FIRST OF THE MOON

FIST OF THE MOON

Chapter 18: Reflections Redux

SENSHI TALES ONE: AFTER PHARAOH 90

Hotaru huddled in her seat at the back of the minibus and watched her newfound comrades pass the time on the long journey to their training facilities. The frail girl smiled to herself. Maybe they were her friends. They certainly acted friendly. But even that thought failed to cheer Hotaru up as she remembered that the two people who frightened her the most in the world would be coming, too.

In spite of her worries, Hotaru perked up watching her fellow Senshi relax. Makoto was up front, quietly talking with Kasumi, who was driving. Minako and Rei had been singing J-Pop songs for a while and had badgered Ranma into joining them. All three had wonderful singing voices. As usual, Ami had her nose in a book. Usagi and Akane were engaged in a spirited conversation with Luna and Artemis. Glancing up, Usagi met her eyes and smiled when Hotaru shyly glanced away.

She should be happy. She would have been happy, if only THEY hadn't been commanded to come to the training camp. Hotaru could still see the cold contempt in their eyes as they argued for her death. She shivered slightly, but felt a rush of gratitude when she remembered the duel the Queen herself had fought and won on her behalf. A gentle paw on her arm startled her out of her brown study.

"Is everything okay, little warrior?" inquired Xian Pu gently. Hotaru looked down at the beautiful Moon Cat, wincing as she took in the air splint on Xian's broken foreleg.

With a wan smile, Hotaru said, "I guess, I'm just a little worried about Uranus and Neptune. They don't seem to like me very much, Xian Pu-sama."

Balancing gracefully on her hind legs, Xian patted the girl's cheek. "First of all, I'm just Xian or even Sham-chan, unless we're on the training grounds. Second of all, they do hate you, Hotaru. They hate you because they fear you."

"Well, I did try to kill everyone and end the world," Horaru replied. "I can see why they hate me. I don't know why the Queen fought for me or believes in me."

Xian insinuated herself onto Hotaru's lap. "You were possessed. One of the bravest little girls I ever met was once possessed, as well, and fought the Senshi. Just like her, you fought your possessor with everything you had. Don't think we couldn't sense that. It was because of your refusal to surrender that we saved you and your father with so little harm to either of you."

Hotaru was silent for a moment. "It was a good thing you and the Senshi tracked down the Death Busters when you did. Mistress 9 was wearing me down bit by bit. I don't know how well I could have resisted later." She paused. "I'm sorry you got hurt so bad. I could help heal you, if you wanted," Hotaru finished shyly.

"Thank you, little warrior, but Kasumi wants to take things slowly, considering my reaction to Silver Energy." Xian smiled wryly. "Besides, a scar is a warrior's badge of honor."

"Your reaction?" the frail girl asked, beginning to pet the Moon Cat.

"Mmmmm," purred Xian. "Well, I used to be human, a human girl with a cat curse. When I was splashed with cold water, I turned into a cat. Hot water restored me. There was a war among my people, the Amazons, and I was almost turned into a regular cat. The Queen, Mercury and Nightfall saved my great grandmother, Mu Tsu and me. When the Queen tried to reverse my transformation, the Silver Energy mixed with the curse and turned me into a Moon Cat. The same thing happened to Ranma."

With wide eyes, Hotaru gasped, "That's amazing! Wait, Ranma used to turn into a cat?"

"No," the cat replied sadly. "Ranma was born a boy and became cursed to turn into a girl with cold water. He helped the Senshi but was infected with Dark Energy. When the Queen healed him, it locked Ranma in her girl form and she became Sailor Nightfall."

Wiping away a stray tear, the violet-eyed girl said, "I must seem like a crybaby, worried about my troubles after what you two have been through."

"Not at all, Hotaru. We honor your sacrifice and your spirit. You're a Senshi, just like the others, even if you do have a bit more power. We'll pound that idea into Uranus and Neptune's thick heads. It's their problem, not yours." Xian replied fiercely.

"But if I lose control …"

"Nonsense! Ranma and I are used to teaching our students precise control. Once we're done with you, you will use the force you mean to in any situation and not a jot more or less. Ranma can even teach you the Soul of Ice technique that will allow you to suppress your emotions, if the need arises. Uranus and Neptune's fears are groundless, even if you weren't the level-headed and careful person you are."

Hotaru hugged the white-and-lavender Moon Cat in relief. She saw Akane come over to her, a friendly smile on the youngest Tendo's face. "Hey, Hotaru-chan, come on up front. Now that we got the caterwauling trio to shut up" — the synchronized "Hey!" from the three offended girls left Akane unmoved — "we're going to play youma shiritori Japanese word game. Come on, it's fun!"

"I- I don't know that many youma …"

"Ah, don't worry about it, no one can beat Ami anyway. Most of the fun comes from people remembering cool stories and stuff. I mean Ranma and I don't know that many either." Akane grabbed the younger girl's hand. "It's still a blast!"

"What do you say, little warrior? We can play together. I've learned a few names talking with Luna and Artemis," Xian wheedled.

