A Midsummer Night's Beauty, Part I
Author's note: This story is a continuation on the Ranma 1/2 anime, including the OVA's and movies. Therefore, keep in mind that anything exclusive to the manga hasn't happened in this story.
Disclaimer: Ranma 1/2 is not my idea, it was created by a very talented manga artist named Rumiko Takahashi. The only characters I'll claim are my own original characters that I've added into this story. Just so you know.
"Wait, wait, I can explai-!"
Genma Saotome—currently in his panda form—and Soun Tendo looked up from their morning game of go as the disturbing sound of a wooden mallet cracking against a human skull resonated throughout the Tendo household. The two fathers knew that sound all too well by now. They also knew nothing good ever came of it.
"I wonder what Ranma's done to upset Akane this time," Soun said, not sounding overly concerned.
Genma only shook his head, muttered something incomprehensible, and went back to planning his next move. Just as with his longtime friend and training partner, this sort of thing had become such a frequent occurrence that it didn't even faze him these days.
It wasn't long before Soun's youngest daughter, Akane, came storming down the steps with her brow furrowed. "Honestly, you'd think that idiot would realize by now that there are other people living in this house!"
Over at the dining table, Nabiki Tendo cast an amused glance at her sister while finishing off the last of her breakfast. "Ooh, sounds interesting. What happened this time?"
"Oh, I'll tell you what happened!" Akane fumed. "I was in there taking my bath when who should barge right in on me but Ranma! Even after all this time, he's still a perv!"
The aforementioned Ranma Saotome—in girl form at the moment—came slithering down the steps now, fortunate to be retaining whatever shreds of consciousness she had left. "Jeez, Akane, did you have to hit me so hard?" she moaned, clutching at a sizable bump atop her head. "That old freak dumped cold water on me while I was sleepin'. I was just ticked off and didn't think to check if anyone was in there."
"Yeah, right! You just wanted to see me nude, you lech!"
Ranma didn't appreciate the accusation much, to say the least. Then again, she never did. "Look, I've said it before and I'll say it again: if I ever felt like seein' a girl naked, I'd just look in the mirror. We both know my body's better built than yours, anyway."
"Do you want me to hit you again?" Akane snarled, the insult striking a chord with her.
On most occasions, Ranma wouldn't think twice about pushing Akane until she unleashed her mallet a second time. Today, however, things didn't feel as they normally did. Today, Ranma just couldn't find the fight in her for it.
"Forget it. It's too early for this," Ranma muttered, turning toward the door. "I'm gonna go for a walk."
Akane wordlessly folded her arms and plopped herself down beside Nabiki at the breakfast table. Everyone, including herself, figured a short reprieve from the pigtailed girl's presence probably wasn't the worst thing in the world for her right now.
Just as Ranma was about to head out, the eldest of the Tendo sisters, Kasumi, entered from the kitchen with a kettle of hot water in hand. "Oh, Ranma, would you like to go for your walk as a boy?"
Ranma didn't really mind either way, but she thought it best to take Kasumi up on her offer. When given a choice between being in male or female form, she rarely preferred the latter. Once he'd changed back into a man, Ranma gently shook the water from his hair, thanked Kasumi, and continued on his way.
Soun had his eyes glued to the boy as Ranma took his leave. Throwing in the towel on his argument with Akane so quickly was very...un-Ranma-like, he thought. Unless he was mistaken, something seemed to be troubling his future son-in-law. Deducing what that something might be would have to wait, though, as Soun's thought process was interrupted by a panda tapping on his shoulder and pointing to the go board. Taking a close look at the alignment of the black and white stones, Soun gasped as he realized Genma had him beat.
Genma reached for a marker and scribbled onto a wooden sign the words, "NO DO-OVERS!"
His spirit sinking, Soun hung his head as he felt the weight of defeat on this cruel morning.
Ranma had meandered along the streets of Tokyo's Nerima Ward for close to an hour. He didn't know where he was going; he didn't particularly care.
It was strange—he never used to be one to seek out personal time like this. Lately, he'd noticed that he'd been feeling on edge more often. The continuous efforts of Ryoga, Mousse, and Tatewaki Kuno to defeat him, which he typically welcomed as a vehicle to test his strength, were grating on him. Happosai's passion for Ranma's female form wasn't letting up, nor were Cologne's attempts to coerce him into marrying Shampoo. And his relationship with Akane, well, that was a never-ending roller coaster ride. Every time it seemed like they were getting along, something like what happened this morning would take place and they'd be at each other's throats again.
