The Night I First Loved You An extrapolation from volume 2, episode #3of the OAV of the time spent in the tool shed, where Ayeka considers her thoughts for Tenchi.

acknowledgments, credits, disclaimers and programme notes follow afterward

Ayeka, First Princess of Jurai, sighed inwardly. For the first time in a long while (which seemed forever) she was alone. There was no one else at home: Tenchi was at school -and would be staying behind for cram school again. Ryoko and Sasami had gone to town to do the weekly shopping. Noboyuki was as usual, at work. Yosho was at the Shrine -which took up more and more of his time. Mihoshi was on sector patrol and wouldn't be back for two weeks; and Washu was busy in her Lab, taking Ryo-ohki along with her, leaving Ayeka by herself for the day. She put the finishing touches on the futon in the bedroom she shared with her sister, stood up, and looked around at the silent room. She was so used to the constant undercurrent of babbling that went on in a house full of people -especially one dominated by women- that the silence was discomforting. It did give her space to reflect on her current situation though, and for that she was thankful.

Now would be the perfect time for a cup of tea, she thought to herself. Tea always soothed her when she was upset, or worried, and she had been both of late. Back on Planet Jurai, Mother and Mother Funaho had taught her the importance of Tea and its Rituals (instruction in the Path of Tea was a part of the training of Juraian royalty), and now was most definitely a time for tea. With this thought in mind, she made her way downstairs to the kitchen, outwardly calm, though inwardly her mind was a tumultuous clash of conflicting emotions: thoughts of herself and Tenchi, and Ryoko; and Ryu-oh, and her Father and Mother, and Yosho filled the empty spaces. But mostly Tenchi. And Ryoko. And Tenchi. There was nowhere she could walk in the house, it seemed, where memories of Tenchi doing or saying this or that did not bring themselves to conscious remembrance. In fact the very presence of Tenchi pervaded everywhere in the house. Yes, today was most definitely a time for Tea.

While waiting for the water to boil, she toyed with the idea of preparing a full chaji, but of course she did not have the necessary items, and besides, you cannot have chaji for just one person; so she pushed it out of her mind. Coming out into the hall with a steaming cup of Blue Azusa tea (a gift from her mothers) she wandered in her mind back to when it had all begun, that first day. It was here, in the hallway, that the first major incident in a series of far-reaching events had occurred. While not actually the exact same hall (which had been destroyed along the rest of the house when Mihoshi crashed that last time, she remembered with faint disgust), it was close enough in spirit to remind her of what transpired there on That Day. And for Ayeka, that simple cue was enough.

Thinking of that, took her mind back to the beginning of That Day, where properly speaking major events begin.

She really had not wanted to leave the room she and her sister now shared, and except for seeing to basic bodily needs and hygiene -which could not be avoided- she had not left the room for a week. Even her meals were taken in her room, which had produced no minor source of irritation for Sasami, and just as much concern on Lord Tenchi's part. Ryoko, of course, could have cared less where she took her meals, which suited Ayeka just fine, what the others thought was really of no concern of hers. Worrying about how others personally perceived you was beneath the dignity of royalty. Or at least it should be. Ayeka had to continually fight to maintain this part of the imperial dignity: for some reason remaining calm under extreme provocation did not come easily to her. Sasami, however, had different ideas in this regard, and was continually worried about what others around her thought about her, which could be why she always strove to make friends wherever she went. Yet, how much of that was due to their Mother and how much due to Tsnumai's influence, Ayeka still did not know.

That day, Sasami, true to form, was of a different mind than Ayeka on the prudence of remaining in the room all the time, and finally she had put her foot down: she literally dragged her sister down the hall and coaxed her down the stairs. Come on Ayeka. You've been in there for a week. They're going to think we Juraians don't have any manners at all she had said. That, of course had brought Ayeka out of her reverie.

I suppose you're right. She had allowed Sasami to lead her down the stairs, but not after one last struggle. Things were going smoothly, until She had decided to see what all the commotion was about. Things began to heat up as tempers flared, but then Tenchi came out of his room. Ayeka hurried over, bowing low and clasping her hands in front of her while she nervously intoned, Thank you for extending hospitality to Jurai Royal Family and...uh...oh... thank you very much. Cheeks flush with embarrassment, Ayeka quickly stepped back to join her sister. In and of itself, her thanking Tenchi on behalf of the Jurai Royal Family had gone well -the flustering aside- a small mark of decency in an otherwise sordid affair.

