Does anybody know what'non sequitur' means?

It is literally Latin for 'does not follow' usually used in application to a set of events that failed to add up or a fallacy in logic. Well, Nabiki was felt like it explains her situation quite well – why on Earth would Akane know Ranma as Keiko Shirayuki? It did not even make the slightest bit of sense.

Unless…

"Tendo-san…," Ranma answered back hesitantly. She did not say anything further and looked altogether like she was trying to buy some time to think. She gave Akane an unusually stiff bow. "Good afternoon, how do you do?"

Nabiki blinked in surprise as Akane bowed deeply in return. She mumbled a quiet reply that Nabiki could not quite catch. It was an odd sight to see – a tomboyish girl like Akane bowing so regally to someone around her own age. Nabiki noticed that Akane kept on stealing glances at her.

'Ah, so little sis is as nervous as I am,' she thought but did not voiced her realization. 'This is keeps getting better and better…,'

"I didn't know you knew my sister, Shirayuki-san," Akane politely asked Ranma.

"I've afraid you misunderstood, Tendo-san," Ranma answered. She nodded her head slightly toward Nabiki. "I've only had the pleasure of meeting your sister recently – the very last evening in fact."

"Ah, I see," Akane said monotonously. It escaped her at first but now Nabiki has realized that ever since they have ran into her, she has been unconsciously straitening her back, trying to be as poised and refined as possible.

'I'm going to get to the bottom of this,' Nabiki thought determinedly.

"Hey listen," she said to Akane. "Keiko-chan and I are going to grab a bite to eat – how about you join us? You guys can tell me how the two of you met?"

"I'm not sure if that's such a good idea, Nabiki-chan," Ranma said, trying to stir the conversation into another direction. The look on her fact cleary said she was opposed to the idea. "I'm sure your sister has already made plans for this afternoon. It won't be right to make her tags along like this."

'Too bad,' Nabiki thought vengefully, giving Ranma a threatening glare.

"Non-sense, Keiko-chan," she said with a wave. "I'm sure Akane is curious about how we met as well, right?"

Akane nodded reluctantly but in agreement.

"Then let's get going shall we," Nabiki declared with a note of finality. She took hold of Ranma's hand and dragged her ahead, leaving Akane to rush after them. On the outside she looked as calm as ever but Nabiki could tell Ranma was panicking. It became rather obvious when she tried to pull her arm away from Nabiki's hold. Nabiki interpreted as a sign of fear; Ranma did not want Akane to know that 'Keiko' was actually her in disguise.

'Ah' Nabiki mused; so a few more pieces fell into place. She did not know what was going on yet but she will get the bottom of this

As they got closer and closer to the café, the redhead's tugging on Nabiki's arm became more and more insistent. The girl was getting desperate and they both knew it.

Akane glanced at the two girls walking side-by-side in front of her. Watching how they hold hand, pulling playfully, leaning left and right every once in a while, the youngest Tendo felt a pang of jealously shot through her. In her recent memory, Nabiki was never this easy-going or this open in front of anyone.

'Not even to her sisters…,' said a voice in her head.

Akane averted her eyes. She stared at the pavement to make sure she did not step on something and continued following the two in front of her.

"Oh we're here!" Nabiki noted cheerfully – almost smugly – pushing open the door and stepping into the chic little café. Ranma followed after her with a strained smile on her face. She held the door open for Akane who gave her a formal expression of thanks before heading inside.

Nabiki waved off the maître d'. She has already decided where she wanted to sit and as for the menus, well, let's just say food was not the first thing on her mind. She walked over to a four-seater by the window and sat down. She smiled pleasantly at Ranma and patted the chair beside her lightly. The redhead took a slight pause before she shuffled into her seat.

Akane sat down on the chair opposite to them, still oblivious to the mounting tension. A waiter came and took their order. Akane and Ranma both ordered tea while Nabiki got a cup of Cappuccino.

