DISCLAIMER: Relatively standard stuff. Existing characters are properties of the people who made them up. Mitsuki, and several other characters are mine, and so's the story, hence ownership and copyright of them belongs to me. Contact me at domino@linksnet.nu if you want permission to use anything I've written for whatnot purposes.

 

 

TRUTH

by

Raymond Cooper

Chapter 17

** Deliberations **

 

"Kuno-sempai?"

The Blue Thunder of Furinken High School turned around. The reasons he was still at Furinken after all these years... well, the reasons were different to Nabiki Tendo's, but just as valid. He saw a small girl heading towards him, dressed in a typical Furinken uniform, with dark, almost purple, hair. Her skin was almost alabaster, and had Kuno gone for that kind of thing, he would have admitted to being in love with this young beauty...

But Tatewaki Kuno wasn't into girls this much younger than himself, so he merely allowed a surge of lust to wash over him, and waited for the girl to catch up.

Eventually, she did, looking a little exhausted. She seemed to be weaker than most girls her age, he noted with a careful eye, and so waited patiently, although imperiously. Once she had recovered enough, he struck a typical pose, chest out, chin up. "And to what pleasure does the Blue Thunder find himself wondering from this young vixen?"

The girl cocked an eyebrow, but chose not to respond to that. "My name is Hotaru Tomoe. I know one of your old friends?"

"Yes? Who might this former compatriot of mine be?"

"His name is Ranma Saotome -"

"Oho!" Kuno pulled his bokken from its scabbard. "And where might that evil sorceror be this moment in time? For I owe him dearly for breaking the heart of my beloved Akane Tendo and the perpetual enslavement of the Pig-Tailed Girl! Oh, how I -"

Hotaru reached up and placed a finger on Kuno's lips. "Shush. He didn't break Akane's heart... she broke his."

"I find that hard to believe! For Ranma Saotome is an evil sor-"

"Yes, you said that already."

"But it is true! I, the Blue Thunder of-"

"Shush." Hotaru glared up at the older upper classman, wondering why she didn't check the mental stability of the people Nabiki would be manipulating first. Obviously, this Tatewaki Kuno would be of no real use to her in her plans, which were still taking shape. But maybe... maybe there was another way around Kuno's head. "You think Ranma Saotome is an evil sorceror? Ranma Saotome is not. But Nabiki Tendo is."

"True, the wench middle Tendo sister is evil of heart, but she is not an evil sorceror."

Hotaru cocked her head to one side. "But she's got you thinking Ranma hurt Akane's heart, when the opposite is clearly true. Why do you think he left Nerima?"

"He was afraid to face me in mortal combat!"

"No, Akane was wanting to turn to you, to your manly... chest and... charms... but could not for fear of impinging on her honour. So he broke off relations with her so she could act on those feelings." Hotaru was mostly making this up, seeing as Kuno appeared to be halfway into his own personal world, but appeared to be hitting the mark. Almost.

"But he is still an evil sorceror... I have seen him release the Pig-Tailed Goddess from within his body through magical means!" Kuno ranted. "She is being held -"

Hotaru interjected. "She is being held prisoner at my behest, seeing as she broke laws that demanded she live trapped in a masculine body."

"Your -" Kuno's eyes narrowed. "I think you are trying to fool me, Miss Tomoe."

Hotaru shook her head. She looked around, making sure no one else was within sight, and pulled out a small makeup compact, holding it up in the air. "Saturn planet power make-up!" She transformed into her senshi form in front of Kuno's startled eyes. "Tatewaki Kuno, I am -"

But she was talking to a stream of blood, momentarily held above the ground as Kuno keeled over backwards with a fountain of blood streaming from his nostrils.

******

When he came to, he was on the roof of the main school building, a beautiful woman standing above him. He recognised the girl who had been speaking to him earlier was this woman... but she looked so different, so in charge, so... not weak. And the power emanating from her body... was awesome. It was taking all Kuno's will power to keep his eyes up at hers, so strong was the attraction.

