Chapter 7: Bonds of Trust

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.

After what had felt like the longest day of their lives, night had fallen in the capital at last. Minato's flock had spent the most of the afternoon moving into their new base of operations. Luxurious as it was, the living space provided to them by MBI was hardly home compared to the cozy feel of Maison Izumo.

Minato had taken advantage of their free time to peruse the floor, taking note of the cutting edge appliances, state of the art technology, and new age computer systems. In comparison to the modest dwellings at Miya's house, his new room contained a queen sized bed, a medium desk, and a shelf of reference books most likely provided by his mother. Having been severely disappointed in his academic performances, he had a feeling that she personally decided to include some learning aids in case he decided to do some studying.

He felt severely out of place amongst such lavish furnishings, the discomfort only made worse by the designer suit he had been coaxed into wearing by Yukari. It felt like an eternity since that shopping trip with his sister, and yet it had been less than twelve hours. He gave the collar of his shirt a small tug with one hand, the expensive material shifting into a more comfortable position as he straightened his red silk tie.

The Ashikabi glanced in the mirror and swallowed nervously at his own reflection. If it weren't for his slightly messy hair, he could have easily been mistaken for a rich, young executive. Formal attire wasn't his first choice of clothing to wear, but he was technically on-call most of the day now, and was encouraged to dress the part if nothing else. Looking back at the familiar blue jacket and long-sleeved t-shirt draped on his desk chair, he felt as if he had left behind a piece of himself by agreeing to work for MBI.

Unable to take the silence any longer, Minato stood up and headed for the office to look over the documents sent down by Minaka shortly after their meeting. As he reached the door to his workspace, he was met with the sound of someone tapping the keyboard, his eyes immediately settling on the certain redheaded genius seated behind his desk.

"Oh, hey Minato." she greeted with a half-smile. "Sorry for stealing your seat. I was just checking the systems in case the president installed some kind of spy software."

He leaned over her shoulder to see the monitor. "That's fine... So, did you find anything yet?"

"Not yet, but that bastard was always frighteningly smart. I wouldn't be surprised if he rigged this floor with explosives or set a bunch of booby traps."

"You don't really think he would go that far. I mean, he's already keeping tabs on almost everyone I know. It's not like Minaka doesn't already have the upper hand."

"That's just what he wants you to think!" she quipped with a nervous twitch, her eyes darting rapidly around the room before locking back onto the computer screen. "While you and the others were exploring the new accommodations, I've been performing scans on everything on this floor for signs of electronic signals or even the presence of suspicious wiring."

"Really!? That's pretty impressive since we only arrived this morning."

Matsu reached into her pocket, pulling out a small metallic device slightly resembling an electric stun gun. "This little device is an invention of mine built especially for such an occasion. It automatically detects the presence of any electronic device in the immediate vicinity and then pinpoints the location within given parameters."

He was uncertain about her explanation, but confident in its functionality. "Sounds like hard work. It must've taken a while to rig up something like that."

"For a genius like me, it's no sweat! I actually threw this gizmo together months ago while searching through some materials that Miya managed to find in the garbage. With it, I was able to locate several eavesdropping devices that she set up all over Maison Izumo, although I never did mention this to her."

"I never imaged Miya as the type to spy on people, but I guess that instinct comes with having a husband who used to work for MBI." he ran a hand through his hair. "Still, I appreciate how much you've been doing for us."

The busty redhead found it amusing how little people knew about their landlady's true nature, but decided to seize the new subject. "Whatever you say, Minato. I just do what I think is necessary."

"Okay, just don't overdo it." he replied, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder.

Matsu shuddered for a moment as she felt his hand, her head spinning around with a creepy smirk. "You always were the kind of man who would anything to help his loved ones feel better in their times of need."

"Um... You think?" he answered before instinctively taking a step backwards.

The genius advanced towards him, her hands fingers twirling in a way that made her Ashikabi feel uneasy. "You know, we haven't been alone like this in a while without Miya walking in." she began happily. "Maybe you can do me the honor participating in some of those experiments I've been keeping under wraps."

"Experiments!?" he repeated with a note of uncertainty, looking almost horrified at how quickly the conversation had gone from business to perversion.

The redheaded scientist dispensed with her creepy aura, using her left hand to untie on of her braids. "Don't worry, I promise to be gentle the first time." she pushed him onto the office couch with one hand, scooting into a kneel on top of him. "Can't make any promises for the second time, though."

Minato tried to fight back the blush that had begun to form in his cheeks, but couldn't deny the happiness that had begun to manifest in certain places. "You sure this is the best time for this?" he began sweating profusely as she began pulling at his shirt.

"You do know that deepening the bond between Ashikabi and Sekirei is one strategy for winning the Sekirei Plan, right?" she removed her glasses with a devilish grin, using her free hand to pin him down. "C'mon Minato, show me..."

Just then, Kazehana entered the room from the opposite door. "So that's what you've been up to all day... Prowling around looking for the right moment to pounce on our poor husband."

"Kazehana!" Minato called out, looking relieved once that someone had barged into his room.

She crossed her arms and leaned against the door frame casually. "Trying to get the jump on the rest of us, or are you just a glutton for punishment, Matsu?"

The perverted genius seemed to snap out of her reverie, her coherence returning seconds before she was sent across the room by a blast of wind. Matsu sat slouched against the wall, looking quite ridiculous with one braid untied, her glasses askew, and half of her ample chest exposed due to the attempted removal of her shirt. The sudden gale had also caused the furniture to topple over, Minato now lying face-up with the large leather couch now positioned on top of him.

Tsukiumi entered the room next, her normally stoic expression becoming one of outrage as she looked upon the room's occupants. "Minato!" she blasted the sofa away with a jet of water, revealing her disheveled and slightly shivering husband. "Thou wouldst fool around in a vulgar manner with this loose concubine, rather than seek out they own wife."

"Nothing happened!" he retorted, cowering in front of her with tears forming in his eyes.

"And it will stay that way, so long as I breathe!" the water Sekirei grabbed him by the front of his suit, roughly yanking him into a standing position.

Kazehana let out a low chuckle. "Calm down Miss Priss... Just because I wanted to be first, doesn't mean I can't show some respect a worthy rival. It's fair game now that Miya's not around to ruin our fun all the time."

She thought about it before shaking her head stubbornly. "Tis only so once the real wife has consumated her relationship with the man of the house. That woman is me, damn you!"

"Calm down, it's not like we won't all get a turn at some point." Matsu interrupted, earning a glare from Tsukiumi.

