Original concept and parts of chapter 1 by Nesin Evets
Chapter 14: Ranko
Akane stood outside her sister's door, biting her lip. Ranko had rushed upstairs in tears the minute she had arrived home. No sounds had come out of her room for the past hour, though she was supposed to be practicing her violin. It didn't take a genius to know that something had happened with Ryouga. The question was, should she try to help, or give Ranko some privacy?
It wasn't a hard decision. Akane knocked on the door. "Sis? It's me."
There was a long pause, then, "Come in."
Akane slid the door open, then closed it behind her. Ranko was lying face down on the bed, her face in her pillow. She hadn't even changed out of her uniform.
Akane went over to sit next to her. "Do you want to talk about what happened?"
Ranko stiffened, then relaxed a bit. She spoke, her voice muffled by the pillow. "I… I freaked out."
"His parents liked me."
Akane blinked. "Is that a problem?"
Ranko rolled over on her back; there were tears in her eyes, and it was clear they were not the first to be shed tonight by far. "Yes, it was a problem. They were just delighted with me. They made it very clear they were looking forward to having me as a daughter-in-law. They treated me like a member of the family. His mom told me to call her 'Mother.'" She scrunched her face up in pain, and the tears flowed more freely. "I… I couldn't take it, and… and I hurt him! I knew this was going to happen!"
"You hurt him?"
Ranko nodded. "I… I told him I wanted to take a break. That maybe we should date other people. He… he got this look on his face, this awful look. I felt like I was stabbing him in the back… He was so hurt…" She started to sob, and Akane pulled her upright and into an embrace.
After a minute, Ranko calmed down a little. "He… he said something stupid, because he was upset. It hurt, and I ran away, but… but it didn't hurt nearly as much as it did to hurt him."
She hugged herself and leaned forward, sitting on the edge of the bed, staring at the floor. "I've been dreading this since we started dating. Hurting him."
"Do you know what you want to do?"
"I… I think I do need a break, to… to think. Maybe… maybe I should just break it off here. If we got back together, and I hurt him again, I… I don't think I could bear it." She started to sniffle again. "But… but I… Oh, Kami-sama, I hope he's all right. I wonder what he's doing right now?"
Akane stared at Ranko for a long moment, then sighed. "Tomorrow at school may be rough. I have play practice into the evening, so I can't be here to help. You come home and talk to Kasumi if you need to, you hear me? Don't go off and cry by yourself. And your mom is coming for dinner; she should be able to help too." She took Ranko by the shoulders and shook her a little. "Don't try to keep this all inside and bear it all yourself, like you did as Ranma. You don't have to any more. You have a family who loves you."
Ranko nodded, her face still screwed up in pain.
"What are you going to do tonight?"
Ranko's eyes wandered over to her music stand and violin case. "I… I really ought to practice…"
"Maybe that will help get your mind off things. Besides, you want to wow them at the recital, right?" Ranko nodded again, and blew out her breath.
Akane stood and went to the door. "I'll come check up on you later." She went out and closed the door behind her.
She walked down the hall to her room, and went inside, pulling the door closed. She sat on the bed, put her head in her hands, and let out an enormous sigh. "Ranko no baka…"
She lifted her head as she heard Ranko begin to practice her recital piece. The playing seemed lifeless compared to what it had been the other evening when Ranko had played it for her family. After a minute or so, there was a mistake, and the playing stopped. It was a full minute before Ranko started playing again, and Akane pursed her lips in worry. Tuesday was not far off, and Ranko seemed to be going in the wrong direction…
The next day, Friday, Ranko moved through her school day like a robot. In class, she stared off into space, and was reprimanded for not paying attention. She didn't seem to hear when people spoke to her. By lunchtime, her friends were deeply concerned. As they were collecting their bentos, Sayuri turned to Ranko, who was still sitting at her desk. "Ranko-chan… aren't you coming?"
Ranko's eyes focused. "Huh? Oh… oh yeah. I'll be right there." She sat in the empty classroom for a minute, before she shook herself and headed off.
On the way to the cafeteria, she turned a corner and nearly collided with Ryouga, whose eyes widened in surprise. They stared at each other for a moment, and then, with a sad look on his face, he turned and walked away. She stared after the direction he had gone, and simply dissolved into tears; she had never felt such a black depression in all her life. She stood there, sobbing into her hands.
After a time, she collected herself and continued on to the table she usually shared with her friends. They watched as she sat there, staring at her bento without taking a bite. Akane had given them the gist of what had happened, but rather than try to cheer her up with empty platitudes, they thought it best to avoid the subject. What was there to say?
Shampoo tried to think of something to distract her friend. "Ranko, I'm really looking forward to hearing you play at the recital. Great-Grandmother and I enjoyed it when you played for us the other day."
Ranko looked up, and an abortive smile crossed her lips. "Thanks, Shampoo." She started staring off into space again. Her friends looked at each other.
Just then, Megumi walked up, looking as if she were about a foot off the ground. She was too preoccupied to notice the funereal air at the table. "Guys, you will never guess what just happened!" she bubbled. "Matsumoto-kun finally asked me out for tonight, Christmas Eve!" She sighed. "He's taking me to a fancy restaurant downtown! He's been planning it for weeks… I thought the baka had forgotten about it, but he said he wanted it to be a surprise. It'll be so romantic! I…" She trailed off, as she noticed the tears running down Ranko's face. Uh oh…
"Ummmm… but… enough about me." She sat down without another word.
Her friends watched as Ranko buried her face in her folded arms, her shoulders shaking slightly. Akane gently rubbed her back and whispered soothing words. Ranko never did eat her lunch.
Kasumi heard the front door open and close quickly, and waited for a call of "Tadaima!" which never came. She was just popping her head out the kitchen door to see who had come in when she caught sight of a flash of red hair streaking up the stairs, accompanied by the pounding of petite feet. A door opened and was slammed shut.
She sighed, and had turned to go back in the kitchen, when her ears caught the faint sound of sobs drifting down the stairs. She bit her lip; she was in the middle of making dinner. Her indecision lasted only a moment, however, and after turning off the stove, covering her pots and pans, and putting her ingredients back in the refrigerator, she headed upstairs.
She knocked on her little sister's door. "Ranko?" The crying abated, but there was no other response. Emboldened, Kasumi entered.
Ranko was once again face down on the bed. Kasumi went over, sat down, and took Ranko's hand. She gave it a tug.
"What?" came the muffled voice.
"Don't cry up here by yourself. I want you to come downstairs with me. I'll make us some tea, and then you can tell me all about it, OK?"
