Author: Cloverfield PM
And just like that, you realise the world does not stop for those few moments you had; it goes on turning, regardless of whether you are ready for it to. Setsuna. Konoka. Asuna. RealWorld!AU. Complete.Rated: Fiction M - English - Romance/Drama - Chapters: 6 - Words: 22,581 - Reviews: 107 - Favs: 68 - Follows: 28 - Updated: 01-24-08 - Published: 06-11-07 - Status: Complete - id: 3588868
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
DISCLAIMER: Negima is not mine. If it were, Setsuna would have died from massive nasal blood-loss a looooong time ago...
PREFACE: Well. It's all over. Sorry for the delay, but I did manage to get it up and finished in the end.
That's all I have to say about it, really.
Thanks to all the readers and reviewers, readers who didn't review and anyone who gave this fic a casual glance. Thanks for all the support, messages, and 'PLEASE! MORE!'.
And now, please, read on.
Part VI: The Wounded Beauty
There are two women lying here now. They are not dressed, and delicate hands slide over rounded hips with something less than haste.
The room is calm. The air is thick with quiet, the absence of noise; a few hours ago a woman screamed (but not in pain) and now this is the aftermath.
There is light threading the seams of windows, of doors, of a single bent shutter in the window blinds, falling on drowsy eyes.
There is something like love in the room; something that, given time and care and regular water could easily blossom into it, send roots and vines to tangle and bind them both, not for eternity, for nothing ever lasts- but for long enough.
It is uncertain as to whether they are asleep, have slept, or will sleep- this small dark room, littered with clothing and with tangled sheets seems a timeless place.
Two women, one bed. It could be any bedroom anywhere, but it is this one, and that is why Setsuna (thin-boned hands tracing over soft, warm curves in slow satiation) is smiling.
Her melancholy is gone. No emptiness now. Just this.
And, oh, it is more satisfying then whisky could ever be.
They didn't cut her hair. It is a relief.
"Takimichi? I'm taking Akira home. Uh," and the obvious relief in his face leaks away. His daughter is safe. Mine is not.
...but she was never your daughter, was she, Takahata?
I say something. It must have made sense to him. He leaves. Akira's wheelchair squeaks down the hall.
We are alone again; although I do not know if she realises I am here. How could I tell? They say she can hear me, and maybe she can, but I say nothing.
No matter what I ask, I don't think she'll answer.
(It will be four hours later, as pale sunlight streaks white walls with gilded, inappropriately bright pink, and the nurses will realise he has been here since sunset yesterday and is still here. They will attempt to convince him visiting hours are over. He will stand and stay and watch them through faded blue eyes that say more clearly than words I am not leaving. This is my daughter. I will not leave her. Later, one will bring him coffee; another, a blanket. He will settle in for the night and wonder why no one else is seated beside him.)
Friends, family, co-workers, school-chums, all those other little people that aren't your girlfriend (and therefore, are not as important as her)that worked hard to get the two of you to stop making cow-eyes at each other and finally get your goddamn act together are suddenly... inconsequential. At least, inconsequential to the warmth of her smile, the brilliance of her eyes, and especially the throaty little moans she makes in the throes of passion.
And so, to you, they no longer exist. You gravitate around her, are pulled towards her, because by some incredible quirk of fate, she loves you.
And because that's how it is in any brand spankin' new relationship, for a few hours, the world revolves around this precious, impossibly dear, irreplaceable creature.
And then you get a phone call, and realise, quite suddenly, it doesn't.
"Setsuna speaking," and Konoka giggles a little, traces her foot up her thigh and tries to steal the pancakes off her plate. Setsuna frowns a little, and tries to snatch them back.
"Setsuna? It's Takahata. I thought you should know..."
And Setsuna goes still. Konoka stops, blinks and without even knowing looks at horrified eyes and bursts into tears.
"...ward 3-b, floor eight. Go to the nurse at the reception desk, and she should tell you where to go."
Setsuna puts the phone down. She tries to tell Konoka why and where they have to go, but can't speak. There are no tears, at least not from her, and her hands are shaking enough to jitter against a glass and tip orange juice onto the carpet.
It doesn't seem important. Nothing does, but catching the train that goes past the hospital.
-And just like that, you realise the world does not stop for those few moments you had; it goes on turning, regardless of whether you are ready for it to.
She doesn't feel scared though. He's smoking, and she knows she'll always remember the scent, old pine and tobacco, always, always, always, but she forgets it in the end though. Just like she forgets everything.
