Ranma ½ Sors Immanis

Ranma Saotome finally chooses, but who and why are just the beginning of this story. With "happily ever after" quickly turning out to be a disappointing fantasy, Ranma and the one girl he actually comes to love must now deal with the consequences of their indiscretions and find constructive ways to move forward on their divergent Fated paths. AU-Continuity/Divergence

I do not own Ranma 1/2 or any of the related characters. The Ranma 1/2 series was created by Rumiko Takahashi and is owned by Shogakukan and Viz Video. This fanfiction is intended for entertainment only. I am not making any profit from this story. All rights to the original Ranma 1/2 story belong to Rumiko Takahashi.

My inspiration for "Sors Immanis" came while listening to Carl Orff's "O Fortuna" from the Carmina Burana cantata on a morning run. This story will be an experiment with some new ideas and writing techniques. To clarify upfront, this story is unrelated to "The Stage at Kiyomizu-Dera" or any of my other Ranma ½ stories.

Feedback and comments are always appreciated.

Thank you for reading.
– KL


Sors immanis et inanis,
Rota tu volubilis, status malus
Vana salus,
Semper dissolubilis
Obumbrata et velata,
Michi quoque niteris…!

(Fate, cruel and inane
You are a malevolent spinning wheel,
Vain hopes for my wellbeing,
Inevitably fading into nothingness
Veiled and in shadows,
You torment me…!)

– Excerpt from “O Fortuna” of the Carmina Burana
Anonymous 13th Century Bavarian Monks​


Present day….

"Akiko" was not her real name.

She merely called herself that when she went places to forget who and what she had become. Her dead mother, the real Akiko Tendou née Taniguchi, had been a kind and happy person – a marked contrast to her unhappily successful daughter.

This particular early April evening especially was one of those times when the daughter wanted to forget – even for just a while. She had come directly to Akasaka from her Shibuya office without time in between to change out of her work clothes. As such, she emerged from a cab in front of Suntory Hall wearing black patent leather heels, a black knee-length pencil skirt with a matching jacket, and a silk ivory blouse. Her hair remained pinned up in a prim and tidy bun.

The fresh, delicate scent of cherry blossoms filled the air. However, she was too annoyed to notice. By the time she arrived, the Friday performance by Hauser and Sulic had already started. The man she was meeting would find a way to rub it in. She never arrived late for anything.

On top of that, the boy usher's attempts to conspicuously eye her legs as she followed him to her usual seat were a sad caricature of subtlety. She would have been amused when she had been younger, but nowadays she could not be bothered to give a damn.

# # # # #​

She used to have a cheeky, mischievous sense of humor and an uncanny ability to find something to laugh about in most any situation. She had regarded these trademarks of her personality as a source of pride. Nowadays, however, she rarely laughed about anything.

She changed after her sister's wedding. The accident shortly after her return from America — the one that left her sister an invalid in a comatose state — made things even worse. Only her gradually crumbling sanity, viperous wit, and bitter, smoldering temper remained.

No one knew of course.

People meeting her for the first time only saw an unusually beautiful woman whose deceptively disarming appearance and enigmatic charisma gave an initial illusion of innocence. Those who survived that mistake found her frigidly calculating, uncompromisingly driven, ruthless in the pursuit of her agendas, and insatiably ambitious. Either way, her delicate features naturally concealed the full breadth of her genius-level intellect, true beliefs, and many personal crusades.

She had a petite frame with a lithe, slim-waisted figure. Her long legs were pleasingly shaped, tapering off into a pair of dainty feet. Her pretty face, delicately heart-shaped with full, soft cheeks and the flawless complexion of a porcelain doll, was set with bold, luminous eyes and framed by thick hair with a rich, silken shine.

She embraced her assets — weaponized them even — with cool Machiavellian practicality. Surviving to come out on top was all that mattered. That was all she could hold onto to continue justifying her existence in the cold, unforgiving and uncaring world in which she existed. She knew of no other way to keep at bay the specter of madness constantly lurking at the fraying edges of her heart and mind.

Yet, despite her disillusionment, or maybe even because of it, she remained a fundamentally sentimental person. Before Akiko Tendou died, she had made a point of teaching her daughters to see and hear things. Though this daughter had still been very young at the time, she never forgot, clinging ferociously to her private passions for things like music and art.

Her habit of masking what she heard and saw, always holding these secrets extremely close to the vest, came later. She was the one who taught herself to be that way. Accordingly, most people never would have suspected a woman like her of caring for anything like Classical crossover.

In her law school days at Todai, she took a part-time job as an usher at the University performance center. The University had a partnership with the nearby Tokyo University of the Arts. Performance majors used to play concerts on campus most Friday evenings in the Fall and Spring.

The shows put on by the most cutthroat, self-centered assholes and bitches among them always appealed to her with profound personal meaning. These kids were the ones chasing the long shadows of Hauser and Sulic, Yuja Wang, Lang Lang, Yo-Yo Ma, Bocelli, and the like. That kind of music compelled even the most ruthlessly ambitious people to reveal some raw shred of naked human passion. No one could deliver at that kind of level without doing so.

Of course, her intent when she signed up for that job at the performing arts center had been something very different from falling in love. In plain terms, she simply wanted a venue where she could make conspicuous moves on some prominent and connected people to promote her agendas and advance her causes.

Yet, she did fall in love despite her private, solemn vow to never do anything that stupid again. It simply happened somewhere between the passionate facial expressions; fiery body motions; fingers flying wildly across ivory keys and stringed fingerboards; and unapologetic vibratos wringing out every last ounce of resonance from each note. The performance hall became a sanctuary where she could hide, at least for a while, from reality. Standing in the wings, she could almost glimpse some genuine human potential to touch some truth approximating actual beauty.

Sometimes, she could even almost forget the damned boy who had seen through to her humanity and broken all of her beautiful, painstakingly crafted mirrors. He had forever shattered her illusions about how the world was supposed to work. Like all boys though, he was infuriatingly clueless about the depths of grief he had brought into her life.

She had her own sins too, of course. There were too many of those to count. Still, in sending him to her sister's arms, she had merely been operating with her usual Machiavellian pragmatism to choose the least bad option available out of only bad ones. She had seen no other way to remain true to her values: the burdensome depths of her love, filial piety, and fraternal loyalty.

Therein emerged that nastiness of her existential dilemma. The inconvenience of her conscience continued to torment her.

Fate was a fucking bitch.

# # # # #​

"Happy Birthday," the man sitting in Row 2, Seat 9 of Block RB said, drawing Akiko back to Suntory Hall and the present.

She could not think of any reasons to be "happy" about her birthday. This one was her 30th. It was also the anniversary of her sister's accident.

"I…. Thanks. For coming," she replied as she slipped into Seat 10, the only other seat in Row 2. She had bought out the seats for the whole season because the space was as private as one could hope for in all of Suntory Hall.

As Hauser, Sulic, and their cellos resumed going at it on the stage below, she trembled in the darkness as the old chord of anguished, primordial yearning began throbbing again within her chest. Memories of the man's essence washed over her in a torrential deluge. The forbidden thrill of his fingers once so freely intertwining with her own. The reassuring warmth of his hands wandering across the nape of her neck just under the edges of her hair. The firm strength of his muscular arms reaching behind to wrap around the achingly aroused endowments of her bare chest. The metallic taste of blood emerged in her mouth as she bit back desperately on the misery threatening to explode out of her.

She knew that inviting him was unwise — even wrong. In fact, she never invited guests to join her for concerts. Today of all days, however, she did not want to be alone. She knew the man probably felt the same as she did. More than that, she wanted to see him one last time — to help steel herself for what she knew only she could and had to do. Now, however, as she felt the pain of her heart breaking all over again inside her, she realized that maybe she had made a mistake.

The savage, unconcerned storm cast by the dueling cellists continued to rage mercilessly around them. She closed her eyes and pretended to listen. Once again, they were so close and yet so very, very far from one another.

Like her, this man had changed, even though no one else could see the differences as she did. He also had reasons now to want to disappear at times. Most of them, she knew, were because of her. On such occasions, he went by "Hibiki", his professional pen name.

He was a young manga illustrator and writer who had made a considerable name for himself. He had developed a uniquely comedic style imbued with a sardonic wit that blended the fantastic with the grit of reality in a believable manner. Somehow, he executed all of this while remaining unpretentious in his ambitions. This approach stood in notable contrast to the brash recklessness that had been so off-putting about him when they had first met many years ago.

His books were good. She knew because she had read them all. Though he now far surpassed her, she also happened to be the one who had first introduced him to sketching. He had an annoying habit of excelling effortlessly at most things whenever he cared to apply himself.

His best known series described a teenage martial arts genius who had trained in his family's form of the Art his whole life. He also happened to be cursed to turn into a girl whenever exposed to cold water, and to complicate matters further, he was helplessly honor-bound to choose a fiancee from among three sisters from an old, traditional family. The father was best friends with his own father.

She firmly believed that the secret to why these books made such an impression on people was because many of the stories were not fictional at all. The man really did train in his family's ancient form of the Art from a young age. His childhood on the road really did result in significant social deficiencies, leading most people to write off his considerable native intelligence. His father and Akiko's did agree to a union of their families before either of them were even born.

She and her two sisters did come from an ancient family of previous high-ranking samurai prior to the Restoration. Consequently, they still had land and even a dojo in the middle of Tokyo's affluent Nerima ward; their father sat on the local municipal council despite not having a regular job or other typical qualifications for the position; and antiquated, inadvertently misogynistic notions of honor and duty unconsciously pervaded the Tendou's dysfunctional family life.

As to whether a boy could change into a girl at the touch of cold water, well, the woman wryly thought of how going to the moon had been considered a fantasy for most of human history.

# # # # #​

Afterward, they went down the street to a Viennese styled cafe. She had always liked the place. The place had a calm, subdued atmosphere ideal for private conversations. The tables were generously spaced apart with vases and potted plants strategically placed between.

She chuckled when she saw the bottle that the man asked the server to bring over. Blood-red letters on a black background spelled out some words in Latin: Sors Immanis.

Fate is cruel. Malevolently so.

“That quote from the Carmina Burana.” She could not hold back her knowing smirk. The partciular passage from which these words came from meant something to both of them. “Nice.”

“O Fortuna, the First Movement. Carl Orff, 1936.”

She recognized the familiar game. He wanted to show off again. The match point, however, belonged to her — as usual.

“You forgot. It’s actually Schmeller’s 1847 compilation of 254 poems and texts by 13th century Bavarian monks (1). Orff created his cantata by orchestrating just a small subset of them.” She had read parts of the actual text for a class once back in her undergraduate days. She spent those too at Todai.

He laughed. “Ya ain’t ever gonna change.”

"Neither will you." She omitted the part about hoping that he never would.

"It is though, ain't it. Fate, I mean."

"Sure. No choice but to make the best we can of it regardless."

"Belgian ale," he said as he offered her one of the two tulip glasses that the server had poured. "You'll like it. Extra hoppy and bitter."

She preferred beer over wine and the hoppier the better. Like many other things, most people would not have guessed that about her. Wine had too much of a pretense of class and elegance. Beer made no effort at such stupid lies. Alcohol simply tasted like shit in the beginning to everyone and somehow eventually found its path to amiability for most. At least the labels occasionally made decent attempts at some humor.

The man laughed. He was very familiar with her tastes, and, of course, he preferred beer too. He enjoyed hearing her talk anyway. As usual, they sounded better than his own. He had learnt this about her the hard way on more than one occasion.

She answered him with a crooked shadow of a smile before downing the golden amber contents of her tulip glass in a single go. A long silence settled in as she savored the bitterness.

"Akiko-san…?" he eventually prodded.

"It's all right, Ranma," she said with a sigh. "It's just us. No need to keep up the charade on my account."

"I, just, ya know…."

"I know. You're just doing what I asked," she acknowledged, touched by his gesture. He still remained kind and considerate despite everything that had passed between them.

"How are the children?" he asked.

"We make do," she replied coolly.

He meant well, but the subject of her pro bono work on the side for the ISSJ (1) remained a sore spot for her. She had taken up this particular crusade because she had always secretly loved children, but likely would never have any of her own. She needed to change the subject. "I read your new book by the way. I liked it a lot."

He had written a unique story about time travel. One of the sisters chooses to go back to the past using a magic mirror. However, a special rule governs its use: actions while visiting the past regardless will not change anything in the present. This clever twist posed far more direct and interesting philosophical questions than the usual dizzying preoccupations with permutations of cause and effect relationships.

"Thought ya would like it. Would ya?"

"Go back even with a rule like that?"


"You know my answer."

She wanted to cry. He could only have been thinking of her and the forbidden words and memories between them when he wrote that story. His feelings for her remained unmistakable.


"You know that too," she said. She decided to humor him anyway and say her reasons aloud, mostly to remind herself. "Some things are still worth saying and believing, even if the world can't be changed for those things."

Or even if no one believes your good intentions….

He smiled. "But ain't that exactly why someone should ask this question?"

"We're long past that point now, Ranma," she sighed, attempting to fall back on the secure footing of her Machiavellian pragmatism and the immutable, undeniable truth. "You're married now."

Sometimes, the truest measure of devotion is the strength to turn away from the thing you want the most….

She remembered that line from a play she had seen back in her undergraduate days. It meant that love is not necessarily about whether or not you are with someone, but about being able to hold their interests alongside or even before your own.

Little sinister Heathen me, she thought with bittersweet irony to herself. I really don’t matter. Not anymore.

The time had come for the sad, long-running comedy of 10 years or so between them to end.

# # # # #​

  1. This detail becomes relevant in later chapters.
  2. International Social Service Japan (ISSJ) is the Japanese national branch of International Social Service (ISS), an international social work non-profit organization that helps individuals, children and families confronted with complex social welfare issues because of migration and crossing country borders. ISSJ was authorized in 1959 as a social welfare service corporation by the Japanese Ministry of Health and Welfare. ISSJ provides international social welfare services (adoption, obtainment of nationality for stateless children, counselling for asylum seekers, family reunion after international divorce, etc.) in cooperation with ministries, international social service organizations, UNHCR, tribunals, hospitals, social welfare facilities, embassies, and governmental agencies.

