"But why, Naki-chan? Why can't I go see my papa?"
The young woman sighed, and sat down in front of the red-haired girl. "Risa-chan, I told you. The courts decided that you aren't allowed to see either your mother or your father anymore. You have to live with me now."
"But why?" Tears were running down the four-year-old's cheeks. The young woman shook her head sadly.
"Your mom and dad fought a lot, right?"
"Well, the judge decided that it wasn't right for you to see them fighting."
"But they never hit each other. Well, mama sometimes hit papa, but never too hard, he always got right back up..."
"But you shouldn't see them fighting. After all, it's not right for people to fight."
"Then why did I learn to fight? Why did papa teach me?"
"Because you might have to defend yourself." She shook her head again. Get back on topic, girl. "Look, the point is, your mom and dad love you very much, but they don't really love each other any more. And the judge is afraid that one of them will hit you. Hit you hard, and hurt you badly. You wouldn't like that at all, would you?"
"Neither would I. And neither would your mom or dad. Or your grandparents."
"But I want to see my papa!" She flung herself into her aunt's arms and cried fiercely. Her aunt wept silently.
Always she cries for her papa, never her mama. Why, Imouto? What did you do so wrong?
Risa awoke to the blaring of the alarm clock, blinking at the sun that shone in her eyes. She sat up and stretched langourously, then stepped into her slippers and shuffled over to her door. She grabbed the dressing gown that hung on the door and struggled into it, then shuffled out into the hallway.
"Good morning, sleepyhead."
Risa blinked, just managing to focus on her aunt. "Ohayo gozaimasu, Naki-chan."
"Party went pretty late last night, didn't it?"
"How does it feel to be twelve years old?"
"Just like eleven." She knuckled a yawn into submission, then shuffled towards the stairs. "I'm going for a bath."
Her aunt watched her move off, then turned and banged on the third bedroom door. "Come on, sis. Up and at 'em."
Risa shuffled into the washroom and hung up her robe. She peered at herself in the mirror.
~Bleah. Girl, you've got work to do...~
She grabbed the bucket, filled it with warm water and dumped it over her head. ~Obasama likes it cold...brr!~ She lathered up, giving extra care to her long red hair, then dumped a second bucket of water over herself. Finally, she slid into the furo, and let the heat work her to wakefulness. She never really felt awake until she'd had a good soak in the tub.
~Beats coffee, anyway.~
It was nearly an hour until she emerged, back in her robe, her hair worn pulled back into a long waist-length pigtail. She waved to her aunts as she ran up the stairs.
"Ohayo gozaimasu, Kasumi-chan!"
She paused at the door to her room.
~This used to be mother's room, back when she still lived here.~ She traced her mother's name, carved into the wooden duck on the door. ~I wonder where she is now.~ She slipped in and started the ardurous task of selecting the day's wardrobe.
* * * * *
Risa turned and grinned at her friend Emi. "Ohayo! How are you today?"
"Not bad. Finally over being sick. Look, I'm really sorry I missed your party..."
"It's okay. I saved you some cake. You can come over to my place after school."
"Thanks, Risa. Oh, and, Happy birthday!"
"Thanks." The bell rang, and both girls ran for the door.
* * * * *
"You can't be here. The court order was quite specific. No visitation."
Risa stopped, putting a hand out to stop Emi. "Hsh!"
"Just be quiet." She strained to listen.
"Nabiki, it's her birthday."
"Yesterday was her birthday, Ranma. Or did you forget?"
"Of course not, but I couldn't get here yesterday."
"Yes, you could. I saw you, on the wall." This from Kasumi-obasan.
"Feh. Not like I could just drop in, in the middle of the party."
"Not like you should be here at all." Nabiki-obasama sounded angry. "Now get lost, Ranma. She's due home from school any minute now."
"Look, I just want to give her--"
Kasumi interrupted him. "Ranma, I'll give it to her. I'll make sure she knows who it's from. But you have to go. Please."
There was a long pause, then a sigh. "All right, Kasumi. Thank you."
"You're welcome. Please..."
"I'm going, I'm going."
