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 18

On a chilly, overcast February afternoon in the Nerima Ward of Tokyo, Ukyo Kuonji and Akane Tendo were seated in their daily English class while their teacher, Mr. Nakamura, read a passage from a textbook. Akane was attentive to the material, as always, but Ukyo, who was slumped over her desk, was finding it difficult to keep her eyes open. She never had a problem studying material in her own time, but the monotone lectures of her teachers lacked the excitement necessary to hold her interest.

Akane raised an eyebrow in Ukyo's direction when the okonomiyaki chef accidentally let out a loud yawn.


Ukyo snapped back to attention when she heard the teacher call out her name. "Y-yes!"

"Would you be so kind as to read the next paragraph for us?" Nakamura asked, adjusting his glasses as he eyed her.

Knowing that she'd been caught, Ukyo began looking around at the other students' textbooks to try to figure out where they were at.

"Do you even know what page we're on, Miss Kuonji?" the teacher asked her.

"N-no, sir," Ukyo said, hanging her head with embarrassment while some of the other students began snickering at her misfortune.

Nakamura was readying to scold her for her lack of attention when a perfectly timed ringing of the school bell interrupted him, thus ending class with a minimal amount of humiliation on Ukyo's part.

"Alright, time for lunch. Be sure to read the assignment for tomorrow!" Mr. Nakamura shouted, making sure that everyone heard him. "And, Miss Kuonji, please try to stay awake next class."

"I'm sorry, sir," she replied, bowing apologetically as he left the room.

With Ukyo still grumbling about being caught, Akane pulled out the lunch that Kasumi had prepared for her in the morning and shook her head. "You don't learn, do you?"

"It's just so boring, I can't stand it!" Ukyo whined. "I don't see how you can pay attention to that guy."

"It's easy when you actually want to learn," Akane snorted, stretching once she got up out of her seat. "Come on, let's go."

"That's harsh..." Ukyo complained, following the youngest Tendo daughter out of the classroom.

In the months following Ranma's disappearance, Akane and Ukyo had formed a very unique friendship. They got along well for the most part and both enjoyed helping their new redheaded acquaintance get used to daily life, but their history with each other as rivals for Ranma's attention resulted in the two of them being more critical of one another than most friends. Whether their friendship was permanent or just a temporary truce until Ranma returned was something that remained to be seen.

As was their daily ritual, the girls headed to the classroom down the hall and looked in to try and find the third member of their lunch party. They normally found her sitting quietly by herself when they showed up, but today, for some reason, she was nowhere to be found.

"She's not here? That's weird..." Ukyo said, scratching her head while looking around the room to make sure she wasn't missing something.

"It really is. I wonder where she could've gone," Akane replied.

Noticing the pair standing in the doorway, a girl with short hair called out to them. "Hey, you guys looking for Ringo?"

"Yeah, you know where she went?" Ukyo asked.

"She sped out of here and up the stairs as soon as the bell rang," the girl replied. "She's been acting really odd today. Spent the whole morning looking out the window like she was in some kind of trance."

Ukyo and Akane blinked as they looked at each other. Ringo had been placed in a different class than the two of them, but they'd heard from others that she was always very attentive during class periods. For her to be spacing off was unusual enough, but running off as soon as lunch began without so much as a word? It wasn't like her at all, the two of them thought.

Unsure of where Ringo would have gone, the girls headed up the staircase to the top floor of the school and began peeking into every classroom. Strangely, however, she wasn't in any of them. With only one possibility remaining, Akane and Ukyo began ascending the staircase that lead to the roof.

"Why would she come up here? It's freezing outside," Ukyo wondered aloud.

"I know, but where else could she be?" Akane said, sounding somewhat worried.

Once they reached the top of the stairs and opened the door leading outside, Akane was relieved to see a girl with a perky, red ponytail standing on the snow-covered rooftop. She and Ukyo both stared for a moment at the young girl, whose eyes were locked on the overcast sky to the west. She was looking at it so intently that she didn't even hear the door to the roof open.

Feeling mischievous, Ukyo crept up behind the spaced out girl and placed her hand on her shoulder. "Ri-n-go!"

"Wahh!" Ringo cried, her heart skipping a beat as she spun around. Seeing the okonomiyaki chef standing there with a wicked grin on her face, Ringo held her hand against her chest and took a deep breath. "You really scared me..."

"Sorry, couldn't help myself," Ukyo chuckled.

"You had us worried, you know. What are you doing up here?" Akane asked her.

The redheaded girl ran her fingers through her hair as she turned and looked off to the west again.

Looking into the distant sky, Akane squinted her eyes to try and spot anything.

"Something's...coming," Ringo said.

Ukyo blinked as she stared off to the west for a moment before turning toward Ringo again. "Umm...there's nothing there, Sugar."

Ringo nodded her head. "I can't see it either, but...I feel like there's something coming."

Wondering if her friend had come down with some sort of illness, Ukyo placed her forehead against Ringo's to check for a fever. "Doesn't seem like you're sick..."

