-Disclaimer: I clearly do not own Tenchi Muyo in any of its incarnations. Suing me would be a costly and pointless endeavor as I'm so far in debt it's not even funny.-

Playing in the Tenchi world can get so confusing, so here's how this one plays out. We're omitting Tenchi Universe, and combining the OVA and Tenchi in Tokyo. We're getting rid of how all the characters got together in Tenchi in Tokyo and we're keeping the OVA on that part. All of the movies are fair game. This takes place a few months after the third movie.

Sorry Ayeka lovers, but I am most definitely a T/R fan. However, I don't dislike Ayeka. I think she's a great character and terrific dramatic foil for Ryoko. So, sorry Ayeka haters, but she will be portrayed positively in this and no terrible harm will befall her.

From the rooftop, she watched as Tenchi slowly left the house to work in the fields as the first rays of sunlight began to chase the darkness of the night away. "It's going to be a lovely day," Ryoko whispered as she watched the young man that she loved set off to his work. She smiled bitterly. It seemed the more things changed the more they stayed the same. Despite Sakuya and Haruna, despite Kagato, Dr. Clay, Yugi and Kane, on the surface everything remained the same in the Masaki household - including her feelings for the young man in question.

Often she contemplated if she needed to get out of the house more and meet new people. All of the girls could use a break from the household, and the only three men that they had for company. She would love Tenchi to the end of the world, but it was beginning to look like his love for her would only border on friendship. He respected her and he admired her, and she knew he loved her, but it wasn't the kind of love she longed for.

Ryoko sighed and leaned backwards, coming to rest on her back and staring up at the brightening sky. She hated being so introspective. For as long as she could remember all she had wanted was to have fun, to explore new worlds, to cause trouble and break rules, to live freely and without restriction. Her years as Kagato's puppet and her subsequent seven hundred year incarceration had shown her how desirable freedom was. "Ah, hell," she muttered as her mind once more drifted back to the only reason she was so grounded in this place. That boy had a hold on her and she couldn't fight it.

Her sensitive hearing detected movements inside the house and she knew of only one person other than Tenchi who would be up this early. "Time to go!" she mused as she let her body fall through the roof, then through Tenchi's bedroom, and into the living room of the house. She drifted into the kitchen where the little blue pigtailed girl was bustling around the kitchen with a very sleepy cabbit perched upon her head. Sasami was wearing casual clothes - jean shorts and a white and green striped tank top. She was humming a happy tune while Ryo-Ohki tried to balance perfectly on her head while falling back asleep. Like her owner, the little spaceship was not a morning person - so she was surprised to see her master standing in the doorway. Ryo-Ohki mewled her surprise, her golden eyes widening and staring into Ryoko's own feline eyes of the same shade.

Sasami spun around in surprise, not expecting anyone else to be up this early. "Oh, Ryoko! You scared me!" she admitted, smiling sheepishly.

"Hey, kid," Ryoko greeted her, folding her arms behind her head and walking into the kitchen. She was wearing her black dress with green trim and a red belt around her waist.

"What are you doing up so early?" Sasami asked her curiously, as she turned back to the stove to work on her miso soup. "I didn't hear Tenchi scream this morning...so I assumed you were still sleeping."

Ryoko couldn't suppress a smile at Sasami's gentle ribbing. "I'm only still here to say goodbye to you," Ryoko informed her.

"G-goodbye?" Sasami questioned, turning back to Ryoko, her eyes reflecting her fear.

It warmed Ryoko's heart to see the sincere concern in the young Jurain princess's eyes when it came to her. For so long Ryoko was alone and she hadn't had anyone care about her. Sasami was the first person to ever accept her completely and love her completely for who she was. "Don't worry, kid," Ryoko assured her, bending over so that she was eye level with the little princess, and giving the young girl an eyeful. "I'll be back soon. I've got some soul searching to do and you know this house is too hectic to get any real answers. I'm going to take some time to myself, but I'm not going anywhere. To prove it, I'm leaving Ryo-Ohki in your care - so I can't leave the planet, and I'm keeping my gem on me, so Washu will be able to get in contact with me in case anything happens. I just didn't want you to worry about me and I didn't want you to think that I would leave again without saying goodbye to you – I know I hurt you last time."

