ROSES OF SHADOW

By Richard Lawson

Part Six: Rose's Scent

---

Ranma sat atop a telephone pole just outside the Kuno mansion, flipping through Nabiki's notes. Part of him was repelled by an activity that greatly resembled homework. He struggled on regardless. This was one test he couldn't afford to fail.

He ran through the symptoms and the treatments. Nabiki's notes were concise and thorough, and Ranma allowed himself a moment of admiration. Still, it wasn't helping him with the really hard part: getting Kodachi to admit she had a problem, and needed help.

He shuffled through the notes one last time, then heaved a mighty sigh. It wasn't helping. He shoved the notepad into his bookbag, then scampered down the pole. He'd just talk to her and see how it went from there.

The Kuno mansion was quiet as he entered. Since Kodachi could be anywhere, he began slowly walking down the hallway, listening for signs of activity. Humming came from one open doorway. He walked over to it and looked inside.

His first impression was that he was in an arboretum. A cloying, thick scent assailed his nostrils. Black roses where everywhere - single roses lying side by side, roses gathered together in bunches, one table covered entirely with rose petals. Stems without petals were bundled together along one wall. A pegboard with various tools adorned another. Bolts of black silk were piled next to the door.

It took Ranma a while to get it. This wasn't an arboretum, it was an assembly line. Here was where Kodachi made her roses.

She was sitting in large, comfortable chair. She was busily cutting small shapes out of the silk. As he watched, she gathered two of the shapes in one hand. She put the scissors on the armrest and picked up a needle and black thread. Deftly, she sewed the two silk cuttings together, her fingers moving rapidly along the silk. When she was finished, she had what looked like a rose petal. She dropped it into a large glass jar sitting next to the chair. Inside the jar Ranma could see other silk petals suspended in a thick liquid of some sort. He was pretty sure that the almost overwhelming fragrance was coming from that jar.

Kodachi began the process again, her hands moving with a swift sureness Ranma couldn't help but admire. From cutting to sewing to dropping in the jar took about thirty seconds. All the time she was smiling widely and humming to herself. She seemed to be enjoying herself immensely.

Ranma watched her for a couple of minutes, waiting for her to say something. At the same time, he found it very pleasant to see Kodachi having such a good time - and at no one else's expense.

Manic phase, Nabiki's notes whispered to him in his brain. He pushed that thought aside, but it nevertheless succeeded in destroying his mood.

"Hey, Kodachi."

"Ranma-sama," she said brightly without looking up.

Ranma wondered if she was deliberately avoiding looking into his eyes so that he would not be able to judge how far gone she was. He also wondered if he was becoming paranoid. Living in the Kuno mansion made becoming paranoid almost automatic.

He watched her fingers for another minute. So nimble and graceful, moving the silk, shaping it into an uncanny semblance of life. Just as her current behavior was an uncanny semblance of normalcy. A semblance that would shatter in a few days, if not sooner.

Ranma set his bookbag on the silk bolts and walked over to sit cross-legged at Kodachi's feet. From this angle he could see her eyes, and they seemed all right. They would have to be focused, he supposed, to do the work she was doing.

"How ya doing, Kodachi?" He winced at the inanity of his own question.

"I am just lovely, thank you, sir." Kodachi's voice was lively, cheerful in a way he hadn't heard before. Almost... nice.

Ranma idly cracked his knuckles. "Uh... y'know, the day that Shampoo... when you fainted and... well, I told your brother..."

"Ranma-sama," Kodachi's voice was on the verge of laughter. "Please do come to the point. You are so cute when you are indecisive, but too much and I may lose control of myself and forget we are not yet married." She slowed her hands enough to reach out and gently caress his cheek once, still not looking into his eyes.

Somewhat to Ranma's surprise, his clothes did not catch fire as a result of the heat radiating from his face.

They sat in silence as ten more rose petals came to life.

Ranma finally brought his pulse under control. He brought moisture back to his mouth and tried again. "Kodachi, I think you need to go see a sensei. A psychologist."

A petal fell into the jar. "But whatever for?"

Ranma, somewhat to his relief, felt irritated. "Oh come on, Kodachi. It ain't right that you act this way. It's not normal."

Kodachi laughed, a soft laugh compared to her maniacal one. "But whatever is normal, Ranma-sama?"

Ranma shook his head in disgust. "Do you see other people acting the way you do? Throwing roses, keeping pet alligators, cleaning the house for hours on end... Is that normal?"

"I feel no need to be like the common herd. The Kuno family is judged by different standards."

Ranma closed his eyes. Unbelievably, this was going to be harder than he thought. Bringing up his resolve, he opened his eyes again. "It just ain't healthy, Kodachi."

