Life Changes:

Chapter 09 It's All Over

As the morning sun rose high over the small town of Okayawa Tenchi paused on the docks taking a moment to look back at his home.  Thanks to Washu's newest invention, some form of time manipulator, the damage from the fire had been undone and now the house and stairwell was repaired.  It seemed that nothing had changed in all the months since Ryoko left.  Yet Tenchi would always remember that everyone's favorite pirate had been missing.  "Everything is back to normal," he said nodding while smiling heartily.  "Finally, Ryoko's back and things can calm down again."  It felt good to know his life was no longer going down in flames.  "I wish Ryoko would have told us why she left.   Still, having her back and happy is all that matters."  As the young man turned his eyes caught a sight they hadn't seen in a long time.  The missing space pirates, Ryoko, sat lazily on the rooftop, hunched over like a gargoyle watching for something that no one else could see.  "Morning, Ryoko," he cried out, casting her a friendly wave.  Slowly, like an ancient robot, she turned.  Her hair cast shadows over her face, thus keeping him from seeing her eyes.  It took a moment, but Ryoko finally noticed him and nodded deeply twice in reply.   "Drink too much again?" He laughed, nervously feeling as if she were furious with him and glaring holes through him. "Well, I won't be back again until late.  See you tonight."  Saying nothing the lithe woman limply raised one hand in a wave in Tenchi's general direction.  With a final weak grin the young man backed away and left Ryoko to her business.

For long moments the former space pirate watched Tenchi walk away, until he disappeared into the distance.  I could follow him. It wouldn't be hard. A quick teleport and I could go out to the field.    Tilting her head up, revealing terrifyingly bloodshot and massive bags under her eyes, she nodded at the idea.  Yep.  But then what?  What would I do if I got to be alone Tenchi?  I can barely move, and I'd bet anything Ayeka didn't break him in yet, so I'd have to move a lot.  Besides, he doesn't really want to be around me.  None of them do.  They're glad I'm back, but I bet in a week no one will care anymore.  It'll be just like before.  When they all… Tears welled in her eyes and it took a long ragged breath to steady her nerves so she could think without crying.  "Before I went away, because they didn't have time for me."  It's better if I just stay up here.  Kagato's gone now so there's really nothing to worry about anymore. I can't run away again, my past always catches up with me.  It's better if I just wait here until I die.  Besides, what would everyone do if they're favorite whipping post was gone?  Sighing loudly, Ryoko shook her head, continuing to fight for consciousness. 

Just then the door beneath her slid open and slammed loudly.  "Hey, Ryoko!" Sasami screamed walking out far enough to look up to the young space pirate.  Looking up she placed one hand over her eyes to shield it from the sun. "What cha- doing?"

"Waiting to die," the silvery-haired woman groaned blinking hard to stay awake.

With a rough smile, the pink-eyed girl nodded.  "Oh, well could you help me in the kitchen?"

For a few moments Ryoko considered her offer. "No, I'd just be in the way."

"No, you won't.  I could use your help getting-" As Sasami started her protest the lithe woman leaned back with an exhausted groan oblivious to the world around her.   "Oh… okay then, I'll be in the kitchen if you change your mind.  I learned a new cake recipe.  It takes a lot of Sake, and I'm not really sure how to make it perfectly.  I'm probably going to have to make a lot of cakes.  So I will need someone to lick the bowl clean and drink the Sake before it gets cold, while I get a fresh one."  When no reply came, the blue-haired princess sighed as her impish smile faded and the young girl retreated back into her kitchen domain.

Ryoko was about to fall asleep, when Ayeka's voice snapped in and shook her awake.  "Well you certainly have learned no manners in your time away.  I was on my way for a morning bath, when I notice you freeloading on the roof.  Would you care to join me?  I'm not asking because I want to be around you, I simply was being polite, and it would be good for everyone's peace of mind to know you do bathe from time to time.  Rather than ruining the view for everyone else, and making Sasami cry, why not bathe?"

"Don't worry, princess, I won't be around long."  Ryoko glumly noted her eyes flickering close. With a yawn she continued.  "Go ahead and enjoy yourself." 