"Ryoko..." Sasami expressed in a sad way. She hated how despondent her pirate friend was sometimes. She was not naive to everything that Ryoko had done in her life, nor was she unaware of how much it haunted her. The carefree front that Ryoko showed the world was being shown more and more as a mask lately, and Sasami was worried about the emotional health of her friend.

Ryoko, seeing that her serious tone was distressing her young friend, suddenly stood completely up and forced a nonchalant grin while winking at the young girl and flashing her the victory symbol. "No need for tears, Sasami! You'll see, I'll be back before you know it. Do me a favor and keep an eye on that sister of yours, don't let her get her hands on my Tenchi!"

Sasami laughed, appreciating Ryoko's effort to be jubilant. "Take care, Ryoko! I hope you find the answer's you seek!"

Ryoko nodded, and phased away from the little girl. She reappeared outside of the house and began her walk towards the Masaki shrine in the opposite direction that her love had walked in. She stopped on the stairs of the shrine and sat down for a few moments, remembering the fight that she and Ayeka had that led to Tenchi fleeing from them and ultimately being dragged into Haruna's world. That was one of the questions she needed to have answered. Why did she and Ayeka fight so much and so violently when she knew what it did to Tenchi - how much he hated it? Their time together when they searched for Tenchi had proven that the two girls were capable of getting along, of working side by side day in and day out for the common good, their fighting had almost ceased to exist. Even now, their blowups were minimal. Simply territorial sniping at each other. Neither girl had truly given up on Tenchi, but both were definitely disheartened by his love for Haruna. The small amount of hope for a future with him that still existed in both girls caused them to still bicker with each other, but each girl was having a hard time keeping that hope alive.

Ryoko wasn't even sure what she would do anymore if Tenchi did make a choice. Either way it would completely change the balance of the Masaki home. It was clear that he needed to state his feelings one way or another. Even if his choice was that he didn't want either of them, that he wanted a normal girl that he could settle down and live out his days with - he needed to tell them. Part of her was highly frustrated with the young man's avoidant behavior. She knew he was afraid of hurting them, that he didn't ever want to hurt anyone and that he had never asked to be a beacon for extraterrestrial women who were looking for love. However, she also knew that though he didn't ask for it, it was his lot in life and he had to come to terms with it. Would he though? She was beginning to doubt his ability to express his true feelings on anything, he kept everything so bottled in.

For the last few months, she'd been trying to give him his space, trying to let him find his own place in this world. The time he was away was an eye opener for Ryoko, and while she couldn't give up her light teasing of him, she had given up sleeping in his room and watching him while he slept, she was trying not to grab him so much, and she hadn't watched him in the bathroom for a long time, out of respect for his privacy.

He hadn't said anything to her about it, nor had he really acknowledged her as of late. Tenchi was growing up and he was seemingly lost in another world. His physical body had made the trip back to reality, but Ryoko could tell a large part of him remained trapped with Haruna.

Ryoko frowned and stood up. She continued her trek up the stairs. Logically she knew that she could just phase to her destination, but she didn't want to. She was on a mission and part of being on a mission meant you had to be disciplined and you had to do things the hard way. Most of the residents at the house thought that she was lazy and incapable of patience, but she had spent 700 years physically trapped in the same location, not being able to move a muscle, alone in the dark with her thoughts. If Ryoko possessed anything other than a phenomenal body, it was infinite patience.

That was another issue that she needed to address, she mused as she continued her tiring walk up the stairs. Her behavior in front of the rest of the family. She was lazy, she couldn't deny that. The thought of manual labor seemed very tiring and very beneath her. It was much easier to let everyone else take care of it than to try to do it herself. Still, she knew that she had a tendency to overplay the role of bottom feeder when it came to being a functioning member of the household.

"Kagato did make you into his little servant," she mused to herself as her feet climbed the seemingly never-ending staircase. "It's only natural that you would avoid such activities as cleaning and cooking when such manual labor - slave labor - was forced upon you. You shouldn't demean yourself with that kind of work."

She chuckled at her minds clear effort to protect herself from any seemingly wrongdoing. She knew that she should step up more around the house. Hell, the princesses of Jurai, who had servants at their palace that waited on them hand and foot, didn't find the manual labor that they partook in demeaning.

"They weren't forced to do it," her mind once more reminded her. "This is a vacation to them, a little break from their reality. They don't mind doing it because it's novel, it's something new, and it's not something they'll have to do for the rest of their lives."

