Plan B

An alternate ending to The Plan, a Ranma ½ fanfic by Tonbo

WARNING: One major spoiler ... should only be read after The Plan,


     Akane ran to the dojo.  She needed someplace safe right now, someplace to be alone.  Everyone in her world, everyone close to her had decided to play this stupid game, to shut her out, to cut her off ...
     ... to abandon her.
     At the core of Akane's nature had always been a feeling of superiority over those around her.  Before Ranma had showed up, she had been the best fighter around, as well as the most sought after girl in school.  As the youngest child, she had always been somewhat fawned over by her family.  Kasumi was always nice to her, and her father rarely had a harsh word.  Nabiki might occasionally take advantage of her for a scheme, but in truth that was fine as well.  Nabiki was being "bad" when she did that, reinforcing Akane's superiority in being "good."
     The arrival of Ranma had denied Akane her physical superiority, and he called her uncute and a tomboy.  She was not used to any boy not liking her.  So all she had left was the moral high ground.  It was not Akane's fault her cooking was bad, it was everyone else's for not liking it.  And sure she was quick to anger, but she was equally quick to forgive.  Forgiving established someone else as having been wrong, and her as having been right.
     This Plan was now threatening all of that.  It threatened to take away her moral superiority, and above all else, she could not allow that.  It was all she had left.
     The others were giving her the silent treatment.  She had to believe they were wrong.  After all, someone had to be wrong, and it certainly could not be her.  When she had yelled at them, they were supposed to yell back and say something she could seize upon to prove how wrong they were.  Their not doing so frustrated her no end.
     So, she ran to the dojo.  This was a special place; someday, it would be hers.  Here, she could rage, cry, act out whatever she was feeling.  It was the only place she could be herself, the only place left where she could still feel any sense of control.  She ran up the short flight of stairs and into the dojo, coming to a halt after entering the largest room.
     It was all just like before.  First Mother had gone away, then they had lost Father to his grief for so long.  Kasumi and Nabiki, far too young for the obligations thrust upon them, had not had time to do their tasks, fulfill their roles, and take care of a little girl at the same time.  So the confused frightened little girl had learned that in the end, she would be alone.  That there would be no one to care for her, no one to share with her.  That she would have to be stronger if she wanted to survive.  Strong enough that she never needed help from anyone ever again.  And it had worked ... until HE had come ...
     "Akane?" asked the intruder.
     She snapped her head around to look at Ranma.  She had not known he was there, and was not prepared to face him, not now, when she had been crying.
     "Akane?  What's wrong?"  He began walking over to her.  "What's the matter?"
     "Nothing!" shouted Akane.  "I'm fine!"
     Ranma came to a halt, surprised by the outburst.  "No, you're not.  What is it, Akane?"
     "It's YOU, okay!  It's this stupid 'Plan' that you and Nabiki have been doing!  It's everything you've done to me this whole week!"  She had not been able to stop the tears, and now she didn't even bother trying.  She was too busy attacking, trying to get him to respond in kind.  She did not want his sympathy.  She needed his anger, needed a way to feel superior.  "Now you've got everyone else doing the same thing!  Nobody will talk to me!  Everybody's trying to make me act they way they want me to!  Nobody accepts me the way I am!"
     Ranma started moving toward her again.  "I ... accept you, Akane.  I've always accepted you just the way you-"
     "LIAR!"  she shouted at him, stopping him in his tracks.  "You want me to be nice, you want me to be good.  You want me to be all those weak little girl things, so you can pretend to be all big, strong and superior!"  Get mad, Ranma.  Show your true self!
     "What?  What are you sayin'?  Akane, I don't want you to be weak."
     "You want me follow you around and wait on you like those other girls do!  You want me to chase you and treat you like you're so special-"
     "That's not fair, Akane.  I'm not doin' any of thi-"
     "And you're trying to get me-"
     "I'm 'tryin'' to be better!  You always accuse me of the stupidest things, Akane!  You always-"
     "That's because you're a jerk!" she shouted.
     Ranma closed his eyes.  It was over.  That was as far as he was willing to go.  He knew there was no talking to her when she was like this, and now she was worse than he had ever seen her.  A lifetime of training told him to rush in, to try to fix it for her.  Hidden guilt from a lifetime of accusations told him that somehow it probably was all his fault.  No one had made him start The Plan.  He had done that on his own.  And now Akane was hurt.  Why?  He didn't know.  It didn't matter.  He almost never understood why she got hurt, but he felt sure that if he had only been able to do it better, that somehow he could have avoided this.
     But he had started it, and he hadn't finished yet.  It was still too much of a struggle, there were still too many things he didn't understand.  He had not even gotten to the third technique yet.  He couldn't quit now!  He believed it would matter, that when he had finished mastering The Plan he would have a powerful secret in his possession, a secret that would help him in ways he was only beginning to understand.  As much as she seemed to want him to stop, and as much as he didn't understand why, he couldn't.  Not yet.
     Days of practice had finally given him the ability to see the situation objectively.  Opening his eyes, he looked at her, silently standing his ground.
     You don't want to talk, he thought to himself.  You only want to yell, just like always.  But he said nothing.
     Akane screamed a battle cry as she raised her fist and charged!  Ranma jumped back, back, back, as she continued to come forward, bouncing away from her until he reached the wall.  Then to the side, then forward, toward the other end of the dojo, going around her safely and spinning as he went, until he was facing her, moving backward again.
     She turned and stared at him, stunned.  That wasn't right.  Some part of her knew she should have been able to connect.  She could always connect when it mattered!  From his safe distance, he was watching her, waiting ... taunting?  "If you're so good, Ranma," she said icily, "why don't you fight me for real?  Or are you too scared?"
     Ranma only watched her.  For the first time he realized that Nabiki had been right.  He let Akane hit him.  He was not sure what to do with that information yet, but he knew she wouldn't be doing it today.  If he had his way, she would not be doing it ever again.
     Akane was not willing to pursue further.  She fell into that trap too often.  He would taunt her until she went blind with rage, then he would bounce around her and put her down, telling her she was slow, was clumsy, was ... was uncute ... was ...
     But he wasn't.  He wasn't saying a thing.  He was just standing there.  Akane was confused.  She should either be beating him, or he should be humiliating her.  That's how it always went before.  That's how it always was.  Always.  But ...
     But he was just staring at her ...
     ... just like Nabiki and Kasumi ...
     ... and somewhere in Akane's mind, something finally connected ...
     ... and she shut up ...
     ... as the two of them stood facing each other in silence.

