Chapter Two: Heat of the Moment

In which there are freebies. And questionable life choices.

In general, Ryoko really hated being alone. Between having spent seven centuries imprisoned beneath tons of rock, and many more centuries before that serving as the tool of a madman, she had lived the majority of her life in solitude, and it hadn't really bothered her at the time. It was true, she had realized retrospectively, that you really didn't know what you were missing until you were given a taste of it; her earliest memories were of Kagato's cruelty, his harsh words and merciless training, and as she had had no frame of reference back then, she had simply assumed that was what was normal. It hadn't been fun, certainly, but she'd never known anything else, and so had simply assumed that was how life was. Tenchi and his family were the first people who had ever truly treated her kindly, and there were times it still caught her off guard. She had been welcomed into their home like a member of the family (albeit a bit reluctantly at first), and for that, Ryoko felt eternally beholden to the Masakis (even if it had been a Masaki that had imprisoned her beneath aforementioned tons of rock in the first place).

Of course, she would never admit to such a thing. Imagine! The great space pirate Ryoko, indebted to a family of Earthians of Juraian ancestry, of all things. She would never hear the end of it.

So yes, in general, now that Ryoko had surrounded herself with good people, people who cared about her for who she was rather than just what she could do for them, she spent most of her time with them, and considered herself fortunate to be in such company. That being said, sometimes sharing a roof with so many other people got a little too hectic; even those who had had more than their fill of isolation needed a little time to themselves once in a while. Between Aeka and Noike bickering over the princess' questionable cooking methods and Sasami's shrill pleading for them to just get along and get out of the kitchen so she could start dinner, the house had felt a little too noisy in the moment, and upon discovering that their stash of sake had been depleted (to absolutely no one's surprise), she had quickly volunteered to just head into town to buy more.

It was still quite windy as she made her way through the trees, but flying against the wind always made it feel like she was going twice as fast, and she couldn't help the grin on her face as she dodged branches. The sun had nearly set, leaving the sky blood red to the west and inky indigo to the east, and Ryoko laughed out loud, flying as fast as she could and twisting through the sharp curves of the road that led down the hillside toward the more populated areas of Okayama. Tenchi scolded her sometimes, for recklessly flying where others could see her, but at this time of the evening, the chances of there being anyone on this beaten earth road were slim to none, and there was nothing quite like zooming down the mountainside like an Eirusian speeder on the final lap. She could have just teleported into town, and the whole trip would have taken a fraction of the time, but Ryoko didn't get many opportunities to pull out all the stops and just fly at top speed, so sometimes taking the long way, as it were, was worth it.

She dropped back to the ground just on the outskirts of the little shopping area at the edge of town, smoothing the front of her dress and adjusting her hair, which was rather windblown from her trip. The Masakis' shrine was much too far from Okayama's main city to do any shopping there, but there were several smaller clusters of stores between the mountainside and the larger cityscape, and Ryoko had found a particular small liquor store was especially to her liking. The shop owner was quite the alcohol connoisseur himself, and had often slipped her a small bottle of his own personal brew at a deep discount, for being a loyal customer. She rounded a corner and smiled as the fluorescent sign came into view-simple white katakana against a blue background that read 'Seijuu Spirits'-and jogged across the narrow roadway. Pushing the door open to the tinkle of bells above the ingress, she heard a distant call of welcome from the counter and tilted her head. That was a voice she didn't recognize.

"Yo," she greeted casually as she rounded a display of imported rum, spying an unfamiliar face behind the counter. She was tall, unusually tall for a Japanese woman, anyway, with dark eyes and shoulder-length hair bleached burnt orange. Ryoko's eyes flicked to her nametag: Takanashi. "Ah, you must be new," she said jovially, approaching the counter to lean her hip against it, arms folded across her chest. "I'm in here like once a week, and I've never seen you before."

The young woman smiled brightly. "Ah! You must be the infamous Miss Ryoko," she said, and Ryoko's smile faltered a little.

"Infamous?" she echoed nervously. Certainly infamy was more fun than plain old fame, but she wasn't sure that was the reputation she wanted in her favorite booze establishment.

