A/N: Well, here it is, the final chapter. This will be the last post for this story, as I am forgoing an epilogue seeing as I didn't include a prologue either. As usual, I do not own Negima in any form shape or fashion aside from the merchandise available in stores.
Chapter 17) Remembering
Negi felt raw. It was the only way he could describe his emotions. He walked between Nekane and Asuna like a robot, and not even the emotional kind like Chachamaru. The boy mage had lost many things that day, and among them were his childish illusions that he would be able to continue his quest to find his father without any of the girls being put into real danger.
"Master Springfield!" A voice came from behind him as he trudged through the shattered gates of his family estate. "I say, Master Springfield."
Negi at first didn't respond. Usually people who called after 'Master Springfield' were referring to his grandfather. It wasn't until he remembered that the old man was gone that he realized that he was being addressed.
Negi turned to see three men striding resolutely towards him. They looked to be members of the Magic Knights.
"I'm afraid the battle is over." Negi said numbly.
"Ah yes, we know. We arrived just as Master Nicholas took form to fight their leader. It was a good thing too, the demons were about to breach the walls. They'd managed to break down the gates after all. When we arrived, we were just in time to save some girl who was standing here scribbling on a magical pad as fast as her hands could go creating magical constructs to fight them." The long white haired man who was apparently their leader reported.
"Thank you Dimichi-san, we're very grateful you were here to save Haruna." Nekane said gracefully.
"You know these guys… sis?" Asuna asked, using the word uncertainly.
"I'm sorry, where are my manners?" Dimichi replied crisply. "I am Aldo Dimichi, leader of the Magical Knights garrisoned here in Wales. These are my lieutenants, Helmut von Berge and Werner von Jenseits." He added indicating a rakish swordsman to his right, and a helmeted knight to his left respectively.
"It's been a while Lady Springfield." The swordsman, Helmut said with a thick German accent as he pulled a rose out from somewhere to bow deeply to the young woman. Somehow Negi could tell even through the helmet that Werner was rolling his eyes.
Negi started to lash out with a scathing comment when a quick rap from his sister's elbow brought him up short. Nekane stepped forward and took the proffered flower from the rogue's hands gratefully. "Too long, Berge-san."
Aldo merely shook his head returning his attention to Negi. "I was just wondering, is Master Nicholas…"
"He's dead, Dimichi-san. He died from his wounds after defeating the leader of the demon army." Negi said sadly.
"I see. I'm sorry we could not have come sooner to relive the siege." Aldo said somberly. "Master Springfield meant a great deal to all of us. He was our commander for many years."
"I know. I'm only beginning to realize how much he meant to me as well. Do you have any idea who might have done this?" The boy asked softly, afraid to know the answer.
Aldo seemed to slip into the pose of a man giving a report to his commander. "The demons here hail from the same region in the nether planes as those that attacked the young master's village several years ago. Information and observations gathered from this attack combined with previous intelligence have yielded some new insights. The demon leading this assault was a prince-class demon, which is impossible to be summoned by one mage alone. It would require no fewer than six mages of considerable power to manifest, much less control such a demon."
"So you mean I'm dealing with at least six powerful mages trying to kill me and my sisters?" Negi asked morosely.
"That would seem to be the case, sir." Helmut added seriously.
Negi considered the possibility. Even at his best, a mage alone could never hope to defeat six other mages. Unless they were incredibly weaker, they would overwhelm him. These mages would most likely have partners as well. He knew he could count on Nekane, Evangeline, and Anya, but that only made their number four against six. Negi considered the only other answer and shivered. Konoka and perhaps Yue could even the odds, but it would mean exposing them to danger and continuing to train them until they could do battle with other mages on their own.
Negi merely nodded slowly as this new burden weighed on his mind and turned to enter the castle. "Thank you commander."
Negi walked in silence thinking about the attack. He was trapped. He couldn't continue like this. If he kept on, he was going to get one of his students… He was going to get another one of his students killed. Negi hadn't realized where he was headed until he ended up outside the small infirmary that his grandfather kept inside the castle. It had been a long time since it had been used, but now Abigail bustled about tending minor wounds that Konoka had been unable to heal since her magic had given out.
