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Peacetime - Part 1 of Symbiosis

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It was a classic Satsuki move, Ryuko decided, showing up on the doorstep unannounced, on an ordinary weekday, in the middle of breakfast.  Not that she or the rest of the Mankanshoku family minded, they were more than happy to call the kids in sick from school and spend the morning sitting around the table in the combined kitchen-dining room-den of their modest apartment catching up.  The half-eaten remains of breakfast had been forgotten by everyone but Mako (and Guts, who managed to sneak a nearly whole piece of toast off Mataro’s plate), and they crowded around their guest expectantly. It might have been Ryuko who did most of the talking, but the entire family was consumed by curiosity as to what she had to say.  A week hadn’t gone by in which Satsuki wasn’t on the news in some capacity, and word had it she was something like the de facto ruler of Japan; it was all very intriguing.  But more than that, with Ryuko now officially their adopted daughter Satsuki was practically family to.  How could they not be excited to get to know a new member of their family?

               “I apologize for not coming to visit sooner,” Satsuki said once the pleasantries were wrapped up, “Half a year… Well, it’s longer than I had planned to stay away.”

               “Nah, don’t sweat it, we knew you were way busy,” Ryuko responded, warm yet gruff just how Satsuki had remembered, “We watched whole the Geneva Trials, y’know.”

               “Yup, and we recorded ‘em too - oh and a bunch of other times you and Ira and the others were on the news,” Mako added, holding up a laptop coated with stickers of a myriad of colors, “It’s all right here if you wanna watch ‘em later!”

               “Hmm, perhaps I will, I never did see the recordings.”

               “So, exhonorated on all charges, huh?”  Barazo, launched in on the topic of the Geneva Trials, which had taken up Satsuki and her Elite Five’s (they were referred to publicly as the Elite Five now that Shiro’s secret membership had been revealed) first month following the war against the life fibers.

               “Well, except for Hououmaru, she was issued extensive psychiatric work to fully deprogram her from… her influence,” Ryuko nodded somberly at that, but the others either didn’t understand the full context or didn’t really remember who Hououmaru was because they just let the comment pass.  “But aside from her, it turned out in the end everyone was grateful enough to overlook our war crimes.”

               “Oh, c’mon Satsuki, we all know you wouldn’t have gone if you hadn’t seen that coming a mile away,” Satsuki pulled a face at this remark, thinking that by now Ryuko should have known that the self-serving, manipulative Satsuki Kiryuin of Honnouji was long gone. She shook her head sadly.

               “We killed a lot of people over the course of our mission, Ryuko.  If the world wanted to punish us for it, I would have gladly accepted the sentence.  Not only that, it was nice to finally tell our full story, and see how the world reacted to it,” The Mankanshoku family nodded at this, although they knew that there had been some choice omissions in the story, mostly personal details about some of the key players who wanted to avoid the public eye.  First on that list was Ryuko, about whom almost nothing had been said aside from what she looked like and what specifically she had done.  Satsuki actually thought this might have been a mistake in retrospect, for it only inflamed people’s curiosity until people around the world were demanding to know who The Girl Who Saved the World really was. 

               “You know what I really liked was the part where Houka and Shiro showed all the scientists the footage of all the fights,” Mataro exclaimed, “I’d never seen the one with you and Ryuko in Osaka, that was so cool!  I think my favorite part was when you knocked over the tower.”

               “Aw yeah, the good ol’ days eh Satsuki?” Ryuko quipped, and Satsuki let out her trademark lilting chuckle.  That battle had been her confirmation that she had created in Ryuko an expendable Kamui user who was her equal.  Her nuclear option.  And that moment when Ryuko had returned Bakuzan to her, that was… nice.  Satsuki hadn’t expected it, and back then she had hated unexpected things even more than she did now, but she’d felt a deep sense of pride knowing that she’d won the respect of such an indomitable woman.  More unexpected even than that, for the first time in years she wasn’t sure if she was comfortable with dying in the process of achieving her goal.  And when she’d felt Ryuko’s blood in Junketsu and saw how she’d felt about that exchange – well, she hoped there was no outward sign of the sudden fluttering she felt in her chest on remembering that.

               “I hope you aren’t still getting into fights so frequently, Ryuko,” Satsuki quipped dryly, and Ryuko, who had been lounging with an arm across the back of her chair, held up her hands defensively.

