Converging Series: A Crossover of Unexpected Dimensions.

Act 4





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 among 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.
Following his victory, Ryo sent all the children 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 his noticing. Ratiko schemed to make sure that the history of
his world takes place, and began a plan 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 was interrupted before he could go through with
his plan. In a talk with Ishido, he found out about a certain
umbrella-wielding 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 accidentally 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. Then they returned to the Nerima they
had left from, with an irate Ryo Saotome waiting for them. Meanwhile,
Miyabi had 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 had decided that a talk with Grandmother Nodoka was in order.

ACT III:

     Miyabi went to Nodoka's to talk, unaware that Ranma's life was in
danger due to the promise Genma made to Nodoka regarding manliness and
Ranma's upbringing.  The end result was that Nodoka was invited to dinner,
expecting to see her son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter. Miyabi's
age, almost that of Ranma, was, unfortunately, not forseen as a major
problem by Miyabi. Upon returning from her accidental trip through time,
Childra surrendered the locket to Ryo Saotome once again.  Meanwhile, the
extra passenger they picked up along the way, Ryo Muhoshin, passed himself
off as 'Ryo Gosunkugi, son of Gosunkugi and Ukyou' and had everyone
fooled. Nabiki got a hold of the material Ratiko was planning to frame
Miyabi with and used it to blackmail him into buying her dinner, among
other things.  They end up at Ucchan's, where he washed dishes to pay for
things.  He eventually got drunk, hit on Ukyou, and was knocked out by a
blow to the head. Childra and Ishido became more... intimately attached.
When his guard was down, Ryo Saotome was knocked out by Ryo Muhoshin, who
then accidentally triggered the locket and disappeared into times and
places unknown. Ryo Saotome woke up much later to find the locket gone, an
image of it burned in his hand, and discovered what was inside the locket:

     A picture of him and Bell-chan, his fiancee.

                                              * * * * *

     Ishido woke with a start, nearly jerking upright and laying waste to
whatever demon from his past had captured him---but something made him
stop and look down.  What he saw startled him... but that was quickly
replaced by an unfamiliar feeling.  He brushed back the blonde bangs that
had fallen in Childra's eyes, murmuring words from a song he had once
heard, "On a hot summer night, would you bare your throat to the wolf?"

     He was looking up at the ceiling, not really expecting an answer, so
he was more than a little startled to hear a soft "yes" from a sleepily
blinking Childra.  Ishido was not used to this sort of situation and
stammered. "Er... ah... I-i-i-aiyah..."  Childra blinked and smiled
sleepily up at him.  Ishido had the natural reaction; he blushed
furiously. Childra chuckled a bit and fell back asleep, leaving Ishido to
his ponderings.

     [A bit later...]

     Ishido waited for Childra in the restaurant part of Ucchan's, looking
alarmed and more than a little worried.  He had gotten up and gotten
dressed soon as Childra had gone back to sleep. Then, he had stepped
outside for a bit, to jump to the roof and watch the sunrise; he had a lot
to think about.  After a while, he had gone back inside, to wait for
Childra.

     Childra yawned and smiled as she woke up again, reaching over to give
Ishido a hug.

     Unfortunately, he wasn't there.

     [Wha... Huh?] With her eyes still closed, she felt around the
mattress...

     Nothing.

     For a moment, a feeling of... loneliness and sadness washed over her,
but she quickly realized that he must be waiting for her outside.

     She smiled to herself.

     [I don't blame the poor dear if he needs a bit of air after last
night...]

     After a bit of lazy procrastination and stretching, she rose from the
bed and got about getting dressed.



     When she got into the main room of the restaurant, Ishido was
standing by the doorway, looking into a scrap of glass.  It was mirrored,
and just large enough, apparently, for him to see what he needed to... to
see that the answers didn't lay in his reflection.  She walked up to him
and draped herself over his shoulders.

     "Hi there, Lobis... sleep well?"

     Ishido stiffened a bit--Childra wouldn't have noticed, if she hadn't
been draped over him the way she was.  He gently disengaged her from
himself, then stood up, gazing at her with his crystal-clear eyes, a roil
of indefinable emotions like a storm in his eyes.  He took her by the
shoulders and pulled her into a corner--Childra felt the first stirrings
of fear and sadness start, but ignored them to concentrate on what her
lover said.

     The words that followed hit her heart like a northern hailstorm.

     "Childra... I... after... last night... I have to think. To be...
alone.  To work out what I'm feeling."

     Simple words, and they didn't convey much of... Of a message, in the
usual sense, but their meaning was clear.

     She had given herself to him, wholly and without a reservation, and
he was now refusing that gift.

     Childra drew upon the last vestiges of her strength and managed
not to break down until Ishido had gathered his things and walked out the
door, near-oblivious to the shine of her held-back tears in her
now-emerald green eyes.  Ukyou noticed the minor commotion and was making
steps towards her when Childra suddenly, yet very slowly and calmly,
stepped through the door and out into the street.  Looking to see which
way Ishido went, she took off--in the opposite direction.  Ukyou made a
quick decision, and took off after her--just barely remembering to put
the "Closed" sign up on her door before tearing off after the near-broken
girl.

                                 * * * * *

     Ryo Saotome groaned.  His world was slowly coming into blurry focus
He tried to remember what had happened, his mind foggy with one of those
typical migranes that were the result of a typical Nerima beating...
typical for the males of the Saotome line, that is. [oooooh... now I know
how dad felt...] He sat up, and felt the sudden urge to take a walk, clear
his thoughts.  Unnoticed by the rest of the house, he stumbled out and
walked alone, looking down at his feet as he pondered his dream... and
daydreamed of Bell-chan, of *his* Bell-chan, waiting for him in his
reality.  He didn't really pay attention to where he was going, looking
down as he was for one thing, and lost in his thoughts... until he saw
something which snapped him back to the here and now with a sudden, cold
clarity.

     Lying on the ground in front of him was the picture of himself and
Bell-chan that had been in the locket.

     Ryo blinked, then blinked again.  He fell on his hands and knees,
staring at the photograph.  Two faces stared back, faces he knew well. He
saw one every time he looked in a mirror, and the other one every time he
dreamed.

     "How?"  Carefully, reverently, he picked up the age-faded picture.
The edges were worn;  someone had cut the plastic into the shape of a
heart, and the layers of film had separated.  "This... can't be...
Bell-chan and I just had this picture taken.  We still haven't give copies
away yet; I have the only proof in my wallet..."

     He felt a cold fear grip his heart, as, urged on by the emotion, his
mind slipped through the binds of logic and came to a conclusion on who
had the locket.  "Gosling..." he breathed, a crystal-clear picture in his
mind of the quiet, unassuming young man with the umbrella.  Ryo was lucky
- while like this, he was able to recall little bits of information that
he otherwise would have forgotten.

     [Ishido... Ishido *knows* Gosling...] This thought burnt itself into
Ryo's mind and he took off in search of the amnesiac. [Where is he?]

     As it just so happened, Ishido had found his way to the bridge that
was the site for so many things in Nerima, and was slumped against a rock,
unfocused eyes gazing out across the water, regardless of what was and
wasn't out there.  [I... do I... do I love Childra? I... know that I care
for her a great deal.  But... I... all my life, I've been running from
something. Do I want to subject her to that sort of life? Will she want
to? I know that she's... experienced... maybe I'm not worth the trouble to
her... I... no! I can't. And yet... I think... I think I love her. I...
will talk to her. If she wants to.... then... then we'll see.] Any further
thoughts on Ishido's part were dispelled by a shadow that fell across his
face, blocking out the sun.  It was Ryo Saotome.

     "We have to talk."  Steel was in his voice and a fire glinted in
Ryo's eyes.

     Ishido nodded slowly, seeing this as a way to put his situation with
Childra out of his mind.  Ryo grabbed his arm roughly and pulled him up.
"Somewhere else, somewhere safe."  Ishido nodded and followed the intense
young man to a quiet, secluded area away from the rest of the park.

     Ryo paced back and forth.  "Tell me everything you know about Ryo
Gosunkugi, Ishido. Everything."

     Ishido was somewhat taken aback by this request, but nodded slowly.
"Ok. First off--his name *isn't* Ryo Gosunkugi. It's... Ryo... Muhoshin, I
believe. ..Yes. Muhoshin, that's his name."  Saotome nodded and motioned
for him to continue.  "Well...from what I remember, Muhoshin was mainly
interested in revenging himself against Ryouga Hibiki for some past
rivalries.  They use the same style of martial arts, centered around the
umbrella.  Muhoshin has several 'ki-attacks'-- the Ryugeki-ken, Gekihou,
Gou-ryugeki-ken, Bakusai-ten-satsu, and Hyaku-Gekihou, among a few
others." Ryo started at the almost familiar..

     "Don't you mean Bakusai-tenketsu? The breaking point that Ryouga uses
on inanimate objects?"

     Ishido shook his head, deadly serious. "Bakusai-ten-satsu.
Apparently, Gosling found a way to make it work on organic things... like
bones. It's... not a pretty sight."  Ryo blanched.  A man who could
explode the bones in a body was a formidable opponent indeed.  "Go on."

     Ishido shook his head, eyes glinting as they unfocused, as he
searched his memory for more of his elusive memories of Muhoshin.  "I...
that's all I know. I'm sorry."  Ryo shook his head. For now, it would have
to do.  Ryo thanked Ishido and ran off, leaving Ishido to stare down his
million threats and dreams.

                                 * * * * *

     Childra sat on one of the benches in Ucchan's, sobbing quietly.

     "I need liquor,"  she muttered.

     "H... Hai..." Ukyou knew just how she felt... Often, when she came
back for Ranchan's...

     Kuonji took a worn key from around her neck and opened a small
cabinet hidden under the griddle.  From there, she pulled out a large
bottle made of blue glass, and a wooden cup, both of which she set down
before the tearful archaeologist.

     "Thanks." Jansen popped the top off the bottle, not bothering to
inspect its contents, and poured herself a cupful.  It went down her
throat in one quick motion.

     Then promptly came back up again.

     "What IS this stuff?" She held the vessel to the light, trying to
peer inside.  Was something MOVING in there?

     "It's... It's my father's special recipe... He..." Ukyou shuffled her
feet. "He drank it a lot, after Ranchan and his father left with the
yattai..."

     "You're telling me YOU drink this?"

     "Hai."

     "Often?"

     "Well..."

     "Never mind. Once a year, even, and I'll definitely think of hiring
you whenever I need a partner on a research trip to Tibet...  I'll bet YOU
wouldn't have any trouble with yak-butter tea..."

     "Are... Are you feeling better, then?"

     "Better?" Childra held the empty cup pensively.  "No... not...
better'..."

     Tears welled up in her eyes, and...

     [Her cheeks are turning red... She drank enough... Good... It should
help her forget...]

     "Look at me," she went on, her speech now slurred. "LOOK AT ME!"

     She tore off her jacket and was about to do the same to her shirt
before Kuonji stopped her.  "Anythin' wrong with this?" She waved her
hands over herself.

     "You look fine, Jansen-san."

     "FINE?" A Kodachi-like cackle. "MORE than fine, girl, if the U of
Tokyo boys are anythin' to judge by..."

     [Maybe she had TOO much?]

     "And now... NOW, when I FINALLY find ONE guy I like, ONE guy who
wants to spend time with me without jumpin' in the sack..."

     Ukyou herself was turning red, and she had drunk nothing that day.

     "THAT guy runs away.  Says he 'isn't ready'.  Say... You have any
REAL liquor?"

     "S... Some..."

     "How 'bout some tequila?"

     "I... I think I can manage..."

     [Remember the coin; you owe her your restaurant...]

     She rummaged through her closets, trying to find that bottle she
always kept for Lardi... Oh. There it was.

     Down it came, and onto the counter, where Childra took it and
instantly poured herself a glass. A LARGE glass.

     "Maybe... maybe he has someone already..."  She raised the cup to her
lips, drained it and refilled it.  "A nice guy like that, no memory,
diff'rent reality...  That type doesn't stay single for long.  Prolly has
a.. A wife... Who knows, maybe...  maybe KIDS..."  Two glasses went down,
this time, leaving her with an ear-to-ear grin.  "I know many gals
wouldn't mind going through childbirth for a night like..."

     "M... More prawn crackers, Jansen-san?"

     "I didn't have any to begin with..."

     "Ah... Would you like some, then?"

     "The tequila suits me just fine... Say...  You aren't EMBARASSED, are
you?"

     "Me?" Ukyou flushed red.

     "Yep. You are...  Perhaps... Perhaps you're right 'bout that...
Maybe... Maybe I was too forceful... Scared him away..."

     "No! I'm sure he didn't mind! I mean, most men... I..." Ucchan
covered her mouth with her hand... There were things that someone who
prided on being Ranma's 'cute fiancee' just DIDN'T say aloud.

     "You're right... He was a tough nut to crack..." Another grin. "So to
speak...  But when we got down to it..."

     She turned pale, and dropped the cup.

     "M... Maybe I wasn't good enough! Why doesn't he want to... what if I
went too quick... maybe for him... there isn't anything else anymore... oh
god..."

     Ukyou reached over to embrace her, but before she could, Childra
grabbed the bottle and slugged a good portion of it.

     "What am I cryin' about, anyway?" she asked the room.  "I'm not even
sure I...  Maybe I DON'T love him.  Ever think of THAT?" She waved an
accusing finger at an invisible spectator.  "Maybe it was just the hunt,
the fact that he isn't the sort of man to jump into bed with any woman...
What'm I gonna do?"

     "Childra, I..." Kuonji put her arm around her neck. "I know what
you're going through... Believe me...  And..."

     The time-traveler ignored her sympathy and went on with her sobbing
rant.

     " I... if... if he won't have me... then... what will I do?  My
life... it isn't worth anything without someone to hold on to... Oh,
Ukyou... I don't know WHAT TO DO!"

     She could no longer choke back the tears, and collapsed crying onto
Ukyou's bosom, while the girl shushed her and gently stroked her hair.

                                 * * * * *

     It had been an interesting couple of days for Reiraku Hibiki.  So far
he'd visited at least six different 'dimensions', met and trained (a
little) with his great-grandfather, helped his great grandmother with her
store, and did a few... unclear things.

     One of those unclear things was currently walking next to him as they
strolled through Nerima.  It was a thing of average height, with short
brown hair, a wicked grin, and that certain quality called feminine
mystique.

     She was, or so he'd been raised to believe, an evil monster guilty of
unpardonable sins against his ancestors.  A demoness, a succubus, a
servant of the utmost evil, embodiment of all that was Not Righteous.

     And he had apparently slept with her.

     Ratiko couldn't help but occasionally stare at her, wondering exactly
how things had gotten to this point, and whether or not this was the right
state of affairs.  His peers would certainly not understand.

     No, they'd be horrified.

     "Hey, Ratty-baby, why the stare?" asked Nabiki curiously

     "Huh?"

     "You were lookin' at me a bit blankly, Ratiko."

     "I was?"

     Nabiki grinned.  She knew she had him by hook and by crook.  Just
like Ryouga, this Hibiki seemed to be easily swayed by the 'fair sex' (a
term that a few would say didn't apply to Nabiki).

     Ratiko took a look at the smile on the Tendo girl's face.  It seemed,
to him, to be a rather nice smile.  Certainly not the smile of a monster
that would ruin the lives of his ancestors.

     "Got something on your mind, Ratty-baby?" inquired Nabiki.

     Actually, he did.  It was, in concept, a somewhat embarrassing
question to ask, especially in light of who was involved in the matter,
but he had to ask.

     "Actually... I was wondering abou-"

     "NABIKI TENDO!  I am in need of your services!" boomed Tatewaki
Kunou, appearing suddenly.  Ratiko reeled in shock from the sudden
surprise.  He stared at Kunou, then at Nabiki.  Apparently, the legends
were true:  Kunou was swift as the wind and loud as thunder.  He never saw
him coming and felt a little deaf after the initial roar of Blue Thunder's
Rant.

     Ratiko suddenly realized something... he asked for her services?

     "But," he asked, "I thought you said that you didn't...?"

     Nabiki whapped him on the head.  "He's not asking for THAT kind of
service!"  She calmed down immediately, then turned to Kunou.  "So, what's
it today, Kunou-baby?"

