Otaku Muyo

(Because seriously, there isn't a need for this.)

by Tannim Murphy

Disclaimer: I don't own Ah! My Goddess or Sailor Moon. Nor do I own
anything else I happen to mention that has its own fan-base. The
characterization of Tannim Murphy is owned by me.

---

Chapter 3

---

The phone rang.

Tannim Murphy glared in the general direction of the noise, but
otherwise made no movement. Several hours had passed since he had
woken up that morning unable to move, and in the short time since then
he hadn't made much progress. The only thing he could say for certain
was that, yes, EVERY muscle in his body was sore.

Whoever it was, they hung up before the answering machine could pick
up, but it did remind Tannim that he had to call in sick to work
today. There was no physical way he was going to be making it to the
front door, much less the mall.

The forced rest certainly gave Tannim time to think. He used it to
seriously explore his feelings on the situation, and nail down his
emotions pertaining towards Belldandy.

"This is so cool!" Despite the immense pain, Tannim was in high
spirits. "I get to hang out with a video game playing Belldandy in...
three years...? But don't Goddesses age at a different rate?" He
realized, "It might take hundreds of years for her to get legal! Man,
this sucks."

Tannim felt like crying. Rather than wishing for something useful,
like a nuclear warhead, or perhaps dictatorship over a small country,
he got an underage Goddess girlfriend. Granted, she was Belldandy, so
he couldn't really complain if he wanted to. It was against his
religion.

That lead to other thoughts, like how the hell did this alternate
version of himself deserve a wish? They seemed to have had mostly
identical lives, judging from the fact it took Belldandy on his
doorstep to convince him that anything had changed. After he realized
what was going on, careful cataloguing of the various items in his
apartment turned up slight variations on what he already owned, but
nothing major was changed. A prime example of this was his shirts,
many of which have different patterns or colors than he remembered.

The phone rang again. This time Tannim made an attempt to answer it;
he managed as far as rolling out of bed and sinking to the ground in a
tangle of bed sheets and blankets. He panted pathetically on the
ground as he waited for the answering machine to pick up.

click "You've reached Tannim Murphy, please leave a message." beep

"H-Hello? Tannim?"

It was Belldandy! Even as his muscles protested the movement, Tannim
tried to drag himself along the floor to the phone.

"I hope I haven't woken you, and... well... I guess I'll just tell you
later..." click

The long, drawn out sigh reverberated against the floor. Now he felt
like a terrible boyfriend.

"That is it!" Tannim declared. He found new resolve and actually
managed to push himself onto his hands and knees. "I will beat this
thing!"

Tannim felt very uncomfortable as a pressure made itself known. He
realized what he had to do. "To the bathroom!" he declared. The
young man got as far as the middle of the bathroom floor before he
collapsed again due to total muscle failure.

It might have caught Tannim off guard, but he really couldn't find it
in himself to be surprised when his bathroom mirror began to glow.
Even if he couldn't turn to watch, he mentally played out the scene in
his mind as it unfolded above him.

Belldandy began to emerge, eyes closed in the pictured definition of
innocence. Her hair hovered delicately about her as she floated into
the cramped bathroom. Eyes closed in concentration as she settled
down gently.

Tannim grunted under the weight. From his position face-down on the
floor, he managed to croak out, "Gee, Bell, you're lighter than you
look, but do you think you could get offa me?"

Belldandy's eyes flew open in shock. "I'm sorry!" she cried as she
quickly stepped off Tannim, then paused. "What are you doing down
there?"

"I lost a contact," he sarcastically replied.

Belldandy's face appeared next to his, and she peered deeply into his
eyes. "I didn't know you wore contacts."

Tannim blushed under the steady gaze of Belldandy's curious
expression. "I don't," he explained. "It was a deliberate lie, meant
to invoke the irony of my position on the ground with the cliche that
people on the ground are always looking for their contacts when they
do not wish to discuss what they are really doing do there. This
sometimes provokes laughter from those who understand the joke."
Tannim sighed. "The truth of the matter is that my muscles have gone
on strike."

Belldandy looked slightly stunned after the long-winded explanation.
"Oh. Would you like me to heal you?"

"If it wouldn't be too much trouble."

"It's the least I could do." Belldandy smiled as she placed her hands
in a position over Tannim. Warmth radiated over Tannim's back and
throughout the rest of his body. Every muscle was being gently
massaged at once, and the feelings of ecstasy were indescribable.
Pure, sweet relief poured out over the young man and he wept for the
sheer joy of it. When she was done, Tannim didn't move for several
seconds afterwards, reveling in the sheer joy of not feeling pain
again.

