The Merry-Go-Round-Broke-Down

By Diane Long

Note: This tale is set in the OVA universe.



From the journal of Jurai Ayeka..

I suppose I should date this in earth terms, since that's where I am headed. Perhaps I'm just being nostalgic, but it feels right. So -

October 25th, Year Unknown

I knew I would come back to visit Lord Tenchi someday. I just never thought I would be coming back to visit his grave.

So much time has passed, but not enough time for one of Jurian blood to age and die. Tenchi, what happened to you? You were mostly of earth in your heritage, but even so your Jurian power was stronger than all of ours. It just doesn't make sense. Was it Ryoko? Did living with her do this to you?

No, that is not fair. As much as it pained me, and continues to pain me still, Ryoko and Tenchi were so happy together. Tenchi refused to drink from the life giving waters of Jurai. That is why he has died. Poor Ryoko. I wonder how she is? If I admit it to myself, that's why I am really going to earth. To comfort my dear friend and worst rival. I don't know if she will survive losing him.

She sent me a letter. Rather, she sent me two sentences, and yet how eloquent it was. "Tenchi is dead. Please come back."

So I am coming.

***

Ayeka stepped out of her carefully concealed ship and made her way through the woods towards the Masaki home. Tenchi had once made it very clear to his friends from other planets that he didn't want his family to know about his interstellar adventures and connections. He just wanted a quiet, normal life. Still following her friend's wishes, Ayeka had taken great care with her approach and landing. However, she hadn't changed out of her typical violet Jurian robes because they had blended in with Japanese styles so well when she had last visited.

As she emerged from the woods by the shrine a tall young man in priest's robes caught her eye. His hair was so pale a blond that it bordered on white. It was highlighted by light streaks of cyan where the sun hit it. His eyes were large and warm, the brown of the irises flecked with gold. His serenity enfolded him like a cloud as he approached her.

Ayeka's steps faltered and her lungs tightened. It was so clear where this man's genes had come from. She had known Tenchi and Ryoko had had several children. Seeing evidence of it just made her sense of loss deepen. She herself had never married, never had any children. If things had gone differently, maybe this young man would have had streaks of violet in his hair.

"Welcome to the shrine, Miss," the priest said, coming to a stop before her. "Are you lost? We don't get many visitors coming down from the mountains."

"No, I am not lost. Thank you," Ayeka said with a formal bow.

The priest returned the bow and smiled a smile Ayeka had seen on Tenchi many times. "That is good. How can I help you?"

Ayeka smoothed her robes. " I am here to visit Masaki Ryoko."

The priest nodded. "Which one?"

Ayeka just looked at him, her confusion clear.

"There is my grandmother and my daughter. Both are called Ryoko."

"Ah, I see. I am here to visit your grandmother then."

The young man's face brightened. "I am glad. Grandmother has been so lonely since grandfather died. A visitor will do her good. I'm sorry, I didn't catch your name?"

Ayeka bristled. Obviously, Ryoko's poor manners had been passed through to her progeny. "That is because I have not thrown it young man. I will wait until you inform me of your name."

"Oh! I'm sorry." He bowed deeply, coming up scratching at the back of his neck. "We are rather informal here."

"I can see that," Ayeka said coolly, waiting for his name.

"Oh! My name is Masaki Tetsuya. Nice to meet you."

"And I am Jurai Ayeka. It is nice to meet you too."

Tetsuya's eyes widened. "I thought you looked familiar. The pictures! Are you grandmother's friend? But you are so young!" he stuttered in disbelief.

Realizing her mistake, Ayeka used her years of experience at court to quickly smooth things over. "Don't be silly. That was my grandmother. Just like your own little Ryoko, I am my grandmother's namesake. I also look very much like her."

Tetsuya nodded. "That's just amazing. Grandmother will be thrilled. Let's go see her now, she should just be getting up from her nap." Motioning for her to follow, Tetsuya headed for the house.

"Nap?" Ayeka thought, intrigued.

They descended the shaded stone staircase, and it was clear how little time had changed the place. It seemed as if not a day had passed since Ayeka had last been there. Then again, for a place so ancient, what was there to change?

"You must have traveled very far to come see us," Tetsuya observed. "I know your grandmother lived too far away to come back to visit often."

Ayeka nodded. "Indeed. She is too old and ill to travel so far now, but when she heard of your grandfather's death, she knew her old friend would need support."

