Ranma could just barely believe what she saw. If she wasn't herself the victim of a curse that changed her physical form, and if she hadn't seen what that same curse had done to the girl who chased her way back then, she wouldn't have believed a thing about what she looked at.
There was really no doubt about it. This cat-like creature crying in her futon was without a single doubt Shampoo, the girl-turned-cat that had been made her personal responsibility by the girl's great-grandmother.
Choking back what little fear she'd allow herself to experience in the face of one who was clearly not an opponent, Ranma crouched down next to the crying figure. "Shampoo," she repeated softly. "I'm here. What happened to you, Shampoo?"
It was another minute, perhaps two, before Shampoo finally managed to croak out an answer. "Baba... he had cask of niangniquan," she said with just a hint of her old speech impediment.
Ranma softly gasped. "Why?"
"For birthday. He want to make Shanpu human again as gift. But..."
"It's not your birthday yet, isn't it? And it didn't work out regardless."
Shampoo sobbed. "Asked baba for help. He reveal cask, offer to use early, solve... problem."
Ranma shuffled a little closer and softly embraced Shampoo. "What problem?" she asked, though she had a faint inkling already.
"As cat, Shanpu no can be... remember kitchen talk?"
Ranma nodded. She remembered that conversation all too well.
"Like Ranma dream of being happy wife, Shanpu dream of..."
"Being someone's pet cat?"
As Ranma considered the implications (which was quite a task indeed), Akane wondered what was keeping her so long.
"Ranma," Shampoo mewled as she held Ranma by the collar of her shirt. "Wo ai ni."
She didn't know much Chinese, but the meaning was clear enough to Ranma. "I... I dunno what to say," she admitted as she allowed Shampoo to hold her.
"Kasumi! Nabiki!" Akane called out when she opened the door and saw her maybe-girlfriend cuddling on a futon. "We need a hand here!" At some level, deep down inside, Akane was a little proud that she hadn't immediately gone off on first impressions, but something about the scene made her feel just a little bit jealous.
To their collective credit, Kasumi and Nabiki were there in seconds and most certainly did not scream at the sight of the cat girl. Ranma recounted what she knew while Kasumi styled Shampoo's hair to mostly match how it used to be before her first transformation.
"So what'll you do now, looking like this?" Nabiki asked.
"Shanpu brave warrior," Shampoo replied firmly, releasing Ranma and standing up with a clenched fist. (And boy did she miss having the ability to clench her fist.) "Go out and face what come!"
Kasumi applauded the catgirl's resolve. "It's so good to see such courage, Shampoo dear. But maybe you should cover up some more first? Ranma-chan's shirt seems a little short."
Shampoo was clearly brave enough. "Oh," was all she said as she glanced down, then suddenly lost her balance and fell over, right into Ranma's lap.
"Yeah, maybe not cover up too much more," Akane joked mostly for her own benefit, still considering the changed situation between Ranma and Shampoo. "I seem to recall you saying something about short skirts and tactical advantages?"
"If it's all the same to you, I think I have a dress that would fit you well enough," Nabiki offered. "No charge... unless you damage it," she added, then rushed out to her room.
That evening, after a slightly awkward dinner involving two fathers who'd come home to find a literal catgirl in their midst, Akane considered her feelings while watching Ranma do her homework, Shampoo reading along. She thought she maybe sort of loved Ranma, uncertain of her own youthful heterosexuality, but now apparently her other new friend Shampoo had become a rival of some sorts. Clearly, the newly anthropomorphized girl had her own romantic feelings towards Ranma. If Akane was in fact in love with Ranma, then she and Shampoo might have an issue, but on some level Akane didn't want that. They were both troubled souls, after all.
Ranma had her physical sex completely changed and was apparently struggling with her gender identity, as near as Akane could understand it. She certainly seemed to act like a girl, if not even more of a tomboy than Akane herself. From what little she learned, Ranma was supposed to be a manly man, raised as such, when the curse struck. Akane had to wonder how much of Ranma's behavior since that day was just Ranma getting used to things, or her mind being a plaything of her body.
That was a frightening idea, and Akane couldn't suppress a shudder. Her thoughts drifted on to the topic of Shampoo, who had been a little kitty cat for almost as long as Ranma had been a girl, and if that frightening idea was correct... Akane could only hope becoming a half-human hybrid would turn out to be a good thing for the young girl's mind.
For a moment, Akane imagined how Shampoo might've been in another week or so, if her mind was in fact a plaything of the body. She shivered and cursed herself for thinking of that horrible phrase again. The idea that her new friends could in fact end up a... how'd Ranma say it again? A happy married housewife and her lazy pet?
