On An Eagles Wings

((Author's note:

*Removes shotgun from mouth*

Well, hello there.

Guess who's back?

Haha…

Sorry guys for the absence.

For those who care, it can be explained like this:

I was overseas for my job when I started this story, Covid hit, but I was on the other side of the world, so I didn't feel the backlash of it where I was as badly. Then April came by, and we were on our way back to the US, so we were working nonstop till June, when we came back home.

That was when everything sort of collapsed for me. Lots of personal issues, Covid related issues, work related issues, yadda yadda.

Well it put me in a bad place. I didn't even touch fanfiction until, like, 15 days ago, when I got all my stuff worked out.

But it's all good, sorta, but I'm back to writing. Hell, it only took me like, the beginning of this month to get back into the flow.

A bit worried about the flow and pacing of the story, as I'm still working out all the rust.

But I'm not dead, so… yay.

Some of you guys have been… REALLY supportive, and there's nothing better than coming back and seeing that support. I was like, 'damn, people still reading this?', but it still made me feel welcomed enough to get back into writing.

So thank you, from the bottom of my heart.

I'm gonna try to start working on Sancta Daemonium again, but In the Shadow of Gods… that might not be for a long while… I'm kinda scratching my head with it.

(Edit 9/12/20: Made a mistake with the deceased Sekirei, as I said No. 10 instead of No. 13, so don't worry Uzume lovers! She's still in the story!)

((SPOILERS!))) Avoid them if you don't want them!

Sekirei… are confusing as hell. Their backstories are pretty legit, along with plenty of their explanations, but there are some tidbits here, and there doesn't make a lick of sense, really. The whole thing about them being 'Creatures of love' and all, and the Master Chief being the way he is… heh, I've got my work cut out for me, I guess.

Turns out that canon John is a bit of a dreamer, so I tried to play with that bit.

More character interactions, a bit more exposition this chapter; hope I kept it entertaining enough.

Just dealing with the last of the consequences, ending with promises of a juicy future as we get the plot moving once more.

Also, it's rather interesting how the Yume/Karasuba relationship worked in the manga, along with the theories on it and how much it changed Karasuba in the manga when Yume died. Hope I'm putting it in a good enough light.

Big thing, though. Characters, specifically, their consistency, I'm doing my best, but even I have a hiccup everyonce in a while, but don't let me slide, as I want to be as true to them as I can for the setting of this story.

With things the way they are, I hope all of you guys and your loved ones are staying safe.

Please read and review. If anyone has any questions/comments/concerns, please PM me so we could discuss it (without any spoilers, of course).

And above all else, please enjoy the story!))

Feather 10

I was running.

All around me, children laughed. I laughed with them.

The sun shone brightly, the cool winds splashing across my face, contrasting the comforting heat I felt from the sun.

A woman whose face almost seemed to fade away like a mist, yelling, calling out, for me.

Someone gripped my shoulder, tightly.

I turned around, only to be faced with darkness as everything became frigid. Frantically, I looked around, the children were gone now, but their laughs remained, echoing in the distance.

Suddenly, I couldn't move, my limbs feeling stiff. I couldn't even turn my head up and down; it was like I was being held down, helpless to the unknown world around me.

Then, ice-cold steel pierced my body, my limbs… my head.

Then the whirring began, and the children's laughs became screams of agony.

Time seemed to stop as the pain continued, the iciness of my veins erupting as molten lava was poured into them.

Eventually, later, it halted, leaving me in a steady agony. I couldn't hear the children anymore.

Then, everything became hot. Too hot

A laugh, a deep, malevolent one that promised cruelty, echoed in my ears. Jeering at me, mocking me.

A bright light, one that was almost blinding, formed around me.

A slithering noise filled my ears, but I was unable to see anything past the piercing pillar of light surrounding me, but I could still see their shapes as they moved with an inhuman quickness around me. Never breaching past the edges of light as they continued to circle around me.

I tightly gripped the weapon in my hands, only to lurch when it became heavy, far too heavy.

My little hands grappled at the weapon, trying to lift it like I was trained to, but the clumsy digits couldn't grasp it properly.

Hooved feet appeared at the edge of my vision… and when I looked up, the four manibles on its face gave me a facsimile of a smile, its jagged teeth making it nothing more but a twisted parody.

The tentcles around me writhed gleefully, before diving towards me.

The light became brighter, and it was only when it fired, that I tried to yell.


The world was dead. Nothing breathed life. Nothing made a sound. All was silent.

Everywhere I looked, bodies upon bodies were stacked, as if the area I was in was a mass grave of some kind, nearly blocking out the vast skyscrapers surrounding us with how high they were. Human, Elites, Jackals, there was no discrimination on the species of the corpses.

All were littered with different types of wounds from what I could see, from plasma burns that had incinerated everything in its path, revealing the burnt insides to stabs and cuts, to dismemberment. There were even some that were nothing more but flat out pulps of meat with various colors of blood signifying their species.

The pungent smell of the decaying bodies, charred flesh, and ozone utterly drenched my senses, causing my nose to burn slightly.

Despite the horrific scene, I found myself calm, enduring all the carnage stoically.

After all, it was a scene I had quickly gone used to by the time I was seventeen.

Still, I found myself involuntarily averting my eyes when I saw the human bodies that were too small, too fragile, just to be one of another adult or adolescent.

A heavy feeling formed on top of my shoulders seeing it, reminding me that just because I was used to such scenes, it didn't mean I was okay with them.

…The haze I felt in my mind reminded me that not all was right, though…

I'm dreaming, I realized dimly, feeling a vague sense of annoyance with getting caught up with the distracting phenomenon.

I could feel eyes piercing my back from where I stood, but I ignored them. Instead, I looked up at the black-garbed figure in front of me as they walked into the scene quietly, being mindful of the bodies splayed around, treating the area as if it were hallowed ground.

His shock and horror were visible to me, even with the mask covering half of his face.

…I honestly began to wonder about the moment when I stopped caring about the body's I stepped on to accomplish my mission, treating them as nothing more but another obstacle…

…The massacre on Draco III might have had some part in it… I can't even care to remember anymore…

The scent of ash and smoke, faint before, became sharper as he approached me. Interestingly enough, as he got closer to me, his body began to self-immolate, fire bursting from the edge of his limbs, and climbing up them with each step he took. By the time he reached me, he was entirely engulfed by flames, but I could still make out the long black coat he wore, and his gray hair, both swaying from the vortices made from the heat of the fire.

Strangely, none of the corpses were ignited when they came into contact with the flames.

"Who?" The outline of his lips moved from under the cloth covering it, the horror and confusion in his voice evident by the way it trembled slightly. "Who are you?"

He stole the words right out of my mouth.

I just stared at him, albeit with some contemplation.

Unfortunately, my silence didn't seem to bode well with the man, who clenched his fist angrily, his face tightening from under the mask. The fires around him exploded, roaring around me in a circle, surrounding me.

"WHO?!" He barked, and as if responding to his anger, the flames consumed my body. Despite my sudden immolation, I felt the urge to panic as there was no pain from the fire. No heat.

"…" I could only stare flatly at him at his impulsive actions, unamused.

He just continued to glare back at me

…Seems like someone was a bit of a hothead…


I opened my eyes slowly as I awoke, a little disgruntled from the odd dream. The ceiling greeted me, and to my slight surprise, rays of light filtered themselves through the blinds, the sun already high in the sky. It had already been quite late by the time I went to sleep last night -technically earlier this morning, so the fact that the scene I had fallen asleep had changed somewhat proved that I likely got more of it than usual. It seems like the extra sleeping pills did their job.

I still felt some slight annoyance from Karasuba waking me up last night the way she did…

She needs to learn to keep her hands to herself and far away from me.

I inhaled deeply, slowly releasing my breath as my body slowly pushed past the postsleep grogginess affecting it. I lifted my left hand, intent on using the tips of my fingers to try to work out the sleepiness still remain-

A body splayed itself against me, arm falling against my abdomen.

Immediately I pulled out my M6H2 from under my pillow and pressed the barrel against the mess of gray hair currently tickling the tip of my nose. My finger twitched, putting pressure on the trigger before-

My breath and finger froze when my mind finally processed just who was lying on half my body.

I stared incredulously at the slumbering face of Karasuba- my Sekirei, who had decided to roll over in her sleep. Her body curled against mine and her head using my chest as a makeshift pillow of a sort. Her arm laid limply on top of my stomach.

I slowly breathed out of my nose as I loosened my finger from the trigger and stuffed the weapon back under my pillow. I flicked its safety back on as a precaution.

…First thing in the morning and I just almost killed someone by accident just because I was surprised…

While part of me was pleased that my reactions haven't seemed to have dulled since I've retired, another part of me, fully aware of the bond Karasuba and I shared, hoped this type of incident was a one-time thing.

Then again, old habits are hard to kick. Still, that's not exactly a good excuse to use…

… I probably should invest in another futon just in case, because if there is a next time, I might not be able to catch myself in time…

I glanced at her, a person, who for all intents and purposes, was an unknown. A foreign entity. One that had decided to intrude in what should have been my personal domicile, without allowing me any room to have my say.

My thumb rested on the safety.

…Then again, maybe if there were to be an accident…

Catching that grim train of thought, I squeezed my eyes shut and banished it.

She was still dressed in my shirt, the loose collar deciding to slope down her right shoulder while she slept, exposing supple pale flesh that -to my keen eye- was marred by a silvery scar that ran down from it onto her collar bone towards her breasts before disappearing into her -my- clothing.

My scrutiny was suddenly ended when she began to stir, likely from my movements, her gray eyes fluttering open as she dug her head into my chest with a small grumble. I felt apprehensive as she lifted her head off my chest, staring at me with bleary eyes as she awoke.

Karasuba blinked, almost lazily. "…What are you doing awake?" She muttered. "Go back to sleep..." With her piece said, she tried to do just that, her head retaking its position on my chest.

I inhaled, then exhaled.

Yeah… no. This amount of contact between us was not necessary.

I jostled my left arm from her grip, before putting my hands on her shoulders and shoving her off me. She rolled off the futon with a loud grunt, the blanket wrapping around her into a bundle until she resembled a burrito when she stopped.

She squirmed from her position to look up at me, frowning. "Well, that's not nice."

I ignored her, rolling away and getting up before moving towards the closet, placing my M6H2 on top of the drawer as I pulled out a pair of sweatpants.

"What are you even going to do right now?" I heard Karasuba sigh behind me. "The sun's barely up."

I carefully tucked the magnum into the waistband of my sweatpants, making sure to keep it from her sight, before throwing my shirt over it. "Just going to make breakfast."

It was already too late for my early morning runs, not that it was an option anymore.

With the revelation of what was going on here in Japan and the Insurrectionist's part in it, it would be better to do what I can to keep myself out of their crosshairs. Activities I often did on my own, where there may not be any witnesses, would have to be worked around to prevent any possible collateral damage until I got a better understanding of the situation.

I heard her sigh and futon shuffle a bit before I took a glance her way. She had taken my previous position on the futon, snuggling deeper into the sheets and pillows as she went back to sleep.

