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 19

** In-Betweeners **


"Ranma..."

He turned his back on Mitsuki, folded his arms, and walked off along the fence. Even from behind, she could see the frown on his face, feel the hatred and anger roiling off him like a thunderstorm brewing.

Perhaps the others were right. Leave him alone. He'll either accept her for what she was - and what she had done - or he wouldn't.

The same choice the senshi had been given. They'd chosen to accept her, although she would never be treated lightly, nor as a close friend.

More like the safety on a gun.

Regardless, it would be some months.

******

Nabiki was stunned.

Not quite into silence, but close enough. She hadn't predicted this turn of events. Shampoo in hospital? Had nearly been killed, but was apparently fine (if a little weak) now? Girls who were stronger than Ranma? That could be bad. Definitely.

Especially considering she had just spent the last few days sending off the others of Ranma's previous companions in Nerima into facing him - and apparently his new protectors - over the insult he had thrown at her family.

That memory caused a small pit of bile to leak in her stomach. Nabiki frowned, and began wondering just how she could twist this to her own advantage. There were few people she knew who could maybe tip the odds in her family's favour... and several of them lived within Nerima. If anyone could find a way of circumventing these girls in miniskirts, it would be Cologne. She nodded briefly to herself - Cologne it would be.

"Thinking about something?" Hotaru asked.

Nabiki looked up, large eyes questioning. "Huh?"

"You were nodding. Several times."

"Oh." Yeah, she thought back, she had been. "Yeah. I was just thinking. Plans and stuff, you know." She shrugged it off, and turned her attention back to the scrawled note she had found in her locker, the one that told her about Shampoo's condition. It was in Kuno's handwriting. She'd check in with him later.

"So, what are we going to do today, Nabiki?"

"Same thing we do every day, Hotaru - make lots of money."

Hotaru smiled. "Nice."

******

A week passes.

******

Ranma practised his katas, while his growing class watched. Mitsuki was no longer present, but Makoto has joined them, rising earlier to make breakfasts before training. Minako has likewise joined them, standing slightly apart from the others, a questioning look on her face. Occasionally, as Ranma grunted at the apex of a particularly complex manoeuvre, she frowned.

Minako leaned over to Rei. "Is he always like this? Showing off to the new students?"

Rei raised an eyebrow. "Showing off? He's holding back." There was a yell from Ranma, and an energy blast shot over the roof of the dormitory. Part of the hill behind vapourised in an intense explosion. "... or he could be working off stress or something," Rei conceeded finally.

As soon as Ranma stopped, panting, he glared around at his students. With particular venom at Rei and Hotaru, Minako thought. Weird. She thought he was sweet on their young Saturn. "What are you waiting for?" he barked. "Should be practising your katas." He stalked off to find a towel.

"Are you sure he's alright?" Rei asked Hotaru quietly.

The younger senshi shook her head. "He's not. He's... blowing off steam. But he's really angry and frightened, I think, at what Mitsuki did. Maybe even at how easily. And with so little control over her actions."

Minako leaned in. "He's, uh, been rather abrupt this last week."

Hotaru nodded. "This won't blow over."

"I wouldn't think it should," Makoto offered as she started off a basic routine. The others turned to her with questioning eyes. "What? She nearly killed one of his old friends. Well, one of his friends, really. I just don't think he liked that whole fiance and property thing. But Mitsuki... what she did shouldn't be forgotten, or swept under the rug."

"We didn't say it should be," Minako replied. "But she won't get better unless she's helped. If she can't apologise, she can't move on herself."

"Be that as it may, Ranma's still got to get over the fact that she *nearly killed his friend*." Makoto threw a punch, pulled back, blocked, threw another. "Be as supportive of our fellow senshi as you want, that fact remains. Ranma might not *want* to forgive her. I can't see any reason why he would."

Hotaru shook her head. "We've got bigger problems, too. There's a new race of monsters out there. They seem more powerful than most of what we've fought before. Nemesis is our strongest player. She's not going to be much use to us if she thinks Ranma's hating her."

