So here's the deal: I started this story and One More Story a few years ago, and I'm not sure which one to finish or if they're worth finishing at all, so let me know what you think.

Davner

Disclaimer: AMG isn't mine. The events of this story follow those that occur in Timidity and Resolve, although they are incidental to the main plot.

Ah! My Goddess!

Four Roses

Chapter 1

I Pity Da Fool...

"CHUG! CHUG! CHUG! CHUG! CHUG!"

Toraichi Tamiya took in the encouraging cheers of the men and women around him as he shotgunned the beer and smashed the empty husk against his forehead with a howl of enraged victory.

The crowd cheered, and Tamiya leapt down off the table in the center of the Morisatos' kitchen.

Standing near the wall, Keiichi Morisato sighed and wondered again why... oh, why... he left Belldandy alone with Tamiya and Otaki and gave them the opportunity they needed to ask her to host the Auto Club's post-race victory party.

"Speech! Speech!" the Auto Club members called.

Tamiya held a hand up like a Roman emperor at the Colosseum. "Our club has won a great victory today!" he announced. The club members cheered. "And now all we have to do is win the inter-collegiate championship race in To..."

He broke off as a familiar brunette entered the room.

The crowd waited for him to finish.

"... Um... uh..."

"He's wasted!" someone called.

"Hit the reset button!"

The crowd laughed.

Otaki stood up next to him. "LET'S DRINK MORE OF MORISATO'S BEER!"

"HUZZAH!" the crowd responded.

The crowd started for the kitchen, leaving the two Auto Club managers alone.

"Hey, Den chan," Otaki asked, prodding him in the chest. "You okay, man?"

"Yeah," Tamiya said, watching Peorth speaking with Belldandy.

Otaki followed his gaze and grinned. "Nice, man. Nice! You gonna pick her up?"

"Um," Tamiya muttered. "Yeah."

"Okay, man! She's all yours!" Otaki told him, giving him a push. "Go get her!"

The hulk lumbered toward the diminutive French woman, who was still engrossed in conversation with the other foreign girl. He stopped next to them and... just... kind of stared at them.

Belldandy smiled at him. "Ah! Tamiya san! Are you enjoying the party?"

Tamiya stared, his intense eyes boring into both of them.

"Toraichi?" Peorth asked, bemused. "Are you all right?"

"Are there any more chips?" he asked.

"Hai!" Belldandy replied, handing him a bag of ruffled potato chips.

Tamiya took the chips and continued to stare for another moment.

"Thank you," he rumbled before turning and starting toward the door.

Otaki watched his friend walking for the front door. "Oh, man... shot down," he commented sympathetically. He cupped his hands around his mouth. "You blockhead!"

888

Tamiya left the sounds of the party behind as he let his feet lead him over the temple grounds, his thoughts aswirl with self-recriminations and self-pity.

He had never been good with women. The only woman he had ever loved was Chihiro, and that had ended badly, not only losing her but nearly losing his best friend and hetero-life-mate. After that, he had concentrated on his life's work, making engines run, cars go, and people pay for the privilege.

It wasn't until he first saw Peorth that day in Morisato's hallway that old desires came upon him again, the feeling that came with having a beautiful woman look at him with love in her eyes.

But he hadn't been able to make it work. It turned out that Peorth had a thing for Morisato and had been using him to make the other driver jealous. That hurt. The thing was, he didn't think Peorth meant anything malicious by it, and she was decidedly single. But every time he thought about trying to say something to her... he fell apart. Last time it was easy, she came onto him, but now...

If women were engines, Tamiya would be the greatest love machine in the world. But women weren't like engines, they were like women. And that sucked. Because he knew engines. He didn't know women. Women were mysterious... like non-metric tools... He knew what they were in theory, but had no idea how to handle one.

If only he could learn how to relate to a woman like Peorth. If only there was a way for him to connect with her...

He grunted as his foot struck something hard and snapped him from his reverie. The temple's wishing well stood before him like a roadblock.

Tamiya looked from side to side and grunted again.

It's worth a shot...

He reached into his pocket and pulled out a five-yen coin. Checking around once again to make sure no one was watching him, he tossed the coin in and clapped twice.

"I wish I knew how to relate to women."

The coin bounced off the sides of the well a couple of times before hitting the water at the bottom with a "plunk."

Tamiya stood there, waiting. For some reason he couldn't explain, he just assumed someone would answer his wish right away...

But that was just crazy talk.

888

The sun was just starting to go down outside the hotel window, bathing the goddess standing on the other side of the bed with a golden light that seemed to bring out a glow in her pale skin. From his perspective, the view was beautiful, and he wasn't even facing the window.

He watched her unpack her suitcase and tried not to look like he was staring... which he was... which she already knew...

