Not I

By Diane Long

1 Chapter One

Ryoko sprawled out on her bed, laying on her stomach and kicking her bare toes through the humid air. Her red tank top and white shorts clung to her skin, a bond sealed with sweat and the atmospheric effects of oncoming rain. Her wild blue hair was tamed and pushed back from her face with a black headband. She flipped through the pages of a fashion magazine trying to spark a sense of interest from within the pit of boredom that held her captive.

"Now that's an ugly dress," she commented absently, running a finger over the picture of the dress. "It would look perfect on that silly princess."

As Ayeka wasn't present to respond with some witty or heated repartee, the comment felt lonely and flat. Ryoko's knowledge of what Ayeka and Tenchi were currently off doing only made her loneliness increase.

"Well, a monster woman like you would look hideous in any dress," Ryoko bantered in a high-pitched, over-formal imitation of Ayeka's voice.

"Yeah? You want a piece of me?" she countered in her own voice.

"Yes, so I can put it out in the trash bin where it belongs," she screeched in Ayeka's voice.

"Come on then!" Ryoko cried, forming a ball of energy between her palms. She looked about the messy environs of her room and chuckled, letting the energy ball fizzle out.

"Wow. You've got it bad," said a pint-sized Washu phasing through the door to lean against the wall. Washu looked cool and unperturbed in jean cut- offs and a cropped yellow tee shirt. Her hair was bundled away in one of her physics defying hats, leaving her neck open to the air.

Ryoko's cheeks turned the barest hint of pink, for the shortest of seconds, at being caught in her game. She rolled her eyes. "Got what?"

"The blues," Washu said crossing her arms and looking shrewd. "You miss them."

Ryoko snorted, casting her eyes to the window and watching the teasing clouds of impending rain continue to gather. "I miss that chipmunk like I miss having the runs," she said dismissively.

Washu said nothing and continued to watch her daughter.

The silence lasted for nearly a half an hour. Both women were used to isolation, be it while they were truly alone, or surrounded by others who didn't understand them. Silence didn't fluster them, and they both knew how to wait.

"It needs to rain soon," Ryoko said after a while. "I can't take this sticky weather much longer." She wiped the back of a slender hand against her forehead as she spoke.

"I agree. That's why I like the lab so much. I have complete control over the climate in there."

Ryoko turned her head and looked at Washu from the corner of an eye. "Can you encourage the rain?"

"You know I can't without sending the Earth's weather systems into complete chaos. The infrastructure for weather control isn't set up yet. Won't be for a loooong time," the genius lectured.

"I figured," Ryoko groaned, taking up the magazine and using it to fan her self. As her bangs shifted in the slight breeze Ryoko cocked her head and gave her mother a significant look. "Okay, out with it."

Washu arched her eyebrows but held her tongue.

"Don't play coy with me," Ryoko growled. "I've been expecting this mother- daughter talk since before they left."

Washu smiled and walked over to the edge of Ryoko's bed. "Do you mind if I sit down?"

Ryoko got up into an Indian style seated position, making room for the redheaded scientist. "Suit yourself."

Washu sat on the edge of the bed, and ran a hand through Ryoko's bangs, seeming uncharacteristically gentle. "They will be back tonight. I thought you should know."

Ryoko's mouth silently formed the word 'Oh', and her fingers crumpled the edges of the magazine into a tighter hold.

"What will you do?" Washu asked quietly.

"Nothing." Ryoko jerked her head out of Washu's reach, her eyes looking at the floor.

"Ryoko," Washu began.

"Nothing has changed," Ryoko snapped, cutting her off.

"Look, I know getting you to talk about your feelings is pointless, so I'm going to leave." Washu got to her feet and rested her fingertips on Ryoko's bare knee. "But I want you to know something." She paused, looking away. "I'm very proud of you."

Ryoko's head tilted up, trying to catch her mother's gaze. "What?"

"You heard me," Washu said, disappearing back through the wall.

"Huh," Ryoko grunted, staring at the empty air where Washu had stood. Her yellow eyes blinked three slow times before she lay back down and refocused on the magazine. Ryoko flipped the pages skimming across images and words, not really reading.

She scratched the back of her knee with the opposite foot's big toe. Washu was proud of her. Big whoopty-doo.

And they were coming back.

She lay her head down, her cheek resting on the relatively cool surface of the magazine's pages. What would it be like? It was all different now, but she wanted it to stay the same.

She draped an arm over the side of the bed and searched for a bag of snacks with her fingertips. Her probing digits rustled through cellophane wrappers and empty plastic bags before finding a glossy rice cracker. She ferried the treat to her mouth and crunched absently, remembering why she hadn't eaten this one the first time around. Damn nori wrappers. They stuck between her teeth.

They were coming back.

She raised up and brushed the crumbs from the corner of her mouth. She made a small energy spike with her pinky finger and used it to pick her teeth.

Back, back, back.

