The Harem Saga

EPISODE 2 We Belong

Many times I've tried to tell youMany times I've cried aloneAlways I'm surprised how well youCut my feelings to the boneDon't want to leave you reallyI've invested too much timeTo give you up that easyTo the doubts that complicate your mind

Chorus:We Belong to the lightWe Belong to the thunderWe Belong to the sound of the wordsWe've both fallen underWhatever we deny or embraceFor worse or for betterWe Belong, We BelongWe Belong together

Maybe it's a sign of weaknessWhen I don't know what to sayMaybe I just wouldn't knowWhat to do with my strength anywayHave we become a habit?Do we distort the facts?Now there's no looking forwardNow there's no turning backWhen you say

(Chorus)

Close your eyes and try to sleep nowClose your eyes and try to dreamClear your mind and do your bestTo try and wash the palette cleanWe can't begin to know itHow much we really careI hear your voice inside meI see your face everywhereStill you say

(Chorus)

From the Pat Benatar album "Tropico"Written by: D. Navarro & R. Lowen Time: 3:40© 1984 by Screen Gems-EMI Music Inc.Song lyrics have been checked for accuracy against the album sleeve.

ACT 1 - MORNING

Ryo-ohki was the first to sense the ship. It was hard to mew through a mouth full of carrot, but the sound was disturbing enough to draw attention.

"What is it, Ryo-ohki?" asked Sasami.

"She says there's a ship approaching," Ryoko answered. Activity around the breakfast table clattered to a halt, and there was a general movement towards the front door.

A warp bubble had appeared in the sky over the Masaki house by the time they had gathered outside. A small vessel drifted out of the maelstrom and hovered until the portal faded, and then continued its controlled descent.

"It looks like a courier of some sort," Mihoshi noted.

"Yes, and it appears to have the royal seal affixed to the prow," Ayeka added.

"Probably some flunky delivering a message," Washu observed. "One of these days the locals are going to catch sight of one of those ships coming or going, and then our privacy here will be ancient history."

"Still, we should observe proper protocol and greet our guest," Ayeka said.

"I don't think this concerns me," Nobuyuki said, "So I'm going back in and finish breakfast. Tenchi? Father?"

"I think I'll stay here, Dad," Tenchi replied. His grandfather nodded agreement.

The craft was a little larger than the house, and settled into the lake with minimal fuss. After a few moments of maneuvering dockside, the hatch opened and the gantry extended itself down to the dock. A figure appeared in the opening, and then stepped slowly forward, shielding his eyes from the morning glare. His idly rustling robes bore the royal emblazon. He was heavyset and heavily bearded, and his dark hair was braided in a series of ringlets that spilled over his shoulders and bounced as he walked. His face was screwed into a frown, as though he had bitten sour fruit.

"Well, he sure looks like a flunky," Washu said.

"But an important one," Mihoshi answered. An official recording 'bot drifted behind him, its sensor array swiveling regularly, missing nothing. "Maybe I should get my uniform on."

"It's a little too late for that," Washu said. "Besides, the way he keeps staring at Tenchi suggests that's who he is here to see." At the mention of Tenchi's name, Ryoko latched onto his right arm, while Ayeka grasped his left hand.

The figure strode slowly up to the group, bowed formally, and spread his hands. "Greetings to the Masaki Household, and my apologies for this intrusion. My humble greetings to their Highnesses, Princess Ayeka, Princess Sasami, and Prince Tenchi. I am Baron Kitsune, special envoy for His Majesty Emperor Azusa. His Majesty has been considering the future needs of his grandson, Prince Tenchi, and wishes to inform the prince of His plans. Thus, I have been dispatched to convey His Majesty's intentions, and to inform His Majesty of any responses made by the prince. It is in that capacity that I have traveled from Jurai, and do request an audience as soon as is convenient." Which, of course, meant right now.

Yosho cleared his throat and stepped forward. "Your Excellency, would you step this way please?" Yosho led the Baron and his robot towards the house, trailed by the remaining family members.

Tenchi was nervous. As usual. He had learned not to squirm, but his friends knew him well enough to recognize the other signs. He had seated himself on the sofa, flanked by Ayeka and Sasami. Washu, Ryoko, and Mihoshi stayed a discreet distance behind the sofa, but clearly in the Baron's line-of-sight. Yosho was practically invisible where he kneeled by the door, soon joined by Nobuyuki.

There was a smattering of small talk, as Ayeka and Sasami inquired about their parents, various other family members, and such. It became quickly apparent that while the Baron was deferential to Sasami, he practically fawned over Ayeka — but he looked down his nose at Tenchi as much as he could politely get away with. Ryoko noticed it and quietly asked Washu about it.

"Tenchi is not full-blooded Juraian," Washu replied bitterly. "I see the aristocratic contempt for half-breeds hasn't faded over the years." Ryoko growled, her growing dislike for the emissary becoming more obvious. "Mind your manners, Ryoko, so we don't cause any more damage to Tenchi's already fragile respectability." Ryoko went silent, but her body language was plainly readable. She wanted to put her arms around Tenchi, to protect him, to support him — and she wanted to blast the envoy with several well-placed energy bolts.