Ranko turned over and slowly sat up. "O-OK…"
Kasumi put an arm around her, and squeezed. "Come on, imouto-chan."
Ranko nodded shakily, and they both stood. "Oneechan?"
"Why don't you call me 'Ranko-chan' any more?"
Kasumi smiled a merry smile. "Now, why would I call you that? I don't call Akane 'Akane-chan', do I? That's not the way you speak to a member of your family."
Ranko felt the weight in her heart lessen, just a little bit. A tiny smile appeared on her face. "No, I guess not…" Kasumi grinned, and squeezed her again.
A few minutes later, they sat facing each other at the table. Ranko was sipping a cup of tea, and reflecting on how Kasumi's calm, cheerful demeanor and sympathetic nature could make any problem seem smaller.
With a little encouragement from her big sister, Ranko related what had happened. Kasumi listened, nodding and sipping on her tea from time to time. "So you feel like you need a break because it's too overwhelming, but you also feel like you're hurting him."
Ranko nodded. "He… he looked so hurt when I told him… and today, at school, he didn't even want to talk to me! He… he turned away when he saw me…" Tears were running down her cheeks again.
Kasumi regarded the redhead speculatively, and took another sip of tea, while Ranko reached over to a box of tissues and took one, dabbing at her eyes with it. "What exactly is it that you're afraid of? What is it that's so overwhelming to you?"
Ranko's mouth became a thin line. "He's the first boy I ever dated. We… we have a rocky history. I… I mean, am I just dating him because he's the first guy who asked me out? What if we shouldn't get married?"
Kasumi shook her head. "No one is saying you have to get married, even if people have that expectation."
"But… his parents… my friends…"
Kasumi smiled, but was there a tinge of… sadness? "Ranko, people want a happy ending, the traditional ending. They look at you two together, and of course they jump to that conclusion. But if things don't work out between the two of you, no one will think the worse of you for it. That kind of thing happens all the time. Relationships get broken off because they don't work out. It's part of life." She added softly, "Sometimes… they don't even get started."
She took another sip of tea, and looked unusually serious. "Besides, he's not the first boy who has asked you out, is he?"
Ranko nodded, surprised. "You're… you're right."
"Did you worry about how hurt Hirota-kun would be when you turned him down? Or that boy who asked you when you were at the beach?"
"So why are you so worried about Ryouga-kun being hurt? Why is having hurt him upsetting you so much?" Kasumi tilted her head in inquiry.
Ranko didn't have an answer, and sat there for a while, lost in thought.
Kasumi studied the embarrassed girl. She upended her teacup to finish it, and leaned forward slightly. "Ranko, dear, waiting for the other shoe to drop can be a trap. You put part of your life on hold, waiting for certainty… and waiting. Sometimes, certainty doesn't come, and opportunity has slipped by you." She sighed. "And putting your life on hold is a sad thing; you're only young once. Believe me, I know."
Ranko was shocked. "O-oneechan?"
Kasumi smiled. "Please, don't mention this to Nabiki or Akane; I wouldn't want them to feel any more guilty than they already do. I chose to follow this path with my eyes wide open, and I have no regrets. My family needed someone, I was the eldest, and I knew Mother would rest easier. And in another couple of years, I can get back to my own life."
Her expression sobered. "But dear, you don't have my problem. You don't have an obligation holding you back, only your own doubts and uncertainties. Don't wait for them to go away on their own.
"You have to find out how you feel about Ryouga-kun. If you love him, then don't worry about where it will end up. If you do marry him eventually, what does it matter that there might be another man—or a hundred or a thousand—whom you also could have loved and married, as long as you do love Ryouga-kun?" She poured herself another cup of tea, while Ranko sat there, deep in thought. Kasumi waited patiently for her, taking a sip from time to time.
"You know… Oneechan… I… I know I'm scared of the idea of getting married, especially to the first guy I date… it's such a huge commitment… but… but I also like the idea. I… I want to have a family…" she trailed off. "I had a dream about being a bride while I was sleeping at Ryouga's house yesterday. It… it started off nice, but it turned into a nightmare…"
Kasumi reached over and patted Ranko's hand. "You've got a weekend coming up. Try to take it easy. Practice for your recital, and think things over."
"But Ryouga… I hurt him…"
"Ranko, if Ryouga-kun truly loves you, a couple of days is not going to shake that. A love that can last through a lifetime of marriage can survive a couple of days after a fight." Kasumi blushed. "But you're right, too. It would be unkind to make him wait too long for an answer if he cares for you that much."
Ranko nodded, and smiled gratefully at Kasumi. "Thank you, Oneechan. Talking with you helped. It always does." She seemed struck by a thought. "You know, I used to think I was unlucky because my parents are estranged, because I didn't see my mother for so long. When I was at Ryouga's house, I was jealous that his family is together again." She blushed. "But I just realized, I've got something not many people have: I have two families. I still have my mother and my father, but I've also got three wonderful sisters in my other family." She beamed. "In some ways, I'm pretty lucky after all."
Kasumi smiled and nodded, her eyes suddenly a little wet, and squeezed Ranko's hand.
Ranko lowered her bow and sighed. She wasn't making horrible mistakes like she had the night of her fight with Ryouga, but the piece was not holding together like it had before. There was just something missing, and she couldn't figure out what it was. This had been going on since her talk with Kasumi yesterday.
Her mother, who had come for dinner the night before and stayed for the weekend, picked up on her mood. "What is it, dear?"
Ranko shook her head. "I… I'm missing something. It's just not perfect the way it was before. It's OK, but… but just OK. I… I guess I'm still distracted about Ryouga…"
Nodoka eyed her daughter carefully. "What are your thoughts about that?"
Ranko pursed her lips. "I… I guess I'm still scared of how fast things have been going. Suppose… suppose we're not right for each other? Suppose it's a mistake?"
Nodoka sighed. "There's no way to know that in advance, dear. You have to try it to see if it works. Have you?"
Ranko realized she was not going to get anywhere on her violin at the moment, and laid it down so she could join her mother on the sofa. "Well, yes… but every time marriage rears its head, I… I get spooked."
Nodoka shook her head. "Kasumi-chan, Ryouga-kun, and I have all told you that you don't have to make that decision now."
"I know… but…"
Nodoka waited, and Ranko eventually continued. "But somehow, I just feel like it is an issue. Like I am making that decision."
"Dear, you don't need to worry about it until you and he actually get ready to make a commitment. Why worry about it now?"
