Prologue 1: Beatitas et Lumina
By Libby Thomas

Based on characters owned by Rumiko Takahashi and Naoko Takuechi Series idea by Little Michi, based on A Duet of Pigtails by Libby Thomas

Tsukino Usagi looked at her friends for the last time. With disdain, she tossed the lunar pen to the floor, her symbol as Sailor Moon. "I'm done. We're done. It's over." Strangely enough, for the first time ever, there was no sorrow or tears in her blue eyes, the only emotion now being one of contained anger. For the first time in her life, Tsukino Usagi was genuinely angry, and the reason for it was as old as anger itself.

"Usako," Mamoru said, holding his hand out to her, his eyes filling with tears. "It was a mistake. A stupid, selfish mistake, but I didn't mean to hurt you!"

At his side, her eyes already pouring out her sorrow, Rei couldn't even face her closest friend. She'd give her life if she could to erase what had occurred, but the damage was already done, and everything they knew would suffer for it.

Behind them all, a stately distance away, the rest of the Senshi stood, unbelieving what was transpiring. To Ami, Makoto and Minako, it was the end of the world; the loss of their queen but just as much their closest friend. To the majority of the Outers, it wasn't as earth-shattering, but it still wasn't good. Setsuna however, seemed the most lost, as for her it meant not only the destruction of all her plans since time began, but moreso the loss of Chibi-usa, the child that had so brought so much joy to her life.

Instinctively, Rei raced forward, enveloping the blonde pigtailed girl in a desperate embrace. Bawling, she all but shouted, "Please, don't leave, Usagi-chan! We didn't mean it! We didn't mean it!"

"Let go of me, you bitch." Usagi's voice was a dark growl, a seething tone that was so cold one would have thought she was taking lessons in etiquette from Beryl.

"Usagi, please listen to reason--"

"I SAID LET GO OF ME!" There was a pulse of white light and Rei found herself thrown back several feet, finally to crash painfully against the tree in front of the shrine. Looking up with glazed eyes, she saw Usagi standing there, furious as hell and her fist enveloped in a magic aura. Usagi, the Light Messiah, had finally used her magic for the power of force, had finally learned what it meant to hate.

"I HATE YOU!!!!" she screamed at Rei, then turned that rage on Mamoru. "I HATE BOTH OF YOU!!!! I LOVED YOU BOTH AND IN RETURN FOR IT, YOU TWO BETRAYED ME!!! EVERYTHING IS OVER!!!" With a flicker of her hand, the Ginzuisho appeared in her hand and she made a vow: "I Tsukino Usagi, also known as Sailor Moon and Princess Serenity--"

Somehow, Ami knew what was about to happen. "No, Usagi-chan, don't!" she shouted, pleading. She bolted forward and the other two followed immediately, hoping to stop the end of everything they knew.

Undaunted, Usagi continued. "--hereby renounce my throne and my position as Sailor Moon. I understand that as part of the line of the moon, I must continue to be the keeper of the Ginzuisho, but that power will never again see the light of day." She looked at them all, her face holding a puzzling emotion. "Farewell, all of you. We shall never meet again."

At the completion of her words, there was an explosion of dazzling, blinding light and when it ended, Tsukino Usagi was gone. Where she stood was her Sailor Moon fuku and the lunar pen, abandoned just as she felt all had abandoned her. Ami bent down and picked up the uniform then held it close to her, crying uncontrollably; Minako hugged her friend for support but it was an empty one as she too began to weep.

Makoto, her own eyes blinking from the sting of tears, looked at Mamoru with anger and disgust. "I hope you're happy. Your own selfishness and stupidity caused this. You two have destroyed everything!" She reached over and slapped the man who would someday be the High King, her anger at a dark crescendo. She didn't care what happened next; nothing mattered anymore.

Mamoru took the slap, not really noticing it. The woman he loved was done from his life forever, and it was entirely his fault. ((I have made a mistake, and the world will pay for it. I am not deserving of my future.))

Meanwhile, Rei found herself staring at the fury of two of the Outers. Haruka and Michiru, united as always, looked at Rei with complete hatred. "Everything we've accomplished, and you had to go destroy it just because you and Mamoru couldn't keep your pants on."