He smiles a little, coughs a little more, and the cigarette wobbles between his lips, flickers out, and ashes puff out over his chest. Their little sparks hiss out in the blood.
"Don't cry, princess. Eyes as beautiful as yours should never shed tears."
The man beside her proffers a trembling lighter. The dying man –Gateau, she remembers, if only for a few seconds, Gateau with the funny name- inhales just as shakily.
"But, I don't want you to die-"
"All things do, little one. Even people. It's not scary though. Nothing to fear."
He smiles again, laughs, and this time the coughing is hard enough to tumble his cigarette to the dirt.
There is a forest around them, and she wonders why she didn't see it before.
"Nothing to fear. Takimichi, take her home. Take her someone she won't remember this. Please."
"I don't want her to see, Takimichi. Take her home."
"But, but I can't leave you-"
"NOW, boy," he barks, but his voice is too weak to sound gruff. He coughs again, wheezes, and his lips are stained dark and wet. The man beside her shudders a little, snatches her hand even tighter than before.
"Come along, Asuna. Come along. It's time to go home."
She tries to look back, but he pulls her along too fast, and all there is back there is shadow anyway.
The forest around them keeps getting blacker, blacker, and all she can feel is those fingers, clenched tight-
"It's time to go home..."
And even when you are, it is later than everyone else; an afterthought, as though you are some mere acquaintance.
The message is clear enough. You were not important enough to her to be told.
Although that's the bitterness speaking, he knows, the bitterness at being the last in the know, and the terrible, crushing fear which grips his stomach, sinking claws into his flesh like some beast.
He is sitting in the airport. It is raining outside. He has, quite frankly, never been so terrified.
"We only just found out, Negi. She's- well, I think you should come and see her. I can give you the money if you need it. If you, uh, can't afford tickets- Um. Just- just get here soon, okay? Please? She wants to see you, Negi."
His boarding pass is crumpled and dotted with sweat, wrung between trembling hands too many times. The man seated by him shifts his paper, flicks to the business section and he can see on the back page that Manchester is still winning, even without Beckham, the traitor.
He tries to remember whether Anya knows how many pellets to give Chamo in the evening, and realises he is stalling. Not the trip, but the thinking about it.
It. Her. The knowledge that the fearsome, bold-hearted, sometimes foul-mouthed redhead might...
"Flight G17 on Continental Air, flight G17 London to Tokyo boarding now. Please present your passes at the gates. Flight G17 London to Tokyo, boarding now."
He packed so quick he's got nothing but the clothes on his back, just that and his passport and the ticket he spent his whole month-and-a-half of wages on.
God, I'm going to starve unless I can beg leftovers off Anya when I get back.
If he gets back. He didn't even think to buy a return ticket.
"Flight G17 London to Tokyo departing now. Thankyou for flying continental air. May your trip be as pleasant as having you on board with us."
The common opinion of situations such as these is to sit up, groan and ask where you are.
She can't sit up, can't speak, can't move. There's a mask on her face, clear blue plastic in a dome over her mouth. She can feel a tube down her throat. It's not a good feeling, and she doesn't want to know how far down it goes.
Someone's sitting beside her. A sort of half-gasp wheezes from her with a sound like a dying squeaky-toy –at least you haven't lost your weird sense of humour girl, she thinks- and they look up.
She wasn't expecting to see glasses perched on a straight, British nose, nor tearful eyes clouded by tangled wisps of auburn hair.
Negi? Oh, I bet Konoka called you. Goddammit. I didn't want you to see me like this...
She can remember what happened. This bothers her. After waking with the dull aftertaste of medicine in her mouth and cold air hissing down the back of her throat, she should be a blessedly clean slate, unaware and peaceful. She is not.
She will not think about it, and ignores the shrill echo of Akira's scream, bouncing around in her dully aching skull. There is still no other pain than this, and that worries her a little.
His fingers close about her slack hand, resting loosely on the covers.
She knows, from experience, his hands are callused from the pen, fingertips hard from typing- long, slender, quick-moving fingers that type faster than she can follow.
She knows they are like that, rough boy-skin and callus. She does not feel them. He squeezes her fingers, and it is like a ghost of her dream, half-remembered in the artificial light.
She can't squeeze back. This sinks in, slowly, trickling down in chilled droplets through her mind. He's holding her hand so tight her fingers are white; it should hurt, sting, cramp her fingers and make them twitch, but her hand is slack and boneless in his.