He sat up, stretching. "I feel like a million bucks! Thanks
Belldandy..." his voice trailed off as he finally turned to look at
her. She was out cold. Tannim sighed.

With his muscles renewed and his strength returned, Tannim gently
picked up the sleeping Belldandy and set her down on the couch. She
was incredibly light, so much so that Tannim had to look down several
times to make sure that she was still in his arms. He took a few
moments to make sure that she would be comfortable when she awoke.

Then he beat a hasty retreat to the bathroom.

Several minutes later, Murphy was able to resume his vigil over the
goddess. It wasn't long before she finally stirred from her sleep.

"Have a good nap?" asked Tannim gently as he peered down at her. He
was currently leaning on the back of the couch so he could have a
stable position to watch Belldandy's face.

Belldandy's eyes fluttered open. They finally settled on Tannim and
she smiled. "Are you all right?" were the first words past her lips.

"I'm fine," he reassured. With gentle admonishment, he said "You
shouldn't have used so much of your power at once."

"I didn't mean to alarm you," she said as she closed her eyes again.
Her voice was sleepy as she spoke. "We Goddesses usually rely on
Yggdrasil's--"

"I know," interrupted Tannim. "I just want you to rest for now."

"But how could you...?" She turned a sleepy, questioning look at
Murphy.

Tannim coughed nervously. "I'll tell you later. Right now, you
should get some more sleep."

The repeated suggestions finally had their desired effect, and
Belldandy drifted off again. As sleep claimed her she curled up
slightly on the couch.

"I wish I could join you," whispered Tannim wearily. He still had
work to do.

Over the next half hour or so, Tannim roundly cursed himself for not
keeping more personal records about his past. It was one thing to
decide to call up your folks; it was another to realize that one wrong
word or seven might get you arrested for impersonation or fraud. And
Tannim really didn't want to resort to any sort of amnesia shtick.

Ironically, it wasn't until after he had given up and decided to go
over some old mail, did Tannim find a clue. It was in the form of an
unopened envelope from an address in New York City. He did not know
anyone from New York.

"Now who could this be from?" He ripped off the top and shook out the
card inside. A piece of paper fluttered to the floor, which Tannim
ignored for the moment, intent on the card. It read:

Hey, Kiddo. Just wanted to let you know
I'm looking out for you.
-Pops

Tannim bent over and retrieved the scrap of paper. It was a voucher
good for two (2) free dinners at the local Creme De La Creme. Tannim
examined the fine print further. The Creme was notorious for being
the most expensive restaurant in town, and if he was reading it
right... this entitled two people to an all you can eat buffet,
courtesy of the person who issued the voucher. No limitations were
listed anywhere; in fact the only thing of real interest was the name
of the issuer: The Masters Foundation.

"Why does that sound so familiar?" wondered Tannim to himself as
placed the voucher in his wallet for safe-keeping.

Tannim briefly looked in Belldandy's direction as she stirred, but did
not waken. His eyes drifted over the rest of the small apartment,
until they came to rest on his laptop.

The young man switched the machine on as he chortled. "Google, what
would we do without you?" It was a simple matter to type in a search
for the name. The first return was the homepage for a major
corporation. He clicked on it.

What he discovered was that it was the business end of a string of
hotel chains. Not just any hotels, either; these were the most
expensive and exclusive in the world. What really floored Tannim was
the name of one its chairmen.

"Ken Masters."

There was no mistaking it. The picture shown on the website was a
perfect match for a Street Fighter version of Ken Masters aged to
around forty years old. It was here, while reading Ken's biography,
Tannim made a startling discovery.

"...family includes loving wife Eliza, and adopted son Tannim Murphy.
Tannim was orphaned in a tragic accident at the tender age of nine,
after which Ken then immediately filed for the adoption of his then
godson..."

Tannim had to quickly remind himself that HIS parents were alive and
well, just in another dimension. Even so, he couldn't help but feel
emotional at the realization that the two pillars of strength that he
had relied upon were suddenly gone. It was also the first big
difference between the two worlds that had hit so close to home. He
had honestly thought he was going to be able to bring Belldandy home
to meet the folks.

"...Tannim...?" The voice called out weakly from the couch.

Tannim closed the laptop and moved over to Belldandy. He resumed his
hover above the goddess. "Are you feeling better?" he asked.