Now that she was thinking about it, however, a chaji might be an excellent way to belatedly express the formal gratefulness of the Juraian Royal Family to the Masakis. She filed that away for future reference, though, since she was not here to dwell on inter-familial relations.

The rest of the morning, however, had gone badly. No, that was putting it mildly, Ayeka admitted to herself, sipping her tea. The rest of that morning had gone from bad to worst. It was because of That Woman that Ayeka had shown anger in front of strangers, losing both composure and dignity before her hosts. It was because of Her that Ayeka had slapped Lord Tenchi, She and the rest of the family who had played along with Ryoko's little game, tricking her (and Lord Tenchi) into believing that Ryo-ohki was Her's and Tenchi's child. And Ayeka had believed it too. (Which had only served to make her madder then, and more ashamed in the present.) She turned to leave, but Tenchi had blocked the door, with a pleading look on his face.

"Miss Ayeka, we're not making fun of you...at least I'm not. Making fun of you" Lord Tenchi had said earnestly in his insecure manner, gripping her shoulders in an attempt to reassure her. But she had been incensed past the breaking point by Ryoko's ridicule and the laughter of the others. Not pausing to consider what Lord Tenchi had really said, and reflexively pulling back from his touch, she raised her hand in a haughty gesture and had slapped him across the face.

The sound still reverberated in Ayeka's soul whenever she thought back to That Day, to her shame; and even though Tenchi had easily forgiven her for it many times already, Ayeka did not find it as easy to forgive herself. This inability, in fact, was one of Ayeka's secret insecurities.

"I was so foolish. I thought _you_ were different. Why don't you go have a good time with that fossil woman of yours!" She had yelled at him before running out of the room. And Tenchi just stood there in disbelief, rubbing his left cheek, and watching as she ran down the hall..

In her rush to leave, she hadn't seen Grandfather, who was coming from the opposite direction, and so ran right into him. Looking up in defiance she was startled to see that his eyes were the color of Royal Teardrops, the same color as Yosho's. "Yes, miss? Can I help you? "he had said as if speaking to a stranger, though knowing full well who she was.

"Um...no thank you" she had replied, suddenly embarrassed, without knowing why. Sidestepping the old priest, she quickly made her to the front door and fled the house, running to the lake where rested the remains of Ryo-oh.

Seeing the wreck of her beautiful Ryu-Oh, the full weight of her situation crashed in upon her yet again, fully destroying the effort Sasami had put into getting her out of her room. Tears came unbidden as a yearning for home grabbed her intensely, and she wanted nothing more than to be away from this place. There, the newly hatched Ryo-ohki, having followed her from the house, tried to cheer her up, but the little cabbit's attempts served only to send Ayeka into a new fit of rage, trying without success to ward off the creature of Ryoko's whom she had thought (wrongly) had been sent to taunt the princess some more, until finally she ran away on a directionless flight, fleeing the scene of chaos threatening to collapse in around her, not knowing that even then, the cabbit was responding to an emotional need that the princess couldn't yet vocalize, perfectly able to keep up with the princess's meanderings.

Lost in thought, Ayeka did not notice that she was no longer in the house, until nearly spilling her tea when her foot tripped on a root.

With no one at home there was no particular place she needed to be, and no one she needed to wait around for -the day was hers alone. Nevertheless it was with some trepidation that Ayeka looked up to find herself in unfamiliar surroundings; that is, until she looked around. And Remembered: This was where she had found the Royal Teardrop that momentous Day. That fateful, magical Day. The Day she first loved Tenchi. She had not planned to go walking of course, but now it seemed quite natural that she should be walking around the Masaki compound as she thought about Lord Tenchi. Maybe she should continue up to the shrine, she thought, tracing a flight of birds over the tree tops with her eyes. She took another sip of tea and continued her reverie.

Wanting to be alone, she remembered having climbed the steps leading to Grandfather's Shrine, until, overcome by despair, she had half knelt, half thrown herself to the ground and began wailing. She remembered crying for Yosho, for her Ryo-oh, for herself and her predicament. She remembered the utter devastation she had felt, how utterly alone in the universe she seemed to be, cut off from her home, from her ship, from her family, -even her sister Sasami had betrayed her for the others, joining Ryoko in her mirth- she remembered feeling as if her entire world were collapsing and falling in around her. And then... then Ryo-ohki caught up with her anyway, and did what small animals always did when confronted with deep hurt: she came up and nuzzled Ayeka's hand to comfort the Princess. But all she could do was make Ayeka cry the more.