"Now, I know you're new to this kind of thing," he told her supportively. "But don't worry. Vacations are easy. Just... put yourself completely in my hands."

"I see," the goddess told him simply as she moved clothes from her suitcase into the dresser drawer. "And when you say, 'completely in my hands,' you are, of course, speaking metaphorically."

The god held up a finger. "In point of fact, no," he said with a grin. "But that's tonight after some dancing, a little dinner, a walk on the beach..."

Oooh! You touch my tra-la-la!

Ooh! My ding-ding dong!

The god snatched the Blackberry off his belt and unlocked it. His goddess companion eyed him suspiciously.

"I thought you said you were on vacation?" Lind, formerly commander of the 1st Combat Division, asked him with a slightly accusatory tone.

"Oh, yeah, I am," Anteros told her, reading through the email. "Totally. It's just a... you know... thing..."

Lind crossed her arms over her chest. "Aphrodite doesn't know you're here, does she?" she asked. "She thinks you're at the office."

"What?! No!" Anteros replied, adjusting his heart-checkered tie with one hand while holding the Blackberry in the other. "Okay, let me amend that, yes."

"I see..."

"But it's fine!" Anteros told her dismissively. "Aphrodite's usually drunk before she even shows up at the office. All I had to do was put a clothes hanger on the doorknob and turn the sound up on a National Geographic special on the TV in my office, and she thinks I'm in there with..."

He saw fire come to the former Valkyrie's eyes and quickly adjusted his statement.

"...YOU!" he finished with a grin. "She thinks I'm in there with you! Of course... you." He chuckled nervously and cleared his throat. "I just need to check this." He went back to the email.

Lind continued to unpack, looking up as the god made a solemn declaration.

"The Love Avenger has been called forth!" he announced.

She sighed.

Anteros holstered the Blackberry as he continued. "A young man in Japan has made a wish of the heart, and Aphrodite, in all her greatness and benevolence, has seen fit to grant him his heart's most aching desire." He squared his jaw like a superhero and looked off into the middle-distance.

"So you have to go," Lind summed up.

He chuckled. "My dear," he began, propping a foot up on the bed and putting his hands on his hips in a self-important pose. "I am a love god, God first class, commercial license, PHD in Loveology, general harass-titioner. When the call comes down... when a man needs help navigating the intricate rivers and valleys of the heart... it's not up to me to simply say no..." He nodded to her and bit his lip. "I don't step aside, my dear. I step up."

"You're supposed to be on vacation," Lind pointed out dryly. "How long will this take?"

"The heart is a tricky thing," he told her, still in pose-and-speech mode as she unpacked. "A complicated bit of the cosmos, the divination of which can't be rushed. It may take days... weeks... months! Years!"

Lind held up a piece of diaphanous fabric that looked small enough to fit in a birthday card envelope. "I'll be wearing this."

Anteros stumbled and fell to one knee with a gasp. He held up a hand. "No more than fifteen minutes!" he gasped out. "I swear to God!"

With that, he disappeared in a puff of Hai Karate. Lind smiled and continued to unpack.

888

Tamiya fished a beer out of the clubhouse fridge and twisted the top off before collapsing in an old Lay-Z-Boy recliner and helping himself to a heap of self-pity.

"Women," he grunted. "Who needs 'em?"

He didn't. That was for sure. Women were trouble he didn't need.

There was a "PUFF!" from the direction of the bathroom, and the burning scent of Usher filled his nostril. He turned his head, figuring a bottle of cologne had fallen from the bathroom shelf and shattered. What he didn't expect to see was a sandy-haired man in a grey suit walk out of his bathroom, dusting himself off.

"Okay," the man said to the stunned goliath. "First off... Usher? Really?" he asked amazed. "Second, are you Toraichi Tamiya?"

Tamiya, dumbfounded by this new development, merely nodded.

The man checked his Blackberry. "And did you deposit five yen into a wishing well at the Tarikhongen Temple?"

Tamiya nodded.

"And did you make a statement wherein you wished to be able to..." He checked the screen on his phone. "... 'relate to women?'"

"Are you from the government?" Tamiya asked in trepidation. "Was I supposed to pay taxes on that or something?"

The man put the phone away and straightened his tie. He cleared his throat. "Testing... One two, one two... Testing..." Clearing his throat again, he turned to Tamiya. "Toraichi Tamiya, I... am Anteros... God First Class, Commercial License, Unlimited... Sent here by the Goddess of Love, Aphrodite of Cypress, to grant you your wish!" He posed theatrically. "As long as it takes less than fifteen minutes!"

The giant blinked at him.

