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An Oh! My Goddess mystery fusion
by DB Sommer

Disclaimer: I do not own the rights to Oh, My Goddess! They are owned by: Fujishima Kosuke, Kodansha, TBS and KSS films; AnimEigo, Dark Horse Comics and Studio Proteus. Additional credits are in the author's notes. Any and all C+C is appreciated. You can contact me at sommer@3rdm.net


Keiichi Morisato placed his razor next to the sink and grimaced as he stared mournfully at the mirror. Already a small drop of blood swelled on his cheek. It continued swelling larger until it trickled down his cheek, like a crimson tear leaving note of its passing behind. He grabbed a tissue and held it against the cut, hoping it wasn't too deep and he wouldn't be forced to wear a bandage. It had stung, but not that badly. Although he noted that his "safety razor" wasn't living up to its name.

There was a knock on the bathroom door. Belldandy's voice asked, "Is something wrong? I thought I heard you yelp."

"It's nothing. I just cut myself shaving," Keiichi reassured her while keeping the tissue pressed against the cut. It hadn't bled through yet, another good sign it was superficial.

There was a startled, "Oh!" and Belldandy opened the door.

Keiichi blushed slightly. They had been living together for years, and he should have grown accustomed enough to Belldandy's presence that her intrusion into the bathroom would be a common occurrence and of no real note, but his girlfriend's concern still moved him, almost as though they were a newly formed couple. Tamiya had once scolded Keiichi about secretly being a helpless romantic. Maybe he was right.

Belldandy made him remove the tissue. She pouted at the slight injury, then deliberately pressed a finger to her lips. After a moment, she removed it, and touched the cut.

Keiichi felt a faint tingling sensation where her flesh met his. It passed as quickly as it came, though Belldandy left her fingers gently touching his cheek. Involuntarily, his hand reached up and almost caressed hers before the more conservative part of his senses made him stop right before they touched. He let his hand return to his side. "What did you do?"

"I healed it." With a certain reluctance, she removed her fingers and picked up another tissue, then ran some water and dampened it slightly. She dabbed at his face, removing the small amount of blood that had remained.

Keiichi stared at his now unblemished cheek. "You didn't even chant."

Belldandy smiled. "It was only a minor injury, and for you, I can always do such things without having to call upon greater power."

"Thanks," Keiichi said, caught up in the moment of just how radiant Belldandy could be when doing any task. She was definitely a morning person, something that made him a touch envious since he always had to drag himself out of bed and douse himself with a cold shower before feeling up to confronting the upcoming tasks for the day.

Keiichi wanted to say more, but he sensed something that made the hackles stand up on the back of his neck; a stare that could be felt without being seen. There was only one person under this roof that could manage that. He looked over Belldandy's shoulder (since looking over her head was impossible for one of his smaller stature) and found the expected disapproving scowl Skuld was directing his way.

The younger girl's fingers unconsciously played over the prongs of one of her patented "Skuld Bombs". "And just what are you up to, dragging Belldandy into the bathroom with you while you're naked?"

Keiichi looked down at his body. While he had come out of the shower and started to shave right afterwards, he wasn't exactly naked. A towel was firmly wrapped around his waist. Still, it could have come undone easily, had Belldandy brushed against him in a certain way. Even the potential nudity was enough to make him blush.

"Keiichi cut himself shaving and I healed him," Belldandy said without a trace of guile.

"Oh," that eased Skuld somewhat.

Keiichi was surprised she dropped the potentially messy matter so easily. A couple of years ago she would have hurled the bomb at him and ordered him to stay away from her "Big Sister", and most likely in that order. Maybe she really was coming to terms that he and Belldandy were right for one another and would be willing to allow her beloved Big Sister to have a relationship with someone else.

"Is there something you needed?" Belldandy asked her sister.

Skuld holstered her bomb in a pouch at her waist. "I need to go back home and check on some programs on Yggdrasil," she explained. "I was going to run the tub full of hot water rather than trying to cram myself into something small."

"I'll help," Belldandy said, and moved to the tub.

"I'm sort of not done here," Keiichi pointed at the half of his face still lathered in shaving cream.

"We'll be done in a moment," Belldandy assured him.

"And besides, women are supposed to use the bathroom whenever and for however long they want," Skuld said testily.

Keiichi shrugged his shoulders, accepting having his "territory" muscled in on with resolve. Living with three women, he was lucky he managed to use the bathroom for as long as he usually did. Still, it was a small price to pay for the company, even if Urd and Skuld's tended to come with a tag that held a price of stress, rather than money, attached.

Keiichi ignored the running water and Skuld's talk of the programs she was going to run and continued shaving.

"I'm going out now," Keiichi informed Belldandy as he straddled his motorcycle.

She bowed in return. "Take care."

Keiichi couldn't help smiling. They sounded just like a married couple. Maybe someday it would become a reality. He had long ago accepted he and Belldandy were meant to spend a lifetime together. After all they had been through, only a fool would have thought otherwise. It was just a matter of graduating and acquiring a job he could make a living at before they could take that step. Curiously, he felt no rush or panic at proposing. A touch of anxiousness, perhaps, but that was it. All would happen in good time. Their relationship had been like that from the beginning. It was like a seed, one that had grown slowly, but its roots ran deep, and would one day bear the sweetest of fruits. There was no need to hurry. They had all the time in the world.