Nodding, Hotaru let herself be led up the aisle, a small smile playing on her lips. Nothing but friendly faces and welcoming smiles greeted her. Something deep inside her relaxed. She was among friends, friends who would fight for her and stand beside her no matter what. Snuggling down with Xian Pu, she waited for the game to start.

The summer sun flooded the mini-bus as Kasumi drove out of the last of the lush woods and into a large clearing. As she parked, the Senshi crowded at the front of the minibus as they took in their home for the next month. Ooooos and Ahhhhs filled the compartment as the girls goggled at the large, two-story A-frame cottage on the verdant lawn. As the group piled out of their vehicle, only two individuals appeared less than delighted.

Ranma and Xian wore identical expressions of disdain, allowing for the difference in species, as they surveyed the beautiful building and grounds. Finally, Xian sighed. "Too, too soft," the Moon Cat muttered, but then turned a less bleak expression towards her fellow trainer. "Still, it will be all right. Our girls won't slack off on their training just because things are nice, you know? They aren't novices anymore and deserve a treat, I think."

The red-haired girl shrugged and nodded with a slight smile. "You're probably right, Sham-chan." A faint chime interrupted their conversation. Ranma dug out her communicator and activated it, talking quietly.

In the meantime, Kasumi got the rest of the girls organized unloading luggage. As they retrieved the last of the suitcases from the bus, Ranma closed her communicator and walked over to the group. "That was Nabiki, she's running a little late. She should get here in a couple of hours, along with Uranus and Neptune. Since the major thing Xian and I want to accomplish today is get everyone settled in and go over what we're going to do for the next four weeks, we'll wait on them before we get started."

"You can use the time to unpack and explore a bit, if you like," Xian Pu added. Looking over at Hotaru, she added, "One thing, little warrior. Everyone stays in their Senshi form the whole time we are training. Since everyone else is already changed, you should too."

"What? B-but nobody's in Senshi form, are they?"

"Oh, they are, Hotaru-chan," Artemis corrected. "It was one of the first techniques Ranma and I discovered. It gives more control over your transformation, allowing a Senshi to wear different clothing and turn off the disguise field while still accessing your Senshi powers."

"Although it's always best to fight in your fuku," Luna added. "It gives you both mystical and physical protection."

"Come on, Ranma and I will show you how it's done, Hotaru-chan," Artemis assured the girl. "The rest of you girls can go explore."

Rei and Usagi looked at each other and Usagi shook her head. "We'll wait for Hotaru-chan. Maybe we can help. Besides, it'll be more fun exploring all together."

"Just remember, we're here to train, we're not on a vacation," Ranma said sternly, then relented. "However, I think Sham-chan and I can agree as long as you guys work hard, a little play won't hurt anything." The redhead's reward for this pronouncement was a bone-crushing hug from Usagi.

Luckily for the more impatient Senshi, Hotaru was a quick study and soon mastered the transformation control technique. While physically weak in her unpowered state, her contemplative life style had given her the happy ability to listen intently and learn from what she heard. The girls were soon exploring their temporary home.

The first floor was largely given over to a combination dining/rec room. Usagi and Minako were in raptures over the big-screen TV, though Rei's speculation that the reception would be nonexistent brought them down to earth. Investigating the back of the huge receiver, Ami declared that the TV had a direct satellite feed, something unheard of in a private home. The karaoke machine was happily noted.

Meanwhile, Kasumi and Makoto were engrossed in an exhaustive examination of the kitchen. Both girls were practically drooling before they finished. After a brief consultation with Xian and Artemis, Ranma gathered the team for a quick conference.

"Okay, since we're going to be here for a while, we should split up the chores. I figure Makoto, Kasumi and I will handle the cooking, but we're going to need cleaning and laundry as well." The red-head noticed Kasumi's unhappy fidgeting. "No way am I going to let you do all the work, K-chan. You're here to train, just like everyone else, and I won't have you working yourself to exhaustion trying to do too much."

Still looking a little rebellious, Kasumi acknowledged the order with a soft "Yes, Red."

"Ami and I can do the laundry, right cuz?" volunteered Akane. Ami nodded.

"So the rest of us will keep the place clean," Rei finished. "Shouldn't be too bad."

"Don't worry about a little mess," said Xian. "Your training is the most important thing." She grinned at Kasumi. "Although if we let things go too much, I'm sure Kasumi will be sneaking out late at night to clean." The eldest Tendo smiled but did not deny the charge.

The rest of the floor was occupied by two bedrooms with room for six futons in each and a large bathroom. "Okay," chirped Usagi, "Let's see what's upstairs!"

The second floor was much smaller than the first, but still large enough for five rooms and a small bathroom. Four of the rooms were modest bedrooms with name plates affixed. Usagi and Kasumi looked like they were going to die from embarrassment when they found two of the four name plates were labeled "Usagi and Ranma" and "Kasumi and Ono." The third room was marked for Mamoru while, surprisingly, the last bedroom was slated for Michiru and Haruka. Akane's aura blazed.

"No way do those two murderous perverts deserve a room of their own," she growled.

