Tenchi Muyo! Fanfiction

La Magdalena

The Sea of Change

Chapter 20:

Life Continues With or Without You

I'm sleeping.

A warm, tiny hand is runs its fingers through my hair.

A flash of light. My irises are burning.

A park. The sunlight is overwhelmingly bright. I shield my eyes for a moment, the stinging sensation making them water.

I spot a group of trees to the right of me and am laughing at the idea of climbing to the top of the highest one.

Ryoko put the pencil down and stared at the messy handwriting on the napkin she was holding. She had been having intense sequences of dreams all through out the night, waking up in fits of cold sweat. By the third dream she searched in a daze for something to write with and settled with a pencil and napkin. Now sitting on the bed she wondered if she would be able to read her writing the next morning. It was already looking more like chicken scratches than words. Even more important, she wondered if she would be able to remember the images she had seen in her dreams. She looked down at the napkin and grinned without humor.

"You have the handwriting of a serial killer," she told herself before hiding the napkin underneath her pillow and settling down beneath the sheets.

She closed her eyes; not really wanting to sleep but wishing her mind would just give her a rest and shut down.

"Well that's just crazy."

"But what I'm thinking could work, if-"

"Plain bonkers."

"Give me a chance to explain wha-"

"Cuckoo! Cuckoo!"

"Mihoshi!"

"What?" A wide-eyed ex-galaxy police officer asked.

"Let Tenchi finish or I'll make you wash the dishes for a week."

Mihoshi stuck her tongue out at Kiyone and muttering said, "That's how much you know. It's my week to wash the dishes anyway." She looked at Tenchi who stood with firm legs and arms folded across his chest. The show of male bravado failed when one noticed the grin playing around the corners of his mouth.

"Besides, what he is saying is crazy."

"He hasn't even completed a sentence!"

"I already know what he is going to say Kiyone." Mihoshi rolled her eyes and shook her head in mock frustration.

"Oh yeah? What was he going to say then?" she dared her ex-partner.

"Something about," she paused to look over at Tenchi as he stood there, waiting for them to finish. She looked at his clothing; lose jeans and a white shirt. Nothing dramatic but it's the little details that Mihoshi noticed like the absence of a belt or having his shirt undone and his hair hanging loosely instead of the ponytail he usually wore.

"I'm waiting…" Kiyone broke Mihoshi's train of thought.

"Will you wait a minute? Geez!" Mihoshi placed her arms on her hips and hummed to herself. "Let's see. It has to have something to do with the Emperor not only shutting down the show they were gonna do but the whole art department at Tenchi's school."

"No shit Sherlock." Kiyone whispered to Tenchi, making him smile.

"What did you say?" The blonde narrowed her eyes at her.

"I thought you knew everything?" Kiyone asked with false innocence.

"Tenchi!" Mihoshi whined to the Juraian prince for some support.

"Nothing." Tenchi answered with a straight face but the glare that she was giving him made him burst out in a laugh.

"What did she tell you?!" Mihoshi hit him playfully with an open fist. "Tenchi!"

"Nothing Mihoshi." He held his hands up, palms open. "Please continue." The sincerity in his voice calmed Mihoshi down and made Kiyone bite her tongue against further comments, at least till she finished fishing for the answer.

"As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted," she pointed at Kiyone who rolled her eyes in response. "Tenchi must be planning something to get the art department at his college back in gear. Am I right?" She stuck her nose in the air and waited for Tenchi's confirmation.

"Very good Mihoshi."

"See? I did know what he was going to say."

"A dummy could have known that Mihoshi."

"Well then that rules you out," Mihoshi whispered to herself as she fought back a chuckle.

"You forgot to mention exactly how Tenchi is suppose to do this."

"How am I supposed to know that if Tenchi himself doesn't know?"

Both women looked at him, one wanting him to prove her right, and the other wanting him to prove her right for the entirely opposite reason.

Tenchi raised his eyebrows in a smile. "I think we should all put our heads together. The government canceling the exposition is one thing. If they want to do that fine, but another all together different is them canceling the art program for the college."

"That's going to be hard." Kiyone sighed, sitting down on the sofa. Tenchi sat on the opposite end.

"I… have an idea but," he paused, looking down at the wooden floor. He flexed his hands into fists. "We need to have someone open the door."

Both Mihoshi and Kiyone looked at Tenchi confused.

"What do you mean?" Kiyone asked

"Don't you mean who do you mean?" Mihoshi corrected her.

Ryoko awoke with a killer ache in the back of her neck. She groaned as she moved her head from side to side slowly, swallowing the little saliva she had in her mouth. She felt like she had just drank a glass full of sand. Ryoko bit the inside of her lip and lifted her head, ignoring the growing pain and raised herself up with both arms working as anchors. Mayuri was sitting next to the bed reading a book. She looked up at just the right moment to catch Ryoko's face scrunch up into a tight grimace.

"How long have I been asleep?" Ryoko noted her voice came out as a hoarse whisper. She cleared her throat unconsciously.

"About five days."

The pirate momentarily forgot her pain and stared at her friend with eyes wide open. "Five days?" she asked incredulously.

Nodding as if it were the most natural thing in the world Mayuri asked, "You still feel bad?"

Ryoko nodded, flexing the muscles in her legs. "Whoever thought excessive sleeping was a bad thing?" She asked rhetorically. Her mind recognized the room she was currently in as her own. Nothing had really changed since the day she left her home to attend the party on the yatch. The clothes she had haphazardly thrown on the floor were gone and the bed sheets changed. "How long have I been back?"

"We thought it would be better if you woke up at home instead of some strange room in the palace." Mayuri dog eared the page in the book and closing it she placed it down on the night stand, over Ryoko's napkin, a white edge peaking out from under the heavy book.

"There have been… some interesting developments while you were sleeping."

Ryoko who tossed the bed sheets aside and was stretching her back gingerly paused to look at her. "What's happened?" She asked without being able to hide the worry in her voice.

"It seems that old saying is true."

"What saying?"

"About how mixing a geisha and a man's wife is just as smart as lighting a match near an open gas line."

"I've never heard that saying before."

Mayuri scratched her cheek absently. "You haven't?" Ryoko shook her head as she dangled her feet off the side of the bed.

"Well… I never said it was a popular saying." She moved some stray strands of hair away from Ryoko's face. "Anyway that's not the point," she said a little bit annoyed at the ability Ryoko had to change the subject so easily. "The point is that the Empress has decided to put the incident on the yatch behind her. She's not going to press charges."

Ryoko looked surprised but happy as she stood up and walked with little difficulty around her room. "Looks like Serla did her job."

"Serla?" Mayuri asked.

"Huh? Oh nothing," she waved Mayuri's question off. "That sounds like good news Mayuri-san. Why the suspense behind it?"

"Oh but if you think that was good, I haven't even mentioned the best part."

Ryoko perked up.

"As all sneaky wives do sometime in their married life, she conned her husband into doing something completely wrong. Doesn't she know that that's usually the other woman's job?"

Ryoko's mouth thinned. I should have known it wasn't going to be that easy.

"Mayuri stop beating around the bush and tell me already!" She demanded with hands on her hips.

"The emperor shut down the art program in the university."

Ryoko blinked. "What? Why?" It didn't make sense to the space pirate. What did one thing have to do with the other?

"Who knows?" Mayuri shrugged as she opened the adjoining door that led to the bathroom. "All I heard from gossip is that the Emperor refused to play along with his wife's accusations that we tried to kill her-"

"That's crazy." Ryoko cut in shaking her head in disbelief.

"That's apparently what he thought too, and proceeded to tell her off as well."

Both geisha's grinned.

"Then something happened, something that was big enough for him to agree to her deal. She wouldn't say anything more about our 'attempt' to take her life BUT only if he-"

"Closed the art program." Ryoko finished for her. "It' still doesn't make any sense."

