Unfair Warning: Phase Twelve
A metafiction by Brian Randall
Disclaimer: Original source is Ranma 1/2, which is the property and creation of Rumiko Takahashi. Her paints, my easel, and the brush is borrowed without permission (hence this disclaimer) from Kenko and Chris Jones, as this metafic is inspired by 'Fair Warning' and 'The Tomboy Solution'.
Note: Fans of the above fics will probably not enjoy the effects of this one. Consider yourselves warned. Divergence. You'll know it when you see it.
Much to her relief, Tatewaki hadn't shown up the very next day to walk her home again. Akane appreciated it, really she did. But the 'new' Kuno was something to wrap her head around, and she was grateful that he wasn't there obsessively. Aside from which, Nabiki had told her Ranma would be coming by after school. It wasn't suppopsed to be one of Nodoka's bridal-training days (in Akane's experience, more grueling than Genma's lessons), and she'd happened to somehow have yesterday free after school...
So she had caught up on homework and unwound a bit. Which, as tense as she'd been, meant wearing herself to the point of exhaustion in the dojo without Genma. But today was the day when Ryouga would be cured of his 'chibi-itis' (Kasumi's name for his condition, though it stuck the second he pouted at it).
Which was actually two things to look forward to.
Having dashed home from school, she was actually alarmed to leap over the last rooftop to slide to a halt on the wall surrounding her home, and realize that now that she'd taken to fences and roofs ... Ranma was walking on street. He glanced up at her sharply, and she quickly straightened from the crouch she'd landed in, smoothing her skirt down. His expression was grim, as though preparing for a fight, but softened quickly once he realized it was her. At least, that was her hope.
She hopped down inside the wall and opened the gate for him. "Ranma," she greeted him, ducking her head slightly. "Um, sorry if I alarmed you."
"Nah," he said, shaking his head. "I was just expecting..." He trailed off with a nervous shrug, staring at the ground. He suddenly looked up, meeting her eyes. "Nice work on your balance, Akane. Looks like you're really putting some effort into your martial arts."
"Thank you," she said, her heart informing her that now was a good time to stop beating, her face coloring darkly. Praise from Ranma! Of all things! She felt light-headed. "I'm going to go inside before I wake up. You're here for Ryo-chan?"
Ranma blinked repeatedly at her words for a minute before shaking his head. "Uh, Ryo-chan? Oh, man. I knew I should have visited, but I was so busy..."
"He understands, I'm sure!" Akane said quickly. "And, and anyway, you trusted me, so I did my best... Even if, really, Kasumi did most of the work." She had to admit that last part, she realized with a frown. He wouldn't appreciate Akane trying to take credit for her sister's efforts.
"Well, you got school," Ranma said with a shrug. "You can't do everything yourself, so, that's fine."
"C...come in," Akane said, shaking her head. But slowly, so the world wouldn't wobble out of alignment. "Sorry again. Where are my manners..."
He smirked at her, shaking his own head. "Y...yeah, uh, can't keep Ryouga waiting for ever." He stepped through the gate, then Akane led the way up the short path to the door.
She slid it open, calling, "I'm home! Ryo-chan, you've got a visitor!"
Ranma winced again, though his smirk didn't lessen. "Yo! Ryouga, my man, I've got something for you, and it's better than good news!"
Ryouga rounded the corner, running at a terrific pace ... and slamming into the wall when he turned the wrong way. He bounced back, landing in the entryway staring up at Akane, with Ranma just behind him. "The hallway keeps moving on me!" he whined plaintively. "That was the right way to turn this morning!"
"That was when you were going to the living room from the kitchen," Akane said gently, glancing at the vaugely Ryouga-shaped indentation in the wall. At least he'd stopped smashing through them...
Then Ryouga tilted his head back, looking up, and up, and up, until he was in danger of toppling backwards, and was staring up at Ranma. "Ranma!" he exclaimed, blinking. "I haven't seen you in forever!"
"Sorry if it felt that way," Ranma said with a wince. "C'mon, let's get you into the dojo. I've got something for you."
