Categories > Anime/Manga > Ranma 1/2

Tomodachi (A Vignette About Consequentiality)

by Kandinsky_Lyric 0 reviews

An infuriatingly clueless Ranma Saotome unwittingly upends the painstakingly polished and ordered world that Nabiki Tendou has built to bury the painful truth about her older, disillusioned self. N...

Category: Ranma 1/2 - Rating: R - Genres: Angst,Drama - Characters: Akane,Nabiki,Ranma - Published: 2022-05-02 - 7018 words - Complete

Disclaimer: I do not own Ranma 1/2 or any of the related characters. The Ranma 1/2 series is 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.

"Tomodachi" is intended to build on the exploration of Nabiki’s character introduced in my other story “Consequential.” “Tomodachi” further examines the complex relationship that she has with Ranma Saotome through the prism of her special relationship with her sister Akane. These stories take place roughly 18 years after the Takahashi story.

Please read and review. Feedback, critical or otherwise, is greatly appreciated. I may expand this story with additional chapters depending on feedback and interest.

Thank you for reading.

- KL


The scars left from long ago

Are starting to ache,

And my heart is shaking again

I hid them, replacing them with a smile

It doesn’t matter how much older I get

I’m still just as much of a coward as I’ve always been

I’ve just been learning how to pretend to be strong

I’m full of thoughts and feelings I’d love to tell you about

But you know, I’m not great at putting them into words

If I had never met you, I wouldn’t have even known

About a pain as frustrating as this

Little by little, I started to admit to myself

That my past is something that can’t be cured

That no matter how much I fear a future I can’t reject

There’s nothing I can do about it

-- Hamasaki Ayumi, “No Way To Say”

Nabiki studied Ranma as he slept.

The air in the room was cooler than it should have been. She had thrown a hospital-issue blanket over the white coat hanging off her shoulders. Underneath, she had on a navy cardigan with gold buttons over a two-part fit-and-flare midi dress. Hints of a crème-colored top peaked out between the undone buttons of her sweater. The bottom of the dress was a heavy heather-gray A-line skirt. Black tights and a pair of black leather heels completed the ensemble. She had not bothered to change out of her clothes from the night before.

They were up on Nelson 6, the floor run by her old firm from when she had still been a house officer. The early Christmas morning sun was now visible through the window. Low-set pink and golden hues framed the dome of the old hospital building staring back at her. The rooftops and the ground outside were covered with a light dusting of fresh overnight snow.

A cold hard stone of nauseating darkness tumbled around in her gut as she remembered why they were here. She had been thrown in there with him from the beginning of the whole damned mess.

# # # # #

Days after their run-in at the coffeeshop, he had a major relapse with pulmonary-renal syndrome complicated by diffuse alveolar hemorrhage and rapidly progressive glomerular nephritis. He also had a nasty recrudescence of prior mononeuritis multiplex. He had almost lost his transplanted kidney, and his prognosis had been touch-and-go for a while. On her orders, they had blasted him with grams of IV steroids and rituximab and PLEXed him to bits. All of this had been on top of Hail Mary vanco-peme and ampicillin in the background, even though a comprehensive kitchen-sink ID workup had been unrevealing.

Becoming his doctor definitely had not been what she had in mind when she had originally resolved to keep an eye on him. Yet, against her better judgement, she had been there with him in the center of the storm, dancing perilously close to the ethical limits for the permitted exercise of her privileges. She had pored over Opinion 1.2.1 from the Code of Medical Ethics more than once seeking a justification for her role:

When the patient is an immediate family member, the physician’s personal feelings may unduly influence his or her professional medical judgment….  In general, physicians should not treat themselves or members of their own families. However, it may be acceptable to do so… in emergency settings or isolated settings where there is no other qualified physician available. 

He wasn’t “immediate family,” she reasoned. He had hardly ever shown any fond regard for her. For the most part, she was certain he considered her little more than an annoying supporting cast member on the sidelines of his larger story with her dead sister.

She also reasoned that she was one of the few “available” attendings on faculty who were uniquely “qualified” to direct his care. Her skills and expertise were extremely rare and highly specialized– even around this particular institution.

