Introduction: Okay, I lied. Well, not really. I really did intend to leave the fic world for good, and for a month or so, I did. The problem was that fic writing acted as a de-stresser in my life. I went thirty days without writing a thing, and I hated it. The moment I decided to get back into it, I started feeling better. When I dragged out this old, incomplete fic, and started adding a scene here and there, I slept better than I had in weeks. Am I a hypocrite? Hell, I've known that for years. The end result, however, is this: It's back to the fic mines for me.
Premise: This fic came from the events in Episode 13 of the first television season, Skuld's debut. In that episode, Skuld tells Belldandy she has to return to Heaven or else the bug situation will continue to deteriorate, putting Keiichi's life in danger. In the episode, Belldandy prepares to leave, with Keiichi promising to wait for her to return, but Skuld intervenes and saves the day with one of her inventions.
So what would have happened if they really did leave?
Disclaimer: AMG was created by Kosuke Fujishima. I own nothing here but the clothes on my back. The song listed in part one is "Mexican Moon" by Concrete Blonde. Tricia Takanawa is a Family Guy character. And "Tribute" in part two belongs to Tenacious D.
Dedication: To WillZ, who never lost faith in the idea that I would totally fail to really start my novel and come crawling back to fanfiction eventually.
"I'll wait for you."
She held desperately to those words, that promise, like a lifeline as she stepped into the mirror at the temple and reappeared a moment later at the Goddess Help Line offices in Heaven. Her sisters appeared a moment later, Skuld practically bouncing in happiness at having her sister home. Urd appeared more somber. Like Belldandy, she knew the moment they appeared there, the clock started ticking.
For every brief second that passed in Heaven, hours, even days flew by on Earth.
"It shouldn't take long," Urd assured her, already at a divine terminal and punching in data. "Just adjust some of this code and..."
She broke off, her brow furrowing at what she saw.
"What is it?" Belldandy asked.
"This... Oh, no," she muttered. "No, no, no, NO! Come on!" She hit the keyboard.
Urd put her hands on her hips and chewed her lip, not sure how she was going to break this. "Belldandy," she finally began without turning to her. "The problem isn't in one or two lines of code. The damage is systemic."
She finally turned, her face a mask of sympathy.
"It's going to take going through your code line by line and fixing one or two digits apiece," she said.
Skuld was the first to grasp onto what this meant. "But... there are millions of lines of code! It'll take all three of us two weeks to do that!"
Belldandy's legs threatened to fail beneath her, and she quickly found a seat. "Two weeks here," she whispered hauntingly. "How... How long on Earth?"
Urd swallowed and just blurted it out.
"Eight years... at least."
Eight years later...
She literally exploded out of the mirror, landing nimbly on her feet and throwing the bathroom door open. "Keiichi san!"
Rushing into the kitchen, she was brought up short by the sight of an elderly priest sitting at the dinner table eating a bowl of rice, the chopsticks in his hand frozen in shock at the sight of her.
"Gomen," Belldandy said, her hand going to her face. "I..."
"Belldandy!? Did you find him?!"
Urd appeared at the hallway to the living room followed by Skuld a few moments afterward.
"No," Belldandy replied. "I was just about..."
"Excuse me," the priest broke in. "But who are you and what are you doing here?"
The goddess bowed low. "Gomen," she said again. "I'm looking for someone who lives here. Keiichi Morisato. Do you know where I might find him?"
"Don't know any priests named Morisato," he told her.
"He's not a priest," Urd told him. "He's a college student, on the short side with bushy eyebrows."
The priest shook his head again. "Sorry. I've lived here for four years and haven't seen anyone like that."
"So he's gone?!" Skuld cried.
"Do you young ladies need help?" the priest asked, his earlier shock giving way to concern.
Belldandy said nothing, shocked that he wasn't here. Looking at it logically, of course he wouldn't be, but a part of her had expected...
Urd stepped into the void. "I don't suppose you'd be willing to let us stay here for a few days while we try to find our friend?"
The priest looked skeptical.
"We'll work, of course!" Skuld threw in. Urd smacked her arm. "OW!"
Standing on the roof, Belldandy closed her eyes and put her hand to her ear. She listened through the void.
She could hear it, his heart beating on the very edge of her perception. But it sounded so different, so far away.
"Keiichi san, where are you?" she whispered. She couldn't divine his location.
"Of course not," Urd said as she appeared next to her, answering her unspoken question. "It's been eight years for him, Belldandy. His life and heart have undergone enormous changes since the last time you saw him."
She watched her sister's face fall and hesitated to bring up the next uncomfortable possibility.
"He might have moved on," she whispered sympathetically.
Belldandy took a breath. "If so," she said, putting on a brave face, "If so, then I'll just... I'll go back to Heaven."
Urd heard the dread in her voice. "But what are the odds of that?" Urd asked, putting a smile on. "We just have to figure out where he is. Maybe the college knows?"
Belldandy shook her head. "He would have graduated four years ago."
Belldandy lowered her hand and opened her eyes. "We just have to have faith that the way will open to us."
Faith didn't take long, as it turned out.
"Hey, check this out!" Skuld called out as the two re-entered the residence.
"What is it?" Urd asked.
The priest tried to crane his head around the goddesses to get a better view of the TV, but the three of them were watching, enthralled by what they saw.
"That's Sayoko san!" Belldandy declared.
Sure enough, Sayoko Mishima was on TV addressing the audience. "Here at Mishima Systems, our workers are building the future of Japan and the world," she announced. "Come be part of the team." The commercial ended with the Mishima logo.
