Chapter 4: Before the Plunge

Disclaimer: I do not own Sekirei, or any characters, major concepts, or logos associated with the series. This fan story is made for fun, not profit.

Minato felt a strange tension in the air as the group shared what he assumed would be their last meal together at Maison Izumo. MBI staff had been employed to transport all of their personal possession to Teito Tower that afternoon, and a limousine was scheduled to transport them the next morning. The dark-haired Ashikabi was used to being bossed around by his overbearing mother and younger sister, but being under Minaka's thumb felt much worse. Now he felt more like a dog being led around helplessly.

The others sensed his discord and remained silent, hoping that the feelings of dread would pass. Matsu spared a glance at the landlady nervously, although for all of her intelligence she couldn't quite read her expression. Miya had listened intently to their story earlier that evening, but her response was very reserved and quiet, hardly ever a good sign when dealing with a woman who was painstakingly open towards expressing her pleasure and displeasure.

Miya crouched down beside the table, her demonic mask noticeably absent. She quietly took a sip of tea to calm her nerves before speaking. "So, you all intend to leave Maison Izumo tomorrow morning?"

"It's really not what any of us wanted, but it doesn't feel like we have much of a choice." The Ashikabi replied with a forced half smile.

Tsukiumi stood up suddenly, her eyes narrowing in irritation. "This does not sit right with me, Minato! If we are to become targets by Ashikabi, then I say let them come. Those that would violate the homestead are without an ounce of chivalry! They deserve no better than termination, and what be more satisfying a chance to deal with such rogues personally?"

"We're more than capable of taking care of ourselves. Most likely there's some kind of ulterior motive behind this forced relocation." Kazehana replied with an unusually focused expression.

"Regardless of the real reason, you would be in danger here." Matsu replied with a bitter expression. "If you hadn't cooperated with MBI, Minaka could have easily sent out a message telling everyone where we were and offering some kind of incentive to attack. Not to mention how hated the Discipline Squad is to begin with. Maison Izumo is practically defenseless!"

"Art thou referring to me as defenseless!?" the water Sekirei screamed defiantly.

"Chill out! I'm only saying that aside from our presence, this place if pretty much defenseless. An enemy Sekirei could just walk right in and attack under the guise of visiting, and we'd be forced into a battle in our own home. It's not an ideal situation for anyone."

The wind Sekirei let out a chortle. "You got that right… If this place goes down in smoke after a fight, our esteemed landlady would personally deal with the culprits. Then we would have to scrape what's left of them off the walls. You know how much Miya hates blood stains!"

Matsu's complexion turned ghostly white. "Um… Kazehana… You might want to apologize."

"You make me sound like some kind of monster." The innkeeper giggled with an oddly sadistic expression, an oni mask to materializing behind her. Her familiar let out a demonic hiss before releasing a foul purple aura into the air, causing her tenants to sink back in fear. "Care to say more, or are you done, Kazehana?"

The wind Sekirei dropped her sake bottle and shivered. "Yeah, sorry about that… Let's just pretend I didn't say that."

Miya smacked her with a ladle three times, leaving a small trio of lumps on her head. "That should do for now." She wagged her finger with a motherly expression. "It won't do you any good telling such terrible stories about me. After all, I'm just a pretty young woman who runs a boarding house for a living. Yup, just a landlady…"

"Sure, whatever! Just quit doing that, you're giving us all the chills!" Matsu replied from behind her Ashikabi's shoulder.

Minato's felt a shiver run down his spine as he locked eyes with the demonic visage above their heads. "I can't explain… this feeling… …" He muttered with a partially frozen expression.

"Stop scaring poor Minato. He's done nothing wrong, and you have no right to be mean to him." Yume stated bluntly, causing the landlady to direct her gaze towards their newest teammate.

"There's no need to talk like that, Yume." Her Ashikabi replied nervously, not wanting to start a conflict with their landlady.

Number 08 returned Miya's expression with a smile of her own, a bead of sweat forming on her brow, but her demeanor remaining just as stubbornly resolute. The innkeeper was pleasantly surprised that someone other than her deceased husband could stare her down like this without batting an eye or flinching under the pressure, but this girl seemed different than any other human or Sekirei she had met. The others felt as if an invisible wall had formed between the two, and were awed into silence.

Miya smiled and relaxed her posture, slowly breaking off the unofficial staring contest. "Perhaps I let it get to me. Although, what kind of person would I be for letting Kazehana say such naughty things about me in mixed company."

"Yeah, sorry about that. Guess that's what happens when you've had a few." The wind Sekirei added again, this time appearing completely sober.

"Glad that's settled!" Yume replied with a smile, gently placing a hand on Minato's wrist. He blushed slightly, but she paid him no mind. "I hope she didn't frighten you too much. It looked like you were going to pass out for a second."

Minato let out a nervous chuckle at the thought. "Nah, it's no big deal. We're always causing Miya so much trouble here, but I've always been grateful for her kindness putting up with all these antics the way she does. Living with a bunch of oddballs like us would be enough to drive any sane person up the wall."

The two stared into each other's eyes, and Minato found himself blushing uncontrollably under the pressure. For a moment it felt like he was staring into Musubi's soul, but further inspection made him see someone else behind her eyes. Yume's expressions and mannerisms were kind and comforting, not unlike Musubi, and yet she seemed more reserved and much less childish in her beliefs and convictions. It was an interesting change, but he wasn't sure what to think about it.

"Get thy fingers off of my husband!" Tsukiumi shouted suddenly, causing the other woman to recoil her hands. Seeing her sudden compliance to the command made her miss Musubi arguing with her over their Ashikabi.

"I understand completely." Number 08 responded with a comforting smile. "Having me around must feel like there's an intruder in your lives. I'm sorry if things are a getting a bit awkward."

Tsukiumi silently missed the confrontation, but simply shrugged it off. "Yes… Very well, then."

