Progeny
By Jeffrey Vasquez

Disclaimer:

Based on the series Sailor Moon. All characters copyrighted by Naoko
Takeuchi, Toei Animation, and Kodansha.

The characters of Ranma ˝ are the express property of the most
benevolent queen of comedy, her Highness, the revered Rumiko Takahashi
and Shogokukan. I am in no way claiming, or even pretending to own these
characters.

Although, I can wish can't I?

The rest belong to me.

 

The Moon Kingdom

Serenity sat on her throne atop a raised dais, a swaddled babe clutched
in her arms. Deep in her noble heart, a war waged. Grief battled a cold
righteous anger, both seeking to overthrow the other. She would not break
here. This was a trial, and she needed to be cold and impartial, despite
the man that now stood before her. She couldn't let her love for him taint
justice.

Senshi Pluto stood to her monarch's right, her demeanor cold and
subdued, at least on the surface. The cold fire of hatred, that swelled
in her stomach at the sight of the man, made itself plain in her eyes.
Ahbrim Ur nauseated her. His smug defiance made her want to beat
the man to a bloody pulp. Unfortunately, Pluto knew that retribution
wasn't hers to mete out. She looked down at her Queen and the child that
she held in her arms.

It was the beginning of the end.

Just as she had foreseen. It was times like these that made guarding
the time gate difficult. This one man had carelessly set in motion the
destruction of all that she held dear. And there wasn't a damn thing
that she could do about it. The bastard.

**I hate this job.** Pluto sighed tiredly. A whimper from the child
brought her attention back to Serenity. The Matriarch of the Moon
Kingdom could have been an ice sculpture for all the emotion that
crossed her face. **Gods, how does she remain so calm!**

Concern for her dear friend was written plainly on the Senshi of Time's
face. It was more passion than any within the Queen's court had ever
witnessed on the stoic woman's face.

"Well Serenity?" A collective gasp rifled throughout the throne room.
Senshi Uranus growled and began to step forward, only to have the
younger and elder Neptune restrain her.

"Hold your tongue Traitor!" Fury laced Uranus' voice. The elder and
younger Senshi of Neptune could barely restrain the enraged woman as
she threw herself at the man.

Ahbrim Ur smiled haughtily at the young woman.

"Or what Child?" He cooed mockingly. "Your predecessor couldn't best
me. In fact I clearly remember her squealing like a stuck pig before I ended
her life. I wonder what your last moments will sound like." He tapped his
finger thoughtfully against his lips.

Uranus broke free from the combined strength of her friends and launched
herself at the chained man before her. Her primal scream echoed
throughout the court, as did the harsh blows that she rained down upon Ur.

"She!" Her fist took the wind from his lungs.

"Was!" A kick shattered his nose, spraying her uniform with blood. The
baby woke and began crying.

"My!" An open hand strike flew across his jaw.

"MOTHER!" Tears flowed from her eyes as she groined her tormentor.
The man doubled over with a grunt and fell to his knees, clutching himself.
Somewhere in the background Pluto could be heard shouting, along with
others.

Hands roughly separated Uranus from her quarry. She thrashed against
them harshly using all of her strength. Couldn't they see that he had to
pay! She screamed at them, and almost broke free again; but new hands
joined the struggle and Uranus was lifted from the ground.

"Remove her from the court!" Pluto called out and gesturing
emphatically. The two Senshi of Neptune and the younger Senshi of
Venus and Jupiter complied quickly, carrying Uranus from the chamber
hastily.

Silence descended slowly, as the howls of Uranus echoed throughout the
halls of the Crystal Palace. Ahbrim Ur recovered slowly, raising to his
feet with

little grace. No aid was offered to the man, not that he cared. These
people were all hypocrites any way.

"It seems that I have upset one of the watchdogs your highness." His
scornful tone mocked all present.

He sniffed in derision. The coppery taste of his own blood filled his
mouth, but he smiled none the less. He looked up into the eyes of his
former Queen and saw that Serenity's gaze had hardened. He shivered
uncontrollably for an instant before regaining his composure. She looked
stunning like this. Her eyes were cold and fierce, and her posture was
strong and unrelenting.