     "I need images of my two beloveds!  As many as possible!  My heart
doth grow weak in their absence!"  Kunou was facing an internal crisis.
The girl he had run into the night before, the gaijin with blond hair, had
tempted him.  She had made his heart stray from his beloved pig-tailed
girl and Akane Tendo.  Was his heart not pure?  His intentions just and
right?  His love for his goddesses real and ever-lasting?  He had awakened
on this day, determined to re-focus his romantic resolve on his two *true*
loves, and none other.

     Ratiko stared blankly as Kunou and Nabiki negotiated.  This, he
wondered, was the great and noble Tatewaki Kunou?  He who implemented
governmental policies that spread peace throughout the globe?  He who was
worshiped as a saint in Ratiko's era?  THIS rambling, woman-chasing,
bokken-waving man was to become a world hero?  It seemed rather hard to
believe.  Needless to say, he was beginning to feel a little disillusioned
about the great founder of his society.

     But then again, he wasn't supposed to be like that until Ranma was
dead and Akane Tendo deceased by suicide.  With that thought nagging on
his mind, he decided to see if he could do something about THAT a bit
later.

     Ratiko idly put his hands in his pants and hummed a bit, waiting for
Nabiki to conclude her business.  That's when he felt it... a hole in his
pocket.  He momentarily frowned on the apparent loss of a few silver Kunou
coins that he had dumped in there, but that was small change anyways.

                                 * * * * *

     Ukyou went about tidying up the room in which Nabiki and Ratiko had
spent the night.  She blushed when she noticed the sheets were
considerably undone, and wondered what Nabiki had done last night.  As she
flapped out the blanket, getting it ready to fold, something shiny and
metallic flew in the air and landed with a *clank* on the floor.  She
immediately recalled the two gold coins that Childra had given her, and
checked the floor.  Instead of antique gold, however, there was an odd and
somewhat large silver coin.  She held it up to the light, inspecting it's
image.

     "No... can't be... no way."

     She flipped the coin in her hand, feeling somewhat disappointed. Any
currency that had Tatewaki Kunou on the front couldn't have been too
valuable.  At least, at the rate things were going right now, they
certainly weren't.

     Tatewaki Kunou, global saviour?  Suuuure.

     "Ye gods!  Is there no service in sight within the meager confines of
this eating establishment?!  SERVICE!  WHERE IS THE SERVICE!"

     Ukyou narrowed her eyes.  _Well, speak of the devil._

     "Hold on! Wait a sec!  I'm comin' already!"  Continuing to flip the
coin, she stalked off to the cash register in the front.  _What the hell
am I gonna do with this piece of junk?_ she wondered, tossing the coin
again.

                                 * * * * *

     By a street, in a fashionable part of town, under a large table and
sitting on some pseudo-fancy plastic furniture, Nabiki and Ratiko were
doing their best to relax under the pleasant outdoor conditions of the
day.  Nabiki was succeeding greatly, Ratiko wasn't.

     "So, tell me again why you have Kunou's face on your cash?"  asked
Nabiki, munching on her yakitori with one hand, inspecting a Kunou Silver
Dollar with the other.  It was definitely real currency, with a good
quality to it as well.  Their rendition of Kunou, whoever made this silver
coin, was incredibly flattering.

     "Didn't I tell you this already?" asked Ratiko, feeling as if he was
being a bit mocked at the moment.

     "Yeah yeah, but I still get a kick out of hearing it, so tell me
again, hm?"  She grinned as she munched on her yakitori.  It was a good
morning so far, with Ratiko having enough money left over to buy her a
modest brunch, and now some fairly amusing storytelling.

     "Okay, it goes like this..."  Ratiko explained how Kunou turned to
religion after the demise of Akane, a part of the story that Nabiki didn't
like at all. Then he went on to tell how Kunou had begun a movement of
social and government reform which led to the current/future status of
Japan.

     Nabiki was snickering terribly.

     "Hey, this isn't funny!" insisted Ratiko.  "He helped make the world
a better place!  The man is considered a global saviour!"

     Nabiki spat out her drink and began laughing rather loudly.

     "Ah, forget it."  He frowned and gave her a disapproving glare, but
still couldn't help how much she _didn't_ look like an evil scourge from
hell and _did_ look like a very normal, maybe even beautiful girl. And on
the subject of girls, he still wanted to ask....

     "Hey, Nabiki," he said, sounding somewhat nervous.

     She managed to slow her nearly out of control laughter back to a
controlled snickering.  "Hm?" she managed between snickers.

     "Er... I didn't... er... I mean... Ukyou... well... you said...
er..."  How one asks if one had slept with one's great-grandmother, he
didn't know, but he wasn't making much progress in making up an effective
method for it either.  It was bad enough that he had apparently done so
with the Evil Tendo.  A part of his mind was screaming in horror and
echoing 'PERVERT!', but it was located next to his directional skills so
it wasn't really heard very well.

     "What about Ukyou?" wondered Nabiki, finally recovered from her long
laughing streak.

     "Well, er... I was wondering i-"

     "WHAT A GRAND DAY IT IS INDEED FOR THE BLUE THUNDER!" boomed the
voice of Nerima's resident kendo master.  Ratiko was jolted out of his
seat by the sudden Blue Thunder Vocal Ambush.  Kunou blinked, noticing the
sudden movement, and saw only Nabiki Tendo sitting at a table and some
strange fellow apparently sprawled on the floor.  "Ah, Nabiki Tendo, the
mistress of the yen!  Would you not agree that this is a fair day indeed?"

     "Yeah, nice day, nice day."  She tried to look at Kunou and imagine
him as a world saviour.

     "Nabiki Tendo?  Are you feeling well?"  Kunou peered at her with some
curiosity as she began to snicker uncontrollably once more.

     "Ah HAHAHAHA aheh ahem....  Sorry Kunou-baby, just had a joke on my
mind, that's all."  She sniffled a bit, fighting back the urge to start
laughing again.  Then it happened:  her money making instinct kicked in.
She slowly stopped snickering, gaining a sort of calmness, and looked at
the coin which Ratiko had shown to her.  It was indeed a very well made
coin... incredibly flattering... and of a fairly large size too. Something
Kunou would certainly take a liking to... for a price.

     "Hey, Kunou-baby, I think I might have something that'll interest
you," she said, holding the coin between two fingers and grinning.

     "But I thought you said you didn't..." began Ratiko, who'd finally
recovered from his Blue Thunder Surprise.  Nabiki gave him a look that
would be fatal to many small animals and plant life, and was about to whap
him when a bokken did the job for her.

     "Cretin!  Do you suggest that the honorable Tatewaki Kunou requests
indecent services from the likes of Nabiki Tendo?!"  Kunou finished his
rant with his bokken held high, and somewhere in the background a bolt of
lightning streaked across the sky.  "Apologize, cur!"

     "I'm sorry!  I'm sorry!"

     Nabiki grabbed him by the collar.  "Have a seat, be very quiet," she
hissed.  "This won't take too long."

     "Alright then... where were we..." muttered Nabiki, "oh yeah. Have a
look at this."  She held the fairly large coin before Kunou and waited for
his ego to kick in.

     There was a moment of silence.

     "Ah, yes, I see you now carry the new currency of our mighty nation!"
Nabiki stared at him, somewhat confused, as he ranted on.  "I saw the
first of this coinage at the eatery of the one known as Kuonji, upon which
she hath freely gave it to me in much haste, OBVIOUSLY with great joy upon
seeing how the sagely persons in charge of our nation's monetary system
have seen fit to to place the image of I, TATEWAKI KUNO, upon our monies!"

     Nabiki sighed and turned away, muttering a small curse at Ukyou.

     Meanwhile, Ratiko was counting the Kunou-bills, wondering exactly how
much he had anyways.  As fate would have it, Kunou noticed.  He grabbed a
handfull of bills, staring at them.  Ratiko didn't know exactly what to
do.  Apparently the saviour of the world had just taken his money, and it
wasn't the sort of situation he was used to dealing with.

     "A-HA!  Do you see?  Do you see?  This unparalleled visage of mine
doth indeed adorn ALL the monetary units of Japan!  MY GREATNESS IS
ACKNOWLEDGED BY ALL!  AHAHAHAA!!!  *URGH*"

     Ratiko stared at Nabiki.  "Um... Nabiki..."

     "What?" she hissed.

     "You just malleted the Global Saviour."

     "Don't worry, he gets hit like that all the time.  Now get me a
drink, hm?"

                                 * * * * *

     Ranma and his newfound 'daughter' stood in the doujou at a combat
stance, both breathing heavily.  Ranma had offered, rather awkwardly, to
spar with her.  Both father and daughter found some inner peace whenever
they practiced the martial arts.

     However, her father's reluctance to try to hit her wasn't helping her
relax, and was in fact somewhat irritating.

     "All you're doing is dodging!" she yelled.

     "I -don't- hit girls," he replied calmly, "didn't I ever tell you
that?"

     "I don't think you did, dad," she replied, then surprised him with a
sudden and extremely quick flurry of attacks, ending with him flying out
to the pond.  Miyabi stepped out by the pond with a smug look and said,
"so, what do you think?"

     Ranma-chan dragged herself out of the pool, muttering something about
rather violent genetics and said, "hey, pretty good."  Miyabi felt her
pride swell a bit.

     And then uncle Tatewaki was suddenly there, groping her father. It
was, from her viewpoint, fairly disgusting, and in fact incredibly
disturbing, possibly to the point of mild shock.  Uncle Tatewaki was
_groping_ her dad?  Ewwwwww.

     "Oh, my beloved pig-tailed goddess!"  Ranma felt Kunou's hug tighten
even more, and her temper went skyrocketing.

     "GET OFFA ME YOU PERVERT!!!"  She slung Kunou away in an
over-the-shoulder toss, but didn't realize where she was flinging him.
Miyabi eeped and slammed the flying Kunou with a spinning roundhouse kick
back towards Ranma, who just ducked and let him hit a boulder and sink
into the water.  "Idiot," she mumbled.

     "Is... is Uncle Tatewaki okay?" inquired Miyabi.  "I didn't mean to
hit him so hard."

     "He's fine.  Gets it all the time.  Ain't that right, Kunou?" she
asked, dragging him out of the water.

     "Ah *ptui*cough*cough* such martial arts prowess!  I am duely
impressed.  Allow me to introduce myself..."

     Kunou gave his long introductory rant while Miyabi stared in
disbelief.  He really _was_ ridiculously long-winded back then.

     "Pig-tailed one!" said Kunou, waiving something in the air, "feast
thine eyes on proof of the greatness of Tatewaki Kunou!"

     Ranma looked.  It seemed to be several wet pieces of paper, looking a
lot like money.  With his face in the center.  "What the heck is this?"
asked Ranma, examining the paper.  The date it was printed seemed to be...
2095?  He looked to his future daughter with a questioning glance.  She
shrugged, having never seen that type of money before either.

     "Verily, the great nation of Japan has finally given its most blessed
son the honor and glory he deserves!  And so, pig-tailed one, would'st
thou care to DATE with me, a national symb-*UGH*"  Kunou went flying
across Nerima's skyline once more.

     "Damn sicko," muttered Ranma.

     "Why is uncle Tatewaki groping you, dad?" asked Miyabi, giving her
father an accusing glance.

     "Hey, it ain't like that!"

     "Well, how IS it like, dad?"

     "He doesn't know about the curse."

     "He... doesn't... know?"

     Miyabi turned away from Ranma, shaking slightly.

     "Hey, Miyabi..."  Ranma reached out and tapped her shoulder.

     And that's when Miyabi started laughing.

     "HAHAHAHAHAAAA!"

     "What?  This ain't funny!"

     "HAHA*snicker*HAAA!"

     "It ain't funny, I tell ya!"

     Miyabi breathed in and out deeply in an attempt to calm down. After a
few minutes, it actually worked.  "Why haven't you told him yet?"  she
asked.  "I thought that at least Aunt Nabiki would've forced you to by
now. She's gonna marry him, after all."

     "Nabiki?  And Kunou?"  Ranma blinked.  "Oh yeah.  Ya know...
actually, that makes sense."  He recalled the time Nabiki 'told' Kunou
about how he and the pig-tailed girl were connected.  It wasn't a pleasant
memory.  "C'mon, let's get back to the doujou.  You ain't hitting me like
_that_ again," she said with a smirk.

     "Oh, is that a challenge, dad?" asked Miyabi.  "Alright!"

     And so, father (although by appearances, one wouldn't have guessed
so) and daughter returned to the doujou, feeling at least a little more
upbeat than before.

                                 * * * * *

     Ryo had a headache.

     That wasn't surprising; his skull had been attracting blunt objects
with distressing regularity ever since Spring crossed his path. The added
stress of dimensional travel didn't help any.

     He needed to get home, his fellow travelers needed to get home, yet
nobody else was making any effort to leave this reality.  [Well, almost
nobody.  And if Ishido is right, this other Ryo has been playing us all
for fools.]

     He looked down at his hands.  In his left he held the photograph, an
anachronistic enigma he couldn't begin to explain.  Branded into his right
palm was a heart, the reverse image of the cause of all his pain. [It's
like that two-dee movie the American President played in, Raiders of the
Last Arc.] He traced the pattern lightly.  [I can even make out the
flowers that were engraved on the front of the damned thing.]

     He clenched his fist, hiding the image.  "If this means what I think
it means, then I'm as damned as that locket.  Maybe more so."

     "Why Ranma so sad?"  A pair of slender hands wrapped themselves
around Ryo's arm and pulled him off balance.  The pig-tailed boy stumbled,
falling into the waiting embrace of a very well developed young woman.

     "Wh-" he began, but the purple-haired girl's enthusiasm had driven
the air from his lungs.  [Purple hair?  Spring?!] He tried to break free.
[No, wait, this isn't Spring, it's-]

     Shampoo likewise realized she'd made a mistake.  She shoved Ryo away;
he bounced twice along the sidewalk.  "Who you?" she demanded.  "Why you
look like Ranma?"

     "I'm your transdimensional stepson," he rattled back irritably.
Shampoo blinked in confusion, giving Ryo time to pick himself off the
sidewalk.  [At least I didn't land on my head,] he mused as he rubbed the
seat of his pants.

     The Amazon scratched her head.  "Shampoo not understand."

     He tried again.  "I'm Ukyou's son from an alternate future."

     Shampoo pouted.

     Ryo sighed.  "Magic."

     Shampoo brightened up considerably, clapping her hands.  "Is very
good magic," she chirped.

     "Ha!"  Ryo's laugh was half-snarl.  "You Amazons are about the only
ones who think so."

     Shampoo frowned, then shrugged.  Most of the conversation had gone
over her head.  "I go home now," she decided.

     "You do that," Ryo agreed.  His headache hadn't gotten any better,
and the last thing he needed was a discussion of time-travel paradoxes in
words of two syllables or less...

     He watched warily as Shampoo walked away, his mind still working on
the problem at hand:  the means to travel across time and reality now that
the locket was stolen.  He didn't need any distractions right now,
especially from Shampoo or her grandmother.  Now, where could he go for
help....  He stood up quickly and immediately hit his head on a low
branch.  It jarred his skull yet again, and he flopped down to the
pavement, staring at what was now a trio of Shampoos walking off.

     [That's it!] he thought, his spirits lifting slightly.  Cologne knew
more than enough about the magic arts to help him out.  Of course, that
was the problem as well.  The last time he'd met a Cologne, she'd managed
to almost twist reality to her will, via the locket.  To let her know that
such power was within her reach might be a dangerous gamble.  He looked
once more at the tattered photograph that apparently fell out of the
locket before it vanished with its thief.  Him and Bell-chan... together.
Unless Mr. Tendo or Grandfather was more adept in magic then they had let
on, he didn't see any other options.  Cologne it was, then. Somewhere
within, he felt that maybe this was destiny.

     "Hey!  Shampoo!  Wait up!"

     Shampoo paused in her stride, wondering who was calling her.  She
looked around.  [Aiyah!  It's Ranma!] she thought with glee, bubbling over
with happiness.  Then her long term memory kicked in and reminded her of
something.  [Oh.  The one that only looks like Ranma.  Again.  Fu.]

     "What you want?" she asked, irritated.

     "I need to talk to your great-grandmother," he said carefully.

