Take It In Threes

(Or what happened when the Fantasy Island crew crashed the Second Pro-Fun Hoedown...)


Symbols have power.

Whether inherent in themselves, or associated by another, symbols possess power.

Consider fortune-tellling.

In many of its manifestations, the use of symbols to divine an impression of a person, their past and future.

Some - not many, but some - would claim this was through the symbols' own power.

Others would say that the symbols had been /given/ power - because, over time, meanings have become associated, agreed upon, linked, to those symbols.

For this reading...

...the symbols used were ones that very few on Earth would recognise.

So too was the layout.

Cards. Arranged in a series of triads.

One triad at the top, then another beneath it, then another beneath *that*, row after row...

...forming a 'tower' array.

Not Tarot cards. Not playing cards.

Still, they would serve the reading's purpose.

This was going to be a complex reading...


The hostess waved as they entered. 'Hi! Party hat... streamers... tooters... There you go! Ooh, and don't forget... enjoy the hoedowns!'

Ryouga twitched. 'Troll. Troll. Panties. Lech. Happosai. Troll...'

'C'mon... not /all/ Trolls're like that!' Skuld said. '_'Specially_ not this one!'

'She's a _pro-fun_ Troll,' Charley said. 'She's _nice_. And she /did/ invite us... seems as if /everyone's/ got something to celebrate this year.'

'Like new movies, birthdays...' Skuld said.

'...first appearances, fifth anniversaries...' Charley said, a massive smile on her face.

'...Perhaps...' Ryouga grudgingly acknowledged. 'As in engagements...?'

'Ryouga, /that/ was a long time ago.'

'A year ago, by my time.'

'...Are you /seriously/ going to hold a grudge against Ranma for /that/?' Charley said.

Ryouga shook his head. 'No. I... I can't. I cannot hold a grudge over something that truly gives Akane happiness. But...'

'...but you've lost someone you love. An' the chance to tell them.'

Ryouga nodded.

'You haven't lost /her/, though...' Charley pointed out.

'Yeah!' Skuld chimed in. 'You haven't lost _her_! She's still there!'

'She may never /know/...' Charley said.

'...but /you/ will.' Skuld said.

'You'll always remember what she means to you. And that's something to hold on to...'

'...as is knowing that I could not return it. That only Ranma could...' Ryouga murmured.

'Sheesh. Brood much?' Skuld said.

'You could return something...' Charley said. 'Look at this...'

She placed a crystal hourglass on the table.

'Wow...' Skuld murmured. 'Can I...?'

Charley nodded.

Skuld gingerly picked it up and started to examine it.

'...That's Italian,' Ryouga said. 'Or in the Italian style.'

'Venetian, actually.' Charley grinned. 'The Doctor felt he should have got /one/ souvenir before the place sank...'

'I... spent some time there. After spending time on the streets of Rome...' Ryouga shuddered. 'I thought /I/ possessed a bad sense of direction...'

Skuld oohed. 'Wow. It looks just like a normal hourglass...'

'Doesn't it?' Charley said.

'Perhaps I /should/ present Akane with something...' Ryouga muttered.

'...Of course,' Charley said. 'only the Doctor would give someone an hourglass that stopped...'

Skuld blinked.

Then she turned the hourglass over.

And again.

And again.

The flow of sand hung in the air between the two bulbs, unmoving.

The sand in both bulbs remained unchanged, neither one rising or falling.

'...Incredible.' Ryouga said.

'Tempus Redux...' Skuld read from the glass.

'Time Returned.' Charley said.

Skuld *blinked*. 'Nice one... Wonder how he did it? Look, it looks completely crystal, no machinery...'

As Skuld oohed over the hourglass, Ryouga turned to Charley. 'So... does the Doctor know any good pig stores?'

Charley *blinked*. 'Pig stores?!'

'I have decided to get Akane... a piglet!'

'This must be the 00s,' Charley murmured. 'I'm never going to understand the 00s...'


First triad.

Six of Emblems:

Two black triangles, tip to tip, forming an hourglass.