Was it any wonder why he had fallen in love with her in the first place?
She was every bit the queen that she claimed to be, but that was no
excuse for her crimes. The self-righteous dominance that she hung over
the people, and the indifference to the lower classes were more than
he could bear. She may have been beautiful and he may have loved
her more than life itself, but she was blind and deaf to the true needs of
her people.

He spat blood on the floor.

Maybe now her ears would hear and eyes see, what he had been telling her
all along. He chuckled to himself grimly. Silence languished throughout
the hall as Serenity's gaze fell upon Ur like Heaven's judgement.

**Probably not.**

"Well, Wife?" Ahbrim asked impatiently. "I await your Divine
judgement."

"That title is no longer yours to speak Betrayer!" The Elder Senshi of
Venus made herself known from the left side of Serenity's throne.
The Queen of the Moon Kingdom raised her hand to forestall any more
exhibitions of retribution. The child in her arms had quieted, and once
again fell into a troubled sleep. Serenity rose from her throne and gently
handed the child off to her advisor Luna; the Venusian cat in human form.
She descended halfway down the dais, before she stopped and looked
down at her former husband.

"Before I sentence you Ahbrim, I would ask you one question." His
slight nod was the only sign that he had heard her at all.

"Nine months ago you abandoned my bed, for that of our enemy. Our child
grew within my womb as you dallied with Onyx and her darkness.
You shamed us, you abandoned us," Her voice was measured and calm. The
Great Void was warmer than her tone. "I would know why."

Ahbrim Ur laughed. It was a cynical laugh that resounded in the hearts
of those attending the trial. His rich baritone voice echoed hauntingly off
the walls, chilling Serenity. The man she had once dared to love was dead.
And in his place there stood a monster.

"Dearest Serenity! Your pride is boundless! You think that this was
about you? About our little family?" His laughter barked loudly, causing
the baby to wake again. Luna did her best to pacify the newborn's tears.
She threw a dark look at Ur and silently wished that she could rip out the
traitor's throat.

"If not that, then pray, tell me what. Enlighten us all," her arms
swept wide to encompass those gathered in the hall. ". . .as to
your reasons for sleeping with the Darkness, for killing a defender
of the light, and destroying an entire nation?" His gaze hardened
as he met hers. They had had this discussion before; many times
in fact. She knew what he fought for.

"You know damn well why! The hypocrisy of the Moon Kingdom knows
no bounds! You," his gaze swept the gathered nobles viciously, and he spat
on the floor again. ". . .dance at your petty balls, and lavish yourselves
with finery to the point of excess! You gorge yourselves while other
nations starve!"

His tirade completed its circuit, coming to rest again on his ex-wife.

"The Moon Kingdom is a coterie, made up of spoiled children, playing at
a dream at the cost of others." His battered face was flushed and his eyes
were filled with contempt.

Queen Serenity bowed her head, not in shame, but in tired resignation.
She had heard his appeals on a number of occasions, and had honestly
tried to follow his council. But she knew that in his eyes she had never
tried hard enough.

He would never understand that she wasn't willing to force her kingdom's
aid on a nation or another kingdom, that flat out refused it in the first
place.

His heart had been closed to her since Atlantis sank beneath the waves.
He still placed the blame at her feet for his nation's demise. He couldn't
see that pride and politics had doomed her attempts to save Atlantis from
the beginning. Just as, even now, his pride had doomed her efforts to save
him.

She gazed down at him lovingly, one last time assuming the role of his
wife.

The look that he returned was cold and emotionless. She offered him her
forgiveness, and he spurned her attempt. She could feel the mantle of her
office settle on her shoulders once more. The title of Monarch replaced the
title of Wife. When she spoke, her power and authority spoke with her.
Magic amplified her voice and sealed Ahbrim Ur's fate.

"Ahbrim Ur, Son of fair Atlantis. Your acts of treason against the
throne of this kingdom are presented before you. How will you
plead?" Her voice was measured and clear.

