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 22

"Get 'im!"

On the darkened street of Odaiba, the group of nine delinquents charged at Ranma with elation, licking their lips in anticipation of a one-sided beating in their favor.

With Shampoo looking on from behind, a brazen Ranma waved the thugs in with his good arm. "You guys should really think twice about this!"

"Shut up, One-Arm!" one of the quicker men yelled as he accelerated ahead of the others. "Time to learn what happens when ya mess with us! Take this!"

The bald-headed man reached back with his metal pipe in hand, ready to strike as he got within range of the pigtailed boy. When Ranma lunged forward, however, the delinquent suddenly found himself face-to-face with his target.


"Kachu Tenshin Amaguriken!" Ranma shouted, bombarding the man with rapid-fire punches from his left arm.

The other men skidded to a halt, all of them in awe as they witnessed the relentless assault on their comrade. To the delinquents, who were used to sloppy back-alley brawls, Ranma's speed was nothing short of mystifying.

A delighted smile creeping across his face, Ranma put the full force of his weight into one last punch and sent the bald-headed hooligan flying into a nearby light post and to the ground.

"B-boss! This guy...!" one of the eight remaining punks stammered, shocked as were the rest at how easily their comrade had been defeated.

The leader was speechless, shaking with a mix of anger and anxiety while wisely reconsidering his plan of attack.

A short distance behind Ranma, Shampoo stood watching the battle with a not-so-surprised expression on her face. Rushing into a fight against someone like Ranma was about as smart as running into an oncoming bus, she thought. But even though her date for the evening clearly had the advantage at the moment, she was beginning to feel envious after seeing him enjoy himself so much.

"LISTEN UP, MORONS! He's just one guy, and he's only got one arm! There ain't nothin' to be scared of, got it!?" the man with the green mohawk yelled out to his subordinates, deciding to test just how good Ranma was before sending everyone at him again. "You two! Get over there and take care of 'im! Now!"

Sharing a nervous stare for a moment, two long-haired men stepped forward and positioned themselves with one on each side of Ranma.

"Usin' your heads now, huh?" Ranma smirked, keeping a close eye on the movements of the two men. "That ain't gonna be enough though."

"Cocky little punk!" one of them snarled back at him.

The man swung his metal pipe at Ranma's head with a fury, but ended up accidentally hitting his comrade in the face after the pigtailed boy swiftly took to the air. With one of them laid out and the other confused, Ranma landed in front of the man with the pipe again and delivered a thunderous punch to his gut followed by a flying knee to his chin, knocking him out cold as he fell back to the ground.

A collective gasp came from the remaining delinquents as Ranma brushed his hand off and gestured for the others to come at him.

"Come on, guys. I ain't even warmed up yet..." the young Saotome smiled.

Unnoticed for the moment, the man that had been inadvertently attacked by his friend stood up behind Ranma and reached out to grab him by the neck. "You-!"


When Ranma spun around, he saw the revitalized delinquent grabbing the back of his head with a purse sitting on the ground next to him.

"Oww, dammit! Who did that?!" the long-haired man snarled. Turning to see what had hit him, he was suddenly sent soaring into a pair of trashcans on one side of the street by a flying kick from Shampoo.

The crew of rogues, now numbering six, was now left to marvel at the strength of the lavender-haired girl as well.

"Boss...! The girly too..! What...what are they...?!" one of them began to panic.

"SH-SHUTUP, WILL YA?!" his boss barked back at him. "So what if they can fight?! It's six of us against the two of them!"

Meanwhile, a surprised Ranma placed his hand on his hip as he glanced over at Shampoo, who now had his jacket tied around her waist. "Hey, I can take 'em by myself, y'know..."

"Shampoo know that," she replied, taking a moment to stretch her muscles before smiling wickedly back at him. "Is no fair you keep all fun to self though."

After finishing with the task of cleaning dishes, Kasumi undid her apron and headed up the staircase of the Tendo home toward Nabiki's old room, which now belonged to Ringo. The young redhead had been sharing Akane's room since she'd first arrived last year, but Nabiki's sudden departure changed things. The room was as empty as the guest room that Ranma and Genma shared since Nabiki had taken all of the furniture with her, but Ringo didn't mind. She was just happy that she wouldn't be inconveniencing Akane anymore.

Once she'd reached the top of the stairs, Kasumi stepped over to Ringo's door and gently knocked on it twice.

"Come in."

When the eldest Tendo daughter opened the door, she found Ringo sitting in the middle of the room with the same dismal expression she'd worn all day.

"I'm all done now," Kasumi smiled, shutting the door behind her. She then walked over to the troubled girl and took a seat in front of her, folding her hands in her lap. "I don't mean to pry, but you haven't seemed yourself today, Ringo. Did something happen?"

The redheaded girl briefly nodded as she thought back on her encounter with Akane earlier in the day. "Kasumi...why do Akane and Shampoo have to dislike each other so much?"