Somewhat embarrassed, Ringo rubbed the back of her head and laughed a bit. "I must sound crazy."

"I wouldn't go that far. It's just a little weird for you is all," Akane said to her. "What do you think is coming?"

"I'm not sure really, maybe it's just my imagination," Ringo replied. "I guess I made you two waste a lot of lunch period, huh?"

"That's right!" Ukyo exclaimed, smiling as she wrapped her arm around the redhead. "So why don't we go inside and eat real quick while we still have time?"

The three girls jumped in surprise when the door to the roof suddenly swung open. Akane then watched with displeasure as a man wearing a dark blue and black kendo outfit stormed toward her. Panting as he came to a halt, the man stood tall and looked into Akane's eyes.

"Akane Tendo, at last I've found you!" he said to her.

"Oh good, Upperclassman Kuno..." Akane grumbled under her breath.

Ukyo tried to keep herself from grinning, but she found it difficult not to. "Your knight in shining armor returns."

The youngest Tendo daughter shot an unpleasant look Ukyo's way, but that never stopped her from enjoying these moments before. Kuno's increased aggressiveness in his pursuit of dating Akane never sat well with the heir to the Tendo School of Anything-Goes Martial Arts, to say the least, but the interaction between the two of them was something that Ukyo found to be priceless. Tatewaki Kuno had effectively become her favorite form of entertainment while at school.

"Akane Tendo, I must speak with you regarding a matter of dire importance!" Kuno said in dramatic fashion.

"This should be good," Akane replied, her voice dripping with sarcasm. "What is it?"

The elder Kuno sibling straightened out his kendo gi and brushed his hair back before looking at her with a dead serious expression on his face. "As much as it pains me to say this, I...I...must...graduate next month."

"I know, Nabiki is too. That's what you do when you've been here for three years," Akane said, sounding annoyed. "What about it?"

"Yes, well...it is regretful, but I may not be able to grace you with my presence as often," Kuno said, clenching his hands in front of him. "Alas, I cannot bear the thought of losing my precious time with you! Please, Akane, promise me that we shall still be able to see each other!"

While Ukyo leaned up against Ringo's shoulder to muffle her laughter, Akane grabbed Kuno by the collar of his gi and pulled his face close to her. "Can't you get it through that thick skull of yours? I don't WANT to see you!"

Akane gasped when the overly passionate man suddenly wrapped her in a tight embrace. "No, Akane Tendo! I know you only wish to ease my pain by pretending you will not miss me, but there is no need to comfort me, my love! I am Tatewaki Kuno, the Blue Thunder of Furinkan High, and I am prepared to endure any hardships, for the love you and I share is eternal!"

Ringo and Ukyo winced when Akane, finally out of patience, slugged Kuno in the gut and sent him crashing into the metal door that lead back downstairs.

"Ouch," Ringo mouthed, watching Kuno writhe in pain.

"And he's down for the count again," Ukyo laughed. "Nice shot, Akane."

Akane shook her hand a bit and let out an audible sigh. "Enough of this, let's go eat alre-"

"Akane...Tendo...!" Kuno shouted, interrupting her as he staggered to his feet. "Your love...your fiery passion...as always it...it astounds me..."

Fully prepared to knock him unconscious with a second blow, Akane was surprised when the door leading back downstairs opened and slammed into the back of Kuno's head, knocking him to the ground. The three girls blinked as a girl with short, brown hair peeked her head out from inside.

"Oops. Sorry about that, Kuno-baby. Didn't know you were there," Nabiki Tendo apologized in a very unconvincing manner.

Grabbing at the back of his head, Tatewaki Kuno looked back over his shoulder at the middle Tendo daughter with a look of irritation in his eyes. "Nabiki Tendo, I know not why you've struck me, but I shall overlook it this time. Now leave us, for I am speaking of something important with my love, Akane Tendo!"

"Actually, I need to talk to you about something too," Nabiki said, glancing over at her younger sister for a moment. "You don't mind if I borrow him, do you?"

"Please, take him," Akane pleaded.

"Thanks, Sis," Nabiki smiled, grabbing Kuno by the back of his gi and dragging him back inside. "Let's go, Kuno-baby. Time is money."

"How dare you? Did I not say I was speaking with Akane...?" Kuno shouted, his voice trailing off as the door shut behind him.

Mentally worn out, Akane put her hand over her face and took a deep breath. "Only a month and a half more and he'll be gone. I can't wait."

"Things just won't be the same without that guy around next year," Ukyo joked. "What did your sister want with him though?"

"Who cares? He's gone," Akane replied indifferently. "Can we go eat lunch now?"

Ukyo happily grabbed Ringo by the arm and began pulling her toward the door. "Yup, good idea! Let's go, you!"

"R-right," Ringo replied.

