A Midsummer Night's Beauty, Part III: Requiem for Youth
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 OC's that I've added into this story. Just so you know.
"I've got a pulse, but it's weak!"
"Go, go, go! Move, move, move!"
Shampoo stood there, breathless and trembling. Before her eyes, Ranma was being whisked away. Surrounded by doctors, he vanished behind the glossy doors of the operating room, and a terrifying thought occurred to Shampoo: she may have just seen Ranma alive for the very last time.
An older woman, one of the hospital's employees, sat Shampoo down in the waiting area. Maybe it was just that the air conditioning was cranked up, but it felt awfully cold in that room. It stunk of an exceeding cleanliness, too. The woman put an arm around Shampoo and spoke to her, doing what she could to calm the girl. Shampoo wasn't listening, though. Mentally, she couldn't have been any further from reality right now.
Shampoo's arms and clothing were covered in Ranma's blood, something the hospital employee felt would only exacerbate Shampoo's anxiety while she waited. The older woman provided some additional comforting words and went to grab a clean set of clothes and a water basin to get Shampoo washed up.
Left alone, Shampoo turned her red-stained palms upward and looked down at them. There were so many things racing through her mind that they would be impossible to count. What had happened while she was away from the restaurant? Who had done this to Ranma? Was it Kodachi? Who else would want to do this to Ranma? And it wasn't only things like that, but also the what ifs; namely, what if Ranma didn't make it? What if he was gone? What would she do then? A life without Ranma…the idea shook Shampoo right to her core. Just thinking about it made her want to scream. She didn't even want to fathom the possibility of such a thing happening.
Shampoo rocked forward and back in her chair, just trying to occupy herself and keep the horrible thoughts at bay. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed something else was happening closer to the emergency room's entrance. Several nurses were present as someone was being laid onto a stretcher…by Ryoga. Shampoo turned her head. No, she wasn't mistaken; it really was Ryoga. And he wasn't alone.
The stretcher was wheeled off, and Ryoga and Meilin, not having any further business at the hospital, turned to leave. Then, contact. From out of nowhere, Shampoo pounced onto Meilin, driving her down to the floor.
"Hey, what-!" Meilin grabbed Shampoo by the wrists, but not before taking a sharp left fist to the face.
"Shampoo?" Ryoga didn't have the time to act surprised. He grabbed Shampoo from behind, struggling to pull her away from his partner. "Calm down! What's going on?"
Ryoga's superior strength didn't stop Shampoo from at least attempting to break free of his hold. All of her pent-up anger, along with a murderous glare, was focused directly on Meilin. "Is you one who do this to Ranma?"
Meilin propped herself up, holding a hand against her stinging cheek. "Saotome?" She caught sight of the blood all over Shampoo. With that, it wasn't hard to put two and two together. "She got to him, too?"
Shampoo had rushed to make accusations based on Meilin's shady past and her history with she and Ranma. One look at her expression, however, and Shampoo got the impression Meilin wasn't just feigning ignorance. "Who you talk about?"
Ryoga and Meilin shared a long look with each other. Unpleasant though it was, they knew what needed to be done. Ryoga spun around the other way and let Shampoo go, making sure to keep himself between the two fiery women.
"Sit down," he told Shampoo. "There's some things you need to know about."
Back out on the streets, a fair ways from the hospital where Ranma's life hung in the balance, a sight not seen for weeks now had graced the town once again; it was the vision of the largest spatula most bystanders had ever seen. The owner of the oversized utensil strode down the concrete path taking wide steps. She walked with her back straight, head held high. In her heavily-taped hands, a freshly-written letter of challenge flapped in the breeze.
Ukyo Kuonji, brimming with confidence, had returned.
Ukyo walked with a purpose. Her destination? The Cat Café restaurant. Her plan? To head inside, stroll right up to Shampoo, and slap the challenge letter up against the girl's face.
Her weeks by the sea had steeled her resolve. In both mind and body, she was ready.
Up ahead, Ukyo heard sirens blaring. They came closer. Soon, an ambulance came into view. With lights flashing, it blazed a path down the road, zooming right past her along the way.
Ukyo hadn't even stopped to take a look. There was nothing unusual to her about ambulances rushing around town. Maybe there was a car accident, or maybe some elderly person had suffered a medical event. Whatever the case, it had nothing to do with her. She was locked in on one thing, and one thing only.
Minutes later, Ukyo came upon the area she sought. Somehow, she knew right away that something bad had happened. A crowd had gathered around the line of businesses. Over everyone's heads, she saw nothing but an empty gap where the Cat Café should have been.
Ukyo pushed forward, barreling through the onlookers to get to the front of the pack. Her jaw dropped, and her breath caught in her throat. The restaurant was gone, destroyed. On the blackened ground, not far from a large collection of stones, an ominous blood stain lay for all to see.
