Author's note: This is, I believe, the longest one-shot I have ever written, but it came into my head fully formed, so I really didn't have a chance to refuse it, LOL At any rate, this is the OTHER story that was inspired by watching a billion hours of Tenchi Muyo over the last three days. In fact, it was inspired by a scene that lasted less than five seconds. So..yeah. Here it is. :)
He'd watched over her for years. When the knights had first awoken after their long sleep, coming face-to-face with the power of the King of Jurai, assimilating the memories and knowledge gained from their guardian forms, Azaka and Kamidake had immediately pledged their allegiance to their lord. He'd never considered the possibility that a pair of large, rose colored eyes would soon command as much or more from him as his undying vows of fealty to Jurai's royal family. It only made it worse for him as time went by, knowing that he was sworn to serve, yet would never be able to be more than her faithful guardian. Still, it was his lot, so Kamidake contented himself with the fact that he could protect her for the rest of her life.
From his vantage point a few feet away, he watched her as she moved easily through grass and flowers. Much like her older sister had been prone to do, Princess Sasami would often escape to the wide-open Jurai fields when the requirements and rigors of royal life demanded an outlet. Fully an adult now, slender and willowy and incomparably beautiful in his eyes, he could still see traces of the precocious, loving child he had met so soon after awakening. Watching her kneel to choose wildflowers to weave into a crown, he remembered the jolt of...well, something...that had gone through him that day. It wasn't attraction, or love, not then. But he'd known, from that moment their eyes had met and she had smiled at him, that he would live and die for her, devoted and true as only an immortal knight could be. He'd reassured her, he remembered, and the trust in those shining eyes had made his heart feel lighter than he'd ever imagined it could be.
Her soft humming came to him on the wind, small and sweet, the tune soothing his soul. He recognized the song, a lullaby of sorts, one that she had learned during one of their many sojourns on the planet Earth. Her deft fingers wove flower stems in and out, her melodious humming never faltering, and Kamidake smiled. For the moment, all was right in the world. He was guarding, as was his responsibility, and she was happy. That, truly, was all that mattered to him.
"Kamidake?" she called, motioning to him, and he snapped out of his reverie to walk to her side. She patted the ground beside her, and though every fiber of his being cried for him to sit close enough to her to draw her against him, certain proprieties had to be observed. Instead he sat across from her, alert for any threats to her well-being as he always was, yet fully attentive to whatever his Princess might wish of him.
"Yes, Princess Sasami?"
"Kamidake, how often must I tell you to just call me Sasami?" she asked, a twinkle in her eyes. He smiled and nodded his head slightly.
"It would not be proper, Princess," he replied, as he always did when she asked him this question. He neglected to mention that it would hurt too much to be so familiar with her, knowing he could never be to her what he wished to be. She huffed, still smiling, but her visage soon grew solemn.
"Kamidake, I would like to visit Earth."
"As you wish. When would Your Highness like to depart?"
"As soon as possible. I've already spoken to Ayeka. She has agreed that I may take this trip." She looked down at her hands, at the wreath she held, and he was appalled to see her beautiful face grew sad. "Seeing as how it may be a very long time before I can go again. At least, for my own enjoyment."
"Princess?" She sighed, and gazed over the fields.
"It is time, Kamidake. Already the betrothal offers have begun to come in – I have seen the piles of beribboned and sealed parchments sitting in my sister's office, all of them bearing my name. Now that Ayeka and Tenchi have wed and conceived an heir, and peace has come once more to Jurai, it is time for me to marry and assume my place as Jurai's Royal Ambassador." The sharp pain that lanced through him never showed on his face; the hollowing of his soul would go unknown to any but himself.
"But Princess, were you not looking forward to becoming the Ambassador? You've talked often about visiting and helping the other planets in the galaxy, about seeing new places and people." He kept his voice level, mildly curious, and perfectly respectful. She answered in kind, but her words were tinged with wistfulness and sorrow.
"Oh, I am – I shall enjoy it so very much. I just..." she trailed off, seeming to gather her thoughts. "Marriage is something I was not looking forward to. I mean, I understand the need, I respect my responsibilities as Princess. But I...I'd always hoped I could marry for love, as well. Like Ayeka did." He stayed silent out of necessity, knowing he could not trust his own words at the moment. He saw her eyes glimmer slightly, glassy with tears she would not shed, and felt a physical pain like a dagger through his heart. She turned away slightly, staring blindly once more over the vast flowered fields before looking directly at him. "She was so very lucky, to find Tenchi. Even with having to share him with Ryoko -" she paused, and he knew she'd seen the shock on his face. He'd not been aware she knew about THAT little tidbit of palace life. She chuckled, and he could feel his cheeks heat slightly. "Really, Kamidake, did you expect me to stay ignorant forever? I have eyes. And I knew that there was more to Ryoko's appointment to Head of the Royal Guard than simply wanting to 'make sure that demon woman stays out of trouble'," she finished in an impressive imitation of her sister the Queen's voice and mannerisms. He knew he must look startled, because she laughed then, the rich and delicate sound wrapping around him like cashmere. But all too soon her mirth had dissolved back into melancholy.
"Even with the compromises she and Ryoko worked out over Tenchi, my sister is happy. Far happier than I could have ever imagined her being. And I am so happy for her! It's not that I'm jealous of what she has, but..." She trailed off, silent for so long he had to speak if only to fill the void.
"You want to find your own happiness, your own place to belong." He spoke softly, and she looked up at him, those gorgeous eyes he so loved full of wishes and dreams he'd have given anything to be able to make come true. But he knew that he was not one of them, and so he contented himself with just sitting near her.
"You've always understood me, my Kamidake," she murmured, "so much more than anyone else. That is it exactly. I know it's more than I have a right to wish for – my first and main responsibility is to my people, my kingdom. But for a short while I was able to be something other than a princess. I cooked, I played. I had fun. And while I know that I cannot ever go back, that I have to stop yearning for things from my youth, I can't help but long for happiness, and love, and a future that does not fill me with apprehension." She gazed steadily at him, and he felt his heart stutter.