Shaking my head, I slipped on my slippers and walked out of my room, closing the sliding door behind me before moving towards the kitchen. Starting the coffee maker, I began to prepare breakfast, pulling out a carton of eggs, a few cuts of steak along with a few vegetables, and several pans. As good as Japanese food was, preparing 'westernized' Earth cuisine was something far more familiar for me to do. With it being the staple food with the military on both colony worlds and starships.

As I began to cook, taking careful measures due to my injured hand, I began to think about what had occurred when I had been sleeping.

As well as who that masked person was.

I dreamt plenty of times throughout my life, before and after the war. Dreams about better days back when I trained with the other Spartan-II trainees. The blurry, vague memories of my childhood before I was conscripted. Of my fears and anxieties that clung to my subconsciousness before I sortied to a mission. Of my failures during and before the war. Of the horrors I was forced to face as Humanity lost colony after colony.

Dreams about the people I lost or had to leave behind, unable to save them. Even when they were right there in front of me…

"…" I stared at the chopped vegetables, feeling my throat tighten a bit as I repressed the memories that came unbidden from the thought.

Sighing, I threw pieces into the pan before cracking several eggs on top of them. I turned my focus towards the meat, seasoning them with a fistful of various spices Miya had suggested to me during one of our shopping get-togethers the best I could with one hand before putting them into a separate pan.

Time had taught me how to always be able to recover readily from each experience, noting the events dispassionately before going on with the day. Dreams were nothing more but a succession of images, ideas, emotions, and sensations the mind would involuntarily create while asleep after all. Some I would remember with startling clarity; some I couldn't even give a second thought to even if I tried. Given what I've been part of the majority of my life, it only made sense why I would have them, not like I told anyone about them. Not even Dr. Miyamoto knew of anything regarding my issues sleeping aside from getting a lack of it.

This dream, though, was different.

Compared to the others that I went through that were often out of my control, or I was unaware of my state until a certain point, I was utterly lucid from the very beginning of this one.

It had been an odd experience. It was almost like being awake as I remembered the vivid smells, the scenery just about as pristinely as possible. The masked garbed man was one particular detail of the dream that caught my attention, someone who had seemed to have angst and confusion roll off him in waves as he became angry with my stoicism and the scene laid out before him.

If I didn't know any better, I would've thought that I was having some sort of episode brought on by possible past trauma. Though, that wasn't possible, as I've been trained to be resilient to prevent such a thing from affecting me.

I blinked when a drop of boiling oil struck my hand, taking me from my thoughts. I frowned and flipped the steaks before going onto the vegetable omelets, having added extra portions for my new guest.

I decided to drop my previous line of thought, deciding it would be best to focus on the food, as I had already learned of the possible consequences that can happen when I chose to become distracted while cooking. It was one of the reasons why I was so firm when it came to buying ingredients when they were on sale or discounted in the store.

Not to mention that the cooking fires that resulted from my negligence had been a rather… enlightening experience. As well as eating ruined food afterward.

Let it be known that I was not a wasteful person… no matter how violently my body had reacted to the inedible concoctions, that was my cooking at the time…

It was a little while until I heard the bedroom door open, and a bedraggled Karasuba exited, tiredly rubbing her eyes. Even with her appearance- still dressed in my clothes, she looked a lot better than when we went to sleep, the bags under her eyes being a lot less defined than before.

I lessened the heat on the stove, placing a cover on the pans before opening a shelf and retrieving two mugs. I poured some of the freshly brewed coffee into them before handing one to Karasuba when she approached.

She eyed it for a moment before taking it with a small murmur. "Thanks… Got any cream and sugar?"

I raised a brow at the question, taking note of the rather reserved attitude she had compared to last night, before pointing at one of the shelves. "Sugar's in there… No cream, though." I watched her as she went and grabbed the bag of sugar, before feeling a bit of surprise when she put a fair amount in her coffee, stirring it in before drinking it with a small sigh.

Was that a trend or something I didn't know of yet that civilians did? Putting sugar into your coffee? And the cream she was talking about… what did they need that for? What did it do for the coffee?

Hm… Coffee in itself had been a luxury item near the end of the war, often only being had by high ranking Officers or senior NCOs while in starship travel. I was aware that there were multiple blends scattered across the colonies, but were there also different ways to prepare it? Maybe it was a cultural thing?

Now that I thought about it, there were those coffee shops all over Shinto Tokyo that I've seen while walking around. Never been to one myself personally, as I didn't think I would need to since I often had coffee at home. I should probably go to one once I've got this Sekirei Plan business wrapped up, see what the fuss is about for myself.

I shook my head before resuming my cooking as Karasuba made her way to the living room. I heard the television turn on, and the soft murmur of sounds emitting from it.

When the food was finished, I carefully took out two plates and filled them with what I could fit in them.

"…Breakfast is ready," I called as I went to pull out the silverware.

Karasuba got up from the living room at my call, stretching a bit before heading over to the kitchen and grabbing her plate.

"Finally," She muttered as I passed her the utensils. "I'm starving."

As we sat at the little dining table, I took a few bites of my food, but soon found myself eyeing her as she began to cut a chunk of steak. This would be the first time someone would try my cooking since I became a civilian, and I found my shoulders slowly becoming stiff as I watched her bring the morsel of food towards her lips.

She chewed slowly, and I had to stop myself from leaning onto the table in order to see her reacti-

Karasuba looked up from her plate, raising an eyebrow as she ate. "You need something, Jo-chan? I'm gonna start blushing if you keep staring so hard."

I averted my eyes immediately, poking at my food with a fork. "No, I-," Exhale, relax, there's no reason to be rattled over something so simple as someone's opinion on your cooking. "…What do you think?"

"What? Of the food?" She shrugged a bit at my nod. "It's alright. Not that great compared to the meals back in Teito Tower, but those are five-star meals compared to most places."

I cocked my head a little- did that mean that she thought it was good or not?

Still, I found my shoulders relaxing as she continued to dig into her meal. Regardless of what she thought of it, if it was good enough for her to continuously eat it, then it must fit some part of her palate.

Feeling somewhat satisfied at my observations, I went to dig into my own plate, only to frown when I was stopped from doing so due to my injured hand. With the bone-knitting polymer in my hand, it created a sort of 'cast' around the bones, like cartilage, stimulating the osteocytes to reproduce at higher rates to heal the affected area. Though, because of this 'cast'- while flexible, it made it hard to use my hand for more dextrous activities.

Like, for instance, wielding a knife to cut into my food.

I frowned a little, before shrugging and stabbing into the steak with my fork, lifting it up and tearing a sizable chunk off with my teeth without caring about tableside manners.

"My, aren't you a hungry one?" I looked up to see Karasuba grinning at me, a teasing edge to her.

In response, I raised my bandaged hand, and the grin on her face lessened as she thoughtfully hummed as she looked at my plate. A few of her facial muscles twitched a bit oddly- her brow furrowing, before she relaxed and shrugged, picking up the remote and raising the volume of the television.

"…and on this morning's news," The Japanese newswoman spoke, her grim tone contrasting starkly to the polite smile on her lips. "Valentine's Day, a day to celebrate love and affection, ended in tragedy for some in the Kabukicho district. Spirited Away, a local bar known for its amount of exotic and expensive liquors from both the Inner and Outer Colonies from before the war, suffered from a faulty gas line, resulting in an explosion that killed two while injuring a dozen others. Luckily, emergency responders were quick on the scene, tending to the wounded while evacuating nearby businesses to prevent another incident from occurring. Japan's Department of Safety has sent several Inspectors to investigate what exactly happened to cause such a tragedy, to make sure it could be prevented from ever happening again."

The screen shifted, depicting a Japanese newsman this time.

"Likewise, the sudden fault shift that occurred just a few blocks from the area has emergency units scrambling to take care of those in need. Possible theories for the structural damage is the mix of Earthquakes that had been occurring regularly in Japan for the past month, alongside the damaged gas line. Again, we urge the residents of Japan to always have safety measures in place for themselves and their families in case these events occur in their area. MBI, like with all other cases, has teamed up with the Japanese government to help provide relief and aid to those affected by these occurrences. This is what the Prime Minister of Japan, Hitomi Nagasawa, had to say…"

My chewing had slowed to a halt as I listened to their explanations of the night prior until I was doing nothing more but clenching my jaw.

It seems like what Soren told me was right in the end. The news was skewed to prevent the population from knowing what was truly going on. From the looks of things, it was working.

Still, I found myself finding it hard to wrap my head around the idea that people were so willing to be told to look away so quickly. Was it fear on their part? Apathy? Ignorance?

"You're thinking too hard about it," Karasuba's voice brought me from my thoughts. She sat on her chair, legs folded on top another as she inspected her knife, dragging a dainty looking finger on its edge. "People are weak, willing to cling to any assurances they can get from the strong so they can feel as if their little lives matter in the grand scheme of things." A chuckle. "It's pathetic, really."

My palms began to itch as I clenched my fork tightly.

I narrowed my eyes at her. "What do you mean?"

"If Soren-bouzu was the one who talked to you, with whatever relationship you two share, then I'm sure he told you of the amount of control MBI has here." Karasuba flipped the knife in her hand, catching the bladed end between her fingers gracefully. She waggled the handle towards me. "With things becoming the way they are, people are going to suffer. They're going to get hurt. Maybe even die, but you don't need to focus on such things, for the weak will always perish in the end. It's the curse they were born with."

I inhaled, wondering where this thought process was coming from.

'…I should've been trying to save every single human life, no matter the cost...'

…I just couldn't bring myself to agree with her.

"So, what should I do then?" My words were curt, but I couldn't hold back the slight bite in them. "Just let them die if something were to happen?"

It would go against the whole point of why I was created…

She stared at me quietly, eyes intent. I could feel myself beginning to tense up in response to the sudden silence between us, but I remained firm.

Her gaze felt like that of a predator. Like the wolves back on Reach. I idly began to think of the M6H2 still tucked into my waistband, wondering if I could draw quicker than she could reach for her sword by the couch.

…Maybe Soren was onto something with the whole 'mad dog' comparison.

The standoff between us was broken when Karasuba shrugged her shoulders, a teasing smirk on her lips as she began to twirl the knife in her hand casually. "The wind blows, rain falls, and the strong prey upon the weak. It's that simple, Jo-chan. You can't fight nature."

"…I'm not going to let that happen…" I replied grimly, and she let out a dark chuckle, seemingly taking pleasure in my discomfort with her words.

My eye twitched as she reached over the table, brushing a hand over my cheek, almost fondly. My neck began to throb as a warm pulse went through my head. "Then I guess that means I can't let anything bad happen to you then. After all, I'm the one who makes the bad things happen to other people." She smiled widely, revealing her pearly whites. "I'll make sure that when they think of messing with us, their blood will go cold."

"..…" I frowned in response, holding back the slight tremor of excitement that went through my body at the thought of engaging in conflict once more. I instead brushed off her hand away from my face and went back to my meal. "…I see."

Karasuba hummed, a satisfied look on her face as she stood up, taking her now empty plate towards the kitchen. "Just making sure we're on the same page, Jo-chan."

I sat there quietly as she left, before sighing and digging back into my meal.

What a piece of work...