The girl behind the counter laughed, shaking her head, then bowed politely. "Poor choice of words, my apologies," she said. "I'm Takanashi. Takanashi Chiaki, I was just hired here a few days ago." She lifted her head again and gave Ryoko a broad smile. "Mr. Seijuu told me that if a pretty lady with silvery hair came in, to treat her nice, because she's his favorite customer. I'm honored to meet you!"

Ryoko's brain had snagged on the words 'pretty lady', and she ran a hand back through her wild hair self-consciously. Maybe she wasn't the most ladylike person around, but she was still a woman, and she still appreciated a compliment. Seijuu was kind of a perv, but Ryoko of all people welcomed a well-timed lewd joke, and if he thought she was pretty enough to get discounts on good alcohol, she wasn't going to complain.

Realizing she'd gone quiet, Ryoko stopped fussing with her hair and looked back up at Chiaki, her expression sly.

"He said all that, huh?" she asked, then snorted a laugh. "Where is that old bastard, anyhow? Leaving the place to the newbie right off the bat?"

Chiaki shook her head. "Oh, gracious, no," she gasped, shaking her head. "He hasn't even taught me all the closing procedures yet." She pointed toward the front window. "He went across the street to buy cigarettes half an hour ago," she said. "I assume he got distracted by the magazine rack."

Ryoko laughed softly. "Undoubtedly," she said, and then lifted her chin a bit. "Did he at least tell you my usual order?" she asked then, and Chiaki reached for a sticky note that had been laminated in packaging tape, holding it up.

"He posted this here in case you ever encountered anyone new," she said, smiling. "That way there was no risk of messing anything up."

"Good man," Ryoko said, skimming over the scrawly barely-legible handwriting, and then giving Chiaki a nod. "Just the usual, then," she said, reaching into her pocket for some money.

Chiaki ducked into the back room for a moment and then returned with two large oblong jugs of house sake, then reached beneath the counter to produce one more item: a tall, narrow bottle with an elegant neck and delicate stylized calligraphy scrawled across the front.

"Mr. Seijuu said to offer you this as well," she said. "It's a promotional bottle of a new product he's hoping to market sometime in the near future. He was hoping you'd give him your honest opinion on the flavor."

Ryoko blinked, then reached for the bottle and examined the calligraphy closely. Though she'd had all of Tenchi's childhood to learn to speakJapanese fluently, she still had difficulty deciphering some handwritten kanji, and squinted at the shiny, silver lettering along the navy blue glass of the bottle.

"Whassit say?" she asked, frowning up at Chiaki. "Snow embarrassment? I never could read Seijuu's chickenscratch."

Chiaki laughed. "He calls it 'Vindication'," she said, "but you're right, individually that's what the kanji mean."

Ryoko shook her head. "Not sure I'll ever get the writing system in this country," she said, knowing she at least looked the part of a foreigner enough to get away with a little good-natured ribbing. "'Embarrassed snow' means vindication, 'horizontal rice' means Western food..." She shrugged. "I guess you get points for creativity."

"He chose that word because he liked the imagery of the snow," Chiaki said. "He said it should taste like victory on a cold day."

Ryoko made a huh sound, smiling as she set the bottle back down. "In that case, I'll make sure to give him my thoughts. How much do I owe ya?"

"Just the usual amount," Chiaki said, sliding the bottle of Vindication back toward her. "He said this one is on the house. He's hoping you'll have good things to say about it."

"Free is my favorite price," Ryoko said, thumbing through the yen notes in her little money pouch and handing them to Chiaki, who placed her change in the small plastic tray on the countertop. She dropped the coins back into the pouch and then slung the two jugs of sake over her shoulder by the twisted ropes that were looped around their necks. "Got a bag for the freebie?" she asked. "I'm hoofing it home, and I don't want to risk dropping it."

"Oh, certainly," Chiaki said, finding a paper bag and carefully setting the glass bottle inside, stuffing some newspaper on either side of it for cushioning. "There you go, safe as houses."

