THINKING OF YOU

"I embrace my desire to
Feel the rhythm, to feel connected
To step aside and weep like a widow
To feel inspired, to fathom the power
To witness the beauty, to bathe in the fountain
To swing on the spiral of our divinity
And still be a human."
-- "Lateralus," Tool

x x x x x

Scene 001
Dial-Tone Compassion

x x x x x

The frailty of Adagio from Concerto Grosso OP.6, No.8 in G Minor lingered hauntingly through the still air. Cultivated music caressed the glistening marble walls with effortless melody. The cavernous Concert Hall was elegantly contemplative; hundreds of onlookers and enthusiasts sat blissfully fascinated by the section of violinists and cellists who exuded the harmonic interlude atop the victorian stage of wood, marble and stone.

Calmly, Washu observed all of this from an overhanging veranda.

It was all an illusion, of course. An elaborate construction of her astronomically advanced computation equipment that was capable of bending and altering atomic structure on the most basic level. Though artificially manipulated, it was technically real, as the music, the audience, the performers and the Concert Hall itself were made of physical molecular structure. In ways, it was something of an interactive film; a pre-recorded digital stream of rules and patterns were run through her technology nexus, but played out in such a fashion that it was more like virtual reality. Though there was very little that was 'virtual', as all the details -- right down to the missing cufflink on the second violinist's right arm -- were wholly authentic.

(And to think,) Washu's thought to herself, (that these Terrans believe they actually came up with something this beautiful. Well, sooner or later someone's going to have to give them the kick-start they need. They can't stumble around thinking that they've made all their major discoveries without a little bit of outside help.)

Washu's sapphire dress shimmered in the faint light as she shifted, leaning forward to the edge of the veranda to peer closer at that which lay before her. Her bare arms, unrestrained by the evening gown she wore, folded on the marble balcony, and she rested her chin against her wrists. Gone for the time being was her child form; this moment, this time amongst foreign people -- although fabricated -- was merely an off-hand experiment. The full extent of her womanhood, age and being was loosed, the artificial world she sat amongst a cushion for its fragile emotional armor.

(The world of adults is an unforgiving, insipid existence. By sitting here, right now, listening to the same music as everyone else, I'm just like them. I'm part of their society.) Washu sighed, her head resting against her arms. (But I don't feel any different. I don't feel like I belong here, or that this place belongs near me. I guess I'm just too strange for the rest of the universe.) She smiled. (Not that there's anything wrong with that, I suppose.)

She paused in her thoughts, caught amongst the music. (...It's so beautiful. Am I the only one who can see that?)

The circulated air of the Hall was cool and comfortable, and her solitude amongst the furnishings of golden embroidery and mahogany carpeting was reassuring, nurturing. A calm enamel of ease began to form and coalesce around her, cocooning her in a shell of timid strength. It was nice. For a moment, lost in the unfamiliar but completely distinct and welcoming surroundings, Washu felt completely at peace. Her thoughts ebbed away from the calculations of experiments, science and molecular engineering for an unending moment blurred in focus until she remembered why it was that she had made this place.

Her emerald eyes blinked, solemnly. (Tenchi Masaki.)

His name brought a warmth, a comfort flooding into her chest. (There are so many things you haven't seen, Tenchi. So many things that you deserve to see. A silly boy like you deserves to see and know everything. And I'm certain that one day someone will be able to show you those things, things like the splendor of this place. I wonder if you'd find this place as beautiful as I do? Maybe.)

Her eyes lost amongst the indistinguishable crowd of people, Washu smiled absently. (I wish I could show you some of these things. But your eyes need to be opened soon, Tenchi. You can't be blind forever. And we can't be blind to you, to who you are. An introverted, altruistic and uneasy backwater. That would be you. But there's so much more to you, more than you let anyone else see.)

Washu's head tilted, her thoughts randomly smoothing into comforting, nostalgic images. (I'm just an eccentric extrovert, who in the end makes a terrible mother. But, still... I wish...)

The music gently whispered into its gossamer closure, a momentary trembling note of resonating fragility.

She sighed. "So beautiful."

x x x x x

Scene 002
Years From Now

x x x x x

A frenzied wooden blur paralyzed Tenchi's vision for a single instant. There was a brief moment of anxiety as the attack penetrated his defenses, and then the surging agony that conquered through his skin and bones as the bokken collided with the small of his back. A fractured moment of unending anguish burned through Tenchi's spine, and his hands shook, a mangled excuse of a word grunting through his clenched teeth.

Katsuhito sighed. "Too slow, Tenchi."

Tenchi winced, rubbing his sore flesh. "Sorry. I got distracted there for a minute."

"Yes, I could see that," Katsuhito replied tersely. "There is not much good that could come from being distracted during a battle. Limit your thoughts to only those absolutely necessary -- none at all -- and you will find that such a mishap will become less frequent. Will not even exist at all."

"Yes, sir," Tenchi agreed, blinking tears out his eyes. The watery cerulean of the autumn sky blurred and distorted as he gazed upwards, before scrubbing his eyes with the flat of his palms. Being struck by his grandfather was a routine occurrence when practicing his swordsmanship, but few times did Katsuhito strike him so directly and powerfully. The only times -- ever -- that Katsuhito applied so much force was when he became distracted.

Both Tenchi and Katsuhito bowed, the silence disturbed by a sudden wisp of wind, scattering auburn and saffron foliage across the stony grounds.

Katsuhito looked across the forest. "It is a beautiful day, Tenchi."

Tenchi blinked. "Um, yeah, it is."

"There is little in this life that is as bountiful in its beauty as appreciating the world that surrounds us for what it is. Do you not think so?"

"I guess so."

An unreadable smile crossed Katsuhito's aged face. "You seem awfully tired this morning, Tenchi. Did you not sleep well last night?"

Stifling a yawn, Tenchi shook his head. "No, that's not it. I'm fine. Just really tired, I guess. I'm sorry."

"I see. Very well then. That will be all for today."

"Okay," Tenchi replied carefully. It wasn't customary for Katsuhito to shorten their exercises, and the excuse of Tenchi being tired was certainly not one that would let him get off the hook. "Is there anything else?"

Katsuhito turned. "Why, yes, actually."

Tenchi sighed inwardly. (I knew it.)

"If you would be so kind," Katsuhito began wistfully, making his way across the staging grounds, "would you please accompany me to the shrine? There are some things I wish for you to take care of in my office."

"Yes, sir."

Tenchi followed his grandfather respectfully across the stage of stone towards the humble shrine office, loosely holding his bokken. The chill wind of the autumn morning kept him awake; he certainly had not been sleeping well lately, for a variety of reasons, and the cool breeze felt blissfully refreshing. A calming, natural bandage to conceal the aching contents of his raw and exposed nerves.

The rice-door slid aside softly, and Tenchi was greeted with the familiar but seldom visited sight of Katsuhito's office. As he stepped within and removed his sandals, he found his grandfather standing before him, holding out his bokken expectantly. Tenchi blinked.

"Tenchi," Katushito said, "you will polish the bokkens today."

(Well, could be worse,) Tenchi rationalized. Gently, he accepted his grandfather's wooden sword, before carrying both ancient weapons over to the far wall of the office where they were stored atop a ceremonial altar. Without wasting any time, he opened a drawer adjacent to the altar and withdrew the luster adhesive used to coat the practicing weapons and its accompanying towel, and he set out to get to work.

Across the room, Katsuhito knelt before his table, his eyes falling atop a plethora of documents before him. "So, Tenchi," he spoke, almost conversationally, "would you mind telling me why it is that you have been so exhausted as of late? If you do not mind my prying, that is."

Inwardly, Tenchi groaned. (Of course. I should've known… Grandpa's always subtle like that. Always a dog and pony show with him.)

Tenchi's attention remained on the towel and bokken. "No reason. Not enough sleep, I don't think."

Katsuhito pushed his glasses higher on his nose. "I see. Are you finding it difficult to sleep? Have you been feeling ill?"

(I don't know. What does it matter? I can't sleep. I just lie there and think. Doesn't everyone do that?) Tenchi shrugged. "No, I've been feeling okay. Maybe I just need to read or something."

"Reading always is a benefit of the mind and soul," Katsuhito agreed. "I read quite frequently, myself. It most certainly soothes oneself. Perhaps you would not mind if I allowed you to borrow some of the material I keep here at the shrine?"

Tenchi shook his head, his hands briskly moving continuously. (Man, Grandpa… you sure like to lay it on thick.) "Sure, if you want me to. What did you have in mind?"

"Musashi, I imagine, would be beneficial."

(Wow, I couldn't see THAT one coming.) "Yes, sir."

Tenchi expected Katsuhito to continue his line of questioning, but instead a blanket of silence fell atop the room. It wasn't terribly unwelcome; Tenchi always found it awkward when his Grandfather would spontaneously ask him details about his personal life. Further, Katsuhito had a tendency to maneuver his conversations through the use of often very vague and nigh-incomprehensible philosophical observations. Tenchi felt more at ease when he was being left alone.

(I think I'm getting really stressed out,) Tenchi imagined, placing the first polished bokken atop its altar. (There's nothing I can do or say, I don't think. I hate it when people tamper with my life. ...Look at me. This is the highlight of my day -- polishing wooden swords in the Shrine Office with my Grandfather. Aren't I going to make something of myself? Things can't always be this awkward and disturbing. I can't keep backing into a corner from everything.)

Pausing, Tenchi almost smirked. (My name is Tenchi Masaki, and I'm not really much of anything. That's my story. What kind of life is this, anyways?)

Lost in his own internal vision, Tenchi became distant from his actions. His hands seemed to move without the push of his will; minutes flowed beyond them, undisturbed, tranquil in their solace. It was a growing feeling that had begun shortly after he had first gone into space, to save Ryoko from Kagato. A strange gnawing sense of gloom: an inadequacy, a detachment from reality. But he had no idea what it was.

(What am I doing?)

Quietly, Tenchi placed the second bokken on the altar. "I'm finished, Grandpa."

Katsuhito did not look up from his papers. "Very good, Tenchi. Thank you."

Tenchi brushed dust from his knees as he stood. "Is there anything else you want me to do for you?"

"No, that will be all."

Tenchi began to make his way to the door, before Katsuhito's voice stopped him.

"Oh, Tenchi, Professor Washu asked me to send you to her once we were finished here."

Stopping, Tenchi arched an eyebrow. "Um, Washu did?"

"That is correct. I believe you should visit her, Tenchi."

Tenchi swallowed nervously. "Oh. Um, alright, Grandpa. Thanks."

"Aside from the weather, there are other things that are worth our attention," Katsuhito said suddenly, looking up at Tenchi. "Things that are important like family and friends. Without those, we have nothing, and no strength to resist change. Change is not to be feared, Tenchi -- it is meant to be embraced with those you cherish."

"I…" Tenchi began slowly. "I… understand. I think."

Katsuhito shrugged, returning to his papers. "Well, that is good to hear. That is something."

As Tenchi closed the door behind him, he doubted for a moment the validity of his Grandfather's words. For one, it seemed rather hypocritical coming from a person who had such a dubious history of straying from family and fleeing altogether for periods extended well over several centuries. But on the other hand, it seemed like worthwhile advice -- although Tenchi had no idea what he could do with it. His thoughts jumbled into a lethargic cage as he gazed up at the sky, walking down the stairs, putting aside his concerns and living in the moment.

He understood.

Maybe.

x x x x x

Scene 003
Something Wonderful

x x x x x

Tenchi was overwhelmed.

There had been many instances before when he had walked into Washu's lab and been confronted with the exceptional. Obelisks of steel, jagged-toothed beasts sweltering within aquariums larger than any he deemed possible, or undulating vacuous tendrils that entwined and encumbered him the moment he set foot through the door. In those instances, he had been blindsided by the extraordinary; a living brand of the impossibilities that his houseguests represented to him, in fact more than in ideal.

Never, however, had he walked into a gaping reception hall, bustling with well-dressed and ordained people.

"Um," he said, "WOW."

