A/N: Well, I'm back. I'm sorry to all my followers, if you're still out there, but real life has that nasty little habit of popping up at the most inopportune times. I won't go into details, but I will say that I'm back. I won't make any promises or give any exact schedules for updates. I will say that updates will be sporadic, but I will not abandon this story. I will see it to its finish. Just give me some time. Well, enough with the excuses, on with the story.

Previously on Heart on the Mend:

Minato smiled at Dr. Brackett's discomfort. "You're…"

"American," Dr. Brackett replied. "Yes, I am…"


"Whatever mom, I have packing to do." Minato said dismissively…


"Mom said that she noticed a change in you when she talked to you on the phone. I didn't believe it, but I guess it's true…" I have to admit you do look quite dashing in that suit, I wonder, nooooo, mind out of the gutter…


Yukari opened her eyes as the weight of the boy sagged into her body. "Ack! What do I do now?"


"Physician's assistant?" Uzume asked. "Is that a fancy word for nurse?"


Yukari was glaring at her red headed sekirei. Matsu, you are mine, remember that. Although if we could get Oniichan to experiment… No, I thought those thoughts were gone now that I have Shiina. Think of Shiina and his smooth alabaster skin… Whack! Whack!


"Go, be safe." Miya then added. "Uzume, as Minato's oneesan, I feel that I should warn you. If you hurt him in any way; if you break his heart. I will kill you." There was no dark aura or hannya mask weighing down those words. However, that didn't mean they were any less deadly as any of Miya's other threats; in fact, Uzume found her deadpan approach scarier than even her darkest aura and scariest hannya mask.


"Looks like we have no choice." Yukari said grabbing hold of Shiina. "Pucker up, buttercup." With those words, Yukari crushed her lips against Shiina's, forcefully prying his mouth open so she could deepen the kiss. Iridescent wings emerged from Shiina's back, bathing them in bright light.


"Whatever you say, Lady Panty Flash, just keep hosing down the ice queen and we'll supply the jolts of electricity."


Miya took a sip of her tea. "Tell me how it went. Do I need to kill you?" The landlady said with a smile as her hannya aura appeared around her.


"You are an otaku aren't you." Homura snorted.


Dr. Walsh looked back at the surprised Minato and winked, "Don't worry; I'll take real good care of you." She chuckled as they entered a patient's room.


Uzume pulled the pillow from underneath Chiho's head and smacked her with it. "I didn't know my ashikabi was such a horn dog."


Kakizaki handed Uzume the file folder. "Here's a list of new assignments. Continue to eliminate sekirei and Chiho will continue to receive care." Kakizaki smirked. "Oh, and don't worry about Minato, he's in good hands. Higa picked out his new partner himself." With those words, Kakizaki walked away, leaving Uzume glaring at the redhead working the nurses' station.

And now…

Feather 7: Fight or Flight

"Very good, I'm very proud of you. You've all made quite a bit of progress in such a short time, even you, little Kusano." Miya said as the little blonde pixie of a girl beamed as she stomped around the yard practicing the kicks and punches that Miya had just taught them. Little Ku's "Hiiiiyaaah!" could be heard as she kicked into the air. Yukari and Shiina were more sedate but still pleased with the praise that their new sensei had given them.

The young couple wandered back into the inn to wash up after their strenuous exercise. Miya nodded at them, signaling that she would keep an eye on little Kusano as she exuberantly practiced her exercises. As she watched Ku strutting about the yard, Miya reflected on Yukari's and Shiina's training. They still had a long way to go, but right now they could at least give a human mugger a good thrashing.

With more practice, Shiina could probably start holding his own against some of the lesser sekirei. More importantly, through Miya's training routines, Shiina has learned how to close the gap between him and his opponent. This would go a long way since Shiina's powers are dependent upon proximity between him and his target.

Yukari, Shiina and Kusano were not the only ones busy preparing for future skirmishes. Matsu was enjoying herself immensely as she hacked in and raided the Japanese armories, pilfering drones and other unmanned weaponry. So far Matsu was able to acquire two military unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and one remote controlled armored bomb disposal unit.