As they walked across the bridge spanning the lake, Ayeka took in a deep breath of sweet air. The scents of plum and apple blossoms brought back memories of spring picnics under the trees and karoke contests. The lake was so calm today, the water barley moved to lap against the wooden pilings. How long had it been since Mihoshi had crashed her ship into these deep waters, stirring up crashing waves?

Then they were at the house. Ayeka decided that blue was the wrong color for the building and it really ought to be repainted.

"Miss Ayeka, welcome to my home," the young priest said formally, bowing deeply as he slid open the glass patio doors.

"Who is she?" demanded a spoiled and squeaky voice.

Ayeka looked down to see the doorway blocked by a little girl. The young one was pudgy with tangled black hair and brown eyes, her full height only reaching Ayeka's mid-thigh. Extraordinarily large oblong ears jutted out from her hair, hinting at her ancestry.

"Ryoko-chan, be polite to our guest," her father warned in a stern voice.

Ryoko-chan looked Ayeka up and down, her own arms akimbo. "You look like a princess."

Rather flattered, Ayeka gently sank down to one knee to be at eye level with the child. "How do you know what a princess looks like?"

Ryoko-chan scratched her nose. "Grammy says that all princesses are prissy," she said bluntly.

"Ryoko!" Tetsuya reprimanded sharply.

A happy laugh bubbled out from Ayeka. "It's alright, really it is. It's perfect. Just perfect."

Obviously seeing she was getting on the wrong side of her father's goodwill, Ryoko-chan preformed a deep and formal bow. "I am sorry, pretty lady. Please forgive me."

Smiling, Ayeka patted the child on the head and rose to her feet. "Forgiven."

The young girl flashed a grin and scampered away calling out to her pet, a small black cat, as she ran off.

"I'm terribly sorry," Tetsuya apologized as they entered the house. " I fear my grandmother is not a good influence on her. She spoils her entirely too much."

Ayeka fought back a smile. "Isn't it so with all grandmothers?"

"Even more so with mine I fear," he said good-naturedly.

Ayeka let her smile bloom. " I can believe that."

"Please, before you go upstairs, let me introduce you to my wife. I will be right back."

Ayeka nodded her consent as her old rival's grandson hurried off towards the kitchen that had once been Sasami's domain. As Ayeka waited, she looked around the living room and dining room from her vantage-point. The furniture was all changed of course, but the rugs in the living room were the same. Only now they were faded and somewhat threadbare. The changed continuity gave Ayeka a slight chill. For her the passing years had flown by in a blink, but here on earth things had aged, generations had grown, and Tenchi had died.

Her stomach tightened in grief. No matter that Tenchi had not chosen her. He had still been her dear, dear friend. And now he was gone. Erased from existence as if he had never even been. She felt a tear struggle to form in her eye and suppressed it with practiced ease. This was not the time to cry.

Her composure again sturdy, Ayeka smiled as Tetsuya ushered in a slim wisp of a woman whose retiring posture marked her upbringing as staunchly traditional. Despite the earlier influence of five wild alien women, the Masaki clan was regaining its place in its mother culture.

"This is my wife, Junko. Junko, this is Miss Ayeka."

The wife bowed low and humbly uttered her greeting to Ayeka. Her dark hair was tied up in a neat bun and her apron indicated she had been in the middle of cooking lunch.

Ayeka returned the bow. "Thank you for having me in your home Lady Junko. I hope it is no trouble."

Junko smiled softly. "We are glad to have you here, for Grandmother's sake. She has been very lonely."

Ayeka wondered if she heard traces of suffering forbearance in the soft- spoken woman's words. "May I see her now?"

"Please follow me," Tetsuya said leading the way up the stairs as his wife retreated back to the kitchen.

He reached the door of the room that Ayeka remembered once belonging to Tenchi and knocked softly. "Grandmother? Are you awake?" he murmured.

"Yes, dear," came a dry voice sounding as if it was as old as time itself.

Motioning for Ayeka to wait in the hall. Tetsuya slid into the room. "You have a visitor. Are you up to it?"

"A visitor?" the elderly Ryoko asked in mild confusion. "Who would come to visit me?"

Ayeka heard the sounds of pillows being plumped and blankets being re- arranged.

"Someone who looks just like your old friend, Lady Ayeka."

"Ayeka-sama is here? But Tenchi told her not to -"

"No, but her granddaughter, also named Ayeka, has come to pay her respects," the grandson corrected gently.

Ryoko cackled out a dry laugh. "Well, that should be a sight for these old eyes. Bring her on in."

