A Midsummer Night's Beauty, Part I
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.
It was a fresh new day in the Nerima District of Tokyo and spirits were increasingly high amongst the residents. With Spring right around the corner and temperatures on the rise, the energy that everyone seemed to lose during the Winter season began to return to them once more.
Not even the warmth of the rising sun nor the sound of birds happily chirping away on this cool, late-March morning could wipe the scowl from the face of one Ranma Saotome though, who grouchily trudged along the pavement with his backpack strapped over his shoulders and his good hand stuffed firmly in his pocket.
"This is just great," he muttered to himself. "Akane ran off, I got kicked outta the house by Mr. Tendo, everyone's mad at me, and my STUPID ARM'S STILL BROKE!"
Feeling a sudden need to vent, Ranma reached back with his good arm and drilled a hole through a nearby retaining wall to relieve some of his frustration.
"And it ain't my fault! None of it!"
As he looked up into the sky, he noticed a black bird tilting its head while watching him from atop a telephone pole. And so began a short-lived stare down, which ended with Ranma turning his head away in annoyance after only a matter of seconds.
"Fine, maybe it's a little bit my fault..." he grudgingly conceded before proceeding on his way.
It wasn't long after he'd resumed walking that he began hearing a high-pitched voice calling out to him from behind.
"Ranma! Ranma, wait!"
There wasn't any need for Ranma to turn around. He knew without looking that it was Ringo trying to catch up with him. With her red ponytail bouncing back and forth behind her, the panicked girl sped across the concrete in her pink waitressing dress until she was finally able to reach the pigtailed boy.
"Ranma...why didn't you wait...?!" Ringo complained, holding her chest while trying to catch her breath.
"Relax, will ya?" Ranma glanced over at her. "It's early in the morning and that yellin's like a needle in my ear."
The sour look on Ringo's face made it clear she didn't appreciate the comment much, but there were more important things to address with her former male half at the moment. "Ohh, Ranma-! What are we going to do about Akane?! And...and Mr. Tendo?! Where will you go? What will you do...?"
Ranma planted his hand over his face, trying desperately not to let Ringo's worrisome nature get to him. "You don't gotta worry about me, okay?! Chill out!"
"But...but..." the redhead protested.
"Pop's gonna talk to Mr. Tendo and see what he can do. He ain't great at this sorta thing, but since it's Mr. Tendo he's dealin' with, he might get him to let me stay there again," Ranma explained as they continued walking. "And Akane..."
Ringo could clearly see the pain in Ranma's eyes when he mentioned her friend's name.
"Akane...she'll come back," he finished. "And if she don't come back and we hear somethin' about her...well, then I'll go look for her. But I ain't gonna wander off and start searchin' when we don't even know which way she went. She ain't a kid anymore, Ringo. Leavin' was her decision."
"I...I suppose you're right," the troubled girl reluctantly said. "I just feel awful about this whole situation. I hope she's not gone for very long. I'll miss her too much..."
With an understanding nod, Ranma tilted his head down toward the ground and sighed. "Yeah..."
"So...what are you going to do now?" Ringo asked him.
Without any warning, Ranma came to a stop, causing Ringo to accidentally stumble over her own foot.
Lightly smacking his face a few times to mentally prepare himself, Ranma then turned to face the shop he'd stopped in front of. "Now I'm gonna try to fix the things I can actually do somethin' about."
Ringo hadn't even noticed where they were heading until now when she looked up at the sign above the shop that read, "Ucchan's Okonomiyaki."
"Oh, that's right...Ukyo..." she said with concern, remembering that Ukyo was with Akane last night.
With a calm demeanor, Ranma turned and peeked over his shoulder at his former female half. "You better get to work. Don't tell Shampoo about Akane leavin' or me gettin' kicked outta the house though."
"Umm...okay, but...why not?" she asked.
"'Cause I don't want her worryin' about it like you are," Ranma told her. "I'll come tell her 'bout it later, so don't let her know yet."
It was going to be tough keeping herself from letting Shampoo know what had taken place at the Tendo household this morning, but Ringo knew deep down that it probably would be best if Ranma let her know himself.
"Okay, I promise I won't tell her," Ringo agreed. "I'll see you later then, Ranma. Good luck!"
"Hey, Ringo...be careful."
Ringo, who'd already begun heading down the road, stopped and looked back to see what Ranma meant. "Hmm?"
The sharp-sensed Saotome looked back and forth over the surrounding area, eying it closely for anything that struck him as suspicious. "I've got this weird feelin' we're bein' watched. Just keep an eye out."
Blinking curiously, Ringo looked around briefly, but didn't find anything out of the ordinary. Still, Ranma was much better at picking up on things than she was, so she knew the warning was something worth taking to heart.
"Okay then," she replied, a bit nervous as she began walking away.
Once Ringo was gone, Ranma took one last look around to make sure there weren't any noticeable threats nearby. It wasn't as though he'd seen proof of someone following them. It was just a strange hunch he had. Nevertheless, it didn't seem like an issue for the time being.
"Just my imagination I guess," he said to himself, turning his attention back to the restaurant in front of him. "Well, here goes nothin'..."
Not sure how Ukyo might react when she saw him, Ranma carefully slid the door open a few inches and peeked inside to see what she was up to. As he soon noticed, there wasn't any need for caution. At least not at the moment.
Ukyo was fast asleep, seated on one of the stools with her head using her arms as a pillow on the counter. Her slow, rhythmic breathing and unchanging expression assured Ranma that he hadn't woken her up.
"Still sleepin', huh?" he whispered to himself as he quietly entered the restaurant and slid the door shut behind him. "Guess I can wait 'til she wakes up."
After slipping the backpack off of his shoulders, the pigtailed martial artist set it down on the floor and gently sat down on one of the stools at the end of the counter.
Much to his surprise, one of the legs on the stool he'd sat down on suddenly snapped, sending Ranma crashing to the ground and making a loud ruckus in the process.
"Oww..." he groaned, grabbing the back of his head. "Man...this really is gonna be a bad day..."
The noise caused by Ranma's stool mishap was more than enough to stir the sleeping okonomiyaki chef. Slowly raising her head up off the counter, Ukyo's eyes fluttered open as she began to search for the source of the disturbance.
"Mmm...ah...R-Ran-chan?!" she shrieked, looking around her restaurant in confusion after spotting her fiancée on the floor. "What time is it?!"
"Early," Ranma grumbled as he pulled himself to his feet. "What's with that stupid stool?"
"Hmm? It broke? That's weird," Ukyo sleepily replied. "I guess I fell asleep sitting here last night..."
It was only after running her hand over her hair that she realized just how much of a mess she probably was.
"NOOO! Don't look!"
Ranma quickly became alarmed when he saw Ukyo reaching for her giant spatula. "H-hey, wait a sec! Don't-!"
Unfortunately, the pleas were ineffective as the cook slammed her over-sized utensil into her fiancée, who went sailing across the room and into the wall.
Groaning in pain, Ranma fell to the ground and struggled mightily to push himself up again. "What...what was that for...?"
"For barging in without giving a girl time to prepare!" Ukyo shouted while brushing herself off and trying to straighten out her hair.
"Jeez...what's it matter?" Ranma grumbled. "It ain't like I care if your hair's a little messy..."
"But I DO!" the frantic girl cried.
After a few moments, the young Saotome managed to get to his feet again. At that time, however, he noticed that his old friend's demeanor had changed.
Ukyo's self-grooming began to slow more and more until finally she stopped. Letting her arms collapse into her lap, she averted her eyes from Ranma and tilted her head downward, not wanting to look at him.
"Ran-chan...what's going on with you and Shampoo?"
The question wasn't one Ranma was looking forward to, but he knew it was coming. Taking a deep breath, he put his hand in his pocket and leaned back against the counter.
"Honestly, I got no idea," he told her.
"No idea?" Ukyo asked, not convinced that it was the truth. "Ranma, you kissed her last night...and right in front of all of us..."
