A Midsummer Night's Beauty, Part I
by rkOujirou

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.

Chapter 16

As they came to the top of a hill and the Amazon village of Joketsuzoku came into view, a sense of relief came over the pair who'd traveled across the snow-covered terrain of China for the past ten days.

"Finally," Meilin said, sounding exhausted. "Maybe we'll get lucky and they'll let us stay indoors for a while."

"If Aroma and Shampoo are there, it shouldn't be a problem," the heavily clothed Ryoga replied.

Meilin and Ryoga had experienced some mild weather during their venture to Nekonron, but it was still early February and that type of luck wasn't likely to last. Another cold front had swept through the area and dumped well over a foot of snow on them during the last week, and the temperature hadn't risen since then. But Ryoga was insistent that they press forward, and now the place where he believed he would find Ranma was within his sights and getting closer with every step.

Ryoga's initial problems with Meilin's past had diminished over the course of their journey as the two of them shared stories with each other. Meilin told Ryoga about being raised at Nekonron and everything that had happened with Li, and Ryoga in turn told her about his storied past with Ranma. The former member of the Seven Lucky Gods wasn't sure how well she and Ryoga would get along at first either, but she'd gradually become more comfortable with the idea of traveling with him to the point that she actually found herself enjoying his company.

Once they entered the village, Meilin began to wonder about whether they would really have a place to stay or not. "Hey, I know you're optimistic and all, but I don't think that Amazon girl is going to want me around."

"We'll figure something out," Ryoga replied, not particularly worried about where they were going to stay at the moment. "For now, just keep an eye out for Ra-oof!"

Ryoga was interrupted when he suddenly felt something heavy land on his head.

"Yo, took ya long enough," a familiar voice said. "Hey, nice hat."

Turning toward Ryoga, Meilin scowled at the person now perched atop his head. "Saotome..."

Annoyed by the gesture as always, Ryoga swung his fist upward and snarled at the man. "Get off my head, you jerk!"

"Whoa!" Ranma said as he hopped down from Ryoga's head, chuckling to himself as he landed on the ground in front of him. "Long time no see, man."

Nostalgic feelings began to surface in Ryoga as he stared at the pigtailed boy. Ranma was wearing his red, Chinese-style shirt that he'd always said was his favorite, along with the rest of his usual attire. But more noticeable than that was his left arm, which was wrapped in a cast and suspended in a dark blue sling. He was also carrying two books with him in his right hand.

"Ranma...your arm..." Ryoga said quietly.

"Yeah, that attack of yours messed it up really bad," Ranma replied, not sounding too upset over it. "If that scythe hadn't blocked most of it tryin' to save itself, I dunno what woulda happened. Who the heck was stupid enough to teach you somethin' dangerous like that, anyway?"

"Happosai," Ryoga told him.

"That old freak? Figures," Ranma said with a grimace on his face. "Oh well, I guess it worked out fine. That scythe got blown to bits and I'm still here. This arm's gonna take a few months to heal though."

His initial surprise wearing off, Ryoga was becoming annoyed at the fact that Ranma was talking so casually with him considering everything that had happened. "Ranma...why are you still here?! Didn't I tell you Akane was waiting for you?!"

"Jeez, relax, will ya? I wanna go back to Japan too," Ranma said.

"Then why haven't you?!" Ryoga snapped back at him.

"'Cause there's somethin' I gotta do first," the pigtailed boy replied, placing his right hand on his hip. "Follow me, I'll tell ya...about..."

Meilin and Ryoga both blinked as Ranma began looking back and forth between them.

"Y'know what, before that, how the heck did you two end up together?" Ranma asked, extremely curious about the unusual pair.

"Coincidence," Meilin replied, peeking over at her partner.

"That's...pretty much how it is," Ryoga said in agreement.

"Huh, and here I thought you only had a thing for Akane," Ranma said to him.

Ryoga felt a chill run down his spine as Meilin shot him a sharp look. "Akane, huh?"

"Um...well..." Ryoga said nervously.

"Just what is this Akane girl to you?" Meilin asked, continuing her interrogation.

Shifting his gaze down toward the ground, Ryoga began twiddling his fingers while he tried to come up with an explanation. "Akane's...well...she's nice...and she talks to me..."

