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Vision Quest

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Vision Quest

Syx Maxwell & Tzigane 7/2000
revised and reposted 02/2019

Aria smiled at the sleeping form of her new son. Ranma dozed off somewhere over the ocean, his headphones still on. She reached up to tuck a blanket over his still form. He'd never flown before, traveling the hard way with that damn panda. She didn't want to push the boy too hard, so they had a three-day layover in Europe. The small kingdom ruled by the Cagliostro family. The Princess left a standing invitation to the merc several years ago. Aria figured that it would be a good time to accept.

Ranma turned and mumbled in his sleep. A stewardess smiled at the sleeping boy. He'd made quiet an impression with his quiet manners and polite ways. It was hard for a boy that had little positive interaction to be social, so when he faltered, he followed Aria's example.

"Your brother?" she whispered.

Aria gave a quiet chuckle, "No, he is my son. We're heading home from Japan."

"You don't look old enough to have a son his age!" she gasped.

"Thank you. Oh, could I get another blanket for Ranma? He has been ill."

"Oh, of course."

After that the various attendants seemed to gravitate towards the sleeping boy, ah-ing over his soft hair and angelic features as he slept. The senior stewardess made her way over during the last hour of the flight.

"Does he take after his father?"

"No, thankfully. Ranma is a good kid. I just gained custody of him from his father."

"Oh dear, I don't mean to be nosy, but will he be all right?"

"Yes, he just needs rest."

"Wonderful. Well, enjoy your stay in our fair country, ma'am."

"I always do."

The plane landed and Aria waited until the other passengers where off before waking the boy.

"Ranma, wake up. We're here."

He stirred slowly and gave her a sleepy smile. "Time to go, Momma Aria?"

She smiled at the cherished title. "Yeah, we have a car waiting for us. We're going to stay with a friend of mine."

As the drove through the countryside, Ranma voiced the one fear plaguing him.

"Momma Aria?"

"Yeah Ranma?"

"I want to help with your work."

"Why?"

"Because I don't want to be a free-loader."

She eyed him for several long moments then said, "All right. If you really want to work at Blade Security, then we'll get you started with some contacts. We'll meet with a few people I trust while we're here. It will give you a good start."

Ranma relaxed a bit and Aria bit back a sigh. She understood the need to pull your own weight, but why did the boy fear being a burden? Was it more conditioning from the panda or something else? She'd call Nabiki tonight.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
NOT TOO FAR AWAY

"LUPIN! Get back here! You're under arrest!"

"Floor it, Jigen! Jeez, don't he ever give up?"

The man driving pulled his fedora lower and mumbled around his cigarette. "I don't think he will, boss."

"Well don't that just figure! We'll be late for our meeting if we don't lose him!"

A red super cycle pulled up along side. "Hey, boys! Need some help?"

"Sure, Fujiko, can you get Zenigata off our backs?"

"Never send a boy to do a woman's job," she quipped before tossing a smoke grenade into the street.

Curses drifted over the streets as the police car pulled to a halt.

"BLAST you, Lupin!"

"Now we just got to pick up Goemon and we can hook up with Aria."

"What does she want, boss?"

"Something about meeting her newest employee. I figure she don't want us messing with him."

"Like the Moroboshi kid?"

"Yeah.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Ranma walked through the city streets next to Aria. She found a little tavern and led him within. He didn't know what they were doing, but he trusted her. It said a lot for the comradeship they had. They sat in the shadows, and Aria ordered lunch and drinks.

They didn't wait long. Their food had just arrived when four figures approached. Ranma tensed with battle energy. One figure noted this and his hand dropped to the katana at his side. Aria saw this amd laughed.

"Very nice, Ranma, not many people hear Goemon."

"He walks like Tatchi. And the other two smell like tobacco. The lady is wearing a nice perfume."

Aria watched the shock dawn on her friends' faces. Damn, this kid was good.

"Well, come on, sit down and meet my son, guys."

Lupin flopped down and exclaimed, "I didn't know you and Koaru had a kid, Ari-chan!"

"We didn't. I adopted Ranma. Ranma, the punk next to me is Arsene Lupin III. The gentleman packing the sword is Ishikawa Goemon XIII. The lady is Fujiko Mine, and the other man is Daisuke Jigen. If you get into trouble, you can trust them."

