I woke up to the sight of Akane's face. It was red, as if she'd been crying. "Ranma! I'm so sorry!" she said.

I tried to move, and found that I couldn't. My back and head were strapped to some weird contraption. My instinctive response was to try to bust out of it.

Kasumi leaned over and held my hand. "You're going to be all right, Ranma. Please don't try to move. You need to stay in bed until the doctor says it's okay for you to get up." She gave me a smile, the same one that I'd seen from her a hundred times before, but somehow it told me that I really would be all right.

From the bed I was in, and the dumb-looking thing I was wearing, I realized that I was in the hospital. Kasumi turned my bed so I faced the front, and I could see Pop, Mr. Tendo, and Nabiki.

Mr. Tendo could barely contain himself. "He's going to be all right!!" he said, crying tears of joy.

"Of course he is, he's my son!" Pop said confidently.

"Absolutely," said Nabiki. "I've got Ranma for a full recovery within two weeks at five to one odds." I hoped she was joking. I'd hate to think who it was that bet against me.

Akane just repeated how sorry she was. Then I remembered that it wasn't her who did this to me. It had been Dr. Tofu. He had had his arms around my neck when he had turned to see Kasumi. Then I had felt something snap...

A small, elderly woman entered. "I am Kin Ono," she said to me. "My son is Doctor Tofu Ono. My son wants you to know that he deeply regrets what happened to you, Ranma. He was not in control of himself. He has gone to seek help from his martial arts master. He has asked me to make sure that you receive the best medical care possible, and I will do just that."

"I think I speak for everyone here when I say we bear no ill will toward your son, ma'am. None of us blame him for what happened," said Mr. Tendo. I tried to nod in assent but couldn't. I looked at Akane. It was obvious that it wasn't Tofu that she blamed, either.

A man wearing a lab coat came in the room, and everyone immediately cleared a path to my bed for him. "I am Doctor Eryu Hu," the small-faced man said, his voice betraying a trace of Chinese accent. "How are you feeling, Ranma?"

"Okay, I guess. Can I get out of this dumb thing, Doc?"

The doctor gave a friendly chuckle. "Not yet, I'm afraid. In another few days, we'll run some tests. If all goes well, you should be out of your supports after that, and on your way back to a normal life."

"Normal as in normal for me? Or just normal?" I asked. Two very different things.

"Ranma, your spinal cord had been damaged. We've managed to reconstruct, and after you recuperate you should be able to function as if the damage had never occurred. But if you were to take another blow in the wrong place, everything we've fixed could be undone."

"Are you saying..." I asked.

"I'm afraid that I'm saying your days as a martial artist are over."


I wasn't there for what happened next, but Ryoga's told the story to me about a billion times. Akane was up in her room. She was crying. "P-chan, it's all my fault! None of this would've happened if I hadn't forced Ranma to get engaged to Kasumi! Now Ranma can't do martial arts anymore, Dr. Tofu's practice is ruined... I've ruined both their lives! I'm a terrible person, P-chan. I don't deserve to live..."

P-chan motioned to Akane. "What is it, P-chan? You want to get out of the room? You want me to follow you?" What Ryoga was doing took guts, I have to admit that. Maybe more guts than anything he'd ever done before.

Akane was on overload already, and she seemed to have little mind left at that time to question the odd behavior of her pet. P-chan led his owner down the hall, trembling nervously all the way, until he got to the bathroom. Akane watched as her little pet turned the hot water faucet with his little pig arms...


Ryoga covered himself with a towel. "Yes, it's me. I've been P-chan all along, ever since I got knocked into that cursed spring. I couldn't tell you because I thought you'd hate me for it."

Akane stood flabbergasted, unable to take in the revelation. "How... why..."

The emotion that had been dammed up inside Ryoga for so long came pouring out in a jumbled flood. "I love you, Akane! You're not a terrible person. If anyone is, I am. I've been deceiving you from the beginning, to be able to spend time with you. Because I thought you'd hate who I really was. I don't care if you hate me now. It doesn't matter anymore. But don't ever say you don't deserve to live. I'd gladly give my life for yours!"

"How dare you!" Akane screamed as she grabbed Ryoga by his headband and swung back her fist. She seemed about to take Ryoga up on his offer to give his life, or at least provide me with a new roommate
at the hospital.

At the last moment Akane held back. "Get your clothes on and get the hell out of my house," she said, her voice more hurt than angry.