"Akane!" Usagi said, shocked. Akane noticeably cooled down,

"Sorry, Usagi-chan, a bit of that's the homophobia talking, but they were a hindrance, not a help, in the last campaign. I don't think they deserve—"

"Oh, but it's all right, Akane-san! This way we can all sleep in the same room if Usagi-sama and Ranma-san sleep up here and I'd feel better if I didn't have to sleep with …" Hotaru said, trailing off as tears glimmered in her eyes.

"I daresay that Nabiki was thinking that the couples deserve a bit of privacy," Artemis offered coolly. The blushes were general this time.

"And enough with the san and sama, kiddo," Ranma ordered, ruffling Hotaru's hair. "You're a Senshi, just like the rest of us. Heck, even Nabiki's a Senshi in a way, although she'd deny it with her dying breath. We're friends as well as teammates." The younger girl nodded.

"Hey, what's through the last door?" Minako asked in a blatant change of subject. Unlike the bedrooms, this door had no name plate, just the Moon Confederated logo carved on the top panel. As they piled into the room, they were greeted by a well-appointed office, with a modest sleeping area off to the left. What caught their attention was the picture window that took up most of the outside wall and gave a panoramic view of the countryside.

"Wow, that is so beautiful!" exclaimed Minako, drinking in the view. "Is this for Nabiki, do you think?"

"Probably," replied Akane absently, eyes fixed on the window. "She's going to be spending some time up here with us, but she'll probably still have to work."

Rei scanned the office. "I knew Moon Confederated was doing well, but this is way beyond anything I expected."

"Yeah," Akane replied. "I think Nabiki said she took in more than a hundred million yen last quarter. I bet most of it was sunk in this place."

"It really is amazing," Ami said, a little uncertainty in her voice. Makoto put a comforting hand on the shorter girl's shoulder.

"What's wrong, Ami?" the tall girl asked.

"I know it sounds silly, but I kind of miss the old camp, the hike, everything." The genius Senshi paused. "Usagi, remember when it was just you, me, Ranma and Artemis? It was so nervewracking — we trained until we dropped, we didn't have any time, the Dark Moon was breathing down our necks."

"Yeah, I know," Usagi agreed wistfully. "That's when Red-chan and I first started, you know …" The blonde looked at a scene only she could see. Shaking herself, she said more briskly, "But I think this is going to be even better. I don't think any of us would like living in a tent for a month!" Ranma and Xian Pu grinned, to Usagi's discomfort.

"Hey, what's that?" exclaimed Minako, who had not left the window. She was pointing at a round building off to the side of the main A-frame. The angle made it hard to see, but the walls looked like they were screens. "Let's go check it out."

As the team followed the perky blonde out, Usagi grabbed Akane's arm. Once the room was cleared, Usagi asked in a low tone, "I'm guessing you don't approve of Haruka and Michiro's relationship."

The youngest Tendo crossed her arms angrily. "No I don't! They're just a couple of perverts!"

Looking sad, Usagi asked hesitantly, "And me and Ranma?"

Akane gave her Queen a startled look, but then smiled, "You two are perfect together. I'm so glad Ranma found someone like you." Usagi looked a bit befuddled.

"But, I mean, Ranma and I are both girls, just like Haruka and Michiro," Usagi said tentatively.

"No way! You and Ranma are nothing like those perverts. That's just silly, Usagi-chan." Akane grabbed Usagi's hand. "Come on, let's go check out the building Mina-chan spotted." The bemused blonde let herself be dragged out of the office.

The round building turned out to contain a large hot tub, five meters across and decorated to look like a hot spring. The changing/shower room afforded some privacy, but the hot tub itself was enclosed by screen mesh, allowing fresh air to circulate and give an outdoor feel while still affording some privacy.

"Oh this is fantastic!" gasped Rei. "We can fit the whole team in here."

"Something tells me the hot spring is going to be a necessity," Akane said. "Given how hard Ranma and Xian Pu work us."

Ranma's communicator chimed. After a quick exchange, she put it away. "That was Nabiki, they're just turning onto the side road and should be here in about 15 minutes."

"Why doesn't everyone unpack while I fix a late lunch?" Kasumi suggested.

"That sounds okay, K-chan, but I'm serious about you not doing all the work," Ranma told her sternly.

"Honestly, Red, I am getting better you know. I even let Nabiki and Akane help a bit around the house," Kasumi declared defensively.

On that note, the group started filtering back to house. Usagi hung back with Ranma, waiting until they were alone. The blonde related her conversation with Akane, ending on a plaintive note. "I know we're more discreet than Haruka and Michiru, but we go on dates, we cuddle. Akane's even seen us kiss. I don't understand how they're perverts and we're not! Not that I mind," she added hastily.

Scratching the back of her head, Ranma grinned a little helplessly. "Well, we are talking about the girl who couldn't figure out that Ryoga was P-chan." The red-head sobered. "Akane-chan has a very black-and-white view of the world. Either you're good or you're bad. She likes us, so of course we're nothing like Uranus and Neptune." She shrugged. "Maybe the fact that in some way I'm a boy makes it okay in her eyes; I don't know."

"I'd be lying if I said I'm not glad of the double standard. She's a good friend and I know she's your best friend. I'm glad she approves," Usagi said smiling.