Anteros cleared his throat. "Right! Let's get started!" He checked his watch. "We have fourteen minutes left!" He clapped his hands together and rubbed them as he took a seat on a nearby workbench. "What's the problem?"

"Oh," Tamiya said, still in shock at his current circumstances. This had to be a gag of some kind, and yet he couldn't figure out how it possibly could be. Unless someone had been spying on him at Morisato's place, stood close enough to hear his wish, it was impossible. Still...

"I'm gonna need to see some ID," he rumbled.

"Like a driver's license?" Anteros asked skeptically.

"Or some kinda proof that you're a god," Tamiya replied. "Like... clap your hands and make dancing girls appear or something."

"Hmmm," Anteros said, pulling out his Blackberry. He typed for a bit on it and looked up again. "You and your friend Otaki bought Fujimi Chihiro engagement rings..."

"Everyone knows that by now," Tamiya growled out.

"Yeah, but you also put a down payment on a house," Anteros added. Tamiya's eyes went wide. He hadn't told anyone about that, not even Otaki.

He swallowed and nodded slowly. "Okay," he said, ready to believe him. "There's dis girl, see? And I wanna talk to her... But I don't know what kind of things to say or do? I mean, if she were inta engines and stuff, I'd be set, ya know? But there's only one girl I know who's like that and... well... she ain't in da picture no more."

Anteros waited, prompting Tamiya to continue nervously.

"I don't know nuth'n about women," he complained. "When I do date, the girls change their numbers right after."

The god checked his watch and stood up. "I think I know how to solve your problem," he declared.

"Ya do?"

"Yes, I do!" Anteros announced dramatically. "What you need is training! To learn the ways of feminine mystique! To become a ninjitsu love warrior!"

Tamiya jumped to his feet. "Now yer talk'n!" he said. "So what do I do first?!"

Anteros was tapping on his Blackberry again at this point. "I'm glad you asked, my freakishly gigantic friend!" he replied. "To learn the kung fu of getting it on, one must walk the path of the flower petals!"

"Is dat on some mountain top in Tibet or something?"

The god put the Blackberry away and walked to the front door, expecting the package he ordered to have arrived already. Opening the door, he reached out and grabbed hold of a hand cart holding three tall objects covered by a black tarp. He wheeled the cart inside and whipped the tarp off.

Three tall rose plants, each in their own decorative clay pot, stood before them.

Tamiya stared at them for a moment before turning to Anteros. "So I gotta eat these or someth'n?"

"No," Anteros replied, removing the roses from the cart and placing them next to the counter. "You're going to raise them."

"Uhhhh..."

Anteros checked his watch again, getting decidedly nervous. "Look, trust me, the knowledge on how to interact with the fairer sex lie within taking care of these roses." He grabbed the giant by the front of his shirt and pointed at his eyes. "Tamiya!" He pointed at his own eyes. "Tamiya! Right here!" He pointed at the boy's eyes again. "Right here! Listen to me! These roses will turn you into a sexual tyrannosaurus! I guarantee it!"

He released the walking mountain of muscle and straightened his tie. "Trust me."

"But... flowers?" Tamiya asked. "It's kinda girly..."

"What a coincidence!" Anteros told him. "You want to sleep with girls!"

"Yeah, but..." Tamiya tried again, looking from side to side. "I mean... roses? What do I tell the guys?"

Anteros checked his watch again, becoming somewhat agitated. "Tamiya, you didn't make a wish asking to know how to relate to guys. You want to know how to relate to women. This will teach you. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a beautiful ex-valkyrie virgin war goddess waiting for me in a Hawaiian hotel room to 'lei' me." He grinned and held his fist up. "Huh?! Huh?! Nice! Go ahead. You can bump it."

Tamiya slowly held his fist out and bumped it against Anteros's. "Yeah... that's... um... That's a good one."

"Right?" Anteros asked. "So," he cleared his throat and started for the bathroom. "Remember what I said: take care of the roses and learn from them. Let them show you the way of the flower petal."

Anteros snapped his fingers and disappeared in a puff of cologne.

Tamiya took a breath and sighed.

888

The sound of the roses and their pots hitting the bottom of the steel dumpster was a very final-sounding "boom," and Tamiya barely gave them another thought as he clapped the soil off his hands and started for his dorm.

He knew what Anteros said, but he was a dude, and dudes didn't do flowers. Period. Yeah, sure, there was that one guy in Sailor Moon, but he was a toolbox, so what did that tell you about flowers?

The hulk entered the dormitory and climbed the stairs to his room, noting the light coming from under Otaki's door as he passed by. The punk mechanic was still awake, probably watching some race being beamed in by satellite from Talladega. As he stepped into his room, he took his shirt off and sat down on the floor with a sigh.