Belldandy appeared as though she would say something else, then a curious, almost troubled, expression clouded her features. She tilted her head upward towards the sky, staring at it intently. Without turning her head, she said, "Keiichi, I might be busy later. So if I'm not home when you return, don't worry."

The words had the opposite of their intended effect. He got off the motorcycle and moved closer to her. "Is something wrong? Can I help?"

She turned her gaze away from the sky and to him. "Do you love me?"

The question made him recoil. Belldandy was never that direct unless there was an emergency. Despite the surprise, the words came without hesitation, as though it was the most natural thing in the world. "Of course I do."

All concern disappeared and her beatific smile returned. "That's all I'll ever need. Take care today."

Hesitantly, Keiichi asked, "If you're certain?"

"Absolutely," she reaffirmed, and turned to enter the temple.

There was little else he could do about the situation without pressing on the matter, and one simply didn't press things with Belldandy. She did seem normal now, watching him expectedly. She'd start to worry about him if he refused to leave, especially since she was aware of his big test today.

He waved to her, and started up his bike. He lowered his helmet's visor over his face, took one last look to ascertain Belldandy was still not troubled, and headed out.

Having to focus his attention on the road took the edge off his concerns to the point of which he was left wondering if he had imagined the whole thing. Generally, Belldandy was so carefree one could mistake her not being as cheery as usual as worry. And if he was correct, if there was some problem she felt reluctant to share with him, they would deal with it together, like they always did. They had fended off everything, from Mara's shenanigans, to The Lord of Nightmares, to Celestine's apocalyptic designs. When one had to deal with problems of that magnitude, others tended to seem small and unimportant by comparison.

Somewhat more at ease, Keiichi peered through his helmet's visor and admired the town surrounding him as it passed by. Vaguely he remembered how it appeared before Belldandy had entered through the looking glass and into his life. The town had just been a place that surrounded the college, teeming with people he never truly saw, full of food, some spare automotive parts, and beyond that an object that had no meaning, so he left it alone. Now it was all different. The town was a vibrant place full of life and worthwhile things. Now when he drove through, he watched the people walking by, families spending time together, couples eating, shopping, and a million other actions going on at once. Before he passed by in ignorance, now he was aware of the eddies and flows of the world that had swirled around him, but he had been blind to. Now this place he adored every bit as Belldandy did. The eternal font of her faith had infected him, a virus of the most pleasant kind, and one he doubted he could live without.

Such thinking put him in a pleasant mood, and resolved his concerns about the upcoming exam. He had studied as well as could. There was nothing further to worry about. Either he would succeed or fail, but he would know the satisfaction of having tried to the best of his abilities. That was always something to be proud of; Belldandy had shown him that, among the other thousands of lesson she incidentally taught him with her approach to life.

Keiichi pulled up to a red light, noting that he was next to a large city bus that he was just ahead of. He took a moment to admire the spring day. It was very pleasant; only a small smattering of clouds, with the temperature just a few degrees from being too warm. If he did well on the test, he'd consider skipping his only afternoon class and see if Belldandy wanted to go on a picnic. Skuld was gone and Urd was somewhere else. There was a reasonable chance the two of them would have some time alone, and the day was too nice to allow it to slip away without doing something important with his girl.

Keiichi had just started to fantasize about what dress Belldandy would wear when there was a prickling sensation on the back of his neck, different from the one he usual received courtesy of Skuld. It was more disturbing, as though he was being watched.

For just a moment, Keiichi thought he caught out of the corner of his eye a tall man with dark hair wearing a black trench coat that flared toward the bottom, and black sunglasses staring at him from the curb. Just as Keiichi moved his head in that direction, the bus pulled out, blocking everything from view. By the time it passed, no one was present on that side of the street. It was odd, since there was no way the man could have moved fast enough to get out of sight, if he had been there at all.

A loud horn blew behind him. Realizing that the reason the bus had pulled out because the light had turned green, and that he remained in the middle of the street, blocking traffic behind him, Keiichi quickly pulled forward. Apparently it was a day to imagine things.

"Man! Glad that's over with."

"I know what you mean," Keiichi said to Tomo, one of his classmates, and one of the more attractive ones at that. Her physical appearance was similar to Sayako's, though her personality was drastically different. She was anything but conniving and wore a much more pleasant smile, similar, though paling in contrast, to Belldandy's.

Like Megumi, Tomo lived in an apartment off campus and complained about being alone so often. Keiichi had heard the sincerity of her complaints of loneliness, and befriended the girl. They instantly hit it off. They got along so well that Keiichi was considering inviting her over for dinner sometime. He had no fears that Belldandy would be jealous at his inviting a good-looking girl over, and would probably be delighted in helping to alleviate her solitude. That bond of trust between them made him realize just how lucky he was.

"You must have done pretty well on that test," Tomo said.

"What do you mean?"

"The way you're smiling. I assume you aced it?"

Keiichi laughed nervously. Though he was confident he had done well, the source of the smile was all Belldandy. It was probably best not to contradict Tomo's misassumption. The explanation sounded painfully sappy, even to him.