Then Ayeka saw the Teardrop. The Royal Teardrop of Jurai, just like the one she had offered to Yosho aeons before, and her tears faded as curiosity replaced her fear. Ryo-ohki, seeing the far-away look generated by the flower, got an idea. She scampered back down the path, rummaging around until she found what she was looking for, and presented Ayeka with another flower, which brought the desired smile to the Princess's face. It was Ryo-ohki, in fact, which had helped her become the New Ayeka. But, she was not here to reminisce about Ryo-ohki, she was here because of Tenchi. Still, a small part of her mind told her, it was amazing how often one's thoughts strayed from the topic at hand, even when that topic itself was the product of straying thoughts, "Yahuza's playground" Yosho had called them once.

Yosho. Yosho had filled her life once, her thoughts, her dreams, her hopes, her fears, her ambitions, and even her tears. Now, though, all that was changed. She no longer cried for, or over Yosho, and another had taken his place in the void that was her heart. But that didn't mean she had erased all memories of her brother...but now was not the time for thinking of Yosho, but of Tenchi.

Tenchi - Heaven and Earth- how Ayeka loved the sound of that name. She had not known what to think of him, initially; and, she was not sure she knew what to think three years later, so little had changed, for all that they had been thew. She knew enough to know her feelings for him were real -not that Father would care about her feelings, (but what was that to her). Yes, she loved Tenchi; but, what did she really know about the man she loved? She knew that he shared his name with Sword Tenchi, the Master Key, but that told her little about Tenchi himself. She knew he was the grandson of Yosho, which made him distantly related to Ayeka, but what did that mean? She knew that he went to school, but school had obviously not prepared him for the changes in his life in the recent months. She knew that he and his father had lived alone after the death of his mother, that his grandfather was a Shinto Shrine Priest, and that under the normal course of events Tenchi might be expected to take up his grandfather's duties someday There was nothing special in that (the amazing thing was that Noboyuki's ecchi side had not rubbed off on his son, she thought with a flush of relief) And yet, how could she speak of a normal course of events when Tenchi was involved?

She knew that as Yosho's descendant he could wield the Master Key, something only members of the Jurai Royal Family could do. She was privy to the knowledge that Tenchi could summon the Light Hawk Wings without relying on the power of Tsunami. She even knew that as Yosho's grandson -and with Yosho's steadfast refusal to have anything to do with his father's Throne- that Tenchi was now the Crown Prince. But did he really want to be Crown Prince of a Star Empire? (probably not, she told herself). And yet, none of that information told her who Tenchi was in himself, merely about Tenchi, and what he was. This left Ayeka little to no information to work with, which forced her to admit failure in this regard.

And what about herself? She was the First Princess of the Jurai Star Empire. She had not seen her homeland for nigh 700 years; and, save for that all too brief visit by her parents and the occasional report from Washu or Mihoshi, knew next to nothing of what was happening back home. She had originally come here seeking her brother, Yosho, only to find Tenchi instead. But none of that told her -or more importantly, told Tenchi- anything about herself. She did know that she loved Tenchi. She knew that as an extension of this love, she cared for the things and people that Tenchi cared for: his father (in spite of Noboyuki's canned ecchi behavior at times), his house, the memory of his mother (yes, including Ryoko in a sense, she told herself). At times like this she wished she had Aunt Funaho's insight into intelligence gathering. Ayeka tried to gather her thoughts and keep them focused, because these old thoughts were leading somewhere, and she intended to find out where.

Many things had happened on That Day, Ayeka reflected: from her explosive outrage and self-righteous anger directed at the vulgar antics of Ryoko, and her unwarranted outburst at Lord Tenchi, (which she regretted) to her stumbling onto Lord Tenchi's practice with Yosho, and her subsequent fall, to being carried by Tenchi in the rain, the stay in the tool shed. From finding Funaho-oh -brother Yosho's Tree- to the return of the Master Key to Tenchi, even to her last argument of the day with Ryoko, and leading Tenchi by the hand back to the house, so many little things had happened to her. And in all that time, and a lot of times since, there had been little or no space to sit and reflect on those experiences. The Tea Ritual by now quite forgotten, Ayeka allowed her mind to wander over the events of that day, thankful for whatever Fates had intervened to allow this moment of privacy to be alone with her thoughts, to feel the moment of happiness.