"That would be...because of Ranma, but you already know that by now," Kasumi answered. It wasn't tough for her to get a general idea of what had happened. "It must be very difficult for you since you're friends with both of them. Did you get caught in the middle of their fighting?"

"Kind of," Ringo said, bringing her knees up to rest her head on. "Akane got angry because I helped Shampoo with her training. I think she's really mad at me..."

"So that's how it is," Kasumi sighed, flashing a kind smile at the redhead. "Please try not to be too upset with her. Akane really is a very kindhearted person, it's just...sometimes she lets her temper get the best of her. I'm sure she'll understand if you talk to her about it, okay?"

Ringo quietly nodded, still not feeling much better than she had before. Kasumi was probably right, she figured, but she'd still never seen Akane get this angry at her before. There had been an awful feeling eating away at her ever since it happened, and she wanted nothing more than to make it go away right now.

"Ranma..." Kasumi said, catching Ringo's attention, "he's really grown a lot since what happened in China. He's certainly still his old self most of the time, but he acts more mature than before. That's why...I think it's only a matter of time."

"A matter of time?" the girl with the ponytail asked, looking confused. "Until what, Kasumi?"

"Until he makes his choice," Kasumi answered, speaking seriously as she looked at the redhead across from her. "And whether he chooses Akane, Shampoo, or someone else, the ones he doesn't choose are going to be sad. They'll need a friendly shoulder to cry on I'm sure, so they'll need you to be there for them."

"Kasumi..." Ringo mouthed, not sure how to respond.

The eldest Tendo daughter scooted forward and grabbed hold of Ringo's hands. "Do you understand? You're a very important friend to them, Ringo. No matter what happens, make sure you're there to take care of them."

Ringo rubbed her eyes and sniffed, feeling moved by Kasumi's genuine request. She wasn't sure how important she was to Akane, Shampoo, Ukyo, or anyone else, but she would definitely be there for them no matter what, she decided. "I...I will!"

"They're lucky to have a kind friend like you," Kasumi smiled as she stood up. "Now then...how about a hot bath to warm you up?"

"Sure, that sounds nice," the redhead replied, finally managing a smile.

Their confidence rattled, the six remaining delinquents wasted no time surrounding Ranma and Shampoo. After watching their three comrades be defeated, they were no longer in the mood for playing around.

Seemingly enjoying themselves, the teenage martial artists stood back-to-back and waited for one of their opponents to make a move.

"Guess I can't talk ya outta this, huh?" Ranma smiled at the Amazon girl.

Shampoo shook her head and smiled back at him. "You no think Shampoo can handle this?"

"Nah, just the opposite," the pigtailed boy joked, looking around at the cautious punks surrounding them. "We might not make it to the ferris wheel on time if we take too long, so let's make it quick."

"You read Shampoo mind," the lavender-haired girl replied with a smirk, reaching over and gripping Ranma's left forearm tightly with both hands.

His patience at an end, the leader punk with the green mohawk, standing to Ranma's right, raised his metal pipe into the air and jumped forward to begin the assault. "Now!"

At the first sign of movement, Ranma instantly swung his arm in the direction of the leader, and Shampoo along with it. Clutching onto Ranma's forearm, Shampoo soared around to where the delinquent leader was before he could even attack.

"You too slow!" Shampoo shouted, planting her foot into his face and sending him sprawling to the ground.

"Boss!" one of the other punks shouted, glaring angrily at the pair of martial artists after seeing his leader stunned. "How dare you do that to the boss?! You're dead!"

With the five standing delinquents all charging them at once, Ranma continued spinning Shampoo around like a weapon. One after the other, the men went sailing backward as the Amazon girl used their faces as virtual stepping stones, kicking them forcefully until none were left standing.

The field now cleared, Ranma turned his attention to the leader, who was still dazed but trying to stand back up. "Hey, Shampoo! Let's finish this!"

Ranma planted his feet solidly on the ground to stop his momentum, letting Shampoo land in front of him in a crouching position.

"Ready?" he grinned.

"Go!" Shampoo yelled out excitedly.

Still clutching onto Ranma's forearm, Shampoo used her legs, combined with a boost from her friend, to spring herself far up into the Odaiba sky.

The ragged looking man with the mohawk was still seeing stars as he shakily glared forward at Ranma from his knees. "You...little...brat! I'm going...to get you...!"

"I wouldn't be worryin' about me right now," Ranma smiled, pointing his finger up into the air.

Descending from above, Shampoo came crashing down on the delinquent leader, planting her feet into his kidneys with a devastating finishing blow.


The roughed up delinquents could only look on with concern at the ill state of their leader.

"Boss...! Hang in there!"

"Are you alright, boss?!"

Weary from being spun around so much, Shampoo hopped off the defeated leader and began making her way back over to her date. "Aiyaa, so dizzy..."

"Aww c'mon, it wasn't that bad," Ranma said, somewhat amused by the Amazon girl's lack of equilibrium.

