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 20

Not slowing down for a second, Mousse whirled several dozen throwing stars and knives from his sleeves while advancing on Ranma. Loving the challenge, the agile pigtailed boy contorted his body to avoid most of the razor sharp projectiles while catching or batting away the ones that he couldn't dodge. Ranma had little time to adjust once the storm of metal had been dealt with though, as Mousse had gotten within reach of him again.

Everyone looked on as five long swords suddenly extended from Mousse's right sleeve. Raising his arm into the air, he swiftly swung the quintet of blades down at Ranma with amazing force.

Feeling the adrenaline coursing through his body, Ranma spun around and kicked Mousse's right wrist, jolting the swords loose from his grip. As the blades fell to the ground, Ranma then slugged Mousse in the face with his left fist, knocking him back for a moment. Ranma turned around to deliver another kick to his off-balance adversary, but Mousse quickly snatched up one of the swords from the ground in his right hand and swung it forward, grazing Ranma's red shirt before he could hop back out of the way. As Mousse spun around, he picked up another of the swords in his left hand and sped forward to continue his offensive.


While the two continued to exchange blows, Ukyo stood perplexed at the edge of the lot with the other bystanders. No matter how much she tried to analyze Mousse's motives, she simply couldn't figure out a reason for them.

"I really don't get this," the okonomiyaki chef complained. "Why would Mousse say this is the last time he'll fight Ranma-honey?"

"Because he needs that sense of urgency to beat the son-in-law," Cologne explained to her. "Under normal circumstances, Ranma is superior in terms of both skill and speed. But as the son-in-law said, this is Mousse's greatest chance because of Ranma's broken arm. If Mousse cannot defeat Ranma now then how will he defeat him when he once again has both arms at his disposal? Treating this as if it were his final chance bolsters Mousse's spirit that much more, giving him the highest odds of victory."

"It's not just that," Jynn added, drawing a glance from both Ukyo and Akane. "Because Ranma stopped Shampoo's marriage, Mousse is feeling insignificant. I'm sure he feels that if he can't defeat Ranma under these ideal conditions then he isn't deserving of Shampoo anyway."

The Amazon with the scar across his face looked on as his old friend struggled to catch Ranma with his sword strikes. The fact that Ranma still had so much energy after using Li's Shift technique was completely unnatural, he thought to himself. Maybe it was just due to his vast amount of stamina, but it could also have something to do with the reason Elder Cologne was so concerned at the moment. If Mousse let this battle go on for too long, there was no telling what might happen.

In one swift move, one of Mousse's swords flew into the air, having been dislodged from his grip by a nimble kick from the pigtailed martial artist. Mousse swung his other sword down diagonally, but Ranma was just too quick, kicking Mousse in the face with his right foot before the sword could even reach him. Trying to shake off the impact, Mousse had barely raised his sword above his waist before Ranma kicked him in the face again, this time with his left foot. With his opponent now feeling dazed, Ranma knocked Mousse's other sword to the ground and began kicking him relentlessly all over his body.

Shampoo couldn't help feeling a hint of pity deep in her heart as she watched Mousse cringe after a painful kick to his ribs. Even with one arm, Ranma's speed was beginning to overwhelm the persistent Amazon.

A chain of three more kicks to Mousse's ribs knocked the wind out of him. Several more to his legs dropped him to his knees. A following foot to his chin then nearly knocked him out cold.

With Ranma's right foot flying toward his temple to strike again, Mousse desperately grabbed a small marble out from inside the sleeve of his robe, closed his eyes, and held it out in front of his face. Not thinking for a moment about stopping, Ranma slammed his foot into the tiny sphere, causing it to explode into a blinding flash of light.

"Aagh! You little-!" Ranma growled, struggling to open his eyes after the brilliant flash.

"What...what was that...?" Ringo asked, she, much like everyone else, rubbing her sore eyes.

"A flash bomb," Jynn replied. "It temporarily blinded Ranma, but Mousse needs to hurry up and do something or it's going to be meaningless."

Struggling to get to his feet after the rough assault he'd taken, Mousse slid a long spear out of his sleeve and used it to prop himself up. He knew he needed to move, and he needed to move right now. He wasn't going to get many more chances like this.

Finally able to move forward, Mousse let adrenaline take over and sped toward his still blinded opponent. Then, reaching back with all his might, he lunged his spear directly toward Ranma's chest.

At the edge of the lot, Shampoo and Akane both shouted out at the same time to warn Ranma.

"Ranma, move!"

"Look out, Ranma!"

Much to Mousse's dismay, the pigtailed boy moved to the side and caught the spear under his good arm. With his eyes cracked open just slightly, Ranma hopped into the air and sent Mousse flying with a forceful dropkick to the chest. The master of hidden weaponry slammed to the ground with a thud on the opposite side of the lot, his face being buried in the snow upon impact.

"Well, that should just about do it, Tendo," Genma said to his friend, firmly believing that the outcome had already been decided.

Soun nodded in agreement. "Mousse is talented, but he simply can't keep up with Ranma."

"Sh...shut up!"

To the surprise of many, Mousse slammed his palms against the ground and slowly began to push himself back up.

"I'm so tired...of hearing people...praise this guy...!" Mousse shouted angrily.

Still rubbing his eyes, Ranma spat on the ground before turning back toward his fallen adversary. "Ain't you had enough yet?"

"NEVER!" Mousse yelled, his voice booming through the air. "You'll have to beat me until I can't move anymore!"

Seemingly gaining his second wind, Mousse shot up to his feet and tore off his robe. Numerous small weapons fell to the ground, including chains, small knives, and some objects that none of the bystanders could discern. As Mousse turned around, the blades he'd used at the beginning of the fight still attached to his wrists and resting on his forearms in their retracted state, Ranma and the others blinked curiously at one particularly large object on the ground behind him.