     "Hey Sis," called Nabiki, stepping off the back porch.  "What'cha just standing there for?"
     Kasumi came out of her reverie and looked at Nabiki.  She had not touched a single article of clothing for several minutes.  "Actually, Nabiki, I was wondering if you could give me some advice."
     Uh-oh, thought Nabiki.

     Akane moved to the far end of the dojo and began warming up.  She could not help but notice Ranma watching her, and she wanted to snap at him, "Stop looking at me!"  But she forced herself to stay silent and tried to concentrate on her workout.  Ranma watched her for a little while, then went back to his own forms.
     Because Ranma had started his workout earlier, he finished while Akane was only half-way through hers.  Instead of leaving, he sat down in his corner of the dojo and watched her practicing.  She looked over at him a couple of times, but did not say anything, so he decided it must be all right.
     Akane was concerned.  Why was he staring at her like that?  What was his problem?  Was she doing something wrong?  She really wanted to tell him to stop it and go away, but she had decided that if he was going to play this stupid game, then so was she.  She wasn't going to say a word, no matter how much she wanted to.  It was making her upset!  What did he think of her skill.  Was he critiquing her?  Was she doing everything right?  Did he think he could do better?  Probably.  He was always conceited like that!
     She stopped herself.  She was not going to start this conversation.  She was going to shut up if it killed her!  Hmph!  He probably didn't think she could do it.  Fine!  She'd show him.  "Nothing!" she said, and turned her back, ignoring him.
     Ranma just continued watching, sitting in the corner, thinking his own private thoughts.