# # # # #​
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Nabiki Tendou was pissed.

Today had been an exceptionally shitty day for the 19 year-old University Fresher from Nerima Ward. Nothing had gone according to plan. The coffee-stained blouse that she could not save had been a deeply personal gift. Her smart phone was destroyed by river water. She had a new 3rd degree burn wound over the left side of her chest and had vaso-vagaled out like a weakling when it happened. On top of all that, she also lost nearly 50000 yen in revenue.

Her first mistake had been going home for the Winter recess. Nothing had changed since she had moved out the previous Spring to start at Komaba in Meguro Ward (1). The same pointless, endless charade of banal insanity continued to revolve around her younger sister Akane and her hapless arranged aqua-transexual fiancé Ranma Saotome. The same crazies also continued to hang off of their clueless coattails chasing delusions of consequentiality. Nabiki quickly remembered why she had been so eager to leave in the first place.

She had woken up early to meet Takagi-san, the kind lady who owned the coffee shop Nabiki previously frequented when she had still been a high school student. Her plan had been to meet up before opening hour to catch up and present some of her newest pieces.

Drawing and painting were old hobbies Nabiki’s mother introduced and which she had secretly held onto in the years since her mother’s death. Akiko Tendou had always said that her daughters should learn to see things for themselves as they were, not as they were told they were. Nabiki was forever grateful to her mother for this lesson. It had set her apart early on with tremendous advantage.

As an added bonus, she realised at some point that people were willing to pay for the things that she saw. Takagi-san was one of those people. She liked to decorate her shop with works by local amateur artists, and she always offered prices that were more than fair. In addition to buying pieces, she used to allow Nabiki to display other works for sale in the shop.

Most importantly, Takagi-san respected Nabiki’s desire to remain anonymous. She had worked hard to create the image of the cold-hearted, self-absorbed, mercenary Ice Queen of Furinkan High. The damage otherwise to her painstakingly crafted reputation would have been incalculable. She needed to preserve that image in order to protect her interests — especially growing up in a place like Nerima.

Today, Nabiki urgently needed the money. She no longer had her gossip network and the betting pool revenue streams from her high school days. Still, she intended to keep her promises — the ones that no one in the family knew about – but she was running out of time. She needed to scramble to scavenge every last yen she could manage.

When she came down to the kitchen to make her first morning coffee, carnage greeted her. Scattered ingredients, utensils, and bowls littered the sink and countertops. Nabiki knew Kasumi would outright faint in horror at the sight of her ravaged domain. In the middle of it all stood their youngest sister Akane, who was evidently trying to prepare breakfast. Their poor sister had always been cluelessly bad at cooking.

“Good morning, Oneechan! I thought I’d make you and everyone else something special since you’re back,” her younger sister explained with a sweet smile. Akane proudly declared that she was trying out some new recipes for beginners that she had found online.

Nabiki masked her unease with an excessively cheerful morning greeting in reply. She had neither the desire nor the time to spend imprisoned between her bed and the commode. Her mind raced to cobble together an excuse for not staying to try her sister’s creation. She ended up babbling something about appreciating Akane’s thoughtfulness but not wanting to take food away from Ranma and the rest of the family. Besides, she was on a diet and had already arranged to meet a friend.

While stumbling through her excuse, she conspicuously rescued her coffee machine from the ongoing storm and carried it to the farthest possible end of the counter. She willed her hands to stop shaking as she rushed to prep the machine as fast as she could manage. The brew cycle also seemed to last forever. With her precious black elixir eventually secured in a thermos, she bolted for the front door, pausing only to slip on her coat and shoes and sling over her shoulder the tube carrier with the pieces she planned to present at the shop.

Because of her hurried escape, she ended up significantly ahead of schedule with enough time to commit her second mistake. By the time she came up on the familiar foot bridge traversing the river a few blocks down from the shop, the low set Winter sun was still just cresting the horizon. She decided to stop, sip her coffee, and admire the fiery streaks of red and gold angling in against the Earth. The light cut mysterious, intriguing shadows between the shops and homes around her. In her mind’s eye, she could readily see the tableau laid out appealingly on a canvas. Thinking herself alone with no one to see, she afforded herself a secret, contented smile.

Suddenly, a shrill, livid scream pierced the tranquil silence of the cool morning air.


Her younger sister.

Before Nabiki could react, a heavy blow struck hard against her left shoulder, causing her to stumble forward. The scalding contents of her thermos splattered down her top. She hissed fiercely in pain.

Another shout followed seconds after, this one a bellowing male voice.


Ranma’s Saotome’s eternally hopeless self-declared martial arts rival Ryoga Hibiki.

Looking up just in time, Nabiki made out the outline of an ominous looking projectile coming directly at her face. In horror, she reached deep into her memories for what remained of her father’s old self-preservation lessons and managed to throw her body out of the way. Mere centimeters of clearance constituted the distance between the object’s path and her eyes.

She felt her body slam hard into the foot path’s unforgiving pavement surface. Her crash landing caused the shoulder strap of her carrier tube to dislodge and her phone and thermos to fly out of her hands. She could only watch helplessly as all three objects tumbled over the side rail into the icy water coursing beneath the bridge.

The inputs into her brain quickly became too overwhelming to process. Her arms and legs felt hot and heavy. A deafening roar rushed up in her ears.

The edges of her vision collapsed in on themselves as her consciousness faded into nothingness.

# # # # #​

As Nabiki came around, she felt like her head would fall off her shoulders. Another part of her registered that her entire body burned with pain.

“Fuck…!” she cursed over her third mistake. The money along with the promises she had made were almost certainly all lost causes now. “Non-combatant” or whatever nonsensical category she fell into in these crazies’ minds, who was she to think that her safety had ever been assured in the midst of a constant warzone like Nerima.

Screw all of these spoiled, bratty, self-centered, thoughtless, resident assholes: her sister; that clueless self-righteous bandanna-pig asshole; and, of course, Ranma Saotome, that arrogant, inane, vacuous, transsexual future brother-in-law of hers. They all deserved to part with every last yen she had squeezed out of each one of them over the years and more. Better people could do better things for the world with all the gifts and blessings those spoiled fools never even appreciated they had.

Adding insult to injury as she finally forced her eyes open, Akane’s unwelcome, tear-streaked face was the first thing that came into focus.

“Come to finish me off?” Nabiki grumbled as she fought to sit up and take her first look at the damage.

She was back home in her own bed. She had been changed to a set of flannel pajamas. Her left arm had been placed in a sling, and a velcro brace had been strapped around her left wrist. The left side of her chest had been dressed with large strips of gauze held up by wrap-around bandages. Dr. Tofu, the long-time family doctor, clearly had already been by the house.

“I’m sorry, Oneechan,” Akane said, bowing her head low in shame. “It’s just that stupid Ranma — “

“Akane!” Nabiki barked, cutting her sister off. She could not stand the old, tired refrain that she knew was about to follow. “For once, can you just swallow some responsibility without excuses? How many times have we been over this shit before? You’re ridiculously spoiled and have a nasty anger management problem. Grow up and change before someone actually gets hurt around here. Someone who actually matters.”

“Oneechan! Don’t say that! You matter!”

“Oh please. Other than incidentally being your sister, I barely register to you and your wrecking crew entourage.”

She tried to swing her legs over the side of the bed and stand up. A wave of dizziness struck as she did. An ignominious thud rang out as she collapsed to the floor, loud enough to draw attention from the whole house. She knew because the footsteps of the herd began thundering up the stairs and toward her room.


“Don’t touch me! You’ve done enough!” Nabiki hissed as Akane approached her.

“My daughter!” Soun Tendou cried out in a panic as he barged in, nearly tearing the door off its hinges. Kasumi and the Saotomes piled in behind him.

”Stop it, Nabiki!” Kasumi said as she knelt on the floor and hugged her sister. “You’re hurt!”

“Everyone get out of here!” Nabiki hissed hotly through her gritted teeth. “Just everyone get out!”

Kasumi backed her up by throwing a look at the rest of the family that permitted no argument. Akane, their father, and the Saotomes sheepishly left in quick succession. Nabiki was grateful.

“I can’t stay here, Kasumi,” Nabiki said once they were alone. “This shit is too much for me. I’m going back to Meguro.”

“Language, Nabiki!” a horrified Kasumi scolded. As usual when the two sisters were alone, her unnatural facade of unflappable serenity faded away.

“Fine,” Nabiki growled. “<Fuck!>” she spat instead in English.

Their mother, though ethnically Japanese, had actually been born in London to a British Japanese family. Akiko’s first language had actually been English, and she had only moved to Japan as a teenager. As a result, she had insisted that her daughters learn the language (2). The open use of English in their home, however, had gradually faded in the years since their mother’s passing, particularly since Soun Tendou had no clue what his daughters were saying when they conversed in the language. Of course, Nabiki, true to her usual ambitious pragmatism, had kept up with speaking through conversation partners and, more recently, by mingling with international students on the Komaba campus. She had made a special point of keeping up with the choice words in particular.

“<I still understand that too>,” Kasumi commented disapprovingly.

“Fine,” Nabiki said, giving up and switching back to Japanese.. “It’s true though. I need to go back.”

“You should rest,” Kasumi insisted as she started to help Nabiki back up onto the bed. “We can talk more tomorrow.”

“No! I mean to be out of here today!”

“Nabiki, please calm – ”

She could no longer restrain the actual thoughts burning at the tip of her tongue. “Mom would be appalled by this! We were supposed to look after Dad and Akane and keep this family sane and functional!”

“So you just want to walk out on us…?!”

Nabiki winced, unable to maintain her stern expression in the face of the panicked sadness in Kasumi’s suddenly downcast eyes. With a resigned sigh, she reaffirmed that she had no intention of abandoning her sister or her duty.

“At some point, though, Akane needs to grow up and assume responsibility for her actions. We never help by making excuses for her. Like I told her, she needs to change before someone actually gets hurt. That goes for you-know-who too. Whether I’m here or not is irrelevant. Maybe my leaving like this might even make a constructive impression on someone that there’s a real problem here.”

“Okay, yes, we have problems – “

“Thank you for finally admitting that – “

“But what family doesn’t. Be careful what you wish for, Nabiki,” Kasumi admonished quietly.

“Hey! What exactly do you I’m asking for?”

“I’m not sure,” Kasumi conceded. “I just know that perfection is the enemy of great, and change isn’t always good. We’ve both been through enough to know that.”

“I’m not asking for ‘perfect’ or anything extraordinary. Just something better than this pointlessly overblown fucking insanity,” Nabiki grumbled with a frown.


“Look, Oneechan,” she replied, ignoring the look on Kasumi’s face. “Life is short. Honor agreement or not, those two have to either move forward or move on.”

“You have a talent for always making things sound so simple.”

“Because it is simple. Too bad not everyone can be as smart as you and I.”

“That’s not what I’m trying to say. This has nothing to do with being smart. I’m your sister. You and Akane are not as different as you think. It’s not hard at all for me to imagine Akane behaving and sounding exactly like you if your positions were reversed.”

“Oneechan!” Nabiki chortled. Kasumi’s mind clearly wanted to run wild again with the idea that her younger sisters were Irish twins. “I would never allow myself to end up in Akane’s position. I don’t let feelings cloud my judgment, and I don’t have an anger management problem. Most of all, I don’t leave decisions that should’ve been made yesterday sitting around for tomorrow.”

”Be careful about what you say, Nabiki,” Kasumi said, fixing the younger girl with the full weight of a very pointed and unamused stare. “I mean it. From a distance, things are always simple. The grass is always greener on the other side. The playing field always looks far more obvious to all of the spectators up in the bleachers.”

Nabiki sighed in exasperation. “Maybe, maybe not. I love you very much, Oneechan, but this discussion is moot either way.”

# # # # #
The dorm, like the rest of the Komaba campus, was abandoned when Nabiki returned that evening. Roughly a week still remained in the recess. Nothing could have been more appropriate or welcome for what she had to do now.

On her way out of Nerima, she had called on Takagi-san to apologize and explain the circumstances of her earlier unexpected indisposition. She managed to arrive during a mid-afternoon lull.

“Nonsense, Nabiki-chan!” the lady said warmly. “You obviously had a bad morning,” she noted, eyeing the sling supporting Nabiki’s left arm. She went on to assure the younger woman that she did not need to worry; they had known one another long enough for the older lady to surmise that Nabiki must have had a good reason for not coming.

“Not the best,” Nabiki agreed. The burn on her chest continued to itch and throb beneath the bandages hidden under her new top. Her back also ached from standing.

Takagi-san helped her to a seat at one of the tables, brought over a cup of coffee, and took the other seat at the opposite end of the table.

“Still, Nabiki-chan, I am very much in need of a nice piece for that space,” the lady said, pointing to the open-faced brick wall above the hearth. It faced out against large west-facing windows set in the far wall. Low-set red and gold streaks from the early setting Winter sun filtered in, recapitulating the pretty light that had defined the tableau Nabiki had been admiring morning just before her unfortunate misadventure.

“Tell you what,” Takagi-san said after a moment of thought. “I know the time is short and that you may not be feeling your best at the moment, but if you’re up for it, we may be able to still move forward with a deal. Maybe you could get me something, say, by midday tomorrow? Nothing too fancy or overly complex. In fact, more on the Minimalist side would do quite nicely.”

Nabiki calmly expressed thanks for the unexpected offer and agreed with her usual cool, reserved demeanor. Inside, though, she found herself giddy with elation and excitement. Not for the first time, she wondered if Takagi-san was on to her. Regardless, Nabiki realized that the answer to that question was immaterial. At the end of the day, she would still be able to keep her promises.

Immediately after, she took the train back to Komaba with renewed energy and purpose. Her body’s protests receded easily to the back of her mind. En route, she ducked into a convenience store next to Meguro station to grab an onigiri, a pack of karaage balls, a pair of canned coffees, and a bottle of OTC ibuprofen. As she carded herself into her residence hall, the quiet emptiness of the atrium lobby only excited her more.

She rushed up to her room to dump her stuff, throw some pills into her mouth, and retrieve a blank canvas and materials followed by a hurried return to set up in the lobby. With her dominant arm in a sling and wrist in a brace, she knew that she would need every single minute that she could squeeze out of the night.

