Disclaimer: I don't own Ah! My Goddess or any of the characters therein. Please don't use without permission. Thanks again go to Davner for the book, Taskforce, Nina and Peorth for pre-reading and proofing tasks. Comments and constructive criticism are always welcome. And now, WillZ presents:

The Goddess and the Sky

Chapter 21

Starstruck

Wake up, Keiichi.

He was drifting. The ambient sounds around him suffused themselves into the dim lighting, causing his sense of weightlessness to permeate what he thought of as "himself" away; away to where, he wasn't sure, but it seemed pleasant.

C'mon, Kei, the voice said again, wake up!

He wanted to investigate this sensation, though. Where was it going to take him? Would it open up something adventurous? Insightful? Maybe if he could reach...

Keiichi! Wake up! Sayoko's in trouble!

Keiichi started awake, readjusting his position on the chair, so he wouldn't fall on his backside and make a spectacle of himself. He looked around to see what kind of trouble a debutante and a small collection of actresses could get themselves into in a restaurant. Fortunately, he didn't see any kind of problem, and sighed in relief.

Good thing I woke you, a familiar voice said, another moment or two would have had your ass on the floor faster than you could say "embarrassment."

Keiichi rolled his eyes and looked at his watch. It was a little past one so, if anything, he was out for less than a minute, meaning that the rest of his group would still be in the powder room doing whatever it was they did in there. Which was fine, considering how busy the place was; they still needed for a table to free up which, after a moment of recognition from the maitre' d on who was doing the requesting, set about getting someone to handle the situation in a rather "timely" manner. To say that he was pulling three waitresses and two busboys to get two tables cleaned and pressed together said something for his urgency, even after Sayoko had assured him that they would need at least five minutes to use the aforementioned powder room. Keiichi really hoped they weren't inconveniencing current patrons to make room for their newer, more prestigious guests.

At least they hadn't dropped any plates or glassesMalaika said, pausing as if waiting for said noise and tched in annoyance when she hadn't invoked said response. She seemed to believe that everything worked like it did in television, which made Keiichi fight with himself to not roll his eyes again at the angel.

Anyway, the angel continued, I still think I did a bang-up job getting you to wake up in less than a minute.

You should get a medal for your efforts, Keiichi replied as dryly as he could through his thoughts.

I know!Malaika responded back, completely missing his sarcasm, but since I'm not fully tangible in your world, that would cause a little bit of a problem.

Or maybe she hadn't missed it. He was too tired to think too hard about it. He only hoped Sayoko and the rest would return soon.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Sayoko, meanwhile was busy applying a subtle pink lipstick to her lips, trying very hard not to listen to the others in the restroom with her. Fortunately, the room was large enough for them to spread out a bit, but not too much that they'd have to raise their voices to be heard. She checked her blush to ensure that it wasn't too bold or caked on. She wanted to look professional, without having it seem like she put on her makeup with a trowel instead of a brush. It still amazed her that some women would bother to wear that much makeup in the first place - who would ever think that much would actually look good on someone,ever?

She spun the stick back into its tube and capped it, took a piece of paper towel, and blotted any excess by sandwiching the piece of material between her lips.

"Kei is cute," A voice from the other side of the restroom said in a non-committal way, "in a 'deer in headlights' sort of way."

"Really, Trish," Katie said from right next to her, "and here I thought Jon was more your type."

"Oh, he is," Sayoko saw Tricia's smile practically split her face in two, "but that doesn't mean that I can't look, does it?"

Yes, it does,Sayoko thought to herself, and quickly suppressed any further thought on it.

"Actually, I was hired by him to keep you out of trouble," Grace said playfully from between the two.

"Really?" Trish drew out in a long, disbelieving tone.

"Yah," Grace continued, "He's paying me about a buck-fifty an hour to make sure you eat your veggies and get a good night's sleep, too."

"It's not working." Trish commented, smirking.

"I know," Grace replied, grinning, "I'm on strike, because the benefits package sucks."

They all laughed, but Sayoko just continued with her inspection, making sure that, now that she was anywhere but school, that her appearance was spot-on perfect. It didn't have anything to do with the boy waiting for them out in the lobby. Really.

"Still," Katie said next to her, "he is cute. Especially when he's sleeping."

Sayoko somehow managed to keep herself from smacking the blonde. How had she managed to see Keiichi asleep? Unless she...

"Yeah," Grace said, rolling her eyes, "the little bit of drool on the set's sofa was a real turn-on."

Ah, so that's what happened. She felt her muscles relax, and was almost startled by that revelation. Fortunately, she kept her composure, continuing as if nothing happened. She mustn't have been as successful as she thought, because Grace grinned devilishly, and popped her compact closed with a snap.

"Still," Grace said in a matter-of fact way, "I'd fuck him. How about you, Sayoko?"

"What?" Sayoko said as innocently as she could "I wasn't-"

"You so totally were listening," Grace said, frowning at her, "and don't play that innocent 'I don't understand what you're going on about' crap, either! We could all see it from the get-go." The other two nodded, turning to look intently at her.

"And don't think I hadn't caught some of those death glares you give me behind my back," Tricia said, crossing her arms over her chest, "What? You think I'm trying to steal him from you?"

"I-" Sayoko began, but with three pairs of eyes looking so intently at her, she really couldn't make the excuses form.

And they had been excuses, she realized. God was she really that stupid?

The other girls must have seen all of this play through her usually calm face; they uncrossed their arms and actually looked concerned for her.

"I'm sorry," Tricia said, putting a hand gently on her shoulder, "I didn't mean to turn this into a confrontation." Sayoko smiled weakly, shaking her head.

"No," she said, "I'm sorry. It's just..." She took a deep breath. She had to explain it to someone, she realized, or the whole situation would go pear shaped. She released the breath, took another one, and told them.

"This all happened about a month or so ago..."

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Keiichi sat self-consciously at the table reserved for them, looking desperately for the quartet to reappear. The waiter looked at him with disdain, most likely because tee shirts and sweats are not the ideal wear for someplace as nice as this. If he were at a ramen shop, sure, but here? What made it worse was the fact that this table was practically in the middle of the establishment and everyone not occupied with eating was looking at him as if he were some new, bizarre form of entertainment. He waved weakly at a couple that had been staring at him, and looked down at his watch yet again.

Thankfully, he was saved a long, uncomfortable wait when the three actresses and Sayoko emerged from the restrooms, still laughing and talking in such friendly terms with each other that he still wanted to escape as quickly as possible.

Malaika had excused herself, so he was alone again with his thoughts. The phrase about frying pans came readily to mind, which made his stomach rumble in protest of its neglect. As they took their seats, Keiichi leaned to his right and asked Sayoko if it was really okay for him to be in here dressed so casually. She merely pointed to the three actresses over her menu. What Keiichi saw was slightly surprising, but only because he had grown somewhat used to Katie, Grace and Trish: A small line was forming up, with several men and women coming over with notebooks or even napkins. As they approached one of the patrons asked for one or the other or all three to sign the offered paper, and each graciously did so.

