Converging Series: A Crossover of Unexpected Dimensions.

Act 3




The story so far...

ACT I:

   In an alternate reality where Ranma married Shampoo, their daughter had
somehow obtained a magic locket that allowed her to cross dimensions.  A
few accidents later, several of Ranma's 'children' from various realities
ended up in one reality, where Ranma was still a teen-age youth.  One
amongst them, Ryo Saotome (son of Ranma and Ukyou) managed to get a hold
of the locket before Cologne was about to do something devious with it. 
After his victory, he sent all the displaced sons and daughters of Ranma &
company to their proper realities, and then prepared to go home himself. 
   Something, however, went wrong.  He ended up in a bizarre version of
Tokyo in 2096 and accidentally dragged along Ratiko Hibiki and Childra
Jansen in his attempt to fix this mistake.  That attempt dragged him to
two other realities with amazing speed.  From them, he accidentally
brought Miyabi, daughter of Ranma and Akane, and Ishido, a mysterious
amnesiac hunted by a shadowy organisation.
   Finally, they stopped in a reality where Ranma & co. were still teens,
but had never met them before.  And now...

ACT II:

   Childra, curious as to what caused their dimensional/reality shift,
watched Ryo Saotome closely, and discovered that the locket is the source
of their troubles.  She tried, and succeeded, in stealing the locket from
him without him noticing.
   Ratiko schemed to make sure that the history of his world takes place,
and begins a scheme to kill Ranma and frame Miyabi for the murder.  He
succeeded in getting a blood sample from her, and a torn piece of her
clothing, but is interrupted before he can go through with his plan.  In a
talk with Ishido, he finds out about a certain umbrella-weilding maniac
threatening to kill Ryouga in Ishido's reality.  In a panic, Ratiko rushed
to Childra, and accidentally triggered the locket.
   The three of them found themselves on a bridge somewhere.  Before they
left, they accidentaly dragged along Ryo Muhoshin, a person that looked
amazingly like Hikaru Gosunkugi, but in truth was a bit more devious. 
Bringing him along, the four crossed several realities, narrowly escaping
danger, capture, and death.
   And then they returned to the Nerima they left from, with an irate Ryo
Saotome waiting for them. 
   Meanwhile, Miyabi has put up with the antics of her grandparents (Soun
and Genma) who were overjoyed at her existence, distressed at the way her
parents were fighting, greatly annoyed at her trans-dimensonal half
brother Ryo Saotome, and decided that a talk with Grandmother Nodoka was
in order. 

   And now...



==========================================================================
                               ACT THREE
==========================================================================
                                  by
                    Kevin Eav, Ross McKenzie, RpM, 
             Caroline Seawright, and Christopher Willmore
                    [with a scene by Nicola Wright]

                  Editor-in-Chief: Elizabeth Christian


    Miyabi wandered through the streets of Nerima. She'd found out from 
Kasumi where Nodoka lived, as it was obvious that she wasn't at the Tendou
house.   Her mum had chatted to her for a while. Akane was, of course,
very curious about her future, although she tried to hide it. It was
really strange to see her mother so young... So much more like a... a
friend than a mother.  She was so insecure about Ranma, even though it was
obvious that he loved her.
    She leapt onto the roof of a nearby house, then started to jump from 
roof-top to roof-top towards the Saotome house.
    Dad was probably even worse than mum, thought Miyabi, but his problem
was that he hid behind insults. Miyabi was used to their fighting, but
here...  It was almost too much. At least Ranma had learned to control his
mouth somewhat, in her future.
    Miyabi stopped and looked down. She stood before the old Saotome
house.  In Miyabi's time, it had been destroyed by Shampoo and Ukyou
somehow. She wasn't too sure about the details, but it was something to do
with being jealous over her mum and dad. She jumped to the road, and
entered the front gate.
    "Grandma! Baachan! It's Miyabi here!" Miyabi called, before
remembering that Nodoka wouldn't know who she was.
    A pretty, older woman with long, dark hair, braided and pulled into a
bun, opened the door. She was clad in a colourful kimono. The only real
difference that Miyabi noticed was that her grandmother didn't carry a
long... object wrapped in cloth. Miyabi knew what it was. It was the
family sword... But why was her grandmother carrying it around? She'd
heard a little, but never the full story behind why Nodoka had the weapon.
    Nodoka smiled kindly at Miyabi, "Yes? What would you like, dear?"
    Miyabi couldn't help but jump into her arms and hug her, "I've missed 
you so, Baachan!"
    Nodoka's surprise knew no bounds. "I'm your... grandmother?"
    Miyabi nodded, still hugging her, "Yes! Kasumi-obachan told me where
you were so I had to come and see you!"
    Nodoka blinked, holding Miyabi, the information sinking into her head. 
"Well, I think you'd better come in and we'll have a little chat..."

                                 * * * * *

    A badly-beaten Ranma stumbled into the living room. Akane stared at
him, then rushed to his side, "Ranma!! Are you okay?!"
    Ranma nodded as much as he could, using a stick to help him walk, 
"I'll live... but Ryouga'll pay for this!"
    Akane frowned, "Ryouga-kun did this to you by himself?"
    "He and Ucchan did it..."
    Akane blinked, "Ukyou?"
    Ranma growled, "They found out about all these future children,
and..."
    "Oh, they found out about Miyabi? Where is she, anyway?"
    "She went off to speak to her grandmother or something..."
    This took a moment or two to sink in.
    Ranma and Akane stared at each other, "Grandmother? That's...."
    They both jumped up, running out of the house at full speed.

                                 * * * * *

    Nodoka  and Miyabi knelt at the low table, a tray of tea between them. 
Miyabi sipped at her cup as her grandmother talked.
    "So, Miyabi... if you're my grand-daughter... then Ranma is your 
father!"
    Miyabi nodded as she sipped, "Yeah, and Akane is my mother."
    Nodoka's face turned into a frown, "My son... and his fiancee... have
a child?" Her face darkened considerably, and the family sword appeared in
her hand.
    Miyabi, never having seen this look from her grandmother, backed away 
from the table a little, "Anou... I don't mean ... right now... etou..."
    Nodoka suddenly burst into tears, "And they didn't tell me about it!"
    Miyabi almost face-faulted.

                                 * * * * *

    Childra gave a nervous half-smile and waved to Ryo, "Err, hiya."
    Ryo glared, moving towards her menacingly.

                                 * * * * *

    Nodoka held Miyabi tightly to her, "My son is a manly man! Having a 
daughter so early in life with his fiancee! Oh, he makes me so proud!"
    Miyabi, a little confused, looked up at Nodoka, "A manly man... but 
dad never found a cure..."
    Nodoka let her go, "A cure? To what?"
    "Well, he's never gotten a cure to -"
    Miyabi never got to finish the sentence as Akane and a female Ranma 
burst in through the door. Ranma grabbed her, then dragged her out of the 
house while Akane smiled nervously at Nodoka.
    Nodoka looked bewildered as the whirlwind that was Ranko snatched her 
son's child away. She looked up at Akane, "Where's Ranko taking Miyabi-
chan? And what cure does my son need? He's sick?"
    Akane's nervous smile grew larger as a sweat drop formed on her
forehead.  "Cure? R-Ranma? He's just got a... a... cold. Yeah, that's it. 
And Ranko needs to talk to Miyabi about it! That's right..."
    "A cold? My poor son... I should go to him. Is he home yet, Akane,
dear?"
    Akane shook her head, "N..no, he's on another training trip with
ojisan."
    "Oh..." Nodoka sighed, "Well, Akane-chan. Why don't you sit down and 
have a little talk with me?"

                                 * * * * *

    Ranma stood, still holding Miyabi's hand, and panted. They stood 
halfway down the road from the Saotome house.
    Miyabi grabbed her hand back from Ranma, "Hey, what's with you, dad?!"
    "Ofukuro doesn't know about my curse!"
    Miyabi feh!ed, "Well, tell her, dad!"
    Ranma sighed, "I can't. If I tell her, she'll kill me!"
    "Nani?!"
    Ranma started to explain to Miyabi about the promise that Genma had 
given to his wife about raising a manly man...

                                 * * * * *

    Nodoka smiled at Akane, "So, you and my son have had a child. You 
should have told me, Akane-chan. I would have helped you raise her!"
    Akane froze, "D... daughter..."
    Nodoka nodded, "Miyabi told me all about you and my son. It's so 
*good* to know that he's such a man. He's no hentai, running around in
girls' clothes and doing strange, hentai things! And I have a grandchild!" 
She smiled up at Akane, "You should have told me earlier that you and my 
son were parents! Oh, I'm so happy!"
    Akane just stared at her. She wanted to jump up and yell that there 
was no way she would have a child with Ranma, but she wasn't so sure after 
meeting Miyabi. Nor could she tell Nodoka that it was all a
misunderstanding. This was proof that Ranma was a man.  Nodoka was so
happy.
    "Oh, I have to meet my son and congratulate him!"
    "...as soon as he gets back from the trip," Akane finished.
    Nodoka deflated a little.
    "Yes, as soon as he gets back."

                                 * * * * *

    Miyabi stared at Ranma, "She'll make you commit seppuku if she finds
out that you turn into a girl?"
    Ranma nodded miserably.
    Miyabi frowned and looked at the floor, "Well, at least I know why
she's got the katana."
    They stood in silence for a few moments.
    "Oh, dad! Grandma said that you were a manly man when I told her that 
you were my dad! Maybe she won't kill you since you're proved how much of 
a man you really are!"
    Ranma blinked and stared at her like she was insane, "But I... 
Akane... we haven't! I... I wouldn't!"
    "Not *yet* you wouldn't, but grandma doesn't know that! If we keep 
pretending that this is true, then it's no problem!"
    Ranma thought about this for a while. "Hey, it could work!"
    Miyabi nodded, "We can go back and test how this'll go down right now. 
Maybe then you can meet her as a guy..."
    Ranma smiled at the thought of meeting his mother, properly, for the 
first time.

                                 * * * * *

    Akane looked at Nodoka, not knowing what to do. Then the door opened,
and she stared as Miyabi and the female Ranma entered the room.
    "Hi, Auntie!" Ranma called cheerfully, "Ranma's daughter and I have 
come to visit you!"
    Akane blinked and looked closely at the two. They must have a plan.
    Nodoka smiled, "Oh, hello Ranko. Hello again, grand-daughter."
    "Hi, baachan!" Miyabi smiled happily.
    Ranma scratched the back of her head, "Auntie... Now you know that 
your son has a child. Do you think you'll let Uncle Genma and your son 
out of that silly seppuku promise? After all, only a *real* man could 
ever have a child with such a macho chick like Akane!"
    Akane punched Ranma in the face, "Baka."
    Ranma glared at Akane, rubbing her face.
    Nodoka smiled, seeming not to notice the exchange. "My son is such a 
man! He's given an heir to the Saotome school. Of course I won't hold that
promise over him any more. He's proven himself to me. If only... if only I
could have met him before finding out about Miyabi. Oh, my poor son. All
this training... Akane-chan, you should have let me help you with your
daughter while Ranma was away so much. But you have done a wonderful job
in raising her."
    Akane blushed deeply while Ranma stared at her mother, filled with 
joy.  She would finally meet her mother... as a him.
    Ranko jumped up, "Ranma will see you tomorrow, auntie. I promise you! 
But now we all should get going home. I'll tell Ranma, and send him here
tomorrow, at dinner time!"
    With that, onna Ranma almost skipped out of the door, back towards 
Nerima.  Miyabi and Akane stood up, too, saying their farewells before 
following Ranma home. Miyabi explained the plan as they caught up with 
Ranma...

                                 * * * * *

    Ratiko stared as he ran around an unfamiliar area of town. Since when 
did people start living in tents in Nerima? Come to that, since when was 
there a desert in Nerima?! Ratiko sighed, and kept on running. He HAD to 
go and hide the evidence before anyone found it.

                                 * * * * *

    Kasumi, watering the garden, came across a discarded machete and a 
cloth with a little bottle of something red that may have been blood. She 
picked up the items and headed into the house, humming as she placed them 
on the low living-room table. Then she went outside, continuing her 
watering.

                                 * * * * *

    Ranma's mood suddenly dropped. She skidded to a halt, and Akane and
Miyabi almost ran into her. There, in their path, was Tatewaki Kunou,
holding a single, perfect red rose.
    "Ah! My osage no onna! My Akane Tendou! And yet another beauty. Such a 
blessed day as this should never end." He bowed to the three girls.
    Ranma and Akane looked at him with disgust. Miyabi blinked, "Mum, 
since when did Uncle Tacchi have a thing for you?"
    Akane blinked at her, "You mean he isn't like this in the future?"
    "Oh, Uncle Tacchi's always rather dense, but he's happily married 
with Auntie Nabiki. Although he does have a tendency to chase dad around, 
calling her 'osage no onna' and things."
    Ranma looked even more repulsed, "He ALWAYS is like this??" Then he 
did a double-take, "He married Nabiki?"
    Miyabi nodded to both questions.
    Meanwhile Kunou advanced on them, his arms opened wide, "Come to my 
arms, my beloveds!"
    Ranma and Akane, both too engrossed in their conversation, were saved 
from the dreaded embrace by a beautiful, leotard-clad woman as she leapt 
onto his head, knocking him to the road.
    "Well, well. If it isn't the two lowly girls after my beloved 
Ranma-sama's heart! Where have you hidden my Ranma-sama, today, nasty 
girl?"
    Miyabi blinked, "Aunt Kodachi loved you, too, dad? Oh, boy... were 
you ever popular."
    Akane glared at Kodachi while the female Ranma tried to hide, it 
seemed.
    "I guess she hasn't met Uncle Mikado, yet, then."
    Ranma and Akane stared, "MIKADO?!"
    Kodachi cocked her head, "He's off to see that skater, is he? Well, I 
must go and find my beloved, then! OhohohOHohohOHOHOHOhoHOhohoohOhohOHoh!"
With that, she leapt away, bouncing over nearby buildings to find her way
to Kohlkoz High.  Black rose-petals floated on the breeze as she 
disappeared into the distance.
    Akane roused herself, "Come on, let's go before sempai finds out about 
all of this. He'll kill you if he hears about 'our' daughter, Ranma."
    The three girls continued their jog home.

                                 * * * * *

    Kunou sat up, in the middle of the road. "That cur has a daughter?! 
Ranma Saotome! You will pay for impregnating my darling Akane! How DARE
you pick such a rare flower at its first bloom! And another daughter 
from my darling osage no onna! For your crimes against my beloved women, 
I must kill you! RANMA SAOTOME!! TATEWAKI KUNOU WILL PUNISH YOU!!!"
    Then he fainted.