In the Royal Family of Jurai -as with most other powerful families- happiness is, and must be, subservient to duty; happiness must, in fact be a by-product of performing one's duty, whether it be to one's Parents, one's People, one's Ancestors, or even one's Self. Ayeka was no exception. She was groomed to power, groomed to responsibility, to prerogative, and to its consequent loneliness. This was the price one paid for the accident of birth.

At that moment, in the middle of the Masaki woods, Ayeka hated her life, hated the fact that she was a Princess -let alone First Princess- in perhaps the most powerful ruling family in the universe, hated the fact that her life was planned and laid out before her, even from before her birth, hated that she was expected to perform what was required of her whether she wished to or not, hated most of all that her Father hid behind the mask of Emperor, and displayed such a willful disregard for the one man who had captured her heart.

But she was not here to mull over conflicts with her family, now was she? No. She was here because of the memory of Tenchi -the precious memory of Tenchi- and their wait in the Tool Shed during the rainstorm that first week after her less than regal arrival on Earth. This memory was most precious to her because it was _there_ that she first loved Tenchi, it was there that the spark of hope -which was the only thing which kept her going- was ignited. And it was there, as further reflection always brought her round to, that she -Ayeka Jurai of House Jurai, a noble of nobles- made an irrevocable, deliberate, and final choice to love Tenchi Masaki. Naturally this act was not apparent at the moment it happened, for one rarely has opportunity to calmly reflect on events as they happen; rather, it was a realization that dawned only later, and grew each time she thought back on it. It was one of her Happy Thoughts with which she could fly to the moons and back.

Ayeka had very few childhood memories she could cherish, -in fact she had very few happy memories at all, but one of the most cherished of those she did have, as she learned anew each day, was the memory of the day she and Tenchi spent in the Tool Shed. For you see, she told herself, it was there that I first learned to love as a person and not as a duty, where I experienced the first stirring of genuine love. She let out a small sigh, briefly watching the wind blow through the tree-tops before sinking back into those early days with Tenchi.

Her thoughts kept returning to the tool shed, which surprised her. Even though she knew the tool shed was only a minor event in the context of the entire day; to her subconscious it obviously played a much larger role. In fact, in her mind, everything that happened that day revolved around the tool shed, even the beginning of the day and the nightmare of the previous evening. Indeed, that brief wait in the Tool Shed had affected her more than she realized.

The wait in the tool shed was precious for other reasons: it was when she realized she did not love Yosho (and in fact never had, it was an arranged marriage after all) - though she had protested silently to herself countless times before now. She had grown up on Jurai with the expectation, with the assurance, the knowledge of duty that she was to be the bride of Yosho her half-brother. It was something she took for granted. Until the day She came and tore her world apart. Now, she could take nothing for granted. But was it really Her fault what happened on Jurai? part of Ayeka asked herself, that same small part that always compelled her to re-evaluate her assumptions. But Ayeka was not here to dwell on events in the distant past, and certainly not on that Woman, either, she told herself as she forced herself back to her meditations..

It was the first truly private moment she had ever experienced with someone outside her immediate family. It was also the first time anyone other than her mother had seen her vulnerable -for not even Sasami had witnessed her breakdown upon hearing the news about Yosho. Lord Tenchi _had_ seen her vulnerable, and in a state of partial undress; and, strangely, she found the thought comforting, even flattering that the one she loved should see her thus vulnerable. Absently, she wondered what Mother would say to this. Probably that she was thinking too much again. But she was not here to think of Mother, so she turned back to her Tenchi day-dream.

The wind had began to rustle through overhead branches and she stopped walking and listened to the sighing of the trees. She looked up to see where she was, and saw the Tool Shed.

She looked around and saw she was by the Tool Shed. She hadn't been back here since that Day, but since her feet were tracing her previous journey, she was not surprised to find herself Here, of all places. The Tool shed looked different now in the diffused sunlight as opposed to the dark, nearly oppressive color it had radiated when first she entered it, but all things change with time, she knew, and the shed was no exception. She continued her musings as she walked around the shed's exterior.