Goemon recovered first and extended his hand to the boy. "It is good to meet you, Ranma."

"Thank you."

"Ranma? Can you fetch me another ale?"

"Hai, Kaasan."

She waited until the teen was out of earshot, then murmured, "I worry about him."

Jigen checked the ammo in his pistol. "You think there will be trouble?"

"After what was done to him, I won't put anything past that bastard that sired him."

Lupin cocked his head to one side, "If you need us, you know how to call."

"Thank you, my friends. I assume you have a job in the works?"

"When don't we?" Fujiko drawled.

"Then I won't take up your time. Oh, by the way, Zenigata just walked in and is talking to my cub. I suggest you make a run for it."

Aria began to laugh as the quartet jumped from their chairs and bolted. The familiar battle cry was heard over the din.

"LUPIN! YOU'RE UNDER ARREST!"

Ranma made his way back over and looked confused. "Kaasan? Why is the Inspector chasing Lupin-san?"

"Because he's a scoundrel and a world class thief. But if you get into trouble you can trust him."

Ranma blinked then gave her a gamin grin. Life certainly had changed.

They spent three days in the little European country. Aria smiled at the site of a laughing Ranma charmed by this new world. Her heart ached for the boy. He'd never just traveled for fun. Everything in his life had revolved around the Art. They bought several gifts for Nabiki, Kodachi, Tatchi, Saber, and Sasuke. Mailing them by courier, the two resumed their journey.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
Back in Nerima

Kasumi picked up the letter and dusted around it. She frowned. It arrived some time ago. Why hadn't Mr. Saotome opened it? Well, Auntie Nodoka was here so she could read it. 

Nabiki watched with morbid fascination as Nodoka Saotome opened the summons. A slightly gleeful smile shaped her lips as the older woman paled and crushed the notice. 'Take that you old witch!' she thought. Then she drew the court decision out of her bag and causally walked over.

"Auntie Nodoka, this came in the mail today," she murmured as she handed over the restraining orders.

"GENMA!"

Nabiki watched the mayhem unfold. She was seated on Ranma's favorite perch on the roof. Kuno and Kodachi soon joined her.

"What goes, Nabiki?"

"Oh, they just found out that Ranma is far from their reach. And I just gave them the court order."

Kodachi smiled faintly. "Will you be safe staying here Nabiki-chan?"

"Hai. Even if they do connect me with the papers, all that damn panda had to do was open the summons. I had nothing to do with his stupidity."

Kuno nodded. "Very well, but if you should find yourself in trouble, call us or make your way to the castle. You have our protection."

"Thanks, Kuno."

The trio on the roof watched the violence unfold below. Akane was sitting in the kitchen reading the judgment. She was getting angrier by the second. How dare Ranma drag her into this! Damn him, it was all his fault anyway. If he weren't such a pervert she wouldn't have had to hit him so often. Now he had a restraining order against her? Well she'd show him! Nabiki could find him, then he would pay.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Half a world away, Ranma was getting off a plane and wondering how his friends were.

Aria shouldered her flight bag and took Ranma's hand. They by-passed various check points and hit customs in record time. All too soon, both were standing in the concourse. Aria paused, searching for something then she laughed and yelled, "Ryo! Over here!"

A young gentle looking man with kind eyes smiled and waved. "Aria!"

Beside him was a black haired man who stood nonchalantly with his hands in his coat. He radiated a calm self-assurance. Ranma gave him quick once over and relaxed. He didn't seem hostile.

"Ranma, this is my old friend Randy McLane and his partner Dee Laytner. Ryo, Dee, this is my son, Ranma."

The brown haired man smiled and said, "Nice to meet you."

Green eyes weighed the boy then a wry grin shaped his lips. "Nice to meet you, now can we get out of this damn airport?"

Ranma laughed outright, "I'll second that! If Kami meant for us to fly, we'd..."

"Be born with seat cushions on our asses... Yeah, yeah, kid, I know." Aria laughed, then turned to Dee, "That's the last time I let him go out with Lupin."

Ryo gave her 'The Look'. "You're still running around with him?"

"Aw, come on, Ryo, Lupin is the only one that can give me a decent card game. Besides, Zenigata knows I was there and stopped by to say hello before chasing him again. Those two... I think if one retired, the other would die of boredom."

Ryo laughed, "You may be right, Aria."

