Nabiki glanced out the window, and sighed.
"Ranma. They're back"
Ranma jumped up out of his seat and ran to the door. "About time. It's been damn near a month"
"Uh, Ranma..." Nabiki shook her head. "It's only Kasumi and Risa. Akane's not with them"
Ranma stopped, his hand hovering over the doorknob. "You sure? Maybe she's outside the wall, or--"
Nabiki shook her head again. "No, Ranma." She stepped back, and dropped into a chair. "You'd best be ready to comfort your daughter. She doesn't look very happy."
Nabiki shuffled out of her bedroom, rubbing her head. She was not a morning person, as anyone who lived at the Tendo home could attest. She staggered in the general direction of the kitchen, hoping that Kasumi had beaten her to the coffee maker.
That way, I won't have to make it myself, or wait for it to brew.
A red-haired tornado roared past her, almost knocking her down.
"Sorry about that!"
Nabiki shook her head, and looked down at the pigtailed redhead in Chinese clothing. "Well, watch where the heck you're going, Ranma!" She rubbed her forehead. "You could kill someone like that."
"Umm..." The redhead grinned impishly. "It's Risa, Naki-chan. Papa isn't here yet."
Nabiki paused, and studied the girl more closely. "What the hell?"
Tendo Risa's hair was caught back in its usual pigtail, but her bangs were not held back by pins or barrettes, and hung free in her face. The style was an exact copy of her father's. Plus, she'd managed to scratch up one of Ranma's old red silk shirts,
and even wore a pair of his bracers. The only flaw in the illusion was that her pants were form-fitting black spandex, some-
thing that Ranma would never have worn, regardless of circumstances.
Well, check that. Ranma had worn a Playboy bunny suit, on at least two occasions that Nabiki could recall, to win a challenge.
Risa held out her arms and turned on the spot. "You like?"
"Uh, yeah. Even when I first saw it, eighteen years ago. Very cute." Nabiki shook her head in disbelief.
"Thanks. Gotta go--Ryouga-sensei and Papa are gonna be here any second."
And in a red and black flash, she was gone.
Nabiki shook her head. "It's gonna be one of those days. Where's that coffee?"
The kata was one of Risa's favourites, the result of six hours' study and collaboration between her, her father, and her two teachers. The resulting kata was part wu shuu, part kempo, part musabetsa kakotou - and all hers. Not her father, nor her instructors would use this kata, beyond helping her learn it better. And no one else at all could possibly learn it.
Hibiki Ryouga stepped in through the main doors of the dojo, and paused. His student - his first student, and in an odd way, his final victory over his hated opponent and best friend, Saotome Ranma.
Risa snapped and whirled her way through the kata. Her form was not nearly as airborne as her father's school. This was his own influence. At the same time, she lacked the punishing physical power needed in his form, as well as the rigorous structure of his wife's training. And what she brought to the form was her own blazing speed, superior even to her father's.
The form was completed thirty seconds after he walked through the door, and Risa shifted from the final ready stance to a long, lazy stretch.
"Not bad, Risa."
Risa's eyes snapped open - it was the first that Ryouga had realized she'd been going through the form with her eyes closed.
"Good morning, sensei."
"You're doing well." He sat down before the iroha, and Risa did the same, facing him. "I'd say that Soun and Genma just wasted all their worrying."
"How so?" Risa's face showed no concern; merely curiosity.
"Well...You remember that your grandfathers basically arranged...your existence, right?" Ryouga looked rather nervous. "What they wanted was the ultimate martial artist, and they were rather disappointed when...when your parents had a girl."
Risa giggled. "It wasn't like they could pick, you know."
"Nonetheless...Genma and Soun were disappointed." He smirked. "It's nice to see that you've exceeded all their hopes." He hopped to his feet. "Let's start with the sixth basic kata today."
"He's not coming today. Said he had things to do."
She frowned at this, then hopped to her feet and assumed a ready stance.
"I tell you, Kasumi, it was really freaky." Nabiki stirred her coffee absentmindedly, as she had been for the last five minutes. "If Kuno-chan had seen her, he'd have lost what little of his mind he has left."
Kasumi set her tea cup down. "It should hardly be surprising, Nabiki. After all, he is her father. Some amount of family resemblance--"
"Yeah, I know, Kasumi. But it wasn't just family resemblance, okay? I mean, it was--" She sighed, and tossed the spoon across the kitchen and into the sink. "Look, in the first place, she musta gone a lot out of her way to get that stuff. The shirt and the bracers. Doesn't seem like she could pull it off on a whim."
"Maybe she's been planning this for a while, then."