Risa grabbed Emi and pulled her back from the corner of the compound. They saw the man walking away from the dojo - an older man, maybe in his twenties. A man with a long black pigtail, just like hers...
"Risa, who was that guy?"
Risa stared after him, tears in her eyes.
"It...he's my father." She took a few steps towards him...
"You obviously overheard. Must get that from my side of the family." She grinned, but it didn't reach her eyes. "Come on, kid. He left you a present."
"He wanted to visit me. Why now? Why never before?" She flung herself into Nabiki's arms. "Why never before?"
Nabiki sighed. "He always came before. Every year, once on your birthday, once on New Year."
"Why didn't you tell me?" Risa stepped back, and stared at Nabiki angrily. "Why did you never tell me he came?"
"Risa, until you're an adult, I have to look out for you, okay? You saw him today, and you went to pieces, just like I figured you would."
"But how could you have known? I mean, how I would feel?"
Nabiki bit her lip. Risa glared at her.
"Okay, I guess I was just betting on it, okay? But there's also the court order. Until you're sixteen, he's not supposed to come here looking for you."
"But that's stupid!"
"I agree. But I don't make the rules, kid. I'm just trying to do my best for you."
Risa noticed Emi edging away. "Emi, please. Stay."
"I figured you'd want--"
"No, I want you here." She sighed. "I owe you cake, anyway." She glanced back at Nabiki. "I should have figured. The gifts kept coming."
Nabiki nodded. "He keeps trying. And he's bound and determined that you'll never forget him. Let's go inside, you two."
* * * * *
"Risa, what's your dad like?"
Risa picked at her cake. Not like she really had an appetite at the moment. "Well, to hear Nabiki-obasama tell it, he's loud, arrogant, kind of dumb, but awful sweet. To hear Kasumi-obasama tell it, he's honour-driven, and the best martial artist the world has ever seen."
Risa grinned. "He's also got an ancient Chinese curse."
"He lives in interesting times?"
Risa shuddered. "Wow, that's old. No, I mean he changes gender."
"Huh? He had a sex change?"
"No, no. When he's hit with cold water, he changes into a girl. Hot water changes him back."
"No, really. I can prove it. Ryouga-sensei does the same thing."
"Ryouga-sensei turns into a girl?"
Risa giggled. ~I owe sensei one, after that stunt at the party with the air horn...~ "Try it, next time he's here. I found out by accident during a lesson."
"I never did ask...Is Ryouga-sensei related to you?"
"No. Apparently, he and Dad used to be really good friends, until both of them fell in love with Mother."
"Oooh...a love triangle." Emi giggled. "I would have loved to see that!"
"Probably not...it used to get really violent here." She pointed at a spot on the wall. "You can see there, where the plaster's a different colour? Ryouga-sensei punched a hole through the wall there. With only one finger, no less!" She pointed at the roof of the sunroom. "Back when this was a porch, Mother kicked Dad right through the roof over there." She pointed at another discoloured spot on the wall. "And Shampoo - the Chinese lady that works at Nekohanten - knocked through that wall with a big mace."
"Yeah. Wow. Apparently, they nearly drove Grandpa Tendo into the poorhouse." She sighed, and looked back at her cake.
"How come you never get to see him?"
She set down her fork. "Mom and Dad still fought, even after they got married and I was born. Someone heard, and called the police, and it wound up in court. And they took me away from them and gave me to Nabiki-obasan. She quit her job and took care of me. Mother and Dad gave us the Tendo-ke and the dojo to raise me in. But the courts say he can't visit me." She frowned at the cake, then glanced over at Emi's empty plate. "Here, you want mine?"
Emi pretended shock. "Tendo Risa, the eating machine, passing up something fattening?" She shifted back to a serious face. "Risa-chan, you're really upset about seeing him, aren't you?"
Risa nodded. "I've wanted so long to see him, and now that I know he's come here...I can't. It's not fair!" She pounded the table in frustration. "It's not!"
* * * * *
Risa opened the telephone directory and started looking through it. She went through all the T's in Nerima, then all the S's.
"You won't find it in there."