Charley stands in front, obscuring the symbol.

Meaning: Time defied. Someone who throws themselves, body and soul, into life - adventuring, fighting, /challenging/. Who has cheated time, cheated death, and been granted a new outlook on life.

The Wanderer:

A crossroads in the middle of a plain. Signposts point in every conceivable direction.

Ryouga stands beneath it, holding a map upside down.

Meaning: A wanderer. Someone who travels, who wanders, sometimes aimlessly, sometimes with a goal. Also skills and knowledge that can be acquired along the way - as such, a catalyst for change.

Five of Emblems:

Skuld, hands on her knees, looking into the distance.

A blue oval with a hole in the middle hangs behind her.

Meaning: The Future. Dependent on the Present. What happens now will shape what is to come. Well... factoring in unexpected variables. Also; technology, gadgeteering, enthusiasm. Someone who looks to the future.


'I hate parties.'

Sam raised an eyebrow. 'Bad experience?'

'I got drugged, beaten, dragged down to a laboratory, and subjected to agonising and painful experiments.'

Sam winced. 'Eeeeuuuggghhh.'

'And that doesn't count the shapeshifter.' Jack took another sip of his drink.

'I wondered why you'd brought bottled water...' Sam commented. 'So why /are/ you here?'

'The words "Creeper" and "party animal" spring to mind...' Jack said. 'And... does anyone have the willpower to say "no" to Mihoshi?'

Sam considered. 'Not that I /know/...'Specially when she gives you that /look/, and you know, just /know/, she means it...'

'They /say/ she has no special powers...' Jack murmured. 'I wonder, sometimes...'

'Look! It's a bird! It's a plane! It's... SUPERMIHOSHI!'

There was a brief pause.

'Never, *never*, say that again.'

'Say what?'


Mihoshi waved from the dancefloor. 'Hey guys! /hic!/ Got sake... got rhythm...umm... I'm missing something here...'

'Should we?' Sam said.

'Jack Ryder, entertainment critic...' Jack said. 'Just remind me, do we have a designated driver?'


Jack closed his eyes. 'Then...'

He pushed the implant in his wrist-

-And the Creeper swept Sam onto the dancefloor.

'In the words of that insane, green-faced, son-of-a-bitch... SMOKIN'!!'


Second triad.

The Innocent:

An unsuspecting Mihoshi walks along a city street.

And the big, toothy alien following her is just about to slip on the banana peel she just threw over her shoulder...

Meaning: Innocence. Openmindedness. Serendipity and luck. No matter how bad things are, they will go your way. A person with an optimistic and goodnatured view of life.

The Changeling:

A dark-haired Sam runs into a hole in the air.

On the other side, a blonde Sam runs out.

Meaning: Someone who has encountered the OtherWorld, who has returned... changed. Second sight, paradoxes, knowledge of the future. Acceptance of change in life, heralding changes to come.

The Trickster:

The Creeper, capering and prancing in the guise of a court jester.

The stick he holds has Jack Ryder's features on top, also in a jester's caul...

Meaning: Trickery. The unconscious. Poking fun at the laws... and the insanity. Madness and Sanity, mocking /any/ authority, tearing down the prideful... and trying to show the truth.


Urd lifted Tenchi's eyelid, then let it drop. 'Out cold.'

'Unsurprising...' Ssard thought for a moment. 'No, it /is/ surprising. I did not think a human could collapse from a nosebleed.'

'Terminal embarrassment,' Urd said. She grinned. 'Haven't seen it in ages. Not even K1 gets anywhere near...'

'Terminal _embarrassment_?' Ssard paused. 'Suddenly, much about humanity is made clear to me.'

Urd gently pulled at Tenchi's cheek. 'Wake up call, nosebleed boy...'

'Odd...' Ssard said. 'In this, my kind are closer to humans than we care to admit... private about their romantic activities, yet public about their fighting. Strange...'

Urd pulled a face. 'Wouldn't you know it... I've been trying to do something about that for ages... Get them to be a little more _upfront_ about things. The 60s were a good place to start, but... They got the /love/, missed out on the /romance/...'

