Two years later:
A thirteen-year-old Raven frowned as she slipped out of the sweat-stained black leotard she had adopted as her training wear. Momma Lind had been on edge through the entire session, making it harder to concentrate on maintaining control of her powers while she practiced.
No, she isn't 'on edge', she's afraid. They all are, it involves me somehow, and they won't tell me how/!/ She paused for a moment to take a deep breath, close her eyes, and fight the anger boiling at her core back into submission. Sooner or later they'd tell her what was going on, until then she simply had to trust them.
But her nightly reliving of Ranma's life in Nerima made that hard.
Enough! She bundled up her leotard and tossed it in the dirty clothes hamper, where it would be automatically cleaned and hung up in her closet. You aren't Ranma, and your mothers aren't Genma and Nodoka.
Though from what she had seen in the Mirror, her original mother had improved considerably with the years. Maybe actually having a child to raisehad gotten all that twisted honor and 'manliness' crap out of her system. Little sis certainly seems to have turned out better than I did, the first time around. Though her opinion of her former self had improved quite a bit since she started remembering the Nerima chaos.Ranma may have been a little narcissistic with a big enough ego for an entire platoon of Pattons and a permanent case of foot-in-mouth disease, but he had a good heart.
As Raven walked into her attached bathroom toward the shower, she paused in front of her full-length mirror and ran her eyes over her nude form. Her hair was the same color as the Akane of her memories, but that was the only real similarities she could see with the girl from whom she'd inherited her body. Her bust size was considerably smaller (though she had a few years yet to finish growing, out as well as up), her face was narrower, she was lithe instead of muscular, her skin was the dusky shade that seemed to have come with the Seed of her new "father"... no, anyone that had known Akane would think she was a complete stranger. But she was still cute.
For just amoment, she found herself admiring her naked body through Ranma's eyes. She whirled away from the mirror toward the shower, feeling her cheeks heat up. Her face must be glowing red ... though not all of that heat was embarrassment, or even most of it. At least this time you weren't at the hot springs with three totally hot, totally naked older women that just happened to be your mothers, it was a week before you could look at them without blushing. And the teasing when Mama Urdguessed what had happened ... !
An image of one of Ranma's favorite memories sprang up, of the first time he'd seen Akane naked when she'd walked in on him in the furo (not that even he had ever been stupid enough to tell her that). There had been nothing perverted about his perfectly understandable physical reaction to the sight, whatever Akane had claimed. Raven's reaction, on the other hand ...
As she stepped into the shower and turned it on (the water instantly warmed to her preferred temperature), she briefly considered taking some extra time to explore just how 'perverted' her own reaction could be (at least as much as her thirteen-year-old body permitted - being that young with eighteen-year-old memories could be a hassle, especially when that eighteen-year-old boy could turn into a girl of the same age and took advantage of it from time to time when he could be sure of his/her privacy). But she reluctantly set the idea aside. Since Mama Mara had stopped getting assignments for Grandma Hild she had become Raven's primary teacher of scholarly subjects, and Raven had found the normally most gentle of her mothers to be totally unforgiving when it came to being late for her lessons. In half an hour, she would be expecting Raven for her lesson in the 'ecology' of Niflheim. 'Ecology' is a good word for it, considering the nature of most demons. I'll have to ask her how a society made up of sadists, narcissists and egomaniacs can actually function. Poor Grandmother.
Shaking off the idle thoughts, Raven grabbed the soap and hurriedly started soaping up (and sighed once again at the lack of time to take proper advantage of her shower time).
Ranma struggled against the tentacles that held her as a mansion faded into view, all white marble walls covered with tapestries her eyes shied away from - the scenes they portrayed were not something a naked girl being forcibly restrained by a strange Something/ wanted to contemplate./
It had all fallen apart so fast! It hadn't been more than a handful a seconds from Xian Pu showing up to when the redhead found herself floating over her own practically headless, disemboweled body - just before the red-skinned, diseased, tentacle-armed Thing appeared out of nowhere and grabbed her. At least Akane tried, Ranma thought as she remembered her last sight of her fiancee, charging toward them with her Hammer upraised. She did ... didn't she? Or was Akane trying to 'punish' her fiancee for being 'perverted'again?
