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Byou checked the comm for the ship's map and followed the directions to the nearest common area. When he arrived he saw a few omegas he didn't know talking quietly in the far corner, and rather than interrupt he opted to explore a bit. He passed through a few hallways and reached the family area, according to the comm, and one door at the end opened to reveal Shinji being firmly pushed out of it by a short omega with long black hair in braids.

"Go on, you'll be late! Go to your stupid important meeting, we'll be fine, stop fussing," the omega said, tossing his braids as he grinned.

"I'm going, I'm going," Shinji said, laughing softly as he held up his hands in surrender.

"Ryo, quit harassing my mate," Satoshi called out playfully from within the room.

Byou stopped and grinned as Shinji and Ryo noticed him, and Shinji chuckled as he let Ryo shoo him off.

"Come on in, Micchan was just telling me about you," Ryo said, waving Byou into the room.

"Should I be worried?" Byou asked as he followed Ryo in and greeted Mizuki and Satoshi. The room was a small nursery, and Mizuki held the youngest baby in his lap as he sat on one of the two couches in the corner with Satoshi beside him. The other babies were apparently elsewhere at the moment.

"Hah, I hardly know you yet, just you wait," Mizuki said with a grin.

Byou chuckled as he took a seat on the unoccupied couch in the corner, and Ryo sprawled beside him a moment later, nearest to Mizuki.

Mizuki lifted Ren off his lap and held her out to Ryo. "Here, your turn."

Ryo made an exaggerated face of panic even as he gingerly took Ren. "Last time I held her she started shrieking like a banshee," he muttered, eyeing the baby warily. Ren merely blinked at him, but once Ryo had settled her on his lap she immediately let out a loud wail, and Ryo thrust the baby back at Mizuki. "Shit! Here, you take her."

Mizuki snickered as he took Ren back, and she quieted within moments. "You have a way with babies, Ryo," he teased, handing Ren to Satoshi.

"Hikaru likes me just fine, and Hinata too!" Ryo protested, pouting as he crossed his arms. "Must just be alpha babies."

Satoshi chuckled and shook his head. "So, how are you and Miya?" he asked, grinning at Ryo's startled blink.

Ryo shot Mizuki a playfully annoyed look as he shrugged and fidgeted with one of his braids. "I broke it off with him about a week ago, but it's not really news-worthy."

"So then what did you do for your last heat?" Mizuki asked, furrowing his brow. "He was courting you for a few months, right?"

"Three months," Ryo said, giving Mizuki a mock glare. "And some of us want to give our first ruts to someone special, y'know, not that it's any of your business," he added with a huff. "I didn't wanna string him along, and I'm not ready to let an alpha rut me yet, much less settle down and bond." He pushed his braids over one shoulder and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees.

Byou blinked at Ryo in surprise, belatedly noticing the subtle difference in the other omega's scent that indicated he was a virgin. "You don't use suppressants?"

Ryo and Mizuki made almost identical faces of disgust and shook their heads. "Nah, it's not good to mess with our natural cycles," Ryo said, shrugging. "We have stuff to lessen the, uh, need, but suppressant use can have long-term effects on our fertility, among other problems, so we use more natural methods. It might not make things entirely comfy, but it's a lot less risk."

Byou nodded slowly, making a face. "I only used suppressants once, and it made me feel like shit so I never touched them again."

"I don't know how you stand going out of your mind for a week every three months," Mizuki said with a grimace. "Why not just get it over with?"

"Yeah, well, it might be an antiquated custom, but it's important to me," Ryo said, shrugging. "Besides, it's not as bad as it would be without the drugs."

"Now that Miya's available again, Micchan, you should make an offer for him," Satoshi teased.

"Like hell," Mizuki said, grimacing as he glared at Satoshi. "After three months of not getting laid he's too desperate for me, besides the fact he's a knot-head."

Ryo rolled his eyes and shook his head, though he smirked a moment later. "You protest so much with him, which means you're playing coy," he said with a knowing smirk.