"That because you no swing around as much!" Shampoo jokingly retorted as she picked up her purse from the ground.

"Yeah, maybe," Ranma replied, raising his fist into the air. "That was some good teamwork."

Smiling happily, Shampoo reached up and bumped his fist with her own before handing him his sling. "We always make good team, silly Ranma."

While the two of them were standing tall at the moment, it didn't necessarily mean the battle was over as they soon realized that some of the delinquents were beginning to get back to their feet.

"Guess we shoulda made sure they stayed down," Ranma groaned, snapping his sling back onto his right arm as he looked around at the roughed up men. "Hey, guys, ain't this enough? We got things to do."

"Screw you!" one of them growled. "We're not letting you go after you did that to the boss!"

Before any further combat could take place, however, the tense situation was interrupted by the sound of a motor closing in from the distance, followed soon by the flash of a single headlight.

"W-who is it?!" one of the delinquents shouted.

The men soon became anxious when they got a better view of a motorcycle coming down the street, or to be more precise the flowing pink hair that ran down from the back of the rider's helmet. Slowing down as it neared the area of carnage, the bike came to a stop and the rider, dressed in a black leather jacket and pants, removed their helmet before hopping off the bike and taking in the scene around them.

"Hey, that's...from the gymnastics thing..." Ranma blinked.

"Is that Sakura girl," Shampoo realized, watching the girl with the swollen face curiously as she walked over to the fallen delinquent leader. "What she doing here?"

"The hell is this?" Sakura asked the men, sounding none too pleased.

"M-Metal!" the man with the green mohawk stammered while being helped to his feet by one of his comrades. "Th-this is...w-we were waitin' for ya, and..."

"You picked a fight?" the pink-haired gymnast asked him.

The delinquent leader turned away from Sakura's gaze, unable to think of a good excuse to give her. "S-sorry about this..."

Her face contorting with fury, Sakura reached her arm back and slammed her fist into the punk leader's nose, knocking him back down to the ground with a vengeance.

"Don't you idiots ever learn anything?!" she screamed at them. "How long are you gonna do this stupid crap?! Huh?! Honestly, it's like dealin' with a bunch of children!"

Thoroughly demoralized, the group of delinquents hung their heads with shame after being ripped into by the vulgar teenage gymnast.

Sakura took a deep breath to calm herself down before addressing the men again. "So, is the stage all set?"

"Yes! It's all done!" one of them answered nervously. "We were just waiting for you to show up!"

"Then get back over there! We're gonna start the show soon!" Sakura commanded them. "If you're late, I'm taking it outta your pay!"

"Y-yes ma'am!" they answered, hurriedly leaving the scene while some helped their leader and other injured comrades back to their feet.

As the delinquents made their way down the street, Sakura calmly strolled over to Ranma and Shampoo for a chat.

"Sorry for the trouble they caused ya," the girl in leather said apologetically. "I give 'em jobs so they don't do stupid things like this, but it's a work in progress."

Shampoo smiled at her and brushed off the incident, not feeling any resentment toward the group. "Is no problem. We have fun beating up those ones."

"Yeah, I bet," Sakura chuckled. "You guys must be pretty strong to hand 'em their asses like that."

"We ain't bad," Ranma replied, looking proud of the compliment despite his modest response. "By the way, should you really be ridin' a motorcycle around right after ya got knocked out?"

The pink-haired girl cringed at the mention of her match earlier in the night. "Ohh, saw that, huh? I'm fine. That blonde bitch just got me in the right spot with a weak hit. She's all about precision and technical crap. Boring as hell, y'know?"

Shampoo took a moment to think back on the match earlier in the night. "Now that mention, that Priscilla girl look much more hurt when match over..."

"I know, right?! That's 'cuz I hit harder and don't use a wimpy technical style!" Sakura beamed proudly. "Anyway, forget about that. My band's got a gig nearby that I need to get to. I can get you guys in for free to make up for the idiots botherin' ya earlier. How 'bout it?"

Ranma shared a quick glance with Shampoo before turning back to the teenage gymnast. "That sounds fine and all, but we were gonna head over to that ferris wheel before it closes."

Sakura looked back and forth between Ranma and Shampoo for a moment before a sly grin crossed her face. "Ohhh, so that's how it is. I'll leave you two lovebirds alone then."

"H-hey, we ain't-" the pigtailed boy began to protest.

"Don't worry about it, I get it!" Sakura told him, putting her helmet back on and hopping back on her motorcycle. "You guys have fun. See ya 'round!"

"H-hey-!" Ranma shouted, but the unusual gymnast took off down the street on her bike before he could clear anything up with her. "Jeez, at least listen to other people!"

Beside him, Shampoo was giggling to herself with amusement at Ranma's frustration. "Is okay, yes? That girl no know you."

"Still-!" he groaned, but was quickly silenced by a finger placed on his lips by his Amazon friend.

