Disclaimer: I don't own AMG.
Foreword: This is a stand-alone sequel to the fic, "Timidity."
"All your life you've never seen,
A woman - taken by the sky,
Would you stay if she promised you heaven?
Would you even try?"
As the staff meeting broke up, the highest ranking valkyrie officer stood up and gathered her notes. Heading to the door that would lead her to the command section and her office outside the Tactical Operations Center, her aide-de-camp fell into step beside her.
"I'll have the notes transcribed within the hour, Ma'am," the aide told her. She started handing the senior valkyrie infopads. "Morning dispatches..." She handed her another one. "Requisitions requests from the Seventh SOS... And personnel reassignment lists," she said.
Lind, commander of the 1st Combat Division, Heaven's defense arm, took each infopad with the practiced grace of someone who had done it thousands of times before.
"Anything particularly interesting?" she asked her aide.
"Um, yes!" the aide said, searching through a pile of papers she was holding under her arm. "Personal correspondence." She handed Lind a small envelope.
The valkyrie commander read the return address and, recognizing the handwriting immediately, smiled... just a bit.
"Thank you, Gaeriel," she said as they arrived at her office. "I'd like an hour to myself please."
"Yes, Ma'am," the young aide replied.
Lind entered the office and sat down behind her simple steel desk. She put the letter aside and started going through the personnel list, but her eyes betrayed her, continually glancing toward the simple white envelope.
After several minutes of not being able to get past the first page, she reached for the envelope and opened it.
Where now, I wonder, she thought.
Lind was not known for having many friends. Comrades, yes, but not friends. As such, these letters, which she had been receiving on and off for the last hundred and fifty years, provided her with a few moments where work wasn't foremost on her mind.
She sat back and read the letter. No two letters had been alike, and this one was no different. Her reaction to it, however, was.
Lind put the letter gently down on her desk as a very new thought entered her mind.
Why not? she asked herself. Did you, yourself, not say that you couldn't until you had accomplished your goal within the Division and found your second angel? Have you not done that?
She tapped her fingernails against the desk in thought. It was a ridiculous idea. She had been much younger back then, less mature...
Less set in my ways? she asked herself. There was that too. She wouldn't even know where to begin.
And when had that ever been an excuse for inaction? The plain truth of the matter was that she had run out of excuses, and with the defeat of the angel eater and the advent of her second angel, the only excuse that had really mattered was no longer there.
She looked up at the ceiling and teased herself with the idea. She was within her rights, having served as a valkyrie her entire adult life, she was entitled...
Admit it, she thought. You've become comfortable with what is, and the thought of taking such risks no longer excites you the way it once did. Now you fear it.
I am not afraid.
No, she wasn't afraid. She was ill-prepared. And if that was all that was holding her back, then she had no excuse. She simply needed the proper training.
She blinked, remembering that such an opportunity might be arising. Lind had seen something in yesterday's dispatches. Searching her desk drawer, she found the old infopad and brought up the information.
Yes, there it was. A two-week temporary duty assignment that would allow her to learn all the skills she would need.
She picked up her phone and put a call in to Frigga. There was no point in going through the usual channels when she was on a first name basis with the head of the Help Line. Once that was done, she started feeling better about her decision.
She even smiled... just a little.
Tapping her intercom, she waited for Gaeriel to reply.
"Send Colonel Gwydion in here, please," she ordered. "I have a new assignment for him."
Lind sat back and waited, her pulse quickening just a bit.
Yes... not killing him had been the right decision...
"I've left enough pre-made meals in the refrigerator to last, just in case," Belldandy said as she put her finger to her mouth in thought, trying to remember if there was anything else that had to be done before she left.
"Belldandy, we'll be okay," Keiichi told her, scratching the back of his head. "No problem!"
"Trust me, Keiichi," Urd said, leaning on the shorter man, "If I have to eat something you cook, there's going to be a problem."
"She's only going to be gone two weeks," Keiichi told her. "I think we'll live. Shoot, I spent most of my freshman year surviving on uncooked ramen and ketchup packs..."
"That is positively disgusting," Urd told him.
"There's enough detergent to do laundry..." Belldandy went on, pointing at the hamper. "And there's plenty of cleaning supplies for the temple."
Keiichi nodded while Urd looked bored.
"I think that's everything," Belldandy said. "I hope so, anyway."
"It'll be fine, Belldandy," Urd said. "It's not like we're going to do that stuff anyway."
The middle Norn's face fell.
"We'll do it," Keiichi assured her. "You just concentrate on your recertification test, okay?"
Belldandy smiled. "Hai. Thank you, Keiichi san."
"I just don't get how you got around the System Force on this," Urd said. "Two weeks is a long time down here."
"I'm not sure, really," Belldandy said. "I called the Goddess Help Line to ask and they just said they'd 'handle it.'"
"Well, that's disconcerting," Urd noted with an arched eyebrow.
"I'm sure Moder knows what she's doing," Belldandy said as she walked into the living room.
She turned and faced Keiichi, a blush suffusing her cheeks. "Keiichi san..."
"I'll miss you," she said. "But I'll hurry back as quickly as I can!"
He swallowed nervously. "Belldandy... I..."
Urd's lips were suddenly at his ear. "Aren't you going to kiss her goodbye?"
He cried out in surprise and jumped. "HUH?!"
The eldest sister rolled her eyes. "She is going away for two weeks. Shouldn't she have a kiss to remember you by?"
As Urd shrugged defensively, there was a flash of blue light from the kitchen. The Norns and mortal turned and saw a familiar figure walk through the kitchen door into the living room.
"Lind san?" Belldandy asked.
"Are you here to arrest Urd?!" Skuld asked, her eyes shining. She clasped her hands in prayer. "Please say you're here to arrest Urd!"
"Har har har," Urd bit out, glancing acidly at her sister.
"What brings you here, Lind san?" Keiichi asked with a smile. They hadn't seen the valkyrie since the angel eater incident, though she had promised to return, calling Keiichi a life-long friend. The fact that he had carried her angel had seemed to form a bond between them, something difficult to describe and even harder to share.
Lind rested her pole-axe against the wall and turned back to them. "I'm Belldandy's stand-in."
"Stand-in?" Belldandy asked. "What do you mean?"
"You will be away for two weeks," Lind told her. "In order for that to happen without the System Force coming into play, the letter of Keiichi kun's wish must be maintained, and a goddess like you must remain by his side. As a first class goddess, I qualify for that position."
"Lind is the replacement Belldandy?!" Urd asked, trying to hold back a fit of laughter. "Under that logic, Skuld can replace Lind because she blows things up!"
"Um... What do you mean by 'stand-in'... exactly?" Keiichi asked.
Lind turned her cool gaze on him. "It means that I will perform all the tasks Belldandy currently performs for you as goddess, girlfriend and lover."
This time Urd couldn't help it. The love goddess was rolling on the floor laughing.
Keiichi turned red and started to cough.
Belldandy stood stock-still, wide-eyed, as an avalanche of images suddenly slammed into her brain. Lind feeding Keiichi from a fresh-made bento. Lind hanging Keiichi's clothes on the line to dry. Lind tucking Keiichi in at night. Lind holding Keiichi's hand on the deck of a ferry as the sun set behind them...
"I changed my mind!" she suddenly announced. "I'm not going!"
Urd managed to climb to her feet, still wiping tears from her eyes. "Oh, I don't care who you are, that's funny..." She turned to Belldandy. "You have to go."
"No, I don't!" Belldandy cried fearfully in response.
"True," Urd said. "Technically you don't. You can just fail to recertify and let your license lapse. Then you'll be Belldandy! Goddess Second Class!"
"At which point you will no longer be permitted to stay here," Lind added helpfully. Belldandy gave her a horrified look as Lind went on. "As you will be a goddess second class rather than a first class, you will no longer meet the criteria of Keiichi kun's wish."
The blood drained from Belldandy's face. Urd grinned at her. "Don't worry, Sis, I'm sure Lind will take good care of Keiichi for you until you get back."
The floor suddenly shifted under their feet, throwing Keiichi and Skuld to the ground.
Lind, unaware of the subtext, found a way to make matters worse. "You need not concern yourself, Belldandy," she said. "I will endeavor to either meet or surpass your standards when it comes to caring for Keiichi kun."
Urd had to leave the room to keep from laughing out loud.
Belldandy took several deep breaths and squared her shoulders. "Thank you," she managed to get out, the first hint of tears appearing in her eyes.
"It's my pleasure," Lind replied.