Then the Thing carrying her turned and Ranma's eyes widened as a large bed came into view. "I would welcome you to your new home, but I don't think you will enjoy it much," her captor gloated. "But I'll enjoy it, Oh, how Iwill."
The tentacles wrapped around her shifted, slithered down along her torso to circle her arms and legs, then pulled her out straight with her arms stretched out above her head.
Ranma instantly took advantage of the shift, bucked, twisted, yanked one foot free of the tentacles' embrace, and shrieked her effort as she kicked out. But the angle was poor, and the kick aimed for the Thing's throat instead bounced off its shoulder.
It didn't even flinch.
"A valiant effort, but futile," it said mock-piously as several tentacles recaptured the errant leg before Ranma could try again. It stretched Ranma out along the bed with her hands pressed against the headboard, and the redhead felt cool metal circle her wrists.
Freed of their task of restraining Ranma's arms, those tentacles slid their way down along her body. Ranma gritted her teeth when they paused momentarily to fondle her breasts before continuing down, taking control of one leg while those tentacles already there wrapped themselves around the other.
The Thing levered its bulk onto the bed, and a bolt of pure fear shot through Ranma as it revealed itself to be rampantly male, enough to have Nodoka extolling his"manliness" if he had been Ranma or Genma. He yanked Ranma's legs apart. "A natural redhead, beautiful," he said, leering. "Yes, I will have to consider doing something special for Genma in thanks for trading you to me."
Ranma writhed, yanking on the cuffs around her wrists until the world went white with pain. "Kill you!" she snarled through gritted teeth.
"Please try," the Thing said, "it will make breaking you all the sweeter." He shifted himself around to crouch between Ranma's widespread legs,effortlessly keeping them apart in spite of her best efforts to clench them shut, and leaned forward.
Raven shot bolt upright in bed, shrieking to wake the damned as the water glass on her side table, knickknacks on her dresser, her vanity mirror, every glass object in her room shattered. Even as shards of glass swirled across the bedroom in awave of black energy, she rolled out of bed. A wave of her hand encased the chest at the foot of her bed in the same black light and sent it smashing through the bathroom door, clearing the way for her as she flew through on the way to the toilet. She got there just before she lost the fight to keep down what was left of her dinner.
She barely noticed the hands holding her shoulder-length hair up out of her way until she was reduced to dry heaves. When they finally eased off she sat back into Mama Mara's embrace from behind and looked up to find Urdand Lind crouched beside her, their angels manifested and peering down over their shoulders with expressions of concerned sympathy as they crooned point and counterpoint of a soft, gentle melody. Raven accepted a glass of water from Lind with shaking hands, rinsed out her mouth and spat it out, drank.
As she handed the glass back, she babbled, "It was Ranma, I died/! And there was a gross red tentacly Thing and he grabbed me, and he was going to ... to rape -" She froze. "Oh, God, that wasn't a dream, it was amemory - /Ranma's memory. He was about to be ... the next time I go to sleep I'm going to be -" she broke away from Mara's embrace to lunge for the toilet bowl again, as the water she had just drunk came back up.
An endless time later, as Raven finished rinsing out her mouth a second time, she fought her rampaging fear into submission. When she did, her mothers' emotional states became much clearer: love, grief, fear, sympathy ... guilt, self-loathing. But no shock, no surprise.
She jerked to her feet and stepped away from her mothers, ignoring the glass shards of what had been her bathroom mirror cutting into the soles of her feet. "You knew!" she shouted. "You knew what happened to me, what I was going to remember, why didn't you tell me! ?"
"Raven -"Mara began as she stepped forward, stretching out a hand, only to freeze when Raven backed up out of reach. She dropped her arm to her side. "Raven, would you have wanted to know?" she asked.