# # # # #​
  1. The Komaba undergraduate campus in Tokyo’s Meguro Ward is 1 of 5 campuses of The University of Tokyo (Todai), which is widely considered the most prestigious and selective University in Japan. Todai is the only University in Japan where undergraduates have two years of a general curriculum before choosing a specialized field of study. Among the University’s alumni, faculty, and researchers, there have been 17 prime ministers, 18 Nobel laureates, 4 Pritzker laureates, and a Fields Medalist.
  2. The detail about English will become relevant later in my story.

# # # # #
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Daigoro howled and screamed as he thrashed around in Nabiki’s one-armed embrace. She could feel his fear and frustration. All the more, she clung tighter to the boy as she whispered soothing reassurances in his ear. At some point, she slipped her left arm out of the sling so that she could pull him onto her lap and rock him back and forth.

Eventually, he calmed down and followed Nabiki’s hand as she pointed at all the new objects around them. One by one, she calmly explained to him the colored LED lights, red and green stockings, and other seasonal livery that now decorated the school’s commons area. In doing so, she herself finally had a moment to take in what she had managed to deliver with the money Takagi-san had given her the other day.

A young moni fir roughly 1½ meters in height stood proudly in the center of the room. The tree’s sweet and pleasant scent filled the air with a fresh, clean vitality. Boxes of brightly colored satin balls and a dazzling array of small toy ornaments lay on the floor unopened. The other three children in Class 1F would arrive soon with the teachers and their aids to start dressing the tree. A small blue wagon had also been rolled in with wrapped presents that would be distributed later to the kids. At Nabiki’s urging, the kids had compiled a wish list with the help of their teachers about a week ago.

Most people did not know, but Nabiki had always loved being around children, and they generally seemed to like her too. She started volunteering at the school about a year after Saotome and his father had crash-landed in Nerima and upended the world of the Tendou sisters. In her need for a cause that would keep her out of the house and safe from the endlessly percolating chaos, she came on afternoons when she did not have cram school.

Setagaya Ward was close enough for her to do so, but far enough that she never encountered Akane, Ranma, and their crazy entourage on one of their typical inane rampages. Studying and living now at Komaba only made coming here even easier. As an undergraduate, she had a lot more free time than when she had been a high school student, and Meguro, unlike Nerima, was directly adjacent to Setagaya.

Daigoro had taken a liking to her ever since she had started coming (1). The teachers thought she reminded him of his departed mother. When not consumed by one of his spells, he was a kind and pleasant boy, a fact sadly belied by the unfortunate pugilistic appearance of his features. His face, set in a small head, had thick eyebrows, a small nose, and a downturned myth outlined by an unnaturally smooth philtrum and thin upper lip.

Nabiki had bonded easily too with Kumi (2), who had a gleefully cheerful personality and an obsessive fascination with water. She resembled a puppet with extremely fair skin and light colored eyes. Though she never spoke, she constantly laughed and smiled, and she could easily run circles all day long around others without ever seeming to need to rest.

Takashi was the playful, mischievous prankster in the class, traits which endeared him to Nabiki for the similarities she saw in herself (3). He had not always been that way though. His affect tended to be on the flat side, an unfortunate consequence of his large, flat face with flattened nasal bridge and wide set, upslanting almond-shaped eyes. Her first impression of him had been of a sad and inherently withdrawn child with a propensity for early onset depression. The teachers noted, however, that he changed after Nabiki and Keiko, another volunteer who traveled from Ota Ward, started coming.

William, the newest comer to the class (4), was extremely shy and self-conscious about the deformed appearance of his face, poor hearing, and impaired speech. He had small, asymmetrically set ears, an underdeveloped lower jaw with poor dentition, and deeply sunken cheekbones beneath drooping eyes. The overall effect made him appear as if someone had beaten him at birth. None of that mattered to Nabiki though. She remained hopeful that he would find himself in time.

Each time Nabiki came here to the Komei School to play with the children, they would come running to throw themselves at her with fierce, warm, unreserved hugs of joy and gratitude. Their eyes invariably shined with innocence and blind faith. In that space, she felt safe enough somehow to still believe that genuine human goodness and hope were not merely stupid follies of her naive imagination.

Nabiki burned with her unspoken resentment toward society and the world for not wanting these children, marginalizing and hiding them away like dirty secrets of humanity. For her, they were each equally beautiful and special in their own right as human beings. Certainly, she considered them far more deserving of kindness and good fortune than the brats rampaging around Nerima and the self-centered, uncaring assholes who ran the world.

All the more, she hungered to ascend to a position of power where she could crush all the other powerful people in the world and make them feel the anguish of material and emotional deprivation and need.
# # # # #
By the time Nabiki left, the sun already touched the horizon’s edge. With her promise kept, she finally realized how exhausted and sore she actually was. Still, none of that detracted from the pride she felt thinking of Daigoro, Kumi , Takashi, and William’s smiling faces and the time she had just spent with them.

Her good mood, however, evaporated when she saw the pig-tailed boy sitting on one of the street side benches just beyond the school’s main gate.
With a weary, resigned sigh, she walked over and plopped down beside him. She had no chance of getting away from the martial arts prodigy even if she were uninjured.

“You followed me,” she snapped without any preamble. “Why?”

“Sorry,” he said. He sounded genuinely apologetic. “I just, well, ya haven’t been picking up any calls for the last few days. Everyone got worried.”

“So they sent you to track me down.”

“Uh, yeah. Something like that.”

“I’ve been busy,” she said crossly. “Even people who aren’t martial artists have lives too.”

“Kasumi wanted me to remind ya to eat and rest. You’re still hurt and all.”

“Well, that’s your fucking fault!”

“I…. I also came ‘coz I wanted to tell ya that I’m sorry ‘‘bout that. Didn’t get a chance before ya left the other day.”

“Yay!” she exclaimed, sarcastically schooling her features into an exaggerated caricature of schoolgirl excitement. “This is the part where you start talking about my sister and your whole litany of cliche excuses for why you got trapped in another fight, right? I’m so ready for this! Let’s go!”

“Nah,” he said. “I can’t speak for your sister or the directionless bacon brain, but I ain’t gonna waste your time with any of my own. I should’ve led them away from ya the other day. I’m sorry.”

She was far too familiar with the direction in which this conversation was going. It made her angrier. “Because I’m not a martial artist, right? Weak and helpless as if I’m made of glass and all that shit.”

“No!” he shot back with surprising vehemence. “Because ya just shouldn’t have been caught up in my shit.”

She chuckled sardonically. “I can’t tell you how touched I am to finally hear you say that after all these years. That may be the most mature thing I’ve ever heard you say.”

Visibly exasperated, he blew air loudly through his thinned lips. Then, suddenly, he smirked at some sort of realization in his head. “Ya know, before today I would’ve offered ya all the yen on me right now to make ya feel better. Now, though, I don’t think I should.”

“Oh?” she asked, genuinely intrigued. “Why not? Even your money is still money.”

“Because I finally think I get it after watching ya with those kids just now and after hearing ya talk to your sisters in your room the other day.”

“You’ve been fucking spying on me?!”

“N-no! Ya got it all wrong, Nabiki!”

“Sure, Ranma. Whatever.”

“It’s true! Ya weren’t exactly soft-spoken when ya and Kasumi were talkin’.”

Nabiki took a deep breath and bit back on the additional choice words hanging at the tip of her tongue. She wanted to know something. “Why are you suddenly shy about giving me money that you obviously owe me? For a new phone at least?”

“Because ya don’t actually give a shit about having money for money’s sake at all.”

“Oh really?”

“Yeah. Money is just a cover for ya to chase what you’re really after.”

“Which is?”

“To get even.”

A strange silence followed as his words hung in the air. Something about the unexpected moment pleased Nabiki somehow in a way that nothing else had for a long time. Unconsciously, she clutched at the lapel of her coat with her right hand and huddled in as she felt the heat inside of her start to cool for some reason. Without it, though, she felt completely drained.

“I’m not Akane,” Nabiki eventually said with a small, tired voice.

He smiled. “Naw. You’re angrier and more dangerous.”

Her laughter this time reflected genuine amusement. Fear, after all, was the root of all respect.

“It’s true,” he said. “When your sister comes at someone, they can see and hear it from at least a mile away.”

“So why do you never manage to dodge?”

He ignored the bait. “You, on the other hand, just slit people’s throats and gut them before they ever figure ya don’t even like them.”

The clarity of his observations surprised Nabiki. She made a mental note to herself to come back to the one about Akane later. For now, she pressed on with what he said about her.

“What do you think I’m so angry about?” she smirked. “What’s the score that you think I want to even out?”

“So ya admit you’re angry.”

“Not at all. I’m just sufficiently amused to hear your reasoning.”

“Like I said, it’s in how ya I saw ya handle the kids here at this school and what ya said to your sisters the other day.”

He recalled how furious, hateful even, she had been when she called Akane ‘spoiled’ and told her that she had to grow up and change before someone actually got hurt. With the children, though, she had looked and acted so differently.

“You’re actually a nice person.”

She laughed. “You must be talking about some other girl.”

“It’s true! Ya bought them all the presents and decor and stuff, right? That and ya spent a long time playing with them too even though ya look and must feel like shit.”

“Way to add to a girl’s self-esteem, Saotome,” she noted dryly. “No wonder Akane always wants to hit you.”

“Sorry! I… I – ”

“Forget about it, Ranma.” She sighed. “Your point?”

“Ya see the world full of people who have everything, but who ya think don’t appreciate or deserve all these things they have going for them. That’s what ya think about Akane. Maybe even me too. At the same time, ya think there’s also a whole lot of other people who deserve things, but ain’t got anything at all. That kind of unequal stuff actually really bothers ya.”

“I’m impressed,” she reluctantly admitted. “You’re actually acting and sounding rather rational and intelligent today.”

“Hey! I ain’t stupid!”

“Calm down, Saotome,” she said. “Never said you were.”

Seeing how Ranma in particular muddled through life irked her precisely because she knew that he was profoundly capable and intelligent. The incredible adaptability he routinely demonstrated in his fights and his unrivaled aptitude for learning and improving his fighting techniques in record time gave her more than enough proof.

“It’s so fucking annoying to watch you, Saotome. Life’s short. Why waste your time like that?”

“Same reason Kasumi and ya cover all the time for Akane or why you’re here doing what ya just did for those kids.”

Her eyes narrowed with suspicion. “Don’t make assumptions. You don’t know anything about these kids. Do you even understand where we are?”

He nodded as he pulled his phone out of his pocket and held the screen up for her to see. “I looked it up. The Komei School for children with special needs.”

She hated the use of that word “special.” It was just a fucking worthless platitude to make everyone else feel better.


“Yeah, I get it. You were just reciting what you read. Society’s problem, not yours this time,” she said, throwing her head back with a sigh. By now, the sun had disappeared completely. “Everyone has needs. Their needs are just different.”

“Their parents must appreciate the time ya spend with them.”

“They don’t have parents,” she bit out tersely.

“Oh. So —?”

“It’s getting late,” she said, cutting him off. She did not have enough mental or emotional energy left to go into the details. “Help me get on a train back to Meguro. Then, we can say you’ve accomplished your mission, and you can be on your merry, destructive way out of here. You can still even make it home before dinner.”

In the end, she found herself appreciating that he had tracked her down. She had become too exhausted and sore to walk any meaningful distance.

He could not piggyback her because of her arm and shoulder, so he ended up carrying her in his arms as he hopped roofs and ran back to the station.

At first, she thought the situation would be awkward like the time when he had saved her and broken her fall off the laundry balcony that Akane destroyed (5). Somehow, however, it was not. He smelled of something between fresh pine and cedar, a combination of the laundry detergent

Kasumi preferred along with perhaps the body wash he used. She secretly had a moderate fear of heights, but the scent along with his firm, confident hold reassured her. She even found herself comfortable enough to look down and watch people going about their business on the street below as the two of them zipped past above.

As they boarded the train, he told her she could doze if she wanted. He would wake her just before they arrived at Meguro Station. When she stood to disembark, however, he surprised her by standing too.

“I’ll help ya get all the way back to Komaba,” he explained as the doors slid shut behind them. The train quietly slipped away from the platform a moment later.

“Oh really,” she drawled. She could not keep the drowsiness out of her voice.

“You’re annoyed by that?”

“I need some sleep.”

“Your sisters also gave me some money to make sure ya ate something. We can pass by a convenience store or some other place for takeaway.”

Now she was genuinely irritated. “For all I care, you can go treat yourself and tell Kasumi you fed me.”

“Honest! I just think the least I could do is help ya get back all the way, keep ya company while ya munch and settle in.”

“Bullshit. I’m hardly your type of company. Normal girl, remember? No fighting skills or magical powers.”

Just then, the audible grumble of someone’s empty stomach rang out between them. To her considerable annoyance, it was her own.

“Fine,” she said with a resigned sigh. “Let’s go.”

# # # # #
  1. Cornelia de Lange Syndrome (CdLS) is a genetic condition characterized by numerous physical, intellectual and behavioral differences. Children with CdLS usually have low birth weight, are smaller in size and height and have a smaller head circumference (microcephaly). Most also experience developmental delays that range from mild learning disabilities to profound intellectual impairment. The condition takes its name from the Dutch pediatrician who was one of the first to formally describe it, in 1933. CdLS occurs in an estimated 1 in 10,000 live births annually.

    Common physical characteristics include; facial features such as an upturned nose, eyebrows that meet in the middle, long eyelashes and low-set ear; severe gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) that can make eating painful and contribute to slow growth and other intestinal differences; upper limb differences ranging from small hands to missing fingers or forearms; and a cleft palate. Diaphragmatic hernias, vision and hearing problems, excessive body hair (hirsutism), heart defects, seizures and dental issues are also common. Autism and behavioral issues such as self-injury or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, might also be present.