Before they went back inside, Ringo took one more look at the sky to the west. She knew she felt something strange coming from that direction, and it seemed to be getting closer as the hours passed by. What was it though? Something good? Something bad? And why was it that only she seemed to notice it?

Throughout the remainder of the day's classes, Ringo constantly found herself glancing out the windows. As much as she wanted the peculiar feeling she was experiencing to go away, it only grew stronger as the day wore on. It was something like a strong sense of anticipation, she thought, only it didn't belong to her.

By the time she was walking home from school alongside Akane and Ukyo, the feeling that she sensed had gotten incredibly close. Her act of keeping her eyes on the sky as she walked only drew more concern from her friends.

"You're still acting funny," Ukyo said to her.

Taking a moment to realize that someone was talking to her, Ringo shook her head and looked over at the okonomiyaki chef. "Sorry, what did you say, Ukyo?"

"You were spacing off again," Ukyo muttered. "What's up with you today?"

"Are you still getting that weird feeling?" Akane asked.

Ringo nodded in reply before turning her gaze back toward the west sky. "It's...really close now."

Akane shared a worried look with Ukyo for a second. "Maybe we should let Dr. Tofu take a look at you..."

Before the distracted redhead could reply, a figure shrouded in a flurry of black rose petals came from out of nowhere and landed on the concrete road in front of the girls. Pointing her violet ribbon at Ringo with an outstretched arm, she shot a familiar icy glare at the girl.

"Greetings and salutations, red-haired one," Kodachi Kuno said to her. Wearing a dark violet coat over the Winter uniform of St. Hebereke School for Girls, she snapped her ribbon twice and held it out in front of her once more. "Would you like to tell me where my darling Ranma is now, or shall I have to force it out of you?"

While Ringo stepped back out of fear for her safety, Akane and Ukyo hurriedly rushed in front of her to protect their friend.

"Kodachi!" Akane snarled.

"You just never quit, do ya?" Ukyo said to her.

Kodachi "The Black Rose" Kuno was someone that neither Akane nor Ukyo considered a serious threat for much of the time they'd known her. Once Ranma disappeared and Ringo showed up in his place, however, the two of them saw a drastic behavioral change in the gymnast. That unusual woman who was once just cocky and arrogant, smiling with rapture every time she had the pleasure of standing before Ranma, had become bitter and vengeful when she learned that her darling was missing.

Unfortunately, Ringo had become the focus of Kodachi's negative feelings, and in trying to protect the redhead, Akane and Ukyo had found Kodachi to be legitimately dangerous. She wanted to tear Ringo to pieces, and she had no qualms about going through Akane and Ukyo to do it.

"Akane Tendo and Ukyo Kuonji," Kodachi said, looking upon them with a controlled yet obvious fury in her eyes. "I've grown tired of your incessant interference. You will stand aside this instant, or you shall face dire consequences. It is up to you."

"Ooh, scary," Ukyo said, mocking the intent woman. "Ringo doesn't know where Ranma-honey is! What don't you understand about that?"

"Lies!" Kodachi screamed.

"It's the truth, you lunatic!" Akane yelled back at her angrily. "There's no reason for you to hurt her, and we won't let you!"

Closing her eyes for a moment, Kodachi took a deep breath and slowly opened them again.

"So be it..."

Akane and Ukyo were nearly knocked off their feet when Kodachi began twirling her ribbon, causing a torrential wind to swirl about. Ringo, not at all used to such a force, fell backward and rolled several times before managing to stop on the snowy street.

"Ringo! Are you okay?" Akane yelled out, holding her arms up to shield her face.

Ukyo's eyes widened as she looked upon Kodachi. The woman's battle aura was massive, unlike anything she'd ever seen from her before. She and Akane had always been able to fend off Kodachi until now, but this wasn't normal. This was frightening.

Kodachi's twirling ribbon becoming a blur, the funnel shape that it formed began to glow a bright purple color. The concrete walls along the sides of the street began to crack from the sheer force of the violent winds as they continued to kick a cloud of snow into the air.

"Have you prepared yourselves?" Kodachi asked venomously.

Pulling out the large spatula from behind her back, Ukyo spun around frantically and yelled out to her redheaded friend. "Ringo, get out of here now! Run!"

When Akane looked back, she noticed that Ringo was paying no attention to what was going on with Kodachi. Instead, her eyes were once again locked on the sky to the west.

"It's...here," Ringo said.

Staring at her in confusion, Akane and Ukyo both shifted their gaze to the sky to see what she was looking at. The sight that awaited the two of them drew a gasp from Akane, who knew immediately what it was.

Her body unmoving, Kodachi peeked up at the sky and saw an airship being supported by a large, yellow inflated device. Letting the winds die down and her ribbon come to a rest, she turned her head and squinted to get a better view of the airborne object.

"What is that?" Kodachi asked them.

"That's...that's Kirin's airship from Nekonron," Akane replied. "What is it doing here?"

"It's from China?" Ukyo asked, her face lighting up. "Do...do you think..."

