Pantyhose Tarou took a moment to straighten his tie and adjust the bouquet of flowers cradled in his arm one last time before reaching forward and ringing the doorbell.
Things were going perfectly. He didn't need a mirror to know he cut quite the dashing figure. The tuxedo he had "requisitioned" in the wee hours of the morning from a tailor's shop fit his slender, well-muscled frame perfectly. His hair was newly cut, still low in the back but with the bangs removed from the front. And to complete his ensemble, he wore his best pantyhose tied around his forehead. It was the hot pink one. Girls loved hot pink. All of that, in addition to his naturally handsome features, charming personality, and unrelenting charisma, made him irresistible to members of the opposite gender.
Tarou snickered quietly to himself until the door opened and revealed the figure behind it. It took Tarou a moment to recognize the man with the mustache as being the Tendou girls' father. Shun? Spoon? It was something that started with an 'S', not that it really mattered.
Tarou smiled and said, "I'm here to pick up Kachi for our date. Why don't you go inside and grab her for me? Be quick, and I'll give you a tip." He thought the last bit was a nice touch. Who said Pantyhose Tarou didn't exude class?
Soun's eyes bulged until they nearly fell out of his head. He roared, "You're here to date my Kachi?!"
Casually, Tarou said, "Yeah. I mean, I didn't call ahead or anything. I thought I'd surprise her. Chicks dig surprises. Now you run along and tell her that her Romeo is waiting."
Rather than retreating inside, Soun emerged from the house and took a menacing step forward. "See here, you. I won't let you have anything to do with my wife."
Tarou began to draw back in surprise for a moment before recovering. His stance became one of defiance as he stood his ground and snickered. "Okay, you old coot, you almost had me going there. I like to think that I know Kachi well enough to say unequivocally that she would never marry some creepy geriatric like you. Aside from you being old enough to be her father, you could never come close to satisfying a hot chick like her. I can tell she's one of them really passionate types that can't get enough of snuggling, and other more naughty stuff that I'm not comfortable discussing with an old fossil like you. Heck, I bet she's so energetic, she'll make me have to put out some effort. Not that I can't keep up with her. I'm more than man enough for that." He cleared his throat before the fantasy became too entrenched. "Anyhow, an old guy like you would end up having a heart attack inside a month. What she needs is some hot stud, like yours truly, to satisfy her needs."
Talking about Kachiko really made Tarou excited, at least as much as when he got into a fight. It was another sign of the True Love he had for Kachiko. To Soun, he warned, "Now that we're clear on everything, why don't you move that ancient backside of yours so I can go see my woman, before I have to move it for you?"
Soun's face took on a reddish hue as he began trembling uncontrollably. "Why you little ."
Tarou shook his head sadly. There was nothing more pathetic than an ancient fart that thought he still had 'the stuff'. "Fine, old man. We'll do it the hard way." Tarou cracked his knuckles ominously and moved forward.
The pepper shaker slipped from Kasumi's grasp as she felt a chill run down her spine, one caused by the loud roar of terror-inducing rage that filled the air. She abandoned her meal preparations and hurriedly ran out of the kitchen to where she had felt the origin of the disturbance.
Outside, her father stood above Pantyhose Tarou's prone form, shaking it back and forth like an unwanted rag doll. Tarou didn't respond to the action in the slightest; he just lay limply in Soun's grasp, staring off into space with a look of wide-eyed horror and a rictus smile painted on his face.
"Oh my." Kasumi was a touch worried. Ordinarily, she couldn't feel the fear generated by her father's demon head attack. It had something to do with growing up around it, as well as her naturally placid nature rendering her largely immune. However, this time not only had she felt the technique in use, but it had been at a great distance as well. Truly her father must have been distraught to produce such a tremendous amount of power in his attack.
The other residents emerged hurriedly from of the house as well. Like Kasumi, they too had been drawn by the aura of terror Soun had generated. They stood by mutely and watched the scene unfold.
Kachiko was the first to understand what had happened and reacted. "Yeah, that's it, you old coot! Make yourself useful for a change and kick the crap out of that conceited, obnoxious jerk!"
For a moment, Soun stopped his throttling. He couldn't believe his ears. His wife was cheering for him. More enthusiastically than ever, he started working over Tarou's limp form, kicking and punching with all his might. He would have kept doing it until he couldn't swing his arms any longer, but Ranma and Genma dragged him off before he caused any permanent damage.
Kachiko continued whooping it up. "Sweet. Just for that, I'll treat you to some of my famous curry bread, once I dump bull-butt in the trash," she told Soun in delight.
"I always loved your curry bread," Soun said. He broke free of the Saotomes' hold and grabbed Tarou's limp form, hurling it over his shoulder like a sack of rice. "Let me take care of him, and you can start baking."
"Done deal." Kachiko went back inside, humming pleasantly to herself.
Kasumi clapped her hands in delight. "How wonderful. Mother was actually cheering for Father. I'll have to start inviting Mr. Pantyhose over for meals."
"Oh, I'm sure he'll be more than happy to accept that," Nabiki said dryly as yet another day at the Tendou household got underway.
A Ranma ½ story
by DB Sommer
Any and all C&C is appreciated. You can contact me at email@example.com
Disclaimer: Ranma ½ and its characters and settings belong to Rumiko Takahashi, Shogakukan, Kitty, and Viz Video.
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 a slight complication; Kachiko had been in two accidents, the first occurring when she was the ripe old age of seventeen
"Two cards. And no dealing from the bottom of the deck."
"Come on, would I do that to you?"
"Ha! That's what you think. I'll have you know I believe card games are one of the few things in this world that are sacrosanct. I'd never screw around by cheating at a card game. Nor would I let anyone else screw around either, if you get my meaning."
"In that case, read 'em and weep. Full house."
"!#$%^. I was sure you were bluffing. Another hand!"
"Okay. It's your money."
"Actually, it's your money. You're only just now starting to win some of it back."
Ranma entered the room and nearly facefaulted into the floor at the sight of Kachiko and Nabiki calmly sitting at a table and playing poker with one another. Well, Kachiko seemed slightly irritated as she took swig from the bottle of beer next to her, but was quickly regaining her composure. Both had anted up already, and were in the process of considering their hands.
Daring to tread in the unknown waters, Ranma asked, "So, what's going on?"
Kachiko's eyes remained fixed to her cards, an unreadable expression on her face. "We decided to be more open about trying to one-up the other, so we're playing games of poker to see who's the best. I'm winning." There was a touch of pride in her voice.
Nabiki's eyebrow arced in mild reproach. "No. You had a hot streak. Now I'm on one. I'll be getting back my money and some of yours shortly."
"We'll see." Kachiko tossed a few chips in. Nabiki answered with the same.
"I'm good at poker," Ranma boasted.
"Then why don't you join us?" Nabiki offered with the look of a spider decked out in its best outfit inviting the fly into its web to drop by for 'just a bite'.
"Forget it," Kachiko answered. "With his poker face, you might as well just reach into his pocket, take the wallet, and grab the money. It's no fun just taking it. The enjoyment comes in outwitting a savvy opponent. Then you know the satisfaction of earning your winnings."