They arrived at Ryo's apartment just in time to see Biki and Carol come blazing down the stairs on rollerblades. The blond boy caught the edge of his skate and began to fall. Ranma didn't even stop to think. He leapt up, tossing his bag towards Dee. His mind was racing. 'Reach... Come on damn it! You have to catch him... two more inches...'

Ranma caught the younger boy before he hit the landing. Carol stood at the top on the level, her hands pressed to her mouth, eyes huge. Ryo leaned against Dee, shaking. Aria smiled softly at her young ward. Biki was, at this moment caught between relief and embarrassment. He didn't like having to be saved, but he was damn glad that he didn't end up in the hospital. Blushing he looked up at his savior and mumbled his thanks. Ranma just grinned and muttered, "Use a parachute next time, ne?"

Ryo grabbed the boy in a bone-crushing hug. Then promptly grounded him and Carol.

"Aww, Ryo, I didn't get hurt or nothing..."

The cop gave his young charge a hard look. "Only because Ranma was able to reach you in time. I've told you and Carol not to rollerblade in the complex."

The boy and girl flopped down on the couch to sulk. Ranma chuckled quietly and sat near them. "Be glad he cares enough to be mad."

Biki cocked his head to one side, "What do you mean?"

"If my old man would have seen me do something like that, he would have beat the crap out of me for falling."

Carol frowned. "Why would he do that?"

"Because falling would prove that I wasn't the best at it."

The three adults in the kitchen exchanged horrified looks.

Dee lit a cigarette and frowned through the smoke. "Is he serious?"

"Sadly, yes. His father and mother are responsible for the trouble and hell that his life was. It got so bad that Saber's little brother and sister brought him to The Haven. We got the judgment fifteen minutes after the judge read the medical files. I personally would like to kill both of them, but I'm playing hands off."

Dee was glaring out the window. True, his own childhood had been rough, in fact he had no idea what would have happened if Jess Laytner hadn't taken him under his wing. Jess taught him many things, and foremost was that you took care of your own.

Ryo sensed the pain in his partner and placed a hand on his shoulder. Shaken from his thoughts, Dee smiled.

"Dee would you call the kids in for dinner?"

"Sure."

Ryo looked over at his long time friend. "Aria, do you think they'll cause trouble for you?"

She smiled; it wasn't really a smile, more of a baring of teeth. "They can try."

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
Tendo Dojo

"What do you mean, you won't find Ranma?" Nodoka growled.

Nabiki continued to drink her tea. "Just what I said. I'm willing to push the envelope, but I'm not going to jail."

Akane glared at her sister. Why was Nabiki siding with that baka? It wasn't that Akane wanted Ranma as her intended, but she owed him a beating for humiliating her. The whole school found out that Ranma was gone, removed from his clan by the courts. Hinako-sensei seemed, well, gleeful over it. Akane wondered what that was all about.

Nodoka glared at the cool girl then swung her hand. The slap resounded through the building. Nabiki's eyes narrowed as her cheek lit up with the promise of a deep bruise. Lifting her cup, she dashed the contents into the older woman's face. Then she stood and left the room.

Kasumi frowned. There was no call for Nodoka to strike Nabiki, and certainly no reason for the woman to ask her imouto-chan to break the law. Her face rigid with distaste, the elder girl followed her sister out of the room.

Nabiki was fuming. How dare that bitch strike her! And her father... How could he just sit there and let it happen? Angrier than she had been since her mother died, Nabiki began tossing things into a bag. There was no way in hell she'd stay here!

Kasumi watched from the doorway, her heart aching. Her family was being torn apart, and all for the sake of honor. She couldn't blame Ranma for leaving. She often said Akane was high-strung, but the truth was the girl was abusive. Thing had to change. She cleared her throat.

"Nabiki?"

The younger girl turned, "I'm leaving, Kasumi, don't try to talk me out of it. I won't stay here. That witch slapped me and father didn't say a word."

"Where will you go?"

"A business woman named Saber said she'd give me a job at her company. I'll work for her. I have money saved up for an apartment."

Kasumi bit her lip, then dug into her apron pocket. Inside was a beautiful ring made of jade and gold chased with silver.

"Take this. It belonged to Mother. You may need the money."

Nabiki blinked back tears. Then she closed her hand over Kasumi's.

"No, 'Neechan, you keep it. I have more than enough to get by. Will you stay?"

