Ryouko's returned home. Let's see how her return is received by the rest of the household, and even more importantly, Washu and little Ryo-Ohki!

Ryouko took a deep breath as she prepared herself. It had been half a year, so it would be stupid to assume things hadn't changed. How did they get along without her? Did they prefer it without her around to destroy things and make noise? She already knew that Tenchi preferred Ayeka, but what about the others? Did they like the quieter atmosphere to her presence? The thoughts alone made Ryouko want to turn around and not look back. However, she had a promise to uphold and there wasn't much else she could do with herself now.

Taking a deep breath, Ryouko strode into the house. It was nearing breakfast time, if her memory served right. That meant everyone would be waking soon. The space pirate briefly wondered if she should float to her ledge and surprise them, but she doubted any of them actually checked up there anymore. No, perhaps putting on some cartoons would clue them in? But Mihoshi did the same, and who knows if she's still around at this hour.

Ryouko sighed. This would be pretty difficult. Maybe she should just come back when everyone was already awake and about the house. After all, it's not like there'd be that much of a commotion about her coming back. She hadn't been gone that long.

Nodding to herself, Ryouko turned around, ready to head back out until the others awoke. She gasped in surprise to find two pairs of eyes watching from right behind her. Golden hazel stared into emerald for a brief second before a ball of fur launched itself at the silverette. Floppy ears flattened to her head, Ryo-Ohki mewed and cried as she hugged her master after spending months apart.

Ryouko chuckled nervously and reached up to scratch at her ship's ears. "Hey, Ryo-Ohki, I missed you, too. And look, didn't even go into space. Kept my promise and everything." Several loud mews and more head rubs were her only response.

"It's good to see you back again, Ryouko," Washu said. She didn't bother keeping her voice down, as Ryo-Ohki was making enough noise to wake the house. "It's been too quiet without you here. We've missed you very much."

The space pirate smiled lopsidedly at the little genius. "Well, ya know, thought everyone needed a break, including me. Didn't realize how boring it was out there in the world without you all, though. Guess I won't be going on anymore alone trips anytime soon." Washu replied with a small, knowing smile.

By this point, Ryo-Ohki's cries had filtered to the upstairs and the ever-attentive Sasami shot up in bed. Her sleep-addled mind didn't have time to process whether or not the cabbit was in danger or excited, so Sasami simply hurried out of her room and down the stairs. Rounding the corner as she rubbed her eye, Sasami found herself stopped by a strong pair of hands.

"Careful there, kiddo," a familiar voice told her affectionately. "Running with socks on could get you hurt, ya know. And then Ryo-Ohki won't shut up about it until you're better."

Amethyst eyes lifted quickly and a beaming smile lit Sasami's face as she found a pair of haughty golden eyes gazing down at her. "R-Ryouko!" she cheered, throwing her arms around the taller woman. "Ryouko, I've missed you! It's so good to see you back again!"

Washu watched as Ryouko's eyes widened just slightly before her expression relaxed and she returned Sasami's hug. The genius shook her head in amusement. Of course Ryouko would be hesitant to come back if she thought no one would miss her. It was her whole reason for leaving in the first place.

"What's all the fuss?" Nobuyuki yawned, trudging into the room. He paused when he took in a familiar face. "Ryouko, you're back! It's about time! I was wondering when we'd get some excitement again."

"Excitement?" Ryouko inquired.

Nobuyuki shrugged. "Yeah, you know. I was starting to miss the arguments and explosions. It is far too quiet around here without you. And you give Tenchi a good workout fixing the place up, too!" Both of them shared a laugh as the father of the house turned and began getting ready for work.

Ryouko turned to the others as Ryo-Ohki hopped onto Sasami's shoulder. The younger of the two Juraian princesses stared up at the former pirate hopefully. "You're back for good now, right?" Sasami inquired. "It hasn't been the same without you, Ryouko. It's too… quiet."

"Sasami's right," Washu agreed. "I haven't blown anything up in a while and Mihoshi has gotten marginally less clumsy. It's practically silent in this house."

"Well, I guess I'll have to liven things up a bit," Ryouko chuckled, ruffling Sasami's hair. "Can't have ya dyin' of boredom this young, eh, kiddo?"

Ryo-Ohki mewed happily and Sasami turned for the kitchen, a beaming smile lighting her face. Ryouko leaned against the beam her ledge connected to and she watched Washu curiously. The scientist simply stared back calmly, neither of them saying a word. Ryouko wondered why Washu of all people was always the one there when needed. The genius had spoken to her before she left, and had been one of the first to greet her upon arrival. What was Washu playing at?

"It's good to have you back, Ryouko," Washu repeated softly, making her way toward her lab. "I've got some cleaning up to do. I expect to see you at breakfast?"

"Of course!" Ryouko smirked. "I've definitely missed Sasami's cooking." Washu gave a soft chuckle before disappearing into her lab.

Ryouko watched the lab door for a moment longer before settling at the table, leaning back to stare at the ceiling. Had anything actually changed since she'd been gone? The others said it was quieter, but was that really all?

"Good morning, Sasami!" a loud voice called. Ryouko looked up to find Mihoshi and Kiyone walking through the door. Both paused at the sight of her. Ryouko braced herself, but was surprised when Mihoshi launched herself forward.

"Ryouko!" the ditzy officer cheered. "You're back! Now I don't have to be quiet all the time anymore!"

Kiyone sighed and pulled her partner up. "Good to see you, Ryouko," she said, shooting a smile to the former pirate. "We've been waiting for you to return. You gave Ayeka quite the heart attack when you left."

Well, this was news. "I did?" Ryouko inquired.

"Yeah!" Mihoshi laughed. "She thought you were gonna commit all kinds of crime out in space."