     "What you need see great-grandmother for?" she asked suspiciously.

     Ryo hesitated.  Shampoo seemed dim-witted, but considering who her
great-grandmother was, he wasn't sure her appearances could be trusted.

     "Let's just say that I need her wisdom."

     Shampoo brightened.  "Great-grandmother very wise, she help you very
very much!  We go now," she said, getting on her bike, "you follow, yes?"

     "You think she'll see me?" he wondered.

     "She help people all the time," said Shampoo proudly.  Ryo didn't
bother to add his comments, which would've certainly been to the contrary
of her statement, and possibly impolite.

     [I hope this doesn't backfire.]

                                 * * * * *

     Shampoo led Ryo into the Nekohanten and behind the back door, through
a curtained doorway.  In a darkened room lit only by candles, a small,
wrinkled figure stood.

     "Welcome," said she, in a raspy voice that set his hairs on end. He
stepped in front of her, feeling uneasy with the examining gaze that she
gave him.  "My Shampoo tells me you seek my aid?"

     "That's right," he said, feeling apprehension and dread creep into
his nerves already.  He fought those feelings, and quickly assumed a calm
mask.  Cologne, however, seemed to notice his unease, as her gaze became
one of curiosity and cunning.

     "So, what can I do for one of the Saotome lineage?"

     "How..."

     "Come now, there is no doubt as to what you are."  She narrowed her
eyes once more, her observation of him making Ryo feel definitely
uncomfortable.  "Now, what is your name, boy?"

     "Saotome Ryo."

     "Well then, Saotome Ryo... what's on your mind?"

     Ryo paused a moment, trying to find just the right words for this
next question.... "Do you... has there ever...."  He took in a deep
breath, not liking the fact that he was appearing nervous before the old
hag.  "You're familiar with magic, yes?"

     Cologne nodded carefully.  She sensed this boy was hiding something,
else why would he seem to choose his words so carefully?

     "Has there ever been... an object... that was rumored to affect
time?"  Inside, he began to worry.  Was that saying too much already?  No,
it couldn't be.

     "Time?  Be more exact boy, you're being rather vague."  Cologne hoped
to bait him into revealing more than he wanted to, although she doubted it
would work.  One had to try, though.

     "Perhaps... traveling through time?" asked Ryo.

     "Oh!  Time TRAVEL, is it?  Well, well, there is ONE device."  She
grinned as Ryo became obviously eager despite his best efforts to remain
calm.  And, as any good Amazon would do, she took advantage of it.  "What
interests you in time travel, boy?  Eh?"

     "I..."  What to say?  He knew if he said he was from the future, she
may become dismayed.  After all, he was 'proof' that Shampoo didn't get
Ranma, and _that_ he guessed, would start trouble rolling along again like
it did the last time she... no... her counterpart found out about things.
What to say, what to say...  Suddenly, he had it all figured out.

     "I've been banished to the past by someone using magic."  It wasn't a
total lie... he somehow banished himself.

     Cologne sensed truth hidden behind carefully placed words, something
she wasn't used to hearing from young people.  The boy was sharp indeed.
Now, if he was from the future...

     "Tell me," she said, casually, as if in pleasant conversation, "how
is my Shampoo doing in the future, hm?"

     Ryo smiled.  "She's my step-mother."

     Cologne's smile grew.  "Is that so... and do you have any sisters,
perhaps?"

     "I do.  Her name is Spring.  She's very much like her mother...
you're quite fond of her too."  More half-truths, but he didn't see any
other way to go.  From experience, he knew that he couldn't be a boyscout,
not when dealing with her.  Now, to add the hook, another half-truth.
"She's been thrown into the past as well, although I don't know where she
was sent to now.  I just want to bring us back to our home."

     "She is not in this time with you?" Cologne asked, a little worried
about her future heir.

     "No.  When I last saw her, she disappeared in a flash of blue light.
The same thing happened to me later."

     Sensing truth behind those words as she eyed his body language,
breathing, tone of voice, and all other signs of truth/lie telling,
Cologne grunted in satisfaction.  Of course, she knew that her Shampoo
would get son-in-law in his proper place, but it was nice to confirm it
anyways.  It was unfortunate that Ranma had apparently had an affair which
produced this boy first, but she cared mostly for the end results.

     "About, um, time travel?" prodded Ryo.

     "Hm?  Oh, yes."  She inhaled deeply from her pipe, then continued.
"There is one artifact... it is called the Nanban Mirror.  According to
legend, it can bring a person to any place at any time.  It was also
supposed to be mildly inaccurate at times."

     [Bingo.]

     "Can this mirror be used to create something else?" asked Ryo,
allowing himself to trust her fully.  He knew she'd pick up on the body
language, and give answers more freely.

     "Create something else?  Like what?"

     "The person that sent us here used a locket of some sort.  I almost
took it from him... but as you can see," he said, showing his burned palm
and the impression of the locket within it, "I didn't quite succeed."

     "Oh, did the locket do that?" queried Cologne, looking at his injury.
"Yes, those are burn marks of a magical nature indeed."  She thought for a
moment, putting together the facts of the case.  "I suppose... one could
use a -piece- of the mirror, but it's only in theory."  She hmmed for a
moment, then asked, "so you think your enemy has used the Nanban Mirror to
create a new object?

     Ryo nodded solemnly.

     Curious as to who could have done such things, she asked, "Who is
this enemy of yours?"

     "Ryo Muhoshin," he half-lied.  "Have you ever heard of him?"

     "No, sorry."

     "And... where is the mirror?" asked Ryo.

     "Stolen."

     "What?!"

     "Many years ago, a twisted little man came through our village. He
chased the women, stealing our undergarments and other things of interest.
Amongst the missing items was the Nanban mirror."

     Suspicion crept into Ryo's mind.  This sounded familiar.  "This...
sounds like Happosai."

     "It does, doesn't it sonny boy?"  Cologned grinned.

     "Does he..."

     "Well, there's one way to find out, obviously."  It was fairly clear
to him what she had in mind:  he had to take on Happosai.  That was
something he felt he had much practice in.  But it was persuading the
little letch to hand over the mirror that might be the problem.  If worse
came to worse, he decided, he'd tear the old man's room upside down.

     "Thanks for the help... Great-great-grandstepmother."

     "Good luck, boy," Cologne warned, "He's a tricky one."

     As Ryo departed, Cologne called Shampoo to her.

     "Great-grand-daughter, I have a task for you.  Keep an eye on the one
that just left.  Check in on him occasionally.  He tells me the truth, and
yet hides something..."

                                 * * * * *

     Ryo Saotome fiddled around with a pen, lost in thought.

     He needed the Nanban mirror to make a locket (THE locket?). That much
was obvious.  The problem? It was the freak's mirror.  Cologne herself had
admitted as much, along with the fact that the Amazons hadn't been able to
reclaim it.  Considering how powerful an artifact it was, and how weighty
the combined strength of the Joketsuzoku, that said a lot for Happosai's
tenacity.

     How DID one go about tricking a geriatric, demonic martial arts
master into giving up his prized possession?

     Several thoughts flew through his head, only to be promptly
discarded.  They all seemed fine, all beautiful and perfect, but one tiny
detail, like the fact that he wasn't invincible or invisible, eventually
spoiled each his plans.

     [Blast.]

     Barring paradoxes, the fact that he'd already USED the locket meant
that he would be successful.

     Eventually.

     It was a bit of a comfort to know that he'd manage it somehow, yes,
but for the moment, he was stumped.

     Ryo's mind went in circles, reconsidering the options. There must
have been _something_ he hadn't thought of; _something_ he'd overlooked.

     He thought of sneaking into Happosai's room, but the threat of
discovery was too great - and not just by the midget.  Half the female
population of Nerima ALREADY thought of him as a pervert; finding him
sifting through what would likely be mountains of soiled lingerie would
hardly improve his image.

     To use Shampoo as glomp-bait was tempting - VERY tempting - but it
also had its complications.  True, any hentai worth his 'H' would latch
onto her on sight, leaving a perfect opening, but

     a) Happi would probably not carry the Mirror around with him, and

     b) He would have to give the blue-haired Amazon an... ah...
'incentive' to do as she was told.  Shampoo had ALREADY mistaken him for
Ranma.  If he encouraged her physically, who KNEW what she might do?

     Ryo suppressed a shudder.

     What ELSE could he try?

     There was a shiatsu spot for nearly everything else - could there be
one he could learn to paralyze the freak long enough to get the Mirror?

     "Maybe Doctor Tofu can teach one to me," he mumbled, still nibbling
on his fingers and staring intently at the pavement.

     "Doctor who?" Without his noticing it, Shampoo had walked out of the
restaurant and joined him.

     Ryo blinked.

     "What did you say?"

     "That what Shampoo ask, silly boy!"

     "No! I mean... What were your exact words?"

     "Silly boy talk doctor, but he no sick.  Shampoo no understand."

     "I didn't think you would."

     But _he_ did. [Thanks, Shampoo.] It was absurd, but so was the whole
situation he was in.  Ryo shrugged mentally; fight fire with fire.

     He scanned the horizon until he found the Furinkan clock.  Two
minutes to five.

     A grin spread across his face.  It was perfect. Absolutely perfect.

     Saying a quick prayer under his breath and hoping that his intuition
was right, he grabbed Shampoo by the wrist and bounded towards the bridge
over the canal where it had all begun.

     With any luck, the setting would also mark the beginning of the end
to this adventure, and in just a few more hours he'd be with Bell-Chan.

     Apparently, thinking of his fiancee had made him 'friendly' with his
grip, for Shampoo, far from complaining at being dragged across the
streets, merely smiled complacently and snuggled up to him when they
reached the bridge.

     Ukyou's son blushed and quickly let go of her hand.  She was... Meant
for another.

     [And so am I.]

     "You take Shampoo on date, foolish boy?"

     "Not quite."

     "You want date Shampoo, you have beat me first. Want try?" The
Amazon's eyes narrowed, and she smiled wickedly.  "Long time no good
workout."

     [Forty seconds 'til Furinkan's five-o'clock chime.]

     Might as well.

     Ryo took a few steps backward and assumed a battle stance, watching
with satisfaction as the purple-haired warrior did the same.

     [Thirty, twenty-nine...]

     They circled around each other.

     [Nineteen, eighteen...]

     Ryo imperceptibly shifted the focus of their orbit to the bridge's
central drainage grate.

     [Three, two, one...]

     As the clock struck five, Happosai appeared in between the
combatants, holding an object which glowed with a familiar light.

     [Right on time.]

     Before the midget could notice, Ryo snatched the Mirror and got out
of the way to allow his companion to punt the wretch into low earth orbit.

     Shampoo stood wide-eyed for a minute, then regained her composure.

     "Where pervert come from?"

     "Under a cabbage leaf?"

     The blue-haired girl stared at him with a blank expression on her
face.

     Ryo sighed, shook his head and tucked the mirror under his arm as he
started towards the doujou.

     It was going to be a _long_ evening.

                                 * * * * *

     Childra's legs carried her away as quickly as they could, for her
mind was too distraught to navigate.  Swiftly they led her, over concrete,
grass and narrow fence, through bushes and now-well-kept fields, on an
all-too familiar route that was altogether new.

     While she traveled, Jansen barely spared a thought to see the changed
(or pre-changed?) town - to notice the dirt, the litter or the gloriously
suggestive billboards, the absence of hovercars and geodesic domes.  The
only metamorphosis, the only loss she was concerned about, was that within
herself and of Ishido.

     Had she gone too quickly?

     Her pace sped up.

     Had she frightened him, or pushed him past his natural capacities of
giving?  He was... shy, and new at nature's game; to him, intimacy meant
far more - perhaps she had blasphemed against some hidden code?  Perhaps
she'd hit a mental barrier, perhaps...

     Perhaps he had a wife?

     A wall where she remembered none forced the woman to turn a corner,
but a small bee-line later she was back on familiar ground.

     That he might have had another didn't matter; he had told her so. Or
had _she_ told _him_?

     What if there was someone that he cared for, someone that he loved
far more than her, and that their tryst had reawakened memories of.  What
if he felt a calling in his heart that he could not ignore, what if...

     Her limbs were now oscillating for all their worth, straining
themselves in a painful way.  They were doing their best, her physical
parts.  The poor amalgamations of tendon, flesh, bone and skin just failed
to realize... They could take her away from the drink, from the bed, and
from the man, but from her SELF...

     That she could never run from, were she as fast as light itself.

     [Or faster,] she managed to chuckle, recalling her recent time-travel
experiences.

     Her mirth faded quickly, but it lasted enough to find her at her
destination.

     The Nerima graveyard.

     It was much the same as when she'd left it, only smaller, with more
space between the rows of markers.

     Wide, roughly-carved stone steps led up a small hill to a plain iron
gate, with a legend above and no lock, beyond which lay a path strewn
generously with white pebbles.

     Childra climbed the steps slowly, pushing against her knee with her
hand to rise over each stone.

     At length, her silent footfalls gave way to the crunch of her boots
on the cemetery's path.

     Out of habit, she called out.

     "Akane?"

     No one answered, of course.  The girl of that name here was not the
woman that she knew a hundred years from another now.

     No one else answered, either.  No translucent shapes smiled weakly
back, no transparent shades walked melancholy between graves - every
spirit, every body buried here was perfectly at peace.

     Except for her.

     Another grim smile.

     Yes, she was more spectre now than were the ones whose names were
carved upon the obelisks, and she felt more like dust than the ashes
placed beneath them.

     Like a ghost, she was trapped in between - she didn't know whether
she was alive, as she had felt last night, or dead; whether her existence
would forever be a reliving of a memory, a regretful fawning-over of a
moment when all had seemed Right, or whether like, in a fairy-tale, she'd
be allowed to live her dream.

     Why couldn't he tell her? Why did he have to run away, to leave
unanswered all her questions? If he didn't want her, if Ishido thought
her an old fool, why didn't he say so?

     She knew why.

     He was too polite, too honorable - it was one of the things she liked
best in him.  He was uncomfortable with eloquence when his feelings would
bring joy, but if he knew they'd bring her grief, for him to speak them'd
be unthinkable.

     And yet, and yet...

     And yet, it was just as likely that her lobishomem was confused.
Perhaps he, like her, felt within himself a wild beast being tamed?
Perhaps the wolf was struggling against a new-found feeling of acceptance,
and... Domestication?

     Childra swept the dust off a large, flat marker and sat herself down,
pulling her jacket close around her to keep out the chilly breeze.

     The pictures that her choice of metaphors had brought to mind -
Ishido in a leash and collar - were almost - ALMOST enough to dispel her
grief, but the howling of the wind, and the ambience of gloom surrounding
her soon brought her back to her melancholy.

     The wind evaporated the tears from her cheeks as quickly as they came
down, cooling her flushed face.  It was a cold and heavy wind, matched by
a dark sky and rustling treetops - it'd rain again today.

     She'd wait it out.

     What were her choices, after all?

     Stay here, catch pneumonia, maybe become this Nerima's first resident
ghost, or go back to the others and face her judgement.

     Certain misery, or a fifty-fifty chance of bliss?

     Childra sneezed, wiped her lower eyelids dry, then reached for her
jacket's lapels-

     And never touched the leather. Instead the coarse cloth of a
man's shirt draped over her back.

     "It'll keep you warm," said a familiar voice from behind.

     She spun around.

     "Ishido?"

     A smile, made all the more beautiful by his saddened, violet eyes.

     "Am I the one who's made you sad?" he oh-so-gently asked, but more
than what his spoke, it was his eyes that told her volumes, for with each
word a brighter lacrimal reflection from those orbs would lessen that of
her own.

     She answered him in that same language, of the body and not of words.
With a grin just the right size and an eyebrow partly raised, she took his
shirt from her back and wrapped it 'round their necks as she pressed
herself against him and held his head firmly with both hands.

     As they kissed, it began to rain, but it was now only the sky that
cried.

                                 * * * * *

     o/" Another Saturday night and I ain't got nobody.  I got some money
'cause I just got paid.  How I wish I had someone to talk to, I'm in a
awful way. o/"

     The sound of 50's American Pop Rock flowed quietly through the radio
at Ucchans, while its owner looked wistfully out the front windows,
sighing with a melancholy hanging over her heart.

