To Here Knows When

by Sean Gaffney

Based on the manga Magister Negi Magi, by Ken Akamatsu. (c) by the author, I own not one jot of this.

Setsuna walked calmly down the quiet campus streets, on her final patrol of the evening. Things were far, far too quiet. Clearly a sign that the enemy was gearing up for a final battle. Her skin itched. She shouldn't be here. She should be with Kono-chan, protecting her from what was bound to be an apocalypse.

But Konoka was with Kaede, and Ku Fei, and Mana, and pretty much half the class, and there was no need for her help right now. Intellectually, she knew that; emotionally, she should be the one protecting her princess all the time. But the campus also needed to be protected. The last thing anyone needed now was for an innocent to die.

In an ideal world, none of them would be here. They'd graduated two days before, eighteen years old and ready to go out in the world. The last of the thirty-one students in Class 3-A had been told about magic the night before graduation. Paru wasn't speaking to any of them, but she had at least not rushed off campus towards death yet. Oh well, perhaps now she'd learn the down side to being the class gossip.

3-A was Negi's class, and thus, the only one targeted by the enemy. Still, Setsuna wouldn't be surprised if one or two monsters went out for 'snacks'. So she patrolled the grounds. Which were, at the moment, mocking her with their peaceful silence.

As she turned a corner she blinked, surprised to see Nodoka Miyazaki there, carrying a small satchel. "Good evening," she said. "You're back."

Setsuna smiled, but the smile froze on her face as she saw Nodoka's face. There was determination there, but also some sadness.

Something had clearly happened. "Nodoka-san?"

The other woman smiled, brushing her bangs out of her eyes. "I just had to do something I'll probably regret," she said quietly. Setsuna waited to hear more, but that seemed to be it. She knew better than to pry - after all, Nodoka was hardly the only one among their group with secrets.

They were at the World Tree; Setsuna silently moved to a place where she could survey the campus and still converse. "You seem disturbed."

"Aren't you?" Nodoka asked. "I mean, everyone seems to be on edge. We all know what's coming, and that it's soon."

"We do," Setsuna agreed. "But that's preferable to being taken by surprise. I've made my pea--" She cut her sentence short. "I'm ready for whatever happens."

Nodoka's mouth opened again, then she seemed to think better of it. Instead she hopped up onto a short wall and began to pace along it. "Can I ask you a personal question?"

That earned a raised eyebrow. She and Nodoka were friends, but 'personal questions' were reserved for either Yue or, when she had been here, Asuna. Setsuna didn't invite that sort of confidence.

"Go ahead," she replied nonetheless. "But I reserve the right to not answer them."

"You may not want to answer this," Nodoka said. "I... it's basically asking the one thing everyone's danced around for the last four years."

Setsuna smiled. "Nodoka-san, you don't have to be nervous. What is it?"

Nodoka stopped her walking and turned. "When did you first realize that you were in love with Konoka-san?" She waved a hand. "I mean, I know no one can really describe that sort of thing, but... you must have had a point where you realized what she truly meant to..." She finally trailed off, still tongue-tied.

Setsuna's eyes widened. She knew that her affections were clear for all to see - well, all but Konoka, of course - but Nodoka had been right. It wasn't exactly something anyone ever asked. Or thought to ask. When does friendship turn to love?

She looked around. There was no one else about, they were likely going to die tomorrow, and if she couldn't trust Nodoka, she couldn't trust anyone.

"I thought I was in love with Kono-chan for a long time," she began, falling back into the familiar honorific. "She was my best friend... to be honest, my only friend. And when I grew older, I began to dwell on how attractive I found her. Even after the accident, when I forced myself to train apart from her, she was really the only thing I ever thought about."

Nodoka was staring at her. "Is that love?"

"No, that's obsession," Setsuna laughed. "I turned Konoka my childhood friend into an ideal, and as long as I was apart from her, it was the perfect way to keep my illusions." Her cheeks colored as she said this. She'd never discussed it with anyone but Asuna, and truth be told was still not comfortable with admitting her desire for another woman.

Still, Nodoka seemed to be listening intently, so she moved on. "What I didn't realize until Negi blew my cover, so to speak, was that I really had no idea what Kono-chan was like. I imagined her as this perfect princess that needed to be protected from everything. But she showed me that she could protect herself when she needed to. And that her compassion was even greater than my idealized version." Setsuna smiled softly, remembering those first stirrings. "That was when I truly began to know her... and when I fell in love with her."