Ranko frowned. Why was she worrying about this so much now? "I… I guess you're right, Mother. I mean, I could wind up marrying someone else entirely…" she trailed off.
Nodoka looked at her curiously. "Is something wrong, dear?"
Ranko looked terribly confused. "Just now… when I thought about marrying someone else… I…" Why had the idea bothered her so much? It had bothered her the day before, too, when Kasumi had mentioned it. The very idea filled her with dread. But she didn't know for certain that she was going to marry Ryouga, did she, so why…? She tried to imagine marrying someone else, someone who she would know with certainty she loved deeply. All she felt was an awful emptiness in her heart. If I did that, if I was with someone else, I… I…
I wouldn't be with him. Suddenly her heart just about stopped.
Ryouga, who didn't cry out "You've made my life hell!", but instead called her his angel. Ryouga, whose face had lit up like a little boy's when he got his GPS receiver. Ryouga, who said he couldn't imagine a better way to spend his life than sharing it with her. Ryouga, who had made Miki laugh when everyone else had failed. Ryouga, who had been willing to spend a whole evening as a girl, just so he could be near her. Ryouga, in whom anger and depression had given way to love and caring. Ryouga, with his endearing fang-toothed grin. Ryouga, whose mere touch was enough to make her feel safe, like all was right with the world, whose embrace touched her deeply, whose strong arms had held her as they flew over rooftops…
Ryouga, without whom, she had just realized, she could not imagine spending her life. Suddenly, she knew why staying with Ryouga felt to her like a commitment to get married. Why staying with him felt like they already were married.
She became aware of her surroundings again. "Mother… I… I have to go somewhere."
Nodoka nodded. "If you say so, dear. Call if you're going to be late for dinner."
Ranko nodded and hurried from the room, not noticing as her mother's face broke into an affectionate smile behind her.
Ryouga finished letting out his breath and regarded the shattered cinder block fragments lying on the ground in his family's tiny garden. His gaze shifted to the remains of the dozen or so he'd destroyed already.
He'd considered using the Bakusai Tenketsu, but he didn't want to risk breaking a window with the explosion, and… and… damn it, it was too easy! He wanted to break something, and feel it break, not hit it with a finger and watch it explode.
He sighed. First I turn into Kunou, and now I'm turning into Akane-san…
He was getting another cinder block ready to destroy when his instincts kicked in. He backed up into his ready stance as a shadow flitted across him: the shadow of an intruder leaping down from above.
His eyes bugged out, and he eased his stance; it was Ranko. Or was it Ranma-chan? She was wearing her Chinese clothes, an outfit he hadn't seen since she had become Ranko again. He looked more closely and relaxed; it was Ranko after all. Ranma-chan wouldn't have been caught dead with her hair styled and cute little G-clef studs in her ears.
She was breathing heavily, as if from great exertion. "What's with the outfit?"
She tried to catch her breath. "I… I wanted to… get here in a hurry… and… and I didn't have… any other clothes that were… good for running… over rooftops." She paused a moment, still panting. "I guess I'm not… in as good shape as I used to be."
"Why were you in such a hurry?"
"I… I had to come here and tell you something."
Ryouga's heart sank. Here it comes… "Yeah? What did you need to hurry to tell me?"
She didn't answer, but just examined him critically for a while. He was starting to feel terribly uneasy when suddenly she darted forward and slammed into him, pinning him against the wall of the house. She was no longer even close to fast enough to catch him unawares in combat, but his guard had been down. Wh-what's going on? Is she attacking me?
But she wasn't attacking him. She was just holding him pinned against the wall, her face buried in his chest. Ryouga couldn't figure out what was going on. Finally, just as he noticed that she was trembling, a small, frightened, slightly muffled voice came out. "Ryouga… I… I… I l-love you."
No… she couldn't have just said… "Wh-what?"
"I… I love you, Ryouga. I don't want to date anyone else, because I love you. I know you're probably still mad at me for… for suggesting it, but… urk!" She was cut off by having the breath literally squeezed out of her. This was no gentle embrace; this was a death grip. I… can't… breathe…
Luckily, the pneumatic press only lasted a moment; it rapidly faded into Ryouga's gentle embrace. She sighed and pressed a little closer. They stayed that way for a minute, until Ranko was startled by the sounds of quiet sniffling.
She loosened her embrace and looked up; tears were running down Ryouga's cheeks. "What's wrong?"
He shook his head. "I… I thought I'd lost you. It's something I've been afraid of since I knew I loved you. I was afraid you wouldn't want to date me at all, and once you agreed to, I was afraid you wouldn't love me and would break it off." He took a deep breath. "You know how I told you I'd be happy having fallen in love with you, even if you didn't choose me?" Ranko nodded. "I lied. Not just to you, but to myself."
He drew her into his embrace again, and his voice was heavy. "I love you, too, Ranko. Th-thank you." They didn't say anything for a while.
Finally, her voice drifted up from his chest again, forlorn. "I'm sorry I hurt you. I'm sorry I made you mad. I… it's been driving me crazy the last two days. I'm so sorry."
He shook his head and rubbed her back as he held her. "I wasn't mad. What made you think that? Depressed, yes, but not mad."
She looked up in surprise. "But… at school yesterday…"
"I wasn't mad. You said you needed a break, some time off. I thought it was upsetting you to see me. I… I could never hurt you."
"Ryouga no baka," she said softly, and snuggled back into his chest.
"What made you realize you loved me?"
She looked up again. "I realized why staying with you felt like such a commitment. It wasn't because other people were forcing me into it. They were just making me think about it. It… it was because I already was committed, in my heart. Like you said, I couldn't imagine loving anyone else; I couldn't imagine living my life with anyone else. I tried, and… and I just couldn't.
"I… I realized that I felt like we were already married because… because…" she smiled tremulously, "in the most important way, we… we are." She put a hand gently over the center of his chest. "We're… we're married here. A ceremony doesn't tie us together. Our hearts do."
A broad, joyful smile spread over his face. He nodded, and cupped her cheek with his hand. He tilted his head down, and she tilted hers up, and as their eyes closed their lips came together. Ranko felt a swirl of emotions, but she had a name for it now: it was love, her love for Ryouga. She gave her love to him, and he gave her his love in return, and it tied them together. They shared that feeling as they kissed.
After a while, they separated, and just looked into each other's eyes.
"I'm sorry we missed Christmas Eve…"
She shook her head. "It's OK." Suddenly a mischievous look appeared in her eye. "I've got an idea. I want you to take me somewhere."
He nodded. "Name it. Where?"
She grinned. "It doesn't matter. I want you to do it with your GPS receiver turned off. Let's get lost together for a while." He grinned, too.