"You know our girl, Kasumi. She has nothing but whims. Though when she does go after something, it's like watching a bulldog at work. Total singlemindedness. You've been with her for the last month. In China, yes, so she coulda gotten some of that stuff there. Did you ever give her a chance to go shopping?"
"No, we didn't have the money for that."
"And you'd think after the trip, and the disappointment, that she'd be moping about the house today. Instead she's a bundle of energy."
"She's a teenager, and quite resilient."
"Resilient is one thing. She was depressed as hell yesterday, and all cheerful and happy this morning." Nabiki took a long pull from her coffee. "About the family resemblance. Need I remind you that for Risa to have that much of a family resemblance, Ranma would have to have been her mother, not her father?"
Kasumi giggled--even at nearly forty, she could still get away with it. "That would be an interesting thing to see."
"No thanks. He's unstable enough as it is." Nabiki chuckled.
"Do remember, sister, that Ranma in his female form strongly resembles Saotome-san."
Kasumi nodded. "It's most likely that Saotome-san looked a lot like Ranma, or Risa, as a young girl."
"Still...you can barely tell she's a Tendo." Nabiki leaned back and sighed. "It's like...everything she has in her, came from her father. And nothing from Akane."
Kasumi sighed. "Two years ago, you would have said that that was a good thing."
"Hey, it's not like I hate my baby sister. I just don't care for her recent actions, okay?"
"I know." Kasumi nodded. "I miss her too."
"Yeah. And so does Risa. She's probably just burying her feelings; they'll bubble up again later. And we'll have to pick up the pieces. Maybe I can head some of that off..." Nabiki sighed, and raised her coffee cup to her lips again. And paused, and frowned.
"She called him Papa..."
Nabiki didn't always have all the facts. It just usually seemed that way.
The attic of the Tendo house was filled with treasures. Though none dated back more than fifty years, they were many and varied, and formed a living testament to the Tendo family trait of being packrats. It was in the attic, several months ago, that Risa had found the backpack, with the name 'Saotome Ranma' stitched into the backing.
She'd wanted to take it with her on the trip, but had decided against it. It might have been damaged, or lost. And her father's possessions were few, and fewer still of those had found their way to her.
Within the pack, she'd found several interesting things. Three small wooden figurines, several blocks of wood, and a carving knife. Ten silk shirts of various colours, some with no sleeves. The leather bracers. Five pairs of identical black pants. Two pairs of black satin slippers. A Chinese Maoist uniform, of all things. A small photo album.
More out of a sense of fun than anything else, she'd thrown together the Ranma outfit, modeling herself after one of the old photos of her father. The black pants wouldn't fit her, and she ignored the boxers, giving them no more of a thought than a subvocalized "bleah."
At the moment, she sat cross-legged on her bed, in the room that had once been her mother's. In her hand was one of the wooden figurines.
A panda. I wonder why he carved a panda?
She carefully set the figurine on her dresser, then picked up the carving knife and the block of pine.
Kasumi looked up from the dishes. "Oh, my." She reached immediately for her first-aid kit.
Sure enough, Risa came trudging down the stairs, her hand wrapped in a T-shirt. "Um, Aunt Kasumi..."
"Come here, child." She uncapped a bottle of peroxide and set to cleaning the small cut on Risa's palm. As she worked, she asked the girl, "What did you do to yourself?"
"Well...I was trying to carve something."
"Oh?" She looked up. "You've never carved anything before."
"I know." She sighed. "I found some of Dad's old wood-carving stuff, and I thought I might give it a try. I didn't expect to cut myself, though. Dad's old carving knife isn't too sharp."
"I didn't even know he carved." Kasumi set an adhesive bandage over the cut. "And perhaps you should take a little more care when trying it yourself. Make sure your knife is very sharp. It makes it easier to control."
"Okay, Aunt Kasumi."
"Oh, and I phoned your grandmother a few minutes ago. She said she wants to drop by for dinner. Would that be okay with you?"
"Sure." Risa hopped to her feet.
"And wash that shirt, before you do anything else! Nothing stains like blood."
Ten minutes later, the carving completely forgotten, she was sprawled on the floor of the family room, feet kicked up behind her, a book open on the floor before her.
Nabiki paused as she walked through the family room. "Hey, kiddo. Whatcha reading?"
Risa mumbled into the pages. "Book on healing herbs."
Nabiki craned her neck to look, but the page was written in Korean. She shook her head in disbelief. Akane hadn't been the greatest scholar in the history of Nerima, and Ranma was mostly clueless. Why was it that their daughter was so bright? Risa could read six languages, and speak four. She seemed to have a natural ability to judge angles, distances and velocities. She had memorized the appearance, names and properties of almost every plant common to Japan, and was now apparently learning those of Korea.