Narrowing her eyes, Ukyo felt incredibly confused at what she was seeing. "Is that..."

"...a disco ball?" Akane finished, staring in bewilderment at the glimmering sphere of metal sitting in the snow. It was as tall as Mousse's pectorals and had a black chain sticking out from the top of it, the other end of which was tightly gripped in his hand.

"You gotta be kiddin' me," Ranma said in disgust. "That's your last card? A disco ball? I never shoulda taken ya seriously to begin with. And where the heck were ya hidin' that thing, anyway?!"

With a confident grin crossing his face, Mousse muscled the large disco ball into the air and slowly began twirling it around his body. "Looks can be deceiving, Ranma..."

Despite how ridiculous Mousse's weapon appeared, Ranma was serious about putting an end to this fight. The chain, he noticed, was reasonably short, keeping the radius of the swinging disco ball to Mousse at only a meter or so. All he would have to do was get in close, deal with the ball, and the rest would be easy.

The pigtailed martial artist wasted no time speeding toward Mousse to put him out of his misery. If he timed it right, he wouldn't even need to deal with the disco ball, he thought to himself. One kick to Mousse's face was all it would take to gain the advantage.

Once Ranma got within range, however, Mousse leaped into the air and swung the large metal sphere down at him. "Eat this!"

"Like that thing would hurt me!" Ranma snarled, reaching back with his good arm and slamming his fist into the ball.

To everyone's surprise, the disco ball exploded upon impact, kicking up a cloud of snow and sending a dozen throwing stars flying out from within.

Ranma cried out in pain as two of the stars embedded themselves into his right shoulder and left thigh respectively. Despite the pain from the stars and the reduced visibility due to the snow cloud, the stunned Saotome still managed to see Mousse coming down from above.

The determined Amazon swung the blades from his forearms outward and readied to cut his ailing rival down. This was it, he thought. He'd finally gotten him.

"Die, Ranma!"

Ranma stood motionless in the snowy lot, waiting for just the right moment to attempt a counter. But before that moment came, he suddenly noticed something out of the corner of his eye that caught his attention.

Everyone watching the battle on the edge of the lot began to move when one of the throwing stars from Mousse's disco ball came flying toward them. Luckily, the one in the direct path of the star was none other than Shampoo. Unlike Ranma, she was fully healed from her battle in China, and catching a mere throwing star was as easy as breathing to her.

Shampoo instinctively reached her hand out to catch the star, not even concerned about it as she kept her eyes on the battle. But then, out of nowhere, a red blur shot in front of her and snagged the star from the air. Unable to stop from the momentum, it slammed into Genma and knocked him clear across the road and through a retaining wall.

Incredibly surprised and startled by what had just happened, everyone spun around only to see Ranma with his hands on his knees, hunched over and breathing heavily as he stood in the spot where his father had just been standing.

"Ran...ma..." Shampoo mouthed, almost speechless at what had just happened.

"R-Ranma-honey?" Ukyo asked, wondering what exactly she'd just witnessed.

His shock wearing off, it finally struck Soun that his friend had just been sent flying by his own son. Concerned for his well-being, Soun immediately ran over to check on Genma. "Saotome! Are you okay?!"

The others watched as Ranma's breathing normalized again, and, very slowly, he stood up straight. The instant he'd seen the throwing star heading for Shampoo, the images of her being struck with Li's energy crescent last year flooded back into his mind. All the pain and torment he felt because of that...he remembered it. In that instant, he completely forgot about Mousse and moved to stop the throwing star from reaching his lavender-haired friend.

"You..." Ranma hissed venomously, directing his anger toward Mousse.

Nearby, Cologne's concern was growing very quickly. Ranma had moved almost instantaneously to catch that star, but it wasn't the Shift he used. Warping from one point to another wouldn't allow for such extreme momentum that it would knock a grown man clear across a road. Ranma's movement was pure speed, and it was something that no human should possess. There was clearly something unnatural going on with his body, she thought.

Mousse, who was still standing in the middle of the lot, was under the impression that Ranma had actually used the Shift to avoid his attack. "Running away, Ranma?!"

As Ranma turned around and dropped the throwing star on the ground, everyone gasped in shock of what they saw. His fingernails had grown out to become claws. His eyes had a yellow glow and a feral look to them. And as Ranma's anger began to grow, a violet aura that was familiar to both Cologne and Shampoo began swirling around his body and the two throwing stars in his shoulder and thigh slid out and fell to the ground.

The quivering Ringo was too frightened at the sight of Ranma to say anything. She'd never seen him like this before. It was as if the person she was looking at wasn't even Ranma. That look in his eyes that was always so kind had been replaced by one of a bloodthirsty beast.

"You..." Ranma snarled, "watch what you're doing!"

Mousse had no time to react as his rival soared toward him at blinding speed and grabbed hold of him by the neck with his left hand. Unable to contain his rage, Ranma slammed Mousse into the wall surrounding the vacant lot and continued to squeeze his neck as a black fur began to grow on his hand and quickly spread to his forearm.

"You coulda killed her, you idiot! What were you thinking?! Huh?!" Ranma screamed at the Amazon warrior.

The lack of oxygen beginning to affect him, Mousse was afraid he was about to lose consciousness. Try as he might to pry Ranma's hand from his neck, the pigtailed boy's grip was far too strong. He tried frantically to raise his arm and attack him with his wrist blades, but he simply didn't have the strength anymore.

"Now, Jynn!"

The raging Ranma suddenly found himself confined as a number of chains wrapped around him from behind. As he turned around and looked back, he saw that it was Jynn holding tightly onto the metal bindings.