"I am not!" Mizuki scowled as he crossed his arms and slouched in his seat. "I already have--" he cut himself off and scrunched up his nose. "Bah, never mind."

"Oh, got someone in mind, then?" Ryo asked, grinning wide. "You're smelling a bit ripe, eh, so tell us who the lucky one is this time."

"I bet it's Asanao," Satoshi murmured, then laughed at Mizuki's startled indignation.

"Ew, no! The most we'd do together is cover for the other," Mizuki said, rolling his eyes. "Besides, he's got a lover anyway."

"Cover? For what?" asked Satoshi, his brow furrowed in confusion.

"Wait, a lover? Him?" asked Ryo at almost the same moment.

"You didn't know?" Mizuki blinked and looked just as baffled, then laughed at Ryo's dawning realization and Satoshi's blankly confused face. "What, seriously? He's banging Shuu."

Satoshi started and blinked wide eyes. "But he--oh," he said, blinking a few more times. "I--that would explain a lot."

Mizuki laughed again and ruffled Satoshi's hair playfully. "Yeah, far as I know Asanao's only into other alphas. It's why it's funny to make him squirm around me, but it's all in good fun though."

Ryo snickered and fidgeted with one of his braids. "I'll bet. No wonder Shuu's been acting weird." He paused a beat and glanced to Satoshi with a grin as if sharing an inside joke. "Well, weirder, anyway."

"Things are so different here than in the Hub," Byou said, furrowing his brow.

"Is it true that alphas and omegas really don't bond there?" Ryo asked, turning to Byou.

"Mostly, yeah, I mean I've heard rumors that there are some pairs, but the few alphas and omegas I know stayed single or settled down with betas, and most of the ones I know are single," Byou said, shrugging a bit. "I didn't even really think mate bonds were real until it happened with Aki, since I'd never heard of them outside of old holovid romances and shit."

"That's so backwards," Mizuki muttered, looking bewildered. "Like, mate bonds are just natural and even Tsurugi knows about them and can explain all the chemical and hormonal shit about them, but then he's a doctor."

"Hitsugi said bonds between two alphas or two omegas are possible, though it seems to be rare," Byou said, tilting his head.

Ryo opened his mouth and then hesitated for a moment before speaking. "Well, we'd thought that Aki and Zo were bonded for a while, even if they kept it casual, and they're still close even now that Zo's bonded with Yume."

"Yeah, he kind of told me," Byou said, feeling a not-quite-jealous twinge at the thought. It was less that he regarded Zo as a threat and more that he was envious of their shared history.

"They got together soon after Aki fucked it up with Yuusei, and most of us figured Aki was just like, rebounding from that and being with Zo to piss off his parents, but then they stayed together up until Zo met Yume," Mizuki said, waving his hands vaguely. "I still don't get why he treated Yuusei like that, poor kid was caught up in all that drama just 'cause Aki was being a fuckin' knot-head about it all."

"Isn't Yuusei here?" Satoshi asked, glancing to Ryo. "I thought I saw him on the way in."

"Yeah, he is," Ryo said, grimacing as he looked to Byou. "It's probably not gonna be too awkward, but I don't think anyone's told him Aki's come back with you yet. I mean, they're both over it and all, but well, y'know." He shrugged and forced a smile.

Byou blinked slowly and shifted in his seat. "Aki must have changed a lot. How long ago was Yuusei with him?" he asked, biting his lip.

"About three years ago?" Ryo answered, frowning in thought. "They courted for less than a year, but it was a bit of a mess of drama. Might as well get it over with, if you want. It's a long trip, after all."

Byou shrugged and got to his feet, following Ryo out with Mizuki and Satoshi behind him. They headed toward the common room Byou had passed through earlier, though along the way Satoshi stopped to drop Ren off at a nursery room. When they arrived at the common room there were a half dozen more omegas clustered in pairs or small groups. Ryo pointed to a short omega with shoulder length light brown hair in the far corner. "That's him."

Byou took one look at Yuusei and blinked slowly as he stared at the other omega in surprise. Yuusei looked about twelve, and Byou was honestly not sure the kid had even hit puberty yet. "Aki has some explaining to do."

