Foreword: After a six-month deployment, I'm finally back and back into writing. I didn't write much of anything while I was away, but did have some ideas that I'll be playing with in the coming months. To start things off, I present to you something a little different. Those who've read my stuff before know that I like to try different things, and "Haloes," below, is a prime example of that.
Like I said with "Scordatura," it's not everyone's cup of tea, but such is life. I hope you enjoy it.
Disclaimer: AMG is not mine. Urd's ring tone is from "Halo" by Beyonce.
Ah! My Goddess!: Haloes
Signed, Sealed and Delivered
She hit the bed and blinked, trying to remember who she was and where. The disorientation didn't last longer than it took to blink her eyes three more times. By then she knew who and what she was, but was still foggy on where.
Turning her head, her blue eyes came to rest on a familiar figure leaning against the wall.
"Good morning, glamour girl," the demon said with a smile. "How was your beauty nap?"
"Hild?" she asked sleepily. "Wh..."
The CEO of the Demonic Realm smiled and filled a glass from a metal pitcher nearby. "You must be thirsty," she said, offering the glass of water to the goddess. "Go ahead. Drink up."
She looked at the glass without even a hint of suspicion. It wasn't her way. In hindsight, if it had been she might not have fallen for that trick in the first pl...
The goddess shot up, sitting ramrod straight and locking her eyes on Hild. "What have you done to me!?" she demanded. "Where is Keiichi?! Have you harmed him!?"
Hild grinned. "Belldandy, really," she began. "Why would I want to hurt Keiichi? As for what I've done to you, you can relax. You weren't down that long..."
Belldandy blinked at her as the answer hit her. "You sealed me," she whispered.
"That I did," Hild oozed.
The goddess looked anxiously about the room. It looked like a sleazy love hotel, but not something one might find in Hell. "How long?" she demanded.
"A blink of an eye by our reckoning..."
"HOW LONG?!" she repeated angrily.
Hild smiled. "Just shy of a decade."
Belldandy bit her lip. "Why?"
The demon shrugged. "Why not? You and your activities here on Earth were annoying me." She sighed. "Young Marller thought driving you back to Heaven was the way to go, but the problem with that is that it required you to decide to leave. As you may have noticed, child, I'm not a patient woman." Her expression turned cold. "And quite frankly you were starting to really piss... me... off."
The goddess hopped out of bed and faced her. "If you've harmed Keiichi..."
"Keiichi?" Hild asked with a smile. "Oh, no, no, no... A lot has changed since you've been away." She turned away from Belldandy and grinned. "Keiichi's off limits nowadays. You could say it's not worth the trouble I'd call down on myself to play with him anymore." She turned back and seemed to take pleasure from the puzzled ire in Belldandy's eyes. "But you'll see what I mean."
Hild waved her away dismissively. "You may go," she said simply. "Go on. Scat!"
Half expecting a trap, Belldandy started cautiously for the door.
"Tell Keiichi and Urd I said hi," Hild tossed to her.
Belldandy paused for barely a second before rushing out the door. She ran across the parking lot and leapt onto a telephone pole, trying to get her bearings and making her way to the temple as fast as she could. She was free, and Keiichi was waiting for her. She knew it in her heart.
Although it had been ten years and there was no way to be sure they'd even still be at the shrine, it was the only place Belldandy could think to go. After a fifteen minute hop across Nekomi, she found herself once again rushing under the temple's torii gate. The place looked... different... that was for sure. Some of the trees were gone... and there were carnival rides in the backyard...
... and what appeared to be the remains of a crashed flying saucer half buried near the tanuki statue...
She rushed up to the door and stopped suddenly. She couldn't just barge in. What if he had moved and someone else was living here? It would be rude.
The goddess reached up and knocked twice, waiting anxiously as she bounced up and down in nervous anticipation. What would he say? What was SHE going to say? It had been ten years, after all, a blink of the eye for a goddess but a significant portion of a mortal's life.
He's probably changed so much, she thought. Would he even still want me?
The door opened, and Belldandy gasped in delight at the face that met her.
"NEESAN!" she cried, leaping out and hugging her sister. "You're still here! Thank the Almighty One!"