     The future didn't seem to be going her way.  To be more exact, it
wasn't going the way she wanted it to go.

     It was primarily that dream she had a while back that was disturbing
her deeply.  She felt entirely too comfortable for her liking when she
woke up from it.  It couldn't be because she really was in love with the
lost boy.  No, she definitely didn't love him.  _Not yet_ nagged a part of
her mind that she quickly shut off.

     She grabbed at a broom and began cleaning the floor, falling into a
peaceful trance with the repetitive motion of sweeping. Twilight fell into
darkness, matching her mood quite well.

     And then she heard someone groaning.

     Her martial artist reflexes took control, and she reflexively reached
for her battle spatula and slowly made her way to the back room. The
groaning was continuing, definitely somewhere in the back area.  She
became angered as she walked further.  It seemed as if the intruder made
it all the way into her personal living quarters.

     Whoever this jerk was, he was in serious trouble.

     Then, a rather interesting thought crossed her mind.  That lady,
Childra, she and her boyfriend Ishido might have made up and...

     Oh my.

     She blushed, brushing that thought aside.  If that was them, she'd be
hearing _two_ people making noise.

     That thought didn't help her blush go down any.

     As Ukyou walked down the narrow hallway in her living quarters, she
saw the light to the bathroom was on.  For some unexplainable reason, the
thought of Childra, Ishido, and a plunger briefly flashed in her mind. She
QUICKLY got rid of that mental image and banged on the door violently.

     "Hey!  Who's in there?!"

     There was no answer.

     She slammed her fist forward to knock again, and ended up slugging
someone's face, just as they opened the door.

     "Ow."

     Ukyou looked down at the person she'd just slugged, now sprawled on
the floor.  "YOU!"

     "Ow," he managed to say.

     "What," she began to ask, looking distinctly annoyed, "are you doing
in my bathroom?"  Ukyou paused for a second before snatching a long rod
from Ryouga's hand.  "And WHAT were you doing with my PLUNGER?!?!?"

     "I was using it," said Ryouga.  "All I did was-"

     Ukyou waved him into silence, her face colouring as she remembered
the moans of a few minutes earlier.

     "I do NOT want to know," she pronounced.

     "I... etou... anou..."  The lost boy looked around himself, then back
at Ukyou.

     "This isn't the Tendo doujou, is it?"

     "Sorry, sugar, wrong house," said she.

     "Oh..." said he.

     And so they just stood there, in silence.

     "Um..." said Ukyou, trying to think of something to say, "so where
were you before you got here?"

     "I was at the Tendo Dojo," said Ryouga, "trying to..."

     Ukyou frowned as Ryouga's dialogue faded again into silence.

     "Trying to... what?" she asked.  She stopped walking, leaving the two
in the main restaurant area with her standing up and him making his way to
a seat now that he sensed that a talk was about to start.

     "It's not important," he said, sighing.  "Not anymore, anyways."

     "Hey, what's with you?"

     "It doesn't matter what I do anymore," said Ryouga sadly, "I mean...
the future... you know..."

     "Hey," said Ukyou, looking a little peeved, "there's no reason to
give up on Akane yet!"

     "But Miyabi... she's... and Ratiko... he's our..."

     "*DON'T EVEN* bring up Ratiko," said Ukyou firmly.  "Besides, I had a
son with Ranma, didn't I?"

     "You..."

     "Ryo, remember?"

     "Oh yeah, him."  Ryouga seemed to be thinking for a moment, then
looked into Ukyou's eyes.  "You really think... I still have a chance with
Akane?"

     "Of course you do!" said Ukyou enthusiastically.

                                 * * * * *

     "I, ah, hope things aren't too bad for you here," said Akane somewhat
nervously.

     "It's... getting a little better, mom," said Miyabi, walking next to
her.  "Actually, I'm kind of worried about tonight."

     Akane sighed and shook her head.  "What are we going to do about
tonight?

     "Don't worry, mum," said Miyabi, "I'm sure everything will turn out
all right."  She was sure of that, actually.  She had a Plan.  If Ratiko
and Ryo could run around trying to make things right, why shouldn't she?
Those jerks were doing the Wrong Thing anyways... she'd succeed, and
heaven help anyone who'd get in her way.

     Mum belonged with Father, that was certain and she'd make sure it was
so.  She'd do the same for Auntie Ukyou and Uncle Ryouga, Auntie Kasumi
and Uncle Tofu, and all the rest.

     After all, everyone would be happier that way, right?

     And speaking of couples...

     "Mum, could we stop in here for a while?"

     "You... want to go in there?" asked Akane hesitantly, pointing to
Ucchan's Okonomiyaki.

     "I want to visit Auntie Ukyou," she said, matter-of-factly.

     "You got along well with her, I guess?" wondered Akane.

     "Mm-hm."  Miyabi allowed herself a small smile.  It was time to start
her work.

                                 * * * * *

     "C'mon, Ryouga, let's go," said Ukyou with determination.

     "Go?  Go where?" wondered Ryouga.

     "Ranma's still single and so's Akane, right?  Let's get to work."

     "Hi guys!" greeted Akane cheerfully as she entered the room. Ryouga
seemed to brighten up and Ukyou had a crafty look in her eyes.

     And then someone else came in.

     "Uncle Ryouga, Aunt Ukyou, hi."

     Both of them winced and felt a small chill of fear as Miyabi walked
in, followed by Akane.  It wasn't that they hated the girl.  She was
actually quite likeable.  The problem was that she symbolized their worst
fear come true, and then some.

     Miyabi's small grin increased just a little more as she noticed the
discomfort of the two.  That meant that they'd be easy to fluster.

     "Oh," said Miyabi, "I didn't know the two of you were here alone."

     "It's not-" stuttered Ukyou.

     "We weren't-" babbled Ryouga.

     "You two didn't start dating till much later, I think..."

     "Miyabi," interrupted an embarrassed Akane, "let's not talk about
that right now, okay?"

     "Okay, mum," sighed Miyabi.  "Auntie Ukyou, could you cook some of
your okonomiyaki?"

     "Coming right up," said Ukyou.  As she walked past Ryouga, she leaned
down and whispered in his ear, "Akane's here and without Ranma. Get to
work!"

     Ryouga nodded firmly to himself as Ukyou walked away, then stood up
and tried to march over to Akane.  Unfortunately, Miyabi got in the way as
she sat right between Ryouga and Akane.

     "I just noticed," said Miyabi casually, "that your daughter is a lot
like you."

     "My... daughter?"

     "Mm-hm.  Saeko."

     Ryouga's face was unreadable, a blank slate.  His mind, however, was
undergoing a brief and almost real time warp...

                                 * * * * *

     "Honey, I'm back!" announced Ryouga as he staggered into his happy
home.  He carefully placed his backpack and umbrella on the floor, then
untied his worn shoes.

     "Ryouga!  Welcome home!"  Ryouga felt two soft arms wrap around him
in an embrace and he felt her soft breath on the back of his neck.

     "Pappa!"  A small, fanged, and bandanna clad bundle of energy latched
unto him from the front.  Ryouga returned his daughter's embrace.

     "Saeko-chan, Ucchan, sorry I was lost for so long," said Ryouga, "I
brought you something from Belgium..."

     "Oh, it's okay if you get lost now and then," said Ukyou sweetly, "as
long as you come back to us like you always do."

                                 * * * * *

     "Um... is he okay?" wondered Miyabi.

     "He does seem to do that sometimes," commented Akane.

     "Uncle Ryouga?  Hello?  Uncle Ryoooouga?"

     "Huh?  Wha?"  Ryouga blinked, startled, and nearly fell off his seat.

     "Are you okay, Uncle?" asked Miyabi.

     "Aheh, um, yeah, just fine."

     "You know... you and Auntie Ukyou used to cook together all the
time," said Miyabi, "Why don't you help her now?"

     "No, I'd rather not, I mean, I need to talk to Akane and, um, hey
wait a minute," protested Ryouga weakly as Miyabi shoved him gently but
firmly towards the okonomiyaki grill.  Akane sensed what her daughter was
up to and walked along, following the two.

     Ukyou sensed what was going on too and she was less than pleased. As
Ryouga stood next to Ukyou in a numb sort of state, she elbowed him and
whispered, "What are you doing here, moron!"

     "She said I should help you cook..." said Ryouga weakly.

     "Since when are you taking orders from Ranma and Akane's kid?" hissed
Ukyou in return.

     "I..."

     "Oh, just shut up and cut these," snapped Ukyou, handing Ryouga a
chopping block, a knife, and some vegetables.  Things weren't going to her
liking at all and it put her in a very irritated mood.  First, she needed
to get that weak-willed idiot Ryouga into Akane's arms, DESPITE Miyabi's
presence.  _No, now isn't the right time to go into action_ she concluded.
Not with Miyabi around.  She just... complicated things with her presence
alone.

     Resigned with the conclusion that nothing else could be achieved at
the moment, Ukyou allowed herself to become hypnotized and calmed by the
repetitive motions of cooking okonomiyaki as she prepared the ingredients
and fired up the grill.

     Then she felt it.  Something was _wrong_.

     She looked towards Ryouga, who seemed to be blushing.  He glanced at
Akane for a brief moment, while she wasn't looking, then glanced at her.
As their two eyes locked, Ryouga quickly looked away while Ukyou blinked,
puzzled at his behaviour.

     Then she noticed what the two Tendo girls were doing.  Akane sat by
the grill next to Miyabi, and they were in not-so-quiet conversation. With
little effort, Ukyou listened to them.

     "Well, I think it started back at this vacation a few months back,"
said Akane.  "There was this cave..."

     "Oh, that?" replied Miyabi, "Aunt Ukyou told me all about that. It's
the first time they started behaving like a couple, she said."

     Ukyou frowned.  No, this was NOT good.  Not good at all.

     "You know, they're already behaving like they used to," observed
Miyabi.  "Notice how they're already working together?  And looking at
each other when they don't think they're being watched?"

     Ukyou blushed, embarrassed that Miyabi'd been right about her
observations so far.  She couldn't help but peek at Ryouga, wondering how
he was holding up to the situation, and it was clear he was every bit as
embarrassed as her, if not more.  She was caught off balance as Ryouga
quickly looked towards her and their eyes were locked once more, then they
both looked away feeling nervous.

     "Ow!"

     Ow?  Ukyou wondered what happened and turned around to see Ryouga
holding his bloodied thumb.

     "Ryouga!" she gasped, "Are you alright?"

     "Y-yeah... I just cut myself," he replied, looking only at his cut
thumb.

     "Is there anything we can do?" wondered Akane.

     "In the back room there's a first aid kit under the sink," said
Ukyou.  "Could you go get it?"

     Without a word, Akane quickly departed while Miyabi looked on,
cringing at the sight of her uncle's self-inflicted wound.

     "You never used to be that clumsy," she said, puzzled.

     "Lemme see how bad it is," said Ukyou as Akane returned, placing the
first aid kit on the counter.  "Nice cut, sugar."

     "I know, I know, just give me a band-aid, will you?" snapped Ryouga.

     "Not so fast, gotta put iodine on it first," chided Ukyou.

     "Iodine?"  The word was vaguely familiar to him.

     Miyabi smiled a little more, pleased to see one relationship
blossoming as she thought it should.

     "See?" she said to Akane, "they're like a couple already."

     Unfortunately, she said this just as Ukyou held an iodine-soaked
cloth over Ryouga's wound.  It could be said that she accidentally pressed
down a little too hard.

     "OOOOOOOOOOOW!"

     If one asked Ryouga, he'd say she pressed down entirely too hard.

     "What'd you do that for?" snapped Ryouga.

     "Oh, stop crying, you big baby," snapped back Ukyou.  She turned her
attention to the ingredients around her and noted with considerable
disgust that Ryouga had managed to bleed on quite a few of the
ingredients.

     "I... think there's gonna be a problem with the okonomiyaki," said
Ukyou.  "If you don't mind waiting a little while, I'll-"

     "Actually, you don't have to worry about it," said Miyabi with a
peculiar look.  Ukyou didn't like that look.  She recognized that look,
except usually it was on Ranma.  It was the kind of look that said 'I have
a plan'.

     "Mum, can Uncle Ryouga and Auntie Ukyou come to dinner tonight?"
asked Miyabi.

     "I..."  Akane hesitated.  She didn't want to be rude to Ukyou or
Ryouga, but then again, it was going to be complicated enough with Miyabi
and Nodoka there.

     "Please, mum?" pleaded Miyabi.

     "Well... if they want to go," she conceded.

     "You can come over tonight, can't you Auntie?  Uncle?"

     "Er..." managed Ryouga.

     "Well..." stalled Ukyou.  No, this wasn't going well at all.  The
situation was being influenced entirely too easily by Miyabi and not at
all by her.  Not good.  But... Ranma would be there tonight... and so
would Akane... and Miyabi can't be everywhere at once, can she?

     "We'll go," said Ukyou firmly.

     "We will?" asked a befuddled Ryouga.

     "Great!" said Miyabi, feeling inwardly happy that things were rolling
in the way that she wanted them to for once. "Come by around... eight
tonight, okay?  Don't forget!"

     "Oh, we won't," reassured Ukyou, "we'll be there."

     After 'mother and daughter' left, Ryouga yelled, "WHY are we going
there tonight?!"

     "Because Ranma will be there, and Akane will be there.  With their
'daughter' around, those two just might be getting ideas, and I want to be
there to put a stop to it."

     "Oh, I see."

     "Are you with me on this, Ryouga?"

     Ryouga nodded solemnly.  They shook hands firmly.

     "OOOOOOOOOW!"

     "Oops, forgot about the thumb.  Sorry about that."

                                 * * * * *

     "What have you seen so far, Great-granddaughter?"

     "Strange boy that look like Ranma go to Tendo home, nothing else,"
said Shampoo.  "Talk something about doctor, Shampoo not make sense of
what he say."

     "Doctor, eh?  I guess he might enlist in the aid of Doctor Tofu... a
wise choice for an ally.  I wonder what he's up to."

     *RIIIIIING*RIIII-

     "Nekohanten, Shampoo talking, help you?"

     Cologne contemplated her next move idly... she wasn't sure of this
future boy warranted that much focus from her, but then again it was often
the little things that brought empires down.

     "Great-grandmother?  Where Mousse?"

     Shampoo wanted to know where Mousse was?  Cologne raised an eyebrow
and frowned slightly.

     "What do you need that fool for?"

     "He invited to Tendo home tonight for dinner, with Shampoo."

     Cologne grinned.  "Oooh, is that so?"

                                 * * * * *

     [a few hours later...]

     The doujou was strangely empty of teenagers.  Ryo frowned at the
silence; it meant his fellow time travelers were somewhere else, almost
assuredly causing more chaos.  [Everyone is so set on achieving their own
agenda that they don't care about the damage they could be causing this
world's future.  And I don't have time to track them down.]

     Light glinted off the cracked surface of the Nanban Mirror. "Well, I
don't." he snapped at the Joketsuzoku artifact.  "And I can't afford to
make the time.  I have to... make time."

     Ryo shook his head at the irony, then continued creeping through the
house.  Happosai came first, then a crash course in transdimensional magic
followed by a manhunt across a countless number of worlds.  Only then
could he sit down and try to undo whatever his "companions" had done.
Bell-chan and home seemed farther away all the time.

     A tear trickled down his cheek.  [None of that,] he told himself
sternly as he brushed it away with the back of his free hand.  [I can't
afford to lose control.  I need to stay focused.]

     He blinked his eyes, then realized he was standing in front of
Happosai's door.  [The light's out.] Ryo put his ear to the door and
listened.  [And I don't hear anything.  I guess I'm lucky, and he's
outside somewhere.  Well, I don't have to lie my way through a stupid
story now.  I just need to do a bit of forgery.]

     The door was locked, but Ryo was half expecting this.  [Since no one
is around, I don't have to be sneaky any more.] One Bakusai-Tenketsu later
he stepped through a cloud of wood splinters and reached for the light
switch.

     The room was a jac-daw's nest, filled with the clutter of decades.
Happosai was a greedy thief, a dragon hoarding his possessions just for
the sake of hoarding them.  Ill-obtained unmentionables filled every
drawer and covered every surface, but Ryo ignored them.  It was magic he
was after, and the ancient hentai had more than enough of that for his
purposes.

