A Ranma ½ story
by DB Sommer
Any and all C&C is appreciated. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Disclaimer: Ranma ½ and its characters and settings belong to Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video.
Last revision: August 21, 2002
Preface: What's happened before: Akane got her hands on a wish and used it to wish her mother had never been in a car accident and was alive in the present. Well, her mother wasn't in an accident, and is with them in the present, there's only the slight complication that she was plucked out of time at the ripe old age of seventeen…
Kasumi turned from the stove to watch her mother as she sat on the porch, fiddling with some mechanical device on her lap. For a change, Kachiko was wearing a shirt that reached down to her waistline. However, it was still highly risqué, since it was sleeveless and had a neckline that hung both loose and low. To make matters worse, the material was white, and Kachiko was obviously not wearing a bra underneath. If she was hit with an errant spray of water, an event that happened all too often at the Tendou household, the shirt would become semi-transparent, and then the whole world would be able to see…
No. It was too shameful. The idea of her mother appearing out in public, even if it was within the confines of the house, in such a manner was almost too much for Kasumi to bear. Every day she prayed all of this was only a phase her mother was going through, and that at any moment she would come to her senses and start wearing something proper, like a dress or even a kimono, as casual wear around the house. Kachiko could choose something, anything, just so long as it wasn't so provocative. Mothers weren't supposed to act sexy. They were supposed to act like mothers. Mothers had husbands and therefore had no need to attract attention from members of the opposite sex. And Kachiko was a mother, no matter how much she denied it. She had to act more properly.
As if in response to Kasumi's line of thought, Kachiko drank deeply from the bottle of beer next to her, gave a loud belch, and scratched at her breast. After a moment, she began cursing under her breath as she fiddled with the device again.
It was like a nightmare, or at least an unpleasant dream. Her mother had never belched; Kasumi would have sworn to that. And if she had belched, she would have done it quietly, not loud enough to scare the birds out of the trees like that. It was almost as though Kachiko was getting worse, rather than better, when it came to her motherly traits returning.
Perhaps Kasumi was jumping to conclusions. Perhaps her mother was really mentally all right, and her behavior was all a facade. Underneath the crude veneer, Kachiko Tendou's motherly nature was preparing to bubble to the surface. Kasumi watched her mother more closely.
Kachiko picked her nose, then flicked what she had discovered out into the yard.
That did it. Drastic Steps had to be taken. Kasumi picked up the phone and dialed a number.
"Auntie Nodoka? This is Kasumi. We have a problem here and I was wondering if you might come over. We need help teaching someone how to be a proper mother…"
"Come on, Tendou, old buddy. I'm telling you this plan can't fail."
"I don't know." Soun looked indecisively at Kachiko from the cover of the door frame leading into the kitchen. Both he and Genma's heads barely stuck out beyond the edge of the frame, lest they be discovered and Kachiko grew angry at them for staring at her. As it was, she seemed content to look at the yard, her head swaying back and forth slightly.
Genma said, "Women are always babbling about how they want men to speak up and tell them they love them. She's a woman. Obviously from the way she's dressing she wants a man to come on to her. She's just begging for some suave Casanova to walk up and sweep her off her feet. And that, my friend, is you."
"Every time I touch her, she hits me."
"Ah, yes," Genma considered that. "Maybe it would be best to verbally sweep her off her feet. Women prefer talk to direct action. Like Nodoka used to say, if it was up to men, our idea of courtship would be to simply find a woman we consider attractive, hit her on the head, and drag her off to do with her as we will. I actually did that to my wife once. Not hit her, of course, but dragged her off and had my way with her. She rather liked it. I think she's been hinting at me to do it again."
"I don't think that would work. Kachi-chan's a very good martial artist. I'm fairly certain she's better than me."
"Hmm. Perhaps after you dazzle her with your tongue, she'll hit you on the head and drag you off. She seems rather liberated in that way."
"Yes, much more than before. She's changed so much, and yet, she's still the same. And this aggressiveness of hers, while it's not bad, I'm not sure I like it either. It makes things exciting, but at the same time scary as well. I don't know what to do or how to deal with this." Soun began wringing his hands in worry.
Genma gave an affectionate pat on Soun's shoulder. "That's right. Your judgment is skewed, since this is such an emotional issue for you. That's why you need to leave it to me, who can use his unbiased sentiments and superior judgment to help resolve this matter. Just go out there and tell her your feelings. The worst she can do is reject you again." Genma looked at Kachiko again, then added. "And hit you really hard. But she's already doing that, so it's not like it would be a move down for you or an indication that she dislikes you more than she already does."
"Saotome, you are not helping matters."
"Quit hesitating. Show some spine. You're becoming as indecisive as the boy. Get out there." Genma shoved his friend forward.
Soun tentatively took a few steps forward. He noted that Kasumi had already left the kitchen, so he and Kachiko would be alone now, save for Genma's hidden presence. Kachiko didn't seem openly hostile to anything at the moment. It probably was Soun's best chance to tell his wife his feelings so he could win her heart all over again.
Yearning for his long lost wide, Soun founding a bit more backbone as he quietly made his way through the kitchen until he was on the periphery of the porch, a mere handful of feet behind Kachiko's sitting form. She had not reacted to his presence. Her back remained to him as she continued facing the yard, her head still slightly swaying back and forth for no apparent reason.
Falling to his knees, Soun gave up all pretenses and blurted out feelings that had been bottled up for so long. "Kachi-chan. I've come to confess my love for you. For over a decade I've done nothing but feel an ache in my heart since you left us for a better place. Every morning I woke up, the days seemed darker, even with our wonderful girls at my side. They weren't enough. They weren't you. I tried to soldier on as best as I could, but your absence made me ache in a way I can't begin to describe. I have never stopped loving you. Not for one moment. And now you stand before me again, a dream I never thought possible. But you don't know me. And it hurts almost as much as if you were still gone. I can't tolerate this situation any longer. I have to let you know how I feel."
Kachiko, head still swaying as she continued staring out at the yard, said, "I know you want me."
"I have made it rather obvious," Soun admitted.
Kachiko said, "Well, I want you too… oo."
Soun's eyes nearly bulged out of his head. "You do?"
"So let's throw down and show this town what two hot lovers can do… oo."
"Oh my love!" Soun wailed as he grabbed Kachiko from behind and embraced her.
Kachiko stiffened, she looked over her shoulder, identified the person latched onto her, and began madly twitching. She easily broke out of Soun's grasp, spun around, and roared, "Don't you ever give up, you disgusting pervert?!" One earth-shattering punch sent the wailing man high into the sky and out of sight.
Kachiko's blood was still boiling as Nabiki entered the kitchen and said, "Hey, has anyone seen my… there it is." She walked over to her mother and snatched the CD player, dangling from Kachiko's head by its earphones, away from her. She waved the object in front of the girl. "You didn't ask if you could borrow this."
"Only because you would have charged me."
Nabiki couldn't argue with that. "Anything of mine you want, you ask if you can use it first, and I'll tell you the rates if I choose to loan it to you."
"Oh, really?" Kachiko gained a wicked gleam in her eye. "Does that mean you'd rent me that long, cylindrical, battery-powered object you have stashed in the back of your sock drawer?"
That made Nabiki freeze. Slowly, she said, "If the price was right."