               “Huh?  Well no, I-,”

               “Nah, Ryuko never fights anyone who can’t fight back, and now there’s nobody who can fight back against her, right Ryuko?”  Mataro cut in enthusiastically, looking to Ryuko admiringly.

               “Yeah, what he said,” Ryuko relaxed again, reaching over to ruffle Mataro’s hair. “Although I did one time stare down a couple of seniors who were giving Mataro a hard time, but once they saw the red,” She twirled her red streak illustratively, “They were all apologies.”

               “Mmm, that only makes sense,” Satsuki said, “I hope it hasn’t been too tough on you all, with everyone knowing who you are.  I know that’s not what you wanted, and I did my best to make sure you would be able to live normal lives.”  She referenced what Ryuko had said to the crowd that gathered to greet them on the shores of Tokyo bay after the sinking of Honnouji Academy: “Everyone’s giving me the credit, so I won’t be modest:  I did save the world, me and Senketsu, that is.  But I don’t want any fame or fortune for what happened here.  Being free to live your life how you want, I think that’s worth saving, but it’s something I haven’t got the chance to do.  So that’s what I’d like to do now, if it’s not too much to ask.”  Satsuki had never seen Ryuko so subdued, and especially never seen her ask permission.  The adulation of the crowd seemed to have shocked her; her eyes were glassy and her voice soft and tremulous despite her smile.  But it had been so heartfelt that over the following month as Satsuki and the elites laid out the entire story to the world, they respected her wishes and kept quiet about her life without even consulting each other about it.

               “I don’t think Barazo or Mataro or myself have had any problems, what about you girls?”  Sukoyo said.

               “Well, it’s weird.  People are really nice nowadays, but they never seem to know how to act.  You can tell they’re trying to treat us like normal, but they aren’t very good at it.  Fer instance, they won’t even take my money at the coffee shop, so I just shove it in the tip jar and run,” Ryuko answered with a chuckle.

               “Are you really so surprised?”  Satsuki said, “They aren’t going to forget you.  If that’s all though, I’d consider you lucky.  There’s plenty out there who believe you’re a goddess, or something similar.  They’d never give you a moment’s peace.”

               “Ugh, don’t remind me.  Y’know they already won’t leave me the hell alone,” Ryuko groaned, “So many letters, you’d think they’d have realized by now that I don’t wanna visit the Pope or whatever.”

               “Free trip to Italy though,” Barazo quipped.

               “If you’d like to visit Italy, or anywhere else for that matter, the Kiryuin fortune is as much yours as mine,” Satsuki said, “You shouldn’t seriously consider any of their offers, anyway - the important thing is to avoid legitimizing them in any way.  Unless you want the world to think you’re Jesus, which could come in handy I suppose,” she joked back in case Barazo thought she hadn’t gotten that he was kidding.  This was a new trick she was practicing in hopes of combating her rather severe public image.

               “Yeah I think I’m good on that one,”  Ryuko said.

               “Indeed.  And what about the paparazzi?  They’ve been quite merciless to the elites and me.”

               “They were pretty annoying until I started flipping over their news vans whenever I saw them,” Ryuko said, with a dismissive wave of the hand, “It took about a week, but they eventually figured it out.”

               “They did get some pretty good pictures of me and Ryuko before that though,” Mako cut in with her usual verve.

               “Pictures?  What kind of – wait, I can imagine.  I can have a team of lawyers on finding whatever tabloid took those and get them expunged –,”

               “No no really it’s fine!”  Ryuko said awkwardly, her face flushing up a little, “That was months ago, nobody cares about that anymore.”

               “Are you sure?  It’s no problem at all.”

               “Yup, positive,” Ryuko said, and Mako affirmed that, saying, “It’s no biggie”.

               “Well, it’s good to hear your powers seem to be stable.”

               “I’m at the peak of superhuman health, what can I say?”  Ryuko chuckled, back to cool and casual, “at least I think I am, Houka and Shiro are always saying I should come by their lab for a checkup, but I’ve been putting it off.”

               “You know, you really should…”

               “Well, nothing hurts, and they aren’t mad about it or anything.  You’re not gonna nag me about this too, are you?”  Ryuko said in a kidding tone, but Satsuki could tell she was serious underneath that.