Ssard raised his eyes heavenwards. 'I am not surprised.'

'C'mon...' Urd muttered. '....This /is/ spectacular. Haven't seen /this/ much embarrassment roll off someone...' She paused for a moment. '...Well, *ever*!'


'Ever.' Urd gently slapped Tenchi's face. 'And all it took was me mentioning that I'd slipped a love potion into Ayeka and Ryoko's drinks... not as if I'd actually /do / that, of course...' She grinned wickedly. 'I wonder what'd happen if I *did* try it...'

Behind his visor, Ssard raised an eyeridge.


Third triad.

Three of Emblems:

Urd seated, a wistful look on her face, on a broken pedestal.

Behind her, set against a stone wall, is a blue triangle.

Meaning: The Past. What /has/ been, and the desire either to dwell on it, or leave it behind. Apparent openness, shadowed depths. Teasing with what might have been. Somewhere between good and evil.

Ace of Swords:

A rusty sword emedded in a stone.

Tenchi reaches for the sword, apparently afraid, yet excited.

Meaning: Danger. Excitement. Fear. Making a choice which will change your life. Hidden secrets. Appearances which are more than they seem. Adolescence.

Two of Swords.

Ssard stands on a dusty red plain, stones scattered as far as can be seen.

A broken sword lies at his feet.

Meaning: A search for peace. Taking on responsibilities and duties, or leaving them behind. Guardianship. Compassion and intelligence. Looking for, and perhaps finding, respite from violence.


Compassion placed the necklace around her neck.

Washu nearly choked on her drink. 'Ye-!'

'Is there a problem?' Compassion asked.

'No... apart from "DON'T SHATTER THAT CRYSTAL!!", but you already knew that...'

'It *is* fragile...' Sasami said, looking closer at the crystal dangling off the chain. '...but...'

She gasped.

'...so terrifying... so beautiful...'

'Time,' Compassion said. 'Time... no. The Vortex. An infinitesimal part of the space-time vortex...'

'...in a crystal.' Washu said. 'And knowing what you define as infinitesimal...'

'If I shatter it...'

'...then the Vortex will sweep through. And nothing will be left the same...' Washu murmured.

'Where did you...?'

'A present.'

'A _present_?' Washu nearly choked again.

'From the Doctor.'


'What do you give the pocket Universe who can *be* everything...?' Sasami teased.

'The one thing I can never have here...' Compassion murmured. 'A piece of... of the vortex, contained in space-time.'

'A little reminder of home, maybe?' Washu suggested.

Compassion held the crystal up to her eyes.

'Perhaps,' she said neutrally.

'Or, perhaps... a reminder of freedom.'


Fourth triad:

Page of Jewels:

Sasami, sitting on an island in the middle of a lake.

Her reflection is that of a woman about twenty years older.

Meaning: Death, rebirth and transcendence. Near-death experiences, and a connection to the divine. Gentleness, peacefulness, and the easing of pain. Also; the link between the divine and the mortal.


Compassion, at the centre of a kaleidoscopic vortex.

The expression on her face is one of childlike happiness.

Meaning: Freedom of movement. Freedom from responsibility. The freedom to discover the world at large, and to discover your place in the world. Surprise and contradiction. Discovery and learning.

Queen of Jewels:

Washu, wearing a black robe, her expression sadly thoughtful.

Three gems float above her outstretched hand.

Meaning: Mystery, enigma; paradoxically, also the desire to investigate. Painful experiences, the wish to turn away from what was known, oftentimes seeming uncaring. Also; enthusiasm and quirks.


'Was Buff prophetic or what...?' Fitz murmured. 'I /am/ gonna be seeing a lot more of Dawn...'specially now Buffy's dead...'

'I know,' Minagi said. 'I wonder if Buffy knew too?'

'Yeah... Spike can't look after the kid all the time... and her friends're gonna have a lot to deal with too...' Fitz sighed. 'I'd just hate to see how /Angel/ reacts when he finds out.'