"You're fine, as long as you're with them," Sayoko shrugged, looking at her menu with an indecipherable look on her face, "to be honest, I am really surprised this hadn't happened sooner." Keiichi nodded in agreement, but he believed it was more the fact that the show the women were cast in was for a niche audience, instead of the general public, but still, there should have been more people than this asking for autographs, especially for a weekend day.

"Yeah," he said finally, "It's also incredibly slow for a Saturday. I was expecting Trish and the others would have liked to see the performers in the park before heading home."

Sayoko frownedand gave him a very pointed look.

"Are you sure you're fine?" she said, staring at him so intensely, he swallowed nervously.

"Yeah," he said, breaking eye contact with her, "I just need some food, and I'll be right as rain."

"Really?" Sayoko asked.

"Yeah," he repeated lamely.

"So," she said, flipping through the menu, "that means, if I am not mistaken, that you had pulled one - if not more - all-nighters, and this group somehow roped you into their little escapade from the studio."

"Seventy-two hours" Keiichi corrected, using his menu as a shield, "And yeah. I was drafted for this."

"I'll kill them," she scowled, put her menu on the table and started to get up, but Keiichi forestalled her with a gentle hand on her wrist.

"Really, it's fine," he said, smiling weakly, "I didn't have classes today because both professors needed to go to a wedding for a mutual friend, and with no club activities until the end of the month, I'll be able to get an early night tonight. Please, this'll be my only chance to-" He closed his mouth quickly, feeling his cheeks heat in embarrassment.

"To what?" She asked, looking at him intently.

"Nothing," he replied. He needed a distraction. "So, how long do you think this impromptu signing session will last?"

"Too long," the debutante replied, scowling at the three women. She looked down in surprise at his hand on her wrist, causing him to pull it away as if she had been on fire.

"Sorry." He said lamely. She shook her head.

"Don't be," she said, smiling softly. Sayoko then opened her mouth as if to say something more, but instead picked up her menu again, and looked intently at it. They were saved by the wait staff and the head chef coming out to shoo everyone away, asking that they be given some time to eat and enjoy their meals.

"My apologies," the head chef said, bowing to the group, "Please, pick anything you desire, with my compliments."

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Sora awoke, feeling incredibly refreshed, considering that, when she looked at the clock, only about four hours had passed since she arrived home. The spot beside her was empty, and she could hear humming from the kitchen as she stretched - a good indication that Bell had got up for the day and was working her usual magic. Sora wiped the drool from the corner of her mouth and opened the partition.

"Good morning!" the Goddess said, smiling happily as Sora sat down at the table; Bell's smile was so infectious, Sora could feel the corners of her mouth involuntarily pulling up in mimicry.

"Did you sleep well?" Belldandy continued, turning her back to Sora as she stirred the pot on the stove.

"I could ask the same of you," Sora replied, "especially when you must have been in that chair most of the night."

The Norn shrugged noncommittally, pouring some of the pot's contents into a bowl. She turned to Sora, and placed the bowl in front of her.

"I've done worse," Bell replied, "you have that happen often when you are a system administrator that is tracking down a potentially fatal bug in the system."

"Wait," Sora said, not even looking at the bowl in front of her, "I thought you said that your job was to answer the customer phones."

"I do answer the phone lines," Belldandy agreed, pouring a bowl for herself. She placed it on the table and took her seat, looking expectantly at Sora. "And you slept with your glasses on again."

Sora blinked. So, was Belldandy contradicting herself? Was she trying to deflect the question by distracting her with idle comments? Did she bend the damned frames again while she slept? She quickly took off the glasses and inspected them. The blurry lines that were the frames seem to be fairly straight, so she put them back on her face.

"But, if you answer the phones-" Sora began.

"How do I work as a system administrator?" Bell finished, "Simple: I volunteer some of my free time to help out when I can, as I can. It also helps me do my job. If I use the system, I can ensure that there are no problems that haven't been reported to the tech group."

"Ah," Sora said, nodding her head, "I see." But did that mean that the time the Goddess was spending here with her was keeping her from doing something important? The thought made Sora feel extremely guilty once again for her frivolous wish.

"Eat," Belldandy said, reaching over and pushing the bowl a bit closer to her with a smile.

Sora finally looked down at the offered consumables and blinked. She then took a deep breath and barely kept herself from crying. How did Belldandy even know that this was her favorite dish in the whole world? The soft smell, the steam emanating from the bowl before her all felt exactly like she was home again.

"How did you-" She started but the Norn merely kept smiling, and pointed to the soup.

"Eat." Bell whispered, still smiling.

And just for a little while, Sora completely forgot about all her troubles.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

"So, are you almost done with that analysis, Skuld?"

"Yeah. I just need to verify a few unusual data points, and I'll be able to render a full three-dimensional overlay on the area by the end of the day. Is that okay, Peorth?"

"Can you get us fourth and fifth-dimensional results, as well?"

"Define exactly what dimensions you mean, and I'll do so."

"What? They're the fourth and fifth dimensions!"

"Geez. Really? There's over twenty-nine discovered dimensions, all of which can be considered "fourth or fifth" with the exceptions of the solidly-defined first through third dimensional axes."

"Okay, okay! I get it! Just.. Give us Earth time and relative time to Heaven, okay?"

"Well, why didn't you say so in the first place? I'll have it all to you by the end of tomorrow, then."

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Urd hummed happily as she wended from store to store, looking for the things she needed, and making a checklist of them until she could get some cash. Some things were readily available for purchase, but they wouldn't do her any good if they expired before the mail order stuff came in, so she made a note of them, as well.

Hey, a soft voice said in her head, still sounding upset, aren't we going to do something about Keiichi?

Oh, he'll be fine for now,Urd replied to Mio, You said he's eating lunch, so it's a perfect way to waste time until he emerges from the restaurant.

And what about those harlots? Mio accused, They could be doing anything to him right about now.

"I doubt it." Urd said aloud while appraising a slinky dress with a frown, then caught herself and continued through thought, The place is packed, so even if we were able to get in, it is very likely that they couldn't do anything to him in the open like that.

You'd think so, the angel said, her voice quavering a little, but what if they're all packed so tight in there, that they're pressing their breasts against his arms?

Urd practically dropped the dress in surprise. That was one of the moves she had planned on using on the boy the next chance she could get. Mio growled in her mind, popping into existence in front of Urd with her arms crossed and scowled at the Norn with disapproval.

You see? Mio hissed They'll have poor Keiichi in a panic in no time!

Urd didn't think it was a panic that the women would change Keiichi's frame of mind into. Blocking out the thought as best as she could, she tried to get a bit more information from the angel.

So,Urd asked, putting the dress on the rack and selecting another for appraisal, can you tell me a little about these women that are with Keiichi?

There was a pause, but Urd heard Mio take a deep breath before giving the details to her.

The first one is the stuck-up, snooty one that's always around campus, so I'm not going to go into detail about her or how perfect her breasts and hair are, so you'll have to picture her for yourself. The tall one, Stilt-girl, is blonde, has legs like a stork, and her boobs, while smaller than Prissy-bitch's, arestill rather firm and perky. The other blonde has a decent rack to her, but her hips and lips are what's got Kei's attention right now. And as for the Asian girl, well, she's flatter than a washboard in comparison to the foreigners, but she's still better stacked than the average girl her age.