I grunted as I continued to drag the towel around my damp hair, freshly showered, and dressed out of my sleepwear into one of my newly bought outfits. I sat by the Smart Home console of the apartment, checking for any messages that may have been sent to me while I had been asleep.

I would be lying to myself if I were to say I was surprised by seeing the multiple messages on the list. Of course, most of them were nothing more but promotions and advertisements from the local businesses in Japan. Offering services like 'full-body massages' from local parlors, something to do with 'idol concerts,' and an ad for supplements to 'increase my size'- whatever that meant.

I ignored those and instead focused on the last two, the recipients being from Dr. Miyamoto and Dr. Halsey.

I opened up the former's first.

FROM: Dr. Rei Miyamoto

TO: John Stark

SUBJECT: Some Concerns

Stark-san, it has come to my attention of your involvement with the event that had occurred last night. I hope to talk to you as soon as possible about it, if possible.

Please reply to this message as soon as you possibly can, Stark-san.

Sighing, I idly wondered how she found out to send me a message so soon. It was only a few hours after I had gotten involved in the Sekirei Plan, after all. I began wondering just how much she knew of what was going on as well, working under MBI and all.

Deciding to hold out on replying, I backed out and picked Halsey's.

FROM: Dr. Catherine Elizabeth Halsey

TO: John Stark

SUBJECT: Come Immediately

We need to talk.

"….." I stared at the monitor blankly, feeling my forehead beginning to perspire.

…I'm not sweating; I'm just suffering through some hot flashes. I did take a relatively warm shower, after all.

Seriously now, how is it that everyone seems to know what I'm doing? I'm not that much of a risk to everyone around me, am I?

I reread the message a few times, looking for any hints of what Halsey could possibly be feeling, placing the towel around my neck.

Well… It didn't seem like Halsey was mad, but-

A sweet scent invaded my nostrils.

"Hm~," I almost jumped when damp locks of hair tickled my neck, right next to the Neural Interface that was implanted there. Craning my head, I was met with a still wet Karasuba hovering over my shoulder, just having finished her shower, the towel being the only thing protecting her modesty. "Seems like someone's in trouble~." She hummed, gazing at me from the corner of her eye. "You should see the old hag before she starts to throw a fit and does something stupid. I know I had enough of that when I had to look after her."

I narrowed my eyes at her choice of words to describe the woman that had taken care of me most of my life. "Don't call her that," I grunted, ignoring the ticklish feeling in my core as I saw her state of undress. Likely another symptom of the bond. "Besides, I'm sure she just wants to talk is all."

Karasuba exhaled, and my eye twitched when the released air tickled my ear uncomfortably.

First Yume, now Karasuba; was the concept of 'personal space' really that foreign to their species? Or was Yume just weird and Karasuba merely acting out of the bond we shared? Was it a matter of how they were raised? It had to be something since I didn't have this issue with Miya.

From the corner of my eye, I saw that damned smirk on her face again as she pulled back away from me.

…Yeah, I have the strong feeling she's likely doing this on purpose.

She brushed her fingers through her damp hair as she walked away from me towards the bedroom, and I averted my eyes out of respect for her privacy when she dropped the towel.

Then I did a double-take, noticing the black tattoo on the back of her neck that definitely wasn't there previously when she jumped into the car during my pursuit. Remembering the flashes of light that had come from the neck's of the other Sekirei I killed last night, I wondered if that mark had anything to do with our bond. Idly, I began to ponder if there were any other differences, trailing my eyes down from her neck, going down the curve of her back, taking note of the slim muscles that framed her body, towards the flair of her hips before-

I looked back at the Smart Home console when she turned around.

"Heh," I heard her chuckle. "Well, either way, I've got to come in today to make some reports about last night. Soren-bouzu is coming by to give me a ride, might as well come with us if you need to. Saves you the walk."

Damn, do I really have to ride with that guy? Besides, it wasn't like we were working with each other just yet. I still wasn't sure if I should even trust anything he told me last night considering the type of person he was…

I thought about the card the MBI employee, Natsuo Ichinose, gave me when I initially came to my apartment a month ago. I debated whether or not to pick him up on his offer for assistance regarding my stay but quickly decided against it; No point in allowing my personal feelings of who used to be an enemy to get in the way and cause other people more problems. I was able to let it go with the Arbiter; there was no reason why I couldn't do the same here.

"That's fine," I muttered as I began to type in my responses to the messages, telling them I would be in today. Shutting off the console, I placed down my towel and threw on my brown jacket and glasses, letting the HUD in the lenses boot themselves as I sat down on the couch and grabbed my datapad. I started looking for several articles about the 'incidents' going on around the city, finding similar results likened to the one I saw this morning on the news.

If there was one thing I had to admit about the whole situation, it was that MBI was quite prepared for the rather delicate circumstances that had arisen due to this 'Sekirei Plan.'

Now I had to see if they could keep it up and leave those who weren't part of the plan where they belonged, out of the line of fire.

"Ready to head out? Soren-bouzu's already outside waiting." Karasuba's voice brought me out of my musings, looking up to find her putting her hair in a ponytail, already dressed in her black uniform, with that grey coat back over her shoulders.

"Yeah," I replied, getting up and grabbing my hat and securing it over my head as we got our own footwear on at the door.

I noticed her raised eyebrow. "What?"

She shrugged. "Why do you wear glasses? You didn't have them before when we first met, why wear them now? Trying to look fashionable or something?"

Frowning, I adjusted the piece of eyewear in question, pushing it further up my nose. "…They were a gift."

"From the old hag?"

I was beginning to hate her lack of respect for the one who raised me. Though, to be fair to her, it's not like she knew of our shared past with one another. "Yeah…" I muttered as I swung open the door. "Let's move."

Luckily for me, I didn't run into any of my neighbors on the way down to Soren's vehicle. If there was one thing this past month had taught me about civilians, was how nosy they could be when it comes to other people's business. Now with the addition of the gray-haired alien by my side, it was far too easy to imagine the waves of unnecessary questions that would be thrown my way if the wrong person saw me and word got out. Nothing more but other issues that I didn't need.

Speaking of Soren, I had to squint a bit when I finally saw him out of his armor with what must've been his everyday wear- a rather expensive looking black three-piece suit, tie and all, with a wool coat over it. A pair of black leather gloves covered his hands, hiding his augmented prosthetics.

…Looks like working for a conglomerate like MBI had quite the financial benefits for some.

He flashed me a forced smile when we approached him. "Good to see you, John. Did you give my offer any thought yet?"

"A little bit," I muttered. "Hasn't been that long since you made it."

The forced smile on his face became a little more relaxed at my response. "True. Speaking of which, here." He handed me a small, single strap backpack.

I raised an eyebrow when I peeked inside; a shoulder holster, a hip holster with the revolver I took from Downes last night inside of it, and a… karambit?

"I noticed your lack of hardware when we met," Soren said when I gave him a questioning look. "That might've been alright when you were simply playing civilian, but you're part of the plan now, so you're going to need something reliable." He gave me a wry look. "Besides, the waistband isn't the best place to put your sidearm in. Good place for a negligent discharge, not to mention it'll cause a fuss if a civilian sees it. Japan's gun laws are a lot stricter here, so best not to be caught."

"I'll keep that in mind," I replied before adding after a moment of hesitation. "…Thanks."

"Anytime."

Later, while we were on the road, I sat back into my seat, the comfortable weight of my sidearm now settling under my left shoulder.

"Better?" Asked Soren, eyes still on the road as he drove.

I nodded in response. "Better, is there any more information on the attack yesterday?" I asked.

Soren shook his head. "Unfortunately, we're still figuring things out, but we have some ideas on where to start looking."

"Which are?"

He gave me a sidelong glance. "I'm afraid that's a matter for the MBI Security Force to know, Mr. John Stark. Unless you agree to help us."

I narrowed my eyes at him before staring outside the window. "…I told you I'm still thinking on it."

"Take your time then..."

Karasuba huffed behind us. "Well, aren't you two just a jolly couple of friends."

I didn't even move. "…That was a long time ago…"

Soren didn't say anything to that.

The rest of the car ride was left in silence.


"Two, John. You killed two of them."

I resisted the urge to fidget as Halsey paced back and forth in front of me, sitting stiffly in my chair, back ramrod straight.

We were in her 'prison' as she called it, some type of office with laboratory equipment scattered about that she kept inspecting as she paced about.

Like she said- well furnished, but what she could do inside and outside was limited, judging from the cameras in every corner.

Halsey barely gave herself time to blink as she backed away from the microscope before she was rapidly tapping away at the datapad she held. "Shot them in the head."

I glanced down at my hands. I won't apologize for my actions. I did what I had to do.

But…

"…Are you mad?"

A sigh, and finally, the maelstrom of activity finally ceased for a moment. "Admittingly, no. You promised to try, and you did well for a whole month and a half. Of course, with what happened and where you were, it wasn't surprising to find out that you went ahead and got yourself involved in it all. I can't fault you for doing what you've been trained to do your entire life." Her brow creased. "No, at the most, I'm annoyed."

I raised a brow, and she barely gave me a glance before she resumed her work.

Silence stretched between us as she moved back and forth along the room. After a while, she finally stopped with a small sigh, likely already having deduced my unasked question.

"The Sekirei are a unique species. Despite having a very human appearance and biology, they don't operate like most do, as you saw for yourself when you engaged them. Superior strength and agility higher than most that put them on par with you and other similarly augmented humans, MJOLNIR armor notwithstanding."

"Yeah…" I rubbed my bandaged hand. "…I've noticed."

"But," She ignored my dry comment. "Even with their unique physiology, that isn't what makes them so special."

"What do you mean?"

"Normally, when most living beings get shot in the head, they are more than likely to die."

My eyes narrowed before falling flat from that exact detail.

Of course, they do… but where was she going with this?

Halsey continued, having noticed my action but choosing to ignore it. "Some survive such injuries, usually having to deal with the brain damage from such a wound that may cause them to struggle for the rest of their life. Nothing modern medicine can fix, of course, but it will depend if they can afford it."

I crossed my arms and leaned back against my seat, a bit perplexed.

What was the point she was trying to make?

"While what you did to the Sekirei was undoubtingly fatal and ending in their deaths, they…" Halsey paused for a moment, almost in hesitation, before inhaling slowly. "…They can be revived. In theory." She stressed the end as hard as possible.

Even so, it still was enough to make me start a bit, causing me to straighten up in my chair, fully focused on what the doctor had to say.

"…How?" I wondered. What she just said was not only scientifically impossible but if there was any truth to what she said, then this might be bigger than I initially thought. This was something that could affect Humanity as a whole if the proper research and testing were done.

…There was no doubt in my mind that with ONI involved, everything going on with the Sekirei was likely some sort of experiment, legal or not, that they would try to use to benefit Humanity in the long run. The problem was that I still wasn't aware of their goal, what type of endgame they were likely searching for.

I didn't allow myself to get carried away by such thoughts as Halsey spoke. "I will admit, I was introduced to the whole Sekirei Plan long after it was lifted off the ground and funded. I only know what they tell me, which isn't much." She let out a frustrated sigh. "Anyways, the theory that I know of is that when a Sekirei is- to put in other words, terminated, they go into a sort of pseudo-stasis state." She elaborated when I sent her another blank look in confusion. "The Sekirei's abilities- their strength, stamina, and 'powers,' come from a sort of core they all have."