He felt, obviously, out of place. The door with which he had entered dissipated as soon as it closed, meaning that he had no real way of leaping back into the real, ordinary, sane world. Despite the regal ambiance and clusters of renaissance embroidered enthusiasts who filed eagerly around and about him, he never found himself at the receiving end of any curious looks. Which was surprising in itself: he was, after all, adorned in a traditional Japanese Training Garb, whereas those who surrounded him suggested something of a seventeenth century European décor.

"Man, oh man, Washu," he muttered, "you really have too much time on your hands."

"Pretty nifty, ain't it?"

Tenchi turned, shock paralyzing him like the marble he stood upon. "W-W-WASHU!"

Slender arms crossed an ample chest, concealed by a velvety sapphire evening dress. The youthful form of Washu's idiosyncratic creation was standing before him fully evolved; unrestrained womanhood, cultivated and nurtured, held behind an insidiously gleeful emerald gaze. Washu's adult face sparkled with a sly magnetic charm, entrancing in its almost intoxicating narcissism.

"Hey, I see you remembered little ol' me," Washu said jovially. "Nice of you to stop by, Tenchi."

A set of women, clad in frivolous dresses of frilled complexity, bumped into Tenchi, knocking him off balance. He stumbled, his eyes somehow never leaving Washu's form; were it not for her utterly foreign hair design, she seemed to be fully integrated into her archaic surroundings.

Tenchi regained his balance, shaking his head. "Um, wow, Washu. What's the... well... er... what's all this about?"

Washu grinned. "What's what about? Me, or the atmosphere?"

Finding himself rather flustered under Washu's fully extroverted personality, Tenchi looked away. "I don't know. Well, uh, this wasn't really what I was expected, you know, when I came in here."

"Call it an experiment," Washu applied smoothly. "I was getting tired of the usual shtick, and elected for something different. Blacks and grays become sort of transient after a while, y'know. Seeing as I'm never one to be outdone, I suppose I overextended myself. But all the same, I think it's kinda nice. Don't you?"

Tenchi blinked. "Well, yeah, I suppose. Nice. Well, different."

"Different is good, Tenchi."

His eyes found the expansive ceiling, spherical and magnificent. "Wow. I guess you're right."

With faux emotion, Washu sighed. "Aw, Tenchi... you're breaking my heart here."

"Um," Tenchi stuttered, facing her. "What?"

Washu's hands found her hips. "Well? Whaddaya think? I put on my best just for you, Tenchi. Think it suits me?"

"I- Uh, well, that is... um..." Tenchi's articulacy stumbled over itself. "You look nice, I guess."

"You GUESS? Tch, you really need to learn how to treat a woman, Tenchi." She grinned coyly. "Of course, I can help you with that, too..."

Tenchi scrambled to get to the point. "So, heh, Little Washu, I--"

Washu took his arm softly. "Just Washu is fine."

"Okay, Washu," he replied uneasily. "What did you want to see me for?"

Washu's smile was crooked, almost embarrassed, as the sounds of classical music began to flood from the concert hall. "So I suppose you're not going to ask me, then. You're just gonna walk in, all subdued and eager to get to the heart of the matter, and take off, huh?"

Tenchi's eyes fell to her hand on his arm. "Huh? What do you mean?"

"You're not going to ask me why I'm not in the body of a child?" she asked, her voice gentle.

He shrugged. "Huh. Well, it didn't really cross my mind. I mean, yeah, okay, it did at first, but I figure that was your business and had nothing to do with me."

Washu's arm linked with his. "Silly Tenchi. Everything has to do with you. Don't you know that?" Before he could respond, Washu tugged him further away from the disintegrated door. "Come with me, okay?"

Dubious, but ultimately willing, Tenchi complied. It wasn't that Tenchi didn't trust Washu; she had become an integral part of his life and more or less a functional piece of the Masaki society. She simply had certain facets of her personality that stretched the border of 'crass' and 'civility'. He liked Washu, more than he even realized sometimes, but that didn't change the fact that he didn't really appreciate being stripped naked and physically prodded and restrained against his will. Or without notice.

Arches like golden pillars parted beside them as they stepped through the antechamber and into the Hall. Tenchi was marveled: to him, it felt as if he was observing history from an ethereal perspective, absent but fully interacting. His eyes darted to Washu, walking beside him in the full length of her adulthood, then softening in a fondness of rarity for the guise she wore and the creations she inspired.

"Okay," Washu spoke as they entered the Hall. "Watch this."

Washu's fingers snapped. The world, the creation, the fabric of life before them halted in a single snapshot of a moment, suspended in midair. Tenchi's breath fled from him as he watched reality distill as if he were in a frigid vortex of water, shimmering, quietly dissolving into composite atoms. The crowd, the orchestra, the music, the words -- frozen, glittering.

And then gone.

A flashing instant of unseen technology removed the program, alienating Tenchi and Washu within the Hall. What was a single instant ago an elaborately full auditorium was now an empty husk, quietly miraculous in its majestic reticence. (Just unreal,) Tenchi thought.

Washu snuggled up to him. "Now, we can be alone."

The familiar panic of imminent intimacy sweltered and overflowed within Tenchi, and he pulled away. "Washu, come on."

"Lighten up, Tenchster," Washu giggled. "I didn't bring you here for that. What do I look like, Ryoko?" She paused, looking at him. "Unless, of course, you're up for--"

"No thanks."

She shrugged. "Alrighty. Your loss." She pulled him towards the sprawling staircase that led to the stage below. "Come on, Tenchi. Down here."

He blinked. "Um, what are we doing again? What did you need me for?"

"All will be explained in time!" she responded cheerfully, continuing to drag him to the empty stage.

Electing to simply relent to her ubiquitous urges, Tenchi allow himself to be pulled along. "I didn't know you had a thing for the, um, classical setting. If that's what it's called."

"It's not, but I know what you mean." She winked. "I have a 'thing' for anything interesting or crafted with a viable relationship with intelligent thought."

"Makes sense."

Washu nodded. "'Course it does. Everything is visceral, Tenchi. All the random synapses and micro-management that exudes and controls a human consciousness is only, really, a matter of taste and opinion."

Tenchi's sense of awkwardness returned. "Eh heh. I don't really follow."

As they spoke, Washu led him up the miniature flight of marble stairs that ascended to the platform stage, looking out over the empty Hall. Washu's hand felt utterly foreign against his own; incessant, almost needy, but full and soft, in some strange sense of inverted physical sensation.

Washu's high-heels clicked noisily against the marble. "Not much to follow, really. Just me babbling about this and that. Hope you don't mind."

Tenchi blinked. "I--"

"Great," she smiled. "Knew you wouldn't."

Looking at her for a moment in incredulity, Tenchi found himself chuckling. Adult body or not, Washu was still Washu. (Not that I'd have her any other way,) he reasoned.

Standing upon the stage of marble, stone and wood, Tenchi took in the full magnificence of his surroundings. Wintered lamplight glowed with a soft phosphorescence along the lacquered wood banisters running along the girth of the verandas, shining wraiths of gold and silver through the plush Hall. It all seemed to come into a single vision to where he stood; the light converged upon the stage, the chairs focused with unseeing eyes, and he felt as if he were standing at the center of some epic universe of gold and harmony, peering through an ephemeral door of his cerebral creation.

Tenchi was almost breathless. "Again, Washu... Wow. I had no idea you could do this sort of thing. It really puts things into perspective." He shook his head. "It's just... epic."

Washu nodded immodestly. "Well, you know me: larger than life in a small, convenient and excessively cute package."

Tenchi chuckled, turning to face her. "I don't suppose you could've gone with something... I don't know... less over-the-top?"

"Of course not. Bigger is better!"

He was amused. "So you don't really appreciate the smaller aspects of, well, culture, and life. Is that it?"

"Good taste has no doubt deprived me of a great many things, Tenchi."

As Tenchi's wistful gaze and appreciation began to slowly linger away, his face fell. Rueful and aware -- almost doubtful. He felt nothing of comfort in the presence of this older and more tangibly mature Washu, and the numbed surprise of her ambiance had begun to loose its dulling effort. He took a moment to collect his thoughts, trying to look away from Washu's elegant form, before speaking. "...Why'd you bring me to this place?"

Washu, however, seemed casual, in spite of herself. She shrugged. "Just wanted to talk. Can't humor an eccentric disciple of science and constructive lunacy for a bit and chat?"

"No, I... well, I didn't mean to be rude. It's just, you know... surprising." He paused. "I wasn't expecting all this."

With an understated glow, Washu smiled softly at Tenchi. It caught him off guard: it was a smile he had seen only a few times on her face, but never before in her fully evolved body. Saying nothing, Washu walked over to a violin resting in its case alongside one of the multitude of chairs atop the stage. She pulled the elegant, shining instrument from its domicile, its mahogany surfaces glinting sharply in the lamplight.

She spoke without facing him. "I'm assuming you know what this is?"

Tenchi rolled his eyes. "Yeah, you assume correctly."

Washu's eyes were fascinated by the creation in her hands. "This violin was created by Antonio Stradivari sometime in the 1700s. Of course, it wasn't technically created by Stradivari, because this is all an elaborate fabrication of reality created by super-charged particles and run through a diagnostic filter program. All the same, it's as close to the real deal as you're going to get, short of leaping into a time machine to ask him to whip you up a prototype himself." She paused, turning the violin over in her hands. "You know who Antonio Stradivari is?"

Tenchi shook his head. "No."

"He was Italian. Oft considered by many music enthusiasts on this planet to be the greatest cultivator and crafter of the violin who ever lived. It was an art, Tenchi. No lie; lots of people believe that nothing has compared to the quality he put forth then. Ya wanna know another interesting Italian guy who was around a few centuries back? A guy by the name of Andrea Amati, from the 1500s. No one can prove it, really, despite all the gossip and speculation, but there are a good chunk of people out there who really believe he's the guy who came up with the whole idea. That he's IT, he's the god of the violin. It's creator." Her voice trailed off for a moment, and she placed the instrument softly back in its case. "The simple truth of it is that no one on Earth really has any clue at all who made this thing. It's all up in the air, and no one's got the right size catcher's mitt to bring it on home." She faced Tenchi, her eyes encompassing a deep, unrecognizable emotion. "Wanna know the truth?"

"Yeah, okay," Tenchi replied, slowly, unsure of himself or Washu. "What is it?"

"A fella -- really ugly, honestly; five arms, scales, tons of eyes, the works -- from a neat little resort planet outside of the Rim Territories called Czar came up with the idea. It was a lot different than it looks like here, but the basic structure and composite harmonics behind it all were parallel to one another. The guy's name was Am'dur Kzak del Phon'a Resla." She chuckled. "Yeah, I know, mouthful. This was some thirty seven thousand years back down the creak of time, Tenchi. Sure, it's evolved a long way since then in even the galactic standard of its inception and forthright use, and it certainly wasn't referred to as a 'violin', but hey, there you go."

Tenchi looked timidly at Washu. "I see. I guess that's kind of interesting, but... what are you getting at, here?"

Taking a few decisive steps toward Tenchi, Washu's eyes burrowed into his own. "Time to think, Tenchi. Put those brain cells into overdrive for little ol' me, 'kay? If the history of something as well known and utilized as that," she elaborated, pointing at the concealed instrument, "ultimately is revealed to be nothing more than a distinctive ruse on behalf of your culture's attempts to forego alien intervention or even existence while holding on to some sense of grandeur with regards to its individuality and isolation, what does that say of your world as a whole?"

Scratching the back of his neck, Tenchi pondered her words for a moment. "Um... that our perceptions are sorta skewed?"

Washu smiled. "Bingo. Right as rain, Tenchi. You catch on fast."

"Er, thanks." Tenchi never really took praise to well; it made him feel idolized and central, and he certainly didn't enjoy being foisted into the limelight. Particularly when he felt he didn't deserve it. "But is that what you're getting at, here? That my world is really just some barbaric, adolescent place that really has no grasp on the galaxy it lives in? That we're, um, obsolete, I guess? Deluded?" He shrugged. "Because, well, if that is your point, I sort've picked up on that myself a while ago."