"It ain't like I knew you guys were there, y'know," Ranma was quick to point out. "As for the kiss, it just...kinda happened. I didn't plan on doin' it or nothin'."
Ukyo quirked an eyebrow in his direction. "Oh? You sure you didn't decide that she's the one you want?"
"Do I look like a guy that knows what he wants?" the young Saotome asked, shooting Ukyo a funny look.
After staring at the expression on his face for a few seconds, Ukyo couldn't help but giggle to herself a bit. "I guess not."
"That's how it is," Ranma said, scratching his head as he looked up at the ceiling. "Look, there's two things I'm sure of in life, Ucchan. First, my Pop's a moron. And second, I wanna be a strong martial artist. I don't know nothin' about all this romance junk and feelings and stuff..."
Ukyo didn't say anything, listening closely as she allowed her childhood friend to fully explain himself.
"But, y'know," Ranma added, "I think I'm gettin' a little closer to figurin' that stuff out."
As she peered over at him, Ukyo wasn't sure what to make of Ranma's words. Then, out of the corner of her eye, she happened to notice the item laying on her floor next to him.
"Hey, what's with the backpack?" she asked.
Ranma briefly looked down at the item in question. "Oh, that. Mr. Tendo kicked me outta the house 'cause Akane ran off."
"W-what?!" Ukyo gasped loudly, jumping out of her seat. "Akane! I forgot! She...she really left?"
Her reaction drew a curious stare from Ranma.
"Yeah...you know somethin' about it?"
Dejected, the okonomiyaki chef slumped back down onto her stool. "She came here last night and asked me to go with her. I told her not to go, but...I couldn't stop her. It's all my fault, Ranma. I'm sorry..."
"So...she stopped here before she left, huh?" Ranma asked, not sounding too surprised. "You're wrong though, it ain't your fault. You tried to stop her, didn't ya? She was gonna go no matter what, Ucchan. You couldn't have done nothin' else."
Ukyo just sat quietly, not even looking up at her friend.
"Jeez, you're startin' to get like Ringo," Ranma poked fun at her. "Don't worry about it, alright? She'll come back soon and everything'll be fine."
"Yeah..." she softly replied.
Even though Akane was technically her rival, they'd been together so much over the last year, whether in school or helping Ringo get acquainted with her new life, that Ukyo felt genuinely sad at the thought of her not being around. She could only hope that Ranma was right about it being a short-lived absence.
When she looked up, Ukyo saw that her visitor was putting his backpack on again.
"Where to now?" she asked him.
"Now...I'm gonna go to Shampoo's place and figure some things out," Ranma answered.
Amused by the response, Ukyo rested her chin on her palm and smirked a little. "Figure some things out, huh? Like how you feel about a certain Amazon friend of yours?"
"Maybe..." the pigtailed martial artist admitted, somewhat embarrassed as he spun around and faced the door.
With a kind smile, Ukyo hopped off of her stool and wrapped Ranma in a hug from behind.
"No matter what happens, you'll always be my Ran-chan," Ukyo said to him. "If you go there and you decide she's not the one you want, I'll still be waiting right here for you. You could even stay here with me if Mr. Tendo doesn't want you back. I know how you feel about being a girl, but I could use a good waitress, y'know."
Ranma couldn't help but smile a bit at the offer. "Thanks, Ucchan. That makes me feel a whole lot better, actually."
Feeling content, Ukyo let go and gave him a little shove.
"Then get going, you."
Once he'd regained his balance, Ranma glanced over his shoulder at her one last time. "Yeah. I'll see ya later."
After watching her pigtailed friend leave and the door close behind him, Ukyo plopped down onto one of the stools again and quietly sighed to herself.
"Sometimes...I'm too nice for my own good..."
The atmosphere inside the Tendo household was unsettling at best as Genma, Kasumi, and a distraught Soun Tendo sat at the table looking out toward the garden. Soun had already phoned in a missing person report regarding Akane to the local authorities, but it may have been for naught since there was no telling just how far she'd already gone.
"Kasumi...where...where could my little girl have gone?" he sobbed with his face planted in the table.
"I don't know, Father," Kasumi replied sadly. "I do hope she's alright. I know she's grown up quite a bit, but still..."
"She's not that little of a girl anymore," Genma disagreed, trying to raise their spirits a bit. "She's old enough to take care of herself now. We shouldn't worry about it so much."
Unfortunately for Ranma's father, his encouraging words seemed to have the opposite effect on Soun, who was livid as he raised his head and slammed his palms down on the table. "How can I not worry about this, Saotome?! She's my daughter! And whose son was it that chased her off in the first place?!"
"Come on now, Tendo!" Genma shouted, not backing down from his old friend. "You remember what it was like being young! The boy's hormones got the best of him and he kissed another girl. It happens. So Akane went a little overboard-"
"So it's Akane's fault now, is it?!" Soun angrily yelled back at him.
"Please, you two. This isn't the time for fighting," Kasumi pleaded. Even her kindred spirit couldn't seem to ease the tension between the middle-aged men, though.
Then, the eldest Tendo daughter peeked over her shoulder, thinking she'd heard the faint sound of their front door sliding open.
"Excuse me! Is anyone home?!"
"I wonder who that could be..." Kasumi said as she stood up to go greet the visitor.
Ignoring the fact that they had a guest for the time being, Genma and Soun continued to glare dangerously at one another.
"I'm not saying it's anyone's fault, Tendo!" Genma explained to his friend. "The boy made a mistake. We all do. It doesn't mean he deserves to be kicked out on the street by himself..."
Soun eyed Genma sharply while quietly contemplating his opinion for a brief moment.
"You know, you're right, Saotome," Soun finally responded. "Perhaps you'd like to join him out on the street?"
The mere thought of being homeless again made Genma's face pale with dread. "Ahahaha...you're just joking, right, Tendo...?"
Before they could converse any further, Kasumi re-entered the room smiling brightly.
"Father, Mrs. Saotome has come to visit us," she announced.
While a loud splash could be heard coming from the koi pond, Nodoka Saotome stepped out from the hallway in her blue kimono and, with her wrapped sword in hand, bowed her head lightly to Soun.
"I hope I'm not intruding," Ranma's mother greeted him.
"N-no, not at all," Soun replied, obviously surprised by her presence.
The head of the Tendo household had a good idea what had happened to his friend, but he looked over to his right just to make sure. As expected, Genma was no longer there.
As Nodoka peered out at the garden, she spotted a very familiar animal sticking out of the koi pond.
"Hello there, Mr. Panda!" she waved.
Genma, now in his panda form, raised his paw to acknowledge her, all the while breathing a sigh of relief that he'd managed to make it to the pond before his wife had spotted him in human form.
"Please, have a seat, Mrs. Saotome. I'll go make us some tea," Kasumi smiled.
Once Kasumi finished preparing the tea and Genma, who'd shaken himself dry, had moved back indoors, Nodoka decided to ask about the members of her family, who were yet again absent.
"I'm very sorry to ask yet again, but are my son and husband around?" she asked with a sparkle of hope in her eyes.
Normally, it was Soun who took it upon himself to explain that Genma and Ranma had gone on a training trip right before Nodoka had shown up. But with things as they were now, Soun wasn't feeling very up to covering for them and remained silent.
Realizing that her father had no intention of answering, Kasumi, not wanting to see the Saotomes get into any trouble, quickly stepped up to the plate.
"I'm afraid they've gone to the mou-"
"No!" Soun suddenly interrupted, drawing a surprised look from everyone in the room.
"No...?" Nodoka asked, confused about his outburst.
Genma, who was sitting fairly close to Soun, felt incredibly jittery as he watched his longtime friend take a sip of his tea.
"Ma'am, I feel as though we have much to explain to you," Soun said, calmly looking across the table at Nodoka.
"Father, wait a moment..." Kasumi whispered to him. She wasn't sure why, but Soun's demeanor had her feeling incredibly worried right now.