Urd blinked at the descriptions.

So, she said carefully, you've described hardly anything about these women to me, other than the size of their boobs, and their overall sex appeal. Could it be-

I know what you're going to say, Mio moaned, her hands going up to cover her face, but not before exposing a radiant red blush to Urd, but it's not like that. Really. It's just that, being tied to a guy, kinda makes you see things from his perspective. It's not like I want to think like that, or anything!

Urd nodded. It must be difficult for the angel to have to be there, even when Keiichi needed some "private time" to himself.

You do understand! Mio cried, her eyes filling with tears. Urd couldn't do anything, so she just nodded again, which caused a store associate to come over to her.

"Can I help you with anything?" the girl said hopefully. Judging by the price tag on the dress that Urd held in her hand, the woman would make a rather large commission, if it were purchased.

"Yes," the Norn replied, "Would you happen to have this in cobalt blue?" She held the garment away from her, "Because even though green is a nice color, it so does not go with the attire of everyone else I will be with."

"Unfortunately, we don't," the woman said, slightly panicked, "but if we can get your measurements, we'd be able to get one to you by the end of the week."

"That'll be too late," Urd said, frowning. "Thanks, anyways."

"We have others," the woman said, wringing her hands, but Urd merely gave her a glare which punctuated that she had had her chance, so the clerk all but ran back to her little clique. The Norn left the store as haughtily as she could.

She walked like that until she rounded the corner, before returning to her normal, longer gait. With that out of the way, she turned her attention back to the Angel drifting alongside her.

"We're going the wrong way," Urd said, forestalling the angel, "because I want to avoid that place again. We'll walk around the block and watch from the other intersection, where I can get a crepe."

Food again? Mio said incredulously No wonder why your bust is almost the size of a cow's!

"I can't help it," Urd said aloud again, "all that fat just goes right to my tits!"

It was then that she noticed that several of the men around her had all stopped to stare at her. She scowled, flushed a bit at forgetting herself, and stalked away as quickly as she was able.

Thanks,Urd scowled at the angel floating a few feet in front of her, who merely shrugged noncommittally. If she could just wrap her fingers around Mio's intangible neck…

So, still going to get that crepe? The angel asked, becoming fully visible as they were about to round the corner near the vendor. Urd almost growled at Mio, but stopped when she saw the angel's gaze was now focused on the restaurant Keiichi and the others were now in.

No, she thought, I think it'll be best to wait it out. They should be out sometime soon.

Yeah, Mio nodded for emphasis, but still, her gaze was not leaving that building. Are you sure we can't just go in and fry everyone?

It's not how it's done nowadays,Urd replied, If anything, we'd – well, I anyway – would be seen as someone that needs to be locked up. Let's just sit back and wait. It's not like they can spend all day in there.

You're right, Mio's thoughts carried a hint of a sigh, Let's go find a bench somewhere nearby, and wait it out.

With that in mind, they implemented their plan of action, not realizing that they would not be seeing Keiichi's exodus from the building.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Sayoko could not believe it; they had somehow managed to eat and escape without any stragglers. Were these women miracle workers? No, it was likely the crowd had been diverted by the wait staff after her group had been given dessert. She made a mental note to have someone go down and ensure that everyone in the restaurant got a substantial tip for their efforts.

It didn't hurt that Keiichi had looked on the offerings from the chef as a godsend. What were they feeding him in that god-awful dorm, that such average food was looked at as a top meal? She shook herself mentally, noting that her own view was skewed by how spoiled she had become.

In regards to Keiichi: she spared the boy a glance from the corner of her eye. He seemed to be getting paler and more frazzled the more they pushed on in this absurd "tour" they were on. Was his hair always that unkempt? She didn't think so; the last time she had seen him, it had been unruly on the top middle of his head, but now, it seemed as if his hair were trying to become sentient.

Sayoko shook her head and focused on the bigger picture. It's been about five hours, give or take a few minutes, and the other girls seemed almost obsessed with keeping Keiichi from returning home. She should force them to give over, yet if she did that, wouldn't her time with Keiichi be lessened, as well? The spoiled part of her did indeed want to stay with him, but only him. How would she even accomplish that with the way he was slowly coming undone? Why was she even thinking it in the first place?

She slowed her pace until Keiichi caught up to her. The actresses had gotten a little ahead of them, so they could look into one of the gaudy souvenir shops that littered the street. She wondered which one of them would buy the "I'm with stupid" shirt written in kanji and passed off as something like "courage" or "strength" to give to their boyfriend.

"You sure you don't want to call it quits?" she asked, clasping her hands behind her back, and tilting her head slightly as she looked at him.

"I'm good," he replied, yawning to belie that statement, "the food'll keep me going for another few hours, easily."

She gave him a skeptical look, "Really?"

"Yeah," he replied, "and even then, I still wouldn't give up the opportunity not to spend time with you-you guys." His face went flush as he turned away from her in embarrassment. She grinned at him before replying.

"Well then," she said, "anywhere you'd like to take them, since I suggested the restaurant?"

He stopped suddenly, tilting his head as if listening to something. She was about to repeat herself when he turned to look at her.

"We could always take them to the museum," he said, smiling crookedly. She almost shuddered, remembering that horrid, virulent outfit he had first approached her in. Sayoko opened her mouth to protest.

"I'm kidding, I'm kidding," Keiichi continued, putting up his hands, shaking them slightly as if to forestall her comment, "but we might want to swing by the place sometime closer to supper; they have a new outdoor display that might be interesting."

"So, you have no idea where to take them next?" Sayoko asked, "Wait. Supper?"

Keiichi shrugged, "Since I've been with them practically since the crack of dawn, might as well make it an all day thing."

Seriously, where was he getting his stamina from? Most people, as polite as their culture is, would have drawn the line somewhere by now, especially after working the shift from hell. Instead of calling him on it, Sayoko exhaled sharply, annoyed.

"Besides," Keiichi continued, "I do have an idea in mind. I thought we could do a full walking tour of most of the city. You know, take in the street vendors, some of the local shops and whatnot? Hopefully, it'll keep them entertained and possibly release some of their pent-up energy from being confined for filming."

"If that's the case," she said, moving closer to him, "I have one more place to take us."

"Oh?" He asked, lifting an eyebrow slightly in curiosity, "Where?"

She pointed to the local coffee house. "There," she replied, "If you're going to keep this pace up, you're going to at least have a double-shot of espresso. I'm not going to drag you all over town until I get caffeine in you."

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Sora was most likely at home, probably feeling sorry for herself, or so Urd believed. Her mood was not improving with all the males that seemed to stare at her as she sat on the uncomfortable bench as close as she'd dare get to the restaurant. Her ass ached and she was sure that three of the guys that walked by looked uncomfortably familiar. She couldn't confirm it, but she was sure at least one of them might have been close to her when she had made that comment about fat and her anatomy.

Mio paced back and forth from one end of the bench to another. Well, pacing was not the word, but as close to it as an incorporeal being like angels could get. It was closer to drifting than anything else, but it sure had the same feel as if she was going from one end to the other in impatient strides.