"Guilty and unrepentant!" Ur shouted, in a vain attempt to steal some
of his former Queen's majesty.

"Then you leave us no choice, than to seal upon you your punishment.
For your crimes against the planet Uranus and its champion, and for the
atrocities that you have subjected the nations of bright Terra to; we
sentence you to exile. We strike your name from all records, and strip
you of all that you were. We bind you, son of perdition, to the darkness
that you serve."

Silver flames licked the Queen's body as she presented the Ginzuishou
before her. The silver flames shot out from the crystal, engulfing Ahbrim
in a silvery white light.

"You have made me a martyr!" He cried out despite the pain that rent
his soul. "I will be avenged Serenity, and you will see our child suffer
for your pride!"

Ahbrim Ur fought the changes that were coming over his body, to no
avail. He could feel his limbs harden and thicken painfully, as flesh and
blood changed to a lustrous silver. He felt the magic climbing up from
his lower extremities, but refused to show his fear. He spat once more
at her feet, before the magic began to drive the air from his lungs.

"You. . .will. . .never. . .know. . .pea. . . ." The threat died as his
lungs solidified and the magic worked its justice.

Serenity, Queen of the fabled Moon Kingdom, fell gracelessly to the
stairs. Tears coursed down her cheeks as she looked down at what had
once been the only man she dared to love. Hundreds of beautiful
memories flooded her mind; times of hope and warmth, and times of
passion and tenderness. All lost because of pride.

In her anguish she rent her dress and keened to the Heavens. Her
mourning carried into the hearts of her subjects, and Senshi Pluto
watched with a deep sense of emptiness as the Moon Kingdom began
its inevitable march toward destruction.

********
Author's note:

This is an Alternate time line for Ranma ˝, wherein Soun Tendo and
Ukyou Kuounji accompanied the group to Jusendo. They all witness
Ranma's battle with Saffron, along with the events that followed.

I hope that you enjoy "Progeny."

Chapter One:
One week after Jusendo.

Ranma knelt on one knee before the grave. Behind him stood Mr. Tendo
and Kasumi. Tofu-sensei stood behind her, with his hands on her shoulders.
No signs of freaking out at all. At least something good came out of all of
this. Surprisingly the Tendo patriarch wasn't crying. He just silently
stared at the marker of his deceased daughter. Nabiki stood to her father's
left, next to Ranma's parents. She was silent but Ranma had noted the tears
that fell from her eyes.

The sun was shining brightly overhead, just like she had loved. She
would have been out jogging by now, warming up for all the normal
craziness of her day. She would come home and change as Ranma and
his dad knocked the stuffing out of each other before breakfast.

They would sit and eat, and she would say something. Ranma would make
a witty comeback that would earn him a blow or an insult, and then the day
would begin for real. A non-stop roller coaster of adventure.

Someone would come and inevitably challenge him, or try and woo him.
Somehow she would get in the way, and he would save her. That's the way
it always happened. Right?

Wrong.

The battle with Saffron had taken too long. If he had had thirty
seconds more, she would be alive beating on him and calling him
a "jerk" or a "pervert." Instead, her ashes now resided beneath this
slab of marble, next to her mother's. Mr. Tendo had said something
as they entered the cemetery that had really struck home with Ranma.
"A father shouldn't outlive his children."

If only that were true.

Ranma leaned forward, placing his forehead against the cool stone. His
chest clenched tightly and his throat swelled, making it difficult to swallow.

Oh what he wouldn't give to have it to do all over again. There would
have been so much more that he would have said; kind words that built
up her fragile ego, courageous words that would have made her the
center of his life.

The words came easily enough now that she was gone. Why couldn't
he have said them before? Ranma wondered, in an odd detached way, why
his vision seemed a little blurry.

"I love you, Tomboy." His voice was a hoarse whisper. His chest chose
that moment to constrict painfully. The annoying sensation continued to
repeat itself over and over every time he breathed in or out. He couldn't
control it. Then the rain drops started falling.