Her clinical mentor had initially accepted the case for their Center as a V.I.P. consult at the request of an old friend attached to a U.N. field office abroad. The original intent had been only to provide an expert second opinion with quarterly to semi-annual follow ups. The master though was too old and frail to do duty on the inpatient side these days, leaving either her or Stone to proxy on his behalf in the hospital. Stone though was her junior, a fresh graduate out of training who deferred to her or the master anyway for input on almost all of the hard calls. She reasoned that she might as well save herself the extra step and own the case directly.

All of this was tangential to the actual point though. The real reason that she had surrendered to the compulsion to direct his care herself was because Akane’s disappointment in her for not doing so would have been unbearable. She would not have been able to forgive herself – especially if he had not survived. She was duty-bound by her conscience to protect him no matter what Opinion 1.2.1 did or did not say.

Secretly, his odds had terrified Nabiki. She had been haunted by many sleepless nights, tormented with worries that she could not actually share with anyone -- other than the ghost of her dead sister waiting in her dreams. Her oaths of Geneva and Hippocrates and the circumstances of who he was and who she was had seen to that.

Yet, he had turned and survived somehow, blessed with more than one miracle along the way. He would have to learn how to breathe and walk all over again, had lost almost 20 pounds, and had months of brutal rehab and reconditioning waiting -- but he had survived. He had been extubated roughly 48 hours prior and downgraded out of the Unit to the floor a little over 24 hours ago.

She had been in the room when he had finally woken up from his medically induced coma. To his face and whenever other eyes were around, she had been stoic, clinging steadfastly to the mantra of “Aequenimitas” as her shield. “Aequenimitas” was imperturbility, coolness and presence of mind under all circumstances, calmness amid storm, clarity of judgement in moments of grave peril.

That well trained facade of professional stoicism had saved her. She vividly remembered the anger and the shame in his eyes as he realised that she was his doctor. She had hardly been surprised, unable to argue considering their history. Still, she had been deeply hurt all the same. All the more, she noted with satisfaction how calm she had sounded when she had apologized for the circumstances. She had even managed to joke with sardonic detachment about how rude he had been to stand up her original invitation to her place for brunch the weekend after their Dupont run-in.

"I don't blame you for looking at me that way,” she had said with a steady, even voice. “I'd do the same in your position. I probably should have recused myself from the beginning. I just wanted to help. If you want, I'll arrange to have someone relieve me in the morning."

Inside, however, she was still the same shameful, undignified wreck that she had been since he had stumbled back into her world. She was relieved when he had answered her offer to leave with a shake of his head. Afterward, she had gone home and broken down, shaking as she hugged herself and cried openly with exhausted tears of joy and relief over the fact that he had made it. It was the first time she had cried for any patient in the many years since she had been an intern.

“Fuck you for doing this to me!” she had screamed into the darkness of her empty flat. She knew that she was being irrational, but she could no longer help herself. “Fuck you! Fuck you! Fuck you!” She had grabbed her shoes off her feet and thrown them at the window, pretending it was his head. 

She could say and do things like that now that she knew he was going to be okay. He had come crashing back into her world and broken all of her beautiful, painstakingly crafted mirrors. He was infuriatingly clueless, of course, about what he had done. She was simply not going to be allowed to forget. Her nightmare could never end. 

Her sister was never coming back. 

# # # # #

“Fuck you, Tendou!” Kiki heard hurled at her back with an angry roar. “What’s with this shit showing off and acting like you’re Kipchoge all of a sudden with your carbon fiber soles?!”

It was the morning of Christmas Eve day. She was back on her usual lakeside path for another early run. This time she was with one of her occasional training partners. Erika Sato was an irascibly prickly, bombastic, and vulgar Sansei pseudo-misanthrope she had known since her first year of medical school and who had come out of the closet as bi after the recent finalization of her divorce. Sato was brutally honest when asked for her opinions, but also uniquely discrete about when and where she stuck her nose into things. For those reasons, Kiki valued her as one of her few truly reliable sounding boards when seeking perspective.

“Sorry,” Kiki said as she stopped and turned to wait for Sato to catch up to her at the top of the hill.   