"If that's settled, lets at least put our stuff in our room." Ranma stopped to blush. "There's plenty of room for our futons, so we don't, you know …"

Wordlessly, Usagi nodded, too embarrassed to speak.

By unspoken agreement, the team gathered in the parking area, waiting for the arrival of Nabiki and the two maverick Senshi. Only Kasumi was absent, busy putting the final touches on the late lunch.

A modest compact led a sporty convertible into the parking area. As Nabiki exited her small car, she turned to smirk at the two girls in the convertible. Haruka looked sour enough to be sucking lemons, but Michiru's face was calm and correct. The teal-haired Michiru whispered something her tall blonde companion and approached Usagi, kneeling on one knee.

"Princess, I apologize for our actions when last we met. It was not our place to challenge your decision via a duel. Please accept our most humble apologies," Michiru recited, head bowed. Usagi touched the older girl's chin, tilting her head up.

"Apology accepted, Neptune." She glanced over at Haruka. "And do you agree?

Sighing, the boyish blonde nodded. "Yeah. I still think you're wrong, but we shouldn't have tried to fight you about it, Bunny. That was over the line."

"In more ways than one," muttered Rei.

"Oh, by the way, Michiru, the proper address for Usagi is 'your Majesty.' She has ascended to the throne in exile," proclaimed Luna proudly. "Sailor Nightfall is her Senshi."

Both Haruka and Michiru looked puzzled, staring at Usagi, who calmly met their gaze. Artemis stepped forward to explain. "Ami and Nabiki discovered that each Moon Queen created a Senshi as proof of her right to rule. Ranma as Sailor Nightfall is Usagi's Senshi, and Usagi is the Moon Queen in exile." The two older girls looked at the redhead in awe.

"You don't remember, do you?" Nabiki said, voice dripping with sarcasm. "You try to come off all superior, but you're operating with the same vague memories as the rest of the Senshi. We've all learned to trust Usagi's instincts. You should, too." Walking away, Nabiki turned for a last word. "By the way, the top four employees of Moon Confederated are former Dark Moon warriors. Usagi saved and healed them. If we can forgive our enemies, we can certainly trust our friends."

The hot retort on Haruka's lips died under the influence of the twin control rods of Michiru's touch and Kasumi's beaming face, arriving to announce in her sugar-sweet voice, "Lunch is served."

The lunch was superb, putting everyone in a better mood. Ranma and Xian gathered the team in the main room. "Okay, we have four weeks of training in front of us and we need to make the most them. Chiba-san couldn't make it; he's tied up in school work this summer, so he'll keep an eye on the city for us. Doc Tofu's going to try to come out on the weekends." The Ranma paused to gather her thoughts. "Neptune, Uranus and Saturn are going to need the most training, as they're newly awakened to their powers."

The two older girls looked indignant. Xian noticed. "Oh ho, the novices think we have insulted them!" The Moon Cat purred. "Then you should know that everyone in this room is in Senshi form, except you two. Trust me when I say we know a few tricks you need to learn."

Shrugging, the redhead pointed out, "Look, I'm not trying to insult anyone, but all the three of you have is the basic instinctual package you were reincarnated with. Artemis and I have discovered that Senshi can learn new techniques and new ways of using their powers. Not mention that a solid grounding in The Art can improve your survivability in battle."

"You guys are in Senshi mode right now?" Haruka asked with disbelief. She gaped as Minako produced her Love-Me chain, Ami's hands iced up and Ranma extruded her claws.

"It's a simple trick, Uranus," Artemis said neutrally. "I'll teach you how after the meeting."

"Ranma and I discussed this. On an individual basis, Neptune needs to begin learning martial arts, and Uranus needs to learn how to use her weapon effectively. Saturn will have to learn both," Xian announced. "We're going to be staying in our regular classes. Usagi, Minako and Akane will train with Ranma. The rest of you girls will train with me, including the newcomers. However, Akane will drill Uranus and Saturn with weapons, as she is our most skilled weapons user. Nabiki and Kasumi have kindly agreed to teach Neptune and Saturn the basics of their family's Art to bring them up to speed as soon as possible."

"Now Mina-chan, I want to work with you to try to summon a second chain," Ranma began as Artemis led Haruka and Michiru outside, out of earshot.

"We'll work out here, it's such a nice day," Artemis said. The two outer Senshi nodded.

After half an hour, the two girls were frazzled and Artemis was pacing in frustration. Neither Senshi seemed to be able to master the technique, and Artemis was running out of ideas. He was about to suggest taking a break when a soft voice interrupted him.

"I- I think I know what the problem is," Hotaru began, eyes downcast.

Uranus bristled, but relaxed slightly as Artemis glared at her. Neptune smiled slightly as she spoke. "That would be a great help, Saturn, thank you. Could you tell us?"

"Um, well — I think you don't really enjoy being Senshi so that makes it hard for you to relax when you're in Senshi form and this technique is all about relaxing into a kind of blend," explained Hotaru, all in one breath.

