Tears of an Angel

It was nearly a month after their initial date, and life was back to normal as Konoka and Setsuna knew it. Rather, it was back to the way it had become as of late. Now, if one wished to find either Konoka or Setsuna, one merely had to find the other. Setsuna's nearly trademarked uncomfortable blush was a common sight, due mainly to Konoka's tendency to hang on her arm, or hold her hand, wrap her arms possessively around her, and on occasion, to land a small kiss somewhere. The latter usually resulted in Setsuna finding a reason to suddenly flee the room with Konoka trailing after her.

It was obvious despite these shows, that Setsuna truly reciprocated these feelings. Her meaningful glances in Konoka's direction during class, her continuous blushing, and the rare instances in which SHE would initiate a small touch or other affectionate gesture, proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that she was entirely smitten.

For the most part, 3A was happy for them, railing their full support behind the couple. A few of their classmates were wary of, or even disgusted by their relationship, the resident net-idol in particular--but they were the students who were ignored as a general rule, and no-one paid them any mind.

Setsuna was happier now than she had ever been in her life. She felt so much...freer now that everyone knew how she felt about Konoka, and that Konoka unquestionably accepted her lineage. Being so near to Kono-chan introduced a perpetual feeling of warmth that Setsuna had never felt before. When she had been little, the members of Shinmeiryuu treated her as a student, but no more. None opened their hearts to her, and for the longest time her only friend was the sword that she kept by her side. She worked with zeal born of loneliness to perfect her sword skills, and quickly came to be considered a child prodigy to the Shinmeiryuu line. Her skill was only known within the Shinmeiryuu though. Her demonic lineage caused them to worry of what would happen if she were to become desperate in a competitive fight; and she thus led a sheltered childhood.

It wasn't until the daughter of a powerful mage was introduced to her that she began to feel the first pangs of love of any sort. Konoka was the first to be with her merely to have fun, and for the sake of enjoying her company. The games they played were Setsuna's first, the first shaved ice Setsuna'd had had been with Konoka. The same was true of the cheerful brown-haired girl. Being raised in a family of some influence, she'd not been allowed to go out on her own to play with friends, or most of the things the average child did. She was tutored for the most part at home, and played with the staff around the Konoe household.

All things considered, the idea of them being each other's first and true loves wasn't a difficult concept to grasp, and most accepted it with open arms. For this, Setsuna was thankful, even if she wasn't the greatest at displaying her affection. Although after their date, she had indeed become a bit more open with her feelings, especially when with Konoka.

She was somewhat dreading the following week, however. Wednesday was White Valentines Day, and she was utterly lost as to what she was going to do. Normally, the somewhat obscure holiday would have meant nothing to her, but this year, it was quite different. A month ago, Kono-chan had presented Setsuna with a box of hand-made chocolates, and a subsequent kiss on the cheek. For the entire rest of the day, her blush hadn't died down. That night, she'd lain on the top bunk in her room, wrapped lightly in a blanket, and slowly eaten the chocolates. They'd been delicious. She'd decided that night as she was drifting off to sleep, to get something for Kono-chan on White Valentines Day.

Now, the time of reckoning was nigh, and she hadn't a clue what to do. She'd decided to speak to Tatsumiya Mana, a close friend of hers, about how to proceed. The dark skinned girl was an excellent source of advice. She had intended on asking before class started, but circumstances prevented her from doing so. Circumstances that involved Konoka trapping her on her seat by plopping happily into her lap. THAT had been an embarrassing moment.

By the time Konoka had relented and dashed off to her own seat, Negi had begun his lecture, leaving Setsuna no chance to pull the gunner off to the side. I guess I'll have to wait until after our meeting with the Headmaster. The very thought of attending the meeting made her angry. Tsukuyomi had not only been allowed into Mahora, but the Headmaster had set her up on the security team along with Mana and Setsuna. From now on, the two Shinmeiryuu would be forced to work together. Already, Setsuna found herself giving the girl credit. She was good, she had to give her that much.

Setsuna gazed across the class at Tatsumiya, willing her to look at her, but to no avail. Instead, she decided to look at Kono-chan. She turned slightly and flashed a smile at Konoka, who waved in reply, a wide smile crossing her face. How is she so cute? Setsuna returned the smile and turned back in her seat to find Negi standing before her, an amused grin on his face.

"Would you like to translate the next passage, Setsuna-san?" Setsuna blushed as she realized she hadn't heard a word he'd said since he'd began.

"Uh...no thank you, Negi-sensei." She grinned feebly, hoping he'd accept that as an answer.

"Are you sure, Setsuna-san?"

Persistent brat... "I suppose I could try, Negi-sensei." He smiled at her and backed away so she'd have room to stand. Still slightly flushed, she picked up her textbook and got to her feet. With a low cough to clear her throat, she began the translation.

The school day dragged on, as Mondays often do, tearing at Konoka's patience. It was so annoying to not be able to talk to Secchan during class. Even if they weren't actually talking, it was nice to just sit by her. She simply stared at the back of Secchan's head, trying to puzzle out how her hair was pulled to side, and yet didn't look horrible when she let the pony-tail down. By all rights, it should be really messed up. There were several things about Secchan which puzzled Konoka, her hair being merely one of them. Another was how she always managed to smell like peppermint. Was it her shampoo, or her body wash, or something entirely different? Another was her unprecedented ability to sense what Konoka was feeling. She was amazingly emphatic. She was such a puzzle, but of course, Konoka loved a good puzzle.

She knew fairly well how Secchan felt about her, the way she acted lately was proof positive that she at least liked her that way. But as it neared the 14th of March, painful doubts began to surface in her heart. The rather obscure holiday known as White Valentine's Day was close at hand, and Secchan had shown no indication that she even knew of the day, let alone had plans for it. Maybe I've been wrong about how she feels... She dismissed the thought immediately. If Secchan didn't feel the way she thought she did, she wouldn't've surprised her with a hug from behind the day before yesterday near the fountain in the courtyard.

Asuna watched from beside her, a small smile crossing her own face. Of anyone, she knew the situation best. For the most part, she was around them constantly. She knew for fact that they loved each other, for she had front row seats to the couple's more intimate actions. Setsuna was now a common fixture in their room, and Asuna saw all that went on. With only Asuna around, Setsuna was more apt to cuddle Konoka, or to sit together doing their homework and eating Konoka's snack of the day. Once, Konoka had fallen asleep in Setsuna's arms, and Setsuna had decided to stay the entire night, uncomfortable as she was sitting against the side of the bed, so as not to wake her Kono-chan from an obviously peaceful sleep.

"You've really got a good thing going with Setsuna-san, you know?"

Konoka turned in surprise and looked at her red-haired friend, rather perplexed by the dreamy expression in her eyes. "You really think so?" Asuna nodded, her smile never wavering. "I think so too." Konoka grinned, her face practically shining with happiness.

With a happy sigh, Konoka settled back into her seat, waiting for the rest of the school-day to pass, and for her time with Secchan to begin.

The old school bell called shrilly throughout the expansive campus, a welcome sound to any student. Negi stopped writing the sentence he'd been putting on the board as a wave of chattering rushed to the front of the room. Chairs scraped harshly against the floor as his students stood and gathered their stuff. With a sigh, he turned back to the class. "I'll see you guys tomorrow. Don't forget your homework." Everyone who was still paying attention nodded. Although he sighed, he wasn't worried. For the most part, his students were good, and he'd see their homework complete the next day. "Have a nice day." As he sat down at his desk and began gathering his books and sheaves of papers, Konoka bounced up to Secchan, wrapping her arms around her shoulders as she stood up.