Folding her arms, Meilin turned and looked away from Ryoga with a somewhat annoyed expression on her face. "I talk to you..."

Not that watching the clueless Ryoga dig himself into a hole wasn't entertaining, but Ranma was starting to get cold and he didn't feel like standing outside much longer. "Hey, it's gettin' cold out here and everyone's startin' to give us funny looks. We can talk about stuff all ya want at Aroma's place. 'Sides, I need to get these books back to her."

"Uh, right! We should go there!" Ryoga said quickly as he began walking behind Ranma, trying his best to blow off the Akane discussion.

Meilin simply let out a huff before beginning to follow them. Ryoga hadn't told her anything about Akane, but she was going to find out about her one way or another, she decided.

Upon entering the home, Ranma found Aroma sitting at the table reading a book intently. "Hey, I brought the books you wanted, and a couple guests too."

Aroma looked up from her reading to see who'd entered behind Ranma. "Oh, Ryoga! It's been a while!"

"Yeah, long time no see," Ryoga greeted her. He'd briefly met Aroma when he arrived in China with Jynn, Mousse, and Cologne before taking off on his own.

As Aroma looked at Meilin, her face seemed to light up with amazement. After setting her book aside, she walked up behind the white-haired woman and began running her fingers through her hair. "Ooh, such pretty white hair!"

Meilin felt a great deal of discomfort as the stranger toyed with her hair. "Umm...excuse me..."

"Oh, I'm sorry, that must have seemed really rude," the Amazon medical specialist laughed. "I'm Aroma, and who might you be?"

"Meilin," she replied.

"Meilin?" Aroma asked, her expression turning serious. "The same Meilin that left all those nasty scars on my lil' Shampie?"

The white-haired woman was half expecting Aroma to come after her, but, to her surprise, the Amazon just shrugged it off and sat back down at the table.

"Just kidding," Aroma smiled. "Ranma told me that you were with Ryoga, so I figured you might show up here."

"You're...not angry?" Meilin asked her, sounding confused at the sudden change in attitude.

"Holding grudges is bad for the karma," Aroma told her. "Shampie's alive and well, and from the looks of it you've had your own share of troubles, so I'll let bygones be bygones."

Meilin rubbed her fingers against the burn scar on her throat, knowing that was probably what Aroma meant when she mentioned her having her own troubles. "I...guess that's fine..."

Once the rest of them set their belongings on the floor and took a seat at the table, Ryoga wasted no time getting information out of his rival.

"Well, where were you all that time after your fight, Ranma?" Ryoga asked him.

"Get right to the point, don't ya?" Ranma laughed, a somber mood coming over him as he looked down at his right hand.

"You...did you really kill Li?" Meilin asked, glaring at him as she awaited an answer.

Ranma ran his hand through his hair and looked up at the ceiling as he thought back on that day. "I dunno what happened with you, but Shampoo came to where me and Li were fighting. Li attacked her, and I didn't notice she was there 'til it was too late. When I saw her fall to the ground...I just lost it. Then, after...y'know, I accidentally touched Yanlou. After that, everything's kinda blurry..."

"It was trying to take control of you, wasn't it?" Meilin asked.

"Yeah, almost did too," Ranma admitted. "I kept fightin' it off, but it was tough. I couldn't go to a lot of places 'cause I was afraid what I might do if that scythe finally got control over me. I finally took a chance and went to Nekonron when I heard about that tournament. I was hopin' someone there would be able to break Yanlou, and then I saw you and Ryoga there and decided to take out everyone else."

"You...knew we'd be able to break it?" Ryoga asked him.

"Well, I didn't know, but you've given me more of a beating than anyone else so I figured you might be able to," Ranma replied. "You are my rival, ain't ya?"

Ryoga wasn't sure, but it almost felt like Ranma was complimenting him. "That's right. So why can't you go back to Japan? Huh?"

"Oh, that," Aroma interrupted, flipping Meilin a small paper card. "He needs to help me with something first."

"What's this?" Meilin asked as she started reading. "We formally invite you to attend the wedding of Shampoo and...Ming? Huh, so that's why she's not here..."

"Shampoo's getting married?" Ryoga asked, sounding surprised.