Low growls of thunder sound from far away, teasing with the possibility of a break in the weather, rain to wash away the heat and the sweat of the humid summer air. Ryoko pushed the magazine off the bed to fall randomly and forgotten to the floor. It was too damn hot to concentrate.

She leaned over the foot of her bed and examined the closest heap of clothing. Seeing the pale pink hem of her bathrobe, she pulled it free of the pile and shook the wrinkles out. If it wouldn't rain, then she would take a nice tepid soak in the onsen.

Tenchi and Ayeka… how would they be? How should she be?

The robe draped over one arm, she gathered her bathing items into a green plastic tub. Peppermint bath gel would feel very good today. As she tucked her purple mesh scrubby into the bin, she heard the familiar vibrations of a large space ship cutting through the atmosphere.

They were here. The trip was over. Now they were back and nothing would be the same.

Ryoko lingered over getting her supplies together and finding just the right towel form her own collection of high count Egyptian long staple cotton linens – only the best for a connoisseur like her, even if she didn't take care of them - and carefully slid her door open. With silent steps, she eased her way to the very edge of the landing and peered down into the living room.

The family stood around babbling excitedly as unknown Jurian guards unloaded luggage in the background. In the middle of the crowd, almost in their own separate space, stood Tenchi and Ayeka all smiles and eager chatter. Tenchi was gesturing wildly and laughing, repeatedly engaging in his old habit of scratching the back of his neck. Ayeka was nodding at him and laughing, delicately tapping one foot as if to emphasize a point.

They looked good. Tenchi's face was relaxed and happy. Ayeka positively glowed with joy. The trip had done them good, it seemed.

Tenchi's eyes searched the group and settled on Washu. "But where's Ryoko?"

Ryoko slid back around the corner in case Washu would subconsciously look in her direction and lead the eyes of others. That link could be a pain in the ass. She heard Washu's nasal voice tell Tenchi that Ryoko was taking a bath.

"Thanks, Washu," Ryoko murmured and teleported to the onsen to make her mother's words true. She activated the secret lock she had designed into the doorway and dropped her toiletries by the nearest waterfall. Instead of bathing first as was proper, she dove into the cooler upper pool and swam a quick lap. She paddled to the edge of the pool and settled onto a submerged seat and pushed the hair out of her eyes. The coolness felt divine. She let her legs float up so her toes appeared through the water.

It was so easy to not think about things that bothered you. You just didn't think.

::They're asking about you,:: Washu's mental voice whispered into her mind.

Ryoko wiggled her toes and leaned her head against the damp wooden planking of the deck. You just don't think.

::What do you want me to say?:: Washu persisted.

Ryoko closed her eyes and let her feet drift back to the bottom of the pool. Don't think.

::I know you're listening to me:: Washu thought gently.

::Tell them I'm fine,:: Ryoko responded, the overtones of irritation clear. It was hard not to think with a pipsqueak shouting inside of your head.

::Very well.:: Washu's presence left Ryoko's mind.

Ryoko took a deep breath and plunged under the water, the bubbles erupting to the surface in quick succession, unwanted thoughts going with them.


"…And then Tenchi forgot to wear the proper socks for the council meeting!" Ayeka laughed. "Oh you should have seen the look on the counselors' faces!" She leaned across the couch and took Sasami's hands. "Can't you just see it? Tenchi wearing blue socks to see those stuffy old goats?"

The lamps scattered about the living room chased the shadows into the far corners, illuminating the family reunion with nurturing tones of warm yellow. The long awaited rain pelted against the windows, making the scene even more cozy as the extended Masaki clan sat crowded into the couches and chairs.

Sasami giggled. "Oh sister! Were they very offended?"

Washu crossed her legs and leaned back into her chair. "Doesn't blue mean death on Jurai?" she asked with a snicker.

"And blue socks are restricted to funerals," Yosho added. "Tenchi! I trained you better than that, boy!"

"But grandpa!" Tenchi protested. "You never told me about socks!"

Laughter filled the room, followed by the clinking sounds of sake being poured.

Mihoshi looked at her socks, a yellow pair featuring burly masked men in red and blue body building uniforms. She pulled at the fabric and asked, "But what do Space Police Police socks mean?"

Kiyone groaned and playfully whacked her partner on the arm. "They mean you haven't grown up yet!"

The group laughed again.

"The why do you have a pair too?" Mihoshi asked innocently. "I mean, you're far more grown up than me!"

"Mi. Ho. Shi!" Kiyone shouted as Washu howled with laughter. "You always take it too far!"

A sharp laugh sounded from behind them, catching everyone's attention immediately. Heads turned to see Ryoko standing by the dining table her hair wrapped up in a towel turban, and a cold can of beer in her hand.

"Good one, Mihoshi," she said in her throaty voice. She took a calm drink of her beer and returned everyone's tense glance with a long, even stare.

Tenchi got to his feet and faced her from the other side of the couch. "Ry – Ryoko!"

Ryoko looked to her mother. "Thank the Gods it's finally raining."

"Ryoko!" the young man repeated.

"Tenchi," she returned.