Stupid weather. It was sunny just a moment ago. Some distant part of
his mind nagged that it wasn't rain. If it had been, then the change would
have come.

Part of him wished that it would rain.

Then he could cry all he wanted and no one would notice.

********

Nabiki blinked away her tears and watched as Ranma gripped the
monument. The great Ranma Saotome, man among men, was sobbing like
a baby. She wanted to hate him, but she couldn't. She had heard from her
father about the battle that Ranma had fought for Akane's life. Soun Tendo
had insisted on accompanying the group to China, but refused to allow the
other Tendo daughters to go with him.

When he had left he looked very much like the teenagers that he - or
rather that Ranma - was leading. High on the adrenaline of immortality, and
full of piss and vinegar. It was something that she had been grateful for.

Daddy hadn't been this animated since before Mommy died.

But when they returned, Daddy was dead again; but he wasn't alone. This
time someone else had crawled into the grave with him, and it had been the
last person that she had expected: Ranma.

Then again to fight someone to the death for the life of the woman that
you loved, only to have her die in your arms a few minutes later. . . . She
felt that she wouldn't any better off. Akane's death hurt. It hurt like
hell. But she could only guess at what it was doing to Ranma's innocent
heart. At least Nabiki had the luxury of having had the experience before.

The loss would always be there, but the pain would dull after a time.
She silently cursed herself for not mourning with the rest of those
gathered. But somehow it didn't feel right. Kasumi had been there to pick
up the pieces after Mommy died, she held everyone together with that
wonderful smile of hers despite the pain. Looking at her elder sister
now, Nabiki knew that there was no way that Kasumi was strong enough
to do it again.

At least Tofu-sensei had pulled his head out of his butt. Now Kasumi
had some that could be strong for her for a change. Daddy had Mr.
Saotome, for as long as the louse hung around, and he seemed to be
holding together rather well. She knew that it wouldn't last long, and
when all hell came crashing down around Daddy's shoulders, she silently
prayed that Genma wouldn't abandon his best friend.

So where did that leave Ranma? Out in the cold. None of his fiancees
had come by, with the sad exception of Kodachi. Ukyou sequestered
herself in the confines of her restaurant. Shampoo had refused to return to
Japan, which had pissed Cologne off royally. Two days after Ranma and
company returned home, the Neko-Hatten closed its doors for the last time.

Kodachi had been the only faithful one of Ranma's fiancees.

Unfortunately, she arrived when Ranma was a girl.

Ranma didn't flinch at her insults, but Kodachi had made the grave error
of saying something about how, now that the "peasant Akane" was out of
the way that Ranma would be all hers. Nabiki had never seen Ranma lose
control before, but the beating that he gave Kodachi left no doubt in her
mind that she never wanted to see it happen again. Kodachi, for her part,
showed some intelligence and didn't return to the dojo.

That still didn't help Ranma any. He needed a shoulder to cry on,
without fear of someone thinking him "unmanly" or childish. Nabiki
watched as Ranma wrung himself out over Akane's grave, and decided
then and there that she would be that shoulder. She would give him
what he needed. What they both needed.

********

Soun Tendo watched Ranma grieve for his daughter, as he had grieved for
his Kimiko. It was eerie in a way, because he remembered mirroring
Ranma's motions exactly. His heart went out to the boy. What was left of
it, anyway.

He couldn't shake the numbness that he felt. It had started when he had
heard Ranma's soul rending scream in Jusendo. It had continued as he
watched Ranma gather his chi, much like the Hibiki boy did when he
performed the Shi Shi Hokodan. Ryouga had said that Ranma had
gathered enough power in him to decimate a mountain.

And Soun didn't doubt him, in fact he needed to be sure to thank the boy
the next time he showed up at the dojo. Should he ever find his way back
there. If it hadn't been for him, Ranma would have destroyed them all.