"But I'm good at poker," Ranma insisted.
"Ha!" Kachiko threw down three cards. "You're exactly like this guy I knew back in my old school. He thought he was the man when it came to poker and just had to challenge me to prove who was better. It was pathetic. I beat him four hundred consecutive times. After the last hand, his mind snapped like a dry twig. The next day he came to school dressed up like one of the guys on the cards, proclaimed himself 'The Gambler King', and stated that he would show us all by making his fortune by gambling." Kachiko laughed hard. "I'm telling you, he was so crappy at cards, he couldn't beat a five-year-old with a loaded deck."
Nabiki's smile was nearly ear-to-ear as she stared at the crimson-faced Ranma. "Oh, I'm fairly certain he was good enough to manage that."
A sullen Ranma grumbled, "I'm going out," and left without another word.
"Touched a nerve, did I?" Kachiko asked.
"Let's just say, Ranma's had problems with gambling in the past, and I'll take two."
Sagely, Kachiko said, "Can't be good at everything. Best to be great at one or two things and bad at others instead of just being average with everything. Take me, for instance. I'm great at cards, martial arts, making friends, being highly observant of my surroundings."
"Being modest," Nabiki slipped in.
"Yeah, that too, though Sakura always slapped me in the back of the head when I said it. She was good at slapping me. Not that I deserved it -- at least, most of the time. Not that many people agreed with me when I said that, either." Changing the subject, Kachiko said, "Why don't I bet fifty chips?" and slid the appropriate amount to the middle of the table.
Nabiki looked at the huge stack of chips in the center of the table and closely examined the time-lost girl's features for any hint of what she held. There was a cocky grin there, but thirty hands had taught Nabiki that she always held that grin, even if she hadn't managed to snag something as crappy as a pair of twos.
After a minute's indecision, and based on the fact she only had two pair, Nabiki tossed her cards down. "Fold. What did you have?"
Kachiko threw down her cards. "Flush. Told you my worm had turned."
"Again," Nabiki insisted, passing on making a snide remark at the poor application of the saying. She was certain her luck hadn't left her and it was a one hand aberration. She still needed to get her money back and at least break even.
One thing Nabiki admitted to herself was that playing cards with her mother Kachiko, rather was that it was proving itself to be unexpectedly fun. Actually, she was finding Kachiko much more tolerable after the incident with the hourglass. That the girl had been willing to risk so much for a nominal enemy, or at least antagonist, spoke volumes for her when 'the chips were down' (Nabiki prided herself on knowing how to turn an appropriate phrase). Good volumes, since Kachiko was normally quite loud as a rule, and not always in the nicest of ways.
Though once Nabiki thought about it, a lot of her antagonism was from the rest of the family's (except Ranma) trying to make her conform to something she simply wasn't. Every time they tried, Kachiko rebelled in the worst way possible. It was easy to see where Akane might have gotten her stubborn streak from. Nabiki found herself wondering if her grandparents really had been that old-fashioned and determined to make their only daughter into a "traditional" girl, as Kachiko claimed. The few times Nabiki had asked her father about the matter, he confessed to only knowing his in-laws in a very superficial manner. His mother-in-law died two years after he and Kachiko were married, and her husband died within the year afterward.
Still, the way Kachiko had described her upbringing, it was probably a miracle she hadn't bolted on her own. Or perhaps she would have, save that a bad leg prevented one from running very far.
The doorbell rang while Kachiko was in the middle of dealing a new hand. Eagerly she hopped to her feet and said, "Maybe it's Mr. Panties coming by for seconds." She called out, "Soun-chan, get ready to scare the piss out of Bull-butt again!" and ran down the hall to the door.
Kachiko threw the door open and shouted out an enthusiastic, "Hi there!"
Standing on the porch was an adult Miss Hinako, wearing a tight, clingy dress that accentuated her every womanly curve, and whose low cut drew eyes to her impressive chest. She had a great deal of make up on, far more than she ever wore at school, which only enhanced her natural beauty. The necklace and earrings she wore glistened under the rays of the sun in the way only expensive jewelry could. The vision was one that would have left virtually any man gaping in lust.
"Hello, Mrs. Tendou, I'm here to see Soun-chan," she said pleasantly.
Kachiko's enthusiasm died. "Oh, it's you."
"Yes, I'm here fo—"
Kachiko closed the door in Hinako's face.
"Who was it?" Nabiki called out.
"Garbage--" Kachiko was interrupted by a blast of chi energy that plowed through the door and hit her squarely in the torso. It drove her through the next wall and into the room beyond.
Soun, who had already headed toward the door, as per his wife's request, hurried even more quickly at the sounds of destruction. He saw the splintered remains of the door and immediately tensed for a fight.
Upon looking through the huge hole in the door, he saw chibi-Hinako standing there, hands still up and making a circle. "Oh, hello there. You're Akane's little friend, right?"
"Little?" the girl said in surprise, then looked down at herself.
Soun opened the door, which then fell off its hinges and struck the ground, leaving him with only a broken handle in his hand. Accepting yet more damage to his home, he brushed off the destruction and walked up to the girl. He took a fatherly tone. "My, that dress is a bit big for you, isn't it? And perhaps you shouldn't wear so much make-up. You should wait until you're a little older."
Tears welled in the girl's eyes. She burst out crying, then ran away.
Soun was at a loss. None of his girls had reacted quite so badly when they entered their phases of trying to dress older than they were. He was so distracted by the tearful reaction that he failed to notice the hole in the wall behind him. He simply walked deeper into the house, playing out the scene in his mind and wondering where he might have gone wrong.
Soun was long gone by the time Kachiko revived enough to mumble, "Size-changing bitch. I'll show her where she can stick her !#$% coins."
It was as Kachiko was starting to groggily remove chunks of the plaster that had fallen on her that Nodoka walked past the hole and noticed the cursing figure. She turned her nose up disdainfully at the sight of the time-lost girl lying among the remains of the wall. "How typical. Swearing like a sailor and destroying the house. Why, if you were my child, I'd turn you over my knee and spank you myself."
That roused Kachiko's senses, as well as her ire. She hopped up, sending a cloud of dust around her, and confronted Nodoka. She wagged an accusatory finger in the woman's direction. "Oh yeah? Well I sure as hell couldn't say the same thing about you. My lap ain't big enough to hold hips that wide, and with an ass as fat as yours I doubt you'd even feel someone paddling your bottom."
Nodoka turned a shade of crimson and a number of disused facial tics made an abrupt reappearance. "Enough! I will brook your insults no longer! I challenge you to a duel!"
Kachiko recoiled slightly. "Hey, I was only joking about spanking you. I don't like spanking. Or women. And even if I did, I wouldn't want to spank old, saggy women whose bottoms would jiggle like gelatin. "
"Dojo! Now!" Nodoka stormed off, each step thundering throughout the house.
Nabiki watched Nodoka walk past. She didn't bother asking anything. She simply rearranged the cards and began playing solitaire.
Genma was lying on his back, relaxing, when his wife stomped into their temporary bedroom. She went to the closet where they kept their belongings.