"Finally," Ryouga grumbled, as he accepted a hand up from his rival. Akane hesitated a moment before following, pausing to set her bag down inside the doorway.
Once the two were there, Ranma produced Ryouga's backpack -- Akane had to wonder where he hid it, pulling it from behind his back like a stage-magician, and then producing a sixteen centimeter long mushroom from the same place. "Here you go," Ranma said cheerfully. "Fresh from Tofu-sensei. Now, before--" But that was as far as he got.
"Yay!" Ryouga crowed, before snatching it from Ranma's hand and swallowing it. "Finally!"
"...you eat that, you might want to change," Ranma finished with a wince, as Ryouga suddenly grew to his full size, incidentally shredding the clothes he'd been wearing. Akane managed to stifle the shriek (and subsequent laughter that escaped) as she covered her eyes and spun around. It was funny, but it had to be embarassing for Ryouga.
"D...darn," Ryouga sputtered, as Akane heard the sounds of cloth being shuffled around franticaly. The shuffling continued for a long moment before there was another, "Darn!" and then a, "Shoot!" Well, Kasumi's playful 'good language' lessons seemed to stick...
"It's safe now," Ranma advised, snickering. Akane slowly turned back to see Ryouga, now fully restored and dressed. He looked as good as new, except for the beet-red face. "I'm sorry, Ryouga, buddy, I tried to warn you."
"Yeah, yeah," the fanged boy sighed, sinking to sit on the floor, burying his face in his hands. "My fault. Darn."
"Er... Well, hey, congratulations on being sixteen again!"
"Well ... thanks for looking out for me," Ryouga mumbled in response, his blush slowly fading -- though he couldn't meet Akane's eyes.
"I'm glad for you being okay again now, too," Akane added, trying to sound helpful. "Kasumi will miss having you around, though."
Ryouga winced. "I... Well, if it's alright by her, I might stop by from time to time ... you know, to see how, uh, Kasumi's doing, and stuff... Check on things in Pine Valley, with Janet-san... Um, I owe your family for giving me a place to stay, and keeping me safe."
"I'm just glad everything worked out," Ranma said, grinning.
"Hey! Don't say it like that! I know a lot of responsibility for this was put on Akane, but it wasn't her fault, and she did a really good job helping me out!" Ryouga snapped, one hand going into a fist. "Don't try and blame her for other stuff, too!"
Ranma blinked a few times, clearly taken aback before he shook his head. "Yeah ... that's not what I meant. I mean, I'm glad that nothing bad happened to anyone else with these mushrooms. In fact, they really helped out, you know?"
"I guess that's true," Ryouga allowed, mollified, dropping his fist to his side. "I... Yeah, I had a lot of time to think."
"Well," Ranma said, clapping one hand to Ryouga's shoulder, "it's good to see you back to yourself."
"Anyway, I was coming by to give you that, and your other stuff."
"That's all?" Ryouga asked, looking up sharply and narrowing his eyes. "Just to give me the mushroom?"
"Well... Nah. I mean, there was another thing, too, though."
"What's that?" Akane asked, when Ryouga bit his lip and said nothing.
"Um ... I just wanted to say if you're ever up for sparring, look me up," Ranma said with a shrug. "And I don't think you'll eat bad mushrooms any time soon, but if you do, let me know. I know I wasn't the one who helped you out, but if you need it, I'd like to try and help be there for you, you know?"
Ryouga blinked in confusion. "What?"
"Well, hey, we're friends, right? What are friends for? A...anyway, I've got to get back to Ucchan, and then we're going to Tofu's; Kodachi gets out of her brace today. So ... take care of yourself, Ryouga."
By the time Ryouga found his voice, Ranma had already left. "But... Why would he want to spar with me when he's got his father? I mean, aren't we rivals?"
Akane cocked her head to one side, considering. "You know ... funny you should say. I haven't seen him since yesterday," she said quietly. "But, why do you say you and Ranma are rivals? Is it still about the bread?"
"I... Oh, I've gotten over the bread thing," Ryouga mumbled, staring at the floor, furrowing his brow. "And ... there's... There's not really anything else. I mean, he never did anything bad to me on purpose, I guess."
