For The Love of Kiyone

For The Love of Kiyone

A Tenchi-Muyo fanfic by Keiichi Masaki

(Keiichi_dono@hotmail.com, keiichi-dono@geocities.com)

Tenchi and Kiyone Masaki (did I hear a collective faint? Good!), as well as the rest of the cast from Tenchi-Muyo!, are the property of Pioneer and AIC.

Author's note/rant: This is my response fic to Dr. Tran's challenge on the FFML, and to a similar one made at GenSao's this weekend. Ten-Kiyo fics are my stock in trade (no apologies whatsoever to the RFFC), and so, being the High Priest of the Temple of the Teal-tressed Goddess, it falls to me.

(Author ducks rocks and bricks thrown by various RFFC members bearing the words "traitor" and "heretic")

Well.... on with the fic:

Chapter 1: Up On the Roof

"Kami-sama, don't they ever give it a rest?!" Tenchi was stretched out on the roof, staring into the night sky. "Good thing it's summer," he mused to himself, "or I'd be freezing up here."

The house rocked with another explosion.

Tenchi sighed. For some reason, the fights between Ayeka and Ryoko had been getting more violent the past few weeks. All it would take these days was for their eyes to meet, and bang! The house would need a new wall.

Good thing Washu works for food, he thought.

"Tenchi? Tenchi, you up there?"

"Eh?" Tenchi leaned over the edge of the roof and looked down. Kiyone was standing halfway up the ladder, peering up at him. "Oh, Kiyone. Come on up." He reached down a hand to her.

"Thanks." Kiyone took his hand and hauled herself onto the roof. She seated herself next to Tenchi, and smiled wryly at him. "Up here for some peace and quiet?"

"Not like there's any in the house," Tenchi agreed.

As if to underline his statement, the house shook again.

Kiyone sighed. "That sounds like another wall."

"Wait...." Tenchi held up his hand, waiting expectantly, and brought it down at the very moment of another explosion. "That sounded more like two walls..." The house shook a final time. "....and a support beam. Washu'll be earning her breakfast tomorrow."

"What were they fighting about this time?" asked Kiyone.

"Sasami had made some rice cakes. Ryoko and Ayeka's hands met over the last one."

Kiyone winced.

"Yeah, I know."

"Have you tried talking to them?" Kiyone inquired.

Tenchi's face went red. "I've tried."

"Tenchi...." Kiyone sounded exasperated, just a few notches above when she was dealing with Mihoshi's blunders. "This'll go on forever unless you try to stop them.... unless you decide between the two of them."

"I know.... you're right, of course...." Tenchi blew out an exasperated breath. "I've tried, you know. And every time...."

"Are you in love with either of them?" pressed Kiyone.

"I.... I don't know anymore. When Ayeka first arrived, I thought I could love her, but then I started getting closer to Ryoko, but every time I tried to tell one or the other, something happened, the moment passed.... and ever since we went back in time to save Mom and Dad, the littlest things set them off! You've seen it; in the past month we've had to replace five walls, the TV, the stairs, Dad's car, and the entire kitchen! If it wasn't for Washu, Dad would be even further in debt!"

"I know, I've been there, remember?" she reminded him.

"And the worst thing of all.... this may sound a little egotistical, but.... sometimes I don't think either of them care about me. Oh, I know I've seen a lot of evidence to the contrary, but the way they fight, and the way nothing or no one else matters when their ire is up.... sometimes I just feel like one more think to fight over."

"That's understandable, and not as egotistical as you think, Tenchi." Kiyone abruptly shivered. "Ungh.... getting a little cold out here."

"That tends to happen when you go up on the roof in shorts and a T-shirt." Tenchi undid the sash of this shrine tunic and pulled it off, then draped it around Kiyone's shoulders. "There. Better?"

"Mmm, much. Thank you." Kiyone wrapped the tunic tighter around herself. "You were saying?"

"Oh, yeah. Now.... I dunno.... there's no nice way to say it, y'know? I've been trying to find those feelings again, but.... I don't love either of them, Kiyone. Not anymore. Sometimes, I start to wonder if I ever did."

"That's understandable," Kiyone responded. "You're only--what? Seventeen?"

"Yeah."

"Believe me, when I was your age, I was second-guessing myself on an hourly basis. And you have to admit that the circumstances you live in aren't exactly normal by any stretch of the imagination."

Tenchi smiled at Kiyone. "Thanks. I guess I needed that."

"And you also need to tell the two of them how you feel--or don't feel," she continued. "I know you don't want to hurt them, but leading them on like this, however unintentional, isn't helping matters."

"You're right," agreed Tenchi. "There's just one thing that worries me."

"Oh?"

"If I tell them this--they may get really angry, and that I'd expect, but more than that, they may become convinced that someone 'stole me away.' They may feel a need to fight for me."

Kiyone didn't bother to stifle the snort of amusement. "Neither of them are big on logic, are they?"

"Not really." Tenchi smiled at Kiyone again. "You know, I feel a lot better now. Ever thought of doing this professionally?"

"Counseling people? Sorry, but no one in Japan would accept my college diploma."

After their laughter had subsided, Tenchi leaned back, lying on his back again. "Y'know, in all the time we've know each other, you've never talked much about yourself."

Kiyone chuckled and shifted around, so she could look at her companion. "Oh, it's a very boring story...."

"A boring story would be a nice change from all the excitement around here," he countered. "So, talk."

"Well, all right. I grew up on a world called Megami...."

They spent the next two hours talking on the roof before moving inside to continue the conversation. As the night grew colder, neither of them noticed the moment when they drew together, for warmth. When Tenchi wrapped an arm around Kiyone and she snuggled closer, neither of them was aware that it was for anything other than staying warm. Nor did they notice that when Kiyone went to bed, she was still wearing Tenchi's tunic.

Someone else would notice, however.

Chapter 2: The 8 AM Shuffle

Tenchi was not really a morning person, but for some reason he was finding it harder to get up today than usual. Finally he heaved himself into a sitting position--and almost keeled over for his trouble. Oh.... my aching.... everything....What was I doing last night?!

Oh yeah, he reminded himself. I was up till three talking with Kiyone.

He smiled at the memory. In the nearly two years that he'd known Kiyone, he had learned very little about her personal life and background. But last night.... now he felt like he'd known her his entire life.

Foe example, he now knew that she had grown up with Mihoshi, both of them the eldest children of noble Megamian houses with long histories of service in galactic politics. He knew that they had joined the Galaxy Police to prove to both their parents and themselves that they could stand on their own two feet. Most of all, he finally knew for certain what he had suspected for the longest time: that under the brittle, professionally cheerful exterior....

....Kiyone was a real sweetie.

I think Mom would really like her.

He suddenly blinked. Where did that thought come from?!

No time to think about that now. Look at the time.

His eyes flew to the clock, which read 7:59 AM. He gulped and continued watching the clock.

The LCD changed from 7:59 to 8:00.

And the house shook, as if on cue.

Smoke wafted out of a window a moment later. Said smoke was followed by angry female voices.

Tenchi sighed and snapped his fingers. "Right on the tick. Damn, I wish that wasn't so predictable...." He swung his legs out of the bed and set to getting dressed.

"....and that was Megumi Hayashibara with "Teach Me Happiness," announced the DJ on the radio. "Next up is a real sweet number by Chisa Yokoyama, called "Asian Girl." And remember, you're listening to Mornings with Mamoru on--"

Sasami turned down the radio as she saw Tenchi coming down the stairs. "G'morning, Tenchi!" she called out cheerfully.

"Morning, Sasami," Tenchi smiled. "I presume that last shaking of the house was courtesy of Ayeka and Ryoko?"

Sasami nodded gravely.

Tenchi sighed. "What was it this morning?"

"There was only one rice ball leftover from last night."

"I wish I could say I was surprised." Tenchi walked into the kitchen and opened the fridge. "Need some help with breakfast this morning?"

"No thanks." Sasami returned to the kitchen, whistling to herself.

"Morning, everyone." Kiyone came down the stairs, Tenchi's tunic still wrapped around her shoulders.

"Oh, good morning, Kiyone," Tenchi replied. He smiled wryly. "Say, if you're done with my tunic, could I please have it back?"

"Well, I don't know," Kiyone bantered. "I think I want to keep it."

Tenchi's wry smile turned into a grin. "Please?"

"Oh, fine." Doing her best to feign a pout, Kiyone pulled off the tunic and started to hand it to Tenchi. He touched it just as the remains of the screen door slid open and a still arguing Ayeka and Ryoko stormed back into the house.

The two of them stopped short when they saw Tenchi and Kiyone smile at each other. Tenchi pulled the tunic back on and tied the sash. It was only then that he noticed the two new arrivals. "Oh. Do you two think you can stop fighting long enough to have breakfast?"

The pirate and princess immediately blushed.

"I'll take that as a yes," quipped Washu as she entered the room. "Sasami, is breakfast ready?"

"Just about!" Sasami called from the kitchen.

"Hey, Ayeka." Ryoko nudged Ayeka.

"Really, Ryoko, what is it?!"

For once, Ryoko ignored Ayeka's belligerence. "Look at them."

"What do you--" Ayeka cut herself off in mid-bluster and looked.

For all intents and purposes, the scene was a typical breakfast at the Masaki house. No one who didn't live there could tell anything out of the ordinary (anything more than usual).

On closer inspection, however, there was something.

It was Tenchi and Kiyone.

Was it their imagination, or were they bantering playfully back and forth?

No, it was real.

It had been little surprise that Tenchi was most comfortable with her and Sasami, who weren't trying to fight over him. However, Kiyone had never really showed any romantic feelings for Tenchi, nor he for her.

Was that changing now?

All Ryoko and Ayeka knew for sure was that Kiyone had been wearing Tenchi's tunic earlier, and that they seemed very comfortable, almost intimate, with each other now. This was a development that would bear watching....

"Ahh.... this is the life." Kiyone leaned back in the large bath, luxuriating in the warm water. She closed her eyes, relaxed--and opened them in a hurry as she felt herself being yanked to her feet. "What th--"

Ryoko was glaring at her and holding her by the shoulders. "What the hell have you been doing with Tenchi?" she hissed.

"Wh-what?" Kiyone was completely lost.

"You know what I mean! You gave him back his shirt this morning and then you were flirting with him all through breakfast! What gives?!"

"Hush, Ryoko. Put her down." Ayeka came up from behind Ryoko and gently pulled Kiyone from her grip. "There are other ways to find out what's happening besides beating it out of her." Ayeka then turned her attention back to Kiyone, who was sitting and gasping for air on the edge of the bath. The princess graced the policewoman with a smile that was at once sweet and hard-edged. "Now, Kiyone, would you please explain what happened?"

"What happened? Nothing happened!" Kiyone replied indignantly. She stopped for a moment to calm down, then continued in a more reasonable tone. "We were sitting on the roof last night talking. It got a little cold, and he loaned it to me."

"And what were you two doing up on the roof?" grumbled Ryoko.

