manner. What made it even worse was the fact that she seemed to hurt most in _those_ places; places that no-one had ever really touched her girl form.

Working her way through the pain with big breaths, Ranma inhaled deeply and quietly. She was not sure why she needed to be quiet, but something said to her that things were not right. Something other than the pain and the fact that she was female, in a bed, and no longer on top of Mugen Tower attacking Master Pharaoh 90.

Looking down at herself, she flipped off the warm, comfortable blanket and was no longer surprised at her pain. Somehow, someone had managed to force her body - the size of a normal twelve year old girl - into a set of warm pyjamas that were many sizes too small for her. She was literally bursting out of them, but the extra stitching in places had made some of the seams strong enough that they did not break, only cause her great pain.

As silent as a feather on the wind, Ranma slipped from the bed and began to remove her clothes. She was half done when she froze in mid- movement. She remembered. In every, horrible, mind numbing detail she remembered what had been done to her for the last three months. The first month after Mugen was a complete mystery, but the rest she could recall as clearly as anything in her life. Still shaking from the shock of it all, Ranma sat on the bed and wrapped the blanket around her quivering shoulders.

The witches had won. That much was obvious. They had won and Queen Serenity was dead. She had to be dead; Ranma's queen would never have allowed the three witches to do this sort of thing to him (or her) if she had been alive.

Ranma and Queen Serenity had gone into the portal to defeat Master Pharaoh 90. That much was perfectly clear, the rest was painfully obvious by deduction from the memories that Ranma possessed. They had beaten Pharaoh 90; that evil being was Master of nothing now, otherwise the Earth would not be here, that much Ranma knew with ease. Equally obvious was the fact that Ranma's ultimate Sailor attack was too much for her to cope with after that day's trauma.

Evidently the witches had found her in a weakened and probably unconscious condition. Who knows, maybe they found the queen that way too. Ranma could easily envisage Michiru and Haruka standing over the unconscious girl and looking down on her with the same cold detachment that they had shown with Ukyo's Heart Crystal so long ago.

"Can we use her?"

"No, she's too good; too pure. We could never break her."

Setsuna's voice would come from behind them. She always seemed to lurk in the shadows. "Then kill her."

And they would.

Ranma, of course, would have been another matter. Ranma knew that she was not as pure and unsullied as Queen Serenity. She would have the weaknesses that they could exploit. Anyone that could fall for Mistress 9's lies would be easy prey for a deception as carefully created as the three witches'.

How they had changed Ranma into a six year old and erased her memories did not really matter. All that mattered was the fact that they had succeeded. It was not sufficient that they killed her, they wanted to turn her into one of them. They wanted an obedient pawn bent to their will. Ranma knew from overheard conversations that they knew 'Hotaru' would be exceptionally powerful when she grew up. Sometimes, when they thought she could no hear, Ranma could remember Michiru and Haruka saying how important it was that 'Hotaru' grew up correctly so that she would only use her power "the right way".

"The right way". Their way! It was an audacious plan, since the evil witches would have had no idea about Ranma's curse. Magically change the super powered Sailor into a little girl then brainwash her for six years. Pretend to be the ideal parents and she would be putty in your hand when you finally make your bid for power. Elegant, simple and it almost worked.

The three witches - Michiru, Haruka and Setsuna - had never known to factor in the curse. Spring Of The Drowned Young Girl. Some of the most potent magic that Ranma had ever heard of in her entire life. Powered by the magical energies of Sailor Saturn's soul, this spring had made Ranma stay the same age for the last four hundred years. Never ageing a day in his girl form, it was proof against almost any magic that he had tried.

Even with his co-operation, Mistress 9 had taken years to break the spell and split his body. When he had recovered his cursed form and destroyed Mistress 9, the curse must have still been weak, the magical bonds shattered by the power of Mistress 9's arduous work. Combined with the devastating power of Ranma's own spell to destroy Master Pharaoh 90, she would have been easy prey for witches, and they would never have known about the curse.

That was the one piece of luck in this whole sorry tale. The power of the curse that Ranma had hated all those years became the one thing that saved her from becoming an indoctrinated slave. Now that the curse had received sufficient time to stabilise itself, it had gone to work. In one single evening, it had restored Ranma to the body of Sailor Saturn's mundane form: the girl recently known as Hotaru. With the restoration of her body came the restoration of her mind. Ranma remembered, and she was not happy.

The fact that the curse's overnight growth was the cause of her current painfully small attire was of scant comfort. She knew that she was living in a house with at least two of the witches, possibly three since she was vague on whether Setsuna stayed there on a regular basis. There really was only one thing that she could do in a situation like this. As much as Ranma hated the idea of killing people, no-one deserved it more than those three.

Setsuna had access to the Gates of Time and used those powers with wild and reckless abandon. Together the three of them were responsible for her friend Kikyo's death, not to mention doubtless others that Ranma had never seen. They had killed his queen, attacked him without provocation and not least of all, they had ruined any possible chance of a relationship with Rei. Worst of all, they had not been content to kill him like an honourable enemy. Instead they had gone to such lengths to destroy his mind so that they could turn Ranma into a weapon bound to them by ties of loyalty, love and ignorance.

Ripping off the last shreds of the pyjamas, Ranma knotted the blanket around her shoulders as a cloak and stood up. They needed to die, and Ranma knew just the spell to use. Ever since she had fought the Daimon and used her Dragon Slave, she had known that it was too powerful to use in the city. The person who had taught him magic - Lina Inverse - had hinted at other spells almost as powerful like the Gaav Flare, but she had died of old age before she was able to pass on all her knowledge. With that in mind, Ranma had been working on a way to focus and enhance the Dragon Slave.

Even after months of study and thought, Ranma still only had a partial solution. He could limit the size of a Dragon Slave, but it did not concentrate the power at all. The containment section of the spell simply prevented portions of Ruby Eye Shabranigdo's power from entering the world. That did not matter, even a normal strength Dragon Slave should be sufficient to destroy those horrible women.

The other problem with the containment spell for the Dragon Slave was time. It would take almost two hours to cast the containment, which made it totally useless for combat. Ranma would have dearly loved to be able to cast a spell with the full potency of the Dragon Slave but limited to only a dozen meters across, it would have been ideal for fighting Daimons or Witches. Maybe Lina would have been able to cast it quickly or been able to advise Ranma how to refine her spell, but she was not here, so Ranma would have to make do with what she had.

A quick glance at the clock made Ranma smile in a most frightening and sinister manner. A quarter to eleven. A reasonable guess would place that as the time that she had gone to fight Pharaoh 90. Yet another indicator that the witches had taken advantage of his weakened state. It was, however, a good indicator that people would be asleep. Ranma's smile broadened as she remembered that the women she lived with liked to sleep till at least seven or eight in the morning. That gave Ranma a good nine hours to set things in motion.

