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by evilpii
#32216 The mountain breezes softly flew through the hair of Masaki Tenchi as he sat on the side of a particular foothill. His brown eyes looked out over the rolling hills that stood before the proud peaks a few miles farther back. His right hand gripped a pencil and set it against the sketchpad resting against his thighs. Glancing down, the young man traced the lines he had seen, each new stroke slowly recreating the landscape presented to him.

As Tenchi went through school, he sometimes wondered what he would do with this life. His grades were decent, but he was hardly a scholar. He had been trained from a young age by his grandfather to wield the sword, but he never wanted to hurt anyone.

It was a question that he pondered as he walked home in autumn 1994, when he saw a pair of stars fall from the sky. Curious, he investigated and found a beautiful, cyan-haired girl laying amongst some crystalline wreckage, her breath reeking of alcohol.

Tenchi had seen pretty girls before at school, as well as when his father would leave a manga or magazine laying on the table. However, this young woman had a different beauty about her. Her hair was not only a very strange color, but also spiked, reminiscent of a lion's mane. Her figure was full and voluptuous, but still quite strong and fit, considering her clothes left little to the imagination. Her ears also were elfin, pointed much more like a mythical sprite. In all honesty, if not for the falling “stars”, Tenchi would have taken her for a gorgeous, drunk cos-player.

Luckily, he was more concerned for her safety and condition than her looks. He rushed to her side and gave her some water to wake her. He noted briefly her slightly lengthened canine teeth as he nudged his cupped hand to her lips. Quickly, she opened her eyes, those golden, feline eyes.

Contacts, Tenchi thought to himself.

At least, he thought that until she jumped up, grabbed him, and said she was being chased by a space pirate. His confusion only lasted until a rather large, blue mech-suit stomped out from the bushes and started firing at them. Needless to say, he ran, his wrist tight in this mysterious girl's grasp.

She very quickly said her name was “Ryoko”, and this incident was just the start of the excitement that would follow. Though a turn of fate, namely a well-placed soda can, the mech-suit toppled, unable to right itself. Ryoko took the opportunity and kicked it over the edge of a cliff. In need of change of pants, Tenchi simply agreed to escort her back to his home.

There, she “explained” herself to Tenchi, as well as his father and grandfather. Tenchi, naturally, disregarded the story while Nobuyuki was more attentive to her figure. Katsuhito, secretly knowledgeable of the kind of woman she was, simply nodded, letting her story pass, not that he believed a word of it.

Later, the mech-suit returned, chasing Ryoko, and it was the Shinto priest who disabled the machine with a bokken. Forced to reveal herself, the pilot flopped out of the damaged machine, the blond Detective Kuramitsu Mihoshi. Her story was that Ryoko was an infamous space pirate, which the cyan-maned woman completely denied.

But, the wanted poster was something she could not deny. She was “Ryua Ryoko”, GP case 80812029, sought for numerous daring robberies and malicious mischief, mostly done solo. Her cover blown, Ryoko dropped her “meek and mild” facade and demonstrated why she was the “devil caller”, and why she had yet to be caught. Crimson light gathered at her hands as she levitated, phasing in and out of sight.

Tenchi and Mihoshi ran until she could go no farther. Ryoko hovered over them, ready to strike, but Tenchi grabbed a simple garden hoe and stood against her. Flabbergasted, Ryoko paused. His eyes were set and determined, even against all the power she wielded. As red lightning sparked between her palms, sweat beaded on Tenchi's brow.

Then, she just set her feet on the ground, let the fierce light vanish, and giggled playfully, like it was all a game. Tenchi was dumbfounded.

What just happened? he asked himself.

Shortly afterward, she and Mihoshi became the first female residents at the Masaki house since Achika's death some years ago. In a matter of weeks, that number would sharply increase with the arrival of Ayeka and Sasami. Washu made herself at home once Ayeka and Ryoko shattered her prison. Kiyone was offered a place in the Masaki home, but she was adamant that she, and Mihoshi, should make their own way. Of course, the duo frequently visited and were met with the warmest of hospitality.

Though Nobuyuki swore to the contrary for years, Tenchi was just as shy with women as his father was. However, this did not stymie the romantic interest in Ryoko or Ayeka. The two were polar opposites in many ways, including their attraction toward the young man. Ryoko was always highly aggressive and seductive, trying to tempt him with her body and her wiles at so many opportunities. Ayeka was more passive and demure, wanting him to choose her for her nobility and purity rather than base desire. Naturally, like fire and water, the two clashed at each turn, sometimes with explosive results.

Yet, Ryoko changed. One incident stood out in Tenchi's mind in particular, the affair with the dimension tuner. Washu had created the device to investigate parallel realities, but the girls each saw a chance to rewrite the world to their wants. Overloading the machine, they sent the entire household on a journey through every one of their “perfect” worlds. One by one, Washu systematically broke the ties to each alternate reality, gradually pulling them all back to their original universe.

But, it was the last that caused problems. Ryoko had been the first to tamper with Washu's machine and as such, was intimately tied to the existence of this parallel world. Unlike the others, she had to actively renounce this dream for everyone to go home.

“No” was her initial answer. She had the daring excitement that part of her so craved. Even without her native powers, she enjoyed every moment running from the law and doing whatever she chose, with Tenchi in tow.

What she did not consider was how the others, particularly Tenchi, felt. He wanted to go home, back to his life on Earth. Ryoko could not seem to understand why.

Didn't he love the excitement? she asked herself. Didn't he love…?

He was angry, called her “selfish”. Truthfully, she was, and she knew it as well as he did. She was just as angry and flew away, determined that she would keep this world that she so desired.

Tenchi stayed with Washu where the dimension tuner was partially phased into this world.

She was the one being unreasonable, he thought, but he also felt guilty. Essentially, he was asking her to give up her heart's desire to go back to their reality. How unreasonable am I? he wondered.

Then, Ryoko came back, a smile on her face. She had decided to go back, but Tenchi could see that the smile was forced. Part of her really did not want to do this. He asked her what changed her mind, and she said, “This journey isn't real, and it's time I realized that.” As Washu made ready to take them home, Ryoko gently took Tenchi's hand. When he looked over to her, she smiled softly to him. She never said the words, but her heart had changed, matured that night.

In the weeks that followed, Ryoko seemed different, more subdued. She still held fast to her claim on Tenchi's heart, but her scuffles with Ayeka became more verbal and less violent. Though the two never actually acknowledged it, they were friends, apart from their rivalry over Tenchi. Now and then, Tenchi and Ryoko would talk alone, usually ending in an awkward silence.

Not long after the dimension tuner affair, Jurai's navy came for Ayeka and Sasami. Since Ryoko had yet to learn tact, the soldiers quickly recognized her and took her into custody as well. In a daring rescue, Tenchi, Washu, Katsuhito, and Nobuyuki boarded the Juraian battleship and freed the girls, using Ryo-Ohki's mass-shifting capability. Thus, all of them, and later Kiyone and Mihoshi, were branded rebels against the Juraian crown.

In the trek from Earth to Jurai, Ryoko's unique expertise as a pirate became invaluable, but a liability. She knew how to live on the run, which gave them all the funds to pursue the journey and avoid capture. However, her own self-interest periodically drew undue attention to their location.

When Tenchi's Juraian lineage came to light, Ryoko grew distant. She could see a change in him, as well as in Ayeka. In truth, he was overwhelmed with everything he had just learned. Ayeka's insistence that he take the throne hardly helped his already spinning mind. Little did the princess know that Ryoko was listening to the entire exchange. Soon enough, Kagato defeated Katsuhito, and already frustrated and needing an outlet, Ryoko flew into combat alone. With a few waves of his hand, the dark emperor dealt a crippling blow, tossing her from the sky to the ground near the fallen Juraian warrior.

Kagato left with Ayeka in tow, leaving his navy to finish the job for him. Luckily, Tenchi and the others escaped with Nagi's opportune interference. Tenchi stayed by his grandfather's bedside, trying to come to grips with what had just transpired. Self-doubt clouded his mind looking at Katsuhito's motionless face.

He just took out Grandpa, he thought. I don't know anything about any “Jurai power”. What can I do?

Washu snapped at him, reassuring him in her own blunt way that he actually had potential surpassing Katsuhito. Alone with Tenchiken, the sword key from which his name originated, he found how to summon the blue blade, and the courage to face his grandfather's nemesis.

Unbeknown to him, Ryoko was laying in her room, bleeding badly from her wound. Looking at the life ebbing from her side, the shock of the situation faded as she realized what was bound to happen.

Tenchi's going to fight him now, she reasoned. After what that bastard did to the old man, there's no other way. And, if he did this to me…

She cleaned and bandaged herself as best she could before she went looking for Tenchi. Soon enough, he came through Yagami's corridor, a determined expression on his face.

No, goddammit, she thought.

She stepped in front of him and confronted him, pleaded with him to run away with her, far away from all this. He just smiled sadly to himself. Part of him did want to flee. He was not completely sure he could even defeat Kagato.

Frustrated, she even threatened him with her powers.

“I'm a space pirate, and a powerful one,” she reminded him. “I could steal you away if I wanted to!”

Yet, her arm shook and wrapped around him, pulling him close against her. He could feel her sobbing against his chest and shoulder. This was not the demand of some vicious criminal. It was a plead for his life, to stay with her.

He pushed her gently away, his eyes apologetic.