"Women don't make sense Cat. You should know that." The lopsided grin on Mayuri's face bothered Ryoko.

"Come on! You're starting to sound like Serla." Rolling her eyes she followed the geisha inside the bathroom and cocked an eyebrow as Mayuri turned on the shower and tested the water, moving the knobs until it was to her liking. Turning around to face Ryoko she smiled.

"I'm glad you're feeling better." The small, knowing smile on Mayuri's face warmed Ryoko's heart.

"You had us worried there for a second. Now take a quick shower and get dressed, there's someone waiting for you in the living room."

"Who?"

The question was left hanging in the air as Mayuri closed the bedroom door. Ryoko turned around with a shrug, too exhausted to think about anything much except the promise of warm water coursing down her body. Throwing the big T-shirt she was wearing on the floor and shimming her underwear down her legs, she exhaled in pleasure as she stepped in, all her thoughts momentarily disappearing as the hot water splashed down her body, matting her hair to her head and washing out the remaining black hair die down the drain. She sighed and leaned her head back, enjoying the stinging sensation of hot water on her skin. She didn't even notice the warm tears that mixed in with the water. Tears of joy were something she hadn't yet experienced. For a second there Ryoko hadn't been sure she was strong enough to make it through, a fact that the space pirate didn't have enough courage to admit to herself yet.

Ryoko slipped on white slippers, tying the white towel robe around her body and padding her way down the hall. All the bedroom doors she passed were closed, the wooden floor shiny and the walls bare.

The towel that was wrapped around her head felt too heavy, the ache in her neck threatening to return with a vengeance. Ryoko continued walking down the hall, a weird sensation passed through her body, sending chills up and down her spine. It was quiet, too quiet.

Ryoko focused on the door at the end of the hall as she walked, noticing the stream of light that overflowed through the door and into the hall. The door that lead into the living room. She frowned without knowing why when she heard muffled voices.

With a quiet sigh she lifted the towel off her head a few inches, easing the ache in her neck as she paused just outside the door.

"Come out here Cat. It isn't nice to lurk around the shadows eaves dropping on other people' conversations."

Ryoko's cheeks turned a light shade of pink. "It's not eavesdropping," she began with an angry tone as she entered the living room, "if it's my apartment."

The hand that had been easing some of the weight of the towel off Ryoko's neck flopped down to her side. The space pirate had completely forgotten about the guest that was waiting for her. Or should she say guests.

On the two pale grey couches that stood facing each other were Serla, Basho and Kiyone, while on the other one sat Ayeka, Tenchi, and Mihoshi, all glancing in her direction. In the middle of the two couches, a coffee table rested, it's top full of half empty cups of tea.

All conversation ceased as Serla made Ryoko's presence known, and the pirate hated the fact that she suddenly felt like a stranger in her own home. This thought made her angrier, the faint blush in her cheeks deepening.

Basho mistook her anger for embarrassment and quickly made his way over to her, the rest of the group standing up at the same time but not making a move. All except Serla and Tenchi who both remained sitting.

"How's my little Cat?" Basho cooed as he led a tight-lipped Ryoko into the room. "Does anything hurt?"

Ryoko looked at Basho a little dumbfounded, her mind not kicking into gear as quickly as her adrenaline. It was shooting through her veins a hundred miles per hour. The result was a sort of hollow, far away look that alarmed the photographer.

"Catara?" He sat her down, giving her the seat he had been occupying. A long pause followed, everyone else was still standing, the tension in the room thick enough to cut it with a knife. Everyone was aware of it, except Ryoko herself who kept her gaze on the coffee table.

A noisy slurp came from Serla's lips as she sipped her tea and the spell was broken, Ayeka, Kiyone and Mihoshi sitting down and simultaneously picking up their cups.

Basho sat on the armrest next to Ryoko, rubbing her back affectionately

"How are you feeling Catara?" Mihoshi asked, the high pitch in her tone making Ryoko's ears slightly throb.

Ryoko looked up smiling faintly as she nodded. "Fine."

A cool hand was pressed to her cheek and Ryoko looked sideways without moving her head at Serla's tanned face. "No fever." The old woman looked at the now damp towel on her head. "This is a bad idea."

Without realizing it, Ryoko exhaled as the towel was taken off her head, her wet hair falling on her back and shoulders. A gasp was badly stifled from Kiyone making Ryoko look at Kiyone's wide-eyed expression with a cock of her eyebrow.

"You hair! It's blue again."

The pirate looked up at her bangs, pulling one in front of her eyes. So it is. A warm sensation made her look forward, the bangs shielding her gaze from view. Tenchi was staring at her, and not making any attempt of hiding it either. And for some weird reason, Ryoko knew he knew she had noticed his stare but unlike before he made kept on staring.

The neutral expression on his face and the coldness in his eyes sent another, stronger chill up her back and she once again lost will in her limbs, the hand holding her bangs dropping on her lap.

"We were worried about you," Ayeka blurted out, breaking the trance Ryoko had fallen into. Tenchi broke away first, turning to look at the princess, a smile appearing.

"That's why we are here."

Tenchi cleared his throat and Ayeka's eyes widened. Stuttering she clarified, "That's why we are here." Her hand pointed at Mihoshi, Kiyone and herself quickly. She smiled nervously. "I'm so glad you're okay." Ayeka clasped her hands together loudly, for a second Ryoko thought the princess was going to pop a knuckle. "You must be hungry. What am I saying? Of course you're hungry. Sleeping for five days. Five days! I swear, only you can sleep that long Ryoko." Tenchi stopped her rambling as he laid his hand atop both her own and squeezed gently. Thankful purple eyes communicated in a silent language to brown ones before she nodded and looked at Ryoko.

Footsteps behind Ryoko made her turn. Mayuri walked into the room from the kitchen, balancing a tray.

"You read my mind Mayuri-san." Ayeka said relieved.

The geisha smiled politely at the princess, as she moved some cups aside and placed the tray on the coffee table in front of Ryoko.

"Eat Cat." Serla ordered as she stood up, everyone else standing up along with her. "Food will take that frightening look from your eyes."

Ryoko looking up at the old woman nodded.

"That's a good girl. Eat while I serve your guests in the dining room. Tenchi?"

Ryoko froze, her breath caught in her throat almost painfully. Please don't let him stay. Please don't let him stay. Please, please, please…

"Keep Cat company. Make sure she eats everything." A hand rested on Ryoko's head briefly, making Ryoko look down at her lap and close her eyes. "She has a tendency of forgetting to eat when she's stressed."

She saw Tenchi nod from the corner of her eye and felt him sit back down in front of her as everyone else entered the kitchen on their way to the dining room closing the door and crushing all of Ryoko's prayers in the process.

Tenchi leaned back, his hands going to his sides and resting on the back of the couch. He lifted his right leg, resting his ankle on the knee of the other one.

Ryoko sat still, legs resting side by side and her hands on her lap, clasped together.

The bangs on her face were getting in her eyes, making her blink repeatedly before giving up and brushing her bangs up and away from her face.

Her eyes met his and she stopped breathing for a second. She bit her lip unconsciously, forcing her eyes to fall on the hot bowl of miso soup that was steaming in front of her. While acting as if the soup was the most interesting thing in the world, Ryoko's mind raced a mile a minute. Still groggy and feeling weak from hunger she struggled to focus. What's he doing in my home? The pirate picked up the spoon, stealing a quick glance at him. He's just sitting there, staring! I hate when people stare. She bit the inside of her cheek. The energy she was getting from him was something she hadn't felt before. It's like I'm sitting with a stranger. Never one to cower, Ryoko stirred the soup with her spoon as she looked at him dead on, trying to read his features, searching for the boy she knew.

The man sitting in front of her was relaxed. His hands and fingers resting on the back of the couch fell freely. His breathing was slow, his chest rising faintly up and down. Ryoko swallowed another spoonful of soup, her eyes still unabashedly examining the man before her.