"Where is she?" Negi asked the girls assembled in the room. The hush that fell over them as he stood there was palpable.
"She's in there dear." Abigail said pointing at the door. "But I don't think it would be wise for you to go in right now."
"It doesn't matter anymore. Nothing matters anymore." Negi said as he walked over and opened the door. "I'd like to be left alone for a while."
No one said anything as Negi quietly closed the door behind him and turned to face his greatest fear. There, on the bed, lay Nodoka. She looked as if she were sleeping. Negi walked to the side of the bed and knelt down there. After a while he began to pray hoping that somehow she might hear him. "Forgive me Nodoka. There hasn't been one day that I've ever done right by you."
Negi thought back to that morning that had almost seemed like a lifetime ago. "I never told you Nodoka, but I was awake long before you were. I woke up with you next to me in the sleeping bag. I was curious why it was you instead on Asuna, and I rolled over to lay my head against your chest. You were so warm and soft, I wanted to stay like that all day. I'm sorry. I'm sorry I never told you how much you mean to me, how much I was thankful to you for helping me, or how much I really did fall in love with you."
Negi knelt there and cried for a long time. He didn't realize what he was doing until he had pulled back the sheet and crawled into the bed next to Nodoka. Once again he clung to her, needing more than anything to feel her near to him one last time. Negi laid his head against her shoulder and cuddled up next to her warmth.
Negi lay there for a moment until he realized that Nodoka was warm. Not just warm, she was almost feverish. Stunned, the boy mage laid his ear to the girl's chest. A very faint heartbeat met his jubilant hearing.
Negi couldn't believe what he was hearing. He jumped back from the girl as if slapped, afraid that somehow he was going to awaken to realize he'd only been dreaming about hearing the heartbeat. Trembling, the boy mage reached out and gingerly undid the buttons to Nodoka's blouse. Beneath he could still see the traces of the wound.
"NEGI! What are you doing?!" Abigail shouted from the door as she found him kneeling over the girl's body.
"Nana! Nodoka's alive! She's really alive! Please, you've got to get Konoka in here before it's too late!" Negi shouted excitedly.
Abigail merely shook her head and waved off the girls who came rushing to the doorway. She then gently closed it behind her. "Yes Negi, she's alive. We've already done everything we can for her. She's on her own now."
"What do you mean? How is this possible, the sword…" Negi rambled hysterically.
"I know, I heard. Nodoka used a spell that offers up her body in the place of yours. Any injury that would have harmed you affected her instead." Abigail said as she nodded and took a seat next to the bed.
"But, the sword was aimed for my heart. She collapsed in my arms, and I watched her die." Negi said incredulously.
"Yes, the sword was aimed at your heart, not hers. Since you've opened her shirt up take a look at that wound she has on her torso." Nana urged the young man gently. Negi looked down to trace the scar that ran from just over her stomach to just under her ribcage. "Nodoka is taller than you are child. The stroke that would have skewered your heart missed hers. She's very lucky to be alive all the same. When she collapsed in your arms, it was because of blood loss I imagine."
"She's alive." Negi said with so much relief that he felt that if she were to awake and ask it of him he could lift the world on his shoulders for his little heroic librarian.
"No thanks to you."
Abigail's words struck the young boy to his core, bringing that same weight collapsing down and crushing him beneath it. Negi looked up at the grim face of his old governess in shock and apprehension. "What are you saying?"
"I'm saying that Nodoka nearly died and it would have been all your fault. Not because she said some spell, and took a stroke meant to take your life, but because you lost control and went ballistic when she needed you more than anything. Nodoka nearly died, not from the wound, but from being abandoned by you." Nana said harshly. "I watched the entire scene from the master's scrying pool. You were so caught up in your own grief and pain that you didn't even stop to check on her. If Konoka hadn't given her what healing she could when she did, then she would be dead right now."
"I… I was overcome." Negi said miserably.