Ukyo's grip loosened, and her letter of challenge slipped away, dragging along the concrete, brushing up against people's shoes as the wind carried it off. Her eyes darted about the surrounding crowd. There was no Ranma. There was no Shampoo.
She swiveled her head around, facing in the direction from which she had come.
Even as the chaos had begun to unfold in the area, there was a notable place nearby that remained unaware of any unusual happenings. That place was the Tendo compound.
At this distance, the ambulance's sirens had been drowned out by a combination of the cicadas chirping away in the summer heat and the television in the home's living space. Even without those distractions, however, it would have been hard for anyone inside to hear when the gate to the compound creaked open. Likewise, no one would have heard the footsteps that were presently approaching the front door.
Inside, Soun Tendo and his two eldest daughters all sat about in the living room. Soun was near the walkway, facing out toward the garden. Kasumi was wiping down the table while she had the chance. Beside her, Nabiki was munching on a rice cracker, focused on watching a television program.
Everything was starting to return to normal in the Tendo home after Kodachi's sudden and violent invasion weeks earlier. The upper floor still bore the scars of the vengeful gymnast's visit, for which someone would be coming to make repairs in a couple of days; the Tendos had let the damage be until everyone was back home from the hospital and settled in again.
Amongst the family, Soun's feelings on what had happened were perhaps the most complex. He was thankful Kasumi was all right and was upset with Kodachi, naturally, but others could also sense the degree of shame he felt for not being able to avenge the attack on his daughter.
Kasumi, for her part, had kept from expressing any negativity over the assault. Knowing what had taken place between Ringo and Kodachi that had driven the Kuno girl to such actions, she was trying her best to be understanding of Kodachi's feelings.
Nabiki, on the other hand, was nothing short of furious over the whole incident. She had spent more time looking after her father and Kasumi lately than she had spent at her own apartment. And if she wasn't busy doing that, one had better believe she was interrogating the ear off of her business partner, Tatewaki Kuno, making absolutely sure he didn't know the whereabouts of his deranged sister. The fact that Kodachi was still out there somewhere and not sitting in a jail cell irked Nabiki to no end.
For now, at least, everyone was happy just to be together and in improving health. Just how fast the health of the family's breadwinner was improving was an opinion not all saw eye to eye on, though.
With a loud grunt, Soun stood up and raised his arms over his head, giving his body a good stretch.
"Where are you going, Daddy?" Nabiki asked.
Soun froze up. No matter what time of day, he found it difficult to escape the watchful eyes of his children. "Well, you see…I was feeling energetic, so I thought I'd go burn off some of that energy in the dojo."
"Father, you know the doctors said you can't practice martial arts yet," Kasumi reminded him.
"Y-yes, I know," Soun said, rubbing the back of his neck. "But, they don't really know everything, right? I'm feeling-"
"Father," Kasumi said again, more insistent this time.
It was no use, Soun thought. Going against Kasumi's wishes required a will far greater than any mortal man possessed. Sulking, he hung his head. "I understand."
Nabiki turned toward the room's entrance. Kasumi did the same, as did the dejected Soun. Someone was here. All three of them could hear the sounds of shoes hitting the floor, drawing nearer with every step.
"I wonder if that's Grandfather Happosai," Kasumi said.
Nabiki wasn't so sure. "That doesn't sound like just one person. It can't be."
No one felt particularly alarmed over the apparent guests, at least not until the first of them appeared. The Tendos were all taken aback as Zonbi, the lumbering giant, came into view. He had to bend down while passing through the doorway just to avoid hitting his head. Behind him, the lively Yasei then entered. She took a look around the room and at those within it, and promptly turned her nose up.
Kasumi and Nabiki, both of whom had risen to their feet, hurried to their father's side.
"All right, who are you people?" Soun asked.
Yasei stopped, positioning herself a few feet away from where her fellow servant stood. "Who are we? Who are you?"
A stern voice came from behind. "Yasei, that's enough."
Soun felt his heart skip a beat at the first utterance of that voice. How many times had he imagined hearing it over the past months? How many times had he heard it in his dreams? He had lost count so long ago now. But there it was—real this time. And as the third guest entered the room, walking right between the other two on her way up to him, Soun's face brightened as though it was the sun itself. After all this time, his sweet, precious daughter was back.
"I'm home," Akane said.
"Akane!" Soun ran up to his youngest child and wrapped her in the warmest of hugs. "Akane, I missed you so much! I'm so glad! I'm so glad you're okay!"
Kasumi, wiping away a tear, walked up to join them. She had always looked forward to the day her sister would return, but seeing her father's joy at this moment made it all the more special. "Welcome home, Akane."
As happy as Soun and Kasumi were, what should have been a celebration didn't feel so for everyone. Even with all the emotion in the air, Akane's face, planted in her father's gi, showed none whatsoever.
