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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 7

** **

 

"I don't love him."

"I saw."

"That was a mistake! He just saved my life!"

"You were kissing."

"It was a hug! Nothing more! It was thanks for saving my life!"

"You were *naked*! I saw!"

A sigh. Footsteps towards the door. Another sigh, closer to the door. "Hotaru, I don't... love him. Go... talk to him. It wasn't his fault."

Sobs, from inside.

******

The door opened, and Rei stepped out, clad only in a towel. Her hair was wet, and clumped down her face. She looked upset as soon as the door shut behind her, as if she had just given something very precious up. Usagi watched her go from around the corner.

"Now, what do you think that was about?"

Minako, behind her, had no answer. But it was fun being nosey. Being the senshi of love, well, that also drew her to notice things that the others hadn't quite picked up. She'd of course picked up on Hotaru's feelings right away... and also recently been picking up on tightly controlled threads from Rei. From Mitsuki, the older woman living in the house... well, no. Not a lot. Chaotic feelings, all over the place.

She had no idea why Rei had seemed to have fallen for the manager - he really didn't seem her type. But maybe his body corrupted her, or something? Minako knew it had corrupted her, she thought with an evil grin. Usagi noticed.

"What are you smiling for?"

"Oh, nothing. Just... maybe Hotaru and Rei have a thing going, you know?"

Usagi snorted. "Yeah, right. Rei doesn't go that way. Too traditional. She likes Mamo-chan."

"Ahhh," Minako nodded slyly. "Does Mamo-chan like her back these days?"

"No!" Usagi shrieked. "My Mamo-chan likes *me*!" Realising she'd been had, Usagi whapped Minako on the arm.

"Hey!"

"Stop teasing me! It's Hotaru and Rei we're talking about!"

Minako raised her eyebrows. "And they were talking about Ranma."

"You think?"

"Who else here is a 'he'? Who else here does our little Hotaru-chan have a crush on?" Minako smirked.

"That puts you out of the running then?" Usagi asked, equally smug.

"Are you interested?" Minako put in quickly. Usagi replied with another squealed response, to which the senshi of love covered Usagi's mouth and dragged her off.

******

Inside her room, Hotaru sobbed. She was very upset. Having walked in on her... her sempai - he would likely never be anything else - with a naked Rei in his arms, she knew she couldn't compete. So what did that mean? Was he still her sempai? Should she still love him? Should she, perhaps, hate him, or try and help heat up the relationship between Rei and Ranma?

Admittedly, Rei probably needed a lot of help. The reason her temper was so pronounced at times was related to the fact she wouldn't let other emotions to the fore very often - Hotaru hadn't seen Rei express interest in anyone other than Usagi's boyfriend. She'd even heard there had been some early competition there, but there seemed to be nothing there now. But what could she see in Ranma?

Well, on first thought, there was his martial arts experience. That had probably been the start point - the initial fight that had embarrassed her hideously. In response to that, Rei had had to swallow her pride to ask him to teach her, train her - and with that swallowing of pride... had probably come several thoughts. Thoughts that Rei had used... er, in the dead of night. As they had trained, Hotaru guessed that what Rei had felt had multiplied, grown, as she had more contact with the dormitory's manager.

While it hurt her to think it, Hotaru realised that Rei had also probably never fallen in love before, and falling now for the first time had confused her, and she had... what? Was there really any excuse? The other senshi *knew* Hotaru was interested in Ranma, had known it since the first time she'd laid eyes on him. Minako hadn't given up, but Hotaru thought she wasn't serious competition - she'd find someone else to fixate on soon enough. Ami wasn't into martial arts and fighting as a whole to think of Ranma much in this particular way. Usagi was extremely defensive of Mamoru... so she was likely feeling jealous that the girls weren't fixated on her boyfriend for a change. Makoto... well, she enjoyed having Ranma around, but she seemed to like him more as a friend. Rei... Rei and Mitsuki... they were Hotaru's competition.

And the tough parts of her that were Saturn... the pieces cold and hard and tightly bound and controlled lest she do something very stupid and disastrous... they were telling her the helpless routine, while not actually a routine, wouldn't work for much longer. Or if it did, he'd think of her more as a little sister. Something she didn't want. So, she needed a new plan of attack.