"If you would be kind enough to relay my father's wishes, we will delay you as little as possible," said Ayeka. She had overheard the exchange behind her, and her reaction was similar to Ryoko's. She, however, was too well trained to reveal those emotions. She kept her expression neutral and her voice business-like.

"His Majesty has made three requests, but he has done so reluctantly. This action was prompted by the growing realization among the populace that there is a new prince. Stories of his escapades are spreading. His whereabouts have remained a secret, but it is only a matter of time before his location is known. The Royal Family has many enemies, some exceedingly dangerous, and the prince is plainly at a vulnerable period in his development. The Galaxy Police has been kept informed through the efforts of its on-site liaison," the Baron indicated Mihoshi, "and has quietly increased the number of patrols in this sector."

"And what are these requests, Baron?" Ayeka asked.

The Baron counted on an upraised finger: "First, Prince Tenchi must be presented at Court, before the full Peerage and the Council."

"Excuse me, Baron, but I would appreciate an explanation of 'being presented at Court.' While I expect that a certain amount of display is expected of royalty, I do not want to be trotted about like a prize pet."

"Good for you, Tenchi," Washu whispered. Ryoko nodded in agreement.

"It is a mere formality, I assure you. A convenient opportunity to quell the many false rumors that are spreading, to confirm the continuation of the Juraian bloodline, and a chance to improve the morale of the populace. I guarantee that it is all harmless ceremony."

The Baron continued: "Second, Prince Tenchi must attend an approved Juraian academy, to receive proper political and military indoctrinations, as well as to learn fully of his heritage."

"Uh, I've already made applications to colleges here on Earth. My plans are to stay here, finish my education, and start a career. And a family, too, eventually."

"With who?' Ryoko wondered.

"I am afraid that His Majesty was a bit more insistent on this request. This planet is a backwater; its technological level is simply unacceptable, and it has no knowledge of galactic affairs. A member of the Juraian Royal Family must be kept fully informed of the past, present and future of the empire. Your preference for this provincial lifestyle is understandable, but you must also accept the fact that you have inherited duties that cannot be ignored. Like it or not, you are a member of the nobility with obligations to satisfy."

The Baron concluded: "Third, Lord Tenchi must choose a wife, and dismiss the other candidates from his household."

Tenchi's throat constricted. He swallowed carefully before answering. "I'm too young for marriage. Ask me in five years, I may be ready by then."

"His Majesty was most insistent on this point. Pre-adolescent betrothal is an ancient custom, and provides stability and predictability. Princess Ayeka was betrothed at a very early age, and Lady Sasami is at the proper age now. The other two points may be negotiable, but not this one. You must choose a bride. Today. My shuttle is available to transport the others anywhere they wish to go."

Tenchi's shoulders slumped. "I can't make any kind of decision like that, at least, not immediately. I will need to think about it for a while."

"I will stay until local sunset, Lord Tenchi, and then I must return to Jurai."

Tenchi stood, forcing the Baron to do likewise. He bowed to the ladies on either side, bowed to the envoy, and headed for the door.

"Tenchi...?"

"Let him go, Ryoko. He needs some time alone." Washu placed a hand on her daughter's arm, lightly restraining her.

"Lady Washu? May I have a word with you in private?"

Washu turned to face the Baron. "Sure," she replied. "Let's take a walk outside." However, she had only taken two paces before turning to look directly at the envoy's mechanical shadow. "Private means off-the-record, Your Excellency."

"If you insist." He made a gesture to the autoscribe, which froze in place.

They left the building, Washu steering him down the path towards the Masaki shrine. The sunshine felt warm and reassuring, filtering through the trees in random blobs. The birds sang and the leaves rustled. She hoped these would calm Tenchi's mind for the decisions he was going to have to make.

"Lady Washu, His Majesty spent only a few moments with the boy on his previous trip, which was frankly insufficient to make a valid judgment of his personality. We have gleaned various facts from Inspector Mihoshi's reports, and correspondence from the princesses. But these lacked a certain, eh, impartiality. All three ladies seem highly taken with the prince."

"They are indeed, Your Excellency."

"But what is so attractive about him? He seems rather unimpressive."

"Tenchi is a very quiet, very shy, very serious person. There have been few female influences in his life, and he has trouble dealing with them. He hates to say no to anybody, particularly when it's a pretty young face with fluttering eyelashes and a shining smile. In the last year he has had to accommodate not one, but five female galactics moving in with him. The friction can be quite intense some days, and everyone competes for his attention."

"Including you?"

"Including me. I'm not quite as intimidating as some of others, you see, so I don't often get involved with the day-to-day brawling."

"Brawling? Don't tell me the princesses are subjected to violence here."

"Half the time they instigate the violence. They are not quite the delicate flowers you might have imagined. And it is almost always over Tenchi."

"I find that hard to believe."

"You haven't seen the effect he has on everyone. He is loyal, dependable, courageous, and has willingly risked his life for us. He's also cute, which definitely appeals to the feminine side."

"Then this is more complex than some simple adolescent infatuation?"

"Well, maybe Sasami's crush on him is just puppy-love, but it goes deeper than that with everyone else."

"Would he make a proper monarch?"