Normally the flying drones were flimsy since they usually did not go into combat. However, Matsu made major modifications, adding light weight armor plating, especially around the cameras – so she would always have visuals on her targets during an attack. She was also able to mount a lightweight Squad Automatic Weapon (SAW) to the flying drone. While not the most powerful weapon, Matsu made sure that it was loaded with armor piercing incendiary rounds to increase the damage it would inflict upon anything that was in Matsu's sights.

The roving bomb disposal unit was easier to modify. Since it was built to survive major explosions, it was already well protected. All Matsu needed to do was add weaponry to the vehicle. Since she didn't need to worry about weight, Matsu mounted two guns and a rocket launcher to the rover. She used an old 20 mm cannon she pilfered from an old warplane, but the coup de grace was the .50 cal. M2 machine gun that she acquired through a munitions black market dealer. These heavy guns were the rover's primary weapons, backing them up was an array of mini-rockets normally mounted onto aircrafts.

Matsu sill hoped to acquire another flying drone as well as another remote controlled armored vehicle. With those thoughts in mind, Matsu giddily hacked into the Japanese military mainframes and went on a shopping spree. A broad smile spread across her lips as she found an unmanned flight trainer fleeing from a pursuing fighter jet. Using her technological connection, Matsu was able to outfly the fighter jet and send the drone to the spot reserved for it in the underground hangar beneath Maison Izumo. The next time Yukari and her crew faced another ashikabi and sekirei team, Matsu would be prepared to support her ashikabi.

oOo

Above the streets of Shinto Taeto, another type of training was taking place. Leaping from rooftop to rooftop, Homura and Tsukiumi kept watch on the streets below, looking for unwinged or otherwise disadvantaged sekirei. It took some convincing, but Tsukiumi decided to take up the mantle as protector of the unwinged. It helped that Tsukiumi felt that a sekirei did not need a monkey of an ashikabi in order to survive this contest.

The two stopped at the top of an antennae array facing MBI tower. "So, are you familiar with your new task, or should we go over things one more time." Homura asked as he leaned against a steel beam.

"Dost thou think so little of my intellect? What I still do not comprehend is why I shouldst care about these unwinged sekirei. This is a contest and I shalt not fail in this endeavor. So it would behoove me to eliminate these peons before they become a threat." Tsukiumi retorted in a huff.

"You are too much of a sportswoman to do such a thing, Tsukiumi. You believe in a fair fight, more importantly you would not accept a victory over someone who has not awakened their full potential. It would be a hollow victory at best."

"Thou knowest me too well, Homura. But this does not mean that our rivalry is over. I will not rest until I best thee in melee, standing victorious over thy fallen body."

Homura sighed. "Yara, yara, if we are the last ones left in this infernal contest, we will have our final confrontation."

"Not if, Homura, but when; thou wilt not be eliminated before the end of this contest."

"What about you Tsukiumi? There is always a chance that you could be eliminated before the final conflict." Homura smirked.

Tsukiumi laughed. "Surely thy jest! I shalt not fall until the final culling of the sekirei. I will win this contest and claim that prize. More importantly, I will do it without the help of some filthy monkey as my ashikabi."

"Knowing your determination, I am sure you will. Now let us continue our patrol before the sun goes down." With that, Homura and Tsukiumi continued their game of leap frog as they traversed the rooftops.

oOo

In the waiting room of Brackett's clinic, Minato was filing some papers while a pretty young redhead leaned against the front desk and watched him while he worked. In the short time since the two were paired up at the hospital, Minato and Dr. Kimber Walsh had become almost inseparable. While Minato continued to accompany Dr. Brackett on his rounds, Minato found that he was spending more of his time at the hospital working alongside Dr. Walsh, or Kim-san as she preferred.