He wanted a girlfriend. He should have just wished for that. That would have been easier. Maybe Anteros could have given him a pre-packaged perfect girl for him, one that was both hot but modest, was girly but could work on cars with him, could cook well and liked to do it...

Fucking Keiichi. How did he always get all the good babes?

"So why didn't you ask for one?"

The voice should have made him jump in surprise, but he was too tired to be shocked. He knew it had to be some kind of hallucination. He turned his head and found Peorth lying on the futon next to him. She arched an eyebrow, waiting for him to say something.

He shrugged. "I dunno," he said. "I mean... I guess it wouldn't have worked. I had the perfect girl, and she left."

"And why did she leave?" Peorth asked, rolling onto her back and stretching, arching her back so that Tamiya could get a good look at her breasts.

"Um..." he rumbled, thrown for a second. "Because I didn't know how to say noth'n that mattered, I think," he told her. "I mean... when we's was fixing a bike, we were like this." He held his hand up, his index and middle fingers pressed tightly together. "But once the bike was fixed it was like she was some kinda alien thing from some movie."

Peorth kicked off her shoes and undid the buttons on the front of her blouse. "So you want the Rosetta Stone, non?" she asked. "A way to translate?"

"I just want to know what to do with a woman, okay?" he blurted. "Dat Anteros guy said I can learn by taking care of some flowers like some sissy boy! Phht! What's that gonna teach me?"

The imaginary goddess ran her fingers up and down the front of her chest in thought. "Perhaps nothing," she allowed. "Then again," she went on, "I know I wouldn't want to be just tossed aside because a man didn't want to put in a little effort."

He flinched.

She grinned and sat up, wrapping her arms around him. "So, as long as you're half-asleep and dreamy, you wanna play for a bit?" She snapped her fingers, and suddenly Urd and Belldandy, dressed in bikinis, walked out of his tiny closet. "I brought friends..."

Suddenly, his front door burst open, and Otaki came running in.

"Dude! You gotta see this! There was a twenty-car wreck at..."

Tamiya stared daggers at him. The imaginary goddesses were gone.

"What?" Otaki asked.

888

Tamiya opened the heavy plastic flap of the dumpster and reached inside, pulling the three rose plants out one by one. Noting the amount of garbage clinging to them, he took them one at a time by the stalk and shook them violently, shaking the six-pack rings and assorted other trash off of them.

He didn't have a lot of time before class, so he settled for quickly bringing them into the clubhouse and shoving them into a corner. The boy turned to go and stopped suddenly, wincing in self-reproach. Plants like water.

The hulking man went to the sink and found an empty beer bottle. Filling it with water he dumped the water into the three pots and started for the door.

There. Done.

This wasn't so hard.

888

It was Tamiya's short day for classes. All he had was weightlifting, softball and particle physics. After that, the day was his, giving him time to think on his predicament. Anteros said he could learn something from taking care of the roses, and that was all well and good, but aside from knowing that plants needed sunlight and water, he wasn't sure what he was supposed to do. Did that mean take Peorth outside and douse her with the hose?

While she ran to him...

In a bikini top...

Bouncing up and down...

He cleared his head... but filed it away for future use.

The giant was lumbering aimlessly as he thought on these things, and he was halfway across the quad when he saw someone who might be able to help him.

Sayoko Mishima, a bouquet of flowers in her arms, was strolling in his direction. Of course she would know. Dudes gave her flowers all the time.

He stepped into her path and held a beefy palm up. "'Scuse me," he said gruffly.

Sayoko stopped and blinked before smiling arrogantly. "I'm sorry, my arms are full. If you have a gift for me it'll have to wait until tomorrow."

"Uh... no," he replied. "I was go'in ta ask whatch're gonna do with dem flowers."

"Oh, these?" she asked, hefting the bouquet. She shrugged. "I'll put them in some water in a crystal vase until the next bouquet arrives, then toss them in the trash. Why?"

"So... you don't like... take care of dem or nothi'n?"

"No," she said, looking at him as if he were an idiot. "They don't have roots."

"Oh," he said.

She sighed, obviously bored with the conversation and the senior. "Look, if you want to learn how to garden, get a how-to book or something." She started past him. "I'm a little busy right now."

"Hmmm," he thought. "A book, huh?" Looking up, he saw the library on the far side of the quad. Taking a breath, he started for it.

He didn't spend a lot of time in the library. Most of the stuff he needed for school projects was found online, so he didn't really know his way around the expansive building. Deciding he didn't want to waste time wandering around, he walked up to the front desk where a short, bespectacled goth chick was checking in books behind the counter.

"Can I help you?" she asked in a bored-sounding voice. The ring in her lip didn't do much to bring out her black lipstick, but it did match her jet-black hair.