If it was just one thing or the other, it would be easy enough to deal with. But for Ranma, the combined sum of it all was just getting to be...tiresome.
Ranma perched himself atop the metal fence he always strode along en route to school and stared off into the distance. He was just stressed out, he figured. It happened to everyone at times, and he wasn't immune to it. It would come, and it would go just as quickly.
"Man," Ranma sighed under his breath, "why do I keep gettin' like thi-...oof!"
So distracted was Ranma that he never noticed when a cheerful Chinese girl came flying his way. Before he even knew what hit him, the girl had wrapped him in a tight embrace and brought him down to the pavement with a solid thud.
"Nihao, Ranma!" his surprise visitor greeted him. "Today beautiful, yes?"
That energetic voice. Those silky clothes. That long, fragrant hair. That...lively chest uncomfortably pressed up against him. Ranma knew exactly who it was.
"Dammit, Shampoo! Why ya always gotta do that?" he lashed out at the girl.
Shampoo, open-mouthed and wide-eyed after the fierce outburst, let go of him and fell back. Ranma had never gotten so upset over her doing that before. Until now, all he'd ever done was put up was a peaceful sort of resistance. So, why? Had she done something to make him mad?
Of course, Ranma knew the truth behind it. That reaction was born from his sour mood and his mood alone. Shampoo hadn't done anything other than what she usually did, which was just offering an overly-friendly hello. She certainly didn't deserve to be yelled at like that, and Ranma, seeing the startled look on her face, knew right away he'd gone too far.
"S-...sorry 'bout that, Shampoo. I'm...kinda havin' a bad day," Ranma apologized abashedly.
Shampoo didn't hold the harsh words against him, but rather looked upon the object of her affection with concern. "Ranma...no look happy," she spoke softly. "What matter?"
"Yeah, I just," Ranma paused, scratching the back of his neck, "...I don't even know."
Shampoo was dead silent, her worried stare upon Ranma persisting.
"C'mon, don't gimme that look. I'll be fine," Ranma halfheartedly assured her. "Anyway, I gotta go. I'll see ya 'round, Shampoo."
The Amazon warrior eyed her fiancé closely as he wandered off. Ranma may have claimed he'd be fine, but that wasn't enough to put Shampoo's mind at ease. Unfortunately, as much as she wanted to get to the bottom of it all, the time to start her takeout deliveries for the day was drawing near. She would have to revisit the issue when she wasn't needed at work, she decided. For now, her next destination was the Cat Café restaurant.
"Shampoo back, Great-Grandmother."
Inside the Cat Café's kitchen, Cologne briefly looked away from the food she was preparing to greet her great-granddaughter. "Good morning, Shampoo. Out paying a visit to the son-in-law, were you?"
The nod Shampoo offered in response was strangely subdued, which piqued Cologne's curiosity. "What's the matter, child? Did something happen?"
"Ranma...no in good mood today," Shampoo explained.
Cologne quietly pondered to herself as she took a puff from her pipe. "My guess would be that he and Akane are having their differences again. Don't worry too much about it."
Despite the Amazon elder's advice, Shampoo still couldn't keep her mind off what had happened. Was it really just the usual argument that was bothering Ranma? He and Akane had fought on numerous occasions, but he'd never before let his emotions get the best of him to such an extent because of it. No, something told Shampoo there was more to this than just a simple squabble.
Once Cologne had finished the meal she'd been working on, Shampoo was off on her first delivery of the day. As she pedaled her bicycle along the roads, a light breeze flicking at her hair all the while, she thought more about her current relationship with Ranma.
Shampoo's "airen", as she liked to call him, always seemed suspicious that she was up to something whenever he ran into her, and understandably so. But, all things considered, she and Ranma got along rather well. There were even times where Ranma had shown he truly cared how Shampoo felt about him. When Shampoo wore the cursed brooch that made her show hatred toward Ranma, for example, he had chased after her with all his might to find out what was wrong. It was only regrettable Ranma's confession of love for Shampoo that would have culminated that particular saga wound up being interrupted by Akane Tendo.