"Then no is problem," she smiled. "We go to ferris wheel now?"

Rubbing the back of his head, Ranma snorted and began walking in the direction of the large ride. "Fine, I got it! Let's go!"

As she happily strolled up next to him, Shampoo realized that she still had Ranma's jacket wrapped around her waist.

"Ranma want jacket back?" she asked him.

The pigtailed boy took a brief peek down at his item of clothing before giving a slight shrug in response. "I'm still warmed up from that fight. You hang onto it for now."

"That sure felt good," Ringo cooed, filling herself a glass of cold water in the kitchen after her bath.

Talking with Kasumi had her feeling much better than she was earlier.

With things as they were between Ranma, Akane, and Shampoo, there were going to be times when someone would get upset with her like Akane had today. That was something she realized that she would just have to accept.

While walking back through the main room of the Tendo home, the young redhead stopped to address the two older gentlemen sitting at the table.

"Excuse me, Father, Mr. Tendo, but have Ranma and Akane come back yet?" she asked.

"Mmm? No, they're both still out," Soun replied, looking up from his newspaper.

"Is something wrong?" Genma asked her.

Smiling like her usual self, Ringo shook her head in response. "Nope! I just wanted to welcome them back is all."

With an energetic skip in her step, she walked over to the staircase and took a seat on the bottom step.

No matter what was happening at Odaiba right now, she wanted to greet Ranma and Akane with smiles when they came back home. That was the least she could do as their friend, she thought. Even something as simple as that could do a world of good.

"Where has my darling Ranma gone to?! I tire of this fruitless search!"

Along a quiet street of Odaiba, Kodachi Kuno's patience was reaching its limit as she ran alongside Ukyo and Akane.

"We don't know where he is, okay?! Whining isn't going to help!" Ukyo chided the Black Rose. "What else are we supposed to do?!"

Finding herself unable to think of a better idea at the moment, Kodachi bit down on her lip and continued running forward.

Akane, meanwhile, wasn't quite as enthusiastic as the other two girls were. She could've been sitting comfortably at home right now doing something productive like studying, but instead she'd allowed herself to be goaded into following her dolt of a fiancée around on his stupid date, she thought regrettably. It's not that she wasn't at all concerned about Shampoo trying something fishy with Ranma, but from what she'd seen so far it seemed unlikely that she was going to try anything. Besides which, even if she did, the idea of Ranma being accepting of her advances was laughable considering how little interest he had in romance.

"Really, you guys, this is getting stupid," Akane complained, slowing her pace until she'd come to a stop. "They might have gone home already for all we know."

"We can't know that for sure!" Ukyo said, her voice laced with frustration as she and Kodachi came to a halt.

"Exactly!" Kodachi said in agreement. "Do you think they would come all the way here and only attend that one show?! Don't be foolish! They must still be here!"

The youngest Tendo daughter let out an exhausted sigh and folded her arms, glaring over at the others with an annoyed look on her face. "Fine, you two can keep looking then. I'm tired of this."

"What?! You're giving up?!" Ukyo asked, sounding disappointed.

"You heard me! This is a waste of ti-" Akane began to say, but her eyes caught sight of something coming out of an alley in front of them. "Hey..."

When Ukyo and Kodachi turned around to see what Akane was looking at, they saw a group of men leave the alley and begin walking toward them. Walking may have been a generous term, however, as it seemed more like they were dragging themselves forward.

"They look like they just fell off a truck," Akane observed.

"Hey, you guys okay?!" Ukyo called out as the men got closer. "You want us to call an ambulance or anything?"

As a roughed-up looking man with a green mohawk stopped in front of the girls, the other men all followed suit and turned to see what he planned on doing.

"You..." he said, gesturing to Ukyo.

Getting a suspicious feeling from the men, the okonomiyaki chef grabbed hold of the handle of her giant spatula resting on her back before answering the delinquent. "Yeah?"

"What...kind of job do you have?" the green-haired man asked.

"Job?" Ukyo asked, a bit surprised by the question. "Err...I run my own restaurant..."

Letting out a deep breath, the delinquent leader looked up into the sky and chuckled to himself. "A restaurant, huh? That sounds fun..."

"Boss...?" one of the men behind him said, perplexed about his leader's actions much like the rest of the men.

"Dammit! That's it!" the leader suddenly shouted. "I'm gonna start my own damn restaurant! The hell with it!"

"Ehhh?!" the other punks all yelled in unison.

Ukyo and Akane shared a confused glance as they watched the unusual scene unfold.

Determined, the man with the mohawk turned to his men to address them. "I'm tired of this damn lifestyle! Even though Metal gives us work, I'm tired of bein' bossed around by that woman! I've had it, you hear me?! I'm startin' my own restaurant!"

"But...Boss, can you even cook?" one of the other men asked him.

The leader's face paled at the question. "Well...no. Can any of you cook?"

"I can make toast!"

"I make ramen all the time! I can cook eggs too!"