"So, Akane," Nabiki began after they all have had a zip of their hot beverages. "How did you first met Keiko-chan?"

"Well," Akane began hesitantly. She looked to Ranma as if asking for permission before continuing. "We kind of met at this bridal training school in Fukuoka,"

"Bridal training school?" Nabiki repeated in surprise; that was not the sort of place she had expected Ranma to frequent – or Akane for that matter. And beside that; it was far too big a coincidence for them to have run into each other… after all, Fukuoka was not only far from here but it was also a rather large ward with many similar school of bridal training. Unless Ranma had actually followed her it was extremely unlikely that—

Nabiki blinked – wait, what if Ranma had followed her? But why? What would be the reason for Ranma to go to such great a length to stalk Akane like that? It did not make sense.

"Anyway, since we were both beginner, we got paired together even though she's one year my senior," Akane continued, unaware of what Nabiki was thinking. She blushed a little as she said the next bit. "Because I can be really clumsy at times, she had to help me out a lot. We got to know each other during trainings and I've sort of adopted her as my upperclassman. We talked heaps and I really confine in her on a lot of things."

"Ah, I see…," Nabiki remarked dryly. So that was Ranma's game – getting to know Akane by pretending to be someone else. That boy has a lot more brain that Nabiki had given him credit for.

Nabiki looked down into her coffee thoughtfully – still, that did not stop her from feeling somewhat hurt about it. So Ranma wanted to know Akane better because he liked her – why could he not just tell her that outright? To get her hope about finding someone who with the same interest as her up like that… it was cruel, even if it was not intentional.

CLANK!

"Excuse me," Nabiki said after abruptly standing up – leaving the broken cup and saucer on the floor as testaments to how sudden she got out of her seat. Ranma stared at her in shock, having only managed to dodge the flying hot liquid by mere centimeters.

"Nabiki!" Akane shouted aloud in surprise – what the heck was going on? What just happened?

Nabiki did not answer her. She turned her tail and ran out, bumping into another table and almost bowling over a bystander in the process.

"Nabiki-chan!" Ranma cried after her but older girl did not stop nor turn around. The redhead spun to the still sitting Akane and addressed her. "If you'd excuse me, Tendo-san,"

Akane nodded lethargically as she was left taking to thin air – what the heck was that all about?


Nabiki fought to regain her balance as she ran down the wet footpath. Yesterday's hard rain took its toll on the ground and she had to struggle for her footing with every step she took. The fact that her eyes were teary and the world was one massive blur to her also did not help.

Still she ran on.

"Stupid, stupid, stupid," the Tendo girl chanted punitively at herself. She was angry – with Ranma, yes, but mostly with herself. She could not believe how quickly she fell for Ranma's lies.

Lost in her tumultuous cloud of disappointment, hurt and regret, Nabiki never saw that puddle coming.

"Offpt," she cried out in pain. Landing on her hands and knees for the third time in the two days was not fun. She stared down at her abused hands and soaked through dress and began crying anew. Then, instead of picking herself up like she usually did, Nabiki, overwhelmed with feelings and half-framed thoughts, allowed herself to collapse to the ground like a puppet with its strings cut.

Perhaps she should just stay here and wallow in her sorrow – maybe that way she would not be falling down anymore.

"Nabi— Boss?!"

Nabiki lifted her head blearily; who was that? It took her eyes a moment to focus themselves but she eventually managed to make out the form of a girl standing in front of her. Nabiki blinked a few more time before she recognized the girl; it was Kanao from her art class.

"Are you alright, Boss?" Kanao asked worriedly as she helped Nabiki to stand up. She looked at the other girl with concern. "What happened?"

"It was nothing," Nabiki said quietly. She gave Kanao a half-hearted smile that she knew would not have convinced even the most gullible of girls. "I just fell, that's all."

Like Nabiki had predicted, Kanao did not look convinced. She gave Nabiki a cross look, obviously was not pleased with how dishonest the Tendo girl was being.

