Disclaimer

I am a poor starving artist with no intentions of making money off of this. I own absolutely none of the characters herein, and have created this sheerly for my own enjoyment and the enjoyment of anyone who reads it.


This Side Down

Chapter Thirteen

No Need for a Date


-KNOCK-KNOCK-

Ayeka sat up and glared at the door blearily. "Who is it?"

"Ministry of Education."

"Who?" She stood up and made her way unsteadily to the door. She grabbed a dressing robe and struggled into it, then opened the door a crack.

The man on the other side of the door - a rather short, pudgy individual in a white shirt - thrust some identification through the crack. "Ministry of Education, miss. I understand there are two young girls living here?"

Ayeka nodded. "Yes, my sister and I."

"Can I see some identification for you and your sister?"

Luckily, Ayeka had asked Ryoko to falsify some documents "proving" that the two Princesses were Japanese citizens. She passed the man her own identification. "You'll have to give me a moment for my sister's, sir."

"No hurry." The official glanced at her birth record. "You are aware, miss, that Japanese law requires you to attend high school?"

"Requires?" She blinked, still somewhat sleep-addled.

"Yes, miss."

"I thought you had to pay to--"

"Only certain schools. This district does have one public high school."


"I am not at all pleased."

Sasami nudged her sister. "Hey, calm down, Sis. It's just school, right?"

"For your information, Sasami, I completed my primary education over seven hundred years ago. There is very little that this primitive education system can teach either of us."

Sasami shrugged. "Maybe so. But I'm gonna enjoy making some new friends."

"All well and good for you. However, consider the impact that this is going to have on my job schedule." She sighed. "Well, this is the school."

"Furinkan High School." Sasami blinked. "Hey, doesn't Tenchi go here?"

"Yes, I believe he does." Ayeka smiled. "Luckily, it's a public school."

Sasami shrugged. "Well, I've got to get to school too." She took off on a run. "I'll see you after!"

Ayeka sighed again, and walked into the school.


Mizuhara Rei was considered a "brain" by her peers, but despite that, she managed to get along with most of the girls in her class. In particular, she spent a lot of time with Motoyoshi Eri, one of the members of the fashion club. Most of that circle ignored her, but Eri, one of the few (to Rei's mind) useful members, was hardy enough to ignore the scorn that came with associating with her.

Of course, while Eri did seem to have a specific goal in life - she wanted to run a restaurant - and was generally sensible and down-to-earth, she did have some rather odd ideas on romance.

"He's gotta be single. Come on, nobody has that many girls chasing him all at once unless he's single."

Rei shook her head, bemused. Eri had decided that Rei's life needed spicing up, and was playing matchmaker. It was a periodic problem that rarely lasted very long. "I dunno. I hear he's living at the Tendo's, and apparently he's engaged to Akane."

"Yeah, right. Who'd you hear that from? Kuno?"

"Well...yeah, actually."

Eri snorted. "I think that about sums it up."

Rei adjusted her glasses - she was quite nearsighted - and looked across the yard, at the subject of their conversation: one Masaki Tenchi. Tall, and almost painfully thin, but rather good-looking. The buzz cut wasn't too unusual, but most people with buzz cuts didn't bother keeping a rat-tail with it. And his clothing, while in good condition, was rather out of date, and showed signs of constant repairs and maintenance.

He wasn't in her class, but she'd bumped into him in the library several times. She had spoken to him once or twice, and found him to be clever and friendly, if a little non-committal. All in all, the sort of person she might actually be interested in...if she was willing to take an interest in anyone.

"Eri, I really don't--"

"Look, why not just ask him out? The worst he can do is say no, right?"

Rei bit her lip. Her friend was right. She'd ask him, he'd say no, Eri would be satisfied that she'd at least tried, and life would go on. Rei did not want any romantic tangles, no matter how much her friend thought they'd be fun.

But what if he said yes?

Well, if he said yes, she'd go to a movie or something, probably have a good time, probably not call him back, and Eri would be satisfied, and life would go on.

And if he said yes, and he called her back after?

Well, she'd figure that out later. For the moment, she finished her bento and stood up.

"You're going for it? Good luck!"

Rei smiled. Luck would be good...though not the luck that Eri intended. She walked across to the tree on the other side of the schoolyard, where Masaki Tenchi was just sitting down.

"Excuse me..."

"Yes?"

Rei bit her lip. "Tenchi...I was wondering if perhaps..." She ducked her head. Damn, why was this so hard? It wasn't like she really meant it. "Would you like to see a movie? Tonight, I mean?"

He seemed to consider it. "Well..."

"Excuse me."

Rei flinched; she knew that voice. Tendo Akane. And she did not sound happy.

"Tenchi, you can't take her out. You're engaged, remember?"

Well, call that a confirm. Eri'd be upset, but oh well.

"Indeed." A voice she didn't recognize, but when she turned to look at the girl, she recognized her face. Everyone at Furinkan knew Tendo Nabiki, the Ice Queen of Nerima. "I seriously hope you're not considering dating behind our backs, Tenchi."