She felt Urd stiffen under her hug for a moment before tentatively returning it.
"Belldandy?!" she cried. "Is it... Is it really you?"
The younger Norn stepped back and smiled. "Hai!" She took a quick look at her older sister, amazed about how much had changed. She remembered seeing her only a day ago. For Urd ten years had passed, and somehow it showed. There was something about her, something about the way she held herself, and something else.
Urd hugged her again, tightly this time. "I'm so glad you're okay," she whispered. "When did Hild let you out?"
"Only twenty minutes ago," Belldandy told her.
"What did she say?" Urd asked.
Belldandy blinked at the question, asked so quickly and demandingly.
"Nothing that struck me as odd," Belldandy told her. "Just that I annoyed her. Why?"
Urd licked her lips nervously. "Nothing," she said. "Um... Come in! I'll make some tea..." She turned to lead her sister into the temple and suddenly stopped and whirled around again, her left hand lashing out to block the way. "Wait! No! I mean..." She smiled nervously. "Could you.... Could you wait here a sec? The place is a wreck..."
"Oh, Neesan, I don't care about th..."
"Yeah, but... Um... It'll just take a second to..." Her eye glanced to the hand holding the doorframe, and she suddenly dropped it, covering it with her right. "Just a sec, okay?!"
Before Belldandy could protest, the elder Norn disappeared inside the house, practically slamming the door shut between them.
Belldandy's hand went to her chest, surprised at her sister's actions. Urd had obviously changed a great deal in ten years. After all, in her long memory, she had never seen her sister clean...
If that's what you could call the sounds she was hearing through the door. There was a lot of crashing, the sound of drawers slamming shut, and the sound of glass breaking.
"Dammit!" she heard her sister swear. Another drawer closing, and suddenly the door was open again, and her sister was standing there, a big but awkward smile on her face. "Come on in."
Belldandy followed Urd into the house, wondering if her sister was all right. Her behavior seemed a little suspicious, and the goddess wondered if this was somehow Hild's doing. Her eyes traveled over her home, noting the many changes that had been made over the years. It was tidy, but not immaculate, and the furniture had been replaced with newer, more comfortable leather pieces. A large, flat-screen high-definition TV hung on the wall, but it was the lack of certain items that caught her eye.
There were blank spaces on the shelves where things were supposed to sit, the only hint of their recent abandonment spaces where dust had not yet settled.
Urd didn't give her time to investigate. "Come on, I'll make us some tea."
Belldandy followed her into the kitchen and watched as Urd started pulling cups out of the cabinet. She chuckled, catching Belldandy's attention with the sound.
"You remember that time Keiichi took us all to that beach party with the Sci-Fi Club, and we all got hammered?" she asked with a smile. "And we put Tamiya kun and Sora chan into that tent together after they passed out, and when they woke up they thought they had gotten drunk and slept together?"
The Norn blinked in shock. She had no memory at all of that happening. Beach party? Was this code?
Urd stared at her, waiting for her to say something.
Belldandy swallowed sadly. "Neesan," she whispered. "I think you must be thinking of something that happened after I... left." She looked down at the table and bit her lip.
"But you do remember when Peorth first got here, right?" Urd asked.
The younger Norn looked up and blinked. "Of course I do."
"Remember how Otaki kun fell in love with her?" Urd asked as she put the kettle on the stove.
Belldandy blinked again. "No, you're wrong. That was Tamiya senpai."
"Remember how she took us all on a 'date,' and we went to the zoo?" Urd asked.
"We went to the aquarium," Belldandy corrected her. "We saw the mollusk exhibit. Neesan, what is this all about?"
Urd seemed to let out a sigh of relief. "It IS you," she whispered. "Thank the Almighty..."
"I'm sorry, Sis. I had to be sure," Urd told her. "There was a... well... an incident... a few years back. Look, it's a long story, and it's not even the most important one right now..."
"Urd... where's Keiichi san?"
"He's at work," Urd replied, a hint of pride entering her voice. "He's an engineer at Sukuya Aerospace."
"Really?" Belldandy asked happily, but puzzled. "But... I thought he wanted to work with motorcycles..."