Washu's hand was at her chin, and she looked deeply at him, contemplating. "Hmm... did you, now?"

He shrugged again. "Well, yeah. I mean, I may not be the smartest guy in the world... er, well, make that 'universe'... but I can catch on to some things."

"Don't do that, Tenchi." Her contemplative stance had evaporated, replaced instead by a tone of almost severity. "Ever. Don't ever sell yourself short, okay?"

Tenchi blinked. "Uh, okay."

Her demeanor softened immediately. "In reality, kiddo, I think you're a very smart and perceptive guy. Maybe you aren't exactly operating on the same frequency as everyone else when it comes to the more case-specific things, like the operation of the rules and regulations of galactic society, but hey, that's okay -- no one really expects you to." She reached out tentatively, gently holding his elbow while never breaking eye contact with him. "But I've watched you, Tenchi. I've kept a very close eye on you, and I know you can see and interpret things of your own free will. And, hey, you're pretty damn cute, to boot," she winked, reveling in the way he blushed shamefully at the compliment. "But there are certain, well, items I wanted to bring to your attention."

"So that's what this is about." Tenchi sighed, shaking his head. "Jeez, you're as bad as Grandpa. You two are always so roundabout."

"I'll pretend I didn't hear that," she replied, smiling. Her smile lingered for a moment before falling away, leaving once again the smoldering, burrowing gaze of an intensely driven and passionate being wholly captivating him. "The girls... well, they mean well. They're very extraordinary individuals in their own right, but they don't -- in my opinion, anyways -- have the same sense of analysis that you do. I don't think they perceive things on a rudimentary level as deep and as meekly as you do. No offense to them, of course."

Tenchi took a subtle effort to extricate himself from Washu's grasp. "I see. I don't really know what you're getting at, honestly. You're saying I 'perceive' things well? What do you mean?"

Washu tilted her head. "How've you been sleepin' lately?"

Tenchi was taken aback. "What?"

"I'm serious. Have you been having trouble?"

Tenchi shrugged, suddenly very uncomfortable. "I don't think so. I'm a pretty sound sleeper..."

She withdrew her arm, letting her hand fall to her side. "It's a trick question. You can't answer it, because we both know you have. It doesn't take a genius like me to spot the signs. The laggard expression on your face, the drooping posture, the lingering speech. In fact, I'd say you haven't been sleeping well since I arrived here, almost a year ago. In fact, probably before that, but I'm guessing that things have gotten worse lately."

"You're... really perceptive, Washu," Tenchi sighed, feeling defeated. "Or am I just really bad at hiding it?"

She smiled. "A little of both."

"I see. Well, is that what this is? You wanted to talk about that?"

"I wanted to talk about a lot of things, Tenchi, but yeah, that is one."

With a drawn out sigh, Tenchi turned away from her. "If it's all the same, Washu, I'd rather not talk about it. I'm sort of used to keeping things to myself."

Her eyes narrowed in a trance of analysis; hypothetical thesis' running across her vision, dissecting his face and stature as if he were an experiment. The lines of his skin, the gloom and resigned failure shielded in murky depths beneath his brown eyes. Suddenly, she spoke, breaking the trance of momentary silence. "Tenchi, look at me."

Tenchi blinked, facing her, pensive.

Within a twinkling emerald curtain, he almost found himself lost. Her demure face, sleek and taut with a sheen of maturity that was wholly foreign yet undeniably attractive, widened in an assuaging smile. It caught him completely off guard; a strange warmth cracked through his frigid defenses of aloofness, pouring through the fault-lines, stretching celestial fingers through his veins.

"Uh... Washu?"

She studied his reaction for a moment, the warm, insatiable, loving gaze dissipating. She smiled routinely. "Nothing." She turned, and picked the violin up and out of its case once again, before facing him. "As you probably know, this is considered to be one of the most beautiful instruments on this planet. Very appreciated by many people. Don't you think?"

Tenchi was struggling to understand what was going on. "Yeah... it's nice. I like it."

Washu nodded, appraising it once again. "It's sleek, well designed, and held together by a myriad of components and architecture. A lot of different fragments are shaped and molded into a coagulated form that, at its zenith, operates its subtle machinery of wood and string to create soulful, inimitable sound. Harmony, melody... it's a wonderful thing. A unity. Don'cha think?"

His dissolved paranoia lessoned, and he found himself curious. "Yeah."

Pausing for a moment, Washu looked at the floor. Then, in a single instant, the violin was crashing down against the marble surface. Washu's arm arced violently through the air like a fleshy scythe, before smashing the wooden instrument. It shattered in a blur of timber; broken apart into its component pieces, fragments and splinters cast across the ground in a random display of violent collage.

She looked at his awestruck face. "Now, it's nothing."

He was scrambling for some sense of purpose. "W-Washu? What are you doing?"

In a moment, she was in front of him, once again digging through him with optical fingers. "This is what is keeping you up at night. This is what restrains you from modifying yourself, isn't it? I'm not young, Tenchi. I'm older than you can probably even imagine. But I'm still a human being, and I can analyze things of my own free will. You do something drastic, something human, something you want, and the family shatters."

Tenchi was staring at the mutilated violin. "...Why are you telling me this?"

Washu sighed. "It's a shame, really. You perceive things that they don't. That most don't. But I do. You're afraid of us, aren't you?"

Unsure of how to respond, Tenchi took an uneasy step away from Washu. "I don't really like to talk about this sort of thing. I never know what to say."

Her hands found his face, soft, inviting, needing. She was inches from him, breathing into him. "Don't look away. Please. Look at me. Please don't be afraid of me."

Brown eyes widened, paralyzed in a tangible moment of fear and comfort.

Washu was gentle, careful, perfect. Her voice was soft and assuring, almost hypnotic. "I would never hurt you, Tenchi. Never. Do you have any idea how much you mean to me?"

Tenchi swallowed, unable to move. "I'm sorry."

"Talk to me, Tenchi," she said softly. "Tell me about yourself. You can trust me."

He shook his head, taking her hands in his, looking at her. "What's gotten into you?"

Washu blinked. "What?"

"You," he stated, as if that explained everything. He released her hands. "What are you doing? This isn't you. This isn't Washu the Scientist. I've never seen you act like this before."

"Don't think for a second because I like to be playful and have fun and tease people that means I don't have feelings. That I'm not a person." She looked at him carefully, trying to revive memories of the few times of fragility that they shared, to reiterate who she was in reality. "Come on... you know me better than that, don't you?"

(Taro. Damn. Yeah, I know her. Don't I? Don't I even know who she is? What's the matter with me?) He sighed. "Yeah... I know. I'm sorry. I just get so... nervous, and, well, edgy. I don't know why."

"It's natural," she told him. "You're a young boy completely unfamiliar with the presence of a warm, loving woman near you. Let alone five of them."

Tenchi scoffed. "Loving... yeah, right."

Washu tilted her head. "Hmm? Something on your mind?"

(I want to trust Washu,) Tenchi realized. (I want to believe that I have someone who will take what I say seriously. Where does that leave me? I can't be without anyone to confide in. I trust everyone fully and completely. I mean, I have to. I can't imagine living any other way… I just can't be that kind of person.) He contemplated, affirming to himself, reiterating and repeating the mantra of honesty that drove him forward. Without Washu's trust-or any of the others-what did he have?

When he spoke, it was more to himself. "I can trust you, Washu."

Washu's eyes glinted, and she appeared almost vulnerable, yet at the same time, protective. A penetrable barrier of a person. "I promise, Tenchi, you can trust me."

He looked numb, almost detached, and exhausted as he spoke. "Want to know what I think about? Want to know why I can't sleep? Because I'm not loved. Because I'm nothing to Ryoko and Aeka." His hands fidgeted with his pockets. He appeared to have a difficult time expressing himself. "It's... hard, you know? I feel like I'm stuck in some power struggle between two bitter enemies who just have nothing better to do than scrap over the newest guy on the block."

Washu shook her head. "You can't really think that you mean nothing to them, Tenchi. After everything that we've all gone through? After everything that they've sacrificed for you?"

"Well, they don't make me feel like anything special," he explained softly, almost absently. "And I don't understand why. They're... damn, Washu, they're amazing. They're crazy. They're beautiful, intelligent and expressive. But they're thousands of years away from me."

"Meaning that you feel... inadequate?" Washu felt the urge to embrace him, protect him, but discarded it.

Tenchi shrugged, wearing the guise of apathy, but failing to make it honest. "Well, how could I not? Look at me, Washu! I'm just some ordinary kid from Earth! Aeka's the Princess of some intergalactic EMPIRE, and Ryoko's some notorious Space Pirate." He chuckled without mirth. "Those are just titles, I know, but they've lived that life. They run around with super powers and connections to people who have connections to people and with these wild and crazy ideas of what they want and I'm just here, stuck in the middle." He stopped: almost certain that he had nothing else to say. Then, "A drone. I feel... so... useless."

He looked at Washu, urgently. "I like them so much, Washu."

"I know. I know you do."

He deflated with a sigh. "I could never give them what they want from me."

"We just want you, Tenchi." Her words lacked the subtlety of her intended emotions, but she felt that nothing short of honesty was necessary at that moment. Whether or not he realized exactly what she had just told him didn't matter; all that mattered was that she had said what she felt.

"I don't know. I don't get it. It doesn't feel real. Their feelings don't feel honest." His face twisted in agitation as he looked at his fidgeting hands. "I don't want to be a competition, Washu, I want to be a person. I don't feel loved, and frankly, I'm sick of it."

"Don't doubt for a second that everyone loves you, Tenchi," she informed him. She shook her head, clearing her thoughts, before continuing. "It's not fake, it's not a façade. You can't keep renewing yourself in this confusion. I understand that the only constant you have is your confusion. After a while, the microcosm of organic disorder begins to unravel your perceptions. You get lost in the confusion, and feeling confused becomes the constant. You'll keep things the way they are because they make you feel safe. No matter how far you fall away, you can always count on feeling something you're familiar with. I understand that. But it can't exist forever -- you're a human being, Tenchi, but so is everyone else. There's no one at fault, because all there is here is feelings. Yours, mine, and everyone else's. But you're at the center of it."

"You're telling me to decide between them," he gathered, almost cynically. "To just up and pick."

She shook her head, scrambling internally to illustrate her point adequately. "No, I'm telling you to be careful not to get lost in your own insecurities. And that the façade you might think exists isn't really there." She took his hand once again, keeping eye contact with him. "Things are a little more black and white than I think you're looking at. Everyone's been pretty blatant about putting their feelings on the table -- you just need to understand that everything here, in this home, this miniature society that everything is honest." She laughed softly. "There is no wall of bullshit to see through or to protect yourself from."

She withdrew from him with a sigh. "All I wanted was to give you a little clarity, that's all."

Tenchi turned from her, frustrated. "I don't think it worked."

Washu looked up at the effulging ceiling. "I'm sorry."

(You're sorry? Why?) Tenchi simply couldn't understand. (You just spoke your mind… that's about all I could ever ask of anyone. Why is this bothering me so much? If everyone really loves me, where does that leave me? What do they want from me? What do they need from me to be happy? I can't make everyone happy, but that's exactly what they're asking of me. It's a vicious cycle. But now she's just telling me I have to end it. And THEN what? I'll just screw it up.) He looked across the Hall, disgusted at himself and everything around him, wishing that selflessness and altruism could answer everything. (Dammit.)

He took a step towards the stairs. "I think I'm going to leave now."

Washu swallowed, looking guilty. Without a word, she summoned her holo-top, and conjured a myriad doorway before him, an incandescent portal back to reality -- and what he hoped -- a vessel of sanity. "Okay."

He opened the door without looking back. "...I need to think. Talk to you later."

Washu watched him leave, feeling suddenly claustrophobic in the ensuing silence. "What am I doing? Why did I say all that?"

