Chapter VII

November 3, 2007

Setsuna tasted blood.

Don't scream.

Another starburst of pain in her chest made her writhe, thrashing against the ropes around her wrists. No matter how hard Setsuna jerked, the bonds held.

*So, will you say it?*

"Fuck off!"

A laugh. *Why should I, when I've got you here?*

That sent chills down Setsuna's skin before a wide swathe of agony tore down Setsuna's ribs, the scrape of metal on bone sending a nauseating tremor through her body. She ground her teeth together, her lips already bleeding, hearing a scream roll in her throat.

*Oh, I think I almost have you now, senpai…* Mad giggling came by her ear, and Setsuna gave a half-whimper when she felt soft fingers run up the outside of her thigh, not quite sensually but threatening to be. She thrashed harder.

She had to bear this…she couldn't let Tsukuyomi beat her.

More pain hammered in her head, but Setsuna couldn't feel where it came from. She wasn't seeing her own bleeding, stripped body…she was spiralling deeper into her head, pulling to mind the most beautiful things she could think of.

Setsuna saw her most important person.

All pain faded from her awareness when a soft pair of lips touched hers.

"Pactio!" She dimly heard/remembered Chamo cry out, but none of that mattered.

Konoka kissed her, growing more and more passionate, as Setsuna felt a thrill of excitement twirl around her insides as she opened her mouth, letting Konoka's tongue in—

Dimly, Setsuna heard Tsukuyomi howl in fury, somewhere far, far away.

Setsuna laughed inside her head, still relishing the memory of Konoka's hot mouth as both of them poured all their pent-up ardour into the kiss.

**O**

May 24, 2010

Kyoto, Konoe-Wallward House

Mana

BLAM!

Setsuna startled a little, Yuunagi wavering in one of her strike repetitions. Mana ejected her empty shell casing, waiting to see what Setsuna would do once she realized that she had accidentally wandered into Mana's shooting range. They were the only two present at the small practice yard, the hour too early for even the more diligent Wallward guards to be up and about.

Mana loaded another shell, taking aim again, seeing Setsuna in her rifle's sights.

The half-demon simply looked back, her loose black hair wisping slightly around her chin.

BLAM!

Setsuna didn't even blink as the bullet whizzed by her cheek and slammed next to the bullethole already in the target.

Chik-cha-chik—BLAM!

TNK! Metal shrieked as Setsuna deflected the rifle round with her sword, leaping to the side and snapping her blade up into an attack position.

"What was that?" She asked dourly, raising an eyebrow.

Mana shrugged, chambering another round. "You're in my way."

"Yeah right—"

BLAM!

TNK! Setsuna stumbled, having caught that shot near Yuunagi's tip instead of closer to the handle, the force throwing her balance off. Chik-cha-chik. Mana already had her gun up to her shoulder again, pointed at Setsuna's chest. A head-shot wouldn't be worth the risk, as even in the state she was in Setsuna would be too fast for an accurate head-shot anyways.

"Mana!"

"Sloppy."

Setsuna froze, her confused annoyance transforming into anger. Finally, Mana thought, keeping her pleasure concealed under her mercenary mask. Her partner had been far too detached in the last weeks.

"What are you talking about?" Silver flashed as Setsuna brought Yuunagi up into a defensive stance. Red eyes narrowed, eyeing Mana with the attentiveness of a hawk about to strike. "I'm faster than I've ever been before."

"You're slacking." Mana fired again in succession, taking the time when Setsuna flipped and dodged around the bullets to load a new magazine.

Setsuna twisted past the last shot, her body flowing like a wild animal, each movement full of power and beauty. She rolled back into her defensive stance, although Mana could see her leading foot sliding sideways to slowly shift into a fighting pose. Protesting, Setsuna said, "I could never have done that before!"

"I can See it, you know," Mana retorted. "That demon side that you're so worried about, yet you're welcoming it in every day. At the level you're at now, you should be far better than this. But you're not. You're terrible."

Her instincts reacted before her mind did, which was a good thing. High tensile metal whined as Setsuna dodged and deflected her bullets, having gained five metres of ground in a lightning-quick dash but was forcibly halted by Mana's cover fire.

The gunslinger slammed another magazine in place. "You should be in my face by now. Instead, you're barely holding your own."

"What are you getting at?" Setsuna snarled, her arms shaking although her stance stayed firm. A rough tone in her voice betrayed her frustration, although her expression still looked ice calm.