“Seriously, Tendou!” Sato huffed back at her. “You running from something? Or are you in a hurry to get somewhere?”

“Not at all,” Kiki replied calmly. “By the way, that complex trainwreck patient I had in the Unit woke up the other day.”

“Aha!” Sato exclaimed. “So that’s what this is about. Now we’re getting somewhere. You know I love you, Kiki, I really do, but you’ve become quite a bit of a brooding downer lately. You used to be fun.”  

Kiki laughed to mask her discomfort. “It’s just been a busy month,” she said nonchalantly.

Sato though was predictably true to form and would not let her go that easily. “Yeah? I actually asked around with some of the nurses about that trainwreck of yours. They say he has a nice body,” she said with a conspiratorial wink and nudge of her elbow. “Or at least it was nice before all you had to do in order to resurrect him from the dead.”

“Sato….” Kiki found herself growling dangerously.

“What!” her companion said with a laugh. “No shame in it. Hormones and attraction are innate in our biological programming. A nice body is a nice body! You’re allowed to be human when you’re not on duty.”

“How did such a dirty mind ever make it onto our peds faculty,” Kiki shot back with a rueful shake of her head. Sato was a pediatric oncologist.

“Well, that’s the point, isn’t it,” Sato answered with a lewd smirk. “I’m a woman; not a pedophile. You’re a woman too, Kiki. That’s why I get you.”

“It’s not like that – and he’s my patient, Sato!”

“That all he is to you?”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Kiki answered coolly.

Sato laughed. “Bullshit. You definitely do know what I mean. That’s why you dragged me out here with you this morning, isn’t it? I’m the friend you call when you’re looking for someone to knock some sense into you.”

Kiki did not answer. Anything she could have said would have been a waste of time for them both. She played the only hand she had: the proverbial 5th.

“Look,” Sato started again with a sigh. “I’ve known you for a long time. You have a good head on your shoulders – certainly a lot smarter than most of the rest of us -- and you usually have your reasons for what you do and don’t do. I don’t need to know any details, but there are three things that I can tell you for sure.”

“Okay,” Kiki said. “Tell.”

“First, someone who’s been through what your patient has could really use a friend. Especially on a day like tomorrow. You said yourself that not a soul came to visit the guy the entire time that he was up there on Zayed.”    

“Okay.  Second?

“The second is that your pretty Anglo-Japanese lady ass with those angelic vocal cords better show up for caroling tonight. We’ll start up on Bloomberg 11 as usual. I’ll have your neck if you renege on me.”

Caroling for the kids in the hospital on Christmas Eve was a tradition that Sato had started back when they had still been med students. They always met in the playroom on the oncology floor of Bloomberg, the pediatric wing of the hospital.

Sato considered Kiki a gifted natural and approached her every year. Kiki was well trained from years of karaoke with her younger sister, and her voice was unique and pleasing to children when she wanted it to be.

Kiki laughed. “No, you won’t.”

Sato grinned.  “No, I won’t, but I will find your ass and drag it over there come Monday to look those sick kids in their eyes while you explain yourself if you don’t show.”

“Okay, point made” Kiki said with another laugh. Sato made the same threat every year too. “I’ll be there. What’s the third thing you have for me?”

“You’re too young and beautiful with that killer body of yours to be acting like a damned spinster the way you do. I still want to kill you for standing up that date I worked so hard to set up for you last month.”

“We went over this already!” Kiki groaned in exasperation. “I didn’t ask for you to do that.”

“Fine,” Sato muttered with a resigned sigh. “You’re not in the market for a relationship. Mea culpa. Still, you can make it up to me by coming out for a drink after carols. Maybe you can even help me get laid, and who knows, maybe score one for yourself too.”

“That divorce has really gotten to your head.” Truthfully, though, Kiki had never liked the guy. His eyes had wandered too much.

“Correction,” Sato grinned. “That divorce was the most liberating thing that could ever have happened for me. Definitely got me over that fucking only with men thing, and I’m still just thirty-five! Now, I’m not recommending that you take the same path of self-discovery that I have, but God, Kiki, I do hope you find a way out of your prim and proper lady shell.”