'Buffy's ex-boyfriend. Vampire with a soul.'

'Vampires are soulless?'

'Well... they don't have a /human/ soul...' Fitz shuddered. 'As Spike made /very/ clear to me. But no /way/ would I have let Dawn come to harm anyway...'

'I've never known you to let anybody come to harm,' Minagi said.

Fitz's eyes were shadowed. 'I did. I /do/. It's part of travelling with the Doctor - they want to get me, or get the Doctor, and they target someone we care about...'

Minagi nodded. 'And when they do that...'

'The storm comes.' Fitz said.

Minagi shuddered, remembering.

Seeing the Doctor's face as he brought Izzy in...

...she had stayed awake for two days, too afraid to dream...



'...I think Buffy would have thanked you for this. For keeping an eye on Dawn.'

Fitz sighed.

'Yeah. I do, too... She's lost more than anyone should. Anyone.'

'You can't bring them back...'

'I know,' Fitz said. 'I know. I saw what could happen if I did... But someone's gotta watch out for her... For them...'

'Shhh...' Minagi said. '...I know. I know....'


Fifth triad:

Knight of Swords:

Fitz, in dirty and battered leather armour, a sword by his side, struggles along a dark and muddy path.

He supports and helps an injured, indistinct, figure.

Meaning: Self-sacrifice. The willingness to sacrifice one's own dreams and desires to aid another. Pain endured for another's sake in the hope of something better. The search for hope and security.

Page of Energy:

Dawn, sitting at a desk, writing a diary.

She is illuminated by a green, glowing, ball of energy.

Meaning: Keys. Answers set down. Secrets revealed and doors opened. Divination and memories. Also; something - someone - precious or important, someone who must be guarded.

Page of Swords:

A dark, looming, shadow covers the landscape.

Minagi, energy sword in hand, is poised to attack.

Meaning: Purposes and responsibilities sought, a search for answers, openness, free expression, naivety. Also, the choice to save and protect others, or to fight darkness (though not always in combat).


'Auntie?' Lum said.

'Yes, Lum-chan?'

Fey didn't turn around.

But that was alright, because Lum was hovering over her shoulder. Literally.

'...Ah.' Fey flipped another page in her book. 'It's a first draft copy of James Joyce's "Ulysses".'

Ataru peered over Fey's other shoulder. 'Is that supposed to be English?'

Lum looked closer. 'Is that even a /language/?'

Fey smiled wryly. 'I helped him make sense of it... eventually. Odd, though... I thought I knew where the first draft was...'

'What is it about?'

Fey considered. '...It's about a man who engages on an odyssey through Dublin, in the hope of returning to his wife and home.'

'Ohhhh... Isn't that romantic? Darling?... Darling?



As Lum dragged an electrocuted Ataru off a bewildered fangirl, Fey shook her head in wry amusement. Under her breath, she murmured '...And your odyssey is to bring him back to you, no matter how far he goes...'


Sixth triad:

Queen of Energy:

Lum, in hot pursuit of something (or someone).

In full Divine Retribution mode, throwing lightning bolts...

Meaning: Passion. Pride. Defensiveness. Readiness to attack. Impulsiveness, jumping to conclusions, doing the unexpected. Also; the exotic, the alien, the flamboyant... the collateral damage.


Fey, standing in the middle of a darkened hall.

The shadows make her expression unreadable.

Meaning: Constant presence. Loyalty, given unasked and freely. Bound to another, yet willing to challenge that other. Experience, knowledge, hidden connections, unexpected allies, anger contained.

Ace of Energy:

Ataru standing in the middle of a crater.

Blasted, charred... and incredibly, still standing.

Meaning: Fascination and repulsion. Cowardice and unexpected heroism. Uncertainty and ambiguity. Self-serving and truly loving. Living in a world that's flat out of control...



Izzy waggled her clawed toes in the foot spa.

Ukyou coughed.

Izzy opened one slitted eye. 'Come on. Just five minutes?'

'You've been saying that for the last half hour...' Ukyou observed.