"That's the girl you told me about, right? You think she'd know?" Skuld asked.
"You think she'd tell us if she did?" Urd asked dubiously.
"There's only one way to know for sure," Belldandy told them.
"Are you sure you don't want me to go in with you?" Urd asked as she and Belldandy approached the Mishima Corporation's headquarters building. "She might need... convincing."
"Neesan," Belldandy began diplomatically. "The last time you saw her, you electrocuted her."
"Just a little," Urd defended. She sighed. "Okay, I'll be in the lobby. But if she doesn't cough up some info, I'm going up there after her."
The younger goddess sighed and stepped into the building. Dark marble columns lined the lobby way, and several men and women in dark suits walked to and fro. She found a computer directory and found where Sayoko worked. Stepping into the elevator, she tried to keep her expectations in check. The most she could hope for was that Sayoko and Keiichi had stayed in touch and the woman knew where he was. The worst she could come up with was a wedding picture featuring the two of them on Sayoko's desk and a ring on her finger.
The elevator rumbled a bit on its tracks as she thought this.
With a ding, the doors opened and Belldandy walked down the hallway toward the Marketing and Recruiting office.
A man sat at the secretary's desk and looked up at her arrival. "Name?" he asked.
"Belldandy," she replied cheerfully.
"And you are here to see..." He trailed off as he scanned a list.
"Ms. Sayoko Mishima."
"You're not on the list," he told her. "Did you make an appointment?"
"No, but it's very important," she told him. "If you could please just let her know I'm here."
The man looked bored as he picked up the phone and dialed the intercom number. He passed her a clipboard so she could sign in. "Ms. Mishima, there's a woman here to see you... No, she doesn't have an appointment... It's a Ms. Belldandy..." He trailed off for a moment, then eyed her with puzzlement. "Yes, Ma'am. Right away, Ma'am."
He hung up.
"You can go right in."
Sayoko allowed herself to grin evilly for a moment before replacing it with a more gentle smile and jumping out of the seat behind the ornate desk that took up a good portion of her office. She put her hands to her face and squealed.
"Belldandy!" Rushing up to the goddess, she hugged her and gave her a kiss on either cheek. "It's been such a long time!" she cried, her voice as sweet as poisoned honey.
"Sayoko san," Belldandy greeted in return. "It's good to see you're doing well."
"Sit down, sit down," the woman urged. Her black dress suit was impeccable and gave her an air of complete authority. "What can I do for you after all these years?"
Belldandy's tone turned serious. "Sayoko san, I'm looking for Keiichi. By chance... have you kept in touch with him? Do you know where he is?"
Sayoko chuckled but said nothing. "My dear Belldandy..." She trailed off and grinned. "Why, it's been eight years since you left him... heartbroken and alone..." She had the sublime thrill of seeing Belldandy's face fall at that last bit. "Of course, it only makes sense that you would reappear now, all things considered."
"What do you mean?" the goddess asked her.
Sayoko laughed again. "Oh, come on," she begged with a grin. "Surely you don't expect me to buy that this is all a coincidence." At Belldandy's blank look, she blinked in surprise. "Surely you know? I'd ask if you've been living under a rock all this time, but even people who live in caves have heard of Keiichi Morisato."
She opened a desk drawer and rooted through its contents for a moment before pulling a magazine out. She tossed on the desk in front of Belldandy.
The goddess looked down and saw Keiichi's face staring back at her. "Keiichi," she whispered, reaching out to touch the paper.
"You can have it," Sayoko told her. "I've read it." She smiled one more time. "Good luck."
"'The fastest man alive,'" Urd read the headline on the cover. The two were sitting on a bench in front of the Mishima building. The older goddess flipped the pages until she found the story and read the drop-head. "'With two land speed records under his belt and a wholesome image nearly unheard of in sports, is Keiichi Morisato what the sports world has been looking for?'"
Urd read the article silently as Belldandy stood up and pursued her own thoughts.
The silver-haired goddess shook her head as she read. "'Some would think a motorcycle racer with two speed records and heavily favored to win in the upcoming Osaka Championships would have an ego to match the engine in his bike, but Keiichi Morisato reminds most fans of the faithful kid brother or the boy who helps his elderly neighbor mow the lawn. While most sports figures today have become more known for their dalliances, Morisato has become known as something unique in the modern sports world, a sports figure parents want their children to emulate.'" She shook her head. "Kami sama, this world needs a hero."
She cleared her throat and continued. "'Morisato, the son of a glass blower father and a Mah Jong champion mother, is the modern day Cinderella story, a man who worked his way through college at the Nekomi Institute of Technology to professional racer without losing his humility.'" She skimmed through the article, looking for the salient parts. "'Works with school children,' yadda yadda yadda...'" Finally, she grinned. "Ah! Here we go! This is the part that affects you! 'Morisato is considered one of Japan's most eligible bachelors, attending most parties or charity functions on the arm of his sister, Megumi. This has, of course, led some tabloids to speculate on his sexual orientation; however, when asked, Morisato will only say, 'I'm waiting for someone.'"
Urd looked up at Belldandy's hopeful face. "He hasn't given up," Belldandy breathed. "Did the story say where he is now?"
The elder goddess shook her head. "Only that he's based here in Nekomi." She rose to her feet. "He must practice, so there has to be a track he works on."
"Then let's go!" Belldandy said, a smile across her face for the first time today.