Rei didn't answer, didn't do anything but look at the space where Usagi had been, a landmark to her own selfishness. It had been her own desire for Mamoru that she'd controlled for so long, but in the end, could no longer contain. It had been that very same lust that had led her to seduce him, not caring if he was the intended of her best friend; she wanted him and was filled with that insatiable need. Unfortunately, she hadn't known that Usagi had a key to Mamoru's apartment, and when she caught them both in bed, the damage had been done.

A distance from them all, Luna turned to Artemis, her heart breaking. "What do we do now?"

"I don't know," he admitted, as both cats watched an uncertain future unfold. "I don't know."

"Ranma, it was an accident," Kasumi said, her eyes filling with tears. "It's not like anyone could have expected it."

"I know," he said, looking at the table, still dressed in the white tang and pants of his funeral attire. "I know." He looked at Kasumi, the only one left of the Tendos. "But it's not fair, Kasumi. They didn't have to die!"

"I don't know what to say, Ranma-kun, I really don't." Kasumi held Ranma, her brother-in-law and the only one left that she could call family. The funerals for Soun, Akane, and Nabiki had only ended a couple of hours ago, leaving behind Kasumi, Ranma and Ranma and Akane's newborn son, Tokuma. Tokuma was mercifully asleep upstairs, sheltered from the pain by his infancy. But it would now be a life without a mother to care for him and an uncertain future.

The phone rang, and another voice answered it, female and dulcet in its tones, though no less sad. "Yes, Saotome-Tendo residence. Ranma here. Please to wait one second." Wandering over to the distraught pair, Shampoo gave Ranma the handset. "Ranma, I sorry to interrupt, but police on phone. Officer want Ranma and Kasumi come to station to fill workpaper." The former Chinese Amazon looked at her friend and love with sorrow. To her it hadn't seemed so long since she lost to Akane, but found out in the long run that friendship with Ranma meant much more, and her love and friendship for him was enough to make the so-called Amazon Princess renounce everything. When Mousse and her great-grandmother had returned to China, Shampoo remained behind, gaining Japanese citizenship and moving in with Ukyo. Last she heard, Mousse had married another girl in the village, and Cologne had finally accepted that Shampoo could no longer live the life of an Amazon.

Ranma nodded, taking the phone. Shampoo moved a respectful distance away from the pair for a second, then turned and headed towards the kitchen, where Ukyo and Ryoga were. Looking at them both, she muttered something in Chinese, following up with, "It so unright. It not right that Akane, Nabiki and Tendo-san to die." Tears rolled from her brown eyes, flowing for the loss of her friends. As a Chinese Amazon, she'd been no stranger to death or tragedy, but for it to happen now, so close to the bone....

Ukyo stopped dicing the carrot, then looked at her fiancÈ for comfort. She and Ryoga had built a relationship together from the ashes of their loss of Ranma and Akane. They'd just gotten engaged the day of the accident, and their day of joy had been turned into a hellish nightmare. "You're right, sugar, it isn't fair. That other driver shouldn't have been drunk. And it's not right that he had to survive the accident, while Nabiki's car was completely totaled."

Ryoga huffed, anger in his eyes. "You woulda thought that Nabiki's car shoulda been able to take a crash."

Ukyo looked at him. "The car flipped over, Ryoga-kun. There was no way they could have survived, and if they had, they would've been paralyzed for life." Ukyo sighed. Nabiki had loved her car, because it gave her freedom to get away from Nerima and all its insanity. She'd saved up so much to buy it, and when she first took it for a spin, all the girls had raced off to Chiba for a weekend. She'd done that a lot, and everything seemed so natural about it after a while, as natural as the rest of Nabiki's habits.

But the events of last Thursday were not by any means natural. On what should have been a routine drive, Nabiki had gone to visit a friend in Miura, and had taken her father and sister along. No one had expected a drunk driver behind the wheel of a semi on route 16. The rig had slammed into them just outside of the Taura city limits, and the car spun out of control, propelled off its wheels and landing cab-down. By the time the ambulance arrived on scene, all three were with the ancestors.

Shampoo peeked outside of the kitchen, watching as Ranma and Kasumi held each other, both crying unashamedly. At the edge of the view, Saotomes Genma and Nodoka came in, each of them just as distraught and there to comfort the younger two.

"Not fair," Shampoo whispered to herself, feeling more helpless than she ever had at any time in her life. If she could, she would spend the rest of her life in feline form, if it would bring back Akane and the others. "All not fair."

