Disclaimer: Tenchi Muyo! and all characters herein are the property of  AIC and Pioneer LDC, Inc. Please don't sue me! I'm just a poor college student! *hides BMW brochures* ^_^

 

This fic is dedicated to Da Brits. They're my favorite group of writers, artists, humorists and web site designers from the other side of the Pond (that's the Atlantic Ocean for the uninformed. READ A BOOK!!). Love ya lots guys!

 

Special thanks to my nurse, Maria. Thanks for feeding me Jell-O. In a couple of months I promise we'll be back to wrestling in it. ^_~

 

QUICK NOTE: This fic contains some references to a side story called "Fantastic Journey." And before you start, I know I haven't finished it yet. I know I'm bad about that so please don't kill me over it. (and now back to the warnings)

 

WARNING****************WARNING***************WARNING******************WARNING********

This fic contains some LEMON content. So, if you are under 18 or it is illegal to view this sort of content in your area please:

STOP READING IMMEDIATELY!!!!!!!

 

 

Tenchi Muyo

Every Lesson Learned: Episode III

by Arca Jeth

 

 

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[The Masaki Home 2:58 a.m.]

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"For everything, there is a proper place and time."

 

These were words (an old family motto) the young lady tried to live by. From planet-ary relations to household chores, the Princess Aeka Jurai held this axiom close to her heart. Even now, as she packed a picnic lunch in an oversized basket, she placed each item just so. Cold dinks and food items went in a mini-cooler; canned foods and

jars came next with breads and chips at the top.

 

As with most things the princess settled into a comfortable rhythm with this task. It allowed her to blank her mind of idle thoughts and plan for the coming day.

 

*It just has to be perfect* she thought to herself while folding a large, checked blanket. She envisioned the light, floral-print kimono which hung in her closet. Her entire outfit for the following day was carefully crafted down to the jaunty, yellow hair ribbon she'd chosen (just to be daring)...then again, perhaps not...

 

"Aeka?" a voice broke into her reverie.

 

"Wha?" Aeka tune to see a bleary-eyed Sasami standing at the kitchen door.

 

"Sister, it's 3:00 in the morning." the little princess stifled a yawn.

 

"I was just getting an early start," Aeka said. "'Proper place and time' Sasami."

 

"You should know better than this," Sasami scolded gently. "If you don't get any sleep you'll get those bags under your eyes that you hate so much."

 

"I suppose you're right," Aeka said giving in much sooner than her sister expected.

 

Maybe it's because she and Ryoko are really getting along now.

The blue-haired girl had noticed a marked decrease in her sister's crabbiness lately.

 

Aeka put the basket away in a stasis unit (created by Washu, of course) and picked up the already dozing Sasami. The girl immediately wrapped her legs about her sister. Aeka giggled lightly to herself. Even though she was getting too old for it, Aeka still loved to carry her little sister to bed. It gave her a feeling of almost normalcy as she idly wondered of other sisters in "normal" families did this same thing.

 

After tucking Sasami in next to her slumbering, furry companion, Ryo-Ohki, the First Crown Princess onto her own futon.

 

As she shut her eyes she tried to will herself to an elusive sleep. The thought that had first robbed her of sleep had returned.

 

"Damn you, Washu!" she hissed. "No. That is an unworthy thought."

 

It had been Washu's machine but the choice had been hers to make. Hers and Ryoko's.

 

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Two nights ago [Graviton One space station--alternate dimension]

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Aeka found herself running across the docking bay into the former space pirate's arms, crushing her into an embrace filled with all of her pent-up passions. Hot tears spilled from her ruby eyes as she basked in Ryoko's golden gaze.

 

"There is no place I'd rather be, in his world or the next," she said, shocked by the sheer conviction in her voice, "than right here in your arms."

 

Then, to the shocked silence of the two sets of family, friends and acquaintances, Ryoko drew the socialite into a time-stopping kiss.

 

Aeka, her eyes closed, felt the light-headed sensation of freefall.

 

"So this is what it's like to fall," she said in a voice she barely recognized.

 

"Aeka," Ryoko's voice called as if from a great distance.

 

"Ryoko?" the princess called into the darkness.

 

"Aeka, I..."

 

"What is it, Ryoko?"

 

"Aeka...I love you!"

 

Aeka jolted back to awareness in the familiar gloom of Washu's sub-space lab. Her arms were thrown about Ryoko's lithe form in a fierce embrace. Only two inches from her face Aeka could see the frightened--almost terrified--look in the pirate's eyes.

 

"What did you say?" Aeka demanded much more sharply than she'd planned.

 

"What did you hear?" Ryoko shot back.

 

"N-nothing," Aeka replied after a moment. "Nothing at all."

 

A strange look crossed Ryoko's face, yet it passed before the princess could discern its meaning.

 

"Well, I guess that's all it was," the cyan-haired woman said quietly. "Nothing."

 

"Ryoko-"

 

"Well I have some stuff to do, Princess, you know how it is," Ryoko cut her off. "See you in the bath right?"

 

Before Aeka could form a reply Ryoko had exited the lab.

 

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"Damn you Ryoko!" Aeka thought bitterly and turned over for some much-needed sleep.

 

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On the rooftop

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The moon's silvery illumination waned in the wee hours while owls and other night hunters found their last meals of the night. Soon, the total darkness of moonset would blanket the Masaki Shrine grounds in veils of shadow.

 

Drawing the blanket more tightly around her Ryoko took another sip of sake from the handy jug. She stared a long moment at the dying moon as it slipped past the horizon to whatever place heavenly lights went to rest.

 

"We are so much alike," Ryoko said to the moon. "Living at night and dying before the morning. And nobody awake to care..."

 

A breeze ruffled the girl's cyan locks and she listened to the wind play amongst the trees. Ryoko paused for another sip but stopped mid-motion.

 

*What am I doing?*

 

She briefly considered going inside to watch Tenchi sleep, (something that always made her feel better) but thought better of it. The last time she felt this far down she'd hopped into his bed and hugged him. (Ryoko's ears were still ringing from her beloved's boisterous response.)

 

However, remembering her antics only served to remind Ryoko that, even more, she turned to the princess for comfort. Whether she instigated a fight, or talked quietly in the warmth of the bath, or simply sat next to her while watching T.V., Ryoko realized she spent most of her waking moments with Aeka.

 

Ryoko smiled softly as she recalled the first time she'd felt Aeka's lips upon her own. The closeness of her body, the whirlwind of her emotions, which threatened to overtake her. In that moment Aeka had opened the lock-box in which she kept her heart. It was immediately closed after that, yet Ryoko had the glimpse she needed. It was enough to know that the princess was just as passionate, wild, frustrated and desperately lonely as she was.

 

But now the vault door of Aeka's heart was locked once again; with authority.

 

Ryoko sighed bitterly as she capped the sake. The intoxicant did nothing to dull the painful loneliness.

 

"Why the hell does it have to hurt so much?" she demanded of the indifferent stars.

 

For once in her life she'd dropped the devil-may-care attitude, the nonchalant mask she wore and let her feelings be known...and was cruelly slapped back down for her arrogance. How dare she think she could bare her feelings like a real woman? How dare she believe a monster could win the heart of a maiden?

 

"I'm NOT a monster!" she cried out, her voice cracking into a pitiful sob. "I'm not a monster."

 

Ryoko drew the blanket about her once more, and after a while she slept.

 

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[Miho-Kiyo Residence] Morning

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Mornings came suddenly to the city. This was mainly because at any given hour there was always someone awake going about his or her business, adding to the background buzz of activity most cities have. Therefore, the intrusion of the sun served only to annoy commuters aboard their early trains to work. Those who searched in vain for those missing hours of sleep.

 

Aside from all this, morning also came suddenly upon a small third floor flat near the aforementioned train's tracks. As the sun peeked over the horizon, its light illuminated cluttered room. Against one wall leaned a low table next to a hotplate and teakettle. On a closet door hung three complete waitress's uniforms; while on another closet hung a rather rumpled uniform cobbled together from several different sets. Hosiery and other delicates hung on a line stretched across the room while beside the door stood a collection of shoes, boots, sandals, etc.

 

In the center of the room lay Earth's resident officers of the Galaxy Police, locked in an embrace that would raise many-an-eyebrow at headquarters.

 

Kiyone slumbered with her head pillowed in Mihoshi's ample bosom while the blonde detective kept her legs locked around her partner's waist. The discordant jangle of alarm clock jolted Kiyone from her lovely dream (something about sleeping on a cloud).

 

After flailing about for a moment to silence the offending appliance, the teal-haired disengaged from Mihoshi (a tricky maneuver when she was awake). After extricating herself from the bed, Kiyone leaned over and kissed Mihoshi's cheek. When she was rewarded with a slight "mmm..." of recognition Kiyone found the apartment's small bathroom and washed up, grumbling about the unfairness of not having a proper-sized bath.

 

As she lowered herself into the hot *thank God we paid the bill!* water, Mihoshi entered and caught her partner's eye. She smiled faintly as she slowly disrobed, giving her lover a lengthy glimpse of her bronzed skin. As she knelt and began to slowly soap her tight skin Kiyone vaguely thought that a kiss on the cheek got much better results than kicking Mihoshi out of bed.

 

"Oh Kiyone," Mihoshi called seductively.

 

"Yes my love?" Kiyone said, her eyes closing in anticipation of a lovely kiss.

 

"Get ready!"

 

"Wha? Wait!"

 

"Her protests unheeded, Kiyone was having the breath crushed out of her by the lovesick blonde in a much-too-small tub.

 

"I'm going to kill you," Kiyone threatened without conviction.

 

"Not before your good morning kiss I hope," Mihoshi intoned, with her forehead touching her partner's.

 

"Maybe I could grant you a temporary reprieve," Kiyone said sliding her hands along Mihoshi's back and ending at the taut skin of her rear.

 

Mihoshi purred as her rapidly hardening nipples brushed Kiyone's breast.

 

"I'll do anything," she said dramatically.

 

She bent down and kissed Kiyone hungrily, allowing her tongue the freedom to explore the sumptuous taste. Deciding to be just a bit devious, Kiyone slipped her left hand inside Mihoshi's thigh. The blonde detective's breath caught in her throat as the hand came perilously close to her nexus of arousal...then retreated.

 

"You're so mean!" Mihoshi protested poutily.

 

"Am I?" Kiyone teased her again, smiling at her partner's discomfort. "What are you gonna do about it?"

 

A sly smile crossed Mihoshi's elfin features.

 

"You're being naughty Kiyone," she said into her ear. "Maybe we should get out 'Mr. Paddle."

 

It was Kiyone's turned to gasp in shock.

 

"You're playing dirty today," she finally said, letting one finger oh-so-slowly massage Mihoshi's clitoris.

 

"I...learned from the best," Mihoshi managed, her body shuddering in the throes of passion.