After the airship cruised above them and began heading in the general direction of the Tendo residence, Ringo smiled excitedly and began running after it. "It's him! He's back!"

Akane and Ukyo looked back and forth at each other for a moment and blinked.

"Him? Does she mean who I think she means?" Ukyo began to say.

Not able to hold back any longer, Akane quickly began running after Ringo.

"Hey! Wait up!" the okonomiyaki chef shouted as she stormed after the two of them.

Left by herself, a stunned Kodachi stared up at the airship. "Ranma...my darling Ranma, could it truly be you?"

Her interest piqued, the Black Rose hurried behind the other girls toward the Tendo home.

At the Tendo home, Kasumi was peeking out the sliding door that led to the garden while Soun read the newspaper and Genma munched on rice crackers while watching tv.

Well aware of the unusual sound outside that had grown louder as the minutes went by, Soun found himself unable to concentrate on his reading. "It certainly is noisy outside today."

"And cold too," Genma added, rubbing his arms to try to keep warm. "Why do you have that door open, Kasumi?"

"Oh, I'm terribly sorry, Mr. Saotome," Kasumi apologized. "It's just...there's a ship hanging above our house, and it seems very familiar."

"A ship?" Soun and Genma asked simultaneously, sharing a curious look before the both of them stood up and went to get a look for themselves.

As Kasumi slid the door open more to allow the two gentlemen some room, Soun and Genma both gasped at the sight of the airship.

"Th-that's...that's the Seven Lucky Gods airship!" Soun exclaimed. "What are they doing here?"

"Do you think they came back for Akane?" Genma asked.

Enraged at the very thought, Soun stormed out into the snow-covered garden and stood defiantly. "I won't allow it! Absolutely not!"

Unfortunately for Soun Tendo, he happened to be standing directly in the landing spot of a redheaded girl that had just bounded over the wall surrounding their home. With her eyes still on the airship, Ringo's knees smashed into Soun's face and knocked him to the ground.

Once she looked down and realized what she'd done, Ringo cupped her hands over her mouth in remorse. "Oh my gosh, I'm so sorry, Mr. Tendo! I didn't see you there, honest! Are you okay?"

"No...no worries, Ringo," Soun replied, slowly standing back up while holding his nose with one hand.

As fate would have it, once Soun looked up he was struck in the face by another pair of knees and once again knocked into the snow and flat on his back.

"Dad?" Akane shrieked. She, too, had been keeping her eyes on the sky and didn't notice her ill-fortuned father standing there.

"Oh my, are you okay, Father?" Kasumi asked with concern.

"I'm sorry, Dad! I didn't see you!" Akane apologized immediately.

Seeing that his friend was having trouble getting himself up after the inadvertent assault by his daughter, Genma walked over and tried to pull him to his feet. "Come on now, Tendo, shake it off. You've taken much worse beatings from the Master, remem-"

Genma was stopped in mid-sentence when a foot caught him in the side of the head and stomped him to the ground alongside Soun.

Noticing that she'd struck something, Ukyo blinked and looked down at the fallen Genma. "Oopsie. Sorry about that..."

"What...what's going on with you girls today...?" Genma asked, holding his head while trying to stand up. He barely got back to his feet before another pair of legs came down from above and stomped him back into the ground, using his body as a landing cushion.

Akane, Ukyo, and Ringo looked nervously at Kodachi, who was glaring at them from atop Genma's fallen body.

"My darling Ranma...where is he?" the impatient gymnast asked them again.

When Ringo tilted her head upward and stared at the airship hovering above the Tendo home, Akane, Ukyo, Kodachi, and Kasumi all followed suit and watched to see what would happen. It wasn't long before a long rope was dropped from the ship and two figures began to slide down it from high above. The first one had long, lavender hair and was wearing a dark blue outfit including a short-sleeved Chinese shirt and pants. The other had a black pigtail and wore a red Chinese shirt with black pants.

Everyone on the ground recognized the pair descending toward them, but they almost couldn't believe it. It seemed like it had been forever since they'd seen them. Some had been wondering if they ever would again. Once the two hopped off from the rope and down onto the surface of the snowy garden, however, everyone confirmed for themselves that they weren't mistaken.

The rope was pulled up and the looming airship began its trek back to Nekonron, leaving the two visitors standing before the speechless onlookers.

"Nihao!" Shampoo greeted them, beaming with energy as she waived her hand in the air.

Ranma scratched his head for a moment while looking around at the group that had been waiting for them. "Hey, guys. Didn't think you'd all be here..."

Unable to restrain herself, an overjoyed and emotional Ringo jumped out and wrapped one arm around each of the new arrivals.

"Ranma! Shampoo! You're okay!" Ringo cried, weeping as she held them tightly.

"Aiyaa! Shampoo no see Ringo for such long time!" Shampoo smiled.

"Hey, I guess Jynn really did take care of ya," Ranma said, sounding relieved. "You been gettin' along with everyone?"