"Stay outta this!" Ranma hissed at him. "You wanna fight too?! Huh?!"

Dropping swiftly down from the sky, Cologne positioned her necklace of jade stones over Ranma's head and successfully placed them around his neck as she landed next to Mousse's battered body.

Akane, Ukyo, Ringo, and Shampoo began to feel disturbed as they watched Ranma start to writhe in agony. The stones beginning to have some effect on him, Ranma let out a bloodcurdling howl that echoed throughout the Winter air.

"Ranma!" Akane screamed as she began to run toward him.

"No! Stay back!" Cologne demanded, stopping Akane in her tracks.

Keeping a close eye on her son-in-law, Cologne felt relieved when the fur on Ranma's forearm began to fall to the ground. Finally beginning to calm down as the violet aura swirling around him dissipated, Ranma raised his head and looked over at Cologne in confusion. As the Amazon elder soon noticed, Ranma's eyes had also returned to normal.

"Old...hag...?" Ranma asked, still trying to catch his breath. "What...what did I...?"

"Calm down, son-in-law. It's all over," Cologne assured him.

"Ranma!" all four girls watching shouted in unison. They wasted no time running over to make sure he was okay.

Cologne let out a deep sigh of relief as she turned toward Jynn. "Thank you for your help."

"Your plan worked perfectly," Jynn said, sounding impressed with the old woman. "I was really surprised, to tell you the truth. I didn't think Ranma would be that dangerous."

"It was something that needed to be taken care of," Cologne replied. As she walked over to check on Mousse, she was relieved to see that he was still alive, albeit not responsive.

"Mousse is okay, Great-Grandmother?" Shampoo asked, a concerned look on her face.

The Amazon elder nodded in response. "He'll be fine. He's just unconscious is all."

"Okay, I've had enough of this!" Ukyo suddenly yelled, eying Cologne sharply. "Will someone please tell me what just happened to Ran-chan?!"

"That's right!" Akane chimed in. "It's like you're keeping us in the dark about something!"

"You mean he never told you about Yanlou?" Cologne asked them curiously.

After looking back and forth at each other in confusion, Akane and Ukyo both turned their gaze to the pigtailed boy sitting on the ground.

"Ranma no want to worry everyone, so..." Shampoo began to say.

"It's alright," Ranma interrupted, looking over at Cologne. "Go ahead and tell 'em. No point hidin' it now."

"As you wish," Cologne replied, clearing her throat before continuing. "What did he tell you girls?"

Akane took a moment to recall the story that Ranma had told them the day he and Shampoo returned. "Well, he said a scythe possessed him, but that Ryoga broke it..."

"And he was fine after that, right?" Ukyo asked, sounding unsure of herself.

"That scythe was called Yanlou, and it was filled with the vengeful spirits of people killed by a ruthless sorceress thousands of years ago," the old woman explained to them. "When Ryoga destroyed Yanlou, those spirits were freed and possessed Ranma's body, and in the process they apparently merged with the personality of the cat that was residing in his mind."

Ringo cupped her hands over her mouth, absolutely shocked that she didn't know about this. "Ranma, why didn't you tell us?!"

Ranma didn't answer his former female half, keeping quiet as Cologne went on her explanation.

"When he came to stop Shampoo's wedding, he called upon those spirits to fight for him and they manifested themselves as a very large feline," Cologne continued. "After Shampoo's groom had been defeated, however, Ranma could not control the beast. I managed to stop it with a seal that day, but it was merely a temporary solution. After I got back to the village, I began researching a better method to keep the spirits at bay and ended up creating this necklace for that purpose."

The girls all looked over the necklace, which had white symbols painted on each of a number of jade stones.

"So...everything is okay now?" Akane asked, an extremely concerned expression on her face.

"For now, yes," Cologne replied. "I am still worried about this though. Today they emerged without being called upon and used Ranma as a vessel rather than manifesting themselves as a separate entity. All of that power condensed into Ranma's body resulted in dangerous, explosive speed and strength that was completely out of control. Should that have continued, Ranma's body would only be able to withstand it for so long."

Trying to digest Cologne's analysis, Ranma ran his hand through his hair and looked dead serious as he stared into her wise eyes. "You mean I'd die..."

The Amazon elder nodded in reply, a reaction that didn't exactly help the concerns of the other girls.

"So...what do I gotta do to keep 'em from comin' out again?" the pigtailed boy asked her.

"You must keep that necklace on at all times," Cologne told him. "That should keep them sealed for the immediate future. It could be a problem if they continue to evolve though, which is why I will be looking into a permanent solution once I return to China."

A sudden groan made everyone turn their attention to Mousse, who had finally regained consciousness. "What...happened?"

"You lost," Jynn told him, not softening his words at all for his friend.

"I...lost?" Mousse asked, not believing it at first. Once he remembered being mercilessly choked by Ranma, however, he realized it was the truth. Leaning his head back and looking up at the sky, he could only laugh at himself as he tried to keep from sobbing. "I...lost..."

Cologne had her problems with Mousse, but even she admired his tenacity during the battle. "It was an impressive performance, Mousse. You have nothing to be ashamed of."

Shutting his eyes to keep his tears back, Mousse raised his hand up slightly and motioned for Ranma to come close to him. Figuring he'd go along with it this once, Ranma walked over and knelt down next to the Amazon warrior.

"Ranma," Mousse whispered in his ear, "I'll keep my promise, so be good to Shampoo. If you don't, I'll make you pay."

"There ya go with that stuff again," Ranma said in annoyance as he stood up and walked off. "I'll do whatever I want, got it?"

