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 17

Standing in the middle of a breathtaking field covered in white daisies, Shampoo looked into the orange sky and stared up at the sun setting in the distance. She wasn't sure where she was, the last thing she remembered being that she'd been laying awake in her bed and unable to sleep, but she didn't mind. This place brought her a much desired sense of tranquility, an escape from her restlessness.

As a gust of wind blew through her long, lavender hair and made the flowers sway back and forth, a group of orange and black butterflies flew up from the ground and into the air in front of her. Raising her right hand into the air, Shampoo watched as one of the butterflies landed on the tip of her finger.

They were so lucky, she thought to herself. They were free to fly wherever they wanted.

When Shampoo raised her hand above her head, the butterfly began fluttering its wings and flew off to rejoin the others.

"What's up?"

That voice sounding all too familiar to her, the Amazon girl spun around and looked back at the man standing behind her.

"What're you lookin' all sad for?" he asked her.

Shampoo noticed the pigtail swaying in the wind behind the man's head, a flurry of flower petals blowing around him as he stood with his hands on his hips. He had that same confident attitude that she'd come to love, and that same look on his face like he didn't have a single worry in the world.

"Ran...ma...?" she mouthed softly.

"Well duh, who else?" he asked.

Was this all a dream, Shampoo wondered? It'd been so long since she'd seen him, and yet here he was standing before her like nothing had happened. She was hesitant to believe it was really him, but she wanted so badly for it to be real.

Shampoo let out a slight gasp as Ranma stretched his hand out toward her and smiled.

"C'mon, let's go home," he said to her.

The lavender-haired Amazon was so happy that she wanted to cry. Real or not, it didn't matter to her anymore. It was Ranma standing in front of her, prompting for her to take his hand. How could she not?

But as she reached forward to take hold of him, Shampoo watched in dismay as he and everything else around him began to fade to white.

"Shampoo!" he yelled out.

"Ranma? Ranma!" Shampoo cried, but he was already gone.

"Shampoo! Wake up!"

As Shampoo's eyes fluttered open, she found her great-grandmother staring down at her from beside her bed.

"Goodness, child, have you slept at all? Just look at those bags under your eyes..." Cologne said to her in their native Mandarin language.

The Amazon elder backed away as her great-granddaughter shot up from her bed and began looking around the room frantically. The realization that everything she'd just seen was a dream quickly setting in, a deep sadness came over Shampoo as she gazed down at her bedsheets.

"Did you have a bad dream?" Cologne asked her.

Tossing her blankets aside, Shampoo, who was wearing a pink nightgown, crawled out of her bed and slowly began walking toward a window. "No, it was a nice dream. It doesn't matter though. It was just a dream, right, Great-Grandmother?"

Cologne had an idea from Shampoo's reaction about what kind of dream she'd seen, but she felt it was best not to delve into it. She knew her great-granddaughter hadn't let go of Ranma yet, but she needed to. As much as it pained her to see Shampoo like this, she felt it was for her own good that she put Ranma and everything that had happened with him behind her and move on.

"I suppose so," Cologne replied. "In any case, it is time to prepare for the wedding. Ming is no doubt looking forward to seeing you in your wedding dress."

Stretching one of her arms out in front of her, Shampoo undid the latch on the window and pushed it open to let some fresh air into her room. Aside from the usual sound of birds chirping from the rooftops, she also heard some random chatter coming from below. Looking down at the snow-covered ground, she noticed some of the wedding guests in formal robes walking toward the village's largest hall where the ceremony was being held. They were a strong reminder of the reality that Shampoo would have to face shortly, and she didn't like it at all. Trying to put it out of her mind, she raised her head and looked up at the overcast sky.

The lack of sunshine was fitting considering her feelings right now, she thought.

The young Amazon woman had kept telling herself that Ranma would show up at some point, but there wasn't any time left. While her great-grandmother helped her into the white wedding dress that she herself had worn for her wedding so long ago, Shampoo began to come to grips with that reality that she'd been trying so hard to avoid. Ranma hadn't been seen nor heard from in close to six months. By all accounts he was presumed dead, and the wedding with Ming was imminent. That life with Ranma that she'd dreamed of was going to be just that; a dream. She was going to spend the rest of her life with Ming and there was nothing she could do to stop it. Cologne had been extremely lenient in letting her pursue Ranma for so long. She just couldn't fight against her wishes anymore.

After applying her makeup, slipping into her white shoes, and fitting her white veil onto her head, Shampoo turned and looked at herself in a mirror along with her great-grandmother.