Minato blushed deeply at the thought, but was uncertain of how to respond. They were speaking as if he wasn't even in the room, and it didn't look like any of the girls really cared if he had a say on the subject despite the fact that it was his life they were discussing. He sat down watching the conflict escalate, listening to their arguments, but not daring to interrupt due to his less than assertive nature. Suddenly Kuu poked her head through the door. The smallest Sekirei appeared as if she were trying to figure out what they were talking about, but she gave up rather quickly.

"Excuse me... Excuse me!" the little girl asked quietly, the second time a little loader. "BE QUIET OR I'LL BEAT YOU ALL UP!" she screamed at the top of her lungs, finally getting through to the three women.

"What is it child?" Tsukiumi asked, placing her hands on her hips in annoyance.

"Um... Yume said the bath is ready. She wanted me to come get you guys."

"Ah yes... That." the water Sekirei turned on her heel as if daring the others to continue their bickering. "Art thou coming, or not?" she pressed irritably.

"Yeah, I guess I could enjoy a nice long soak." Kazehana answered with a small sigh.

Matsu let her shoulders slump before nodding in agreement. "After all this, I think we could use a little bit of quiet time."

Due to the circumstances that day, the Sekirei were still on edge. Matsu remained jumpy and paranoid as ever, Tsukiumi's mannerisms mirrored those of a cobra ready to strike, and Kuu was found clinging to her Ashikabi more often than usual. While Kazehana seemed to be relishing her newfound frivolities, she discreetly kept on eye open for anything that could cause them trouble. Several minutes later, they had headed to the bath.

Three of the girls were currently situated in the bathroom sharing a nighttime soak in a gigantic tub easily capable of holding three times as many people. Mounds of bubbles and scented bath beads floated on the surface of the water, the cleaning suds drifting quietly amongst the Jacuzzi's jet-like streams.

Matsu untied her remaining braid, shaking out her long red locks to their full splendor as she sunk deeper into the bubbles. "After a day like today, I really needed this."

"Why, pray tell?" Tsukiumi placed her hands on her hips, her ample bust jutting out. "We have not been involved in any battles since that dreadful night upon the bridge."

"I already explained what happened during our meeting with Minaka. The noose around our necks has only tightened, and I think Minato standing up to the president only made things worse."

"Regardless of who it is, I shall not allow any man to demean my husband so brazenly!"

"Was he mean to big brother?" Kusano added in, her cheeks puffing out with childlike anger.

The redhead couldn't help but smile at her younger counterpart. "No Kuu, it's actually a lot more complicated than that. Maybe you'll understand more when you grow up." she glanced at the water user for a fraction of a second. "Not everything can be judged so blatantly. Keep this in mind, or you might grow up to be a pig-headed simpleton."

Tsukiumi blinked twice, her left eye twitching in annoyance as the insinuation sunk in. "How many times have I warned thee not to impugn my intelligence thusly, Matsu!?"

"Don't go glaring at me like that... I didn't mention any names." she gave an innocent shrug. "Maybe you're just filling in the blanks because you just happen to fit the description. After all, self awareness if very important for those who wish to improve their personalities."

"Those be fighting words, Matsu!" the blonde woman pointed at her irritably. "Wouldst thou be so foolhardy as to challenge me in a place so blatantly filled with water?"

The brain-type Sekirei put on her glasses and moved closer, a small stream of energy zapping between their eyes. "If you wanna challenge me in a building completely wired with MBI technology, then be my guest. It's just like you to be ignorant of an opponent's abilities while overestimating your own."

The water Sekirei leaned closer so that their faces were less than a foot apart. "I was merely defending Minato's honor! Therefore, I have the superior motivation in this struggle. Who are you to demean his efforts to protect others?"

"You're only furthering my point by being so blind." Matsu stated blatantly, causing her rival to pause in thought. "I appreciate the fact that Minato is trying his hardest to protect everyone he cares about. It was also impressive that he worked up the courage to stand up to Minaka."

Suddenly Yume stepped into the room, nervously using an arm to cover Musubi's less than modest breasts. Her entrance caught the attention of the others, temporarily putting a hold on the argument. Number 08 had become rather accustomed to the bickering between her fellow Sekirei despite knowing them for so little time. Realizing all eyes were on here, she gently settled herself down into the tub, slowly relaxing her wrists once her naked body was safely concealed behind the ocean of suds.

"Glad you could join us, Number 08." Matsu greeted, earning a hum of agreement from Kuu.

"I thought about waiting for everyone to finish, but thought it might be a good opportunity to get to know you guys better." she waved over at Tsukiumi in a neighborly way. Even though she didn't seem hostile, the water user did not return the gesture. "So anyway, I was listening to your conversation... Sorry about that, by the way."

The redhead shook both of her hands and smiled. "Oh no, it's nothing we'd be upset about. If truth be told, we were being too loud."

Yume took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. "I also believe that Minato's courage is something to be admired." she stated in a almost motherly tone. "He seems weak at first glance, but I have never seen someone with more love in their heart than your Ashikabi. I must admit, I'm a little jealous of Musubi."

Tsukiumi sunk back further into the bathwater as she considered the last statement, her cheek's reddening. Although she was most certainly the real wife, there were times when the water user wondered who Minato would pick if he could only keep one Sekirei by his side. While it pained her to do so, she could not entirely dismiss the notion that Musubi would be chosen instead of her.

He seemed to go out of his way to spend time alone with her, and the memory of Minato ogling Musubi in a bikini in the tub still irked her. That time they were dressed in swimsuits cleaning the bath at Maison Izumo, his eyes had been focused entirely on Number 88. It was no real secret that she had been his first Sekirei, and possibly the first woman he had ever loved romantically. Despite his denial at times, the water user knew that all too well.

While the others remained silent, the youngest of the group began wading through the bath towards the brown-haired girl. "What is it, Kusano?"

"Why are you jealous? You're one of big brother's Sekirei too." she rubbed her own neck and smiled before innocently pointing at the unusually large crest on the older woman's torso.

"Thanks for including me, but I only have this mark because Minato kissed Number 88. I'm glad you consider me a part of your family, but I hope one day that Musubi will return. When that finally happens, I fear it will also be my time to disappear again."

"As it should be." Tsukiumi added, her lack of tactfulness earning a stern look from Matsu and a frown from Kuu. The water Sekirei straightened up and corrected her blunder. "Know this, Number 08: We owe you a debt of gratitude for saving the life of our comrade. I have no quarrel against thee as it is, but as I once said, we wouldst not presume to replace a dear friend."