Tetsuya leaned back into the hallway and motioned to Ayeka. She moved forward slowly, the sound of Ryoko's voice frightening her. She wasn't sure what she might find waiting for her in that room.

The room was extra warm with the late afternoon sunlight spilling in through the windows. The golden light softened the edges of the furniture and seemed to pick up the bright colors in the fabrics of the blankets and upholstery. The room was filled with lush plants in clay pots and all around the room, on every flat surface were framed photographs of Ryoko and Tenchi's family.

In the middle of it all, looking like a frail reed, a pallid and thin Ryoko sat propped up in bed, her wasted, wrinkled hands folded neatly on top of the comforter and blankets covering her legs. Deep wrinkles gouged into her face making her look like she had dehydrated like a dried plum. Her hair was no longer cyan, but a spare collection of white wisps almost too thin to cover her head. Only her yellow eyes retained their youthful sparkle, reassuring Ayeka that this really was her old friend.

"Ryoko-san?" Ayeka said meekly, not certain how to address such a being.

Ryoko tried to smile, but her eyes were already welling up with tears. "Tetsuya, I would like a moment alone with this young lady," she softly commanded.

He looked worried about her mood, but complied out of respect. "Of course, grandmother. We will bring you both lunch later." He bowed and shut the door.

The two women looked at each other for a long and silent moment.

The tears in Ryoko's eyes began to fall. "He's gone, Ayeka. My Tenchi left me," she whispered pitifully.

The pain in her old friend's voice broke through Ayeka's shock. She walked to the bed and sat down, wrapping her arms around Ryoko's shoulders, her own tears finally springing free as Ryoko's wet her kimono.

Ayeka rubbed her friend's back. "He didn't want to go Ryoko. He loved you so much."

"Then why did he have to die? My Tenchi, my Tenchi," Ryoko sobbed.

The pain in Ryoko's voice, the helplessness twisted Ayeka's heart so tightly that she worried it might break. "Oh Ryoko, I'm so sorry, so very sorry."

Ryoko's bony arms clung tightly to the healthy form of her best friend as sobs almost too large for her heaved through her body. "I want him back! I want my Tenchi."

Wishing she could grant Ryoko's request, Ayeka merely cooed into Ryoko's ears and stroked her hair.

"Do you think," Ryoko gasped, almost choking on her cries, "do you think Tsunami could find him for me, Ayeka?"

"You know that once a soul has fled the body, they are beyond Tsunami's reach," Ayeka murmured with deep regret.

Anger tore through Ryoko's next words. "But after all we did for her! Can't she make one little exception? Doesn't she care?"

"That's not fair. You know it's not like that. If she could she would have done it already," Ayeka corrected in her gentlest voice. "And that is straight from Sasami. She wanted me to tell you that she tried."

"Oh," Ryoko said, her hopelessness sounding like a pebble falling into a deep, dark well. She had no more arguments after that. She pressed her face into Ayeka's neck and struggled to get herself under control.

"And," Ayeka continued delicately. "You know Tenchi would not have wanted that."

"I know," Ryoko whispered in a watery voice. "He wanted to live a normal life."

"And he had it, did he not?" Ayeka encouraged.

Ryoko pulled back and regarded her friend. "Oh yes." She wiped her appled cheeks free of tears. "He was so happy."

Ayeka couldn't help but stare. "Just look at you."

Her changing expression showing that she was pushing down her feelings with long practiced ease, Ryoko grimaced and cracked her neck. "And it ain't just cosmetic. I had Washu age my body along with Tenchi's. Old age sucks."

"Well, I always told you that your skin never compared to mine," Ayeka experimented, not sure it was funny.

Ryoko grunted out a laugh. "Well, you were right. But I ended up with 15 grandchildren. I think I won."

"Fifteen ? Oh my."

Ryoko smiled proudly. "Yes, fifteen. All of them are so smart and happy. And did you meet my Little Ryoko?"

"She told me I was prissy," Ayeka chuckled. " I could see your influence all over her."

Ryoko smiled fondly. "Most of my children and grandchildren took after Tenchi. But Ryoko-chan is all mischief. All mine." She took a deep breath, which rattled disturbingly in her chest. "Old age has a few benefits after all, I guess."

"Your age, is it permanent?" Ayeka asked worriedly, the possibility of also losing Ryoko in the near future crossing her mind for the first time.

"Of course not!" proclaimed a familiar nasal voice. "You think I would allow my greatest creation to age away into obsolescence?"