Keiichi turned to Belldandy. "Don't worry, Belldandy," he said. "I'm... I'm sure Lind san will do fine... You know... I mean, she's no you... and..."
"I'll miss you, Keiichi," she told him, teary eyed.
"I'll miss you too," he said quietly.
She leapt forward and hugged him tightly. Standing off to the side, Lind watched closely as Belldandy stepped back and wiped a tear from her eye.
"I have to go," she whispered. Then, giving the boy a quick peck on the cheek, she rushed into the bathroom and disappeared in a flash of blue light.
"Kei...iiiii...chiiiii!" Skuld growled.
Before the youngest Norn could pull a Skuld bomb and attack, Lind was addressing Keiichi.
"Please show me to Belldandy's room so that I might put on proper attire and begin my work here," she requested.
"Um, yeah, sure," Keiichi said. "This way."
The college student led the valkyrie down the hall and opened the door to Belldandy's room. "Do you have any bags or anything?" he asked.
"No," she replied.
"Okay," Keiichi said. "Well... Um... I'm sure you're tired after your trip. So whenever you're ready, just come on out and join us."
"Thank you," she said.
The boy walked out, closing the door behind him. Lind took a quick look around the small but comfortable room. There was a mirror on the far wall, and she took a moment to take a look at herself in it. She fingered the collar and rank insignia of her uniform and knew it would have to go. If she was going to learn anything, she would have to immerse herself.
She walked to the closet and looked for something suitable to change into.
When Keiichi returned to the living room, he found Urd tapping furiously on a laptop computer he didn't even know the goddess owned.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
"I'm posting about this on my blog," she said excitedly. "Seriously, this has been, I think, the second funniest day of my life."
"What was the first?" he asked fearfully.
"My lawyer told me not to go into it with anyone," she said, her eyes not coming off the screen. "It's weird, though, don't you think? Lind coming here?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. Is it? I mean... she's a first class goddess like Belldandy, right?"
"They have similar licences, yeah," she said. "But different stations."
"What do you mean?" Keiichi asked.
She looked up at him. "She's the commander of the Combat Division," she told him. "Her coming here to stand in on a wish is like sending Douglas MacArthur to guard a bathroom. It's weird."
He shrugged. "Maybe no one else could do it?"
"No one should really have to," she said. "Like I said, it's just weird."
Keiichi cringed just a bit in concern. "You think Belldandy will be okay?"
Urd smiled evilly. "She'll finish her trials in a week and a half just to make sure Lind doesn't steal you away," she teased. "I'll bet you a bottle on it."
They turned as Lind entered the room and blinked. The lithe valkyrie was wearing one of Belldandy's brown dresses and looking distinctly uncomfortable.
"Well don't you look cute?" Urd said with a wide smile.
"It's the only thing I could find that wasn't in a bright color," she said. "But I'm having trouble with the length of the skirt."
"Too short?" Urd asked.
"Too long," she replied. "It's hampering movement. It's not tactical."
"You can borrow something from me if you like," Urd offered.
"No," Lind said concretely. "This will do."
Urd blinked at being rebuffed so finally. Before she could investigate further, Lind had turned to Keiichi.
"It's approaching meal time, is it not?" she asked. "I'll need access to your cutlery."
"Um... Yeah, it's in the counter drawer on the top left," he said. Lind went to the kitchen, leaving the confused mortal and goddess in the living room.
"Definitely weird," Urd muttered.
The two snuck to the kitchen door and surreptitiously peaked through. Lind stood at the kitchen counter with an onion in one hand and a ginsu knife in the other. She tossed the onion a foot in the air and made several lightning fast moves with the knife. The onion hit the countertop in pieces.
"See?" Keiichi whispered to Urd. "She's doing okay."
Urd frowned at him. "You realize the last time she used that move it wasn't against a vegetable, right?"
Keiichi paled a little.
Lind placed a plate holding a simple white cube about three inches across in front of Keiichi before moving on and placing a similar one in front of Urd and Skuld.
Keiichi smiled. "It smells..." He wanted to say it smelled wonderful, but the brick of... whatever it was... had no smell whatsoever to hint at its taste. "What is it?" he asked.
"It's a high protein, high carbohydrate energy cube," Lind told him as she sat down next to him.
Skuld poked at it with her chopsticks. "What's it like?" she asked.
"Valkyries carry them into prolonged combat," Lind told her. "Just one will keep a war god on his feet and ready to fight for an entire day."
"It looks like it tastes like crap," Skuld complained.
"Hey, come on!" Keiichi said, trying to show some optimism. "Lind san went through a lot of trouble to make us a nice lunch, and I'm sure it tastes wonderful!" He punctuated this by breaking off a piece of the cube and putting it in his mouth.
The boy chewed three times before his mouth froze. The goddesses watched him intently. Lind looked for a reaction from him.
He took a deep breath and forced himself to continue chewing. "Mmmmm," he said enthusiastically as tears welled up in his eyes.
"I'm getting one of Oneesama's pre-made meals," Skuld declared, rushing to the refrigerator. Urd followed her a moment later.
As the youngest Norn pulled the fridge door open, she paused and gasped in shock, her mouth falling open in horror.
The refrigerator was stuffed with white cubes.
"Wh... What happened to the bentos Oneesama made?" Skuld whimpered.
"They weren't sturdy enough to last more than a week," Lind told her as she bit off a piece of her protein cube. "So I replaced them. You now have enough food to last for the next three months."
Skuld started to shake. She grabbed hold of Urd. "Urd, I'm scared!" she cried.
Urd laughed worriedly. "Oh, don't be a baby! They can't be that bad!" She turned back to the table and saw Keiichi still chewing his first bite. It took her a moment to realize that the mortal boy was afraid to swallow.
Finally, Keiichi gathered his courage and swallowed. He coughed for a moment, then, seeing Lind looking at him inquisitively, smiled and said. "It's... It's great..."
"Here," she said. "Have another piece." She stabbed a piece of her cube with a knife and held it out to him.
"No!" he cried. "I'm... just going to nurse this one a little... Let my food settle... You shouldn't eat so fast..."
Behind Lind's back, Urd held up a piece of poster board bearing a quickly scribbled, "GOING FOR PIZZA! NEED MONEY! WILL BRING BACK HELP!"
Keiichi smiled and reached into his pocket. At the same time, he pushed his chopsticks over the side of the table. "Oops!" he said. "Lind san, could you..."
She leaned over to retrieve the utensils, and Keiichi quickly threw his wallet over the table to Urd's outstretched hands. The Norn gave him a thumbs up and ran swiftly from the room as Lind sat up again.
He cleared his throat. "So... Lind san," he began. "I was wondering... why you?"
"Why me what?" she asked as she nonchalantly took another bite from her protein cube.
"Well, I mean... Don't they need you in Heaven? It just seems weird, you coming down here."
"Belldandy and I are both goddesses first class," she said. "I am familiar with the personalities on the ground. It made sense."
"I guess," he said nervously. "So... what next?"
"I will perform whatever duties and functions Belldandy performs here," she said simply. "It would help if you could tell me what those entail."
"Oh, well... Let's see," he said. "She cooks... Which... you know, you don't have to do. We can just have ramen or..."
"I will cook," she announced, not noticing Keiichi's deflated look. "What else?"
"She does laundry," he listed. "And cleans up the house..."
He gave the question more thought. It was hard to list all the things Belldandy did. It just seemed natural that she did them. "Oh, and she has classes tomorrow," he told her. "She takes thermodynamics, physics and world history this semester. Is that okay?"
"It will be simple enough to fill in for her."
Keiichi bit his lip in thought. "Oh, and she likes to sing to the trees."
"What?" Lind asked, turning to him.
He blinked. "The trees," he said. "She likes to sing to them."
Lind looked uncomfortable at this. "I don't sing very well," she said.
"Well, I'm sure she doesn't need you to do that," he told her.
"What about her duties as they pertain to you?" she asked.
He blinked. "Um... What?" he asked.
She gave him a very businesslike look. "Belldandy is your girlfriend, correct? Your paramour?"
"Your paramour," she repeated. "Your lover?"
Keiichi turned a deep crimson. "Um..."
"I must warn you," she said. "My skills in those regards will not be to the level that you're used to as I'm sure Belldandy is quite adept at love-making."
He started to cough in embarrassment.
"Are you all right?" she asked. "Do you need water?"
"No," he said, turning a deeper shade of purple. "It's just that... um... I think you have the wrong idea, here... Belldandy and I haven't... and no offense, but if we had, I wouldn't go behind her back and do that with you..."
"I see," she said calmly. "I apologize. I did not mean to make you uncomfortable. I only assumed given how long you've been together that..."