Standing on the shoreline by Kamakura, Usagi looked at the moon in the dark of night, surrounded by the stars. For part of her, it was her ancestral homeland, something that had been a part of her soul. From the time of her mother (in her previous life) Queen Serenity I, stretching as far back as their ancestor, Kaguya, the moon had stood, a pinnacle of civilization. Even now it awaited the return of mankind, hoping for a better tomorrow.

((That tomorrow,)) Usagi thought, ((will never come now.)) Reaching towards the top of her hair, she pulled on a pair of mother-of-pearl broaches, undoing her trademark hairstyle. The buns came undone and the blonde mass of hair spilled free and poured to a point just past her waist, the way she would leave her hair from now on. Holding the two crescent shaped broaches in her hand, she looked at the two articles of her station as Sailor Moon.

((Goodbye, future.)) With little cheer, she threw them as hard as she could, the two items plunking into the ocean with little difficulty. Within seconds, the waves swept over the area, and a teary Usagi bid farewell to the life of Sailor Moon.

It then came as a surprise to her as something else went into ocean as well. She turned around and found Setsuna lowering her arm from the throw, dressed in normal clothing for the first time in a while. "I was hoping I could find you here," the older woman said. "I came to say goodbye."

"But I already did," Usagi told her, crossing her arms. "I want nothing more to do with the Senshi."

"Then you have nothing to fear," Setsuna replied. "I'm no longer a Senshi. I resigned as Sailor Pluto an hour ago." Seeing the look on Usagi's face, she clarified. "Mamoru and Rei destroyed the timeline, caused a new one. I'm not prepared to handle it, since I'd been so used to what I knew. Since I can't handle it, I can't be Sailor Pluto. Besides, to be honest, I've neglected my life as Meio Setsuna for so long, I don't know who I am anymore. Maybe it's time I found out."

Usagi nodded, but said nothing, and Setsuna caught the unanswered question. "The others will stay. I don't know what fate the Senshi have without us, but they will survive. Crystal Tokyo will happen in the future, but without us. The future doesn't need us anymore."

"I know," Usagi said, reaching forward and embracing her friend, crying for everything that she'd lost. A couple of seconds later, she looked up, seeing Setsuna crying as well. "I feel so empty inside," the former Sailor Moon admitted, "I have no idea what happens next."

"You'll know," the dark-skinned woman answered, "you'll find out. I can't tell you how or why, and this time it's because I don't know. But you'll find peace and happiness, I promise." With that, Setsuna turned to leave. But before she did, she commented, "But whatever happens, Usagi, I'll be there if you need me, my queen."

"But I'm no longer a queen," Usagi reminded Setsuna. "I'm just Tsukino Usagi now."

"Then you're something more important." Setsuna couldn't help but smile. "You're my friend." Nothing more to say, the older woman departed, leaving the younger one on the beach to the caress of the night, and a future filled with change, as a shooting star signaled the omens of what was to come.

That same night found Ranma on a dark vigil. At the moment, in female form, she was atop the home, bereft, adrift and lonely. Only 21, she was now widowed and the head of a family of three. Worse, Kasumi, the pride of the Tendo clan, was in dark spirits, unable to weather the loss of her entire family. About the only one sleeping well this night was the baby.

Looking up at the sky, Ranma began to pray to the kami. "I don't know how to do this properly...I never have...but I hope that my family--especially Akane--find peace in the afterlife. I don't know when I'm going to be there, or even if I will, because of my curse. But all I ask is that me an' my family get some peace." Not having felt better about her speech, she hopped off the roof ready to go inside and face yet another night alone in the world without her beloved Akane.

Had the redhaired martial artist looked up, she would have seen a shooting star racing across the sky, always a sign that the gods have listened to what one of pure heart has to say.

Fourteen months later:

"'...and the Senshi narrowly escaped another attack by monsters,'" Osaka Naru read the day's headline story. "'In a later press release, Sailor Mercury apologized for the extensive damage done to the Yokohama Sea Life park, saying that the demolition of the rollercoaster was the only way to cage the kraken beast long enough to bring enough power to bear.'

"'In a related incident, Sailor Neptune and Sailor Moon were admitted to the local hospital for injuries, where they were released soon later.'" Folding up the paper, Naru groaned in disgust. "Well, that's another area totaled recently because of the Senshi." The person she addressed gave no response whatsoever, and the redhaired woman continued, thinking it to be agreement. "Think about it: they used to be heroes, and now they're the laughingstocks of all Tokyo. They do more harm than good nowadays, and that guy who hangs around them all the time--Tuxedo Kamen, well he ain't much better!"