"You don't have another meeting with Gramps today, do you Secchan?" Her blushing companion picked up her books slowly and looked at Konoka apologetically.

"Yes, I do have a meeting." With Tatsumiya too. "It may last a bit longer this time though, so I might not be over for supper with you, Asuna-san, and Negi-sensei." I was looking forward to Kono-chan's fried chicken too...

Konoka's shoulders slumped a little in disappointment. "But I was going to bake a cake too."

"Well, if you're going to bake a cake, I'll just have to find a way to get there on time, right?" She smiled at Konoka as her mood seemed to brighten at Setsuna's words. "I'll do my best, Kono-chan."

It was within seconds after Konoka hopped up and kissed Setsuna on the cheek that the swordswoman had uttered a goodbye and rushed from the room. Asuna chuckled as she approached Konoka. "You just love doing that to her, don't you?"

Konoka nodded. "Yup. She looks SO cute when she blushes like that." Konoka followed Asuna as she stepped past her and out of the classroom into the hallway. As normal, the halls of the academy were crowded with students hurrying on their way to more interesting diversions. Also as was normal, Konoka latched onto the back of Asuna's school jacket, ensuring she wouldn't be lost in the tides of people as they rushed around her. After several moments, they broke through the crowd of students into the courtyard, and Konoka released the tail of her friend's jacket. Asuna stood patiently against a pillar as Konoka readied her ever-present skates for use.

"Okay, I'm ready, Asuna." Asuna nodded and took off at her usual run while Konoka rolled up easily beside her, a pleasant smile on her face. They traveled in silence for a bit before Konoka decided to voice her concerns. "Asuna, has Secchan mentioned to you any plans she's got for this week?" She managed to keep her voice even.

They rounded a corner, and Asuna shook her head. "I can't think of anything." She stopped and waited for Konoka to circle back to her before continuing. "You worried about something, Konoka?"

The chocolate-haired girl raised her hands defensively. "No no no, Asuna." She grinned at her. "I'm not worried about anything. What makes you say that?"

Asuna narrowed her multi-colored eyes. "You're worried about you and Setsuna-san, aren't you. Has she done something?" She practically glared at the shorter girl.

Konoka started to protest, but Asuna cleared her throat menacingly and she conceded. "You remember on Valentine's Day, I stayed up all night making those chocolates for Secchan?" Asuna nodded. "Well, Wednesday's White Valentine's Day, and I was wondering if you'd heard anything from her about what she plans to do." She began to ramble as her worries began to break free.

"I mean, what if she doesn't get me anything? I know it sounds kind of selfish, but would that mean she doesn't feel the same way I do? Have I judged her wrong, Asuna?" Tears were beginning to form at the edges of her clear eyes. "Does it mean I'm a bad person that I doubt Secchan like this?" Asuna stepped up beside her as her small shoulders began to heave slightly and her breathing got irregular.

She wrapped her arms around her friend's shoulders and pulled her closer. Abandoning her tenuous emotional control, Konoka cried softly into her shoulder, trying to mutter an apology at the same time. Asuna merely patted the back of her head comfortingly, speaking nonsense in hushed tones to sooth her. It wasn't until a large wet spot had been created on her shoulder than Konoka was calm enough to be talked to normally. Asuna gently held her at arms length and looked into her eyes.

"I know Setsuna-san's not going to let you down, Konoka. I've seen the way the two of you act. She's definitely thinking of something for you, but just hasn't told anyone." She smiled. "She probably just wants to surprise you."

Konoka wiped the remaining tears from her face and hazarded a grin. "You really think so?" Asuna nodded, and Konoka flushed soon after. "I feel so horrible about thinking so badly of Secchan, now."

Asuna shrugged. "Don't be. It's human nature, I guess. It just shows you care." She patted Konoka on the back good-naturedly. "C'mon. We'd better get back soon if you plan on having a cake ready for Setsuna-san."

With a genuine smile, Konoka nodded and took off down the street, her skates tapping an even rhythm on the pavement.

With some small amount of impatience, Setsuna opened the large door to the headmaster's office, causing it to squeak loudly on its aged hinges. She inhaled deeply of the smell of cedar and old books that seemed to pervade the expansive room. With great care, she stood her sword, Yuunagi, against one of the Headmaster's bookshelves. She wasn't allowed to carry it around the school normally, but if she was in the administrative section of the campus, she was allowed it as a symbol of status. She, Mana, and now Tsukuyomi actually held a small amount of authority even among the teachers. The teachers who truly knew the three understood why, but the ignorant were rather grudgeful of them.

She was glad that Tatsumiya and Tsukuyomi were already there; they could begin the meeting at once, then she'd have a chance to speak to the gunner alone about Kono-chan. As she walked up to her two fellow guards, Tsukuyomi waved in a friendly manner that Setsuna hardly returned. It didn't seem to dent the younger girl's perpetual good mood though, and she simply smiled at her "Sempai" as she had taken to calling her raven-haired superior. "Good afternoon, Tatsumiya." She nodded at her associate and smiled slightly.

The dark-skinned girl returned the gesture and stepped aside slightly so Setsuna could stand between her and the other swordswoman. "You're just in time, Setsuna. We were told by Takahata-sensei that the Headmaster might be running a bit late today. A staff meeting ran late."

She nodded, slightly annoyed at once again having to postpone her talk. "Tatsumiya, I'd like to speak with you in private after the meeting."

She raised an eyebrow at Setsuna's request, but nodded. "Certainly. Perhaps you can walk with me back to the temple." What could be troubling Setsuna enough to seek advice from me? She decided to file it away till later. It wasn't like she wouldn't be hearing about it.

"Thank you." Beside them Tsukuyomi stood in somewhat envious silence. For as long as she remembered, she'd had few friends because of her continuous training with the Shinmeiryuu. She'd always thought she was a friendly and outgoing person though. She'd hoped that by coming to Mahora, she'd make some friends. Her luck had been fairly good so far, in that respect. Her class had taken to her fast enough, and she had several good acquaintances among them. In the upper-class, the story was a bit different though. Some knew of what she'd done against Konoe Konoka, and treated her with naught but distrust and disdain. Others didn't care either way; she was just another student. But Tatsumiya-san had treated her with nothing but respect, and she was quite thankful. She'd even been kind enough to invite her to the temple she frequented for tea. These meetings and subsequent missions were the one of the things that she looked forward to.

For several moments, they stood together in the high-raftered room, each occupied with their own separate musings and concerns, until the doors opened slowly, admitting a slightly hunched older man. He shuffled slowly into the room, muttering to himself, probably something related to the meeting he'd come from, a stack of papers under his right arm. He looked up at the three girls before him and nodded.

"Good afternoon, girls. I'm sorry I'm late, but the fools on the Board of Education are breathing down my neck."

"That's not a problem, sir. We didn't have long to wait." Setsuna reassured him, secretly cursing the man for his slow pace. He slowly settled into his chair, placing his stack of papers onto the desk, shoving them carelessly next to a stack of papers that seemed to hold a thin layer of dust. "I'm sure you've all got things you'd rather do than stand around here, so let's get this meeting under way."

Well, now I know were Kono-chan gets her empathy from. Setsuna reflexively stood at almost military attention as she launched herself into her customary report. "Nothing has, to either our nor Evangeline-san's knowledge, crossed the barrier since our last meeting, and there have consequently been no skirmishes. We have heard that one of the magic outposts in the north has had an outbreak of monsters, though. We've been on guard in case they migrate towards us."

Tatsumiya and Tsukuyomi both nodded their agreement, but remained silent. Behind the desk, Konoe Konoemon frowned thoughtfully. "Have the monsters in the north been very powerful?"

