*This* Is Football?!

Pre-match warmup:

One of the problems with being one of the three Goddesses of Past, Present, and Future...

...is that you _always_ get wherever you want to go in time.

Even when you don't want to.

Skuld frowned, and tapped her watch (which covered all Terran Time Zones and Another Place, where it was always Just In Time).

She pouted. 'You'd think a time machine could at _least_ arrive on time...'

Belldandy sighed.

Urd patted her on the back. 'C'mon, Bell, it's not as if anything's going to happen to K1...'

'It isn't that...' Bell said. 'It's just...'

She sighed again. 'We organised this football match simply because /he/ hated football. Not because we wanted to do it, or enjoyed the sport... but because someone else didn't want us to do it. What pleasure does that bring anyone?'

Urd went quiet. Then her mouth began to quirk. 'Y'know, sis... I think there's a bit more going on then _that_...'

She smirked. /And it'll be a good lesson for _both_ of them.../

Skuld eyed her eldest sister. 'Oh yeah? Oh yeah?! As if you're Little Miss Omniscient or something...!'

'Wait a minute...'

A ripple in the strands of time, an alteration to what is, was, and shall be.

Something from nothing.

An alteration.

What is about to happen was always going to happen.

What is about to happen never happened at all.

Time and space are pushed apart.

Something forces itself through the gap, anchoring itself to *this* time,*this* place.

Engines groan with the exertion...

...until, finally, the time machine solidifies.

In this form, the time machine has red hair. Chubby cheeks. Female. Apparently in her mid-twenties.

And she is terminally, *terminally* upset.


Her face cracks open, revealing a black void underneath-

-And twenty people land in a crumpled heap in front of her.

Compassion's face seals up.

'Never again, Hibiki. *Never again*...'

With that, she stalked into the changing rooms.

Ryouga rubbed his head. 'What was all that about?'

'Quick note, P-chan, sugar...' Ukyou said, watching Ryouga wince. 'When someone says "Don't pull that lever", it's usually a good idea to listen...'

'It _is_?' Ryoko echoed.

'And just _what_ was all that about "blasted living Randomiser"?' Ryouga continued.

Ukyou winced. Looked like the famed (or, more properly, infamous) Hibiki Lack of Direction really _could_ affect anything...

Even *time machines*...

'Owww...' Tenchi rubbed his head.

'Uh-oh...' Sasami said. She knew what was about to happen next.

'Mm-hmm...' Washu said. She _also_ knew what was about to happen next. Her daughter could be so distressingly predictable...


'TENCHI!! Are you all right?!' Ayeka, right on cue.

'HEY! Get away from him! Seeing _your_ hideous face is only gonna make him worse!!' Ryoko, also right on cue.

'Should we stop them?' Charley asked.

'Y'know... there's something _familiar_ about all this...' Fitz said to nobody in particular.

Ryouga facefaulted. 'Not again... Not _two_ psychos...'

Sasami and Washu blinked.

For the first time... perhaps _ever_... Ayeka and Ryoko stopped squabbling.

They _stopped_.


And *glared* at the lost boy.

'Uhhh.....' Ryouga managed to stammer out.

Not too coherently, admittedly.

'Oh dear...' Bell said, with, as it turned out, much prescience. She started chanting under her breath.


'Did someone just say the word "psycho"?' Ryoko asked sweetly.

Ayeka was more direct. 'You _dare_ insult a princess of Jurai by comparing her to *that*... creature?!' She jabbed a finger in Ryoko's direction.


'Uhhh... Uhhh...' Ryouga managed to say, with his usual self-confidence.

None whatsoever, in other words.


'Nice Anti-Force Shield there, Bell...' Urd commented. 'Might have been a little on the late side, though...'

'Oh _no!_' Bell gasped.

Indeed, Bell's Force Shield _had_ worked, grounding most of the charge Ayeka and Ryoko had thrown at the tongue-tied lost boy.

We emphasise the word 'most'.

'Unnnhhhh...' Ryouga said. Or tried to say.

Then he fell over.

Keiichi winced. '_Definitely_ too familiar...'

Urd bristled. '_Excuse_ me? If _somebody_ didn't want to get singed, then _someone_ shouldn't get a certain Goddess Second Class angry...'

'_Angry_?' Keiichi echoed.

Urd jabbed a finger over her shoulder at Skuld. 'Who'd you _think_ I was talking about?'

