~ kittykittyhunter ~

"I hate him," came a disgruntled mumble from Rinko's knees.

The young woman sighed and continued washing, the distant sound of a tennis ball repeatedly hitting a wall blending with her vigorous scrubbing. She knew that paying the slightest bit of attention to her son would result in the dishes being completely neglected, and she wasn't about to let that happen.

So she ignored the boy.

"Mommy," he grumbled impatiently, tugging her kimono, "pick me up."

He always ordered. He was as pushy as his father.

Still Rinko washed. She had to be quick to be on time for her favourite TV show.

The little voice became more irritated. "I said pick me up."

Just three left…

"Mommy," the boy noisily sat on the floor. She could imagine the pout forming on his face. "Why don't you love me?"

At that point, Rinko stopped, wiped her hands on her apron and picked up the toddler. He buried his face into her shoulder, making content little sounds as he inhaled her perfume. Rinko stared wistfully at the three remaining dishes. Perhaps she could persuade Nanjiroh to take him for a while.

She carried the boy out to the back garden where her husband was still practising. Even though Nanjiroh had left the professional circuit some time ago, tennis still featured heavily in his life, and – if the stubborn man had his way – it was going to feature heavily in their son's life too. She tilted her head to one side and called, "Nanjiroh!"

"What is it?" he yelled back, hopping around barefoot. Along with the professional circuit, he had abandoned the need to don footwear.

"Would you mind taking Ryoma please? I have to finish the washing up."

Ryoma promptly hissed into his mother's ear, "No way. He'll just drop me."

Rinko shook her head. "Don't be silly honey. Your Daddy wouldn't do that."

"Yes he would!" insisted Ryoma, seeking refuge in her shoulder again.

"Well, what does the boy say?" inquired Nanjiroh. "Something about wanting to play with his old man, eh?"

She turned her gaze to a discarded tennis racquet lying forgotten near the grassy court. Even though Nanjiroh spent everyday training his young son, the boy used every opportunity to run away from the 'scary game'. This often led to hiding behind Rinko's legs, insisting on being picked up.

Her husband's approach reminded her of the Spartan training techniques she had seen in action so many times before. She was still a little discomforted that it was used in her own home.

But, as Nanjiroh said, talent came at a price, and without any pain, it was unlikely that there would be any gain.

"I don't want to play with him," Ryoma declared, jerking Rinko back. "He's mean."

Oh, well – that went without saying. Rinko recalled all too clearly her own tennis sessions with Samurai Nanjiroh. For some reason, being his wife didn't yield any kindness when he felt like training.

It was time to turn to reason instead. "Darling," whispered Rinko, running a hand through her son's plentiful locks, "you know I have to do a lot of washing, don't you?"

"You were done," Ryoma replied, giving her a little nod as though the matter was settled.

"No sweetie, I wasn't." When one term of endearment didn't suffice, the woman adopted her husband's technique and took up another. "So if you give me ten minutes, I'll pick you up then."

The boy chewed his lip as he considered this. Rinko would have loved to have known how much ten minutes equated to in Ryoma-land. Finally, he gave his verdict. "No way."

Why was she caught between two domineering autocrats? Whenever Rinko did anything contrary to Ryoma's wishes, the toddler would ask why his mother didn't love him. Even though Nanjiroh's response was to immediately prod the child, stuff an orange in his mouth or take him away to play tennis, the motherly woman felt horribly guilty. Ryoma, with his wide, cat-like, hazel eyes, and ability to sniff at the most inopportune moments, didn't help.

She worried for the world if the boy was that manipulative already.

Nanjiroh let the ball fall, seeming to at last realise his wife's dilemma. "Riiiinko," he grinned diabolically, extending her name until it was three seconds long, "pass the brat this way."

Ryoma tried to bury himself deeper into Rinko's shoulder. "No way!"

"Come on Re-yo-ma," Najiroh sang. Ryoma hated it when his father said his name like that. "Your ugly mother has work to do."

"Mommy's beautiful!" the boy cried defensively, raising his head and glaring at Nanjiroh. "You look like a potato!"

The boy's guard was down. It was a simple matter for Nanjiroh to scoop him from Rinko's arms, descending like an eagle that had spotted its prey. Holding the wailing toddler up to the sunlight he smirked, "Like a potato eh? That's kinda interesting considering you get most of your looks from ME!"

He threw his head back and laughed, still holding his squirming son. Rinko gave him a grateful smile and hurried back into the house.

There wasn't any need to hide his smile whilst the boy slept, one hand peacefully curled, the other beneath his cheek. "Ah Rinko," Nanjiroh drawled as he sat back, "do you think this idiot boy of ours will ever leave his mark on the world?"

She gave the question some thought. "When he knows what he really wants, then, yes."

Nanjiroh smiled. For the time being, her answer was more than enough.

Inspired by Rinko's lack of screen time. I love her character (she doesn't do very much, but man, she deserves a medal for putting up with Nanjiroh all these years). This fic aimed to put a smile on your faces.