Tenchi wore tanned khakis, white tennis shoes and a dark blue shirt, the sleeves rolled up to mid arm. His hair was tied back in a lose ponytail. His face was calm, no frown or smile playing on his lips. His eyes were a pool of brown, Ryoko couldn't read them and that fact was starting to freak her out. The pirate held back a frown, a stomachache registered in the back of her mind. She put down the spoon with disgust. Not wanting to eat that, nor the plate of strawberries that was also resting on the tray.

"You should eat that."

The deep voice startled Ryoko out of her musings. Tenchi's expression looked exactly as it had before, making Ryoko doubt he had even said anything in the first place. Am I imagining things? Her question was answered almost immediately.

"Do you need to eat?"

Ryoko continued staring, almost dumbfounded at the voice that was coming out of him. She didn't recognize it. It was as if someone else was inhabiting his body. He shifted in his seat, and Ryoko understood that he was getting impatient. She also understood what he was really asking was if she now needed to eat to live. She answered with a small nod of her head.

With a swiftness she didn't know Tenchi had, he pushed the bowl forward. His hand did not return to the back of the couch but rested on his thigh as his eyes continued scrutinizing her. She picked up her spoon, her mind resisting the ease with which she followed his orders, but her hands dutifully obeying.

She wet her lips before taking another spoonful, not bothering to hide the grimace. "That's horrible," she said to herself as she swallowed again, trying to rid herself of the sour after taste.

"Ayeka made it." Came the cold and unwanted reply. Ryoko looked up surprised to see Tenchi glaring at her. What did I say?

"She was worried sick and cooked that soup so you could get well."

Ryoko frowned, not liking or understanding his tone of voice. She had blurted out the first thing on her mind. She didn't mean to insult anybody. "I didn't know-"

"That's the understatement of the year."

The pirate was speechless. "Who are you?" She blurted out, the next second wanting to slap herself for asking such a foolish question. Nice going stupid.

Tenchi didn't respond, much to Ryoko's relief. The pirate took in another spoonful, holding in the bitter taste but showing Tenchi a neutral expression. He relaxed in his seat, the stillness in the room enabling Ryoko to pin point any noise. As she ate her eyes remained down, her ears picking up the soft grazing of the wind as it flew past the window. She heard the coarse fabric of her robe rub her legs, causing friction on her skin and making the ends of her hair stand. The quiet inhalation of breath through the nostrils, in and out, in and out... Ryoko didn't remember Tenchi's breathing being so regular.

Leaving a drying pool at the bottom of the bowl she picked up a strawberry by its tiny green leaves. It was so much better than the soup. Ryoko eagerly took another, depositing the carcass of the previous one on the napkin. While she ate, the pirate looked around the room. Anywhere but where Tenchi sat in front of her. She licked her lips, the strawberries where ripe and delicious. Ryo-ohki would be mad if she knew her big sister hadn't saved her some. Ryoko's hand froze over the plate, her fingers dangling for a few seconds before coming to rest on her lap.

"Also horrible?"

"No." Ryoko was quick to reply. "Delicious actually. I just thought Ryo-ohki would like to have some." The space pirate paused, she hadn't seen her little sister at all since she had woken up. "Have you seen her?"

Tenchi nodded. "She's with Sasami, Fei and the baby at the park."

Ryoko nodded. "I'll save them for her anyway." Rearranging the bowl and plate on the tray, she took the extra napkin, covering the half full plate of strawberries. She placed her spoon parallel to the bowl and with her thumb wiped the faint print of her mouth off the water glass before sitting back on the couch. Intuitively she knew that there was something she needed to know, that Tenchi was designated by the group in the kitchen to tell her.

"So what is it?"

"What?"

"Whatever you are here to tell me. I'd like to know before I get dressed." Ryoko didn't see it necessary to add, and before Ryo-ohki gets home so I can play with her. The things she did with her little sister, Ryoko had learned to treasure and selfishly keep to herself.

"Don't speak that way Cat-san. It's not becoming." The door to the kitchen swung open, Serla scolding the pirate.

Ryoko glanced behind her at the approaching figure and frowned. That was the second time she was corrected in front of the Juraian prince.

The old woman kneeled in between Ryoko and Tenchi, bowing her head slightly at an angle preferable to him before turning the tray to face her. Rocking slightly to her feet she took the tray with her, again bowing her head.

Ryoko observed Serla's behavior with confusion, but responded immediately with a bow of her own. Hands now magically placed daintily on her lap, one over the other, and her legs crossed at the ankles. It was the best she could do while sitting on a couch.

"The strawberries are for Ryo-ohki."

Serla nodded and looked at Tenchi for a second, Ryoko's eyes widening slightly as she realized that there was something they knew that she didn't. The space pirate knew better than to ask the old woman straight out, she loved to speak in riddles almost as much as Washu did.

Though, Ryoko had to admit to herself, the morbid curiosity she was feeling was killing her. She fought back the urge to stare at the retreating figure of the woman but listened for the hiss of wind that meant she had gone through the swinging door.

"Where were we?"

Ryoko was just about to answer when she spotted a sake bottle and two cups resting on the table between them. A fresh napkin also lay there. She hadn't noticed Serla carrying anything, much less placing it on the table… She looked at Tenchi who now sat observing her intently. His breathing was now much more forced. Licking her lips Ryoko looked back at the bottle and cups, knowing what she should do but not knowing why.

More out of habit than anything else, she pulled back the sleeves of her robe much like she did when she was wearing a kimono and sitting on the edge of the couch she lifted up the sake bottle, one hand placed underneath and the other guiding the neck as she filled one cup. Placing it down, Ryoko slid the cup full of sake in front of Tenchi before sitting back, though not as far back to let her back rest on the back of the couch.

It didn't even cross the space pirate's mind to serve herself a glass, a geisha never drank unless invited to do so. Inwardly she was mortified that Tenchi had seen her eat. There were rare occasions where a geisha was permitted to drink some sake with her guests but never, and in Ryoko's mind the word never was highlighted and capitalized. A geisha never ate with her guests.

The problem lay in that Ryoko was not entertaining. So why Serla's odd behavior?

"Ryoko?"

Ryoko's eyes snapped to his. "You were just about to tell me something." She swallowed the dread that was crawling its way out her.

Tenchi nodded and looked down at the sake cup as he spoke. "You know about what happened after the party?"

Ryoko nodded, knowing that he would see her unspoken answer through the tops of his eyes.

"And you also know that not only was Basho-san's project canceled but the entire art department as well?"

Ryoko again nodded. "I wouldn't worry too much about the department."

Tenchi looked at her then, a little curious.

"As much as both the emperor and his wife like to think they have power, their titles are purely ornamental. All that needs to be done is put some pressure on the right heads and it'll be put back on."

Ryoko had been speaking her mind, not really thinking first of what came out of her mouth like Serla and Mayuri had told her time and time again to do. That's why it came as a surprise when Tenchi grinned, lifting his sake cup he toasted to her and drunk it all.

As soon as he put it back on the table Ryoko filled it back up, first wiping the edge of the cup clean with the napkin.

"When it comes to power and money your mind is as sharp as ever."

The space pirate didn't know if Tenchi had just insulted her or praised her. With effort she took the high road, taking it as compliment and giving him a small smile.

"I was only trying to ease your mind Tenchi." She said this with such sincerity that she almost spotted hints of the old Tenchi reappearing in the depths of his eyes.

Tenchi didn't answer and the uneasy conversation they were having quickly turned to unbearable silence. Ryoko felt like jumping out of her skin. Her eyes dutifully remained in one place, staring at Tenchi's left shoulder, but her mind was miles away, trying to think up a scheme to leave. The curiosity she felt for whatever Tenchi wanted to tell her was replaced with dread. Think of something to say Ryoko, think!

"How are the rest of the students taking the closure of their department?"