First, though, Ranma needed to prepare. Not the least of which was seeing if she could duplicate some of Mistress 9's work on his curse. Maybe curse was not the right word anymore. After so long, he had regained his memories of being Sailor Saturn. She was a girl, there was no doubt about that, and Ranma was Sailor Saturn. However, Ranma was also Saturn Knight, and he had been brought up as a boy. Even if she had the capability of curing herself, Ranma no longer really desired it. Eliminating his girl side would be... wrong somehow. Not murder, maybe more like suicide.

Ranma's curse had reverted to its fully active level which was why none of the witches had noticed the connection between Hotaru and Ranma. It would have been hard to cultivate the mindless adoration that they so obviously desired if they tried pouring boiling water on the little girl. Furthermore, unless Cologne-chan had told them, they would have had no reason to suspect that 'Hotaru' would have been affected by hot water in any way.

Despite Ranma's desire to keep his girl side, there was no reason to remain a girl all the time, since his soul also was half boy. The magic of the curse had only just regained enough strength to restore Ranma to her proper age, finally breaking the effects of the magic that had caused her excessive youth. Furthermore, he only wanted to go part way to breaking the curse. Halfway, perhaps, just like he had been used to recently. With Mistress 9 having already done the work once and Ranma having access to the full power of Sailor Saturn combined with the delicacy of his own magical abilities, a partial cure should be no great difficulty.

Sitting on the bed with the blanket around her small shoulders to keep her warm, Ranma meditated and worked her own magic. It took a little over an hour, but it was time well spent. Changing sex would be as close as the nearest hot and cold taps from now on. Just as importantly, the time it took to cast allowed anyone else in the house to be soundly asleep. By the time she had finished, Ranma had discovered an additional bonus: she could now extend Sailor Saturn's longevity to her boy form as well. If she wanted it, near immortality was within her grasp.

Stealing quietly from her room on delicate feet, Ranma did not spare a single glance backwards. She did not want to remember any of the joy and happiness associated with that place. It was all just part of the horrid deception perpetrated against her. As she walked down the hallway, Ranma turned her head and looked away from a picture hung on the wall. She had enjoyed the time shown in the picture so much, it hurt her when she looked at it with an adults eyes and realised that her entire time here was built on lies and evil.

By the time Ranma silently pushed open the door to the master bedroom, she had already identified Setsuna as the only other person sleeping in the house. Crisp memories of recent months told her that she was lucky to have encountered the woman here, but Ranma was never one to resent good luck. Leaning her head past the doorway, Ranma clenched her jaw, sending small muscles rippling up and down her cheek.

There they were: Michiru and Haruka. They were the worst of them all. Setsuna was a threat to humanity; Mistress 9 and the Witches 5 wanted to kill people but them... They seemed to take constant pleasure in the destruction of her mind and rebuilding it in their own warped way. Be impossibly good parents and make the kid dote on you. No ordinary twelve year old would have been able to resist their pressures. The two women's plot was so despicable that it made her ill.

Two women....

Ranma closed the door behind her and leaned against the wall. Two women. Michiru and Haruka were both women. Ranma knew that, but it had always been quite obvious to Ranma that Michiru had not known about Haruka's nature. After all, even Ranma had been able to see how smitten the green haired woman had been with the taller blonde. But... they were both women...

Seeing them both lying in bed, naked, holding each other made Ranma's head reel with confusion. Michiru definitely knew the sex of her friend, it would have been impossible to miss. But they were in bed together... It did not make any sense. Ranma and Akane used to hold each other even when Ranma had been in his girl form, but he was really a guy. Even then, there would be no reason for those two to be together since there was no way that a female Haruka could provide a man's love.

Ranma realised that since she looked like a little girl, no-one ever discussed sex in her presence. She knew that there were lots of "special tricks" that she had never known. Equally, Akane had been as traditional as Ranma had been when he was young. Despite all of that, two women together just did not make sense.


Ranma's eyebrows knitted together in a very cute frown as she padded downstairs. The lengths that these two would go to sickened her. Just to make it look like they were a normal family, those two women were obviously pretending to be man and wife. Well, soon it would all be over, and their dastardly actions would all be for naught.

Ranma moved through the laundry like a ghost. Running the hot water tap made a little noise, but with the door closed, it would not penetrate far. By midnight Ranma was wearing a reasonably fitting set of Haruka's plainest clothes and was a man again. He had completed his reconnaissance and was sure there was no-one but the guilty in the house. Stepping back into the main living room, he cleared a space on the table and put his plan in motion.

No-one was perfect, and Ranma was quite willing to admit that somehow, by some extraordinary set of circumstances, this was all a big misunderstanding. If it was not for the risk of waking the witches, he would have laughed aloud at the suggestion, but he knew that it was better to be safe than sorry. So... What he needed was a trap. Something that would kill the witches with 100% certainty, but be able to be defused by him and him alone.

Aside from magical combat, magical traps seemed to have been something that had caused the mighty Lina Inverse no end of troubles. Naturally she had taught Ranma what seemed like a million and one ways to escape from traps, just in case he ever suffered the same problems. The simple fact that he had never encountered one single magical trap in over two hundred years by that stage did not matter. Traps had been on the curriculum and now he was glad for it. Because once you know how to defuse a trap, you know how to set it.

Settling down on the floor in front of the table, Ranma began to weave energy in the air. Over the next six hours he built his trap, elegant in its simplicity. The entire trap was based around the containment spell for the Dragon Slave. If the trap was sprung, the spell would be able to escape and activate, destroying the entire house; the Dragon Slave's terrible power limited only by the containment zone.

A beautiful trap really, sure to kill almost anyone. _Almost_ anyone. Ranma remembered his failure to kill Setsuna in the tower at Mugen Academy. All three of the witches had powerful magic and may well be stronger or smarter than he was willing to give them credit for. What if they found a way to contract the Dragon Slave's area further before the trap was sprung? What if there was some other way out that he had not considered?

The answer was obvious: do something they would never think of, and could not notice. Just like any magic user, he was sure in his heart that none of the three witches realised the power of the human spirit. That was why his trap was designed to hold not just the Dragon Slave, but also a Shi Shi Hokodon. When the trap was sprung - or when it finally decayed and activated itself - both magical and Ki attacks would scour the house of evil.

Six o'clock. Ranma was ready. The trap was sitting in front of him, glowing with a soft orange light. Settled on the table were strands of magic: triggers for the trap. Once he had thrown them, they would be active and anyone that moved them would instantly spring the trap with deadly results. Now all that was needed was to arm the trap and place the Ki and magic needed into it to make it a deadly weapon.