'Gee, I wonder...' Keiichi murmured.

'HEY!' Skuld protested. 'I don't blow him up _that_ often...'

'Oh, so you _do_ blow him up then?'


'I /so/ did not want to go there...' Anji murmured, brushing herself down. 'And *boy*, was I right...'

A gentle hand rested on Fitz and Anji's shoulders. ' "Stroppy redhead"?'

'Umm...' Anji said.

' "TARDIS bitch queen from hell"?'

'Ah-heh...' Fitz suddenly seemed to find his collar getting much, _much_ tighter.

Compassion smiled.

What made it all the more terrifying was that it was the smile of someone who *had* seen the joke... and wanted to share it.

Anji and Fitz gulped. Simultaneously.


Meanwhile, several miles above the bickering group...

Minagi wiped her forehead. '_Finally_, we made it...'

Her ship's AI, in the form of a floating crystal, bobbed nervously beside her. 'Umm... are you _sure_ of that, Minagi?'

'Hmm...' She pulled out a piece of paper, looked at it, then back up at the screen. 'I _think_ we're in the right place, Hinase... Open com-'

'-because I think your sister's down there...'

'Ryoko?!' Minagi practically *levitated* out of her seat.

Well, actually, she _did_ levitate out of her seat...

'Hey, are the rest of the guys down there?!'


'Hey, there's Mom, and Mihoshi, and Tenchi, and Sasami-chan...' Minagi blinked. 'Hold on... what are they doing?'

'Umm... I _think_ it's a game called football...'

'No way! Where're the guys in big helmets? Where's the sound of people's bones being smashed into powder? Where're those suspicious hot dogs and the weird foam fingers people wave in the air?!'

'Different game, same name... I think...This one seems to be the British version of the sport...'

'What's the difference?'

'No armour. They kept the violence, though... and the suspicious hot dogs...'

'Hinase, is that a copy of the "Dummies' Guide to Earth Sports" you're holding?'


'Hand it over.'


'_Hand it over, Hinase._'

Five minutes later...

'Ginola is so cool...' Minagi sighed, flipping through the book. 'Hey, Hinase, who's this "Des Lynam"?'

Hinase big-sweatdropped. 'Err...'


First up, choosing the teams...

'Nay! The great Kuno shall lead his side to victory!'

'HAH! You couldn't lead a _cabbage_ to victory!'

'Any team led by *you'd* only end up in the gutter!'

'Is this going to happen _every_ time we choose captains?' Anji asked rhetorically.

'Probably...' Keiichi sighed.

'How long's it been now?' Ukyou asked.

Skuld checked her watch. 'About an hour... allowing for the three hours they spent in the changing rooms...'

Izzy winced. _That_ had been... well, something she never, *ever* wanted to go through again...

Especially the bit involving Kuno's bokken, Ryoko's super-strength, an unfortunate Keiichi and a small black pig. And several things not suitable for a family audience.

_Especially_ the shower scene.

Urd was smirking, which was even more worrying. 'How about we flip a coin?'

'Uh-oh...' Skuld said.

'Okay...' Ryoko said, pulling a coin out of thin air...

She flipped it.

After ten minutes...

'Okay, anyone want to-'


[Beep] Depth finder reading: 200 metres, and accelerating.

'No use asking what side it landed, I suppose...'

[Beep] Heads.

'I don't even wanna know...'

[Beep] So was the other side.




Once they'd got _that_ sorted out...

'Uh-uh. No way. I'm staying with my sister.'

'Great! That means it's the two of us against the two of you...'

[Keiichi swallows nervously]

[Bell notices, and gives him a reassuring smile]

[For some reason, Keiichi does not seem comforted.

Especially since Urd's spinning the football on her head...]


'_They're_ our substitutes?'

'And why not?'

'Well, for one thing, they DON'T EVEN HAVE FEET!!'

'They _can_ levitate...'

'Umm, Princess Ayeka?'

Ayeka shot her Guardians a *look*. 'Please. They are _my_ Guardians and I ask that you at _least_ give them a chance.'

'Fine, fine... We've already got a living time machine on side, two floating tree trunks aren't _that_ weird...'

'We heard that.'



'Umm... Izzy?' Fitz asked nervously. 'Has Fey ever _played_ football?'

Izzy frowned. 'Well, she _said_ she'd trained with this cannibal tribe in the Congo...'