Mizuki and Ryo looked confused for a moment before they both laughed. "What, wondering if he's a kid?" Mizuki asked with another snicker. "He's not, by like two or three years, even if he's got perpetual babyface syndrome."

"Hey, Yuusei! How old are you now?" Ryo called out, grinning.

Yuusei whirled around and narrowed his eyes at Ryo. "Oi, I'm your age, dumbass," he snapped playfully as he walked over. "For another few months, anyway." He eyed Byou up and down and gave a half smile. "Well, you're his type. Byou, right?"

Byou blinked and nodded, still not quite believing Yuusei was the same age as Ryo, as Ryo had obviously lost his baby fat. "How'd you--"

"You smell like him, and I overheard the gossip. Congrats," Yuusei said, shrugging and giving another half smile.

"Thanks," Byou murmured with a faint smile.

Mizuki spoke up before things could get too awkward, "Yuuchan, what are you doing here, anyway?"

"I ran away from home, obviously," Yuusei deadpanned with a roll of his eyes. "This trip was Papa's idea, in the hope I find a suitable mate elsewhere since it didn't work out with any of the ones she chose."

"So she finally let you see the universe, eh?" Ryo asked with a grin.

"More or less." Yuusei shrugged and then gestured to some unoccupied seats in a corner of the room. Once they were all seated he elaborated. "I'm on the hunt for someone I feel drawn to rather than a match she and mother would prefer."

"How many did you reject?" Mizuki asked with his usual bluntness.

Yuusei chuckled and counted on his fingers. "Seven, and six of them were after only a few dates each. The last I let court me for about six months or so until she met an omega she clicked with right off. I liked her, but there wasn't really a spark, so eh, whatever," Yuusei said with another shrug.

"Ouch," Ryo murmured sympathetically, shaking his head. "I just broke it off with Miya because there wasn't really a spark for us either."

"I'm hardly in any rush anyway, but maybe I'll find someone outside our colony," Yuusei said, then glanced to Byou. "So you bonded quick?"

"Uh, I guess so," Byou murmured, shrugging awkwardly. "It's kind of weird, it's like we click but it's not really strong yet."

"It'll grow in time, as I'm sure you've been told," Satoshi said quietly. "For those of us who have our parents arrange mates the bond can take a while to form, but it usually does eventually. You're lucky you felt the spark so quickly. My bond with Shinji is still developing but it's definitely there," he said, and then hesitated as if he was about to say more but decided not to.

"More families are letting their kids find their own bondmates nowadays," Ryo said as he darted an odd look to Satoshi, then fidgeted with one of his braids. "But it depends on the settlement really."

"I await the day I can bring home a nice omega to my parents," Mizuki said, leaning back in his seat and slouching.

Ryo snorted. "I really can't see you ever settling down, Micchan."

"What, 'cause I like variety? If Mao can find a mate, so can I," Mizuki said, sticking his tongue out at Ryo.

"Speaking of Mao, where is he?" Satoshi asked, glancing around the room.

"I think he's talking with Akira, and Kyo's probably with him," Mizuki answered. "That, or him and Kyo are fucking like rabbits in their room."

Before anyone could elaborate more on that, the scent of an unmated alpha drifted in, and almost every omega in the room turned to look at the doorway near where Byou and the others sat. Byou shifted in his seat to look and saw Hazuki with an alpha behind him who was blushing and noticeably reluctant to step into the room.

"Bucchan!" Mizuki said, scrambling to his feet with a grin and walking over, though he was blocked from getting close by Hazuki.

"I'm just taking him to his quarters, Micchan," Hazuki said, glancing pointedly to the other omegas in the room until they all went back to their conversations. "He's been cleared, but Kaoru doesn't want him wandering around yet," he added quietly.

"Well, I'll keep him company then," Mizuki said, giving Hazuki a look that said he wouldn't budge on that.

Hazuki sighed with a roll of his eyes, then shrugged as he motioned Mizuki and Manabu to follow him. When the three left the alertness in the room dissipated and the conversations resumed their previous volume.