The fifteen year old nodded as she stretched luxuriously. Tannim
quickly averted his eyes. "Your injuries were more extensive than I
realized." She turned to look at him with concern. "Who did such a
horrible thing to you?"

"I suspect it's the side effect of somethin' messin' with my dreams.
I just can't remember what," answered Tannim grumpily. "I'm very
grateful you're here, Belldandy, but what are you doing here anyways?
I thought you were going to... age a little first."

Belldandy smiled brightly, and lit up the room in the process. "Your
wish has had farther reaching effects any anyone could have
anticipated," she said merrily. "I'm tempted to think that Kami-sama
had a hand in it, but the Ultimate Force does what it will."

"What? What's going on?" He asked nervously.

"Well," she paused to grin conspiratorially, "Once your wish was made
a timer began to count down on Yggdrasil's mainframe. It took the
System Operator quite some time to decipher what it was for."

"Yes? And?"

"It appears that to fulfill the wish, Yggdrasil will accelerate
Heaven's time three years over three Earth days." Belldandy was
practically beside herself with glee at this point.

It took a few moments for that statement to filter through Tannim's
brain. "How is that going to fulfill the wish?" he wondered aloud.

Belldandy blushed and she began to fidget slightly. "Kami-sama says
I'm not allowed to have a boyfriend until I'm eighteen. As long as
I'm not allowed to date, I can't have a boyfriend. This is what the
Ultimate Force decided to do in order to grant the wish."

"Well... that's great! But that doesn't explain why you're here now."

"Heaven is very busy preparing for the change. Kami-sama said I could
have a few days off to get a feel for life on Earth."

'I bet I know another reason,' thought Tannim irritably. 'He's
expecting ME to explain the situation to Bell.' Aloud, he asked a
question that had been bothering him. "Why do you say 'Kami-sama'?
Why not God, or the Lord? Or Odin, for that matter?"

A mischievous glint entered Belldandy's eyes. "He asked me to call
Him that whenever I was around you. He said you'd know what it
means."

Tannim gulped. "I'll, uh, explain later," he weakly replied.

Before Belldandy could say anything more, the phone rang. Tannim felt
relieved at the interruption as he moved to answer it. "Hello?"

"Tannim? You all right? Didn't get beat up by a girl, did you?" It
was Gunter.

"Oh, hey boss. I was going to call. I can't come into work today."

"What? Why?" Gunter didn't sound terribly surprised.

"Well, yesterday this hobo in the park sold me a martial arts pamphlet
on the way home from work. When I got home... oh, hey, that reminds
me," Tannim switched the subject as he let irritation creep into his
voice. "You didn't tell me you had an organization known only as 'The
Agency' after you."

Silence greeted Tannim for a few moments as he waited for an answer.

"...you didn't ask..." finally came the mumbled reply.

Tannim rolled his eyes. "Anyways, after that I got home all right.
But the next morning I awoke sore all over. I'm pretty sure something
messed with my dreams, but I can't remember. Luckily my girlfriend
decided to visit, and she healed me."

Gunter's voice sounded amused. "Oh, I know what kind of healing she
gave you. Of the physical kind. I know you kids these days."

"Actually, she cast a spell on me."

Now Gunter chuckled. "I bet she did."

"No, I mean white magic D&D style. She's a Goddess." Tannim was
smiling now.

"...look, if you want to avoid the Amazons, you just have to say it.
I understand."

Tannim grinned at Belldandy, who looked back with puzzled curiosity.
He was getting a really big kick about explaining things exactly as
they were and not being believed. "But I'm telling the truth," he
insisted.

"Whatever, take a couple days off. But I expect you to be back by
Saturday." The line went dead.

Tannim pulled the phone away from his ear and looked at it with
bemusement. "Well, that was easier than expected. I thought I was
going to have to beg those days out of him." He set the phone back
down. "It looks like we've got the next couple of days to ourselves,"
remarked Tannim.

Immediately Belldandy's eyes swiveled to the Xbox.

The young man grinned slowly. He intoned slowly with a deep, booming,
voice, "Would you like to play a game?"

The young goddess nodded slowly as though entranced.

It took a few minutes, but once again Belldandy was cheerfully
fragging aliens on Halo 2. She was sitting in the recliner, while
Tannim took up the couch.

The young man was trying to make heads or tails of the martial arts
booklet he had bought. The script was unlike anything he had seen
before, so he settled down to try puzzling out the pictures. It was
the same man in four different poses, each pose a different attack.