               “Of course not.”

               “Good, cuz we’ve already got a mom around here, and you just got here and you’re on my case more than she is.”  Everyone had a good chuckle at that one, even Satsuki, though she was just a little worried that Ryuko’s joke contained a shred of truth.  Ryuko will be Ryuko after all, she won’t do things how I would, and I just have to get used to that.

               “Still, it’s nice that you guys get to see them so often.”

               “Oh yeah, it’s like twenty minutes by train to their lab so they come by all the time.”

               “And they are so cyuute together,” Mako gushed, to chuckles from everyone, “always bickering but you can tell they love each other under it all.”

               “I am well acquainted with that, I had to put up with it for four years you may recall.  Although you really should see them working in the lab together, they’re a well-oiled machine.”

“That only makes sense, considering they were in college for like two weeks before they dropped out they must really know their stuff,” Ryuko said.

“Mmm, there was nothing left for them to learn from it, so I’ve heard.  They know what they’re good at, can’t fault them for that.  And what about the others, do you see any of the rest that often?  Tsumugu and Aikuro both work at the lab too, but I know your friendship with them has been… on and off, so…”

               “Nah that’s all water under the bridge.  Tsumugu is my MMA instructor, so I’d say I see him pretty damn often.  We get along great now. And Aikuro’s actually a lot better now too,” Ryuko said, and Satsuki’s eyebrows crept upwards in surprise.

               “Well that’s a relief.  His reputation was less than spotless where you were concerned.”

               “Oho yeah I know what you mean, but now that he’s got women his own age to chase after he’s not so bad.  He’s like that stereotypic cool but sketchy uncle, you know what I mean.”

               “Actually, I’m not so sure I do. Is this a common social phenomenon?”

               “Uhh nah, it’s mostly just a joke but every so often you see a real one,” Man she’s out of touch, I guess that’s what you’d expect but still it must suck to have to learn all this simple shit. “Well, anyway, he’s brought around like three or four girlfriends in the six months we’ve been here.”

               “Yeah they’re like women version of him – It’s pretty weird actually,” Mako added.

               “Mmm, I can imagine.  Well, if he’s happy with that lifestyle and they are as well then good for him, especially if it makes him more fun to be around for you all.”

               “You really are a new Satsuki, aren’t you?  Once upon a time you would have said he lacked ambition.”

               “I still might, but if that’s his ambition, then what do I have to criticize?”

               “I suppose so.  Oh, and on that topic did you know Tsumugu got himself hitched?”

               “Hitched?”

               “Married,” Mako said in explanation, “Yeah he got married like a month ago.  Apparently, he’d had a girlfriend in Nudist Beach all through the war and no one ever knew because they were both so serious they never let on even once!”

               “Why, I had no idea,” Satsuki said, letting out a breathy laugh of genuine astonishment, “And he didn’t have a wedding or anything?  I know he didn’t just not invite me – Houka and Shiro would have told me.”

               “Oh no they just had a little dinner with just us and a few people from the lab and Nudist Beach – still can’t believe they called themselves that,” Ryuko said, “and when we were all seated he just told us they were married.  At first nobody even believed him.”

               “Well I’d believe it, that’s very like him.”

               “No yeah it totally is.  Anyway, I’m sure you’ll meet his wife, Aoi, eventually.  She’s way to serious for her own good and is like always reading.  You’ll get along great.  Aside from them, Takaharu and Omiko are in college in Tokyo so we’ve gone to visit them once in a while –,”

               “And don’t forget Ira!”  Mako interrupted.

               “I was getting to him Mako, don’t worry,” Ryuko smiled back, “Yeah he’s a few hours away by train so we don’t see him that often, but he’s been by plenty and went to look at his family’s ironworks once.  He said he also does work for you too, didn’t really say what but that’s alright.”

               “Oh, he mentioned that?  I’m surprised he even said that much.  Gamagoori is actually my head of security, he works remotely so that nobody can find his identity or trace anything to him.”

               “No shit,” Ryuko responded while Mako made an extended “ohh” noise, “Wait, you still need bodyguards and shit?  Who would even want to try anything, everybody loves you, right?”