Ryo glanced to Yuusei and gave the other omega a pointed nudge when he saw Yuusei staring at the door Manabu had disappeared through, then smirked. "Can't be Hazuki you were admiring."

Yuusei blushed faintly and scowled at Ryo. "And why not? Maybe I was surprised Micchan likes that alpha."

"Yeah, that pretty alpha," Ryo said with a wider smirk. "I know your type, remember?"

"Shut up, you," Yuusei grumbled, crossing his arms and slouching in his seat.

"Manabu's from the Hub," Satoshi murmured. "He was with Akira, and at least him and Yuuto are suspected of collaborating with the militants."

Yuusei blinked and furrowed his brow, then shrugged as he got to his feet. "Well, I'm gonna go grab some food, see you around," he said with a wave to Byou and the others.


Hazuki dropped Manabu off in a small room in the unmated alpha hall, and when Manabu seemed fine with Mizuki staying, he allowed it reluctantly. However, Yumehito arrived a minute later, announcing that he was their chaperone at Hazuki's request, as per the ship's rules. Mizuki grumbled, but he was otherwise undeterred as he eyed Manabu with playful interest.

"You're from the Hub?" Mizuki asked, eyeing Manabu appraisingly. "You don't smell snipped."

"Micchan!" Yumehito protested, mortified as he gave Manabu an apologetic look.

Manabu had a faint blush on his cheeks but otherwise seemed unruffled, though his shrug was awkward. "S'ok, I'm getting used to it being a topic of conversation," he said with a wry twist to his lips.

"As if it's a secret when anyone with a nose can smell it within fifty feet," Mizuki retorted, rolling his eyes as he made a dismissive wave. "Besides, knot-heads love to brag about their virility." He paused in front of Manabu and tilted his head, an impish smirk on his lips. "So, is it true the Hub really passed laws about who can rut whom?"

"Last I heard, yeah," Manabu replied with a blink, caught off guard by the topic shift.

"That's so fucking stupid. How can they even bother to care about something like that?" Mizuki asked rhetorically, sweeping his arms in an exasperated arc. "I thought they didn't give a fuck who you alphas rutted as long as it wasn't an omega."

Manabu shrugged again and fiddled with a bracelet on his wrist. "Well, they decided it wasn't allowed for us to rut beta women either, and then it extended to everyone else too eventually."

"That's such bullshit." Mizuki shook his head and took a seat on the couch across from Manabu. "Do they really distinguish by secondary gender too? Like, they care whether it's two male alphas together and shit?"

Manabu blinked and nodded slowly. "They make a fairly big deal of it, yeah."

"That's just fucking weird," Mizuki said, wrinkling his nose as he shook his head. "I mean, there's no real difference between male or female alphas and omegas beyond superficial stuff anyway, and to care about that is just bizarre."

"It matters for them, though," Yumehito interjected, taking a seat on the other side of the couch Mizuki sat on. "If you look at it from their perspective, they only have male and female and we have what they'd see as four different sexes, except only two matter to us and it's the opposite two of what matters for them."

"True, and they get really fucking mad about male omegas and female alphas," Mizuki added, making another face. "So, you got preferences about male and female?" he asked Manabu, flashing a brief grin at the alpha's blush.

"Uh, not... really?" Manabu said slowly, giving another awkward shrug. He managed a self-deprecating smile. "I've had little luck with anyone. I don't have experience with dating, let alone rutting really."

"Shit, you don't smell like a virgin," Mizuki said, leaning forward and sniffing to make sure. "What'd you do, join one of those weird cults and swear celibacy?"

"For goodness sake, Micchan," Yumehito murmured, covering his face with his hands.

Manabu chuckled, amused at Mizuki's unashamed bluntness. "Are you usually so interested in the sexual experience of alphas you just met?" he countered.

"Hah, I'm just curious about Hub alphas, 'cause from what I hear, y'all are like, really different from the alphas here," Mizuki said with a wave of his hands.