"Miss Washu!" Ayeka exclaimed, turning to see the short fireball sitting at Tenchi's old desk, laptop at the ready. "I didn't know you stayed with the family!"

"Officially, I didn't. But Ryoko here needed help with her aging process, so I stuck around. Incognito," Washu said significantly looking as young as she ever had.

"But wasn't that lonely?" Ayeka asked.

"Nah. I had Ryo-Ohki and it gave me a chance to focus on my work." She looked regretfully at her daughter. "And I knew it wouldn't last very long in the scheme of things."

Ryoko looked away, clearly on the verge of more tears.

"So anyway," Washu said briskly. "It's time for 'Grammy' here to have her daily check up."

"Miss Washu," Ayeka began.

"It's Washu-chan, did you forget so easily?"

Ayeka looked from the artificially young to the artificially old and shook her head. "This is all too much for me."

Washu gingerly sat down on the edge of the bed and began her examination. "Are you eating more?"

Ryoko shrugged.

"Honey, you have to eat. This body is the equivalent of 90 human years old. We have to be very careful here," Washu admonished.

"I'm tired, mom," Ryoko said heavily, rubbing at an age spot on her arm.

"It's because of your body's current settings. Of course you feel fatigue," Washu said tapping away at her computer.

"No, I'm tired of this game. I want it to be over." Ryoko's fingers were now rubbing at her wrist as if it pained her.

Washu's fingers paused. "Are you ready to fake your death then? I can be ready in a day."

Ryoko smiled and closed her eyes. "No faking. I want to - I want to die, mommy. I want to be with Tenchi." A tear leaked out of the corner of her eye and traced down her cheek.

"No!" Ayeka gasped. "You can't be serious!"

"Oh yes I am. I am nothing without him." She turned her head to her mother. "Please?"

"You don't know what you are asking of me," Washu said firmly. "I will not kill you."

"Then just let me die. Naturally, like Tenchi."

"It's not that simple," Washu said, as the pounding of small feet raced up the stairs. "Uh oh!" Washu grabbed Ayeka and phased the two of them through the wall and into her dimensional lab. "Sorry about that, but Little-Little-Ryoko is steaming up the stairs like a freight train," Washu apologized, pressing a button on a monitor so the screen flickered to life, showing Ryoko's room. "You should watch these two, they are adorable together."

A small, but wild force of nature burst into the room. "GRAMMY!"

Ryoko wiped her eyes on the back of her hand and mustered a smile. "Hi, Squirt!"

Ryoko chan rocked back on her heels and frowned at her grandmother. "Are you still crying?" she asked in a put-out voice. "Daddy says not to bother you when you cry. I want to bother you. You are MY Grammy now, he had his turn when he was little."

Ryoko's smile turned more genuine. "Come up here," she said patting the bed.

Ryoko-chan grinned and launched herself on to the bed, making her older counterpart grunt as the bed rocked. The child wiggled under one of her grandmother's arms and rested her head on her bosom.

"Shoes?" Ryoko asked in mild reproof, looking at her granddaughter's feet.

"I wanted to show you!" the child protested, kicking one leg up so Ryoko could get a better view of the stars and hearts that covered the sneaker in tones of pink and green glitter. "These are my pirate shoes!"

Ryoko laughed and kissed the crown of Ryoko-chan's head. "I just don't want any dog poop tracked into my bed."

"Gross!" the child exclaimed. "You are disgusting Grammy!"

"So I've been told," Ryoko agreed. "So what's up?"

"I went to the cave again today, but no Kami was there today either," Ryoko- chan complained. "I think daddy is just making that story up for the tourists."

"Maybe the Kami went away," Ryoko suggested. "Maybe it got bored at went somewhere else."

"Like Grampy went away?" Ryoko-chan asked. "Did he get bored with us?"

Ryoko winced at the reminder. "Grampy loved you very much," she said firmly.

"But not as much as he loved you Grammy. He told me that the Kami at the cave was jealous of you and ran away."

Ryoko smiled softly. "He said that?"

"Oh don't cry again!" Ryoko-chan pleaded impatiently. She reached over Ryoko to the nightstand and swiped up a small brass bell. "Ring for mommy, this always makes you feel better."

Still watching, Washu chuckled. "This is one of Ryoko's last pleasures in life. I almost feel sorry for Junko-san."

Understanding dawned in Ayeka's eyes as Ryoko began jangling the bell. "I knew that poor woman looked tired-out. Ryoko is really something!"

"She's earned it," Washu said softly.