"I am not a child anymore, Kamidake. And I am ready to accept the responsibilities of my position. But I want – I need – to go back to Earth once more. To say goodbye. Because though I know I'll be returning there again, it won't be as Sasami. It will be as Princess Sasami, Juraian Ambassador." She looked back down at her hands, toying with the flower wreath. "And I want you to go with me. As my protector, but also as my friend." He took a deep, quiet breath. He knew she did not know of his feelings, and that was as it should be. But to hear her wish for his company, his companionship – it was enough.
"Of course, Princess," he murmured. "I would be honored to accompany you, in any way you require or wish it." She glanced back up at him from under long lashes, the deep pink of her eyes framed by their dark length.
"Truly, Kamidake? In any way?" There was something in her direct gaze, in her soft voice, that made him shiver, but he knew she could not possibly know the effect she had on him.
"Absolutely. I have sworn myself to you, Princess Sasami."
"Mmmm," she hummed noncommittally, and Kamidake felt like he may have missed something, some critical part of the conversation that passed him by. Trying not to puzzle too much over it, he was startled when she threw herself into his arms. Instinctively he clutched her, the force of her motion throwing them backwards into the soft grass. He froze, every muscle in his body rigid in a combination of shock, elation, and bone-deep apprehension at the impropriety of their position. She fit so perfectly against him, and he could have sworn his heart stopped completely when she landed against him with a soft 'oof'.
"Thank you, Kamidake. Thank you for always being here for me, for being the one constant I can count on for anything I need." She pressed a soft kiss to his cheek and, as quickly as she had dived at him, she was sitting up and bouncing to her feet.
"I've got to go pack! We can leave in the morning!" A final wave and she disappeared over the gently rolling hill, heading back towards the palace. For a very long time, Kamidake simply lay in the grass, willing his heart to stop pounding so forcefully, trying to school his breathing back to normal. After a few moments, he sat back up. Laying on the grass beside him was the crown of flowers she had woven so carefully. The central flowers, he noticed, were a burnt umber color, and each was paired with a delicate pink bud. Looking at them, he couldn't help but see her eyes, so expressive and so warm. An unknown impulse had him scoop the wreath from the ground and carry it with him on his somewhat unsteady walk back to the palace.
"Are you sure you should travel that far, Ayeka?" Tenchi asked, sitting beside his wife with his arms around her.
"She's pregnant, not handicapped," Ryoko snarked from her seat opposite the pair. Sasami, perched on a nearby ottoman, chuckled. She'd been telling Kamidake the truth – she was so happy to see her big sister enjoying her life so much. It was a hard-won happiness. After Grandfather had decided to stay on Earth, and Nobuyuki had chosen to accompany him, Tenchi had finally acceded to their urging and accepted his position in Jurai's royal line. It had been rocky at first, since Ryoko had insisted that wherever Tenchi went, she would go as well, and there had been more than a few explosive, destructive feuds between the pirate and the princess as they tried to coexist peacefully in Jurai Palace while Tenchi got himself settled in. Finally, he had had enough. He locked both of the women in a small room, hands bound and tied to chairs, and left them there for half a day. No one knew what had happened – the room had been shielded and soundproof. But when the door was finally opened and Ryoko and Ayeka had been released, it was obvious something had changed. The sniping and the hostility seemed to have dissipated completely. The two never spoke of that day, and ignored any and all questions put to them. A week later, Ryoko had been given her official court position, and rooms right next to the royal suite. Two days after that, Tenchi and Ayeka had announced their engagement. Sasami hadn't been lying when she said she wasn't ignorant...more than once she'd seen Tenchi leaving Ryoko's rooms and heading back to his own. Once or twice, she'd even seen Ryoko sneaking stealthily out of the royal suite and back to her own rooms. But whatever agreement had been reached, it suited everyone fabulously, and what the Juraian public didn't know wouldn't hurt anyone. Jurai was gifted with an unprecedented period of peace, and the celebrations that had followed the official announcement of the upcoming birth of the heir lasted for weeks.
"Thank you, Ryoko. I'm fine, Tenchi, and I believe a vacation would do me good. Heavens knows after your son is born we won't have much time to escape for a while," Ayeka said with a chuckle, her words dragging Sasami back from her reverie. "Sasami, you said you wanted to leave in the morning?"
"Yes," she murmured. "I've already informed Kamidake."
"Did you tell Azaka?" Tenchi asked with a grin, and Sasami felt her face flame.
"Um, no, I...I, uh, haven't seen him yet this morning," she finished lamely.
"I dunno, Sasami," Ryoko said smoothly. "You ever think Kamidake might not want you following him around like a little kitten?" Sasami's head shot up and she glared at the former pirate.
"I do NOT follow him around!" she snapped defensively.
"No, you just always seem to be where he is," the older woman replied, wicked amusement in her eyes. "I just love coincidences. Don't you, Tenchi? Ayeka?"
"Oh, yes," Ayeka said easily. "Coincidences are wonderful."
"They really are," added Tenchi. Sasami couldn't take their teasing anymore and jumped to her feet, flipping her long cerulean hair over her shoulder.
"You are all horrible!" she yelped. "I've got to go pack. I'll see you all in the morning." With a huff she left the room, her robes and hair trailing behind her like farewell flags whipping in a breeze. The three conspirators grinned at each other, and Ryoko left her perch to join the other two on the couch, her hand gently resting with theirs on the barely-there swell of Ayeka's abdomen.
"Do you think she has the slightest clue that he is in love with her?" Ayeka whispered quietly.
"Sasami? I doubt it. I don't think she's even realized how much she's in love with him yet, let alone anything else." Tenchi's voice was thoughtful. Ryoko nodded.
"They're both kind of clueless, aren't they?" With a grin, she stood and stretched. "Well, if we're leaving in the morning, I've got some work to do. Those betrothal offers aren't going to forge themselves, you know?" A quick kiss for Ayeka, a longer one for Tenchi, and the Head of the Royal Guard sauntered insolently from the room, leaving the King and Queen of Jurai to sit and laugh together.
"Kamidake?" The younger guard spun around at the sound of his partner's voice. Azaka had walked into his room on silent feet.
"That's quite a beautiful wreath," the older knight said absently, reaching out and picking it up, tracing a strong finger across the dark green leaves. "Brightens up your room, that's for sure. You should decorate more." Kamidake carefully retrieved the wreath from his mentor's grasp and placed it gently over the bedpost.