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Cityscape gave way to countryside as the commuter train sped along its track. While not as crowded as an evening train, full of tired workers, Kiyone and Mihoshi were hard-pressed to find two consecutive empty seats.

 

"So, are you sure it's okay?" Mihoshi asked.

 

"It should be," Kiyone said, squeezing her hand reassuringly. "Lord Katsuhito said we could train in the forest around the shrine as long as we don't use any live ammo. And we can use the shielded range aboard Yagami for target practice." Which was merely a formality, Kiyone knew. Both of them were crack shots with small arms.

 

"Maybe afterward we could use that great big bath of theirs," Mihoshi said with a knowing grin.

 

"Hold on a minute," Kiyone admonished. "I think it would be a good idea if we just cool off for a bit while we're over there."

 

"What do you mean?"

 

"I'd rather we just kept this relationship business to ourselves for right now."

 

"But Kiyone, Aeka and Ryoko know," Mihoshi protested.

 

"They won't tell anyone since they have their own secret to keep," Kiyone answered wincing inwardly. That was my mistake anyway. "Besides, do you really want Nobuyuki following us around with a video camera? And what if Washu found out? She might try to examine us or something."

 

"Well...I..." Mihoshi hesitated looking so very lost.

 

"Do you trust me Mihoshi?"

 

"With my whole heart," she answered earnestly.

 

"Then do this for me," Kiyone said. "This isn't the right time. Give it a week or two."

 

"Okay Kiyone," Mihoshi replied morosely.

 

The teal-haired detective felt guilt roll up in her stomach like a wet stone, but quickly

thrust it aside.

 

*I'm doing the right thing. For both of us.*

 

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Somewhere in subspace

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The morning light was also shining down upon the golden grasses of this hilly place. Tall blades swayed in a gentle breeze, waiting to be clipped by the herd of slow-moving, grazing mammals. With spiral horns like the terran addax, these animals could also climb steep inclines with ease, like the mountain goat. Their long horns reflected the sun's light in iridescent colors.

 

High on one grassy hill, the sun revealed one incongruous element. A lone figure sat in the center of the golden grasses; or rather sat slightly above them.

 

A young girl of about 13 years with striking green eyes and a head full of unruly red hair sat upon a floating cushion. Several holographic displays rotated about her, all of them showing the same thing: A solid wall of static.

 

Instead of demanding an answer from the Universe, the gods or Science in general, Washu (the Greatest Scientific Genius in the Universe) did what any hyper intelligent person would do when at the end of her patience. She put her small fist through the nearest screen.

 

"ACK!" And nearly fell face-first into the grass as she--belatedly--remembered that the thing was a hologram. After recovering her balance (and some of her dignity) Washu set about reconstructing the past day's events.

 

"Okay," she said steeling herself. "First problem. All the sensor data from the Dimensional Cause and Effect Generator was erased. All of the recordings and bioscans, plus the parameters entered into the Dimension Tuner were also wiped clean. That's impossible for several reasons, not the least of which is the triple redundancy in the filing system."

 

Washu put that aside for the moment.

 

Another impossibility loomed. The entire surveillance grid for that sector of the lab had inexplicably shorted out.

 

Washu sighed as she switched one of the screens to a heads-up display from Mecha Washu. The first shot showed Ryoko, Aeka and the detectives Mihoshi and Kiyone entering the lab. Other screens popped up showing different views as the mechanical Washu tapped into security cameras and surreptitiously followed the group.

 

The redheaded scientist smirked as she watched the GP officers walk hand-in-hand.

 

It certainly took those two long enough. I guess GP training doesn't do anything for extreme denial.

 

The smirk faded from her lips as she watched Ryoko lean in to steal a kiss from her violet-haired companion. Her eyes narrowed as she saw Aeka's reaction.

 

A tilt of the head. A coquettish giggle. A gentle caress in return.

 

"Why don't you bat you eyelashes at her as well," Washu said tartly, then shewed the

thought away.

 

As the group moved on they passed a shelf piled with old manuals and science journals which-

 

"Hold it!" Washu commanded and the picture froze. "Magnify and enhance sector RH234876J."

 

The field of view narrowed to a stack of greasy-looking books--to one "Study on the Mating

Habits of Albino Space Slugs--Where the blonde detective's hand just happened to brush.

 

"She found the hidden controls for the sensor grid," Washu breathed in disbelief. "Give me

power reading s for that night and cross-reference with Subject 'M.'"

 

"Just as I thought," the semi-mad scientist surmised as data flowed across the screen. The bubblehead caused a cascade failure in the sensor grid."

 

Suddenly (or right on cue), Washu's chibi-mecha puppets appeared on her shoulders, both wearing cheerleader outfits.

 

"Is it another 'Mihoshi Effect' Washu?" "A" asked, shaking her pom-poms.

 

"She's at it again Washu!" "B" yelled through a tiny megaphone.

 

"Looks like it," Washu answered thoughtfully. But the real mystery is, what has my daughter been up to? My foolish, stubborn, poor, poor daughter."

 

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Sounds of the usual bustle of the Masaki breakfast table were muted for head of the house, Nobuyuki Masaki. Finally getting a weekend off after heaven knew how long, the architect found himself deep in his own thoughts (picture desolate country road with blowing tumbleweeds. bad joke I know! O_o). As chopsticks clinked and china rattled he pulled back from the leisurely morning conversations. Contrary to popular belief Nobuyuki noticed a lot more than what Ryoko was almost wearing any given day.

 

He noticed that the genius Washu's place at the table was empty. Probably still working on something in the lab, he surmised. Though she displayed a vast intelligence that belied her appearance, Nobuyuki worried that Washu needed to take better care of her youthful body.

 

He also noticed the strange interplay between Earth's resident Galaxy Police detectives. While the bubbly Mihoshi put away her food with her usual gusto, she would pause to steal a glance at her long-suffering partner.

 

The teal haired detective, however, seemed strangely pensive and studiously ignored these meaningful glances. Nobuyuki briefly entertained the thought that the two had gotten together somehow. Something to do with...handcuffs? I've really got to get control of these fantasies of mine.

 

A glance across the table gave the single dad a reason to grin. His only son, Tenchi was seated in his customary place; wedged between the two woman wrecking crew. (Well, not recently anyway.) Nobuyuki's heart warmed a bit more as he thought about how the two had become such good friends.

 

They really do complement each other.

 

The somewhat repressed Aeka could learn to better express herself from the out-going Ryoko. And the wild child space-pirate could benefit from the princess's refinement.

 

"Oh my dear Achika," Nobuyuki prayed. "You should see the wonderful wives our son has!"

 

Nobuyuki's eyes opened and he realized everyone was staring at him.

 

"WIVES?!" Ryoko and Aeka said in unison, then glared at each other as if annoyed to be thinking the same thing.

 

"Dad!" Tenchi cried with an embarrassed flush.

 

"Well I'm the only wife he'll ever need," Ryoko said, sounding a bit forced.

 

Conversation at the table resumed, soused they were to the background noise of the girls' arguments.

 

"Why would Tenchi want an uncultured person like you for a wife?" Aeka shot back.

 

Everyone unconsciously scooted back form the table and continued their meal. All except Katsuhito who kept his eyes closed and calmly sipped his tea.

 

"I happen to have a few skills at the art of pleasure," Ryoko said quietly. The fingers of her left hand rested on the edge of her teacup. "At least I haven't heard any complaints."

 

Aeka's eyes flashed at the double-edged comment, yet she could not tear her eyes away from Ryoko's finger, which had begun to slowly circumnavigate to cup's rim.

 

"Maybe I should tell Tenchi about my...skills," Ryoko continued, her finger slowly dipping into the contents of the cup.

 

"Be silent!" Aeka hissed.

 

"Maybe I could give him the full benefit of my skills," Ryoko went on as she slowly lifted her dripping finger from the cup. "Maybe I should tell him everything."

 

"He'll never want someone like you!" Aeka cried out. What you want can never happen! It just can't. Don't you see that?"

 

"Why?" Ryoko demanded.

 

"Because I-" Aeka caught herself. "I must go and get ready."

 

With that she got up and fled upstairs.

 

"Aeka, wait! Sasami called, chasing after her sister.

 

Ryoko started to rise from her seat but Tenchi grabbed her arm.

 

"Ryoko," he said. "What she said about…?”

 

"It's okay Tenchi," Ryoko said, gently freeing herself. "I know you wouldn't think that way about me." And before Tenchi could interject she faded away.

 

"I should go talk to them," Tenchi said, also rising.

 

"No, you will not," his grandfather said firmly.

 

"But Grandpa, you saw what happened."

 

"Finish your breakfast Tenchi," the old priest ordered. "This isn't the type of job a man can do."

 

"But-"

 

"It is taken care of," Katsuhito said glancing in Kiyone's direction.

 

Sighing heavily, the teal-haired detective nodded marginally to Mihoshi who hurried upstairs to find her friend.

 

"I guess this means I should find Ryoko," Kiyone said getting up to leave.

 

"And I should get back to the shrine," Katsuhito said upon finishing his tea.

 

Nobuyuki and Tenchi, meanwhile were left at the breakfast table with an equally mystified Ryo-Ohki.

 

"Why do I get the feeling something just went way over our heads?" Nobuyuki asked aloud.

 

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Kiyone steeled herself for a lengthy search but was relieved to find Ryoko standing at the end of the wooden dock, her blue and green-striped dress fluttering in the breeze. The cyan-haired space pirate stared out toward the center of the lake where the sapling space tree Ryu-Oh grew. The light winds created gently wavelets upon the lake slightly distorting the reflection.

 

"If you've come out here to comfort me," Ryoko said without turning around. "Don't bother."

 

"Ryoko..." Kiyone foundered. "I just-"

 

"You?" Ryoko said incredulously. "Now that is a surprise."

 

"I just wanted to se how you're doing," Kiyone replied.

 

"Never better," Ryoko snapped. "How about you?"

 

"Look Ryoko, after what Aeka said it's perfectly natural to feel-"

 

"It doesn't matter what she said," Ryoko said quietly.

 

"What do you mean?" Kiyone eyed her curiously.

 

"Just what I said." Ryoko wrapped her arms around herself against the breeze. "Kiyone, how did you know that Mihoshi was 'The One'"

 

For the second time that day Kiyone was caught totally off guard.

 

"What's that got to do with anything?"

 

"Just tell me," Ryoko persisted. "Please."

 

The detective was taken aback. She'd never-- not once--heard the space pirate say "please” to anyone except Tenchi.

 

"I guess a part of me always knew," Kiyone began quietly. "When we were first assigned together I thought headquarters had pushed a burn-out case on to baby-sit. It took me a while, but I started to notice that my new partner was going out of her way to be nice to me, even though I hardly had a kind word for her. She was always asking me questions about how I did the job. At first I was annoyed at all the attention but then I got used to it. After a while it got kind of comforting. There was at least one person around I meant something to.