Hotaru wiped away her tears, hauled herself to her feet, and on shakey legs, headed into her closet to find something she'd put away...

******

Ranma paused outside Hotaru's room, hand in position to knock. He hadn't known what was happening with Rei out at the springs, but he'd heard her drowning and not doing a lot to save herself, and had burst in to save her. He hadn't seen a lot with the steaming water, but enough had been imprinted on his eyes to cover Rei with a towel before he tried to wake her. She had woken up, thanked him, and hugged him - the towel sliding off in the process. Mitsuki and Hotaru had stepped into the broken door frame then, both horrified.

Ranma could still remember Hotaru's face. He had to explain, it was all an accident, a mistake.

But as he paused... he wondered... would doing this make thing worse? In his experience, girls never, *ever* believed him when he said nothing happened, or that he hadn't done anything. Years of Akane, Ukyou, Shampoo, and countless others not believing him finally got to him, in the one time it would have paid not to.

And he remembered something else. Words, from so long ago. "Don't rely on others, okay, Ranma? They only hurt you in the end. They use you. They leave you. They don't come back. And you pay for it." How true, Ranma reflected. Hotaru had relied on him, had trusted him. And he had hurt her. So had Rei, someone else by all she displayed she had trusted. She would be hurt now, and in trying to apologise and explain Hotaru was mistaken for something she was certain she had seen - and she had seen it - well, Ranma didn't know if he could make her understand that.

So he lowered his hand, lowered his gaze, and walked outside to find something to hit until the funny tight pain in his chest went away.

******

"You want to die?" Umiko asked the young man standing before her. Her left shoulder had bulked up now, covered in light fuzz with a scale pattern underneath it. The whites of her eyes were being leeched with red colouring, spilling from capilleries. Spines were slowly tearing her nurses uniform up the back as they protruded from her vertebrae. Her left hand was fully hooked in a claw, scales running up and merging with the fuzz/scale combination at her shoulder. The sides of her mouth her growing fat as something pushed out of her gums behind her lips.

The young man in front of her was panicked now. She had looked so cute moments before, leaning up against the alley's wall in the shadows. Fantastic figure, short skirt, big bust... but... it wasn't quite not true. He just hadn't been able to see very much. Upon his eyes adjusting to the dim light, the woman he thought was a prostitute - which he was looking for, with money in his pocket - turned out to be a monster.

But what she was offering... meant he didn't need money next time he needed a prostitute. And he wouldn't need his glasses anymore, nor his bandages and he wouldn't need monthly trips to the doctor anymore, either. His life, in a nutshell, sucked. And thus, eternal life and good health sounded to him like a very good idea.

He didn't step away. Umiko narrowed her eyes, and turned to look deeper into the alleyway. "Go. Down there," she said, with a dark smirk.

The young man turned, and stepped further into the alleyway. Something up ahead moved, crawling up onto two feet, and started moving towards him. Tears started flowing from the young man's eyes, but he continued stepping slowly towards the thing in shadows, even where there was light.

Umiko didn't so much as start when the boy started screaming. She didn't feel sorry... after all, she'd soon have company. And so, she took up her position again, in the mouth of the alleyway... so as to attract more company...

******

The next morning.

Mitsuki waited outside for Ranma to begin training. He was late, by about half an hour this time. That was unusual. She headed inside to try and find Hotaru and Rei, as well.

Hotaru's door was locked. No sound came from within. A difference from the sobbing and sounds of running water that had been heard the night before. Rei's room was clean, spotless - and empty. Ranma's room... was likewise empty. Perhaps Rei and Ranma... after all, Mitsuki had seen them locked in a naked embrace...

But no. Ranma wasn't like that. At least, that was Mitsuki's read on the situation. He would be Hotaru's, if for no other reason than the little bitch was willing to play dirty.

Not that Mitsuki wanted much to do with him. Just wanted something to scratch an itch every now and then.

