For Everything, There Is a First Time

The sound of a door closing dragged Kagurazaka Asuna from her sleep. Not that such a feat was particularly difficult, for she was usually an early riser. She sat up slightly, pushing Negi from atop her without a thought. He slid onto the mattress, muttered something, then turned around and was sound asleep again. Asuna blinked around the room, trying to discern the source of the annoying door. Through her sleep-blurred field of vision, she spied her other roommate dressing herself.

Asuna frowned in puzzlement and looked at the clock. 9:00 in the morning. Why is she up already? It's Saturday... She blinked and succeeded in clearing the last of the blur from her eyes, and cleared her throat. "Konoka, why're you up so early? We don't have school today…"

Konoka spun around and grinned apologetically. "Sorry I woke you, Asuna." She finished pulling a light blue shirt over her head before continuing. "Me and Secchan are gonna go out and do some shopping and stuff today. She's picking me up pretty early."

Asuna smiled at seeing her friend's face light up at the mention of the raven-haired swordswoman. I wonder if this would be considered a date...nah. Although what she and Negi'd come home to a couple days ago seemed to support that possibility. She nodded, "That's fine. I'm used to getting' up early anyway. Shouldn't be a problem to get back to sleep though." She smiled encouragingly. "You two have fun, 'kay?"

Konoka nodded emphatically as she tucked her shirt into her pleated blue and white skirt. "We will." As she turned to smile at Asuna, a soft knock came from the door. With a wide smile, Konoka all but bounced to the door and pulled it open quickly. "Secchan!"

In the door stood Sakurazaki Setsuna, clad in her normal school uniform as always. Before she could greet the overjoyed chocolate-haired girl before her, or greet Asuna, Konoka had taken her hand and rushed out the door, sending a "Bye, Asuna" over her shoulder." Asuna flashed Setsuna a smile as she was practically yanked from the door, trying her hardest to not allow it to slam.

Asuna lay back slowly against her pillow, folding her hands behind her head. "I'm glad Setsuna-san's finally taking some initiative…" The fierce red-head sighed and slid back under her blankets. Beside her, Negi stirred, and she readjusted his small body so that he too was resting on the pillow. "Now for a couple more hours sleep…"

Setsuna allowed herself to be drug around the school-building without complaint, until Konoka slowed to a stop at the main exit to the school. The shorter girl let go of Setsuna's hand and turned to her, locking her gaze with Setsuna's. "So, where're we goin', Secchan?" She peered into Setsuna's brown eyes, perhaps hoping to discern the answer.

Clearing her throat nervously, Setsuna folded her hands behind her back. "Well, first I thought you might like a light breakfast. If you'd like, we'll stop and pick up something from Chao-san and Yotsuba-san before leaving the campus." This prompted a thoughtful look from Konoka, so she stopped before explaining further.

"I guess I am a little hungry." She smiled up at Setsuna. "Sounds good to me." Setsuna found herself helpless against that smile, and returned it in kind. Konoka again took up her hand and began to lead her into the courtyard.

Setsuna shook her head, but again allowed herself to be pulled along. And here I thought it was I was leading this date... She smiled to herself, and blinked as they stepped into the morning sunlight. In the expansive courtyard, a comforting breeze rustled the leaves of the trees around them. Several clouds of the puffy cumulous sort floated lazily through the otherwise clear sky.

The gentle breeze ruffled Konoka's hair, sending much of it streaming in front of her face. Almost lazily, Setsuna reached out and tucked the strands of brown silk behind Kono-chan's ear. Blushing as she realized what she had done, Setsuna sought an excuse, "If you're going to be leading the way, it'd be easier if you weren't blind.?" She smiled nervously as she realized how bad that excuse had been.

Konoka chuckled, but said nothing, instead deciding to search out the ever-present restaurant staffed by 3A's top chefs. Even as early as it was, and on a Saturday, it wasn't difficult to see that the enterprising group were already at the grill, so to speak. Chao's eyes brightened as she spied the two young women heading their way. "Hey! You guys hungry?" She smiled hopefully at them. Behind and to her left, Kuu Fei stood on her tip-toes and waved at the two. Chachamaru bowed, and her creator also waved somewhat tiredly at the approaching two.

Setsuna stepped up from behind Konoka and nodded. "Yes. We'd like two meat buns, please."

Chao nodded cheerily. "Sure thing." She turned her back on the couple, lifted a lid beneath the counter. She reached into the heated compartment and pulled out the requested items. With speed born of pain, she sat them on paper napkins and handed them off to her classmates. With an appreciative nod, Setsuna readily handed over the payment to a most happy Kuu.

"Here you are, Kono-chan." Setsuna handed one of the steaming meat buns to Konoka, who held the hot item gingerly in her left hand, refusing to release Setsuna. The two turned from the train-car-turned-restaurant, and headed for the main exit of the Academy.

Chachamaru gazed at the retreating couple for several moments, then announced seemingly randomly, "They look good together."

Behind her, Hakase looked up from a pan she was washing. "What? Since when have you been programmed to judge people's relationships?" She examined the front of Chachamaru's face. "You're not feeling overheated, are you?"

Chachamaru merely shook her head.

It didn't take long for the two to eat their rather small breakfasts, and they were soon chatting animatedly as they strode through the mostly empty streets. Konoka took great delight even in so simple a thing, that Setsuna would have been content to have simply continued as they were, not bothering to make the stops she had planned. Merely being with Konoka made Setsuna happy, especially since there were no longer any secrets between them. Her rather odd lineage didn't bother Konoka in the least, which only made Setsuna happier.

She couldn't help but be a little self-conscious though. It was one of her faults, and one that she couldn't seem to get over; especially where Kono-chan was concerned. That very trait was the one that Setsuna despised most about herself. For some reason, she simply wasn't able to completely conquer it. That inability was also something that preyed on Setsuna's thoughts with annoying regularity. She wanted to be able to giver her all to Konoka, but those stupid inhibitions served as a blockade on that particular route.

Even while wrapped in such dreary thoughts, Setsuna managed to continue her conversation with Konoka, well enough that Konoka didn't notice Secchan's sudden lapse into self-scrutiny. They spoke of trivial things for the twenty minutes it took them to reach Setsuna's first planned destination. As they passed the glass double-doors, Setsuna blinked, then stopped short. Konoka continued for nearly a full two steps before she realized that Setsuna had stopped, and she was about to pull her over. "Why'd we stop, Secchan?" She quickly stepped back to Setsuna's side and looked up at the front of the building.

"Because this is the first stop I planned to make," Setsuna stated matter-of-factly. She stepped up to the large, clear doors, peered inside to make sure they were open, then pulled one of the surprisingly heavy plates of glass open. With a small smile, she bowed somewhat exaggeratedly, and with a sweeping movement of her arm, gestured Konoka into the store.

Kono-chan giggled, but quickly stepped into the foyer and awaited Setsuna, who quickly regained her usual composure and strode into the shop. The plush carpet was a lot different than the cobblestone streets were. The thick flooring had a nice springy feel to it, and they could both smell the scent of new clothes throughout the store. Konoka stared around at the impressively large store with a small amount of awe. For a simple clothing store, it was certainly large. Stores this big were common in a mall, but not out on their own.

Konoka began to wander off towards several racks of skirts, but Setsuna reached out and gripped the edge of her sleeve. "Not yet, Kono-chan. The staff here don't like to let customers go unescorted." She rolled her eyes, obviously thinking herself to be the only escort that Kono-chan would need. As they waited, Konoka fidgeted anxiously, and Setsuna found it hard not to grin. She could be so cute sometimes...

"Good morning, ladies." A man's voice drew Setsuna's attention from Konoka back into the real world. She blinked and glanced up at the worker. He was fairly tall, with slightly longer than average brown hair. He seemed to be in his early forties, but his face was already marked with what Setsuna suspected were laugh lines. "How can I help you?"