Shampoo scowled irritably when the image of Akane ran through her head. Akane had been and still was the biggest obstacle to winning Ranma's heart. Any time Shampoo put an idea of hers into action, Akane somehow found a way to spoil it. Nowadays it was tough just getting close to Ranma because he and Akane were together so often. If Shampoo were still putting her cutthroat Amazon mentality into practice, she'd simply eliminate Akane from the picture. She'd spent enough time in Japan now to know things weren't that simple, though. Here, she would have to be more tactful if she hoped to win Ranma over. Violence alone wasn't going to work.
The underlying issue, Shampoo believed, was that Ranma felt uneasy around her because he didn't trust her. If she could just alleviate that problem, she might then be able to get closer to him. But how would she go about doing it? What could she do to bring a smile back to Ranma's face?
Shampoo would have to come up with a plan, and soon. It had to be her. She needed to be the one to help Ranma. If someone else beat her to it, this would all be for naught, and who knew then if things would ever change between she and her love interest?
"Shampoo no play games anymore," she declared firmly. "Is time get serious!"
After his brief encounter with Shampoo, Ranma ended up strolling around aimlessly for nearly the entire day. He stopped at a few places along the way, and was also interrupted by certain individuals he didn't care much for. The first such individual was Tatewaki Kuno, who accused Ranma of spying on him for whatever reason. Ranma wasn't interested in listening to the blowhard and began to leave, but was soundly struck on the back of his head by Kuno's wooden sword. He sent the "Blue Thunder of Furinkan High" flying as thanks for the underhanded blow. Ranma's adventure would later end on yet another sour note when he ran into Happosai during the old lecher's nightly bra-and-panty run. Ranma wasn't focused at all when engaging his father's master, and thus Happosai had little trouble dispatching his "pupil."
By now, nightfall had come, and Ranma was on his way back to the Tendo residence. "Damn that old freak," he grumbled. "What a crummy day. Try to get away from everything so I can chill out a little, and now I'm even worse than when I started."
Ranma took a deep breath to calm himself as he surveyed his surroundings. At least it was quiet, he figured. As he continued along, he began to notice some of the little things he'd never bothered paying attention to before. There was a cool wind blowing against his face—the same wind caused the leaves on the trees to rustle as it caught them. Also striking were the glow of the lights above the road and those in the homes he walked past, all illuminating the otherwise darkened streets of the area. It was like that line he once heard somebody say—that people never took the time to notice the beauty of things around them. Of course, if anyone ever heard him say that, they would likely question his manliness. No doubt he'd best keep it to himself.
Soon enough, Ranma arrived back at the Tendo household. He stepped up to the door and reached for it, but hesitated before opening it. "Akane's probably waitin' in there to chew me out again over this morning."
Opting to mentally prepare beforehand, Ranma leapt up to the Tendo home's roof and sat down. He laid back and stretched his body out, peering off into space. Doing this actually brought back nostalgic feelings from a time not long after he'd first shown up here. It was the same thing he'd done after Kodachi had poisoned him with paralysis powder and attempted to kiss him.
Ranma shuddered at the unpleasant memory. It wasn't the near-kiss that bothered him so much as it was laying on the roof all night, cold and unable to move. He'd never been the type of person who liked to sit and ponder things, so having to lie there without anything else to do was torture.
While Ranma was making an effort to try to repress the memory again, he happened to hear a faint sound behind him.
"Nihao, Ranma," a familiar voice spoke.
Raising an eyebrow, Ranma arched his head back to find none other than Shampoo staring down at him, the full moon's glow peeking out from behind her head. She really was cute, he thought. But she was also sneaky, and Ranma sat himself up to better protect against any tricks the girl might have up her sleeve.
"Shampoo? What're you doin' here?"
"No much. Just feel like talk," Shampoo replied, taking a seat beside him on the dusty shingles. "What Ranma doing on roof?"
"Mmm...just enjoyin' some peace 'n quiet I guess," Ranma said. He instantly wanted to slap himself for saying such a thing. "Man, does that sound lame or what?"
"No really." Shampoo lightly shook her head. "Shampoo no used to hear Ranma talk like that, but no matter. Least Ranma in better mood now."
Ranma could've done without being reminded of their meeting earlier. He still felt bad about it. "Yeah, like I said, I was just havin' a bad day. I didn't mean to snap at ya like that before."
"Is okay. Shampoo no upset about that." The girl gave him a reassuring wink. "Ah! Shampoo forget, come here because want ask Ranma something!"