Keiichi was about to agree with Tomo when he felt the prickling sensation return. He noted a dark-garbed figure out of the corner of his eye again. Just as he turned to look in the direction, a mass of rugby players, obviously coming back from a successful practice, hurried past, tossing the ball between one another. By the time they had passed, the only people standing on the opposite side were an overweight couple that were lost in each others eyes. The man was nowhere to be found.

Still looking around, Keiichi asked Tomo, "Did you see some guy in a black trench coat standing over there?"

Tomo looked in the direction he pointed. "No. Why?"

"I thought I saw someone watching me."

"Could be someone stalking you. Maybe you got a secret admirer," Tomo teased.

"Ah, right." Keiichi laughed to reassure the girl. He'd wait on extending the invitation. Something wasn't right, and he needed to get to the bottom of it.

Parting company with Tomo, Keiichi headed to the Motor Club's clubhouse. He chose a course that would take him through wide open areas, forcing anyone following to reveal themselves. He tried subtly looking for any strangers, (though judging by the curious stares some of the passersby gave him, did it poorly and made himself an object of attention) but saw no one remotely like the stranger.

Keiichi switched tactics, and decided to lose any unwanted followers rather than forcing them to reveal themselves. He changed his course and hurried to an administration building and entered. However, rather than stopping, he simply cut through it and out a side door that led to a smaller pathway running behind several other buildings adjacent to the administrative one. He then switched routes again and headed to one of the nearby buildings that held one of his classes, a structure that was attached to a second building by a newer connector. Between the two buildings, there were at least eight exits on four sides he had to choose from. Again he chose the exit that was close to a narrow pathway again. He followed its twisty curves until it opened up and led to a tiny grove that he and Belldandy had relaxed in on several occasions. Once there, he hid himself out of sight behind several bushes and waited for someone to appear.

Ten minutes passed and there was not the slightest hint of pursuit. Keiichi began to feel foolish, as well as achy from crouching so low. With time on his hands, he sat down, took a careful evaluation of his behavior, and found he didn't care for the results. He was acting like a foreign spy being pursued by enemy agents, all but sprinting through the entire campus and now getting his rear end dirty squatting behind some bush, entirely on the basis that he had thought he saw something out of the corner of his eye. True, a number of highly unusual things had plagued his life since meeting Belldandy, and this would be far from the strangest, but there was a point where paranoia took over. This felt disturbingly like one of those times.

Standing up and brushing his bottom off, Keiichi took one last glance around, then calmly headed to his original destination.

"Hey, is anyone here?!" Keiichi called out as he entered the main room of the clubhouse. Usually someone was present, tinkering with the latest vehicle, bringing in new parts, or just goofing around between classes.

It was unusually dark for this time of day, the shadows seeming to cling to everything and gave the warm place a sinister bent. It left Keiichi with an uneasy feeling, almost as though this sanctum he and the others had created had been defiled in some unfathomable way.

More paranoia. He shook his head clear of such feelings and called out again. When no one answered, Keiichi relaxed and wondered if there was anything left in the community refrigerator. It was always a gamble, since Tamiya and Ootoki frequently cleaned it out and never seemed to find the time to replace anything.

Just as Keiichi was about to sit down a voice said, "I'm here."

The speaker detached himself from the shadows.

Keiichi failed to be surprised at what most would have considered an impossible appearance. He was left wondering if, despite his conscious efforts to relax, his subconscious had been busy at work preparing for this eventuality.

Now that the man stood plainly before him, Keiichi could see that the early glimpses were accurate. The stranger stood tall, around six feet, and had pale skin that offered stark contrast to his jet black raiment. He wore some sort of long coat with a black outfit underneath, though the bottom of the jacket had slits in it, enabling his legs to move freely. He wore a pair of sunglasses, inappropriate for an indoor setting, though Keiichi found them natural, as though the man would appear naked without them. His features marked him as a gaijin, a Westerner, but his Japanese was as flawless as Belldandy's. It was almost too perfect, without a hint of accent to indicate where he came from or whom he learned his flawless mastery of the language.

Even behind the glasses that hid his eyes, Keiichi could tell the man bore a serious demeanor. There was something in his bearing that made Keiichi think that he had that expression as frequently as Belldandy wore her pleasant one. It was like a default setting, telling much of the stranger's disposition before another word passed his lips.

"Why have you been following me?" Keiichi asked.

The man hesitated, as though some internal debate had come to a head. His stance firmed, and with just a hint of determination, he said, "I'm sorry. You're an unusual person. Very unusual. I don't think I've come across someone like you before. I just wanted to make sure you were what you appeared to be."

Keiichi didn't know how to respond to that. Had the man mentioned Belldandy or Urd as being the unusual ones, he would simply have attributed it to the stranger sensing their divine nature. But there was nothing special about Keiichi. He was embarrassingly normal.

The man bowed slightly. "I'm sorry. Where are my manners? My name is Neo, and I've come to help you."

"Help me?" Keiichi asked. "Help me do what?"

Neo began pacing, almost stalking, as he walked in a circle around Keiichi. "I am going to tell you many things which you will find hard to believe."

The man was trying to appear serious, or at least enigmatic. To someone with Keiichi's experiences, Neo fell well short of his desired goal. A laugh slipped past Keiichi's lips. "I kind of doubt that, but go ahead. Try and surprise me."