The whole day, it seemed, had led up to the Tool Shed, and even the events at Funaho-Oh had pointed back to it. What happened that day during the rainstorm between her and Tenchi was intense, and very private -she kept it in her heart of hearts; and, even if not strictly proper in circumstance according to Juraian Protocol because of their noticeable lack of clothing, which was drying by the fire and the noticeable lack of supervision- nothing actually improper or inappropriate had _occurred_ between them, certainly nothing physically compromising -though she still blushed at the memory of his glistening wet upper-body, and blushed at the memory of blushing.

And yet, what had really happened in the Tool Shed, Ayeka asked herself. Nothing out of the ordinary had occurred: they had entered the shed for shelter from the rain. Tenchi had made a fire so they could keep warm and dry out their outer clothes. They had chatted to escape the oppressive silence. The rain ended, and her ankle feeling better they continued their way down. Like she had told Ryoko much later, nothing unusual or titillating had occurred between them. Only everything that happened there had been charged with special atmosphere, like the simple, ordinary actions of making and serving beverages in a Tea Ceremony, not noticeable for what they are, until after it is gone..

She had never felt so helpless, so humiliated, as she had while Tenchi had carried her piggy-back style down the mountain paths (the steps had been too treacherous in the rain). It was a most undignified manner of conveyance, one suited to commoners, not royalty. By the same token, however, so was everything else that had happened to her the past few days, shipwrecked and stranded on an isolated and primitive world. At least that was how she had felt at the time. But that was before they had reached the Tool Shed. Afterwards, she hadn't minded at all that Tenchi picked her up, because she had realized that Tenchi really _wanted_ to help. That had surprised her, and opened her self to a whole new range of possibilities. And for that she could never thank Tenchi enough, no matter what the future might bring.

The Tool Shed had shown her something else as well. It had shown her the inside of Tenchi's heart, and that inside could best be described as "selflessness" -selflessness in all its beauty, a virtue seldom seen in the Empire. For, even after everything she had brought on him and his family since her arrival, he carried no grudge against her. Although very unsure of himself around her, he had obeyed his grandfather's instructions to carry her home from the shrine, being careful not to compromise himself, or her. He even attempted to cheer her up, doing his best to convince her that Yosho had to be alive, somewhere. (She hadn't really believed him until the discovery of Funaho-oh after leaving the Tool Shed, but had put on a smile for his sake).

And it was his selflessness that had captured her heart then, she knew that now. (The question was what did he see in her. Better yet what did that Demon Woman see in Tenchi that kept her around?) And this selflessness in turn bespoke an inner purity of heart. And that spoke well of Tenchi. But it also meant that Tenchi could be gullible at times. He tended to instinctively trust until he had reason not to trust. How different from the Juraian way, which was not to trust until you had reason to trust. Even her Father's hatred of Tenchi could be offset somewhat by the realization that even Azusa could feel the power that radiated from Tenchi, and feared him because it. He feared Tenchi would prove a threat to his power, because, there were some in the Empire that might make use of this knowledge to further their own ends. But she had not come here to dwell on Intergalactic politics either. She turned her mind back to Tenchi and the shed.

The consideration with which Tenchi had made the fire and stepped outside to avoid embarrassing her and giving her privacy at the risk of his own comfort, the way he valiantly ran in on hearing her scream, when it was only a just as frightened Ryo-ohki (Ayeka had never stopped to wander what Ryo-ohki was doing there in the Tool Shed, or where she had fled to after her discovery) all contributed to Ayeka's growing sense of satisfaction, of contentment at being in the mere presence of Tenchi -if only that Demon Woman wasn't around all the time. Finally, it had been _here_ that the first bloom of genuine love had come forth from Ayeka's heart. And that thought had no small place in her heart.

They did not speak much after that until the rain died, but words had not been necessary for the communion they had shared there. Words in fact would have been redundant, if not counter-productive to the whole enterprise. The mere presence of Lord Tenchi in the same room with her was enough to satisfy her, though she hadn't known that at the time. It just felt right that he should be there. Often in her reflections, Ayeka wondered if Yosho knew it was going to rain when he told Tenchi to carry her home, as if he was intentionally throwing them together. But such thoughts did not long command her attention, because something else was beginning to impinge on her consciousness.

A slight humming which only a few, trained ears would recognize caught her attention and, looking up to investigate, found that her feet had carried her on further, to Funaho Tree.