"We just wanted to make sure you knew we were here. We might be in here while."

The man nodded, and gestured at the surrounding area. "Please, help yourselves. Feel free to call on me if you have any questions, or if you're ready to make a purchase." He smiled kindly at them, then stepped behind the counter and began pecking it a keyboard situated before a computer monitor.

Deciding it was now okay to proceed, Konoka took off rather quickly for the skirts she had previously been eying. With an expert eye, she nearly instantly found the one of the size she had been looking for. With a satisfied smile, Setsuna slowly walked up to her excited companion. "Already found something you like, Kono-chan?"

Much to Setsuna's surprise, Konoka nodded, but then held the skirt up against the swordswoman. She frowned, and made a rather cute sound of dissatisfaction and hung the skirt back up. From the same rack, she pulled a similar skirt, time in red, and held it up against Setsuna. This time, she nodded her approval. "What do you think Secchan? Won't it look cute on you?" She gazed expectantly into Setsuna's dark eyes.

For several seconds, Setsuna only blushed, but then she raised her hands as if to ward Konoka away. "I...I don't know, Kono-chan. I don't like skirts too much..."She started to back away, and stumbled over a rack of blouses behind her. Thankfully, the floor was quite soft, and it wasn't a painful fall. At least not physically. One of the blouses, a dark yellow one, fell across her. Before she could stand and replace it, Kono-chan let out a joy-filled gasp.

"That'd go PERFECT with this skirt, Secchan! C'mon, you've gotta try 'em on!" She snatched up the shirt and pulled Setsuna to her feet. It wasn't as difficult as she'd thought it would be to lead her reluctant Secchan to the changing rooms. They were thankfully close.

"Here, Secchan." She held the outfit out to Setsuna, who eyed it dubiously.

"Well...okay." With a small smile, Setsuna accepted the bundle of clothing from her widely grinning friend. She slipped through the changing room door quickly, allowing it to swing itself closed behind her.

Konoka leaned against the white wall of the changing room; the sounds of clothing rustling confirming that Secchan was indeed changing. I wonder why Secchan never wears anything but her uniform... A thought occurred to her as something thumped against the wall, probably Setsuna. Maybe she never buys other clothes. The chocolate-haired girl grinned. We'll fix that.

Without waiting for Setsuna to finish changing, Konoka darted off into the aisles in search of yet more for Secchan to try on. There was so much to choose from...

Setsuna looked down at herself in the mirror, and almost smiled. It did look pretty good, she had to admit. The colors were not the ones she would have chosen though. Blue and white were more her style. She turned slightly to see it from all angles, and nodded in satisfaction.

She unlatched the door and stepped back into the store proper. Her small smile fell when she found that Konoka was nowhere to be found. She stuck her head around a nearby corner and looked around. "Kono-chan?"

Setsuna nearly had a heart attack when, from behind her, a gleeful squeal rang out. "You look so cute in that, Secchan!"

She spun around to find Konoka standing directly behind her, smiling widely at Setsuna. "That skirt especially looks great, Secchan."

Having recovered by now, Setsuna felt a light blush rise to her face. She stepped back a pace and looked down at her new accoutrements again. "Well, you picked it out Kono-chan."

"But it wasn't beautiful until you put it on, Secchan." She sat down a rather large bundle of clothes, something that rather worried Setsuna, and knelt before the young swordswoman. With a seamstress' careful eye, Konoka folded the edge of the skirt up from right above Setsuna's knees to a little higher than mid-thigh and nodded. "If you buy it, you should let me hem it up to about here." She looked back up at Setsuna.

This time, Setsuna's blush rivaled flame, and she stepped back from Konoka's grasp, smoothing the pleated skirt back to its normal length. "That's way too short, Kono-chan!"

Konoka stood up and cocked her head to the side. "But it'd look so cute," she protested. If possible, Setsuna blushed yet more.

It wasn't for another hour until Konoka was satisfied that Setsuna had tried on the best outfits available; her favorite being a loose-fitting silky shirt with grey sleeves and a hood. To go with it, Konoka chose a dark grey shirt that she insisted Setsuna leave unfastened, and a pair of high cut boots. It with a fiery blush that Setsuna tugged at the edges of the shirt, struggling to cover herself a bit better, although only her sides were visible.

It wasn't until Konoka's thirst for playing "dress-up" with Secchan was slaked that Setsuna was able to oust the position of outfit chooser from her. Her smile held a note of humorous vengeance. "It's my turn now."

With a grin, Setsuna placed an outfit in Konoka's arms. Finding it in the short times while Kono-chan had been browsing had been difficult, but Setsuna was fairly certain it would be the only one she'd need to find. Konoka nodded and, with a grin, slipped into the changing room.

Setsuna looked down at the clothes in her arms and at her feet. Including the one she was wearing, Konoka had picked out three new outfits for her. She took a glance at a couple of the price tags and shook her head. Kono-chan's NOT spending this much. She looked at the changing room, then at the cashier, and decided that she had time to pay for the clothes before Kono-chan was finished.

She quickly put the clothes, including her school uniform, on the counter. "I also need to pay for what I'm wearing." She stepped back so he could see what she was wearing.

The clerk scanned an eye over her, then coughed. "Any new undergarments, miss?"

Setsuna shook her head, and knew she was blushing least a little. "None." He nodded and began scanning the price tags into the computer. "May I charge these to my account here?"

He raised an eyebrow. "Certainly. Your name, please." His fingers hovered over the keyboard

"Sakurazaki Setsuna." He tapped at the keys for a couple of seconds, gazed at the screen, then nodded.

"Shall I wrap the school uniform as well, Sakurazaki-san?" She nodded, and he swept the clothes onto another counter and started into the wrapping with gusto.

"Secchan!" With a smile, Setsuna turned to examine her friend. She wore a skirt not unlike Setsuna's, a rather plain red top, and a small white cloth jacket. She'd also tied her long brown hair back into a simple pony-tail.

With a satisfied smile, Setsuna circled her friend, scrutinizing her attire. She stopped behind her and frowned. "I like your hair better when you have it down." She tugged lightly on the pony-tail. "May I?" Konoka giggled, but nodded her ascent. Setsuna slipped a couple fingers under the confining band, and gently pulled gathered silk from the grasping band. "There you go."

Konoka smiled and shook her head, swinging her hair about, the ends of it brushing Setsuna's face. Laughing, Setsuna took Konoka by the shoulders and spun her around. Holding her at arm's length, Setsuna ran a jokingly critical eye over her. She nodded. "Much better."

Konoka grinned. "Thank you, Secchan." She stepped from foot to foot, checking the tall black boots Setsuna had chosen. "We almost match."

The raven-haired girl nodded. "We do, don't we?" She stepped into the changing room and grabbed Konoka's original outfit, then gestured for Konoka to follow her to the counter.

She sat Konoka's clothes on the counter and cleared her throat. "Please wrap these up as well, and add the clothes my friend's wearing to the bill."

Konoka tugged at Setsuna's sleeve. "Secchan, I was going to pay for your clothes."

Setsuna grinned at her and shook her head. "Let me get them, Kono-chan." Konoka frowned in dissatisfaction, but said nothing. The clerk slipped the various boxes into bags bearing the boutique's name, and slid them across the counter to Setsuna. "Thank you."

As two walked through the glass doors, Konoka still gripping the taller girl's sleeve, he called out, "Have a nice day, you two!"

Thankfully, the next stop Setsuna had planned wasn't that far from the boutique. She was certain a single meat bun wasn't enough to stave off hunger for long, so the next logical step was a proper meal, of course. There was a McDonalds conveniently close by, and Kono-chan had been hinting for a while that she'd never had their food before. Now's as good a time as any.