"Did you want something, Azaka, or did you just come in to critique my décor?" The elder laughed.
"I just wanted to tell you that it's to be a full trip. Everyone's going along. I'm guessing the young Princess didn't tell you?" Kamidake wondered at the combination of relief and sadness that rushed through him.
"No, she didn't," he said lightly. "That will be very enjoyable for her, won't it? I know how much Princess Sasami likes having all of her family together." From the very beginning, Sasami had considered the entire ragtag, confusing group of friends as family, and she'd held to that ideal her entire life. "This will be a wonderful vacation for her."
"It will be a wonderful vacation for all of them. But don't worry – I'm sure she'll find ways to annoy you specifically all the same."
"She doesn't annoy me!" Kamidake protested, turning around to his closet and missing the smirk on Azaka's face completely. "Princess Sasami is an intelligent and charming young woman. I am proud that she considers me worthy of her conversation." Preoccupied as he was with his belongings, he didn't see Azaka's eyes widening, his expression slightly shocked before returning to normal.
"Well, I'll leave you to your preparations, as I've my own to do. We will be leaving at daybreak."
"Very well. Until then, Azaka." The older knight let himself out of the room and walked down the hallway with a thoughtful smile on his face.
"Grandfather!" She darted up the final few stairs to the shrine with such carefree joy that Kamidake smiled. The man at the top caught her easily, swinging her around in a circle, and her laugh echoed across the well-kept grounds of the Masaki Shrine.
"Sasami! My, but you seem to grow more beautiful every time you come to visit." She giggled at Katsuhito's compliment, and from where he stood off to the side the knight could see the slight pink flush dart across her ivory cheeks.
"Grandfather, please," she said with a laugh. "I'm just the same old Sasami, nothing special."
"I believe there are many that would argue that fact, my dear," the older man said with a grin before turning to the rest of the party, greeting them as they reached the courtyard. Ayeka came up first, accepting a hug slightly less exuberant than the one her sister had gotten.
"I am so happy to see you doing well, Grandfather," Ayeka said sincerely, her head resting on the older man's shoulder for a moment.
"And you as well, Ayeka," he replied. "I take it all goes well with my great-grandson?"
"Everything is going splendidly," she said, happiness making her glow. "He's doing very well. The physicians are quite pleased."
"And Tenchi is taking good care of you, is he not?" Katsuhito asked firmly, though shooting a smile at his grandson.
"Grandpa," Tenchi said with a hint of his younger self creeping into his voice. "Of course I am! That's my wife and son, after all."
"Good," was all he replied. Kamidake and Azaka stood to the side as the group gathered and chatted, exchanging hugs and news. The younger knight watched as the light of his life danced around the group, her happy exclamations brightening his very existence. This continued for a while, until Katsuhito declared it time to head to the main house for dinner, informing them that Mihoshi and Kiyone had already arrived. Noboyuki was due home from work any moment, and Washu was expected sometime the following day. As the visitors all began to file down the staircase, Sasami broke free and darted over to the two knights who were standing slightly off to the side, as was proper.
"Kamidake, Azaka, let's go!" She grabbed his hand and tugged, and Kamidake stumbled more from the feel of her fingers in his own than from the force of her tug. Regaining his balance easily, he allowed her to pull him along, missing entirely the wry grin that crossed Azaka's face, and the thoughtful expression that had settled over Katsuhito's features as he observed the two.
Dinner was informal, loud, and extremely enjoyable. Sasami had insisted on making the tea, and passed around cups of it with all the grace of the lady she had blossomed into. He accepted a cup from her, sipping it as he watched her move from one person to the next, laughing and talking. It seemed as though all of the remnants of the Princess of Jurai had begun to slough off, leaving simply Sasami, a young and beautiful woman who loved her family and her life and did her best to make sure everyone was happy. Conversation lasted long into the night, and he sat quietly talking with Azaka and Katsuhito while still watching the blue-haired woman who had so completely captivated him. The other two men would occasionally exchange amused looks when conversation would lapse from Kamidake's lack of attention, their faces carefully composed and stoic by the time the young knight would realize that he'd lost the thread of their discussion again.
Evening had given way to dark night when Ayeka yawned widely.
"I get tired so much more easily lately," she said by way of an explanation. "It's all your fault, Tenchi," she continued, leveling a fake glare at her husband.
"Come on, Princess, you know it's not ALL Tenchi's fault. I mean, it takes at least two to tango, am I right?" Ryoko had had a few cups of sake and was back to her normal innuendo-spouting self. The whole room laughed at the flush that reddened Tenchi's cheeks as well as Ayeka's, and just like that everyone began to declare their own intentions to call it a night. They all began to pick up cups and plates and tidy up the living room. Azaka took his dishes as well as Kamidake's and, still in discussion with Katsuhito over some obscure occurrence in Jurai's ancient history, walked towards the kitchen. Kamidake remained where he was, a small smile on his face as he thought about how happy she had looked. To his surprise, rather than following the others and cleaning up, she broke free of the group and walked over to stand in front of him.
"How was everything?" she asked, almost timidly, and he couldn't help but smile at her.
"Everything was delicious. That was exquisite tea, Princess Sasami."
"Oh, really? That's nothing. Wait 'til breakfast – I've kicked everyone else out of the kitchen in the morning, because I want to cook for you all."
"I'm certain it will be spectacular," he murmured. She looked at him for a moment, wide eyes seeming to stare into his very soul.
"Come to think of it, there are a lot of people here. I may need some help. That is, if you don't mind..?" It took him a moment to break free of her gaze to realize what it was that she was asking.
"If you wish it, I will gladly help you," he said formally to cover up how flustered he felt. He could still remember the way she had felt in his arms that day in the meadow, and the remembrance hit him full force as she stood less than a foot from where he sat, gazing into his eyes. Her expression seemed to cloud briefly for a split second, but then she smiled at him.
"That's great! I'll come wake you up in the morning and you can help me make breakfast." He didn't have time to do much more than nod before she leaned in and, bird-quick and feather-light, kissed his cheek. "Goodnight, Kamidake!" And then she was off, darting back to her sister and the others, leaving him sitting on the chair feeling more out of touch with the world than he had in a long time.