"I appreciate it," Ryoko said, nodding her head to the young woman and then heading for the door. "Don't let Seijuu push you around, okay?" she called as she shoved the door open with her foot. "And if he puts his hands on you, you tell him Ryoko's gonna come cut his balls off with a fish scaler."

Chiaki looked very worried all of a sudden, like she wasn't sure if she was allowed to say such things to her boss, but Ryoko didn't bother to reassure her. She seemed like a smart kid, she would figure it out.

Stepping out into the autumn evening, Ryoko took a deep breath, then blew it out in a sigh. All right, to teleport home with her fancy new sake, or to take the opportunity to fly as fast as she could one more time without running the risk of being scolded? Decisions, decisions. Figuring she was never certain when she would have the next opportunity to avoid being chastised for her behavior, she opted to fly back. Teleportation was convenient, of course, but it wasn't really as much fun, and Ryoko rarely passed up an opportunity to have a good time. Flying with the sake would be more of a challenge, but she'd never backed down from one of those, either. Besides, she found the sake always tasted funny after she teleported with it. So she tapped the toe of her shoe against the sidewalk and jogged back across the street, headed for the edge of town where she'd landed on her way in.

She had made it about halfway up the hill when the first raindrops hit her in the face.

"Rain?" she said with dismay, and then let out a startled cry when the heavens opened up without warning. Ryoko snarled in annoyance and debated the merits of just teleporting the rest of the way, funny taste be damned, but then remembered that extra bottle of Embarrassed Vindicated Snow from Seijuu, and snarled again. Dammit, she couldn't risk ruining the flavor of the shop owner's special sake he'd given her as a gift. That would be rude even beyond Ryoko's tolerance levels of impertinence.

Ugh, she hated the rain, though... Why couldn't it have waited just another five minutes?

Clutching the bag with the free sake against her chest so the paper didn't soak through and tear and send her special brew plummeting to earth, Ryoko darted forward, squinting as the rain pelted her face and flattened her hair against her head. By the time she made it back to the Masaki farm, she was soaked to the skin and beyond irritated about it, sliding the door open with a little too much force and swiftly setting the two big jugs of sake down in the entryway, wringing her hands and swiping her sopping hair off her brow. She rested the wet bag with the free bottle beside the first two and then sort of shook herself like a dog, feeling clammy and uncomfortable. The door that led into the front room slid open and Sasami poked her head out to see what the noise was about, then beamed brightly.

"Ryoko, welcome back!" she said, and then her expression fell a bit. "Ah, oh no, you're soaked!"

"Yeah, it started pouring when I was about halfway back," she said, reaching up and twisting her hair between her hands like a wet rag.

"Wait right there, I'll get you a towel!" Sasami said, and Ryoko startled.

"Huh? Wait, no, you don't-"

But the little princess was already gone, and Ryoko hefted a sigh. It was easy enough for her to just conjure up some dry clothes, but she guessed a towel for her hair wasn't a bad idea. She wrung it between her hands again and then looked up when Sasami returned.

"Here you go," Sasami said, handing her a fluffy yellow towel, and Ryoko draped it over her head, scrubbing at it vigorously with both hands.

"Thanks, kiddo," she said, and when she pulled the towel away her hair stuck out in all directions. Sasami giggled, and Ryoko just stuck her tongue out in response. With a wave of her hand, she replaced her wet outfit with her favorite comfy blue and gold striped dress, then tossed the towel across her shoulders and attempted to realign her hair.

"That's like the most convenient superpower ever," Sasami said, shaking her head and looking impressed. "Think of all the cool costume changes you could do if you were a pop idol."

Ryoko snorted. "I'll keep that in mind next karaoke night," she said, finally satisfied with her coif, and then dropped the towel onto Sasami's head. "Did you finally manage to kick Noike and your sister out of the kitchen?"

"Mmhm," she said, shifting the towel so it looked like a hood. "Dinner's almost ready, I'm making oyakodon."

"Oh, the thing with the egg?" Ryoko asked, stepping up out of the entryway and grabbing the sake bottles. "I like that stuff."

