A Midsummer Night's Beauty, Part I
by rkOujirou

Author's note: This story is a continuation on the Ranma 1/2 anime, including the OVA's and movies. Therefore, keep in mind that anything exclusive to the manga hasn't happened in this story.

Disclaimer: Ranma 1/2 is not my idea, it was created by a very talented manga artist named Rumiko Takahashi. The only characters I'll claim are my own original characters that I've added into this story. Just so you know.

Chapter 9

Shampoo, Ringo, and Jynn watched as Yousuke walked back inside the hut, slamming the door behind him.

"Well, now that we've got the boy started on his training, why don't you tell me who you people are?" Yousuke said to them.

Shampoo glanced over at Ringo for a moment before speaking up. "My name Shampoo and this Ringo. We friends of Ranma. And that Jynn. He work for Li and Meilin..."

Yousuke leered over at Jynn, looking as if he couldn't believe what he'd just heard. "Son, what in the hell would possess you to associate yourself with those two?"

"I admire their free spirit, that's all," Jynn told him.

Yousuke scoffed at the response as he grabbed a knife from a shelf. "Free spirit? And the fact that they run around China killing people doesn't bother you? Are you serious?"

Jynn tilted his head slightly, staring at Yousuke through his mask. "It's not something you could understand."

Sitting down next to his pack of vegetables that he'd brought in earlier, Yousuke chuckled at the response and began peeling a potato. "That's right, what the hell would I know? I'm just some bum living out in the middle of nowhere..."

"Um, sir, how did you end up here, if you don't mind me asking?" Ringo asked him.

"Where, China? Oh, that's easy, you just come real close to killing your best friend, and when Japanese officials try to take you into custody you hide on a ship and come over here!" Yousuke said venomously. It was clearly a touchy subject with him.

Yousuke's sour mood was making Ringo nervous about any further conversation, but she still wanted to know more about how he factored into the situation with Li. "I'm...sorry about that. I was wondering how you ended up out here by yourself, actually..."

A very forced laughter was Yousuke's response as he continued to peel vegetables. "Oh, that one's even better! I used to live in a village near Seven Luck Mountain when I first escaped here, you see, and those rascals Kirin and Li would come by to horse around whenever they got bored. This was all before Kirin became the leader over there, of course. And me, being a power hungry idiot, always fought against them to prove how good I was. They saw it as a challenge, as boys their age would, and kept coming back for more. Even after Kirin became the Seven Lucky Gods leader, Li would keep running off to come fight me and prove he could win. And wouldn't you know, it made him all impatient and violent, and eventually he lost himself and got kicked off that mountain."

Ringo and Shampoo shared an uneasy glance as they watched Yousuke fuming to himself. Even though they believed Li was more at fault, Yousuke was obviously putting all the blame on himself for Li's loss of control.

"Yep, then everyone in my little village heard about what Li did and blamed me for it!" Yousuke continued. "They asked me to leave, I did, and years later here I am! I stay away from people, I can't ruin anyone else's lives, everything's just fine!"

Everyone looked on as Yousuke angrily took his knife and flung it into the wall of his hut, burying his face in his hands while trying to calm down.

"Shampoo no think is your fault," Shampoo said to him, her eyes solidly locked on his. "But no matter what Yousuke think, now is chance for you to save Ranma's life."

The portly Yousuke laughed again and stood himself up, looking annoyed. "Save him? I can't save him! That kid has to overcome his fear of cats in two weeks! Do you know how much of a long shot that is for someone who went through Cat Fist training?! It's ridiculous! Believe me, I've heard the rumors, I know what Li's capable of. If Ranma can't get over his fear of cats, his head's going to roll with one slash from Li's scythe."

"Getting over his fear of cats? That's what he has to do?!" Ringo asked worriedly. Having been a part of Ranma's mind, she knew how deep his fear of cats ran.

Shampoo continued to glare at Yousuke over the remark about Ranma dying. "Ranma do many tough things before and he do this too! Ranma going to learn new technique and beat Li!"

Yousuke shook his head and looked down at the palm of his hand. "The Tiger Claw Style, that's what he's trying to gain. Even if he learns it, even if he somehow defeats Li, he'll be in a dangerous situation. I know it better than anyone."