No sooner had Ayeka growled a rude reply then she was gone.  But the former pirate's tormenting peace didn't last long, as she heard Kiyone call out to her.  She could barely make it out, but Ryoko thought it had something to do with helping with chores.  It was enough to make her laugh.  Me do chores? Yeah that'll be the day….  Finally, Ryoko smiled when Kiyone, and occasionally Mihoshi's high-pitched voice, went silent and the lazy woman began to fall asleep. 

It had been a hard night, staying awake while the others slept, trying to recuperate from her battle wounds, and restore her shattered life essence, all without rest.  Especially when you're trying to ward off mental inquiries all night from her mother and your cabbit companion.  But it was a battle she was winning alone.  No one would or could help her through this.  It seemed this was her fate, and fate was a crueler master than Kagato had ever been. 

That Night:

As the evening came and the sun slowly set, Tenchi walked home. His arms and legs felt as if they were made of lead.  Every muscle in his body ached from his chores and the intense training his grandfather had put him through as punishment for shirking in his old training regime.  "It might have been obvious to him that we were going to be attacked," Tenchi groaned using his hoe as if it were a cane. "But not everyone thinks about violent battles all the time."  No sooner had he said this than the young man corner and stood facing his red-roofed home.  "A good night's sleep is just what I need." He realized wearily.  "Now that Ryoko's back, I can rest a lot easier knowing she's all right."  Looking around, Tenchi once again caught sight of the golden-eyed woman who remained in the same spot like a dog waiting for its master to return.  "Evening Ryoko," he shouted quietly.  "How are you tonight?  Hope you weren't waiting long."

As before she said nothing in reply, instead she merely bobbed her head in time with the evening breeze.  Each dip was lower than the previous and took her closer and closer to the edge, until finally she started to fall.

"RYOKO!" he shouted.  Leaping with all his might, the transformation into his Lighthawk garb was instantaneous.  With his enhanced power Tenchi caught Ryoko's limp form in his arms gently and landed with barely a sound on the rooftop. 

"Wha?" she groaned as he laid her down carefully on the roof, making sure not to place her anywhere she might be in danger of falling again.

"You fell," Tenchi exhaled with relief as his clothes changed back to normal.  "I caught you."

"Well," Ryoko answered with a false smile as she sat up.  Returning to her post on the ledge she nodded. "It looks like you did.  Guess I owe you for it."  Looking at the ground, her golden eyes saw Tenchi's hoe laying points up on the ground.  If he hadn't caught me… she noted horror and anger mixing in her heart.  I could have died.

His heart winced seeing her like this.  Something was going on, of that he was sure.  The Ryoko he knew never would have let an opportunity for a kiss pass that easily, nor would she have almost fallen off the roof, especially when she was not drunk.  "I just wish I could be as strong as you, Ryoko," Tenchi admitted with a faint laugh, taking the spot beside her, while showing how uncomfortable the situation made him.  "I mean no one else could do what you did.   You made it on your own without any help at all.  I know I couldn't do it."

Continuing to look at the ground with her legs dangling limply over the roof edge, Ryoko laughed like a wisp.  "Yeah… that's me.  Ryoko… the dread space pirate," at this moment her voice broke, and tears began to replace her laughter.   "I'm… not… afraid... of anything."  Finally, she stopped her broken speech, and her tears fell down her face in a swift stream of water.   Feeling his heart drop, Tenchi panicked, wondering what he could have possibly said that would have done this to the silver-haired woman. 

"Ryoko…" he began, just before she fell into him and buried her face in his shoulder.  With slow motion he placed a hand on her far shoulder and held her there, a grim look on his face.  Sobbing loudly, like a sorrowful child, the golden-eyed woman bellowed into him, as he merely sat in stunned silence, trying to think of something to say, or do, to end her plight.  However, in the end, despite how much it hurt to see her like this, the young man knew that stopping her now would only bring a repeat of this entire ordeal.   Clearing his throat loudly, Tenchi sighed as he gently rested his chin to her head.  "Ryoko," he repeated finding his words impossible to form.  "Would you… like to…" pausing he shuddered inwardly dreading the answer he knew she had to give him, "talk about what's bothering you."