She still struggled with determining whether or not something was delicious, a lot of the time, but she was starting to get the hang of it. 700 years of not eating anything at all while in stasis in a cave had a way of killing any sense of taste one might have had at any time, so it had been a slow process of learning what did and did not go well together. After trying her own hand at cooking once or twice, she had learned definitively that when it came to soy sauce and wasabi and curry paste, less was usually more. At least that was what Tenchi and Aeka had said. She had thought it tasted just fine. (Though she had wondered why she had been so thirsty for the rest of the night.)

"I added carrots, for Li'l Ryo, and some peppers, to give it a little bit of a kick," Sasami said, reaching down to pick up the soggy bag with the special sake in it. "Did you get something different this time?"

"Oh, the shop owner had a special something he's thinking of selling in the future. He wanted me to try it and give him an opinion," she said, slinging the two big jugs over her shoulder and reaching for the bag. "Here, gimme that, Aeka'll have a conniption if she sees you with it." Even though Sasami was, technically, over 700 years old.

Sasami hung the towel over the railing by the stairs, then followed Ryoko into the other room, sliding the door closed behind them.

"Hey, there you are," Tenchi greeted, turning his attention away from the holo-television screen Washuu had installed by the eating table. "The weather all of a sudden took a turn, we were just starting to wonder-" His expression suddenly crinkled with worry. "Oh, your hair's all wet," he said; "did you get caught in the rain?"

Ryoko waved a hand dismissively, but she couldn't help the little smile that came to her face. "It's not a big deal," she said. "A little rain never killed anybody."

That worried look on Tenchi's face made her heart feel warm, though. There were certainly times that the assimilation with Zero left her flustered and exasperated-really, things had been so much easier when she had just been able to tamp her feelings down and bury them easily beneath a veneer of over the top insincere flirtatiousness, like any reasonable adult should! There were other times, though, that she truly relished those little moments that made her heart flutter like that. It was nice to know that her absence didn't go unnoticed, here. She still recalled with chagrin the way Kagato would scold her when she would return to his side after a week or two of gallivanting about the universe, the way he would look at her, first with surprise, then with disdain, as though he'd forgotten she even existed until she dared return to him later than he wanted. Tenchi had only known her for a short time when Kagato had returned and stolen her away, two years ago, and she hadn't dared to hope he would follow to try and save her. It was better that he didn't, she had told herself. Kagato would surely kill him, after all; her life wasn't worth his, there was no contest. When Tenchi and the others had come for her after all, it had stirred something within her she had never known she could feel. Surely there had been terror-grief, even, when she had believed Tenchi had been killed-but beneath all that, beneath the heavy mantle of fear for his life and anger at his recklessness, Ryoko had experienced something she had never known: recognition of worth. It hadn't just been Tenchi letting her crash in his house because he was a nice guy. It hadn't just been Tenchi not fussing over the fact that she'd built a flying onsen in his yard because he was easygoing. Tenchi had come to rescue her, because she mattered to him, in a way she'd never mattered to anyone, and in the moment she hadn't known what to do with that.

There were times she still didn't.

She took the two big jugs of sake into the kitchen and placed them inside one of the floor cabinets, then took the tall, elegant bottle of Vindication out of the tattered, rain-wet bag and set it on the counter for a moment to grab her favorite sake cup. She looked over her shoulder when Sasami followed her into the kitchen and hopped up onto the stepstool in front of the stove to check on dinner.

"Smells good," Ryoko said, upturning the cup on top of the sake bottle and leaning against the counter.

"I hope it tastes as good as it smells," Sasami said with a smile, turning off the heat and moving to scoot the stool over so she could get bowls down from the cabinets. "I modified the recipe a little," she said, grunting a bit as she reached for the bowls, which were still a hair too high for her on the second shelf. Ryoko decided she was feeling philanthropic that evening, and floated over to grab them instead, before Sasami tried to clamber up onto the counter.

"I got it, shortstack," she said, counting as she rested the bowls on her arm. Tenchi, herself, Sasami, Aeka... wait. "Hey, where's gramps and Noike?" she asked, turning to look at Sasami as the younger girl kicked the stepstool over to the other counter and carefully shuffled some sliced vegetables into smaller bowls. "I didn't see them at the table."