Setsuna took a second to consider before answering. In truth, they didn't really know. They'd not been informed if there'd been much trouble disposing of them, but since they did indeed send warning, they were apparently worth mentioning. Might as well say as much. "We don't really know for sure. They did tell us, so they were apparently worth writing about, but they did not specify that they gave them a tough time or anything. We just can't say at this point."

The old man nodded. "If that's the case, I suppose there's little more we can do to fortify ourselves for now. Keep me appraised of the situation."

All three girls bowed, sensing the finality in the statement. "Certainly, sir."

"You are dismissed then." He smiled in a grandfatherly fashion at them. "Except you, Setsuna-kun. I'd like a word with you."

Why me? Why now? "Yes sir." She turned to her dark-skinned friend. "Would you please wait for me? I hope this won't take very long."

Tatsumiya nodded. "Of course. If it gets too late, I'll have to go. Just drop by the temple later if that happens, though." Setsuna nodded as Mana turned towards the door, Tsukuyomi at her side, already asking a question of her relatively new-found friend.

When the large door was entirely shut, Konoemon spoke again. "I've noticed that you've been very close to my grand-daughter as of late." He raised an eyebrow. "Is there any particular reason? A danger I've not been informed of?"

Setsuna immediately felt her face redden, and her knees weaken somewhat. Oh no! Does he know? Does he not approve? "No sir, no danger."

He again raised a bushy white eyebrow. "If there's no danger, what IS the reason, Setsuna-kun?" His voice was perfectly tuned to allow no hint of his thoughts to be gleaned from it.

She swallowed a sudden lump in her throat before answering in a significantly quieter voice. "I've...grown rather...fond, of Kono-cha-Konoka-ojousama."

He nodded in understanding. "I see. And what are your intentions with this, 'fondness?'"

He's just GOT to be the inquisitive sort, doesn't he? "I intend...only the best for Konoka-ojousama." That title sounds kind of weird now... "Rather, my goal is her happiness and safety, whatever that may entail."

The elderly man broke his poker face and smiled again at her. "I think I know what you're trying to say, and I think you'd feel a lot better if you just said it. It's not like it's a secret anymore."

Setsuna reddened still more, but managed to more or less keep her composure. She was silent for a moment, processing any possible underlying meanings, then decided there were none. "You mean that's not a problem with you? I thought you wanted to get her into an arranged marriage."

He steepled his fingers before him. "I would like to see Konoka happy first and foremost. I've seen the way she acts around you, and I must say that I've never seen her happier. As far as I'm concerned, your relationship is completely okay."

"So you're perfectly fine with the fact that I'm...in love with Konoka-ojousama?" Her face was as fire, although it felt as if a great weight had been lifted from her by merely stating the fact before someone else.

Konoemon nodded. "I'm very happy about it, actually. I feel better knowing that Konoka will be with someone so capable of both loving and protecting her for the rest of her life. If it makes you feel better about it, the two of you have my blessings. Although I was rather looking forward to great-grandchildren."

Setsuna attempted a faltering smile. "I'm sorry, sir."

"Don't call me 'sir,' Setsuna-kun. You may as well call me 'Gramps' like Konoka does." He wheezed in what Setsuna assumed was a laugh after his statement, and nearly sent himself into a fit of coughing.

Surprisingly, Setsuna didn't argue with the change of address, but merely nodded. There was something bothering her though. "Do you think Kono-chan's father will approve of us?"

At this, Konoemon's jovial mood seemed to evaporate. "That is something I'm not so sure of. He is most interested in Konoka's happiness, but also in continuing the Konoe line. When she was married, her husband was to have taken the Konoe name, rather than her take his. With a situation like this, I'm not sure what his response would be."

Setsuna nodded. She hadn't really expected a definitive answer, and what she got was actually more informative than she'd expected. "I hope he'll consider how Kono-chan and myself feel before making a decision." She held up her hands defensively as she realized how far the conversation had strayed. "We're really going way too far into the future though! Neither of us are even 15 yet. Despite how we feel now, the situation may be different in a few years."

Konoemon shook his head, an almost sad smile forming on his face. "You're just afraid to think that far into the future. It's clear that neither of you will stray from the other." He winked at her, although it was difficult to tell for his abundance of facial hair. "I suggest you get used to the idea of being "Konoe Setsuna." If Eishun does allow you to marry Konoka, you can bet there will be a name-change involved."

The actual mentioning of marriage was more than Setsuna could handle, and with as much speed as possible, she uttered a 'thank you' and 'goodbye' and was out the door with her sword. The headmaster grinned and leaned back in his chair, which squeaked slightly in protest. She loves Konoka so much...

"What did the headmaster have to say?" Mana inquired as Setsuna pushed the large doors closed and leaned back against them as if fortifying against an enemy, a heavy blush on her face.

The raven-haired girl resisted the glare that threatened to cross her face; she could sense the sarcasm that laced her friend's question. "He wanted to discuss Konoka and I." She still flushed at the mere mention of the future of their relationship when among her classmates.

Mana smiled and pushed herself off from the wall, taking her stuff in her hand and starting slowly down the hallway. "I'm assuming this is what you wish to discuss?" She didn't bother looking back at her associate.

"Yes." She tried to suppress another blush. "It is, my friend."

The dark-skinned girl nodded. "Would you rather wait until we're alone?"

"Please." Setsuna cast a distrustful eye on the still-large congregation of students lingering within the wide halls. Don't they have anything better to do?

The duo walked in their usual silence for several moments, Mana allowing Setsuna to organize her thoughts a bit more than they probably were at this point. She had known of, or at least suspected, their relationship for quite a while; even before the fateful field trip, when she had caught Setsuna watching Konoka in silence, a strange softness in her eyes. She was a little surprised of Konoka's feelings, though. She hadn't expected such feelings of one who was supposed to have an arranged marriage. It's an odd combination indeed...

By the time they reached the small forest around the shrine and its grounds, they were alone but for the birds that had made the area their home. Setsuna had relaxed visibly, her hands were now free of Yuunagi's hilt. Her eyes, however, were still stormy.

"Have you been well lately?" Best to ease into such an apparently touchy subject... As Setsuna turned to answer, Mana absently began to play with one of her long strands of hair that hung before her.

"I've been fine." Silence dropped again, and Setsuna began to fidget as they walked further into the green paradise.

With a sigh, Mana turned around, walking backwards, and stepped in front of Setsuna. "So, what's got you so worked up?" Her strong gaze left no room for argument.

Setsuna blushed and shifted her sword nervously. "It's Kono-chan." Mana raised an eyebrow, and Setsuna rapidly shook her head, her pony-tail flopping about. "Nothing bad. I'm just...confused, I guess." Mana nodded for her to continue, and Setsuna did so with an uncomfortable cough. "Wednesday is White Valentine's Day, as you probably know, and I'm completely clueless as to what to get Kono-chan."

Mana nodded again. "Does Konoka know you intend to get something?"

"Well, I didn't tell her, but..." Setsuna trailed off, breaking her eye contact with her taller friend.

"Aaaah. I see." Mana fell back to Setsuna's side, never breaking stride. "Well, for starters, what did she get you for Valentine's Day?"

"A bunch of chocolates that she made herself. Asuna later told me that she stayed up all night making them." Her face took on a look of sadness. "She did all that, and I can't think of a single thing to get her."

The look on Setsuna's face was almost enough to make Mana reach out and pat her shoulder reassuringly, but she resisted. Physically, Setsuna is strong, but she is infantile when it comes to her own emotions. If she is to be with Konoka, she needs to strengthen the emotions that bond them beyond a shadow of a doubt as to their firmness. I think that is the best place to start. "Setsuna, I want you to think about Konoka. Nothing else, just Konoka."