Sniffing, the sorrow struck woman met his eyes, and Tenchi nearly looked away, unable to bear seeing such hurt in another's eyes. "I can't… it hurts too much," she whimpered timidly. 

Feeling both relief and misery at her response, the brown-haired youth nodded slowly.  "Well, if you ever want to-"

"It's all his fault," she snarled, laying her cheek against his chest, looking out sadly at the full moon.  "I haven't slept because of him for nearly 700 years."

"Steven?" Tenchi guessed, his eyes watching the same moon, yet seeing nothing.

"Kagato." Ryoko hissed, the name bringing pain to her heart.  "Ever since I can remember he's always tortured me," wrapping her arms around his waist she continued.  "It all started with…." With those words, the golden-eyed woman began to retell her beloved prince, Tenchi, every detail of her past, the details gushing forth like a mighty river over a fall.  Occasionally she paused; crying too hard to go on; other times the emotionally drained space pirate went into extreme detail about a person, city, or plant she had personally annihilated. 

After nearly an hour and a half, Ryoko Hakubi was exhausted and the brown-haired prince's embrace had gone from a friendly hold to a nearly fatherly hug as he warmly held Ryoko's head that lay in his lap.   With a last gasp for air, she closed her eyes.  "You must hate me," she stated painfully.  "I know you all do.  That's why I ran away.  So I wouldn't cause any of you any more trouble anymore.  Then you'd have to find a new whipping post for trouble."

"No," he whispered, coming out of his shock.  "Ryoko, that's silly," he commented in an almost offended manner.  "Nothing you say, do, or ever did, would ever make me, or any of us, hate you.  You're like my best friend, you've always been there for me, and I'm sorry I wasn't able to be there when you needed me.  We all are.  I just wish you'd have told me sooner."  Taking one of his hands free of her head, Tenchi stroked her spiky hair slowly.  "You've had a rough time lately, why don't you sleep now?"

Pouting she shook her head lazily in his lap.  "I can't do that," she yawned with a wince. "If I sleep, I'll dream.  If I dream I remember.  But… your lap is warm… and it does make me feel safe."

Smiling, the young warrior looked up at the clear night sky, his hand subconsciously brushing her silky cheek lightly, "I'll tell you what, would it help you sleep if I stayed with you?  I could guard you from the nightmares, sort of like a dream catcher."

"It might help," she muttered.  "But-"

Shushing her, the brown-haired shrine-keeper's hand casually and tenderly glided over her slender lips. Ryoko fell silent. "It'll be alright, I promise."   Having no response, and wanting more than anything to believe her cherished savior's words, the silvery haired woman's head rolled back and a final sigh eased from her body as sleep overtook her exhausted form. 

Three times her head jerked up, her eyes wide with fear and sadness.  Each time Tenchi was there, holding her hand and stroking her hair soothingly until she fell back asleep.  It seemed, at least for now Ryoko was not alone. 

After nearly an hour, Tenchi began to feel the night air, and he cursed himself for not bringing a jacket.  Of course this isn't what I expected. He honestly admitted looking at Ryoko as if she were little more than a frightened Sasami lying in his lap.  But then nothing normal ever happens around here.  It's what I thought made each day so special. 

Occasionally he would pause in his petting and Ryoko would grunt absently in her sleep, urging him unconsciously to continue.  Following her latest complaint, Tenchi looked down and watched her closely as she slept.  Slowly she breathed in, inhaling in small sharp breaths, before exhaling with purifying exhaustion.   The rivers of tears were now dry but their trail still remained marked on her face, like an old riverbed.  Perhaps it was the moonlight, or the emotional barrage he had just received, but in all his life Tenchi had never seen Ryoko look so vulnerable or beautiful.  Her lips were slightly parted, and the soft breaths she took only seemed to accent her voluptuous nature.   Moving his free hand slowly he prepared to touch her lips gently with two fingers, his heart filled with excitement and his curiosity beckoning him to check if she truly was as gentle to the touch as she seemed.