Looking through her window, Sayoko watched them walk away and smiled. Yes, she could have told Belldandy exactly where Keiichi was, the Mishima Corporation sponsored Keiichi's race team to the tune of a hundred million yen a year, but why make it easy for her?
Eight years ago, Belldandy had systematically humiliated the queen of Nekomi Tech. When she disappeared, Sayoko had retaken the mantle easily enough, except for still being rebuffed by Keiichi, but it always rankled her that she hadn't won straight out.
Of course, now that she was back...
She sat down at her desk. The thought brought forth a lot of feelings she had left dormant for several years. Her career was an overwhelming success, a vice president in charge of marketing and recruiting. But she was still alone. She had put the thought aside, but the return of the mysterious "goddess of Nekomi Tech" had stirred the competitive juices in her.
And Keiichi was more of a catch now than he could ever have been before.
Perhaps it was time to dust off the old royal scepter and get back in the game.
She pushed the intercom button. "Jiroo," she said. "Call Chihiro down at the race track." She leaned back in her chair and smiled. "Tell her at her convenience, I'd like to see their facilities."
"Hurry up!" Megumi Morisato hissed, tossing the helmet to her brother. "They'll be here any minute!"
"I'm hurrying! I'm hurrying!" Keiichi Morisato cried with a playful grin.
"I mean it!" Megumi told her sternly. "She's a good friend, and this is very important to her!"
Keiichi mounted the bike and keyed the start-up sequence on the small computer pad. "I get it," he said. He smiled. "I'll do my part, just be sure you do yours." He donned the helmet, and Megumi nodded.
"See you out there in two minutes," she told him as a warning.
Keiichi waved and returned to the start-up. The Mishima Systems SX-3 was the most advanced racing motorcycle on the planet, capable of speeds nearly unheard of on the race circuit. It was a far cry from his old Beemer, which he still rode when not on the track.
He patted the gold symbol that adorned the side of the bike. "Okay, girl," he said. "Showtime."
The visiting group was eager, and Megumi checked her watch for the eighth time. She had brought the group to the pit area across the race strip from the main stands. The place was hauntingly quiet when empty.
"Where is he?" one of the visitors asked.
"We want to see him!"
Megumi took a breath and said her lines. "Unfortunately, I just got a call from him," she said. "He just left Osaka a minute ago, and even driving as fast as he can, he won't be able to get here until..."
A moment later, Keiichi's SX-3 flew past the crowd at something close to a hundred and fifty miles per hour.
"...about now," Megumi finished with a smile.
The assembled group of fourth graders cheered and clapped as Keiichi turned the bike back and zipped back toward them. As he approached, he pulled the handlebars and brought the front wheel up in a wheelie.
As the kids cheered, Megumi stepped over to the only other adult there, the kids' teacher. The dark haired woman adjusted her glasses before clapping again.
Keiichi brought the wheel down and came to a stop in front of the group. Pulling off his helmet, he smiled to the kids. "Hey there!" he greeted.
While the children bombarded him with questions, the teacher turned to his sister. "Thank you again for this, Megumi. The kids all love him."
"It's no problem, Kasumi, really," Megumi reassured her. "Kei chan loves this kind of stuff." Looking back up, she found that Keiichi had pulled one of the boys on the seat in front of him.
"Yes, but I know how busy you all must be with the race in a week," Kasumi Matsuhara told her.
Megumi smiled. "Like I said, don't worry about it." She cupped her hands around her mouth. "Hey, kids! Let's go inside, and we'll show you what makes the Wind Goddess go!"
"This, children, is a model of the F-121 engine that makes the SX-3 so fast," Tamiya rumbled. The kids seemed a little wary of the large man, but the engineer went on anyway. "It uses an advanced carburetor and..." As he continued with the technical jargon, some of the kids' eyes started glassing over.
While the larger man put the children to sleep, Megumi pulled Kasumi toward Keiichi, who was dismounting the bike and pulling his helmet off.
"Kasumi, this is my brother, Keiichi," Megumi introduced, giving the young woman a push toward the racer.
"Uh, hi," Keiichi greeted with a bow.
"It's nice to meet you," Kasumi returned.
"I'll let you get acquainted," Megumi said before turning on her heel and starting toward the group of kids again.
"Well," Keiichi whispered sarcastically. "She's not pushy at all."
"I'm sorry?" Kasumi asked.
"Nothing!" the young man replied with a wave. "So, I thought I knew all of Megumi's friends."
"We met about a month ago at the gym," she told him. She walked over to the SX-3, studying carefully, as if afraid it would bite her if she got too close. "A lot of my students are fans and I recognized the name."
"You know about bikes?" he asked, making conversation.
"Oh, heavens no!" Kasumi told him with a smile. "Not the first thing." She went back to examining the racing machine. "What makes this one so special?"
"Well, a lot of things," he told her, glad to be in a realm he understood. "Heads up display interface, computerized throttle and brake control. It's truly a twenty-first century machine."
"Sounds more complicated than it really has to be," she told him.
Keiichi thought for a moment, then stepped forward. "Here," he said. "I'll show you. Hop on."
"Go ahead," he urged her. "It won't bite."
Kasumi thought it over for a moment, then placed her hands on the handlebars, unsurely hoisting herself on the bike. She tried vainly for a moment to keep her skirt from hiking up past her knee and gave up after two or three tries. Keiichi took a brief look at her leg before turning his attention back to her.
"Now," he began, placing the helmet on her head. "You just put this on..."