A light breeze blew through the streets, and looking for warmth, Konoka wrapped her arms around Setsuna's free left arm, drawing her nearer. Setsuna tried not to let her nervous blush show, but she knew she was failing. Konoka looked up at her and noticed her red face. "Are you cold, Secchan?"

Setsuna shook her head stiffly and continued to walk in silence. With Konoka so close, she was uncertain she'd be able to form a coherent sentence. And if she were to fail in speaking, she'd only blush worse, so it was best to remain silent. Konoka wasn't satisfied though. Her grip on Setsuna's arm relented momentarily, something that Setsuna regretted, and several moments later, Setsuna felt something draped across her shoulders. She looked down at Konoka in surprise. "Kono-chan! You should be wearing your coat, not me. You might catch a cold..."

Konoka shook her head. "I'll be fine. I've gotta watch out for my Secchan though." She grinned, and Setsuna felt her face heat up yet more. Konoka once again locked her arm in a strong grip, not that Setsuna minded. "Besides, as long as I can be close to you, I'll be warm enough." She buried her face against Setsuna's shoulder and sighed happily.

And here I was thinking I couldn't blush anymore... At least blushing made her feel warmer. Although Konoka was doing a fairly good job of that. As they walked, the chill wind picked up, until Konoka's hair was perpetually in Setsuna's face, and the white jacket threatened to fly to the ground.

It was with an extremely relieved sigh that Setsuna spotted the squat red and yellow building across the street. "Almost there, Kono-chan." They turned into the wind and crossed the street quickly, thankful that there wasn't much traffic. The wind blew harder as they neared the building. Setsuna looked up at the sky, and noted that the prevailing wind had dragged grey clouds with them, blotting out the once bright sun and glorious blue sky. And I thought it would be such a nice day... With a clearly unhappy sigh, Setsuna pulled the door open and quickly ushered Kono-chan in.

She scampered quickly into the brightly colored building, and breathed deeply of the air within. "Something smells good," she stated matter-of-factly as Setsuna walked up beside her.

She shot a somewhat surprised glance at Konoka. "How long has it since you've been to a McDonalds?" She couldn't remember a time in particular that Kono-chan had mentioned having eaten there, but she assumed she had in the last couple years. Even she had been twice since leaving Kyoto those several years ago.

Konoka shook her head. "I don't go out very often. Asuna's usually busy, and I'm not really good friends with anyone 'cept you and Negi-kun. I mean, I've got a lot of friends, but no-one's ever really taken me out for lunch or anything."

Setsuna's brow furrowed. I didn't know she's been so lonely. The realization that she could've prevented that weighed heavily on her. I've ignored her so completely, but she remained my friend... Setsuna filed the depressing thoughts away for closer examination later, and decided to redouble her efforts to make sure Konoka had a good time.

She gently took Konoka by the shoulders and steered her over to the blessedly short lines before the counter. Gazing at the board suspended on the wall that listed what foods they offered, and decided she had absolutely no clue what to order. She turned around and looked up at Setsuna. "What are you getting, Secchan?"

Setsuna considered the question, then looked down at Kono-chan. "I've heard their new chicken dinner is good. I'll get that and a salad, I think."

Konoka nodded, but decided chicken didn't sound particularly appetizing. A cheeseburger sounded pretty good though. "What kinds of sandwiches would you suggest?"

"Well, they're mostly the same, but different sizes. You don't like sauces on your sandwiches, do you?" Konoka stuck her tongue out and shook her head vehemently, prompting a short giggle from Setsuna. "Then I'd suggest a double quarter-pounder meal if you're hungry. They're pretty filling."

Konoka nodded, scanning the board for said sandwich. "What can I get on it?"

"Uh...just about anything, I think." The two moved up as a large party stepped away from the counter with their food. After the three people currently ordering, they were next. "You also get French fries and a drink with the meal."

Konoka nodded and thoughtfully chewed on her lower lip, continuing to stare at the menu/board. "Can I get just cheese?"

Setsuna nodded. "I guess so. I've never tried, but I don't know why you couldn't. Ah. Here we go." As the trio in front of them stepped to the side, Setsuna stepped up to the counter.

"What would you like?" The cashier looked expectantly at Setsuna.

"I'd like the new chicken meal-"

"The Chicken Selects?"

Setsuna frowned a little at the interruption. "Yes. I'd like that, a garden salad with no dressing, and a medium water."

Nodding, the cashier punched at the appropriate buttons lazily, then looked up at Konoka. "And for you?"

Konoka cleared her throat. "I'd like a double quarter-pounder with cheese only," this prompted a raised eyebrow from the cashier, but he said nothing, "medium fries, and a medium Coca-Cola, please."

"Okay. That'll be ¥1550." He held out his hand for the money, then stuffed it carelessly into the waiting drawer once Setsuna handed it over. "Your food'll be ready in a minute, ladies. Next!"

Setsuna gently pulled Konoka to the side as a burly man rushed the counter, holding a grubby handful of money out, and rambling about his order. "Would you like some ice-cream afterwards, Kono-chan? They have some here." She gestured at the gleaming silver machine behind the counter with her head.

"Do they have chocolate?" Setsuna nodded in the affirmative, and Konoka grinned. "Then yeah, I'd love some. Thanks, Secchan."

They stood in silence until one of the workers produced a tray bearing their food, and sat it on the counter. Before Konoka could make a move for it, Setsuna swept it up. "I can get it, Secchan," she protested.

"That's okay. You can get the drinks, though." She balanced the tray on her right hand and handed the two paper cups off to Konoka. "The machine's there."

"Okay." She quickly filled the cups, adding ice to each, then slipped a plastic lid on each and grabbed a couple straws from the dispenser. She found it somewhat difficult to find her companion though. It seemed as though Setsuna had picked the most secluded corner of the establishment. By the time Konoka found her, she'd already folded up Konoka's white jacket and separated their food. "Why did you pick this corner, Secchan? It's so...I dunno, far away."

Setsuna stood and pulled Konoka's seat from the table, motioning for her to sit. After she did, Setsuna scooted the chair up to the table and walked back around to her own seat. Konoka slid her water across the table to her, and sat a straw atop her box of chicken. "I didn't want anyone to bother us while we ate," she answered simply as she pulled her straw from its paper wrapper and slid it through the plastic lid.

Konoka nodded, and decided that the food smelled too good to wait longer for. Trying to retain some control over herself, she only half attacked the red container of golden potatoes. After quickly consuming several of them, and finding that they were VERY fresh, Konoka decided that they were a truly excellent food. "These are really good, Secchan!" She held the box out to Setsuna, who eyed it dubiously, but pulled one of the long fries from it. "Careful, they're hot," Kono-chan cautioned as Setsuna bit into the salty appetizer.

She chewed on it experimentally, then slyly stole another from the still-extended box. "They're good. Nice and salty." Konoka grinned and shook a couple out onto one of Setsuna's napkins before setting the container back down. As Setsuna opened her box of chicken, Konoka opened the lid of the cardboard box containing her sandwich. She slowly picked it up, watching with a small suggestion of disgust as grease dripped from the edge of the hamburger. No wonder people get fat eating here... Shrugging, she took a bite, and smiled. This is pretty good. She took a couple more experimental bites, and decided she'd like to eat at McDonalds again sometime. Now if their ice-cream was any good...

They ate at a rather leisurely pace, discussing mundane topics. Despite not having anything particularly important or interesting to talk about, Setsuna found that simple chatting was immensely satisfying. At least it was when she was chatting with Konoka. All in all, everything was pretty good. The chicken was the best she'd found at a fast-food joint. Most were laced with fat, or just plain weren't any good, but these were decent. She'd have to remember that. Setsuna finished with her smaller meal before Konoka, and she pushed her trash onto the tray, then simply looked across the table and watched Konoka eat as they talked.