"If you took better care of yourself, then maybe you wouldn't be so sloppy," Mana said. Oh, she would have to start being careful…this wasn't going to work if Setsuna managed to prove her wrong. She still had two loaded handguns on her belt, if Setsuna got close enough to force Mana to drop her rifle. "When was the last time you ate a full meal, Setsuna? Or when you slept for more than an hour at a time?" She pushed on, not giving Setsuna a change to answer. "You're coasting along on your demonic strength, letting it fill in for you where you've gotten weak!"

Setsuna lunged forward again, her sword flashing as she knocked aside bullets in her charge. Still, Mana's second-last rifle round contacted, tearing along the outside of Setsuna's thigh and sending the half-demon slamming into the ground, braced on her knees and out-flung hands, panting.

"I'm getting the job done!" hissed Setsuna, her face dark and her shoulders shaking as if she was fighting the urge to call forth her demon blood and take to the skies.

"And for your precious Ojou-sama, are you really settling for just getting the job done?" Mana asked scornfully. An injury like that wouldn't permanently damage Setsuna, not with her heightened demonic healing even if she decided not to let Konoka heal her. It shouldn't even affect her fighting. Setsuna must have no force of mind left to hold back distractions like pain.

Had Setsuna become so bad so quickly, and Mana hadn't even noticed?

She pumped out her last cartridge and replaced the magazine again, not wanting to start a new round of attacks without a full load. "So, Setsuna? Are you just going to let yourself coast through life, wasting your demonic strength on simply keeping that body of yours running?"

Demon eyes glared back at her. Setsuna breathed heavily, one hand white-knuckled around Yuunagi's hilt, and the other clamped over the slowly oozing gouge on her wounded leg.

"…I won't use the demon to be my strength," Setsuna said.

"Oh?" Mana challenged. "Then use your Pactio. That's why you did it, right? To become stronger?"

Setsuna froze.

"Do it," whispered Mana. She knew that Setsuna wouldn't, but she had to try. Normally she wouldn't have cared so much but by now, Setsuna was her friend. And sometimes friends had to say the things that weren't welcome, but that needed to be heard.

Panting, Setsuna rose, wiping her bloody hand on her white uwagi shirt. In an odd way, it was nice for Mana to see that Setsuna was still holding firmly onto her traditional work-out clothing, only changing into a Western style suit and shirt when they were on duty. It wouldn't do for the Wallwards to forget that they are now members of the old Konoe clan, and that while the knowledge may go both ways, the prestige clearly did not. Not that Mana cared to a great extent, but it still rubbed her the wrong way when she saw how the Wallwards always tried to strengthen their hold on Konoka.

They were all old friends, after all.

Setsuna turned, ignoring Mana and the blood dripping down her leg and dotting the packed dirt. The swordswoman walked back towards the house, her head down, Yuunagi's tip low to the ground.

Mana didn't shoot. She wasn't sure if Setsuna would actually try to stop her bullets this time.

**O**

Somewhen in November, 2007

*You can keep pretending, but in the end you know the truth.*

Setsuna shivered, hearing her own voice speaking to her. Keep your eyes closed…she knew that if she opened them, she would see red eyes gleaming back at her. Red eyes and white hair…

*I am in your blood—you can keep denying me, but when your blood runs hot in bloodlust…* Silken feathers brushed over Setsuna's back, making her shiver and arch, feeling the tingle in her back as her own wings strained to burst out of flushed skin. *You need me, to protect our Ojou-sama.*

"Konoka?" Setsuna muttered, sweating.

*I am your freedom.*

"No you're not…Konoka's my freedom!"

It's a trick—that isn't you. It's Tsukuyomi!

*I'm the strength you keep denying.*

Ignore her! Setsuna let herself fall into her spiralling memories, drawing her strongest defence around herself. Chestnut hair shimmered in the light as Konoka spun around, smiling at her with a shy, warm glow in her eyes.

"Hehe…how do I look, Set-chan?"

Beautiful.

Cinema village, and Konoka looked like a princess, bright and gorgeous. Setsuna's arm was constantly warm with the sensation of Konoka's hands on her bicep as her Ojou-sama pressed up close to her, looking at her with happy adoration.

*Do you think that once she knows about me, that she'll give you that same smile? You know better than that!*

Setsuna had scooped Konoka out of Chigusa's arms, slicing through the two summons as she flew past.

"Set-chan…it's you! I knew it…I knew you'd come rescue me." Konoka flushed, hiding her face, mumbling something about liking something and not looking…then she took her hands away and stared at Setsuna. "Set-chan…your back…?"

"Huh? Oh, uh…you mean these?" Setsuna stammered, feeling the shame rushing in again with each beat of her white wings.