They didn't look particularly impressive. The first had the man
simply punching forward with his fist. The second had his arms
outstretched parallel either side with the tips of the fingers pointed
up, palms outward. The third had him couched and glaring at the
reader, while the fourth just had the man standing there with his eyes
closed and holding his fingertips to his temples.

Tannim yawned. It was either the events catching up to him, or the
effects of last night, but he was feeling beat. On the back of his
couch he kept a blanket just for such emergencies, and he used it now.
"I'm feeling pretty tired, Belldandy. I think I'm going to take a
nap..." he trailed off sleepily.

Belldandy nodded absently; her eyes never left the screen as she
reacted to the simulated carnage with inhuman speed and reflexes. The
difficulty setting was legendary.

Half an hour later, Belldandy was shocked into dropping her
controller. Out from the book snapped a magical bond that linked and
enveloped Tannim faster than she could blink. A second look revealed
that it was neither Demonic nor Heavenly in origin. A third was
needed because she still wasn't sure exactly what was going on.

She really regretted not paying more attention in Worldly Magics
class...

As the minutes passed, Belldandy became very worried. The magic of
the book was somehow interacting with Tannim's sleep, and causing him
to clench and unclench his muscles. The regular whimper every five
seconds or so was cause for concern as well. She nodded to herself
with determination, "I've got to get to the bottom of this."

The blanket was pulled off of Tannim's sleeping form just enough so
that Belldandy could squeeze underneath. Once she had situated
herself, she touched her forehead to Tannim's and projected her mind
into his dreams.

---

Rolling hills of verdant green met with a babbling brook in the center
of it all. The dreamscape was surrounded by steep mountainsides, and
aside from the grass it was only dotted with the occasional tree.

What surprised Belldandy was that it was... peaceful. Certainly not
the sort of area that would inspire terror.

Was that a scream?

Silence greeted her as she tried to locate the sound. Then, just
below her hearing, a faint buzz began. It grew quickly after that.

"...rrrrrrrraaaaaaaAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHH!"

Belldandy turned just in time to watch Tannim leap over her, before
using the top of her head like a springboard. This sent her off
balance enough so that she was totally unprepared for the girl chasing
Tannim to do the exact same thing; Belldandy was slammed
unceremoniously onto the ground face-first.

'Did I just pass something?' The thought flitted through Tannim's mind
amidst the'OH-CRAP-OH-CRAP-OH-CRAP-OH-CRAP
THIS-TIME-I'M-REALLY-GONNA-DIE!' mantra that he usually
employed. Rather than look back (and thus chance loosing his footing)
he made seventeen evasive maneuvers that allowed him to begin running
in the opposite direction.

This had cost him the left sleeve of his shirt.

However, it did allow Murphy to finally see that Belldandy, of all
people, had shown up in this dream. Why she was standing up with a
pained expression and dusting dirt off her face was a mystery that
could wait. He first had a dangerous task to accomplish.

Tannim slammed his heels hard into the ground, creating furrows in the
grass that grew there. Once his forward moment had been successfully
halted, he turned around just in time to receive a right hook across
the jaw.

This didn't deter him, however. "Rukia!" He got a left jab to the
kidney for his trouble. "RUKIA!"

Tannim was blindly taking hits now, simply trying to hold onto his
opponent's shoulders. He latched onto her and screamed into her ear,
"SEEEEENSEEEEEEI!"

Rukia kneed Tannim in the groin... hard. But it seemed to do the
trick, because rather than following up with a killing move, she
backed off and huffed at the young man. "What?"

Mutely, Tannim pointed towards Belldandy. He was currently curled up
in the fetal position on the ground.

Rukia turned towards where he had pointed. "We have a visitor. Why
didn't you say so?"

Tannim sobbed in pain, both physical and emotional.

"Um... hello?" asked Belldandy uncertainly.

Rukia casually kicked Tannim like a downed puppy. "Get up and
introduce us you lazy sack of bones."

The fear of pain is a great motivator, and the use of that motivation
to teach was a doctrine that Rukia wholeheartedly believed in. Tannim
shot up from the ground in an instant. "Rukia-sensei, this is the
Goddess, Belldandy! Belldandy, I'd like to introduce you to my
teacher, Rukia!" He collapsed immediately afterwards and resumed
whimpering.

"Did I come at a bad time?" asked Belldandy uncertainly.

Rukia waved off Tannim. "Don't mind him, he's always like that. Can
I get you some tea?"

Belldandy looked surprised. "Yes!"

It was fifteen minutes later when Tannim had finally managed to
overcome the majority of the pain. He found the two girls chatting
amiably.