"Uh... yeah," Urd allowed. "Like I said... a lot of changes."
"Tell me about them!" Belldandy begged, rising to her feet. "Please, Neesan? I want to know everything before he gets home! I want to pick up right where we left off! Please, Nessan!"
Urd swallowed nervously. "Belldandy, I..." She turned back to the stove as the kettle started to whistle.
"How is he?" Belldandy asked nervously. "Is he well? Is he happy?"
The older goddess didn't answer.
"You've been taking care of him, haven't you?" Belldandy asked her, pride in her sister entering her voice. Urd stiffened. "I knew you would. You and he always had a good relationship, even if it didn't always seem that way."
Before Urd could answer, a song began to play.
Everywhere I'm looking now,
I'm surrounded by your embrace,
Baby, I can see your halo,
You know you're my saving grace...
Urd reached into the pocket of her jacket and pulled out a cell phone. "Sorry! Just a sec!" She turned to the sink as she brought the phone to her ear and whispered into it. "Hey!... Yeah!.... Look, I'm a little busy right now.... Yeah, that sounds great.... I.... I'm sorry, I have to go. I'll tell you later, okay?... Okay... Yeah... Okay, bye." She snapped the phone closed and turned back to Belldandy...
...only to find her gone.
While her sister spoke to her friend on the phone, Belldandy had decided to give them some privacy and wandered back into the living room. It was hard to reconcile the fact that yesterday she had cleaned this room and today it belonged to someone else and had for a decade. She felt almost like a stranger. She eyed the dust on the shelves critically. She would have to give it a good dusting before Keiichi san got home.
Glancing around the room, her eyes came to rest on a small desk drawer that was slightly ajar. Reflexively, she reached out to shut it, but her hand paused on the brass handle. A sliver of light reflected off glass within. She pulled the drawer open and found a stack of framed photographs.
She blinked at the top one. A familiar airplane sat in a hangar with a group of people standing and kneeling in front of it, including Keiichi, Urd and...
"Sif?" she whispered. "What is she doing here?" The group held a banner in front of them that said, "First Flight."
The goddess moved the photo to the bottom of the stack and looked at the next one. She swallowed and cleared her throat at the sight of her older sister in a white chemise, lounging luxuriously on a black sofa. Glancing at the top, she saw it was the cover of a lingerie catalogue. At the bottom, a note in the oldest Norn's handwriting read, "To my number one fan. Urd."
Biting her lip, Belldandy moved to the next photo and froze. The framed photograph showed an older Keiichi with Urd's arms around him, the two of them posing cheek to cheek.
Belldandy's breath started to quicken. With great trepidation, she uncovered the last photo. It was actually four photos arranged top to bottom like the kind that came from mall photo booths. The top had the goddess and mortal sitting together, the second they had their arms around one another. The third showed them sticking their tongues out at the camera. And the fourth...
Her blood ran cold at the sight of her sister and Keiichi kissing. It couldn't be...
She heard movement behind her and turned.
"Don't be mad," Urd begged quickly as she stood there. She swallowed nervously. "Please... let me explain first..."
"How... could you?" Belldandy whispered, devastated by her discovery.
Urd's mouth opened, but no sound emerged. Light reflected off the tears pooling in her eyes. "I... I didn't mean to," she said, sounding like a child who had just been confronted with the vase she had broken. "I mean... I didn't start out hoping this would happen. It just... It just did."
"My own sister," Belldandy whispered, her eyes closing painfully as her hand went to her chest to reel back the sobs that would soon emerge. "How could you?"
"It was ten years, Belldandy," Urd told her sadly.
"It was yesterday, Neesan!" the younger goddess cried, the anger she was feeling starting to come to the fore. "Yesterday! To me it was yesterday! I stood here yesterday after making him breakfast, telling him to have a good day at school! Yesterday!"
Urd said nothing. Belldandy turned away from her.
"You really wanted him to wait forever?" Urd asked quietly. Belldandy turned to her, jealous wrath and betrayal marring her delicate features. "He tried, Belldandy. I'll give him credit for that."
Belldandy glared at her. Urd went on.
