Author's note: For Christmas/my birthday, my wonderful hubby got me the complete collection of Tenchi Muyo. And after watching the entire set of episodes and movies over the last three days, this is what my brain decided to wake me up with this morning. Go figure. :)

It wasn't supposed to happen the way it did. In fact, if anyone had asked either of them, they would have honestly said it wasn't supposed to happen at all. Still, standing in the yard, being soaked by the gently falling rain, facing off against two very disgruntled and hurt women, with a bevy of people staring in shock at him as he placed himself between the two in front of him and the mud-covered resident genius he was shielding from their angry gazes, Tenchi couldn't help but remember how everything came about.

That first night, nothing had really happened. He'd been having nightmares since the altercation with Kagato, and this night was no different than many that had passed before. The midnight air of summer was just a shade warmer than chill, and the light breeze blowing across the lake sent cool caresses over his skin. Nights like this, he would quietly sneak from his room and walk down to the lake to sit on the perpetually damp ground at the shore and stare out at the water. The ripples calmed him, soothed him, and sometimes he would relax enough to be sleepy again. This night was the same as most. That was, until he heard soft footfalls in the sand beside him. With a startled jolt he looked up and saw Washu, her solemn eyes focusing over the lake while the breeze played lightly with the pink strands of her hair. It was nearly a full moon, a cloudless night, and as such he could make out the slight look of weariness on her face.

"Washu, is everything okay?" She said nothing at first, but slowly turned her head to look at him, and he was struck by how very green her eyes were, like polished jade. Without a word she sat down on the sand next to him, not close enough to touch but close enough that he could just barely make out her own body heat against his arm. Finally, she spoke.

"I thought you might not object to some quiet company."

"No – no, of course I don't. Is something wrong?" She shook her head slightly.

"No more than is wrong with you. Having trouble sleeping, Tenchi?"

"I – well, yes. How did you know?" The entire night was beginning to seem a little surreal, so he accepted the appearance of the small smile on her face with equanimity.

"It's two in the morning and you're sitting on the sand staring over the lake as though it holds the secrets of life. It's not a difficult guess. Nightmares?" He chuckled to himself at her gentle sarcasm as he nodded.

"Mmmm. You too?"

"Me? Not really. I'm just..." she trailed off, and her gaze broke from the surface of the water to the sand beneath her fingers as she traced small designs in it with a fingertip.

"You're just what?" he asked, honestly curious now. She sighed and leaned back on her hands, her eyes slowly moving up to contemplate the stars, stars she'd lived amongst her entire life but which, to him, had been nothing but sparkly gems in the night sky until recently. An almost-inaudible sigh escaped her lips.

"I've had a very long life, Tenchi. I've done a lot of stuff people would fault me for. I've done some things I would fault myself for. I've seen beauty in the harshest areas, and despair in the most ethereal surroundings. I've known the joys of falling in love, and the pain of having it taken away. Sometimes, I just like to find a quiet spot and a moment. To not be Washu, the greatest scientific genius ever known, or Washu, the exiled mad scientist. But just to be Washu, the girl that thinks and dreams...and occasionally just gets lonely."

"Oh," he whispered. "I understand." To his shock, he did. The two of them sat silently in the dark of night, lit only by the moon and stars above, until the first rays of dawn began to creep into the sky. Tenchi stood, brushing the sand from his clothing, and then offered her his hand. To his shock she reached up and took it, her small fingers feeling firm, yet still delicate, nestled inside his larger ones. She brushed the particles off of her own clothing and they walked back to the house, both of them far more at peace than they had been in a long time. It wasn't until they paused by her doorway that either of them realized they were still holding hands. They let go, almost reluctantly, and Tenchi looked down into her oh-so-green eyes.

"Thank you, Tenchi," she murmured.

"For what? I didn't do anything but sit there," he protested, feeling his cheeks heat a bit at her direct gaze. She smiled this time, an indulgent smile that settled on her lips and was reflected in her eyes.

"That's exactly what I mean. Sometimes, that's all a person needs." With that, she turned and went into her dimensional room, leaving Tenchi to return to his own room and lay back down, still a bit puzzled but more at peace than he had been since before his life turned upside down. He slept deeply and well.

That was where it had all started. Sometimes he would be sitting by the lake and she would join him. Sometimes he would step outside and see her small form already there. On the nights when the dreams were particularly bad, he would occasionally tell her about them. Other nights, she would speak of things from her past, usually about her husband and son that had been lost to her forever. It was a quiet time, a peaceful time for both of them, something far away from the bustle and craziness of the daylight hours. Tenchi found himself looking forward to the nights far more than he thought he should.