The couple's interaction was now no longer limited to the hospital. Since that first day when Minato found that he was going to be working with Kimber, the two medics found themselves in each other's company outside of the hospital as well. In fact, it was on that first day that Kimber displayed some American brazenness and took the initiative by asking Minato out on their first date. Since then, they have had several dates, with Minato even cooking Kimber dinner a couple of times after long shifts at the hospital. For her part, Kimber spent her days off keeping Minato company at the clinic while he worked the waiting room.

"You know, you do not have to spend your off time watching me work, Kimi-chan." Minato commented as he placed some papers into a file folder. "I'm sure there are better things that can occupy your time than watching an office assistant file papers away."

"Maybe, but I doubt any of them involve spending time with someone as charming as you." Kimber said with a warm smile. "Besides, I don't like wandering around Shinto Taeto alone; people stare, gawking at the foreigner. In fact you're the first person in this country to treat me like a person and not a gaijin."

"I think Brackett-sama has something to do with that. I don't know. If I never met Brackett-sama, I might just be one of those gawkers looking at the gorgeous redheaded gaijin." Minato added a teasing smirk at the end his comment. "However, since Brackett-sama has taken me under his wing, I have been quite sensitive about his treatment as an 'American' physician in this country. Even my mother cannot talk about Brackett-sama without adding 'the American doctor' with a certain amount of disdain."

"So, I take it that you won't be taking me home to meet your parents any time soon?"

"Not likely, anyway, my mother is too busy for that. She couldn't even spare some time to visit me since I've moved to Shinto Taeto. I figured that, since we live in the same city, I'd see her more often, but no, work is too important." Minato shook his head.

"Hey, I didn't want to bring up a sore subject, so let's say we change it." Kimber tapped her chin with her forefinger in faux contemplation. "What shall we talk about? How about where you're taking me after you get off work?"

Minato raised an eyebrow as he pushed a file cabinet drawer closed. "What makes you think that I am taking you out tonight?"

Kimber took the jest in stride and retorted. "So, if you are not taking me out, than what are you cooking me for dinner?"

Minato chuckled softly at their repartee. "Okay you have me cornered, although it is a nice corner to be shoved into."

"Hey, if you play your cards right mister, we can do a lot in that corner." Kimber winked mischievously.

"Well, as a liberated American woman, what do you want to do tonight? Go out? Eat in? Take in a show? Go dancing?"

"I have an early shift in the morning, so how about you cook me dinner and I spend the night." Kimber returned to tapping her forefinger against her chin in further fake contemplation.

"I'm beginning to think that you are just dating me because I know how to cook." Minato feigned offence.

Kimber sauntered around the front desk and gently ran a finger down Minato's chest. "Well, it is one of the perks to being your girlfriend." She leaned in closer and pressed her body close to his; her lips grazing his ear as she purred. "There are other benefits as well…"

"A-hem," A deep stern voice cut the overt flirting. Kimber stepped away shyly.

Dr. Brackett continued as if he saw nothing. "Minato, I wanted to speak to you about your future as a physician."

Both Minato's and Kimber's ears perked up at Dr. Brackett's intro. Minato took the lead and spoke up shakily. "I-i-is there so-something wrong with my performance. A-am I not…"

"Confidence, Minato, confidence, you are slipping back into the shy, sheepish, kid that walked in here about a month ago. Where is the confidence that you have learned during your time working here." Dr. Brackett chided.

Minato straightened up and nodded. "I'm sorry Dr. Brackett; I will face any negative review with dignity."

"Glad to hear it, but this is not a negative review. In fact, what I have to say is quite positive. I want to talk to you about schooling."

Kimber looked at the Dr. Brackett. "Do you need me to leave?"

"No, in fact, you may be able to help our young Minato with the choices he has to make." Dr. Brackett turned back to Minato. "I assume that you are going to try another attempt at getting into Shinto Taeto University when the next round of exams come around?"

Minato nodded. "I was planning on it."

"Well, what if I presented you with another option?"

Minato raised an eyebrow in curiosity. "What type of option?"

"Remember a week or so ago when I asked you to fill out a practice exam to help you with your test taking skills and work on your test taking anxiety."

Minato nodded.