"You look just as beautiful as I did on my wedding day," Cologne said, smiling as she remembered those days long ago. Her great-granddaughter was looking far less enthusiastic than she did about her wedding though. "I know this is difficult for you, but you need to smile, Shampoo. Ming is going to feel very uncomfortable if you keep looking glum like that during the wedding."

Doing as she was asked, Shampoo tried her best to manage a smile. Even while smiling, however, it was clear that she didn't seem happy. Anyone with a brain was going to notice how sad that smile on her face was. Nevertheless, she was all set for the wedding, and she and her great-grandmother left the room they'd been staying at and began walking through the snow toward the large hall.

While Shampoo hesitantly walked forward, Cologne keeping the back of her dress from dragging through the snow behind her, she looked around trying to catch a glimpse of that one person she wanted to see. But as she expected, there was nobody else around. Putting her head down as she walked, she and her great-grandmother continued on until they reached the door to the hall.

All of the wedding guests had arrived and were mingling amongst themselves when they heard the door open. As Shampoo entered the ceremony hall, everyone turned and applauded the vision of beauty that was the young Amazon in her wedding gown. One of the people, an older gentleman with short, gray hair and a mustache, stepped apart from the other guests and smiled as he walked up to her.

"What do you think, Chang? Isn't she lovely?" Cologne asked the gentleman.

"She most certainly is," the man replied happily. "My son is very lucky to have you as his bride, Shampoo. I'm sure you'll have a very happy life with him."

Trying as hard as she could to keep her smile intact, Shampoo bowed slightly before Chang and raised her head again. "Thank you, sir."

"Please, call me Chang," he smiled. "Ming should be here shortly. He's feeling a bit nervous, to be honest."

"That's to be expected. Think nothing of it," Cologne assured him.

Cologne and Chang, along with the other guests, were startled slightly as the door to the hall suddenly swung open.

Shampoo quickly turned her head to see who it was, her eyes lighting up with a renewed feeling of hope, but the person at the door wasn't the one she'd been waiting for. She watched sadly as an energetic woman with long, brown hair and a white coat shut the door behind her and wasted no time walking over to the lavender-haired girl in the wedding dress.

"Hi! Sorry I'm late!" Aroma announced.

"Always making a noisy entrance," Cologne muttered, shaking her head.

"Who would this young woman be?" Chang asked the Amazon elder.

"This is another of my great-granddaughters, Aroma," Cologne replied, turning to look at her. "Aroma, this is Ming's father, Chang."

"Oh! How nice to meet you!" Aroma said cheerfully, bowing to him before turning her attention back to her sister. "I'm so glad I made it in time! Congratulations on your marriage, Shampie."

Aroma knew her younger sister wasn't in the highest of spirits given the current situation, so she was looking forward to seeing some energy from her in the form of a colorful response to hearing the nickname "Shampie." Even that couldn't light a fire in Shampoo though, who simply nodded as she continued to hang her head.

That was it, Shampoo thought to herself. Now that Aroma had arrived, there was nothing left that could delay the wedding. It was only a matter of time before she would be married to Ming.

Seeing the sad smile on her sister's face, Aroma let out a sigh and placed her hands on her hips. "What's with that gloomy attitude when you look so pretty? Honestly..."

"Don't worry about it, she'll be fine," Cologne told her. "Did you come alone? I thought you would have one of your aides accompany you."

Cologne felt a chill run down her spine when she saw a sinister smile cross her great-granddaughter's face. It was well known amongst the villagers at Joketsuzoku that what Aroma lacked in fighting ability, she made up for in plotting and scheming. It was one of the traits that the Amazon elder truly wished she hadn't gotten from her. She knew very well from past experiences that nothing good ever happened when Aroma smiled like she was now.

"Well," Aroma said in a playful manner, "I was going to bring one of them, but then this troublesome guy showed up at the village..."

Her interest suddenly piqued, Shampoo blinked as she raised her head and looked into her older sister's devious eyes.

"And it's the craziest thing...once I told him about Shampie getting married, he was dead set on coming here with me," Aroma continued, folding her arms across her chest as she turned and smiled at her younger sister. "I tried to talk him out of it, really I did, but he absolutely insisted on it..."

"Aroma...who...?" Shampoo began to say, her mood starting to brighten up. She had no way of knowing for sure who her older sister was talking about, but somehow, seeing that look in her eyes, she had a hunch who it was.

Looking up at the brown-haired woman nervously, a bead of sweat rolled down Cologne's forehead and fell to the floor of the ceremony hall. "What have you done...?"