"Someday, yes. Right now, he's still very immature."

"But you admire this boy?"

"Admire him? I adore him."

############

Ayeka was wrapped in nothing but a towel and sandals, looking forward to a good soak in the pool. She had much to think about, and was anxious about the decision Tenchi must make. It wasn't until she was at the water's edge that she noticed Ryoko, sitting in one corner of the pool, brooding silently. Ayeka was simply in no mood for an argument, which is really all she expected from Ryoko. However, she was already poolside, and to back away now would be expressly bad form.

"Oh. Hello, Ayeka," Ryoko said. "Come on in, I'll try not to disturb you."

Ayeka was more than a little surprised. No banter, no teasing, and the tone of her voice was definitely flat. "Thank you," she replied, and entered the pool. Once settled, she couldn't help studying her rival. Ryoko looked like she had been weeping: her eyes were puffy, some of the moisture on her face could have been tears, and her nose was runny. She had a weary, defeated look about her. In her hand was a cup, but she had been ignoring it. "Is that sake you're drinking?"

"No," she said softly. "It's tea. The sake is over in that bucket. Help yourself."

Ayeka was definitely interested now. She had not seen Ryoko so withdrawn since the battle with Kagato. All Ryoko's defenses were down, and if Ayeka really wanted to settle old scores, there would never be a better opportunity. She considered venting her own anxieties on this helpless opponent, and dismissed it as unworthy. She didn't much like Ryoko, but she did respect her. She was also profoundly curious. "May I have some tea?"

Ryoko passed her the tray containing the teapot and cups, and returned to her brooding.

Ayeka took the time to pour herself a cup and readjust her position before speaking, "What is wrong, Ryoko?"

"I've lost him," she said simply. Ayeka knew whom she meant.

"How can you be so sure?"

"The competition is too great. I can't fight you and your father."

"Are you conceding defeat?"

"I won't have to. He'll make the decision for me."

"I believe I know how you feel."

"None of you know how I feel. He's the one person who has ever shown me any kindness and consideration and compassion. He's even risked his life for me — to save my hide when no one else gave a damn — and he's never wanted anything in return...though I would give him anything he asked for. I love him with every fabric of my being. I'm just so afraid that one day he'll be gone, and I will have nothing left."

"You have Washu."

"Yeah, I'd have good old 'Mom.' But where was she all the years I needed her? Locked away by that bastard Kagato. Not very comforting."

"What will you do if he chooses another?"

"I don't know. I can't go back to the old ways. I don't have such a black heart anymore, thanks to Tenchi. Maybe a one-way trip into the nearest star..."

"You have been assuming Lord Tenchi will choose me. He might not."

Ryoko snorted.

"Are you basing your opinion on his lack of attention? Your overwhelming displays of affection have scared him off so many times — "

"I don't have your pedigree, or training in the gentle arts. I prefer things simple and direct."

"Very well: I will be honest with you, since you have been honest with me. I don't believe he will choose me, either."

"And why not? You have everything a man could want. Beauty...wealth...prestige...and your father is ruler of an interstellar empire."

"Where is love in that equation? Lord Tenchi has not shown me any preference in the past. I believe he cares deeply for me, but is it love? My heart will break if I see him choose another."

"If he does, your father will find another suitor for you."

"If you could not find another man like Lord Tenchi, what makes you think my father can?"

They were interrupted by the slap-slap-slap of sandalled feet behind them, and then Mihoshi said, "Hi." She was standing at the water's edge, wrapped in nothing but a towel. "Do you mind if I join you?" Since neither Ayeka nor Ryoko objected, she waded into the pool. "Is that tea? Can I have a cup?" Ayeka passed along the tray. "Are you as nervous as I am?" She fanned herself, shaking sweat droplets off her brow. The waves she created disturbed the pool.

"Yes," Ayeka replied. "We are waiting anxiously for Lord Tenchi's decision."

"It's going to be a real heart-breaker. After I leave here I'll write to you, if you'll give me your addresses." Ayeka exchanged glances with Ryoko.

"It sounds like you don't expect to be chosen," Ayeka said.

"I don't. Tenchi is so sweet, and so cute, and so brave, but I don't think he really cares for me the way I care for him. What's the term for that? Oh, yeah, unrequited love."

"What makes you think he doesn't love you?" asked Ryoko.

"He's just so distant. He's not very affectionate. No holding hands, no hugging, no kissing."

"We've noticed," Ayeka said.

"I think he'll choose one of you two. You're the ones that fight over him the most. Most guys like that sort of thing."

"How does that make you feel?" Ryoko asked.

"Very sad. I really like Tenchi. I always hoped that he likes me."

"Well, if it's any consolation, I think you have as good a chance as either of us," Ayeka said glumly.

"So, this is where everyone is hiding" Washu said. She had come up behind them silently. She, too, was dressed for bathing.

"You might as well join us," Ryoko said. "Help yourself to some tea."

"No sake?"

"We're saving it for tonight. Someone will celebrate, the rest of us will commiserate," Ayeka replied.

Washu settled into the pool. "Not a very lively bunch."

"It shows, huh?" asked Mihoshi, handing her the tea tray.

"Yes."

"Washu, may I ask you a personal question?"

