Disclaimer: All characters and series belong to their original creators - I claim nothing.
The sun was hours past high noon, but few people would have been able to tell that without looking at the sky itself. Even here - deeper in the park than most people from the Academy bothered to go - the shade of the trees was just enough to make it bearable. The air outside was stuffy and humid, the light breeze that floated through the trees utter bliss when it caught you right.
If you were a sane person then you would have to be either inside or in a pool. Certainly you wouldn't be crouched behind a few bushes, parting the leaves in front of you with your hands just enough to see into the vaguely round clearing on the other side.
'But I guess nothing I'm doing is sane…' Natsumi thought to herself pathetically, guilt on her face though she knew there wasn't really anything to affix it to.
The young high school girl kneeled perfectly still, her limbs aching at her to stretch and the rest of her body screaming at her to escape to somewhere cool. Despite her best efforts at applying antiperspirant the sweat coated her body and her water bottle was already dry. Summer really was a killer this year. She was wearing nothing more than sandals, a t-shirt and a skirt - and she still felt like she was going to boil in her skin.
She stayed like this for several minutes, not daring to make a sound or a movement even though he had not yet arrived.
"Psst! Natsumi-chan!" The shy red-headed girl squealed and jumped upwards at the hushed whisper. Unfortunately pulling her head painfully through the bush before she whipped it to the side to face the intruding voice - face red and eyes wide - hands clutched on her sore scalp. "Hurry up, they'll be here in a few minutes."
Haruna crouched just a few metres away, smiling widely and gesturing for her to follow. Shocked and embarrassed the far more petite schoolgirl allowed herself to be led around the edge of the clearing, noticing the stealthy way in which her classmate moved and attempting to do the same.
As they rounded a thick squat tree Natsumi could only stare in complete confusion.
"Hey Natsumi." Yue said with a nod, barely looking up before returning to her juice box. "You've come to watch too?"
"Good afternoon Natsumi-chan." Ever polite, Nodoka attempted a small bow even though she was on the ground - evidently trying to keep stealthy just as she had been.
"H-Hi… everyone…" There wasn't really anything else she could think to say. She had been surprised when the Haruna had called her - but for this the word surprise was just too weak a word to describe this.
Between two large sun-blocking trees, just behind a rather tall and significantly less prickly bush than the one she had chosen, was a thick spacious blanket laid out across the grass. On top of it kneeled two of her classmates, a half open cooler filled with ice and drinks laid out beside them. There was even a picnic basket to go along, the perfect excuse in case someone caught them there, and probably full of delicious snacks if they didn't. Haruna smiled at her before sitting down next to Yue, gesturing to the open spot by Nodoka for her to do the same.
She did so, still totally unsure of what was going on.
"Why are you all here?"
"Cause its downwind, we don't need Kotaro-kun smelling us after all this effort." Haruna replied with a good natured expression.
"N-No… I mean-"
"She's just playing with you." Yue interrupted. "We're all here for the same reason you are probably."
"Oh…" Natsumi felt a little better - and a lot less guilty - knowing someone else was doing this too.
"Nodoka?" Haruna asked suddenly, turning to the girl with her book open on her lap. "They coming soon?"
"Uh-huh. Any minute now..."
"Oh… that's your magic artefact thing isn't it?" Natsumi asked with interest. "Kota-kun said it was an amazing one…" She got a nod in return, Nodoka's wide if bashful smile an indicator of how much she was proud of her special power.
"It reads people's thoughts Natsumi-chan." Haruna winked at her conspiratorially, a wink that had been long practiced to make people blush. "Only reason Nodoka got it is because she's too sweet and innocent to abuse it."
"Course, as long as Nodoka-chan's around people who aren't can use it too." Paru let out a stifled giggle and Natsumi tried to hide her discomfort by drinking eagerly from a bottle of water - having ignored the unusual juice variations that had somehow been acquired - such oddities as peppermint apple or bubblegum orange - that weren't to her taste. "Though sometimes I don't need to…" Haruna continued, giving her a knowing look and a smile that could only be described as 'hungry'.