“But, I can't forsake Ayeka,” he said. “I can't do that.” His eyes hardened. “Besides, this is my fight too, now.”

He just walked by her. That heart she kept buried beneath layers of attitude and selfishness cracked wide open as she cried his name.

I've lost him, she screamed in her head.

Then, he stopped and looked back at her. She dried her eyes, swallowed her sobs, and raised her eyes to meet his.

If he's going to die, she decided, he's not going alone.

She lived on Jurai for part of her life, and she knew the route. Aboard her partner Ryo-Ohki, Ryoko escorted Tenchi, Azaka, and Kamidake to Jurai. Alone, she challenged Jurai's planetary defense network while the navy was occupied with Yagami and Ken-Ohki. Like a valkyrie, she demolished every blockade in her way, even as turrets and artillery bombarded her ship, and her body. Bulkheads blew, knocking her to the ground, but she refused to remain on the floor.

He's going to do this, she swore. He's going to avenge his grandfather, and me.

Soon enough, she landed at the palace. Sweat was beading on her forehead, and blood starting to stain her clothes. Covering this, she bid her quiet farewells to Tenchi and the knights.

“I hope you know I wasn't planning on helping you rescue that 'other woman',” she defended. “After all, I am a pirate.”

Tenchi just smiled at her. He watched her the entire flight and knew she was injured in her exchange with Kagato. Sadly, he just did not realize how badly.

However, Azaka and Kamidake did. They honored her respectfully before joining Tenchi in rushing toward Kagato. Once their backs were turned, she finally collapsed, no longer able to hide the excruciation consuming her. Her last vision before blacking out was Tenchi and the knights, her last word his name. Ryo-Ohki quickly sped away with her mistress aboard, where Ryoko succumbed to her wound, admitting to herself that for all her adventures and freedom, she was lonely.

Tenchi and the knights did overcome Kagato and his twisted followers, the young prince awakening to the power within himself. In this battle, he realized what his grandfather had two generations ago about the power to rule so when Ayeka asked him to assume the throne, he chose to return to Earth.

Just like Ryoko, he could see Ayeka's heart shatter, not that she showed more than a pair of tears. She could barely look at him, nor could she watch him leave. The entire trip home, he guiltily cursed himself for hurting them both.

After the coup d'etat fell, Ayeka and Sasami remained on Jurai, stabilizing their world again. Washu was welcomed back into the SA with all her well-earned accolades. Kiyone and Mihoshi were both promoted for their heroism against the corruption in the GP.

But, no one could find Ryoko, not even Nagi. The infamous lady pirate seemed to completely vanish following her daring raid on the Jurai throne-world.

Tenchi worried about her. He knew she was injured, but was she actually mortally wounded?

She's probably back to her old tricks, he reassured himself. Kiyone and Mihoshi will probably find her robbing a bank or something.

Months passed, and life grew monotonous. Nobuyuki and Katsuhito were able to convince Tenchi's high school principal that they had a “family emergency” to handle. His prolonged absence was excused, and he was allowed to resume school. Still, he missed everyone, the excitement of having all his friends there on Earth.

And, he worried about the one who was missing.

Then, in spring 1995, he was walking home when he heard Ryoko's voice whisper his name. He thought he had finally lost his mind, but in a moment, there she was, standing on a stone before him. She looked just like she did when they first met: strong, proud, and beautiful. The lady pirate embraced him strongly, a long-lost friend come home.

After her, all of the other girls returned to Earth, each resuming their former roles. Since then, Ryoko had stood by Tenchi's side, and Ayeka's as well: Tokyo 1970 against Kain, both Manhattan incidents, and the Jurai royal family reunion of 1998. Still, as close as the three were, a tenuous balance had existed between them, one Tenchi constantly avoided tipping. With a few words from his mouth, one of the two women could be crushed, though the other would be elated.

This scared him. He cared for them both, but as his father warned, he could not keep them at arm's length forever. Eventually, he had to embrace one of them, or lose them both. The choice hung around his heart like a leaden weight as they all struggled through the events of the last three years.

Here, on the foothill, Tenchi raised his eyes to the mountains, comparing them to his sketch. He had started drawing idly in his school notes his last semester, not unlike his father. Soon enough, he had taken to a sketchpad, stealing away into the hills around his home. There, the serene scenery gave him respite from the periodic insanity back at home. Admittedly, this was more of an escape from the tension between Ryoko and Ayeka.

However, while he came to avoid them, his mind always circled back to them. Looking down at today's pencil strokes, the young prince thought about how three words tore away that precious balance.

No, he corrected himself. It was more than just “I love you”…

A familiar whoosh of air caught his attention, spurring him to glance up at his side. Ryua Ryoko smiled warmly down to him, her cyan mane billowing in the winds. A red Chinese dress hugged her body closely, adding an elegance to her already fierce beauty. A silver bracelet wrapped around her left wrist, the metal molded into the shape of three vines intertwining and blossoming together. In their blooms, a perfectly spherical gem is held aloft, crimson in color.

Tenchi reciprocated her quiet greeting as she crouched next to him, their eyes meeting.

“Hey,” he said.

“Hey, yourself,” she answered playfully.

Gently, the two leaned together, letting their lips touch briefly. Ryoko glanced down at his sketch, bringing a rise to her brow.

“Wow,” she said while her eyes slide to the landscape in the distance. “When'd this start?”

“Yesterday. I came up here to touch it up a bit.”

She smirked, her feline eyes narrowed slyly.

“Really? I thought you were avoiding me.”

Wryly, Tenchi grimaced and scratched the back of his head.

“Why would you think that, Ryoko?”

One of her arms snaked around his shoulders as she eased herself down to sit with him.

“Oh, probably because I distract you.”

Her face neared his again, her breath against his lips.

“I always had a talent for that.”

He nodded, his grimace shifting to a smile.

“You still do.”

He set his sketchpad aside while one of his arms slipped around her waist.

“Is that a problem?” she asked.

He chuckled, “Not at the moment.”

Again, their lips touched, though Ryoko's parted. Shortly, Tenchi mimicked her, deepening the kiss. Gradually, the two embraced closer, their arms wrapping around one another. Then, a soft rumble rose from her chest. The young prince broke the kiss with a wide smile.

“It still amazes me,” he said. “You purr just like a cat.”

She set her forehead to his, their gazes joining.

“Then, you must be doing something right, my dear artist.”

They kissed again briefly before Tenchi's eyes glanced down to the bracelet on her wrist.

“How're you managing with the bracelet?”

She peered at the elegant piece of jewelry, an irritated curl to her lip.

“It works just fine.”

The young woman extended her hand, the crimson gem glowing brightly. Over her upturned palm, rays of ruby light coalesced into a sphere, a skill she had demonstrated many times in her life.

“As long as I wear it, I have all the powers I've always had.”

Then, she carefully removed the bracelet, and immediately, the scarlet illumination flickered and faded away.

“But, I lose them all when it comes off.”

Tenchi furrowed his brows, considering this while Ryoko slipped the item back onto her wrist.

“Didn't Tsunami give back your powers?” Tenchi asked.

She rolled her eyes with an exasperated sigh. “That was the idea. I couldn't really do much after that bitch Tokimi took my old Ryoan energies.”

“So, your powers are tied to Jurai now, like me and Grandpa.”

“Yeah, supposedly.”

He grinned warmly. “Well, I guess it's like I was early on.”

He reached into his shirt and produced Tenchiken, the Juraian key carrying his name. Resembling a katana's hilt, the device was composed of smooth branches intricately woven together. The violet guard seemed carved from a pure block of amethyst and nestled snugly into the design.

Thoughtfully, Ryoko eyed the sword hilt, as well as the bracelet on her wrist, while he spoke.

“When I first learned about my Juraian heritage, I didn't know how to do any of what I can do now. What I could do then, I could only do with the sword. It's taken the last couple years to figure it all out.”

He set the sword down atop his sketchpad before he rested his hand on her cheek, guiding her gaze back to his. The earthen shade of his eyes met the golden of hers as the grin widened to a smile.

“But, I did with Grandpa, and you.”

Her fingers slid up over his, holding his touch to her skin as she pressed her head into the caress.

“I know you will too.”

She chuckled and closed her eyes.

“Yeah,” she answered, “if you'll help me relearn it all again.”

“Of course, I will.”

Her eyes blinked open again, diving deeply into Tenchi.

“I love you, Tenchi,” she whispered softly to him.

Gently, he drew her lips toward his while his breath warmed her mouth with the reply, “I love you too, Ryoko.”

Their lips met, their kiss quickly becoming more passionate. In the distance, the sun descended against the mountains, casting an orange hue over the couple and closing this day in Okayama.
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by evilpii
#32218 Though the world as a whole was stunned by the alien advent in New York six weeks ago, young couples still courted despite the shocking news. In Okayama Prefecture, the city Kurashiki was home to the Great Seto Bridge, which spanned across the Seto Inland Sea to Kagawa Prefecture. Much like its sister bridge, the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the grand structure attracted tourists to the area, including young lovers in need of a romantic backdrop. As such, several restaurants of differing styles have established themselves on either side of the bridge to serve those who visit.

One particular Italian eatery rested near the foot of the bridge on the Okayama side, and its windows gave a splendid view of the sea and the illuminated construction at night. Within, patrons sat conversing over their various dinner choices, some discussing the recent news. Others traded words about their daily highlights between bites of a bread stick, but most of the young couples flirted while waiting for their food.