'Oh Gawwwd....'

'No, no, they didn't use human heads...'

'I have a bad feeling about this.'

'Oh no, they used footballs... not *those* kind of balls...' Izzy added, noting Fitz's nervous look downwards. 'Real footballs.'

'Real?' Fitz said.

'Real.' Izzy nodded.

They looked at each other, and silently mutually agreed not even to _think_ about it...


Fey grinned.

A little... what was that word of Anji's?... spin. A little rumour spreading. Did wonders for the reputaton.

Actually, she'd learned by watching her local football team.

The Eton football team.

Of course, the visit to the Congo *had* helped to sharpen her skills...


Final lineup:

The Principal as referee (no-one trusted him anywhere else, that's why)

Hotel Receptionist as scorekeeper.

On Ayeka's team?

Ayeka, Compassion, Ryouga, Ukyou, Fitz, Urd, Keiichi, Sasami, Mihoshi, Stacy... and Fey.

With Ayeka's Guardians as substitutes.

So, on Kuno's team... (well, Ryoko's team actually, but no-one saw fit to disillusion Kuno.

They were having too much fun laughing.)

Kuno, Sam, Anji, Ssard, Izzy, Charley, Washu, Ryoko, Tenchi, Skuld and Bell.

With Sasuke and Banpei as subs.




Ryoko blinked. 'Minagi?!'

[Hi, sis!]


[Watching you guys. Oh, and I got this assignment? Something about 'helping the victims of a major injustice'?]

Ryoko muttered under her breath. There was a _reason_ her goody-goody 'sister' rarely showed up... because she was so damn _nice_, Ryoko would have eventually pounded her into a pulp.

[Aw, c'mon sis, you don't really mean that...]

{Awww.... Nothing like sisterly love, is there? Just keep talking, girls... just need a few minutes to study this telepathic connection...}



{I could hardly pass up the chance to study this, now, could I? Now, keep talking...}

[Is Mom _always_ like this, Ryo-sama?]

'Yup. And don't call me Ryo-sama...'

Ayeka's mouth twitched into what might have been a smile. 'And she has the nerve to tease me about _my_ family... Why don't you listen to your mommy once in a while... Ryo-sama?'

'WHY YOU-!!'


First half:

'Ryouga, you baka!! You're going the wrong way!!'




'I _can_ hear you,' Compassion said.




Compassion raised an eyebrow. 'This.'

Mihoshi kicked the ball...

...the ball bounced off Kuno's head...

...off one of the goalposts...

..off a previously unremarked cybernetic cockroach (all cockroaches are cybernetic. What do you mean, you didn't know?)...

...and rolled under Compassion's foot.

'WHOOPS! Sorry...'

'Showoff...' Urd muttered.

Skuld grinned. 'Hey, sis, isn't that-'

'I know, I KNOW!'

'...your favourite shot?'

'*I KNOW!!!!!*'


Fitz had been thinking.

He _was_ fully aware of the danger; nevertheless, it had seemed important.

A while back, he'd got locked in the TARDIS library for two days.

The classics section, to be precise.

In addition to boning up on the Greek and Roman classics (with the attendant violence and sex - especially the sex), he'd also flicked through some of the Norse sagas.

Which, now he came to think of it, did seem a little _too_ convenient, given his current situation.

He resolved to ask the TARDIS some pointed questions the next time he saw it. Her. Whatever.

Anyway, in the midst of all these gods getting dismembered, and their various body parts used to make various and bizarre artifacts...

...there'd been these three goddesses, right? The Norns, who were supposed to have some kind of thing with time. Or fate. Or something like that, anyway.

He'd let it slide at the time, being far more interested in that Nibelung story... (I mean, this Siegfried guy and that Valkyrie were _related_, and they...? Eeeeuuuwww.)

Yeah, anyway, so...

...there are three _extremely_ beautiful girls out there, right? And they're claiming to be goddesses, right?

Fitz didn't know too much about classical myth (Modern myth, like Tolkien? Redhot on that, no problem). But he freely admitted he wouldn't know Medusa from a snake in the grass.

Okay, so there are these three girls, and they're sisters, and they claim they're goddesses.


So, being a goddess means you're immortal, right?

(Sam winced, the one time he'd brought it up. He made a mental note to ask why later.)


So immortal=living forever, right?