Mousse couldn't help but sigh at the reaction. If he had to lose, he wished it would've been to someone that openly expressed love for Shampoo, he thought. Things weren't always so perfect though.

Suddenly feeling a pair of hands on his cheeks, Mousse's eyes widened with surprise when Shampoo leaned in close to him and kissed him on the forehead. His cheeks quickly turning red, he had no idea how to react to the act of kindness. "Sh-Shampoo..."

"Mousse, thank you for feelings," Shampoo said with a kind smile. "We still be friends, yes?"

A tear finally escaping one of his eyes and flowing down his cheek, Mousse tried to contain himself as he lay back against the wall. "Always..."

While Jynn tended to the beaten Mousse, Shampoo pulled Cologne aside to speak with her in private. "Great-Grandmother go back to China now?"

"It seems everything is going smoothly here, so I don't want to get in the way," Cologne replied, looking very satisfied with how things had turned out. "Is the restaurant doing well?"

"Is no problem," the lavender-haired Amazon replied happily with a nod.

"I figured it wouldn't be," Cologne laughed. "And don't worry, we'll be taking Mousse back with us. I believe he'll need some time to himself after all of this."

Just then remembering something he'd almost forgotten, Jynn quickly stood himself up and walked over to Ranma.

"I thought you'd like to know, I got a message from Meilin the other day," Li's former associate said to him.

Ranma blinked several times before it finally hit him that he'd forgotten something too. "Oh yeah, Ryoga! I totally forgot about those two. Shouldn't they be in Japan by now?"

"Normally, yes, but there was a bit of an incident," Jynn replied. "Ryoga and Meilin were arrested by Chinese government officials."

Ranma, Ringo, Akane, and Ukyo all looked shocked as they overheard the news.

"W-what?! Why Ryoga?" Ranma asked with surprise.

"Because they considered him an accomplice," Jynn told him, brushing his long, black hair out of his face. "That wasn't all I wanted to tell you though. Meilin sent me a message saying that they'd been arrested, but that they'd cut a deal of some sort with the government. It seems they'll be doing a little work for them."

"Work?" Ranma asked curiously. "What kinda work?"

"She didn't say," Jynn replied with a shrug. "In any case, they don't seem to be in any danger. I just wouldn't expect to see them around here for a while."

Ranma scratched his head as he took in the news. "Well, if they're okay then that's fine I guess. It'll get kinda boring without Ryoga droppin' by with challenges though."

"Hey, Ran-chan," Ukyo began to say as she stared at her childhood friend, "I think you mentioned her before, but I forget, who's this Meilin person again?"

"Huh? Oh, that's Ryoga's girlfriend," Ranma said with a smirk.

"G-girlfriend?!" Akane, Ukyo, and Ringo all said in unison.

The pigtailed boy seemed confused at the surprised reaction. "Yeah, didn't I tell you guys?"

"No, you did not!" the okonomiyaki chef snapped back at him. "That guy seriously got a girlfriend?!"

"Umm...isn't that the same girl that hurt Shampoo?" Ringo asked curiously.

"Yup," Ranma replied. "Don't ask how it happened, 'cause I dunno either. They were all over each other though."

"No way!" Ukyo shouted, grinning wildly at the news. "What's she like?! What's she like?!"

Akane was also interested in the gossip that Ukyo was trying to pump out of Ranma, but she was more focused at the moment on what had just transpired. The frightening state that Ranma went into had been explained to her, but seeing how fiercely he'd acted to protect Shampoo made her feel strange, and it wasn't a good feeling. She couldn't imagine Ranma willingly being anything more than friends with Shampoo, but just in case, Akane started to think, maybe it wouldn't hurt to figure out how Ranma felt about the arranged marriage that her dad and Mr. Saotome had set up between them. It was something they were going to have to deal with at some point, Akane figured. Maybe the best time would be once Ranma's hectic study schedule was over.

With her job complete for the time being, Cologne immediately went back to China with Jynn and Mousse.

Ranma and the others, meanwhile, returned to life as usual. Although he had a new necklace that he didn't have much choice about wearing, Ranma's life remained the same in that he was still constantly studying and being tutored to try and pass his courses while paying the occasional visit to Shampoo and Ringo at the restaurant or sparring with his father whenever he needed a mental break.

The next month passed in what felt to everyone like the blink of an eye, and finally, in late March, the last day of the school year came.

In the quiet hallway outside of Furinkan High's faculty lounge, Akane and Ukyo were both waiting anxiously for Ranma to emerge with the results of his English exam earlier in the day. Having already learned that he'd passed his other courses for the year, Ranma was hoping that he'd done well enough on his final exam to get a passing grade in English as well. While it wasn't one of his stronger subjects, all of the help he'd gotten from both Akane and Ukyo left him feeling confident entering the day. Now all that was left was waiting for the teacher to grade his exam.

Hearing a tapping sound as she leaned against the wall, Akane peered over to see Ukyo nervously pacing around next to her.

"Does Nakamura usually take this long to grade things?" Ukyo asked impatiently.

"I wouldn't know. I've never been so worried about passing before that I had to wait outside the teachers' office for my results," Akane boasted.

"Well aren't you special?" Ukyo replied sarcastically, sneering over at her classmate.

Akane shrugged her shoulders indifferently. "If keeping up with your studies makes you special, then I suppose so."

Ever since Ranma's return, the competitive aspect of the relationship between Akane and Ukyo had slowly returned to normal. Although their arguments had never led to any physical fighting, both of them had been taking verbal jabs at each other on an increasing basis. Neither of them really minded, though. With both of them wanting to win Ranma over, it was almost necessary to have a bit of hostility toward each other.

When they heard the sound of a door sliding open, the two girls turned to see Ranma walking out of the lounge with his head hung low.