"I understand how you feel." Yume could sense the pure emotions coming from the ninth Sekirei and was deeply touches. She held up Musubi's hand and stared for a moment with look of genuine happiness. "I originally gave everything to save the life of this beautiful child, and I would do so again if the chance ever arose... You have my word as the Sekirei of Fate."

The water elemental returned her statement with a respectful bow of her head. "And I will hold thee to thy word, Yume."

The others noticed the use of her name rather than number, silently noting the respect she had garnered from their most stubborn comrade. Slowly they slipped back into silence, the group's focus returning to the bath. Tsukiumi absent-mindedly flicked on one of the taps to add some more hot water to the tub, the only other nose coming from Kusano's gentle splashes as she played with a small rubber duck. Now lost in their own thoughts, they barely noticed when the last member of their flock slid into the tub beside Matsu.

Kazehana glanced around at the relaxed group before letting out an exaggerated sigh, her noise prompting the desired response from the others. "So, did I miss something important? I was about to walk in and you guys just fell silent all of a sudden"

"Not really... We were just talking about how this one came to join our little family." the genius redhead explained quickly. "We decided that it might be good to spend some time together so that we can get to know each other better."

"Personally the only person I want to get to know better is Minato. As his new wife, it's my duty to make him a happy hubby."

"Hold thy tongue, Kazehana... Thou is merely a concubine, nothing more." Tsukiumi put in.

"That's just one woman's opinion, and I doubt Minato ever consented to you being the top girl in his life." the wind Sekirei rested a hand on her cheek dreamily, a cute blush coming to her pale cheeks. "It's love... Nothing in this world can get in the way of true love!"

Matsu was all too familiar with how easily her old friend gushed at the thought of love, although the irony of it all never failed to entertain her. "This from the woman who was rejected by the world's biggest lunatic and spent the better half of ten years on a nation-wide sake-tasting tour."

"Well that's pretty rude of you, Matsu. At least I wasn't locked away in a hole in Miya's attic during that time. I imagine it didn't do much to satisfy your perverse tendencies."

"That was a sacrifice I chose to make, while you were off gallivanting around the country doing who knows what?" She straightened her glasses with a sly grin. "I see you never stopped being a hypocrite even after all this time. You run around half naked and drunk all the time, and yet you accuse me of being promiscuous?"

Kazehana stood up suddenly, causing water and suds to drip down her flawless body. "At least I didn't try to force Minato into sexual experiments in a darkened room when no one was looking."

"At least I have the courtesy not to make my advances in front of everyone in the house." the other woman retorted casually.

Tsukiumi copied the other Sekirei's gesture as she advanced forward through the bath, her breasts bouncing fiercely. "You are both rogues to seek out what is not freely offered. Hast both of you trollops become so desperate that thou wouldst behave irreparably and violate my husband against his will?"

The wind user took a step towards her fellow wife. "Afraid of the competition, blondie?"

"Thou wouldst hardly be worthy of being called my competition." she retaliated with a confident nod. "You see, I am the only real wife among you all."

"Did you ever run that past Minato, cuz I don't think you did." Matsu interjected with a note of humor, causing steam to rise from the water where Tsukiumi was standing.

"May I contribute something? " Yume spoke up, her sudden interruption catching the others off guard. The two element users paused to give her their attention, to which Number 08 returned their courtesy with a smile. She cleared her throat nervously and relaxed her shoulders. "I just wanted to say that you guys shouldn't see each other as threats, because all of you have a right to love your Ashikabi."

Kazehana cocked her head to the side with piqued interest before sinking back down into a sitting position beneath the bubbles. "Guess you're right... No use making a stink while we're in the bath of all places."

Seeing that her previous rival was no longer intent on resuming the discussion, Tsukiumi instead turned her scrutinizing gaze to Number 08. "Just what dost thou mean to say?"

"All of us are connected through Minato, and every Sekirei who establishes a bond of love with their Ashikabi forges a connection that can never be broken." the Sekirei of Fate explained wisely, her hands coming together as if she were in prayer. "Those bonded to the same Ashikabi both live together and love together, sharing their experiences and leaning on one another for support. Our kind grow stronger by establishing bonds with others."

"As I have told thee at least once, only one winner remains by the game's end." Tsukiumi added.

"Do not feign ignorance." Yume pressed on, ignoring the look of confusion that ensued. "You have said many times now that my presence will not replace Musubi, nor will you allow me to erase your friendship with her. This example alone shows me that you clearly understand how important the bonds between fellow Sekirei can be."

"Tis not the same as the bond between husband and wife." she water user retorted, her tone somehow sounding less aggressive than before.

"That may be true, but that doesn't make it any less important."

Number 09 paused as if someone had slapped her in the face, exhaled her pent up frustration as she swallowed her pride. "Although, I would not entirely agree with everything thou hast said, I understand the significance of your perspective."

Yume stood up so that she was facing the water Sekirei, using one hand to cover her bust while extending the other in courtesy. "I'm thankful you were at least willing to listen to my point of view." she hesitated for a second or two. "I know you may not think highly of me, but it would mean a lot if you would consider me a friend."

"I only said that thou wouldst not replace Musubi... Placing my trust in thee is no different than accepting a new concubine in our midst, and furthermore, thou hast verily earned my trust." Tsukiumi's perpetually serious expression softened ever so slightly. "I accept your proposal."

The two women accepted each others hands and shook once before separating. Kusano didn't quite grasp the full scope of the situation as she watched from behind her hill of bubbles, but she remained stoic. Matsu removed her glasses again before allowing herself to indulge in the bath once more, the previous tension gone. Granted that her banter with Kazehana had been noticeably less serious than that with Tsukiumi, considering the two originals had known each other nearly all of their lives.

Seeing the look of mingled sadness and understanding on Number 08's face, the wind Sekirei squeezed her breasts together, using the water pressure to squirt a stream of water in her face in an attempt to lighten up the mood. The plan backfired instead as Yume slipped on the floor of the bath, stumbling forwards into Tsukiumi's breasts as the two women fell. Matsu squealed and tried to scramble away, only for the others to land square on her back.

The water Sekirei opened her eyes with shock, her face turning the shade of a beet as she noticed the position they were in. "Remove thy face from my bosom, immediately!"

"Ouch... Sorry!" came Yume's muttered answer. She pried herself loose from the fleshy valley, but her hands accidentally groped the other woman's assets as she pressed down.

"Cease this mockery, posthaste!" the blonde splashed her in the face with a handful of water, her eyes alive with outrage. "Dost thou truly swing both ways, Number 08!?"

She shot up like a missile, looking suddenly ashamed. "Nuh huh, you're just so big that I grabbed them while trying to get off you!" the Sekirei of Fate blurted out with a blush of her own. "I didn't mean to cause any trouble just now."