"Noike took the truck into town," Sasami said. "She said it's been making that weird grindy noise again, and she wanted to take it down to the shop before the rain got too bad. She said she would just take a taxi home."

"Ah. And will gramps be joining us?"

Sasami shook her head. "He said he would come back later, but he was worried about the shrine, with the sudden rain," she said. "The roof still needs repairs in a few places, so he went to make sure any leaks were taken care of; the tatami in the shrine is really old, and he doesn't want to have to replace it 'cuz it got all wet."

Ryoko grinned. "More food for us, then," she said with a snicker, and Sasami sighed.

"I promised I would save some for them," she said in a mostly harmless warning tone. "You're not allowed to eat what I set aside for them, okay?"

"Yeah, yeah," Ryoko said, setting the four wide, shallow bowls down and then grabbing one more, figuring Washuu's absence was due to some questionable science she suddenly decided had to be done in the lab right that second. "Just the four... five of us, then?" she asked, and Sasami made a wordless sound of affirmation.

"Mihoshi sent a letter earlier today saying she wouldn't be back until mid next week," she said, "and Washuu is still here, she's just in her lab."

"As usual," Ryoko said, shaking her head.

"I'll take her some food once we've eaten," Sasami said, smiling. "I think that if we didn't go check on her sometimes, she'd probably just starve in there."

Ryoko snorted. "Nah, she'd just invent some gross food in pill form or something so she could keep working," she said. "Starving to death would impede further science, and we all know where her priorities lie."

Sasami frowned a bit, holding the small bowls of vegetables on her arms and pausing by the door. "I think I'll just take her a bowl after we finish," she said, as if worried somehow Ryoko would find that unacceptable. "I think she'll like oyakodon much better than pill food."

Ryoko didn't bother to explain that she had been mostly joking, and just set the bowls down near the pan of food on the stove as Sasami delivered the veggies to the eating table. Then she turned and grabbed her bottle of sake to head back out to the table, sitting down to Tenchi's left and rolling her little cup between her hands.

"Miss Ryoko, I hope you haven't been spending Lord Tenchi's money on anything unnecessary," Aeka piped up with a frown as Ryoko pried the cork out of the top of the bottle and gave an experimental sniff.

"Nothing of the sort," she assured her, arching one eyebrow. "This didn't cost me a single yen."

"Ryoko, tell me you didn't steal it..." Tenchi said nervously, and Ryoko bristled.

"I most certainly did not," she said, looking at him with hurt indignation. "Tenchi, you know me better than that; I would never endanger a good business relationship that way!"

"Wasn't it you who was bragging about being a pirate just earlier today?" Aeka asked dryly.

Ryoko poured a bit of the sake into her cup, then lifted it to her face and held it beneath her nose for a moment. "You clearly know nothing about piracy," she said, rolling her eyes. "A good pirate appreciates a good business partner. Steal from a reliable supplier once, and you run the risk of losing their business permanently!" She clicked her tongue. "Really, you'd make an awful pirate. Stick to princessing; you're really unmatched at thinking you're better than everybody else."

Tenchi shook his head. "So it was just free?" he asked, and Ryoko beamed.

"The vendor thinks I'm such a valuable customer, he gave me this on the house!" she said brightly. "He said he wants my honest opinion on the taste."

"I guess sake is the one thing you're capable of being honest about," Aeka remarked, and Ryoko ignored her, taking a small sip of the sake.

She was a bit surprised at how cold it felt going down. The bottle hadn't been refrigerated, and it had been pretty temperate outside until the rain had started, but the sake itself felt like it had been chilled for hours. Seijuu had certainly gotten the 'snow' part of the name right. It was very smooth, with an almost sweet sort of aftertaste, and Ryoko made a soft noise of consideration.

"Well, is it any good?" Tenchi asked, looking genuinely curious. He reached for the bottle to look at the writing, and Ryoko grinned at him.