     An alchemist's kit lay buried under a discarded P-chan costume; Ryo
threw the pig suit away.  A tattered, tea-ring-stained book was stuffed
under the broken leg of a table, giving the surface the approximation of
being level.  Ryo swept the table aside; there was a muffled crash as a
lamp hit a pile of used underwear and broke, plunging the room into a
crazy half-darkness.

     "Nec... Necro..." Ryo tried to puzzle out the title, but his Latin
was as bad as his grandfather's Chinese.  He slowly opened the tome; the
illustration on the first page alone caused his soul to shake.  The
cartoonish doodling in Happosai's hand made a picture of depraved evil
that much more frightening.

     Hurriedly, Ryo shut the book and shoved it away.  "I can't use that."
He searched the room some more, but his eyes were drawn back to the
hastily discarded grimoire.

     [I _do_ need a handwriting sample,] he rationalized.

     The open book was in his hands, and the pig-tailed boy was sitting
cross-legged on the floor studying its pages.  Somehow the words made
sense; it was if the book wanted to help him.  He had to fight to tear his
eyes away from the spidery calligraphy.  It was Happosai's notes he needed
now, scribbled in the margins and between the lines.

     Whatever magic the book worked on itself did not extend to the
wizened pervert's handwriting.  Ryo's eyes tied themselves in knots as he
tried to follow Happosai's work.  "I think I can do it," he said slowly.

     Ryo pulled a handkerchief from his back pocket and spread it flat
across one of the pages of the book.  With exaggerated care he wrote a
note to Happosai, using the hentai's own handwriting and spelling.

     I'm you from the fyucher, so yud better pay attenshun, 'cuz I'm older
than you.  Be at the bridge over the canal when the Furinkan clock strikes
five, on the XX of XX, 1996, or a hooribel monster will steel all our
silky treasures. -H.  P.S. This means USE THE MIRROR. -H.

     He almost crossed out "monster" in favor of "Cologne," but he caught
himself before giving in to the impulse.  [This isn't the same Cologne.  I
can't hold her responsible for what her counterpart did, and who knows
what the consequences for this world would be.]

     Ryo suddenly realized a flaw in his plan.  "Now where do I put this
thing so he'll find it right away?  If I set it anywhere, it'll just get
lost in this mess.  Aargh!  Why didn't I think of this before?"

     "Is anything wrong?" Kasumi asked.  She stood in the hallway, in the
midst of the remains of Happosai's door.  "I heard you shout."

     "No!" Ryo snapped as he looked up.  "Yes," he amended in a softer
voice.  "Everything.  But there's nothing you can do to help."

     "I can help straighten up this mess," the eldest Tendo girl told him.
She walked into the room and began sorting through Happosai's collection
of stolen panties.

     "Wait!"  Ryo began blushing.  Happosai was the greatest pervert on
the face of the planet, and Kasumi the most innocent woman this world had
to offer.  There were some things she should not see.

     Kasumi saw how red her would-be son-in-law had become.  "It's just
dirty laundry," she told him.  "Nothing I don't see every day."

     "Oh."  Ryo looked around.  Kasumi's attitude put Happosai's
collection in a new light.

     "Just what is it you were looking for?" the eldest Tendo girl asked.
"Does it have something to do with that mirror you're hiding behind your
back?"

     "Uh."  Expediency and honesty waged war in Ryo's mind, fought to a
bloody standstill, and reached a compromise after throwing guilt all
across his heart.  "I just needed some of the Master's tools.  He wasn't
in, and I, uh, knocked a bit harder than I needed to."  The guilt made
that part of the lie easier; it, at least, was honest.  "I wanted to leave
him a note telling him what I'd been up to."  Ryo shrugged.  "But I
couldn't find a place to put it."

     "I could give the note to Happosai for you."

     Expediency broke the truce and launched a second wave.  "No thank
you.  Now that you've cleaned everything up, I'll just leave the note
right here."  He stood up and patted the broken-legged table.  And now I
need to get to work, or why bother writing a note in the first place."

     Kasumi brushed her hands on her apron.  "As you wish."  She turned to
leave, the stopped.  "Miyabi has invited all of Ranma and Akane's friends
over for tonight.  Dinner is at eight."

     "Great."

     If Kasumi heard the sarcasm in Ryo's voice she ignored it.  "Yes,
it's always so entertaining when company comes over.  Now don't get so
busy working that you forget."

     "I won't forget."

     Kasumi left.  Ryo slowly sank to his knees, being careful to set the
mirror face down on the floor.  He couldn't hold the tears back any more,
and the last thing he needed was for the mirror to send him somewhen else.

                                 * * * * *

     For a moment, Genma Saotome looked ruefully at the darkening sky,
hearing the distant rumble of thunder and seeing especially dark patches
of clouds in the near distance that surely meant rain was falling
elsewhere.

     He sighed, cursed fate, cursed magic, and cursed his son's foolish
actions.  He would've vocalized these curses, except that pandas didn't do
that sort of thing.  So instead he just vented by waving around signs and
growling angrily at the dark and rumbling skies.

     "Oh my, Mr. Panda seems to be acting so peculiar," said Nodoka.

     "He's just so silly sometimes," replied Kasumi.

     The two laughed in that certain easy going, gentle manner that
somehow reassures people that all is well with the universe.

     "How odd, I usually see Mr. Panda playing with Ranko," observed
Nodoka.  She amazingly failed to notice the panda freezing in its tracks
and looking very nervous.

     "Kasumi-chan, where is Ranko?"

     "I'm sure she's around here somewhere."

     Nodoka watched idly in the panda's direction, lost in her thoughts.
For some odd reason, Mr. Panda reacted oddly to this, playing with his
beach ball and tire more frantically and occasionally waving a big sign
that said //I'm just a panda!//

     "Ranko-chan," said Nodoka wistfully, "if I had a daughter... I think
I'd like her to be like Ranko."

     Unseen by them both, Miyabi peered from around the edge of the room,
sighing.

     "Oh, baachan..."

     Unseen and unheard, she crept up the stairs to her 'mother's' room.

                                 * * * * *

     "Father, grandmother is here," said Miyabi as she entered the room.
Akane was looking nervously at Ranma-chan, who was looking out the window
in a numb sort of state.

     "Mother's here," said Ranma quietly, just staring at the setting sun,
immersed in his own melancholy.  "Mother's here... what am I going to do?"

     "Maybe... maybe it's time to tell her?" wondered Miyabi.  "I mean, in
the future, when she found out, she accepted it."

     Ranma's expression changed slightly, considering the idea for a
moment.

     "No," said Akane quietly, "not yet."

     "Mum?" asked Miyabi, surprised.  "Why not?"

     "I... I mean, we're not sure if... maybe it's too soon..."

     "But..."

     "I don't want Ranma to die," she said quietly.  "I... he can't take
that chance, not yet."

     Ranma turned slightly towards Akane, a trace of a smile on her
otherwise gloomy face.

     "Akane... thanks."

     It was the slightest of eye contact, but once it began they seemed
unable to break it.  Their sidewards glance became a full
gazing-into-the-eyes, neither sure what to say.  The old cliche of two
hearts beating as one would probably apply here.

     Were Soun or Genma there, they'd surely ruin the moment by sobbing in
happiness, violently hugging the kids, or dancing around with fans and
confetti.

     *sniffle*

     Ranma blinked.  Akane blinked.  They both turned slowly towards
Miyabi, who looked on the verge of tears and smiling.

     "You two...  look so good together... *sniffle* Sorry, was I
interrupting something?"

     Inside, Miyabi was jumping for joy.  Her parents *were* in love with
each other here!  For that brief moment, the two of them seemed so...
so... she had no idea what the word was, but there was a sort of
togetherness thing going on there.

     Something like that anyways.

     And once all the people she invited came over, things should _really_
get better.  With a little luck, she'd get everything settled for
everyone, and they'd live happily ever after.

     "Akane!  Ranko!  Miyabi!  Time for dinner!"

     Miyabi brightened, Akane sighed, and Ranma's face was somewhat
panic-stricken.

     "Ranma?  What's wrong?" wondered Akane.

     "It'll never work... she's too old to be my daughter... Pop's right!
I'm gonna die! I can't go out there!"

     *WHAM*

     Miyabi always wondered how her mother did that thing with the mallet.
Seeing it again up close didn't help.

     "Did you really have to do that, mum?" wondered Miyabi.

     "He was getting hysterical," said Akane, shrugging.  "Come on, Ranma,
time to go downstairs... and hope things work for the best."

     Miyabi headed downstairs, followed by Akane, dragging an unconscious
Ranma-chan by the pigtail.

     Fortunately, they were spared from the dreaded meeting in the dining
room when something loud got everyone's attention at the front gate...

                                 * * * * *

     "I hope this works out," said Ryouga, walking behind Ukyou as they
made their way through Nerima en route to the Tendo Dojo.

     "Just stick by Akane, no matter what.  Got that?" nagged Ukyou.

     She continued walking onward... then realized Ryouga had never
answered.  Muttering a curse, she turned around, jogged back a bit, then
dragged Ryouga by his shirt.

     "Wrong way, stupid!"

     "Hey, don't pull so hard!"

     "Don't you get lost on me tonight, you jackass," snapped Ukyou,
poking Ryouga in the chest roughly.  "Are you ready to say what you need
to say to Akane?"

     Ryouga blinked numbly.  "Say?  Say what?"

     "Tonight you're telling her how you feel, remember?!"

     "Wait a minute!  Since when was this part of the plan?" asked Ryouga,
feeling himself go cold.

     "Well, how ELSE do you expect to get anywhere with her, stupid?"

     "But it's, I mean, I can't, too soon, not sure, what if she, I mean,
maybe not yet, I-"

     *CLAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANG*

     "Snap out of it!" yelled Ukyou, peeling her spatula from Ryouga's
head.

     "S-sorry... I guess I lost my head there for a moment."

     "Ryouga... _can_ you tell Akane how you feel?" wondered Ukyou. "You
HAVE to tell her tonight, you know."

     "But... but I don't know if I can... I mean..."

     "What's your problem?" wondered Ukyou.  "It's easy to do!  Just say,
'Akane, I love you!', or 'Akane, I care about you!' or something like
that."

     "But..." said Ryouga, looking flustered.  He did a brief imitation of
a goldfish, his jaw flapping as he tried to find something to say to argue
the point, then he sighed and turned away.

     "I don't understand how you do it," said Ryouga, "you, Mousse,
Shampoo..."

     "Do what?" wondered Ukyou.  She wasn't sure what to make of it at the
moment, but if the comparison of her and *SHAMPOO* went too far, she
silently declared she'd maul the Lost Boy.

     "Throw yourself at the person you love," answered Ryouga.

     "Oh... well... I mean... I just love him," answered Ukyou, not sure
of what else to say.

     "Aren't you afraid?" asked Ryouga.

     "Afraid?  Afraid of what?"

     "Afraid..." he hesitated as he looked up at the stars that slowly
began to decorate the night skies, "afraid they might not feel the same
way."

     Ukyou watched, fascinated, as Ryouga showed a side of himself she had
never seen before.  She'd seen the revenge-driven berzerker, the babbling
love-struck fool, and the nervous-because-I'm-with-Akane Ryouga... but not
this one.

     This Ryouga before her was... he was scared, vulnerable, and lonely.

     "Sugar, you've gotta try," said Ukyou, putting a hand on Ryouga's
shoulder.  "C'mon, practice it a little."

     "Akane, I... I l-lo.... I love... ah...."

     "Okay, maybe using the word _love_ might be a bit too strong at this
point... try something like 'I care about you'."

     "Akane, I ca... I..."  Ryouga turned around, facing Ukyou once more,
and sighed.  "Aaagh, it's no use!  I just can't do it!"

     "Dammit, Ryouga, it's not that hard!" yelled Ukyou.  "Ranma, I love
you.  There, see?  Easy."

     Ryouga merely turned away and grumbled.  This was a bad thing to do
at the time, especially with Ukyou's patience wearing thin.

     Without warning, she grabbed him by the collar and shook him
violently, yelling, "SAY IT!  SAY IT!  SAAAAAAAAAAY IT!"

     "I CAN'T!" whimpered Ryouga loudly.

     "SAY I LOVE YOU!  COME ON!  SAY IT!  I LOVE YOU!"

     "I LOVE YOU!  NOW STOP CHOKING ME!"

     "Um... Ucchan... Ryouga... hope I ain't interrupting something."

     Ukyou winced.  Ryouga froze, wide eyed.

     They were in front of the gates of the Tendo residence... and they
had an audience.  Ranma just looked kind of confused, as did Akane. Miyabi
was wearing a _very_ large grin.  Nearby, Doctor Tofu was politely looking
elsewhere, Shampoo was smirking, and Mousse seemed to be as surprised as
Ranma.

     "Ranchan!  That... was not what it looked like," said Ukyou, blushing
badly.

     "A-A-Akane!" stuttered Ryouga.

     "What'd I tell you guys?" said Miyabi.  "Those two, they were meant
for each other."

     Meanwhile, the dark skies above rumbled ominously.  Ryouga, Mousse,
Shampoo, and Ranma looked up nervously, then quickly entered the house.

                                 * * * * *

     To say dinner was crowded would be an understatement.  It was already
a tad lacking in space when it seated Ranma, Genma, Soun, Akane, Nabiki,
and Kasumi.  Adding Nodoka, Miyabi, Doctor Tofu, Ukyou, Ryouga, Shampoo,
and Mousse to the mix was making it very crowded and a potential
powder-keg as well.

     Tofu was a danger zone by himself, threatening to mangle anyone
nearby.  Aside from Kasumi, everyone gave him a _wide_ amount of room.

     There seemed to be... something missing... Ranma wasn't sure what.

     "Ah, Pig-tailed Girl, Akane Tendo, as always it is an honor to be
within your presence."

     Ah.  Kunou.

     The Blue Thunder assumed a seat between Ranko and Akane, immediately
going for his famed double-glomp technique.  Two quick elbows from both
ladies put an end to that rather quickly.

     "Goodness... Ranko, is that boy your suitor?" wondered Nodoka with a
slight hint of teasing in her voice.  Unfortunately, Ranko was drinking
soda with ice at the moment, and the shock of the suggestion made her 1)
choke on her drink 2) cough violently for a while, in (what Nodoka thought
was) a very unladylike manner and 3) spit an ice cube _through_ a window.

     Unheard by almost all, someone outside yelled, "Duck!"

     Mousse blinked.

     Kasumi looked around, then asked, "where's Ryo?"

     "Ah, well, he's doing something, and I really don't think he has time
to attend dinner tonight," said Miyabi, hoping to keep Ryo _away_ from the
dinner if she could.

     Kasumi frowned.  "Miyabi, you know it wouldn't be right to leave him
out.  Would you go check on him again, please?"

     Miyabi sighed, clearly upset with the prospect of dealing with him.
"Fine, I'll go in a moment, right after I finish this squid."  She resumed
attacking her meal, but with a grumpier attitude.

     "Miyabi, please tell him I'm waiting for him," said Ukyou. Miyabi's
presence was making her feel insecure and she needed Ryo's presence there
to assure her that things would turn out for the best.

     Meanwhile, Mousse was mulling over an opportunity.  It was tempting.
Really tempting.  It had been explained to them how Nodoka's presence was
putting Ranma's life in jeopardy, and that they _had_ to refer to Ranma as
'Ranko', Akane's cousin as long as she was there.

     But if Nodoka found out WHO Ranko really was, for Mousse that would
mean one less obstacle between him and Shampoo.

     But it was a rather rotten thing to do, wasn't it?

     He'd kept his mouth shut so far, but it was just _so_ tempting.

     "How long do you think Genma will be away this time?" wondered
Nodoka.

     "I... don't really know, Saotome-san," said Soun nervously. "It... it
could be quite a while."

     [I know where Saotome is] thought Mousse, his eyes narrowing.  He
glanced at 'Ranko' angrily... then got even more angry when he noticed
Ranma had Shampoo by her side again.  How dare he!  Even when he was a
she!  And in front of his mother, too!"