Shampoo and Ringo paid attention as Yousuke pointed at them. "You two...you're his friends, right? Then listen to me! If he manages to do this, you two make sure you watch over him! Don't let him lose control of himself and do something he regrets, you got it?!"

"Shampoo understand," Shampoo replied instantly. "We make sure look after Ranma."

Ringo nodded. "We will, we promise! So, please, do what you can to help him?"

The group's conversation was interrupted by a loud yowling noise from out behind the hut. Yousuke immediately groaned and began running for the door. "Great, here we go! Come help me with him!"

Not sure what was happening, Shampoo and Ringo followed Yousuke out behind the hut. There, among the hundreds of cats, Ranma was on all fours, continuing to yowl as he stared at everyone.

Ringo was aware of this side of Ranma as well. "Oh no, his fear overcame him! We need to calm him down somehow..."

Shampoo had only seen Ranma act like this on rare occasions, and the only thing that calmed him down, much as she hated to remember, was when he curled up in Akane's lap. "How we calm him down?"

"We just need to knock him out!" Yousuke snapped, watching as Ranma seemed ready to attack them. "Come on, let's do this!"

Shampoo and Yousuke kept on guard as Ranma leaped into the air while Ringo, not wanting to hurt Ranma, stayed in back of the pair. Unfortunately, Yousuke hadn't fought in such a long time that Ranma's speed was just too much to follow. He pounced off of Yousuke's face and went straight for Shampoo, knocking Yousuke flat on his back. Shampoo readied herself to attack Ranma as he approached, but she hesitated as she found herself looking into his eyes.

"Shampoo, look out!" Ringo yelled.

Shampoo was shaking nervously. She knew what she had to do, but she couldn't bring herself to hit him. At the last moment, she raised her arms in front of her face to shield herself. "Ranma...!"

Ringo and Yousuke both blinked as they looked to see what had happened. Shampoo still had her arms in front of her face when she began to realize that she hadn't been struck. What she did feel, however, was a heavy weight on her legs. Slowly lowering her arms, Shampoo gasped as she looked down and saw Ranma curled up in her lap. He was purring contently as he rubbed his cheek against her leg.

"Hey...you did it, Shampoo," Ringo said in amazement. "I thought Akane was the only one that could calm him down..."

"Ohhh...I'm too old and fat for this..." Yousuke muttered as he made his way to his feet, then turning his attention to Shampoo. "Seems he likes you, young lady. I guess we won't have to knock him out after all."

Shampoo smiled a bit as she ran her fingers through Ranma's hair. Akane really wasn't the only one Ranma's cat side felt comfortable with, she thought. But as happy as it made Shampoo feel, something was still bothering her deeply.

What the group didn't notice until later was that amidst all the ruckus, Jynn had vanished.

When Jynn approached a field in the late afternoon hours, he found Li sitting cross-legged in the grassy clearing. Meilin was fast asleep, snoring as she lay in the grass next to him.

"Napping at this time of day?" Jynn asked in Mandarin.

"She's been getting excited and wearing herself out with her battle against Shampoo approaching," Li said to him. "So, what's happened?"

"Kirin sent them to meet a man named Yousuke," Jynn replied.

Li was uncharacteristically surprised, quickly turning around to look at his subordinate. "Yousuke?!"

Jynn felt somewhat awkward, having never seen Li with such a look on his face. "Y-yes..."

While Meilin turned in her sleep, Li tried to analyze what Kirin was thinking by sending the group there. "Jynn, which one is Yousuke teaching?"

"That would be Saotome," Jynn replied.

A wide grin crossed Li's face as he was overcome with joy at the news. "Kirin would only have one reason to send Saotome to see Yousuke. But in such a short time...I wonder if he'll do it..."

Li stood himself up and began walking off. "Jynn, stay here until it's time to take Shampoo and Saotome to that place."

Jynn seemed perplexed as he watched Li walking off. "Are you sure?"

"Positive," Li grinned. "I want to see if he can do it. I don't want you distracting him."

Sitting down next to the slumbering Meilin, Jynn rested his head on his hand and stared off into the distance. "He sure got excited all of a sudden..."