She sighed, shaking her head. Well, at least Ranma had stopped picking on Ryouga like he used to. "Well, if you'd like to spar with me, sometime, I'd like that, too."
"Oh, sure. I guess Ranma's father is busy practicing with him, huh?"
"Um... Now that you mention it, I don't think Ranma's spent much time with his father since..." She winced. "Since I screwed things up. Um. Anyway, you should stay with us a bit longer, to make sure that the mushroom worked out okay before you leave. Won't you have dinner with us?"
"I guess I could do that," he agreed, his eyes on the doorway where Ranma had vanished. "Um, thank you, Akane-san."
"Don't mention it," she said quietly. But Ryouga's questions stuck with her ... had something happened between Ranma and his father, too? Surely that wasn't her fault ... was it?
Recounting the betting pool in her head (much diminished, since Ranma and Kuno didn't fight anymore) Nabiki liked to take her time on the walk home. Aside from which, her route let her do some window-shopping on the way back. There was always a nice blouse on display, or a jacket that would go well with her new purse. And unlike her youngest sister, she didn't have to feel personally guilty for anything.
But that didn't mean she didn't have her own sense of when martial artists were around. Even though she couldn't pinpoint it exactly until he was right behind her, she suspected he was around. "Saotome?" Nabiki asked, turning to look over her shoulder.
"Yo," he said quietly, raising a hand in response. "Do you have a few minutes?"
"I could," she said with a shrug, glancing around. The other favored aspect of this route: tea shops on almost every corner. Ah, Masamichi was always dependable. "Here," she said, gesturing him to follow and taking a seat at one of the outdoor tables.
She stopped by often enough that her favored drink was brought to her without her saying anything. "One for him, too, Masamichi-kun," she advised the proprieter, "on my tab."
Ranma raised his eyebrows at that, and she shot him a cool look in response. "Thanks," he finally allowed.
"So, you haven't spoken to me since we were at the hospital last. What's the occasion, stranger?"
"I haven't..." he began, before grimacing. "Yeah ... I'm sorry. I've been busy. I've been studying really hard, too, but I've missed a lot, lately. I was hoping you could kind of give me an update."
She blinked several times, and yen signs flashed before her eyes before she could restrain herself. "Well, no word on us being sued over Kodachi, so far. Kuno's lost it, though. I guess you missed it ... he still dresses up, but he doesn't carry his bokken, and he quit the Kendo club."
"Huh? What? I mean, I noticed he wasn't attacking me, yeah... But the last time I saw him was when he was visiting 'Dachi-chan."
One eyebrow escaped her control and rose over the nickname, but he didn't seem to notice. She covered, quickly saying, "Eh ... something about restoring the pride of the art, and something or another. He hasn't been pestering me about Akane or asking for pictures ... of her or you, so I know he's still taking this seriously. His father is too, I expect." She shrugged, while Ranma sipped at his tea. "Basically, it's like Akane caused an explosion of boring."
"Boring is better than what led to it," Ranma said quietly.
"And now you're getting all moody and introspective. At least Ryouga's antics are hilarious. How long before he gets turned back to normal, anyway?"
"Oh, actually, took care of that earlier today."
"Well, on to the safe and unexciting, then."
Ranma rolled his eyes. "Yeah, I've still got to deal with my mother, so I'm not sure 'safe' is the word."
"Hmm. Well, it's not happening where I can see, so the fun in that's gone, too. You need help with her?"
"You'd offer to help me?"
"Hey, your survival means Kodachi's happy, which means, in turn, my sister is safe. Other than that, what do you really expect me to do, smuggle her out of the country and let the other shoe drop?" She shook her head, sipping her own tea. "You've got problems, and my family owes you, even if no one goes out of their way to admit it. But your curse is beyond my power to help with, and you've already got the 'learn to be a doctor' angle covered, according to what I've heard about your grades."
He flinched. "What? My grades? How'd you hear about that?"