She raised an eyebrow skeptically, but stopped walking and did as she was told. She was silent for several moments as Mana came to stand before her. Mana spoke up. "Now, think of Konoka and you, together." Setsuna blushed and shifted from one foot to the other. "What emotions come to mind?"

Setsuna blushed yet more but did answer. "Happiness...and some sadness. Altogether, it's very...safe, and...warm." Sounds like something out of a novel...

Mana nodded knowledgably. "Why is there sadness?"

Setsuna frowned in concentration. "...because I'm too weak to open up to her completely. I still hold back."


"...I don't know. I guess it's my...blood-line." Before Mana could step in, Setsuna cleared her throat and continued. "I know she said she doesn't care, but I can't help still feeling insecure about it. As long as I can remember, I was taught that it was a trait I should be ashamed of, and keep hidden. It's so difficult to reveal it entirely, even to Konoka." She sighed as if defeated.

She felt Mana's hand on her elbow. "Let's go." Setsuna's eyes fluttered open, and she stepped forward, allowing herself to be led by the amateur priestess.

The last of their walk to the temple was in reflective silence. Now I feel worse than before. Setsuna frowned. Not only do I still not know what to get Kono-chan, I feel like I haven't been open with her. Great. She was tempted to glare at her friend, but resisted. It had been her idea to begin with, after all.

They stepped through the Torii gates which marked the entrance to the shrine, each gazing in silent appreciation at the trees that grew on the grounds. They were lush and green, and the great amount of care and attention that was paid them was obvious. Even as they crossed to the shrine proper, Mana carefully plucked a broken branch from a nearby tree. They abandoned their shoes at the entrance and stepped up onto the smooth wooden floors.

Setsuna breathed deeply of the clean air, unmarred by food, metal, or garbage, or other unnatural substances. She felt herself relax as memories of training on similar floors, Kono-chan watching, flooded her thoughts. One of her most prized memories was one when , in a fit of anger and frustration, one of the masters had struck her with more force than was necessary, sending her sliding across the smooth floors. With a cry, Konoka had dashed across the dojo to her side. That night, Konoka had been at her bed-side the entire night, and even managed to weasel an apology from the offending master. It was only when Konoe Eishun himself came to the dojo to retrieve his daughter that she parted from Setsuna the next day. Sighing, she dismissed the memory and sat lightly where Mana indicated.

"I'll just be a moment." The darker-skinned girl stated before stepping through a doorway, sliding the shoji closed behind her, leaving Setsuna lone in the shrine's main room. Sighing happily, she abandoned the seiza position she had been sitting in out of habit. She avoided the painful form of sitting whenever possible. It had been a continuous thorn in her side since she had started living with the Shinmeiryuu.

It wasn't long before the sound of a sliding shoji marked the return of Setsuna's classmate who had disposed of the dead branch and changed into stereotypical outfit of a priestess. She carefully slapped the wide legs of her red hakama out of the way and elegantly lowered herself to seiza. "Now, we can talk with some privacy." With a quiet groan, Setsuna shifted herself back to the seiza position.

Mana stifled a short laugh at Setsuna's reluctance to sit in seiza. "Now, it is my opinion that you should use the opportunity presented to you right now to patch up the only hole in your relationship."

Setsuna nodded, clearly waiting for Mana to elaborate. "I think it would be best if you didn't get her a present, so much as do something...that you would only do for Konoka. Something uniquely of you." Her expression communicated her meaning better than her words, but Setsuna still frowned slightly.

"Why do religious and political people speak exclusively in riddles?"

Mana allowed a small grin to cross her normally serious countenance. "For us to know, and you to find out." Setsuna rolled her eyes at the response. Mana folded her hands before her and her gaze changed to one of some wonderment. "Do you even realize how much Konoka has managed to change you already?"

"No..." Setsuna cocked an eyebrow. "Why?"

"When I first met you, you were the coldest, stoniest person I'd ever met. When we first started working together, I wasn't sure we could really become friends. Thankfully, I was proven wrong." Setsuna shifted uncomfortably, wiggling her toes in both discomfort, and in an attempt to restore blood flow. "Now, you may not realize it, but you seem to have warmed up significantly. You're much more open with your emotions. You've even joked a bit as of late."

A slight blush on her cheeks, Setsuna scratched the back of her neck self-consciously. What am I supposed to say to that? Her silence continued, and with a very small chuckle, Mana stood up.

"Sometimes, I guess." Her normal calmness reasserted itself. "As to exactly what you should do about Wednesday, it's ultimately your decision. Only you know how you feel, and how you think Konoka feels. I wish you the best of luck figuring it out." With an air of finality, Tatsumiya bowed briefly to her still-confused friend, then exited once again through the shoji.

Feeling only slightly better, Setsuna stood slowly, being careful not to allow Yuunagi to scuff the polished wood floors. Thinking hard, she mechanically stepped into her shoes at the entrance, and began to retrace her steps into the forest. Something that will patch up the weakness in our relationship... She shook her head. The only weakness is mine, so far as I can tell. Self-consciously, Setsuna wriggled her shoulders slightly; the mere thought of her wings causing the area they sprung from to itch slightly. I guess that means something to do with my...abnormalities.

Setsuna straightened her back, steeling her expression back into what it had been during her training. If it must be done, then it must be done. It's simply another aspect of myself that I've failed to train enough. Her grip tightened reflexively on Yuunagi's upper sheath. "I've decided."

Setsuna rode the train in silent thought, considering her options. I know I want to get her something nice... She picked carefully through her memories, trying to find a hint at what Kono-chan would want. The train ride was not a long one, and by the time Setsuna stepped into the shopping district, she was still lost as to what would be an appropriate gift.

The normally busy district was not as choked with people milling about making purchases; a small miracle for which Setsuna was much appreciative, as the relative quiet was rather more conducive to thought than the normal level of noise would have been.

She was sure she was the recipient of a number of odd looks as she strolled the sidewalks seemingly without aim, lost in thought, but she didn't care. There was only one person whose opinion on herself concerned her, but it was of great concern. The smell of chocolate caught her attention, and she blinked at the interruption to her thoughts. Well, I AM a little hungry...

She briefly pushed her yet fruitless memory scan from her immediate thoughts and looked around for the origin of the delicious smell. Most of the buildings in the vicinity seemed to merely sell clothes, so it wasn't difficult to find the bakery that was the culprit of the alluring scent. She stepped inside, once again pleased with the relative silence.

As she looked around, she realized that she'd been there before, and that it was rather far from the station. "Must've walked farther than I thought..."

The man before Setsuna stepped forward, and she eagerly stepped up to the counter, surveying the available food through the glass. She immediately focused on the lowest of the shelves; the shelf stocked mainly with chocolates. A wry grin crossed her face. She had been trained as long as she could remember to be entirely impartial, and for the most part, she was successful. Kono-chan had totally blown through the barrier. Chocolate, on the other hand, made it through her defenses differently. A cook working for the Shinmeiryuu had a tendency to bake small chocolate cakes for her in return for Setsuna's assistance in her free time. Since then, chocolate had been one of two weaknesses, second by far to her Kono-chan.

"What would you like miss?" A rather impatient young cashier snapped in a most unfriendly fashion.

Not letting it get to her, Setsuna pointed at a particularly rich looking cake. "I'd like one slice of that, please."

With a nod, the cashier began to slide the glass door open, a cry caused Setsuna to grimace. "Sakurazaki-saaaan! Hi!"