"You were stupid." Nana corrected. "You are just like your father; so wrapped up in your own little world with your own problems that you never look around you to see who else you might be impacting. When your mother died, did your father rush home to the arms of his adopted daughters, his grieving family, or his newborn son? No, he went off to be alone with his grief and self pity and abandoned the people that needed him to be strong and to be there. Negi, if you are going to chase after your fool of a father, I'm not going to stop you. I think the boy needs to meet up with you one day and explain himself to the son he abandoned and apologize for all the heartache he's caused everyone with his childish sulking. What I DON'T want to happen is for you to ignore everyone around you who loves you. Yes, sometimes they are going to be in danger, yes they might get hurt, but you are going to have to be strong and face it so that you will be able to keep control when the time comes so that you can actually help them when they need you instead of falling to pieces."
Negi bowed his head at the reprimand. "I guess I really do need to get stronger."
"Not the type of strength you're thinking of child." Nana said as she stood and walked over to lay her hands on his shoulders as he sat on the side of the bed. "The strength you need is the strength of the heart. Your grandfather, for all his power was weak. He never had the strength to get up off his knees when your grandmother died and he spent the rest of his life hollow and empty."
"I don't suppose you know where I can find a teacher for that kind of training do you?" Negi asked with a sad half hearted chuckle.
"You already have one." Abigail said nodding at Nodoka. "And you have several others who keep trying to teach you as well. Listen to them."
Abigail walked over to the door and opened it suddenly, causing Negi's partners to spill out onto the floor. "And speaking of listening, I assume you girls heard what we were talking about?"
Of all the girls, Yue was the only one who had managed to remain standing. "How did you know Nodoka was alive?"
"Child, when you get to be my age you start learning to recognize a corpse when you see one. I called the paramedics a few times on Nicholas when I caught him napping. After a while you learn to start looking closely before you start making the tea." Abigail said properly.
The girls all crowded into the room to see Nodoka. Negi sat there looking at his guardian angel for a few minutes more before he quietly excused himself from the room.
Nodoka looked like a ghost as she walked through the halls of the castle. She had awoken to find Yue dozing next to her bed with a heavy book in her lap. She had hoped to awaken to see Negi, but he was nowhere to be seen. Wearing only her linen night gown she glided across the floor in search of the boy. She had to know that he was alright. All she remembered was seeing the demon's sword headed for his chest and saying the words of the spell.
Something drew Nodoka to the balcony. She knew he would be there, she didn't know how, but she knew he would be there. She quietly walked out behind him where he sat on the rail looking out over what was left of the castle garden in the pale light of the full moon.
"I see your fever has broken." Negi said as she approached. She was certain he sounded as if he'd been crying.
"I didn't know I had a fever, how long have I been asleep?" Nodoka asked.
"Two days, we were beginning to worry about you." Negi said still staring out at the garden.
"So, I see we won the battle." Nodoka said cheerily. Something about Negi's tone put her on edge.
"Not really, I mean we defeated the demons, but sometimes you can win and still consider it a loss." Negi said somberly. "I thought I lost you."
Nodoka was touched by his sentiment and tenderly put her hands on his back. His body still trembled beneath her touch like a barely suppressed wail. She then moved her hands around his waist to hold him tighter. "You don't have to worry sensei. I'll be here for as long as you will let me stay by your side."
The librarian could feel his body tense in her grip. She didn't know what she had said, but apparently he had felt it differently than she had intended. "Nodoka, why did you do what you did?"
Nodoka suppressed her elation at him using her name so informally, as she realized how hurt he must be. She remembered Nicholas' words… 'If you do, he'll never forgive you'. "I wanted you to be able to find your father. I couldn't let you die before you had managed to reach your goal. I know how important your dreams are to you."
"And what about your dreams?" Negi said almost angrily as he turned to face her. He turned around on the rail and Nodoka could see the fresh tears still damp on his cheeks in the dim light. Sitting on the rail he was nearly a head taller than she was. "What are your goals, Nodoka? Why would you put all that you could ever hope to accomplish aside just for me?"