Konoka looked up from her sandwich to see a most uncharacteristically dreamy smile on Setsuna's face, then looked behind her, then back at Setsuna. "What's wrong?" Setsuna blinked and sat back in her chair.

"Nothing. Sorry." A blush crept onto her face, and she looked down at the lid of her salad container, trying to look like the text was interesting.

With a shrug, Konoka quickly finished her sandwich, setting her trash beside Setsuna's on the tray. "Ready for ice-cream, Kono-chan?"

Konoka grinned and nodded vehemently. "You bet!" Setsuna smiled in agreement and whisked the tray off the table as she stood. Konoka watched her dump the trash into one of the several disposal points scattered throughout the dining area, then sighed happily as she disappeared from her sight around to the front of the restaurant. It had been a really nice day so far. They hadn't talked very much, but she'd had a lot of fun just being around Setsuna. It was remarkable how open she'd become in the last couple of days. She was still really introverted, but Konoka considered it her duty to show the world, or at least herself, the real Secchan.

Within several seconds, Setsuna was on her way back, brandishing two yellow ice-cream cones heaped with brown ice-cream. She slid back into her seat quickly, and handed one of the ice-cream cones to her ecstatic friend. Konoka instantly set to lapping at the cold substance. Ice-cream was easily one of her favorite foods, and chocolate was at the top of the list. Setsuna didn't attack it with as much vigor, but still enjoyed it immensely. Their conversation slowed considerably, it seemed. Setsuna was quite surprised at just how much Kono-chan liked ice-cream. Good choice, I guess. With a wry grin, she decided that she didn't need any more of her ice-cream, and she pushed it across the table's shiny surface to Kono-chan.

She looked up from her own ice-cream cone to stare at the half-eaten one, then up at Setsuna. "You don't like it, Secchan?"

"Oh no, it's not that. I'm just not very hungry anymore. Go ahead." She motioned for Kono-chan to take the cone. "It's all yours."

Abandoning her hesitance, Konoka scooped up the half-full cone, holding it in her free hand for when she finished hers. At the rate she was going, it wouldn't be long either. It was really rather cute, the way Konoka devoured the ice-cream. Setsuna made a mental note that ice-cream was an ideal snack for any of their later outings. She reclined in the hard-backed chair comfortably, considering what topic would be best to bring up next. Nothing particularly pressing had been happening lately, and Setsuna found herself pressed to think of something. Rather than give herself a headache, she decided just to watch Kono-chan eat.

As she waited for Konoka to finish her snack. she turned her attention to what was happening within the restaurant. People were talking happily, a small child was crying, and was being comforted by its mother. In the background, a soft song played. Something about the tune tugged at Setsuna's attention. It sounded so familiar, but she couldn't place where she knew it from. She had to know it from somewhere, but where?

Konoka looked up from the mere bite of cone that remained of her snack, her eyes gleaming. "Do you recognize that song, Secchan?" She smiled warmly at Setsuna, seeming to forget her ice-cream. "It's been so long, I don't think I even remember the words anymore..."

Kono-chan knows the song? She wracked her brain desperately, trying to remember the song as Konoka crunched thoughtfully on the last of her cone before picking up Setsuna's forsaken snack next.

Without meaning to, as the song came to its end , she began to mutter something, like a half-forgotten memory. "Mou ichido nechao nichiyoubi..." She frowned. Are those the words?

Konoka looked up abruptly from her ice-cream. "That's it, Secchan! That's the song! Don't you remember?"

Although it pained her to do so, Setsuna shook her head. "No, I don't think I do."

A slight cloud of sadness descended over her chocolate-haired friend. "Back in Kyoto, when we'd sit by that river bank in the evening, waiting for my dad to call me back into the temple, I'd sing that to you."

Setsuna held up her hand to stop Konoka from continuing. "Wait a sec. I'm going to go see if they can replay it. Maybe if I hear it from the beginning, it'll help." She stood and quickly walked around to the front counter. She leaned over the flat surface and motioned for one of the employees. "Excuse me, but could you please replay the song that was playing just a second ago?" The worker nodded and disappeared through a door in the back. Several seconds later, the song began.

As if a dam had broken loose from the dirt around it, memories were jarred loose by the opening notes of the song and Konoka's explanation. As clear as the still water of the mentioned river, Setsuna could remember herself sitting beside Konoka, both significantly younger and dressed in more traditional clothing. The sun was casting its final rays of light into the air, painting a beautiful mural of reds and purples across the sky. Fireflies wove their way through the humid evening air, the breeze sending them off in directions they didn't wish to go. She remembered laying back onto the grassy bank, looking up to the stars as they began to show themselves amid the black-blue sky. Beside her, Konoka leaned forward, staring off into the sunset. Her singing started off low, as if she didn't want anyone to hear it. As night continued to fall, her voice became stronger, and Setsuna recalled smiling as the beautiful notes floated about them, almost taking on life as the fireflies had. Other instances of nights like that came and went through Setsuna's memory. Across the table, as she always had, Konoka softly sang, "Yawarakai kaze, hira hira, kaaten ni koboreru hikari."

With a small smile, and not caring if anyone heard them, Setsuna applied her voice to the lyrics as well. "Suteki na nebokemanako de, anata wa akubi nado hitotsu." They didn't realize it, but around the restaurant, conversation died down as the two young girls reveled in memories of times past. Their low voices intertwined like a summer's breeze, never getting loud, but clear and concise.

By the time they had finished singing, the entire restaurant had quieted, lulled by the simple elegance of the song. In complete harmony, they allowed their voices to trail off at the last line, and it was only then that Setsuna heard the silence around them. Her face reddening, she looked over the low wall separating their corner of the restaurant from the rest. She blushed brighter than the ketchup Konoka had dipped her French fries in when she saw the entire establishment had gone completely silent. Several of the attendees shot odd glances in their direction but tried to look as if they weren't looking. Setsuna caught several of them glancing in her direction, but they immediately looked back down at their food. Mortified, she hunched over in her chair to avoid the stares that she know would be coming. "I can't believe I did that...who sings in the middle of a restaurant?" She hissed at Konoka, desperate to keep from being heard.

Konoka was blushing as much as Setsuna, but managed to stand her ground. Trying to retain a sense of normalcy, she took a nervous bite of Secchan's ice-cream cone. "Well, apparently we do." She smiled shakily at Setsuna.

Rolling her eyes, Setsuna sat properly as the immediate embarrassment began to fade. She quickly downed nearly half of her water in her haste to get out of the restaurant. Still blushing to the best of her ability, she waited while Konoka finished her ice-cream, then took her by the hand and the both of them slipped from the restaurant as silently as they could.

As they stepped outside, Setsuna discovered that the wind had picked up considerably, and that the dark sky had darkened yet more. There was, thankfully, no sign of rain. Konoka made a move to remove her jacket again for Setsuna's benefit, but her taller friend clamped her hands down on her shoulders and looked down into her eyes. "Not this time, Kono-chan. You need to keep warm too."

Konoka opened her mouth to argue, but the stern look in Setsuna's eyes caused her to rethink the choice. She nodded. "'Kay, Secchan."

Setsuna nodded, a very small grin spreading across her face. A sudden gust of wind set their clothes rippling, and Setsuna began to consider stopping into someplace to change into one of her other outfits. Nah. I can take it. But maybe Kono-chan should wear that sweater I bought... "Kono-chan, would you like me to get out the sweater you picked out for me earlier?" She raised the bag containing the item in question.

She quickly shook her head. "No, I'll be okay, Secchan." She smiled cutely up at the taller girl. "If you can handle it, so can I." Setsuna frowned, but was mature enough to realize that if Konoka didn't want to, she had no right to force her. Although if she really started to get cold, Setsuna wasn't above using force...