"Talking.... staying out of the way of explosions.... the usual."

"And you still had it this morning?"

"We were up talking till three. I didn't notice that I'd taken it with me until I woke up this morning."

"And what were you two talking about?" Ayeka asked.

"I don't see how any of that is your business, but.... just life.... the universe.... stuff like that."

"Is that all? You two looked pretty cozy at the breakfast table."

Kiyone definitely didn't like Ryoko's tone or her insinuations. Honestly, don't these two have any concept of logic?! This is so annoying.... she thought.

Is it annoying because they're bothering you, or because there may be reason for them to worry? another part of her mind quipped.

To Ryoko's question, she answered, "Yes, that's all."

"Are you sure you two didn't talk about anything--or anyone--else.... like me or Ayeka?"

Kiyone gulped but met Ryoko's eyes "Ask Tenchi."

"Why won't you tell us?" inquired Ayeka, who was at least trying to maintain a semblance of calmness.

"Because it's not my place to tell you." Kiyone sighed. "All right.... Tenchi and I did talk about you, but I didn't try to steer him in one direction or another. I was just there to listen to him--" Which is more than you two have ever tried, she thought sourly "--and that's it. All I told him to do was what he thought was right. As to what that is.... you two really should ask him, not me. If you really care."

That effectively ended the conversation in the bath. Ayeka and Ryoko finished their ablutions in record time, dressed, and left the bath, almost running Mihoshi over in their silent rush. Mihoshi stood blinking after them for a moment, then shrugged and entered the bath. She seated herself next to Kiyone and turned to her partner. "Are you okay, Kiyone?"

Kiyone relaxed and sighed. "Yeah, I think so...."

"Those two were in a hurry." Mihoshi eyed her partner and childhood friend cannily. "Might this have something to do with you coming in with Tenchi's shrine tunic last night?"

Kiyone nodded, unfazed by Mihoshi's sudden spurt of intelligence. This had been happening since they were kids: sporadic instances where the blond detective actually had a clue.

"They think you're trying to put the moves on Tenchi too now, huh?"

Kiyone nodded and released a shaky breath. "The thing is, Mihoshi...."

Mihoshi's eyes widened. "Oh, no, don't you dare tell me that you...."

Kiyone blushed slightly, but forged ahead. "....I'm starting to see what they see in Tenchi."

"Oh, my."

"Lord Tenchi?"

"Tenchi?"

Tenchi turned from the dishes he was washing to find Ayeka and Ryoko standing behind him. For once, they weren't bickering or imitating a wrecking crew. No, they had matching serious expressions on their faces.

Keeping his voice carefully cheerful, he smiled and said, "Hello, girls. Can I do something for you?"

The two contenders for Tenchi's affection exchanged looks, then Ryoko spoke. "Tenchi, we need to talk with you. Now."

For the past two years, Tenchi had dreaded this moment. Now, however, he felt almost relieved. Finally. Finally we can settle this.

He followed the two out side. As he passed the bathroom, Kiyone came out, wrapped in a kimono. Their eyes met for a brief second, and through that connection, Tenchi actually felt a little better.

I'll take all the strength--both mental and emotional--that I can get. Somehow I get the feeling that I'll need it....he thought.

End part 2

Chapter 3: No-one is to Blame

The three of them walked up the steps to the shrine. Since Katsuhito was in Tokyo visiting a friend for the week, the shrine would be empty--and as safe a place for this conversation as possible, since neither Ayeka nor Ryoko were stupid enough to damage a holy place.

Once they were seated, Ryoko took the initiative (natch). "Okay, Tenchi. Spill it."

"All right...." Tenchi took a deep breath and looked at Ayeka and Ryoko. "Before I say anything else, I want to apologize for the last two years, for leading the two of you on in any way. I didn't mean to, and I'm sorry if I did."

The two of them were silent. Tenchi was unsure whether that was denial or concurrence, and he was even less sure that he wanted to know.

He pushed on. "In the beginning, I thought that I was falling in love with you, Ayeka. You were sweet and shy, and a lot quieter than Ryoko--except when you got angry, and that seemed to be predominantly Ryoko's fault."

Ayeka's face lit up, and Ryoko's expression darkened, but Tenchi held up a hand. "I'm not finished.

"As time went by, Ryoko, I started to see that there was more to you than the capricious girl I first met. I started noticing this after you rescued me from Nagi, and after you gave up your ideal world to help us return to ours. I.... my feelings shifted." He bowed his head slightly. "I'm sorry I can't find a better way to put that."

He looked over at them. Ayeka was doing her best to maintain an unruffled expression, but he could see the hurt in her eyes. Ryoko, on the other hand, had a smug smile on her face.

"I'm still not finished," he repeated softly.

Their expressions changed again, this time to utter confusion. He could almost hear their thoughts: Where is he taking this now?

"But, as time kept moving.... and as things settled down.... those feelings...."

The two girls leaned forward, hope and trepidation warring on their faces.

"As time passed...." Tenchi paused, to try and gather his thoughts into some semblance of cohesiveness. "....and as your fighting continued, I started to feel less like either of you were in love with me, and more like I was a prize to be won."

"Lord Tenchi!" Ayeka gasped.

"You've got a lot of nerve," hissed Ryoko.

"I'm not finished," Tenchi replied. He took another deep breath, then plunged ahead. "For the past year, I've been trying to sort my thoughts and feelings out, trying to see if my earlier feelings would return.... trying to make myself fall in love with one--or both--of you again. It.... didn't work.

"I'm sorry. I'm.... not in love.... with either of you."

In retrospect, Tenchi had been prepared for everything but the slap Ryoko hurled at him. One minute she was looking down at the floor, her amber eyes struggling to hold in the tears; the next he had toppled over, wincing from the sharp sting on his left cheek.

Ryoko was on her feet now, glaring down at him. "How could you?" she hissed in a tear-choked voice.

"Ryoko--"

"It's her, isn't it?" This came from Ayeka, who had also risen to her feet. Her face, as Ryoko's, was reflecting a dangerous combination of sadness and anger. "It's Kiyone!"

Oh, shit.

Ryoko slammed one fist into the palm of her other hand. "I should have known. Of everyone here, she was the last person I expected...."

"Wait a minute." Tenchi hauled himself to his feet. "Kiyone didn't do anything--"

"I'll just bet she didn't." Ryoko disappeared from the shrine. Ayeka rushed out the door a moment later, her defensive field already crackling around her.

"Dammit...." Tenchi shot out of the shrine as well, his feet barely touching ground or step. I should have known this would happen. Be careful, Kiyone....

"I'm not sure this will help matters, Kiyone," murmured Mihoshi as she watched her partner throw clothes into an overnight bag.

"Maybe not, Mihoshi," acknowledged Kiyone, "but this ought to take some of the heat off of Tenchi for a while, at least."

"You said that you were starting to see what they see in him," Mihoshi reminded. "So why are you walking away now?"

Kiyone stopped in midpack, and turned to look at Mihoshi. "It's because I.... I don't want him to get hurt--and I don't want to get hurt either."

"By Ayeka and Ryoko, or be him?"

"All three." Kiyone smirked at her partner and childhood friend. "Y'know, sometimes I like it better when you don't have a clue. It's a lot easier to make decisions without you second-guessing me all the time."

Mihoshi grinned. "What're friends for?"

The door to their room banged open, and Ryoko stood in the doorway, glaring at Kiyone. "You bitch," she hissed.

"Excuse me?"

Before Kiyone could move, Ryoko was across the room and hefting the detective up by her shoulders. "You know full well what I mean!" She pushed Kiyone away and opened her hand. A ball of amber light began to form in her palm, and she thrust it at her adversary.

Kiyone's reputation was well earned, however, and she hurled herself out of the ball's path. It slammed into the wall, leaving a gaping hole. Her roll had landed her on the bed next to her bag, and she grabbed her pistol, arming it as she brought the barrel up.

A squeeze of the trigger and a lance of blue light streaked towards Ryoko.

Ryoko laughed and danced out of the way. Before Kiyone could aim again, she flew at and grabbed her, sending both of them tumbling out of the wall. By some miracle they hit ground unharmed, but Kiyone's pistol was gone.

And Ryoko's fist was flying right at her face.

It had been a long time since Kiyone had been in a real fistfight, but instinct quickly kicked in. (There was a reason, after all, why she had won so many competitions at the Academy for unarmed combat....) Her right hand came up to catch Ryoko's fist as the left one curled into a fist and buried itself in Ryoko's gut.

Ryoko winced slightly, but grinned at Kiyone. "Not bad." It was Kiyone's turn to wince as Ryoko sent an energy burst into her side. The impact of the blast sent Kiyone tumbling several yards.

"Oww...." Kiyone felt like Yagami had fallen on her, but she managed to rise to her feet. She suddenly became aware of a small array of logs floating around her, crackling with energy. Her vision was starting to get hazy, but she thought she saw Ayeka standing a few meters away, a smug expression on her face.

"Ah. Thank you, Ayeka." Ryoko's voice. "I must say, Kiyone, of all the girls, you were the last one we ever thought would be a threat. Funny how things happen that way. It's nothing personal--well, nothing too personal. I promise, we'll try to make this quick." The pirate's lips curved upward in a sardonic smile. "Of course, there is something you could do that would stay our hand...."

Kiyone had a sneaking suspicion what that "something" would be, but she grated out, "What?"

"Simple, really." Ayeka's voice. "Leave Earth. Now. Never come back, and never speak to Lord Tenchi again."

It took Kiyone less than a minute to make up her mind. "Forget it."

"Suit yourself." Ryoko's eyes narrowed, and an audible hum of building energy surrounded her.

Kiyone squeezed her eyes shut, tears trickling out of them. This was not how she'd wanted to do.... not when she was so close to.... to....

Goodbye, Tenchi, she thought, as she heard the shriek of Ryoko's energy blast.

And her eyes opened a moment later as she heard what could only be the sound of energy blasts being knocked from the air.

But only another blast could do that.... or an energy sword....

Her vision abruptly became clear again, and she rose onto her knees.

Tenchi was standing in front of her, Tenchi-ken in both hands and the blue-white blade ignited. His face was a study in grimness. Several meters away, Ryoko and Ayeka wore shocked expressions.

Not taking his eyes off of either the princess or the pirate, Tenchi backed up next to Kiyone and reached a hand down to her. "Sorry I took so long. You okay?"

Kiyone took his hand and let him pull her to her feet. "Yeah...." Right now her emotions were wavering between relief at her rescue, girlish giddiness at being the damsel in distress being rescued by the dashing hero, and irritation at having to be rescued.

"Tenchi...." Ryoko's voice, amazingly, was now calm and questioning. "What are you doing?"

"I should ask you two the same," Tenchi responded. Kiyone's eyes widened at the unexpected coldness in his tone.

"Lord Tenchi...." Ayeka began.

"Tenchi, don't you get it?" Ryoko's voice was almost desperate. "It's her! She's the one who's causing this! All we have to do is get rid of her and--"

"And what?"