"Sure, Ayeka. What is it?"

"What was it like being married?"

Washu sipped her tea, looking into the eyes of each woman — particularly those of Ryoko. "It was wonderful, from what I remember. It was a long time ago."

"But what about the details?" Ryoko asked.

"The days were busy, the nights were passionate. He was my best friend. Look," she said candidly, "no two marriages are the same. Don't base your fantasies on my rusty memories."

"Who do you expect he will pick?" Mihoshi asked.

"Expect or hope?"

"Both."

"I expect a surprise. I hope it's me."

Ryoko groaned. "My own mother."

"And why not me? We're all older than he is. We all have something to offer. And just because I was penned-up longer than any of you, it doesn't mean the fire's died out."

"Your withdrawal was partly your own choice," Ayeka said.

"No one is immune to heartbreak," Washu replied.

They heard footsteps and turned to find the source. It was Sasami. She was fully clothed and wearing an apron. "Hi," she said. "Lunch is almost ready, but I couldn't find anyone."

"Any sign of Lord Tenchi?" Ayeka asked.

"No. I haven't seen him. He looked awful upset this morning."

"He's not alone," Ryoko muttered.

"Which one of you is he going to pick?"

"That's what we've been discussing." Ayeka answered.

"Did you figure it out?"

"No."

"He might pick you, Sasami," Washu said.

Sasami giggled. "That would be really neat, but he's too old for me."

"Now, perhaps. But if he picked you he would have to wait until you are old enough. A lot can happen during those years."

"I'm willing to wait, if he is." She remembered the stories of Ayeka's childhood betrothal. It sounded so very romantic.

"Aren't we all," Mihoshi sighed.

ACT 2 - MID–DAY

It was a somber group that gathered around the table for lunch. The envoy had retired to his vessel, declining Yosho's invitation to join them. Last to arrive was Tenchi, who settled into the space left for him between Ryoko and Ayeka. Absent was the normal chatter and effusive (and well-deserved) praises for Sasami's efforts. Food was sampled, manipulated, and for the most part ignored.

Nobuyuki watched his son discreetly, and counted the many furtive glances made by the women around him. Since subtlety was not his forte (some thought he consciously fostered his Chaplainesqe image), he pushed his plate away, crossed his arms and asked his son directly, "What have you decided, Tenchi?"

Tenchi rubbed his eyes wearily. "It's funny: a year ago I was like most guys my age — worried about school, following a few sports, and curious about girls. I thought I knew what I was good at, what college I wanted to attend, what career interested me. And like my friends, I had fantasies about sword fights and space battles and meeting beautiful alien women. Only, my fantasies came true...and they were far scarier than I ever imagined. The sword fights and the space battles were the easiest to accept, because they passed quickly. But the alien women...well, they do not slip quietly away.

"In the last year my life has turned upside down. For starters, I'm a member of a Royal Family that has existed for thousands of years. I find that I have powers I could never have imagined, and talents that were sleeping somewhere inside of me (I can feel both of them growing even now). I don't know where my life is going anymore. But some things will never change: my family remains my family, and this house remains my home.

"And I have five new friends...more than friends, really. They are so much more sophisticated than I am, and I am so clumsy, and they get so frustrated, and I hurt their feelings so often. And yet they are still my friends...more than friends, really. I know I will not willingly hurt any of them. And to ask me to choose one above the others is like asking me to choose one part of my heart and discard the remainder. I can't do it. I won't do it."

A heavy silence spread over the room, until Yosho cleared his throat.

"A noble sentiment, Tenchi, but you have not considered all of the options."

"It's all I've thought about for the last few hours, Grandpa."

"Ah, then of course you have considered marrying all of them?"

"Huh?" Similar responses came from around the table.

"Emperor Azusa did not see fit to limit himself to one wife, so why should you? You can find a precedent for just about anything if you look hard enough."

Ryoko's cat-like eyes flared. "Do you expect to me share MY Tenchi?"

"He's not YOUR Tenchi," Ayeka interrupted. "But I happen to agree with you this time. It would not be proper for the future Empress of Jurai to be senior wife in a harem."

"What makes you think you'd be senior wife? I'm far older, and much better qualified," Washu said.

"Is it even legal on this planet?" asked Mihoshi. "And what's a harem?"

"I'm not sure I'd like three new sisters," said Sasami. "I remember some of the arguments Mommy and Half-Mommy Funaho used to get into..."

A steamy silence settled about them until Nobuyuki said quietly, "I only had a few years to share with Tenchi's mother, and the years since her death have been terribly lonely. But I would pay that price again gladly just to have one more day with Achika." Then he rose and left the house.

"And I miss Itsuki," Yosho said. He studied each of them, and asked, "What price is your happiness worth?"

Mihoshi started sniffling.

Tenchi rose slowly from his place at the table. Ryoko clutched at him. "Tenchi, please don't leave!"

"I'm not leaving, I'm just moving over here where I can see everyone better." He stepped around Ryoko and settled into his father's place. He studied each of them for a moment, composing his thoughts. "All this talk has been about me so far. What do you ladies want to do? Ryoko?"