Neptune stretched, then nodded. "You could be right. Could you demonstrate the technique, Saturn? The other problem is we can't really get it by just hearing Artemis describe it."

Nervously, Hotaru changed back into her fully human identity. Taking out her transformation pen, she resumed her Saturn persona, then relaxed into the control technique.

"I see. That's very helpful, Saturn, thank you," Neptune said carefully.

"Yeah, thanks," added a surly Uranus.

Nodding in acknowledgement, Hotaru turned to go, then faced the two Outer Senshi. "I know you wanted to kill me because you thought I was going to destroy the Earth. I just want to tell you that if I ever start to do something like that, you have my permission to do whatever you need to, to stop me." The indigo-haired girl studied the ground. "But I have faith in the Queen and Nightfall and Xian to train me properly, just like they have faith in me." This time, she did not turn around as she returned to the house.

The two older girls watched her go. Artemis wisely held his tongue as his students contemplated their past actions. Finally, Uranus softly said, "She's a good kid. Maybe the Queen was right. It was still a big risk, though."

Neptune nodded. "Not one I could take, but maybe that's why she's the Queen."

Michiru was tired but happy as she walked back to the cottage, sandwiched between the two Tendo sisters. A half-awake Hotaru trailed in their wake. The teal-haired girl was amazed at what she learned in one day. She was sure that was thanks to her teachers. The sisters weren't slave drivers, but they were meticulous. She spared a maternal glance for her indigo-haired training partner, surprised at how well they had gotten along.

The only break from the seemingly endless exercises and katas was when Nabiki would talk — well, gossip — about the Senshi. Michiru had been delighted that Usagi and Ranma shared her predilections, but the middle Tendo explained about Ranma's curse. This led to an explanation of Nightfall and Xian Pu's origins.

"I still can't believe Ranma could do that. How did she find the strength to willingly give up her gender to help people?" Michiru was silent for a space. "Haruka and I thought we had given up a lot, but compared to Ranma and Xian, we're a pair of whiny little girls."

"I know what you mean," Kasumi replied. "I don't who I admire more, Ranma, who chose duty, or Xian, who had duty forced upon her but assumed it without complaint."

All conversation ceased as the group came upon a tense tableaux . Akane and Uranus stood a few meters apart, the former scowling, the latter wearing a repellent grin. Luna crouched to one side, tail lashing and ears laid back.

The grin never left Uranus' face as she spoke. "No offense, LESSER Mercury, but I just don't see what you could teach me. I have two or three times your power."

"Uranus!" screeched Luna, her tail speeding up.

"Oh, Haruka," Michiru moaned, covering her face with one hand.

Without breaking eye contact with the short-haired Senshi, Akane said, "It's all right, Luna, I understand completely." Akane's scowl relaxed into a sweet and reasonable smile. The other two Tendos took a quick step backwards. "It's just that I have a mission from Nightfall, and in training she speaks with the Queen's authority, Uranus. So let's spar, and after you beat me, we can just tell Nightfall that you're too strong."

"That's fair enough, Lesser Mercury," Uranus replied, smirk growing. "I don't want to get you in trouble. Weapons only, right?"

"Yeppers!" Akane chirped.

Unheard by either opponent, Nabiki muttered, "Five-to-one, what do you say, K-chan?"

"Are you kidding? Did you see her smile?" Kasumi paused. "Maybe eight-to-one."

"Are you two betting on this match?" Michiru whispered in outrage.

"Sure," was Nabiki's nonchalant reply. "Because you're new, I'll offer six-to-one."

"Are you out of mind? I'm not betting on Akane or anyone!" the Michiru declared.

"That's good, 'cause I was offering you six-to-one on Uranus."

The negotiations were interrupted by the beginning of the match. Both girls were in their fukus, and Uranus lunged forward with an overhand chop, twisting her wrist to hit with the flat of her blade. M2 blocked high, then caught her opponent in the ribs with a horizontal slash with her bo staff.

Uranus made the mistake of trying to power through the block, only to find out what so many of Lesser Mercury's foes discovered: M2 was strong. The Senshi Heir beat the sword out of line and delivered another strike, this time to the head. Uranus jumped back, rubbing her right wrist and shaking her head.

Changing strategies, the Senshi of Air thrust at the black-haired Heir. Pivoting, M2 knocked the thrust aside and swept Uranus' legs. The blonde fell hard, and that's when things got ugly. Using both ends of her staff, Lesser Mercury landed blow after blow, never letting her opponent collect herself. Uranus was disarmed as M2 stood on the Space Sword, and the blonde Senshi was forced to abandon the blade or become stationary.

After a long flurry, Lesser Mercury relented. Cautiously lowering her arms from her head, Uranus looked up at the Senshi Heir in shock.M2 offered her a hand up as she began speaking quietly. "Power is a good thing, but it's not the most important thing in a fight. Most of the bad guys Nightfall and I fight are stronger than us. We win with skill. After I'm done with you, you'll know what to do with that letter-opener." Lesser Mercury strode over to Luna and than looked back at Uranus. "By the way, my friends and teammates call me M2. You can call me 'teacher.' "

Michiru wistfully listened to the laughter and happy voices coming from downstairs. She would have loved to join the party, especially once she heard some great singing, but duty called. She continued to rub salve onto her lover's many bruises. Haruka groaned under her ministrations. Both girls wondered where the others found the energy to party.