All three women winced at the sharpness in Tenchi's voice.

Tenchi's face softened, and he continued in a softer tone, "Ryoko, do you really think that this would make me love you?"

"But Kiyone--"

"The only thing she told me to do was what I thought was right. If we hadn't talked.... Ryoko, Ayeka, we might have been here the rest of our lives playing this routine over and over."

"But you stepped in to save her...." Ayeka protested.

"Kiyone's my friend," Tenchi replied, the coolness back in his voice. "Moreover, she's a guest in my house. I would have done the same for any of you. The only reason I never interfered in your fights was because you always did more damage to the house than to each other!" His voice rose steadily as he spoke; by the end, he was virtually shouting at the princess and the pirate. After stopping for a moment to regain his composure and breath, he continued. "If this happens again.... if you two do something like this again.... I'll have to ask you to leave."

"Wha....?" All three girls blurted out at the same time.

Ayeka and Ryoko exchanged glances, then slumped their shoulders in defeat.

The next two weeks.... were very strained, for everyone in the house. Nobuyuki had come home from his business trip, and Katsuhito from his friend's, to find that the normally boisterous-but-happy atmosphere of their house was now very tense.

Ryoko and Ayeka were extremely quiet, speaking little but saying much with their eyes--particularly with poisonous glances toward Kiyone.

Mihoshi and Sasami tried to remain cheerful, but most of the time their efforts

flat.

Washu only emerged from her lab for meals and stayed in there the rest of the time, even more than normal.

Most telling of all, though, were Tenchi and Kiyone. They were doing their best to avoid each other, to avoid doing any more damage, but it was becoming clear that something was growing there, regardless of how hard they tried to hide it.

One morning, during a tensely quiet breakfast (of the type that had become all too common in the Masaki household), Ryoko slammed down her rice bowl and chopsticks, glared around the table, and got up.

"Ryoko?" Tenchi got up and followed her up the stairs. "Ryoko, what are you--"

"You know," Ryoko bit out. Her back was still towards him.

"Ryoko...."

She spun around to face him. Her expression was pained, and her eyes weren't quite dry, but her voice was steady. "Tenchi, I know what you've been trying to do, and I appreciate it.... but things can't go back to the way they were. You knew that when you talked to Ayeka and I, and I...." She sniffled, and wiped her nose. "I can't stay here any more. Neither can Ayeka."

Tenchi was surprised (not by Ayeka's reaction, but that Ayeka had apparently confided this in Ryoko), but this wasn't the best time to show it. "She told you?"

Ryoko nodded. "Yeah. Last night, Mihoshi let her onto Yagami to use the comm equipment. A ship from Jurai is on its way here. Ayeka and I.... we're gonna go away for a while."

This time, Tenchi didn't bother to hide his shock. "You're what?!"

Ryoko cracked a slight smile. "Nothing like that. It's just that.... in spite of it all, I think we understand each other better than anyone else does. Funny how that happened.... anyway, maybe it's time we started trying to communicate in ways other than throwing energy blasts."

"Are you sure you want this?" whispered Tenchi. His heart was running a gamut of emotions right now.

"No. But I think I.... I think we need this. Besides.... you really do love Kiyone, don't you? Or at least you're falling in love with her."

Tenchi's cheeks flushed red, and he opened his mouth to protest, but Ryoko stopped him with an upraised finger. "Don't deny it. I can see it every time you look at her. You have a look in your eyes, like a husband watching his wife."

Tenchi met her eyes for a moment, then dropped his gaze. "I.... I never meant to hurt you or Ayeka."

"I know you didn't." Ryoko reached down and grabbed Tenchi's chin, bringing his eyes back up to hers. "My advice, Tenchi: tell her. Before.... before what happened with Ayeka and me happens again."

She released Tenchi's chin and resumed her path up the stairs.

The Jurai ship arrived that evening. As Ayeka had requested, the star yacht was fully stocked but manned only by guardians.

"Are you sure you don't want to go with us, Sasami?" asked Ayeka as she and Ryoko pilled their luggage into the guardians.

Sasami shook her head. "I'm needed here.... this is home, after all."

Ryoko gave Sasami a quick hug. "Take care of everyone for us, okay?""I will," promised Sasami.

Ayeka also hugged Sasami, and then the two women straightened up and made their good-byes to the rest of the Masaki "clan."

Their last stop was Kiyone, who was standing beside Tenchi.

After staring into her eyes for a long moment, Ayeka spoke. "Kiyone.... we leave Tenchi in your hands. Take good care of him.... because if you don't...."

"....you'll regret it," completed Ryoko. She turned to Ayeka. "Anytime, Princess."

Ayeka nodded and reached up to her forehead. She, Ryoko, and the guardians vanished in a flash of blue-white light.

"Kiyone? Can I come in?"

Kiyone looked up from the novel she was reading. That was Tenchi's voice.... "Yeah, come on in." Her heart skipped a beat or two as Tenchi entered the room, and she smiled. "Hi. What's up?"

Tenchi smiled back and sat down next to her. "I just.... I just wanted to talk to you. We.... we really haven't since that night, you know."

Kiyone sighed. "Yeah, but there's kind of a reason for that." She shifted around so that she was facing Tenchi. "Something I haven't told you.... or them.... although with the past few weeks, you may have figured it out already."

"Go on," Tenchi prompted gently.

Kiyone nodded. "I wasn't trying to get you to shun Ayeka and Ryoko...."

"I know that...." agreed Tenchi.

"But after we talked, I.... well, I started seeing what they see in you."

Tenchi's eyes widened slightly. "What.... what exactly do you mean by that?"

"You, Tenchi. You're sweet, loyal, smart, generous.... and cute...." Her cheeks flushed red as she said the last word, and her hand flew to her mouth.

Tenchi's smile softened, and he reached for her other hand. "Kiyone.... when Ryoko left the table this morning, and when I followed her, she.... she observed something. She said I was in love with you."

Kiyone's face was a study in fast-changing emotion. "She.... she did?"

Tenchi nodded, his own face slightly red. "I didn't answer. I didn't know what to say.... but she wasn't wrong."

Kiyone's face finally settled on quiet hopefulness. "So, is that why they told me to take care of you?"

"I think so." Tenchi clasped both of her hands between his.

She managed a smile. "This will be interesting...."

'Probably," he agreed. "Kiyone, I can't promise you a perfect life, but--"

"Shh," she whispered, bringing a finger to his lips. "No promises, not right now."

"--I promise I'll do my best to make you happy, for as long as I can," he finished, unfazed by her efforts to stop him. He tentatively reached out for her, wrapping his arms around her shoulders.

"I know you will," she whispered, relaxing into his embrace. "Can we just.... lay here for a while."

"As long as you want," he agreed.

They lay together on the bed for a long time that night.

End part 3

Chapter 4: You Get What You Give

"....hon mono no tenshi ga boku ni, koi suru nosa...." Kiyone stretched and yawned as her alarm clock went off. She smiled wryly as she listened to the last strains of Masami Kikuchi's "Kimi no Carrot Cake," and pulled herself into a sitting position.

"Oh, good. You're up." Tenchi entered her room carrying a tray. "I thought you'd like some breakfast."

"How'd you guess?" Kiyone smiled at Tenchi and lifted the cover off the plate. "Grilled salmon, my favorite! How did you know?"

"Call it a hunch." Tenchi sat down across from Kiyone. As she ate, he watched her with a small smile.

Kiyone finally mopped up the last bit of fish sauce, popped it into her mouth, and noticed Tenchi watching her. "What?" she asked.

"Just.... looking at you." Tenchi reached up and brushed a few stray strands of hair from Kiyone's face. "You're so beautiful first thing in the morning...."

Kiyone blushed. "You're kidding. My hair's a mess, I'm still in my pajamas...."

"You're right," agreed Tenchi. ""Adorable' fits you much better."

Kiyone's blush deepened, and she pushed the tray aside. She reached for Tenchi, and he wrapped his arms around her. "Just 'adorable'?"

"Okay, more than adorable." Tenchi kissed her forehead. "C'mon. It's time to get up."

Nobuyuki smiled as he watched Tenchi and Kiyone come down the stairs together. It had been about two weeks since his son had become "official" with the beautiful policegirl, and in all honesty it had been a very long time since he'd seen his son so happy.

Come to think of it, he noted, I think this is the happiest I've seen Kiyone since she came here.

"Oh, Dad, you're up! G'morning!" Tenchi grinned at his father.

"Morning, Tenchi, Kiyone. Are you two going to give me a grandchild anytime soon?"

Tenchi almost dropped the tray he was carrying, and his cheeks started burning red. "Dad!"

Kiyone giggled. It was a delightful, feminine sound that was seldom heard from her prior to two weeks ago. "Really, Mr. Masaki! Why are you in such a rush to become a grandfather?"

"You two aren't getting younger, and neither am I! I want a grandchild to bounce on my knee before I die!" Nobuyuki always got a kick out of teasing his son about girls, and now that he actually had a girlfriend....

By now, Tenchi's grin had been replaced by a scowl. "Dad...."

Nobuyuki held up his hands. "All right, all right. You still want me to take you two into town with me this morning?"

Kiyone nodded. "If you would, please. Your son here--" she elbowed Tenchi gently but meaningfully "--promised to buy me lunch today."

"I will, I will," acknowledged Tenchi, rubbing his side dramatically.

Nobuyuki watched the two young people enter the kitchen, bickering playfully. Not for the first time, he felt almost like he was watching himself and Achika. In fact, he saw a lot of Achika in Kiyone. Sure, she was a bit more hot-tempered than his late wife was, but the same qualities that had won his heart were in this girl.... and now, those same qualities had won his son's heart.

Achika, I think you'd like her.

Tenchi grinned at his girlfriend as they wound their way through Okayama's crowded streets. "Man, I wish you'd told me how hungry you were!"

Kiyone smirked. Somehow, it looked.... well, sexy on her. "Oh?"

"I would have brought more money. I swear, you eat almost as much as Mihoshi!" He chuckled and caught her lazily thrown punch, taking the opportunity to wrap his free arm around her waist.

"In public?" Kiyone looked slightly embarrassed, but she didn't pull away.

"Sure, why not?"

Kiyone sighed and pulled closer to him. They continued to walk down the semi-crowded city sidewalk. Since it was summer--and a Sunday to boot--people of all ages had decided that "today" would be a good day to get the shopping done. Doubtless half of them would return later in the week to purchase the items today's crowds had kept from them.

"So, where d'ya wanna go first?" Tenchi ran a mental review of his financial status; after lunch, he had perhaps enough to buy Kiyone a gift and a light dinner, with enough left for bus fare home.

Kiyone just smiled and indicated.

Tenchi looked--and did a double-take. Somehow, she had maneuvered him through the busy streets of Okayama towards the largest department store in the downtown area. "Oro?"

"Come on, Tenchi...." Kiyone shifted out of his arms and grabbed his wrist. "It'll be fun...."