'...And the scales still haven't soaked up enough water.' Izzy said.

'Nothing to do with the bubbles then, Izzy-chan?'

'Scale massage. Walking around barefoot wears them out quick...'

'Uh-huh...' Ukyou said.

'It's finding a good pair of _socks_ that's the prob-'


The two girls looked around.

'Down here!'

Izzy and Ukyou looked down.

Floating at knee-height was a small toddler with horns.

'...Oh. Ten.'


Ukyou reached out and picked the little Oni up before he could fall. 'Gotcha!'

'What you got against toddlers?' Ten pouted.

'Me?' Izzy said. 'Nothing. Against floating, glomping toddlers, though...'

'Could I help it if you weren't looking where you were going?'

'Yes... given I was in the /bath/ at the time...'

Ukyou held him up. 'You remind me of someone...Wonder who...?'



The gout of fire rushed past, singing the wall.

'YAAAHHH!!! What was *that*?!' Izzy squeaked.

'Oops. Sorry...'

Ukyou looked Ten in the eye.

He managed to look embarrassed.

'*Now* I remember...' Ukyou murmured. 'Two things. One: Izzy-chan is an /amphibian/. Amphibians don't like fire. Or toddlers who breathe it. And two... have you ever considered going into the exciting world of okonomiyaki retail?'

'Oy...' Izzy murmured.


Seventh triad:


Ukyou at the hotplate in her restauarant, making okonomiyaki.

Ranma sits across from her, pouring his heart out.

Meaning: Devotion. To a person, a cause, a belief. Devoting one's life to something - regardless of motive. Being willing to give up anything else in life for that devotion.

Ten of Energy:

Ten, floating in midair.

Breathing a blast of fire in Ataru's face.

Meaning: Cynicism and cuteness. Using appearances to get what you want - and noticing when others do it. Seeing your own flaws in others, but not in yourself. Nasty surprises.

The Gatherer:

A shattered mirror.

Some of the shards reflect Izzy-as-Izzy; some reflect Izzy-as-Destrii.

Meaning: Gathering yourself, coming back together, in the wake of trauma. Coming to terms with that trauma. Also; gathering what is necessary.


The two ancient adversaries faced each other across the table.

Long, their feud had been.

But finally, here, now, all would be decided.

And the future hung in the balance.

'Go for it... *princess*.'

'Gladly... monster.'

Ayeka knocked back another can of sake.

'*DAMN!!* *Damn*, damn, /damn/!' Ryoko cursed.

Ayeka wiped her mouth, and smiled. 'Your turn.'

'Bacchus has nothing on me...' Ryoko declared.

She chugged the can straight down.

'/hic/... Ready to give in now?'

'Never!' Ayeka proclaimed. 'Not as long as I still draw breath!'

Which wouldn't be for much longer, Stacy thought. The way things were going, both of them looked set to do their best Drunk Fitz (unconscious, drooling slightly) within... oh, say five cans ago?

The way /she/ was going, she was about to do /hers/ in ...oh, say, about now?

What was /worse/ was that she wasn't even _drunk_.

Of course, being Organised Girl - and perfectly sober - they'd asked /her/ to arbitrate...

And for some reason, she was having flashbacks to when Terry used to drag her to bars...

'N...Not until you say it...'

'Never...' Ayeka said. 'I w-will... n-never say that...'

'You will... Say it. Say "You were a beautiful baby, Ryoko"!'


Ryoko kicked back another sake.

The two women looked eye to eye for a moment.

Then both of them fell over.

'Draw.' Stacy said. 'Mus' remember... draw.'

Then *she* fell over.


Eighth triad:

Queen of Swords:

Ryoko, duelling with an unseen figure.

It's obvious the duel has been fought a long time.

Meaning: Never submit. Never give in. Never be controlled again. Betrayal. Betrayed. Loneliness, the need to reach out to someone... without losing again. Holding on to a faint hope...

Three of Energy:

Stacy shelters against a wall.

Overhead, a storm rages, three lightning bolts striking the ground.