The anniversary of his mother's death hit him hard. He'd been in the middle of a nightmare involving Kagato torturing Ayeka – or was it Ryoko this time? - when the woman in the bonds suddenly morphed into his mother, her wide eyes pleading with him as she screamed in anguish. Jolting out of bed, he bolted down the stairs and collapsed at the lakeside, gasping for breath and shaking with emotion. He nearly screamed when he felt the arm drape around his shoulders, but just as quickly he recognized her touch and looked up into her worried eyes.

"Tenchi, what's wrong?" she asked, her fingers coming up to brush away the tears he hadn't known were decorating his cheeks.

" mother..." was all he could manage to say. Before he could register anything, really, Washu had laid back on the sand and pulled him down to rest against her, one arm encircling him as the opposite hand stroked his hair.

"It's okay, Tenchi. It was just a dream. Only a dream." Her voice soothed him, words of comfort whispering with the wind, and without his conscious permission his body had curled against her smaller one as he began to sob. She didn't comment, just kept murmuring and stroking his hair, and exhaustion crept up to steal him away.

The sensation of warmth was the first thing he noticed upon waking, his sleep-muzzy brain not quite understanding how his pillow had become so comfortable but not caring in the slightest, and he nuzzled contentedly against it and proceeded to doze off once more. It wasn't until his pillow shifted that full awareness broke over him and his eyes snapped open, looking up into a familiar pair of eyes that were filled with caring and concern.

"Morning, Tenchi," she whispered, and the morning silence was broken. It was then that he realized that he'd been nuzzling her breasts in his sleep, her arms wrapped around his shoulders and her legs tangled with his. Staring in openmouthed shock he noticed that she'd apparently just run outside after him without getting dressed, as she was cloaked only in a simple bathrobe, a robe that had gaped open during the night and was revealing most of the curves of breasts he would have sworn she didn't have. Correctly interpreting the panic in his eyes, she sat up and carefully closed the robe, nonchalantly ignoring him until the tie was once more firmly holding the soft material shut. Tenchi was frozen, staring at the woman before him, his brain not quite able to compute the events of the last few minutes, when her slender fingers reached up to his face and brushed away the thin trickle of blood from his nose, rinsing it off in the water.

"Washu, I – I mean – oh my-"

"Tenchi," she interrupted, her voice firm but not unkind. "It's okay. Everything is fine." This time she held out her hand to him, and in his embarrassed daze he took it, unable to meet her gaze. She tugged once on his hand to get his attention, and when she realized he was refusing to look down, she reached up with her other hand and cupped his cheek. A nudge with her fingers forced him to lock his eyes with hers, and he was struck by how very...lovely...she really was. He knew he must be flaming red, and he tried to pull away, but she wasn't having it.

"Tenchi – I said it was okay and I meant it," she chided gently, and it seemed to unlock his tongue a bit.

"But I...but you...and I was laying...and..." he trailed off hopelessly to the sound of her quiet chuckle.

"You had a very bad dream. I helped. It's what friends do, Tenchi," she said softly.

"Friends don't usually nuzzle other friends' breasts – I mean, I..." He broke off, mortified, but she didn't laugh, didn't mock. She just smiled and tugged on his hand, leading him back to the house. Not another word was spoken until right outside of her door, when he felt he had to say something.

"Washu, I-"

"Tenchi?" she said softly.


"Shut up and go back to bed." She carefully ran her fingers over his brow and, to his complete astonishment, leaned up to give him a small kiss on the cheek. And then she disappeared into her room and he walked, dazed, up the stairs to his own. His last thoughts before falling asleep once more were of warmth and a pair of caring green eyes.

Nothing was ever said about that night. Tenchi felt very self-conscious around her for a while, but after seeing that she was treating him no differently than she had before, he began to relax and settle back into his daily life. Eventually, he got up the nerve to begin to head back out the the beach on bad nights. The first time she came out to join him he felt momentarily skittish, but she simply sat beside him and stared out over the water with him. Nothing had changed, it seemed, except within his own mind, and he found that he was caring less and less about his own embarrassment as time passed. The nights began to get colder as winter approached, but neither one of them seemed to want to call a halt to their midnight camaraderie. The first night he saw her shivering, he didn't think twice about pulling off his nightshirt and draping it around her slender shoulders, and it didn't feel odd at all when she leaned into him and pulled his arm around her. A few nights later found her bringing out a large, well-worn blanket and sitting down close enough to touch him before wrapping it around them both. Their conversations ventured from the world of bad dreams and melancholy memories into general topics, the experiments she was working on or his plans for after graduation. Never once did the difference in their ages become uncomfortable – in fact, he would occasionally tease her about being ancient, or she'd call him a young whippersnapper, and it became a bit of a joke with them.