 

"What started out as a grudging tolerance slowly turned into something else. I went form cursing the day I met Mihoshi to looking forward to what every new day with her would bring. It took me a few years and a talk with...and acquaintance to figure out that I was in love."

 

"I don't understand," Ryoko said. "What kept you from telling her up 'till now?"

 

"There were a lot of reasons," Kiyone said, suddenly blushing. " None of them were any good. However, the biggest one was, I didn't feel worthy."

 

"You're kidding me, right?" Ryoko interrupted.

 

"Please, let me finish," Kiyone requested. "She just put so much of herself into our relationship. Everything she did was out of this blind love she had. Mihoshi never asked for anything in return. Just being together was enough for her. I guess I was always trying to get rid of her because I couldn't reconcile those feelings with the way I always treated her."

 

"So what made you finally give up and tell her?" Ryoko asked rather thoughtfully.

 

"I guess it was when I finally realized that she wasn't as perfect as I made her out to be. She can be just as selfish, stubborn and needy as I can be. She's just better at dealing with it." The teal-haired detective's smile transformed her face. "After that it was so easy to tell her. Ryoko, what's this all about?"

 

Ryoko turned back to the lake and stared out at the fledgling tree. "Do you remember when we used Washu's machine? The world I created?"

 

"Yes..." Kiyone said wondering where this was going.

 

"Do you remember what happened after, when we were returning to this world?"

 

"I remember [i love you] something," Kiyone hesitated. "You said [i love you] something to Aeka. Something tickled at the back of Kiyone's mind. Something vague. Something...

 

"Ryoko," she breathed. "What did you do?"

 

The cyan-tressed girl simply turned to look at Kiyone with an expression she would later remember as the most beautiful and terrible smile she'd ever seen.

 

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"Won't you even talk about it?" the GP Det. 1st Class Mihoshi asked.

 

"There is nothing to discuss," answered the Princess Aeka Jurai.

 

"But sister," Sasami protested form the other side of the room, "you and Ryoko were getting along so well."

 

"And we are still getting along Sasami," Aeka said as she sat down at her vanity and began brushing out her hair. "That...woman just needs to realize there are boundaries to our friendship."

 

As she was saying this, Sasami hopped up to sit on the side of the vanity.

 

"She just looked so sad when you had that fight," she said handing her sister a fresh hair tie. "It looked like what you said really hurt her."

 

"Simply more of her flair for the dramatic I imagine," Aeka said dismissively. "Besides, over the years we've crossed paths we've said much worse to each other. Ryoko is much more resilient than she pretends to be."

 

"Are you sure?" Sasami's large, pink eyes didn't seem fully convinced.

 

Aeka paused her regimen to give her sister a brief hug and kiss. "You are a dear to worry about her, but believe me, she will be just fine." She said this last with a tickle to her ribs.

 

Sasami giggled gaily, clearly basking in her older sister's attention. These special moments were becoming scarce, as Aeka had become so strangely distracted lately. She was about to comment on this when a crash and a loud "MIYA!" sounded from downstairs.

 

"No Ryo-Ohki!" Came Nobuyuki's panicked voice from below. "Don't look in there!"

 

"Oh no!" The little princess exclaimed, hopping off the vanity. "She must have found the carrot reserves!" Sasami hurried out of the room.

 

Aeka giggle quietly to herself as she rose to get dressed. As she inspected the multi-layered garment she had chosen to wear, she brushed off a nearly microscopic bit of lint.

 

"Everything must be perfect for Lord Tenchi. Just perfect."

 

"Why's that?" A voice enquired.

 

Aeka whirled about to that Mihoshi was still there.

 

"Oh, it's only you," she said, relieved. "Mihoshi, you know exactly why. This is my chance with Lord Tenchi. It is my chance to show him that I am the perfect choice."

 

"Are you sure you wanna do that?" Mihoshi asked quietly.

 

"Just what is that supposed to mean?"

 

"Maybe you should just show him the real you."

 

"But this *is* the real me," Aeka protested. As the First Princess of the Jurai Royal Family it is my duty to-"

 

"Kiyone's not a morning person," Mihoshi blurted out.

 

"W-what?" Aeka floundered, totally thrown by the abrupt subject change.

 

"Kiyone's really crabby in the morning," the detective continued, ignoring Aeka's bewildered look. "She's usually no good to anyone before her first cup of coffee. She always brushes her teeth with the sink running and she squeezes the toothpaste in the middle--which always drives me crazy, and she doesn't clip her toenails as often as I'd like-"

 

"What has this got to do with-"Aeka began.

 

"As for me, I'm always leaving coffee rings on the reports forgetting to turn off the T.V. and I talk in my sleep. Well, at least Kiyone says I do, though I wouldn't know since I'm asleep at the time. Has that ever happened to you?"

 

"Mihoshi!" Aeka bellowed, finally exasperated. "What is your point exactly?"

 

"Point?" The blonde woman paused in her rambling. "Oh yeah! I just wanted to say that Kiyone loves me and I love her not in spite of our flaws, but because of them. Along with everything else they're what makes us, us."

 

Mihoshi sat Aeka down before the mirror once more.

 

"Tenchi likes you for what's inside; the real Aeka," she said. "He doesn't need you to remind him you're a princess all the time. If you'd just relax a be yourself he'd see how great you are."

 

Aeka Jurai mulled over this for a long moment. The "real Aeka." Who is she? "Would he really like me that way?" she half whispered.

 

"I know that's why I like you," Mihoshi said while hugging her friend.

 

"When did you get so insightful?" Aeka asked.

 

"It's nothing really," Mihoshi replied. "Sometimes I just get luck, I guess."

 

"Somehow I think there is more to it than that," Aeka said wryly. "However, I must hurry to find a new outfit for today."

 

As she got up to begin the search Mihoshi touched her arm.

 

"Why don't you let me take care of it?" she suggested.

 

"Well...I don't know..."

 

"Trust me!" Mihoshi called as she began rummaging through Aeka's closet. "Tenchi won't be able to resist."

 

Aeka relented and began removing her makeup; all the while wondering what Mihoshi's seemingly devilish grin was for.

 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Back at the lake

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

"Ryoko, maybe you shouldn't get your hopes up about Aeka," Kiyone said.

 

"Why's that?" Ryoko inquired. The two women sat side-by-side with their feet dangling over the water.

 

"You're just in a real vulnerable position right now. If you try to push this you could get hurt."

 

"You told Mihoshi and didn't get hurt," Ryoko reminded her.

 

"That's because I was sure of her feelings for me by that time."

 

"And what makes you think I'm not sure of Aeka's feelings for me?!"

 

Several birds hastily took to flight, startled by the outburst. Kiyone waited as Ryoko's angry expression softened.

 

"Tell me about it, if you can."

 

Ryoko gave her a grateful smile and began.

 

"Besides Ryo-Ohki, Aeka's been the only constant in my life." The cyan-haired girl's eyes drifted as her mind danced along the path of memories. "She was my own special, secret playmate. Even though we fought most of the time she was the only person I could count on.

 

"After we got to Earth things changed. We were always fighting for Tenchi's attention, or just to keep him away from each other I don't know anymore. I thought it was enough to have her and Tenchi and all of you here. But it wasn't." Ryoko paused to look at Kiyone, her golden feline eyes misted briefly, then cleared.

 

"Crazy as it sounds, I didn't want to..."

 

"Didn't want to what?" Kiyone prompted.

 

"It's not important," Ryoko said getting up. "Aeka should be done dressing by now."

 

Kiyone also rose. "What are you going to do Ryoko?"

 

"I'm just going to talk to her, the pirate aid innocently as she headed back to the house. "By the way, thanks."

 

"It was nothing really," Kiyone said.

 

"Well I don't think so," Ryoko said over her shoulder. "You know, you're pretty okay, for a cop."

 

Kiyone managed not to roll her eyes as they walked inside...

 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

...right into the center of chaos itself.

 

Nobuyuki, looking like he'd taken a ride in a tornado, was busy trying to right overturned furniture. The Guardians, Azaka and Kamidake, were projecting a forcfield over a group of normal-looking potted plants. And Sasami was scolding a tearful little brown and white cabbit.

 

"The carrot stash, right?" Ryoko asked.

 

"Ryo-Ohki," Sasami continued, "shame on you! You know these carrots have to last you until next harvest!"

 

"Miya, miyaaaa!" Ryo-Ohki cried with large, sad eyes.

 

"And don't try that look on me! I invented that look..."

However this last came out more softly than she'd wished as her resolve weakened under the barrage of cuteness.

 

Ryoko turned from this familiar scene as she spied Tenchi coming out of the kitchen with broom and dustpan. As he bent to sweep up the broken remains of a lamp, his father took the tools away.

 

"Now Tenchi," Nobuyuki chided. "I'm not going to let my only son work on the day of his very first-" He balked as he noticed Ryoko for the first time. "Um...social outing?"

 

"It's a date, right?" Ryoko said materializing between the two.

 

"Yipe!" the architect squeaked as he hid behind the dustpan.

 

"Uh, Ryoko...about that," Tenchi sputtered.

 

"I'm okay about all that," Ryoko said quickly as she draped her arms about him. "I'll just be so terribly lonely."

 

"I've already apologized for that Ryoko," Tenchi said, trying to get away from her roaming hands. "Please don't make this more difficult than it already is."

 

"Now that would be pretty out of character for me," Ryoko said thoughtfully.

 

"What are you talking about?" Tenchi asked, bewildered.

 

When Ryoko's only answer was a sly grin he decided he'd be better off not knowing.

 

"Listen," he began. "I need you to promise me you won't try anything while I'm out with Aeka...okay?"

 

Ryoko surprised him by abruptly letting go.

"She really means that much to you?" she asked in a voice so pained Tenchi had a hard time recognizing it.

 

"It's not what you-"

 

"I understand Tenchi," Ryoko said. "All too well. Don't worry about me. I won't bother you

two."

 

The cyan-haired girl turned to him, her familiar mischievous smile touched her lips.

"So if you two can take all day, maybe you and I can take all night. Let's say, starting with drinks in your room?"

 

Tenchi sighed heavily. Look's like Ryoko is Ryoko again.

He was about to say something more on this when his words caught in his throat.

 

Thinking that her audacity had finally evoked the proper reaction, Ryoko playfully punched him on the shoulder. hen he still didn't say anything, Ryoko realized that all other sounds in the room had stopped. Everyone was staring in the direction of the staircase.

 

As Ryoko followed their gaze the snide ribald comment she was forming dies upon her lips.

 

At the crown of the stairs stood the Princess Aeka Jurai. Only it was an Aeka Ryoko could scarcely believe.

 

Aeka had forgone her customary kimono or Juraian robes for a light-pink, sleeveless blouse, tied off at the bottom to show just enough stomach. Her white shorts came halfway up her thighs, showing off long, ivory legs. Aeka's silken purple hair had been pulled into a long, single braid, which was draped over one shoulder.