"No," he said quickly. "No... Not yet," he seemed to sigh.
"Is that normal?" she asked suddenly.
He blinked. Why the sudden interest in their sex life? From Lind it seemed like an unusual question.
"Um... I guess not really," he said. He cleared his throat nervously. "Some couples wait for awhile, and some don't..."
"Which is better?" she asked.
He really wished he could find a way out of this conversation. "I... I don't know," he said honestly.
"What about social stigmas?" she asked.
He winced and shrugged. "I really don't know. You know who would, though? Urd," he suggested. "She's a love goddess. I'm sure she could tell you all about it." He stood up. "Um, sorry to run off, but I have to get the Beemer tuned up before school tomorrow."
Lind watched him leave, her eyes narrowing. This was going to be much more difficult than she thought. Given the length of time Belldandy and Keiichi had been together on Earth, Lind had naturally assumed that their relationship had evolved to the point where they would at least have some knowledge they could pass to her. As it seemed, however, their relationship was... stagnant.
Perhaps she would ask Urd. In the meantime, she had to get started on Belldandy's chores.
When he got to the small garage where his Beemer was kept, he found Urd and Skuld were already there, eating slices of pizza.
"Oh, thank you!" he cried, falling on the food like a ravenous wolf.
"The next two weeks are going to suck," Urd told them through a mouthful of pepperoni. "I mean, we can get by on Belldandy leftovers. Shoot, we can even survive on just ingredients that she left in the fridge. But Lind's cooking... and I am not exaggerating here... will literally kill us all."
"But what can we do?" Skuld asked. "She's taking this really seriously."
"Keiichi," Urd said, swallowing a mouthful of pizza. "You have to stand up to her."
He froze, half a calzone crammed into his face. "MEH?" he asked.
"Yes, you!" Urd told him. "She's only here because of that wish you made! Oh, sure, it was all well and good when Belldandy was granting it, but I guarantee you, this is just the beginning."
"What am I supposed to do?!" he cried.
"You're going to have to put your foot down and tell her no," Urd said.
"Yeah, I'm not going to do that," he said seriously.
"Um... I don't know if you saw the battle axe she carries around with her," Keiichi said. "But I have, and I think that means she wins... like... at everything."
Skuld looked pensively down at her soda pop. "Maybe we're being a little hard on her," she said.
"Huh?" Urd asked.
"Well," Skuld continued, "I mean... Name one goddess who could have come down here and done the job better or even as good as Oneesama," she dared them. "Who else could they have sent? Peorth? She's only been here for an hour or so. I think we should just give her a fair chance."
Urd smiled. "Well, well, well... My baby sister is growing a sense of maturity."
"Am not!" Skuld cried reflexively. "Wait... What?" She blinked in surprise.
Keiichi sighed. "Yeah, you're right," he said. "But there's something else, something kind of weird."
"What do you mean?"
"Well... after you left, she started asking a lot of questions about me and Belldandy," he said. "I mean... really personal kind of questions."
Urd arched an eyebrow and smiled evilly. "Maybe she has a thing for you and she's testing the waters."
"Just a theory," Urd told him.
They had each snuck a slice of pizza into their rooms in case Lind tried to serve more of the Albino Death Loaf for dinner. Cold pizza wasn't Keiichi's favorite dish, and he grimaced as he shoved another bite of hardened cheese into his mouth as he looked over his psych notes.
He missed Belldandy already. The boy wondered how she was doing.
Shoving another piece of pizza into his mouth, he chewed and tried to forget her at least long enough to study.
He jumped when someone slapped his shoulders and shook him. Keiichi coughed as the pizza lodged in his throat and he clutched at his neck.
"What's the problem there, buddy, choking?" someone asked him.
Keiichi's tears started to water as he tried to expel the pizza from his throat. The owner of the voice wrapped his arms around him and pulled upward into his chest in the Heimlich Maneuver.
A wet gob of dough hit his psych text book, and he coughed as the mystery man slapped his back.
"You okay?" he asked. "Good to go?"
Keiichi turned and found a man with short curly hair looking down at him. The man wore a light grey suit with a purple shirt and a black tie with tiny hearts on it.
"Who the heck are you?" Keiichi coughed out.
"Oh, yeah," the man said, holding his hand out. "Keiichi Morisato, my name is Anteros, god of unrequited love."
"A love god?" Keiichi asked in confusion.
"Why do you say it like that?" Anteros asked him, adjusting his tie.
"I... just never met a god before," he said. "Plenty of goddesses, but never a god." Keiichi shrugged. "I... just kind of assumed there weren't any."
"Yeah, well, we don't get a whole lot of calls," Anteros told him. "I mean if you had a choice between seeing me or a goddess like Lind... or Peorth or Belldandy..." he added after a moment. "Which would you choose?"
Keiichi nodded. It made sense. "So..." He frowned. "Look, don't take this the wrong way, but I don't want anymore wishes, okay? I'm having a hard enough time with the one I've got."
"Oh, I'm not here for you," the god told him with an evil smile. "Well... Kinda-sorta, I suppose."
"So... why are you here?"
"The goddess Lind," Anteros began. "Is here for two weeks. Do you know why?"
Keiichi shrugged. "She said she's filling in for Belldandy."
"Riiiight," Anteros said as if speaking to a dim child. "Because any time a granting goddess goes on a break they call out the top valkyrie in Heaven to fill in."
"Well, I don't know!" Keiichi told him. "Why don't you tell me?"
"Lind is looking for love," Anteros told him. "And for some reason she chose to come down here while Belldandy is away..." He gave him a sideways look. "I do wonder why..."
Keiichi turned red. "I'm... I... I'm... I mean..."
"For some reason, Lind seems to have set her sights on you," Anteros told him. His expression turned remorseful as he muttered. "Better man won, congratulations, etcetera..." He took a breath and put the smile back on. "Anyway, as Aphrodite owes her a favor, she has asked me to come down here and make sure things go swimmingly between you two."
"You don't seem enthused," Anteros noted. "Something wrong with Lind?" A note of defensiveness entered his voice.
"No, it's just..."
"She's not beautiful enough for you?" Anteros asked.
"No, I mean, yeah... but... I'm in... I mean... Belldandy... I..."
"Oh relax!" Anteros told him. "There's a chance... a good chance..." He seemed hopeful at this. "... that she's just looking for a fling... a way to blow off some steam... I mean, honestly!" he laughed. "Why would a woman like Lind want a guy like you? What with your bushy eyebrows, short stature and forgettable face..."
Keiichi frowned at the implication.
"So all you have to do is take her to a dinner or two, hold her hand..." He shrugged. "Maybe give her a ride on the old K-Train..."
Keiichi's eyes went wide.
Anteros shrugged and examined the pictures on his book shelf. "I'm sure in a few days she'll grow bored with you and leave."
"What if she doesn't?" Keiichi cried. "I can't... I mean... I can't cheat on Belldandy!"
"Oh, you can, my friend," Anteros told him with a smile. "And you will. You see, Keiichi, I'm what you would call a 'love avenger.' Any time someone rejects the love of another, they send me to set things right. Either through gentle persuasion like what we have here... or... I can shoot you in the chest with a love arrow that will make you fall head over heels in love with whomever I want."
"So, you go ahead and make the call," Anteros told him as he started toward Keiichi's bottle of cologne. "I'll see you tomorrow, and don't tell anyone I'm here." He winked. "There are worse people I can force you to fall in love with than Lind."
With a puff of Hai Karate, Anteros disappeared into the cologne bottle.
Keiichi sat back down and slammed his head against the desk in frustration.
Lind stripped down to her underwear and regarded the skirt she had worn all day. Its length was still hazardous in regards to freedom of movement, and she gave some thought to simply wearing her uniform tomorrow.
But that wouldn't do at all. The point of this exercise was to immerse herself in the lifestyle of a young woman in love, not cling to the ways that were comfortable. There had to be a middle ground.
Her thoughts went back to what she managed to learn today, which was very little. Perhaps Keiichi wasn't the person to learn from. There could be others willing to help her. Perhaps at the school tomorrow she would learn more.
In the meantime, she had to solve the uniform problem. Perhaps the skirts were fine... Or perhaps they could be adjusted.
Raising the skirt in one hand, she lifted a pair of shears with the other...
Keiichi blushed in sympathetic embarrassment again as another guy wolf-whistled at Lind while the two walked toward the main quad. He forced himself not to look down at the valkyrie's legs, now readily displayed in the shortened skirt.