A rueful smile crossed her lips as her mind turned to her young friend. How would Sasami hold up when she was eventually back on Jurai and she had someone doing all of the cooking for her? She couldn't imagine how hard it would be for Sasami to hang up her apron and go back to being a pampered princess.

Then there was Ayeka. The first crowned princess of Jurai had waited tables side by side with the most feared space pirate in the galaxy - albeit a reformed feared space pirate. The spoiled girl who had grown up with people bowing and scraping to her had worked customer service, had demeaned herself in a uniform, had apologized and groveled for the patrons of the diners they worked at. She did it all with a smile, all with the same grace and dignity that she cleaned the Masaki house with - and all for the same reason. She did it for the man she loved.

And where are you off to this early? A voice suddenly resounded through Ryoko's head.

A frown crossed the space pirate's features as her mother honed in on her. I need a little time to think a few things through, Washu. Ryoko responded.

What things? Was the curious reply.

Everything.

There was a moment of silence between the two as Washu processed her troubled daughter's answer. I'm here for you. Washu finally informed her. Her voice was no longer childish and had taken on the age it did when she was deeply concerned about something.

A small smile played on Ryoko's lips as she considered that. I know, mom, that's why I kept the gem on me instead of shutting myself off completely. I want you to be able to reach me and see that I'm okay.

A wave of confused emotions overcame Ryoko through the telepathic, and apparently empathic, link she shared with her creator. There had never been any real closeness or tenderness between the two women, but both were well aware that they were connected by more than a psychic bond. Washu was overwhelmed by her daughter's recognition of her not only being her mother, but of her being a person who cared deeply for her despite all of her shortcomings. I'll keep the others away from you, Washu finally stated firmly, not knowing how to respond to her daughter's words, but knowing that her action would show her daughter how much she cared.

Thanks, mom, Ryoko acknowledged the gesture.

The telepathic link shut between them, and Ryoko continued on her walk, a smile still playing upon her lips.

Tenchi entered the house and washed up before breakfast. His mind was only half on the task of cleaning up, the other half was on the odd behavior the girls had been exhibiting since his return from Haruna's world. At first, things had seemed like they were back to normal. His talk with Ryoko in front of the lake had assured him that the girls forgave him for everything that had happened. Over the recent weeks though, he'd found that each of them was a little more withdrawn from him. The six months that he had been gone were a blur to him, a rush of blackness and a dizzying relationship with a girl that was everything he had ever wanted in a partner. To them though, it was six months of endless searching, worrying, and waiting, every day causing hope to fade just a little bit more. He knew things had changed. On the surface everything remained the same, the girls still bickered with one another and the same proclamations were made that he loved one of them more than he loved the others, but he could see that a lot of it was just routine to the girls now. It was what they did in his presence.

Ryoko and Ayeka hadn't been the same towards him or each other really since his return. Ayeka, who had always been reserved with him, was now even more so in some ways, but a lot freer in others. It seemed that she had accepted something and was working to distance herself from him, but at the same time this distance she was trying to create allowed her more freedom to be herself without worrying about being judged for it. Ryoko was another mystery to him. He knew she took his disappearance hard, and she took it even harder when he had chosen to remain with Haruna and help the troubled girl through her problems before he returned to his own world. The space pirate hadn't really been the same since. She'd been gentler with him, she hadn't thrown herself on or at him nearly as much, and she seemed to get along better with all of the other girls.

There had been a time where he wasn't able to go an hour without the cyan haired girl wrapping her arms around him and whispering suggestions in his ear while reaching her hands places that he really wished she wouldn't - at the time.

He couldn't stop a small smirk from crossing his lips as he thought of how Haruna had matured him and made him more capable of handling an aggressive woman like Ryoko. The irony was that now that he was ready and able to deal with her advances, she seemed to pull away from him.

Tenchi's smirk turned into a frown. They were all pulling away from him. Mihoshi and Kiyone were talking about moving into their own apartment again to not impose upon the family anymore, little Sasami was more distant to him, her eyes not reflecting that unconditional love and trust towards him that they once had, little Washu was spending more time in her lab sometimes disappearing for weeks on end…and the mystery remained with Ayeka and Ryoko. He sighed, he wished that things could go back to how they had been. He wished that the girls still trusted him as they had before Haruna stole him away from them.