 

However, it was not the hair, nor was it the clothing that caused Ryoko's heart to skip a beat. It was Aeka's expression, or rather her presence.

 

The princes absolutely glowed with a radiance Ryoko hadn't seen since...

 

The night we were together. The docking platform. Right before I told her...

 

Aeka visibly reddened to see so many staring at her.

 

"I knew I shouldn't have worn this," she said and turned to flee back to her room.

 

Mihoshi, who had been right behind her, grabbed Aeka and said, "No, no! You look great. Right?" She looked expectantly at the rest of the group.

 

"Ugh-yeah!" Tenchi agreed after and elbow from Nobuyuki.

 

"You're gorgeous," Kiyone spoke up.

 

"In fact," Nobuyuki added. "You look good enough to-Oof!" The elder Masaki was too slow to dodge his son's return elbow.

 

"You're really pretty, Sister," Sasami chimed in.

 

Well...all right," Aeka hesitated looking a bit uncertain. "But if I hear one laugh I am leaving."

 

As she descended the stairs, Tenchi approached the princess with more than a little trepidation.

 

"I almost didn't recognize you for a minute there," he said.

 

"What does that mean?" Aeka asked with a mysterious smile.

 

"Ah...nothing really," the young man said, his hand rubbing the back of his head, further tousling his dark hair.

 

"Nothing at all?" Aeka pressed, stepping closer to him.

 

"Sh-shouldn't we get going?" he stuttered. "We're burning daylight."

 

"But of course Lord Tenchi," Aeka answered, letting him off the hook...for the moment.

 

Meanwhile, Ryoko had gone from thunderstruck to seething.

 

*How can she so openly flirt with him? She's not supposed to be this way. Besides, that's supposed to be MY bit!*

 

"Hold on," she said aloud, "I want to talk to you for a minute, Princess."

 

"Ryoko, you promised not to meddle," Tenchi said sternly.

 

"I'm not," the pirate said with wide, innocent eyes. "I just want to talk to the Princess for a minute; in private."

 

"I'm not so sure that's-"

 

"We will be fine Lord Tenchi," Aeka interrupted.

 

"Are you sure?" Tenchi asked, seeing her strange expression.

 

"I need to speak with Ryoko as well," she said quietly. "Why don't you go ahead and I will meet you?"

 

"Where should we meet?"

 

"Where we watched the autumn leaves. Do you remember?"

 

"Uh-huh," Tenchi nodded dumbly. "Well I'll just get the things and be on my way."

 

Clearly hesitant, the young Masaki hefted the picnic basket and with another bewildered

glance at the princess and pirate, exited.

 

"Well, we've got laundry to do," Sasami offered. On her way out she gave her sister a brief hug. "Good luck today, Aeka," she whispered and left with Ryo-Ohki in tow.

 

The Guardians Azaka and Kamidake--finished repairing the carrot reserve's force field made their own excuses to their mistress and disappeared.

 

"There was something you wanted to say to me?" Aeka addressed Ryoko.

 

"About that," Ryoko began when someone sneezed.

Both girls whirled to glare at Nobuyuki who had yet to leave.

 

"I-uh, have to do some...stuff," he stammered backing out of the room. "I'll just clean this up later."

 

Aeka waited a few beats to make sure that the architect was truly gone, then began again.

 

"You were saying?"

 

Ryoko steeled herself with a deep breath and let it out slowly.

 

"What are you trying to prove with all of this?" she finally said.

 

"Whatever do you mean, Ryoko?" Aeka asked sweetly as she righted an overturned chair.

 

"Don't mock me, Aeka," Ryoko said darkly. "We've been through too much to go back to that."

 

"Then shall we be plain?" Aeka turned to her.

 

"Let's."

Ryoko crossed the room to Aeka's side and reached out to gently caress her cheek. "What are you doing Aeka?"

 

Aeka took her hand and kissed it on the back. "Why, I am going to win, Ryoko," she said with a saccharin smile. "That is what this game is all about."

 

"You don't mean that," Ryoko said, struggling to keep the tremor from her voice. "It may have been about that at firs but not anymore. Not after..."

 

"Not after what, Ryoko? After our sharing? We both know that was purely physical."

 

"You're lying!" Ryoko cried. "And you never were any good at it. You felt it too...the...connection we had!"

 

Aeka simply offered her that false smile again. "While I admit you've been a good companion to me; that is all you were and all you ever will be," she said as she headed for the door.

 

"Don't you dare turn you back on me, Aeka Jurai!"

 

The princess stopped at the sound of Ryoko's faltering voice.

"I told you that I loved you and that meant nothing to you at all?" Ryoko pleaded. "I know you have feelings for me too."

 

"No," Aeka whispered almost inaudibly, the edge of a memory invading her mind.

 

"Don't you want to explore these feelings?" Ryoko persisted.

 

No...

 

"You mean so much to me. I just want to find out where all of this will lead. Can't you at least do this for me?"

 

[You do love me, don't you?]

 

Not again.

 

"Aeka?"

 

"Not again..." the princess murmured.

 

"What?" Ryoko asked placing a hand on her shoulder. "Aeka, I didn't hear-"

 

"I WON'T LET YOU!"

 

Ryoko suddenly found herself pressed against the far wall with no memory of how she'd gotten there.

 

"I won't let you!" Aeka repeated, her once-beautiful face a contorted rictus of inner pain.

"You can't control me anymore! Did you really think I could ever love a...a...THING like you?"

 

Ryoko reeled as if struck; Aeka however, was far from finished.

 

"I know what you want but you can't have it. You won't have it! Because I can't...I can't...I WON'T love you, you MONSTER!"

 

Energy leapt unbidden to Ryoko's fingers as she stared the princess down. Aeka stood her ground, her eye were red-hot coals, blazing with anger, and something else. However, instead of attacking, she slowly, deliberately, turned and walked away.

 

The energy left Ryoko's fingers to dissipate harmlessly into the air. Her knees suddenly weak, Ryoko's back found the wall, which she gratefully slid down.

 

A memory came unbidden to her mind. A memory of a young girl sitting against another wall, weeping piteously. Weeping because she'd just found out how alone she was in the universe. As that little girl had once done, Ryoko also buried her face in her hands and wept.

 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Somewhere in subspace a little genius loaded the last command line into her holographic computer. It had taken half the morning, but she's finally found a bit of useful information.

 

Just as the created dimension was canceling, Ryoko said something. While the statement was too garbled to decipher quickly, Washu was had a hunch it was important. So she'd set her computers to work.

 

"This could give me some insight into Ryoko's recent behavior and maybe help me devise a plan of action to-"

 

Searing pain shot through Washu, causing her to double over on her cushion. Wave after wave of raw emotional torment washed over her, threatened to overtake her.

 

Just as the torrent reached its peak and Washu was sure she'd be driven over the edge of madness, it stopped.

 

Her eyes red from tears she couldn't recall shedding and her Science Academy uniform a sweat-drenched, shredded ruin: Washu breathlessly uttered the only word that came to mind:

 

"Ryoko..."

 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

In the forest

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Kiyone crept through the forest hunting the most dangerous game: a sentient being. The detective switched on her bio scanner to search for a humanoid life sign; when it abruptly turned itself off.

 

"The BioScanner has shorted out," came a most unnecessary, mechanical voice.

 

"So it's that kind of game today," Kiyone muttered to herself. "O.K."

 

The Combat Variable Computer was feeling cute today. Its main function was to simulate random occurrences GP officers were likely to face in the field. However, Kiyone had a sneaking suspicion that the thing just didn't like her.

 

Shaking free of such idle thoughts, the teal-haired detective set out on a new search pattern. Yet, before she'd gotten a few steps something caught her eye. A low shrub was slightly misshapen and the old leaves covering the ground beneath were matted. Almost as if someone had crouched there and then moved on. A couple of blue threads clung to a branch, further solidifying her hunch.

 

A smile touched Kiyone's lips as she followed her quarry. Now that she what tell-tales to look for, it was almost like following a set of posters yelling, "here is the fugitive!"

 

The officer briefly wondered why her prey was leaving such an obvious trail. Perhaps she was still preoccupied with the morning's events.

 

She should know better than that. If she doesn't keep her head in the game she could easily lose it.

 

Kiyone stalked closer, careful to watch her path for a betraying twig or dry, brittle leaves, which might make noise. With a sure-footedness, which came from years of experience, she tracked the criminal until she could hear furtive sounds of her progress. The rasp of fabric upon branches, the crackle of dead leaves underfoot, the dry snap of a twig.

 

After a while, the detective's keen nose picked up something other than the earthy smell of moldering leaves; perfume.

 

"Damnit Mihoshi!" she hissed to herself. "I told you about wearing that stuff."

 

Shaking her head in disgust, Kiyone pulled out a net-launching tangle gun (since it wasn't strictly ordinance, Katsuhito had allowed its use on Shrine grounds). The sounds of movement ahead had stopped altogether, meaning either the criminal had gone to ground or had suddenly learned to move without noise. Neither of which mattered to Kiyone who still had the perfume to use as a marker.

 

Goddess! How much of that stuff did she use?

 

In moments, she was on the trail again, moving purposely toward the scent. Then, of course, as she was closing in, Fate, the Universe or Binky the Clown decided she'd gone far enough.

 

"Detective Kiyone's right ankle is sprained," announced the CVC. And-of course- her right boot constricted to simulate painful swelling. Cursing the universe in general (and Binky in particular) the detective gingerly made her way towards her target.

 

I can still get her. If I can get around behind her the Statutes of Action say I can use the tangle gun without shouting a warning.

 

She doubled back a bit and skirted around to the left, guided by the perfume scent and now a vague shape in some shrubs that looked like a crouching figure in blue. Making as little noise as possible, Kiyone hobbled toward the figure whose face she couldn't see.

 

Not trusting her "bad" ankle, Kiyone knelt down and took careful aim with the tangle gun.

She silently prayed that the CVC wouldn't choose this moment to make the range finder another "casualty."

 

"Ten meters, center mass," Kiyone muttered to herself. "And fire."

 

The net performed perfectly, waiting until it was a meter from the target before deploying and wrapping the target in no-less than three layers of composite fiber netting. The capture however, seemed a bit too easy.

 

Why isn't she struggling? Kiyone wondered as she made her way to the site. In fact the package itself looked a bit...small...

 

"Oh no," Kiyone intoned as she prodded the package. "She didn't she couldn't have!"

 

But the truth lay in the package with was only a Galaxy Police issue jacket and uniform cap. Both items were fairly reeking with the perfume. Kiyone dropped the items and spun around just in time to meet the impact of the tangle net, which pinned her arms to her sides and wrapped up her legs as well.