Ryoko flipped a cover over Ryoko-chan's shoes as her daughter in law entered the room.

"Yes, Grandmother?" she asked respectfully. "Did you need anything?"

"Junko dear, do we have any sake I might share with Ayeka-san?"

"You know what the doctor has said about alcohol and your health," the meek woman murmured.

Ryoko frowned. "I don't care what the doctor said. I would like to be polite to my guest."

"Yes, Grandmother, I will bring some up," Junko acquiesced. "After Tetsuya has agreed of course."

"Of course," Ryoko echoed as Junko bowed out of the room. She looked at Ryoko-chan. "She's good. She knows how to make a no sound like a yes. You should learn that. It's a good skill."

Ryoko-chan shrugged. "Can I have some sake if you get some?"

"When you're older."

The little girl scowled and huffed. "It's not fair. You're too old and I'm too little."

Ryoko chuckled. "Damn right it's not fair."

"Damn right!" Ryoko-chan parroted with a happy laugh, clearly reveling in being naughty.

"Ryoko-chan, what have I said about bad words?"

"Not to say them outside of the freaking room!"

"Good girl. Now run along, before Miss Ayeka comes back from the bathroom."

Ryoko-chan slid off the bed. "Ok. I love you Grammy."

"I love you too, Squirt. Don't forget to take off your shoes before your mother sees them," Ryoko called after her granddaughter.

In the next dimension, the dim lighting of Washu's lab created a mood of secrecy as Washu and Ayeka stood in the shadows and watched real life playing out on the monitor.

Turning away from the screen Washu sighed. "She really has lived a full life. She had love, children, grandchildren, and now this wonderful great granddaughter who was just like her when she was that age."

"What are you saying?" Ayeka asked carefully.

Washu examined her nails carefully. "That I'm a little jealous, I guess. She really has had it all."

"You're not saying you think it's okay for her to die, are you?" Ayeka demanded.

Looking up, Washu ran a hand through her wild pink hair. "No. I just can see why she feels like her life is over. Despite the changes I've made to her body, she is still a young woman. But this life on earth has aged her heart. It will be hard for her to go back to what she was before."

"Must she change right now? Can't she go on enjoying her family?"

"She's a feeble old woman to most of them. Realistically, she should only have a few months left. She can't fool them like Lord Katsuhito managed to do for generations. She's played the game too honestly for that."

Ayeka nodded. "Even brother had to go back to Jurai at last."

"And look at her. Stuck in her bedroom, truly too weak to get up on her own. What kind of life is that for her? It's time for Grandmother Ryoko to pass into the next world, our world, for her own sake. I've made a clone to substitute in for her body. Can you help me convince her?"

Ayeka looked at the lonely old woman on the monitor. Without any company, Ryoko seemed to just shut down and stare into space. Was this how she was living now? How terrible. "Of course. I've missed her. I agree, it is time for her to come back to us."

Washu typed a sequence of keys into her computer. "Good. Just step on that red X over there and it will transport you into her room. Good luck."

"I think I shall likely need it, " Ayeka said as she felt herself shifting through dimensions and back into Ryoko's room.

"Need what?" Ryoko asked curiously when Ayeka popped into her room, still talking.

Ayeka smiled mysteriously, and sat on the edge of Ryoko's bed, taking her friend's hand into her own. "I can get you some sake."

"Really? They won't let me have any because of the heart condition Washu gave me," Ryoko groused. "She sure gets into this."

"Yes, I can get you some. I can get you all you want and more. On one condition."

Ryoko's eyes narrowed into a suspicious look that Ayeka was well aquatinted with. "Yes?"

"That you come to Jurai and drink it with me."

"Hmph. I'm too old to make the trip," Ryoko grumbled, pulling at the wrinkled skin of her face.

"Stop lying to yourself," Ayeka said firmly. "We both know that you can be young again in an instant. Or has your senile brain forgotten that?"

"Hey!" Ryoko said indignantly.

"Or have you gotten used to being helpless? That's not the Ryoko I know," Ayeka continued mercilessly.

"But Tenchi wanted to grow old," Ryoko protested.

"And you did it with him for his sake," Ayeka agreed. "And now he is gone."

Ryoko's eyes clenched together. "You're so cruel."

"No. I am honest. I am your truest friend. Tenchi is gone. There is no need for you to suffer in that body anymore. It's time Ryoko, time to leave this place and rejoin the rest of your family."

"But he is buried here. I just can't leave my Tenchi here all alone." Ryoko twisted the comforter hem with her free hand while she spoke.