"Well, that was actually the American SAT, the standard college entrance exam in the United States. I submitted it and through some connections, I got it fast tracked. Your scores were through the roof. So, based upon that, I forwarded your scores and an application to Johns Hopkins University, one of the premier medical Universities in the States. Again, through some connections, I got your paperwork fast tracked. Well, I just received an email confirming that in a week or so, you will be receiving your official acceptance letter to the University. This is the other option I have for you. Of course if you accept it, you will have to work on your English."

"I can help you with that." Kimber said excitedly.

Dr. Brackett gave a small smile. "It will be a culture shock, but I think if you concentrate on your studies, you can work your way through the pre-med program and get advanced standing to Johns Hopkins Medical School. I know it's not Shinto Taeto, but Johns Hopkins is one of the best medical schools in the world. So in many ways, this could be a better option than Shinto Taeto. But in the end, the choice is up to you. I'll leave you with some brochures and a course catalog for the University. Look them over before you make your choice. Take your time; you don't need to respond right away."

Minato had been gazing at Dr. Brackett in a mixture of awe and shock since Dr. Brackett said the words 'acceptance letter'. Minato actually got into a university and a premier university as well. "I don't know what to say, Brackett-sama. Part of me wants to be mad at you for going behind my back. Another part of me wants to jump up and down because I got into university. And, yet, another part of me is apprehensive about leaving home to go to university."

"Like I said, there is no rush on the response, especially since you haven't received your official acceptance letter yet." Dr. Brackett smiled at his young apprentice's excitement. "Talk it over with some friends and family before making your decision. Oh, and do not feel obligated to accept this offer because of me. I'm just trying to give you the best options out there." With those words, Dr. Brackett retreated back into his office.

Minato turned to his girlfriend. "Well, what do you think, Kimi-chan?"

Kimber leaned against the front desk and looked up to the ceiling as she gathered her thoughts. "Call me biased, but I think you should do it. I would love to return home with you on my arm. I could cut my exchange studies short and come back with you. Then again, as Dr. Brackett said, there is no rush. So, I can finish up my residency here and then we can go stateside and get you settled. However, I don't want you resenting me for making you leave everything you know. So, I think you need to think about where you want to be. Ultimately, you have to ask yourself, what is keeping you here and, conversely, what is waiting for you in America?"

"My brain is hurting. Maybe, I'll take some time to think it over. I'll call my mother later and get her advice. I also might drop by and see my oneesan and see what she thinks. Maybe, I'll do some research and make a more informed decision."

"That sounds like a wise course of action. If you have any questions about Johns Hopkins or life in the States, I'm always here for you, babe."

Minato stepped closer to Kimber and pulled her into his arms. "I know, Kimi-chan. Let me finish up this filing and we'll go shopping for dinner ingredients. Then we'll have a quiet dinner and talk things over."

Kimber leaned up and kissed Minato's chin. "I like that plan." With that, Kimber playfully pushed Minato away and swatted his butt. "Now finish up your work so you can start working on dinner."

With a shake of his head, Minato picked up the medical files and started placing them in their proper places in the filing cabinet.

oOo

It was early afternoon and the sun was shining high in the sky. A young teenage couple was pounding the pavement, cutting through alleys and avenues, trying to avoid a whirling dervish of silken veils. Every so often, the brown haired youth would risk a glance behind and see the veiled tornado bearing down on them.

He thought that they would have time, maybe train up a little before the fighting started. The last thing he expected was to be hunted down this early in the game. Now his only thought was to try and escape and live to fight another day. He promised to the maker above that if he made it out of this predicament, he would work with Kuno in improving her powers so they can win this contest. But they would have to escape the whirlwind of veils swirling behind them.

As the young man took a glance behind him, he noticed that the veils had disappeared. He pulled his blonde companion to a standstill and they both chanced a look at the paths they left behind and found no hint of their veiled stalker.

"I think we lost her, Kuno." The young man said to the blonde girl nestled in his arms.

"I'm sorry, I'm not stronger, Haruka. I'm useless, I don't have much to offer, just my stupid voice." The blonde cried.