 

Inevitably, the detective found her self staring up at the sky, filtered through the high leaves.

 

"Detective Kiyone is dead," the Combat Variable Computer said helpfully. Kiyone briefly wondered if she could justify shooting the thing out of Yagami's torpedo tube to Central Accounting. Then the prey-turned-hunter appeared over her, her sky-blue eyes brimming with concern.

 

"Are you okay Kiyone?" asked Earth's other Resident officer of the Galaxy Police, Mihoshi Kuramitsu. "You're not hurt, are you?"

 

"Only my pride," Kiyone said as her partner helped her up. "One question does come to mind, though: How?"

 

"Oh, that?" Mihoshi asked as she started to loosen Kiyone's bonds. "Well it's kind of a long story."

 

"I'm not going anywhere."

 

"Well, I was doing that evasion thing, like the manual said," Mihoshi said with an embarrassed look. "But it was so hot that I decided to take my jacket and hat off. And then I realized that I'd left that bottle of perfume in my pocket--you know, the one you told me not to wear today? Anyway, it must have broken open because it was all over the place.

 

"So, when I saw that bush I just put them there so the smell wouldn't give me away. Next I thought I'd dropped my keys back on the path and went back to get them but then I remembered they were still in my jacket pocket so I came back to get them and saw you and..."

 

Mihoshi's monologue drifted off as she watched her partner’s eyebrow begin to twitch.

 

"Is something wrong Kiyone?" Mihoshi asked as she finally freed her.

 

"Somehow I just can't be surprised by this," she answered sardonically. She slowly sat up, glad that the CVC had ended the simulation and released the pressure on her ankle.

 

"You wanna switch up now?" Mihoshi asked.

 

"Let's rest a bit, huh? Kiyone sat back against a handy tree and patted the ground next to her. Mihoshi took the cue and eagerly snuggled up next to her partner.

 

"I wish we could stay like this forever," Mihoshi sighed, kissing Kiyone's cheek.

 

"You've got about ten minutes," Kiyone grinned as she ran a hand trough Mihoshi's thick blonde hair.

 

"You're so dedicated to your job, Detective Kiyoooone!" Mihoshi slowly maneuvered until she straddled Kiyone with knees to either side of her hips.

 

"You know something?" Kiyone whispered huskily as she slid her hands along Mihoshi's thighs.

"I love the way you say my name."

 

The blonde giggled sensuously as Kiyone slipped her hands around her firm rear. "So that's why you kept wanting me to say it over and over last night."

 

She leaned in for a deep, lingering kiss. As Kiyone parted her lips, granting her tongue passage Mihoshi decided to give her a hint by gently tightening her legs.

 

"Mmm...Mihoshi," Kiyone murmured. "You know we can't start doing that now."

 

"Why not, Kiyone?" the blonde detective pouted.

 

"You know why," Kiyone gave her partner's posterior another squeeze to soften the answer. "We'd never get finished if we started now. Come on, up with you."

 

Mihoshi reluctantly let Kiyone up.

 

"Um, Kiyone. Why don't we jus tell the others about us," she asked abruptly.

 

Kiyone, who was busy stretching the kinks out, paused mid-motion. "What?"

 

"I just thought it might be the right time," Mihoshi continued. "It's so wonderful that we're finally together and I just wanted to share that with the people we care about."

 

Kiyone stared at her partner for a long moment. She memorized every curve and contour of her innocent face.

 

Hurting her is the last thing I want to do, Kiyone thought as Mihoshi waited for her reply. But it's for her own good. It's better if she's hurt a little bit now than hurt a lot, later on.

 

"I'm sorry," Kiyone finally said, "that's just not in the cards right now."

 

Mihoshi's face fell. "Why not?"

 

"It's not a good time for this."

 

"When will it be a good time?" Mihoshi insisted.

 

Kiyone answered only with silence.

 

"You don't plan to tell anyone," Mihoshi accused. But, you already told Ryoko and Aeka..."

 

"That was before I knew things would get so...complicated," Kiyone said. Between all the confusion it would cause here and at headquarters, it's not a good idea."

 

"But they're our closest friends, Kiyone," Mihoshi protested. "And what does it matter if Headquarters found out about us?"

 

"Because they'll break us up Mihoshi!" Kiyone exclaimed. "They'll reassign us to different corners of the galaxy and we'll never see each other again!"

 

"They wouldn't do that," Mihoshi cried. "Some of the best teams in the Galaxy Police are

couples."

 

"We're not exactly your traditional couple," Kiyone said dryly.

 

"That shouldn't matter," Mihoshi, retorted, "it doesn't matter to me."

 

"Well it does to me!" the teal-aired woman shouted. "The questions, the looks, the scrutiny...I can't live like that."

 

"Not even for me?" Mihoshi whispered. "I can see it now. You never were serious about me, about us."

 

"You know that's not true!"

 

"But it is," Mihoshi said, her luminous, blue eyes brimming with tears. "Even with that lame excuse about Headquarters: what has that to do with our friends here on Earth?"

 

Kiyone stared back at her, totally unable to answer.

 

"It's all right Kiyone," Mihoshi said. "I understand now." She reached out to gently caress Kiyone's cheek and turned to walk away.

 

"Mihoshi! I..."

 

The blonde woman paused and turned once more, her face was so full of tortured sadness that it froze Kiyone's heart.

 

"I didn't want you to get hurt."

 

"Well it's too late for that, isn't it?" Mihoshi asked.

 

She turned once more and Kiyone watched a large piece of her heart walk away.

 

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Early afternoon [Elsewhere in the forest]

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Tenchi Masaki told himself that it was merely the wind. Or his mind was playing tricks on him. Because the light sensation he'd felt upon his cheek couldn't have been Aeka's lips.

 

She who was so refined and shy, or perhaps it was distant and aloof.

 

If I'd known what she would be like today, I could have... Tenchi banished the thought from his mind. Just spending some quality time with the princess--without interruptions--was more than enough to warm his heart.

 

Sitting upon the checkered blanket, the young Masaki lord couldn't help peeking at her legs from he corner of his eye. He was continually amazed (and pleased) at how good she looked today.

 

Not that she doesn't look good every day, Tenchi amended his thoughts. Today she just

seems so much more...

 

Aeka lounged beside, her alabaster legs tucked beneath her as she daintily nibbled a finger sandwich. She caught him looking at her and flashed him a warm smile and winked.

 

When she'd first joined him on the hill after her "talk" with Ryoko, Aeka had seemed pensive and withdrawn. Yet, as the day went on, Tenchi noticed Aeka drawing closer to him. She smiled more and took more opportunities just to touch him.

 

A casual touch on the arm, letting her hand linger on his when he'd helped her across a narrow stream and what may have been a kiss on the cheek. Aeka had done all of these as the two explored he forest, waking down old animal trails and dry creek beds.

 

And now there she was, on the hill where they'd first become close, openly flirting with him. It left Tenchi wondering if she'd always been like this when no one else was around to judge her. (He also wondered if he would so actively resist Ryoko's advances if no one else was around.)

 

"Aeka," Tenchi began. "About today."

 

"Yes Lord Tenchi?" Tenchi nearly passed out as she turned her frightfully lovely ruby gaze eyes upon him.

 

"Well," Tenchi gulped. "You know the reason we're here right? About what happened last week?"

 

"I've already forgiven you of that," Aeka replied.

 

"I know, " Tenchi said, getting his nerve up. "I just wanted to be sure-"

 

"Did you like what you saw?" Aeka interrupted him.

 

"WHAT?!

 

"Did you think I was pretty?"

 

"Well...yes but..."

 

I was thinking of you, you know," Aeka continued softly. "When I put it on I dreamt of being with you."

 

Tenchi belatedly realized that the princess was advancing on him. As she was speaking, she took his hand and placed it on her knee.

 

M-M-Miss Aeka! Are you sure this is appropriate?"

 

"I've wasted far too much time being "appropriate," Aeka said taking Tenchi's other hand and guiding it to her cheek. "Can't we just drop all of the pretenses, the titles and the inhibitions and just be together?”

 

His heart pounding a mile a minute, Tenchi tried to weakly protest, but no sound came from his mouth as he suddenly realized what she was offering. A tiny voice inside him was screaming, "This isn't right!" But it was drowned out by the months of pent-up frustration, longing and hormones and this perfect moment to act out. Or perhaps it was just the chance to stop being the responsible one for a change. Here was a beautiful, sweet, vibrant young woman right in front of him, and he was only human after all.

 

The correctness of his course affirmed, Tenchi wrapped an arm around Aeka's back, closed his eyes, leaned forward...and succumbed to the inevitable.

 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The Masaki Home

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

For Ryoko, time meant very little. She had no idea how long she'd been sitting against the wall in the living room, however she did have vague memories of Nobuyuki, Sasami and Ryo-Ohki asking what was the matter. She could remember making some excuses which seemed satisfy them, because they went back to their own business. The cabbit had, perhaps, picked up on her dark mood but Ryoko had sent a strong "BACK OFF" message to cure her of any curiosity.

 

Black despair stained the space pirate's thoughts as she sat there.

 

I know what you want but you can't have it!

 

Phantom pains stabbed Ryoko's breast as she recalled Aeka's words.

 

I WON'T love you, you MONSTER!

 

Yet it wasn't just the words. It was the look on the princess's face that burned away part of Ryoko's soul. It was an expression of total, unadulterated hatred.

 

"Is that how she really feels? Is that how she sees me?" Ryoko asked herself.

 

She wondered how she could have been so blind. All she'd wanted was to give her heart freely and she'd been cruelly trampled for her trouble.

 

"If this is what loving someone does to you," she said. "I don't want any part of it."

 

It was then that she felt a familiar presence. It was the same presence that had been with her her entire life. And it belonged to the last person in the universe she wanted trying to cheer her up. Ryoko scrambled to raise the mental walls again but it was too late.

 

The "Washu" sense in her mind flared to life as the semi-mad scientist rounded the corner.

 

"Are you ready Little Ryoko?" she asked.

 

"Ready for what?" Ryoko asked defensively. If she tries to hug me I'll scream.

 

"Why for your check-up of course," Washu said cheerfully as her chibi-mecha puppets, dressed in nurse's uniforms, appeared on her shoulders.

 

"Time for a booster!" "A" said holding up an enormous hypodermic needle.

 

"Just turn your head and cough!" "B" said, handling a pressure cuff.

 

"I'm not sure that's appropriate for this occasion, but I like your enthusiasm," Washu said to them both.

 

"Why me?" Ryoko asked with an ironic roll of her eyes.

 

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Ryoko sat naked and glowering upon a cold, metal examination table amid a flurry of holographic screens.

 

"Are we done yet?" Ryoko demanded.

 

"For the umpteenth time, no!" replied Washu (in full nurse regalia) who was busy fiddling with a data reader.

 

"That's not even a number, genius," Ryoko shot back.