                                 * * * * *

    Ryo was angry.  No, scratch that.  He wasn't just angry; he was 
full-blown, killing-mood, red-flames rising behind him, Ryouga-couldn't-
do-much-better-than-this angry.   He stared at Childra, eyes full of a 
promise for a horrible fate should they have done anything to interfere 
with Bell-chan.  He advanced, slowly, and almost supernaturally calmly, 
pacing towards Childra as though stalking prey.
    "What....did....you....do....with....the....locket....?"  
    Childra glanced around nervously.  [Damn, that Gosling's too wimpy to
be of any use, even if he is trained in the use of the umbrella, and
Lobishomen's still out.  God knows where Ratiko got to.  Probably trying
to find the bathroom, knowing that boy. Chikusho; I've gotta deal with this
myself.  _And_ keep the others from knowing about the locket.]  She flashed
Ryo a winning smile, if a strained one.  
    "Maybe we should talk about this somewhere else?"
    Ryo stared at her. 
    "Why?  Scared that your 'lobishomem' is going to find out that you're
a thief?"  Ryo knew that it was a low blow, but he was too angry to care. 
He'd apologise later - there were other things to take care of first.
    Childra flinched involuntarily; somehow, unconsciously, Ryo had hit 
a sore spot.  She wasn't used to being turned down as regularly as Ishido 
turned her down, and she sure as *hell* wasn't used to actually giving it 
a moment's notice and thought.  She pushed it aside, to better concentrate
on the business at hand. 
    "No, you baka, no one else knows about the locket! Do you want them
finding out?  They'll think that you're responsible for them getting
ripped out of their timelines, you know.  So, unless you want everyone to
find out, let's find a better place to... discuss... this!" Childra
whispered, as Muhoshin was still awake, though looking extremely scared
and confused.  She looked at him and said, "Hey, take care of Ishido over
there, would ya?" 'Gosling' nodded slowly in agreement, and Ryo nodded and
led her off to a room that was unused at the moment.  
    'Gosling' grinned as soon as they left the room.  
    "Tsk... that girl's whisper could be heard halfway across Nerima.  She
might as well have just shouted it out loud."  He crept out of the room
after a suitable delay, to make sure they wouldn't see him.  He turned to
consider Ishido, but decided that listening in on the argument was more
important at the moment.  He came upon the room, not that it was hard to
find with the shouting going on. 
     "What the hell did you think you were doing, jumping times like
that?" 
     Muhoshin smiled.  [Hrm.  Ryo. Nice name.]
     "Look, Ryo, all I wanted to do was look at the locket."
     Muhoshin mentally pulled out a notepad.  [Ok... find out what this
one knows, make sure he won't interfere.  Find Ryouga, KILL him, get home. 
Challenging, yet entertaining.]
     "You *idiot*!!!  That's more than just some locket!  Don't you know 
what you were doing with that thing?"
     [No... but I'm sure you'll say something informative soon, 'Ryo'.]
     "No, not really... but we're here, no one's missing, so everything's
ok, isn't it?"    
     "Aggghhh! Look, just give me the locket back, ok?  I *don't* want 
reality twisted and changed any more than it already has."
     Muhoshin blinked, and small, twisted smile slithered onto his 
face.
     He heard the two dimension-hoppers start for the door, and he 
hurried back to the bedroom Ishido was in, plotting all the way.
     Ryo decided to take a walk, clear his head.  Childra, naturally, 
wanted to check in on Ishido.  She knocked on the door, then stuck her 
head in.  Gosling was there; or was it?  For a second, she thought that 
it was someone else, but that was unmistakeably Gosling's voice and 
mannerisms.  With a mental shrug, she walked in. 
    "How's he doing, Gosling?"  
    She didn't notice the small twitch that he made when she called him by
name.  
    Muhoshin composed himself.
    "Yeah..." he said, "he looks like he'll be out for a while.  You
should get some rest."  [Gosling?  GOSLING?  She dies. Soon. After this
'Ishido'.]
     Childra nodded and went in search of a place to nap. Muhoshin 
grinned evilly and retrieved his umbrella from where he had tossed it.
     "Ishido, Ishido, Ishido," he said quietly, "what am I to do with
you?"  What to do indeed, as Ishido somehow KNEW who he was, and watched
over Muhoshin far too close for his comfort.  Eliminating him from the
equation was certainly tempting, but that also opened up a whole new can
of worms.  Who would they suspect of killing Ishido, but him?  He was the
obvious suspect.
     Damn this Ishido.  If it weren't for him...
     In his foul mood, Muhoshin leveled the blade along Ishido's throat,
his agitation at the situation growing.  He briefly wondered if it was
possible to just beat the hell out of everyone and get what he wanted that
way.  It worked every now and then in his past, so...
     Then Kasumi walked in.  Ryo mentally *ack*ed, and lowered his weapon.
Kasumi, of course, was oblivious to what was just about to happen. 
    "Why, hello there!  You must be a new arrival.  I'm Kasumi Tendou. 
Are you here with Ryo, Childra, Ishido, Ratiko, and Miyabi?"
    Ryo shook mentally.  Somehow, the sight of her triggered something in
his mind, and he found himself unable to commit violence.
    "Umm... yes, yes I am.  It's nice to meet you, Kasumi."  
    Kasumi smiled. 
    "And it's nice to meet you... I didn't catch your name, however."
    Muhoshin gulped. "I..um...[don't lose it, focus, remember the story.] 
I'm Ryo Gosunkugi."  He flinched on the last word.
     Kasumi, naturally, took no notice. 
     "That's nice.  The others are having some lunch, if you want to join
them."
     Muhoshin gulped again. 
     "Th--thank you."  
     He left, to try and compose himself.  [Gah... what's wrong with me?]
He walked into the dining room.  Ryo looked at Gosling from his place at
the table, having returned from his walk hungry.  Miyabi was there, too,
as were Ranma and Akane, having arrived from Nodoka's, and as usual, they
were all eating.  Ranma, Miyabi, and Akane stopped and stared at Muhoshin
as he entered the room.  They echoed, "Who are *you*?!?" and he jumped.
     "I'm..uh... I'm... Ryo Gosunkugi.."  
     Ranma and Akane choked. 
     "NANI?!?!"
    Muhoshin looked as flustered as he could get. 
    "I'm Ryo Gosunkugi, son of Hikaru Gosunkugi and Ukyou Kuonji.  Why?" 
    Ranma gagged, and looked to be having trouble breathing, and Akane was
absolutely stunned.  The two inaazuke looked at each other. 
    "Gosunkugi and *Ukyou*?!?!"  Unfortunately for Ranma, at this point,
Ukyou had just returned to the doujou to apologise to Ranma.  She heard
shouting, and snuck up just in time to hear "Gosunkugi and *Ukyou*?!?!?"
followed by Ranma saying "Well... it's kinda weird, but I guess I can see
it."  Ukyou marched into the room.  She was looking very dangerous.  
    "You can see *what*, Ran-chan?"  
     Ranma suddenly looked *very* worried. 
     "Ah..umm... Ucchan! Hi!"  His voice trailed off weakly.
     *SLAM* 
     "That's for what I just heard, Ran-chan."  Ukyou walked off, 
even more disturbed. [Gosunkugi?? No way...]
     Muhoshin bubbled inside at seeing Saotome get slammed like that.  He 
briefly considered going and flustering the Kuonji girl some more, but 
instead sat down with the Saotomes and spun his tale, at their behest.  
    "Well... it all started with this guy... I believe his name was...
Muhoshin.  Anyway... from what mom tells me, he was a good fighter, and
had a beef with... Ryouga? [Don't give them the whole story] Anyway,
apparently, Ukyou had feelings for Ryouga, but this Muhoshin guy killed
Ryouga.  Damn near sent mom over the edge.  Anyway, apparently, you
*points at Ranma* and mom and Akane went out and 'venged yourself on the
guy, and Dad was there the whole time, comforting Ukyou--and the
inevitable happened."
    Silence was the order of the day around the Tendou household.  Ranma 
started muttering. 
    "I don't believe this... this kind of stuff happens in *stories*, not
real life!"  
    Muhoshin inwardly clicked his heels in joy. 
    [Ah, chaos. I love chaos.]

                                 * * * * *

     Back in the other room, Kasumi was carefully tending to Ishido's 
wounds.  She laid a cool cloth on his head, not really expecting him to 
wake up anytime soon.  But wake he did, and he groaned. "Anou... what 
happened?"
     Kasumi blinked. "I don't know.  I think Childra, Ratiko, and you 
took a little trip, and found Ryo Gosunkugi."
     Muhoshin blinked as he passed by the door.  [Hmm... maybe I'll get to 
find out what he knows after all.]   
     Inside the room, Ishido shook his head. "No, he's not.  His name's 
Ryo Muhoshin, and he's a *very* *bad* person."
     At this point, Childra woke up, and walked from her bed past 
'Gosling' into the room, not really noticing him, in time to hear the 
conversation.  
    "That's not a nice thing to say, cutie."
    "But it's *true* I tell you.  I've met him before. He's really 
scary, and he's maybe as good a martial artist as Ranma.  He had these 
attacks - punching people with glowing gloves, poking them with a 
needle-umbrella and making their bones explode... He nearly killed me!"
    Childra frowned. 
    "Ishi-kun, didn't you say that you're memory was swiss-cheesed?" 
Ishido nodded slowly.  "Then your unconscious is probably making something
up to deal with him."  
    Ishido shook his head.  
    "No...I.. oh god, I can't remember! I... maybe you're right."
    Ryo wiped his forehead.  It'd been a close one there, all right.  He
walked off... he had some new theories to try out, thanks to that Ishido. 
It's too bad he'd probbably have to kill him.  Ishido just might
know too much.
    [Well, time to find the local store.]

                                 * * * * *

    Ukyou stomped through the doujou, her face flushed.  [I can't believe
Ranchan said that about me.  Gosunkugi?  Ewww!  He's so... slimy.]
    "Mom, wait," Ryo called after her.
    The okonomiyaki chef turned to face her son.  Now this was a future
she could believe in; Ryo was a strong, handsome boy, polite and
intelligent, not like that weak, sickly "Gosling" character.  "Yes,
Ryo-chan?"
    The pig-tailed boy winced.  "You haven't called me that in years, 
Mom."
    Ukyou smiled.  "Indulge me.  It's not everyday that your son visits
from the future."
    "That's what I wanted to talk to you about, Mom."  Ryo stuffed 
his hands in his pockets.  "You see... no, let's go outside first."
    "If you want to."
    "There's not enough privacy here," Ryo explained, "especially not 
with all the other time-trippers wandering about."  He paused to collect 
his thoughts.  "And I've never felt at ease here.  Sure, this was 
Godai-kun's house, but visiting always made Pop feel uncomfortable.  He 
lost the place, and it took a lot of work on Nabiki's part to get it
back."
    "Who's Godai?  Is there another time-traveller here I don't know 
about?"
    "He's the son of Akane and Ryouga."
    "The WHAT?  Are there no bigamy laws in the future?"
    Ryo grabbed Ukyou's hands before they could do anything more violent
than make fists.  "That's not it at all, Mom."  He tried to pitch his
voice in a calming manner, but he was no Bell-chan.  Ukyou pulled away;
the pig-tailed boy let her go rather than get in a wrestling match with
his own mother.  "We're all from different timelines, different possible
futures.  Some of them are mutually exclusive."
    The okonomiyaki chef frowned, a wrinkle appearing above the 
bridge of her nose.  
    "So, do I marry Ranchan or not?" she demanded.
    "That's up to you," Ryo explained.  "I don't mean to go all 
metaphysical on you, Mom, but that's the only explanation I can come up
with.  If you want something, then you have to make it happen.  I think 
the multiverse is big enough for all of us to get along."
    "Is that what you wanted to talk to me about?"
    The pig-tailed boy nodded.  "And now I'd better go talk to the new
time-traveller.  I need to know where he's from if I'm going to take him
back where he belongs."  Ryo scowled, staring down at the gravel path. 
"And it's not like that's going to be easy.  I think I know where Miyabi 
comes from, and Rat and Childra, but Ishido doesn't even have a clue about 
what universe he's native to."
    Ukyou put a hand on her son's shoulder.  "Do you have to go?"
    "Oh, yes I do."  He snorted.  "Travelling between worlds like this 
is no picnic.  And my fiancee is waiting."
    "Fiancee?"  Ukyou arched one eyebrow.  "You only have one, right?"
    Ryo gave a half-hearted chuckle despite himself.  "The last world 
I was in you said the exact same thing."  He shook his head.  "I guess
some things don't change, no matter where or when you are.  Yes, I have
only one fiancee; you made sure I didn't pick up many of Pop's bad habits,
and yes, you approve of her.  Bell-chan is the daughter of Kasumi and Ono
Tofu.  She is just as kind and caring as you would expect."
    "Do you love her?"  There was a wistful note in Ukyou's voice.
    "More than anything."  He looked towards the house; lights were just
starting to come on, warding away the darkness.  "Now I really need to
talk to that guy who claims to be my transdimensional half-brother."
    "You don't believe him?"
    "Do you?  No, that's not fair.  I think I'm just being jealous."  
The pig-tailed boy shrugged.  "We'll see.  Good night, Mom."
    "Good night, Ryo.  And if this isn't the world you come from..."
    Ryo turned back towards Ukyou.  "Mom?"
    "It was nice meeting you."  Then she ran out of the garden and was
swallowed by the twilight.

                                 * * * * *

    Ryo was not happy to find out he'd missed Gosling's explanation of his
home-world.  He was even less happy to find out that he'd missed the boy
altogether.  
    "What do you mean he left?" he asked Miyabi.  "I was outside with my
Mom the whole time.  Neither of us saw anything."
    Miyabi took a step back.  
    "Don't yell at me!  It's not my fault he's gone.  And who knows, maybe
he's had ninja training."
    Ryo stared at the ceiling.  "I should have told all of you to 
just stay put."
    The waitress put her hands on her hips and stared at her 
transdimensional half-brother.  
    "And who put you in charge?  I've seen you get knocked out, you've
lost a locket your fiancee gave you, and you've felt up every woman in
Nerima.  Those aren't impressive qualifications for leadership."
    "Look, there's a reasonable explanation for everything, and I'm taking
charge because I'm the only one who knows what he's doing!"
    "Oh, really?"  Miyabi let her eyelids fall as she studied the
pig-tailed boy.  "I think Childra knows just as much as you do, and she's 
less of a pervert."
    "She's also a... no, forget it.  Just don't go anywhere, OK.  And 
don't let any of the others wander."
    "It's dark outside.  Where would I want to go anyway?"
    "I was more worried about Ratiko.  I'd rather he stayed on the same
continent as the rest of us."
    "Then _you_ watch him.  I'm not your slave, Ryo, and I'm not going to
obey your orders."  She spun on her heels and marched out of the room,
effectively ending their argument.
    [Good going, Ryo.  A touch more empathy there and you'd have been as
tactful as Tachi Kunou.  I thought you learned your lesson about trying 
to be cold and manipulative a half dozen worlds ago.  It just doesn't
work, not for you, anyway.]
    Out loud he said, "And I used to wish I had a sister."

                                 * * * * *

    Ryo Muhoshin ran through a mental list of the items he wanted to buy. 
This was not the sort of list you wrote down; people could steal hard
copy, but thoughts could never be used as evidence.
    If what he'd heard was true, he had a lot of untapped potential; and
with worlds full of Ryougas to practice on, well...
    A small dark shape bouncing down the street interrupted Muhoshin's
thoughts.  [Him!]  The boy smiled.  If you didn't have a Ryouga to play
with, a Happousai was just as good...

                                 * * * * *

    Ryo Saotome ran through the lamp-lit streets of Nerima.  [Damn! Where
could he have gone?  At this rate I'll never find the guy._] He looked up
at the starlit sky.  [At least it's not raining.]
    The wind picked up, and the sky rumbled.  "I should have known better
than that."  He turned up the collar of his coat and hunched his shoulders
against the cold.  Having no gloves, he shoved his hands in his pockets to
keep them warm.  His fingers wrapped around the chain of the locket.
    [I wonder... do I dare?]
    He studied the locked in the pale glow cast from the display window of
a nearby appliance store.  It didn't look any worse for wear from
Childra's handling of it, but then, considering how beat up the charm was,
that wasn't saying much.  "I think I know how to use you.  I know that if
I keep my mind focused I'll end up where I want to go.  If I say, 'take me
to a world where I find Gosling quickly, and then take me back to this
world,' will you do it?"
    A faint blue-white glow along the edges of the locket was his answer.
    "I'm not sure I want to do this," he told the locket as he debated
with himself.  "I don't like you, and I don't want to use you, but I want
to get home as soon as possible.  If I could go home to Bell-chan right
now I'd do it in a shot, but I can't just leave the others here."  He
closed his fist around the hunk of battered silver.  "All right, let's
go."
    Silver-blue light escaped from between Ryo's fingers, and the locket
grew so cold he felt like his hand was on fire.

                                 * * * * *

    It started to rain, but Muhoshin didn't mind.  Umbrellas were for 
more than just fighting, after all.
    "Hey, old man," he cried.  "Where do you think you're going?"
    "Out of my way!" shouted Happousai.  He bounced closer, and Ryo smiled
a predatory smile.  The old man wouldn't know what hit him.  It would be
almost too easy.
    A pig-tailed form jumped out of the rain-shrouded night and
intercepted the ancient hentai, knocking Happousai into orbit and
scattering his ill-gotten unmentionables across the pavement.  [Ranma?]
Muhoshin clenched his teeth.  Saotome would pay for interrupting his
fight.  Then the boy remembered his need for subterfuge, and clamped down 
on his anger, burying it deep.  [Later, Ranma.  Later.]
    "Are you all right?"  Ryo Saotome asked.  "Happousai is dangerous, in
his own petty way."
    The darkness hid Muhoshin's surprise.  [That's not Ranma.  That's his
would-be son!]  "I- I think I'm all right," he stammered, quickly hiding
behind a facade of meekness.  "Th- thank you for saving me."
    "What are brothers for?"
    [Brother?  Oh, yes, this one _is_ Ukyou's son.]  "Wh- why did you come
after me?"
    "It's not a good idea for us to be wandering around on our own. I told
the others to stay at the doujou, and then went looking for you."
    [Alone?  Your mistake.]  "H- how did you find me?"
    Ryo shrugged.  "I have my ways," he said evasively.
    [I'll just bet you do.  I know you couldn't have followed me in this
rain, no, and I know you couldn't have caught up with me.  What else does
that nice little trinket of yours do, hmm?] "I'm glad you're here," he
said truthfully. 
    "I'm glad I could help."  Ryo ran his left hand through his rain-
soaked hair.  "You wouldn't happen to have a spare umbrella, would you?"
    "No, but I'll share.  And, uh, could you lead us on the way back?  I'm
a little lost."
    Ryo turned around and pointed.  
    "We want to go south."
    [You took the old man out in one shot, but just like everyone else in
this town, you're too nice for your own good.]  Muhoshin closed his
umbrella and twirled it between his fingers.  [Just the two of us, on a
dark street corner?  This opportunity is too good to pass up.  Goodbye,
'Brother. ']
    Ryo half-turned, thinking something was wrong.  It wasn't enough.  The
handle of Muhoshin's umbrella caught him in the back of the head, and he
slumped to the sidewalk.
    "What has it got in its pockets, Baggins?" Muhoshin hissed as he
searched for the locket.  He had to pry the silver charm out of Ryo's 
fingers; even unconscious, the pig-tailed boy would not let go.
    The latch was broken, and the locket had sprung open.  There was a 
photograph inside; Muhoshin tore it free and held it up to his nose, 
studying the picture as best he could in the low levels of ambient light. 
    "Hmm... Ranma and Kasumi?  No, this is you and some other woman.  A
girlfriend, perhaps?"  He closed the locket with a snap and let the
picture fall to the ground like a dead autumn leaf.  "If I see her, I'll 
let her know you won't be coming back."
    He held up the locket, examining it curiously.  Such power in a little
thing like this?  It was hard to believe.
    Twirling his umbrella idly, he looked down at the prone form of Ryo
Saotome, sprawled on the ground.  How to take care of him?  Murder was the
obvious choice, but... no.  He internally frowned at his hesitation, but
he hadn't murdered anyone yet, and was for some unexplainable reason,
hesitant to start now.
    Cripple?  Maim?  Yes.  But it'd be rather pointless to maim him.
Nothing gained, really.
    Kill?  No... not yet.  But surely there were other ways to get rid of
him.  At that moment, the locket chose to spark slightly, sputtering out
small dots of azure light.  Ah, the locket.  He could just use it to shunt
Saotome off to some odd hell dimension.  Haha!  Yes, send Saotome to some
odd remote reality.  Muhoshin smiled, clutching the locket, and wondered
about sending him off to some hellish dimension.
    "Now just _where_ should I send you?" he muttered, grinning wickedly.
[Hmm... where would _I_ be horrified to go?] he pondered.  Then he thought
back to that place with a _crowd_ of Ryougas.  "A world of Ryougas," he
said quietly, "no, that would be _my_ version of hell."
    And then, without warning, the locket blazed with cerulean fire.

                                 * * * * *

    Nabiki walked into the doujou with a smile on her face. For once,
lunch at Ucchan's had proven... Lucrative.  Visions of yen filled her mind
as she entered the living room, so that she almost missed the odd assembly
on the table.
    Curious, she walked over to the pile and fingered the machete. Lifting
it revealed a (torn) piece of cloth, and a test tube of... [Blood?] Nabiki
frowned. [What on earth could anyone want with...] Then, she thought back
to her conversation with Kuonji. [Wait a sec...]
    "Oneechan?"
    "Yes, Nabiki?" called Kasumi from the kitchen.
    "Who left this here?"
    "Those things? I picked them up outside. I think Ratiko dropped them."
    "Ratiko? HIBIKI Ratiko? The one who says he's Ukyou and Ryouga's kid?"
    "Their great-grandson. Isn't it nice? With all these guests showing
up, I hope we have enough room to lodge them..."
    "Uh... Yeah... Any idea where he is now?"
    "Not really... His friend tells me he gets lost..."
    "A true Hibiki, then." [Hmm... Ryouga's descendant, a vial of blood,
a sample of cloth and a machete. From this and from what Ukyou told me... 
this might be fun.]  She put the test tube in her pocket and hid
the machete and cloth behind her usual hidden panel in the main closet.
    Then, she waited.