Almost anything she set her mind to learning, she learned. And while she wasn't yet equal to her father in the martial arts, she would be soon. And soon thereafter, surpass him.
"Listen, Risa. I kinda wanted a chance to talk to you."
Risa looked up. "Sure." She pushed herself back into a seated position, crossing her legs before her.
Nabiki chuckled at Risa's unintentional display of flexibility as she sat down across from the girl. "Must be nice to be young."
Risa looked startled, and opened her mouth to apologize, but Nabiki waved it away. "Don't worry about it, kid. I'm not exactly a dinosaur yet.
"First off: You know your mother wanted to be an actress, right?"
Risa blinked. "No. Nobody ever told me about that."
"Surprise, surprise. She was good, Risa. She could really bring feeling to a role. You've got some of that gift yourself."
"Yep. Now myself, I wanted to go into business. I like handling money. And your Aunt Kasumi wanted to go into medicine."
"I held you guys back." Risa looked shocked. "If it wasn't for me, you could have gone on to do whatever you wanted."
"What makes you think we didn't?" Nabiki grinned. "I had a fair amount of money set aside, but I knew I couldn't make it last forever. So I played in mutual funds, made a bid on some stocks...We're not exactly rolling in dough, but the investments I made will keep us fed and comfortable for the rest of our lives. As for Kasumi...well, I think all she really wanted to do was to take care of people. She's incredibly intelligent. I know she doesn't show it very often."
Risa giggled. "That's how you know."
"Perhaps. But she's learned an awful lot since you came to live with us. Including in medicine." She leaned forwards. "Kasumi would really like to see you become a doctor."
"I..." Risa paused. "I kinda thought I might wanna do that." She picked up the book. "I borrowed this from Shampoo, a couple of days ago." She dropped the book.
"I had an idea you might. Heck, your mom dropped a single tear, and it was forgive-and-forget, let's do anything to make her feel better."
Nabiki waved a hand. "Hey, I don't really blame you, okay? I don't hate your mother. Really." She sighed, and her gaze wandered to the window, to the west. "Why do I keep having to tell everyone that?"
Risa shrugged. "To keep reminding yourself?"
"Yeah, maybe." She looked back at the girl. "What's with the clothes?"
She shrugged. "I dunno. I felt like trying them on."
"Kasumi tells me you cut yourself trying to carve. You've never picked up a carving knife before in your life."
"I found it upstairs, in the attic."
"Risa..." Nabiki closed her eyes; how to put this? "Why are you trying to be so much like him?"
"I--" Risa paused. "I don't know." She picked up the book, and stood up. "Grandma always told me that I should try to be like him."
"I don't think this is what she meant." Nabiki grinned. "She'll be here in a while...you can ask her then."
Ranma's skill in the kitchen was remarkable, for someone who insisted on acting as manly as possible. And he had only improved since the last time she'd seen him in this kitchen.
Upon hearing that his mother would be present for dinner, he'd demanded to be allowed to help. Kasumi, of course, was only happy to let him. And so he'd torn into the meal, moving about six times faster than Kasumi, working on five different dishes. And preparing so much that one would think he was making five different meals.
Well, it made sense. Both Ranma and Risa were heavy eaters, and Nodoka, for all that her manners were better, could tuck away an awful lot as well.
Nabiki watched the barely controlled chaos in the kitchen, biting her lip. She wanted to offer her help, for so many reasons, but knew fully well that she was not anything like the equal of either of these two.
"Hey, guys. Can I help?"
Kasumi glanced up from the rice. "Why, certainly, Risa. What would you like to do?"
Nabiki bit her lip to keep from laughing. Like her mother, Risa couldn't cook worth a damn. Unlike her mother, however, she was showing slow but steady improvement, and a willingness to listen to direction.
Risa craned her neck, to spy on whatever it was Ranma was currently mixing up in a bowl. "Dad's gonna need some pork filling for those buns, right? I can make some up from the leftover meat in the fridge."
Kasumi's smile became a touch strained. "Perhaps you could chop the meat. Make sure it's quite small. I'll work on the rest of the filling."
"Okay!" Risa grabbed the largest butcher knife off the block, only to have Kasumi take it away from her and hand her a smaller blade. Nabiki snickered.
"Thank you again for having me." Nodoka bowed as she stepped backward out of the house. She turned and began to walk down the road, smiling slightly at the events of the evening.
"Grandma? Can I talk with you a minute?"
She turned back, to see Risa running towards her. "Of course." She smiled. "I always have time for my favourite granddaughter."