He said, "Hello, Dear. What seems to be the matter?"
She glared at him as she pulled a wrapped bundle from the closet.
"Ah, I see. It doesn't concern me." Genma rolled over and decided to force himself to go to sleep. No good would come from being awake for whatever it was that was about to happen.
Upon arriving at the dojo, the matriarch of the Saotome family found Kachiko already waiting. The time-lost girl's battle preparations seemed to consist of a nearly empty bottle of beer in her hand and idly leaning against a wall.
Kachiko smirked. "Come on, I can tell by the way you move you don't know how to fight. Why don't we call things off and bake some cookies?"
The condescending smile was more than Nodoka could bear. She unwrapped the bundle she had brought with her, revealing her family katana. She then tucked the scabbard into the waistband of her kimono.
"Aw, this isn't going to work. I can't hit you. Ranma would never forgive me," Kachiko complained.
"I assure you, this fight will be over long before that happens."
Kachiko had a pained expression. She placed the now empty bottle down on the floor. "This sucks. You really got to learn to get a sense of humor. You don't see me getting all bitchy if someone calls my ass fat."
"That's because you don't have an ass, which only makes sense since it counterbalances your lack of a top."
The sound of grinding teeth mixed with a guttural growl reached Nodoka's ears. She shifted into a combat stance in answer to the one Kachiko suddenly took.
Nodoka's grip tightened on her weapon. "I shall end this in one blow. Lighting Fast Quick Draw!" she shouted, pulling the weapon from its sheath in a move so fast it was little more than a metallic blur.
Even Kachiko was taken aback by the blinding speed Nodoka demonstrated. Then she became taken aback at how the blur promptly flew up into the ceiling, only to have its momentum stopped as it buried itself in the main crossbeam in the roof of the dojo directly above Kachiko's head.
Nodoka chewed on her thumbnail as she stared at her family heirloom embedded in the ceiling. "Oh dear. How did that happen? It looked so simple on television."
It was more than Kachiko could bear. She fell to the floor and began rolling back and forth, laughing maniacally. "That's too good. You can't even hold on to your sword. You're more dangerous to yourself than to your opponent." Tears rolled down Kachiko's face.
Her laughter was so uproarious that she failed to hear a groan come from above her head. The crossbeam, a veteran of over a two dozen full-scale battles within the confines of the dojo, and one of the few original pieces of the building dating before the Ranma Saotome Era, finally gave in to the most recent damage inflicted upon it. The end the sword had been embedded in had mostly been severed by the sharp blade. The other end, connected by mere splinters from previous fights, could not support the sudden shift of weight and cracked completely through. The same thing happened to the other side, breaking the end the sword was in.
Kachiko had just a moment to see the timber plunging toward her before it connected fully with her skull.
"Come on, Mom, you have to tell me how you did it!"
"Sorry, Ranma, some techniques are so dangerous they must remain secret until you are old enough, and responsible enough, to handle them."
"Quit it with the 'wizened — and I do mean wizened — mentor' act! You just got lucky, that's all! Don't even try pretending you meant to do that!"
Nodoka waved dismissively at Kachiko whose constant complaints could not disturb the aura of satisfaction that surrounded the Saotome matriarch. "The folly of youth. You do not accept what is plainly obvious."
The aura was only adding to Kachiko's irritation like salt rubbed into an open wound. "Fine! Give me a rematch."
"No," Nodoka said firmly. "I have proven my point." She rose from the kitchen table and prepared to leave.
Kachiko leaped for Nodoka's feet, grabbing only the hem of the kimono. Prone on the ground, she began chanting, "Rematch, rematch!"
"Away, little girl." Nodoka tried pulling her outfit away from the clinging martial artist.
Suddenly, another figure jumped upon Kachiko and began tugging at her own skirt. "I want a rematch, too," Ranma stated.
Distracted, Kachiko released her hold on Nodoka. "No way!"
"Yeah, come on. If Mom can take you, I know I can."
"She got lucky!"
"And so did you!"
"Only if you equate luck with intelligence."
"If I do, will you give me a rematch?"
Nodoka left the room, humming happily to herself. It was a good day for a change, perhaps the first since her arrival at Kasumi's insistence. She would have to share her good cheer with her husband. Kachiko's perpetual resistance at any womanly duties and reflexive digs at Nodoka's age had soured her mood so greatly that she and her husband had not been acting like a married couple, despite finally being together and alone. Now Nodoka was in the mood for Genma to live up to his husbandly duties at least those that did not involve giving her time to herself by going out and drinking with Soun.
Kasumi stared in consternation at the scene. It was terrible. Her plan had called for Auntie Saotome to help Kachiko awaken her admittedly very buried mother persona. Instead, not only was Kachiko failing to act more motherly, but now Auntie was behaving more like a rambunctious teenager as well. And worse, it was obvious the older woman was delighted about her actions.
Distraught and out of sorts in a way she had not felt for some time, Kasumi decided to settle her mind by going out to do some shopping. Something had to be done to make Kachiko motherly once again; otherwise things would never return to normal and she could never pick up where she left off with her mother.
It took her only a moment to grab the shopping list, her purse, and leave the house.
Nodoka was in an even more delighted mood than before as she made her way to the bath, bucket of toiletries in hand. Genma had been more than happy to share in her good cheer, much to her delight. It had been rare they could indulge in an hour alone, and so actively. Now she was almost as giddy as Kachiko normally was.
And then something odd occurred to Nodoka. She was giddy and still feeling quite frisky, almost to the point where she wanted to turn around and return to the comfort of her husband. Neither of these were states she was normally in, nor had experienced for some time. Not for years, to be certain.
When she had first been married, she had been like that all the time. Eventually, things settled down and gone to what she regarded as normal. Even when Genma returned from his decade-long journey with Ranma, it hadn't exactly been one joyous moment after another. To put it bluntly, her life had returned to the way it had been right before her husband and Ranma had left, which was what Nodoka would have claimed was 'normal'. And normal was not what Nodoka had been feeling over the last couple of hours. It was something infinitely better and more enjoyable.
"I am not frumpy, and I enjoy life," Nodoka said to herself. But there was a nagging sensation at the back of her mind, a whispering voice that sounded far too much like Kachiko, which suggested there might have been at least a grain of truth in what the younger girl had said. Maybe, just maybe, it wouldn't hurt to loosen up just a bit. Not to the degree of Kachiko's outrageous behavior, but perhaps there wasn't a need to be so perpetually formal either.
Nodoka tightened her robe. Listening to that insistent voice and considering what it suggested could wait. There were more important matters to take care of first. It wouldn't do to smell the way she did now. It would be most scandalous. What happened in a bedroom remained in a bedroom; there was no need to broadcast to the world what Nodoka had been up to. That meant cleaning up.
Just as Nodoka arrived at the door to the bath, she heard an unusual sound from within that made her come to a halt. It was unmistakably a grunt, one too high pitched to be coming from a man.
Her actions over the last hour coloring her perceptions, Nodoka silently prayed, "Please, let it not be my son fornicating with that girl again."