"And how much would my silence about its existence be worth?"
Grimacing, Nabiki handed her the CD player. "You give it back the minute you're done, and it better not have so much as a scratch on it or you buy me a new one."
Letting out a low-pitched snicker, Kachiko held out her hand and said, "Deal."
As Nabiki looked at the hand, she found herself overwhelmed by a sense of deja-vu. Except the dimensions were off. The hand should have been bigger, able to completely encompass Nabiki's own. And she should have been looking up at it. And on the back of the ring finger…
Nabiki grabbed Kachiko's hand and turned it over. There was a faded scar, half a centimeter in length, on the middle knuckle.
"You could be more polite when you do that," Kachiko complained as she removed her hand from Nabiki's.
Nabiki couldn't hear it. She didn't want to. Instead she gave Kachiko a haunted look, turned, and walked out of the kitchen, Kachiko's words about trying to be a better sport when being outmaneuvered ignored. Nabiki felt an upsurge of emotion that threatened to overwhelm her. With grim determination, she forced it back down into the depths it had dared to rise up from.
"You're not my mother. I hate you," Nabiki hissed under her breath as she entered her bedroom and slammed the door behind her.
Akane had dropped by her 'former' bedroom, to check on her mother. Much to her surprise, the woman in question was standing in front of a full-length mirror, decked out in a surprisingly pleasing white dress that looked as though it had come straight out of Kasumi's closet. The skirt reached down to the ankles and there was no neckline to speak of. It reminded Akane of how her mother used to dress when she was still alive.
"You look nice," Akane said.
"Do you think so?" Kachiko spun around.
"Definitely. You should dress like that more often."
"Nah, it's only for this special occasion."
That made Akane's warning senses rise. "And just what is this 'special occasion'?"
Kachiko continued admiring herself in the mirror. "Kasumi told me Ranma's mother is coming to visit me. I want to make a good first impression. They say how you react when you first meet a person dictates how the relationship will go."
Now Akane was really suspicious. "Why would she want to visit you?"
"Probably because she wants to meet the girl who might someday become her future daughter-in-law."
Akane made a strangling noise. "Ranma hasn't chosen you."
Before Akane could fully start her diatribe, Kachiko cut her off. "And I haven't settled on him for sure either, which is why I said 'might'. There's still plenty of time, and if I decide he's not a keeper, I'll let you have him. Kasumi's no threat, since I'm beginning to think she has no interest in guys, and there's no way I'm giving him to Nabiki. No one deserves that."
"You're too kind," Akane said dryly.
Kachiko placed a finger to her chin in thought. "You know, that's something no one ever accuses me of."
"I find that very easy to believe."
The sound of a knock on the front door reached the upstairs bedroom. Employing a speed only seen when Happosai homed in on a girl's breasts, Kachiko was out of the room and at the front door before Akane had made it to the top of the stairs. Kachiko took one moment to double-check her appearance, patting down the skirt so not a wrinkle could be seen. Satisfied with the results, she opened the door.
Standing on the front porch was the familiar form of Genma. Next to him was a woman who was just a touch on the tall side, with red hair tied in a bun and wearing a traditional kimono. The resemblance to Ranma's female half was unmistakable.
Nodoka bowed. "You must be Kachiko. Kasumi told me all about you. You look very much like Akane. It's an honor to meet you."
Kachiko bowed back, then gave a large toothy grin that caused Nodoka to flinch. "Actually, Akane looks like me," Kachiko corrected. "And there's no need to be so formal. You can call me Kachi. Although I must confess, I'm surprised by your presence here."
"You mean Kasumi didn't tell you I was coming?" Nodoka asked.
Kachiko shook her head, then began looking past Nodoka. "Apparently she didn't tell me everything. I was only expecting Ranma's mother. They didn't tell me his grandmother was coming along too. Is your daughter around?"
Nodoka froze like a deer caught in the path oncoming headlights. It took a moment for her to snap out of her stupor and find her voice. "I beg your pardon. I am Ranma's mother."
Kachiko stopped looking around and gave a wide-eyed stare at Nodoka. "Wow! No kidding." She nudged Genma in the ribs. "Guess you got a thing for older women, eh?"
"I'm a year younger than him!"
"It doesn't show."
By that time, Akane had made it to the doorway. Having heard the remarks and catching the gist of the conversation, she was reluctant to intrude, but now she walked up to her mother's side. She was going to pleasantly greet Nodoka and try to defuse the situation when she saw that that the normally unflappable woman's right eyebrow was twitching uncontrollably. Nodoka's resemblance to Ranma when his temper was frayed was far more noticeable than ever before.
Kachiko, oblivious to the effect of her words, continued. "I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. My Mom had me later in life as well. You were what, thirty-five when you had Ranma?"
"I'm thirty-five now!"
A derisive snort escaped Genma's lips. He was instantly made sorry by the evil stare that was unleashed upon him. Almost as though he was reading lines, badly, he stated, "That's right. My wife is only thirty-five."
"I'd never have guessed," Kachiko assured her.
Akane laughed nervously. "Maybe we should go inside?"
The attempt to settle things down failed miserably as Nodoka stood her ground, an anger never witnessed before clearly evident. "I don't believe this. You can't possible be the mother to the delightful girls that live here. You are an unbelievably rude, uncouth, obnoxious little girl that should be locked away in some sort of reform school, if not jailed outright!"
The insults finally awakened Kachiko's own anger. "Excuse me. You don't even know me. Don't take the fact you don't age well out on me, hag."
"I am not a hag, you insulting little wench," Nodoka spluttered. "Teach you how to be more motherly? Ha! I doubt I could even teach you proper manners."
Kachiko's voice dropped into a much more controlled state, which was far more frightening than her previously angry tone. "Wait a minute. I thought you were coming by to feel me out as Ranma's fiancée."
"Ranma's fiancée? I'd prefer not having grandchildren at all to allowing you to spawn them."
Kachiko's voice was like ice. "So, someone asked you to come down here to teach me how to be… motherly." She turned to Akane.
Sensing the impending violence, Akane held up her hands in a warding gesture. "It wasn't me. I didn't know she was coming until you mentioned it." Akane was thankful her survival instincts were honed sharply enough to prevent her from saying the rest of what was on her mind, 'You could use both the lessons on manners as well as motherhood.' Akane was under the impression her mother considered corporal punishment the first option rather than the last.
Kachiko spun in fury on Nodoka. "I'll have you know something. If the price for becoming a mother meant turning out like you, I'd rather die in that car crash."
Before Nodoka could retort, Kachiko leaped up onto a fence and used it as a springboard to a nearby rooftop. Without any further obstructions, other than chimneys, she quickly dashed off and out of sight.
"That went really well." Kachiko kicked an empty can someone had discarded on the sidewalk.
Having come down to street level near a busy road in the shopping district, Kachiko had cooled off enough to think about what had happened. Maybe the argument was a tiny bit her fault, jumping to conclusions like that. Maybe there were times she tended to speak her mind before thinking. But Nodoka had overreacted. It was an honest mistake. She was certain there was someone out there that thought the woman looked young; but that person wasn't Kachiko.