Tenchi burrowed his brow.

"I mean– I know they are mad, but what are they doing about it?"

"What do you think they should be doing?"

Ryoko looked at the Juraian prince for a second. "Well, for starters a protest wouldn't hurt." The pirate nodded to herself as she said this. "They can find out from the school's sponsors what companies and organization donate–"

"We already did that," Tenchi interrupted. "Kukune was 'escorted' out of three main offices, nobody wanted to talk to her."

Ryoko noted the anger that edged his voice; she felt it rise deep within her too. "How did she approach them? Was she wearing something appropriate? Whom did she talk to?"

Tenchi shook his head slightly, shrugging.

"Things like that really matter Tenchi."

He nodded. "Kukune's not made for stuff like that. Neither is Takumi or any of the other students."

Ryoko agreed silently, though deep inside she believed a person could do anything if they set their minds to it. "The problem is you guys need to have something to bargain with, or a way in their inner circle." Pausing she bit her lip, lost in thought. "I think you should keep trying." She said abruptly. "If you insist they might agree to see you just to get you off their back."

"I plan to."

Ryoko raised her eyebrow. "How?"

Tenchi, who had been talking leisurely to her till now turned stiff. Ryoko could see the outline of his muscles underneath his shirt. Unconsciously licking her lips she waited for his response. His voice was as deep as she had ever heard it, his mouth a hard, straight line. In just a few seconds he had aged ten years.

"I will be your danna and together we'll go to each sponsor. One by one till they agree to reopen the art department."

Ryoko's jaw dropped open. Her lips moved to form words but failed to articulate anything.

"As the head of your okiya Serla has already agreed–"

Ryoko stopped listening, instead remembering the way Serla had been acting. All the formality and Kyoto Japanese she had been speaking. It all made sense. That little…

"I'm sorry Tenchi but that will be impossible. I didn't take Rojya as my danna and I won't take you, or anybody. There is no need for a geisha to do anything of that sort this day in age." Nodding curtly at him Ryoko rose, not willing to listen any longer. She would have a talk with Serla later, for now she wanted Tenchi out of her home.

"Sit down."

Tenchi who hadn't bothered to get up, looked at her. "Sit down Ryoko." With a firm yank he pulled her down to sit next to him, the grip on her wrist not painful but firm. "You are the only person who can help me." His face was so close Ryoko could smell the sake on his breath. "I will not let them get away with it." His eyes narrowed.

Ryoko was ready to shake her head no. "Ask Mayuri-san."

"She already has a danna."

Ryoko frowned back at him. "I don't–" something in his eyes made her stop. The pirate bit her lip, the ache in her neck wanting to return. She pulled on her arm but Tenchi held on. His fingers squeezed her wrist, wanting a response from her. The pirate didn't know what to do. She couldn't think straight with him so close like that. She noticed how bigger than her he now was. His arms could completely entrap her if he wanted to, and there was nothing she could do to stop him. The pirate missed her gems, she hated feeling weak.

"I can ask someone to give you an invitation to an ozashiki." Ryoko knew that was pointless but she was desperate. You had to be personally invited to an ozashiki, but a simple invitation from a geisha like Catara would not be enough. Not in this case. Tenchi needed to have some sort of factual proof that he wasn't some random guy that got lucky. As much as Japan had changed, the social class structure was as rigid as ever in some cases. And when it came to powerful men, geishas, and culture, the system was as rigid as Fujiyama. Being the danna to a powerful geisha could do the trick, if she agreed to it. The thought sent shivers up her spine. Tenchi as my danna. Ryoko shook her in thought. No, it's wrong.

"Listen Tenchi. I'm not sure you know what a danna really is," Ryoko began in a quiet voice. Their faces still were centimeters apart, she could kiss him with no effort if she wanted to.

A chuckle caught Ryoko off guard. She blinked until she realized it was coming from Tenchi. He laughed, pulling back and releasing her arm. "Ryoko, it will only be in name." He looked at her incredulously. "You thought...?" He laughed again, this time pouring some sake, handing one cup to Ryoko and filling one for himself. She took it with shaking fingers, spilling some on the couch. She felt a blush travel quickly to her face. Biting her lips Ryoko fought to control the hotness on her cheeks. I'm such an idiot! Of course Tenchi didn't mean danna as in… The pirate refused to even think it, which made her even angrier.

"You can be a jerk Tenchi Masaki!"

Tenchi rolled his eyes, the smile still on his lips. "Will you do it?" It was more of statement than a question. He knew she would help him out any way she could. And now that she knew he had no physical intentions there would be nothing for her to say no to.

Tenchi remembered what Serla had said to him about Ryoko wanting to help Basho. Tenchi would use that to make her help him if necessary, and ignored the tiny voice that attempted to speak out in the back of his mind.

He waved her off. "Anyway it doesn't matter, Serla already agreed."

Ryoko scoffed. "And?" The pirate knew that technically Serla was the owner of the okiya and she was under her management, but their personal relationship was never so black and white, plus Tenchi knowing how an okiya worked caught her off guard.

Ryoko narrowed her eyes. "If you really want to do this then stop calling me Ryoko."

Tenchi grinned at her. Before he could say anything the doors to the kitchen swung open.

"Is everything settled then?"

Ryoko felt a cold draft and looking from Serla to where Tenchi sat next to her she noticed he had moved to the other end of the couch and now saw languidly. The pirate brushed off the disappointment and with a smile looked at back at Serla.

"I'm sorry, what?"

Serla saw the frazzled state Ryoko's mind was in. The old woman deciding not to answer her turned to look at the group who had entered the living room with her and then nodding turned back to face Tenchi. "Everything is ready."

"That apartment is beautiful!" Mihoshi gushed behind Serla.

Ryoko perked up. "What apartment?" She looked from Mihoshi to Serla, but her eyes halted on Ayeka. She was standing very still, her hands clinging to her dress and her mouth clamped shut. The princess was looking straight at Tenchi with heavy doubt in her eyes.

"I just hope all this work is worth it." Kiyone broke Ryoko's line of vision as she stepped closer. The galaxy police officer was speaking to everybody but was looking straight at her.

"Of course it will work Kiyone-san." Mayuri answered her. "Catara-san and I will see that it does." With a smile she offered her hand to the pirate. Both geisha standing, Mayuri bowed to the group and then to Tenchi who had stood up at the same time as Ryoko. "We need to get dressed, please excuse us." Ryoko looked at her friend then back at the faces staring at her. Everybody knew what Tenchi had asked her, no… what Tenchi had told her to do. Ryoko's face was serene but her eyes sparked with fury. She had been set up. The only thing that bothered her… how had Ayeka agreed to such a charade? I guess she finally gave up on him like I did.

"I'm glad you're well!" Mihoshi ignoring Mayuri's polite order to get out, bounded over to Ryoko and gave her a hug. The pirate couldn't help but return it. With a genuine laugh Ryoko whispered a thanks in her ear.

"Yeah," Kiyone's voice spoke out, "never thought I'd be worried about you so much." The lopsided smile on the galaxy police officer's face made Ryoko grin. The pirate bowed a thank you.

"What about Sasami?" Ayeka asked as the group headed for the front door.

"Ichima just called and they're waiting downstairs to go out and eat some dinner."

"So early?" Mihoshi asked.

"There's some stuff we need to do here." Serla said. "Thank you for taking such great care of our little Kitty."

Everyone smiled at the mention of the cabbit. Basho who had stayed in the kitchen, now made his appearance. Approaching them as he swung an arm into his jacket. "Who's ready for some sashimi?"

Looking at Ryoko he winked at her. "Kitty and I will be back soon." He gave her a playful pinch on the chin, one that brought out the softer features on the pirate's face. "You girls have your girl talk or whatever it is you do and before you know it Kitty and I will be home."

Tenchi silently observed Ryoko's interaction with him. Ayeka's hand found his, making him turn in surprise.