As the sun began to set in the horizon, Ranma leaned back against the side of Yousuke's hut with exhaustion written all over his face. Beads of sweat continuously rolled off of his forehead and dripped down onto his still trembling hand. "Two days...that's all I got left..."

Day after day had passed, and the group's two week preparation time had quickly dwindled to just two days. Ranma hadn't been overcome with his fear in close to a week and had even progressed to the point where he could hold a cat in his hands for close to a minute, but he hadn't overcome his fear of cats by any stretch of the imagination. The advice and encouragement he was getting from Yousuke only helped so much. Now, with only two days left, even the usually confident Ranma had his doubts that he could pull this off.

While Ranma wiped the sweat from his face, Ringo was peeking around the side of the hut and watching him with concern. Aside from calming Ranma down when he changed into a cat, she and Shampoo hadn't had much contact with him over the last couple weeks. Yousuke had recommended that they give him space and not distract him, so that's what they did. But after watching Ranma struggle so much, Ringo wanted to do something, anything to help him.

Hearing someone sigh behind her, Ringo turned around to see Yousuke scratching his mustache. "Yousuke..."

"Not looking good, is it?" Yousuke said to her.

"No..." Ringo said sadly.

Yousuke folded his arms and turned around. "If you have any ideas, give them a try."

"What? But...didn't you want us to leave him alone?" Ringo asked him.

"That didn't work. It's time for drastic measures now. So, if you've got any ideas, go for it," Yousuke replied.

Ringo looked down at the ground, feeling unsure of herself. "But...if you can't help him, what can I do?"

"You two girls are his friends, aren't you? You might be able to get through to him better than I could. Don't underestimate yourself, got it?" Yousuke told her.

Ringo nodded her head quietly, wondering what she could possibly do to help Ranma get over his fear of cats.

Yousuke picked up his empty vegetable pack and began walking off. "I'm off to the fields again. I'll be back in a bit."

Once Yousuke walked off, Ringo walked around to the other side of the hut where Shampoo was swinging her maces around. She'd finally reached the point where she could train without worry of the wound in her side opening up again, but now she was trying to make up for the time she lost while she was out of action.

Not wanting to get in Shampoo's way, Ringo sat down a couple yards away from her and rested her head on her knees. "Shampoo, there's only two days left, aren't there?"

"That right," Shampoo said as she continued her workout.

"We haven't really gotten to talk to Ranma much lately," Ringo said.

Shampoo stopped for a moment and wiped the sweat from her forehead. "Shampoo know that. Shampoo want talk to Ranma more, but no want interrupt training. Ranma just want overcome fear of cats right now."

Ringo reached down and plucked a blade of grass from the ground, staring at it as she continued to think of what she could do to help Ranma. "But, the way things look right now..."

"Shampoo no know if Ranma get over fear of cats, but Ranma do many tough things before. Shampoo have faith in him," Shampoo said assuringly.

"I guess you're right," Ringo said, smiling slightly. "Hey, are you still mad because he's afraid of your cursed form? I've been wanting to say...I don't think it's really his fault, you know?"

Shampoo let her weapons fall to her waist and looked down at the ground sadly. "Shampoo never mad about that...just mad at self."

"What do you mean?" Ringo asked her.

Shampoo sat down on the ground and peered over at Ringo. "Ringo know when Shampoo tell Ranma just want to be friends, yes? Shampoo do that so get close to Ranma...so Shampoo be happy. Is...Shampoo bad person for that?"

Ringo could see in Shampoo's eyes just how much this had been tearing her up inside. To feel this bad about something like that, she must care about Ranma a lot, Ringo thought to herself. But did she really have any reason to feel that way?

"I...don't think that's bad of you at all, Shampoo," Ringo said to her.

Shampoo seemed confused as she continued to look over at the redhead. "What Ringo mean?"

Ringo let go of the blade of grass she'd been holding and rested her head on her knees again. "Well...everyone wants to be happy. I don't think there's anything wrong with that. And you wanted to make Ranma happy too, right?"

Shampoo looked down at the ground and nodded. "Shampoo want more than anything to live happy life with Ranma, but...Ranma no forget about Akane..."