  2. Angelman Syndrome is a genetic condition associated with delayed development, intellectual disability, and balance problems. Most children have seizures and small head size. Children with Angelman syndrome are usually happy and excitable, with frequent laughter and hand-flapping. These children usually have minimal or absent speech. Children with Angelman syndrome most likely also have a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), as many features of the two overlap. Angelman syndrome shares a common genetic basis with some forms of ASD. Angelman Syndrome also occurs in an estimated 1 in 10,000 live births annually.
  3. Down Syndrome, also known as Trisomy 21 Syndrome, is the most common chromosomal anomaly in humans, occurring in about 1 in 5,000 live births annually. Individuals with Down syndrome nearly always have physical and intellectual disabilities. As adults, patients have mental abilities typically similar to those of an 8- or 9-year-old; poor immune function; and an increased risk of a number of other health problems including congenital heart abnormalities, epilepsy, leukemia, thyroid diseases, and mental disorders. The disorder was first identified in 1866 by John Langdon Down, a British physician, and later named after him.

  4. Treacher Collins Syndrome (TCS) is a rare genetic condition affecting the way the face develops — especially the cheekbones, jaws, ears and eyelids. Most children with TCS have a very small lower jaw and chin (micrognathia); very small upper jaw (maxillary hypoplasia); undersized cheekbones; ears that are very small (microtia), unusually formed or missing; eyes that slant downward, and a notch in their lower eyelids (coloboma). Some patients also have hearing loss caused by problems with the ear canal or the 3 bones in the middle ear that transmit sound. At least half of children with Treacher Collins syndrome have hearing problems; cleft palate; and an airway tso small that it causes serious breathing problems. These differences often cause problems with breathing, swallowing, chewing, hearing and speech. Children with TCS usually have normal cognitive development.

  5. In the anime episode “Nabiki, Ranma’s New Fiancee!”, Akane, frustrated by merciless teasing from her older sister and fiance, destroys the laundry balcony that the 3 of them are standing on, causing everyone to fall toward the ground. As she falls, Akane recalls that Nabiki, who is untrained in martial arts, does not know how to fall and panics. Ranma, however, saves Nabiki by catching her in his arms and gently carrying her down to the yard. In the ensuing awkward moment, Ranma tells Nabiki that he had to save her instead of Akane because she’s weak and "ordinary", unlike her younger sister. Ranma then walks over to Akane in order to make sure she understands, but Akane slaps Ranma in anger before declaring to Ranma that she's had enough before telling Ranma to go and be Nabiki's fiancé instead.
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Disclaimer: References to “KFC“ are intended for entertainment only. I am not making any profit from the references. All rights to “KFC” belong to Yum! Brands, Inc.

Author’s Note: I have to confess to being a little bit stuck and in need of some reader advice/input.

To improve plot flow, I decided to relocate the final subsection of the previous chapter to the beginning of this chapter. I would be greatly appreciative of any comments/feedback.

Thank you for reading.
– KL

# # # # #​

“KFC?!” Ranma asked incredulously.

A large paper bucket of fried chicken dangled from Nabiki’s right handA light snow began to fall as they approached the main gates of Komaba.

She shrugged. “Christmas tomorrow, right (1)? Besides, I know you’ll eat it too.”

“But I thought — “

“That a small girl like me can’t appreciate greasy, wholesome food once in a while?”

“No! I…. That’s not what I meant! It’s just that… that….”

“That what?” she challenged him. Inside, she smiled. He was still too easy.

“That ya like nice things!” he blurted out.

She could tell that he was proud of what he thought was a brilliant impromptu save. She gleefully decided to drive the stake home, saying matter-of-factly, “KFC is a nice thing.”

“I…. Aargh! Nabiki!”

She could not contain her laughter. “You deserve it! If you’d just owned up to your unconscious biases up front, you would’ve saved yourself from looking like an ass.”

“But I’m not an ass! No matter what your sister says!”

She laughed even harder as he set her down, and she carded them into her still empty dorm. “Of course not. At least not for having unconscious biases. Everyone has them.

”But ya just said — “

“I called you out for not owning up to the obvious.”

“Like ya own up to yours?”

“I do.”

“Yeah, right. I call bullshit.”

She stopped just as they got to her door and rounded on him with a frown. “What are you getting at, Saotome?”

“Ya think I’m one of those ungrateful ‘have-all’ asses that ya hate so much just ‘coz I’m the best there is at the Art and I look like a model or somethin’ in either of my forms. Ain’t that just as much of an unconscious bias?”

“Sorry, but I never called you a ‘have-all ass’.”

“But ya don’t deny thinkin’ it either.”

She laughed. “Such a vivid imagination and so confident and sure of your inferences!”

“Cut the crap, Nabiki. It’s what ya believe. Ya said as much to Kasumi the other day.”

“You annoy the shit out of me, yes, but I don’t hate you,” she conceded as she plunked the chicken bucket down on her desk and turned for her mini fridge.

“You’re a bit of a hypocrite. Ya swear more than any dude I’ve ever known too. Who knew!”

She froze in the middle of reaching for a canned beer. “Wow. Since when did you get a backbone?”

“Since always.”

“Why do I have this strange feeling you’re not someone I know?” she said, cautiously drawing herself up to her full height to look at him.

“Same reason I get the feeling you’re not someone I know either,” he said, his eyes darting between the beer in her good hand, the chicken bucket on her desk, and finally the drawing pad and pencils lying out on her bed. He walked over and studied the unfinished sketch, a self-portrait of her with one of the Komei School orphans. The surprised lift of his brows gave away that he was clearly impressed.

An awkward silence fell between them, pierced only by the steady, incessant ticking of the second hand of her wall clock. Though she had always known that he was far more intelligent than his behavior often reflected, the reality that suddenly confronted her now disconcerted her. She thought again about what he had said earlier about her sister being an open book that could be read from a mile away. The notion that she had once lived under the same roof as a complete stranger who had been hiding in plain sight for years boggled her mind and wounded her pride. Until now, she had been the best people reader she had ever known.

“Why are you really here, Ranma? Why show your cards now? What do you really want?”

“That chicken’s getting cold.”


He sighed. “Fine. What ya said the other day about me and Akane. Ya’re right. Life’s short. Honor agreement or not, we either gotta find a way to move forward or move on.”

Nabiki regarded Ranma with her best poker face as she plopped herself down in her chair and placed the now-open can of Kirin on her desk. Inside, however, she suddenly found herself feeling lightheaded and dizzy with the realization that something bizarrely pivotal was now playing out around her. Thinking back on her last conversation with Kasumi and the last couple of days, she had the vague, premonitory sense of something dangerous and unnatural closing in.

Had she really been the Machiavellian Ice Queen that she had worked so hard to make everyone believe that she was, she knew she should have thrown him out the door right then and there. Her conscience, however, would not allow her to escape the haunting reality of her old filial duty to her dead mother. No matter what, she had promised to help look after Akane and keep the family sane and functional.

“You’re right,” she sighed. “The chicken’s getting cold.”

# # # # #​

The stranger who sat across from Nabiki munching on chicken and leisurely sipping on one of her large canned Kirins sounded like a rather intelligent, mature, and clear-eyed individual. He even displayed evidence of wit and a sense of humor that proved more than superficially one-dimensional. She actually enjoyed their conversation and his company.

“You don’t need my help,” she pronounced as their meal wound down. “You’re not even such a self-centered, have-all ass after all. If you actually spoke to Akane the way you’re talking to me now, you’d be just fine.”

“Uh-uh,” he said, shaking his head as he leaned back in the chair. “Ain’t that simple.”

“Why not?”

“Well, that’s why I need your help.”


“Not exactly like I dropped into Nerima and your family’s home looking for a wife when I was 16. Truthfully, I, uh, well, I….

“What?” she prodded impatiently. “What are you trying to say?

“Can’t ya guess by now?”

“Why don’t you just tell me? Like the normal person you’ve been acting like just now. It’s actually been kind of nice.”

“I told ya. I ain’t the person your sister thinks I am, but it also ain’t like I cared for her to think good ‘bout me either when we all first met. Honestly figured I’d be back on the road with my old man before the week or even the day was out. Ending up with a girl at some point in my life didn’t even cross my mind. With Akane all naturally suspicious and stuff….”

Nabiki could no longer focus on what he was saying as the implication of his confession struck her. It had the potential to explain a lot. She had to test her hypothesis. “So, wait. That means….”

“What?” he deadpanned with narrowed, suspicious eyes.

“Do you… prefer boys?”


“Maybe both?”

“H– H– HEY…!”

“There’s absolutely no shame in this, you know, Ranma-kun. This is, after all, 21st century Japan.”


She flinched involuntarily at the stormy beer- and garlic-laden breeze that blew in her face. From his expression, she immediately knew the answer to her questions. She had not realised how many veins there were on a human forehead or that human skin could possibly flush that brightly and generate that much heat.

For that priceless look alone, she found herself secretly forgiving him for his contributions to her current sorry physical condition. Even then, however, she could not let the game end that easily.

“This is a pretty important little detail, Ranma-kun. Don’t get mad. I need a straight answer. We can’t go anywhere otherwise.”


“It’s okay if you need some time to — “


For the second time that night, Nabiki again could no longer control herself. She broke down with laughter until her insides hurt.

“Why is sexuality such an awkward subject for you, Saotome?” she finally managed to get out. “Especially with that curse you have, I just don’t understand. You’re the only person I can imagine who has ever had a chance to see everything from both sides of the world and know for sure what you are and what you’re not.”

“Look! I like girls and only girls! End of story! Can ya move on to some real questions now?!”

“Okay. So tell me straight. What is my sister to you? Do you even like her? As a girl?”

“I, well, uh….”

She groaned in exasperation as the thalamus and pre-central regions of his 18-year-old supratentorial sponge fizzled and short-circuited, leaving him withering and regressing back into his old pattern of infantile incoherence over matters concerning the opposite sex. Unlike all the other times when she had watched this familiar B-rated scene play out, however, a strange revelation came to her as she thought back on their earlier conversation about unconscious biases. As she studied him standing by the window helplessly twiddling a chicken bone between his thumbs, she came to a decision. She realized that she needed, even wanted, him to trust her.

“Let’s have some ground rules going forward. To make us both a little more comfortable.” She presented him with a very simple and square proposal.

First, what he said with regards to Akane would stay between them – unless, of course, the matter became an issue of dishonorable or malicious intent. To make everything transparent and fair, the same would apply to what she told him about her sister too.

Second, he had to answer her questions honestly to the best of his ability. In return, she would give him her honest appraisal and without regard for how hard the words might be to hear.

Third, he did not have to agree with her opinions or her advice. However, he had to tell her if he disagreed and why. Similarly, she could not coerce or trick him into saying or doing anything. She could only entreat and try to persuade.

Fourth, no hard feelings should come between them regardless of what happened between him and Akane. The entire matter should remain an objective business affair.

“That’s it. How does that sound?”

“I, uh…. why? How can I be sure this ain’t just the beer or your sleep deprivation talkin’? Don’t ya at least want something back for all this?”

She smiled. Maybe he was right to some degree about the alcohol and her lack of sleep. Still, even those things could not make a person say things they did not honestly mean.

“You were listening in on me with Kasumi the other day, right? It’s like what I said. I think my Mom would be disappointed with the way things are and what we’ve become. No matter how much Akane pisses me off sometimes, Kasumi and I are supposed to look after her, and I think you can be good for her. I always thought that.”


She shrugged. “Don’t know. Just a feeling.”

“That don’t make sense. Nabiki Tendou always has a reason.”

“Honest, Ranma. Sometimes, for a girl, a feeling is reason enough. Last I checked, I’m still a girl.”

“Okay. But I still think I owe ya something in return.”

“Oh, yes, but that’s a separate matter.”

“Whaddaya want?”

“Well, other than for Akane to finally mature and get her life straightened out, just two little things.”


“The things I do with my life here in Meguro are my business. You don’t go back to Nerima and talk to anyone about what you see and hear. That includes Kasumi.”

“Fair. The other?”

She eyed the unfinished sketch and the drawing pencils still splayed out on her bed and delighted in watching him cringe as he followed her eyes.

“From now on, you’re going to willingly help me make some money to fund my agendas. I’ll tell you what those are on a need-to-know basis.”

“Uh, nothin’ dishonest or dishonorable, okay?”

Nabiki laughed. “Funny you say that. Whatever you may think, I’ve never been dishonest or done anything dishonorable with you or even any of those fools back in Nerima.”

He glared back at her with narrowed, suspicious eyes. “Sellin’ pictures of both my forms to the Kuno siblings back when ya were still at Furinkan? Or stirring up fights so ya could set up betting pools? Ain’t any of that dishonest or dishonorable?”

“On my mother’s grave, I promise you that what I’ve said is true,” she answered with a straight, solemn expression. “None of that was stuff you couldn’t handle, and no harm ever came to anyone. I can’t be responsible for everyone else’s mistaken assumptions and inferences, and too often Life forces you to select a bad choice from only bad choices. A lot of growing up means realizing that’s just the way things are. Anyway, you keep your end of our deal, and I’ll keep mine. That sound okay to you?”

To demonstrate her sincerity, she stood, walked around to his side of the desk, and reached across her chest with her right hand to release her dominant arm from the sling. A flash of pain tore through her shoulder as did. She fought back and extended her left hand to him.

Ranma, clearly panicking, shot to his feet and moved toward her. “Nabiki…!”

“I’m fine,” she lied as she grasped at her left elbow with her right hand to steady herself. For added effect, she threw him the warmest, most inviting smile that she could manage. “Do we have a deal?”

“O-okay,” he said as he reached out and took her hand in his. “Deal.”

“Good,” sighing with relief as he helped her place her arm back in the sling. “So now, let’s try this again, yes? Do you like my sister?”

“I, well — “

“The unvarnished, uncensored truth, Ranma,” she reminded him. “Forget even about honor, duty, and everyone else’s views and assumptions for a moment. Do you or do you not?”

Of course, she knew that her question was merely rhetorical, but even then, a confession from him would still be an important milestone. The actual answer that Nabiki received, however, shattered her entire view on Ranma and Akane’s dysfunctional relationship. She could not recall the last time anyone had so completely caught her off guard. With her confidence in her ability to read people again shaken for the second time that evening, she had to sit down.

“Can you… can you say that again?”

“Told ya, I honestly ain’t sure. Akane definitely ain’t bad lookin’, but spending my whole life with someone just ‘coz of how they look ain’t exactly a smart or right thing to do. I need more in order to answer your question.”