"Oh ... well, big racket. The yearly physical, girls have their heights, weights, and measurements recorded. The boys will sometimes pay big money to find out a girl's sizes." When he blinked, jaw dropping slightly, she smirked. "Oh, come on. I don't actually look at their measurements, but I have to make it look like I'm snooping, so I just spy on a few people's grades and then make up whatever number the boys want to hear. Not like they can't just guess themselves, but it leaves me with a few more yen at the end of the day, and if I didn't, someone else would probably try anyway."
"And there was that one time I decided that I wasn't going to fail history," she added, buffing her nails on her blouse.
"Hah! Gotcha." She smirked while he scowled, then hid his face with his teacup. "Seriously, though, I did manage to see your grades. You did pretty well on that last test." Well, his average was looking good after her help, anyway. She did owe him for helping Akane out, and an 89 looked enough like a 59, with a little help, that nobody would need to know. "Just keep up the good work."
Realistically, he had only needed her help because of how poorly he'd done the rest of the year; the homework he'd actually started to turn in and the tests he'd done since then were all marked highly enough on their own. She guessed the other girls were helping him study, but that help had come late in the grading period.
"I... Well, thanks, Nabiki. That's ... really nice of you."
"I've decided to use my powers for good," she said, waggling her fingers at him. "Spooked?"
He nodded quickly. "Just a bit," he said, holding his fingers up a space a part. "A smidge."
She giggled, unable to help herself. "Ah... But seriously, Saotome, you've got a long hard road ahead of you. Back to your mother."
"Oh, right." He frowned. "Pops had some ... stupid plan to use Akane--"
"Say no more," Nabiki said, closing her eyes and holding up a hand, palm towards Ranma. "Let's see ... your father, not mine... Basically use Akane to build up a good word for you, and then pretend like the curse was never there once it comes out, right?"
"Y...yeah. Damn! You're good."
"Yeah, it's a shiny wrapper on an old plan," she said, shaking her head and sighing. "And that old plan is a stupid sign that says, 'I'm just a cute li'l panda'."
"Huh. When you put it that way, yeah, that's exactly what bugged me about it."
"Lacks your personal 'tackle the problem head on' approach, eh?"
He snorted, draining his teacup. Nabiki realized her own was empty and shifted in her seat, a gesture prompting Masamichi to approach and refill both teacups. "This is a tough nut to crack," she said, once the proprieter was gone. "Now, I want to help you with this, but your mom isn't like your father. Or mine. They're easy reads. She's..." She pursed her lips, studying her tea. 'Crazy', 'dangerous', and 'unstable' were rejected out of hand. No reason to offend Ranma with that much truth.
"Hard to get a read on?" Ranma asked.
"Let's go with that," she agreed, nodding. "You want my opinion?"
"At the current price, I'd be an idiot to say 'no'."
She was unable to keep herself from snickering at that one. "And with study comes intelligent humor! I'm stunned, Ranma-kun, I really am!"
"I'm just fully of surprises lately, Nabiki-chan," he replied dryly. "But you get this a lot better than I do, so, what do you think?"
"I think that you should already qualify by her standards, curse or no. Especially after how far you've gone out of your way to take responsibility. That's what I think makes a man; taking responsibility and trying to fix things. I'd say you passed that test a long time ago, before Akane... Well. That's just my opinion though."
He nodded, taking a sip of his tea again. "And?"
She sighed, swirling her tea gently in its cup. "And your mother's more traditional. She's looking at this from the view of someone who thinks that 'manliness' has an older meaning. You know ... killing yourself over mistakes instead of trying to make genuine amends. So I can read most people because I can identify with them. But for her, well, there's a generation gap I just can't understand." A generation gap of crazy, since the woman had married Genma, and crafted a suicide pact with a child. More words to keep to herself, though.
"Yeah," he mumbled glumly, sinking in his chair, staring into his cup. "That's about what I'm stuck with. All the words in the world from Akane, or Ucchan, 'Dachi-chan, and Shan-chan don't amount for anything if she decides I fail for some reason. Like the curse. And no matter what her view is, it's gotta be a mark against me once it comes out that I've lied to her."
