The scent of antiseptics hung heavily in the air. Ranma stared down at his useless legs as he waited, hoping to hear from either one of the older Tendou daughters or his mother. What really drove him nuts was that his legs ached. He could not move them, he could not feel them when he touched them, but they ached nonetheless.
How in the hell could his legs hurt? He couldn't feel the damn things, except for the pain. It was truly maddening. More than the waste bag, more than the whispers from doctors discussing his condition in pitying tones, it was the pain that just plain shouldn't have been there.
One of the doctors finally got around to stopping the verbal tap dancing and explained his condition. None of it was encouraging. Complete paraplegia, and they were not entirely sure if he was able to control his waste functions. He had gone from one of, if not the best martial artist in Nerima, to someone who wasn't entirely sure they had full control of his own bladder and bowels.
A woman stepped into the room, providing a grateful distraction from his problems. At least, for a moment. He only barely recognized the face, but the stony expression upon her face made him wish even that recognition was gone. To make it worse, were the woman's eyes. A sickened horror shined, the only other emotion that could be seen past the cold. Ranma was about to open his mouth to greet the woman, before she turned around and stepped out the door.
Ranma's eyes closed. He would not let the tears come. The door opened and closed but he did not respond, even when a familiar voice called out, “Who was that?” It sounded as if there were something else she wished to say. Ranma opened his eyes to a familiar face, framed by brown bobbed hair.
“My mother,” Ranma whispered, drawing a frown from the girl. “So what brings you by, Nabiki? I sort of doubt pictures of me will sell all that well,” he said in a voice that tried to be scornful, but only ended up tired.
Nabiki flinched. “I guess I deserved that one,” she replied as she sat down next to Ranma. “No, I came here to apologize,” She admitted. “If I had known this was going to happen, I wouldn't have been such a.. um... Oh hell, I was a bitch.” She said frankly, staring at the ground.
Ranma blinked. “Ok, where's the real Nabiki?” He asked.
Nabiki sighed softly. “I deserved that one too. I guess after you were hurt, I... Um.. well, I had to take a good look at myself. I guess I didn't like what I've become. I don't know why I'm telling you, except that perhaps I need to tell someone or I'll just lose it. And you deserve to know, considering what I've put you through since you got here.”
Ranma sighed softly and rubbed his face. “I'm sorry, Nabiki. Hard to be good company considering. But I guess I know how it is to have to look at yourself and not like what you see.” His eyes wandered to his legs.
Nabiki nodded softly. “Let me guess, don't know what you're going to do?”
Ranma almost glared at her. “What can I do? I sure can't do the art anymore, and I don't have anything else.”
Nabiki looked at him with a bit of her own glare. “So you just want to sit there, stupid and crippled?”
Ranma growled, his aura almost flaring to life weakly. “What did you call me?”
Nabiki stared back. “I'm calling you an idiot cripple who gives up at the first sign of trouble.” That aura burnt brighter. Behind her expression, Nabiki was barely keeping herself from running, losing bladder control and/or screaming. The expression, however, was utter stone. “Unless you want to prove otherwise and make something of yourself.”
Ranma growled and softly. “I'm going to make you eat those words, Nabiki.”
“You want to? Then do it,” She said. She was more than a bit worried she was pushing the wrong buttons, but she also knew she would have to do something to get Ranma moving.
Ranma sat up, holding himself up with his arms. “I will! I'm not going to let you or anyone mock me!”
Nabiki scowled, then smiled in both relief and happiness. “Good.”
Ranma blinked then frowned. “You played me.”
Nabiki shrugged. “It's getting you off your butt, so to speak,” she sat back down next to him, taking his hand. “Ranma, if nothing else, I want you to do this for you, not to challenge me or anyone else. That won't last. Doing it for yourself will.”
Ranma grumbled under his breath, before sighing. “I guess you're right, Nabiki. And I'm sorry.”
Nabiki shook her head. “Don't be, Saotome. So, how long are you going to be here?” She asked before looking for the medical chart at the foot of the bed. “Well, looks like about three days.” She looked up at Ranma and said, “I've got some work to do to get ready then. I'll see you tomorrow after school?”
Ranma nodded. “Alright, thanks,” he said softly, then with a quiet voice, “I guess I'd better get started... could you um... bring my homework?”
Nabiki replied, “Will do, Saotome.”