Urd resisted the urge to blow at the angel, to see if she would just drift away.

Where are they? Mio said, unconsciously wringing her hands. They should have come out by now.

Why don't you go look, then?Urd thought, feeling annoyed. Their waiting was definitely a bust, because there is no way a place like this would keep anyone waiting for over two hours, and still have the type of traffic it did.

The angel had stopped in her pacing, looking thoughtful.

You think I should?

YES!Urd thought aloud, again, wishing she could just strangle the angel right then and there.

Okay, okay. Yeesh. Mio said as she vanished from sight. Was this really how Keiichi was? If an angel was the representation of a person's soul...

No. The dynamic was different; the angel seemed more like the stories of "guardian angels" people had been talking about since time immemorial. What if those stories actually had a grain of truth to them? It was something to think about. Maybe she should ask the Almighty? She had so many questions for him, she had no idea where to begin! Like, why the hell had he never thought to tell the other gods and goddesses in Heaven about this? In her mind, her list of people she wanted to strangle out of sheer frustration with them had increased by one.

She just wanted to get back to her ingredients, so she could-

They're gone! Mio's thoughts echoed in Urd's mind, almost as if they had been screamed at full volume. She winced, glaring at the returned annoyance.

Any idea of where they went?Urd asked, debating whether to just give up, or to actually find the boy. The angel shook her head.

Che. The sound was one she'd picked up after watching anime in her free time not watching her soaps. Scowling she turned away from the restaurant.

Where you going? Mio asked, frantically gesturing for Urd to stop. The goddess passed through Mio without a second thought. Wait!

At that moment, someone grabbed Urd's arm. She spun, to see one of the guys that she suspected to be stalking her. her face flushed not from embarrassment, but anger.

"Wait, Miss," The gentleman said, holding something out to her.

"You dare?" Urd hissed. Her hair whipped around her as she gathered the power of a full-force lightning blast. Before the guy could recover from his surprise, Urd pointed a finger at him, and he was hit with enough electricity to knock him out for days.

"Don't follow me!" she said, storming off. She ignored the wake of stunned people she left behind her.

Y-You blasted him! Mio sounded dumbstruck. And look at what you're doing to all those people you're walking past! I hope nobody's got a pacemaker!

Just shut it,Urd seethed. She wanted to go back and give him another blast - this time, right to his crotch.

But-

I don't care.

You-

I said I don't care! Wrong place, wrong time! He's lucky he didn't do anything fresh, or he'd be living with a permanent twinge! Urd stalked home, taking long, purposeful strides. She was going to find stupid Keiichi and save his ass, even if he didn't need it.

It was now personal.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Peorth stood, arms crossed, in front of her wide-area display, analyzing the information she currently had available to her. The fluctuating blues-and-greens moved in an almost rhythmic manner, while still being random. Occasionally a bubble of blue or green would break free from the visual, but dissolve quickly after as she stared at the raw data from the anomaly on Midgard. She was still annoyed at Skuld for her attitude, but knew that Skuld was on loan from a different branch because of her insane amount of technical know-how, and thus didn't know about the procedures Peorth knew like the back of her hand, so she cut the younger goddess some slack in regards to her quirks.

Was Skuld just messing around? No - Peorth wouldn't have allowed her to even look at one of the consoles if she didn't have both the appropriate clearance and the skill set involved to operate one.

As it was, she had had to ask the girl twice now to not redesign the interfaces off the fly, even if they were easier to operate than current, pre-Skuldified one, merely because it threw her fellow employee's frame of thinking off completely.

Not that she hadn't saved copies to pass around during the next refit of the OS. The changes would - if everyone was trained on them properly, that is - increase efficiency and effectiveness significantly.

But enough of that thought; she had this puzzle to unwrap before something unexpected happened. She was till glad that the third-class spirit Erdgeist had acted as a "bouncer" for the area until several of Heaven's best and brightest could get down there and seal off that area. Even now she was surprised that he had come up with such an eloquent way of doing it.

The group had, on suggestion of one of the data analysts, hid the anomaly as if they were hiding a column of cells in a data worksheet. The space was visually compressed to the eye, so only if you knew it was there, not even a god or demon could locate it without expending a huge supply of energy. As it was, Yggdrasil was dedicating one whole processor just to continue the illusion, and would do so until they could come up with a better solution.

Peorth frowned as she saw three more bubbles escape, but this time, instead of disappearing, long tendrils of blue-green reached out and pulled them in. The disturbing way the bubbles seemed to be struggling to escape made Peorth shudder.

"Can someone replay that in infrared and ultraviolet data overlays for me?" She asked, slightly turning to see the rows of consoles behind her.

"Yes, Ma'am!" one of the elder Operators said, raising his hand so she knew which console to receive the data from. In less than three minutes, the replay, in a thirty second loop, showed up on her screen. The blues and greens were swapped with orange and red, showing the whole mass in subtle shades throughout, but overall, it reminded her of a lava lamp.

She watched the bubbles escape again as peach-like orbs, and hit the slow-motion button. Frame by frame, she saw a deep red from within the core of the anomaly spread throughout the whole mass, before launching blood-red tendrils at the bubbles.

"Almighty," Someone behind her whispered,

Peorth could only nod in agreement.

With the bubbles now captured, the red color started to spread through their captives until they finally were absorbed into the main mass, and it took on that lava lamp pattern once more.

So, what was the thing trying to do? Peorth resisted the urge to send Lind and several other Valkyries to Earth to just wipe the thing from existence, consequences be damned.

As if reading her mind, the line for the Almighty lit up. With a sigh, she picked up the phone, dreading the earful she was expecting to get.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Ichirou Yanagida, Buddhist priest extraordinaire, slowly polished the floor with care. He knew the place was getting run down and shoddy in spots, but he was a priest, and the skills needed to do even simple carpentry were beyond his capabilities. Maybe he would hire some kid to come fix it one of these days, but all of them that he'd seen always seemed shifty, and some of them couldn't even keep their pants on properly! Had these young fools ever heard of a belt?

He sighed and scowled at the reflection of himself on the floor. Did his opposite in the reflected world have to worry about these young kids, or was he content with just polishing the floor until his own reflected self caused the philosophical debate to continue on another thread?

He didn't continue the thread of thought though; two people, a man and a woman came through the gate. They looked like a nice enough couple until he saw the remaining three people behind them.

They were all tall, gorgeous woman.

Ichirou blinked, rubbed his eyes, and blinked again. It seemed as though all the women were stunningly beautiful, and focusing on the boy who had now taken the lead.

He was short, even for a Japanese man and his hair was incredibly unruly, almost as if he hadn't slept, but Ichiro looked closer and saw all the signs he hated so much.

Drugs.

Harlotry.

Anarchism.

And worst of all, was the arrogance. The pure, sheer arrogance that the man could make these poor women, his slaves, cater to his every beck and call! Angered at the desecration of this holy place, the priest stood up as quickly as his old knees would allow, threw the cloth to the ground in disgust and stomped - well, hobbled, actually - over to the group.