Masaki Tenchi, however, quietly watched as his companion gazed out the nearby window at the great bridge. In the three years Tenchi had known Ryua Ryoko, she had always had an affinity for this structure, especially in the silver glow of the moon. Even in the ideal world she discovered with the dimensional tuner, she inevitably found her way to the Golden Gate Bridge. The soft smile she wore now was very similar to the one she had then.

For the past month, Tenchi and Ryoko have been officially dating. After the chaos in New York, they took two weeks to settle back into their usual routines before they went on their first date. Surprisingly, despite her usual aggressive nature, Ryoko readily agreed to wait.

I shouldn't be that surprised, Tenchi thought. She went through a lot.

Yet, after those two weeks ended, the cyan-maned woman promptly asserted her claim to his heart. The young prince was walking down the stairs from the Masaki shrine after an afternoon of helping Katsuhito clean the floor of the haiden.

“Tenchi…” her voice whispered behind him.

The young man knew the tone well. Not long after they first met, Ryoko had bound him with rope and snuck into the yokai cave with him in tow. There, she had planned to seduce the teenager with her femininity, though this plan was promptly foiled through the intervention of others.

Tenchi turned toward her voice, but her words rose again near his ear.

“Oh, Tenchi…”

He grinned to himself when he heard the soft whoosh of air behind him. An arm snaked across his chest, her fingers lightly cupping his cheek. Her other hand slid down his abs and rested her hand on his opposite him. Her chest pressed against his back while she whispered softly into his ear.

“There you are.”

Her breath warmed his skin, sending a shiver down his spine. One of his hands cupped hers while he turned his head to see her beautiful visage gazing back. Pleased, Ryoko's amber eyes narrowed as she smiled slightly.

“You're pretty sensitive,” she commented, her fingers lightly tracing his jawline.

Tenchi blushed and glanced aside anxiously.

“Really?”

She nodded slowly before blowing lightly over his ear again. Her arms drew him closer when he reacted. Her smile grew as she kissed his neck and shoulder, a purr rising from her chest.

Finally, she thought, he's all mine.

Carefully, he turned in her embrace to face her, his arms sliding around her sides. The Ryoan woman held him close as they both leaned into a kiss. The prince parted his lips from his partner's, meeting her eyes with his.

“Where have you been?” he asked. “I haven't seen you all day.”

Mischievously, she leered at him. “Just… thinking.”

A drop of sweat rolled down his brow. “'Thinking'?”

“Mmhmm.”

She gently pushed him back against a tree, pressing herself into him. Caught by surprise, Tenchi's eyes widened, his blush even brighter as her lips slid past his.

“About what?” he asked dumbly.

“Oh, what to do with you,” Ryoko whispered hotly, her eyes fixed on his.

Her feline eyes gleamed, seeming to glow in the shade of the forest around them. To say Tenchi was excited would be a gross understatement. Having a beautiful woman like Ryoko tease in this way would erode any man's resolve. Though the young prince was very virtuous and honorable, his imagination quickly depicted some of what Ryoko was certainly considering. He took a deep breath, his heart beating hard against his chest, not unlike hers.

As he released his wind slowly, its heat fell upon her lips, and she again kissed him. However, this time, he felt her mouth open slightly, deepening the oral engagement. His fingers curled against her back, his arms tense while she ran her fingers along the outline of his sides.

Tenchi's thoughts were anything but clear. This gorgeous lady in his arms overtly desired him, had desired him for three years now, and in that time, he had grown to care deeply for her. Likewise, she had developed a genuine love for him, and this expression was natural.

However, the Terran native gently broke the kiss and took a deep breath, calming his heart. Confused, Ryoko blinked and looked back at him.

“What's wrong?” she asked.

“It's…” he stated, unsure of his words. His brown eyes met the gold of hers, and the blush returned to his cheeks briefly with an embarrassed grin. “… It's a bit fast, Ryoko.”

“What do you mean?”

The young man scratched the back of his head nervously, embarrassment still plain on his face.

“I'm sorry. I've just… never…”

The former space pirate furrowed her brows for a moment before the realization came to her. Tenchi sighed softly and glanced aside, but she kissed his cheek. His eyes slid back to her while she smiled warmly for him.

“Tenchi, I'm well aware that you're a virgin.”

Her hand gently caressed his cheek.

“… I'll be gentle with you.”

His fingers rested top the back of her hand.

“I know… I just…”

The prince closed his eyes, frustrated.

“I love you, Ryoko,” he stated plainly. “I really do, and I…”

He paused, his gaze returning to hers. She, however, could not completely hide the dejection in her face. She had waited for him to accept her, to love her, and now that he has, he kept her from sharing this side of herself with him.

“I don't want to mess this up,” he continued, honest and true. “I don't want to rush this. When I was in school, I watched several of my classmates get sexual too fast.”

Tenchi glanced aside, recalling one incident in particular. A good friend of his, Tsuchida Umanosuke, had been dating one of their classmates, Mizuno Sugano, for a full semester before their last term of classes. The couple would often be found making out on the roof of the junior wing, and their relationship seemed very close, even to a casual observer.

However, during their last year, that fiery passion seemed die. Worried for his friend, Tenchi asked Umanosuke what happened, and he explained.

“'We just burned out',” Tenchi quoted to Ryoko.

Taken aback, Ryoko blinked while her beloved continued, “That's what Umanosuke told me, that he and Sugano just 'burned out' too fast. He said it was exciting at first, but that it just died.”

She glanced down in thought, considering this. Her gut twisted at the idea of her blazing desire for Tenchi just snuffing itself like that. In times past, she would have immediately blurted out, “That'll never happen!” or “Don't you love me, Tenchi?” Now, her mind took pause and contemplated this more.

“I don't want that to be us,” he added.

“Tenchi,” she started, her eyes returning to his, “I don't want to lose you either, and I want to be close to you.”

“That's the point, Ryoko,” he said as a blush crossed his face. “It's not like I…” He paused, a silly grin only adding to his embarrassed blush. “… don't want to…”

She smiled to herself while he concluded, “But, I want to love all of you, Ryoko, not just your body.”

The former pirate had always been ruled by her impulses, and since she met Masaki Tenchi, her very being has wanted to be with him. Though she was disappointed and felt some rejection, part of her was also flattered.

“Alright, Tenchi,” the Ryoan answered. “We'll 'go slow'.” Her hand cupped his cheek, a mischievous grin arcing across her lips. “But, these lips right here…” Lightly, her finger traced along his mouth, circling the cusp on each. “… They're still mine.”

With that, she kissed him lightly twice before the couple embraced, letting the kiss deepen on its own. Gently, Tenchi cradled her neck in his hand, leaving the other to draw her close at the waist. Ryoko's arms draped over his shoulders, her palms pulling his head down toward her.

After a few moments, the kiss broke, though the lady quickly stole two more quick pecks. Tenchi blinked at this, but Ryoko simply winked and replied, “I was a pirate, after all.”

“Well, I do owe you a date,” he said, a wry smile on his face.

Her forehead rested against his. “You certainly do.”

Together, the couple strode back down to the Masaki house, discussing what they would do that evening. Tenchi initially suggested that the two attend a movie. There, they could enjoy the film, and each other's company, without anyone staring at Ryoko's alien features. At this, Ryoko shook her head.

“Good movies don't come out in October,” she argued. “Even then, anything worth watching won't hit until Halloween at best.”

Her idea, on the other hand, was to dance the night away at a local club. The young man was hesitant, until she outlined the particular details.

“Tenchi, people go to clubs for a few reasons. Either they go to show off and get a date, or they go to show off the date they have.” She smirked and added, “A 'cosplayer' wouldn't be new, I don't think.”

He considered it, but ultimately conceded, with one condition. The prince requested that she wear her hair down at least to mask a few of her alien attributes. The lady agreed to this, and he found himself opposite her on the floor of “Planet Dance”, bombarded by strobe lights and loud trance music.

Ryoko was completely right. She melted into the atmosphere very well, particularly in the black dress she wore. The scarlet seam that spiraled up her body fluoresced under the few black lights mounted in the room. Her cyan hair, now smoothed down around her shoulders, stretched down her back to her waist. Her follicles too glowed in the unseen luminance, not unlike those who had dyed their hair.

As the bass blasted around them, Ryoko guided Tenchi onto the floor and quickly found the rhythm. She shook from side to side, her hands beckoning her man to join her. Needless to say, the “country boy” in him became immediately evident as he stiffly tried to match her steps. Twice, he bumped into two other young people, resulting in the young prince's embarrassment. The Ryoan woman laughed to herself as he tried to apologize to them, even as they blended back into the undulating mass around them.

Tenchi nervously scratched his head while Ryoko strode up to the young prince, taking his hand. She lead him aside, speaking over the loud music.

“Don't worry about it. It happens all the time.”

“Sorry, Ryoko,” he answered. “I never really learned to dance.”

With a grin, she shook her head. “Oh, you did. Your grandpa just never told you.”

Tenchi's brows furrowed as his date slid back into the other attendants. Her catlike form slunk into a familiar stance, her hands before her, her front leg drawn up slightly. The crowd slowly began to notice her standing amongst them when the disc jockey changed the music. A solo heavy bass pounded as the cyan-maned woman glided forward. Tenor and alto synthesizer tones wrapped and knitted around the central driving line when her arms swayed to either side.