"I love you. I always have, and I always will." Nodoka said with tears brimming into her eyes. "My only goal is to be by your side and to help you find your father."
"And do you have a dream?" Negi asked.
"I dream about hearing you tell me you love me too." Nodoka replied honestly. "There were times while I slept that I thought I could hear you, telling me that you loved me. Please, sensei… do you… do you forgive me?"
Negi looked at her in absolute shock. "Forgive? Forgive you for what?"
"Nicholas-sama said that if I ever used that spell that you would never forgive me. Please, sensei, tell me that you don't hate me." Nodoka said gently.
Negi wrapped her up in his arms and held her closely against the cool night breeze. "I could never hate you Nodoka, and there is nothing to forgive. I only hope that you can forgive me instead."
"Sensei, I…" Nodoka started.
"Please Nodoka, just let me finish. I nearly lost you, that's true, but I don't hold you accountable for that. I nearly lost you because I was stupid, and because I wasn't strong enough… in here." Negi said pointing to his heart. "I still have a lot of growing up to do, this summer has taught me that more than anything, and that's why I've made some very tough decisions."
"You've decided on your permanent partner?" Nodoka asked breathlessly.
Negi nodded somberly. "Yes, I've decided to be permanently bonded with Asuna…"
Nodoka's chest felt full of more pain than when the demon's sword had run her through. Negi started to continue, but Nodoka was already red in the face and embarrassed. Negi loved Asuna, and there was nothing she could do to change that. She started shaking her head and backing away.
"Then, I hope the two of you will…" Nodoka started before she turned to bolt. Her cheeks were burning and all she could think to do was get away before she embarrassed herself even more. But as she tried to run, she was held back by Negi who still had a hold of her arm.
"Please sensei, just let me go…" Nodoka sobbed.
"I can't." Negi said simply as a quick tug from his unnaturally strong arms brought the little librarian tumbling back into his arms. Nodoka gasped as Negi claimed her lips with his own. She was so shocked that she didn't resist as he kissed her and was even more shocked when he deepened the kiss into one of the most passionate adult kisses she'd ever even heard of, much less read about. It made the kiss he'd given Asuna at the festival seem tame by comparison.
Nodoka couldn't move. Asuna had nearly passed out from the kiss she'd gotten, and now Nodoka felt like she'd nearly died. Negi was a great kisser. She swayed on her feet for a few moments, confused as Negi was all that kept her standing. Finally, she slowly opened her eyes to look up at his face in the phosphorescent light of the moon. "Didn't I tell you to let me finish?"
"But… don't you love Asuna?" The confused young woman asked.
"Yes, I do… because she's my sister." Negi said with an impish smile.
"Then why?" Nodoka asked simply.
The look on Negi's face was pained. "Nodoka, I'm not strong enough to bear losing you again like I nearly did during the battle. I don't have the strength of heart that you have. Somehow, you manage to keep going no matter what the circumstances. For that I really envy you. I can't go on putting you in jeopardy, not for my sake. Asuna and I are linked together in danger. The trials that I must face she must face as well, so we might as well face them together. I'm going to dissolve the pactio bonds with all the other girls."
"So, you don't want me by your side?" Nodoka asked sadly.
"I didn't say that. I need you Nodoka. Your strength and your love means more to me than you will ever know. I know I'd never be able to find the words for it at any rate. Nodoka, I won't risk losing you like I did this time, but if you still wish to learn magic I will teach you. And, if you still dream about hearing me say it, then it is the least I could offer you for the dedication you've shown me. Nodoka, I love you. Will you stay by my side, not as my partner, but as my love?"
"Well, I guess they're an official couple now." Yue said sadly as she turned away from the balcony as she started to go back through the garden. Negi had chosen. She'd awakened to find Nodoka gone and had immediately set out to search for her. "Wouldn't you say so Kotaro?"
"How did you know I was here?" Kotaro griped as he stepped out of the shadows behind a bush. "I never made a sound."
"I've started noticing the signs for when you'd show up. Midnight garden, beautiful rose bushes, a radiant full moon, now all we need is mood music…" Yue started.