"The world didn't just up and stop while you were away, Sis," Urd told her, a tear running down her cheek. "You went to sleep and woke up ten years later. He had to endure it, the whole decade, loving you and worrying about you and wondering if he'd ever see you again. It ate at him, Sis. Like a cancer. It changed the entire direction of his life." She turned away. "At first, I just wanted to look after him for you, help him out, work to find you." She looked up at the ceiling. "God, how am I supposed to condense ten years into a few sentences for you?"
"Try," Belldandy commanded, steel in her voice. A betrayal of this magnitude demanded an explanation, and she would have one.
Urd shot her a glare. "All right. Sit down, drink your damn tea, and I'll tell you everything."
Belldandy marched past her, the photos still in her hand, and sat down at the table. She sipped her tea and simmered angrily as she waited for Urd to sit down.
The elder Norn sat across from her and began...
Ten years ago...
You had been gone for two weeks, and Keiichi had been pulling his hair out worrying about you. We knew Hild had you, it wasn't as if she was making a secret out of it, but she was playing a close game, making us wait and sweat it out. It didn't look good, though, and the proof of that was in how the Goddess Help Line was choosing to play it. Rather than assure Keiichi they were getting you back, they started sending "replacements."
Urd turned as she heard her door open and close and blinked at the sight that met her. Keiichi, a thoroughly pissed off look on his face, stormed past her toward her armoire, grumbling as he went by.
"I'm not here!" he told her.
Climbing into the cabinet, he pull the door closed behind him. A moment later, someone knocked at her door. Rising from her workbench, the Norn opened her door and found the green-haired goddess who had been living with them for only two days standing there.
"Excuse me," she said quickly, obviously embarrassed by what she perceived as a failure on her part. "But I seem to have lost track of Keiichi sama. Have you seen him?"
The best part about being a goddess second class rather than a goddess first class, is that a second class goddess can lie with a straight face and not feel one iota of guilt over it.
"Sorry, Karisuma," she said. "Haven't seen him all day."
"Drat!" the young Help Line worker swore. "I was hoping to take his mind off his troubles today. The poor man needs comfort right now." She sighed. "If you do see him, will you let me know?"
"Sure!" Urd replied with a smile. "You betcha!"
"Thank you, Urd san." Without another word, she turned and started down the hall to continue her search.
Urd closed the door and addressed her armoire. "You can come out now. She's gone."
"Thank God!" Keiichi muttered as he emerged.
"You okay?" the goddess asked him. Urd liked to think she knew Keiichi pretty well, so it didn't surprise her that Keiichi seemed to be taking Belldandy's disappearance well, but she also knew it was a front, that the strength he had been projecting for two weeks would eventually ebb away. She hoped they found Belldandy before that happened.
He sighed. "I'm trying, Urd, I really am," he said. "But I think if they put half as much effort into actually finding Belldandy as they did trying to find a goddess to replace her, she'd probably be back by now."
The Norn shrugged. "They have to grant your wish. It's in your contract. A goddess like Belldandy must always be by your side. They'll keep throwing goddesses at you until they find one acceptable to you or until Belldandy comes back. No way around it."
"She's the third one, Urd," he told her pointedly. "I don't want another goddess. I want Belldandy, and they insist on treating this whole thing as if my bike got stolen and now they're on the hook for replacing it. I mean she's Belldandy!"
"I know," she said softly. "She's my sister, remember?"
"What does Hild even want, anyway?" he asked in frustration. "Can't we just give it to her? What could she possibly want that's that bad?"
Urd offered him a wry smile. "Dominion over all of Creation."
Keiichi paused. "Well... okay, that's pretty bad..."
The goddess shrugged.
The boy decided to steer the subject in another direction. "Anything yet?"
"One or two leads," she replied. She regarded the young mortal for a moment. "Keiichi, we have to be very careful here. Hild's no slouch. She wouldn't seal Belldandy without a plan for keeping her there."
"We've beaten her before," Keiichi told her quietly.
"Belldandy has beaten her before," Urd corrected. "And before the rules weren't on her side."
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"Keiichi, you have to remember that things between goddesses and demons work a certain way," she told him. "A god or demon on Earth is considered fair game for sealing. As long as Hild doesn't kill or torture her needlessly... the Almighty could simply shrug this one off."