"No, after this I can't. Dr. Tofu asked me to marry him, and I said yes. I'll move in with him soon."

Nabiki smiled. Good, let her father, the Saotomes, and her sister have the damn dojo. It was time to move on, for all their sakes.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
Chicago

Ranma was having the time of his life. The Roadbuster had to be the greatest driver in the world, or the most insane. The infamous courier volunteered to show the teen around Chicago while Aria shopped with Rally Vincent and May Hopkins.

Bean noticed the faint circles under Ranma's eyes when they stopped at a drive through for lunch.

"Not sleeping well, kid?"

"I miss sleeping with Tatchi..." His voice trailed off in horror and he turned stricken eyes to the man next to him.

Bean, already briefed on Ranma's past, let it roll. "That's rough. You should ask Aria if he can visit you."

Relief flooded the teen. He waited until Bean turned down the radio and gave his order. The two purchased enough food for an army and bolted it down with little fanfare. They were sipping at their drinks when Bean flipped on his police band radio.

"Hey, Ranma, why don't I introduce you to Detective Percy?"

"Momma Aria said she wouldn't bail us out of jail..."

"Not in trouble if you don't get caught, and he can't catch us."

Ranma laughed, a light happy sound of mirth.

"Let's do it!"

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
ACROSS TOWN

Rally and May waited as Aria paid for her purchases. She had chosen clothes for Ranma and her foster son. Once everything was stowed in the trunk of the Shelby, Rally asked about the other boy.

"How is Ataru doing, Aria?"

A serene smile of pride lit her face.

"Wonderfully. He took Hellfire in the open horse show and won grand champion. You should have seen him flirt with Lum! It was so cute. After they gave him the trophy, he rode over to the stands, handed me the thing and pulled Lum-chan into the saddle in front of him! I think half the girls just died of envy on the spot."

May smiled, "You must be so proud."

"Delighted, He's in the top ten percent of his class and will graduate at semester. Lum is taking him on a trip as his graduation present from her. Benton said she'd ride shotgun to make sure no one bothered them.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
NIGHT WOLF RANCH

Ataru Moroboshi stood in the darkened kitchen of the ranch house. Bare chested, tanned and muscled, he doubted that his 'friends' would even recognize him now. He poured a glass of juice and padded out onto the deck.

He leaned against the railing, looking out over the stark beauty of the canyons and arroyos. The stars shone so brightly that he felt he could touch them.

Life was different he was different now; and to think, he had nearly thrown it away in a fit of despair. Thank Kami for Lum-chan and Benton-oneechan.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
Flash Back: Tribulation by Tzigane

Ataru cupped his chin in his palm for a moment before glancing up witheringly at the stars. SHE was up there somewhere -- probably spying on him somehow. Inside the house, he could hear his mother shouting at his father.

She shouted an awful lot, in his opinion.

Of course, it wasn't as if she hadn't always done so. For as long as Ataru could remember, his parents had spent their time shouting at one another and then denigrating him.

"This is all your fault!" echoed the screech. "I never should have had him!!"

Ataru winced visibly. All these years and still those words hurt. An ache opened in his heart. His mother had barely been sixteen when he was born, his father forced to leave college for marriage. Technically, he supposed that it was his fault. If not for his arrival, his father probably would have finished college, had a better job; his mother would have had her education as well instead of being the unhappy housewife that she was.

Ataru's heart clenched in indecision as he glanced towards the edge of the roof, the deep rumble of his father's voice replying to his mother's shrill screams. It would be so easy to just lean over the edge and fall, came the bleak thought. So easy to remove the cause of their dissension. The wispy thought of Lum floated through the nether regions of his mind and his dark eyes filled with tears. He rubbed at them ineffectually.

Lum... The first good thing to come into his existence in a very long time, and a princess, no less. He still couldn't fathom why she wanted him. He was useless, worthless even in the eyes of his parents. Ataru didn't make friends easily, despite his easygoing nature and his natural good humor.

It was probably because he spent so much time in a realm of fantasies, a realm in which women adored him and in which his friends weren't people who tried to kill him on a semi-regular basis.