Meaning: Survival. Passing through the darkness, and coming through the other side. Damage, destruction. Darkness, pain, hurt, survived - perhaps, maybe, healed. Renewal, something new begins.

Queen of Emblems:

Royal insignia and emblems rest on an empty throne.

Ayeka sits on the steps beneath the throne, eyes closed and hands clasped.

Meaning: Walking away from your old life, leaving its impositions behind. Self-discovery. Being free of others' perceptions, and your own. Also; nobility, honour, humility and vanity.


In a corner, two Jurian Guardians, a Norn-built robot, and a cabbit were talking.


'Yes, I agree.' Kamidake said. 'So what do you consider to be an effective way for human-Jurai relations to be established?'

Banpei thought about this.


'Possible, possible,' Azaka said. 'Then again, one must take into account the comparative unawareness and potential for mass hysteria...'


Kamidake turned to Azaka. 'I hadn't thought of that...'

'Neither had I,' Azaka said. '...How would you suggest a way to establish more equitable treatment of artificial sentients?'

/Beep. Vree!/

'Myah! Myah!' Ryo-Ohki interjected.

'Interesting. How /does/ one go about establishing a union?'

'Mya. Myaaa.'

'All right...'


'Thank you.'

'Myah. Mya.'

'Really? She said *that*? Never...'

'Oh, I don't know. The Emperor's father did get most /outrageously/ blasted... at least, that was what I heard...'

/Vreep. Bzz./

'Somehow, I am not comforted...'


Ninth triad:

Two of Emblems:

Azaka and Kamidake, looming over someone.

Whether they intend to help or harm is unclear.

Meaning: Continuance. Guardianship. Loyal service, at the command of another. To serve and protect, no matter the danger. And to strike at those who would attack what is protected.

Ace of Emblems:

The gateway to a Japanese shrine.

Banpei stands on guard in front of the gateway.

Meaning: Beginnings. Development. Deliberately changing who you are - and being changed by outside forces. Also; the desire to fit in, and to give that up to assist others.

The Ship:

Ryo-Ohki in ship form, flying through space.

Another ship approaches, its intentions uncertain.

Meaning: Transformations. Changes. Unexpected capabilities. The image and the reality are not always identical. Disarming behaviour. Sensing and reacting to danger.


Sonehow, Kiyone had managed to find the karaoke machine.

And, at the moment, she was belting out "It's Raining Men".

Unfortunately, it was the Geri Halliwell version...

'Hell...' Mara muttered from the table. 'This is *hell*.'

'I don' know, chil'...' the Principal said. 'That girl, she got /rhythm/, know? One wahine wouldn't min' seeing at the luau...'

'Trust me when I say this,' Mara said. 'This is /hell/...'

She stopped as the Principal's words caught up to her brain. 'Wait, did you say...?'

Mara smiled a slow, wicked grin.

Kiyone /had/ wished for Mara to help her, right?

And helping her /did/ include introducing her to potential friends...

Besides, she added mentally, if that Mihoshi's as bad as she keeps saying, a loon like this should be no problem, yeah?

She'll thank me later.


After all, Kiyone had only wished for Mara to help /her/... hadn't she?

Suddenly, things were starting to look up.

Or down, depending on your perspective...

'What would you say...' Mara began. '...if I said I could introduce you to her?'

'You coul'? You make the big Kahuna a very happy man!'

And me a very satisfied demon and vengeful coworker...

Mara smirked.

Then she blinked.

It wasn't. It couldn't be...

'Anya? Anyanka? How long has it /been/?!'

The teenage blonde looked somewhat startled.

More than startled.



'How goes the wreaking of vengeance upon those who scorn women?'

'Umm... Well...' Anyanka looked slightly embarrassed.

'Like your new body. So who's the guy?'


'C'mon...' Mara wheedled. 'It's not like /I'm/ gonna move in on him. I've /already/ selected /my/ mortal to torment...'