 

"Well I know one young lady who's not getting a lollipop."

 

"Oh boo-hoo!"

 

"Have some respect for your dear mother," Washu scolded.

 

"Some mother you were," Ryoko said sharply. "You create me in some lab and then abandon me!"

 

Washu remained silent for a long while, convincing Ryoko that the remark had hit home.

 

*Maybe now she'll leave me alone.*

 

"A little slow," Washu said finally. "But still .01 milliseconds faster than my lowest projections."

 

"What the hell are you talking about?" Ryoko demanded.

 

"But, of course you didn't call me from all the way out there just to insult little ole' me," the scientist went on. "So what's the problem?"

 

"What do you mean? I never called you!"

 

"Incorrect response!" Washu said, turning the data screen toward her daughter. "At approximately 11:15 a.m. I was hit with a concentrated bolt of raw emotion that nearly knocked me unconscious. You don't leave that sort of calling card unless you want to say something important. What is it?"

 

"Washu," Ryoko said quietly. "I had no idea..."

 

"Did you think I wouldn't notice?" Washu continued. "You are my daughter, after all; no matter the circumstances of your birth. I'll always know when you're in pain."

 

Washu walked around the table and sat on a stool beside it. "Can you tell me about it?"

 

"It's...complicated," Ryoko paused to wipe hot tears from her eyes.

 

"Life's like that sometimes," Washu said, looking upon her daughter.

 

"Is it supposed to hurt this much?" Ryoko asked in a cracking voice.

 

Washu shook her head sadly. If I had it my way, you'd never feel pain. But even I can't do that."

 

"So there's nothing for it?" Ryoko pleaded.

 

"You can talk about it, get it out of your system," Washu answered. "Holding on to it just makes it hurt even more."

 

Ryoko gave her a baleful look but Washu didn't relent.

 

"I didn't mean to fall in love!" she cried. "I just wanted to be close to her, but things got out of control."

 

Ryoko felt something warm surround her shoulders and looked up to see Washu wrapping her in a blanket.

 

"Tell me," the red-haired scientist said. And Ryoko did.

 

She began with how she'd first met Aeka when they were but children and their stormy subsequent meetings. She spoke of her growing attachment to the girl and her secret pleasure at having a "friend" to spend time with on Earth. She finished with the sharing of their minds, their hearts, and their bodies. And, of course, the end of it all.

 

"I just wanted to tell her everything," Ryoko said, allowing her tears to run free. "I can't explain why we connected, but we did! And now she hates me for telling her, and I DON'T THINK I CAN HANDLE THIS!"

 

Washu reached out to hold her daughter and rode out the waves of despair, sending out thoughts of comfort and love until she finally calmed.

 

"Washu," Ryoko said, looking up at her mother with a tear-stained face. "What should I do?"

 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

In the forest

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

With her heart full of longing, her mind focused on a single purpose, Aeka leaned forward...

 

And found herself suddenly pushing away from the brink.

 

"Wha?" Tenchi gasped, releasing a breath he couldn't remember holding.

 

"Lord Tenchi.." Aeka began breathlessly. "I didn't-" She broke off, unbidden memories rising in her mind.

 

Ryoko holding her in the bathhouse, gently kissing away her tears. Walking in the forest at night hand-in-hand. The smell of her hair, the texture of her skin.

 

No! Please don't make me remember!

 

But her pleas went unheard as she recalled the music of Ryoko's laugh, the silkiness of her lips, the electricity of her touch.

 

"Aeka," Tenchi called, as if from an impossible distance. "What's wrong?"

 

The violet-haired princess merely shook her head, her eyes brimming with tears. Through her own tears, she could see Ryoko's tortured face, her beautiful golden eyes spilling tears of betrayal.

 

"Please forgive me..."

 

"For what Aeka?" Tenchi asked.

 

Aeka whirled to see Tenchi looking upon her with concern as she realized she'd spoken aloud.

 

I-I should not have done that," she said, thinking quickly. "I should never have acted so forward towards you."

 

"Miss Aeka, you don't need to apologize," Tenchi assured her. "This whole day was about you being comfortable with yourself, and with me."

 

Aeka stared at the patterns on the picnic blanket. "You don't understand," she said. "I wanted it to happen, *needed* it to happen for such a long time." Se looked up at him. "But not like this. Not for these reasons."

 

"What reasons are those?" Tenchi asked.

 

"It doesn't matter," Aeka said with finality. "If I'd gone through with it I'd be hurting someone I care deeply for. Make that two someones."

 

"I hope I didn't do anything to-"

 

"No Lord Tenchi, never!" Aeka said vehemently. "I only hope you can for give me for this."

 

"You don't even have to ask," Tenchi said, drawing her into a hug. "But you wouldn't be Aeka if you didn't."

 

He held her there for a long moment, guiltily enjoying having her so near. It didn't matter to him what had almost happened between them. And, being totally honest, Tenchi wasn't sure it would have been a good thing if something really had occurred. The timing didn't seem...right.

 

Aeka suddenly stiffened in his arms.

 

"I have to go," she said, gently freeing herself.

 

"But why?" Tenchi asked as the violet-haired girl stood and brushed off her clothes.

 

"There is something I must do," Aeka said stepping back into her sandals. "Will you be all right with this?" She pointed at the remains of the picnic lunch.

 

"I'll be fine," Tenchi answered, still thrown off balance.

 

"Then I must hurry," Aeka replied racing for the forest path. "Thank you for everything."

 

"Your welcome, Princess Aeka," Tenchi said as she vanished into the wood.

 

As he set about tidying up the site, Tenchi heard a deep rumbling in the sky. He looked up to see thunderheads moving rapidly toward the Shine.

 

"Perfect, just perfect."

 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Somewhere in Subspace

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

The petite scientist thought for a long moment. With only a few words she could change Ryoko's life. She could take her estranged daughter's shattered world and on the path of her choosing; the right path.

 

No. It's her life. No matter how painful it can be, I don't have that right.

 

"I think you should go to her," Washu told her. "Go and get her back."

 

"W-what?!" Ryoko's head snapped up.

 

"You were expecting something more motherly? Washu said. "Something like, 'forget Aeka and get on with your life?' Or, 'tis better to have loved and lost’ etc.?" Washu paused with a sardonic grin. "Personally, I've always thought that was a big load of bull."

 

"You actually want me to go after her?" Ryoko asked, dumbfounded. "You don't mind?"

 

"Of course I mind!" the scientist laughed. I think it's a fool's errand. You'd be better off with Tenchi in my opinion."

 

"Then why did you-"

 

"Because Aeka makes you happy, Ryoko," Washu said with a brilliant smile. "And even my brilliant opinions mean nothing next to that. You aren't the type to throw your love around arbitrarily. It means too much to you. So, are you going to do it?"

 

"But, after what she said, I..." Ryoko hung her head.

 

"My foolish daughter," Washu said as she raised Ryoko's chin. "You still don't understand what happened, do you? I shouldn't be surprised. You're always looking for solutions without full knowledge of the problem.

 

"What's that supposed to mean?"

 

"Look at it this way," Washu said patiently. "What was Aeka trying to do when she said those things to you?"

 

"To...push me away?" Ryoko said hesitantly.

 

"And you said there was hatred in her eyes," Washu continued. "What's the basis for hatred?"

 

"Fear..."

 

"Then ask yourself this," Washu surmised. "What did she fear? What did the Princess Aeka Jurai fear enough that she had to push you away?"

 

Ryoko mulled over that, her mind turning the nugget over and over. Comparing it to all she knew of the princess. Suddenly the space pirate's golden eyes widened with dawning understanding.

 

"I can't believe I didn't see it," she said in amazement. "It was right in front of me the whole time and I looked right past it! Oh, Aeka!"

 

"There's no use in blaming yourself, Ryoko admonished. "You couldn't have seen the connection being all wound up like that. The important thing is to go get her now."

 

"But she's still out...with Tenchi," Ryoko's heart sank.

 

"Not for long," Washu said, suddenly wearing a cheap suit, bad toupee and standing in front of a weather map. "Those cumulonimbus clouds will see to that."

 

"Huh?" Ryoko asked, totally lost.

 

"Honestly! You'd think *some* of my genius would have been inherited genetically," Washu said tiredly. "Just get going. And put something on! Were you born in a lab or something? Oh, right."

 

Ryoko wrapped the blanket about her and set off to find a convenient portal.

 

"Washu," she said on her way out. "Sometimes you really do act like a real mom."

 

The redhead simply smiled and waived her on.

 

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Deep in the forest [Deep in thought]

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Kiyone plied her way through the forest primeval, her heart twisted into knots. When Mihoshi left her, the detective had considered going after her, then thought better of it. She was in no shape for a confrontation, so instead, she'd just wandered the forest trails, oblivious to the darkening sky.

 

As the freshening breeze rustled the high leaves, Kiyone reviewed her life and her decisions. The choice to join Galaxy Police against her mother's wishes. Taking the most difficult investigative courses in the academy...and choosing to remain partners with Mihoshi over a promotion.

 

"It seemed so simple that there was no choice," Kiyone said to herself. "So why is it so hard now?"

 

Something's missing. Something big.

 

It was the usual turmoil she went through when facing such a decision. There was no real choice. She couldn't possibly conceive of a life without her beloved friend.

 

"So why am I still out here?"

 

Yet she already knew the answer: Pride and Fear.

Her pride was keeping her in the dark woods. Her fear kept her from facing the truth. She didn't want to admit being wrong. Wrong about her life, wrong about her choices and she was afraid to be wrong about loving Mihoshi.

 

Pride and Fear: The instructors at the academy had called them useful, but potentially destructive emotions.

A good sense of pride gave an officer the motivation to serve to the best of her ability. A healthy dose of fear would give that same officer a set of limits to keep her from going too close to the edge.

 

At the same time, too much pride could blind said officer to the plight of those she is sworn to serve. And too much fear could paralyze at critical moments and cost lives.

 

Pride and Fear: Two dangerous emotions Kiyone couldn't release.

 

The teal-haired detective continued walking, oblivious to the heavy, moisture-laden air. She even missed the subtle shift in the terrain as she walked through the carrot fields.

 

"Hi Kiyone!"

 

Kiyone's head snapped back to the real world only to realize that her "aimless wanderings" had brought her to the back porch of the Masaki house. Nobuyuki and Katsuhito sat side-by-side along with a napping Ryo-Ohki, Washu (who wasn't working on her computer for a change) and Sasami who was serving tea.

 

"What's going on here?" Kiyone asked, taking in the scene.

 

"We came out to watch the rain," Sasami replied cheerfully as she filled Washu's cup. "It's about to start."

 

Kiyone looked up, surprised she'd missed the approaching storm.

 

"Did you want something to drink?" Sasami asked.

 

"No, I-"

 

"No, I'm fine," another voice cut Kiyone off.