Tsukiumi took a moment to regain her composure while trying to regain some sense of civility. "I suppose not. Musubi would have done so on purpose, although I would venture to say that you merely lack grace in an aquatic environment. No one was harmed."

"Better speak for yourself, Miss Pantyflash..." Kazehana snickered at the spectacle before pointing downwards, her action earning a glare from the blonde.

The water Sekirei quickly looked horrified as she realized she was still sitting on Matsu, her eyes catching sight of the air bubbles emerging from beside her. Shifting sideways to remove the extra weight, Tsukiumi propelled the water with a motion of her hand, pushing the brain-type Sekirei into an upright position. She teetered unsteadily for a second before being caught by Yume, who slowly returned her to a sitting position.

Matsu coughed twice and spit out a mouthful of water directly in their faces, her expression livid. "Are you guys trying to drown me? I broke your fall and all you guys did to apologize was pin me facedown on the floor of the tub."

"Twas not necessary to spit in my eyes." the blonde woman spoke with a note of displeasure, her stare returning to Yume. "In any case, do not blame this on me. It was that clumsy woman who forced me into such a position."

"Really!?" Yume scratched her chin with a playful innocence before pointing towards the wind-user. "I only tripped because she squirted me in the face with water."

"Is that true, Three?" the ninth Sekirei rounded her, prompting a casual shrug.

"You guys were acting a little too serious, so I decided to spice things up a little bit." Kazehana explained without concern, a humorous smile reaching her face seconds later. "I never expected things to turn out like that, but that doesn't mean it wasn't entertaining for me to watch."

"Foul witch of the winds... This time thou shall be washed away." Tsukiumi summoned a handful of water, but a shockwave filled the room, causing her focus to slip and her projectile to fall harmlessly back into the tub. "What be the meaning of this?"

Despite her clapping motion having created the tremor, Yume cocked her head to the side without an ounce of discomfort. "It's like I said before: Friends don't let friends hurt friends." she spoke like a parent, her hollow smile almost inviting them to challenge her statement.

When no one else spoke out, Matsu found herself letting out a disappointed sigh. "Looks like we've got another Miya on our hands. And here I thought those days of an old stick-in-the-mud ruining our fun were finally over. I swear, she was like having a mom around 24/7."

"You wouldn't want me to tell Miya what you think of her, would you?" Kazehana threatened, eliciting a violent shiver from the genius. The wind Sekirei took a long swig from the bottle she had dragged into the bathroom. "To some extent, she might as well be our mother, if you know what I mean?" she said, a hand clamping over her mouth moments later.

"Don't even kid about that! You know how much she hates being called a mother." she snatched the sake container away and gave it a shake to confirm it was empty. "And quit hitting the sauce so much. You have a job now!"

"Gee, and here you were just complaining about Miya being a nag."

"No wonder thou hast been such a terror this evening. Tis natural, since thee hast rarely been sighted without a bottle of the devil's tears strapped to thy hip." Tsukiumi had reached the end of her patience as she left the tub, tightly wrapped a towel around her shapely waist. "In any case, I feel the need to retire early this evening."

Matsu glanced at the child behind her, who had begun nodding off. "Could you do us a favor and take Kuu to bed, too. I think she's just about had it for tonight."

"Do I look like her mother, to you?" Tsukiumi began to argue, but her pomp and ego deflating as she laid eyes on the smallest Sekirei. Even the most temperamental of the girls couldn't help but find her positively adorable. "It would be my pleasure..."

"Take care, guys!" Matsu handed the sleepy child a white towel, exchanging a caring smile with their youngest companion as Tsukiumi escorted her from the room.

Yume watched them go before standing up herself, placing a towel around her body and securing it with a quick tug. While Tsukiumi only elicited to cover her lower half, she was a bit more self-conscious about such things. Despite acting more mature than most other Sekirei, Number 08 had always been known to be a little less candid about revealing her body to others. The movement of her hands and several rather other shy mannerisms did not go unnoticed in front of the two decidedly less reserved Sekirei.

Kazehana rested he head against the back of her hand. "Oh my, I never would've guessed..."

"What are you talking about?" the brunette questioned with an inquisitive look.

"Despite acting like a mother hen, you seem noticeably conservative by Sekirei standards."

Matsu nodded in agreement. "Come to think of it, you do have a habit of covering your breasts even if it's just us girls in here. It's kind of endearing, and really cute" she straightened her spectacles mischievously. "If I were a man, I would really want a piece of that action."

The Sekirei of Fate looked slightly confused by the mixed messages at first, but decided to take it as a compliment. "Thanks, I guess."

"Maybe I should try that one on Minato next time." the wind user smirked at the thought before dismissing it. "Nah, it's not my style. Looking cute and inexperienced might be attractive to some guys, but I really don't see the point in pretending when I've already got the goods."

"Yeah, you're way too obscene to hold back. You just don't have it in you." Matsu agreed with a sage nod, her eyes wandering back to the newcomer. "Don't look so unhappy. If you ask me, you're pretty damn gorgeous yourself. No need to be self-conscious in front of us."

Kazehana gave her "Girls like us certainly have nothing to be ashamed off, am I right?"

Yume looked away from the others as she crossed the room, her gaze settling on darkened city through the large window that comprised most of the outer wall. "Oh no, that's not really it at all." she responded, placing a hand to her ample chest. "I'm still feeling a little guilty borrowing this body, and sometimes I feel the natural need to protect her modesty."

The genius giggled to herself before answering. "Trust me, it's a bit odd to hear you say that considering that Musubi was probably one of the biggest exhibitionists I've met, even if it was often unintentional on her part."

"Unintentional?" the brown-haired woman blinked in surprise.

"Oh yeah! Little Miss Happy fought half her battles with most of her clothing ripped to shreds, and she usually didn't realize it until Minato so kindly clarified the situation. This also includes that dreadful night at the bridge." Matsu placed a finger to her chin in thought. "Come to think of it, you were literally there that time."

"Yeah, I was..." the other women's eyes wandered to the city streets far below, her mind rapidly replaying her battles during the escape.

She had tossed the first Discipline Squad members in opposite directions that night, only hoping to disable them rather than actually kill. Her final fight with Karasuba had been a much greater challenge in comparison. Yume had always been the stronger of the two, the difference between them made even greater by Number 04's lack of love and purely destructive desires. To a Sekirei, pure emotions equated to greater power, and in the end her old rival's bloodlust had not been enough to win the day.