“I…. I don’t understand. You’ve lived in our home for over 3 years now.”

He reached over to Nabiki’s bed and carefully picked up the unfinished self-portrait she had been working on with the Komei School child. “Maybe that’s another unconscious bias talkin’?” he remarked as he studied the sketch.

“I…. I guess so,” Nabiki admitted, genuinely chagrined. “Maybe you should explain it to me.”

He sighed. Their parents, his other iinazukes, and rivals had been breathing down their necks from the day he and Akane had been engaged, trying to dictate and manipulate every single one of their thoughts and actions toward one another. As a result, he never had the opportunity to spend time getting acquainted with Akane as a boy normally would.

“That’s the real reason nothin’ can move forward as ya put it. Other than that she also believes in the principles of the Art, can’t cook, has an anger management problem, gets jealous of everyone and everything, and that yellow is her favorite color, I really dunno much else.”

Nabiki finally understood. “You want to date her — as in like a normal boy asking a girl out. That’s why you want my help.”

He nodded. “Yeah. Something like that, but if I went to her directly as things stand now, she’d clobber me on the assumption that I’ve got some perverted motive ‘fore I can even finish what I wanna say. Ya know how suspicious she gets.”

Nabiki nodded. He had a point.

Just then, however, the toll of the last few days on her body decided to declare itself. A deep yawn overcame her, compelling her to concede, despite how strange and interesting the evening had been, that fighting to keep her eyes open was becoming incredibly difficult. Collapsing and hibernating for the rest of the week seemed like a deliciously appealing idea. Her burn wound itched again too after her little maneuver just now. She needed to change the bandage before she could turn in.

She glanced at the wall clock above her door.


The snow outside her window had only grown heavier since they came from Setagaya. The last outbound train would come and go soon as well.

Akane likely was already fuming imagining the worst about his whereabouts. Nabiki could only imagine the hell that awaited Ranma whenever he made it back.

“You should go home, Ranma-kun. I’ll do some thinking. We can continue this conversation again soon.”

“I, uh…. Thanks, Nabiki. For hearin’ me out tonight and… Merry Christmas.”

“Sure. I… I guess I should also say thanks. For helping me home and all. Merry Christmas to you too, Ranma.””

He gave her a warm, earnest grin. This, however, quickly dissolved into flummoxed consternation as he appeared to realize something.

“What?” she asked.

"Uh, how will I hear from you…?"

Regardless of how interesting or pleasant the bizarre evening turned out to be, some things simply could not be allowed to change. Nabiki pounced on the opportunity like oxygen at the summit of Everest and gleefully brandished one of her trademark smirks at him. She welcomed the reassurance of finding that some sort of familiar ground still existed between her and the pig-tailed martial artist.

"Well, I‘d urge you to consider delivering me a new phone at your earliest convenience. I understand the fruit company has just come out with a new model. Midnight blue is an available color option…."

# # # # #​

  1. Christmas is a secular holiday in Japan, a country where less than 1% of the population identifies as Christian. In 1974, KFC Japan launched a “Kentucky for Christmas” marketing campaign portraying eating fried chicken as an elegant, authentic way to celebrate the holiday in true American style. The messaging proved incredibly successful, and ever since, a fried chicken meal has become a unique Japanese Christmas tradition. KFC Japan’s busiest day is usually December 24, on which sales are 5-10x more than on typical days.
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“I really like this one, Tendou. New inspiration?”

Nabiki and her friend Kozue were in one of the Art school’s studio rooms deciding on their pieces for the Naka-Meguro Winter arts festival taking place the coming week. Presently, the other girl had locked her scrutinizing eye on Nabiki’s newest watercolor. The painting depicted the anonymised silhouettes of a pair of open hands held open to one another over a body of water reflecting an image of sunrise. Despite the cliche subject, Nabiki prided herself for the composition’s bold juxtaposition of blue against red, orange, and black, which she felt still managed to convey a warm, hopeful sentimentality.

“Something like that,” Nabiki replied with a knowing smile.

“Looks like some antithesis to the ‘Hands of God’(1).”

“Well, then, woe be upon little Heathen me.”

Kozue leaned in with a playful, conspiratorial smirk. “The road to Hell is more colorful and interesting than the pious one in the other direction?”


Kozue Ishikawa was a blunt and plain-spoken Kobe girl who Nabiki had befriended through an art interest group that they both joined shortly after starting at Komaba. While Ishikawa could be brutally honest when asked for her opinions, she was also discrete about when and where she stuck her nose into things. Nabiki appreciated those traits about the girl.

Most of the time.

“Care to share?” the Kansai girl asked.


“Your inspiration?”

“A thousand yen,” Nabiki replied coolly, holding out her hand.

Kozue studied Nabiki’s right hand before glancing back at the painting. In the end, she laughed. “That’s crap, Tendou. You should be compensating me.”


“Giving you honest feedback on your road to Hell, of course.”

“I don’t follow.”

“Yeah, right. Behind that pretty smile of yours, Tendou, I know you know exactly what I’m talking about. You’re too smart not to know.”

“I think not. Enlighten me.”

“Well then,” Kozue said as she reached over and took Nabiki’s right hand by the wrist and held it up to the painting. “I’d say here’s at least half the story.”

Nabiki smiled knowingly. Kozue was a sculptor. She would notice such things. “Not exactly like I had the actual subject available to me for a sitting. I needed a proxy.”

“Yeah. Sure. However, that,” Ishikawa pronounced as she eyed the details of the other hand in the portrait up close, “definitely belongs to a man. A strong one too with some really nice forearm muscles that certainly caught your eye — which is why you’re planning to hold onto this one, aren’t you. Not like all the others.”

“No, I think this one could fetch a really good price.” Kumi would benefit from a new scarf and some new gloves, and Takashi needed new shoes. She needed the money too for other no less meaningful agendas.

“I meant the guy, Tendou. It must be wonderful to feel hands like that on your body.”

Nabiki laughed. Of course, her friend had no idea what she was saying. “Gutter brain.”

Kozue laughed now in kind. “How am I the gutter brain? That,” she said, again pointing at the painting, “is not a product of my imagination.”

Nabiki sighed. Though her skin was far too thick for her to be scandalized, she still calculated that ending the game at the expense of her pride for one brief moment was the better part of valor. “If you must know, my sister finally agreed to a date with the guy she’s had her eye on for years.”

“Oh! The one with the secret crush on the doctor who can’t think straight when she’s around?”

“No. The other one,” Nabiki answered dryly.

She never discussed the arranged Tendou-Saotome engagement with any of her Todai friends. Instead, she described Akane merely as her boy-hating tomboy younger sister with a bad temper. The compound embarrassment of how they came from a family so old-fashioned that it still subscribed to such an outdated convention of misogyny and how difficult such a simple little thing as a date had proven to arrange would have killed Nabiki. The engagement could hardly be considered a real one anyway given the state of things.

Ranma proved right about needing her help. The past month had seen her respect for him only grow. Even together, they had needed that much time to work out the details. Convincing Akane that Ranma’s interest in going on dates had no basis in secret perverted intentions or any other nefarious ulterior motives had been a tour de force of persuasion. Arranging to have the fathers, fiancées, and rivals indisposed at the right time on the right day had been a logistical matter of multivariable calculus.

“You must be really happy for your sister,” Ishikawa said.

“We’ll see. It’s just a painting.”

“Whatever you say, my dear sinister Heathen (2). Just remember that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Having hands like that on your body would be amazing.”

“We need to get you a boyfriend.”

“Too cumbersome. Just introduce me to your model some time.”

Nabiki laughed again. “Fine, but look only. No touching. My sister’s a martial artist, you know.”

“You had the actual guy as the model?!”

“Yeah. Something like that.”

“I take it back. You’re not smart. You’re crazy.”

“You’re concluding that on the basis of a hand?”

“Correction. Your depiction of a hand.”

“You’re hopeless.”

“When’s the date?”


“Sounds like fun. Seriously, though, Tendou.”


“You really want to sell this one off?”

# # # # #​

Following Nabiki’s advice, Ranma had bought tickets for a performance of a two-character play titled "The Folly of Devotion." Ranma had been skeptical of the venue, but then Nabiki reminded him of the starstruck wonder that had overcome Akane that time she had been cast as Juliet in the Furinkan Drama Club’s interpretation of the Shakespearean classic. Akane’s long-standing love affair with the theater was a guarded secret known only to a few people, her sisters being among those few.

“She knows I’m facilitating your setup anyway,” Nabiki had pointed out. “Personally, I think bringing out this side of her would be a good thing for her self-esteem.”

“I don’t get it though. Why would someone like Akane have self-esteem issues? Everyone at school loves her.”

“Yeah. Why is that? Why does anyone?”

“I, uh, dunno.”

“Tell you what, Saotome,” Nabiki said with her trademark Cheshire cat’s smirk. “If you figure this one out with her, it will go a long way toward advancing your relationship. In fact, I’ll dare say that your window to her heart lies in that direction. Start with the play.”

That was how Ranma ended up buying the tickets. The story was about a newlywed couple whose world is turned upside down by a car accident that leaves the woman a quadriplegic. The man is steadfast in his commitment to his wife – at least initially. He showers her with affection and attention, and he spares no effort or price in his desire to protect her. He does everything for her, and he keeps things from her which he believes would only be stressful and burdensome.
The man’s love, however, inadvertently leads to mutual resentment over time. The woman feels he has smothered what remains of her identity; he is betrayed by her resentment. The story ends with the bittersweet sting of their divorce. They go their separate ways not because they do not love one another, but because they do.
“Ya sure about this?” Ranma had asked uneasily after hearing the synopsis.
“You don’t like the story?”
“No, it ain’t that. I see where ya get that’s an interesting concept. Even thought-provoking. It’s just that — “
“On my mother’s grave, trust me, Saotome,” she assured him. “You’ll have lots to talk about after. It’ll be a perfect opportunity for you to demonstrate to Akane some of the brains and sensibilities you’ve revealed to me these last few weeks.”
That was the conversation they had the day Nabiki created the water color of the hands for which Kozue had been giving her grief earlier. Ranma had actually been modeling his right hand over Nabiki’s hand mirror per her direction as they had chatted. She did have to concede that his hand was, objectively speaking, a very good anatomic specimen. His years of training in the Art had resulted in clean, elegantly defined lines of individual muscles, tendons, and bones so clear that even an untrained eye could pick them out. Perhaps even Michelangelo would have been intrigued by such a hand.

Now, the hour had come up just shy of six. She had not heard from either him or Akane for the entire day. Either the date had been an apocalyptic disaster or had gone amazingly well.

# # # # #​


Ranma, who, true to form, had been inhaling the sunny side up eggs and toast on his plate, paused to look up across the table at Nabiki. “Huh? What?”

“Ranma-kun,” she warned as she put her fork down and leaned back crossly into the dingy booth’s dated vinyl upholstery. Well-engineered hand or otherwise, her patience was running thin. “We’re the only 2 people sitting at a 24/7 Denny’s at 1 on a Sunday morning because you dragged me here. Either talk to me, or I’m going back home to sleep.”

Ranma had come to do the expected debrief of his date with Akane. His timing did not surprise Nabiki. His only opportunities to slip out undetected came either late at night or early in the morning when everyone back home was still asleep.

He intercepted Nabiki just after midnight as she was coming back from drinks and billiards with Kozue and some of the other art club kids. Par for the course for a Saturday evening, they had gone to one of the off-campus dives. On account of some guys from another nearby university with long sticks, loose pockets, and a poor understanding of how to work odds, she had been in a rather good mood when Ranma got to her. Her profit margin from the ensuing drunken turkey shoot had been one of her best. She herself had personally delighted in killing off more than one presumptuous narcissist asshole on a single turn at 9-ball, which she found to be a rather trivial physics problem with such basic geometric solutions.

“Sorry. Didn’t get a chance to eat earlier.”

“Really…?” Nabiki asked incredulously.

“Yeah. We, uh, actually kinda lost track of time.” When he and Akane had finally realized the hour, only bars and convenience stores remained open. Kasumi’s leftovers had been sufficient for Akane, but not him.

“That good, huh.”

“Yeah. Ya were right. Play was really good.”

“I was referring to my sister’s company.”

“Yeah, that’s what I’m tryin’ to tell ya. She loved it, just like ya said she would. Had tons to say after.” It was probably the most normal thing they had ever done together.


“And what?”

“Did you learn anything useful about my sister?”

He smiled. “Yeah, I — “

“You don’t have to tell me,” she said, cutting him off. “I just wanted to know that your time was well spent.”

“I…. Thanks, Nabiki,” he said, bowing his head to her. “Thank you.”

“Don’t be so dramatic,” she said, waving him off with her left hand. “I’m happy it went well, but it’s still just a first date.”

He nodded to let her know that he understood. “Have ya also seen it?”

“The play?”


She nodded. “They had a showing here at Komaba early last term. The writer is a recent alum.”

“What were your thoughts?” He asked. “Do ya believe in love?”

She laughed. “Here I am losing beauty sleep on a Sunday morning over buttered toast, sunny side up eggs, and bacon trying to sort out your relationship with your fiancée . What do you think?”

“I think the truth is that ya like sunny side up eggs too when no one else is lookin’. Just like fried chicken.”

“Now you’re just being obnoxious.”

He laughed back at her. “Fine. Ya sent us to see a play portraying devotion as a folly and ‘happily-ever-after’ as just a fantasy.”

“No, I didn’t,” she smirked as she shoved a forkful of ketchup-lathered eggs into her mouth. “I sent you to see a play talking about how expecting to be rewarded for devotion itself is a folly. There’s no judgment in there about whether two people who love one another can or can’t be happy.”

“Okay. But ya still ain’t answered the question.”

“Come on. I just did.”

“How so?”

“You remember that line that the guy has towards the end as he’s reflecting with his best friend?”

“The one about the truest measure?”

“Yes,” she nodded before reciting the line aloud. “‘Sometimes, the truest measure of devotion is the strength to turn away from the thing you want the most.’ It means that love isn’t necessarily about whether or not you’re with someone, but about being able to hold their interests alongside or even before your own.”

“High standard.”

“It is,” Nabiki agreed. “And it should be.”

“You’re hoping I can give that to Akane one day?”