"You okay?" she mouthed.

Tenchi nodded, his gentle brown eyes returning. Ryoko didn't miss the interaction between the two royals. "Ayeka?" The pirate looked straight at the princess. "Thanks for the soup."

The princess' face lit up with nice surprise. "You liked it?"

Biting her tongue she smiled though she felt Tenchi's gaze on her. "It made me feel a lot better." She hadn't lied nor had she hurt her feelings. Shutting the door behind them, Serla and Mayuri instantly found out how quickly Ryoko could change dispositions.

– – –

"What happened to my kimono?" Ryoko opened the closet door, mortified to find that half her kimono were gone, the rest were being laid out on the bed by Mayuri and Serla.

"I sent them back to Kyoto."

"Why?" Ryoko knew that they technically belonged to the old woman, but they had been fitted and made for her. Each one of them was a work of art, and a kimono to a geisha was as important as a scalpel to a doctor.

"It's winter Catara. You won't be using those colors this time of year. Besides, Tenchi-san made some suggestions on what he wants you to wear."

Ryoko who had been standing by the wall did a double take. "What the hell? Serla!"

"Watch your mouth." The grim warning didn't take seed in the pirate. All she could think of was how all of a sudden her life was being taken out of her hands.

"It's not the end of the world Cat." Mayuri who had been staring at Ryoko's face get angrier and angrier spoke up before she could explode. "We want everybody to think that Tenchi is really your danna. There is nothing wrong in dressing in a way that pleases him."

Ryoko made a face. "I'm not wearing it." She crossed her arms over her chest in defiance.

"Catara stop acting like a child!"

"No," Serla interrupted. "She can do what she likes. Perhaps you want us to start calling you Ryoko again hmm?"

The pirate groaned. Of course they noticed that they called me a different name!

"You know," Serla began, "Ayeka-san was telling me some things about you as I kept her company while she was cooking the soup." Ryoko's eyes narrowed with suspicion.

"What did she say?"

Mayuri began folding the different parts of the kimono in their boxes but still kept an ear in their conversation.

"Nothing surprising." Serla walked over to wear Ryoko stood leaning on the wall. "She was surprised on how much you had changed. She said you used to be a lazy," the old woman hit Ryoko over the head, forcing her to stand up straight. "Obnoxious," she closed Ryoko's robe that had been indecently opened in the middle. Tying the robe closed with hard yanks, she continued. "Crude child who loves to act like the big bully in school."

Ryoko could have sworn she felt the hair on her headstand on end with anger.

Serla chuckled. " I told her that she was crazy… You hadn't changed a bit!" The mortified look on the geisha's face made Serla burst out in hoarse laughter.

"I am not any of those things!"

"Oh no?" The old woman got in Ryoko's face defiantly. "Since we came to Tokyo not once have you practiced your dances for the Kyoto festivals."

Ryoko opened her mouth to protest but shut it quickly. The damn old woman had a point.

"You haven't gone to an ozashiki in more than a month! It'd be a miracle if they still accept you back in the Kyoto circuit. All your best customers surely have forgotten you already. And to top it all off you didn't even introduce us to your friends! You can't even imagine the shame I felt meeting them with no prior knowledge of what they are to you! Basho's face was truly heart breaking. When Ayeka-san and Sasami-san told him how much you meant to them and how shamefully you had acted by just leaving with nothing to tell them you were even okay…"

Ryoko felt worse than dirt. Serla knew how much the pirate hated disappointing Basho and she used that fact quite freely.

"And seeing the way you acted this afternoon," the old woman shook her head. "Just proves how much you still need to grow up."

Mayuri frowned. Ryoko had acted been acting childishly but Serla was taking it way too far in her opinion. "Serla-san please. Surely Catara has her reasons. There are always two sides to every story."

"Yes there are, but Cat won't even trusts us with that so I have no choice but to believe they are in the right." No other words were spoken as Serla left, not bothering to close the door behind her.

Mayuri looked at her friend from the corner of her eye. The pirate remained standing in the same spot near the wall. Her face was downcast, her bangs covering her eyes and her arms on her sides, hands balled into weak fists. Mayuri decided silence was the best thing she could do and continued to pack the kimono. Whatever was going through her mind was something she had to work out for herself.

The dieing sun's rays illuminated the rooms in pools of light, Ryoko automatically turned away. A good ten minutes passed before she turned around to look at Mayuri. The geisha handled the garments carefully with gloved hands. The folds on the kimono had to be precise for it to withstand a stay in a box.

"What are you doing?"

Mayuri looked up with a smile. "I'm putting your things in boxes."

Ryoko looked at her curiously.

"Remember that big apartment your renting upstairs?"

Ryoko nodded.

"Well, you're finally going to use it."

The geisha turned to the dozen of obi next with hands on hips. The long, rectangular boxes were made for those.

"Mayuri?"

"Yes Cat?" The geisha kept working but glanced over to Ryoko.

"I've fucked up big time haven't I?

Mayuri chose to ignore the choice of words her friend had spoken. "Everybody does from time to time, it's human nature. Without mistakes how would we learn?"

"I guess." Ryoko fingered her robe absentmindedly.

"Don't worry about Serla. She was just ruffling your feathers to wake you up."

"Wake me up?"

Mayuri nodded. "You been in some sort of daze for weeks now."

Ryoko agreed silently. The past few weeks seemed like a blur to her. She had been acting mechanically, no heart in anything she did.

"Have they had the funeral procession for that kid who drowned?"

Mayuri nodded. "We sent condolences in you behalf and made some prayers in the temple. They understood you were ill and sent their wishes for a speedy recovery."

"I would still like to make them a visit in person. Will you come with me?"

"Of course."

Ryoko bowed her head in gratitude and with new wave of energy she approached the bed, tossing the robe on the floor she looked at the spare kimono that hadn't been stored away.

"You mean right now?"

Ryoko nodded, choosing a pale gray kimono with a faded sakura flower print. "No time like the present." While she put on clothing under her kimono she began thinking out loud. "I need to go to the hair dressers. Mmm… Do you think I should die my hair black again or keep it this color?"

Mayuri began massaging out the wrinkles of the gray kimono. "Blue hair is an unusual color for anybody, especially a geisha."

"Okay… black it is." Looking at her reflection in the mirror she stuck out her tongue at herself. "I don't know how we're going to do this Mayuri. We're in Tokyo not Kyoto, you think there are any worthwhile ozashiki here?"

Mayuri shrugged, "There are plenty of ozashiki, but worthwhile for what you and Tenchi-san plan to do? Who knows? Most of the people who preside in this city are in the artistic side, not the money making one."

"Since when do you and Serla call Tenchi with the san at the end?"

"A lot happened while you were sleeping." A wicked grin appeared on the geisha's face. "He's a wonderful man Cat. It really was no problem keeping him company."

Ryoko rolled her eyes. "Another one bites the dust." She pulled her hair back in a ponytail and tied a sash over it to hide the blue. "I swear he's the only guy on earth that has every woman falling for him but wants none of them."

Mayuri lifted an eyebrow, the pain in Ryoko's voice showing through. "Including you?"

Ryoko glanced wearily at her friend. "If I tell you I'll have to kill you." The pirate shook off the conversation. "Lets go. I wanna be back before Ryo-ohki gets here."

– – –

The makeup felt cool on her skin. The brush tickled her as it traveled up her neck to stop at the edge of her chin. Ryoko looked at herself in the mirror while she applied the white makeup, a serious grin on her face.

She always loved dressing up, but as much as she had fun, the pirate couldn't let herself forget how professional she had to be. After all, it was a job; they were paying for her entertainment.

After the makeup was applied, she dusted the skin with white powder so it wouldn't cake through the night. Next she did her eyebrows, creating a soft arch with a black eyeliner pencil. The pencil paused in midair as she finished her left eye; Serla had scolded her a few months back when she lined the top of her eyes. The old woman claimed she looked overdone. Ryoko shrugged the memory away and began on her eyes, extending the black line up from the beginning of the inner eye to well beyond the end, making her cat like eyes stand out like a flashlight in the dark.