Trying to ignore the blush that threatened to mar her face, Setsuna wrapped an arm around Konoka's shoulders and drew her closer. As if to make Setsuna more uncomfortable yet, Konoka wrapped her right arm around Setsuna's waist, and snuggled up against her, seeking the warmth and sense of shelter that Secchan seemed to exude, even as young as she was. Shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot, Setsuna waited impatiently for the traffic to allow them to cross. The desired break in the flow of automobiles was not long in coming, and the two crossed to the other side of the street and started back down the way they had come.

"Where are we going, Secchan?" Konoka's voice was slightly muffled, but Setsuna understood her completely.

"I thought we'd visit an arcade. Play a couple games, perhaps." She looked down at her companion. "Does that sound okay?"

Konoka nodded against Setsuna's side, rumpling her shirt further. "Yeah, that sounds fun." She smiled up at Setsuna. "Maybe we can get some pictures taken too."

Setsuna's smile faltered. "Well, maybe. If I'm in a good mood." Konoka grinned and snuggled up against Setsuna, which made it slightly difficult to walk, but Setsuna paid the obstruction no heed. The two continued to chat happily as they continued their walk towards Setsuna's chosen arcade. After a while, Setsuna was completely comfortable with Konoka's hold on her, and even squeezed her closer on occasion of a laugh, or the mentioning of something that worried Konoka. She found it surprising that talking to Konoka about completely mundane, even pointless or impossible things, was immensely rewarding. Ever since her childhood, Setsuna hadn't been much of a conversationalist, and was a firm believer that if it wasn't important, it didn't need to be mentioned. Normally, she couldn't stand a person who wouldn't stop talking, but Konoka had managed to slip under that shield completely undetected; the only one Setsuna really enjoyed talking to.

Perhaps it was her voice. It seemed likely. For years, that voice had haunted her thoughts, a constant reminder of who she was training herself so hard to protect, and who she had forbidden herself from growing more attached to. It was the one voice that had the ability to completely disarm Setsuna of all mental faculties at any given time, and it's owner used the weapon to devastating effect when she wanted to. Not that Setsuna particularly minded.

No matter what it was, it was unique to Kono-chan. Even as the early afternoon sky darkened, Setsuna's mood continued to do the opposite. By the time they actually reached their destination, Setsuna found herself regretting that their conversation would turn to things more relevant to their new location.

Releasing her hold on Setsuna, Konoka rushed up to the entrance of the arcade. "Wow! It's so big, Secchan!" She stared through the window with wide-eyed wonder.

A proud smile graced Setsuna at seeing the reaction evoked by her choice of arcade. "I'm glad you like it. I looked around for a good one, and this one seemed to have the most variety. Lots of different games, and a snack bar to boot. I hear their shaved ice is the best on this side of town."

With a small squeal of delight, Konoka rushed back to Setsuna, grabbed her free hand, and began to drag her to the door. "Then what are we waiting for? C'mon, Secchan!" Smiling, Setsuna again allowed herself to be led about, although she managed to disconnect herself from Kono-chan long enough to hold the door open for her. She was promptly yanked inside the building though. The increasingly fiercer winds closed the door behind the couple.

Within the rather large building, multi-colored lights danced off the walls, and music played at a comfortable level in the background. Being a weekend, it was crowded, but not overly-so. Konoka rushed headlong into the loose crowd of people, dragging Setsuna with her through the maze of bodies. With expert skill, Setsuna managed to contort herself enough to avoid knocking anyone over with her shopping bags, or simply running into any of them. She muttered rushed apologies as she was practically forced through the crowd, but no-one seemed to even notice her passing. Not necessarily a bad thing... Setsuna thought as she finally felt Konoka slow down a bit.

The brown-haired girl walked through a doorway on the west wall, and Setsuna found herself plunged into near darkness. She turned to look in Konoka's direction, and noticed three TVs hung on the wall. They cast the only light throughout the room.

"My turn!" Konoka called out as she all but skidded to a stop beside a race-car simulator. Nodding, the previous player, a taller brown-haired boy, stepped out of the mock-up of a race-car driver's seat. Konoka hopped inside, squirming a bit to make sure she was comfortable. She turned to find that Setsuna was still standing beside her part of the machine. "Get in the other one, Secchan. I wanna race you." She grinned competitively at the raven-haired girl.

"Alright." Setsuna grinned and walked quickly around to the other seat on Konoka's left. She sat her bags against the side of the structure and slid inside. It was a bit smaller than her liking, but as she gripped the wheel, she decided it wasn't so bad. Her feet found the pedals, and she tested them out as Konoka input their information from her seat.

Setsuna was still looking over the controls, particularly the gear-shift, when the blare of a simulated horn signaled that she had but seconds before the mock-race began. She looked up at the screen hanging on the wall, to find that it was split in two. On the left side, it displayed her name and a blue Formula One race car. On the right was Konoka's name, and a car matching Setsuna's but for the red hue. A stop light descended on the screen, and ticked down from red to green. As the green light flared to life, the "announcer" shouted "Go!"

Setsuna stomped on the gas pedal, only to curse the instinctive reaction as the back wheels of her car spun in place before finding purchase several seconds later. She was surprised to find that the seats simulated the spinning of tires with a deep vibration, an interesting addition. She glanced quickly at Konoka's side of the screen to see her rounding the first curve already. She HAS to have done this before! Setsuna decided as she let up slightly on the gas to allow the fuel-flow to catch up with the demand. She slowly gained more control over her vehicle, and was soon gaining gradually on the red car before her.

The track that Konoka had chosen was fairly simple, merely a classic figure-8 track, and was set to allow 4 laps. Thus it wasn't long before Setsuna had managed to catch up with Kono-chan. For the entire third lap, they continuously traded between 1st and 2nd place, providing quite a show to the crowd, who were already beginning to place bets in hushed tones among themselves.

"You're better than I thought, Secchan," Konoka said without diverting her gaze. Setsuna opened her mouth to reply, but was cut off. "Which means I have to do THIS." As Setsuna watched, Konoka's car banked hard to the right and fell slightly behind, putting her in last place. As fast as she had turned away, she stomped on the gas pedal and spun her wheel to the left.

Hydraulics in Secchan's seat went into action, jarring her around just enough to be a distraction as the leading edge of her red car dug into the side of Setsuna's vehicle. The steering wheel locked into one position, and Setsuna watched helplessly as her car met with the concrete wall in a rather brilliant explosion. "You cheated!" She pointed accusingly at Kono-chan, who merely grinned, but didn't look away from the screen.

"I didn't cheat, Secchan. creatively." With a playful growl, Setsuna reached across the console in the middle and grabbed Konoka's steering wheel, her hands overlapping Kono-chan's smaller ones. She jerked the wheel to the left and smiled with satisfaction as Konoka squealed in surprise.

The car swung into the concrete wall, blinding the group with the resulting explosion. Konoka's seat went into the annoying vibrating that Setsuna experienced earlier. However, because of being stretched between the two seats, her desperate grasp on the steering wheel, and tenuous footing, when Konoka's seat rocked to the right, it took Setsuna with it. With a squeal of her own, she tumbled over the console into Konoka's lap, half in the car mock-up, half out. "Owww..." She squirmed around until she was facing up, and looked into Konoka's surprised and blushing face. "Um...hello." She grinned apologetically at her friend.

Her lost game forgotten, Konoka grabbed Secchan by the shoulders and pulled her all the way into the module until Setsuna was sitting on her lap, her head bowed to avoid the low ceiling. "Hi, Secchan!" she responded happily. Setsuna blushed as she heard the small crowd outside the simulator begin muttering about them wasting time. "And to think you said I cheated..." she shook her head in mock disappointment and wagged her finger in Setsuna's face. "YOU'RE the one who cheated."