"Healthy? Who are you to judge?" Her voice was still bubbly and her smile was as wide as ever, but her hands began to move faster in their petal-making. "I am who I am. I like who I am. I feel very good and very happy right now. So light and free, so powerful and joyful. I am the Black Rose; why do I need to see a sensei for that?"

"Because!" Ranma floundered. "The room, the gray room. Remember that? How awful you feel? Is that how you want to be?"

Kodachi didn't answer except to make her hands somehow move even faster.

"Kodachi?" Ranma wanted to grab at her hands but kept himself still. "Do you hear me? Do you want to keep feeling as awful as you do when that happens?"

Kodachi's voice was still bright, but sounded a little forced. "It is a small price to pay for the good times."

Ranma wiped his brow. He was sweating as much as he did during a workout. He tried to think over Nabiki's notes.

Time to take a gamble. He had nothing else left to try. "Is it a small price to pay?"

"Yes."

"Your life is worth so little?"

The hands frozen in mid-stitch. Eyes that remained fastened on the petal. The mouth no longer smiling. "H-how did you...? I've never said..."

"It's one of the symptoms of your disease, I think. I'm no sensei, but I think there's a danger that you might kill yourself if you don't get this treated."

Kodachi resumed her petal-making at breakneck speed. "I shall just have to be stronger than that. I have been so far, and I will continue to be. That Black Rose triumphs over all obstacles."

Ranma cradled his head in his hands. Damn. He'd been hoping so hard.

He spoke in a voice that was dangerously close to breaking. "Can't you see it, Kodachi? How this life is destroying you? You poison everyone and attack them and laugh at them and what the hell kind of life is that to..."

Ranma choked off his words. Supportive, he needed to be supportive. Nabiki said that's what Kodachi needed.

But damn! He'd much rather prefer to fight a monster or something. This was *hard*.

"Ranma-sama?" Kodachi's voice was quiet. Subdued, even.

Ranma raised his head. "Yes?" His voice contained much more irritation than he meant to show.

"If I go see a sensei..."

Ranma felt his spirits rising. Maybe there was hope.

Her hands were a blur, a speed Ranma envied. He'd have to try and learn to move his hands that fast some day. Some of the petals, however, looked a little misshapen when they were placed in the jar.

Kodachi spoke in a voice that was softer, barely audible. "If I go see a sensei, will you like me?"

Ranma's heart froze. He looked into Kodachi's eyes as she at last raised them to look at him. She was focusing entirely on him, something deep and troubled and... needing inside of them.

A thousand thoughts flitted through Ranma's head in the space of a second. A sick woman, bipolar if Nabiki was right. Akane, Akane was mad at him wouldn't talk normally to him. No nurse/patient thing, no lifetime therapist duties, not what he wanted. "Not yet", the Kuno family on its way to self-destruction. The old man, telling him they were going to San Francisco, no honor in him at all. "I'm glad," Kodachi smiling at him. Kodachi sobbing and pounding the walls. The eyes, in and out of focus, the food drugged, the constant feeling of being on guard, no knowing what Kodachi was going to do next. Sitting next to Akane at the Tendo dinner table, that was nice, he hadn't realized how much he missed that. Kodachi as he had first seen her: surrounded by anonymous assailants, yet standing tall and proud, full of confidence.

All together, that summed up how he felt about Kodachi.

"Kodachi." With no idea what to do, he fell back on his most reliable method of interpersonal communication: opening his mouth and letting words come out with no thought beforehand. "You ain't a bad person. A guy could like you as you are right now. You've got this disease, sure, and it kinda weighs everything down. I'd like to see you get better. You know, relieve the pressure. But... well, I'm not gonna hate you for being sick. It's like blaming someone for catching a cold."

Kodachi looked down at her hands. Ranma looked at them too, and was shocked to see blood on her fingertips. She raised one of her hands and began sucking one of her fingers, looking once more into Ranma's eyes. "Are you saying... do you... you like me now?"

Dammit, get out of my life, it was a lot easier before I foolishly grabbed your ribbon that day in the lot, what the hell was I thinking? Ranma swallowed heavily. "I- I don't dislike you, Kodachi." That was the best he could give her.

And, a voice inside his head said, it wasn't untrue either. He told the voice to shut up and go away before someone suggested therapy for them as well.

Kodachi took her finger out of her mouth and looked at it. She picked up the silk shapes in her lap and continued sewing them together. Compared to before, she was moving at a glacial pace. One stitch, two, with hands that trembled.

She spoke in an anguished whisper. "Get out."

"Kodachi-"

"Now."