She glanced up at Kasumi-obasan. "He's gotta be in here somewhere."
"He doesn't live in Nerima."
"He has to live somewhere nearby. He wasn't driving, so it's gotta be within walking distance."
"He's a martial artist. Cambodia is walking distance for him."
"No way he's gonna live that far away. He'll be nearby somewhere. I know it." She finished thumbing through Nerima, and started on the Tomobiki ward.
"What makes you so sure?"
"Kasumi-chan, if he's so determined to see me that he'll risk jail to do so, and if he's been showing up every year, at opposite ends of the year..." She finished with Tomobiki, started in on Juuban.
"You're forgetting something else, Risa-chan."
"Aha!" Her finger stopped on the only Saotome in Juuban. "Saotome N...wonder what the N stands for? Pardon, Kasumi?" She dove for the phone, started dialing. "What were you saying?"
Kasumi's finger descended on the cutoff button. "You're forgetting that I won't let you call him."
Risa stared at Kasumi in shock. "I'm truly sorry, Risa-chan. I know this must hurt you very much. It hurts me too. I really liked your father. He was a decent and kind man. But the law says you can't see him."
"But I won't be seeing him, obasama! It's a telephone..."
Kasumi smiled sadly. "N stands for Nodoka, Risa-chan. It's not his phone number."
She smacked herself. "Of course. It's Grandmother's phone number."
"Yes. Your father's phone is under a false name, and unlisted, just in case. We have it, your aunt and I, in case of emergency. But we're not even supposed to have that."
Risa pouted. "This sucks." She looked up. "Kasumi-chan, why did you never marry?"
Kasumi smiled. "How did we get onto this topic?"
"Well, Mother and Dad were married, but are now divorced. Naki-chan says she nearly got married, but the guy chickened out at the last minute. Why did you never marry?"
"Well, Risa-chan, I was in love a very long time ago, when your parents were still in school. But the man I loved left Japan a very long time ago. No-one's sure where he is now. I guess I've never really fallen in love with anyone since."
"Do you have to be in love to get married?"
"Well, not really, but you should be."
"Were Mother and Dad in love?"
"Yes, very much so."
"Then why did she hit him?"
Kasumi had no answer.
* * * * *
Risa waved goodbye to Emi and turned towards home. Her mind whirled with thought as she walked.
~If I could get his phone number, I could call him from Emi's house, or from a payphone...but how to get his number?~ She glanced up, and stopped in her tracks.
The woman she saw, going into the Nekohanten, was a little taller than her, and much older - maybe thirty - but other than that, looked just like her. Exactly like her!
"Hey? Hey, you!"
The other woman didn't hear her. Risa broke into a run. She grabbed the handle of the restaurant door and ran in.
The Nekohanten owner, a man named Shin, was handing the woman a kettle of hot water. Risa ran up and grabbed her shoulder. The woman turned around.
Risa stepped back in shock. Yes - the woman was identical to her! Even the same ice-blue eyes...
"I'm sorry...It's just..." She bowed. "Sorry. But I saw you, and I though, you look just like me! I mean, except that you're a bit older."
The other woman grinned. "I guess so. Yeah, we do look alike, don't we?" Unnaccountably, her eyes teared, and she wiped them with the back of her hand. "You're really beautiful...Umm, Lo Shin, thanks for the kettle. I've gotta go." She turned and ran from the restaurant, so quickly that Risa could barely see her move.
Risa stared after the other woman. Something clicked.
* * * * *
"Kasumi-chan! Naki-chan! I saw her! I mean him! I saw Dad today! He was at Nekohanten!"
Kasumi and Nabiki traded glances. Risa missed it, continued bouncing around the family room.
"I mean, I saw this girl, and she looked just like me! Except older, she was really old, like you two. And she went in, and I followed her, and she was getting a kettle of water, and she left. Wow, was she fast! And I thought, she looks just like me, and wanted just hot water, it must be Dad! He lives here, right here in Nerima, doesn't he? I could go and--"
Nabiki rolled her eyes skyward. "Kami-sama, but you do run on. Yes, he does live in Nerima. But I'm not going to tell you where. But I will say this. If you can find him, you can visit with him."