"Well?" Ukyo asked as her pigtailed fiancée slid the door shut behind him.

Crouching down to the ground, Ranma sprung himself upward and tossed his non-broken arm into the air in pure elation. "I did it! I did it! I did it! I am SO good!"

"That's great!" Akane said excitedly.

"Yay, Ranma-honey!" Ukyo cheered.

The girls couldn't help smiling after seeing the ecstatic look on Ranma's face. Even for Akane, this was one time when she couldn't knock him. He'd really studied his butt off ever since he got back from China, she thought.

"We're happy for you and all, but aren't you forgetting a little something?" Akane asked, eying him closely.

It took a moment for Ranma to realize what she meant, but it wasn't too difficult to figure out. Defiant as ever, the pigtailed boy folded his arms and looked away from the girls. "Th-...thanks for helpin' me study. I owe ya, alright? That what ya wanted?"

"That'll do," Akane smiled.

"Still, you know, I sort of wanted to hear Ran-chan call us his upperclassmen," Ukyo giggled.

"Yeah, well it ain't ever gonna happen, so get over it!" Ranma quickly retorted, singing to himself as he began skipping giddily down the stairs. "I ain't gonna get held back! I ain't gonna get held back!"

Ukyo and Akane quickly followed Ranma down the staircase, the latter starting to feel embarrassed about his eccentric celebrating.

"Honestly, couldn't you wait until we get outside to go crazy?" Akane chided him.

"Why? There ain't no one to bother here, they all went home. Last day of school, right?" Ranma asked.

"I realize that, but still..." the youngest Tendo daughter grumbled.

The three of them descended the stairs until they reached the bottom floor and then proceeded to make their way out the school's doors and to sweet freedom. Much to everyone's delight, the air had warmed considerably over the past month and it was already feeling a lot like Spring in the Nerima Ward.

Once the group got outside they were more than willing to leave the school behind for a good while, but they came to a sudden stop as they saw none other than Nabiki Tendo and Tatewaki Kuno looking around at the building.

"Nabiki?" Akane asked. After her sister and Kuno had graduated from the school two days ago, she never thought she'd see them here again.

"Hey there, Akane," Nabiki greeted her. "How did our dear freeloader's exam go?"

Ranma immediately held up his hand and gave her a thumbs up sign. "Passed!"

"Ooh, bravo," Nabiki said, clapping her hands a few times to congratulate him.

"What are you two doing here?" Ukyo asked them.

"Just reminiscing a bit before we move on with our lives," Nabiki said as she flicked her hair back.

Kuno nodded in agreement. "I cannot help but think of all the blood and sweat that was shed in the kendo hall, nor the number of tears shed by young women who never had the chance to be loved by Tatewaki Kuno."

Akane grimaced at the elder Kuno sibling's remarks. "Yeah, I feel so sorry for them..."

Ranma's eyes widened as Kuno swung his wooden sword at him out of nowhere. Reaching up quickly, he caught the sword in his hand and tried to keep the kendo warrior at bay.

"Ranma Saotome!" Kuno shouted at his nemesis.

"What?!" Ranma snarled back at him.

"It is regretful, but I fear our battles must come to an end," Kuno said, despite continuing to muscle his wooden sword toward Ranma. "You see, my current venture with Nabiki Tendo will be keeping me away quite often, and I simply do not have time to bother with you any longer."

Ukyo and Akane glanced at each other in confusion before turning to look at Nabiki.

"Venture?" both girls asked.

"That's right," Nabiki said with a grin. "Kuno-baby and I are going into business together. Not that I really needed him, but since he so generously provided the startup money, I agreed to let him on as an equal partner. Plus, despite how dumb he may seem, he's actually not bad when it comes to business sense."

Irate at the insult, Kuno tore his attention away from Ranma for a moment and glared at his new business partner. "How dare you insinuate that I am dumb?! I shall have you know that my marks were near the top of our graduating class!"

Ranma blinked several times before turning to Nabiki for clarification. "Is he serious?"

"Surprisingly, yes," Nabiki replied, more than understanding about Ranma's disbelief. "In any case, we'll be leaving for Osaka next week to start spreading our names around. I'm sure you won't mind me taking this guy off your hands."

His focus now back on his original target, Tatewaki Kuno again brought his sword down at Ranma, forcing the pigtailed boy to catch it with his good hand once more. "Listen to my words closely, Ranma Saotome! Though I may be away, I shall not permit you to lay your hands on Akane Tendo! Should I hear any word of you sullying her, you shall feel the fullest extent of my wrath! Is that understood?!"

"Yeah, you go ahead and try it, moron!" Ranma said defiantly.

"Would you get over it already?! I don't like you!" Akane snapped at her upperclassman.

Seemingly ignoring Akane's dislike for him, Kuno calmly retracted his sword and placed it over his shoulder as he looked down at Ranma. "Well then, this is farewell, Ranma. I may have bested you, but I always considered you a worthy foe."

"W-what?!" Ranma shouted, staggered by the sheer stupidity of Kuno's statement. "You bested me?! Are you outta your-?!"

"Farewell, Furinkan! You shall never be forgotten! And rest assured, Akane Tendo, I shall be returning in due time so that we may date with each other," Tatewaki interrupted, turning and walking away before Ranma could question him. "Let us be going, Nabiki Tendo."

"Coming, Kuno-baby!" Nabiki called out to him before turning to the others. "We'll be going then. Enjoy your break, you guys."

Next to them, Ranma was still fuming over Kuno's words. "He thinks he got the best of me! Do you believe that?! How in the heck could he-?!"

"Oh just let it go already," Akane interjected, cutting him off. "He's leaving. Isn't that all that matters?"