"Uh, hi," he said.

She took the towel off of her head and shook her head, making her damp hair fly. "Hey."

Ayeka popped to her feet as well. "Miss Ryoko!" she gushed, her hands clasped in front of her.

Ryoko languorously slid her gaze to the purple haired woman. "Welcome home, Princess."

"Are you well?" Ayeka asked, her face frozen into a mask of concern and the knuckles of her fingers turning white.

"Yes. Yes I am." She cocked her head and let the right side of her bottom lips curl up a bit. "Couldn't be better."

Tenchi and Ayeka stared at her, clearly at a loss for words. The rest of the family watched on in silence, their earlier cheer vanquished.

Ryoko yawned. "Well, this is enough excitement for me. I'm going to bed." She turned and began floating up the stairs.

"Ryoko!" Tenchi called in a tight voice.

Ryoko didn't stop or turn around. "Goodnight, Lord Tenchi."


Ryoko slipped into her most conservative nightgown. Its satiny red fabric draped from thin spaghetti straps at her shoulders to fall over her feet. She sat on the edge of her bed, tucked her feet beneath her and waited.

Contrary to popular belief, she wasn't stupid and she knew what was coming next. Her sensitive ears caught the sound of two sets of hesitant footsteps coming up the stairs, then clattering across the landing, and continuing up the next flight.

"Three, two, one," Ryoko whispered as the first timid knock sounded at her door. There was a pause followed by an even softer knock. "He can't even decide on whether to knock on my door or not," she thought in irritation.

"Hello? Miss Ryoko?" called Ayeka's nervous, but determined voice.

That was Ayeka for you. "Yes?" Ryoko responded.

"May we please come in?"

"Who's with you?" Ryoko asked for the sheer perversity of it.

"Er… Lord Tenchi," the princess said awkwardly.

"Sure, come on in."

The door slid aside with aggravating slowness, revealing the pale and uncomfortable faces of Tenchi and Ayeka. They steeped sideways, almost crab-like, into he room, looking around carefully as if afraid of tripping a bobby-trap. They stayed near the door, and struggled to look her in the eyes, as they both toyed with the buttons on their garments.

"Did you have a nice trip?" Ryoko asked with unnatural calm.

"Oh yes," Ayeka said is a gentle whisper. "It was lovely."

"Good. How about you Tenchi? Did you enjoy being in space?"

"Uh, yeah," he said, scratching the back of his head. "It sure was different from the last time you took me up there," he said weakly.

Ayeka frowned and jabbed him sharply in the ribs for his careless comment. "Ryoko, we may as well come to the point, as this is going nowhere. Now that we are back…"

"You want me to leave right?" Ryoko interrupted her. "I figured you would." A glimpse of utter sadness passed over her features before she could lock it down.

"No!" Tenchi said urgently. "That's the last thing we want."

"I must agree with Tenchi. Don't be ridiculous Ryoko," Ayeka commanded.

Ryoko nodded once. "Then what can I do for you?" she asked pointedly.

Ayeka straightened her back and looked Ryoko in the eye. "As I was saying, now that Tenchi and I are back we wanted to check on your wellbeing. We have been worried about you."

Ryoko smirked. "I sure wouldn't have wasted my honeymoon thinking about you."

Ayeka smiled at the flash of Ryoko's fighting spirit and let the comment slide. "You were indeed in our thoughts and we brought you back a present from Jurai, because you are our friend Miss. Ryoko. You do understand that, right?"

Ryoko ignored the attempt at bonding. "So what did you get me?"

"An invitation to visit the royal wine cellar and the privilege to take out as much as you can carry," Ayeka said seriously.

"Your family's cellar is one of the best," said an impressed Ryoko. "Thanks, that's not bad for a consolation prize, I guess."

"Ryoko," Tenchi groaned.

Ayeka nodded her head in acknowledgement of the truthfulness of Ryoko's words. "That is why we gave you a priceless gift."

Ryoko breathed sharply through her nose, the tension of the moment eating away at her control. "Thank you."

Ayeka cut a shallow bow towards Ryoko. "You are welcome."

"Can you two leave now?" Ryoko asked simply.

Tenchi looked hurt, but Ayeka nodded cordially. "Of course. Goodnight, Miss Ryoko," she said pulling Tenchi with her as she excited the room, sliding the door closed behind her.

Alone in her room, Ryoko tried to fan Tenchi and Ayeka's airborne pheromones away from her face. "Damn Newlyweds."

Author's Note: Okay, those of you who read my usual Tenchi-and-Ryoko-are-in- love-love-LOVE stories, must know that "Not I" is very difficult for me to write. I'm not really enjoying it, but am doing it to help myself grow as a writer. I would very appreciate feedback as much as possible, as it will help me continue writing on this story in a timely manner. Even if you are not a big fan of Tenchi/Ayeka pairings please stick with me. This story is really about Ryoko's struggle to find her self, and bring meaning to her life now that Tenchi is beyond her reach. Thanks for your support in advance. Smoooch! Di