At first, Keiichi had thought Belldandy's dress just didn't fit right on the other woman, who was a little taller than the Norn. However, it didn't take long for him to realize that the skirt itself was a good six inches shorter than it was before and had a slit going up one side.
If the newfound attention fazed the valkyrie, she didn't let on.
"So, the um... the snack bar is in that building," he said, pointing it out as they walked. "And that building there is the math hall..."
"Where is the first class?" Lind asked him.
"This way," he said, pointing out a building up the path.
As they walked, Lind took a look at the boy and decided to try putting some things Belldandy taught her into practice. She allowed her lips to quirk up in a smile. "Thank you for helping me today, Keiichi kun," she said.
His breath caught in his throat as Lind looked at him. "Um... No problem," he squeaked.
Could what Anteros told him really be true? Was Lind really... in love... with him?
It was true that they shared a bond. They had shared an angel, after all. Her angels had seemed rather taken with him after the Angel Eater had been banished. Perhaps...
But even so! Would Lind really try to steal him from Belldandy? While she was away and couldn't say or do anything? It seemed low class for the valkyrie.
They stopped outside the physics hall, and he cleared his throat. "Okay, Belldandy's class is upstairs," he told her. "I have to go to Calc, so I'll meet you here in an hour, all right?"
"Very well," she said.
"Um... See you later," he said. He offered a shaky smile and walked off.
Lind arched an eyebrow. Keiichi was acting strangely today. Much more nervous than the day before. Something had changed in the last twelve hours.
As she entered the building, her thoughts turned to what her next move should be. Perhaps observation.
Her eyes fell on a young man approaching from the other end of the hall. Four young women were trailing behind him, paying very close attention to everything he said and did. Perhaps this was the knowledgeable teacher she required.
She stepped toward him, ready to engage...
Keiichi jumped as he heard the noise behind him. Turning, he saw Anteros standing there.
"What are you doing here?" he asked.
"Keeping an eye on things," the god told him. "So?"
"So what?" Keiichi asked.
Anteros arched an eyebrow and waited. "So... have you asked her out?"
"No, I haven't," Keiichi told him. "I keep telling you. I can't betray Belldandy like that."
"Oh, jeez, don't be so suburban!" Anteros told him. "In the old days, guys like you could line up a dozen women..." He paused. "Of course, when I say 'guys like you,' what I really mean is kings and sultans and such..."
"What are you saying, Anteros san? That I go out with both?"
Anteros smiled proudly. "See?! Now you're getting this love thing!"
"I can't have both," Keiichi told him. His certainty dropped a tad a moment later. "Um... Can I?"
"Keiichi, my friend, let me put it in a way that a young Japanese man will understand..." Anteros cleared his throat and thought of an appropriate comparison. "Women... are like Voltron."
"Voltron?" Keiichi asked with an arched eyebrow.
"Voltron!" Anteros repeated. "The more you can hook up, the better it gets!"
"You're worse than Urd," Keiichi muttered, shaking his head and walking off.
"Hey, Keiichi!" he said, trotting up to him. "Remember? Love avenger? I have a sack of love arrows right here. Do you need to see them? I don't think you do."
Keiichi wasn't listening. There was some kind of commotion back at the physics hall.
The physics hall where he had left the deadliest goddess in all of Creation... by herself... in a world she didn't really understand.
"Oh, damn!" he cried, rushing back toward the hall.
"Good!" Anteros called right after him. "That's what I like to see, Keiichi! Some hustle!" He clapped his hands. "Go get her, Tiger!"
When he arrived at the scene, he stopped short and cried out in shock.
Lind had Aoshima face down on the ground with his arm twisted behind his back.
"AAAUUGGHHH!" Aoshima protested.
Lind's face betrayed no emotion whatsoever. "You touched me without my permission," she told him.
"Oh, come on!" he gasped out painfully. "You walk up to me wearing a dress like that and come onto me..."
She twisted his arm again, and he cried out in agony. The valkyrie arched an eyebrow. "Is it customary to try to place blame on the female when a romantic move is rebuffed?" she asked seriously.
"Wh...What?!" he cried out in shock.
"It seems... counter to what I've experienced in the past," she told him.
A crowd was starting to form around them. Keiichi pushed his way to the front and found Otaki and Tamiya watching dispassionately from the sidelines.
"Morisato," Tamiya rumbled in greeting.
He nodded in Lind's direction as the valkyrie gave Aoshima's arm another twist. "Is this the new exchange student living at your house?"
"Yeah," Keiichi replied, blinking. "How did you know about that?"
Otaki grinned. "We read about it on Urd's blog," he said.
"By the way," Tamiya said. "We just want to go on record as saying that her blog's name, 'Urd's Naughty Bedtime Stories,' we find very misleading."
"Yeah," Keiichi told them. "She calls it that to get the hits from Google."
They looked up as Aoshima screamed again. "Is... anyone going to stop her?" Hasegawa asked nervously.
"What happened, anyway?" Keiichi asked.
"Just Aoshima being himself," Megumi threw in from down the line. "Made a pass at your friend and gave her a little pinch..."
Keiichi winced. That was probably the very worst thing Aoshima could have done.
"Look!" Aoshima was crying. "Look! I'm sorry, all right! I'm sorry!" Then he went and made things worse. "But you can't just walk around dressed like a slut and expect a guy not to treat you like it!"
Lind's eyes narrowed. "I see," she said. She turned to the girls in Aoshima's entourage. "Do you agree?" she asked them.
The girls looked stunned that someone was addressing them.
Lind, however, wouldn't let them off the hook. "Do you agree that a woman forfeits her rights to be secure in her person depending on the way she's dressed?"
The girls looked to one another and blinked.
"Does he treat you in the same manner?" she asked them. "Are you... submissive... to such things?"
Flashes of anger crossed the girls' faces as they started to realize certain things about Aoshima.
Lind raised a finger and somehow managed to point Keiichi out of the crowd even though her eyes hadn't touched on him yet. "Keiichi kun enjoys the love of several women and has never treated them in such a way. So whose way is the correct one?"
Keiichi started to turn red as the Auto Club turned to him.
"'Several' women?" Megumi asked with an arched eyebrow.
"I... I don't think she understands what she's saying," he said clumsily.
Lind looked up at a clock and suddenly released the boy. "I have a class I must attend," she explained.
Aoshima faced her and, red-faced, suddenly stormed off, unwilling to draw more of the valkyrie's ire onto himself. As he turned the corner, someone bumped into him.
"Watch it!" he growled.
"Oh! I am so sorry," Anteros said, helping to steady the boy and patting his shoulder. "You okay, buddy? You good to go?"
"Stop touching me!" Aoshima bit out before stomping away.
Anteros grinned. "No problem."
As Aoshima stalked away toward his next class, he caught sight of Tamiya still mingling in the crowd...
And wondered why his muscles seemed so well-sculpted and gleaming today...
Lind saw Keiichi approach and waited for him to say something.
"You okay?" Keiichi asked. On its face it was a stupid question. Lind could reduce the entire school to a pile of ash. The idea of a brush with Aoshima in any way rattling her seemed stupid.
She blinked at the sentiment anyway. "I'm fine," she said. "His actions were... unexpected."
"Aoshima's a sleaze," Megumi told her as she approached. "On behalf of the women of NIT, I thank you for bringing him down a peg."
Keiichi chucked a thumb at the girl. "Lind san, this is my sister, Megumi."
Lind bowed. "It's nice to meet you."
Megumi bowed back and smiled. "Ditto!"
They turned and found one of the young women in Aoshima's entourage standing there. The girl faced Lind, a nervous expression on her face. "Excuse me, Senpai," she said. "But I was wondering... if you could teach me that move."
Lind nodded. "Very well. After classes have ceased for the day."
The girl bowed low. "Thank you, Senpai!" she cried enthusiastically before running off to her next class.
"Looks like you made a friend," Megumi noted. "So, you were in the Army, huh?"
Keiichi blinked and looked at his sister. The light in his head went on the moment she started to explain.
"Urd's blog," they both said simultaneously.
"Something like that," Lind answered her.
"Is that where you learned pig-smashing-jujitsu?" Megumi asked, making karate chop motions in the air.
"Something like that," the valkyrie repeated. She turned to Keiichi. "Whose way is correct?" she asked.
The boy blinked. "Um..."
Lind continued. "Your way preserves the dignity of all involved, but is slower to arrive at a physical relationship..."
"Announce it to the world, why don't you?" he sighed as Megumi giggled.
"Whereas that young man seems to place the physical above all else," Lind continued.
