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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 9

** This Is Ranma's Life **

"Ranma?"

The accusation - how could it be any other way, how it had been delivered? - hung in the air like a lead weight.

Then seven pairs of eyes turned and looked expectantly at Ranma, waiting for him to explain this punchline.

He didn't. Seven pairs of eyes swung back to look at the young woman in question.

Akane Tendo was shorter than Ranma, but had a similarly coloured mop of hair. She was dressed in a school uniform none of the senshi recognised, and more than one assumed that she had been yanked from school that afternoon and brought here obliviously. Her bag had been hastily packed - the top was even unzipped and showed several shirts tossed in without regard for neatness. Everything suggested she'd been brought here at a moment's notice.

Mitsuki's eyes narrowed, looking at the new arrival. Hotaru affected an uninterested look, watching the television now. Rei blushed, and sank back into her chair even further.

Akane waited for someone to say something. No one did. She turned to Ranma, who was standing completely still in the kitchen with his snack, ready to take a bite out of it. "What?" he asked, moments later.

"Aren't you going to say something?"

"Like?"

"Like anything! Really, Ranma, anyone would think you don't *want* to spend time with your fiance!"

Ranma bit down and said something while chewing. It was unintelligible. Akane glared.

"What was that?"

He swallowed, and tried again. "Is it any wonder why, when I come out of quality time with you with more bruises than I get training with pop?"

"Ranma!" Akane's face grew red. "I'm not even here a minute, and you're already insulting me!"

The young man rolled his eyes and wandered off to his room. "Catch ya later, Akane." The door slid shut behind him down the hall.

Akane looked around, innocently and cooling down fast. Her fiance was gone. Again. He'd run from her once... twice, now, since their aborted marriage a few months back. They'd decided to take things at their own pace, but somehow, things had gone wrong. She didn't know how - she cooked, she cleaned, she washed his clothes. And he hadn't given her any respect or affection for it.

In fact, when Akane had kicked her older sister Kasumi out of the kitchen for a month, Ranma went on a hunger strike... and promptly fled to Ukyou's and the Nekohanten for meals. Pig. He could take it like a man, at the very least, and try her eating.

She waited for someone to say something. The way the girls were all staring, it was very likely someone would start talking soon. And Akane thought she knew what the main topic would be.

Sure enough, Usagi narrowed her eyes, and gave Akane a glare. "So. Why are you enaged to a jerk like that?"

Akane almost sagged in relief. "Finally! Someone who thinks the way I do!" She moved over to sit next to Usagi, who scooted over to accommodate the new arrival, who put her bag down beside her. "My father engaged one of his three daughters, my sisters and myself, to the son of one of his friend's. They arrived at our training dojo a couple of years ago, and my sisters didn't want him. So I got stuck with the engagement."

"So... so you two aren't really willing to get married?" Rei asked, hesitating. Hotaru's eyes twitched in the direction of Rei and Akane.

"Don't be stupid! Me, like that idiot?" Akane snorted, then grew serious. "We... were nearly married a few months ago. And ever since then, things have been strained between us. I don't know why, I think he's been seeing his other fiances."

"*Other* fiances?" Usagi looked down the hallway towards Ranma's room. Wow, he got around.

Akane shrugged. "Turns out his father engaged him to almost every girl they came along."

"So the engagements aren't going to be honoured?"

Akane turned to Rei. "None of the others will be. Ours will." The glare told Rei what she wanted to know. Rei's reaction, and the question, had told Akane what she wanted to know. Damn. He was picking up *more* fiances, even without his father around? How was he doing that? "It's just a matter of when." She folded her arms, and frowned. Usagi caught this, and started up some small chit-chat to make their guest feel more at home.

But three of the senshi weren't feeling too good about these events.

******

"Ranma?"

Akane's voice was soft, gentle, outside his door. He never could refuse that voice, the one that promised tears, or the nice Akane, the one he had fallen for those few years ago. "Yes?"

The door slid open. Akane was standing there in a nightgown, leaning up against the doorway. The lights behind her were out, the dorm in darkness. No sounds emanated from anywhere else in the buiding, except from Rei's room, where anyone walking past could hear her sob. Or from directly below it, in Ranma's room.

She was quiet now.

Akane stepped inside, and shut the door. "I wanted to talk."