A louder sound of a hard impact reached Nodoka's ears; a sound that could not possibly have originated with what she had been thinking. Concerned that something was amiss, Nodoka ignored the 'Occupied' sign and hurried into the bath. Before her was a naked Kachiko, bent over with her forehead leaning against the porcelain sink. Her knuckles were white with the death grip she had on the side of the basin. Heavy, rapid gasps escaped from her, as though she had just completed a marathon at a sprint. Her face was ashen and a wild look was in her eyes. A towel had pooled around her ankles, and the wetness that still clung to her body made it obvious she had just used the furo. There was a red mark at the center of her forehead, and several chips of porcelain lay at her feet next to the towel.
"Are you all right?" All of the former taunting had left Nodoka's voice. What remained was genuine concern.
"I'm fine," Kachiko said, starting to catch her breath.
"It does not look like 'nothing' to me."
Kachiko's recovery seemed to be at an incredible pace. She sounded almost normal as she said bitterly, "Perhaps if some incredibly skilled swordswoman hadn't dropped half the dojo on my head, I would be feeling better." Indignant now, and, aside from the red mark on her forehead, in normal spirits, Kachiko wrapped the towel under her arms and exited the bath in a huff.
Nodoka shook her head. Apparently whatever it was hadn't dampened any of Kachiko's vigor. She had probably tripped and slammed her head against the sink. That made sense. Yes, that was probably what had happened. Not surprisingly, there was little damage done due to the thickness of the vexing girl's skull. It was probably bulletproof as well. Still, there was one thing that troubled Nodoka.
When she had first entered, for just a brief second, she could have sworn Kachiko was slightly transparent.
"I do hate it when I start seeing things." Nodoka removed her robe and prepared to rinse herself off.
Kasumi Tendou walked about the shopping district in what could only be described as a depression. It simply wasn't fair. Her mother was back with her, her fondest dream come true. All should have been right with the world, and Kasumi should have been happier than she had ever been in her life. Her whole family should have been delighted, and as perfect as it was when she had been little.
Only it wasn't that way. It was nothing like that at all. Kachiko refused to act like the sweet, wonderful, perfect woman who had raised Kasumi and her sisters and been a wife for her husband. Instead, her behavior was almost like that of a complete stranger. But that was the difference, one that made things so much worse. The "almost". There were still things Kachiko did, little habits, quaint sayings, her physical appearance, humor that no one but her seemed to think was amusing, that reminded Kasumi exactly of the woman who had given birth to her. Kachiko was just enough like her in those treasured memories that made Kasumi know this girl was her mother, and that a prod in the right direction would have her acting like normal in no time. It just had to be the right kind of prod. Normal ones seemed to produce the opposite of their intended effect. So a special one that would solve everything all at once would be the best. It was just a matter of finding the right one. It was up to Kasumi to act upon that knowledge, something she did not like doing, but was good at when she did it.
Kasumi was still pondering her dilemma when a quartet of teenage girls rushed past, nearly knocking her over. Unmindful of the near collision, they continued their breakneck pace and did succeed in knocking over a man, one at least in his sixties, and from all appearances, very frail.
With a surprising spring in his step, he shot back to his feet and shook his fist in the direction of the girls. "You little punks should watch where you're going!"
One of the girls paused long enough to give an obscene gesture before hurrying along again.
"You little brat! You're lucky I don't give you the beating you deserve!" he shouted.
Kasumi went over to the man and asked, "Are you all right? Do you need any help?"
The man looked at her suspiciously, as though he expected her to behave in the same way as the teenagers that had bowled him over. He examined Kasumi closely, squinting a bit, before giving a slight nod of approval. "I'm fine. It was those lousy kids. They don't care about anything. None of them do nowadays, but especially the girls."
Kasumi nodded her head. She had noticed the same thing.
Seeing he had her attention, the man continued. "In my day, girls would never run around in skimpy little skirts knocking people down. They knew their place. They tried to find good husbands, learned how to run a house, and have children. Now all they want to do is dress like prostitutes, sleep around, and try to get educated so they can get jobs. Emancipation, bah! They have their priorities complete screwed up. Whatever happened to traditional values? Girls just don't have them nowadays"
Kasumi sighed. "It sounds like my mother."
"Your mother?" the man asked. "What do you mean? Surely a traditional girl like you has a proper mother."
Kasumi nodded. "I did, but lately she's been acting, well, like a rowdy teenager. She's been drinking heavily, getting into fights, refusing to cook or clean. She's even been going after younger men and ignoring the man she's married to."
The old man nodded in understanding. "Menopause. They do that sometimes when it hits. They think they can recapture a lost youth, but all they really do is forget what's important."
"That's exactly it," Kasumi said. "Except the menopause. I'm fairly certain that's not the cause of her behavior."
"Well, whatever it is, she's not acting like a mother should, right?"
Kasumi nodded readily. "Absolutely. It's almost like she's completely changed."
The old man looked Kasumi over for a second. "I can tell you're a very proper girl that's only trying to help. I'll tell you what I'll do. I might be able to help you get your mother back on the right track again and acting like a proper woman should."
Kasumi nearly wept in joy. "Oh, can you?"
"I think so. Follow me."
Kasumi did so eagerly, trying to keep from hoping too much that the solution to all her mother's problems lay with this elderly gentleman.
The journey to the man's home was brief. He only lived two streets away. He owned a small apartment above a grocer's. It was a quaint, tidy place that had a very homey and traditional feel to it.
The moment they entered, the man began reminiscing about the past. "My beloved wife, god rest her soul, went through a similar phase when she was older. She started rambling about getting a job since she was bored with keeping house and we didn't have any children to take care of. I tried being reasonable and telling her no, but then she started getting mouthy with me. She even threatened to leave, claiming I was a Neanderthal with archaic values that no one in the modern day lived by, including herself. But I got my hands on an item that helped her recover her senses. Soon she was back to happily minding the home and letting me take care of her, the way it should be." He sighed, cast adrift on the memories.
"How did you do it?" Kasumi asked eagerly.
"Ah, that was the tricky part." The man went to a storage closet next to the kitchen and brought out a broom. It appeared quite ordinary. It was light green in color and held plastic bristles rather than the straw type Kasumi preferred. He held up the item as though it was the most made of gold and embedded with jewels. "I helped her with this."
"It's no ordinary broom. This is the 'Stepford Peace at Home' special model broom. Made in Stepford, Connecticut, in the United States. Probably the only good thing to come from that country of worthless gaijin," he grumbled. "Anyway, it has special properties that awaken the proper instincts in women and they accept their role in society. You give your mother this, and she'll come to her senses and see the proper way of things in no time."
"Oh my," Kasumi said in awe. And it looked so ordinary. She had no idea something so mundane could be so powerful.
The old man seemed satisfied by her reaction. "Now here's how it works. You have to let her use it for a whole day, otherwise its effects wear off. Luckily, after holding it for a few minutes, she'll want to keep it with her, so that shouldn't be a problem. Just make sure she's not separated from it."
"Right," Kasumi said firmly.