"Without Ryo-Ohki, you're harder to catch," Kiyone added. "So, neither the Juraian military nor Galaxy Police would've been able to catch you. Ayeka was a mess."

Ryouko laughed. "Damn, I should've done that. Would've loved to have seen the look on the princess' face. Ah well, missed my chance."

Kiyone's ears twitched at this. "Does that mean you're not going out anymore?" she asked. "Worries about our jobs aside, we really did miss having you around."

"I'm back to stay," Ryouko told her with a small sigh. "Ryo-Ohki would probably tie me to the beam if she thought I was going to leave again."

Kiyone gave her another smile and the trio settled down for idle chitchat. Kiyone filled Ryouko in on what had happened on her and Mihoshi's end since she left. Ryouko watched the fatigue play in Kiyone's eyes as she talked about finally holding a stable job. Must not have been easy working with Mihoshi.

"Good morning, everyone!" Tenchi called, bounding down the stairs. Sasami placed his lunch on the counter and he grabbed it up swiftly, heading for the door. Before he made it, though, he froze and slowly turned back around. Dark brown eyes fell on Ryouko and the silver-haired woman gave a lazy wave.

Tenchi dropped his lunch.

"Ryouko, when did you get back?" he asked softly, a grin spreading over his lips.

"Just this morning," Ryouko responded, standing to greet him. "Ryo-Ohki and Washu were the only ones awake at the time. "

"It's good to see you," Tenchi murmured. "You're looking well."

Ryouko laughed. "And you're looking late."

Tenchi's eyes widened and he scooped up his lunch quickly. "I've gotta get to school, but we can catch up when I get home, right?"

"Sounds like a plan," Ryouko agreed, watching as Tenchi booked it out of the house. Returning to the table, she found Kiyone and Mihoshi staring at her, slack-jawed. "What?"

"Well, uh, I mean, you just, you know…" Kiyone covered Mihoshi's mouth and said, "You just had a regular conversation with Tenchi, without flirting or anything. Are you feeling okay?"

Ryouko scratched the back of her head. "Yeah, I feel fine. I figured it would be awkward if I just jumped right back into that, you know? So, I figured a simple hello would be fine."

"That makes sense!" Mihoshi agreed with a nod. Kiyone looked Ryouko over once more, wondering just how much had changed for Ryouko to have a regular conversation with Tenchi.

At last, the final resident of the house strode into view, yawning daintily. "Good morning, everyone," Ayeka called calmly, smile in place as she descended the stairs. That same smile fell when she caught sight of Ryouko sitting at the table with the others. "Oh, Ryouko. You're back. No new infractions on your record, I assume?"

"None that you'll know about this soon, Princess," Ryouko smirked, chuckling at the widening of Ayeka's eyes.

"Mark me, Ryouko, if you caused more uproar for the kingdom, I'll report you, myself!" Ryouko stood to meet the princess.

"And how would you feel, throwing your own friends to the wolves like that?" she inquired. Now this, she'd definitely missed. "After all, it's Kiyone and Mihoshi who would have to deal with me, and I'd hate to get them demoted as officers." Kiyone's eyes widened in horror and Mihoshi whimpered pitifully.

Ayeka gritted her teeth, but Ryouko wasn't finished. "And aren't you hiding out from your family, too? It would be such a shame if they found out where their precious princess had been hiding and decided to bring her back to the big, fancy palace."

Amethyst eyes were slits, so Ryouko decided to wrap this up. "Plus, you'd be responsible for ripping Ryo-Ohki away from Sasami, and you don't want to have to live with that guilt, now do ya, princess?"

"You're insufferable!" Ayeka finally huffed, settling at the table. "Still, I had better not hear any word of trouble out in the kingdom."

"Relax, Ayeka," Ryouko shrugged, leaning back in her seat. "I made a promise to Ryo-Ohki not to go into space. She would've let ya know if I'd gone and broken it."

"Oh." Ayeka blinked before turning to the kitchen where Sasami and Ryo-Ohki were just finishing up the food. "Well, I suppose you have a point there."

The lab door opened as Sasami brought the breakfast platters out to the table. Washu sat down between Mihoshi and Ryouko, glancing around. "I heard yelling. Figured Ayeka had finally woken up."

"Yes, well, no one informed me that Ryouko had returned," the crown princess muttered. "I was taken by surprise."

Washu gave a single nod. She'd probably expected that answer. "So everyone knows now, I take it?" she asked Ryouko.

"Yup." Ryouko dug into her food immediately. "Kiyone and Mihoshi came in little after you left, then Tenchi came down, and Ayeka was a slowpoke getting down here, as usual."

Ignoring the grumbling of one affronted princess, Washu cocked her head. "You saw Tenchi? I didn't hear any shouting from him."

"We just talked a minute and then he went to school," Ryouko shrugged. "Didn't have time to flirt."

Ayeka, Sasami, Ryo-Ohki, and Washu all stared at her in shock. Ryo-Ohki's carrot slipped from her paws as she gaped at her master. Ryouko shifted under their gazes and she grunted, "What?"

"I just never expected you of all people to be able to hold a regular conversation at all," Ayeka spoke up. "Least of all with Lord Tenchi."

"Are you sick?" Sasami asked worriedly.

"Relax, I'm fine," Ryouko waved them off. "I just thought it'd be weird to jump into that immediately, without a proper hello. It's not that big a deal."

Slowly, the others went back to their food, shooting her odd looks as they did. It was an odd change for them to accept, but they had to admit that half an earth year did tend to change someone. Washu tapped her chin contemplatively, chewing her food idly as she shot furtive glances to the woman beside her. Maybe… this could prove to make things more interesting.

There we go! Clearly, there's something different between Ryouko and Tenchi. More on that in chapters to come!

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