"I'm good at chopping vegetables! I can probably make a salad too, Boss!"

"We'll come with you, Boss! Let us help!"

The beat-up leader was moved to tears by the loyalty of his subordinates. "You...you guys...okay then! We'll start a restaurant together!"

"You need money to start a restaurant, you know," Ukyo interrupted, somewhat irritated by how easy they made the restaurant idea sound. "Not to mention you need to look presentable to appeal to customers. If you want to run a restaurant, you guys need to clean your image up a bit. First of all, you all need haircu-"

"Why are you staring at me like that?!"

After her sudden outburst, everyone looked over at Kodachi and noticed that she was glaring at a portly looking bald man among the group of delinquents.

The man seemed unshaken by the gymnast's fierce attitude as he placed his hand on his chin and continued looking at her. "I've seen you somewhere before, but...hmm...umm, what's your name, lady?"

"I have no reason to tell someone like you!" the Black Rose snapped back at him angrily.

Not willing to give up yet, the delinquent pulled a book out of the back pocket of his pants and began paging through it.

"Ahh, I almost forgot Metal had ya keep track of her competition," the leader said, peeking over at his subordinate's book. "You know this chick?"

"Maybe...was it in one of the EGF tournaments, I wonder?" he said, continuing to look through his information collection until he came upon one page that caught his eye. "Ah, here! Look!"

The leader set his eyes on a picture that the portly delinquent was pointing to. "Kodachi Kuno? Hey hey, it is her..."

Curious about what they'd found, Ukyo and Akane stared over at the dark-haired gymnast, who had a look on her face that could kill at the moment. It didn't take a rocket scientist to realize that her temper was about to boil over.

"I knew I'd seen her before," the plump man laughed. "She was in the EGF's tournament three years ago, but she never came back after that. Let's see, she got to the quarterfinals, but...hey, how about that! Of all people, it looks like she got knocked out by Ki-ghhhh!"

The delinquent found himself unable to breathe as a ribbon wrapped around his throat from out of nowhere.

"Hey! What's your deal?!" the delinquent leader yelled at Kodachi.

"H-hey, Kodachi! What's wrong with you?!" Akane shouted at her enraged rival.

With a glare as cold as ice in her eyes, the Black Rose slowly raised her head and leered forward at the bald man being suffocated by her ribbon.

"Do not ever utter that odious name in front of me. I...I did not lose! Did you even see the match?! Did you?!"

Kodachi's eyes widened when an object suddenly severed her ribbon, causing the delinquent to fall back to the ground gasping for air. Glancing to her left, Kodachi then eyed Ukyo furiously. "Why are you interfering?!"

"Because they didn't do anything to you! Calm down!" Ukyo snapped, standing ready to defend herself with her giant spatula in hand.

Helping his comrade to his feet, one of the delinquents turned to the man with the green mohawk looking panicked. "Boss, these girls are just as scary as those two from earlier! Let's get out of here!"

"Y-yeah, let's go..." the leader agreed, not wanting to put himself or his subordinates in any further danger after what they'd already endured at the hands of Ranma and Shampoo.

While the ragged-looking men moved to the side of the girls and hurried away, Akane and Ukyo looked unsure what to do about Kodachi, who had a troubled expression on her face as she looked down toward the ground.

"You okay?" Akane finally asked her.

With a pained look in her eyes, the Black Rose shrugged off her rival's concern and began trudging forward along the street. "It is none of your business."

Ukyo could only shake her head as she put her spatula away. "I think she's finally lost it, Akane."

"I don't think she ever had it to begin with," Akane replied, watching as Kodachi stumbled down the quiet road. "We can't just leave her like that though..."

Sighing to herself, Ukyo slowly began moving forward alongside her classmate.

"I guess not. Let's go."

"Enjoy yourselves!"

Once one of the workers slammed the door shut, the gondola carrying Ranma and Shampoo began its rise into the night sky as the ferris wheel started to turn again.

"Guess we didn't have to rush here after all," Ranma said.

As it turned out, the ferris wheel was open until midnight, so they made it there with plenty of time to spare. The fee of 900 yen per person was easily covered by Ranma, who had more than enough money left over from what Ringo had lent him earlier in the day. And although Shampoo seemed pleasantly surprised that he was paying for everything, she hadn't once questioned where he'd gotten the money from.

"Maybe should have taken time teaching those stupid ones lesson, yes?" Shampoo laughed, the rainbow of lights from the ferris wheel shining on her hair from the back of the gondola.

"Yeah, that was kinda fun," Ranma replied with a grin. "But, y'know, I'm surprised you were so sharp. I thought ya might be rusty since the old hag's been gone."

"Oh, that no is problem," the Amazon girl told him. "Shampoo find very fast training partner."

Ranma turned and gave her a curious look, wondering who she was talking about. "No way...you convince Ucchan to help ya or somethin'? It couldn't be Kodachi..."