She blinks, and it seems awfully slow, the world eclipsed by dull red darkness. She struggles to open her eyes again, and lies there, in the red-dark, listening to the strangled wheeze of her breathing. She swallows, reflexively, and her tongue brushes the side of the tube. It doesn't taste good.
"Asuna? Oh, Asuna..." his voice wobbles, quivers, and she can hear the faint squeak of a boy in that just-barely-a-man's voice. Her name trembles like a teardrop on his lips.
Her eyes stay closed. She wants to say something, but isn't sure what, doesn't even know if she can around the thing in her mouth.
The thought, half-formed, words unclear- whatever it was, it's gone now.
Back to the forest, says another, ill-formed and drowsy thought, and before she can figure out why, the darkness gets deeper, and she's slipping away again...
Not far from them, a little boy in a wheel chair laughs as he's pushed higher and higher on a specially adapted swing. The nurses and his parents smile.
"She was a good kid."
"Not was, professor," whispers Konoka. "Is."
He says nothing, just lets the smoke stream out, rising in lazy circles. It shouldn't be so sunny, but it is- early spring sunny, light still a little watery and thin, but sky blue enough to see the faint, puffy clouds that flit over them, casting weak shadows.
It's a nice day. Not beautiful, but a good enough day to be on a picnic, or at the park, or maybe even the beach. Setsuna leans against a wall and watches a girl with Down syndrome feed the ducks that gather at the pond, squawking for bread crumbs. Her carer guides her arms, and small lumps patter down over the water that laps at her slippers. She giggles.
Asuna's been asleep for three days now.
Negi's been sleeping on a camp bed in her room for four.
"You said she wanted to see me. She's not even awake enough to tell I'm there at all, Konoka."
"Maybe, Negi, but I know if she were awake she'd want you there. If I were her, I would."
"How's Akira?" says someone, and Setsuna realises it was her. Her voice sounds strange against the background noise from the play set.
"Okay. She's walking again at least. Might be a while before she goes in the water again though." says Konoka. Takahata says nothing, flicks his cigarette into a nearby bin, and shoves his hands into his coat pockets.
"She's not breathing on her own. The doctor said if they took out the tube, she'd suffocate."
Both girls are quiet. He is not looking at them.
"If she's not breathing on her own after the surgery, they want-"
"Don't say it professor. I don't- I don't want to think about that just yet," and Konoka's standing up, hands twisting the corners of her jacket. "Not yet. I can't," and then she's running off.
Setsuna stands still for a little while, shifting from foot to foot.
"Go on. She's your girlfriend. Don't stay on account of me."
She's running too, calling out, and then he is alone. He stares at the ducks, the girl, the pond for a little while, then sits down on the bench.
He flips his cigarette lighter between his fingers. There's a picture of her in his wallet. He doesn't take it out. He doesn't need to see that worn piece of paper to know what she looked like as a little girl. He can see her, clearly enough, if he closes his eyes...
Behind him the girl laughs and flings the last crumbs up, sending the ducks into a frenzy.
The sound of wings beating the air does nothing to comfort him.
The glass doors a blur as she ducks through a half-closed gap-
And there's Konoka, in the sunlight, crouching down. She's crying, the kind of shivery, hiccuping sobs that won't stop until all the tears are squeezed out, leaving you dry and empty.
"Konoka," she murmurs, and that's all she can say, pulling the woman up and into her arms.
She cries harder. They stand still in the car park of Mahora Community Hospital, squeezing tight to one another.
Setsuna wants to cry too, but doesn't cause she's scared she won't stop.
Her lover's hands are clutching hers, clutching them as though if she let go, she would fall.
The world moves around them, dragging them with it; Setsuna doesn't want to go forward, she wants to go back to a few days ago, to that timeless dark room, and the soft whispers of this woman against her skin.
But she can't. The world doesn't work like that. It's unfair, but most things are.
"Set-Chan, I don't want her to die."
No one does, she thinks, but Konoka's not finished yet.
"These past couple of weeks have been really... shitty, you know? I mean, not that getting together with you wasn't- um," and she tilts her head back, bites her lips, and there's a little smile through the tears, "but... the whole, you know, you-love-me-and-then-runaway thing, and the yelling and the fighting with, with Asuna," and her voice wobbles, and tears start up again, "and the fighting with you –I don't want to ever fight you again, Set-Chan, not ever- and the car crash- sometimes I think my life is a soap opera, and not a good one at that."
