It was dark.

He felt as if he were incapable of moving.

The world seemed eternally unchanging.

Eventually, there was a light. It grew brighter. It was round, almost tunnel-like. Where had he heard about this?

Was he dead?

Sousuke opened his eyes. An unfamiliar woman was shining a penlight in his eyes.

"Welcome back, soldier. I understand you've been through quite a bit. I guess some people take their war games very seriously. You collapsed on a cot after your friends brought you back. Naked, as I understand it. Those must have been some rather interesting games." The woman winked at him.

She was wearing a white coat with a red cross sewn on the pocket. A doctors bag sat near her feet.

"You've been out for close to three days. There has been a rather noisy crowd of young ladies hovering around you. I can see why. You're fairly handsome. Perhaps you are still very sick. I may need to stay another day or two. Is it stuffy in here, or is it just me?" She went to unbutton her top button, but her arm was roughly yanked.

"Thank you doctor. You've been a big help. No doubt there are sicker patients that need your help somewhere." Kaname's look would have frightened anyone. "And, you should remember your Hippocratic oath. First, do no harm."

The Doctor opened her mouth, but Kaname continued.

"If you stay around any longer, I have a strong suspicion that someone will be harmed." Kaname was pushing the other woman towards the door. She whispered something that Sousuke did not hear.

The doctor's pager went off.

She looked relieved as she left.

"HMMMPPPFFF!!!" Kaname brushed her hands together.

Mission accomplished.

Time to talk to Sosusuke.

When she turned around, she almost burst the blood vessels in her forehead. "Hey. HEY. HEY!!! What are you all doing? I was first in line...."

She had intended to be the first to talk to Sgt. Sleeping Beauty.

Mutsumi, Shinobu, Su, Motoko, and Sara were all pushing and shoving, fighting for position around a rather alarmed looking sergeant.

Kaname reached for the halisen, but stopped.

She had never used the fan on another woman.

How could she ever do that?

Her eyes fell on something else. Yes, that would do. She grabbed the AK-103 assault rifle that Shinobu had carried inside. She took out the clip, inspected it, then slammed it back home.

'Good, there were at least 10 out of 30 rounds left. More than enough.'

Ra tat ra tat ra tat ra tat ra tat ra tat ra tat ra tat ra tat ra tat

Kaname fired at the ceiling. Large flakes of plaster fell like snow.

What was a little more damage around this place?

"I said I was first in line. A little privacy, please." She waved the gun ominously.

The others stepped back.

"How are you doing Sousuke? You had me REALLY worried."

"Kaname?" Sousuke noted that she was wearing shorts. There was a large bandage around one lower leg. "Kaname, were you wounded?" Sousuke tried to sit up, but Kaname wouldn't let him.

"Yes, Sousuke. But I'm fine. I certainly learned to respect what you do. It isn't easy." Kaname had a rather intense look in her eyes.

"Kaname...." Sousuke couldn't talk with her finger on his mouth.

"Listen, Sousuke. I'm trying to tell you something important. I know I'm not always easy on you. And I've realized that I really don't know all that much about you. I just want to tell you that I think you are really really great! She gave him a quick kiss on the cheek.

Su and Sara had been furiously scribbling.

Su had drawn a Molmol national flag. Sara had drawn the Stars-and-Stripes.

Each had written a large number as well.

They held up their papers for Kaname to see.

The Molmol judge had given her a 6.5. The American judge had given her a 5.5.

Mutsumi put her hand over her mouth to hide the laughter. Motoko actually smiled. Shinobu looked embarrassed. Kaname raised the AK-103. The clip was empty.

"Thank you, Kaname." Sousuke said. Kaname smiled. She pulled down on one eyelid and stuck out her tongue at the other girls.

Sara X-ed out the 5.5 and changed it to a 4.0

"My turn!" Motoko walked slowly to Sousuke's side, dragging a large sack behind her. It left a long red trail on the floor.

The placid warrior was wearing her sister's kimono. She bowed. "Sempai. Your fight against all odds was an inspiration. Please. Teach me." She kneeled, and held out her sword to Sousuke.

"Miss Aoyama, you are already a great warrior." Motoko blushed furiously, hearing Sousuke say that. "There is nothing I can teach you about the warrior spirit." Motoko's eyes sparkled. "Is there something in the bag that you wished to show me?" Sousuke eyed the bag.

"Yes. I decided to follow the way of the samurai during my battle. You inspired me to regain my courage and reach new heights. I present these prizes to you." Motoko kicked the bag. Two heads from enemy soldiers rolled out onto the floor. The others remained inside.

"Very nice cuts." Sousuke said, approvingly. Motoko swooned.

Mutsumi did too, but for different reasons. Shinobu's eyes were spinning spirals too fast to see.

Kaname counted her blessings. She had threatened a girl like THAT with a rifle and lived to tell about it..

Su and Sara held up 10.0s

Tama flew in, circled, and landed by Sousuke's head. She walked up and stuck her head by Sousuke's ear. Sousuke looked as if he were listening very intently. "Thank you" Sousuke said.

Su jumped, stepped off of Kaname's head, flipped, and landed straddling Sousuke.

"Tama, you naughty turtle. It is my turn to talk to Sousuke." Su looked out of the window, seeing the glow from a large red moon. She shimmered and took on her adult form. "I remember something you wanted earlier, future husband."

Su proceeded to remove her top.

Sosuke began to sweat rather profusely.

Kaname reached for the halisen.

'There are exceptions for everything.'

Haruka put a stop to Su's little game. "Su, that's enough. Put the top back on. We don't get that much fan service, not even in the OVAs."

Su reluctantly complied. Then, she suddenly smiled a large smile. "I'll wait until we're off screen. Right, future husband?" She got up and spun around. "You do owe me something for the damage you did to my Mecha Tama."

"Uh..." Sousuke looked at Su, then looked at Kaname. He closed his eyes.

Mutsumi had come to. She walked over to Sousuke, rolling her hips in exaggerated fashion. "I'm so happy to see that you are safe, Sousuke. Can you imagine Su wanting to get naked like that? We won't let her bother you any more." Sousuke sighed, looking relieved. "You need a much more mature woman. What do you think about this?"

She pulled a lacey red nightie out of a bag she had been carrying.

Keitaro, passing by, fell to the floor, blood spraying out from his nose.

"Uh..."

"Oh my! How nice..." Mutsumi leaned over and gave him a long deep kiss. "Ooops. I don't know why I keep doing that."

"Hey!"