The second person continued to say nothing, merely sitting on the park bench, overlooking one particular part of Tokyo Bay.

"Hey, are you listening to me?" More silence still, and finally, Naru got frustrated. "Usagi, your haircut isn't that bad, really! Yes, it looks very different than what you're used to, but c'mon--you've had the same 'do for years, and this one really makes you look classy! You're 21, so you shouldn't look like a little girl anymore!"

Usagi felt her hair for the eighteenth time today, her hand going through the space where for the first 21 years of her life was either a long mane of hair, or twin ponytails before that. Now, the hair was in a boyish cut, one that brought out her eyes and made her seem older than she was. "It just different."

"Well, yeah, it does, doesn't it?" Naru replied, and was rewarded by a smile from the blonde. Since her break up with Mamoru over two years earlier, Usagi had changed a lot. No longer associating with Ami or the others, Naru had seen the blonde change into an entirely different person. Much smarter now and working on a college degree in business management, there was little trace of the teary, clumsy goofball that she'd been during her teens. When Naru looked in her best friend's eyes now, there was strength and a sort of arrogance, as though Usagi had changed from a crybaby into a queen.

As for herself, Usagi kept her anger inside. Since she'd left them, the Senshi had carried on without her, even finding replacements for Sailors Moon and Pluto. Oddly, it made her think of her old friend, Setsuna. The last time she talked to the former Senshi of Time had been six weeks ago, when Setsuna had informed Usagi that she'd met a guy and was considering a future with him.

As for the rest of the Senshi, Usagi saw them every so often, but didn't speak to them; through the use of some lunar spells and the personality changes that Usagi went through, they didn't recognize her. The day she left the Senshi, she began her change; this new hairstyle made it complete. Her life as Sailor Moon was nothing but a memory now, the sort of adolescent dream that made one wonder if it actually happened at all.

"Well, it's lunchtime, Naru," Usagi announced. "There's an Italian restaurant in the mall, and I'm in the mood for some pasta. Care to join me?"

"Sure!" Naru chirped, as both rose from the bench, headed towards the stairs that led to the mall.

"Ranma," Shampoo said, phrasing her words slowly and deliberately. In the course of the past year, Shampoo had taken language courses to improve her speech. It had worked well--she'd gotten a job at a restaurant down in Roppongi, and was even dating someone who worked nearby. Since Ryoga and Ukyo had gotten married, she'd moved into the Tendo-Saotome residence, easing life a little for the empty home. "You have to do something, or Kasumi's going to hurt for a very long time."

"Shampoo, you know as well as I there's nothing we can really do. I'm not happy about it, but she knew that there was a chance this might happen. When Tofu went abroad to take an internship in medicine, he hadn't proposed to her; she wanted to wait when he came back. And now he's not going to." Ranma sighed, running his fingers through his mop of hair. Kasumi had just gotten a letter from Tofu explaining that he was going to remain in Boston and open up his own practice--and marry another Japanese woman he'd met while studying at Harvard. Kasumi took the news in stride but soon broke down in tears for the loss of the only man she ever loved.

The Chinese woman nodded. "Well, I could see if Kenichi has any friends we can set her up with, but I'm not sure she'd like that--she needs time to heal." Immediately, she covered her mouth, realizing what she said. "Oh, Ranma--I'm sorry! That was so unthoughtful of me!"

"'Thoughtless,' Shampoo."

"That, too." She gave him a slight smile, hoping that it wouldn't trigger memories.

It did, regardless. "I know what you're thinking, Shampoo, and you don't have to worry--I've adjusted. Yes, I miss her every day, but I have Tokuma and Kasumi to think about, and they need me. I can't abandon my son or my sister, right?"

Shampoo nodded. "But still, we should find a way. Maybe we should go away for the weekend, just the four of us. It's been a while since the family has gone on vacation, right?" She was about to press him further for an explanation when baby Tokuma, currently seated on Shampoo's lap, gurgled and followed nature's answer. "Oh, no...Ranma, your son's a mess again."

Ranma tried hard not to laugh. "I guess he just loves his aunt Shampoo, doesn't he? Well, fortunately, we're not too far from a local restroom, where we can change him," he replied offhandedly. "Besides, old friend, it's nearly lunchtime. How does Italian sound? I hear they have a great restaurant in the mall."