She stifled the urge to growl at her reflection. I look good. Last, she painted the middle of her top and bottom lip to a heart like shape. Instead of the usual red pigment she wore, she toned it down to a light pink by mixing some of her makeup with it. She wanted to look beautiful, not like a clown.

With her makeup in place and her hair already done since yesterday she stood from her sitting position and couldn't help but stare at the kimono that hung next to the window in her room. It was one of the kimonos that Tenchi had personally chosen for her to wear while they were playing danna and geisha.

She hated to admit it but he had exquisite taste. The fabric was light blue with white bamboo leaves arranged at an angle on the bottom of the kimono. The inside was white, and the way Ryoko was planning to wear it, the edge of the kimono would fold outward where it folded near her right leg, showing the white underside provocatively.

The obi was red with a golden pattern. It was wide enough to cover her midsection, from the bottom of her breasts to past her belly button, joining in the back with an intricate bow.

Last night Ryoko had sat with Mayuri and a happy Ryo-ohki on her lap, and the two geisha went through the list of ozashiki and their guests for the week. One by one they compared the guests with the people it'd be beneficial for Ryoko to introduce Tenchi to.

Finally, after hours of making phone calls, reinforcing relationships with the owners of the teahouses and chatting with old customers for insides scoops on the best ozashiki, Ryoko and Mayuri singled out the best one for Tenchi to make his debut. They would not arrive together. A geisha, even with a danna, could entertain any number of ozashiki she wanted to. The point of the danna was a preferential status that swayed the geisha to choose his ozashiki over other customers. She would place him number one, entraining him and his guests with the best dances and songs she had in her repertoire.

A danna wasn't something a geisha would declare to the world. There was nothing to signal the change. Of course, the gossip traveled like wildfire and anyone who was worth anything were already aware of it.

Ryoko wondered if she would be treated any differently. Mayuri had assured her they would not, but the pirate was nervous.

There was a knock at the door, jolting Ryoko out of her memory.

"Yes?"

"Catara-san it's me Toshio."

Ryoko smiled as she heard giggling.

"Come on in."

The door opened and a man entered with a happy Ryo-ohki on his shoulders, which he deposited on the bed with happy shrieks coming from the cabbit. He was the dresser Serla had chosen for Ryoko while she lived in Tokyo. A short man, he was at shoulder length to Ryoko while she was barefoot. If she put on the platform wooden shoes she looked like a giant standing next to him.

The first time she had met him she laughed. Despite his small size and lanky form, Toshio had the deepest voice she had ever heard come from a human.

He whistled when he looked at the kimono the geisha was going to wear tonight. He put on white gloves that he had in his pockets, inspecting them before he laid his hands on the kimono. It was a very difficult process, putting on a kimono. The heavy fabric, doubled with the obi would be painful to wear if not worn properly. The weight had to be distributed evenly and in the right places so the fabric wouldn't bulge or wrinkle. Ryoko already knew the procedure. She stood in the middle of the room and lifted her arms out while Toshio fitted her with the under garments first.

"How am I looking Kitty?"

Ryo-ohki was jumping on Ryoko's vast bed with a lollipop in her mouth. The cabbit loved looking at Ryoko getting dressed. She usually slipped on Ryoko's highest pair of wooden shoes and walked around the room, bowing and saying hello to imaginary people.

"Pretty!"

Ryoko smiled. "I always look pretty."

"Beautiful!"

"That's better," Ryoko joked with her sister, causing Toshio to chuckle as he continued to work.

"Never met a geisha as modest as you."

Ryoko heard the sarcasm in his voice and saw the smile on his lips. She shrugged on the inside as she looked out the window. She never understood why it wasn't right for people to say they what they thought. The pirate knew she was a lot prettier than a lot of the girls, and pretending that she wasn't was being a hypocrite.

"Is Mayuri ready?"

Toshio nodded, working on the obi bow. "Ichima also asked me to remind you that he is waiting to escort you both down to the Takaminichi Teahouse."

Ryoko looked to the side to gage Toshio's expression. "Did you tell Mayuri this?"

"Yes ma'am."

"And?"

"She wasn't happy."

Ryoko sighed and turned around. "She's so stubborn! Ignoring Ichima won't make her problem go away."

Toshio knew that Ichima had confessed his feelings to Mayuri some time ago. "I would just let it be." He knew how noisy Ryoko could get if she thought her meddling would help. "Let them figure things out on their own time Cat-san."

Ryoko rolled her eyes and remained silent, not intending to listen to his advice.

Toshio saw the look in her eyes and sighed, she always did things her way or no way at all. "Do you plan to wear anything in your hair?"

She nodded while pointing with her chin to the table near the closet. "They are laid out over there."

The dresser walked over and looked at the various combs, flowers, hairpins and flutters that rested over a silk napkin. "Which do you want to wear?"

"Mmm. The tortoise shell comb, one silver flutter and a kanoko."

As he placed the items in her hair he spotted a single light blue hair within the mass of black. He almost told the geisha about it, but it added such an indescribable quality to her that he decided to remain silent than to have her tell him to pull it out. Looking at her face he noted her brow was furrowed slightly.

"Nervous?"

Ryoko shook her head, a nervous smile now more evident on her face.

"This wouldn't have anything to do with the rumor of your new danna now would it?"

"I can't believe you have the nerve to bring that up!"

Toshio's mouth dropped opened. "Then it's true! When Makiko-san told me over lunch that you had taken a danna I told her that if she kept spreading such filthy lies around I would refuse to dress her." He raised his arms in surprise. "You're going to make me eat my words Cat-san, why did you do it?"

Ryoko had remained silent through his outburst and just raised a slender eyebrow in answer.

"Unless," he leaned closer, "you're in love."

Ryoko almost choked. "Stop being such a busy body Toshio." She smacked his arm playfully. "Kitty! Come here with my shoes." The cabbit had been happily stomping around the room, balancing on the highest wooden shoes Ryoko had ever worn. She jumped off and ran to her older sister, the heavy shoes in hand.

"Thanks Kitty." Toshio ruffled her hair playfully and set down the shoes in front of Ryoko. The geisha slipped them on, instantly rising more than five inches. With this she would be at eye level with Tenchi.

"Okay time to go."

Ryoko felt a tug on her kimono and turned down to look at the worried face of Ryo-ohki. "You go ahead Toshio, I'll be right behind you."

He nodded, taking Ryo-ohki's lollipop out of her mouth before walking out of the room.

"Meow! My candy!"

"No eating near the kimono, you'll get it back later," he called from the hallway.

Ryoko would have kissed the pouting Ryo-ohki if it were not a hassle to bend down with all the stuff she had on. Instead she just smiled and pinched her cheek, something

Ryo-ohki hated. The cabbit glared at her sister, rubbing her cheek making it red.

"What is it?"

"Don't mess this up Ryoko."

"Mess what up?"

Ryo-ohki put her hands on her hips, looking up at her sister. "You know… with Tenchi."

The pirate was shocked speechless, before she could respond the cabbit hugged her leg and ran to the kitchen for her lollipop.

– – –

The car ride was silent. Ichima steered the car, the sternest expression Ryoko had ever seen was planted firmly on his face. The knuckles of his hands were white from gripping the steering wheel so hard.

Mayuri sat in the backseat, behind Ichima. She too was quiet, but instead of showing her feelings, her face was calm and relaxed. Her eyes focused on the back of Ichima's head, burning imaginary holes in his skull.

Ryoko was quiet as well. Not from the amount of tension the other two companions had created, but from her own worries. Looking out the window, she fought the urge to order Ichima to turn around and go back home.

She knew what to expect from an ozashiki, but she didn't know if she was strong enough in the presence of the juraian prince.