Concentrating on all the evil that had been done to him, Ranma begun to build the heavy Ki needed for the Shi Shi Hokodon. He remembered how he had lost Sailor Mars to someone unknown. He remembered how Mistress 9 had tricked him. How the witches had brainwashed him. All the pain in his life...

Glowing brightly in a sick, shifting green colour, Ranma placed his hands over the innocuous looking trap. Looking nothing more than a glowing orange urn, it should not have been able to hold this much power, but he knew it would. "SHI SHI HOKODON!"

Shaking from the exertion of limiting his blast to just the right power, Ranma sent a blaze of green energy from his hands and into the trap. After three seconds it was done and he inhaled deeply. Almost certainly his shout had woken people, because he could hear some sounds of movement from above. Well, if that did not wake the house, this certainly would:

"Darkness beyond twilight,"
"Crimson beyond blood that flows,"
"Buried in the flow of time."
"In thy great name,"
"I pledge myself to darkness."
"Let all the fools,"
"Who stand in our way,"
"Be destroyed"
"By the power you and I possess."

The brilliant pink beam of irresistible magic had just finished coursing into the trap when Setsuna burst into the room. She was dark green silk pyjamas that perfectly set off her hair; just the sort of thing that you would want to wear at your funeral. Entering the room in time to see Ranma finishing casting his spell, she glared at him and instantly pulled out her henshin stick. Setsuna had no idea what Hotaru's brother was doing here, but she could feel the evil energies he had been playing with, and could tell instantly that he was not on her side.

Setsuna was raising the stick to the ceiling when Ranma reached to the table and lifted what looked like a glowing ball of thick orange yarn. Before she could transform, he had thrown it at her, causing Setsuna to instinctively block. Amazingly, there was no pain or discomfort, just a slight stiffness as the yarn seemed to harden on contact. Snorting in derision, she was just about to drop her guard and resume her transformation when her eyes tracked the path of the glowing magical strands.

What had once been loose coils of magical energy were now rigid rods leading straight to the glowing bottle or urn on the table. Even without the improved magical vision given by her Senshi transformation, Setsuna could see the bottle fray and shake slightly with her slightest movement. The Time Guardian's eyes went wide and she looked at Ranma with amazement and horror, but without moving a muscle.

"Yes, that's right you... Ah! More guests!"

"Michiru! Haruka! No!"

Setsuna cried out for them to stay away, but it was too late. Just like Setsuna, the pair had recklessly changed into their living room, and they were snared instantly. Michiru quickly understood their predicament, but Haruka was slower on the uptake. She was only just prevented from blowing them all sky high by the frantic calls of the other two women. For a moment she stopped and glared at Ranma.

"What have you done with Hotaru-chan?"

Ranma ignored her. He had been rather worried that one of the three of them would have tripped the trap immediately, killing him with it. It was dangerous to have done it this way, but it was the only way that he could be sure that he would get all three.

"You will notice that you are now attached to my little trap here. Your slightest movement will detonate the spells that I have locked in there. So I really suggest you remain perfectly still."

"Why? What did we ever do to you?"

"Wh---? Yo---!" Ranma spluttered incoherently for several moments. "For all of your crimes, this is your punishment. In six hours that trap will open of its own accord, then you and everything else in this house will be destroyed instantly."

Turning on his heel, Ranma strode to the door and pulled it open. Recovering from the shock of the early morning attack, Michiru finally gathered her wits. She and Haruka had visited Hotaru's room before coming down here, only to find the little bedroom empty and the tattered remains of the small girl's night clothes scattered across the floor.

"Wait! What have you done with my Hotaru-chan?"

"Your Hotaru-chan? YOUR Hotaru-chan?! _YOURS!_ She's dead! She never even existed! You'll never see _your_ Hotaru-chan again!"

Ranma was too filled with rage, too busy staking out the front door and slamming it behind him to notice what had happened behind him. All three women had gone as white as sheets, Michiru had almost collapsed on the floor detonating the trap instantly as visions of a murdered little girl filled her head. If he had spared the time to look at the women and seen the utter defeat and hopelessness on Michiru's face as she sobbed "no" again and again, he would have changed his opinions instantly.

After a few moments of shock, Haruka turned a bright beetroot red and began to shake in anger. "When I get out of here I am going to find that bastard, and I am going to tear him apart! He killed our little Hotaru! There is _nowhere_ dark enough that he will be able to hide from me!"

All three continued to suffer the loss of their adopted daughter in their own way until Setsuna broke the silence. "I've got my henshin stick out, but I can't transform without moving. I can't even enter the Time Stream without setting this thing off!"

Haruka swivelled her eyes as far as she could without moving her head. "Do you know what's on the table? Can we afford to just let it go off?"

Protected by the arms that she had raised, Setsuna's head was free of any of the entangling magic. She shook it dolefully. "No. I'm almost certain that I saw him casting a Dragon Slave into there. If we let this thing explode, us, and every house for a kilometre around us will become nothing more than a memory. "We have to diffuse it, and we have to do it fast. If we let it go off in six hours, only the Kami know how many people will die."

There was silence as they looked at the glowing, magical urn on the table. It seemed to be fraying slightly at the edges even as they stood there.

* * *

There were not many stairs leading up to the shrine, but to Ranma, it seemed as tall as Mt Everest. It had been four months since his memories had been stolen, and he could remember a few times that Rei had innocently visited the people that had kidnapped him and tried to destroy his memories. She may not have said it directly, but he could remember Rei asking why Ranma had run out on her.

That was the crux of the problem. He knew that he had been kidnapped against his will, but how could he possibly convey that Rei? She had always had a hot temper. Would he even be able to get a word in edgeways when they met?

Brushing his hair back, he made sure that it was neatly in its ponytail. Placing one foot on the first step, Ranma look up the stairs to the temple and took a deep breath. It would be hard, he knew it would be hard, but the most important things in life were always hard to obtain. Inhaling deeply, he held his breath for a moment then released it as he began to walk.

For the last four hundred years he had held himself aloft from any women that he met. In his life he had loved Akane as much as any mortal man possibly could, and the loss of that one woman had almost killed him. For four hundred years he had managed to stave off the prospect of falling in love again. If he fell in love he knew that it would be doomed to end the same way that it had with Akane. As he stayed eternally young, the woman he loved would be doomed to grow older and die in his arms.

The struggle to save himself from repeating the pain of that loss had failed when he had met both Rei and Sailor Mars. He knew now - with his memories of being Sailor Saturn - that Sailor Mars would have been perfect for him. Sailor Mars also possessed the magical abilities to stay young forever, together they would never need to worry about growing old. Mars had made it painfully clear to him that she did not love him, that in fact she cared for someone else. Those where her very words, so long ago: "Saturn Knight, there is someone else..."