Wiping the tears from her eyes, Ringo began to laugh happily. "Mostly, yes..."



The pigtailed boy was ripped out of Ringo's grasp and tackled to the ground by the passionate pair of Ukyo and Kodachi, who began rubbing their faces against his cheeks.

Ranma's face turned red with embarrassment at the affectionate gesture. "H-hey! C'mon...cut it out...!"

"Where've you been all this time, Ran-chan? Don't you know how much I missed you?" Ukyo cried.

Kodachi, too, was weeping with joy. "Oh, my darling Ranma, the days I spent without you were simply agonizing! You must never leave me like that again!"

"Oh my, it's so good to see you're both alright!" Kasumi exclaimed happily.

While Shampoo sneered down at the display of Ranma love going on in the snow, Ringo peeked over her shoulder at the still speechless Akane. Sitting himself up with Ukyo and Kodachi each clinging to one of his arms, Ranma looked up into Akane's stunned eyes and smiled.

"Umm...hey," Ranma greeted her, unsure of what exactly to say.

When Akane suddenly dropped down to her knees, Ranma saw on her face one of the happiest looks he'd ever seen from her. She wasn't upset or jealous about what the other girls were doing, she was just genuinely relieved and elated that he'd come home. Falling forward and wrapping her arms around him, Akane buried her face in his chest and let her tears soak into his shirt.

"Akane..." Ranma said.

"Idiot," The youngest Tendo daughter said, her voice muffled by Ranma's shirt. "Don't ever worry me like that again."

Seemingly content with the reaction, Ranma nodded his head and smiled down at her. "Yeah, sorry..."

"R-Ranma, my boy...you're back...!" Genma stammered, trying once again to get himself up.

"It's...so good...to see both of you...alive and...well..." Soun added, enduring his own battle to make it to his feet after the forceful blows to the face he'd taken. "Where on earth...have you two been...?"

"Many things happen," Shampoo replied, folding her arms as she continued to shoot a contemptuous look at the three girls clutching onto Ranma.

Well aware of the increasingly bad aura coming from the Amazon warrior, Ranma had to quickly think of a way to move things along. "Y-yeah, we'll tell ya all about it. Could we go inside though? Kinda cold out here..."

The girls were surprisingly willing to let Ranma up before they all escorted him into the Tendo home. Once everyone had calmed down and seated themselves at the table, Ranma and Shampoo gave them all a thorough explanation of everything that had happened since they'd disappeared from Japan.

"...and now we're back," Ranma said, wrapping up the long story. "Sorry 'bout not comin' back earlier."

"No, there's no need to apologize, son," Soun Tendo quickly told him, he along with everyone else feeling both shocked and disturbed by certain things that had happened to the pair in China. "You two have had to endure some very painful things while you were away. We have no right to be upset with you."

Genma nodded in complete agreement. "He's right, boy. I never wanted you to have to go through something like that. I guess the fact that you did makes me a failure as a father, but I'm glad you're okay. If only I'd known this would have happened, I would have gone and helped you fight them that day..."

"Aww, don't say stuff like that, Pop," Ranma said to his father. He wasn't normally one to comfort the man who'd caused him more than his fair share of grief over the years, but this was one thing that he didn't blame Genma for. "I didn't want ya helpin' me anyway. Li challenged me, I accepted. It was my fight. That's all there is to it."

Ranma's father smiled proudly at his son's words. "You've become a fine man, Ranma. Your mother would be proud."

"Yes, that was truly touching, darling," Kodachi said, dabbing a handkerchief under her eyes to wipe the tears away. "Worry not. As your future wife, I shall do everything possible to make you forget that awful endeavor!"

"Future wife, my fanny!" Ukyo snapped at the passionate gymnast. "All he needs is some tender loving care and some home cooking from yours truly, and he'll be better than ever."

Everyone backed away once an intense staredown ensued between Kodachi and the okonomiyaki chef.

"Now, girls, let's not let our tempers get the best of us," Soun said quickly, trying to calm them down before his home became an unfortunate victim of a battle.

While Ukyo and Kodachi let cooler heads prevail and backed down, Akane was looking back and forth between Ranma and the lavender-haired Amazon in a very curious manner.

"So...you stopped Shampoo from getting married?" Akane asked the pigtailed boy.

"Yup," Ranma replied in a very nonchalant manner.

It was only when Shampoo began getting some upset stares from the other girls that Ranma realized the impact of what he'd just said. Shampoo, however, didn't seem to mind as she giggled to herself and looked slyly at the others.

"Ranma so incredible that day. He break down door to wedding hall and say he no leave without Shampoo, make Great-Grandmother very mad," Shampoo explained. "Then he beat up groom and take Shampoo home. Is very romantic, yes?"

Her jealousy finally beginning to show, Akane folded her arms and leered coldly at her fiancée. "It sure is..."

Ranma, not liking where this was going one bit, laughed nervously and hastily changed the subject. "Anyway! Hey, Mom must've been askin' about me, right? Whatcha tell her?"