"Wanna try some?" she asked, holding her cup out, though she knew he would turn her down. He always did, reminding her gently that he was still underage (though Katsuhito and Nobuyuki never seemed too worried about that detail). Tenchi was a remarkably upstanding young man, and his unfailing ability to resist temptation was terribly endearing, as far as Ryoko was concerned. She leaned against his shoulder and held the cup out. "Come on, Tenchi, live a little," she said softly, and Tenchi leaned back a bit, crinkling his nose at the smell of the sake.

"Ryoko, come on, we've been through this," he said, giving her a weary sort of smile, and she clicked her tongue and moved back into her own space.

"Can't blame a girl for tryin'," she said, and took another sip of the sake. "It's pretty good," she said, swirling the liquid around the inside of the cup. "Not sure I'd pay a premium for it, but it's not bad."

"How can you even tell?" Aeka asked, surprisingly sounding more curious than derogatory. "You ate that curry two weeks ago that was essentially just vegetables in a jar of curry paste, and you were completely unfazed."

Ryoko looked offended anyway. "Well pardon me for being made of sterner stuff than you," she grumbled. Maybe she didn't have the most refined palate when it came to edible delicacies, but Ryoko knew her sake.

"Thank you for waiting!" Sasami called, exiting the kitchen with a tray, four bowls of oyakodon steaming thereupon. Setting the tray down in the middle of the table, she gestured for everyone to take a bowl as she dashed back to the kitchen to grab the teapot and cups for everyone.

"Sometimes I feel like we should help Sasami out more," Tenchi said quietly, setting his bowl in front of him and giving Aeka a slightly contrite look, "but every time I try, she just tells me she's got it and to go sit down."

"She's very independent," Aeka said, gently resting her chopsticks in front of her bowl, "and she likes to feel useful. She hasn't been able to aid us much, when situations have gotten dangerous, and I know she feels guilty for that."

Ryoko reached across the table to nab a wad of thinly sliced vegetables from one of the smaller bowls in the center of the table with the wide ends of her chopsticks. "That ain't her fault, though," she said, setting the vegetables on top of her oyakodon and reaching toward a different bowl. "We can't ask a little kid to fight monsters and stuff." Even if Sasami was technically sort of a goddess. She dropped the other slices of vegetable into her bowl and then picked one of them up with the narrow end of her chopsticks. "She shouldn't feel guilty," she said, bringing the chopsticks to her mouth.

Tenchi jumped. "Ah-Ryoko, wait, that's-"

"Hm?" She popped the food into her mouth and Tenchi just stared for a moment before reaching out and picking up the bowl she'd served herself from.

"These are... chili peppers," he said, and Ryoko looked at the thin red slices for a moment before chewing thoughtfully and quirking an eyebrow at Tenchi. "They're supposed to be mixed into the food to make it a little spicy, you don't just eat them plain."

"Why not?" Ryoko asked, shaking her head.

"Because they're really hot?" Tenchi ventured, looking caught somewhere between bafflement and alarm.

"They're good, actually," Ryoko said, looking puzzled. "Got a bit of a kick to 'em." Tenchi's jaw slid open, and Aeka harrumphed, picking up her own chopsticks.

"Well they can't be that hot," she insisted, reaching across the table to nab a few of the bright red pepper slices herself.

"Ah-! Miss Aeka, I wouldn't-!"

"Princess, that's probably a bad idea-"

Aeka grabbed a wad of the thinly sliced peppers and defiantly shoved them into her mouth, but before she really had a chance to start chewing, her eyes had snapped open wide and filled with tears. Ryoko watched in bemusement as she looked extremely torn for half an instant, like she was debating being downright unladylike for just a moment and spitting the peppers out, but in the end decided the lack of refinement wouldn't be worth it, and she swallowed instead. With a sharp cry, Aeka reached out as if to grab for a beverage, and upon realizing the tea had not been brought to the table yet, let out another cry that was twice as shrill, tears now streaming down her cheeks.

Ryoko calmly refilled her sake cup and held it out toward her, and without even thinking about it, Aeka snatched the cup from Ryoko's hand and threw the entire contents back, gasping as the cold burn of the sake clashed against the searing heat of the peppers. She dropped the cup onto the table and her head quickly followed suit, hitting the wood with a loud thunk.