"Just bring him back by tonight, dear."
They both shrieked and jumped, and suddenly they were five feet apart and turning bright red.
"Mom! Dad! How long have you been standing there watching?"
Ryouga's father snorted. "Ever since the house shook when she slammed you into the wall, Son. It kinda grabbed our attention."
"Oh…" said Ranko in a small voice.
Ryouga grinned, and took her by the hand. "Come on, Ranma-chan." She pouted at the name. "I like your idea."
She followed him into the house, and he grabbed his coat and borrowed one of his mother's for her. They headed for the door.
"Children, will you be back for dinner?"
Ranko turned back to Aneha and smiled. "Yes, we will, Mother."
Ryouga held his head in his hands, his elbows on his desk and his fingers gripping his unruly black hair. He stared at the equations in his math textbook for the hundredth time. I'm never going to get this… Kami-sama, making up for a couple of lost years is hard…
He didn't notice that the music had stopped until he felt two slim arms wrap around his neck and a chin on his shoulder; her hair tickled his ear.
"What are you working on now?" Ranko asked as she hugged him from behind, peering at his textbook. "Trigonometry? Hmmm."
He took a brief moment to savor her embrace. "Yeah. Still struggling with it."
"It took me a while to get that, too."
He turned his head and they shared a quick kiss. "How about you? Done practicing?"
She let go and straightened up, and he swiveled his desk chair around to face her. She shook her head. "No, I just wanted to take a break, and see what you were doing." She smiled.
Ryouga smiled, too. This was about the tenth time in the last two hours that she had stopped practicing to see what he was doing. Not to mention the couple of times he had looked around and found her just watching him quietly, her chin propped up on her palms and a dreamy smile on her face.
He had loved her for so long in the face of her uncertainty and nervousness about her own feelings that having her show her love so unambiguously was exhilarating. He felt practically intoxicated. They were both having a little trouble focusing on what they were supposed to be doing.
"Are you going to be OK for your recital? It's the day after tomorrow."
She stuck her tongue out. "Slave driver." She smiled. "I think I'll be OK. Tell me what you think." She walked back over to his bed and picked up her violin and bow, closed her eyes for a long moment, then began to play.
He watched her, mesmerized. He knew she had years of training ahead of her, but at that moment she seemed ready to walk on stage right then and there. There was something about her playing that he couldn't put his finger on, but which clearly spoke of great things to come.
When she was done, he swallowed. "It… it sounded perfect to me."
She laughed. "Not quite yet. But I'm getting there." She blushed. "It's more than good enough for the recital already. What I'm doing right now is just for me, and… and for Kobayakawa-sensei and Murata-sensei. I want to see just how good I can make it."
He smiled. "You're working really hard. Have you decided to be a violinist?"
"I… I think so. There's one more thing I need to know." He looked at her quizzically. "I want to see how I feel trying to play this standing in front of eight hundred people." He turned a little pale, and nodded.
There was a knock at the door, and Aneha's voice. "Ranko-chan? There's a phone call for you. It's your mother."
Ranko put her violin down and hurried over to the door. She opened it, and Ryouga's mother was on the other side, holding a cordless phone. The older woman handed it to her with a smile. "Thank you, Mother." Ranko closed the door.
"Hello, Mother?… Oh, she did?… All right, I'll call her back… Yes… yes, we will. Bye."
Ranko hung up. "Kobuchizawa Noriko called. Oh, and Mother wanted to double-check that we would be at the Tendous for dinner tonight." Ryouga nodded.
She dialed a number, and waited. "Hello… it's Saotome Ranko… I'm fine, thank you, how are you?… She did?" Ranko smiled. She listened for a while, then her face fell. "Oh, Noriko-san, I'm so sorry. I would love to, but I have to practice for my recital Tuesday night… Yes… yes, after the recital is fine… When? The talent show starts at 7:30, but I don't know yet when my part will be… Yes, it's going to be long, there are lots of students participating… Yes, I think it would be too late for Miki-chan… Really? I'd be so happy if you could… I know… Yes, I'll come by after Tuesday… OK… I hope so… Goodbye."
She hung up and turned to Ryouga, who was trying to puzzle out what was going on. "She wanted to know if I could come over and play with Miki today. It seems Miki saw a picture of a redhead in one of Noriko's fashion magazines and got all excited." She giggled. "She said she's going to try to make it to my recital by herself, if her husband can make it home from work on time Tuesday night and take care of Miki."
Her face turned thoughtful. "I think everyone I know is going to be there…"
Ryouga got up and walked over to her, and wrapped his arms around her from behind. "Nervous?"
She sighed and leaned against him, and turned her face up to smile at him. "Right now, with you holding me? Impossible." He grinned.
Her smile turned sheepish. "We'll see how I feel when I'm standing up there on stage…"
Murata-sensei slowly plowed through the crowd collected outside the Fuurinkan auditorium, making his way towards the doors. It was going to be a long night, and the students and parents were waiting as long as possible before taking their seats. Murata-sensei wanted to get a good seat so that he could get some sense of how Ranko-chan was holding up during her performance. If that meant sitting through an evening of student talent productions, so be it.
He finally made it to the doors, and surveyed the auditorium. There! Eight rows back, a single seat. He started making his way down the aisle.
He was just passing row 15 when he heard a voice. "Sensei!" He stopped, and swiveled his head about in an attempt to track down whoever had called out to him—assuming it wasn't another teacher who had been the target.
His eyes stopped on a man waving from about ten seats in, and his face lit up in a grin. "Sada-san!" Sada-san pointed at an empty seat next to him.
Murata-sensei took a brief look at the stage; this was close enough. He started working his way past the people who were already seated, earning looks of resigned irritation. The whole time, he had a somewhat manic grin on his face, which served to irritate the people even more.
He was grinning because Sada-san was a music critic for the Asahi newspapers. A somewhat stuffy music critic. Tonight was definitely going to be fun.
He slid into the seat next to Sada-san and his wife, whom he had met once at a party. "Good evening, Sada-san, Ma'am." he nodded to the two of them. "What are you doing here?"
Sada-san looked him over carefully. "I could ask the same of you."
Murata-sensei grinned. "I asked first."
Sada-san rolled his eyes. Murata-sensei could be a little trying at times. "Our eldest son attends this school, and he's in the show tonight." He waved his hands. "Normally I wouldn't come to something like this, but…" his wife glared at him, "ummm, of course I wanted to see our boy on stage." His wife seemed mollified. Murata-sensei got the distinct impression that attending had been a subject of somewhat emotional debate.