"Hands off!"

"Lips off...and EVERYTHING else too."

"My turn my turn"

"STOP IT!!!" Kaname broke one of the remaining intact pieces of furniture with a smack of her halisen.

The other girls turned to look at her.

"What's with you people. Don't you get it yet? Sousuke is as clueless as they come. Deadpan. Serious to a fault. Very little sense of humor. If it's not in the manual, or not in his bag, it's not in his head. He is the furthest thing from a hunk! That's just the way things are in our show." Kaname was red in the face, breathing hard. "Right, Sousuke?"

"Uh...."

"Oh my. I see…." Mutsumi put her hand up near her face, winking at Su and Shinobu.

"I can understand that…." Motoko sounded serious.

"OK." Su grinned.

"T-There's only one p-problem…." Shinobu looked over at Mutsumi.

Kaname raised one eyebrow.

"We're not in your show!" Mutsumi tried to get close to Sousuke again, using her weight to shove Su out of her way.

"My turn my turn my turn."

Sara watched the older girls arguing. Sighing, she wished she was more grown up. As the others tussled with one another, the young girl went and sat by Sousuke. Eyes alight, she detailed her adventures to him, describing each and every explosion she saw or caused.

When she finished, it was Shinobu's turn.

She had taken off her blood-stained black outfit. She wore a pretty flower dress. She handed the satchel back to Sousuke. He wouldn't accept it.

"You may keep this, Shinobu. Trust me, I have much more where this came from. By all accounts, you did yourself very proud."

Shinobu blushed, bringing her hand to her mouth. She suddenly looked very timid. "T-thank y-you. I owe it all to you. They will not allow me to keep these. I wish you didn't have to leave...." With that, she ran from the room.

Sousuke wiped his brow.

Surviving all that was almost as tough as the fight with Gauron.

But, that should be the last of it.

"Do you have time for one more, Sergeant?" Sousuke sat up at attention upon hearing that voice.

Kaname's face went very bleak.

"Madame Captain, what are you doing here?"

Tessa was standing in the doorway, flanked by a pair of Mithril MPs.

"Why Sousuke, aren't you happy to see me?"

Tessa looked like the cat who had just swallowed the canary.

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Tessa's arrival took the Hinata Apartments by storm.

She hadn't come merely to play. There was official business to discuss. It was a welcome opportunity for everyone involved.

That did not mean that everyone was thrilled to see her.

"Sergeant Sagara, I see that you have required medical attention. I hope your injuries are not too serious. By report, you performed magnificently and did Mithril proud." Tessa's eyes sparkled as she turned on her biggest smile. "I see you have developed quite a following."

Tessa had noticed the women clamoring for Sousuke's attention. She also had noticed that Kaname was there, as she had expected.

"It looks like you are not limiting yourself to one option." She quite purposely stared at Kaname. "That's verynice to see. I certainly wouldn't like to see someone as wonderful as you sell himself short."

Kaname growled, squeezing the halisen.

"Uh...Madame Captain?" Sousuke was suddenly feeling unwell again.

Kurz and Kitsune had walked up. "H-e-y-y-y-y, Tessa babe! It's good to see you here. Rest assured, I'll explain things to Sgt. Clueless later on. I shouldn't be surprise that you've come to congrtulate me in person."

Kaname looked as if she wanted to do something to Kurz. It had nothing to do with congratulations.

"Sgt. Weber, it's good to see you are uninjured. By all accounts, it appears that you have done yourself proud as well." Tessa smiled and winked to Kitsune. "I can't tell you how surprised I was to hear it. When I told Lt. Cmdr. Kalinin the news, he accused me of taking drugs. I've never been so embarrassed, but I suppose that is was very understandable."

Tessa shook Kitsune's hand while Kurz sputtered.

Both women introduced themselves.

"I will say I am surprised though. With all the Weber... coughcough... charm, shouldn't I have expected to find a crowd of women around you?"

"Tessa, Tessa, Tessa. That would have been simple enough. This time, I decided to go for quality over quantity. Right, Kitsune?" He gave Kitsune's arm a squeeze. "I found the good one."

"I can't argue with that, sugar. But, it might have been smarter not to admit it. At least not in front of THEM."

Kitsune pointed at the young ladies slowly walking towards them.

"Mutsumi, go get Shinobu. We shouldn't exclude her from this." Motoko drew her sword, muttering 'quality'. She opened her bloody sack and looked inside.

She muttered some more.

There ought to be room for one more.

"'Quality?' That sounds yummy!" Su was holding two large devices, one on each hand. Both were painted with the three eye design. Great bolts of electricity ran between the two of them.

"You were a hero yesterday. Today you're just another LOSER like Keitaro." Su was holding her strange stone idol head above her own.

"You didn't get started yet, did you. No no no. You have to wait for me." Shinobu had changed back into black. She was carrying a large night stick.

"Oh my! Should I call the doctor back in?" Mutsumi smiled, putting her hand up by her face.

"For good luck!" Kitsune kissed Kurz on the cheek.

She whispered in his ear:

"Run."

Kurz took off, like a mouse chased by cats.

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Melissa, heavily bandaged and walking with a crutch, slowly made her way into the room, supported by Haruka.

Alone in that room, she looked downcast and defeated. She refused to make eye contact with Tessa at first.

"Melissa, it's really good to see that you're up and about!" Tessa's enthusiasm took a nose dive when she saw her friend's expression. "What's wrong? Are you in a lot of pain? Or, is it the losses?"

"Yes" was all that Melissa answered.

"I mourn Sgts. McGrady, Buchet, and Kaboli too, Melissa. They were all fine men and I will miss them. They each played a role. We can remember them as heroes. The same goes for Lts. Smithers, Ben-Raiden, Farthingham, and Karmarenko. They gave their lives so that others might live."

"Did they?" Melissa almost spat those words. "Were they any use at all? They all died without accomplishing much. What a f-cking great epitaph! I was their commander. We were caught off guard. They deserved better." Melissa clenched her teeth and her fists, then relaxed, plopping into a chair.

"Sousuke did it all. None of the others needed to die. He damn near fell, taking time to rescue my worthless hide."

"I see. Whatever happened to the woman who littered my cabin with beer cans and cigarettes, who wore a bra on her head and accepted a challenge to an A.S. battle with a cheeky little Captain?" Tessa felt her friends pain, but was not about to sit still for self pity from someone of Melissa's experience. "What happened to the soldier who stood on top of crumbling ruins, facing a bunch of terrorists, backed only by a bunch of wet-behind-the-ear recruits?"