Shampoo nodded. "Sounds fair enough. Lead the way, airen," she answered, her old pet name for him still there after all this time, though the meaning behind it was more ironic than intentional nowadays. She would have continued, had it not been for the sudden scream of terror, only a few feet away. Shampoo tensed, ready to leap into action but stopped short as she held Ranma's son. That, however, did not stop the anything goes grandmaster as he quickly bolted in the direction of the cry, ready to assist at a moment's notice.

"Okay, ladies, cough up the dough!" A man, his face covered by a tengu mask, brandished the knife in a menacing manner. Behind him, four more toughs, also in party masks, awaited the spoils. There was no one around in this section of the area behind the mall, and as far away as they were from the rest of the Tokyo Big Sight complex, there was no indication that anyone would be able to aid them in time. "Just give us your purses, and you don't hafta get hurt."

Standing her ground with a troubled look on her face, Usagi shielded Naru, who was terrified by the whole ordeal. The blonde herself was calm--after all, she'd been in life and death situations before, so what was this in comparison?--but was faced with a new dilemma: should she give in, or take the advantage and stop them? While she'd kept up the practice on her magic, she'd never told Naru, and to reveal it now would be inconvenient, to say the least.

One of the other goons reached in his pocket, pulling out some rope. "Okay, I guess we'll just have to take it out of you the hard way. Of course, I wouldn't mind taking a little something else outta you, too." The sound of his voice, coupled with his words made it starkly clear what he'd intended, and that changed the entire situation.

Behind her, Naru squealed in fright, her face a mask of complete shock. Usagi, however, closed her eyes and prepared a defensive spell; she'd been working on changing her lunar magic a lot since her old days, and the arsenal of magic she now had at her disposal was more akin to a contemporary sorceress than the Senshi of Justice she used to be. As Naru screamed a final cry of panic before passing out to the ground, Usagi began to whisper the first stages of a fireball spell, something that would hopefully prove to be the method that would allow both women to escape unscathed.

It proved to be unneeded.

"GET AWAY FROM THEM!" At the sound of that booming voice, the blonde opened her eyes and found herself in the face of a protector for the first time in years. However, unlike olden times, this new one was a man far different. With a compact, lithely muscled frame built for speed and dressed in Chinese clothing, this man moved with the swiftness of a sparrow and the agility of an acrobat, throwing punches and kicks with ludicrous ease. Dropping men back and forth in his assault, Usagi watched, her attention completely caught up by the man's ballet-like display of martial prowess.

Her respect for this man increased as one of the bullies, clearly a martial artist in his own right, called up a ball of ki energy and lobbed it at their would-be protector. This didn't surprise Usagi too much; she'd seen the non-magical phenomenon of ki in use before. But what she hadn't expected was the pigtailed hero blocking it as though it were nothing and releasing a strike of his own, the beam of burning red energy far stronger than what she'd ever seen before. From the small ball the thug threw, she knew that could punch a gouge in a wall. From what she could sense of the red beam, the blast could easily shave the summit off a mountain. It confirmed that a second later as the blast bored into the man, plowing him into the nearest wall, rendering him painfully if mercifully unconscious.

"Hey, are you two okay?" The man turned and spoke to them, his voice sonorous and kind. "That was awfully close."

"Yes, yes it was," Usagi agreed, looking up into his face...and for the first time in what seemed like forever, got lost in a pair of eyes. Those eyes, the same color as hers, filled her with a peace and rapture that she hadn't felt in a long, long time. ((He makes me though I know him from somewhere. Or maybe somewhen?)) It certainly was possible, though she was sure she would've remembered him somehow if he'd been part of the distant past.

As for Ranma, he found himself somehow powerfully attracted to this young blonde woman with blue eyes like his own. Was it the fact that she had the same haircut as Akane had? Or was it the fact that there was just something about her that seemed to echo in his soul, a reverb that seemed older than time itself. "So, are you okay?"

Usagi smiled a bit. ((He's cute. I wonder if he's available?)) "I am now, thanks. Are you okay, Naru?" Usagi turned and found Naru completely unconscious. "Naru-chan!" Usagi gasped, reaching down and trying to help up her faint friend.

"Here, let me help." With ease, the man picked up Naru's form, leading her to the nearest bench, some distance away. Usagi gazed at him with wonder and a bit of awe, at this stranger who had just come to their rescue and did it with style. There was a tugging at the edge of Usagi's emotions, a stirring that she hadn't felt in a long time, and something that she honestly thought she'd never feel again. Maybe it was just the flush of being saved by such a handsome, dashing gentleman, but perhaps it was something more.