"Me? Nothing at all," Aroma replied, throwing her arms up into the air innocently. "Oh, that's right, you should probably cover your ears..."

"Cover...our ears...?" Chang asked her, looking incredibly confused.

Aroma grabbed Shampoo's hands and placed them over her ears before covering her own. "Yeah, definitely. You too, Granny."

"You conniving girl, I knew it! What have you done this time?" Cologne asked impatiently, covering her ears while the perplexed father of Shampoo's groom did the same.

No more than a second later, the door to the ceremony hall seemingly exploded with a loud boom that resonated throughout the building. The wedding guests who had gathered all cried out in a mix of fear and surprise as the small chunks of wood that were once the door rained down on them, dirtying the formal robes that they'd all worn for the occasion.

Once the dust cleared and they all began to calm down, the guests all turned toward the doorway and saw the silhouette of a man with his right arm outstretched.

Shaken and startled, Chang immediately stepped forward and glared angrily at the man who was standing in the doorway. "Wh-what is the meaning of this?"

Not at all remorseful about what he'd done, the man smirked and stepped forward into the hall, dropping his blue coat to the floor as he entered.

"Sorry, guess I knocked a little too hard..." he said with a cocky laugh.

Her mouth hanging open as she stared at him, Cologne couldn't believe who she was seeing. "Son-in-law..."

As for Shampoo, words couldn't describe her reaction at that moment as her heart was filled with joy and tears began to form in her eyes.

That rude, conceited voice.

That outfit with the red, Chinese shirt and dark pants that he'd always worn.

That black pigtail resting on his right shoulder.

That attitude that exuded confidence and always had a way of making her feel like things were going to be fine.

But this time it wasn't a dream. This time he was real.

Noticing the lavender-haired girl wearing the wedding gown out of the corner of his eye, Ranma turned his head toward Shampoo and smiled over at her. "Hey..."

The young Amazon woman couldn't hold herself back anymore. Overwhelmed with happiness and with tears running down her face, Shampoo leaned forward and began running toward the man she'd been waiting to see for so long. He was really alive, and he was right there in front of her eyes.

Taking a breath of air as she ran, she cried out his name with all her heart. "Ranma!"

Shampoo didn't get far, however, before a man fell from above and landed violently on the ground in front of her, slamming into the floor with such force that the very foundation of the hall shook. With Shampoo stopped in her tracks behind him, the man, who was wearing a pure white robe and pants and whose head was shaved completely bald, slowly stood up and pulled the tip of a claymore which was as tall as his body out from the floor.

Swinging his large sword around in the air once, he pointed it at Ranma while glaring intensely into his eyes. "What do you want?"

"I'm guessin' you're Ming, huh?" Ranma asked, his smile disappearing as he took on a much more serious demeanor. "I can't understand ya though. Someone mind translatin' for me?"

"He wants to know what you want, and so do I!" Cologne shouted at him in Japanese, hopping up next to Ming on her cane. "I'm glad to see you alive and well, Ranma, but I do not understand why you are here. You were gone for six months. Everyone assumed you were dead. And aside from that, you had every chance in the world to claim Shampoo as your bride, yet you refused! You are no longer needed, do you understand? Shampoo will be marrying Ming."

Annoyed by the long declaration, Ranma leered over at Cologne with a chilling look in his eyes. "That ain't your choice to make, old hag."

"What?" Cologne snapped back at him. "How dare you speak to me with such disre-"

"Shampoo!" Ranma suddenly shouted, his voice booming throughout the hall as he interrupted Cologne.

Hearing her name called out in Ranma's voice, Shampoo clutched her hands to her chest tightly. It had been so long since she'd heard him say her name, and he'd yelled it out with such force that it made her jump. Her heart was beating so fast right now that she thought it was going to burst out of her body.

Turning to look at the lavender-haired Amazon again, Ranma stared at her intently while Ming and the others kept a close eye on him.

"Shampoo, if you wanna marry this guy then I won't do nothin'. I'll just walk outta here, go back to Japan, and forget all about this," Ranma said to her, his words as serious as anything he'd ever uttered in his life. "But if you don't wanna marry this guy, I'll take ya outta here and we'll go back to Japan together. It's your choice. Tell me what ya want me to do."

The tears continuing to flow down her cheeks, Shampoo clutched her hands to her chest even tighter with happiness. There was no need for her to think about his offer. She knew exactly what she wanted from the moment he'd arrived. "Ranma...Ranma is only one Shampoo want to marry! Please, Ranma...take Shampoo with you!"