The door to their room opened and a green-haired woman glided in. Both Outer Senshi looked up, startled. Haruka found her voice first, "Setsuna, what are you doing here?"

"Just checking up on how the two rookies are doing, then I'm downstairs to hang out with Kasumi. Not a good first day, huh?" Setsuna asked cheerfully.

"Rookies!" the two chorused.

Setsuna's cheery attitude dropped from her like a stone. "Yes, rookies. You may be older than most of them and a little more powerful, but the inner seven are veterans, trained by some of the greatest talents in Japan. Ranma was fighting and beating monsters long before he became a Senshi. Akane has held her own against several weapon masters and even saved Ranma's life on a few occasions. Xian Pu has led armies to victory." The two younger girls bowed their heads.

"You already know you can't touch the Queen, even together, but I wouldn't bet on either of you against Venus or Jupiter. These girls are a team and you —we — would do well to learn from them." Setsuna turned to leave, adding over her shoulder, "You two should join the party downstairs. It may be the last fun you have for a while. Today was the easy day. Starting tomorrow, things get tough." Both girls gulped, with identical thoughts. Today was easy?

"But how can we face them?" Michiru asked plaintively.

"You could try being their friends." With that, Setsuna swept out of the room.

The two girls looked at each other and then stiffly made their way downstairs. As they entered the main room, all activity ceased and all eyes were directed at the two Outer Senshi. Haruka quietly said, "We're sorry about the trouble we caused. Maybe we can join you guys?"

Smiles began to blossom throughout the room. Kasumi bustled forward, offering to heal Haruka's bruises, while Akane nodded at the blonde and the room erupted in happy noise again. Everyone quieted as Hotaru came up to the two. Taking each one by the hand, the violet-eyed girl gently smiled. "Come on, let's play youma shiritori. It's a lot of fun, even if no one can beat Ami. It will give our seniors a chance to tell us their war stories." She turned to her friends and teammates. "Since we Outers are at such a disadvantage, we should each get a Moon Cat. I call Xian Pu!"

In short order, the three newest Senshi snuggled down with their Moon Cats, waiting for the game to start.

SENSHI TALES TWO: SOLUTIONS

Ranma closed the door and looked at the plate piled high with steamed dumplings her prospective mother-in-law had just left. A gentle smile played on the redhead's lips. She really liked Ikuko, but sometimes the woman could be overwhelming, especially now that all of their close relatives knew about the Senshi.

As Ranma covered the plate with a towel and put it in the oven to stay warm, her thoughts drifted back six months ago, to a time shortly after they had dealt with Galaxia. All three Tendo sisters had been pressing the group to reveal their secrets to their loved ones. Defeating Galaxia had been a close-run matter, and the sisters were concerned that if anything happened to any of the Senshi, the unforeseen loss would crush their families.

Luna, Uranus and Neptune had been just as firmly against the idea until the meeting where Pluto discussed the next challenge facing them. Their enemy would not be any foe, but a catastrophic cooling of the Earth that would endanger all humanity. Even Pluto was unsure of the cause, but the need for preparations settled the argument.

If she closed her eyes, she could still see the family members assembled at the temple. Even her mom had shown up. Nodoka had hit it off almost instantly with Rei's grandfather — no surprise there. He was well-mannered, knowledgeable, a skilled martial artist and a pervert. Nodoka's ideal man.

After a light meal, everyone gathered in the main hall. She stood along with Usagi, and the three cats before the group Ranma chuckled a bit as she recalled Usagi's blunt proclamation. "We're the Sailor Senshi. Our advisors have finally agreed to let us tell you in case something happens. I don't apologize for keeping you in the dark, we did it to save everyone."

The room had gone quiet for an instant, and than laughter swept the hall. Shingo was calling his sister an idiot, but the rest were in stitches from Usagi's joke. Only the elder Hino, Ikuko and Nodoka responded differently. Rei's grandfather plainly already knew, Ikuko suspected and Nodoka looked hopeful. Usagi gestured at her Senshi, and Ranma began her transformation. They picked Ranma since she had the most dramatic transformation and was the only one who did not appear nude at any point.

Ranma shook her head. The uproar had been spectacular, but things settled down after a bit. The hardest had been Seako Mizuno, Ami's mom, but even she had come around eventually. Tofu's presence had really helped there.

Now why was she remembering all this? Oh yeah. To try to forget Usagi's phone call asking her, out of the blue, if she still wanted to be a boy. Of course, she firmly answered yes, but truth be told, bit by bit, she was forgetting what it was like to be male. She had been a full-time girl for nearly two years and her masculinity was starting to fade. For a moment, Ranma was filled with a sad nostalgia, but dispelled the feeling with a fierce headshake. She had to be strong. After all, she and Usagi had told Ikuko and Kinji about her past and their plans for the future. At the time, Kinji almost went berserk, but Ikuko was happy for them.