Above them, Nodoka started singing softly to her beloved sensei as the two new lovers held each other on the balcony above.
"…right on cue. Somehow, it just didn't seem like I'd be able to get back through this garden without you showing up." Yue said with a sardonic expression that she really didn't feel.
Kotaro gulped and looked like a scolded puppy. "Well Yue, when I went and didn't find you with Nodoka I started to worry. And, well, you know how I feel about you, so naturally I tend to be a little protective…"
Yue silenced the boy with kiss that stole the sound from the garden and his lips with amazing efficiency. She held him there for a moment before she broke the kiss with a smile and looked up into his startled face. "You talk too much."
The two of them shared a brief chuckle that seemed to fit the mood before Yue curled her arms around her partner's neck and they went back to kissing.
Nicholas' ghost wandered the hallways of the castle in a sour mood. The girls were getting ready to leave and he'd be back to watching the dust collect on his estate before it was over with. At least Sayo had been decent company, and it had taken everything he could muster to get the girl to keep quiet to his grandson about his spectral presence in the castle. Finally though, she had complied and Nicholas was assured his grandson wouldn't be trying to spend his time trying to free his 'tormented' spirit.
Nicholas floated through the corridors to the rooms occupied by the girls who had been, until recently, Negi's partners.
"Hey Yue, where are your pajamas?" Haruna was asking as they hurried about the room gathering their things.
"They're over there on the bed." Yue said offhandedly.
"These are yours? Where's your other set with the kittens on them?" Haruna said quizzically as she helped her friend.
"Those are new; I don't know where the other set got off to." Yue said quickly.
Nicholas supposed this was possibly true, since he had seen her stuffing the garments in the refuse bin she technically wouldn't know where they were by now since the garbage had been collected the previous day.
"So this thing with Kotaro seems to be heating up is it?" Haruna accused the young philosopher.
"There is no 'thing' Haruna. Kotaro is my partner, and I am his mage. We are bound together for protection and survival." Yue replied piously.
"You don't really expect me to believe that do you?" Haruna said slyly as she snickered at her friend.
Haruna merely picked up the new pajamas and held them up for Yue to look at. "Puppies?"
Nicholas merely chuckled as he floated over into the next room where Mana was just finishing her packing. She had a cell phone and was holding it up to her ear as she shouldered her new rifle. "Yes, uh, Serizawa-kun? Yeah, it's me Mana. I was just calling to let you know we're going to be getting back to the academy soon. And uh, I was wondering if when we got back if you'd be interested in dinner? No, I wasn't thinking of any place in particular, in fact I was wondering if you might like to come over. I… could cook something for us."
Nicholas could feel warmth spreading from the place where his heart used to be and smiled at the girl. It may have been his imagination, but he thought he caught the briefest wink in his direction.
Continuing on, Nicholas came into a room of absolute chaos. Girls were running in and out as they remembered things they'd bought, brought, sought, or caught that they wanted to carry back to Japan with them. In the middle of it all, Negi wandered like a forlorn little squirrel trying to direct a traffic jam of stampeding elephants.
"Now has anyone seen the twins? Oh yes, there you are, I'll just count you as ready… what do you mean you forgot something again? Well hurry up and get it." Negi said helplessly as the girls rushed around him like a torrent of confusion on the sea of mayhem. And there by his side following after him was the Miyazaki girl.
Nicholas regarded her for a few moments. She seemed to bring stability everywhere she went. Her gentle voice brought Negi's attention towards whatever girl he was looking for at the time and every time he seemed lost, she was there to point the way. She reminded him more of Celia than any person he'd ever met.
Apparently, he wasn't the only person to take a notice in the girl either. To the side of the room, the class rep Ayaka Yukihiro was watching and simmering.
"Asuna, what has been going on behind my back?" Ayaka shouted as she pulled her nemesis out of the tide of girls trying to get ready to leave.
"I swear I wasn't the one who put minnows in your luggage." Asuna vowed.
"I'm referring to that!" Ayaka said pointing at the pair of young lovers.