She looked up and found that her feet had carried her on further, back to the Funaho Tree Shrine. It seemed that she was visiting all the places associated with that day. For some reason she found that comforting. She placed her hands on the bark of the ancient tree, leaned her head on the bark and gave out her biggest sigh yet of the day. "Oh Tenchi. If only you knew. If only I could show you!"

She remembered Tenchi pointing it out on the way to Ryoko's cave.

'That? That's the Sacred Tree of Masaki Shrine...it's said you can wish for rain,or so the story goes.' Bits of dialogue drifted into consciousness. There's no doubt, this tree is my brother's Funaho

She had been happy to know her brother was still alive. And yet, she had not been as happy or relieved as she sounded, because new feelings were beginning to stir within her, though she would not realize this for a long time. (Had Yosho seen through her protestations and, made Funaho-oh to interfere with the weather patterns during their hike back home to induce just such a situation? She didn't like to think of Yosho being of devious mind, but in retrospect, it was possible)

It had been _here_ that the final confrontation of the day between her, Tenchi and Ryoko occurred, with Ryoko being on the losing end. She had avoided them the rest of the day. She still recalled with relish the look on the oni's face when she confirmed that I returned the blade to Lord Tenchi. "We are related by blood, Lord Tenchi and I, and anyway, its really none of your business." _That_ had shut the oni-woman up, and sent her away.

But was Ryoko really an Oni? That same part of her mind asked. And again Ayeka had to admit that, no, She wasn't. But again, she was not here to dwell on Ryoko, only Lord Tenchi. She turned to other thoughts.

It was possible that Lord Tenchi did not return her love, that whatever gestures he made towards her were out of friendly concern, or pity, but she did not want to dwell on that. For, if Lord Tenchi did not love her, then she might as well die, for her world would be over. Oh outwardly life would continue, but that would be a shell. Inwardly Ayeka would shrivel up and die, her body going through the motions of life without the soul to inspire it. But this was not the thought she wanted either.

Instead she chose to focus on one of the last memories of that day, here by Funaho-oh, right after Ryoko had teleported away, and she had chided Lord Tenchi about failing to protect her Oh. I see, and here I thought you were going to protect me, Lord Tenchi. Let's go, for it was then that she had initiated contact with Lord Tenchi of her own free will (imagine that); taking his hand, the princess had led a bemused (though not unwilling) Tenchi back to the house. The Seal of a perfect day, though she did not realize it at the time. Oh when would she be able to take his hand with such confidence again? No answer was coming, not that she expected one.

She had gone to bed that night, as the previous nights, anxious about the morrow. But unlike all the previous nights, even the 700 years-long night she had spent in cryo-suspension, this night there were no bad dreams to chase her. She slept soundly and peacefully for the first time since arriving on Earth. She dreamed of Yosho, of course, for that was the one constant of her dreams but this time, instead of walking away and disappearing after Ryoko, he turned around and beckoned her to come nearer, his outstretched hand holding a flower coronet. The hand faded into Tenchi's hand, as it did ever since learning of Tenchi's bloodline, but instead of fear, it instilled calmness in the sleeping princess, as if destiny were offering her a different choice. Other things took place in the dream, but these images were what she remembered of it. If, that night, she had been able to pan away from herself, and compare the scene she found with the previous nights' sleep, the contrast would have been enormous. No crumpled bedsheets would be in evidence, no limbs splayed out, no hair all askew; in fact, a peaceful smile would have been seen on her face reflecting the peaceful state of her mind and body.

Once you got there, the view from the top of the Masaki Shrine Compound was breath-taking -it made the climb truly worth the effort. Yosho was not in sight, but even so, Ayeka was glad she had made the climb even with all the stops, and glad she had not turned back, when on other days she might have because of her responsibilities. But today, she reminded herself, her only responsibility had been to herself, and to her thoughts. Ayeka could understand now why Yosho chose to stay here in this remote area. If it were not for her duties as First Princess, she too, would choose to live like this. (But then again, a little voice told her, Yosho had been Crown Prince, too, and look where he was now.)