The young man bowed politely and started to say something, but Ichirou was not going to stand for any of his lip! When the man stood back up, he was met by the palm of Ichirou's left hand.

"How dare you!" The priest screamed, putting his left fist on his hip, and pointing accusingly with his right finger, "You have no right!"

"Excuse me?" The youth said, rubbing the side of his face while looking nonplussed. The priest's eyes looked at the women around this heathen.. What was the word? Blimp? No.. Pimp! That's it - pimp! This pimp was trying to intimidate him out of his money, or even worse, desecrate the property with their unholy acts!

"You heard me!" he said, feeling his blood pressure rise, "I'm talking about you're drug-addled eyes! They do not have the proper affection towards Buddha! We do not want your business here!"

"What's going on, Keiichi?" the very beautiful Japanese woman next to the man asked. The man, supposedly named Keiichi merely shrugged! Shrugged at the obvious lie his life was! This young man..!
"You manwhore!" the priest bellowed, barely noticing the boy's silent repeat of the word in question. For some reason, the woman next to him covered her mouth, looking as if she were going to cry. The other girls looked perplexed still, but that was not going to prevent the priest from doling out divine justice!

"How dare you desecrate this wholly holy place!" The priest was now shaking his finger in an accusatory way at the man, "That hair! Those drug-addled eyes! And the worst, the ABSOLUTE WORST part is the harlotry! These poor girls-" he pointed at the women for emphasis, noting happily that they all now had their mouths covered in shame, "these poor girls will now be lifted from the life of slavery that you placed them under!" He put his hand down now, placing it on his hip, "I give them sanctuary! You are freed, lovely ladies! You do not have to deal with this harsh lifestyle any longer!" He opened up his hands in a welcoming gesture and closed his eyes, smiling, "Come! Come to salvation!"

After a moment's silence, Ichirou heard the sound of a giggle being stifled. He opened one eye, just in time to see the Japanese girl in business attire lose control and start bursting out laughing. The others followed suit, but the boy was still staring, confused.

Something snapped inside Ichirou.

"You," he said, breathing hard, "You..."
"Hai?" the dark-haired druggie said. The drugs were strong in this one.

"You wastrel! What the hell do you think you're doing in this sacred place?" The priest's outcry of anger just made the girl that was laughing almost collapse to the floor in laughter. Ichirou could feel his whole face turning red - all the way up to his well-polished dome.

"um..." The pimp said. Without thinking, Ichirou picked up the broom resting against the fountain, and smacked the boy on the head with it.

"Out!" He bellowed, "Out, foul spot!" He smacked the druggie pimplord on the head again, "You may not pass Go!" another hit, "You may not collect two hundred dollars!" another hit, this time to the stomach, "And you can't has cheeseburger!" He followed this last, ominous-sounding English threat off with a rapid succession of hits to the evil bastard's legs, stomach, arms and head.

The collection of sluts came to the rescue of their depraved lover, Ichirou gave a bellow and raised the broom above his head. Faster than thought, the hellish cluster made their retreat,

"Begone foul demon!" the priest bellowed as he raised his broom to chase after the retreating, well, demon and his coven of hussies, "Begone from this holy place! GET THEE OFF MY LAWN!"

And with that, the group disappeared around the corner of the path.

"FORNICATOR!" He yelled behind his shoulder, too satisfied by half to chase after the pack of hellspawn. With a nod, he bunched up his priestly attire and returned to his home.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Peorth put the receiver down and frowned. It had not been a good talk with the Almighty, yet it hadn't been as bad as she had feared. If anything, things were still the same in terms of insights and support from the All-father, but that was to be expected, given his overall stance on interfering with everyone that wasn't him. True, it garnered frustration and sometimes outright anger from everyone else in the universe, but it was a good policy; you couldn't encourage free will if you either helped people into dependency, or lorded over them into subjugation. It was still interesting that she could find-

The phone rang again. Listening to the soft chime it emanated, she knew it was not one from Heaven, so it had to be that odd monk she had conscripted to her cause. She sighed again, and picked up the receiver.

"How may I help you, Ichirou?" she said into the mouthpiece. She could almost hear the priest freeze in shock.

"M-Mistress," the old fart stammered. Peorth kept from rubbing her temple as she let him continue with "how did you know it was me?"
"Did it ever occur to you," she sighed, "that you might have been the only person to receive this number?"

"No," the priest said, sounding awestruck, "how ingenious! I shall have to keep that in mind in my endeavors!"

This time, instead of rubbing her temples, the Goddess First Class just covered her face with one hand and tried (and failed) to keep from sighing yet again.

"Yes, yes," she said, regaining some of her composure, "I assume that you have had success finding the boy, non?"

"Well," the priest said, his voice getting a quavering sound to it, "not yet, because I have been unable lately to leave the shrine. As a matter of fact, it hasn't been but moments since I chased a fornicator and his harlots away from this holy place."

Harlots? Was this guy really serious? With the way this guy talked, it was likely the two Earthbound Norns the lunatic was talking about.

"Yes, yes," she said again, really wishing that she could just hang up on the guy.

"The reason I called Mistress," the priest continued, "was because I am at a loss. You have given me a name and a basic description, but how, pray tell, am I able to find him without some sort of photograph? I cannot pursue that which I cannot know fully."

Ah! A reasonable request. She snapped her fingers at one of the passing interns, and wrote down the information quickly for the intern to pass to one of the sysadmins. The God nodded, and took off as quickly as he could.

"I'll be sending you something shortly. Be looking at your fax machine in-" she glanced over and saw the recipient of her note make a "three" with her fingers, "three minutes. Is that all?"
"Yes, Mistress. Thank you, Mistress." The priest intoned. She could picture the idiot bowing to the phone.

"Okay then," she said, trying to suppress her eagerness to end this call, "Good day to you."

She hung up the phone before receiving a reply - she really did not want to talk to him any longer. If she was lucky, though, the picture she was sending him would lead to the location of the boy sooner, and then she wouldn't have to deal with him ever again.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Ichirou hung up the phone and went to the fax machine that he barely ever used. He sat there a moment before it started making sounds. After the noise died down, a piece of paper started to come out of the machine. After a good two minutes, the machine finished, and he picked up the paper. Odd, how nothing was on it.

Then he remembered that the person who gave it to the temple noted that it printed face-down, so he picked up the paper, and flipped it over.

There, smirking his evil grin was that... Gigolo! The PIMP was the one that he was to look for?! No!

In a panic, he raced down the dirt path as fast as his ancient legs would take him, hoping beyond hope that he would catch up to the man and then...

And then what? Apologize? IF he must, but he really should tell Peorth-sama about this first! As he ran, he struggled to get the phone out of his robe pocket.

Kami-sama or Buddah, let him catch them soon!

Sooner than he thought, he had made it to the bottom! He looked left and right for the group he had recently chased out of his home, but there was no trace of them.

"No," he whispered. A cold wind picked up at that moment and forced the paper in his hand free. He looked at his hand stupidly, blinked, then clenched and unclenched his hand.