    It wasn't long before a red-and-black blur bolted past her, shouting,
"WHEREWHEREWHEREWHEREWHEREWHEREWHERE...." When he paused to look under 
the table, she tapped him on the shoulder, and teasingly  waved the vial
in front of him.
    "Looking for THIS?"
    Ratiko turned, and stared.  He started to say something, then stopped,
and began to tremble.
    "Per... Per..."
    "PER-haps there's something we need to talk about, Hmm?"
    He pointed a finger at her.
    "YOU!"
    "Yes, me. Tendou Nabiki. And you're Hibiki Ratiko. Now that we have 
the introductions over with, let's get down to business. I have here-"
    She was cut off.
    "YOU!"
    [Seems he inherited the Hibiki intelligence, as well.]
    "Is that all you can say?"  She smiled and once again tantalised him
with the test tube.
    "Why, I..." He began to form a battle aura. A white one, she noted, 
not blue like his alleged ancestor's.  She was treading on dangerous 
ground - but if this 'Ratiko' was as easily manipulated with secrets 
as 'P-Chan'...
    "I also have the machete, AND the cloth."   The ki-flames surrounding
the boy suddenly shifted to black.  "If anything happens to ME, a full
report of what you were going to do with them goes to Ryouga," she
bluffed. She had a VAGUE idea of what he was planning, but that was all
she needed to set the trap.
    The field surrounding Ratiko flickered, switching in between black and
white, clicking faster and faster, until the two became one, and the aura 
settled on a dull grey.
    "What do you want of me?" his voice sounded tamed, but his eyes were
still wild...
    "Just... to get to KNOW you better." [And get paid for it.]
    "To... to KNOW me better?"
    "Hai. That's all."
    "You... You don't want me to help kill your sister... or to... or to 
with... with great-grampa?"
    Nabiki blinked. She'd rather not think too hard about that last 
reference.
    "Why would I want to kill Akane?"
    "Akane?"
    "I only HAVE two sisters, and the other one's-"
    "Tendou Kasumi."
    "Right. You mean..." Another piku.  KILL Kasumi? Ranma, she could
understand. There was a waiting list a mile long to get rid of him [and 
this fellow just might think he's on it. The poor boy doesn't have a 
chance, if the doujou destroyer failed.] Ryouga, perhaps, but he was 
just to sweet for ANYONE to hate permanently. Akane, maybe as a way to get 
at Ranma... but KASUMI?!?  Odd. Very odd. Thinking that ANYONE would want 
to get rid of Oneechan, especially HER...  This interview might turn out 
to be worth more than her fee. "WHEN did you say you were from, again?"
    "Twenty ninety-six."
    "Hibiki Ratiko, right?  Descended from Ukyou and Ryouga?"
    The boy scowled, and his battle aura shrank somewhat, solidifying into
a sort of luminescent 'skin'.
    "Not quite."
    "Huh?"
    "It's REIRAKU, not Ratiko."
    "Reiraku? What kind of sadistic parents would name their kid
'Downfall'?"
    He lunged at her. Thankfully, years of living with martial artists had
given her quick reflexes, and she dodged, sending him flying against a 
wall, which promptly collapsed.
    "Oh, my!" said Kasumi, through the new doorway into the kitchen, then
went back to frying wonton.
    'Reiraku' shook himself, stood up, and turned back to Nabiki.
    "Yes, Perdita. DOWNFALL.  _YOUR_ downfall."
    "WHAT?!?"
    "For what you have done to Tendou Kasumi and Hibiki Ryouga, you will 
PAY!"   
    "Ratty-baby, I've done NOTHING to Kasumi, and it's Ryouga that pays
ME, when he's in need of my... services."
    "You've ALREADY SLEPT WITH HIM?!?"
    "Oh, my! Nabiki, why didn't you tell me?" Breaded meat dropped to the
floor, and the elder Tendou covered her mouth in shock.
    "I HAVEN'T!" She didn't know whether to be confused, or just
plain angry at the suggestion.  "Let's just say, 'Reiraku', that he uses 
my INFORMATIONAL services, on occasion. I may not give much away for free, 
but I do NOT sell MYSELF."
    "THAT is a matter of opinion." Ratiko's teeth clenched, letting only a
hiss escape.
    "What is NOT, is the tale told by the blade and the cloth." She 
raised the vial. "OR by this blood, here.  I wonder whose it'll turn out 
to be if we test it... Will it match the owner of the scrap, I wonder?"
    "You are despicable."
    "Can't blame a girl for tryin' to make a profit." She smiled, just
because she knew it would make him furious, and he wouldn't be able to do
a thing about it. [Oh, how I LOVE having men at my fingertips...]
    "Profit?" He scowled. "I knew it. What KIND of... profit?"
    "I don't suppose you have any money that's any good here..."
    "I have plenty of Kunous, but those won't be minted for several 
decades."
    "Kunous?"
    "Kunous."
    "As in, Kunou Kodachi, and Kunou Tatewaki?"
    "HOW DARE YOU MENTION THOSE TWO NAMES IN THE SAME BREATH?!?!?"
    The aura was back to a flame now, and the grey was definitely getting
paler.  His ki was strong, and it seemed to be mostly based on anger and
depression. White for the first, and black for the latter, maybe? Nabiki
made a mental note.
    "Is there something WRONG with that?"
    "Well, I..."
    "You can tell me about all of this on our date."
    She would have preferred to know NOW. After all, this was quite
unnerving...  but Kasumi's cooking dinner meant that the others would be 
back soon, and she didn't want them spoiling her plans.
    "DATE?!?!?" The 'daunting warrior' illusion fell apart at the seams, 
and Ratiko's knees wobbled like a block of agar in a maelstrom.  
    Nabiki grinned.
    "You've got to pay me SOMEHOW. You can't expect me to keep silent on
something like this for NOTHING.  Plus, I wanna chance to learn about you,
and... when you come from." [There's an understatement... He thought I'd
murder Kasumi, and the currency is the KUNOU?!?]
    "But... I don't have money."
    "I'm sure you can find someone to give you a job. You'd only need to
work a few hours to get enough money to buy dinner."
    "Work?"
    "W-O-R-K."
    "But... I... I've never HAD a job!" His voice went from a growl to a
whine.
    "WHAT?!?"
    "What do *I* need a job for? Back where *I* come from, I'm heir to the
largest security company in Japan! Surely you don't expect me to... to do
MANUAL LABOUR!"
    [Security company? Probably some sort of stock trader... This kid is
likely to know a heck of a lot more about the future of the financial 
markets than that Miyabi girl. And ANY information, if accurate, will let
me make a killing. Good...]
    "You'll be doing HARD labour, if you don't."
    There was a pause, as the future Hibiki re-evaluated his situation.
    [Just like his great-grandfather. It takes a few minutes for
information to sink in.]
    "Can't I do anything ELSE?"
    "No. Take it or leave it. It's my last offer... I'm a very busy woman,
and I've got other fish to fry."
    Ratiko sighed.
    "I'll take it.  But who will give me a job? I don't have any ID, any
money, any references..."
    Nabiki watched with glee as his ki-flames blackened. She'd been right.
White for anger, black for depression, grey for both.
    "There IS one person..."
    "WHO?"
    She looked at Kasumi through the hole in the wall. Her big sister had
finished cleaning up the mess, and was going back to cooking, which meant
she'd be oblivious to the world... More than usual, that is. No sense 
taking pointless risks, though.
    "Hmm... We need somewhere more private to discuss this." She turned
towards the kitchen. "Oneechan! Rat and I are going on a little walk.
Don't set places for us for dinner!"
    "I'll save the leftovers for when you get back!" Kasumi smiled and
cocked her head.
    "Arigatou!" said her sister.  
    Nabiki turned to the time-traveller.
    "You coming?"
    "Do I have a choice?"
    "Not really. Which reminds me..." She took the test tube, stuck it
safely in her bosom, and smiled. "Better safe than sorry!" Ratiko's aura
lightened a shade or two.  "And... tone down the battle aura, will you? We
don't want people staring."
    The Hibiki growled, but complied. He closed his eyes, took some deep
breaths, and in seconds the raging ki-fire was reduced to a faint, nigh-
undetectable glow.
    Just as he opened them again, voices were heard on the front porch.
Saotome-san, Daddy, Ranma, Akane, and... someone else...
    "Speak of the hentai," muttered Nabiki. "Come on. We've got to 
hurry.  The others are back, and if they find us here together, talking 
about this..."  She made a slicing motion across her throat.
    "Anou... Wha?"
    "Just come with me."
    She took him by the arm, and led him out by the doujou's back door, 
just as Miyabi walked in.

                                 * * * * *

    "Ojiisan, sofu, stop following me!" Miyabi was nearly in tears as she
pleaded with her grandfathers. They ignored her and anything BUT their 
ecstasy at the living 'proof' of the union of their children.
    "Isn't it WONDERFUL, Saotome-san?" Soun's waterworks were at full 
flow, but for joy, for once.
    "Oh, YES, Tendou-kun.  Our children will marry, and have lots of 
grandchildren!"
    "They'll have three!"
    "Six!"
    "A dozen!"
    "A gross!"
    "The only thing that's GROSS is someone thinkin' I'd ever... I'd 
ever...  YOU KNOW... with that... that TOMBOY!"
    Miyabi allowed herself to stop crying for a bit, and smirked.
    "That's not what *I* hear, dad..."
    Ranma blushed a deep red, and began to stammer.
    "RANMA! How could you be so CALLOUS?!? In front of our DAUGHTER, 
even!"
    "But... I... She... She said that we..."
    "Is it so difficult to BELIEVE that you might actually ENJOY being 
with me?"
    Akane realised what she had just said, and covered her mouth, too
late.
    "A... Akane... I didn't know that you...."
    [Now THIS is more like the mum and dad I remember...]
    "It's already STARTING, Saotome-kun! I'm so HAPPY!"
    "No need to say that NAME, Tendou-kun."
    Soun nodded gravely.
    "Too true, Saotome."
    For once, they weren't malleted or sent into low-earth orbit for their
enthusiasm. The two involuntary fiancees were far too busy staring at each
other.
    [Great... Maybe they're actually getting to LIKE one another,] thought
Miyabi. [It's just so... So WEIRD! They're in love, just like always, but 
it's like they have shades on, or something...]
    Ranma shuffled his feet uncomfortably.
    "I *still* say that Akane's enough to make ANYONE stay single..."
    "Listen to your baby, boy!" said Genma.
    "I'm not a BABY!" shouted Miyabi. No one heard her.
    "You WILL marry Akane," added Soun in his most commanding voice. "And
you WILL have LOTS of children..."
    "Actually..." said Miyabi. "There's only me..."
    Ranma cut in before she could finish.
    "Ya see? Even if I DO end up with this macho chick, the first time 
makes me swear off that kinda thing for LIFE!"
    Akane had been fuming silently during this last exchange. Now, steam
began to pour out of her ears, and she tensed her muscles, preparing to 
deck Ranma.  Miyabi, however, had had MORE than enough.  She clenched her 
fist and uppercutted her father, yelling, "AND MY LITTLE BROTHER!"
    "She is certainly Akane's daughter, Tendou." 
    Genma grinned.
    "To be sure, Saotome-kun. To be sure."
    The pig-tailed projectile sailed across the room, smashing into the
front door just as it was opened by a familiar, bandanna-clad figure. A
two-ton umbrella came down promptly on his head, and Ranma was left 
stunned, hands in the Takahashi pain posture.
    Miyabi blinked.
    "Oh. Hi, Ryouga-oji-san!" she said.  Akane composed herself and waved
a welcome.
    The Lost Boy winced at being called 'Uncle'.
    "That's... that's what I came here about...  You're... you're Akane's
daughter, right?"
    "Hai!"
    "By... by Ranma?"
    "Of course!" shouted Genma.
    "We're already planning the wedding!" added Soun.  The two prospective
grandfathers hugged each other and began to dance around, and then out of,
the living room.
    Their joy only made Ryouga sink deeper into despair.
    "Is something wrong, Ryouga-kun?" asked Akane, staring at the door
through which her father had just left.
    "No, nothing's wrong. I just..." The lost boy sighed. "Ratiko's
arrival has given me something to think about." He stepped over the 
unresponsive Ranma and sat on a nearby chair.
    "THAT weirdo's enough to start ANYONE thinking," said Miyabi. "The 
boy's as crazy as the Kunous!"
    Ryouga shook his head.
    "That's not what I meant... For years, I hoped that if I ended up with
anyone, it'd be..." He looked at Akane. "It'd be someone in particular, 
but to find out that Ukyou's the one I... I...  It's like having a dream 
shattered."
    "But... Oji-san... You and Ukyou make a GREAT couple!"
    Akane was puzzled. Ryouga was actually INTERESTED in someone?
    "Who is it that you wanted to be with?" she asked.
    "It doesn't matter. Not NOW."
    "Of course it does!" Akane chastised him. "Nothing's written in stone!
Things can change!"
    Ranma was just recovering. He dusted himself off, checked for broken
bones, then added:
    "No kiddin'! An' they'll have to change a LOT before I marry HER!"
    "Otousan!" Tears flowed down his daughter's cheeks, once again.
    Ryouga growled.
    "It's not ENOUGH for you to know YOU get Akane; you also have to make
your DAUGHTER'S life miserable, like everyone ELSE'S?"
    "Hey! That's not what I..."
    "Oh, no? Akane has more suitors than you have fiancees, you're the ONE
person that has a chance with her, and you just THROW THAT AWAY!"
    Akane blushed, and tried to stop him.
    "Ryouga-kun, I think that-"
    "SOME people would KILL for that gift, Saotome." The Hibiki stood and
took a few menacing paces towards his eternal opponent.
    Ranma noted the wild,dangerous  glare in his eyes, and backed up.
    "Cool off, Ryouga! We do this ALL the time."
    "I _KNOW_." A growl.  Some more steps.
    "Oji-san! Stop it!"
    "RYOUGA!"
    Already, a blue battle aura was forming around him.
    "Noooooooooooo!" Miyabi dashed towards him, grabbing onto his back, 
but the lost boy was too far gone to notice.
    "Ryouga," pleaded Akane. "Stop it! Do it... Do it for me!"
    The juggernaut paused, then turned around.
    "A-Akane..."
    His eyes lost their killer glint, and his features softened.  Saotome
took a deep breath and shook his head to clear it.
    The blue ki-energy flickered, then faded to nothing.  Miyabi let go of
her 'uncle', and ran sobbing out of the room.
    "Miyabi! Wait!" Akane began to call to her, but Ryouga stopped her, 
putting a hand on her shoulder.
    "I think she needs to be alone for a bit," he said. "I know how she
feels."
    Akane nodded.

                                 * * * * *

    Miyabi ran as fast as her legs could carry her. Up the stairs, into
her mother's room, out the window, and finally onto the doujou roof.
    Why did things have to be this way?  Mom and dad fighting ALL the 
time and telling one another that they hated each other, and 
Ryouga-oji-san trying to kill dad...  She'd HEARD about all this, but it'd 
never quite sunk in.  In HER time, her parents teased each other (more 
physically than others, true, and it usually involved heavy property 
damage, but no one was ever really EMOTIONALLY hurt), Ryouga was HAPPY 
with Ukyou, and their rivalry was little more than an 'old boys' friendly 
bickering. Super-charged, martial arts bickering, but bickering
nonetheless.  HERE, everything was so much more... serious... and... and 
the FEELINGS! No one seemed truly HAPPY. She still couldn't believe that 
her parents would pretend not to love each other.  It was OBVIOUS that 
they did.
    This wasn't her time.
    This wasn't her place.
    Miyabi wanted to go home.
    Wiping her tears with a finger, and brushing loose strands of hair out
of her face, she looked at the sky. No stars to wish on, tonight. Only
the moon...

                                 * * * * *

    The Moon was surrounded by a watery halo, and dark clouds blocked the
starlight. It would rain tonight.
    Childra looked down.
    It was getting late, and the Saotome boy STILL hadn't shown up. 
Despite his big talk about 'responsibility' and 'proper times', she was 
beginning to get the feeling that he'd stranded them here.
    Not that that'd be a BAD thing; not ENTIRELY... Even with the changes
in this timeline, her knowledge of history should allow her to amass a 
fortune with a few well-placed bets and investments. Nothing so far had 
shown her that the invention of the hover-car would go any differently 
than it had before, for instance, and if she managed to buy some of that 
stock before the big rush...
    Forget it. That Ryo fellow was right about ONE thing. This wasn't 
where she was MEANT to be. It might be fun for a LITTLE while; with all 
the most important figures in her time being young and romantically 
frustrated, but after that... 
    AFTER THAT? Heck, she hadn't even begun! She'd seen the Kunou mansion
from afar, and hadn't even TRIED to get in... The only person she'd even
SLIGHTLY warmed up to was... 
    Was Ishido.
    She smiled. The boy was nice. Shy? Yes. Inexperienced? Yes. But, he
WAS courteous, maybe even... Chivalrous. She might settle for a tryst
with HIM, she decided, especially if she wasn't going back... One of the
attractions of her hit list was that the liaisons would have no 
repercussions upon her, or her reality; but it THIS was to be her
reality...
    She had to find that locket.
    Now.
    Childra reached automatically for her machete, then remembered that
she'd lent it to Rat.  Strange, that Mr. 'Nervous Hibiki' should even 
THINK of handling a weapon, let alone want to TRAIN with it... Where'd he 
left it, anyhow? He'd certainly not taken it on their little 'trip', and 
if he'd lost it...
    Oh, well.
    Her bo it was, then.
    SOME kind of weapon would be needed, when Saotome realised that that
piece of silver was more than a curse.  All the possibilities... 
Unlimited, unregulated time travel. Scratch that. ALTERNITY travel.  Just 
like in Shakespeare... 'Jumping o'er times, turning the accomplishments of 
many years into an hour-glass...'  Last time she saw him, he claimed to 
want to be rid of it. His absence told another story.  Apparently, he'd 
finally recognised its true worth.
    Even if he hadn't, he wouldn't be too hot on giving it to HER, and 
she HAD to own it.  Just the thought of it... No more paperwork, no more 
years of waiting for a twenty-minute time-trip...  And this fool was 
going to either destroy the locket, or keep it for his own uncultured, 
untaught self. Only a HISTORIAN should be allowed to have it.  Someone 
who knew exactly how best to use it. 
    Someone like her.
    No sweat. All she had to do was find him, take the artefact (by force,
if need be) and... Well, she wasn't exactly sure what'd she do THEN. She 
had all the other reality-jumpers to deal with.  She'd think  of
something.
    First priority was to find him.
    [If he's still in this alternity...]
    All else would follow.
    If she remembered correctly, he'd gone off...
    [In THAT direction.] 
    Jansen plucked her bo out of hammer-space, and began to walk.
    "Leaving?" A voice behind her. Male.
    She turned. It was Ishido.
    "I'm... concerned about Ryo."
    "I am too. Somehow, I just don't buy his story about being a 
Gosunkugi..."
    "The OTHER Ryo. As for that one, trust me, hon, with  that figure, he
IS a Gosunkugi."
    Ishido sighed.
    "I suppose you're right," he said. "But..."
    "But?"
    "You shouldn't go off alone like that. It's just not safe!"  It came 
out rather quickly, in a single stream of speech.
    "Oh?" Lobis was WORRIED about her? Childra grinned.  Chalk one up in
HIS favour. "Why not?" she asked.
    "Well, it's dark, and..."
    "I LIKE it dark."
    "I'm not fooling around!" His face began to twist itself with anger,
then suddenly stopped.  He shook his head, as if to clear it, and spoke in
a much softer tone.  "I'm sorry... I didn't mean to..."
    Childra blinked.
    "Sorry?"
    "I'm sorry I shouted at you... I just... I just don't want you hurt, 
OK?  You're only one person, and we don't know this place, and..."
    "And here I thought you didn't LIKE me..." She smoothed her hair and
walked towards him, hips swaying and body twisting in her most seductive 
fashion.
    'Wolfie' began to sweat, and backed up.
    "It's... It's not THAT... There's... We're all in the same boat, and
I can't allow any of us to get hurt."
    Jansen stopped.
    [Shy, indeed...]
    "My point exactly," she said. "Saotome's run off, and we need him
more than anyone else. Therefore," she twirled her bo and turned back 
towards the path, "I'm going to go find him."
    She started down the road.
    "Wait!" 
    Ishido raised his hand, trying to stop her.
    [Right on time...]
    "Yes?"
    "I'll... I'll go with you..."
    [I thought you'd NEVER ask... Unfortunately, this is one trip I CAN'T
take you on, much as I'd enjoy a moonlight stroll with you...]
    "It's best that I go alone." 
    "Why?"
    "Well... Er..." [THINK, Childra, THINK. You can't bloody well tell 
him it's because you want to steal the locket...] "Someone should stay 
here, just in case Rat or Ryo (either one of them) shows up."
    "What about Miyabi?"
    "She'll be too busy with her family to notice."
    "Er... Right... I..." Ishido shuffled his feet.  "I'll stay here, 
then.  And watch out for the others."
    Jansen smiled.
    "Good. I'll see you when I get back."
    "I'll be here."
    [I certainly hope so... I really do...]
    She twirled her bo and started on the road, with Ishido watching as
she disappeared into the darkness.