“I’m doing just fine as I am, thank you very much,” she answered curtly.

Sato laughed. “You know what?  Forget everything I just told you. Here’s my actual honest opinion. I think you should listen to that repressed desire of yours that you keep trying so hard to imagine away. Once that patient of yours is well enough for it, you should fire him from your practice, get him to put his hands on that perky nubile body of yours, and make some babies with him. Maybe you can even think about marrying him after.”

Even though Kiki had known Erika Sato long enough to know that she was almost all bark and no bite, the vivid lewdness of that inappropriate suggestion made even Nabiki Tendou, the one-time Ice Queen of Furinkan High, turn a fiery blazing beet red.

# # # # #

Nabiki found herself unconsciously huddling into the chair tucked into the shadows in the far corner by the window as Ranma began to stir.

He fumbled around for the bed remote, used it to tilt himself upright and looked around. He was still too weak to sit himself up on his own. His surroundings were clearly still unfamiliar to him. The surprise on his face was evident when he realized that he was not alone.

“Hello…?” he rasped as his eyes worked to adjust to the light. His voice was still weak and hoarse from the tube that had been in his throat until just a few days ago. 

“Merry Christmas, Saotome,” she replied with a smile.

“Oh. Good morning. Rounding early today?” he asked, eyeing her coat.

“I’m not on,” she replied in Japanese as she stood. She had told him also the day before that her rotation month was over and that she was signing off the Service. She did not blame him though for not remembering. Telling the days apart in a place like the hospital was difficult sometimes, even for those who worked there. That and he had more than enough still on his very heavy plate.

Her heels clicked against the engineered wood floor as she approached him. She picked up the navy-blue hospital issue carafe off of the overbed table, shaking the vessel gently to confirm that it still contained water before handing it to him.

He tried to take the water from her, but even with two hands, it was still somewhat heavy for him.  His grip was unsteady, and his hands began to shake from the strain.

“Here,” she said as she wrapped her own hands around his to steady them. She helped him to raise the carafe and position the plastic straw tip in his mouth. 

He drank eagerly and mumbled his appreciation after he had finished. He was unable to look up and meet her eyes.

“Don’t be upset,” she said, reading his thoughts. “It’s par for the course after all you’ve been through. Not something you should be ashamed of.”

“Ya look nice today,” he said eyeing her dress. He was clearly searching for a way to change the subject.

Yet, even though she knew what he was doing, his compliment made her smile. “And it’s good to hear your voice again,” she said warmly. 

An expectant silence fell over the room. She understood. They were each waiting for the other person to make the next move. She was about to say something when Ranma surprised her by beating her to it.

“If you’re not here to round, then what brings ya by?” he asked.

Nabiki found herself unconsciously taking a deep breath as she drew on the rehearsed answer in her mind.

# # # # #

Kiki woke up face down. The blue leather of the couch in her own den was staring back at her. Groggily trying to orient herself, she turned her head to the right and swung her left wrist up to read the time off of her smartwatch: 0214. The crème-colored cuff of her sleeve reminded her that she had fallen asleep in the dress she had worn to meet up with Sato and the others earlier.

A dozen of them had turned up to sing and hand out gifts and treats to the children. The group had included a mix of attendings, nurses, house officers, and techs. Aside from Sato and herself, Litkowski from the peds ER and Ramgopal from Cards were the attendings who had come. They were all long-time friends going back to their days in med school together. As a rule, to put the kids at ease, no one wore white coats in Bloomberg.

Kiki was glad that she went despite her mood. She was hardly religious by any measure of any faith, but the uplifting words and the simple melodies of songs like “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” “Deck the Halls,” and “O Come All Ye Faithful” still meant something to her. The lofty descending chorus of “Angels We Have Heard On High” was one of her favorites to sing, a reminder of what breathing really meant. They threw in an a cappella arrangement of “Mis Diseos/Feliz Navidad” too, which got everyone up clapping and dancing.