Ranma stood up, feeling incredibly weary, failure bitter in his mouth. So much for being all understanding and everything. Maybe it would be easier to go back to being blind and stupid. Then he wouldn't feel so lousy.

He turned and walked towards the door, preparing to find a nice solid wall to beat his head against. Or get some lunch, he wasn't sure which.

"In my parents' bedroom, at the desk, middle drawer."

Ranma stopped and looked behind him. Kodachi was still making petals at a very slow pace. She didn't pause and didn't look up at him. She just kept sewing.

Ranma studied her for a long moment, then turned and left.

He went down the hallway to a large set of double-doors with the Kuno family name emblazoned on them. Although he'd never gone beyond them, he was pretty sure that's where Kodachi's parents had lived. He opened the doors and stepped inside.

A few weeks ago, the opulence would have awed him. Now it was almost commonplace. While he could never imagine sleeping in a bed big enough for twenty, it didn't surprise him that the Kunos did. His eyes swept through the room, passing over pieces of furniture and works of art without allowing them to fully register. He stopped when he reached a desk at the far side of the room.

He stepped through the stale air of the room, his feet making no sound on the thickly padded carpet. He reached the desk, idly noting the mild disarray on the desktop, certain that nothing had been moved in the three years since the room had last been occupied.

He opened the middle drawer. Pens, paper clips, odd bits of office supplies. And a large folder, labeled "Tatewaki and Kodachi".

Ranma picked up the folder and placed it in the center of the desk as he sat down. He opened it and began to leaf through it. It mostly contained page after page of detailed observations about the behavior of the Kuno siblings. Ranma scanned through them, finding in them confirmations of Tatewaki's recollections of days past, as well as the beginnings of both Kodachi's and Tatewaki's current behavioral patterns. The words were dry and without emotion. Ranma felt himself slightly in awe of the woman who had sat where he sat now, dispassionately detailing the mental illnesses of her children.

And yet, she'd left. In the end, she'd abandoned her children, her husband, and her honor.

Ranma recalled the relief he'd felt when Genma had appeared at his window, how eager he'd been to leave the Kuno mansion in Genma's company, and decided he shouldn't judge Kodachi's mother so harshly.

At the end of the file, he found preliminary diagnoses, done by a pediatrician who admitted he knew very little about mental illness and referring the children to a psychologist. That psychologist's name and phone number were at the end of the file.

Ranma moved his eyes to the side of the desk, where they rested on a phone. Three years, that was a long time ago. The doctor had moved his practice, the referral was no longer valid, the phone in this room was no longer connected. And dammit, now Ranma was beginning to deny like a Kuno.

Picking up the phone, Ranma dialed the number in front of him.

---

Kodachi was sitting rigidly on the chair. She was dressed in an elegant blouse and long slacks. She had a rose in her hair and a pin on her collar. If it weren't for her evil eyeshadow, Ranma might almost think she looked rather pretty. He could also see the tendons in her wrists bulge as she wrung her hands.

Ranma could understand. He felt nervous himself. The waiting room was large and plush. Soft music played, the tones were muted, everything was designed to hide the fact that very ill people were treated here.

The outer door opened, and the psychologist's receptionist came through. Kodachi gave a strangled cry at the intrusion. The receptionist smiled reassuringly and resumed his place behind the desk.

Kodachi's eyes had gone very wide and she was breathing rapidly. She looked to be on the verge of doing... something. Something that wouldn't be good.

Ranma reached over and placed his hand over hers, giving them a gentle squeeze. Kodachi clutched his hand tightly, looking into his eyes. Ranma tried to smile, and actually managed it. Kodachi smiled nervously back at him.

Something buzzed at the receptionist's desk. They looked over to see the receptionist indicating the door. "The sensei will see you now, Kuno-san."

Kodachi looked once more at Ranma. He nodded to her. She bit her lip, then stood up and walked across the room. She opened the door, stepped inside, and closed it behind her.

Ranma sighed and leaned back in his chair. Now, at last, it was out of his hands.

He stared at the ceiling for a long time, letting his mind drift. He'd gain nothing by worrying needlessly. He spent the time wondering how Nabiki was doing with Akane, and what he would say to her once Kodachi let him go.

"How dare you!" Ranma jerked upright. Kodachi's voice was barely audible, but he knew enough of her intonation to know she must be shouting. Which meant that the room she was in was very nicely soundproofed.

He looked over at the receptionist, who had also noticed the shout. The receptionist glanced at his phone, then made a vaguely reassuring gesture. Ranma leaned forward, staring intently at the door. He heard nothing else.