"I know, it's an old joke." She sighed. "So serious at times. What's on your mind?"
"I wanted to know..." She bit her lip. "Aunt Kasumi says that Dad tried to visit me all the time, when he wasn't allowed to. Twice a year."
"Yes, that's true."
"Why didn't he try harder?" She threw up her hands. "I mean, it's not like Aunt Kasumi or Aunt Nabiki could really stop him,
"Well, I suppose that's true. Though I think you underestimate your aunts. Especially Nabiki; she could always make your father do whatever she wanted."
"But I mean...I don't know." She sighed. "I always figured he could do anything he wanted to. I mean, once he set his mind to it, there was nothing he couldn't do. So the only reason he couldn't see me is if he didn't want to."
"Risa..." Nodoka sighed. "There was a very good reason why he couldn't see you."
"What was it?"
"I asked him not to."
"...What?" Risa's face was a mask of shock. "You're kidding, right?"
"But...But you told him to...?" She shook her head. "Why would you do that? Why would you keep my dad away from me"
Nodoka sighed. "I've not looked forward to this conversation...You see, Risa, the courts were very unhappy about the situation between your mother and your father. And though I feel the problem mostly stemmed from your mother, Ranma was not entirely to blame. He had his faults, not the least of which was a bad tendency to tease your mother."
"You thought he was unfit?"
"I thought he was much too young to be a father. He agrees with this, by the way. But as to not seeing you...I knew that if he caused any trouble, the courts would be pulled in again, possibly the police. Your father could have ended up in jail, and you sent off to Hokkaido or somewhere."
Risa thought about this. "So by keeping him out of trouble, you kept me with my aunts, instead of with some strangers, somewhere far away."
"I'm glad you understand."
"I don't think I do." Risa shook her head, tears flowing from her eyes. "Couldn't he have done something? I mean, he could have written, he could have--"
"I agree, he could have written. Though I'm not sure that that would have been a good thing, either. But your father's not good at such things; he has a very hard time telling anyone how he really feels, you know that."
"Yeah." Risa smiled through the tears. "Seen that often enough."
"Remember, I know what he went through. I can read him better than most; I'm his mother. And I went through it as well; his father took him from me when he was six, and I didn't see him again until he was sixteen."
"I know...It just feels like he let me down, you know?"
"I know. Try to forgive him. He's doing the best he can now, and that's a lot better than he could've done when you were four."
"Did Nabiki tell you what she's been up to all day?"
Ranma blew the steam off of his tea before answering. "She said that she was actin' weird, that's all."
"She found a pack of your clothes and such in the attic. She came downstairs dressed up like you. She picked up a knife and some wood--"
"I'd forgotten all about that." Ranma grinned. "I used to do some woodcarving...helped while away time on the road."
"Well, she found that, and tried carving. Cut herself a bit, nothing major."
"That's kind of odd."
"I don't think so." Kasumi set down her tea. "After this trip, to see Akane...well, she was rather crushed. She's been in a bit of a funk all the way back from China. And I think this is some type of lashing-out at her mother."
"Most likely. Now, I'm not a psychiatrist, but I'd say she's going to get over that. She'll probably lash out at you in some way. Try not to take it too hard."
Risa moped into the room; Kasumi needed only one glance. "Why, Risa! You've been crying!"
"A bit, yeah." She nodded. "I'm okay, though."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah..." She sat down at the table, and picked up a cup of tea. She grinned; Kasumi had already prepared it the way she liked it, lots of milk and sugar.
"Listen, Risa...I found something for you today." Ranma reached under the table and pulled out a small box. "I had to look hard for it, I tell ya, but I think you'll like it."
"What is it?" Risa took the box.
"It's a videocassette." Ranma grinned. "Nabiki was sure she'd lost it, but we found it in a box in the attic."
"What's on it?"
"Well, your aunt Nabiki made a movie once, for a course she was taking. Your mom was one of the stars. Thought you'd like to see it."
"...Yeah. I think I would." Risa opened the box, glanced down at the cassette. "Aunt Nabiki told me that Mom wanted to be an actress."
"That she did. I ruined her first big chance, sad to say, but she did really well in this one. So did Nabiki; she got top marks."
Risa looked up. "Why did you--"
Ranma shrugged. "You've seen lots of me over the last few years, but you've only had a week with your mother. This tape has all the out-takes in it, too; you can have a good laugh over it."
"Are you in it too?"
"Yeah...so laugh hard."
"Okay...thanks, Papa. This means a lot to me." She smiled impishly. "By the way, we only have a DVD player here...I don't even know what sort of machine will play this tape. You find one of them too?"
"Ah..." Ranma scratched the back of his head.