"Yeah," Tamiya rumbled. "I need a book."

"So you came to the library," the goth summed up. "The devil, you say."

"Yeah," he answered. "I need a book 'bout roses."

"Roses?" the girl asked with an arched eyebrow. She gave him a look up and down. "You know you can't smoke those, right?"

His eyes narrowed, and he offered her a gruff growl of displeasure.

"Fine," she said, rolling her eyes. "Over here, Gigantor." She led him to the hobby section and checked over the shelves. Reaching up, she pulled down a book called "Mr. T Raises Roses."

She handed it to him. "There. Anything else? You want rolling papers or something to go with it? Maybe a forty-ounce of Mad Dog?"

"You're not a very nice person," he noted dryly.

She shrugged.

Once again, he wished he knew how to talk to chicks. He wondered if maybe it was something he did and decided to try to put a happy face on things. He curled his lips up into a smile... something that looked a lot like a doberman snarling at her.

She took a few steps back and turned, walking away as fast as she could.

He checked the book out and started for the clubhouse, figuring there was enough time to do what he needed with the roses before people started arriving for the club meeting.

Pushing the door open, he stepped inside and grabbed a beer from the fridge. Popping the top, he cracked open the book and turned to the first page.

Step 1: Roses need water, fool! About an inch! And don't be watering them from the top! You put that water in the soil!

Tamiya looked up at the rose plants and put the book down. Checking their pots, he already found the soil dry.

"Hmmm." He looked around and found an old tupperware pitcher. Filling it in the sink, he poured water into the roses' pots until an inch of water was in each one. He stepped back as water began to leak out of the holes in the bottom of the pots.

"Oh... uh," he remarked as the water started for the drain in the center of the concrete floor. "So... do I rub their noses in it now or what?"

He walked back to the book, figuring this would be the next lesson. He was disappointed.

Step 2: Roses need light, fool! Can't get no photosynthesis go'in in the dark! Put them flowers in the sun! At least eight hours!

Tamiya groaned. He couldn't put them outside. People would see. He picked up the pots and brought them near the window instead. Reaching out, he turned one so that the leaves were toward the light.

Step 3: Roses are social, bitch! You need to talk to them and shit! I pity the fool who doesn't talk to his flowers! Talk to them like you talk to the ladies! They like that shit!

He closed the book and looked at the flowers for a moment. No... he wasn't going to be doing that.

So what did he learn today? Apparently, you give girls too much to drink and they pee on your floor. They also don't like the dark. And you're supposed to talk to them.

He looked up as the phone suddenly started to ring. Assuming it was some club member calling to say he couldn't make it, he snatched the phone up off its cradle.

"Hello?" he asked.

"Tamiya!" the man on the other end shouted. Tamiya held the phone away from his head as ear-shattering club music erupted from his phone.

"Uh... yeah?"

"It's Anteros!" the god shouted back. "Remember? From last night!?"

"Uh... yeah?" Tamiya said again.

888

In the corner booth of the club, not far from the fog covering the dance floor illuminated by strobe lights, Anteros pressed the phone to his ear as he simultaneously locked his gaze onto the goddess on the dance floor.

"So, how's it going?" he shouted over the music.

"Uh... I kinda have some questions..." Tamiya replied.

Anteros didn't hear one word. His attention was on the retired valkyrie dancing nearby, her eyes closed as she moved to the music. Lind had decided early on in their vacation that she liked dancing, the act feeling very similar to the katas she used to perform... only with no edged weapons.

"That's great!" Anteros told him. "Just great!"

"I'm really having a hard time understan..."

"I'm really... really..."

Lind raised her arms over head and turned away from him, moving her hips in time with the deep bass and drums from the music booming overhead.

"... What was I saying?" Anteros cried into the phone after a moment.

"It says I should talk to da roses," Tamiya went on.

"Yes!" Anteros replied, finally paying attention. "Yeah, talking is important!"

"What do I say?"

"'Hello?'" Anteros suggested. He looked up as Lind started toward him, an intent look in her eyes. "Hey, buddy, I have to g..." He broke off as Lind grabbed the front of his suit and pulled him off his seat and toward the dance floor.

888

Tamiya growled as he hung up the phone. Turning back to the roses, he cleared his throat.

"Um... hello," he said, feeling embarrassed at the act. "Um... My name is Toraichi Tamiya. What's yours?"

Of course the roses didn't reply, but even if they could they didn't have names.

The senior thought on that for a moment. It kind of made sense. After all, he was going to be feeding them and taking care of them, almost like pets, and he had named bikes in the past. He rubbed his sculpted jaw in thought before pointing at them each in turn.