“Whoever Akane ends up with, I’m hoping he can give her that. I hope you also end up with someone who’ll do the same for you.”

“I see.”

“Do you?”

“Yeah. I do.” The confident, cocky grin he gave her was classic Ranma Saotome. She thought about saying something smart to cut him down to size, but then he preempted her with a question. “What about you?”

“What about me?”

“Whaddaya hope to have for yourself?”

Nabiki started to answer, but surprised herself with the realization that she did not really have anything to tell him. Society tended to expect that if a girl was considered attractive, she could not and should not be by herself. She never fully understood why.

To be fair, she understood that men tended to notice her, and she did occasionally amuse herself with the knowledge that she knew how to tease quite well if she wanted. She certainly had eyes and hands of her own too. In high school, she had accepted the company of one or two boys on a few occasions. Since arriving at Komaba, she had been on a few one-off dates: a pair of European ambassador’s sons, a local print artist, a student chef in culinary school, and one university dropout who drove for Uber nowadays.

Still, Nabiki invariably came away with the feeling of not needing or even really wanting more from anyone. If anything, she usually ended up annoyed or even disappointed for one reason or another. Unsurprisingly, the European boys had proved to be that elitist asshole type that she secretly despised of self-centered, have-all with no actual regard or appreciation of people who were not of a certain background. The local print artist lacked basic foresight and planning skills; he had been late by a considerable margin. The university dropout had “forgotten” to bring his wallet. As for the student chef, Nabiki did not even like his cooking; it had been far too bland.

Consequently, she could only simply say to Ranma, “ I don’t know.”

“You’re kidding, right?” he deadpanned incredulously. “Nabiki Tendou always has an answer for things.”

She laughed. “No, I don’t, Ranma.”

“That’s a bold admission. Especially coming from you. Ya feelin’ okay?”

She laughed. “What’s the point of telling you otherwise now? You’ve already seen through to my fried-chicken-licking, canned-beer chugging, sunny-side-up egg side.”

“So you’re trying to say that ya think of us as friends.”

“Sure,” she shrugged. “Why not.”

“God!” he groaned. “Getting a confession of amiable sentiment from ya is almost as rough as pulling one outta Ryoga.”

“I’m not going to ask for the details.”


“To answer your question,” Nabiki said as she studied the last remaining bit of eggs on her plate. “I honestly haven’t ever thought about ending up with anyone. I’m more than fine if I don’t. Love is a good thing for those who find it, but I don’t need it.”

“But you think Akane does?”

Nabiki nodded. “Akane is not the kind of person who can be alone in life. Most people aren’t.”

“And me?”

“I honestly don’t know,” she admitted. “I thought I did, but after really talking to you recently, I realize that you don’t know either. Maybe you’ll be able to tell me after you get to know Akane a little better.”

Ranma leaned back and mulled over her words. “Modern and ballsy,” he concluded. ”I like it, Nabs.”

“Thank you,” she replied. The “Nabs” part, however, grated on her nerves. “Don’t call me that. Ever.”





“I’ve got it! Kani!”

“I’m not a fucking crab!!!” (3)


“How about just ‘‘Na-bi-ki’!” she gritted through her teeth. “You can manage three syllables. I know because you’ve already been doing it for years.”

“I’m just messin’ with ya, ‘kay?” he said with a laugh. “Didn’t realize ya were sensitive about stuff like that — or really anything.”

“Akane’s wrong about a lot of things,” she grumbled, “but one thing she’s not wrong about is that you really can be an annoying jerk sometimes.”

“Okay, okay!” he said as he held his hands up to ward off the palpable heat from the stormy aura radiating at him from across the table. “I’m sorry, Nabiki.”

“You’d better be.”

“Just one last question?”

“What now?”

“Ya gonna eat that?” he asked, pointing his fork at the long-cold remnants of food in front of her.

With a sigh, Nabiki pushed her plate along with the check at him.

“What?!” he called after her back. “Trains stopped hours ago. I gotta run and walk back to Nerima. That costs calories, ya know!”

“Call me when you’re ready to talk about your next move with my sister,” she replied without looking back.

# # # # #​


1. The “Hands of God” is a famous excerpt from “The Creation of Adam,” fresco painting by Italian artist Michelangelo that forms part of the Sistine Chapel's ceiling in the Vatican. The “hands” are those of Adam and his Creator reaching out and touching one another. Michelangelo painted “The Creation of Adam” between 1508 and 1512.

2. “Sinister” is the Latin word for left-handed. The term came to have negative connotation over the centuries because of the unfair advantage that left-handed swordsmen had against right-handed opponents in battle.

3. “Kani” is the Japanese word for “crab.”
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In the weeks that followed, Nabiki began to hear a certain tender warmth in Akane’s voice when she spoke of Ranma. Even when she complained about him, that feeling still came through. Those occasions, however, suddenly seemed few and far between.

“Thank you, Oneechan,” Akane said when she called one day. That happened about a week or so before Nabiki’s birthday. She had been between late afternoon classes. Other students rushed by as she worked on hurriedly shoving her tablet into her messenger brief.

“For what?” Nabiki asked distractedly.

“I don’t know,” Akane replied with a soft giggle. “For nothing and everything. I… I just feel happy and alive, like all things are suddenly possible. I think you more than anyone can understand what I mean. Like how you maybe felt when you actually realized that you were going to Todai and finally escaping Nerima?”

Nabiki stopped to laugh. “Actually, I was just trying to get away from you, Lover Boy, and all the craziness. Act of self-preservation. Not quite the same thing.”

“I…. I’m sorry we caused so much trouble,” Akane said with an uncomfortable laugh of her own. “What I’m trying to say is thank you for making us talk to one another. Like really talk. It’s helped me realize some things about myself. Important things.”

“I’m glad.”

“Can I come over this weekend? I’d like to tell you in person.”

“Of course. I have something until 4 or so,” Nabiki noted, referring to a commitment she had with Kozue earlier in the day. After weeks of harassment, Nabiki had finally given in and agreed to model a bust for her friend. “But I’m free after.”

“I’ll come around half 4 then. Maybe we can do dinner? Like old times?”


“Thank you, Oneechan.”

# # # # #​

“Hold still!” Kozue screamed at Nabiki. “Are you trying to model a frown instead?!”

For the past two hours, she had been perched on the edge of a large window frame with afternoon sun baking the back of her head and her face aching from the facial expression that Kozue had ordered her to hold.

“Fuck, Ishikawa! Why a smirk of all things?” she groused back at the Kansai girl. Kozue had been adamant that no other expression would do for Nabiki.

“Because, my dear Heathen, no one else has one that holds more mystery or beauty than yours,” she teased with a parody of impish, seductive allure dripping off her usual lilting, sing-songy Kansai accent. At least Nabiki thought it was a parody. Still, if Kozue were not so openly lewd in her discussions of men, Nabiki could have sworn more than once that her friend was into her.

Kozue laughed. “If I were a man, hell yeah, I’d want you. Look at you!” She paused in her work to spread her plaster-smothered hands to indicate the outfit she had made Nabiki wear for the sitting. Per Kozue at least, using clothing to help elicit a desired expression from a subject was a standard practice for sculptors.

Nabiki had to concede that the outfit Kozue picked did make her look and feel dangerously pretty. The two-part fit-and-flare midi evening dress had a black, long-sleeved turtleneck top and a heavy, brilliant turquoise floral-print A-line silk skirt with white orchids accented with pink and violet hues. Her shoulders were wrapped in a long silk shawl with brilliant, bold, flaming strokes of crimson, royal blue, yellow, and orange. Her long, shapely legs were clad in black tights accentuated by a pair of black patent leather stilettos.

The dress and shoes had been part of the deal to persuade Nabiki to agree to the sitting. Ishikawa’s father was an import/export distributor for Ted Baker, Reiss, Louis Vuitton, and other European fashion houses, so she had access to such things with a heavy markdown. Nabiki agreed, reasoning to herself privately that she could later turn the clothes over to a consignment shop for a decent amount or rent them to Akane for one of her increasingly frequent dates with Ranma.

Since that night when Nabiki went with him for sunny side up eggs, the world began to move with a new and different sense of invigorated purpose. Akane agreed to go with Ranma to see yet another play the weekend after. With Nabiki’s help, he found tickets for something still thought-provoking, but more light-hearted this time around. They remembered to eat something following the performance too.

Afterward, Nabiki began to hear less and less from him. To her surprise, she missed the brutal, edgy, rapid-fire zingers that had come to define the witty, easy-going rapport that had developed between them. Few people could hold their own and make her laugh the way he had.

A few times, she called in her end of the deal and asked him to come by and model for a quick sketch or painting. She reasoned that doing so was a reasonable pretense to check up on things from his end. After the third session, however, she realised she should not be taking away time that he could be spending otherwise with Akane. Calling him over ran counter to the deal they had made that night over fried chicken and beer.

Escaping the anxious boredom that followed had been her real motivation for agreeing to model for Kozue. Outside, the inscrutable mask of her cool unflappability and the razor’s edge of her vicious wit remained intact — at first. Inside, however, a strange molasses of gray banality gradually settled over things. Aside from going to Setagaya and seeing Daigoro and the others at the Komei School twice per week, little else actually interested her.

Even her inspiration for creating deserted her. The lines and interfaces of light and shadow that she had once been able to so easily see in everything she heard and saw suddenly seemed blurred and vague. Some sort of essence seemed to have left the world, leaving everything simply to exist. Whether or not she thought of or saw any meaning in that existence simply felt agnostically inconsequential. She could not understand why, which was deeply unsettling. When even little William picked up that something about her had changed, she realised that she had to do something.

“Kiki-onee okay?” he asked over ice cream one day.

“I’m fine, William,” Nabiki had answered as she affectionately ruffled his hair and hastily plastered a bright smile on her face. “Why do you ask?”

“Well… Kiki-onee’s ice cream melted before she could eat it,” he replied, pointing at the gooey puddle of melted vanilla and cookie dough chucks on the small table between them.

After she boarded the train heading out of Setagaya, Nabiki dialed Kozue. “I’m free for the next few Saturdays if you are.”

# # # # #​

To meet Akane on time, Nabiki had to rush back from the Art school still wearing the outfit Kozue had given her under the black three-quarter length long coat that she had hurriedly tossed over her shoulders. The brilliant silk of the turquoise orchid-print skirt and her heels teased their presence beneath the coat’s hem. Just as she rounded the tree-lined bend leading up to the residence hall, she caught sight of Akane waiting by the front door.

Akane had in her hands a cloth-wrapped parcel, which Nabiki surmised must have been sent by Kasumi. Akane looked up and smiled as she heard Nabiki approach. Her expression, however, quickly dissolved into an awkward, starstruck gawk as she took in Nabiki’s appearance.

“Hello to you too,” Nabiki said dryly as she stepped past her speechless sister to wave her student ID at the card reader. “Coming?” she prompted as she held the door open.

“It really must be wonderful to be at a place like Todai,” Akane remarked with reverence as she fell in alongside her sister. “You have such a cool sophistication about you now.”

“Hardly. And no, this has nothing to do with a date or anything of the sort. I was just doing a favor for a friend.”

“Favor…?” Akane asked as she cast her gaze down at her sister’s black leggings and patent stiletto heels. “Oh….”

Nabiki laughed at the anxious consternation in her prudish sister’s eyes. “Not that kind of favor! Damn, Akane! Why does everyone have such a gutter brain nowadays?”

“I’m sorry! I didn’t mean – “

“Don’t worry about it. My face hurts too much to explain right now, but let’s just get this straight once and for all. For the record, I am not, nor will I ever be, a kyabakura girl (1) — for any price — and fuck all the losers who’d pay for that shit.”

“Oneechan!” a scandalized Akane cried out.


“How can you say such things?!”

“I’m no different from who I’ve always been,” Nabiki replied coolly as she keyed them into her room. “And I’m not the one here with scandalized thoughts. Green tea Kit Kat?” she offered, procuring a pair of small, green, foil-wrapped bars out of her desk drawer.

“Oh! That reminds me!” Akane, visibly eager to change the subject, extended her hands toward her sister and offered the cloth-wrapped parcel she had brought. “Sakura mochi from Kasumi-oneechan. Just made this morning. She and Dad send their love and regards.”

The mention of Kasumi’s mochi brought a warm sense of childhood nostalgia. Nabiki sensed, however, that their older sister was trying to convey some sort of message by sending over the buns. Akiko used to make the sweet, sticky treats for her daughters early each spring around the time the cherry blossoms came. After her death, Kasumi took over making the mochi and sharing the pastries with her sisters as her own annual tradition. They used to laugh and tell silly jokes and stories as they ate. That tradition, however, had somehow fallen by the wayside in the years since the Saotomes moved into their home.

“I… I miss doing this, Oneechan,” Akane said as she studied the mochi in her hand.

“Me too,” Nabiki agreed. The uncomfortable silence that followed, however, in which the sisters were each left studying their respective buns quickly became too much for Nabiki. “Help unzip me out of this dress while you tell me what’s on your mind?”

Akane, almost certainly thinking the same thing, eagerly obliged. “Yes, I do have things to tell you. I don’t think Kasumi or Dad would understand.”


“I… I don’t know,” Akane started with a shy twiddle of her thumbs. “I wanted to talk to you first since this is kind of about him too.”

“I’m listening. Have a seat.”

Nabiki indicated her desk chair with a tilt of her chin as she finished slipping into a more typical and sensible ensemble of dark indigo slim fit jeans with a crème top finished off with a peach-colored button down cardigan.

“I am… happier since you pushed Ranma and I to spend time together,” Akane started. “When I’m with him now, he shares with me thoughts and insights that are so clear and direct and… refreshing. I feel surrounded by possibilities. He’s different from what I used to think he was.”

“Which was?”

“Simple, insensitive, uncaring, self-centered.”

“Arrogant?” Nabiki offered.

“Oh, he’s still that,” Akane giggled. “But I finally understand why he’s so confident and sure about himself in everything he does. You’re the same.”


“Yes. Both of you put yourselves out there, and neither of you are afraid or surprised by the risks and consequences of doing so.”

Nabiki took a seat on the bed, crossed her legs, and leaned forward with intrigue. “Surprised, no,” she conceded. “Afraid? Only idiots actually have no sense of fear.”