Putting the impatient group of players out of her mind, Setsuna grinned and nodded. "Sure did, Kono-chan." Konoka playfully pushed Setsuna off her lap onto the small space on the seat beside her.

"That was a mean thing to do, Secchan." She pretended to pout and turned away from the swordswoman.

Looking back, Setsuna didn't know quite what had prompted her reaction, but she also didn't particularly care. Her countenance once again taking on a serious expression, she leaned forward and placed a light kiss on Konoka's cheek. "I'm sorry, Kono-chan."

Instantly, Konoka shifted to look at her blushing Secchan. She raised a hand to her cheek in surprise. "I'm not really angry, Secchan, I was just kidding..."

Setsuna placed two fingers against Konoka's lips and smiled. "I know." For several seconds they just watched each other, until Setsuna nodded at the rest of the building. "Somebody else probably wants to play this." Konoka nodded, hearing the underlying suggestion. She slid out and helped Setsuna to crawl out of the corner. "This time, I pick the game, okay?"

Konoka nodded. "Sure." For the next hour and a half, the couple wandered from station to station, paying no attention to scores, time, or people. At Setsuna's plea, they repeatedly flitted to a particular fighting game situated on the far wall. Five times they fought, and five times Setsuna saw only "You Lose!" flash on the screen. Konoka laughed each time Secchan's jaw dropped in amazement. "How do you win? This is the only game I'm any good at! I have the high scor-"

Her jaw dropped again as her name dropped down a slot on the ten-name grid. Three very familiar characters were quickly typed along the line in a sharp white font. "Button-mashing is the ONLY way to play." The grinning middle schooler flashed Setsuna a "V" for victory and tapped the "Enter" button.

Setsuna raised her arms defeatedly and turned toward the snack booth in an exasperated manner. Konoka knew, of course, that Secchan was only toying with her, probably for revenge, and threw her arms around Setsuna's neck. "I'll try to let you win next time, Secchan."

Setsuna blushed, and looked back over her shoulder. "It's a deal." With Konoka still playfully attached to her back, she stepped up to the counter-top. "I'd like a Coke, please." She looked back over at Konoka. "Would you like anything, Kono-chan?"

Konoka nodded, then chirped, "A Coke, please." The man nodded and opened a small refrigerator beneath the counter. He sat two cans on the counter-top, a sheen of perspiration shining on them.

"That'll be ¥300, ladies." Setsuna nodded and pushed the coins across the counter. "Thank you." He turned away from them, back to a sandwich he had been preparing.

Setsuna picked up one of the Cokes, and handed it over her shoulder to Konoka, then picked up the remaining one for herself. She motioned at a series of benches. "Shall we?"

"Yes, we shall." Konoka grinned and released her hold, then dashed up to one of the thick plastic benches. It was a true testament to the size of the arcade; that it had food and normal seating inside. Quite impressive, really.

Setsuna sat lightly next to Kono-chan and pulled the tab on her drink, the accompanying pop and hiss fading into the din in the background. Beside her, Konoka seemed to have already downed half her drink. Setsuna shook her head, and with a smile, sipped at her drink. "Thirsty, Kono-chan?"

Konoka grinned over the top of her can at her. "Yup. I AM really thirsty for some reason." Still looking at Secchan, she took another long gulp of the crisp drink.

Setsuna shrugged and continued to merely sip at her drink. She reclined as much as she could on the hard bench and observed the crowd that milled around them. Like themselves, everyone else seemed to be having a good time. Setsuna noticed that nearly half of the people there seemed to be with their significant other. She spared a sideways glance at Konoka and found her with her can still up to her mouth, watching the crowd, her legs swinging back and forth. I wonder if Kono-chan considers this a date. Secchan had started the day out planning merely for some shopping and gaming with her best friend, but after the events of several days ago, and a lot of what had transpired today, she thought it felt decidedly like a date.

She blushed heavily when Konoka's gaze came to rest on her. Setsuna quickly looked back into the crowd. That's TWICE she's caught me staring at her!

With a grin, Konoka scooted closer to Setsuna. "What's wrong, Secchan?" She leaned forwards and peered into her friend's mocha eyes. Setsuna mumbled a reply, her blush deepening. Konoka sighed. She's so cute when she blushes... Just seeing Secchan stumbling for words and trying to look nonchalant sent her heart to melting.

It wasn't long that they sat in comfortable silence. Konoka polished off her drink quickly, not turning her gaze from Setsuna. She sat her can on the bench between them, and leaned closer to Setsuna. "So, you in a good enough mood to get your picture taken now?"

Setsuna turned, a hesitant answer on her lips, and found Kono-chan grinning widely at her. Seeing Secchan's hesitance, she instead tried a pout.

Once again, that deeply pleading expression yanked powerfully on her heart-strings. She smiled a cute half-smile and nodded. "I...suppose I could be persuaded."

"Yay!" Konoka leapt from the bench and grabbed Setsuna's hand, pulling her along with her.

"Whoah! Slow down, Kono-chan." Setsuna ran along behind Konoka, licking the spilled pop from her fingers. "This stuff is sticky, you know." As they sped past a trash can, Setsuna managed to lob the now empty can into it.

Konoka stopped in front of one of several photo-booths. They seemed to be as popular as the games, although that was fairly normal. The pictures taken in them were rather customizable, and could even be printed as stickers. These in particular displayed some of the more creative frames that Secchan had seen. Not that she had a particularly large amount of experience with them. They were most popular with couples because of what could be done to the pictures; because of what Konoka had in mind.

As the two waited for the current occupants to finish, Setsuna's blushing gaze traveled from her and Konoka's clasped hands, to the side of the picture-adorned photo-booth, whereupon several shopping bags leaned. Crap! I forgot our clothes by the race-car game! She gently pried Konoka's hand from hers. "I'll be right back, Kono-chan. I forgot our shopping bags." Konoka's confused and slightly disappointed expression changed to one of understanding. "Stay here, and I'll be right back."

"Okay, Secchan." She waved pointlessly at her rapidly retreating friend.

Setsuna found the bags just as she had left them against the simulator, and swept them up with a relieved sigh. She was tempted to stay around long enough to see the conclusion of the current race but decided it best to return to Kono-chan. Something told her that the urgency in her step as she tracked down Kono-chan was not unwarranted. What's this feeling? It's like...someone I know. She actually broke into a jog, fluidly sliding between people in her haste.

She slid to a stop, her jaw going slack in amazement. Standing before Konoka, gazing curiously at her, was another of the Shinmeiryuu few. Her long pale-gold hair cascaded down her back, curling at the ends. Her light colored eyes cast a critical gaze at Konoka over the top of her thin-rimmed glasses. Setsuna stood entirely still as the blonde advanced slightly on Konoka. She couldn't hear what they were saying, but instinct translated immediately when one of the girl's hands reached out for Konoka.

The plastic shopping bags dropped from her hand as she dashed forward through the crowd. Setsuna judged the distance as best she could, and leapt at the two. As she had hoped, she landed directly between the two, her martial training allowing her to land without swaying. She stood erect and leveled her now icy gaze at the girl. "What are you doing here?"

The girl's eyes widened, and she stepped back. Then, of all things, she clasped her hands before her and bowed. "Hello, Setsuna-sempai. It's a pleasure to see you again." She straightened and smiled sweetly at the elder student. Setsuna didn't respond, merely backed closer to Konoka defensively. The girl looked hurt. "If you thought I was going to hurt her, you're wrong, Sempai. I was merely going to brush the piece of lint from her shirt." She pointed. "See, there?"

Konoka looked down at her shoulder, and indeed there was a bit of white lint, no doubt from her jacket. "Oh." Konoka muttered as she brushed the offending bit of cloth from her clothing. Setsuna cocked an eyebrow in some confusion, and looked back at the girl.