     "Mrs. Saotome!" said Mousse, dramatically standing up.  A crash of
lightning punctuated his dramatic statement as the rain outside began to
pour.  "I know where your son Ranma is!  He's *UGH*"

     *CRASH*

     "Silly Mousse, he not know what he say," said Shampoo, dusting off
her hands.

     "Was it really necessary," wondered Nodoka, "to throw him out of the
window?"

     "I'll do the same to you if you even THINK of blowing Ranchan's
cover," whispered Ukyou to Ryouga.

     "Say, Ukyou, Ryouga," said Nabiki, "you wouldn't happen to have seen
Ratiko around today?"

     Both winced at the mention of their 'great-grandson'.

     "Why, no," said Ukyou with a bit of a forced smile, "why do you ask?"

     "Well, I was with him earlier today, showing him around.
Unfortunately, as Hibikis usually do, he got lost.  I haven't seen him
since then.  You haven't seen him lately either?"

     "Ah, no, not really," said Ukyou.

     "Oh well.  I _was_ hoping he'd have your sense of direction insisted
of his great-grandfather's."

     Meanwhile, as Miyabi departed, something finally clicked into
Nodoka's consciousness.  She looked at Akane, carefully.  Then to Miyabi's
retreating form.  Then back to Akane.

     Something wasn't right here.

                                 * * * * *

     Ishido and Childra could only ignore the weather so long; in the end
they had to return to the doujou.  "It sounds a little busy in there,"
Childra noted.  "My guess is they're having a party"

     "Did you want to join - duck!" Ishido shouted, dragging Childra to
the ground with him as something sharp and shiny flew out one of the
windows.

     "Ordinarily I'd say this was fun," Childra whispered, "but we're
lying in a rain-filled gutter."

     "Huh?  Oh."  Childra knew Ishido was blushing, even though she
couldn't see his face well.  "I'm sorry, it's just..."  He tried to stand
up, but somehow their arms and legs had gotten tangled when he'd thrown
them out of the line of fire.

     "Let me-"

     "I'll just-"

     "If you'll-"

     "My zipper-"

     "YOUR zipper?"

     "My elbow doesn't normally bend that way."

     "Ow, that's my hair."

     Eventually they managed to pick themselves off the ground.  In the
dim glow of the streetlight Childra could see that Ishido looked a fright;
she doubted she looked any better.  "We'd better sneak in and clean up
before joining the others," she told her paramour.

     "This would be kinda hard to explain," Ishido agreed, tugging at his
wet clothing.

     "Who said anything about an explanation, laddie?  I'm just vain."

     Ishido's face slowly melted into a smile that Childra could see
through the rain.  Then he began to chuckle softly.  She smiled back; her
laughter joined his.

     They stood together for a moment more before Childra shouted, "Duck!"
Before she could stop him, Ishido had thrown them both into the gutter
again.

     "That was a close one," he said.  "What was it?  I never even saw it
coming."

     Childra could barely control herself.  "No," she finally blurted. "I
meant, 'duck.'"  A giggle escaped her lips.  "Someone threw Mousse out the
window."

                                 * * * * *

     Ryo took a deep, shuddering breath, trying to calm himself from his
bout with emotional breakdown.  "Enough of that." He reached for his
handkerchief, only to realize that he'd used it to forge the note.  He
stared at the note through tear-filled eyes, thought a moment, then picked
it up and blew his nose on it.

     "There," he said as he put the handkerchief back.  "Now it's more
authentic, anyway."

     In the distance, he faintly heard someone yell 'duck!'.  Strange
thing to yell in the middle of the night, he thought.

     He picked the mirror off the floor and studied it; a cracked, jagged
reflection studied him back.  Then Ryo examined the pattern burned into
his right hand.  [This doesn't seem possible.  I know it happened, but
that doesn't make it easier to understand.  I don't like the idea of me
trying to reconstruct something I did by looking at my own results. It's
not like there aren't paradoxes in time travel, but this one is just too
much.  I need a template, and all I've got to work with is...]

     His eyes were drawn back to the book.

     [There might be something I can use in there.  It can't be _all_
human blood and dancing with goats.]

     [But most of it is.  Where do I draw the line?  I've lied so much
these past few days, and I keep lying.  Every time I say this is the last
time, and every time I'm wrong.  Can I even stop?]

     [If I make it home, then I can be honest again.  I just need to do
this one small thing...]

     [That's not true.  I need to track Muhoshin down, and then I'll
probably have to trick Childra and the others to their own worlds.]

     [Those are _all_ small things, though.  They won't take more than a
few hours, not once the locket is made.  Then I'll have a lifetime to make
up for it all, with Bell-chan there to keep me honest.]

     [Will I be worthy of her, though, with my soul stained black with so
many lies?]

     [She loves me.  She'll forgive me.  And without the locket, the point
is moot...]

     "Now what are you planning?" Miyabi asked him.

     "I shouldn't have shattered the door," Ryo grumbled to himself. His
half-sister's sudden appearance had shattered his train of thought,
leaving him with only memories of the debate his soul had waged with
itself.  To Miyabi, he said, "I'm trying to fix all the mistakes I've
made.  If you aren't going to help, then please go away and make your
own."

     "Excuse me?"

     "Your dinner party.  I can guess what you have planned.  You know it
isn't going to work."

     "I know no such thing.  And at least I'm being constructive."  She
put her hands on her hips and stared down at the pig-tailed boy.  "All
you've done is lose things, pass out drunk in gutters, and feel everyone
up.  Oh, and you order people around.  That's quite the track record,
'brother.'"

     Ryo stared at his half-sister.  "I don't know where you come off
challenging me like this.  You never let me explain anything; you're too
busy putting the multiverse in danger.  Don't you understand how selfish
you're being?  This is a lot bigger than any of us, but all you and Ratiko
want to do is ensure your own future.  Don't you understand?  This might
not be it!  Your meddling might cost some future Tachi or Godai their
existence, just because you and Rat don't understand multiple time lines."

     "And you do?"  Miyabi crossed her arms.  "It seems to me that most of
these mistakes can be laid at your doorstep.  And what's wrong with making
people who love each other understand the truth?"

     "Because it might not be true HERE!" he shouted.  "The longer we
stay, the more we do, the more pain we cause ourselves and others.  We
have a responsibility to leave here as quickly as possible, changing as
little as possible."  He stood up, looming over Miyabi in his anger. "Damn
it, what do I have to do to make you listen to me?"

     Miyabi's slap knocked him to the far side of the room.  "With a mouth
like that, do you think I'd _ever_ listen to you?  I can't see how Auntie
Ukyou could ever be happy in your world, not if she raised a no-good
pervert like you."

     Ryo rubbed at the handprint that burned on his cheek.  "Go," he
growled.  "If you stay, this is only going to get worse."

     Miyabi never heard his threat; she'd already left the room.

                                 * * * * *

     Miyabi returned to the dinner table, muttering very violent curses
aimed mainly towards a certain displaced pigtailed boy with, in her words,
'an ego the size of Japan'.  It absolutely ruined her mood.

     Returning to dinner didn't help any.

     Mr. Panda had become rather ravenous and was starting to fight with
'Ranko' over some of the dishes, while Mousse had somehow made his way
back and, with Ryouga, gave occasional Death Glares to Ranko.  Ukyou and
Shampoo gave each other Death Glares while occasionally trying to help
Ranko out with little things here and there.

     Happosai was still gone, which was good.

     The area around Doctor Tofu was a forbidden zone.  Occasionally,
Shampoo would shove Mousse his way, resulting in some painful displays of
chiropractor techniques.

     Nodoka seemed bothered by something.

     That certainly wasn't a good sign.

     "Miyabi, where's Ryo?" asked an anxious Ukyou.

     "He's too busy at the moment to eat dinner," she said with a hint of
annoyance in her voice.  "Might be down later."

     "Miyabi-chan, sit next to Akane-chan please?" said Nodoka with a
slight frown.  Miyabi blinked.  Akane turned pale.  Ranko seemed to be
sweating far too much.

     The panda held up a sign.  //Oh my.//

     "Put that away, you moron!" hissed Ranko.

     //Run while you can!//

     "I said cut that out!"

     Nodoka looked at Akane, then at Miyabi, then at Akane again.  She was
clearly unhappy about something.

     "Akane-chan... how old are you?" asked Nodoka slowly.

     "Ah... sixteen, Auntie Nodoka."

     "And... Miyabi... how old are you, dear?"

     Miyabi realized where this was heading and became as nervous as her
'mother'.  "Aheheh... why do you ask, grandmother?"  She smiled, trying
not to be nervous.  Nodoka wasn't smiling at all.

     "You said you were Akane's daughter, Miyabi-chan?" asked Nodoka.

     "Ah... there's an explanation for this, really!" said Akane.

     //Akane decided to adopt?// suggested the panda, which was suddenly
booted into the pond by Ranko.

     "Why is this girl claiming to be your daughter, Akane-chan?" asked
Nodoka seriously.

     "Well... it's like this... she... ah... I mean..."

     "Hey, what's this?  You all throw a big dinner and don't wait for me?
Why, I'm offended!"

     Soun and Panda winced.  Shampoo and Ukyou scowled and put a hand on
their weaponry.  Ranko sighed.

     Happosai strolled in, clad in his usual panty-thief garb, complete
with a bag full of panties.  Nodoka's mood wasn't helped by his arrival.

     "Saaaay," said Happosai, squinting at Nodoka, "aren't you... Genma's
wife?  Nodoka, yeah?"

     //Touch her and die// signed the panda.

     "Yes... I am," said Nodoka cautiously.  "Why do you ask?"

     "Well, long time no see!" said Happosai, "gimmie a hug, baby!"

     *POOF*

     Everyone around the table stepped back in shock as a blinding flash
of light erupted right in front of Ranko.

     "What the?!  Hey, how'd I get here?"

     Everyone stared at the table, where a puzzled Happosai sat clutching
an odd little mirror.

     The Happosai that wasn't on the table froze in a pre-jump pose. He
wasn't sure what to make of this.

     "What's happening?" asked the Happosai that wasn't standing on the
dinner table, but rather, on by it.

     The Happosai with the mirror blinked, frowned, grumbled something
about being distracted, then said, "Happi my man, we're just on our way to
take care of some important business."

     "Eh?  We are?" wondered Happosai.  "Something very important, right?
I'd hope so if we have to use _that_."

     "Oh, this?" wondered Other Happosai, waving around the mirror. "Why,
of course it's important!  I wouldn't use _this_ otherwise!"

     While the two perverts were in conversation, the rest of the room was
in shock.  Soun and Mr. Panda looked absolutely horrified.

     "Oh why?!  Why are we twice cursed?!" wailed Soun.

     //Perhaps we should flee?//

     "Aw man, two of the old freaks," grumbled Ranma.

     Kasumi merely looked a little puzzled.  "Oh my."

     "Why are there two Happosais?" asked Nodoka.  She was less than
pleased to deal with one of them.  Two was intolerable.

     "Hrm?  Two of us?" they both said at the same time.

     "Oh, just time travel," said Mirror Happosai.  Dinner Happosai nodded
solemnly in agreement.  "Nothin'for you to worry about, sweeto."

     "Time... travel?" said Nodoka in disbelief.

     "What, you've never heard of time travel?" said Mirror Happosai.
"Used to do it all the time!"

     "What's the emergency, anyways?" wondered Happosai.

     "You'll find a note after dinner," said Mirror Happosai.  "You'll be
in my shoes after you read it."

     "It isn't... it isn't about my darlings, is it?"

     Mirror Happosai nodded.

     "Then why are you _here_?" wondered Dinner Happosai.

     "Well, aheh, I suppose I got distraced along the way, with, you
know,"  he said, giving a sidelong glance at Ranko's chest.

     "Oooh.  Heheh, I know what ya mean, but you'd better be on your way,
yeah?"

     "Oh yeah, right.  See ya later!"

     In an amazingly quick series of moves, Mirror Happosai shed a tear
unto the mirror and disappeared.

     "Well, now that that's out of the way," said Happosai, "gimmie some
love, Nodoka-cha-"

     *WHAM*

     //I *said* DON'T TOUCH HER!// signed the panda, acting in unison with
Ranko to stomp on the pervert, then boot him into the night sky through
the window that was already broken by Mousse.

     Nodoka stared at the spot where the diminutive pervert had vanished.
And suddenly, comprehension dawned. The truth was there.  She knew.

     "Happosai has a twin brother?"

     A full wave of facefaulting commenced.

     "Actually," said Miyabi, "that little scene explains why I'm here."

     There was a tense, brief silence.  It felt like eternity.

     After that 'twin brother' remark, Nabiki was expecting to hear Nodoka
answer Miyabi with, "you're Happosai's granddaughter?!"

     "So... you really are..." said Nodoka quietly.

     Nabiki braced herself.  The panda watched things with great interest.
Ranko and Akane held their breaths.  Ukyou and Ryouga were frowning.

     "So," said Nodoka, looking utterly astonished, "is my son a good
father?"

     Akane and Ranko breathed a sigh of relief.  So did Nabiki, but not
for the same reasons.

     //He's the manliest father ever known!!!// signed the panda. //Isn't
that right, Miyabi-chan?//

     *WHAM*

     "Don't overdo it," mumbled Ranma.

     "I'm gonna go check on Ryo," mumbled a disgruntled Ukyou.

                                 * * * * *

     Childra 'borrowed' some of Nabiki's clothing while Ishido hunted down
some dry towels.  "It sounds like a riot in there," he said, pointing
towards the living room.  "Are you sure you want to join them?"

     "Maybe not just yet."  Childra took one of the towels and began
drying her hair.  "Why don't we find you something to wear first."

     "I, uh..."

     "You thought of me before yourself," she said.  "That's sweet." He
blushed.  Childra took him by the arm and walked him down the hall.  I
think we want to go-"

     "Uh, Childra, is that normal?"

     "Blood-red light pouring from a door that's been blasted open?
Offhand, I'd have to say no."

     "Stay back, then.  This could be-"

     "Exciting."  Childra patted him on the cheek and took the lead. "By
the way, does the air seem hazy to you?"

     "Uh, no.  Should it?"

     "No reason for it to, unless you can see the things I can."  She
peeked into the room.  "But you ought to see this.  Ryo Saotome, what are
you doing?"

     The pig-tailed boy looked up from the book he'd been studying. "I'm
trying to find a way to fix this mess."

     Childra glanced down at the open page.  At first she wasn't sure if
she was reading it upside-down or not.  "Are you old enough to be looking
at pictures like that, Boy Scout?"

     "I'm an apprentice healer.  I've read my share of anatomy books."

     "I've seen some of Rat's medical texts.  They usually don't show
people in groups."  Childra swallowed.  "And normally you only get to see
their internal organs _after_ they're dead.  Plus the books don't glow
with light from the depths of Hell."

     Ryo nodded.  "True.  It's a good thing Happosai is a poor man's
magician.  If he had any patience or skill, the arcane objects he has
collected here would be deadly dangerous.  As it is, he's like a small
child playing with firecrackers."

     "Uh, Saotome, he's not the only one who's in danger of burning
themselves.  Why don't you put the book down.  I'm sure there's a way to
get out of this mess without sacrificing a virgin or two."  Ishido
blushed.

     "What?  Oh, you don't need to worry about that."  Ryo shut the book;
the light in the room returned to a less hellish state.  "I wasn't
considering any of those spells.  Not seriously."

     "But you were reading them!" Ishido accused.

     "I had to do something!"  Ryo shook his head.  "It was... difficult.
The book kept suggesting things, providing answers before I formulated the
questions.  I thought reading Happosai's writing was difficult, but this
book..."  He shook his head again.

     "But why were you even trying to do this in the first place?" Childra
dropped to her knees beside Ryo and poked him in the chest. "You're almost
as experienced as I am... with the supernatural," she clarified for
Ishido.  "You should know better than to mess with hellfire."

     Ryo held up his scarred hand.  "It's my curse.  I'm the one that made
the bloody thing, at least, I will make it.  And if I don't, we're stuck
here, messing this world up more and more and more."

     "You're babbling."

     "I'm desperate!"  Ryo grabbed Childra by the shoulders.  Ishido took
a step closer.  "Every time I turn around, one of you is making things
worse.  I know I can solve this mess, if I learn enough, but I don't have
the time to be honest, or to be careful.  I have to cram my head full of
magic _now_ while I still have the mirror, and I have to lie to the people
I care about most to keep them away while I do what I need to do."

