(Note: I DID say part two was showing up today... Don't expect update speed to be this quick from now on.)
II. "Conversation Pieces II"
"It's been a while, Negi-sen—er Negi-sama." Setsuna Sakurazaki greeted him with a soft and polite bow. Her smile was barely there, but Negi could at least tell it still existed.
"It has, hasn't it?" Negi's hand flashed towards the car door, opening it from where he was driving. "But could we errm, not do the Negi-sama business? I'm not your superior, but an old friend after all."
"As you wish, Negi-sama." Setsuna blithely ignored his request with a small grin on her face. She sat down in the seat and closed the door.
Negi briefly made a Nagi-like grimace. "Anyway... haven't seen you in about a year and a half. How have you been?"
"Just fine, honestly." Setsuna answered. "Going after bounties in the old world isn't a thriving business, despite all the demon attacks. Somehow I seem to manage well."
They talked. She was here because the new dean had an assignment for her, and since she was in the neighborhood, she might as well visit her old friends, and now her old teacher. Negi happily brought her up to speed on what everyone else was up to—namely Asuna and the other White Wings. Somehow, the subject of Konoka was neatly avoided.
Negi took the car out to the woods nearby Eva's cottage, much to Setsuna's surprise.
"What are we stopping here for?" The samurai woman questioned. "I thought we were supposed to meet with the new dean."
"It's gonna be a while, you don't remember? He's off on business and he'll be back later. Besides, you're here really early." Negi hopped out the car and stretched himself. He hadn't really been in there all that long, but a nice stretch always helped.
"I suppose." Setsuna quietly withdrew from the car.
The woods were nice and calm. Both Negi and Setsuna appreciated the quiet and the beauty. Didn't hurt that Eva's barrier was still up, and therefore if any magic noise happened, nobody would be any of the wiser.
Setsuna unsheathed Yuunagi. "If you don't mind, I'm going to practice for a bit. Might help me relieve a bit of stress."
Negi nodded, and she began practicing various techniques.
The man recognized quite a few of those attacks—many of them were the opening of some of her secret techniques. Such dedication. Such grace, such beauty...
...and wait. Why was he just watching? Why did he feel so tense?
Maybe... "Setsuna-san... so how about a practice spar? Just like old times?" He found himself saying those words before he understood what had actually happened.
Setsuna stopped her practice and turned towards him. "Hmph... I hope these times of peace have not made you weak, Negi-sama."
Relief flooded Negi's mind as he pounded both of his fists together. "Doubt that! Hrraauughh!" He rushed forward, an expert fist aimed straight for the woman's face.
Of course, she easily twirled out of harm's way, flowing smoothly into a counterattack. Negi stumbled backwards from absorbing the hit; he doubt he'd be so lucky if she were using the sword for real.
Negi took the offensive once more. Drawing lightning to his hands, he let loose a powerful flurry of punches. Setsuna, however, dodged them with finesse and grace. Negi nearly faltered when she simply drew back and slashed forward, nearly catching him by surprise. He mentally sighed in relief as he kept his eyes on his opponent.
Alas, that relief was short-lived. Negi heard the sound of a tree falling apart, and it was falling right towards him. "Aw, come oonnn!" Negi complained, countering the tree's descent to earth by punching it out of harm's way.
With the tree no longer a threat, he noticed Setsuna was out of sight again. Not good.
Then she was back in his face once more. Setsuna's sword was much more coordinated than his punches—it took him that much more effort to dodge them. "Are you losing your touch?"
I hope not, Negi mentally responded. Dark thoughts of her claiming Konoka for herself crept into the back of his mind. "No..." He said out loud. Perhaps as much to himself as it was to her, too.
Enough holding back. He focused those dark feelings into powering himself up—no point in repressing it. "Saggita Magica... series lucis!" Now seventeen arrows of light shot from his fingers. Surprised, Setsuna jumped back, deflecting the arrows with her sword. She primed herself to rush him before he could charge another spell, but Negi was already two steps ahead of her.
Charging his fist with lightning again, he started towards her again, only to sweep his hand up a moment later. Powerful thunderbolts crashed onto Setsuna. He didn't hesitate to continue his assault with a rushing punch. However, Setsuna swept forward with her blade, catching his powered up punch with the back of her sword.
"Not bad, huh?" Negi grinned.
"It seems that what I've heard about your strength from ojou-sama is true," Setsuna observed. "She seems to be testing your spirit as well."
"And apparently... our marriage." Negi drew himself up, anger creeping into his features, but still largely kept in check. "I know about the affair, Setsuna."
The girl stopped, if only briefly, her face etched in shock. She lost her opportunity to counter Negi's rush, and would have suffered a great deal had she not pulled a panicked evasive maneuver at the last second. "W-what...?!" Setsuna stood her ground, but didn't attack—her face was red with telltale shock. "Since w-when did you...?"
Negi stopped his attack, and sat down, hands pressed on his knees. "I've known for a good while, though Konoka did confess last night. To be honest, I should have known this would happen—especially since I've known all along about your feelings," It felt so strangely cathartic that Negi allowed himself to smile—just a little bit.
"No... I..." Setsuna still stuttered, at a loss for words.
"I can't do anything about changing Konoka's mind, or yours. I can't change myself either—I'm still very much in love with her, despite what she's done. Nobody's going to change that," Negi said. "I erroneously thought back then that you could find your own happiness."
"I can, and I have," Setsuna hissed.