Shampoo shook her head as she looked over at him. "Is Ringo, silly."

"Ringo?!" the pigtailed boy exclaimed, looking shocked. "How'd you pull that off?! I heard she wouldn't even train with Akane while we were gone..."

"That right?" Shampoo blinked, seemingly unaware that it was that big of a deal. "Shampoo just ask nice is all."

Scratching his head for a moment, Ranma couldn't help wondering to himself why his former female half made a special exception to train with Shampoo.

"Ah well, it don't matter I guess," he said, turning his attention back to his lavender-haired friend. "Why'd you jump in when I was fightin' those guys anyway? I wasn't in trouble or nothin'."

"Just want some fun too, like say before," Shampoo answered. "And..."

The Amazon girl's expression became more serious as she hesitated, drawing a strange look from her date. "Even though Great-Grandmother necklace supposed to work..."

Letting out a brief, almost inaudible sigh, Ranma flicked his finger against the jade necklace around his neck. "That thing's still buggin' ya, huh? It ain't a problem anymore, so don't worry about it."

With the gondola rising higher into the sky and giving the two teenage martial artists a nice view of the surrounding Tokyo area, Shampoo wrapped her arm around Ranma's and gently rested her head on his shoulder.

"When Ranma fight Mousse and lose control, it scare Shampoo lot," she said softly, tightening her hold on his arm. "It feel like Ranma go to place far away where Shampoo no can reach."

Ranma wasn't keen on people being concerned for him, but he had to admit that Shampoo's analogy wasn't too far off. The time when the spirits from Yanlou resting inside him took control during his battle with Mousse was something that his memory had been hazy on since the incident. Had Cologne not intervened, there was no telling whether or not he would have been able to revert back to his normal self. Thankfully though, that wasn't the case. And the necklace the old woman had placed on him seemed to work perfectly for the time being. So, to him at least, it wasn't a problem worth mentioning.

"You worry too much," he told the Amazon girl, gazing out at the lights of Tokyo. "Check it out, you can see Tokyo Tower from here."

Shampoo stared out at the lit up tower for a moment, her eyes following Ranma's hand as he pointed out other notable sights.

"You can see the Rainbow Bridge we crossed comin' here too," the pigtailed boy added.

"It look like big rainbow going over water," Shampoo said to him.

"Well yeah, that's why it's called the Rainbow Bridge," Ranma replied.

The two of them sat quietly for a couple of minutes as their gondola reached the peak of the ferris wheel, giving them the best view possible before Ranma spoke again.

"Y'know, I'm glad I got there in time to stop your wedding," he told his lavender-haired friend. "Otherwise I mighta never come here."

Shampoo uttered a slight gasp as she looked up at her date. Words like that were rare coming from him, but that made them mean all the more when he happened to say them. With a warm feeling in her heart, the Amazon girl rested her head against Ranma's shoulder again and smiled.

"Shampoo glad you stop wedding too, Ranma."

Meanwhile, in another part of Tokyo far from the happenings taking place on the island of Odaiba, a middle-aged woman began humming to herself while checking over a kimono she'd hung up the other day.

"My, it certainly has been a while since I've paid a visit to the Tendo family," she said aloud. "It's always nice to see the girls, but I do wish I'd get to see my son one of these times."

Satisfied with the state of her kimono, the kind-hearted Nodoka Saotome gazed up at the ceiling of her bedroom and clasped her hands to her chest.

"Somehow, I have a very good feeling about this time though," she said, smiling with an unfounded but sustained hope that she would be able to see her son at last.

"I'm sure you'll be there when I come to visit tomorrow, Ranma! I can't wait to see you!"

In the late hours of the evening, a relatively small number of people walked off of a train and stepped foot on the grounds of the Nerima Ward. Those people included three dejected-looking teenage girls. Tired and irritable, they headed for the station's exit wishing this disastrous night would come to a merciful end.

"In the end, we never found them..." Ukyo mumbled, slumped over from the exhaustion of running around the island of Odaiba for hours.

"Mmhmm," Akane quietly responded.

Letting out a deep sigh, the okonomiyaki chef stared forward at Kodachi, who still seemed deeply bothered by something while walking silently in front of her two rivals. "We had to look after this pain in the fanny all night too..."

Annoyed by her classmate's continuous complaining, the young Tendo daughter leaned over and put her mouth next to Ukyo's ear. "This is why I said we should have gone home, you know."

"Rub it in some more why don'tcha?" Ukyo hissed back at her.

After the girls had left the train station, Ukyo began stretching her arms and let out a loud yawn, ready to call it a night.

"Well, it's been fun," she said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. "If it's alright with you though, I'm just gonna forget tonight ever happened. Night Aka-oof!"

Without any warning, Kodachi had come to a stop in front of the surprised okonomiyaki chef, causing her to bump her face into the back of the gymnast's head.

"What in the heck is with you tonight?!" Ukyo snarled while holding her sore nose.