               “It’s just a precaution, one can never be too safe,” Satsuki replied with the didactic air of someone repeating a proverb.  Technically it’s true.  No need to worry them with all the rest now, Ryuko wouldn’t take it well.

               “Makes sense,” Ryuko said, “It’s like with the boys and their lab, why let his talent in that department go to waste?”

               “Indeed.  If you get that, then it shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that all of the former elites are still working with me.”

               “Wait, all of them?  But I thought Shiro and Houka owned the lab with Aikuro and Tsumugu.”

               “And Nonon is the CEO of Sony now isn’t she?” Mako asked, almost at the same time.

               “And I thought the Sanageyama boy was touring Europe going to martial arts tournaments,”  Barazo said, putting a thoughtful hand to his meaty chin.

               “All of that is true.  Nonon took over the Sony megacorp as heiress to the Jakuzure dynasty – because I placed her parents and older brother under house arrest for the rest of their natural lives.  She is currently running the tech giant into the ground the same way I am doing the Kiryuin conglomeration.  In a few years all her dynasty’s misbegotten wealth will be spent on charitable works and building projects, and the factories and other raw materials will be sold to small, manageable companies run by people with their priorities together, and she will retire.”

               “Geez, when you said she’d be taking over the family business I hadn’t thought it would be a hostile takeover,” Ryuko quipped.

               “It wasn’t so hostile as you’d think, nobody was really in the mood to say no.  Now Uzu, yes, he is competing in tournaments in Europe.  But with tengantsu and shingantsu he’s essentially unbeatable to ordinary humans, so he just fights exhibitions matches and coaches other fighters.  What he’s really there for isn’t the tournaments though; in every country he meets with the heads of state, oligarchs, or whoever holds power and acts as my high-level diplomat.  His combat skills have proven invaluable, especially with the Americans and English when he had to stand up to their despots.”  The table now rang with a chorus of “ohhs”.

               “Wait, you trust Uzu to with all that?”  Ryuko said with a chuckle, “Like, no offense to the guy, but I didn’t think he’d be able to sit still through all the meetings and shit.”

               “Peaceful diplomacy is ninety percent personality.  I can assure you Uzu has the brain power for the other ten.”

               “Okay, that’s fair enough, I’ll accept it.  And I bet Houka and Shiro’s lab is also under your control as well.”

               “Well, technically it is government owned, but before the government was up and running I was their first donor.  And they still report all their findings to me before anyone else.  And believe me, that arrangement is working out well for you; if we didn’t have the world’s best life fiber scientists in our inner circle we wouldn’t be able to background check other scientists studying it and you’d have all sorts of disreputable characters claiming to be scientists trying to get their hands on you.”

               “Geez, alright.  So, you guys have been rebuilding the government, dismantling megacorps, doing diplomacy with other countries, and researching the life fibers.  Sure sounds like enough to keep you busy.”

               “As a point of technicality, I’m also working on my PhD.  Either way, I know you accepted my apology for staying away for so long but -,”

               “-Wait, hold on, you’re getting a PhD too?  What the fuck Satsuki how do you even have the time!”

               “Delegation Ryuko, there’s no real trick to it.”

               “Yeah alright, you keep saying that,” Ryuko joked snarkily.  By now Mako had finished her plate and had moved on to Ryuko’s, and Barazo and Mataro were picking at their half-finished breakfasts hungrily.  Satsuki hadn’t failed to notice this, and after she told them they didn’t have to stop eating for her sake they finished with relief.  Sukoyo stood up then too, telling Satsuki that she would fix her up something.  Satsuki started to tell her it wasn’t necessary, but Sukoyo had already put bread in the toaster and was busily cutting an orange.  When she finished with Satsuki’s breakfast and the others had taken second helpings, the conversation turned to the Mankanshoku’s lives in Kanagawa.  Rinne High was apparently working out well; Mataro had already made a strong impression with the local delinquents even as a freshman, thanks in no small part to the skills acquired when he survived on his own during the war. Mako’s bookkeeping experience from her time as fight club president was paying off too, she ranked top of her class in mathematics and not too far behind in other subjects either.  Ryuko seemed fairly ambivalent about the whole thing, Satsuki suspected that she wasn’t finding it any more interesting than she had her previous schooling.  At least she had friends this time, a small group of kids who either weren’t afraid of her fame or were enamored by it.  They all had lots of stories to tell, and Satsuki was charmed by the quaint peacefulness of it.  She could have sat there listening all day.