"I've noticed, yeah," Manabu murmured, shifting in his seat. "I don't really know many back in the Hub. When I came here it was the first time I'd ever seen so many in one place."

Yumehito and Mizuki both looked startled at that, and they shared a look. "What, really?" Yumehito asked.

Manabu shrugged awkwardly and stared at his own knees. "I don't know about Central, but the city I'm from, we're mostly kept... separate from the betas, but both my parents are betas and I grew up outside the, uh, areas of the city where other alphas and omegas live."

"The hell does that mean? Like, they keep y'all in walled off areas or some shit?" Mizuki asked, clearly shocked.

Manabu nodded uncomfortably. "I've heard Central's different, but the cities elsewhere started to be really strict about that sort of thing even before I was born, and it's gotten worse since. My parents had a lot of money, though, so I never really, y'know, had to deal with worse than being treated weirdly, I guess."

"Oh." Mizuki blinked a few times and shared another look with Yumehito. "So what happened to make you come to the Rim?"

"Well, I knew Rui casually because he's the son of one of my mother's friends, and he told me about Pandora so I decided to check it out," Manabu said, blushing faintly. "He uh, suggested that I could maybe work there because they were hiring Hub alphas, and I couldn't get a decent job anywhere in the Hub anyway."

Mizuki smirked at that. "I guess there's a market for shy and inexperienced alphas, eh?"

"Is that your type or something?" Manabu asked, arching an eyebrow at Mizuki.

"Hah, you wish," Mizuki retorted playfully. "Yume, you were really young when you left the Hub, right?"

"Yeah, but I barely remember anything because I was like, five years old," Yumehito said, scrunching up his nose. "I'd have to ask my parents for details, but I know they moved to the Rim because shit was getting ridiculous in the Hub." Just then Yumehito's comm chimed softly and he pulled it from his pocket to read the message. "The alphas are taking a meal break and Zo wants to get food with me, so you two will have to chat more later," he said, giving Mizuki a stern look.

"Ugh, fine," Mizuki murmured, then jumped as his own comm vibrated. He looked at it then glanced up to Manabu with a smirk, then nudged Yumehito. "Seems Yuusei likes Bucchan's pretty face, according to Ryo."

"Oh wonderful. Well, once Kaoru allows it I guess we'll see," Yumehito said, giving Manabu a playful look as he got up and ushered Mizuki out the door.


Byou got few details from Aki about the meeting, other than that it was confidential topics and quite a bit more serious than Aki had thought it would be. They got about a half hour to eat a meal before Aki was called back, and Byou sighed before heading out to find the other omegas to keep himself occupied. The topic of alphas came up again, and Byou described his general experiences with Hub alphas, though he explained that most were from his fetish modeling and porn work.

"So, are the alphas in your colony really weird or something?" Byou asked, privately wondering whether he'd get a full explanation this time.

Satoshi and Ryo shared a look, then Satoshi sighed and spoke. "To put it mildly, the alphas we grew up with are a lot different than the ones you've met, for the most part," he explained to Byou, grimacing a bit.

"That's being way too tactful," Mizuki muttered, rolling his eyes. "I'd have most of them castrated if I could."

"Shuu's nice though," Satoshi said, nudging Mizuki's foot with his own.

"And he looks like he fell outta the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down," Mizuki retorted, scrunching up his nose as he tucked his legs up against his chest. "But fine, yeah, he's nice, and Ryo's older brother as well, but that's 'cause they're still so young."

"Asanao is hardly gonna win any beauty contests and yet you like him." Ryo snorted and twisted his braids. "He's also two years younger than you even though he looks a lot older."

Mizuki blinked and furrowed his brow, then made a face at Ryo. "Eh, whatever. I'm only three years older than Hacchan. Besides, I don't like Asanao that way, even if he did like omegas at all, so quit it."

Ryo smirked and then glanced to Byou. "Anyway, you know Ruka and Niya, right? They're among the decent alphas from our area, what few there are."

Byou nodded slowly and furrowed his brow as he tried to keep everything straight. "Yeah, but it's still a bit confusing."