Again, Tenchi knew this routine. He and she had practiced it ad nauseum before the dark goddess's advent, but never so slow, or as elegant. Where fierce knife-handed strikes would have broken an opponent's wrist, she arched her hand back toward her cheek and neck, curling her fingers with the chords' embrace. Where a kick would have swung at her foe, she instead held her leg for a moment and hotly eyed her beloved, before easing her toes again to the ground. She softened it all, using all she had learned from Katsuhito and her own talent at deception, all to claim Tenchi's undivided attention.

Ryoko grinned to herself as she spun toward him, her hand extended.

It's your turn, Tenchi, she thought to herself.

Dumbfounded at her performance, a moment passed before the country boy stepped forward. The music shifted again, a countermelody rose from the tenor line, interweaving with the theme established by the alto. Step by step, Tenchi and Ryoko circled one another, all the crowd watching, the two melodies starting to crescendo.

The chorus broke forth as the two slid at one another and shifted together, close and tight. He would snake his arms around her, but she would slip away, her eyes always locked on his. She would spin her foot at his, and he would jump aside. Ferociously, the couple ensnared and eluded one another, endlessly attacking and countering in a smooth flow. On they went as the melodic lines blended into one, alto and tenor trading the theme off to one another.

Then, Tenchi and Ryoko's hands touched, their fingers wed as the song slowed, now unison. Their breath heaved slowly, their hearts beating within their chests, their eyes ablaze at one another. Ryoko relished this look from him, drawing his arms around her.

That's the lion-hearted man I love, she thought as they embraced and swayed.

The crowd stood amazed and soon applauded, bringing a familiar reddish tint to Tenchi's face. His date merely grinned to herself and kissed his lips. The press of her mouth quickly thrust the rest of the world away from her partner's mind, leaving only the pair of them.

In the darkened club, the other attendees gradually returned to their own dancing as the music returned to its speedy pace, leaving the young couple to themselves. As the night carried into the very early hours of the morning, the two would take the dance floor a few more times, Ryoko teaching Tenchi the etiquette and a few moves. However, these moves never caught the rug on fire like that first “sparring match”. The evening ended with them walking up the steps to the Masaki estate, arm in arm, laughing about their night. With one last lingering and deep kiss, Tenchi bid Ryoko good night as he retired to bed.

Ryoko, however, did not head immediately to bed. The former pirate took a deep breath, still feeling her boyfriend's lips on hers. She saw his door and thought about how feeble an impediment it was. She could phase right through it. She could destroy it with a gesture.

Yet, she shook those thoughts away and floated up through the roof. There, the Ryoan woman sat on the corner of the red tile as she had so many times before.

I'm impatient, she chided herself. Even the old man said so a while back.

She folded her arms and looked up at the silver moon looming overhead. The feeling of his arms around him filled her thoughts, part of her aching for that closeness again.

Still, she thought, he did cut loose.

Her lips curled into a grin. His hands did draw her close. His fingers did wed with hers. None of that was coerced or forced. All of it was him.

That's a start.

Now, she gazed out at the moon from within this Italian restaurant, thinking back on the last four weeks of their relationship. The pale light reflected off the Great Seto Bridge, much as it did off the Golden Gate Bridge that last night in her ideal world.

There's far less excitement and danger in this life, she thought.

They had agreed to alternate choosing the evening's entertainment, and tonight was Tenchi's turn. While she liked to frequent the clubs, he liked a quiet night at dinner, or even at home with the rest of the household. The cyan-maned woman enjoyed showing off her boyfriend in public, how they moved together and held each other close.

In contrast, the young prince preferred to find a private place for the two of them to have time alone, uninterrupted. Recent nights had found them both laying across Tenchi's bed, in one another's arms. He had become more forward with her, a change that she welcomed, but between the kisses and heated words, he asked her questions she had never been asked.

“What's your dream, Ryoko?”

Caught off-guard, she responded, “What do you mean?”

“You know, what do you want to do in the future?” He grinned wryly. “I mean, you're already famous… well, sorta.”

Ryoko glanced down, blinking her amber eyes. In all her harrowing adventures, that question had never been asked of her, not once. Her finger twirled Tenchi's rat-tail while her gaze trailed back up to his.

“True. What's yours, Tenchi?”

His brown eyes glanced aside for a moment and replied, “Hmm … how about becoming a world famous painter?”

She pursed her lips and raised a brow. “Seriously? You want to be a painter?”

“Well, something like that. I can't leech off Dad and Grandpa forever.”

The future had always been a black void to Ryoko for much of her life. As a space pirate, she lived from caper to caper, just avoiding the GP and other rival pirates. That excitement had fueled her, that adrenaline rush absolutely addictive. Her one wish for years was to live her life fast and bright, taking everything that she could whenever she could.

The young woman had taken that question, among others, and been rolling them around in her mind for the past few days. As she now looked at the bridge, she broke the silence between herself and Tenchi softly and thoughtfully.

“I don't know what I want, Tenchi.”

The prince raised a brow. “… But, we already ordered, Ryoko.”

She sighed and rolled her eyes. “No, not about dinner. I mean 'in life'.”

Tenchi watched as her golden gaze lowered. Her cyan hair fell smooth around her head, framing her face while she spoke, reflectively.

“I've wanted lots of things in my life: money, men, sake…” She grinned to herself, adding, “I've always been a bit greedy.”

Tenchi chuckled, “I can't disagree with that, really.” Then, he smile warmly and continued, “But, you have changed over the time I've known you.”

She turned her eyes back to him, a slight smile forming on her lips.

“Tenchi, part of me is a pirate, and it always will be.” Her head motioned toward the cash register as she whispered, “I'll always think about phasing my hand through that plastic thing and taking the cash.” Her hand waved to nearby the door and windows. “I'll always look for the quickest way out.”

He took her hand in his and nodded. “I realize that, Ryoko, but you haven't done any of that. You might have thought about it, but you didn't do it. That shows that you've changed.”

Her fingers wrapped around his as she raised her eyes to his, certainty prominent in his expression.

“When you're a pirate, you never think about much more than the next caper, at least I didn't.”

“Your dad did, I think,” Tenchi countered, taking Ryoko aback. “Or else, you wouldn't be here.”

She smiled distantly. “Maybe. I never knew him. He was killed in a GP raid before I was even born.”

“And, your mom took you to Jurai's territory.”

“Yeah,” she laughed humorlessly. “To get away from the 'pirate life' that killed him. Some good that did.”

“You're out of it now,” he said hopefully. “There's a Terran saying, Ryoko. 'You can take the boy out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the boy'.” He motioned to himself. “Part of me will always be the kid from the Okayama countryside, no matter where I travel in this galaxy.”

The former pirate listened to him speak, unsure of herself. She hated that feeling, and it was becoming more prevalent as she thought more about her own purpose.

“I don't really know what I'll end up doing either,” he said honestly, “but I keep trying to figure it out.” His fingers gently squeezed her palms. “And, I know you can too.”

She smiled warmly while he added, “And, I don't think it will be robbing banks.”

“You so sure?” Ryoko asked, some humor returning to her voice, leaning toward her date.

He nodded, leaning toward her. “I'll make sure of it.”

Her fingers slid over his palms as she glanced at his lips and back to his eyes. However, before she could kiss him, the waiter returned holding a tray of freshly cooked food. Promptly, the couple pulled back into their seats for their server to place their dinner upon the table, Tenchi apologizing.

Yet, after the waiter left, Ryoko quickly stole a kiss on his lips. The prince grinned and shook his head while she smiled to herself.
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by evilpii
#32219 Ryua Ryoko's amber eyes frowned with frustration. Again and again, she swung her weapons against her opponent, but each time, they were dodged or deflected. Her hands gripped tightly at each hilt while she spun, whirling attack after attack upon her foe.

Dressed in a white gi and red hakama, the Ryoan woman wielded a pair of bokken, each pounding against the single implement held by her opponent. Her cyan mane was tied behind her head into a bloom of spikes, clearly showing her elfin ears and the feline features of her eyes. Her nose flared when her foe braced his bokken in his free hand, letting both of hers slide along its edge impotently.

Her nemesis then swiped at her, forcing her to kick away and regather her defense. Masaki Tenchi rose against her, dressed in a white gi and blue hakama. As always, his raven-black hair was tied in a tail behind his head, though its length was greater than before. Cool and focused, the Juraian prince met her gaze as he held his weapon before him, both hands on the hilt.

In a moment, his blade dropped toward his right before he slid toward her, a slash approaching fast at her left. At once, her right sword crossed her body to meet his, while she swung the left down towards his collar. However, he knelt and rolled to her left, avoiding the strike entirely and rising back to his feet.

The two turned to face one another anew, and she rushed toward him, a scowl on her brow. The woman struck with her left, but the man deflected it. The Ryoan thrust with her right, and the Juraian dodged it. Their strikes accelerated, the cracks of their wooden weapons hammering a percussive beat to their dance.

With every missed strike, Ryoko's glare became harder, more frustrated, until Tenchi swept beside her and tagged her rear with the flat of his blade. At this, she threw her bokkens onto the ground forcefully.

“Dammit!” she cursed loudly. “This isn't helping anything!”

Tenchi lowered his sword and approached her slowly. He had seen the frustration building, felt the tension and expended strength in each blow they exchanged. However, being Ryoko, she never said anything, though he had a fairly clear idea as to the cause. The onsen incident last week had infuriated her, and she needed some form of release.