Kodachi clenched her fists tightly as she thought about the possibilities, unlikely though they may be, of what her darling Ranma might have been subjected to on his date with Shampoo.

"I shall not return to my estate until I know what that hussy did with my Ranma-darling!" she shouted with anger. "I will find out what took place even if I must storm that woman's restaurant!"

Before anyone could convince her otherwise, the focused gymnast took off running in the general direction of the Cat Café with blazing speed.

"H-hey!" Ukyo shouted fruitlessly at her upset rival. "Now I'm sure she's lost it, Akane. Totally lost it."

"I don't care anymore," Akane grumbled in response. "Let her do what she wants. We're done."

The two of them continued walking, but, much to Akane's surprise, her classmate stopped again after only a matter of seconds.

Ukyo was shaking for a moment while contemplating what she wanted to do. Torn between going home having accomplished nothing and risking making the night even worse, she finally gave in and took off running after the Black Rose.

"The things I do for you, Ranma-honey!" she screamed, leaving Akane all by herself.

"Oh, come on! Not again!" Akane yelled out in frustration. This was getting ridiculous, she thought bitterly. She'd had enough of this wild goose chase hours ago and wanted nothing more than to go home and get cozy in her bed right now. But, on the other hand, she also hated being left out of things. And if Ukyo and Kodachi found out something and she wasn't there to hear it...

"This is so STUPID!"

Somewhat ashamed of herself for not being able to resist the urge, Akane got her legs moving again and took off running toward Shampoo's restaurant behind the other two girls.

Underneath the glow of the streetlights, Ranma and Shampoo headed home through the Nerima Ward night after their long and adventurous date. It was already past 11 o' clock in the evening and Ranma had a feeling that certain people at the Tendo home were getting annoyed by now that he still wasn't back.

"Aiyaa, is so late," Shampoo said, placing her hand over her mouth as she let out a small yawn.

"Yeah, didn't think this would take so long," Ranma replied.

"Oh? Ranma no like spend so much time with Shampoo?" the Amazon girl asked, eying him sharply.

Noticing the look Shampoo was giving him, Ranma nervously tried to explain himself. "N-no, it ain't like that..!"

The pigtailed boy relaxed a bit when Shampoo began giggling to herself.

"Is just joke, Ranma," she laughed.

Feeling embarrassed, Ranma placed his hands behind his head and let out a grunt as he walked. "Jeez, don't mess with me like that..."

"Oh, no get mad now," Shampoo said to him, smiling as she adjusted the purse over her shoulder. "Ranma have fun tonight?"

"Yeah, it was kinda fun," he answered, thinking back on everything they'd done. "Saw the first gymnastics match I ever enjoyed and I got to see what Odaiba was like."

"And no forget we teach stupid punks lesson they never forget," the Amazon girl added with a devilish smile.

"That was the best part," Ranma grinned, thrusting his fist into the air.

Shampoo had been worried beforehand that Ranma might get bored, but she was feeling more confident now that she knew he'd enjoyed himself on their date. It was exactly what she needed to convince herself to try to move things along between them.

"Maybe...we go on date again?" Shampoo asked, looking hopefully over at Ranma to gauge his reaction.

At first glance, Ranma seemed hesitant to answer. It was something that Shampoo didn't take as a good sign.

"Not that it ain't fun, but...two friends goin' out on dates kinda gives people the wrong idea, don'tcha think?"

The word "friends" struck Shampoo like a stake to her heart. She'd hoped that they might be able to move beyond that after everything that had happened between them, but evidently that wasn't the case. With her hopes dashed, she tilted her head toward the ground as a sad smile crossed her face.

"That right. We just friends is all..." she said, the despair easily heard in her voice.

"Well, yeah..." Ranma replied, curious about Shampoo's change in attitude. "Ain't that what you said you wanted?"

The deflated Amazon girl didn't answer, continuing to move forward with her eyes focused on the ground.

There was an uncomfortable silence between the two martial artists for several minutes until finally they came upon the Cat Café restaurant.

"Well, guess I should probably get goin'," Ranma began to say, but he could tell that Shampoo looked like she wanted badly to say something. "First though, you tell me what's wrong."

Taking a deep breath, Shampoo folded her hands together and slowly raised her head to look at her pigtailed friend. "Ranma...you remember what Shampoo tell you on roof long time ago?"

Ranma scratched his head as he tried to remember what she was talking about. "You mean when you said you wanted to be friends?"

"And that still want to marry Ranma, but wait for you to open heart to Shampoo," she added, clutching her hands tightly. "Ranma...what more have to do to make you love Shampoo?"

The heir to the Saotome School of Anything-Goes Martial Arts found himself short of words as he saw tears beginning to form in the lavender-haired girl's eyes. "I...uh-"

"We go through so much, Ranma!" Shampoo cried, finally losing hold of her emotions. "We risk lives together to beat Li and Meilin! Then Shampoo no see you for many months...and then you busy finish school for long time, so no see you much again...!"