Raven thought of days, weeks spent waiting for the night to arrive, the constantly increasing fear winding her tighter and tighter, eroding her control ... What my mothers went through. She blanched, shook her head. "No ... no, that would have been worse," she replied. "But why am Ireliving Ranma's life? Why am I even /alive/? You always said you'd tell me when I'm older - well, I think if I'm old enough to remember being raped, I'm old enough!"
Demon, goddess and demon/goddess exchanged glances, nonverbal cues flashing between them, then Lind took a deep breath and told her.
Hild jerked awake at the communicator's chime. Early morning - too early morning, and she felt a lump of ice congeal in her heart. Rolling over in her bed, she hit the button on her bedside console for audio only and sat up. "Yes?" she demanded, in her usual perky tone (though given the hour, she strengthened the also usual threat underlying it the perky cheerfulness).
"Hild-sama, I'm very sorry to disturb you," said her latest secretary, her voice shaking. Anastasie was past the'jump if Hild twitches' stage, but no one likes to disturb their boss during downtime and Hild had made it a point over the centuries of emphasizing that point by coming down like the wrath of her ex-husband on whatever fool did so whenever she judged the reason less than adequate - another fine Catch-22, since she did the same to any subordinate, demonic or otherwise, that didn't disturb her when she later judged it necessary.
"So, what can I do for you this fine, early morning?" Hildasked sweetly.
"Your daughter, Urd-sama is here," Anastasiereplied, voice smoothing out - once you've thrown yourself over the cliff, the decision's made.
"Really? So why are you involved? I already have standing orders to let her see me whenever she visits, whatever the hour might be."
"Because ..." Anastasie hesitated, then continued with a sigh,"Because she's drunk."
Hild felt the cold that had been growing in her heart as she became more awake flash through her body, her bedroom suddenly feeling like an icebox. "Drunk?" she repeated, managing to add a hint of humor to her perky tone.
"Oh, yes, absolutely plastered," Anastasie agreed, forcedly lighthearted. Apparently, she'd decided that now that she was /fully/committed she might as well play along. "I'm surprised she can walk at all, much less more or less where she wants to go."
"Now, this Ihave got to see, send her in! Sitting room five." Hild hit the button cutting off the call, then sat and stared into empty air. This time, Raven would have the support of her family, all of them - except her. It wasn't as bad as when Ranma was murdered ... it wasn't. Right, keep telling yourself that.
Throwing aside the covers, she rose and grabbed her robe to pull over her nude body (a robe that was more than a little skimpy, another way to occasionally play with her subordinates) and strode for the door.
Her secretary had been right, Urd was as plastered as Hild had ever seen her. And unlike Urd'susual benders, she was not a happy drunk. Hild'sdaughter usually drank to have a good time, not to numb pain. Not this time. Infact ...
Hild waved for the guards accompanying her daughter to leave, thenwalked toward the well-stocked bar against one wall. As soon as the door closed behind the guards she brought up a virtual screen, checked the security, and her smile vanished as her shoulders sagged. "Raven's remembered the Wall, hasn't she?"
"Oh, y'guessed it," Urd replied, sarcasm thick in her slurred voice. She weaved toward the bar, then stumbled to a halt when her mother stepped in front of her.
"So why aren't you with her, instead of here trying to get even more drunk, if that's possible?" Hild demanded.
"She ran'way," Urd replied, swaying slightly. "We called Father, let him know. He said, let'mhandle it. Not like we c'n help, an'way, she hates us. Our little Kitlinggonna get raped over an' over, an' we can't ... can't stop ..." Words failing, she dropped to her knees, arms wrapped around herself as she shook with heartwrenchingsobs.