Yume closed her eyes for a moment, silently wishing that her old teammate had learned this sooner. They had their differences in the past, but Number 08 never saw her as an enemy, and lacked to desire to spill the blood of someone she thought of as kin. She felt this way towards every Sekirei, no matter who they were. She turned to leave the room, her hand stopping as she reached for the handle.

"Something wrong?" Matsu piped up, earning a look of interest from the wind user.

The eighth Sekirei mad eye contact with them. "You both knew Karasuba even longer than I did." They exchanged uneasy glances, making her hesitant to continue. "Do you... Do either of you believe that someone like her could have truly learned how to love another?"

"You ask that as if we could answer. To be honest, I really don't know if Number 04 ever had the capacity to care for anyone else." the redheaded genius shook her head, looking genuinely lost for any definitive answer.

Despite her dislike of the Black Sekirei, Kazehana actually gave the answer some thought before dismissing the question. "I know you probably don't want to hear this, but the fact remains that the only person that sociopath could ever care about was herself." her drunken gaze wandered off as she gripped her empty bottle tighter. "Even so, I'm not sure if even that much was true..."

Matsu concurred with an unusually serious look. "While Number 04 was able to carry on a civil discussion with her fellow Sekirei, there was always a murderous fire burning beneath those empty smiles. I'm not sure if she valued the lives of her own brethren any more than she did the human race."

"And we all know how little she thought of humans." the wind Sekirei lamented out loud.

Yume nodded slowly in agreement, seemingly unable to admit that she was thinking the same thing as the others. As she closed the door behind her, it pained her heart to imagine that such a person could ever exist among the Sekirei race. but she couldn't formulate any logical argument against it in her mind. In her own way, the Sekirei of Fate pitied Karasuba.

"I'll win this fight and prove to Karasuba that I was right." she clenched her fist. "Musubi and I shared the same dream of bringing back all of the defeated Sekirei and reuniting them with their loved ones, and I will never let that desire fade away."

"You seem pretty adamant about this, Number 08. Of course that doesn't mean the rest of us plan to sit back and do nothing either." Kazehana gave her booze bottle a light shake before casting it aside. "Looks like Minato was right to pick you as our new boss."

The genius redhead dried her hair while shifting to the edge of the Jacuzzi. "Well she's certainly more motivated than you ever were."

Her old friend snickered in agreement due to her lack of a counterargument. "We can only hope things turn out in our favor."

"We can be comfortable knowing that Yume's fighting skills rival even those of Number 04, but power isn't the only thing that determines the winner of this game." Matsu warned in a hushed tone, her eyes scanning the room nervously. "Cunning is another factor, and there's a lot of other people involved in this game that have quite a bit of that."

"You mean the president of MBI, right?" Number 08 questioned in a softer voice.

"Along with several other participants in the Sekirei Plan. Many of the participating Ashikabis have a wealth of resources, and not all of them are pacifists like Haruka and Kuno. I won't be relaxed until this game is over and we win."

The wind elemental returned her commentary with a confident glare. "You've got the brains, we've got the power, and Minato has the love. I'm sure we'll be fine so long as we keep an eye out for danger. Now's the time where we have to rely on each other."

"I believe that as long as we stick together, nothing can stop us." Yume agreed wholeheartedly.

Matsu couldn't help but smile at their teammates. Sometimes her strategist mindset made her more than a little paranoid. Her highly developed mind had habit of calculating the odds and factoring all of the worst possible outcomes, but the faith her comrades displayed was not lost on her. Even brain-type Sekirei who replied heavily on logic were still ruled by the strong emotions of their species, and she couldn't help but share in the moment.

She used her towel to cover herself before stepping onto the tile. "I hope you guys are right..."

Several hours later...

It was getting late judging by the time displayed on the corner of his computer screen, but Minato was still awake in his office slaving away like a nighttime workaholic. Not willing to call the building staff, he had personally moved the furniture back into its proper place following the small scuffle between his flock earlier. While he had fully intended to turn in for the night, the young ronin received a text from Minaka containing a password that would allow him to access the company's secret databases for his own use.

Although he had only tested the password as a formality, Minato found himself looking over the profiles of Sekirei and Ashikabi from around the city. He felt slightly guilty about prying into the lives of others, but the president's e-mail had suggested he be familiar with the competition in case they were forced to deal with the participants. Minato quickly became fascinated reading the profiles of his own Sekirei and himself before slowly delving into the information about their fellow S-Plan participants.

He found it interesting to see just how diverse the species really was in both ability and typing. Interestingly enough his own group lacked weapon users, but it seemed that those particular types of Sekirei were some of the most common along with close-range combatants. While he had only read a handful of profiles so far, it appeared as though natural and elemental type Sekirei like Kazehana, Tsukiumi, and Seo's lightning twins were quite rare among the lineup.

Minato hesitated for a moment before opening Seo's profile, shaking his head quietly at how many jobs his friend had been fired from in the last year alone. Despite the negative personal information, he had incredibly high ratings as an Ashikabi. In comparison the stats MBI had compiled concerning Hikari and Hibiki were pretty impressive, containing several battle reports and a written evaluation of their abilities both individually and as a team. The high power levels listed on one of the charts made him glad that they weren't the enemy.

"Whatcha lookin' at, Minato?" Musubi's voice called from over his shoulder, causing him to jump a little.

He turned to see Yume standing behind him, clearly surprised that she had slipped so close without him noticing. She was wearing as set of pink silk pajamas that were likely provided by MBI, the dead giveaway being the company's logo on the left breast and a Sekirei symbol near the collar. He gently pushed his chair aside so that she could see, letting her lean in slightly.

"Oh, hey Yume. I was just looking at some profiles of the other Sekireis and Ashikabis so we can be prepared in case something happens."

"I see..." she lamented, knowing full well that it was their job.

Minato noticed the look of sorrow on her face, so unlike Musubi's upbeat and chipper behavior that it seemed slightly out of place. Not wanting to upset her, he seized another topic. "So, what are you doing up so late? I thought everyone had turned in for the night?"

"I couldn't sleep." she answered with a sad smile. Her Ashikabi leaned against the desk wearily, causing her to stand behind him and massage his shoulders. "I'm sorry for interrupting you." she apologized quickly.

"Don't be like that... I actually appreciate the company at night." he explained, looking slightly bothered by her puzzled expression. "Not like that. I know we've just met, but for some reason I can't help but feel comfortable when you're around."

Yume inclined her head as if she were ashamed. "Please tell me the truth!" she began with a pang of guilt before shutting her eyes in embarrassment. "I don't mean to pry, but I just need to know: Do you ever look at me and imagine that Musubi is still with us?"