Seeing the children made Kiki smile, and they seemed to like her too. They were all strangers to one another. Yet, she could hold her arms open to them with toy-filled stockings, chocolates, cookies, and candy canes, and they would come running to throw themselves at her with fierce, warm, unreserved hugs of joy and gratitude. She had considered going into peds at one point in med school. Only the thought of having to beg and cajole distressed parents into making good decisions for the rest of her professional life had dissuaded her in the end.

She was saddened by the realisation that she would likely never have any of her own – unless she went with a donor. The secret was that Nabiki had always loved being around children. The reason was their innocence and blind faith in their eyes when they looked back at her. In that space, she was safe to feel that even she was a good and decent human being worthy of being loved. For that alone, she could almost even forgive and keep believing that there was still enough hope and goodness left to justify a world filled with the kinds of terrible things she had seen and experienced in her thirty-six years.

Her mother and sister had both died young and in nasty, violent ways – not even giving Nabiki a chance to properly say goodbye. Akane and her mother had been the only people who had ever really known or understood her.   

Her father had become a pitiable and helpless old man who was too jaded, scared, and short-sighted to believe in her and her dreams and ambitions -- even when Nabiki had used the fruits of those same dreams and ambitions to try and take care of him. She had tried so hard to make him see and be proud of her before he was gone too.

Her older sister was the only one left, but she had always thought Nabiki was a selfish, unloving person – no matter what Nabiki did or how hard she tried. The largely unspoken nature of Kasumi’s eternal disappointment just under the surface of her angelic façade made it even worse.

Nabiki was alone in her anguished, tormented struggle to try and make sense of her place in her broken family and the world in which she was left. No one understood how much she wanted to fix it all or to go back to a time before everything -- when she herself had been a child.

There were no words with which Nabiki could express how much she envied those kids for being able to hug her now and take candy and presents from her hands like that. Even though some of them were in the middle of dying, they could still be like that! She remembered Sato grimly pointing out in private that 1 in 6 of them likely would not be around by the time they did this again next year.

Yet, even if there had been words to describe how Nabiki felt, what did it matter.

No one was there to listen to her anyway.

Kiki was the one whom everyone loved -- the beautiful, elegant illusion of brilliant consequentiality, human warmth, and fulfillment that Nabiki had worked with feverish fervor to create for herself after leaving Japan. In short, Kiki was everything that Nabiki was not and very deliberately so. She had needed to reinvent herself in order to preserve her sanity and stay alive. Kiki was a lady who lived hard and played hard.

Nabiki had made the mistake of donning a grossly misunderstood façade of vicious, shark-like material obsession to conceal her insecurities and vulnerabilities. Kiki was the opposite -- sparingly precise and elegantly minimalistic in her style and possessions.

She owned few clothes aside from her hospital issue white coats and some scrubs. Her inventory was brief enough that she could recite all she had in 20 words: three sweaters, half a dozen conservative professional blouses, two pairs of jeans, three midi-length A-line skirts, four dresses, and some shawls. She did not own jewelry, and her ears were not pierced. Other than an occasional brush of foundation, she never wore makeup.

Kiki drove a 10-year-old second-hand BMW E85 roadster with a 6-speed manual gearbox and a retractable canvas soft-top. She was deliberate in this choice, purposefully avoid something newer and more modern. She did so precisely because the machine she had was actually visceral and alive, far truer than any new option these days to her philosophical appreciation of a car and an open road as an expression of freedom unlike anything else in the world. 

She owned a single bedroom flat decorated with a sensible aesthetic somewhere in between Scandinavian Minimalism and Japanese Iki, bold and confident without ever crossing over into the realm of gawdy and ostentatious. The center of her home was a small living room finished with a Noguchi-styled coffee table with a freeform glass surface atop a curved, walnut wood base placed in front of a mercurial blue leather sofa. Both were overlooked by a large three-part canvas copy of Kandinsky's "Lyric (Man on a Horse)."

Kiki appreciated art – Kandinsky in particular. She had fallen in love from the moment she had first seen his work showcased in a touring exhibition at Tate Modern her first summer in England. She felt that he spoke to the essence of things, distilling it down to the actual core of all that mattered. She admired that he was bold and unapologetic about doing so.