"There's no need to apologize. You're the reason why Musubi survived at the bridge, and if that's not enough for us to consider you part of the family, then nothing is." Minato added with a genuine, if not slightly stressed out smile.

"I appreciate that." Yume replied with a blush of her own, her gaze settling on her lap. "You have no idea how much this means to me. Even as chief of the Discipline Squad, my greatest desire was to be loved by an Ashikabi. By welcoming me into your group, you and the others have allowed me to share in those wonderful feelings."

Minato felt the heat return to his cheeks, but silently wondered if it was right to feel this way about someone who shared a body with his most beloved Sekirei. He smiled warmly at her and nodded. "There's really not much I can say, but I'm glad you feel that way about us."

"Art thou truly satisfied sharing one man with several wives? If even the real wife feels this sense of discontent, surely thou wouldst as well." Tsukiumi pressed.

"I don't think there's a reason to feel that way at all. You've all been so wonderful to me."

Miya placed her hands on her lap and smiled with a strangely calm expression, causing her fellow residents to direct their attention back onto her. "You have strong feelings for your Ashikabi, Yume. I must say how admirable it is to see the bond of trust that has formed between you all in so short a time."

Matsu nodded in agreement. "Trust is essential for building strong relationship between Ashikabi and Sekirei. It's good to know we won't be having any troubles in that department, especially considering that we'll only be able to rely on each other from now on."

The dark-haired Ashikabi raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean by that?"

"This is a tough job, mark my words!" the brain-type Sekirei straightened her glasses with one finger. "As MBI's dogs, you guys are going to have to do their dirty work whether you like it or not. Although the purpose of the Discipline Squad has varied over the years, the members have always acted as Minaka's tools."

"Is she telling the truth?" he asked the girl sitting across from him.

Yume let out a reluctant sigh before nodding in agreement. "It's true I was forced to carry out missions given to me by the president, but it never seemed quite as bad."

"Not so bad!? You do realize the job of the current Discipline Squad is to hunt down Sekirei and eliminate rule-breakers?" the redheaded genius added bluntly.

"There are more humane ways to handle these types of situations, especially if you possess the necessary tactical knowledge and capabilities. Enforcing the rules does not necessarily mean that one has to kill the rule breakers. Only people without love in their hearts would mercilessly take the life of another."

Tsukiumi leaned forward with a puzzled frown. "What will you do, then? Surely even someone as soft-hearted as thee would not sit still and allow an enemy to assault thy person?"

"We Sekirei do possess the ability to fight, but the results of a battle need not be fatal. While serving with Karasuba several years ago, we would set off together and take part in the same missions. She preferred to kill all of her enemies, but I never once spilt a drop of blood."

"Really!? That's a bit of a surprise!" Matsu replied with genuine awe. "Back in the old days the job of the Discipline Squad usually involved killing large numbers of heavily armed insurgents while protecting the president's private territory."

Minato took a moment to take it all in, but quickly noticed something was off. "Hey, wait a minute. I was just wondering… How on Earth do you know so much about the Discipline Squad, anyway?"

"Oh that! I was actually one of its founding members from the First Discipline Squad. Back then the majority of Sekirei hadn't been released yet, and the group consisted of Numbers 01 through 05. They were named guardians of the Sekirei Plan, and…"

Her Ashikabi cut her off mid-sentence with a spit take, barely managing to direct it to the floor at the last second. "What on Earth!? You were in the Discipline Squad?"

"Yup, way back during the first generation. Why, does that freak you out or something?"

Kusano wore a blank expression in the face of this new bit of information, her face whitening as she pictured the perverted genius wearing a uniform harming people, having no other reference to go off of than the Discipline Squad members she had heard about from the bridge incident.

Yume found it a little strange herself, but remembering who the original members of the group were had made it less of a surprise for her. Miya and Kazehana seemed to be completely unaffected by the supposed revelation, and continued what they were doing without disturbance. The landlady quietly cleaned the remaining food from her plate, while Kazehana mindlessly twirled her booze bottle like a top.

"Hold on! Thou wouldst keep something of this magnitude from us!" Tsukiumi shouted, pounding her fists on the table. Her eye-twitched before she turned to face the alcoholic sitting beside her. "Foul drunkard, dost thou also share in this treachery as well?"

"Treachery… That's pretty harsh even coming from someone like you. It's not like you guys ever asked me about my past, and I'm pretty sure someone must've said something during our visit to Teito Tower. Not my fault you don't listen, Miss Panty-flash."

The water Sekirei gave her short dress a quick tug before glaring daggers at the other woman, as if doing so would cause her to burst into flames. "Cease at once, inebriated rogue! I shall not be made a fool of by the likes of you!"

"You certainly don't need my help to look like an idiot." Kazehana retaliated lazily.

"Precisely right, I do not require your help to…" Tsukiumi's mouth fell open as she realized what she was about to say, her entire body suddenly exploding with an angry red aura. "I shall murder thee!" she pointed accusingly at the other woman.

To her surprise, the entire group broke out into laughter at the water Sekirei's expense. Even Miya who was normally indifferent about their antics was working to suppress her giggles, instead covering her mouth in a ladylike manner. Rather than react with another angry outburst, Tsukiumi fumed to herself and took it in stride, realizing that she had in fact done exactly what Kazehana had accused her of. It was bitter, knowing her actions had proven someone else correct, especially since it was an insult.

She grit her teeth irritably in response to their laughter. "Thou couldst show some reservation."

"We're sorry Tsukiumi… It was just in the timing, I guess." Minato replied comfortingly, gently placing a hand on her shoulder. "Honestly, we didn't mean to hurt your feelings or anything, isn't that right Kazehana?" he glanced over at the wind mistress.