"When I thought I'd lost you to Kagato," she whispered, "it nearly tore my heart out. I don't ever want to feel that way again. I'll share you if I have to, but I will not leave."

"Ayeka?"

"One day I will inherit the throne of Jurai," she answered, "and one of my duties is to marry the most suitable consort I can find. That's the way arranged marriages work. My heart has no say in it. But you are the most suitable consort I've found, and you are the choice of my heart. If an Emperor can choose a cluster marriage, an Empress can do no less."

"Sasami?"

"I don't really understand all of this," she answered, "but I'm like Ayeka. I know my duties, and I know my feelings, and I know where I'd like to be. I want to stay with you."

"Mihoshi?"

"I come from a big family," she said. "It's noisy and crowded and never really quiet. But there is also lots of fun, and lots of love, and whatever happens they are always there for you. Count me in."

"Washu?"

"I was married, once, so long ago that the memories are hoary with age," she replied. "I had given up on the universe, and retreated into my own little cocoon. Until I met you. I'm not leaving either."

"I see. I know very little about love and nothing about marriage...I guess that's part of becoming an adult. Heck, I'm not even old enough to shave yet!" His joke fell flat, and he sighed. "I hope you all realize that I am still growing, still changing, and you may not like what I become."

"If we are here, we can have a hand in that growth," said Washu. "We will change, too. The risk goes both ways."

"I've sure learned that," he sighed, receiving some tentative smiles. And then he was silent, contemplating and delaying. He had to be honest with himself: there was no one on Earth who could match any of these off-world females in beauty, courage, or just sheer novelty. He had to admit that with these five around his life had taken on an excitement that he'd never really known. Deep in his soul he knew, he did not want to go back to that earlier life (even if he could). But, if he picked just one the others would be terribly hurt, and then they would leave, and he sure didn't want either to happen. Then again, he was just too young to be engaged; he would screw that up, too, he just knew it. He wavered back and forth a few more times, just like he had all morning — only now he could no longer stall them. Tenchi scratched the back of his head (a sure sign he was nervous). "I can't choose just one of you, and I don't want any of you to leave," he said, looking at their anxious faces. "Would you really consent to a group marriage?"

They nodded, one by one.

With a ponderous deliberateness, he turned to face Ryoko, bowed formally, and said, "Ryoko Hakubi, your passion and courage are a source of inspiration. I have grown to love you and cherish you, and ask if you would honor me by consenting to be my wife."

"YES!" she sang and lunged for him, but he stopped her with an obstructing hand, and slight shake of his head.

He turned to face Ayeka, bowing formally, and said, "Princess Ayeka Jurai, First Crown Princess of Jurai, and heir to the throne. Your loyalty and propriety are matched only by your beauty and grace. My love for you is unworthy, but I would be deeply honored if you would accept my proposal for marriage."

Ayeka wrestled to keep her face calm and composed, but was losing the battle. She bowed towards him, and replied, "The honor is mine, Lord Tenchi. I accept your proposal."

He moved to face Sasami, and bowed towards her. "Second Crown Princess Sasami Jurai, your sweet disposition lightens my heart. I can only offer you a lifetime of love and devotion if you would accept me as your husband."

Sasami tried to copy her elder sister, but she giggled during the bow in spite of her best efforts. "Yes, Tenchi, I would be happy to marry you." The little cabbit on her shoulder purred.

Tenchi faced Mihoshi and bowed. "Inspector Mihoshi Kuramitsu, your devotion to duty simply cannot compare to your love of life or your dazzling beauty. If my love can provide an anchor for your chosen career, I offer it wholeheartedly. Will you marry me?"

Mihoshi started sniffling. "Oh, that is so wonderful. Of course I will marry you. Oh, just wait until I tell my family!"

Tenchi turned to face Washu, and bowed deeply. "Washu Hakubi, your wisdom and intelligence are legendary, but your beauty and gentleness are just as inspiring. Can the love of a simple student be enough to win your heart and mind?"

Washu smiled, and nodded. "Very impressive, Tenchi. That's what I admire about you: simple, direct, and sincere. Yes, I will marry you."

Finally, Tenchi turned towards Yosho, who had witnessed the whole process in solemn silence. They exchanged bows, and then Tenchi said, "Grandpa, would you negotiate on my behalf with the families of my intended brides, so that honor and decorum are maintained?"

Yosho nodded. "Yes, I will. And, Tenchi...you made the correct choice."

Tenchi turned once more towards five shining faces, and exchanged bows with them. "Well, how did I do?" he asked. And then they were on him like a pack of dogs, laughing and giggling and tickling and pinching and kissing him and kicking the furniture and ignoring his pleas to stop.

############

The wrestling ended only with exhaustion, and they all lay panting and chuckling. Ryoko struggled to her knees and crawled over to kneel beside Tenchi's head, looking down into his eyes. "Tenchi," she said sweetly, "did you really say you love me?"

"Yes, I said it."

"And did you really mean it?"

"Yes, I meant it."

She giggled.

"He said he loved us all," Ayeka interrupted.

Ryoko ignored her. "I want to hear you say it again."

"I love you, Ryoko." Her answering smile was radiant.

"This looks so undignified," Ayeka continued, indicated her rumpled clothing, her disarrayed hair, and the overturned furniture.