"A core?" What, like a starship? That didn't make any sense; how was that even biologically possible? And what did she mean by powers? Did they have even more abilities than the ones I've already seen?

Now that I thought about it, that Kagari fellow seemed to be able to use flames to some extent given the way he suddenly combusted -perhaps he couldn't control it? At the same time, Hibiki was able to throw lightning projectiles from her fingertips, along with that woman who I guess was her twin sister I saw later on.

Did that mean that they all have elemental abilities? And if they did, then what elements did it extend to? Could they control plasma as well? Could it be that their powers didn't lie in just the elemental spectrum? Karasuba, Amebane, nor Yume haven't shown any sort of ability aside from being physically stronger or faster from what I've seen so far. Did that mean-?

I cut off that train of thought before it could get the better of me. I was beginning to overthink again, a habit picked up from leading for so long during the war. There was just not enough information to start making any hard conclusions, much less counter-strategies for these alien species.

Still, the more I heard about the Sekirei's, the less I found myself wanting to get into another altercation with them, given on how underequipped I currently was, I wasn't sure if I could come out on top.

Not without possibly becoming injured severely, or even killed…

My neck itched; If only I had my armor… that would help even out the playing field…

And there were one hundred and eight of them too? Well, one hundred and five now, given the two I killed and the one I winged…

I could feel a slight headache beginning to build, causing me to drum my fingers on my thigh.

Oblivious to my inner musings, Halsey answered my question. "Yes, a core, believe it or not. On top of being the source of their power, it's also what powers their very existence. You destroy the core, even if there are no physical or mental ailments, they will cease to function, becoming nothing more than a warm breathing shell. No method of treatment will be able to bring them back."

My eyes narrowed.

That's way too much information gained from supposed simple observations. That would have to mean…

"I'm guessing that means there's one less Sekirei to worry about for the plan." I assumed flatly.

Immediately, she averted her eyes, staring intently at the datapad clasped tightly in her hands. Telling me exactly what I needed to know.

Hm… One hundred and four then… Makes things a bit simpler…

All for the benefit of Humanity, in the end, I suppose…

"The core," Halsey ignored my implications, continuing on. "Is also connected to their Sekirei Crests," She pointed to the base of her neck. "They have here. They receive them when they become winged and lose them when they are terminated. Which happens when they either receive enough bodily damage, lose their crest, or are killed."

Huh, so they aren't tattoo's like I initially thought then. It does explain why the Sekirei's necks glowed after I shot them.

"When terminated, the Sekirei's core is what puts the body in these pseudo stasis states for a while afterward, which then we put them under cryo until further notice. When you killed No. 13 and No. 21, we originally believed them to have reached their 'deaths' as living creatures and therefore unrecoverable, the next possible step seemed to be an autopsy of their bodies for further research."

She scoffed. "Imagine our surprise when, after recovering them, we found out that the final dreds of their core were stubbornly preserving their bodies, keeping them from truly dying. We acted immediately and put them in cryo-pods as per standard procedure." She sighed, gesturing to her lab. "Which now leads us to here, with MBI telling me to figure out how to bring them back."

While I now had a better understanding, even though I was still a little confused about a few things, somethings still didn't add up. "Why give you the responsibility to revive them if it's still a theory?"

Halsey sent me a sardonic look in response. "Remember, Linda?"

My brow furrowed. Linda? What did she have to do with-?

…Oh…

Oh…

"On the UNSC Gettysburg," I muttered. "When you resuscitated her after she was killed on the UNSC Circimfirance during the Fall of Reach."

"Hm, clinically dead to be specific, and I was only able to save her because you put her in cryo before her body could truly die after she flatlined, but yes. I'm not sure how MBI found out about that, most likely due to the debriefing reports and armor cams footage ONI likely acquired after you all got back to Earth, but now they placed this responsibility on my shoulders. Unfortunately for me, this situation is harder and more tedious than before; after all, Linda only took a plasma globule to the back of the head. Her brain remained relatively intact. But I can fix something like this… probably… It's a good thing MBI is in the lead for the latest cutting edge medical equipment…"

She sighed. "Which is why I'm a bit annoyed with your actions, John. As I'm sure you've noticed, but the brain is quite the involved organ. It has a complex nature to it, and you blew chunks of it all over the hood of a car and the road."

I sagged a bit in my seat, glancing down at my hands in response, having nothing to really say to that. "Apologies," I muttered.

"No use crying over spilled milk. What's done is done, John. No, what I really called you in for is to tell you something important." For the first time I entered the room, Halsey placed the datapad down, locking eyes with me. "Refrain from killing any further Sekirei. Contrary to what you may have seen, they are not your enemy."

My brows shot upwards in some surprise. "Ma'am?"

Why would she say something like that? Has she not seen what they can do when they are trying to kill you? How dangerous were these creatures, casually throwing around their abilities and powers in public without any form of discretion?

As a grim reminder, my left hand decided to ache rather fiercely.

"Some Sekirei may be… misguided and ignorant of how human culture and society works, but they aren't out for Humanity. Most of them have lived a sheltered life in a laboratory and are unsure human societal norms or culture..." she sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. "Sahashi is better at explaining this than me…" She muttered under her breath. "Listen, John. Just avoid killing the Sekirei if you can; they aren't bad, but easily manipulated to do things like you saw last night. It's something MBI and ONI would like to get a handle of. Still, if anyone of them come after you, they would like you to just terminate them to the point of them losing their crest… Especially because this whole 'putting back a brain together' business is all still a theory."

I stared at her for a few moments, before nodding my head, not fully understanding but listening to her nonetheless. "Yes, ma'am."

"Good," Halsey said, a somewhat satisfied look on her face. "But if you deem it absolutely necessary to prevent the loss of life, limb, or eyesight, do what comes naturally. Now then, are there any more questions you have before you go? I know you don't enjoy going into things half-cocked."

"Just some concerns, ma'am."

"About what?"

I hesitated for a moment; I knew she was a busy woman, but my mind was still racing with all the possible questions I could ask. ONI's endgame. MBI's agenda. The Sekirei, and their abilities, even possibly their origins...

Though, I refrained from asking those, as the most important to me right now was…

"The bond…" It was something that had been unnerving me for a while now, given its almost supernatural origins. The thoughts I had from last night coming to the forefront of my mind. "What is it exactly? Will I be… compromised?"

Halsey raised an eyebrow. "What do you mean by 'compromised'?"

"Mentally defenseless. Emotionally unstable. Does the bond cause servitude in a human in any way? Affect the Ashikabi in a way that they may not know of? Will-."

She raised up a hand. "Let me stop you there, John before your imagination gets the better of you." She shook her head slightly. "You've always had a habit of overthinking things at times, but that type of mindset is what made you an excellent leader." A clear of the throat. "Either way, I was only included in their physiology as a tuner and wasn't explained the components of their bond and how it worked exactly. I'm afraid to say that I also wasn't in the know-how on their powers neither. Takami Sahashi was the Head Researcher of the Plan and was in charge of all everything that happened with the Sekirei in preparation for it." She admitted. "Even then, most of our current data is from what we've been able to observe so far since the Sekirei Plan kicked off, and they began to get winged. We're finding out more as the Sekirei Plan progresses."

"So," I couldn't help but let out a small sigh of disappointment, even if Sahashi-san was a viable asset, didn't mean she would go out of her way to explain things to me. Not after our first meeting and the impression I likely left on her. "Not much to say from this side of things?"

I had also wanted to get some answers and possibly talk about that dream I had last night, as it wasn't a normal one. I had my suspicions that it was related to the Sekirei in some way, but if she didn't have any information, I wouldn't press it…

"I'm afraid not, John. Probably best if you heard it from me since Sahashi would have a… particular set choice of words for you instead, and none at all flattering."

I'd imagine so, it wouldn't be the first time I managed to royally piss someone off.

"But still, if you suspect anything may be happening to you that might make you feel unwell, don't hesitate to let me know."

"Not the doctors?" Wouldn't they be able to help me more than-

"No," Halsey glared firmly my way, but I had a feeling it wasn't exactly directed at me. "You may be retired, but I'm one of the last few who truly could understand the unique biology and psychology of you and your fellow Spartans. I won't have any other one of these MBI employees do it. And besides, you might compromise your true identity if you do so. Your augmentations are vastly different than most scientists know that make up your successors, after all."

I slowly nodded in acceptance to her rationalization. It did make sense, in a way. Halsey had always been there since the beginning and always stood by us, mentoring and guiding us to make us the best we could be in her own way. Our training, augmentations, even our armor, all things Halsey gave us.

Even if I had some questions on her judgment, I held back from openly voicing them…

After all, there was no reason to start doubting her reasoning now.

"Is there anything else?" When I shook my head, she picked up her datapad once more, eyes firmly glued on the screen. "Then go on to Ms. Miyamoto. Besides, the longer you stay here, the sooner Karasuba might find herself here and make herself a nuisance once more."

I raised an eyebrow but nodded nonetheless and took my leave.

Closing the door behind me and began to stride towards Ms. Miyam-… Miyamoto-san's office, I couldn't help but wonder, with a sinking feeling forming in my gut…

What kind of person is Karasuba exactly that made others like Dr. Halsey, and even Soren dislike her so much?

Hm… she often was referenced as a 'mad dog' by Soren, but what did that mean? Besides her trying to get on my nerves with her verbal prodding, I haven't quite seen her do anything violent that'll cause alarm yet. I don't precisely like judging others before making my own opinion. Then again, I might be a little biased in that decision from my own experiences as I was often judged based on my status as a Spartan-II, especially when I came to ODST's.

And some, if not all, of that particular experience, wasn't a terribly positive one…

So the idea of doing it to someone else, even if they were an alien, left an uncomfortable feeling inside of me.

I sighed, rubbing the back of my neck as I walked, the cold sensation of my neural interface meeting my palm.

Well, with us being bonded and all, I'm sure I'll see what makes up Karasuba sometime soon.

Still, I couldn't help but wonder as I opened the door to Miyamoto-san's office…

…What was she doing now?


Karasuba resisted the urge to rub her forehead in exasperation, and even a little embarrassment.

The reason for that was, well…

"The first night, and you two already slept together!" Yume squealed excitedly, and a bit too loudly for Karasuba's taste, given the looks they received. "And he even made you breakfast in the morning too!"

Karasuba quickly gave up and gave in to her impulses as more and more employees kept staring at them in curiosity.

'Of all the times they had to hear something like this… They better mind their business or else they won't have much time to think of anything else.' She irritably thought as she sent a dark look to the busybodies around them. Immediately they looked away, but she could see them glance at them every once in a while.

Her fingers twitched slightly, almost longing for the chance to draw her blade and remove those weaklings heads off their damn shoulders-.

"What did he make you?" Yume's question broke her from her thoughts. "Was it a Japanese breakfast? Western? Oh, did he make you omurice with a ketchup heart on it?" She looked like she was going to squeal happily once more. "Ooooh, and you doubted the power of love for so long! You'll finally realize the full extent of it now that you're winged!"