He'd brought out the blanket this night, and knew before he heard her that she was coming out. To his immense shock, she sat down silently and he saw tears filling her jade eyes. Not knowing what, if anything to say, he just spread the blanket on the ground and lay down, pulling her down until she was laying against his chest, hoping he could grant her the comfort she'd given him all those months ago. Drawing the other half of the blanket over them, he closed his arms around her and felt her shoulders shaking with silent sobs. She cried herself to sleep, and his own slumber followed soon after.

This time when he woke up, there was no sense of panic, no mortification. Just the warm feeling of Washu, curled against his chest, fitting snugly into the circle of his arms, and Tenchi took a moment to just look at her. She looked so fragile in sleep, so delicate and harmless, and while he knew she was no dainty flower, the sight of her - so peaceful and innocent in his embrace – sent a flood of warmth through him. He had the urge to protect her, to shield her against the vagaries of life, and he chuckled at his own sentimentality. This woman, who lay so contentedly in his arms, could likely think of a thousand and one ways to take him apart without even trying. And yet, here she was, dark lashes closed against porcelain cheeks, her pink hair tumbling every which way in sleep-induced chaos. He hummed quietly, feeling very comfortable, and watched as those long lashes fluttered, finally opening to reveal her sleep-dark eyes.

"Morning," he said softly. And before she could say anything, he did what he had been longing to for longer than he'd been able to admit, even to himself. Leaning down, he kissed her lightly, softly, feeling the gentle press of her soft lips to his before breaking away. He knew he was blushing, but found himself unable to care as the genius woman before him seemed unable to wrap that beautiful brain of hers around what had just happened. He saw it in her eyes the instant the morning caught up with her, and smiled at the look of absolute panic on her face. She tried to jump up, but as she was still snugly settled within his arms and completely wrapped in the blanket, her attempt at bolting was short-lived.

"What the hell?" she growled, and he was delighted to see her cheeks turn red as she looked everywhere but at him.

"It's okay, Washu," he said calmly, sitting up and allowing her to escape their impromptu sleeping bag. He couldn't help but smile as she raced to rearrange her nightclothes, closing a button that had popped open in sleep and un-twisting her pajama legs, all without even a glance at him. Picking up the blanket and shaking it off, he let out a small chuckle at how the tables had turned, and he understood now how she could remain so calm the night he'd fallen asleep in her arms. It was a feeling of contentment, of belonging, something so right that he couldn't have hoped to define it.

"Tenchi, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to-" He cut her off, unable to stop smiling.

"Washu, everything's fine. It's okay," he said, almost echoing her words from a few months back. "You helped me – it was my turn. It's what friends do." Her eyes snapped up to his as she realized that he was parroting her own words back at her. He was utterly delighted to see that her blush hadn't faded, that she hadn't donned the armor of the genius scientist, that she was still the Washu that has lain so peacefully with him. She seemed too flustered to hide behind her daytime persona, but he could see the instant she was about to try and stepped closer to her, taking her hand in his.

"Washu, don't," he whispered.

"Don't what?" she asked just as quietly, those large green eyes sparkling with a myriad emotions he doubted even she could name.

"Don't close yourself off. Don't push me away. I'm your friend," he told her, never raising his voice.

"Friends don't wake up in each others' arms and kiss 'good morning,'" she mumbled, glancing away from him. As she had done once before, he placed his fingers against her face and coaxed her to look back at him.

"They do if they are very lucky," he said with a serious expression, working hard at not grinning at her. She simply gaped at him.

"Tenchi," she whispered. He took pity on her and shifted the blanket over his arm. Still holding her hand, he gave it a gentle tug.

"Let's go," he said, and the two of them walked back to the house. As was usual, they stopped outside her door. She wasn't looking at him, so he brushed his fingers against her cheek, causing her head to dart upwards in shock.

