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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 4

** The Date **

 

"Flour."

Ranma dropped the item in the shopping trolley, and continued pushing. Makoto held the shopping list - having decided she was going to cook for a few evenings every week to let Ranma concentrate on repairs, she insisted on helping out with the groceries.

She glanced back at him. He seemed bored, as if he'd prefer doing this faster. She had to ask him - for all the senshi. All, except Hotaru, seemed to be curious about something from a few days before, with the incident at the hospital. "Ranma?"

"Mmm?" The young man's eyes focussed on Makoto.

"Do you have a twin sister?"

"Uh?"

"You know," Makoto shrugged. "A tomboyish sister who wears the same things as you? With red hair? And -"

Oh great, thought Ranma, where did this come from? After all, he knew Hotaru was a senshi - that much was now stuck in his head - but he didn't know the other girls staying at the Ai Sou were as well. And since Makoto, Usagi, Minako, Rei and Ami hadn't been there, to the best of his knowledge, Ranma had no idea how they had seen his female form - he'd kept away from cold water since the girls moved into the dorm.

"Ranma?" Makoto prompted.

"Ah... heh heh... There's a cousin of a friend who looks a bit like me and dresses like me."

"And acts like you?" Makoto pressed.

Ranma nodded. "Uh, yeah, Ranko."

"She's okay to... be around? I mean, is she safe?"

"Safest person I know to be around!" Ranma replied, pretty quick. He was a bit miffed with that sideways insult. "She's a martial artist, like me."

Makoto smirked. "Rei'd love to spar with you."

Ranma snorted. "I'm outta her league. But I can set up a practise dummy for her or somethin'."

"Out of your league, eh?" Makoto grinned to herself. That would be something she'd have to set up.

******

The circle was drawn in the ground with the heel of Usagi's shoe. "Who ever steps outside the ring first loses."

Rei nodded briskly, in loose pants and a shirt pulled tightly around her middle. Her hair was tied back, ready for action. She stood in a ready position, staring at Ranma, who was standing there, looking faintly amused. He glanced at Usagi.

"So what do we get if we win?"

Minako jumped in quickly. "If Ranma wins, he gets to date one of us!"

Ranma urked, and pulled back. "Uh... no, th-"

"How about Ranma chooses a date, and has a chaperone come along?" Hotaru asked quietly. Minako's eyes narrowed, then she nodded agreement. As did Usagi and Rei. Makoto looked across at the new woman, Mitsuki. She was nodding almost imperceptibly, her eyes locked on the male amrtial artist. Ranma finally agreed also.

"But what about her?" he asked, nodding at Rei.

Rei wondered a moment. "If I win... you build me a shrine." She jerked her head over towards the flat area off to the west of the dorm buildings. "Over there."

"That's it?" Ranma asked, confused. Rei nodded. "Ah well. I'm ready."

Usagi held up a handkerchief. "When this hits the ground, the match starts. No broken bones, no killing blows, no serious injuries," Usagi said, glaring at Rei, adding in a hiss, "We need him to keep fixing the place up!" She had a quick thought. "Punch up his face!" Ranam gave her a weird look, and she dropped the handkerchief.

It fluttered to the ground, and the moment it touched with the dirt, Rei leaped forward, limbs blurring in movement as she sped towards Ranma. Usagi gasped and took a step back - Rei was going all out. This had to be a matter of honour, her friends had insulted it and now she had to prove she was the best.

Ranma folded his arms and yawned.

He didn't even seem to move, but Rei was suddenly rocketing backwards through the air. There was a moment she felt shock, then anger, and her feet planted into the ground, skidding her to a halt just millimetres from the ring's outline. Ranma still yawned, and stretched as if tired. That wasn't right. He hadn't moved!

Ranma tossed a glance over at Usagi. "Are we just using hands and feet and body parts in this?"

Usagi gaped. "Wha? No weapons!"

Ranma gave her a whitering look. "I mean, can we use special abilities?"

Rei gave Usagi a quick glance. Usagi shrugged. "Up to you guys. If you do, though, Rei's got you cold."

Ranma noted the smug remark, and turned back to face Rei. "Up to you. I, uh, don't like to fight girls much, so, uh, if you want to beef up your attacks or somethin', I'll try and go easy on ya."

The impudence of this character! Rei stood up straight. "May I go prepare?"

"How long will that take?"

"Less than half a minute."

"Rei..." Makoto added under her breath, warningly.

Rei turned to her friend. "He outmatches me right now. And he's just playing with me!'