"Wait!" she said, quickly removing her glasses. "Okay." The helmet went over her head until only her curious brown eyes could be seen through the open visor.
He reached out and hit a button on the side of the helmet and the eyes disappeared behind a dark visor that rushed down from the top of the helmet.
"See the numbers and readouts on the visor?" he asked.
"Yes," she said. There were several lines of text in computerized green font dancing across the inside of the visor, telling her everything from speed to direction.
"Comes in handy," he told her. "You don't have to look down at the bike during a race. It's all right there." He reached down between the handlebars and keyed the startup sequence.
Kasumi jumped as she felt the bike come to life under her. She laughed nervously. "That's something else!" she said.
Keiichi smiled. "It doesn't feel very powerful," he admitted. "My Beemer shakes and rattles like it's holding back demons, but the lady here will top two hundred miles per hour if you let her. I actually have to make a conscious effort to slow her down."
He saw the visor turn toward him. "What's it like?" she asked.
The racer thought about it for a moment. "It makes me feel free," he admitted.
Kasumi thought on it for a moment before turning her questions to something else. "This symbol," she said, tapping the front of the helmet. "Is it the Morisato crest or something?"
Keiichi regarded the symbol with a touch of pain. The gold circle had seven small strands falling from the bottom at alternating lengths.
"No," he said finally. "It just reminds me of something."
They both turned to the sound of oohs and ahs from nearby. The students were watching in a mixture of jealousy and awe.
Kasumi cleared her throat. "Well... Thank you, Morisato san," she said, unsure what to do next. "If you could..."
"Oh, yeah, sure!" Keiichi keyed the shut down sequence, and the Wind Goddess's quiet hum ebbed away.
Kasumi removed the helmet and handed it to him before allowing the racer to help her off the bike.
"So, what do you think?" Megumi asked, nudging him with her elbow as the school bus pulled away. "Not bad, huh?"
Keiichi sighed as he headed back inside. "I thought so," he muttered.
"Oh, come on, Kei chan!" she cried, throwing her hands in the air in exasperation as she followed him. "She's exactly your type!" She started to tick points off on her fingers. "She's the girly girl type! She's nice! She's smart! She's cute! She COOKS!"
He ignored her.
"She liiiiikes yooooouuu!" she sang.
The woman sighed again. "Look, Kei chan..."
"Why can't you just leave it alone?" he asked her irritably.
"Because you're my brother!" she shot back. Looking both ways down the hallway, she grabbed his arm and pulled him into a vacated office before locking the door behind them. "Look, Kei chan," she started again. "This has to stop."
"That's what I've been saying," he said with a huff.
"No, I mean this... this VIGIL you're standing." She put her hands on her hips and started to pace, looking within for something to say to him. "You're almost thirty, and you've only dated one girl in your entire life, and that is not where you wanted to be when you hit thirty. You wanted a wife and kids by twenty-five." She saw him open his mouth to protest and quickly cut him off. "And don't try to deny that because I read it in your diary before you left for college!" She took a breath, her face softening. "You're lonely," she told him.
"I'm not lonely," he said quietly. "I have everything I need right here."
"No you don't," she said, shaking her head. "You're lonely, and it's leading to depression, and that's leading... somewhere else," she trailed off.
"What do you mean?" he asked suspiciously.
"Kei chan, we all see it," she said quietly. "At first it was almost like this promise to wait for Belldandy to come back let you concentrate on other things, but as time has gone by..." She looked for the right words, and finally settled for the wrong ones. "You redlined the Goddess six times," she accused him. "Three of those in races you could have easily won without! You're pushing it harder and faster than you should, playing it fast and loose with safety rules, and that was NEVER your way before. The other day you ran the course with an unsafe chain indicator." She nodded at his look of disbelief. "Yeah, I saw it, and so did Chihiro."
She took a step toward him and looked him in the eye. "Kei chan, do you want to die?"
The question was asked without sarcasm or humor. It was a deadly serious question.
"Of course not!" he shot back angrily. "How can you even think something like that!?"
"Because I'm scared for you!" she cried. "Your entire life is in this building! And that is NOT the way it should be! I don't know if you've given up on Belldandy coming back and just don't want to admit it or maybe..." She shrugged. "I don't know! Okay!? All I know is I'm here every day watching my big brother make worse and worse decisions in a job that KILLS people for making the wrong call!"
He closed his eyes and sat down on a nearby chair. "What do you want me to do?" he asked quietly.
She held out a cell phone. "Call Kasumi," she said. "Take her to dinner. Go dancing. Have some fun that doesn't involve motorcycles. Get out of this building," she begged.
"You know I can't do that," he told her.
"Kei chan, it's been eight years," she whispered, kneeling down in front of him so they were eye to eye. "I liked Belldandy! I really did. But she's gone and she's not coming back." She saw him wavering and pressed. "And she was wrong to ask you to wait."
"She didn't ask," he said feebly.
"She also didn't call, write or email," she retorted gruffly. "I guess they don't have stamps in Norway. Hell, I don't know." She took his hand. "Big brother, you've waited longer than any woman has a right to expect. It's time to move on. Just... Just promise me you'll try."
He refused to meet her gaze. "I'll try," he said.
"Promise," she demanded.
"I promise," he said, finally looking at her.
She nodded and stood up. "Her number is in the address book."
"And after that, if one of you would take the garbage out, that would be wonderful," the priest, Kensuke Yamada, told them as the three goddesses continued to rake.