                                 * * * * *

    This time alone had been good for her. Ever since she'd arrived here,
it'd been nothing but 'meet this person', 'meet that person', 'let your
parents know your fate'. Not to mention having to deal with that Ryo 
pervert.  It made Miyabi sick to think that she might have as hentai a 
half-brother as THAT.
    Now she'd had time to collect her thoughts.  It didn't make her feel
any more comfortable, but at least she'd managed to calm down.
    Somewhat.
    She'd needed the rest; the break from the action.  Now she was
relaxed, and might be able to talk to her parents without shouting at
them, or sending them flying across the room.
    "Miyabi?"
    "Huh?"  Someone tapped her on the shoulder. She turned around, and saw
her mother.  "Hi, mum."
    Akane blushed slightly. It seemed she was still getting used to the 
idea that she might have a daughter.
    "Are you all right?"
    "Yeah. I just needed to be by myself for a while. That's all."
    "Ranma and I were talking..."
    "Just talking?" Miyabi smirked. "You've been doing a lot MORE than
that, 'least while I'VE been here.  Hitting each other, shouting, saying
you don't like one another..."
    "I'm sorry. You have to realise, that we... We just aren't USED to
thinking that we might..."
    "That you might actually LOVE each other?"
    Akane blushed.
    "H-Hai."
    "Trust me. That changes. A LOT."
    "Right now, all we know is that... Ranma and I were engaged against
our wills; we hardly even KNOW each other." A pause. "We STILL don't know 
each other, all that well.  So, when YOU walk in..."
    "I understand, mum." Miyabi's eyes started to water. "I'm sorry for
shouting at you. It's just that seeing you two like this... You're my 
PARENTS!"
    Akane sat down next to her, and wrapped her arms around her future
daughter.
    "We'll try to behave, Miyabi." The Tendou girl's eyes twinkled. 
"That's such a nice name..."
    "You chose it, mum."
    A drop of rain touched Akane on the nose.
    "It's beginning to rain... Is it okay for you to..."
    Miyabi grinned.
    "I don't have a curse, mum. You wouldn't let dad do anything as dumb
as THAT."
    "I'm glad." She smiled.
    "I'd... I'd like to go inside, though. Just because I don't turn into
a guy doesn't mean I like getting wet."
    "Hai. Let's go into my room. Kasumi's made some tea and cookies,
and..."  She twiddled her fingers. "There's... There's a lot I'd like to
know about."
    "About you and dad?"
    Her mother nodded.
    "There's a lot I'd like to TELL you." 
    More drops came, and it began to drizzle.
    "Let's go, then... daughter." With a smile, the two girls climbed
down, and through the open window into Akane's room.

                                 * * * * *

    "Curse you, Saotome! Because of you, I have SCRUBBED the inside of a
POT!"
    The white aura surrounding Ratiko went well with the decor in the 
kitchen.  There were some dirty dishes, many stacks of clean ones,and a
sink in between the two piles, all laid out on a white-tiled counter 
and surrounded by cream-coloured walls and floor.
    "Are you done with the dishes?" asked Ukyou from the main room of 
Ucchan's.
    "Almost, great-grandmother! Almost!  I WILL finish cleaning them. In 
this, I will not fail!"
    "Er... Okay... Just tell me when they're clean and I'll pay you what
I promised."
    'I can find you a job,' Nabiki had said. 'No qualifications needed, 
and in a few hours, you'll be able to raise enough money to pay for my 
dinner.' What Perdita had FAILED to mention was the fact that he'd be 
pearl-diving at his ancestor's restaurant.  The shame of the situation 
was almost past compare...
    And yet, it was a dishonour that HAD to be endured. Nabiki held all 
the evidence, and if his plot was revealed...
    [Best not to think about that.]
    Only a few minutes, and the last wok was rinsed and set out to dry.
    "Great-grandmother! I'm FINISHED!"
    Ukyou walked in, wiping her hands on her apron.
    "I wish you wouldn't call me that. It makes me sound like Cologne..."
    "I apologise, ancestress."
    Kuonji face-faulted.
    "Just call me Ukyou, okay? You're OLDER than I am!"
    "Very well... Ukyou."
    The woman inspected the work he'd done.
    "Not bad... Not bad... First time, you say?"
    "Hai."
    "Then you've REALLY earned your paycheque."
    She dug into her pockets and pulled out a few bills.
    "Here you go. Should be more than enough to pay for your dinner with
Nabiki." Ukyou suppressed a giggle as she handed the money to Ratiko.
    "Arigatou!"
    "Don't mention it... You might want to leave soon, though. It's 
already started to rain, and it looks like it'll only get worse."
    Ratiko froze.
    "R-Rain?"
    "Rain. Why, is something wrong?" There was a pause, in which neither
said anything.  Then, Kuonji noted the boy's expression. She'd seen it
before.  "Wait... Don't tell me YOU have a curse like Ranchan's!"
    Ratiko nodded grimly.
    "You also turn into a girl?"
    "I wasn't that lucky."
    "Sorry?"
    "I don't want to talk about it," he said softly, and looked away. 
"Could you lend me an umbrella?"
    "Sorry... I seem to have lent the last one out... Oh, dear, dear, 
dear...  What EVER are we going to do?"
    It was impossible to miss the sarcasm dripping from Ukyou's mouth. 
    Then again, this was a Hibiki.
    "But... if it's raining... then I can't... Could I use the phone?"
    "To call Nabiki?"
    "Hai."
    Ukyou grinned, and gestured at the wall-mounted set.
    "Be my guest.  I'll go back and serve the customers." With that, she
left back to the main eating area.
    Reiraku pulled the scrap of paper Nabiki had given him out of his 
pocket and dialled the number for the Tendou doujou.  It was only a few 
rings before he got through.    
    'Tendou doujou; Nabiki speaking.'
    "This is Ratiko."
    'Did you get the cash?'
    "Yes."
    'Good. I'll meet you at that French restaurant in fifteen minutes.'
    "I... I'm afraid I can't..."
    'We made a DEAL!  If you want to call it off, I can always tell
Ryouga...  He's here right now, you know.'
    "No! Don't! What I mean is..." He growled. "It's RAINING."
    'Raining? And you can't go to the restaurant because...'  For a full 
minute, nothing but laughter came from the other end of the line.  
'Another Hibiki, and he's also cursed... I can't believe it! This is just 
TOO funny...'
    "I don't think so."
    'You wouldn't, would you?'
    "No."
    'So, what spring'd YOU fall into?'
    "I'd rather not talk about it."
    'If YOU don't talk, *I* _WILL_.'
    "Spring-of-attractive-drowned-female-bat," he said, as quickly as he
could manage it.
    'You MUST be JOKING.'
    "I wish I were."    More laughter. For TWO minutes, this time. 
"Could you... Could you get a taxi to take us there?"
    'Why don't YOU order the cab, Rat?'
    "I don't have enough money for both that AND dinner."
    'Sorry. Can't help you there.  YOU'RE the one who has to pay for this;
I refuse to put in a cent when I don't have to.'
    "HOW ARE WE SUPPOSED TO *EAT*, THEN?!?"
    'You're at Ucchan's, ne?'
    "Hai, but..."
    'So we'll eat THERE. Ukyou's a good cook. I don't mind."
    "But... But she's my great-grandmother!"
    'Then you're keeping the cash in the family.'
    "..."
    'I'll walk over there. Shouldn't be too long.'
    *click*

    Ratiko hung up.
    "Get everything sorted out?" Ukyou called from the main room.
    "Nabiki wants us to eat here."
    "Fine by me!"
    He walked into the dining area.  It was empty.
    "Where are all the customers?"
    "They... Um... Dinner hours are mostly over..." The proprietress of
the restaurant glanced nervously at the sign hanging on her window.
    "Oh. I don't know much about these things... When I'm at home, the
cook makes us dinner, and at the Uni it's cafeteria eating all the way, 
so I don't get much of a chance to go to restaurants."
    "I see..."
    "What I'm wonderin' is how I'll be able to get food AFTER tonight.
I figure you don't have need of a full-time dish washer?"
    "Tell you what. Since you're eating here, and you ARE related to me,"
she said with a slight reluctance, "dinner tonight is on me, and you can
keep the cash. As for the other... You're free to work here as long as you
need to. I can use the help."
    "Arigatou, great-grandmother!"
    "Ukyou."
    "I'm sorry... Ukyou."
    "It's all right." She smiled. "When did Nabiki say she'd be here?"
    "In a few minutes. She's walking over."
    "Take a seat, then. It shouldn't be long."
    Ratiko sat himself at one of the tables, and waited.

                                * * * * *

    Nabiki hung up the phone. 
    Everything was going as planned. She'd kill two birds with one stone;
Ukyou would get her information, and she'd get her free dinner.
    Behind her, in the living room, her father and Saotome-san were trying
to comfort a distraught Ranma.
    Predictably, they weren't having much success.  Poor Ranma was upset
that he'd gotten Akane and Miyabi angry, and all that THOSE two could do 
was remind him how great everything would be once he MARRIED her little 
sis.
    Nabiki rolled her eyes.
    Just as well she was leaving.  Things were going to get ugly.
    "Bye, daddy!" she shouted, as she pulled her trench-coat from the 
closet.
    Soun poked his head out.
    "Where are you going, Nabiki?"
    "I have a date. With Ratiko."
    "Hibiki?"
    "Hai. We're eating at Ucchan's, and probably won't be back 'til late."
    "You... You're dating that...  Him..."
    Full waterworks.
    "It'll be all right, daddy. you'll see." Nabiki smiled.
    "My little girl... WAAAAAAAAAAAH!"
    "Good-BYE, father." She snuck out before he could grab her, pulling
her coat around herself as she walked into the rain.
    Nabiki managed to walk only a block or two before she had to stop for 
a red light.
    What passed her, though, was no ordinary stream of cars.
    Mikado Sanzenin, the skater, was being pursued by a cackling Kodachi,
wielding a ribbon and in full gymnast's garb. SHE, in turn, was being 
chased by Happousai.
    Nabiki sighed, and waited for the light to turn green.

                                * * * * *

    Jansen could feel the presence following her, but the darkness and
the trees' obscuring branches made it impossible to make anything out
visually.
    Now and then, she would pause in mid-step, and might be rewarded 
with the careless cracking of a twig, but when she turned to find her
pursuer, she was always left in the dark.
    [Blast it,] she thought. [It'd be just the thing if Saotome was
looking for ME at the same time that I was after his locket... If he
thinks he's going to get anything from me, though...] Childra fingered
her bo, then smiled. [Well... Anything having to do with TIME TRAVEL,
anyway.]
    A new sound. Breathing.
    [He's grown more audacious... Now he's close enough to hear... Just
come closer, lad... Just try it.]
    The sounds grew louder, and she was able to feel his body warmth
impinging on her own.  Years of dealing with men had led her to know
when a hand was about to be placed on her, and at this moment...
    [Oh, no you don't.]
    Childra pulled out her bo and swung it in a neat horizontal
parabola, finally connecting behind her with the head of-
    "Ishido?!?"
    The amnesiac rubbed his jaw and worked it tentatively.  It was still
attached. Barely.
    He grinned sheepishly and waved.
    "Hi, Childra."
    "I TOLD you to stay at the doujou!"
    "I... I know... But..." He clenched and loosened his fists, trying
to find a way to explain. "It's just not RIGHT to leave you alone!  I
mean; Ryo's as much MY concern as he is YOURS. I should help look for 
him."
    Jansen sighed.
    [Great. NOW what am I supposed to do? Looks like I'll have to
genuinely search for Saotome... Can't go for the locket with Lobis
around, and...]
    Her thoughts were disrupted by a cackling sound making its way through
the drizzle.
    [That laugh... PLEASE tell me it's not-]
    "GIVE ME BACK MY RANMA-SAMA!!!"
    "What the?!?" Ishido was startled.
    [Ranma-sama? No... It can't be... Just a coincidence... Deity, let it
be a coincidence.]
    Jansen strained her eyes, trying to make sense out of the blurs of
movement which the faint moonlight allowed her to detect.
    [Figures approaching... Two? Three?]
    A closer look.
    [Two-and-a-half?]
    All doubts were precipitously settled when Mikado bumped into Childra
at about Mach 2 while running away from Kodachi, who developed a sudden
interest in 'Wolf-boy'.
    Happousai just grinned.
    "OHohoHohOhoHohohOh! I see you have come to your senses, and finally
led the Black Rose to where you've been KEEPING my darling Ranma."
    "Ranma? Where?!?" Ishido looked around him.
    "I think she means YOU, dear," answered Jansen, never taking her eyes
off the skater. For that matter, Sanzenin never took his eyes off HER.
    "Come to me, my Ranma!"
    "I'm NOT RANMA!"
    "No use pretending, my darling..." Kodachi advanced, step by measured
step. Ishido grit his teeth and backed away at the same pace.  If anything
could bring his 'programming' back, this situation could, and he wasn't
about to let Cologne's cure be undone.
    "What are YOU staring at, cutie?" asked Childra.
    "Why you, of course," said the skater. "I am powerless to resist your
beauty...  Allow me a single kiss..."
    "What?"
    "I yearn to touch your lips with mine, to hold you in my arms so I may
say that I have truly lived."
    [Hmm... That's the best offer I've had since I've been here...  and if
I leave Kodachi alone with Lobis, it's quite possible she'll find a way to
bring him out of that blasted shell of propriety he keeps himself in...]
    "Just a minute, hon." She called to the Kunou. "Kodachi?"
    "Who dares interrupt me in the middle of my time with Ranma-sama?"
    "Take a closer look at him. He doesn't LOOK like Ranma, does he?"
    Kodachi squinted her eyes, trying to make out Ishido's features in the
moonlight.
    "You're right... But..."
    "SEE?" said the wolf. "I *TOLD* YOU!"
    "It's because he's had a spell put on him," continued Jansen.
    "NANI?!?" Ishido barely avoided a face-fault.
    "Ranma Sat... Er... The female Ranma has bewitched him so that he will
not regain his true form or memories until he has been one of body with an
appropriate woman."
    "CHILDRA, WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING?!? YOU CAN'T LET THIS HAPPEN
TO ME!"
    "Of course not," she winked. "That's why I'm trying to get help for
you, RANMA." Then, to the Kunou, "If no one kisses him, he'll turn into a 
frog."
    "What... What's going on?" asked Mikado, clearly very confused.
    Childra hushed him.
    "I always KNEW my brother had it backwards. Of COURSE it's that
leotarded insect who performs the black magic. My beloved is too great to
sink to such depths." She nodded her head to the historian. "Thank you for
the information." A glint in her eyes, and a wicked smile.  "Ranma-sama
will be back to his glorious self in no time..."
    Ishido began to move away, preparing to bolt, but the Black Rose was
not caught unawares, and ensnared him in her strongest ribbon, then
attached herself to him.
    There were no screams. 
    From past experience, she had learned to pass one loop of her weapon
through the victim's mouth, as a gag.
    "Have fun, you two!" Jansen smiled, and turned to Mikado. "Now, about
 US..." A sly wink.  "Are you sure all you want is a kiss?"
    Sanzenin's jaw dropped and his eyelids went into spastic convulsions.
    "What... What did you say?"
    Childra shrugged.
    "I'm a lonely girl, and you... Well..."
    The look on her face said it all.
    Her index finger pointing towards a nearby wooded area said more.
    The skater laughed, and held his hands in an expression of triumph.
    "I KNEW it! Even older, beautiful women like you are HELPLESS before
me!"
    "WHAT?!?!?"
    Jansen thought she could hear Ishido giggle from under Kodachi.
    "No one can withstand the might of Mikado Sanzenin, for when he
ventures to cast his line, he always reels in a carp!"
    "EXCUSE ME..." The drops of rain froze around her mouth as she spoke.
"I am *NOT* helpless."
    "Oh, poor dear... Of COURSE I shall satisfy your desires... From
henceforth you may say proudly to the world that you have been the
paramour of the greatest amante since Don Juan Tenorio!"
    [That does it.]
    Childra pulled her bo out once again and held it ready at her side.
    "So, you think you've hit third base?"
    "Huh?"
    "How about a HOME RUN?" Grasping the staff with both hands at one end,
she swung the other into Mikado's midsection, propelling him against the
trunk of a nearby tree and turning the would-be Casanova into an
unconscious pile of flesh.
    "People who mess with woman's lust go very hard place."
    All this time, Happousai had been sitting forgotten in the shadows,
waiting for the inevitable moment when one of the two beauties would
become available. 
    The skater was stunned, and Childra was alone.
    Happi glomped her.
    "AIEE!" she shouted. "Get OFF of me!"
    "PRETTY LADY! PRETTY LADY!" He burrowed his head in her chest.
    "What IS this thing? I don't like it! Take it off! Take it off!"
    "Take it off! Take it off!" shouted Kodachi, pulling and tugging,
trying to tear the clothes off her unwilling lover without untying him.
    Ishido managed to twist his head from within Kodachi's bonds far
enough to see the scene.
    Being confused for Ranma, he could understand, under the
circumstances.
    Being bound by ribbons, he could take.
    Finding himself under a beautiful, albeit crazy young woman who was
dead-set on making him lose any purity he might have left, he might even
learn to enjoy.
    But to have THAT *lecher* doing... THOSE THINGS to CHILDRA...
    The wolf's eyes began to glow red.
    "Ranma-sama? What's wrong? Is it the spell? You seem a bit-"
    The ribbons burst.
    "You never cease to impress me with your strength, my-"
    He tossed her off without a thought, leaving her stunned on the
pavement, then rushed to his fellow reality-jumper.
    Childra saw him come, turning away briefly from her struggle to pull
the ancient martial artist off of her, and noticed the glow in his eyes.
    "Ishido? What... What's happened to you?"
    No answer.
    Instead, when he was close enough, a single cry:
    "ROU-SOU-KEN!"
    His fist was surrounded by a glowing energy, which coalesced into
a paw-shaped form. He swung once, and connected, turning Happousai into
Sputnik II.
    Jansen relaxed, and wiped her brow clear of sweat and rain.
    "Thanks, Ishido. I had no idea that... Uh-oh..." It seemed that
'Lobis' wasn't quite finished.  He now set his sights on his erstwhile
companion, a predatorial smile filling his face.  "Snap out of it! You're
scaring me!" Just in case, the historian grabbed her weapon.
    [I don't want to hurt you, Ishi... But... I don't know what's come
over you, and if you try to fight me...]
    He was breathing strong breaths, each huff audible, and his fists were
clenched at his side.
    Ishido's crimson eyes were focused straight on Childra's green ones.
    He swung.
    She flinched, and prepared to strike back.
    The fist halted inches from her head.
    He would not hurt her, after all.
    As she looked on, amazed, the twisted animal's visage smoothed into
that of the man she knew, and his blood-hued eyes cleared into a perfect
violet.
    Ishido froze and looked around him, as if he couldn't quite believe
what he'd just done.
    He shook his head and framed it with his hands, as if in some great
pain.
    Jansen reached out to comfort him, but he refused her touch.
    "Oh... God... Childra... I... I..."
    He broke and ran, the glow completely gone.
    Tears streamed from his face and mixed with the drops which fell
from the sky at an ever-increasing rate.
    "Ishido, WAIT!" Jansen raised a hand to stop him, but it was too
late. He was gone, and she was once again alone.
    She gave the scene a cursory glance, barely noticing Kodachi and
Mikado lying on the ground.  Her heart and mind were elsewhere.
    [I suppose I'll have to go back to the doujou, and let them know these
two are here. They can send some of the men to pick them up and take them
to the clinic.  It's not like it's any use trying to get the locket
NOW...]
    She walked away, dragging her bo on the ground behind her, as the
drizzle grew into a downpour.