Setsuna slowly turned, her normal indifferent expression returning. "Good afternoon, Saotome-san."

The brown haired artist all but slid to a stop beside Setsuna. "What're you doing here, Sakurazaki-san?" She grinned as she usually did at the swordswoman.

Setsuna raised an eyebrow, hoping to get her desire to be alone communicated to the energetic girl. "I'm purchasing a piece of cake."

Saotome Haruna eyed the piece of chocolate cake now sitting on the glass counter. "Hey, can I have a piece of that too?" With a quick glare, the cashier nodded and again ducked to retrieve the food. Haruna turned back to her classmate and smiled. "So, what's up? I don't usually see you out and about like this."

At even the idea of explaining, Setsuna immediately began reddening. I can't even LIE properly when it comes to Kono-chan... "I'm...shopping."

Haruna instantly picked up on Setsuna's nervousness and grinned, sensing an interesting story. "Shopping? What for?" The cashier sat the second piece of cake on the counter.

"250 Yen, each." Setsuna quickly sat the coins on the counter and, picking up her slice, retreated into the sea of tables and chairs. Not wanting to miss anything, Haruna did the same and quickly followed her new prey.

Setsuna sat quickly in one of the booths, and felt her heart sink as another plate of cake hit the table beside hers. Within seconds, Haruna was seated across from her, grinning in a way Setsuna found to be most disconcerting. "So, what're you shopping for, Sakurazaki-san?"

Setsuna slowly took a small bite of her cake with the spoon provided, savoring the taste, and trying to act like she was barely tolerating Haruna's presence. After she swallowed, she spoke up in the coldest voice she could muster, trying not to let anything slip that wasn't necessary. "I'm shopping for a gift."

Haruna's grin got wider, even as she popped a rather large bite of cake into her mouth. "Is it for Konoka?"

Setsuna nearly choked on her second bite of cake. She could feel the blood rush to her face at having been read so easily. Haruna brought a hand to her mouth and giggled.

"I don't know why you try to hide it, Sakurazaki-san. It's not like it's a secret."

Her grin widened as Setsuna's eyes did the same in surprise. "It's...not?"

"Of course not! After the trip to Kyoto, everyone knows!" She giggled again. "And I thought you were supposed to be observant..."

Setsuna blushed a darker red and sat back in her seat, quite uncomfortable. Silence reigned for several brief moments before Haruna's curiosity again got the best of her. "Is the gift on account of White Valentine's Day?"

Not sure why she was being so open with the class gossip, Setsuna slowly nodded, her gaze not straying from her half-eaten slice of cake.

"Oooooh." She took another large bite of cake before continuing. "Does this mean you two are official now?"

It was almost more than Setsuna could bare. She nodded curtly and stood, leaving her cake on the table in her blushing desire for solitude. With her usual speed, she wove her way through the tables and chairs with ease until she was standing once again on the curb, waiting for traffic to stop and allow her to cross the street. Why do I do that? I'm NOT ashamed of us... She jumped as a hand touched her shoulder, breaking her thoughts.

"Why'd'ya run off like that, Sakurazaki-san? I hit a nerve?" Setsuna didn't have to turn to identify the speaker as Haruna. "I hope you don't mind, but I finished your cake, seeing as how you just left it there. I didn't want it to go to waste."

Setsuna made an attempt to ignore the girl, but guilt began to gnaw at her. She has a right to be curious, I suppose. She IS one of Kono-chan's friends, after all. "I'm simply...uncomfortable on the subject, Saotome-san."

Haruna perked up. "Why're you uncomfortable? If you really love her..."

Setsuna turned on the girl instantly, darkness flashing in her now hard eyes. "Do not question my feelings for Kono-chan, ever." She stood back slightly, recovering herself. "I'm simply...uncomfortable expressing myself to people...unconnected to the relationship."

Haruna grinned. "I'm not questioning you, Sakurazaki-san. It's perfectly clear you love her." She giggled as Setsuna blushed, beginning to understand why Konoka thought it cute. "And hey, you don't have to be so formal with me. Just call me Haruna, okay?"

Setsuna nodded hesitantly. "And if you ever need someone to talk to that you won't feel uncomfortable around, look me up. I'm always up to listening." She smiled, this time genuinely. "Especially when it comes to romance, eh?" She nudged the stoic girl beside her playfully.

Setsuna continued blushing, but again nodded. "I'll consider it, Haruna-san. Thank you for the offer." She was beginning to feel oddly comfortable around the somewhat strange girl. Perhaps it was her general lack of regards for personal space, both physical and emotional. "I just...am not good at expressing myself. I've never been a social person, and talking about things that are so...personal to me are difficult."

Haruna nodded, seemingly knowledgeably. "Well, as long as I know for sure you DO love Konoka, and you're not gonna hurt her," she cringed as Setsuna bristled, "then I'm okay if you don't wanna talk about it. I understand." Setsuna nodded again, and silence descended, except for the chirping of the cross-walk's signal. "Um, I need to go now, Sakurazaki-san." Haruna looked at her watch, then down the street. "I'm supposed to meet Yue seven minutes ago."

Setsuna nodded as she started across the painted lines in the street. "That's fine. Um...thank you for listening, Haruna-san."

"Anytime, Sakurazaki-san!" With a wave, the energetic girl started down the sidewalk at a run, calling out apologies to any she bumped into.

What an odd girl... Setsuna stepped back up onto the sidewalk and started deeper into town, still unsure of what she was getting Konoka exactly. Almost unbidden, a memory of this very street came to mind, and Setsuna focused on it, curious as to its significance. She remembered herself and Konoka walking down the sidewalk, several weeks earlier. They'd passed a relatively popular accessory shop, and Konoka had made a comment, complete with sigh, that she'd love to have...something from there. For the life of her, Setsuna couldn't remember precisely what the item had been. She DID remember the store, and her eyes scanned the groups of buildings for the semi-familiar red and blue store front, complete with large plate-glass window and slightly muted flashing lights.

She was surprised to find herself only a few meters from it, and immediately stepped up to the window, both of her hands coming to rest lightly on the sparkling glass. She surveyed the bits of jewelry and shirts displaying the names of popular music groups tastefully displayed on dark colored pillows, and clear plastic shelves, hoping one would catch her eye as being the one Kono-chan had liked. Gaudily fashioned bracelets and rings caught her attention indeed, but none of them were anything Konoka would have pointed out.

"Perhaps it's no longer on display..." With a slightly annoyed frown at not finding what she wanted, Setsuna stepped inside the youth-geared shop. As was typical with this sort of establishments, current music played at a reasonable level in the background, and lights flashed around the store, illuminating their products rather creatively. Ignoring the customary call of welcome, Setsuna began browsing through their selection.

It took a half hour to complete her search, and it was with a sigh that she reached the end of the final shelving unit. She had personally found several things that she rather liked, but she was not one who often wore such things, and was not shopping for herself anyhow. She placed her hands on her hips and threw another cursory gaze around the room. "Well, I guess it'll have to be something else then," she muttered in dissatisfaction.

Setsuna wandered over to their selection of rings, finding them to hold the most promise of a good gift than anything else. None of the plain silver, pewter, or gold ones particularly called to her, and she barely spared them a glance in her search, despite their rather fanciful designs. She paused as her gaze came to rest on a wide array of colors. Almost immediately, she recognized them as being birthstones. "Well, that's a little more personal than a plain ring..." She muttered as she glanced about for her own stone.

Amidst the splashes of color, a crimson shine caught her attention, and she smiled a bit in satisfaction. It was a ring of exceedingly simple design. For the most part, it was comprised of brilliant silver. On the outside of the ring ran a belt of fiery garnet.