Nodoka nodded. "And it's because you love her that you haven't told her, right? Because you're convinced you'll die tomorrow and it will hurt her less?"

Setsuna actually jerked to her feet, face blanching. "D-Did you..."

Holding up her empty hands, Nodoka smiled ruefully. "No picture diary. I wasn't reading your thoughts with magic, Setsuna. But of all of us, you're really the most obvious. I mean, even Makie isn't as easy to figure out."

Now her face was bright red, and she felt light-headed for a moment. Nodoka took her arm and led her back to the wall.

After a moment, Setsuna breathed out heavily. "Just once I want to be the compassionate shoulder to lean on, rather than the sword to protect."

After a moment of silence, Nodoka said "And I'd like to be able to punch a demon thirty yards into a wall. Instead you're patrolling for monsters, and I'm reminding you why you're fighting them in the first place."

They sat like that for a while more, and then Setsuna spoke again. "You were wrong anyway. It's not for her. It's for me. I haven't told her because if I die and she has to see it, I couldn't bear it if she knew the truth." Setsuna sighed and ran her hands through her hair. "Still a coward," she muttered, not caring if Nodoka heard her.

There was nothing said for several minutes. Then Nodoka produced a sheaf of paper from the satchel she'd been carrying. "Look at these," she said, without preamble.

Setsuna blinked, and glanced at the papers. Then her eyes bugged out, and she read closer, flipping through the pages faster and faster. There were eyewitness reports, and testimonies, and most importantly several pages that were clearly family trees.

She looked up at Nodoka, completely stunned. "Are you... is she..."

"She is," Nodoka confirmed. "Or to be more accurate, she isn't. Asuna has no demon blood in her whatsoever. And yes, I've confirmed it in every possible way. That's where I've been the last few weeks."

Setsuna's mind was still reeling. "Then... I mean... who else knows this?" she asked.

Nodoka grimaced. "Yue-chan. And Evangeline-san. Both of whom have called me an idiot, a moron, and a coward. And other things I'm not going to repeat. I suppose I shouldn't hold it against them, they were both so helpful when I was... courting Negi-chan." She blushed.

Setsuna blinked. She knew Yue and Evangeline well. "That can't be all. Why were they so angry?"

Suddenly both of them started, and looked across the courtyard to the other side of the World Tree, where a shadow appeared.

"Because they weren't the first ones I told either."

Asuna stepped out into the light. "If it helps, Nodoka-chan, I was going to come back anyway. No matter what my heritage."

Nodoka walked forward, meeting her under the tree and giving her a hug. "I know. But I wanted you to come back to people who loved you, not people who feared you."

And then Asuna leaned forward, and whispered something in Nodoka's ear, and all the tension and worry in Nodoka's face seemed to vanish in an instant. She stared at Asuna and nodded.

Setsuna finally got over her shock and ran over to the pair. "Asuna-san! You're back! It's wonderful to see you!" She couldn't control the grin that spread across her face.

Then it dawned on her, and she looked back and forth between Nodoka and Asuna. Ah. This was why Yue and Evangeline were so furious. Asuna was back, and they both assumed she'd take her 'rightful place' at Negi's side. A good assumption. Still, Evangeline at least should have known better.

Asuna smiled, and reached out to grab Setsuna in a bear hug. Setsuna felt her ribs cracking. "Strong..." she barely managed to get out.

"What's this I hear about you still not having confessed to Konoka," Asuna whispered into her ear.

She released Setsuna, who looked embarrassed. "Aheh..." she said.

Asuna gave her cockeyed grin. Setsuna hadn't realized how much she'd missed it. "If you love someone, you should let them know. That way, either they return it right away, or you can know right away it's not meant to be. Right, Nodoka?"

Nodoka stepped up next to Asuna, looking just as forceful despite lacking Asuna's physical capabilities. "Absolutely."

Looking back and forth between the two women, Setsuna was sure that there should be some form of... little waves of ice going back and forth between them, like a manga. Something to let you know they were rivals. Instead, she'd never seen two women more at peace.

"You two know something I don't, right?" Setsuna ventured.

Instead of answering, Asuna turned back to Nodoka. "How's Negi?"

Nodoka shrugged. "You know him better than I do. You can probably answer that."

"Stressing out, overextending himself, and trying to figure out a way that he can fight the enemy by himself with everyone else protected and safe?" Asuna ventured. "And you know him just as well as I do. Probably better by now."

Nodoka blushed.