Ataru laid back and pressed against the cool shingles, folding his hands behind his head. Sometimes he wondered about the facade that he maintained. He snorted and shook his head, glaring at the moon. How Megane and the others could believe so easily in his "perversion", he didn't know. Women had utterly terrified him for years (with the possible exception of Shinobu...). His teachers in elementary school could have him in terrified tears or cowering silence within thirty seconds. They would still be able to do so if he hadn't learned to harden his feelings, to keep his real self hidden away in the back of his mind, that sad shy boy who wanted so to be loved and yet could not accept love when it was freely given.

Perhaps Shinobu didn't terrify him because of her similarity to his mother, he thought. So dark. So angry. Freudanists would have a field day with him.

Ataru could hear them winding down now, his mother's sobs dark and raw, his father's voice tired and full of a certain kind of sorrow. A half-smile flitted its way across his face.

Lum certainly offered a different sort of resistance than his mother. That *ZAP!!* of hers was erotically charged, so to speak. Just being in her presence was exciting for him. The challenge, the chances that he took -- it sent chills down his spine, the luminosity of her misty eyes, the silk of her sea green hair. So, so beautiful.

Sharp shudders ran through him as he began to sob silently, his chest hitching with the effort of remaining quiet. He... he.. l-lov... Yes. He loved Lum; loved her so very much. Her beauty, her innocence, her loving nature. He loved her; thus, he must drive her away.

It made perfect sense to him. The front that he put up was the ultimate foil -- perverted Ataru who wants everyone but the beautiful Lum. It would work -- or she would kill him with those electric charges of hers, one. Either way, it would be done and she would be safe -- free from the dark confines of his scarred heart.

Ataru curled into a miserable ball, the sobs thick and choking, hurting him as they finally fought their way upward. Oh, god. Silently, he wished for death. Anything had to be better than this.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Lum lightly brushed her hand across her face, sniffling back her own tears. She had been sitting, wrapped in a blanket, just behind him on the center angle of the roof for almost an hour now. So sad, her beloved, her Prince.

She sighed. She wanted so badly to touch him, to see his face light up with the special glow only she seemed to be able to see... to see him smile without that self-deprecating twist on his lips. He was so handsome to her -- much better looking than Shutaro (and with a better fashion sense, too). She wanted to see him walk tall, his shoulders held back with their breadth apparent, his body and mind free from the years of criticism and condemnation that seemed to weigh him down more than all the vastness of space.

One day. One day... She could wait. Yes, she would wait, be patient. One day, he would know that she saw beneath his veneer of ridicule and licentiousness. Everyone would know and they would see the achingly beautiful person that resided beneath his foolish masquerade.

One day, the Ataru that she saw would be an Ataru that other people would see, too.

With that thought, Lum flew down to lightly cover the sleeping boy with the blanket that had covered her scant seconds before. He nestled into the blanket that still held the heat and scent of her as she gently stroked the hair away from his forehead. His soft murmur was almost lost in the cool breeze, the silvery moonlight. It sent chills down her spine and left her quaking in its wake.

"Ai... shiteru.... Lum-chan...."

All was quiet.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
*** Following section by Syx ***

The next morning Ataru dressed for school and headed down stairs. His mother called from the kitchen, her voice grating on what was left of his heart. Confusion and pain robbed him of any appetite.

He spoke to no one that day at school. He sat in the back of the class, silent. He hadn't made one lecherous advance all day. It unnerved several female faculty members, but he didn't have the energy for the charade any longer.

The noon bell rang and the others took out their lunches, pulling their desks together to eat. He ignored the icy glares of his so-called friends. He made his way out the door. He had the answer to his pain; he just had to get out of the room.

He passed Sakura in the hall. He walked past without even attempting to feel her up. He noted her startled expression with detached bitterness. He opened the stairwell and made his way to roof.

He settled on a secluded corner and reached into his bag. The knife was sharp, he's made certain of that. He made his decision. He knelt there as fine tremors shook his body and tears tracked his young face. He drew a deep breath, and aimed the gleaming steel towards his heart. He gritted his teeth and sent the blade plunging towards his chest. He was prepared for the icy bite of steel, not the sensation of chain wrapping around his arm. He didn't bother opening his eyes, merely whispering, "Go away, Benton."

The alien biker shook her head. "What are you doing?"

He struggled against the confining metal. "I'm fixing everything."

Benton approached him slowly. She was confused; this what not the Ataru she was accustomed to. Pain radiated from his defeated form. "What about Lum?"

A wild light entered his eyes, "Sh-she's better off..."