The young man looked slightly taken aback by her question, but despite the awkwardness in his gaze, he did not appear outwardly distraught. He took a deep breath, appeared saddened but still calm. "It's true I miss her, I always will... At the same time, I understand that you're not the same person as she was nor do I expect you to be her carbon copy."

"Minato..." she mouthed his name under her breath with another sad smile.

"I mean you may look like her on the outside, but you're still you on the inside. I don't expect you to be anyone else."

Yume leaned in suddenly, smothering her Ashikabi in a gigantic hug. At first she found it saddening that he was not returning the embrace, but a quick peek at his face gave her a different answer. Realizing she had been suffocating him with Musubi's bust, she recoiled with a bashful expression, her cheeks reddening even more as she saw his flushed visage illuminated by the light of the room's crystal chandelier. She opened her mouth to apologize once more, but unbeknownst to her, he was equally as happy as he was flustered by her daring actions.

Before he could read into it any further, a red light began flashing next to the phone on his desk, prompting him to pick up the call. "Hello?"

"This is the guard division of the MBI military, requesting immediate backup from the Discipline Squad." a man's voice answered.

Minato felt his stomach flip in response, having dreaded this moment. "I see..." he replied with a timid swallow, the response sounding both clueless and weak-willed.

Despite this, the MBI soldier continued. "We have an escape in progress that requires your immediate attention. One Sekirei and one Ashikabi have been sighted making a run for the south road bridge while the excess forces were moved to investigate claims of another attempted escape. We're sending the coordinates to you right now!"

The dark-haired teenager flinched involuntarily as the large monitor across the room flickered on by itself, revealing what appeared to be a detailed GPS map of the surrounding area. The map was divided into four color-coded sections representing each of the four quadrants of the city based on the primary compass directions. Minato remembered Matsu showing him a similar image once showing him the balance of Ashikabi controlled territories, something which MBI seemed to take note of as well. The screen quickly zoomed in onto the southern area before focusing on two glowing dots moving through the streets.

"What's going on?" the Sekirei of Fate scanned the image quickly, immediately knowing what was about to happen, she glanced back at her Ashikabi, but he was occupied.

"Sir..." the caller spoke, immediately returning Minato's attention to their conversation. "Using satellite tracking, the informational department has pinpointed the exact location of the rule breakers and is currently tracking them as we speak."

Yume noticed the color drain from his face, catching the phone as it slid from his shaking hands. "This is Sekirei Number 08, Chief of the Discipline Squad, speaking!" she greeted assertively, interrupting the soldier mid-sentence. "We will address this issue personally. Please withdraw all troops from the site and allow us to handle it!"

"Over and out..." the man responded, a clicking noise signaling the end of their conversation.

The two fell silent for a moment before Yume clenched her fist with an ironclad expression, her show of confident comforting him. "Don't worry Minato, I can handle this alone."

"I don't doubt it, but shouldn't we wake up the others and tell them about the situation?"

"If it's only one pair of escapees, it won't be necessary to disturb them." she smiled in an attempt to ease his nerves before turning to leave. "I'll get dressed and be on my way, so there's no need to worry about it. You just stay here with the others and get some rest."

Rather than return to his room, Minato pressed the call button on his desk, the sound of crackling static immediately catching his Sekirei's attention. "This is Minato Sahashi calling! There's been an order issued to the Discipline Squad and I would like to request a transport immediately!"

Yume looked surprised by his sudden action. "You don't need to..."

The young ronin placed his hand over the mouthpiece. "If you're heading out, I'm coming too." he replied, the sheer look of determination stealing her breath away.

"Okay!" she smiled brightly, causing that familiar redness to return to his cheeks.


Takami stepped onto the balcony overlooking the city, her temper receding ever so slightly as she asserted her presence. "I recently received a report that you withdrew several troops from the south recently." she began with a note of hostility. "Conveniently, this happens to be Minato's first night on the job."

The president of MBI grinned at her accusation. "If I didn't know any better, I'd say you were accusing me of something."

"Don't speak to me like a child... You made those arrangements in the hopes that some foolish Ashikabi would attempt to flee the city across the southern bridge. It was an obvious set up, although there was bound to be someone willing to take the bait."

Hiroto Minaka turned to face her, gently waving his hands defensively. "Please be reasonable this time. You know it was only a matter of time before someone else tried to pull off an escape plan. All I did was accelerate the process ever so slightly. It is the duty of the Game Master to move things along, is it not?"

Takami shook her head with an exasperated sigh, not bothering to answer his pleas. She knew that this was just the type of thing the demented scientist would pull, and was expecting him to stir the pot at some point. Of course that didn't mean she was happy about it, especially with her son in the mix. Her rage had long been spent on Minaka, and she was less likely to attack him now that things had settled down. After all, he was the father of their children and the only man she ever loved, which often resulting in her reluctantly dismissing his acts of insanity.

She stepped forward so that they were standing side-by-side, taking in a breath of fresh air as the nighttime wind caressed her hair. "So, I'm assuming this mission is intended to be some kind of test for Minato?"

"More or less..." the madman replied, his cape swaying in the breeze. "Recalling the troops was mostly a whim of mine, but I look forward to seeing how your son and his little birds respond to the resulting situation."

"The capture unit of the MBI military alerted me that at least one duo is attempting an escape as we speak. I assume you were also made aware of this?"

"As was the Discipline Squad only moments ago!" he declared proudly, earning a glare from his longtime accomplice.

The female scientist crossed her arms with an intolerant noise. "You've been scheming a lot lately, and I'm beginning to think you're rather enjoying yourself as innocent lives are ruined."

Minaka tossed his arms up into the air dramatically. "It is the will of the Gods, and I am but an instrument in the grand scheme of things! The future came to us in that craft... Should we not follow the greatness of our forbearers and bring about this inevitable revolution!?"

"I suppose it was also an act of fate when you suddenly called off the search team in the case of missing Discipline Squad, Number 105!" The white-haired CEO turned his back to hide his scheming expression, but the effect was not lost on his old companion. "Care to explain, or do you want me to put the pieces together myself?"

"Perhaps it was foolish of me to think that such a detail would slip past you, but if you insist, I will lay out my reasoning."

Takami looked away from him in disgust before placing a hand on her face. "Explain yourself..."

"From the report you issued to me that night, it was clear that the team had been unable to locate Number 105 within the confines of the city. You know very well that anything outside of Teito is beyond MBI jurisdiction and thus not a part of the Sekirei Plan."

"Hence why you didn't bother to pursue those two escapees once they jumped the border." she added grimly. "Certainly the case would be different for company employees, though?"