The next three days went by in a very unusual way for Ranma, calmly, and with some surprisingly welcome companionship. Nabiki managed to be relatively nice, even with her struggling to tutor him in a seemingly futile attempt to catch Ranma up to people several years behind him. And then day three came, and Ranma was cleared after appointments were set for every week.
Nabiki wheeled him into the house. It was then that Ranma wished to be somewhere else. Anywhere else. Soun and Genma were seated at the shoji board, studiously ignoring Nabiki and Ranma. Akane was nowhere to be found, and Kasumi's greeting seemed just a tad off. Ranma didn't seem to notice the last, but Nabiki gave Kasumi a slight frown, before wheeling Ranma to the guest room. “Think this is going to get ugly, Ranma.”
Ranma looked at her. “The old farts? I noticed,” He said, sighing softly.
“Kasumi doesn't seem to be taking it too well either,” Nabiki commented. “I guess we'll just have to do what we can.”
Ugly was putting it mildly. Genma and Soun refused to acknowledge Ranma's existence, while Akane could not, or perhaps would not conceal the disgust at Ranma's condition, though both Ranma and Nabiki noticed the hint of fear and guilt she did try to hide, maybe even from herself. Kasumi was at least relatively nice about it, concealing the discomfort she showed before about Ranma's condition.
Class was worse from the very beginning. Kunou made mocking proclamations of his superiority over the crippled sorcerer, and did his best to block Ranma's way to school. It was only the threat of bankruptcy from Nabiki that backed him off. Ranma couldn't get anywhere without hearing whispers and pitying looks. And finally, to top it all off, having to watch all the students at PE.
The only thing that made it bearable, disturbingly enough, was his time with Nabiki's tutoring, because it seemed that it was the only time that he was not in the company of people who either hated, ignored, or gossiped about him. The only ones who seemed to have any praise for his increased studying were Nabiki and his instructors, who were somewhat surprised that it was Ranma who was doing so well, though the less polite thought that he had to do something since he was finished as a martial artist.
After a few days of the same thing, however, Nabiki noticed Ranma's expression becoming more and more worn, the seemingly indefatigable energy Ranma always showed had gone. A week later, his first doctor's appointment seemed to hold the only good news he had had in ages. It was unlikely for him to ever recover his movement, but at least it was found that he could control his excretory functions, a disgusting if quite welcome victory. No more waste bags, even though now he had a new challenge of climbing into and out of toilet stalls at school.
After the appointment, however, even the slight relief of the good news left him as Akane tried to both glare at him and ignore him at the same time with his arrival to dinner. He was becoming more and more frazzled at an increasingly hostile hom... house. Ranma left the meal, to the surprise of all three Tendou sisters, and went to the guest room for a moment, before heading for the door. “I'm going for a roll. Back in a while,” he called out before disappearing. Nabiki tried to catch up to him but lost him as soon as she stepped out the door.
A half hour later, Ranma sat beneath a bridge, looking down at the canal. The light from a streetlamp reflected off a cold steel knife in his hand. “You know,” he mutters to himself, “It's tempting. Has any of this been worth the pain?” He said to himself, disturbed at his thoughts.
Something moist fell onto his shoulder, but he didn't bother wiping it away. “I try to help people, and all I get for it is grief and dead weight.” The moistness seemed to be warm, and only a mild distraction, but he finally reached out for it, touching it. It wasn't watery, but thick, and warm.
Suddenly a surge of dizziness rippled through him, as memories flashed before his eyes. His confusion gave him no chance to quell the flood, and he fell out of his chair and onto his face. The warm moist substance fell atop most of him as the memories battered at his mind. And then there was a sense of questioning. Of concern. Of anger. The last surprised him, as it was not directed at him for a change, but rather for him. An offer. An offer for justice, for strength, to defend, to protect.
Ranma paused, then accepted. Pain surged through his body, then he knew no more.
Nabiki ran toward the bridge. She had seen Ranma head in this direction once or twice, and she hoped that this was a habit of some sort. She had to admit certain aspects of Ranma had evaded her as trivial or unimportant. She was regretting it now, especially when she considered how depressed Ranma had been since the injury.