"How do you like this one, Tenchi?" Kiyone did a model-like turn, causing the cream-colored sundress with rosebuds scattered across it to spin into the air, to just above his knees.

Tenchi leaned forward in his chair, his eyes wide. "Oh my...." Well, what parts of his mind were unaffected by the enchanting sight before him said, At least I know what Dad has is hereditary....

Kiyone pantomimed wiping her chin, which the red-faced Tenchi immediately imitated. That was enough to reset his mind, and he clapped. "You look great, Kiyone."

Kiyone blushed. "Thank you.... now just wait a sec...." She rushed back into the dressing room and emerged with and oversized straw hat. She plopped it on her head and smiled cutely. "How do I look now?"

"Now you just look adorable," replied Tenchi. "What do the Americans call it.... oh yeah, a Kodak moment." He stood up and held up his hands in front of his face, as if holding a camera. "Smile for the camera, Kiyone...."

Kiyone burst out laughing. "Tenchi, you're so sil--"

"Tenchi? Tenchi, is that you?"

"Huh?" Tenchi turned to see several teenagers about his age: two boys and three girls. He smiled as he recognized them. "Keisuke, Toshi! What're you guys doing here?"

"Apparently the same thing you are," answered Keisuke Mitsushi, the taller boy. He pushed his glasses back up on his nose, making his brown eyes look slightly bigger.

Kiyone came up behind Tenchi and placed a hand on his arm. "Tenchi, why don't you introduce me to your friends?"

"Oh! Sorry...." Tenchi took Kiyone's hand. "Everyone, this is Kiyone Makibi, my girlfriend. Kiyone, these are my friends Keisuke and Toshi, and their girlfriends, Miyuki and Natsumi, and--who's the other girl?"

Miyuki, the girl with the long black hair pulled into a braid and blue eyes, smiled. "Oh, that's my sister Noriko."

Kiyone smiled and bowed slightly. "Pleased to meet you."

Tenchi's friends responded in kind.

Toshi grinned. "Hey, Tenchi, she's cute! No wonder we haven't seen you ar--oof!" He doubled over as Natsumi's elbow slammed into his belly. "Oww.... what was that for?"

"Pervert," Natsumi scolded, her crimson eyes flashing. In all honesty, though, she looked more amused than annoyed. "I swear, sometimes I don't know why I stay with you...."

"I do!" piped up Noriko, her big glasses bouncing on her nose as she jumped in the air. "It's because he's such a good--"

"Ahh ha ha ha ha...." A red-faced Natsumi clapped a hand over her sister's mouth and tried to laugh casually. "I don't know why I bring you along either, Noriko...."

"Neither do we," Tenchi smirked. "As for what you started to say, Toshi, I'll pretend I didn't hear that."

Keisuke chuckled and patted his smaller friend on the back. "Anyway, Tenchi, what're you and Kiyone doing Saturday night?"

Tenchi turned to his girlfriend. "You have anything in mind?"

Kiyone shook her head. "Nope."

"Oh, good," enthused Keisuke. "I'm having a party. Interested?"

Tenchi looked thoughtful. "You still living on the other side of town, in that big house?"

"The very same," grinned Keisuke. "Remember last summer, when we had the cook-out on the beach?"

"Yeah, you burned the food! Hmm...." Tenchi looked at Kiyone. "Sound good to you?"

Kiyone nodded. "It sounds like fun."

"It will be, it will be," promised Keisuke. "Saturday night, 7 p.m. Be there?"

"Good, good. Come in nice clothes--but bring a change in case we decide to hit the beach around midnight." The young man grinned. "That's the perfect time for a late-night swim.... or something."

Toshi opened his mouth to speak, but an elbow to the ribs snapped it back shut.

The girls giggled, and Kiyone and Tenchi felt their faces warm.

"....well, this has been an interesting day," Kiyone remarked dryly as she and Tenchi left the Women's Clothing department. The sundress and hat, along with another dress, were nestled snugly in a shopping bag. "Soon I'll be meeting all your friends!"

"Don't be in that big a hurry to meet them," Tenchi quipped. "The moment we arrive, half the guys in the house will be drooling over you...."

Kiyone laughed. "Just half?"

Tenchi laughed too. "Confident, aren't we? Well, the other half will be moving in on all the suddenly single girls." He looked over at her. "Sure you want to go?"

Kiyone nodded. "Yeah.... unless there's a reason you don't want to?" She met his eyes. "Tenchi.... I haven't been embarrassing you or anything, have I?"

Tenchi was speechless for a moment, then he gathered her into his arms. "No, of course you haven't." He sighed. "Frankly, I was afraid that you'd think I was bringing you to the party just to show you off."

Kiyone leaned against him. "I wouldn't mind being shown off, if I was with you...."

"You're sure?"

"Very. Now.... we'd better get you ready for the party! Come on!" Grabbing her boyfriend by the arm again, Kiyone started in the direction of the escalator.

"Huh? Where we going now?!"

"Simple. Shopping!"

Tenchi started sweatdropping. "Where'd you get the money....?"

"Your dad gave it to me. I think he meant for me to buy some lingerie or something."

Tenchi suppressed the thought of Kiyone in lacy bra and panties; he would have bled to death via nosebleed. "W-what for?"

Kiyone smiled, obviously reading her boyfriend's thoughts. "Later. You know how much he wants a grandkid! Now come on!"

"But I'm perfectly comfortable with what I have...."

She sighed. "Tenchi, you're the most wonderful guy in the world, but sometimes you can be incredibly dense. Now, let's go and look."

"Oro...." Tenchi let Kiyone lead him away.

(Author's note: I like to think that Tenchi is a descendant of Kenshin and Kaoru's (on his maternal grandmother's side.... which means that Yosho married Kenshin's great-great-something-granddaughter), and so far I haven't seen much to contradict that. Besides, I just like saying "Oro".... ^^)

That Saturday evening found Tenchi checking his reflection in the bathroom mirror. I hope this isn't too casual....

"Tenchi, you in there?" Mihoshi's voice.

Tenchi sighed. Here goes everything.... "Coming." He stepped out of the bathroom.

"Oh, there you are." Mihoshi took a good look at him and smiled. "You look good, Tenchi! I like the outfit!"

"You really think so?" Tenchi was standing before her in faded jeans and a reddish-purple button-down shirt with the collar undone, and a black tie worn loose. Untucked shirttails and an open red and black vest completed the picture.

Mihoshi nodded. "Mm-hmm! Let's get Kiyone's opinion!" She dragged Tenchi down the hall and into Kiyone's room. "Kiyone, what do you think?"

Kiyone turned from the mirror and looked at Tenchi.

And she actually blushed.

Finally she said simply, "You look great, Tenchi. Very handsome." An almost shy smile turned the corners of her lips upward.

Tenchi smiled back, his eyes sweeping across Kiyone's profile, and finally up to her sapphire eyes. She was always a knockout, but with red lipstick and a little understated makeup, she almost shone. "So do you." Kiyone was dressed in a teal babydoll-style jumper that came down to her knees--barely--with a frilly, long-sleeved white blouse on underneath. He offered his arm to her. "Shall we go?"

Kiyone took his arm. "Let's."

Everyone else in the house was gathered at the bottom of the stairs. Nobuyuki had his camcorder out and trained on the young couple. "Smile as you're coming down the stairs!"

"Dad! Put that stupid thing away!" Tenchi was blushing again, but there was a wide grin on his face.

Mihoshi and Sasami were clapping and grinning. "You two look really good!" Sasami enthused.

"Yeah!" agreed Mihoshi. "And with those outfits, you two look like that couple in.... in.... Sasami, what's that show we watch?"

"Which one?"

"The one where everyone is in love with everyone else?"

"Marmalade Boy?"

"Yes, that's it!"

The happy couple blushed slightly.

Nobuyuki set down his camcorder and held up his new 35mm camera. "Just one more picture, kids. Say 'big wedding'!"

"Big wedding!" Tenchi and Kiyone laughed, and the flash went off.

"Good, good. Let's go, you two."

Soon afterwards, Nobuyuki's car pulled up in front of Keisuke's house. The elder Masaki's eyes almost bugged out as he saw the palatial dwelling. "That's huge! I think that's almost bigger than our house!"

"Keisuke's family must be pretty well off," agreed Kiyone.

"That they are," acknowledged Tenchi. He patted his father on the shoulder. "Thanks, Dad. We'll be home sometime tomorrow." He helped Kiyone out of the car and started to head for the house.

"Wait, Tenchi!"

Tenchi turned back. "What is it, Dad--huh?" He saw something small fly through the air, and he leaned forward, caught it, looked at it--"Dad!"

"Use it wisely, son! Have a good time!" Nobuyuki laughed and spun the car around, returning the way he'd come.

Tenchi looked at the object in his hand and sighed. "Oro...."

"Tenchi, what is--oh, I see...." Kiyone peered over his shoulder and snickered. "But, Tenchi, I thought your dad wanted me to give him grandchildren...."

Tenchi's face was turning redder by the moment. "...."

"Just put them away," she advised. "If we use them.... we use them. If not.... we don't."

Tenchi nodded, looking somewhat relieved, and shoved the object into his pocket. He turned back to her. "Shall we go?"

Kiyone nodded, and they walked up to the front door.

Keisuke answered. He was dressed in tropical-style garb (loose khakis and an untucked Hawaiian print shirt, and he had a fake lei around his neck. "Hey, you guys made it! Lookin' good!"

"Thanks," replied Tenchi dryly. "I'd say the same for you--if it weren't for that lampshade on your forehead."

"Huh?" Keisuke felt around on his head for a moment, and then glared a heatless glare at Tenchi. "Very funny."

"I know," Tenchi laughed. "So, is everyone here?"

"You better believe it. Oh, and by the way, news of Kiyone has spread far and wide--"

"I'd noticed," Kiyone noted, glancing around at all the teenagers glancing at her.

"--and everyone is anxious to meet her."

"Well, everyone can wait," Tenchi answered, sounding a little annoyed. "We just got here."

"Of course, of course," soothed Keisuke. "Now let's see.... the food's in the kitchen, through that door; you can stow your gear in Dad's study over there; I've got the stereo going in the rec room; the outside lights are up for volleyball.... or whatever.... and that's it! Have fun! Mingle, dance, whatever."

"Oh, you're here! Hi!" Miyuki came up behind Keisuke and started pulling him toward the rec room. "Kei, they're playing our song...."

Keisuke grinned. "My lady calls, and I obey. See ya!" and he let Miyuki pull him away.

Tenchi and Kiyone looked around for a moment, trying to get acclimated.

Finally Tenchi said, "What do you wanna do first?"

"Introduce me around," insisted Kiyone, a wide grin on her face. "Show me off a little."

Tenchi looked her up and down and smiled slowly.

She bopped him playfully on the head. "Tenchi! Not like that! I want to meet your friends!"