"You're sure?"

"Yes! Did you see him move?" Makoto shook her head. "It felt like a freight train hit me, though!"

"Ah."

Ranma finished considering. "Yeah, go for it. If you don't mind me using some of my special techniques." Rei shook her head, and Ranma nodded, waiting with arms folded as Rei stepped out of the ring and stepped inside. Ranma noted a flash of light around the closed door and shuttered windows, and wondered why Rei was playing around with the lights. But the door opened a moment later, and Rei stepped out again, wrapping her shirt back up tightly. At least, Ranma assumed it was her. "Rei?"

The teenaged woman nodded, and Ranma nodded also - yeah, he could see it was her now. Makoto slapped her face. "He's going to know who you are now if he ever sees you in you-know-what," she hissed. Rei shrugged it off.

"He'll never get the chance." She turned towards Ranma. "Are you ready?"

"Always."

Rei gave a wild scream, and started running at Ranma again. He noticed she was faster now, more agile, and her power levels had gone up considerably. He dodged her first punch, bending over at his waist almost completely backwards, then brought his legs up under her torso and wrapped them around her waist, straightening his body, then slamming her down into the ground. Rei bounced, but got up again.

"Is that the best you can do?"

"No," Ranma countered, "but is that the best you can do?" He jumped another punch, ducked a kick, then threw two punches, each of which caught Rei in pressure points that should have slowed her considerably. But they didn't do much more than make her angry. She returned with a devastating kick that Ranma caught on his forearms, and he found himself sliding backwards with great speed on the ground. He dug his toes in and leaped forward, just clear of the ring's boundary. He returned with a slower version of the amarguriken, so as not to seriously injure the girl, but she held up under the onslaught. She couldn't block all the punches, but she got a good half of them.

Rei leaped back, and held her fingers up. "Mars fire ignite!" Flames leaped towards Ranma, swirling outward from a central point. Rei jumped again, while Ranma dodged her first blast, and fired again. The martial artist dodged the senshi's second attack - which put him in the perfect place for a kick to the gut. Ranma sagged, but still rolled away from the elbow dropping from above. He needed to get his breath back, and quick. He noticed Rei was setting up for another fire blast, and he leaped upwards. The roll of fire flashed towards him - and he gave a ki blast through his legs, keeping him in front of the fire.

Rei pointed as he passed the line. "He's outside the boundary!"

Usagi shrugged. "His feet haven't touched the ground yet."

Rei gaped, then set off another two blasts.

Ranma dodged both with ease, his breath back, and fired a ki blast to fire him straight back down at Rei. Once he got close enough, he shouted, "Katsu tenshin amarguriken!" and slamed fists and feet forwards towards the girl. They impacted with rapidity all up one side of her body - and while she was superhumanly strong, the repeated attacks wore away at her defences, and she started to feel real pain.

It was about this point Rei realised she was still outmatched. She could pull out more powerful attacks, but she felt Ranma was keeping a lid on his own attacks to make sure he didn't seriously harm her - and while he was tiring, so was she. Rei bit her tongue, and made her as-yet most prudent move in the fight.

She stepped out of the ring.

For a brief moment, she feared Ranma wouldn't stop the flashing of his fists, but as soon as one foot touched the ground outside the ring, he stopped punching. He then smiled, and held out a hand.

"That was a good fight," he said.

Rei took the offered hand, not quite able to meet his eyes, nor the eyes of her friends. "Um... yes. Thank you for sparring with me." She hurried inside. Minako rolled her eyes and headed inside after her.

Hotaru clapped, and Usagi handed her 200 yen grudgingly. "I told you sempai would win," Hotaru grinned.

Makoto walked over towards Ranma. "That was a really good fight," she said. "You're as good as you say you are."

"I don't like boasting," Ranma replied. "Well, much." He raised his hand to behind his head in embarrassment and gave a weak laugh. "She's a good fighter, though. I wonder why she holds back so much?"

"She was outmatched," Makoto shrugged. "She knew that. To go all out would have hurt you, and her, and us. And I think maybe she thought you might be able to return whatever she could dish out."

"Still... she looks very familiar," Ranma mused.

Usagi entered into the conversation. "So who are you taking on your date?"

"Eh?"

The blond tapped her foot impatiently. "You were going on a date if you won?"

"A d-d-date? With a g-g-girl?"

"Yeah." Usagi glared. "Hey, you're not... er, that way inclined are you?"