Perhaps Kachiko wasn't the best judge of ages above thirty. It wasn't like she gave it much consideration. Once a person hit thirty, it was all downhill from there as far as she was concerned. And she certainly had no interest in anyone over the age of thirty. That was way too old to be a friend or romantic interest, in her opinion. So why would someone in their thirties care if a person made a guess at their age and it was five or ten years off? At that point it didn't matter anymore. It was splitting hairs. Old was old.
Kachiko kicked the can again. Maybe an empty apology would cool the old lady down. It wasn't like Kachiko had intended to insult her; it just happened. Surely one unintentional insult couldn't be held against her.
But then there was the revelation of Nodoka's true purpose in wanting to meet Kachiko. "Jerks!" she spat as she kicked the can out of sight. Once again her wonderful 'family' was trying to fit her into a mold they wanted rather than the one Kachiko was already in. Lover to some forty-year-old (maybe thirty-five, but it was the same difference). Settling down and being a mother to three teenagers, one of which was older than her. Tending a home for a living. Who in their right mind would want that at the age of seventeen? Not Kachiko Tendou. She had plans. She was young, in perfect health, and wanted to have the good time her parents seemed perpetually bent on denying her. Time enough for the responsibilities and raising a family much later, when there was nothing better to look forward to. The most important thing in her life right now would be getting into a good college, and that was still a year away.
But none of that mattered to her new 'family'. Kachiko despised the way everyone looked at her. To them she wasn't a vivacious seventeen-year-old girl in the spring of her youth; she was some resurrected paragon of motherhood. They were seeing what they wanted, not what was really there. It didn't matter how much Kachiko protested, they merrily ignored it or pretended to listen, all the while formulating a plan to make her into the image they had permanently burned in their minds. Kachiko Tendou was going to be their mother.
Like hell she was.
At least Ranma wasn't like that. When he looked at her, he saw her for what she was. There were no unrealistic expectations. She was just another person. He wasn't uneasy around her, or at least not uneasy in that 'should I look up to you and ask your advice, oh mother of mine?' sort of manner. He was still a bit skittish around her, but she knew she could bring him around in time. Hell, surrounded by that lot of nutjobs (not to mention an old mother who was obviously pathological about her age), she was surprised Ranma was as relatively normal as he was. Kachiko wasn't making it any easier on him. She was just a bit on the touchy side lately with all the different forces arrayed against her, constantly fighting her desires. And worse, she had a terrible feeling they weren't going to give up easily. They had brought Kachiko through time to be at their side for one reason only, and it seemed unlikely reality would hold any sway over them.
"I didn't ask to be dragged here!" Kachiko raged. Sure, maybe they had done her a favor by keeping her from ending up roadkill. If that really was her fate, she would have lost the world she knew anyway and was glad for being here, especially since she still had her martial arts. But there were doubts. Maybe they were wrong. Maybe that was only one possible outcome. Maybe Kachiko Tendou wasn't destined to be run over a couple of times, ending up crippled then killed. Maybe she and Sakura would not have fought and ruined their friendship. And maybe Kachiko would have stayed in touch with all her friends from high school. And still had a family that, while also trying to break her into a role she had no desire to fulfill, wasn't as terrifying as what the people she now lived with were trying to force onto her.
The world itself wasn't bad. Kachiko had gotten enough of a feel for the world of the future to say that. She actually liked the environment. Left on her own long enough, she wagered she could have made new friends and returned to her normal state of life. It wasn't all that different from moving to somewhere far away. School had transfer students all the time, and they adjusted well enough. As to all of the changes the future had brought, Kachiko found herself in favor of the majority of ones she had become aware of. Japan of twenty years ago was not particularly favorable towards women. While it was obvious in this 'present' that men still called all the shots, things had lightened up considerably, and they would only get better with time. There were other things that threw Kachiko off, and she found she was still adjusting to the changes around her, but it was happening. The only thing truly making her miserable were those people determined to call her mother. But in some ways, that alone was making everything bad. No matter what good things might be around her, the unrelenting pressure they leveled against her made everything worse. As it stood now, the bad came close to outweighing the good.
Nothing but insufferable situations surrounded Kachiko. She had her choice of bad fates: young mother or corpse. Well, she was going to avoid both those options, even if it took every ounce of force she could gather. She would make new friends, get a good boyfriend, and become normal, no matter what everyone else wanted.
The whole situation was irritating enough to make her want to tear her hair out by the roots. She wanted something else to kick. Anything short of a small animal would do. Ideally, Ranma's mother's flabby backside would serve…
Kachiko spotted another can, and was preparing to punt it somewhere over Hokkaido when she caught a quick movement out of the corner of her eye. She turned and saw a small boy — at least a couple years younger than that Hinako girl's young form — dart out between two parked cars and into the road as he chased a bright red bouncing ball. The child's attention was riveted on the object, making him completely unaware of the car that was barreling down upon him. The driver was likewise unaware of the child, since his concentration was reserved for the phone in his hand that he was shouting into. The driver's speed remained constant and direction unwavering as he traveled well over the speed limit on his collision course with the child.
"Stupid brat!" Kachiko snarled as she tensed up to make a running leap and tackle the child out of the path of the car.
Just as Kachiko's muscles tensed, she froze. It was suddenly perfectly clear. She knew what was going to happen. This was Fate, like Sakura had spoken of. History was repeating itself, even if Kachiko herself had not been through it yet. Somehow she knew that if she went out into the street, she would be the one hit by the car and injured badly enough she would have to give up martial arts. Crippled, she would have no choice but to cave in to the others' demands, becoming the mother they wanted and marrying a man twice her age. Fate, Sakura said, could not be denied.
But that was a lie. Kachiko could avoid her fate by staying away from the road and not getting hit. The car couldn't even go out of control at the last minute and hit her since there was a parked dump truck between her and the speeding vehicle. She was safe right where she was. Healthy, practicing martial arts, single, and with no offspring to take care of. All she had to do was stand motionless and let the young child take her place. It wouldn't be her fault. Not helping someone was not the same thing as endangering them. She bore no responsibility to help a stranger, especially at such a great cost to herself. She wasn't making a choice. She was just letting things happen as they would have had she not been pulled from time. Fate was pulling all the strings, but it would not make her bend to its demands. She'd cheat it by not playing its game.
It took a split second for those myriad of emotions and thoughts to shoot through Kachiko. Decision made, her body flew into motion. One powerful leap and she was in the air, her extensive training allowing her mind to tune out everything but her target: the child. The car was still there, but it was like a force of nature, not something Kachiko could affect. All that mattered was the child's safety.
Kachiko's body impacted with the child's, and she grabbed hold of him. She was still hurtling through the air as her eyes filled with tears and she found her mind filled with nothing but regrets. It was so stupid, throwing away everything but the breath from her body for some stranger's child. She didn't even like kids. After the last few days, she had learned to loathe them and their expectations. And with the way her luck had been going, the kid she was saving would probably grow up to become a serial killer. Or an annoying high school principal. His survival would probably make everyone's lives miserable, not better.
There was a screech of tires as Kachiko's body continued hurtling through
the air, twisting so she would absorb the brunt of the impact and spare the child. But rather than her course being interrupted by an impact, she continued on. She was almost in the other lane when she felt the car's fender strike the bottom of her foot. Not with bone-breaking force, but hard enough to let her know it would feel sore for some time.