Of course, being Tenchi, he had not pried, leaving her to stew over the matter and reveal it in her own time. Now, he could see the trouble this issue was causing her. In their last sparring match a week ago, she had held her ground against him, even laughing and flirting when he tagged her, or vice versa.

“Ryoko,” he said as he rested his free hand on her shoulder, “talk to me. What's wrong?”

Her amber eyes turned to meet his, and for that moment, he could see the seething anger she was holding inside. However, she lowered her eyes from him, hiding that part of herself.

“It's nothing, Tenchi,” she sighed as she folded her arms. “I'm just off today.”

The prince dropped his bokken and walked before her, resting both his hands on her shoulders, his eyes looking directly at hers.

“Ryoko, please,” he pleaded, concern on his words. “It's been bothering you for a week now.”

Quietly, he waited while his girlfriend wrestled with herself. Since he has known her, Ryoko had never been adept at showing her true feelings. The cyan-maned fury would usually put forth a passionate bravado to mask whatever really motivated her. In the past month, he had actually seen more of her than he had in the past three years, as she began to open herself to him. The process had been slow, and she would slip back into her old ways. However, his patience had now begun to reward him.

“It's not fair, Tenchi,” Ryoko grumbled, her golden eyes rising to his once again. “I did nothing to start that fight, and I get locked out of the onsen.”

“What happened, Ryoko?” he asked carefully. “You two haven't exactly talked much since she moved here.”

“We don't exactly mingle in the same 'circles',” she said sarcastically.

Sweat beaded in his hair as he agreed, “Fair enough, but you are sisters, right? You two do have some things in common.”

“That was what I was trying to tell her when she got pissed off,” Ryoko retorted. “I was asking her how her training with your granddad was going.”

“What did she say?”

Nothing,” she answered, rolling her eyes. “She was practically a brick wall.”

“Then, what did you talk about?” the prince asked quizzically.

“What else?” the Ryoan rhetorically replied, her eyes sliding back to his knowingly. “Men.”

Tenchi blushed at this while her hands glided from her arms and along his sides, holding him close. The pair had grown quite close in the past month, despite the young man's caveat not to rush into intimacy. He greatly enjoyed his time with her on their dates, as well as just laying on his bed, or hers. However, he did still find himself a bit self-conscious about some of the kisses and caresses, partially because of his inexperience in romance.

“Don't worry,” Ryoko said with a sly grin on her lips. “I didn't tell her anything juicy.”

“Well, thank you for that,” he chuckled nervously, lightly scratching behind his head.

“She's clearly jealous,” she purred, “even though I know a couple guys she could easily have if she wanted.”

“Is that what you talked about?” he gulped, blushing still.

“Yeah,” she said with a sigh, “until she slapped my sake out of my hand.”

“Wait,” Tenchi interjected, confused. “Why'd she do that?”

“Hell if I know!” she retorted. “Here I was, trying to help her out, and she starts bitching at me!”

The prince felt his stomach sink. In her piratical days, his girlfriend had broken numerous laws, sometimes with the best of intentions. On one such occasion, she robbed a Juraian bank to recuperate the money she had selfishly squandered when the household made its way to confront the usurper. However, her good intentions often were masked by her rash and shortsighted methods.

“And, how exactly were you going to help her?”

“I was hoping to set her up on a date,” she said plainly, pushing a lock of hair aside her brow.

Tenchi was not prepared for that response. Immediately, his mind went blank wondering what man Ryoko could possibly pair with her half-sister, the cold-hearted and very violent bounty hunter.

“A date? With whom?”

“Well,” the Ryoan woman started as she leaned closer and whispered softly into his ear, “Kamidake!”

His eyes popped open as he jerked back. “The knight Kamidake?!” he blurted out.

“Yeah,” she acknowledged with a devious sparkle to her eye, “I saw how he looks at her, and how she looks back.”

Admittedly, Tenchi did not know the crimson knight very well, nor his azure partner. Both were great warriors from the first court of Jurai who had been sealed away after a great battle. Katsuhito had raised them to aid in defeating the usurper during the coup d'etat, and both had also participated in the defense of Jurai and Earth in the last few months. Of course, those all were quite stressful times, and Tenchi did not take the time to talk with either man at length.

However, as he thought back to the reunion on Jurai, Kamidake was present when Nagi's father revealed himself. He also volunteered to accompany Ryoko to the enemy's vessel to rescue the huntress. During the recent incident in Manhattan, Tenchi spent a significant amount of time in the infirmary from his wounds while protecting Ryoko, but later heard that Kamidake was likewise wounded, protecting Nagi.

“Still, Ryoko,” Tenchi stammered, “he's a Juraian knight, and she's…”

“A bounty hunter,” Ryoko completed for him. “So what, Tenchi? If they're interested, why don't they take a shot?”

“Well, isn't it a bit complicated,” he asked, “him on Jurai and her here on Earth? And, doesn't Jurai have a lot of social classes?”

“To hell with society bullshit!” she barked back. “That didn't stop me from going after you!”

Sweat beaded in Tenchi's hair as he said, “We also didn't know I was part Juraian until after we met.”

“Come on, Tenchi!” she sighed as she rolled her eyes. “Nagi's got a rod so far up her ass, that she can hardly bend over. Admit it. She could use someone to lighten her up.”

“Is that how you suggested it to her?”

“More or less, yeah,” the former pirate answered, glancing to the side.

He took a slow, deep breath and sighed, “No wonder she slapped your drink out of your hand.” Gently, he cupped her cheek and said, “Ryoko, think about how Nagi sees all this. I remember what her dad said about how she was treated on Jurai.”

“I don't think he'd do that to her,” she muttered.

“No, I doubt he would,” he admitted, “but I don't think that's how she heard it. I mean, if you think about it, her dating Kamidake wouldn't be that different from her dad dating your mom. And, she's very sensitive about that.”

Tenchi could see the realization in Ryoko's amber eyes. She knew now what she had said to spark the fight, as well-meaning or light-hearted as it had been. For a moment, guilt crept into her face. Since the reunion, since learning of her connection to Nagi, Ryoko had shown genuine concern for her sibling, in her own way.

Then, her brows furrowed, her eyes closing with a heavy breath. He could feel her tense in his arms, feel the anger starting to flow off of her as she thought back to the incident in the onsen.

“That still doesn't excuse what she said.”

Worried, he asked the obvious question, “What did she say?”

“… That I was sleeping with you…”

“That's… never bothered you before…” he said with a bit of blush to his cheeks.

“… I know, Tenchi,” she whispered, her eyes turning back to his, “but it's different now…”

The prince saw it again, guilt, heavy guilt. Truthfully, Tenchi did not yet have the skill his grandfather did at reading people, but he had learned well. The young man's main flaw was not gullibility, but rather his trusting nature. However, living with Ryoko for three years has taught him to be less so, particularly with someone who is adept at lying, and omission.

Yet, his concern for her tempered his response. Her anger was very real, unlike than the facades she has worn before. Whatever was really said hurt her, enough to break her armistice with Nagi.

He snaked an arm around her waist and pulled her closer as he whispered, “Please, Ryoko, what did she say?”

Her teeth gnashed as she fought the answer that passed from her lips. “… That I slept with you… while Ayeka was here…”

Chills rushed through him, and his heart sank deep into his chest. He could feel the same guilt clawing its way into his chest as she did. Dumbfounded, words abandoned him.

“She said that I was why she…” Ryoko whispered, her voice tainted with regret, anger, and frustration.

Tenchi and Ryoko had not discussed Ayeka since she left Earth. She told them all that she had to reflect on her life, to recover from what was done to her in Manhattan. Her words did hold truth in them, but all three of them knew a second, unspoken reason she wanted to leave.

“… That… was too far, Tenchi,” Ryoko hissed, “so I slapped her… and then we fought…”

The prince glanced aside, his emotions confused and in disarray. Like Ryoko, he was angry at Nagi for saying something so cruel, particularly to her own sister. He sympathized with the huntress some, considering Ryoko's own callous remarks.

But, his own regret and guilt seeped into his mind. His indecision was one of the pressures that had fueled the darkness that had been consuming Ayeka. His choice had broken her heart, allowing room for that shadow to overwhelm and nearly destroy her. Moreover, he could do nothing to undo what happened.

Gently, Tenchi stepped out of Ryoko's grasp and sat on a nearby log, his brown eyes set on the ground below silently. Ryoko followed and sat with him, her hands clasped in her lap as she glanced over to him, watching his lost expression.

“Tenchi, are you mad at me?” she asked.

Softly, he answered, “A little, yeah, at both of you.”

She rested both of her hands on his knee and looked into his eyes. “I'm sorry, about what I said and the onsen.”

“I know,” he answered with a nod, “and I forgive you both.”

Quiet passed between them while Tenchi continued to push through the haze of his feelings. Ryoko moved her hands back into her lap and lowered her eyes as well.

“It's Ayeka, isn't it?” she whispered somberly.

“Yes.”

Her hands clasped tighter as all her fearful doubts leaked into her thoughts. Tenchi could hear the strain in her voice as she spoke to him.

“She's why you… don't want to…?”

He blinked and slowly turned to face her.

“Ryoko, no,” he said softly, gently. “She's not why.”

He could see tears at the edges of her eyes. While Ayeka lived in the Masaki estate, she and Ryoko definitely had had their differences, but in that time, they also shared a great deal. They watched the same shows, drank together, and hatched plans together. While neither would openly admit it, they did become friends, as well as rivals for the same man's affections.

