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.

Four Roses

Chapter 2

It's hard to pity a fool if you get too close

"This should only take a few minutes," Keiichi assured the two goddesses walking beside him as he approached the Auto Club's garage. "If I order the part through the Auto Club, it'll cost about half as much."

"It's no problem, Keiichi," Peorth replied. "We have all night." Belldandy nodded her agreement. The sun was starting to go down over Nekomi Tech, and the three had decided to catch a movie. Urd had declined to come because the movie they were going to see was some kind of teenage, vampire romance movie. Urd had pointed out that she had already dated a soulless bloodsucker and didn't need to see the movie version. Skuld had opted to pass because she had seen it six times already.

But first they needed to make a quick stop...

Keiichi pushed the clubhouse door open and heard Billy Idol's "Rebel Yell" blasting through the garage and way too high a volume. A quick search found Tamiya working on an engine block on the far side of the garage.

"Oi! Senpai!" he called with a wave.

Tamiya reached out and hit stop on the CD player. "Morisato," he rumbled. "You're just in time to help..."

"Actually," Keiichi began, chucking a thumb at the two goddesses behind him, "we're on our way to the movies. I just need to use the club's computer."

At the sight of Peorth, Tamiya froze like a cute cuddly 280-pound behemoth caught in the headlights of an approaching truck.

"Oh," he said. "Uh... yeah, that's cool."

"Thanks," the younger student said. "Should just take a minute." He took off toward the club's back office, leaving Tamiya alone with Belldandy and Peorth.

An awkward silence filled the garage. Belldandy decided to try to break it first.

"So, Tamiya san, how are you?"

"Umgood," he muttered.

Now what? he asked himself. His gaze fell on Peorth, who was absent-mindedly looking at the random tools lining the garage walls. I've been training for this, right? That was the whole point of the whole flowers thing, right? So what do I do?

"Roses need water, fool!" the first lesson from Mr. T Raises Roses came screaming into his mind.

"Would you like something to drink?" he asked them.

The offer seemed to startle the two women. Belldandy clapped her hands happily. "Thank you very much!" she replied. "Do you have any tea?"

"I've got light beer," Tamiya replied. "It's pretty much the same thing as tea."

"That would be wonderful," Belldandy told him, undaunted.

"Just water for me, please," Peorth told him.

"Okay, this way," he said, leading them to the club's tiny kitchen. He turned on the lights and knelt down by the refrigerator. He had just grabbed a long-neck and a bottle of water when he heard Peorth call out behind him.

"Oh! These are beautiful!"

Crap! The roses! he thought. Now she's gonna think I'm some froo froo boy like Morisato!

He arrested this thought as a voice in his head that sounded very much like Anteros said "You mean the Morisato that gets to tap Belldandy every night? He doesn't seem to be doing so bad..."

He stood up quickly and turned to find Peorth bending over to get a better look at Mercedes. Watching her, he popped the top off the beer with his thumb and handed it to Belldandy, who inspected it optimistically.

"Roses are social, bitch! You gotta talk to them 'n shit!"

"Uhhhhhm..." he began.

Peorth looked up at him and smiled. "Are they yours?"

How do I talk?! What do I say?!

"Duh, dude," his head replied. "If you're supposed to talk to roses like chicks, then you talk to chicks like roses..."

"Yeah," he finally said. "They're mine. That's Mercedes," he told her, pointing at the rose Peorth was examining. "And that's Lexus and Caprice Classic."

"They are lovely!" she exclaimed. "I would not have thought you the gardening type," she told him.

He opened his mouth to repeat the "social experiment" story, but stopped. He was supposed to talk to Peorth like he talked to the roses, right? He didn't lie to the roses...

"They're teaching me stuff," he said.

"Teaching you?"

"Yeah," he said, rubbing the back of his head nervously. "Like... how to communicate better with... um... people."

"You talk to them?" Peorth asked with obvious respect.

"Yeah," he said sheepishly. "Every day. I guess that makes me a froo froo guy like Morisato, but..."

"Au contraire, Toraichi," Peorth interrupted. "It shows you care!"

"Hey," Keiichi said, coming into the kitchen, "I'm all d..." He stopped as Belldandy put her finger to her lips and nodded her head toward the exit. "Oh," he said. "O...kay..."

Tamiya was only half aware of Keiichi and Belldandy stepping out of the kitchen without them. "Well," he said, "You know, I'm trying to do it right... I ain't never raised roses before..."

"Would you like some help?" she asked. She casually let her left hand fall to Caprice's blossom. "I actually know a little about roses."

"You do?" he asked dumbfounded. He hadn't known that about Peorth. Holy crap, Anteros might actually have been onto something!

"Oui," she said, kneeling down and examining Caprice. "You could say I'm something of an expOUCH!" she finished with a cry. Looking at her hand, she saw a spot of blood on the end of her finger. "She bit me!"

Just like that Tamiya saw his momentum with the goddess grinding to a halt. He grabbed a paper towel off the counter and took her hand. "Here," he said. "You can use this." He pressed the napkin against her finger.

It wasn't until he heard her quietly clear her throat that he realized he was, in fact, holding her hand. "Oh... um... sorry. I..."

"No, please, merci," she said, eyeing him. "I was just surprised. No rose has ever pricked me before."

"So... um... Roses," he began again.

"Oui," she said.

"You know... maybe we can talk about them... like... together... with a beer or something..."

"I don't know about that," she said, removing the napkin to check her wound. "But dinner might be nice."

"How about tomorrow?" he asked. He gestured at his oil-soaked clothing. "I'm not really dressed for public..."

"That sounds wonderful," she said. "Tomorrow then. Say... eight o'clock at Seoul Cafe?"

"Yeah!" he replied. "Hell yeah! I mean... sure."

She smiled. "Then it's a date," she said. "Unfortunately, I have to go now or we'll be late for the movie." She turned to go. "Au revoir, Toraichi."

"Yeah," he said. "Oreo-vor to you too."