"I'll ask again, Tsukuyomi, what are you doing here?" Her voice seemed as sharp as the blade of her sword, and Konoka shuddered at its sound.

"Oh, I'm sorry. I should've explained myself." She cleared her throat politely. "Since I no longer have any ties to the Kansai Magic Association, I have nothing to do. It seemed a logical course of action to continue my training with you, Setsuna-sempai. So I have applied for entrance into the Mahora Academy that you and Ojousama attend."

Setsuna frowned. She's going to be around on a regular basis? "How can we be certain that you no longer mean to harm Kono-cha...Konoka-ojousama?"

"You mean you don't trust me, Sempai?" She bowed again, perhaps a bit excessively. "I hope that in the time we will have together from now on, I can prove myself to you."

Before Setsuna could reply, Konoka placed her hands on Setsuna's shoulders and stood on her tiptoes. "If Gramps allows her into the school, then she has to be okay, right?" she whispered into Setsuna's ear.

The swordswoman considered that bit of information, and nodded. She looked back at Tsukuyomi. "For now, I'd like to you to stay away from us. Until I see you in the classroom, I want you to remain out of contact, is that clear?"

Tsukuyomi nodded, but apparently resisted the urge to bow. "Yes, Sempai." She shifted her gaze to Konoka. "It was nice to see you again, Konoka-ojousama." Konoka nodded politely in response. With a final bow, Tsukuyomi turned into the curious crowd and walked further into the building, quickly getting lost among the people.

Setsuna waited until she could no longer see any sign of the blond before moving from in front of Konoka. She looked her over closer, making sure she was okay. "Are you sure you're okay, Kono-chan?"

Konoka nodded. "Yeah, I'm fine. She didn't do anything at all. She just introduced herself, and told me that she knows you from your sword school. She was very polite."

"Just the same, I'd like you to forget about her for now, okay, Kono-chan?" Konoka nodded obediently. "Now, I'm gonna go get our bags. Again." She attempted a grin. "Wait here, 'kay?"

"Yeah." Konoka nodded and leaned back against the photo-booth, jumping slightly when the two people within it emerged without warning. She watched as Setsuna hurriedly rushed to where their packages lay, grabbed them, and walked quickly back. She's really worried. Konoka smiled. Knowing that Setsuna cared so much was a really nice feeling.

Setsuna sat their packages on top of the booth and smiled at Konoka. "Ready?" She motioned at the entrance.

"You bet!" Konoka squealed as she all but dove in, pulling Setsuna with her. She relented when Setsuna reminded her that they had to PAY before getting the pictures taken, and released her long enough to do so. She slipped the ¥400 into the slot and waited for the choices to pop up on screen. After several seconds, a few colorful menus appeared.

"What theme, Kono-chan?" Setsuna looked at Konoka expectantly. She had a lot more experience in these matters than she did, that was for sure.

Konoka peered at the screen, evaluating the names of the themes and the thumbnails of some of the borders contained within. She looked back at Setsuna with a sly smile. "Close your eyes. I want to make it a surprise."

Setsuna frowned, glanced again at the screen, and decided all the themes seemed harmless enough. "Well, alright, Kono-chan." She closed her eyes slowly, still somewhat suspicious.

Various beeps and whirs followed her plunge into self-induced blindness, and did nothing to help her anxiety. After several noise-filled seconds, Konoka tugged on her sleeve. "C'mon, Secchan! Smile!"

Setsuna tried her best to get into having her picture taken. It wasn't something she normally did, being camera-shy as she was, and it being with Kono-chan made it harder still. For the first two pictures, Setsuna wasn't as close to, or as interactive, as Konoka had hoped, but after a couple of shots, she began to loosen up. Eventually Konoka was even able to put an arm around her and draw her closer for what she hoped was a really good shot.

By the time the fifth shot was ready to be taken, Setsuna decided to take a bit of the incentive. She only hoped her blush wouldn't show up too much in the picture. She quickly and easily picked Konoka up and sat her gently on her lap, resting her head on her shoulder. She could feel the tell-tale heat of a blush run over her entire body, but willed herself to stay put. Besides, it was nice having Kono-chan so close.

Konoka looked down at Setsuna in surprise, but took the hint and curled up against her, resting her head atop her Secchan's. The picture snapped, and the timer cycled for the next, but neither of them moved. The last of the first round of pictures snapped, taking the same photo as the fifth had, but neither of them minded. Even Setsuna, in the privacy of the small booth, was satisfied.

As the pictures processed and were loaded into the chosen frame, Setsuna watched them load impatiently. When they finally did, her already bright blush was enough to practically light up the darkened booth. "What did you do, Kono-chan?" She pointed at the picture's frame.

Konoka giggled. "Isn't it cute, Secchan?" Setsuna moved her mouth inarticulately, and eventually mumbled a reply. It sounded like an affirmative reply, but was very clearly filled with embarrassment. Konoka smiled again and tapped at the sixth picture on the line-up, one of them with her on Setsuna's lap. Before the taller of the girls could stop her, she tapped the print button. With a whir, the machine set to printing the dual set of cards.

"This time, we're going to pick the frames TOGETHER. No more surprises." She tried to cast a serious gaze at Konoka, but failed. In truth, she rather liked the frame and picture that Konoka had chosen. Around the border of the picture were pure white clouds set against an azure sky. Small light-pink hearts sat atop the clouds at seemingly random places.

It was nearly five minutes before the cards were complete, and when they fell from the slot within the booth, Setsuna quickly scooped them up, anxious to see how they turned out. She handed Kono-chan's to her, and continued to gaze at her copy. It's actually a pretty good picture. And the border DOES go well with it. She blushed again at the mere memory, and the fact that Kono-chan was still sitting in her lap.

Setsuna fed the machine enough for another round of picture-taking, and this time took command of the frame choosing. Altogether, they purchased three more sets of pictures. The best of the second set involved a background based as a spoof of a popular movie, and depicted the two of them holding "guns" in poses suggesting they were ready for any danger. The third set was a simple woodland scene with trees going up both sides of the frame, and a river running through the background. It appeared as if Setsuna was leaning against one of the trees, her arms clasped around Konoka. The final set were a rather a rather cliché set, but they came out well. Bars covered the two girls, concrete walls visible at all edges of the cards. Shadows obscured most of their bodies, giving a particularly evil cast to Setsuna's face. Konoka found the evil-look funny, for a reason Setsuna was unable to fathom, and was more than happy to have her four cards. She hadn't actually expected any from Setsuna. She really must've been in a good mood. She looked for several seconds at the cloudy and foresty cards, most proud of them.

Setsuna poked her head out of the booth and glanced around for a clock. She spotted one near the main door. Wow. It's that late already? She sat back down in the booth. "Kono-chan, I think we need to get going.

Disappointment flourished over Konoka's expression. "Really? What time is it, Secchan?"

"Almost 3:00. I'm supposed to meet with your grandfather for a meeting about security of the school at around 5:00." I'll have to talk to him about Tsukuyomi too. "Sorry, Kono-chan. You've probably got things you need to do too. I don't want to take all of your time today."

Konoka shook her head. "I don't have anything else to do, Secchan. I like spending time with you." She laid a hand on Setsuna's shoulder.

Setsuna patted her hand and smiled at her. "This is one of the best days I've had in a long time, Kono-chan. But with the weather getting worse, and me having a meeting, we really do need to head back."

Konoka sighed, but nodded. "Okay then." She organized her pictures and waited as Setsuna slid out of the booth, then followed her. As she stepped out of the booth, the room unaccountably spun slightly, and she placed a hand against the side of the brightly colored booth to retain her balance.