Staring into the darkness, hearing the even – if slightly loud – breathing of Ryoko and Mihoshi, as well as the softer counterpoint of Kiyone's tiny snores, Sasami found she wasn't sleepy at all. She couldn't help but think of the way her life was going, the things waiting just over the horizon for her. She was determined to make the most out of this vacation. When she returned to Jurai, she would have to begin attending betrothal dinners and formal meetings. Though she hadn't thought herself to be a little girl for a long time, she couldn't help feeling that some part of her, the innocent, childlike girl she had once been, was about to vanish forever. Soon she would have to wed, likely have children of her own in the relative future. She'd long since understood that she would be choosing her mate for political reasons, and she thought she had come to terms with it, but the closer it got to inevitability the more she felt like sobbing at the unfairness of it all.
Still, she thought, it might not be all bad. Perhaps she could find someone who would suit her, someone intelligent and kind, someone who smiled easily and joked, a man who would care for her – Sasami – not for the Princess of Jurai, someone who would see past the title to the woman behind. She knew she could never have the dream she'd always treasured – a white knight to sweep her up, who would love her without reservation, whom she could love wildly in return. She would be content with someone she could talk with, who shared at least some of her viewpoints and wouldn't be overbearing or cold. A grand passion might not be in the cards for her, but certainly an amicable partnership based on mutual interests and at least cordial friendship wasn't too much to ask for, was it?
And if he happens to have gorgeous eyes, a warm smile, and strong arms, she mused, sleep finally coming to call her home, that would be a great bonus. Falling into slumber's warm embrace, the thought of her own guardian flashed through her mind, and she drifted off with a smile on her lips.
Kamidake, the voice called to him, soft and sweet, and he couldn't help but murmur in response. The tender touch on his shoulder, however, had him bolting to full awareness and yelping in surprise as he opened his eyes to find Sasami's face inches from his own.
"I – Princess – I – good morning, Princess," he stammered. Her giggle washed over him and she straightened up, giving him room to rise to a sitting position, still feeling slightly disjointed. He figured he was allowed to be a little confused. It wasn't every morning that the woman of his dreams stood in his bedroom and woke him up. He watched her eyes widen appreciatively and her gaze flicker down and back up to his eyes again before it dawned on him that he'd slept shirtless in deference to the night's warmth – so different than Jurai's temperatures at this time of year. It was a tossup as to who turned red the fastest, but she was darting out of the door with a quick 'Come down to the kitchen when you're ready!' before he could apologize for his state of partial undress. Moving with a speed he'd never before used for donning clothing, he hastened to make himself presentable and hurry downstairs, hoping he hadn't upset her.
He found her in the kitchen, her hair – no longer in two ponytails, not for may years now – caught behind her head in a single long braid that trailed down her back to just below her knees. She was facing away from him, and he took a moment to simply drink in the sight of her, so beautiful in the morning light that his breath caught in his throat. Gathering his wits, he stepped hesitantly into the kitchen.
"Princess Sasami?" he called quietly. She spun around and smiled, though he could still see traces of pink on her lightly freckled cheeks. Her voice, however, was full of joy and warmth when she spoke.
"Kamidake! Are you ready to help me make breakfast for this zoo?" she asked with a laugh. He nodded.
"Whatever you need, Princess." He heard her chuckle under her breath, and she murmured something he couldn't quite make out.
"I'm sorry, Princess, I didn't quite hear that."
"Oh – nothing, nothing at all! Can you get me the eggs from the refrigerator?" she said quickly before turning back to the stove where she was currently attending several pots and pans. They spent the morning comfortably, with her explaining what she was doing or instructing him in something else, and he thought to himself that he had never felt so content. The world was a wonderful place this morning, and he was very glad to be a part of it.
Breakfast was finished and he was directed to carry the food out to the table while she raced around to wake everyone up. He couldn't help the smile on his face as he saw her, happy and exuberant, dashing out of the kitchen. He followed her, carrying a large pan, and watched as she raced up the stairs, her bare feet and ankles peeking from beneath her robes. He didn't realize he had sighed out loud until the sound of a throat clearing behind him snapped him back to the present. Turning quickly, he saw the scientist leaning casually against the wall.
"Sasami has definitely become a rare beauty, hasn't she, Kamidake?" the pink-haired pixie asked with just the right degree of nonchalance. He swallowed before replying.
"Princess Sasami is quite lovely, yes," he replied, hoping he sounded casual and disinterested. Something in Washu's eyes told him that he'd failed miserably, but there was also a sense of confidence that made him feel as though her observations would remain her own.
"Don't worry, guardian, I have better things to do than gossip," she stated plainly, a serious expression on her face, and he knew he'd been right. He bowed to her.
"Thank you, Miss Washu. You are most generous." She just nodded, and he took that as his cue to finish setting breakfast. By the time all of the food was set out, the entire company had come together downstairs and breakfast became just as lively as dinner had been the night before. Contentedly sipping another cup of Sasami's famous tea, having already finished his food, he was startled to hear his name in conversation.
"...Kamidake was a great help," Sasami was telling Mihoshi. "Even though I'm taller now it's still kind of hard for me to reach some of the things in the cupboards. It was wonderful to have him there to give me a hand. And he's a natural at cooking too – I barely had to teach him anything."
"Oh, that's good," Mihoshi replied, her mouth full of food. She swallowed and continued in her absent way. "And I'm betting it doesn't hurt that he's so cute, right Sasami?" The blonde winked at her friend, and Kamidake watched in shock as Sasami turned a bright red. She began to mumble something, but Mihoshi as usual just kept talking.
"I mean, he's got such pretty eyes, and those broad shoulders. And he has to be really strong – I mean, he is one of the two legendary Jurai knights..." He wanted to look away, to pretend he hadn't heard anything, but when Sasami glanced up, embarrassed, and her gaze locked with his, he choked on his tea. Washu glanced at him over her own cup, and he thought he saw a glimmer of amusement.