Ukyo felt genuinely disappointed as she watched Tatewaki Kuno walk off. "That's kinda sad. I'm going to miss watching him hit on Akane every day."

"Thanks a lot," Akane growled at her.

Nabiki was about to follow Kuno away when she realized she'd forgotten something important. "Oh, I almost forgot to tell you! Something interesting happened this afternoon."

"Somethin' interesting?" Ranma asked, he and the girls all curious about what it could be.

Clearing her throat, Nabiki winked as she placed a finger against her lips. "Believe it or not, Dr. Tofu finally popped the question to Kasumi."

"What?!" Akane shouted in both disbelief and excitement. "Did she give him an answer?!"

Nabiki nodded happily. "She said yes. They're planning on getting married this summer."

"Oh wow! I can't believe it!" Akane said in astonishment.

"Kasumi's getting married? Wow..." Ukyo said, sounding surprised.

"Heh, I knew Doc had it in him. Good for him," Ranma smiled. "I'll have to congratulate the guy next time I see him."

"Sure took him long enough, didn't it?" Nabiki giggled. "Okay, now I'm really going. See ya."

As Nabiki jogged off, Akane's eyes were still sparkling with joy. She'd always imagined Kasumi wearing a wedding dress, and now she was going to get to see it at last. It was like a dream come true for her.

"Come on, let's get going! I have so much to talk to Kasumi about!" Akane said impatiently.

"Okay, okay. Chill," the pigtailed boy replied, not feeling nearly the need for haste that Akane felt.

It was then that Ukyo suddenly realized just how much time she'd spent waiting for Ranma and talking with Nabiki. "Shoot, I need to hurry up and get the restaurant ready! I'll see you guys later, okay?"

"Huh? Oh, sure thing, Ucchan," Ranma replied.

While Ukyo hurried away, she turned and smiled happily at her pigtailed friend. "Hey, stop by sometime and I'll treat you to an okonomiyaki on the house! My treat to celebrate passing everything!"

Energized by the very thought of food, and free food at that, Ranma beamed as he nodded at her affirmingly. "Deal!"

Once Ukyo had left, Akane began tugging at Ranma's arm like an energetic child. "Come on, come on!"

"Alright, we're goin' already. Sheesh," her fiancée grumbled.

With the news of Kasumi's forthcoming marriage, Ranma and Akane found themselves running back toward the Tendo household to congratulate her. Along the way, however, Akane began to notice that Ranma looked unusually disappointed.

"What's wrong?" she asked him.

"Huh? Oh, I was just thinkin' about somethin'," Ranma replied, still looking as if he were deep in thought.

"Like what?" Akane asked curiously.

The pigtailed boy began scratching the back of his head as he ran. "Well, the old freak's gone, Ryoga's not comin' back for a while, Mousse ain't comin' back, and now Kuno goes and says he's done fightin' with me. So who the heck am I supposed to fight?"

Akane placed a finger against her cheek as she considered the current situation. "You know, you're right. Everyone really is gone now."

"I know, right?" Ranma replied, not sounding too pleased.

"You'll just have to fight me I guess," Akane joked with him.

"Yeah, that ain't happenin'," Ranma replied, dismissing the suggestion immediately. "I need a challenge."


"What? I'm just sayin'..."

Despite the insult about her fighting ability, Akane was still in too good of a mood to let it get the best of her. "You shouldn't look down on me, you know. I'm going to beat you one of these days."

"Pff, yeah, and pigs are gonna grow wings and start to fly too," Ranma scoffed, prompting Akane to stick her tongue out at him.

Once they'd gotten closer to home, the thought of Kasumi's marriage reminded Akane of her own arranged marriage. It was something she'd been planning on talking to Ranma about, but there was never time with all of the studying lately. Now that the school year had finished, however, it seemed like the perfect time to bring it up.

"Hey, let's go out tomorrow night to celebrate everything! Just the two of us," Akane proposed.

Perplexed by the offer, Ranma quirked an eyebrow in her direction. "What, you mean like a date?"

"Whatever," Akane smiled. "Well?"

Ranma scratched his chin as he thought about it. "I guess, so long as I don't gotta go shoppin' with ya."

"Oh, I'm not that bad!" Akane snapped back at him. "Maybe just a little window shopping, that's all."

"Alright, alright, I'll go," Ranma finally agreed, more to get Akane to quit bothering him about it than anything else.

This was about as much enthusiasm as Akane would get out of her pigtailed fiancée, she thought. The fact that he'd accepted without much resistance was good though. Now all she had to do was wait for a good moment tomorrow night and bring up the marriage talk with him.

Meanwhile, over at the Cat Café, things were slow as Shampoo and Ringo served the generally small and sporadic late lunch crowd. Ringo was dying to know whether or not all of Ranma's studying had paid off, but her obligations to the restaurant kept her from waiting at school with Akane and Ukyo. That was fine with her, though. She would know how things turned out as soon as she got home anyway, she figured.

Among the sparse customers currently dining at the restaurant, one in particular had caught Ringo's attention from the moment he'd walked in. The man, who had short, spiky black hair and wore a pair of sunglasses over his eyes, had walked sluggishly to a table when he first entered and seemed extremely distant while ordering his food. As Ringo watched him slowly feeding noodles into his mouth, she got the feeling that he was deeply bothered by something. It was almost uncomfortable to watch, but prying into the business of customers was something that Shampoo had always told her to avoid.

After Ringo had presented him with his check and began cleaning other tables that had recently cleared, the man called out to her all of a sudden.


"Y-yes, coming!" Ringo replied, curious about what the man wanted as she walked over to his table. "Did you need something?"