                                 * * * * *

    The raindrops fell harder upon the roof of Ucchan's, making Ratiko
sink deeper into his chair. There was no way out of this one; at least not
while it was wet out. He was stuck on a date with a monster, and he'd just
have to grin and bear it.
    "If you keep doing that to your face, it'll stay that way."
    Well, maybe not exactly GRIN...
    He had to admit, though, that for a fiendish adulteress, murderess and
bogeyman, Per... Nabiki made an awfully cute seventeen-year-old.
    "I was trying to RELAX," he said.
    Nabiki waved away the wisps of smoke coming from where the booth's
seat came in contact with his grey battle aura.
    "So I see..."
    "My booth!" Ukyou let her spatula fall to the floor. "Who's going to
pay for it?!?"
    "Don't worry, Kuonji. I'll cover it."
    Ratiko blinked. She was... She was going to HELP him out??? With
MONEY???
    "Don't look so surprised," continued his sworn enemy. "After all the
information you've given me," she patted a notebook lying on the table,
"it's the LEAST I can do."
    "Arigatou, Nabiki." Ukyou smiled and bent down to pick up her utensil.
    Ratiko blushed and looked away.
    "Something wrong, Rat?"
    "What? I..."
    "You haven't touched your okonomiyaki yet. They're not as good cold,
you know."
    She was right.
    Oh, well.
    Since he'd PAID for it by... by... by WASHING DISHES, he might as well
try one. 
    And it WAS his great-grandmother's cooking, after all.
    And it WAS his great-grandmother that he'd been...
    He blushed again, a deeper red this time, and tried to break off a
piece of the tako-tama-yaki*. It burnt to a crisp on contact.
    [*tako-tama-yaki = An okonomiyaki with egg and octopus]
    "Maybe you'd better calm down BEFORE digging in.  Ki and cookery don't
mix."
    "H... Hai."
    Reiraku closed his eyes and breathed deeply.  In a few seconds, the
glow was gone.
    He poked the disc of batter tentatively and was relieved to find that
all it did was sink slightly under his touch.
    [They weren't kidding about great-grandma's cooking,] he thought as he
munched on the delicacy. [This has gotta be the best I've had...]
    There were a few moments of silence, in which all the two women did
was watch him eat.
    "Thinking about something?" asked Nabiki.
    "Well... Actually..." Actually, a LOT of things. Like how he was able
to speak to her in a half-rational tone, after what he'd been TRAINED to
think, after everything obaasan had TAUGHT him to feel...
    "Go on."
    "Mostly about YOU. You're..."
    His date put up her hand.
    "If you're going to go on again about how I'm supposed to kill Kasumi
and blow up the doujou, forget it. I don't know what world YOU'RE coming
from, Ratty-baby, but it sure as heck ain't this one."
    "But... That's what I'm trying to SAY!" Ratiko scratched the back of
his head. "You're not exactly what I expected."
    "Oh?" Nabiki arched an eyebrow, and took a bite of her own ebi-ten.
    "I always expected Perdita would have fangs to suck blood with, and
big claws, and red glowing eyes..."
    Far from red, her eyes seemed to twinkle.
    It was a minute before she had the laughter enough under control to
speak again.
    "Funny a HIBIKI should be worried about fangs..." She grinned, then
added, "Then again, he's also got Kuonji in him..." Ukyou simply started
another okonomiyaki on the griddle and pretended not to hear.  "And as you
can see..." She leaned closer to him. "My eyes AREN'T red." Ratiko
couldn't help BUT to see that. Her pupils were directly in front of his
own. "And my fingernails..." She raised her hands and brought them to his
face, "are no longer than yours." Nabiki ran an index finger down his
cheek. 
    Reiraku gulped, and turned crimson.
    "I.. Er... Ah..."
    "And I'm not bloodthirsty... Not QUITE..."
    "Nani?!?"
    "I'm thirsty for something ELSE..."  Moving her face a few millimetres
closer to his own was all that was needed to cause his weak capillaries to
burst again. "Ukyou, think you could bring me some red wine?"
    Ratiko face-faulted.
    Perdita merely laughed and handed him a facial tissue from her purse,
with which he cleaned his face before adding it to the already-large pile
beside him.
    "Here you go," said the proprietress cheerfully, as she set down the
bottle and two glasses on their table.
    Nabiki filled them to the rim and raised hers up.
    "A toast," she said, "to the golden future which your information
combined with my financial expertise is going to make possible." She
tossed back her hair and prepared to down the beverage.
    Her companion didn't move.
    "I... I don't drink," he explained.
    "What?"
    "I never have. It's just not my type of thing."
    After looking startled for a second, Nabiki put down her glass and
acquired 'the look'.  Reiraku had learned to fear it in a Kurenai, and on
his bogeyman's visage it looked many times worse.
    Someone was in for it, and he had the feeling it was him.
    "You MUST toast," said Perdita.  "Isn't that SO, Ukyou."  The cook
smiled and nodded.
    "I'm sorry... Maybe some water?"
    "Some COLD water, perhaps?"  Nabiki smirked.
    "Very funny."
    "You'll have the wine."
    "But..."
    "No buts." She pulled the test tube from her bosom and waved it for a
bit before setting it down under her. "I may not DRINK blood, but there's
many other things I can do with it."
    "Haven't you given him ENOUGH nosebleeds, Nabiki?" Ukyou giggled.
    "Not yet... But that's NOT what I had in mind..."
    "Oh? What were you thinking of, then?"
    "Should I tell her, Rat?"
    Reiraku paled.
    "No! WAIT!" He reached for the bottle.  "I'll toast! I'll drink!  Just
don't do it!"
    "I'm so glad you..." Before she could finish, Ratiko had chugged
half the bottle. "...came to your senses."

    "This ishn't as bad as I thought it would be..." he said, somewhat
woozily, after a few minutes.
    Then, he drank the other half.

                                 * * * * *

    Ranma sat cross-legged and looked outside at the rain falling into the
doujou garden.  It was dropping as quickly as his spirits. Why couldn't he
just learn to shut his mouth? EVERY time he opened it, something like this
would happen. And now Akane, and... and MIYABI...
    Genma slapped an arm around him.
    "Ranma, son, your happiness is assured!"
    "Yeah, right."  Just what he needed. Bad enough without Pops turnin'
into Mister Ecstasy.
    "You have a bright future ahead of you." Soun's arm, from the other
direction.
    "I must be wearin' sunglasses."
    "Your daughter loves you!"
    "She hates me."
    "She doesn't like how you don't love Akane, Ranma," said Kasumi,
taking a break from washing dishes.
    "Huh?"
    "Well, you ARE her father, Ranma," she explained with a smile.  "She's
just upset at seeing you two fight.  Maybe if you two were together in a
more..."
    "That's IT, Tendou-kun!" Genma slammed fist against palm.
    "What is it, Saotome?"
    "We MUST help our grand-daughter." He turned to his son. "Ranma,
tonight you and Akane will sleep together."
    "Now WAIT A MINUTE!"
    "For Miyabi's sake!" shouted Soun, clutching his future son-in-law
and pouring tears onto the ground.
    "YOU CAN'T EXPECT ME TO..."
    "Oh, my!"
    "Son, listen to me. You and Akane are engaged, and Miyabi is proof
that you love each other enough to..."
    "I get the picture, pop." Oh, he got it all right. A nice little
portrait of the old man as a panda bein' sent to the Tokyo zoo. "But there
ain't NO WAY I'm sleepin' with HER!"
    "Father," said Kasumi. "I think they're still a bit young to..."  
    Ryouga stood from where he'd been reclining against the wall.
    "Maybe you're just not MAN enough for it, Ranma?"
    "Who're YOU to talk? When we get down to it that way, think she'd
settle for YOU?"
    Ryouga paused for a moment after the statement, then his face twisted
itself into an inhuman shape.  His mouth tightened into a straight line,
and his eyes assumed a cold, determined look as he took slow steps towards
the martial artist.
    "There is ONE question," he said, "which I must ask you before I will
hear any more of your ill-treatment of Akane."
    "Well?"
    Ryouga winced and briefly put a hand to his stomach.
    "Where is the washroom?"
    Ranma face-faulted, then laughed.
    "Ooooo... P-Chan have to go potty?"
    "It's NOT FUNNY!"
    "Been eatin' Akane's cookin' again, haven't ya?"
    "NO! It's..."
    "Oh, my! I hope it wasn't my dinner."
    "And DON'T CALL ME P-CHAN!"
    The eternal lost boy raised his umbrella, but stopped in mid-swing to
clutch his abdomen.
    "I... I..."
    Kasumi pointed the way to the bathroom.
    "It's THAT way, Hibiki-san."
    "Thank you, Kasu... *urk*" Not waiting any longer, the boy became a
blur of yellow as he bolted. In the wrong direction.
    "You IDIOT! The bathroom's THAT..." Ranma was too late.
"Oh, well. I guess he'll find a bush, or something."
    "Now, about me an' Akane..."
    From just outside the doujou, an all-too familiar voice yelled
out:
    "Saotome, thou cur! I have come to avenge those women whom you have
defiled in your depravity, and most especially the most beautified Akane
Tendou!"
    "That's an ill phrase," muttered Genma to himself. "Beautified is a
vile phrase..."
    Fantastic. NOW he had a ticked off Bokken-boy to deal with.
    "Aww... I don't have time ta listen ta this. Kasumi, go tell 'im to
leave, will ya?"
    "Are you sure, Ranma? He seems awfully interested in seeing you."
    "I'm kinda busy right now."
    Kasumi shrugged and walked to the front door. She opened it slightly,
spoke a few brief words, then walked back.
    "Well?"
    "I told him you didn't want to see him."
    "And?"
    "He..."
    "YOU COWARDLY CORRUPTER OF THE FAIR SEX! LET ME IN, OR I SHALL BE
FORCED TO HUFF, AND PUFF, AND TURN THIS DOOR TO SPLINTERS WITH MINE OWN
TWO HANDS!"
    "Huff an' puff an' blow the house down?"  Ranma smirked. "If 'e's
lookin' for a little pig, Kunou's about a minute too late."
    "What shall we do?" asked Kasumi.
    "He'll demolish the doujou!" shouted Soun.
    "Nah. He's too 'honourable' for that. Just let 'im be.  At worst we'll
have ta listen to his shoutin' 'til he gets tired of gettin' wet.  'Sides,
I've gotta get ready for tomorrow."
    "Tomorrow?" Genma scratched his chin. "What's going on tomorrow?"
    "Isn't it obvious, Saotome? He's planned the WEDDING for then!"
    Those guys NEVER gave up.
    "Now, look here!" he told them, waving his finger. "I ain't marryin'
that tomboy!" A pause. "Well, not YET, anyway. I just thought I'd..."
    Ranma blushed, and twiddled his fingers.
    "That's best done AFTER marriage, Ranma," chided Kasumi gently.
"If you are THAT eager for... Well..." It was her turn to colour. "Perhaps
it's best to get the ceremony over with..."
    "What did I do to deserve this? All I'm gonna do is visit my MOTHER!"
    That last sentence echoed through the doujou, the only other sound
being that of a dish breaking as it fell from Kasumi's hands.
    "Son," said Genma gravely, his face a pasty-white, sweat-covered board
of anxiety, "Tell me that this is a joke."
    "I'm not foolin', pop!"
    "I know it's been a bit hard for you lately, but that's no reason to
commit suicide."
    "Who's committin' suicide?!?"
    "You think that you can pass as a MANLY man? In THIS weather?"
    Soun jumped in.
    "He has a point, Ranma. It will not help your engagement to Akane to
have a katana at your throat."
    "Look, you two. Miyabi already spoke to mum, an'..."
    "Your daughter has spoken to Nodoka?" The sweat was now dripping from
Genma's head onto the floor.
    "Yeah! An' mum was all happy 'bout how I could've had a child with
that macho chick when I'm not even an adult, an'..."
    "And?"
    "Well, she agreed that that was proof that I was man enough for her.
So, I'm visitin' her tomorrow."
    "You IDIOT!!!" Genma grabbed his son by the shoulders and shook him. 
"Do you realise what you've DONE?!?"
    "What?"
    "How old is Miyabi?"
    "About sixteen, I guess."
    "How old are YOU?!?"
    "I'm... Uh-oh..."
    "What do you think will happen when she finally puts it all 
together? Eh?"
    This was bad, thought Ranma. This was VERY bad.  He already KNEW how
much an obsession his mother had with honour. If she thought that they'd
lied to her, and about the VOW, even...
    "Answer me, boy!"
    "I... uh..." [Change of plans] "Maybe I WON'T visit her, after all."
[Let's just hope she doesn't visit ME.]
    Everyone visibly relaxed, and Kasumi finished putting the ceramic
shards into the trash can. All would be well. He hoped. So, he wouldn't be
able to see his mum as a guy. No big deal. It's not like he'd been able to
BEFORE. All he had to deal with NOW was that daughter of his...  Which
reminded him...
    "Say, hasn't Kunou been awful quiet?"

                                 * * * * *

    "...WITH MINE OWN TWO HANDS!"
    [I wonder what ELSE he can do with his own two hands..] thought
Childra to herself as she walked up to the doujou. It'd been a rough few
hours. She was wet, she was cold, and she was lonely.  Saotome and the
locket were off deity-knew-where, she'd gotten a geriatric dwarf stuck on
her chest, and the only young male she'd had a chance with so far had
tried to kill her, then bolted.  [Mind you, I wouldn't MIND being punished
by Ishido... Under the proper circumstances, of course.  Oh, well.]  She
shrugged. [If I can't have 'Lobis', the big bad wolf will have to do.]
    Smiling, Jansen wrung her hair and plastered her wet shirt against her
skin, using every trick she knew to enhance her appearance.  It wouldn't
do, after all, to be anything but utterly ravishing when she approached
the 'Global Saviour'.
    [Just wait 'til Zannen hears about THIS...]
    "Is something WRONG, Tatewaki?" She walked up to him, as he continued
to pound ineffectively on the front door.
    "Who dares to address the Blue Thunder in such a tone, when he is...
Ah... Anou..." Childra grinned.  The wet shirt had worked, all right. 
Just as soon as the poor boy had turned around...
    "What seems to be the problem, lad?" Here she used the 'cat-tongue' to
smooth her speech, a technique quite different from its Joketsuzoku
counterpart.
    "I have come to avenge the defiling of the wondrous Tendou Akane by
the Sorcerer Saotome!"
    "Oh, really? How noble of you." She looked at the door. "They won't
let you in?"  She grinned and ran a finger down his cheek. "How... How
NASTY of them to leave out in the rain like this..." Her index finger
moved from his face to her lips, and she licked off the water that she'd
gathered, while Kunou looked on shocked.
    "Who... What art thou?"
    "Just someone who..." Childra pressed against him. "WOULD open up for
you."
    For a minute, she thought she'd gotten the wrong man when the Kunou
turned as red as a Hibiki.  Only for a minute, though. Then, he raised his
bokken above his head and shouted:
    "Away! Away, foul demoness! Back to the hellfire from whence you have
sprung! Be rid of this plane, pollute it no more with your temptress's
form, for I know you to be a succubus sent by the black wizard to distract
me from my true goal!"
    "And..." She stopped his wooden sword and whispered in his ear, "That
would be a BAD thing?"
    [Touche] Tatewaki relaxed, and even began to quiver slightly.  Not a
monk, YET [If EVER, in this reality], but she was willing to bet he was
just as pure here as in her own time. Guys like this didn't usually get
picked up, and with good reason. For the novelty, though, she was willing
to go through with it.
    Kunou slowly regained his composure and nonchalantly brushed her knee
from where she'd placed it in between his thighs.
    "I..." He cleared his throat. "I would allow you to..."
    Behind her. A noise.
    [Saotome?]
    "Just a second, hon."
    "But... I..."
    [The Blue Thunder, Poet Laureate, at a loss for words? I must have
made quite an impression. Maybe I wasn't the ONLY one whose spirits were
'lifted'. Now, to find...]
    "Ishido?"