“Do you love her, Tenchi?” the cyan-maned woman asked quietly, fearfully.

A knife went through his heart. He had cared for both of them, as well as all of the tenants who had come to reside in his home, even Nagi. Ryoko and Ayeka, however, were the two for whom he felt the strongest, but he knew what she meant now.

“Not like I love you, Ryoko, but I do care about her.” His eyes lowered, shame in them, as he added, “I never wanted to hurt either of you… It's not your fault Ayeka left. It's mine.”

The tears rolled down her face as he continued taking the blame for himself. “I'm the one who said nothing. I'm the one who led you both along. I'm the one who broke her heart. It's my fault.”

He could feel his heart bleeding, tears rolling from his own eyes. “I hurt her, someone I care about, so why should I be happy?”

As the guilt welled in his heart, he felt her fingers gently caress his cheek and turn his face back to hers again. Her golden eyes met his, honestly, no deception.

“Because you're a good man, Masaki Tenchi. You try so hard to make everyone else happy. It's your turn, time for you to be a little selfish.”

She drew him closer until their lips touched, hers parting to join with his. For a moment, the couple shared a gentle kiss before their mouths separated, allowing their eyes to meet once more.

“I love you, Tenchi,” she whispered softly. “Let me carry some of this blame with you.”

Silently, he nodded as they slowly and warmly embraced one another.
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by evilpii
#32220 Alone, Masaki Tenchi strode down from the shrine, reflecting on the recent match. Watching the sisters fight had reminded him greatly of his own sparring engagements with his grandfather, particularly the shattered bokken. Whenever the young man saw victory within sight, his mentor would do the very same maneuver to wreck his resolve. “Giving up already?” he would chuckle. Naturally, Tenchi did learn the counter move in the Juraian style, involving fighting with the hilt and broken blade.

However, Ryoko resourcefully switched to grappling instead when the legendary man had trained her. Both Katsuhito and Tenchi had been surprised at her solution to the problem, the younger never having considered it. The grandfather chuckled, pleased at her ingenuity and tenacity. No doubt, he had seen something similar in his experience, but had not expected it from her.

After the match, Nagi wandered quietly back to the house with Sasami and the cabbits consoling her loss, and asking about this “date with a knight”. Washu trailed behind them, cackling to herself while she replaying the bout on her ethereal laptop. Ryoko shared a kiss with Tenchi before Katsuhito politely interrupted to pull him aside for some words. While her annoyance was certainly apparent, she relinquished her boyfriend for the moment.

Together, the two princes walked toward the shrine, far away from the earshot of the women. Once they entered the priest's office, Katsuhito broke the silence.

“Ryoko has improved a good bit since I last saw her.”

“She has, Grandpa,” Tenchi answered. “We've been preparing ever since the match was set.”

Sagely, the great man nodded before he took a seat on the floor next to the window, his legs beneath him.

“And, Nagi's gotten better, I think,” the young man added, sitting similarly across from his grandfather.

“She's a lot like her sister, talented but very stubborn.”

“Yeah, I can only imagine,” Tenchi chuckled.

With a kind smile, Katsuhito poured both of them a cup of tea, which the former student accepted respectfully.

“How are you and Ryoko getting along?”

“Pretty good, I guess,” Tenchi blushed as he sipped his tea. “She really likes going out to clubs and dancing.”

“She's a spirited woman, Tenchi,” the nobleman commented plainly, “and she's matured since coming here. You should be proud to be with her.”

Distantly, the younger fellow glanced to the side and nodded. “I am, Grandpa. She's great, and I love being with her, around her.”

Watching him closely, the elder prince observed the changes in his heir: a tightness in his body, deeper breath, the long gaze. In training Tenchi and Ryoko between the reunion and the recently events in Manhattan, Katsuhito had witnessed the two growing closer firsthand. He knew well the heated gazes the two had exchanged when they believed him unaware. Ryoko, naturally, made little pretense to conceal her affections, though Tenchi had kept his feelings closely hidden then, for rather apparent reasons.

Though now openly affectionate, the legend's protégé still held some of his feelings to himself, particularly the guilt that was bleeding into his voice and gaze.

“We've started talking some about taking a trip together, just us. I'm not sure yet, really.”

Listening to Tenchi describe this proposed vacation, Katsuhito could feel the young man's apprehension. The priest had seen the source of his grandson's trouble and raised his sword to stop her. Honestly, he could see why the boy was so afflicted, as his growing passions had driven her farther down her ill-fated path, even if this was not his intention. The great man knew that feeling very well.

“What do you think, Grandpa? I mean, you know the galaxy far better than either of us.”

“You should go,” Katsuhito said plainly.

“Are you sure?” Tenchi questioned. “After all…”

“Tenchi,” the elder gentleman interrupted, quieting the boy. “Do you love her?”

“Yes, I do,” he answered without hesitation. “I just…”

“Then, you should put her first,” the reply came again.

Tenchi turned back to his grandfather, their eyes meeting. Looking deep into his senior's sight, the young prince could see experience staring back, and a familiar feeling ringing in his voice.

“Your regrets are becoming doubts, Tenchi,” he warned, “and they will devour you.”

A somber expression crossed the young prince's face as he listened to the teacher's knowing words.

“You can't change what's happened, nor to whom it happened. Even if you could, I expect you know well that the effects could become very dangerous.”

Tenchi thought about all the temporal troubles from his excursion to 1970 and the balancing act of finding and ending Kain to save Achika. He had thought briefly of using Washu's equipment to return to 1997 and spare Ayeka the corruption that followed. However, the more he considered the idea, he could not see how to rescue her without interfering with subsequent events. Earth, and perhaps Jurai, might have fallen without the power she gained through her torment.

Katsuhito rested his hand on his grandson's shoulder and added, “She has made her choice and is safe from harm. Let her go.”

The young prince glanced down into his tea, looking at his reflection on its surface, his brows furrowed somberly.

“It feels wrong, Grandpa. She was so hurt.”

“I know.” The legendary warrior patted his protege's shoulder as he added, “She's a strong woman, though she might not realize it herself, and she is hardly alone.”

Slowly, the boy's eyes rose back to his elder's as he continued, “She will heal, as will you. However, you have a woman here who loves you, and needs you.”

Tenchi had acknowledged how Ryoko had changed often in the last two months, how she had matured. She thought more about the consequences of her actions and better controlled her passions, like in the match with her sister. As he just admitted, she now spoke with him about future plans together, wanting to spend her time with him. Recalling the time after Kagato's coup ended, he remembered how lonely he had been, his worry for her, and his elation when she returned. He now found it difficult to picture his life without her, and wondered about the reverse.

“You are no longer a boy, Tenchi,” Katsuhito said, drawing his hand back and sipping his tea once more. “What you do now defines you as a man.”

Thoughtfully, the young prince likewise sipped his tea. After a moment, he took a breath and asked knowingly, “What was her name, Grandpa?”

“Haruna,” he answered softly.

“Care to tell me about her?”

Now an hour later, Tenchi descended along the path from the shrine and heard Ryoko's voice laughing aloud nearby. Quietly, he followed a narrow, recently blazed trail to find her kneeling next to a grave marker in a small, secluded clearing. Composed of a deep, glassy obsidian, the burial marker rose flush to the ground, inscribed with Juraian script translating as “Ryua Ryoshu”.

“She never saw it coming!” she chuckled. “The 'unbeatable' bounty hunter was so focused she burned all that time to strike!” She scoffed and shook her head. “After all that, she had to gloat!” Smirking, she added, “I guess since she's chased me so long, I shouldn't be too surprised. I wonder if she gets that from her old man. She certainly didn't get it from you.”

Tenchi cleared his throat softly, drawing her attention back to him. Ryoko smiled widely and added, “Well, that's all I really needed to say, Mom. I think my man has finally finished with the taskmaster.”

The prince bowed toward the gravestone with a soft apology for his interruption before she rose and hugged him close and tight.

“What took you so long?” she asked, stealing a kiss. “I had enough time to go tell her about the whole fight, among everything else.”

“I'm sorry, Ryoko,” he said apologetically. “He needed to talk to me about some shrine business. It took longer than I thought.”

“Is he still trying to rope you into taking his place?” she queried, a brow lowered in annoyance.

“Yeah,” he replied, scratching the back of his head lightly, “it's a big decision, and he's not really getting younger.”

“Hey, he can get one of those guys from another shrine, right?”

Tenchi nodded. “Yeah, he could, but do you really want someone who doesn't know about what goes on here?”

For a moment, Ryoko's lips pursed in thought before she answered worriedly, “Okay, you have a point, but what about your art? You're starting to get good.”

“Artists aren't really known for making lots of money, and I need to support the household somehow. Besides, I could draw in my off time.”

She rested a finger on his forehead and poked a bit roughly. “That's my time, Masaki Tenchi.”

Sweat beaded in his hair as he grinned wryly. “Right, right…”

He glanced over to the gravestone, which presided over the final resting place of Ryua Ryoshu, mother to both Ryoko and Nagi. Tenchi had met her, in a sense, nearly three months ago in Manhattan. Just after he confessed his love for Ryoko, the beautiful figure of Ryoshu stepped out from the black fire of the NVO distortion. Her spiked, fallow hair fell in a long tail to her ankles, fanning at its end. Though her red and black gown blended into the shadows around her, he could discern her figure, which seemed voluptuous like Ryoko's. However, her gait and bearing were shared with Nagi, particularly the cool blue glare she gave them both upon their meeting.