She knew perfectly well. She was an observant and calculating individual whose sole striving force within her life was to utilize her intellectual prowess for the change and stimulation of that which surrounded her. That included her relationships with people, in their many shapes and forms. She had meant well, she knew; the current situation within the home was pleasant, ultimately, but needed some sort of catalyst in order to shift things into a cleaner, more observant structure. Things couldn't stay where they were forever, and they had to see that. It was simply a case of most wishing to ignore the eventuality of reality intervening on their haven from the rest of existence. Without planning and foresight, there would be nothing but heartbreak and regret.

But there was more.

A plunging yearning was interwoven with her rationality. She loved Tenchi. It was a simple fact that she never really kept secret from anyone in particular; she was a cosmic celebrity capable of intergalactic exploration and utilization, and yet she stayed near him. She had made sacrifices as a human being to appear more appealing in his eyes when in the past and now she was utterly apathetic to what others thought of her. But he barely even knew she existed; at least, that was how he certainly made her feel. And then there was Ryoko.

Ryoko.

She did what she felt was right. That was the only explanation for anything.

Washu sighed. "I love you, Tenchi Masaki... but you don't even see me at all."

x x x x x

Scene 004
Disarm Others

x x x x x

"Oh, my, would you look at that," Aeka commented, spiritedly. "I win again. This must be some sort of record."

Gathered in a recreational triad around a circular table in the living room were Aeka, Ryoko and Mihoshi. The three of them knelt before a series of cards that were distributed in a seemingly random order, while they basked lazily in empyrean golden sunlight, pouring in vaporously from a window above the couch. Were it not for the unconcealed competition that surrounded their demeanor, they would have appeared serene and in harmony with the ease they felt.

Ryoko shook her head, tossing her cards onto the table. "Yeah, rub it in, why don't you? You're sure you don't have a stash of cards hidden in that massive get-up you're wearing?"

"My, how the mighty have fallen, Miss Ryoko," Aeka replied, gathering the cards in a sweeping gesture. "Defeated in the midst of glorious combat, you have become reduced to nothing more than pithy insults on my current attire. And here I thought that you were above such attacks." As she began to shuffle the cards into a coherent rectangle, she considered her words. "No, I suppose I didn't. Well, at least you confirmed my vantage point."

Mihoshi giggled. "You two are funny."

"Oh, yeah?" Ryoko asked, her gaze sardonic. "Funny as in: 'Hah Hah', or funny as in: SHUT UP."

Aeka shook her head. "Now, now, Ryoko... do not be so quick to take your repressed emotions out on poor Mihoshi. After all, it is not her fault that you can't seem to win."

Ryoko rolled her eyes. "You know, Princess... I recall hearing somewhere about being a 'gracious winner'. It being a virtue, or something. Ever, y'know, take that into consideration?"

Aeka began to shuffle the deck. "I always take everything into consideration. All the same, I must again thank you for reminding me that I Won and You Did Not." She paused for a long, overdrawn moment to ponder. "Would it be uncouth to applaud myself?"

Mihoshi blinked. "Uncouth?"

With a scoff, Ryoko fell onto her back, staring at the ceiling. "A barrel of laughs, Princess."

As conversation died off while Aeka shuffled the cards, the sound of the closet door clicking open interrupted the ensuing silence. From her lying posture, Ryoko's head turned. Gold eyes glittered in curiosity amongst the gentle sunlight, a human silhouette soft and ephemeral through hazy dust lingering in the illuminated air. She sat up, instantly recognizing Tenchi, a mirthful smile enshrouding her pale face.

Ryoko waved. "Hey, Tenchi!"

Aeka turned, a similar welcoming smile crossing her lips. "Oh, Lord Tenchi, hello."

From the closet door, Tenchi waved, subdued but seemingly happy.

Ryoko nodded her head to the table. "Why don'cha come play with us, Tenchi? Here... make room, Mihoshi. Scoot over."

Turning towards the stairs, Tenchi shook his head. "Not now, Ryoko."

"But--"

Tenchi waved it aside. "Later."

With resignation, Ryoko watched Tenchi walk away from them. She hadn't expected Tenchi to join them -- not really. He had a habit of avoiding including himself in any activities that involved both her and Aeka simultaneously for unfortunately obvious reasons. But he seemed so distant, withdrawn as if the curtain of sunlight that parted them was more than simply cascading light, but an actual divide, streamed between them. It wasn't the first time Ryoko had felt like that. Disconnection and agitation on behalf of a desired lover had a tendency to atrophy even the most resilient of pursuers.

Ryoko sat up, biting her thumbnail absently in thought.

Aeka, however, seemed to take the brush off in stride. "Well, are we going to keep playing, or should we actually start to exude some level of responsibility and get around to getting the chores done? They will not complete themselves."

"Jeez, sorry, Miss Jackpot," Ryoko growled. "In case you hadn't noticed, I was being concerned over Tenchi. Apparently, that swollen head of yours over winning this completely insignificant stupid Terran card game has blinded you to everything around you."

Aeka shrugged, shuffling the cards, her gaze occupied. "No, you see, you are mistaken. I am far more observant than you might wish I was."

Mihoshi was pensive. "You don't think Tenchi's sick, do you?"

Ryoko ignored Mihoshi. "What the hell are you babbling about, Aeka?"

Methodically, Aeka began to slowly deal the cards evenly to the three of them, her voice never wavering from its cool detachment. "There are certain aspects to a person that become readable after getting to know them better. You understand, correct? Integrating information of your surroundings and their habits, their behavior, the way they carry themselves. After a while, you see things in them without having to look for very long at all."

"I still think he might be sick," Mihoshi reasoned helpfully. "Should we get Sasami to make him some soup, do you think?"

Ryoko's eyes were leveled at Aeka. "Cause and effect, Princess. Fascinating. Get to the point."

Aeka neatly folded the deck, still refraining from looking up at Ryoko. "When Tenchi comes home from practicing with Yosho, his shoulders are lowered, suggesting that he is both mentally and physically exhausted."

"Oh yeah?" Ryoko became wistful, appreciative. "I'll have to remember that. I guess that means that a nice little massage from little old Ryoko would be in order every day after practice. Heh. Thanks, Princess. Keep going."

Aeka frowned, momentarily questioning her logic of giving Ryoko that information. She put it aside. "Well, further to the point, Tenchi has certain little exploits in his facial expression that expresses in a subtle and endearing fashion what it is that he is feeling at the time. If he seems somewhat downcast, he is not in the mood for your extroverted flirtatious acrobatics, for instance. Or if his eyes are drawn at the edges, he is very tired, but in a good mood. That sort of thing."

Mihoshi was impressed. "Wow, you notice all that stuff? You're really smart, Aeka."

Aeka was beaming. "Why, thank you, Mihoshi. But I do not think it implicates intelligence on my behalf as much as characteristic demeanor. I love Tenchi, and therefore pay attention to him to the best of my ability. After observing him over such a great period of time, I have come to know, understand and cherish his flourishes and behavior."

Ryoko, however, was less than impressed. "Yeah, okay, Miss Pretentious. Get to the freaking point."

Aeka finally looked across the table, annoyed, at Ryoko. "You know, I think we should get those chores done, Ryoko."

Concerned, Mihoshi's eyes widened. "Uh oh... you're not going to start nagging, are you?"

Aeka blinked. "Excuse me?"

Ryoko laughed. "Heh heh. Good one, Mihoshi!"

With a drawn sigh, Aeka shook her head. "The point is, Ryoko, that Tenchi had a very forlorn and weary expression on his face. I could tell easily -- and you should have been able to as well -- that he was in no mood for your typical idiosyncratic flaunts."

"Bah," Ryoko scoffed, clearly disagreeing. "You're just saying that. Tenchi's always in the mood for my flaunts."

"Being naïve is not very becoming, Miss Ryoko," Aeka said.

Ryoko waved her hand, defeated. "Fine, fine. I follow. I saw it, too. I know when he wants to be left alone."

Mihoshi looked back and forth between them. "Um, like I said, you don't think he's sick, do you?"

Ryoko shrugged. "Don't know. Hope not."

The discussion concluded, Aeka smiled softly. "Okay, one more game."

Mihoshi cheered. "Yay!"

"Then we get to work," Aeka told her.

"Damn," Ryoko said.

x x x x x

Scene 005
The Human Voice

x x x x x

Stairs, sound, textures and the world itself seemed claustrophobic stepping out of Washu's paranormal reality and back into the tangible world Tenchi was familiar with. His head cluttered feverishly, his thoughts firing off on an omni-directional frequency, pushing and shaking with the urgency of a caged animal. In ways, it was foreign and new -- but, similarly, a retread of old places, the fear of walking the same steps eternally. A mirror of himself, gazing through his thoughts. He cowered as infinity stared back at him.

(A little clarity... yeah, right. Well, I guess I can't complain: without Washu, I'd probably have stumbled around doing nothing about everything until everything was just decided for me. Even aside from the fact that apparently five separate women have devoted their souls to my entire being or something, they aren't even content to let me take things slow. It's gotta be fast, it's gotta be complete love, it's gotta be forever.) Tenchi shook his head, climbing the stairs mechanically. (Whatever happened to the dating scene? Or even better yet, whatever happened to the head of the family picking the bride for his son? Things sure would be a lot simpler that way; I wouldn't even have to worry.)

Tenchi was not, by any means, a fragile person. He wanted to pave every road on his own, suffer every instant with his own hands. That was who he was. He simply did not want his world, his life, his soul being tampered with, altered. All he knew was his own ferocious push of individuality. But at the same he felt horribly guilty; a torrent of remorseful wind sweeping through him for wishing he didn't feel so lonely, for wishing that someone else would make the decisions for him.

He loved the girls, his life, and everything that he had.

But that wasn't enough.

(Why do they have to love me? It would be so much easier if they didn't put all these expectations on me.)

His thoughts were punctured as Nobuyuki walked up to him at the top of the stairs. "Hey there, Tenchi."

Tenchi smiled, routinely. "Hi, dad."

Nobuyuki grinned, appraising his son. "Been outside practicing with your Grandfather, have you? Sure is a nice day out there. I was thinking of driving into town to pick up some saké for your Grandfather and myself." He chuckled, the creases at the edge of his eyes wrinkling. "The girls've sorta run the supply down to the bone. Not that I'm complaining..."

"Uh huh. That's great."

"Anyways," Nobuyuki continued, "would you wanna go with me? Nice day, nice drive... could do wonders for the body and soul, or something. Hey, you could even ask one of the girls along."

Tenchi shook his head. "That's okay. I'll pass, thanks."

A long moment parted between them as Nobuyuki's aging eyes lingered over Tenchi's face. "...You feelin' alright, Tenchi? You look sorta ill."

"Just tired," Tenchi explained, sighing. "Didn't get a lot of sleep last night... y'know?"

Nobuyuki smiled, patting his son on the back. "Well, don't fret too much over it. Spilled milk. And all that. You sure you don't want to come along? Spend some time with your dear old dad?"

"Guilt-tripping has to be a new low for you, Dad," Tenchi replied, smiling. "I always thought more of you than that."

With an ingratiated laugh, Nobuyuki slapped Tenchi's shoulder. "Oh, boy, you don't know how low I can go."

"Yeah," Tenchi winced. "I think I'll keep myself in the dark about that, too."

"Alright. Well, I hope you feel better, son."

"Thanks."

Without further adieu, Nobuyuki walked beyond Tenchi and down the stairs, his jovial atmosphere shrouding him like an intangible fog. Tenchi was about to continue down the hall to his room when Nobuyuki turned near the bottom of the stairs, and spoke, almost offhandedly.

"You know, Tenchi... one last thing."

"Hmm?" Tenchi turned, facing his father. "What's up?"

Tenchi was momentarily startled to see that the amiable expression had shed away from Nobuyuki's face; his Father's deeply brown iris' gazing back up at him like a portal of maturity that Tenchi wasn't aware his Father possessed.

"When I was your age," Nobuyuki said, "whenever I found myself too overwhelmed with life and the world and everything, I'd just write."