"There was a covert unit dispatched to search the outskirts, but when no remains were found, our options became limited. After discovering the two remaining members of the Discipline Squad within the city's limits, and failing to find the third, I decided it would be best to execute another approach to the situation."

The middle-aged woman sighed again. "And so you dismissed Natsuo from his position and decided to hold my son responsible." she clenched her hand, but resisted the urge to slap him. "What on Earth would have inspired you to go through with such an idiotic plan?"

"Even if Number 105 had been found, a single Sekirei would lack effectiveness while enforcing the laws of the game." The floodlights shined menacingly off of his glasses as he pushed them up. "However, Minato Sahashi possesses five Sekirei, many of which have prior experience in this line of work, and one who single-handed defeated the Discipline Squad. It was only natural he would succeed the previous generation!"

Takami found it difficult to completely refute the logic on paper, but it did little to relieve her emotional state. "The one factor you seem to have ignored is my son's personality."

"And what difference does that make to me?" he questioned in a matter-of-factly manner.

"Minato doesn't have the heart to cause harm to other people, even if he doesn't know them personally. Bearing this in mind, did you seriously think such a man would be happy watching the people he loves most enforce the rules of this game?"

"Your son knows what is at stake should he goes back on the deal. I don't believe there will be too many issues for us to address in these matters." Minaka let out a jolly laugh in response to her actions. "Perhaps if you had let me become a part of your family, maybe I would foreseen these problems."

She spat on the ground, looking suddenly murderous. "You bastard! Do you really think he's cut out for this type of work?"

"We'll see soon enough now, won't we!" the scientist retorted loudly, his eyes widening like those of a madman. He gazed up at the dark skies, his obnoxious laughter echoing through the night. "A wonderful new age is about to begin, and the next round of the Sekirei Plan draws near... Prepare yourselves my little birds!"


The city was illuminated due to the lights lining the streets, but by this point the majority of the population had retired for the evening. Miles away from Teito Tower, an unlikely duo crept through the streets while doing their best to avoid attention. It wasn't easy slipping through side streets and alleyways while keeping up a brisk pace, but traveling by vehicle would be even more conspicuous and public transportation was out of the question due to the surveillance of MBI military forces.

Running ahead was a tall girl wearing a green Chinese shirt with a yellow trim and a blue stripe running down the front. Underneath she wore a pair of black leggings that revealed a tattoo of the number 19 drawn onto the upper half of her left leg. She had messy, short purplish-blue hair that reached just above her neckline and matching eyes, and was wearing knee-high white boots with medium heels.

Her partner was a teenage boy who appeared roughly fifteen years old, his stature slightly shorter than the girl. He had sandy blonde hair, and thin frame, and a plain innocent face befitting that of a middle school student, characteristics which often led to people assuming he was younger than he really was. Dressed in a plain blue jacket and jeans, he was doing his best to keep up with his companion as they tore through the darkness.

"Are you sure this is the best idea, Ikki?" he questioned meekly. "If MBI catches us, we'll be in a load of trouble."

"Just stay strong, Koji... A few more minutes at this pace and we'll reach the border!" his Sekirei called back over her shoulder.

The boy couldn't help but smile at her optimism. "If we escape this awful game, then we won't be forced to hurt anybody else and we can stay together forever."

She slowed down so that they were running side-by-side. "That's definitely the plan!"

"But why are we doing this now? Wouldn't it be better to move during the daytime when we can blend in with the crowd?"

"MBI's trying to hush things up, but there was an escape in the north part of the city recently by a Sekirei and an Ashikabi. It seems like most of their forces are concentrating in the upper quadrant of the city because of what happened, so we've got a better chance of escaping while they're preoccupied up there."

Koji nodded in acknowledgment as they reached one of the bridges leading out of town, his partner pulling him into an alleyway as they approached the exit. The duo pressed themselves up against the wall as Ikki peeked around the corner, silently noting the a handful of MBI soldiers watching over this particular exit. It was a road bridge so the gates were mostly designed to stop vehicles for inspection as they moved in and out of the city. Due to the decreased security, it made things much easier.

Signaling to her partner to stand still, she leapt from the shadows and disabled one of the guards with a chop to the neck, using a kodachi blade to disarm the gunmen as she sliced their weapons into pieces. A man came from behind her, but the Sekirei swiftly elbowed him in the gut, smacking him on the back of the head with the handle of her sword as he doubled over in pain.

"We're all clear." she called out as her Ashikabi stumbled forward to meet her.

The teenage boy threw a fist in the air. "Great job Ikki, now let's get the Hell out of..."

Before he could finish his sentence, the sound of an engine groaning caught their attention, a black limousine approaching them from across the bridge. The slamming of a door interrupted their rejoicing as two figures emerged from within, both stepping into the light to reveal Minato and Yume. Both were dressed in their work clothing consisting of a suit and a Discipline Squad uniform respectively, but the escapees were only put off by their sudden appearance. Yume stepped towards the opposing duo, causing them to tense up. Upon seeing this, she stopped and raised her hand in an attempt to ease the tension.

The green-clad Sekirei stepped protectively in front of her Ashikabi. "Who are you, and what do you want with us?" she addressed herself to the newcomers.

"Discipline Squad Chief: Sekirei 08 - Yume." the other girl replied with a sense of formality. She cocked her head to the side and smiled courteously. "Care to introduce yourself?"

"By name and number, then... I'm Sekirei Number 19 - Ikki. I'm a blade type!"

The other woman charged with immense speed, but her movements were slow and predictable to her opponent. Yume seemingly vanished into thin air before appeared behind the other woman, seizing both her wrists and disarming her with a single movement. Pulling her wrists behind her, she quickly pinned her opponent to the ground, locking her lower limbs in place with her own legs. She pressed down slightly before discarding the higher number's swords.

"Damn you... Get off me!" she screamed wildly, her thrashing doing little to dissuade her senior.

Minato stepped forward to survey the situation, only to be punched in the face as the defeated Sekirei's Ashikabi came running in. Despite his smaller stature the boy looked positively livid, his strength surprising the dark-haired ronin. He stumbled back and grasped his face, ducking and running to avoid another strike as the other boy began swinging at him. Having never been much of a fighter, Minato couldn't bring himself to strike back at the boy, yet looking into his eyes made him realize that his attacker was no different.

"Leave her alone!" he screamed.

"Koji, don't provoke them!" his Sekirei shouted, her cries reaching deaf ears.

Swallowing the lump that had formed in his throat, Minato reached up and grabbed the younger man's incoming fist, causing him to stop. "Enough... We didn't come here to hurt you guys!" he shouted, his words prompting everyone else to stare at him.