"It's a pretty voice, Kuno, and don't worry, we'll figure out a way to bolster your skills. Maybe get you – "His calming words were halted as soft silken veils wrapped, bound and lifted him away from the blonde sekirei.

"HARUKA!" The blonde called out as he reached toward her ashikabi.

"Don't worry, little girl, if you surrender and let me disable you, I'll let your ashikabi go without a scratch."

The blonde didn't hesitate as she ignored her ashikabi's muffled pleas and knelt down before the veiled one, exposing her sekirei crest as she did.

"Water Celebration!" With that exclamation, the veiled one found herself bombarded by a torrent of cold water. The hosing down broke her concentration, and Haruka was released from his bonds. As once unfettered, the brown haired ashikabi rushed to back to his sekirei's side. The two watched as the veiled sekirei was sprayed with more blasts of water.

"While I normally battle with those pure souls who have not yet been violated by those ashikabi barbarians; I feel that your attack on this sekirei and her ashikabi is unjust. You hath deigned yourself to battle those weaker and unprepared for battle. Such a villainous display is not only treacherous but cowardly as well. Hence, I hath decided to take up arms against thee and defend these weaklings from further harm."

"Whatever floats your boat, oh wait, that's what those two fun bags are for." The veiled sekirei sneered as she flicked a silken whip at the top-heavy blonde looming in front of her.

"Thou art not one to talk, those veils of thine are barely covering up thy bosom with only a modicum of modesty." Tsukiumi retorted as she sent another blast of watery vengeance.

The veiled one threw up a shield of silk, cleaving the torrent of water in half. "Get lost titsy, I'm not here for you, I just want the little girl…" Her response was cut short as she saw that the pair she was hunting down had fled while she was busy with the big breasted water hose. "Happy now, hosepipe, they're gone."

Tsukiumi looked around and noticed that her adversary was right. "Aye, T'is good that those two had made their egress, it evens the field of combat for the two of us." Tsukiumi stood tall as a spiral of water swirled around her.

With a flutter of veils, the silken sekirei cut through the whirlwind of water surrounding Tsukiumi, dousing the blond sekirei in her own deluge. "Save it for someone who cares, hosepipe, I have better things to do than to splash around in the kiddie pool with you." With that, the veiled one gently slapped Tsukiumi with one of her silken veils before whisking away in a spiral of silken sashes.

"I am not a hosepipe, you…!" Tsukiumi erupted in a torrent of water flooding the alleyway. When the water cleared, she was gone.

oOo

"Hey there gorgeous, how's my favorite blonde bombshell?" Minato said as he opened the door to Chiho's room.

*cough* "I'm doing okay, just a little tired." Chiho said as she tried to push herself up, only to fall back onto the pile of pillows at the head of her bed.

"Woah, there beautiful," Minato exclaimed as he rushed to Chiho's bedside. "Let me get that for you." Minato continued as he helped Chiho sit up, carefully setting up her pile of pillows to support her. "Maybe I should call Dr. Brackett in here to check you out."

"I believe the good doctor is married, but you're welcome to check me out anytime, Minato-san." Chiho gasped with a smirk on her lips. "I'm fine Minato-san, like I said, I'm just a little tired. Just stay with me awhile and..." Chiho took a breath and continued. "... Keep me company for a bit, talk with me, tell me what's going on out there, tell me what's going on in your life."

Minato quickly glanced at his watch and smiled. "Well, it is nearing the end of my shift, and since you're my last patient, I suppose I could stay awhile." Minato smile widened as he pulled up a chair and made himself comfortable by Chiho's bedside.

oOo

A strong lilting voice radiated through the atmosphere, stopping Uzume in her tracks, her veils falling limply around her. Uzume stumbled forward as Kuno's norito powered song spread above the rooftops of the city. As Uzume fell to her knees, the lyrical melody stopped with a sputter as Kuno coughed up some blood before fainting into Haruka's arms.