"She went away." Was all that Melissa answered.

"I see." Tessa turned towards Sousuke. "Sgt. Sagara, will you come here please."

When Sousuke complied, Tessa asked him a question. "Sergeant, in full honesty, how would you rate Sgt. Major Mao's performance during the battle?"

"Captain?"

"Her performance, Sousuke. As a leader, and as a fighter." Tessa was watching Melissa, not Sousuke.

"Sgt. Major Mao was a most able commander." Melissa's head lifted, a denial on her lips. "The men were frightened, and rightfully so. We all new that this was in all likelihood a suicide mission, given the properties of the enemy. And knowing who we were facing. They could have sunk deep into depression or hopelessness. They could have been paralyzed by fear. Instead, they joked and laughed. When the time came, we went into battle in good order, having doubt in the righteousness or necessity of our sacrifices. There are few field commanders at Mithril that could have handled the men that well."

"No, Sousuke. Tell Tessa about our performances. What did any of us accomplish? Other than you. Tell her how we were caught off guard!" Melissa was standing, a look of anger distorting her face.

"Captain, it is true we were surprised. All of us, not just Sgt. Major Mao. Gauron had been waiting for us in the napalm fire. There was no way we could have expected that. As it was, with the exception of Sgt, Buchet, the others had time to react. They did so successfully and professionally, with good discipline. Ahriman, even as flawed as it was, far outclassed us. Even the wonderful craft I piloted could not stand up against it alone. Each rocket fired put a strain on the enemy. Each step we forced it to take added to that strain. The significant attacks that I was initially able to launch were possible because of their sacrifices. Knowing their death faced them, they fought with uncommon bravery. Like myself, I do not believe they wanted to fail the Sgt. Major." Sousuke saluted Melissa.

Tears came to her eyes.

"Sousuke, if you were in an M9, and someone else were piloting that Giant Turtle, what do you suspect would have happened?" Tessa's own command skills were coming to the front.

"Captain, if I had been in an M9, you would no doubt be trying to convince Miss Chidori that I had died as a hero. You would be reassuring her that another guard would be found. There was no weapon on the M9 that could have saved my life. Running would have been my only salvation. Even Arbalest would have been vulnerable. I doubt that the Lambda Driver field would have counteracted the scalar field, since Ahriman was able to use both simultaneously. I would be dead, Captain." There was no sound of doubt in Sousuke's voice.

"Yes. I thought as much. Thank you sergeant." Tessa turned towards Melissa. "It seems that there is a difference of opinions. You have the minority opinion. If it is your wish to wallow in self-pity after doing more than most people could have hoped for, I will not stop you." Tessa shook her head. "What a waste. I would have thought that you would set a better example for Sousuke than this."

Righteous indignation came to a boil in Melissa, who then sheepishly realized just what her commanding officer had done. She cooled down immediately.

Tessa turned to Haruka. "I understand that you are Haruka Urashima. I am Captain Teletha Testarossa. My friends call me Tessa." The two women exchanged glances.

Both were impressed: Haruka for what she had just seen, and Tessa for what she had read in reports.

"I have some things to discuss with you, if we may."

"Do you mind talking in the kitchen? I can get us something to eat and drink there." Haruka waved her arm towards the room in question.

"That would be fine, thank you. I could use a bite to eat. I have been so nervous that I haven't eaten much for days." Tessa followed Haruka into the kitchen, taking a seat at the table. Haruka gathered some chilled coffee, beer, fruit, and small pastries.

Haruka spoke first.

"You might have a hard time bringing Sousuke back with you. The ladies have taken quite a liking to him." Haruka smiled at the look on Tessa's face. "But, I doubt you have anything to worry about. Mr. Akamatsu would never add another clueless male to the mix, unless Keitaro left. Now, if you'd like to swap Sousuke for Keitaro, something might be arranged. You'd probably have to take Naru too." She laughed, pouring herself a glass of beer.

"NO!" Tessa bit her lip. "My apologies. No. Sgt. Sagara is...irreplaceable." Suddenly, Tessa's features brightened considerably. "BUT, if you'd like to keep Miss Chidori, that would solve a lot of problems." Tessa went as far as to cross her fingers under the table. "No doubt Sgt. Weber would be ecstatic if Miss Konno joined our show."

Haruka laughed. "Yes. Kitsune would probably enjoy the excitement." She put on a more serious look. "Was there something you wanted to talk to me about?"

"Yes," said Tessa. "These have been extraordinary circumstances." She took a pencil and a piece of paper out of her purse.

She scribbled for a brief moment, then passed the paper to Haruka.

"Normally, Mithril would not care about the damages incurred by anyone in another show. But, the threat that everyone faced here was unlike any we have seen before. If that technology had made its way to our reality, I shudder to think the havoc it would have caused."

"And this figure?" Haruka asked, hopeful.

"The Financial Division has permitted me to offer that much, as a means to help you rebuild. It's true that you would have suffered much more had you not fought, but your group's contributions were critical." Tessa took a quick pull from her chilled coffee.

"I thank you. This is very generous. We could even end up coming out ahead." She looked Tessa directly in the eyes. "Are there any strings attached?"

Tessa smiled.

She wrote out another figure and handed it to Haruka.

"What's this for, my cooperation?" Haruka's voice had a slight edge to it.

"No," Tessa laughed. "You are quite remarkable, as the reports indicate. That would be your annual salary at Mithril. A similar amount could be found for Professor Noriyasu. You two make quite a team."

"We did, once. Besides, I have enough trouble on my hands just trying to be the voice of reason around here." Haruka shook her head.

"Well, the offer will be left open if you ever change your mind. It would get the Professor away from archeological endeavors."

Haruka looked torn for a moment. "I believe you were going to mention the strings."

"Yes. Kaolla Su." Tessa tried to think of the most appropriate way to approach the subject.

"I see. That only makes sense, seeing how here inventions helped create the danger, as well as proved crucial in defeating the threat. However, I would never support Su's removal, even if it were completely voluntary." Haruka's eyes went hard. She set her jaw.

"Quite frankly, from all that I've been told, the last thing Mithril would want is Su running wild in our jurisdiction." Hearing Tessa say that, Haruka relaxed again. "No, what we are look for are reassurances, an exclusive contract if you will."

"You're saying that Mithril would expect Su to create weapons for them?" Haruka tensed up again.