     "So you see, Sis, I don't think I ought to be telling anyone how to do this Plan anymore.  I only just started it myself."
     Nabiki sat at the table with Kasumi, drinking tea.  They had shared with each other their earlier conversations with Akane, and were each relieved to know they were not the only one who had found it upsetting.
     "But if you're not enjoying it, why do you continue?"
     Nabiki looked uncomfortable.  Very uncomfortable.  There were not many people in the world she could trust enough to talk openly with.  Kasumi was one of the few, and although they did not talk often, they had always gone to each other, since the death of their Mother, for advice about personal problems or family issues.  The two of them had held the Tendo home together when their Father had been too grief-stricken to function, and although they were both paying terrible prices for their early responsibility, it was all they knew.  So, with a conscious effort, Nabiki lowered her emotional defenses and confided the truth to her big sister.  "I ... I think I like spending the time with Ranma."
     "Oh my," replied Kasumi, "Does that mean what it sounds like?"
     "Yeah ... I'm afraid it does.  It started as fun.  Then, when Akane got mad, it turned into damage control.  Now, it's ... I'm not sure anymore.  One thing about Ranma, he never gives up.  Ever.  He's the most determined man I've ever met.  It's very ..." she hesitated.
     "Go on," prompted Kasumi, gently.  "It's very what?"
     "Attractive," said Nabiki in a small quiet voice.
     "Perhaps we ought to talk with him about this, then."
     "Oh no!" said Nabiki  "I can't do that."
     "Why not?  We need to know if he feels the same way."
     "He doesn't!  He's been doing all of this for Akane, not that she's appreciated any of it.  She's the one he likes.  She's the one he's always liked.  Besides," she said, forcing herself to smile, "I don't really like the idea of telling Ranma how I feel.  It would mess everything up.  I like being able to spend at least this much time with him.  I think it would just make him uncomfortable if I told him."
     Kasumi hesitated.  This was going to be difficult.  Nabiki's feelings were potentially very disruptive to the running of the household.  A feud between sisters would be bad for the family.  But if the feelings were real, they wouldn't just go away.  This new situation was not one to be avoided.  For better or worse, they were going to have to see it through.  "Well, you seem to be doing a good job with him," she finally said.  "I don't think you ought to stop giving advice quite yet.  He probably still needs your help.  And maybe you and I can just talk about it together and help each other out, okay?"  There.  That would give her encouragement and permission from the only family member who knew about her feelings.  It would let her continue to spend time with Ranma, continue to explore her feelings, while also allowing Kasumi to check in with her periodically to keep tabs on the situation.
     "Sure thing, Sis.  I'd like that."
     Kasumi gave Nabiki her thoughtful look.  Nabiki had seen that look her entire life.  Long ago, she had learned that it usually paid to listen closely to whatever followed it.
     "Nabiki, is it possible that you're really just scared of rejection?  Do you not want to tell Ranma what you're feeling, because you're scared of losing to Akane?"
     Kasumi could see the pain her words caused Nabiki, as the younger girl lowered her eyes to the table before them.  "You don't understand, Sis," she said slowly, and very quietly, "I've already lost.  I'm nothing but a coach to him.  Everything he's done, he's done for her.  All I could do now ..."  Her voice broke slightly, and she paused to regain composure.  She could talk to Kasumi, but she did not want to cry.  That would be too weak.
     Kasumi simply waited as Nabiki collected herself.  "All I could do now," she repeated, "is become just another stupid love-sick girl in Ranma's harem.  I don't want to do that.  At least this way, I'm different."  She tried to sound tough and determined.  Failing miserably, she managed only to sound lost and sad.
     Kasumi wanted to go to her and hold her, rock her in her arms and tell her it would be all right.  But Nabiki would never accept such a thing.  Besides, it would be a lie.  She wasn't at all sure it was going to be all right.  No, with Nabiki, the only way to help was with truth, no matter how harsh or bitter.  "Nabiki," began Kasumi gently, "it's too late for that.  You've already done it."
     Nabiki closed her eyes.  She wasn't going to cry.  She wasn't!
     "You have a very special relationship with Ranma, that's true.  He has come to rely on you and trust you.  I can understand that you wouldn't want to give that up.  I can understand wanting to have at least some part of him that no one else does.  But you can't run away from this.  It's too close to cowardice.  You can't pretend that what you have is more special than a romance.  If he loves Akane, you must accept it.  But if you compromise on this by running away without being sure, then what you have with him will become a subtle emotional affair, which will eventually poison your relationship with Akane.  You will be jealous of what she has with him, and you will want to make her jealous of what you have with him.  And then, it will poison your relationship with Ranma too, and you'll lose everything."
     Kasumi watched, as the tears began to land on the tabletop, and waited, while Nabiki sat rigid, not moving, hardly breathing, water running slowly down her cheeks.
     "Kasumi," said Nabiki finally, "I can't tell anybody about this.  If I do, it will just confirm Akane's suspicions.  She'll think it proves she was right about me.  I didn't mean for this to happen.  That isn't why I did this."
     "Nabiki," replied Kasumi, "what you just said has already confirmed them, whatever your motives were at the beginning.  And regardless of how badly Akane has been behaving, you owe her the truth.  It's the only way to preserve the family."
     Nabiki sat weeping silently.  She had no more replies.