With the vocal threat eliminated temporarily, Uzume rose to her feet, shaking her head slightly to focus her mind toward the task at hand. As Uzume regained her strength, her veils started to flap in the wind and whirl about her. Seeing the target vulnerable in the arms of her ashikabi, Uzume sent her veils toward Kuno and Haruka. It was time to finish her mission while she had the chance.

As a silken veil floated toward the couple, a torrent of water blasted Uzume of her feet. "My initial assessment was correct, thou art a villain and a coward, you veiled harlot!" An imperious voice called out as Uzume was drenched by another cascade of ice cold water.

"Okay, hosepipe, I'm starting to get tired of you interfering in my business." Uzume growled as her silken veils whipped around her.

"Thou art true, it is none of my business..." Tsukiumi started.

"You got that one right, sister." Uzume snapped back.

"Usually, this in none of my business, but I find myself with the duty to help not only the unwinged but the helpless as well. Damn, my former rival's noble streak hath infected me." Tsukiumi huffed. "Nevertheless, I find your ways underhanded and cowardly and therefore challenge thee to a proper duel." Tsukiumi stated imperiously.

Uzume scratched her head. "Um, what did you just say?"

"I see, thou art a simpleton as well. Let me see if I couldst better explain myself." Before Tsukiumi could elaborate any further, two veils stealthily wrapped themselves around Tsukiumi's legs and hoisted her into the air.

Uzume glared at the blonde priss as she dangled upside down tied up in Uzume's veils. "Look here, little miss panty flash. Let me finish with the songbird and then you can explain what it is you want from me."

"Thou villainy knows no bounds, attacking an enemy whilst she is politely explaining the rules of engagement."

"Like I said, let me finish my business with the songbird and then you can explain everything to me." Uzume snorted then mumbled an addendum. "Or I'll just leave you hear to listen to yourself..." Uzume didn't finish her little aside as another cold torrent of water splashed her face. Before Uzume could recover, a geyser of water erupted from the pavement and sent her flying, releasing Tsukiumi as she fought to regain control.

"You veiled harlot, I declared my challenge, you shalt not walk away from me. I demand satisfaction." Tsukiumi roared as she conjured more water and sent it Uzume's way.

Uzume spun around quickly, veils whipping around violently slicing the water away. "Honey, you may be a gorgeous blonde, but you're just not my type. Go seek satisfac..." Uzume's retort was drowned out as water cascaded down on her. "Argh! That's it, you want a fight, well you got one." Uzume's veils twirled into spinning drilling points as they launched themselves at the buxom blonde water mistress.

"Eight-Forked Serpent!" Tsukiumi yelled as she sent a swirling water serpent to intercept the silken missiles. "Water Dragon!" Using the hydra blast as cover, Tsukiumi's water dragon hurled itself toward Uzume.

"Shawl Lance!" Uzume cried as her veils speared the dragon, splashing water everywhere. Uzume followed through with another wraparound attack, this time snaking her veils completely around the buxom blonde. With a slight tug, Tsukiumi spun towards Uzume like a yo-yo. Wasting no time, Uzume pulled at some of the veiled wrapping, placed a hand on Tsukiumi's crest and declared, "By the veil of my contract, my Ashikabi's nightmare will be dispelled!" And with a whimper, Tsukiumi was defeated, her limp body cocooned in Uzume's veils.

Exhausted, mentally and physically spent, Uzume fell to her knees, gently laying Tsukiumi's body down on the ground beside her. In her head she could still hear the blonde priss ranting, 'Thou hast cheated your way to victory you damnable villain.' Uzume's methods might have been underhanded but they work and have kept her alive this long, and in this game, it was all about surviving at any cost - even if it was through guile and deceit. "Belive it or not, I might be doing you a favor lady panty flash, it's better to be eliminated than to become HIga's chattel."

Uzume scanned the area and sighed as she noticed that her original targets fled the area while she was occupied with Tsukiumi. Soon the sound of helicopter blades filled the air, signaling to Uzume that it was time for her to make her own retreat from the battlefield.

oOo

A chime was heard, as the computer monitor flashed a bit. Matsu turned her head from the screens monitoring Yukari's room. "Well, well, what do we have here. Another unclaimed elimination. What is this sekirei afraid of?"