And then Kachiko landed in the lane, again twisting so she bore the brunt of the fall rather than her burden. Her momentum stopped and she came to a rest on her back in the middle of the lane. She couldn't move at first. It was almost too much to believe. She wasn't crippled. The car had barely grazed her. She might have a sprained ankle at the worst.
Kachiko sat up with the still shocked child in her arms. She pumped her first in the air and shouted, "Hey, Fate! You want to know something?! I cheated your ass! Do you hear me?! You didn't win! I did!"
The sound of a madly blasting horn drowned Kachiko out. She looked back down to see the grill of a truck barreling down at her in the lane she was currently sitting in.
Rather than tensing up, Kachiko's body completely relaxed as she stared at the vehicle and said in a calm and collected voice, "Oh, !#$% you—UHF!"
The wind was knocked out of her lungs as something hit her hard in the side, scooped her and the child in her arms up in one motion, then vaulted up in the air. Kachiko could feel the wind kicked up from the truck passing underneath her.
She only had enough time to blink twice before reaching the height of the leap and falling back down to earth. The landing was feather light, as she found herself held in another's arms in almost the same manner that she was holding the child.
Their savior released his grip, setting Kachiko down on her feet. "Jeez, what are you, stupid? You don't sit in the middle of the street, shouting at the sky and waiting for somebody to run over you."
Kachiko released her hold on the child in the same way that Ranma had set her down. "You saved me."
"Of course I did. I wasn't going to let you get run over and get hurt or nothing."
Kachiko unleashed an adoring gaze upon him. "Your presence here can only mean one thing."
"Yes. It means you're stalking me." Kachiko swooned.
"I am not stalking you! I only followed you because Akane said you got in a fight with Mom and I wanted to make sure you were all right."
"Then you do care."
Ranma began fidgeting, looking downward as he found the ground much more settling than the gaze Kachiko was giving him. "It's just I don't like it when people fight, and I could tell it was bad because Mom was really fuming."
Kachiko's gaze switched from that of a soft, rescued maiden to one of an aggressive predator. "You're my hero. You saved me from a fate worse than death. And since you're the hero, you get a reward."
"Reward?" Ranma suddenly found a pair of arms wrapped around his neck. Kachiko drew him closer and downward to her own expecting lips. Caught off-guard, Ranma stiffened up rather than trying to escape, Kachiko's resemblance to Akane throwing him off further.
Kachiko closed her eyes, puckered up, and said, "Argh! What do you think you're doing, you little bastard?!"
The little boy she had rescued scowled at her before continuing to stomp on her sore foot. "You made me lose my ball, you ugly old woman!"
Kachiko darted her tender foot away from the stomping child. "Why, you obnoxious brat! I nearly lost my life for rescuing your sorry little behind and you have the nerve to whine to me about losing your ball? I have half a mind to toss you back out in the street!"
The threat had no effect on the child as he aimed for her foot again. It appeared he was about to say more about Kachiko's appearance, when a woman's voice cried out, "Hiroyoshi!"
The child's anger turned instantly to tears. Hiroyoshi ran up to his mother and into her arms.
"What happened?" the mother asked.
Hiroyoshi rubbed his eyes, sniffled, then leveled an accusatory finger at Kachiko. "That woman touched my bottom in a way that made me uncomfortable."
Kachiko waved her fist at him. "You little !#$%. I only grabbed you because I was in a hurry to keep you from getting run over! I didn't have enough time to be choosy about where my hands ended up!"
The child's false tears doubled. The mother shot Kachiko a look that promised something worse than mere crippling at the hands of a semi as she shouted, "Help, help! My child has been molested!"
Instantly a group of men appeared from a side-street and ran up to the woman. They were all at least six feet in height and had muscles that indicated half their lives took place in a gym. They all wore matching blue uniforms, red berets, and wide belts with a variety of unpleasant looking items dangling from them.
The largest of the men stepped forward and said the mother. "Did youse say youse spotted a molester? Where is da bum?"
The mother pointed to Kachiko. "That evil girl just tried to molest my son!"
"Did not!" Kachiko protested.
"You just admitted you fondled his bottom."
"I didn't fondle it. I only grabbed it when I picked him up."
Ranma slapped his hand across his eyes and shook his head pitifully.
The acting spokesman for the squad shot Kachiko an evil glare. "We gotta nice clean neighborhood here, and we'd like ta keep it dat way. Which is why me and da boys got together and formed Da Combat Legion Against Perverts ta fight off twisted scum like youse."
Kachiko gave him a half-lidded stare. "Let me get this straight. You're calling yourselves The CLAP? What kind of morons are you to pick a dumb name like that?"
The man detached a baton from his belt. Sparks of electricity leapt from the tip as the device crackled noisily. "We're da morons dat was formally members of da special forces and got da firepower and combat training ta beat up perverts like youse. Okay, guys, let's bring some law and order back to dis district!"
The rest of the men pulled out identical weapons, gave a roar of challenge, and charged Kachiko and Ranma.
"But it's really not my fault!" she wailed.
"That one never works," Ranma informed her as the fight began.
Ranma and Kachiko trudged home, a touch the worse for wear after their encounter with the anti-pervert squad. They walked in silence, only twitching occasionally from the lingering touch of electricity.
Tired of the silence, Ranma said, "You didn't do too badly back there."
"You got three more than me. You're pretty good," Kachiko admitted.
Much to Ranma's surprise, Kachiko didn't use the comment to engage in conversation. "You're being pretty quiet."
Again there was nothing. On some level, Ranma considered it a challenge to try to get her to open up. He continued, "How come?"
"Ranma, do you know what tact is?"
Kachiko released a tired sigh. "I was just thinking to myself."
"About them accusing you of being a pervert? Don't worry about it. I know you were only grabbing that kid to save him, not molest him. Right?"
"Of course that was the only reason I grabbed him!"
"I know. I was just kidding." Ranma found his right hand twitching slightly. He waited for the tremor to abate before continuing. "It took a lot of guts to run in front of that car like that and save the kid. I mean, with you knowing what happened to you, or almost happened if you hadn't been pulled to here."
Kachiko shrugged it off. "Momentary lapse in judgment. I'll try to keep it from happening again."
Ranma said, "You're being too cynical."
Kachiko scoffed. "Trust me. If there's one thing I've learned from life, it's that selfless acts usually result in you getting a kick to the gut, not some reward for taking the high road. If you want something, you'd better be prepared to make a grab for it using everything you got, or you'll lose to someone willing to go that extra distance."
Ranma was surprised by the bitterness in Kachiko's voice. He was torn between wanting to find out why she felt that way and taking the much more traveled course of minding his own business. Generally speaking, when he stuck his nose into matters, it tended to get bitten. Still, there was something about the harshness in her voice that felt like her observations were from a personal experience rather than an abstract one. It didn't sound like a fresh wound, but more like something from a while ago that still nagged at her from time to time. Ranma recognized the feeling because he felt the same way about certain matters, like the Cat-Fist. He'd gotten over the worst of it a long time ago, but mention the word cat in his presence, and it would be there again, annoying him like an itch that could never be scratched.
They arrived at the house before Ranma could come to a decision. He let the matter drop, convinced Kachiko wouldn't want to talk about it in front of others, and that his interest might be misinterpreted by everyone else as something other than casual. Best to forget about the whole thing rather than allow it the chance to further complicate his life.