"Not exactly, though we would gladly accept any significant advances she had to offer. We are more interested in being certain that she does not give secrets to anyone else. Similarly, we would want to see more stringent controls put in place, limiting the dissemination of her discoveries. The greatest concern would be exchanges across show boundaries." Tessa took a bite out of a fruit tart.

Haruka nodded her head. "That makes perfect sense. It is entirely reasonable. I would have no trouble backing that idea, but would prefer to leave the decision up to Su. You might have some difficulty there, because I know the one thing on her mind now. Not getting that, she might prove rather petulant."

"Sousuke?" Tessa asked, her heart filled with dread.

"Yes. She calls him 'future husband.' Her top priority is to have him see her adult form in the nude. With supercharged adult hormones, she'd probably like more than that.." Haruka tried very hard to keep from smiling.

She succeeded.

Barely.

"Perhaps there's something else she would like. Maybe it would be wise to wait until after Sgt. Sagara has been gone for a while before I make my offer." Tessa looked deep in thought.

Her hand firmly gripped the edge of her chair.

"Good idea."

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Keitaro and Naru walked into the kitchen while Tessa and Haruka were exchanging small talk.

Neither had walked far enough in to know they were not alone. They were in the middle of one of their trademark arguments.

"Yes, Naru. I know we need to get back to studying. But these days have been so exciting. I thought going out to dig sites like Seta, and making important discoveries, was what I wanted for my life. But now I have seen the true talents of Keitaro Urashima, Arm Slave pilot. I think there is something bigger waiting for me. Maybe I could even join Mithril. I'm certain they could find a place for you too, Naru. Maybe they could even help us both get into Tokyo U. And, we wouldn't have to worry if you were the Promise Girl any more." Keitaro was standing tall, his shoulders thrown back.

Listening, Tessa's eyes lit up.

Keitaro and Naru.

Kaname.

A fair trade.

Sousuke would have no interest in Naru.

Was there a viable angle? She looked over at Haruka, who simply smiled and shook her head and mouthed 'just listen.'

"Oh sure. Abandon a promise. You KNOW how I am about promises." Narus' fists were clenched. Her eyes were rather intense. "Besides, why would Mithril want someone who failed the entrance exam three times. I'm sure you need some brains to pilot an Arm Slave."

Keitaro looked as if someone just poured a bucket of scalding water on him.

"What do you think they would do when they find out that you freak out over a cockroach, for crying out loud. Or that you get pushed around by a bunch of girls. I bet they'd love a picture of you in Motoko's dress!"

Keitaro looked like he had a shirt full of scorpions.

"And, what do you think their counselors would think when they heard that you once spent days talking to a doll. I'm certain they'd turn over a small fortune in equipment to someone who can't even keep track of his own wallet. Besides, the Arm Slave did all the work. Don't get such a swelled head! HMMPPFF!"

Naru looked rather concerned.

Keitaro looked as if stepped on a live electrical wire.

When his hair came back down, he chuckled.

"You're trying very hard to convince me to stay, Naru. It must be because you've finally admitted your true feelings for me. Perhaps you were thinking about it again. Now that we're all safe and sound...." Keitaro closed his eyes, leaning forward for a kiss.

WHAM!

Naru's fist distorted Keitaro's face upon impact.

SMACK! WHANG!

He crashed off of the wall and the ceiling.

CLANG! CLANG! CRASH! KABANG-G-G-G-G.

Just about every hanging utensil clattered noisily to the floor.

"Just WHO said you were safe and sound, MORON." Naru was still shaking her fist. "And you better forget EVERYTHING that happened when we all thought we were going to die."

Keitaro picked himself off the floor.

Looking over at the table, he saw Tessa and Haruka.

"Oh. I'm sorry, Aunt Haruka. I didn't know you had company. I'm Keitaro Ura---"

Haruka's fist knocked Keitaro across the room.

"Just call me Haruka."

Keitaro swung his arms, trying to regain his balance. One hand grabbed a door frame. The other took a firm grip on one of Naru's breasts.

Keitaro closed his eyes in resignation.

"You...you...PERVERT!"

Naru's kick would have been good from 55 yards in football. Keitaro hit three walls this time, knocking down a number of shelves and an oil painting of two lovers kissing. He landed in a crumpled heap at Tessa's feet.

When Keitaro stood up and brushed himself off, he turned to Tessa. "I am Keitaro Urashima, manager of the Hinata Apartments and one day Tokyo U student. I hope I can make your stay here a pleasant one." Keitaro's eyes were glued to Tessa.

If his tongue had been longer, it would have reached the floor.

"Perhaps when you are done here, you would like to try out the hot springs. They really are quite remarkable."

'Wow! Women in uniform look so sexy....'

Naru did not need to hear his thoughts to be able to read his mind. "The only thing that is remarkable is that you are still alive!" With that, she grabbed Keitaro's throat and threw him out through the newly repaired kitchen window. "You are so useless! You've broken the new window."

Smiling again, Naru turned to Tessa. "He truly is a dork, but Keitaro did have a good idea. I think we should all hit the hot springs when you've settled in." She left to get back to studying.

Haruka laughed good-naturedly. "Do you still want those two for Mithril?"

Tessa shook her head. She had thought that Sousuke and Kaname were bad. "No. The Finance Division gives me enough grief over Sousuke."

"Ooooo-oo-ooo."

Tama flew into the room, landing on Tessa's blouse. She waved one flipper at her, smiling.

"Oh. Aren't you adorable." Tessa picked up the hot springs turtle to get a better look at her. "What a cute turtle. And she can fly." Tessa's eyes blinked rapidly, realizing what she had just said.

Before she had time to regain her equilibrium, Su came leaping into the room, as if launched by a steam catapult.

She grabbed Tama in flight, landing over by the stove. "The final battle with the enemy is over, you naughty turtle. Now it is time for our final battle."

"You dropped something, Su" Haruka said, noting a folder on the kitchen floor.

"Oh, yes! I must retrieve those. Tama and I can play later." After scooping up the folder, Su began skipping out of the room. She stopped, hopping back to Tessa. "You are my future husband's commander. You might like to see these. Can you help me choose which ones are best to give Kaname?"

Once again, Haruka had to fight to keep from smiling.

Su spread a number of color photos across the kitchen table. All showed various aspects of Sgt. Sagara.

Not one showed a single scrap of clothing.

"Uh..." was all that Tessa could manage.

She was frozen.

Her eyes were not under voluntary control.

Su jumped up on Tessa's shoulders. "You sound just like Sousuke. I like you. Would you like to be our maid?" She jumped down, grabbed the photos, and bounded away.