"Has anyone seen my glasses?" Negi shouted patting about on his jacket.
Nicholas watched in amusement as Nodoka pulled the case from her pocket and opened it. She then put his glasses on his nose for him. "Here you are Negi."
"Oh, thank you Nodoka." Negi replied as he went back to trying to restore order to the turmoil of his girls on an average day.
"When did THAT happen?" Ayaka demanded as she once again drew Nicholas' attention.
"Oh, a couple of days ago I think. Negi left his glasses in the library, and I imagine she's been carrying them since then." Asuna replied nonchalantly.
"No! I mean, when did they start talking to each other so informally? It's like they're… they're…" Ayaka said as tears started to well up in her eyes. "You can't tell me you're actually happy about this either!"
"Yes actually, it's a big help for me and Nekane. Negi can be a handful so one more person to help take care of him really helps lighten the load." Asuna said and then grinned broadly at her nemesis.
"You mean you're not upset that Nodoka is this close to him?" Ayaka pressed.
"No, it turns out that Negi is actually my little brother, so if Nodoka wants him she's welcome to try. If anything, it helps me out so that I can dump him in her lap occasionally to keep him out of trouble. You're not jealous of her are you class rep?" Asuna said with a smug sneer that stopped short when she saw the expression on Ayaka's face.
"I would have thought that you seriously knew me better than that Asuna." Ayaka said with deep hurt as she ran from the room.
Nicholas raced after his granddaughter as she chased down her childhood nemesis. "Ayaka wait up! What's gotten into you? You've known all along that Nodoka was after Negi, why are you just now getting upset?"
Ayaka sobbed and turned a hateful eye towards the Red Baka. "You know me better than that Asuna. While I might be overly affectionate toward sensei, you know I'd never be like that. If Negi-sensei was happy, it would make me happy too no matter what person he decided to be with."
"Then why all the water works?" Asuna insisted.
"You know my past stupid. I lost my little brother, and I've always looked at Negi like he was my own. Now I find that he has a big sister already, and it's you of all people." Ayaka wept bitterly, not wanting to face her old rival.
"And they call ME a baka." Asuna said gently as she turned Ayaka around and placed her hands on her shoulder to look her square in the face. "Yes, Negi is my little brother Ayaka. Negi's grandfather brought us here so we would be able to finally find out. While we've been here, Nodoka and Negi have gotten a little closer. Okay, a LOT closer, but that still doesn't mean that there isn't a place for you in his life. Trust me; Negi's going to need all the big sisters he can get in the months ahead."
"You think so?" Ayaka asked, unsure of herself.
"Yeah, so cheer up, I think it might be time for me, you, and Negi to have a long talk when we get home." Asuna said wrapping her arms around her friend and walking her back towards the rest of the class.
Nicholas floated around vaguely listening to the other conversations as Ku Fei was telling Kaede about some guy in the Magic Knights she'd had to deck because he prepositioned her, and Chisame whining about how slow her connection speed was now.
Nicholas floated up to the top of the walls to see off the bus as it loaded the last of its passengers for the trip to London and then back to Mahora. Abigail joined him on the wall, and waved down to the children. Nicholas smiled and waved himself even though they couldn't see him. Below, Eva looked up at him and he was sure that the tongue she stuck out was meant for him alone. Nicholas grimaced, and then since nobody was going to be seeing it he threw dignity to the wind and stuck his tongue back out at her. She smirked as the bus started away.
"Oh, it's always a trial when the children come to visit." Abigail sighed as she straightened the folds of her dress. "Would you like me to put some tea on master?"
"Actually Abby, I need you to go get some things from my desk. It has been a while, and I really do think we should do some traveling now." Nicholas said wrapping his arm around hers. "I think the kids can handle it from here."
A/N: I did not have the ending set in stone for this story until today. I wrote it this afternoon after seeing what the reactions were to the death of Nodoka. I believe most people wanted her to live, and for it to be a happy ending. I only had one person that thought letting her live would be a cop out, but I hope they can forgive me. I am after all a sucker for happy endings.