So, you're a goddess=you live forever. Unless you get killed by one of those seriously nasty Frost Giants or whatever...

So... not _invulnerable_, like Superman. Just... you get to live a very, very, long time...

Three goddesses=three immortal girls.


Back to the Norns.

So, they're freakily powerful (Odin, the chief god... he had to sacrifice an eye and spend nine days crucified on a _tree_ to drink from their well. Yuck.), and immortal, and all that other stuff. And they're sisters.

Fitz winced at this point. Certain associations _here_ were just too close for comfort.

And here we have three sisters who claim to be goddesses (and having seen Urd's lightning bolt, he was rather inclined to believe them...), who're sisters, and who are, presumably, immortal.

So what's the point of all this?

Okay. The Norns' names were... c'mon, he had them a minute ago, that's what started all this...

...Urd, Verdandi and Skuld.

Urd, Belldandy and Skuld?

Couldn't be.

Could it?

The three Norns, Goddesses of... whateveritwas again, who are freakily powerful and over a _thousand_ years old...

...and they're living with a _college student?_ In Japan?

Fitz briefly considered some of the things _he'd_ seen, and came to the conclusion...

...Yep. Quite probably.

The football hit him on the head.

And bounced into the goal.

'GOOOOAAAALLL!!!' Minagi screamed.

Fitz didn't hear it, being blissfully concussed.


Skuld eyed the net. She could do this, she could do this...

Ukyou crouched, waiting for the ball. No way was this kid gonna get past her, even if she _was_ a goddess...

Skuld drew back her foot.

Ukyou waited. Was she going to feint, was she going to feint...

(Oddly enough, true skill at okonomiyaki _does_ rather depend on knowing where the ingredients are, for maximum speed and efficiency...)

Skuld kicked.

The ball tore past Ukyou (later, she swore she felt it burn the skin off her nose), through the net, and vanished into the distance.

Skuld suddenly felt everyone's gaze on her. She rubbed the back of her neck nervously.

'Ah-heh... looks like the Auto-Tracking Football Boot V.1.0's a _little_ bit overpowered...'

Washu bent down and examined the boot. 'Not too bad... Ah, so *that's* it, slightly too much pressure on the reactor... Looks like V.2.1 from the Ultimate Sportsman Equipment Kit...'

'Developed by Washu Co?' Ayeka murmured to Ryoko.

'You know it...' Ryoko murmured back.

*Reactor?!?* everyone else thought. Well, everyone else who was conscious.

'...Compares with Ryoko's kicks pretty well...' Washu continued.

Ayeka gave Ryoko a *look*.

Ryoko kicked through the goalpost, by way of demonstration.

The goalpost collapsed.

Ayeka's *look* intensified.

Ryoko flushed.

Skuld paused. 'Hey... Wait a minute, are you _criticising_ my design work?'

'Oh boy...' Keiichi said.

Urd rolled her eyes. 'She never learns...'

'Not criticising... Hmm, Perhaps if you adjusted it there...'

'Nononono... That's all wrong for the arch. No, it has to be _there_...'

'Targeting lasers?'

Skuld looked at Washu as if she were an idiot - an event of such improbability that Washu would've had to spend the _next_ 20,000 years of her life trying to calculate the odds of it happening again. 'No, organic scan...'

'Gnosistechnology, naturally... Hmm, yes, I'd almost forgotten you could adapt it like that... Of course, if you really wanted to improve things...'

Anji winced. So did Fitz.

'Remind me never to introduce them to You-Know-Who...' Anji murmured.

'Yeah, the way they're talking they could almost be his...' Fitz trailed off. 'They couldn't be... could they?'

Again, the silence that came over the football field was the sound of many people _not_ wanting to think about it.

Except Urd. Who raised an eyebrow.

'THAT'S NEVER GOING TO WORK! Tenchi-kun, try this on!'


'Oh no...' the boys mumbled.


Washu and Skuld did _eventually_ relent.

After the boys' 50th foot blister.

For some reason, Anji just happened to have a roll of elastoplast with her...



Urd frowned.

'Urd?' Bell said.

'Something _odd's_ going on here...' Urd mused.

Bell sat down beside her. 'Hmm?'

'Washu. Did you feel the _power_ coming off her?'

Bell nodded.

'That's Megami-level if I ever felt it.' Urd half-smiled. 'Every other person out there had Megami-granted powers, and she _still_ overwhelmed them...'