“But you still find a way to put yourself out there. You believe that you can be more than what you are and what others say you are.”

“What is it you’re trying to tell me, Akane?” Nabiki asked, giving her sister a gentle, encouraging smile. “You like him, right?”

Akane nodded. “I do. Except….”


“Except that…. that I like him more than I like myself. I don’t think that’s right or fair — for either of us.”

Akane had always had self-esteem issues out of proportion to her looks and abilities, even if there admittedly were a few things with room for improvement. This was the Achilles heel that had always distinguished her from her sisters. Nabiki recalled her previous words to Ranma about this aspect of her sister’s character.

If you figure this one out with her, it will go a long way toward advancing your relationship. In fact, I’ll dare say that your window to her heart lies in that direction….

“So what do you want to do, Akane?”

“I only have a few months left at Furinkan, so I really have to think about my future, right?” Akane reached for her purse and pulled out a set of folded papers, which she handed to Nabiki. “My acceptances,” she explained.

The names on the letters surprised Nabiki. Like her, Akane had always been an excellent test taker. Her recent Sentaa Shiken (2) results were good enough for her to go pretty much anywhere she wanted. That included even Todai and Kyodai. However, looking at the names in her hand now, Nabiki understood why Akane had wanted to talk to her before anyone else in the family:

Tama Art University

Kyoto City University of the Arts

Osaka Arts University

London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art

Tisch School of the Arts

“These are all arts and theater schools,” Nabiki noted, her eyes flashing with surprise and newfound respect for Akane. Her sister clearly had put in a lot of thought and effort — years in fact — into these choices. All of them were very good. Only one, however, was in Tokyo, and two of the five were not even in Japan.

Akane nodded. “You know that theater is the other thing that I’ve always really liked other than the Art. I’ve thought about taking my life in that direction for a while now. Seeing all those plays with Ranma and all the things we’ve talked about these last several weeks made me even more sure. That and, well, I… I….”

“Go on,” Nabiki urged gently.

“Those possibilities that I told you I feel when I’m with Ranma, Oneechan?”


“I… Wonderful as they are, I realized that they’re actually all his — every single one tied to and anchored by him. They’re not really my own.”

Nabiki found herself confused. “You sound angry with him for some reason. Are you?”

Akane vehemently shook her head. “That’s not what I’m trying to say. For once, this is not his fault. I’m actually happy for him that he can be like that — but as a woman, I should also have just as much for myself. I need to be more like you.”

“Moi?” Nabiki asked, unable to conceal her surprise. “How so? You’re the one everyone loved growing up. I was never popular like you.”

“No,” Akane agreed. “You’re better. You’re so beautiful, and you do your own thing without regard for what others might think or say. You never apologize or justify being yourself to anyone.”

Despite the gravitas of the moment, Nabiki could not stop herself from choking up with laughter. “Sorry, Akane! “ she gasped, clutching at her belly. “I don’t want to disappoint you, but I’m no Diana, Artemis or Athena here. Just an ex-Ice Queen mercenary forced into semi-retirement on account of age.”

Akane, however, did not seem to mind her sister making light of her words. She herself giggled back at Nabiki. “Of course not, but that’s what’s so… so cool about you. I need to be more like that, strong enough to create my own world and opportunities just like you have for yourself here at Todai. To do that, I… I think I need to leave Nerima and even Tokyo for a while. Maybe even Japan. I have to really find myself before I can decide whether or not Ranma is right for me.”

“Or you for him?”

Akane nodded. “Yes, that too. I told you. I don’t think my issues would make a relationship fair for either of us.”

Nabiki glanced over at her desk at the discarded wrappings from the buns they had consumed. She suddenly understood everything, including their conservative older sister’s annoying message to them both. Kasumi would never read anyone else’s letters, but she did receive the mail for the Tendou house each day, and she could read seals and return addresses on envelopes just as well as anyone.

Nabiki's appetite for any more mochi vanished as the ire of the closeted crusader within her stirred yet again. The duty her mother had discharged upon her had been clear: look after Akane and her interests at all costs. Maybe Kasumi had her own ideas about what those interests might be, but damned those prudish, old-fashioned views and ways. Akane had finally found the balls to do something sensible. Her will and desire to find herself had to be protected — whatever the implications might be for the Saotome-Tendou honor agreement and their respective families.

Of course. Nabiki wondered how Ranma would react. He would inevitably learn or discern that she had been the one to encourage Akane to leave. Would he approach this new crossroads with the refreshingly enlightened contemplation of those chats over fried chicken and sunny side up eggs? Or would he view Nabiki’s encouragement of Akane as a betrayal of the fried chicken agreement? Nabiki would simply have to make sure he understood. Ultimately, Akane’s self awareness could only pay positive dividends for him and her both – regardless of whether or not they ended up together. Akane deserved to have the time and space to discover and be herself.

Never had Nabiki’s pride in Akane as her sister been greater than in this moment here and now. Their mother would have been proud too. Biting down on the emotions that memories of Akiko threatened to unleash along with the haunted recollection of what Kozue had just forced Nabiki to endure, she suffered schooling her expression one more time into an amused smirk. “You want my help explaining all of this to Ranma and everyone else. That’s why you’re here.”

Akane nodded. “Am I crazy?”

“Among all those schools, which one do you really want?”

“New York,” Akane replied firmly without any hesitation.

Nabiki guessed as much. “Must’ve been some trip,“ she mused aloud, recalling how Akane had gone to visit the city with her two friends Yuka and Sayuri two summers ago. Sayuri apparently had relatives who lived there.

“I guess so.”

<How’s your English?>” Nabiki asked, abruptly switching languages.

“<Maybe better than you think>,” Akane replied, also switching easily from Japanese.

“<I… I didn’t know you kept up with it that well,>” Nabiki admitted, honestly surprised. Akane still definitely remembered (3).

<I hope Ranma and everyone else won’t be too angry. Please. Will you help me, Nabiki? >”

“<Don’t worry about that,” Nabiki said with a firm, dismissive wave of her hand. “You are crazy, Akane, but that’s because you’re a Tendou — not for realizing that you need to do what you have to do to find yourself. I… I’m proud of you for realizing these things. Mom would be too.>”

“<So you’ll help me…?>”

Nabiki nodded. “<You’ll have to be the one who does the talking, but I’ll help you figure out how to say it. I’ll also help you access the trust fund that Mom left in your name. No charge for any of this. Okay?>”

“Oneechan….” Akane said, her eyes shimmering now with her own naked emotions. “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!” she said, crushing the air out of the older girl’s lungs with a ferocious glomp of gratitude.

“Akane…,” Nabiki gasped. “Normal girl, remember? Not a martial artist. You have to let me live if you want my help….”

“Oh! Sorry!” the chagrined younger girl said as she let go and backed away from her sister.

“This little chat of ours has become too serious,” Nabiki grumbled as she massaged her ribs. “We can talk more later. Wanna grab something else to eat other than mochi?”

Akane smiled with an impish light suddenly in her eyes. “How about fried chicken?”

Nabiki laughed. “What else did he tell you about?” Secretly, somehow, she found herself hoping that Akane did not know about the sunny side up eggs, buttered toast, and bacon.

“Canned Kirins, but that’s about it. Anything else that I should know?”

“Hmm,” she said, feigning thoughtful contemplation to conceal her mental sigh of relief. He would pay though for that little indiscretion about chicken and beer. “He prefers legs and thighs over breasts. Oh, also definitely hens over roosters.”

“Oh…” a flummoxed, beat red Akane whispered to herself. “That’s… that’s gross, Oneechan!”

Nabiki delighted in her unapologetic seizure of the last laugh.“How about New York pizza instead?”

# # # # #​


(1) Regarding “Kyabakura,” the well known Japanese women’s studies scholar Kumiko Fujiwara-Fanselow writes in her 2010 book “Japanese Women: Perspectives on Past. Present, and Future”:
“Kyabakura, where thousands of Japanese women work as hostesses across the country, are establishments that fall somewhere between a cabaret and a club. They sprang up in the mid-1980s and represent just one of several types of establishments, including “soap lands,” pubs, snack bars and “pink salons” that offer various types of services for men.
As a rule, kyabakura hostesses do not engage in sex with their customers, and men are forbidden from touching the women’s breasts and other body parts….

… While many of these women look upon hostessing as a career that pays more than a lot of other jobs available to those with not much education or specialized skills, there are college students who work part time in kyabakura to earn spending money or help pay for tuition. The attitude among such students seems to be that as long as the men aren’t going to touch their bodies, nothing is wrong in getting paid — and paid much more than working part time at a restaurant or convenience store — if men want to pay money to have a drink or meal with them.”

(2) "Sentaa Shiken" refers to the(大学入試センター試験, Daigaku Nyūshi Sentā Shiken), a standardized test that was used for undergraduate admissions for many years by all public and some private universities in Japan. It was held annually during a weekend in mid-January over a period of two days. For many students, the test was the difference between college entrance and one year's study for the next year's exams as a rōnin. Since the test was only administered annually and entrance to top-ranked universities and colleges is so competitive in Japan, the test became a target of scrutiny by many. In addition, rules for tardiness and absences were extremely strict and always resulted in the forfeit of the right to take the exams. There were no "makeup" sessions or re-takes offered except in certain cases such as train outages. The test was replaced in 2021 by a new Common Test for University Admissions (大学入学共通テスト, Daigaku Nyūgaku Kyōtsū Tesuto).

(3) See Chapter Two, chapter note #3.
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“Im Blau,” on loan from the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen in Düsseldorf, hung before Nabiki on a wall in one of the feature galleries at the National Museum of Modern Art in Chiyoda. Blue had always been her favorite color — cool and unrepentantly fundamental. Few other paintings appealed to her love of this color as much as “Im Blau” with its powerful, unapologetic juxtaposition of it against red and black. Kandinsky somehow succeeded in drawing out of that cacophonic dissonance an unexpected sort of larger harmony. Nabiki adored him for that way he had of speaking directly to the essence of things. He was always bold and unapologetic in his distillations of the world down to the actual core of all that mattered.

“A lot like you, Na-chan,” her mother once told her. That time also happened to be when “Im Blau” had last been in residence at the museum. Akiko used to bring Nabiki here on weekends — especially on rainy days when idleness rendered her restless mind most prone to carrying out mischief and playing pranks on her sisters and others. Nabiki missed her mother very much. Even now, she still felt that her mother remained the one person in the world who had ever truly understood her.

The world in which Nabiki found herself now felt very much like the chaos in “Im Blau” — warring with its own Nature to orient itself into some semblance of harmonious meaning. She quickly remembered herself and angrily swiped the back of her left hand across her stinging eyes. It would not do for people to see her like this. She had not come here to wallow in old grief – but to find solace and ask for forgiveness.

Akane, as expected, received considerable grief from both their father and Kasumi for “leaving the family behind” and “neglecting her duties as the Heir” to the Tendou school. Japan had so many fine colleges and Universities, and so many bad things could happen to a young girl living abroad — especially in a wild, lawless place like America. Any number of bizarre ideas could also get into a person’s head in a place like that. Akane might not even be recognizable to anyone in the family when she came back home — if she even came back. Akane’s repeated assurances that she could take care of herself and that she would return seemed to fall on deaf ears.

“The Schools will never be joined this way!” the old man incessantly lamented.

Both fathers also came down hard on Ranma for failing in his “duty as a man” to persuade his iinazuke to remain in Japan. Uncle Gemma had threatened more than once to disown Ranma for his “shortcomings as a Man Among Men.” Only Akane’s strategic, off-handed insertion of the observation that disowning Ranma would be a public admission of Gemma’s own failure — as a father and in his promise to Ranma’s mother on pain of seppuku — had kept the elder Saotome from finishing the sentence.

That last one made Nabiki laugh when Akane told her. Still, even Nabiki had not been spared from reproach for her role in “this family tragedy.” She still remembered when her father had summoned her home to receive her due earful. Kasumi, of course, had been the one to relay the message, and, of course, the old man insisted on having this discussion in the dojo and when Akane was not around — lest the two scheming sisters collude in their mutual defense.

# # # # #​



She calmly feigned blissful ignorance as she gazed directly at the fury in her fathers eyes. She knew that her show of placid indifference would piss him off, but that had never bothered her before. In fact, venting would probably do him some good. The old man, though fundamentally a good and well intentioned father, definitely had a lot of annoying, old fashioned baggage up his ass.

“This is your fault!”

“Me…? What exactly do you think I’ve done, Dad?”

“Don’t misunderstand me, Nabiki. I’m all for you girls having a good education, but you going to Todai is one thing. This?! Are you trying to ruin our family?! Your Mother made you promise to look after Akane! Your duty as her sister was to discourage her from contemplating this insanity — not push her off the cliff to do it!”

Nabiki’s impish tolerance for the charade dissolved instantly with the offensive invocation of her mother. “Don’t bring Mom into this,” she warned. “I know exactly what she asked me to do for Akane, and that has nothing to do with the agreement you made with Ranma’s father! Akane has a right to do what she needs to find herself. My job — as is yours I might add — is to support her in that journey of growth. She’d be worthless to you as an heir and to Ranma or anyone else as a wife without that! You should be proud of her!”

“How am I supposed to be proud of daughters who would so callously throw away centuries of family honor and tradition?!”

“DAD!!!!” she roared back at him. “Nothing is being thrown away! If anything, a little self-discovery might even strengthen Akane’s interest and commitment to Ranma!”

Her father slapped his forehead in frustration as he groaned at his second daughter with palpable exasperation. “You and your sister really don’t understand, Nabiki. Honor is about far more than one person’s desires.”

People existed as parts of a community, be that a home, a village, or even a whole society or nation. Every single one needed a bedrock of tradition on which to define its ethical and moral standards.

“For this Tendou family, that bedrock is, always has been, and must always be our honor!”

“I understand all of that, Dad!” Nabiki shot back, struggling not to curse at him. “And I would never encourage Akane to do anything I knew to be dishonorable. Tell me how you think Akane’s decision brings dishonor! How is what she’s proposing different from any of those crazy training journeys you used to take with Uncle Genma? It’s not as if she’s broken the engagement or anything!”