"That doesn't -"

"Okay, Makoto, we've got the message," Rei grumbled. "But I agree with you. I don't think he should forget her. And what she told us about that gas attack..." Rei shuddered, and looked down at the ground. "You know... Hotaru... she's got a huge crush on Ranma." Hotaru nodded, and although Rei couldn't see, she sensed it, and went on. "Is this why she's obsessed with finding his forgiveness?"

Minako shook her head. "No... she mentioned a few other guys that... similar things have happened to by her. Although I get the impression she was meaning something different than this. And she feels plenty guilty about those."

"Yeah." Rei stopped a moment. "Hotaru - you're right. We've got other concerns here at the moment than Ranma's feelings and a senshi's sanity. Has anyone actually *seen* one of those monsters in the last week?"

******

A fortnight later.

******

The black creature looked up from its feet, white eyes seemingly burning into every monster present. As of this point in time, the monster notes, there are several dozen children, and even more grandchildren. Umiko stood to one side of him, dressed once more in a nurse's uniform. That nurse stood below them, in the filth, twisted into a mockery of an adult female woman. Others, on either side of this new monster, are equally as twisted, scales and spines breaking through the skin.

One such notable was the man who'd had his skeleton explode through his skin and wrap him up in an exoskeleton.

On his other side stood Natsumi. Behind them are the other three original generals.

Umiko cleared her throat quietly, and instantly, the throng of monsters fell silent. She raised her voice so she could be heard at the back of the cavernous basement.

"Subjects. I speak for our master. Any who dispute this, step forward and disagree." None did. Umiko paused still before continuing. "The senshi have made a critical error, and the time for our attack has come. From all appearances, they are now ostracising their most powerful member, as we've noted when they go on patrols of the city. This senshi also seems to be seen a lot less often, and does not assist when the senshi go to the rescue of people who have had 'accidents'." Umiko grinned. Several monsters sniggered. Yeah, accidents, *sure*. "This has given us a possibility we can exploit. It is possible that we may be able to defeat the senshi in piecemeal fashion if this schism continues. General Natsumi."

Natsumi stepped forward and took over. "Close observation of the senshi has shown that of late, they are starting to factionalise, divide into two groups. Apparently, something has happened to put this senshi on the outer, and we wish to keep her out there. While her resolve is weakened, we will attempt to overpower her, and bring the most powerful member of the senshi to her knees." A claw was raised. "Yes?"

"What about Sailor Moon? Should we fear her Eternal form?"

Natsumi shook her head. "For what ever reason, we have yet to see this transformation in action. We're thinking currently she may have... forgotten. Pluto has been known to act in mysterious ways from time to time, and she may have sealed them. Then again, she may simply have found a method of using that power in her regular Sailor Moon form. Either way, expect her to be as strong as the master prepared you for." The monster nodded, and leaned back into his previous stance. No other questions were forthcoming, so Umiko gestured at a table up the back. On it were several small stacks of photocopied papers. "We have plans there, for you to peruse. Those of you listed by name in them have instructions. The rest of you are to lie low. understood?"

There was a general growl of agreement from the crowd. Natsumi nodded in satisfaction, then stepped back and glanced at Umiko. Umiko smiled darkly, then stepped back into the shadows to tend to the Master. He seemed to be in some slight discomfort at the moment.

******

Two days later...

******

Mitsuki walked through the university grounds, trailing behind the other senshi. She was dressed in a checkered pleated skirt, and a white button-up shirt. She held her books with both hands in front of her hips, staring at the ground. Every so often, Ami or Minako would turn back to check on her progress. Satisfied she was following, they would then turn back and resume their conversations.

Mitsuki saw feet enter her field of vision, from behind her, and then they paced her. Someone was walking on one side of her. She kept her head down and her eyes forward. Then someone came up on the other side of her, also slowing to pace her footsteps once they had reached her.

Now she looked up, into the twinkling eyes of a young man. Keitaro? What was he doing here?