'Did you feel what happened when she came near Skuld?' Bell said softly.

Urd nodded. 'Hard _not_ to miss. That was a little _too_ close for comfort.'

Bell looked worried. 'Maybe...'

'Maybe?! We're just lucky Skuld's only Second Class!'

Bell frowned. 'It's just that... For a moment out there, I felt...' She went quiet. 'I felt another Megami.'

'_Another?!_' Urd yelped.

Bell nodded. 'Another.' She interlinked her fingers. 'Or something of that nature... We can be _very_ good at shielding ourselves '

'They're not shielding their power, though...' Urd observed. 'So _someone_ out there is a Megami hiding itself... but not its power...'

Bell frowned. 'Maybe not... There was... a sense of protection, preservation. It wanted to protect something.' She smiled shyly. 'It _is_ a very familiar feeling...'

'Or some_one_.' Urd completed. 'Wonder who...'

She smiled. 'Y'know, sis... _this_ looks like a job for the one and only SuperUrd! Detective Urd on the case!'

'Oh dear...' Bell sighed.


'Excuse me, do you know which way to the football ground?' Ryouga asked.

'Huh?' the man riding the camel said.

Camel? On a desert island?

Ryouga frowned.

Then again, there was all that sand...

Maybe if he went _that_ way...

The man on the camel shook his head as Ryouga set off. It was true, he thought. The Sahara Desert really could bake a man's brains...




Hinase checked its systems.

Then it did so again.

Oh dear.

Data file crosscheck confirmed.

Subject confirmed as one Ataru Moroboshi, fiance to Princess Lum of the Oni Empire.

Subject known to be most lecherous boy in the universe.

Subject rapidly approaching football pitch.

On which there are sixteen females.


Hinase sweatdropped.



Oh dear. Maybe Minagi-san wasn't going to listen.

But it had to tell someone...


Minagi jawdropped. 'Hinase?'

'We... err... have a problem.'

'A _problem_...?' Minagi said dangerously.

Hinase sweatdropped.

Oh boy...


Second half:



Wembley, 1966.

'Some people have come onto the pitch! They think it's all over!'

'Hey, where'd that kid with the bandana come from?'

'Oh no, he's about to tackle Moore!'

'Oh NOOOOO!!!!!'


Minagi gasped.

'Oh my god! The pitch has been invaded! What's the referee going to do about this?'

'Oh, give me strength...'



Ataru Moroboshi stopped.

Drank in the heavenly sights that surrounded him.

Gazed in awe at the wonders before him.

Or, from the perspective of everyone else on the planet, gawped and started drooling.

Ancient pervert instincts kicked in. Girls. Lots of..

Then instincts more ancient still activated.

If there's one thing Ataru Moroboshi is famous for, apart from his lecherousness, it's his well-known sense of imminent danger, and the best way to escape it.

Or, to put it more simply, his cowardice.

And, not to put too fine a point on it, there was enough danger on the pitch to satisfy Indiana Jones, James Bond and Rambo put together.

*This* was the point at which young Moroboshi's most primal instincts kicked in.

Unfortunately, his most primal instincts are linked to a certain alien Oni Princess.

And said Oni Princess has, well... a talent for throwing electrical bolts.

He's doomed.


Ukyou gasped. 'Oh dear Goddess...'

'Annnkkkk...' Fitz said.

/YES! At last that small and irritating perversion who inflicts himself upon beloved Nerima so shall be destroyed!/


Who else?

'Uh-oh...' Fitz murmured, recognising that look in the boy's eye from far too many teenage examinations in the mirror.

'Uh-oh...' Sam, Anji and Compassion murmured, recognising *that* glint from far too many Fitz-stares at their respective cleavages.

'Uh-oh...' Skuld said, recognising (or at least _thinking_ she did, which amounted to much the same thing) _that_ look from looking at Keiichi when he didn't know she was looking.

'Uh-oh...' Tenchi said, recognising that look from his dad... and his grandpa too, now he thought of it...

In short, _everyone_ on the football field eventually arrived at the same conclusion.


'HANDBALL!!!' the Principal yelled.


'Still handball, chil'.' So saying, the Principal held up a red card.


'You permanent record, of course.'

'What the *hell* makes you think I *ever* wanna be a football player? They're dirty, they're scruffy, they get turned into greasy spots on the floor...' Ataru shuddered. 'No thanks...'