The customer reached into his pocket and held a small wad of paper bills up to her. "This is for the food, and a bit extra as a tip for you."

"O-oh, thank you very much!" the redheaded waitress smiled, graciously taking the money from him. Most customers simply left their payment on the table and left, but others had been known to present it personally on rare occasions.

"And one more thing..." the man said quietly.

Ringo blinked curiously as she looked down at him. "Yes?"

"Could I speak to the cook for a moment?" he asked.

The man probably wanted to ask Shampoo something about the food, Ringo figured. It was something that other customers had done in the past as well. "Sure, let me go get her..."

After a brief interaction with her waitress, the lavender-haired Amazon walked out from the kitchen and made her way over to the customer's table.

"Nihao! You want talk to Shampoo?" she asked politely.

"Ah, y-yes..." the man stuttered, nodding in reply. "I just wanted to say that I really enjoyed the food. That and the peaceful atmosphere here...it really brightened up my day. Thank you."

"You very welcome!" Shampoo happily replied. It was a bit unusual for customers to call her out of the kitchen to compliment her cooking, but it wasn't the first time it had happened. Every time it did though, it made her feel more proud of the success her restaurant was having despite her great-grandmother's absence.

"If you don't mind me asking," the customer continued, "do you have someone you like?"

Shampoo was beginning to feel a bit uncomfortable now, thinking initially that the man was hitting on her. "Shampoo have man that like very much. Very sorry, no mean to hurt feelings..."

"Oh, no! It's not like that," the man laughed, rubbing his hand against the back of his head as he felt somewhat embarrassed about the misunderstanding. "Actually, my girlfriend and I just broke up yesterday. I'm not looking for someone else yet, I was just curious."

"Ahh...Shampoo sorry to hear that," she said to him. She almost felt bad about her initial assumption now.

"Do you love him?" the customer suddenly asked.

The Amazon girl began to blush and twiddle her fingers as she thought about Ranma. "Shampoo love Ranma with all heart and soul. He very strong, dependable man, but also have good heart. There no is other man in world that Shampoo want as husband."

The depressed man wasn't expecting such a thorough answer, but he was more than satisfied with the one Shampoo gave him. Reaching into his pocket again, he pulled out two tickets and held them up to her. "Ranma, was it? Go ahead and treat him to a good time."

"What this?" Shampoo asked, taking the tickets from the man's hand and reading them carefully. "Extreme Gymnastics Federation present...Cherry Blossom Bash?"

"Oh, it's a pun since the cherry blossoms are starting to bloom and the challenger for their championship is named Sakura," the customer laughed. "It's a martial arts rhythmic gymnastics promotion. Their events are always exciting. I was going to take my girlfriend, but...well, you know. If you're free tomorrow night, take your man to see it. You won't regret it."

After taking a moment to further examine the details on the tickets, Shampoo raised her head to question if the man was really giving them to her, but to her surprise he'd already stood up and headed out the door.

"Thank you again for the food," he said one last time before disappearing.

Once the strange customer had left, Ringo hurried over to Shampoo to inquire about the conversation. "What did he want?"

Still a bit confused, Shampoo held up the tickets in front of her. "He say thank you for food and give Shampoo this. Say to take Ranma to see."

"Really?" the redhead asked, eying the tickets closely. "Extreme Gymnastics Federation?"

"You hear of that one?" Shampoo asked her waitress.

"No, never," Ringo replied.

"He say it very fun," the lavender-haired girl added, pondering what she should do with the tickets. "Today Ranma's last day of school, yes?"

Ringo nodded affirmingly.

With her mind made up and an excited look on her face, Shampoo turned and ran toward the door with haste. "Shampoo be right back!"

"H-huh? Okay..." the shy waitress replied as her friend sped out the door.

Once she shut the door behind her and turned the corner, Shampoo let out a gasp as she nearly ran straight into someone. Then, as she skidded to a halt, she realized that the person she almost ran into was someone she was familiar with.

"Aiyaa! Alysse scare Shampoo..." the startled Amazon said, placing her hand over her chest to calm herself down.

The taller woman with long, blonde hair, wearing her usual navy blue jogging suit and carrying the same black gym bag as always, raised her free hand in front of her mouth and giggled at Shampoo's surprised expression. She'd first come to the Cat Café as a customer about a month ago, and despite an awkward greeting from Ringo that day she'd continued to come back every day since. The woman, whose name they'd learned was Alysse, got along well with both Shampoo and Ringo and seemed to genuinely enjoy their company every time she visited the restaurant. The two girls didn't know much about her, but they were happy to have her as a customer.

"You look like you're in a hurry," Alysse laughed.

"Shampoo just run quick errand!" Shampoo replied, turning back to the blonde woman as she rushed away. "Alysse sit wherever want and Ringo get you drink! Shampoo no take long!"

Watching the Chinese girl run off, Alysse chuckled to herself as she opened the door to the restaurant, curious about what had Shampoo so fired up.

"Seems like she's having fun..."

Over at the Tendo household, a dramatic scene of chaos was unfolding. This was nothing new to the home in general, but the ones at the center of the chaos were hardly the usual suspects.

"Wh-why is this all happening all of a sudden, Saotome?" Soun Tendo wept, clinging to his old friend's leg from his knees.

Genma scratched his head as he watched Nabiki directing two movers who were bringing her bed down the staircase. "Well, they do have to leave the nest sometime, Tendo."

"I understand Kasumi getting married, but why are you leaving me too, Nabiki?!" Soun cried, ignoring Genma's assessment.

The recently graduated Furinkan student was beginning to feel embarrassed at her father's overreacting. "Because I'm eighteen, Daddy. I need to get out on my own. I already found myself a nice apartment, so you don't need to worry about me."