"Sleep well, Washu," he said and, lifting her hand to his lips he brushed a soft kiss across her knuckles before turning and heading up the stairs to his own room. He never saw her stand outside her door for a long moment, staring in shock at the hand he had just kissed.

Something changed for both of them then. Not in front of the others – no, there they were still Tenchi and Washu, Juraian heir and mad scientist, status quo undisturbed. But on those occasional evenings at the lakeside, it was not unusual for the two of them to curl up under a big blanket, resting in each others' arms, as they talked quietly as they always had. They were closer now, and though neither of them ever tried for anything further than the connection they shared, it was silently understood that those nights were their own. The belonged to one another then, and it was as it should be.

Months passed. Spring turned into late summer. Then came the night of rain. They'd been snuggled together under their blanket, Washu resting easily in Tenchi's arms, their legs tangled together, when the first fat raindrops began to fall. Being summer, they weren't cold drops – instead, it was almost a warm feeling – but nevertheless the two jumped up and grabbed their blanket.

"Should we go inside?" Tenchi asked, but Washu was already heading around the lake to the rocks on the far side. Tenchi followed her, keeping the blanket folded to try and keep it as dry as possible, and when he caught up with her it was to find that she had ducked under a large rock. The space beneath was large enough to house both of them comfortably, and he flicked the blanket open across the hard-packed earth, sheltered by the increasing downpour by the rock above them and the protective ring of larger rocks around them. Tenchi picked up a large stick from nearby and dug water trenches to either side of their rock, places where the rain runoff would go rather than seeping into their warm little hiding spot. They lay there for a while, just listening to the sound of the rain as it danced along stone and sand and water, the occasional burst of wind singing through the trees and moaning between the raindrops.

Later on, they would never be able to remember who made the first move, but when their lips met nothing else really mattered. Tenchi was somewhat embarrassed, feeling like he should have made a better showing for himself, but Washu pulled him to her and held him close, soothing away his insecurities. He found he did much better the second time, and by their third bout the following morning, he felt he was finally getting the hang of things. The rain had slowed to a drizzle by then, but the thick cover of clouds had obscured the morning light and they did not realize how late it truly was. They knew it was time to return, though, to go back to the day-to-day of their lives, and it was with a bit of melancholy that they began to gather their clothing and blanket. Somehow Washu's night shirt had gotten pushed out from under the overhanging rock and had summarily become soaked, so Tenchi happily gave her his own, his eyes taking in how amazing her bare legs looked peeking out from under the hem of his much-larger shirt before she tugged her pajama pants back on. He carried the blanket, she carried her soaked shirt, and with his other arm around her shoulder and hers around his waist, they meandered slowly back to the house, delighting in their new-found happiness. Oblivious to the world around them, it was no wonder that the harsh shout shocked them enough that Washu lost her footing on the wet grass.

"What the HELL is going on here?" Like an avenging demon, Ryoko flew over to them, yanking Tenchi's arm so hard that he stumbled. The lack of his supporting form caused Washu to topple over, landing in a puddle and glaring in shock at the blue-haired woman who was currently draping herself over Tenchi like a cheap rug. To his credit, he was furious. Washu could see it in his eyes – those gentle eyes, so full of warmth. There was no warmth now, just a simmering fury, and he yanked himself out of Ryoko's grip, pushing her aside. His release was short-lived, however, as Ayeka darted forward and plastered herself against him.

"Tenchi, what on earth have you been doing?" the princess wailed. It was then that Washu had a chance to look around. From her vantage point in the mud puddle, she could see that the entire household was gathered around wearing varied expressions of worry, shock, and curiosity. She picked herself up from the ground as Tenchi wrenched out of Ayeka's grip and backed up, eyes flashing with rage. Either the two fawning women didn't see what was so obvious to Washu, or they didn't care about how angry he was, because they both advanced on him once more, shouting accusations and insults at each other and Tenchi alike. She watched in uncharacteristic silence, shock at the vehemence of their attack, as they advanced on the man she loved.

"Tenchi, where have you been? It's so late in the morning, and you weren't in your bed-" Ayeka's whining was cut short by Ryoko's tirade.

"What have you been doing? You've been playing with the psycho scientist, haven't you? Tenchi, she's not good enough for you-" Back and forth, the princess and the pirate harangued Tenchi, their voices bouncing in his skull and making him want to scream.

"And to find you coming back now, with HER-"

"The only thing worse would have been finding you with Ayeka-"

"How would that be worse? You vile woman you, Tenchi and I are destined for each other-"

"Guess your destiny took a back seat to his libido, or had you missed that fact, Princess?"

