The trouble with gardens, Akoya thought, was that they were outdoors. It would be so nice if flowers could thrive without a lot of dirt and insects and spider webs around to detract from their beauty. All the same, the park had been blooming in such perfect profusion today that Akoya had decided to take the risk and go for a little stroll. Now he ambled along the winding paths, enjoying the sight and smell of the flowers, savoring the picture he was sure he must make with the cherry blossoms swirling gently all around him.

It's a pity there's no way to make this effect portable. I would love to have my own personal special effects...

That was an interesting thought. He wondered if it was something that Wombat creature's alien technology could do. It would probably be easier to accomplish than whatever it was that turned people into superheroes or reanimated teachers. He made a mental note to ask about it later. He was still mulling over that enticing idea when he realized that something was hovering about him that wasn't a flower petal.

"Oh, help!" Akoya jumped backwards, flailing wildly. The bee that had been buzzing around him retreated a few inches, then darted forwards again. Akoya continued backing away, but the bee was resolute. With a final yelp, Akoya turned and fled.

"Leave me alone, you awful insect!" he shouted, ignoring the looks he was getting from the people he passed. It wasn't even that he was afraid of being stung. It was just the idea of that creature landing on him, crawling on his skin with its awful prickly legs...

He rounded a corner and nearly ran into someone. He reeled back a few paces, preparing to let whoever it was have it for getting in his way when he needed to hurry. Then he realized just who he had run into and swallowed his words. There were a lot of people he would not have wanted to make a fool of himself in front of - he never wanted to make a fool of himself in front of anyone if he could help it - but the eternally self-possessed and elegant Naruko Io was high at the top of the list.

Still, any port in a storm, and this was definitely an emergency. He dove behind Io's back and cowered there.

"Save me!" he exclaimed. "There's a bee after me!"

Io looked nonplused, but he nevertheless rose to the occasion. He slipped the phone he'd been consulting into his pocket and looked around for the source of the problem. The bee buzzed a quick circle around him, apparently found him uninteresting, and resumed its course towards Akoya. Akoya tried to back away, but Io clasped his shoulders and held him in place.

"Calm down," he soothed. "Just be very still. She isn't going to sting you if you don't frighten her."

Akoya held very still. The bee buzzed around a few more times before landing on his shirt and beginning a tentative exploration. Akoya emitted a terrified squeak but forced himself to remain still.

"There, you see?" said Io. He began fishing for something in his pockets. "She doesn't want to hurt you. She just thinks you're a pretty flower - an easy mistake to make, in your case. That's a nice scent you're wearing, by the way. Roses, I think? And something else I can't quite put my finger on."

"Vanilla cream," said Akoya distractedly. He could feel his face warming. Being called a pretty flower by Io was almost enough to make up for being landed on by a bee.

"It's nice," said Io. "You should wear it more often."

"Thank you. I... Oh!"

The bee had started moving again. Akoya tried to back away - a futile gesture, since the creature was still stubbornly clinging to him.

"Ah, no, don't do that," Io chided gently. "Just look - it's not so scary, is it? Look at the way the sun sparkles on her stripes. It's like gold filigree, isn't it?"

Akoya gave the bee a careful look out of the corner of his eye. The bee continued examining his buttons. He quickly averted his gaze.

"How do you know it's a girl bee?" he asked, trying to distract himself.

"All the worker bees are female," Io explained. "Ah, here we go. I knew I had at least one."

He flicked out a business card and carefully laid it in front of the exploring bee. The insect prodded it with its - her? - antennae before finally consenting to crawl onto it. Io smiled and gently carried the bee over to the nearest flowering shrub.

"Here you go," he said. "I know Akoya is very like a flower, but I promise these will do you more good."

He's so gentle, Akoya thought fondly, watching Io depositing his passenger into a blossom. Even to a bee... and to me. He could have laughed at me and made fun of me for being afraid, but he didn't. He never does... He crept a little closer, willing to take an interest in the bee now that it was no longer interested in him. Observed from a safe distance, he was willing to admit that its black and gold stripes were rather striking. The glints of gold reminded him of the highlights in Io's fair hair.

"You know a lot about bees," he remarked.

Io actually looked slightly embarrassed. A faint blush came into his cheeks.

"Well, I like bees," he said. "They're useful, organized, and industrious."

Akoya smiled. "It sounds as though you would make a very good bee."

"That's very kind of you to say," said Io, the color deepening in his cheeks.

He looked so pleased, in fact, that Akoya felt emboldened. He gave Io a coy look through his lashes and said, "Bees like pretty flowers, don't they?"

Io looked surprised a moment, then speculative. He smiled slightly.

"Yes," he said. "I suppose they do."

"Enough to join them for lunch?" Akoya persisted.

Io laughed. "Do you intend to reward me for my valiant service, then?"

"I might," said Akoya. He gave a careless toss of his hair. "I suppose you deserve it."

"Excellent," said Io, grin widening. "Come on, then pretty flower. Let's go find something to eat."

"Let's," Akoya agreed. He decided he could forgive the insect for harassing him. It was worth a brief fright to have an hour or so of Io's undivided attention.

The two of them started down the path together, with the flower petals falling gently all around them. A few feet behind them, a bee buzzed lazily after them, but neither of them noticed or cared.