Karasuba rolled her eyes a little as Yume began to squirm in happiness. She was being a bit much than usual. "Yeah, I don't think so. Besides, it wasn't that great. He wakes up too early and overseasons all the food and either overcook it or barely cooks it looking back at it. And you're giving the guy way too much credit to think of something romantic like that. Heh, he's as dense and stiff as a starship, if not as dull."

Yume hummed, a knowing smile on her face. "Don't act like you didn't like it~."

She scowled. "As if." Still, Karasuba couldn't help but glance at her old friend, taking notice of the difference in behavior from last night…


Karasuba landed on the ground next to Yume, taking notice of the cowering Sekirei's and Ashikabi's responsible for tonight's incident pressed against the wall of the alley.

"Well, well. Looks like this is gonna be a rather easy night. Thanks for staying put." She turned towards her friend, grinning widely in excitement for the pain she wanted to inflict on the couples. She was still feeding off the power high she received after her winging. "Ne, Yume, you wouldn't mind if I can have some fun now, right?"

Yume just glanced at her, her usual discomfort with her needs gone, replaced with a rather neutral look.

Karasuba raised an eyebrow at how odd she was acting. Did she do something already? Was she mad about the deaths that happened? It wasn't like it was her fault; most of those weaklings died before she could get there. Hell, in the end, she wasn't even needed, the old man himself dealt with the whole-

Her breath slightly hitched as she remembered the small infatuation Yume had with that guy.

Shit. Shit. Shit.

She raised a hand towards her friend. "Oi, Yume. About the old man, I didn't mean-"

Yume shook her head, a smile on her face, one that made Karasuba clench her jaw from the insincerity it held. "No. Don't worry about me. I'm happy for you."

"But-"

"It's okay," Yume waved her hand at the couples, who blanched in response. "Go ahead, have fun."

Karasuba hesitated, unsure how to broach the subject once more now that she had been rejected. By Yume nonetheless. The more she thought about it, though, the more she began to feel frustrated, feeding her urges more and more.

Eventually, it became too much for her to want to deal with, turning around with a small scoff as she tore her sword from its scabbard. "Fine then," She muttered as she approached the Ashikabi and Sekirei. A wicked grin formed on her face as the Sekirei in front of her stood up defiantly, readying themselves for their final fight.

At least these guys had some guts, more than their pathetic Ashikabi's still cowering behind them. "Ne, try to make this interesting for me, yeah?" As long as it wasn't a Level 5 termination, that meant she could take her time.

Lucky her.

The Sekirei charged, desperation fueling them at the face of an unbeatable enemy.

By the time they stopped screaming and fell silent, she began on the Ashikabi, slowly slicing and cutting her way as she did.

Compared to their Sekirei, who tried to fight back despite the pain she put them through, they're constant pleads of mercy and begging did get on her nerves. To her, if you're going to do something like they did tonight, at least man up enough to face the consequences of your actions, so she made sure to spill more of their blood in response to their weakness. Making sure every moment of their consciousness was as painful as possible.

There was nothing more grating to her than seeing people who didn't understand just what exactly they fought for. Unwilling to take responsibility for your actions was just as bad. If you were weak and refused to stand up despite your weakness, then why live at all? It was a pathetic way of life.

Luckily for them, Yume eventually stopped her from taking it too far once more.

She still had that damnable smile on her face as she did so, one that didn't reach her eyes.

So, urges sated, but personally unsatisfied, Karasuba did what she did only for her, she listened.


…It looks like she was better now, at least.

"Still!" Yume clapped her hands excitingly. "That means we have to get you ready to be the best Sekirei you can be!"

That made Karasuba pause, a sinking feeling forming inside her. "…What does that mean?"

Then Yume brought out her book, that goddamn book of hers, in response.

"…." Karasuba took a few steps back, shaking her head, somewhat aware of the contents inside of that book. "…No. No way. Hell no. Put that thing away."

"Yes…!" Yume's eyes did that weird change when they flashed into yin-yang symbols, as she eagerly pumped her fist. "It's time for you to be prepared to love! And love is war! Which means you have to be prepared to fight for your love!"

'Oh god no.' Karasuba tried to turn and run for the hills before she could get caught up in this horror show but was immediately stopped when Yume put a hand on her shoulder. That single hand was containing enough monstrous strength to stall her in her tracks. "Yume, please. Let's talk about this-."

"Don't worry, Karasuba!" The Sekirei of Fate cried as she gave her a thumbs up. Her smile was wide and ecstatic, and it was enough to make her sick from its naivety. In this case, it just made her feel some form of terror. "I'll be there with you every step of the way so you can understand how great love can be!"

While that made Karasuba feel a little better as she wouldn't be alone in this, she was still filled with utter dread. "Yume, wait- urk-" She gagged as her friend began to drag her down the hall by her collar, her feet skidding against the floor in an attempt to stop the inevitable. "W-Where are we even going?!"

She received a million-watt smile that could've powered a whole frigate with how bright it was.

Karasuba felt the ball of ice finally drop to her stomach.

"Shopping!" Yume said happily. "I have some ideas on what to get that I'm sure would make John-san happy! Trust me, it'll be fun!"

That was when Karasuba realized that, while Yume had gotten over whatever funk she had been in, it must've left her a tad vindictive.

"What type of clothes are we even getting that'll make him happy?" She muttered, her hand longing to reach for her sword, but knowing better than resist.

In terms of power, Yume outdid her by miles, even though Karasuba was a higher number Sekirei than her. An utter monster… and a hack of a Sekirei…

Said monster just gushed excitingly. "Just the type that any man would love to see after a long day at work!"

'Someone just end me…' Karasuba thought in resignation as she was pulled along.


Dr. Miyamoto flashed me a kind smile as I sat down across from her, albeit a slightly weak one. "Good morning Stark-san. I'm glad to see you in perfect health, given-" Her eyes fell onto my still bandaged hand, and her smile became even weaker. "Oh…"

"Just a flesh wound, Miyamoto-san," I replied. "No big deal."

She continued to stare at my hand despite my assurances, and I removed it out of her view by hiding it in my jacket. She looked at me then, some worry shining through her eyes. "We can see a doctor right now instead if you need to-"

"No," I interrupted her firmly, before reiterating myself. "It's just a flesh wound."

Dr. Miyamoto still looked hesitant, but nodded, dropping the matter. "Alright," And then she was back to her professional persona I had gotten used to the past month and a half. "So, as I messaged you before, I heard that you were part of the incident from last night."

I nodded stiffly. "Affirmative."

She frowned a bit at my clipped response, brushing a strand of hair behind her ear. "I just wanted to see how you were doing, mentally."

Grabbing the clipboard from her desk nearby, she began to flip through it. "Suddenly going from peaceful to violent could be a rather jarring experience for most veterans. For some, the sudden intense stress could subconsciously bring back flashbacks or other uncomfortable memories or emotions of the past. For others, it can cause a reverted state of mind. I'm just going to ask you a few questions. Answer honestly, but don't force yourself, okay?"

I glanced around a bit, trying to bury my suddenly growing anxiety by looking at the various doctorates and decorations that littered the room. I took a small breath before eying the doctor again and nodding my acknowledgment.

It's just like the other times; I reminded myself. Give the correct answers like always, and I'll be fine.

Then again, the situation now was different from before.

Mainly because I killed last night. Now, I didn't regret the action at all. It was necessary, and killing those two Sekirei prevented more civilian casualties from occurring. It was that during the month as a civilian, I became acutely aware of how taboo the action was perceived in the non-military side of things. How frowned upon it was even when it was necessary.

And now, I was becoming more and more aware of how that duality may affect my chances with Miyamoto-san, a civilian herself, and it was making me a bit nervous.

I'd have to be more careful now than ever before with my responses. I've read plenty of articles detailing the difficulty for some doctors to properly diagnose or read their patients, often leading to misdiagnosis. The last thing I wanted was to be possibly diagnosed with a mental condition that didn't exist.

I pressed my palms firmly against my knees as Miyamoto-san cleared her throat.

"Last night, you were involved with the incident in a bar at the Kabukicho district. Spirited Away, I believe it was called?"

"Yes ma'am, I believe that was the bar."

"Believe? Was it your first time there?"

"Yes. I was invited by a… friend."

She wrote something on her paper. "…And this friend, was he part of the injured or…?"

"He survived, just a bit scraped and bruised."

She looked a bit relieved at that news. "That's good that your friend made it out in good condition. And yourself?"

"I'm fine."

"Then what happened to your hand?" Miyamoto-san shot back.

My eyes flickered towards the injury in question for a moment. "Just got caught in some rubble. The EMT's in charge told me I would be fine in a couple of days."

"Have you seen any doctors so they can check it out?"

"No, ma'am."

"Why not?"

"It's not necessary. I'll be fine a few days."

"I see…" She scribbled something onto her paper. "At the incident, when you saw the…"

"…The dead bodies…" I finished for her, seeing her hesitance.

"Y-yes." She cleared her throat. "How did that make you feel?"

I felt a bit taken back at that. "How… did that make me feel?" I… was never asked that before… how did I answer that type of question? Often, the two spectrums I was either was only completely numbed or cold anger…

"Yes, did you feel any particular negative emotion at the sight?"

"…"

"…"

"…Nothing in particular." It didn't feel like it would be wise to tell her that.

She pursed her lips. "…I see."

The scratch of pen on paper once more…

We continued on our talk, trading questions, and answers. I did what I can to keep to myself curt and concise, more so than usual. Likewise, Miyamoto-san was a lot more assertive with her questions as well, and I did what I could to overcome that. I had a feeling she suspected something.

We must've been there for about an hour and some minutes.

Eventually, Miyamoto-san clicked her pen and closed her notebook as she concluded the appointment with a small smile. "We're done then. Are there any further questions?"

I resisted the urge to raise my eyebrows. Miyamoto-san never asked me about the acts of violence I committed last night, and it seems like she was only informed in what was put out in the news this morning. Yet she knew I was part of the incident almost immediately after it happened. Was MBI only telling her certain things? Or was she already aware but just not asking because she didn't feel it was necessary?

How much did she know? Truly?

I withheld a sigh, deciding not to dwell on my thoughts and instead took notice of something else.

I frowned when I noticed the disappointed furrow of her brows, the tired look in her eyes that clashed with the smile on her face.

Did I do something wrong?

"Stark-san?" Miyamoto-san asked, bringing me out of my observations, only to see the slight look of concern in her eyes.

"Uh, no. No." I stumbled slightly over my response, but now that I noticed her looks, it brought me to examine another part of her.

More specifically, her face. Or rather, how young she looked.

"…Actually," She perked up, her eyes widening slightly in surprise. Not that I could blame her, I often took my leave without another word as soon as we concluded our session. "I- uh… how old are you exactly, Miyamoto-san?" I stumbled over my words, deciding to be honest with my concerns.

Her brows shot up. "Pardon?"

"It's just, I would've thought someone in your type of field would have been… Older…" I tried to explain myself, finishing rather lamely.

Knowing of a few odd taboos in the civilian world, one of them oddly being on a woman's age, was something I wasn't entirely used to.