Tenchi blinked. "What? What are you talking about?"

"I'm serious. I'd draw, too, but writing was a nice little way to clear my thoughts or at least get them down onto paper so I wouldn't have to have them cluttering my head all the time." Nobuyuki nodded. "It felt refreshing to get some of the heaviness of the world off of my shoulders, for even a short little while."

He had seen right through him.

Like an internal wound, Tenchi cringed inwardly, imploding by some vitriolic ignition. Tenchi existed on his ability to stave off the girls while absorbing his own observations, weaving them into separate strands of electrical thought to be dangled and coordinated at his own discretion. His mind was a myriad of marionettes. But his Father -- and Washu and his Grandfather, before him -- had seen right through his selective puppetry. He wondered if his wounds, his thoughts, his ideals and his blood were so visible that he was the only one blind to it.

He could have blinded himself. He was like that.

Tenchi looked meaningfully at his Father. He had forever been the serious type. "...Yeah, I'll think about that."

Nobuyuki nodded. "I have a laptop you can borrow, in my study."

"...I wouldn't want to put you out."

With a smile, Nobuyuki began to climb once again back up the stairs.

"Don't be silly. Here, let me help you get it set up."

Some things were worth bleeding for.

x x x x x

Scene 006
A Therapy For Pain

x x x x x

Washu's gleeful expression glowed in the hue of the fluorescent kitchen light as she peered into the open confines of the Masaki refrigerator. The labyrinth of shadows from the night sky flooded through the window above the kitchen sink. Silver bled onto linoleum. With herky-jerky motion, Washu bobbed on her toes, fidgeting like a small child.

"Come on, Shabu-Shabu..." she muttered aloud. "Where hast thou gone? Jeez. All I ask is a little food every now and then to satisfy my midnight cravings, and what do I get? A refrigerator full of orange soda, tofu and assorted varieties of cheese. Where do all of Sasami's ingredients come from, anyways? C'mon, this is a rip-off! Hell-O! Starving scientist of intergalactic proportions, here!"

Midnight snacking was something Washu was very guilty of. Scientific advancement occupied much of her attention, and frequently she would go through an entire day without actually eating anything, heedless of the time. All the same, she still had to eat, and she often found her hunger cravings coming in the later hours of the evening as opposed to typical, routine mealtimes.

With a frustrated sigh, Washu turned to the counter. Waving her index finger like a magic wand, a pseudo-vortex splintered through the air, depositing several packages of sandwich meat and bread onto the wooden chopping board before extinguishing itself. Washu smiled.

"Oh, would you look at that! Sandwiches. I think I'll help myself."

As Washu peered over one last time to take a finalized look at the contents of the fridge, the familiar chime of teleportation whispered vacuously behind her. She didn't even need to hear the sound: a singular ebb of mind and body prickled through her consciousness in waves, a cerebral chime of its own to her proximity. Washu shrugged without turning.

"Orange soda, it is," she said cheerfully, withdrawing the bottle and turning to her sandwich material. "Well, well, hello, Ryoko dear. Sorry, but I just raided the fridge. You're out of luck."

Ryoko stood distantly with arms crossed at the doorway. "Hello... Mom."

Washu shook her head, tearing the sandwich meat packages open. "Ryoko, what's with that tone of voice?"

Ryoko blinked. "My tone?"

"Yeah, your tone. What's with it? What's with the tone to me?"

Ryoko looked at Washu as if that was the stupidest question she had ever heard. "I... don't know. It's my tone. I don't have to interpret my freaking tone for you, Washu."

Washu chuckled, her attention devoted to the task at hand. "Oh, so it's Washu now, eh? I must be moving up in the hierarchy of your neurotic society! Score one for me!" She paused, her thumb and forefinger resting on her chin, thinking. "Or, I guess, maybe I lost a spot. I suppose it doesn't matter. It's impossible to tell with you, anyways."

"Yeah. Great conversation material, Washu." Ryoko wasn't in the mood. "Do you mind if I step in here or there, or would I just be interrupting?"

With a flourishing snap of her wrist, Washu materialized a spreading knife, and began to get to work. "Oh, I suppose. It's just so tough on little old me, that's all. It's always so transparent and easy to extrapolate with you, Ryoko. Your entire way of speech sort of denotes what you're feeling. You say Mom when you're unhappy, and Washu when you're in your usual, well, less unhappy mood, I suppose. It's amazing, really, what a Mother can learn from their daughter just by the way they shoot their mouth off."

Ryoko's eyes glistened softly in the darkness. "Are you finished?"

"More or less," Washu replied with an animated shrug. "What's on your mind? Or are you here for a sandwich?"

"I saw Tenchi coming out of your lab earlier today, and he wasn't looking too terribly happy."

Washu rolled her eyes. "Oh, great, here we go. PREPARE THE CRUCIFIXION!"

Ryoko blinked. "Huh?"

"Never mind," Washu sighed, waving it aside. "Terran reference. Continue, dear."

"Not much to continue. I think it's pretty simple logic, honestly. Tenchi comes out of your lab looking down or depressed or sick or Tsunami knows what, so I go straight to the source. You." Ryoko grinned. "I'm pretty methodical that way, I guess."

"One could even interpret that as being blunt or near-sighted, not methodical."

"Yeah. Whatever. Anyways, to the point: What the hell happened?"

Washu gingerly spread the sliced meat across the bread. "Not too much. Tenchi stopped by, we had a chat, good times were had by all, and he took off. That's about the gist of it. If you're aching for specifics, well, that's more a matter of individual course and personal propriety. So it's TOP SECRET and FOR YOUR EYES ONLY document material. So sorry."

Ryoko bristled. "Could you lay off the sarcasm for a damn second and just tell me what you two were doing? Is that really so much to ask?"

Washu blinked, turning her head to face Ryoko. "Sarcasm? I'm hurt. I wasn't being sarcastic."

"Come on, Washu," Ryoko said, agitation clearly evident in her tone. "Don't bother lying to the Queen of Sarcasm. I know it when I smell it, and it reeks in here. Almost as bad as the filth you just shoveled me about Tenchi and you actually having a legitimate conversation. Hah! What a crock that is."

"I wasn't sarcastic, Ryoko, I was flip. There's a difference." Washu turned back to her sandwich, placing the final touches on her masterpiece. "Sarcastic is lowbrow, mean... sure, it's funny, but it's mean. Flip is lighter, more upbeat and less nihilistic." She put the knife away, licking the meaty residue off of her fingers. "I do both. But this was flip."

"Whatever. Are you going to traipse around the point for a few more decades, or are you going to actually tell me?"

Washu tossed the remnants of her materials into another pseudo-portal, and began to search for a plate. "Fine, fine. I asked Tenchi to come by and visit earlier today. So he did. We talked for a little while about some stuff that's been bothering both me and him lately, and I mostly just tried to offer him a little bit of clarity on some issues. Ultimately, it didn't work. That's about all there is to say, really." She began to pour the orange soda into a small glass. "There's no epic conspiracy lurking in the transient shadows, Ryoko."

Ryoko stampeded tactlessly to the point. "Why did you want to talk to him? What's been 'bothering' you and him lately?"

As Washu placed the bottle into the fridge and closed the door, she gazed curiously at her daughter. "Are you aware that you're yelling at me?"

Ryoko frowned. "I'm not yelling. I'm just stressing my tone to emphasize my point. Don't interpret something that's not there."

Washu crossed her arms. "First off, Little Ryoko, what happens between me and Tenchi is our business. The way I operate on the grand scheme of things when it comes to conversations, experiments, get togethers, hang outs, dates, vacations, flirts, hypothetical guesswork gatherings, and flat out simple shop-talk is that I'm a hush-hush kind of girl. In my experience, there are only a few things that are worth being held accountable for: Your wit, and your word. Fortunately, I have both in spades."

"Obviously modesty isn't something you take a lot of time practicing," Ryoko observed.

Washu shrugged. "Modesty is a waste of time. If someone can't accept the fact that I'm better than them, that's their problem, not mine." She walked over to pick up her sandwich and soda, turning back to Ryoko. "Anyways, what were we talking about? I'm hungry here."

"About how you were going to stay away from my Tenchi."

Washu gasped. "Oh, so suddenly the conversation takes a turn for the worse! Our banter has been dealt a blow of terminal force! Things not working out your way, Little Ryoko?"

"Stow the high and mighty act, Mom. That's all I wanted to ask you, anyways. I didn't come here to chat or get a sandwich or whatever else, I came here to tell you to back off my Tenchi. I'm pretty royally sick of you binding him up and depressing him and doing whatever else it is that you do to him against his will."

"Y'know, Ryoko..." Washu began slowly, as if she was speaking to a small child, "did you ever take a moment to sit down and consider that... well, Tenchi is a human being? That he's an individual entity capable of his own level of personal and rational thought? Not some obscure reference to your own ideals of what a man should be and therefore a paramount of objectivity as opposed to someone who is capable of thinking and choosing for themselves? It's something you might want to consider."

Ryoko's eyes widened, barely concealed animosity cracking golden fissures across her vision. "I can't believe you! Do you know how stupid you sound? You're telling me to treat Tenchi like a person while you go and tie him up all the time! What a bunch of shit! Maybe being in captivity for so long knocked a few dozen screws loose, Washu."

"Brother. Is that how this is going to go? Washu. Mom. Washu. Mom. I think it's time you picked a term and stuck to it, Little Ryoko. Because frankly, the hypocritical act of you asserting your high and mighty routine is growing sort of stale. Now is that everything?" She lifted her utilized hands in emphasis. "I'd like to eat, thanks."

Ryoko stepped further into the kitchen. "You're calling me hypocritical? What the hell!"

"Sure. I mean, let's dissect this conversation," Washu commented dryly, beginning to wonder if she'd ever be allowed to eat. "You waltz in here on your high horse and spout off 'Mom' like a curse, using my position in this relationship as your own leverage board to get what you want. You order me to leave Tenchi alone and do so by hiding behind the title of what I am to you by only a technicality. And yet, do you even for a second consider evaluating our relationship under the same terms under typical, day to day circumstances?" She gasped melodramatically. "Oh, no! Why, that would require effort! As soon as I'm rendered useless to you, I'm back to Washu. So, if it wouldn't be too much trouble, please take some time aside to decide what I am to you. Your Mother, or just some crazy scientist."

Sinuous muscles tightened, Ryoko standing frigid as knuckles poised to strike. "So says the woman who strung me up against my will. Who tied me up half fucking naked in your goddamn lab and left me there for the whole night! Is that how you get your kicks!"

Washu shook her head. "That was for your own good, Ryoko. Don't change the subject."

"My own good! Change the subject!" Ryoko took a moment to calm herself, smoothing leathery dysfunction that charged across her centralized vision like a calamity anthem. She leveled her gaze; her anger still full and tangible, but controlled. "Fuck you. You know what? I don't need this shit. Stay the hell away from Tenchi. Goodnight."

As she watched Ryoko turn to leave in a smooth cyan blur, Washu felt a rare disappointment course through her veins. A ravenous feeling of regret and hope, caught somewhere in between. The food in her hands seemed so far away, suddenly. She sighed, speaking softly.

"So you're just going to take off?"

Ryoko, for reasons which escaped her, paused, waiting and listening to Washu for a moment longer.

Washu stared at Ryoko's back. "Come in here, stir up a fuss, and as soon as things get rough, you turn your back and leave. Is this how you deal with all of your arguments? I had no idea I raised such a shallow and self-centered girl."

Ryoko whirled around, stomping towards the smaller, older woman who stood alone like an icon of loneliness before her. "You didn't raise me AT ALL!" Eons of ferocity gleamed across her teeth, eyes, muscles; hate-lights flashed, spiteful words shuddered underneath her lost control. Ryoko took another moment to push the familiar demonic surge of anger away before continuing. "Look, frankly, I don't care about this whole you and me thing, okay? I just care about Tenchi. That's all that matters to me. If you want me to lay off calling you 'Mom', fine, I will. Done. But stop calling me 'Little Ryoko' and stop pestering Tenchi against his will. Tenchi is mine, okay? You know my head. You've been inside my thoughts. I'm not lying, and he's important, and I don't need to fight you off alongside Aeka." She paused, her voice softening. "He barely even notices me as it is."