Ranma cast a suspicious look upon her. Knowing how this sort of thing typically turned out, he was already questioning what she might be planning this time. "Ooookay," he drawled. "What is it?"
Shampoo leaned forward, resting her head on her knees as she faced him. "Who Ranma want marry?"
The sheer straightforwardness of the inquiry made Ranma falter. "C'mon, really? Don't ask me somethin' like that."
"Ranma no answer because no want think about get married yet, yes?" Shampoo smiled knowingly.
"W-well...yeah," Ranma replied. He silently wondered where that had come from. "I mean, I'm just focused on tryin' to get stronger as a martial artist. I don't want nothin' to do with marriage right now. I ain't ready for that. 'Sides, if I got married to someone, everyone I didn't choose would get all hurt by it. I know I come off like a jerk sometimes, but I don't want you or Akane or Ucchan or even Kodachi to feel bad over somethin' like that."
Beside him, Ranma could hear Shampoo stifling a giggle. "What's so funny? I'm bein' serious here!"
"Aiyaa, is nothing. Is just very honest answer. Shampoo like that about Ranma."
"Yeah, whatever. You get what I'm sayin', though?"
For Shampoo, now was the moment of truth. All day she'd been trying to figure out how best to get closer to Ranma. She'd mulled it over during every second she spent on her bicycle, flipped through girly magazines in a bookstore while on her break, even asked random customers at the restaurant for advice—much to their bewilderment. She took each and every thing she'd absorbed into consideration, and, at last, she came up with an answer.
It was risky. Very risky. She would be taking a step back with the hope of being able to take two steps forward later on because of it, but there was no guarantee of that. Still, this was the answer she had arrived at. Shampoo believed in it as much as she believed in herself. The only thing left to do was commit to it.
"Shampoo understand," the girl finally spoke, clutching one hand tightly within the other. "That why...Shampoo only want be Ranma's friend for now."
Ranma creaked his head in Shampoo's direction, batting his eyes. Had he heard what he thought he'd just heard? "F-...friend?" he stammered.
Gulping, Shampoo nodded her head. "No ask Ranma marry Shampoo. No try to trick Ranma. Shampoo just want be Ranma's friend."
Of all the things Ranma had ever imagined Shampoo saying to him, this was among the last. Giving up on marriage? Just wanting to be friends? What in the world was going on here? Actually, now that he thought about it some more, this may have signaled something else happening in Shampoo's life. "So..." he said, eying her curiously, "does this mean you're plannin' on marryin' Mousse now?"
The piercing look Shampoo flashed him was enough to put a paralyzing fear into any normal man.
"I'll take that as a 'no'." Ranma cautiously edged away from her.
With a shrug of her shoulders, Shampoo raised her head and looked to the starry sky above. "Mousse have good heart, but always just be old friend from child time. Shampoo never think of Mousse as husband," she clarified things for him. "Is just...Shampoo no want pressure Ranma anymore. Still want marry Ranma, but wait for you open heart to Shampoo. Is okay?"
Ranma took a moment to grasp everything Shampoo was laying on him. Basically, all she appeared to be saying was that she didn't want him to worry about the whole Amazon law and forced marriage thing from now on. It wasn't like she was dumping him or anything, which, oddly enough, probably wouldn't have sat well with his ego despite how much he'd protested her advances in the past. She had even made it clear that she still wanted to marry him, but that she was content with just being friends for now.
Just friends, huh? Ranma never did enjoy when Shampoo and her hag of a great-grandmother tried to push that marriage business on him. If this development would rid him of that annoyance without even the backlash of sending him on a guilt trip, what was there to lose? Nothing that he could think of. Heck, this was a blessing from the heavens!
His mind made up, Ranma casually outstretched his hand. "All right, Shampoo. Let's be pals."
Shampoo smiled, and the two of them shook hands—as friends would. But Shampoo wasn't satisfied with that. She moved in closer and gave Ranma a hug, feeling the boy tense up as she wrapped him in her warmth. "Friends hug, too, yes?"
Ranma remained guarded at first, but Shampoo would release him from the embrace after a mere second had elapsed. It was unusually short and sweet considering how much effort it often took to get her to let go once she'd latched on to him. Maybe she really was serious about this whole "friends" thing.