He watched her walk out and let out the breath he'd been holding. He did it. He talked to Peorth. He got a date with Peorth!

"I did it," he said out loud. He turned to the roses. "I did it! I'm going out with Peorth!"

The roses said nothing. He blinked. He half-expected them to say something and was almost surprised when they didn't. And yet, at the same time, he got a disapproving vibe from the room all of sudden.

"Um... well, girls, I gotta get back to work on that engine." He filled the water pitcher and gave them some water before heading back into the garage. Billy Idol came howling back into the room as he got to work.

Mercedes sashayed across the room, her nose high in the air. "Oh, Monsieur!" she breathed, imitating Peorth's accent, "I'm an expert on roses!"

Lexus walked past her, getting into the game herself. "Look at me! I speak French! ... 'Burritos!'"

"The worst part is she's not even fat!" Mercedes cried. "And I don't think she's a lesbian either!"

"On the bright side," Lexus told her reassuringly, "the jury's still out on whorey."

"THAT DOESN'T HELP, LEXUS!" Mercedes cried.

"Oh," the youngest rose replied dejectedly. "But hey! At least Caprice cut her!"

"Yes, well done, Caprice!" Mercedes agreed. "Did you see her face?"

"Bitch couldn't believe it," Lexus remarked. "She was like, 'Oh no you din't,' and Caprice was like, 'Oh, yes I did!"

Caprice wasn't listening. She was carefully wiping the droplet of Peorth's blood onto one of her fallen leaves. "Please, don't mistake my actions for that of some love-addled twit trying to strike out in the name of frustrated jealousy," she said. "Although," she went on, "It was good for that too."

"Then why did you do it?" Mercedes asked.

"Because," Caprice said, examining the blood-stained leaf, "I need the blood of a god in order to finish the potion."

"To poison Peorth!?" Lexus cried hopefully.

"No," Caprice answered. "God, what is wrong with you?"

Lexus hung her head.

Mercedes hugged her. "Nothing that a lifetime with dear Toraichi can't fix, right, Lexus?"

"Or some electro-shock therapy," Caprice threw in.

Mercedes shot her a venomous look. "Getting back to the topic at hand," she said, "What kind of potion are you making?"

"Well, the biggest impediment to reaching the heights of physical and emotional bliss with Toraichi is the fact that we're roses. This potion will allow our astral forms to enter the physical plane."

Lexus sniffled and looked up hopefully. "You mean... we'll be able to touch Toraichi like women?"

"Oh, I'm going to do a lot more than just touch him," Caprice said.

"Well, make the potion already!" Mercedes told her.

"It's not that simple," Caprice said. "There's only enough blood here to make one dose, that means only one of us can go."

"Dibs!" Lexus called, throwing her hand in the air. "I call dibs!"

"You can't just call dibs," Mercedes said, moving closer to Caprice. "Only Caprice can make the potion, so that means she has to choose." She rested her hands on Caprice's shoulders. "After all, she's the smartest and most beautiful of us, and only she has the wisdom to pick which of us will..."

"I'm going first," Caprice told her.

"You selfish whore!" Mercedes snapped.

"Don't worry," Caprice assured them. "I have a plan."

"Oh, I'm sure you do!" Mercedes threw back. "It involves Lexus and I sitting here all night while you ride dear Toraichi like a circus elephant!"

Caprice's eyes narrowed. "I'm not going to abandon you. We wait until Toraichi leaves for his date, and then we call Peorth pretending to be him and tell her to meet him here. Then, when she arrives, we hit her in the back of the head with a snow shovel, take some more blood and bring you two into the physical plane."

"Dibs on the shovel," Lexus threw in.

Caprice sighed. "You truly are a simple creature," she said. "I'll hit her with the shovel because I'll be in the physical plane. You just sit there and wait."

"And then what?" Mercedes asked.

"We go to the Seoul Cafe and help Toraichi pick up the pieces of his broken heart left shattered after Peorth stood him up," Caprice said.

"And what do we do with Peorth?" Lexus asked.

Caprice held up the leaf again. "Whatever we have to."

888

Peorth silently shook her head at the immature prattle coming from the movie screen. Mortals and their idea of love made her wonder sometimes why the Almighty bothered bestowing such a gift to them. It was like giving a physics book to a five-year-old. Oh, they could look at the pictures and even think they're pretty, but had no idea of the true potential that lay within.

She looked to her right and found Belldandy totally engrossed in it. On just the other side of the Norn, Keiichi looked uncomfortable, fidgeting with his left arm as if unsure what he was supposed to do with it. Shaking her head again, she put her finger on Belldandy's hand.

This movie isn't very good, she sent. I should go and give you and Keiichi a chance to make out.

Peorth saw Belldandy blink and heard the other goddess in her mind a moment later.

Make out? But what about the movie?

She rolled her eyes. Making out is why men bother coming to these movies. I'll go, it'll be less awkward and he can finally put his arm around you the way he's been working himself up to for the last forty-five minutes.

Are you going to hurt Tamiya san again?

The question surprised Peorth so much, she broke the connection. She reconnected a moment later. What makes you think that?

Please don't misunderstand me, Belldandy sent back, simultaneously taking a sip of her soda with her other hand. Tamiya san is our friend. I didn't like seeing him hurt last time. He appears solid and strong, but under all that muscle lies a vulnerability.

Last time was different, Peorth sent back. And I do regret what I did. I did not see the man he truly was until it was too late. Knowing what I did to him, I would not have asked him out myself, but as it was he who made the first move, giving him a fair shot is the least I can do, non?

Very well, Belldandy replied. But be honest with him. That is the very least you can do.

Oui, oui, oui, Peorth returned. I'll be on my way now. Have fun. She got up to leave. Belldandy looked up and offered her a smile before the French goddess turned and left the theater.

888

Tamiya straightened his tie and gave himself a once-over in the mirror. He didn't have much in the way of "date clothes." The best he could do was a short-sleeve white shirt with pin stripes and a red tie along with his best pair of "arraignment" khakis. Still, it would have to do.