"I'm sorry, Kasumi," Soun apologized as he turned his attention back to Nodoka. "That explanation we owe you, ma'am...I believe it would be best served coming from THIS man!"
With little warning, Soun Tendo turned and showered Genma with the contents of his tea cup, drawing a shocked gasp from his eldest daughter.
"Grrrawwwrrrrrowwww! That's hot! What's the matter wi-!" Genma began to say, having been changed back into his human form by the hot tea. It wasn't long before the reality of his situation hit him, however. Shaking with fright, he slowly turned around to look at his wife.
Nodoka Saotome sat silent and unmoving for several seconds, stunned and confused after watching her husband seemingly appear from the body of a panda. Then, unsure how to react, she tried to stand up, but quickly fell backward to the floor as she looked at him in shock.
"Dear...you...you were a...panda..." she said in disbelief. "What...what is going on here...?!"
"Sweep, sweep, sweep..."
Outside the doors of the Cat Café, Ringo cupped her hand over her mouth and let out a light yawn as she proceeded to sweep the walkway clean.
On a typical day, the process of preparing the restaurant for opening involved an energetic Shampoo assigning one task after another to her sometimes overwhelmed waitress. Today, though, the atmosphere inside the building felt much different than usual.
From the moment Ringo arrived, she'd seen a side of Shampoo that she hadn't recalled seeing since the two of them were in China together with Ranma. The Amazon girl that always gave it her all appeared sluggish and spaced out, and rather than giving instructions to her waitress she was quiet and mostly kept to herself.
So, not wanting to bother Shampoo too much when she was like this, Ringo took the initiative and simply began working on anything that still needed to be done before it was time to open. Not that it was any trouble for her to do things like this. She'd gone through the routine so many times that instructions really weren't necessary anymore.
Once she was finished sweeping, the timid redhead placed her hands on top of the propped up broom's handle and watched some of the morning passersby while quietly pondering something Ranma had mentioned earlier.
"I wonder if someone really was watching us..." she said to herself.
Ringo then jumped as she felt someone place their hand on her shoulder all of a sudden.
"Slackin' off?" a male voice asked.
"Ranma!" Ringo gasped, not too thrilled with her former male half sneaking up on her. "Jeez, you scared me!"
"Yeah, 'cause you were daydreamin'," the pigtailed boy smirked with amusement.
The young waitress then noticed Ranma looking around, appearing to be bothered by something like he'd been earlier.
"Do you...still think someone is watching you?" she asked him.
"Maybe...I don't see nothin' though..." Ranma shook his head, deciding to let it go for the time being. "Forget that. How's Shampoo?"
Ringo briefly glanced inside the restaurant through the glass on the doors. "She...hasn't said much today."
"She hasn't, huh?" Ranma asked, rubbing his chin for a moment. "Well, let's go do somethin' about that."
"W-wait!" the redheaded girl said, stopping Ranma before he went inside. "Um...is Ukyo..."
Ranma smiled and gave her an assuring nod. "We worked it out."
Happy with the news, Ringo placed her hand over her chest and breathed a sigh of relief. "Thank goodness."
With his backpack hanging over his shoulder, Ranma readied himself and slid open the door to the restaurant.
Shampoo, he quickly noticed, was standing in the kitchen area in her red and black dress with her back turned to the entrance.
While Ringo walked in behind him and stayed by the door, Ranma strolled up to the kitchen counter and leaned on it with his good arm, resting his chin on his palm as he silently stared at his lavender-haired friend from behind.
Still distracted by her own thoughts, Shampoo just assumed when she heard the door slide open that it was Ringo coming back inside. She didn't even turn around as she examined a batch of cooking utensils she was holding.
"Ringo done sweeping?" she asked the waitress.
"Y-yes!" Ringo answered from the doorway.
Having believed that it was her waitress next to the counter, Shampoo stopped what she was doing, puzzled to hear Ringo's answer coming from so far away. Raising an eyebrow, she slowly turned around to see what was going on.
"Yo," Ranma waved his hand at her.
Startled, Shampoo threw the utensils she was holding into the air, staring wide-eyed at the pigtailed martial artist as they scattered across the kitchen floor.
Several awkward seconds passed as she looked at Ranma, unsure what exactly to say to him.
"Somethin' wrong?" Ranma tilted his head, wondering about her reaction.
Allowing herself to calm down for a moment, Shampoo tried to think of how to explain herself to him.
"Nothing...wrong," she said, looking pained as she averted her eyes from him. "Just...think maybe you mad for what Shampoo do last night..."
"For what you did?" Ranma blinked. "I was the one that kissed you, y'know."
"But..." Shampoo continued, not feeling much better about herself, "I say so much bad things..."
By "bad things," Ranma knew Shampoo was referring to the emotional tirade she went on about their relationship near the end of their date.
"Ain't like you were wrong, though," Ranma told her, prompting her to look up at him again. "I put that stuff off way too much, and it ain't fair to you, Akane, Ucchan, or anyone else."
"Ranma..." Shampoo said quietly, almost in a whisper.
The heir to the Saotome School of Anything-Goes Martial Arts cleared his throat and eyed Shampoo with a dead serious expression on his face.
"Owowowowoww! Stop! You can't go in there!"
The three inside the restaurant stood still and listened to the familiar and increasingly audible sound of a man's protests outside.
"Is that...Pop?" Ranma wondered aloud, recognizing the cries of his father, as did the girls.
"Ow! Come on, he's not in there! Stop! I'm begging you, stop!"
Curious as to what exactly her father was making such a fuss over, Ringo stepped back and peeked out the already open door to see what was going on. In an instant, the girl with the red ponytail became horrified at what she saw. Her face turning white as a ghost, she frantically turned and ran over to Ranma to warn him.
"Run! Ranma, you need to get out of here!" she shrieked.
Despite the severity of Ringo's tone, Ranma was still hesitant to move, even as she started trying to push him into hiding.
"Hey, cut it out. Why should I have to run?" he complained.
"Because!" the young waitress cried. "It's-!"
Before Ringo could finish, an anxious and determined Nodoka Saotome burst into the Cat Café carrying her wrapped sword in one hand and tugging her husband along by his ear with the other.
The moment he caught sight of his mother, Ranma felt his heart skip a beat in his chest. Fearing for his life, his first instinct was to hide as quickly as possible. But, when Nodoka locked eyes with him, Ranma froze in sheer terror.
"She...she saw me! I'm screwed...!" he thought.
"Ranma...my son, is that you?! It is, isn't it?!" Nodoka asked him with a hopeful look in her eyes.
The pigtailed martial artist took a quick glance over at Genma, who looked even more terrified than himself, and realized that he wasn't going to be of any help right now.
"M-Mom..." Ranma stuttered, taking a dry gulp. This wasn't good, he thought to himself. There was no telling what could happen next.
Teary-eyed and overwhelmed with joy, Ranma's mother let go of her husband's ear and ran over to her son, wrapping him in a loving hug with all her might.
"Ranma! My little boy!" Nodoka wept. "Finally! I've waited so long to see you again!"
Even though he knew his life was in danger, seeing the happiness on his mother's face over being reunited with him was beginning to change Ranma's outlook on the situation.
"Mom...I'm here," he assured her, managing to crack a slight smile. He'd wanted to meet his mother like this for such a long time. If not for the idiotic promise his father had made to her that they would commit ritual suicide if Ranma wasn't raised to be a man among men, he might've been able to enjoy this moment without worry.
"Ahaha, there you are, Ranma! I didn't think you'd be here!" Genma laughed, sounding very unconvincing and drawing an icy glare from his son.
"Oh, your arm! What on earth happened to you?!" Nodoka asked, placing her hand over the sling on Ranma's right arm.
"Don't worry, it's nothin'. I'll be gettin' the cast off soon," he told her.
"I see! That's good to hear," Nodoka smiled, wiping the tears from her face. "Oh, Ranma...there's so much I want to talk to you about...so much I want to ask you! But, first..."