Nabiki wasn't in the most celebratory of moods, either. While she was relieved to see Akane alive and well, welcoming her home was far from the first thing on her mind. She approached her family, keeping a close eye on Zonbi and Yasei. She didn't feel comfortable around the two strangers, but she allowed herself to peel away, setting her sights instead on Akane. The look she gave her sister was anything but loving.
"Do you know how much Daddy worried about you?" Nabiki said, raising her voice. "Do you have any idea what you leaving did to him?"
"Nabiki!" Kasumi chided her.
"What? Am I wrong?"
"That doesn't matter right now. All that matters is that she's home." Kasumi didn't want any tension floating around to spoil her father's mood right now. Much like her sister, though, she couldn't help finding the presence of the two who had come with Akane to be rather intimidating. "Umm, Akane, may I ask who your friends are? They seem very…unique."
All attention fell on Akane, who hadn't budged within Soun's embrace. "I'll introduce them," she said. "But first, there's something I need to ask." She pulled away from her father enough that she could see his face, his hands still clasping onto her shoulders. "Dad, you were the one who engaged me to Ranma, weren't you?"
Soun closed his eyes. He became choked up, unable to even look at his daughter. "I'm sorry! I'm so, so sorry, Akane! I never should have forced that on you. It was all my fault! All of it!"
Akane was pulled right back into a remorseful hug. She drew a breath, taking in the scent of her father's gi—that same reassuring scent she'd always remembered while growing up.
"That's right. It was your fault, wasn't it?"
Akane raised her hand up. She formed it into a point. Her lips moved, speaking silent words. Around her fingers, a swirl of wind began to flow. She reached back, ready, unwavering…and then stopped. She glanced to the side.
Kasumi, her heart racing, was looking upon Akane with horror, grasping her sister by the wrist. "Akane, you…what were you going to do?"
Akane fixed a cold stare on Kasumi. She remained quiet.
Nabiki, who was on the other side of Akane and her father, couldn't see what Akane had done, but Kasumi's expression did plenty to give her the feeling something wasn't right. "Kasumi? What's going on?"
Gradually, the current of wind around Akane's fingers ceased. She looked down, balling her hand into a fist, and swallowed. Her breathing became heavier, more pronounced. The cool demeanor of hers was cracking, and it was about to shatter completely.
Akane's lips moved again. She raised her head. In a flash, she took the arm which Kasumi held and slapped her palm up against her sister's forehead. Kasumi didn't even have the time to react. There was a spark from Akane's hand, and Kasumi fell backwards, dropping to the floor.
Nabiki could only gasp as she watched the shocking scene unfold. "Aka-!"
Akane, breaking free of her father's arms, lunged for Nabiki now. She grabbed her by the forehead. Another spark shot outward, and Nabiki, too, collapsed.
Gaping at what had become of not only Kasumi, but Nabiki as well, Soun looked to Akane, frozen in place. "Akane?" His hands shook violently. "Akane, what…what did you-?"
Soun felt his daughter's hand press up against his forehead. A third spark, and out his lights went. He fell back against the table and its leg broke under his weight, slanting it, allowing him to slide to the floor.
Huffing and puffing, Akane stood in the midst of her fallen family. She brought her hand back and interlocked it with the other behind her head. A series of deep breaths followed as she tried to calm herself.
Over by the doorway, a shrewd smile played on the lips of Yasei. "You couldn't go through with it."
Akane didn't speak right away, giving herself some extra time to cool down before she finally addressed her servant. "I'll decide what to do with them later." She arched her head upward, looking away from the results of her actions. "I haven't had a bath in a while. I think I'll go take one."
She turned and walked in the direction of the bathroom. "Oh," she said, peeking over her shoulder, "make yourselves at home."
Once Akane had gone, Yasei gave her head a brief shake. "She's still weak." She licked her lips, laying her mischievous eyes upon her master's family. "Maybe we should make the choice for her."
"No." Zonbi stepped in front of her, impeding her path to the Tendos. "That would go against the wishes of Mistress Akane."
Yasei scowled at her fellow servant, glaring at him as a child might look at someone who had taken their favorite toy. After a moment, however, she relented, turning away. "Tch. Thousands of years and you're still a bore."
Around the sides of Zonbi's towering body, Yasei could still see Nabiki and Kasumi where they lay. She took a long look at one, then the other. This time, there was no malicious intent; only uncertainty. She placed a hand over her face, rubbing her head, and looked out through the space between her fingers.
"These people…I remember them?"
Over at the hospital, a deafening quiet had filled the waiting area. Ryoga and Meilin were leaned back against the wall. Opposite them, Shampoo was curled up in a chair, face buried in her knees. She still had Ranma's blood on her. The hospital employee from before had brought some warm water to get her cleaned up, but Shampoo wouldn't cooperate. She was in no mood for any sort of interaction with anyone after hearing what Ryoga and Meilin had to tell her.