Kazehana smiled reassuringly, purposely ignoring the blonde woman's scowl. "It was just a joke. You really need to relax once and a while, and learn to take things as they come." She winked with a half smile. "Isn't that right, Miss Panty-flash?"

The water Sekirei winced before swallowing her abundant pride. "Dost thou hope to test me by referring to me by that vile mockery?" she crossed her arms and straightened her posture. "If so, then I shall overcome thee through the power of passive aggression."

"Looks like she can be taught." The drunken Sekirei remarked with a note of boredom.

Matsu quietly observed the blonde for a second or two, immediately taking note of her shaking hands and twitching left eye before leaning towards her Ashikabi. "You might want to say something quick before Tsukiumi loses it and turns this room into an indoor swimming pool. The last thing we need is to set Miya on the warpath."

"Yeah, guess you're right." He whispered back. Minato tried to grab the others' attention, gently raised his hands as if he were afraid of sudden impact. "Um, guys. Maybe we should lay off Tsukiumi for a while. We've all had a pretty rough day so far, so let's at least try to enjoy ourselves before tomorrow."

Yume smiled in agreement. "He's right! Let's just try to forget all our troubles and relax."

"Didn't I just say that?" Kazehana frowned with a slightly tipsy expression, only to be elbowed in the side by Matsu.

Dinner continued without any more conflicts save for a small argument between Tsukiumi and Kusano over who would get to feed their Ashikabi. This particular dispute had been a regular occurrence since the night the water Sekirei had fist come to Maison Izumo, so the others simply ignored it for the most part. Even Matsu who relished in the mayhem caused by her master and his other wives had long since lost interest in this particular event and busied herself by making small talk with Kazehana instead.

While Musubi used to be in the center of these conflicts, Yume simply watched the two blondes bicker with a contented expression, silently admiring the feelings of love that existed between her fellow Sekirei. Her greatest joy in life had always been to watch the happiness of others, yet for so long she hadn't been given the chance to seize it for herself. Although she felt selfish for thinking it, Yume realized that with Musubi's body, she had a chance to achieve her own desires.

As the laughter quieted down and dinner came to a close, the innkeeper stood up and bowed her head with a peaceful expression. "I'm going to miss having all of you around… I truly mean it. Things are bound to get boring around Maison Izumo once you leave."

"Thanks Miya." Minato rubbed the back of his head with a nervous smile. "Still, it's not like we're moving to Europe or something like that. We'll be right across town."

Kuu skipped over and tugged on the landlady's dress. "Yeah, we'll come visit all the time!"

"Yeah, I'm sure it won't be a problem." He agreed with an awkward yet cheerful expression.

Miya rested a hand against her face and made a cute expression. "Oh my… I'm very touched that you all seem to feel this way about me. After all, when it comes down to the facts, I'm still just your landlady." She let out a light-hearted giggle and smiled. "It's a little strange, isn't it?"

"Not at all!" The dark-haired Ashikabi looked down bashfully before shaking his head. "When Musubi and I first crashed onto your property that here we were alone with nowhere to live, but you gave us a place to call home and treated us like family. I'll never forget how happy we both were that day you invited us to stay at Maison Izumo."

Tsukiumi's previous annoyance vanished instantly, and she gave a stern nod. "I still desire to be the strongest, and no one better than thee exists to guide me along this path. Make no mistake, I intend to return here and hone my skills against you, landlady."

The wind Sekirei sat back up with a smile of her own. "Don't forget me. I lived in this place a long time before going on that nationwide sake-tasting tour. After that I spent my time wandering from one place to another with a broken heart and a bottle of sake, but in the end this was the only real home I ever had."

"Yeah, I can probably say the same thing… Well, except the part about being a drunk wandering the streets." Matsu hastily added in the last part.

Kazehana chuckled at the thought. "Better than being a shut-in who never leaves the house…"

"How would you have handled MBI chasing after you for over a decade? Now imagine that, only without your wind powers. You would've done the same thing!"

"I suppose there's no room for argument there." The drunken Sekirei gave her bottle an absent-minded shake. "Especially considering you don't have any real fighting abilities."

"If it weren't for my intelligence, we would've all been blasted to smithereens by surveillance satellites while helping Kuno escape with her Ashikabi."

Number 03 stood up and forcibly pushed her boobs up against her old friend's bosom while shooting a seductive smile at their Ashikabi. "I guess you are pretty handy, but I've still got you beat in the most important department."

"Typical Kazehana… When all else fails you resort to that old trick." Matsu cupped her own breasts and leaned in so that they were pressing up against each other in a mirrored posture, her eyes glittering with a perverted twinkle. "According to my calculations, mine are still about ten times better than yours! Isn't that right, Minato?"

"Um… Is my opinion really all that important." He turned away with a deep blush, doing his best not to stare at their assets.

Tsukiumi suddenly appeared in front of him, reaching out and forcing her Ashikabi's face down so that they were only inches from her own chest. "I shall not allow those unruly wenches flaunt themselves thus!" she shouted, her own cheeks turning pink as she realized how close her breasts were. "If thou must openly stare at breasts, then look no further than thy real wife."

"C'mon Miss Panty-flash, you know mine are still bigger than yours." The wind Sekirei struck a seductive pose and jiggled her chest playfully.

Matsu straightened her glasses with an evil smirk. "Bigger doesn't always mean better, if you know what I mean."

Kusano popped up with an innocent smile, trying to show off her own chest despite her youthful physique's lack of development. "How about mine? Why not stare at my chest, big brother?"

"I can't! It's not proper!" Minato jumped back with a look of horror at the thought. The young Sekirei had basically asked him to become a pedophile, and he wasn't willing to even think about doing something so low.

"He's mine, brat!" Tsukiumi grabbed his arm and wrenched him away from the others.

"What's the matter? There's no problem if we share, right? Just let me have him first" the wind manipulator seized his opposite hand and pulled back.