"K-a-n-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-m-e." she yelled.

Looking at the stunned submarine commander, Haruka laughed.

"Well, that introduction went well."

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The waters of the hot springs was relaxing.

All of the women and girls were there, soaking luxuriously, wrapped in their towels.

Not of them paid any attention to the large ANSAT fragments that hadn't been removed yet.

Tessa closed her eyes, wishing time would stand still. This was a pleasant change from the stress and strain of the Captain's chair. It was so much better than a tub made for soaking large machinery parts.

"So Tessa, you were telling us about you and Sousuke. I was under the impression that he and Kaname were an item." Naru winked at Tessa.

"Me and that Moody Military Maniac? You MUST be kidding." Kaname spoke in a huff, with more heat than she had intended.

At the moment, the hot springs were not very relaxing for her.

"Well, I told you about the time I stayed over at his place. Kaname looked rather shocked when she saw me wrapped only in a towel. It wouldn't be polite for me to tell more about that kind of thing. After all, I'm a lady." Tessa winked back at Naru.

"What kind of things?" Sara asked, curious as usual.

"You are too young to ask such questions, Sara. They were probably doing it. If they were, I will be very very angry, as Sousuke is my future husband."

"What is 'it'?" Sara intended to get an answer this time.

"It would not be proper to tell you that now, Sara. You are much too young." Su sounded very serious. "Maybe in a few months, when you are older, I will show you the tape from Kitsune's room. She was in there a mighty long time with Mr. Kurz."

"SU!!!" Kitsune tripped over three separate people, trying to reach the younger woman.

"Why are you so upset, Kitsune. It looks like I shall have to look at that tape myself. You must have been a naughty girl. Is 'it' tasty?" Su somersaulted over a furious Kitsune.

"Tessa was only using Sousuke's shower" Kaname said.

Su smiled, keeping out of Kitsune's reach.

"Are you completely sure?" Naru asked, grinning. It was fun seeing someone else get grilled in these springs. "Or is that just wishful thinking?"

"No. I know Sousuke. He would never do anything like that!" Kaname was completely certain about that. "Tessa is simply trying to cause trouble."

"I think that she really likes him. I think we can all see that now. How wonderful for her." Mutsumi spoke as she watched Kaname douse herself with a bucket of cold water. "If you're trying to make your boobs grow, that's not going to work."

Naru laughed.

She had been on the other end of that comment once.

"Yes, she does want him to notice her, more than anything else!" Kaname thought Mutsumi was referring to Tessa.

"Oh, that's wonderful. So you've finally admitted how you feel about him. And, we all heard you." Mutsumi was smiling.

Motoko, Shinobu, and Su did not look so sanguine.

"What? No..." Kaname's response was cut off by Tessa.

"Yes. It took her a lot longer than me." Tessa told them all about the adventure with A21, noting what she said when she asked Sousuke to turn off the external sensors on Arbalest.

The tales continued.

"Of course, when she buys a new bikini, Sousuke doesn't even notice. But, when we spend time at the beach, things are different. When he was training me to use an Arm Slave, I fell on him. No matter how much I moved and wiggled, he kept his arms on my back. It took a while for me to get back up."

Shinobu's eyes were spinning again.

Motoko was blushing furiously.

Su was wondering if she could extend the shoreline up to the apartments.

Tessa's laughter rang out like chiming bells.

"You should have seen the look on his face when he lost at Bingo. The prize was a kiss from me."

Kaname fumed.

It didn't matter how long it took.

She'd find a way to get back at Tessa.

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There was a slight rustling noise near the hot spring.

Three shapes were hidden behind the plants, silent and waiting.

One shadowy form pushed the reeds apart ever so slightly. Not too long afterwards, the other two followed suit.

The women soaked, chatted, and splashed. A number had taken off their towels. Light reflected off or a rock near Motoko. No doubt her sword was out. Dutifully, she would be watching the bask door to the Apartments, making certain there was absolutely no male intrusion.

A whispered signal was given.

The quiet click and whirr of a telephoto camera rig could not be heard far beyond the point of concealment. A microphone floated, concealed in a true clump of hibiscus, close to the women.

A small focus of spreading red fluid sat near the reeds, but went no further.

Ketaro, Seta, and Sousuke lay prone, dressed only in shorts and a curious form of headgear Seta insisted they must wear. Anime rules. The official 'peeping' head wear consisted of a towel on the head, tied across the face just under the nose.

In this case, the towels were of he same color as the body camouflage paint: mottled stone gray.

Keitaro's was blood-stained under his nose.

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Keitaro had approached Sousuke earlier in the day, after seeing the photographs that had all of the girls excited and amused.

It was too late to get the photos of Sousuke back. But, they could strike back for the honor of men everywhere.

It would also provide Keitaro with a chance to learn stealth techniques. Naru had belittled him, but he had not given up entirely on the idea of becoming an operative some day.

Sousuke had been torn. The idea of observing bathing women caused him to sweat and tremble ever so slightly.

Keitaro had been amused.

Sousuke had faced a madman, under remarkable duress. He had taken on Motoko and stopped her. Yet, he was rendered speechless at the thought of naked and unsuspecting women.

Seta was equally amused, asking if he could join in on the mission. Keitaro could benefit from his unparalleled techniques. Sousuke could benefit from this as well, he explained.

The apartment manager gladly brought Seta into the plan, secretly thinking that while Seta might have been worthy of joining an ancient ninja caste, he certainly was not the ideal person to teach Sousuke about women.

As if he himself should speak.

Preparations had gone smoothly.

Both Sousuke and Seta were sticklers for detail, and both were phenomenal instructors. The entry into the bath area had been difficult, given the terrain and their state of dress. They all made it without a hitch.

It was made all the more difficult by the fact that Keitaro was blindfolded.

His two instructors had not wanted a loud exclamation or a huge spray of nasal blood to give away their presence.

After they had reached their chosen destination, the two professional soldiers and the ofttimes impromptu peeper set up their camera and recording equipment.

Sousuke and Seta slowly and carefully inserted a number of reeds together, constructing a long wand. They used the device to push low yield defensive mines into strategic locations.

Keitaro was in seventh heaven.

The girls.

The mission.

Being part of a team with Sousuke and Seta.

His heart beat fast with excitement. His head was filled with fantasies.

'I am Urashima, Keitaro Urashima. Master spy. Secret operative. There is no mission I cannot handle. There is no woman who can resist me.'