"Lotta new people, eh?" Mizuki asked with a smirk. "Welcome to our big fucked up family, I guess. I don't recommend coming to visit our area of the colony unless you're with your mate, though. It's why I live at Pandora, though I guess I'll be relocating now."

"Is it really that bad?" Byou asked, frowning. "I was figuring that Aki had been exaggerating, given all the contradictions among those of you I've met so far."

"The settlement Aki and Shinji live in is a real contrast to Kaoru's and where I grew up. There's a reason some of us from the strict settlements tend to travel, even if we have kids," Satoshi said slowly, chewing on his lip.

"It's hard to explain without showing you," Ryo said, scrunching up his nose for a moment. "Like, we get really sheltered and the alphas tend to be overprotective, at best. I mean, it's not like, really horrible, but it is annoying if you're not really the type for it. In Aki's settlement, for example, we don't need to be escorted everywhere by an alpha, but in ours and Kaoru's it's kind of safer if we are."

Byou blinked slowly as he processed that, then leaned back and crossed his arms. "So by 'strict' you mean ridiculous rules only omegas have to follow."

Mizuki snorted and nodded. "Basically, 'cause the knot-heads can't be bothered to have any manners or decency."

Satoshi rolled his eyes. "That's not entirely true." He glanced to Byou with a faint sigh. "Many of the alphas, Miya and Kaoru included, are more modern, so to speak, but still keep to the old ways more than other settlements." Satoshi's comm chimed and he checked it with a slight frown, then got to his feet. "Hikaru's fussing, I'll be back soon," he said with an apologetic grimace, then hurried out.

"I couldn't help but notice that Kaoru let Kyo get away with a lot," Byou said, smirking.

Mizuki grinned at that. "That's 'cause Kyo's literally knocked Kaoru on his knot-headed ass for being too pushy, more than once, so rather than have his dignity or anything else bruised, he lets shit slide with Kyo, though he doesn't take shit from others. But if you wanna know the usual type of alpha from our colony, Tatsurou really sets the example," he said with a roll of his eyes.

Ryo frowned at Mizuki and then glanced to Byou. "How much do you know about what happened with him?"

"I've heard some hints about it, but not enough to make sense of it yet beyond that he was expelled, and it's getting kind of weird," Byou said, trying not to let his impatient curiosity show. "But I know I'm still new, it's just confusing when there's some gossip that's off limits when most everything else isn't."

Ryo quirked a half smile and gave Mizuki a look from the corner of his eye. "When even Micchan won't spill it, it's generally for good reason," he said, and then after a slight hesitation, he sighed and shrugged. "All I can really say is that Tatsurou was kicked out for crossing a serious line, and it was a big, complicated mess that involved a lot of people. It happened only about a year and a half ago so things are still a bit touchy."

Byou frowned and nodded slowly. "Aki mentioned that, kind of, and I'm slowly putting the pieces together," he said, rubbing one arm idly as he stared at his lap. "We were discussing Traditionalist customs for mates and rules, and he was explaining the differences between the bullshit the Hub says about what it's like and what your customs actually are." Byou glanced up as he remembered something and furrowed his brow. "He also mentioned something about mate-bites."

Ryo and Mizuki both froze for a second, then shared a look, and Ryo glanced to the door to see Satoshi come back in and stop abruptly. Byou widened his eyes and shut his mouth as he watched Satoshi's expression flicker through several emotions to settle on a blank mask.

Satoshi waved away Byou's stammered apology and sighed as he sat down across from the others. "Might as well hear it from me, since everyone will just keep dancing around it otherwise," he said, rubbing his face for a moment as he composed himself. "Short version is, Tatsurou and I were mated for a while, through an arrangement between our families, but we never really clicked together or bonded, and we had, well, difficulties with starting a family, because my fertility is low," he said slowly, then chewed on his lip for a moment before he continued, staring at a spot on the floor. "One thing led to another, and because we both wanted a child, well..." He shrugged, pulling a rueful face as he fidgeted with his hands.

Byou digested that, then hesitantly asked, "But if you wanted a child, isn't that allowed?"