The genius redhead twiddled her fingers with an eager lust. "Age before beauty, they always say!" she spat creepily, causing her Ashikabi to sink back in fear. He immediately grabbed hold of his other two Sekirei in fear of their most perverted teammate.

Kazehana observed their rather compromising position "A threesome, then?" she nodded her approval. "I didn't think that you of all people would be into such kinky stuff, but I'm more than willing to go that route if it means having fun tonight."

"Maybe some other time!" Minato let out a frightened yelp and tried top pry himself loose, but it seemed only to make things worse. To say he wasn't turned on would be a lie, but this scenario was making him so nervous that he could have jumped out of his skin.

Miya loomed behind them with an eerie smile, her presence causing a veil of shadows to materialize around the group. Everyone seemed to freeze for a moment, as she walked towards the group, causing all four Sekirei to hide behind their master out of fear. Kusano grabbed onto his leg while the others appeared to be holding him in front of them like a human shield. At the same time, the black-haired Ashikabi looked equally as stupefied as the others and was shivering uncontrollably in her wake.

"You all seem to forget that public obscenity and sexual activities are not allowed on this property." The landlady smiled pleasantly, her peaceful expression at odds with the rather angry-looking specter floating over her shoulder.

"We were just kidding around, isn't that right guys?" Matsu blurted out with a frightened look.

Kazehana let go of the others in an attempt to keep some form of dignity. "Yeah, we wouldn't dream of doing something like that in Maison Izumo."

The water Sekirei bowed her head formally. "I implore thee… please forgive us for this most indecent disruption, landlady."

Their innkeeper pretended to think about it for a moment before swiftly bringing her ladle down onto each their heads one after the other. They each yelped or groaned as large bruises comically formed in the places where she hit them, but after seeing what Miya could do in a fight, most of them were glad to escape with a bump or two. The purple-haired woman took a moment to wipe the end of the large utensil before turning her back to the group once more.

"Miya!?" Matsu stepped forward with a concerned expression.

"You guys are certainly a handful, but I will still miss everyone once you leave." She reiterated with a genuinely happy expression. "Maybe if you could have learned to control those perverted urges, things would've been more peaceful around here. Although, I admit it's only natural considering the nature of your feelings."

"Definitely!" The redheaded genius noticed that she was talking more to herself, but still spoke.

Minato gave her another awkward smile even though she couldn't see it. "The perverted urges were less mine than everyone else, but I'm glad you can understand." He moved so that he was standing only a few steps behind her. "Thank you for putting up with us for so long, we'll never forget your kindness."

"It was my pleasure, Minato." She returned his kindness before addressing the group, facing them with a strangely serious expression much different from her cheerful façade or concealed rage. Miya took a moment to clear her throat, inclining her head respectfully. "Before you leave tomorrow, I want you all to know something important… If you ever need my help for any reason, don't hesitate to ask for it. Remember, my door is always be open to each and every one of you without exception. Is that understood?"

"Of course." he answered solemnly, earning a murmur of agreement from the girls.

Yume had been watching quietly for the last few minutes, silently admiring the bonds between everyone in the room. It was truly amazing how such a diverse group of people could have come together like this. Moments like this she likened to the workings of fate, something that Number 08 had always believed in from the bottom of her heart. Yume saw acts of kindness and bonds of love as being a driving force of destiny.

Miya smiled brightly, causing the tension to evaporate almost instantly. "Well, now that we've cleared the air, I think it's time we cleared off the dinner table as well. It looks like you've all been finished eating for quite some time."

"How disrespectful of me for forgetting." Tsukiumi replied graciously, her noble demeanor shining through the nightly antics.

"Let me help, too!" Kuu scooped up several plates and walked towards the kitchen only to trip.

Yume reached down and supported the child, using her opposite hand to catch the dishes with an effortless movement of her wrist. "Easy does it, Kuu!" she said in a motherly tone, affectionately patting the child on the head. "Careful next time, or you might hurt yourself."

"Or break Miya's good china and wind up on the end of her ladle." Kazehana muttered out of the corner of her mouth, earning a light-hearted giggle from Matsu.

Minato watched his girls converse with a smile, glad that they were actually getting along again. Although they occasionally squabbled like the incident during dinner, they were all very good friends who would trust each other with their own lives. It was also interesting to note that Yume was getting along marvelously with the others as well. She seemed much more mature and level-headed in comparison to Musubi's absent-minded innocence, but in a sense it made her seem more like a normal person than the others.

Once Miya had gone to the kitchen to prepare to sink, he noticed Kazehana excuse herself from the room. He laughed inwardly at the thought, having expected someone as lax as her to skip out on the evening chores.

Several of the things he had learned earlier that day came back to him now that the others had settled down, but the one thing that troubled him most was his mother's message for Matsu. It has been ambiguous yet deathly urgent at the same time, and he had been waiting for the right moment to speak up. Seeing how the genius girl was letting the others do most of the work, he decided to take the chance.

Walking over to her as casually as possible, the dark-haired Ashikabi decided it was now or never. "Hey Matsu."

"Is there something you need, Minato? Maybe some services that only I can provide."

"While the others are cleaning up, could we go back up to your room for some privacy?"

Matsu rubbed her hands together with a mischievous look. "Oh my, this is so sudden." She began with an evil chortle. "Had a feeling you'd come around eventually… After all, deepening the bonds between Sekirei and Ashikabi through experimentation is one way to win the game!"

Minato sputtered at the thought, causing a stream of blood to drip from his nose. He immediately realized his mistake in wording in the face of her perverted mannerisms and tone. "That's not what I meant!"

"It'll just be a little experiment. There's nothing wrong with that!" the genius explained, her tone sounding more like she were describing a simple math equation.

Her Ashikabi leaned in so that only she could hear, the action surprising her. "My mother gave me an important message to relay that I can't let anyone else know about. This isn't the time for joking around!"