"There you are," Ayeka said from behind the duo just as his fingers were a hair's breath away.  Instantly he jerked his hand back.  "Lord Tenchi, we have been looking everywhere for you.  It was well over two hours ago we found your instrument out front, and we feared something might have happened to you.  When did you return home?  Are you ill?"

"No," he replied as he turned his head to face his purple-haired guest who held a lantern in one hand as she approached.  "I seen Ryoko when I came in." Although his pause here was only a second, Ayeka felt her heart falter at that phrase.  "She fell, so I caught her.  I think I used the Lighthawk wings.  I guess my control is getting better.  Anyway, I found out why Ryoko left, and what made her change her whole life.  She hasn't slept in a long time, so I promised to watch over her until she gets up.  Silly I know, but it is a promise and-"

Ayeka's hand rested on his shoulder and she smiled understandingly at her prince. "It is not silly, Lord Tenchi.  It is understandable.  As a matter of fact this makes many things clearer to me now than they have ever been in my life.  This is who you are, Lord Tenchi, and you are where you are meant to be.  You should not feel the need to apologize, nor to explain yourself.  However, may I suggest moving indoors where the weather is not so cold?  "

Nodding the young man did his best to rise.  With help from the first princess, he managed to get to his feet and carry the sleeping space pirate from her post back into his home. 

Moving slowly, Tenchi managed to get into the living room, and soon parted ways with Ayeka who promised to inform the others of his return. 

The Living Room:

Yet another hour had passed, and still the young man watched over his sleeping charge.  No longer was her head in his lap.  Now her spiky hair flowed freely over the couch as he sat on the coffee table holding one of her hands in his.  From time to time Tenchi rubbed the back of her hand with his thumb, a reassurance to her that he was still there, and for him that she truly had returned. 

Looking at the sleeping woman, the young man rubbed his eyes painfully trying to banish his weariness.  Suddenly, he heard Ryoko weakly mutter something.  Shaking his head, the brown-eyed youth listened as she repeated herself.  It wasn't a phrase, or even a word, but it conveyed a deep message.  Closing his eyes, the young man tried to recall the last instance he had heard such a thing.  It was not a proud utterance, nor was it any other noise the lithe woman had ever made.  Despite the difficulty Tenchi did his best to remember when he had last heard someone make a sound like that, and in a flash of inspiration it dawned on him.

That's it, he thought smacking his own head at his stupidity, Ryoko's cold.  Reaching beside him, he picked up a spare blanket that Ayeka had left for him, and prepared to cover the twitching woman, when once again inspiration hit him as he noted a small tear running down her cheek.  She's not cold; she's still scared… feeling a little stupid for not noticing it sooner, as Sasami had the same expression on her face when she experienced a painful nightmare; Tenchi slowly, and cautiously, reached forward to take one of Ryoko's hands in his. 

It was then that weariness overtook the young man and his eyes closed.  Wobbling for a moment he soon fell forward and an accident occurred that could change everything forever.  Some would say his path was guided by fate, others by chance, yet whatever it was, when Tenchi Masaki's face happened to fall on to Ryoko Hakubi's, and their lips met, time seemed to stop.  The sudden warm sensation caused both figure's eyes to shoot open, Ryoko's golden eyes laced with fear and tears born from her nightmare, and Tenchi's with the shock of what he had allowed to happen.   Yet neither pulled away as they seemed to share the warmth and intense calm that filled them though this minimal touching flesh.  Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the young man leaned back, whispering, "wow," quietly almost under his breath as he moved a hand to feel his lips, which seemed almost aflame with excitement.  

Reaching up slowly the demoness stopped him, in case he was trying to wipe away her first kiss.  "You know," she said in a crackling voice.  "If I had a kiss like that to wake me up each morning, I'd be more than glad to have nightmares each night."