Satoshi grimaced and gestured vaguely. "There was a bit of a, um, miscommunication about how long we'd wait to try that way, and things got worse after that instead of better. Soon after, Miya intervened on my behalf and had me taken somewhere safe, as the whole mess involved three settlements by then and Tatsurou was his friend at the time."

"Miya is Kaoru's second in command of sorts, and Satoshi had moved to their colony when he was mated to Tatsurou," Ryo supplied when Byou looked a bit lost.

Satoshi nodded and glanced up, chewing on his lip. "Basically, the big thing that ended up causing it to all fall apart was that he didn't follow the rules for mate-bites, but it's more complicated than that."

"What he means is that Tatsurou was an impulsive knot-head who arrogantly assumed his status allowed him to do whatever he wanted," Mizuki said bluntly, crossing his arms as he gave Satoshi a look of affectionate exasperation.

Satoshi quirked a faint smile at Mizuki, then looked back to Byou. "Mate-bites are different than natural bonds because it's so much more intense for the omega, and only the omega, and unlike natural bonds it compels obedience and influences our emotions toward our mate. It's why there are rules and procedures to follow to ensure the omega fully consents beforehand and wasn't coerced at all, so the fact he kind of sprung it on me was crossing a serious line," he explained. "The reason he was expelled was mostly because of that, but also because of other more minor incidents that added up. Our settlements might have a reputation for knot-headed alphas, but they still take things seriously when bonded pairs have problems."

"Aki's settlement was involved through Shinji, who was brought in as a mediator and to negotiate an agreement on what should be done," Ryo added. "Our laws dictate that those from a settlement with no direct ties, such as being from either mate's home settlements, act as a neutral party to decide the outcome. Shinji had also never met Satoshi or Tatsurou before then, and he doesn't have any knot-headed tendencies that would lead to him being biased in favor of an alpha."

Satoshi nodded again and looked up at Byou. "Yumehito ended up speaking for me officially, as by our laws I couldn't speak for myself due to the bite-bond. Eventually it was decided that Tatsurou had voided our bond contract with his actions," he said slowly, glancing away again. "It's still difficult for me, but I know it was the right thing to do for Hikaru's sake and mine. Since bite-bonds can't be undone, only replaced with another, I chose Shinji to be my second mate shortly after Hikaru was born, and it was made official once I felt ready." He smiled slightly and shrugged. "I'm happy now, and my bond to Shinji is developing into a natural bond."

Shinji chose that moment to clear his throat softly from the doorway, and he gave Satoshi a shy smile. "My only regret, hopeless romantic that I am, is that I didn't get a chance to properly court you first," he murmured as he approached.

Satoshi blushed and gave Shinji a slightly embarrassed look, though it transformed into a coy smile as Shinji sat beside him.

"You have an older alpha brother who's still unmated, right?" Ryo asked Shinji with a grin.

Shinji chuckled and nodded. "I do, but last I heard he's been living with another alpha for a while now, so you may be out of luck there," he murmured with an apologetic look.

Ryo pouted and sighed dramatically. "Maybe if Micchan and Yuusei don't want him, I'll try for Manabu," he grumbled, only half serious.

"Is the meeting over?" Byou asked, frowning as he checked his comm, but there was no message from Aki.

"Not quite, but I've opted out of the latest plans," Shinji said slowly, draping one arm around Satoshi. "I apologize for being unable to elaborate further, but it's necessary for now until things are finalized."

Mizuki narrowed his eyes. "That sounds like knot-head code for planning shit we won't like at all."

Shinji grimaced with a soft sigh and shook his head. "The latest news was... not promising, but we probably won't have a final decision about anything until we get back to our colony and can get input from the other settlement leaders, as well as get in touch with our other allied colonies."

"Shit, so it's really happening, eh?" Mizuki asked softly, paling a bit as it sunk in.

Shinji made an affirmative sound just before Byou's comm buzzed with a message from Aki. The look of relief on Byou's face prompted Satoshi to gently suggest they spend some time together, and Byou nodded gratefully as he got up and left.