"What will your son be doing?"
Sada-san shifted uncomfortably in the metal auditorium seat, and his wife glared at him again. "He and some of his friends have a… a rock band." Murata-sensei nodded sagely. Things were becoming clearer.
"How about you, Sensei? You don't live in this area, do you? Do you have a child attending here?"
The professor shook his head. "I live close to the University. I'm here to watch a student perform."
You could almost hear the little beep… beep… beep as Sada-san's radar locked on. "Oh? A student?"
Murata-sensei grinned. "Yes. She's a student of one my own students, who teaches here."
"What instrument does she play?"
"Is she good?"
Murata-sensei studied his fingernails. "I think so."
Sada-san sat up a little straighter. "How long has she been studying?"
"About three and a half months."
Click. The radar turned off and retracted. Sada-san relaxed into his seat again. "Oh, a beginner, and high school age at that." He laughed. "You had me going there for a moment." He shook his head. "I have to say, Sensei, I'm surprised you would attend something like this for a beginning student." He turned back to face the stage.
Murata-sensei shrugged elaborately. "Oh, I don't know. I think she has some potential. Let me know what you think after you hear her."
"Mmm." Sada-san stifled a yawn.
Murata-sensei tried hard not to laugh.
Kobayakawa-sensei sighed and looked at her watch again. "Where is that girl?"
Hiroshi and Sayuri fidgeted nervously. Sayuri spoke up diffidently. "I'm sure she'll be here, Sensei. There's still a few minutes until the show starts, and we're not on for a while, right?"
Kobayakawa-sensei tried to relax. "You're right, Sayuri-chan, of course. I guess I'm just nervous." She turned away from the stage door to her two pupils, who were dressed smartly in rented gown and tuxedo. "How about you two? How are you feeling?"
Sayuri and Hiroshi looked at each other. Hiroshi shrugged. "I have low expectations, so I know I won't be disappointed."
Sensei chided him, "Hiroshi-kun!"
He chuckled. "Sorry, just kidding. I'm doing OK, I guess. I think I'm ready."
Sayuri nodded. "Me too, Sensei."
Kobayakawa-sensei opened her mouth to respond, but the stage door opened, and she swung about to look. Ranko was coming in with her mother. The older woman was carrying a garment bag, while Ranko carried her violin. Akane, already in costume as Juliet and standing with the other members of the drama club, excused herself and came over.
"Ranko-chan! Where have you been?" asked Sensei.
"At the salon."
Sensei looked a little closer. "Oh, you got your hair done!" Ranko's hair had been styled very nicely. Her red hair practically shone as it flowed over her shoulders, and it had been given a slight wave that made it seem fuller and more luxurious.
Ranko nodded, blushing. "It was Mother's idea. I'm sorry, it took longer than we thought."
Sensei laughed. "Doesn't it always?"
Akane added, "Your hair looks great, Sis!"
Nodoka inclined her head. "I'm sorry for the delay, Sensei."
Sensei shook her head. "It's all right. Do hurry up and get dressed, though, OK?" Ranko nodded, and she and her mother headed for the dressing rooms.
A few minutes later, Kimura-sensei, who had been pressed into service as the show director, came over to talk to Kobayakawa-sensei. "Sensei, you wanted to speak to me?"
Kobayakawa-sensei nodded. "I know you have us near the middle now, but I think it would be best if we were the last act."
Kimura-sensei looked surprised. "Usually people ask to be moved up, but if that's the way you want it, then there's certainly no problem. You're sure?" Kobayakawa-sensei nodded. "All right." Kimura-sensei made some scribbles on her clipboard. "Do you need more time to practice?"
"Errr… something like that, yes." Sayuri and Hiroshi looked at each other and grinned, and Akane smiled quietly.
Kimura-sensei nodded, and hurried off to deal with her next crisis.
Just then, the door to the dressing room opened, and Hiroshi's jaw dropped. Ranko was wearing a simple but elegant dark green formal gown that was nothing short of stunning on her. She was also wearing the green jade earrings Sayuri had given her, and they both offset the beautiful color of her hair. She was wearing just a trace of makeup.
She looked ready for a social function at the Imperial Palace. Or a photo shoot. Heads turned everywhere among the students waiting for their turn on stage. There were a couple of wolf-whistles, causing Ranko's cheeks to turn red.
Sensei beamed. "Ranko-chan, that gown looks absolutely wonderful on you."
The redhead smiled and said "Thank you, Sensei," while Nodoka and Akane glowed with quiet pride.
Sayuri nodded. "It must have cost you a fortune, Ranko-chan!"
Ranko and Akane looked at each other and laughed. "The only thing it cost me was my dignity." Sayuri looked at her curiously. "I was trying it on, just window shopping, really, and the saleslady dumped a cup of tea all over me. The store owner insisted on giving it to me." She shook her head. "I never dreamed I'd actually find an occasion to wear it."
Hiroshi was still standing there with his mouth open. Sayuri bopped him on the head. "You can reel in your tongue now!" Everyone laughed.
Hiroshi moaned and put his head in his hands. "Why didn't I ask her on a date when I had the chance?" Ranko smiled, but lowered her eyes.
Sayuri bopped him on the head again. "Behave yourself! You're embarrassing her."
Sensei was grinning at the shenanigans; it would help the students relax. "Hiroshi-kun, where's your clarinet?"
He looked around. "Ummm… I just put it down somewhere around here… Oh, over there." He walked over to a chair by the side of the wings, and picked it up, waving it like a baton. "Here."
Suddenly the lights on the stage went up, and Ranko clutched her violin a little tighter. "I guess we're finally getting started. Sensei, when are we on?"
Sensei smiled at her. "Our recital will be the last part of the program, Ranko-chan. Don't be nervous, I'm sure you'll do fine." The redhead nodded uncertainly.
Ranko looked around. "I wonder where Ryouga is? He said he'd meet me backstage before the show started."
Akane nodded. "He's usually pretty prompt these days."
At that moment, Hibiki Ryouga was engaged in an uncomfortably familiar activity: looking around and trying to figure out where he was. His GPS receiver had been silent for an awfully long time, this farm didn't look much like someplace in Tokyo, and he should have been at Fuurinkan by now. He pulled the unit out of his pocket to look at it. The display was blank.
"What the…?" He experimentally tried pushing a few buttons. Nothing. Finally, he tried pushing the power button again. The unit came on, and the display flickered briefly with the words "low battery," then went out again.