"But, did you have fun?" Tenchi asked.

After a moment's reflection, she answered, "Yes."

"Maybe that's why you look so beautiful," he said. She reddened. He started to sit up when he gasped. "Ow! I think I hurt my leg." He collapsed slowly backwards, only to find his head settling onto Ryoko's lap. She looked very concerned.

Washu crawled forward, reaching for his leg. "Where does it hurt?"

"Just above the knee," he answered. He watched her probing the muscles gently, and finally asked her, "Washu, will I marry a child or a woman?"

She paused, considered him with a raised eyebrow, and then blurred as she morphed into an adult. She was taller, of course, but her movements were still graceful and precise. Though her face was rounder than Ryoko's, the resemblance was unmistakable. Her green eyes sparkled, and when she spoke, her voice was deeper and melodic. "Does this answer your question?"

Tenchi nodded.

"And which form do you prefer?"

"Which form do you prefer?" he countered.

She shrugged.

"Then how about this one after the wedding, and Little Washu before the wedding?"

She nodded, blurred, and was once more an adolescent.

"But I'm still a child," said Sasami, sadly. "I can't change that fast."

"Then I will wait for you to catch up, Little Goddess of the Kitchen."

"That is so sweet," said Mihoshi, reaching over to give Sasami a hug.

"As are you, Mihoshi," said Tenchi. Mihoshi giggled.

"You seem different, Tenchi," Washu said, eyeing him critically. "Something in you has changed."

He nodded. "I guess maybe I have. There is an old Earth saying that goes, 'You don't know what you've got until it's gone.' I came too close to a bitter lesson."

"I think we know how you feel. We've all fallen in love with the hero who freed us from our prisons." Washu answered his uncomprehending gaze by indicating the nodding heads around her. "Prisons come in many shapes and sizes, and are very common. True heroes are unique and special, and may only come once in a lifetime. Better to grab him when you find him, than let him slip away."

Yosho studied the group on the floor, hovering over Tenchi. He decided enough of the tension had dissipated to have a little fun. "A group ceremony might be impressive to watch, but the honeymoon could be sheer chaos. Perhaps you should consider individual ceremonies. Tell me, Tenchi, who will you marry first?" Having lit the fuse, it didn't take long for the bomb to go off.

"Uh, well, I hadn't thought that far ahead yet," he answered.

"I'm the only one here with any practical experience," Washu suggested. "And poor Tenchi is just as liable to be scared out of his wits. He has to be guided gently by — "

"Sorry, Mom, but I'm going first. I've known him the longest — I watched him grow up — so I'm first in line. Besides, I've had plenty of experience in these matters: after all, I was a pirate for 1300 years, and saw all kinds of 'action' (if you know what I mean)."

"Actually, you're a liar. I can read your mind, remember? When Kagato stole you from me, he kept his pretty new weapon on a very short leash. Sadistic monster that he was, he was highly amused by retarding your growth — and he had no intention of ever letting you have even a morsel of human comfort, because it might have softened you somehow. And while 700 years in a tomb didn't do much for your social life, it did give you a chance to cool off."

"Then I guess we'll just get our experience the old fashioned way, won't we, Tenchi?" She leaned forward and embraced him, effectively putting him in a headlock. He gurgled reflexively.

"Such nonsense," Ayeka interrupted. "He is a member of the Juraian Royal Family. It should be a proper wedding, with elaborate ceremonies and traditional rituals. And since I am the First Crown Princess, it is only fitting that I go first." Ryoko growled at Ayeka, who responded by taking Tenchi's arm. "Don't you agree, Lord Tenchi?" Tenchi mumbled a reply.

"Oh, but I must insist that we go by seniority," Washu said as she grabbed Tenchi's free hand. Tenchi's response was smothered as Ryoko shifted her grip.

"We could go alphabetically," Sasami suggested. "But it doesn't matter to me, 'cause I'm the youngest and will have to wait anyway. I'm sure you'll pick what's best, won't you Tenchi?" Tenchi tried to nod, but his movements were becoming increasingly restricted.

"Oh, just draw names from a hat," Mihoshi said with a dismissive wave. "I wonder if we should all wear the same bride's dresses? I think we all look good in white, that's such a nice traditional color. With lots of flowers. Come to think of it, though, we all come from such different backgrounds, maybe we should each go with a unique look. What do you think, Tenchi?" Tenchi was unable to answer, as he was being pulled in three different directions, his good leg tapping the floor as he tried to support his game leg.

Yosho took pity on the boy. "Ryoko, I believe you're choking your fiancée. You might give him a little air."

"What? Oh! Sorry, Tenchi, Dear."

Tenchi gasped, his color returning to normal. "Can't we discuss the details later?"

"By the way, what's a harem?" asked Mihoshi.

############

"The idea is preposterous, and entirely unacceptable," Baron Kitsune said.

"Actually, it makes perfect sense," Washu replied. "How do you want me to explain this to you, scientifically or metaphysically?"

"Why not both?" Baron Kitsune replied.

"Pick one."

"Very well, let's start with the scientific explanation."