"But only after you nearly committed suicide through trying to take down a swarm of high level demons. And even then, all I need to do is look in your eyes—they still say that you're still lonely," Negi coolly countered, gazing directly into her eyes. "That still baffles me... why did you do that?"
"Negi-sensei, you know my line of work is dangerous. Always has been, always will be. You and Asuna-san have even fought alongside me, even when you first came here several years ago," Setsuna answered.
"There's a difference between fighting dangerous missions and trying to bite more than you can chew," Negi pressed. "You aren't stupid, and neither am I."
Setsuna clenched her teeth, but then sighed. "...when you guys were married, I felt my goal to protect ojou-sama was now officially useless. Ojou-sama now had you as a strong, dependable guardian and loving significant other. What was I supposed to do? I felt like my reason for existing was taken away from me..." Her voice shook, perhaps with sorrow, perhaps with frustration.
Negi didn't like that, weary of the ticking time bomb in front of him. Still, he pressed on. "Konoka didn't think so. She's a dear friend to you, and I would never take her away from you."
"That... doesn't even matter. I was still jealous," Setsuna lamented. "I tried everything I knew to distract myself. It wasn't working—even if I couldn't worry over her romantically, I still worried over her, even with you by her side. I didn't want to lust after ojou-sama's happiness, but I still didn't want to lose her!"
"But did you think that maybe I didn't want to lose her either?" Negi's voice only had the slightest edge, but even that was more than enough. "Driving a wedge between you two is the last thing I want to do, but—" He stopped. He couldn't complete this train of thought. He already came here for a purpose, and now he just ran into one more reason why he had to do this.
Setsuna's face was still red, but her voice was rising. "So imagine my shock when ojou-sama came to me one day. She still wanted me to be her partner. I couldn't... no, I wouldn't refuse! Even knowing what I was doing..." Now her hands were trembling. "She and I... it felt good to be needed again, to be just like we used to be back then."
Negi sighed. "When I talked to her last night, I did wonder if she merely married me just so your relationship with her would not be questioned."
"Believe me, Negi-sensei! I didn't mean to—!"
"You didn't mean to what?" Negi interrupted, somehow staying cool. It might have been because he understood the situation far more than she apparently did. "I'm gonna guess and say that you want to say 'get between or ruin our marriage', right? I'm sorry, but you kinda did get between us..."
Setsuna's despair-stricken face could not have looked worse, unless Konoka herself died. "Negi-sama! Please... forget me!" She bowed so heavily her face was nearly buried in the earth. "I'm really sorry! Go make ojou—Kono-chan happy! I don't deserve this, or anything! I'm sorry..."
It was painful for Negi to bear. The misunderstanding she—no, both of them had about each other was ending... now. Negi gently lifted her head out of the earth, and simply answered her despair by locking lips with hers.
The positively electric effect it had on Setsuna spread to Negi as well. It felt so... powerful. So good. They finally drifted apart. Stunned yet again, Setsuna stammered, "Oh no, I—I-I..."
"Setsuna-san... you poor thing," Negi whispered, hugging her closely. "You didn't think about yourself at all, to the point that you lost your own happiness. Granted, it was kind of our fault, too, but still... Anyway, I'm going to put this simply—you got in between our marriage, so now we're going to let you in completely."
"Really?" Setsuna's flushed face looked almost childish.
"Yeah... I want you to protect Konoka with me." Negi smiled.
Setsuna let herself mimic that heartfelt smile.
Alas, this scene did not last very long.
"Geez, Negi-kun. Kissing Secchan behind my back," Konoka Konoe stood there, her face an expression of mock anger. Her cheeks were puffed with indignation. Somehow, both Negi and Setsuna were enraptured by her angry beauty. "And not even inviting me to play, too? I'm heartbroken!"
"We were catching up," Negi explained simply.
Konoka went from her faked anger to a genuine smile. "So I'm glad you could accept my selfish wish, Negi-kun..." She turned to Setsuna as well. "Secchan." She twirled happily. "The two most important people in my world don't need to be in separate worlds to find happiness with me—I have enough for both of you!"
"Ojou-sa—" Setsuna began, but Konoka gave her a look—Negi recognized that one. That adorable pout used only when things not going her way bothered her—especially concerning her most treasured loved ones. He knew Setsuna was in loads of trouble now. And apparently, so did she. "Err... K-Kono-chan?"
"We're going to fix you, Secchan," Konoka announced in a grim voice, and with unsurprising and yet still awe inspiring grace, she whipped out some rope and lassoed Setsuna in it. "And the first thing we're going to fix is that you drop this 'ojou-sama' and 'Negi-sama' business!" And Konoka and Negi happily dragged Setsuna back to the car, where the bound samurai struggled futilely against her fate.
"O-o-oojou-sama?! Y-you can't do this! This is madness!" Setsuna protested, her face the shade of most tomatoes.
"Madness? This is saishoudoukin!" Konoka happily countered.
Screw the oncoming politics—Negi no longer had an argument with that.
(This ends "Conversation Pieces". Some of my sharper readers may have noticed a few things:
a. For all this talk about politics, why haven't they run into anything?
b. So why DOES Konoka like Setsuna? Almost nobody answers that question, and so far I have not been the exception.
Those are answers for future oneshots (I at least hope to do b very soon). More or less, think of this story as a sort of... slice-of-life drama. A connected theme or 'canon', the chapters are all separate. Thank you for your time! As always, concrit appreciated.)