"Let's go, then," replied Tenchi. He and Kiyone entered the rec room, where a state-of-the-art stereo was blasting popular American songs. Even though the party had just started, the "dance floor" was already SRO. "Care to dance, Miss Makibi?"

"I believe I would, Mr. Masaki," Kiyone replied, and she stepped into his arms as the music shifted from the bouncy hip-hop of N-Sync's "Want You Back" to the softer, sweeter tones of Sarah Maclachlan's "Adia."

The next two hours passed swiftly. Tenchi introduced Kiyone to his friends, who were very glad to meet her, and soon after the stereo began to specialize in softer songs--all the more excuse for a continuous slow dance.

Around 9 P.M., things took a turn for the interesting. It started like this:

"Tenchi, could you get me a drink?"

"Well, okay...." Tenchi turned--and walked right into several young men. "Oh, hi."

"Evening, sempai," greeted the apparent leader, about Tenchi's height but with shorter brown hair. "So, this your girlfriend?"

"Yep. Kiyone, this is Satoshi Matsuura, my co-captain on the kendo team. Behind him are two of our teammates, Yoshi Suzuki and Takeshi Kubo. Don't worry, they're harmless." Laughter. "Hey, Takeshi, where's your girlfriend?"

"Aya-chan?" Takeshi's face immediately colored at what he'd just said, and the gentle snickering that followed. "I-I mean, she's not my girlfriend! W-we're just best friends!"
"Whatever," said Yoshi dismissively. "Anyway, where I--"

"Ta-chan! There you are!" A cute and freckle-faced girl sporting long brown hair (pulled back in two ponytails) and matching eyes flounced up and grabbed Takeshi's wrist. "We're gonna dance--" she stopped to look at Kiyone "--hi, you must be Tenchi's girlfriend, I'm Aya, nice to meet you, gotta run, see ya!" With that, she and Takeshi disappeared into the crowd of teenagers on the "dance floor."

"...anyway, it was nice to meet you, Kiyone. Bye!" Yoshi himself disappeared, in the direction of the kitchen.

Tenchi blinked. "That's odd. They usually don't vanish that fast...."

Satoshi looked around, then leaned in. "I think they wanted me to tell you, my friend. Your friends aren't the only ones who've heard about Kiyone. Some of your not-so-friendly associates have gotten wind of this...."

Tenchi's eyes narrowed. "Oh?"

"....in particular, a certain young lady of our mutual acquaintance, and..."

"And?" pressed Tenchi.

"She's here at this party."

"She what?!" Tenchi looked indignant, an expression Kiyone had rarely seen before. "I'm surprised she'd deign to come tonight...."

"What's going on?" asked Kiyone.

Tenchi sighed. "Well, Kiyone, Satoshi here is telling me that people I don't get along with are at this party, most specifically...."

"Yes?"

"....well, a certain girl." He took Kiyone's hand. "Come on; we'll get something to eat, and I'll explain it to you." He turned to lead her to the kitchen--

"Hello, Tenchi."

--and walked right into the person he was trying to ignore.

Around them, the conversations tapered off and ceased.

The young lady was very pretty--and very filled out--for her age, but what struck Kiyone most was her resemblance to Tenchi's mother. The resemblance was in appearance only, however; she carried herself with a very haughty bearing and what could only be called a smile of amused contempt.

It was a long moment before Tenchi replied in a tight voice, "Hello, Maya."

Maya opened her mouth to speak, but was interrupted by Keisuke's dry voice. "Well, well. Miss Rokubungi. Don't recall seeing your name on the guest list...."

"I assumed it was an oversight," she replied. Her voice was soft and melodious, and Kiyone could see a number of boys (and several girls ^^) sighing as they heard it.

Still, Maya's eyes never left Tenchi's face, save for a quick appraisal of Kiyone. Kiyone didn't want to know the results. "So, is this her?"

Tenchi glared at her. "Kiyone, this is Maya Rokubungi, an.... old acquaintance. Maya, this is Kiyone Makibi, my girlfriend."

Maya turned to Kiyone with what was probably her version of a gracious smile. "Of course. It's a pleasure; I've heard so much about you...."

Kiyone pushed a plastic smile onto her face and forced herself to shake the other girl's hand. "....likewise, I'm sure."

Maya gestured at the young man beside her. He was slightly taller than Tenchi, with longer brown hair; unlike Tenchi and most of the other boys with long hair, he wore it down, so that the long bangs hung over his green eyes. "This is my boyfriend, Ryuji Karigari."

Ryuji just grinned.

Maya stepped up and took Tenchi's hand. "How about a dance? For old times' sake?"

"I really don't think--"

Kiyone squeezed Tenchi's other hand. "It's okay, Tenchi. Go ahead."

Tenchi shot a questioning glance back at his girlfriend as Maya led him away; Kiyone responded with a reassuring smile.

"Why're you doing this?" hissed Tenchi as he and Maya were dancing.

Maya smiled up at him, her face dimpling. When they had been together, the action would make Tenchi's heart skip a beat; even now, he had to fight its effects. "What's wrong, Ten-chan?"

"You have some nerve." I oughta slap you for that, he thought. Even Kiyone doesn't call me that yet....

"So where did you two meet?" Maya asked, abruptly changing the topic.

"She's a friend of my cousin Tomiko," Tenchi answered quickly, using the story that he and Kiyone had long since agreed upon. "I met her several years ago at their high school graduation, and she moved into my house this summer because she'll be attending college here come fall."

"Hmm.... and exactly what part of Japan is she from?"

"Why do you care?"

Maya shrugged and leaned in closer to Tenchi. She was wearing that perfume he'd used to like.... "She seems.... nice."

Tenchi stiffened. "She's worth a hundred of you, Maya."

Maya pretended she hadn't heard those words; instead she said, "Listen to the music...."

Tenchi did--and could barely suppress a growl. The song that the stereo was blaring out now was "Sukiyaki" by 4 P.M. (in an irony of ironies, an American pop group's remake of a song that was originally a Japanese hit), a pop hit in the summer of 1995 and the song that had been "their song."

It took all of his self-control to keep from slapping her, especially when he met her eyes and found that all-too-familiar slightly mocking look.

"I can't believe you," he snarled quietly. "Was this the entire reason you came to the party?"

"You tell me, Ten-chan."

"Don't you ever call me that again!" He glared at her. "You knew I'd be here. You knew that I'd bring Kiyone with me. You came prepared to steal me from her.... but not because you'd had a change of heart.

"You wanted to do it.... just to see if you could."

Maya was silent for a long moment. Finally she brought her eyes back up to Tenchi's. "You're right.... but this was as much a test of both you and her?"

"Huh?" Now Tenchi was lost.

"I wanted to make sure that both of you were serious, that this wasn't just a delayed rebound." Maya managed a smile. "Believe it or not, Tenchi, your happiness is important to me."

Tenchi was stunned. "...."

"And you passed the test," Maya said with a smile. Her expression went thoughtful. "But has she?"

She suddenly realized that Tenchi was smiling. "What is it?"

"Five.... four.... three.... two...."

"Get your hands off of me!"

And Kiyone suddenly had Ryuji facedown on the floor, his arms pinned behind him. She was kneeling on his back.

"Listen to me very carefully," she growled. "Only Tenchi touches me. Try again, and more than your pride'll be hurt, understand?"

"Y-yes, ma'am...." Ryuji croaked weakly.

Maya blinked. "Oh my.... I'd say she passed."

Tenchi nodded proudly. "Yep. My Kiyone's very adept at self-defense."

Maya gave him a slight push. "Go to her. I'll scrape Ryuji off the carpet."

Tenchi started to walk away, then turned back. "Maya.... about what I said before...."

She waved an airy hand. "Don't worry about it. What're exes for?"

"Tell me about Maya," Kiyone inquired. She and Tenchi were sitting this dance out in favor of a snack.

Tenchi paused in mid-bite to look at her, then gulped down the rest of his teriyaki. "What d'ya want to know?"

"When did you two go out?"

"Let me see.... well, we first met in middle school. We became friends, and by the time we graduated and entered Okayama High.... well, we were more than friends. We were together till about the time that girls started falling from the sky around my house." Both of them chuckled at that.

"Were you two happy?"

Tenchi looked curiously at Kiyone. "That's an odd question to ask about your boyfriend's previous relationship...."

Kiyone shrugged. "Stop avoiding the question."

"Yeah, I guess we were."

"So, why'd you two...."

Tenchi blew out a tired breath. "Well, Maya's main fault is that she's something of a.... what's the word.... social climber, I guess. I'm not despised by any means, but I'm not that popular, either. So, when a more popular guy was suddenly free...." He shrugged.

Kiyone squeezed his arm. "I'm sorry."

Tenchi smiled and took her hand. "It's okay. I'm with you now, aren't I?"

"You certainly are," she replied coyly. "Tell me, though, if you knew that she was a social climber, then why did you even...."

"Because she's a sweetie, when all is said and done." He caught her eyes across the dance floor, and they shared a smile for a moment. "Truthfully, I'd almost forgotten that until tonight...." His ears perked up as he heard the song end and another one begin. "Oh! C'mon!" He pulled Kiyone to her feet. "We've got to dance to this one!"

"Which one is it?" asked Kiyone flusteredly.

"'You Get What You Give' by the New Radicals. I love this song." Tenchi pulled Kiyone onto the dance floor.

"Well, okay...." Kiyone relaxed into Tenchi's arms and began to move with the music as the lyrics kicked in.

Wake up kids, we got the dreamers' disease

Age fourteen, they got you down on your knees

So polite, you're busy still sayin' please....

Frenemies, who when you're down ain't your friends

Every night, we smash the Mercedes-Benz

First we run, and then we laugh till we cry....

But when the night is fallin'

You cannot find the light

You feel your dreams are dying

Hold tight....

You got the music in you

Don't let go

You got the music in you

One dance left

This world is gonna pull through

Don't give up

You've got a reason to live

Can't forget

We only get what we give....

Kiyone chuckled. "I can see why you like this song...."

"Shh...." Tenchi held her close. "Keep listening...."

Four A.M., we ran the miracle mile

We're flat broke, but hey, we do it in style

The bad rich, God's flying in for your trial....

But when the night is fallin'

You cannot find a friend

You feel your tree is breaking

Just then....

You got the music in you

Don't let go

You got the music in you

One dance left

This world is gonna pull through

Don't give up

You've got a reason to live

Can't forget

We only get what we give....

"Here we go." Tenchi smiled and sang the next lyrics while looking Kiyone in the eye.

This whole damn world could fall apart

You'll be all right, follow your heart

You're in harm's way, I'm right behind

Now say you're mine....

Kiyone didn't speak. Instead she pulled closer to Tenchi and met his lips with hers.

You got the music in you

Don't let go

You got the music in you

One dance left

This world is gonna pull through

Don't give up

You've got a reason to live

Can't forget

We only get what we give....

"Tenchi...." Kiyone nudged her unconscious boyfriend. "Tenchi, wake up. The sun's rising."