Professionally, she was an ambitious physician scientist with an academic appointment as an assistant professor of medicine at one of the most famous and prestigious medical institutions in the world. She had received both her M.D. and a Ph.D. in immunology from that same school after earning her MBiomedSci with 1st class honors in England.  

Kiki believed in medicine as a tool and a philosophy for enabling people to go back to living their lives as they wished; judging how people lived was not her place. Most everyone came through the School’s clinics and the hospital thinking, of course, that she and the other doctors saved people, but that was not true. She never did, and she could not actually do so even if she wanted to. All that doctors like her ever really did was buy time and space for the body to do whatever it was going to do. In that time and space, the body either healed or it did not; it was actually that simple.  

That was why she was so very proud of Ranma for defying his odds. He had proven again that he still really was the Ranma Saotome that Nabiki remembered, someone and something larger than life, a force bringing with it unexpected and unimagined possibilities. As she watched him struggle with his disease, he struck her as so childlike in the rawness and purity of his desire to live. He reminded her of the children she had spent Christmas Eve with on Bloomberg 11.

# # # # #

“You think he’d give you hugs and take chocolate and candy canes too from you?” The voice that asked her this came out of nowhere, laughing playfully as it cut into her thoughts.

Nabiki looked up and saw the familiar visage of her sister’s ghost smiling back at her. Akane was there, appearing as a beautiful eternal teenage girl imbued with an otherworldly blue ethereal glow.

“You’re sitting on my coffee table again,” Nabiki pointed out, doing her best to look stern and miffed about it. They had been over this too many times before.

“Merry Christmas to you too, Oneechan,” her sister said knowingly. “It’s okay if you smile. It’s just you and me, yes?”

Nabiki sighed sadly at that. “Yes, just the two of us.” After a moment, she added, “I miss you, you know.”

Akane returned her sad smile with one of her own. “I’m sorry that the Baka has been such a bother. Thank you for taking care of him.”

Nabiki shrugged. “Someone had to.”

“So what now?”

“Well,” Nabiki sighed. “He has a long road ahead of him still, but he’s over the worst of it. Probably a few more days on the floor while physical therapy tees him up for inpatient rehab on Meyer 7. He’ll probably be there for 2 or 3 weeks and then go home. He’ll live though for sure, so you don’t have to worry.”

“That’s not what I meant,” Akane said, frowning at her.

Nabiki stood and stretched before picking up the trio of empty wine glasses also on her coffee table and making her way to the kitchen.

Sato and Ramgopal had been by for a few hours after caroling. Sato, of course, had brought a Bordeaux. Their company and the wine had been ideal for forgetting at least for a little while. Inevitably, though, everyone had to go their separate ways. Sato would have to leave early for her parents’ place in the morning. Ramgopal had to prepare for her brother and his family to come over the next day as well. As always, Nabiki found herself alone in the end.

“Hey, Oneechan!” Akane called out angrily after her, demanding the redirection of her attention. “You’re ignoring me again!”

“You were always good at asking questions that make no sense,” Nabiki replied grouchily without looking up from the water now running in the sink.

“Hey! They do make sense – and you were always good at avoiding them!” Akane shot back. “I was never as bright as you, but I’m not stupid either and fighting with the dead on Christmas Eve is just plain rude!”  

Nabiki turned off the water and turned stiff and still. She did not have the heart to engage. “No, you’re not stupid, and I don’t want to fight either,” she conceded quietly. “I’m sorry.”   

“It’s okay, Oneechan,” Akane said, gently placing a reassuring hand on Nabiki’s shoulder.

“What is it you want from me, Akane?” she said with weary resignation. Through her bangs, she saw Akane’s face fixing her now with a worried, piercing gaze.

“I want you to be happy,” was the answer.

She sighed. “I am happy.”

“No, you’re not,” the ghost said quietly but firmly. “You’re not happy, Oneechan. Maybe Kiki is happy, but you – Nabiki – are not.”

“I am Kiki.”

“Oneechan,” Akane said tenderly, taking Nabiki by the shoulders as she raised herself up to whisper in her sister's ear. “Kiki is a part of you, an achievement that you definitely should be proud of, but being proud is not the same as being happy.”

“Then what do I have left?” Nabiki could not keep the frustrated exasperation out of her voice. 

