"I am going to die," Ryuu declared.

He flung himself dramatically onto a heap of pillows and buried his face in them with a groan.

"You're not going to die," said Io, not looking up from the heap of gemstones he'd been counting and sorting. "I'm not certain that it's possible for a god to die."

"I'm going to be the first," Ryuu declared. "I'm going to die. It's going to be a tragedy. The whole world will mourn my passing."

Io got up from his desk and went to sit by Ryuu on the mountain of pillows. Ryuu had long ago stopped asking questions like "Why do you have a pile of pillows in your office?" The answer was the same reason Io felt the need to continually sort and count and calculate the worth of his treasures - treasures that he was never going to spend and at any rate had nothing he needed to spend them on. That was because Io, better known to his followers as Sulfur, was the god of wealth and prosperity, and that meant he had an innate need to hoard things. His treasure vaults were crammed with things from pearls to pillows, from ingots to inkwells, from diamonds to dresses, anything as long as they were somehow valuable. Some of the other gods looked down on him for that, considering him to be greedy, selfish, and materialistic. Ryuu, as god of romantic love and sensuality, felt that his consort's "too much is never enough" attitude had its perks. When you were essentially the embodiment of carnal desire, absolutely the last thing you wanted in a long-term partner was a well-developed sense of restraint.

None of that was making Ryuu feel any better at the moment.

"What's wrong?" asked Io, putting an arm around Ryuu's shoulders. "Is Aurite giving you a hard time again?"

"No, but he will be, when this mess finally gets to him," said Ryuu. "I am in so much trouble."

"What did you do?" Io asked.

Ryuu was offended enough to sit up and glare. "Why are you talking like it's my fault?"

"My apologies," said Io. He sounded amused. "So whose fault is it and what did they do?"

"Get me a mirror and I'll show you."

Io obligingly produced a hand mirror out of thin air. It was a gaudy thing, made of gold and liberally embellished with curlicues and jewels. He could conjure almost anything, provided it was sufficiently expensive. Taste didn't come into the equation anywhere. Still, it was good enough for Ryuu's purposes. He waved a hand over it, and Io leaned in for a better look. The glass rippled as Ryuu conjured up an image on its surface. Io's eyebrows rose.

"Well," he said, sounding impressed.

"Exactly," said Ryuu.

The glass was showing the form of a young human man. He was obviously human - any real god could see that - but a mortal meeting him for the first time could be excused for mistaking him for a deity. There was nothing about him that was not flawless. His long flowing hair looked as soft as silk, his roses-and-cream complexion was as smooth as flower petals, his eyes as bright as an evening sky full of stars and framed with long, thick lashes. Even as annoyed as Ryuu was, he couldn't find any fault in the man's appearance. That only increased his annoyance.

"I'm afraid I don't see the problem," Io admitted, looking up from the mirror. "He certainly is striking, but what's so bad about that?"

"Usually? Nothing," said Ryuu. "I'm the last guy to complain about more pretty people hanging around. The problem is that everyone and their grandmother is smitten with the guy, and they're all begging me to get him to notice them."

"So?" Io replied. "That's your job, isn't it?"

"I know!" Ryuu wailed. "And I've tried and tried! Nothing sticks. The guy is the most vain, arrogant, self-absorbed, egotistical... argh!" He beat his fist on a pillow. "I don't think he's ever loved anything but his own reflection in his life."

Io shrugged. "I suppose you can't win them all. Leave him be. It will be his own fault if he has to spend his life alone."

"It would be fine, if he'd just tell all his suitors to get lost," said Ryuu. "But he won't. He keeps playing them off each other, stringing them along and convincing them he's almost ready to commit to them, only that person over there made him such a good offer, and can they do anything better? And every day, more people are hearing rumors about the most beautiful man in the world and coming to have a look at him, and he gets another swarm of admirers. He's going to start a war at this rate."

"I see," said Io thoughtfully. "Well, you know what you have to do."

Ryuu looked at him quizzically. "What?"

"You need to talk to Aurite."

Ryuu made a face. "Do I have to?"

"Yes. This is getting out of your realm of influence. This is the sort of thing Aurite is meant to deal with. He'll take it out of your hands," said Io reasonably.

"You might be right," said Ryuu. He sighed. He hated to give Aurite the satisfaction of seeing him ask for help, but it would be nice to turn the whole stupid situation over to someone else to deal with.

"Trust me, it's for the best," said Io.

Ryuu flashed him a grin. "Will you make me feel better afterwards?"