"What!?" the boy backed away slowly, looking slightly shocked by the sudden response.

"We don't want to hurt anyone, so calm down." Minato repeated, this time with a little more strength behind his voice.

Seeing her Ashikabi wavering, the green-clad Sekirei called out a warning. "Don't listen to him... The Discipline Squad is known for their brutality towards rule breakers!" She glared up at her attacker, but was shocked when the single number's grip around her wrists loosened.

"I have no desire to harm my brethren..." To her surprise, Yume stood up and stepped aside, allowing the other woman to stand.

Still paranoid by the enemy's presence, Ikki moved so that she was standing in front of her partner, shielding the boy with her body. "If you're gonna kill me then make it quick, just leave my Ashikabi alone!" she wrapped her arms around him.

Minato moved so that he was standing beside his own Sekirei. "You can believe whatever you want about us, but we're no different than either of you." he began calmly, a sad expression surfacing on his face.

"The previous Discipline Squad was cruel and merciless because they lacked love in their hearts. We are the Fourth Generation: An entirely new group that will not make the same mistakes are our predecessors." Yume explained with a sincere smile.

Ikki carried on a wordless exchange with her partner, but still did not look entirely convinced. "I heard the rumors that the previous generation was dissolved after that escape in the north..."

"Does that mean you're a completely different Discipline Squad?" Koji added with uncertainty.

The dark-haired ronin nodded sternly. "Yume was the one who defeated them that night."

"So you're the dubious Ashikabi of the North who helped those weaklings escape!" Number 19 stated with a look of distrust.

Minato clenched his fists. "Don't call my friends weak! They may have needed our help, but no one has the right to make fun of them!"

The other Ashikabi looked suddenly angry. "If you helped them escape, they why are you working for MBI, now?"

"It isn't by choice!" he explained with a hurt expression, the inner conflict showing on his face.

"Who cares about your issues? I doubt MBI is planning on letting us go?" the opposing Sekirei retaliated fiercely.

Yume sensed that her Ashikabi was reaching his mental limits. "That's enough! Can't you see you're upsetting him?" she stepped in front of Minato protectively, causing her adversary to take a fighting stance. "We haven't accepted this job out of choice, but we intend to do it!"

"So you are going to kill us!" Number 19 screamed fanatically.

Yume reached down and picked up the discarded blades, tossing them gently at her opponent who caught them instinctively. "I don't wish to harm you, but I'll give you two choices." she declared without hostility. "Turn around and go back to the city... Or challenge me to a fight!"

Koji panicked slightly, causing his partner to tense up. "What do we do now?"

"We take out this MBI bitch and run like Hell!" his partner responded coarsely, taking a fighting pose with both of her kodachi poised for battle.

The Sekirei of fate closed her eyes as if praying to whatever deity would listen and took her own fighting stance, raising both fists in front of her defensively. "We tried to settle things peacefully, but you challenged me without regard for yourself..." she raised her arms. "I will not hold back!"

Number 19 prepared to charge, but was suddenly pushed back by an invisible force. A blue aura seemed to be building around her opponent, growing larger and fiercer by the second. It roared like a fire splashed with oil and expanded outwards, the shape of a gigantic bear barely visible through the flashing light. The two Ashikabi shielded their eyes as the surrounding area grew to bright for them to see anything. A giant pillar of light swallowed the bridge for several seconds before disintegrating into nothingness once more.

Minato opened his eyes with a look of shock to see Musubi's form standing in front of him completely untouched, the opponent now on her knees in shock. Number 19's eyes were wide open as if someone had frozen her face, but the Sekirei symbol on her neck remained intact. The sheer display of power seemed to have rendered her speechless for the moment, and the energy unleashed had torn her clothing to shreds, leaving her in her bloomers with the remains of her Chinese shirt hanging loosely from her neck.

Koji ran to her side with concern, noticing that her body was shaking despite the fact that her hands were still gripping her katanas. "Ikki, speak to me!" he shook her roughly.

"So, this is the power of a Single Number!" she grit her teeth hard, her dark blue eyes fixated on the other woman. She sheathed her weapons with a small click and exhaled deeply.

"So we're backing down from the fight." her partner hesitated for a moment before removing his jacket and placing it over her shoulders. "You must be cold like that."

Number 19 accepted his kindness, both of them leaning on each other as they turned back towards the city. She paused for a second as they reached the threshold of the bridge, her expression sad. "I know when to fight and when to turn back... You win this round, Number 08."

With this said, the duo continued on together, leaving Minato alone with Yume once more. They watched their opponents until they had moved out of sight, the sound of the stirring MBI soldiers bringing their attention back to the current situation.

"You never intended to harm them, even when she challenged you?" he asked over his shoulder.

Yume gently adjusted her Discipline Squad haori with a firm tug. "However horrible this game is to me, I'm hoping to get through this with as little bloodshed as possible." she paused in thought before making direct eye contact with her partner. "You sensed it, didn't you?"

"Sensed what?" he asked with a confused frown.

"When it comes down to what drives them to stay together. they're not so different from us. I'm certain you sensed it, too."

Minato signaled to the chauffeur, prompting him to converge on their position. "I get it... I'm just not sure how long you can keep this up. " he lowed his head in sorrow. "We may have been forced to fight in the past just to survive, but now we've been made into the hunters. It just seems cruel, no matter what our intentions are."

She slid into the car alongside him, closing the doors behind them. "Please have faith in me, Minato. I promise that when we win this game I'll undo all of the damage that 's been done, and then Musubi and all the others who have suffered in this game will come back to us. You have my word as the Sekirei of Fate."

"Thank you..." To her surprise, he leaned in and planted a tiny kiss on her cheek, causing the Discipline Squad Captain to blush in excitement.

He recoiled with embarrassment. "I'm sorry!" he apologized profusely.

"Please, don't be." she turned her head as if trying to hide her bliss. Both lovers awkwardly turned their heads, looking out the opposite windows as they rode all the way back to Teito Tower.

NOTE TO READERS: Well, I guess one month's wait is still better than a year, right? Hopefully some of you guys will lend me your support since I worked so hard to bring you this one! It's a little longer than usual, but I was trying to cram character development, fanservice, and story development into one chapter, and that takes time and a lot of thought because keeping it balanced is the key.

Hope you enjoyed it, and as usual, I'm sorry for the typos. I do what I can, but sometimes stuff slips through. You guys can thank the support of FrozenSpectre and moneygreen932 for this chapter! I hope more of you guys will REVIEW if you get a chance, since the support really keeps me motivated to produce chapters more quickly. I welcome any ideas you might have too. If you liked something or wish to see something happen, please tell me!