The deeper he sank into daydreams, the less focus he put on the real mission. Slowly, he edged closer and closer to his usual state of mind.

There was a large series of splashes. Kaname had stood up and ripped the towel off of Tessa, leaving her stark naked. Tessa had reciprocated, tearing the towel off of Kaname. Naru, already nude, stood up to prevent a fight. Laughing, Su stole Shinobu's and Sara's towels. Kitsune, looking to put someone else on the defensive, swiped Motoko's covering.

It was all more than Keitaro could take.

The two professionals had no chance to contain his natural reaction. Oblivious to the consequences, the young apartment manager stood up, to better take in the view. Seta quickly finished off a roll of film, then vanished.

Sousuke lay prone under cover. He took his pistol out of a nearby satchel, loading a clip of rubber bullets. He hoped he had regained enough strength to escape unharmed. His soldier's honor would not allow him to abandon Keitaro.

Seta, more realistic, had left Keitaro to his own devices.

For all extensive purposes, Keitaro had put a match to a shortly-fused powder keg.

"Look, it's that LOSER!!!" Sara cried out, grabbing her towel back from Su, quickly wrapping herself back up. "He's been peeping."

"Keitaro, you fiend!" Motoko, forgetting her nakedness, reached swiftly for her sword

"There's probably someone with him. He couldn't have gotten in here alone." Hauka calmly readjusted her towel.…….. listened.…….. then headed off in the direction that Seta took."

"Do you think Sousuke is here?" Su asked. "He probably could not wait to see me naked. I must find him!" Su dashed off, checking under clay pots, inside small decorative logs, behind every possible point of concealment.

"If he is, he is in BIG trouble," Kaname spat out. "SOUSUKE!!!" Her towel was back in place.

"He doesn't have any idea just HOW MUCH trouble!" Tessa took a few moments before she put her covering back on. "SERGEANT SAGARA!!! Stand at attention. That is an order."

"At least he'll live!" Naru grunted. "Keitaro, you pervert. Your time has come." She started towards Keitaro.

Sara ran about, trying to help Su find Sousuke. Kitsune and Mutsuni sat laughing, egging the other girls on.

This should be spectacular.

Shinobu crouched behind them, quivering.

Sousuke's response to Tessa's order stopped all of the girls in their tracks, temporarily.

"Uh.…….. Captain.…….. it appears I am already standing at attention. That is why I must refuse your order to stand up." The embarrassment in his voice was a tangible thing.

Keitaro snickered.

That broke the spell.

"Oh. I must see. I must see!" Su had pinpointed Sousuke's voice.

"SAGARA!!! You will pay!!!" Motoko had switched her chosen target.

"Oh, how could you? No no no no no." Shinobu squeaked.

Kitsune and Mutsumi banged two bottles of sake together, grinning like the Cheshire cat.

Kaname grabbed her halisen. Tessa, blushing ever so slightly, laughed.

"I'm so glad that you anticipated my order. Perhaps we'll need to try this again some time."

Kaname momentarily thought about using her fan on Tessa.

Keitaro made the first mistake. He tried to mollify Naru.

"But Naru, you and the girls had those pictures of Sousuke. It's only fair that we have a chance to do the same!" A wiser man would have made a dash for the house.

"Life's not fair, you big IDIOT. If it were fair, you'd be a man!!!" Naru reached back to give the ultimate in Naru punches. She stepped on a mine before she could follow through.

Whumpff!

Naru rocketed skyward, her towels floating spread open to the ground. She landed naked on the roof. Shaking the cobwebs from her mind, she growled. She jumped through a nearby window.

Whumpff!

Sara found a mine too.

"Mines? Sousuke, you crazed military otaku! Just you wait until I get my hands on you." Kaname looked carefully where she stepped.

"No. That is my job!" Su laughed, shimmering into her adult for. She whistled. Bubbles marked the place where a concealed Shiro rose to the surface. "Let's go, Shiro!"

"Secret technique, air splitting sword!" The force of Motoko's sword swing parted the waters like Moses had parted the the Red Sea The exposed mines on the spring bottom exploded.

Sousuke was thrown out of concealment.

He stood up, still 'standing up.' It drew a series of dramatic responses. He ignored them all.

"I have gotten out of more difficult circumstances. Are you certain you all wish to proceed?"

He held up his pistol.

"YES!!!"

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Kurz laughed, looking at the three men on the couch.

Keitaro sat, hands rubbing his ears. Sousuke sat, hand gingerly touching his mouth. Seta sat, massaging a pair of bruised eyes. They looked for all the world like the three famous monkeys, 'Hear No Evil,' 'See No Evil,' and 'Speak No Evil.'

For some reason, they did not see the humor in that.

"So, tell me, how did you thre…… big…… tough…… gentlemen end up like this." Kurz chuckled. He included Keitaro to be polite. "I had envied you there earlier, Sousuke. You had women throwing themselves all over you. It looks like it happened literally!"

"There's not too much to my side of the tale," Seta started. "Haruka caught up to me, and I would never strike her, even in self defense. I protected myself as best as I could, but she managed to get in a couple of good licks."

He got up to go check on Sara.

"My best defense has always been running. How could I ever hurt Naru?" Keitaro seemed resigned to his fate.

Before Sousuke could answer, Su ran by, carrying a videotape. Kitsune followed closely behind her, running like a bat out of Hell.

"Sousuke?" Kurz prompted.

"The number was too great. I did not wish to cause any fatalities." Sousuke spoke in a matter-of-fact fashion.

Kurz looked across the room at the gathering of women.

The glances they sent towards the men were rather foreboding.

"You may well have caused your own fatality Talk about looks that kill!" Kurz shook his head. "So, what exactly happened in your battle?"

"I shall give you a full report." The military otaku was back.

"Wait, Sousuke. I'll be right back. This sounds as if it's going to be good" Kurz left, returning shortly with a bottle of sake, a plate of tempura, and a sliced peach. "OK. Shoot!" Seeing the younger sergeant's confused look, he rephrased his request. "Begin your report, Sousuke."

"I had offered them all the opportunity to cease hostilities. They were dead set on their chosen course." Sousuke looked perturbed.

The women had known they were up against a specialist. They should have surrendered. Their actions went against every facet of logic.

"Yes, they were royally pissed off, alright!" Keitaro added helpfully.

"The attack was uncoordinated and unprofessional. However, I faced a rather drastic attack." Sousuke made it sound as if he had faced the best that Amalgam or Grendel had to offer.

