ROSES OF SHADOW

By Richard Lawson

Part Five: The Cost of Treatment

---

Ranma pushed the food around on his plate, looking for the tell-tale signs of poisoning. Kuno's lessons had been comprehensive, but so far Ranma could not find anything. Which worried him.

He looked up at Kuno, to see him also staring at his food in puzzlement. Kuno took a cautious bite, held it in his mouth for a moment, swallowed, then looked inward, evidently waiting for some kind of reaction. When nothing happened, he shrugged and began eating the rest of his breakfast.

Ranma gave him a couple of minutes head start, then began eating himself, hoping that if Kuno keeled over or turned into a mouse or something, Ranma could always purge himself in time.

They ate in silence, as usual. Kuno finished his food first, then took a sip of his tea. He immediately spat it out. Ranma looked down into his own cup of tea, and saw the purple leaves floating in it. His heart sank a little. He'd hoped that Kodachi had progressed beyond food poisoning. Evidently not.

Ranma looked up at Kuno again. Kuno was looking back at him, a strange, quiet expression on his face. Then, without a word, he stood up and left.

Ranma put his chopsticks on the table, leaving his own breakfast unfinished. Another episode of life in the Kuno mansion.

He grabbed his bookbag and left. He needed to talk to Akane about what had happened yesterday. Hopefully without any interruptions.

As he was about to leave the dining room, something made him look back over his shoulder. Kodachi was standing at the other entrance. Her face was blank. Her eyes were focused, mostly.

They held each other's eyes for a moment while Ranma became more and more uncomfortable. Damn, she was good with the silent accusations. Ranma turned away and left.

He ran along the streets, making his way to the rendezvous point. He was there a little early, so settled himself down to wait.

A minute later, Nabiki walked up. Ranma nodded to her and looked down the street.

"Akane's not coming, Ranma." Nabiki sounded apologetic. "She left early for school."

Ranma looked back at Nabiki. "Oh? Why?"

"Well, she said she wanted to spend some time studying..." Nabiki trailed off, then grimaced. "That's what she said to tell you. I'm pretty sure the real reason is that she didn't want to see you."

The words hit Ranma like a blow. "Why?"

Nabiki looked down the street, as if considering an escape route. She sighed and looked back towards Ranma. "We need to talk."

Ranma considered her for a moment, then nodded. "Okay."

They began walking to school together. Nabiki looked straight ahead as she spoke. "Akane told me about what happened yesterday with you and... Shampoo, she said her name was."

"Yeah. A nutcase. But Akane helped me out a little."

"Saved your butt is what I heard. She and Kodachi. Mostly Kodachi."

"Well, uh, okay." Ranma rubbed the back of his head. "But what's that got to do with anything?"

"Afterwards, you told Kodachi your secret."

"Well, she knew already. Sort of. I just kinda made her acknowledge it."

"And ignored Akane while you did it."

Ranma lurched to a halt. "Hey!"

Nabiki kept walking. Ranma ran after her. "That's not fair! I mean..."

"You mean what, Ranma?"

"I mean... Kodachi... Kodachi needed my attention right then."

"And Akane didn't?"

"No, I mean..." Ranma felt like he was sinking in quicksand. "Kodachi's sick. She needed help."

"Maybe. But you know..." Nabiki bit her lip and thought for a minute, then continued. "Look at it from Akane's perspective. You and she were having a serious conversation which was interrupted by that Chinese woman. Okay, no problem, that wasn't your fault. But when it was over, you focused all your attention on Kodachi. You touched her and smiled her and didn't so much as look in Akane's direction until you were holding Kodachi in your arms."

"Hey! She collapsed. I was-"

Nabiki overrode him. "Can you understand how it looked to Akane? That it seemed like you cared more for Kodachi than you did for her?"

Ranma growled and hit his palm with his fist. "That ain't true. Kodachi's seriously ill. I gotta help her."

"Why you?"

"If not me, who? And, you know, no matter how much I hate it, I got some obligations towards her." Ranma shook his head. "None of that means I like her or nothing. I just want her to get better. And when she does, maybe she'll stop obsessing over me."

Nabiki stopped, reached over and grabbed Ranma's arm, and turned him so that they were facing each other. "Are you saying that you have no feelings for her at all? That you don't like her even a little bit?"

Ranma started to protest, but found that it died under Nabiki's withering gaze. After a moment, he looked away. "Okay, sometimes she ain't so bad. Sometimes we're working out together, and it ain't so bad."