     "Lying and desperation are not a good combo to be mixing with a book
of dark magic, Boyo.  And I know you've seen Star Wars in the original
two-dee.  'Beware the Dark Side, Duke.'"

     "It was 'Luke'."

     "It was a century ago, and that's not my field."  She pursed her lips
in thought.  "Didn't someone get an amulet burned into their hand in that
movie, too?"

     "No, but an American President played in both of..."

     "What is it?"

     Ryo blinked.  He let go of Childra, stared at her blouse, and then at
his hand.  He looked back up; there was a heart-shaped pattern sewn onto
the pockets.  "Give me your shirt!" he demanded.

     "WHAT?"  Ishido's knuckled popped as his hands turned into fists.

     Childra was a bit more calm.  She was used to demands like these, and
knew a dozen responses.  The one for propositions from possibly drunk
time-traveling wannabe dark mages involved reaching into hammerspace for
her bo.  "I think you need to calm down a bit," she told him.  "Take one
of these and call me when you're not possessed."

     Ryo caught the staff casually.  "Just look!  The patterns match. Now
I know where to start."

     Childra tried to reclaim her weapon, but she had no leverage. "What
are you babbling about?"  Ishido saw her plight and reached in, getting a
hand on the staff and making things that much more complicated.

     "This."  Ryo tugged; the Nanban Mirror shattered under the full force
of Ishido's misdirected strike.

     Childra gasped.  "What the hell are you doing?  I saw the thing shoot
off blue sparks; that was a magic mirror, wasn't it?

     "I know what I'm doing now."  Ryo let go of the staff and began
sorting through the remains of the artifact.  "I've studied a little bit
of everything, and like my father, I learn quickly.  It turns out I don't
need a spell after all.  I just need one of the pockets of your blouse for
the initial pattern.  Then I can rebuild the mirror better than before."

     "It's not mine," Childra said.  Ryo's shift from hellish depression
to unearthly confidence was unnerving.  She didn't think he was possessed,
not any more, but she wasn't sure he was completely sane, either.  "It's
Nabiki's."

     "I'll buy her a new one.  A hundred, even.  But I need that one, and
I need it now."

     "I... I'll go change."

                                 * * * * *

     Ukyou wandered upstairs with a tired gait, knowing that she hadn't
made any progress at all towards Ranma, while Akane and Miyabi's version
of history were steadily making progress.  They already had approval from
Ranma's mother.  That was no good, she was hoping to do that first.  She
had no idea how, but she was hoping to be first anyways.

     [Well, she'd object to me no matter what] she thought glumly.  [I
wonder how she treats me in Ryo's world.]

     Ryo.  The thought of the boy made her smile.  She saw much of herself
and Ranma in that boy.  [Can't give up hope on a future like that, can I?]

     All thoughts stopped at the sight of a shattered door.  From within,
an unearthly glow emanated.

     "Ryo?" she called out tentatively.

     "In here, mom!"

     Ukyou frowned.  That was Happosai's room.  What was he doing in that
vile place?  She stepped through cautiously.

     "Hi mom," said Ryo, gazing blankly in the direction of a book that
emanated an unholy glow.  Nearby, the boy she recognized as Ishido was
seated, watching Ryo very carefully.

     "Son," said Ukyou, "you're not turning satanic on me, are you?"

     "Huh?  Wha?" he muttered, his glazed look fading from his face. "Oh,
no.  Just trying to plan out things."

     "Things?  What kind of things?"

     "Going home," he said.

     "Oh."

     "Mom?"

     "Yes, sugar?"

     "I..." he struggled for words briefly, then looked at Ishido.  "Do
you think you could step outside while I talk to my mom?"

     Ishido gave him a wary glare.  "Don't try anything funny," he
grumbled as he stepped outside the room.

     "Thanks."

     "So, what's up?" asked Ukyou, noting her son's depressed state.

     "If... dad were in this kind of mess, lost in time I mean, he'd do
_anything_ to get back home... even if some things he'd have to do were a
little dishonest, right?"

     "Why," asked Ukyou nervously, "are you asking?"

     "I... I'm feeling guilty, I guess.  You see, in another world I... I
had to lie to obaachan, and I really didn't like doing that."

     "And?" wondered Ukyou.  She thought that couldn't be all there was.
If it was, her son definitely had morals far and away higher than his
father or grandfather.

     "And... by the time I'm through in this world, I may have to do
things that..." he looked briefly at the doorway, where he could see
Ishido's shadow, then back at the book, "things that might make some
people really unhappy."

     "Ah... whatever you're doing, does it-"

     "Does it affect you or pop?  No, it shouldn't.  At least, I hope
not."

     "Well," said Ukyou.  "You know, sometimes your dad had to pretend to
be a girl sometimes, and he really hated that.  And he hid from his mother
and pretended to be Ranko, Akane's cousin, plenty of times."

     "And?" wondered Ryo.

     "The point is, even if it was unpleasant, he did what had to be done
with no regrets.  Lots of griping and grumbling, but no regrets.  Do what
you have to do, Ryo-chan.  I won't think any less of you, or expect any
less of you."

     Ukyou gave her son a quick hug, then poked him in the nose.  "You
haven't had anything to eat yet, sugar."

     "I know mom, I just have to finish what I'm doing first, okay?"

     "Alright, see you downstairs."

                                 * * * * *

     After the initial shock of realizing that her granddaughter really
was there, a bit of an emotional scene broke out with much hugging and a
little crying on the part of both women.  There were a few watery eyes on
Mr. Panda, Soun, Akane, and even Ranma.

     Things went well (or downhill, depending on the viewpoint) after
that. It was partially due to the minor food skirmishes that were
happening between Ranko and Mr. Panda, minor elbowing between Shampoo and
Ukyou, and occasional and discrete food tossing by the various teens.  It
was mainly due to dinner conversation with Miyabi telling a few stories of
how things were in the future.  There were quite a few stories that,
despite the fact that they hadn't happened yet, embarrassed certain
persons in the room greatly (except for Mousse, who was overjoyed to hear
that he'd eventually win over Shampoo).

     "... and that's how mother and father were married, or so they told
me," said Miyabi.

     Nodoka sighed happily.  "It all sounds romantic.  Aren't you looking
forward to that day, Akane-chan?"

     "Ah, er, I... guess so," said Akane timidly.  She failed to notice
Ranko's blush, Ryouga's scowl, or Ukyou rolling her eyes up.

     "And then there was the time father tried to get me to feel
comfortable in school," said Miyabi.  "He said to think of it like Martial
Arts... and I did.  Mother and father were upset later when they found out
I had beaten up some of my classmates."

     "Sounds like something his father did," said Nodoka, laughing. Ranko
and Mr. Panda, meanwhile, were looking somewhat embarrassed.

     //It seemed like a good idea at the time!// signed the panda while
Nodoka wasn't looking.

     Miyabi was feeling... almost happy again.  She'd always loved her
grandmother dearly, and didn't want to have to be a stranger to her in the
past as well.  She'd always been able to talk to grandmother.  She'd
gotten along well with her grandfathers.  They weren't as close to her as
grandmother, but they were nice to be with.  The younger versions of them,
however, were irritating to an unbelievable degree.  It seemed all their
energies were focused on four things:  food, getting rid of Happosai,
shogi, and getting Akane and Ranma married.

     They were really horrible at that last item.

     Inspiration hit her like a mallet.

     What grandfather Soun and Genma needed was a little help... and a
little restraint.  With their help, she just might get things rolling
around here in the way they were _supposed_ to be going.  Or at least
prevent them from mangling the few strings of attachment her parents were
feeling between each other at the moment.

     "So, where is your father now, Miyabi-chan?  I'm very anxious to meet
him," said Nodoka.

     "Father... is... um..."  Miyabi looked uncertainly at Ranko, who,
along with Mr. Panda, was shaking her head and mouthing 'no'.

     "He's out in the mountains, I think.  You know how he is, always on
training trips."

     "Oh... I see," said Nodoka sadly.  "Well... I'll eventually see him,
right?  I'll just have to be patient."

     //Patience is a virtue!//

     "ROOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOWF!" *splash*.

     "Oh my.  Ranko, why did you throw Mr. Panda into the pond?" wondered
Nodoka.

     "He was startin' to annoy me."

     Nodoka sighed. "I had really been hoping to see my son, you know.
After all these years..." She trailed off, her face suddenly looking old
and sad. "It seems every time I've almost caught up to them, they just
slip away... I miss them by a matter of minutes...."

     Miyabi squeezed her grandmother's hand reassuringly. "Don't worry,
Baachan. I'm sure you'll see Ranma soon." She started to shoot a withering
glare in her father's direction, then stopped. Ranko looked as if someone
had punched her in the stomach.

     In her home reality, she had never seen her father look ashamed. He
had never had a reason to.

     Here, he had a choice between lying to his mother or risking the life
of both his father and himself. And he looked, at the moment, like he'd
rather risk dying.

     "Thank you, Miyabi-chan." Nodoka dabbed at her eyes a bit.  "But, do
you know, I'm not even sure what he looks like now? I would know my son on
sight," the room winced, "but if I could only see a recent picture of him,
it would be so...." she broke off, casting her eyes sadly downward.

     Miyabi stood up. A picture couldn't hurt, she decided. Her
grandmother deserved at least that much.

     No, she amended, her grandmother deserved more. But this was all she
could give her at the moment.

     "Hold on, Baachan. There's one upstairs, I'll bring it down to you."
And before anyone could react, she had darted off.

     Nodoka gave the room a misty-eyed smile. "Miyabi's such a considerate
child. You must be very proud, Akane."

     Akane nodded hesitantly.  "She'll be a great daughter... is a great
daughter... um."

     "I understand. It must be rather confusing, this time-travel
business." Nodoka turned to study Ranko again. "Ranko-chan, are you all
right? You look a bit ill."

     "Oh, I'm fine, Auntie Nodoka." stammered Ranko. "I just ate a little
too quickly, that's all."

     Nodoka nodded. "I remember that Ranma used to eat like that.  So did
his father, as I recall." She smiled for the first time since Ranma's name
had come up. "I do hope he hasn't gotten as portly as Genma."

     // GENMA IS THE PERFECT WEIGHT!//

     Ranko snorted. "Yeah, for a Panda."

     With a screech of burning carpet, Miyabi zoomed back into the room.
"Here you go, Baachan!"

     Nodoka took the proffered photo with something akin to reverence. Her
son. Not in the flesh, but at least as he recently was.

     She noted with pride the good muscle tone, the set of the jaw, the
defiant stance. And the lack of a gut. While she loved her husband, she
sometimes wished there were less of him to love.

     Yes, a fine-looking young...

     Nodoka froze, staring at the photo. She couldn't put her finger on
it, but there was something... something... FEMININE about the picture.
But what?

     The shirt? No, men wore that sort of thing in China. Granted, Ranko
wore one too, but then Ranko was a bit of a tomboy.

     The pigtail? No, a warrior's tail certainly wasn't feminine. Although
the one Ranko had suited her nicely.

     The facial features? No, they were manly enough. Handsome, too. Like
Ranko's, actually, only not as fine.

     It clicked. Ranma reminded her of Ranko, which was why she was
perceiving the picture as feminine. She sighed with relief.

     Wait a minute.

     Ranko. Ranma. Ranma. Ranko.

     Same clothing. Same pigtail. Same face. Same appetite. Same general
build.

     Her gaze flashed from the picture, to Ranko, to the picture...

     Of course.

     Nodoka stood.

     "Ranko," she said, voice quiet and controlled. "Can I see you alone
for a minute?"

     //She knows! Run!//

     "Uh, yeah," said Ranko nervously. "Of course, Auntie Saotome."

     "Good." Nodoka took a deep breath. "If you'll come with me into the
kitchen..." She turned, and walked out of the room. Shooting an
apprehensive glance at Akane - who was looking rather nervous herself -
Ranko slowly followed.

     Soun dabbed at his eyes. "She's going to kill him! Now our two
families will never be..."

     "Grandmother," said Miyabi firmly, "is _not_ going to kill father."

     Several dubious faces stared back at her.

     "Right?" she added, hopefully.

     //I'd better start running.//

     "No, wait until you hear the screams and chopping sounds from the
kitchen."

     "DADDY!"

     "Shampoo no understand."

     "If she so much as touches Ranchan..."

     "Oh my!"

                                 * * * * *

     Ranma surveyed the kitchen nervously, eyes trying to identify the
fastest way out. Dutiful son, yeah, but there were limits.

     Closing the door, Nodoka sat down at the kitchen table. "You're
Akane's cousin, right, Ranko-chan?"

     "Um, uh, yeah..."

     "How is it I've never met your parents?"

     Ranma's mind flew. She knows! Or at least suspects! "Um, well, mom
and dad died a while back." A sad look. "That's why I've been staying with
the Tendos."

     Nodoka nodded. "Ah, I understand. Soun has a duty to take care of his
dead sister's daughter."

     "Well, yeah... although it's not really duty, I think."

     "Of course. I'm sorry, Ranko. You must miss your mother very much."

     Guilt filling her once again, Ranma stared at the floor. "More than
you could know," she said, quietly.

     Nodoka patted her gently on the shoulder. "Poor Ranko. I'm afraid
Genma hasn't been a very good father to you, has he?"

     "Well, he tries. The Old Man's just... such... a... uh-oh..."

     Nodoka sighed. "Yes, Ranko, I know the truth. Why didn't you just
tell me from the beginning?"

     Ranma began to mentally catalogue the exits to the room. "I wanted
to, but... I was afraid you'd think I was..."

     "Ranko, Ranko. I don't blame you for anything. None of this is your
fault. You can't be blamed for my husband's," her tone turned icy,
"foolishness."

     Ranma blinked, astonished. "You... you don't... you won't have me
commit seppuku?"

     Nodoka laughed. "Seppuku! What on earth ever gave you such an idea,
child? Of course not!"

     "That's that's... wonderful!" She had her mother back! No more
hiding! No more "Ranko and Mr. Panda"! Her baka father had kept her
running from a loving mother all this time for nothing!

     Nodoka sat down in a chair, and began to cry.

     Huh? Oh no! She crossed over beside her mother, and kneeled, putting
a hand on her shoulder. "Mom, don't cry... I'm sorry... I wish you didn't
have to be ashamed of me. I'm sorry."

     Stiff sniffling, Nodoka reached out and hugged Ranma. "Thank you for
calling me 'mom', Ranko-chan. And I'm not ashamed of you. It's just not
easy to learn your husband has been unfaithful to you."

     Alarm bells began to go off in Ranma's mind.

     Why was she still calling her 'Ranko'? Unfaithful? Genma?  That was
about the only good thing you could say about the man.

     "I suppose he must have met Soun's sister while I was carrying Ranma,
if you're the same age as him." Fury rippled through her voice, and Ranma
gulped. "I suppose I wasn't as desirable while pregnant. When did you
learn he was your real father?"

     "I... I've really always known..."

     "Well. Until he returns... and probably after he returns... I'd like
to consider you... well... as a daughter." A tear trickled down one cheek.
"I know I'll never be like a real mother to you, but..."

     It was too much. "Oh, mom!" Ranma cried, throwing her arms around her
mother. Nodoka, startled, returned the hug.

     "It'll be all right, Ranko-chan. Although your father and I have...
things to discuss."

     Great, Ranma thought glumly. Instead of Akane's cousin Ranko, now I'm
Genma's illegitimate daughter Ranko. Pop's gonna be thrilled to hear about
this.

     Nodoka sighed.  This was turning out to be quite a day.  First a time
traveling grandchild and now she had an illegitimate step-daughter. Such a
very trying day indeed.

                                 * * * * *

     "Did you have to break the mirror?"  Ishido asked nervously."I don't
want seven years of bad luck."

     Ryo laughed.  "We're time travelers.  Seven years is nothing."  He
settled a pair of goggles over his eyes.  "Now stand back.  There might be
sparks." 

     Childra stepped behind Ishido, both because it was safer and because
it gave a good excuse to snuggle.  "I thought you said you knew what you
were doing."

     "I do."  He held a piece of silver over a lit bunsen burner with a
pair of tongs borrowed earlier from Kasumi.  The fire turned green, and he
frowned.  "I do," he repeated. 