As Setsuna looked through the other rings, then necklaces, an idea began to form that she hoped would accomplish her goal.

With a yawn, Setsuna slid into her seat and reclined as far as the uncomfortable structure would allow, barely managing to contain the groan of pleasure that threatened to make itself known as she stretched, setting bones and muscles back into their proper places.

"What's wrong, Secchan?" Konoka had apparently finished depositing her things at her desk, and had returned to continue talking with her friend.

Setsuna shook her head. "Nothing. I just didn't sleep very well. And now my shoulders are sore." At the mention of her shoulders, she squirmed in her seat, trying to find the most comfortable position.

"Poor Secchan." Konoka slipped into the seat behind Setsuna and gently squeezed her shoulders. Although she blushed, Setsuna straightened herself in her seat and leaned back towards Konoka. Glad that she could be helpful, Kono-chan set to massaging her Secchan's shoulders and back with vigor, delighting in the quiet moans that issued from the girl before her.

As the rightful owner of the seat she was in stepped into the classroom, Konoka leaned forward. "Feel better, Secchan?" Konoka whispered into her ear. The darker haired girl could only manage a nod in answer. "Good." With a content smile, Konoka quickly kissed her Secchan's cheek and made her way back to her own seat, scolding Asuna for trying to sneak some food from her lunch-box.

Setsuna slumped comfortably in her seat, unsure whether it had been Kono-chan's fingers or her magic that had so greatly improved her shoulders. The feeling of Konoka's small hands carefully kneading her back, working out the kinks and pain, remained with her the entire day. She was tempted to ask for another, but decided there would be other opportunities.

Konoka's massage, and knowing she had figured out what she was doing for Konoka greatly improved her mood from the day before. So much so that she had volunteered in most of her classes, much to her teachers' surprise. She was a good student, but normally very withdrawn. Although most were in the dark about her relationship with Konoka, they knew that something had indeed changed.

In retrospect, the day passed quickly and without incident. Although as classes progressed, anxiety as to her gifts for Konoka began to surface. The jewelry was hardly the important part of the plan. As it was hardly a part of their relationship that needed strengthening, the gift was merely a gift; not the true tribute to Konoka. For that, Setsuna was resolved to wait until night of the day that would surely prove pivotal to their relationship. That gift would be the difficult one to give, but once given, couldn't be taken back. That's the way Setsuna liked to do things; it meant she could follow in her convictions with no way of backing down.

After the day's classes had finished up, seeming to take less time than normal to do so, Setsuna began to gather up her stuff. She did so slowly, knowing that if she was too quick at it, she'd have left the room before Konoka'd had a chance to talk to her, and she really didn't want that. As she expected, Konoka soon bounded up to her side. "How's your back feelin', Secchan?"

Setsuna blushed, but was determined to get another massage. "A little bit better. I think I may need another back-rub. If that's okay with you, of course."

Konoka smiled and wrapped her arms around Setsuna's waist daringly, burying her face in the small of her back. "No problem, Secchan." Her face flushed brightly, Setsuna made a weak effort to remove Konoka's arms, but quickly gave in, allowing her hands to settle onto Konoka's.

"Thank you, Kono-chan." She gently squeezed Konoka's small hands, and felt Konoka tighten her arms around her in turn.

Secchan's being so affectionate today. Konoka smiled into Setsuna's uniform, and inhaled deeply, slightly curious as to why she smelled somewhat of chocolate. She sighed as people began to politely push their way around the couple. She released Setsuna, both for need, and because she knew that being so affectionate in public made her uncomfortable. "You don't have any plans today, do you, Secchan?" She waved silently to Asuna as Setsuna turned, still slightly red-faced, to answer her.

I could probably get Tatsumiya to cover my rounds for me, but it'll cost... "No, I don't have anything planned, Kono-chan." She motioned for Konoka to precede her, and with a mock bow, the brown-haired girl did so. "Is there something you'd like to do?"

The spirited girl considered the question for a moment, then shook her head. "Not really. I just wanted to be around you, really." She smiled up at her knight. "I can do whatever." Setsuna smiled back at her, but was at a complete loss as to what they should do. The day was half over, of course, and she still needed to plan out what she wanted to tell Kono-chan. After all, the next day was Wednesday. Everything needed to be perfect.

To her relief, Konoka continued talking. "How about we head to your dorm, Secchan? We usually go to mine, but let's go to yours this time." Rather than blush, as she usually did, Setsuna paled. She'd picked up a cake for them for Wednesday from the cafe she had met Haruna at, and hadn't done anything with it. It would be awfully telling for Konoka to find a chocolate cake in Setsuna's room on the day before White Valentine's Day. Her other gifts for Konoka were atop her bed, hopefully out of Konoka's field of vision.

Oh, this is NOT going to go well... But she could hardly deny Kono-chan, and she had no acceptable counter-plan. "If you're sure that's where you want to go…I warn you, the dishes aren't washed, and the laundry needs to be done, and I really need to sweep…" What she had said registered in her mind, and she closed her eyes as she gave herself a mental kick. Oh THAT was an invitation to Kono-chan. She ENJOYS cleaning and such. Why...

As she expected, Konoka's eyes lit up and she tugged on Setsuna's arm. "That's fine! Why don't you and I clean it up? It'll be fun." Her grin was infectious, even to the now dismal swordswoman. Konoka tugged again on her arm, breaking into a jog, and Setsuna easily dashed forward and passed the girl who could so easily enflame her heart. Konoka giggling, and Setsuna chuckling, they raced their way to the dorms, Konoka's skates actually making her competition for her athletic companion.

Setsuna managed to make it to the door first, and quickly unlocked it as Konoka pulled herself up the stairs, grimacing slightly at having been beaten to their destination. She all but leapt into the slightly dark room, not even bothering to put down her sword. Yuunagi's hilt hovering over her shoulder, Setsuna dashed into the kitchen and grabbed the cake from where it sat in its chocolaty glory. As quickly as she could without sending the cake to the floor, she opened the small refrigerator the dorms were equipped with and shoved it to the back, placing several jugs of tea in front of it. Her hand came to rest hesitantly on one of the jugs, and with a shrug, she pulled the chilled container out and firmly closed the door. Konoka poked her head through the doorway, then stepped in, shutting the main door behind her as Setsuna pulled two glasses from an overhanging rack.

"Green tea, Kono-chan?"

"Yes, please!" Konoka chirped as she unbuttoned her maroon school coat. She hung it on the back of the desk chair, her tie soon joining it, and unbuttoned the top couple buttons on her pressed white shirt.

Trying not to watch, a red-faced Setsuna filled the two glasses with the cold green tea, watching the steam rise from it. "It's pretty hot today, isn't it?"

Konoka shook her head. "Not until we got in here, it wasn't." Curious of the high temperature, she stepped up to the digital control on the wall. The green display proudly proclaimed the temperate as 30 degrees Celsius. "Is 18 okay with you, Secchan?"

Setsuna's eyes widened slightly as she walked into the main room with their drinks in hand. "You like it that cold?" Konoka shrugged and tapped the desired temperature down to eighteen, then gratefully took the glass offered by her Secchan.

Exceedingly happy that Konoka's other gifts were safely tucked away atop her bed, Setsuna sat lightly on the edge of Kaede's bunk, allowing a small smile as Konoka sat beside her, putting all of her weight against her in mock exhaustion. "Well, I'm tired, how about you, Secchan?"

At the mention of sleep, her previous tiredness returned in force, and she yawned before she could manage an answer. Konoka giggled in response, and sat upright, smiling at Setsuna. "Let's take a nap before we do dishes then?"