"You are... Mercedes," he announced to the first rose. He pointed to the second. "And you's is Lexus..." His finger moved to the last one. "And you I'm gonna call... um... Caprice Classic!"

There. For some reason, he felt a little more comfortable. "So... um... Like I said, I'm Toraichi, and I'm gonna be tak'n care of you and stuff. I've never had flowers before, so if I screw up or something, don't die or noth'n, okay?"

"Oi! Den chan!"

Tamiya turned as Otaki walked through the front door and stepped toward him. The blond man looked down at the roses and furrowed his eyebrows behind his sunglasses.

"Den chan!" he cried. "What are you doing, man?!"

"Er..." Tamiya stuttered. "I'm um..."

"You can't grow pot in here!" Otaki cried. "You know what'll happen if the dean catches us with that stuff?!"

Tamiya paused. "You're right, I should be more careful," the hulking man told him.

Otaki nodded. "That stuff's bad news, man. So... um..." He looked from side to side. "You think I can get a dime bag?"

"Um... No?" Tamiya replied. He growled. "Look... Dai chan... Dese ain't Mary Jane, okay? They're roses."

Otaki blinked behind his specs. "Roses?"

"Roses," Tamiya confirmed.

"Oh man..." Otaki sighed.

"Oh, come on," Tamiya said. "It ain't that bad..."

"Morisato's keeping his froo-froo stuff here now?" Otaki grumbled. "Man, I swear. Guy bathes every day, raises flowers and lives with four chicks he ain't bon'n. That guy is definitely... you know..."

"They're mine, Dai chan," Tamiya told him. "It's an experiment."

"An experiment in what?" Otaki asked.

"Um... social sciences," the incredible hulk answered. It was close enough to the truth.

"Yeah, but..."

"Is there a problem with my experiment?" Tamiya asked, narrowing his eyes.

Otaki paused. "Um... no?"

"Dat's good," Tamiya told him. "Dat's real good."

"It's just... you know..."

"Just what?" Tamiya asked, flexing his muscles so that the bicep in his right arm grew to the size of his friend's head.

Otaki thought about it... real hard...

"...you know..." he went on. "...manly," he finished. "Totally manly."

"Bet your ass."

888

Tamiya entered the clubhouse nearly a week after his conversation with Otaki and immediately opened the shade, bathing the flowers in light.

"Good morning, ladies," he said casually as he went to the sink and filled their water pitcher. "Did you have a good night?"

While the roses didn't respond, Tamiya did arch an eyebrow at the sight that met him when he went to water them.

"Well... look at dat," he said. "You're blossom'n."

True enough, the three roses had blossomed beautifully after barely a week. Tamiya guessed he must be doing something right.

It had taken him awhile to really warm up to the idea of having flowers, and so far only Otaki knew he had them. He still found the whole thing a little less than manly, but he was finding that he kind of liked taking care of them. The boy still had no idea what he was supposed to be learning from them, though.

He'd even gotten more comfortable talking to them, a part of him relishing the fact that he could tell them literally anything without worrying about them spreading it around or thinking less of him. He talked about his car projects, the club... and Peorth.

"Let's take you girls outside today," he said, picking up Mercedes and taking her out the front door. He found a sunny spot near the front of the clubhouse and put her down before returning inside to fetch the other two. Once they were sitting in a line just beneath the front window, he watered them, worrying for a moment about the fact that they were in plain sight, and the rest of the club was coming over to work on their tripod racer.

He shrugged. Who cares? Besides, they were pretty, and a part of him wanted to show them off. It seemed a shame that they might blossom and no one would see them.

Once they were settled, he walked to the side of the clubhouse and grabbed the front of the trailer on which the racer sat. Taking hold of the thick, heavy chains in his hands he grunted as he pulled the entire thing to the front of the clubhouse where they could work on it. His muscles strained with the effort, but in the end it wasn't difficult for the behemoth of a man.

With the trailer in position, he dropped the chains and stretched his arms. As he lowered his arms, he saw the first members of the Auto Club come over the hill and down the sidewalk toward him.

"All right!" he bellowed to them. "Let's get ta work!"

888

Their jack was broken, and the club didn't have the money to buy a replacement. Luckily for them, however, they didn't need one. Tamiya grabbed the front bumper and pulled the front of the car off the ground while Takehiro crawled under it and unscrewed the oil plug, draining the oil out of the racer.

"This'll take a minute," Takehiro told him.

"Whatever," Tamiya replied, thoroughly nonplussed by the statement. A few minutes later, the stream of oil slacked off, and Takehiro pulled the pan out from under the car.

"Okay," he announced.

Tamiya dropped the car, which bounced on its shocks. He would have to pick it up again in a minute so they could work on the transaxle, but for the moment he could rest.