"Yeah, she was gone by the time I got here," Ranma said, scratching his head. "The wedding's in two days. If we leave tomorrow mornin', we should make it in time."

Ryoga understood why Ranma wasn't going back to Japan just yet, but what he didn't get was why exactly Ranma wanted to go to the wedding. "What are you going there for?"

"To stop it," Ranma answered.

"Why? You've never been someone that gets involved in someone else's business, especially Shampoo's, so why?" Ryoga asked, starting to become annoyed with the pigtailed boy. "Isn't Shampoo just moving on with her life? What's wrong with that?"

"I owe her for savin' my life, Ryoga," Ranma told him. "She doesn't want to marry this Ming guy, so I'm gonna stop it. I ain't the kinda guy that backs out on a debt I owe someone."

An uncomfortable silence ensued between the two before Ryoga finally spoke up. "You'll go back to Japan once you get Shampoo?"

Ranma nodded in reply. "You got it."

Taking a deep breath, Ryoga finally calmed himself and sat back in his chair. "Fine, I'll take your word for it. But if you don't, I'll drag you back there myself. Got it?"

"Pff, like you could," Ranma snorted.

"What was that?!" Ryoga snarled angrily at him.

Trying to cool the tension, Aroma stood up and held the two apart. "Now, now, boys, calm down."

"God, men," Meilin said with a sigh. "Can't you just relax for one day?"

"Exactly," Aroma said, nodding in agreement. "Besides, if you keep acting up, you'll get no dinner tonight."

The thought of not being fed striking them like a sledgehammer to their thick heads, Ranma and Ryoga backed down and sat back in their seats again. Women were a powerful force, the two of them thought in unison.

"You two will be staying tonight, right?" Aroma asked Ryoga and Meilin. "Ranma and I will be leaving in the morning, but you're free to stay here until then. All I ask is that you help out with a few chores."

"If that's all, then we'll take you up on that," Ryoga replied. "We could use a night out of the cold."

"Oh, that's right," Ranma said, suddenly remembering something. "Hey, Ryoga, you went back to Jusenkyo, right?"

The blank look on Ryoga's face following Ranma's question made it obvious that he hadn't.

"Are you serious?!" Ranma asked him.

"When would I have had time to do that?!" Ryoga snarled back at him. "I've been wandering all over China looking for you, remember?!"

"Jusenkyo?" Meilin asked. "Why would you want to go there?"

"To get rid of the pig curse!" Ryoga said to her.

Meilin had a somewhat disappointed look on her face as she rested her chin on her palm. "Hmm...that's too bad. I think the piggy's kind of cute."

Ranma gave the dumbfounded Ryoga a sly look as he nudged him with his elbow several times. "Ain't you lucky? You found a girl that knows about the pig and likes it."

"Y-you shut up! It's not like that!" Ryoga yelled out of embarrassment.

Aware of the fact that a certain white-haired woman was staring a hole through him, Ryoga turned away and decided to drop the subject entirely.

"Hey, you think that stuff you used on me would work on him?" Ranma asked Aroma.

The brown-haired Amazon blinked several times as she thought about it. "Well, that depends. Has Ryoga ever thought he was really a pig?"

Ryoga shook his head in response. "Not that I know of..."

"Then I don't want to try it," Aroma replied. "It was dangerous enough trying it on you. I'm not willing to try it when I don't know whether or not there's the personality of a pig in his mind."

"Huh, I guess tha-hey, wait a second...whadya mean dangerous?" Ranma asked, quirking an eyebrow in Aroma's direction. "I thought you said it couldn't hurt me..."

Aroma averted her eyes from the pigtailed boy as he glared over at her. "Did I say that...?"

"Yes, you did!" Ranma yelled. "Are you tellin' me that wasn't safe?!"

"Oh come now, it all worked out fine, didn't it?" Aroma asked, grabbing a glass of water from the table. "You did get rid of the curse..."

Ranma was caught off guard as Aroma suddenly flicked her arm forward and emptied the glass of water all over him.

"Hey, whadya do that for?!" Ranma shrieked. Immediately he noticed something was amiss. Was his voice always this high pitched, he wondered?