The sun was just beginning to go down as he turned away. With a look at the coming twilight, Belldandy put her rake up against a tree and turned to Urd and Skuld. "I have to start dinner," she said. Finding out Keiichi was still in Nekomi and, for the time being at least, still single, had helped Belldandy's looming depression, but there was still a bit of slack in her step as she walked off.
Skuld watched her go and turned to Urd as she continued raking. "Oi, Urd," she began. "Why is Oneesama so hung up on this boy?"
Urd smiled. "Well, you didn't get a chance to get to know him very well, but... well..." She rested on her rake and thought for a moment. She seemed to find an answer and started raking again. "You know how back in Heaven you're always chasing guys away from her with your crackpot inventions?"
"They're not crackpot, and I have no idea what you're talking about!" Skuld sniffed.
"Oh, please!" Urd shot back with an evil grin. "You invented a diamond-toothed chainsaw you named 'Texas Murder' the same day that Greek messenger made a pass at her and offered to demonstrate it on his wings."
"He was a jerk-face," Skuld muttered in reply. "He would've been bad for her."
"Okay, now imagine if it was a guy who would always treat her well, always be kind, always smile for her, do absolutely anything for her and always place her above any other concern in his life."
Skuld paused. "That would be slightly more acceptable," Skuld relented with an arrogant sniff.
"Well, that pretty much describes Keiichi to a tee," Urd told her. "Slightly acceptable."
The knife in Belldandy's hand chopped each vegetable at precise intervals without a single flaw. She hadn't cooked once in the last two weeks, and she had missed it. She even found herself smiling for a moment.
Memories of this place swam through her, floating into her mind at random moments. She knew it was hard for Urd and Skuld to understand, but she loved this. For months, she and Keiichi had lived for one another.
For centuries she had gone from person to person, granting their greatest wishes, and she had taken pride and joy from seeing them fulfilled, but it was always a one-way street. When Keiichi had wished for her to remain by him, she knew it could have meant so many different things. She could have been his servant or something demeaning. Instead, he wished for her to become the most integral part of his life.
He had always put her first, saw to her comfort and happiness before his own. She had been sent to grant his wishes, and instead he ended up granting all of hers. And he had never asked for anything in return, though she offered it freely.
And now he was gone, lost.
A tear hit the cutting board below her.
"Are you okay?"
She turned quickly and found Skuld standing there. Quickly wiping her eyes, she turned back to the vegetables. "Yes," she said. "Onions make my eyes water."
Skuld frowned. "Oneesama," she said. "Those are carrots."
Belldandy shut her eyes and put the knife down. "I shouldn't have left," she whispered. "I should have taken the risk and stayed."
"No, Oneesama," Skuld said, hugging her older sister tightly. "This is my fault. If I had done a better job keeping the bugs under control, maybe..."
Belldandy shook her head. "No, Skuld. It was my decision, my responsibility. I knew what the right choice was, but I made the wrong one because I thought it would keep him safe. Now..."
"But we'll find him for you, Oneesama," Skuld promised as she looked up at her sister.
"Yes, we will," Urd said as she entered the kitchen. "First thing tomorrow we'll start checking the race tracks."
Belldandy held out a hand, and Urd stepped forward and joined the hug.
"And of course, this is the garage," Chihiro said, motioning to the incredibly large, cavernous building where various team vehicles were being worked on.
Sayoko nodded as she looked around. "Yes, quite nice," she muttered, not terribly interested. "It's good to see you're making good use of the money we send you."
"We appreciate Mishima's sponsorship very much," Chihiro said diplomatically.
Sayoko smiled. "I'm sure you do." She turned back to the garage. "So where are Keiichi and Megumi today?"
"Keiichi is running some kind of errand, and Megumi is..."
"Megumi is what?"
They turned and found the younger Morisato standing behind them in work coveralls.
"Megumi san!" Sayoko greeted in faux-excitement.
"Sayoko san," Megumi replied, less excited and showing it. She turned to Chihiro. "Chihiro san, you have a call in the front office."
The manager quickly excused herself and left Sayoko and Megumi alone.
"I was hoping to see your brother here today," Sayoko told her. "I wanted to ask him to have lunch, talk about... future opportunities with Mishima."
Megumi smiled. "He's in town today, taking care of some personal business."
"Ah," Sayoko said, her face falling a bit. "Out with her already, huh?"
The crew chief looked at her in shock. "How did you know about that?"
Sayoko shrugged. "She came to my office yesterday and asked if I knew where he was. I told her no. You know I've never been a fan. She can do her own leg work, especially the way she left things."
If Megumi was confused before, she was downright perplexed now. "Wait, how do you know Kasumi?"
The executive turned to her and blinked. "Kasumi? What are you talking about?"
The two stared at each other for a moment. Finally, Sayoko got it. "You don't know, do you?" she whispered.
Sayoko smiled. "Do you still hate her?"
Megumi's face turned ashen as it fell into place. "No way," she whispered. "No, this is too freaking ironic."
"I take it Keiichi is out with a girl as we speak?" Sayoko asked.
"He's on his way to ask out a friend of mine," Megumi admitted. "You know how he is, it doesn't count if it's over the phone."
The older woman's smile turned gentle. "He's still a hopeless romantic, isn't he?" Her smile dropped a moment later. "Seriously, though, I could take your friend, right?"
Megumi reached for her cell phone and found it missing. "Damn! I need to tell him!"
"Woah, woah, woah!" Sayoko interjected. "Why?"
"Why?!" Megumi repeated. "He's waited for this day for eight years!"