"Akane and Ranma have been through a lot together, Shampoo. It's only natural he still thinks about her, but he likes you too!" Ringo said to her. "There's things maybe only Akane can do for him, but there's things that only you can do too, Shampoo!"

Frustrated with where the conversation was going, Shampoo stood up and began walking away from Ringo to continue her workout. "What Shampoo can do that Akane no can do?"

Ringo couldn't think of what to say to the Amazon as she walked off. Starting to think she may have said too much, she laid her head back and stared up at the orange sky. "Ohh, what should I do...?"

There was little daylight left once Yousuke reached his vegetable fields. Normally he wouldn't bother coming out here at this time of day, but he didn't really need to collect any food anyway. He just wanted an excuse to get away from his hut for a bit. Watching and listening as Ranma tried to overcome his fear of cats was almost painful. Yousuke couldn't get the idea out of his head that at this rate Ranma would probably die at the hands of Li in two days.

"I never thought I would see you again," a voice said in Mandarin.

A chill ran down Yousuke's spine as he slowly turned around, knowing exactly who was behind him. "Li..."

Aside from the glimmer of his scythe's blade, Li seemed like a shadow in his black outfit. "Yousuke...you used to be so fit back when Kirin and I fought against you. What's happened to you?"

"You really need to ask?" Yousuke snarled. "It's all because you went crazy, you idiot!"

Rather than reacting violently to the insult, Li simply chuckled to himself. "I never went crazy, I just came to my senses is all. Actually, I should thank you for that. Fighting you all the time helped me wake up."

Yousuke immediately clenched his fists as Li confirmed what he'd believed all along. "What do you want?"

"Your Tiger Claw," Li smiled darkly, "will Saotome learn it in time?"

"I doubt it," Yousuke told him. "Li...don't kill that boy. Haven't you done enough already?"

Yousuke gulped as he suddenly found the blade of Yanlou across his throat. Li was too far gone to help now. He should've known there was no changing Li's mind about this.

"Whether or not Ranma learns the Tiger Claw, he will fight me in two days," Li said to Yousuke, removing Yanlou from his neck as he turned around. "After I get rid of him, I'll come back and thank you properly...for trying to make my battle with him more exciting."

Yousuke raised his arms to shield his eyes as a bright blue light flashed in front of him. When it dispersed, Li was gone. Yousuke fell to his knees and slammed his fist into the ground out of frustration. For all the people that Li had killed, he thought, he probably deserved whatever Li planned on doing with him.

In the early morning hours that night, Yousuke still hadn't returned as Shampoo slept soundly in the hut. Outside, Ringo could still hear Ranma trying his hardest. There wasn't any time left, she thought to herself. She had to try to help him.

Ringo grabbed a bucket of water that Yousuke kept in his home and walked over to where Shampoo was sleeping. Silently apologizing for what she was about to do, Ringo dumped the bucket of water on Shampoo's face. Surprised and aggravated about being so rudely awakened, Shampoo, now in her cat form, hissed at her angrily.

"I'm sorry, Shampoo, but I need you to be like that if we're going to help Ranma out," Ringo said, reaching down to pick Shampoo up. Shampoo wasn't at all happy about being drenched while she was trying to sleep though, and bit Ringo's hand to show it.

"Ouch! Stop that! Please!" Ringo cried out, pulling her hand back and holding onto it. "We...we need to help Ranma! Remember I said there's things only you can do for him? This is one of them! Please, I need you to help me!"

Now feeling more calm since she knew what was going on, Shampoo noticed the desperate look in Ringo's eyes. She had no idea what Ringo was thinking of, but she wanted to help Ranma as much as anyone. Deciding to go along with Ringo's plan, Shampoo lowered her head and let out a meow.

"Thank you, Shampoo," Ringo said happily, taking that meow as a verbal agreement to help.

After picking Shampoo up, Ringo quietly opened the door and walked outside. When she walked around back, she saw Ranma sitting a good distance from the horde of cats. He was still shaking with fear despite the progress he'd made.

"Ranma..." Ringo said softly as she walked over to him. She held Shampoo behind her back so Ranma wouldn't see her.