"NOOOOOOO!" he screamed, clenching his fists together and collapsing to his knees. How was he going to explain this to Peorth-sama? He shivered, but not from the cold.
That's it! He just wouldn't tell her! He had a sharp mind, and his wits have saved him countless times! He would just endeavor to find the harlots and their manslut on his own.

With a game plan running through his mind, he headed back to the temple to start his preparations.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Erdgeist, Spirit third class in the service of the Almighty and guardian of Leyline 856986 sulked from his position atop the "tea parlor". Until about three hours ago, he and his now-immobile compatriot had been preventing delinquents, dogs, rats and other oddities from entering a close proximity to the bizarre thing he had been ordered to protect. From here, all he could see was the seamless merger of the two buildings that sandwiched the alley that housed the blob-like mass, and nodded his approval as he remembered watching the gods and goddesses place the magic sigils that made it go away. How did they-

"Mommy?" the voice behind him intoned in its inhuman manner. Erdgeist turned to look over his left shoulder at the mechanical, one-eyed robot.

"Not yet," he replied, making some soothing noises. Up until the machine-man had touched the thing, it had been learning comprehension at a rather alarming rate. And then...
"Mommy." the thing intoned. nodding its head once in emphasis.

"Soon, kiddo," Erdgeist agreed. He couldn't wait to see Sora either, especially if Erdgeist could convince the robot to try to run up to her and give her a hug.

He still wondered if she would faint from fright first, or lack of oxygen, when the chrome, childlike machine knocked the breath out of her. So far, he was hedging his bets in favor of the fear factor.

Now that the deception was in place, he could relax. Should he return back to the place that he considered home, or should he return to his duties? With a thought to the chrome monstrosity behind him, he decided that a patrol might not be the wisest decision at this time. Maybe in a few hours, but this led again to if he really wanted to take the robot home, or just ditch it? True it was useful to have around, but he didn't know how to explain to the Goddess awaiting his report that his compatriot had now been returned to the mentality of a small child.

Maybe Urd will know what to do, If anything, she did boast that her younger sister could repair anything, so maybe the poor thing's lost memory could be restored by whatever voodoo those technical people do? It was a slim hope, but it was a hope nonetheless.

Standing up, he walked over to the motionless creature before him, its single eye sliding from left to right, almost in the same pulse as a heartbeat.

"Mommy?" it intoned again. The first thing he would see about getting fixed was that voice though - the ominous, electric monotone did not fit the words emanating from its mouth, for lack of a better word.

"Yeah. We're going home," Erdgeist replied, "but first, we're going to see Auntie Urd, so she can take a look at you, or at least call someone that can make sure you're okay." The robot nodded, and in a heartbeat, both had phased into the nearby Leyline to make their way home.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Well, today was definitely far from boring, Sayoko had to admit. She had been volunteered as translator, almost stampeded at lunch, assaulted by a broomand finally escaped to the bus station to get the majority of their impromptu tour group on the bus to Tokyo.

Truthfully, Keiichi was the one that had been smacked by that archaic broom, but it didn't mean she couldn't sympathize withhim at all. Sayoko still couldn't understand what had possessed the old guy to start ranting as if Keiichi and the rest were demons from the underworld. Sure, Kei was a little rough around the edges, but considering his lack of sleep, his appearance did hold up in most places they had been to today.

The sound of a yawn made her look over at the person in question. There was no doubt now that he really was going to crash hard soon. Sayoko was kicking herself mentally for getting him that espresso not too long ago. Everything about Keiichi just screamed that he wanted to just curl up right here at the station stairs and sleep for several days straight.

And yet, he smiled. Sayoko was certain that it was just how he felt, and not some weird trance-like state he had entered.

"That was fun," he said, still smiling as he turned to her, "I just hope it doesn't become the norm."

Sayoko lifted an eyebrow slightly, and Keiichi coughed once, flushing.

"With my luck," he continued in answer to her unasked question, "I bet that I'd fail the semester from being roped into their personal tour guide on a constant basis."

"It won't happen." Sayoko said without pause.

"Maybe," Keiichi shrugged for emphasis, "but the Law of Murphy..." He shrugged again.

Sayoko started to nod, before catching herself. What happened to the cheerful guy she had been seeing? She could see him, true, but it seemed as if the poor guy was running low on even his seemingly endless optimism.

At that moment, they started towards the escalator for the subway, and Sayoko thought the poor guy was going to do a perfect nose dive right into the marble floor until he caught himself by straightening up and twisting until he caught the safety rail.

"You okay?" she asked reaching a hand out to his shoulder.

"I'm not sure," he replied, not looking at her a moment, "I think I might have smacked into the rail a bit too hard." Sayoko did think his breathing had become a bit more ragged.

"Let me look," she said firmly. Keiichi turned to her, his cheeks getting redder by the moment.

"Here?" he fumbled, after a moment of gaping like a fish out of water, "In front of everyone?"

"There's nobody here," she countered. Seeing that she spoke the truth, and that his slipup hadn't drawn the usual rubbernecking from people, he lifted his shirt enough for her to see his side.

Thankfully, Keiichi seemed to be built - not body-builder built, but rather the kind of build one gets from having to haul around heavy mechanical equipment quite often. She blinked her eyes, keeping her thoughts from drifting down dangerous avenues she did NOT want to go down at this point, and examined the location of the wound.

She didn't see anything but a slight red spot, but that didn't mean that something could be wrong. She looked up at Keiichi with a reassuring smile.

"I'm going to press on it lightly. Tell me if it really hurts and I'll stop. It's better to see now if it's a broken or bruised rib, so we can get you to the hospital."

Keiichi nodded, still breathing raggedly. Sayoko's fingers pressed gently at the last two ribs on the lower side, and felt nothing move. Keiichi's breath caught, but he didn't say anything, so she pressed a bit more. Keiichi grunted and she stopped.

"How does it feel?" she inquired, stepping back from the injured Keiichi.

"It feels like a pulled muscle," he answered, "because every time I breathe out, it's fine, but when I inhale, it feels like someone's poking me hard in the side."

"Good," Sayoko said, "from what I can tell, nothing's broken. We'll keep an eye on it for a while and if it doesn't feel better in an hour, we'll go to the hospital." He looked as if he was going to protest but she put her finger on his lips, making his eyes widen, "no arguing."

To her surprise, there was no argument. Every other male she had ever known was usually argumentative and stubborn when it came to even the smallest injury. Was it the exhaustion? Adrenaline? She almost gave him her best questioning gaze, hoping that he wasn't lying to her, but since his discomfort was plain on his face, it was very unlikely that he would try to fib his way out of a hospital trip.

"Come on," she said, extending a hand to him, "Let's get somewhere a bit more comfortable."

Which is why, twenty minutes later, they were driving out of Nekomi, chatting idly about nothing in particular.

"So," Keiichi said after a small silence, "What are you going to be doing after college?"

Sayoko gave him a look. The answer was obvious but still...

"What I mean," Keiichi continued after seeing the annoyed glare, "what I mean, is what exactly will you be doing - Management? R&D? Marketing? You haven't really mentioned where in the company you were hoping to place yourself, before."