"Hi, remember me?" he asked.

Mitsuki nodded.

"Just wanted to give my thanks. You know. For saving me. Well, helping."

"How -" Mitsuki started, but stopped. How did he know who she was? There was no way he could have seen through her senshi form's identity... did this mean he was a monster again?

Keitaro shrugged. "I remembered lots of things. They just took time coming back. And one was a woman who looked and sounded just like you."

"But..." Again, Mitsuki was confused by the fact he had seen through a magical screen that could defeat all but the most powerful monsters. Was this an indication of how strong these monsters would be? No... that couldn't be it.

"You look just like her," Keitaro mused, rubbing his chin thoughtfully.

On Mitsuki's other side, there was a very feminine snort. "Really, Keitaro... you imagine things. There are no such things as monsters. There are no such things as girls who run around in short skirts with magic."

"You'll have to forgive Narusegawa," Keitaro confided quietly. "After, uh, what I did to her... she kinda made herself forget what had happened. She can't remember a thing. Well, she can, she doesn't want to."

Mitsuki nodded, mutely.

"You know, something in my head keeps saying it wasn't you, but I know better," he went on. "You don't get hit by girls as much as I used to without learning a few things about identifying people, you know."

Oh, so that was it? A near-magical power of his own? But Mitsuki just nodded, dumbly, and began staring at her feet again. Then a hand grabbed her roughly by the arm, and began pulling her.

"Come on, Mitsuki!" Ami. "Oh. Keitaro. Hello." Mitsuki could feel the daggers from Narusegawa. Obviously, there was no love lost between the two women. "Back with the ex-girlfrend?"

"That's right. I... owed her." Keitaro sounded a little resigned, but also a glimmer of happiness in his voice. Perhaps he really loved Narusegawa. And maybe she had stopped hitting him. Maybe. "You know how that is, Ami."

"Do I?"

"You know what I did to her. All of it."

Ami was silent for a time. "No. All I remember is you hurt her hand. Or claimed to."

Keitaro patted Mitsuki's shoulder. "Time to go, Naru-chan. See you, Ami. Bye bye, miss planet warrior. And thanks again." Mitsuki could hear the smile in his voice as he walked off.

Ami watched the two depart. Then, she started pulling on Mitsuki's arm again. "Come on. We've got to catch up."

"None of you trust me now, do you?"

"Of course we trust you." A pause. "You did take your pills this morning?" A nod from Mitsuki. "Of course we trust you. Why would you think any differently?"

******

Natsumi watched the exchange. Her eyes lingered on Keitaro momentarily. One of her first mistakes. As yet, not her last, but her closest victory over the senshi nonetheless. She'd heard the exchange, and yeah, staring at the girls walking in the other direction, she could almost imagine them in sailor fukus, prancing and dancing and flinging magical powers around with abandon. Yes, very likely. That could mean that certain segments of the Master's plan could be brought forward. Umiko would be *so* happy about that.

And so would the Master. Perhaps happy enough to elevate Natsumi above Umiko?

Who cared if Umiko was the first! If she was the one who had given initial life and sustainence to the Master... Umiko did nothing these days except stand at the Master's right hand, ready and waiting, a sycophant of the highest order. She didn't plan, she didn't act, she certainly didn't add to the population in the Master's name. Could she therefore be considered material for the top position?

Top, under the Master, at least...

Hmm. But anyway. That woman? Possibly. Natsumi raised a closed hand, opened it, revealing a small bird, twisted and warped by biological matter that had forces itself out of its chest, back, and neck. One of its eyes glowed a brilliant red, the other was normal. It looked up at Natsumi, and she nodded down at the woman being pulled along by the younger woman. "That one. Follow her. Report what you see."

The bird nodded, then took flight, and dropped downwards towards the ground, leveling out, and following Mitsuki as she once more followed the senshi through the streets.

******

A week later...

******

"Nemesis! Cover up that flank!"

Mercury's voice could be heard through the loud rumbling. A second building collapsed behind them, a small corner store. The monster within stirred, and heaved itself up and out of the rubble.