Soun turned pale and incoherent with rage at his daughter’s words. “That is different! We are men!!!”

Stupid and futile as it was, Nabiki screamed and lunged at him wanting to rip his hair out. Before she could get to him, however, Kasumi appeared like a phantom and inserted herself between them.

“Stop it, Nabiki!” the older girl screeched. “What is wrong with you?! Apologise to Father right this instant!”

“For what?!”

“Maybe you haven’t heard.”

“Heard what?”

“Nabiki!” Kasumi hissed with a disapproving shake of her head.

“What?!” Nabiki herself now started to feel uneasy.

“I told you before to be careful about what you wish for! You’re always so sure of yourself and your ability to know everything!”

“Cut to the chase, Kasumi! What happened?”

# # # # #​

That was how Nabiki learned about the end of Ranma and Akane’s engagement.

Ranma informed the fathers of his decision that morning. He agreed that Akane had to find herself before she could determine her needs, desires, and what role, if any, he had in the picture that would emerge. He would not stand in her way. All of this happened just a few weeks after that day when Nabiki had shared mochi and pizza with her sister and days before they graduated from Furinkan.

In retrospect, Nabiki should not have been surprised. Yet, she found herself slapped in the face by the guilty discovery of her own unconscious biases about her sister and Ranma. Somewhere along the way, even she had given herself over to the parental doctrine that they were destined to end up together. New York was supposed to just be one step on a road to self-discovery that would still somehow lead to a happily-ever-after ending with the larger-than-life Heir to the other branch of the Musubetsu Kakutou-Ryu.

The Saotomes moved out shortly thereafter to Auntie Nodoka’s new home (1), which Nabiki learned happened to be in Setagaya Ward not far from the Komei School. She found out a few days later when she discovered Ranma once again sitting on one of the benches by the school’s main gate waiting for her. He surprised her by coming to explain things.

By this time, despite her ex-communication for the time-being from the Tendou home, she had already managed to hear Akane’s version of the story. However, Nabiki still found herself too curious to refuse his side, so she let him accompany her to the station and onto the train back to Meguro. An awkward, expectant silence hung between them until they ended up by the canal, a place where she was sure no one would overhear them.

“It ain’t what you’re thinkin’.”

“What do you think I’m thinking?”

“Ya think the real reason I did it is ‘coz I decided I don’t like Akane.”

She gave him a lop-sided, knowing grin. “A reasonable inference, don’t you think? Don’t worry. She’ll be fine. I think a part of her may even be relieved. She really does need time and space to figure out who she is and what she wants.”

Ranma stopped walking, turned off toward the side rail, and leaned over to study the river flowing quietly beneath the cherry blossoms. After spending time with Akane recently, he did not find her decision surprising. However, her moves compelled him too to wonder about himself and his own future.

“I do like being with your sister,” he eventually admitted. “She’s smart, and she’s got really interesting and different ways of thinking from what I do. We had a lot of fun together since ya helped me get her to open up. She’s pretty cute too.”


“I ain’t got no clue if the way I feel is just ‘coz she’s the first girl I ever chose to hang out with like that or if it’s really her.” Maybe there were other guys Akane could like more than him too. With time and other experiences, they might even discover that they liked completely different people and things with no real or meaningful commonality.

Ending the engagement had been an amiable, mutual decision. Akane, however, had already taken a considerable emotional and psychological beating for making her plans known. Ranma chose to take the blame for being the one to walk away officially. He calculated that doing so might take off some of the tremendous pressure already on Akane’s shoulders.

“I was just tryin’ to do the right thing. Sorry ‘bout wastin’ your time. Thought the least I could do wuz come try to explain.”

“It was kind of you to do that for Akane,” she acknowledged before deciding to throw a verbal backhand at him for good measure. Their conversation had become far too heavy and depressing for her taste. “Don’t apologize either. It’s annoying.”

“Huh? Whaddaya mean?” His face contorted into a bemused frown.

“We all had some fun, and you both learned some important things about yourselves and each other,” she explained. “That’s not a waste. If it means anything, I, for one, think that you and Akane are doing the right thing.”

He nodded to himself as he digested her words. “You’re the first to say that. Thank you.”

“What happens now?” she asked as she stepped up beside him against the rail and also studied the river waters drifting by below.

“Whaddaya mean? In terms of what?”

“Anything,” she said with a small shrug of her shoulders.

He also shrugged. “Be ronin (2) for at least a year, I guess. Figure out if there’s somethin’ I wanna get an education in.” With his father’s screwy priorities having hung over his head for so long, Ranma honestly never had much of a chance to think through his own desires before. Yet, knowing someone like Nabiki at Todai, hearing about Akane’s plans, and now with the engagement off the table, the potential for possibilities seemed limitless.

“I…. I wanna thank ya for all ya tried to do to help me and Akane. You’re actually a really nice person.”

Nabiki knew he meant well, but she suddenly felt uncomfortable. Her name and “nice” were not words she was accustomed to hearing together. Even boys and men trying to flatter her did not use those two together. Her mother, as far as she could recall, had been the only other person to describe her that way.

As the weight of this realization struck, her annoyance spilled over into the familiar realms of unresolved anger and unending sadness. Old, haunted questions re-emerged about all that might have been if only Akiko had not died. Maybe Akane could have found her way to questions that actually mattered far sooner. Maybe Kasumi would not be such a damned coward always afraid of living. Maybe her father could actually have been a more even-keeled man, present as a source of loving support for them all instead of the scared, raving ass who always talked about what should not be done.

Maybe Nabiki herself even really could have been a happy person — just like her mother. She would not have to be the angry and bitter daughter Akiko left behind, cynical and disillusioned by her lonely lack of any real power to influence the crazy, unfeeling, fucked-up world around her. Even worse, she continued to prove too weak a person fundamentally to not feel for all that she saw and heard around her.

Your Mother made you promise to look after Akane! Your duty as her sister was to discourage her from contemplating this insanity — not push her off the cliff to do it! How am I supposed to be proud of daughters who would so callously throw away centuries of family honor and tradition…?

And then there was that fucking “We are men!!!” shit.

Truthfully, she could not forgive her father for saying those things to her. Akane was not a fucking cow or a doll, and neither was she. Their mother would never have allowed him to speak to her like that. Fuck him for daring to lash out like that at her! Fuck whatever higher beings were out there laughing for taking away her mother!

Sors immanis et inanis,
Rota tu volubilis, status malus
Vana salus,
Semper dissolubilis
Obumbrata et velata,
Michi quoque niteris…!​

These horrible words suddenly appeared before her mind’s eye with a violent fury (3). They came from the Carmina Burana, a 13th century Latin text by Bavarian monks that she recently came across in one of her classes. The malevolent red of blood filled her vision before dissolving into actual crimson drops that fell upon her dead mother’s pristine white visage. The repugnant stains ruined Nabiki’s final cherished memory of Akiko before they sealed the casket and burned away all that remained of her earthly existence.

I can’t escape who I am.

I can’t forget.

I would want to die if there were any hope of that making a difference.

Why did you have to leave me?

# # # # #

Ranma’s hands fell on her shoulders, snatching her away from the ominous abysmal edge of the sudden onslaught of lurking madness. Shaken, she gasped as the terrible vision of her beautiful mother disappeared, replaced unceremoniously by Ranma’s concerned face before her.

“Ya okay?” he asked with genuine worry audible in his voice. “Nabiki?”

However, the ignominious prospect of discussing anything about the depths of darkness within her with anyone, much less Ranma Saotome, filled her with a mortified horror. In a panic, she scrambled to bury the evidence of her demons behind her usual mask of barbed stoicism.

“I’m fine,” she answered. However, the crack in her voice threatened to betray her. She tried to school her features into a disarming smile and decided to keep talking, both to steady herself and to attempt to throw him off. “I also had to listen to my Dad’s rant the other day about the engagement thing, but don’t worry. I’m not a martial artist, but I’m still tough enough for a demon head or two.”

He scrutinised her with a strange, humorless look that she did not understand before saying, “I know I said somethin’ that really bothered ya just now. I’m sorry.”

Dammit. He did not believe her. She prepared to cut him off and make an excuse about having to get back to Komaba. “Ranma — “

“Ya remember that Nekoken technique thing, the one that fucks with your mind by drawing on the fear of cats?”

Nabiki did remember, but before she could say anything, he turned his back to the rail, slid down to sit on the ground, and looked up at her with a silent, impassioned entreaty in his eyes.

“Just listen for a moment, yeah? If ya still wanna leave after, I understand.”

Her resolve to turn away crumbled. For some reason, she did want to hear what he would say. She dropped down to sit beside him. As she did so, she had to avert her gaze. She could not stand letting him read anymore into her.

He talked about a certain look of red in a person’s eyes right before they reached the limit of how much terror the conscious mind could handle before slipping into the cat’s mindset. Uncle Gemma became obsessed with drawing that look out of Ranma when he was forcing him to learn the technique. Over and over, Ranma was forced to thread on that razor’s edge of madness until his mind’s will crumbled and he finally slipped into the Nekoken for the first time. Ranma had been only 10. The memories of all that he endured in order to fall off the cliff into darkness then still continued to haunt him.

“That’s the look ya had in your eyes just now.”

“I… I —“ Nabiki started to protest, but her mouth could not form any words.

“Nabiki — “


Only when Nabiki felt Ranma’s arms closing around her and the heat of her own tear-streaked face against his shirt did she realise that she was the one screaming those things. She could no longer contain the pain of her broken heart. Her body exploded and came apart with violent, unchecked sobs unlike anything she had ever known.

She cried for a very, very long time, but he stayed with her, gently rocking her in his arms, and whispering kind, meaningless assurances. When she had spent herself, she found herself telling him everything. Years and years of unspoken thoughts and feelings bled freely into the open.

Her mother’s beautiful name.

Her father’s words to her in the dojo — and others very much like them over the years directed at either herself or one of her sisters.

The questions that had tormented her about what might have been

The hellacious vision of fire and blood on her dead mother’s face.

The indescribably painful hole that remained cut out in her heart

Everything but the bizarre, hedonistic vision of the individual words from the incantation from “O Fortuna” turning one by one into angry crimson drops of blood.

That last one would have been too much, though he probably thought she had lost her mind by now anyway. Even Nabiki thought she had. If he did walk out on her, however, that would not have been anything new, and none of what she said really mattered since he was no longer going to be a part of their family. Concluding that she truly had nothing left to lose, she decided to tell him what she really had wanted to say all along.

“Other than Mom, you’re the only person who’s ever told me that I’m ‘nice.’ Please don’t do that again. She told me that, and then left me in this fucked up world where have-all asses have their way with all the have-nots and where honor, dreams, and aspirations mean different things for a man than a woman. Even if you don’t understand and think I’m crazy, just say that you won’t.”

He smiled. “All right. I understand. Ya ain’t ‘nice’ — but ya ain’t crazy either.”

Her eyes locked onto him with bewildered incredulity. “H-how do you know…?”

“Between my Jusenkyo problem, a crazy panda for an old man, and all the insane wanna-be fiancees I’ve had since comin’ to Nerima, I think I understand a thing or two ‘bout crazy. Maybe you’re a little rough around the edges — a few secrets and a past with some bumps — but ya ain’t crazy.”

She gave him a wan chuckle despite herself. He did have a point. Compared to her life, his own could make a decent drama or even a manga series. A weight she had not been aware of previously suddenly seemed to lift off her shoulders.

“What happened by the way? Ya don’t have to tell me if ya don’t want, but – “

One moment Akiko had been fine, laughing and talking with her daughters. The next she was just… gone. Nabiki had been 10 then.

“That why ya create all those things outta whatcha see all the time?” he asked as he digested her words.

“What do you mean?”

“Paintings like the one ya used my hand for or the sketch I saw that night when we munched on chicken. Those are how ya process and make sense outta all the things ya see, right?”

She nodded. “It helps.”

“The one ya used my hand for. What happened to that one?”

He was referring, of course, to her so-called “Hands-of-God” antithesis (4).” That had been the blue, red, orange, and black one depicting the anonymised silhouettes of a pair of open hands held open to one another over a body of water reflecting an image of sunrise.

Nabiki sighed. Kozue had been right about that painting really being one of Nabiki’s better creations. Also as Kozue predicted, a part of her did regret selling it. Still, as intended, she had been able to get new clothes and shoes for Kumi, Daigoro, Takashi, and William with some still left over for other agendas. The painting fetched just under 30000 yen and generated more additional interest in her style among the locals than she expected.

“Can ya teach me how to do stuff like that?”

She started to laugh, thinking that he was teasing her. Any moment, he would laugh too, and the joke would be out in the open. Except he did not laugh.

“You’re serious,” she realized as she saw the disappointed frown on his lips.

“Yeah. Why wouldn’t I be?”

“It’s just….”

"Another unconscious bias?" he offered. "About have-all martial arts types like me?"

Seeing the moral quagmire in which he had unwittingly trapped her, she sighed again and threw up her hands in uncharacteristic defeat. This sort of thing was becoming far too common between them. The last few days had clearly taken their toll on her.

However, he clearly had time now. She also had to concede that his strange challenge intrigued her. "Fine. Why not? But this entire conversation just now stays between us."

“Of course. Even if I ain’t engaged to Akane anymore, we’re still friends, right?” That had been the fourth rule she had laid out that night over chicken.

She returned his smile before remembering Akane’s playful ribbing a few weeks back about that and the canned Kirins. “By the way, Ranma….”

# # # # #​

“That’s what happened, Mom. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean what I said.”

The colors of “Im Blau” staring back at Nabiki here on this late Spring Sunday afternoon suddenly seemed just a little bit brighter. The lines too seemed just a little bit clearer.

He speaks directly to the essence of things, always bold and unapologetic in his distillations of the world down to the actual core of all that matters. A lot like you, Na-chan….

“I miss you.”

# # # # #​


  1. The original Saotome home was destroyed by the fiancees at the end of the manga.

  1. In Japan, a rōnin (浪人) is a student who has graduated from high school but has failed to enter any school at the next level, or the school they were specifically aiming to enter. These students usually time to study outside of the school system for entrance in a future year.

  1. Cross-reference Chapter Note #1 for Chapter One.
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