Ranma let out a gasp as he was startled by Ringo's voice. "Jeez, you scared the heck outta me. I thought you were asleep."

"How are things going?" Ringo asked him.

The pigtailed boy looked down at the ground in shame. "I ain't even close..."

Ranma suddenly felt a pair of arms wrap around his neck. When he looked back, he saw Ringo holding him from behind.

"Ranma, it's alright," Ringo said warmly, "we're here with you. Don't be afraid."

Feeling something in his lap, Ranma quickly looked down and saw Shampoo sitting there. He tried to jump back as fast as he could, but Ringo wouldn't allow him to move.

"Ringo...please! I-I can't take this...!" Ranma said in a panicked voice.

"Ranma, why are you afraid of cats?" Ringo asked calmly. "Are you afraid they're going to tear away at your skin with their claws like they did back when you were a little boy?"

Ranma nodded nervously, still in a state of panic over the cat sitting on his lap.

"Do you really think Shampoo would do that to you?" Ringo asked him.

Taking Ringo's words to heart, Ranma looked down into the eyes of the cat in his lap. They were Shampoo's eyes, no doubt. He looked down at her and remembered those nights he'd spent talking to her back home. They were the same eyes of the girl that looked out at the city lights with him from the roof of the Tendo home. They were the same eyes of the girl that he now considered to be a close friend, the girl that saved his life on two occasions. They were the same eyes of the girl he realized he'd gradually come to feel more comfortable around than most anyone.

Slowly, cautiously, Ranma lifted his arm up and placed his hand on Shampoo's head. She started to nuzzle his hand with her furry little head and purr.

"Do you feel like you're in any danger, Ranma? Is this cat showing you anything other than love and kindness by purring and rubbing it's head against you?" Ringo asked him.

"No...Shampoo wouldn't do nothin' to hurt me..." Ranma said, continuing to pet her. Feeling comfortable in Ranma's lap and still exhausted from her workout earlier, Shampoo curled up into a ball and eventually fell asleep.

Ringo unwrapped herself from around Ranma's neck and sat down next to him. "You see now, Ranma? There's nothing to be afraid of. Most cats are very kind. If you show them love and kindness, they'll show you the same."

Ranma didn't answer her, just continuing to stare down at Shampoo. Feeling that she'd done all she could, Ringo stood up and walked off.

As Ranma sat alone with Shampoo in his lap, he felt so stupid that he felt like laughing at himself. "What was I afraid of all this time? I can't believe how dumb I am. Guess I owe ya again, Shampoo..."

Gently setting Shampoo down on the ground, Ranma walked with a newfound confidence toward Yousuke's cats. Slightly nervous but determined nonetheless, Ranma sat down in the middle of them and patted his lap, motioning for the cats to come to him. Several of them hopped on his lap while another perched itself atop his head. Two more then hopped up, one sitting on each of his shoulders. Ranma just sat and watched calmly as the rest gathered around him.

None of the cats showed any hostility toward him, he quickly noticed. Some curled up into a ball onto his lap as Shampoo had while others would hop up and down from his shoulders and rub against his neck. Ranma then began to pet one of them on his lap, which stretched out it's legs and began purring. Ranma was finally becoming aware of the true nature of cats.

"It really was stupid, wasn't it?" Ranma said to no one in particular.

All of a sudden, Ranma cringed, feeling a shock wave run through his body. It was like something he'd never felt before. Every part of his body felt strange, but none more than his hands. He looked down at his palms and started to move his fingers around. They felt almost as if they could rip through anything.


Surprised by the outburst, Ranma spun around and saw Yousuke standing behind him. Yousuke nearly stumbled and fell down when he looked at Ranma's face.

"Do you know what your eyes look like right now?" Yousuke asked him. Ranma's eyes widened as he watched Yousuke's eyes change to the glowing, yellow cat eyes that he'd seen the first day they met. "They look like this. And to think you did it in less than two weeks...if I hadn't seen it I never would've believed it..."

"My eyes...look like that?" Ranma asked in disbelief. But Yousuke's eyes, he noticed, didn't make him feel even a hint of fear anymore. "Did I...did I really do it?"

"Stand up," Yousuke ordered, walking over to a rock he saw laying on the ground.