"Actually," Sayoko said, downshifting the McLaren a gear before continuing around a rather sharp corner, "I would love to do the R&D, but I am betting my father wants to make me the General Manager of one of the branch facilities."

"Ah," Keiichi said, sounding a bit downcast to her. She spared a quick glance at him while navigating the twisty roadway leading around the base of the mountain. He really did look sad to hear the news.

"Well, what about you?" she asked, after another short silence, "Got any plans? Maybe some world domination?"

"Nothing to speak of," he replied. To Sayoko, it's almost as if she could read the shrug in his words. She shifted up a gear and released the clutch, and he continued, "But I do have some hopes of possibly getting an internship at BMW for my junior year. Maybe even Yamaha, if they're still looking for people by then."

"You're thinking of travelling abroad?" Sayoko said, easing her foot off the break as they started to coast down the road a ways, "I thought you'd want to stay close to home."

"Home is in Hokkaido," Keiichi said, "Not much to see or do, unless you want to play Mahjongg or fish, and I have never really been the fisherman type."

"Small town boy?" she smiled as she said it, "I'm really surprised. I thought you had come from one of the suburbs when I first met you."

"The town we live in is small, true," Keiichi replied dryly, "but my mother plays pro Mahjongg, and so the whole family's been all over the islands. Wish we would have gone to Osaka more though, there was this place that makes okonomiyaki to die for."

"As good as those from Sapuro's on fifth and 1234?" She asked, skeptically.

"Yes, and though it's different, I think both would hold up against each other in a battle royal."

"So, maybe we should go there sometime," Sayoko said, "I'm always looking for good food when I am away from home." She kept her face from scrunching up. When was the last time she had been home? It seemed like years, even though it was closer to months. Between work and college, she had been quite busy lately. She popped the clutch, and they were off again on the straightaway.

After that, the conversation slowly became non-existent as they both enjoyed the quick pace the supercar made. Fortunately, the sun still peeked over the horizon, so all the nocturnal fauna wouldn't be active quite yet. As they sped on the four-mile road, she could see the grin on Keiichi's face widen the more she put her foot on the pedal.

Two minutes later, she was downshifting again in anticipation of the quickly-approaching turn. Sayoko decided to use this chance to ask Keiichi something she had been wondering about for a while now.

"So," she began, coaxing the car around the corner so it barely felt like it was throwing you through the body panels, "what's up with you and those foreign girls?"

Keiichi looked nonplussed, "What?" he asked, the look mutating to one of him being somewhat dismayed.

"I asked you," she said, flicking the wheel the other way as the corner fed into another going the opposite way, "what is up with you and those foreign women?"

"Foreign women?" he blinked in answer, "You mean Urd and Belldandy?"

"Yeah," she put her foot on the brake to slow down as the next in sequence was sharper than the previous two, "The one you never formally introduced me to, especially."

He paused a moment, before speaking.

"Belldandy - the one you met while she was sleeping - is married to Sora Hasegawa, a friend from the Auto Club and a Freshman," his face flushed as he said this, showing his discomfort, "and Urd is her sister, apparently here both for business, and to see her sister after her marriage."

"Seriously?" she said, glancing at his face for some sort of hint that he was not telling the truth, "So Sora was the one she was here to see?"

"Yeah," he said, still somewhat embarrassed.

"I see." she replied, mulling it over a moment. That wasn't too long ago, was it? About three? Four months now? No, it was about a month or two, and looking back, she had been almost as bad as her cousin with her holier-than-thou attitude towards everyone and everything. When had she changed from that obnoxious brat? Probably about the time her cousin had been stupid with Belldandy; she had to admit that him attempting something so foolish had been a real wake-up slap in the face.

Before her thoughts could go black, though, Keiichi brought her attention back to the present.

"Sayoko?" He asked in a surprisingly gentle voice.

"Yes?"

"Well," he said, clasping his hands together, most likely trying to prevent himself from rubbing the back of his head nervously, she thought, "I just wanted to say 'thanks.'"

She blinked, "For what?"

"For helping me out today," he said, "I'm almost certain that they actually roped me in to be their pack mule, using the excuse of me being their tour guide." He shrugged, but continued, "I'm almost certain there were points where they had been teasing me, too, but..." He just shrugged again.

"You're welcome," she replied, pulling over to one of the longer embankments to look at him fully. How was it that someone so disheveled could actually seem more attractive than some of the more polished guys she had dated up until now? "I'm sure their hearts were in the right place. For actresses."

The last bit made him laugh a bit, and with it, the mood that had been building in her had dissipated. Seeing that both of them felt better, she put the car in gear, and took off again towards the city.

After a few minutes of small talk, she noticed that it had gotten rather quiet. She looked over and was ready to ask Keiichi if he was okay, but saw him fast asleep; the arm that had been braced against the window and clutching the "panic strap" in a casual manner was now being used as a pillow.

She drove back towards his dorms, mulling over everything that has happened since that day she saw him next to the sleeping girl. He was so unlike every other guy she had to deal with in her social circle, that if she were to compare them, she couldn't begin.

And that was a good thing.

Why was she thinking about him so much? She remembered thinking about him not only during their first date, but also... Agh! She was doing it again!

But still…

She shifted down a gear, taking the more "gentle" approach home, since she really didn't want to wake Keiichi if she didn't have to.

After a while, the street lights started to come on as twilight crept up. Odd, since it didn't seem like they had been driving for that long. She put on her lights and slowed down even further. The last thing she needed to do was hit a moose or whatever large wild creatures she didn't care to look up roamed the countryside.

So now what? It was certain that poor Keiichi had reached his limit a while ago, but she didn't want to let go of him right then. She found herself decelerating, and taking as many out-of-the-way streets as her car was capable, but even then, she found herself stopped about a quarter of a mile from the men's dormitory, debating whether she should wake him now, or whether she should wait until they actually were in front of his door.

No, that wouldn't do; if she was to stop there, then she wouldn't be able to get anything else out of him than a "goodbye" at the most.

But that's not what she wanted. She felt her cheeks flush as she made herself more flustered than she'd admit, if Keiichi were to awaken at that moment...

"You're right, Grace," Sayoko said under her breath, barely aware she was saying it, "I'd fuck him." She gently brushed a hand through his hair, leaned over and gave the sleeping figure a kiss on his forehead.

She could still feel the flush on her face a good ten minutes later. When she had cooled her thoughts down enough so that her cheeks didn't feel so heated, she decided to wake Keiichi up. With a quick pop of the clutch and a quick step on the brakes, the car moved just enough to make Keiichi's hand slip slightly, jostling him awake.

"Well, here we are," Where do we go from here? Sayoko said, forestalling Keiichi's surprised, fumbling look from being expressed in words, "back at the dorms."

"Ah," Keiichi said clumsily, "thanks."

"Any time," But for how long? She replied, smiling, I can't wait too long.

"So, I'll see you..." He started but rubbed the back of his head in confusion.

"Tomorrow?" Will I be able to wait? She asked.

"Ah!" he answered, looking happier.

"Great!" God, why am I so impatient? She replied, "Call me?" For a moment, she thought he might have forgotten her number, but after an unconscious pat of his back pocket, he looked relaxed.