"And when you smiled at her in the ice cream shop? That sure seemed to Akane that you liked Kodachi a lot."

Ranma looked back at Nabiki. "That's just... you know, it feels good to help people. I feel sort of... protective of Kodachi. But dammit! That's not... you can't spend your whole life..." Ranma struggled for the words. "That ain't a good thing to... base a relationship on. I don't want to live forever as Kodachi's doctor."

Nabiki looked at him closely. "Would you rather be Kodachi's husband?"

"I don't want to be Kodachi's ANYTHING!" Something stabbed at Ranma's stomach. He ignored it. "I want to get out of there! I want to go back with you guys!"

"And leave Kodachi insane?"

Ranma deflated a little. "No. I can't do that. And she won't let me go anyway."

"Why not?"

"'Cuz she's obsessed with me, that's why!"

"No, I meant, why can't you just leave her? No one would think less of you if you were to walk out of an agreement made between a greedy, honorless man and a psychopath."

Ranma lowered his eyebrows and looked at Nabiki angrily. "I would think less of me. I'm not my father."

Nabiki stared right back at him. After a moment, she lowered her hand, turned away, and began walking. Ranma walked with her.

After a minute she spoke again. "So as you see it, the only honorable way out of the engagement is to get Kodachi to dissolve it. And the only way to do that is to cure her of her obsessions."

Ranma blew out a breath. "Yeah, that's how I see it."

Nabiki reached into her bookbag as they walked and pulled out a notebook. She slung her arm through the handles of the bookbag so that she could hold the notebook as she wrote in it. "Okay. I'll do some research into mental illness and see if I can figure out what's wrong with Kodachi. Maybe Tofu can help. If you can confront her with what specifically is wrong with her, maybe you can get her to see the light and get some treatment."

Ranma gaped at Nabiki. "Huh? Why? I mean, why would you do this?"

Nabiki glanced at him out of the corner of her eyes. A mischievous smile appeared on her face. "Because, Ranma-kun, life was ever-so-much more interesting when you were living with us. Not to mention profitable. I'm not about to let an asset like you slip beyond my control."

Ranma blinked rapidly. He didn't know what to make of that. He looked through the gates of Furinkan, somehow hoping to find an answer in the chaos of students making their way to class.

"Besides," he heard Nabiki say, just barely audible over the sounds of the bustle, "I hate to see Akane hurting. We've all had enough hurt in our lives already."

He turned to look at her, but she was already running off to her homeroom.

Ranma chewed the inside of his cheek. Why had life gotten so heavy? Why couldn't it go back to the days of random attacks and weird situations?

And yet, when Shampoo had attacked, what had happened? She had been efficiently dealt with, and he'd used the opportunity to try and help Kodachi with her problems. Never mind that he'd done it more out of frustration than anything else, the point was that he'd had a chance to have a wild adventure and had instead gone another way. Hell, he could have gone with Genma to San Francisco and had all sorts of fun. He'd turned that down, too.

Ranma wondered if this was all part of growing up. He wondered if he wanted to grow up. Peter Pan had all the fun.

He walked into the classroom and sat next to Akane. He looked over at her, wondering how she was going to act.

She saw him and smiled. "Hi, Ranma-kun! Are you ready for the English test?"

Ranma leaned back in his seat. This wasn't what he was expecting. "What?"

"Oh, don't worry if you haven't studied. I'm sure the test will be easy, and the teacher will let us use our books. Really, he's a terrible teacher. I hear that they're thinking of replacing him, as soon as they can find a new principal. Or get the old one to come back."

Her words were bright and cheerful. She was just sharing a juicy piece of gossip, as if they were the best of friends. He gathered his resolve. "Listen, Akane, about yesterday-"

"Have you heard about the new boy in Nabiki's class?" Akane continued as if she hadn't heard. "The gaijin? They say he's..."

Ranma could only stare at her in shock as she blabbered on. This was so unlike the Akane he was used to. She never acted that way. At least around him. He'd seen her act that way with...

...with her friends.

Ranma's heart dropped into his stomach. That was the answer. She was dropping the curtain of friendship over their relationship. He would no longer hear her yell at him, no longer hear her insult him, no longer see her show any concern for him.

He had to act quickly before the curtain became a wall he'd never get through.

Ranma sighed as Akane continued chatting. When it came right down to it, Peter Pan had lost Wendy forever. Ranma didn't want that to happen to himself.