Takehiro took the pan of oil and rushed toward the barrels on the side of the clubhouse where he could safely deposit it. As he was about to round the corner, he tripped on a rock sticking out of the ground and dropped the pan, which bounced against the ground and splashed oil up and onto one of the roses.

The boy stood up and dusted himself off. He picked up the pan and shrugged.

"Oops," he commented as he turned.

It took him a minute to figure out what was covering his face and halting his movement. It smelled like sweat and oil and seemed to be firmly attached to his head at five points. Finally hre realized someone had grabbed him by the face with a massive muscular hand.

"You screw'n with my roses?" he heard Tamiya asked.

"Huh?" Takehiro asked, weirded out by the situation. "Um... Hey, it's cool, Senpai. It's just a little oil."

"Cool, huh?" Tamiya asked. "Would it be cool if I went ta your mom's house and splashed some oil on 'er?"

"Er... I'll go with 'no,'" Takehiro replied.

Tamiya lifted him by the face and moved the boy aside before releasing him. The rest of the club watched fascinated as Tamiya went to the rose and started examining it.

"Oi, Den chan," Otaki called to him. "Do that later, man! We're on a schedule here!"

Tamiya ignored him, examining the rose, Caprice Classic, and finding that while her petals didn't have oil on them, her stalk and the soil in her pot had been splashed with used oil.

"Den chan! What the hell, man!?"

The giant reached over and grabbed Takehiro by the front of the shirt. With a quick movement, he ripped the AC/DC shirt from the boy's chest and started wiping the oil from Caprice's stalk. Once that was accomplished, he tossed the shirt back to the boy and started digging the oily soil from the rose's pot.

Otaki looked to the other members of the club with a "Check out this guy!" look on his face.

They all watched in almost horrified fascination as Tamiya stood up again, but instead of returning to work, he walked into the clubhouse and returned a moment later with a bag of potting soil.

"Dude, forget the flowers!" Otaki cried.

At first, they thought Tamiya was grumbling angrily about them. It took them a moment to figure out that he wasn't addressing them or even himself.

"Don't listen to them," he murmured to the rose. "Don't worry about it. I'll take care of it."

"Senpai," Hasegawa whispered to Otaki. "I'm scared."

Otaki didn't know what to say. His best friend and hetero-life-mate was turning into a flower-potting froo-froo girly-man!

Finally finished, Tamiya stood up and went back to the car. He saw the rest of the club members staring at him.

"Whatchu look'n at?" he demanded.

"Senpai," Hasegawa began quietly. "Are you... um... okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine," he said.

"Are your little flowers okay?" another club member asked with a laugh.

Tamiya's eyes narrowed. "I'm sorry," he said. "I couldn't hear you very well from way over there. Could you come over here and repeat that face-to-face?"

Silence.

"Anyone?" Tamiya asked again. "I really do wantta discuss this with you's further... right here... face to face... you know..." He curled his hand into a fist, his knuckles cracking loudly at the movement.

No takers.

"Okay, 'den," the senior remarked.

No one else brought up the subject for the remainder of the day, the whole club working in awkward silence until it was time to go home. Very few people dawdled, most grabbed their stuff and took off. In no rush himself, Tamiya lingered, putting tools away and making sure the racer was covered sufficiently with a tarp to keep out both prying eyes and the elements.

He turned to bring the roses inside and found Hasegawa still hanging around.

"Hey, Senpai," she said with a nervous wave. "You need some help with those?"

Fully aware of how weird he must have seemed to the club and knowing that turning down help would only make him seem weirder, he nodded. Kneeling down, he picked up Mercedes and Lexus with one hand apiece, leaving Caprice for Hasegawa to heft.

"So when did you start a garden?" Hasegawa asked, trying to make casual conversation.

"A week ago," he replied quickly. "It's an experiment in social sciences," he explained.

"Ooooh," the girl remarked, the pieces seeming to fall into place. "What's the hypothesis?"

Tamiya cleared his throat nervously, unsure of what to say. "Um... That... er... um..." He grasped onto something and ran with it. "That plants respond better when ya treat 'em like chicks."

Hasegawa was silent for several moments, and Tamiya was sure he had lost her. The young coed probably thought he was a freak of nature or something.

"You know," Hasegawa began as she put Caprice down in the corner. "That actually makes sense."

"It does?" he asked quizzically.

"Well, yeah," she said. "Plants like being talked to, and they like being pretty... so... I guess if you treat them like girls, they probably respond better. That's a pretty neat project, Senpai!"

"Um... yeah... thanks," he said. "Come on. Let's get out of here."

He turned the lights out and shut the door behind them, leaving the roses alone in the dark clubhouse, only a few moths left behind to buzz around the single naked bulb left on in the club's small kitchen.