     Akane finished her workout and toweled herself off.  Then she looked over at Ranma, still sitting in the corner.  She wasn't going to say anything.  She wasn't going to say anything.  She wasn't going to.  She wasn't!
     Ranma saw Akane staring at him.  I wonder what she's thinkin'.  She probably thinks I'm a pervert or somethin' from the way I been lookin' at her.  That's what she always says.  I wonder if I should say anything.  Hmm ...  Probably not.  She won't take it good right now, whatever I say.  If she wants to start somethin', she can do it without my help.
     The tension was mounting inside Akane, and she was not sure she could handle much more.  Why doesn't he say something?  What's wrong with him?  What is he looking at?!  And how can he look so calm when I'm feeling so tense?  she thought.  He's really not going to say anything.  Well, fine!  Then we just won't talk to each other anymore.  We'll never speak to each other ever again, and it'll all be his fault!  And with that thought firmly seated in her mind, Akane turned and walked out of the dojo and back to the house.
     Well, thought Ranma, that went better than I expected.

     "And she really didn't say a word?!"
     "She started to once, but caught herself and stopped."
     Ranma had reported his most recent experience to his coach.  It seemed to him that Nabiki was having a hard time accepting it.  The truth, though, was that she just did not want to.  "Ranma, she was furious!  I've never seen her so mad before!  Kasumi said the same thing!  No one yells at Kasumi, you know that!  But Akane did!  She was completely out of control!"
     "I'm tellin' you, Teacher, she didn't say a word the whole time!"
     Oh, no!  "Do you suppose ...?"
     "I don't know.  I wanted to ask you what you thought."
     "Well, if she has adopted The Plan ..."  She paused, her heart dying inside of her.  She had to make sure it didn't show.  It was bad enough to realize she had fallen for this idiot, bad enough that her older sister knew of her weakness.  She couldn't bear the humiliation if he realized it himself.
     "What?" asked Ranma.
     "... then we've won," said Nabiki as happily as she could.
     "What do you mean?"
     "Well, if she's started Shutting Up, then ... then it can only go uphill from here."
     "Because ... because of the way you two act around each other."  Surprised at how difficult it had become to speak, Nabiki forced herself to continue.  "If we can just get the two of you to sit down with each other ... and spend some time together without ... saying or doing Anything Stupid, then ... then everything will be okay."
     "You don't sound too convincing."
     Nabiki had to make sure Ranma did not suspect what she was feeling.  She had to get control of herself!  "Ranma, have you ever just sat with someone?  Have you ever just been silent?"
     "Uh ... no."
     "Well, ... it's nice.  You just ... spend time together.  If she really has Shut Up, then all you have to do is just go sit with her and Shut Up too."
     "That sounds too easy."
     "Yeah, well...  you should try it anyway."  She could not believe she was saying it, that she was still trying to help Ranma get Akane.  But it was the only thing to do.  Get the two of them together so she could let go of him, let go of her stupid feelings for him, let go of the vanity of thinking she could succeed where all the others had failed.  She was not one who went through life pretending that everything would always work out.  She was a realist.  She knew a bad investment when she saw one.
     But still, it hurt.  Appalled that she could feel tears beginning to come again, she stood up and said, "Ranma, could you leave me alone for a while?  I want to relax a little before dinner."  Go away.  Leave me alone.  Hurry!
     Ranma was surprised at the dismissal.  Was Nabiki upset?  "Are you okay?"
     She turned away from him.  His concern for her was pushing her to the edge.  If she didn't get rid of him in the next few seconds, he would see her cry.  She couldn't allow that.  "I'm fine!  Leave me alone, okay?  I-"  She stopped.  She was being too strong, protesting too much.  Even Ranma would be able to tell something was wrong.  "I'm really just kind of upset still from Akane yelling at me, that's all.  I'll be fine.  Thanks."
     Ranma stood, looking at Nabiki's back.  Something about her statement didn't sound right.  Maybe it was the fact that she hadn't looked at him when she had said it.  Not for the first time, he wished he was smarter about such things.  "Okay, Teacher.  I'll see you downstairs.  Thanks a lot."
     Nabiki said nothing as Ranma left the room, but his choice of wording echoed in her mind. "Teacher ..."