But it's something I quickly learned when I got a rather… intense reaction from Miya. Nothing too bad, just the odd darkening of the room while the wind became suddenly fierce to the point of howling in my ears, even though we were indoors at the time. That's when I became acutely aware of that peculiar taboo.

…Still wondered how she did that. And what the shadow forming behind her was supposed to be…

Miyamoto-san just blinked at my observation, before smiling lightly and brushing a strand of hair behind her ear. "It's fine, Stark-san. I'm glad you're asking the questions for once, though, I wasn't expecting that one."

"I meant no disrespect by it, I was just… curious…." I haven't met many psychologists in my life, much less doctors who work in the more mental or behavioral side of medical science. Though, now that I thought about it, how much experience could someone so young have to correctly diagnose another's mental condition? You would think the younger ones would start on the civilian side of things, while the older, more experienced ones would assist in the VA side of it.

Then again, it would be hypocritical of me to judge someone based on their age. I, for one, was intimately familiar with being underestimated and looked down upon for my age by quite a few high ranking officers when I first took part in the Human-Covenant War.

Though I was lucky enough to have a few mentors who recognized the weaknesses in my abilities or leadership due to my inexperience and help me correct them to become a better soldier and commander on the field of battle.

The lessons they have taught me would forever be part of me…

…I just wish they were still here to see the outcome of it all…

"It's fine," Miyamoto-san assured me gently, seemingly a bit too pleased about my question. Was it because it was different from my usual indifferent attitude? "I'm actually twenty-five years old, Stark-san."

My mind blanked a bit.

…What…?

She smiled a bit wider at my raised eyebrows. "Rather young, I know. I graduated from O'Conner High School back on Mars when I was seventeen years old, going to Shin Toyko University right after receiving a scholarship from them for my psychology degree. Eight years later, I graduated with my PsyD at the top of my class, and was swooped up by MBI right afterward."

"Wait," My brows furrowed as a began putting two and two together. "Does that mean that I'm-."

"My first patient?" Miyamoto-san finished for me, before nodding with a small smile. "Yes. But rest assured, I'm fully qualified to assist you and your mental wellbeing in whatever way I can. I'm here to help you with whatever you need, Stark-san."

Despite her reassurances, I felt anything but.

I actually felt at a loss for words.

I… How is this possible? Was this something that usually happened? How did someone get the idea that someone straight out of school could help the mental wellbeing of genuinely mentally unwell and emotionally damaged soldiers was a good one? Was it because they valued credentials written on a simple piece of paper than actual experience?

I've personally met commanders, officers, and even senior enlisted throughout the war that were too inept at accomplishing their mission. It was often either because of personal ego or because, as the Marines would say for the younger 'butter bar' officers, they simply 'had college under their belt.'

I never understood that particular hatred that some of the enlisted seemed to harbor for officers, as there were just as many competent ones as there were incompetent.

Then again, I personally had more respect often sided towards the plenty of enlisted leaders and officers who fought by their men's side. Or the naval officers who were sheer tacticians in their field, doing what able to do against the more technologically superior Covenant Empire.

That didn't change the fact that there were just as many officers and senior enlisted leaders willing to step on others' experience to simply prove their status in rank.

An experience I had plenty of times.

Now though, and with no offense towards Miyamoto-san, I felt I had a prime example looking back at me.

The more I thought about it, the more I felt myself become boggled by the idea.

I couldn't help but remember about all the statistics related to veteran suicide I read, and how I only felt concerned about the veterans and soldiers who actually needed such medical services.

Where they even retrieving the proper treatment they needed?

With what I could see with MBI and their 'security force,' it wasn't being dealt with in a way that was beneficial for the soldiers in the long run. Could other companies be using the same tactics to prey upon them on their moments of weakness? The Insurrectionists?

What could be the reason for this happening? Was it because we lost too many medical institutions during the war, and are now scrambling to replace the experienced doctors we have lost with the new generation? Or did the UEG honestly not care for the well being of the veterans who have given their whole life to fighting and saving Humanity?

The more I thought about it, the more the bewildered feeling I felt turn into disgruntlement, as I remembered how my team had told me that most of the tests I would go through was nothing more but a 'formality' to them. Was it treated the same way for many other veterans as well? Or was my Spartans and I just a particular case?

"Stark-san?" I was once more pulled out of my thoughts when Miyamoto-san called out to me again. "Is something wrong?"

I averted my eyes away from her concerned ones, shaking my head as I stood up. "No, ma'am. I'm fine. Be seeing you."

"Ah, wait! Stark-san, I-"

I ignored her calls, walking out the room, feeling less sure than when I went in.


I stood patiently in the elevator as it slowed to a stop. Glancing up at the floor level, I confirmed that it wasn't mine.

Readily enough, the doors opened, revealing two people on the other side of it.

I raised a brow when I noticed who they were, a scientist in a white lab coat, and another Sekirei.

I felt my other brow raise when I took note of the rather… peculiar appearance that this particular Sekirei had.

Short brown hair covered her head, along with gray eyes, and her face, having the angular beauty that I was starting to realize most Sekirei had, was kept into a relatively blank look. In fact, she looked a little out of it, if not… sad, in a sense.

That was actually the regular part of her appearance; it was her clothes that threw me off.

I was aware that some Sekirei wore outfits that can be considered rather… scandalous, at least when compared to military standards.

This one, though, took the cake from what I've seen so far.

She wore a white top similar to Miya's, with similar flowing sleeves, except this one was different. Vastly so.

The neckline for her head was lined with black fabric and more massive than the standard cut out, revealing her shoulders. It then went down in a vast V-shape from there, showing what must've been a third of the rather… substantial chest she had, and stopped at her upper stomach. A black piece of cloth with a bow in front held was wrapped around her abdomen, keeping the shirt tight around her body.

If that wasn't enough, she even had chains that were part of her outfit, which looked as if they were the only things making sure her shirt stayed above her breasts and covered her modesty, if only just, while the other set looped around her neck and disappeared into her cleavage. A long flowing skirt with a slit in between showing much of her pale legs finished her look.

I had to keep myself from gaping at the woman who wore such an outfit, as she didn't even look bothered by the sheer volume of skin she was showing.

While seeing other people in various states of undress never bothered me much, the way she looked was… was…

…Who would wear something like that?

I quickly averted my eyes when hers turned towards mine.

"Finally," The scientist muttered with a scoff as he walked in. "Too many damned floors in this place. Takes forever for a simple elevator here."

I found myself agreeing with him in that sentiment. It did take about ten to thirty minutes just to call a simple elevator here, which made sense, with how big Teito Tower was and all.

Now inside, the scientist turned, only to scowl when his companion didn't enter. "Let's go, Akitsu."

I glanced at the alien in question, Akitsu, only to raise a brow when I saw her staring at me rather intensely, lips parted.

Was she beginning to blush?

"Akitsu!" The scientist snapped.

She finally blinked; the act itself was relatively slow, almost methodical before she spoke. "..Ah. Sorry."

Akitsu walked inside the elevator, the chains she wore slightly jingling as she did so, until she standing between the scientist and me. The distance between us almost being nullified with how close she was standing next to me.

The entire time she moved, her eyes never left my figure, keeping me in her sight at all times.

I resisted the urge to shuffle in place. "What floor?" I asked the man.

"Floor twelve." He sighed, rubbing his forehead.

I pressed the button, and we were soon going back down toward their destination, as mine was after theirs.

…I could feel Akitsu's eyes on my back the entire time, and this time I did unconsciously shift a bit in discomfort…

Eventually, I got tired of it, and hoping for the elevator to go down faster wasn't doing much, so instead, I addressed it the best I could.

"You need something?" I muttered, looking back at this rather odd alien.

She slowly blinked in response. "Ah," She murmured softly, and the hue of pink on her face slowly dipped into a rosy color. "You're my Ashi-"

"Akitsu! Wait!" The scientist suddenly yelped in horror as he grabbed her by the wrist tightly. "You can't! Your adjustments, you're not ready just y-!"

Ding.

"Let's go," He hurriedly said as he walked out the elevator, dragging Akitsu behind him.

Or at least attempting to, as she stopped in place right before the elevator door.

"Ah," I stiffened when her hand lashed out at insane speeds, her dainty fingers gripping the front end of my jacket tightly. "Ashikabi-sama…"

"Akitsu!" The scientist barked as he struggled to pull her along. "You have to wait until your adjustments are over! You can't get winged now!"

"Ashikabi-sama," The alien just ignored his words, airily breathing as she stared up at me with those unfocused gray eyes of hers.

I wanted to retort, to push her off of me, but to my growing horror, I could feel my body beginning to become lethargic as a warm feeling spread through it, starting from my core outwards. My mind started to feel muddled again like it was trying to waddle through some type of muck, making it hard to think clearly.

Wh-What was going on…? Was this another reaction…? But I thought only the Sekirei did that? Or was this the byproduct of having a Sekirei react to an Ashikabi?

I could hear my blood roar in my ears as my heart pounded in my chest, and my throat tightened as we continued to stare each other. I opened my mouth, trying to say words that refused to leave my throat. I noticed Akitsu blinking as if the sight of my slightly parted lips had triggered something.

And maybe it did.

My eyes widened in alarm when Akitsu's lips inched closer to mine, and I could feel my body beginning to lean over to match her distance, as every shred of resistance gone from it. My body, for whatever reason, responded eagerly to whatever she was willingly offering, even as my heart and mind tried to resist the best they could.

…It was just like with Karasuba… when-

"AKITSU!" A man's voice roared distantly. "IF YOU WING HIM NOW, YOU'LL KILL HIM!"

That caused me to snap out of it and regain my senses, jerking away from the now frozen Sekirei and slightly bracing myself against the wall, my breathing irregular as a bead of sweat crawled down my face.

Akitsu didn't try to reach for me again and instead turned towards the scientist, head cocked in question from his exclamation.

"You're still being adjusted, Akitsu," The scientist explained slowly explained himself, emphasizing his words. "If you wing him now, who knows what that could accidentally do to you two? Your abilities haven't been regulated yet, and you could end up killing him in the bonding process alone if you don't let me do my job."

He pushed up his glasses. "I'm the only one that can deal with your particular abilities and help you, after all. Now let's get going…" He frowned when she still didn't respond to his tugging.

Akitsu instead looked at me, a longing look in her eyes combined with a flushed face that left me feeling uncertain on how to proceed. "Ah. Ashikabi-sama…"

It took me a moment to realize she was actually calling out to me, and I stepped back when her free hand twitched in my direction, my shoulder bumping against the wall behind me.

If there was anything that made me genuinely nervous and anxious, it was anything that could psychologically affect me. My time spent with the Gravemind mocking and threatening me when we were in the general vicinity of another made it that the mere thought of it would send shivers up and down my spine. It was part of the reason why the bond worried me so much, as the only experience I had with any sort of telepathy was with that creature.

The fact I couldn't control myself when a Sekirei was seemingly reacting towards me only put me off more.

"…Your name…"

I blinked a few times, confused.

Why she want my name? What purpose did that serve her?

Still, it didn't seem she would leave anytime soon without getting it, and it didn't look like that scientist would be able to stop her should she try to get close to me again.