"You don't have to worry about guys handling it, it only works on women, so you don't have to keep it out of your father's reach. Now, I'll wrap it up for you so you can give it as a gift. It has to be flesh-to-flesh contact with the broom handle, so don't you go grabbing it. If you do, you'll want to keep it for yourself, and I can tell you don't need any help."
Kasumi bowed deeply. "Thank you for all your help, kind Sir."
"You're more than welcome. Oh, if only all girls today were as dutiful as you, our country would once again be on the road to true greatness instead of the ineffectual joke we are now," he sobbed.
Patting his shoulder, Kasumi comforted the old man. She couldn't wait to see if the broom would work they way he claimed. She prayed it would. It might be her mother's only hope for a successful recovery from whatever it was that ailed her.
Kasumi could barely rein in her excitement as she burst into her house. "Mother, I'm home!"
A voice drifted back, "I'm in the kitchen."
Being mindful not to damage the key to salvation, Kasumi carefully made her way to the kitchen. Upon arriving, she saw her mother hard at work over the stove. "Mother, you're cooking," she said in surprise.
Surly, Kachiko answered, "You weren't here. I don't trust the old hag to serve me anything. She might decide to slip in a little poison, since dropping a house on my head didn't finish me off. Nabiki won't cook. Akane can't cook. I know better than to expect guys to be able to do more than boil noodles. So I guess that leaves me." She paid closer attention to one of the pots. "Just because I don't enjoy cooking doesn't mean I can't do it. I can cook fine."
"I know you can, Mother," Kasumi encouraged. And to think, soon she'd not only cook, but enjoy it as well. All she had to do was receive enlightenment.
"Since I know how much you like gifts, here." Kasumi thrust the present forward.
The amateur manner in which the item had been wrapped left little doubt to its identity. Kachiko rolled her eyes. "Gee, I wonder what that could be?" She held up her hand before Kasumi could form the first syllable. "Sarcasm. Don't answer it or you're grounded."
Grounding would have been fine with Kasumi if it meant her mother would return to normal. No sacrifice was too great for her family.
Kachiko gained a pained expression as she stared at the item in her hands. "You know, when I say, 'I like gifts' it's with the unspoken assumption that it is a present I would like." Despite her complaints, Kachiko's eyes took on an eager gleam as she tore off the wrapping paper, sending it all over the floor. Covering gone, she stared at the broom distastefully. "Shoot. And here I was hoping this was a misdirection ploy and you secretly had something neat hidden inside." She looked at Kasumi, who was practically jumping up and down in anxiousness. "What?"
"Why don't you try sweeping with it, Mother?"
"I'm kind of busy cooking. Why don't you sweep?" She thrust the broom toward Kasumi.
She backed away as though it was a poisonous snake. "No, you have to be the one to sweep up your mess."
"I told you, I'm busy." She held it out expectantly to Kasumi again.
"I'll take over the cooking." Kasumi brushed past Kachiko and stationed herself in front of the stove.
Hesitantly, Kachiko asked, "Do you know how to prepare that? It's a tricky dish."
"Yes, you taught me it. It took me a while, but I have since mastered it."
"I didn't teach Oh, never mind. I hate this temporal displacement crap," Kachiko grumbled. As she did so, the broom in her hand brushed ever so gently across the floor. As the bristles came into contact with the floor, Kachiko stiffened and her eyes goggled, as though she had been shocked. She looked at the broom in her hands in amazement. She repositioned her hands, firmly grasping the handle, then swept again, this time intentionally.
"Oooo." Kachiko began sweeping in earnest. Her eyes were all but glowing as she stared in awe at the way the discarded wrapping paper was forming a growing pile with each sweeping stroke. "I never realized sweeping could be so fun." She picked up her pace.
"Yes, Mother, it is fun," Kasumi said soothingly as the broom worked its special kind of magic. Kasumi could barely keep from crying.
At last, all was right with the world.
Nabiki came down from her room, yawning as she headed for the kitchen looking for something to snack on. Her afternoon nap had done her some good. And she was not lazy like Genma. Using her nimble mind burned up energy the way a martial artist's nimble body burned it up, and she occasionally needed to lay down to recharge it. Though once she considered the matter, it was usually around this time of the day that Kachiko was curled up on the back porch, surrounded by empty beer bottles as she snored up a storm. Maybe the naps were a hereditary thing.
"Hi," Nabiki said as she walked past Kachiko, who was dressed in a kimono as she swept up a storm.
"Good afternoon," Kachiko said warmly.
Nabiki headed into the kitchen, opened the refrigerator, and grabbed the first edible food that met her eyes: some leftover sushi from the other night. She stuck a trio of pieces in her mouth, savoring the cold, clammy seafood. It was just what she was looking for, though a dash of wasabi would have added a little kick to help fully wake her up.
She removed the small take-out box from the refrigerator, munched on another piece, then returned to the hall where Kachiko was continuing to sweep. The time-lost girl was humming away as her arms pumped furiously, trying her best to clean up a hard to reach spot under a stand.
"So, did you lose a bet?" Nabiki asked as she leaned against a wall and continued to devour the seafood.
Kachiko momentarily paused in her sweeping. "Whatever do you mean?"
"That outfit and the cleaning." Nabiki pointed to them with a piece of sushi in hand.
Kachiko looked at herself. "I'm simply wearing something for the house and doing a little sweeping is all."
"You seem awful happy about it."
Nabiki considered that. So something else was responsible for Kachiko's delighted mood; something that made a duty as abhorrent as cleaning not affect the time lost girl's mood in the slightest. "Did something to happen to Mrs. Saotome or Miss Hinako?"
Kachiko appeared aghast. "Goodness, I certainly hope not."
"They're both such nice people, I wouldn't want anything bad to happen to either of them."
Nabiki nearly choked on the piece of sushi in her mouth.
Concern was evident on Kachiko's features. "Are you all right?" She gently patted Nabiki once on the back.
Nabiki was amazed, both by the words coming from Kachiko's mouth, as well as the fact that she had passed up a golden opportunity to slap her hard on the back using the excuse that it was in effort to dislodge the food.
"Do you need a glass of water?" Kachiko asked once Nabiki got over her coughing fit.
In the beginning, Nabiki had assumed that Kachiko was wearing the outfit and cleaning as some sort of gag, but now she began to suspect something far more sinister. Looking closely in Kachiko's eyes, past the obvious concern, there was something else. The best way to describe it was almost a sort of vapidity, as though not all of Kachiko was there, or some unseen puppetmaster was pulling her strings and having the girl dance to an unheard tune. No matter what problems Nabiki might have had with Kachiko in the past, dullness was not something anyone could accuse Kachiko of being. Seeing the martial artist behave in such a manner was outright chilling.
Kasumi entered the hallway. She gave a delighted, "There you are, Mother," and drew up next to her.
Kachiko was equally pleased. "I was hoping you were finished with the laundry. I'm almost done with the cleaning in here. What else shall we do? Wash the windows? Scrub the floors? Shop for groceries?"
Nabiki grabbed Kasumi by the arm. She said to Kachiko, "Pardon me, I need to have a private talk with my sister," and then proceeded to drag the protesting Kasumi around the corner and out of sight, as well as hearing range.