Mitsuki rolled her eyes and snorted. "Oh, Miss Tact herself." The younger girl squeezed her eyes shut and poked her tongue out at the older woman. "Really mature, Princess."

Usagi bit her tongue. "Ouch! Whad dad? Pweenzeth?"

Stretching, Mitsuki stood. "So pick who your date and chaperone are already, Ranma." She folded her arms to wait.

"Uh..." Ranma got this vacant look to his eyes, and inside his mind, was running through fields of flowers with Ukyou holding one hand and Akane the other, singing and dancing.

The purple-haired woman sighed, and walked inside. "I'll be his date. Hotaru, you can chaperone." She shut the door behind her.

"Uh..." La la la...

Usagi and Makoto exchanged glances. Ami looked up from her palmtop. "Have I missed the fight already?"

******

Ranma wasn't sure what to wear - he wasn't sure what they were doing. But Hotaru seemed to be looking forward to this eargerly, so he decided to try and make it as special as he could for the younger girl. He settled on a tuxedo his father had bought somehow (he suspected Nabiki's hand in this somewhere) for his aborted wedding a while back, giving it a quick dust and trying it on. Yeah, still fit. That's good. There was a light tap on his door.

"Sempai?"

"Hotaru-chan?"

"Uh... sempai... I... uh... can you carry me down the stairs?"

"Yeah, 'course I can, Hotaru-chan." Big brother indeed. But truth be told, Ranma was enjoying it. Hotaru was almost what he wished Akane had been - not the violent tomboy who routinely got the wrong end of the stick (figuratively - it was Ranma who often got it literally). He smiled to himself, picturing Akane with Hotaru's personality. "She'd have been much cuter then," he murmured, sighing.

Outside the door, Hotaru froze. She'd be much cuter if she did what? What could she do to make Ranma-sempai notice her? She turned, to find Minako standing there, looking bright and happy.

"So you got the date? That's good, Hotaru-chan! Can I help you get ready?"

Hotaru brightened, and nodded - if anyone knew how to make someone love you, Minako was it. The constant procession of boyfriends in her life showed that amply.

******

Mitsuki stared into the mirror, her damp hair clumping around her head. What to do with it? she wondered. She didn't even know what she'd wear. Right now, she was wrapped in a towel - just having stepped out of the bath. But what to wear? How to look? What did she need to do before leaving? One good thing about a chaperone along was she didn't need condoms on the off-chance something might happen.

She doubted it would, but a girl needed protection these days, just in case.

She wasn't sure Ranma knew what one was. He thusly seemed oblivious to girls, apart from something that was soft and to be kept safe. She noticed he'd still pulled his amarguriken punches and kicks some in the final round of battle outside... Rei would have had the upper hand in how much she could soak up before Ranma gave up from pain... but his speed and agility and skill... and yes, talent she had seen years ago, all combined to make him deadly in combat. He could likely drop a senshi in combat before she could drop him. One, maybe two... three, even at a stretch, but likely no more than that.

Then the superhuman endurance and pain barriers would work against him, and fighting a number of women with abilities strong enough to rip worlds apart would tip the scales in the senshi's balance.

She shook her head. Why was she working out how to fight him, how to beat him? She wasn't intending to kill him or anything, only injure -

Mitsuki caught herself again. Dammit. No, not this time, she promised herself. This time, she'd be normal. It had been a long time since she had last been on a date.

She was pleased one of her old friends had sent her a postcard recently, telling her that he was off soft foods now, and the doctors thought they had his skull wired back properly this time. And he even recognised her photo!

The only reason she hadn't been charged, or rather, convicted, was that no one could believe a fourteen year old girl would crush a young man's skull like a polystyrene cup.

That had been about the time Mitsuki had tried to haul her excesses in. Sometimes, she was good with it. Other times... well, construction crews certainly earned their living in places she lived.

Sighing, she left the mirror, and headed for her wardrobe, to find something to wear.

******

Across town, in a dark alley, two figures stood. One of them was injured, holding her stomach with a hand once human, now scaled with large claws instead of fingers. Her eyes glowed a faint red in the darkness, and that small light hinted at patterns on her cheeks. She wore the remains of a nurse's uniform.

Beside her, crouched over a prone figure, was a black thing. The creature was about the size of a five year old child, with a shiny black coating that seemed to be almost liquid in its form. White burning eyes glared out angrily at the world as it fed on the homeless person beneath it, gore dripping from a fanged mouth that had no lips. The eyes of the man below were glazed, rolled back up into the skull, a hideous look of pain and agony and fear etched into his face that would forever leave a mark on those who looked upon it.