Seemingly satisfied with the answer, Ranma grinned confidently as he turned and looked back at Ming. "Sorry, you heard her. I'm takin' her with me whether ya like it or not."

"I will not allow you to do any such thing!" Cologne shouted, but Ming holding his hand out in front of her stopped her from going any further.

With all of the wedding guests still watching in silence, the young, bald-headed man looked down at Cologne in need of answers. "I apologize for the interruption, but who is this and what does he want?"

"This is Ranma Saotome. He was Shampoo's fiancée, but we believed him to be deceased," the Amazon elder replied in Mandarin, calming herself down before addressing Ming. "I am terribly sorry for his intrusion. I will deal with him myself."

"No," Ming said immediately, drawing a surprised reaction from everyone around him.

Curious about Ming's reply, Cologne narrowed her eyes as she stared up at him. "Why not?"

"This man also has a rightful claim to Shampoo, does he not?" Ming asked, continuing to point his claymore in Ranma's direction. "I would not be worthy of being Shampoo's husband if I did not deal with him personally."

Frantic about the idea of his son fighting on his wedding day, Chang walked up to him and grabbed hold of his shoulder tightly. "But, Ming...!"

"Hey, what's he sayin'?" Ranma asked, looking at the group of Amazons impatiently.

Reluctant but understanding of Ming's feelings, Cologne decided to allow him to do as he pleased. "Ming wishes to fight you for the right to Shampoo."

Scratching his chin with his good hand, Ranma didn't seem surprised at the request. "Yeah, I figured that's how things would go. Fine by me."

While Cologne explained to Ming that Ranma had agreed to the challenge, Shampoo couldn't help staring at the pigtailed boy's left arm with concern. She didn't know what had happened or why it was in that dark blue sling, but she did know he would have trouble with Ming because of it. "Ranma...you only has one arm...!"

"Huh? Oh, it ain't a problem," Ranma told her, shrugging as he looked back at the girl in the wedding dress. "I won't need my hands to beat this guy."

"But, Ranma...Ming no is weak-!" Shampoo tried explaining to him.

"Shampoo," Ranma said, giving her a calm look, "trust me, alright?"

Staring into those confident eyes of his, Shampoo took a deep breath and nodded in reply. "Shampoo trust you..."

"Good," Ranma smiled, then turning toward Ming and signaling with his hand for the Amazon man to follow him outdoors. "C'mon, let's go."

With Ming beginning to walk behind him, Ranma stopped for a moment once he reached the doorway and turned toward Aroma and Cologne. "Listen, if things get outta control, make sure ya get everyone the heck away from here."

While Cologne shot him a curious look, Aroma nodded her head in acknowledgment of the request. "Don't worry, we'll do what we need to do. Be careful."

Ranma didn't say another word as he led Ming out of the hall and away from the village. The moment they stepped outside, Ming removed his robe and tossed it to the ground as he continued to walk. Looking back at him, Ranma noticed just how well defined Ming's muscles were. It wasn't surprising though, he thought, considering how strong he'd have to be to swing around that gigantic sword of his.

Talking amongst themselves while they watched the pair move further and further away, the guests of the wedding all gathered outside the ceremony hall to witness the battle firsthand. At the front of that group of people stood Shampoo, Chang, Aroma, and an unusually worried Cologne.

"Aroma, we will discuss your behavior later, but for now there is something I want to know," the Amazon elder said to her. "Why is Ranma concerned about the safety of everyone here? What does he plan on doing?"

"Something, but I don't know for sure what," Aroma replied, her expression becoming serious. "All he told me is that he's not sure if he can control it."

While the two warriors continued to move away from the village, Ming became curious as to why Ranma was leading him so far away. Had he laid some kind of trap for him, he wondered? Even if that were the case, he wasn't going to fall victim to it. He was alert as he could possibly be right now.

Once they'd gotten several hundred yards away from the village, Ranma planted his feet in the snow and came to a stop. Turning around, he analyzed the distance between them and everyone else before looking over at his opponent.

"Alright, this should be fine," Ranma said to him, a look of pity beginning to show on his face. "I know you can't understand me, but I'm gonna say it anyway just so I can't say that I didn't when this is over. Sorry 'bout this."

As Ranma had said, Ming couldn't understand his uncharacteristic apology, but he could tell that Ranma was ready to fight. Taking a moment to stretch out his arms and breathe, Ming held his claymore out in front of him with both hands on the hilt.