"Lord Tenchi," came the soft voice of the first princess of Jurai as she knocked upon the bathroom door. "Sasami wants me to let you know that breakfast is ready."

"Thanks, Miss Ayeka!" he responded quickly, shaking himself out of his thoughts and exiting the restroom. He had expected her to be in the hallway waiting for him, so he was surprised to find himself alone. Slightly disappointed, he wandered his way into the dining room. There he noticed two unusual things. The first was that Washu was sitting at the table looking like she was going to eat the meal with them. The other was that Ryoko was nowhere in sight.

He joined Sasami, Mihoshi, Kiyone, Washu and Ayeka at the table. With only half of her normal venom, Ayeka spat, "where is that devil woman at? Doesn't she know it's rude to keep us waiting like this?"

Sasami looked down at her plate, "Ryoko won't be joining us for breakfast today...or any other meal..."

Tenchi looked at the young princess in surprise, "why? Where is she?"

"She's gone, Tenchi," Washu answered seriously, enjoying seeing the horror alight in his brown eyes and the blood drain from his tanned face.

Tenchi's mind went into a spin as he processed those words. She was gone? Where to? Why? He was aware of a roaring in his ears as his heart raced faster with the panic that he was falling into. There was something there on the tip of his mind, a revelation he was about to have, but it wouldn't come. He needed her there though!

Washu let out a cackle as his emotions flashed across his face. "You're too much, Tenchi! Don't worry, she's not gone for good, she just wants to be by herself for a while to work some things out. She's requested that none of us attempt to find her."

"D-don't you know where she's at, Little Washu?" Kiyone asked the obvious question.

Washu glared at the green haired girl, "of course I do! What kind of mother, let alone the universe's greatest scientific-genius and cutest goddess, would I be if I let my only daughter go wandering off into the world without knowing where she was headed for? Just because I know doesn't mean I'm going to intrude upon her though! Now, if I catch any of you attempting to locate my little Ryoko..." she then proceeded to explain in explicit detail the numerous and horrible ways she would torture them if she should find they disturbed Ryoko's concentration.

After about five minutes of her explaining the various ways she could make them wish they were dead, Washu stood up, took her plate and returned to her lab.

Silence fell upon the table as everyone contemplated Washu's threats. One by one, they pushed their meals away from them as the images Washu had conjured killed their appetite. All except for Mihoshi, who took a few bites of her miso soup before moving her big blue eyes around the table thoughtfully and asking if anyone had seen Ryoko.

Ayeka Jurai sighed heavily as she helped her little sister, Sasami, clean up the kitchen from that morning's breakfast. Her mind replayed the look of absolute horror that had crossed Tenchi's face when he thought that Ryoko had left them for good.

She had accepted it months ago, but it was still painful to watch him sort out his feelings and discover his love for the pirate. She had figured it out the first time she and Ryoko had crashed down into Haruna's fantasy world – where she had not-so-gracefully landed upon her posterior while Ryoko smashed the balcony of the apartment Tenchi lived in. Ayeka heard him state Ryoko's name in awe. Once it became clear that he had no memory of them, that one word cleared everything up. Despite all of Haruna's efforts – despite the love Haruna made Tenchi feel for her and the erasure of everything important to him from his memory – the pirate was engrained upon Tenchi's mind and soul.

"You're real?" he had stated in confusion and hope to the demon.

Ayeka didn't really understand it. She was a princess, and Ryoko was a pirate! Why was it that every man she loved chased after the pirate and left her behind? Yosho – she had loved her brother so dearly, she had dreamed of a life with him, and he had left her to chase downthat woman. Logically she recognized that he could have come back if he really wanted to, if he had loved her half as much as she loved him, but if it hadn't been for Ryoko, he never would have left to begin with.

Then she met Tenchi. So many people thought that she loved Tenchi because he could replace her Yosho, but that wasn't it. Yes, he was remarkably similar to the brother that she had loved and lost to the withered old man Katsuhito, but that wasn't what drew her to Tenchi. He was kind and gentle, yet brave and spirited. He selflessly took in six alien women when he could have by all rights turned them over to his planets authorities and subjected them all to needless experiments. He opened up his home and his family to these women, and in turn made a new family for all of them. Despite all of the stress they caused him, despite all of her and Ryoko's bantering, he remained as sweet and impassive as ever.