"Hn?" Tenchi didn't move from where he was--namely, curled up with his head resting in Kiyone's lap. Like many of the couples, they had retreated outside around 3 A.M. for some fresh air. Since it was summer, and they were near the sea, the night air had stayed rather comfortable during the night. Right now there were three other couples sacked out on the porch.

Kiyone bopped Tenchi on the head (gently, of course; this is a romance fic ^^). "Tenchi.... wake up.... for me?"

Tenchi grunted and sat up, rubbing sleep from his eyes. "All right, if it's for you...." He opened his eyes in time to see the first rays of dawn peeking over the horizon. He smiled. "Hmm.... pretty. It's been a while since the last time I watched a sunrise."

"Same here," agreed Kiyone. She shifted around so that she was snuggled up to Tenchi; he looped his arm around her. "Y'know...."

"Yeah?" he asked.

"I want to do this more with you...."

"The party, or the sunrise?" he asked, kissing her forehead.

"Everything...."

"Me too."

End Chapter 4

Chapter 5: You Are My Lady

(Note: this takes place roughly six months after the event in the previous chapter, making the date somewhere around early-to-mid February 1999. The other assumption is that Tenchi had already graduated from his high school before this series began. And yes, I know the chronology of events in this episode pretty much negates those in Watashitachi no Yume no Uchi. Gomen nasai, minna....)

"K-Kiyone...." Tenchi's voice was strained. "I c-can't hold it much longer...."

"Just a little more, Tenchi...." Kiyone's voice was just as taut. "Please.... move a little...."

"Okay.... ungh." Tenchi shifted his weight.

"Yes, that's it...." Kiyone's voice was gaining steadily in pitch. "Almost.... a little more.... a little--yes!"

Tenchi grunted in approval and relaxed against the dresser. "I hate moving furniture."

Kiyone stuck her tongue out at him.

"Which doesn't mean I won't do it if you want me to," he corrected hastily.

"Flatterer," she said playfully. She dusted off her hands and triumphantly hefted up the framed picture that had fallen behind the dresser--and necessitated the moving of furniture. "See, Tenchi? Wasn't this worth the effort?"

Tenchi smiled at the picture. It was from that past Christmas; in the picture, they were slightly buzzed and kissing sloppily under the mistletoe. "Well, I have to agree. You look so cute, what with that droopy little Santa's cap...."

"Thank you," she replied sweetly. "Now, shouldn't we move this back? You do have classes today."

He sighed. "All right...."

"....and so, when you look more closely at the patterns on these leaves, you'll see...."

Tenchi stifled a yawn and struggled to keep his eyes open. The local college hadn't been his first choice for higher education, but his last year at Okayama High had been a hectic one. For some reason the teachers became enamored of the idea that their already-busy students needed a doubled load of homework and studying. There was a lot of complaining, but it wasn't too long before they settled down and got to work. It wasn't too bad, really; if you just put a few more hours into your homework or studying, you'd be fine.

Unfortunately, Tenchi wasn't able to do so. After nearly seven months of quite and peaceful nights, he still remembered what used to be a nightly occurrence: Ryoko glomping onto him, Ayeka getting pissed, Ryoko making a snide remark, Ayeka powering up for combat, Ryoko responding in kind, everyone else in the house running for their lives.... he finished the year with a "B-" average. Not bad at all, but nowhere near what he needed to get into his father's alma mater of Todai (author's note: Todai is the abbreviation for "Tokyo Daigaku," or "Tokyo University." That particular college is one of Japan's most prestigious, and no doubt one of the hardest to get into).

Fortunately, Nobuyuki had been quite understanding (he'd had to live with the fighting too). "Go to school in town for a couple of years, and then try to transfer to Todai!" he'd advised.

In all honesty, though, he had grown quite comfortable at Okayama City College. Many of his classmates from Okayama High were here too; the tuition here was drastically cheaper....

....and, best of all, he wasn't separated from Kiyone.

"....when we go on our trip to Kurashiki next week, we'll be seeing some excellent examples of these plants...."

Tenchi smiled as he reflected over the past six months.

He knew it sounded corny, but they had literally been the best six months of his life.

Sometimes he and Kiyone would go out for dinner and a movie, and end up at the karaoke bar until dawn (well, okay, that was an exaggeration.... for the most part.... that only happened once). Other times they would spend the evening aboard Yagami, sipping tea and talking while watching the stars or coasting around the solar system. And, during the period of early autumn that Americans called "Indian summer," they would sit up on the roof in the very spot where they had started seeing each other differently, this time deliberately curled close with a blanket and some tea on hand.

Being with Kiyone was refreshing and soothing. More than that, it was comfortable. They weren't intensely passionate, like some couples at the college. They didn't need to be. Tenchi found as much satisfaction in holding her hand or holding her in his arms as the other couples apparently did in making out... not that they were adverse to that, but still...

There was an old song that had been a favorite of Tenchi's parents, particularly his mother. Tenchi had not heard it played in the house since his mother passed on, but he remembered the words to the chorus:

"It's the stuff that dreams are made of,

It's the slow and steady fire,

It's the stuff that dreams are made of,

It's your heart and soul's desire..."

He'd always felt that song described his parents' relationship: comfortable, quiet, affectionate, stable, with the ability to say more in a glance and smile than in a hundred words. And now... he felt the song applied to him and Kiyone.

He loved her. And she loved him.

More to the point, he could no longer imagine a world without her at its center. Very soon, he would show her this....

"Ahem. Having a nice daydream, Mr. Masaki?"

Tenchi blinked and suddenly realized that the eyes of the entire class were on him. "Ah ha ha ha..."

"I'll take that as a yes," smirked the botany professor, mirth sparkling in his expressive amethyst eyes. He brushed back red bangs from his eyes. "Now, as I was saying..."

"Don't take it too hard," chuckled Keisuke, slapping his friend on the back. "It coulda been worse... and at least it was Himura-sensei. You know how laid-back he is."

"I guess..." Tenchi grumbled.

"It coulda been Sagara-sensei," continued Keisuke. "He never would have let you live it down, and you probably would have had to bring him food just to pass the class...."

"Point made...."

Keisuke, however, was on a roll. "Or it coulda been Kamiya-sensei. High school kendo team captain or not, she still would have swept the floor with you, especially if she'd known it was her husband's class you were daydreaming in...."

"You're not gonna shut up anytime soon, are you?"

"Hey, you two." Miyuki slipped into step with her friend and boyfriend. "Jeez, Tenchi, what's with you?"

"Idonwannatalkaboutit."

"Huh?!"

Keisuke snickered. "Our good Mr. Masaki here was caught daydreaming in botany."

"Shut it," hissed Tenchi, now obviously irked.

"O-ho!" Miyuki sounded almost delighted. "I bet I know what you were daydreaming about... or maybe I should say who."

"I said shut it, Miyuki," Tenchi grumbled.

Miyuki snickered, then said "Sure..." in a tone that clearly said that she wouldn't shut up any time soon. "What kinda daydream was it?"

"None of your business," Tenchi muttered. He started toward the Student Union building, then turned back to look at his friends. "You coming?"

"Are you sure you don't wanna be alone with your daydreams?" teased Keisuke.

"Great, I'm surrounded by comedians...."

The three of them headed for the Student Union building (or the Japanese equivalent) for some lunch. As they entered the building, Miyuki glanced at the bookstore window, did a double-take, and yanked Keisuke to a stop. "Look!"

The two young men turned to look--and immediately started sweating.

In the bookstore window was a Valentine's Day display, complete with the requisite decorations and items for sale. Above and behind the largest flower arrangement sat a sign that read "Show that special someone how much they mean to you!"

"Oro..." Tenchi murmured.

"You said it," concurred Keisuke.

Miyuki rolled her eyes. "Honestly, you two, what's the big--"

"Miyuki! Guys! Help me!" Toshi burst through the building's doors, a look akin to that of a rabbit running for its life on his face.

"Toshi? What the hell--"

"Someone just reminded Natsumi that Valentine's Day is this weekend. Hide me!"

Before the three college students could react, Natsumi burst into the Student Union. "There you are!" she called as she grabbed Toshi by the jacket collar. "We need to discuss where you're taking me on Valentine's Day!"

"But, 'tsumi--"

"No buts, Toshi!" Natsumi dragging him out of range effectively silenced whatever protests Toshi might have had. The three others stared after them for a long moment, sweatdropping until they were out of sight.

Finally, Keisuke slumped in relief. "Wow. Am I glad that I'm not in that--" he gulped as he turned and found himself face-to-face with Miyuki "--oh, hi."

"We need to talk about Valentine's Day too, Kei," Miyuki said dryly. She was trying to sound annoyed but came across as amused.

For his part, Tenchi was tuning them out. If he remembered right, his and Kiyone's six-month anniversary would be Saturday, the day before Valentine's Day. In spite of his reflexive reaction to the bookstore display, he was actually looking forward to that night...

"...daydreaming again, Tenchi? What's Kiyone wearing in this one?"

Tenchi's face reddened for the second time that hour.

Ring! Ring!

"Could someone get that?" called Sasami. "I've got my hands full with the beef pot!"

"Sure, I'll get it," Kiyone acknowledged. Maybe it'll be Tenchi....

Ring! Ring! Ri--click! "Hello?"

"Kiyone?"

"Tenchi! Hi!" Kiyone's voice shifted from ho-hum to chipper in 1.5 seconds. "Where are you?"

"At school. I hafta work this afternoon; I should be home around eight or so. I just wanted to see how y--I mean, how everyone was doing..."

Kiyone blushed. "How sweet... oh, how'd classes go today?"

An embarrassed chuckle. "Okay, except for biology... I was daydreaming again..."

"Really?" Kiyone's voice took on a teasing tone. "What about....?"

"Err.... nothing...."

"Of course not." Kiyone's voice told Tenchi that she didn't believe him. "I'll ask about it when you get home."

"I gotta go. Love you..."

"Love you too..." Kiyone listened for the click before hanging up. Sighing, she replaced the receiver.

"Was that Tenchi?" asked Mihoshi, pausing on her way to the laundry room.

Kiyone nodded.

Mihoshi smiled. "Kiyone, you're blushing! What were you two talking about on the phone?"

"N-nothing.... he's just working tonight...." For the past three months, Tenchi had been working part-time at one of the shops in the mall, as a cashier. He claimed he was working for date money, but Kiyone got the feeling there was more to it than that.

"So, what do you two have planned for Valentine's Day?"

"....something...." Kiyone grinned.

"....thank you for coming to Yôji's! Please come again!" Tenchi closed the register up and sighed. "Finally, I'm done."

"Good work today, Tenchi," commented his boss, a stocky middle-aged man with a receding hairline and cheerful brown eyes. "Oh, I think you'll want this...." He handed Tenchi an envelope.

"Thanks, Mr. Kijima. G'night." Tenchi shucked off his apron, grabbed his jacket, and stepped out of the small coffee shop. A quick glance at his watch told him that he'd make the outside bus stop with several minutes to spare. As he walked, he opened the envelope and pulled out the paycheck.