Ayeka jabbed her index finger into Ryoko's chest, just above her heart. "No, he is right here. And you will be taking him with you when you leave."

"No. I should die too. And be buried beside my husband."

Ayeka lowered her head so that her face filled her friend's visual field. " Answer me honestly, Ryoko. Would Tenchi want that?"

"I - he - I," Ryoko faltered.

"Tsunami will know if you lie to me Ryoko," Ayeka threatened. "And she will tell Sasami. Do you want to make Sasami cry?"

"No," Ryoko whispered brokenly. "He made me promise I wouldn't die. He - He made me promise I would go back to my life before him."

"Well, there you go," Ayeka said as if it was already decided.

"But, my life before him was empty and cold. I can't bear the thought of going back to that." A frightened shiver moved through her tiny frame.

Ayeka's eyes became warm and gentle, and she squeezed the hand she was holding. "Silly goose. It won't be like that. You and Washu will come and live at the palace of course. We love you Ryoko, and will help you begin a new life, a life with Tenchi in your heart always."

Ryoko leaned back into her pillows and regarded Ayeka solemnly. "What will it take to make you shut-up?" she asked in an obvious effort to cheer her self up.

"More than you are currently able to dish out, I assure you," Ayeka said as she ran a hand through the wisps of Ryoko's remaining hair. "I must say this look doesn't suit you."

Ryoko pulled her head back. "Stop. Okay. You win. Like you almost always do," she bit out. "As soon as Washu sets it up, I'll go with you." She held up a hand. "But only because I promised Tenchi."

Ayeka leaned forward earnestly. "Tenchi would have been pleased about this, you know."

"I know," Ryoko said quietly. "I'm doing it for Tenchi." A mist of sorrow was forming in her eyes again.

"Grammy!" shouted Ryoko-chan staggering into the room with a sake bottle in her arms that was nearly as tall as she was. "Are you crying AGAIN?"

Ryoko laughed. "Yes, it's just something old women do. What do you have there?"

"Sake! I found it in Daddy's closet while I was looking for my birthday presents," the youngster chirped.

"She really is like you isn't she?" Ayeka asked in an undertone.

"Can I have some now? Please? Pretty please?"

Ryoko considered, then smiled wistfully. "Miss Ayeka, there is a sake set on that shelf over there. Would you please do the honors?"

"Of course," Ayeka said, reaching for the decanter and three small cups that sat on a bamboo tray. She set them Tenchi's desk and relieved Ryoko- chan of her heavy burden. She quickly filled the decanter and carried he set over to Ryoko so she could do the honors.

Ryoko-chan had already climbed onto the bed and was watching the proceeding with wide eyes, clearly not believing her luck.

Ryoko showed her granddaughter the elegant way to pour for others and let Ayeka pour one for her, so that Ryoko-chan could see that it was improper to pour one's own sake in a group setting.

"Now hold your glass up," she instructed, waiting till all three glasses were aloft before she continued. "Then you say 'compai' and touch glasses."

"Compai!" they all said and then sipped at their drinks.

"Nasty!" Ryoko-chan pronounced immediately, spitting hers back into the cup.

"Then again, maybe isn't quite like you," Ayeka commented with a chuckle.

Ryoko laughed too. " Okay, little Ryoko. I have one last thing to teach you. Serving sake the right way is all right and good, but it always tastes best straight out of the bottle."

Epilogue

Ryoko looked down at her newly restored hand and clenched it into a fist, marveling at how good she felt in this young body. As she had aged, she had forgotten how it felt to be so free of pain and limitations.

She looked up to see Washu and Ayeka watching her expectantly.

"How do you feel?" Washu asked.

"Strange," Ryoko answered. She looked down at her dress, a copy of her favorite teal and pink kimono from so long ago. "And thanks for the clothing, that was a nice touch."

"It was Ayeka's idea. She was always the one with the fashion sense after all," Washu said warmly, giving credit where it was due.

"I figured you were tried of those granny gowns," Ayeka noted.

"Yeah. Sick as hell of them," Ryoko agreed. Her expression turned pensive as she fiddled with the hem of a sleeve. "Its so strange to be. me again. I mean I was me all along, but now I'm back to being - " she faltered. "I don't know how to say it. I was a mother and a grandmother, and know it's just gone. Poof."

"I know exactly what you mean," Washu said seriously, an old pain showing behind her eyes.