'You _student_ record.'

'I. DO. NOT. GO. TO. YOUR. SCHOOL. And I never, *ever*, wanna, either...'

'It reminder. Reminder to me... to cut yo' hair!'


'Think we should stop them?'

'Well... he hasn't actually _done_ anything yet...'

'And he doth stand alone against the monstrous perversion...'

'We _should_ help... shouldn't we?'

'Aww, what the hell. It's not like we were doing anything else...'



Ataru tripped over the cybernetic cockroach.


'Did he _mean_ that?'

The Principal pulled out his scissors. 'Oh, that right, with these...'



The football impaled itself on the Principal's scissors.

He looked down in bafflement...

...just before a punch from Ryoko sent him through the stratosphere.

Ryouga blinked and looked down at his (rather sore) foot. 'I'm... back? I'm back! I'm back!'

Fitz facefaulted. 'Kidding. You have _got_ to be kidding...'

'Only P-chan...' Ukyou observed.

'I thought he never got _anywhere_ in the nick of time...' Izzy observed.

'He didn't.'

'He didn't?'


'Hey, is it half time already?' Ryouga asked.

'See what I mean?'

Ayeka sighed as the pitch descended even further into chaos.

If such a thing were possible.

She shook her head. 'Let's go back to the hotel...'

'Giving up _already?!_ You up to something, princess?' Ryoko said.

'What's the point?' Ayeka said. 'Where would going further get us?'

Ryoko frowned. _This_ wasn't the Ayeka she knew and argued with...

'It _was_ interesting...' Ayeka half-smiled. '...but we can't have it go on forever, can we?'

_That_ statement earned her a suspicious look from Ryoko. She couldn't be talking about... naaah.

Ayeka looked up at the darkening sky. 'Sooner or later, you have to make a choice - whether to change the game or continue playing.' The half-smile stayed on her face. 'Even if you just want to change the rules...'

'And what if the other players don't agree?' Ryoko asked. 'Ever think of that?'

Ayeka nodded. There was a hint of... sadness... there? Ryoko shook her head. Must be imagining it.

/What if you're not?/ an inner voice said. /What if...?/

'Then there's not much you _can_ do, is there?' Ayeka said. 'If the only other game is solitaire... and you have played _that_ for far, _far_ too long...'

Ryoko shivered. Oh yes. She knew _that_ feeling all too well.

'...Even continuing the game's better than nothing.'

'But it's not, is it?' Washu said. 'After all, there's always the after-match party!'

'Yeah!' Ryoko said. 'C'mon, princess! The game's not _everything!_' She smiled. 'There's getting pissed afterwards, and bad karaoke, even crappier jokes, and...'

Ayeka _frowned_.

Ryoko shut up.

'And going back to your life...' Ayeka said. 'But sometimes, the game is...' She struggled for the word. '... It shows you how _empty_ your life can be...'

'Then I'd say you need to change the rules you live your life by.' Washu commented.

Ayeka didn't respond.

'Feh.' Ryoko said. 'I know _one_ thing you should _never_ change.'

'Oh yes? Enlighten your mother...' Washu teased.

'Have a long soak in a hot bath whenever possible. With _plenty_ of bubbles. Oooh, and scented candles, and those warm, fluffy towels, and...' Ryoko trailed off as she realised Ayeka was _staring_ at her. 'Hey, even space pirates get dirty sometimes! What, we don't deserve a few _luxuries_ once in a while?!'

'Not when you stole them from their rightful owners...' Ayeka said.

Ryoko almost snapped off a witty (and cheerily insulting) retort.

Then she noticed the half-smile had crept back onto Ayeka's face.

She shrugged. 'Feh. If they wanted to join me, I wouldn't mind...' She smiled. 'After all, they only have to _ask_...'

'Of course, asking _can_ be a bit of a problem if you're several light years away...' Washu teased.

The bickering continued as, in twos and threes, they made their way back to some hot food, a warm room...

...and a very, _very_ nice bath.

Leaving only an unconscious Ataru Moroboshi on the field.

Inside Hinase, Minagi sighed. This, too, was the duty of a good space pirate.

And Moroboshi _was_ a galactic hero.

Sort of.

'Okay, Hinase. Meet me back at the hotel.'

Hinase sweatdropped. 'B-but what abou...'

Minagi smiled. 'That won't be a problem...'