Setsuna flushed again as Konoka took her glass and sat it on the desk. "Are you comfortable sleeping like that?" Konoka asked, nodding at Setsuna's uniform.

Setsuna's blush turned scarlet, and she stuttered for an answer. With an exaggerated sigh of exasperation, Konoka knelt and un-buttoned Setsuna's coat before she could put up a defense. Setsuna's coat joined Konoka's, as did her tie several seconds later. Konoka sat back down on the bed, one long leg tucked under her. "See. Much comfier."

Setsuna managed a grin and nodded. "It is, Kono-chan."

What happened next took Setsuna by surprise. Konoka scooted up to Setsuna and wrapped one arm around her shoulders. With gentle pressure, she pushed Setsuna down on the bed, resting her own head on Setsuna's stomach, her legs curled up in front of her. "After a nap, we'll see what we can do about those dishes, okay?"

Setsuna couldn't answer, as she was too stunned and slightly panicked to generate intelligible words. As Konoka relaxed against her, her breathing became soft, and she wrapped one arm around Setsuna's waist. This is...nice. Setsuna decided. Being this close to the girl she loved with every fiber of her being was as painful as her sword's blade and as soft as Konoka's chocolate locks. As she watched Konoka stir slightly, she felt pain as she again thought of how she held back her feelings, despite Konoka's desire to know. The proverbial knife twisted again when she remembered the time before the field trip, when she had forced herself to remain out of sight, without knowing how bad that hurt Konoka. And now the thought of her heritage brought a blush of shame to her cheeks. Konoka deserves more than a half-breed. Setsuna was torn. She knew Konoka loved her despite her history, but also thought that very trait to be something that Konoka shouldn't have to deal with. But it'll all be over tomorrow. Then, we'll see what happens.

With a pained sigh, Setsuna laid one hand on Konoka's head, absentmindedly intertwining her fingers with the dark strands. Tomorrow would decide everything...

When they had awakened, they found themselves under that strange effect of naps; they awoke sleepier than they'd started. With an apologetic yawn, Konoka had returned to her room, and Setsuna had crawled into her own bunk. When she awoke the next day, she was fully rested, but practically petrified of the day's events.

It was more difficult than she had imagined, sitting through school, knowing what later had to be done. She didn't realize the pain that Konoka felt those unusually long hours; had she, she would have brought the cake, at least, that morning. Thus it puzzled her why Konoka had seemed more thrilled than usual when Setsuna asked her to follow her back to her dorm.

They walked in an odd silence, both nervous, but for different reasons; reasons that the other didn't know about. Setsuna quietly opened the door and ushered Konoka in. The temperature was still at 18 Celsius, something that both girls appreciated immensely.

"Wait here." Setsuna said as she stepped through the doorway into the kitchenette. She stuck her head through the doorway momentarily. "And close your eyes."

Konoka smiled. "Okay, Secchan." I knew Secchan felt the same way I do! She DID get me something! She does love me! The temptation to open her eyes was powerful, but Konoka resisted as best she could. She heard the sound of a door opening, then thunking shut several seconds later. The sound of a glass plate hitting countertop soon followed.

Several seconds later, Setsuna's voice came from beside her. "Open your mouth, Kono-chan." A little surprised at the odd request, Konoka trusted her friend and did so. She was rather glad that she did. A cold, soft piece of cake made its way into her mouth, and she eagerly chewed and swallowed it, reveling in the chocolaty taste that she loved so much. The cake was moist, and fluffy, and the icing was still soft. In a word, it was delicious. She was told to repeat the process twice more, and did so quite eagerly, although not quite certain what was being accomplished.

"Wait just a little longer, Kono-chan." Konoka felt the nearby warmth that was Setsuna disappear, and caught the sound of sheets ruffling. Mere seconds later, she felt someone's warm breath on the back of her neck, and a small weight fell upon her chest. As Setsuna again retreated, something cold fell against her now hot neck.

"You can open your eyes now."

Konoka did so quickly, and turned to look in the direction of Setsuna's low voice. Her brown eyes focused on Secchan, and what she was holding. In her hands was a light-blue plate which held what had been a circular chocolate cake. There was a somewhat triangular-shaped piece missing from the top, and Konoka realized that that was what Secchan had fed her. With that bit taken from the once circular cake, it now resembled a little round heart, covered in icing. Konoka gasped at the site, causing Setsuna to chuckle at the cute noise before she felt Konoka's smaller body wrap itself around her.

"Wait a second, Kono-chan!" Setsuna stumbled to the side, desperately trying to balance the cake as Konoka squealed happily and buried her face in her chest, hugging her tightly. With great trouble, she sat the cake on the surface of the desk, and wrapped her arms around Konoka in return.

Not really wanting to, but finding it necessary, Setsuna gently pushed Konoka out to arm's length. One of her hands slid along Konoka's shoulder, and up to her neck, grasping the cold thing Konoka had forgotten in her happiness.

"This might take a little explanation." With a wry grin, Setsuna tugged on the silver-link chain that now hung around Konoka's neck, drawing her closer. "This represents my feelings Kono-chan. An invincible chain. As long as it exists," her index finger toyed with two rings that had slid onto the chain, and rested on Konoka's chest, "we'll never be separated."

In silence, perhaps in wonder, Konoka picked up the two rings and looked at them closer, moving them against each other so they glinted in the light. Beside the dark red that was Setsuna's garnet, clear blue shone like the morning sky on the second ring, Konoka's aquamarine. "These...these are our birthstones..." She let go of the rings, but continued to look down at the floor, as if she didn't know what to say. This...this is so much. Secchan put so much thought into this...I...Secchan...

Short moments passed; enough that Setsuna was about to speak up when Konoka looked up Setsuna, tears sitting at the edges of her emotive eyes. "I love you so much, Secchan!" The tears let loose of their precarious hold and rolled down her cheeks. "I'm so sorry! I was worried you didn't feel the same way I do. I was afraid you weren't going to get me anything; that you weren't going to return my feelings. I'm sorry, Secchan..." She buried her face against Setsuna, but it didn't last for long.

Setsuna's limber fingers gently clasped Konoka's chin and tilted her head up, their eyes meeting once again. "Shhhh. I love you, Kono-chan. More than anything." Without so much as the slightest blush, Setsuna leaned forward slightly, her eyes closing as she did so. Their lips met, and the world seemed to melt away. Konoka's breath caught in her throat in surprise and her eyes widened. After she realized what had happened, her eyelids slowly lowered, and her right hand found its way to the back of Secchan's head. Without conscious thought, she rose to her tip-toes and drew Setsuna nearer, deepening their kiss.

Neither knew how long they kissed, nor did they care. Konoka's eyes finally fluttered opened, and with great reluctance, she drew back slightly, breaking their heated connection. Setsuna took a shaky breath and again looked into her eyes.

"I love you, and I never want you to forget it, Kono-chan." Too charged emotionally to speak, Konoka nodded and again rested her head against Setsuna. Again taking control, Setsuna slowly lowered herself to the desk chair, pulling Konoka onto her lap, sitting as they had when they had first admitted their love to each other, although Konoka didn't realize it.

Setsuna's right hand rose to Konoka's face, and she gently started to stroke her hair. This calmed the dark-haired girl quickly, and she again wrapped her arms around Setsuna's shoulders, and nuzzled her neck, almost seeming to purr. For nearly an hour, they sat like that, content in each other's warm company.

I'm glad Setsuna-dono said it was alright to come and get food when I need it... Despite the fact that she opened the door quietly, Kaede knew upon entering the room that her presence was noticed. Setsuna's hand ceased its machinations, and untangled itself from the dark pool it had made itself a part of. She pulled Konoka closer to her and kissed her forehead. Sensing that the atmosphere had changed, but not realizing Kaede had entered, Konoka hugged her love tightly, then slid off her lap, never taking her eyes from Secchan.