"Mom." Ryoko started towards her mother. "Now I understand what you went through. I'm sorry." She enfolded Washu in a hug. "If I had known how much this hurts, I would have been nicer to you."

Washu hugged back. "Well, now we have something in common."

Ryoko tightened her hug. "I'm glad I have you. You and Ayeka and everyone else."

"You're really not alone Little Ryoko," Washu murmured.

"Thank you," Ryoko whispered back.

Watching from across the room, Ayeka cleared her throat. " I hate to interrupt this moment that has been thousands of years coming, but the funeral is about to begin. Are you ready?"

Ryoko released Washu. "Yes. First the funeral, then we get the hell out of dodge."

Washu tuned her security monitor to the family cemetery and the ladies watched as the gathered family paid their last respects to Masaki Ryoko.

The turn out for the matriarch of the clan was a respectable one. Grandchildren and their spouses and their own children had arrived from all over the country. Even the black sheep of the family that had moved to America had flown in for the occasion. Roughly fifty people in dark mourning colors crowded around the slender stone stelle that marked the resting-place of Masaki Ryoko. The mood was somber and reflective as the extended family paid their respects.

Looking regal in his priestly garments, Tetsuya cleared his throat. "Thank you all for coming here, as we lay to rest the second half of a heart." The young man looked at Ryoko's grave marker and the one it nestled so closely by. "Ever since grandfather Tenchi passed, we all knew that grandmother Ryoko would not wait long to follow him into the next world."

The gathering nodded as one to the veracity of that statement.

Tetsuya continued. "We all know that those two were a living example of the virtues of love and respect between a husband and wife."

Back in the lab, Ryoko choked and reached for Washu's hand, squeezing as only she could. The truth of the situation, her forever parting from Tenchi, was becoming even more real.

"Never in my life have I seen their example repeated. It was as if they truly were one being, their hearts seemed to beat in perfect rhythm and harmony. Their minds were of one thought, and that was always the well being and happiness of each other and their family," Tetsuya said.

Washu pried her numb fingers free of Ryoko's gasp as tears began tracing down her daughter's cheeks. After rubbing some feeling back into her digits, Washu slid her arms around Ryoko and began to slowly rock her back and forth.

"I think, that if he could have had his way, grandfather Tenchi would have made it so Ryoko could go first, so she would have been spared this pain and loneliness. His last words to me were: 'Take care of your grandmother, son. I know her heart and she will try to follow me. Don't you dare let her. She has her whole life left and I want her to live it. I want her to be happy."

Moaning at those words, and the hidden message within them, Ryoko slid to her knees her faint tears turning into retching sobs as her sorrow clawed out of her heart and into her throat.

Washu followed her down and hugged her tightly as Ayeka knelt beside them, adding her arms to the net of support around Ryoko. "See?" Washu hissed, her own words teary. "He wanted you to go on, my darling girl."

Tetsuya paused to wipe away a tear. "Such a charge he laid on me, one I could never fulfil to my shame. Without him, she wilted like a lotus washed upon the shore. Despite her years she had seemed ageless, but without him she grew old," here his voice caught, "and she died. I'm sorry Grandfather, I'm sorry." Tears were steadily running down his face. "But, all things must die. And Grandmother Ryoko who was a wonderful mother to us all, has returned to the beginning to start again. May she find Grandfather again on her next journey." With that, he clapped his hands twice, echoed by the rest of the family.

Ryoko held on to Washu as if she feared what would happen if she let go. "He - he wanted me to be happy without him. I'd do it for him if I could. But I don't know how, I just don't know how."

"He was always a foolish boy," Washu whispered into Ryoko's hair. "He should have know better."

"He knew we would help," Ayeka said softly. "He knew that time would help."

"I have plenty of that," Ryoko cried bitterly.

"Before we leave," Tetsuya said, wiping his tears away. "I have a gift for Grandmother's spirit. You all know how well she liked sake." As the crowd managed a weak chuckle, the young priest set a filled sake saucer on the top of Ryoko's grave marker. "There is one last drink before you begin your journey, respected one."

"NO!" cried a small voice. "No! No! No!" Ryoko-chan stepped out of the crowd and confronted her father, looking brave and fierce in her slate grey kimono and white obi. Her tearstained cheeks and red rimmed eyes eloquently proclaiming her broken heart. "You didn't say that she told the best stories! Or that she knew more bad words than anyone! My Grammy played checkers so good that she taught me how to double my allowance at school! I loved my Grammy! I still love her! She taught me a lot Daddy, and you can't give her that stupid little cup of sake!" The child reached behind her and brought out the small and expensive bottle of sake that had been used to pour Ryoko's final cup. "She told me that it always tasted best straight from the bottle!" Her little zori flapping against the grass, the youngest Masaki walked forward and placed the bottle alongside the cup. "I love you Grammy!" she wailed and spun around, sprinting for the shrine.