The first unclaimed eliminations went unnoticed by most. The second drew some heads. The third and forth made those monitoring the game quite concerned. However, in the end, there was very little anyone could do about it. There was no way to trace an elimination and the satellite cameras could not track everything. The only thing that could be done was to be more vigilant .

oOo

Uzume slumped through the hospital entrance - head down, shoulders slumped, hands in her pockets. Kakizaki moved to intercept Uzume as she walked down the hall. "A word if you please."

Uzume halted and glared at the sharp dressed man, waiting for him to continue.

"What happened? Our intel specialist tells us that you failed in your mission to eliminate number 95. And on top of that, we find out that someone eliminated number 9. You wouldn't happen to know anything about that, would you?"

"She got in the way, what was I supposed to do." Uzume seethed through clenched teeth.

"Knock her out, overpower her, something that does not involve elimination or killing. She was supposed to be added to our ranks. She was not supposed to be taken out of the game. She was a single digit."

"I didn't have choice. It was either her or me."

"Okay. Well, you still have your assignments. We're monitoring your progress, so step up your game."

Uzume nodded curtly and continued down the hall. She paused just outside of Chiho's room so that she could compose herself before her visit. Quietly, so as not to disturb Chiho, Uzume opened the door. However, Chiho was already conversing quietly with a guest.

"So, when do you leave?" Chiho whispered as she leaned her head back on her pillow.

"I'm not even sure I'm even going, Chi-chan." Minato responded.

Uzume slipped stealthily into the room and observed silently from the doorway.

"Don't be stupid, Minato-kun, you're gonna go. You can't pass up this opportunity." Chiho snorted.

"Yeah, but it's so far away, and I need to learn English, and..."

"Stop! You're gonna be fine. You already know English because of you're tutoring of Brackett-sama's wife."

Minato leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes. "There really is no choice, is there?"

"Not if this is what you want to do."

"What's going on here?" Uzume said, announcing her presence to the room.

"Uzu-chan!" Chiho exclaimed.

"Hey, Uzume." Minato stood up, proffering his vacated seat to Uzume. "We were just talking about my future."

"Oh?" Uzume raised an eyebrow. "Did you change your mind about being a doctor?"

"No, actually quite the opposite." Minato rubbed the back of his neck. "I don't know how quite to say this."

"Just spit it out, Minato-kun." Chiho looked at Minato expectantly. "Oh, for the love of..." Chiho threw her arms up in retreat. "Minato was accepted into a pre-med program at some prestigious school in America."

"Johns Hopkins," Minato said softly. "Johns Hopkins University. Brackett-sama sent in an application on my behalf."

"Wow! That's great Minato. So no more cramming to get into Shinto Taeto?" Uzume chuckled as she playfully nudged Minato's elbow with her own.

"Nope. I just don't..." Minato started.

"Mina-kun, just stop thinking and tell Brackett-sama you're going." Chiho chided.

"Jeez, it's sounds like you want to get rid of me, or something. Am I that bad of a physician's assistant." Minato started rubbing the back of his neck nervously.

"Don't be silly." Chiho started, her voice becoming more serious. "Do I want you to leave us, no. But, you can't pass this opportunity up. You have a chance to fulfill your dreams, unlike some of us."

"Chi-chan..." Minato sighed despondently.

"Minato, it's a possibility. Not one I'm planning for, but still." The room got quiet as the weight of Chiho's words sank in. "So, Minato, if you're not going to do it for yourself and your own dreams. Do it for me and mine. Please."

Minato leaned over and gave Chiho a hug and whispered. "For you, anything." He straightened up and continued a little more brightly. "You're right Chiho. I have to do this. Who else is going to make you better." Minato winked at the two girls playfully.

"That's the spirit Mina-kun. I expect to see you back here so you can help me beat this disease. Now go out there and conquer the world."