He turned to the roses and held his hands out as if to give them a good look. "So whatcha think?" he asked. "I could get some in this, right?"

The hulk went into the other room where he had left his bottle of Usher and spritzed himself heavily. "Yeah, Toraichi," he muttered to himself. "You are a tyrannosaur of love, a ninjitsu love warrior..." He flexed his muscles a few times as if warming up for a lift session before turning off the lights in that room and going back to give the roses their nightly watering.

"You girls be good," he said. "I'll be back later." He winked. "Maybe even tomorrow," he hinted slyly. He paused... "yeah, probably later," he amended.

He shut off the lights and walked out of the garage. The room seemed to hold its breath for a moment before a woman's outline began to coalesce from the air surrounding the potted plants. With a crack of displaced air, Caprice phased into the world, her eyes closed. She breathed in, savoring the feeling of the air on her face for just a moment.

"So... are you there?" Mercedes asked from nearby.

"Yes," Caprice said. "I believe it worked."

"Good!" Mercedes replied. "Time for stage 2!"

"Excuse me!" Lexus broke in, fanning herself frantically. "But am I the only one who saw Toraichi in that shirt and tie? I'm going to need a few moments here!"

"No time for that," Caprice said. She went to the Auto Club's only desk on which sat their computer and some scattered papers. She rooted through the papers until she found a member phone roster and picked up the rotary phone that sat nearby. "She lives with Morisato, right?"

"Yes," Mercedes confirmed.

Lexus was laying on the futon, breathing hard. "I mean... short sleeves and a tie... It's... it's just too much..."

Mercedes balled her hands into fists as Caprice dialed and whirled on her younger sister. "Lexus! Pull yourself together! Peorth must be stopped! Look at yourself! Do you know what will happen if Peorth meets him at that restaurant, and she sees him in that shirt and tie?!"

Lexus's eyes went wide. "Oh, dear God!" she gasped. "There's no way she won't have sex with him! It's impossible to resist!"

"Exactly! Now give me a 'Peorth!'"

Lexus balled her hands into fists in front of her. "Peorth!" she hissed.

"LOUDER!"

"PEORTH!"

"Good!"

"For God's sake, shut up!" Caprice shouted at them, her hand over the phone's mouthpiece. She cleared her throat as someone picked up the phone on the other end.

"Hello?" a man asked.

Caprice licked her lips and dropped her voice as low as she could before booming into the phone. "MORISATO!"

"GAUGH! SENPAI?!"

"IS PEORTH STILL THERE?!" Caprice boomed in an voice about five octaves below her own.

"Yeah, she's in the other room putting her make-up on," Keiichi replied. "You wanna talk to her?"

"NO!" Caprice told him. "JUST TELL HER TO MEET ME AT THE AUTO CLUB! I WANT TO WALK WITH HER TO THE RESTAURANT... YOU KNOW... ALL ROMANTIC-LIKE..."

"Okay, Senpai, I'll tell her," Keiichi said.

"GOOD! GOOD BYE, MORISATO!"

"Good night, Senpai. Good luck!"

Caprice hung up the phone and giggled maniacally.

888

Peorth turned the doorknob and pushed the door open. She had tried knocking, but no luck. Assuming he hadn't heard her, she decided a little breaking-and-entering was warranted.

"Toraichi?" she called.

Nothing.

She had half-expected to see him waiting for her outside as she approached the clubhouse. Then, when that hadn't occurred, her mind amended her expectations upward. He was going to surprise her with a home-made dinner in the clubhouse or make some other cute attempt at winning her affections.

Peorth wasn't sure how she felt about Tamiya, that earlier business with using him muddied the water considerably. But she was willing to give it a whirl.

If, however, he was waiting in the other room half-naked with a rose in his teeth, this little experiment was officially over...

"Toraichi?" she called again as she approached the part of the club where the office and kitchen met. She saw the three roses sitting in the light of the kitchen's fluorescent bulbs, but no Tamiya.

She paused as she could swear she heard something... in the back of her mind.

reee! reee! reee!

The goddess blinked. The sound wasn't in the physical plane, it was in the astral one.

Reee! Reee! Reee!

She turned and came face-to-face with a crazed-looking red head with a shovel held over her head.

REEEEE! REEEEE! REEEEE! REEEEE!

Shovel met goddess, then goddess met floor, knocked out by the force of the blow.

Caprice turned angrily to Lexus, who was running a bow over a violin in short, quick strokes.

"You idiot!" she screamed. "You almost gave me away!"

Lexus stopped playing and stuck her tongue out at her sister. "Haven't you ever seen Psycho?" she asked. "A good murder needs a good soundtrack."

Caprice grabbed Peorth by the arms and started dragging her toward the futon. "She's not dead," she pointed out.

"Awwww," Lexus pouted.

Peorth's head lolled about as Caprice tied her hands behind her back and pushed her onto the futon. She sat next to the goddess and produced two leaves from Mercedes' and Lexus' plants. "Now, then, let's get to work."

888

Coming to was like breaking the surface of a lake and gasping for air. She moaned as her eyes tried to focus on three figures in her line of sight. "Mon dieu," she murmured weakly. What happened to her?

"This is marvelous, Caprice!" she heard a voice cry excitedly. "It feels so nice!"

"Hey, guys! I think she's waking up!" another voice announced.

Peorth focused on the shadowy figures as they approached and surrounded her. Finally, she could make out features. Three women, all with red hair, looked down at her. She blinked the remaining stars out of her eyes and realized for the first time that she was bound hand and foot.

"Who are you?!" she demanded angrily. "What do you want?!"

"Only what you've taken from us!" one of the redheads cried angrily. The taller one, put a reassuring hand on her shoulder.

"Settle down, Lexus," she said. "We're in the physical plane now, and she is no longer able to interfere."

"Speaking of which," the third redhead, a woman in glasses, said. "We should be going if we're going to make it in time to mend poor Toraichi's broken heart."

"Lexus?" Peorth muttered. She looked at the other two. "Mercedes and Caprice Classic?" she asked incredulously. "You're Toraichi's roses?!"