"Tatewaki Kuno, I am the goddess Saturn, ruler of the Solar System under the Moon Princess. My power is like nothing you've ever seen before, nor even imagined. I need loyal troops beneath me. Ranma Saotome is one such troop of mine. He has selflessly devoted his life to the incarceration of a violent criminal." Saturn paused. "Can I count on you to not act against him?"

Kuno's eyes never left Saturn's, and he nodded, most seriously. "My lady, my life, my honour, my wealth - anything I have - is yours."

"Good." Saturn smiled, and stood up. Kuno continued to gape, and she dropped her transformed form. "Now, the school day is over. I suggest you go... train with the school kendo club or something. I have things I must prepare for the sorceress, Nabiki Tendo."

"Aye, my lady." Kuno knealt before Hotaru, then left via dropping over the side of the building. She heard the snapping of branches, then footsteps hurrying away from the building.

One down, Hotaru thought to herself with a smile, then took her own leave, heading back to the Ai Sou.

******

Ranma wandered through the front lounge of the dorm on his way to the kitchen. Mitsuki was sitting on one of the couches, watching dubbed Teletubbies with a smile on her face. She looked up at Ranma as he wandered through, smiled almost Kasumi-like at him, then went back to her riveting television viewing.

Ranma raised an eyebrow and kept walking.

He found Makoto in the kitchen. "Dinner won't be too long," she said. "I'm waiting for it to cook through properly. And for Hotaru to arrive back from school. Do you know where she is?"

"She said she had to take care of something," Ranma noted as he got himself a glass of water. Mmm... refreshing. He noticed Makoto was still looking at him. "What? She said it was important."

"Oh." Makoto tore her gaze from him, and went back to preparing some side dishes for dinner. She worked at that a while as Ranma had another glass of water, then turned to him. "Ranma?"

"Yeah?"

"Would you mind if I joined your training group in the mornings?" Makoto asked. "It's been a while since I was training in anything."

"You've got some experience, then?"

"A little bit of judo," Makoto admitted. "And some things I've picked up from watching Rei."

"Anyone's welcome to join in... so long as they're serious about committment and working. It requires concentration and effort... not everyone can do that on a regular basis."

Makoto nodded. "I can do that. Look at the kitchen. All the time." She gestured around. Ranma knew she was referring to the fact she cooked all the meals, had them ready on time, and knew just how much in leftovers would be needed for snacks or lunches for the next day.

He nodded to her. "As I said, anyone's welcome to join. We start at dawn, every morning. Work out for anywhere between half an hour to an hour, depending on when people have to leave." He shrugged. "And I can give after-class training most days if you've got an empty lecture period or something. But I do expect some form of committment."

Makoto nodded again. "I would expect nothing less, Ranma."

"So we'll all see you bright and early tomorrow morning?"

"Yes."

Ranma nodded, smiled, and left the kitchen, where Mitsuki was still watching Teletubbies, but pacing back and forth in front of the television now. "Mitsuki?" he said, "Calm down a bit, eh? They're not going anywhere."

She looked at Ranma. "How do you know that for sure?" And went back to her pacing.

Ranma stared. Then walked back outside to finish off his daily training with another hour of working out.

******

Ami sat on her bed, talking to Keitaro via IRC. He seemed to be okay, but was really spaced out, as if he'd been on some kind of tranquilizers. He appeared to have no memory of what had happened since he took Natsumi Otohime, a friend's younger sister, out to get ice cream. He had apologised to Mutsumi, the older sister, for Natsumi... but he could not remember why.

He'd had a strange dream about waking up around a lot of scantily-clad women who didn't try to beat him up.

Weird. But at least now they had saved one monster. Now, perhaps, they could try to save others.

<Mercurial> You're okay, then?

<Kanrinin> I think so. I've got a nasty bump on the head, though... I think Narusegawa, uh, did something.

<Mercurial> Is she okay?

<Kanrinin> She's giving me weird looks. Like right now. Over the library walls. Like she's keeping away from me. She won't tell me where she got her hand smashed, though.