'A-actually...' Anyanka said. 'Actually, I'm just waiting for him to go ahead and scorn her. He's been behaving *very* oddly, though, so I am /very/ hopeful that she's going to make a wish /very/ soon...'

'Vengeance never stops, hey?' Mara clapped Anyanka on the back. 'Hey, it's not the swamprat, is it?'

'The swamprat?' Anyanka looked blank.

'You know.'

Anyanka still looked blank.


'Oh. Oh yes. Most definitely. Adric. That's my target. Adric is the target. Adric and no-one else. Absolutely.'

'Hey, pop in for a drink afterwards! We can talk over old times, humiliate rednecks, get blasted... it'll be /great/.'

'Umm... okay.'

Mara weaved over to the bar.


Tenth triad:

Page of Emblems:

Mara gets up off the ground, cape swirling around her, looking distinctly displeased.

Two red lines have been painted on the wall behind her.

Meaning: Vengeance, torment, treachery and deceit. Egotism, vanity... and wicked senses of humour. Cunning and devious plans. Also Murphy's Law - whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.

The Kahuna:

The Principal stands on a platform, making an announcement.

In one hand, he holds up a pineapple.

Meaning: Irritation. Obsess to ridiculous extremes. Arbitrary, pointless, rules. Be punctual, no matter what. Relax. Chill out. Luau. But don't let anyone else get away with it...

The Partners:

Mihoshi waves from the wreckage of her patrol ship.

The watching Kiyone buries her head in her hands.

Meaning: Rueful acceptance. Tolerance above and beyond the call of duty. Realism. Criticism. Frustration. Grudging - and honest - friendship. Alliance, partnership, working together.


'Excuse me.'

'Mm?' Keiichi said.

'How do you do that?'

Keiichi and Bell blinked, and stared at the newcomer.

'...Do what?'

'*That*,' the newcomer said. 'The managing to stay together despite the massive disparity in lifespan, meaning one can well expect to outlive the other. How is that managed?'

Keiichi looked blank. 'Umm...'

'And you're not talking about sex. By now, there should have been some mention of sex. How do you manage that again?'

Bell blushed.

'S-sex...? /That?!?/' Keiichi stammered.

He blinked. 'Wait a minute... you're not human, are you?'

'I used to be. Then I was a vengeance demon again. And now I'm human again. I have job, I have boyfriend, I have money...' The blonde frowned. 'Actually, I don't have money... See? I /am/ human!'

'Bell,' Keiichi murmured.


'Is this going to happen *every* time we're alone?'

'I-I don't think so...'

The redhead twitched. 'Oh. Introductions. I am Anya Emerson, formerly the vengeance demon Anyanka, Patron of Scorned Women, now working in a magic shop in Sunnydale. You are a goddess and a mortal in a seemingly happy relationship. I am an ex-demon in a relationship with a mortal. Therefore, your advice would be appreciated.'

Bell and Keiichi looked at each other.

Then at Anya.

Then at each other.



Eleventh triad:

Ace of Jewels:

Anyanka, in full vengeance demon mode.

An amulet hangs around her neck.

Meaning: Precision, literalness, irony and sarcasm. Adjusting to, and understanding, a change in circumstances, a loss of power - and finding different paths, different ways.

Four of Emblems:

Bell, moving through a mirror.

Blue diamonds mark the mirror's corners.

Meaning: The Present. Purity. Patience, kindness, empathy and understanding. Feeling responsible for others' behaviour. Giving of yourself. Also; reluctance to express rage or fear.

Interesting Times:

A room full of floating spirits.

Who all seem to have latched on to a harassed Keiichi...

Meaning: Extremes of fortune - both good and bad. Good fortune which lands you in major trouble, disasters which turn into blessings. And trying to lead a normal life in the middle of it all...


Anji stood at the buffet, considering.

Mango or melon?

All right, not the most spectacular of choices - *definitely* not the most spectacular of choices - but that was all to the good.

Relax, let yourself go...



Anji reached out-


-and slices of watermelon landed on her plate.

Anji looked down at her plate, then at Kuno, still holding his bokken.