With everyone at the village looking on from a distance, Ranma stuck his right arm out in front of him and closed his eyes. Surprised, Ming suddenly jumped back out of instinct when he saw strands of a dark violet aura begin to swirl around Ranma's body and rise upward. Snow from the ground starting to scatter away from him due to the force of the swirling aura, Ranma opened his eyes as it began to collect into one mass and take form above him.

Everyone, Ming included, looked on in awe as the dark aura expanded and four limbs formed from it and slammed down into the ground around Ranma. Looking up, Ming could see a tail begin to extend from the back of the mass, and a head then began to form at the front. Once the ears, eyes, nose, and mouth took form, it was clear to everyone what it was. That dark violet aura that had come out of Ranma had taken the form of an enormous cat. Staring down at its prey with malicious intentions, the feline hissed wildly at Ming, nearly knocking him over from just the horrible sound.

Back by the ceremony hall, Ming's father was aghast at the sight of Ranma's beast. "M-Ming..."

"Th-this is...how did the son-in-law come into possession of something like this?" Cologne stammered, her demeanor changing to one of great concern.

"My gosh...it must be fifty feet tall," Aroma said in amazement. "If Ranma loses control of that thing..."

Shampoo stood speechless as she stared at the towering feline. Was the person who did this really the same pigtailed boy that she knew? She knew he was capable of a lot, but the fact that he was able to do something like this was difficult to swallow. She couldn't help but wonder if he could use a technique like this and manage to come away from it unscathed.

With the vicious cat standing tall above him, Ranma looked remorsefully into the stunned eyes of his opponent. "Saotome School of Anything-Goes Martial Arts Final Attack...Feral Nightmare."

Ming was quickly snapped out of his surprised state as the cat's paw came crashing down at him from above. He leaped out of the way as fast as he could manage, barely dodging the feline's claws as its paw slammed into the ground, sending a cloud of snow into the air. The cat then turned it's head to where Ming had landed and soared into the sky in an attempt to pounce on him.

Seeing an opportunity to attack the feline, Ming waited until just before it landed and nimbly jumped out of the way. As he leaped into the air, Ming sliced into one of the cat's arms with his claymore before skidding to a halt on the snowy ground. Looking up to see if he'd successfully severed the cat's arm, however, he was dismayed to find that it was still intact.

"How?" Ming yelled out. He was so surprised at the ineffectiveness of his attack that he didn't notice the object heading for him from the rear. Ming cried out as the cat slammed its tail into his back, sending him flying nearly twenty feet before he fell to the ground and rolled to a stop.

"Yeah, cut its body up and it just fills right back in," Ranma said to the ailing Ming as he watched him get to his feet. "You can't win, man. I'd ask ya to give up before it gets any worse, but even if you could understand me, I doubt you'd quit..."

The Amazon man had a frustrated look on his face as he got to his feet and glared at the pigtailed boy. "You...you are some kind of monster...but I will defeat you!"

His will to fight still strong as ever, Ming leaped into the air and began slashing the cat's face relentlessly with his sword. Time and again the sword sliced into the massive beast, its face becoming distorted from the impacts, until Ming flipped backward and landed on the ground once more.

Remaining calm and collected, Ranma watched as the energy that made up the cat's head reorganized and its face reformed into its prior state. Hissing in a fit of fury, the feline swung its claws at Ming again, forcing him to make another evasive maneuver.

"I can't hurt it..." Ming said to himself, finally realizing the futility of attacking the cat.

Ranma already knew that the cat was practically invincible. Those spirits that had inhabited Yanlou and entered his body when Ryoga broke the weapon had corrupted the cat's personality that he used to call upon the Tiger Claw technique, and this was the result. That cat had taken on a life of its own, and it did not have a nice attitude.

The pigtailed boy's fear wasn't that Ming could defeat the feline, but whether or not he himself could control it. That was another reason why he insisted on calling upon it to fight Ming. Of course, the main reason was that he absolutely couldn't afford to lose to him, but it was also a way for Ranma to test his limits.

Ming had given up on eliminating the cat standing above his opponent, but he hadn't given up on the fight. Even if he couldn't hurt the cat, he thought, there was no way that Ranma himself could withstand his blade.

Much to Ranma's surprise, the Amazon warrior jumped up into the air to attack the cat again, but this time the ferocious feline was ready. Raising its paw up into the air, the cat slammed it down into Ming and forcefully drove him into the ground, or so it thought. Ranma noticed immediately that the image of Ming had dissipated as soon as the cat's paw made contact with him. Lowering his head to look around as quickly as he could, the pigtailed boy had almost no time to react as the real Ming appeared in front of him, sword raised and ready to strike.