Kaede stepped silently into the kitchen, slightly bewildered at what she had stumbled into, giving the couple some privacy back, although she was quite curious as to what would happen. This may have been a bad time to get a craving for cheese...

Setsuna stood from the chair to Konoka's side, wrapping one arm around her waist. Konoka leaned into the hold, rested her head against Secchan's shoulder. "Now," Setsuna cleared her throat, surprised at how husky she had sounded. "Now, this isn't all of your gifts, Kono-chan. There's something else I need to give you. Please be at your dorm window at 11:30."

Konoka opened her mouth to speak but Secchan placed a single finger against her soft lips, quieting her immediately. "Okay?"

Konoka nodded, then hesitantly kissed Setsuna's finger. Setsuna blushed, and her hand slid to Kono-chan's cheek and cradled her face. "You'll be up late, so you might want to go to your room and take a nap."

Setsuna handed Konoka the plate with the cake, and they walked to the door together. Konoka stood on her tip-toes and kissed Setsuna's cheek. "I love you, Secchan."

As she stepped out of the room, and Setsuna's grasp, Setsuna smiled. "I love you too, Kono-chan."

Several hours later, in light pink pajamas, Konoka dozed lightly at the open window. Her right hand hung out into the cool night air. Asuna was dead asleep in her bed with Negi. Neither had yet been told why Konoka had returned home, a visible aura of delight hovering around her, but both suspected.

She was awakened from her light sleep by sudden warmth on her chilled hand. Her brown eyes fluttered open, and outside the window, Setsuna's hands clasped her own. Their eyes met, and Konoka gasped, instantly completely awake. "Secchan! What are you-" She stopped as two elegant white wings cut the air at Setsuna's sides. Konoka's mouth hung open as a white-winged angel, swathed in shimmery blue silk alighted on her window, her long arms beckoning to her.

"Shall we, Kono-chan?" Nodding, still stunned at the vision of heaven before her, Konoka stepped up to her love. Setsuna's strong arms easily lifted Konoka to her chest, cradling her as one would a child. Although she had complete trust in her knight, Konoka couldn't stop the sudden rush of fear as Setsuna leapt lithely backwards and spun around, her wings snapping down to provide lift. Konoka wrapped her arms tightly around Secchan's neck, burying her face in her hair, a small part of her mind registering that Setsuna had released her hair from its usual bindings. Setsuna smiled slightly and patted the back of Konoka's head. "It's okay, Kono-chan. I won't let you fall. I promise."

Hesitantly, Konoka withdrew slightly from Secchan, far enough to look her in the eye and smile in a way she hoped would reassure her knight.

Setsuna smiled and brushed a lock of hair from her face, then looked down at the ground far below them. "Look there, Kono-chan."

Konoka followed Setsuna's pointing hand and gasped. "It's so beautiful!" The lights of the Mahora academic district shone like small diamonds beneath them, casting a pure white glow into the streets and across the stone walls. Setsuna repositioned her hand, and Konoka changed her view accordingly. She squealed in delight at the new sight. From the shimmering surface of the bay, the spires of Library Island rose into the sky, looking for all the world like a castle of old Europe.

Whilst Konoka stared about the night landscape in innocent wonder, Setsuna folded her wings and began her descent. The wind rushing between her feathers was an exhilarating feeling, and a grin unintentionally spread across her face.

Suddenly, breaking Konoka's mesmerized gazing, Setsuna's wings unfurled with a snap, and they nearly stopped in mid-air. Konoka squealed again, this time in fear, and redoubled her efforts to cling to her Secchan. She braved a look below them, and was quite surprised to see the broad leaves of a tree. Several feet before them, an enormous branch jutted up and out of the sea of leaves, and vaguely resembled a tree of its own, with wide branches going off in all directions.

"Is this...is this the World Tree?" Setsuna nodded, but said nothing, instead concentrating on landing on the large branch. With a very small grunt, she touched down, using her wings to keep her balance. Gently, she lowered Konoka to the rough surface of the tree. She looked around quickly, and found the place she was looking for.

From the branch they stood on, three more headed off almost perpendicular to the ground, and close enough together so as to form something of a leafy floor. Without hesitation, Setsuna fell back onto the three branches, squirming slightly to get comfortable. She smiled up at Konoka's slightly perplexed face, and patted the space beside her invitingly. With a shrug, Konoka quickly lay down beside Setsuna, curled comfortably at her side.

Setsuna turned onto her own side so she was facing Konoka, and wrapped her arms possessively around the shorter girl. Konoka smiled and snuggled closer to Setsuna. "Kono-chan, I have something I need to say..." She trailed off, uncertain of how to begin.

"Okay, Secchan. I'm all ears."

Setsuna coughed lightly, but steeled herself and continued. "I'm afraid I haven't been completely open with you, Kono-chan. I've held myself back because I was afraid to get too close." Konoka opened her mouth to speak, but Setsuna silenced her with a finger. "Please let me finish, Kono-chan. You know that I'm not entirely human, and you said my wings aren't a problem. Even tonight, you haven't acted disturbed by them, or even mentioned them, and I appreciate that." She kissed the back of Konoka's neck, breathing in her scent deeply, for emphasis. "But there's more to the problem than my wings. I'm going to live for more than two hundred years, and you're not. I know it's selfish, but I didn't want to get too close to you, because I'm afraid of the future. If we did begin a relationship...well, you'll...pass on," Setsuna sniffed loudly, and paused to recompose herself, "before me. I don't know if I could bear having you so close, then losing you entirely for so long...I'd be lost." A heavy silence dropped over the two, and Konoka quickly rolled over in Setsuna's grasp to look at her.

What she saw ripped cruelly at her heart. Tears streamed from her soft brown eyes, rolling down her cheeks, only to fall onto her silky top and soak in. "Secchan..." Konoka wrapped her arms around her love and drew herself closer. She lovingly pulled Setsuna's face to her chest and squeezed her affectionately. Setsuna began to outright sob against Konoka, muttering apologies senselessly. "Shhhh, Secchan. It'll be okay...I'll never leave, Secchan. I'll never let you be alone..."

As a strong sob of relief wracked Setsuna's body, tears formed in Konoka's eyes, but she couldn't get rid of them. The thought of Secchan feeling lonely like that... The illogical, but common feeling of guilt temporarily overwhelmed her, and a sob of her own escaped before she could get a handle on it. I can't cry right now. I need to be strong. For Secchan.

As she considered this, it hit her that Secchan probably felt the way she did right now quite often. She always seemed so strong, trying to be there for Konoka to release her own emotions, yet she never let her own emotions out. It shouldn't be like this...if Secchan keeps herself bottled up like this...it'll hurt us both. The tears pooled at the corners of her eyes finally let go at the thought of Setsuna's pain. Managing to keep her voice steady, Konoka spoke up.

"I'm so sorry, Secchan. I...I should have made it clearer that there's nothing you could do that would drive me away." She squeezed Setsuna again. "From now on, why don't we both be more open, okay?"

Wordlessly, Setsuna nodded against Konoka, but continued to cry for nearly a half an hour, listening to Konoka's soothing tones. In a level, reassuring voice, even through tears of her own, she described enlisting the entire Kansai Magic Association in developing a way to prolong her own life, or simply cooed nonsense into Setsuna's ears. It was with a significantly lighter heart that Setsuna eventually fell asleep in Konoka's arms, her right wing draping over the couple like a blanket of soft safety...