'Er... thank you.' Anji said. 'But you didn't need to do that. Really. Emphasis on "really"...'

Kuno held his sword aloft. 'It is ever a true bokken master's duty to assist the forces of good!'

Then he fell over.

'O-kay...' Anji said, blinking slightly. 'Although how the forces of good are assisted by my eating melon, I don't know.' She thought. 'And quite frankly, I don't want to find out...'

She sighed.

Better see about getting him somewhere safe, and waking him up...

'Excuse me,' a rather embarrassed Sasuke said, making his way towards Kuno's unconscious form. '...Thank you.'

'...Do you need any help?'

'...No. Kuno-sempai will be fine in a few minutes. Just as soon as he recovers...'

'Mm-hmm... Okay. ...Oh, I was wondering...'


'Do ninja get stock options?'

Sasuke thought about this. 'Yes. You would be surprised how many surveillance companies rely on repeat custom.'

'...Survelliance companies?' Anji echoed. 'Somehow, I /don't/ think I want to know...

'Melon slice?'

'Oh, thank you.'


Twelfth triad:

King of Swords:

A melon lying on a platform.

Kuno raises his bokken to strike it down, thunder rumbling behind him.

Meaning: Pride, self-delusion... and genuine talent. Explosive combinations. Refusal to see the obvious, impatience, and stubbornness - but also persistance and courage. Also; the inability to decide.

Two of Jewels:

Anji opens a jewel case.

Inside are two rings, both with a gem inset.

Meaning: Down-to-earth. Practical, sensible and pragmatic. The ability to organise and prepare well. Difficulties in dealing with unexpected situations. Skepticism. Adaptability.

The Ninja:

Sasuke exchanging money for photographs.

Nabiki clearly feels she's got the better of the deal.

Meaning: Agility in mind and thought. The ability to comply with any command, no matter how stupid or insane. Knowing how to work with loopholes. And terrifyingly good negotiators...


The Doctor steps back.

On the fireplace, the photograph.

All of them, together, at the Hoedown.

Fitz, guitar strapped across his back, grinning roguishly; Charley sticking two fingers up over Sam's head, Sam's mouth twitching *just* a little; Compassion, seeming cynical as always, but a glint of excitement in her eye; Stacy and Ssard, leaning together, arms around each other; Anji, arms crossed, shaking her head in amused resignation; Fey, raising a knowing eyebrow at the photographer; Izzy, on the border between tension and relaxation, standing a little apart.

And himself, sitting incongrously Buddha-like in front of them, a wicked gleam in his eyes.

And above it, above the photograph...

...the portrait.

A group portrait.

Their gift to him.

Five years of adventures. Tragedies, triumphs, mistakes and successes.

They've seen so much together, even in these five short years. Experienced - and endured - wonderful, terrible, things. Met old friends and enemies, found new allies and adversaries, confronted gods and demons...

...People saved. Planets destroyed. Lives changed...

...So much.

He steps forward, traces the portrait's outlines.

Anji's ordered, laid-out draftwork. Compassion's childlike enthusiasm and technique. Ssard's eye for perspective and relations. Izzy's cautious, hesitant strokes, carefully, wisely placed. Charley's adventures with colour scheme and costume. Fey's deftly placed shadow and shade. Stacy's wry self-caricaturing, knowing just /where/ to tweak. Fitz's artistic understanding, binding the elements together. And the fey, dreamlike finish Sam gives it.

The Doctor steps away, takes his seat.

And slowly, a smile touches his face.

Because from here, he can see a outline in shadowed pencils, a figure in the distance.

The tenth of the nine.

Still watching, as now he watches everything.


He raises his cup of tea, in silent salute.


Through then, now, and what will be.

Together. Always.


The dealer draws the final card.

The wildcard.

All change.

The Doctor.

The dealer does not smile.

The dealer cannot smile.

He has no mouth, no face, to smile with.

Still, he is satisfied.

There will be a chance.

There will be a moment.


...they shall see.

And so shall he.




Copyright 2001 Imran Inayat.