The pirate shrunk in her seat as she thought of Tenchi's face. He'll think I'm a wolf in sheep's clothing. What was that saying? A leopard can't change his spot for stripes? A leopard's spot can be painted over but they're still there? No. You can dress a leopard but his spots are underneath his clothes?

The car door slammed, bringing Ryoko out of her thoughts. She saw Ichima open the backseat's door, Mayuri exiting first. Ryoko hiked up her kimono, maneuvering carefully out of the car so she wouldn't wrinkle the fabric.

The building was made to look old. With heavy wooden doors, shingled roofing and two stories, Ryoko saw a resemblance to a teahouse she had entertained in Kyoto. She briefly wondered how mad the Kyoto teahouse would get if they knew they had been copied in Tokyo.

"Catara-san you do remember that the party is inside the building right?"

Nodding without humor Ryoko followed Mayuri to the side doors, the doorman already greeting them from the entrance. A foul wind made it's way down the street, making the geisha scrunch up their noses as a greeting to the doorman. The teahouse's walls were painted a light orange, the hallways bare except for the occasionally painting that hung from the walls.

Mayuri and Ryoko walked as quietly as they could to a private room the owner of the teahouse used as her office. They would greet her first, get information on who was already present, and see how many geisha were scheduled to attend.

"Moshi moshi Kiyiko-san." Both geisha said simultaneously as they bowed their heads.

"Hello girls." Kiyoki was a plump woman. Wearing zori just as high as Ryoko's, she was still at chest length to the pirate. The woman's face was round, her eyes tiny slits that completely closed when she smiled. The pirate couldn't help but turn Kiyoki in her mind to an overstuffed egg roll with shoes. The thought nagged at her a little bit though, because despite her comical appearance Kiyoki was one of the kindest people Ryoko had come across to in Tokyo especially in Tokyo. Both Mayuri and Ryoko had felt the tremendous animosity from their fellow Tokyo geisha that were supported by almost all the teahouse owners.

"I'm so glad you two have arrived." She stood up from behind her desk, her clumsy hands spilling papers on the floor. Glancing briefly to the mess she had made she continued talking, knowing the geisha would graciously offer to pick it up. "We have three geisha already in the crane room, but," she lowered her voice to a whisper, "some of my staff caught one or two men yawning!"

Ryoko and Mayuri gave each other a knowing glance as they bent over to pick up the papers. Last time Mayuri had entertained, the Tokyo geisha had played a mean trick on her. Arriving before Mayuri to the ozashiki, the geisha convinced the customer to play along. The whole scheme was set before Mayuri set foot in the teahouse. Sliding open the rice paper doors, Mayuri bowed at the people present before she slipped her shoes off and entered the room. Walking towards the low table, she noticed that the geisha had scooted over, giving her one of the two preferential seats beside the customer. Not really thinking about it, she smiled in thanks and sat down on one of the cushions, her legs tucked underneath her. This particular customer Mayuri had found out was one of the agricultural advisors for the government. She had spent the night before reading up on the wave patterns of crops, which ones were homegrown, imported and their cost.

She had brewed strong ginseng tea for the long night of reading that had been ahead of her. The facts of Japan's agriculture were not her cup of tea, no pun intended.

All these things flashed through her mind as she sat down next to the customer, tucking her legs underneath her and bowing her head. As she raised her head up, her eyes made contact with the geisha seated in front of her and a chill went up her spine. Something was off but Mayuri couldn't figure out what. Still not letting her emotions show through she began a conversation with the customer when one of the other geishas poured a cup of sake for the customer, interrupting them. He nodded in thanks and asked Mayuri if she would like to have a cup. Normally she would have said no. A geisha does not drink with the customers, only serves them sake and might have a drink of tea herself. But this particular time the sake being served was one of her favorite and very hard to come by. She ignored her conscious and almost eagerly nodded her head. Another cup was filled and as she took it with her hands the strange sensation doubled. Tilting the drink to her lips her eyes once again caught the gaze of the geisha seated in front of her. There was nothing she could do but drink the damn sake, expecting to faint any second from whatever concoction they had mixed in with the drink… but absolutely nothing happened.

She set the drink down carefully and gauged the reaction of the other geishas. They were calm and serene, all looking down at the table, a little too much if you asked her.

The evening went by uneventfully after that. It has also lasted a lot longer than expected. The customer had been a gracious guest and their conversation had been interesting much to Mayuri's surprise. She figured it had to have something to do with the sorrowful looks he gave her from time to time. A lover must have left him. Walking down the street towards home, the people passing her by smirked or laughed right out to her face. Her pride coming out she held her head high and ignored them, walking briskly by when someone stopped and laughed. Passing by a store window she caught her reflection in the mirror and let out a shriek. She had the most ugly black stain on her top lip. She looked like the ugly version of Chaplin. The worst thing about it was not only had everyone in the teahouse and on the street seen her that way, but also the die the geisha had used was a strong one. After running home and rubbing her skin with a rag and hot water a gray stain emerged that remained for almost 3 weeks.

The only if any good thing that was the result of this is Mayuri kept on attending her engagements and the rest of the teahouses and customers were sympathetic to her situation. She got all the preferential seating she asked for, and extra attention from customers without even trying to befriend them.

Ryoko and Mayuri walked in, bowing down and proceeding to attempt to liven up the party. Ryoko nodded to a server, the nod meaning bring in a couple of bottles of alcohol. For parties like these, where there were already three geishas and still the customers were bored, she needed something other than sake. She sat down in front of the president of a manufacturing company, Mr. Sakato.

"So how are you finding Tokyo?"

Mr. Sakato's company was based in Osaka, and even though the two cities were neighbors, Mr. Sakato rarely traveled to the bustling city next door.

"Id's, ids-achoo!"

Ryoko moved her head to the left as a big wad of spit flew past her face, her smile not wavering.

"Bless you." She said, handing him a napkin from the table and nodding as the server set down the bottles of vodka and glasses down between them on the table.

"This," she began, "will make you feel better." Pouring a glass for himself and handing it to him, she nodded at his doubtful face, her eyes smiling as he downed the drink in one gulp. She poured him another.

"Anoder one?"

"One will make you feel better, the second will make you forget you were ever sick."

He downed the second, shaking his head as the liquid burned it's way down his body.

"So that's how geisha's are able to attend parties night after night, lot's of alcohol." He looked at the empty glass in front of Ryoko, already feeling better. "Have one with me Catara." Pouring another for himself and one for her.

"What shall we toast to?" he asked while holding the glass in the air.

"Mmm. How about to new friends?"

He grinned in agreement and they toasted, tiny drops of vodka twinkling in the air. Ryoko's nervousness faded away after each toast, five to be exact before she felt a hand on her shoulder.

Looking up to Tenchi's face, her brain fought to warn her she was there for a reason but the vodka had taken its effect and she just flashed him a smile.

"Mr. Sakato-"

"Sato." He corrected her.

"Yes… Sato this is…" Ryoko froze. How was she suppose to call him? Tenchi? Mr. Masaki? My danna? What if it sounds too fake and Sato figures out their lie? Does Sato know she has a danna? His hand had been lingering on her knee under the table for the past ten minutes. What if Tenchi knows this? Shit! Shit! Shit!

"Tenchi." The juraian answered for her after a long pause. He looked at Ryoko strangely, wondering what had been going on in her mind. Her face had gone from happy to worried to absolute panic in a manner of seconds.

Ryoko shifted over and he sat down, feeling a hand fumble under the table and squeeze his knee affectionately. He looked up and caught Sato giving Ryoko a lustful smile. He turned to the geisha observing she had been staring at the bottle of vodka in front of her oblivious to his advances, or at least not giving him leeway for more. Tenchi snuck his hand under table, stopping Sato's hand as it traveled up his leg and giving it a bone-crushing squeeze.