Laughing, Tenchi rubbed her hand tenderly as his eyes glistened with a barely contained joy.  For the first time in his life, the young man was able to say what his heart had wanted to, but his timid soul would have never allowed him to say.  Ever since her return, the brown-haired prince had felt the walls about his heart melting away and his tension fading like shadows under a morning sun, and now a hole big enough for even his cowardly nature to find passage through opened in that wall.  "I don't know," he said, his smile threatening to break his face.  "I mean, if I had a kiss like that to look forward to every morning I think I'd never have a nightmare; knowing that that waited for me when I got up.  Of course, I don't know if I could sleep since I'd be waiting."  Joining his laugh, the lithe woman moved her hand from his arm to his face rubbing it gently, as he moved his free hand to do the same to her.  Silence filled the quaint living room as the two young looking figures simply looked deep into each other's eyes.  Slowly, like two reeds gently drifting across a still lake, the two leaned forward again, this time kissing deeply and passionately.  Closing their eyes, it seemed that Tenchi and Ryoko might never break from this intense emotional contact. 

Neither person saw Washu, standing at her lab door involved in a failing war to cast away tears that cascaded from her eyes like waterfalls.  My Little Ryoko… she smiled as she cried.  I came up, because I was worried things were going back to the way they were. But… but… the green-eyed genius swallowed hard.  But I see you're coming through your past.  When you came to this planet, I know you felt like a withering plant.  I'm glad Tenchi was there to nurse you back to health.  When you left us, I thought all your growth would rot away.  I should have known the emotional roots in your soul shallow. Tenchi's indecisiveness and the dark memories you were curse with are to blame.  I see you weren't emotionally dead.  You were just going back to seed.  Thanks to Tenchi's continued efforts you've started to regrow, stronger and with deeper roots, better than ever.

As the diminutive genius pondered her daughter's life, Tenchi hugged Ryoko. "Tell me, Miss Ryoko, would you like to sleep in my room tonight?  There should be room for two of us."

"Sleep with you," the lithe woman laughed, "I'd love to, but I'm kind of tired tonight."

"I meant like how Sasami sleeps with me when she has nightmares," he said with a red glow of embarrassment.

"That's sick, but I suppose it is good to know you have some experience.  I'd hate to think I have to do all the work." Ryoko grinned knowing full well what he meant.  Yet she enjoyed seeing him squirm. "But if what you're telling me is true, you only sleep with upset kids, and as you can easily see I'm no kid."

After considering her words Tenchi smiled kindly.  "Well, Little Ryoko," he chuckled, "would you like to sleep in my bed tonight?  It might help you with your nightmares, and it's more comfortable than the couch or rafters."

Ryoko's smile faded when he mentioned where she used to sleep.  "Okay, you win," she impishly. "But you'll have to carry me.  I'm too tired to walk."  Extended her arms it seemed more of a demand than a request.  Soon her lithe arms were wrapped around his neck.  Realizing arguing would be pointless and ruin the mood Tenchi hefted her into his arms. 

Ryoko's doing better.  At least some of her weigh is coming back. Doing his best to suppress the strain she put on his body the young man smiled happily as he carried her towards his room.   

Watching the young couple, as that is what they were sure to become, Washu only shook her head as a smirk came over her face. What in the hell was that?  If I call her Little Ryoko, she bites my head off, but if its Tenchi….  Throwing her arms up in mock frustration, the green-eyed woman headed back into her lab.  Talk about your double standards….  Oh well, guess I'll just go back to work.  Being a mom sure is a more thankless job than I thought it would be.  Maybe I should just get a dog….

Just as her small hands reached the doorknob, a voiced echoed in the goddess Washu's mind.  Thanks mommy, Ryoko called out to her.  Thanks for coming to see me.  With a grin the diminutive genius closed her lab door, a massive of pride welling in her chest as she basked in her daughter's thanks.

The Cave:

From out of the dark cave she came, a demon from ancient times emerging into the light.  Upon her body was a skin-tight black and red battle suite.  Only her face could be seen, although it was more frightening than any mask ever could be.  Wild, spiky, silvery hair moved frantically in the steady wind as she prowled forth from the cruel depths.  Her hands were clenched into powerful claws and the demoness loudly breathed in ragged gulps as if she were completely mad.  More terrifying than any of the other features were her eyes, empty, emerald, emotionless eyes.  The dread space pirate Ryoko was free and the entire universe was doomed.