"Who said I was joking about that?" Matsu let out a restrained snicker, but her mood quickly changed as she let what he had said sink in. She looked back up at her master and nodded firmly, her expression darkening considerably, and her light-hearted persona dissipating. "Lead the way!"

"Shush! My mother told me this has to stay a secret for now." As they slunk from the room, the others were too busy tending to the duties that were being assigned to them by Miya to notice.

Meanwhile Kazehana was having a moment of her own outside. After vacating the room only moments ago, she had headed to the roof for some quiet time. With her bottle of sake in hand, the wind Sekirei reclined onto her back and admired the bright evening sky. She often lost herself like this, pretending the world around her was nothing but an illusion while gazing into the endless void, just her and the stars.

She drowned a mouthful with a smirk, having managed to claim a bottle of expensive sake from the kitchen without the landlady finding out. "Oh yeah, that's the good stuff!"

"You'll ruin your health, drinking like a fish." A calm voice replied from over her shoulder.

"Oh it's you… I didn't notice you there." She replied without so much as a glance, already knowing who it was.

Homura stood on the opposite edge of the rood with his back to her, having also come up here to admire the nighttime sky before heading out on guardian patrol. Disguised in a black cloak and mask, he had been instructed by Takami to protect the un-winged Sekirei from cruel Ashikabis who might try to enslave them. It often put him at a risk to getting nabbed himself, but at the same time he slept well at night knowing that he had made a difference to so many people.

Kazehana lay back with a lazy smile, gently resting her hands behind her head as she did. "So Homura, what brings you up here this time of night?"

"Just taking a breather before doing the rounds." He replied coolly, looking completely at ease.

"I noticed you skipped out on dinner tonight." She began with a knowing expression, causing him to tense up slightly. "It's pretty hot in there, isn't it?"

Kagari tugged at the front of his shirt, refusing to meet her eyes. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"It's a pleasant warm feeling, isn't it? Reacting to the person you're destined to be with. No doubt he's the reason behind your sudden change, if you know what I mean."

"Even if that were the truth, I don't ever intend to allow anyone to control my life. No one's ever going to choose me, and I'm never going to choose anyone else. It's something I've come to terms with a long time ago. How could someone like you possibly know how I feel right now?"

"I've felt this way only twice, but it's something I've come to recognize in other people." She relaxed with an unusually solemn expression, but suddenly became giddy with excitement. "It's love! Nothing but true love!" she laced her hands together, her eyes shining with elation.

"Are you drunk again?" he questioned flatly while resisting the urge to roll his eyes.

His words caused her to stop and raise and eyebrow, causing the rooftop growing quiet once again. "No one would accuse me of being an expert on relationships, but I know a reaction when I see it. I don't see what you have to gain by denying yourself something your body obviously desires."

"I'm a broken Sekirei." Homura stated adamantly before shifting his gaze away.

"Love really is a wonderful thing…" Kazehana mused with a dreamy smile.

"This coming from the woman who was winged little over a day ago… I wouldn't be such a hypocrite were in your shoes. After all, your desire was to sit out the Sekirei Plan until the end before you met Minato, wasn't it?"

"Oh my, how did this talk suddenly become about me?" she exhaled melodramatically before steadying herself again. "Truth is, I was just waiting for someone worthwhile all this time. That doesn't mean I never stopped hoping that the right Ashikabi would appear. Personally, it would appear the solution to both our problems was right under this roof."

The fire wielder blushed, before shaking his head clear of the notion. "I won't stand here and be mocked by someone like you." He folded his arms in an attempt to regain his cool composure. "Now if you'll excuse me, some of us have more to do than get drunk all night."

"What a bother…" she sighed, not bothering to pursue his retreating form.

Homura walked to the edge of the rooftop and leapt into the air, disappearing into the night and leaving Kazehana along once more. She poured herself another saucer of rice wine and sipped greedily before consuming the remains, her breath reeking of alcohol even more than usual. The day had been relatively stressful for everyone, and she was no exception. Although no matter how much she drank, the inner sense of dread refused to go away.

Realizing the bottle was empty, she allowed it to roll over the side of the roof and tried to relax. As she gazed into the sky once more, the others were still busy tidying up the inn. Back in the hidden room on the second floor, Minato closed the door behind him and faced the redheaded genius, who had surprisingly lost her desire to do anything perverted in their solitude.

Matsu glanced around nervously as if she thought the walls were listening, but quickly quelled her fears. "So Minato, what did Takami want to tell me that was so important?"

"She was kinda vague, so I'm really not sure what's going on." He began with a note of concern. "I was actually hoping you would be able to fill in the blanks once we got it out into the open."

"Just tell me before Tsukiumi rushes in and starts making a scene." She pressed him.

Minato straightened up, trying to hide the tension. "My mother wanted me to deliver a message from Minaka concerning something they never explained to me. She implied that you stole something from MBI before leaving the company. Is this true?"

Number 02 had somehow expected this issue to emerge eventually, but was still rendered speechless by the notion. When he paused, she became anxious and spoke up. "It's the truth, although I don't think it wise for you to spread this around." She seized his arms and shook him anxiously "What exactly did she say?"

"They didn't tell me anything about it!" He blurted out, causing her to release her grip. The young ronin let out a cough and cleared his throat before speaking again. "My mother just wanted you to know that the president is willing to forgive you, assuming we are willing to protect whatever it is that you took."

"Hmmm… I guess this was bound to happen if the president was planning on using those things in the Sekirei Plan." Matsu pondered to herself, looking as if she had forgotten her Ashikabi's presence. "Interesting that he wants us to keep it, but for what reason is he…"

"What's going on?" Minato asked suddenly, forcibly bringing her back to her senses.