She looked down the stairs to the beginnings of the path below. She could just make out (or thought she could make out) where she had left the stairs in her attempt to get away from Ryo-ohki. Panning left, and turning her body to the right, she thought she could make out the Shrine's Practice Grounds, where she had crept up on Lord Tenchi and Yosho, following after the bounding Ryo-ohki. It had been pleasant to watch Lord Tenchi practice his technique; however, her discovery by Lord Tenchi and subsequent fall was not so pleasant a memory, neither was her embarrassment at being seen sprawled on the ground in such an awkward position, or her dismay at being so curtly dismissed by Lord Tenchi's grandfather after bandaging her foot and telling Tenchi to carry her home, refusing to answer her questions (even though she now knew why he had sidestepped her questions, Yosho had become a very private person in the intervening 700 years. The trip home had been rough, and bouncy -though Tenchi was as considerate as possible, his uneven gait jostled her around a lot- , so she had been glad for the forced stop despite the rain, because it had given her back and her posterior time to rest. Even the pain in her ankle was dulled somewhat by the aches she felt everywhere else, and the chill that invaded her body. The Tool Shed was small and sparse and darkened, but it had provided shelter from the storm, and a chance to learn who Tenchi was, and for that she was grateful: the first honest gratitude she had felt for this planet.

Seeing that the sun was sitting lower in the sky, Ayeka set her feet, and her thoughts, home-ward. Half an hour later she reached the bottom of the stairs, and stopped for a breather. Considering the other places she had been, it was only fitting that she come full circle end her walk where it all began, in the family dining room. Even with the fights that occasionally erupted at the table, this was the most comfortable room in the house. Where the family came together each day and bonded. She hoped one day to share such a table with Tenchi, and that thought drew a smile to her face, easing the wrinkles of worry the day had accumulated. Absently, she toyed with her Green Juraian Tea -by now long cold and mostly bitter, and thought of the irony of the situation, for she had started out cold and bitter, and was becoming (at least to her) warm and gentle, while the tea that she drank began as hot, and now was cold and biter to the taste. She leaned back against the counter and closed her eyes. If only there was a way she could express her feelings for Tenchi without Ryoko interfering...

"Ayeka, we're home! Just wait until you hear what we did today!" Sasami's voice called from the door, ending her reverie. Ayeka sighed -the arrival of her sister and Ryoko signaled a return to "normalcy" and effectively put an end to her thoughts, but not her hopes. Putting on a pleasant, if tired smile, she put down her forgotten tea and went out to greet her sister.

"Welcome back, Sasami, Miss Ryoko, how was your shopping trip?"

FINE

Important Information and such.

Copyright disclaimer:

Parts of actual dialogue in the fic come from episode #3 AHello, Ryo-ohki of the OAV series (dubbed), and are copyright AIC/Pioneer, 1997. And of course all the characters, places, and names belong to AIC/Pioneer as well, and the creative team behind Tenchi Muyo! Only the immediate inspiration and story line are mine, and I'd like to keep it that way. Distribution is encouraged, as long as you don't change anything and give credit where credit is due. 8=)

The characters, places, and events of Tenchi Muyo are being used for entertainment value only, no commercial benefits are being received by the author. This is fan-fiction after all.

Other acknowledgments and credits:

I wrote this fic to the glory of God and the Great Mother of God, Mary most Holy. It is written for, and in appreciation of her sublime Highness the First Princess of Jurai, and the whole cast of Tenchi Muyo. It is dedicated to the AFC and Ayeka fans everywhere.

Thanks to pre-readers and proof-readers Firebird, and Jamus. Special thanks and more than honorable mention go out to Lita Eagle for encouragement, as well as Horosha, who led me through many helpful posts to a clearer vision of what I was attempting, and to Duane, fellow co-conspirator, the man who first turned me on to Tenchi Muyo, and who has constantly served as a sounding board for increasing drawn out ideas for Tenchi fics.

Honorable mention also goes to Jaf. Thanks for trying. And to GenSao for his "Ayeka Challenge" on the (possibly defunct) Tenchi Muyo Fan Fiction Archive. While note exactly a response to the challenge, this fic was inspired in part by it. I hope he likes it.

The central place-event of this fic is the tool shed. However, in writing it, I had to go back and write in Ayeka's thoughts leading up to the tool shed, and even her thoughts after the tool shed, then I had to end the fic so it may look like the tool shed has very little to do with the story. All I can say, is sometimes the biggest revelations come out in the smallest details. And for Ayeka, the tool shed was the small detail around which everything else revolved around that day.

The title of the story is the result of a mistake. I wrote this from memory (the first version of it anyway) and my foggy memory told me that they spent the night in the tool shed. Heh. Wrong! Anyway, the title stuck, even if its reference was incorrect.

Any spoilers for future fanfics are purely intentional.

Thanks for reading! See you next fic