These girls... no, this boy and girl needed her support.
Akane found her thoughts interrupted when she realized tomorrow would be a school day.
Shampoo turned her head towards Akane in attention, wordlessly telling her to speak.
"You know tomorrow's a school day, right?"
"What will you do while we're gone?"
Shampoo paused to consider her options, a finger on her chin. "Thinking... Shanpu come along, join you there."
Akane's face betrayed her doubts, but Ranma looked up from her work with a grin. "You should! There's no way this ain't gonna be good."
"I don't know, Ranma. But I guess we'll find out, huh?" Akane conceded, then barely stifled a yawn. "Oh yeah, that reminds me. What're we gonna do about sleeping arrangements?"
"Shanpu stay with Ranma. Will be good, promise."
Ranma chuckled. "D'ya mean you'll behave, or you'll have a good time?" she joked, then ducked her head to avoid a punch from Akane.
"You little pervert!"
The next morning, all three girls (or however you'd like to count them) made their way to Furinkan High in relative silence. Akane sprinted on street level, Ranma ran on fences and other thin elevations as usual... and Shampoo was nowhere to be seen, but audibly made her continued presence known, having agreed that it'd be more of a surprise that way.
A surprise to whom, they hadn't considered.
Unfortunately for Shampoo, her being stealthy caused her to miss the daily slaughter. Just when she was finally in a physical form fit for combat. Fortunately, she hadn't missed the part at the end yet. There he was, in all his pompous glory, Tatewaki Kuno.
"Hold, my lovelies, that I might do battle with you," he prattled as Shampoo jumped off the perimeter wall. "And hope the gods look favorably upon your beauty so I might defeat you, and thencefore date you both."
"Akane," Ranma half-whispered, "is 'thencefore' even a word?"
"I don't think so," Akane whispered back, then addressed Kuno. "Upperclassman? You've never defeated me before, and I'm pretty sure you don't stand a snowball's chance with Ranma. What makes you think today will be any different?"
"Keep him distracted, Akane," Ranma whispered. "We've got incoming."
"In fact, I've been given reason to believe you might've been holding back on me, Upperclassman. As if you don't actually want to defeat me at all," Akane continued. "What's even up with that?"
"Yeah, upperclassman," Ranma stepped in with a head full of sarcasm. "That almost sounds t'me like you get off on getting your teeth kicked in every school day. What is up with that?"
Kuno sputtered, indignantly trying to process the vile insinuations his beloved had just hurled at him. He was no base masochistic pervert! He was Tatewaki Kuno, scion of his house! He just happened to have a thing for strong women, that was all.
"Wait. Did I say that last part out loud?" Kuno asked.
"Ni hao," Shampoo all but purred from behind him. She considered herself a pretty strong woman, for obvious reasons, all the more now that she was even halfway human-like again, so that made for an excellent time to reveal herself.
Kuno turned around to see a curvaceous young body, wearing a pale purple hoodie over a darker skirt. She had the hood up, and wore a light pink bandana over her mouth, revealing only her piercing eyes and some of her fringe, but Kuno knew two things right away.
This was a very beautiful young woman...
...and she hit like half a ton of bricks, though it took until a few seconds after he impacted the ground for Kuno to realize that was not her fist but a large, ornate sphere on a stick that felt like solid metal.
When the trio came in, Hiroshi and Daisuke were among the first to properly notice Shampoo.
"Ranma?" Daisuke started.
"Yeah?" Ranma acknowledged as they all made their way to class.
"Your cat grew up", he joked.
"You could call it that, I guess."
"She's hot now," Hiroshi dared to say, only for Shampoo to glare at him.
"Shanpu have no love for pervert boys," she growled. "Pervert boys no chance."
The teacher, also on his way there, saw them coming. He took one short look at the "new" girl, put two and two together, and sighed. Weirdness, it seemed to him, was not unlike entropy. It could only go up.
"Ms. Shampoo?" the teacher called out as they all met near the door. "I'm afraid in your, ah, current state? Does 'current state' work? I'm afraid you can't just sit in and attend like you did before. Either wait in the hall, or go down to the office to enroll. Or both, I don't really care anymore."
Shampoo paused and considered the teacher's words. "Okay!" she said, then turned around and smooched Ranma in full view of the rest of the class. Before Akane could react, she too got smooched, if a little less voraciously.
And then Shampoo left to find the lunch break tree.
"...You liked that. Didn't you, 'Kane?" Ranma quipped as Akane shook off the flustered feelings.
"Oh, dry up and die."