"Don't get your hopes up," said Io, but he was smiling.

"You're no fun," Ryuu mock-grumped. "All right, I'll go face the old dragon. I just want it noted that I did this out of the goodness of my heart."

"Your civic-mindedness is duly noted," said Io dryly. "If you're leaving, I'm going back to work."

"I'd stay if you gave me a good enough reason," said Ryuu, but it was only a perfunctory remark. He was already getting up to leave. With the headache this mess was giving him, even he wasn't likely to be in the mood any time soon. The specter of dealing with Aurite wasn't going to help matters.

Better to get it sorted now, he told himself. At least he could rest assured that once Aurite got involved, it would all be sorted out soon. With that thought firmly in mind, he set out for the Heavenly City.

Officially, there was no leader among the gods. The greatest of their number, Fate and Chance, rarely intervened directly in the affairs of the lesser deities. The rest of the gods were theoretically equals, each presiding over their own spheres of influence and cooperating with each other when the need arose. That was how it worked in theory. In reality, Aurite called the shots. Ryuu stood outside the door of his living quarters and tried to pull himself together.

This isn't your fault. He can't yell at you for it. He's supposed to be fair, right?

Keeping that thought as firmly in mind as he could, Ryuu knocked on the door.

"Enter," said a clipped voice.

Ryuu took a breath, held his head high, and opened the door.

The contrast between the place he entered and the place he'd just left was striking. Io's home, the Land of the Blessed Dead, was characterized by opulence. Buildings of pure gold, streets cobbled with gemstones, lavish feasts and parties that went on for weeks. The Heavenly City tended to be much the same way, but Aurite's private chambers were elegant in their simplicity. It was a place of subdued colors, clean lines, and empty spaces. It always felt cold and cheerless to Ryuu. He couldn't imagine wanting to spend any more time there than was absolutely necessary, much less living in such quarters. It looked, he thought, more like a place for the dead than most of the realms of the dead did.

Still, they were a good match for the man who used them. Aurite himself was a lean, spare man with sharp features and sleek pale hair. He was dressed, as always, in black clothing with only a few touches of gold trim to show how important he truly was. Just now, he was sitting at a desk, going over whatever was on his to-do list for the day. He didn't even look up when Ryuu approached.

"Got a minute?" Ryuu asked.

Aurite raised his eyes. "Vesta. How unexpected. To what do I owe the pleasure?"

There was a faint mocking undertone to his words that made Ryuu want to grit his teeth. He reined in his temper with an effort of will.

"I've got a problem I think you're the best man to deal with," said Ryuu.

Aurite's eyebrows rose a fraction. "Really. What sort of problem might you have that I should want to deal with?"

"You say that like I never do anything important," Ryuu snapped. "Listen. There's this guy..."

As succinctly as he could, he laid out his problem. He was gratified to see Aurite's smoothly superior expression cloud over.

"I see," said Aurite at last. "My apologies. You were right to bring this to my attention."

Ryuu was impressed. It wasn't every day Aurite apologized for anything.

"The fact of the matter is, this situation is already worse than you've realized," Aurite continued. "There have begun to be signs of interest even among the other gods."

Ryuu groaned. "Great, that's just what we need." Bad enough for humans to fight over a human, but when gods got into a dispute over something, it tended to have serious results - the kind that could lead to earthquakes, massive storms, droughts, and general chaos.

"I hadn't made the connection until you spoke to me just now," said Aurite, "but I have no doubt in my mind that this human who is causing you so much trouble is the same one that our colleagues have begun to quarrel over. I had assumed this was something that would pass without interference, but now I believe there are grounds for intervention."

"So what are you going to do?" Ryuu asked.

"I will need to consider that," said Aurite. "Every aspect of this situation will need to be weighed carefully." He tapped a finger thoughtfully to his lips. "I believe I am going to make a few visits. In the meantime, I would appreciate it if you would keep an eye on the matter and deflect as much interest as you can from this person. I will let you know when I have come to a conclusion."

"I'll see what I can do, but no promises," said Ryuu.

"No, I suppose not," said Aurite.

That seemed to be a dismissal. Ryuu gave him a nod and excused himself.

That didn't go as badly as I thought it would, he mused. Aurite could be a real pain when he wanted to be, but he did have his uses. It was nice knowing that he would be handling things.