About the same time, Shampoo raced up to them, holding Tokuma and looking around at the results of the latest Ranmadventure. "And you didn't even invite me for the fun," Shampoo replied, her lilting voice holding a forlorn tone. Turning to the baby, she replied, "Your father's just taking away my fun, you know that?"

((Father?)) Usagi wondered, looking at the Chinese woman carrying the baby. ((He's married?)) The blonde looked downcast, though she really wasn't sure why. Suddenly she felt very envious of the other woman, her mind encountering unfamiliar emotions and darker tones that she'd never known existed.

"Shampoo," Ranma laughed gently, "you're his stable, not-as-wild-as-me aunt. You're supposed to set a better example for him than I do."

The Chinese woman smiled. "Then it's a good thing I'm not married to you. The gods forbid what would happen then, ne?"

((He's single?)) Usagi caught that like a lifeline, though she was wondering who the mother of the child was, if it was his son. ((Oh well, I'll find out later.)) "Thank you for saving us, sir," she said, "Naru and I are in your debt." Her eyes locked onto his and a part of her never wanted to let go. The rest of her, however, was busy forcing herself not to glomp him, for reasons she really wasn't sure of.

"No thanks is needed, really," Ranma said, gazing into her eyes and feeling a rush that he hadn't felt in a long time.

"Not true at all. Please, let me make it up to you--buy you and your friend lunch, Mister...?" the blonde asked, hoping for a name to match with the face that was busily burning itself into her mind.

"Um, Ranma. Saotome Ranma, and my friend here is Zhao Xian Pu. And what do I call you?" he grinned, not even realizing that on the face of the former Amazon, a knowing smile of her own crept up.

"You can call me whatever you want," Usagi answered, without thinking. "But my friends call me Usagi. Now, as soon as Naru comes to, shall we go to lunch?"

"You like him, don't you?" Naru asked, seeing the starstruck look on Usagi's face for the first time in ages. "You really like him."

"He's so fabulous," she whispered, her mind fully off in dreamy mode. At the moment, the pair were on the way back home to the apartment they shared together in Suginami ward, and as the JR sped on its way to their destination, Naru had to admit, she'd only seen that look on Usagi's face for one other person before, and it had been ages since an emotion like that had been present in her friend at all.

((She's in love, and she doesn't know it,)) the redhead thought. ((Saotome Ranma, I really hope you're ready to have this chaotic odango-onna in your life....))

"You like her, don't you?" Shampoo asked, peering over her tea, her familiar Cheshire Cat's eyes staring at him, probing for a weakness. It was close to midnight at the old Saotome-Tendo home, and as become customary, the two old friends shared a late-night tea while sitting on the rooftop, gazing at the stars. "You're attracted to that Usagi girl, and it's not just because she has the same hairstyle Akane did."

"Shampoo, it's not like that," Ranma protested, a blush rising to his face. "It's just--"

"--you were looking at her the way I used to wish you looked at me, the way you always looked at Akane," Shampoo interrupted. "Ranma, you're only 23. You're still a young man, even if you're a father. You have every right to find love again, and considering you have a baby, a new woman in your life might end up being Tokuma's mother."

"Funny, I always thought you hung around because you wanted the slot. Not that I'm offering, mind you, but...."

"Ranma, I discovered long ago that though I love you, I'm much better off being your best friend and confidant instead of your significant other," she answered, her eyes containing a hint of sorrow. "In any case, Kenishi and I are very happy together, so you lost your chance." She winked to take the unintended sting out of her words. "But as your best friend, it's my responsibility to make sure you're happy. If being with her makes you happy, then go for it. Call her tomorrow, and see where the adventure takes you."

Ranma reached over and hugged his friend. "Thanks, Shampoo. I knew I could count on you."

Shampoo leaned against her old friend, thinking of bygone wishes and present luck. "Anything for you, my airen. Now, I do have one request, though, if you would."

"That is?"

"When you have a girl, I'd suggest Shampoo as a name. Very beautiful name, you know," she said with a laugh.

"Shampoo, I'm only asking Usagi out for lunch. I don't plan to have kids with her."

Shampoo stared at Ranma, her brown eyes looking deeply into his. "Trust me, Ranma, she wants to have your child, even if she doesn't know it yet. Every girl you meet usually does."