It was Rukia who finally spotted him. "Glad you're finally up, sleepy
head. What do you mean to tell me I've been running you ragged?"

"Are you referring to how you abuse the fact that I cannot actually
die in here to the OUTMOST and have made my training sessions nothing
more than a living hell where I am killed over and over in various
ways?" snarled Tannim angrily.

"Well, yeah. It's the fastest way to learn after all."

"I couldn't move the next morning! I'm almost sure that if Belldandy
hadn't arrived, I'd have fallen back asleep, and the next session
would have killed me for real."

"Hmm..." Rukia gripped her chin in contemplation.

Tannim turned a flat look on her. "No. Don't tell me..."

"...I wondered why men never stayed for more than two training
sessions. I figured it was because of my assertive personality."
Rukia nodded decisively.

Belldandy tried to giggle, but sound came out all distorted. Her
image began to waver and flicker. She looked tired as she said, "I'm
almost out of power. I must go."

"Just remember to tell me everything when you wake up!" shouted Tannim
hastily.

Belldandy nodded as she faded from the dream.

Teacher and student sat in companionable silence. Finally, Rukia
stood up. "Well, you seem like you've got panicking and dodging down
to a fine art, how about we practice some moves?"

Tannim leapt up to join her, but then hesitated. "Um, there's
something I need to ask of you."

"Very well." Rukia settled down in the seiza position on the grass.
"For the student to petition the teacher, first we must sit."

For the uninitiated, seiza is the incredibly uncomfortable practice of
sitting directly on the back of one's folded legs. While it did have
the benefit of being the most compact sitting position a person could
easily obtain, that fact was often overshadowed by the pain it causes
those unused to the practice.

The young man hadn't hesitated in following Rukia's example. No
amount of pins and needles could compare to one of her training
sessions. He was also terrified that if he didn't do everything JUST
SO, Rukia was going to start attacking him again.

Tannim sat still for a few moments, trying to figure out a way to
phrase his request so that he wouldn't get eviscerated.

Rukia snarled angrily, "So? What did you want to talk about
already?"

"Right. If, er, you could send me back, I'd appreciate it. I think
Belldandy might need my help. And," he took a deep breath. This was
the hard part. "I need to learn some of those special attacks in the
book. In a few days I might have to fight, and any edge would be
beneficial." He finished in a rush.

Rukia closed her eyes and nodded seriously. "The techniques I shall
pass on to you are unique to this school. They were taught to me by
my teacher, Azrael-sensei," she crossed herself, "may his fro live
forever."

Tannim nodded seriously, intent on her words.

"The first attack, and the basis for the rest of the school, is a
powerful one. It is simple, straightforward, and effective. It's
name?"

The young man leaned forward.

"Gaijin Smash."

Tannim suddenly found himself tasting dirt as he lost motor control
from surprise. He pushed himself far enough off the ground to talk
comfortably. His voice was incredulous as he said, "Gaijin Smash?"

"Gaijin Smash." Rukia nodded again, her eyes still closed.

"You have got to be kidding me..." he muttered.

Acting as though she didn't hear him, Rukia continued. "You must
master this dangerous technique if you wish to learn the Gaijin
Perimeter and the Gaijin Optic Blast."

Tannim let himself flop to the ground. There were no more heroes.
"What, no Gaijin Telepathy?" he asked sarcastically.

The gasp from Rukia was surprising to say the least. "That technique
is forbidden! How do you know of it?"

"Geez, I was just kidding around," said Tannim nervously as he turned
to look at her.

"Never speak of it again!" Rukia warned Tannim. This was emphasized
by a punch to the face.

A painful "hai, sensei," floated up from Tannim's prone position.

"Good." A mollified Rukia retracted her fist.

Murphy shook off that love tap, and propped himself up on an elbow
while he grinned at Rukia. In a last-ditch effort to try to placate
her, he tried one of the oldest lines in the book. "You know, you're
pretty cute when you're mad."

"You can go now." Rukia quickly waved her hand. She was blushing,
though, and pointedly did not look at him.

---

Tannim jolted awake. He was a bit sore, but no where near as sore as
he was that morning. The young man mostly just felt tired. That was
when he was made aware of another sensation. It wasn't unpleasant,
just unexpected and, ultimately, unwanted at this time.

Belldandy had fallen asleep while lying on top of him. Her head was
currently resting on his chest, and-- Tannim halted any further
thoughts as he scrambled off the couch. His body tingled all over.

"That was close," he muttered fearfully. After taking a deep breath,
he managed to ask, "You all right Belldandy?"