Over the next few days, Ryuu clung to that thought with both hands: that Aurite was taking care of things. In the meantime, requests continued to pour in for the great god Vesta to intercede on the petitioner's behalf and make this impossibly beautiful man finally fall in love. The ranks of impassioned admirers were growing exponentially, despite Ryuu's best efforts to fend them off. It wasn't long before Io started complaining that his own people were beginning to take an interest. After all, everyone died eventually, and sooner or later the object of their desires would be finding a place to spend eternity - and who wouldn't want to spend eternity with him? The dead were generally good about being patient, but Io was starting to hear grumbles about how unfair it was that the gods would surely snap this man up without giving any of them a chance at him.

"This is getting ridiculous," Io complained. Diplomacy was not his favorite part of the job, and he'd spent the better part of the day pouring oil on troubled waters instead of pursuing his own interests. It was enough to make even him loose his cool.

"I'll say," Ryuu agreed. He and Io were in Ryuu's own quarters in the Palace of the Gods, Ryuu sprawled on a sofa while Io paced the floor in agitation. "Things are getting bad up here, too. I keep having people stop me in the streets and asking me to help them figure out how to impress the guy. As if I would. If I tried it at this point, everyone else would come down on me like an avalanche. No thank you, I am staying out of this."

"Where is Aurite?" Io asked. "He's been missing for days. He needs to hurry or even he won't be able to fix this situation before it's gone too far."

"I am glad to hear you have such faith in me," said a dry voice.

The air shimmered, and Aurite stepped out of a swirl of golden light. He looked tired but pleased with himself. Ryuu sat up.

"Where have you been?" he asked.

"Searching," he said. "Chance and Fate aren't easy to find when they aren't actively trying to be found, but I tracked them down in the end. Or perhaps it would be more truthful to say they found me. Chance has a way of pouncing when one least expects him."

Ryuu blinked. "You took this... to them?" Fate and Chance were to the rest of the gods what the gods themselves were to mortals. It took some courage, Ryuu thought, to go hunting for them asking for favors.

"It was expedient," Aurite answered. "After considering the available options, I decided that the best plan of action required their consent. I've explained my plan to them, and they've agreed that it is sound. Now all we need is to put the plan in motion." He beckoned to Io. "Come. I will want you there for this."

Ryuu's curiosity warred with his reluctance to let himself be involved in this mess any further than he already was. He sat up slowly, making a show of stretching. Io glanced at him, looking amused.

"Mind if I tag along?" Ryuu asked.

Aurite shrugged. "As you like. Now that I think of it, you might be useful."

That settled it. If Io was going, Ryuu was going too. He got to his feet and went to stand with the others.

"All right," he said. "Let's see your brilliant plan."

"Oh, I think you'll like this," said Aurite, sounding altogether too pleased with himself. "Now, let's go deal with this problem."

Then there was a flash, and the three of them were gone.

There was quite a crowd of people gathered around the front porch of the manor. People were clustered ten deep in places, and most of them were carrying some sort of token - folded letters, bouquets of flowers, boxes of sweets, even a few small boxes that surely contained jewels. Akoya surveyed them all through becomingly lowered lashes, letting his long hair fall across his face in an expression of modesty that was as convincing as it was false.

"How sweet of you all!" he crooned. "I truly don't deserve such generosity." Even as he said it, he was already expertly gathering up the crowd's gifts, seemingly taking them at random while all the time making sure that all of the best things found their way into his hands, taking just enough of the less worthy offerings to make it seem like he wasn't playing favorites.

The people in the crowd, each intent on muscling their competitors out of the way, scarcely seemed to pay attention to what he was doing. Most of them were calling out, clamoring for a moment of his attention.

"I'll do anything for you, Akoya!"

"Marry me and I'll give you whatever you want!"

Akoya, his arms now filled with as many gifts as he could carry, made his eyes go wide and innocent.

"You're all so very kind," he said. "Your generosity overwhelms me! I simply don't know how to choose between so many wonderful people..."

With these and other such excuses, he gently extricated himself from the crowd and managed to slip through the front door of his home. Behind him, the crowd groaned in disappointment. A few called out, begging him to stay just a little longer, but he ignored him. Enough was enough.

Once inside, safely protected by a closed door and closed curtains, he could let his false smile and simpering manner drop. Idiots. They were all such idiots, thinking that any one of them could possibly deserve to marry him. They didn't deserve to so much as kiss his hand, much less claim it in marriage.

Still, they had their uses, he had to admit. He may not have liked them, but he loved what they could give him - the presents, the adulation, the continual reaffirmation that he was, in fact, the most beautiful and desirable person in the world. As long as he could keep stringing them along, making them believe that if they just tried a little bit harder they could have him, he could have everything he wanted.