Everyone tensed up as the middle-aged woman knelt down and grabbed the handle for a bucket of water that was sitting on the floor, which Ringo recognized as the one she'd been using to clean some of the chairs earlier. The bucket, she knew, had been sitting there for at least an hour, and the water inside had no doubt gotten cold in that time.
"Uh...M-Mom..." Ranma laughed nervously, "what're ya doin'?"
Nodoka Saotome looked back at her son with a remorseful expression.
"I must know for sure, Ranma! Forgive me!"
Panicking, Genma lunged forward to stop his wife from drenching Ranma, but he just couldn't make it in time. Nodoka quickly reached back and tossed the cold water at her terrified son.
No matter which way Ranma tried to go, he was too close to avoid having his curse activated, and he knew it.
"That's it...I'm dead..." he thought to himself.
Luckily for him, there was someone looking out for him.
The moment Nodoka tossed the water, a red and pink blur shot in front of Ranma and held her arms outward to cover as much area as possible.
Nodoka let out a gasp as the water drenched the cheerful, red-haired girl before her from head to toe. Ranma and the others could only stand in shock at how close a call that was for he and his father.
After letting out a loud sneeze, Ringo, soaking wet and cold, looked up at Nodoka with puppydog-like eyes.
"Auntie...what was that for...?" she sniffled.
"Oh! I'm so sorry, Ranko! I didn't even see you there!" Nodoka apologized profusely. "We need to get you some dry clothes..."
Shampoo, who'd been quietly observing things since Ranma's mother had abruptly shown up, leaned over the kitchen counter and placed a hand on her waitress' soggy shoulder.
"Aiyaa, you soaking wet, Ringo," the Amazon girl laughed. "No can help. You go change into one of Shampoo's dress for now."
At the mention of the redhead's name, Nodoka seemed particularly confused and gave her a funny look. "Ringo...?"
"Y-yeah! That's Ranko's nickname!" Ranma interjected with a very nervous-sounding laugh. "She likes to be called Ringo, right?!"
"O-oh, yes! That's right!" Ringo quickly answered.
Telling the truth would have been easier and made the young waitress feel much better, but presenting herself to Nodoka as "her son's former female side" wasn't the greatest of ideas given the situation that Ranma was in. Thankfully, their mother didn't appear to feel any need to question this new revelation.
"I had no idea!" Nodoka exclaimed. "Well then, I'll be sure to call you Ringo as well."
"Thank you, Auntie!" Ringo replied in perky Ranko fashion. "I'm going to go change now!"
"Just take dress from cabinet in room," Shampoo told her. But before Ringo could go, the lavender-haired girl pulled her in close and whispered a word of warning into her ear. "Just no look in bottom drawer. If you do, Shampoo have to kill you."
Ringo grimaced as Shampoo flashed her a devious smile. Even when joking with people, the Amazon teenager could be scary, she thought. Regardless of whether it was a joke or not, she figured it was in her best interest to stay out of that drawer.
While the young redhead walked back to Shampoo's room to find something dry to wear, Nodoka turned her attention back to her nerve-wracked son.
"Ranma!" Nodoka addressed him sternly. "I...I know all about your father's dreadful curse! He turns into a...a panda when splashed with water."
The pigtailed martial artist's face grew even more pale than it was before. Panicked, he looked over at his father for some sort of plan, but Genma clearly didn't have a good way to get out of this one as he stood there sweating anxiously.
"You're a big help, Pop!" Ranma inwardly cursed his father.
"I must know, Ranma...do you have a similar curse?!" Nodoka pressed on, looking as though she wanted to know the answer, but at the same time feared it. "If...if I were to splash you with water, would you, too, change into some creature?!"
Even though it was his mother, Ranma knew he couldn't tell her the truth. There was no way he could.
"Nodoka!" Genma suddenly interrupted, jumping in-between his wife and his son. "I already told you he doesn't! Why won't you believe me?!"
"Dear, it isn't that I don't trust you," she calmly told her husband. "I simply must see it with my own two eyes!"
Ranma gave his father credit for trying if nothing else, even if he was only motivated because his own butt was on the line too, but in the end it didn't help. He would have to figure a way out of this on his own.
Then, just when Ranma was trying to think up some sort of plan, he spotted Shampoo walking out into the dining area with what appeared to be a glass full of water in her hand.
"Is no problem, yes, Ranma?" she smiled, giving her friend a slight wink. "You just need show mother for self."
The pigtailed boy watched in horror as Shampoo handed the glass of water over to his mother.
"What is she THINKING?! Is she tryin' to get me killed?!" he thought frantically.
"Will you let me see, Ranma?" Nodoka asked him.
Feeling incredibly uneasy about this situation, Ranma glanced over at Shampoo again. He'd once told her about the contract Genma had made with his mother, and he had no doubt that she knew the consequences if he were to be unveiled as having a curse that transformed him into a girl. Yet, despite all this, Shampoo stood with her arms folded across her chest looking confident as ever. She had to have some kind of plan, Ranma figured.
Deciding to trust in her, Ranma turned back to his mother and slowly nodded his head. "Y-yeah, go ahead, Mom."
Nodoka wasted no time. As she reached back with the glass, Genma jumped forward to stop her, but Shampoo grabbed onto the back of his martial arts gi to keep him from interfering. There was nothing left that could stop this.
Ranma clenched his fists tightly in anticipation and closed his eyes, allowing the water to splash all over his face and shirt. Then, only a moment later, he opened his eyes wide with surprise.
"It's warm...?!" he thought.
While Genma collapsed to the restaurant floor, overwhelmed by the tense occurrence, Nodoka ecstatically ran over and wrapped her son in a tight hug. "You really aren't cursed! Oh, I'm so glad!"
Still half spooked to death, Ranma just chuckled halfheartedly at his mother's reaction. "Yeah...ain't it great...?"
The relieved martial artist peered over at Shampoo, who giggled a bit and playfully stuck her tongue out at him. While Nodoka knew about the Jusenkyo curses, she evidently didn't know that only cold water triggered them. Luckily for Ranma, Shampoo had picked up on it and figured out a way to deceive her.
"I truly am relieved," Nodoka said. As she let go of him again, however, that happiness quickly turned to concern. "But...oh, Ranma, I've heard all about poor Akane. What on earth happened that would drive such a sweet girl to run away from home like this?"
Unaware of what had happened, Shampoo froze up in shock at the mention of Akane's disappearance. This wasn't the way Ranma had wanted her to find out about it, but nothing was in his control right now.
"Akane...run away...?" the Amazon girl asked with surprise.
"Yeah..." Ranma groaned.
"Soun said something about her seeing you and another girl...together..." Nodoka began to say, her eyes slowly drifting over to Shampoo as she spoke. "Who is this young lady, by the way? I don't believe we've met."
Ranma looked back and forth between his mother and Shampoo a few times, trying to recall if that truly was the case. "Now that ya mention it, I guess ya haven't met her yet. This is-"
"Shampoo," the lavender-haired girl introduced herself, lightly bowing her head before Nodoka. "Is honor to meet Ranma mother after such long time."
"Well, you're very polite. I'm Nodoka Saotome. It's a pleasure to meet you," the middle-aged woman smiled. "Um...that girl Akane saw my son with...was that...?"
Shampoo quietly nodded her head in response and then walked over to the restaurant door and slid it shut. "Ranma and mother have many thing to talk about Shampoo think, but Ranma just say before you come that he very hungry. Maybe is good idea cook boys lunch and then talk, yes?"
It took a couple of seconds for it to hit him, but Ranma finally got the hint after Shampoo looked over in his direction.
"O-oh, yeah! I'm starvin'! I ain't eaten nothin' yet today..."
"Goodness, I had no idea!" Nodoka said, disappointed that she hasn't picked up on it sooner. "I should have known. You are a growing boy after all. Let's get you something to eat."