 

"Mihoshi," Kiyone said quietly, realizing just how wound up she really was.

 

The blonde's face remained downcast and she didn't acknowledge her partner.

 

"Mihoshi," Kiyone tried again.

 

"I've changed my mind, Sasami," Mihoshi said casually. "I think I will have some tea."

 

"O-Okay," Sasami replied, the cheer fading from her expression.

 

"Mihoshi please, I want to talk to you," Kiyone tried once more. "I want to apologize."

 

Finally, Mihoshi glanced in her direction, her face an unreadable mask. "Apologize about what, Kiyone?" she inquired.

 

"For those...things I said in the forest," Kiyone said. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to hurt your feelings."

 

Mihoshi looked at her for a long moment, and then sadly shook her head.

 

"What?" Kiyone stood in shock. "But isn't this what you wanted? I admit I was wrong about everything, okay?"

 

The wind freshened again, this time carrying drops of moisture with it, however she ignored them. "What do you want me to do? Just tell me and I'll do it!"

 

The blonde detective remained silent, though her former distant gaze was now boring straight into Kiyone's soul. Kiyone could feel the weight of that stare as well as the scrutiny of the others watching this drama unfold.

 

She wants me to say it first! she thought. She wants me to say it right here, in front of everyone!

 

Kiyone stood paralyzed, staring back at Mihoshi, unable to act.

 

Katsuhito cleared his throat, shifting the girls' attention. "Some battles are not meant to be won," he said quietly, and went back to sipping his tea.

 

And then the final piece fell into place for Kiyone. "Sometimes when you lose you win," she remembered a blue-haired bounty hunter saying.

 

"I can't win this..."

And she found herself moving toward the porch, but before she was four steps along she was caught in a fierce embrace.

 

"I love you so much!" Came Mihoshi's tear-choked cry.

 

"I love you too," Kiyone said while trying to kiss her at the same time. As she felt warmth of Mihoshi's pure spirit envelope her, Kiyone barely acknowledged the reaction of the extended Masaki family.

 

While Sasami looked a little shocked, Katsuhito was remained his usual, stoic self, Washu displayed her knowing smile and Nobuyuki (of course) had a grin so large he could have swallowed his ears.

 

One surprise was that none of this seemed to matter anymore. Kiyone had to smile at that.

 

Mihoshi mattered. Love mattered. Everything else was just background noise. Including the driving rain, which had just begun in earnest. The detective's inward smile became outward as she pulled out of another heart-stopping kiss.

 

"Thanks Nagi."

 

"What was that?" Mihoshi asked as she took her hand.

 

"Nothing," Kiyone replied. "Let's go find a place we can get out of these wet clothes."

 

"Mihoshi returned her smile and added a mischievous wink. "Gladly!"

 

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

Ryoko sat upon a crossbeam wandering just what was going on. When she'd first emerged from the lab, Ryoko had been delighted to see the storm clouds forming. Heading down the forest path she'd met Tenchi on his way back; and surprised him by asking where Aeka was.

 

Back in the house the space pirate had searched from room to room to find nothing at all. Every time she asked someone, it turned out that Aeka had just left the room. Ryoko got the distinct notion that she was being toyed with. A second visit to the bath revealed a very playful Kiyone and Mihoshi who said (amid a flurry of giggles) that Aeka had just been there.

 

After that, Ryoko finally gave up.

 

*If she's going to talk to me she will; if not...*

Ryoko didn't know anything beyond that. So there she sat waiting as the day came to a close. The bustling sounds of the Masaki home gave way to the rattling of pots and running water as Sasami prepared dinner.

 

Ryoko was almost ready to start the search anew when the princess entered through the front door. Aeka was wearing a comfortable pink kimono with white trim and her hair was once again bound in her customary twin ponytails.

 

While her outward demeanor was serene, Ryoko could sense an undercurrent of unease.

 

"So, you finally decided to show up," she said as she teleported to Aeka's side.

 

"I am sorry to have kept you waiting," Aeka said quietly. "I had to take time to gather my thoughts."

 

"What did you find out?" Ryoko asked, moving closer.

 

Aeka moved away and paused to straighten a throw pillow. "I was cruel to you for no good reason. Can you forgive me?"

 

"I don't see what there is to apologize for," Ryoko answered. "We say things we don't mean sometimes."

 

"But you don't understand!" Aeka exclaimed. "I was wrong to say those things to you. Wrong to think you could be like...like..." Her voice faltered into silence as she looked desperately toward Ryoko.

 

"Like Shiori," Ryoko quietly completed the thought. She saw the princess stiffen and knew she had struck the right cord. "You told me once that you were afraid of your own feelings. Do you remember, the bath?"

 

Aeka nodded silently, then cast her gaze to the floor.

 

"Then we both know what this is really about," Ryoko continued. "When I told you I loved you it hit you too hard and I'm sorry about that."

 

"No Ryoko," Aeka said tracing the patterns of shadow on the floor. "Even then I knew you wouldn't intentionally hurt me." She tore her gaze away from the ground and locked eyes with Ryoko. "I was just so afraid of being controlled again, by my own love for someone. Even though I knew you weren't her in my rational mind; I just couldn't stop. I had to push you away."

 

"So what changed your mind?" Ryoko reached out to touch Aeka's cheek. At first the princess flinched away and looked ready to flee, but then calmed down.

 

"Perhaps I felt that holding on to my irrational fear isn't worth losing my best friend," Aeka said as she gently kissed Ryoko's hand and moved away once again.

 

Ryoko looked after her, seeing that the tenseness had not left her shoulders. Her hands still wrung together. "There's something else, isn't there?"

 

Aeka stared out the picture window; the increasing rains cast ever-changing patterns upon the glass. Diffuse light from the dying sun stained her face deep auburn.

 

Ryoko almost reached out to touch her, but stopped herself. The princes stood away from her, folding her arms tight over her breast hugging her self against some real or imagined draft.

 

Aeka's amethyst hair glistened slightly with remaining moisture from a recent bath. "What do you see, Ryoko?" she asked without looking back.

 

"Beg pardon?"

 

Aeka shot her a look that stopped her cold. "I asked a question," she said.

 

So that's the game, Ryoko thought. "I see a very sexy little princess," she answered aloud. "Who is in need of some serious lovin'."

 

"No," Aeka cut her off. "What do you see, when you look at me?"

 

"I don't understand."

 

"I think you do," Aeka countered. "Who am I?"

 

Ryoko took a breath. "Are you sure you wanna hear this?"

 

The princess said nothing.

 

"I see..." Ryoko hesitated. "When I look at you, I see a beautiful girl who tries so hard to live up to a bunch of useless traditions."

 

"Now wait just a minute!" Aeka interjected.

 

"Sorry," Ryoko said quickly. "I'm sorry. Let me finish, OK?"

 

Aeka nodded curtly.

 

"What I meant to say was that you're always so driven to live up to this ideal. The Aeka I see works so hard to push every emotion into a little box; afraid to let even a little bit of her true self to leak out. She leaves the fun to everyone else while she's busy being a 'proper lady.' I stand by and watch while she slowly kills herself trying to prove to the universe that she deserves this title she was born with."

 

Aeka quickly turned her back, however, Ryoko caught the reflection of a single tear

on her cheek.

 

"You can't live your life, trying to make yourself into this image of perfection others have made for you," Ryoko continued, approaching Aeka once more. "When are you going to ask, 'what makes Aeka happy?'"

 

"I...I don't know what makes me happy," Aeka whispered. "I have never thought about it..."

 

Ryoko put her arms about the princess. At first, Aeka resisted; then her rigid back melted into the embrace. "It's all right Aeka," the cyan-haired girl said. "Maybe we can find out together."

 

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

The Masaki House [Midnight]

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

The stillness of night wrapped the grounds of the Masaki Shrine in its sinuous embrace. While most of the residents (and guests) of the house had bedded down for the night, the space pirate, Ryoko crept out of her perch near the ceiling and floated toward and exterior wall. Hearing the creak of wood she glanced to her right to see Nobuyuki sneaking up the stairs with his video camera.

 

"No doubt to catch a peek at Mihoshi and Kiyone," she thought wryly as she moved on.

 

Sure enough, a moment later...

 

"Eeep!" And the architect and armature videographer was "escorted" back to the couch by Azaka and Kamidake who'd drawn guard duty in front of the guest room.

 

Ryoko shrugged and passed through the back wall looking for the princess. "The note said she'd be here," Ryoko whispered, looking again at the beautifully handwritten message. "Prepare yourself!" it had read.

 

"Hmmm...maybe she's finally gonna wear that GP uniform," Ryoko thought naughtily.

 

The cyan-haired woman scanned the area once again. There was the back porch, the stone path to the lake and the lake itself, which was covered with a fine mist giving it a mysterious air. Yet as Ryoko stared at it she felt a familiar surge of power and she hurried to the dock.

 

Sure enough, she found Ryo-Ohki, in ship form, awaiting her. Before she could ask about what was happening she was transported inside...

 

To a ship she barely recognized. The entire bridge had been transformed into a wonderland of hanging fabrics. Dozens of a sheer material hung from the ceiling, gently rippling in subtle air currants. Ryoko lightly brushed some of the fabric. "Silk," she mused at the feel of its smooth texture. "Very fine silk. But why so much?"

 

As she continued to explore the space, Ryoko found that some of the sheets touched the floor, creating partitions, or a sort of pathway.

 

"Aeka," Ryoko called as the heard the whisper of unshod feet. "So the game begins..."

 

Ryoko followed the sound of Aeka's progress through the ship, always just a step behind. Whenever she thought she was closing in she found another silken wall blocking her way. And when she backtracked, she found that the trail had changed shape. The golden-eyed pirate thought briefly of just teleporting around to find her but dismissed it. It felt like cheating.

 

*Besides, I like a challenge. It makes the reward that much sweeter,* she thought.

 

Therefore, she continued motivated by the memory of Aeka's sweet lips. Her search came to an abrupt end when she rounded a corner to find the princess waiting. Wearing some kind of dark purple, floor length dressing gown and nightcap, smiled serenely at her lover.

 

"You didn't teleport," she said happily. "You've learned patience."

 

"It makes the game more fun," Ryoko returned her smile and reached for the princess only to have her dance away.

 

"There is one more lesson you must learn," Aeka started moving towards an opening in the swaying sheets. "You must learn to suffer." Aeka shrugged off the dressing gown to reveal the white, lace lingerie she'd only worn once. She removed her cap, letting the spill of purple hair cascade down her back.

 

"If this is your idea of suffering," Ryoko began as she started forward; only to be stopped by another silken partition. "Hey, what gives?"

 

"Just another of those 'useless traditions,'" Aeka said with a devilish grin. "Please undress."

 

Her curiosity piqued, Ryoko obediently began stripping off her blue and green, striped dress. "I've got these great edible panties-"

 

"You will have no need of them," Aeka cut her off. She turned to lead a fully nude Ryoko to a very familiar circular bed.