Megumi decided to try to save her brother's dignity. "Some people like different things," Megumi told her. "Personally, I think Keiichi's got it just about right..." She glanced at him and winked. "Especially as it seems he's 'enjoying the love of several women...'"
Keiichi sighed again. "It's not as fun as it sounds," he muttered.
"I was told at one point that a physical relationship was required," Lind said thoughtfully.
Megumi shrugged. "I'll buy that," she said. Keiichi actually blinked at her. "I mean let's face it. You have to be physically attracted to someone too, not just emotionally. Things like kissing and such can be a capstone to a good relationship."
"I see," Lind said. "Thank you." She looked up at the clock again. "Class is beginning. I will see you in an hour, Keiichi kun."
With that, the valkyrie walked off for her class.
Megumi arched an eyebrow. "What is it with you and hot foreign women, Kei chan?" she asked. "I mean Belldandy was unexpected enough. Then Urd, which I can believe because she's Belldandy's sister, then that Peorth woman and now Lind? Did you open a hostel or something?"
He laughed nervously and shrugged.
Her eyes narrowed, unwilling to let him get away this time. Around them the hall was filling with people going to their next class.
"Come on, Kei chan. Enough's enough. Out with it."
"Well...um..." He cleared his throat nervously. "Er..."
He looked up as he saw Anteros approach. Seeing the boy in a jam, he turned to a tall, attractive man in a letterman jacket and pulled the boy toward them.
"You're not involved in some kind of weird mafia... foreign sex slave ring... are you?" she was asking.
"Megumi, I... Look, it's really simple."
The girl folded her arms over her chest.
"I... Well you see... Belldandy... um..."
"Excuse me!" Anteros said from behind Megumi's back. As the girl turned, he pushed the baseball player toward her. "Haaaaaave you met Toshio?"
Megumi's eyes went starry. "Um... No," she said. "Hi..."
"Hi," Toshio returned with a perfect smile. "I'm Toshio Matsuhara."
"Me... Megumi Morisato..."
Anteros grabbed Keiichi by the shoulder and led him away as quickly as possible. "Okay, that should buy us some time. You owe me, buddy."
"I don't owe you," Keiichi said. "I wouldn't be in this mess if it wasn't for you."
"No problem," Anteros said, totally ignoring what Keiichi actually said. He pulled the boy under one of the outside stairwells and faced him. "Okay, game plan! Ready!? Go! All night rave! Abandoned tire factory! You and Lind are on the list!"
"No," Keiichi answered.
"Okay, back-up plan! Ready? Go! Penthouse party at Ichiro Suzuki's place! Champagne hot tub! You and Lind are on the list!"
"No," Keiichi said again.
"Okay, Plan C! Ready? Go! Sneak preview of the new Winter Storm movie! A-list celebrities! Popcorn is free! You and Lind have tickets!"
He took the boy by the shoulders and pointed two fingers at his eyes. "Keiichi... Keiichi... Look here. Right here..." He pointed at the boy's eyes, then back at his own. "You have to meet me halfway here, all right?"
"First of all, I'm not going to betray Belldandy," Keiichi said again. "Second, have you actually met Lind? Do you think she'd like any of those things?"
Anteros blinked. "I suppose it's possible she would..."
"Lind seems more quiet, more reserved, you know?" Keiichi said. "She'd probably prefer... I don't know... A walk in the park or something."
"Okay! Plan D!" Anteros cried, snapping his fingers. "Walk in the park! Free duck feed! You and Lind are on the... well... the park is free, so you're good to go!"
"Anteros, I'm no..."
"Five o'clock! I'll be there to help you out!" the god cried. "Good luck! Dash!" With that, the god darted off to parts unknown.
"Anteros!" Keiichi called after him. "Dammit!"
Lind stepped out of the classroom feeling supremely bored. The class was marked as an advanced honors course, but all the material had been quite basic. She would have to talk to Keiichi and see if it was possible to just take tests.
She found him waiting for her at the bottom of the stairs.
"Keiichi kun," she greeted. "I hope I did not keep you waiting long."
"No," he said, pulling at the collar of his shirt. "Um... So... how was class?"
"Elementary," she said. "What's next?"
"Well, actually, I think that was Belldandy's only class today. She has History tomorrow."
"I see," she said.
"Um... Hey," he said. "You want to..." He mentally kicked himself in the face for even considering it, but he didn't have much choice. It would be like when he took out Peorth. Just an innocent outing. "Would you like to take a walk... in the park... with me?" he asked.
"I would," she said, her tone betraying no emotion one way or the other. "However, there is something I must do first."
The girl shrieked in terror as she flew across the gym and landed on a pile of blue mats. Sitting up, she shook the ringing from her ears and stood up.
"You see?" Lind asked her from the other side of the gym. "You must believe in the righteousness of what you are doing. In that you will find strength. Next!"
Another girl in work-out clothes stepped forward.
"Now," Lind said. "Take my arm."
The girl reached out...
And was suddenly on the other side of the room with the other girl. Lind turned to the next in line.
Sitting on the sidelines, Keiichi watched as Lind taught what must have been forty coeds how to throw a man across the room or pin them to the floor. He knew Lind was considered tough even by other valkyries, but watching her throw people around was simply awe-inspiring.
"Morisato," Tamiya rumbled as he and Otaki stepped up to him.
"Hi, Senpai," he replied.
"We've come to file a protest," Tamiya told him solemnly.
"Huh?" Keiichi asked.
Otaki nodded sagely. "We couldn't help but notice that your new girlfriend is teaching every girl at this school how to beat up men. We're not sure how we feel about that." He grinned a second later. "Well... I'm sure Den chan is fine with it given the kind of dates he attracts..."
"Shut up!" Tamiya roared. "I keep telling you! I don't know what's gotten into Aoshima, but every time I pound him he comes back! I am not leading him on!"
Otaki snorted. "He brought you flowers, Den chan..."
"And I shoved them up his..."
"She's not my girlfriend, all right?" Keiichi said, rubbing his temples. "If you want her to stop, just go ask her."
The two Auto Club members looked at one another.
"You're afraid, aren't you?" Keiichi asked, his expression drooping.
"If she's not your girlfriend, why is she trying to impress you?" Otaki asked.
"Come on, Morisato," Tamiya rumbled. "That speech she made at Physics was an endorsement of your manly talents..."
"It was not!"
"And she's wearing dresses to show off her legs..."
"Those are Belldandy's dresses!" he defended. "She... shortened them..."
The two men paused. "She shortened Belldandy's skirts?" Tamiya asked.
"All of them?" Otaki asked.
"Yeah," Keiichi sighed.
"God bless that woman!" they both cried excitedly.
"Let me guess, she did it so it would be 'tactical.'"
Keiichi blinked and spun. Looking down, he found Anteros lying on the footboard of the second row of bleachers, out of sight to anyone out on the gym floor.
"Yeah," Keiichi said, blinking. "Something like that."
Anteros rolled his eyes. "So what happened to the park?"
"She's busy showing girls how to beat people up," Keiichi defended. Nearby, Otaki and Tamiya looked at each other and shrugged.
"Awesome!" Anteros cried. "Here's your chance!"
"Yes!" the god told him. "Go out there and volunteer to help her demonstrate!"
Keiichi went white as a sheet. "But I don't want to die," he whimpered.
"It's perfect!" Anteros told him. "You get to show her you're interested in her pursuits, one! Two, you show her that you're willing to take a little physical discomfort to help her out! Three, you get some physical contact. Just remember to look her in the eyes when she beats the living daylights out of you..."
"I really don't want to," Keiichi told him.
"I have my bow sitting in a locker here..." Anteros warned him.
Keiichi sighed and stood up. He walked onto the mat and waved at Lind. A sheen of sweat covered her brow, and her breathing was deeper. It just made her look scarier.
"Keiichi kun, is something wrong?" she asked.
"No, I just..." He took a deep breath and steadied himself. "I was just wondering if...I could help... demonstrate... stuff..."
She nodded. "Very well." She turned to the other coeds. "I will now demonstrate how to incapacitate an attacker who has grabbed your arm. Keiichi kun," she said. "Take my arm."
He tentatively reached out and grabbed her arm above the elbow.
"You may feel some pressure," she warned.
"Well, that doesn't sound so..."
A moment later he was prone on the mat, his arm twisted behind him.
"...bad," he whimpered.
Over by the stands, Anteros was peeking over the edge. "Oh, that never gets old," he said.
Lind released him and stood up, offering the boy a hand up. He winced as he took it, and she pulled him up.
"Did everyone see that?" Lind asked.