"That's right!" Lexus replied. "Toraichi's roses! And don't you forget it, Missy!"

Mercedes again pulled Lexus back. "Please understand," she said. "It's nothing personal..."

Lexus raised her hand. "Um... I think it's pretty personal..."

The other rose ignored her. "But Toraichi is our destiny, and you're interfering with that...and that's why we hit you with a shovel."

"And kicked you a few times while you were unconscious," Lexus admitted.

"The point is that Toraichi loves us," Mercedes broke in again. "And we love him. And those tender feelings can only unite our destinies if you don't interfere..."

"Because we ain't afraid to cut a bitch!" Lexus backed her sister up.

Mercedes closed her eyes and sighed. "Really, Lexus?" she asked. "A heartwarming appeal spoken from the depths of our love for Toraichi sama, and you follow it up with, 'we ain't afraid to cut a bitch?'"

"Well, we're not," Lexus argued. "Look what I found in one of the toolboxes!" she said, pulling out a pearl-handled switchblade that she opened with a blood-chilling SNICK!

Caprice took the knife away from her. "Please, just..."

Peorth blinked as something suddenly clicked. "Wait a minute... Toraichi didn't buy you at a local greenhouse," she said. "How did you get here?"

Before any of them could answer they all heard a POOF! from the other room.

"HIDE!" Caprice hissed. She reached down and stuffed a sock in Peorth's mouth before dashing away.

As if to answer her earlier question, a familiar god strolled into the room, adjusting the cufflinks on his grey suit.

"Tamiya! Bro! Just came to see how things were working out with..." He saw Peorth and stopped short. "Woah... Hey, babe..."

Peorth struggled against her bonds and jerked her head in the direction the roses went.

"Look," Anteros began, "I appreciate the gesture, really, but you see I'm kind of trying a monogamous thing with Lind, and quite frankly she could bone me like a fish if she even got wind of this..."

Before he could go further, shovel met god, and god met floor.

Lexus stood over him, the snow shovel Caprice had used earlier in her hands.

"Oh... my... GOD!" she said. "That is so much FUN!"

888

Tamiya sat at the Seoul Cafe's bar and looked up at the clock for the twentieth time. She was late.

Really late.

I'm-blowing-you-off late.

He wondered if he should call her. Maybe there was an emergency, or her car broke down or...

...or she's blowing me off.

His mind grabbed hold of this thought and refused to let it go. It's not like he could really even give her the benefit of the doubt. She'd used him before, and he'd forgiven her for that... Was it really so hard to imagine that someone who didn't give a canary's crap about his feelings before would disregard those feelings again?

It made him mad, actually. After everything that happened, you would think she would at least be on time. He had put a lot of effort into learning to be the kind of guy who does girly froo-froo stuff, who raises roses, who talks to women, and now...

He felt like a total idiot. Worse, he now knew what an idiot he was before when he was too ignorant to realize it.

As he seethed, the bartender put an appletini in front of him. "I din'nt order this," he said.

The bartender nodded to the far corner. "Comes from them."

Tamiya turned and found three gorgeous looking redheads smiling at him from a corner table. Was he looking in the right spot? Maybe he meant the other table, the one with the dude with the soul patch and...

No, he was going to assume it was the redheads. Standing up, he grabbed the drink and made his way over to the table. The women, all wearing green dresses, watched as he approached.

"Hey," he said. "Just wanna say thanks for the drink."

"You're welcome," Lexus said, pushing the empty chair on the other side of the table away with her foot.

He blinked. Were these women coming onto him? He cleared his throat. "Um... appletinis are my favorite," he said. "I don't drink them a whole lot because..."

"Wait, let me guess," the redhead in the glasses told him. "Because it undermines your man-cred?"

Tamiya smiled. "Yeah, I guess so. Okay if I sit down?"

"We were hoping you would," Mercedes answered.

He sat down and found all three women resting their chins in their hands, staring at him.

"So," he began. "Three redheads in Japan. I guess you girls are from outta town. Let me guess... you're Irish, right?"

"That's amazing," Mercedes said. "How did you guess that?"

"Put another shrimp on da barbie!" Lexus cried in what was definitely not an Irish accent. She jumped as Caprice stomped on her foot.

"I'm Toraichi Tamiya," he said.

"And what brings you out here tonight, Toraichi Tamiya?" Caprice asked. The way she said his name made him blush.

He cleared his throat again. "I'm s'posed to be meeting someone here."

"A date?" Mercedes asked.

"Yeah."

"And she's not here yet?" Lexus asked. "I think that's concrete proof that she never loved you to begin wi... OW!" She turned and gave Caprice the evil eye.

Tamiya didn't argue the point however. He shrugged. "Hey, win some, lose some, right?"

"Well, you know what they say," Mercedes began, running her finger along the rim of her wine glass. "If you can't be with the one you love..."

"...love the ones you're with," Caprice finished for her.

I'm start'n to think they're coming onto me, he thought.

Lexus stood up and circled around behind him. "You're a good guy, Toraichi Tamiya," she said. "I can tell even though we've never ever met before." She gave a wink to Caprice and Mercedes, who sighed in resignation. She put her hands on his shoulders and started to rub. "You just have to... Oh my god! You girls have to feel this! It's like bowling balls wrapped in silk!"

Caprice put her face in her hands, utterly mortified, but Tamiya smiled up at Lexus. "You like the guns, huh? You wanna see what they can do?"

Lexus stood there in his gaze and shivered. "Yes," she gasped. "Yes, I do..."

888

"Don't worry, babe," he muttered sleepily. "The first time is always scary. How about this? We can invite some of your friends to join us and then it won't seem so sc...OWWW!"

His interrupted line of thought came courtesy of Peorth, who was kicking him in the shins with her high heels. "Wake up!" she ordered.

"OWW! OWW!" Anteros cried. "Not love! Still not love!" He opened his eyes and found Peorth's angry brown orbs staring back at him. "Oh," he said. "Sorry, thought you were someone else." He turned his head and found he was, like her, bound with his hands behind his back and lying on the futon next to her.