She hesitated for a moment, looking highly conflicted. After wrestling with her own thoughts for a minute, she finally responded. "I understand you have a right to know what's going on, but if your mother didn't tell you, then I'm not certain if I should either."

He stepped forward with a concerned expression. "Is it really that dangerous?"

"You have no idea!" Matsu crossed the room and bent over, withdrawing a sharp prism-like object from a hidden compartment.

From what little he could see it had the number 8 inscribed on the side, although he wasn't entirely sure what it was. "What is that?"

She held it against the dim light of her room so that he could see, but quickly hid it in the fold of her clothes in case someone walked in. "It's called a Jinki, and it's a very dangerous item on the wrong hands. It's also the reason why I was forced to hide from MBI."

"Really!?" he blinked with a clueless look, causing her to smile. She always enjoyed seeing how innocent he could be.

"You didn't think I became a shut-in out without good reasons, did you?" Matsu answered with a playful wink, her serious composure returning short afterwards. "I know you want to know more, but I'm not sure if it's safe for me to say anything else yet."

"If you don't want to talk about, I understand… You don't have to explain the whole thing, but if you can, please tell me why that thing is so dangerous. Could you, please do that much for me?"

The genius girl straightened he glasses and inhaled deeply before letting her breath out slowly. "There are several Jinki, eight in total, and when brought together the person who possesses them effectively holds the fate of every Sekirei in the palm of their hands." She exchanged a look of understanding with her Ashikabi. "For the time being we should probably leave it at that."

"I see…" Minato turned to leave, but even his curiosity had been peeked by the strong yet highly conspicuous revelation she had just given. His hand froze on the edge of the door, and he looked back at her. "Will I ever learn what else there is to know about those things or not?"

"This is something in which even I don't now all of the details. It's so much that I don't want to answer that question… It's more like, I can't."

"One more thing." His voice wavered slightly, his hand shaking in frustration. "You aid these things have the power to affect all Sekirei. What would Minaka possibly hope to do with that kind of power?"

"I don't know that either, although something tells me we'll have the opportunity to speak to him tomorrow at Teito Tower."

Minato was half way out the door when he did a double take. "Wait! You're actually planning on going with us?"

The redheaded genius felt beads of sweat running down her forehead. "It's not like he's giving me much of a choice. I don't have any reason to distrust your mother, but Minaka is a different story altogether. Hopefully this promise of forgiveness isn't some kind of trick."

"I promise not to let anything happened to you." He replied, causing her to look up in surprise. Minato remained completely undaunted by her reaction. "After what happened to Musubi at the bridge, I promised myself I wouldn't let anything else hurt the people I care about. I'll stake my own life on that."

"Thank you, Minato…" she muttered quietly, realizing just how right she had been to choose him as her Ashikabi.

Matsu looked upon her Ashikabi with deep admiration, a stark comparison to her normally perverted antics. She watched him go with a smile and a wave as he closed the hidden door behind him, leaving her alone once again. The resident hacker had been so impressed by the sense of devotion in his eyes, that she had forgotten her original intentions to force herself onto him once the serious talk was over. Even though her eyes, those last few words had been worth losing a chance to seduce him.

As Minato headed downstairs to rejoin the others, he was interrupted by the sound of his phone ringing. Dreading another threatening e-mail from MBI, he was pleasantly surprised to find a very familiar number appear on the screen. This quickly turned to dread when he remembered how long it had been since the last time they had spoken, but at the same time he was excited to hear from her again.

"What's up big bro?" his sister's voice came from the other end of the line. "It's been a long time since the last time we saw each other, so I figured I'd give you a buzz."

"Oh, hey Yukari. I'm rally sorry for not getting back to you sooner, but things have been a little crazy for me lately."

"You better have a good excuse for ignoring me the last few months!" she added with a note of childish hostility. She exhaled in frustration, but her voice became sly and seductive when she spoke again. "Oh, I get it now… You've been having too much fun with Musubi to bother with other people, right?"

"What… No!" he sputtered, tripping over her words and almost dropping the phone. He forced back a blush, silently glad she couldn't see him. 'It's not like that! She and I were just friends!"

His sister answered with a chorus of laughter. "I was just kidding around, big bro. No need to act like a virgin."

Minato sweat-dropped with a dark expression. "Yeah, okay." He shook his head to get it out of the gutter. "So what've you been up to lately?"

"Oh, this and that? I was accepted into that girl's university and settled into my apartment just fine. Enough about me and my boring life… Why haven't you gotten a chance to call me lately?"

"There were a lot of reasons, although I'd rather not have to relive all the details."

"Trust me, I know what you mean. So tell me, how's Musubi doing these days?" she couldn't see, but on the other end of the line her brother frowned deeply, looking heavily distraught by the real answer. After a few moments of silence, she quickly lost her patience. "Hello! You there? I'm gonna hang up on you! Answer me you jerk!"

"Oh, sorry about that. Guess I just spaced out." He replied half-heartedly, his voice betraying signs of misery.

Although some people would mistake her for insensitive, the younger Sahashi was surprisingly in tune with her brother's emotions. "Look, I'm sorry if I bit your head off just now. If something happened between you guys, I guess it's none of my business."

"There's been some major changes going on lately to put it simply. I'm just having some trouble dealing with it." He summed up the situation while trying not to lie again.

She could tell there was something deeper going on, but kept it to herself for now. "Just to let you know, I just called because it's been kinda boring around my place lately. Do you mind if I pop down to Maison Izumo to hang out with you tomorrow morning."

Minato paled at the thought as he imagined his sister's reaction to his group of Sekirei. The game was supposed to be a giant secret, and he knew how it would look if his sister saw him being smothered by several beautiful women without knowing the full circumstances. She had always admired him so much, and the idea of her being disgusted by his new living arrangements sent a jolt of panic through the boy's heart.

"Will you quit spacing out!" she screamed into the mouthpiece, causing him to come back to life.