Hild dropped to sit beside her daughter and pulled her into her lap as her own tears flowed. She could remember a time that it had been her on her knees, crying uncontrollably, the day her little one had chosen her Father's realm over her Mother's. Hild had known that at the time it was the best decision for her little girl, but it had still felt like a piece of her soul had torn itself out and walked away - and that time she hadn't been able to sneak away to her ex-husband for comfort. Instead, she'd left orders that she wasn't to be disturbed for any reason whatsoever, locked herself in her suite and ordered Niflheim's central computer, Nidhogg, not to let her out until she'd drunk her sober-up/hangover medicine, put on a truly massive number of power limiters, and drank until she broke down and cried herself to sleep on her bedroom floor.Just as her daughter was doing now.
Though Urd isn't alone, and won't be sleeping it off on the floor, Hild thought. In spite of how horrible the circumstances were, it felt good to be holding her daughter again.
When Urd's tears finally faded off into sleep, as Hild had expected, she rose with Urdin her arms and carried her to her bedroom to tuck her into the bed she'd left not so long ago. For time she simply sat beside her, gazing down at the tear-streaked face, one hand stroking the platinum blonde hair Urd had inherited from her.
Finally, she rose and walked over to her bedroom console, retied her robe so that it at least covered everything, and speed-dialed a direct line she'd had installed thirteen years ago. A few seconds later, a virtual window opened to show Mara's face. "Hild-sama!" the demon exclaimed in surprise,"Why ... ?" She broke off for a moment then nodded, relief plain on her face. "Of course. Is Urd all right?"
"As 'all right' as circumstances allow," Hild said, tone flat, bleached of all emotion. "She's sleeping it off in my bed. Has my ex-husband come back with Raven, yet?"
Mara shook her head. "No, Mistress, he hasn't. From the sound of things Raven lost control somewhere in the woods, but it's been quiet for awhile now." Turning her head to one side, she said, "No, Lind, for the last time, we are not going looking for them! Kami-samais going to be in the middle of some delicate negotiations, and take it from someone that knows something about seduction, the last thing he needs is us barging in and making a mess of things." Turning back to the Daimakaicho, she continued, "I'll report as soon as I know anything more."
"Very good." Hild studied the tanned face framed by platinum blonde hair in her virtual screen for a long moment, before adding,"I believe you can leave off the '-samas' and'Mistresses' from now on - you are spending the occasional night sharing a bed with my daughter, after all, and it isn't like you are ever going to work for me again."
Mara blanched. "Hild-sama -" she started, only to break off at Hild's upraised hand.
"No need to explain, I understand," Hild said airily, "situations change, people move on. May you serve my ex-husband with the same flair that you did me ... especially these last few years." Even as Mara winced at the sudden mocking edge to her now-former Mistress's smile, Hild sobered. "Thank you for everything you've done for me and mine," she softly said, then shut down the call on Mara's stunned expression.
Turning away from the console, she grabbed an ear-plug and palm controller from a drawer so she wouldn't need to go to the com console if anyone called, opened a cabinet to pull out a decanter and glass and placed them on a bedside table, and climbed back into bed, slipping under the top sheet and snuggling up against her sleeping daughter.
In the middle of a brand-new moonlit clearing in the middle of the woods close to her home where she had played hide-and-seek with little godlingsyears earlier, Raven floated over white, jagged, sap-weeping stumps. She was in her usual meditation pose, legs crossed, eyes closed, her open hands palm up on her knees. Not so usual was the dark energy radiating from her body to writhe crackling around her. But her breathing was deep and even, and with each outbreath she chanted her mantra,"Azarath, Metrion, Zinthos." Slowly, the energy shrank, faded, withdrew into her, until finally only her dusky-gray skin was all that distinguished her from any other mortal.
Her anger and the power it fueled once again under control - at least for the moment -she ceased her chanting and waited ... and waited ... until, losing patience, she rotated to face her grandfather behind her, this time dressed in the robes of Western imagination. Voice conversational in spite of her glare, she asked,"Are you here to take your tool back to its gilded cage? I'm surprised you didn't send one of my jailers."
Kami-sama straightened, pushing away from the tree he had been leaning against, and floated toward her over the devastated landscape. "First, it's a home, not a cage," he replied just as calmly. "Second, they are your mothers, not your jailers. And third, you are our beloved daughter and granddaughter, not a tool."