"S-Shampoo..." Ranma mouthed, not sure what to say.

"Ranma even stop Shampoo marriage!" her voice shook, the tears beginning to stream down her cheeks. "You still want say you no have feeling for Shampoo?!"

"Look! I just...I don't know yet, alright?!" Ranma told her.

"Then how long have to wait?! We almost die when Li and Meilin come here! What if that happen again?!" Shampoo asked him sternly, raising one hand to wipe the tears from her face. "We no have forever, Ranma..."

He hated thinking about it, but Ranma understood what Shampoo was trying to tell him. He'd been avoiding the issue of his multiple fiancées from the very beginning. There were any number of reasons he did it, but the fact was that he was still leading all of them on in the process. Whether that was his fault for being indecisive or their fault for expecting too much from him, either way it was going to end with someone being hurt, and Ranma hated that.

"Shampoo...sorry. No mean to yell at Ranma like that," the Amazon girl said, wiping the tears from her face again. "Shampoo no bother you any more. Ranma can go home."

Shampoo immediately turned around and started walking toward the door to her restaurant, but Ranma didn't want to leave her upset like this. Not even sure himself what he was doing, he ran up and tried to stop her.

"Hey, wait a sec, will ya?"

"No worry about it. Just go home now," Shampoo told him.

"Come on..." Ranma pleaded, placing his hand on her shoulder.

Still visibly upset, Shampoo swatted Ranma's hand away and continued walking with tears streaming down her face. "Shampoo say no!"

The emotional teenager quickly reached into her purse and grabbed the key to her restaurant. She wanted to get away from Ranma now before she said anything else she might regret.

Shampoo reached forward to slide the key into the lock, but was suddenly spun around by the man she wanted so desperately to get away from. Her wrist pinned to the door by his good arm, she looked up at him and growled angrily.

"What you do-mmf!"

The Amazon girl's eyes widened with shock as Ranma leaned in and pressed his lips up against hers. With tears still running down her cheeks, her arm relaxed, allowing her purse to fall to the ground. She wasn't imagining it, she realized. Ranma...he was really kissing her.

Her frustration slipping away, Shampoo slowly closed her eyes and wrapped her free arm around the pigtailed boy's neck, pulling him closer. They stayed that way for what seemed like an eternity, enveloped in the moonlight without a care in the world as they held each other.

When Ranma broke the kiss and opened his eyes, he and Shampoo could only stare at each other. Their breathing was heavy. Their hearts were racing.

Ranma couldn't believe what he'd just done. He wanted her to stop and listen to him, but he hadn't planned on kissing her like that. It was just a sudden reaction he'd made. So now what was he supposed to do, he thought frantically?

Shampoo was still so surprised that she couldn't think straight, but at that moment she happened to notice something out of the corner of her eye. Peering over Ranma's shoulder, she froze at what she saw before her.

Noticing the expression on the Amazon girl's face, Ranma slowly turned around to see what she was staring at. As he soon realized, he and Shampoo weren't alone.

Underneath a nearby streetlight stood Kodachi, Ukyo, and Akane, all of them in utter disbelief at what they'd just seen.

"R-Ranma darling...you...you kissed her...!" Kodachi's voice shook.

"You guys..." he gasped, a look of pure dread coming over him. "What are you-"

"Ran-chan..." Ukyo said, taking notice of the fact that Shampoo had Ranma's jacket tied around her waist as she clutched one hand to her chest, "she used some kind of potion on you, right? Or made you eat something funny? Right...?"

Ranma turned to Shampoo for some sort of answer, but she had no idea what to say. He couldn't accuse her of anything to save himself right now, he thought. He couldn't do anything but tell the truth.

"No..." he told them, averting his eyes from the girls. "She didn't do nothin'. I just...kissed her."

The gymnast and okonomiyaki chef staggered backwards, unable to bear the words that Ranma had just uttered.

The shock was so great to Kodachi that she couldn't speak. Her heart broken into pieces, she gingerly turned around and began stumbling down the street away from the restaurant without a word.

"H-hey..." Ukyo said, watching with concern as the Black Rose took her leave.

It was then that Akane, who hadn't budged since seeing her fiancée kiss Shampoo, slowly began walking toward the two of them.

"Akane..." Ranma said, his voice filled with concern.

He and Shampoo could only watch as the youngest Tendo daughter moved closer and closer to them. Throughout every step her expression remained blank. There wasn't a hint of surprise on her face, nor of anger.

Finally, she came face-to-face with Ranma, tilting her head up and looking him directly in the eyes.

Ranma looked back at her worriedly, unsure if there was anything he could even say right now to fix this. "A-Akane...I..."

At that moment, Akane's face suddenly lit up with anger and resentment like she'd never shown before. Reaching back, she angrily slapped Ranma across the face, the sound of her palm striking his cheek echoing throughout the Nerima night.


End of Chapter 22