It gave a small growl, and Umiko looked down, then wrapped a human hand around its head. "There, there," she soothed, in a voice still remarkably human. "We'll get you all better. Then we'll get them, you'll see."

The thing growled again.

"You want more troops?"

It nodded.

"We can do that." Umiko paused, and looked out of the alleyway. A tomcat strutted past, tail up in the air. "Here, puss puss puss," she called. The cat looked in, sniffed and smelt food, and headed into the darkness.

Umiko grabbed it by the scruff of its neck, and held it up. The cat hissed and turned, trying to scratch the thing that had it - but couldn't. The creature lifted a hand to Umiko's free one, passed her something it had extracted from its body - a black crystal - which the woman inserted into the tom's head. The cat hissed and yowled again before falling silent. Noticeably, its claws enlarged.

The former nurse grinned, and put the cat down. The black thing growled, and the tom smirked, then ran off. Just before it disappeared around the corner, Umiko watched its lower back shoot three rows of spines out and claws burst from its tail.

******

Ranma waited in the front lounge for the two women, a little nervous, which was showing in his impatience. "Where are they?" he asked.

"Still getting ready," Ami replied.

Usagi just stared. "He fits that tuxedo better than Mamo-chan..." she murmured to himself. Makoto looked over.

"Stop drooling, Usagi."

"I am not drooling!"

Ranma looked around for Rei, but she was nowhere to be seen. "Uh... is Rei all right? I mean, I haven't seen her since -"

"She's fine," Makoto assured him. "She'll be back to normal in a few days. Let her get her ego around the fact there's a better martial artist around."

A door opened down the hall, and Ranma turned. Hotaru stepped out, her hair shiny and held in place with a small silver hairclip running alongside both temples. The dress was a light brown, spreading out off her hips and ending halfway down her shin. The front wasn't low-cut, something Ranma was grateful for, he found. She was very nervous herself.

"Does this look all right, sempai?"

Ranma nodded, speechless. Regardless of her age, Hotaru looked very attractive in the dress and done up that way. Another door opened, and Ranma could hear footsteps.

Around a corner in the hall behind Hotaru stepped Mitsuki. Her purple hair was tied up almost in a traditional Japanese style, but she was dressed in a strapless black dress that reached halfway down her thighs. She had a small black purse slung over a shoulder, and her makeup was impecable. Even Minako was impressed - this clearly outshone her work on Hotaru.

She felt a little bit uncomfortable with that revelation.

Mitsuki stepped demurely towards Ranma, and wrapped an arm around his, pressing her body up against the edge of his. She gave Ranma's body an appreciative test-squeeze, and sighed. Perhaps she should have packed the condoms. Mitsuki turned back to Hotaru, who looked horrified and a little upset. "Are we ready to go?"

Ranma nodded, not trusting his voice around either of the girls. They exited, and Ranma carried Hotaru down the stairs to the road. "Where to?" he asked, as he hailed a taxi.

******

Dinner looked to be lovely, and Ranma had to learn quickly how to use knives and forks. Somehow, this didn't seem to be much of a prize. Oh yeah, the girls looked beautiful - but this was a pricey restaurant, and he could see his first pay covering this meal with nothing left over to send back to the Tendo's dojo. Oh well. He'd agreed to it (he couldn't remember why) and he wasn't going to spoil the nights of Mitsuki and Hotaru.

They sat either side of him, and exchanged light conversation. Ranma felt a foot on his, and looked at Mitsuki. She glanced at him, innocently and confused, then a little angry. Hotaru blushed and pulled her foot back before Ranma could check and see who's it was. Maybe it was the wine Ranma had ordered for everyone? Had to be. She was feeling a little... restless.

Mitsuki was too, apparently. She was leaning over on the table right now, giving Ranma a generous view. "So, Ranma. How did your training trips go? I've noticed you seem to have learnt a lot in the time you've been gone."

"Training trips?" Ranma asked, eyebrows furrowing together. "How did you-"

But a crash from the kitchen caused him to break off. He whipped his head around - so did Hotaru and Mitsuki - as he felt something in there that really shouldn't have been. "Awww no, not now, not again!"

A cat-like creature the size of a tiger burst through the kitchen doors, growled, and turned to face Ranma's table. The restaurant went silent.

And then the screams began.

 

 

SAILOR MOON SAYS:

Okay. Chapter 4. Didn't get as much done of the date as I thought... oh well. Heating up a bit now... check back in a few days for the next chapter :)