A particularly bad rock band had just finished their act, when Ranko glanced nervously at the clock on the wall. There was still a good hour to go before the recital portion of the program, but she was starting to get nervous. Ryouga was quite late. Where could he be?
Kimura-sensei spoke from a microphone at center stage. "Everyone, next will be the Fuurinkan High School drama club, performing Act I, Scene V from 'Romeo and Juliet' by William Shakespeare." There was polite applause.
"That's us!" said Akane. "Wish me luck, Sis."
Ranko hugged her sister and beamed. "You'll be great, I'm sure."
Akane held up two crossed fingers, and Ranko laughed. Akane went off to join the other actors who were waiting to go on stage.
Ranko scanned the throng of students in costume, wondering who was going to be Romeo. Ah, that looked like him… oh, her, that's right, they had decided Romeo would be played by a girl, to avoid the problems from the last attempt. The girl looked awfully familiar…
Suddenly, her jaw dropped. The girl wearing the Romeo costume… was Shampoo! Her hair was tied up tight in a bun. She and the other guests at the ball in this scene filed out and took their places, while the "Capulets," Akane included, waited for their cue.
The scene began, as one of the students, a servant, spoke: "Where's Potpan, that he helps not to take away?" Ranko watched, entranced. Shampoo, acting Shakespeare? The scene soon reached the encounter between Romeo and Juliet.
"Saints do not move, though grant for prayers' sake." said Juliet.
"Then move not, while my prayer's effect I take." answered Romeo, and they kissed.
Ranko had to admit this was going a lot better than the last time, and, Amazon warrior or not, Shampoo was doing a very credible Romeo. Her diction was flawless, and she wasn't a bad actress, either. The audience seemed to agree; there was an air of careful attention that hung over them as the scene progressed.
And Akane… Akane was finally doing something she had wanted to do for years: play Juliet. It might be only one scene, it might mean kissing Shampoo, but it was going very well, with no crazy disruptions. Akane glided gracefully around the stage and effortlessly through her lines. Ranko smiled for her sister.
Ryouga looked down the main street of the small village. There! A general store. They should have batteries.
An older man was just locking up when Ryouga walked up. A woman who looked to be his wife was washing down the sidewalk. "Excuse me, sir, I need to buy some batteries…"
The man turned around. "Sorry, son. I just closed."
Ryouga's voice took on a pleading tone. "Please, I need batteries for my GPS receiver. I'm lost, and I need it to get to my girlfriend's violin recital. I'm late already."
The man tsked and looked irritated. "Look, son, save the tall tales for someone else. I told you, I'm closed."
"It's not a tall tale!"
The man eyed him skeptically. "Yeah, right."
Just then, Ryouga was caught by a stray splash from the hose the man's wife was using. She hurried over. "Oh, I'm so sorry…" her voice trailed off.
The couple's eyes bugged out as the young man they were talking to grew half a head shorter and somewhat more curvaceous.
Ryouga batted her eyelashes. "Please, sir?" she asked, using female speech in the cutest voice she could muster. "I would be ever so grateful!"
The couple stared at her for a moment. The man swallowed. "What size d'ya need?"
Well, what do you know, it does work, Ryouga thought. She smiled prettily. "Thank you so much! I need triple-A's. And do you have any hot water?"
Ranko watched nervously as Kimura-sensei announced, "And finally, as our last portion of tonight's program, three students from Kobayakawa-sensei's music class will be performing in recital. Kobayakawa-sensei?" Ranko's teacher walked on stage, and took the microphone.
"Good evening, everyone. First will be Kobayashi Sayuri on the piano, playing 'Fur Elise' by Ludwig van Beethoven."
Sayuri flashed a nervous smile at Ranko, who whispered "Ganbatte, ne…" Sayuri nodded and walked out on stage.
She bowed, and was just sitting down at the piano when the stage door opened, and Ryouga rushed in. He hurried over to where Ranko was standing.
She turned to face him. "There you are! You're just barely in time! What happened?"
He held up his GPS receiver. "Batteries died." He grinned sheepishly. She giggled, and some of her tension left her.
He did a double-take as he looked her over more carefully. "Wow. You look incredible." He put his hands on her shoulders. "You're so beautiful…" And I'm so lucky…
Suddenly her impending performance seemed far, far away. The feel of Ryouga's hands on her bare shoulders was doing things to her, and she looked up into his eyes with a tremulous smile. They just stood there for a while, looking at each other.
The sound of Sayuri's piano playing caught their attention, and they turned to watch. Akane emerged from the dressing rooms and joined them. She had removed her makeup and costume and was back in street clothes.
Ranko whispered "You were great, Sis!" They hugged briefly, then turned back to watch Sayuri play.
She soon finished, to a round of enthusiastic applause, and came back into the wings as Hiroshi was announced.
Sayuri found herself being embraced from either side, and gladly returned it. "That was beautiful, Sayuri-chan!" whispered Akane. Ranko nodded enthusiastically.
Sayuri was grinning; she was pleased she had been able to keep her cool, and hadn't made any serious mistakes. "Thanks, guys." Even though I know everyone is going to forget about my performance in about five minutes…
As Hiroshi played his clarinet, Ranko started to fidget nervously. Ryouga put an arm around her. "Hey. You can do it."
Akane nodded. "Think about everything you've done, all your talents, all the battles you've fought. You fought Cologne, who's over a century older than you, and held your own. You learned this piece in less than two months. You can do it. It's just like a battle: you have to keep your control, stay focused. I know you have that control." She took Ranko's hand and squeezed it. "Remember, self-confidence, not arrogance." Ranko nodded slowly.
Ryouga leaned down and whispered in her ear. "Anyone who could kick my ass in a fight like you could can walk out on that stage and play in front of that crowd. Remember, Saotome Ranko doesn't lose." She grinned, and looked back up at him in gratitude. As Hiroshi took his bow, they shared a quick kiss.
Meanwhile, Sada-san shifted in his seat yet again. It seemed he was finally going to hear this beginning violin student—if he could stay awake.
Kobayakawa-sensei cleared her throat. "And now, our last student,"—there was a smattering of cheers from some of the students in the audience, quickly hushed by a disapproving murmur around them—"As I was saying, our last student, Saotome Ranko, will play the Gavotte en Rondeau of the Bach Partita for Solo Violin in E Major." Ranko gathered her violin and her courage, and started to walk out onto the stage. She passed Hiroshi on the way, and he winked and gave her a thumbs up. She smiled and winked back.
Sada-san suddenly sat up straight in his chair. "She's going to play what?" He turned to Murata-sensei. "You said she's only been studying the violin for three and a half months, didn't you?"