"So, Belldandy comes back from god knows where after eight years without a phone call, and just drops back into his life as if nothing happened... and that's okay with you?" Sayoko asked.
Megumi's retort died in her throat as her conversation with her brother came back to her. After eight years she had finally gotten him to come around. Belldandy's return could undo that, especially if she's dropping by just to visit or, god forbid, break things off permanently.
"She doesn't deserve him," Sayoko told her with some heat.
"He deserves to know," she replied quietly.
"He deserves to not get jerked around," Sayoko bit back. "Look, I'll admit, I've done my share of jerking your brother around back in the day, but..." She shook her head. "If I don't deserve him, then who the hell does? Certainly not her. Let her work for it. If she wants him so bad, she can come find him herself."
"I want to talk to her," Megumi said.
Sayoko snorted. "I bet. I still owe her. I've got a score to settle."
"We've both got scores to settle," Megumi told her seriously. "Do you know where she is?"
"I'm sure I can find out," the executive assured her.
"Let me know, will ya?" Megumi asked.
"What are you going to do about Keiichi?" Sayoko asked.
Megumi turned from her. "My brother has a date tonight. IF I bother him with this, I'll do it in the morning."
He found the door open and knocked on the door frame. Kasumi looked up from her desk and smiled. "Morisato san," she greeted. "Please come in."
Keiichi stepped gingerly into the classroom, sweat running down his back. He cleared his throat and stayed near the wall. In an attempt to at least appear nonchalant, he leaned against something, only to send a life-size model of a human skeleton crashing to the floor.
Kasumi arched an eyebrow as she watched bend over and start picking up bones. "You can just leave that," she assured him. "One of my students can put it back together for extra credit after lunch." She noticed his hesitation and asked, "Are you all right, Morisato san?"
"Yeah, yeah, I'm good," he assured her, laughing nervously. "How are you?"
She removed her glasses and stood up, walking out from behind her desk and leaning against the front. "What can I do for you?" she asked.
Keiichi swallowed and tried to fight for some sense of control.
It's just like the pre-race show, he told himself. Just like being on stage. You're not twenty anymore!
"Well," he began. "I was in the neighborhood, and well... You see... There's this charity ball tonight hosted by the Mishimas', the Gabriev Fund for Special Needs Children."
"Yeah, I read about that in the paper," Kasumi said with a smile.
"Well... I just happen to have an extra ticket, and I was wondering... If you weren't busy tonight... Maybe you'd like to come... with me."
The teacher's smile took on an amused glimmer. "You just HAPPEN to have an extra ticket?"
"To a hundred thousand yen per plate benefit dinner?" she finished.
Keiichi swallowed. "They were on sale," he said in the tone of an admission.
"I'd love to."
"Look, if you're busy, I understan..." He broke off. "Yes?"
She nodded. "It'll be fun," she told him. "When?"
"Um... Pick you up at six?"
"Oh, hamburgers!" she swore. "I have a parent-teacher conference at six." She looked for a solution. "I could meet you there."
"O..Okay," he said. He searched his jacket pocket until he found the ticket and handed it to her. "It's black tie, I hope that's okay."
"I have a black dress," she said.
"Okay," he replied, backing up carefully. "See you then."
Then he bumped into the doorframe and left.
"How many racetracks can one town possibly have?!" Urd practically screamed at the map spread out across the table.
Belldandy passed her a cup of tea while Skuld sat in the other room and watched TV.
"Nekomi Tech deals with a lot of auto research," Belldandy told her. "Racing and the things that go along with it are a big part of the economy."
"This is nuts," Urd said, shaking her head.
"GET OUT HERE RIGHT NOW!"
Skuld's scream put both goddesses into motion, rushing into the living room ready to battle demons. Instead, they found her pointing at the TV.
"What is it, Skuld?" Belldandy asked.
It was a local news show. A young woman was standing outside a building where several well-dressed people were walking past. In the background a man had pulled an old black motorcycle into the valet parking area and was taking off his helmet.
"Thank you, Diane," the reporter was saying. "The Mishima family hosts the Gabriev Banquet every year, inviting some of Japan's most famous personalities to donate money to special needs children. Oh, excuse me! Morisato san!"
"KEIICHI!" the three goddesses cried.
"I'm Tricia Takanawa with Channel Three with motorcycle racer, Keiichi Morisato. As a repeat guest at the Gabriev Banquet, can you tell me what brings these stars together tonight?"
Keiichi, looking out of place in a tuxedo with his helmet under his arm, cleared his throat nervously. "Well, it's the kids, of course," he said. "I mean, I can't speak for everyone here, but... well," he scratched the back of his head. "Look, we make a lot of money. Now, yeah, I could go out and blow it on a new car or a yacht or something, but what's that going to do for anyone else? Maybe the money we raise here will help wipe out a correctable birth defect. Who knows?"
Takanawa was nodding. "And how does this event work with your training schedule? The Osaka race is in one week."
Keiichi smiled. "Well, there's still plenty to do, but there's plenty of time to drive motorcycles when I'm dead, right?"
With that, Keiichi headed inside. "Um, thank you, Morisato san!" She turned back to the camera. "I'm Tricia Takanawa, outside the Fujisawa Convention Center in Nekomi..."
"Fujisawa Convention Center!" Skuld said, writing it down. "Oneesama, you can be there in a few minutes!"
"Wait!" Urd cried. "You can't go like that!"
"What do you mean?" Belldandy asked, looking down at her simple brown dress.