The resounding snore was all the reply Tannim needed. He gently
tucked the blanket around Belldandy and smiled as she unconsciously
snuggled deeper into the couch. A strand of light-brown hair fell
over her face to complete the picture, and Tannim wished fervently
that he had a camera.

Picking the martial arts booklet off the ground, Tannim flipped it
open and shut randomly a few times. He tossed the object onto the
recliner on his way to the kitchen. He still couldn't make heads or
tails of it.

And why had Belldandy fallen asleep like that, anyways? Did she try
to do something about his dreams?

As it was nearing lunch, and Tannim busied himself with making a
triple batch of Ramen. It was his last three packages. "I need to go
shopping," he muttered as went through the motions of making the meal.
It was such a practiced task that he no longer needed to consciously
pay attention to what his body was doing, instead devoting his meager
cranial resources on thinking.

Had he been paying more attention, he would have noticed something was
off about his movements. He does not, after all, normally use his
feet to close cupboards. Especially the ones located over his head.

But he was unconsciously doing so now. He had just shut one and
paused to think when Belldandy's voice wafted in from the living area.

"Tannim... I didn't know you were so limber." She had finally woken
and was looking on with admiration.

"Huh?" Tannim replied elegantly. "What are you talking about...?"
His voice trailed off as, when he went to look around, his eyes fell
onto his knee. At eye level.

"Gah!" Surprised and off-balance, Tannim slammed the back of his head
on a counter top before crashing to the floor of the kitchen. He
immediately stood back up. "What the?" He lifted his shirt, heedless
of Belldandy's gaze. Tannim felt all around his chest and stomach,
not believing his eyes.

The flab the average anime or computer nerd accumulates during the
college lifestyle was gone, replaced with rock hard abs of rippling
muscle usually only found on the statues of Greek Gods. In fact, now
that he was actually paying attention to it, every muscle in his body
felt like coiled steel, ready to spring into action. It was a heady
sensation to suddenly be gifted with the body of your average Nerima
martial artist.

The stunned young man said the first thing that came to mind. "I have
no idea where this came from." He patted his six-pack for emphasis.

Belldandy could help it; she giggled. The look of shock and amazement
on his face was just too funny. Then she looked sheepish. "I might
have overdone it with the healing spell. I passed out because I'm not
good at controlling how much power I put into my spells. This might
be a side effect," she theorized.

"This is one side effect I can live with." Tannim flexed
experimentally a few times. "I'm going to have to start getting use
to these, and develop some sort of regimen if I want to keep them."

Belldandy stayed silent. She didn't bother to tell him that she had
put enough energy to regenerate and revitalize his body for fifty
years, albeit at a slower rate than the initial healing. She figured
it'll be a very nice surprise for him down the road, and it was the
least she could do after the wish he gave her.

Tannim's stomach grumbled loudly, and he stopped testing out his new
muscles to finish making lunch. "How would you like to go out to
dinner with me tonight? Not exactly a date, mind you," he hastily
added, "I've got some vouchers for free food and... well... honestly,
there's no more food in the house. We'd have to go out grocery
shopping anyways, and I thought we'd better do that on a full
stomach."

Belldandy smiled brilliantly. "I would love to!" she enthused.

Tannim blushed fiercely over the boiling ramen. 'I can't believe it!
I just can't believe it! I just had the gall to ask Belldandy out on
a date! And she said she'd love to! Who da man? You da man!'

---

'I can't believe it. I just can't believe it. What the HELL was I
thinking! I can't go out on a date! Something traumatic is bound to
happen!'

Tannim was mentally ranting as he drove himself and Belldandy to their
destination. Okay, he could blame the siren call of food, or the
siren call of Belldandy's company, but mostly he blamed it on sheer
stupidity. He might have had a chance if he just gone there without
building up to the notion in his mind of a date; now there was no
chance. His fate was sealed, and he was on edge. He didn't have many
enemies right now, but that didn't mean this wasn't the perfect
opportunity for a new foe to show their face.

Would it be a Negaverse General? Or perhaps Ryouga looking for
directions? Yohiko Readman stops by for coffee? Godzilla decides to
take up a summer home in California? The possibilities were endless,
not to mention terrifying.

Tannim forced himself to take a deep breath. He allowed himself a
glance over at Belldandy, who seemed to sense his look as she turned
to smile at him cheerfully before going back to watch the scenery go
by. The young man felt the tension ease from his body at that single
look.