"Hey Mihoshi, how are you and Kiyone doing with that special project you were assigned?" the scientist called out from her seat, successfully sidetracking the easily distracted Galaxy Policewoman. As discreetly as he could, Kamidake sent her a thankful look over the rim of his own cup. She just blinked and continued the conversation she was having with the others, but he knew she understood, and he felt very blessed that there was someone he could trust to keep his feelings a secret.
"Come on, it's a beautiful day, and the water feels amazing!" Ryoko was coaxing the merry band of friends out of the house and trying to convince them to spend the day swimming in the lake. She'd been mostly successful so far – in fact, only Katsuhito, Azaka, Kamidake, and Washu were sitting out. The four of them were sitting underneath a large canopy Washu had somehow sprung into being – Kamidake hadn't been paying attention to her explanation, something about material conversion and perception-altering something-or-other – because at that moment the rest of them had begun to file out of the house and the sight of Sasami, her lithe form encased in a seafoam-green two-piece swimsuit drove any possible thought of anything else out of his mind and left him reeling. She was deep in conversation with Kiyone, so luckily she didn't see the completely gobstruck expression on her guardian's face – however, unbeknownst to him, everyone else did. A gentle pat on his shoulder from Washu as she continued her descriptions helped him snap back to reality, and he did his level best to avoid looking at the water from that point on.
"Thank you, no," Azaka replied when Ryoko wouldn't stop haranguing the four in the shade. "I am quite comfortable here for the moment. Now, Katsuhito, what were you saying yesterday about the statute of petty crime on Earth..." The blue-haired instigator would not be deterred.
"What about you, Washu?" The scientist didn't even look up as she declined.
"I'm in the final stages of – well, you would never understand it anyway, so I'll just say it's something scientific and leave it at that." Which left Kamidake as the final target, and Ryoko turned to him with wickedness in her golden eyes.
"So, come on Kamidake, don't you want to come play with Sasami – I mean, with all of us?" Against his better intentions his gaze slid over to the water, and he had to swallow hard. The princess had left the water to stretch out on the warm sand, laying on her stomach as she talked to Ayeka, who had also opted against the more active games the others were playing. Kamidake couldn't stop himself from staring at her, the line of her back sloping perfectly from the nape of her neck, down the long line of her torso, the gentle swell of her – he forced his eyes away from the more improper parts, only to have his vision halted by a gleam of sunlight on metal. Encircling her delicate ankle was a simple golden chain with a small pendant of some sort. For some reason, it caught his attention the way nothing else ever had. And when she laughed and began to swing her legs up and back, the glitter of the anklet against her smooth skin made him shudder and gasp. Ryoko, no stranger to men in general, watched his reaction with amusement.
"See something you like, Kamidake?" she teased. Her tone, though friendly, was more than he could take. With a low growl he jumped to his feet and walked in the opposite direction, leaving a very confused group behind him.
Without realizing where he was going, he found himself on the steps leading to the shrine. His breath was coming in gasps, and his muscles were shaking with the restraint he held himself under. Deciding he needed some form of distraction, he began to jog up the stone stairs, forcing his mind to quiet with all of the strength of years of discipline. At the top he was still a bit less...together...than he would have liked, so he started down them again. Up and down, Kamidake jogged the staircase, never slowing or stopping. He demanded obedience from his mind, from his emotions, and very deliberately began to force them back to an acceptable level. When he felt sufficiently stable he stopped, standing at the top of the staircase, the shrine before him standing as a quiet witness to his inner turmoil. How long he stood there, he didn't know, but he was beginning to feel composed enough to rejoin the group.
There was a noise, a footstep behind him, and he spun only to come face to face with her beautiful rose-colored eyes. And he knew that he had lost the battle with himself. A groan ripped from his throat as he yanked her into his arms and melded his lips to hers.
"What do you mean, I have a choice?" Sasami had gotten out of the water and joined her sister, loving the way the sand felt so warm against her stomach and legs.
"Sasami, I know that the life of a member of Jurai's royal family comes with certain responsibilities. You know as well as I do that we were born into roles we must play, not for ourselves but for the safety and happiness of our people. But I want you to know that you have a choice. I will not set your betrothal for you. It is up to you to choose a suitable mate. I know that you will be mature enough to think logically, but what I'm hoping is that you will also be true enough to yourself to think with your heart."
"But, sister..." Sasami paused, unsure of what she was trying to say. Ayeka, however, understood her little sister's dilemma. Having realized long ago the depths of Sasami and Kamidake's feelings for one another, she and Tenchi and Ryoko had determined that – should the two ever wish to make a match – it would be supported wholeheartedly. However, she'd made the others promise that it would be up to Sasami and to Kamidake, and that they would not interfere. Ryoko was the one to watch out for, Ayeka mused quietly as she watched her sister attempt to gather her thoughts. But then, what else was new?
"How will I know?"
"Know what?" Ayeka asked. Sasami paused.
"How will I know if the man...if the man I...choose...is what is right for Jurai?"
"Ask yourself two simple questions, Sasami. Do you love this man? And does he love you? If he loves you, he will support Jurai. And if you love him, you will trust his assistance. Do not marry someone you cannot trust with your life. Because if you can't trust him with yours, how can you ever place Jurai and her people in his hands?"
Sasami fell deep into her thoughts, her legs kicking idly, and Ayeka leaned her head back and sighed. She hoped the two would eventually sort things out, but right now the sun felt good and she was so relaxed that she found it easy to stop thinking about Sasami for a moment and just...be. That was, until an explosion of movement startled everyone. She looked up just in time to see Kamidake stride away from the group, the look on his face promising bodily harm to any that followed. Standing under the canopy, Ryoko looked over at Ayeka with a confused expression on her face. The Queen of Jurai stood up and glared at her friend.
"Ryoko, what did you say to him?" she demanded. The blue-haired ex-pirate just shrugged.
"I don't know. I just asked if he saw anything he liked. And then he took off." Beside Ayeka, Tenchi shook his head, mumbling Ryoko's name under his breath. Sasami had leapt to her feet, and before anyone could say another word she took off in the direction the knight had headed, disappearing around the trees and bushes. Ayeka sighed.
"Ryoko, we agreed NOT to interfere."
"Who's interfering? I just asked a question. No harm in admitting that he thinks Sasami is hot, is there?" Ayeka shook her head.