Nabiki sighed as she looked down at her attires – soaked to the bone and covered in mud – she knew she did not make the most persuasive of characters. She opened her mouth only to close it; she was too tired; too tired to try to lie, too tired to make up some bullshit to feed this…, thisgirl whom she has known for only about a month. This girl, who, for some unfathomable reason, was concerned about her, Nabiki Tendo, the Ice Queen, the Heartless Mercenary, the Bitch.

"Please," Nabiki begged. "Can't you just let it go, Kanao-chan? I'm fine really, and I'm just heading home anyway."

Kanao seemed hesitant but she did allow the topic to drop. She looked to the right and appeared to be adjusting her glasses. She did have a rather thoughtful look on her face, though.

"Alright," she conceded but not before quipping in a small words of wisdom before turning around and left. "But you should speak with him soon you know – otherwise whatever misunderstanding or argument you two have will just keep growing bigger and bigger."

Nabiki waved back. She took that advice to heart only to realize a few second later just exactly what it insinuated.

"I'm not having boys' problems!" she protested indignantly. "I don't even have a boyfriend – you know that!"

Kanao did not turn around. She adjusted the shoulder strap of her mini-dress and continued walking away like she had not heard the Tendo girl.

"Mooiii…," Nabiki fumed; damn, that girl was nothing like her other lackeys. Sometimes it looked as if she was not afraid of Nabiki and her reputation. Where did she come from anyway?

She stood there until the sun came out – which was not really that long a wait – before she started heading back to her house. She skipped over a random puddle, feeling better than she had been half an hour ago.


"Nabiki-chan," Kasumi greeted the said girl, smiling serenely all the while. Her perfect smile shifted slightly when she saw the state of her younger sister's clothes. "What happened to your lovely dress?"

"I just fell into a puddle, Sis," Nabiki said conversationally. "Really, it's no big deal."

"But all that mud…," the long haired girl bemoaned, thinking about what the poor garment must be going through. Still…, a nice warm soak ought to remove most of the dirt without damaging the fabric.

Nabiki shook her head in mock despair as she watch her sister fell into another one of those spaced-out episodes of hers.

"Anyway, I'm going to go take a shower and get change for dinner," Nabiki told Kasumi who nodded absentmindedly. "See you later okay."

"Okay…," Kasumi echoed. She suddenly snapped out of her trance and started after her sister at a hurried scuttle. "Wait, Nabiki! You need to take off that dress of yours and soak it this instance! Nabiki, are you listening to me?"

"Wha?" Nabiki exclaimed in surprise, backing away a bit at the sight of her usually demure sister running start at her.

"Hey Kasumi, is the dinner...," Ranma said as he walked down the stairs. He trailed off as he saw what was happening in front of him. He blinked twice but the image was still there.

What image? Why, that of Nabiki and Kasumi wrestling in the hallway, of course. With Kasumi looking as if she was trying to rip Nabiki's clothes off of her body too boot.

Kasumi stopped for a moment at Ranma's interruption, allowing Nabiki to turn around and stared at the gaping boy in horror.

"This isn't what it looks like!" she yelled, blushing deeply.

Ranma's face said it all. He went from shocked blank to blushing to smirking madly. He quickly tapped down the last three steps of the flight of stairs, smiling teasingly as he did so.

"Hey now – you're stealing my line," he protested – acting like he was totally serious.

Nabiki gave him a smoldering glare. But while her eyes say one thing, the slight curve on her lips told a different story altogether.

Ranma continued grinning like the cat that ate the canary – which, in reality, was not that far from the truth. After all, how many people could say that they have seen Nabiki Tendo being stripped by her demurred older sister Kasumi?

Seeing that her initial tactic was not working, our favorite mercenary girl planted her hands on her hip and started laying into the 'poor' boy.

"Knowing first hand exactly what I'm capable, are you sure you want to be standing there laughing, Saotome?" she threatened him with her best 'Icy Cold Bitch' voice.