“That’s the question,” Akane said.

“Maybe someone like me just isn’t meant to be happy by your pretty, idyllic definition. There are a lot of people who go their whole lives like that. Maybe that’s okay, even good enough. That’s what makes that kind of happiness precious and special – the fact that most of us are just never going to get there. ”

Akane frowned again. “Yes, there are a lot of people who go their whole lives like that – but it’s not my definition, and it isn’t ever okay. And since when has my sister ever settled for ‘okay’ and ‘good enough’?”

Nabiki was suddenly very angry. She shoved herself out of Akane’s embrace and turned on her with a ferocious roar. “All the time when you were still alive! You were always the best; the most beautiful and passionate of all three of us; the happy, earnest one who had everything and whom everyone loved! I wanted to be you!”

“That’s not true!” Akane shouted back. “You were always the smart, clever, resourceful one. You are the only one in this family who was ever strong enough to take care of themselves! You never needed anyone’s help!”

“But that doesn’t mean I didn’t want it!” Nabiki shouted back. “At least that way I would’ve known that at least somebody – anybody -- cared enough to see me. No one ever saw me!”

“That’s not right! I saw you, Oneechan!” Akane answered indignantly. “I always saw you!”

“I’m sorry. You’re right, but you were the only one,” Nabiki said, fighting to keep the tears away. “Just you and Mum, and now that neither of you are here, I’m alone. You left me – and now I have that trainwreck of a chaos-generating machine of a fiancé of yours around to make sure I don’t ever forget that you did!” she spat.


“You. Left. Me.”

Nabiki found herself clutching desperately at her chest in anguish as she felt the dam breaking, and she began to cry. The pain of her broken heart was there all over again. Her body exploded with violent, unchecked sobs. It was more than she could bear. 

“I’m sorry, Oneechan. I’m so sorry,” Akane told her repeatedly. The ghost threw her arms lovingly around her, gently stroking her hair as she wept openly in the warm refuge of those phantom arms. “I never wanted to leave you.”

Nabiki cried for a very long time. “Damn your fiancé for reminding me all over again,” she muttered in miserable, weary resignation at the end. “I can’t escape who I am. I can’t forget.”

“What would you like to do, Oneechan? What next?”

Nabiki sighed. “I don’t know. Living just feels so very hard for me sometimes.”

“Do you… want to die?” the ghost asked fearfully. Her sister was studying her with an openly worried expression.

“I’ve wondered about it,” Nabiki admitted, surprised by how clinically detached she sounded to herself. “I’d be lying if I told you otherwise – but no, not really. What I want is to wake up and find that my whole life since you left was just a very bad dream. I’m just very lonely.”

Akane was visibly relieved, but then appeared to consider something else. “Are you angry with – ?”

“You?  No.”

“I was going to say Ranma.”

Nabiki made a mirthless sound somewhere in between a snort and a laugh. “Bad form to blame the patient. Even more so on Christmas.”   

“No, seriously, Oneechan.”

Nabiki sighed and forlornly shook her head. She was not angry with him. Not really. More than anything, she was angry with herself for still being, when all was said and done, the very same weak, helpless girl who had been so powerless to do anything -- so inconsequential -- as her world had crumbled around her.

It occurred to her that maybe Ranma felt the same way about his own fate. After all, he had lost Akane too. His mother may have been the only other person he thought ever loved him, but she was also gone. His father had been very much like her own, but worse in his inability to understand or respect him in any meaningful way. On top of that, there was the disease that had destroyed his body. He had lost far more than her.

Akane's eyes were thoughtfully fixed on her now, as if reading and contemplating the thoughts directly out of her head. Nabiki grew uneasy as she watched her sister. She was very much unsure if she wanted to know what was coming.

"Oneechan," Akane carefully began after a while. "He really is probably just as lonely and unhappy as you are, likely even more so. He's also probably the one person in the world who can actually understand something about how you feel. Maybe you should talk with him a little, even be friends."