"You are still the creepiest god I have ever met," she declared.

"What did I do?!" Anteros demanded. "I'm here helping a forlorn young man find his way to love. How was I supposed to know you were here or that we were being kidnapped?"

"Forlorn young... Toraichi?!" she cried. "Toraichi is your client?!"

"You mean the Incredible Sulk?" Anteros asked. "Yeah. He was having trouble in the interface department, if you catch my drift."

"Did you give him those roses?" she hissed.

"It's straight out of the manual for teaching young men to communicate with the fairer sex," he defended. "And look, see?" he asked, turning his head to catch a glimpse of the plants. "They're blossoming. Good job, Sulk! High five!"

He turned back and found Peorth's face full of absolute wrath. "You are an absolute idiot."

"If by 'idiot' you mean the genius that turned him into a guy who could land you, then yeah, I'm a huuuuge idiot."

She started kicking him again, not easy with her feet tied together, but somehow she made it work.

"Where did you get those roses?!" she demanded as he cried out in pain and tried to move away from her.

"Amazon-dot-God!" he replied. "Why?"

She sighed. "Because they're Elysian Roses, you nimrod! They are to regular plants what we are to mortals! They're the ones who knocked you out!"

"No wonder they were so expensive," he muttered. "That'll teach me to one-click without reading the reviews..."

"We have to get out of here," Peorth told him.

"Oh!" he cried. "My cell phone! It's in my pocket! Turn around and see if you can reach it." He rolled so that he was facing away from her and she did the same, maneuvering her hands to reach into his front pocket. "Okay... almost there..." he said. "Little deeper... Yep... that's good..."

"I'm not feeling it," she said.

"It's in my jacket pocket," he admitted.

She stopped dead and bit her lip in absolute fury. "All right," she hissed, moving her hands up to his jacket pocket. It only took a few seconds to find his blackberry. She maneuvered it as close to their heads as she could, and they both rolled over.

"Oh," she said, "By the way." She started kicking him again.

"OWW! Hostile! So hostile!"

"Call someone," she growled.

"Right!" he said. He cleared his throat and spoke into the phone. "Call 'Lind.'"

"I'm sorry," he phone replied. "Did you say, 'Call Rind?'"

"No, call 'Lind.' With an L. Seriously, it does that every time..."

"Calling 'Lind,'" the phone said.

888

Lind, decked out in a blue strapless dress that went down to her ankles, looked out the window next to their table and watched as the sun started dipping below the ocean outside the restaurant. He was late. She understood that strict adherence to punctuality was more a Valkyrie trait than a love god's, but given the effort she went through to make this occasion special, one would think he...

The thought was interrupted by her phone ringing. That was probably him now, telling her he would be there any second. She brought the phone to her ear.

"Yes?" she answered.

"Lind! It's me!"

"Obviously," she noted.

"Right! Look! I'm in Nekomi!"

"Which would be why you're not here where and when you said you'd meet me," she concluded.

"I have a really good excuse for that," he said. "I'm tied to a bed with Peorth and..."

She closed the phone and turned to the waiter. "I'm going to need a check please. And if you have one, I would like to borrow a deboning knife..."

888

"Hello? Hello? Lind? Baby? Honey? Sweetie?" He waited for an answer and received none. He looked up at Peorth with an expression of dread as the conversation and its endpoint went through his mind again.

"Well," he began carefully. "The good news is that she'll probably be here any second..."

Peorth glared at him.

"The bad news is she's probably going to murder me..."

"That's not bad news," Peorth corrected him.

He paused. "Right."

Peorth began to struggle in her bonds again. "We can't wait and hope that your latest conquest is going to come here and set me free before killing you," she said. "We have to get to Toraichi."

"Lind is not a conquest," Anteros corrected her. "She's the love of my life."

Peorth didn't stop working the ropes as she replied. "Says the man who just tricked me into giving him a handy. It makes no difference either way. The Almighty only knows what those roses are doing to him."

888

The roses squealed in delight as the table they were sitting on rose into the air again.

"FORTY-EIGHT!" they cried in unison. The table went down and then up again, causing them to squeal.

'FORTY-NINE!" they called. Lying on his back directly beneath them, Tamiya lowered the table and pushed it up again as if he were doing a bench press in the gym.

"FIFTY!" the roses cried triumphantly.

Tamiya gently lowered the table to the ground and crawled out from under it as the roses giggled at the feat.

"That's amazing, Tamiya chan!" Mercedes said.

He shrugged. "I like lift'n weights."

"Why?" Caprice asked him.

"I dunno," he said. "I guess I just like being strong. You know how some people complain 'bout be'n stuck between a rock and a hard place? Well, if I can lift the rock, then it's never a problem."

"That is super deep," Lexus commented dreamily.

"You know," he began, "I still don't know your names."

The roses looked to one another. Mercedes put her hand on her chest. "Well, Tamiya chan, I'm... Marcy. And this is... um.. Alexa... and this is... Priya."

"Those are pretty names," he said.

The roses fidgeted. Lexus leaned toward the other two and muttered conspiratorially. "He thinks our fake names are pretty!"

888

"Hey," Anteros said quietly.

"Shut up, I don't want you talking," Peorth replied quickly. The two had been content to lie quietly on the bed for about an hour, both trying to think of some way out of their predicament.

"Do you hear that?" the love god asked, ignoring her demand.

Peorth strained to listen. There, just on the edge of perception. "It sounds like... music... What is that? Some kind of Gregorian chant?"

"Like a chorus or something," Anteros judged.

The music got louder, coming from outside the garage.

"It's like a choral symphony," Peorth concluded.

Before Anteros could argue, the entire front half of the garage collapsed and was rent asunder, exposing the kitchen to the night air. Before them stood a dark knight in black and silver armor. The eyes of its horned helmet glowed with a black light mimicked by the dark lightning that ran up and down its body and the massive battle axe in its right hand. Choral music heralded its arrival as if it had descended on them upon a cloud of glory.