Screaming furiously, the bald-headed Amazon swung his sword directly into his opponent's chest, but what he wasn't expecting was the head of a much smaller cat coming out from Ranma's body and catching his sword in its mouth. Trying not to lose focus, Ming frantically attempted to pull his claymore away from the second cat that had appeared from Ranma's chest, but it refused to let go of the weapon.

"That wasn't a bad trick, but this fight's over," Ranma told Ming.

Realizing that he'd taken his attention off of the original feline for too long, Ming quickly looked up only to find the cat's gigantic claw soaring toward him. With his sword firmly in the grasp of the smaller cat's mouth, Ming couldn't evade the attack quickly enough. The giant cat's claws tore into him and sent him flying through the air, much to the horror of his father who began running toward the battle scene in a panic. Losing hold of his sword at the moment of impact, Ming was in the air for nearly five seconds before hitting the ground and rolling to a stop on his back. The snow on the ground around him was stained red as a gash across his chest and another across his left leg began to bleed badly.

Its task complete, the second cat let Ming's claymore fall to the ground and rescinded back into Ranma's body. Ming was breathing heavily and grabbing at his wounds as he painstakingly tried to get to his feet, but the large cat hovering above Ranma wasn't going to let him stand again. The towering beast jumped into the air and crashed down onto the Amazon warrior, crushing him underneath its paw. Ming let out a cry of sheer agony as the cat forcefully pressed his bloodied body into the ground.

Seeing the state Ming was in, Ranma decided that this had gone far enough. Taking a deep breath, he looked up toward the cat at yelled out to it. "Stop! That's enough!"

The feline turned and looked down at its host as if it understood the command, but it wouldn't get off of Ming. Instead, it pressed down on him with even greater force to further agonize him. While Ming continued to cry out in pain, Ranma was quickly becoming worried. This was exactly what he'd feared would happen. The question was, would he be able to stop it?

"Hey!" Ranma yelled out, the cat once again looking down at him. "I said that's enou-!"

Out of the corner of his eye, Ranma saw none other than Cologne jump up toward the cat and slap a paper seal on its forehead. While the Amazon elder fell back down to the snowy ground, the out of control feline began thrashing about wildly. Ranma, along with Cologne, ducked for cover, both of them trying to avoid being struck by the cat's tail or limbs as it flailed about. Shaking its head violently, the pained creature let out a horrible yowl that made Ranma's ears ring.

After several seconds, the two of them watched as the cat finally collapsed to the ground and the mass began to lose its shape. Once all of the dark energy that made up the frightening feline had gathered into the air, it shot toward Ranma and entered into his body once again. Reeling from the sudden impact, the pigtailed boy fell to his knees and began panting to catch his breath.

"You fool!" Cologne snapped, hitting him over the head with her cane. "Do you realize how dangerous that could have gotten had I not been here to seal that creature? Just look at your arm!"

"Oww! Whadya do that fo-..." Ranma began to say, but when he raised his right arm to grab the area where Cologne had struck him, he saw that his right hand was completely covered in a black fur and that his fingernails had grown out. Ever so slowly, the fur began to fall from his hand as it returned to normal again. "What...what is this...?"

"Ranma, you must never use that power again!" Cologne instructed him. "That energy was in the process of consuming you. If you continue to call upon it, you will be overcome by it and you will lose control of yourself. Do you understand me?"

Staring down at his hand as the last remnants of fur fell to the ground, Ranma couldn't deny that the old woman was probably right. He didn't realize until now just how dangerous using that technique was for him. "Yeah...I ain't gonna use that again..."

Back at the village, there was a lot of idle chatter and worry going on amongst the wedding guests.

At the front of them, Aroma was finally able to exhale as the potentially volatile situation was resolved. "Whew, that was close. Leave it to Granny to take care of something dangerous like that..."

Standing beside her, Shampoo had any number of different emotions running through her body at that moment. She didn't know what to make of that massive cat that Ranma had called upon during the battle, but...he'd won, right? If so, then that meant...

Shampoo stepped forward and looked surprised as she suddenly felt a hand push her from behind. As she turned around, she found her big sister smiling at her again.

"Well, what are you waiting for?" Aroma asked, giving her an assuring wink. "Go get him already..."