With Mars gone from the picture, it should have been easier to resist the temptation offered by Rei. "She'll reject you too." "You don't want to see her grow old." "She could not have been as perfect as Sailor Mars." All these things and more Ranma had repeated to himself trying to strengthen his resolution, but it had crumbled when she had reached out and made herself the one to take the first real step in their relationship.

That was why he was here now. She believed he had abandoned her, betrayed her even. He knew the unending pain that he would one day face if he went back to her, but he could not just run away. Hino Rei meant too much to him, and it would torment him till the day he died if he did not get the chance to tell her of the love that he felt.

Walking up the stairs his footfalls had softened into the silence in which he usually walked. Perfected over hundreds of years of practice, he had mastered the art of silent movement. His presence was so unnoticeable that he was now less than three feet from Rei and watching from behind as she worked at keeping the shrine clean.

Rei's long black hair, so clean that it seemed to shine in the morning light, was tied back today. The gorgeous river of black that normally cascaded unhampered all the way down her lean body was held at the nape of her neck in a simple white piece of cloth. Dressed in the apparel of a priestess, Rei looked the part perfectly, with bright red, wide pants, and a seemingly oversized white shirt. Occasionally he would catch a glimpse of the side of her face or the back of her neck as she worked, and he held his breath, enthralled by the majesty of her simple motions.

"Rei-san." The effect was nothing short of electric. In mid-sweep she stopped and stood as still as a statue. He had not even realised that he had spoken, since he was so absorbed in just looking at her.


With the ponderous slowness that seems to come at every pivotal point, Rei turned, the broom falling from her loose fingers. Watching as the woman he loved turned, Ranma swore that he could have counted every single hair on her head in the time it took for her to face him. At first as Rei turned, her face was pale and drawn, but he could see the colour and animation returning quickly. When she finally stopped, he could almost see small thunderclouds forming in response to her expression.

Caught in her big eyes, Ranma did not even see the hand that caught him across the side of the face and knocked him to the ground. From his supine position, Ranma looked up at Rei and half brought a hand to his face, the shock of the blow stinging more than the actual pain.


"You _bastard_!" Rei's cheeks coloured a bright, fiery read as she realised just how strong the language was that she had used. "You run out on me for four months and you think you can just come back in here? Get out! Get out! I never want to see you again!"

"No..." His throat was dry and the word barely came out as a whisper. Rei would not have heard it anyway. Before she had finished, she had already turned and run back for the house. One billowing white sleeve was held across her face, soaking up the tears that surely accompanied the sounds of her crying.

Still sitting stunned on the ground, Ranma distantly heard a rice paper door slam shut on its runners. With one hand he delicately touched the side of his face where she had struck him. The pain was gone, but the burning feel of her touch was not something that he would quickly forget. A small, incoherent sound escaped his throat as he realised what had just happened: she hated him. The woman that he loved, a woman he was willing to love despite the centuries of pain that he knew it would bring; she hated him.

Levering himself to his feet, Ranma began to glow a dangerous green colour as his emotions took over from his control. All blame for this simply fell onto one group of people. If those witches had been willing to leave him alone, this would never have happened. If they had even been satisfied with killing him, at least Rei could have rested easily with the knowledge of his death rather than his apparent desertion. The quick death he had planned was too good for them! He would go back to their home and torment those witches until at last the trap detonated and ended all their pain!

He was two steps from where he had fallen when he stopped short. Mr Tendo had never let a student give up. His father had drummed in the idea of perseverance above everything. Akane would never have married a man who quit at the first sign of trouble. But yet here he was, preparing to run away from his pain at the first sign of hardship.

It was not hard to find Rei again. He could have followed the sounds of her crying throughout the shrine. Standing outside the thin door, he could not help but think how easily he could have beaten his way through it. Tendo Ranma was a master at more forms of martial arts than most people had even heard of. He was as strong as ten men, empowered with more Ki than he knew what to do with, and he was the holder of some of the most dangerous magical knowledge to ever exist. For all of that, it would not help him in the slightest to get through a thin door that was paper and thin wood.

"Rei-san! Please. You have to listen to me. It's not my fault..."

There was a brief sound of small fists hitting the wooden floor in pained frustration. "Stop it! Just go away!"

"Please! I have to make you understand."

"Understand? Oh, I understand all right. I talked with Ukyo after you ran off. She understood everything too. I was just like after you ran off when you got engaged to her. Wasn't it?"

"No! It was never---"

"It was! Don't try lying to me! I asked you on just one little date and it was too much. You just had to run away and leave me alone again! You couldn't even say 'no' to my face, you coward!"

"That's not true! I wanted---"

"Liar! Leave me alone!"

For a time Ranma was silent. Nothing he said seemed to be reaching her. If he could not even get her to listen to him, there was no chance of him ever explain what had truly happened. Looking down past hands he had impotently clenched into fists, he watched the door shake in time with the deep, body wracking sobs that came from beyond it.

Gathering himself once more, Ranma took a guess. He knew that Rei and Chibi-Usa had been two of Hotaru's friends. Perhaps, just perhaps, they had been back to Tomoe Souichi's house and seen what had been in his bedroom.

"Back before... Before things happened, you gave me a note that asked me to go out with you." As he talked, his voice rose to cover the sounds she was making. It was vital that she heard what he had to say. If he could not convince her with this, he would stand outside this door all day if necessary and keep trying.

"I never got a chance to say 'yes', things happened just too soon. But... did you ever go into Hotaru's room at her home?" Silence greeted his question. It was better than crying or abuse. "In her cupboard, on the top shelf, there was a dress. It was made out of red silk. The same silk that I always use in my shirts. _I_ made that dress. I made it for you... Rei-chan."

There was more silence. Suddenly the door slide open. Just and inch or so, but it was enough for him to see Rei's bloodshot eyes peering out at him. They looked up at him with fear and anxiousness. Written large all over her face was the clear statement that if the next words out of his mouth were not the ones she wanted to hear, she would never speak to him again.

"You made it? What was it like?"

Ranma closed his eyes and smiled as he remembered how much he had enjoyed making the dress for Rei. If he was lucky there was still hope that he might some day see her wearing it. "I did. It was long, it would have come down all the way to your ankles if you wore heels. And the back was low, really low. I... I wanted to show everyone what a nice back you have..."

She blushed. It was not the red of her furious anger from earlier, but a rosy blush that every embarrassed school girl gets when she has been complimented. "I... I have a nice back?"

"Well," Ranma said, plucking at one of her long, white sleeves. "It's a bit hard to tell in this... but yes, you do. All that sweeping and stuff must have helped build your muscles. It looks real nice, brings out the tomboy in you I guess."