She hated to break in on what was becoming a private conversation, but unfortunately she needed to. "We should go back. They're doing one last look at the battle plan for tomorrow, Asuna-san, and your advice would be invaluable."

They began to walk back. "Who's we?"

"Negi-chan, Alberio-san, Evangeline-san, Konoe-san, and Chisame-chan," Nodoka answered.

Asuna stopped dead. "CHISAME!"

Setsuna laughed. "Do you remember, long ago, how we'd come up with these plans? And Chisame-san would tell us how completely idiotic and stupid they were and give us a better, simpler plan?"

Realization dawned on Asuna. "Ah." Her face then turned more serious. "What are the odds?"

Setsuna sighed. "Better. Much. You bring a lot to the table, Asuna-san. Before, I'd have said 40-60 against us. Now, you can probably flip that around. Especially if you, Nodoka-san, and Negi can all work together." She added the last apprehensively.

"Not a problem," Asuna said simply, and Nodoka nodded.

"Sooooo," Asuna drawled, and Setsuna cringed without quite knowing why, "with odds like that, don't you think they'd get even better if you really gave Konoka something to fight for?"

Setsuna briefly lowered her gaze, trying not to let them see the look of utter terror there. But Nodoka bent over and looked up at her.

"I haven't looked at Konoka's thoughts of anything, but I think I can guarantee she won't say no."

Setsuna found herself once more turning red. Nodoka was right, she thought, I'm the easiest person in the class to read.

Trying once more to divert the subject from her love life, she said "And what about you, Asuna? Will you tell Negi? And if you do, who gets to stop Evangeline and Yue from killing you?"

Asuna laughed. "Nodoka can take care of Yue. And if Evangeline thinks she can easily kill me, then she'll get a forcible reminder that I'm not a stupid little high school student anymore."

Setsuna once more stared at Nodoka, realizing just what the girl was giving up. "Do you realize--"

Nodoka cut her off. "I do. But this was important. Negi needs his sword. That's more important than my happiness."

Setsuna had a frisson of recognition. She looked over and saw Asuna shiver as well, and then reach over to clutch Nodoka across the shoulder.

"Don't worry about it, Honya-chan," she said, inadvertently falling back on the old nickname. "I think between the two of us we can convince Negi to keep both his sword and his happiness."

Nodoka smiled back at Asuna. "Why don't I go and tell the others what's going on? We don't want you accidentally killed before the battle." And she ran off towards the entrance.

Asuna chuckled. "Poor Honya. She was convinced she'd made the ultimate sacrifice."

"Hasn't she?"

Asuna just smiled. "Tell Konoka how you feel tonight."

"Or you will," Setsuna said nervously.

"No," Asuna shook her head. "Or she will."

Setsuna stared, and then nodded. "All right. You're right. I'll tell her." She paused. "You said that you were coming back anyway."

Asuna nodded. "I was. And I was going to fight with all of you."

Setsuna wasn't sure she should ask this, but she did anyway. "What if it all been true? What if you had demon heritage, and they took control of you?"

Asuna looked Nodoka right into the eye. "I would have trusted you to kill me."

Setsuna nodded. "I would have."

They began to walk into the building. Judging from the sounds carrying out the door, Nodoka had just dropped her bombshell.

Setsuna sighed. "Just what we need the night before our destined battle. More chaos. I'll bet you two to one someone ends up naked tonight." She paused. "I'm sure I didn't mean that to come out the way it sounded."

Asuna waved a hand. "Negi's still only 14. There will be no naked tonight. At least not with him."

"At least not with HIM!" Setsuna stammered out.

Asuna smiled. "Did you know that some Western mages have two partners?"

END

Author's notes: This started as a larger Negima story that tells of Negi's 18th birthday and his marriage to Asuna and Nodoka. It was from Setsuna's POV, and had the beginning conversation as a flashback. The flashback grew out of control, and I decided to separate it from the main story.

Yes yes, more threesomes and more lesbians. At least the lesbian pairing is canon this time.

There's a lot of random Negima continuity in this, as well as future Negima continuity I made up. As with all stories being written while the manga is still running, it will eventually be contradicted in about eighty ways. However, I hope that it's written in such a way that you can glean the general idea without needing to have read through Chapter 123 (so far).

Also, I totally made up the whole Asuna demon thing, so don't go thinking that that's hidden somewhere in Volume 11.

This is entirely manga based.

Sit, Ubu, sit. Good dog.

--Sean Gaffney