Nodoka heard her son return. She had been against him searching after the awful young girl who the others insisted was Soun's wife magically returned from the dead. Nodoka couldn't see how that was possible. Not the resurrection — when one had a son who turned into a girl periodically, such things were easy to accept — it was the idea that Kachiko could be their mother. She was nothing like any of the girls that were supposedly her daughters, and certainly not how Akane and the others had described her when Nodoka had spoken to them in the past about the matter. It defied her sensibilities.
Still, Kasumi had been insistent that Kachiko had been acting strangely since her journey through time, and Nodoka supposed being hurled twenty years into the future could be somewhat disturbing. She tried envisioning how she would have reacted had she been plucked out of the past as a teenager and thrust into her current role. She would have had a very manly husband in Genma. A man among men as a son. Grandchildren on the horizon. A role as a mother in a child's life. It was everything she wanted when she had graduated high school. It would have been the perfect setting. So why on Earth would Kachiko act so negatively about finding herself thrust in such an ideal situation as existed in the Tendou household? It made no sense.
Nodoka decided that Kasumi was right, and that Kachiko was disoriented. She should be given another chance. Her rude comments could be discarded, or at least ignored for the while, and they could try starting off on the right foot once again.
Nodoka waited until the pair came into the living room. She gasped upon seeing the state they were in. Much of their hair stood on end and singe marks covered large portions of their bodies. "What happened to you?"
Kachiko gave a dismissive wave of her hand. "Nothing. Oh, I want to apologize for my comments from before. They were very insensitive."
Caught off-guard by the apology, Nodoka said, "That's all right, dear. These things happen." She decided to extend a peace offering of her own. "Why don't we start all over? There's no reason to waste time. We can begin your first lesson in housekeeping right now."
Instantly Kachiko's demeanor changed. The look in her eyes switched to a sort of empty stare. "That's awfully nice of you to offer. I'd really like to learn how to properly sew sweaters, prepare tea, and vacuum my brain, but I fear I have homework to do so I can educate myself and have a productive future. Perhaps later, when I've become too old and tired to remember what having fun is like, I'll take you up on your offer. Bye-bye." Kachiko skipped off, humming merrily to herself.
Nodoka's eyebrow twitched again. She turned to Ranma, who had tried to slink off. It was times like this she noted his tendency to reflect some of his father's less manly attributes. "Ranma, exactly what happened while you were gone with that girl?"
Ranma relaxed, obviously delighted about not receiving a more accusatory interrogation. "Nothing, really. We had a little problem with The CLAP is all."
Nodoka felt her heart stop in her chest momentarily. "You and that girl… had a problem with… the clap?"
"Yeah, but it wasn't anything a few good shots couldn't take care of." Ranma smiled smugly.
Nodoka's mind recoiled and a wave of nausea swept over her. Certainly she had wanted her son to be manly — she had been insistent on that — but not with that sort of girl. Never mind what Kachiko represented to Akane and the others. And to learn that the young woman could have such a disease and given it to Ranma, it was all almost too much for her to handle. "Ranma, I'm certain you engaged in what you thought was proper conduct. And I understand you're an… energetic young man. But couldn't you have used some sort of protection?"
Ranma scratched his head and fingered one of the singe marks. "You mean like rubber or something?"
"Yes! That's exactly what I mean. One of those."
"It's not like I had any with me."
Nodoka winced. "Damn it! I thought your father would have taught you not to do that sort of thing unprotected."
"Well, yeah, he did sort of teach me to be prepared for anything," Ranma admitted. "But it kind of happened on the spur of the moment. If I had thought I was going to be dealing with The CLAP beforehand, I would have made sure I had some on me."
Nodoka was in almost tears. "But it's too late now."
"Obviously," Ranma agreed.
"But you said you and Kachiko took care of the matter?"
"Yeah. The CLAP won't be giving us problems any time soon."
"Thank goodness," she sighed. "Ranma, I think it best not to mention this to anyone, especially Akane and the others."
Ranma shrugged. "Well, okay. If you think it's a good idea, I'll keep quiet about it. I'll admit it wasn't exactly one of my proudest moments. And Akane might think I'm a pervert if I told her I had to deal with The CLAP."
"Yes, given her nature, I can practically guarantee it." Akane did have some odd ideas when it came to what defined manliness.
"Then I won't mention it," Ranma promised. "But at least I know I wasn't the cause of the problem this time."
"No, the fault does not lie with you," Nodoka assured him. It was obvious that Kachiko girl had seduced him, and away from her own daughter no less. What sort of a mother was she to engage in such behavior, even if Ranma was a true man among men? It was shameless. And obviously her son wasn't the first she had given her favors to if she carried sexually transmitted diseases. "Ranma, you must tell me something. Do you plan to marry Kachiko?"
"Thank goodness." Nodoka doubted if she could have approved of such a pairing. She stated firmly, "You must be more careful in the future. I'll be sure to get you some rubbers before the next time."
"Aw, come on Mom."
"No buts. You'll need the protection."
"Fine," Ranma said in the tone all children used when their parents were acting overprotective. Now tired of the interrogation and lecture, he exited the room.
Nodoka was left to ponder the situation. As much as she wanted to order Ranma not to fornicate with Kachiko further, she held back. She remembered her days in high school and what the boys Ranma's age were like. Once they found a girl they started to sleep with, they became hormonally-driven machines that ignored the sound advice of their parents. Any attempts to forbid them from seeing the girl always failed miserably and simply built up resentment in the family, sometimes to the point where they would run off with their lover. There was no way Nodoka was willing to drive Ranma to that. He had already been gone for over a decade. Never again would she and her son be parted.
It was like Nodoka's mother had said, men's lower anatomy did their thinking for them. And Ranma was technically of the age where he could decide such matters. Since he said he had no intention of marrying Kachiko, it was obvious he was just using her as a release for his teenage ardor. Nodoka would just have to accept the situation and hope he got the urge to sow his oats out of his system before the others found out. At least he had the sense to not engage in such behavior in the house. Although Nodoka would be confronted with the arduous task of covering up for the pair, which was going to be difficult. This sort of thing could conceivably tear apart the promise to unite the families, and Nodoka wanted grandchildren as soon as possible. She was a mother. She would simply have to accept the situation and protect Ranma as best as she could, even if it meant going out of her way to stomach that irresponsible girl.
Kachiko eased back in the bath until her head was almost underwater, enjoying the hot soak as it loosened her tense, electrocuted muscles. The CLAP hadn't been too problematic. Alone, they might have given her a hard time, but with Ranma at her side defeating them had been relatively easy. They didn't do any lasting damage, though the number of times she was hit with their stubby cattle prods left her a bit twitchy. What was the world coming to when packs of vigilantes were allowed to roam around and stir fry innocent young girls while accusing them of being child molesters? In her day, all they had to deal with were packs of giant mutant alligators that occasionally rose up from the sewers and tried to overthrow humanity. And that was only because Principal Faust used the sewers as a dumping ground for the radioactive waste material from the nuclear power plant in his secret underground lair.
It was sad to see how badly the neighborhood had deteriorated since her day.