"That's right!" Keitaro laughed. "Su was looking to jump on him… naked."

"I see. That truly was a vicious assault. It would have rendered you befuddled, distracted, and defenseless. Criminal!" It looked as if Kurz was ready to burst at the seams.

"Not completely," Keitaro added. "Part of Sousuke was very much aware of the naked enemy."

He and Kurz laughed when Sousuke blushed.

Before Sousuke could retort, Kitsune ran back by, pulling the tape out of a video cassette.

Su ran after her, pushing all sorts of buttons on a remote control, setting off explosions down a far hallway.

The young girl yelled 'Tama Tama attack' and the small turtle split into a multitude of flying reptiles, all of whom chased after a speeding Kitsune.

"The large white alligator had obediently followed Su. My relationship with the beast had been trumped. I threw a concussion grenade, and the creature decided to eat it. The resultant explosion gave it the mother of all bellyaches. Adult Kaolla went to comfort the creature."

"Su has a kind heart" Keitaro offered by way of explanation.

"Meanwhile, Sara was chasing Keitaro with a large sculpted relic. He was screaming like a banshee. I have never heard such a racket." Sousuke shook his head. He himself had felt embarrassed watching the other boy.

"I was merely trying to distract the girls' attention, giving you a chance to gain the upper hand." Keitaro fogged his glasses with his breath, then began wiping them with his shirt tail.

Sousuke did not look convinced.

"I'm certain Sgt. Sagara understands that and appreciates the sacrifice." Kurz laughed.

This was almost as good as being there.

"What happened next, Sousuke?" The blond-haired sergeant smiled when he saw Kaname pantomiming her role in the battle. The mood of the girls seemed a great deal more upbeat.

"Kaname pushed Captain Testarossa onto a mine. Most likely by accident. The Captain flew high into the air. I rushed to catch her, as she was falling towards the jagged helicopter wreckage. She thanked me for the rescue, and gave me a quick kiss. I mistakenly put her down on another mine. She flew up onto the roof." Sousuke looked away.

"Without her towel," Keitaro added with a huge grin.

Kurz stared a moment before clapping his hands. "I can't wait until we're all back on the D Danaan. Our little Tessa will probably find something really special for you to do."

"It got even better" Keitaro put in.

"It could get better?" Kurz asked incredulously. "How???"

"Miss Narusegawa returned to the hot springs, wearing a tight red leather jumpsuit and brandishing Haruka's whip. She looked like a monster from the deepest hell. Before Tessa triggered the mine, Mr. Urashima had spent a great of time staring at her. His nose lost a great deal of blood. Miss Narusegawa was probably very upset at the breach in communal hygiene."

"That's not what I meant, Souske." Keitaro said sourly. "Kaname had charged at Sousuke, holding that fan thing of hers. She was yelling 'Sousuke, you are going to PAY for that kiss!' Sara left me and snuck up behind Kaname. She grabbed her towel, took away the fan, and pushed Kaname against Sousuke!"

"OH, ho ho ho!" Kurz exploded. "Sousuke, was your little soldier still at attention?"

Sousuke blushed and nodded.

Keitaro closed his eyes and chuckled. It was refreshing to see someone else end up in that kind of situation.

"Oh! I wish I had been there. What did Kaname do?" Kurz rubbed his hands together.

"She blushed redder than I've ever seen anyone blush" Keitaro put in before Sousuke could answer. "Briefly, she hugged Sousuke, laying her head on his shoulder. The, she just blew up!"

"There was no explosion.…" Sousuke said, confused.

"A right to the jaw. A knee to the groin. Another right to the jaw." Keitaro eagerly provided Kurz with a blow-by-blow description. "Sara changed allegiances again, and gave Kaname the fan. Sousuke was forced to retreat."

Keitaro stood up to pantomime the action. That caused Naru to look in his direction and shake her fist.

He sat back down fast.

"I sought a strategic withdrawal." Sousuke tried to put things in a professional perspective. "When I had obtained sufficient distance, I grabbed the initiative."

"He shot her." Keitaro said.

"Again, Sousuke?" Kurz shook his head in disbelief.

Keitaro nodded.

"Yes. I have assured her that the red marks on her breasts and thighs will not be permanent. She did not seem interested in my assurances." Sousuke sounded befuddled.

"Then Motoko got in the act" Keitaro added.

"And Miss Narusegawa." Sousuke countered.

Keitaro and Sousuke stared at each other for a moment.

"Come on, don't stop now." Kurz said impatiently.

"Miss Aoyama confronted me. She was preparing a deadly strike with her blade. Politely, I reminded her that she was unclothed. She turned bright red and fainted. I moved to offer assistance." Sousuke sounded convinced it was the right thing to do.

"He got clobbered by Kaname from behind." Keitaro continued. He landed face down in Motoko's lap. She came to. At first, she looked shocked. Then she started screaming."

"No." Sousuke corrected Keitaro. "That was Kaname screaming. At that very same time, Miss Narusegawa was menacing Mr. Urashima with the whip. I do not know if a woman her age should use such words." Sousuke paused to think a moment. "Miss Maehara looked rather upset. Her eyes were filling with tears. I took a moment to apologize and offer my explanations. I should have saved that for later."

"Yes. Motoko had gotten to her feet, enraged." Keitaro would remember that sight until the end of his days. "'You will not steal my chastity, you beast!' she yelled. Everyone was smart enough to step out of the way, giving the two of them plenty of room."

"It was a rather dramatic confrontation" Sousuke continued. "I have never faced such a skilled and determined foe. Her attack was fierce. She showed no mercy. I avoided most of her thrusts and strikes by leaping or rolling. My shots were well placed, but she managed to avoid most of them or deflect them with her blade. It gradually changed from a match of fury and honor into a contest of skill and determination."

Kurz hung on every word.

This was better than pulp novels and action flicks.

"She began smiling. I too ended up enjoying the challenge. She managed to bruise my side and face. I hit her in the hip and chest. At one point, her shoulder wound broke open, and began to bleed. I emptied the remainder of my clip into the hot spring at my side. She bowed and we both withdrew." Sousuke ran his hand through his hair.

"And then Kaname ran up and clobbered him. Again and again and again." Keitaro wondered how the young soldier could survive that kind of treatment in his storyline.

Sousuke rubbed his jaw.

"We really should talk about what happened next, Sousuke." Keitaro said with a rather stern look on his face.

"Uh oh. Just what happened, Sousuke?" Kurz wanted to hear the juicy details.