"Really? You could have fooled me."
"No," he instantly disagreed, "they can't fool you. You are the empath, does it feel like your mothers see you as a tool?"
Raven maintained the glare for a long moment before her eyes dropped. She shook her head. "No, they don't."
"No, they don't. They love you. They would give anything to be able to shield you from what's coming, and the fact that they can't is tearing them apart. Urd's already gotten drunk and gone to visit your grandmother, she probably wants to share the pain by beating on Genma for awhile."
Raven giggled. "Good. I wonder if she wants some help." But the brief moment of humor vanished as quickly as it had begun as she began to shake, and her grandfather reached out to embrace her, sitting on air to pull her into his lap as tears started to roll down her cheeks. "Granddaddy, I'm so scared," she whispered.
"I know, Little One, I know," he murmured, gently rocking the crying girl.
Urd cracked open her eyes, then slammed them shut with a groan as the light she'd let through stabbed deep into her brain and bounced around with the echoes of the jackhammers pounding on her skull.
A giggle came from behind her, and the demon/goddess realized that the broad line of warmth across her stomach was an arm draped across her, the warmth along her back another body. She grit her teeth, twisted around and, gripping her courage, opened her eyes. "Mara, what did we get into last -"She froze as she recognized the face inches from her own as her mother rather than her friend with benefits.
Instantly, Urd was scrambling back, and for a split second she was in free fall before smacking down butt-first and falling back to slam her head against the floor. The impact seemed to blast from the back of her head out the front before reversing to smash back in.
She sat up and grabbed at her head as she whimpered, then glared up at her laughing mother, now sitting on the bed wearing nothing but an open robe. At least it's opaque, Urd thought through the pain.
Hild smiled whimsically down at her daughter. "Urd, dear, you used to love sleeping in my bed with me."
"Yes, well, I was a lot smaller, and you wore more clothes," Urdgrumped. "What am I doing here, any -" Then the memory of the previous night flooded back in, and she paled.
Hild saw, and her apparent lighthearted mood evaporated. She rose from her bed, cinched her robe closed, and filled a glass with a light blue, viscous liquid from the decanter she'd placed earlier on the bedside table and offered it to her daughter. "Here, this will take care of your hangover."
Urd glared suspiciously at her mother, but took the glass and chugged down the contents. She stiffened in shock as the effects of the potion slammed through her, turning her insides into an inferno, then sagged in relief as her pain vanished. Handing the glass back to her mother, she climbed to her feet. "Raven?" she asked.
"She managed to fight herself back under control," Hild replied."Her grandfather brought her home, she's with Mara and Lind."
Urd flushed, her eyes dropping to hide her shame, but after a moment she took a deep breath and straightened. You blew it again, kiddo, so suck it up and deal with it. Maybe if you crawl enough, Raven will forgive you for not being there when she got back. "Well, we'd better get going,"
Hild's face lost all expression. "I'm not going," she said, voice leeched of all emotion. "I don't think I'm one of Raven's favorite people right now, do you? Perhaps in afew years she'll be able to handle seeing me again."
Urd tried to think of something to say, but came up short. She turned toward the door only to freeze when her mother added, "Urd, you never said just why you came here last night - I'd think as much pain as you were in, you'd have dropped in on Belldandy."
For a momentUrd considered just walking out, but vague memories from the previous night stopped her - memories of clutching at her mother and sobbing as Hild rocked her in her arms. They had to be drunken dreams, that couldn't have been the Daimakaichoof Niflheim, but they reminded her of times back before she'd learned what her mother really was. Slowly, as if the words were dragged out of her, she replied, "I was hoping for a shot at Genma and Rothgan."