"Wouldn't want to be in your shoes," Nabiki said sympathetically. "But, it beats having no mother at all, doesn't it?"
"Then I wouldn't have the threat of death hanging over my head," he countered. Then he deflated. "But I guess you're right, too."
"Can't win 'em all, Ranma-kun."
"Maybe you're right ... but I have so far, Nabiki-chan. Haven't I?"
She snorted. "I guess you have," she allowed. Even if he'd needed help, or second-chances often enough. "What kind of plan do you have?"
"I... I don't, really. I just have to show her that I put other people ahead of me. I mean, I don't really understand what her idea of 'manliness' is, either. If that's not good enough..." He trailed off, then swallowed. "I don't know."
"Tried asking the old woman for help?"
He nodded, not looking up. "She said she was sorry, but it was a family problem. So I talked to Pops, and... Eh. His idea was stupid. So I asked her for help again, and she said that... That if I wasn't good enough for Mom, I didn't have to accept her choices..." He winced, obviously disturbed by the idea. "I mean, I don't want to go that far. But I do put those girls ahead of me, so if that's how it has to be, then to take care of them..." He sighed and rubbed at his cheeks. "Well, then that's how it has to be."
She blinked slowly, studying him and absorbing what he'd said. It was simple enough, she supposed, to just look at Nodoka's inevitable judgement and say, 'No'. She would; she sure as hell wouldn't let some contract she signed before she could even read determine her right to a hearbeat! But, this was Ranma. And his mother. What if that supposed contract on her own life was signed by the Tendo mother, before her passing? Then what would Nabiki do?
"Well," she finally managed, "it sounds like you don't plan on getting yourself killed either way."
"I think I'd die if she didn't accept me," he said quietly, bowing his head further. "Even if it was just a little. And because of that ... I'm not sure I can just say 'no' if I'm not good enough. Facing judgement and only accepting it if it's positive ... that's not really even facing it, is it? If I do that, I'm already..."
Nabiki rubbed at her temples. "Damned if you do, damned if you don't," she commiserated. "I don't envy you this one, Ranma-kun. I guess I can't give you much of anything here after all. But for what it's worth, you've got my sympathy."
"Thanks, Nabiki-chan," he said tiredly, raising his head and giving her a weak smile. "I kind of wish we could have talked like this before..." He shrugged, looking away after he trailed off.
"It would have been different," Nabiki allowed. "Very different."
"But ... I'm learning a lot about a lot of people."
"Oh? What have you learned about me, then?" Nabiki asked, unable to resist teasing. Even if he had started paying attention, he was still Ranma, after all.
"That you can actually be nice, Nabiki-chan," he said shrugging. "Anyway ... thanks for talking to me. I appreciate that. And the tea, too. I'll catch you around, okay?"
"Of course, Ranma-kun," she allowed, managing to keep the color from her face until he left. Wait. Nabiki-'chan'? Damn, if she hadn't let this whole thing get out of hand... Still, she allowed herself, finishing off her tea, 'nice' was a better reputation than 'mercenary'.
"Guess you changed more than I thought, too," she murmured, glancing down the road after him.
After a pleasant morning spending time chatting with Kodachi -- and she was a very intelligent little girl, too -- Nodoka finally bid her farewell once Ukyou and Shampoo had arrived. She'd have liked to have spent more time talking with them about her son, but Ukyou had mentioned that he was supposed to be visiting Ryo-chan, and that meant that as much as she wanted to spend time with Kodachi-chan, she had to race home for the chance to see her son.
"Hello!" she called, once she was through the gate. "Is anyone home?"
"Hello, Saotome-san," Kasumi called from just behind her.
Nodoka blinked, then turned around. Judging by the plastic bag in her hand, Kasumi had been grocery shopping. "I'd heard that Ranma might be here today," she told the Tendo girl apologetically. "Have you seen him?"
"I'm afraid not," Kasumi replied, opening the door to the house. "I'd just put Ryo-chan down for his nap and decided to do some shopping for dinner tonight. But come in, please."