Tenchi was sitting on the sofa again, flanked this time by Ryoko and Ayeka. Sasami knelt in front of Ayeka, Mihoshi knelt in front of Ryoko, and Washu sat tailor-fashion down front. She considered this the 'flying wedge' formation, useful for its tactical advantages in the coming discussion, and about the only compromise reached by all the females that wanted to sit on Tenchi's lap. "Tell me, Baron, are you a member of the Royal Family?"

"Yes, I'm a second cousin of the Emperor."

"Then I'm guessing you're a Power sensitive."

"I have some modest abilities, but nothing on the scale of my cousin and his family."

"Few people do. I would ask you to reach out with your senses and describe what you perceive."

He closed his eyes, sending his mental fingers probing outwards to feel the ebb and flow of Power. It didn't take long at all to encounter the nexus before him, a central turbulence with five satellite eddies of differing intensities. "By the gods, he's Summoning...and you five ladies are resonating with him!"

"You got that right," said Ryoko, snuggling closer to Tenchi.

"Yes, we're all linked to him," said Washu, "and over time we will resonate with each other as well. I don't know if you've read the reports Mihoshi wrote, but I included projections of Tenchi's Power attributes. His potentials are off the scale — by the time he matures fully he will be stronger than the rest of us combined. If he really wanted the Throne of Jurai he could take it by force, and no one could stop him."

"That sounds like a threat."

"I'm no threat to anyone," Tenchi interjected. "Ayeka is the heir to the throne, not me, and I will support her against any and all threats."

"We all will," Ryoko echoed. Everyone turned and looked at her, shocked surprise on their faces. "Nobody messes with me or my family," she explained.

"Anyway, if my beloved truly wanted the throne, I would abdicate in a heartbeat." Ayeka said.

"And I feel the same way," Sasami added.

"Now," Washu continued, "while I won't discuss Tenchi's sex appeal — "

"I will," Ryoko cooed sweetly. Tenchi blushed and rolled his eyes.

" — there's a more basic mechanism at work. Those individuals who can tap into the Power are all sensitive to other users. The more Power you can access, the more sensitive you are. Where male sensitives are more cautious about a newcomer, until they can gauge him as an ally or a rival, the females are going to view him almost universally as a potential mate. Tenchi's awesome capacities, even latent as they are, are already starting to draw female sensitives to him like moths to a flame. And it is only going to get worse as he matures...his Power aura will grow exponentially. He will need to marry all five of us if for no other reason than to fend off further suitors!"

"Oh, great," Tenchi groaned. His entourage exchanged shocked glances among themselves. Washu couldn't decide which was funnier: Tenchi's discomfort, the ladies' sudden epiphany, or the Baron's sour expression. She was enjoying this.

"I see," said the Baron.

"I hope so. There's another aspect here worth considering: Tenchi is only one-eighth Juraian, yet the mixture of royal DNA with local genetic stock has amplified his Power attributes enormously. It seems to me that Emperor Azusa's efforts to enrich Juraian bloodlines with fresh characteristics were right on the money. I wonder how the aristocrats are going to react, knowing that their future rulers are unlikely to be of pure Juraian blood?"

The Baron shifted uncomfortably. "What about the metaphysical explanation?"

"Doesn't it strike you as too coincidental that five female Power sensitives should just happen to converge on the same spot, at the same time, and bond with the same man? I haven't bothered to calculate the odds, but they've gotta be stupendous. Call it fate or karma, but so much talent in one place at one time was bound to kill us all or combine us all. I rather favor that last option, myself."

"Are you sure all five of you are sensitives?"

"Yes. Ayeka and Sasami descend from the Jurai dynasty, and are obvious. My background is not really relevant, but I can assure you I am sensitive, as is my daughter. Even Mihoshi is a sensitive, but with a unique twist: she is the luckiest person I have ever met. Good luck or bad luck, she has more of it than any ten people combined."

The Baron harrumphed, still refusing the explanation. "Your social dynamics should be very interesting. After all, Lord Tenchi is marrying a mother and daughter, as well as a pair of sisters. It seems to me like a case study in social pathology."

"Just one of those challenges derived from long life spans."

"But does he have a long life span? You yourself said that he's only one-eighth Juraian. He may be like a brightly burning flame, extinguished after only a few decades (I believe that is the local lifespan). How long did his mother live?"

"She died only a few years after his birth, but there were mitigating circumstances involved." Washu shrugged. "If he only lives a few decades, then those are the dictates of fate. We'll love him and support him for as long as we can, and protect him from those who would 'snuff out his flame' prematurely." She turned to look at Ryoko and Ayeka, who were both growling at the Baron. "And then we'll muddle about in the affairs of our children — after all, some of us already have experience in that area."

"Washu...!"

Washu smiled sweetly at Ryoko. "But my personal opinion is that the genes that bestowed his sensitivity will also bless him with longevity. He'll probably be around long after you are, Baron."

"So, what are your plans now?"

"Our plans? I believe we are getting married, and then we'll do our best to breed like rabbits. Right, ladies?"

"Damn straight!" Ryoko answered. "And I can't wait to get started."

Tenchi studied the ceiling.

"Ryoko, can we please observe a little more decorum here?" Ayeka asked tiredly. "But I must say that you are correct. The royal line of succession must be preserved, and there are certain duties to be performed..." She cuddled up to Tenchi as well.