"I thought so," Hild replied, her tone still serious. "I can't give you a shot at either - Genma finally admitted his failings and moved on afew months ago, and letting you at Rothgan would be bad for discipline. But I do have something else for you, an offer. More specifically, a job offer ... as the commander of my Furies.You'd need some training, of course, seeing how Belldandywasn't able to convince you to join her in qualifying for Valkyrie, but that's not unusual for a new Fury. You would be the first commander that wasn't a mortal spirit, though, so there might be some resentment from your troops until they get to know you."
Urd had whirled at the word 'offer', but froze, mouth open, her scathingly witty rejection forgotten, as the rest of Hild's statement registered. After a long moment of staring at her mother looking back, one eyebrow quirked as she waited for a response, Urdfinally demanded, "Are you /serious/?"
"Absolutely,"Hild said. "Mind, I wouldn't want you accepting the offer under false pretenses. My Furies are best known in Asgardfor the vengeance they wreak on the worst of humanity once it's outlived its usefulness, but that only takes up a small part of their time. Mostly, they act as my enforcers here in Niflheim and shock troops during the inevitable rebellions. Without troops motivated by something other than sadism, hedonism and power hunger, this place would be ungovernable. Igive my Furies the opportunity to slake their need for vengeance on the worst abusers both Niflheim and Midgardhave to offer, and in return they give me their loyalty. Actually, I'm due arebellion in a few years - thanks to my very public relationship with Raven, some of my subordinates have decided I've gone soft. But there should be time for you to see Raven through the next year and get in that training before the balloon goes up."
"'Gone soft'," Urd repeated, mind whirling. When it came to Raven Hild hadn't gone soft, because she'd never been hard - from the beginning she had doted on her adopted granddaughter. Urd wanted to scoff at the idea that it could be real, reject it out of hand, just take it as one more case of her mother pulling the wool over another naive little girl's eyes. In fact, she had thought just that when she'd thought about it at all, but ... But Raven's an empath, she may not know what people are thinking, but she knows what they are feeling - and she lovesHild. She trusts Hild. When it comes to my mother she thinks I'm an idiot.
Urd had always felt that her daughter was being naive just like she had been, but she was getting a sinking feeling that Raven was right - when it came to Hild she was an idiot. Of course, that would put her in the same company as pretty much the rest of Asgard, all of Midgard, and every demon she'd ever met including Mara, but ... /But /Belldandythinks like Raven, too. I always assumed it was just Bell being Bell, thinking the best of everybody, even the worst. But she's often right, what if she's right this time as well? And if she's right about Mother this time, what does it say about Mother when I left?
Urd blushed with shame as she remembered the words she'd thrown in her mother's face the day she'd walked out, but shook off away the confusion. She'd take apart her entire worldview and reassemble it later, right now she had a daughter that needed her, and whose forgiveness she needed to get down on her knees and beg for.
Late that night, a bleary-eyed, terrified girl lying between Urdand Lind in the new king-sized bed they'd brought in and set up in its own new room finally slipped into sleep and began to writhe.
As she helped her co-mother hold the twisting Raven while Mara contained the crackling black energy radiating out from their daughter in undulating streamers and the scent of physical arousal began to tinge the air, Urdrealized that it didn't really matter what her mother was, she'd already made her decision.
Author's Note: The episode title comes from the song of the same name by Alison Krausse. It has a few youtube offerings, of which my favorite is the one uploaded by kitimastr:
How pale is the sky that brings forth the rain
As the changing of seasons prepares me again
For the long bitter nights and the wild winter's day
My heart has grown cold, my love stored away
My heart has grown cold, my love stored away
I've been to the mountain, left my tracks in the snow
Where souls have been lost and the walking wounded go
I've taken the pain no girl should endure
Faith can move mountains; of that I am sure
But faith can move mountains; of that I am sure
Just get me through December
A promise I'll remember
Get me through December
So I can start again
No divine purpose brings freedom from sin
And peace is a gift that must come from within
I've looked for the love that will bring me to rest
Feeding this hunger beating strong in my chest
Feeding this hunger beating strong in my chest
Get me through December
A promise I'll remember
Get me through December
So I can start again
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