Nodoka sighed, then forced herself to brighten. Just because Kasumi hadn't seen him didn't mean that Ranma hadn't come over.
"Hello," Akane called from within the house. She came into view from the living room, glancing back over her shoulder. "Oh! Um, Saotome-san, it's good to see you again."
"Oh, well, thank you, Akane-chan. Um, I was wondering if you'd heard anything from Ranma today...?"
The girl winced and hung her head slightly. "I'm sorry ... you just missed him. He was here earlier, to help Ryo-chan out, but he left."
"But he's in town!" Nodoka said brightly. "And he hasn't gone on a training trip in a while -- I'm certain if I'm patient, I'll see him soon!"
For some reason, Akane winced again.
"I'm sure that's true," Kasumi said slowly, thoughtfully. "But he hasn't come for dinner in some time. I think he's staying with his friends while he's taking care of them."
Nodoka nodded slowly. Obviously, she would need to arrange to surprise him at some point while he was taking care of those girls. But, nothing for it today...
"Ryo-chan mentioned that your show was on in the other room," Akane offered.
"My... Oh! Yes, of course." Might as well catch up on the goings-on in Pine Valley.
She stepped into the room and instead of the rambunctious youth she'd grown accustomed to -- the one who was Ranma's friend -- she saw a boy she put at about her son's own age. He was staring intently at the screen, riveted by the action. "Oh, drat," Kasumi murmured. "What did I miss, Ryo-kun?"
"Bianca just came out of the closet," the young man said, shaking his head. "But they cut to commercial before we could see Erica's reaction."
"Oh, my! I knew it was coming, but still!" Kasumi murmured. "Well, at least I didn't miss her reaction."
"I'm sorry," Nodoka told the young man, "you're ... Ryo-chan?" He did look like the boy who had been staying with the Tendo family, though where the extra dozen years came from didn't make any sense at all. Maybe they were brothers?
Looking away from the screen and only just then realizing his current company, the boy blinked a few times, then coughed. "Um, yeah. Hibiki Ryouga," he said, bowing his head slightly. "We've met ... I was just under the influence of magical aging mushrooms."
"I ... see," Nodoka managed faintly. Aging mushrooms? That was more far-fetched than the last season of their favorite soap opera!
"Sorry," Akane said, shaking her head, "I should have explained it. Ryo-chan," and for some reason, the boy winced, "was staying with us until Tofu-sensei got the right mushrooms to turn him back to his proper age."
Kasumi added, "But we don't mind. Ryo-chan and Ranma are very good friends -- they went to school together, and spar together all the time!"
"Yeah, friends," Ryouga mumbled, turning his gaze out the door.
"Aside from which, it was fun to get a chance to use all those old clothes in the upstairs attic."
"Oh," Nodoka forced out, reeling. If they weren't playing a joke on her -- and there was no reason to -- then ... it had actually happened. "How strange that such a thing can happen," she said softly.
"I've seen stranger," Akane assured her. "And worse."
"Worse than turning a boy into a child?"
Akane looked uncomfortably, but nodded. "Um, I'm not really into your show so much ... so I'm going to go to my room and take care of my homework first. Thank you for visiting, Saotome-san."
"Er," was all Nodoka could get out before Akane headed up the stairs. Then she turned a curious gaze on Ryouga. "You ... know my son, then?" she asked cautiously.
"Oh, it's back on!" Kasumi noted, as the commercials ended, and the show returned.
Nodoka shook her head; time to sort things out later.
It had been nearly three months before she was finally free of the frame. There had been times, in surgery and the like, but generally, she had been restrained to having a single hand free and nothing else. She needed help to eat, to drink ... to do absolutely anything at all, except change channels on the television.
Tofu-sensei did not have a television.
So, when the last bolt was finally pulled (by Ranma, of course), her graceful recovery was not what she had intended. With both Shampoo and Ukyou looking on, instead of leaping from the bed to give her favorite medical student a hug, she instead managed to clumsily fall to the floor. Or would have, had Ranma not caught her before she did much more than tip over.