Nemesis leaped around lightly as directed to cover a side street while the senshi took up offensive positions again. She landed within half a dozen metres of Mars, who turned and glared. "Move over further." Nemesis stopped and stared for a moment, then moved again, a little slower, not so energetically.

The monster, looking like a hairy anklyosaur on two legs, stomped forward, having regained his feet again. "RAAAAAR! Tohkar stamp you all!"

"He doesn't know how to speak properly, that's new!" Mars shouted over the din of the monster's speech. "Mars flame SNIPER!"

"Don't get overconfident, Mars! He is immensely strong!"

"Tohkar SONIC GROUND WAVE!" The monster smashed his fists down on the road's surface, and the tar rippled into waves, ground tearing up and peppering the senshi in chunks of stone. He was bleeding, though, from over a dozen wounds. Some were minor, most major.

While the senshi were distracted, Tohkar decided that discretion was the best part of valour here, and decided to run for it. He bolted for the side street Nemesis was covering. But she was too far over to one side, thanks to where she had moved. And added to that fact, she was getting more and more worried about her strength. She didn't move fast enough to stop Tohkar - his fist smashed out as she tried to tackle him, and she flew backwards through a third building, coming to an abrupt stop against another building's wall. She slid to the ground, and stayed there for the moment.

Sailor Moon staggered to her feet, to see Tohkar running off down the road, fast as he could. While the senshi could catch him - none of them were in the best of condition to chase him. Damn... another monster that's escaped. That had been two in that last week? Something had to be done. She stalked over to the alleyway Nemesis lay in.

"What do you think you were doing? Mercury *told* you to cover that flank!"

Nemesis didn't raise her head, instead, she lowered it further. Mars joined in the demands as to why Nemesis hadn't stopped Tohkar from escaping, and then Mercury as well. Jupiter looked about to join in, but Saturn grabbed her arm and shook her head. She stepped up towards the other senshi.

"She tried her best. She's been trying her best! How can you criticise her?"

Sailor Moon rounded on the smaller senshi. "How can you say that? She's doing what she wants, and not what she's told! She's a danger to us all!"

"And Sailor Mars told her to move from where she was covering! How can you criticise her for doing what you all are telling her? We've lost two dark kingdomers now because someone has told her to do something or mvoe away from them - we're not gonna be effective until you can all get over this!"

"Us! Get over this? What she did -"

Saturn shook her head. "I don't believe you all. I'm taking Nemesis back to the dormitory. I'll see you all later." She shook her head and made a sound of disgust as she helped Nemesis up, then leapt off into the sky.

Sailor Moon glared at Saturn's retreating back. "More and more, they're both causing trouble."

Venus stepped forward. "But she's right. You're all as much to blame for this as Nemesis is. And none of you are willing to admit it."

"Then you're part of the problem, too," Mercury shot back.

"At least I admit it," Venus snarled in reply.

Jupiter eyed the senshi. "You know, I don't like what she did. But... maybe Saturn and Venus have a point. As long as we ostracise her, she's not going to be effective. And neither are we. She's stronger than Mars and I... stronger than Saturn... maybe stronger than you, Sailor Moon. And we're not using her. We're pushing her out. Ranma wouldn't approve -"

"Oh Ranma," Sailor Moon scoffed. "Has anyone seen him around lately? He's in a permanent bad mood!"

"Maybe because he's still angry, and no one's talking to him," Venus replied, then turned on her heel. "Come on, Jupiter, let's catch up to Saturn and give her a hand." Jupiter nodded, and both took off into the darkening skies.

"Hmph!" Sailor Moon snorted, then turned back to Mars and Mercury. "They just won't listen."

"Their funeral," Mars replied.

******

"R...Ranma?"

Mitsuki sat up in bed suddenly, the darkened room seeming to be darker above the foot of her bed. Was it him? Could it be him?

The shape moved, then headed towards the door. Ranma's body was framed in dim light from the hallway before he shut it behind him.