Now both of Usagi's parents approved of their relationship, although always with the understanding that Ranma would reacquire her gift. They'd even given their blessing to Usagi moving in with her. Sighing, Ranma contemplated a lengthy period of cold showers.

The redhead's musings were interrupted by the sound of the front door opening. Ranma bustled over to greet her love, only to stop as she got a good look at Usagi's radiantly exultant face.

"Hey, Ma-chan," the blonde said casually, carefully setting down her package as she bent to remove her shoes. "How was your day?'"

"Pretty much the same old, same old," the red-head replied, smiling. "What were you up to, love? What did Nabiki need to talk to you about?"

"Oh, nothing much, just the solution to you regaining your ability to change genders, a solution that will bring us even closer together! A solution that will really let me understand my gentle rice-planting girl!" Usagi cried jubilantly. Ranma looked a little stunned.

"R-really?"

"Uh-huh! And all it will take is a few minutes and a little Silver Crystal work!" the blonde enthused.

"A little Silver Crystal work? I don't know, Gi-chan …"

Usagi huffed. "You and Rei! Honestly, I don't which of you is worse. Thanks to you and Sham-chan, I can handle the drain better than my mother could at the height of her power!"

"I know, Gi-chan," Ranma replied sheepishly. "I just worry. You never count the cost when you're helping someone, and I can't lose you, not to that rock." Usagi's expression softened.

"I know, sweetheart, I love you too," she said, kissing the shorter girl on the nose.

"So what do we have to do?" Ranma asked, embarrassed.

"Well, first let me explain what Nabiki and Ami came up with. I'll get some of it wrong, but I think I got most of it," Usagi said. "It started when Ami was researching the last years of the Silver Millennium. You know a lot of people were afraid of Sailor Saturn?"

"Yeah," Ranma sighed,. "including some of her teammates." Usagi hugged her and led her to the couch.

"Now, Ma-chan, that's behind us, right?" The shorter girl nodded. "Anyway, it turns out Saturn was my Mother's Senshi, and Saturn was kind of her other daughter. I guess I didn't mind, and that may be the reason I feel close to her now. Most of Mom's advisors were really scared by Saturn's power. They wanted this 'dark' Senshi locked up or worse, so Mom linked with Saturn to make them feel better."

"Linked? What do you mean, linked?"

"Essentially, Mom bonded their life forces together. A queen can only do it with her Senshi. Nabiki thought it might have been a way to guard the Queen. In this case it was the other way around. Whatever happened to the Queen's life force would happen to Saturn's life force."

"So if Saturn died, so would the Queen?" asked an appalled Ranma.

"Yeah," Usagi answered quietly, "and the other way around. The advisors figured if Saturn went rogue, she couldn't kill the Queen without dying. This took enough pressure off Mom to allow Saturn to remain alive and free. I'm sure Mom planned on breaking the link if anything happened to her, but she never got the chance."

"What happened, Gi-chan?"

"Well, Ami says when Beryl attacked, she took out the Outers first. Her forces ambushed Uranus and Neptune — that's why the Moon held out so long, Beryl's army lost a lot against the two of them. But even in an ambush, Beryl couldn't be sure of killing Saturn, so she planned to use the link, kill my Mom and kill Saturn. It worked. My Mom had to choose between sending us forward or breaking the link with Saturn. She didn't have the time to do both before she died."

"So what does this have to do with us?" Ranma asked in worried tones

Usagi patted the package she'd brought. "This is the cask of water from the Spring of Drowned Man your father brought back a couple of years ago. Ami and Nabiki are one hundred percent sure that if I link with you and use the water, you'll regain your gift. You'll be a girl who turns into a boy, but that shouldn't matter. The link will bypass your Senshi immunity. Ami says the magic will adapt and become part of your Senshi star seed, and you'll kind of be like the Starlights, just that you'll have three forms."

"But won't you be cursed, too?"

"No silly, I'll gain your gift. No problem!"

Even Ranma could detect a note of false cheer in her voice. "You're scared spitless," she remarked.

"More than when we faced Galaxia," acknowledged Usagi in that same cheery voice. "But I'll do it for you. You are that important to me. Y-you'll help me, right, Ma-chan?" The last was said in a very small voice.

Ranma groaned. "I can't let you do this for me, Gi-chan."

Anger chased away Usagi's fear. "You can and you will, Ranma Saotome! If you can make it a gift, then so can I! B-besides, Ami says I will be able to modify the curse with the Crystal. The changes will be more under my control. Not like the way you'll be able to control it, but a lot better than you had it before." Ranma looked interested.

"How would that work?'

"By using my Ki along with my magic, I could vary the trigger temperature of the water. Ami said that cold and hot water are subjective. I could persuade the cur— er, magic that cold was only water that's almost freezing or that hot water was near boiling. I-it won't be so bad," Usagi explained.

Ranma put an arm around her girlfriend, comforting her, and then sighed. "I don't like this, but I never could stand in your way when your mind was made up."

"Well, besides, Ami and Nabiki think it's inevitable. Remember Usa? She said that I'm her father. I guess this is how it happened." Usagi said, clinching the argument. Ranma nodded, but then frowned.