"Sorry, I was just thinking about something important." He quickly decided to divert the topic instead. "The truth is, I've got a job interview in the afternoon so I won't be able to meet up with you then. How about we meet at that station in the north tomorrow morning, instead? We can catch up and have breakfast together."

Yukari shrugged with a cheerful expression. "Sounds good to me! Say 8:00 tomorrow morning?"

"That's pretty good for me… I guess we'll see each other then, Yukari."

"Okay, bye!" Several miles across the city, she hung up her phone and pocketed it, using her foot to kick the crotch of a thuggish man that had been unfortunate enough to hit on her while she was talking to her beloved older brother.

As Minato put away his own cell, two familiar women emerged from the stairwell beside him. Yume smiled as she caught sight of her new Ashikabi while the water Sekirei followed along at a brisk pace. "Something gong on?" he asked nervously.

"We just finished cleaning the kitchen, and Tsukiumi was wondering where you were. I saw you and Matsu come up here earlier."

"What were thee doing alone in the company of the shameless wench?" the blonde interrogated, her eyes narrowed in suspicion. "Thou didst not engage any activities that thy one true wife would consider irreparable or untoward?

The black-haired Ashikabi stepped back, nervously waving his hands protectively in front of himself. "I swear it was nothing like that! I just had some stuff about MBI to talk to her about. That was all!"

"I saw you put your phone away on the way up here. I don't mean to be rude, but it wouldn't be to much to ask who it was, would it?" Yume asked with a bashful expression.

Minato exhaled a held, looking glad that the other Sekirei hadn't drenched him a second ago. "I was actually talking to my sister earlier." He looked at the floor, causing his bangs to fall over his eyes. "She asked me about Musubi, but I couldn't tell her the truth for obvious reasons."

"Oh… I apologize…" Number 08 looked away with a hurt expression, suddenly feeling the pain still coursing through his heart. She admired him for taking it with such a strong façade, but he couldn't hide his emotions from his Sekirei, especially one as emotionally connected as her.

Tsukiumi felt the same sadness course through her own body due to the loss of her friend, but her mind was else ware right now. "So, Musubi met thy sister in the past." She reasoned with a slightly hurt look. "Tell me, why have I never made her acquaintance?"

"It actually happened before I met you, and I haven't seen her since." He replied, causing her ire to decrease somewhat. "Having breakfast with her tomorrow will be the first time I've actually seen her in person for months now."

"Really!?" Tsukiumi's expression lit up suddenly. "Perhaps thou wouldst not be opposed to my presence, in case we are to encounter an emergency situation in which my talents would be most necessary."

Minato shook his head. "I'm not sure if that would be a good idea."

She reached forward and seized him by the front of his shirt. "What dost thou mean by that?" she bit out aggressively. "Not only does this new position in MBI make thee a target for enemies, but tis most improper that thy sister had met Musubi, but not thy real wife!"

"I think it's a good idea." Yume added kindly, her response surprising both of the others.

"Yukari doesn't know what happened to Musubi, and she can't know about the Sekirei Plan!" he reasoned with a panicked expression. "How on Earth do I explain everything to her?"

"Thou shalt deal! Hold thy head up high, hide thy fear, and call me wife!"

The ronin imagined his sister's disgusted expression and suddenly felt nauseous. "That's a bad idea on several different levels."

"I will make her acquaintance whether you desire it or not! Tis only proper… Am I clear?" she shouted in his face, causing him to cringe violently.

"Sure! Whatever you say!" he screamed out, looking thoroughly defeated.

Tsukiumi nodded with a satisfied smile. "Very good. I shall prepare for tomorrow morning with the utmost priority." She turned and left to return to her own room, leaving her Ashikabi with Yume once more.

Number 08 waited quietly as the blonde woman closed the door, glancing between Sekirei and Ashikabi with a confused expression. Sauntering up to him, she placed a hand on his shoulder, causing him to jump in surprise. "I know you love your Sekirei, but why do you let everyone push you around like that?"

Minato shook his head with a tired half-smile. "I saw the writing on the wall. Since she wasn't planning on listening to me either way, there's no point in arguing for nothing."

"One of the reasons why I also fell in love with you is because you care more for the feelings of others than you do your own." She wrapped her arms around him with a warm expression before gently pulling away. "Just remember not to sell yourself short, though. Your opinions do matter, and I hope one day you come to realize that."

Her words struck him dumb for a moment, but before he could say anything else, Yume was already walking in the opposite direction. "Wait!" he reached out to her.

"Yes…" she replied, innocently glancing back at him over her shoulder.

"Thanks for being honest with me… I really appreciate it." He smiled back at her.

The reborn Sekirei gazed lovingly at her new Ashikabi, silently resisting the urge to kiss him. "You're much stronger and smarter than you give yourself credit for. Remember, we Sekirei are not the only ones who must learn to spread their wings and fly."

With this, she headed back downstairs, leaving him standing alone in the hall. He pondered her words as they echoed through his mind, causing him to gaze out the window into the everlasting sky. Minato wondered what she met by saying he needed to fly, but the idea of taking hold of his life and gaining control over his world seemed to stick. Taking a deep breath, he caught sight of the full moon looming over Maison Izumo, wondering if he could ever be as majestic and free.


"The moon's beautiful tonight, isn't it?" Uzume stared lovingly at her Ashikabi, the fragile girl's smile bringing her some much-needed joy.

Chiho cringed slightly as the pain of her disease resurfaced again, but she refused to let such a trivial thing overcome her happiness. The Sekirei sitting beside her bed was the only person she had left in her life after being abandoned by her relatives, and she treasured every moment that they spent together. Uzume loved seeing her in high spirits and often made humorous costumes to wear for her Ashikabi, each one producing the desired results. She was such a wonderful girl at heart that it seemed like a waste knowing fate had doomed her to such a painful existence.