Washu pointed suddenly at Ryoko with the glass of soda. "So do something about it! Instead of spending so much time riding everyone's back about trying to be near Tenchi, take some steps to ensure you can be close to him. Come on, Ryoko! Dress nice, lay off the fondling and sleep-watching, start taking his concerns and interests into consideration, wear some decent perfume for a change instead of that crap you always do that smells like mosquito repellent. Tenchi needs a push. Most men do."

"That doesn't change the fact that you're all over him."

Washu shrugged, casually. "I love him. Why shouldn't I be?"

Ryoko balked, an electrical stun shearing away rational response. "What!"

Washu took a sip from her glass. "Hey, it's the truth. I'm not going to lie about it. Not to anyone."

Shaking her head, Ryoko found breathing difficult. She looked away at the floor. "...I saw him first... this can't be happening. I can't be fighting against my own Mother for the only person I've ever cared about."

Washu chuckled softly. "Two things about that."

Ryoko voice was almost numb. "What?"

"Well, first, I'm not fighting for Tenchi, okay?" Washu's voice was gentle, acting as a cushion for the words she spoke. "No offense, Ryoko, but you live a completely self-contained world. You are the main attraction, and everyone else is simply background in your little bubble. Even Tenchi. Your love is entirely selfish and obsessive: all you can think about is your love, or that someone else will get to your man, or that someone else will make him happy. You're living inside an inverted shadow where all you can really see or think about is yourself." She took a step closer, looking up at her daughter. "Well, here's a newsflash, okay? YOU ARE NOT THE ONLY PERSON LIVING IN THIS HOUSE."

Ryoko's ire returned, her body stiffening. "You've got some nerve, Washu. I think you're full of it. You're saying I don't care?"

"No, I'm saying you do care, but you're just not projecting it properly. The fact that the people around you who care about you also care means almost zilch to you."

"That's a lie," Ryoko told her, completely certain of her words. She locked eyes with Washu for a long moment. Gold, shining silver, clashed on emerald. "...You can't tell me how I feel, even if you can see in my head. I know, Washu. I know. They're my feelings, not yours, and I can do what I want with them."

"That's true," Washu agreed. "You can."

"...What was the second thing?"

A sudden burst of mirth widened Washu's face in a mischievous smile. "Oh, are you willing to listen to your dear old Mom?"

"Don't push it."

"Okay, okay," Washu sighed. "Just asking." She gazed longingly at her food, a moment that was accentuated by her growling belly. She pushed it aside, focusing on the more important things before her. "The second thing is that your logic is running in circles. You say that you're fighting over the only person you ever cared about with your Mother. Well, that's a double standard. If you don't care about me, your Mother -- which is fine, it's your prerogative -- then there shouldn't be a problem. Rationality isn't supposed to be a little contraband running in esoteric circles inside of your head where you and you alone pick up on the signals. If you're going to integrate yourself and correlate with other people, you have to appreciate that they exist as beings as feeling and as willful as yourself."

Ryoko was silent for a long moment before responding. "Well... what am I supposed to say? What do you want me to do? What makes you think that you're so damn smart and you can just stand there and lecture me on how to live my life?" She scoffed, forcing apathy to protect herself from the truth. "I don't care what you have to say, Washu. I don't give a damn in the slightest what you think is best for me or Tenchi or this house or the whole goddamned universe. What I do care about is Tenchi, and--"

"You see, you're doing it again," Washu interceded. "You're running in circles. You're ignoring everything I'm saying!"

Ryoko flared, her back arcing, her fingers stabbing forward. "I can't lose Tenchi to my own Mother! There is no other logic than that!"

Washu's playfulness fell away, a cold sober atmosphere shrouding her in a bleak second. "Ryoko, if you want me to not pursue Tenchi, I won't. If it means that much to you, I won't go out of my way or 'fight' for him, to use your term."

"...What?" Ryoko whispered, struggling to understand what she had heard. "Why?"

As soon as it had appeared, Washu's somber demeanor was gone. Her characteristic detached self was once again at the helm. She shrugged. "Because there are other people out there in the universe. Tenchi's an amazing guy... no two ways about it. But there are other nice, good looking and observant people out there just like him."

Ryoko's voice was soft. "There's no one like him."

"Incorrect. You just haven't met anyone else like him." Washu shook her head. "You know, I really thought that assimilating Zero into your consciousness would help you grow up and see these sorts of things. That you'd start to understand that life isn't lived with your eyes fixated on only what's two inches in front of your face. That there is life outside of this house and Tenchi."

"That's bullshit. If you're going to knock this house and Tenchi, what the hell are you doing here!"

"Because I chose to be here," Washu replied simply. "Because I like it here. It's that simple." Her tolerance for the conversation was coming to a crashing end; Ryoko's circular logic, refulgent with flaws and disease of near-sightedness, was beyond tiresome. "Ah, forget it. Just do what you're going to do."

Ryoko stood before Washu, blocking the exit. "...I want you to stay away from Tenchi. Leave him alone."

"...I can't believe you're asking me that," Washu murmured, genuine hurt flashing across her features. "That really hurts, Ryoko."

Confused, Ryoko blinked. "You just told me if I wanted to--"

"I also thought you'd listen to everything else I said and pay attention to the part where I told you that I love him too and that everyone else is background in your life, but hey... I guess you've just got selective hearing."

Disgusted, Washu turned to leave. She had told Ryoko that she would cease her pursuit of Tenchi upon request for a more subtle reason than simply one of pleasing Ryoko's whims or jealous desires. A legitimate hope of growth or internal warmth within Ryoko was something she truly wished to see nurtured; one that was capable of observing the feelings of something outside of her own egotistical desires. Washu had left herself exposed, giving Ryoko and opening and a weapon -- all in the hopes that Ryoko would have the maturity to see what slashing through other people would actually do and refrain from doing so.

A great sense of injury that Washu had almost forgotten the feeling of shredded across her world. She walked briskly beyond Ryoko towards the closet.

Ryoko chuckled, completely oblivious to Washu's lonely introversion. "You know, you really played it well, Washu."

Washu, however, was a master of disguising what she felt from others. She turned casually. "Hmm? What's that?"

"You. I mean, you're a smart little trooper," Ryoko chuckled, leaning against the kitchen doorframe. "When you told Tenchi that you were going to assimilate Zero to save her because me and her were the same... man, you really nailed it. You made Tenchi think you were some perfectly caring, all-seeing Motherly figure, which was exactly what he needs in his life. That was really clever. And you didn't even really stop to consider what that would do to me, did you? Your own daughter."

It was amazing, Washu realized, that Ryoko seemed to miss the point of almost everything Washu tried to do for her. "Of course I did. Zero didn't need you, Ryoko, it was the other way around."

Ryoko scoffed. "And here you stand and tell me that you can so easily toss this family and Tenchi aside like some fucking whim."

"This is not a whim. Tenchi isn't a whim."

"So you're lying!" Ryoko all but shouted. "You do need him!"

"No, I just want him to be happy."

Ryoko pointed accusingly at Washu. "The experiments, the teasing, the demeaning... you're no better off than me!"

Washu shrugged, utterly fed up. "Yeah, maybe, but you know what? I never lied to Tenchi to get things to work out in my favor, unlike yourself. I say what I mean, and I do what I say. That's about how simple it is. Now if you'll excuse me, you obviously want nothing to do with me, so I'll be on my way."

Ryoko wasn't finished; all she could see was a red haze of hypocrisy running from Washu's words. There was no sense to be made in her narcissistic pining. To Ryoko, Washu's words were just a façade, a justification for being superior to everyone else, for treating everyone like a lower form of life. Ryoko was sick of it. "It's rather difficult to take anything you say seriously when you go off on these lengthy diatribes about how you understand the universe and that there will be more people after Tenchi... and, yet, you're hiding in the body of a child because some poor bastard blew you off twenty-freaking-thousand years ago."

Without turning, Washu reached for the door to her lab; the task of concealing the exposed, bleeding wounds Ryoko was feverishly tearing apart becoming more difficult with each passing moment. Washu didn't blame Ryoko -- Ryoko really didn't know what she was doing. She was a lost, immature little child: a fault that undoubtedly fell on Washu's shoulders.

Washu rested the glass of soda on the ground as she opened the door, her voice sad and lingering. "Everyone protects themselves from the harsh universe of unstoppable reality in one way or another, Ryoko. You do so by falling back on your selfishness and by asserting your brutal power and energy whenever things don't go your way. I just do it a little differently, that's all."

Ryoko didn't buy that for one moment. "You have no feelings at all!"

Washu paused before turning around. "No, Ryoko, I just don't have your feelings. I have my own." Her eyes locked in a final moment with Ryoko's. "And you know what? They get me by."

Having nothing else to say, Ryoko just stared at her Mother, scrambling internally for some sense of reason and purpose to make in everything that Washu had told her. Satisfied that the argument had finally drawn to a close, Washu bent over and picked up her glass of soda, turning towards the shimmering vortex that led to her laboratory.

"Goodnight," Washu said over her shoulder.

She closed the door softly behind her before Ryoko could reply.

x x x x x

Scene 007
A Blank Sheet of Paper

x x x x x

The feathery hum of the laptop was soothing. It was a mechanical cushion, softening Tenchi's slow, weary dream-thoughts with its pneumatic sigh. Glossy starlight fell upon his sleeping form, slumped over his desk in front of the computer next to a small cup of tea that had long since gone cold. Taken alive, buried beneath his insecurities, Tenchi's dreams were immaterial and welcoming; a pleasant nothingness to make superficial the substance of his own internal dilemmas. Calmly, breathing.

A rustling against his window caused Tenchi awake with a soft groan, scrubbing his eyes with his palms. He yawned.

(Agh... wha? What time is it? Oh, boy... after twelve. Man, I must've really conked out. Hmm... what was I doing again?) Tenchi looked forward at the blinking screen. (Oh, right. Writing. Dad set it up.)

For a long, seemingly unending moment, Tenchi stared at the screen.

It was empty.

He had written nothing at all. As a catalyst thought, the memory of the afternoon came pounding back to him in a rush of urgency, epileptic annoyance reviving in his laggard awareness. He could recall vividly sitting there, for hours, being completely unable to think of anything to write at all. In spite of the intrinsic overload of overheated thoughts that was enslaved to, nothing would be birthed. A sigh, a disdain for his own inability, a fading pattern in his head.

Tenchi's eyes met with the cup of tea, unsurprised to find that it hadn't been touched at all.

(Washu.)

The words then came running towards him; neurotransmitters blowing his cerebral fuses with everything he meant to say. Nothing he meant to say. Amongst the prismatic patterns of thoughts and words there was no understanding, simply a confused multi-singularity of luminescent imagination. Coming apart at the seams, dissolving into liquid waves, reiterating his anger and spite towards his inability to articulate himself or understand. He knew what he was feeling, so why couldn't he understand it?

He stood. He had to speak to Washu again.

x x x x x

Scene 008
And Then

x x x x x

Washu's fingers tapped inattentively at her kiosk. Her eyes sauntered over the innumerous information that cluttered the intangible screen, but her mind was elsewhere, lost in a vacuum of thought. Beside her floating cushion on the steel floor were an empty plate and a similarly drained glass. Time had long since dwelled away from her; she typically operated on her own set of rules, choosing to sleep or work whenever the mood dictated, rather than the shift of a planet's orbit. She could have been up for hours and not have noticed whatsoever.

The troublesome reality was that her thoughts were of nothing. Meandering from one immaterial subject to the next, Washu was astray in the labyrinth of her mind, searching for no exit at all. A doorway would simply lead back to her own mistakes, her own admonitions. A faceless guilt spun her through a web of spirals. Alone, overlooked, undisturbed in her descent. A fall of silence.