A crystal bowl already rested on a low cabinet in the hallway, awaiting the floral tokens he'd known he would be receiving. Now he put down his burdens on the empty space beside it and began arranging the flowers. Simply dumping them there was out of the question. He did not permit his surroundings to be anything short of elegant. Others, less secure, might have chosen to make their homes stark and plain, the better for their own appearance to take center stage. Not Akoya. He didn't care to look at anything ugly or unpleasant, and saw no reason why he should suffer when he didn't have to. His home was a fitting backdrop for him, every color harmonizing, every ornament and stick of furniture of the very best quality and elegantly arranged. Why not? There was no doubt in his mind that not even the loveliest artwork could compare to his own living beauty.

Even so, he paused as he passed one of his home's many mirrors and checked his reflection. He ran his fingers through his hair, settling a few wayward strands, and tugged his collar a bit straighter. Yes, he was in good form today, bright eyed and glowing with the pleasure of being admired by his suitors.

It can't last, an insidious little voice in his mind whispered.

He pushed the thought roughly away. Right now, everything was perfect. His parents had been well-off, and had left him everything he needed to live comfortably and without effort for years to come. He was healthy, beautiful, sought after, in the prime of his life. But time was the great thief, and it stole everything eventually. Some day all too soon, he would wake up to find that his lush hair was beginning to thin and go gray, that his smooth skin was beginning to wrinkle and sag, his bright eyes would dull, and his supple young body would begin to grow stiff and stooped with age. And then... what? The thought was too horrible to contemplate.

He shook off the momentary chill and turned resolutely towards the stairs to his room. He had things to put away, and then perhaps he would have a cup of tea sent in. Did he dare risk a few cookies to go with it? No, not in the mood he was in. Too many sweets were harmful to your complexion, ruined your teeth, and spoiled your figure. What a pity that something so delightful was so bad for you.

"Bring tea and fruit to my room," he told a servant, "and then depart. I wish to be left in solitude for a while."

He turned, not waiting for a reply, and started upstairs to his room to put his new treasures away. The action soothed him. Some of the jewelry truly was spectacular, and he amused himself trying it on in front of a mirror. Surely, he told himself, he must be someone truly special to inspire people to inspire such devotion. Did even the gods themselves receive such fine offerings as these?

"Sometimes, yes," said a matter-of-fact voice.

Akoya whirled in place, already casting about for something with which to defend himself. His hand was on a heavy bronze candlestick before the full import of the statement sank in. Someone had just answered a question, and he hadn't asked it aloud. Someone had gotten into his room, yet he hadn't heard the door open or any footsteps in the hall.

There were three people in his room. One had hair almost the same color as his own, caught back carelessly with a cloth band, and he wore robes of the same rosy shade. On the other side stood a man dressed in gold - real gold, as if the filaments of gold wire as fine as silk thread had somehow been woven into a light, flexible cloth, and a string of gems hung around his waist as a belt. In the center stood a third man, clearly the authority. His hair was the color of mirrors, and his eyes were a piercing green that was somehow hard to look at, in the way the sun was hard to look at.

They were gods, of course. They had to be. He knew he should do something - kneel or bow his head or make some other sign of respect, but all he did was stand and stare, clutching his candlestick and braced to bolt. They looked back, the two in back dispassionately, the one in front with faintly amused interest.

"You are Akoya Gero, yes?" he asked. "I am Aurite. You have heard of me, I trust."

Akoya nodded, not quite trusting himself to speak. Why were the gods suddenly taking an interest in him? Was this a good thing, or a very, very bad one?

"You've caused a great deal of trouble in the world," Aurite was telling him. "This cannot be allowed to go on."

"It isn't my fault," Akoya protested. "Is it my fault I was born beautiful? I thought that was the work of the gods. You can't blame me for being what I was made to be."

"No, it is not your fault," said Aurite, "but it is your responsibility nonetheless. Your very existence disrupts the order of the world, and that cannot be permitted to continue."

Akoya began to feel the first stirrings of fear. Only years of practice in hiding his emotions kept his expression unmoved.

"Are you going to kill me, then?" he asked. He was proud of how even he kept his tone.

"No," said Aurite. "For one thing, it would be a waste. For another, you have your admirers even in the underworld. We can't have you disrupting the afterlife on top of everything else." He regarded Akoya thoughtfully. "I suppose we could alter your appearance..."