     Ranma stood outside the door, and quietly placed his ear to it.  After a minute, he turned and walked away, ashamed of himself for having invaded Nabiki's privacy.  He was not absolutely sure, and it seemed impossible, but he could swear he had heard her crying.
     It made him angry.

     A great big sweat drop had been perched on Soun Tendo's head for the last half-hour; a similar one on Genma Saotome's for almost as long.  The table was eerily silent tonight.  After their first few attempts at conversation had been ignored, the two older men had done the only thing they could think of.  They Shut Up.  Aside from polite requests for someone to pass one of the food dishes laid before them, there had been no real speaking by anyone the entire meal.
     At last it was over.  "That was very good, Kasumi," said Ranma.  "Thank you very much."
     "Not at all, Ranma," she replied.  "I'm glad you enjoyed it."
     "Excuse me," said Akane and Nabiki together, both beginning to stand.  They paused in their motion and looked at each other.  Akane turned away first with a toss of her head, finished standing and left the dining area to go out into the back yard.  Ranma, Kasumi and Nabiki all glanced at each other.
     The two fathers, thoroughly confused and not in the least ready to tackle ... whatever this was ... turned to each other.  "Well, Tendo, care for another match?"
     "Excellent idea, Saotome.  Let's go."  And they quickly retreated to start another in their seemingly endless round of games.
     The three remaining people began clearing the table.  Both the girls were surprised that Ranma was helping, but they waited until they were in the kitchen to ask him why.  "Well, I dunno.  I just thought maybe it'd be, you know, Nice."  Ranma actually looked guilty as he looked at Nabiki.  "Or maybe I shouldn't be thinkin' about that yet?"
     After glancing at her sister, Nabiki said, "I think you're doing great, Ranma.  I officially promote you to begin practicing the Third Technique."  As an afterthought, she added, "Just, uh, don't forget to keep doing the other two, okay?"
     "Uh, okay.  Thanks."

     Akane sat on the porch, looking out at the back yard.  It was always so pretty, and it was more land than most people in Nerima owned.  She enjoyed looking at the rocks and the pond.  As weird as it sometimes got around here, the house, the dojo and the back yard seemed to stay the same.  In her current confusion, that was the only comfort she seemed able to find.
     "Mind if I sit down?"
     It was Ranma.  What do I say? thought Akane.  Then out loud, she said, "I thought we weren't speaking to each other."
     "Oh, I dunno.  Seems to me like we just did."
     Careful! Ranma thought to himself harshly, that sounded sarcastic.  Basics, basics!  Bein' Nice is fine, but don't say anything unless you're sure it's the right thing.  Then speaking aloud again, he said, "Anyway, do you mind?"
     "Suit yourself," said Akane.  "I don't care what you do."
     Geez, thought Ranma, sitting down on the porch next to Akane, there she goes again bein' all mad!  Can't she let it go even for a minute?
     They sat in silence for a long time, looking out at the back yard, each one thinking their own private thoughts, not looking at each other, not saying a word.  The evening breeze, warm and pleasant, blew gently through the back yard, making small ripples move across the pond.  Occasionally, one of the carp would come to the surface, spreading more ripples and announcing its presence with the mildest of splashes.  All around, the sounds of cicadas and other insects filled the evening with the symphony of nature, the sounds of life.  In one corner of the yard, a firefly could occasionally be seen, bearing its decorative light, bestowing its tiny magic to everything around.
     The spell woven by these things seemed to cause time to stop, and the tension to gradually drain from the silent duo, as the evening turned to dusk and began to move toward night.
     Finally, Ranma felt comfortable enough to say what he had come out to say.  "Akane?" he asked, continuing to look out at the yard.
     "Kasumi and Nabiki didn't mean to hurt you.  Neither did I.  We were just all a little surprised, that's all.  This Plan's got everything messed up."
     "Is that an apology?"
     "Uh, sure."
     "Thank you.  Apology accepted."
     That hadn't really been what Ranma was after, but it seemed to be a good beginning.  Encouraged, he continued.  "So, do you think you could apologize to them now?  I don't know about Kasumi, but Nabiki was really upset."
     Akane turned her head to stare at Ranma.  Was he serious?  Apologize to Nabiki?  After what she'd done?  "I don't think so, Ranma!  She's the one who needs to apologize to me!"
     "For what?"
     Akane continued to stare at her fiancee.  How could he be so stupid?  "For messing up my life with this whole 'Plan' thing!  For making you act so dumb all week!  For talking about me behind my back!"
     "She didn't do any of those things, Akane, but your yellin' at her hurt her real bad."
     Akane was incredulous.  "I hurt her?"
     "Good!  It serves her right!"
     Ranma stared at her, not believing what he had just heard.  He wanted to snap at her, make her understand.  But he knew that was unlikely to accomplish anything.  "Fine," he said, getting up.  "I guess it was Stupid to ask."  He turned to go into the house ...
     ... and saw Nabiki standing in the doorway, staring at him.
     When Ranma didn't go anywhere, Akane looked up at him, then toward the house to see what he was looking at.  Seeing her sister silently observing them, she turned away and went back to staring out at the yard.
     Ranma went in.  The last thing Akane heard was Nabiki saying, "Thank you."