    His violet eyes me hers briefly, and she could swear that she saw a
film of water forming over them, but before she could be certain, he
turned his face from her and once again prepared to run away.
    [I'm not letting him get away NOW.]
    Childra shoved Kunou back and jumped to Lobishomem's side, using her
bo to trip him flat onto the ground, face-first.
    She immobilised him with a knee on his back and took his head in her
hand.
    "You've got quite a bit of explaining to do, lad."
    Ishido tried to turn his head the other way, but she forced him to
look at her.
    [For someone who fought like THAT, he sure seems meek, now.]
    "I'm... I'm sorry... I..."
    "'Sorry' doesn't cut it.  Why did you attack me? Is... Is THAT why you
followed me? To..."
    [He CAN'T be after the locket. Can he?]
    "I didn't attack you!" he growled. "Don't you see? I.."
    "Excuse my interference, but I do believe that thou hast forgotten
thine promise of an 'opening'..."
    "Quiet, Kunou. We're busy." Then, to Ishido. "You were saying?"
    "It's my PROGRAMMING. I can't help it. Seeing Happousai attached to
you just..."
    [HAPPOUSAI?!? Then THAT'S who Akane... Oh, deity.]
    "It made me lose control," he continued. "I didn't want to see you
hurt. Not like that. Not... Not by HIM."
    "Didn't want to see me hurt, eh? I suppose THAT explains why you
shoved a fist at my face?"
    She pressed harder on his back.
    "But... I STOPPED myself! I had to leave you. I'm too dangerous. 
Too... I don't even KNOW myself. How could I drag you into it?"
    He'd INTENTIONALLY let off? She hadn't scared him away? And the reason
that he was so easy to handle NOW was that...
    Childra's vision blurred as her pupils were covered by a layer of
tears.
    "Oh, Ishido..."
    The two looked at each other as the rain fell noisily about them, each
evaluating the situation.
    So many men she'd seen, so many men she'd felt, had shared her life
and bed with, and only in a foreign world to find one who cared for her,
who wanted to PROTECT her, and even REFUSED her other gifts when she had
offered them...
    Why now?
    Why HERE, of all places?
    They had to talk. A lot.
    "I'm hungry," she lied. "How 'bout some dinner?"
    "Nani?!?"
    "I hear Ucchan's is good. Feel like okonomiyaki?"
    Ishido pointed at the Blue Thunder, who was still staring at the pair
in what seemed to be a state of utter confusion.
    "What about HIM? I thought you two..."
    "Kunou can wait.  My... Er... My STOMACH can't."
    "I don't have any money."
    "I'll pay."
    "You have cash? I thought you were from the future..."
    "I have my ways." She winked at him.
    Ishido blinked, looking somewhat sceptical.
    "Are you sure she's that type of girl?"
    Childra laughed and poked him on the nose.
    "Hentai.  I'm paying in CURRENCY."
    "Ah."
    The two stood still for another minute.
    "Well?" asked Jansen. "What are you waiting for?"
    "Could you... Could you get off my back?"
    "Oh." Childra blushed, stood up, and squeezed the excess water from
her clothes.  Searching around her jacket pockets, she found a pen and
notepad and scribbled on a sheet while Ishido raised himself from the
ground and tested his joints.
    Once finished, she slipped the note into a still-immobile Kunou's
robe, saying,
    "Would you please give this to someone in the doujou for me?  Your
sister and some pervert are knocked out, and need medical attention." 
Kunou nodded. "Oh, yes," she added, "You might want to see the doc, as
well. Looks like you'll be coming down with pneumonia."
    Another nod.
    Her conscience cleared, she placed her hand in Ishido's own and
started off towards the okonomiyaki-ya.

                                 * * * * *

    "Whaddya mean, I *DESTROY NERIMA*?!?"
    The first sight facing Childra and Ishido as they entered Ucchan's was
that of a girl in her late teens with flowing brown hair in a battle
crouch, pointing a four-foot-long pancake-flipper at someone hidden by a
bamboo screen.
    Not that that obscured the spatulee's identity, of course.  THAT fact
was obvious to any time-traveller with ears.
    "Ishido? I think Ratiko found his way here before us."
    "That must be a first for him," mumbled 'Lobis', his mind elsewhere.
    "Customers!" The metallic weapon fell to the ground with a clang, and
Ukyou rushed to meet the newcomers, smoothing her clothes and arranging
her hair.
    "Can I help you?"
    Childra unzipped her jacket. No need to be all covered up, now that
they were inside. Besides, it felt so... tight.
    "Table for two, please."
    Ratiko's great-grandmother (this HAD to be her. The outfit, the
weaponry... Besides, he had her eyes) was looking a lot less comfortable
than she had been a minute ago.
    "Childra?" asked Ishido, looking at the proprietress nervously. 
"Maybe we'd better go to that other place, the Neko-"
    Jansen shushed him. Something odd was going on. The girl's eyes had
widened, her jaw had dropped a few inches, and she was pointing a shaky
finger at Childra's chest.
    "That's... That's..."
    Ah. Of course.
    "THAT'S all mine, dear."
    Ishido scratched his head and looked at his companion.
    "I thought you said she wasn't that type of girl..."
    Childra shrugged.
    Ukyou glared.
    "I MEANT THE BANDOLIER, YOU JACKASS!"
    "The bandolier?" Jansen blinked.
    "That thing you have across your..." Kuonji frowned. "Across your
CHEST. The wrong way, too."
    "What about it?"
    "Where did you get it?"
    "You wouldn't believe me if I told you, dear.  Why do you want to
know?"
    "It's mine."
    Ishido cleared his throat.
    "I... I seriously doubt that."
    "Then explain THIS!" Ukyou sprang behind her counter and returned with
something made out of leather. She stretched out her package.
    "They're... They're IDENTICAL!"
    "I KNOW they are. That's why I'm asking you where the heck you got
yours! It's even got my markings on it!"
    [This thing's Kuonji's? That means Sable must be... Hmm... 
Interesting...]
    "Am I correct in thinking that Hibiki Ratiko is behind that screen?"
    Ukyou looked startled.
    "Hai. But... how did you know?"
    Jansen lowered her voice to a whisper.
    "I'm sorry. I can't let him know we're here."
    "Why no..." Ishido began to ask, but was quieted when Childra poked
him in the ribs.
    "I think we'll be going to the Nekohanten, after all. Good night."
    "No! Wait! If it's his HEARING anything you're worried about, I
wouldn't be too concerned. Just stay. Please. I need to know about...
you know.... I mean, if you know about HIM, then..."
    "What do you mean, 'I shouldn't be concerned'?"
    Ukyou grinned. 
    "He's drunk," she giggled.
    "A HIBIKI is drunk?"
    "Hai."
    "In here?"
    "Uh-huh." She nodded her head.
    "How... How did this happen?"
    "He came in on a date with Nabiki, and..."
    This couldn't be right. 
    Childra shook her head, trying to get the water out of her ears. A
*HIBIKI* was _dating_ Tendou _Nabiki_?
    "I'm sorry," she asked. "Could you say that again? I didn't quite
catch it."
    "She said," explained Ishido, "that Ratiko came here on a date with a
'Nabiki'.  She must have gotten him to drink."
    "That I did."
    Nabiki stepped out from behind the screen.
    Great. Just what she needed.  If this Nabiki was ANYTHING like the one
she knew about... She had to be careful what she said around her, or she
might be blackmailed into giving away information about the locket.
    "How much did you hear?"
    "Enough to know you're from 2096," Nabiki answered coolly, then
pointed at Childra's chest. "And to learn that you probably know quite a
bit about dear Ucchan's future."
    "If you've spoken to Rat, then you know our future's nothing like
yours.  The Kuonji Ukyou I know," [Never mind that she's HIBIKI Ukyou,
where I come from] "is probably nothing LIKE this one."
    "We've heard the 'destroy Nerima' bit already, AND the story where I'm
supposed to be the bogeyman.  Bat-boy's somewhat 'loose' with his tongue
after a bottle of wine."
    [Bat-boy?] If she'd managed to get THAT out of him, she was a better
interrogator than Childra had given her credit for.
    "How drunk is he?"
    "Let me put it this way. Right now, he's whispering lewd comments to
an invisible friend of his, called 'Opim'. Quite amusing, actually."
    At this, Childra couldn't help but giggle, and even the stoic Ishido
cracked a smile.
    The way things stood, there didn't seem to be much harm in their
staying. Even if she DID blab more than she intended, little of it applied
to this here-and-now, and if Rat was REALLY too conked out to listen...
    That, in itself, offered almost UNLIMITED entertainment possibilities.
    "I guess we'll stay," she smiled.

                                 * * * * *

    Ryo opened his eyes slowly.  His head was throbbing, and his eyes
hurt, mostly because of the bright light.  He couldn't see anything at
all.
   [What happened?] he wondered, as he rubbed the back of his head.
[Where am I?]  But for the swirling of the wind around him, he felt
nothing.
   As his vision cleared, he saw he was free-floating in coils of blue
energy, with him at the centre.  There was nothing else. Then suddenly 
a flicker of light appeared before him.  He strained to reach forward, and
the flickering became a glow, the shape of a small heart-shaped locket.
   [THE LOCKET!]  Ryo struggled to grab it, but the locket was
swirling around in the currents of the energy around him, always barely
out of reach, above him, below him, around him.  [No... please... I've
gotta...]  In desperation, he lunged out, and a burning sensation hit his
hand.  He stared in horror as he saw a blue flame burning in his palm, and
the distinct colour of metallic silver on a locket, melting into it.

   "NO!!!"  He tried to remove the locket, tried desperately to shake it 
off, even as it bonded to his flesh, becoming a _part_ of him.  
[I DON'T WANT IT!  NOT LIKE THIS!  NOOO!!!! ]

   The blue eddies sped up violently, becoming a solid, bright sphere of
blue around him - suddenly Ryo found himself in a sidewalk... by a
reservoir, and a tall metal fence... in a nice suburb.

   In Nerima.

   His Nerima.

   "Ryo?  Where've you been!?"
   "Saotome!  We thought you had been taken away by that barbarian woman!"
   Ryo blinked, his eyes adjusting to the natural sunlight.  "Godai?
Tachi?.. is that you?"
   "Yeah, it's us."  Godai glanced at Ryo with a questioning look.
   "Are you... feeling well, Ryo?" asked Tachi.
   "I'M BACK!!!"  Startled, Ryo looked at the palm of his hand.  It was
empty, unscathed.  No locket.  NO LOCKET.  Ryo felt himself soaring with
elation.  [I'm free!  I'm free!]
   "What happened to you?  You disappeared chasing after that crazy
Chinese girl." 
   "I'll tell you later, okay?  Right now... where's Bell-chan?  I just
really need to see her Right Now."
   "What's the emergency?"
   Ryo smiled.  "I... just miss her.  Come on, let's go!"  Grinning and
laughing, he sprinted to Bell-chan's, his heart soaring.
   "Ryo-kun!  Wait up!"  Godai and Tachi chased him, not far behind, into
the sunset.

                                 * * * * *

    [There's so much I want to tell you, but... I... I CAN'T!]
    How could she put it into words? What she felt wasn't... It wasn't
something you could go up and _say_ to someone, especially someone you'd
just met, and...
    Childra felt ridiculous.  Here she was, a proudly promiscuous woman in
her twenties, feeling as jittery as a teenage virgin on prom night.  And
she wasn't even DOING anything. Just... staring...
    She was looking at him eating his okonomiyaki, tearing off the pieces
and moving away his dark brown hair when it got in his eyes...  She just
wanted to HOLD him, to grab him and let him know just what he'd done.
    And, for the first time, she couldn't.
    Why not? Seldom did she sleep alone, after all. When she saw a man she
liked...
    This was more than 'like'.
    All THOSE were... hollow, somehow.  The others filled her physically,
made her feel alive, made her sense her heart beating against her chest by
the weight of their own bodies upon hers.
    This one didn't. In fact, he had the opposite effect.
    Being with Ishido, she felt all solidity taken from her soul.
She felt light, and empty, and knew that she could be complete only by the
addition of one thing, one being. HIM.
    Why, then, didn't she reach out, press herself against him, FORCE him
to acknowledge she existed as MORE than an embarrassment, as MORE than one
to whom he owed a debt of honour?
    That, too, was answered, though Jansen hesitated to admit it.
    She'd tried, before (or was it since? The problems that arose with
travelling through time...), but 'Lobis' was just not the kind to quickly
become 'physical'.  Even if he WERE, she doubted that she could muster up
the strength to approach him in... in THAT way, before he knew, before she
told him...
    She now felt that her life before this had been wasted, that she'd
spent her years in idle nonsense, ignorant of all that TRULY mattered. It
didn't seem so at the time, but now... This was all so confusing.
    She toyed with her ebi-ten.
    "Ishido, I..."
    The violet eyes looked up, strands of blue-black hair falling before
them.
    "Yes?"
    A panic. A sudden urge to run. Anywhere; away, somewhere where her
old rules, her old values, her old LIFE still applied.
    "I... You..."
    The great romancer, tongue-tied and bound in a predicament from which
there was but one escape.
    The wolf looked down again.
    [No!] she cried inside. [You have to see me! NOTICE me; don't... don't
dismiss me...] She NEEDED to feel hunted, WANTED that predatorial gaze
upon her. Even... Even if he looked at her the way he had during that
fight... Even THAT would be better than rejection.
    Rejection... She never thought she'd have to use that word, or that
she'd feel its hammering so strongly on her soul.
    "If it's about the incident," he spoke softly and slowly, carefully
avoiding her all the while, "I'm very sorry.  It was beyond my control. 
Maybe...  Maybe I'd better leave you all... You, the Ryos and the
others...  With MY memory, this world's as good as any other, maybe even
BETTER, and if I stay, I'll only hurt someone again..."
    Was he crying?
    "No! I... I WANT you to stay."
    He raised his face slowly, and she could see...
    He WAS crying.
    "Please stay," she told him. "For ME... I WANT you to."
    "But... Childra..."
    She closed and opened her hand under the table, buying time while she
made a choice.
    Odd, that to decide whether to make a single, simple movement should
matter so much NOW, when just an hour back she'd been upon him in the
mud...
    [I'll do it.]
    Tremulously, cautiously, she lifted her hand, and slid it across the
table to meet Ishido's arm.  Her heart beat hard against her sternum, and
the blood within her jumped and danced, boiling in a heat more intense
than a desert sun.
    Her fingers touched the brown cloth of his shirt, and that
electrifying contact loosed her tongue, allowing her to say,
    "I NEED you to, Ishido."
    None of the eloquent speeches she'd used before, none of the vows, the
flowery images of carp and stars, none of the everlasting promises of love
she'd freely given out had ever caused her so much grief.
    This was a grief she'd willingly put up with.
    If HE would.
    Time was passing, and her life, and there was no way to get it back.
To TURN it back was simple; she could travel through time, and with the
locket, through realities, but to RECAPTURE it, REMOLD it, was not a thing
within her grasp.
    She'd reached a turning point, and did not know which way the door
would swing.
    One path brought something she thought she would never find. 
Stability. The other...
    If it was the other she was destined for, she might as well apply to
register as a Hibiki.  Depression and loneliness would then be her lot.
    [Respond, Ishido. PLEASE...]
    'Lobishomem' blushed, and stammered as he tried to speak.
    "I... I'm..."
    [YES?]
    "I'll stay," he finished. "If... If you're sure you don't mind..."
    Mind? MIND?
    Right now, her _mind_ was not quite operative, overflowed with
buoyant feelings and with... with what?
    She was shaking, and she knew that he could see it, but she didn't
care.
    He'd STAY!
    Now, more than ever she longed to jump up, run and hug him, grasp him,
and not let him go, to let him know that somehow, he was now a PART of
her, that if he EVER left she would be incomplete.
    Yet, she restrained herself.
    'Twas best to wait, and bide her time.
    "Of COURSE I don't mind, Lobis."
    She smiled. Not a lustful smile, not a crafted one, nor a smile meant
to accomplish anything, but for the first time, an expression of pure joy.
    And then, she cried.