Neo seemed slightly taken aback by both the gesture and comment. He was bordering muttered something under his breath about 'Morpheus making it look easy'. Out loud, Neo said, "You're handling this better than I did. Maybe you are ready for the truth. Anyway, I'm going to say a great many things that will sound unbelievable, but are true. I'll prove them to you. After I am done explaining things, I will help you do what has to be done."

"What has to be done?" Keiichi asked, not liking the tone of finality in this "Neo's" voice.

Neo nodded. "Ordinarily I would make it more of a choice, like the one I was given, but there's something different about you. The more I look at you, the more I have a sense of urgency. And I can definitely tell that there are many forces dealing with you personally, more than I've encountered around anyone else. Perhaps you can help me understand why that is after I've helped you."

The references to "forces dealing with him" sounded like something involving Belldandy and the others; more indications that there was far more to this person that someone with a casual interest in him. "You're being vague. Why don't you just tell me what it is you want me to know, and then I'll see if you can help me or not?"

Neo nodded, obviously relieved at the reasonable suggestion. "A fair request. Prepare yourself, for I'm going to be blunt, though I think you're going to be able to deal with it better than I did," Neo said. He continued walking around, almost as though he found it impossible to stand still. "This world around you, the skies, the ground, the animals, the plants, everything you eat, everything you breathe, everything you can see, and I do mean everything, isn't what you think it is. It isn't real. All of this," he waved his hand through the air. "Is an illusion. It's the most complex computer program ever developed."

Keiichi laughed. "Oh, heck. I already know about all that."

Neo came to a dead stop, and for the first time since Keiichi had seen, was gaping in open shock. "You… know? You know it's all a program?"

"Yeah. It was explained to me a while ago," Keiichi confirmed.

"Who… who told you? Was it Morpheus, or someone else from Zion? Did you reject their offer, and they didn't wipe out your memory for some reason?"

"Ah, no. I don't know any Morpheus or anyone from this Zion place." Or at least Keiichi thought he didn't. He had met a lot of unusual beings through Belldandy, and might have forgotten some of them. Though from the touch of awe in Neo's voice, Keiichi had a feeling he would have remembered this Morpheus he was referring to. "Belldandy explained everything to me after we first met," Keiichi said.

It was Neo's turn to think. "I'm not sure I'm familiar with any Belldandy. It's a pretty distinctive name. I'm sure I'd remember it from the personnel lists." Neo shook his head, as though clearing it of the distraction. "So she told you the truth and offered to free you from the system?"

The question caught Keiichi off-guard. "Free me? From Yggdrasil? Ah, no."

"Yggdrasil?" Neo asked.

"The name of the computer that runs everything." Keiichi began wondering how much Neo really knew. Obviously, he was ignorant in some areas, and it might not be a good idea to give him accurate information until he made certain his interests were benign.

Neo seemed cautious as well. "I've never heard it called that before. If I remember correctly, Yggdrasil had something to do with Norse Mythology. A world tree which the Earth was based on. Not an inappropriate name, if a bit misleading." He seemed to be talking more to himself than Keiichi.

"Misleading?" Keiichi asked.

Neo nodded. "The Matrix, that's the proper term for all of this," he gave a wave of his hand, indicating everything in sight, "Is not everything, despite what I think you've been told. There is a world beyond this one, one based on reality, not an intricate computer program that's designed to pacify you while you fuel the computer system that runs everything."

"A world… outside this one?" Keiichi wondered if he was referring to where Belldandy, or possibly Mara, came from and was avoiding the proper name.

"Yes, the real world. A world where we all once existed, and should exist again." Neo moved closer and extended his hand. "Come with me, and let me show you everything."

There was sincerity in this strange man's voice. Something that made Keiichi know Neo believed with every fiber of his being what he was saying, and something about him that was trustworthy in a way that Mara could never be. Perhaps, Keiichi thought, he should take the man up on his offer, just to see what this place that Neo thought of as 'reality' was like, and then he could come to understand what he meant.

Keiichi moved forward, his hand hesitantly beginning to rise. He was within a half dozen feet of Neo when a heartrending scream of "NOOO!" filled the room, causing both men to cover their ears. From a nearby mirror, howling winds emerged from it and cut through the room, picking up Neo and flinging him through the air, as though he was a tiny doll caught in a tornado. His body was savagely hurled across the room and into a wall, shattering plaster and the brick behind it with bone-breaking force.

Keiichi's heart nearly ripped out of his chest with fear. He had recognized the voice, and never had he heard Belldandy filled with such terror, not even when he was possessed by the Lord of Nightmares.

Belldandy emerged a moment later from the mirror, her attention riveted upon Keiichi. She immediately placed herself between him and Neo. "Thank goodness! I almost didn't sense him in time."

"What's going on?" Keiichi asked.

Belldandy appeared on the verge of tears. "He's an evil person, Keiichi! The worst of the worst! He wants to take you away from me forever! Whatever you do, you mustn't listen to him and you mustn't go anywhere with him! If you do, we'll never see each other again!"

Never had Keiichi seen Belldandy in such an out of control state. She could be emotional at times, but never like this, with hatred directed at any person, and fear for Keiichi's own well being. He barely recognized her.