With that, she teleported down.

Hinase sweatdropped. Again.


Ataru opened one eye.

A heavenly sight greeted it.

'A-are you an... angel?' he asked the vision.

The heavenly vision smiled. 'Well, an angel of mercy, anyway...'

Ataru just drank in this visitation from heaven while he could. A beautiful woman... and no Lum to interrupt.

His hand rose. Maybe... maybe, if she _was_ an angel, she might actually allow him a... a feel. He might actually _get_ somewhere for once...

He began to lose himself in dreams of a heavenly harem.

'Of course, _as_ a good angel...' The angel smiled.

An energy sword shot from her hand. '...I get the flaming sword, too.'

The crashing sense of having landed himself in it once again fell upon Ataru Moroboshi.

He slumped.

Minagi chuckled, and held him up as they made their way back.

Even good space pirates needed time off, after all.


Full time:

Keiichi sighed. 'Urd, this has _gotta_ be one of your more ridiculous ideas...'

'Silence! I'm trying to concentrate...'

Urd had decided to divine their future. Again.

Keiichi would have felt a lot better if she hadn't been using a football...

'Wait... The mists are clearing. I see... I see...'

Urd blinked in surprise.

'I see...

...strange and bizarre quests. I see...

...a knight in tarnished armour...

...A king who bears a most grievous wound, that none but the purest of souls may heal...

..I see...

...a hall of mirrors, the length of infinity, which reflect many faces, many selves...

...tales of ghosts and visions, that shall last for a long, long night...

...reunions, both wanted and desired, and none shall be what they expect...

...wild magics, unchained and unbound, which shall bring a rebirth undesired...

...and a final meeting, in pale, broken halls...'

'Are you _sure_ you haven't been watching "Merlin" again?' Keiichi asked suspiciously.

'The visions never lie.' Urd said (somewhat haughtily, Keiichi thought). 'They _will_ come to pass...'

'Oh? I seem to remember a certain fortune-teller who kept making fortunes up...'

'_That_ was a long time ago...' Urd sniffed. 'Besides, it almost came true, didn't it?'

'I wouldn't let Skuld hear you say that...' Keiichi pointed out.

'Mm... You might have a point there...' Urd said, rubbing her face unconsciously. 'What _would_ have happened if she'd really fallen for you?'

'There's no way she'd...'

'Just suppose, Keiichi.' Urd's expression became serious. 'What would have happened?'

'I...' Keiichi closed his eyes. 'I would have told her.'

'Told her what?'

'That... that I was in love with Bell... and that... there's no good way I could say this... with _Skuld_, it was like having a little sister, all over again... and _that_ was why I loved Skuld...'

'Playing big brother again, hmm?' Urd's eyebrow twitched. 'Still, I can see how _that_ would hurt...'

'I know...' Keiichi looked down at the ground.

'And there would have been Bell, too. Stuck between the man she loves and her baby sis...'

'I _know_. Would _you_ have asked her to make that choice?'

'I know my sister. She would have tried to support you both - no matter *how* difficult it became, or what it did to her.' Urd's eyes were dark. 'And I would have done what was best for _her_...'

Keiichi shuddered.

'You're a good guy, K1...' Urd continued. '...But one way or another, someone would've been hurt. All you could have done would be to make it as quick as possible.'

'Quick for who?' Keiichi murmured. 'But... I couldn't just abandon them, y'know? I couldn't... I couldn't lie... Not to Bell, not to Skuld. It... it wouldn't have been... _right_. Even if...' He hesitated. 'No. I couldn't just leave them. Not leave them like that...'

'Y'know something, K1?' Urd said. 'It's moments like _this_, I get why Bell loves you.'



Skuld's football bounced through the arch, slowing, slowing, slowing...

It rolled to a halt by a stone chair.

'Well, well...' an elderly voice croaked. 'The story begins again, does it?'

A hand lifted the ball up. 'So... All together. The Sisters Three. The Prince in Waiting. The Eternal Wanderer. Merlin's Apprentices...'

He laughed, not unkindly. 'Heh. The titles the Powers That Be come up with. Dramatic, certainly... but so _doom-laden_. So... OTT...'

'We shall see, then. We shall see.'

'And maybe, at last, I shall be free.'


Look Who's Talking, the day care centre outside continuity.

Current assistant helper, Kiyone, Galaxy Police Officer First Class.