Sasami emerged from the kitchen again, a tray of tea in her hands and Ryo Ohki perched on her shoulder, and as she made her way to the table she cast an odd look toward her sister, then looked at Tenchi questioningly.

"She decided to try the peppers," Ryoko said, deliberately grabbing another few slices and eating them herself. "She was warned."

"Aeka, are you okay?" Sasami asked, looking quite concerned. "Those are takanotsume peppers, they're really hot, you're only supposed to add a few to the whole bowl!"

Aeka lifted her head woozily, her eyes red and her cheeks wet, and she gave Sasami a broad smile.

"I'm fine," she assured her, "I'm perfectly fine." She sat up straighter and took a moment to adjust her hair before swiping her hands beneath her eyes. "They weren't that hot."

"Want another?" Ryoko asked, holding her chopsticks out, laden with another wad of thinly sliced peppers, and Aeka just leaned away.

"No, thank you."

"More for me," Ryoko said with a shrug, popping the peppers into her mouth.

"Ryoko, you can really just eat them like that? And it doesn't hurt?" Sasami asked, looking amazed, and Ryoko reached over to retrieve her sake cup from Aeka, refilling it.

"Yeah, I'm fine," she said, shaking her head. "You know it's a chemical, that makes peppers spicy, right?" she asked, and Sasami nodded.

"Yeah, cap... capsee..."

"Capsaicin," Ryoko said, wagging her chopsticks in the air. "It's not really dangerous, but it's still a low-key toxic substance. Eat a whole plate'a hot peppers and you're really gonna regret it in an hour. Get the oil in your eye and you're gonna have a rough time of things, you know?"

"Ohh, I see," Tenchi said, waiting for Sasami to sit down and retrieve her bowl of food from the tray before he picked up his chopsticks and rested them on the side of his bowl. "So because it's a toxic substance, even if it's not really all that harmful, you can just negate the effects, right?"

"Bingo," she said, setting her chopsticks down, and then she glanced at Aeka. "If you'd waited a damn minute I could have told you that was why it didn't bother me."

Really, Aeka's insistence that anything Ryoko could do, she could do better, it sometimes reached the point of absurdity. Aeka had her strengths, even Ryoko could acknowledge that-when things got tough, the princess was no pushover-but she was still mostly, well, human. Ish. Juraian. Whatever, close enough. Her body still functioned like that of a normal mortal being, and that meant Ryoko was always going to have the advantage in just about any forseeable circumstance. The competition between them was mostly in good fun, anymore, but Aeka seemed to genuinely forget sometimes that Ryoko was not only not really human, but was essentially a demigoddess, for most intents and purposes.

"All right, now that that's been settled," Tenchi said, shaking his head hopelessly, and clapped his hands together, "can we please just eat dinner?"

"Let's eat!" the rest of them said in unison (though Aeka's voice sounded a bit hoarse and wobbly).

Loading another wad of sliced peppers into her oyakodon, Ryoko shoveled a bite of food into her mouth and grinned at Sasami.

"Definitely as good as it smells," she said, and Sasami just laughed, chiding her for talking with her mouth full.

She cast her eyes toward the tall windows and sliding door overlooking the deck by the pond then, squinting a little. It was still raining, and hard; she could hear it, and though it was too dark to really see outside from this distance, she could see the lines of water sliding down the windows, catching the light from inside and dragging the illumination down the glass in rivulets. It was unusual for it to rain at this time of year, especially this hard. The rainy season had ended a couple of weeks ago; September was usually a pretty dry month, by comparison. She wondered absently how long this would keep up, hoping it would taper off before it got too late. Ryoko always had a hard time sleeping when it was raining out.

It was still early, though; the sun had only set less than an hour ago. Ryoko turned her attention back to her meal, figuring she had plenty of time to worry about the rain later.

many much thanks to my buddy Ron for nattering about these nerds with me! and thank you so much for your reviews so far, i love you guys! also please check me out on Archive Of Our Own at kawree, to see this fic with illustrations!