"I don't believe that," he whispered. "Not her."
She offered him a sympathetic look. "But hey, all we need is a good plan. I'm working on it, all right. Just try to avoid Karisuma for awhile and..."
"I'm sending her back," he said. "I tried being nice, I tried being patient, but this constant... hovering... is killing me."
"Oh, come on! She's not that bad!" Urd told him.
He bit his lip. "You want to know what it really is?" he asked. At her nod, he continued. "It's her constant trying to one-up Belldandy."
"Oh, Keiichi, come on..."
"I'm serious," he went on. "Everything she does is followed by a 'Did Belldandy san ever do this for you?' or 'Now, isn't this better than before?'" He shook his head. "It's pissing me off, Urd."
She sighed. "I think she's just self-concious. Belldandy's a hard act to follow."
He started for the door, his mind made up. "Well, either way, I'm sick of it," he said. "If they can't help us get Belldandy back, I wish they'd just leave me alone."
The goddess watched him storm out and sighed.
"No, no, no!" Keiichi cried in frustration. "You're not getting it at all, are you? I don't want another goddess. I don't want you to send a 'stand-in' or whatever you want to call it. It's okay to leave me alone until we get Belldandy back, all right? You want me to sign a waiver or something?"
Sitting across from him at the kitchen table, an older goddess with long blonde hair sipped at her tea cup as she sculpted her response. The head of the Goddess Help Line was a patient woman. One had to be to succeed in such a line of work, but this Keiichi mortal frustrated her. Nothing but Belldandy was good enough, and he refused to acknowledge that there were forces at work greater than them both. Freya was sympathetic, of course. Belldandy was like a niece to her, but she was starting to think a cold case of reality was in store.
"Morisato san," she began smoothly as she lowered the tea cup. "I sympathize with your situation, but you have to understand that in this case, it's not up to me. Despite what you think, your wish does not require Belldandy, only a goddess like Belldandy. I am bound by the System Force to provide you the letter of your wish, not the spirit. You may think that your wording meant that Belldandy alone must remain with you, but that is not the case, and if we don't assign a goddess to pick up your contract soon, the System Force is going to force the issue. It will choose a goddess 'like' Belldandy and manipulate time and space to drive them down here and force them to remain. If you think the volunteers I've sent here have been difficult to adjust to, imagine what it would be like to live with a goddess with no interest whatsoever in having anything to do with you."
"It's a waste of time," he sighed. "When we free Belldandy..."
"Morisato san," Freya interrupted, "I think you need to prepare yourself for the possibility that that isn't going to happen for quite some time. Seals can remain in place for five hundred years, and Hild appears to be in no hurry. We are negotiating with her to the best of our ability, but so far it appears that the only thing she wants is for Belldandy remain sealed. If that's the case, there's nothing we can do."
"You're just going to leave her there?!"
"We do the same to them," Freya explained. "Belldandy, herself, has sealed demons for hundreds of years. They do their time, they're released, and the cycle starts all over again."
Faced with this cold statement, Keiichi took a breath and looked down at the table.
"Even if Hild only requires that she remain sealed for a tenth of the maximum, by the time Belldandy was released, you'd be over seventy years old," Freya told him, sympathy entering her voice for the first time. "I know you two were close..."
"Are close," he corrected.
"Are close," she amended. "But the time may come... sooner than you think... when you're going to have to decide whether or not a faint hope is worth giving up a large portion of your lifetime."
His eyes found hers. "And in the meantime, you're going to keep sending goddesses down here to smile at me, assure me that everything is all right and that I shouldn't worry my pretty little head about things?" he asked bitterly.
Freya didn't break his gaze. "Quite."
Watching the back and forth from her position by the kitchen sink, Urd thought Keiichi was going to leap over the table at Freya at any moment. They had sent two more goddesses after Keiichi sent Karisuma home. Neither of them lasted more than two days. Keiichi's stress level was through the roof, and she knew for a fact he hadn't been sleeping.