Keeping one eye on the hallway, Nabiki spoke in a low whisper. "I think something's happened to Kachi."
"Yes, isn't it wonderful?" Kasumi gushed. "She's acting normal."
"No, it isn't and she's not. Something's really wrong here."
Kasumi shook her head. "Don't be silly. She's always been like that. She's just been having problems showing it until now."
"I wouldn't say so much she's been having problems as much as been a problem — for us, I mean," Nabiki elaborated. "Although Kachi has been getting better lately."
"You shouldn't call Mother by her first name, it's most improper," Kasumi said.
"That's not what the problem is here," Nabiki said.
"There is no problem, Nabiki. Stop acting like there is. I insist you drop this matter and let things be. Mother is obviously happy acting normal, like she used to, instead of acting like, well, an unruly, immature child since she got back."
Nabiki gave her sister an incredulous look. "Sis, you do understand that the only reason she was acting that way was because she is an immature teenager, right?"
"She is not. She is our mother. Stop this silly argument right now, Nabiki."
Nabiki was about to protest further when she noticed Kasumi's jaw was very firm and her stance was almost aggressive, something as alien to Kasumi as Kachiko's vacuousness was to her. Worse, there was something familiar about the look as well. It took Nabiki a moment to realize it closely mirrored when Kachiko put her own foot down regarding matters. She hadn't recognized the resemblance between parent and offspring, mostly because her older sister had never taken on such a stance, at least not in Nabiki's memory.
Nabiki decided to drop the matter, at least when it came to discussing it with Kasumi. It was painfully obvious she approved of whatever had happened to Kachiko. And one couldn't argue with Kasumi. Nobody could. It was like kicking kittens and puppies around.
"Let's go see how Mom's doing," Nabiki said.
As she hoped, Kasumi returned to her normally placid state and agreed. The two returned to the hall.
Kachiko's head was cocked quizzically. "Is everything all right? It sounded like you two were arguing. I wouldn't want you to argue. You're such close and loving sisters, it would be tragic and disruptive to the household."
"You're so right," Kasumi agreed. "We're fine. Nothing's wrong. We're getting along just fine."
Nabiki felt like throwing up at the sigh and delighted look Kachiko gave. It was like she was reading lines from a "How to Behave Like A Proper and Submissive Housewife" book. Something was definitely going on.
"So what shall we do next? Prepare dinner?" Kachiko asked.
Kasumi said, "Actually, I was thinking we might do something else. How about we dress you up and surprise Father by having you ask him out on a date?"
Kachiko drew back, obviously scandalized. "I couldn't do that. He's so old."
The reaction seemed to confuse Kasumi. "But he's your husband. It's time you started treating him as such."
Kachiko made a face like she had just sucked on a lemon. "I would never marry someone in their twilight years; I'd end up a lonely widow in less than a decade. He should marry someone else, like Mrs. Saotome, except she's already married. Someone like that, though. Old, I mean."
"But older men are so much more interesting," Kasumi insisted.
"Absolutely not," Kachiko said firmly. "What I want in a man is someone closer to my age so we have something in common. Someone strong, who would be the man of the house, while I raise children and keep the household running. It would be the perfect joining," she sighed.
"Father is all those things," Kasumi insisted.
"I was actually thinking more of Ranma," Kachiko gave a girlish giggle and blushed. "I can't believe I said that out loud."
"But Ranma's engaged to Akane." Kasumi pointed out.
"Ranma is supposed to marry a Tendou," Kachiko corrected. "I would be perfect for the role, and the sooner the better. I'm already seventeen, and need to plan for the future. If I haven't found a decent fiancé by the time I graduate high school, I'll probably never find one since I'll be getting too old. I'll practically be a spinster by then."
Kasumi gained an uncharacteristically cross look at the unintentional insult.
Kachiko was lost in a fantasy world. "And we should have children right away. I wonder if they'll look more like me or Ranma?"
That was it! Nabiki decided. As it stood now, this person in front of her could not be regarded as Kachiko Tendou. She ran through a list of possible reasons for the girl's sudden shift in personality. Every scenario was considered, from ghostly possession to a bump on the head and accompanying character inversion that caused the change. Nabiki had to figure out the source before she could come up with the cure. Since Kachiko would have fought with her dying breath to keep from saying the words that were coming from her mouth, and the lack of rampant destruction around the home, it meant one of two things: either the change was instantaneous or subtle.
Nabiki tried to figure out when the change occurred to narrow things down. Discovering the 'when' would help determine the 'how'. Kachiko was perfectly normal early on, causing her usual brand of chaos and panic much in the same way Ranma caused his. It was only after Nabiki had awakened from her nap that the bizarre transformation had occurred.
She said to Kachiko, "When did you have this sudden change of heart regarding home and marriage?"
Before Kachiko could respond, Kasumi said, "Nabiki, please don't distract Mother. This is very important talk regarding Father."
"Please don't call me Mother. It's very improper," Kachiko told her.
Kasumi appeared hurt. "But you said it was all right."
"That was before, when I was confused. Now that I don't have unimportant things cluttering up my mind, I can think more easily. You're older than me, and people would get the wrong impression and think I'm old and married if you call me Mother. That won't do at all. I need to find a good husband to take care of me, and that's nearly impossible when you have a child."
It took all Nabiki had to keep from filling the room with the sound of retching at the inane talk. It wasn't just the words, it was the vacuous way in which Kachiko was saying it. The situation was intolerable.
Nabiki was still considering what to do when the familiar voice of Ranma called out, "I'm home!"
The effect was instantaneous upon Kachiko. She blushed furiously and hurried toward the front door, Nabiki watched as she moved in a very ladylike manner instead of the full bore run she normally would have displayed if she had wanted something that badly. Apparently the change was total, affecting even her instincts as well as conscious decisions.
By the time Nabiki arrived, Kachiko was already on her knees helping a confused Ranma off with his shoes. Once she was done, she remained on her knees and nearly prostrated herself before him with her broom perched across her lap. "How was your day?"
Ranma was obviously confused by both Kachiko's choice of dress and manner. "Ah, fine."
"Was it eventful? You said that Mr. Hibiki person who picks on you learned some new martial arts technique and wanted to see how good it was by challenging you."
The topic shifted Ranma's attitude slightly. "Yeah, well, that turned out to be a bust. It was some special pressure point he thought would send me into convulsions. What it really did was cause people to convulse in laughter. Ryouga hates feeling like he's being laughed at, so he stopped using it as soon as he figured out what it did, and I beat him easily."
Kachiko rose to her feet, looping one arm in Ranma's and holding the broom in the other "Why don't you tell me all about it while I serve you lunch?"
The gesture and close proximity had Ranma reacting in his usual manner by darting out of her grasp, which was surprisingly easy. "You're acting funny. What's with the get up? Did Mom make you start wearing one because you lost the fight?"
Kachiko fingered her kimono mournfully. "You don't like what I'm wearing?"
Nabiki could practically see the warning lights shoot off in Ranma's head, which was unusual, since he frequently missed the effect of his sometime crass words. Perhaps in this case it was more the strangeness of the reaction that had caught his attention than a sudden increase in his empathy.