It was only when he saw the shocked look of hurt on her face that he realise what he had said. This time, as the door slid shut, he grabbed it in an iron grip and stopped it dead. "Wait! Rei-chan... I'm sorry. It... It was something I always used to call Akane. She was always my tomboy, so big and tough and macho.

"From the first time I saw you I felt something. I don't know what it was... It was more than just desire, I knew that I needed you."

Kneeling down on the wooden veranda just outside the door, Ranma looked around timidly then slowly took one of Rei's hands. She just watched silently, waiting for him to continue. As she sat there, he watched her pretty face and watched as every single emotion he knew of played across its elegant lines. For the moment, her face had settled into an expression of hope.

"That was why I called you a tomboy all the time. I knew you hated it, and the only way I could stop myself was by always trying to keep you away. I just knew that it would hurt too much if I ever allowed myself to get close."

"Why? What could be so wrong about being nice to me for a change?"

"Because... Because if I started being nice, I would never be able to stop. I didn't want to fall in love again, I just couldn't help it. I had to keep you away by calling you names and things, but you came to me anyway, Rei-chan"

"You just called me 'Rei-chan' again." She smiled and squeezed his hand briefly. "Does this mean that you don't want to keep me away anymore?"

"I couldn't stay away if I tried. No-one in the world could keep me away from you now, Rei-chan."

"But I still don't understand. Was it too soon after Akane? Couldn't you have just waited? I... We don't need to rush things... I'm still at school after all."

"Too soon? No that's the exact opposite of the problem. It's my... well, call it my curse, but I'm not sure if that's the right word for it now. Part of my curse kept me young for a long, long time. Did you ever see the pictures in Hotaru's room?"

"You mean the ones of... No! You don't mean that... But Ami-chan said that they were over three hundred years old!"

Ranma nodded sadly. "I watched, every day, as my beloved Akane grew older and older, while I stayed exactly the same. For so long, I was frightened that if I ever loved someone again, I'd have to go through that all over once more. I tried to stay away from you, Rei-chan. I really did. But... I couldn't resist you. You are too perfect."

"Oh, Ranma." It was almost a sigh, and before he knew it, Rei was nestled against his chest. Rei was not sure why she believed him so easily, but she did. Maybe it was the little things that had seemed so strange in the past. The fact that someone his age could know Cologne, but never have met Shampoo. Even stranger was the fact that he was supposed to be just as skilled as Cologne, despite the old woman's age. Then there was the fact that he was so well travelled with friends all over the world. And the fact that he still seemed to be the same age as he had been when Ukyo had known him... just like his sister.

The whole idea of immortality should have been hard for her to swallow. Rei knew that she should not have believed in the very idea that someone could live for hundreds of years, but she had seen proof of it herself. It was not long ago that she and the rest of the Senshi had travelled a thousand years into the future to a time when they were all still alive. It was a big jump from accepting a Senshi as immortal to accepting Ranma as an immortal, but it was a much smaller leap than accepting eternal life in the first instance.

Ranma still had not managed to explain why he had gone away for four months, but he was glad that Rei seemed to have forgiven him. For once in his life, he had said the right things. Their relationship would never be solid until he had bared all his secrets and she had forgiven him for his mistakes, but for the moment he was content. Wrapping his arms around the girl who was leaning against him, he rested his head on hers and inhaled the smells of her shampoo and her fresh, clean hair.

Closing his eyes briefly, he relaxed in the feeling of warmth and satisfaction. This was worth it. Every moment of the pain that would surely follow, it was all worth it for a simple moment like this. Moved by the beauty of the situation, Ranma spoke the words that he remembered learning so long ago. Words that seemed too poignant.

"What Earthly beauty distilled /
Than the single rose /
Withering on the virgin thorn /
That live, grows and dies /
In single blessedness?"

In the time it took to say those few short words, Rei had gone stiff and the wind seemed to turn chill. Withdrawing from him slightly, she looked up at Ranma with shaking eyes. Ranma was baffled. What could possibly scare her so much about a single verse of poetry?

"Wh- Where did you hear that?"

"I... I don't really know. It was a long time ago. I was just a kid back then. Why? Do you recognise it? I can't remember ever actually saying to anyone in centuries."

"No... I mean, yes, I do recognise it, but you never said it. You wrote it down, didn't you?"

"What? Yes. How did you kno..."

Ranma didn't finish as Rei jerked her hand from his grasp and backed away, scrambling to her feet. "No." It was the barest whisper but it screamed in his ears. He saw once again the tears forming in her eyes and her shoulders begin to shake.

"No! Why does it always have to happen to me?!? Why can't there be anyone for _me_?" Ranma tried to reach out to her, to comfort her, to try to find out what had her so distraught, but she flinched away from his hand. "No! Don't come any closer. Just go away. Please! I can't take it anymore."

"Rei-chan! What's wrong? What did I say?"

Rei looked up to meet Ranma's gaze, wiping the tears from her eyes only to have them quickly replaced. "You're Saturn Knight, aren't you."

"H-How did you know?"

He never got his answer as Rei retreated with such horror and total misery in her eyes that Ranma was unable to move. When Rei finally turned and ran sobbing to her room, Ranma was released from the hypnotic effect that her words held over him. Lurching to his feet, he followed her through the house.

"What is it? I don't understand. Is there something wrong with being Saturn Knight? Is there something wrong with me?"

Her bedroom door was closed, so Ranma raised his voice to shout at the woman who had just run from him. "Rei-chan! Tell me what's wrong! Tell me what I did!"

Rei's voice was muffled, and more than just the door would account for. If he understood girls at all by this time, Ranma would have bet money that Rei was lying on her bed, crying into a pillow. "No! It's not you. I just can't..."

That was not enough answer, and Ranma went through the thin plywood door like it was not even there. Kneeling down next to the bed, he placed a single, warm hand on the middle of her back. "Rei-chan. Please. You have to tell me what the problem is. I can't help unless you tell me. And you have to tell me. I'll be your shadow for the next fifty years if I have to, but I won't give up on the woman that I love."

When Rei spared a moment to look up from her pillow, the sight of tears running down her flushed cheeks tore at his heart. Something was hurting Rei, and Ranma could not stop it. It tore at his heart to watch her cry, making him grind his teeth in impotent anger. Ranma did not know what the problem was, but when he found out who was responsible, he would... he would do something very nasty indeed.

Seeing the dogged determination on his face, Rei sighed once and sat up on the bed. She was careful to make sure that they were not close enough to touch, because if they did, what little determination she had would desert her.

"It's Sailor Saturn."

"What about Sailor Saturn?" Ranma asked in a wary tone.

"She's Saturn Knight's wife. Your wife. When she wakes up, the two of you... the two... the... It's fate! There's nothing I can do to stop it! I can't compete for her love with you, because I know I'll lose."