She mentally chastised herself - that was dangerous, she *knew* that. Last time... well, it had been close. And that was the closest she'd ever come. It would *not* happen again.

But still...

Where were they? She climbed up to the roof. Ranma hadn't finished repairing it yet - Mitsuki suspected so he had somewhere quiet to go when he wanted to be alone. There was a figure sitting up there, though, on the highest point. Not Ranma. Rei. She was meditating, sitting cross-legged, watching the sun rise above Tokyo, below them. She looked very sad, and Mitsuki thought she knew why. Usagi had been talking the night before a little too loudly to Ami and Makoto (both of whom were trying to do homework and study) about what Rei had said to Hotaru the day before. Obviously, she was denying her own feelings... but why? For how long? Could she keep it up?

There seemed to be something wrong with Rei's face in the sunlight, Mitsuki couldn't make out what it was until she called out, and Rei wiped at her eyes and cheeks with the cuff of the shirt she was wearing.

"How long have you been up here?" Mitsuki asked.

"Since about two AM," Rei said, sounding distant. "I couldn't sleep."

"Why?"

"... I don't know." Rei's face was streaked with tear marks, and she scrubbed at them some more. At Mitsuki's steady gaze, Rei attempted a smile. It didn't work too much. "Must be the wind."

No breeze filtered through the women's hair.

"All I wanted was someone to train with," Rei added, eventually. "Someone who could teach me to be better. To use the power and force I've got to my fullest potential. To become a better -" She stopped, and eyed Mitsuki. "But that doesn't matter now."

"Why not?"

"Because... in... thanking Ranma for saving my life, I've upset another of my friends." Rei sighed. "Really badly. And I don't know... how to apologise. How to... make it better for her."

"You've really stuffed up badly, eh?" Mitsuki grinned.

Rei shot her a look of pure venom. "You like him too - why are you so happy that I was naked and holding him?"

"What makes you think I care about him any more than superficially?" Mitsuki smiled, lightly, her eyes lighting up a little as she speaks. "His body... so muscled... so controlled. Can you imagine what he'd be like in bed?" She frowns, remembering something, and the older woman pulls back a little, growing hostile again. "Why are you so interested? Shouldn't you be apologising to your friend for trying to put moves on her property?"

"'Her property'?"

"He's as close to Hotaru's property as he could be without her sticking her name on him," the older woman clarifies. "He doesn't seem to mind much either, does he...?"

Rei's face went red from embarrassment, quickly followed by anger. "How do you figure that? He doesn't love her! He thinks she's a sister! He loves -" She stopped, caught herself, and looked away. "Someone else," she finished lamely.

"Your feelings for him haven't lessened."

"No."

"So why are you -"

There's a sob from Rei's direction, her face still turned away. "Because he doesn't like me like that! I... I thought he might. I... was wrong. I got caught up... in fantasy." The last two words sound lame, even to her, and she stands, angrily, still crying, and climbs down off the roof.

Mitsuki smiles to herself. "That's one down," she says to no one in particular, then shivers as an ice cube trickles down her back, and she turns to look out over the city. That thing's still out there, she realised. Somewhere. And possibly only going quiet to hide, build its power, bide its time.

Not good, she thought, and decided for the moment that it was time for Sailor Nemesis to start some serious hunting... Making sure Rei had left the roof, she raised a hand with a small crystal-holding makeup pouch. The crystal seemed to be a black shard of something hard and glassy. "Nemesis planetary shard power make up!"

Power blasted off the roof, and Sailor Nemesis dropped to the ground, in her black-trimmed fuku, and leaped off the hilltop for the street far below, already her eyes scanning for trouble.

******

Ranma watched this from his hiding place, further up the mountain the Ai Sou was built on. He was surprised when Mitsuki burst out in coloured light, and reformed into that older senshi he'd seen... really surprised. His mind hadn't wanted to accept that, sliding around like he recognised it had with Hotaru - but it soon subsided. He hadn't seen Hotaru transform, but he had just watched Mitsuki change. He guessed that was some kind of weird ki power, maybe something else, beyond his understanding.