"The final words are yours, Prince Tenchi. What do you wish to say to your great grandfather, Emperor Azusa?"

"I have learned that Earth is not alone in the galaxy — it is Colony World #0315, whose written history only goes back six thousand years, and anything earlier is just a myth or a legend. And I've known for months that my life will never again be ordinary. Worrying about college and a career for a life on Earth seems rather pointless. I have only seen one small corner of one island of this planet...I guess now I may never to get to see the rest of it. That would be depressing if there weren't so much else to see out among the stars. But Earth is still my home. As long as I will be permitted to return here occasionally, to see my family, to visit the graves of my mother and grandmother, then I will abide by His Majesty's wishes. I will travel to Jurai just as soon as I finish high school, and I will attend the academy of his choosing.

"But I will not change my mind about marriage. I have asked all five of these ladies to be my bride, and they have all accepted. We make a good team. We will make a great family. We belong together."

"Then my task here is complete," the Baron replied, and departed with his robot.

ACT 3 - EVENING

"Here you are!" Ryoko declared, drifting down from the sky. Tenchi was sitting on the stones outside of Ryoko's cave.

"Oh. Hi, Ryoko."

"Tenchi, everyone's out looking for you. You've been gone for hours!" She settled onto the stones beside him. She looked worried, though she sounded relieved. "Is anything wrong?"

"No, nothing is wrong. It's just that, whenever I've faced a big decision, or some big change in my life, I've always come here to think about it."

"I know. I remember some of those times. Would you rather be alone?"

"No. Actually, I'd rather you stayed."

She snuggled up against him. "It's a beautiful night."

"Yes, it is. It's so quiet up here."

"It's too quiet. This place gives me the creeps."

"Oh, I don't know. I've always found this place comforting." He took her hands in his.

"You weren't locked away here for 700 years."

"No, but I found you here, didn't I? I think I've always known you were here, waiting for me."

"It's a prison, Tenchi."

"No, it's a cocoon. It's where you changed from an evil demon into a beautiful angel." And then he kissed her. It was clumsy, and hesitant, as all first kisses are. She would remember it for the rest of her life. "I'm sorry I don't have an engagement ring for you to wear."

"Don't be sorry. You told me today what I wanted to hear more than anything else." She grinned at him. "And I sure would like to hear it again..."

Tenchi smiled. "I love you, Ryoko."

She giggled and put her head on his shoulder.

"And you said something I wanted to hear."

"What was that?"

"You called us your family."

"I guess change is in the air," she said. And then he was kissing her again; still shy, still nervous, but with a bit more confidence.

"Gee, that could get habit-forming," She said afterward.

"Do you want me to stop?"

"No. Never." She reached for him, her passion rising, but her instinct told her to go slowly — she didn't want to scare him away now, just when he was finally opening up. "I've been dreaming of this night for ages," she said finally. "Why did you wait so long?"

"It felt right." He shrugged. "If you hadn't been so aggressive chasing me all this time, it might have happened earlier."

That clinches it she thought, one step at a time. She forced her breathing to slow down, but her heart was singing nonetheless.

"We should probably be going back," he said. "The others will be worrying about us."

"I don't care. I don't want to go back. I don't want to share you with anybody."

"You should be glad you are."

"Tenchi! How can you say that?"

"Because you're a hunter, and a fierce competitor. You're happiest when you're winning. After a few months alone with me, you would soon get bored. And then we would both be unhappy."

Ryoko studied her feet.

Tenchi shrugged. "We have a saying here on Earth: 'Absence makes the heart grow fonder.' Maybe you should think less about our times apart, and make plans for our times together." He kissed her again, brushing strands of hair from her face. "Come on." He stood and helped her to her feet.

"You want to walk? Why don't I just fly us? It's faster."

"I'm in no hurry."

"Neither am I," she decided. She was already walking on air.

============================== Author's Notes ==============================

As is usual, I came late to the party. I watched the 13 "Tenchi Muyo" OAV episodes with my youngest daughter (a teenager) and got hooked, and then discovered it is ten years old and out of fashion in Japan these days (Spring 2001). It appears to be going through a twilight period of sorts here in the States, but having watched a couple of the movies and some of the television episodes, I have to say a good story has been terribly diluted by all the mutations to other mediums. How sad.

So, call me a purist. I'll stick with the OAVs, and mourn what might have been.

This story was conceived as the kind of conclusion I would have liked to see. Knowing the Asian penchant for tragic endings, though, it would probably have never happened this way.

I've done some writing in the past, but I've never tried my hand at playing with other people's characters before. A bit of a challenge, but I don't think I did any serious damage.

The characters of Tenchi Muyo (with the exception of Baron Kitsune) were created by Masaki Kajashima, and brought to North America by Pioneer LDC. This story, while incorporating names and situations held under copyright by others, is copyright 2001 by Jeffery L. Harris.

This story comes entirely from my imagination, and is not, nor intended to be, canon. Please do not send the legions of lawyers after me...it's not worth their time, or mine.

Any questions or comments should be directed to:

Jeffery L Harris

Subject: "We Belong"

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