When Ranma's brows settled into a fierce expression, she briefly wondered if she had crossed some unseen line. She had tried to tell Saturn Knight about his wife the night that Sailor Mars had broken up with him, but she did not think that he had listened to her. Without warning, her breath was stolen from her as Ranma grabbed her hand and pulled her to her feet.

"All right. It's time for you to see the rest of my curse. Then you'll understand that Sailor Saturn is nothing to me. Nothing!" Rei was unresisting as he pulled her along and back to the kitchen. She did not know what else he wanted to show her, but nothing could hope to fix this problem.

Leaving her to lean in the doorway, Ranma began searching cupboards. It did not take him long to find a glass, and he filled it with water. To Rei's confusion, he held it above his head and looked her in the eye, holding her by the force of his gaze.

"Cold water!" With that, he upended the glass over his head. In a matter of seconds, Ranma shrunk; his powerfully muscular frame dropped away leaving a more slender one in its place, the now over sized clothes flopping everywhere. Where Rei had just come up to Ranma's chin, the figure before her now just barely came up to hers.

"Cold water Rei-chan. Every time I touch cold water I turn into a young girl. This is why I've stayed young, even after four hundred years, because this girl form of mine never ages."

"You... you look just like Hotaru." Rei was almost shocked speechless. Ranma could not really be Hotaru, could he? Because all the Senshi knew that Hotaru was really Sailor Saturn. If Ranma was Sailor Saturn... well, the whole idea just did not make sense.

"More than just look like her!" With that, the small, female Ranma's shape blurred slightly. Briefly covered in glowing light her form was obscured. When the light cleared after no more than a second, Rei could see the shape of Sailor Saturn. While she was the smallest Senshi, she held herself with the bearing befitting a warrior of the highest calibre. Rei had never seen Sailor Saturn herself, only Usagi, Mamoru and the Outers had. However, they had all provided descriptions of what to look for the next time that she awoke. Rei's biggest question was how Ranma had known how to look like her.

"Oh, Ranma, that's very nice, but it doesn't really fix anything. I know that Saturn Knight has some magic. Even if you can cast an illusion and make yourself look like Sailor Saturn, it's not the same."

"But I am Sailor Saturn! What do you want me to do? Use the Silence Glaive and level half the city to prove it?"

"No, but... but you can't be Sailor Saturn. You're a boy. Besides, when the Senshi transform, they are spectacular! All the lights and the power and... you just can't be."

With an equal lack of fanfare to when Ranma had made himself look like Sailor Saturn, he reverted to being a look alike of Hotaru. "You've got to mean the disguise field. When you turn that off, it can be pretty spectacular. All right, try this."

With that, Ranma produced a small stick from somewhere. Even though she could only see it briefly, Rei instantly recognised it as a Henshin stick. Could Ranma possibly have been telling the truth? Along with their normal identities, the Henshin sticks were one of the Senshi's most closely guarded secrets. It was not that they needed to be concealed, it was simply that once you had transformed, there was no further need of the stick. No-one ever got to see their Henshin sticks, so how did Ranma know how to make his look so accurate?

Any further thoughts she had on the matter were quickly overridden when Ranma raised the Henshin stick and called out her transformation phrase. "Saturn Crystal Power! Make Up!"

Immediately Ranma was surrounded by blasting fireworks of brilliant blue energy. Raising one leg up with her knee bent, the unclad girl rotated on the spot, bathed in light and power. Rei could not help but watch as she saw the Senshi uniform appear over the girl in the same sequence that she was so used to feeling herself. Bodysuit, boots, skirt and jewellery. The girl had everything that a Senshi should have, including the fact that she held the massive Silence Glaive in one hand as she struck a pose at the end of the transformation.

Rei blinked a couple of times. She blinked a couple more times, just be sure that the vision in front of her did not go away. Ranma was Sailor Saturn. She had seen it with her own eyes. With just a glass of water, Ranma had been able to transform into Hotaru, and she was Sailor Saturn. Rei had just seen the transformation in front of her, and she could still hardly grasp it.

She still could not wrap her mind around the idea when Sailor Saturn stepped forward and gave the priestess the Silence Glaive to hold. Just as she had always expected, the Glaive was solid and heavy, cool to the touch from its pure iron construction. Hard and irrefutable, the Silence Glaive was a proof that assured her of the reality of the situation. Proof that the man she loved was really a girl, and she was really Sailor Saturn.

Looking back from the Glaive to Hotaru, Rei blinked a few more times and offered the big weapon back to its owner. The short girl took the massively outsized weapon and made it vanish as negligently as she dismissed her own Senshi uniform. Rei gaped like a fish out of water at the spectacle. "What? How?... I mean, how did you transform before without using you Henshin stick, Hotaru?"

"I'm Ranma, not Hotaru, well, not really. But I don't really transform, even when I use the stick. I'm always Sailor Saturn, no matter what I look like. I'm always Saturn Knight, and I'm always Ranma. All I need to do is summon the uniform to look right."

Seeing that she was still confused, Ranma tried a different tack. "All right, you know I'm a martial artist. I'm a martial artist whether I'm wearing a Gi or not. If I wear a Gi, I look like a martial artist, but I'm still the same person with the same abilities. It's the same with Sailor Saturn. When I'm a girl, I summon the Sailor uniform. When I'm a guy, I summon the Knight's uniform. All the Henshin stick does is help to hide my powers when I'm not in uniform. Maybe the other Sailors haven't mastered that, but I can hide my power without using a magical device."

Looking at Rei's closed thoughtful face, Ranma drew some hot water from the tap and doused himself, growing so that he fit his clothes properly again. Mistaking her thoughts for fear, Ranma reached out and gently held her shoulder.

"See, Rei-chan. You have nothing to fear from Sailor Saturn. But... But there are other people out there that you might need to be afraid of. Bad people. Evil people who might try and hurt you if they thought you knew who Sailor Saturn was. So you're going to have to keep it secret. You can't tell anyone, for your own safety."

"Rei-chan? Are you still listening?"

Gradually she drew herself back from her thoughts and threw her arms around him, burying her head on his rock hard chest. "Oh, Ranma. I feel so stupid. All of this time I could have been with Saturn Knight. I could have been with you, and it was all this horrible misunderstanding. I'm sorry Ranma. I'm so sorry."

"Hey, wait up. There's no need to be sorry. You couldn't have known about this until I told you just now."

"But... Maybe if I'd asked you in the first place, you never would have run away from me. I just assumed the same thing that everyone else did. We all thought that Hotaru was your sister. I never realised that Sailor Saturn and Saturn Knight were the same person. Oh, if I had just waited one more day before I drove you away..."

"Hey, you never drove me away!"

"I did! I did, and it's all my fault. I was the one that told you that Saturn Knight had someone else. I'm Sailor Mars."