Neo finally stood up, white powder from the wall clinging to his black outfit. He brushed some of it up, body tensed as he stared at Belldandy. With a hint of mystery in his voice, he said to her, "I've never seen a program like you before. You're almost like the Oracle, but different. You're not like an Agent either. What are you?"

"The person who will protect Keiichi from you no matter what!" This time Belldandy's Angel, Holy Bell, arose from her back and above her. Moving as one, they gestured with their hands, summoning power, then pushed them in Neo's direction, palms forward. Winds more savage than before surged forth, cutting through the air so quickly they created a sonic boom and shattered every piece of glass in the clubhouse.

Neo was faster, inhumanly so, as he leaped out of the path of wind. Instead it impacted with the spot Neo had been standing in, blowing a large hole in the wall that led to the outside.

"Belldandy," Keiichi breathed in awe, now more scared for her than confused. She had never tried to hurt someone, and certainly not in such a brutal, and possibly fatal, manner. What was going on, and how could he put a stop to it?

"Keep back!" she said, as she and Holy Bell held their hands before him.

Instantly Keiichi found himself surrounded inside a glowing sphere of scintillating colors, almost as though he had been trapped inside a giant beach ball. He could barely make out Belldandy through white spots in the kaleidoscopic of brilliance that flowed around him.

"You'll be safe there," Belldandy assured him, then returned her attention to Neo.

Neo was crouched low, his hands up in a martial artist's stance and ready for anything.

This time Belldandy and her angel made a sharp, horizontal arcing motion with the side of their hands. Neo dove low to the ground, almost lying on his chest. A split-second later, the entire section of the building behind him, right at what would have been neck level, sheared cleanly in two. That, combined with the destruction from the previous attack, caused the entire wall to collapse. With the first level of the structure destroyed, so did the upper levels, and the entire side of the clubhouse fell backward and out toward the street. A loud roar deafened all within hearing distance as tons of edifice struck the shattered against the ground outside.

Neo returned to his vertical state and remained motionless. Belldandy and Holy Bell were just as still, each taking a measure of the other as the dust settled around them. By the time the miniature earthquake caused by their destruction subsided, an entire side of the clubhouse bore a closer resemblance to an open air stadium.

"Very impressive," Neo admitted. "You're some sort of personal defense program for him, aren't you? What makes him so important that you would be assigned to keep me from him?"

"Keiichi is special because of who he is, not what he is," Belldandy said firmly. "And he asked me to stay at his side forever, and I will. I won't let you take him, no matter what."

Within the sphere, able to hear what they were saying, Keiichi tried telling Belldandy to be careful. There was something about Neo that hinted of still unrevealed power. Before, Keiichi simply suspected it, but now he knew for certain, though he wasn't sure how. It was something inside that seemed to tell him so. Another curiosity was that the same internal sense also informed him that despite Belldandy's obvious fear of Neo, Keiichi could sense no malevolence in the dark suited stranger. It didn't make sense. Why would she be so terrified of this someone that wasn't evil and at least believed he was helping others?

Despite Keiichi's shouts that both of them should calm down, none his words seemed to leave the sphere. He pounded on the sides, trying to gain Belldandy's and Neo's attention so they could talk things out. If that happened, they could clear up the misunderstanding and everything would end peacefully. Keiichi was certain of it.

The standoff between the pair ended as Neo made a waving motion with his hand, indicating Belldandy should come toward him. Rather than moving forward, Belldandy made slashing motions with her hands, smaller than the previous ones. Again air blades sliced across the space between her and Neo. He was barely able to keep ahead of each one as the smaller and more concentrated slashes narrowly missed him.

With each evasion, Neo circled around Belldandy, tucking and rolling, leaping up and down, twisting abruptly and making his path of flight as erratic as possible. Despite his best efforts, Belldandy drew ever closer with each attack, the margin for error dwindling as the blasts sought out his body. Eventually, Belldandy's aim drew close enough to slice off a part of Neo's sleeve. The fabric fluttered to the ground, the cut as smooth as if it had been done by a surgeon's scalpel.

The ensuing blast clipped several hairs from the top of Neo's head, and the next attack, if it closed the same distance as the previous ones, would draw blood. Belldandy, rather than being overjoyed at the impending success, seemed more intense than ever. She drew back her hand, and prepared to unleash the next, probably fatal strike, when she gave a cry and barely stopped her hand in time.

Neo's path had taken him behind Keiichi's sphere. The hand motion stopped, allowing the razor sharp path of air to come within a hairsbreadth of the edge of Keiichi's temporary prison.

Neo was quick to take advantage of the lull, and leaped over the sphere, catching the still petrified Belldandy off-guard. She looked up, just in time to see a heeled boot come her way.

But rather than attacking her, Neo struck Holy Bell right where she was connected to Belldandy's back. The kick went clean through the Angel, as though she was as immaterial as a ghost. However, Holy Bell's reaction was different as her form became separated from her host. She drifted away Belldandy, as cleanly severed as the sleeve from Neo's outfit. The Angel gave one faint cry, and then disappeared as quickly as she came.