He smiled as he saw the amount.

Great, I'll have just enough.

Ever since he'd started working at Yôji's Coffees in the Okayama Plaza, he had been setting aside about one-quarter of each check for a special gift for a certain green-haired girl. Finally, he would have enough to pay for said gift, which Yoriko (who happened to work in the shop where again said gift rested) had on extended layaway.

"Good," he said to himself. "Tomorrow I'll get the rest of the money, cash this, and pick up that ring...."

"I really love you, Shizuku!"

Tenchi blinked as he heard those words (hearing a strange young man profess love for someone who doesn't live in one's household will confuse anyone), then relaxed as he heard the opening notes of "Country Road." He stepped into the living room with a rueful grin on his face. "Figures I'd miss that."

"You're late, Tenchi," Kiyone called out cheerfully. She patted the place on the couch next to her. "Saved you a place...."

"Thanks so much." Tenchi came around the couch and sat next to Kiyone, draping an arm around her shoulders. She automatically scooted closer to him, resting her head on his shoulder.

On the other couch, Mihoshi and Sasami were singing along with the closing theme. "Country Road, kono michi...." In Sasami's lap, Ryo-ohki mi-yaed along .

"So how was work?" asked Kiyone, squeezing Tenchi's left hand.

"Same old, same old," he replied. "Did you and Mihoshi hafta go on patrol today?"

Kiyone nodded. "Yeah. Same old, same old there too.... wait, there was one thing: this kid almost crashed his ship into the asteroid belt." She chuckled. "But that wasn't the worst of it."

"What was?" asked Tenchi, squeezing her shoulder.

"He didn't even have a pilot's license or permit!" She was tittering by now. "He had taken the ship out to impress his girlfriend! W-we had to call his parents to come pick them up.

Tenchi slapped his forehead, a wry grin on his lips. "Good god, how stupid.... I don't know whether to be relieved or frightened that people off this planet can be so dumb...."

"Be scared," Kiyone insisted. "It's safer, and anticipates more."

"Good point."

Tenchi smiled as he climbed the stairs, an unconscious Sasami on his back. The little princess had fallen asleep while watching the late show, and he hadn't the heart to wake her. Kiyone had gone ahead to get her futon ready for her. The two lovers shared a slow smile as he carried Sasami into her room.

Kiyone watched Tenchi tenderly tuck Sasami in; the young girl immediately curled up under the covers, Ryo-ohki nestling next to her head. She left the room with him and shut the door quietly before speaking. "She's adorable, isn't she?"

Tenchi nodded. "I wouldn't mind having a coupla girls like her."
Kiyone grinned at him. "Tenchi, are you trying to tell me something?"

"That depends," he replied smoothly. "Is there something you should tell me?"

"Silly boy." Before he could move, Kiyone stepped close to him and wrapped her arms around his neck, and, a moment later, her lips met his. His arms went around her waist, drawing her closer, his hands slipping to the small of her back....

"Geez, you two, get a room. I swear, Tenchi, your mother and I were never like that...."

"Go away, Dad...." Tenchi murmured, his lips still caressing Kiyone's. They held the kiss until Nobuyuki grunted and went into his own room. Finally they pulled apart slowly.

Kiyone was the first to recover her breath. "Talk about this tomorrow?"

"Count on it." Tenchi pulled her back into his arms and held her for a long moment. "G'night, Kiyone. Love you."

"Love you too. G'night." She pecked him on the cheek and went into her own room.

Saturday night:

In Kiyone's room....

"What to wear, what to wear...."

Mihoshi and Sasami began to sweatdrop as Kiyone, wearing nothing but her skivvies, emptied her the contents of her closet onto her bed and started rummaging through them.

"Um.... Kiyone, I don't think you need to worry so much about what you're wearing," Sasami said slowly.

"Probably right," agreed Kiyone, now holding up a black minidress for examination. "But tonight is very special, and I want to make it perfect." She turned to face her friends, holding up the dress in front of her. "How does this look?"

"....it does look good....," Mihoshi admitted slowly. "Um, Kiyone.... just what were you planning on happening tonight....?" The dress itself only came down to mid-thigh, and was made of a lace-like silken mesh; while not transparent--quite--it left very little to the imagination. The only time Mihoshi had ever seen her partner wear that dress was that time she worked a short stint with the vice squad on Kawamoto Prime.

Kiyone laughed. "Oh, don't worry. I'm not going to wear this.... tonight. Maybe on our wedding night...."

Mihoshi and Sasami immediately pictured Tenchi's reaction, and shuddered at the thought of so massive a nosebleed.

"Here we are." Kiyone raised her choice: a knee-length gray pleated skirt with a white peasant-style blouse, and a slightly faded denim vest. She started dressing. "Tenchi likes this outfit."

"You never did answer her, though," Sasami mused. "Exactly what do you expect to happen tonight, Kiyone?"

Kiyone turned to look at Sasami while her left hand rummaged in the small jewelry box on the dresser. It stopped as it found the sought-after object. She smiled as she held it up: a silver, heart-shaped pendant on a gold chain. In the center of it was a polished Megamian sapphire with the characters for her name etched into the silver above it. "A proposal, Sasami. See you guys later!" and she was out the door.

Sasami blinked after her for a moment. "Mihoshi, is she serious?"

Mihoshi smiled slightly. "I think so, Sasami. That pendant she just put on?"

"Yeah?"

"Megamian women wear those to indicate their readiness to marry their lovers. She would wear that on a night when she expected her boyfriend to propose." Mihoshi had to smile. She'd never thought her best friend would be so.... impetuous. Truth be told, she would be very surprised if Kiyone wasn't with child by this time next year.

Sasami nodded in understanding. "Ohh, I see.... but does Tenchi know this?"

"I don't think we need to worry about them."

(Yeah, I know all you hentai-tachi out there are wondering just what our beloved Kiyone-sama is wearing under her outfit. I could tell you.... no, you'll just hafta wait for "Interlude: Make Love to Me," which will follow this chapter almost immediately.--author)

In Tenchi's room....

"What am I gonna say, what am I gonna say...." Tenchi was pacing back and forth in front of his mirror. Deciding to wear hadn't been that difficult; just wear what he had to the party. Figuring out what he was going to say to Kiyone.... how he was going to tell her that he wanted her to spend the rest of her life with him.... was another matter entirely.

Flopping back on his bed (softly, as he was trying not to mess up his clothes), he thought back to the conversations he'd had that day, both with his father and grandfather. Neither of the older men had been especially helpful; the reason for his inquiry had sent them a-stroll down Memory Lane, remembering the happy times with their deceased spouses.

A sigh escaped Tenchi's lips. He supposed he couldn't blame the older men for waxing nostalgic about their lost loves; in fact, it spoke well of both of them that they had loved their dead wives so much. Still, that helped him not-at-all in the here and now.

Or maybe it does, he reflected. Maybe I don't need to find fancy words. Kiyone likes things clear and to the point anyway, especially after having Mihoshi as a partner. Maybe all I need to say is, "Kiyone, I love you. Will you marry me?"

There was a sudden knock at his door, startling Tenchi out of his reverie. Her voice followed. "Tenchi? May I come in?"

"Come on in," he said before she could finish the sentence. Kiyone entered.... and for a moment, his breathing stopped. He had always thought of her as beautiful, easily the most attractive of the girls who lived in his house, and had told her this many times. But tonight....

She looked almost like an angel.

It would only be much later, when they shared a bed and their first child was growing inside of her, that he would be able to pinpoint what exactly was different about her, that he would learn of the significance of the pendant she wore.

Kiyone smiled at him. "Are you ready to go, Tenchi?" She reached a hand down to him.

"Hai." He took her hand and rose from the bed.

"Where are we going?" Kiyone asked as Tenchi navigated the Corolla through the crowded Okayama streets. Since his graduation and subsequent earning of a driver's license (you hafta graduate high school before you can drive in Japan, which explains why all the HS-age characters walk or take public transport ^^.--author), he and his dad had pretty much shared the car between them, with Nobuyuki taking it during the week for work but Tenchi getting the run of it on the weekends.

Tenchi smiled. "Now, Kiyone, it wouldn't be a surprise if I told you, now, would it?"

Kiyone mock-pouted. "If it's a beef bowl counter, Tenchi Masaki...."

"Relax. Would I do that to my girlfriend on our six-month anniversary?" Particularly if I were planning to propose to her? he added silently.

"I don't know," she replied in a teasing voice. "Perhaps I should compare notes with Maya Rokubungi...."

"I'll pretend I didn't hear that. Anyway...." He turned the car into a parking lot. "Here we are."

Kiyone looked, and her eyes widened. Tenchi had just parked them in front of Okayama's nicest restaurant. "Here?!"

"I trust this meets with your approval, ma'am?" Tenchi grinned.

"Oh, you!" Kiyone was blushing slightly now, but she was also beaming. "But how will you...."

"I've been working, remember? Besides...." Tenchi pulled out Nobuyuki's credit card. "He said, 'Sky's the limit tonight.... as long as I get a grandson soon.'"

That made Kiyone howl with laughter. "Is he still on that?!"

"Hai, he is. Then again, he wouldn't be Dad if he wasn't. But tonight isn't about Dad, now, is it?" Tenchi got out of the car, closing his door, and crossed over to Kiyone's side, opening her door. "My lady, your carriage awaits...."

"Welcome to Ryoji's!" The attractive young waitress smiled cutely. She looked much like a twentysomething brunette Sasami, complete with twinned ponytails and freckles. "Would you like to order your dinners now, or drinks first?"

"Drinks first, please," requested Tenchi. "We'd like to look over our menus first.... Kiyone, what would you like to drink?"

"Hmm.... a Cherry Coke would be good."

"Quite right." Tenchi returned his attention to the waitress. "Two Cokes, one with cherry syrup, the other with vanilla, please."

"Gotcha!" The waitress winked as she turned to walk away.

Kiyone raised an eyebrow. "Do you know her, Tenchi?"

"I don't believe so.... wait, she's that really flirty waitress that's Dad's friend." Tenchi shakes his head. "He must have called ahead and told her about us...."

"Well, I don't like her winking at you." Kiyone was doing her best to sound jealous, but there was more amusement in her eyes than annoyance. "I swear, every girl we meet makes eyes at you...."

"That's not true!" he protested lightly.

"Well.... okay, not the married ones...." She let herself trail off as the waitress returned with their drinks.

"Are you two ready to order?" she asked brightly.

"You go first, Kiyone," urged Tenchi.

"Such a gentleman...." Kiyone quickly scanned the entrees. "I'd like the grilled salmon with lemon, please."

Tenchi nodded in approval. "And I'd like the sirloin steak with mushroom sauce."

"All right.... one steak with mushroom sauce, and one grilled salmon with lemon. I'll be back soon with those!" And she disappeared.