…And I was beginning to doubt I would be able to do the same…

"J-Jo-" I cleared my throat and steadied my breathing, regaining my composure. "Stark."

She mouthed the words to herself before she seemed to shiver a bit, as if the words themselves were something precious to her.

Akitsu's lips twitched, her longing stare never ceasing. "…Please wait for me, Stark-sama…"

With some hesitance, she finally allowed the irate scientist to drag her away. That didn't stop her from glancing over her shoulder until they turned a corner, out of my sight.

I blinked a few times, having regained my senses fully and standing there a little dumbfounded.

Jesus, I was about to wing another Sekirei, wasn't I? Can I even wing another? Is that against the rules? What will happen to mine and Karasuba's bond if I winged this one?

Exhaling from my nose, I dismissed the thoughts, and instead waited for the elevator doors to close and resume its trek towards my destination.

Again, another day, and I feel like I have nothing more but more questions and not enough answers..

I'm sure I wouldn't be in this type of situation if Cor-

"…We swore to protect each other. And no matter what happened, we did…"

Clenching my eyes shut, I removed my glasses to massage them, banishing the memory towards the back of my mind.

Along with all the rest…

….

Shit... What a day…


I once read that a nice, quiet walk was an excellent way to deal with stress. To help clear your mind and allow you to focus on what you needed to do.

Of course, I doubted it, since there was no better way to deal with stress than going to a range and sending those negative thoughts downrange in a hail of bullets and obliterating your target.

Or to deal with it by rolling on a mat sparing with another, beating one another into a pulp until you could no longer go on.

Or merely by lifting with heavy weights until you were fatigued and your muscles ached something fierce…

Unfortunately for me, I had none of these options on hand. Nor did I have them to look forward to.

So I thought, with all I've learned today, that I can digest and process them with a nice walk back home since I didn't have a vehicle to drive myself. Enjoy the sights and scenery like I usually did while on runs or grocery trips.

"Excuse me!"

"Watch it!"

"Sorry! Sorry! I didn't see you there!"

"Hey..!"

"Yes, sir! About the next meeting, I was thinking about…!"

Rather foolishly, I forgot to take into account the time and place I would be doing this form of 'stress relief.'

During the lunch rush in the incredibly busy business district of Marunouchi in which Teito Tower itself resided in. The hustle and bustle of it had thrown me off a bit, having grown used to the relatively quiet and peaceful residential district of Hiroo where I lived.

I forced myself to follow the currents of the crowds, the height difference between the Japanese citizens and I being felt more than ever as I towered over the sea of people around me. I receive stares from the business workers around me who were all wearing some type of formal wear, likely some form of conformity. It was probably a mixture between my height and clothing that got their attention as it must've been the busiest part of the day in that area.

I pushed through it all with relative ease, uttering apologies every once when I accidentally brushed against someone or stepped on their shoe.

I was soon free of that almost claustrophobic area as I neared the edge of the business district and closed into the residential ones.

Which then led me to my next encounter.

"UUWWWAA! Ugh- UWWA!"

I looked around, a bit uncomfortable at the sight of all the people ignoring the small, terrified girl crying next to the crosswalk. The people around were apathetic to her cries, though some glanced at her, they kept walking towards their own destination, deeming it more relevant than helping the girl with whatever she was crying about.

I should do the same…

Though, even though I thought that way, I found myself pausing after a few steps, finding my feet rooted onto the ground. A churning sensation formed in my chest the more I listened to the girl's cries…

Was this guilt…? Why would I feel that way…? It wasn't like I was the cause of kid's distress or anyth-

I watched the school burn silently, the little bodies clustered near the front of them in piles mixed in with the bodies of the Grunts and Jackels we just killed… What was once a feeding pen now disappearing with the falling debris… Burning them all until there was not even a trace of the atrocity that occurred here…

Again, we were too late… Again, I couldn't save anyone…

"…."

I sighed, rolling my shoulders before approaching the little girl. Better to try than do nothing at all…

She didn't even notice my approach, too busy trying wiping the tears from her eyes…

…C'mon kid, if you're going to cry, at least try to be quiet about it. When I was your age, being loud was a quick way to get a stun baton to the back of the head… Gives you something to really cry about; If you had the energy to, that is…

"Hey," The girl stiffened at my voice, looking up at me with teary eyes. "You alright?"

She stared at me for a few more moments before she started to tremble like an Unnogy, a fresh wave of tears falling from her eyes as she gave me a frightened stare.

Shit… Don't tell me the kid's scared of me or someth-

"BWEEEEEEH! Uggu-BWEEEEEH! BWEEEH!" She began to cry harder in response, snot dripping out of her nose and drool escaping her mouth as more tears fell from her face.

"Christ…" I rubbed the back of my neck, becoming clearly aware of the eyes zeroing on me and the girl, the people around us staring at me judgingly. I didn't quite understand why though since they flat out ignored the girl when they had the chance to approach her, so why were they looking at me as if I did something wrong?

What was even the correct approach to a situation like this? I can't take the Mendez route and yell at her to shut the hell up since I learned that many young civilians aren't as thick-skinned as my fellow trainees and me from the time we were kids.

Not to mention it seemed to be frowned upon…

Hell, even now, I've seen fully grown civilian adults freak out over the slightest inconvenience that would have left my old CPO screaming obscenities at them until they felt like their very existence was an affront to Humanity.

I dropped my hand, feeling a little lost, but trying again nonetheless. "Quit crying, kid."

She flinched, lowering her head slightly at my words, but kept crying.

"…It's going to be alright…?"

…No dice…

I began to pop the joints in my fingers.

Maybe with a little more authority?

"…Listen, if you have a problem, tell me."

I almost sagged in relief when the girl finally ceased her uncontrollable sobbing, wiping her eyes the best she could before looking up at me. She still hiccuped every so often, though. "T-The ōdan hodō…"

Ōdan hodō…? My mind raced to translate the unfamiliar word…

…Pedestrian… Crossing…? Did she mean the crosswalk?

Wait, did she mean that she was too scared to-?

I felt slight disbelief at the fact that a girl who's age must've been the same when I was learning how to string up tripwires and treat chest wounds would be so terrified at crossing a simple crosswalk...

Seriously? It wasn't like you had to run while the cars were speeding by and try to avoid traffic, they gave you time to cross, and from what I've seen, she's had more than enough of times to cross when she was crying.

There was no life or death moment. No fight or flight reflex taking over all reason. No reason for her to fear something as simple as a crosswalk. Just her standing there, terrified.

"….."

"….." She sniffled, shuffling around nervously under my gaze.

I just couldn't understand…

Still…

That didn't mean I should just leave her here and move on. I was here, able to help her, and it would only make sense to do so if it was in my ability.

"…I can help you cross if you want..."

She immediately brightened up to my suggestion, wiping furiously at her tears and snot as she nodded. "Hm! Hm!"

I withheld a grimace when she reached up and grabbed the last two joints of my middle and ring finger of my right hand. Her tiny hand covered in boogers and tears that was barely able to wrap around the digits.

Well, that was simple… but disgusting…

I sighed but decided to let it go, waiting for the crosswalk light to give us the go-ahead instead, other pedestrians forming around us.

We quickly crossed when we got the chance to, but I had to slow down my stride when I almost pulled the girl off her feet within the first few steps, making sure to match my stride with her tiny one.

When my job was done, I went to withdraw my hand, only to frown when the tiny one connected to it gave it a small tug instead.

I looked down only to see the kid looking up at me tearfully.

"There are more crosswalks before I get home…"

You've got to be kidding me… "And where's home supposed to be?"

She sniffed. "In the Shibuya district…"

With a mental command, the lenses of my glasses flared into life, calculating where precisely the location of the Shibuya district was. I didn't really go out of my way to go to different places during my month and a half tenure here, rarely having a want to go out and see the country, and I was already familiarized with the places I did go to.

So, when the rare times came that I required the piece of eyewear's ability to connect to the city network wirelessly on the fly, it was a useful one for when I needed info. The connection itself was a bit spotty, and it took a few moments, but I finally got the location to where it was to appear on the lenses.

Hmm… It's a little ways off from my residential district, but not too much. I wouldn't have to put too much effort into making a small detour to get her there…

I grunted, deciding that it wouldn't hurt to do just that. In for a penny, in for a pound, I believe the expression was…

Still…

"I'll only get you to the district, but your gonna have to do the rest to get home."

She smiled, tears long gone by now. "Hm! Thank you, Ojii-san!"

My eye twitched. "…Let's move…"


"…How'd you even get to and from school anyways?"

"My friend…"

"A friend?"

"Hm! His name's Taki-kun. We usually walk to and from school, but he had to go home early today when he hurt himself jumping off the swing. I tried to walk by myself, but I got a little lost, and the pedestrian crossings were getting bigger and bigger until I got too scared to cross them anymore…" A bright grin. "But you were here to help me, Ojii-san!"

"…I see… No problem…"

It took us a while, with the kid getting distracted by too many things on the way, like a stray cat and a candy store, but I was eventually able to get her to the Shibuya district with little to no issues.

"Hana-chan, is that you?!" I heard a child's voice call out as we finally entered the district, and the kid holding my hand perked up in response.

A little further ahead was a small group of kids in a similar uniform that she wore about a block over from our position. One of them was the one who called out, likely recognizing her.

'Hana-chan' began to wave furiously at them. "Shu-chan! Saa-chan! Ko-chan!" She then looked up at me.

My lips twitched. "Go ahead. And stay safe, kid."

She smiled and let go of my hand, but she then surprised me when she then wrapped her arms around my leg in a hug. "Thanks for your help, Ojii-san! I couldn't make it back without you!"

I felt some heat creep up on my cheeks, and quickly waved my hand, trying to shoo her away to hide my discomfort. "Yeah, yeah. Get a move on now."

Seriously, this clingy kid…

Thankfully, that was all she needed to hear, and after releasing me, she took off full speed towards her friends. They loudly chatted as they walked away, some of the kids glancing back at me and pointing, but they didn't do anything aside from that.

…Except 'Hana-chan,' who turned around, a fair distance away by now, to wave excitingly at me.

I gave a small, noncommittal wave back with my uninjured hand, before stuffing both my hands into my jacket pockets. With a final glance, I did a quick about-face and started my trek back home…

"Ara~, ara~, what a fine gentleman you were there, not to mention rather good with children. How interesting…" A voice called.

My head snapped left and right, looking for the source, before quickly finding it, casually laying on their side on top of a roof of a house, bottle in hand.

"It's almost enough to get a woman a bit hot under the collar. After all, a man who knows how to deal with children is rather scarce nowadays~."

It's just one thing after another today, isn't it?

I just stared at her, wondering what this Sekirei could possibly want from me.

The Sekirei in question had long violet hair with some sort of half-ponytail that flowed alongside the wind. She wore a pair of sunglasses, preventing me from seeing her eyes. She wore-

My eye twitched.

What the hell was she even wearing? Do they even have a name for something like that? It was even more questionably inappropriate than that Akitsu's!

The very, very short purple dress she wore that barely touched her thighs seemed like someone cut a hole in the middle and then decided to put some pieces of cloth in an 'X' formation was a good idea. Who knows what they were thinking when they made this outfit, considering how much of her stomach and cleavage of her rather absurdly large chest was exposed. The rest of the outfit was finished with flowing sleeves that went down towards her wrists.