"How DARE you insinuate that MY Tenchi would act uncouth, as to become close to that, that-"

"She's wearing his shirt, your Royal Lowness, or had you missed that fact?" Ryoko's voice was snide as she turned her attack from Tenchi to her favorite target.

"I'm sure there is a perfectly good explanation that doesn't involve your lewd insinuations or your dirty mind-"

"I don't think it's MY mind that was dirty, Princess," Ryoko sniped, turning to Tenchi once more. "Tenchi, honey, I would have scratched your itch for you, you know that. You didn't have to settle for that ancient freak – I mean, just look at her? She doesn't even have breasts!" As Ryoko continued her litany of the scientist's faults and areas of unsuitability, Tenchi glanced back. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched Washu – his strong, beautiful Washu – flinch under the weight of each and every barb the space pirate tossed out like knives. When Ayeka began to add her two cents worth, obviously having come to the same (correct) conclusion Ryoko had, he could see Washu's eyes go hard, cold, and the way she closed herself off from the warmth he knew full well she carried within her snapped the last bonds that held his temper in check.

"ENOUGH!" he roared, his voice powerful and loud, cutting through the babble and insults like a knife through butter. He took two steps, placing himself directly between the arguing harpies and his lover, shielding her from their viciousness with the force of his protective fury. Shocked by the viciousness of his tone, the two actually shut up, and the ensuing silence made the gentle patter of the raindrops sound like shells exploding in the muddy earth. Tenchi, having finally found a reason greater than himself to champion, was a force to be reckoned with, and wasted no time in defending what he claimed.

"You two will stop acting like CHILDREN and LISTEN to me. Now." Taken aback by his tone, by the ice and fire it contained, the two squabbling women watched wide-eyed as he advanced on them slowly. "For months now I have had to deal with your petty bickering, your stupid games. We have all had to put up with the immature bullshit you have been dishing out."

"But, Tenchi-" Ryoko's coo was cut off by the furious man in front of her.

"Shut. UP." His voice dropped, any remaining warmth draining away like water through a sieve. "I am sick of your behavior. I am finished with your infantile games. Take your childish impulses out on each other if you must, but you will not – YOU. WILL. NOT. - play these games with Washu. Is that perfectly clear?"

"Lord Tenchi-" Ayeka froze at the look on his face.

"I believe that was a yes or no question. There is only one correct answer. I want you both to think very hard before either of you open your mouths again." With a final glare he turned from them, his rage dissipating as he walked over to Washu. Her eyes glowed with pride, and something else, and he realized then that he could never, ever let her go. Reaching her, he wrapped his arms around her, paying no heed to the mud soaking through her clothing – and now his as well.

"Washu, please," he murmured, voice faintly audible over the slowing rain.

"Yes, Tenchi?" she whispered in return.

"I...I don't know if you...if you could ever truly care for me, but I've grown to love you these past months. All of our talks, our time together – you are the most important thing in the world to me. My lover, yes, but more importantly, you've become my best friend. So if there is any chance you might ever..." He trailed off, resting his forehead against hers, unable to continue.

"Tenchi, are you sure? I mean, think of the differences? I'm so very much older than you...we come from such different places..." She stopped speaking as he tilted her head up, and he saw the love in her eyes. There was fear there as well, and worry, but he knew those could be overcome. Without another word, he drew her into a kiss so all-encompassing that the entire world could have imploded and it is unlikely either of them would have noticed. It wasn't until the sounds of the gathered witnesses broke into their little bubble that he even remembered they were there. The cheers and applause from the majority of their friends drowned out the whimpering and crying from the two spurned women – women who never really understood that neither of them had ever stood a chance.

"Washu," he murmured.

"Oh, Tenchi," she replied softly.

"That's my boy!" Nobuyuki's voice cut into the tenderness, and Tenchi couldn't help it. He threw back his head and laughed. Soon after he could hear and feel his love join in, and as the rain finally stopped and the sun came out, he felt the world get just that much brighter.

"Tenchi," she whispered. "You know I can fight my own battles, right? I mean, I am the greatest scientific genius in the universe." He grinned at her.

"Fine. Next time, you can handle it." Her wicked smile made his world seem damn near perfect.

No, it was never supposed to happen like that. If you'd asked either of them, it was never supposed to happen at all. But it did, and they would treasure it forever.