"You... You're Sailor Mars?... Oh, my fiery little Sailor!" With a whoop of joy, Ranma picked up his love by the waist and swung her around the room laughing with joy. After only a few circuits, he stopped and hesitantly put her down.

"But... If you're Sailor Mars... You were the one that told me that you had someone else. Does... Does this mean that you don't want me?"

Grabbing him again with all the strength of a wrestler, Rei held onto him for all that she was worth. "I do want you. I want you more than anything. It was always Saturn Knight that had someone else. He had Sailor Saturn. I... I can't believe that I was so afraid of you falling in love with yourself!"

"Well, I am pretty good, you know."

In the middle of the kitchen, Rei stood and held the man that she thought she had lost forever. Ranma too held onto the woman that he loved. Each of them had found both of the soul mates that they thought they had lost. Ranma had Rei and Sailor Mars, while Rei had both Ranma and Saturn Knight. Rei squeezed him even harder when she realised what else his presence meant. Sailor Saturn had awoken again. The Senshi were a full team once more, with one warrior per planet. Rei knew that the Outers would be so proud.

"And I guess that explains where you've been for the past four months."

Despite the sunshine in her voice, Ranma immediately clouded over. His voice was firm and harsh. "Well, you don't need to worry about them anymore. I've dealt with those three witches. They'll never bother anyone again."

Rei went cold. Saturn Knight and the Outers had never gotten along. If Hotaru woke up there with all of Ranma's memories, who knows what she did? "What... What happened?"

"Nothing... yet. But they knew who I was, Rei-chan! They tried to destroy my mind so that they could make me into their own little puppet."

"What?! No, that's not true!"

"It is true, Rei-chan. I was there. I can remember every detail of the last three months. Every instant of their deception is burned into my brain forever. They are evil, horrible people and I'm going to make sure that they burn in hell for what they did."

"What did they do? They always seemed too nice. I thought they really loved little Hotaru."

"Exactly! That's exactly what they wanted you, me, and everyone to think. That's how I knew they were faking it! No-one could possibly be that nice all the time."

"Umm... That doesn't exactly make sense..."

"All right then, where are your parents?"

"Well, my father is an important politician. He's away at the moment--- "

"See! And my Pop took me away from my mother when I was five years old. His idea of good parenting was taking me on a ten year training journey and selling me off for food. My mother's idea of being a good parent was to try and enforce a contract which required me to commit ritual suicide if I did not grow up to be a man amongst men."

Rei looked blank for a moment, so Ranma snorted then elaborated. "I turn into a twelve year old girl, Rei-chan. How much of a man was that? >From the day I was sixteen until the day she died, I had to spend the rest of my life hiding from my mother in shame. I know what real parents are like Rei-chan, I've seen a lot of them. No-one is naturally as nice as those two. They're always going: 'Do you want an ice-cream, Hotaru-chan?' 'Are you all right, Hotaru-chan?' Always playing games and hovering over me. It's not normal!"

Rei took his hand and tried to get him to relax slightly. "Hey, it's OK. Really. Just calm down. I guess that you just didn't know the right sort of parents, that's all. I'm sure that there are lots of them that are just as good as Michiru and Haruka."

"All right, can you name some? How about Mako-chan's?"

"That's probably not the best example. Both of them died in a plane crash a few years ago."

"Humph. Leave poor little Mako-chan by herself, then go off on a holiday without her. Sure it was coincidence, but what's the bet that if they did it to her when she was that young, they would have been doing it all the time when she was older? OK, how about Ami's parents? Why don't we ever see them?"

"Well, they're divorced, but Ami's mother is a doctor, so she has to work really long shifts at the hospital some times..."

"Making everyone else in the world more important to her than her own daughter and I'm not even going to start on her father. I've seen Ami moping around some times. That's why she likes the rest of you girls so much. You're the family that she doesn't have at home."

"All right, all right! Enough with the thing about the parents. I know I can find you some examples, you've just got to give me some time. But what's so bad about them? I know they seem a little bit stuck up, but they're not bad when you get to know them."

"All right, how this then. They're both women."

"Umm... Yeah... And?"

"They're pretending to be a family! Both of them are pretending that Haruka is a guy so it can look like a real family. If that isn't trying to deceive me, then what is?"

Rei could not quite hold back a brief chuckle. "You're upset because they're lesbians? Oh, come on, Ranma. Be a little bit broad minded. They're not bad people just because they're different."

"Huh? What are you talking about?"

"Michiru and Haruka. The love each other."

"Well, I'm sure Michiru did until she found out that Haruka was really a girl."

"She's always known that Haruka was a girl. What's the problem?"

"But..." Ranma floundered. For several long moments he opened and closed him mouth doing an excellent impression of a Koi fish gulping at the surface of a pond. "But they're both girls..."

"And they love each other..." She tried to lead him to the logical conclusion.

"I don't get it."

Rei smacked her forehead with her palm. "What is your problem, Ranma? They're both girls and they love each other! What is so hard to understand about that?"

"Rei-chan, for most of my life I've been a twelve year old girl and I've lived in monasteries. I just don't get it."

"Well, maybe you'll just have to trust me on this one. Two girls loving each other is completely OK."

"I still don't understand."

Growling in frustration, Rei grabbed a double handful of his lapels and began to shake. "You don't have to understand. You just have to accept it. Now what else is your problem? They're basically pretty good."

"You don't know them the way that I do. I've watched them. When they weren't around the real Sailors, then they would get up to their dirty tricks. Haruka and Michiru, they killed my best friend Kikyo. They let her die in cold blood trying to steal her Heart Crystal. They would have done the same thing to Ucchan if I hadn't stopped them."

"No... No, that's not true. You have to believe me. They did everything they could to save that girl. If... If... if that Dragon Slave hadn't destroyed her heart crystal, they might have been able to catch the Daimon and get the Crystal back. You can't blame them for that; Michiru-san had nightmares about it for weeks."

"_I_ cast that Dragon Slave, and I only did it after the Crystal had been destroyed. If those two had paid more attention to killing the Daimon than to stealing innocent girls' Heart Crystals, that never would have happened."

"I... I can't say that you're wrong. I couldn't agree with what they did, but they were doing the best that they could under the circumstances. If Mistress 9 had managed to get the Holy Grail back then, we all would have been dead. The Outers were the only ones who could have stopped them."

Ranma narrowed his brows. Something was beginning to sound just a little odd in their conversation. "Outers?"

"Sorry, I mean the Outer Senshi. The Sailor Senshi that are named for the outermost planets of the solar system. Uranus, Neptune and Pluto."

"Phew! That's good. For a moment there I was worried that you were talking about the three women I was. Haruka, Michiru and Setsuna."

"Ranma, they are the Outer Senshi. Why else would they dress that way?"