She sniffs a bit, wipes her nose on her sleeve, and leaves one hand to tangle with Setsuna's.
"Why... why does stuff like this happen? I mean, I was happy a little while ago. Not as happy as I was five days ago, but still happy. Why does... why doesn't it –time, the world, whatever- just stop and stay with all the good things? Why does stuff like this have to happen?"
"I don't know. I don't think anyone does." Says Setsuna, but she is lying. It's for Konoka's own sake, really.
They are quiet, and watch an ambulance pull up, and a heavily pregnant woman is wheeled past them on a trolley, screaming "I'm going to kill you, Hiro, for doing this to me!"
The husband, obviously Hiro and quiet frightened, runs up the steps lugging a large suitcase.
There is a flustered moment where he can't get the bag through the doors, and then they are alone again. The ambulance drives around to the back of the hospital.
It's because, when you get down to it, you –me, you, anybody- aren't important. No one is, even the people that do great things, and especially not the people who just live their lives the best they can.
Nothing matters in the end. Not love, not peace, not the little things we do, every day, to make the world better.
There's no such thing as fair, there's no such thing as good. All of the dramas that we go through have no effect on anything at all.
The world just is. That's all, when it comes down to it.
It was a lonely thought, and that was why she didn't share it. Important or not her Konoka (and even now, even in a place like this, there's a little thrill in her stomach when she thinks her Konoka) is, at heart, a good person; she won't sadden her by speaking that thought, true or not, aloud.
"I love you. Don't ever leave me."
"I love you too. And I'll try not to."
Konoka sighs, and her eyes are dry now. "Good."
"Those must've been hard to find," says Negi softly.
"Look kid, I didn't buy these. Um."
"It's okay," says Konoka, and smiles weakly.
"Listen, I didn't buy them alright? It's just... I'm in her Digital Media class, and some of the other girls are, and we'd all heard about..." she trails off a little, plays with the flowers, brushing shaky fingers over soft, yellow petals, "...and we thought, you know, we'd pool our spare change and get some flowers or something and, well, I drew the short straw to bring them. No more than that. I mean, it's not like I'm her friend or anything."
There is a beat of silence. Negi smiles, though his fingers are twisting his glasses round and round between them. "There's a vase in the corner."
"Thank you." Says Chisame, and it's very quiet and so is she. She moves past the bed, past Asuna, be-tubed and all, and slide the flowers from their cheap plastic wrapping as silently is possible, despite the crinkly cellophane. Arranged in the vase, they catch the lazy afternoon sunlight warmly, casting faint, buttery shadows over the sill.
"They're beautiful," I say, because no one else can speak.
Chisame flushes, and scratches her nose. "Whatever. I gotta go. Classes. Um. Tell her... tell her I hope she's feeling better when she wakes up," she blurts in one long stream, and uncomfortable to be caught caring about another person, darts out.
Negi smoothes Asuna's covers, and rolls her limp fingers between his.
"Yeah, beautiful." He says, and there's something a lot like defeat in his voice. I want to ask whatever happened to keeping his chin up, British high hopes and all that, but what do you do when someone you care about lives half a world away and you can do little but be there for them after the bad things happen?
In an ideal world, he would've been here at the start of this whole debacle.
"Don't worry Negi. She'll be okay," says Konoka, and wraps her arms around him.
I don't want to think about it if she isn't telling the truth.
We cook, we eat, and go to bed. We leave a small covered plate for him in the fridge. He'll be hungry later.
I'm lying in the dark, tangled in her arms, feeling the jumping pulse beneath my hand on her left breast.
"The operation's tomorrow," I say, if only because it's too quiet. I can hear Negi's genteel snores if I listen hard enough.
"Yeah." She whispers, her lips warm on my neck. "She'll be okay, Konoka. Asuna's a tough one."
I thread my fingers through her too-short hair.
The TV in the apartment below us is very loud. If I listen hard, I can hear the midnight soap-opera special on channel 45 playing.
"Do you think Takahata will be there when we go see her tomorrow?" she murmurs, half muffled by my shoulder.
"'Course. She's his little girl. He wouldn't not be there."
There is another quiet between us, that question on our lips, one we daren't ask. It's pressing against my mouth, but I don't say it.
Nevertheless, it bounces around in the darkened room. Eventually, Setsuna answers it.
"She's not going to die, Kono-Chan. Asuna... she wouldn't let something like this, some stupid accident beat her."