                                 * * * * *

    Ratiko laughed hysterically.
    "You SEE, Opim?  Everything's upside-down... The monsters are pretty,
the dead are alive... Hey! Even my okonomiyaki is topsy-turvy!"
    As Ukyou watched, giggling, Reiraku took his tako-tama-yaki and
flipped it. Squinting at it for a bit, and apparently realising that it
STILL wasn't quite right, he shrugged and plastered his face in the food.
    "Now it's all over my nose!" He shouted. "And my cheeks!"  He looked
up, suddenly serious.  "Not that it matters." His eyes widened.  "I'll be
gone, soon, and then NO ONE will be able to see it!"
    Reiraku grabbed the 'yaki, and punched eyeholes in it, wearing it as a
mask.
    "Whee!" he cried. "Whee!"
    The baked-octopus-face turned to look at Kuonji.
    It stared.
    Ukyou stared back.
    "A girl who can make such wonderful masks," said Reiraku slowly, "is
surely a great treasure."
    [Mental note,] thought Ukyou, giggling. [Do not allow Ryouga to EVER
get near alcohol. EVER.] 
    "Don't you think so, Opim?"
    Ratiko stared into empty space for a few seconds, as if listening to
someone. A few frowns, a cock of the head or two, then a final, reluctant
nod.
    "Opim," he explained to the others, "says he prefers the CHEST
to the treasure. I would have to agree."
    Ukyou coloured. She was sure that she could see a wolfish grin, even
under the fried batter.
    "Now, Ratty-baby, tell us again WHY we can't see this Opim?"
    [Thanks, Nabiki. Anything to get him off THAT train of thought.]
    Ratiko cackled and threw his hands up, letting his food fall to the
ground.
    [Great. ANOTHER mess to clean up.]
    "He's my Polly!" the boy shouted.
    "A parrot?"
    "A bat, because I washed my hair today."
    "Huh?"
    "Ohohohohohohohohohohohohohoh!"
    He'd mentioned Asuka in his lineage, but right now Kodachi seemed like
a more likely candidate.
    "Your... hair... looks nice..." Ukyou felt she HAD to say _something_.
"And clean. But what does that have to do with..."
    "Why, thank-you!" Ratiko struck a model's pose and froze, shaking his
head and muttering to himself for a few seconds like a man half-mad.  At
length he closed his eyes.  When he opened them again, they had a
different glint to them. Not a cold or harsh one, like Nabiki's, noted
Ukyou, nor the light of righteous sorrow that shone always on Ryouga's
face, but definitely one she had seen before.  Maybe it was - 
    "The rest of me's great as well," hissed Ratiko.
    [Uh-oh...] He was staring at her. And it WASN'T at her FACE.
    "Ucchan, I think your great-grandson is..."
    Nabiki didn't have to complete the sentence. Ratiko was walking
towards her, his soiled face sporting an unnatural grin.
    "At least," he chuckled, "At least NOW I know where I get my good
looks from. You're quite the beauty, ancestress."
    This was getting scary.  She'd seen people change after a few drinks,
but this...
    "Th... Thanks..." Great-grandson or not, if that jerk thought he was 
going to get a FINGER on her...  Ukyou looked around her, considering her
offensive options.  If she could slide her foot under the handle of her
large spatula...
    "And it doesn't look like you and Ryouga are going to be getting
together anytime soon..." A brief flicker of black. "That does not bode
well for me. Then again..."
    [He CAN'T be thinking that. He CAN'T!!!]  She thought he was going to
grab at her, but was he actually thinking of... of...
    "If you want something done, you have to do it YOURSELF!"
    "What?!?" Nabiki herself tensed, this time. She'd been laughing at him
before, but this looked serious...
    "I *must* exist, no matter what, and if all it takes is for a Hibiki
and a Kuonji to..."
    "You're not Ryouga!"
    "It's my only chance, now... I must..." Nabiki prepared to smash
her plate over his head, but Ukyou signalled her 'no'. She had the right
pivot position, her hands were in place... If he could only move forward a
few steps...
    "Besides," her descendant continued, "You know what they say..." He
moved his right leg forward a few inches, steadying himself. [The wine
must've REALLY gotten to him...] "Vice is nice..." Now the left. "Incest
is best..." [Come on! Just a little bit more!] "Put great-granny to the
test!" Just as she'd hoped, he lunged towards her. 
    With one swift kick, she sent the large spatula's handle straight into
her waiting hand, and swung it fluidly to have the broad endplate connect
with Reiraku's head.
    "I guess I passed," said Ukyou, letting out a deep breath.  If she
hadn't gotten him just then, he might have... he might have...  Not for
long, but STILL! To think that her great-grandson...
    "And HE passed OUT..." Nabiki shook her head. "Ratty-baby, you're just
as bad as Kunou..."  She stretched out and yawned.  "Well, Kuonji, I think
it's time to go 'night-night."
    Ukyou blinked.
    "What?"
    "I'm tired, and it looks like your great-grandson won't be waking up
soon. You _do_ still have that room in the back, right?"
    "Well... Yes, Nabiki, but..."
    "Great. Rat and I will need it for tonight."
    "NANI?!?!?  You.. You aren't seriously thinking of..." How could she
be? After what she'd just seen...
    "Don't worry about it. I'll take the rental off your bill."
    "Nabiki, have you gone CRAZY?!? You've already seen what...  what...
what a PERVERT this guy is!" She kicked Reiraku in the shins, eliciting
only a small grunt from the unconscious heap.  "And with that ki thing of
his..."
    "Trust me." A sly smile. Trouble for SOMEONE. "I know what I'm doing."
    "All right. Spit it out. What are you up to? You aren't exactly the
type of girl to go sleeping around with dangerous drunks." Pause.  "BROKE
dangerous drunks."
    "He's not broke... Not EXACTLY... Think of it this way, Kuonji.  Rat's
already given me THIS much information about the future, right?"  
    She held up the notebook she'd filled. 
    "Y... Yeeees..."
    "A future, he tells us, where MY investments end up becoming a
fortune."
    "Hai."
    "And he gave me THAT much info only because I threatened to tell on
him."
    [Works for everyone ELSE you blackmail.]
    "Now, he probably won't remember anything about tonight, since he's...
sloshed, to put it kindly. If he wakes up next to ME tomorrow morning..."
    Ukyou's eyes went wide.
    "You... You WOULDN'T!"
    Nabiki grinned.
    "I WOULD." She waved aside Kuonji's protests. "Not THAT way.  I mean,
just TEASE him. Let him THINK something's happened...  Besides, this
fellow's as bashful as Ryouga. Don't tell me YOU'VE never wanted to pull a
prank like that on him. The nosebleed, the stammer... He's just ASKING
for it."
    "Well..." The chef blushed. She HAD thought about it, on more than one
occasion, but...  Ukyou growled as she remembered what had almost
happened.  "He's ASKING for it, all right.  Nabiki, I'm calling the
police."
    The Tendou girl smiled.
    "To tell them about those okonomiyaki bombs you've been making?  Or
the time you assaulted Hinako, when you thought she was hitting on Ranma?
She can still press charges, you know."
    Ukyou blanched.
    "You wouldn't..."
    "Who do you think kept her from doing that in the first place? All I
have to do is stop a few payments, and-"
    The okonomiyaki chef was silent for a moment, then spoke softly.
    "Couldn't you... Go to the doujou?"
    "With my FATHER there?"
    "Good point."
    "Besides, it's cramped enough with the panda and Ranma there, and now
that he's brought a DAUGHTER..."
    Ukyou winced as the pain of that statement mixed with that of
Reiraku's attack.  [AKANE'S daughter. But... I... I mustn't panic!  He has
a son, too, right? And he's MINE!  I have as much a chance as she does!]
Then again, there was another road that seemed even more certain, where 
her line was doomed to end in... in...
    She looked at the unconscious pervert on the floor, and scowled.
    "Why are you doing this? What do you see in HIM?  You know what he's
capable of!  He's DANGEROUS! Are you sure you'll be safe?"
    Nabiki winked. 
    "I'll keep a glass of water next to the bed, just in case. In fact..." 
She took a nearby pitcher of water and tipped it over Ratiko.  His body
trembled for a second, then shrank into a pile of clothes, and a bandanna-
clad fruit bat. "This'll make him easier to carry."
    Ukyou giggled against her will.  It was hard to keep a grudge against
a flying mouse.
    In any case, she'd done what she could, and had been foiled at every
step.  Anything that went wrong was now on Nabiki's head.
    "There's a hot water tap in the bathroom," said Ukyou in a business-
like fashion. "You know where it is."
    "Thanks," answered Nabiki curtly.
      It might even be better this way.  The cost of the interview WAS
putting quite a dent in her pocket, with the recent dearth of customers
[PAYING customers,] she reminded herself, thinking of Ranma and Genma. 
Anything that lessened her expenses was worth it. And, who knew? Maybe
she'd uncover something worthwhile.
    "If I'm going to put up with having THAT under my roof," she nodded
towards the bat, "Do you think you could find out..."
    "About you and Ranma?"
    "Well..." Ukyou shuffled her feet. "Yeah, I guess..."
    The entrepreneuress sighed.
    "I WOULD, but I'd have to charge you for it (setting a precedent and
all that), and I know you don't have that much.  I'm ALREADY doing you a
favour by staying here and discounting the room rent from my fee... Though
it looks like *I'm* not the one who'll be dating Hibikis from now on."
    [How can she be so cruel? To remind me of THAT...]
    She looked at the bat, which dangled stunned from Nabiki's right thumb
and forefinger, and struggled against a sudden urge to strangle the
creature.
    Was THAT what lay ahead? Was THAT to be the end product of her life?
Of the life of... She didn't even know if it was a son or a daughter she
would have with Ryouga.
    [No! Wait! The future isn't set! Ranchan and I... We still can...]
    There WAS Ryo. Yet... He seemed so shaky, and uncertain. If anything,
he was almost sure that HIS future wasn't HERS.
    Meanwhile, even when Ratiko was babbling about things 'not being
right', even when drunk, he was confident, and stood by his belief that
the Kuonjis and Hibikis were FATED to be joined.
    "Are you just going to stand there all day, or are you going to give
me a key to the room?"
    "Oh." Ukyou rummaged through her pockets. "Here it is." The metal
trinket exchanged hands.  [Must remember to lock my own door tonight.]
    "Thanks. Don't wake us up."
    "What about breakfast?"
    Nabiki scratched her chin while she considered it.
    "I suppose... Cook up something good, and I'll deduct THAT, as well.  
Now, it's off to tease the Hibiki. G'night!"
    Ukyou barely remembered to wave. She HAD to know more. But from who?
    That woman with her bandolier. Surely SHE could tell her something.
ANYTHING, just to give her more hope. Just to give her SOME hope.
    They should be almost done with dinner now. Perhaps she could coax
them with a little friendly conversation. She'd mentioned she was a
'historian'. Maybe an exchange?
    Nabiki walked away, bat in one hand and clothes in the other.  Ukyou
dusted herself off and went to offer her other customers (her ONLY other
customers) an after-dinner drink.
    "Hi!" she said. "Enjoy your meal?"  The woman looked at her, smiling,
and the other nodded gravely. "Would you like something else? Coffee? Tea?
Maybe some cake?"  [I *think* there's still some cake in the store-
room...]
    "No, that's all right." The blonde's eyes twinkled. It only made Ukyou
feel worse to see a couple that seemed so MATCHED.  "Just the bill,
please."
    "Sure... I..." As she reached for her note pad, she remembered
something.  "Just a sec... You're from the future, right? Twenty ninety
six?"
    "SHE is," said the man. "I don't know quite where I'm from."
    He grinned, which made him look alarmingly like a wolf.
    "Then... I..." [Let's see... They'd been here a day or two at most,
and Ratiko had to scrub pots.] "I don't suppose you have any... current
currency?"
    She wasn't exactly Nabiki, but maybe she could arrange for an
exchange: food for information.
    The woman arched an eyebrow in reply, smiled, and reached inside her
jacket. A moment later, Kuonji grabbed a shining something from the air,
as it was tossed towards her.
    She opened her palm.
    It was a coin.
    A gold coin.
    "Spanish doubloon, late sixteenth century," announced the historian.
"Any museum can verify it for you.  Will that be enough?"
    "I... don't have enough change for it."  No kidding. If she sold the
debt-ridden okonomiyaki-ya, she MIGHT be able to give back the appropriate
amount.
    "That's all right." Another smile, and a wink to her companion. "Keep
it."
    Ukyou's jaw dropped, and even the stoic wolf looked startled.
    "Thank you!"  Now she could put up a new sign, maybe pay off the
loans...
    What had she done to deserve this? She barely knew them, and [All I've
given them is okonomiyaki!] She HAD to find something she could offer in
return. She was no Kunou, but this went even against HER honour.  Even
Nabiki wouldn't...
    [That's it!]
    "You two don't have a place for the night, do you?"
    "Where WERE we going to stay, Childra?"
    [So THAT'S her name...]
    "I thought maybe we could go to the Tofu clinic." She arched an
eyebrow at the cook. "Do you know a better place? I don't have many more
of THOSE," she said, pointing at the doubloon, "so a hotel is out of the
question..." Childra grinned at her companion.  "Unfortunately."    
    Her boyfriend blushed.
    "Actually, I have a spare room..."
    "Not the one with Rat in it, I hope."
    "You... You HEARD?!?"
    "I'm not deaf, dear, and he's only mute." She poked the other in the
shoulder, eliciting a smile. "We were having a lot of fun watching you
all, but since you had it so well under control..."
    "Ah. I see..."
    "Besides, the boy could use a little... education. Those Hibikis tend
to be a bit inhibited, as you may well know."
    Ukyou nodded. She KNEW, all right. It'd taken all her persuasion to
get Ryouga to go on a date with AKANE, for crying out loud. Even then,
she'd had to write the invitation herself.  That shyness, though...  If
the 'lost boy' DID overcome it enough to marry HER, that meant that..
    [Change the subject. Stop that thought.]
    She took a key out of her pocket, and put it on the table.
    "I'm afraid it's just a single room, but I'm sure it's better than one
of Doctor Tofu's."
    "Oh," said Childra, "I don't mind..."
    From the way wolf-boy looked, Ukyou wasn't sure that he would say the
same.  His face was beet-red, he was staring at his (empty) plate, and his
mouth kept opening and closing, without saying a word. 
    "Don't mind HIM," the blonde assured her, wrapping an arm around his
neck. "It'll be just PERFECT..."

                                 * * * * *

    Nabiki sucked on the cylinder, relishing its sweetness, drawing from
it all the juices that she could.  When it seemed that she could take no
more, she stimulated it by pushing it in, and out, rhythmically massaging
it with her lips, ever so gently...
    The stiff rod seemed to melt under the touch of her warm tongue,
dissolving into a sugary syrup of pure delight.
    Even that was not enough to keep her entertained. She... needed...
more. Something with more intensity, with explosion...
    Nabiki bit into it.
    It shattered.
    [Gosh, these lollipops are good. I wonder where Ukyou buys them?]
    No matter. She'd find out in the morning. For now, she had... business
to take care of.
    She swallowed the candy fragments, tossed the bare stick aside, and 
took her camera out of her purse.
    Now... What was left to be done?
    [One future Hibiki in bat form... Check.]
    [One glass of warm water... Check.]
    [One camera... Check.]
    And now, to put them all together... If half of what she'd heard was 
right, compromising pictures of THIS boy could have her set for life.
    At the very least, she could sell them to him.  After all, surely he 
didn't want his 'friends' knowing he'd slept with a 'monster'.  THAT 
would likely bring in another notebook's worth of extra information...
    Failing that, he wasn't TOO shabby-looking.  Asuka or Kodachi might 
be willing to pay good, solid yen for pictures of him.
    [Well, to work.]
    She sprinkled the bat's left wing with the water and was only slightly
startled at the instant metamorphosis.  Thankfully, it seemed that Ratiko
was still very drunk. He shouldn't be waking up for a few more hours, at
least...
    Nabiki climbed onto the bed.
    [Now, for just the riiiight... position.]  She took her camera,
holding it gently and running her hand  down the barrel of the lens, 
feeling a certain thrill run through her spine.  This was the action of 
making money, getting her hooks in on a man, grabbing 'em by the
proverbial... well...
    Nabiki bent down a little, off to Ratiko's left, hmmming as she
fingered the camera lens.  [No, this isn't good enough.] She moved to his 
right side, bent down lower, and grunted in dissatisfaction.  [This isn't 
right either.]  She crawled onto the bed, gripping her camera a little 
tighter, and squatted down by Ratiko's head.  Nabiki lifted her camera to 
her face, licking her lips, and lowered herself  slowly, trying to find 
the best spot for the photo.  Unfortunately, that position quickly failed 
to satisfy her, and she slowly made her way off the bed.
    [What angle... what angle... got it.]
    This would be perfect and needed only a LITTLE positioning. If she
tilted his chin up... [Like... THAT.]  it looked like he was in ecstasy.
Move the arms to the sides, [Like so...] and it was the PERFECT position.
    She saddled his legs right above his knees, and smiled. This was so 
easy, it wasn't even funny.  Well, okay. It WAS funny.  She almost wished 
that he would refuse to give her the data she wanted, so that she'd be 
able to show these around. It would look, for all the world, like he and 
she had been... and... and he'd wanted PICTURES to remember it by! 
    Nabiki stifled a giggle.  Hibikis could certainly be entertaining.  
Maybe she could STILL make him think that that was what had gone on...
    "Smile for the camera, bat-boy..." she whispered, and looked through 
the view-finder. Her gaze slowly went up his body, and she couldn't help 
but start feeling a little warm herself.  Nabiki's breathing quickened as 
she fingered the camera button and slowly gripped the lens shaft, turning 
it gently in her hand, bringing in Ratiko's image sharper and sharper, 
and oh so much clearer.  [Oh yes, yes, that's the spot, hold it steady...]  
Nabiki thrust the camera button down, sighing in satisfaction, when...

    *FLASH*

    [Uh-oh... Deity... I forgot to turn that thing OFF...]
    Ratiko's eyebrows bobbed up and down, and his nose twitched briefly 
before he opened his brown eyes.
    "I..." 
    [THAT groggy? I would've thought my see-through night-shirt would
have...]
    "YOU..." The white orbs doubled in size.
    [Oh.]
    "WE..."
    "Run out of pronouns yet, Ratty-baby?"
    "D... Don't tell me we..."
    Nabiki smiled. She'd gotten the picture... What harm could it do to 
tease for a bit?
    "Don't tell you what, Rat?"
    "We... We didn't..."
    "We WILL."
    She leaned in closer and laughed with delight when she saw the trickle
of red working its way down the boy's neck.
    "I... I mustn't fail obaasan!" he shouted.
    "Don't tell me you're into geriatric incest..."
    Was he? Nabiki made a mental shrug.  In a world where Kunou was a 
global saviour, anything was possible.
    "I MUST BE STRONG!" he cried.
    "Don't worry... I'm sure you will be..."
    She winked, and he fainted.
    [Oh, well... So much for the entertainment... At least it'll be 
easier to get the rest of the roll, now...]