**Oh, Akane-chan. A father shouldn't outlive his children.** Soun thought
dully.

Soun watched as the despair descended on the boy before him. He needed
to take him home, and allow him to grieve in peace and solitude. Privacy
would give him fortitude, something that Soun had never had. He had
openly wept with his children over the loss of Kimiko, and now they
viewed him as a weak man for it.

The boy was carrying a mountain as it was. Soun had to help him carry it
with dignity.

The man moved forward, to kneel down beside Ranma. His strong arms
wrapped themselves around the boy's shoulders, causing Ranma's tear
streaked face to whip around. He was startled, but the expression instantly
fell upon recognizing who held him. Shame warred with an intense sorrow
that Soun remembered all too well. He could almost predict the next
emotion that settled behind the boy's eyes: self-loathing.

Soun shook his head sadly, an action that he realized later may have done
more damage than good. He couldn't blame Ranma. The boy probably
thought that the Tendo family hated him. No father could have fought as
bravely, or as competently, as Ranma had on behalf of his daughter. He
was, despite the loss of his daughter, proud of Ranma.

"Come, Son, let's go home." Soun's voice pulled Ranma off his knees,
albeit reluctantly.

A deep, shuddering sigh escaped from both men as they turned and made
their way back to the Tendo dojo. Nabiki wrapped an arm around Ranma's
waist without any trouble or reluctance. The action was mirrored by
Ranma's mother. Ranma didn't react to them at all, as they left the
cemetery.

********
One month later. Tendo Dojo. Sunday, 9:00 p.m.

Excerpt from the personal diary of Nabiki Tendo

"Dear diary,

"I'm back. Another day another yen. Well, Daddy's doing better than I
hoped. It's been a month since the group returned from China, and Daddy's
been holding up really good. He and Genma have begun sparring, and I
caught Daddy actually laughing this morning. It seems that Genma
Saotome might have a heart in him after all.

"I think that they're planning an extended training trip, that may take them
out of the country. I over heard Genma telling Daddy about some resort in
the states, and Daddy said that he would think about it. How the idiots are
going to pay for the trip, I have no idea. But I think that it's a good idea.
Daddy needs to get away from this place, and all the ghosts that are
roaming here.

"I wish that they would take Ranma with them. I mean, he's a zombie.

"Today he let Kuno beat him in their morning tussle! I couldn't believe it.
He just stood there and let the blowhard smack him around. Kuno lost it,
almost immediately, and went berserk. He started babbling about how the
Gods were smiling on the 'Scion of house Kuno' and how his divine wrath
was being meted out on the 'Vile sorcerer Saotome.' Ranma just stood
there allowing Kuno to work him over.

"I had to rally the girls to pull Ranma out of harm's way before something
serious happened. As it was Ranma got worked over pretty good. It felt
weird, dragging Ranma into the infirmary instead of Kuno. But it was kind
of nice to patch Ranma up. He's a lot more pleasing to the eye than Kuno
is, that's for sure.

"Sigh! I feel pretty guilty about some of the things that I've been feeling
around Ranma lately. I mean here Akane's not gone a month, and I'm
already scoping out her man. So much for remaining platonic.

"I thought that I could get away with just being his friend. A sister figure
that helped him out every now and then, like Kasumi did for us. But every
time I'm around him, I start noticing things about him.

"It's not like anyone would blame me. I mean, how could I not? He's
pretty easy on the eyes. But it's not just the wash board stomach and the
cute butt. I know they're there, but I'm starting to see the things that I
think Akane saw too.

"His quiet devotion to people. The tender and vulnerable side that he never
lets out, as well as that insufferable, macho, arrogance that makes him
hard to live with.

"Hah! Who would have thought! Me, the ‘Mercenary Girl of Furinkan'
falling for someone like Ranma Saotome! But then again, how can I not?
The guy tends to grow on you.

"I've seen things that I know Akane would never have seen. Things that no
one else could have seen. The tears that come late at night when he sits in
the kitchen all alone, and the despair that sucks the life from those stormy
eyes of his. I watch as the guilt eats him from the inside out, and find
myself wanting to hold him.

"Weird, huh?