"W-What?" Shameful, the red-head stuttered under Paru's humiliating stare.
"I'm just saying… you're not here for Negi-kun like these girls are you?"
Natsumi instantly went redder than the tomato juice Yue was suckling. "I-I…" She stopped and took a breath, willing the blood to stop collecting in her face. "I just came to keep an eye on Kotaro-kun…" She replied, almost whispering, completely unable to look her classmate in the eye. "H-He works hard… so I've gotta make sure he's okay…"
It wasnt a convincing statement, yet that was probably for the best anyway. Although Natsumi didn't realise it a tremendous tension had suddenly been lifted as both Nodoka and Yue realised that they weren't dealing with yet another rival in love - that in fact they had one of the few in their class that they didn't have to worry about. It was bad enough for the pair that they were working against one another, adding in a dozen other women – most of which were far better endowed then they were – and their situation was fast becoming a nightmare. The love triangle had long passed them by, now it had become something more closely resembling a broken etch-a-sketch.
"Leave her alone Paru." Yue spoke up, relief flooding through Natsumi as she realised there was someone there to stop Haruna digging any deeper. Eager to extend her own personal olive branch of peace, Nodoka held out a large home-made cookie from her picnic basket, giving it to the newcomer with a friendly smile whilst placing her hand on the other girl's shoulder to try and make her feel at ease. Admittedly the gesture was a little awkward on her part, but Natsumi still appreciated it.
"Thank you Yue-chan, Honya-chan." The freckled schoolgirl smiled back as widely as she could to the two, making a note to try and make it up to them later.
"Oh? On her side a bit more now that you know she's not competition you two?" Paru smirked at the group, knowing precisely what was going on in their heads.
It shouldn't be possible to say something silently with the same expression you always use, but Yue managed it. Even to Natsumi there was an overwhelming undercurrent of 'don't argue with me right now' in the look she gave.
"Alright alright, I'm really just here for drawing ideas anyway." The manga lover quickly backed off - picking up her sketchbook from the floor and twirling a pencil between her fingers. "Nodoka, any sign of-"
"Shh!" Nodoka hushed her and nodded, sending the group into silence just as their prey arrived. Through four tiny gaps in the bush, each girl watched intently.
"It's a little too hot right now isn't it Kotaro-kun?" The voice all but whined as Negi walked through into their usual clearing. Having dressed for sun and training instead of teaching, the young Mage wore some baggy shorts and a t-shirt with little else instead of his usual suit, trainers instead of leather shoes. It was clear enough from the scratches and dirt on him that he and Kotaro had already started their sparring, the fact he seemed ready to fall down told the pseudo-voyeurs that he had probably expended most of his magic too.
"You're just tired. It was hotter at noon!" A second figure emerged into the clear light of the clearing with a wide grin on his face and two prominent canine ears nestled amongst his black hair. He also dressed a little differently, wearing nothing more than a pair of long black pants - a hole cut in them to allow the tail out - and a white tank top in the heat. Unlike the young teacher his own feet were bare on the grass, allowing a keen observer to see the long pointed claws that matched the ones on his hands. "Besides. You can't skip on a training session just cause the sun is out."
"Yes, I suppose your right." His rival agreed. "After this I can have a nice long rest too."
"Got that right." Kotaro smiled widely, his grin showing off a set of just a little bit too sharp teeth. "So, normal rules apply. Plain ol' fist fight, limit to half Magic or Ki behind your strength, no projectiles or other crap."
"Oh yeah," The Hanyou quickly removed his tank top in a flash and sent it flying randomly into the bushes – just a few metres to the left of Natsumi's face. "Shirts off, like real men."
Negi nodded with a serious smile to him, removing his own shirt and setting it on the ground some distance away before moving back and dropping into a fighting position.
Behind the bushes three out of the four girls blushed at the two boys - even Yue with her usually cool persona couldn't help it. The fourth smirked and began drawing.