     Ranma had finished his morning workout with his Father, taken a bath and gone straight back to his room, skipping breakfast.  Soun and Genma had eaten quickly and then disappeared, leaving the three sisters at the table to finish the meal alone.  It was Sunday morning, and Akane had made plans to meet some friends for a little shopping, followed by a movie.  Nabiki watched her leave the room, then helped Kasumi in the kitchen until they heard her leave the house.
     Then it became awkward.  The two girls continued to wash the dishes in silence, not looking at each other, just doing the job until everything was finished, feeling the weight of the secret they shared.  When they were done, Nabiki finally said, "I'd better go talk to Ranma ... to see if he's okay."
     "Of course," said Kasumi.

     "Come in," said Ranma in response to Nabiki's voice calling him through the door.  She slid the door aside and stepped in, closing it behind them, so they were alone.
     He was dressed in one of his usual outfits, sitting in the middle of the floor.  The only thing that looked at all unusual was ... that he was sitting in the middle of the floor.  He had nothing in his hands, and there was nothing around or near him.
     "Are you okay?  What are you doing up here all by yourself?"
     "I was just layin' here."
     "Meditating?" she teased.
     Moving to sit in front of him, she asked, "What about?"  They were both sitting cross-legged on the floor in front of each other, maybe three feet apart.  Maybe less.  He did not answer her question.  Instead, he sat looking into her eyes, utterly silent, his face blank save for the slightest crease on his brow.  She managed to return his gaze for almost a full nervous minute before finally asking with a pretend laugh, "Come on, Ranma.  What's going on?"
     "Nabiki," he said quietly, "Shut Up."  There had been no break of expression, no change in his posture or breathing that she could recognize.  It was unsettling.  It just wasn't Ranma.  He was always so quick, so bold.  This ... man ... sitting before her was someone new, someone else.  "Ranma-" she began nervously.
     "Please, Nabiki.  Just ... Shut Up."
     "I'll leave if you want me to.  If I'm ... bothering you."
     "I didn't say, 'Leave.'  I said, 'Shut Up.'"
     Nabiki hesitated, looking at his face.  There had been just a bit of a plea in his voice, but there was still no hint in his expression of what he was feeling.  She suddenly felt nervous being alone with him, something she had not felt even once all week.  She was worried that somehow he was angry with her, that she had done something wrong.  Was it possible he suspected how she had begun to feel about him?  She wanted to try to get him to speak to her, but wondered if that was Stupid.  Finally, as hard as it was, she followed his lead and silently met his gaze with her own.
     It is impossible to fully describe everything that went on in the minds of the two, but as the minutes passed, they each went through a wide range of emotions.  In all their lives, they had never shared such a silence with anyone even once.  Few people have.  After a few minutes, it becomes impossible to feel any more awkwardness or embarrassment.  It becomes too normal.  Then the silliness of it all occurs and laughter follows.  That only lasts so long, and then one begins to study the other's eyes, then their face, looking at and truly seeing them, sometimes for the first time.
     What Nabiki found strangest about this odd activity they were engaged in was that they did not go through these moods together.  When she was laughing at the two of them, he was studying her.  When he smiled sweetly at her a few minutes later, she didn't return it, simply noticing instead how he looked doing it, almost not responding at all.  And yet, though they did not share reactions, in a strange way, they did.  She felt like he could see through her, as the silence stripped away all of the contrivance and ritual of speech and formality, leaving behind only the more honest communication of observation.