---

Ranma ducked as the hoop whizzed over his head. A ribbon snaked itself around his arm. He grabbed it with his other hand and gave it a violent tug. The ribbon handle came flying at him, along with a half-dozen clubs. He tried to leap away but tripped over the ribbon. He was pegged in the side by one of the clubs. It hurt.

Ranma disentangled himself from the ribbon and stood up. Kodachi had a particularly fierce expression on her face today. Her attacks were ferocious, even more so than usual.

Ranma had used these training sessions mostly to learn to avoid attacks. He still wasn't up to hitting women, even Kodachi. But this time he was sorely tempted. He grit his teeth and launched himself at her, with the vague idea of tripping her or something. Tripping was about as far as he could go.

Kodachi saw him coming, and did a rapid series of cartwheels that ended with her by the door into the mansion. She entered without a backward glance.

Ranma stared after her, puzzled. When he'd come home today, she'd been scrubbing his bathroom floor. Dinner had been poisoned as usual. Her eyes were out of focus, except when she looked at Ranma. Then they narrowed to sharp points of anger. Ranma had no idea whether that was good or not.

Ranma walked over to the house and entered it himself. He walked morosely down the hallway. There were a lot of rooms he hadn't been in yet, but he wasn't up to exploring. He just walked from one doorway to the next, wondering what secrets each one contained. Perhaps he didn't want to know.

"Ranma-sama."

He nearly jumped out of his skin. He turned to see Kodachi looking at him angrily.

She waggled her finger at him. "I don't want you to meet with that hussy anymore. She is no longer your fiancee; it is unseemly that you continue to spend time in her company."

Ranma clenched his jaw briefly. "I don't care if it's 'unseemly' or not. Don't tell me what to do."

"You be- " Kodachi snapped her mouth shut, considered, then continued. "I am your fiancee, Ranma-sama. I am the one you should be spending time with, I and no other."

"I knew Akane before I knew you. I ain't gonna stop seeing her. Get used to it."

Kodachi bit her lip. "Do I mean so little to you? Does our engagement mean so little?"

To Ranma's alarm, her eyes began to rapidly lose focus. She was fading away right in front of him. Ranma closed his eyes to try to control the extreme irritation that washed over him. It wasn't her fault she was sick; he shouldn't get mad at her because of it. "Look, Kodachi, we're engaged and that's a fact. I live with it because I have to. But that don't mean I give up the rest of my life and devote it exclusively to you. It ain't healthy to obsess over one person. That's no kind of life I want to live." Ranma opened his eyes. "You shouldn't live that kind of life, either."

Anger no longer covered Kodachi's face. Instead, her eyes and expression were vacant. "Thank you for the lesson, Ranma-sama. If you will excuse me, I have other duties that need attending to." She turned and began moving lazily down the hallway, humming to herself. She stopped to examine a painting on the wall. She blew on the frame, then began rubbing it with her hands. She produced a cloth from somewhere and began dusting the picture frame with a will.

Ranma ran his hands through his hair. This wasn't working, it just wasn't working. Whatever he did made things worse, if not with Kodachi then with Akane. We was going to lose them both if he kept this up.

He wondered which would be the greater tragedy.

Ranma turned and walked quickly down the hallway, trying not to look like he was running.

---

Ranma left the mansion before dawn. He didn't want to deal with Kodachi at all. Instead, he made his way to a McDonald's for breakfast. One advantage to living in the Kuno mansion: Kodachi had given him a weekly allowance that was more than he usually got from Genma in a year. He could afford these kind of extravagances.

After an appropriate amount of time, he headed off to the spot just down the street from the Tendo home. He jumped into a tree and stayed high among the branches. He watched Akane go by. When Nabiki appeared, looking around, he dropped out of the tree and landed in front of her.

She yelped and jumped back. "Dammit, Ranma-kun, I'm too young to die of a heart attack!"

Ranma shrugged his shoulders. "Sorry. Did you find anything out?"

Nabiki raised her head and sniffed. "Maybe I did and maybe I didn't."

Ranma spread his hands in supplication. "Okay, I'm really sorry. I won't do that again, I promise."

Nabiki raised an eyebrow, then relented. She took a notebook out of her bookbag and flipped to the first page. "Okay, listen up. I think Kodachi is bipolar."

Ranma blinked. "Huh?"

"It's also known as manic-depressive syndrome. Basically, it's a mental illness involving episodes of serious mania and depression, balanced by periods of hyperactivity and euphoria."

Ranma nodded. "Yeah, that sounds like her all right. Is there a way to be sure that's it?"