Rei blinked. Was he engaged to both of them?

"And Kasumi'd hardly be pleased, if she knew."

Ack!

"Lord Tenchi, I must also object." Another classmate, the new girl who'd just transferred from Kyoto. "This girl is a commoner, hardly fit to be in your presence."

Akane scowled. "Back off, Ayeka. It's not your business."

Nabiki nodded in agreement. "We don't need your help. Run along."

"My claim to Lord Tenchi's hand is as valid as yours. More valid, in fact."

Rei got the distinct impression that this had been a bad idea.

"You have no claim," Akane snarled. "Katsuhito arranged the engagements, and nowhere did your name appear. In fact, when you turned up, he was doing his best to discourage you."

"This does not alter the facts."

"You're right." Nabiki this time. "The facts are, you force your attentions on Tenchi, regardless of whether or not he wants them. Right?"

"And you don't, Sis?"

"Hey, who's side are you on?"

"My own."

Rei gulped, and changed her earlier assessment: most certainly this had been a bad idea.

Tenchi hopped to his feet and stepped forward. "All right, all three of you shut up!"

Surprisingly, they did. Tenchi turned to Rei. "Yes."

"What?!" All four females were stunned.

"Yes, Rei, I'd like to go see a movie with you tonight. Say around seven?"

"Uh..." Rei was more than a little afraid for her life.

"Tenchi, you can't--"

"Like hell. You see a ring on this finger?" Tenchi held up his hand, turned it around a couple of times to illustrate his point. "The three of you are acting like you own me. Forget it. I ain't letting you push me around. I'll do as I see fit."

"But--"

"No buts." He turned back to Rei. "Shall I call on you at seven?"

"...Sure."

"Okay. Five minutes before the bell; catch me between classes so I can get your address, okay?"

"...okay."

Tenchi turned and walked off, leaving Rei alone with the three fiancees.

Nabiki scowled at Rei. "I think you'll find that this was very ill advised." She turned and stalked off.

Akane nodded. "He's taken. Back off, before you get hurt." She followed her sister.

Ayeka sighed. "I'm afraid that those two are most likely to follow through on their threats. Akane is a most violent girl, and Nabiki's cunning is rarely matched."

"No threats from you?"

"I don't need to threaten." She sniffed. "Lord Tenchi will realize that I am the best, indeed the only, choice for him." And she, too, turned away from Rei and walked back to the school.

Rei headed back to where she'd left her bento and bookbag, feeling somewhat dazed. Eri ran up to meet her.

"So? How did it go?"

Rei looked at her friend. "Eri...I oughtta smack you one."


"Hey, Mizuhara! Wait a minute!"

Rei sighed, and turned to Tenchi. "Yeah?"

"I needed to get your address and phone number, remember?"

"Oh, yes." She dug into her purse and pulled out a calling card.

"Thanks." Tenchi tucked the card into his shirt pocket. "Can I ask you something?"

"Sure."

Tenchi paused, as though framing his thoughts. "You came to me, and asked me out, but right now, you seem kinda...I dunno." He scratched his head. "Like you really didn't mean to."

"Well, I was thinking that maybe I'd made a mistake. Not that I think you're a bad guy, but--"

"Oh, the girls."

"Actually--"

"Look, don't worry too much about them, okay? I should tell you, though, that I'm kinda stuck with having to marry one of them. Just so you know."

"I guessed as much, but--"

"And don't worry about their threats. None of them would harm a hair on your head. Except maybe Ryoko, and I'm not too sure about that. And I can keep her under my thumb."

"Okay, but I need to tell you--"

The bell rang. "Crap." Tenchi threw up his hands. "Tell me tonight!" He turned and ran for his classroom.


"I'm home."

"Welcome home, Tenchi. We have a visitor."

The visitor turned out to be Sasami. She was wearing one of Kasumi's aprons, belted high due to its length, and was slicing vegetables. "Hi, Tenchi! I came to visit Akane after I got out of school. I was a bit early."

"Oh, she's still at school anyway. She's on cleanup today. Ah, Kasumi?"

"Yes, Tenchi?"

"Um...A girl at school asked me out today."

"Oh? How nice!"

Tenchi blinked. "Well, I said yes, but--"

"I hope you have fun."

Tenchi blinked again. "Um--"

"Tenchi, I don't mind." Kasumi smiled. "We're not married, not even officially engaged, really. More's the pity."

"But--"

"And you just said yes in order not to hurt her feelings, right?"

"Well." He laughed. "Actually, it was because the other two got on her case." He sighed. "Ayeka got in on the mess, too. All three of them tried to chase her off. I couldn't just sit there and let it happen. So I said yes, to try and teach them a lesson."

"Oh, my."

"Yeah. I'll have to tell Rei tonight that I'm not really interested."

"I hope she takes it well."

"Yeah, me too."

Sasami had been quiet during this exchange, but now spoke up. "Did Ayeka...Did she say why she was getting involved?"

"She mentioned a claim--" Tenchi paled. "Oh, hell."

Kasumi nodded. "I was afraid of as much."