The recently-arrived military prisoner duo from China had been giving Shampoo her space since then. Even though there was information they would have liked to gather from her, neither dared interrogate the girl. Giving her at least some time to digest what she had learned and work through the grief it stirred up was a common courtesy even Meilin agreed to afford her.
The silence wasn't to last, though. Over at the emergency room's entrance, Ranma's parents, Genma and Nodoka, both hurried inside. They came running down the hall hand-in-hand until Nodoka broke away from her husband.
"Shampoo!" Nodoka zeroed in on the Amazon girl, kneeling before where she sat. She was panting to regain her breath. "Sha-…" When she saw the dried blood all over Shampoo, Nodoka's voice gave out. It was a powerful sight, enough to take her breath away. "My…my son? How is he? Shampoo?"
Shampoo barely moved. She didn't speak a word. If anything, all she did was tighten the grip she had on her knees.
With Shampoo as she was, Genma looked to Ryoga for answers. "Ryoga, how's the boy?"
Ryoga shrugged his shoulders. "I don't know. I wish I did," he said, looking away. His eyes lit up. Yet another familiar face had just shown up at the entrance, this one appearing much more confused than panicked. "Ukyo?"
Ukyo headed over to them—walking, not running. One by one, she registered everyone who had gathered together. The last of them was Shampoo. Ukyo closed in to get a better look at her, not taking her eyes off of the girl. The mess of blood then came into view. Even before seeing it, Ukyo already understood, just from how Shampoo was sitting, the magnitude of what had taken place and exactly who had gotten the worst of it.
"What happened to Ran-chan?"
Again, there was no response from Shampoo. When Nodoka had asked a similar question, she had sensed the pain Shampoo felt and backed down. Such wouldn't be the case for Ukyo.
"Did you hear me?" she snapped. "What happened to Ran-chan? Tell me!"
"Knock it off!" Ryoga barked. That initially sharp tone of his then softened. "Leave her be, Ukyo. You don't know what's gone on."
Ukyo looked back to Shampoo. As agitated as she was, her concern for Ranma's welfare was almost secondary to something else. For weeks, she had been off by herself thinking of nothing but fighting against Shampoo. It had consumed her, inside and out. And yet, even after what Ukyo had done right before leaving, Shampoo wasn't even raising her head to look at her right now.
How Ukyo would respond to that gesture, no one would have the chance to find out. The squeak of the operating room's doors echoed throughout the hall and all eyes turned to a doctor who had come out. Right from the start, something felt off about him. The way he walked was unusual, as was his expression; he looked as if he had just seen a ghost.
As the doctor neared, Shampoo, for the first time in a while, looked up. Her eyes and face were red from crying. She leaped up from her seat, nearly knocking Ukyo over in the process. As far as Shampoo was concerned, there may as well have been no one present but she and that doctor. He came to a halt in front of her, and she waited with baited breath to hear what he might say.
The doctor removed his glasses, his hands unsteady. "That boy you brought in," he said, "is he…human?"
Shampoo gave him an odd look. What did he mean by that? Was it good? Or was it bad? Even the time she spent wondering that was excruciating until the doctor went on.
"His skin, his muscles, his organs, everything, they," he continued, swallowing hard, "…they just closed up all on their own."
It took a moment for those words to sink in for Shampoo. If Ranma's wound had closed…that was a good thing. It was a good thing, right?
Shampoo took one step forward, then another. At once, those steps turned into a mad dash for the operating room. She blew through the doors, shoving aside equipment, ignoring the decrees of surgeons that she wasn't allowed in there until, at last, she was at Ranma's side.
There was an oxygen mask over his mouth. All sorts of wires were hooked up to him, all feeding information to various machines beeping and whatnot around the room. His skin, though…there was more color to it than there had been when she last left him. And his chest was moving up and down, still breathing in the oxygen the mask was delivering.
Shampoo quickly looked to Ranma's abdomen. The doctor was right; the wound had completely closed, leaving not even a scar on Ranma's body. Shampoo placed her hand against the area, pressing down just to make sure she wasn't imagining it. It was really there, solid as could be.
She didn't know how it had happened. Right now, she didn't care. All that mattered was that Ranma was going to be fine. He was going to be just fine.
Nodoka, Genma, Ukyo, Ryoga, and Meilin all stood by the door having followed Shampoo in, but none of them, not even Ranma's mother, moved any closer than that. The outpouring of emotion they all witnessed at that time was simply heart-stopping as Shampoo, overwhelmed with relief, wept uncontrollably into Ranma's chest.
She hadn't lost everything after all. The one she cherished most was still there.
End of Chapter 3