"No!" Akoya felt a surge of panic, and he backed away, dropping his weapon and stumbling over a chair in his haste to escape. He had already been dreading the inevitable ravages of time, but they were still so far away. To lose everything he cherished in one awful blow would be more than he could bear. "Anything but that! I'd truly rather die."

"No one said you had a choice in the matter." Aurite's stare was utterly unreadable. Despair gripped Akoya. He knew what they all said about Aurite - that he was utterly incorruptible, that he could not be bribed or bargained with. His decisions were absolute law. If he said that Akoya had to be stripped of his beauty for the good of the world, that was what would happen, as inevitably as night came after day.

"Although, as I've said, I hesitate to destroy something beautiful without good reason. Therefore, I am willing to give you the choice you so obviously want." He stepped closer, giving Akoya the full weight of his regard. "If I offered to allow you to retain your beauty - and what's more, to remain young and beautiful forever - what would you be willing to do in exchange?"

"Anything you asked." The words were out of Akoya's mouth before he even knew he was going to stay them. His pulse was suddenly racing. If someone had offered to give him his heart's greatest desire, he wouldn't have asked for anything other than what Aurite was offering him. "Name your price."

"Very well," said Aurite. He was smiling, looking coolly amused, as if he found Akoya's enthusiasm funny. "How would you like to be a god?"

Akoya's jaw dropped. The other two gods, who had been standing as silent witnesses, turned to stare. Apparently they had been as surprised by that pronouncement as Akoya was.

"Is that possible?" Akoya blurted.

"Apparently, yes," said Aurite. "I have consulted with Fate and Chance, and they say it can be done, if you are willing to make some sacrifices. You will have to give up your mortal life, leave behind any friends or family you may have, and all of your material possessions. And of course, the life of a god isn't all rest and relaxation. You will have work to do, and be expected to do it in a timely and efficient manner. In exchange, you will become immortal and be granted all the powers and privileges of a deity."

"That seems fair," said Akoya, a bit dazedly. Actually, it sounded more than fair. He had no living family that he was aware of, and no one he would really call a friend. He had plenty of material wealth, but if he was going to become a god and go to live in the Heavenly City, it would hardly matter if he had to give up a few earthly trinkets. Giving up his mortal life sounded uncomfortably like dying, but it also sounded as though that was only going to be a temporary inconvenience. Work... well, he had never really had to do any sort of job, but whatever work he was expected to do could hardly take more effort than endlessly juggling the attentions of his suitors. How bad could it be?

"Also," said Aurite, and now he truly did look amused, "I'm setting one more condition."

Akoya thought he should have known there would be a catch. "What is it?"

"There will be no more of this endless stringing people along," he said. "Once you become a god, no one mortal will presume to court you, but that won't stop the other gods from taking an interest. Therefore, I am going to invite any of them who wish to try their hands at courting you, and you are going to make two selections from among them, one from the underworld and one from the Heavenly City. That should be sufficient to dissuade anyone else from trying to force their attentions on you."

It took a moment for that to sink in. "You want me... to get married? To a god? To two gods?" Was that even allowed?

"That's the deal," said Aurite. "If you don't like it, I will have to do something you may not like as much."

"No, no, it's fine, I'll take it!" said Akoya hastily. It wasn't, after all, such a bad deal. He had always vaguely assumed that he was going to have to choose one of his suitors eventually - pick the best of a bad lot, to his way of thinking - and get himself comfortably settled before his youth faded entirely. Surely this would be better. These wouldn't be grubby human beings, after all, they'd be gods. Surely he would have no trouble finding two among their number who came up to his standards.

"Very good. I'm glad that's settled," said Aurite. He turned to one of his companions. "Sulfur, might we prevail upon your expertise?"

"Ah?" For a moment, Sulfur looked puzzled, and then his expression cleared. "Ah, of course, I should have realized. Let me see, there should be something..."

He began prowling around the room, finally settling on a box of candies that one of Akoya's many admirers had given him.

"This should do the trick," he said. He opened the box and delicately plucked out a sweet, a piece of marzipan delicately fashioned into the shape of a pink rosebud. He folded it in his hands for a moment, hiding it from view. When he unfolded his hands again, there was something subtly different about it. It seemed to glisten faintly with its own pale light. He offered it to Akoya.

"Here," he said. "You might want to sit down before you eat it."

"What?" Whatever Sulfur had understood from Aurite's remark, it had escaped Akoya.