Nobody seemed to know which way he went. Fewer seemed to care. Nabiki was becoming desperate. And then she saw it, a glint of metal. She turned toward it and saw a wheel. Nervous, she approached it to see a wheel chair knocked over. And next to it was a body, holding a knife. “Ranma, no!” She yelped out, rushing toward the body, rolling it over carefully. A bit of relief at seeing no knife wounds was mitigated by Ranma being still. She put a hand to his neck, and the relief increased as she felt a pulse. Fumbling at her pockets, she grabbed a cellphone and called Dr. Tofu.
While almost babbling over the phone, Nabiki struggled to drag Ranma to the chair, using her foot to kick the chair to an upright position. After a moment, she was able to get Ranma into the chair, holding him there. She didn't even think to pick up the knife as she tried to push Ranma up to the street. Those next few minutes were some of the longest she thought she had experienced in years, before Tofu-sensei arrived, helping push Ranma to the clinic.
The doctor frowned softly as he examined Ranma. “That's odd... I'm sensing shock, but I can't seem to figure a cause.” His expression was worried as he continued to examine Ranma. “It doesn't seem to be due to violence. I think we should take him to a hospital.”
Nabiki flinched a bit but nodded. “Alright, sensei.”
Tofu was about to get the phone before a voice mumbled, “alright.. we fine.” Both he and Nabiki turned back toward Ranma, who opened his eyes. “What hit?” He mumbled.
Tofu looked into his eyes. “That's what we wondered. Nabiki found you unconscious and we brought you here. No concussion...” He commented as he looked into Ranma's eyes.
Ranma paused before saying. “Don't know.. just passed out. Fine now. Just thirsty.”
Nabiki sighed in relief, though Tofu's expression was just a tad suspicious. He did nod softly and asked, “So what's with the wheelchair?”
A hint of a growl escaped Ranma as he muttered, “Some chinese bitch ran a sword through our back.”
Tofu blinked and sighed softly. “I'm sorry to hear that, Ranma. Though I am surprised that I wasn't notified.”
“Doesn't surprise me,” Ranma muttered. “Everyone except Nabiki seems to be quite willing to ignore me.” This drew a deep frown from the doctor.
"Perhaps you better tell me what's been going on," Tofu said with a hint of anger in his tone. Ranma began explaining the situation but faltered when a dark red battle aura suddenly manifested itself around the usually mild-mannered medical professional. It was a sight he had never seen before and one he hadn't thought was even possible. Ranma stumbled his way through the rest of the explanation and somehow managed not to cringe when the doctor's aura thickened with each additional revelation.
"Nabiki!" Tofu snapped. The middle Tendou sister barely avoided running out of the room in a panic; Tofu's visiage was worse than any demon head her father had ever produced. "Get Ranma's things and bring them here. Now." Tofu finally noticed his manifestation and the effect it was having on the two youngsters. It took him several seconds to corral his temper and dismiss the aura. He consciously softened his eyes before continuing. "Nabiki, please? An environment like that is no place for Ranma to recover." Nabiki nodded weakly and then rushed out of the room. Tofu rubbed his forehead and grimaced - it had been a long time since he lost control that badly.
Ranma stared at Tofu for a moment before saying, “Don't think we've ever seen someone who cared like that.”
Tofu stared back at Ranma for a moment. “We? For that matter, something is odd about you. You feel different.”
Ranma paused, then asked, “This will be kept quiet, right? That patient thingie you were talking about before?” Tofu nodded, so Ranma sighed. “We were actually considering it, you know, seppuku?” He rubbed his face softly, then whispered, “We felt something touch us, then it was like someone was offering to help us, you know?”
Tofu's expression became concerned. We? Us? “Ranma, what do you mean us?”
Ranma blinked, gasping in a bit of surprise as a silvery liquid began to seep from his skin, causing Tofu to back up. Ranma seemed worried before blinking, until the fluid covered his face completely, leaving Ranma encased in silver, with a pair of red ovals where his eyes should have been. The mouth opened and replied, “Perhaps we can explain better.”
Tofu blinked and frowned softly. “What are you and what have you done to Ranma?”
“You may call us Paladin. We bonded with he you call Ranma to fulfill our purpose and to help Ranma,” the silvery figure replied. “We wish to assist Ranma, as well as others in following with his code.”
“Ranma, are you in there?” Tofu asked, concerned.
The silvery skin peeled back away from Ranma's head. “Whoa. What a rush.” He blinked and nodded to Tofu. “We... I'm here. Just didn't expect that to happen. Paladin and I've not gotten to know each other much. I'm fine, Doc. And I did accept Paladin. I wasn't co – coer.. um, forced into it.”