Tenchi threw his hands into the air. "Did Pops agree to another engagement? Or is she just a whacko, like Kuno? Maybe she bribed Pops with food?"

Kasumi sighed. "It seems that since you're a prince, she believes she has a claim to your hand."

"But she's my aunt! Or something like it."

"Didn't you realize that she was engaged to your grandfather?"

"Yeah, I did, but..." Tenchi shook his head emphatically. "No way am I marrying my own aunt!" He looked heavenward. "Why me?"


There was a knock at the door.

Akane glanced up from her homework - she found it quite easy to concentrate while sitting at the dining room table.

The knock came again. Akane rose, and walked up to the front door. She opened it, and looked around.

Nobody.

The knock came again, this time behind her. "What the heck...?" She walked back to the family room, and looked out over the garden. The shoji were open, and she hadn't seen anyone out there, but...

She heard the knock again, and this time managed to figure out where it was coming from. There was a small room off the family room, meant to serve as a storeroom, but holding only a small electric dryer. She opened the door, and was surprised to see Ryouga standing there.

"Akane? Am I at the right house?"

She giggled. "Yes, Ryouga, you are. Though I don't know how you got in the closet."

"I was trying to get here, and I had to go into a restaurant, and then I found a dark space that I couldn't figure out how to get to the door. I went to sleep, and when I woke up..." He shrugged. "Never mind. Doesn't matter."

She grinned. "Come in. I'm happy to see you."

"Really?"

"Yeah, really. Tea?"

"Thank you."

She knelt at the table, and poured him a cup. "So what brings you here?"

"Well...I was kinda wondering if..." He blushed, which confused her, and scratched the back of his head. "Well...would you like to...ummm...go to see a movie with me?"

Akane was shocked. "A movie?"

"Yeah...I'll understand if you don't wanna...I mean, you're kinda engaged to Tenchi, right? But I thought--"

"Engaged to Tenchi, right. But not married." She grinned. "You see a ring on this finger? Okay, a movie's a good idea. How 'bout tonight? The seven o'clock show?"

"You...you mean it?"

"Of course I do." She tilted her head. "You're a pretty nice guy. I can tell."

Ryouga jumped to his feet. "Thank you! I have to go get ready--"

"Oh, no." She grabbed him and dragged him back down. "You stay right here. You're fine as you are, and I wanna make sure you don't get lost." She considered. "I'll get Tenchi to take you to get cleaned up later, okay?"

Inwardly, Ryouga was gibbering in delight. It seemed to be too good to be true.

Inwardly, Akane was smiling. Perfect...a cover. Now I can tail Tenchi...


An emergency war council had been called. Four individuals, each with the same agenda, though said agendas still managed to conflict with each other.

"I don't know who this Rei thinks she is, moving in on Tenchi like that!" Akane looked furious. "Not that she has any right to do so to begin with, since he's spoken for. But how dare he take her up on it! What a jerk!"

Ryoko shook her head. "I don't see what the big deal is. He's already stated that he's gonna marry one of you three sisters. Just not till he's thirty. So why can't he have some fun in the meantime?"

"I would not expect an uncouth pirate such as yourself to understand the situation," said Ayeka. "It is a matter of principle. Tenchi is spoken for; he must not show infidelity."

Ryoko stuck her tongue out at the Princess.

Nabiki sighed. "You're all missing one very important point. Tenchi stated, flat out, that he's only going out with Rei to teach us all a lesson."

"Does that include our sister, Nabiki?"

"Hmmm...No." Nabiki scowled. "Kasumi hasn't really done anything to warrant this sort of treatment."

Ayeka nodded. "Plus, it would be all too easy for this peasant girl to attempt to...entrap...Lord Tenchi. We must guard against this."

Akane smirked. "I already got a way to follow Tenchi, rather covertly."

"A covert Akane. That'll be the day."

"Hey, before you consider interrupting this date," said Ryoko, "you might want to consider what Tenchi would think of it."

"Tenchi doesn't seem to be considering our feeling." Nabiki's tone was cutting.

Ryoko stuck her tongue out at Nabiki.

"You keep sticking that out, and someone's going to make you use it."

The pirate smirked, and floated up next to Nabiki. "Are you volunteering, Nabiki? I don't normally swing that way, but you're verrry cute..."

Nabiki pushed her away, a disgusted look on her face. "Grow up."

"I might say the same of all of you." Ryoko floated up and back. She crossed her arms, an annoyed look on her face. "No matter how you choose to rationalize it, the fact remains: You three have been treating Tenchi like a possession, and he's lashing out. Maybe Kasumi hasn't, but I'm willing to bet that she's okay with this." She smirked. "After all, you don't see her here."

"And why should she be?"

"Because, Nabiki, she was invited. By the Princess. And declined."

Akane blinked. "She declined?"

"Yes, Akane. She declined." Ayeka sighed. "She stated that she did not wish to cause any more distress to Lord Tenchi."

"Which is exactly what I'm gonna do. I'm bowing out of this deal." Ryoko turned away from the group and floated towards the door. She paused, just before she phased through. "And if you're smart, you'll do the same."