She was as good as her word, returning quickly (at least, as quickly as being a waitress in a popular restaurant on a Saturday night will permit) with their meals. Tenchi and Kiyone set to eating, making the obligatory small talk about how each one's day went and such, but blended in was serious romantic talk. Anyone who watched them could tell that they were a couple on the verge of engagement....

Finally the meals were finished, and Tenchi's mind was racing once again as to exactly how to propose to Kiyone. I guess the simple, direct approach is best, he finally decided, and he reached into his blazer pocket. "Kiyone?"

She looked up, a soft smile on her lips.

Tenchi's fingers closed around the small velvet box, and he started to pull it from his pocket. "Kiyone...."

Kiyone leaned forward, expectantly.

"I--"

Beep beep beep beep....

"Dammit!" both of them snarled, loudly enough to grab the attention of some nearby diners. Blushing, they quieted down, then Kiyone looked at her GP-issue signal/comlink watch. It was beeping in an annoyingly predictable pattern, the signal for a minor emergency out near Neptune. She looked apologetically to Tenchi. "Tenchi, I'm sorry, but--"

"It's okay, it's okay," he assured her. "In fact...."

"Yes, Tenchi?"

"This thing.... it's not that important, is it?"

Kiyone was a little confused as to why he was asking. Still, she answered, "Not really. Probably just a busted reactor or something. Why?"

"Could I come with you?" The words popped out before Tenchi quite knew what he was going to say.

Kiyone looked equally surprised, but the thought of her and Tenchi having sometime alone on Yagami cheered her. Maybe he would have a chance to ask there.... "Sure. Come on."

"Here's some tea. You kinda look like you need it." Tenchi pressed the mug of green tea into his girlfriend's hands and looked at her concernedly.

Kiyone smiled wearily at him. "Thanks...." She took a long sip, savoring the warmth of the bitter liquid as it slid down her throat. Setting the cup down, she sighed.

The emergency had indeed been a minor one, nothing more than the busted reactor she'd predicted back in the restaurant. However, the moment that had been fixed, something else on that ship had fallen apart, and so on, and so on.... all told, it was past midnight before they had been able to slap enough patches on that tub to get it to the nearest spacedock. Kiyone was in no mood to pilot Yagami back to Earth herself, so she had activated the autopilot and now she and Tenchi were in her quarters, recuperating.

At least Tenchi held up well, she thought proudly. While not very familiar with the various systems aboard the old wreck, he had been very helpful in running for tools and parts, providing an extra back or pair of arms where needed, and keeping her awake with backrubs and pot after pot of tea. She felt his concerned eyes on her, and smiled reassuringly. "I'm okay, Tenchi. Really."

"Really? Move over." Tenchi shifted over to the couch Kiyone was sprawled across and began to massage her shoulders. "Now, relax." He sighed. "I worry about you, y'know...."

"I know...." she sighed. "But Tenchi, you know tonight isn't an isolated incident...."

"I know," he said. "I'm glad you changed back into civvies. It's a lot easier to massage you in civvies...."

She had to smile at that. "Let me finish. Tenchi, if we get.... really serious.... this will be a part of our lives."

"I realize that, Kiyone.... and I though we were really serious...."

"We are--oh, you know what I mean!" She sighed in contentment as his hands worked her muscles. One of Tenchi's many good points; he was a fine masseuse. "But seriously, Tenchi, if you.... marry me--" There, I've finally pushed it out in the open. "--you'll have to put up with the part of me that's a cop. Serving in the Galaxy Police is my career. More to the point, I'm good at it and I enjoy it. If we marry you'll be the most important thing in my life--as you already are--but nights like this will be quite common, and much as I wish I could, I won't be able to bring you along each time. In maybe five years or so, I'll return to Megami to take up my familial responsibilities, and life will be much simpler, but this is who I am now and for the foreseeable future...."

Her voice trailed off as she realized that Tenchi was now in front of her, holding her hands in his.

"I know all this, Kiyone," he said softly, squeezing her hands affectionately, "But I don't care. Your sense of duty is one of the things I love about you.... and after all these years, don't you think I'm used to odd things and odd hours?"

"I know...." she said, squeezing back. "I just wanted to make sure you knew what you were getting into."

"Well.... I don't, not completely. But that won't stop me." Tenchi slowly pulled one hand loose and reached into his jacket. ""Now, where was I before we were so rudely interrupted?"

"Right there is about right," Kiyone said brightly.

"Right, right...." He pulled the small velvet-line box free and thumbed it open.

Inside was a simple but beautiful gold ring. The stone wasn't the largest Kiyone had ever seen, but it was a real diamond. Considering that this had been bought on a college student's part-time job wages, it was quite impressive.

Kiyone smiled. "It's beautiful, Tenchi...."

"Kiyone," Tenchi said seriously, "I love you. I love you with all my heart. More to the point, I want to be with you for the rest of my life, regardless of where that takes me." He slipped the ring onto her right ring finger. "Marry me.... Kiyone, are you all right?" He reached up and started wiping the tears from her face. "Kiyone, why are you crying? Did I say something wrong, or--"

Kiyone shook her head sharply, tears still trickling from her eyes. "No, not at all...." Her fingertips gently caressed the ring. "It's wonderful.... just like the man that gave it to me...." She smiled, her tears finally drying away. "I love you so much. Of course I'll marry you...."

Tenchi slumped in relief. "Thank God." Before Kiyone could do anything, he pulled her into his lap and settled back on the couch.

"Hey!" she protested lamely, her cheeks now the color of Yagami. She was also grinning.

"Get used to this," he said lightly.

"Well, if I must...." She shifted slightly so that she could comfortably snuggle against him.

They sat like that for a long while, each lost in the sound of the other's heartbeat, until Kiyone stirred and looked at Tenchi. "Tenchi?"

"Huh?"

"What exactly did you have planned for us after dinner?"

"Dancing? How romantic!" Kiyone watched her fiancé pop a CD into the player. They had had a light dinner of what food was left onboard Yagami, and were now following up on Tenchi's planned itinerary for the evening. Since they were somewhere around Jupiter right now instead of near the dance club, they had to improvise somewhat.

"Why thank you, Kiyone." Tenchi hit the PLAY button and moved over to Kiyone, looping his arms around her waist. "I think you'll recognize this song...."

Kiss me, out of the bearded barley

Nightly, beside the green green grass

Swing, swing, the spinning step

You'll wear those shoes and I will wear that dress

Oh, kiss me, beneath the milky twilight

Lead me out on the moonlit floor

Lift your open hand, strike up the band

Make the fireflies dance, silver moon sparkling....

So kiss me....

"I love this song...." sighed Kiyone, leaning into Tenchi.

"I know. I like it too," agreed Tenchi. It was pure luck that Kiyone had a CD player aboard Yagami, and it was even luckier that she had this CD. Say whatever you would about the Americans; they made good music.

Kiss me, down by the broken tree house

Swing me upon its hanging tire

Bring, bring, bring your flowered hat

We'll take the trail marked on your father's map

Oh, kiss me, beneath the milky twilight

Lead me out on the moonlit floor

Lift your open hand, strike up the band

Make the fireflies dance, silver moon sparkling....

So kiss me....

"Hmm.... I think I will," Tenchi said teasingly.

"Silly boy, don't tease me."

"I'm not...." Tenchi tightened his arms around Kiyone's waist and met her lips with his. She felt.... she tasted.... so good, as if he was where he'd always belonged.

Oh, kiss me, beneath the milky twilight

Lead me out on the moonlit floor

Lift your open hand, strike up the band

Make the fireflies dance, silver moon sparkling....

So kiss me....

So kiss me....

Kiyone sighed contentedly and leaned against Tenchi. "Could we play that one more time?"

"One step ahead of you," he whispered, and she smiled as the track repeated itself.

They danced to the song for a long time, holding each other close. Tenchi was almost completely lost in Kiyone when he heard her whisper something. He pulled back slightly to look at her. "What was that?"

Kiyone blushed slightly. "Just something from my home world. It's a saying said between a husband and wife, or very close lovers. It's very serious; just saying it is tantamount to a proposal." She sighed and met his eyes. "Arei tai yone ro komi, Tenchi-yon. It means 'you are the heart of my life, my beloved Tenchi.'"

Tenchi smiled and gently caressed her right cheek. "That's beautiful. How would I say it back to you?"

"The woman calls the man '-yon,' and the man calls the woman '-yoni.'"

"All right, let me try it.... Arei tai yone ro komi, Kiyone-yoni. Was that it?"

"Yes, that's it...." Kiyone tipped her head back slightly and pursed her lips, indicating that she wanted to be kissed. Tenchi obliged her, wrapping his arms tighter around her.

Finally, an eternity later, Kiyone's voice spoke softly again. "Tenchi-yon?"

"Yes, Kiyone-yoni?"

"Make love to me."

"Huh?!" Tenchi looked at her in shock. Not that the thought hadn't crossed his mind--in fact, he had been doing his best to ignore those urges--but still.... "A-are you sure?"

Kiyone smiled. "Tenchi-yon, the first thing you need to learn about Megamian women is that they never say 'make love to me' unless they're absolutely sure."

"And what's the second?" Tenchi asked lightly.

"One step at a time, Tenchi-yon...."

(Don't bother putting in your hentai thoughts here; this is where "Interlude: Make Love to Me" will fit in.--author)

Nobuyuki stretched and yawned. 'Maybe it wasn't such a good idea to wait up all night for them to get back...."

"Then why did you?" Washu inquired, bringing him a cup of tea. Unlike Nobuyuki, she--and everyone else in the house--had slept soundly.

"I wanted to tease Tenchi and Kiyone when they got home. Last night was their six-month anniversary, and I think he was planning to propose, so I was expecting them to get home late. I guess I didn't expect them to be this late, though…"

"We're home!" The front door slid open, and the missing couple stepped through.

"Oh! Welcome back, you two!" called out Sasami, emerging from the kitchen. "Did you two have a good time last night?"

At that both of them blushed, and started to say "Yes" at the same time.

"I'd say they did," remarked Washu dryly.

"How wonderful!" Before either Tenchi or Kiyone could move, Nobuyuki was hugging them both tightly. "I knew it! I knew it!" He directed his next exultation to the heavens. "Did you hear that, my darling Achika? We're going to be grandparents!"

"Dad, you moron," Tenchi managed to choke out. "At least say high to your daughter-in-law!"

"You're right, Tenchi!" Now Kiyone was being nearly suffocated by Nobuyuki's embrace. "Welcome to the family, my daughter!!"

"Dad! You can let go of her now!"

Nobuyuki finally released her, still crying out to the heavens. Tenchi caught her in his arms. "I guess neither of us quite reckoned on everything that the other would bring, huh, Kiyone-yoni?"

"It's worth it," she smiled. "Now, could you help me up the stairs?"

"Of course." And he swept her up in his arms and started carrying her up the staircase.

Washu sighed and smiled, shaking her head slightly as their tired but happy voices faded from earshot (and as Nobuyuki was now shouting his thanks to every deity under the sun out in the driveway). "Ah, young love…"

End Chapter 5 (finally! ^^)