Ryoko.

Washu sighed. She had meant well. She really did.

Her nebula of disconnected thoughts was disturbed by the rattling of her crab-chime.

Washu continued tapping without turning. "Ryoko, unless you've got something constructive to talk about this time, I'd like to be left alone, thanks."

Instead of Ryoko, a soft male voice spoke. "It's... Me, Little Washu. Tenchi."

Her attention blasted from its lethargy, Washu turned to confirm the obvious. "Oh. Tenchi. I thought- oh, never mind what I thought. Come in, come in. Sorry, it's sort of a mess right now... I've been kinda preoccupied." Exhaustion surged momentarily, and she found herself yawning. "Man, sorta late, huh? What time is it?"

Tenchi closed the door quietly behind him. "After midnight."

Washu smiled, despite her bodily protests. "Well, this is an unusual occurrence, then. What brings you to Shangri-Washu?"

Pensive, Tenchi looked around, half-expecting to be assaulted by Washu's tentacles. "Can we talk for a bit?"

"But of course!" Washu was suddenly chipper, her previous detachment dissipated by her eager, playful expressiveness. "I've always got time set aside for my most favorite adorable guinea pig. Please, take a seat."

With immodest flourish, Washu waved her hand as if she were holding a magic wand, causing a replica of her floating cushion to materialize before her. She grinned, nodding towards the cushion. Tenchi smiled awkwardly, but relented and sat across from her all the same.

As he sat, his hands rested on his knees. His usual uncomfortable expression seemed magnified. "I... hmm... this is a lot trickier now that I actually have to say something. I had it all set up in my head what I was going to ask you or talk about, and, um, saying it aloud is sort of, uh... you know. Tough."

"Yeah, I know," Washu nodded sympathetically. "Nervous little ball in your stomach, sort of clawing away at your resolve? Butterflies, and all that?"

Tenchi was sheepish. "Yeah."

Washu took a long moment to appraise him; her eyes running over his features, his drooped shoulders, his posture. He was coiled internally, stepping back into himself as if preparing to shield himself from everything around him. A human striking coil, raveled around the hissing of his own insecure serpentine thoughts. She wished deeply she could unravel him.

She put her finger to her chin in thought. "Hmm... you know, Tenchi, I was thinking of building you a spaceship. Would you be interested?"

Tenchi blinked, caught completely off guard. "No kidding. A whole spaceship just for me?"

Washu gleamed, her shining world of creativity glossing over her demeanor. "You betcha! I'm the one-stop shop for all your intergalactic and otherworldly needs! In fact, since I'm so generous, I thought I'd even customize you one that fit to your exact specifications."

"Wow, that's... that's really great of you, Little Washu. Although, I have to admit, I have no idea what I'd do with my own spaceship."

"You could fly around in it, silly!" She grew more animated as the idea began to fully coagulate in her mind. "It'd be a private vessel, of course, and I'd make sure it would be fitted and jacked right up to speed with the most impressive mechanics and specs that money could buy -- or, for that matter, that's legally serviceable. I could have it all deposited under your legal name -- in the Galactic Union, of course, not your Terran name -- and you'd be good to go!"

"That's..." Tenchi shook his head, bewildered at her generosity and suddenness. "Well, that's the nicest thing anyone's ever done for me. But I have no clue how to fly a spaceship."

She pointed to the sky in emphasis. "You'd learn! And I'd teach you, of course. Think of it as astronomically advanced pseudo-driver's Ed. I'm sure a clever guy such as yourself would catch on very quickly on how to operate the whole shebang. It's not that tricky, really. And then the sky's the limit! No, not even! The UNIVERSE is the limit! You could go anywhere you'd want to, anytime you'd want to."

"It sounds really exciting." Tenchi was clearly taken by the concept. "Can you really do that?"

"Sure, sure. There's nothing little old me can't accomplish when I set my pretty little head to a task." She tilted her head in inquiry. "But tell me, Tenchi, if I did build you a nice jacked up ride for you to cruise around in... where would you go?"

Tenchi was stumped. "I... don't know. I don't know anything about space or the Galactic Union or anything like that." He took a long moment to think about it, the lines of his face drawn in concentration, his previous issues left behind. "Maybe Jurai, since that's the only place I'm familiar with. At least on a basic level."

Washu nodded in approval. "I could show you a bunch of really neat resort planets. I'm sure you'd like them, Tenchi."

Tenchi found himself smiling. "I'd like that."

"Alrighty! I'll set out to work tomorrow, first thing. Shouldn't take me longer than a week, tops." She softened, a luster shining across her mind, clearing the frigid uncertainty and dark fissures of regret that previously shone streams of putrefaction through her unseeing eyes. The simple act of speaking, of being near him was amorphous and indefinable. She met eyes with him for a long moment before speaking again. "You feeling better now, Tenchi?"

He blinked. "Huh?"

"Your tummy, silly," she chuckled. "You feeling more up to chatting about whatever it was that you wanted to talk about?"

Tenchi took a deep breath, forgetting for a moment why he was even there. The sharpening, enhancing of his mind had evolved; interaction and familiarity with Washu had freed his purpose and soul-lit mind. "Yeah. Actually, yeah. Thank you, Little Washu."

Her voice was revived in gentleness. "No problem. So, what'd ya wanna chat it up about?"

Tenchi's hands tightened. "Well... there were a lot of things that have been running around my head since we talked earlier. I never really stopped to think about exactly what was... um, well, in the future, you know. Like ahead of us, somewhere down the road. I've never really been a great planner. And the more I thought about it, the less I liked when I came to realize that things can't really stay, well... stay like this forever. You know?"

"Yeah. These are definitely extenuating circumstances."

Tenchi swallowed, nervously. "Yeah. And- um, well... well, through it all, there was one thing that bothered me the most. That really, um, stuck in my head. That just made me focus on it like it was the only thing in the world."

Washu edged closer to him. "What was that?"

For a moment, Tenchi seemed to deflate with a sigh. "Well... Why. Just... why. I couldn't figure it out. The more I thought about it, the less sense it made."

"You're being exceptionally vague, Tenchi," Washu informed him, lifting an eyebrow. "Why? Why what?"

"Why does everyone love me? It doesn't make any sense." He looked at her seriously. "What did I do that was so special?"

Washu took a long moment to dissect his words, trying to redefine them into a terminology he would be able to appreciate and understand. "Well, that's not exactly an easy question to answer. Everyone has their reasons, I'm sure... and, then again, maybe they don't. Love is an insubstantial, illogical process of human emotion. Sometimes it can't really be explained, or analyzed, or interpreted as anything other than what it really is in its most basic form. Do you have to have an explanation?"

"I don't know. I wish I could move beyond that point, but it's just... there, in my head. I'm being forced to focus on it."

"Okay," Washu relented, almost empathetic. She handled the frailty of the emotions that strummed through her with hands of glass, being certain to protect herself with what she said. "Well, I can't speak for everyone, Tenchi. I could give you reasons plucked from some ubiquitous vortex of thought, little cosmic clusters of reasoning in hopes to assuage whatever it is that has you struggling. But it wouldn't matter. I don't know why the girls love you." She paused to correct herself. "Well, I know why Ryoko loves you, but I won't violate her already tenuous trust in me by just telling you myself. The only person I can speak for, honestly, is myself."

Confounding logic embedded itself into Tenchi's brain. He seemed conflicted by the simple admission that Washu cared for him that way. He scrambled to rationalize it, his thoughts a frantic dancing of particles and nonsense. Finally, he simply spoke aloud what he had no understanding of. "...You see, that's what makes the least sense to me. Out of everything, out of this whole house and everything that people expect from me and everything that I feel I'm supposed to feel, that's the one thing that I can't seem to figure out. Why you? Why would someone like you love someone like me?"

Washu swallowed, before sighing ironically. "Heh... now I've got 'em."

"Huh?"

Washu smiled, embarrassed. "Butterflies. Stomach pains. You know, the typical cliché shlock that comes with this sort of situation."

Tenchi withdrew, his apology clear before he even spoke. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean--"

"No, don't be," Washu waved it aside, determined to allow him the truth. "Don't be sorry because I'm somewhat uncomfortable to talk about my feelings. I said I would, and I will. You deserve honesty." Her mind flickered in a random static as she explored its multi-leveled surfaces, scavenging honestly for a way to express herself in a way that could be understood by another person.

She began slowly, still withdrawing the discorporated reflections of her most inner-core. "It's... tough to answer that, Tenchi. I can't really tell you, to be honest. I've been around, as you probably can imagine. In the fifteen thousand years I actually had a chance to be active in this life that I can recall, I've had a lot of relationships and lovers. They were all individual experiences... some I regret, some I don't, some I wish I could revisit again. But... well... I feel... safe, with you, Tenchi."

Tenchi frowned. "Safe? How could I possibly make someone as incredible as you feel safe?"

She chuckled. "See, I knew you could say the right things." Washu half-smiled, relenting to simply speak what she felt. Plainly, honestly, and unguarded. "I couldn't explain it if I tried, Tenchi. Being with you- or, well, being around you is invigorating. You resonate a sense of caring onto all of us that's almost intoxicating. There are lots of nice guys out there in the universe... that is true. But this is a personal experience that is here, right now. I feel safe and loved, even right now, sitting with you. I don't even need you to love me back like I love you -- I can feel myself glowing just knowing that you care about me."

Scorching warmth flustered across his face. "See... I don't know what to say about that. How can I react to that?"

Washu shrugged. "Just react. Don't question yourself or doubt who you are inside... just react how you want to. Do you think I'd love someone who didn't have a goodness behind their intentions like you do, Tenchi? Everything you do in some way has a warmth, an altruism behind its action. Even when you do wrong, you immediately feel remorse, and you immediately want to make things better, in spite of yourself."

Tenchi shook his head. "...But I'm just a dumb Earth kid."

"So what? I'm a crazy space scientist. Where you're from and what you know is irrelevant to who you are."

The tearing flames born in his mind arose, seizured alive, a creation of safety and familiarity from his self-deception. Washu was right -- confusion was his constant. "You see, though, now I know that you're not the only one who feels this way. Now I know that Ryoko and Aeka definitely feel the same, and I have suspicions that Mihoshi might even be in on this. How does that make you feel?"

Washu smirked, shrugging animatedly. "Honestly? It's rough. It's not fun to be in love with the same guy as three other women and one young girl."

"I can't make everyone happy," Tenchi told her, his wish for the opposite blatant in his voice and on his face. "I want to so much... but I can't. I've looked at it from a million different angles, and there's no way it can be done."

"You're right," she confirmed. "You can't."

Tenchi's hands gripped the cloth of his slacks, his eyes captivated by a strange nautical creation swimming within an aquarium across the open lab. Watching but not seeing. "...I like it now, the way things are. For the longest time I hated it. Hated it more than anything... this invasion of my personal space, the way that you girls just tore my entire life into shreds and my house felt like an amusement park where I was the main attraction. I would've given anything to end it all and make everything peaceful and quiet. But... I don't. I just don't anymore, Little Washu." His eyes met hers. "I can't feel that kind of scorn for all these people who have become so important to me. I just can't. Now I'd do anything for them, sacrifice anything to make them happy."

Washu bit her lip. "It's a tough situation, no doubt about it."

Tenchi was silent for a long moment. "I mean... Ryoko. She started all of this, and in ways, I've felt closest to her of all the girls. But... I don't really feel the same way as her, you know? I want to be her friend, I want to be close to her but I know that will never be enough for her. She wants to move fast, she wants things now, right now. ...I could never live my entire life with a person like that. I couldn't ever see a relationship like that working with a person like me... there's no way I'd be able to keep her happy."

"Well, you know me," Washu stated, an injection of playfulness disintegrating her somber atmosphere. "I'm Ryoko's Mom. Ryoko is a Wild Child to the bone, Tenchi, but she means well. Believe me, she really does. But she has a lot of growing up to do, first. I don't blame her or look down on her for who she is or what she has become, but I don't see a lot of her life and dreams as being very productive. Want me to be honest?"