No matter. He was... shocked. And upset. He knew what had happened with Rei looked really bad. He knew, because this was what *always* happened to him when a girl hugged him. He did feel bad that Hotaru had to hurt... but it was for the best. He couldn't risk her feeling any more hurt - she had to not rely on him so much. That meant climbing the stairs by herself. Shifting her own things around. Someone else to sit and watch television with.

Ranma hadn't quite realised yet that it wasn't just Hotaru who was feeling bad. Somewhere, deep down in his heart, he could feel a pain. He felt bad. Incredibly guilty that Hotaru had to stumble in at that moment - not before, when he was saving Rei's life. Nor afterwards, when she would have been alone, Ranma having left the room so she could dry off and dress.

But she had walked in just as Rei's towel slipped. While she was hugging him, thanking him for the save. He had had a naked girl press herself up against him. And while he'd had that happen many a time in Nerima with his fiances... they were just that. Forcibly engaged to him. Girls that he liked as friends, but nothing more - and they had eagerly wanted more, just like Akane had somewhere deep inside. She showed that side every now and then. Ranma had, too, but in the end could not accept that she didn't and wouldn't ever trust him.

These girls... were friends of his. And yeah, some liked him. But they weren't pushy about it... none of them tried to use him, or abuse him - apart maybe from Usagi. But she was an airhead, more or less, and was apparently jealous the other girls were paying attention to him instead of her boyfriend. Ranma privately suspected she'd go nuts if they started paying attention to this Mamoru guy again... but she'd love the attention.

He continued to squat, hiding, watching Mitsuki disappear over the plateau's side.

He was hungry. But he wasn't going to move. He needed to hit something else now.

Behind him stood four statues, hammered out of the black rock of the mountain itself. Hotaru, Rei, Mitsuki and Akane. The four women who, in their own weird ways, actually liked him.

He needed an Ukyou and a Shampoo. He set to work.

******

The teenager stood in the middle of the street. Cars passed him in both directions, honking horns. A busy time - the morning rush to work. He stood, shirtless, revealing bandages covering large parts of his torso. They were soaked in blood. So were the bandages on his arms, and his legs appeared to be the same under his torn jeans.

Drivers navigated around him, honking horns occasionally at his upraised arms. He was an annoyance more than anything.

The boy smiled, revealing braces. He reached down and removed his glasses - a passing wind, and he was aware of someone standing behind him.

He turned. "Ah. A senshi."

Yes. Sailor Nemesis. She just glared. "Do you know how dangerous this is?" she demanded.

The boy grinned back, showing his braces again. But he stayed silent.

Wait. Nemesis paused. "How did you know I was -"

The boy cut her off, suddenly swelling into a creature double his size, clothes and bandages popping off and tearing. Nemesis felt the sudden rush of withheld power that had hidden the creature from her senses. Claws ripped out of his feet and fingers, a tail extended from his back, and he clumped down onto all fours. His face stretched forward like a crocodile's and bat-like wings sprung from his back.

"A dragon? Are you Dark Kingdon types so lame these days or what?" Nemesis danced around, spinning one way to avoid a vicious claw attack, and raised her hands. "Nemesis arctic fire!" The blast of energy struck the creature, and it flew backwards from the impact, knocking thirteen cars into a pile. One caught fire, and before the driver could escape, it exploded, killing several pedestrians on the side of the street, causing yet more accidents, and other cars to detonate. More people died as their cars flamed up - others from shrapnel wounds.

The dragon stood up on its hind legs, and roared defiance, picking its way from the wreckage. Nemesis blinked, and the creature was right up close to her. It smashed a hand across her head, snapping her into a building. That hurt. She thought... maybe she'd stay here right now.

The dragon stalked towards her...

 

SAILOR MOON SAYS:

Don't talk to strangers! We're well weird!

Seriously, though, this part turned out to be completely different than I thought it would... I'm interested to see where this is going. Hmm. So, next time on Ranma 1/2 / Sailor Moon: Truth, the senshi have a powerful new villian to fight. And no Ranma to help! But wait... who's this? And hang on, who's this at the end? Hmm... find out on the next exciting chapter of Drag... er, Truth. Yeah.