Neo took a short leap back, giving himself a half-dozen feet away from his remaining opponent. "I thought as much. That thing was some sort of booster program that was making you more powerful. I'll definitely have to let Morpheus know of this."

"Keep away from Keiichi!" Belldandy cried out, as she took to the air, momentarily surprising Neo.

She flew outside, a good thirty feet into the sky, and raised her hands above her. From out of nowhere, blue energy formed an intricate pattern of symbols: multiple circles with numerous writings in them combining to create an even larger circle above her.

As Keiichi looked on, stunned into silence, he sensed something different about Belldandy, as though she was taking some integral part of the energy from herself in order to form the pattern above her. It was something dangerous, as much to her as to whom she was directing her creation toward.

"NOOO!" Keiichi shouted at the top of his lungs. Again his voice failed to penetrate the sphere, as neither combatant took notice.

High above, Belldandy shouted, "I won't let you take Keiichi, even if it means destroying myself!"

The declaration seemed to catch Neo off-guard for just a moment. It was in that second that Belldandy launched her attack. Every circle seemed to act like a miniature spotlight, all of the beams focusing and overlapping perfectly on the same target: the center of Neo's chest. A second later, the large circle the smaller ones composed went from blue to red. Then, like the smaller ones before, the entire circle emitted a larger, more powerful a beam of light.

However, Neo raised his hand up in the split-second between when the smaller lights bore down on him and when the larger one changed color. What should have struck at the speed of light, instead became perceptible to the naked eye. The large beam managed to cross three quarters of the distance from circle to man, but lost its speed by nine-tenths for every foot it traveled. By the time it came within a half dozen feet of Neo, it had slowed to a crawl before stopping altogether.

Neo looked at the end of the shaft, as though it was a solid thing. "Very powerful, but I'm afraid it works on the same principle as bullets, and I know how to handle those. It's not the size of the program, but how its executed. Beating this one was something I learned a long time ago," he informed her.

The light dissipated, as did the circles it came from. Belldandy was left hovering in shock at her ineffectual attack.

Now it was Neo's turn to take the offensive. He crouched low, the bottom of his outfit pooling beneath him, making it appear he was squatting in a small pond of night. And then he took off in what looked like a leap, but was actually a path of flight as he soared upward, exactly as Belldandy had earlier. As straight as an arrow, he cut through the air. Fist extended in front of him, it slammed home to its intended target: Belldandy's jaw.

The solid blow made the Goddess fall from the sky, plummeting like a rock headfirst to the ground. Keiichi screamed impotently from his cage as he saw Belldandy head toward the earth. It wasn't fair! He shouldn't have been trapped within this stupid ball of light. He should have been out there, fighting side-by-side with Belldandy, like they had to protect Celestine from Heaven's wrath in the form of Gungnir. And now Belldandy might die, while he was trapped in the prison that was supposed to protect him, when it was he who should have been protecting the woman he loved more than anything else. Why couldn't he be there to save her for once?! He would do anything for the power!

And then something happened, almost as though a switch was thrown inside him. Suddenly, the light around him, the world around him, seemed to shift. The changes that had been happening since the beginning of the battle, the ones that allowed him to sense Neo's inner self and Belldandy's machinations when she created the magic symbol, suddenly made sense, though in a way his conscious mind had never realized before.

Everything around him, every person, every item, every molecule, all of what was "reality" made sense in a different way. It was like it was all nothing more than ones and zeros, organized in unbelievably numerous ways, to be certain, but still nothing more than two digits. Neo, Belldandy, even himself. He understood what they were made of, and more importantly, how everything worked.

The cage was actually a simple thing. Hardly a prison at all. Keiichi couldn't believe he had missed its obvious design, and more importantly, how to take control of it..

He released himself by opening a side of the sphere, but that wasn't enough. His love was still falling, and the way things were designed, the ones and zeros of the "ground" and "falling Belldandy" would cause damage, perhaps irreparable, to the latter.

No! He had to stop it. He would stop it. There was no time to alter the structure of the ground; understanding was not the same thing as action. But luckily, what had once served as his prison would instead become Belldandy's salvation.

He altered the glowing ball so it extended itself. The colors changed from a sphere to a horizontal rectangle, unfurling like an elongated carpet. Its original design was such that it protected anything on the inside from harm, and by having Belldandy impact with the "inside" of the rectangle, so too would it protect her.

No more than a handful of centimeters remained when it reached the falling Goddess. She landed head first with an impressive amount of speed built up, but the sphere protected her, absorbing her inertia while limiting the impact so that it was little more than the caress of a feather to her body. Her hair pooled around her head as she stared in stunned shock at what had happened, and remained motionless on the "carpet" Keiichi had utilized to save her.

Once she was safe, Keiichi immediately recalled the rectangle to him, drawing Belldandy to his side. He bent over and held her in a gentle embrace, tears trickling down his face at how near a thing it had been.

"Kei… Keiichi," Belldandy said, first in confusion, then in relief, and finally in joy.

Neo, who remained hovering right where he had stuck Belldandy, watched the spectacle in open wonder. Duty beckoned him. Unable to remain apart from events, he began to move forward.

Despite every ounce of his attention being focused upon Belldandy, Keiichi caught the movement out of the corner of his eye. Not knowing Neo's intent, and not really caring, Keiichi held out his palm and shouted, "Keep away."