"It's a black tie event," Urd told her. "This has to be perfect!" She held her arm out as if gesturing to a grand stage. "Keiichi Morisato, alone for eight years, is at a crowded ball, a band is playing romantic music, when suddenly, a part in the crowd reveals the woman he said goodbye to eight years ago!" She looked at Belldandy critically. "Brown isn't going to cut it. Belldandy, SUIT UP!"
He looked up through the crowd and smiled. "Sayoko!" He saw the vice president waving him toward her table and pushed his way through the people to get to her.
"I'm glad you made it," Sayoko told him. She gestured to an elderly woman sitting in a wheelchair at her table. "You remember my mother, Rosa."
"Of course I do." He leaned down and gave the old woman a kiss on the cheek.
"Keiichi chan," she said with a smile. "I'm so glad you came to this."
"You say that every year as if I'm not going to show up," he told her with a grin.
"Where's Megumi?" the wheelchair-bound woman asked. "Or couldn't she make it?"
"If not, you can dance with Sayoko chan," she told him slyly. "I'm quite sure she won't mind."
"Okaasan!" Sayoko cried, blushing.
"Actually, I'm meeting someone here," Keiichi said quickly, scratching the back of his head. "She should be here any minute, actually."
In an upstairs women's bathroom, one of the mirrors began to shine brilliantly, and the goddess Belldandy floated gracefully to the ground, the hem of her dark blue dress not even touching the floor. Quickly turning to the mirror, she did as Urd told her and made sure her hair and make-up hadn't been disheveled during the trip.
Her sister was right. She wanted this to be perfect.
Dashing out the door, she went in search of Keiichi.
"And what are your plans after this race, Keiichi chan?" Rosa asked her.
He shrugged. "Who knows? Maybe I'll try cars." The band on stage had started a slow but faintly Latin sounding song when he looked up and saw her.
"Will you excuse me for a moment?" he asked quietly as he stood up.
Rosa saw the object of his gaze and smiled. "Of course."
She was standing on the opposite side of the dance floor and caught his eye a moment later. He saw her smile and start across the dance floor toward him. He stepped toward her, intending to meet her in the middle.
Here we do things slow,
Money, art, a broken heart,
Where did you want to go?
Senor, por favor,
To the Hotel Zona Rosa,
What did I come here for?
They met in the center of the dance floor, and he found himself floored by the sight of her. She noticed this and blushed. She had worn her hair down, and her dress was something she wasn't used to wearing. Without thinking, he offered her his hand.
She tentatively took it, and they started to dance without a word.
"You look great," he breathed.
Kasumi blushed brighter and smiled. "Thank you."
I run but the damage has been done,
Miles have gone away,
And my amore never come
I look up at the sky,
I am tired and dry,
Uno tecate and lime.
Thinking of you,
Underneath the Mexican moonlight,
Thinking of you,
Underneath the Mexican moon.
Up in the balconies, Urd watched Skuld scanning the crowd and shook her head. "Why did you bring a rifle?"
Skuld's eye never left the eyepiece of the phased plasma rifle's scope. "I left my power-binocs in Heaven!" she complained. "This is the only thing I have with a zoom!"
"You left the binocs... but you brought a rifle?"
"Hush! There she is!"
Sure enough, Belldandy was searching the outskirts of the crowd.
"Okay, you found her, but where's Keiichi?"
"Oh, yeah!" Skuld bit out. "Finding one dark-haired guy in a tuxedo among five hundred dark-haired guys in tuxedos is really easy..."
Kasumi looked up into his eyes as they danced. Even now there was a pain in them, something she had noticed before, something Megumi had hinted at.
Senor, you are wise,
I can see a million years,
A million tears behind your eyes.
Take me home.
Take me to the Zona Rosa,
Mariachis and tequila,
I will dance the night alone.
"Thank you for inviting me," she told him, a safe thing to say, she decided. "It's been a long time since I've been dancing."
Just some time,
Just a little kiss of mine,
Take me where I can forget, senor,
You are so very kind...
Keiichi barely heard her. He was exulting in the feelings he hadn't felt in eight years, sensations he had not even known he had missed. The feel of the teacher's hand in his, the smell of her perfume, the warmth of her body felt through the hand on her back. For eight years, he had lived like a monk and didn't realize how much he had hated it until this moment.
I look up at the sky,
I am tired and dry,
Dos tecate and lime,
Thinking of you,
Underneath the Mexican moonlight.
Thinking of you,
Underneath the Mexican moon.
Belldandy saw Sayoko and was about to walk over and ask where Keiichi was when she saw him out on the dance floor.
"Keiichi san," she breathed. She saw him turn, saw the woman he was holding come into her view. She shook her head.
"Uh oh..." Skuld muttered.
"What?" Urd asked. "What do you mean, uh oh?"
"I mean 'uh oh,'" Skuld told her sharply. "From the Latin 'uh' meaning 'scr' and the ancient Sumerian word 'oh' which translates to 'ewed!'"
Urd pulled the rifle out of her sister's hands and found what the problem was. "Uh oh," she said.
The older goddess lowered the rifle. "We need to get to Belldandy."
"Why? She's already seen them together. She knows."
"Yeah," Urd said, scanning the floor for her sister. "But Belldandy has this thing where she gets jealous and stuff starts to explode."
Skuld winced. "That might become an issue."
Belldandy forced herself to watch. She had to be sure. That woman could be anyone, after all. A friend from school, a cousin. It didn't mean anything unless...
She saw them start to lean in for a kiss and shut her eyes.