For Nodoka and Yue, seeing Negi wearing anything less than a suit was rare. Even in the baths it wasn't common. He usually spent his entire time trying to hide himself, and though this was rarely successful going close enough to look at him would mean letting him see them - something neither of the two were bold enough to do. Unless perhaps absolutely no one else was around, in which case even Nodoka could consider it within some scandalous half-dazed daydreams. But for as long as the rest of their class existed and especially Asuna on top of them all, that particular scenario wasn't going to occur any time soon.
Surprisingly, even though he was only ten he didn't look bad at all, a slim athletic body the result of his many training sessions. It wasn't hard to imagine what he would be looking like once he grew up a bit. Especially since they had already seen that grown up – through the use of some magical medicines - and found that he could make their knees weak by just winking. No wonder Ako had fallen in love with 'Nagi' so badly.
Needless to say, Nodoka 'eeped' and looked down at her knees on reflex, before remembering that he couldn't actually see her and raising her burning face back to watch. Yue on the other hand hadn't blinked for minutes – concentrating on taking in everything - though her face was almost as scarlet as her best friend's.
Both the librarians jumped in shock when Natsumi suddenly remembered she needed to breath and gasped sharply to get some air. She ignored their stares completely, sweating all over and by far the worst of them blush-wise. Even Nodoka would have struggled to get that colour.
Trying to figure out what could have caused it, as one they turned and looked at Kotaro instead.
"Wow… that's actually impressive…" Haruna thought aloud, getting nods all round.
"It's probably a Hanyou thing…" Yue replied, making a mental note to check her artefact later to see what it had on the subject.
It shouldn't be possible to look so masculine at such a young age, but he had managed it and more. For whatever reason Kotaro had muscles on him that weren't usually even seen until teen years. Whilst none could be accurately called huge – for that just wasn't his body structure - the very definition and tone in him gave off a look of compacted power. A look that they knew from experience he could back up. The illusion was brief but strong - for a few seconds he could have just been a shrunk down boy their own age. A boy who trained as a boxer.
It didn't help that even at his young time of life he had apparently been able to get himself some serious looking scars in various places. One of which on his back that was disturbingly long. Of course Negi had a few scars himself, but most of his were very light and small - kept by choice rather than any need and gained in training for the most part. Kotaro's seemed more like he'd taken them in real life, though no doubt he'd have chosen to keep them all even if someone offered to heal.
'He's probably proud of them.' Natsumi guessed, thinking it fit his personality, wondering to herself how new some of them were. Sometimes her roommate did wander away for a day or two, even a week if he was training with Kaede. Perhaps he came back with more than just experience.
Of course, possibly the very worst thing was that Kotaro had neglected a belt and now his baggy trousers were slipping down to expose a little bit more than usual - even the top of a muscled buttock was coming into view.
"Heh… Negi pulls on those a bit too hard and we'll get to see something really interesting…" Paru whispered to them all, causing wide eyes and spluttering all round.
"Go!" Negi announced suddenly with a competitive smile. Nothing else was needed - immediately the two males were at it. They began running against each other at full speed, closing the distance between them in seconds and each starting with a punch to the chest of their opponent. Both hits connected but there was an obvious strength difference in unarmed fighting at least, the Youkai only staggered backwards for a second before he recovered, whilst Negi was left coughing as he tried to get back to his stance. Only Yue realised the problem – as per the rules Negi had taken down his magic barrier for the fight. Even if they were both using only half the remaining Ki or Magic they had left those punches were still far more powerful than the ones any normal person could throw.
Instead of letting Kotaro take the advantage however the young Mage charged again and hit him with a uppercut to the chin instead, following up with a miss that could have very easily been a powerful strike to the windpipe.
Their fight continued this fiercely for another quarter hour at least, covering both boys with bruises and the occasional cut. Throughout Nodoka and Yue admired Negi's serious but careful expression, his silent stony look that he only seemed to wear whilst he fought that had just a sprinkling of competition in it. Meanwhile, Natsumi watched Kotaro's succession of pleased expressions throughout. His smirks when he attacked, his laughs when he got hit, the general looks and sounds of excitement that he made whenever he dabbled in violence.