"Why was he in here?" Mitsuki thought aloud. "What reason..." She remembered her injuries, and checked over them. Hmm... nothing but a little tenderness. Hotaru had done a good job. She lay back in the bed. She'd have to ask Hotaru in the morning what was going on. But for now, she was... very... tired....

******

The next morning...

******

Ranma sat on the roof of the dorm, watching the girls go to university. Once they were gone, he'd start practising again. Mitsuki stopped for a moment on the lip of the stairs, and turned back to lock eyes with Ranma. She gave him a nervous smile, and ducked her head in acknowledgement before leaving. Ranma nodded back.

"Ahem."

Hotaru. Behind him. Looking as unsteady on her feet up here as ever. "Ranma."

"I made sure she was okay last night, like you asked."

"You still can't forgive her?"

"She can't yet say sorry to me. She couldn't say it to Shampoo. I can't forgive her until then."

"But... you aren't as angry now?"

"I've had time to think about it. Yeah... I'm still angry. But... it shows me something."

"What's that?" She was right behind him now. Hands on his shoulders for balance.

"I wasn't a good teacher."

"How do you mean?"

"Well, I was your guys' senshi... I was *supposed* ta teach you all about responsibility and control... I failed. It's as much my fault... as it is her's." His shoulders slumped a little.

Hotaru's voice was now around his ears, breathing in lightly. The sensations sent small shivers up and down Ranma's spine. "You taught us control. She couldn't help that, though - she's a mass of shifting personalities, fighting for dominance. I think... there's something in her past that caused her to be like this. Something big. She won't talk to us, Ranma." Those last words were spoken with emphasis.

"Yeah, maybe. But... I'll see what I can do."

"That's all I ask, Ranma. We need her. We all need her. Even you. You're involved in this monster war, too, now... you'll need her before long. We need her thikning straight. For her own good as well as ours."

Ranma nodded. "Shouldn't you be on your way to school? Uh... where *are* you going that's so far away, anyhow?"

Hotaru gave him a cheeky smile. "Never mind about that. I'll be home late this afternoon. My... sempai," she spoke the word with wry humour, "is having an after-school meeting with some people. I've got to attend." Ranma nodded, and she hesitantly kissed him on the cheek before leaving.

Ranma watched Hotaru head down the stairs, taking them slowly. She was still practising with him in the mornings, and although his training had been erratic of late, Ranma could see she had been trying hard. Her body was firming up, gaining muscle and endurance. She could tackle those stairs without resorting to changing into her senshi form now, even if she was exhausted by the time she got to the top or the bottom. She was trying so hard to please him, to be someone he could be proud of... he was very happy.

But it might be time very soon... for him to return to Nerima for a time. Why? To check up on things. On people. To make sure his other 'friends' in Nerima *stayed* in Nerima. Hmm. He stretched back on the roof, soaking up the warm light from the sun.

Tomorrow. He'd go to Nerima tomorrow.

To be continued...


SAILOR MOON SAYS:

Gah. Another part that would not write until tonight :P Well, as a change, this is just a straight txt file, rather than txt altered to html. I'll see how this looks, and might go this way, since it takes me a while on this comp to convert to html :P

Oh well. I am *so sorry* this took so long... I've had it started since about three weeks ago, but would literally almost fall asleep at the keyboard whenever I opened it, or thought about opening it in some cases. It's a hurried look at the most important bits and pieces over the space of a month. Don't know if it worked... I kind of like the idea. Won't do it too often... except maybe later in the arc for something that's coming... which usually calls for this approach. But for now, I'll mark this as a successful experiment. Anyone disagree?

So. In the next chapter, Ranma goes back to Nerima. Anything else need to be said? ;)

As usual, comments that people want to send me (other than reviews, etc) can be sent to me via domino@linksnet.nu or misato_98@yahoo.com I check the Yahoo address more often, for those who have emailed me (thank you, your comments are always appreciated and replied to, even if it might take me a few days to get to it) or might want to email me. Anyways, until next time...

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