"Well, I think the only way to be sure is to get to a psychiatrist that specializes in these kinds of disorders. From what I've seen of her, Kodachi sure seems to fit the profile. I've got a whole list here of symptoms." Nabiki flipped to another page in her notebook. "You know her better than I do. You tell me."

"How?"

Nabiki began reading from the notebook. "Does she every have periods of increased energy, activity, restlessness, racing thoughts, and/or rapid talking?"

"She, uh, will spend hours and hours cleaning the mansion."

"Excessive 'high' or euphoric feelings?"

"Well, you've heard her laugh."

"Extreme irritability and distractibility?"

Ranma thought that over. "Maybe not 'extreme', but yeah, she can be that way. Some times more than others."

Nabiki nodded and continued. "Decreased need for sleep?"

"Hmm. Well, she does stay up past midnight doing her cleaning."

"Provocative, intrusive, or aggressive behavior?"

Ranma barked a short, humorless laugh. "That pretty much describes Kodachi, doesn't it?"

Nabiki nodded once. "Persistent sad, anxious, or empty moods? Feelings of guilt, worthlessness, or helplessness?"

An image of Kodachi in her gray room caused Ranma to shudder involuntarily. "Yeah," he said quietly.

"Difficulty concentrating, remembering, making decisions?"

Kodachi's eyes, unfocused, staring at Ranma wildly. "Yes."

"Denial that anything is wrong?"

Ranma grimaced. "Seems that denial thing runs through the family. At least, it does with Kodachi and Kuno and their father."

Nabiki raised an eyebrow. "You've met their father?"

"No, but Kuno told me about him." He gestured towards the notebook. "Anything else?"

Nabiki scanned the list. "Well, there are some other symptoms that you wouldn't know about, like increases and decreases in her sexual drive. Here's one that's important: has she ever talked about death or suicide?"

Ranma's blood turned cold. "Not to me she hasn't. Is it possible she'll try and kill herself?"

"Possible, yes." Nabiki looked troubled and sympathetic. "It sounds bad, I know. But this disease is not that uncommon either. One out of every hundred people suffers from bipolar disorder. I've read stories... well, you've seen Kodachi. The illness can be quite destructive."

Nabiki straightened a little, and her voice became firm. "However, it can be treated."

Ranma drew his eyebrows together. "How? By having her committed? Zapping her brain with electricity?"

Nabiki hesitated a moment. "Well, that can happen, but usually only as a last resort. There are drugs she can take. Medication and counseling can go a long way towards stabilizing Kodachi. That and... support."

Nabiki lowered her eyes. She seemed reluctant to continue. "She'll need a lot of help from her friends and family. She'll need them to be supportive and encouraging." She sighed and looked up at Ranma. "If she can get those things, the counseling and the drugs and the support, she can be cured. Or close enough to cured as to make no difference."

Ranma tilted his head back and stared at the sky, thinking. It wasn't going to be easy, but he hadn't expected it to be easy. It was just going to take longer than he had hoped.

He looked back at Nabiki. "Do you think Akane will wait that long? Will she understand?"

Nabiki seemed unusually subdued. "I don't know, Ranma-kun. One thing about Akane is that she is neither particularly patient nor particularly understanding."

Ranma frowned. "It almost sounds like you're saying I should give up on Akane and focus on Kodachi."

Nabiki sighed. "I'm not sure Kodachi would be good for you. There's too much chance of a nurse-and-patient thing happening, and that wouldn't be good for either one of you. But at the very least she'll need you to be her friend, and Akane isn't going to like that very much."

Ranma swallowed. "Now it sounds like you're saying I have to choose between Kodachi's sanity and Akane."

This time Nabiki had no immediate answer. She looked sadly at Ranma for a long time. Finally, she seemed to regain her composure a little. "It's so unfortunate that Kodachi has no one else to care for her. I'd sure like to know a little of that family history you alluded to. I'd like to know why her parents aren't helping."

Nabiki swallowed. "Look, let's try this. You concentrate on getting Kodachi cured. Talk to her, tell her what we've discovered, that she can be cured. I'll try and talk to Akane. Help her to understand what you're doing. She can be stubborn, but she can also be very kind and caring when she chooses to be."

Ranma quirked a corner of his mouth. "Sounds like another Tendo I know."

Nabiki blushed. "Just wait until you get the bill for my services."

Ranma chuckled. Nabiki gave him a small smile, then began walking to school.

Ranma walked with her, his mind racing with plans. There was hope, concrete hope. Kodachi could be cured, mostly. And, perhaps, Ranma's relationship with Akane could be mostly cured as well.

~*~

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