'He's a little scary when he's like this…' She conceded to herself. Nevertheless, Natsumi also found it incredibly... cool. She was impressed by how confident he was, by how fearless he seemed. Not to mention how he seemed to treat pain almost like it was just a vague inconvenience - something that would go away if he didn't pay attention. That was just incredible.
Eventually both boys became exhausted and the fight was reduced from a fast action punch-up to a kind of wrestling, both combatants too tired to throw any hits any more and simply trying to grapple one another on the floor. Paru quickly found finding she couldn't draw fast enough as the two semi-naked boys rolled on the grass, each struggling to get the upper hand.
In fact, even the notoriously hard to embarrass geek girl was a little flushed at this point. Meanwhile the other members of their little voyeur group were fighting off nosebleeds. Natsumi smiled despite herself when she saw Yue - without even taking her gaze away - steady Nodoka on her shoulder as the fainting-prone shy girl seemed to be getting unsteady and weak.
'Wow, they really are best friends. Kind of a weird situation to help each other in though…' The young actress thought. 'I know I wouldn't be doing this if Chizuru-chan wasn't away at her parents.' Natsumi went wide-eyed and shook her head to clear her thoughts. 'No, I don't need to be guilty. I'm not doing anything wrong! I'm just watching Kotaro-kun train!' Of course, it was easy telling herself that, but would her roommate even believe it if she ever found out? 'Not a chance, not if she found out he didn't know I was here!' Despite being her best friend, Chizuru frightened the smaller girl sometimes. Natsumi knew she slept very deeply. There was always the chance that one day her friend would see what did happen when you tried to put a spring onion up there.
"Alright, I think that's enough to prove I'm the better man here." Kotaro laughed as he released Negi from a grip.
"Which is why I usually win?" Negi returned.
"Ehh?" He got a dangerous look in return from the Hanyou, who smiled in that specifically predatory way that completely didn't make Natsumi squeak under her breath in any way whatsoever. "You're lucky I was so nice to you today. I barely used my claws at all."
Negi looked down at the multiple cuts that had been inflicted on him. All of them were pretty light, but they were still bleeding. "Very merciful." He said sarcastically.
"Ah shut ya whining." Rummaging in the pocket of his trousers, Kotaro brought out a cheap looking steel hip-flask and offered it to him. "Want some?"
"You drink?" Negi asked, so surprised he had actually taken a step back.
"Booze?" Natsumi almost shouted it from behind the bushes but managed to subdue it to a hushed whisper, her mouth open wide.
"Its more for the wounds idiot." The dog boy told him with a smirk, dabbing some on his hands before pressing it to the cuts he had sustained. Most of them were actually from ranged combat earlier, in which he had come off a lot more damaged. He hissed as he felt the burn on the wounds. "I don't really need my wounds dressing, even mutt Youkai like me heal as fast as the full ones. I just dab some of this stuff on usually and it lets my body do its stuff faster."
His roommate sighed her relief, glad it was just for medical use. For a moment she had thought Kotaro might be some kind of delinquent!
"That probably explains the scars you know" Negi pointed out. "You should get a healer."
Kotaro laughed. "Yeah, well. I like them. I wouldn't wanna come to my old age and have nothing to show for it. Sure you don't want some to put on?"
"I'm sure. I can smell it from here, if Asuna-san found me smelling of alcohol she'd have my neck." He remarked, scratching the back of his head awkwardly.
Another laugh. "Same with Chizuru-nee-chan." 'More like his butt…' Natsumi corrected in her head darkly. "But she's away doing something right now, so I can go back to my old habit's a little." Despite his earlier words, Kotaro took a stiff gulp from the flask and immediately recoiled with a gasp and a pained shake of the head, along with some pained coughing for good measure.
"How strong is that?" Negi asked with an ill face. "In fact, what is that?" Alright, so he wasn't intimately familiar with different drinks, but he was sure a good alcoholic beverage wasn't supposed to make ones eyes water. Especially when you were standing over a metre away from the person drinking it.
"I don't know… it might be a wood polish or something." Kotaro didn't usually drink this sort of thing unless he was seriously hurt and needed a cheap anaesthetic, but Negi's questions had quickly made him curious – a fact his tongue regretted.