Ranma let the cats hop off of him and stood up as Yousuke commanded.

"Now...think fast!" Yousuke yelled, throwing the basketball-sized rock at Ranma.

Instinctively, Ranma swiped his fist against the rock once it reached him. He watched as his fingers sliced through the rock like it was a piece of paper, the little shards that remained falling to the ground in front of him along with a small cloud of dust.

He couldn't help but stare at his hands in amazement. "No way...how the heck did I do that?"

Yousuke pointed his finger at his head as he walked over to Ranma. "When you went through the Cat Fist training, the personality of a cat formed in your head. Whenever you were overcome with your fear of cats, it would take control of you. While cats defend themselves just fine, they're reckless and they have no sense of how to properly fight. That's why it's dangerous using the Cat Fist."

"I guess you got a point..." Ranma said, understanding well what Yousuke was trying to say. "How does this work though?"

Yousuke nodded and put his hand on Ranma's shoulder. "When you overcame your fear of cats, you took control of that cat in your head. The result of that is what you just gained, the Tiger Claw. Your reflexes are better, your senses are sharper, and your body naturally gathers a hell of a lot of chi energy in your hands. You feel it, right?"

Ranma looked down at his hands and began stretching them again. "So that's what that feeling is..."

"Ranma...I'm going to tell you three things, and I want you to listen carefully, got it?" Yousuke said to him.

Ranma quietly nodded and paid attention.

"One, when you call upon the Tiger Claw, you can use your hands to cut through Li's energy projectiles or his body. That's what you'll use it for. But I'll tell you right now, you can't stop his scythe's blade. That thing is special, it's cursed. Don't even try to cut through it," Yousuke said sternly. "Two, you go ahead and use the Tiger Claw against Li, but don't ever use it unless there's lives at risk. It's dangerous if you let the power get to your head, you understand me? Never ever use it against your friends."

Ranma could tell somehow that Yousuke was speaking from personal experience. "Yeah...I got it. What's the third thing?"

Yousuke looked over at Shampoo, sleeping peacefully in her cat form, and smiled. "You've got good friends, so be sure to thank them for putting up with you. If you treat them right, you'll end up living a much happier life than I have."

He was right, Ranma thought as he looked over at Shampoo. He never realized how lucky he was to have such good friends until now. "Yeah...I'll do that..."

"Good deal," Yousuke said, turning around as he started to walk off. "I'm going to sleep. You get used to the Tiger Claw for a while and then you do the same, but once you wake up I want you three out of here, got it?"

"Yeah, no prob," Ranma smiled. "Hey, Yousuke...thanks, I mean it."

Yousuke just grunted in reply as he walked off. Once he reached the entrance to his hut, he found an exhausted looking Ringo sitting by the door.

"Feeling more confident now?" Yousuke laughed, walking inside and closing the door behind him.

Ringo let out a sigh as she held her hand against her chest. "That was too much...I don't ever want to do that again..."

When everyone woke up the next morning, Yousuke was nowhere to be found. Judging from how Yousuke told Ranma to leave once they awakened, he figured Yousuke just didn't want to see them off. Ringo wanted to stick around to thank Yousuke for what he'd done, but Ranma's insistence that they leave eventually won out.

After gathering their belongings, Ranma, Shampoo, and Ringo walked for a couple hours and then set up camp in a quiet, remote field. While Ringo handled the cooking, Ranma and Shampoo spent their final day before their respective battles making last minute preparations and ensuring they were ready. Once the three of them ate dinner, they decided to spend the remainder of the night relaxing. Things had been hectic with them, especially for the last couple weeks, so a change of pace was just what they needed.

As the three of them were joking and chatting with each other under the starry sky late that night, Ringo let out a loud yawn.

"It's getting kind of late. I think I'm going to sleep, you guys," Ringo said to them.

"Alright, I don't think I'll be far behind ya," Ranma replied.

Ringo yawned again as she stood herself up. "Okay. Goodnight, Ranma. Goodnight, Shampoo."

While Ringo crawled in her sleeping bag, Ranma turned and looked at Shampoo. "Guess this is almost over, huh?"