It did not faze the boy. Not even one bit.

He cocked his head at her – his face still holding that same maddening grin of his.

"Are you sure you should be standing there at all, Nabiki-chan?"

Nabiki blinked at that.

"Why? What's wrong with me standing— what? What are you staring…," she trailed off as she followed his gaze downward and realized what exactly the boy was talking about.

Below her was a familiar sight of her body – the same bumps and curves. Except there were covered only by a strapless black bra and a pair of matching black panties. What happened to her clothes? Wait, Kasumi was…

Oh God.

Mortified beyond believe, Nabiki resisted the urge to run off shrieking like a schoolgirl standing half-naked in public. She took a precious few seconds to calm herself before lifting her shin up. She looked Ranma resolutely in the eyes and said.

"I," she began stiffly. "…am going to go get dress. We need to talk so come to my room in ten minutes."

And with that, Nabiki Tendo, clad only in her underwear, marched proudly passed the pigtailed boy and up the stairs behind him.

Ranma did not turn around – he knew better than to watch a girl and her swooshing, shapely, curvaceous, scantily-clad posterior make their way up to the second floor.

After all, it was even harder to get blood off silk than mud.

Knock! Knock! Knock!

"Come on!" Nabiki called out. She was dressed in a comfortable if somewhat breezy pajama and sitting with her legs crossed in front of her on her bed. The girl did not know why she picked that particular piece – nor did she realize why she was sitting in such a suggestive pose, she just knew was doing it.

The door creaked slightly as it slid opened, revealing the pigtailed boy who was waiting behind it. Ranma shuffled in quickly. To Nabiki surprised, the boy did not so much as to even look around her room – which was surprising because even Kanao-chan, when she first came into Nabiki's room, commented upon how Spartan her room looked.

No, the aesthetically impaired jerk just stood there staring at his feet and fidgeting nervously.

"So ahm," Ranma began diffidently. "You said you want to talk to me?"

Nabiki straightened her back a little before scooting over to the edge of the bed.

"Yeah," she replied casually. "What was this morning about? I didn't really give you a chance to explain before but here it is."

"What are you talking about, Nabiki?" Ranma feigned

"Don't give me that, Ranma," Nabiki scoffed, though she did not sound particularly heated when she said it. "You know damn well what I'm talking about. Why have been stalking Akane? Why did you pretend to be her friend? Why did you lie to me?"

The last of the questions held a noticeable amount of accusation more than the others before it. Ranma's face felled a little.

"I, I didn't mean to lie to you. It's just… well… I didn't know how to say it. It's not an easy thing for me, you know," he tried to explain.

"How hard could it be?" Nabiki step in snarkily. "'Oh, and just so you know, I've been pretending to be interested in modeling just so I can spy on your younger sister.' See? That wasn't so hard, was it?"

"It's nothing like that! I like modeling. I really do. And I wasn't spying on Akane and…, you're not even listening," he said flatly. He stepped closer to her "I thought you were going to let me explain."

"I was—I am!" she snapped, standing up before stopping suddenly. She bit her lower lip in an attempt to reign in her emotions. "I… I'm…"

'Sorry' – but she did not voice it.

Ranma seemed to know what she meant though.

They just stood there staring at each other in silence unable to think of anything to say.

Slowly, in a trance-like manner, Ranma and Nabiki sat down on the bed. Even with only inches separating them, the two began to calm down again. Still, it was over a minute before anyone of them has said anything.

"I don't really know when it started," Ranma began quietly, staring at a fuchsia-colored plushie of some kind of animal that was on Nabiki's bed. "But it wasn't because I wanted to spy on Akane or anything like that."

Ranma paused to take a breath.

"I found someone. It happened well after wedding-thing we had at the beginning of last year. Who she was is not that important – we didn't have much of a conversation. Basically, she talks and I just listened."

"'Just listened'?" Nabiki queried. "You?"