Kachiko heard the door to the bath slide open, then close. She wondered: who had wandered into the bathroom while she was soaking? One of the girls? That annoying old woman? The old pervert? That was the one she truly dreaded. He had already managed one good grope today. She'd really punch him out this time if he tried molesting her in the bath.
Or maybe it was Ranma. True, it seemed unlikely, but perhaps their bonding experience from this afternoon had convinced him she was the one for him. That presented a problem. She didn't think they were far enough along in their relationship to allow him to wash her back, or do naughtier things. She didn't want to dissuade him from chasing her, but she had to draw a line somewhere. But maybe he was finally acting aggressive. Maybe her femininity had proven too much for him to resist…
Or maybe she had simply forgotten to hang the occupied sign on the door.
"Damn! And it was such a fun fantasy, too."
Kachiko heard an unusual sound, almost like a soft rapid clicking rather than footsteps. The sound grew louder as whatever it was drew near the furo. She cautiously raised her head out from the water and looked over the side of the tub to identify the intruder.
It was a little piglet with a yellow and black striped bandanna tied around its neck.
Kachiko made a cooing sound. "Oh, you must be Akane's pet pig. She told me about you. You're even cuter than she said. Come to Kachi, Little Piggy." She stood up and curled her finger in a 'Come here' gesture to the piglet.
A gout of blood shot from its nose and it keeled over.
"Oh my god! Little Piggy!" Kachiko squealed as the blood began to pool around its head. In a panic, she emerged from the furo, water dripping from her body. She walked over to the black lump on the tiles, and said, "Little Piggy, are you all right?" Mindful to avoid getting a drop of blood on her, she nudged it with her toe.
It didn't react in the slightest.
"Oh jeez. He's definitely dead. It's not my fault!" she cried, then immediately clapped her hands over her mouth. Furtively, she looked around the bathroom. No one had seen her. No one had seen the piglet enter. There were no witnesses to what had happened. If no one knew about her and the pig being in the bathroom at the same time, no one could pin this one on her.
There was only one final step she had to take, and then she'd be in the clear with no one the wiser to what had occurred.
Kasumi was airing one of her throw rugs out the window of her bedroom when she noticed her mother emerging from the window next to the laundry room. She was dressed in a black jumpsuit and wore a black scarf over the lower half of her face. There was a canvas sack in one hand, and a shovel in the other. She clung to the side of the house, looking furtively all around, but not up. With excruciating slowness, she inched her way along the wall, tiptoeing silently until she stepped on the blade of a hoe laying in the yard. Her weight caused the handle to come up and hit her squarely between the eyes. Stunned, she began wobbling about the yard like a drunken sailor.
Kasumi pondered the matter. Why would her mother be sneaking about while dressed like a taller and more stylish version of Happosai? She continued wondering until Kachiko wobbled into the clothesline, one of her flailing arms tangling up with a pair of boxers. Off balance she fell to the ground, a second set of boxers landing across her face.
"How wonderful!" Kasumi declared. She headed out of her room, intent on sharing the good news with everyone. The first person she came across was Nodoka. She said, "Oh Auntie, I have good news."
Intrigued, Nodoka asked, "What is it, Kasumi dear?"
"Mother is stealing Father's underwear. She's finally showing an interest in him. I have to find Nabiki and Akane and let them know too." Kasumi flitted off.
Nodoka had to use the wall to balance herself. "Oh, dear God. Not only is she rude, foul-mouthed, unclean, and a poor judge of age, but she's perverted as well." Nodoka made a mental note to keep a closer eye on her own underwear, just in case it turned out Kachiko took an interest in women as well as men.
Kachiko rubbed her head, noting the lump was already starting to go down. Mopping the sheen of sweat that had gathered on her brow, she dug the shovel into the earth once again. Two more times, and she judged the hole would be deep enough for disposing of her little 'package'. Then all she had to do was fill in the hole, and she would be in the clear, with no one the wiser to what had happened. Akane mentioned her pet was always wandering off and disappearing, sometimes for weeks on end. This was no different from all those other occasions, save for the fact that the pig wouldn't ever be returning. Still, Kachiko did feel a twinge of guilt over what had happened. She'd have to comfort Akane, and perhaps even help replace the piglet by getting Nabiki to pay for a new one or something.
But that was for later, right now she had to put the finishing touches on her perfect plan. Smiling to herself, Kachiko said, "It's all too easy."
"What's too easy?"
"Ah!" Kachiko jumped away from the voice that had come from directly behind her.
Ranma looked at her curiously. "What's wrong with you?"
"There's nothing in the bag. Why do you ask?"
"Um, I didn't ask you about the bag."
"Right. I knew that. But if you had asked, there still wouldn't be anything in it," Kachiko assured him.
Ranma looked down and spotted the bag lying at his feet. He bent down and picked it up.
"Don't look in it. It's full of… used woman's hygiene products."
Ranma pointed at the hole in the ground. "Which you were going to bury in the yard?"
Kachiko shrugged. "Sure, it's a woman thing. It's like talking on the phone or complaining about how you guys leave the toilet seat up." She lunged for the bag, but Ranma pulled it out of her reach.
Evading one last attempt to reclaim the sack, Ranma opened up the top and looked inside. "Oh my God! P-Chan!"
Kachiko said, "He was alive when I put him in the bag, which means you must have killed him when you picked it up. See? It's not my fault."
Ranma shot Kachiko a dirty look as he fished the piglet out of the bag. "What happened?"
Unable to lie to those beautiful blue eyes of Ranma's — because she couldn't think of anything that would be remotely believable — Kachiko explained,
"It's really not my fault. He walked into the bathroom while I was taking a bath and he had a brain embolism or something. All of a sudden there was blood everywhere and he fell over dead. I checked him real thoroughly to be sure."
"He's still breathing," Ranma informed her.
Kachiko snatched the piglet out of his hand and examined the animal for herself. "Well I'll be darned. I've heard of people coming back from the dead, but never piggies. Maybe it's because no one bothers to try to resuscitate them."
Ranma kept a firm hold on P-Chan. "He saw you naked, didn't he?"
"Well, yes. How did you know?"
Ranma sighed. "You can't go prancing naked around him. He's a… shy pig."
"I see. Ranma, I want you to be straight with me here."
Seeing Kachiko was being absolutely serious for a change, Ranma acquiesced. "Okay."
"Do you have a thing for animals? I mean like really love them in that 'more than a pet' sort of way. Because if you do, I'll understand. No, scratch that. I'll probably scream and never have a thing to do with you again, you disgusting pervert."
"I am not into that sort of thing!" Ranma shouted. "It's just that P-Chan here is an odd pig. Try not to have anything to do with him. It's for your own good. Think of him as a porcine version of Mr. Tendou and treat him accordingly."
"You're saying you want me to neuter him?"
"No! Just don't try to take baths with him or change clothes around him or accidentally dump warm water on him."
"He's… ah, allergic to it."
"Oh," Kachiko said knowingly, even if she didn't know. "Fine, the little piggy is your responsibility from now on. If he falls over dead, it was not my fault. Now I want to look over some of those books I got for school, especially the history texts. I need to see what sort of changes have taken place in the last few years. Want to come to my room and help me?"
"Nah. Mom's over, so I'm going to spend some time with her."