"Yeah," he said, and yawned, "Once I wake up. It might be late-"

"I know," What's with me? She said cutting him off, "I was there. It's okay if you call late. Go. Rest. Now." She pointed with a stern look at his dorm, but the look was spoiled by the smirk slowly breaking through the corner of her lips.

"Yes, yes," he said, his own hurt puppy look being ruined the same way, "Later, then."

Sayoko waved, not wanting to say anything else, for fear that she'd just keep him there for the rest of the night and while that wasn't bad for her, she really didn't want to push him too past the point of exhaustion. He could be hospitalized if that happened.

She took off as soon as the door to his dorm was closed, and suddenly, she exhaled a sigh of relief. Thankfully, he hadn't seen her blushing, or even heard the embarrassing thing she had said, so why was she still feeling so flustered?

He's a good man.

He liked her.

He had an amazing smile.

How had she been so blind?

With resolve, she made her way back to her place, hoping that the story she read tonight would keep her mind from going back into the gutter.

At least, for a little while.

. . . . . . .

Omake

Author's note: I apologize in advance for how this is written - It'll make sense. I hope.

It was a dark and stormy night. A peal of thunder rang out like a shot,. I spilled my whisky, surprised at the ungodly-loud sound.

Putting my flask back in the drawer in irritation, I resolved myself to going to the liquor store to pick up some more before the place closed. This damned curfew was playing hell with the medicine that so calms my nerves.

I rummaged into my pockets and "tch"ed in irritation. A gumshoe made good money when there were jobs, but this month had been a bit spare. True I helped that old lady with her cat, and helped that boy name his sleigh, but that was not enough to make the bills or my troubles go away.

Remembering the fiver I hid under my writing mat, I lifted up said mat, grabbed the cash and was about to get up from my seat when there was a knock on my door.

I might be in need of a drink, but sometimes, the growling belly demands that you hear the customer out.

"It's not locked," I said, stuffing the bill into my pocket in irritation. It had better not be that damned milkman again.

How many times had I told him that the brat was indeed his kid? So you now have to pay instead of getting paid? Too bad, buddy! If it meant that much to you, you shouldn't have been making your deliveries in the back door to get past her husband.

"Come in," I said, still feeling irritated at the aforementioned deliverer of dairy products for an outrageous fee, "its' not-"

"I know," the lady said, opening the door gingerly with a handkerchief, "It's not locked. I get it. But tell me sir, do you even bother to clean?"

"I'm a busy man," I shrugged, annoyed. I was still looking at my placemat, and hadn't looked up yet, because I was trying to keep from reaching for the now-empty whiskey bottle.

"You see, I have important business I must attend, so if you don't mind-"

And that's when I looked up.

A "looker" was not even close to how this woman looked. She had an amazing head of hair, almost as dark as midnight, and two long pony tails that swayed as she sashayed into my office.

My mouth was dry. I couldn't speak. This dame oozed class from every pore; from her softly-shining velvet hair, to the black, slinky one-piece evening gown she revealed under her rather shapely raincoat once she took the raincoat off, down to the black as midnight dress shoes which no mortal in their right mind should be able to wear. They weren't called "stilettos" for nothing.

"So, how may I help you?" I managed after a moment. From the haughty smile on her face, she thought my astonishment amusing.

This broad was starting to get on my nerves. I was thinking of starting some of those calming exercises the Chinese guy down the hall kept doing every morning, but decided that, as soothing as they are, the potential paycheck would just up-and-leave and call me a nut job.

With a sigh, I entwined my fingers as I rested my elbows on my desk, in what I hoped was a look of rapt attention.

"So, what's a dame like you doing in a joint like this?" I asked inquisitively, "what does a broad like you need with a man like me?"

"I have heard of you from some 'friends' that you do good work, with very little prying questions asked." she said,, looking around. I motioned her to a seat, and she gingerly sat down, crossing her legs to show off a set of gams that would have put any other man but a professional such as I in a very unprofessional state of mind.

"All true," I said, "But I will tell you that my services ain't cheap." She nodded in acceptance, and continued on.

"I don't have much time," she said, reaching between her breasts for a cigarette. She pulled it out, and I kindly offered to light it with my lighter. I made a mental note to add smokes to my list of appropriations when I finally ditched this dame.

She blew out the inhaled smoke in my face, and I savored the scent, knowing that soon, I would be able to partake in my vices soon enough. As it was, the smoke had me craving a drag from a fag in the worst way. I smiled and tried not to pay any attention to the sweat running down my face.

"I don't have much time," she repeated again, sitting straighter in her chair, which somehow made her bosom look more voluminous than it had been, "I need you to help me find a man."

But what she didn't know was she had already found the perfect man... for this job, that is. I could almost hear the cash register clinging in my skull as she said that.

"I see," I said, clearly not seeing it at all. She was dragging this conversation out, and I really needed that shot of whiskey something fierce.

"Well, could you help me to find him quickly?" she asked, puckering her lips together as if blowing me a kiss, "The sooner, the better... for your bonus, that is." and she gave me a wink.

Now, as a man, I am obligated to help this lady, but as a professional gumshoe, I needed to be paid fairly. As I nodded my agreement to her predicament, she took another drag from her cigarette, and then held it out with two fingers in a sophisticated, sassy way.

"It would be my honor," I said, "but again, I must tell you that I don't work for cheap. A buck-fifty a day, plus any expenses, and a twenty-dollar retainer fee up front."

The cigarette dropped from her astonished fingers.

"I'm afraid I can't compromise on this price," I said, forestalling her inquiry. She nodded and sighed, saying something about suckers under her breath. While it was true I was charging a hefty price, I was really laying myself thin by about fifty cents, simply due to the kindness of my heart.

"Well, then, I take it we have a deal?" She asked guardedly?

"Indeed, Madame," I said, almost kicking myself for referencing such an unspeakably low profession to such a dame, "And with business concluded, may I know your name?"

She waved her hand absently, "I'm afraid I must just be known to you at this time as "Mistress," She said, "because too many people already know my name, and of them, only a few now remain alive. And I need you alive."

"Fair enough" I said, "but let me introduce myself." I reached out my hand to the broad in a friendly, professional manner.

"Call me Lover." I said as she took my hand, "Dick Lover."

. . .

Peorth growled as she crumpled up the pages of neatly-typed text. Was Ichirou even sane? How in Heaven's - No - ALMIGHTY'S name was this even remotely related to a report?

"I'm going to kill him," she scowled, starting to rip the numerous pages as she repeatedly crushed then pulled the pieces together like a mad accordion player.

It didn't help that the report had been hand-written neatly, and needed to be transcribed and passed around the room as an actual report. She could feel her cheeks flushing as each of her subordinates would look at the report and then to her while alternating snickers, snorts, and guffaws.

"I'm really going to kill him," she said, throwing the remains of the report onto the floor in frustration. An intern came over with a freshly-printed report, and handed it to her.

Resigned she'd have to read more of this travesty, she flipped the page over. What she saw made her rip the page up and toss it in the air like confetti.

"ICHIROU!" she screamed as small pieces of paper landed on her like flakes of snow...