She let out a small cough, causing her Sekirei to wrap an arm around her shoulder. "Are you doing okay?" Uzume smiled lovingly, gently cradling the smaller girl's form. "Just remember that I'm right here if you need anything."

"Yeah, I'm fine… Sorry you had to have someone like me as an Ashikabi."

"Don't say something so awful. Out of everyone that could've been my Ashikabi, I've never met someone as awesome as you. I chose this of my own free will, so never forget that!"

The sick girl couldn't help but smile again, but her frown returned only moments later. "I'm still sorry. There's not much I can do for you as a partner, being stuck in the hospital like this. The doctors say there's no way to stop the infection from spreading."

She guided Chiho's head back to her pillow and embraced the young girl. "Don't give up hope like that. I guarantee you'll be fine, and we'll both live together for a good long time."

"You don't need to talk to me like a kid… Thanks to you, this doesn't feel like such a bad thing after all. I've learned to be thankful for every moment of happiness life gives me."

Uzume tightened her embrace, a deep warmth spreading through her entire body she returned it. "That's one of the many things I've come to love about you." She lovingly whispered into the smaller girl's ear.

Although both girls wished that the moment could last forever, a beeping sound issued from the phone as Uzume's hip, forcing her to answer it. She glanced at the surface and pressed a button, revealing a text message from an all-too-familiar source. Her hands cringed in anger, but she quickly worked to hide all signs of displeasure and forced a smile into place.

"Is something wrong?" Chiho questioned with a look of concern.

"Nothing at all, I just have some business to attend to somewhere else." The busty woman replied cheerfully, the bright smile barely reaching her eyes. "It looks like visiting hours are over, so I should probably take a hike now. I'll be back as soon as possible, so take care!"

The two girls hugged one last time before Uzume left the room, her expression darkening once the door was tightly shut between them. It had been such a perfect night so far, yet a certain someone had saw fit to ruin what little time she was allowed to spend with her Ashikabi. She found it sickening to do work for such an unscrupulous group of people, but the hospital in question was owned and operated by a major pharmaceutical company, and Uzume saw it best to keep them satisfied so long as Chiho was around.

Her posture remained strangely somber and aloof compared to her usual cheerful demeanor, and it seemed to repel to hospital staff as they passed her in the halls. She didn't look particularly angry, but at the same time her demeanor gave off the impression that someone had just shot a puppy before her eyes. As she stepped into the lobby of the medical facility, a man was already waiting for her. He had a slim average build and wore a black suit with a white undershirt and yellow tie. His hair was dark and slightly messy, but the square spectacles on his face gave him a touch of class.

"Good to see you got my message, Number 10." The man greeted her with an empty smile.

"What is it that you want, Kakizaki?" she cut through his idle pleasantries in a bitter voice while refusing to meet his eyes.

He dispensed with the artificial cheer and straightened his glasses in a scholarly manner. "I just wanted to discuss some recent events with you in place of Mr. Higa. You don't mind, do you?"

Uzume quickly caught onto what he was going to say. "If you're talking about the battle on the bridge, it had nothing to do with me. The objective was to terminate Sekirei Number 95, so there shouldn't be any problems concerning what happened that…"

"Higa's orders were for you to eliminate Number 95, and yet rumor has it that the veiled Sekirei was partially responsible for her escape." He interrupted with a disapproving expression. "Would you care to explain yourself, or shall I count this as a betrayal of trust?"

"The objective was to eliminate Kuno and her Ashikabi from the Sekirei Plan. Allowing the escape to happen accomplished that objective just fine. I don't see why your master has a problem, especially since the end result was the same!"

Kakizaki grimaced, but his neutral tone remained the same. "That is not for you to decide. Your specific orders were to kill the Sekireis on Higa's list, not save them from harm. I was sent here to warn you that we won't be tolerating any more of this misbehavior of the sort, should you allow sentimentality to affect your performance in the future."

"I don't see what the big deal is?" she protested with a weary expression.

"Higa demands nothing less than the utmost obedience from those in his employ. Before you answer me, I implore you realize that the arrangements we've made can easily be unmade." The busty Sekirei's eyes widened in fear, her body freezing like a statue for a second or two. "It appears you remember the deal, then?"

"I do whatever Higa says, so long as he provides the necessary medical care for Chiho."

"Precisely…" the secretary replied with the tiniest of nods "If you place one toe out of line in the future, we can make life quite difficult for you both. You wouldn't want to risk the life or your beloved Ashikabi, now would you?"

"No…" She stated robotically, her spirit broken at last.

Kakizaki thumbed handed her a sheet or paper and smiled arrogantly. "Your new list of potential targets has been compiled. This time, get the job done right, or not at all."

Uzume bit back a scowl as she accepted the document, her head drooping as she read some of the names. "I… I will not fail."

"Good to see you understand, Number 10." Higa's personal assistant straightened his glasses one more time and made his exit through the lobby door, leaving behind a high distraught Sekirei. Satisfied that the message had been delivered, he took out his phone and dialed, his face becoming suddenly serious. "Yes, hello, this is Kakizaki… Connect me to Mr. Higa."

Note to Readers: I feel like I'm really slacking off lately, so sorry about that. I hope this makes up for it, and I hope I can get another update up really soon. A special thanks to anyone who reviewed my story! Speaking of which, I'm also glad for the reactions that I got out of Takami's character, considering I'm not her biggest fan either for a lot of the reasons you guys seemed to point out. Just to let you know I have been reading your reviews, and they've been a big help in keeping me going on this story.

Keep 'em coming! I welcome any contributions, comments, or ideas that you guys may have. Ideas are always great because I love when people give me material I can work with later. Any thoughts about what's going on, drop them by. Also, if you want to see any specific characters or events, just describe it and I'll see what I can do. Until next time, thanks for reading, and I hope you continue enjoying my story in the future!