"Yeah, of course."

Washu looked at him as seriously as he had ever seen her. "I think that you and Ryoko would be a bad idea. But don't ever tell her I said that, okay?"

Tenchi blinked. "Okay... but why?"

Washu shrugged. "...Oh, a lot of reasons." She didn't want to ruin Ryoko's chances with Tenchi by some selfish inclusion or her own ideas, but on the other hand, she really didn't see anything productive for either of them if they were to match themselves together. So all there could be was truth. "With Ryoko... that's tough. There's a lot to analyze, there. She has a certain fabric to her mindset that generally conceals a lot of important things from everything else. She's not quite capable of seeing outside of her little box, and her love for you is almost counterproductive. She's wholly fascinated and attached to you to the point at which you've become her pillar. Almost her life itself."

She let out a breath. "If she continues, I think, it wouldn't be good. She needs to diversify herself to protect herself from the reality of the world that dreams and perfection seldom exist. Not be to cynical, but it's the truth."

Washu's words seemed to leave Tenchi numb. "I see. I wish I could help her, somehow. Make things easier for her."

"You can," she told him. "Be her friend, Tenchi. Be nice to her. She needs you to be nice to her, very badly. She yearns for companionship so strongly, it hurts her whenever you turn or look away."

Alternate directions of inquiry crossed Tenchi's star-driven thoughts, but he felt that there were some things that were simply none of his business. Whether or not he was central to their creation was irrelevant. But within that neglected, severed singularity was a truth. A thought. Something that he needed to know: peering with shrouded eyes at him through a multi-colored fear of the unknown. He swallowed, trapped within his delusions and misgivings.

Tenchi tried to meet her eyes, but failed. "How do you feel about... um... well, being in love with me when Ryoko is, too?"

Washu had been expecting that question, but did not have an answer. "I don't know. I've been thinking about that a lot. I've sacrificed a lot to be here, Tenchi. I could be out exploring the universe or teaching or something, but instead I'm right here, by you. I feel things when I'm with you or near you that I feel so horribly guilty for feeling, because I know within my heart that my daughter feels the same, and that she did find you first." Washu stopped herself, caught within a moment of reflection. "Do you remember the time when Taro came to visit?"

"Yeah... I do." Tenchi smiled, wistfully. "That was an... interesting time."

"That one night... when the girls were out cold on the floor from exhaustion, and it was just you, me and Taro... do you remember that?"

Of course he did.

With urgency, the moment returned and flowed into him. Spreading through his body, his soul. A moment of warmth so imperative, the universe was born inside his chest. He could easily recall Washu sitting beside him, holding the young boy. The fragile seconds that paused in an illuminating spiral of understanding; she had known what it was like. What it had felt like to be like him. To understand him. She had known everything, instilling that knowledge upon him of who he was through the chaotic confusion of his existence by prying her curtains of steel and bone aside to reveal the vulnerable reality that she was a human being. A person.

He saw her inside of himself.

Tenchi nodded. "Very well, actually. I do."

Washu continued, eagerly recalling the moment as similar as Tenchi did. "Then, in that moment, Tenchi... I felt things for you that I couldn't even begin to describe. I wanted to be closer to you, to belong to you, to be yours and just leave everything where it was." Ripples raced across her eyes as the moment ended, and reality intervened. "But I feel terrible for feeling that way, because my daughter wants the exact same thing. But it's how I feel, you know? I can't stop that."

A conflict stormed across Tenchi's emotional fabric. "...I know. I... well..."

Washu tilted her head. "Yeah?"

Monolithic unease and uncertainly resurrected inside of him. "I felt close to you, too. I feel that way now." His voice fell away, quiet, his body an organic whisper of loneliness. "I want to know more about you, Washu."

Washu sat back -- suddenly distant from everything. "...What are you saying, Tenchi?"

Tenchi swallowed, looking up at her, panic racing through his pounding veins with a surge of demolition. He spoke, regardless. "I'm not saying... anything. This is just me, being who I am. I like you, Washu. Today, when I was trying to sort things out, all I could think about was you. You were... like, everywhere. Wherever I looked, you were part of the vision, or part of the sound."

"That's just because we had a discussion earlier today. Your mind is perpetuating its most easily recalled stimuli through a recollection synapses. You felt emotionally charged and frayed by what we had discussed. That's why I was on your thoughts."

Pulsing waves of overload ran through every nerve. Tenchi felt himself exploding, tearing into frantic shards of a person. Understanding himself, what he felt, what he supposed to feel dangled away. He did not understand himself; he did not know why he felt this way, what it was that he was feeling, or why it was making him so uncomfortable. All he knew and wanted to cling to was the wormhole of nostalgia pouring through him. Washu was all there was. All he could see.

Tenchi stood, agitated at himself. "So what if it is!"

Washu gazed incredulously at Tenchi's reaction.

Tenchi remained trapped in his stoic world. A flame wandered through his being; warming, glowing, softening and smoothing. A gentle stream of crimson. A hurricane of red swept across his vision; rose petals, the scent of wine, satin touching his fingertips, leaving him alone, but together. A part of something whole. Washu was glowing inside of him. As if he had cracked apart a brittle earth within him and she was lying in wait underneath like a geyser of humanity, pouring blessedly into his head. The familiarity. The unity.

The clarity.

When did he start to feel this way?

He looked desperately at Washu. "Washu, this is more than I've felt for anyone ever. You asked me to look into myself and try to decide things for who and what I am, and well, I did. And I saw you there. I don't know what that means, but it has to mean something."

Washu felt small; trapped by the body she inhabited. "Tenchi, I... I don't really know what to say. What made you feel this way all of a sudden?"

"This isn't all of a sudden. It's always been here, inside me." He felt slow, incorporeal. Lazily recognizing life for being alive. "...I'm awake now, and I feel like I've been sleeping for a long time."

Washu's hands were folded in her lap, and her gaze was drawn towards them. "But... why now? Why me?"

Tenchi shook his head; trying to clear himself, find something inside that he wanted to hold onto. "Being... with people. Being with you... it's different. They aren't the same. I feel protected and protective at the same time near you. You make things... clear, make them make sense. You challenge me, because I don't make sense to even myself but you know everything. I don't know. Why do I feel this way? I can't explain it. I just do, okay?" He sat back down in front of her, causing her to look up at him. He met her gaze with his own shaking, timid eyes. "...I- well, I don't... I want to feel this way. I want to care about you, and I'm happy that I do. That I can be honest with myself like that."

"Tenchi, I..."

"I could never talk this way with anyone else," he said. "No one. Just you. Doesn't that mean something? I don't know what it means. I just know that this is what you mean to me."

His erratic thoughts jarred him. The continuous motion of his insecurity and awkward discomfort around females splintered through his emotional fortitude, lacerating across the moment with red incisions. He felt himself standing and pacing once again, his body a mimicry of the maelstrom behind his eyes.

Tenchi's voice was weak. "I... can't be with Ryoko. I just can't. I've tried, a lot of times, to make myself think that way. How could I not? An incredibly beautiful girl, pushing her sexuality onto me like that... I was a fool. A stupid boy. I still am. But I couldn't turn myself into that person. I couldn't look away. I've tried to feel something for her, Washu, but there isn't anything."

Washu listened faithfully. Inside, a part of her was gleaming that Tenchi was expressing some level of interest in her, and took a shadowy glee in his admissions to being fond of her and incapable of being fond of anyone else. She felt flawed and broken. A mirror of discord gazing down at her, angry and spiteful for the hopeful imaginations Tenchi was inspiring. She couldn't take Tenchi away from Ryoko like that. But...

She wasn't taking Tenchi. Tenchi wanted to be with her.

How could she take Tenchi away from Ryoko when he never wanted Ryoko in the first place?

Tenchi continued, unabated in his shame. "And I can't believe myself for not being completely in love with Aeka after everything she's done. She stood up against her Father's wishes to stray from her planet, her Empire, just to be here, with me. That's like the epitome of a cultural taboo. For me."

"Aeka's not Japanese, Tenchi," Washu murmured.

He shook his head, standing still for a brief moment to look at her. "But she knew the customs. She understands." His fists clenched in agitation. "And I don't FEEL that way! All I want is to be her friend... to be close to her, but not with her. I could never give her what she wanted. I could never be part of the life that she is."

Her eyes resonated: a cosmic wisdom and maturity blossoming like emerald novas. "...So, you're saying that you want to be part of mine. Is that it?"

"No. I- don't... I don't know what I'm saying." Tenchi angrily scrubbed his tired eyes. "I'm just stupid... I don't even know how I feel."

Washu continued to gaze distantly at Tenchi for a moment longer. Then she stood, her body channeling raw energy into her cells: skin, bone and tissue swirling and expanding into an evolution of human shape. Livid fragments of maturity regenerated. She stood before him, aware of her true body and that he understood what it meant to her.

She spoke, her voice throaty and human. "Tenchi."

Tenchi stared at her, his dissolved thoughts stilled, silent awe binding him in place.

Washu took a step towards him until they were merely inches apart. She could smell him. "I love you, Tenchi Masaki. Want the reality, the proof, the explanation? Well, there it is. I love you. But we can't be together. My daughter may hate me, and I may be a terrible Mother in almost every regard, and I may think that her being with you would be the paramount of a mistake for what she really needs, but I can't be the one to take you away from her. I don't think I could live with myself."

Tenchi looked away. "...I know. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said anything."

Washu smiled. "No, don't be ashamed. Don't be sorry."

"...But I want to know more about you. I want to get to know you better." He looked up at her, a carnal sense of sanity, longing and undisguised urge trembling through him. "I... want to be closer to you, Washu."

An intensely similar feeling coursed through Washu -- wholly aware of their proximity. "I know... me too."

Recalling the effect it had on him earlier that day, Tenchi acted. His hands trembled as he did; a push forward to touch, to convince, to smoothen was alien and frightening. He wanted to. He understood that. Washu's eyes were on his hands as he gently, shaking, took her hand in his -- blistered rhapsody at the softness of her skin, the inviting reciprocation that she let him touch her this way.

When he spoke, she looked as if she would shatter. "I'm not asking you to elope with me or something... I just want to be near you. I'm not asking... to just end everything. To be with me forever. I make you feel happy and safe, don't I? Well that's how I feel. Right now, holding your hand. ...Look at me. I'm shaking. I'm so sorry."

Her other hand reached up, softly touching his face. Holy emotion so long forgotten caressed her underneath everything, her eyes glistening, pooling. "Oh, Tenchi... I want you to be happy. That's what's important to me."

Tenchi swallowed, understanding nothing but their closeness and its reality. He was here, right now, touching her. It was not a dream; it was not a false fantasy. It was in his hands. "You've made me happy. Well, I don't... know what it is, but... I... dammit. I want you to be happy, too. I'm sorry."

Washu sniffled; cursing the dimensional insanity of what the universe had given her. Something she could never have, but wanted so entirely. "...Come back tomorrow, okay? It's been a strange day. Maybe you'll feel differently tomorrow. A good night's sleep usually helps clear the head of all those nasty existential thoughts."

In a fit of sudden emotion, Tenchi embraced Washu. The universe spun away violently in an implosion of flesh, mingled, touching. His inexperience meant nothing; in actuality, it fueled the moment, strengthened it with its unquestionable feverish honesty. She quivered in his arms, thoughts and insecurities flowing away from her, flushing away in a melancholic euphoria. She held him, equally, feeling safe. Loved.

Washu withdrew from Tenchi, watching his eyes through the blurred watery vision that was her own. She found herself alive.

She swallowed, her voice nasally. "I'm not a perfect person."

Tenchi shook his head, suffocating in a higher recognition of who he was and what he was holding. "I don't care."

Drowned in his acknowledgement of her, his desire to be with her, Washu succumbed to her frailty. "Come see me tomorrow... okay? I want to know more about you, too." Her head rested on his shoulder, and she murmured in his ear. "Slowly."

Tenchi was alive. "Okay."