"I want him to cry on my shoulder. I want to kiss him and hold him until
the hurt washes away. I want to give him all the things that Kasumi didn't
know how to give, and all the things that Daddy couldn't give. I don't think
that he's ready for that yet, but he surely needs something.

"Kasumi thinks so too.

"She called Auntie this afternoon and talked to her for over an hour. She
said that Auntie wants Ranma to come live with her until he can work
through this.

"I can see where she's coming from, but I think that Daddy and Genma
have other plans for Ranma. Not that I mind what they're thinking, but I
don't think that Ranma's ready to have another fiancee forced on him."

A resounding crash came from downstairs, followed immediately by a loud
splash.

"Well, I think that they just dropped the engagement into his lap. Sounds
like Genma got the wrong end of the tiger this time too. Heh. Serves the
smelly panda right. And to think, someday that 'smelly panda' might be my
father-in-law.

"I shudder at the thought."

A small explosion resounded through the house, followed by the very
distinct odor of smoldering panda.

"I had better go down and run some damage control. It sounds like Ranma
just declared war on Daddy and Uncle Genma."

********

Nabiki descended the stairs slowly, ears straining for any sound that
might inform her about the situation. She had no idea what she would be
facing, and therefore thought it best to proceed cautiously.

She entered the living room warily, looking at the remains of the
stout dinner table that lay splintered across the room. Soun sat cowering in
one corner, evidently in the throes of shock.

********

Ranma heard Nabiki making her way up the ladder. He wanted to get away
from her, but he supposed he'd have to face eventually. He didn't need this
now. Not another fiancee. There was just no way that he could deal with
Nabiki.

She was moving across the roof tiles now. He could feel her close on
him. Her breathing was rapid, most likely from climbing the ladder, but
the way her feet shuffled made her seem nervous, or maybe anxious. He
silently wondered what could make her tight-fisted control slip like that.
She stopped a foot behind him, her knees were just below his shoulders.

He made no move to acknowledge her presence. She moved off to his right
side and settled her body down. She shifted around until she found a
comfortable spot and then turned her attention to him.

He could feel her eyes weigh him methodically. She was cataloguing him
and storing the information away for some future purpose. Knowing his
luck, a money making scheme starring him.

**Damn. I hate my life.**

"You're going to have to help replace the table." Her voice was measured
and only a bit of the irritation that she felt made it to the surface. Ranma
winced, and then sagged in resignation.

"Fine." His voice was cold and emotionless. Even the dead could have
sounded warmer.

Nabiki sighed deeply, drawing Ranma's attention to her briefly. "Am I
that repulsive to you Ranma-kun?" Her voice is filled with a cynicism that
brought Ranma's full attention to her.

"Huh?"

"I didn't realize that I was so revolting, that you'd not want to be
engaged to me."

Ranma spluttered and then sighed in abnegation.

"It ain't you Nabiki." He laughed bitterly, "Hell, I don't know what it
is." He shook his head in denial. "Naw. That ain't true either. I know
what it is." Nabiki waited for him to continue, but the young martial
artist only sat in silence. The stillness annoyed Nabiki to no end.

"Well?" She asked impatiently.

"'Well' what?" The look that he received from the young woman next to
him was a mixture of incredulity and mirth.

"Ranma-kun, a girl at least deserves to know why she's being dumped."
She said sarcastically. Ranma snorted.

"It ain't like I'm dumping ya."

"No? You just trashed my house, pulped your father, and made mine wet
his pants in fright!" Nabiki turned her whole body to face him. "That's a
pretty violent way of accepting the engagement, and one hell of a way of
making a girl feel like she's wanted." Her face held that calculating look
that unnerved Ranma to no end. "If you're not dumping me, then what do
you call it?"

Silence reigned for a time, until something tumbled quietly from Ranma's
lips. "I'm sorry Ranma, I didn't understand what you just said."

Anger flashed impatiently across his features.

"I call it 'Protection,'" he spat at her and the tore his gaze away from
her. "I couldn't stand to lose you or Kasumi. And knowing the way
that my life works, well . . . it just ain't safe ta be around me." A sudden
warmth filled Nabiki's heart, and just as quickly that warmth became a
blazing inferno.