Whatever happened, would, and he'd just have to muddle along as usual.
There was just an air about Belldandy that, if she was smiling, then
things really weren't all that bad after all.

As per Tannim's advice, Belldandy had morphed her usual attire into
something more befitting a high class french restaurant. She was
stunning in her white one-piece dress, complete with pearl necklace
and hair tied up in a fashionable bun. She was the picture of regal
elegance as she exited Tannim's beaten up '98 Mercury Tracer.

Meanwhile, Tannim was dressed in an old tuxedo that he owned. It
tended to bind across the chest and shoulders, and he did have to
cinch his belt a bit tighter, but those were discomforts that could be
ignored or reveled in. He stepped out of the car and eyed the valet
attendants on station.

There were four of them, a fairly eclectic mix of height and race that
was common in California. After much heated debate, and a quick game
of rock-paper-scissors, the loser sighed dejectedly and slumped
forward. "I'll make sure to take real good care of her, sir," the
valet said sarcastically as he handed Tannim a number. "No dings or
scratches at all."

Tannim pointedly ignored this veiled insult, since he was the one
walking in to eat rather than the one parking the cars.

Inside was a magnificent example of European architecture. Tannim was
rendered speechless at the elegance and poise that seemed to emanate
from the very being of this place. An older man, in his late sixties,
was standing at a podium just outside of the restaurant proper. He
greeted the couple with a look of wary distain.

"Reservations?" The question was delivered with the speed and
precision of a shot.

Tannim stumbled slightly. In his defense, he hadn't been to a fancy
restaurant like this before. Since it was a concern on his mind, and
he was going to ask anyways, Tannim replied in a somewhat haughty
tone, "Actually I was simply stopping by in person to confirm that
these vouchers are valid." He pulled from his coat pocket the
vouchers he had found that morning.

After a quick glance at the pieces of paper, the expression changed
instantly to one of polite courtesy. "But of course, sir, your table
is always ready." He motioned to one of the people on call nearby.
"Your waiter shall show you the way."

The young man was of Japanese decent, and had a somewhat haughty
bearing. Much to Tannim's annoyance, the waiter gently took
Belldandy's hand in his and raised it to his lips. "Such a sweet
blossom of beauty deserves only the finest of service. I shall strive
to make your stay here a pleasurable one."

Belldandy just looked at Tannim with confusion. He leaned over in her
direction and whispered loudly, "He's trying to steal you away from
me."

Understanding dawned in Belldandy's eyes. "Oh, is that it?" She
turned back to the young Japanese man, who didn't seem bothered in the
slightest by the conversation.

He was smacked on the back of the head with a clipboard. "Hey, Mr.
Kung Fu, stop trying to woo the ladies and get to work."

"But of course, sir. Right this way." The waiter didn't seem the
least bit perturbed as he led the two towards the back of the dining
hall. They were finally shown a corner of the restaurant secluded
from the others via several strategically placed plants.

What caught Tannim's eye was the engraved bronze plate that said,
'Reserved for the Masters Foundation.' That answered one question.

The couple were both sat down and handed menus by the restaurant
employee. "Your personal waiter will arrive momentarily, vision of
loveliness. Would that I could bask in thy beauty, but needs be I
must be elsewhere. Au revoir." And with that, he left.

"What a creep," muttered Tannim under his breath.

"What was that?" Belldandy looked up from her perusal of the menu.

"It's nothing," he replied. Tannim picked up one of the menus himself
and nearly dropped it again in shock. The prices on this thing were
outrageous, and he couldn't understand the menu because it was
entirely in French.

"Do you know French, Belldandy?" Tannim wondered. In the anime she
seemed to know Japanese well enough, and here she was fluent in
English.

"Yes. I studied all of Earth's languages when I was five."

Tannim blinked. "What, all of them?"

"Hmmhmm," Belldandy nodded absently as she continued to read the menu.

It was at this point the waitress arrived. "Hello, my name is Makoto
Kino, and I'll-- YOU!" the sudden shout drew the attention of several
nearby tables.

Tannim nervously waved off the inquiring looks as he simultaneously
motioned for Makoto to keep it down. "Now's not the time. I'm a
client right now, remember?"

Makoto growled under her breath. "Very good, SIR. What can I get the
SIR and MADAM this evening?"

At Tannim's encouraging nod, Belldandy ordered first. Tannim's eyes
glazed over as she started speaking perfect French while ordering, and
Makoto was hard pressed to follow. After she finished, Makoto
wordlessly turned to Tannim with a stare full of distain.

"I'll, uh, have what she's having," Tannim copped out.