Murata-sensei grinned. "I did say that, yes."
Sada-san was about to start interrogating him in earnest when a hush fell over the room, and he turned his eyes to the stage. A stunning young red-headed woman in a beautiful gown was walking gracefully to the center. All eyes followed her in rapt attention; there was something about her that telegraphed that she belonged someplace other than a high school talent show. She reached the center, turned to face the audience, and bowed deeply.
Sada-san was sitting straight up in his seat, and the hairs on the back of his neck stood up. He didn't know if she could play worth a damn, but she sure had stage presence.
In the wings, Ryouga felt an eerie sense of deja vu; this was preternaturally parallel to the scene he had imagined for her New York debut. He could almost hear his nonexistent daughter sighing "Mommy is so pretty, isn't she, Daddy?" He nodded and whispered "She sure is…", and Akane, standing next to him, wondered why.
Ranko looked out over the sea of people. She wrenched her attention away from their expectant faces, and closed her eyes. Slowly, using a dozen years of training, she found her center, and her calm. When she was at peace, her music was there waiting for her; she raised her violin to her chin, and began.
With the first few notes, the room descended from a hush into total silence; everyone was focused on the girl, her violin, and the music she was playing. They watched her arms fly and her body sway, they watched her emotions play across her face, but most of all they listened. There were a few present who could tell just how talented Ranko was, but everyone in the room knew something special was happening.
Sada-san sat on the edge of his seat, electrified, the torpor of a few moments earlier completely forgotten. His jaw hung slightly open. Murata-sensei wished briefly that he could see the expression on Sada-san's face, then turned his full attention back to Ranko's performance.
While everyone's attention was focused on her, Ranko had no thought for anything but her music. This music was so beautiful… and she, she had the ability to see that beauty and bring it forth: a profound gift. She was beyond merely getting the notes right; now, she was striving to bring the piece to life, to express her own emotions and those of the long-dead composer to the fullest, to make this performance as moving and as beautiful as it could possibly be.
When, after three minutes or so, she came to the end, she stood there, her bow still raised to her violin. Slowly, she came back to the world, and finally lowered her instrument.
Only then was she jolted back to full awareness, as a wave of applause swept the room like a sudden thunderstorm, crashing over her. Ranko stared in shock as row after row of people surged to their feet, clapping furiously. Cries of "Brava!" could be heard coming from here and there. Their faces were filled with joy and appreciation. She gazed in wonder over all of these people, who were applauding… her.
They… they heard it, too, she thought. They heard the beauty that I heard… They felt what I felt. A wonderful feeling started to spread throughout her. And… and I didn't even remember they were there… I wasn't nervous. As long as I love the music and see the beauty in it, having an audience won't bother me; it just makes it even better, because they can love it and see the beauty, too… The Art her father had taught her was a solitary art; this Art was an art she could share with everyone.
Ranko would always remember that moment, the moment she knew she was going to be a violinist.
Kobayakawa-sensei came up behind her and whispered in her ear. "You need to acknowledge the audience, dear." Ranko bowed, which sent the audience into even greater paroxysms of applause.
Yuka came up to the stage with a bouquet of flowers and a huge smile on her face. Ranko came to the edge of the stage and leaned down to accept it, tears in her eyes, grasping Yuka's hand and squeezing it for a few seconds. She stood up, holding her violin and bow in one hand and the bouquet cradled in the other arm, looking more than a little lost.
Again at Sensei's prodding, she left the stage, only to return at the audience's insistence for a curtain call, where she bowed again. After she left for the second time, the applause finally started to die down, and the audience started to move towards the exits, buzzing with excitement.
Sada-san turned to Murata-sensei. "Sensei… you… you have to introduce me to her!"
Murata-sensei was looking like the cat who ate the canary. "Oh, I don't know, Sada-san. She's just a beginner, after all. She's only been playing for three and a half months. Are you sure you want to meet her?"
Sada-san's wife started to snicker, and a sour look came over his face. "You enjoyed this, didn't you?"
Murata-sensei put his hand to his chest, all injured innocence. "Who, me? Would I do something like that?"
"Yes," replied Sada-san, crossly.
In the wings, Ranko was feeling slightly overwhelmed by the mob of well-wishers who had gathered around her. Not just the students who had already been there, but members of the audience who had come backstage to compliment her. Kobuchizawa Noriko had been among them, apologizing that she couldn't stay because she had to rush back home; her husband was having trouble getting Miki to sleep. Cologne and Shampoo had come and gone, the two girls trading compliments. Cologne had said nothing, but hadn't needed to; the look on her face was enough.
Ranko had had a few scant moments of congratulation with her friends and family before the crowd had started to grow. Still, at the moment, she was very, very happy. She had an arm each from Akane and her mother around her, with Ryouga smiling proudly at her and waiting his turn. As the crowd began to disperse, they were joined by her father, Souun, Kasumi, and Nabiki, followed shortly by Murata-sensei, and a man whom she didn't know. Ryouga had spotted his parents in the audience, but it was understandable that it was taking them a while to find their way backstage.
Kasumi was dabbing at her eyes with a handkerchief. "Ranko, that was so wonderful. I'm so happy for you." She sniffled. "You too, Akane. I'm so glad your dream finally came true the way you wanted it to." Akane nodded, all smiles.
Nabiki just stood there, smiling quietly. She seldom admitted it, but she was fiercely loyal to her family, and seeing them happy made her happy. And that was not the only reason she was smiling…
Ranko's eyes found her father's, and she bit her lip. He had a serious, enigmatic expression on his face. They regarded each other for a long moment.
Finally, he spoke. "Well, child? Have you decided which Art you will follow?"
Ranko paled, and looked down. She nodded her head. "Yes, Father. I want to be a violinist. I… I'm sorry…"
She felt his hand on her shoulder, and his other hand gently lifted her chin to look at him. She was shocked to find that he was smiling.
"Don't be sorry. You made me very proud tonight." His smile faded. "I'm only sad that I can no longer be the one to train you. I will have to leave that to others, now."
She wrapped her arms around him. "I'll never forget what you taught me, Father. I'll enjoy working with Kobayakawa-sensei, but I'll miss training with you."
Kobayakawa-sensei shook her head. "Ranko-chan, I'm afraid you won't be working with me much longer, either. Very soon, you'll reach the point where I won't have much left to teach you. I work with beginning students. You'll need to work with someone who can take you beyond that."
Ranko's eyes turned to Murata-sensei. "Sensei? I want to come study under you, but… but I want to finish high school, first. What should I do?"