Noticing the perplexed look on the faces of everyone sitting around him, particularly Aroma, Ranma reached down and put his right hand against his body. Squeezing the breasts that had blossomed from his chest, he knew there was no mistaking it. He was a girl again.

"Wh...why?!" the redheaded Ranma screamed. "Why...why am I a girl again?! I thought I was cured...!"

Somehow, Ryoga didn't seem too surprised by this development. "You know, when I first saw Ringo, I thought you really might have been cured. Guess that didn't work after all."

"You have got to be kidding me," Aroma muttered, slapping her hand against her face.

Thoroughly amused by what she was seeing, Meilin burst out laughing at Ranma's female form. "So this is what Saotome looks like as a girl?! This is hilarious!"

"It ain't funny! Wh-why am I a girl again, Aroma?!" Ranma asked her frantically. "Is it because of that thing I told you about that came out of that scythe?!"

"I admit, it's a coincidence that it happened to call out the name Jusenkyo, but honestly I doubt it," Aroma said with a sigh. "It just means we never got rid of it in the first place. Separating Ringo from you must have only weakened the curse. It's probably been growing inside you all this time and finally took effect again at some point over the last five months. This isn't the first time I've tried curing people of these things. The power of Jusenkyo's curses really are amazing. Here I thought I'd found something that worked this time too..."

Overcome with depression, Ranma leaned forward and slammed her head down onto the table. "This sucks..."

Aroma somehow got herself to smile as she patted the pigtailed girl on the back. "There, there. Maybe some food will cheer you up?"

"I guess..." Ranma muttered.

"Food it is," Aroma said as she stood up. "Meilin, I'll need some help from you with dinner. And Ranma and Ryoga, you two can go chop some wood while you wait. There's some logs and axes out back. I'll heat up some water for you too, Ranma."

"Sure, no problem," Ryoga said, getting up and heading toward the door. "Ranma! Quit sulking and come help me!"

"Fine..." Ranma said, dragging herself out of her chair.

While Aroma and Ryoga walked off, Meilin grabbed Ranma by the collar of her shirt and called out to the Amazon woman. "I'll be there in a minute!"

"What is it?" Ranma asked her, still trying to get over the fact that her curse was back. "If it's about Li..."

"It's not about that," Meilin told her. "I know how it is. If you didn't kill him, he would've killed you. I don't bear any grudge against you for it."

Ranma hadn't been feeling good about what she'd done to Li five months earlier, but somehow the fact that Meilin understood why she'd done it took a little of the burden off of her shoulders. "What is it then?"

Meilin made sure that everyone was out of earshot of her before whispering something to the redhead. "Tell me, what's going on between Ryoga and this Akane girl?"

Ranma blinked in confusion as she looked into the eyes of the white-haired rogue. "Ryoga and Akane? Nothin' really, she only likes him as a friend. She likes his pig form a lot and lets him sleep with her like that whenever he's around, but she don't know the pig is really him. Ryoga doesn't get much affection I guess since he's wanderin' around by himself all the time, so he likes hangin' around her like that."

Seemingly more relaxed after comprehending the situation, Meilin let go of Ranma's shirt. "That's it?"

"That's it," Ranma replied.

"Okay then, I can deal with that," Meilin said confidently.

While Ranma was left to wonder what exactly that was all about, Meilin headed into the kitchen to help Aroma with the cooking.

"So, how are your cooking skills?" the brown-haired Amazon asked her.

"Well...I can cook rice," Meilin told her.

"Is that all?" Aroma replied in a disappointed tone.

"It's not my fault I can't eat anything but that and pickled vegetables," Meilin muttered. "Hey...umm..."

"What is it?" Aroma asked.

Meilin began fidgeting as she tried to spit out the words she wanted to say. "How do you...umm...you know...win over a guy?"

Aroma was nearly moved to tears as she looked over at the blushing Meilin. "Oh my god, that's so cute..."

"Don't make fun of me!" Meilin pouted.

"Sorry, sorry," Aroma giggled. "You're talking about...Ryoga?"

Meilin hesitated for a second before nodding in response.

The Amazon woman placed her hand on her chin as she analyzed the lost boy. "I haven't been around him very much, but my great-grandmother told me some things about him. Judging from that and how I've seen him act, I'd say he's pretty dense, correct?"