"You really don't get it, do you? Kamidake will not allow himself to find Sasami attractive. He is her guardian. In his mind, that puts her off-limits in a way that nothing else ever could. I just hope you haven't screwed everything up."
"I don't know, Ayeka," said Washu from her cross-legged position beside Azaka. "I think it will take a lot more than Kamidake's morals to keep Sasami at bay. Did you see her face when she took off?" Everyone shook their heads. "That was the expression of a woman who has decided exactly what she wants. And who refuses to let anything stop her."
Games forgotten for the moment, the entire group gathered under the canopy and made small conversation, just waiting to see what would happen next.
It was easy to find him. She knew there was only one place he could be heading, and so she decided she would make her way through the woods beside the path. When she finally reached the staircase, she finally saw the expression on his face. She had never seen him, her normally calm guardian, looking so fierce. The distress was radiating off of him in waves, but she couldn't imagine what had caused it. To her surprise he didn't head straight for the shrine, but instead turned around and began jogging back down the large staircase. She watched him as he reached the bottom and turned around, heading back up to the top again, and then back down, repeating his trek for what seemed like hours, and though she was worried for him she couldn't help but be impressed at the fact that he was running a staircase most people had a hard time walking, and he hadn't slowed, hadn't paused. In fact, he was barely even breathing heavily, and she doubted any strain he was having was related to the physical activity he was pushing himself through. Mihoshi's words filtered back to her – how strong he had to be, how beautiful his eyes were – and as Sasami crouched in the bushes, she let herself admit for the first time what she'd been ignoring for years. She would never find a white knight, not in all of the betrothals in the universe – because she already had one. Gentle, caring, strong, compassionate; the man before her was the standard to which every other man alive would be set against. And every man alive would fail to match Kamidake.
Suddenly Ayeka's words made sense to her. She understood what her sister had been trying to tell her. And even as Sasami wondered exactly how long everyone else had known what she had never been able to acknowledge herself, she watched as Kamidake came to a stop at the top of the steps. Not realizing she had done it, she stepped lightly out onto the stones and began to make her way up them. Her heart thudded wildly in her chest as she approached him, and just as she was nearing him she was hit with a sudden deluge of doubt. She knew now that she loved him, that he was the only man she would ever truly love. But what if he didn't feel the same?
Some small sound she made must have alerted him to her presence because he spun, gracefully, a true warrior prepared for anything. Her pulse ratcheted up a notch at the look in his mahogany eyes, and she was about to say something, anything, when she heard a low growl. And before she could even process that, he had pulled her to him, his lips covering hers, his arms – those strong arms she remembered so well – locking around her as his hands spanned the bare skin of her back between the top and bottom of her swimsuit. Sasami could do nothing but moan and kiss him back, wishing her arms weren't pinned to her sides because she would have loved to tunnel her fingers through his hair but not being able to think past the feel of him, the taste of him, and the sensation that the world had finally, suddenly, fallen into place where it belonged.
He didn't know how long they stood there, how long he held her captive to his bruising, desperate kiss, and his fogged mind didn't quite register the fact that she was kissing him back just as desperately. No, Kamidake came to his senses with the abrupt knowledge that he had all but attacked her – Sasami, the woman he treasured more than anything else. With a cry he released her, stumbling backwards, loathing and horror at himself gathering within him, driving him to his knees.
"Kamidake?" she murmured, approaching him, but he scuttled backwards, away from her, voicing apologies and promises and anything else that came out of his mouth.
"I am so sorry – Sasami – my gods, I'm – I didn't mean to – my love, I'd never – Sasami, I didn't – please, I beg you -" By this point he'd backed up far enough that he'd wedged himself in the corner of a staircase, and could no longer move as she approached him, carefully, as one might approach a wild animal. And wasn't that what he was, he thought scornfully. To just grab her, force her into his embrace – by the gods, she should strike him down now. He didn't really register the fact that she had dropped to her knees in front of him, bringing herself eye level with his crouching form. Her hand on his arm made him start, and his head snapped up to lock his gaze with hers.
"Kamidake, what's wrong?" she whispered. He just stared at her, baffled.
"I...I attacked you. I – my most sincere apologies, my Princess. My life is yours if you wish it. I never meant to hurt you." As he dropped his head in shame once more, he was utterly shocked to hear her laugh. Her fingers caressing his cheek made him groan, but she wasn't letting him escape her gaze so easily. After a moment, he looked back up at her. To his surprise there was no censure, no condemnation in her countenance. Just a smile, a slightly hesitant one, and something deep within her eyes that could only be called contentment.
"My Kamidake. My knight. My friend." Her murmurs made no sense to his guilt-ridden brain. "You didn't attack me." To his confusion, she giggled. "Well, actually, maybe you did. But I'm not complaining."
"I...but, I...you..." She just smiled at him again and scooted closer, and he gathered every bit of strength he had left to keep his eyes, his mind, on her face. Closer still, and she pulled his arms down from their protective position across his knees. Unable to move, unable to do anything but allow her whatever she wanted, he was nonetheless frozen as she slowly leaned forward, resting herself between his knees, until their faces were scant inches from one another.
"Kamidake, do you love me?" The breath he was holding escaped him in a gasp.
"I'm...what?" No smile on her face now, just seriousness and gravity, the situation having taken a more somber turn when he wasn't watching.
"Do. You. Love. Me?" He just stared at her, certain at this point he had to be hallucinating. Totally bereft of words, of voice, he could only stare at her. It wasn't until he saw her flick her eyes to the side, saw the light tears that had begun to fill them, felt her start to pull away, that he realized what she had been asking, that she really HAD been asking him. And he knew in an instant that she'd taken his silence as denial.
"I'm sorry, Kamidake. I'll just..."
"Yes!" he almost shouted. She stopped, head whipping around to fix him with a confused look.