Well, she thought, clinging to him as well as she could, given her uncooperative muscles, that worked well enough. Summoning up what decorum she could while he still held her, she said, "Thank you so much, Ranma-chama!" Damn! Again! Why did her tongue keep giving into the childish form of that word?
Ukyou and Shampoo cheered, Ukyou actually waving a tiny cheering fan, and Tofu watched the whole thing with an easy smile. "You do need to be careful," he warned, as Ranma gently set her back on the bed.
"I know," she said, nodding. "But I can move again!" Even if her coordination was less than she would have liked. She waved her arms around, just because she finally good. Then she kicked her legs and turned her head to look between Ukyou and Shampoo, who both suddenly stilled. She smiled at them, tilting her head to one side. "Is something wrong?"
In a single voice, Ukyou and Shampoo blurted out, "So cute!" before Kodachi found herself in the middle of a nearly crushing three-way hug between the other girls.
Ukyou released her first, so Kodachi blinked in bewilderment as Shampoo slowly twirled around, hugging her tightly. "Too, too cute!" she added.
"Um, Tofu-sensei, do you think we could get 'Dachi-chan out of the clinic a bit? I mean, would it be alright if she stayed with me and Ranchan?" Ukyou asked.
Tofu contemplated briefly, before nodding. "I suppose," he allowed. "But I know your place has stairs, Ukyou-san, so I want all of you to be careful."
"Understood," Ranma said, grinning at Kodachi when Shampoo finally stopped turning her around.
"Also, I don't think you can leave her unattended while you're at school."
"I only look like a child!" Kodachi protested.
"It's okay!" Shampoo said cheerily. "She can stay with me and Great-grandmother while school is in session."
"But," Kodachi began to protest, before Ranma shook his head.
"It's okay," he said with a smile. "Koh-Lon-sensei is very good with medicine, and she can help you with some exercises to get you back to where you were before being..." He trailed off and winced.
Well, supervision wasn't that bad. To try and cheer Ranma up, she beamed a smile back at him. "This is going to be fun!" she cheered, before she remembered. "Oh! But I'll need to come back here to meet with Ranma-chama's mommy, I think..." She glanced at the other girls worriedly; the dark flashes in their eyes made it abundantly clear that they were on the same page with that issue. Still, Kodachi had to admit ... Nodoka was a nice, friendly, and kind woman ... for a lunatic.
"Well..." Shampoo's smile widened. "Oh! I have an idea! Great-grandmother can bring 'Dachi-chan to the clinic to meet with Ranma's mother," she suggested, raising one eyebrow and turning to look at Tofu questioningly.
"That's fine," Tofu allowed. "Even though I trust Cologne, I still want to give you daily checkups."
The girls shared a tiny nod at that, exchanging glances. They didn't want any reason to send Nodoka running around to run into Ranma when he wasn't prepared. So that, at least, was a victory.
The slightly chill wind through the branches of the trees outside of his office prompted Tofu to look upwards, scanning the heavens curiously. But there was nothing more than a clear sky, clouds only on the horizon and drifting away.
He smiled cautiously, pausing his tradition of sweeping the walkway. It had been a good day, he thought. Kodachi was gone, so he could put away the traction gear, though she'd stopped by earlier. The meeting with Ranma's mother had gone well enough, though the older woman had seemed a bit distracted. After that, Tofu had walked Shampoo and Kodachi back to Ukyou's restaraunt.
Not that they needed it, but Tofu was curious to see how Ranma and the girls were doing. Kodachi stayed at one end of the counter around the grill and worked on her homework with Ukyou, when she wasn't cooking; Shampoo waited. They seemed very close-knit, and once Ranma returned from the Neko-Hanten, Tofu couldn't resist a smile at how well they worked together.
Through it all, though, Tofu could read a strain that Ranma was trying to hide, not far below the surface. So he'd told the boy to stop by later in the evening, and then gone back to the clinic to tend his appointments.
Which weren't many, truthfully, so now he was just outside, waiting for...
And there he was. He hid less of his exhaustion now, though. "Are you feeling alright?" Tofu asked, ushering the boy inside to sit and have some tea.