"Ryoko, don't run in your kimono, your obi will fall off!" called Junko.

"Shhh, let her go," Tetsuya said quietly, looking sadly after his daughter.

In the lab, Ryoko's tears had stopped as she listened to her great- granddaughter's heartfelt speech. "My poor baby," she said softly. She scrubbed her cheeks with the palms of her hands. "My little Ryoko."

Washu helped Ryoko back to her feet. "I don't think anyone could ask for a better eulogy than that. She had you in a nutshell."

Ayeka stayed kneeling on the floor and looked up at Ryoko. "She will recover my friend. And I think she will carry your best traits with her into the future."

"You think?"

"Oh yes. She is your legacy on Earth," Ayeka said firmly.

Ryoko's back straightened. "Yes. She is our legacy, Tenchi's and mine. We made it so she could be. She is the legacy of the two of us, but now as one being."

Washu nodded, understanding. "This way, your love will never die, it will keep moving on into the future."

Ryoko nodded, still looking sad, but less broken and fragile. "I'll be ready to go in a minute. Be right back." With that she faded from view.

"What?" Ayeka asked in confusion.

"I know where she is going," Washu said calmly. "The circle has completed a full turn."

Outside the old mossy cave of the Misaki shrine, a little girl lay on her stomach crying like she had discovered a never ending fountain of tears. Her obi had fallen off at some point, probably at the same time she had lost her shoes. Her white tabi socks were darkened on the bottoms with dirt.

"Grammy," she sobbed weakly. "I miss my Grammy."

A gentle hand touched her shoulder. "It's okay little one, your grandmother has gone to the heavens," consoled a loving voice.

Ryoko-chan looked up to see the most beautiful woman she had ever seen. Her hair was the loveliest shade of blue and her eyes were yellow like Grammy's. This lady was almost see-through and she floated above the ground a few inches like no human ever could. Ryoko-chan knew who it was at once. "You came!" the child gasped in a strained voice. "Grammy always said you were here!"

The Kami nodded and smiled.

"But why didn't you come before! I've been here a million times," Ryoko- chan accused.

"You didn't need me as much before."

Ryoko-chan pulled up to her knees not bothering to dust off her smudged kimono and clasped her hands in her lap. "My grandmother died," she announced.

The spirit nodded.

"Why? I want her with me!"

"It is the way of things."

"That's what Daddy says. But, I wish I could tell her I loved her and give her a kiss."

The spirit touched its feet to the ground and approached the side. "I'll tell you a secret. When your grandfather Tenchi's own grandmother died, I tried to make him feel better. Just like I am with you."

Ryoko-chan cocked her head to one side. "Did it work?"

"No. I couldn't get through to him."

"Poor Grampy."

"So I really want to help you. And you know what?"

"What, Kami-sama?"

"I learned that when people die, the Kami can talk to them. Would you like me to tell you what your grandmother said about you?"

Ryoko-chan leapt to her feet. "Yes! Yes!"

"Well, first she says to hold your kimono closed when you have lost your obi."

The little girl flushed and quickly tugged the ends of the robe together and held them there with both hands. "And?" she asked expectantly.

"She told me to tell you that you were her most favorite granddaughter of them all. And that she wants you to live your life to the fullest, to have fun, and to not take crap off of anybody."

Ryoko chan giggled. "That sounds like Grammy, alright!"

"And she wants you to know that she will always love you, even past the end of time. She wants you to give me her kiss, so she can feel it too." The sprit lady knelt down so her face was level with Ryoko-chan's and offered her cheek.

The girl gave it a sloppy wet kiss as only a six-year-old could, with a loud smack.

"Now I must go."

"Wait! Will I ever see you again?"

The spirit shook its head no, one hand holding the spot of the kiss on her cheek, and faded away.

The remaining Masaki Ryoko sat there and blinked at the empty air before her. She felt better, but Grammy had been right. Those Kami sure were unpredictable. She rolled onto her back and tried to make out her grandmother's face in the clouds when a very bright light quickly moved through the sky.

Maybe that was Grammy's soul going to heaven.

The End



Many thanks to my pre-readers! Smooooch!