Anteros screamed like a frightened bitch as it marched toward them. Peorth squealed in terror and tried to inch her body away from it as it halted barely a foot from their futon.

The music stopped as it reached up and pressed a jewel on its neck. The metal of the helmet began to retract, bending and folding toward the back of the armored suit and revealing the goddess beneath it.

Lind looked down at them and arched an eyebrow. "Although I am no expert on fetish games," she began, "It occurs to me that one of you should be untied for this game to work."

Peorth sighed in relief. "Lind!"

"Obviously," the former Valkyrie concurred. "And the two of you do not appear to be having as much fun as I had suspected..."

"We were kidnapped," Peorth told her. "Get us out of here!"

A few quick slashes with her dagger, and the two gods were free. Peorth stood up, rubbing her wrists. "Merci," she said. "By the way," she added, "He tricked me into touching his genitals." With that, she walked past the Valkyrie.

Anteros cleared his throat. "Well..."

Lind grabbed him by the tie with a steel-gauntleted hand. "If she touched your genitals, then I get the same, yes?"

The love god smiled. "Baby, I wouldn't have it any other... OOOOOOUGH!"

The last part came as Lind punched him in the junk. Anteros collapsed on the concrete floor.

"We're good now," she announced before turning back to Peorth. "What happened here?"

"It seems that your boyfriend granted a friend of mine a wish," Peorth said. "And gave him three Elysian Roses which have seemingly fallen in love with him... in a very creepy way. They kidnapped me and used some of my blood to bring their astral essences into the physical plane, and now they're out there with him doing Almighty knows what."

"I see," Lind told her. She turned to Anteros. "Shall we go?"

"QUOI!?" Peorth cried. "Didn't you hear me?"

"I did," Lind said as she helped Anteros to his feet. "From what I gather, your friend wanted a romantic relationship."

"Oui..."

"And now he has one," Lind concluded. "Or do you believe these roses mean him some harm?"

Caught off guard by the question, Peorth paused. "Well... no, I don't believe so. They seem quite smitten with him. But... still... we can't just let them..."

"... give Tamiya the starring role in an awesome ginger porno?" Anteros finished, finally getting his wind back.

"Then your assessment of the situation matches mine?" Lind asked him.

Anteros snorted. "Yes. Boy wanted love, boy has love TIMES THREE!" He held up three fingers in emphasis. "You know how some gods give a hundred and ten percent? I just gave three hundred and thirty! What. Up."

"Good," Lind said. "I thought I may have misread the situation..."

Peorth was flabbergasted. "You can't be serious!" she cried. "Toraichi is... is..."

"Is?" Lind prompted.

The rose goddess let out a breath. "Special... to me," she finished.

Lind regarded her carefully for several moments, remembering a time more than 150 years ago when this same goddess offered her sound advice in her time of need. She took a breath.

"Very well," she said. "We shall... there's a term for it..."

"'Cock-block,'" Anteros provided helpfully.

"Quite," Lind agreed. "We shall help you cock-block your friend."

Peorth smiled. "Merci."

"So... um... how?" Anteros asked. "They could be anywhere by now?"

Lind plucked Anteros' blackberry from the futon. "Does he have a cell phone?"

"It's Japan," Peorth answered with a shrug. "Everyone has a cell phone. Except Keichi," she added. "I swear, it's like the boy still thinks it's 1988..."

"What are you going to do?" Peorth asked as Lind searched through Anteros' address book until she found a number with Nekomi's area code. "Warn him?"

"Do you think he would believe a warning?"

"Non."

"Then no," Lind answered, bringing the phone to her hear. "Do not concern yourself. Deception operations are an integral part of sound Valkyrie doctrine."

She paused until she heard someone pick up. "Hello," she began, speaking very softly into the phone. "Is this Mr. Tamiya? Oh, we may have a bad connection... try putting me on speaker..."

888

"Can you hear me now?"

"Yeah, I hear ya," Tamiya said. Standing nearby, the roses listened curiously. "Who's dis?"

"My name is Ritsuko Tekeshi," the caller declared. "I'm with the Government Board of Environmental Health."

"Ain't never heard of dem," Tamiya admitted.

"I'm not surprised," the caller said. "Mr. Tamiya, we frequently inspect school property, and during an inspection, we came across three rose plants in your club's garage. Are they yours?"

Tamiya smiled proudly. "Yep! Dems my girls!"

Nearby the Roses sighed longingly.

"They're very beautiful," the caller complimented.

"Thanks!"

"They're also covered in blight."

"What?!"

The roses all looked down at themselves. Lexus screamed in terror.

"I'm afraid so," the caller said. "It's a communicable infection that poses a risk to the other plants on campus, so I'm afraid they'll have to be confiscated and destroyed..."

"WHAT?!" Mercedes cried.

"But don't worry," the caller assured him. "We'll replace them with... younger... prettier roses..."

Mercedes lunged at the phone in sub-psychotic rage, but the other two caught her.

"I have a shredder truck on the way," the caller said. "I just wanted to make sure you knew."

"Now, wait a sec!" Tamiya said. "You can't just chipper shred some guy's roses!"

"I'm the government," the caller said. "I can do whatever I want."

There was a click, and then dead air. Tamiya growled and put his hand through the table. "Can you believe dat?!" He turned to the redheads.

Only to find them gone.

888

Lind tossed the blackberry back to her boyfriend. "That should bring them here," she announced.

Peorth smiled at the deception. "Then what?" she asked.

Lind answered by picking up the discarded snow shovel and pushing it into Peorth's arms.

"Retaliatory strikes are also an integral part of sound Valkyrie doctrine."

888

"I didn't see a truck!" Lexus whispered as the three roses made their way through the garage. "Did any of you see a truck?"

"No, it must not be here yet," Mercedes concluded as she carefully moved around a suspended engine block.

"What if it was already here and left?!" Lexus gasped.

"Then we'd already be dead!" Caprice told her. "Let's just get our pots and get out of here!"