Quickly, Ranma said, "No, it looks okay. It's just you usually don't wear stuff like that. You tend to be more casual."
Pride filled Kachiko's voice. "Well, I intend on being much more proper and formal from now on."
"Why?" Ranma asked.
"To find a good husband, of course."
The way she batted her eyes at Ranma made him take a half-step back. Before he could back away out of reach, her hand darted out to ensnare his. She began to lead him away, saying, "You must be famished. Please, let serve you lunch."
The talk of being fed rather than being romanced relaxed Ranma slightly, and his stomach chose to grumble at that moment. Letting his stomach take over, he allowed himself to be led to the kitchen and sat down.
It was as Kachiko began setting down the trays of food she had prepared earlier that Nabiki finally noticed what was out of place; she was keeping the broom close by her side. At first, Nabiki had assumed the time lost girl was in too much of a hurry to greet Ranma and forgot to leave it behind. However, when they passed the broom closet a second time, she hadn't given it a glance. Now she was serving Ranma in an incredibly awkward way with the food in one hand and the broom in the other. She was clutching it like it was a precious treasure rather than a common household item.
"I made this just for you," Kachiko beamed.
Ranma's mouth watered at the sight. "Thanks. What's the occasion?"
Kachiko sat across from him and stared lovingly in his eyes. "No reason."
Ranma's appetite left him under that adoring stare. Sensing the time was ripe, Nabiki walked over to Ranma, leaned over to snare him by the arm, and pulled him to his feet. "There's something I need to discuss with you in private, Ranma. It's about some pictures of a certain redhead and a kendoist." She reassured her mother, "I'll bring him right back."
Ranma's continuing confusion made him passive as he allowed himself to be led from the room, Kachiko's eyes following him the entire way.
Once they were out of earshot, Nabiki leaned in close and whispered conspiratorially, "Okay, Saotome, I think even you can tell something's wrong with Kachi."
"You're telling me. I'd say she's up to something, but I don't know what. I didn't have her pegged as this good an actress."
Nabiki shook her head. "She's not. She was spouting a bunch of garbage long before you showed up. Something's changed her personality. You know all about personality changes, don't you?"
Ranma shivered, remembering more than one past incident. "Okay, so what do we do about it? Hit her in the head a few times?"
"While that might be therapeutic for us more than her, no. I think I have it figured out. It has something to do with the broom she's been dragging around. It hasn't left her side since I've seen her, even when she was trying to woo you."
"Yeah, you're telling me. I'm starting to get uneasy with all of her batting her eyes at me and talking about marriage." Ranma shuddered at the word. "I mean, I know she's said she's interested in me before, not that I'm interested in her, of course, but I mean she's always been real clear about not wanting to get married, and she actually doesn't try stuff most of the time. And the few times she does, it's never anything serious. Now she's doing everything but grabbing on to me. It's really freaking me out."
Nabiki said, "With any luck, once I get that broom from her, we'll figure out how to turn her back to normal."
Ranma suddenly became suspicious. "Hey, why are you so determined to help her? If she's acting like this, I can't see you two butting heads and trying to one up each other like you usually do. I thought you might like her acting all homey and stuff."
Nabiki made a sour face. "No way. It's unnatural and disturbing to see her behaving this way. Besides, she's not as big a pain as she used to be."
"Sounds like you're almost buddies."
The half-lidded stare Nabiki shot Ranma almost made him cringe. "Coming from anyone else, I'd make them pay, but given the sort of people you regard as 'buddies', I can see you thinking that. Now, you distract Kachi, and I'll nab the broom."
Ranma agreed and the two reentered the kitchen.
"What were you two doing?" There was a hint of suspicion tinged with jealousy in Kachiko's voice.
"Talking about you." Ranma moved close to Kachiko and grasped her hand. "I can't help distracting you. I mean, I find you distracting," he quickly corrected. Luckily, Kachiko seemed to miss the slip. "I keep getting lost in those brown eyes of yours, which are like pools of dirty water."
Even in Kachiko's altered stated of mind, she was uncertain if she was being insulted or flattered.
Nabiki decided to make her move before Ranma truly bungled things. Next time she needed him to romance someone, she was playing Cyrano and feeding him the lines. But his bumbling attempts at compliments were serving the true goal: that of distraction. He had managed to gain all of Kachiko's, admittedly confused, attention. Nabiki used that opening to snatch the broom from her progenitor's grasp.
The effect was instantaneous as Kachiko gasped, "Give me that back. Give me that back right now!"
Nabiki bolted out of the room. Ranma tried to grab Kachiko and flatter her some more, but the girl regained some of her surprising quickness and darted away from his hand. Without pausing, she ran as fast as she could after Nabiki.
Ranma was about to follow when he was forced to stop by someone that hurled themselves between him and the doorway. He was stunned by the identity of the person preventing him from moving. "Kasumi, what are you doing?"
Kasumi remained where she was. "Mother has to get her broom back. Nabiki had no business taking it from her."
Ranma was at a loss. He couldn't just move Kasumi. It was Kasumi. It would have been wrong. He decided the best thing to do was reason with the girl and help her see things his way. "Kasumi, it's obvious Kachi's acting weird and that broom's probably responsible for it."
"No, she's not! She's behaving normal finally!" Kasumi insisted with unusual vehemence.
Now Ranma thought he understood. The influence of the broom was affecting Kasumi too. Since her normal behavior was a lot like Kachiko's current one, it was hard to notice. Ranma sighed. There was only one way he could remove her from his path.
"I'm sorry, Kasumi. Shoubakuten!" and he poked a spot in her stomach.
Instantly, Kasumi convulsed in laughter.
That gave Ranma the opportunity he needed to dart past her.
The hot pursuit made Nabiki silently curse. While it was obvious the broom was the cause of the change, she had hoped removing it would also remove its influence. Obviously she was going to have to figure out something else, but only after she hid the cursed item from sight.
Nabiki decided she needed to get outside. She was rapidly loosing her wind, and needed to find some place where she could hide. Just as she made a hard turn around a corner, the broom started to slip from her grasp. She caught it before it could truly fall, though the bottom scraped across the ground.
"Ooooo," Nabiki said in awe as she watched the bristles play across the ground. That was sort of fun. Perhaps she should try it again, just to see if it would produce the same effect.
By the time Ranma arrived at the scene, things had taken a turn for the worse. Now Nabiki and Kachiko were fighting over the broom, which was to be expected once Kachiko caught up, which was inevitable since Nabiki was not very quick to begin with. However, the problem was along a different line.
"It's mine! Give it back to me! I want to clean with it."
"No way! It's my broom! I want to sweep with it!"
The tug of war was disturbing. Never in Ranma's wildest dreams would he have pictured those two fighting it out to clean a house. This had to stop now, before the infectious cursed item affected Akane as well.
Ranma executed a running leap, snatching the bone of contention from between the two fighting girls. He then landed and leaped again high into the branches of a tree and out of the reach of anyone on the ground. Kachiko, in her right mind, would have easily been able to leap that high, but Ranma was counting on the curse to make her continue acting 'ladylike' and prevent her from accessing her martial arts skills.