"Oh, you were supposedly on a training trip with your father every time she came here," Kasumi said with an amused giggle. "I do feel bad for going along with a lie like that, but we didn't want her to worry about you."

Genma, who had to quickly change to his panda form every time his wife, Nodoka, came around, grimaced at the memory of her visits. "Every time she came she'd be worried about you, but would she be concerned about her dear husband? Of course not..."

Soun placed a hand on his friend's shoulder in an attempt to comfort him. "There now, Saotome, I'm certain she was just as concerned about you as she was Ranma..."

Just then, everyone heard the sound of a stomach growling loudly and turned toward a red-faced Ranma.

"I'd recognize that tummy growl anywhere!" Ukyo snickered. "You hungry, Ran-chan?"

"Uhh...kinda, yeah," Ranma admitted reluctantly.

"Oh, Father, perhaps we should have a celebration for their return?" Kasumi suggested.

"Yes! That's a fantastic idea!" Soun exclaimed. "You're all welcome to join us for dinner tonight!"

"Ooh, a party! I'll help with the cooking!" Ukyo said, hurrying toward the kitchen.

Not one to be shown up, Kodachi stood and rushed into the kitchen. "For my darling Ranma, I shall offer my skills as well!"

While Kasumi went to join in the cooking, the others prompted Ranma for some more details about his journey. Noticeably interested was Akane, who'd moved closer to him once everyone else left.

Seemingly undeterred by Shampoo's tale of the crashed wedding, Akane was looking very comfortable sitting next to Ranma. Too comfortable for the Amazon girl's liking, in fact, but Shampoo knew that this wasn't the time nor place to put up a fuss. It was Ranma's first time back to Japan in a long while, and he'd done a lot for her in China. She owed it to him to simply turn the other cheek this one time. That didn't mean she had to sit there and watch it though.

Ranma looked up when he noticed Shampoo stand and begin walking toward the door to the garden. "Hey, where ya goin'?"

"Shampoo need go check on restaurant fast. No take long," she assured him.

"Oh, I'll go with you!" Ringo said, hopping up suddenly. "Do you mind?"

Shampoo was a bit surprised that Ringo wanted to come along, but she didn't mind. "Is okay if you want come."

"Okay!" Ringo said happily, turning toward Ranma as she followed behind Shampoo. "We'll be back soon!"

"'Kay," Ranma replied.

Watching Shampoo and Ringo leave, Ranma had an uneasy feeling in his gut. After everything that had happened, he almost didn't want to let either of them out of his sights. The time of danger was over though, he thought to himself. There was nothing to be concerned about anymore, or nothing that involved either of them at least. Silently letting himself relax, the pigtailed boy shook his head and continued talking about his ordeal to Akane and the others.

Hearing the lock click after turning the key, Shampoo slid the door to the Cat Café open and stepped inside. With Ringo following close behind, Shampoo flipped on the lights to get a better look at the restaurant.

Everything was as Cologne and Mousse had left it, aside from the dust covering the tables, chairs, and everything else in the building.

"Aiyaa, is mess," Shampoo said, letting out a small sigh as she placed her hands on her hips.

Ringo curiously knelt down and scooped up a bit of the dust on her finger. "It's not so bad. Nothing lots of dusting and scrubbing won't fix."

"Is easier say than do," Shampoo muttered.

The Amazon's annoyed look drew a giggle from the redhead beside her. "Oh, I wanted to ask, are Elder Cologne and Mousse coming soon?"

Shampoo shrugged in response. "No know where Mousse is, but Great-Grandmother say she busy right now."

"So...who's going to help you run the restaurant?" Ringo asked her.

"Is only Shampoo now," Shampoo replied, looking deep in thought as she tried to figure out a plan. "Need hire waitress to help, but need to call delivery people and clean first. So much to do..."

Noticing that Ringo had started twiddling her fingers, the lavender-haired girl turned and gave her a curious look.

"Umm...I could waitress, if you don't mind..." the redhead offered.

Shampoo quirked an eyebrow in the girl's direction while trying to digest the request. "Ringo...want to be waitress?"

Ringo nodded in reply. "I mean, I know I have classes during the day, but I could help out after that! And on weekends too!"

"Why you want work here?" Shampoo asked.

"I just...I want to help out any way that I can," Ringo replied, a sad expression coming over her. "I can't tell you how happy I am to see you and Ranma again, but while you two were going through all that...I was just living here peacefully. I feel like...like I should have done more..."

The redhead raised her head when Shampoo assuringly placed a hand on her shoulder.

"Aroma do right thing to send Ringo here," Shampoo said to her. "Everything okay now, so Shampoo no want you feel bad. Ringo understand?"

"I know," Ringo admitted, trying not to bring herself down any further with the negative thoughts. "Still, I want to help you here. Will you let me?"

Ringo watched Shampoo fold her arms and turn away from her to contemplate for a moment. After tilting her head back and forth several times, the Amazon finally turned around and smiled at her.