Most of the women nodded, but some looked unsure.
"I see. I will demonstrate again."
"Huh?! Woah! AUGH!"
"What in the world happened to you?!" Urd cried as Keiichi limped through the front door.
"Oh," Keiichi said casually. "Just some... self defense training," he said.
"What were you defending against?" Urd asked. "Tanks?"
"Your efforts were appreciated," Lind told him as she entered the kitchen and started on dinner.
"I'm... glad you approve," Keiichi remarked.
"Not just by me," Lind corrected him. "All of those women were there because they had either needed that training at one point and lacked it or were afraid they would need it. By helping them, you have strengthened them, made them more confident in themselves. It is a great gift."
Keiichi blinked. He hadn't thought about how it might actually help. He had viewed it as a way to get closer to Lind, which was exactly what Anteros wanted. He felt another wave of guilt wash over him. Not only was he betraying Belldandy now, but he was deceiving Lind by "helping" her with only the goal of getting closer to her in mind. He felt awful.
As Lind worked in the kitchen, Urd slapped Keiichi on the back, forcing the boy to cry out in pain. "So!" she said. "Want me to take a look at those bruises?"
"No, I'm okay," he muttered.
Urd arched an eyebrow. "You don't sound okay."
He looked up at her and sighed, weighing his options. Should he tell her about Anteros? The love god had promised retaliation if he told anyone. But he couldn't betray Belldandy! It was wrong! He didn't want anyone else!
The boy sighed. "I'm not feeling so well," he said. "I'm going to go to bed." He rose painfully to his feet and walked to his room.
Urd bit her lip and walked into the kitchen where Lind was creating more protein cubes.
"How was school?" she asked.
"Educational," Lind replied.
Urd nodded. "I see." She decided to come out with it. "Lind, why does Keiichi seem so miserable?"
Lind looked up and blinked. "I was not aware he was."
"Something has him upset," Urd told her.
"I have noticed he seemed more nervous today," Lind told her.
Urd decided to press the offensive. "Lind, what are you doing here?"
"I'm filling in for..."
"You know what I mean," Urd told her. "The top valkyrie in Heaven cooking and cleaning? Are you being punished for something?"
"Then why? What are you doing here?"
Lind looked up at her, annoyance on her face. "I'm training."
Urd blinked. "Training? Like for an undercover mission or something?"
"No," Lind sighed. "For my retirement."
Lind looked at her and took a breath. "Yes," she confirmed. "I'm leaving the Combat Division."
Keiichi sighed as he walked into his room and saw Anteros standing there with a huge grin on his face.
"Okay, now that was awesome!" the god told him. "I especially liked the part where Lind told all the girls to shout 'no!' when they're being attacked, and yet you were the one screaming it! Best...workout... EVER!"
The boy responded by lying down on his bed and turning away from the love god.
"Oh, what's your problem?" Anteros asked him. "You did good out there, buddy."
"Why do I have to do this?" Keiichi asked him. "Why me? Why don't I get any say in it?"
"You want a real answer to that or would you like me to make up something about how destiny is a great circle in the sky and we all have to play our role blah blah blah?"
"I'll take the real answer," Keiichi said.
Anteros took a breath, his face scrunched up in thought. Finally, he answered. "Because only one person gets to be happy here, and I like Lind more."
"If... If you shoot me with one of those arrows... would I love Lind completely or... or would some part of me miss Belldandy?"
Anteros's face turned sympathetic. "If... if... it came to that," he said quietly. "I'd be thorough. You wouldn't miss her one bit."
"Is there no other way?" Keiichi asked him.
"Lind's a great woman!" Anteros argued. "I didn't shoot you with the arrow already because I know if you give it some time, you'll learn to love her. Seriously. She's awesome."
"I understand she's a good person," Keiichi muttered. "So is Peorth and Urd and Sayoko... But they're not Belldandy."
Anteros took a breath. "I hear ya."
"Sure you do."
"No, I do," the god answered wistfully. "It's hard when the love of your life is always... just... out of reach. But you know what? You had two years with Belldandy. You've kissed her what? Twice? Come on! That relationship's not going anywhere."
"So we didn't just hop into bed together," Keiichi growled. "That doesn't mean we don't love each other."
"Well, you're not going to have that problem with Lind," Anteros told him. "You know our motto? 'Consummate! Consummate! Consummate!'" His smile faltered. "Consumate... consummate... consummate," he repeated sadly a moment later.
Keiichi rolled over and looked at him, seeing not the jovial god who'd been haunting him for twenty-four hours, but a depressed man.
"Are you all right?" Keiichi asked.
"Huh? Yeah. What? Did you think I didn't have a heart? You're not the only one having problems here." The god sighed. "Of course, you don't care. I'm a god, I've got all the breaks. Just a sad clown... riding his carousel of mortal girls... wine... and song..."
"Do... Do you want to talk about it?" Keiichi offered.
"No, I'm good." He straightened and faced Keiichi again, a fake smile plastered firmly on his face. "Now... tomorrow... we start early! You're going to teach her to cook!"
"What?" Keiichi asked. "I only know how to make one thing. Scrambled eggs. And that's just because I saw it on The View... I mean... a manly cooking show..."
"Yeah, but I bet you prefer that to those oversized tofu cubes."
"Retire?" Urd asked. "Why?"
Lind turned her attention to fashioning another protein cube. "When I joined the valkyries, I had a personal goal," she said. "To overcome my disability, to prove to myself and others that One-Winged-Lind could excel in a field most would never consider entering in the first place. When I realized that my 'disability' was actually a second angel, I wanted to attain enough power and focus to call her forth. I've now done that."
"Okay, I can understand that," Urd said. "You want to find something new and different. What I don't get is coming here. Doing housework, asking Keiichi about love and sex. What's that about?"
Lind's hands, working on the protein cube, stopped moving.
Urd's smile slowly began to form as the only possible reason popped into her head. "You met a man," she concluded.
The valkyrie took a breath. "A hundred and fifty years ago I met a love god while on a mission. Our paths crossed, and we... connected... in a special way. When we parted, he asked me to go with him. I couldn't. I still hadn't found my second angel."
She started working on the death loaf again.
"We corresponded," she said. "Letters from time to time."
"Steamy love letters?" Urd asked, leaning forward, anxious for more.
"No," Lind told her. "We wrote about where we were, what we were doing, things we had seen. The other day I received the latest one from him. At the end of every letter, he suggests we meet in some exotic locale for a vacation. Every time I turned him down because I still hadn't accomplished my goal."
"But you did," Urd told her with a smile. "You met Spear Mint."
Lind nodded. "When I read his last letter, I realized that my reasons for not going, for not pursuing a relationship with him had fallen away." She paused and gave a barely audible sigh. "Only to find that I was still disabled."
Urd blinked. "What do you mean?"
The valkyrie turned and looked at her. "My entire life has been spent fighting to the exclusion of all else. I know nothing else. I don't even know how to be in love. How to act. What to say."
Urd smiled wanly, starting to understand. "Which brought you here."
"The love between Keiichi and Belldandy is pure," Lind told her. "I've only seen one other relationship like it, fifteen decades ago. Belldandy taught me to smile, something that he told me I needed to know. I knew... if I could be Belldandy... even for a short time... If I could walk in her shoes, love as she loves, I would learn everything I needed to know."
Urd's smile broadened. It was so silly, so sweet, it was hard to argue with it.
"So... you're not after Keiichi then?"
Lind blinked. "No. Keiichi kun's heart belongs to Belldandy. I couldn't try to stand between them. It would be... heartless."
"Excellent!" Urd cried. "That means I can help you!"
Lind looked at her again. "What do you mean?"
Urd smiled evilly.
"Okay, so then you just kind of stir the eggs around in the pan," Keiichi told her as he stirred the whisked eggs as they cooked. "Just for a couple of minutes," he said.
"I see. It still seems inefficient," Lind told him.
"Yeah, but they taste good," he told her, dumping them on two plates.
"Hey! Something smells good!" Skuld cried, skipping into the kitchen only to be intercepted by Urd.
"Sorry, not for us," Urd told her.
"What?! Huh?! That's a load of crap!" Skuld complained as Urd escorted her out of the kitchen.
Keiichi watched them go and sighed. Was Urd trying to push them together now too? "So," he went on. "You just add some ketchup or hot sauce or whatever,"
"I see," Lind said. "Thank you."
"You're welcome," he said, sitting down at the table. They ate in silence, Keiichi not feeling up to making small talk this morning and Lind never seeming to feel up to small talk.