"Ranma and father sit then. It no take too long," Shampoo instructed them, seemingly having regained her usual energy as she turned to Nodoka again. "Is very long time since Ranma taste you cooking. Ranma mother help Shampoo, yes?"
"Of course! I would love to," Nodoka beamed happily. "And please, call me Mrs. Saotome."
With Shampoo leading his wife into the kitchen and his blood pressure dropping back down to more normal levels, Genma managed to crawl back to his feet and thank the gods that he was still alive. "That Shampoo girl...she just bought us some time to get our stories straight."
Alone with his father at last, a frustrated Ranma grabbed him by the collar of his gi and barked at him in a loud whisper.
"And what's she doin' here in the first place, huh?! Are you outta your mind?!"
"It's not my fault! Tendo sold us out! He's being completely unreasonable right now," Genma said in his defense. "You should be thankful I got your mother out of there before Tendo told her everything!"
Ranma glared angrily at his father, but gradually got himself to calm down a bit. "Okay, fine. So now what, genius?"
"Now we act natural!" Genma told him. "So long as she doesn't know about your curse, we'll be fine. And don't mention too much about China either. We don't want to make your mother worry too much."
The pigtailed boy understood what his father meant as he gazed over into the kitchen area.
"Yeah. I just hope Shampoo don't let nothin' slip."
Meanwhile, inside the kitchen, Shampoo was in the process of bringing out fresh vegetables and other cooking materials while Nodoka looked around for certain pieces of equipment she wanted to use.
"Excuse me, but where are your cutting boards at?' Ranma's mother asked.
"They in drawer over there," Shampoo answered, pointing at a cabinet just behind the middle-aged woman.
"Ah, thank you," Nodoka smiled. "It must feel odd having someone else poke around in your kitchen like this."
Shampoo hadn't thought about it, but Nodoka really was the first person other than her to use the kitchen since her great-grandmother had left the restaurant and returned to China.
"No used to have other person cook here, but Shampoo glad get chance to cook with you," the Amazon replied cheerfully.
"Is that right?" Nodoka asked as she grabbed a green onion and began chopping at it with a knife. She seemed much more curious about the meaning behind Shampoo's words than she was flattered by them. "I'm sorry if my behavior seems a bit awkward. It's just...I've grown very fond of Akane and the rest of the Tendo family, you see."
The lavender-haired girl calmly shook her head. "You no need explain. Shampoo understand, Mrs. Saotome."
Despite her valid suspicions that Shampoo was a factor in Akane running away, Nodoka Saotome couldn't help but admire the teenage girl's politeness.
"Ah...Shampoo, was it?" she asked. "Tell me...how do you feel about my son?"
Shampoo was quiet for a moment as she took a carrot she'd been peeling and laid it down on the counter.
"Ranma is very strong man, but also kind person," she said, a warm smile crossing her face. "Many thing happen since we meet, but...always love Ranma very much."
Nodoka was happy to hear such praise for her son, but she was also surprised at just how open Shampoo was about her feelings toward him. It was virtually the opposite of Akane's general embarrassment whenever the subject was brought up.
"I see. And...how does he feel about you?" Ranma's mother asked.
"Shampoo...afraid no know that," the Amazon girl replied with a hint of sadness in her voice. "No sure even Ranma know answer for that one."
"Yes...being young can be difficult sometimes," Nodoka said softly before resuming her food preparation. "If it isn't too much trouble, would you tell me about how you met my son? I'm afraid all I know about him is what I've heard from the Tendo family."
Talking with Ranma's mother like this felt a bit strange, but, as she figured, Shampoo was finding herself enjoying the opportunity to get to know her. She would have to avoid any mentions of girl-type Ranma in her stories, but that was manageable enough.
"Shampoo be happy to."
Out in the dining area, Genma and Ranma were quietly discussing some minor details in their lunchtime strategy when Ringo walked in wearing a dark blue dress she'd found in Shampoo's room.
"That was too close," the redhead sighed, referring to Ranma nearly being drenched by her cleaning bucket earlier.
"You ain't kiddin'," Ranma said in agreement. "I owe ya big time for that one."
"Darn right you do!" Genma emphasized to his son before giving Ringo an approving look. "I'm glad to have such a capable, attentive daughter like you!"
Ringo seemed embarrassed by the compliment while Ranma scowled over at their father.
"Oh, it's nothing really! I'm just glad it worked!" the young waitress laughed. "Um...where are Shampoo and Mo-err, no, I mean...Mrs. Saotome?"
Ranma could tell just by looking at Ringo that she didn't just consider Nodoka her "Auntie."
"Guess she's technically your mom too, ain't she?' he shrugged. "They're in the kitchen cookin' lunch. Why don'tcha go help 'em out?"
"Ehh?" the redhead began to fidget nervously at the suggestion. "Do...do you think they'd mind?"
Fed up with Ringo's worrisome attitude, Ranma spun her around and gave her a little shove toward the kitchen area. "Just go and quit worryin' about stuff. Sheesh."
"Ouch!" Ringo complained, shooting her former male half an upset look. She really didn't get many chances to spend time with Nodoka though, she thought, and she didn't want to just let an opportunity like this slip her by.
Gathering up her courage, the girl with the red ponytail headed back to the entrance to the kitchen while Genma and Ranma looked on.
"You know," Genma began to say, "I'm sure if your mother ever knew the truth, she'd accept Ringo as her own daughter in a heartbeat."
For once, Ranma couldn't have agreed with him more.
"Yeah. Maybe someday, huh?"
Unlike everything else that had happened to Ranma today, eating lunch with his mother and the others at the Cat Café actually turned out well. So well, in fact, that he happened to like it. While Shampoo cooked a couple of her favorite Chinese dishes and sides, Nodoka, with some volunteered help from Ringo, prepared some more traditional, Japanese-style dishes. The result was an impressively diverse meal that everyone, Genma and Ranma especially, thoroughly enjoyed as they ate to their hearts' content.
It didn't take Ranma long to find out that his mother and Shampoo had been talking about him in the kitchen. During the meal, Nodoka began praising the tales of her son's manliness that she'd heard from the young Amazon teen, some of which even Ranma had no idea he'd done. A quick glance over to the greatly amused Shampoo gave him good reason to believe that she'd exaggerated some of her stories, but he didn't have the heart to tell his mother that some of them weren't entirely true. Like they say, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," he figured.
Once they'd all finished eating and Nodoka helped clean the dishes, Ranma was genuinely surprised and even a little disappointed when his mother announced that she was going back home. After giving her son a slip of paper with the address to their home on it, she and the others walked outside the restaurant to say goodbye for the day.
"I'm so happy I finally got to see you again, Ranma," Nodoka told him, wiping a small tear from her eye. "But...well, I know you have a lot of things to sort out in your life right now, so I'll be heading back home."
"Yeah, guess I do. I'm real glad I got to see ya like this, Mom. I've really wanted to for a long time now," Ranma said before turning to his father. "What're you gonna do now, Pop?"
"Well, I...I might move back home with your mother," Genma replied, glancing hopefully over at his wife, "if that's okay with you, of course, Dear...!"
Nodoka nodded her head in approval. "You know you're welcome to, Dear. It may be best that way since Soun seems a bit upset with you."
"Th-that's true," Genma sulked.
With one last piece of business to address, Nodoka turned her attention to her son again. "Oh, Ranma, about Soun kicking you out of his home..."
Noticeably cringing, Ranma slowly glanced over at Shampoo, who had a very expectedly surprised look on her face. He couldn't help silently cursing his luck as his mother was now a perfect two for two at letting the cat out of the bag on things that he'd wanted to tell Shampoo himself.
"You're at that age where I'm sure you like to run your own life and do what you want, so I won't force you," Nodoka continued, "but you're certainly welcome to come live with us."
Ranma had to admit, the offer was an enticing one. Not only would he get to see his mother everyday, but he'd get to eat her cooking on a regular basis as well. Living with her didn't come without its share of risks though, particularly whenever it involved cold water.