That's right, Shampoo thought to herself. Ranma had beaten Ming. She could worry about everything else later. Right now, all she wanted was to go see him. Turning her head as she began running off, she smiled and uttered two words under her breath that were so simple, yet so meaningful to her older sister. "Thank you..."

Aroma stood in stunned silence while watching the lavender-haired girl in the wedding dress run toward the man she loved. Shampoo had actually thanked her, she thought happily. Maybe, just maybe, she'd finally done something to make up for being a poor big sister to her for all those years.

Meanwhile, Chang finally made it to the site of the battle and knelt down next to his battered son. "Ming, are you okay?"

Walking over next to him, Cologne began looking over the boy's injuries and analyzing his current state. "We need to stop the bleeding on these cuts, and from the sound of his breathing I fear he may have a punctured lung as well."

Ranma was again looking remorsefully at Ming when he saw him slowly raise his hand up and motion for Cologne to come closer to him.

After Ming whispered a few things in her ear, Cologne nodded and turned toward the pigtailed boy. "Ranma...Ming says that it was an honor to duel someone like you for the right to marry Shampoo. He wants you to take good care of her in his place."

"Hey, I only did it 'cause I owed her, alright? Don't go gettin' any funny ideas," Ranma said, sounding embarrassed as he began scratching his head and looked down at Ming again. "Sorry 'bout all this, man. Wasn't nothin' personal, I just had to do what I came to do."

Hearing the sound of someone panting behind him all of a sudden, Ranma turned around only to see Shampoo breathing heavily after running as fast as she could to the battle site. Her veil swaying in the chilly breeze behind her head, she and Ranma stood quietly and stared into one another's eyes for a moment while Shampoo caught her breath.

"See? I told ya to trust me," Ranma said, breaking the silence.

He was right, Shampoo thought. He'd never given her any reason to doubt him before, and that fact was one thing that hadn't changed at all.

The lavender-haired Amazon drew her breath in slightly as she watched Ranma extend his hand out toward her.

"C'mon," Ranma said, a smile crossing his face, "let's go home."

It was just like that dream she'd had, Shampoo thought, only this time he wasn't going to disappear. She wasn't going to let him, no matter what. Unable to contain her joy any longer, Shampoo lunged forward and wrapped her arms around the pigtailed boy's neck, burying her tear-filled eyes into his red shirt that was so full of his scent. "Ranma!"

"H-hey now..." Ranma said, blushing as he placed his right hand gently on her back.

"Shampoo wait for Ranma for so long!" she cried emotionally, squeezing him even tighter. "Where you go all that time?"

"Yeah, sorry. It's a long story. I'll tell ya 'bout it later," Ranma replied.

While Chang began carrying his son back to the village for medical attention, Cologne hopped onto her cane and went over to her great-granddaughter. "Shampoo, will you be going back to Japan?"

Wiping the tears from her eyes, Shampoo turned and smiled at the Amazon elder. "If that where Ranma going, then Shampoo go too."

"Very well, however, you will be on your own for the time being," Cologne told her. "Because of this mess that your sister and the son-in-law caused, I need to stay here and smooth things out. There should still be roughly five months left on our lease of the Cat Café, so feel free to run the restaurant when you go back. You may need to hire some help though."

"Is okay, Shampoo figure something out," she replied, not particularly concerned about such things the moment.

The two Amazon women suddenly shifted their gaze to Ranma when they noticed a bright blue light begin to shine from under his feet. He was concentrating for a moment with his eyes closed before opening them again and grinning.

"Found it," Ranma said to nobody in particular.

"Ranma...what that?" Shampoo asked, her arms still wrapped around him as she looked down at the light curiously.

"Huh? Oh, just gettin' the Shift ready," Ranma replied in a very nonchalant manner.

"Ranma can use Shift technique?" Shampoo exclaimed.

"Yeah, I'll tell ya 'bout that later too," the pigtailed boy said to her. "Anyway, you all done here?"

Still feeling somewhat confused, the Amazon girl slowly nodded her head in response.

"'Kay, we're outta here then," Ranma said, looking over at Cologne one last time. "See ya."

The Amazon elder watched in awe as Ranma disappeared in a bright flash of light along with her great-granddaughter. Falling off of her cane from exasperation, Cologne groaned and placed her hand over her forehead. It was supposed to be such a nice day too, she thought to herself, but Ranma had shown up to complicate things for her yet again.

"Son-in-law...you never cease to amaze this old woman..."

Shampoo, still holding tightly onto Ranma, let out a gasp as the light from his Shift technique faded. He'd used it so suddenly that it caught her a bit by surprise. Looking around to see where Ranma had taken her, she found that they were in a very familiar room with several beds and daylight shining in through the windows.