Nabiki could not help musing how the spirit of Akane's words now mirrored Sato's from the day before – minus the rough edges, the profanity laden tirade, and lewdly suggestive vulgarity of course. Still, Nabiki ruefully shook her head. Resolving to apologise to Ranma for all the mischief and trouble she had once caused him because of petty, childish immaturity was one thing. Any more than that though would be a wholly different matter entirely. “He looked so miserable when he first found out that I was his doctor. I’ll just feel worse when he brushes me off for trying.”

“He’ll talk to you, Oneechan,” the ghost said confidently.

Nabiki sighed. “Is this something you’re asking me to do for you?”

To her surprise, the ghost seemed saddened by her question. “I’m not asking you to do anything for me – or even for him, Oneechan. You’ve done enough.”

“So what are -- ?”

“I’m asking you to do something for yourself. I love you, Oneechan. I just want you to be happy.”


# # # # #

“If you’re not here to round, then what brings ya by?” Ranma had asked.

Nabiki remembered how she had woken up a few hours earlier. She had been face down with the blue leather of the couch in her own den staring back at her. Groggily trying to orient herself, she turned her head to the right and swung her left wrist up to read the time off of her smartwatch: 0614. The crème-colored cuff of her sleeve reminded her that she had fallen asleep in the dress she had worn to meet up with Sato and the others.

When she managed to sit up and look around, she found the trio of empty wine glasses still on her coffee table. She was alone under her Kandinsky’s long shadow. The sun would be rising soon. Already, the first hints of morning light were starting to illuminate the harbor visible outside her east-facing window. She had forgotten to draw the blinds the night before.  

It had all just been another dream, she realised sadly. Akane was still dead. Yet, the words were so vividly alive in the ears of her mind. 

He’s probably just as lonely and unhappy as you are, likely even more so. Maybe the two of you can talk a little, even be friends….


Ranma’s gentle, worried prodding nudged her out of her reverie. She suddenly became aware of how very long it had been since anyone other than Kasumi had addressed her by her real name. Everyone else only called her “Kiki” nowadays.

Somehow, hearing her name again was actually nice.

Nabiki gave him the warmest smile she could muster before explaining herself. “It’s Christmas, Ranma. Can’t be much fun to be stuck in here alone like this. I know we have a pretty complex history. Frankly it’s really fucked up, but I just thought that, well, maybe we could be friends. Actual friends.”

There was confusion in his eyes – but then he laughed.

He laughed at her.

She had known on some level that he might and that she would deserve it. Still, she was surprised when he did and felt very, very hurt hearing it. For the moment, though, she could still hold her head high and keep her poker face. Once she left, she knew she would cry. She was so fucking stupid!

“I’m sorry I woke you. That was a bad joke, wasn’t it.” She was pleased by how calm and steady her voice still was. “The truth is that some faculty and staff were planning on doing carols for the kids in the Peds Onc ward later. I’m a little early, so I just wanted to say Merry Christmas.”

“Huh?  Nabiki?”

“You should get some rest.  I’ll…. I’ll see you around.” She turned toward the door, clinging tightly to what little remained of her dignity as she moved to make her escape.

“Wait! Aww man, Nabiki, ya got it all wrong! Don’t go!” he called out before being rendered incoherent by a vicious paroxysm of coughs.

He had overexerted himself in calling out to her. Instinctively, she found herself rushing back, leaning him forward and patiently rapping on his back to help him clear his airway.

“Sorry,” he eventually managed to gasp. “Still foot-in-mouth. Not laughing at you. Just that I….”

She did not trust herself to say anything back. Instead, she wordlessly waited for him to continue once he was able. 

“Just thought… we were already friends. Always have been.”

She was surprised. A bright smile came over her face as she heard him – a real one this time. She kept her gaze down and grabbed at the side rail of his bed to keep from raising them to her misty eyes and giving herself away.


“Yeah, Ranma?”

“Merry Christmas to you too. Thank you – for everything.”

The strange weight of something important and promising, but undefined, was suddenly in the air. She looked up and saw Ranma smiling back wanly at her. In his eyes, for a moment, she thought that she could even see Akane smiling back at her too. 

Nabiki found herself wondering if this was what actual consequentiality felt like. Whatever it was made her feel genuinely happy for the first time in a very long time.

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