"You have no idea," Meilin said in response.

Nodding approvingly at her analysis, Aroma looked over at Meilin with a sparkle in her eyes. "In the case of someone like him, I'd say there's only one thing to do."

"Wh-what's that?" Meilin asked nervously.

"Be aggressive," Aroma grinned.

Meilin narrowed her eyes as she looked over at the Amazon. "Be...aggressive..."

"That's right," Aroma said to her. "Unless you're aggressive, someone that dense won't be able to figure out that you want them."

Biting down on her fingernail, Meilin began to think over the advice. If there was one thing she was good at, she thought, it was being aggressive. And one thing she definitely wasn't good at was being patient. She was going to win him over tonight, she decided, whether he was ready for it or not.

Behind Aroma's home, Ranma was still grumbling to herself while chopping through logs with her one-handed axe swings. "Can't believe I turn into a girl again..."

"So just use that Shift or whatever and go to Jusenkyo," Ryoga said, splitting another log in half nearby.

"It ain't that easy," Ranma replied, sounding annoyed. "I don't got any base points set anywhere near there."

Ryoga recalled Cologne having explained to him how the Shift technique worked. The user could only go to a spot where they'd previously set a base point, he remembered. "Where did you learn that anyway?"

Scratching her head, Ranma found it difficult to come up with a reasonable answer. "I...didn't really learn it. After carryin' that scythe around, I just kinda knew it..."

"Aren't you lucky," Ryoga snorted. "You can just warp all around whoever you're fighting and beat them without getting hit now."

"No, I can't," Ranma said, stopping for a moment as she looked over at her rival. "I mean, I could when I had that scythe, but now...just usin' the Shift once wears me out. I bet if you asked Meilin, she'd tell ya Jynn was the same way. It ain't somethin' you can keep doin' over and over again without that scythe helpin' ya."

"Really?" Ryoga asked. He actually felt relieved that he wouldn't have to deal with Ranma using the Shift when he fought him again.

"Yeah, sucks," Ranma grumbled. "Hey, since we're talkin' about techniques and all, how's that thing Happosai taught ya work?"

"Like I'd tell you," Ryoga snorted. "It just uses energy from the sun, that's all."

"Solar energy, huh?" Ranma asked, sounding interested in the technique. "The old freak comes up with some interesting things sometimes I guess..."

The two of them silently continued hacking at the blocks of wood for several minutes before Ryoga spoke up again.

"Hey, you're going to fight that Ming guy that's marrying Shampoo, right?" Ryoga asked.

The redheaded girl stopped for a moment and thought about the task awaiting her in two days. "It'll probably come down to that, yeah."

Jamming his axe into a tree stump, Ryoga stopped and looked over at Ranma with a serious expression on his face. "You've only got one good arm you can use. You sure you can beat him?"

"How weak do you think I am, you pig?!" Ranma snarled at him.

"Quit calling me a pig!" Ryoga shouted back.

Once the tempers settled down, Ranma brushed her hair back and answered his question. "If this guy's someone that the old hag picked to marry Shampoo then he probably ain't bad. But I won't need my hands to beat him."

"You're going to kick him until he gives up?" Ryoga asked curiously.

"No," the pigtailed girl said, looking more serious as she thought about her current state. "When I was gettin' ready to fight Li, I met this guy named Yousuke that taught me a technique called the Tiger Claw. He said when Pop put me through that stupid Cat Fist training, it made a cat's personality in my head or somethin', and the Tiger Claw let me use it's power without me turnin' completely into a cat. I could rip through almost anything with my fingers."

Ryoga stood confused as he tried to understand what Ranma was trying to explain. "But...you need to use your hands for that then..."

"That's the thing," Ranma said, picking up a thick chunk of wood in her right hand.

Ryoga watched as Ranma tossed the wood piece into the air and swiped across it with her fingers. Surprisingly, it remained intact. As the chunk of wood fell to the snow-covered ground, Ryoga could see that Ranma's fingers had barely left a scratch on the surface.

"I...can't do it anymore," Ranma said, a frustrated look coming over her.

"W-why?" Ryoga asked.