"That sounds nice, but...could ya let me think about it for a while?" he asked.
"Of course. You have the address now, so you know where to find us," Nodoka replied contently. She then looked over at the lavender-haired girl standing next to her son. "It was very nice to meet you, Shampoo, Dear. I'm sure my son must be a handful sometimes, but please take care of him. And you too, Ra-I mean...Ringo. I'm sorry, I'll get used to that. Please look after Soun as well. He's going through a difficult time right now."
"Don't worry, Auntie! Ranma and Uncle Tendo are in good hands!" Ringo shouted happily.
Shampoo politely bowed her head before Ranma's mother again. "Shampoo have fun talk with you today, Mrs. Saotome. You is welcome here anytime."
Nodoka smiled kindly and nodded at Shampoo, and then looked back at Ranma again. "I suppose we'll be off, then. Can I get a hug from my son before I go?"
"You don't gotta ask," the pigtailed boy said as he walked up to his mother and gave her a hug.
He was a bit surprised, however, when his mother put her mouth up next to his ear and whispered something into it.
"She's a wonderful girl, Ranma."
Ranma began blushing as he backed away, looking embarrassed while his parents walked off down the road.
"Goodbye! Take care of yourselves!" Nodoka called out to everyone. "And be sure to tell me when Akane comes home!"
"Bye!" the three standing outside the restaurant waved.
Once his parents had left his sight, Ranma let out an exhausted sigh and wearily crumbled to his knees. "Man, that coulda been real bad. You guys really saved me there."
Shampoo folded her arms and leered over at her redheaded waitress with an icy look in her eyes. "Get feeling Ringo no tell Shampoo very important, need know thing..."
"I wanted to, but Ranma told me not to!" Ringo defended herself.
"Yeah, I kinda wanted to talk to ya about it myself. Sorry 'bout that," Ranma apologized as he stood back up.
"Aiyaa, Shampoo no know! Is okay then," the Amazon girl said, focusing her attention on Ranma. "Akane father...kick Ranma out of house?"
"Yeah..." Ranma grumbled.
Shampoo knew exactly what she wanted to ask him, but she wasn't sure what kind of answer she'd get. No matter what his answer was though, it couldn't hurt to ask, she finally decided.
"Listen," the pigtailed martial artist interrupted, looking unusually serious. "Like I was tryin' to say earlier..."
Startled by the shrill sound of Ringo screaming, Ranma and Shampoo spun around to see what was wrong. What they saw didn't concern Ranma much, but it was enough to draw a gasp from the mouth of his Amazon friend.
With her gym bag draped over her shoulder, the blonde-haired woman named Alysse, a regular customer of the Cat Café for the past month, stood before a mortified Ringo wearing a white tank top and black jeans. It was the first time she'd ever shown up at the restaurant wearing anything other than her navy blue jogging suit, but that point went largely unnoticed due to the fact that she looked like she'd just gotten into a fight with someone. Not only was there a large bandage on the left side of her forehead, but there was deep bruising on the bridge of her nose, as well as near the bottom of her right cheek.
"Alysse! What happened to you?!" Ringo shrieked.
Unlike the panicked waitress, Alysse didn't seem too concerned about her physical state as she smiled down at the girl and shrugged her shoulders like it wasn't a big deal. "Some friends and I just got a little rowdy playing soccer yesterday. I'm fine."
"You no look fine..." Shampoo pointed out.
Ringo still looked disturbed as she reached up and rubbed Alysse's cheek. "But...but...it looks so painful..."
Chuckling to herself a bit, Alysse reached out and patted Ringo on the head.
"I'll live. I'm tougher than I look," she smiled, taking notice of the pigtailed boy standing next to the two restaurant workers. "And who's this?"
"Oh, that's Ranma," Ringo said as she looked over at him. "Ranma, this is Alysse. She comes here every day to eat. She's a really nice person."
Ranma narrowed his eyes at the woman, feeling somewhat curious about her injuries as he looked closely at her. "Yo..."
"So you're Ranma! I've heard Shampoo and Ringo here talk about you now and then," she said before turning her attention to Shampoo. "Are you open today?"
Shampoo blinked several times as she wondered what to do about her restaurant.
"Mmm...since Ranma mother gone, no see why not," she said. "Ringo, you go inside with Alysse. Shampoo be right there."
"Sure!" the energetic waitress happily agreed.
Before they could go inside, however, Ranma wanted to know something from the girls' acquaintance.
"Hey...did ya win that soccer game?"
Hesitating for a moment, the blonde-haired woman looked back at him and slowly shook her head in response. "I'm afraid not. It isn't always about winning or losing though. Sometimes...it's just important to leave with everything you came with."
Ringo and Alysse then headed inside, leaving Ranma to ponder just what it was that bothered him about the woman.
"For someone that would go far enough in a little soccer game to have their face lookin' like that, she sure don't come off as competitive..." he said to himself.
"Ranma..." Shampoo interrupted his train of thought, "what soccer?"
The pigtailed martial artist glanced over at his friend, looking surprised. "You dunno?"
Shampoo shook her head.
"Well..." Ranma thought about it for a moment, "it's this sport where there's a team on each side of a big field, and they each got a goal that they try to kick a ball into."
"How many ball?" Shampoo asked.
"You throw ball?"
"Nah, can't use your hands."
The Amazon girl quietly pondered the concept for a moment. "Soccer sound interesting..."
"It ain't really..." Ranma began to say, then realizing that he was deviating from what he wanted to do yet again. "Forget that. Anyway..."
"Ah...that right, you want say something, yes?" Shampoo apologized.
"Yeah, it's about...us..." he told her.
The lavender-haired girl's eyes opened wide. Wondering just what Ranma wanted to say, she actually began to feel a little nervous and could feel her heart starting to beat faster.
"Shampoo listen..." she said softly.
Trying to ready himself, Ranma took a deep breath and cleared his throat again.
After a few moments of silence, Shampoo tilted her head, giving Ranma a curious look while she waited for him to continue.
Rather than thinking about what he wanted to say next though, Ranma instead began staring up at a large, brown-feathered bird on the ledge of the Cat Café's roof.
"Is that...what I think it is?"
Glancing up to see what he was talking about, Shampoo seemed just as perplexed as Ranma was. "That bird...is falcon. What bird like that do here...?"
The two warriors became alert very quickly when they heard a loud rustling sound start up all of a sudden. Looking over their shoulders, they spotted a large vortex twisting around at a high speed behind them, and it came at them with enough velocity to catch both of them off guard.
From out of the twirling vortex, a boot slammed into Ranma's face, sending him through the restaurant's front door and crashing through a number of tables and chairs inside before he finally tumbled to a stop.
Ringo could be heard screaming from inside, shaken by the rough entry of her former male half. "Ranma! W-what happened?!"
"Are you okay?!" Alysse asked, running over to him.
Outside, the spinning vortex that attacked Ranma rapidly began to slow down. When it finally came to a stop, all that was left was a man crouching near the ground.
Brushing from his face the shaggy, dirty blonde hair that hung down near his shoulders, the man wore what Shampoo immediately recognized as the dark green uniform of the Chinese military with his jacket unbuttoned to reveal a white undershirt beneath. Numerous scars could be seen on his neck and arms, as he had his sleeves rolled up to his elbows.
"An Amazon and a guy with a pigtail," he said, slowly standing up with a delighted look on his face. "You're the ones I've been looking for."
"What you think you doing?!" Shampoo cried out angrily.
Not at all happy with the man's actions, Shampoo took a sharp swing at his head. He would prove that his uniform wasn't just a fashion statement though. Without even looking, the scarred up man caught her by the wrist before shooting her a fiery look.
"Don't interfere in a man's battle, Amazon."
Then, before the unknown man could even refocus, Ranma suddenly shot out of the restaurant and slammed his fist into his attacker's nose. Clearly unprepared for the pigtailed martial artist's speed, the man flipped head over heels before regaining his senses and sliding to a stop on his feet.