<Mercurial> I'm glad that things seem well.

Ami leaned back from her laptop. So things were mostly back to normal for him. That was good. A program running in the background beeped, and she called it forward. Hmm. The energy signature patterns from the monster suggested a nearly mature individual. It had taken a lot to slow him down, and Ami suspected that only the fact that he had been expending great amounts of energy before the senshi turned up had allowed even that without killing him.

But her laptop was now running through a myriad of algorithms, all trying to find a method of safely returning one of these new monsters to human form. Thus far, every attempt had failed.

That wasn't good.

And Ami felt guilty that up until Keitaro had been... infected... they hadn't tried to save a single person's life. They had waded in and killed them. She suspected that she wasn't the only person feeling guilty about this - and who knew what that Ranko thought? - but none had spoken of it. Perhaps now they would. Ami knew she would gain some of the blame for these feelings - she had been the one to first suggest attempting to save them because of her friend, after all.

<Kanrinin> Are you all right, Ami?

* Kanrinin is worried - you seem weird.

<Mercurial> I'm fine. Thanks for asking. Just... thinking.

<Kanrinin> Oh. Want to have lunch tomorrow?

<Mercurial> Why not?

******

Hotaru entered the lounge later. It was dark outside, and she looked and felt exhausted. She still wasn't fit or strong enough in her normal body to climb all those stairs... and she hadn't been able to call Ranma when she'd arrived. She didn't want him knowing she was back so late. But then, there were still monsters around, and one in particular that was prowling around where most of Ranma's charges went to university... she could have followed any of them home. Or attacked any of them away from the dorm. Hence, she expected Ranma to be worried.

She found him resting on one of the big couches with Mitsuki beside him, watching some anime show where skimpily-clad women bounced around and fought silly giant monsters that sucked the life energy out of people. Pure tripe, but Ranma, Hotaru had noticed, kind of liked watching these shows. She nodded to him when he noticed her, and he nodded back. He seemed to not be worried at all, but there was a flicker of something in his eyes as he dropped them back to the screen, and a slight loosening of his shoulders. She patted one of them as she walked past to her room.

Hotaru slid her door shut behind her, and crashed down on her bed, exhausted. There was a tapp at the door a moment later, and she called out for the person outside to enter. The door slid open again, then shut as Makoto stepped in with a glass of water. "Here," she said, "I thought you might like this." She had a jug of water in her other hand.

The younger girl took the glass, and gulped it down gratefully. "Thank you, Makoto."

"So, was it worth being late?"

"Hmm?"

"Whatever you had to do at school. Was it worth being late for dinner?"

"Yes." Hotaru gathered herself, and looked up at Makoto. The older woman sat down and refilled the glass. "You know how I feel about Ranma."

"Everyone does," Makoto remarked.

"Yes, well... you remember Nabiki Tendo?"

"Akane's older sister?" Makoto narrowed her eyes as she remembered the woman who'd come to threaten Ranma into re-engaging himself to Akane, his former fiance. "Yes. I remember her."

Hotaru pulled a face. "How could any of us forget? But she's not a very nice person. Ranma told me a little about her... so I got myself into Furinken High School - where she still attends. She's trying to stir up a frenzy against Ranma there by letting slip some information, tailored to get a bad response from people who know Ranma."

"Really? She's making trouble?" Makoto paused, and looked distant. "That'll end up hitting us, won't it?"

Hotaru nodded, her eyes serious. "Very possibly. I'm trying to head it off, and also trying to get us some help in the Nerima end. Maybe we can stop this from getting to us - and our manager - before it leaves that ward."

"Does Ranma know?"

"He seems to be waiting. Almost like he's done this before. And that's what worries me." Hotaru drew herself up, and took another sip from the glass, looking worried. She felt worried, and that was in turn worrying Makoto a little. Saturn was the strongest of the senshi, in terms of physical strength and emotional distance. Ranma had, however, created a weakness in her by breaking through those emotional barriers with ease he apparently hadn't yet noticed or recognised, and that was another cause of concern for the senshi. "If that was what his previous life was like... no wonder he had all those problems relating with us and others. And if it starts happening again..."