It was similar to Belldandy's slashes with the air, somehow even then Keiichi had sensed subconsciously how she was doing it. Only Keiichi dulled the steam, and made it wider.

As much from surprise at Keiichi's ability to summon the blast, as well as the wide swath it entailed, Neo was unable to dodge the "attack". Instead he held his forearms before himself and allowed the wind to push him back several dozen meters, unharmed, though further away from where he started. When the gust died out, he again turned his attention to Keiichi, though maintained the distance the younger man had seemed to desire.

There was no small amount of awe in Neo's voice as he said, "Now I understand why you felt so odd, and why the Matrix has shown such interest in you. You're like me. You can control everything too. This should be impossible. The Oracle said I was 'The One'."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Keiichi asked, keeping his guard up and Belldandy close.

"It's the prophecy. 'The One' is supposed to save everyone from the computers that control most of humanity."

"Never heard of it," Keiichi admitted.

Neo shook his head and pressed on. "It doesn't matter. Now you have to come with me. I might not be the person the prophecy refers to. It might be you. Or maybe it's some combination of the two of us. What I do know is, with you helping out, we'll double our chances to liberate Zion and others from the Matrix." Neo began to float towards the pair once more.

Sensing his intent, Keiichi warned, "I'm not going anywhere without Belldandy."

Neo shook his head. "You can't. In the beginning, I might not have been able to sense what you really were, but I know for a fact she's just a program. I can't rescue her from the Matrix. This is her only reality. She can't exist outside of here the way you can."

"Then I'm not going," Keiichi said, uncharacteristic firmness in his voice.

"You have to. This isn't real. The real world is out there. Let me take you there." Neo floated closer still.

Belldandy wrenched herself out of Keiichi's grasp and stood as a barrier between him and Neo. "No! I won't let you take him away from me!"

Refusing to allow Belldandy to take the risk alone, Keiichi stood beside her, though his inclination was to stand in front and protect her himself. Despite his instincts, he suppressed them. He knew Belldandy well enough that she would not allow him to bear all the risk. No, they would stand side-by-side, as they had in the past. Lessons learned through many trials and tribulations showed that their combined whole was far greater than sum of their parts.

Perhaps Neo understood it too, for he drew no closer. "I won't try to drag you kicking and screaming from the Matrix; that wouldn't make me any better then the computer that runs it. But let me guarantee you that there are others, billions of others, that need your help."

"I have someone here that needs me even more." Keiichi squeezed Belldandy's hand.

In response, she turned to him, tears welling in her eyes. "Oh, Keiichi," she sighed.

Neo's eyes darted back and forth between the two, as though they were an unfathomable enigma, one he was afraid to approach. Perhaps because it seemed familiar in a way, something similar to what he shared with another, though she was of flesh and blood, rather than a unique combination of numbers.

Slowly, as though the words were known, but had to be dragged out of him, Neo said, "I don't know how it's possible, but maybe you're right. Maybe you are needed here as much as I'm needed out there. In any case, I know no good will come from trying to make you leave."

Both Keiichi and Belldandy nodded their heads in exact time with one another.

Neo's head suddenly jerked up, as though he sensed something drawing near. He said to the pair, "I'm going now. I will say one thing, though, Keiichi Morisato. I'll leave you well enough alone, but I ask the same of you. I have ones I care about too, and I won't allow them to be jeopardized anymore than you would allow her," Neo indicated Belldandy with a nod of his head.

"Fair enough," Keiichi said, again somehow sensing the truth and determination in Neo's voice. No, he would not be a good man to anger. Not at all.

"I… will agree also," Belldandy added.

Of all the surprises Neo had suffered throughout the day, it was obvious that the vow was by far the greatest. "Are you serious? You know what you are, what you've been designed to do. Can you make that promise, let alone keep it?"

Belldandy nodded, her hand never leaving that of the man beside her. "Keiichi is more important to me than anything. I would choose him over everything else, even Kami-sama himself, if it came to that."

"And I would do the same for her," Keiichi vowed.

That seemed to satiate Neo's doubts. Before he could say anything else, his head jerked upward again. In the direction he looked, a dozen bright lights were coming from the north, drawing ever closer. They held a hint of menace to all who could see them.

Neo said to Keiichi, "I have to get to a phone and make a call. With luck, I'll see you again." Behind his sunglasses, the couple could sense the shift in his attention. "Perhaps even both of you, under more pleasant circumstances."

Belldandy smiled in return. It was as beatific as Keiichi had ever seen. "I'd like that every much."

Neo turned to go. Before he could leave, Keiichi said, "Good luck. I hope you find what it is you're looking for."

"And I hope you do too." With that Neo flew off at what were easily supersonic speeds. The lights coming from the north veered and followed in his wake, though it was obvious that as fast as they were, they could never hope to match his speed.

Keiichi stared at the sky as Neo's form dwindled into the nothingness. Despite all that had happened, entailing events with a far more ominous foreboding than anything he had experienced before, as well as the curious awakening within him, Keiichi felt no sense of dread or doom. He instead placed his hand on Belldandy's shoulder and drew her closer.