"About?" Ranma lay stretched out on his futon, clothed, idly fingering a chunk of wood. He didn't look up, but he had the urge to. It was something Akane knew, and tended to use to her advantage sometimes.

"I want to know... where do we stand?" Ranma looked up now, confused. Akane sighed, inwardly. "Ranma... you ran away from my family. From me! I don't... I don't know where we are. You didn't tell these girls you were engaged... did you?"

Ranma squirmed on the futon. "Well, not *exactly*..."

"No. And they think..." she sobbed. The big guns in Akane Tendo's arsenal came out to play. Ranma shuddered, but sat upright. She fell to his chest, and sobbed some more. "They think you like them! And they like you! And that makes me feel..."

"Insecure?" His arms wrapped around her back of their own accord. It was something that had happened before, and quietened her. This was the Akane he liked. An average girl, who liked him, who didn't act as if his very breathing offended her and encouraged other girls to try and steal him from her.

"Yes," she admitted, for the first time ever. She picked her words carefully. "Ranma... I care for you, deeply. But you pull away from me! All the time! Why? Why do you do it?"

For that, Ranma couldn't answer. Not that he didn't have an answer, but more that he didn't trust what he would say if he ever opened his mouth. He did care for this woman, deeply. But... it was true. He was moving on. Why? That he didn't know. It had been happening for a long time - he had put it down to incompatibility. But lately, he'd been noticing few other girls routinely whacked him with a mallet, insulted him, berated him constantly.

They were nice, kind, happy, and strangely forgiving. It was rebuilding his opinion of the female side of the species. Just a little.

He gave no answer, and eventually, Akane fell asleep. Ranma settled her into his futon, and turned out his bedside lamp.

******

"Ranma?"

Mitsuki was sitting outside again, hoping he'd hear her quiet words. For the second morning in a row, at dawn, no Ranma. No Rei. No Hotaru. Was this going to be a habit? She'd taken up the training she'd left behind again, and was trying to learn this time. With her track record out fighting Dark Kingdom bad guys, she needed an edge. She hoped that this martial arts training would improve her skills to the point she'd be able to be effective against these new creatures, that (according to the whispered meeting of the senshi after they had seen Akane to a room) were much stronger than previous incursions.

She stepped inside, and tapped on Ranma's door. There was a murmured response from within. The door slipped open easily, and Mitsuki slipped inside. Ah. Ranma was burrowed under the blankets. She guessed it was a little chilly this morning, but she wouldn't forgive him. He was going to get out of bed and train her.

"Ranma?" she asked softly.

No response. She kept closer to the bundle on the futon. It shifted slightly - ah, that was an arm underneath the blanket. Mitsuki grinned to herself. Everyone else seemed to be having their way with Ranma, so why shouldn't she? She got down on her knees next to the bed, her face melting from the smirk to a very soft, compassionate expression as she undid the top of her gi, leaned over, and slid her hand under the blankets, around warm, soft skin. She smiled - this really did feel good.

But wait, Ranma didn't have any fat... there... oh god. Mitsuki looked down as the figure in the futon sat up. Akane looked surprised to say the least, Mitsuki's hand gripping her breast. "Oh god!" Mitsuki said, falling over backwards. Akane just stared.

"Are you like that?" she asked, when she got over the shock of being woken by a woman groping her. "I mean -"

"No!" replied Mitsuki, scrambling backwards. "What are you doing in here?"

Akane's eyes narrowed. "You expected Ranma? How often do you do this?"

Mitsuki was wide-eyed now, but the aggressive tone taken by Akane triggered something deep inside her. Her expression changed in an instant, into a similarly aggressive form. "All the time! What's the matter, jealous that you can't please your man?"

Akane flinched as if she'd been hit. "He's my fiance!"

"Are you going to use that as an excuse for not being able to argue effectively?" Mitsuki stood, rearranged her gi, and put her hands on her hips. "I'm cuter than you, I'm smarter than you, I'm *nicer* that you. You really think he's going to stick around with an uncute girl like you for long?"

The younger girl jumped up, angry, and Mitsuki didn't see where the glowing mallet came from, but it caught her on the jaw. Not being quite so fast as Ranma, and nowhere near as strong in this form, her jaw snapped, her head spun around, and she was thrown through Ranma's closet (hey, why's he got girls' clothes in here? she idly thought as she went through it) into the next room, where she bounced off the floor.