     Eye contact was not a large part of her society, and it was unbelievably hard to maintain, but she forced herself, and in a short time, she even came to like it.  People can adapt to almost any new situation, and after a few minutes, it became normal.  There seemed to be nothing the slightest bit unusual about losing herself in his eyes.  What else was there to do?  She felt she could do anything, and he would simply continue to see her.  She could not shock him.  She could not startle him.
     After trying for the first few minutes to keep her face blank, she had let such superficial concerns go and allowed whatever crossed her face to do so, holding nothing back, since nothing seemed to bother him.  He also was not keeping back his expressions.  The face he had been making at the beginning had been genuine.  Over the last several minutes, just how many she could not say, he had smiled, laughed, looked worried, looked scared, and just ... looked ... at her.  She knew she had done -- was doing -- the same.  She couldn't remember ever feeling so accepted in all her life.
     After what surely must have been a lifetime or two, Ranma said, "Thank you, Nabiki.  I really needed that.  I've been up here, trying to figure out what to do about Akane."
     "And you figured it out?"
     "But ... this helped."
     "I see.  What were you trying to figure out?"
     "How I feel."
     "About Akane?"
     He hesitated.  "Yeah."  Then he looked at the floor.  "Mostly."
     Then it was her turn to hesitate.  "What else?"
     He said nothing.  She waited.  She would wait for him all day if need be.  Finally, he spoke.  "How I feel."
     "About what?"
     " ... "
     "I think I need to be alone right now."
     "Nabiki, ... I ... I have a lot to think about right now."
     "I'm your coach."  Ranma blinked and looked up at her.  "I'd like to help," she continued.  Ranma just looked at her, saying nothing again.  "Are you Shutting Up?"
     "I don't know.  Maybe.  I'm just not sure what to say."
     "Why don't you tell me what you're feeling."
     "Because I think it might be Stupid."
     "Because, ..."  He looked down at the floor again.  "Because it might cause more trouble.  I know it'll cause more trouble.  It's gonna cause a lot of trouble, Nabiki.  And you might not like it.  You might think I'm just a Stupid-"
     "Let me tell you if it's Stupid.  That's what I'm here for."
     He looked up at her one more time, hesitantly.  Then he straightened up.  Taking a full breath and letting it out slowly, a look of ... fear? ... crossed his face.  Nevertheless, he continued, "Nabiki, I ... think ... I ... may ... like you ... ... some."
     Nabiki's heart leapt!  Her eyes went huge.  She looked down at the floor quickly.  Then, as the tears began to come, she closed her eyes.  Raising her hands to cover her face, she sat in front of him, gently shaking as relief rolled down her face.  For the second time in as many days, only the second time in years, she was crying in front of another person.
     Ranma watched her silently, concerned, unsure what to say.  By now, there was no doubt in his mind what he was to do in such a situation.  Shutting Up, he stayed where he was, watching and waiting for her to come back to him.
     Finally, she lowered her hands and looked up at him again.  "Do you like me like you like Akane?"
     Akane?  That was unexpected.  He thought about it.  "No."  Nabiki felt something in herself wither at his words.  She almost didn't hear him as he went on, "I like Akane, but she can be so ... angry.  She's hard to get along with."  Nabiki held her breath, waiting, wondering what his next words would bring her.  "I didn't used to like you, but you've been so great ... it's been really nice havin' you help me 'n all.  I ... like spendin' the time with you.  I like talkin' to you.  I like you not yellin' at me.  I like you helpin' me.  I've been doin' a lot better recently because of you.  Even if Akane don't appreciate it, I'm doin' a lot better.  And I have you to thank for that."
     "So, you like me as a friend?" she asked, trying so hard to keep the disappointment and sorrow out of her voice.
     "No.  I ... I ... like you.  I .. like you ... like ..."
     What? ... What, Ranma?!  She had to know, she was dying!  "Like what?"
     The fear was gone from his face.  He looked utterly calm.  He was the quiet strong man he had learned to be this last week.  "I like you a lot, Nabiki.  A whole lot."