"You'll poison your liver!"
"Hanyou, remember?" The half-nude dog demon reminded him. "As long as I live long enough to let it, pretty much anything will heal – even an arm if I can attach it right. And anything heals in about a month."
"Wow." Negi said in genuine awe. "I wish I had that."
"Yeah well, you wouldn't be able to be a teacher if ya did." The Hanyou pointed out, gesturing to the proud canine ears that poked out from his scalp.
"I guess you're right…"
The two boys semi-limped a short distance away, sitting against the base of a tree to rest for a while, making idle conversation with one another whilst the girls sighed and did the same on their blanket.
"Its terrible when you discover secrets about the ones you care about, isn't it?" Paru told the redhead in a faux-caring voice. Natsumi fumed silently, debating whether or not to burst out of the bushes and discipline him. But then what could she possibly say? She wasn't Chizuru, and she didn't have her talent for intimidation. Very likely Kotaro would just laugh at her.
"Well its not as if its dangerous for him." Yue pointed out flatly, making her way through yet another juice box. Already her artefact was open at a page on Canine Hanyou - information splayed out in front of her in panels as she read. "According to this, he's right. A half demon does have superior healing abilities to normal humans, liver included."
"That's no excuse…" Natsumi mumbled.
"Huh… says here that all male Inu-Youkai have raised testosterone levels from birth." Haruna pointed out.
"Yeah, that's probably why he has more muscles than you'd expect. Explains why he's so kill-crazy too." Yue responded with a frown, before remembering Natsumi was present.
"Kota-kun isn't kill-crazy!" The petite actress protested indignantly. Alright, so she knew full well the small boy she lived with was part demon, and seemingly the dominant part too. She also knew he enjoyed fighting more than anything else in his life. And until coming to live with them had worked as something close to a mercenary. But that didn't mean anything, right? "…is he?" She was forced to add onto the end.
"Well… he is a little bit Natsumi-chan…" Nodoka spoke up timidly. "But he is a warrior… he's supposed to be like that, right?"
"...I guess..." The red-head conceded with a sigh, depressed. "My roommate's a violent, foul mouthed booze loving demon..." She whined quietly.
"Well at least he's interesting." Haruna pointed out with a laugh. "Hey Yue, can ya get anything up on that thing about mating rituals?" Paru giggled, delighting in seeing Murakami puff up her cheeks and blush in embarrassment.
Handily for Haruna, the magical book seemed to pay attention and automatically changed to the right page, the words glowing as they floated above the book which was more like a high-tech laptop than a dusty old tome.
They stared - all but one felt another nosebleed coming on.
After her mind had taken its time processing the images and assuring her that yes this is indeed what you're seeing, Yue slammed it shut.
"Did your book just show-" Paru began.
"Maybe next time you give my artefact a command, be specific on what specifically about mating rituals you want." Yue reprimanded with a glare.
"Sorry, I wanted text." The author apologised genuinely. "You okay Honya? I didn't… like… break your innocence or something did I?"
"I-I'll be fine…" In fact the timid girl looked ready to collapse. Rapidly blood was draining from her brain into her skin, a red glow coating her literally from top to bottom.
Slowly, whilst Paru was occupied trying to keep her friend from fainting, Natsumi stood up stealthily and tried to wander off. If she went now she could go without questions asked, just get back to her room before Kotaro managed to do it, and ask him if he had enjoyed himself as usual. It might have worked too if manners hadn't insisted she mumbled a small thank you for the food and drink she had been offered.
"You're not going anywhere Natsu-chan." Haruna told her immediately, pulling her back down to the blanket by her wrist. The freckled girl pulled at her classmate's hand in vain before accepting her fate and just hoping for mercy.
"What do you want Paru?" She sighed at her.
"She probably wants you to admit you've got a crush to her." Yue explained as bluntly as ever.
"Well I do get off on embarrassment..." The Mangaka admitted with a twinkle in her eyes.
"I don't have a crush on Kotaro-kun!" Natsumi wished she could shout right now, but she was restricted to the loudest whisper she could get to instead.