The girls inside the Cat Café hurriedly ran to the door to see what was going on, but were stopped by a cautious Shampoo blocking the doorway.
"Ringo and Alysse stay back!" Shampoo told them, holding out her arm.
"Thanks for the kick, buddy," Ranma growled, reaching up and rubbing his chin with his forearm. "You the one that's been watchin' me all morning?"
"Ohh, you noticed?" the stranger laughed, seemingly more intrigued than upset as a trickle of blood ran from his nostrils. "That was a nice punch! Looks like I shouldn't take my eyes off you for too long. Just what I'd expect from the man that killed Li."
The mention of Li's name fully grabbed Ranma's attention as he sharpened his glare at the unknown man.
In the nearby area, other pedestrians who saw the confrontation either left as quickly as they could or stood watching the spectacle with interest.
"That's some look you've got, Pigtail! How about I tell you something interesting? I'm part of the Chinese military's special operations unit. You can call me by my codename, Jukai," the man told Ranma with a wide grin on his face.
"And just to make myself clear...I'm here to take Yanlou from you."
"Yanlou?!" Shampoo exclaimed, appearing confused as she looked over at Ranma. "Ranma say that scythe break!"
"It did," Ranma said, glaring coldly at Jukai. "Sorry, pal, but I ain't got that thing. It's gone."
"Oh, yes, blown to pieces, right?" Jukai laughed with amusement. "I heard all about it. It doesn't matter."
"Whadya mean it don't matter?! The scythe's gone!" Ranma snapped back at him.
Jukai smirked a bit as he observed the young Saotome's confusion. "You don't know this, but I went to Nekonron to collect it after I heard what happened. What do you think I found?"
Shampoo and Ranma stayed silent, anxiously wondering what the Chinese soldier was getting at.
"Nothing. It was gone," Jukai said, much to the bewilderment of the others. "I asked everyone at Seven Luck Mountain about it, but it seems none of them took it. And I doubt anyone could step onto heavily-monitored land like that and take it. Which means...it's still alive. And since you're it's master, it has to be with you."
While Ranma knew this man named Jukai was wrong about the scythe's location, he had to wonder why the pieces of Yanlou had disappeared. The scythe was destroyed, he thought, and the spirits within it were inside himself now. So how could their old vessel vanish on its own?
"Ranma leave that one in China, stupid boy! He no have that anymore!" Shampoo shouted at the shaggy-haired man.
Jukai shrugged his shoulders, not caring in the least. "Maybe that's true, maybe not. Either way...if I beat him, Yanlou will acknowledge me as its master."
Those standoffish words were exactly what Ranma wanted to hear as he took a step forward and eyed the visitor closely.
"That a challenge?"
"That should be obvious," Jukai replied.
"Fine. You're on," the pigtailed boy smiled, drawing looks of concern from both Shampoo and Ringo. "First though, tell me why ya want that scythe. Don't you got any idea what that thing does to ya?"
The scarred-up soldier raised a hand and began scratching his head, jokingly acting like he was trying to remember. "Tries to take complete control of you, yes?"
Ranma clenched his fists tightly, glaring furiously at the indifferent man. "If you know that, then why?! You wanna lose yourself that bad?! You ain't got any idea what that's like!"
Jukai grinned almost maniacally at Ranma's outburst.
"Bad memories?" he chuckled coldly to himself. "I'm not worried about things like that though. As far as I'm concerned, there's one thing that makes a little thing like that worth the price...and that's POWER!"
From above the Cat Café, the falcon that had been sitting on the ledge of the roof flew down and perched itself atop Jukai's right shoulder, spreading its wings as it set Ranma in its sight.
"Now...let's play, Pigtail."
Shampoo slowly walked up next to Ranma and placed her hand on his broken arm. "Ranma, this man no is like those ones we fight last night. You no should fight this one with arm like that."
"I ain't got a choice," Ranma told her. The excited smile on his face told a different story from his hesitant words. "Besides, I can take this guy. Just watch me."
"Oh, Ranma, you're always so unreasonable!" Ringo chided him from the restaurant entrance. "Just...be careful, okay?!"
"Can't promise that," he smirked, then turning to look at his lavender-haired friend.
"I know you don't want me fightin' like this, but don't help me out this time. This guy challenged me, so I'm askin' ya...just let me kick his ass, alright?"
Shampoo stood silently for a moment, torn between looking out for her love interest's safety and indulging him in his desires. But, as she shook her head, she couldn't help smiling to herself.
"Ranma always be Ranma," she told him, holding her hand up into the air. "I let you fight. Is promise."
Smiling, Ranma clasped his good hand against hers. "Thanks."
Jukai, tired of waiting, crouched down near the ground and placed his hand against the pavement.
"Are you done?" he asked impatiently.
While Shampoo backed up out of the way, Ranma turned back to face Jukai and took up a fighting stance with his left side out in front.
"Sorry for the wait. Let's go!"
*beep beep beep beep beep beep beep!*
Ranma and the others blinked as a loud noise began coming from the direction of Jukai, who didn't seem too anxious to do anything about it.
*beep beep beep beep beep beep beep!*
The two fighters didn't move as second after second passed and the beeping persisted, but it gradually got to the point where Jukai's eye began twitching with irritation.
"You gonna do somethin' about that or what?!" Ranma growled.
"Shut the hell up!" Jukai shouted as he shot to his feet.
Gritting his teeth, the Chinese soldier pulled out a cell phone from his jacket pocket, angrily slammed his finger onto one of its buttons, and held it up to his ear.
"Freakin' annoying! What the hell do you want?!" he barked into the device in Mandarin.
Ranma loosened up and placed his hand on his hip, curious about just who his opponent was talking to.
"Tell it to someone else! I'm off-duty! Do you know what off-duty means?!" Jukai continued yelling with frustration. "Have the pig and his woman go take care of it, dammit!"
"Pig and woman...?" Shampoo wondered to herself.
"Huh?" Ranma looked back at her. "What's he sayin'?"
The shaggy-haired man only seemed to become more enraged as the conversation wore on. "I don't care! Why should I?!"
Shampoo walked up to her pigtailed friend again and put her mouth near his ear. "Think he get called to work."
Ranma and the others watched as Jukai began to calm down, seemingly resigned to his fate.
"Fine, I got it. Later," he finally said, ending the call. Once he'd finished, however, he immediately lit up again and crushed the phone in his hand.
"Problems at work?" Ranma poked fun at him.
Seething, Jukai threw the mangled phone to the ground and pointed a finger at his target. "You listen to me, Pigtail! I don't know when, but I'll be back for that scythe! Even if you run away, I WILL find you and take what I want!"
"Like I'd run from you!" Ranma snapped. "You come back here whenever ya want! I'll be waitin', jerk!"
"Fine! We'll see!" Jukai snarled back at him.
Reluctantly, the scarred-up soldier spun around and started walking westward down the street, leaving some relieved girls and one disappointed martial artist behind in his wake.
"Well, that was...interesting," Alysse calmly noted from the doorway. "Are things always like this?"
"With Ranma, pretty much," Ringo sighed. "I'm just glad that man left for now."
Ranma didn't seem nearly as happy about it as he stood there grumbling to himself. "Tch...I really wanted to plant my fist in his nose again..."
Shampoo could understand his feelings, but right now she agreed with Ringo. She didn't like Ranma fighting with a handicap at all, especially against someone as dangerous looking as Jukai. With any luck, she thought, he wouldn't be back until Ranma's right arm was completely healed.
For now, though, she had a restaurant to run.
"Okay, that all over," Shampoo announced, clapping her hands to get everyone's attention. "Ringo, you clean up mess, please? And Alysse go sit. Shampoo take order in minute."
"S-sure," Ringo looked up at the blonde-haired woman. "Let's go!"
"Alright then," Alysse smiled.