"You saw that thing come out of the scythe at Nekonron, right?" the pigtailed girl asked him. "It...did somethin' to the cat in my head. I...I dunno what happened really, but I can't do the Tiger Claw anymore. There's somethin' else I can do now though. It's kinda hard to control, but I'm gonna try it out against that Ming guy."

Shaking his head, Ryoga picked up his axe and continued his log splitting. "You turn into more of a monster every time I see you."

Snorting in Ryoga's general direction, Ranma grabbed her axe and continued with her own work. "Says the guy that mangled my arm with a blast of energy from the sun..."

After everyone had eaten and Ranma had changed back to being a man, they all headed to bed early since they were going to be leaving early in the morning. Meilin went off to share Aroma's room, which left Ryoga stuck sharing the room normally used for patients with Ranma. They slept in the beds farthest apart from each other, but it still wasn't the most comfortable of situations for either of them.

Later in the night, Ranma wandered out of the room in his undershirt and boxers to get a drink of water. On his way back, he took a moment to lean up against the wall and stare out the window. Talking to Ryoga again had brought back all sorts of memories from the Nerima Ward back in Tokyo, and it made him realize just how much he really missed it. He couldn't help but wonder how much everyone had changed while he was away. The Tendo family, Ukyo, the Kuno siblings, everyone. But it wouldn't be much longer, he thought. He was going back to Japan soon, and he was bringing Shampoo back with him. Then, finally, this long journey in China would be a thing of the past.

Hearing someone's footsteps, Ranma turned toward the staircase next to the patients' room and saw something that nearly made his jaw hit the floor. Meilin was strutting down the stairs wearing nothing but a white, frilly nightgown that was barely long enough to cover her bottom. The makeup that adorned her face and the polish on her nails made her look absolutely gorgeous. The crude, foul-tempered fighter that Ranma was used to seeing now looked like a mature woman, and it left him awestruck.

Twirling as she reached the bottom of the stairs, Meilin ran her hand through the white hair resting on her shoulders and winked at Ranma. "Well, how do I look?"

His mouth still hanging open, Ranma pointed a finger in her direction, but he couldn't think of the right words to describe what he saw.

"That's just the reaction I wanted," Meilin smiled, walking into the room where Ryoga was sleeping and grabbing the doorknob. "Sorry, but I'll be using this room for a while. 'Night!"

After shutting the door behind her, Meilin strutted slowly toward Ryoga's bed and crawled onto it. Feeling the vibrations on his mattress, Ryoga's eyes fluttered open only to see his traveling partner smiling down at him seductively.

"Did I wake you?" Meilin asked lustfully.

"M-Meilin? Wh-" Ryoga stammered, but Meilin placing her finger over his lips stopped him from uttering another word.

Lowering her head toward Ryoga's face, Meilin giggled as she looked into his confused eyes. "Don't say anything. Just lay back, relax, and I'll make you forget all about that other woman..."

Ryoga's eyes went wide as Meilin then placed her hands on his cheeks and pressed her lips against his.

Outside the room, Ranma was still gawking as he looked at the door to what was his bedroom when he saw Aroma trot down the stairs and put her ear against the door. Her cheeks beginning to take on a reddish color as she listened in on the happenings inside, she turned and gave Ranma a thumbs up sign.

Letting his hand drop to his side, the pigtailed boy blinked several times before turning toward the brown-haired Amazon. "I...uh...think I need a new place to sleep..."

"You can use Shampie's bed for the night," Aroma said, wrapping her arm around his shoulder as she giddily began leading Ranma up the staircase. "Mmm, I'll have to remember to wash those bedsheets when I get back..."

The next morning, while Meilin and Aroma were still preparing to leave, Ranma and a dazed looking Ryoga were standing outside by the door to Aroma's home.

Looking over at Ryoga, there were any number of questions that Ranma wanted to ask him about last night, but he tried to contain himself. "Headin' back to Japan now?"

"Huh? Y-yeah..." Ryoga replied quietly. His mind was clearly in another place.

Nudging him with his elbow, Ranma leaned in and gave his rival a sly look. "So...anything interesting happen last night?"