Yet, the green marks along her face and neck, as well as the blue sclera, signaled who he was actually meeting. Within the Ryoan body was the power and mind which gave the people of Ryua their great abilities, Tokimi. From all the evidence he has seen, this godlike entity has been the impetus behind all the recent turmoil in their lives: Kagato, Kain, Liaens, and perhaps others.

After the goddess's defeat in Manhattan, Ryoshu's body was recovered without damage from the remnants of Tokimi's masked attire. While Nagi was silent on the matter, Ryoko asked Katsuhito that their mother be laid to rest here on Earth, hidden away from “that bitch”. Understandingly, he accommodated her request. Since then, Tenchi had worked to divorce Tokimi's twisted voice from the image of his girlfriend's mother.

“How was your talk?” he asked kindly.

“One-sided, as usual,” Ryoko quipped back. “She never really liked hearing my stories.”

The young prince watched a distant warmness flicker into her eyes as her mind drifted into nostalgia. He smiled softly and kissed her lips ever so lightly.

“Why's that?”

With a smile, she scoffed, “Because I'd tell her about how I beat up the boys in the guild. Would your mom like hearing how you whipped all the neighborhood kids with your sword?”

Wryly, he nodded. “Okay, I could see that, though why did you tell her that you beat up your sister?”

Her palm cupped his cheek and lightly patted it while she answered, “I think she'd like to know that we did it as peacefully as we did.” She paused, leaning her lips closer to his. “And,” she whispered, “I think she'd like to know that Sis is going out with one of the first knights of Jurai,” before kissing him again.

He reciprocated her affections, drawing her close against him as the sun rays began to vanish from the horizon. Carefully, he broke the kiss and motioned back to the house.

“Why don't we head home? It's really starting to get late.”

“Fine,” she retorted, “if you insist.”

Stealing another kiss, she slipped from his arms and took his hand before the pair bowed respectfully to the gravestone. As the sounds of night began to surround them in the dying light, Ryoko nudged closer, spurring Tenchi to wrap his arm around her shoulders. At that moment, he realized that he had left Ryoko's bracelet, Nagi's hairband, and both cloaks back at the shrine.

“Oh, I'm sorry,” he apologized, stopping in mid-stride. “I completely forgot both your stuff and Nagi's at Grandpa's.”

She hesitated for a moment before she waved the topic aside, answering, “I don't really want to deal with the old man tonight.”

With a nod, the couple continued into the growing darkness, the late autumn chill closing around them both. Gently, her arms snaked around him while he glanced down at her, their eyes meeting. The moonlight above glimmered off her irises, causing them to illuminate in his shadow. He slowed his gait to kiss her forehead lightly.

“Like a little lost kitty,” he whispered.

She rolled her eyes and slapped his chest softly. “'Lost kitty', my ass!”

Tenchi chuckled and sighed hard, melting into her as she did into him. Over the next few steps, his gaze grew distant with thought before he whispered, “Do you think she'd approve of me?”

Ryoko furrowed her brows. “Who? Nagi? Who cares what she thinks?” she replied flippantly.

“No,” the prince stated, “your mother, the real her.”

Stunned, her golden gaze lowered to the ground while he continued, “It's like with my mom. I lost her when I was very young and never really knew her.” Nostalgia filled his eyes as he smiled thoughtfully. “Traveling back to 1970, I saw a side of her I never knew, or at least never remembered.”

The memories of the former pirate drifted back to their jaunt into history, how she and Ayeka infiltrated Achika's house under the guise of transfer students. The raven-haired girl was vibrant, coyly flirtatious, not at all what she expected from Katsuhito's daughter. Still, she saw some of Tenchi's strength peeking through her, particularly when her power awoke so briefly.

Sadly, the cyan-maned woman envied her boyfriend's memories of his mother. When Ryoko now recalled her mother's image, the beautiful face was marred by leaflike markings tracing down her cheeks and neck. She remembered how the hands which carried her as a child commanded dark lashes that burned her beloved and her sister. The eyes which protectively watched over her scowled disapprovingly, even spitefully, at both siblings. That desecration of her mother's form still churned hatefully in Ryoko's heart.

She clutched Tenchi a bit closer as she whispered softly, “Mom would love you, Tenchi.”

“Why's that?” he whispered back.

“Because you did what she kept trying to do,” she answered, glancing back up to him, “get me out of the guilds.”

His eyes met hers. “Can you tell me about her?”

“Mom…” the former pirate began, “she could be so wildly different at times.” She motioned to the left with her head. “When everything was going right, she was very kind.” She scoffed with a slight smile, “She volunteered to teach the other guild kids literature with me. She'd also bandage up all the boys' scrapes from… well, being boys…”

Ryoko then motioned to the right. “But, when someone pissed her off, she could be a cast-iron bitch.” She laughed to herself, “There was this one time when a couple guys and I were out pinching purses. We each took turns being the lookout while the others snatched the coin pouches or card-folds of our marks. I swear, when Mom found out, she nearly tanned all our hides!”

Tenchi smiled warmly listening to her story, hearing about Ryoko's past, as well as her mother's. His arm kept her close as she shook her head and continued, “Now, she was pretty lenient on kids. If you wanted to see her explode, you should've seen her argue with the pirates. Over and over, the guild leaders kept badgering her to work with them, especially with me already apprenticing.” Her eyes closed with a wide smile. “If you think that I have a filthy mouth, you should have seen her rattle off curses in Juraian, as well as old Ryoan and a couple other languages I don't know. Her hands would grip so tight and spark real bright when she was ready to go off.”

Kissing atop his beloved's head, the prince commented, “She sounds like you.”

Blushing, she lightly slapped the back of his head. “I'm not some school teacher, Tenchi!”

Chuckling, he braced his head playfully and added, “Okay, okay.”

Soon, the Masaki estate stood before them shrouded in the shadowy dusk. Lights from the windows illuminated their passage toward the door, sharp contrasts falling over the couple.

Softly, the young man asked, “You miss her, don't you?”

“Of course, I do,” her response came, honestly. “I loved…”

I'm not your daughter! her memory screamed out. I certainly hate your ass!

In that moment, the shadows configured as they did when Tokimi first appeared in the NVO distortion, a colonnade corridor of darkness. The image of her mother, tough with a good soul, blinked back to the face used by the goddess, cold with vicious intent. The happy memories blurred with the twisted ones.

Ryoko stopped on the threshold of the house. Within her, the feelings of affection for her mother and hate for the dark goddess wrung taut in her heart. The conflict between those two visages and the words she said to each brought a shame to her eyes, despite what her intellect told her.

“Tenchi, my mother, the woman who raised me…” Ryoko began, turning to Tenchi, raising her eyes to his, “she was my family before Ryo-Ohki, before I came to Earth and met you and everyone else here.” She looked aside, her brows glowering. “Sure, others in the guild acted like, or tried to be, a family, but it wasn't real.” Then, her hands slid up her shoulders, pulling her arms close and tight against her body, her voice wavering with stronger filial emotions of spite and disgust. “And then, to have that bitchwear her face like a…!”

A scowl etched itself into her face, and tears appeared at the corners of her eyes, real tears. Sympathy twisted into his heart watching her react to his question, and he placed himself in her position: if someone tried to take his mother's place, to corrupt her memory. No doubt, he would feel just as wronged, just as dirtied.

Then, he remembered it was his question that sent her down this path. He hung his head somberly and wrapped his arms around her, tight and warm against the night's chill.

“I didn't mean…” he began.

“I know you didn't,” she interrupted, snaking her arms around him and pulling close to him.

In that moment, he kissed her forehead gently, apologetically, and she replied by kissing his neck, her hands raising along the back of his neck, urging him closer. His eyes opened briefly and met hers, feeling drawn into her passionate emotions as he lowered his lips to hers. The night fell silent to them, only the breath and touch of the other filling their immediate concerns for the next few minutes.

Yet, when they broke the kiss, the chill nipped at them again, despite the heavy beating of their hearts and the warmth of each other's breath and touch. In silence, Tenchi opened the door for his beau to enter, whereupon he wrapped his arm around her again and escorted her up the stairs to her room. There, she cracked the door open as he stood aside, steadying his heart to leave for the evening.

Then, her hand clasped his wrist, her golden eyes staring deep into his. Her gaze still held its fiery luster, but seemed darker, keener. Her grip was tighter, insistent. He could feel her arm shake slightly, wanting to pull him to her once more.

“Stay with me,” she whispered, deeper in tone, heated in quality.

Loneliness, he heard ringing in his mind. Most of her life, she had been alone. When she had genuine affection, like her mother or Nagi's father, it was torn away from her. Now, she had found warmth in him, for her, and she wanted to keep it nearby, always.

Tenchi yielded himself to her, stepping forward into her embrace, and the door closed quietly after him.
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by evilpii
#32221 Breath slowly wafted into Masaki Tenchi's nostrils as his consciousness roused itself from its slumber. His mind gradually became aware of the warm sheets and comforter around him, as well as the soft figure pressed against his side. He felt her breasts heave against his ribs with her sleeping breath, the pressure of her arms around his abdomen, her forehead resting on his shoulder.

Gently, he curled his arm around her, hugging her as his mind clawed further from the grasp of his dreams. His other hand rested against hers, lightly tracing the outline of her fingers with his. He felt her groan quietly, snuggling closer against him, burrowing further into her own fantasy.