"Ami and Nabiki are just going to let us do this on our own?"

"Nabiki said there wasn't anything they can do to help. The mechanics are simple, it's the Crystal work that may be trouble and they can't help with that, except to lend energy. No one can, not even you, Ma-chan."

Taking a deep breath, Ranma asked, "So when do you want to do this?"

"Tonight, right now, before I lose my nerve. I am scared, but I'm a little excited too. This will make us closer."

"If we were any closer, we'd be wearing the same clothes," Ranma joked. "Okay let's do it." She paused. "Er, what do we do?"

"You just sit there while I set up the link. Then I-I'll use the water while concentrating on the Crystal. I might not be able to affect the trigger right away, but with a little work, it shouldn't be any problem. You may need to work with Artemis, but it may just be natural." This time Usagi drew in a deep breath. "Now sit still and be good."

"You always ask for the impossible."

Giggling, Usagi manifested the Silver Imperium Crystal. She concentrated for a moment and both girls were enveloped by silver light. Ranma felt Usagi's presence intensify though all of her senses and then the light faded. Usagi looked at the redhead. "Well?"

"I think it worked," answered Ranma shakily.

"O-okay, I'll go use the water." Picking up the package, Usagi headed for the bathroom. Ranma stopped her.

"Wait a minute, Gi-chan. Better get a robe — your clothes won't fit."

Nodding, Usagi detoured into her bedroom. A few seconds latter she tossed Ranma a large robe. "Nabiki brought these a while ago, just in case." Squaring her shoulders, the blonde again made for the bathroom.

The tension mounted as Ranma waited for what seemed like hours. She was totally caught by surprise when a tingle he had not felt in years and had half expected to never feel again, spread throughout his body. His body. He was a man again.

Ranma's joy in the event was interrupted by a tenor scream. Racing to the bathroom, he found a slender blonde boy staring into the mirror muttering "I'm a boy." Much to Ranma's embarrassment, the boy was nude. His time as a girl had marked him.

The blonde boy turned and threw himself into Ranma's arms. "Ranma, I'm a boy!" he wailed. The taller boy patted the blonde's back.

"It's okay Gi-chan, boy or girl, I still love you. I can't believe you did this for me."

Usagi's distress vanished. "Ranma! It worked! You're cured!" Ranma tensed up as Usagi kissed him full on the lips but then relaxed. If Usagi could handle it same-sex then so could he. He returned the kiss.

"Come on," the blonde chirped. "Let's break the link and we can celebrate!" With a flourish, Usagi extended his hand with the Crystal. Nothing happened. He repeated the gesture. The Silver Crystal showed all the power of a lump of quartz.

"Ranma, I can't use the Crystal! What are we —" Usagi's panicked rant was cut short by a glass of warm water in the face. Sputtering, she yelled, "What did you do that for?"

"Wow, it's really different seeing it happen to someone else," Ranma remarked calmly. With a grin she informed the now-damp blonde, "I figured the Crystal is attuned to female power, that's why the Moon only had queens. Oh, and by the way, I think Ami was right. I can sort of feel the magic now It's like I can feel the forms now."

An irate Usagi glared at her, although playfulness lurked in the blonde's eyes. "Nevertheless, as Queen, I demand compensation!" Her demeanor changed as she smiled. "My first kiss from Ranma-kun."

"I think you'll have to dissolve the link. Right now, what ever happens to you happens to me," replied the smirking red-head, gesturing at her now female form.

"I lost it a little when I first changed, but I'm feeling a lot calmer now. I think the link helped me accept the transformation." Usagi concentrated on the Crystal and they were again bathed in silver light. Ranma felt the intense Usagi-ness of her presence fade. The blonde gave Ranma a "Well?" look.

Ranma grinned and concentrated. Nothing happened. With a thoughtful look, the redhead took out her transformation pen and cried "Terminator star power, MAKE UP." After the change, Sailor Nightfall's brow creased. After a long moment, the Senshi de-transformed into his male aspect, grinning. Usagi threw herself into her boyfriend's arms.

The kiss was deep and thorough. They managed to stop before it became something more.

"I love you, Usagi Tsukino, now and always." Holding aloft his pen, Ranma again became Sailor Nightfall, this time de-transforming into her female aspect. "Let's seal the deal." Usagi splashed herself with cold water. The kiss afterwards was awkward, but did make up for the lack with intensity.

Usagi-kun looked down on his tiny redheaded girlfriend and asked, "So who do we tell first?"

"You mean after our folks? I don't know, Gi-kun," an evil smile crept over her features, "but we sure could make the next Senshi meeting interesting."

THE END

Author's Notes: This chapter ends Fist of the Moon. I want to thank everyone for their kind words, helpful advice and constructive criticism. You guys have been the best.

I have no plans for a direct sequel, but I am toying with a sequel involving some of the Lesser Senshi, focusing on Mercury's (Mizuno) child in the future. The working title is currently Lesser Concerns.

My next project is a relatively short piece involving an AU of the Ranma ½ episode Am I Pretty? called Am I Smart? It is partially written. After that I have two story ideas in development.

Hope to see everyone soon.