"You need to eat it," said Sulfur patiently. "It's as Aurite said - if you want to be a god, you have to give up your mortal body. That means you have to die. You're going to be poisoned by a jealous suitor who decided that if they couldn't have you, no one could. That's what everyone will think. Don't be afraid. I promise it will only hurt for a little while."

Somehow that was more reassuring than being told it wouldn't hurt at all. People who said that sort of thing were usually lying. He took the candy and settled himself in his favorite chair next to the window, arranging the candy box just so, as if he'd decided to sit and enjoy a snack while admiring the view. He found himself thinking that this was going to make for a rather dramatic scene, like something out of a romantic play. That pleased him. If he was going to go, he would do it with flair. And then, and then...

He looked at Aurite. "You promise this isn't some sort of trick? You're really going to make me a god?"

"I'm the god of justice and order. It's not in my nature to lie," said Aurite. "If it makes you feel any better, I swear it on my own arrows. You're going to sleep, and when you wake up, you'll be one of us."

"He's telling the truth," said Sulfur solemnly. "I can see it. Fate has already cut the strings of your mortality. The only thing holding you to this world now is your mortal body, and once that last link is severed..."

That was good enough for Akoya. He took a steadying breath, raised the candy to his lips, and took a careful bite. The sweet, almost floral taste of marzipan cream rolled over his tongue, and it seemed to him that he had never tasted anything so good. He swallowed and took a second bite, beginning to wonder if somehow this was all some strange practical joke. But even as that thought crossed his mind, he began to feel a sense of leaden tiredness falling over him. Breathing became difficult, and his heartbeat felt strangely labored, too slow and too loud. His eyes began to slide closed, and the final fragment of the candy slipped from his numb fingers as his arm dropped to his side of its own accord. He gulped another breath, but it was only a reflex, a body's final effort at staying alive against impossible odds. If his muscles had still obeyed him, Akoya would have smiled.

He was wrong, was his last fuzzy thought. This doesn't hurt at all.

Then everything went black, and he stopped thinking about anything at all.

Ryuu watched as Io bent to gather up Akoya's soul in his hands. It was pink and faintly iridescent, like a pearl the size of a man's two fists put together, except that it was transparent.

"Got him," he said, sounding pleased with himself.

"Good," said Aurite. "Take him to the Heavenly City and get him settled somewhere while he pulls himself together."

"Will do," said Io. He vanished, taking the pink bubble with him.

Ryuu nodded and prepared to leave. Akoya would be fine now. Living with Io had taught him that souls, once transplanted, generally needed a little time to get used to not being attached to their bodies anymore, and tended to drift around aimlessly for an hour or two before they woke up and remembered what shape they wanted to be. Most of the time they wound up looking more or less like they had in life, usually at whatever point in their lives they had looked and felt their very best. Sometimes you got surprises, though. Ryuu suspected that as high an opinion as the man had of himself, Akoya wouldn't change much - if anything, he'd probably be prettier and more annoying than ever. At least he wouldn't be Ryuu's problem anymore.

"Vesta. A word with you," said Aurite.

Ryuu sighed. There was always a catch, wasn't there?

"What is it?" he asked, trying not to sound impatient.

"I would have thought you'd know," said Aurite disapprovingly. "I'm about to tell all the gods above and below that they can have their chance at marrying what is possibly the most beautiful person ever born. I want you keeping an eye on things." His frown deepened. "If at all possible, I want a love match to come out of this, or at least one of mutual attraction."

Ryuu laughed. "I didn't know you were such a romantic."

"I'm not," said Aurite stiffly. "But I want this situation resolved, and I don't trust him not to get bored and start making trouble again if whoever he ends up with isn't someone who genuinely interests him."

"Yeah, you're probably right," Ryuu admitted. Then he grinned suddenly. "So, thinking of throwing your hat in the ring? I could put in a good word for you."

"No," said Aurite.

"Are you sure? Because if anyone ever needed some stress relief..."

"I'm leaving," said Aurite. "You focus on doing your job."

He vanished before Ryuu could point out that encouraging people to pair off was his job, which was probably for the best. He was in enough trouble as it was, without having Aurite angry at him on top of everything else. A love match for Akoya... He might as well ask Ryuu to fetch the moon and stars down from the firmament. Or find a mate for Aurite, for that matter. Which was too bad. That man was definitely too tense. Well, maybe if Ryuu could manage to find a way out of this situation, that could be a project for his spare time.

"My work is never done," he declared to the air in general. He slipped out of the room and was gone.

To Be Continued...