"Oh? Did we say who it was on?" Paru crooned at her.
"I don't have a crush on him…" The red-head repeated a little quieter.
"Look, Nodoka has a book that reads minds. We could find out if we want." Haruna pointed out.
Wide almost tearful eyes looked at her, and Haruna swore she could see the girl's lower lip wobble. No one needed to see something that adorably pathetic.
"Paru! Don't be cruel!" Nodoka told her, genuinely surprised that her friend could act like that with her artefact. "E-Even if Natsumi did have some feelings for him, forcing wont help her…"She said diplomatically.
"…well they do say denial isn't healthy either." Yue mumbled, to the general surprise of the people around her. It was the most reserved Natsumi had ever heard the confident - occasionally insulting - girl speak. But then, even she was aware that Yue had almost had some kind of mental break down in guilt over her recent crush. The fact that she and Nodoka could stay best friends and rivals in love at the same time was just a testament to how much they cared about one another.
"Well, you know Natsumi-chan. If Kotaro feels anything, we could use that power to find out what he truly thinks of you." The Mangaka pointed out.
"Y-You could?" The petite girl asked.
"Do you want me to?" Nodoka asked gently.
Natsumi stayed silent for a few minutes, looking down at her knees and fidgeting. She felt their eyes on her, the sensation hot and prickly for the flustered girl as she weighed up the options. Eventually however she looked up to stare Nodoka straight in the eyes, trusting eye contact sealing the deal. Gingerly, she nodded.
"Alright." Haruna continued for her friend. "All ya need to do is ask Kotaro-kun something to do with you and love, and Honya can do the rest."
"Wait, do what?"
Without waiting for a reply, Paru stood up and leaned over their camouflage bush, waving to the two surprised young boys with a wide welcoming smile. "Oi! Kotaro! Natsumi has something to ask you! Get over here!"
It took the combined strengths of Paru, Yue and Nodoka just to keep their new friend from crawling away on her hands and knees, and even then her nails had dug into the soil as they pulled her back.
"Just relax." Yue told her confidently, looking her in the eye with a nod. "Just relax and concentrate. The worst is over after you've done it."
"But that means I still have to do the worst!" She protested, actual tears forming in her eyes.
She squealed at the sound of her name being said, and slowly turned around. Suddenly the other girls became very interested in other things, or at least seemed to be. Nodoka began reading her artefact, encased as it was in a normal fantasy book. Paru began doodling in her notebook, making the occasional glance upwards to see what was going on. Meanwhile Yue walked out towards Negi and begun talking to him, making sure to keep him out of the way.
Natsumi looked up. Kotaro leaned over the bush, pressing it's leaves down under his body as he looked at her.
"What are you doing here?"
"J-Just relaxing… um…. I saw you sparring." She mumbled out. "Y-You were really good!" It was an awkward compliment on her end. Her volume control seemed to have died and she could barely suppress the stutter she was developing. Along with her cherry red colour, Natsumi was beginning to realise what it was like to be Nodoka. Awkwardness seemed to be pouring from every atom of her being.
"Thanks!" If he noticed her unusual behaviour he didn't notice, choosing instead only to smile at her. "Oh yeah. What did you want to ask?"
Natsumi tried, she really really did. But as many times as she ran different words through her mind she couldn't match them up right.
"Umm… I…" She trailed off.
"Do you…um… think that…"
"Yah?" Kotaro frowned a little. Why was she acting so strange this time?
Natsumi looked at his impatient face and felt herself heating up, scrunching her eyes closed in shame. At that moment it felt to her like she had never been more humiliated than she was right now, even though practically nothing was happening to her. Certainly no one was laughing at her or poking fun. Yet despite the queasy feeling in her stomach and her inexplicable terror the timid girl knew she had to try again. Taking a few calming breaths she steadied her courage. Nothing could stop her, she would just have to come out with it and that would be that. She would find out exactly what he thought of her.
'After three. Three... two... one... now!'
The shy actress raised her head to him, catching his confused look, taking another deep inhale of air, looking him straight in the eyes and asking:
"Do you want to go to the baths with me before dinner!"