"Shampoo hire Ringo then. Is okay?" Shampoo said, giving her a wink.

"O-of course! Thank you, Shampoo!" Ringo replied happily.

That was one problem solved, Shampoo thought to herself. Deciding to put off cleaning for the next morning, she locked up the restaurant again and headed back to the Tendo residence alongside her newly hired waitress.

When Shampoo and Ringo returned, they found Ranma in girl form standing atop the panda body of her father, who'd gotten a bit overzealous in wanting to see for himself that his son was cured of the Jusenkyo curse. The sight of girl-type Ranma left Ringo deeply confused, to say the least.

"Welcome back, you two," Soun greeted them.

"Hey, they really do look like twins," Akane joked, referring to Ringo and Ranma.

"R-R-Ranma! Why are you still cursed? I thought you wouldn't turn into a girl anymore!" Ringo asked frantically.

Ranma snorted as she rubbed her foot into the back of Genma's head. "Yeah, that's what we thought too. I ain't that lucky though, I guess."

"So separating Ringo from you didn't work then," Akane said, scratching her head in wonder. "Still, couldn't you guys have gone to Jusenkyo before you came home?"

There was an uncomfortable silence for a moment as Shampoo and Ranma looked back and forth at each other.

Akane wasn't wrong. Going to the Jusenkyo Springs was indeed something that they'd thought of, but what happened when they got there was something that left Ranma exhausted and Shampoo feeling a great deal of concern for the pigtailed boy.

When Ranma tried stepping foot on the grounds of the Jusenkyo Springs, he immediately collapsed in pain. It was a pain from deep within his body, like something was trying with all its might to keep him away from that place. In the end, he couldn't go in there. Ranma told Shampoo to go get herself cured before they left, but she refused, saying that if Ranma had to live with his curse then she would live with hers too. No matter how much Ranma tried to convince her to do it, she wouldn't budge. Thus, the two of them left the Jusenkyo Springs with both of their curses still intact.

"Man, we totally forgot about that! We'll have to go back there sometime!" Ranma said in dramatic fashion, acting as though the thought had slipped his mind.

"Aiyaa, that so silly! Why we no go there?" Shampoo added, laughing nervously. She knew better, but she could tell that Ranma didn't want everyone else to worry about him and decided to play along.

Before anyone could say anything else, Kasumi brought in some hot water for Ranma and changed him back to his male form before Ukyo and Kodachi brought in trays filled with food and set them down on the table.

"Food's ready, so let's party!" Ukyo proclaimed.

"Ohh, this looks excellent! Thank you, all of you!" Soun said excitedly.

And so, the celebration for the return of Ranma and Shampoo began. It was like old times at the Tendo home with the fiery interaction between the girls and the cocky demeanor of Ranma. With everything that had happened, there was one small detail that Ranma had forgotten though.

"So, Ranma, what are you going to do about school?" Soun asked him.

Ranma looked at him in confusion, not sure what he meant. "Whadya mean?"

"Well...aren't you a bit behind?" Soun asked him.

"Ohh, that's right," Ukyo said, realizing what he was getting at. "Ranma-honey's been gone for a while, and there's not even two months left in this school year."

"Wait, what're you sayin'?" Ranma asked her, not liking where this was going.

"You're going to fail, you dolt. You missed too much time," Akane replied, grinning with amusement as a thought occurred to her. "You'll have to call us Upperclassman Tendo and Upperclassman Kuonji next trimester while you're stuck repeating a year. Actually, even Ringo would be your senior..."

Ranma spit out a mouthful of tea all over the already disgruntled panda nearby.

"That would seem...awfully strange," Ringo said as she thought about it.

"What? No way! I ain't failin'!" Ranma declared adamantly.

"Ranma-honey, you'd have to make up all that work from when you were gone in six weeks. That's...a bit much, don't you think?" Ukyo asked him.

"I'll do it! There's no way I'm callin' you guys upperclassmen, got it?" Ranma replied with amazing determination.

Ukyo and Akane gave each other unsure looks while wondering if Ranma could actually manage this. Not surprising at all to them was the fact that Ranma seemed to want to do this for no reason other than not wanting to acknowledge the girls as his seniors.

"Ranma-darling, your passion is incredible, as always!" Kodachi laughed in admiration. "If you so wish to complete all that schoolwork, then please, allow moi to assist you?"

"And leave you alone with him? Forget it!" Ukyo snapped at the gymnast. "You don't go to the same school as us anyway!"

"Honestly, there's no telling what you'd do," Akane added, leering over at Kodachi before turning back toward Ranma. "If you're really that determined, I guess I'll help you study."

"Really?" Ranma asked.

"Hey, no fair! I'm gonna help too!" Ukyo demanded.

"Excuse me, but I do believe I offered first!" Kodachi said angrily.