"Very GOOD, then," said Makoto as she collected the menus. "Your
order shall be ready shortly, SIR. Until then, PLEASE enjoy our
complementary breadsticks!" The teenage girl stalked off with all the
grace of an angry panther.

"I probably should have expected that," admitted Tannim. At
Belldandy's inquiring look, he explained the situation at the mall to
her.

"That's terrible. They're hunting you down because of an accident?"

"Eh, that's royalty for ya. 'Off with their heads,'" he mimicked.

At Belldandy's horrified expression, Tannim had to quickly explain
where that reference came from.

---

If Makoto could have, she would have slammed the door separating the
staff from the customers behind her. As it was, she settled for
letting it softly close shut behind her.

The NERVE of that boy having the audacity to eat at HER parent's
restaurant, of all places! And then HE had the gall to have HER has
HIS waitress! He probably tips poorly too.

Makoto smiled evilly. He'd pay. Oh yes, he'd pay. "Hey, boys?" she
called out to some of the kitchen staff. "I've got this order, but
the guy was giving me this really creepy look; he was staring at my
chest the whole time, and he's hanging out with this fifteen year old
girl. I think he's some sort of pedophile."

The kitchen staff grinned. They knew what to do.

---

Tannim nervously gnawed on his third breadstick. Quite some time ago
he had ran out of casual conversation topics and, rather than try to
force something, he simply stayed silent. Belldandy seemed content
with this, and her face seemed to be set permanently on 'wonderment'
as she gawked at the people, food, and architecture. Not to mention
the various paintings that hung throughout the place. All Tannim had
to do was answer the occasional question, which he was more than happy
to do.

Makoto startled Tannim out of his reverie by setting a bowl of soup
down just hard enough to have it slosh a little bit onto Tannim's
unprotected lap. "Your soup, SIR."

"Thanks," he muttered his reply.

"And for the madam, here is your soup," said Makoto in a much more
pleasant tone. She turned back to stare at Tannim. "It is a
specialty of the house. Tell me, do you like it?"

Tannim looked down at the soup. "I haven't eaten it yet."

Makoto's right fist shot towards the back of Tannim's unprotected
head. Before it could connect her left hand snaked out and
intercepted the right. "I know that," she said as her left eye
twitched, "please won't you try some?"

Well, the request was reasonable enough. Tannim shrugged. "Sure."

Makoto's right eye began twitching. "What are you doing?"

Tannim paused in the middle of crumbling one of the breadsticks. "I
like a thick soup?" he hazarded.

Makoto sighed, and waved an arm, "By all means, continue."

After Tannim finished with the first breadstick, he took a second,
tore it in half, and plunked both torn ends into the bowl. Then he
waited.

"Now what is it?" she asked in exasperation.

The young man shrugged. "I like eating soup with bread rather than a
spoon. Gotta let 'em soak up. It wouldn't be proper otherwise."

Taking a deep breath, Makoto slowly let it out. She waved her arm
again and repeated, "By all means."

Tannim gingerly hefted the breadstick out of the bowl, and started to
slowly lift it toward his open mouth. Makoto watched on with eager
anticipation.

"ALL RIGHT, NOBODY MOVE, EVERYONE PLEASE REMAIN CALM!"

Everyone, including Tannim, stopped what they were during and turned
to the speaker. He was wearing a brown hooded sweater and a pair of
blue jeans, with sunglasses covering his eyes. Next to him stood a
woman dressed similarly, but with a green sweater.

One of the patrons near him coughed pointedly, and asked, "Why?"

The man looked lost for words for a moment. Then he remembered. "Oh,
right. I didn't say. Ahem," he cleared his throat.

"THIS IS A FUCKING ROBBERY!" screamed the woman as she pulled out an
Uzi from underneath her clothes. The man quickly did the same with a
pistol.

A whimper escaped Tannim's lips.

---

To be continued...

Author's notes: I appreciate everyone who responds to my stories.
More often than not whenever someone mentions a plot point they're
concerned over I've forgotten about it while trying to nail down what
happens three chapters from now.

For those concerned about the cliffhanger, I do have a lot of the next
chapter already written. I just figured it was time I'd post
something.

Post Disclaimer: Azrael, Gaijin Smash, Gaijin Perimiter, and Gaijin
Optic Blast all belong to the good folks over at Gaijin Smash dot Net.
Not only are they a great read, but they're also an excellent source of
current Japanese behavior from a foreigner's perspective. If you'd like
to check out the website, you're going to have to google it.