She rubs her face against my shoulder, shifts herself about a little, and makes the lean body curled around me comfortable.
"She's not gonna die before I say sorry."
The last a whisper. I'm not sure I was meant to hear it.
"Goodnight," I whisper back.
There's no answer. She's already asleep.
She's dreaming, again, and the man seated next to her looks very like Negi. This is important, though she can't tell why.
"'m Nagi," he says, in an English voice, and though she can't speak the language too well, here she understands perfectly. He proffers a hand. They shake, and even in the dream, his hands are warm.
"Of course you are, princess. I'd never forget your face, not in a million years."
She looks at him, slowly, and decides that, as far as dreams go, this one is too strange to bother remembering when she wakes up.
There is a window by her side, and though the landscape is unclear, it flits by with enough speed to tell her she's moving.
"A train. Didn't think I'd be seeing you here for a few decades more at least."
What does a girl say to that, she thinks, and starts a little as he opens a suitcase she didn't know he had.
"Um. Yes, thankyou."
She holds it on her lap, and wonders why she's back in her junior high uniform.
"-just 'Nagi', kiddo," he corrects her, "and don't forget to eat it now."
"-Nagi, why, exactly, am I here?"
He turned away for a minute to take a pear from the suitcase, and laid it on the floor at the feet.
"Well, think of it this way. You caught a train you weren't meant to get on for a while yet. You can't turn the train around. However, you can get off at the next stop, and catch a train back to the station where you started out. Am I making sense so far?"
"Okay, stop me if I'm going to fast, princess. Anyway, you can catch a connecting train back, like I said, but time will have passed while you were gone on your," he grinned at her then, and the expression was childish and very familiar, "unexpected trip. Things might be a little different then they were when you left."
He crunched his way into his pear then, dripping juice onto his fingers. "'scuse me," he murmured around a mouthful of fruit and wiped his fingers on the leather seat.
"What happens if I don't get off the train?"
"That's the question, isn't it? If you don't get off now, who knows what you'll find when you pull into the final station?"
There was a pause. She turned the apple around in her hands, stroking her fingers over its slightly bumpy skin.
"This is some sort of complicated metaphor for death, isn't it?"
"Maybe, maybe not. All I know is, I got my ticket punched, and there's no way I'm getting off now. And I wouldn't mind such lovely company as yourself."
He winked, and the gesture was familiar and cheeky enough to hotten her face.
"But I don't have a..." she stopped then, and found the non-existing ticket in question, right in her hands where the apple had been.
"How does that work? You've already eaten yours!"
"I don't make the rules, sweetheart. I'm just here for the ride."
She put the ticket on the seat beside her.
"How far is it till the next station?"
"Two days trip. 'Course, time flies here. You've got twenty minutes 'til you can get off, love."
The ticket was smooth, and shiny, and though her name was embossed neatly on the pass, the destination details were hazy.
"What if I change my mind?"
"Well, you can always get off at another stop. Mightn't be the station you expected though."
If I don't get off... well, there's lots of things I haven't done yet. Like my term paper. And... getting a date for Tanabata. But, there's lots of things I want to do... and things I have to deal with.
Setsuna. Konoka. My god.
And that was a tangle of thorns right there. One that, if she got involved, she could be pricked by.
"Um. How long till one of those other stations...?"
She was surprised to see a hint of sternness creep into amiable eyes.
"Really? I never picked you for a quitter, princess."
A genetic trait. Mother or father? Thinks the anaesthetist, but then he's guiding the mask back over her face before he has time to ponder the inheritance of those peculiar eyes.
She blinks, dazed. Her eyes close, slow enough for him to hold the mask a little longer.
Another blink, a sweep of lash to cheek, and a soft beep from the monitor tells him she's under.
I wonder if her parents are pacing outside.
He hopes so. Shame for someone so young to be alone like this...
"Alright doctor, what are we doing first?"
"Tracheal incision. Scalpel please, nurse."
"On it." The woman pauses, and lowers her mask.
"You can leave now, Dr. Fujiwara, if you like. I'm able to monitor her for the rest of the procedure."
"If you're sure, nurse..."
He glances back at the patient as he leaves. Her hair is tied back neatly, and her hands resting at her sides. She's asleep, and perhaps her dreams are peaceful.
He hopes they are pleasant. After all, there's a good chance she won't wake from them.
There is, he thinks as he makes the short trip to the doctor's lounge, no worse fate than to be trapped in a bad dream.