The pigtailed boy did not take the bait though. He waited until Nabiki settled down before continuing. Of course, by then the grim atmosphere was all but gone. Oh well, it was probably a good thing anyway.

"Anyway – long story short – I learn a lot from here. Random things, you know – tidbits from here and there of her life that applied to me. And slowly, little by little, I began to realize how empty my life is," Ranma drifted off with a sad smile on his face. "Sure, I have half a dozen fiancées. But more than half of them were arranged by Pop. Sure I have the Art but I pour so much of myself into it I don't even know if I would've liked anything else, simply because I've never tried them."

"My life was like that of a manga character; my name is Ranma Saotome. I practice martial art. I have rivals and potential partners. I have special moves. I have an over-used saying that I keep repeating like a mantra. But who am I really? I mean, what's my favorite color? What kind of food do I like? What kind of fiction do I read? What's my hobby? What do I want to be when I grow up? What's my dream? Do I even have a dream?"

Ranma gazed imploringly at her after saying all that but Nabiki did not know what to say.

"My life is like a commercialized romantic comedy, Nabiki," the boy told her in a lost tone, leaning closer to her until their faces were almost touching. "It's neither romantic nor funny – it's just a badly written script of something sad and ironic and I'm just an amateur actor who's standing there reading the lines soullessly."

"I want to live! To breathe, to feel, to dream… to have a life of my own choosing, not one that has been cookie-cut from my Pop's disenchanted dream…," Ranma trailed off as he looked away, whispering softly now. "That's why I've invented Keiko Shirayuki. The fact that she's a girl who's good at tea-ceremony and like modeling comes later, influenced by the world she lived in and not just force-fed from someone else."

That seemed to be the end of Ranma's impromptu soliloquy. Nabiki allowed the words to wash over her mind a couple of times before finding herself with a single remaining question that was still left unanswered.

"So who are you?" Nabiki asked straightforwardly. "Ranma or Keiko?"

Ranma contemplated that for few moments before answering.

"I donno… both? Neither? Take you pick, I guess," he turned to her and said with an exasperated smile. Nabiki leaned over and looked him in the eyes.

"Do you enjoy this Ranma? Living a lie?" Nabiki asked.

"I'm not living a lie, Nabiki. I'm looking at the truth from two different viewpoints," Ranma countered, still not backing down. "Whatever I've said as Keiko or as Ranma – I always mean it."

"Oh, really now?" the girl countered, pushing slightly more forward still.

"Yes," he reaffirmed, moving forward in respond to her.

At this point their noses were centimeters away from touching each other. Nabiki could feel Ranma's hot breath on her skin and she was pretty sure he could hear her racing heartbeats. The situation was spiraling out of control. Somehow she managed to find herself on bed with her sister's gorgeous fiancé dressed only in a flimsy pajama, feeling all hot and bothered.

"Back off," she whispered, her voice shook throatily.

"You back off," he countered in the same quiet tone, somehow ended up moving even closer to her.

Oh wait, was that him or her that moved?

Thud-thud, thud-thud.

Suddenly the door flew opened.

Both of them jerked their heads into that direction and were equally shocked when they both saw who just entered.

"Nabiki! Dinner's ready…," Akane froze in absolute astonishment as she took in the sight of her sister and fiancé sitting in a close proximity to each other on a bed, looking like they were being intimate.

Before Nabiki and Ranma could even get a word out, Akane spun around and ran.

"Akane!" Ranma called out. He moved to chase after the said girl but stopped when Nabiki laid an arm on his shoulder.

"Don't," Nabiki said sternly with a shake of her head. She stood up and walked over to the door. "I'll go talk to her for you."

"Right... for me, eh? What's that going to cost me this time?" Ranma quibbled, annoyed at how his luck works most of the time.

"Nothing much…," Nabiki called out as she slipped out of sight. "…just a date."

Unbeknownst to her, Ranma, whose heart was starting to beat at a moderate pace again, just had a cold sweat.