"Excuse me, Miss, would you like to dance?" a man standing next to her asked.
Sobbing hysterically, Belldandy ran off.
"Stop," he whispered.
Kasumi's eyes flew open, their lips barely inches apart.
"I'm sorry," he whispered. "But I can't yet."
She eased back, feeling rather foolish. "I see," she told him.
"No, you don't," he replied. "It's not you, you're great. I just..."
That troubled look crossed his eyes again. "Do you want to go somewhere and talk?" she asked. He gave her a skeptical look. "You might feel better," she said.
He shook his head and chuckled tiredly. "Sure," he said.
"Belldandy?" Urd called as she entered the bathroom.
Skuld followed a moment later. "I thought you said there'd be explosions? I didn't hear any explosions."
"Hush for a moment, okay?" Urd demanded. Skuld stuck her tongue out at her sister, but remained silent. Urd had a good idea about what had happened, and was vindicated a moment later when she heard sniffling from one of the far stalls.
The goddesses approached and found the door slightly ajar. Slowly opening it, Urd looked down at the occupant in pity.
Belldandy was sobbing into her hands, her satin gloves practically soaked with tears and mucus.
"Belldandy," Urd said quietly. "Hey, it'll be okay." The words sounded hollow, even to Urd. She reached out and hugged her sister, patting her back.
"What's she doing here?" Skuld asked quietly, not wanting to disturb the scene.
Urd looked back at her. "She's stunned. It's affected her so much she couldn't summon enough of her power to transport herself home."
"Oneesama," Skuld whispered.
"He's given up on me," Belldandy whispered through her sobs.
"You don't know that yet," Urd reassured her quietly.
"I shouldn't have left." Belldandy looked up into Urd's eyes, and it was the most heartwrenching thing the older goddess had ever seen.
"Skuld, help me get her up."
"You're going to think I'm crazy," Keiichi told her as they walked down the well-lit street. The street was crowded enough, with all the outdoor restaurants and boutiques, but offered them enough privacy to speak.
"Anyone who rides a motorcycle two hundred miles per hour for a piece of plastic is crazy, Keiichi san," Kasumi told him point blank. "What's left to lose?"
He smiled and nodded. "Yeah, I guess so. That's what Megumi says, anyway."
She regarded him carefully for several moments. "I don't know you very well, Keiichi san," she said. "But I know enough to know you're hurting. Megumi hinted that you were... shy."
"Look, I don't do this very often, but like you said, what's left to lose?" Keiichi said, stopping and turning to her. "I find you very attractive. But..."
"You're in love with somebody else," she concluded.
"It's not that simple," he said, starting to walk again. "I was in love with someone very special. Eight years ago, she had to leave. And I just haven't been able to... connect with anyone since then."
"Eight YEARS?" she asked.
"I told you you'd think I was crazy."
"Wait a second!" She stopped and forced him to face her. "You've carried a torch for this woman for eight years?"
She tried not to press too hard. The topic was obviously a touchy one with him. He nodded.
"Yeah," he said.
"Does she know?"
"I don't know," he said. "I haven't seen or heard from her since then."
"She must have really been something," she allowed.
He only nodded.
"I don't think you're crazy, Keiichi san," she said as she started to walk again. "I think it's romantic and sweet. Most MARRIED men wouldn't be able to hold out eight years, especially without seeing or talking to their wives." Her tone was wistful, but Keiichi still caught a hint of acid in what she said.
"Sounds like you know from experience," he said.
She regarded him for several moments before deciding how to answer him. "I was engaged for awhile, to a soldier in the JSDF. While he was deployed he..." Her face twisted in angry embarrassment. "He slept with another officer. He was gone less than a month." Her tone turned bitter. "What happens on deployment, stays on deployment, they say."
"I'm sorry," he said. "I shouldn't have pried."
She shrugged. "I'm prying into your life, you're entitled. I'm just sorry that your fidelity is rewarded so poorly."
"Megumi thinks I'm insane," he told her. "Not in the playful, 'you're nuts,' kind of way. She really thinks there's something wrong with me."
Kasumi thought on this for several moments. "I think it depends," she said. "If you really believe this woman is going to return to you, then you're not crazy for waiting. If you don't, and you're just waiting because you're afraid to try, then maybe you are."
She stopped and turned to him. "I also think you're being unfair to her."
"What do you mean?"
"Maybe you're strong enough to wait for her, but that's putting a lot on her, especially after eight years." The teacher took his arm. "Let me ask you this: If she knew after say a year, that she would never be able to see you again, would you want her to move on with her life?"
"Of course," he said. "I couldn't ask her to wait forever."
"Then what makes you think she would want YOU to?"
He didn't have an answer. He knew Belldandy well enough to know what she would say. It didn't matter to him. He promised to wait.
It's not fair, he thought. He knew that was true as well. Megumi was right about one thing. He hadn't pictured himself alone when he hit thirty. He did want a family, but he wanted it with Belldandy.
Assuming she ever wanted that to begin with.
That thought was becoming more and more frequent as well. Their relationship was never concrete, and he saw that as his fault. He had never probed Belldandy about her feelings, just told himself what he wanted to hear.
He looked over at Kasumi, simultaneously loving and hating what she represented. If he let himself get carried away, he could see a family portrait with her and two children in it and know he would be perfectly content with that. At the same time, he knew that picture could only be taken by breaking his promise to the only woman he had ever loved.
So far... he heard Megumi's voice correct him.
Together, they continued walking into the night.
To be continued...