Watching from the doorway, Urd's eyes narrowed. "Jeez," she whispered. "What's got Keiichi so down?" she wondered.
"What do you mean?" Skuld asked.
"Look at him," Urd said. "It's like someone shot his dog."
"I just want to know why I'm stuck in the living room eating more cube-icks," the youngest Norn complained.
Urd arched an eyebrow. "Why, to give Lind enough time to seduce Keiichi, of course."
"EEEEHHHH?!" Skuld cried.
"You didn't know?" Urd asked innocently.
"That statement is wrong on so many levels it's impossible to explain without the use of charts!" Skuld hissed.
"Oh?" Urd asked. "You object to Lind stealing Keiichi from Belldandy?"
"Object?" Skuld huffed as she turned back to the scene in the kitchen. "If she's trying to split up Keiichi and Oneesama, I'll start a fan club... build her a website..."
Urd rolled her eyes. "You're such a romantic."
Keiichi was gathering his books when he heard it.
He sighed and turned to the window to find Anteros standing outside, grease smudging his face.
"Keiichi! Over here!"
The boy walked to the window. "What is it now?" Keiichi asked him.
"Your bike is broken."
"What?! My Beemer?! How!?"
"I don't know!" Anteros cried, holding up a pair of pliers in puzzlement. "But ever since I cut a bunch of wires and hoses on it, it won't start!"
Keiichi banged his head against the window sill.
"So I guess you and Lind are just going to have to walk to school today," Anteros went on. "And hold hands..." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a local map. "I've marked a route. It goes through the park. It's a nice little walk, little longer than necessary, but scenic, and the weather is awesome today."
The college student closed his eyes and let out a long breath. "No," he said. "I won't do it."
"Oh, you'll do it, my friend," Anteros told him. "I'm a good shot with that bow. I could hit you in the eye... or at least the facial region..."
"I love Belldandy," Keiichi said.
"Ohhh, that's sweet," Anteros said quietly. "Now forget her and fall in love with Lind, dammit, or I'm going to shoot you in the ass!" With that, Anteros shut the window and walked off.
"How was your vehicle damaged?" Lind asked as the turned right onto the sidewalk and started walking down the street.
"Some evil little creature got into it and messed it up," Keiichi growled.
Lind regarded Keiichi carefully. Urd was right. He wasn't just nervous, he was plain miserable. Perhaps he missed Belldandy or perhaps he saw the valkyrie as an annoyance. She couldn't say for sure. Now that she had Urd's promise of assistance, she hoped she would be able to learn more about relationships and how they work.
Keiichi's head turned and caught her staring. He quickly turned away again, color rushing to his cheeks. He remembered what Anteros said and reached out with his hand.
It's okay, he said. No problem. It's just her hand. It's not cheating. You're helping her down the street. No problem...
But Belldandy must never EVER know...
He took Lind's hand in his...
Belldandy listened as the proctor handed out test sheets to her and the six other goddesses going through recertification. She saw the paper land on her desk and reached down to write her name at the top.
Suddenly she let out a bloodcurdling scream!
The proctor blinked at her in shock as the scream died away. "Miss Belldandy! Are you all right?!"
The goddess looked straight ahead, her eyes wide. "I felt a great disturbance in the System Force," she said. "As if millions of voices cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced..."
The proctor arched an eyebrow. "Well... whatever, Obi Wan, you still have to take your test."
Belldandy sweatdropped. "H...Hai..."
This is... nice, Lind thought. The warmth of Keiichi's hand in hers was a nice feeling, and she found herself squeezing back as they entered the park.
Still... something was missing. That flutter of her heart, what she felt 150 years ago when he touched her. She put it from her mind. She was here to learn the mechanics of love, not feel it. It was good that she didn't feel that for Keiichi, it meant that what she felt for the love god was pure.
It was a start. She looked over at him again. That look. He was still miserable. His face looked pained, and she wondered what conflict could be in his heart that made him so unable to smile.
"Keiichi kun," she began.
"I can't do this," he said quickly, pulling his hand from hers. He took a few steps, his face in his hand.
"Do what?" she asked.
"Look, Lind san," he said. "I... I understand what it's like to feel unrequited love," he told her. "I've been there, I've felt it. And I know whatever feelings you have for me can be strong, but..."
"Feelings for you?"
He didn't hear her. "... but I can't betray Belldandy. No matter what it costs me," he said. "I'd rather be forced to do it... than to turn my back on her on purpose..."
She blinked at the puzzling statement. "What are you talking about?" she asked.
Appearing on the roof of a shaved ice stand, Anteros saw Keiichi's meltdown and knew exactly what was happening.
He sighed. "True love," he whispered. "Has there ever been a more painful thing to curse mankind with? Must your barbed arrow sting so much with every prick?" He sighed again. "What a beautiful love they have..." He straightened and unslung his bow. "Well! Guess it's time for Ol' Bessie here to make things right!"
He nocked a love arrow and pulled back, aiming for the boy's heart.
"Keiichi kun, it's apparent that you haven't been yourself lately," Lind told him. "And now you're having some kind of breakdown complete with pronouncements of how I love you and how you're being forced to betray Belldandy. Perhaps you should start from the beginning."
The boy looked up at her. "Wait a second," he said. "You're saying... you're not in love with me?"
"No," Lind told him without emotion.
"But I..." He turned suddenly as a flicker of movement caught his eye. There was a flash of red light and he could actually see a long, thin arrow flying toward him!
He closed his eyes.
I'm sorry, Belldandy... I love you...
He kept his eyes closed, waiting for some hint of pain to let him know he had been shot. Seconds went by and nothing. He wondered if maybe it was some type of metaphysical thing, like perhaps the love arrow was only a metaphor for something else and it didn't actually hurt at all.
He opened one eye and found a barbed arrow staring back at him. The boy gasped and stepped back a pace, giving him the bigger picture.
Lind's hand was wrapped around the arrow's shaft where she had caught it a bare inch from hitting him. A wrathful expression was on her face as she whirled around and summoned her pole-axe to her hands.
"Sniper!" she cried. "Keiichi kun, get down!" She pushed the boy to the ground and turned, searching for the attacker.
A moment later, she actually looked down at the arrow she had caught and saw the heart-shaped arrowhead.
She blinked in complete shock. "A love arrow?" There was a love god?! Here?!
The valkyrie turned to Keiichi. "Keiichi kun! Who has been harassing you? Who?!"
Keiichi looked up fearfully. "He... He said he was the god of unrequited love! A guy named..."
"ANTEROS!" she shouted, turning away from the boy. "Show yourself! I know you're here!"
"You know him?!" Keiichi cried in disbelief.
The wind picked up, and in a whirlwind of cherry blossoms, Anteros appeared before them, a stern expression on his face.
"Your reflexes have improved," he noted.
She raised her pole-axe a hair. "Why are you here?" she demanded. "Why are you shooting at Keiichi kun?"
"He's a love criminal," Anteros told her. "And I have been sent by Aphrodite to correct him."
Lind blinked. "How can that be?" she demanded. "His love for Belldandy is renowned in Heaven and on Earth."
"I warn you, Lind," Anteros said. "I have come up a class since our last meeting. Do not come between a love avenger and his target. Nothing can stop one from completing his holy duty as a vassal of Aphrodite and vessel for her gr..."
Before he could finish his monologue, Anteros was face-down on the ground, his arm twisted behind him and Lind's knee planted firmly on his back.
"Ow! Ow! Ow!" Anteros complained. "Not love! Still not love!"
Lind sighed. "Anteros," she said softly, "What are you doing here?"
Sitting on his butt nearby, Keiichi watched the whole spectacle in puzzled amazement.
"Okay! Okay! Okay!" Anteros cried. "I'll tell you! Jeez... Still so hostile..."
Lind released him, and the god stood up, straightening his tie as he did so. "No subtlety whatsoever," he complained as he dusted himself off.
The valkyrie frowned at him. "You may explain now," she prompted.
"Right!" Anteros said. "Well, your little retirement announcement's got all the elder gods upstairs in something of a tizzy. No one could figure out why you were doing it except for Aphrodite."
"Oh?" Lind asked noncommitally.
"Yes," Anteros said, wiping his face with a handkerchief. "It was obvious after your little episode down here with the angel eater and sharing your angel with Keiichi here. It was love driving you," he said.
"Go on, Lind prompted.
"Well, Aphrodite feels she still owed you a favor for that little business we did in Georgia, so she wanted to make sure you received her grace. So she sent me down here to make sure it went off all right."
"I see," Lind said. "So why didn't you just appear to me?"