With the girls disappearing into the restaurant and onlookers returning to their regular business, Ranma and Shampoo were left alone outside again. Ranma placed his hand in his pocket while Shampoo folded her hands behind her back, and the two of them shared a quiet look for a moment before Ranma finally spoke up.
"This has kinda been a...weird day," he said.
"Shampoo think same thing," the Amazon girl agreed as she looked up at her friend. "So...Ranma want finish what try to say before?"
In the midst of being riled up by Jukai's arrival, Ranma had nearly forgotten what he'd come to the restaurant for, he realized.
"Oh, yeah..." he replied, scoping out the surrounding area closely to see if anyone would interrupt him again.
"Is just us here now," Shampoo pointed out.
Ranma's visual scan of the road suggested that she was right.
"'Kay. Uhh...I ain't...good at this sorta thing," Ranma shied away, looking embarrassed, "but..y'know...we're friends..."
"Friends..." Shampoo said, trying to follow what he was saying.
Struggling to find the right words to use, Ranma slapped his hand onto his forehead. "We're friends, but...maybe we can...take it slow..."
"Slow..." the lavender-haired girl repeated.
"Yeah, slow..." Ranma nodded, "and then...we could...I dunno...be...more than that?"
Shampoo batted her eyes several times, wondering if she'd heard him right.
"Ranma...want be more than friends?'
Nervously, Ranma looked back at her to gauge her reaction.
When the teenage warrior from the Amazon village of Joketsuzoku heard Ranma utter those words, she felt happier than she'd ever been in her entire life. With tears of joy starting to form in her eyes, she wrapped her arms around the pigtailed boy's neck and pressed her lips against his in an emotional kiss she'd been wanting to give him for what seemed like an eternity.
Again catching the stares of some of the passersby with the public show of affection, Ranma was blushing furiously when Shampoo broke the kiss, still lovingly latched onto his neck.
"H-hey..." Ranma stammered, at a loss for words.
Shampoo excitedly smiled up at him as she wiped the tears away from her face.
"Shampoo sorry, just...wait so long for this," she laughed happily. "If Ranma want take thing slow, then we go slow. How feel about each other...that all is important."
"Yeah..." Ranma cracked a smile as he wrapped his arm around her.
To say this was a bit different for him would be an understatement, but he could get used to it, he figured.
"So...uhh...what about the restaurant?"
"Mmm...really should get ready to open," Shampoo pouted, not wanting to let go of Ranma just yet. Then, an intrigued look came over her when she remembered something she wanted to tell him earlier. "You know, Cat Café have opening for busboy."
Ranma had a feeling what she was getting at.
"Oh yeah? How's the pay?"
"Is lousy," Shampoo giggled, "but also have benefit like free meal and warm place to sleep."
The heir to the Saotome School of Anything-Goes Martial Arts rubbed his chin while he pondered the job offer.
"Cooked by you?"
"Man, you drive a tough bargain," Ranma smiled down at her. "I'll have to think about it."
"Oh? Is any way can convince you?" Shampoo playfully asked.
"Maybe. We'll see."
Somewhere in the mountains west of Tokyo, a lone girl wearing a dark, hooded sweatshirt to keep warm trudged through an eerily quiet forest, hearing only the sound of sticks crunching under her footsteps.
Akane Tendo was mentally and physically worn out. She hadn't slept nor ate since leaving home late the night before. All she could think about was how much she just wanted to get away from there.
But now, with the sun beginning to set on the horizon and the realization of how rough it would be on her own out here, Akane was starting to second guess her decision to leave.
"Maybe...I went too far..."
Despite her words, Akane kept on walking, leaning up against trees on occasion when the pain of hunger in her stomach got to be too great. She began wondering about what Ukyo was trying to tell her before she left, that she wasn't thinking clearly, and started to consider that she may have been right after all.
Gradually, with the fading sunlight shining down through the trees above, the youngest Tendo daughter came to a stop and looked back in the direction of Tokyo.
"I bet Dad's really worried. Kasumi too."
Unfortunately, Akane's thought process led her to remember one of the other residents of the Tendo home; her fiancée.
The image of Ranma kissing Shampoo the night before began playing over and over again in her mind, twisting her emotions in all of the wrong ways.
"How...how could I go back after that...?" she shook with anger, gritting her teeth as she slammed her fist into an ill-fated tree. "After all we'd been through...Ranma, you..."
Just then, Akane heard the sound of someone walking nearby and quickly perked up. It wasn't just one sound, she noticed. There were several of them coming from different directions.
As she glanced straight ahead, Akane soon spotted someone with the appearance of a druid, completely enveloped in a black cloak, walking toward her. She then saw another coming from her left, and yet another from her right. Three more soon appeared from behind her, making six of them total, all draped in the exact same type of cloak.
"This is truly a glorious day..." one of them, a man, said in Mandarin.
Fearing for her safety, Akane dropped her backpack to the ground and readied to defend herself, keeping a close eye on all of the cloaked individuals.
"For thousands of years, our order has protected and passed on the last command of the one who shall rule this world," the same man as before continued to speak. "As it states, on this day, at this time, at this spot in the steep hills of the land to the east, we have found the one who will carry on her will!"
Akane grew increasingly irritated as she stared over at the one who'd been talking. "I can't understand a thing you're saying! What do you guys want?!"
The man didn't answer her. There was no need.
"Subdue her," he ordered the others.
Five of the cloaked individuals moved in without hesitation. Akane wasn't going to wait for all of them to get to her at once though. She immediately took the initiative and bolted toward the one on her left, dropping them with a knee to the ribs followed by a sharp uppercut to the chin.
With one of them dazed, a second one tried to grab Akane from behind, but instead caught an elbow to the face. A third and fourth one swiftly attempted to to knock Akane to the ground before she noticed them, but she moved to the side, tossing one of them over her shoulder and very effectively kicking the other in the groin area.
Then, towering above her from behind, the largest of the cloaked attackers covered Akane's mouth with a chloroform-soaked cloth and held onto her as best he could to keep her from escaping.
As the chloroform started to take its effect on her, Akane tried with what strength she had left to break free, but the first two attackers that she'd taken out had recovered enough to join in, each of them grabbing hold of one of her arms to contain her.
Her body already weakened from a lack of food and sleep, the numbers were simply too much for Akane to overcome. As the chloroform fumes put her to sleep, Akane's eyes slowly closed and her assailants let her gently crumble down to the ground, unconscious.
A demented smile crossing his face underneath his cloak, the man who'd been talking earlier raised his arms into the air and looked up to the sky.
"The time of her resurrection nears. Our mistress...our goddess...she will reform this world as she intended to so long ago. And we shall be by her side to bear witness to it all!"
End of Part I of "A Midsummer Night's Beauty"
Author's note: Whew! Finally done with the first part of this story. Only took me about...what, a year and five months? It's been a long ride with its ups and downs, but it's been fun for me to write and I'm glad people have followed along to this point. I appreciate all the input everyone's given over the course of the story, both positive and negative, as it's helped me make the story a lot better than it originally was. And the good news, if you've enjoyed it, is that it's nowhere near done. This was just the first of three parts.
I was torn for a good while about whether I wanted to start Part II as a new story or just keep it with this one, but in the end I decided that I'd rather keep it all as one single entry. Just to keeps things flowing smoothly though, I'll add a short interlude before I start Part II to help transition between the two parts of the story.
And with that being said, here's a short preview for the next arc in this story, which I've been greatly looking forward to writing for a long, long time now:
Ranma has finally come to see Shampoo as more than a friend, but how will their relationship grow? And will Ranma's other suitors have anything to say about it? One of them in particular is about to face the challenge of her life when she confronts the demons of her past, and Ranma may have to face the challenge of HIS life if Jukai can ever drag himself away from his military duties. Plus, strange things are happening in China that may turn out to be a bigger problem than Ranma and the others could ever imagine.
All of this coming soon in "A Midsummer Night's Beauty, Part II: Queen of Extreme!"