He tried to back away, but Benton kept the chain taut. She gambled and gave the length a hard tug, spinning the boy into her arms. She knocked the blade away and watched him crumble.

"Why, why did you stop me?" came the haunting refrain. They stayed like that, kneeling as he sobbed in her arms. His shuddering form made her heart ache. She crooned soft nonsense to him until the tears took their toll. She finally coaxed him to his feet and onto her cycle. In short order, she had him tucked into a bed on her ship and sedated. She gave strict orders that he not be left alone and left to find Lum.

She found Lum quickly and explained what had happened. Soon Lum was on board. She wanted to race to his side, hold him in her arms, but Benton stopped her. They spoke at length, finally Benton said, "I know a woman in America, a warrior. She can give him a place to heal."

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Ataru woke in huge handmade bed. He was lying on flannel sheets, under a wedding ring quilt. He opened scratchy eyes to see Lum and Benton talking with a tall gaijin woman. She reassured Lum that he was welcome as long as needed then left him alone with Lum. She drew him into her arms her tears wet his hair. "Oh, darling, don't you know I don't want to live without you?"

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Ataru brought his mind back to the present as a pair of slender soft arms wrapped about his waist.

"What are you doing, my love?"

"Looking at the stars and thinking how lucky I am, Lum-chan."

"Aa. When will Aria-san arrive?"

"Within the week."

Lum pressed a string of soft kisses over his back. "Regrets?"

"None." His voice was a low growl. He brought her around to face him. Her glowing smile warmed his heart as her hands slid under the waistband of his sweat pants. He drew in a short breath. He had nothing on under the sweats, and Lum cheerfully took advantage of the fact. He grunted as her soft little hands took his measure, cradling his aching erection. He closed his eyes.

Her wicked laugh reached his ears.

"Kami-sama, Lum-chan... Here?"

"Why not?"

He gripped her hips, lifting her up on the rail. He nibbled at her ear, whispering heated promises.

Lum stroked his chest, teasing his nipples. He growled low in his chest and slid the kimono back from her shoulders. It pooled about her waist. He smiled and stroked her back. His lips toyed with her aching breasts. He stepped between her thighs and rubbed against her in slow movements; with a sigh, he lifted his head. A shrill two-note whistle shattered the silence. The sound of pounding hooves drew near.

"Darling?"

"Shh, love." He lifted her into his arms as the massive tri-colored paint drew even with the deck. The big stud snorted and waited for the two teenagers. Ataru mounted up with Lum still in his arms. He cued the horse and they set off at a slow walk, leaving the yard. When they entered the canyons almost a hundred yards distant, he turned her towards him.

"Darling, this is wicked."

He grinned. "I've been thinking of this since the show. Hang on, Lum-chan."

He lifted her slowly, letting her straddle his lap. She sighed as his shaft delved into her wet depths. The first few yards were taken at a soft rocking lope. She swayed back and forth, moaning softly. He captured her lips in a soul scorching kiss.

Hellfire, tired of the pace, broke into a rough trot. The jarring motion drove her down hard onto Ataru. She muffled a scream against his chest, her nails leaving half-moons on his shoulders. For his part, Ataru was hard put to stay in the saddle. His long legs clung to the equine, his hands anchoring Lum to his lap. The hard gait drove Lum into delirium. She was lost in a realm of heat and desire, a land where only she and her love existed.

His lips traveled up her neck to lick at the spot behind her ear. He was driving her mad. They traveled down the moonlit path until they reached the springs. The stallion scented water and took off at a ground eating canter. Lum's scream echoed over the canyon.

Twenty minutes later they were cuddled up on the edge of the lake. Ataru wrapped her kimono around her shoulders. Lum laughed softly and pointed to her left. Hellfire was rolling in the deeper part of the lake.

"I think we made him mad, darling."

"He's just jealous." He smiled and waited with her as the sun rose.

A few days later, Lum was flying about, laughingly chasing eagles near the lake. The sound of wheels on gravel caught her attention. Gaining a bit more altitude, she spotted a familiar Jeep with two occupants.

A smile graced her face as she flew towards the south pasture where Ataru was fixing fence.

"Darling! They're here!"

He stretched one last strand of wire, nailing it in place, and smiled. His hat was tossed to the side as he kissed Lum. "Let's go meet them." He chuckled and swung lithely into the saddle.