"Huh?" Natsumi said the exact same thing he did, her expression showing shock and confusion before she hid it. The highschooler had fully meant to say… something else then. She hadn't just lacked the courage though, it seemed like her body had literally gone against her own orders - just picking any old thing to fill the blank space. "I mean… um... I mean I'm all sweaty from being in the sun all day, and you probably are too." It came out far more easily than she expected. Not for the first time in her life she thanked her training in drama club for helping her along, giving her practice in faking expressions, voices and making things up. "I thought we could go for a nice bath, then I could fix you up a good meal when we got home?" Had it not been such a dire situation the amateur actress would have been proud of her ad-libs – usually she sucked at improvising lines. But whether it was her convincing act or his complete density it worked on him all the same – he didn't even see through her phony smile, the one she had plastered over an expression of shame to the point of sickliness.
"Wow, that sounds great Natsumi-chan. Good idea!" He smiled at her - licking his lips - and that certainly did make her smile. A genuine one. He turned back from the bush he was leaning over, seeing Negi talking to Yue. "Hey Negi! You gonna come for a bath with me and Natsumi-nee-chan? Or are ya going later on? Cause you stink of sweat ya know." He laughed, not actually joking but well aware he stank too. Pulling his tank top on over his head helped a little, but pretty soon the sweat would just soak through that as well.
"Hmm… I don't really want to but I guess I better have one…" He replied awkwardly as he found his own shirt and pulled it back on. Negi was not really a fond of the baths he had been taking since he had arrived in Japan, but that was less to do with the idea of cleanliness and more to do with the public nudity that it seemed to entail here. On the few occasions where he had been able to get into an all male bath with Kotaro or others he had quite enjoyed the relaxing atmosphere.
"So you coming then or what?"
"I think Asuna-san would rather I went with her…" He sighed, slumping where he stood like a puppet with it's strings cut.
"She's got you whipped!" Kotaro laughed.
Natsumi thought about mentioning how her best friend and roommate seemed to be doing a fantastic job of domesticating him, but decided against it. That would do nothing more than hurt his pride, something he seemed to hold in higher value than pretty much everything around him.
Haruna was just about to volunteer to go along with them when she felt Nodoka's hand on hers, as the girl herself slowly shook her head.
"We can go later," She whispered with a wide smile. "I think it'd be better to let them go by themselves right now."
Haruna sighed and shrugged, but after a little thought agreed. Maybe some time alone with one another would help move this along - even if she did really want to watch. Nevertheless, the voluptuous Mangaka couldn't help leaning over to the redhead she was torturing and whispering in her ear.
"This isn't over you know Natsumi-chan, not by a long shot." She blew her ear to make the littler girl jump before standing. "Come on Yue, Nodoka, we better get going. See ya later you guys."
"Have a good evening Haruna-san." Negi replied politely. "And for everyone else too."
"See ya Haruna-nee-chan, everyone." Kotaro said himself as a chorus of farewells erupted, almost enough to stop him noticing that his roommate had only mumbled her own.
"You okay Natsumi-nee-chan?" He asked, cocking his head.
She turned and smiled at him as best as she could.
"L-Lets just go for that bath… I think I really need to relax…"
He nodded and smiled, not really understanding what had made her stressed but at the same time not needing to. Instead he led the way back to their room in the dormitories to get their bathing things.
Ive gotta be honest I'm really not sure exactly what age Kotaro is – frankly I doubt he is either. He seems to act like Negi is roughly his own age (10) but evidence seems to point to him being a little older. 1) Natsumi mentions he looks like a first year middle school boy and in Japan that means he'd be about 12 or so. 2) He apparently is enrolled as a first year middle school student. 3) He's definitely slightly taller than Negi – in most of the scenes and he comments to that effect.
So in the end, if you want the ages for this fiction i'd say that Kotaro is at the very least phsyically 12. Natsumi approximatly is 15, as is Chizuru and most of their class (Ghosts, Vampires, Robots and whatever the hell Zazie Rainyday is all mix up the average age).