Tofu smiled a little. He was still unsure, but that definitely sounded like the Ranma he knew. “So who is this Paladin anyway?”
“Well, Not too sure, really. I do know that Pal and I see things a lot alike. We want to help people. You know, the Code,” Ranma said earnestly.
Tofu nodded softly. “Alright, I can accept that. But if you ever need help, let me know. I am your doctor after all.”
Ranma nodded softly. “Thanks, Doc. I suppose you want to check my legs?”
Tofu stood. “Probably a good idea, Ranma. Maybe some day we can help you walk again somehow.”
Ranma shrugged. “The other doctor didn't seem too enthusiastic about my chances, but who knows?” He wheeled over to the bed, then pulled himself onto the bed with a grunt.
“If you could remove your shirt?” the doctor asked as he put on a pair of gloves. “And, I wondered, have you changed since the incident?”
“Well, I was stabbed while I was a girl, and I've changed a few times,” Ranma explained. “Didn't change whether I could walk or not.”
As Ranma removed his shirt, Tofu winced as he saw the scar on Ranma's back, before continuing his examination. Nabiki returned with Ranma's pack by the time Ranma crawled back into his wheelchair with Tofu's help. “I didn't realize how little you had,” Nabiki commented.
Ranma shrugged a bit as he settled down in his seat. “When would I really have had time to get stuff?” He said simply.
Nabiki tried not to flinch at that, knowing she was partially responsible for it, as she set the pack down next to Ranma. “I suppose we'd better find another place to stay then,” she said gently.
Ranma looked at her. “We?”
At almost the same time, Tofu replied, “Another place?” Ranma and Nabiki both looked at him as he replied, “There's an apartment at the back of the clinic. You two can use it.”
Nabiki looked at him, asking, “How much will it cost?”
Tofu replied, “Perhaps a few hours a week after school helping me sort files?”
Nabiki looked at Ranma. “It's a good deal, I think. Not to mention it's close, in case anything happens.”
Ranma nodded. “If you're sure, Tofu-sensei, thank you.”
The next few hours were spent arranging the apartment. Nabiki wanted to ask Ranma something, but his expression was such that she thought it was better not to interrupt whatever train of thought he was on.
Ranma was the first to break the silence. “Nabiki... why?”
She looked at him, cocking her head as she set an empty box aside. “Why what? Why am I staying with you?”
Ranma nodded. “Yeah. I know you've never liked me.”
Nabiki flinched and sighed. “Maybe you don't know as much as you think you do.”
Ranma looked at her, blinking. “You mean you-”
Nabiki shook her head. “I don't love you right now or then, but it doesn't mean I hate you. You're actually a good guy. And you deserve better than the grief I've been dumping on you. I guess it took your accident to get it through to me.”
Ranma frowned. “I don't need pity.”
“Trust me, Saotome, pity's the last thing I had on my mind. Was just the straw that broke the camel's back,” Nabiki admitted. “I've been a bitch for years, and it actually took something this bad to open my eyes to it. It also makes me worried that it could have been a funeral instead of just a crippling injury that did it.”
Ranma nodded as he wheeled over to the kitchen, then tries to drag himself onto the counter to get a glass. Nabiki reached for them. “I think we'll have to move the glasses.”
Ranma stifled a growl. Yet another reminder of his condition, yet he did realize that she was trying to help, as well as making a valid point. “Thanks,” he said softly as he poured himself some water from a pitcher. “You know, you don't have to stay with me, though.”
Nabiki replied, “Think of it this way. I owe you for a few months of being a bitch, not to mention paying you back for all the money I made off of you. And on top of that, the Tendou clan does owe you. Even if none of them except want to admit it.”
Ranma stared into his glass. “Thanks, Nabiki. That helps,” He said quietly. “I suppose we ought to get some sleep.”
Nabiki yawned a bit. “Probably a good idea,” she said, heading toward the couch, only to be stopped as her hand was grasped.
“You get the bed,” Ranma replied. “No arguments.”
Nabiki looked at him. “I can't let you do that. This is pretty much your place. I des-”
Ranma cut her off. “No. Besides...” He blushed a bit. “It's easier for me to get from the couch to my chair than it is from the bed.”
Nabiki blinked, and nodded. “Alright, Saotome.”