She knew this was tough for both of them. Freya, quite literally, could not stop sending goddesses to fulfill Keiichi's contract. She didn't have a choice in the matter. The way Keiichi had worded his wish demanded that a goddess be there. And likewise Keiichi knew that if he allowed that to happen, it would be a betrayal of Belldandy. He would have "replaced" the only woman he had ever really loved as easily as if he bought a new shirt at Old Navy. In the meantime, the anguish of her disappearance was eating him alive.
She decided to turn the question on its head, approach it from a different angle. They knew what Freya wanted. They knew what Keiichi wanted. What would Belldandy want?
Obviously, she would want Keiichi to have his wish, but more than that, she wouldn't want Keiichi to suffer needlessly. Freya getting her way made him suffer. Continuing the stalemate made him suffer. The only way to satisfy both was to appoint a caretaker for the wish who would meet the bare requirements but would fall far short of the bar Belldandy had set. Someone to check the box but not be a threat to Keiichi and Belldandy's relationship.
Belldandy would kill her twenty minutes after breaking seal.
The answer hit her, and she took a breath. It was so stupid, so crazy, so blatantly inappropriate on every level... that it just might work...
Just long enough to save Belldandy.
"Okay, how about this?" the Norn interjected, breaking the glaring contest the goddess and mortal were having. "I'll do it."
Freya blinked. "I'm sorry, what?"
Keiichi threw her an irate look. "Not... funny," he told her.
"I'm serious," she said, crossing her arms over her chest. "It makes perfect sense. Keiichi doesn't want a strange goddess screwing up his life. Well, I'm already here, and I'm not planning on leaving until we've recovered Belldandy. Freya gets to tell the System Force that Keiichi's wish is being granted, and Keiichi gets what he currently wants, which is for no more new goddesses barging into his life."
"Absolutely not," Freya told her pointedly. "You are nowhere near qualified for this."
Urd grit her teeth. "Not qualified?"
Freya locked eyes with the Norn. "Granting a wish is a solemn responsibility, not done merely to check a box on a list."
"A minute ago you were talking about a random goddesses being forced here against her will!" Urd bit out. "Now you're saying that would be preferable to me?!"
Freya didn't answer. She turned back to Keiichi. "Morisato san, the goddess who takes on this responsibility should be a goddess of good character and upbringing..."
"Hey!" Urd cried at the insult.
"The volunteers we've sent up until now we have screened thoroughly," Freya went on.
Keiichi looked at both of them. "You really hate this idea?" he asked Freya.
"Then that settles it for me," he said, crossing his arms over his chest. "I'll take Urd."
Both goddesses looked stunned for a moment. Freya furrowed her eyebrows. "Morisato san, believe me, what you want is a goddess who..."
"What I want," he cut her off, "is a goddess at my side who loves Belldandy as much as I do. And you don't have a volunteer like that."
Freya looked from him to Urd, who smirked at her. The elder goddess took a breath and rose from her seat. "As you wish. I'll make the arrangements for a transfer of the contract. Once the transfer is complete, however, it will be upheld by the System Force." She turned to Urd. "I need to speak with you privately, go over a few things."
"Sure," Urd said with a shrug. She led the other goddess into her room, leaving Keiichi alone at the table to contemplate things.
Once Freya was sure they were out of earshot, she addressed the Norn. "You don't really understand what it is you've asked for here," she told her.
"It's only temporary," Urd said. "When Belldandy comes back..."
"You don't understand," Freya interrupted. "You've been down here for so long, you've forgotten how different time flows for us in relation to them. You've forgotten that a day in Heaven can be days or weeks down here. Assuming that the negotiations go as well as they possibly could, you're going to be at that boy's side for a minimum of five years, and I would guess it'll end up closer to twenty. For a goddess that's a warm bath and supper, but for that young man you're talking about a good percentage of his lifetime. I wanted to pair him with a goddess he could eventually fall in love with because that, Urd, was the true meaning of his wish."
Urd said nothing, trying to digest what the goddess was telling her and not liking it one bit.
"I fear you may find the responsibility you've taken on to be much more than you're able to provide," Freya went on.
It rained that night, the first hard rain Nekomi had had in months. Thunder rumbled over the city as black and grey clouds flew across the sky, driven by 30 mile-per-hour winds.