Akane, used to super-strong people on the receiving end of her ki attacks, stood there, angrily, waiting for Mitsuki to return. With a snap of her wrist, she loosened her grip on the solid air-energy interface and it disappeared in a flash of exploding mist. She turned, and stalked out of the room, impatient already the girl hadn't come back at her, hurt at what she'd said.

Hotaru opened her door at the loud crash, and saw Akane walk past her, very, very angry. She stepped into Ranma's room, and saw the hold in the wardrobe's door. She opened it, and pushed through Ranma's clothing, finding the hole in the back. Mitsuki lay on her back in the other room, mouth open and her jaw sagging on one side, in shock. Blood gurgled in the girl's throat. "What happened?" Hotaru muttered, before knealing down next to the woman, and running her hands over the broken jaw, forcing it to heal. It came together slowly, and Mitsuki choked once, twice... then it was healed, and Hotaru helped roll the older woman over on her side, where she coughed up blood from wounds that no longer existed. "What happened?" Hotaru repeated herself.

"Sensei... sensei's fiance... got a bit violent. Heh."

Hotaru looked at the hole, and shuddered. "She did this? To you? How?"

"I don't know," Mitsuki admitted. "I think... I asked for it, though. I was just expecting a slap. Maybe all of Ranma's friends are super-powered, like him and that Ranko girl?"

"Possible," Hotaru admitted. Mitsuki was her competition... wasn't she? Maybe. Yes. But she was also a Sailor Senshi, and as a senshi herself, she needed to support her sisters in fukus. Even Ranma. Something didn't seem right here, and Hotaru determined to get to the bottom of it.

******

"Ranma?"

The voice intruded his solitude on the roof. He ignored it. He liked being alone at the moment.

As soon as Akane had fallen asleep, he'd climbed up here to do some thinking. Serious thinking. He wasn't quite finished yet, either. It was a big decision he had before him. He didn't really want to go back inside until he'd made it, and he needed to avoid Akane, really, for it to be in his best interests - something he'd been neglecting for a while.

The voice behind him altered a little, becoming less certain, more worried. "Sempai?" Hotaru. The way she said that one word... brought shivers to Ranma's back. Not bad ones, either. Somehow, it made him feel... good. Wanted. Respected. Loved. Exactly as it was intended to. He turned, this truly being a voice he couldn't ignore for long.

Hotaru was climbing up onto the top of the roof again, as she had done on her second day. She was keeping her worried eyes focussed on him, though, and when she reached the top, she stood, held her arms out to her sides for balance, and walked out to Ranma. She slipped just behind him, but he caught her in one hand, and held on. "Yes, Hotaru?"

"Your... f-f-fiance, Akane?" Hotaru blushed and looked down, feeling a thump in her heart. Even though she was trying to get Ranma to action, and wasn't meaning to feel anything for him, she still felt bad at that word, and jealous. Why? The simple answer, she realised, is she still liked him. And she should stop being an idiot, and keep liking him. Fight, dammit! Don't rely on others, stand up for yourself! The revelation stopped her from speaking for a few moments.

"Yes?" Ranma repeated.

"She assaulted Mitsuki, broke her jaw." Hotaru looked up at Ranma, her face angry. "You know who she is. You know what I am. You know... what will happen if I have to go down there and make her apologise."

"Aww..." Ranma rubbed at his face. He was tired, really tired. This wasn't helping, either. "She get Mitsuki with her mallet?"

Hotaru nodded. "Yes, sempai."

"But that shouldn't... have..." Ranma's voice trailed off. Then: "You're not so strong when not transformed, are you?"

Hotaru shook her head. "As strong as a normal person our size and fitness level, sempai."

"Damn! Akane'll have nailed her! What'd she do to get the tomboy riled?"

The younger girl shook her head. "I don't know, sempai. But Mitsuki said she probably deserved it."

Ranma nodded. Likely did. But Akane couldn't go around walloping others at random. He'd speak with her. He sighed, and pushed himself up off the roof's surface, helped Hotaru up, and led her back to the ladder. Strangely, this made his decision so much easier to make.

******

"Ranma?"

Disbelieving in tone, Akane stared at her fiance. He stood in the kitchen doorway as she made biscuits for the girls in the dorm, foodstuffs that should go nowhere near biscuits scattered around the central table and surrounding benches. "What do you mean, I'm too violent?" She tried to be nice, but she could feel her temper rising.