Stumbling through the dark, the three redheads found their way into the back office and sighed in relief when they saw their pots sitting where they left them. Caprice stepped ahead of the others and reached out.

A loud "CLANG!" rang out as a snow shovel hit the back of Lexus's head, dropping the rose to the floor. Mercedes cried out a second later as someone struck the back of her knee. Before she hit the ground, her arms were restrained behind her, and an unfamiliar weight pinned her to the concrete floor.

Caprice turned, ready to help her sister, but a familiar voice called out from where their plants stood. Turning back, she found Anteros sitting behind one of the rose plants with a pair of pruning shears in his hand.

"Uh uh," he cautioned, running the shears suggestively up and down the rose's stalk. "One wrong move... and the little bitch here gets it."

Caprice's eyes went wide, and Mercedes gasped. Lexus moaned painfully as Peorth stood over her triumphantly, one foot on the rose's back and the snow shovel clenched in her hand like a rifle in the hands of an African hunter who had just bagged a leopard.

The last rose composed herself and faced Anteros. "All right," she said. "What do you want?"

"Can I just say something?" Mercedes called out from beneath Lind. "I would really like to say something here!"

The others turned to her and waited.

The glamorous redhead turned her eyes toward Anteros. "I... am not a bitch!"

Without a word, the rest of them turned back to the matter at hand. Caprice folded her arms over her chest and looked bored. "So?" she began again. "What do you want?"

"I'm afraid I'm going to have to send the three of you back," Anteros told her. "Apparently," he continued, nodding his head in Peorth's direction, "...some people don't want hot redheads moving in on their territory."

"You're an ass," Peorth snapped at him.

"Oh, I don't think so," Caprice told him. "We love Toraichi, and we don't care how many branches you clip off of Mercedes. We'll never give up."

"Yeah!" Mercedes agreed. "Wait, what?!"

"I don't feel so good," Lexus called out groggily from the floor. "Who's winning? Are we winning?"

Caprice ignored them both. She turned to Peorth and engaged her directly. "Toraichi told us all about you," she said. "How you strung him along to get closer to that lesser man, Keiichi." Peorth's eyes went wide at this revelation. "And how despite that he still thought you were worthy of his love. Speaking from a strictly objective viewpoint, let me assure you. You are not."

"Wait a sec," Anteros interrupted. "You used Sulk to get to another guy? No wonder he's so messed up."

"It does seem somewhat cold," Lind agreed.

"Now wait just a second!" Peorth cried defensively. "I had a mission, and yes, I used Toraichi to further a specific goal, but I didn't set out to hurt him! And you!" She turned her attention back to Caprice. "You used me to bring yourselves into the physical plane! How is that any different?!"

"Simple," Caprice answered. "One hurts Toraichi, and the other doesn't."

"Wow," Anteros remarked. "You flowers are really hung up on him, aren't you?"

"He is the light that makes us grow," Caprice told him, her eyes closed in almost religious rapture. "And now that we have blossomed, we shall, in turn, become that light for him."

"Word," Lexus agreed from the floor.

"And what, exactly, does that mean?" Lind asked her.

Caprice turned to her, still unsure of the Valkyrie's role in this episode. "Roses love the one who makes them blossom," she told her. "What we are now, we are because of him. To watch as he pined after one we knew wasn't worthy of him was very..." She paused, searching for the right word.

"Sucked balls!" Lexus threw in.

Caprice rolled her eyes. "Do you know what it's like to love someone and know you can't be with them?" she asked the Valkyrie.

"Yes," Lind told her matter-of-factly. Her eyes settled on Anteros for a bare moment. "I do."

Caprice turned back to Peorth. "If I thought for a moment that you were willing to give Tamiya sama the kind of love he wanted, the kind of life he wanted, it would be different. But I don't. Am I wrong?"

Peorth stared at her, wanting to say yes, for no other reason than to win this argument.

Be honest, Belldandy's words came back to her.

Did she love Tamiya? No, of course not! She barely knew him! And she was a good enough love goddess to know that whatever he felt for her was more infatuation than genuine love. It was possible, of course, that with time they would grow to love one another, but the odds of that happening were infinitesimal. She was a goddess. She would eventually leave to return to her duties. The best she could offer him was a short, passionate affair... something he might not even be able to handle.

But the Roses did know him. They had listened quietly as he poured his heart out to them every night. He had spoken more to them than he ever had to her. She had used Tamiya to get to Keiichi, and they had used her to get to Tamiya. The difference was that love at least entered the equation on their part.

She opened her mouth to answer but was cut off by the sound of someone slamming the door open.

"GETCHER STINK'N PAWS OFF MY ROSES YOU DAMN DIRTY APE!" Tamiya roared.

The goliath came up short as he found, not government agents in his clubhouse, but his date, three redheads he had met that night, Morisato's exchange student friend, and the god who was teaching him to mack on chicks.

"Ah!" Mercedes cried from under Lind's knee. "Tamiya chan! We were just... um..."

"Playing Twister?" Lexus suggested. "Um... Right hand green!" She lifted her right hand and put it down on some random part of the floor.

"Hey, Bro," Anteros said in greeting. "I'm afraid I have some bad news."

"Anteros?" Tamiya asked in surprise. "What'z go'in on here?"

"I may have accidentally given you super-intelligent roses," Anteros told him. "Well... except for that one," he amended with a nod toward Lexus. "She seems a little dim."

"You ain't mak'n any sense, man," Tamiya told him.

Caprice took a breath and turned him. "He means, Tamiya sama, that we are your roses."

Tamiya blinked at her. "Come again?"

"This love god was supposed to give you regular roses," Caprice told him. "But he inadvertently ordered what are known as Elysian roses, rose goddesses, if you will."

Tamiya wasn't sure how to process that. "So... like Anteros here? You're like him?"

"It's... very difficult to explain, "Caprice admitted, shifting her gaze. "But what it comes down to is that we... we're the ones you've been watering and talking to."