 

"You didn't," Ryoko breathed.

 

"It is not strictly traditional, but I thought it would make you more comfortable," Aeka said, patting a place on the satin sheets.

 

Ryoko boarded the bed and lay back as the princess bade her. She thrilled as Aeka let the tips of her violet hair trace trails up her body. As Aeka leaned in to gently kiss Ryoko's supple lips, the pirate reached up to hold her; only to have her hands pressed back and together above her head. Aeka pulled out a violet, silk ribbon and expertly tied her wrists together and fastened them to a hook Ryoko hadn't noticed before.

 

"Is this where I suffer?" Ryoko asked, intrigued at this new game. Aeka simply tied a silk scarf around her eyes, blindfolding her.

 

"Turn over please," Aeka requested.

 

The cyan-haired woman complied, pleased to find that the hook was on some kind of casters which allowed limited movement.

 

Ryoko tested her bonds. "You know I could break out of these."

 

Aeka paused a moment. "You may do as you wish," she said quietly.

And then she was gone. The weight of her body disappeared from Ryoko's back.

 

Then...Ryoko felt something wonderful. Gentle waves of silkiness washed over her back as Aeka slid a sheet of silk down her back. Ryoko's breath caught in her throat as the princess slowly brought the silk down to her backside.

 

A tortured moan escaped Ryoko's mouth as the silk began to travel upward, followed by Aeka's lips. As she reached Ryoko's neck Aeka took time to nibble her earlobes, her lace-covered breasts gliding across the pirate's back.

 

Aeka continued using the silk, drawing it across Ryoko's body until the cyan-haired woman was writhing in pent-up arousal.

 

"Turn over, please," Aeka gently ordered.

 

"Finally!" Ryoko panted hungrily as she eagerly obliged.

 

And then Aeka was kissing her again, her tongue entering and exploring her generous mouth pausing to suck her lower lip.

 

"Aeka!" Ryoko moaned. "I am SO ready!" She felt the princess's finger upon her lips.

 

"Come now, you can take a little more," Came her amused voice.

 

Ryoko silently cursed the blindfold, which robbed her of the glory of her lover's eyes.

 

Yet, suddenly all of her thoughts fluttered away as the silk began tracing its way across her lips, rubbing along her erect nipples, sliding down her flat stomach and moving past her moist cleft.

 

However, this time, Aeka draped the silk the length of Ryoko's body. Using her teeth and tongue the princess teased Ryoko though the silk, kissing her neck, nibbling and sucking her hardened nipples.

 

Ryoko gasped, arching her back, as Aeka electrified her skin with her tongue. With deft fingers, Aeka traced the outline of Ryoko's core taking time to tease her hidden hub of pleasure. Slipping a hand between Ryoko's shapely thighs, Aeka once again kissed the pirate deeply.

 

"Do you want to be free?" Aeka asked her.

 

"Yes! Now!" Ryoko answered quickly. "Untie me now!"

 

There was a pause, then another kiss, this on very light. "What are you--Ahh!" Ryoko's inquiry was cut short as the princess teased her through the silk.

 

"Ryoko," Aeka's voice came again. "Do you want to be free?"

 

What? She already asked me that? What kind of crazy game is this?

 

"I told you already," she said aloud. "Let me go."

 

"Ryoko! Do you want to be free?" Aeka asked again with more urgency.

 

*Is that it? Does she get a kick out of torturing me like this?*

 

She tried to phase out of the bonds but found it difficult to summon the necessary concentration.

 

"Ryoko, please!" Aeka called out.

 

She sounds like she's begging. But Aeka's never begged for anything in her... And suddenly she understood. A smile lit Ryoko's lips as she raised up as far as her tied wrists would allow.

 

"No," she whispered into Aeka's ear. "I don't want to be free. I want to remain bound forever."

 

Silence.

 

And then a flurry of kisses covered her face as she felt her bonds loosened and the blindfold removed. She opened her eyes to find Aeka straddled atop her, her ruby eyes filled with grateful tears.

 

"You understood," she said.

 

"I had no idea you Juraians played so rough," Ryoko replied as she brushed a few strands of violet hair away from Aeka's face. The princess caught her hand and pressed it against her cheek.

 

"Forgive me for being so cruel," she said. "But it had to be your decision."

 

Ryoko placed a hand behind Aeka's head and pulled her close. "If that's the case, I choose to be a prisoner in your heart forever. I don't want to be free." She kissed her again, allowing the force of her pent-up passion drain into the princess.

 

"Tell me," Aeka said breathlessly. "What happens now?"

 

"I am in you hands," Ryoko said laying down. "At you pleasure, my Lady."

 

Aeka quickly went to work letting her lips and tongue lead the way to Ryoko's, then moving down to worship her breasts. The violet-haired girl frantically suckled one, then the other nipple, feeling Ryoko's back arch with pleasure at each iteration. She continued down Ryoko's body, reveling in the taste of her taut flesh.

 

Her skilled tongue traced a path from Ryoko's navel to her glistening core and there paid homage to her pleasure. Parting the nether lips with her tongue, Aeka tasted of her love's arousal. With that brief taste the princess's hunger increased. Redoubling her efforts, Aeka used her tongue to tease Ryoko's core. Ryoko's head thrashed wildly as she threaded her fingers into Aeka's amethyst hair. Aeka, meanwhile, increased her pleasure sliding two fingers into her tight core, enjoying the feeing of being surrounded by the pirate.

 

"Now! Please now!" Ryoko gasped as Aeka began eagerly thrusting into her.

A trembling shudder passed through Ryoko as she climaxed full force, while Aeka obligingly bathed her nether regions with her tongue. As Ryoko's tumult subsided and Aeka's hunger was sated (for the moment) the princess hand-walked her way up the pirate's body to gaze into her golden hued eyes.

 

"Show me something, magnificent," Aeka breathed.

 

"At you pleasure my Lady," Ryoko said as she slid her hands up to cup the princess's firm posterior.

 

Sitting up, she allowed Aeka to straddle her hips. Aeka uttered a very un-princess-like giggle and began grinding her pelvic region against Ryoko. Meanwhile Ryoko (in the perfect position) held on for dear life and made love to her breasts. Taking a hardened nipple in her mouth, holding it in her teeth and teasing it with her tongue, Ryoko felt Aeka shudder in ecstasy. Ryoko could feel her urgency--her need--by the way the princess grabbed her cyan locks, the tenseness of her thighs, the intensity of her moans.

 

Yet it was her eyes, which were the most telling. They burned with the same crimson furies she'd witnessed when they'd first made love. However, now she understood that it wasn't merely sexual. It was her need to be loved and to give love in return. That which had been hidden so long and nearly crushed by years of guilt, fear and shame. Ryoko was humbled to receive such a precious gift. Yet now the window to Aeka's soul remained open.

 

Why? Why now?

 

"Only for you, Ryoko," Aeka gasped out. "Only for you!"

 

"How the hell did you hear that?!" Ryoko gaped at her in astonishment.

 

Aeka simply smiled at her. "I have no idea," she said quietly. "But I am so close now. Please

Ryoko!"

 

The space pirate nodded and reached down slipping a hand between Aeka's legs searching for that nexus of maximum pleasure. The strange connection she now shared with the princess made finding the place all too easy. As her experienced fingers found it Aeka's body spasmed once, twice, three times. An animalistic cry tore from her lips as the primordial force of Orgasm ripped through her consciousness, causing wave after wave of pleasure.

 

Ryoko rode that wave, holding her close until, their passion finally spent, they sprawled exhausted to the satin sheets.

 

When the princess came to herself, she found Ryoko's arms around her holding her from behind. Feeling her lover stir Aeka moved one of her hands a bit higher to a convenient bit of soft flesh.

 

"Mmm..." Ryoko murmured with a gratifying squeeze. "Hi."

 

"Hi," Aeka said enjoying the serenity of the moment. "Will it always be like that?"

 

"I should hope not!" Ryoko chuckled. "We probably traumatized poor Ryo-Ohki. Um...about what happened..."

 

"I think some things are best left mysteries," Aeka said thoughtfully. "By the way, thank you."

 

"What for?"

 

"For allowing me to love you in my own way," Aeka answered. "For showing me that I needn't have feared it."

 

"I should be the one thanking you," Ryoko said holding a finger to her lips. "Thanks for letting me in, Aeka. You finally let someone inside your defenses. Now was that so terrible?"

 

"Only when I think of how much time I wasted," Aeka answered sadly. "But we're together now and that is all that matters."

 

"Well there is one more thing," Ryoko said slowly. "What are we going to do about Tenchi?"

 

"I hadn't thought of that," Aeka said. "Do you think he'd be opposed to sharing?"

 

"Wouldn't work," Ryoko said dismissively. "I couldn't bear the thought of sharing you with anyone else."

 

Aeka laughed and turned towards her. "You are a selfish one aren't you?" She smiled. "Though I suppose we won't have to do anything about him for now. Besides, I don't want to share you either."

 

Aeka drew Ryoko into a lingering kiss. "I want to know everything about you, Ryoko," she said at last. "Body and soul."

 

"You must be halfway there Princess," Ryoko said. "Because you just read my mind."

 

The space ship Ryo-Ohki carried the new lovers away as the music of their love was accompanied by the backdrop of the cosmos.

 

                                        -END-

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Notes and apologies [or Why it Took so Damn Long!]

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Hi there!

If you are a reader of my work then you've probably noticed a wee gap in the time between

Episodes II and III of "Every Lesson Learned." (Okay a BIG gap!) Here goes:

 

The first delay came as I was enthralled with numerous other projects (I procrastinated). Then came my newspaper internship. (I procrastinated even more!) And of course my most recent work as an intern following around candidates for this year's general election. (Just plain goofing off!) When I finally came to my senses and realized I was letting my writing suffer and breaking promises I decided to take a break from work and put things in order (it was actually a car accident which forced me to lay up for a while).

 

So while I was prioritizing (healing) I pulled out my files and got back to basics with my writing. (I started a speed run and haven't turned this thing off for ten hours!!) I am glad to say I'm finally done. For now anyway.

 

One good thing did come of my business (procrastination). I almost put something into this story that would have screwed it up. I guess taking a break (car wreck) and looking at it from a fresh perspective (fuzzy from painkillers) made me realize just what a mistake (major screw up) that would have been.

 

So that is that. And for the folks who still aren't satisfied:

 

I am REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY REALLY

SORRY!

 

Okay.

 

Do you still like me?

Not that I need everyone to like me.

 

It's just that I get so anxious when I think someone is upset with me...

I'm really a nice person!

How about some cookies?

 

Er...note to self: "talk to therapist."

 

Send all comments and pipe bombs to:  arcajeth2002@yahoo.com

 

Thanks for reading

 

Arca Jeth ^_^