With a quick burst of energy, Shampoo was back up on her feet. "Shampoo need go before Great-Grandmother worry," she informed her newly-designated friend. "Ranma have nice night. Shampoo see you tomorrow."
"O-oh, 'kay then. See ya, Shampoo."
After waving goodbye to Ranma, Shampoo dropped down from the rooftop and was on her way back home.
Ranma, now alone again, exhaled deeply. What a day, he thought. As badly as most of it had gone, he felt surprisingly relaxed after the conversation with Shampoo. Of course, there was still one event he was dreading having to go through before the night was over, that being ironing things out with Akane. A fierce rumble originating from his stomach also reminded him that he'd yet to eat dinner. Well, doing things on an empty stomach was never good. He would get some food first and then do what needed to be done.
Ranma snarfed down the grilled fish and rice Kasumi had left for his dinner and topped it off with a single rice cracker. The house was uncommonly quiet while he ate. His father and Mr. Tendo had decided to go visit the public baths for a change, and Happosai hadn't yet returned from his panty run—Ranma hoped against hope that he never would. Nabiki was also staying at a friend's house, and Akane, according to Kasumi, had been shut up in her room since morning. The part about Akane was especially noteworthy.
"Maybe I said too much earlier..." Ranma considered after his meal. Granted, he still didn't feel he was totally in the wrong. After all, he did have a legitimate excuse for what had happened. And it wasn't as if he'd never seen Akane naked before, but he knew from experience that women were far more sensitive about such things than he was.
Whatever. It was time to go apologize and put an end to this. Ranma steeled himself as he made the short trek up the stairs and across the hallway to Akane's room. Once there, he rapped twice on her door.
"It's open. Come in," Akane called out. She was seated at her desk, paging through a book when Ranma entered.
"Umm...hey," Ranma said, avoiding looking her in the eyes.
The glare Akane initially shot her fiancé wasn't pleasant in the least. Her demeanor, though, gradually softened. "Hi."
Ranma, feeling the tense air, urged himself to hurry up and get to the point. "Look, I'm sorry about today. I was kinda frustrated and I...I said somethin' I shouldn't have. I didn't mean it."
Akane's hand pulled away from her book, allowing it to close. Ranma was normally a lot more pigheaded about apologizing for things. It was a relief he'd come here to do so, because she'd been feeling the same way. "I'm sorry, too," she said. "I know it was all an accident—I just let my anger get the best of me. You probably hate me for getting like that all the time."
"Nah, it's no big deal. Don't worry 'bout it," Ranma replied, brushing it aside. "So...we're good then?"
"Yeah, we're good. Thanks, Ranma."
Akane's brightened expression went a long way in assuring Ranma this whole incident was behind them. Maybe he could sleep well tonight after all.
"So, what did you do all day?" Akane asked.
"Oh, y'know, the usual. Got into it with Kuno, ran into the old freak, that kinda stuff," Ranma told her, choosing to leave out the part involving Shampoo. Mentioning her around Akane never seemed to end well.
"You beat Kuno up pretty good?"
"Maybe a little too good."
"Really? Well, it was probably his fault anyway, right?"
" 'Course it was. I wouldn't have bothered him if he'd just kept walkin', but you know him."
"Yeah, he does love picking fights with you."
Akane covered her mouth to muffle a yawn. She was nearing her limits. "Gosh, I'm getting sleepy," she said, rubbing her eyes. "I think it's time for bed."
"That ain't a bad idea," Ranma agreed. "Think I'll hit the sack, too. It's been a long day."
"Sure has. Okay, well, goodnight then. See you in the morning."
"Yeah, 'night Akane."
"Oh, and make sure you knock before you use the bath tomorrow?"
Once he'd left Akane's room, Ranma let out a sigh of relief. It was unreal how much better he felt now that he'd cleared everything up with her. Life was always a lot more enjoyable when the two of them were on the same page.
While Ranma was getting ready for bed, his mind drifted back to the conversation he'd had with Shampoo earlier. Being who she was, there was always a chance she was secretly up to no good. Still, she did sound sincere about her desire to just be friends. To say she didn't want to burden Ranma with the pressure of marriage any longer was as selfless an act as he'd ever seen out of her. But would she really be able to live up to those words?
Only time would tell, Ranma figured. He rolled out his futon, undressed, and hit the lights. It would be interesting to see what tomorrow brought.
End of Chapter 1