Despite her great power each step seemed to be a battle as if something inside was fighting to gain control.  As each foot crashed down it smashed deeply into the ground, marking her trail easily.  Only a few feet out of the cavern, Ryoko spotted her first victim, a small boy in the field cooking sweet potatoes while he messed with some wildflowers. 

Looking at her prey Ryoko's mind whirred to life, and she soon recalled the boy's identity.   Many times he had played outside her prison, ignoring the stern warnings from his elders, but back then he'd been safe.  After all, she was locked up.   Now she was free and her master's ominous commands resounded in her mind.  KILL ANY WHO STAND IN YOUR WAY.

Savoring the thrill of the hunt she continued on.  Soon Ryoko loomed over the brown-haired youth.  Starting as something had just blotted out the sun, he turned looking up at her.  With the sun in his eyes it took a moment, but he finally found his focus.  Yet he did not run or try to fight her as others would have, instead he smiled warmly. 

"Hello," he said with a chuckle. "I'm Tenchi.  What is your name?"

His reaction was so new that she paused, completely stunned.  The innocence in his eyes and smiled burned her soul filling them with emotions she had never truly felt or understood before.  Emotions like remorse and shame, but also love and warmth.  Somehow she won control of herself and made a very guttural noise that passed for her voice.  "Ryo…ko."

With a poor attempt at shock the young boy nodded before offering her a wildflower. "Here, it's for you." 

Once again Ryoko growled out a reply.  "For… me?"  Taking his offering her legs failed.  Kneeling before Tenchi she held the tiny plant in both hands admiring its quiet beauty and elegant fragrance.  Tears rolled down her face and her lip quivered.  If not for the evil glow in her eyes she'd seem a typical upset teenager.

"Did it have a thorn," he asked trying to pry open her hands with his tiny finger.  "Let me see, I know how to make it better."  Yet despite his efforts he could not open her clenched fist.  Slowly she lowered her flower to the ground feeling very weak, defeated, and foolish.  "Don't cry.  It'll be okay.  I promise."  Leaning forward he kissed her gently on the cheek right where one of her tears had just passed. 

The warm touch of his lips on her flesh caused her to gasp softly.  But she gasped even louder at what followed.  Like flashes of light memories came back to her taking the forefront of her mind.  She saw the young man grow, watching him happily from her cave.  She saw him as a young man, freeing her from the cave only to meet him again to play at his school.  Again they were together, in his room with her in his bed surprising him with her presence.   Then the dark man came, but Tenchi stood up for her.  He killed the darkness that haunted her. 

The warm feeling spread from her cheek consuming her control and darkness.  As it moved the warmth cracked her flesh, making her look like a broken doll.  When her whole body was covered in cracks, her eyes shot open.  She could feel it inside her, and in suddenly white light shot from her emerald glowing eyes and in a blinding flash Ryoko the space pirate disappeared.  In her place was Ryoko-Chan, a little girl in a simple tartan and brown dress that cried loudly. 

"It wasn't that bad a kiss," Tenchi said leaning forward as he helped the pint-sized girl to her feet.

"I want my mommy." Ryoko cried, tears pouring from her eyes like waterfalls. 

"Go play," a voice called.  Looking back, the pouting child saw her mother waving from the old cave while talking to another little girl, a strange animal, a very uptight royal, and two women in uniforms.  "We'll talk to you later."

Taking her hand in his, Tenchi raced away with Ryoko in tow.  Soon the two were laughing and playing in the large field, eating sweet potatoes and enjoying the day. 

It was when she was happiest of all that it happened.  Ryoko opened her eyes, the nightmare had passed, the time for dreams was gone, and now she was coming back to reality….

Next time: Well it seems things have worked out.  I didn't think they would, and the story could end here, but I thought I might as well make an epilogue. So why not?  Next time: Epilogue.