He took a breath and frowned at her. "You know why," he grumbled, distracting himself by dusting himself long after all the dirt was gone.
"I do not," she said simply. "Explain it."
Anteros looked up at the sky in frustration. "Look, because I couldn't do it, all right?" he asked. He looked sadly at her and continued in a softer voice. "I... couldn't face you and... help you snag Keiichi. I didn't have the strength. So I figured if I appeared to Keiichi and taught him to love you properly, to be the kind of man you wanted, to make him love you like..." He broke off.
"Like what?" she asked.
He bit his lip and muttered something under his breath.
"What was that?" Lind asked.
"Nothing," he said.
"No, tell me."
"I can bury you in this park," she warned.
"Fine!" he cried loudly. "Fine! I wanted to make him love you the way I loved you! Okay?! So that at least I could make sure you were getting a decent guy who could love you completely! All right?!"
There it was. The flutter in her heart. She wanted to smile, to really smile, but she clamped down on it. It wasn't quite time yet...
"What were your orders from Aphrodite?" she asked, a sneaking suspicion playing in the back of her mind.
He gestured to Keiichi. "To make sure you and Keiichi..."
"No, I mean her exact words," Lind clarified. "What did she tell you exactly?"
Anteros blinked and reached into his pocket. "Yeah, she wrote it here on this napkin..."
"Napkin?" Keiichi asked, amazed.
The god turned to him and smiled. "Yeah, Aphrodite's not big on official correspondence. Especially after a few cosmos and a fifth of scotch." He held up the napkin. "See? She wrote it in lipstick here..." He cleared his throat and read the napkin. "'Anteros, go to Earth and make sure Lind gets the guy she wants. Aphrodite.' See? Plain as day. Help you get the guy you came down here for."
It was getting much harder to not smile. Somehow Anteros had completely missed Aphrodite's intent. And even though it made him miserable to do it, he had still tried to get Keiichi to fall in love with her because he thought it would make her happy.
"I did not come here for Keiichi," she told him.
"Um... No?" he asked. "Someone else then?" He winced. "I really hope it's not that Aoshima guy because... well... we traded him to a new team..."
She couldn't stop it anymore. Her lips pulled up, and she tried to turn away, to hide it from him.
"She means you, jackass!" Keiichi suddenly cried, angry that the last two days of misery had been perpetrated on him because of what amounted to a clerical error.
Lind stepped up to him and reached up, unsure of what she should do but believing she could just figure it out as she went. Anteros, as usual, was no help at all.
"Um... Lind?" he asked, his eyes wide. "Really?"
She caressed his face the same way he had caressed hers 150 years ago. This time, it was Constance's strength she drew on as she leaned forward and kissed him.
Keiichi stood up and grabbed his bag. "I'm going to school," he told them. "I'll see you later."
He left the two gods kissing in the park.
"Look, I feel really bad!" Anteros told him as the others ate pizza in the kitchen. "I understand that sometimes these things happen and the impact on your emotional state might be severe..." He reached into his pocket and drew out a card. "This is the number to a love goddess I know. She specializes in confusion. You should give her a..."
Lind reached out and took the card from him. "No," she said. "Trust me, in this instance it will cause more problems than it would solve."
"Look, it's all right," Keiichi told him. "It was all a misunderstanding, and everything worked out in the end, right?"
"So what are you going to do now, Lind?" Urd asked from across the table. "I need to know the happy ending so I can put it in my blog."
Lind stared down at the table. "I once promised myself a long vacation," she said. "I think it's time to collect." She turned to Anteros. "And I wouldn't mind company."
He smiled. "Great," he said quietly. "That's wonderful. Awesome... I mean... yeah..."
Keiichi blinked. Anteros speechless? That was new.
He got his groove back a moment later. "I got it!" he said, clapping his hands together. "Ready? Go! We can..."
"No," Lind told him.
"Or we can..."
"No," she said again.
"I know this..."
"No," she replied.
He nodded. "Okay," he said, defeated. "I think you should choose."
"Agreed," Lind told him.
Skuld gave Anteros a sympathetic look. "You can cook, right?"
"Hey, Keiichi, can I talk to you in private?" Anteros asked.
"Yeah," the boy told him, getting up from his chair and following the god into the other room.
Urd waited for them to leave and turned back to Lind. "So, where will you go?"
Lind took a drink of tea before answering. "Georgia."
"Georgia?" Urd asked with an arched eyebrow. "What's in Georgia?"
The valkyrie smiled. "The beginning."
Anteros took the college student aside and put a hand on his shoulder. "Look," he said. "Really, I'm very sorry... I just..."
"You wanted to make Lind happy," Keiichi told him. "I understand that. I want to make Belldandy happy, and there's a lot I would do to make that happen. I don't agree with the way you did it, but I guess I can understand."
"Yeah, so I want to make it up to you," Anteros told him.
"No," Keiichi told him firmly. "No, I'm begging you. No advice, no love arrows, no wishes, no nothing. Just let it go."
Then smacked the student in the forehead with the palm of his hand.
Keiichi stumbled for a minute. "What the heck was that?!" he asked.
"What?" Anteros asked casually. "I don't know what you're talking about..."
"You hit me!"
"Phfft! Did not..."
Keiichi blinked in shock.
"Jeez, buddy, get over yourself," Anteros said as he walked back into the kitchen.
"Anteros! What did you do to me!?" Keiichi cried as he followed him.
Lind watched as the mirror in her room began to shine, and Belldandy hopped through it, landing nimbly on her feet near the valkyrie. She arched an eyebrow.
"You're five days early," she noted.
"I skipped over some of the review stuff," Belldandy told her with a smile. "How did things go here?"
"Well," Lind told her.
"I'm glad," Belldandy told her. Her face turned concerned a moment later. "Did you spend much time... with Keiichi?"
"Yes," Lind told her. "It was... educational."
"I see," Belldandy said, smiling but not really understanding a bit.
Lind smiled, a move that both stunned and delighted the Norn. "Your Keiichi is a wonderful man," Lind told her. "I thank you for the opportunity to know him better. He's taught me a great deal."
Belldandy blinked. "I'm glad."
The blue-haired woman took the other goddess's hands. "And thank you. For inspiring me."
Belldandy raced from her room, eager to see Keiichi.
"Keiichi san!" she called. "Are you here?"
In the living room, Keiichi hopped up at the sound of her voice. "Belldandy!" he called. He saw the goddess enter the room and quickly approach.
"I came back early," she said.
Suddenly, Keiichi froze.
What the... he thought.
"Keiichi san?" Belldandy asked. "Are you okay?"
Compelled by some unknown force, Keiichi suddenly reached out and embraced the goddess, pulling her close and kissing her full on the lips. Belldandy squeaked and closed her eyes, holding him tightly.
Watching from the hallway, Lind's eyes narrowed. "Did you do that?" she asked.
Standing next to her, Anteros shrugged. "I don't know what you're..."
"Okay, look, it pisses me off from a professional standpoint!" he told her. "Two years and they only kissed twice?" He adjusted his coat. "What's up with that?"
"How long will he do that?" Lind asked.
Anteros smiled. "Just every time she walks in the room until the day he dies." He pretended to pick lint off his shoulder so he wouldn't have to meet her disapproving look.
Lind sighed. "Their lips will chap."
"Yeah, not my problem."
She watched them for a few moments more.
"Will you do that for me?" she asked, her voice expressionless.
He looked over at her and smiled. "Every time you walk in the room until the day I die," he promised quietly.
The man in the battered grey coat cleared the top of the hill and looked down at the grassy farmland that met his eyes. He pulled his horse to a stop and looked down at it, taking it in.
He had no idea how he managed to survive, but he did. The war was over, and he had gotten away with no more than a scratch.
No, he had gotten away with more than that. He could see her from here, hanging the laundry. Her blonde hair was shining in the sun, and her belly bulged from five months of pregnancy.
The rider took a long breath and looked up at the sky.
"Lord," he said. "I just want to say thank you... I don't know which of your angels you sent to look after me, but I reckon they did a fine job. I think I must be the luckiest man to ever lose a war. But for keeping me alive... giving me Constance and the little one... Thank you, Lord."
Floating next to him, Lind turned to him and smiled...
...just a little.
I wasn't really a Lind fan until this fic. I didn't dislike her, but I could take her or leave her. Now I have to admit to being a fan.
When I decided to make this a romantic comedy with Lind, I just had this image in my head of Neil Patrick Harris playing the part, so I wrote Anteros for him. If Barney Stinson can't win Lind, who can?
Special thanks to WillZ for prereading this and putting up with my bullshit.