That's the way Ryoga tells the story, anyway. Personally I wonder if he didn't just turn the water on himself and stand there pleading for his life. Either way I have to respect him for what he did, though. It was a start. Not a great start, the start of something honest between them, something that would eventually let their relationship evolve from pet and owner to much more...


Pop and Mr. Tendo decided that the end of May was a good time for a wedding. Kodachi was going to be out of town then.

I still wasn't sure I really wanted to go through with it, though.

"Maybe I shouldn't get married to anybody," I said to Kasumi. "Maybe I should just tell Pop where he can stick his arranged marriage thing."

Kasumi took my hand and smiled, her expression reassuring me that no matter what happened things would be all right. "Ranma-kun, you have a good heart. I'd be proud to be your wife, if that's what you truly want. That's what you need to decide. Look deep inside yourself and see what's there."

I looked inside myself and saw... nothing. I didn't know what to do, which path to take on the trip that would last my whole life.

"Maybe talking with Akane would help," Kasumi said as she went to the kitchen.

Akane? Why, I wondered. Why would I want to talk to her? But it was worth a try. I hadn't seen much of Akane lately. Every time I had seen her she'd make some excuse and run off. It was pretty obvious that she felt guilty about what had happened to me.

The enormity of it all suddenly hit me. No more martial arts. Ever. What had been my whole reason for existence so far was no more. A tidal wave of despair engulfed me, no longer to be denied. Damn this body of mine! Turning into a girl was nothing compared to this curse.

I wanted to scream. No. I wanted to run outside and pick a fight with Ryoga, with Kodachi, with anyone I could find. The hell with what might happen to me! I'd always survived before! But I knew that this was different. I knew then that if I got into another fight, I could end up as a human vegetable, or just plain dead.

If it had been just me I might have taken my chances. But in the back of my mind I knew what my dying or getting crippled could do to Akane and Kasumi. Akane was already going through incredible guilt just because of what had happened already. And Kasumi. She'd already lost one guy who might have ended up as her husband. Was I going to let her be married to a vegetable?

Akane and Kasumi. They would have to be my reason for existence from now on.

I found Akane practicing in the dojo. I stood for a moment and watched. She really is good, I thought.

Akane stopped and gave me a cheerful but awkward smile. "Ranma! So, it looks like we're going to be family at last!"

"Uh, yeah, looks that way. You're looking good. Your martial arts, I mean. Getting even better every day. One of these days you might be the best in the whole country."

"Th-thanks. I'd better go and... Oh Ranma, I'm so sorry. It should be you. If I hadn't pushed you into getting engaged to Kasumi..."

"Hey, that wasn't your fault. The engagement thing wasn't your idea. The whole thing was just, y'know, one of those things that happen." I tried to think of something, anything, to change the subject. "So, you've been seeing Ryoga, huh. I know that he reallly likes you."

"I know. I kind of understand why he was pretending to be P-chan. I'm not mad at him anymore for that. He's nice. Sometimes too nice. I wish he wouldn't act like a doormat around me. Did you know that some kid from our school has been following Ryoga around lately? He says he's trying to learn his weak spot."

"Yeah. Gosunkugi. Ryoga told me that he doesn't mind. Gosunkugi being there is the only way he can find his way around town." Akane and I shared a laugh at that.

"Anyway," Akane said, "I guess with my bad temper I'd need someone as durable as he is." And I'm not anymore, I thought. I felt a pang of regret just then. I'm not sure why, It wasn't like I ever wanted to marry Akane. But I felt like something was closed off forever, some chapter of my life that would now never be written.


I finished off my evening snack and handed the plate to Kasumi, who rinsed it off in the sink. "Do you have a busy day ahead of you tomorrow?" she asked me.

"Not too much, just a couple of students. How about you?"

"I've got the laundry to do, and the living room is due for a cleaning."

"Hey, the living room is clean already. And I wouldn't mind wearing dirty clothes for a little while. Why don't we take the day off? I'll cancel my students and we'll get somebody to watch the kids. We can go find Akane and Ryoga and help them track down where that Ice Demon came from! Then we..."

Kasumi didn't say anything. She just looked at me, looked right through me. A look that told me I was too late, that I had had a choice a long time ago, but now the choice was made. There was nothing more to be done. If there was anything to learn, it was that decisions that you don't make get made for you. Or else that a peaceful life isn't bad, but there's something to be said for interesting times too.