Two years later:

In the darkness of the room, the pair lay under the sheets, holding one another. Ranma looked out the window, seeing the moonlit expanse of a soft night in Aoshima. The pair had come to the secluded town to finally talk about a few things that were going in their relationship, and how to handle it. Both of them had come clean about their pasts, and spilling a few extra things that they hadn't during the course of their relationship, deepest darkest secrets that the pair had held to themselves.

It was necessary, Usagi had told him. They'd been together for the longest time since the day they first met, and the past two years had been a joy for them both. Ranma was a top-notch martial arts instructor, and Usagi opened up a florist shop near the Osakas' jewelry shop. Situated not too far from Shampoo's restaurant, Ranma's "adopted sister", Usagi, and Naru had become the best of friends; Usagi and Naru even served as bridesmaids at Shampoo's wedding two months ago.

Now, they themselves were at that precipice. Earlier that night, Ranma had asked Usagi to marry him and be a permanent part of his life. With a joy that verged on tears, Usagi has accepted his troth and was looking forward to their union together. But before they did that, they needed to lay everything bare, to be honest with each other and hold no secrets back.

Ranma admitted to Usagi that he and "Tendo Ranko", Kasumi's cousin, were one and the same. Afraid with Akane, as he had been in the beginning, to reveal his curse, he mostly hid it from her, and during their long heart to heart. Fortunately as he grew older, the change was becoming less and less, as the water magnetism the curse seemed to have all but dissipated; other than the occasional rainy day or genuine accident, Ranma mainly stayed male.

However, just as surprising was her revelation that she, Tsukino Usagi, had once been the teenage hero known as Sailor Moon. Not wanting to reveal to Ranma all of a past that no longer mattered anyway, she merely left out the details of the Moon Kingdom and told her fiancÈ that she left the mantle of Sailor Moon behind when she wanted to live a normal life again. In the years since, she never dealt with any of her former teammates, and she had no idea who the new Sailor Moon was.

As she lay asleep in his arms, Ranma gazed at the sparkling ring on her finger. Soon it would be joined by a gold band of marriage, the second one he'd wear. At the thought of the first, Ranma thought of Akane, knowing that wherever her spirit was, he still loved her and knew she'd be happy he was able to move on. ((I'll never forget you, Akane,)) his mind gently sent out to the four winds. (('Sagi probably wouldn't let me anyway.)) Kissing his soon to be wife on the top of her head, he closed his eyes and went to sleep.

As he did, Usagi opened her eyes and smiled. She loved Ranma, more than she ever had Mamoru, ironically. She had been destined for Mamoru once, but the love she had for Ranma was stronger because it had been a conscious choice to love him. Endymion was the chosen mate for Serenity, but Usagi chose to no longer be Serenity; it would be Ranma who would be the man she spent forever with... well as the father of her child. She lowered a hand down to her flat, well-toned stomach. It had happened tonight; she had felt it in herself. Though the wedding would be in four months, five months later would see the birth of their daughter. Closing her eyes, she thought of the child that once would have been Chibi-usa, a child that would see a far different future.

((A different name for a different future, my daughter,)) Usagi thought to the tiny life now nestled within her. ((A different future and a different world.))

Six and a half years later:

Saotome Mikome raced around her mother, chirping happily, her long pink hair tied into a braid just as her father's was. Looking at her mother with expressive red eyes, she asked, "Mama, when are we going to Aunt Kasumi's party? An' is Aunt Shampoo gonna be there? An' is she bringing Akane?"

Brushing her shoulder-length hair, Saotome Usagi, age 29 as of the previous week, held a soft smile on her lips. Mikome was, as Chibi-usa was/would have been, a high-speed terror; this time, however, the adult woman that Usagi was dealt with it in stride. "Yes, we're going to your aunt's party tonight, and Shampoo will be there. I'm also sure that she'll bring your cousin Akane with her, so you two can play." Usagi remembered when Shampoo had announced that she and her husband were expecting, the same time as Ranma and Usagi made their announcement. Shampoo named her daughter after Akane, something that brought tears to Ranma and Kasumi's eyes; Mitsuhara Akane was born five minutes before Mikome had been, and the two girls were the best of friends.

Another voice sounded, and Saotome Tokuma ran into the room, carrying the phone. "Mom, Dad's looking for you, and Aunt Shampoo's on the phone!" Handing the receiver to his mother, Tokuma took a second to stick his tongue at his little sister, to which she chased after him, mock-angry. Usagi paid no attention to this, as she knew it was just a game the two siblings played.