"Yeah," he answered, shaking his head. "Just ... you know. A lot on my mind."
"I can only imagine," Tofu said sympathetically. "Still. I wanted to tell you, Ranma-kun, that I think you've done a good job looking after those girls. You've gone quite out of your way to help them, and ... I think you should be proud of how well they're doing."
"T...thanks," he said, looking almost shaken. Tofu sighed internally. Ranma was one so prideful ... which wasn't ideal, but at least he wasn't nervous about accepting praise. "Um, what are you going to show me?"
"Nothing for the moment," Tofu said, shaking his head. "I just wanted to talk to you. Are you troubled?"
"Kinda," Ranma admitted, looking to one side. "I mean... I had an argument with Pops, then he split. I, uh, asked Kasumi. She said his stuff was gone, so..." He shrugged, grimacing.
"Ah," Tofu said quietly, nodding. "Well, not to worry. I don't expect your father to remain gone for too long."
"Yeah ... but I don't have anyone to practice with," Ranma sighed. "Shampoo is catching up, but I don't want to go all out, and I feel bad about practicing with her when Ucchan and 'Dachi-chan still can't."
Tofu considered briefly, before speaking. Ranma was under a lot of pressure and needed to find a release. Well, there was one good possibility, then. It was too soon for Ranma to spar with Tofu, of course, but... "Your father left some unfinished business," Tofu said quietly, thinking of the note that Happosai had left him. "So, there is one person you could spar with."
"Eh? Who? If it's Pop's unfinished business..."
"So, who is supposed to train me if the panda skipped town?" Akane mused, wearing her gi and looking at the dojo's floor thoughtfully. It was still hard to concentrate; Tatewaki had met her after school, and been a gentleman about it still. He'd walked her home, leaving her to wonder when he was going to snap and start acting his predictable lunatic self.
He didn't, though. So she felt embarassed when he merely bowed to her (though, he'd given her flowers again!) and left. But Genma was gone, so her trainer was missing. On the bright side, Happosai was gone, too, so she got to avoid his lectures. Which was just as well; being told about proper respect, attitude, and responsibility from a panty-thief was begining to wear on her sanity.
"So Pop really has been training you?" a ghostly voiced asked, just behind her.
"Kya!" she yelped, spinning around and trying to backhand whoever had snuck up on her. It didn't work; there was no one there.
A tap on the back of her head left her to feel like an idiot as she slowly turned to look behind her. Ranma, of course, smirking and as smug-looking as ever.
"Y...you!" she protested.
"Who did you expect, Lukkosai?" he asked, raising an eyebrow. "Now, 'cmon. You've gotten faster, but your form is weak. At attention -- elbow out!"
She reflexively snapped into position, raising her guard. "W...what are you doing here?"
"Picking up after Pops ... again," Ranma sighed, though his expression didn't seem as irritated as his tone suggested. "Alright, then, Akane, let's see what you've got!"
"Gyah!" And then it really was a struggle ... but by the time, exhausted and sore, that Akane made her way to the bath, she was grinning from ear to ear. It wasn't like their fight at the school, with the dougi. It wasn't like their old 'sparring' matches.
He'd actually hit her. Yes, he was holding back, but he was actually helping her learn! He pointed out holes in her defense, showed her a new punch, and then laughed when she finally got a hit on him (though, she was pretty sure he let it through).
Nabiki stopped in the middle of the hall, watching Akane walk past, unable to keep herself from humming to herself. "What are you so happy about?" she asked. "Doesn't look like the old man flaked on you this time."
"He hit me," Akane said proudly. "Like I was a real martial artist. Like I was worth his time!" Then she gave her slowly blinking sister a grin, and slid the door to the washroom open.
"Kasumi!" she heard Nabiki call, as she undressed. "I think Akane's gone crazy again! Do we have any wards, or anything?"
"Did you check the drawer under the microwave?" Kasumi's distant voice called back. "I think we've got some spares."
Must complete faster. Remember, kids, do your Shattered Fanfiction Island Dailies to up the completion percentage!