"You think he'll revert to that person again," Makoto finished. Hotaru nodded. "So you're interfering in his life to try and maintain what you've got."

"What? No! I want him to keep growing!" Hotaru realised that sounded lame, even to herself. She shook her head. "I... I like him, a lot, Makoto. He's grown so much, even in the last month. I'm... I don't want to see him have any more problems than he already has. I don't want to see him get distracted, get sucked back into a life he's purposely left behind. He once told me, don't rely on others. To a point, he's right. You've got to be able to stand on your own two feet. But," and she held a finger up to emphasize. "But, you also have to be able to rely on others to help you sometimes. Occasionally, you need other people to lean on when the going gets hard. Sometimes... you need other people to care. And these people in Nerima... they don't."

"How do you know that for certain?"

"Easy." Hotaru narrowed her eyes, her face hardening. More the Saturn Makoto remembered. "I've watched them. They live their little lives, stepping in and out of each other's worlds, not trying to help, only trying to hinder, to trip the others up. All of them are petty. None of them see anything beyond their noses."

"Like Ranma was?"

"Yes."

"Do you want to help them?"

"No."

"So -"

"I want to help Ranma."

Makoto nodded. "That's a good reason to be poking around like this. But you do realise... he won't take kindly to you interfering in his affairs."

"If it reaches here, I'll step out. Ranma can handle it. I'm just trying... to give him a headstart for once, since he's not in the thick of it. So he's not caught off-guard."

Makoto nodded again, and took the glass from Hotaru's fingers. The younger girl resisted for a moment, then lay down on her bed, kicking her shoes off. "I can bring you something to eat if you want...?" Hotaru shook her head, and slithered out of her clothes quickly and into a pair of winter-styled pyjamas, before climbing back into bed.

"I think I'll just get an early night." Makoto stepped towards the door, opened it, then stepped out. "Makoto-chan?" She poked her head back in. "Thank you for caring." Makoto nodded, then stepped back out, sliding the door shut again.

******

Ranma looked up as Makoto headed into the kitchen. She was smiling faintly, for some unknown reason, but Ranma didn't concern himself with that. Mitsuki was acting a little weird. But at least, by now, she'd calmed down. They were watching Super Spinning Monster Fighters O at the present, something that was occupying Mitsuki's time. Something about the bright colours, constant fan service, or weird monsters and crappy storylines had caught her eye, and wouldn't let go. She was watching, wide-eyed, at present as Blue Viceroy, the lead woman in the team, smashed her way through a concrete wall to get at a monster that was sucking yellow energies out of little children.

It was amusing, and the martial arts segments in the show always had Ranma laughing out loud, so he didn't mind watching it with Mitsuki.

But there was a noise outside the house. He wasn't sure what it was... sounded like light footsteps. He looked up.

Just as the front of the dorm's front lounge disappeared as a pair on bonbori ripped through it and smashed the wood into kindling.

"Airen!" a familiar sing-song voice called from outside. "Now you mine!"

"Oh my," Ranma said.

 

 

SAILOR MOON SAYS:

A little late. Was supposed to be finished on this one last night. Oh well, these things happen.

One note: I'm trying to get the Nerima stuff over and done with as soon as I can, or remove it from the storyline. Why? Well, it would affect Ranma negatively. His relationships there were not healthy, in any sense of the word, in any version of events. Also, because of their nature, they would dominate over everything else. So the rest of Truth will be mostly wrapping these lines up, and preparing for the next arc, which will either be Honour or Love (I forget which - but one is the next arc, the other is the last ;). Culminating this arc will be the maturation of the little critter making all these monsters. So now I need to name him.

Fred, anyone? ;)

Anyways. Next chapter: Shampoo, rinse, repeat.

PS: This *was* written just before FF.net went down. It went down when I tried to upload it. Sorry about that ;) New chapter very soon, hopefully...!

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