Turning her attention to the phone, she said, "Yeah, Shampoo, what's up?"

"'Sagi, are you sure that Ukyo and Ryoga are on flight twelve?" In the distance, Usagi could hear the sound of airport speakers at Haneda rattling off their litany of incoming and outgoing aircraft. "Flight twelve says that it's coming from Sapporo, and that's a little north, you know?"

"Hey, Shampoo, Ukyo told me flight twelve. Maybe they're coming from one of their other restaurants?" Four years back, Ryoga and Ukyo moved back to her hometown after her father died, leaving the pair everything including a small family fortune she wasn't aware of. The Hibikis in turn parlayed that into a chain of Ucchan's all over the country. Now, they were coming back to Nerima, and the whole extended family would be reunited, especially in light of the good news. "Hey, Shampoo, I have to get going; I have to go get beat up by Ranma."

The blonde could just see the smile on her friend's face. "Well, if you don't want him to train you, I could always oblige. Oh, wait I see them coming out of the terminal," Shampoo quickly added.

"No thanks, I've already been through your Amazon regimen once, remember--I had bruises for weeks! I'll see you tonight--oh, and though you know it, Mikome's already looking forward to spending time with Akane as usual. Talk to you all later."

"Ja ne."

Turning off the phone, Usagi sighed and grabbed her gi top, tying it on over her T-shirt. It was time for her daily practice session with Ranma, something she both looked forward to and regretted. Since the first time they met, Ranma had insisted that Usagi be able to protect herself, and even though he now knew of her secret, he still insisted that she learn defenses other than magic. Though she'd never get as good as Shampoo was without the aid of magic, she was talented enough to handle herself in a tough spot. Readying herself for the inevitable, she went downstairs.

Her kick towards his head missed by a longshot, but even at age 31, Ranma had to admit that his wife was better than he thought she'd be. Anyone else other than a seasoned pro, and that snap kick would have dropped an assailant. If that didn't work, then whatever spells his wife had at her disposal would teach someone not to mess with the woman who had once been the leader of the Sailor Senshi.

Moving like a blur, Ranma dashed behind her and tackled her from behind, hugging her gently. "Good move, 'Sagi, but you're not fast enough."

She turned and planted a romantic kiss on his lips while still in his arms. Gazing at him with bedroom eyes, she asked, "Am I fast enough now?"

"Absolutely," he responded, returning the kiss. Ending the kiss, he changed the subject saying, "It's going to be great getting everyone back together again." The reason for this was to celebrate the official opening of the local medical clinic, owned and operated by Tendo Kasumi, M.D. Having lost her focus, Ranma urged his sister-in-law to go back to college; the results, a decade later, made her the neighborhood doctor and prosperous in more than one way; at 33, she'd finally started dating again and her new boyfriend seemed charming and wise. To celebrate the grand opening of her clinic, the girls were all gathering for the party down at a private restaurant at Ariake Island, while the men would spend a night at the dojo catching up on old times.

"It is, isn't it?" she added with a smile. "Naru's already looking forward to it, and I know that it's going to be a blast--assuming Mikome doesn't wear herself out from the surprise." Usagi looked quickly at the clock on the wall. "Hey, look at the time--I'd better get in the shower if I'm going to get ready."

"Want some company?" Ranma asked suggestively.

"I think I'll be taking a cold shower," she responded tartly. "It keeps me safe and frankly, two children are enough for this house." A second later, after seeing the disappointed look on her husband's face, she kissed him and said, "Well, we could stand to stay in practice. I'll make it a warm shower, and that'll make it hot." Ranma carried his wife in his arms, towards their home and the shower.

To be continued in
Prologue 2: Girl From Manhattan
Prologue 3: Battleground Shinjuku
and the main series!

Author's Notes:
The concept of Blessed is based on A Duet of Pigtails, and the original draft of it is very much (too much!) like the adventures of Saotomes Hikaru and Ranma. When Little Michi (it wasn't her idea; she was given it by a friend) brought it to my attention, we talked about it and decided to work out a rewrite of the initial stages of her series. I found it so interesting that I offered to do up a new prologue for her as well as the occasional sidestory.

Where Duet and Blessed go are two different paths now, and you may see me putting in a tale here and there to this series. It will be interesting to see how two stories with a common origin will end up.

BTW, for you language buffs out there, the title is Latin for "Blessings and Light".