                                 * * * * *

    Childra locked the door to the room and stood before Ishido in the
blackness.
    "Maybe we should turn on the light...," suggested Lobis.
    "I like it dark." She grinned briefly, then her face became a tight
line. Somehow, her usual lines just didn't seem... right when used on him.
    She wasn't lying, though. Now that they were together, alone,
encased by four walls and a window, she didn't want to be SEEN by him.
Not... Not yet... Not her body... Not before he saw...
    [The REAL me.]
    He had, already, she thought. Maybe that's why she felt so drawn to
him...  He cared for her, and protected her even though he looked away
when she showed off... and they had barely touched hands, except at her
own insistence.
    "You... You didn't have to do that, you know," Ishido said softly.
    "The coin?"
    "Hai."
    Now, a real smile.
    "I suppose YOU would have paid?"
    "If I could have," he said wistfully, then suddenly, "Look! I...
You're..." The moon's rays shone upon him as he raised his arms in
frustration.
    "Ishido..." She placed an arm on his shoulder. He tensed.  "I know."
    She did, and told him with the language she knew best; that of her
body.
    She stroked his hair, to calm him down and let him feel that she
forgave him, even ADMIRED him for having fought for her, then fought his
programming to not cause her pain...
    She looked into his eyes, and moved them into a blue-and-grey-lit
spot, so he could see her green ones and...
    No. That's not right.
    She had to be herself.
    "Will you wait a moment, Lobis?"
    "Childra, I..."
    "Please."
    He nodded. He didn't know why, but he trusted her. She liked
that.
    Jansen stepped into a corner and took a small tube from her bandolier,
popping off the top. Two taps on her eyes, and the green contact lenses
fell into the palm of her hand, to be deposited in their container.
    She screwed the lid back on and put the vessel back in its slot.  He
deserved to know her as she truly was... As she so seldom let ANYONE see
her... 
    [Even myself?]
    Smiling, she walked back to the gentle man.
    "Your eyes...  Brown..."
    She hushed him, hissing softly and putting a finger over his lips.
    "They're mine," she whispered. "And only for you."
    Once again, his muscles contracted, and she repeated her massage,
going lower down the back, drumming her fingers into each saliency, until
she managed to relax him...
    [Except in one vital part...]
    She resisted the urge to proceed as she so often had before,
completing the technique. If anything was to happen, she promised herself,
it would not be because she forced it. Not this time. This had to be
natural, spontaneous...
    "Childra, you..." He tried to turn away, but she forced his head back
gently.
    "You always cut off your sentences when you're about to say what I
most want to hear..." Ishido's blush turned lilac in the moonlight.
"Finish it, dear...  Please..."
    "You..." He cleared his throat and closed his hands, gathering up
strength.
    "Yes?"
    Childra's heartbeat doubled in strength with each moment that passed,
and the blood pumped through her arteries like lightning.
    "You mean a lot to me."
    An explosion of warmth flooded through her, starting in the middle of
her chest, fountaining across her breasts, and cataracting down her
legs...  She'd known, or she'd suspected, but he'd SAID it, he'd made it
CONCRETE, a reality...
    An internal laugh. So many promises from so many men, so many undying
loves proclaimed, and now she was losing her mind over a, 'you mean a lot
to me'...  
    But THAT is because he meant it.
    She knew he did.
    She also knew that she WANTED it to be true, and she returned the
sentiment in the strongest way possible...
    "I know it sounds silly," he continued. "I've only just met you,
and... with the locket I don't even know what's REAL anymore..."
    "It's not silly."
    She brushed her hand against his cheek. He shivered, and she with him.
    "I can't offer you anything," he said softly. "I can't even say that I
haven't... that I haven't felt this way before... I just...  I don't
know..."
    "All that matters is what you've already said, Ishido..."
    "I don't even know if I'm attached, or married, or..."
    "It doesn't matter to me," she said. After all, it didn't.  Once she
got the locket, they could go anywhere, to ANY reality...  One where there
was no Onocorp, or none of... none of whoever had done these things to
him. They could start ANEW. A new present. A new future. And no past... 
She could forget hers, and his own had been erased... "Does it matter to
YOU?"
    "Not now."
    Sweating and trembling, she grinned and pulled off her jacket.
    "Childra, I don't think..."
    "Good."
    The bandolier went next. Quickly, before she could regret it.
    "You shouldn't do this. I might..."
    "I hope so."
    He gulped.  
    She was serious.  She needed to be with him, needed to feel him as a
part of her... and now that she KNEW...
    Her heart was ready to burst, its pace alone making her breathless.
    She took his hand, and overcame a slight resistance to guide it to her
chest.
    "Let's not argue," she pleaded.
    "I... I don't want to hurt you, and if we..."
    "Finish your sentences, dear."
    "If we... Ah..." The lilac turned a deeper purple, and he trembled. 
    "If we are together, then I might..."
    "You might decide to stay with me?"
    "Well..."
    "I would like that."
    She moved his palm to the middle of her chest and let him feel her
pulse, let him know how strong it was, how he had excited her, and made
her LIVE.
    "Then, I suppose I..."
    [Shyness becomes him.]
    He gave in.
    She moved backwards, never turning her back to him, and made her way
towards the bed, untying her neckerchief in the process.
    He followed, hesitant for the first few seconds, but then with
confident (and eager?) steps...
    He had seen her as she truly was, and had grown to like that.  Now, it
was time for him to fully be with her, so that she could give herself, her
REAL self, for the first time.
    She smiled and lay against the linen sheets, as they settled down to
finish what they had begun a hundred years from now.

                                 * * * * *

    Ukyou lay in bed, staring at the ceiling.  Thoughts whizzed through 
her head of their own volition, and she let them come and go as they 
pleased. 
     [Me? With Ryouga??  ...uh-uh, no way!]  
    That boy downstairs with Nabiki had scared her with his talk...and 
that Childra woman had not helped allay her fears at all.  Sure, now she 
had money...  [She sure was generous!], but she still didn't know what 
the future held for her... or WHO.  
    "Darn it all!" she said aloud. 
    She tried to rest, letting her mind wander again,  but it kept
returning to the same point...
    Eventually fatigue overwhelmed her, as the events of the day, both 
physical and mental [Taught that drunk Hibiki a lesson!], and she fell
into a deep sleep.  
    [I'm not going to marry Ryouga!]
    Ukyou began to dream...

    The kitchen was bright, sparkling with the lemon-scented shine of 
clean cupboards and floor.   Utensils, pots, and pans lined the walls, 
neatly hung in place.  Beneath the smell of Mr. Clean, there was the 
unmistakable odour of okonomiyaki.  None was cooking now, but this was 
obviously a place that saw that dish often.   Ukyou wandered to the 
counter-top, feeling a security and safety she'd never known before.  She 
recognised the cooking implements that lined the walls... they were
hers... but whose was the kitchen in which they hung?
    Deep peace filled her mind, and she strolled around the house, 
trying to figure out where she was... not worried, but still curious.
    She turned to her left, leaving the airy kitchen for a cosy living 
area.  There were pillows, chairs, a low table and a clean wooden floor
under her feet.  [Whoever keeps house here is a very clean person!] 
Ukyou thought, approvingly.  Then something caught her eye.
    In the corner of the room, tucked away neatly, was a bright 
coloured box.  It jarred slightly with the subtle colours of the room, but 
it somehow made the place even more inviting... it was a child's toy box.
    Ukyou wandered over and removed the lid.  
    Inside were cars, boats, trains, and blocks.  Soft plush animals 
jostled with rubber balls for space, and a jack-in-the-box squealed up at 
her as she moved the toys around.
    "Yeeeeeeeeehhhheeeehheeee!"  the jack-in-the-box cried, bouncing 
on its spring.  Ukyou giggled and wondered absently if the owners of the 
house would come to find her now, sitting in their living room, playing 
with their son's toys...
    [How did I know it was a boy?]  She thought to herself. [There 
could be dolls elsewhere, or maybe a girl who doesn't like dolls?]  
    But a part of her giggled again, and KNEW it was a boy.
    Ukyou replaced the jack-in-the-box and stood up.  She walked back 
to the kitchen and saw with some strange satisfaction that the crayon 
drawings on the fridge jarred with the kitchen as well as the toy box had 
in the living room... [This is a house for a child, but it's also a house 
for cleanliness and order.]
    It occurred to her briefly that she herself wouldn't mind a house 
like this... a faint voice in the back of her mind reminded her that with 
Childra's coin, her debts would be gone, and she could begin to save...
    [Who is Childra...?] The name was familiar, but unimportant for 
now... there was more exploring to be done!
    The okonomiyaki chef climbed up the stairs to the upper level and 
noted with another happy surge of satisfaction that the little room 
nearest the stairs definitely belonged to a small boy.  Toys lay 
scattered on the floor, picture books lined the shelves, and pants and 
shirts seemed to have exploded from the chest of drawers.  The bed was 
made, but it had obviously suffered the attentions of a young 
trampolinist, and the covers were in disarray.
    Ukyou frowned wryly. "What a mess!"  she said aloud, but she didn't
really feel the sentiment behind the words.  This happy little room was a
haven, and a home to a little boy she found she wanted to know...
    She quenched a sudden wave of belonging.
    [Where did THAT come from?  This is not my home!] 
    She moved past a small bathroom to the master bedroom.  
    Inside the bedroom the trampoline artist had struck again, sending 
pillows onto the floor and dishevelling blankets.  The rest of the room 
was neat, and the closet was closed.  Large windows claimed one wall, and 
Ukyou walked over and gazed out.  
    A picturesque street, with cherry trees blossoming in the grass.  
People wandered here and there in gardens or sat watching children play 
outside.  Ukyou wondered which child was the one whose toys she had 
examined, but something inside her told her he wasn't within view.
    Ukyou turned from the window and noticed for the first time the 
pictures lined up on the desk by the bed.  She walked over and fondly 
picked up the largest... it was a wedding photo.  A noise startled her, 
and she looked up.
    Outside, there was another happy squeal... a child yelled as a young 
man laughed.  "More Daddy!!  More!!  I want up again!"  
    The voices grew nearer, and the laughter began to sound familiar...
Ukyou felt a happy breath escape her lips... this felt so RIGHT.
    She glanced down at the picture she was holding...
    There, framed in white, stood a tall handsome man, his eyes gleaming
with happiness as his beautiful bride kissed his cheek.  He was blushing,
but he held her close, and together they seemed to make a perfect pair. 
Her long dark tresses were hidden by a veil, and his unruly hair was kept
back from his eyes by a yellow and black bandanna...

    Ukyou gasped and flung back the covers.
    [RYOUGA! ....and......me.....?]
    She fell back against the pillow, and scowled, but suddenly the 
she heard again faintly the happy cries of the little boy... the wave of 
joy swept softly over her again... the feeling of RIGHT and HOME...
    Ukyou spoke aloud to the stillness of the house.
    "Well....maybe..."

                                 * * * * *

    Deep within Ratiko's mind, the mental engines started to hum, and the 
turbines of his consciousness began to spring to life.  Unfortunately, the 
already-mangled navigational and balance system was still reeling from the 
night before.
    Reiraku rubbed his throbbing head and wondered why the room was 
constantly rotating to the left.  Meanwhile, mental power was finally 
restored to Ratiko's memory, although slowly, uneasily, and with the 
occasional interference from the pain sensors that were registering a 
throbbing signal from his skull.
    The memories began to coalesce, to solidify slowly, into... him... 
and... great grandma?  And... Perdita?  In bed??? TOGETHER???  A part of 
Ratiko mentally shrieked in terror, but the rest of him was still spinning 
with the room, so the full sense of panic didn't hit him.  It WAS,
however, enough to set off a deep and fundamental feeling that _something_ 
was wrong.
    Very wrong.
    Incredibly wrong.
    [Dream... Must have been... bad... food...]
    And his bandanna... It seemed like it was fastened on too tight. WAY 
too tight. He reached up to loosen it.
    And found it wasn't there.
    [Huh?] 
    It was at this point that he felt a quick self-check was needed.  As 
with any hangover victim, it started slowly, with the Hibiki refrain:  
[Where am I?]  He opened his eyes and was flooded with incredibly painful 
light.  His lids were immediately shut on a reflex.  That, he felt, should 
be held off till later.  He tried not to think at all, but his sense of 
touch was pointing something out.

    [Breezy... veeeery breezy.]  He didn't remember his clothes being so 
flimsy... Actually, they didn't feel like his clothes at ALL.  Ratiko 
moved slightly, but his 'outfit' didn't.  [Hey... these feel like... 
sheets.]  He slowly moved one hand to his chest, and felt nothing but 
skin.
    He moved his hand down to his thigh and it got the same results.  
Which meant...

    [OH DEITY, I'M NAKED!!!]
    
    Reiraku opened his eyes in shock and alarm, ready to scream in panic.  
He would've, but he felt too weak in the end.
    He sensed that he wasn't alone.  It was still a blur, but steadily 
becoming sharper. Something nearby moved.  He leaned forward, trying to 
get it into focus.
    "Didn't see enough of me LAST night?" a female voice asked tauntingly.
    [OH DEITY DEITY DEITY TELL ME THAT'S NOT-]
    Ratiko's vision snapped into full efficiency, and he realised 
exactly what those gentle round curves he was nearly sticking his face
into were, and who they belonged to.
    "Y-you!"  Ratiko stifled a nosebleed and backed away.
    "Good morning, darling," purred Nabiki.
    Ratiko started stammering and babbling, "You... last night... Oh,
no... I..."
    "So, wasn't *I* better than Ukyou?" asked his bedfellow.
    [OH NO NO NO NO NO!!!] Well, at least now he knew why he was feeling 
so sick to his stomach... Had he actually...  with... with HER?!?
    [Think, Rat, think...] He tried to replay his last moments of 
consciousness from last night, but his memory was still somewhat fried. 
All his mental images were hazy, and when he tried to sharpen them, he 
was rewarded with an invisible mallet to the cranium.
    [Red... Something... red... I think...]
    "Ratty-baby, want a tissue for that nosebleed? Hate to tell you, hon, 
but your face is COVERED in it, and it's NOT very attractive."
    [Oh. So THAT'S what's red... But...]
    She handed him a kleenex, and the Hibiki, too lost to do anything
else, took it and began to wipe himself.  The act of cleansing soothed
him, and he felt a sort of calm settling in.
    "Don't tell me you don't REMEMBER?"
    He didn't, and surprised himself by actually wishing that he did...
    "I'm afraid not... I'm..."
    [I'm shocked I'm so calm about this? I'm actually enjoying seeing a 
legendary villainess next to me in her underwear?  I'm bleeding to death, 
but I don't care?]
    "You're hung over."
    "What???"
    "You were drunk, Rat."
    Now he remembered. The threat... and the wine... and...  and her
smile...
    "Then you and I really... We... I mean..."
    Another nosebleed, and a blush. Plus, a little extra movement somewhat 
further down the anatomical chart.
    "Oh yes, we certainly did," she smiled, "and I have the pictures to 
prove it. You're quite the daring one, 'Reiraku'... And 'Downfall' isn't 
exactly a name I'd use for you..."
    "I... Uh... PICTURES?!?" His salivary gland joined his nasal 
capillaries in celebrating the event.
    He'd actually...
    And he hadn't gotten lost...
    And she hadn't run off... 
    And they weren't related, and...  
    "Um, can I... um... ask you something?" asked Ratiko shyly.
    "Yes?"  Nabiki grinned and moved in closer.
    Ratiko suddenly stood up and grabbed her by her hands, a wild and 
delirious look on his face.

    "COULD I HAVE COPIES? PLEASE?"

    Nabiki face-faulted.

                                 * * * * *

    [I'm back!  I'm back! I'm back I'm back I'm back!]
    Ryo was racing down the streets, his heart beating faster and faster.  
This was _it_, the end of the line; he was HOME.
    "BELL-CHAN!!!" he roared as he zoomed in to his house.  He didn't care
if the neighbours would talk, he didn't care if everyone was thinking he
was acting weird, and he didn't care that he'd run so fast that he'd lost
sight of Godai and Tachi.
    He felt like a new man today.
    A door opened, and even though he was far, he _knew_ who that was.  
    "BELL-CHAN!!! I'M BACK!"
    Ryo looked at Belldandy. After all this time, he was finally HERE, in 
front of Her. Back home, where he belonged.
    No strange half-siblings, no more need to lie...  His conscience still 
hurt whenever he thought about how he had been forced to deceive his own 
MOTHER.  Granted, one in an alternate reality, who would probably never 
birth him, but... it was nice to know that...
    He shook his head.
    [Never again. Never again will I do anything like that. Now that I'm 
with Bell-chan, I can finally settle down, and...]
    Ryo finally slowed down, not wanting to run right past his beloved, 
and stopped just a few feet away from her.  He just gazed at the woman, 
admiring how beautiful she was.  [Oh, I've missed you.]
    "Is something wrong, Ryo-kun?"
    She smiled, showing twin rows of perfect pearls, matching those around 
her neck.
    "No... It's... It's just nice to be home..."
    Now that the locket was gone, that's where he'd stay.  Where it was 
now, he didn't really care.  Not after what he'd gone through. If someone 
ELSE ended up with it; great, just so long as they left him and his loved 
ones alone. If it had disappeared altogether...
    [So much the better.]
    "It's nice to have you home, Ryo."
    Another smile. This one sent a thrill down his spine.  And those 
EYES... A beautiful shade of blue; deep as the ocean, kind as the gentle 
night just after sunset...
    "Oh, Bell-chan... I've missed you so much..."
    Ryo began to cry, sending Kasumi's daughter to his side at once.  She 
massaged his shoulders with her silk-soft hands, chanting in a tone that 
could only bring him peace.
    "Whatever has happened, it's all right. We're together, and our 
parents have already approved the wedding..."
    [The wedding!] Had that been set already? He couldn't remember... His 
mind was still a bit groggy, everything in a haze...
    "The... The date has been chosen?" His muscles tensed, making 
Belldandy frown for a second before doubling the intensity of her massage.
    "While you were gone, Ryo-kun... Did mother forget to tell you? We 
will be wed tomorrow!"
    "Tomorrow?!?" Ryo bolted straight up.
    "Don't do that, darling!  You need to calm down!"
    "Calm? Now? I'm calm, Belldandy! Really!" He grinned from ear to ear.  
"In fact, I've never been happier!"  That was an understatement. To find 
out that everything had been arranged...  "You're SURE about this?"
    "Have I ever lied to you, Ryo-kun?"
    At once, he regretted having opened his mouth.  His fiancee, and 
soon-to-be wife, would never even DREAM of... Of... 
    [Of doing to me what I've done to my mother.]
    That was behind him now.
    And it would stay there.
    "No, Belldandy," he said softly. "You never have."
    She smiled, only a thin film of water over her eyes, and walked to 
him, arms outstretched. He received her, and looked once more into her 
azure eyes, eyes that seemed to burn with a blue flame as he pulled her 
head towards his, and prepared to kiss...

    *SLAP*

    "Ryo no hentai!"
    [Huh?]
    "Geeze, and to think I'd almost changed my MIND about him!  Again."
    "Is something wrong, Miyabi?"
    [Miyabi? But...]
    "Nothing, mum. I should've expected it. Instead of the creep being 
thankful for being rescued from a ditch, he tries to KISS me! He probably 
got drunk last night.  No WONDER he never came back..."
    [No! Not here! Not... Not when I...]
    Saotome Ryo opened his eyes and very briefly saw Tendou Akane and 
Saotome Miyabi glaring at him from above, before two powerful blows sent 
him flying above the treetops.
    "Ranmaaaaaaaa!" He could hear faintly from below, "Even your SONS are 
PERVERTS!"
    At least the aerial view was nice.  He never HAD  realised how 
beautiful Nerima was in the morning...

==========================================================================
                                END ACT THREE
==========================================================================