It was also ridiculously tight on her body, emphasizing it in ways that just left me annoyed.

…Seriously, who designed these types of outfits? Weren't the Sekirei supposed to fight to the death or something? Were these the types of clothing that they were supposed to fight in?

Part of me hoped not…

And not long ago, I honestly thought the mini-skirts that Karasuba and Yume wore were the oddest thing I've seen since retiring.

Where was the protection? Did they just not care if one well-placed bullet was all that was needed to do them in? It's just not a strategically sound-

…I'm starting to get distracted…

"If you keep staring so hard, Gentleman-kun, I'm going to start thinking you have some ungentlemanly intentions." She chortled.

I shook my head at her, failing to see the amusement in her words. "What do you want?"

"What, Gentleman-kun? Can't a girl just enjoy a little day drinking with some free entertainment? It's not hurting anyone now, is it?" She pouted, before cranking her head back to drink from the bottle of sake she had.

…and keep drinking…

…and drinking…

…and drinking…

…I had to admit, I was slightly amazed at her ability to drink that stuff like it was water. I doubt I can do the same, even if I forced myself… Not that I saw myself willingly drinking alcohol anytime soon.

When she had completely finished the bottle of sake, she loudly sighed in content. "Puah! Hooooo! That hit's the spot!"

I watched as she tossed the bottle over her shoulder, following it before it disappeared in a nearby bush. "…."

Gazing back at her, I narrowed my eyes when she had a new, full bottle in her hand.

Where did she get it from? I scanned the area around her but didn't see anything around her that she could have taken it from unless she had it on her person the entire time?

But where would she hide it?

A smirked formed on her face at my lack of response. "Oooh, the strong, quiet type, huh? That's fine, you may look manly enough, but when compared to another man I know of, you're a bit too old looking and weathered for my tastes. You also don't look like the type that can show a girl a good time either."

"…Good to know."

"He speaks!" She giggled, and I noticed her face becoming a little flushed, likely from the alcohol?

"Neh," I tensed up when her voice lowered, suddenly becoming serious. "The wind, don't you feel it?"

I cocked my head slightly, confused. The wind? What did that have to do with anything? Was she alright?

She traced a finger up and down the neck of the bottle thoughtfully, seemingly distracted. "After your little show last night, it's gained a distasteful edge to go with it, but with it, a sense of change. I wonder…?" She stopped what she was doing and stared me down hard. "Now that I get a good look at you, you seem like someone who is unresolved with who they are, like sake that's been diluted. If you don't change soon, you'll be swallowed up by this so-called plan."

I glared at the Sekirei, unsure what she meant by that, but not appreciating the insinuations nonetheless. What was it to her, anyway?

We continued our stare down for a few more moments before she giggled a bit, taking another swig of sake and exclaiming in contentment. "Haaa! Or you can be like me and go with the flow of the wind, accepting the way it takes you! Hopefully, mine takes me towards more sake!"

I shook my head at the giggling Sekirei, a bit put off by the sudden tone change but decided to let it go, jotting it down as being connected to alcohol-induced idiocy. She just must've been drunk by now after downing that entire bottle in one go, which was why I couldn't make sense of what she was trying to say.

Either way, I was done sitting here. I've wasted enough time.

"Take care of yourself," I muttered as I began walking towards my destination once more, the wind starting to pick up slightly.

"You too, Gentleman-kun!" The Sekirei lowered her sunglasses, revealing the pair of brown eyes underneath, as she winked at me. "We should get a drink next time!"

No. Not gonna happen.

By now, I can only hope that there were no more encounters and that I could just head home.


Thankfully, by the time I got back to my apartment complex, there were no further issues I ran into, no new encounters with Sekirei's, much to my relief.

Though, when I approached my door, I felt a sense of deja-vu when I felt that same relief slowly turn into dread. With keys about to unlock my door, I hesitated, feeling the familiar presence of Karasuba just beyond the door through the bond, but she felt muted, out of sorts. Having experienced Karasuba's confidence firsthand, it put me a bit on edge to come across this type of feeling from her, wondering what had occurred to her that made her feel this way.

Still, it was only our second day together, and for all intents and purposes, she was my ally now. So, putting away my suspicions, I opened my door.

I immediately regretted it as my eyes burned the sight before me.

Karasuba was beyond the door, yes, but what I didn't expect was Yume to be with her, smiling brightly.

And that wasn't even the worst of it…

They were dressed in one of the oddest getups I've seen. Black and white lace covered their body, the tips of the clothing ending in white frills. Tops that showed off much of their slender shoulders and necks, but thankfully covered their breasts enough, which, after seeing a few other Sekirei's choices of clothing, was assuring.

Granted, Yume's clothing around her bosom looked as if it was about to burst, and I did not want to be around if that happened. Karasuba looked as if she had no problems, though, to my relief.

Small sleeves were wrapped around their upper arms like lacy black and white bands, keeping their shoulders exposed. Their bottoms were covered by a black skirt that was of reasonable length for a change, finished off with white stockings. They both wore a white headband on top of their hair.

These were…. Maid uniforms, I believe they were called? Didn't people who worked in maid café's wear those?

I've personally never been to one myself. Still, I was only aware of those types of cafe's existence because there was one that was down the route I took for grocery shopping that I was aware of, where the workers often advertised the shop outside in uniform to anyone who passed by.

Yasaka had wanted me to go to one a few times, but I shot him down each time as I wasn't interested in being served food I can simply make myself.

My eye twitched.

It still didn't explain why they were wearing those clothes.

I glanced at Karasuba, only to notice that under all that lace and frills, the face of resignation. Eyes full of murderous intent stared back at me, causing me to tense up slightly in response. Still, she stood there with that painful look on her face, while the one who stood next to her appeared unfazed, smiling angelically.

It felt like there was something more to that smile than what appeared though…

"Welcome back, John-san!" Yume greeted me happily, while Karasuba just glanced to the side, her jaw clenched tightly, face scrunched.

My nose twitched, recognizing the smell of food being cooked; Were they making something in the kitchen?

"Would you like dinner?" Continued Yume. "A bath? Or perhaps… me?"

I froze, feeling confused and bewildered; What did she just say?

Karasuba faced palmed, the sound of her hand smacking against her face ringing throughout the room. "Jesus, Yume…"

I worked my jaw, attempting to form words, but was only able to formulate one coherent response. "…Pardon…?"

Yume didn't respond, instead of turning towards Karasuba, hands clasped under her chin. "You see, Karasuba? It's easy, now it's your turn. Greet your Ashikabi properly!"

Perplexed, I looked at Karasuba, who's face scrunched up in response, before looking towards the side, scoffing. "This is too much."

Yume immediately elbowed her in response, and even though she tried to hide it, the way Karasuba slightly doubled over in response showed that it wasn't a light hit either. "I'm… gonna kill you…" She hissed out.

She received another elbow in response, causing her to wheeze a bit this time. "A-Alright already… quit it…"

I slowly began to close the door.

"That's the spirit, Karasuba!"

No, I'm not watching this…

"Ah! Wait, Stark-san! Where are you-!"

With a resounding click of the lock, I walked away from the door towards the railing, gripping it tightly with a sigh.

Well, that was awkward.

"Ah, Stark-san," I turned my head, only to see the landlady approach me, lighting a cigarette as she did. "Just the person I was looking for. I was wondering if you-"

Yume burst out of my door, holding an exasperated Karasuba by the arm as she did. "Stark-san! Why did you leave? Did you not like it?"

"He wouldn't be the only one…" The grey-haired Sekirei muttered behind her.

The cigarette between the landlady's lips almost fell from how slack her face had gotten, eyebrows disappearing into her hair as she alternated staring between all three of us with wide eyes.

To her credit, she was able to regain her composure, eyeing the Sekirei a bit warily before staring me down.

…For some reason, I felt as if I was being horribly misunderstood…

"Well then," She muttered after a bit. "I didn't expect you to be that type of man, Stark-san."

What?

"I guess it makes sense, though, given that you're a man and all." She raised a questioning brow as she gazed at Yume and Karasuba's attire. "…Didn't expect a guy like you to have something like that as a fetish though…"

…What's a fetish…?

I supposed it wasn't anything good, given the way I heard Karasuba snicker behind me. "Heh… You wouldn't know the half of it, Obaa-san."

"It's not what you think?" I was confused why the landlady narrowed her eyes at me, but still felt the need to defend myself. "It's… just not…"

Not really convincing, but I didn't even understand I was even in this situation.

The older woman just blew a cloud of smoke, a doubtful look on her face. "It's alright. I get it. Just don't cause too much noise, alright? Don't want the neighbors complaining or anything."

Why would the neighbors complain? Being too loud? What was she getting at?

I just stared as she wagged her finger at me. "Be smart, though. Use protection and all that stuff." She glanced at the Sekirei behind me. "I know a pharmacy nearby that gives plan B if you need it."

Plan B? What's Plan B? What about Plan A?

…No, wait…. What…?

I glanced at the now quiet Yume, only to see her now flushed face, but a rather odd smile on her face, while Karasuba barked out a harsh laugh. "Thanks for the help, Obaa-san, but I think we'll be fine on our own."

The landlady just shook her head before walking away with a wave. "If you say so. I'll leave you to it then." I heard her sigh as she got further away. "…Youngsters got too much energy these days…"

"It's not…" I sighed, giving up.

Karasuba just chuckled at my response. "Let's take this back inside, yeah? More privacy that way."

The context being thrown around was lost on me, but I still nodded. "Let's…"

Yume choked, her face becoming redder as the odd smile just became goofy looking, her eyes becoming unfocused.

I raised an eyebrow; What was she getting embarrassed about?

I glanced at Karasuba for answers, but she just shook her head. "Just fantasizing, don't mind her, it happens. Let's get dinner on the table before we burn down the kitchen." She looked down at herself, face scrunching. "And get me into some regular clothes… these things are way too tight on the hips." She muttered, giving the end of the skirt a tug.

Ah… I didn't need to know that… Really…

I exhaled softly, wondering if this was how my everyday life was going to go-

Wait, why exactly was Yume here again? It seemed like she was the reason why I was in this situation in the first place. Just what did she hope to achieve by-?

"Oi! speaking of which, we're gonna need more food! The fridge is empty after we made dinner!" Karasuba called out from inside the room.

I frowned when I heard that. There's no reason for me to be out of food already; I just went shopping a few days ago. I should still have food for the next two days-

My mind flashed to last night's dinner and this morning's breakfast. With my new addition in the household, my food quantity, often enough for myself, would now be shared between the two of us.

Well, three of us… at least for this meal.

I sighed when I inspected my raided fridge, noting the remaining condiments in it, but no food.

Seems like I'll have to go shopping tomorrow… Probably need to get double the amount this time around…

Joy.

I eyed the massive pot as I walked into the kitchen, peeking inside of it to see its contents.

Curry.

Again.

I sniffed at it, my eye twitching when a slight burn formed in my nostrils, one that got more and more intense as its scent traveled up my sinuses.

…A rather spicy one at it too this time around…

Nothing I couldn't handle… I hope…