A pair of arms stretched skyward as the glamorous-looking redhead yawned. Sitting on one of the two mismatched bar stools, she crossed her legs under the long green skirt she wore and sighed as she looked out the window.

"It was so nice out today," she commented.

She turned as she heard the sound of a body hitting the futon and bouncing twice on old, rusted springs. Her long red hair spilled out over the edge of the bed, creating a crimson river down to the dirty floor.

"Totally," the other woman agreed. She turned her head to the small kitchen table where a third redhead was scribbling on a notebook, pausing only to adjust her horn-rimmed glasses. "Are you okay, Caprice?" she asked. "That gunk looked icky!"

"Oh, don't pity her!" the first woman cried, hands on her hips. "Did you see how Toraichi sama fawned over her after that ruffian spilled that stuff on her?"

The second woman sighed longingly. "Boy, did I..." She grinned over at the first woman. "And did you see him lift that car?! Oooooooooo-WHEEE! What! A! MAN!"

Caprice rolled her eyes and adjusted her glasses again. "Really, Lexus, is that all you can think about?"

"Hey! I asked if you were okay!" Lexus replied, sitting up and crossing her legs. "You're the one who won't share!"

"She's got you there, Caprice," the first redhead chimed in. "Come on. Tell her about it, or she's never going to leave you alone."

Lexus held her hands over her heart and closed her eyes. "Describe it... in lurid detail!" she begged in a sigh.

Caprice growled. "Fine. He took a ratty t-shirt and..."

"No! No! No!" Lexus interrupted. "Describe like in a romance novel!"

"I'm not going to describe it like that," Caprice told her with a tone of finality as she went back to her work.

"Puuuuuh-leeeeeeeaaaaaassssseeee?" Lexus begged.

"Fine," Caprice said, removing her glasses. "As I lay there, covered head-to-toe in the foul oil, Toraichi sama gently took a soft, silken handkerchief and slowly dabbed at my soft skin..."

"OOOOOOOOOOHHHHH!" Lexus squealed, her eyes closed.

The first redhead, Mercedes, rolled her eyes. "Try to control yourself, Lexus," she said, walking to the refrigerator to search for a bottle of wine. Finding none, she sighed in disappointment. "After all, it wasn't even you..."

"I know!" the younger woman huffed. "If he had put ME closer to the light instead of you, Caprice, it'd be ME getting pawed at with those strong, gentle hands..."

Caprice replied by rolling her eyes again.

"Did you see when he took off his shirt and poured water over himself?!" Mercedes asked, unable to control herself any longer.

"No," Lexus replied sarcastically. "I missed it! What do you think!?"

"I think you're both forgetting something important," Caprice told them. "He's a human, and we're roses..."

"So?!" the other two flowers shot back.

"A princess married a frog!" Lexus argued.

"Beauty married a beast," Mercedes confessed.

"And Toraichi sama wants a goddess," Caprice told them firmly.

"Peorth!" Lexus hissed, her hands balling into fists.

"I bet she's fat," Mercedes bit out.

"And whorey," Lexus added bitterly.

"Probably a lesbian," Mercedes added.

"And whorey," Lexus reiterated. She picked up a pillow, sat it in her lap and made stabbing motions into it.

"You're going to have to accept it," Caprice counseled them. "He's in love with someone else."

"Well, sure, YOU don't care!" Lexus said, standing up and marching over to the middle rose. "You don't even love him!"

Caprice stood up and slapped her sister rose across the face. "I will rub your petals in fertilizer!"

"Girls, girls, girls," Mercedes said, pushing her way between them. "We can't fight amongst ourselves. We're not the enemy... Peorth is."

"Peorth!" all three flowers hissed simultaneously.

"Fat... whorey... lesbian..." Lexus bit out.

"So, we are agreed," Mercedes said regally. "We will not fight amongst ourselves, but instead find away to win our darling Toraichi away from the clutches of that vile Peorth person..."

"Whorey... fat... lesbian..."

"Caprice," Mercedes began, ignoring her youngest sister. "Surely there is something that can be done?"

"We can lock her in the trunk of one of Toraichi sama's cars and drive her into a lake!" Lexus suggested.

"No," Mercedes told her.

"Awww... We never do what I wanna do..."

Caprice rolled her eyes. "That's because it's always the same thing with you!" Caprice told her. "You're always suggesting murdering people! Why can't you suggest we just go out and get ice cream or something?"

"Caprice?" Mercedes gently prodded, getting things back on track.

"Perhaps... there is something..." the middle rose began. "I'll work on it."

"Wonderful!" Mercedes replied with a clap of her hands. "Then it's settled!"

"Toraichi will be ours."