With the three girls arguing amongst themselves, Ranma decided to stay out of it for now. He wasn't sure about Kodachi's offer, but getting some help from Akane and Ukyo probably couldn't hurt, he figured.

Ringo would have offered her help as well, but she knew she was already going to be busy helping Shampoo at the restaurant after school every day. Still, she felt assured that Akane and Ukyo would be plenty of help for Ranma, so she didn't feel quite so bad about it.

Looking around the room for a moment, Ranma noticed that Shampoo wasn't around. It wasn't long, however, before he finally saw her sitting on the walkway outside, facing the garden.

Shampoo was quietly sipping at her cup of tea and staring up at the moon when she heard someone sit down next to her.

"Whatcha doin' way out here?" Ranma asked her.

Seeing the pigtailed boy take a seat next to her, Shampoo smiled and set her cup down on the floor next to her. "They no see Ranma for long time, so Shampoo try stay out of way."

Ranma scratched his head, puzzled by the uncharacteristic, selfless actions of his Amazon friend. "That's...not like you."

Shampoo shot him a devious smile in response. "Is just this one day, so no get Ranma in trouble. After this, Shampoo no let girls get Ranma so easy."

"Now that does sound like you," Ranma chuckled, somehow happy to hear Shampoo acting like her old self. "Hey, thanks for not tellin' 'em about Jusenkyo."

"Is no problem. Shampoo understand," she replied. "What this about school Shampoo hear?"

"Oh, that," Ranma grumbled, not looking forward to the task at all. "I'm way behind 'cuz I was gone for so long, so I'm gonna try to get caught up before the school year ends next month."

Shampoo closed her eyes and let out a sigh as she looked up into the sky. "So Ranma be busy..."

It was then that Ranma remembered the conversation he'd had with Shampoo back in China before they fought Li and Meilin. This was exactly what Shampoo had expressed concern about, he realized.

"Yeah, I'll be busy," Ranma said to her, "but I promised to spend time with ya, right? I don't forget my promises."

The Amazon girl spun around and looked hopefully into Ranma's eyes. "Ranma mean it?"

"Yup," he replied without hesitation.

Ranma felt embarrassed when he heard Shampoo giggling to herself. "What's so funny?"

"Ranma no put up as much fight as used to," Shampoo laughed. She then rested her head on her knees and smiled as she looked over at him. "Ranma remember other promise?"

"Other promise?" he asked curiously.

Shampoo nodded. "If beat Li and Meilin, Ranma promise to go on date to celebrate."

Ranma put his hand on his chin as he thought back to their conversation at the time. "Ohhh yeah, I guess I did say somethin' like that, didn't I?"

Seeing the hopeful look in the Amazon's eyes, Ranma threw his hands up into the air in resignation. "Alright, alright. When you wanna go?"

"Shampoo...think wait for right time. No go just yet," she said with a clever smile.

"Wait?" Ranma asked, not expecting such patience from the lavender-haired girl. "Well, whatever. I won't forget."

Noticing the shadows of people entering the light around where they sat, Ranma and Shampoo looked back to see Ukyo and Kodachi standing over them.

"And what do you two think you're doing over here?" Ukyo asked, sounding annoyed.

Ranma felt a chill run down his spine when he saw a wicked smile cross Shampoo's face.

"Shampoo just asking Ranma if he want sleep together...again," she said in a sultry voice.

Completely taken aback by Shampoo's words, the girls looked absolutely shocked for a moment before that initial feeling gave way to pure rage.

"What?" Ukyo yelled.

"R-Ranma-darling, say this vile woman lies...!" Kodachi pleaded with him.

"H-hey, it ain't like that! Shampoo, tell 'em, will ya?" Ranma begged her.

Still sitting at the table with everyone else, Akane had been watching the interaction between Ranma and Shampoo from the moment he'd gone over and sat down by her. It was discomforting for her to see them acting so close, but she knew she shouldn't be surprised. The two of them had become friends even before they'd been taken away to China, and then they endured all those hardships together. It was only natural that they'd be like this now.

Ringo peered over at the scene on the walkway for a moment before turning back to Akane. "What's the matter?"

"Hmm? Oh, it's nothing," Akane laughed, turning her gaze to Ranma again. "I guess I still have to get used to the two of them being friends..."

The young redhead didn't respond as she stared silently at her cup of tea. She really liked both Akane and Shampoo, but she knew how they both felt about Ranma. Things could get difficult for her if they began fighting over Ranma again, but for now, at least, things were calm.

The sound of Ranma's discomfort clearly audible outside, Soun and panda-form Genma continued to down their saké in a very relaxed manner.

"It certainly is nice to have everything back to normal, isn't it, Saotome?"


The celebration lasted for hours longer, and as much as she wanted to, Akane couldn't get the image of Ranma and Shampoo conversing on the walkway out of her head. As far as anyone else knew, they were just friends. It was probably true, too. But seeing how relaxed they acted around each other, Akane couldn't help but wonder to herself. Was that really, truly all there was to it?

End of Chapter 18