     Waves of relief washed over and through her.  Her heart was pounding in her chest, in her ears.  Her breath was back again, making up for all the tense minutes by coming in deep rapid gasps, the aftermath of crying.  She laughed, she smiled, she cried a little more.  Finally, she calmed down somewhat, as he sat in front of her, smiling gently at her, waiting.  "I can't believe you said it.  I can't believe it's true.  I've been so worried.  I've felt so stupid.  I didn't believe you could feel that way about me.  I was-"
     She looked up.  "Yes?"
     "How do you feel about me?"
     She smiled shyly at him, knowing she was about to give up a certain amount of control, knowing it would give him a measure of power over her, that she would be admitting to having a need, a weakness he could exploit if he wished ... and not caring in the slightest.  "I like you too, Ranma.  I almost don't believe it myself, but it's true."
     Ranma closed his eyes and bowed his head, taking and releasing a tremendous breath as he did.  For a moment, he only sat there with his head hanging, breathing with heavy sighs, while she waited in turn for him.  "I guess we're in trouble, huh?" he said.
     "I don't care."
     "Nabiki, I'm a bomb, you know?"
     "What do you mean?"
     "I'm a bomb with a lit fuse.  If anyone finds out you like me ..."
     "I don't care, Ranma."
     "Akane's gonna hate you, the girls at school are gonna think you're crazy, my other fiancees are gonna go nuts-"
     "Ranma, I know who you are.  I live here too, you know.  It's not like I don't know what I'm getting into."
     "Our Fathers are gonna want us to get married."
     Oops.  Okay, so she hadn't considered all the ramifications.  Still, that wasn't exactly a new idea around the Tendo home.  "I've been engaged to you before, Ranma.  I think I can handle it.  I'm not Akane.  They can't make me marry you if I decide I don't want to."
     "That's not what I mean, Ranma.  I just mean that I've never really cared a lot about 'Family Honor' and stuff like that, that's all."
     "I care a lot about Family Honor, Nabiki.  I think you should too."
     "Hold it!  This is way too deep for right now.  We'll have this discussion another time.  All I meant was that I know what I'm getting into, and I'm not going to let anyone force me into something I'm not ready for.  I like you Ranma.  This week, I've come to like you a lot."
     "So, what do we do about it?"
     They sat there, looking at each other, both surprised it had turned out like this, both knowing, as bad and as hard as these past few days had been, that the real trouble had not even begun yet, neither knowing what to do next.
     Finally, Nabiki said, "Well, it's Sunday morning, and I have nothing to do ..."
     "Yeah, so?"
     "So," she said, smiling coyly at him, "why don't you take me on a date?"
     And he smiled back at her.  "Yeah, I'd like that."
     So he rose and offered her his hand, helping her to her feet.  They stood before each other, both of them suddenly feeling awkward to be so close.  Oh yes, this was going to take some getting used to.  But they knew it would be okay, and there would be time for awkwardness and troubles later.  Today they wouldn't worry about all of what they knew was surely coming.  Today they would simply relax and enjoy each other's company.  Tomorrow would bring school, and rivals, and who knew what else.  Tomorrow they would have to think about duty and honor and obligation and all the rest, but that was okay.
     Today was for them.

-= THE END =-

-= =-


     This is not the original, intended nor actual ending to The Plan.  This optional, alternate ending was written for Octavian, as a consolation prize and a "Thank You" for the feedback he gave me during the early posting of that story.  I hope it makes certain Not Akane Fans very happy.


     *Many thanks go to Matthew Campbell for giving me the words for the beginning of this fic.  He painted an interesting portrait of Akane and her motivations ... one that is insidiously easy to believe.


Please send me any type of C&C.
This was my first alternate ending and I still want to hear it all!
Tonbo <>
finished 2/9/98
revised 7/26/7