"Yes. I do." He paused, taking a deep breath and gathering his courage in both hands. "Princess Sasami, I know it is not allowed, but I have loved you since the moment we met." He figured that if this was just a game, just his punishment for earlier, it was no more than he deserved, so he decided to simply tell the truth. "I have watched you grow from a beautiful little girl that I adored and cherished to a beautiful young woman, with a soul of pure gold and a heart big enough for all of creation. You've grown to be so very amazing, intelligent, witty, graceful – sometimes I felt as though I was protecting a very goddess herself. You are everything to me, and I will gladly be by your side, to protect and to help you, until my final breath if you will allow it." He finished speaking and watched as she turned back to him, eyes wide and breathing ragged.
"Forever? You will stay with me forever? No matter what the future holds?" Kamidake, thinking of the future she herself had awaiting her, nodded.
"Forever and longer, my Princess. Regardless of anything else. I will protect you and, if you wish it, defend your future mate and children with my very life, with my soul." He shrugged helplessly. "You have held my heart in your hands since the moment I saw you. It – and every other aspect of myself – are yours, for whatever you wish." To his shock, a sly and playful expression settled itself on her delicate features.
"You will do anything I wish of you?" she asked. He nodded, still unsure what was going through her mind. "Anything?"
"Anything at all."
"Kiss me again."
"I – what?"
"You said anything."
"Yes, but Princess-" she cut him off.
"Were you lying?"
"Good. Then I wish for you to kiss me again." Two steps had her back in front of him, and then she was on her knees, her hands reaching out for his. He gulped as she placed his hands on her waist, the feel of her skin beneath his palms making him weak. She settled herself much as she had earlier, leaning forward, face inches from his own. He felt his breathing falter, his pulse skyrocket, as she maneuvered herself closer still.
"Sasami," she murmured, and he felt her warm breath against his lips, so close was she.
"Sasami..." he moaned.
"Kiss me, Kamidake. My Kamidake." And he surrendered. It wasn't as the previous kiss had been. There was still passion, oh yes, but it wasn't a fevered rush, a demanding duel. This was a dance, a gentle give-and-take that had him tightening his grip on her waist. She ran her fingers up over his chest, around the nape of his neck, to tangle in his hair, and pulled him even closer to her. Unschooled she may have been as far as kissing went, but she knew what she wanted, and she learned quickly. Eventually, though, the need to breathe overcame them and they broke apart, gasping. She shifted until she was leaning fully against him, pressed tightly against him, and trailed her lips gently over his jawline. He shuddered with the sensation and she chuckled, following the path her lips had made with small nips of her teeth.
"Princess, please..." he moaned.
"I'm sorry, what was that?" She continued her torture, moving his shirt aside to run her tongue along his collarbone.
"Sasami!" he nearly yelped, and she sat up and looked at him with a satisfied smile.
"Yes?" Her fingers began to trace designs along his chest.
"Please, I beg you...I can't take this." He heard his own voice crack and hated himself for his weakness, but he already knew that he would be shattered when she left. He couldn't allow anything further to happen. It would destroy him. Gently, he pulled her hands away and nudged her to an upright position. She looked at him, confusion and worry on her face.
"What's wrong, Kamidake?"
"I...I will stay by you forever, but please...I have told you how I feel. I can hardly bear it now, knowing that I will have to let you go – please, don't ask any more of me." She regarded him with dawning comprehension, and suddenly stood, taking his hands and dragging him up with her.
"Kamidake, come with me," she said, the note of command in her voice not allowing him any way to refuse. Her hand held his captive and she led him out of the courtyard and down the steps, the setting sun glowing across her skin and shining in her hair. He felt as though his heart would simply burst. The despair and sadness that wracked him almost buckled his knees, but he wouldn't allow it. He knew she was leading him back to the others, but to his surprise she did not let go of his hand when they reached the group. Instead, still with a firm grip, she walked over until she stood before Ayeka. The violet-haired Queen watched their approach with something like a smile on her face, and Kamidake had the sudden feeling of being put on display. Sasami dropped to her knees gracefully, and as she still held his hand that meant that he knelt as well. Still utterly confused, and no little bit heart-sick, he awaited what he felt would be his final judgment.
"I come to you not as your sister, but as your supplicant, and as a Princess of Jurai." Sasami's voice carried a rarely-heard note of royalty, a regal yet humble tone that Kamidake had only ever witnessed on occasions of high state matters.
"Speak, Princess Sasami." The same note of command was in Ayeka's voice, and Kamidake bowed his head instinctively.
"Your Highness, I come to ask a boon of the court. I am aware of the position I hold, and of the responsibilities inherent therein." He noticed that she still held his hand, and she gave it a slight squeeze before she continued. "I know it is my duty as a Princess and as the future Ambassador of Jurai to secure not only my own line through marriage, but to ensure the safety and security of our people via the matrimonial bonds I make. I am aware that my future partner must be a good match for our kingdom, not just for myself. As such, I believe I have found such a candidate."
The entire gathered group was silent, not even Ryoko daring to break the ceremonial spell they were all under. Kamidake, not quite sure why he was here, let alone why Sasami refused to release his hand, kept his head bowed and remained silent.
"Tell me of this candidate," Ayeka stated.
"He is brave and honorable. He has devoted his life to the well-being of the Royal line, as well as the protection of our people. He is kind, but firm. Compassionate, yet not easily deceived. He is a warrior as well as a guardian, and I have complete faith in him. I trust him with my life. But more than that, I know I can trust him with the lives of all of Jurai."
"Very well, Princess Sasami," Ayeka said, and a hint of humor crept unbidden into her tone. "And have you asked this man if he wishes to take on the responsibility of not only our people, but of the occasional chaos that comes with taking care of you?" A few good-natured chuckles sounded at that, but beside him Kamidake felt the first stirrings of uncertainty flow through Sasami.
"I...well..." she stammered, "I...kind of...forgot to ask...I mean, I think he will, but I was...well, we were...a bit busy..." That garnered several laughs, and Kamidake risked a glance to the side only to find that Sasami was blushing more deeply than he had ever seen before.
"Well, then, perhaps you should ask him rather than make his decisions for him." Now he could definitely hear the laughter in Ayeka's voice, and it prompted a smile from him as he began to see – though not necessarily believe - exactly where all of this was leading. Sure enough, a small, wary voice whispered to him.
"Yes, Princess?" he replied, finally raising his head so that he could face her.
"You...well, you have said..." She looked around, suddenly very unsure of herself, and he smothered a smile.