Shampoo nodded. "Last month go by very fast..."

"Yeah, no kiddin'. Once we beat those two creeps tomorrow, we can finally go home," Ranma said.

Ranma expected to get a smile out of Shampoo, but instead she just looked down at the ground with an unhappy expression on her face. "Hey, what's the matter?"

The Amazon girl nervously put her hand on his and looked back at him. "Shampoo...finally get to spend time with Ranma away from distractions in Japan. When we go back...Shampoo no get to see Ranma as much. Ranma need go to school...and be spending time with Akane too..."

Ranma scratched his head as he turned his gaze away from her. Dealing with girls' feelings admittedly wasn't something he was good at. He could always give it a shot though, he figured.

"Well, yeah...that's true I guess," Ranma started to say, "but that don't mean we won't see each other. I'll make time to do stuff with ya, okay?"

"Ranma promise?" Shampoo asked.

"Promise," Ranma replied, turning to look at her again. "I mean...I got over my fear of cats because of you. You're...important..."

The last part of what Ranma said came out strange as he felt embarrassed to say it, but Shampoo understood him perfectly. Of everything Ranma had ever said to her, hearing him say she was important made her feel happier than anything else.

Shampoo finally smiled again as she giggled at Ranma's embarrassment. "Shampoo important enough to take on date when we go back?"

"How'd I know that was comin'?" Ranma said sarcastically. "Well, I guess one date to celebrate ain't gonna hurt..."

Shampoo jumped to her feet and raised her arms in the air joyously. "Aiyaa, so happy! Shampoo ready beat stupid coward girl now! Ranma no have problem beat Li tomorrow, yes?"

"I'll beat that jerk to a pulp!" Ranma said confidently. "Then that'll be the end of all this."

After a moment, Ranma stood himself up and began to stretch. "Guess we should get some sleep..."

Ranma was about to head to his sleeping bag, but Shampoo grabbed onto his arm and pulled him down to a sitting position again. "Hey, what's wrong now?"

"Shampoo...no get to see Ranma much since you train with cats for long time. You sit and talk with Shampoo more?" she asked hopefully.

"Umm...sure, if ya want," Ranma said, scratching his head again. He really hadn't talked with either Shampoo or Ringo much since his Tiger Claw training started, so he figured talking with Shampoo a little more couldn't hurt. One thing Yousuke said to him that he'd taken to heart was to be good to his friends, and he wasn't going to forget that.

The two of them sat around and talked with each other for a while longer before Shampoo was finally satisfied and suggested that they get some rest.

When morning rolled around, Ringo woke the others up early so that they could warm up for their battles. A while later, the robed, masked man that they'd all become familiar with showed himself before them.

"Hey, where've you been?" Ranma asked Jynn as he approached them.

"I'm sorry, did you miss me? I thought you didn't like me," he said.

"We don't," Ranma snapped back.

Ranma was decked out in his white, Chinese style fighting attire that he'd gotten from Aroma, complete with the weighted bands that he hadn't removed once since leaving Joketsuzoku. Shampoo, too, stood ready, now fully healed from her injury sustained at the hands of Meilin. She was wearing blue fighting attire similar to the pink outfit she'd worn when she first chased Ranma to Japan, along with a pack of throwing knives around her waist and a pair of maces in hand.

"I take it you're ready?" Jynn asked them.

Ranma slammed his fists together as he stared at Jynn. "I've been ready for a long time. Time to pay those bastards back for messin' with us."

"Shampoo finally get revenge for this, too..." Shampoo said bitterly as she felt the area in her abdomen where Meilin had cut her. Although she hadn't been overly vocal about it, she'd been fuming on the inside for the past month over what Meilin did. She was overjoyed that the time had finally come to pay her back for what she did that day in Japan.

"Oh, I'm so very nervous about all this..." Ringo said worriedly.

"Hey, don't worry. We'll be fine, just you wait and see," Ranma assured her.

"We'll see about that, Ranma," Jynn said to him. "Well then, let's get going."

Once the group gathered their belongings, Jynn clasped his hands together and a blue light began to shine beneath everyone, and with a loud yell of the word "Shift" from Jynn, everyone vanished.

End of Chapter 9