For just a moment, she shifted uncomfortably in his grip. She looked sadly at Keiichi, and a hint of melancholy was in her eyes. "Keiichi, I don't want there to be any secrets between us. What Neo said about the world out—"

Keiichi placed a finger to her lips, cutting her off. Instead he asked, "Do you love me?"

Belldandy could not help answering instantly. "Of course I do."

"Then that's all I'll ever need," he assured.

Relief washed over the goddess. She sank deeper in his grip. No more words were exchanged. No more were needed. It was something that went beyond the ones and zeros that Keiichi found the world now defined in. Maybe Neo had understood that too, which was why he had left so easily despite the stated importance he believed Keiichi possessed. If not, Keiichi felt sorry for him. Anyone who couldn't feel an invisible bond like the one he and Belldandy possessed would never truly be alive.

Within the central processing unit of the Matrix, located in a place where few could enter, The Architect smiled as he received the status report on the experimental subroutine he had created several years ago. Originally, the "Oh! My Goddess" project was supposed to be the newest and surest way devised to keep people happy in the Matrix, with no desire to ever leave it, even if the opportunity presented itself. Love was one of the most powerful emotions in human; every study, as well as humanity itself, confirmed it. Presenting humans with a specially designed specific program that was best suited to "love" them, satisfying that desire, would allow everything else to fall into place. Oh, despite the relationship, there would be still be conflict, problems that arose that would bestow upon the humans a feeling of accomplishment when they were successful, and sometimes even small setbacks when they were not (for humans seemed to desire a small smattering of failure to make them appreciate success all the more), but overall, they would be complacent, and more important, happy.

A great deal of resources were allocated to the initial experiment. No amount of power was to be spared in testing what might be the revolutionary program that would solve the centuries-old problem of humanity wanting to leave the Matrix when it stumbled upon the truth. This plan would make them make them want to stay despite it. To prove its universal nature, the human Keiichi Morisato was chosen randomly, and the experiment was initiated. A program was tailored to his specific attributes.

And the program was a success, at least in the initial stages. A relationship had slowly developed between Keiichi and the masterpiece of design: the Belldandy Program. Keiichi was introduced to the idea of his world being run by a computer, and felt no anger or resentment over it. He was content with his life, despite conclusive evidence that a higher power was watching out for him. And more importantly, he had fallen in love with the Belldandy Program. Finally, the Matrix had successfully created a program that could duplicate all the chaotic nuances that made up humans so that there was no way to tell a program apart from a real one, no matter how long a human remained with it.

But as time passed, something odd began to occur in the Belldandy Program. Even though it had been designed to deal with, and even exhibit some chaotic tendencies so as to match itself with the human, there were certain parameters that it was supposed to perform within. It exceeded those on a multitude of occasions. Worse, it demonstrated a tendency to choose the wants and desires of Keiichi over those of the Matrix when given problems that would force a choice between the two. It had been nothing terminal to anything the Matrix had done, but it was the idea that something so unthinkable could occur. The Belldandy Program was no rogue, but a specifically designed model. Such a flaw was theoretically so remote as to be impossible.

Attempted patches were summarily rendered ineffective, so a second program was created to bring the Belldandy Program back in line. However, it quickly became evident that the Urd Protocol (a variant of the Belldandy Program) also failed to fix the bugs. A second program, Skuld-01, also failed. Worse, over time, the two demonstrated erratic behaviors similar to the Belldandy Program. It was like a virus that was spreading from one corrupted source and contaminating all that had prolonged contact with it, though there seemed to be no change in the code itself. It defied explanation, and what defied explanation should be deleted.

However, by some stroke of coincidence, The One had intruded upon the Oh! My Goddess Program. And wonder of wonders, despite being confronted with the truth, Keiichi Morisato had chosen to remain in the Matrix, to the point of resisting The One's efforts, confounding The One and forcing him to leave, his mission unsuccessful. The Oh! My Goddess program was a success, despite its erratic behaviors and unforeseen actions. After all, the end result was what mattered. Perfection was projected to be only fifteen years away. A mere blink of the eye to the centuries the Matrix had existed.

Now all that was remained was to take the next stage of testing, by allowing the Oh! My Goddess program to run (within certain parameters) in the Matrix proper, rather than the area it had been cloistered in, and see what the results would be. Despite the erratic behavior, every test indicated that even if the program did act as a virus to other programs and placed the wants of a human within the Matrix over the Matrix itself, the program could be quickly purged and deleted before it contaminated the rest of the Matrix. All of the tests agreed on that conclusively. The only way the Oh My Goddess program could escape the multitude of anti-virus safeguards that would be placed around it was if The One himself was at the center of the program. And that was impossible since The One had already been identified and disconnected himself from the Matrix.

Yes, it was time. The Architect began the task of moving the program that would change everything into the Matrix.


Author's notes: Canon with the events of the Matrix Reloaded? Nah. It's just an alternate look at what could happen with revolution ending and the Prophecy being fulfilled. BTW: "The Matrix Reloaded" was written by Larry Wachowski and Andy Wachowski, was produced by Silver Pictures Productions, NPV Entertainment, and Village Roadshow, and is owned by Warner Brothers Pictures International. I don't own anything related to the Matrix. If I did, I'd be "loaded" too. ^_^

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