"Akane, don't get me wrong, you're a nice girl. But you just *broke* someone's jaw because she got smart to you!" Ranma shook his head. "That's violent."

"That wasn't all she -"

"I don't want to hear it, Akane," Ranma cut her off with a shake of his head. "Akane, you can't go round whacking people at random with your mallet! You're stronger than most people, remember? When you do something like that, you can *kill* them!"

"Oh, and you won't?" Akane found herself very angry now, but also on the point of tears. She'd been assaulted - and her fiance was taking the other girl's side.

"I'm a bit better trained than you, Akane. I know how hard I can hit someone, or where to hit them to knock them out without seirously injuring them." He shrugged. "You don't."

"Ranma! You can't compare you and me! I'm -"

"Different to me, but that doesn't mean you can go around hitting people." Ranma folded his arms. "Which brings me to my second point."

Akane found a tear sitting on her lower eyelid, waiting for her to blink before running down her cheek. She had a sudden premonition of what he was going to say - when she woke up this morning and found him nowhere around, that suggested something like this very much was coming.

"Akane. Our engagement... it's not going to work." Ranma took a deep breath. "I've thought about it all night. We're not gonna work out. Our lives are too different. What we want... is completely different. You're... you don't trust me. With other girls. You don't believe me when I say nothing's happened. You don't believe it when you see it with your own eyes! You're too violent. And the few times you're the girl I fell for... you take advantage of that, soon as you can, or go back to hitting me, or whatever."

The tear streaked down Akane's face now. "I see," she said, keeping her voice level and in check.

"It's not that I don't like you... you're a great friend, and that's... that's what i want for good. But we're just not gonna work out."

Akane nodded. Then the tears came.

******

"Ranma?"

Mitsuki stepped out behind Ranma, watching the young man watch Akane leave. She walked down the stairs, out of sight, without a look back. Mitsuki felt her heart tear at that, knowing she'd been indirectly at absolute best responsible for whatever had gone on between the two of them. Ranma kept his back straight, standing tall, not moving.

But the fists his hands formed, knuckles white with the grip he was pushing through them... they told the story about what was going on on his face.

He leaped for the roof, not looking back. Rei stepped out behind Mitsuki, watched the stairs. Then a little black mound appeared, and a little white one. Rei's face lit up. Cats! "Luna! Artemis!"

The two cats looked up, half-exhausted, and saw Rei running towards them, arms outstretched. "Rei!" Luna said, before slumping over on her side. Artemis followed, quickly. They didn't look too well-fed. Rei gathered them up in her arms, and pushed through the doors, past Mitsuki, who was boggling at the concept of a talking cat, and called out for Usagi and the others to join her.

******

"Ranma?"

Luna asked the question. Usagi looked at the other senshi. "Rei, you tell them."

Rei cleared her throat from her position beside Usagi's bed, where the cats were resting and being fed by the women. Mitsuki stood to one side of the open door. She started explaining who Ranma was when he walked past the door. Hotaru caught sight of him, and stood, headed out the door after him.

"Sempai!"

Ranma stopped, and turned around. "Yes, Hotaru-chan?"

"Sempai... do you want to talk?"

"About what?"

Hotaru dropped an ear to her shoulder, and blushed. "If you need to talk, sempai..."

Ranma held her gaze for a moment, then dropped it and sagged slightly. "I, uh, had a talk with Akane. She cried. A lot. And..." His voice trailed off, and he just stared at the floor. Hotaru took his chin in her hand.

"Yes, sempai?"

He brought his eyes up to look directly into hers. "I have no fiance."

Hotaru smiled, and half-turned, gesturing towards Usagi's room. "We've had some new friends come to stay. Come meet them!" She slipped her hand into Ranma's, and pulled him towards the door.

He smiled, and entered.

Then saw what was on the bed.

"And this," Rei completed, "is Ranma."

 

 

SAILOR MOON SAYS:

Okay, okay, I know I forgot something ;) But this seemed to be the right place to end, so I pushed it back until the next part. I'm not sure how this is holding up as a continuing story at the moment, if someone could do me a favour and comment on the flow of it thus far? It's rather early on yet in terms of the ideas I wanted to have show up in it, and some of the things that will happen are only being hinted at now, and I'd kinda like to know what people are thinking thusly.

Anyways, until next time, see ya :)