"Enjoy your time with the withered old… I mean, the delightful woman who brought you forth into the world." Kachiko forced an inhuman smile, which was still nowhere near as frightening as her sincere one.
Ranma winced. "Don't be that way. I'd appreciate it if you got along with Mom. She's only trying to help you."
Kachiko grabbed the shovel. "Ranma, if I start behaving the way she wants me to," she tossed him the tool and pointed at the hole. "I want you to bury me right there."
Day became evening. Evening became nighttime. Nighttime changed until it was on the verge of becoming the very earliest of the morning. The shadows did not care in the slightest as they merrily danced along the walls, created by the light produced from the small quartet of candles that sat on the table in the living room.
The small amount of light the candles produced was barely adequate for looking over the open book before her, but it was nearly two A.M., and Kasumi was worried anything brighter might alert one of the residents of the house to the fact she was awake and cause them undue concern. Her problems were her own, and there was no point in burdening others with them.
Kasumi sighed wistfully as she turned another page. Why couldn't life have been simple, like it was displayed in the book? It all should have been uncomplicated. Kasumi's mother had been returned to the home where she belonged. At long last Kasumi could continue with what had been interrupted by death: becoming a true woman under her mother's tutelage. She had tried her best without Kachiko's guidance, but she knew in her heart she had failed. She was incomplete. Akane and Nabiki had managed well enough on their own to become complete people, despite their rough edges, but not Kasumi. Deep down inside there was something unfulfilled, and she did not have a single idea of how to go about completing it. She was busy enough, keeping the house organized and in one piece as she took care of everyone, but there was something about her that was not quite right. She knew there was much more to life than what her mother had taught her before she died, and now her mother could inform her of what that was, allowing Kasumi to know true happiness again.
Except her mother wasn't helping teach Kasumi anything. No cleaning. No cooking. No mother-daughter things like they used to do. Kachiko was behaving like… well, unlike how a mother should conduct herself. She was acting like a near out-of-control teenager, which she had never done before. In some ways, it was inconceivable that the girl before them could be the mother Kasumi had all but worshipped her entire life. This version of Kachiko Tendou that had appeared was a whole different person, someone she shouldn't be. And she showed no inclinations of ever becoming what Kasumi remembered. Every time Kasumi tried to help lead Kachiko in the right direction, she pulled away even further in seeming rebellion.
It made no sense. Kachiko had been happy as a mother; Kasumi remembered it clearly. So why couldn't this girl before them accept that and be happy instead of trying to do so many other pointless things? Kasumi knew that if she had been wished into the future and some offspring of hers had told her the path to true happiness, she would have taken it in an instant. So why couldn't Kachiko do the same? Her mother's constant rejection of the way things should have been made Kasumi feel more alone now than when her mother had been dead.
Dismal thoughts were placed aside as Kasumi sensed a disturbance in the house. She looked to the stairway. "Having problems sleeping, Mother?"
An "Ack!" filled the air. Kachiko poked her head from around the corner and into the living room. "Jeez, how do you do that? I was trying to move quietly. I know I didn't make a sound."
Kasumi shrugged. She had never given the matter a second thought. "I just know these things."
With the ice broken, Kachiko came fully into the room, "Mom — I mean my Mom — is the same way. I'd try tiptoeing around and you'd hear her voice come from the kitchen, "Kachiko, don't try hiding under the stairs to avoid your chores.' Or 'Kachiko, don't try to climb out your window to see that boy waiting for you in the yard.' It didn't matter how sneaky I tried to be, she always knew. It creeped the hell out of me. I wonder if she had secret cameras installed in the house and the control panel was hidden in the kitchen."
Kasumi looked at her mother in near horror. "Why would you try to get out of housework?"
"It's tedious and boring. Although I know it has to be done, I'd just prefer someone else do it."
"But it stabilizes a home and helps others by providing them with a sense of familiarity. It's very rewarding in and of itself. That's what you always told me."
"I was probably suckering you into doing all the work," Kachiko stated bluntly. "What are you doing in here with a bunch of candles? Performing some sort of dark religious ceremony involving the sacrifice of small animals?"
"I was only kidding… mostly," Kachiko added under her breath. "If you're having trouble sleeping, I can fix you up some warm milk. That usually does the trick."
The way Kachiko gave the suggestion temporarily quelled Kasumi's disappointment in her mother's attitude. "That's what you used to give me when I was little and had trouble sleeping."
"There you have it," Kachiko said. She moved closer to the table to get a better look. "So what have you got there?"
The mournful gaze returned. "A photo album of happier times."
Kachiko seated herself at the table so she could get a better look at the contents of the album. She pointed at one of the pictures. "Is that supposed to be me and you?"
Kasumi looked at the picture in question. It was a photo of the two of them side-by-side in matching aprons. Kasumi noted they were quite the mismatched pair, one so much older than the other, wearing as much food on her clothing as what was in the bowl. There wasn't even much of a family resemblance. The only thing that was similar was their smiles, which were exactly the same. It was one of Kasumi's favorite pictures, which made the current situation seem all the more depressing. "Yes," Kasumi said, quietly.
Kachiko bent her head low because of the dim lighting. "Cute, in that homey sort of way. It looks like you two were enjoying yourselves."
"You're one of the people in the picture," Kasumi reminded her.
"Ah yes," Kachiko said knowingly. "It reminds me of the day I went back in time and helped storm the Bastille."
Kasumi was in shock once again. "You aided the French Revolution?"
"Nope. And I didn't do this either," Kachiko pointed to the picture. "I keep telling you, that isn't me. I mean, it might have been me to you, but it isn't me to me. Argh! Time travel completely !#$%'s the ability to use tenses!" Kachiko pulled at her hair in frustration.
Kasumi returned to staring at the picture, twice as miserable as before.
Suddenly awkward, Kachiko said, "But, um, well, why don't you show me the rest of these photos, since they mean so much to you and everything?" she quickly added.
Uncertain of what to make of the request, Kasumi assented and turned the page. "Here's one where we're at a picnic."
Kachiko looked at the photo Kasumi indicated. "There's octopus balls in there. They're my favorite. Along with—"
"Sukiyaki," Kasumi finished. "Yes, I remember. You never grew tired of them. When I started to get good at cooking, that was about all we made. At one point Father demanded we make something else, even if it was only plain ramen, since he had had enough sukiyaki and octopus balls. And then you told him you wanted to make sure I could perfect the perfect food."
Kachiko laughed. "That's a good one. I am a master of wordplay."
"And then Father and I looked at you strangely. Then he took me aside and said you shouldn't abuse me like that. But I know you meant well."
Kachiko grumbled, "No one respects good humor at any age."
Kasumi turned to another one. "Here's you and father at the Tenryumon Shrine to bring in the new year."
Kachiko's features softened. "That used to be my favorite shrine. Did you know when I was a kid I burned part of it down? It wasn't my fault, though. They shouldn't leave paint thinner near gasoline in places where kids who have matches are just learning about what fire can do. And those temples must be made of dry kindling or something. Not that the priests wanted to hear it. Umm… why don't we move on?" Kachiko turned the page. "This looks fascinating. I don't recognize where it is, though."
Seeing Kachiko was now acting interested, Kasumi's mood improved. "That was taken on our trip to Okinawa."