After her conversation with Freya, Urd wanted time to think. She stayed in her room and didn't come out again. If someone would have asked if she was avoiding Keiichi, she'd laugh it off, but quietly, in her own mind, she knew there was truth to it. She was already having second thoughts about her plan, a plan that seemed to make so much sense when she came up with it. Now...
She had given up trying to make sense of herself one way or the other and went to bed early. As lightning came in through the window, she tossed and turned in her futon.
The goddess tossed again, and the sigil on her forehead started to shed a subdued blue light.
She opened her eyes and found herself floating, surrounded by a white, ethereal nothingness. Floating nearby, still in the same blue dress she was wearing when she left that day, was her sister.
The younger Norn opened her eyes and looked at her sadly. "Neesan, is Keiichi san okay?"
"Yeah," Urd reassured her. "Yeah, he's fine. Where are you?"
"Sealed," Belldandy told her sadly. "I'm worried about Keiichi san. I'm supposed to be there for him."
"Don't worry about that," Urd told her. "We're going to get you out of there. We just need some time, that's all."
"But who's taking care of Keiichi san?"
"Keiichi's going to be fine," she replied. "I'm going to look after him for you until you get back."
Belldandy bit her lip. "Neesan, are you sure that's a good idea?"
Urd blinked. "Look, Sis, it's just to keep Freya off his back until we get you home, that's all."
"And what if it doesn't happen that quickly?" Belldandy asked her. "Are you going to look after him for twenty, thirty, fifty years?"
The older goddess didn't reply. Belldandy went on.
"Neesan, I don't mean to sound cruel, but..." She bit her lip, trying to find a good way to explain it. "... but there have been times in your life when you've simply lost interest, when something you tried to continue over the long-term simply stopped being interesting to you..."
"Belldandy..." Urd tried, "This is just short-term..."
"And what if it's not?" Belldandy asked. "What if Hild doesn't let me out? Are you going to..."
"What?" Urd demanded sadly. "Am I going to what?"
The goddess found her older sister's gaze and held it. "Are you going to abandon him when it starts getting tough?"
Keiichi walked down the hall toward the kitchen, letting out a long yawn in the process. His slippers made virtually no sound as he stepped drowsily in search of a glass of water. As he passed Urd's door, he heard something from behind the simple door and stopped.
Uncertainly, he leaned in and listened. There it was again, the sound of someone moving around, almost in a panic. He knocked gently. "Urd? You okay?" Receiving no answer, he quietly slid the door open and looked in.
He found Urd thrashing on her futon, her forehead glowing.
"Urd?!" The boy rushed forward and took her by the shoulders. "Urd! Wake up! Snap out of it!"
The sigil glowed brighter.
"I'm doing this for you!" Urd cried at her sister. "You know what Freya wanted?! She wanted to hook Keiichi up with another goddess! Replace you with one of those dimwitted goddesses who work in the back office!"
"Freya sama wants Keiichi to be happy," Belldandy told her. "And so do I. Neesan, I don't question your motivations." The goddess turned sad. "But I can't rest here unless I can be sure of Keiichi's happiness. And I can't be sure unless I know... that you're going to make the effort. That for once in your life, you're going to finish what you've started."
"Then what do you want me to do?!" Urd demanded from her. "Since you and Freya don't seem to have any faith in me filling in for you, what do you want from me?!" She saw Belldandy's hurt expression at the accusation-filled question, but continued to press. "Give up and go home?! Leave him here!? TELL ME WHAT TO DO, SIS!"
Belldandy floated toward her and embraced her, tears in her eyes. "Don't abandon him," she said. "That's all I want. I know the future will be difficult. I know there will be hard times, but please don't leave him. Watch over him. Protect him. Care for him. Just please don't leave him."
Urd hugged her, tears welling up in her own eyes. "I promise. I'm going to take care of him for you. I promise."
"Urd! Come on! Wake up!" Keiichi cried, noting the sigil growing brighter. Suddenly, there was a crack of thunder, a flash outside, and something hit Keiichi so hard, he flew across the room and blacked out.
The goddess lay on the other side of the room, as the sigil on her forehead began to darken.
The contract was sealed.