The hulk of a man looked down at her, but she wouldn't meet his eyes. The god and other goddesses in the room looked at them, wondering how the simple mortal would react to being told that he had been pouring his heart out to three beautiful women all this time.

Tamiya's eyes narrowed for a moment. "You're Caprice Classic, ain't ya?" he asked.

Her eyes went wide and finally found they way to his. "Yes," she gasped, amazed. "How did..."

The mortal shrugged, a little embarrassed. "Well... it's just that... I always noticed that... um... you were always a little shorter... and... I don't know... didn't show off as much, I guess."

Lind let Mercedes up, and Peorth took her foot off Lexus's back.

"You recognize us?" Mercedes asked in a shocked whisper.

"Well... now that I know who you are, yeah," Tamiya said with a shrug. "You're the tall one, and elegant... so I'm guessing you're Mercedes." He turned to Lexus. "And you're pretty but more wild, so you're Lexus."

"He knows us," Lexus whispered, tears in her eyes.

Tamiya turned beet red and ran the fingers of his right hand through his hair. "Well... yeah... I guess." He turned back to Caprice. "I mean it's not hard to believe, when ya think about it." He nodded to Anteros. "Anteros popped out of a bottle of cologne..."

"If you can call Usher a cologne, yes," Anteros agreed with an eyeroll.

"It's just weird," the college student continued. "I feel kinda stupid now... telling you all those things..."

Caprice shook her head quickly to forestall him. "Everything you said allowed us to learn about who you are," she said. "And knowing who you are, it let us..." Now confronted with him, Caprice's cool intellect failed her, and she trailed off.

Tamiya didn't push. He cleared his throat nervously.

Peorth watched the exchange, fascinated by it. There were obviously deeper and more complicated feelings here than she was aware of at first. But the more she saw, the more she knew whatever this complex relationship was, she stood outside of it. Although Tamiya might have thought he loved Peorth, she knew that the three roses he had cared for and nurtured already held a larger part of his heart that she did. She could not be a fourth.

She briefly wondered what Belldandy would do in this situation. The answer was obvious.

"There's a big problem, Toraichi," she suddenly spoke up. Every eye in the room went to her. "You see," she began, "Now that they're here, they can't go back. They have to stay here." The roses blinked in surprise at the statement.

Anteros smiled as he caught Peorth's drift. "Yeah," he added. "It's a god-rule-thing," he said. "They're stuck here."

"We just have to find someplace for them to stay," Peorth continued. "It won't be easy for them, though."

Tamiya blinked. "Well... Could they... I don't know...Maybe they can..."

"They should stay with you," Lind said, cutting through the double-speak. "You are their sponsor here. It makes sense for them to stay."

"We won't be any trouble!" Lexus declared, pushing her way up to Tamiya.

Mercedes stepped forward to stand next to her. "Yes, quite!" she said. "And I know I would feel much safer if we could stay with you," she added demurely.

"Stop it."

They all turned to the source of the outburst. Caprice was staring at the floor. "Just stop it," she told her sisters. "The only reason we should stay is if he wants us to stay. Not because he feels some kind of obligation to our safety or because we guilt him into it."

"You girls should stay," Tamiya said.

"Why?" Caprice asked him, tears in her eyes.

"Because..." Tamiya said. "You's my girls."

Peorth turned as she felt a hand on her shoulder. Lind cocked her head toward the door, and Peorth nodded, following the other gods out of the room, leaving Tamiya and the roses alone.

"Do you think they have a chance?" Peorth asked as they turned and started down the street.

"As much of a chance as a mortal who wishes for a goddess to always be by his side," Lind answered philosophically. "Don't you?"

"I just want him to be happy," Peorth told her. "I owe him that much. But what if it doesn't work out? Toraichi doesn't have much experience with normal relationships, how will living with three goddesses affect his life?"

"Four words," Anteros told her. "Bow-chicka-bow-wow."

Lind ignored him and instead addressed Peorth's question directly. "A very wise goddess once told me something when I faced a similar crisis," she said, stopping to face the other goddess. "Lighten up."

Peorth broke into a smile. "You think I'm taking love too seriously?"

"I have come to learn, Peorth, that love upsets natural orders," Lind told her. "A mortal and a goddess, a Valkyrie and a love god, a mortal and three roses... none of them make the slightest bit of sense... until you factor in love. And then it's as natural as anything else in Creation."

Lind started down the street again, leaving Peorth to ponder her words. Anteros put a hand on her shoulder. "Don't worry," he said. "I'll check up on them every once in awhile."

She nodded her thanks.

"Come on!" he cried. "Show a little optimism! What can happen?!"

Peorth smiled. "Wait for it."

888

Keiichi heard the knock on the door and diverted from his original destination in the kitchen to the front door. It was late, and he had been pulling an all-nighter in anticipation of a German test tomorrow. The rest of the house was dark, and the goddesses asleep.

He reached the door just as a second series of knocks landed on it. Opening it, he came up short and blinked at what he saw.

"Senpai?" he asked with an arched eyebrow.

Tamiya, flanked by three gorgeous redheads, stood on his doorstep with a box of his worldly possessions in his hands.

"Morisato," he said in greeting.

Remembering a time when not so long ago when he was wandering around town with a few possessions and Belldandy, Keiichi looked at the women hanging on him and put it together.

"Starting to regret that rule about no girls in the dorms, aren't ya?" he asked the upperclassman.

Tamiya's eyes shifted to the right. "Yes," he admitted.

Keiichi smiled. "You need a place to stay?"

"Yeah," Tamiya told him with a sigh of relief.

"Come on in," he replied, stepping back to make room for them to pass.

The three women preceded Tamiya inside, chattering as they went. Tamiya stopped next to Keiichi and let out a breath.

"It gets easier, right?" he asked.

Keiichi grinned. "No, not even close."

"I was afraid o'dat."

"So... who are they?" Keiichi asked.

"You wouldn't believe me if I told you," Tamiya said.

"You'd be surprised."

With that, Keiichi shut the door and led Tamiya to the kitchen for a beer.