"I thought that they were fakes! Everyone knows that there are only the five Sailor girls and Queen Serenity."

Rei glanced down and counted off her fingers for a moment. "Don't you mean five Senshi, and one of them will be Queen Serenity?"

"No, there's... umm... orange skirt, blue skirt, Sailor Moon, Queen Serenity, green skirt and, of course, the pretty soldier Sailor Mars!"

"You know, they do have names too."

"They do? What are they?"

Rei groaned and pretended to cry against his shoulder. It was a very nice shoulder to lean on, and only the fear that her friends might be in danger convinced her to lift her head and continue the conversation. "You can be so thick some times. We're all named after the planets. Didn't it ever occur to you to wonder why you were called Sailor Saturn or Saturn Knight?"

"Uh... no?"

Rei brushed her hair back and moved to a slightly more comfortable position. "But back to the Senshi. Why do you keep saying that there is Sailor Moon and Queen Serenity? They're the same person."

"No they aren't. The Queen's got long blonde hair, but Sailor Moon has pink hair and is a foot shorter. But this doesn't help us with those three witches. I mean, it doesn't help us with the Outer Senshi. I admit it, maybe I was wrong to plant a bomb at their place, but even if---"

"A BOMB?!"

"Ahh, yeah... Didn't I mention that?"

"NO! You most certainly did not! Come on, we have to diffuse it."

"Sorry, Rei-chan. Before I came here, I thought the Queen was dead. I believe what you've said, I honestly do. But the condition I put on setting them free was the fact that Queen Serenity would have to be the person who told me to. Even then, I don't think I should let Setsuna go free, she's just too dangerous."

"Well, how long do we have?"

"I dunno... Thirty, maybe forty minutes."

"What? That bomb is going to go off in half an hour?"

"Well, unless they've been stupid enough to set it off already." Ranma tried to explain it to her, but Rei was no longer listening. Tapping on her wrist communicator, Rei opened a direct line to Sailor Moon, the girl Ranma thought of as Queen Serenity.

"Oh, Sailor Moon. I really need you to come over to the temple, right now."

"But, Reeeiiii! Mum's just come home with some ice-cream! Can't I come over later?"

Rei's eyebrows drew together and she leaned so close to the communicator that she could almost touch Usagi through it. "If Sailor Moon does not come here RIGHT NOW, then Sailor Saturn is going to kill all three of the Outer Senshi! This would be really, really, _really_ bad."

"Oh wow! Sailor Saturn is awake again! That is so cool! I'll be right over Rei-chan! I'll even bring her some ice-cream."

Disconnecting the call, Rei looked up at her boyfriend. Was it too soon to be calling Ranma her boyfriend yet? Really, they had been seeing each other for quite a while now and... She snuggled up beside him and wrapped his arm around her shoulder. Rei decided she could definitely call him her boyfriend. "All right. We have Sailor Moon... Sorry, we have Queen Serenity coming over to tell you it's OK. Now, Why do you hate Setsuna so much that you want to kill her? I can understand the feeling perfectly, I've just never acted on it before."

Ranma scratched at the base of his pony tail. "Well, it goes like this. She's got access to the Gates of Time. The woman who taught me all the magic I know, she was called Lina Inverse. Lina spent a lot of time telling me just how dangerous those Gates were. Now Setsuna not only has access to them, but I've felt her use them lots of times. If we don't get rid of her now, she'll kill us all soon, even if only by accident."

"Sai--- Queen Serenity trusts her. Who do you trust more: Queen Serenity or Lina Inverse?"


* * *

When the door opened, three sets of eyes immediately tracked to it. If they were lucky, it might be help, but there could not be more than ten minutes left before Ranma's bomb went off. Soon there would be nothing left but ashes. When the Outer Senshi saw a small girl with her hair cut in a neat, shoulder length bob, and deep, expressive, purple eyes, they began screaming in panic.

"No! Hotaru! Run!"

"Quick, get away from here as fast as you can!"

"Don't worry about us! You have to save yourself!"

Without looking at the three women still held in thrall by the glowing strands of her trap, Hotaru walked to the centre of the room and stood next to the magical bomb that she had created. The first thing to do was to change the size of the Dragon Slave. There might have been some way to dispel it completely, but Ranma did not think that there was enough time for that now. However, changing the blast radius to make it a five centimetre wide Dragon Slave would work just as well; other than the fact that they would need to repair the roof and floor in a little while.

Before she drained the Ki back into her body, Ranma took a look around at the three women. For so long they had pretended to be her parents. They had tried to raise her to be the sort of girl that they wanted. Haruka looked glad to see her. It was hard to tell what Setsuna felt, she was obviously in great pain from having to keep her arms in an unnatural position for the last six hours; the muscles looked like they were cramping very badly. If she did not deserve so much more, Ranma might have almost felt sorry for her.

Michiru... Michiru looked like a soul that had gone through hell. It had been only six hours, but already he skin had gone sallow and waxy. When Ranma had left them that morning, he had told them that their Hotaru was dead. It seemed that Michiru had taken that much worse than he would have believed possible. Even just having Hotaru in the room - and in risk - had returned colour to her cheeks. Ranma was sure that if he left the room right now and let them all die, Michiru would die with a smile on her face, knowing that her adopted daughter was safe.

Ignoring the pleas and yells, Hotaru placed one palm right next to the almost fragmented magical urn that held her spells and Ki. The only dangerous thing left in there was the Shi Shi Hokodon that he had fired this morning, and that could easily be reabsorbed by the person who had fired it. In a thin river of green, the heavy Ki channelled itself back from the urn and into her small palm. There was no danger in this, considering the size of the Ki blast compared to his total reserves, but it was a depressing activity. In effect he was bringing back all the hatred, anger and depression that he had forced out this morning.

Being on the opposite side of the room from the women, they could not really see what she was doing. Without waiting another moment, Ranma ran one hand through a supporting beam of energy and detonated the trap. The women's cries of fear acted as backing vocals to the scorching sounds of the Dragon Slave. Only five centimetres wide, it was still almost one hundred meters tall. A column of deadly pink energy seared through the floor, table, ceiling and roof. But that was all. Moments later there was a brief second of silence as everyone realised that they were still alive.

With a speed faster than she believed possible, Ranma was swarmed by the older girls. Each of them was crying in relief, and Michiru almost fractured her ribs she was hugging the little girl so tightly. The whole time she held her, Michiru kept sobbing how they thought that they had lost her.

After enduring the outpouring of feeling for as long as she could, Ranma released herself and backed away slightly, holding up a small thermos that she had borrowed from Rei.

"Michiru-mama. Haruka-papa. Setsuna-mama. We have to talk."

Destiny's Child

A Crossovers Story
by Fire

Part 26 of 26

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