               It was about ten O’clock when their conversation was interrupted by a buzzing on the intercom.  Mako leapt up, clapping her hands together, but nobody else looked too surprised or excited.

               “Mail’s here!”  Mako shouted, running over to the intercom and shouting into it, “We’ll be right down!”

               “Do they always let you know when the mail arrives?”  Satsuki asked, standing up with the rest of the family as they began putting their shoes on.

               “Well, we get a lot of mail,” Ryuko answered, “C’mon, you’ll appreciate this.”

 

               Down in front of the apartment a medium-sized delivery truck was parked, the driver standing by its rear door expectantly.  Ryuko was the first one out, and when he saw her he bowed deeply at the waist.

               “Lady Ryuko,” He quavered reverentially.  In turn, she groaned and straightened him out by the shoulders, giving him a friendly pat when he was back upright.

               “How ya doin’ Touma?  Another full truck for us?”  He nodded in response.  “Hey, I got someone for you to meet.”  She motioned to Satsuki, who was standing on the curb with the rest of the family.  Satsuki raised an eyebrow as she stepped up. “Touma, meet Satsuki Kiryuin.  Satsuki, this is Touma Itou.”  Touma’s eyes goggled and his aged, stooping shoulder trembled as they shook hands.

               “The L-lady S-satsuki?”  He stammered, “I-it is an honor, My Lady.”

               “It’s very nice to meet you,” Satsuki replied with a warm smile.

               “Alright, stand back now folks,” Ryuko said, waving a hand to direct them back to the curb a few yards away from the truck where the Mankanshoku’s were standing expectantly.  When they were in place Ryuko threw open the rear door with a metallic clunk, revealing cardboard boxes and letter bags stacked to the ceiling.  She began efficiently unloading the truck into an open parking space while Satsuki watched with openmouthed surprise (for Satsuki just a slight parting between her lips constituted an expression of utter shock) at the sheer volume of correspondence.  Once she was done unloading she gave Touma another pat on the back and sent him on his way.

               “Alright, now usually Barazo unpacks this stuff and then it just sits here all day until we get home from school and sort it, but today we’ll just do it now, so you can see what’s inside,” Ryuko said, slapping her hands together as the truck ambled off.  Satsuki had to admit she was dying to see what was inside; she’d gathered that it was fan-mail, but she hadn’t expected such a volume.  I don’t think I get even half this much, but then I never see it since it all goes to my publicist.

               “And they just let you leave it here?”

               “Well yeah, its basically a feature of the street at this point.  Besides, they know who it belongs to.”

               “A feature… Wait, how often does this happen?”

               “Every day except Sunday man,” Ryuko said, tearing off the top of the first box with her bare hands and beginning to rifle through rows of carefully wrapped paintings. Oh, in that case I don't think I get even a tenth of what Ryuko does, Satsuki realized. “Hey stand back alright?”  Ryuko barked when Satsuki began walking forward to check out the paintings.

               “I don’t understand, why do we have to stay over here?”

               “One time there was a letter-bomb, so we have Ryuko open them over there for safety!”  Mako said with undue enthusiasm.

               “A letter-bomb?  From who?”  Satsuki shouted with alarm.

               “Who knows?  That’s the sort of stuff you have to deal with when you’re famous, I guess,” Ryuko grunted, bringing the first box over, “this one’s clean, take a look.”