"Ranma no Baka!" Nabiki's hand darted out and smacked the boy upside
the back of his head.

"Oww! Wha'd'ya do that for!" His hand lightly massaged the offending
spot. Nabiki smiled warmly at him despite the indignation that she felt.

"You, sweet, silly, idiot!" Ranma could only look at her, thoroughly
perplexed. His right eye brow twitched slightly causing Nabiki to chuckle.
Her brow furrowed seriously as she took Ranma's face in her hands. He felt
a chill run down his spine at her sign of affection.

"Listen to me carefully Ranma-kun. Akane wasn't given a choice. Kiima
took her, just like she'd been taken a hundred times before. You
couldn't protect her, but you fought for her just as hard, if not harder
than before. You killed for her." Ranma winced at this and his countenance
darkened. Nabiki continued, despite the pain her heart was feeling. "I
don't know what more you could have done."

Ranma's fist clenched in anguish as he tried to hold the pain in. He
tore his head from her grasp abruptly. It was like trying to stop a
volcano from erupting.

"I coulda been faster! The fight took too damn long!" His battle aura
flared brightly in the night, casting shadows across the roof top. Nabiki
watched the ghostly white flames dance over Ranma's exposed arms.
"Saffron just wouldn't give up. I shoulda gotten Akane to the water
first. Once she was safe, I coulda played with the bastard until we killed
each other!"

Nabiki lay her hand gently on Ranma's arm, and once again cupped his
face gently. She could see the tears starting to form again, but Ranma
refused to let the flood gates open. He was a man, and men don't cry.
She couldn't help but stroke his cheek. It was an instinctual reaction,
that seemed to calm him.

"Listen to yourself." She said softly, but firmly. "'I coulda', 'I
shoulda', 'I woulda.' Ranma you can't change the past. It doesn't
work that way." Her smile was genuine, and surprisingly soft.
Something unusual coming from Nabiki.

She chuckled softly, letting Ranma go. A sudden sense of regret
immediately filled her. She wanted to touch him; to feel his warm
skin against her hands again.

"If you only could have seen Akane after you left." A small laugh
escaped her throat. "She was a basket case, wondering how you
were; wondering if you were eating right, and getting enough
rest. . . . She talked in her sleep you know; always calling out your
name or simply carrying on a conversation with you. It almost
always ended up with her screaming 'Ranma no Baka!'; almost, but
not always." Nabiki winked conspiratorially at Ranma who blushed
slightly.

"She was a wreck without you and Daddy here. I swear, that if Kiima
hadn't come when she did, that Akane would have gone off on her
own to find you."

Ranma looked at her in disbelief.

"I'm serious Ranma. She loved you as much as you loved her. Nothing
would have stopped her from coming to fight at your side. And I don't
think that she would have wanted to be any where else in the world,
regardless of what she would have said. And for the first time ever, I think
that I'm coming to understand why."

Ranma's eye brow quirked in response to her unfinished statement. He
silently egged her on, feeling a sudden need to hear what she had to say.

**You make it so damn easy to fall in love with you. But it can be hell
with or without you.** The thought sparked a fire within her, and that
clueless look in his eyes only served to embolden her.

A sultry smile danced to life on her lips. Moving purposefully, she
closed the gap between them. She smirked at the stunned look that was
plastered on the martial artist's face. An intense feeling of guilt welled
within her heart, but was softly pushed away.

**Sorry Sis. I've always wanted to do this. I hope that you don't mind.**
They both needed the healing to begin, and if Akane was watching, Nabiki
knew that she would understand.

Her hand moved slowly to lightly touch his cheek, causing electricity to
flow between them for an instant. She pulled his lips down to meet hers
with that light touch, reveling in the soft warmth of his lips. For her it was
Heaven on Earth. Sadly she didn't let it last. She didn't trust herself.

Ranma could only sit, in bewildered immobility. Nabiki's sultry smile
returned tenfold.