She could envision a life with Tenchi Masaki. She wanted a life with Tenchi Masaki.

Her mind drifted to her dauntless rival. Ryoko had been acting so oddly lately. Ayeka had definitely noticed a change in the pirate's interaction with everyone in the household, herself included. Quieter and less demanding, Ryoko seemed to be pulling away from everyone and further into herself. It worried the princess to see her becoming so withdrawn.

Everyone knew that the two women had buried the hatchet long ago. Their fighting now was more of a pastime then anything else. They enjoyed arguing, and Tenchi was common ground for them to fight over. Ayeka needed Ryoko, and deep down she believed that Ryoko felt the same way. No one else in the house truly understood either of them. Ryoko was the only one that Ayeka could let her hair down with and just be herself. She knew that most people thought that Sasami knew her the best, but Ayeka made herself keep up the ideal princess behavior for her younger sister so that Sasami would have someone to model herself after. Ryoko didn't want or expect courtly behavior from her, and she had no intention of giving it to her. In turn, Ryoko had let down many emotional barriers in front of Ayeka, especially during that time that Tenchi was missing. The pirate had openly cried before the princess, confessed her fears and her desires, and became vulnerable.

Now though, that was gone.

Ryoko would not be herself before anyone anymore. It seemed that she too had accepted Tenchi's choice, but Ayeka suspected that Ryoko misinterpreted Tenchi's decision. She was not unaware of how hurt Ryoko was by his love for Haruna, how hard it had been for the cyan-haired woman to go back for the third time to rescue Tenchi when he had made it so abundantly clear that he wanted nothing to do with either of them. Her love for Tenchi had forced her back, but Ayeka suspected the woman had put a block in her heart where Tenchi was concerned. She didn't doubt that Ryoko still loved him, that she wouldn't still give her own life for him, but she did think that Ryoko decided to keep her feelings to herself from now on, to let the emotions eat away at her until eventually there was nothing left but a shell.

Ayeka got this suspicion because that's what she herself had done. It hurt to look at him, but every day the pain became less. Every day she accepted her role as a friend and confidante a little more. She still loved Tenchi deeply, but she would no longer pursue the boy with the gusto and confidence that she had.

"Miss Ayeka?" his voice cut through her thoughts.

She hadn't realized that she was standing still, staring off into space while she held a dirty plate in her hand, and the sound of his voice caused her to jump and stare at the young man who entered the dining room in surprise.

"Lord Tenchi! You startled me!" she admitted, continuing to gather the dishes at the table.

"I'm very sorry, Miss Ayeka, I didn't mean to!" Tenchi apologized, scratching the back of his head with a sheepish smile upon his face. "I was just wondering if you had any idea where Ryoko went to?"

Despite herself, Ayeka gritted her teeth. She was a well-adjusted princess, but she wasn't that well adjusted that she could handle his love for another woman just yet. Composing herself, Ayeka raised her crimson eyes to Tenchi, "I think it would be best, Lord Tenchi, if we heeded Miss Washu's desires, and left that woman to her own devices. Sasami assures me that Ryoko has every intention of coming back and that she was in good spirits when she left."

Tenchi was oblivious to the pain that he had stirred in the princess with his question on Ryoko, so he kept digging the knife in a little further. "Sasami spoke with her then? Did she say which direction she left in?"

Ayeka's left eye began to twitch as she forced down the emotions within herself. She reminded herself to remain stoic, not to shout out at him that he was a dense and indecisive man who should realize thatshe was not the woman to talk to about his newfound feelings for Ryoko! "I think it would be best, Lord Tenchi, if we heeded Miss Washu's desires, and left that woman to her own devices," she repeated the phrase as calmly as she could, hoping that it sank in with him, or that the threat of Washu would get him to drop the subject.

He frowned as he realized that Ayeka wouldn't tell him anything even if she knew something. "Oh well, thanks for your help, Miss Ayeka."

Tenchi turned to leave, but froze as Ayeka's voice cut through him. "Lord Tenchi, please do us all a favor and figure out for yourself why the thought of her leaving has you in such a panic."

He turned back to ask the princess what she meant by that comment, but she had already disappeared back into the kitchen with the dirty dishes. Heavily he sighed and left the house to continue his work in the fields. Throughout the day though, Ayeka's last words pounded through his mind, pushing that revelation even closer to the edge of his mind.