I've been to hospitals before, so I guess I'm used to it, especially this hospital.
The children's wing is named after my mother.
After an hour of deadening, spirit-dulling, almost quiet, Negi pacing to-and-fro, the professor speaks up.
"Stop pacing, Negi. You'll wear a track in the carpet."
"I know, I know, but I-"
Takahata sighs, chewing on a pen in lieu of a cigarette.
"Look. Asuna'd not want you stressing out like this."
He rolls the pen between his fingers before throwing it in the bin in disgust.
"I've known her longer than you, kid, and I can tell you she's a tough girl-"
"Everyone's known her longer than me!" hisses Negi, words strangled and strained through clenched teeth.
"I know that," he whispers, hands stilling from scrunched fists. "I know. I'm not important to her, not really, even though I want to be."
We're quiet, all of us, even the nurse who stuck her head 'round the door to see what the commotion is.
"Negi," says Set-Chan, standing up, hands reached out, "I think I know exactly how you feel."
He's crying. I feel like I'm intruding now as she takes him in her arms, rocks him side to side and lets him sob himself out.
"You never know, Negi. You are always more important than you think you are."
She's looking at me now. Her eyes are soft, pale; there are no chips or cracks the way there was a few weeks ago.
Takahata's shifting awkwardly in the seat across from me, and Negi sniffling and sobbing and saying "but how do I know?" and none of it matters.
Not even Asuna for just a few seconds.
And then the door opens and outcomes the chief surgeon, and she stops being the most important thing in my life.
No. That's not true. She still is.
Just for now, though, I have to put other people before her.
A nurse presses a straw between her lips, and she drinks, slowly and laboriously. When she speaks again, her voice isn't as cracked.
"I don't know who they were. I think I met them before, though."
Asuna shifts her head, and is admonished by the nurse.
Her throat is papered with dull, creamy bandages. There is a tube in her nose, and her eyes are dull in hollow cheekbones.
She still looks beautiful to me.
Not as beautiful as she is usually, and especially not as radiant as when she's yelling at me, luminous with fury, but I'm sure she'll lapse into a rage soon enough.
"That's enough, sweetheart. You need to rest."
"Nurse, I don't-" and she rolls her head sideways, and shudders a little. Her pulse jumps beneath her bandages.
"Sleep, Kagurazaka-san, or I will fetch the doctor."
Nurse Itsue, name-badge glistening in the dim light from shuttered windows, hands clasped about her trolley turns stern, be-glassed eyes on me.
"That goes for you too, young man."
I don't want to go. I want to stay. I want to crawl into the narrow bed next to her, bundle myself about her, and go to sleep.
But I leave. She's alive. She won't be going anywhere, probably because of the vaguely frightening nurses that attend her.
There will be time later.
"Negi," she says, barely above a whisper, "come visit me tomorrow."
I nod. She smiles.
She's asleep before the nurse shoes me out the door.
She brushes it off, but there's something a little fragile in her eyes now.
It's not there when Negi looks at her, so maybe it'll work out.
He goes home twenty-three days after she leaves hospital. He comes back four days later, with a working visa.
We get our results back seventeen days after that, the day we see Akira walking, unsteadily but proudly, by the pool at the rec centre.
The daffodils have long wilted. People are talking to us in class again, and Asuna is pissed that both Konoka and I passed –my grades lower than Kono-Chan's but still significantly higher than Asuna's- and she needs to repeat four of her seven exams.
Chao got top of the year, and was bustled into a master's program. No surprise there.
Mana still goes to the shooting range on Tuesday, Yue still hosts the Philosophical Youth Club on Thursday nights, and Asakura is persuaded quietly but very violently to let the matter of our brawl in the park drop.
Fifty-six and a half days after the accident, I go out on my first date.
We meet Negi and Asuna at the movie theatre by pure coincidence.
We all agree to go to separate films.
She's sitting in the popcorn-smelling dark, Godzilla tromping through Tokyo for possibly the twenty-second consecutive showing.
Konoka passes her a stick of pocky, and, hands sticky with strawberry flavouring, tangles her fingers through Setsuna's.
She smiles. In the poorly-lit gloom, no-one could see, even if they didn't have the whole cinema to themselves.
On screen, Mothra is roasted to a crisp, and stomped on by a man dressed in a cheap lizard suit. Konoka giggles as she points out the seams.
Life isn't perfect, never will be perfect, but right here and now, Setsuna finds that hard to believe.