"I've always wanted to go to Okinawa, but my parents didn't believe in going to beaches. They thought it was scandalous that people there wore 'less than the proper amount of clothing'. Occasionally I went with Sakura or on school trips and such, so I did get some fun in the sun. Picnics weren't high on the list of priorities either. I don't think I did anything with my parents, or at least anything that I liked. I'm glad I took you guys around and showed you how to have fun."
"Oh yes," Kasumi said happily. "We did lots of things together and we had a great deal of fun. We always went as a family everywhere. I remember it all. It was wonderful."
"It's good to see I know how to raise kids," Kachiko said with an amused grin. Then the smile faded. She whispered in a conspiratorial tone, "Tell me something, and be honest with me. Nabiki was adopted, wasn't she?"
In answer, Kasumi turned the pages to an earlier time in the photo album. She pointed to a picture that held a two year old version of her in Soun's arms. Kachiko stood next to them, a tremendous bulge in her stomach.
"Switched at the hospital?" Kachiko asked.
Kasumi shook her head.
Kachiko appeared depressed at the revelation. "It's hard to believe anyone with my genes could go so bad."
A part of Kasumi, one she kept under tight control, wanted to say, "But I think she’s far more like you than either Akane or I are." But Kasumi kept such rude and improper thoughts to herself and chose to say, "Nabiki's really nice once you get to know her, or if she decides you have nothing of value she wants."
"Yeah, sure," Kachiko said dryly. She flipped through to the next page and stared at it icily. "Blech, looks like I lost my girlish figure after I had her. I'll have to give the brat hell over that one." She flipped the page and looked at the next set of photos. "Damn, I'm a bloated pig again. Looks like I was maintaining a constant state of barefoot and pregnant. My old man must have been proud I turned into the submissive little brood mare he always wanted."
"That's not true. You were happy having the three of us to raise," Kasumi insisted.
"Yeah, maybe. I did stop at three, thankfully." Kachiko flipped through some of the other pictures, most of them involving her with some combination of Soun and the girls. "You know, that old perv wasn't half bad looking back then."
"You and Father were always affectionate with one another."
"Eww, don't say that out loud. He might get ideas." Kachiko's eyes searched the room, as though Soun might appear at any second and try to embrace her. "He's way past my prime now. And a basket case. I've never liked older guys anyway. Sakura used to have the hots for guys that were college age. I think she had a crush on half the guys her older sister used to date. I could never understand that. I want someone close to my age so we'll have more in common."
"But Father isn't that much older than you."
"Do you think Mr. Saotome's a hot stuff?"
"Of course not!"
"Too old, isn't he?"
"Um, well, his age… It doesn't really matter how old he is since he's married."
Kachiko smiled smugly. "Admit it. You know you think he's too old. And since you're two years older than me, that makes the age difference between me and your father even worse."
"But Father's a nice man and you loved him once. I know you would love him just as much if you got to know him."
Once again, Kasumi was reminded of an older version of Kachiko being stern in such a manner, and again Kasumi found herself instinctively doing as she was told.
With the discussion ended, Kachiko continued leafing through the album. As she looked the pictures over she said, "You know, I have to amend what I said when I first saw that picture of myself from that shrine of yours."
"Yeah. I am smiling quite a bit in these photos. Not real big happy ones, but these aren't forced. Looks like we did a lot of things together as a family. You guys are smiling a lot too."
"It was probably the best time of our lives," Kasumi said sincerely.
The compliment seemed to warm Kachiko. "It's nice to know I learned from my parents' mistakes and wasn't so standoffish like they were. Heck, I was gone for ten years and you still missed me. I've been gone from them for three days, and I barely even think of them. I hope they're okay, though, and not missing me too much."
Kasumi froze for a moment, fearing Kachiko would ask her where her grandparents' were. But when no further questions came, she realized Kachiko was referring to them as though she had left them behind on a trip rather than wondering what they were doing in the present day.
Kachiko continued leafing through the album until she ceased being in the photos. She closed the book then. "Looks like I did a heck of a job raising you guys, even if I was pretty much a headcase myself back then."
"I like to think you did a wonderful job for all of us," Kasumi said warmly.
"Too bad I wasn't around longer, or maybe you guys would have turned out less screwed up. Although I honestly don't know what I would have done with Nabiki. Maybe sent her somewhere to get a little discipline. Hey! There's an idea. Maybe I can talk your old man into shipping her off to some military academy."
"I think Nabiki is quite happy here," Kasumi quickly provided. "I'd be delighted to receive any advice from you, though." Even if Kasumi didn't think of herself as 'screwed up'. Guidance from mother could never hurt, and perhaps it would make Kasumi a better person and make her feel more complete.
Kachiko slapped the girl on the back. "Hey, I'm a proverbial repository of good advice. You listen to me. I always know what I'm talking about."
Kasumi was delighted at her mother's instructional tone. "What should we talk about first?"
Kachiko considered that. "Well, we can talk about martial arts, picking up guys, or how to make your chest appear bigger than it really is. I'm great at all that."
The list made Kasumi somewhat leery. "Actually, I was hoping we could talk about more useful things, like cooking, sewing, or keeping house."
"Ah, that's all boring stuff," Kachiko said. "I mean, I do know how to do all that happy homemaker crap, Mom saw to that, but it's all boring. It's about as much fun as… well, as calligraphy."
That surprised Kasumi. "You know calligraphy?"
"Yeah, Mom made me learn it. She thought it would make me more elegant or something. Like I'm not elegant already." Kachiko scratched her bottom. "I'm pretty damn good at it, too, even if I don't have the patience for it. I've always been artistic. I always got complimented by teachers in art class."
Eager to have her mother discuss anything with her, Kasumi said, "Could you teach me?"
Kachiko appeared hesitant. "Wouldn't you rather learn how to pick up guys? I mean, let's be honest here. You look like you need a date really, really, really bad."
"I'm grateful you're so concerned about my romantic life, and I'm sure I'll meet someone as delightful as father someday—"
"Oh, aim higher than that, please."
Kasumi continued. "I'm sure I will. But for the moment, I'd really like you to teach me some calligraphy."
Kachiko stared mournfully at the clock on the wall. But she took one look at Kasumi's hopefully gaze, and broke down. "I'm going to be a wreck tomorrow, but I'm already up, and I doubt I'll be able to go to sleep anytime soon. Go get me the stuff and I'll show you how it's done. Besides, calligraphy always used to put me to sleep. So if I doze off in the middle of teaching this to you, you let me rest."
"Certainly, Mother." Kasumi began to gather the supplies.
"And don't call me Mother," Kachiko commanded.
Kasumi gave her a mournful look.
Again, Kachiko relented. "Damn, I wish I could give that whipped puppy expression like you do. You have a God-given talent there, you know?"
"No, I don't."
"Which is what makes it worse," Kachiko sighed as Kasumi laid out the materials. Kachiko examined them with a surprisingly critical eye, given her lackadaisical attitude concerning the art. Satisfied the materials would do, she seated herself next to Kasumi and said, "Here's how you begin. All the action begins with the grip. It has to be firm enough to keep from leaving stray marks, but loose enough that you use strokes rather than lines."
Kasumi, feeling the most blissful she had in years, listened raptly. No matter how bad things had been before, or how bad they might get, it was a moment like this that made it all worthwhile.
To be continued.
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