Both girls ran until they were directly under the branch Ranma was standing on. They looked up at him imploringly.
"Give it back!" they cried out as one.
"No way! It's screwing up your heads!"
"We like being this way!" they said in unison again.
This had to end. Since taking the broom away was doing no good, and Ranma sure as hell didn't want to get splashed with water and start acting like a 'traditional' girl, he did the only thing he could think of.
He broke the broom over his knee.
Both girls stared up, horrified.
It suddenly occurred to Ranma that perhaps breaking the item was not the best idea in the world. After all, one might have needed it to undo the damage it already done, and now the changes might have become permanent.
"You stupid !#$%!" Kachiko cried out, and leaped up.
The power behind the leap easily shot her high enough in the air to be level with the distracted Ranma. A hard right fist lashed out, striking him cleanly in the jaw and knocking him from his lofty perch. He hit the ground hard, landing on his head solidly enough to leave even him stunned.
The instant Kachiko landed, she was on top of him, ripping the bottom of her kimono as she straddled his waist, grabbed him by the collar, and started shaking him so fast his head was a blur.
"Maybe we can tape it back together," Ranma said.
"Don't be an idiot! We'll never be able to tape that broom together!" Suddenly, the desire to break Ranma in half, like he had the broom, left Kachiko. "Wait a minute, why am I getting so worked up over a broom?" She released Ranma's collar.
It was almost more than Ranma could hope. "How do you feel about marrying out of high school, minding a house, and raising a family?"
Kachiko gave him a look of disgust. "Look, I told you before, I still have my whole life ahead of me, and have no interest in marrying young, any guy I marry is doing half the housework, and while my opinion on children has been undergoing a bit of a change lately, I do not want any kids for a good long while. So you can just sit on that marriage proposal."
Ranma released a sigh of relief. A punch to the jaw was worth things returning to the status quo. Then he realized what Kachiko had just said. "Wait a minute, I wasn't proposing."
"Sure, sure, back off now after getting all caught up in the heat of the moment," Kachiko said dismissively. "I don't blame you for getting all hot and bothered. I have that effect on guys sometimes. Did you know I was once abducted by a foreign prince who wanted to marry me? Oh, sure, he thought I was Wakaba, but I taught him a lesson and made him swear not to go after her. She was so angry with his attempt, she nearly blew him up in the zeppelin that was his base of operations." Actually, Wacky Wakaba had nearly messed up and blew Kachiko up as well as the dirigible, but accidents happened. " He did try wooing me at first, but being disgustingly wealthy doesn't impress me anymore than coming from a reputable family does. I'm marrying for love or nothing. So you're going to have to work hard to impress me if you're thinking that far in the future."
"What's this about Ranma proposing to Kachi?!"
Ranma winced. Of course, since this was the worst possible time, Akane would appear, overhear the tail end of the conversation, and assume the worst. "It wasn't a proposal!" Not that shouting out an excuse would work, just that he had the satisfaction of knowing he tried.
"It sounded like a proposal to me," Kachiko said.
Akane tapped her foot impatiently, anger obviously growing.
Nabiki just stood by the sidelines, relieved at not finding dusting the most fascinating thing in the world anymore.
Ranma shouted, "It was not a proposal! Besides, why would I want to marry some flat-chested tomboy anyway?"
Kachiko's eyebrow twitched slightly. "So, if you're interested in a quiet, traditional girl with a big rack, why aren't you asking Kasumi out?"
"I didn't say I want that type of girl either," Ranma retorted.
"You want someone that's bright, yet disturbingly manipulative?"
Nabiki coughed irritably.
"I didn't say that either," Ranma said.
Kachiko let out a tired sigh. "Do you even have any idea of what you really want?"
Ranma was about to snap out a reply, but stopped. He shifted uncomfortably with Kachiko still on top of him. "Well ."
"You don't do you?" she pressed on.
The anger seemed to drift away from Kachiko. She stopped straddling Ranma as she rose to her feet. "At least we got that straightened out. Sakura always said 'You'll know what you're interested in when you find it and become interested'. The more I think about it, the more I'm convinced she was right. She could be pretty smart about some things. So don't let it get you down. You'll figure it out someday, just like everyone else does." She gave him a friendly pat on the head.
Kachiko headed to the house, leaving a dumbfounded Ranma still on the ground. She looked over her shoulder, "By the way, thanks for helping to free me from that cursed broom." She gave Nabiki a "thanks" as well, before reentering the house. Nabiki followed right behind her.
Ranma slowly rose to his feet. That was decidedly odd. His slightly scathing commentary hadn't ended in him being swatted. He wasn't sure exactly how it ended, but it was better than usual.
As he began to walk to the house, he noticed Akane had remained outside. While it was obvious she was no longer angry with him, she looked at him with an unmistakably dour expression. "You really don't know what you want, do you?"
The question coming from Akane made him even more uneasy than when Kachiko had asked it in the heat of her anger. "Well ."
"I see." Akane walked back into the house, obviously depressed.
Ranma was left staring at her back as she retreated from his sight. He wasn't sure what to do. He wasn't even sure why she was depressed, so how could he know what it would take to cheer her up? All he knew was he hadn't done anything wrong for a change. In fact, he felt an odd sense of peace over having finally admitted (well, not in so many words, but everyone seemed to understand what he meant) certain things that had been bothering him for a while, but he had never been able to say aloud.
Deciding it would be best to leave matters to themselves, it was a Ranma with mixed feelings that reentered the house to be alone for a while.
"I don't think this is necessary, Mother."
"Yes, it is. Now continue."
"But it seems so childish."
"That's because what you did was childish. I mean really, you should test brooms to make sure they aren't cursed."
"But it wasn't cursed. It worked perfectly fine."
"That's enough out of you, now obey your mother. I mean really, what is it with you guys and using magical items all the time? It's like you're addicted to shortcuts or something. There are no shortcuts in life. You just have to slog through it, making mistakes, offending people, and creating enemies while doing the best that you can, just like I did. You follow that way of life, and you can't go wrong: look at how I've turned out. Stop giving me those hurt puppy dog eyes. It's not going to work this time. Now keep going."
"Fine." Kasumi's retort was almost petulant as she returned to writing 'I Will Not Give People Cursed Items' five hundred times. She had been so close, too. Although now that she thought about it, she had inadvertently brought back another, less pleasant, attribute her mother had possessed when Kasumi was a child. Something she had forgotten after her mother died, opting to recall more pleasant memories and burying the bad.
Punishing unruly children. Kachiko Tendou always had been good at that.
To be continued.
Author's notes: There, you see? I haven't abandoned this. In fact, it's getting closer to the end with each chapter. I'm over the halfway point (according to the outline), and hope to have it done before the end of the year, depending on how the muse feels.
Kudos to anyone picking up on the Stepford reference.
Thanks for reading, and special thanks to Rakhal for looking up the Soun/Hinako thing and Chris Horton for prereading and figuring out the battle cry for the laughing point technique Ranma used on Kasumi.
Also thanks to:
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