The toddlers were asleep. *That* was a small relief, at any rate.

'*Finally*...' she muttered. 'I should've _known_ the bubblehead was gonna be trouble, even as a blasted _baby_...'

_I need a *rest*_ Kiyone thought. _Maybe some music..._

She flicked through the collection of CDs on the shelf. 'Lullabies... nope. "I'm Gonna Spend My Christmas With A Dalek"? No _thanks_... ABBA Gold? Hmm... Brittney Spears? I thought we'd outlawed that one... Gods and Demons...'

She picked it up. 'Hunh. Why not? Double CD... should lemme get to sleep no problem.'

She slipped one of the CDs out and into her specially-adapted Discman (a present from Washu. It did DVDs, CDs and [fnord. Currently unavailable for release on Earth]).

_Then_ she tried to get to sleep.


'Just *once*,' Kiyone screamed. 'just _once_, could you at least _try_ to do something right?'

'I'm sorry, Kiyone-san!' Mihoshi wailed.

'Oh yeah? Oh yeah? Listen up, bubblehead! No-one - and I mean *no-one* - could cause *that* kind of galactic devastation by _accident_!'

'We could.'

'Hey, we're not supposed to be here, Kei!'

'Oops. Sorry, get on with the dream...' Kei said apologetically.

'Yes... Yes... You're right...' Mihoshi started to cackle evilly. 'So... you've found the truth at last, for what little good it does...Of _course_ nobody could be so idiotic, so clumsy, so... so...'

'Mihoshi?' Kiyone suggested.

'_Exactly!_ I've made your life a living hell from the moment we met. Every arrest we made, I'd foul up, every commendation we got, I'd ruin...'

'I have lived for nothing, *nothing*, but to see your life become Hell itself... Always go with what you know best, I say...'

Kiyone looked up from the manga she was reading. 'So we can take it as read that you're a demon from Hell, sent here for the sheer purpose of making my life unbearable?'

Demon-Mihoshi shrugged. 'Pretty much.'

'Okay.' Kiyone said. 'Now we've got that sorted out...' She flung her arm out at the devastation that had been their mutual bedroom. '_Once_, just _once_, I want you to clean up. Is that too much to bloody ask?! Or do the cooking, or the washing up... _without_ having something go disastrously wrong?'

Demon-Mihoshi shrugged again. 'Is that what you really want?'

Kiyone thought for a moment. 'No. No. What I want, what I really, really want...'


'Where did _they_ come from?' Kiyone sighed, jerking a finger at the pop group behind her.

'They needed the work. Get on with it...'

'..is for you to help me _out_ around here, yeah. No matter what it takes, just _help_ me _out_ here, for cruk's sake!'

'Your wish is granted.'



The blonde woman lying on the floor groaned. 'Urrrggghhh...'

'I *said*... who the hell are you?!'

'Oh..' The woman looked up. 'Oh _HELL!_'

'SHHH! You'll wake the children!'

'Children?! Children?! This isn't This Time Round! What the-!?' The woman gasped. 'Oh no. Oh no. Awwww.... _cruk!_'

'Who the _hell_ are you?!'

The woman coughed. 'Mara. Demon First Class. As for the hell I am...' She grimaced. 'Some things really _were_ meant for man not to know...'

'Oh yeah? And just what do you think you're doing?'

Mara actually flushed. 'Umm... You wished me here. Remember?'


'I have to grant a wish to whomever releases me from my catalyst. _You_ released me from my catalyst...'

'Your...?' Kiyone stuttered.

Mara flipped the Discman open. 'The Demons CD. In this case... you _do_ get what it says on the tin...'

'_Wish_?!' Kiyone repeated.

'What I wish is for you to help me _out_ around here, yeah. No matter what it takes, just _help_ me _out_ here, for cruk's sake!' Mara said, in a perfect imitation of Kiyone's voice.

'That was... That was _you_?!'

'You betcha, sweet thing... So I'm stuck here till I help you. At _any_ cost.'

'Oh gawwwd...' Kiyone slumped against the wall.

'You said it...' Mara slumped beside her.


Far, far away...

Belldandy looked up. Those waves she'd felt, faint as they were, were very, *very* familiar.

And whatever had happened, whatever wish had been granted, the Ultimate Force would make _certain_ it came to pass...

She had a very, *very* bad feeling about this.




Copyright 2001 Imran Inayat