"Something to remember me by. Unless of course you change your mind
about the engagement." Her hand lingered on his face a moment longer,
and then she drew it away to aid her in standing.

She descended the ladder carefully, still feeling a little light headed from the
kiss. When she was almost out of sight, she glanced back at the young
man. He hadn't moved a muscle.

*********

Kasumi watched as Nabiki entered the kitchen with a glowing smile
plastered across her lips. It was an intriguing curiosity, that got the
better of the eldest of the Tendo daughters. She pulled the cookies
out of the oven, the aroma was already working its magic throughout
the house.

Luckily Genma was still insensate.

"Well?" Her eagerness was plainly evident on her face. Nabiki's smirk
spoke volumes, but didn't fill in the blanks for her older sister.

"Sorry Kasumi, but I don't kiss and tell." Kasumi blushed, slightly
scandalized at her sister.

"Nabiki!" Kasumi tossed the oven mitt she was wearing at her sister
playfully. Nabiki juggled it a bit before she caught it. "What did you do?"
Kasumi continued to eye her sister, waiting for more answers. The only
reaction she received was a soft smile.

Nabiki calmly returned the glove to her sister, and then proceeded to
retrieve two glasses and a bottle of milk. Kasumi followed her example and
set the cookies on the table to continue to cool. They spent the rest of
the night eating cookies and reminiscing. Unfortunately for Kasumi, Nabiki
refused to divulge anything further.

********
Ranma stirred around four a.m., lifting his finger tips slowly up to
touch his lips. He didn't move again until well after dawn.

********
Banyankala Province, China - Sunday, 10:00 p.m.

A storm raged against the night. Midnight black clouds flew against the
ebony sky. Somewhere north by north west of the Musk Dynasty, an
ancient prison of sorts lay hidden from the prying eyes of the world.
Unlike most prisons this bastille had no walls, no chains, nor any of
the other accouterments that one would normally associate with
incarceration.

It resembled a fine pleasure garden filled with beautiful metal
sculptures that glistened beneath the rain and flashed with the
lightning. The motif was a blend of wild tranquility, as nature
sought to usurp the order that had been imposed on it. It might
have looked like a garden, but it has often been said that:
"Walls, a prison do not make."

Somewhere, deep within the open prison, a loud noise resounded above the
thunder in the area. The tortured screaming of metal being torn, echoed
into the night. The Heavens opened their vaults and threw down torrential
rains and flights of sky fire, raging against the evil that was being
unleashed upon the Earth once more.

********
Juuban
Shinto Shrine 10:52 p.m.

Rei Hino knelt before the Great Fire, searching her soul. The flames of
her heart danced in a myriad of colors, mesmerizing her. This was her
favorite part of the fire reading; a moment of peaceful beauty that only
she could experience. The flames waltzed sinuously throughout
her mind, liberating her spirit and cleansing her mind in preparation for
the vision that was to come.

The fire inside her began to take shape; the vision had begun.
At first it was a column that had vaguely human qualities. The traits
slowly coalesced into the form of a young man. White flames
danced around his head, mimicking a crown of some sort. His
body flowed beautifully through a kata that captivated Rei. His
movements were confident and strong. He stumbled and the flames
flared brightly.

Again the fire formed into the vague shape of a man, only this time much
larger than before. He wore no shirt, instead flames created what looked
like a series of tattoos that covered his body. His movements aren't as
graceful as his predecessor, instead, she found them to be violent and
vulgar. The flames slowly begin to change color, darkening from a deep
red to a pitch black.

The shrine maiden's fascination turned to horror as the man grabbed her
soul. His spiritual grip is painful, searing her soul. His voice, when he
spoke, was brutal and filled with hate.

"Tell her Mars. Tell Serenity that Ahbrim Ur has returned, and that he
is coming for her."

He squeezed her spirit again painfully, before letting go and
dissipating. The flames die out in her mind, leaving an exhausted
and very frightened Rei Hino laying before her Great Fire.

 

End: Part One

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