     "Is this going to take long?" 

     Ryo laughed again.  "Twenty years is my guess."  He looked over his
shoulder and saw that Childra was not amused. 

     "That was a joke.  This will take all night, though.  You two might
want to get some sleep."

     "And leave you alone, doing God-knows-what with Happosai's magic? I
think not."  Ishido nodded in agreement, then returned to scowling at Ryo. 
"Someone has to keep an eye on you."

     The silver glowed from the heat. 

     "As you wish."

                                 * * * * *

     Ukyou scowled.  Things were not going as she had planned, not at all.
In fact, things were taking a scary turn.  Ranma was alone with his mother
in the kitchen, and things were quiet.

     Too quiet.

     Nearby, Mousse leaned to Ryouga and whispered, "so, think he's dead
yet?"

     *CLANG*

     *THUD*

     "How DARE you, you jackass!"

     "Stupid Mousse!  Shut up!"

     The boys were about to whine in retaliation when Ranko returned with
Nodoka.  There were hints of tears in Nodoka's eyes, and Ranko looked very
uncomfortable.

     //Uh oh.//

     "Um... Ran... ko, are you okay?" asked Akane.

     "We're okay, Akane-chan," said Nodoka in a tone that suggested that
pursuing the topic any further would be a little impolite.

     "Would anyone like some dessert?" asked Kasumi, breaking the tension
in the room.  "I made some cake."

     There was a general muttering of agreement that yes, dessert would be
nice.  Nodoka polished her sword idly, which made Mr. Panda upset.
Meanwhile, the girls (and Kunou) were about to make their move on getting
alone with 'Ranko' when Akane threw a wrench into the works.

     "C'mon, _Ranko_, we've gotta talk."

     Before anyone could do anything, Akane dragged Ranko out of the room
and upstairs.

                                 * * * * *

     "What happened back there?" asked Akane.  There were alarm bells
ringing in her head, but she wasn't sure exactly what was wrong.  Clearly,
Ranma's secret must still be safe, since he was still a she and alive. But
if not that, then what?

     Ranma sighed.  "You're not gonna believe this."

     "Oh?  Try me."

     "I was Ranko, your cousin.  Now I'm also Ranko, illegitimate daughter
of pop 'cause of some affair he had with a Tendo.  She thinks of me as her
step-daughter now."

     Akane's scowl was quick to arrive.  Ranma noticed it immediately.

     "Ranmaaa..."

     "Hey!" she said, hoping to avoid a malleting for the day, "I swear,
this ain't my fault!"

     Meanwhile, unheard, soft footsteps padded away from their door and
down the hall.  Soun tried his best to listen in, missing out of the
beginning of it, but heard more than enough of the rest of it.

                                 * * * * *

     Meanwhile, downstairs, things were surprisingly peaceful.  The
'children' were sitting around watching television and chatting while
sipping on either tea, coffee, or soda and occasionally passing around a
plate of cookies. They would normally just fight to work off the anxiety
and boredom, but the double-whammy of Kasumi Tendo and Nodoka Saotome
nullified their fighting spirits sufficiently.

     Nabiki had the remote.  Nobody dared to ask her to change the
channel.

     Doctor Tofu was in the bathroom, trying desperately to remember where
those 'shiatsu relaxation points' were before he made himself an absolute
and utter fool in front of Kasumi.

     Kasumi and Nodoka were in the kitchen, cleaning up after everyone.

     Mr. Panda was in the garden, playing with the tire and looking around
nervously every now and then.  He dropped the tire immediately at the
sight of Soun walking despondently into the garden and rushed to his side.

     //So, what'd you find out?// signed the panda.  //The boy did
something// (flip) //stupid, right?//

     Soun looked at his old furry friend at a loss for words. [Saotome,
how could you?!  How DARE you?!]

     At first, he thought that his ears must have been faulty.  The words
he heard were few but alarming.

     Genma.

     Tendo.

     Affair.

     Child.

     At first, it all didn't make sense.  But the more he thought of it,
the more it made sense.  He was on training trips for years at a time,
away from everyone and hearing nothing for months, and sometimes years.

     All the easier to decieve him.  Right?

     "Saotome..." he said quietly, looking down at the ground.  "How could
you... how could you?!"

     The panda was baffled and it showed.  //Huh?  How could I what?//

     "HOW COULD YOU HAVE AN AFFAIR WITH MY WIFE?!?!"

     Soun grabbed the panda in a savage choke hold immediately while
applying the savage Demon's Head Attack, while signs like //I'm
innocent!!//, //there must have been an understanding!//, and //Please
don't kill me!// were being tossed aside savagely by the raging Tendo.

     Unfortunately, they had an audience.

     "Hey... did he say what I think he said?" wondered Ukyou.  "The old
man just hit a new low."

     "No kidding," muttered a scowling Nabiki.

     "Grandfather, how could you?!" yelled Miyabi.

     "I had known the line of Saotome was of a tainted nature, but I had
not fathomed the depth of their depravity to be as such," said Kunou.

     "Aiyah, Mr. Tendo very very violent."

     "Alright Saotome," grumbled Tendo, "which one is yours?"

     The battered and beaten panda barely managed to sign back, //which
what?//

     "It can't be Kasumi... not Nabiki... that means..."  In Soun's
panic-stricken mind it all began to make sense.  They were so alike, after
all.  Stubborn, prideful, with a 'can do anything' attitude and a taste
for martial arts.

     "HOW DARE YOU ENGAGE AKANE, YOUR OWN DAUGHTER, TO HER BROTHER?!?!"

     The spectators were rendered speechless.

     Miyabi fainted.

     "I... have no idea," said Nabiki.  She was, to put it mildly,
shocked.  But the more she thought about it, the more it made sense.  They
_were_ so much alike, weren't they?

     "Nooooo way," said a wide-eyed Ukyou.

     "The depravity of Ranma Saotome runs deep and dark indeed, to
knowingly snare into his charms his own sister!  He shall feel heaven's
justice, so swears Blue Thunder!"

     "Man, this is sick," grumbled Mousse, while Shampoo nodded in
agreement.

     "Saotome!" roared Soun, "THE ENGAGEMENT IS OFF!"

     //Wait!  No!// signed the panda frantically.  //This must be a
misunderstanding!// Soun ignored the signs and the savage beating
continued.

     "Wait," said Ukyou, "if Ranchan isn't engaged to Akane anymore..."

     "Means husband is finally free!" finished Shampoo.

     "And Akane's free too!" yelled Ryouga and Kunou triumphantly.

     "YES!" everyone yelled.

     Then they realized there were still a few more obstacles in the way.
Ryouga scowled at Kunou, while Ukyou and Shampoo gave each other evil
glares.

     Mousse was in neither camp, and definitely unhappy about the turn of
events.  "This isn't good," he said, polishing his glasses, "this isn't
good at all."

     Unnoticed by all (who were busy scheming on getting each other out of
the way), Akane and Ranko came back downstairs, with Ranko looking just a
little roughed up.

     "Why is dad beating up Mr. Saotome?" wondered Akane.

     Ranko shrugged.  "Dunno.  Hey, Mousse, what's going on?"

     "Your father engaged you to your sister.  I think."

     Unfortunately, this was the moment Miyabi woke up again.

     And fainted.  Again.

     "He WHAT?!" roared Ranko.  "I have a... and he... POP, YOU'RE DEAD!"

     The savage beating escalated to a previously unmatched degree of
brutality.

     "I don't believe he did something that stupid," said Akane. "Mousse,
who's Ranma's sister?"

     "Well," said Mousse, putting his glasses on, "you are."

     "WHAT?!"

     "Oh, Akane!" said Ryouga, his eyes glazing over.  "You ca-UGH!"

     "One side, peasant!" boomed Kunou, catching Ryouga by surprise with a
swift and casual bokken strike.  "Akane Tendo!  My love, I have come to
liberate you from your most immoral and incestuous engagement!  Come, into
my ar-UGH!"

     "WHAT are you people TALKING ABOUT?!" yelled Akane, as she cleaned
her fist of Kunou.  Nabiki sighed and dragged Kunou off to tend to his
wounds as she usually did.  She was considering charging double her usual
medical fee, if only because this ridiculous mess put her in a bad mood.

     "I know it's a bit of a shock, Akane, but... hey, he's your brother,"
said Ukyou.

     "Where'd you get the idea that he was my brother?" said Akane
angrily.

     "Looks like you'll be my sister-in-law, eh?  Hm?"  Ukyou gave Akane a
playful elbow.  "Won't that be cool?"

     A bonbori suddenly came between them.

     "Akane Tendo Shampoo's sister-in-law!"

     "Guess again, BIMBO!" yelled Ukyou.

     "WAIT A MINUTE!" yelled Akane.  Everyone paused, even Psycho-Soun.

     "I am _NOT_ Ranma's sister!  Where'd you get this stupid idea?!"

     "Now now, sugar," said Ukyou, "I know you're in shock."

     "It take time to accept truth, yes?" said Shampoo.

     "I-if you need someone to talk to," nervously offered Ryouga, "I'm
willing to listen."

     "I AM NOT IN SHOCK!  _WHERE_ DID YOU GET THIS STUPID IDEA?!"

     "Everyone thinks I'm her brother?" muttered Ranko.  "Pop. Explain.
Now."

     //This time it _isn't_ my fault!//

     "Well, Akane, your own father," said Ukyou, "or should I say,
stepfather, said so."

     "Akane," sobbed Soun, "I heard you say... you said... from your own
words..."

     "Daaaad, you were eavesdropping on us, weren't you?!"

     "And a good thing I was, young lady!" said Soun.  "I could not let
the engagement continue after hearing what I have heard today!"

     //I still think this is// (flip) //a big misunderstanding.//

     Unfortunately, that just got Soun mad again, which lead to more
minutes of Throttle-The-Panda.

     "Dad, you didn't hear things right!" said Akane.

     "Poor girl," said Ukyou, "holding on to him even though she knows
she's his sister.  She must have really fallen for him hard."

     Shampoo nodded solemnly in agreement.

     "Don't you think she might be telling the truth?" asked Mousse.

     Shampoo sighed, grabbed Mousse by the neck, tossed him in the
bathroom where Dr. Tofu was, and yelled "KASUMI!"

     "Oh my, what's going on here?"

     The Panda froze.  Soun halted.  The teens paused in their individual
bickering.  Ranko took a few tentative steps towards Nodoka, hoping to do
some damage control on this chaos.

     "Why," asked Nodoka, "are you trying to kill Mr. Panda, Tendo-san?"

     Soun gave the panda a wicked glare.

     //PLEASE, TENDO, DON'T!//

     "And why is Miyabi-chan unconscious on the floor?" she added. Gently,
she sat and put Miyabi's head on her lap.

     Ukyou didn't have the courage to tell Nodoka that her husband had
cheated on her, and neither did Ryouga, Shampoo, or Mousse.

     "Madame Saotome!" boomed the Blue Thunder, "it saddens me to reveal
the base nature of thy beloved to be that of an unfaithful, nay, honorless
man."

     Tatewaki Kunou knew no such reluctance.  It was thought he was too
stupid to be aware of it.

     "Hey, I thought Nabiki took him away," muttered Ranko.

     "Then," said Ukyou, "you know about... Genma's illegitimate child?"

     "Yes, I do," said Nodoka, sounding heartbroken and sad.  "But I try
to look at it in a positive light.  I think of her as... the daughter I
never had."  She smiled, tainted with a little melancholy, and reached out
to hold Ranko's hand.  "Isn't that right, Ranko-chan?"

     "Huh?  But I thought Akane was the one," said Ukyou.

     "Heavens, no!" laughed Nodoka.  "Wherever did you get that silly
idea?"

     Everyone pointed at Soun.

     //I *TOLD* YOU!// signed the panda.

     "So, Miyabi-chan fainted because..." said Nodoka.

     "Because she heard us say Ranchan and Akane were brother and sister,"
said Ukyou.  "Sorry about that."

     "Miyabi-chan, wake up," said Nodoka gently.  "Miyabi-chan, come on,
time to get up now."

     "Mmm."  Miyabi stirred, opening her eyes narrowly.  "Baachan?"

     "Yes, dear, it's me."

     "Oh... I just had the most horrible dream."

     "Really?"

     "Yes... mum and dad were fighting so much, Auntie Ukyou and Uncle
Ryouga didn't care about each other, and Uncle Tatewaki was a pervert."

     Then Miyabi opened her eyes.

     "Oh," she sighed, "It wasn't a nightmare."

     "Don't worry so, Miyabi-chan," said Nodoka soothingly.  "Things will
work out for the best in the end.  You should know more than any of us."

                                 * * * * *

     As all things go, the night had to end.  In its wake, several people
were left disappointed.

     Mousse was sore from the repeated maulings at the hands of Shampoo
(and on occasion, Dr. Tofu, via Shampoo).  Shampoo got nowhere with Ranma,
mainly because coming on to him in front of Nodoka meant certain death for
her airen.

     Ryouga was as tongue-tied as ever around Akane, and once again failed
to make progress.

     Ukyou stayed by 'Ranko's' side, but aside from small talk, failed to
get any sort of romantic mood going.  No progress forward, she thought,
but no steps back either.

     Tofu stuttered and stammered his way out the door and mentally
berated himself for not having some self-control around Kasumi yet again.

     The only ones that were happy were Miyabi and Nodoka, who spent much
of the rest of the night talking, laughing, and generally bonding before
she said her goodbyes and departed before the hour became too late.

     To make sure that she arrived at the train station safely, Ranko
offered to walk her there.  As a consequence, so did Akane, Miyabi,
Ryouga, Ukyou, Shampoo and Mousse.

     It could be said that no woman was safer from attack that night.

     As the silence of the house settled in, Soun and Mr. Panda sighed.

     "Ah, Saotome, we survive yet another perilous..."

     //Perilous...?//

     "... another perilous dinner."

     //Indeed we did, Tendo.//

     "So, let's get ready for tomorrow night," said Soun with a grin.

     //Tomorrow night?  What's tomorrow night?//

     "The same thing we do every night, Saotome - try to get our children
married!"

     Soun and the panda went into a small fit of evil laughter that echoed
eerily through the house and even flowed through the air of Nerima's night
skies, even causing Kodachi to shiver.

                                 * * * * *

     [much, much later]

     Childra yawned.  Dawn was breaking through the window.  "That was
possibly the most boring night I've ever spent with two men," she
announced.

     "I told you you didn't have to stay."  Ryo fished in his pocket for
his wallet.  "You two really weren't much of a help, staring over my
shoulder the whole night like that."  He flipped through the pictures,
then selected one.

     "Is that you and your fiancee?"  Ishido asked.

     "Yes," Ryo whispered.

     "She looks a lot like Kasumi.  And if your recent actions are any
guide, you probably don't deserve her."

     "I've thought the same thing many, many times."  Ryo traced a heart
around the faces, then carefully cut around his tracing with his sonic
penknife.  The picture went in the now-cooled locket, and it closed with a
sharp snap.

     "Is it done?"

     "I need a chain."

     Childra sighed, then unfastened the necklace she was wearing. "You
owe Akane now, too."

     Ryo slipped the locket onto the thin silver chain.  "I'll pay her
back."  He slipped the locket over his neck.  "But first I have some
unfinished business to take care of."

     "Huh?  Oh, no you don't, Bucko.  You're not leaving by yourself."
Childra reached past Ishido and grabbed at Ryo's sleeve.

     Then Happosai hopped through the window, back from his
Saotome-induced flight across town.

     Ishido was torn.  Childra wanted Ryo stopped, but Happosai was a
greater threat to her.  Threat won out over desire; glass rained down as
Happosai went flying back out the window.  Childra shouted and tried to
regain her balance; her lover had pushed her to safety.  More importantly,
he'd pushed her away from Ryo, and with a burst of emerald fire, the
pig-tailed boy was gone.

     "Ow." said Childra.

     "Did I make the wrong choice?"

     "Honesty, Lobis, I'm not sure...


     -end act 4-


--
"Warriors, warriors we call ourselves.  We fight for splendid virtue,
for high endeavor, for sublime wisdom, therefore we call ourselves warriors."
 --Aunguttara Nikaya
email: geist@holly.colostate.edu