"I have said many things, Princess. What is it you are speaking of?" He heard Azaka's distinctive laugh from the back of the crowd.
"You..." She took a deep breath. "You said that you love me."
"And that you always will?"
"And that you will be by my side, any way I need you, forever?"
"Yes." He was truly enjoying this now, seeing that his one word affirmations were making her spell everything out. She glanced at the ground before speaking again.
"And what if I said...I needed you...to be my partner?"
"Partner?" She glared at him, and he couldn't keep a small smirk from escaping.
"Kamidake, what I'm asking is...will you marry me?" She exhaled, then continued. "Will you be my husband, my mate? Will you stand beside me, in defense of ourselves and in support of our people?"
"That depends," he said softly, unable to keep from tormenting her a bit further.
"On what?" she asked, exasperated. Behind her, he could see Ryoko starting to turn red from the effort of trying to hold in her laughter, and he noticed quite a few of the others in similar states.
"I have said that I love you. I have acknowledged it in front of witnesses. But I will not be just a convenience to you." He steeled himself against his greatest fear and spoke on. "So I ask you, Princess Sasami. Will you stand by my side? Will you be my wife, my mate? Will you..." he cleared his throat, the fact that he was about to declare himself in front of a dozen people suddenly crashing down on him. "Can you learn to love me, if only as a good friend? And should we ever have children, can you promise me that you will love them as unconditionally as I love you?" Her eyes filled with tears, tears that began cascading down her cheeks.
"Kamidake...I don't have to learn to love you. I've loved you forever!" And with that he found his arms full of Sasami once more, her face tucked against his neck as her hot tears soaked into his shirt. He brought his arms around her back and held her as she shuddered, until she finally lifted her head.
"I love you, Kamidake. Will you marry me?"
"Absolutely, my Princess." She raised an eyebrow, and he amended his statement. "My Sasami. My love."
"Oh, that's so beautiful!" Mihoshi's voice caterwauled from the middle of the group and just like that, all tension was shattered. There was laughter and a few tears, congratulations, well wishes, and helpful hints (though those were mostly from Ryoko and had the wonderful effect of making Sasami blush). Through it all she never left his side, and Kamidake felt that if the gods had simply set to grant him a beautiful dream, that he would pray to never wake from it.
Dinner was wonderful, the closeness of the family and the happiness they all felt saturating the very air they breathed until everyone was drunk on joy. The karaoke machine – typically gathering dust in the corner – was pulled out and plugged in, and he swore he had never enjoyed himself so much. And as the festive atmosphere gave way to sleep once more, Kamidake found himself sitting alone with his betrothed in a corner of the room. She'd put a sarong skirt on over her bikini, but never bothered to cover the top, and as she leaned against his chest he idly traced the ruffled edging of her swimsuit top.
"Did you ever think we'd end up together?"
"Think, no. Dream?" He looked down into her eyes. "Every night." She smiled and curled against him once more. The house slowly settled to silence, but neither of them wanted to break the spell they were under, so they stayed where they were.
"I think we should probably be married as soon as is appropriately possible."
"I've no objections, but what's your reasoning?" She glanced up at him, a smile on her face that sent him reeling.
"Because, my love, I've already seen you shirtless. I don't know how long I'll be able to behave myself." The meaning behind her sly tone hit him with the force of a train, and he stifled a moan.
"And on that note, I believe it's time for you to head to bed."
"Yours?" she asked innocently, and this time he groaned audibly.
"Mercy, minx. Haven't you tormented me enough for one day?" He leaned down to kiss her gently, sweetly, then lifted her to her feet and nudged her towards the stairs. "Goodnight, Sasami. Pleasant dreams, my love." She smiled warmly at him.
"I think any dream I might have would pale in comparison to reality. Goodnight."
He lay down to sleep that night, his heart full of warmth and his dreams full of her.
He'd watched over her for years. From the moment he'd seen her nestled in his wife's arms, he'd known he would die to protect her. He remembered very well the first time he'd seen her.
"Kamidake...come meet your daughter." Even after nine years of marriage, and the recent trials and tribulations of pregnancy and labor, Sasami was still the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. And here she was, his life, his angel, holding an ever-so-tiny being that somehow was part of him as well. The miracle of it all brought tears to his eyes as he crossed the room to her. Sasami's lips were warm and welcoming, and it was quite a while before he finally broke himself from her kiss to look down at the slightly squirming bundle she held.
"Hello," he said gruffly, his voice full of tears. "Hello, little one. Welcome home. We've been waiting for you."
"We need to think of a name for her," Sasami murmured quietly, watching her husband as he watched their daughter.
"What do you think of...Meilani?" he whispered.
"It's beautiful. What does it mean?" He turned back to his wife, his treasure.
"It's a very very old Juraian name. It means 'meadow blossom.'" They shared a knowing look, thinking of the circumstances – and location – of their daughter's conception, and Sasami grinned.
"It's perfect. But, let's not tell anyone why, exactly." He said with a chuckle and sat beside her, wrapping his arms around both of them.
"Ryoko will already know – or did you forget that loud cackle from the tower window?" He groaned and ducked his head down to rest against hers.
"I had forgotten, actually. But it's understandable. I was a bit distracted."
"Still, it's a beautiful name. I love it."
Lost in memories, he stood just outside the large double doors, thinking of the unexpected path his life had taken. A small shuffling sound made him look up, and he took in the sight of his daughter, white veil cascading over her dark blue hair, her dress and train glimmering in the candlelight.
"You look beautiful, honey," he murmured. "Are you ready?" He watched in contentment as her eyes glazed over, no doubt thinking about the young man that awaited her at the end of the aisle on the other side of the door.
"Oh, yes, so very ready." Tucking her arm in through his, they stepped through together. And if she only had eyes for her husband to be, Kamidake didn't mind. After all, the only thing he saw was the woman waiting to stand beside him as their eldest child began her new life. Releasing Meilani to the waiting arms of his future son-in-law, Kamidake stepped to the side and wrapped his arms around Sasami.
"I love you," he murmured in her ear. She sighed happily and leaned back against him.
"And I love you too. Forever."
"Forever. My Princess. My Sasami."