Kasumi winced. "Nabiki, are you sure that's wise? She's got all of her father's stubbornness..."
"Look, Kasumi, that stupid ruling has given neither of them anything but grief."
"But nothing! I had a lawyer go over it again." She grinned. "I made him work for his money, I tell you. The exact wording of the court order denies Akane or Ranma from coming to see her, and denies us from arranging for her to go see him." Her grin turned conspiratorial. "But there's nothing in it - NOTHING! - that says she can't go see him. Just that no-one can't help her."
Kasumi grinned. Not her usual rather vapid grin, the one that says, "I'm just here to be nice to everyone." No, this grin was evil. "So, if I were to happen to leave my desk unlocked, and she got Ranma-san's phone number from my day planner..."
"No, Kasumi. That would be helping her." Nabiki shook her head. "I didn't say this would be easy, Risa. And we will still try to stop you, because we have to. But..."
Risa nodded. "I understand, obasan."
* * * * *
"Yatta!" Risa dropped the hairpin and pulled open the drawer. She dived in and pulled out the small black day planner. Quickly she flipped through it.
The page for S was ripped out.
"Crap. Well, they did say it wasn't gonna be easy..." She thought for a minute, then grabbed a pencil and began to rub it across the surface of the next page after the missing one.
* * * * *
"Yo?" Yawn. "Who is it?"
"Dad, it's me. Risa!"
"Risa? Oh, man! How'd you get this number?"
"Don't worry. Kasumi didn't give it to me. In fact, she tried to stop me from getting it."
"Risa-chan, you know I can't talk to you, right?"
"Wrong." A giggle. "I found you myself. So it's okay."
"Risa...no, it's not. I'm really sorry about this."
"No, Dad! Wait-"
Risa hung up the phone, tears welling in her eyes. "I hate this. I really do."
* * * * *
"Naki-chan, I'm going to see him! And you can't stop me!"
"Wrong." Nabiki grabbed her and picked her up off the ground. "I'm not gonna even ask how you got his address. But I can't let you do this. You know that!"
"Put me down!" She thrashed about, but Nabiki weighed easily twice what she did, and had a fair amount of martial arts training as well. "You can't hold me forever. And you said yourself that if I found him, I could see him!"
"I also said we'd still stop you. If you promise you'll stay here for the rest of the day, I'll put you down."
Risa struggled for another moment, then gave up. "All right, I promise."
Nabiki set her down. She wandered over and flopped into an armchair.
"Tell me something, Risa?"
"Hmm?" She glanced over at Nabiki.
"Why are you never so set on seeing your Mom?"
Risa was silent for a while. "I dunno. It's like...I guess I just liked my Dad better, I guess. Besides, she never even sent me presents, let alone tried to visit. It's like she never cared."
Nabiki looked downward. ~Dammit, Akane. Where the hell have you been all these years? When I see you next...~ She looked back up. "How 'bout that teddy bear on your dresser? It was from your Mom."
"Was it?" Risa looked confused. "I've had Baby for so long...I don't remember."
* * * * *
Risa swallowed nervously, knocked on the apartment door. She saw a shadow move across the peephole, then move away. The door opened slowly, and she saw her father.
"Risa. You can't come here--"
"No, papa, you're wrong. Nabiki found out. I can come to see you. It's just that you can't come to see me. I've gotta be the one to...well, I can come see you!"
Ranma smiled. "Well, if Nabiki says she's found a loophole...I believe it wholeheartedly." He fidgeted slightly. "Well, come on in..."
Risa threw herself at her father, hugging him tightly.
"I missed you so much!"
* * * * *
"Kasumi-chan. It's Risa. I'm at my Dad's."
"Oh, my." Kasumi giggled. "I suppose I really ought to go down there and drag you back."
"Won't work. Dad and I are going out for dinner."
"Hmmm. Guess you'll be out when I get down there."
"A good plan, ne? Listen, tell Naki-chan I'll be home after dinner. Dad and I...have a lot of catching up to do."