               As Satsuki had expected, the box contained a profusion of artworks from fans around the world, in all manner of styles.  There were Ryukos drawn in manga and western comic book styles, Ryukos painted in exquisite portraits, even Ryukos painted like religious devotionals, with halos pointing out behind Senketsu’s shoulder spines.  Also present were plenty of paintings of Mako, Satsuki, the Elites, some combination of the above, and an unfamiliar looking dark-haired, scruffy man that Satsuki realized was supposed to be Senketsu, as interpreted by people who hadn’t gotten that he wasn’t human.  And that was only the beginning; over the next hour they unpacked so many paintings and sculptures that Satsuki lost count, and they soon began to spill out from the parking spots so that traffic had to swerve around.  There was clothing too, some for every member of the family, and plenty of random objects and gifts too.  While they were working pedestrians paused to watch, and with some encouragement from the family many of them began perusing the artworks and taking ones that appealed to them.  Ryuko had moved on the letters now, skimming through them quickly and precisely, tongue sticking out a little in concentration.  While she worked she mumbled to herself, “cult shit, cult shit, cult shit, real person, cult shit,” and laid the envelopes into piles based on that.  Whenever she came upon one with money in it she tossed the bills to whichever pedestrian was nearest, which was most commonly received with a great deal of bowing and scraping but every so often with a hug, which always brought a little smile to her face even when she was getting worn out.  It was without question one of the oddest rituals Satsuki had ever witnessed, but as she watched the locals hurrying off with their painting and little statues of The Girl Who Saved the World cradled in their arms she was sure she could feel a sort of connection between them and Ryuko.  It reminded her of nothing more than the feeling she’d had on the shore of Tokyo bay the day of the graduation ceremony, and that only made sense.

               The Mankanshoku family made light of the work, probably in no small part because Ryuko had taken the boring task of sorting the letters upon herself.  By the time everything was sorted, they had spent a great deal of time gushing over the higher quality works, and Satsuki had joined in.  Some of the standouts were an oil portrait of Ryuko that was nearly indistinguishable from the real thing, even getting her gear shaped pupils right, a set of stylized soapstone sculptures of Ryuko, Satsuki, Mako, the Elites, Aikuro, and Tsumugu whose bases fit together so that they all posed together, and a shockingly lifelike picture of Ryuko and Satsuki kissing which she really didn’t like looking at but which Mataro described as “pretty sick, actually” until Mako slapped him around a little bit.  Satsuki couldn’t help wondering aloud what would even compel someone to send someone something like that.  Ryuko nonchalantly told her it was far from the weirdest thing they’d ever gotten.  Eventually everything had been sorted, but the passersby had barely made a dent in the piles of paintings, even the good ones.  As for the letters Ryuko had sorted them into two messy piles: one a mere foot and a half deep and the other spilling up almost to her armpits.

               “So, what do you do with the rest?”

               “Well, the clothing goes to the local clothes drive, which I believe was set up by the Kiryuin Foundation, so thanks for that, the paintings and shit go to the local souvenir shops who sell ‘em to tourists, and the letters…”  She gestured first to the larger pile, then to the small, “Those go straight to recycling, and these go to our publicist and he sends out form letters to everyone.”

               “Oh, so you do have a publicist,”

               “Well, he actually approached us when he heard Mako and Mom were trying to read them all themselves.  He lives around here, works for us for free too, you know.”

               “I see," Satsuki said, pondering for a moment how odd it was to hear Ryuko refer to Sukoyo as Mom, although it was technically correct since the Mankanshoku’s had officially adopted her, “Then, you won’t mind if take a painting for myself, will you?”

               “Help yourself, hell, take as many as you can we sure don’t need ‘em.”

               “I’m afraid there’s just one I had my eye on,” Satsuki said, picking it up from where it was stacked.  A detailed but still highly impressionistic watercolor of Honoujji, with a corresponding letter explaining that it was made by an artist who had been on the Tokyo waterfront when the Cocoon Sphere Genesis happened, depicting the first thing he’d seen when he came to after being returned to Earth.  The sky was dark and stormy, the sea chopped by monstrous whitecaps, and the broken towers of Honoujji bleak and dark, but despite it all the scene was awash with color.  Crimson trails flowed through the sky; the rest of humanity returning to life, but one among them, streaking right down towards Honoujji, outshone all the rest with brilliant golden flames.  And it was matched by a bold floodlight that shone out from Honoujji area, illuminating the storm clouds with brilliant, heavenly beams.  The painter confided in his letter than he had no idea what was happening in the picture, but something about the image was so marvelous that he couldn’t get it out of his head.

               “Ooh pretty,” Mako gushed, “That’s lady Satsuki for you, she’s got a taste for the finer things.”

               “Yeah, good pick,” Ryuko said, cheeks just a little rosy.  The artist may not have known what the painting was of, but Ryuko sure did.  She was touched that it was the moment Satsuki chose to take with her, even if she’d never admit it, “That’ll look great framed.”

               “Indeed.  I already have the perfect place in mind for it.”