"She's right, Father," Kasumi added, trying her best to console him. "Try to look at things from her point of view."

Ranma and Akane weren't quite sure what to say as they watched Soun crawl over to Nabiki and grab hold of her legs.

"But...but this is so sudden! You could have told me about this earlier!" Soun sobbed.

"You still would have acted like this even if I did," Nabiki told him, folding her arms across her chest. "You have to let go, Daddy. Besides, you'll still have Ranma, Akane, Ringo, and Mr. Saotome here after Kasumi moves out."

Remembering his youngest daughter, Soun crawled over to Akane and began bawling into her skirt. "Akane! Akane, you aren't going to leave me too, are you?!"

"Would you cut it out?!" Akane snapped at her father. "You knew this would happen eventually, Dad. Come on now."


The commotion in the house seemed to stop for a moment when everyone heard a female voice calling out Ranma's name from outside. Turning their heads as the front door swung open, everyone watched Shampoo come barreling into the house before hopping up next to her love interest.

"Nihao, Ranma!" she gleefully greeted him. She couldn't see it from her point of view, but Akane's expression had soured immediately upon seeing the energetic Amazon enter the house.

"Thanks for letting yourself in," Nabiki said sarcastically.

"Oh, hey Shampoo," Ranma replied, somehow not all that shocked by her entrance. "Ain't you supposed to be runnin' the restaurant?"

"This no take long! Shampoo have great...idea..." she began to say, then noticing the movers coming down the staircase and Soun clinging onto an angry looking Akane. "What going on here?"

Ranma had to briefly take one more look at the scene to understand her surprise. "Oh, this. Kasumi's gettin' married to Dr. Tofu and Nabiki's movin' into her own apartment, and Mr. Tendo ain't takin' it too well."

"Aiyaa, Kasumi getting married?!" Shampoo asked, smiling over at the eldest Tendo daughter. "Congratulation!"

Kasumi's cheeks began turning pink as she smiled back at the Amazon girl. "Thank you so much, Shampoo."

Ranma could see the anger on Akane's face and made a mental note to move Shampoo along as quickly as possible. The last thing this house needed right now was an all-out catfight, he thought to himself.

"So, what were you sayin'?" the pigtailed boy asked Shampoo.

"Oh, that right! Ranma remember date you promise Shampoo?" she asked, her face beaming with excitement.

Ranma blinked for a moment before he finally remembered the date he'd promised his lavender-haired friend back when they were in China, the one to celebrate their victory over Li and Meilin. Unfortunately, that was one thing he'd been keeping from everyone else, and he could already feel the fiery glare coming from Akane's direction.

"Uh...yeah, what about it?" Ranma asked her nervously.

Shampoo was lit up with joy as she looked up at him. "We go tomorrow night at five o' clock! Is okay?!"

"T-tomorrow night?" Ranma asked, a bead of sweat rolling down his face as he felt the increased rage being emitted from the youngest Tendo daughter. He knew fully well that he'd already agreed to go out with Akane that night. "Does it have to be then?"

"Shampoo have ticket for something special, so we only go tomorrow night," she told him.

The young Saotome found himself caught between a rock and a hard place, figuratively speaking. No matter what he did, this wasn't going to end well for him, he thought. Having to make a quick decision, he opted to make the fairest choice possible.

"Tomorrow night it is," he murmured, somehow hoping that nobody else would hear.

"Excuse me?!" Akane shouted, not being able to contain herself any longer.

"Aiyaa, we have so much fun!" Shampoo said, jumping up and giving the pigtailed boy a brief hug before letting him go. "Shampoo go help Ringo now, but no forget! You come get Shampoo at five o' clock! See you!"

"R-right..." Ranma muttered, watching Shampoo bound out the front door as quickly as she'd arrived.

After the passionate Amazon had left, everyone, including the movers, stood still and watched as Akane stormed over to Ranma and stared angrily into his eyes. "In case you'd forgotten, you said you'd go somewhere with me tomorrow night!"

"I know, I'm sorry! I'm sorry!" Ranma apologized profusely, even going so far as bowing to beg for her forgiveness. "Look, I promised her one date back when we were in China to celebrate gettin' outta there alive, so technically I promised her first. I couldn't just tell her no!"

Trying to keep her temper under control, Akane took a deep breath and folded her arms across her chest. "And you never told me about this why?"

"Because you'd get angry like you are now!" Ranma retorted. "Look, we'll go out Sunday night instead, I promise! Okay?"

Akane wasn't pleased at all about this development, but she knew getting angry about it wasn't going to help things. Ranma was just keeping a promise he made to Shampoo during some rough times. She would still get her date with him, she thought. It would just have to happen one day later than originally planned.

"Fine," Akane finally replied, reluctantly agreeing to his promise. "If you break that promise, I'll never forgive you."

"Got it," Ranma said, infinitely thankful that he'd resolved the situation peacefully.

Needing to let off some anger, Akane immediately turned around and headed out of the room. "I'm going to the dojo for a while..."

While most everyone began to imagine the suffering Akane was about to deal to some concrete blocks, Nabiki set her sights on the movers that were standing stationary on the stairs.

"Ahem! I'm not paying you boys to stand there. Let's get moving," she commanded them.

As the emptying of Nabiki's room resumed, Ranma managed to sneak outside and took a seat facing the koi pond in the garden.

"Man, you picked the worst time to do that, Shampoo," he grumbled to himself.

Still exhausted from the intense exchange with Akane, the pigtailed martial artist laid back against the ground and let out a sigh as he looked up at the blue sky.

"Jeez, fightin' Li was easier than all this datin' stuff. I wonder what the heck Shampoo's got planned that we can only do tomorrow..."

End of Chapter 20