She hovered above him as they made their way back to the ranch house. They arrived as the jeep rolled to a stop. Aria had a death grip on the overhead handle. Ranma was laughing lightly. Lum grinned.

"Bean gave you driving lessons, didn't he." It was not a question but a statement. Ranma rubbed the back of his head and laughed.

Ataru noticed the circles under the younger boy's eyes. He brought it up to Aria as they watched Ranma settle in.

"I don't think he's sleeping well."

"Maybe I should send for Tatchi."

"Should Lum prepare another room then?"

"No, Tatchi will bunk with Ranma."

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
JAPAN: Nerima

Nabiki walked to the door, her bags in hand. Soun spotted his middle daughter and, as Saber would say, 'Fritzed'.

"Nabiki, where are you going?"

"Someplace where I don't have to worry about obsessive bitches hitting me in my own home. You can keep the dojo, 'father', and your so-called honor. I want to see you keep this place running without my skills. Good luck."

There was a honk from the street caught her attention.

"And just where will you go, girl?" came Nodoka's grating voice.

Nabiki's smile was feral. "If I told you... I'd have to kill you..."

She walked out and climbed into the car. Saber gave her a quick once over glance, her lips thinning as she spotted the red welt on the girl's cheek. She gave an abrupt nod and drove towards the Kuno Estates.

"You'll be staying with Dachi for a while. Aria called and Ranma needs Tatchi. You think you girls will be ok?"

Nabiki felt her face flush a little... alone with Kodachi. She nodded, "We'll be fine, Saber-san."

"Its just Saber, Nabiki."

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***

Kodachi watched her brother packed, his movements clean and quick. There was a faint edge of anxiety. Aria called a bit less than an hour ago to tell them Ranma had a bad flashback. Ataru and Lum kept the boy from harming himself. When he calmed, Aria placed the call to Tatchi.

Kodachi had arranged for a fast flight to the US. Lum merely snorted and said she would pick him up in one hour. Her private shuttle, the Black Heart, would land on the grounds long enough to pick up the kendoist and take off again. He would arrive at the ranch about four hours after takeoff. And he hoped Ranma would be able to hold on until then.

Kodachi greeted her sister and friend. Nabiki sighed once safely inside the estate walls. Her cheek was already discolored into a bruise. The younger Kuno siblings scowled and Kodachi rushed to her side.

"Nabiki! Daijobu desu ka?"

"Hai hai, daijobu, Dachi."

One hour later Lum landed on the estate grounds. Kuno ran to meet her, his bag slung over one shoulder. He gave Sasuke a handful of last minute instructions before vaulting over the side of the canopy and strapping in. Lum waved to the two girls and the ninja as the blasted off.

Lum piloted the ship while Kuno prowled about. She rubbed her forehead tiredly.

Ranma had awakened them near dawn with unholy screams. He managed to toss Ataru into the wall before Aria called them back. She had Lum call Kuno Castle while Ataru iced his new black eye.

Lum sighed as Kuno stopped prowling long enough to sit down.

"Lum-sama? How much longer?"

"Ten more minutes, Tate-kun. Don't worry, Darling and Aria are with him."

He gave her a weak smile and watched the stars flash by.

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NIGHT WOLF RANCH

Lum barely had the ship on the ground when Kuno leapt down and ran to the house. Aria met him at the door.

"Easy, Tate. He's in the den."

Kuno walked quickly to the room and opened the door. The youth was on the sofa, staring into the dancing flames of the fireplace.

"Ranma?"

"Tatchi?" The voice was rough from unshed tears. The kendoist knelt before the boy and pulled him into his arms.

"I'm here, Ranma. It's going to be alright." He kept his voice low and soothing until the shudders stopped and Ranma drifted to sleep.

*** *** *** *** *** *** *** ***
KUNO ESTATES

Kodachi cursed softly as she rubbed ointment into Nabiki's injured cheek. The other girl was unused to physical pain and whimpered softly. Kodachi kept her touch light as she quickly finished up.

She handed the older girl a cold pack and led her to the study. The night passed with quiet conversation, setting a foundation of trust. Secrets and dreams were shared in the pre-dawn hours.

Sasuke found them curled up together on the couch later that morning. He smiled at the picture they created in the pale morning light. The little ninja moved to the kitchen.

They would be hungry when they woke.