"This is...Shampoo's home?" she asked curiously, realizing that it was the room Aroma always let her patients sleep in.

"Y-yeah," Ranma replied, sounding unusually exhausted.

Shampoo watched as the pigtailed boy fell from her grasp and collapsed backwards onto one of the beds. "Ranma, what matter?"

"Nothin', I'm just tired," he said to her. Straightening himself out so that his head was on the pillow, Ranma let out a loud yawn and blinked a few times as he tried to keep his eyes open. "Usin' that technique earlier wore me out a little, and the Shift didn't exactly help. I just need a nap before we go back to Japan."

Remembering that enormous cat that her fiancée had summoned earlier, Shampoo sat next to him on the edge of the bed. She wasn't going to make him explain how he managed to use such a thing when he was already this tired, but she wanted to know what kind of risk it posed at the very least. "Ranma, that technique very dangerous, yes? Shampoo see how mad Great-Grandmother get when you use that..."

Ranma raised his right hand into the air and stared at his outgrown fingernails for a moment as he recalled what the old woman had told him. "Yeah, I ain't gonna use that anymore. Nobody's gonna be safe if I call that thing out again, includin' me."

Shampoo blinked curiously as Ranma smiled up at her and begin to laugh a bit. "What laughing about?"

"Sorry, I just...I'm glad you're okay," he told her. "When I saw Li's crescent hit ya that day, I didn't know if you'd be alright. I couldn't come near here for a long time after that either, so I just never knew for sure..."

Reaching her hands up, Shampoo slowly pulled down the top of her wedding dress to reveal the base of her throat. Ranma started to blush and was about to ask what she was doing, but then he noticed the visible scar across her throat.

"Aroma...say that Shampoo almost die," the lavender-haired Amazon said quietly. "But Jynn and Ringo bring Shampoo here fast, so that no happen..."

Ranma had a sorrowful look on his face as he reached up and placed two of his fingers on Shampoo's scar.

"This...was my fault," he said. "You're always savin' me...I shoulda noticed that you were there..."

"No! It no is Ranma's fault!" Shampoo said immediately, her eyes beginning to tear up again. "Shampoo try to help because love Ranma very much, but put self in danger. Is only Shampoo fault. Ranma no should blame self..."

"You say that, but it ain't easy for me not to blame myself," Ranma replied sadly. "I guess it's okay though. You and me...we're both alive, right? We can finally go to Japan and get everything back to normal."

Taking Ranma's hand in her grasp, Shampoo brought his fingers to her mouth and kissed them softly.

"H-hey, what're you doin'...?" Ranma asked her nervously.

"We...no need to go back to Japan..." Shampoo said quietly.

"Huh?" Ranma asked, wondering what she meant.

The Amazon girl pressed Ranma's hand against her chest and clutched it tightly as her lips began to quiver. "Ranma...can stay with Shampoo here if want. We no even have to live in village if Ranma no like it here. Can go somewhere else and live, just two of us..."

The look on Shampoo's face told Ranma that she was serious about what she was saying. Despite the fact that they were supposed to just be friends, she'd made no secret of the way she felt about him. But her suggestion was something that the pigtailed boy just couldn't go along with.

"You know I can't do that," Ranma said to her. "I know everyone in Japan likes to bug me and challenge me and stuff, but I like it there. I got friends there, and you do too, y'know?"

Falling forward onto the bed, Shampoo let go of Ranma's hand and laid her head on his chest. "Shampoo understand. It no hurt to try ask."

His natural reflex kicking in, Ranma placed his arm around the girl and stared up at the ceiling for a moment.



"You use Shift...to take us to Japan...after nap...?" Shampoo asked him, her voice beginning to trail off.

"Nah, I can't," Ranma replied. "I ain't got any base points set in Japan."

Ranma continued to stare up at the ceiling and smiled to himself as he got an idea. "I think I know someone that owes us a ride though..."

After a few seconds, he noticed that Shampoo had gotten extremely quiet. Looking down at the lavender-haired girl laying on his chest, he found that she'd closed her eyes and fallen asleep.

"Guess you had a long day too, huh?" Ranma whispered softly to her. He wasn't normally comfortable with sleeping in the same bed as a girl, but considering everything that had happened, just this once, he thought, he could deal with it.

Laying back on his pillow, Ranma closed his eyes and soon fell into a deep slumber with Shampoo sleeping peacefully in his arms.

End of Chapter 17