Immediately, Setsuna was standing before her. "What's wrong, Kono-chan? Are you feeling okay?" She tipped Konoka's chin up so she could look into her eyes better. Konoka nodded slowly.

"Yeah, I just got a little dizzy, that's all." Setsuna frowned, then brushed Konoka's bangs from in front of her face, and pressed her forehead against Kono-chan's.

Before her own blush caused her face to warm too much to take much of a temperature reading, Setsuna noticed that Konoka had a DEFINITE fever. It wasn't high enough to warrant the calling of an ambulance, but they definitely needed to get back to the Academy. "C'mon, Kono-chan." Setsuna grabbed their bags with one hand, and one of Konoka's hands with the other, and started at a fast walk for the exit. "We're going home, and you're going to bed. I KNEW I should've made you keep your jacket earlier."

It wasn't long, thankfully, that they were at the train station, awaiting the train that would whisk them back to what had become their home. The once chill wind had become unseasonably cold, and an icy rain had begun to fall slowly as they had walked. Now the two of them stood, soaked to the bone, in the middle of the expansive station. Konoka huddled close to the warmth that was her Secchan, trying to stop herself from shivering. Setsuna had her arm wrapped around Konoka's shoulders, looking down the tracks for the light and whistle that signaled the approach of the large transport. "It should be here soon, Kono-chan." She reassured the chocolate-haired girl yet again, sparing a glance at the station's large clock.

"I hope so. It's so cold…" Konoka snuggled up against Secchan more, finally surrendering to the persistent shivers. "I'm sorry the day ended up so bad, Secchan."

Setsuna looked down at Konoka and sighed. "It's not your fault, Kono-chan." She smoothed Konoka's long bangs out of her face as she looked up at her knight. "This is probably the most fun I've had since you left Kyoto." She smiled warmly. "I hope you had as much fun."

Konoka's eyes brightened, and she nodded. "I did. It was so nice to be out with just you. Kinda like old times." She sighed happily, despite her physical discomfort, and rested her head against Setsuna's chest.

They remained in comfortable, companionable silence until a low roar shook the air around them. Setsuna looked down to find that Konoka had actually fallen asleep against her. She must really be feeling bad. She's usually so energetic. It hurt to see her Kono-chan sick like this. A sharp pain in her heart. She shook Konoka's shoulder gently. "C'mon, Kono-chan. The train's here." Konoka didn't respond, merely sighed and slumped against Setsuna further. She mumbled something in her fitful sleep, that Setsuna thought was her name, but couldn't be sure. Whatever it was made her blush, yet again.

The train's doors hissed open, and Setsuna made a decision. It's best not to wake Kono-chan... To avoid doing so, she knelt and scooped Konoka's long legs over one arm, her other supporting her shoulders and head. Konoka mumbled somewhat more, and turned her head, nestling it in the crook of Setsuna's neck. Well, doesn't THIS feel familiar. Carrying her sleeping friend, Setsuna stepped aboard the train and quickly made her way to a seat. As gently as possible, she lowered Konoka into one of the well padded seats.

According to the station-master, it would be around an hour and a half before the train reached Mahora. Looks like I'm going to be a bit late... Setsuna thought as she lowered herself into the seat beside Konoka, setting her packages into the seat nearest the middle of the train. Considering the time, the train was oddly empty. More than likely, most everyone had already sought shelter from the rain elsewhere. Whatever the reason, Setsuna was thankful.

She reclined as much as she could in her seat and sighed deeply. "Secchan?" Her eyes fluttered open immediately, and she looked at Konoka.

"You're awake! I was trying not to wake you, Kono-chan. I'm sorry."

"No, that's okay. I'm sorry I fell asleep. I'm just so tired." As if on cue, a yawn broke into her speech, and she stretched comfortably. "I think I'll go back to sleep though. Please wake me when we get back, okay?"

Setsuna nodded. "Sure, Kono-chan." She pulled some of their new clothes from the bags and rolled them up. "Lean forward, Kono-chan. This should make a nice pillow." Konoka resisted somewhat, but Setsuna's insistent demands that she do so won out, and Konoka was soon falling to sleep against Setsuna's sweater. "Sweet dreams, Kono-chan." Setsuna smiled warmly at the girl and once again pushed her wet bangs out of her eyes. Konoka nodded, and was again asleep.

An hour and a half later, the train stopped at Mahora Academy Station. Setsuna turned to Konoka, and reached to shake her awake, but stopped. Her face held a look of complete peace, a small smile gracing her countenance. Setsuna sighed. I just CAN'T wake her up now... She glanced at the clock. Way late for my meeting anyway. Ah well. She closed her eyes as well as the doors hissed closed, and the train began to thunder forward, the school retreating into the distance.

For another 2 and half hours, the two slept on the comfortable train, feeling entirely whole in each others company. Setsuna was jarred awake as the long transport again braked at the entrance to Mahora. This time, Konoka's eyes fluttered open as well, and she looked around the train as if she didn't remember why she was here. Her sleepy gaze fell on Setsuna, who smiled at her, and was gifted with one in return. "Shall we?" Rubbing the sleep from her eyes, Setsuna stepped into the aisle and motioned for Konoka to go first.

Konoka nodded and pulled herself out of the seat, allowing herself a second to stretch her fatigued body. She picked up Setsuna's sweater and walked into the aisle ahead of her Secchan. She walked unsteadily down the short extendable steps at the edge of the train car, back under the shelter of the station. Outside, the rain had picked up immensely, bringing a sigh from Konoka.

Without asking for permission, or even second-thinking herself, Setsuna again scooped Konoka into her arms and took off into the rain. Surprisingly, Konoka didn't say anything, merely snuggled against Setsuna, already feeling the effects of the rain. Setsuna sprinted up the wide stairs into the entrance of the school. Traffic within the school was pretty light too, something for which Setsuna was thankful. It would be…awkward to come across one of their classmates, then have to explain why Setsuna was carrying her friend.

She bounded easily up the stairs, and noticed that Konoka had already fallen fast asleep in her arms. No wonder she hasn't said anything. Setsuna smiled sadly down at her friend. She wished there were something more she could for Kono-chan. Somehow take the sickness, pain, whatever upon herself. Anything to make Konoka feel better. That sounds so sappy... But that was exactly what her heart was practically yelling at her.

They didn't encounter any of their classmates the entire trek to Konoka's, Asuna's, and Negi's room. Setsuna sighed thankfully when she found that the door was unlocked. The carefully pushed it open and flipped the light on gingerly, trying not to wake Konoka. She looked around, seeing that no-one was there. As gently as she could, she deposited Konoka on her bed.

She stood back and observed her friend. Her clothes were soaking wet, and it certainly wouldn't do her any good to go to sleep in those. She'd probably be sicker by morning. I guess there's only one thing to do then... Setsuna began roving about the room, poking her head into storage spaces and drawers, but found nothing that looked like pajamas. For a good fifteen minutes, she scowered the room. I KNOW they're around here somewhere! She kneaded her temples in frustration as she felt a headache coming on. Well, she really can't sleep in those wet clothes...

Several minutes, and a full-bodied blush later, Konoka was under the soft blankets of her bed, stripped of all her wet clothing. And indeed, Setsuna found that she was COMPLETELY soaked, thus causing the rather substantial blush. Not knowing what else to do with the clothes, Setsuna folded them and placed them on the floor at the end of Konoka's bed. She stooped over the edge of the bed and brought her face close to Konoka's. She touched their foreheads together, and noted that her temperature had fallen slightly. Good. She yet again brushed Konoka's brown hair from her face, and placed a kiss on her cheek. "Good night, Kono-chan." She stood slowly and turned towards the hallway. She stopped at the door and looked back at the girl who had come to mean so much to her. With a small smile, she flipped the lights off and slowly closed the door behind her.