"Miss Narusegawa was whipping Keitaro like a misbegotten dog. It almost seem as if he enjoyed it." Sousuke shrugged.

Keitaro blushed.

"I could not let a fellow combatant take that kind of punishment." Sousuke stretched out his arms, wincing. "First, as I noted that Kaname was running at me, I shot a mine at her feet. She flew awkwardly to the roof. Next…."

"He shot Naru. Where she sits. She was not very happy." Keitaro did not look happy himself.

"Mr. Urashima went on to tell me it was his job to protect Miss Narusegawa. I was never to shoot her again. She in turn yelled 'I do not need you to fight my battles for me!' before she punched him. He landed up on the roof, rolling onto Kaname and accidentally pulling her towel off. Miss Narusegawa then climbed straight up the wall and onto the roof. Mr. Urashima bolted. The women gave chase. They all disappeared from view." Sousuke sneezed. He had breathed in a considerable amount of water and plant debris at one point.

Kurz was rubbing his chin. "So, Sousuke. What attack finally did you in?"

"It is not tactically important." Sousuke began massaging his sore wrist.

"Sousuke?"

"There was no true strategy behind it." Sousuke flexed his stiff knee.

"Come on, Sousuke. Are you going to tell me, or do I have to walk over and ask them?" Kurz nodded towards the girls.

Keitaro sat back and smiled. He marveled at how bright Sousuke blushed.

"Su jumped on me in her adult form. She gave me a kiss, wrapping her arms and legs around me. I could not shake her loose." Sousuke sighed.

"Was that all?" Kurz smirked.

Keitaro shook his head.

"Miss Otohime joined in, pinning me to the ground with her breasts. She kissed me as well." Sousuke ran his tongue over his teeth. Fortunately, none were loose.

"Who else?" Kurz could tell there was more.

"Even Miss Aoyama joined in, shocking everyone there. She said that she was going to take advantage of the situation, since no one ever gave her a chance for such things in their anime. After that, they all sat on me until Kaname arrived." Sousuke shivered. "She was not merciful."

It was all so wonderful, that Kurz found himself unable to speak or laugh for a moment.

"Sousuke, only you could be brought low that way. Samson had nothing on you!" Kurz turned to the other young man. "And you, Keitaro?"

"Naru finally cornered me. She told me I would need to fill out one hundred applications to Tokyo U… one for each of the pieces that would exist when she was finished with me. She was rather angry."

Kurz looked at Keitaro and Sousuke, then laughed until he turned blue in the face.

"Perhaps I should tell the ladies that he is talking about 'quality' again...." Sousuke mused out loud.

"No," Keitaro said smiling. "I'm the apartment manager here. It's my job."

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The women had been very angry and very indignant.

Their aura of displeasure and discontent vanished soon after Tessa returned from taking an official phone call. The visiting submarine Captain told them that the time for departure was close at hand.

"But why?" Shinobu blurted out. "We have that kind of thing happen here all the time. None of us are really thatangry!" She blushed, realizing how aggressive she'd been.

"Yes! I am not mad at Sousuke. Will there be time enough for a honeymoon?" Su was crestfallen when Tessa told her there would not be time.

"A dinner? Is there time for a special farewell dinner?" Shinobu looked close to tears when she heard that it would be impossible.

"Men!" Motoko exclaimed. "Good riddance!!!" Her eyes gave her away. She couldn't even fool herself.

The other girls bowed their heads, finding their own reasons to be sad or disappointed.

"Why such a hurry, Tessa?" Melissa asked her Captain.

"I just received word from our Animation Division, Sgt. Major. It is a matter of access. I have been informed that the portal between the two shows will be closing soon. It will not open up again for one or two weeks, at the soonest." Tessa waved her hand as if to say 'it's inevitable, so don't question it.'

"How much longer do you have?" Haruka asked.

"We need to be out of here by five o'clock. At the strike of the fifth bell announcing the hour, the passageway will close. We need to be past the bottom of the apartment stairs by that time."

Tessa synchronized her watch with Melissa.

After breaking the sad news, Tessa went to meet with the Mithril guards and support people. She sent them on their way towards the portal..

For everyone else, time passed far quicker than any of them wanted. Everyone hurried to say their good byes and speak their remembrances.

An embarrassed Sousuke later walked into the living room area, at least three different colors of lipstick speckling his cheeks. He met up with his two fellow soldiers, both of whom chuckled at his state of unease.

When Kaname walked in the room, rubbing her hands, she gave Sousuke a look of impending doom. "We've been gone from school too long, Sousuke. When we get back, there are some……… lesson……… I need to teach you.

Kurz and Melissa looked at each other and smiled.

Things would be back to normal soon enough.

Sousuke, for his part, considered the offers for a return visit he had received from various people.

Judging by the look on Kaname's face, he might look for some excuse to return here as soon as possible. His gaze fastened on Kaname's hands. They looked red and inflamed, reminding Sousuke of rope burn. "Kaname, are you OK? Did you hurt your hands?"

"I'm fine Sousuke. It's nothing to concern yourself about. Thank you." She didn't elucidate.

Melissa looked at her watch. "It's five before the hour. Where is Tessa?"

"Tessa told me she was going on ahead. She wanted to leave with an official guard escort. If we've finished with our farewells, we should probably follow after her." Kaname grabbed Sousuke's arm and started walking for the door

"I concur" Sousuke said.

The group of four walked out of the Hinata Apartments, waving good bye to the people cheering from the outside windows. They began to walk down the long flight of stairs.

The remaining Hinata monks lined up to say their own good byes.

'As is always the case, they head back from a dream to reality'

'Yes. Or is it from reality to a dream?'

'Ah! But one dream remains. She…'

Kaname secretly 'shushed' the final monk.

The FMP characters continued on their way.

When they all neared the bottom of the stairs, the bell in the clock tower began to toll.

ONE BELL.

They continued walking.

A SECOND BELL.

They continued taking steps.

THE THIRD BELL.

They all reached the bottom in time.

THE FOURTH BELL.

Sousuke, Kurz, and Melissa walked on, heading towards the harbor.

Kaname stood watching the apartment building.

"I did not realize Kaname would find it so hard to leave." Sousuke said to his two comrades. "She must form very strong friendships."

THE FIFTH AND FINAL BELL.

Kaname smiled.

She hurried to catch up with the others.

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Tessa lay tightly wrapped with rope, locked within a dusty room in an infrequently traveled part of the Inn building.

Tama worked diligently to untie her.

Too late.

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THE END