Overcome with concern, Ryoga spun around and grabbed Ranma by the collar of his coat that Aroma had lent him. He wanted to yell at him, but he simply stood there silently, looking as if he'd done something wrong.

"Was it good?" Ranma asked him, trying not to burst out laughing at the state he saw Ryoga in.

"It was...incredible..." Ryoga admitted, his face brightening up as memories of last night flooded back into his mind.

"Then why do ya look all worried?" Ranma asked curiously.

Tightening his grip on Ranma's collar, Ryoga looked up at him with what could almost be described as a frightened expression on his face. "What...what am I supposed to tell Akane..?"

"Are you kiddin' me?! Look, I know you hate me, and I know I probably shouldn't be the one sayin' this, but just listen to me for a sec," Ranma pleaded. "Meilin knows about the pig, and she still likes ya! Don't you like her too?"

Ryoga began to blush as he thought about her. "Y-yeah..."

"Then what's the problem?! Ain't you the one that's always sayin' you're unhappy?" Ranma asked him. "She makes you happy, man! What more could ya want?!"

Letting go of Ranma's coat, Ryoga seemed to relax as he stood up straight again. "I guess...if you put it like that..."

Ranma watched as a pair of hands suddenly wrapped around Ryoga from behind and a familiar white-haired woman kissed him on the cheek.

"Ready to go, honey?" Meilin purred in his ear.

"Y-yeah! Let's go!" the lovestruck Ryoga responded before turning back to his rival. "Ranma! Once that arm heals, I'm challenging you to a fight!"

"Huh? Why?" Ranma asked him. "You beat me in that tournament, remember?"

"How was that a win?!" Ryoga snapped. "I was about to pass out! The only reason I won was because you left!"

The pigtailed boy slapped his hand against his forehead as he recognized Ryoga's resolve. He'd have to put up with his rival's relentless challenges for a while longer, he figured. "Fine, whatever makes ya happy. I'll be waitin' to beat ya again."

"We'll see about that!" Ryoga shouted.

"Okay, enough," Meilin said, dragging Ryoga along with her. "See ya 'round, Saotome. Give Shampoo my regards when you see her."

"You got it," Ranma said to her. Watching the two of them walk off for a few minutes, he felt a strange feeling start to come over him.

"Envious?" Aroma asked, shutting the door to her home behind her as she walked up next to the pigtailed boy.

Ranma scratched his head as he watched Meilin and Ryoga disappear over a hill. "It's just a little weird seein' Ryoga with a girl now since he's always been wanderin' around by himself. I guess everything changes eventually, huh?"

"That's called growing up, Ranma," the brown-haired Amazon replied, smiling over at him. "Shall we go get Shampie now?"

Tugging his backpack over his right shoulder, Ranma nodded over at her. "Yeah, let's go. It's time to finish this and go back to Japan."

The night before her wedding was a chilly one, but that didn't keep a certain lavender-haired woman from sitting on the roof of the home she was staying at. Clad only in her pajamas, her breath became visible as it made contact with the cold air surrounding her. She had her head arched toward the sky, looking up at the moon as her mind wandered back and forth. She was so lost in thought that she didn't notice her great-grandmother hopping up next to her.

"So this is where you were, Shampoo," Cologne said in Mandarin. "You should go inside before you catch a cold. You wouldn't want to be ill on your wedding day."

Shampoo didn't budge an inch as she continued staring up at the moon. It was as if she didn't even hear her great-grandmother.

"I'm sure this is difficult for you, but try to understand my feelings," Cologne pleaded with her. "And aside from that, Ming is a very talented warrior. He's undoubtedly worthy of being your husband."

Shampoo once again made no movements. Realizing her ineffectiveness in getting through to her great-granddaughter, Cologne decided to let her do as she wanted.

"He's gone, child. You need to accept it," Cologne told her as she hopped down from the roof.

Left alone once more, a single tear rolled down Shampoo's cheek as she looked up at the sky. No matter how obvious it seemed or how much her great-grandmother had tried to convince her, she still believed wholeheartedly that he was alive somewhere, looking up at the same sky. Shampoo raised her arm up and held it in front of her, the moon fitting in the palm of her hand as if she were trying to grasp it. He would definitely come, she thought to herself. Definitely.


End of Chapter 16