After perhaps thirty minutes, something buzzed on the receptionist's desk. He picked up the phone, listened, then replaced it. "The sensei will see you now, Saotome-san."

Ranma raised his eyebrows. That wasn't what he was expecting. He stood up and walked quickly over to the door.

Once inside, he saw an extremely well-appointed office. He looked around for Kodachi, but didn't find her. He saw a tall, stately man sitting behind a large desk. He had his hands clasped in front of him and was eyeing Ranma critically. "Please sit, Saotome-san."

Ranma sat in the large chair indicated. "Where's Kodachi?"

"Kuno-san is on her way to the hospital. She will be committed to the psychiatric ward there pending treatment."

"Hey!" Ranma leapt to his feet. "No one said anything about having her put in the loony bin!"

A mild expression of disgust came over the sensei. "I don't like your attitude or choice of words, Saotome-san. It is hardly a 'loony bin'. It is a place where we can temporarily place people to give them intense psychotherapy and determine the right kind of drugs they need to control their illnesses."

Ranma wasn't convinced. "Sounds to me like straightjackets and padded cells."

"It is nothing of the sort. Please allow me to finish and don't bring any of your prejudices into the discussion."

Ranma bit back a growl. After a moment, he threw himself back into his chair.

The sensei nodded serenely. "Good. First of all, you should know that her commitment was completely voluntary. I suggested it and she concurred."

Ranma couldn't help dropping his mouth open. That was an impressive accomplishment. For the first time, it occurred to Ranma that perhaps the sensei knew quite a bit about how to deal with people like Kodachi.

"Kuno-san has indicated that, as her future husband, you are looking out for her needs. I would ask that you let all concerned parties know that she will be in the hospital for not less than one week, and possibly as long as a month."

Ranma wanted to say that he was not going to be her husband, but restrained himself in time. "What's wrong with her, sensei?"

The sensei looked at some notes on his desk. "Based on my conversation with her today and the notes of her previous behavior you've provided me, it is my diagnosis that Kuno Kodachi suffers from cyclothimia, very rapid cycling, with mixed states."

Ranma sighed. "Oh. I thought she had a bipolar disorder."

Now it was the sensei's turn to raise his eyebrows. "And from where did you get your doctorate?"

Ranma smiled in self-deprecation. "Okay, I get the point. Go on."

The sensei smiled back at him. "As it happens, cyclothimia is a mild form of bipolar disorder, so your diagnosis wasn't too far off."

Ranma nearly choked. "Mild?"

"Compared to the more severe forms like bipolar II or bipolar, yes. Normally, cyclothimia is treated with simple therapy, and possibly an anti-depressant. However, I am concerned with how quickly Kuno-san has been cycling of late, and with the severity of both her hypomania and her depression. I want her to undergo some drug therapy, see if we can get it under control."

Ranma had been left a couple of laps behind. "What does all of that mean?"

The doctor leaned forward. "It means that she's sick, but she can get better if we can get the drugs right, and if she stays on them, and if she gets the support she needs. I'll be responsible for the first. Kuno-san has indicated to me that you will help her with the second. And all of us will need to cooperate on the third."

Ranma heaved a huge sigh. This was no less than he expected, except the part about the drugs. "How long until she's stabilized?"

A ghost of a smile covered the sensei's face. "Well, I can see that you've done your homework. Most people would ask me when she was going to be cured." He leaned back. "If all goes well, she should be stabilized when she leaves the hospital. That doesn't mean she won't have significant issues that need to be dealt with. She should be beyond some of her more... expressive outbursts, however."

"Okay." That sounded fair enough. "So I should just sit back and wait?"

"And prepare yourself. I won't kid you: this will be very hard for you and everyone else in her family. And, in fact, I think your recent engagement was one more stressor on her life, something that may have contributed to her recent deterioration."

Kodachi's shout suddenly came to mind. "You're saying it's my fault she's in the hospital?"

"No. I'm saying that her feelings for you are strong, and that you'll need to use that link to her to keep her healthy and in control."

Lifelong nurse. He was getting trapped again. He slumped in his chair, and managed a weak, "Thank you, sensei."

The sensei nodded. "She wanted me to give you this." He picked up a black rose from the desktop and handed it to Ranma.

Ranma took it and moaned gently. There were so many things this rose symbolized; he felt he was being crushed under its weight.

He stood up, nodded once to the sensei, and left. As he left the office, he held the rose under his nose. He smelled the same scent from the workshop, just much less intense and overwhelming. He wondered if Kodachi's scent was being similarly muted in the hospital. He wondered if that was a good thing or not.

With no better place to put it, he tucked the rose into his top buttonhole and made his way back to the Kuno mansion.

~*~

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