Minato laughed and headed for the door. "Well, I still have some work to do. I'll leave Chiho in your capable hands, Uzume." With a wave, Minato slipped through the door.

"Why do I feel like he's just walked out of our lives?" Uzume sighed.

"Uzu-chan, it's for the best. He now has a better chance to become what he's meant to be. Besides, with him leaving Shinto Taeto, he won't be in the middle of the storm that's coming." Chiho said softly as she grasped Uzume's hand.

"Heh..." Uzume grunted. "Never thought of it that way. You're right, maybe this is for the best. He can get out before they close off the city."

"See Uzume, it will be okay." Chiho yawned and leaned back into her pillow. Uzume crawled into bed beside her ashikabi as the duo contemplated their university bound friend.

oOo

A man in a pristine white suit stared out into the city from the safety of his office. "Did you deliver the orders?" The man stated without removing his eyes from the spectacular view.

"Yes, Mr. Higa, and she was made aware of our displeasure." Kakizaki said from the doorway of the office.

"While she did not specifically go against her prior orders, Uzume has disturbed the careful planning my team has set up for this game. We need to make sure that she knows her place. Maybe it's time to exert a little more control and show her how much power we truly hold over her life."

"Shall I inform Dr. Walsh to proceed with phase two of the plan."

HIga turned around, gleaming white teeth shimmering in a sinister smile. "Yes, I think that would do just nicely."

oOo

Uzume gently eased her way out of Chiho's bed, careful so as to not wake up her sleeping ashikabi. "Sweet dreams darling." Uzume whispered as she gave a gentle kiss to the young girl's forehead. With one final glance she quietly let herself out of the room, stopping short at the scene that greeted her.

I saw you on the corner holding hands with someone new
Happy as a boy could be
Love was in your eyes and yeah she looked the same way too
It's funny that was almost me

Uzume watched Minato as he conversed animatedly with the redheaded Dr. Walsh. They looked so happy; it made her sick. She sighed wondering how much heartbreak she had to endure before she gained a little bit of happiness.

Now I wanna be there by your side
I know what I said but I lied
I wanted to laugh but I cried
'Cause it's too late to push rewind
("Rewind" by Diane Birch)

Before the scene could become too unbearable, Uzume ghosted her way out of the hospital, hoping to find a little respite before continuing with her mission. It was too late to find happiness now.

A/N: Before I continue with my other apologies, let me start of with, yes, I eliminated Tsukiumi. Let me start off by saying that I am a fan of Tsukiumi and I enjoy writing her. As an English Literature teacher, I love Shakespearian/Elizabethan dialect. However, I could not see her progressing further in this story. I do have other stories planned that she will play a big part in. However, for this story, she just did not fit in. Sorry for all the Tsukiumi fans out there, I feel for you, really I do. Hopefully, you won't hold it against me too much.

Now, I know it's been more than a year since the last update. I apologize, but as you know, we fan-fiction authors usually have a life beyond these stories. Sometimes those lives catch up to us. Like I said at the beginning of this update. I won't make any promises that I cannot keep. Hence, I won't say when I will update next, only that I will update at some time. I do hope that it's sooner rather than later, but one never knows. However, rest assured, I am not abandoning this story.

I want to thank all those who have stuck it out during this lull in updates. I also want to recognize all the new reviewers and followers that have found this story in that interim between posts. Especially the reviewer who introduced me to a new term, Fleur Bleu. I readily admit that what I write is rather romantic, bordering on schmaltzy (that's actually one of the words used to translate that French literary term). I'm a romantic and I am rather proud of it and won't deny it. However, I will warn further readers of the sentimental romanticism of my stories in the future. Speaking of schmaltz, this chapter had it's fair share, especially with the song lyric snippet at the end. I was listening to that song, "Rewind" by Diane Birch, and it just seemed to fit. So, I had to build a little scene around it.

Well, that's it for now. I am working on the next chapter. Hopefully, it won't take a year before I post it. As always, read and review. Flames and anonymous posts will be deleted. Ciao!