Finally, the prince's eyes blinked groggily open, finding the ceiling familiar from several of his late night fraternizations with his girlfriend. In Ryua Ryoko's room, he rested in her bed with the former pirate sleepily curled at his side, her nude form cuddled to his. A dull light entered the room from beneath her door, reducing the room to sharp monochrome shadows.

Carefully, he turned his head to face hers, feeling her gentle breath on his lips, his eyes meeting hers. Her usually fierce mane of cyan hair was matted and ruffled around her head, a few strands straying across her visage. Peace reigned over her expression, which usually was ruled by her many strong passions. He smiled softly simply watching her sleep in his embrace, feeling her warmth at his side.

In time, Tenchi's thoughts drifted to the previous night, after Ryoko's match with Nagi. He remembered their discussion, witnessing her emotions shift from filial pride in her stories to a conflicted shame and spite. To reassure her, he embraced her, leading to a kiss under the moonlight. Then, when he turned to retire for the night, she stopped him, clutching his wrist, asking deeply and hotly that he stay with her.

Thinking back now, he could see clearly the desire and need in her eyes, in her touch and breath. At the time, those qualities melted his resistance and drew him into her room, into her embrace. His thoughts were scattered as he yielded to her lead, unsure how to react, let alone the ethics of this situation. Consciously, he knew the carnal nature of her kiss and touch this night, and a rational part of him fought to speak. However, she silenced him time and again as she guided him into pleasure with her. In truth, his naïvety toward sexual indulgence left him weak to her wiles, not knowing how to respond to her skilled seduction. Naturally, part of him also was eager and anxious to be with her, to learn what she had to teach.

To say that he was overwhelmed would be a crude understatement.

In retrospect, he did consider the ethics of their night of passion. Did I take advantage of her? he asked himself. Should we have gone that far? Also, he wondered, Where does this leave us now?

Pondering these questions, Tenchi saw a grin stretch across Ryoko's lips before her amber eyes fluttered open and met his.

“Good morning, lover,” she purred softly, warmly, her fingers gliding over his side, gently embracing him.

He smiled back and kissed her lips lightly, answering, “Good morning to you too. Sleep well?”

Her grin widened into a sly smile as she purred loudly, pressing herself more suggestively against him.

“Oh, you have no idea.”

Tenchi blushed modestly, still adjusting to this level of intimacy, while one of her fingers traced his musculature to his chest.

“How about you?” she asked, her eyes leering back.

“Yeah, I…” he started, searching for the best words to describe his feelings, “… I'm still trying to…”

The Ryoan woman carefully pushed herself up from the bed, her face hovering over his, her long locks falling around their heads. While the Juraian prince might still be processing the past night, he could see the smoldering flames of desire flickering in her golden eyes at this moment. Her free hand cupped his cheek and gently stroked his skin, her eyes growing distant for a moment.

“Trust me, my 'student',” she whispered huskily. “That will pass.”

As she leaned into a passionate kiss with him, an answer to his first question became immediately clear.

If anything, he thought, she's taking advantage of me!

Carefully, still unsure of himself, Tenchi guided his hands along her sides, feeling her muscles flex and wriggle under his touch. A low growl rumbled through her chest and lips as she broke the kiss and gazed deeply into his eyes, desirously, lustfully.

“Time for Lesson Two,” her words wafted past his ear, one of her hands easing one of his to her chest, between her breasts, over her heart. He could feel her heart racing, beating heavily, and her lungs, breathing deeply.

Needless to say, his other questions soon flew from his conscious thoughts while he succumbed to her wiles once again.
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by evilpii
#32222 Ryua Ryoko sat at the edge of the bed, taking long, deep breaths. She straightened her back, her amber eyes focusing onto the wall before her. Distantly, she thanked Tenchi's grandfather for teaching her those breathing techniques when another wave of nausea smashed into her gut. She gagged, keeping her mouth shut as she tried to breathe through her nose.

During that ill moment, she wondered if she had eaten a bad piece of sushi, perhaps had caught a bug, or was just anxious. She had been worrying about going to Jurai, seeing Ayeka again.

As the feeling passed, she glanced back to Tenchi, who still slept beneath the sheets. Since their relationship started, she had learned that little could wake him, short of maybe a pirate raid. Half of her was glad that he would not see her this way, sick, weak. Ever since she left the Ryoan pirate guilds, she had always been alone, just her and Ryo-Ohki against the universe. Surviving numerous daring heists and vile double-crosses, she had constructed her proud persona of bravado, learning to cheat and deceive to get her way. In the pirate's life, weakness was not an option.

At the same time, the other side of her wanted him to see her, to comfort her, to care for her. The affection that burned bright and hot in the depths of her chest wanted to be close to him, to be happy with him, to be honest with him. She was no longer alone. She did not have to cheat or deceive him. He would stand with her because he loved her, not because of what she could do for him.

Moments like this one brought the conflict to the surface, the young brigand she had been versus the wiser woman she was becoming.

But, she asked herself, who am I becoming?

A chunk of Ryoko's soul would always be the feared space pirate. That title was forever tattooed into her karma, and while she knew it would cause people to question her loyalties, she would never regret it. In every battle, she tapped that part of her spirit, the viciousness and ferocity only learned from a misspent youth and fighting for every coin she took.

Yet, piracy was only half of the legacy laid before her. Her father was the dread pirate Ten Akuno, but her mother was Ryua Ryoshu, a woman of both intelligence and passion. Ryoko had heard rumors of her mother's younger days, helping Akuno to unify the Ryoan pirate guilds, scheming against the Matronic Temple, against her own family. However, the cyan-maned woman never saw that side of her mother, instead only seeing her as the teacher of the guild's children and orphans.

Ryoko smiled to herself. I wonder what Mom would think of me now.

Another wave of nausea suddenly struck her. Covering her mouth, she rushed out of the bedroom and into the nearby bathroom. Automatically, the lights gently brightened around her as she rested her hands on either side of the sink basin, her body convulsing, wanting to purge the empty contents of her stomach.

As the queasy feeling passed, Ryoko calmed her pounding heart with several deep breaths. Staring down at the sink, her feline eyes traced the grain of the Juraian wood used to construct the fixture. Most days, she forgot that her lover was descended from Juraian nobility. In being with him, she could be regarded as his consort, perhaps even a princess.

The Ryoan woman chuckled to herself. God, Ayeka would love that! Me, a princess of Jurai!

Yet, Tenchi did not dress or act like an arrogant, haughty royal prince. Like his grandfather before him, he has long since tossed that responsibility away, preferring to stay the normal and kind person he has always been.

And besides, she admitted, what the hell do I know about being a princess?

Ryoko did love lounging around the Masaki estate, whether napping in the rafters or sleeping spooned with Tenchi. Of all the places she has lived through her travels in the stars, this place felt the most comfortable, the most familiar, the most right. She enjoyed dancing with him, talking with him, even sparring with him. As she thought about the future, she could picture herself nowhere else but at Tenchi's side.

Feeling better, the ex-pirate waved her hands under the faucet, spurring it to pour water into her hands. Splashing the liquid in her face, she woke herself up more and helped push that vile digestive nonsense out of her mind. After rubbing her face with her hands for a few seconds, she took a towel from the counter and dried her face.

Yet, as she looked into the mirror, she saw another person standing in the shadows behind her. There stood her half-sister, Jurai Nagi, wordlessly gazing back at her. Ryoko could see a conflict in her sibling's eyes, but she could not recognize it right away.

“What?” the cyan-maned Ryoan asked. “What's the problem?”

“Sick,” Nagi asked rhetorically, “this early in the morning?”

The former pirate had heard plenty of different tones from the huntress's words in their various exchanges, mostly negative. However, her inflection was new, not completely negative but also not really positive. Likewise, her expression was cryptic, confused, unsure.

Nevertheless, this was the feared bounty hunter, so Ryoko replied nonchalantly as she usually would.

“Yeah. What about it?”

At this, Nagi's brows furrowed into a scowl, her eyes dancing with a volatile blend of emotions, before storming away without a word. Standing there in the washroom, Ryoko blinked as she considering Nagi's reaction. True, the elder sister had snared the younger into this trip to Jurai, but she had been more civil a week ago.

Even then, Ryoko wondered, why would me being sick this morning set… her…?

And, the realization seeped into the cyan-maned woman's thoughts. Her amber eyes widened as Nagi's implication became increasingly more obvious, a fact that if true, would change everything. Stunned into silence, Ryoko's eyes slid toward the floor as she leaned against the nearby wall. The fun joy she had been enjoying slipped away, exchanged by something far different.

Fear.

She never planned this. She had always avoided it, this greatest responsibility of all. Now, the prospect weighed heavily on her heart.

As a tear rolled down from her eye, her heart also jumped at the possibility. If true, this would be part of Tenchi, and part of her, joining them forever.

Hopes and worries started to fill her head as she wrapped her arms around herself and turned to look into the mirror again. She now could see the expression Nagi wore a few moments ago in her own: fear, worry, uncertainty, but hope as well.

Then, she shook her head.

You don't know anything, she chided herself. Hell, she doesn't know anything. Don't get worked up because of Nagi's suspicions. Besides, she's got plenty of mother issues.

As she walked back to the bedroom and slid back into Tenchi's arms, she consoled her lingering worries as misplaced speculation. However, as she laid their in her beloved's embrace, her mind continued to play with the notion while her mind returned to dreams of what may become of them.

-- from Homecomings: Masaki