Murata-sensei grinned. "I'm sure we can work something out. If you can manage to come to the University one afternoon a week, I can arrange instruction for you. It would be better if you could spend more time on it, but I think it's wise of you to finish high school."
Kobayakawa-sensei added, "I'll speak to the Fuurinkan administration about it, Ranko-chan. It shouldn't be a problem. I might even talk them into two afternoons a week."
Genma turned to Murata-sensei, and bowed formally and deeply. "In that case, Sensei, I entrust her to your hands. Please, train her well."
Murata-sensei's face became uncharacteristically serious, and he bowed as well. "I will, Sensei. You may rest easy." He straightened up. "Thank you for training her and bringing her to me. You should be very proud."
Ranko felt something she hadn't felt in a long time: pride in her father. It was a good feeling. She smiled up at him. "Yes, thank you, Father." He smiled back at her, and they embraced again. Souun was nodding and smiling.
Nodoka bit her lip and looked down, tears in her eyes, and thought, Genma, sometimes you remind me why I married you…
They released each other, and Ryouga sidled up. "My turn. I've waited long enough." He wrapped an arm around her, and she gladly leaned into him.
Sada-san nudged Murata-sensei. "Oh, that's right. Ranko-chan, there's someone I'd like to introduce to you. This is Sada Toshihiro."
Ranko extracted herself from Ryouga's embrace momentarily and bowed politely. "Pleased to meet you, Sada-san. My name is Saotome Ranko."
"Sada-san writes about music for the Asahi newspapers," added Murata-sensei. Ranko paled.
"It's a real pleasure to meet you, Saotome-san. I was here as a parent tonight, but I must say I feel very lucky that I got to hear you play. I'm looking forward to writing about you."
Ranko boggled. "But… but Sada-san… I… I mean, I'm just starting out…"
Sada-san laughed. "I don't mean now, Saotome-san. In a few years, when you start to perform professionally. I was glad to hear that you've decided to pursue the violin." He grinned. "Years from now, I'll be able to say I heard your first public performance." He shook his head. "I wish I had a recording of it."
There was the sound of someone's throat being cleared, and all eyes turned to Nabiki. "Actually, Sada-san… I'm Ranko's older sister, and I think I may be able to help."
Ranko blinked at Nabiki in curiosity. "Oneechan?"
Sada-san raised an eyebrow. "I see, Miss…?"
Sada-san looked confused. "Tendou? I thought you said you were her older sister?"
Ranko spoke up. "Well… our families are very close…"
Sada-san smiled. "I think I understand. So how can you help, Tendou-san?"
Nabiki smiled, reached into a pocket, and pulled out a cassette tape, which she held out to Sada-san. "10,000 yen, and it's yours."
Everyone in the family stared at her in shock. "O… Oneechan? Did… did you have a cassette recorder or something?"
Nabiki looked aghast. "A cassette recorder? Of course not! What do you take me for?" She shook her head and tsked. "I had the auditorium multi-miked, and I have all the tracks on reel-to-reel tape." She snorted. "A cassette recorder, indeed." She sighed. "I tried to get it recorded digitally, but I couldn't swing the equipment… And it would have been better in a studio…"
Ranko's head was spinning. "But Oneechan, why?"
"You're going to be attending Murata-sensei's university in a couple of years, and we're going to have to pay tuition. I thought I might be able to start saving up for it by selling tapes and discs of your performance to the people who attended tonight, and maybe to others through word of mouth. You have to admit it's better than selling photos of you and Akane." Ranko couldn't disagree with that.
Sada-san was eyeing the cassette tape. "And why should I pay 10,000 yen for three minutes of music? That's outrageous!"
Nabiki smiled. "Because it's the first copy of Saotome Ranko's first recording. It might be worth something in a few years. Do you want it or not?"
Sada-san stared for a few moments more, then shook his head and pulled out his wallet. "Still a student, and she already has an agent. Incredible." Everyone laughed. Sada-san handed a bill to Nabiki, and she handed him the tape.
Nabiki inclined her head. "Thank you, Sada-san. It's been a pleasure doing business with you."
Sada-san shook his head in wonder, and excused himself for the evening.
Murata-sensei was chuckling and shaking his head as well. He hadn't enjoyed himself this much in a long time. Sada-san needed more of a sense of humor; he was far too easy to tease. He regained his composure.
"So, Ranko-chan, you've decided to become a violinist, but are you going to be a fox or a hedgehog?" Everyone else looked confused.
Ranko smiled. "Maybe it will be too hard, Sensei, but I want both. I want a family, but I also want to be the best violinist I can possibly be." She hugged Ryouga, and smiled up at him, and Ryouga smiled back. "I have some people who are willing to help me try."
Murata-sensei shook his head. "It is hard, Ranko-chan. Like I said, I haven't figured that one out myself. But some people do manage it."
"Then maybe I can, too." She looked up at Ryouga again and grinned a mischievous grin. "After all, Saotome Ranko doesn't lose."
It was Murata-sensei's turn to look confused, as Ranko's family burst into laughter.
Genma felt his spirits lift, as he watched his daughter and the boy she loved share a kiss. When he had returned to the Tendou Dojo, he had felt that his daughter's resurrection had come at a heavy price: the loss of Ranma. Ranko had seemed a different person to him; it was as if Ranma had died and been replaced by someone else. He had grieved for his son.
Now, he saw things differently. It had been the shock of seeing her behave like a girl, seeing that she had a girl's feelings and cared about the things most girls cared about, that had made him think she wasn't Ranma. But how could Ranma possibly have shown any of that part of himself when he was trying so hard to be a boy?
It had been so many years, he was ashamed to admit, that he had forgotten his daughter, and had mistaken her acting at being a boy for who she really was. Ranko had not replaced Ranma; Ranma had been Ranko all along. She had never stopped being his daughter, no matter what she looked like.
He mused briefly on how things might have been had he had a son, a real son named Ranma. It could have been nice, but he didn't want to dwell on what might have been. He was happy he had a daughter, and that is what he wanted her to be: herself, and not anyone else. And she seemed well on the way, he noted with deep satisfaction, to being exactly that.
Saturday, September 9, 2000
The characters and stories of Ranma ½ are Copyright © Rumiko Takahashi, and are used here without permission or license.
No claims to the above copyright are made by the author of this work.
This work is for non-commercial use ONLY, and is produced for the enjoyment of fans only.
This work is the expression of the author and the depiction of the Ranma ½ characters herein are in no way represented to be a part of Ranma ½ as depicted by the original author and copyright holder(s).