"Ouch!"

That snapped Ryoko out of her daze and she looked up. "Are you okay Mr. Sakato?"

Sato's face was red as he cradled his hand like baby.

"Can we join you?" Before there was an answer Mayuri and the man she was with knelt down, sitting on their knees with the rest of them.

"Kamakura this is Mr. Sakato, Mr. Masaki and Catara-san. Everybody this is Asakusa Kamakura, one of the biggest cable distributors in Japan." The man smiled, pleased with Mayuri's introduction.

"I've been wanting to meet you since you relocated to Tokyo Catara, but" he looked over at Tenchi, "seems I'm too late for what I had in mind. How did you do it… Masaki was it?"

Tenchi nodded calmly. "How did you manage to trap such lovely lady?" As he asked this he picked up Ryoko's hand and turning it over kissed her palm.

"For starters I didn't trap anyone," Tenchi answered taking Ryoko's hand from Kamakuras and intertwining her fingers with his on his lap.

"Of course of course, forgive my rudeness. It's just a healthy competition for the affections of a beautiful woman's heart." He smiled and sipped his drink that Mayuri had poured for him.

Ryoko uncomfortable with the change in Tenchi's mood from the afternoon pulled her hand from his and opted to pour him a glass.

"The problem is," Kamakura continued, "is that a woman at heart is fickle."

"Now come on," Mayuri interrupted. "I might take the liberty to speak for all women when I say that's a bunch of bull. Men are the ones who take women and then dispose of them like yesterday's trash." There was a round of laughter between the two men, both downing their drinks and asking for seconds.

"A woman," Sato began, "only wants a man who is rich and can buy her things. Give her a house, a big diamond and furs and she's satisfied, am I right?"

"Yes! But you forgot something. That's what a woman wants for marriage. After she's got it, her next task is to sleep with as many twenty-something lovers as she can, leaving her husband high and dry in the bedroom with only a bottle of lotion as company." The two men looked at Tenchi. "How old are you? Twenty? Twenty-two?"

Tenchi opened his mouth to answer but Sato cut him off. "Tell us, how many older woman have you had the pleasure of bedding?"

Ryoko who had been sitting quietly looked at Tenchi, interested in his answer.

"Because to have caught the attention of Catara here, you must be good at something."

"You should ask Catara that Sato." Kamakura "A man always adds four inches to anything." One man elbowed the other with a grin shared between them.

"You sit here complaining about women but what about you men?" Mayuri intercepted before Ryoko had to answer. "All a man wants is a young woman. As soon as his wife turned thirty he trades her in for a younger one. A woman is only sexy till she's in her thirties, a man can continue being a heartbreaker well into his sixties and society applauds him for having a wife the age of his granddaughter. A woman in her sixties with a young man is seen as a sick and demented person."

Sato looked at Ryoko, "Tell me Catara are you sick?"

"Some people think so."

Tenchi laughed, making the two men look at him oddly. "Don't tell me you're on the women's side?"

"I'm on no one's side. I'm just laughing at all the stupid things you're saying." Before Sato or Kamakura could get a word in he continued, "You asked me how I could become Catara's danna? Well I don't treat her like a doll or a little pet. I see and treat her for what she is, a beautiful, intelligent person who deserves my respect as an equal."

Everyone wanted desperately to say something, but no words came out. What could you say to counter such beautifully said words? Mayuri looked at the Juraian prince with a mixed sense of surprise and pride. Well said. She looked around the table, the two men looking cross at finding no words to say. Just as she was about turn to look at the couple, a snort followed by laughter erupted, shaking everyone out of their stupor.

Ryoko was laughing, uncontrollably. Her shoulders were shaking, her hands holding her stomach almost in pain and her face was red as a tomato.

Mayuri turned to look at Tenchi again surprised that instead of anger she found a smile on his lips. He was looking at Ryoko affectionately, with an abandon Mayuri had not seen on him before. She reasoned it was because Ryoko was so caught up in her laughing fit that she wouldn't have spotted a fly landing on her nose.

The pirate's laugh was carefree and infectious, before anyone knew it they were laughing along with her, not really knowing why but not giving it a second thought. As her laughter died down to snorts, then giggles, then a lingering smile the rest of them stopped, waiting for an explanation to the round of laughs. An uncomfortable silence followed when no explanation came.

"What?" Ryoko asked, wiping a few stray tears from the corner of her eyes.

"What do you mean what?" asked Sato. "Care to explain your sudden bout of uncontrollable laughter?"

Ryoko shrugged her shoulders, filling the cups of the three men to the brim with vodka. "I haven't heard so much shit said with a straight face in a long time."

She looked straight at Tenchi as she said this, with a teasing grin that he returned.

"See! That's what I mean." Shouted Kamakura with an index finger pointed at Ryoko. "It's impossible to please a woman. Give her romance and she spits it right back at you. Give her the truth and she feels unappreciated."

"You have to learn how to play the game man," Sato patted Kamakura's shoulder a little too hard, making the other man wince. "It's all about the game. If you go up to a woman straight up, no funny shit-" Mayuri opened her mouth to interrupt but Sato waved her off. "Granted, she might talk to you sure, but who is she going home with at the end of the night? The dark, mysterious bad boy, or the old haggard millionaire. "

"But it goes both ways." Mayuri said. "Besides men now-a-days expect so much more out of a woman."

"Next thing you're gonna say is that chivalry is dead right?"

"But it is dead!"

"And women killed it!" Sato finished off, tipping his empty cup so Ryoko could refill it. Seeing only a few drops spill out, she waved over the waiter to ask for more vodka.

"No wait. I'm hic tired of vodka. Let's try… some champagne."

"Champagne?" Tenchi asked wearily. "You sure you want to mix drinks like that?"

Sato looked insulted but waved him off with a slight rocking motion of his entire upper body. The waiter returned much sooner than Tenchi would have liked, and as he downed an entire glass of champagne he began, "Where wer' we? Ah yess! Chivalry!"

He looked at Mayuri accusingly. "An yu killed it!"

"Now Sato…" Mayuri began edging the cup away from him but he snatched it from her fingers. "Leave me glass alone voman! An stop denying it! All dis feminist crap about equality, but when it comes time to pay de check who is de one who gets offended when it's split down de middle? Or whoo gets offended about not opening de door for dem? " He pointed at Mayuri pleased with himself.

"It's true." Kamakura agreed. "It's no wonder men are put off by the opposite sex. It's like dating a man without the balls or brain." He looked at Ryoko suddenly. "Why are you so quiet? Aren't you going to tell us what sons of bitches we are?"

Ryoko cocked an eyebrow. "There's no need for me to say anything. You are doing a pretty good job of proving that point yourself."

Tenchi smiled behind his hand and looked away before he could make eye contact with Kamakura.

"Ids real easy to please a man," Sato began out of the blue. "I don't know why dere's all dis magazines with 101 ways to please yo man." He let out a rough laugh and looked down at his drink, mixing it with a finger.

Ryoko nodded her head seriously. "I agree." Everyone turned to look at her. "In fact all you need to make a man happy is play with his balls a little bit and give me him a sandwich afterwards."

Tenchi who had been sipping his drink choked before sending a tremendously impressive spray all over the table.

"Who's going to offer me another drink?" The pirate asked and smiled as both men shot out their full glasses, fighting between them as to which glass she would drink. Ryoko looked at Tenchi momentarily, understanding he did not want her to drink a drop more. With that in mind she took great pleasure in taking one drink, downing in like there was no tomorrow and then doing the same with the other one.

Much later, as Tenchi picked her up and carried her to the taxi, Ryoko noticed a lone silhouette sitting in the corner of the tearoom. The silhouette froze for a moment, as if discovered before taking the hat on its head and tipping it towards her.

The last thing she remembered was being in Tenchi's arms, the prince holding her hair back as she lurched and vomited in some toilet, Tenchi patting her back softly.