"What…what are…"

"…Are you disgusted?" Setsuna asked in a small voice, her hands trembling although she still held Konoka securely against her chest.

Konoka gave a vehement shake of her head, blurting out a bit too hastily, "They're beautiful!" She quickly averted her gaze, "Um…You look like an angel!"

Inside Setsuna's head, her voice of truth whispered.

She's lying.

**O**

Asuna

Asuna hated all the fussy paperwork she had to do.

Oh, Konoka was nice and took care of most of her work herself, but her friend just didn't have the time anymore to shuffle around her appointments and co-ordinate with other people inbetween her research and her duties as the Konoe heir and as the lady of the Konoe-Wallward house. So Asuna was stuck with the boring-er tasks of arranging with Ethan Moor who was going to tell the limo driver the departure times and when their respective friends were available to go out as a couple for social events. Stuff that Konoka and Kyo couldn't be bothered with.

"Wednesday is the only lunch hour Kyo has available," Ethan said firmly, scrolling through Kyo's calendar. "You'll have to rearrange to open up that time for Lady Konoka, because nothing else will work."

"I told you already," Asuna growled, fighting to keep her politeness along with her patience, "that Wednesday doesn't work for the Mayor. He's coming all the way up here to thank Konoka and Kyo for their achievement with the Koyane Wards, but he can only have lunch or dinner on Tuesday."

"Hmm." Ethan clicked open a few more events, scratching the hint of stubble on his chin. When Asuna had been fourteen, she might have found him attractive, as even though he was Kyo's age Ethan gave off the semblance of being older in a rugged kind of way. Of course, that impression got ruined whenever he opened his mouth… "Tuesday dinner might work; I can reschedule the overseas conference call and change his work supervision time to Wednesday." He started dialing. "I'll give him a call."

Asuna rolled her eyes, scribbling in Konoka's new appointment in her pocket calendar. If it wasn't for all the hassle involved, Asuna would have volunteered to take the steward job in the household, just to spare Konoka the many calls Ethan would make before deciding on anything.

"What?" Ethan demanded, unfortunately catching sight of her exasperated expression, his phone against his ear. "Something you want to say?"

"Yeah," Asuna gritted her teeth, feeling her temper flare. Damn, she missed Ayaka and how she could always blow off some steam in a friendly fight with their old class president. "Are the calls really necessary? Just make the decision yourself—why else would Kyo-san trust you with his schedule?"

"Changes in Kyo's schedule affect more people than just himself, you know," he snapped. "I can't just shift things without his permission."

"Didn't he already give you permission when he gave you the responsibility?" Asuna sighed. Remember, Konoka told you to be nice. "Look, you might be disruptive to Kyo-san and Konoka when you keep confirming all your decisions with them—they both trust you to make the right choices. So can we cut out the middle-step all the time?"

"Even though he's my friend, I'm still his employee," Ethan said. "Final decisions are for the bosses to make, not me."

Asuna frowned, tapping her pen against the table. "Is that really how he thinks of you?"

The young man blinked, startled at the question. To Asuna's surprise, he actually gave it some thought instead of just spouting off an asshole-ish answer. "You know, I really don't know," admitted Ethan finally, ending his call before it connected and setting the phone down. "It's his right. He's from a noble family, and I'm just a paid hand who happens to be his friend."

"So he does just think of you and Hazan as just servants?" Asuna asked, not even trying to hide how appalled she was.

"He's not like that!" Ethan defended Kyo loyally. "He treats us like friends when we're in private. We just can't act that way in public, you know. It's not proper, like how you act with Lady Konoka."

"I'll act however I want!" Asuna retorted. "Konoka's my friend, not my boss. I do things for her because I want to, not because I'm getting paid."

"But you are getting paid," Ethan pointed out acerbically.

Asuna grimaced—damn, that was true. "But we don't believe in all that courtesy stuff between us. Konoka would hate it if I treated her like some Ojou-sama. And besides, she wouldn't treat anyone else in this household like a servant either."

"She should. It'll only make her look lowly if she's so familiar like that."

"Some people don't care about status, as amazing as it might seem to you."

"She can afford to," Ethan said. He sighed and drank from his coffee mug, dropping it back on the table with a thud. "Kyo doesn't have that luxury, okay? He doesn't get to coast along through life like the lady does. So it's not his fault!"

"I didn't think of that," Asuna admitted. Konoka had always made light of her family situation, it hadn't been until the Kyoto trip that Asuna and the rest of their classmates had realized just how rich and powerful Konoka's family was. But a nouveau-riche family like the Wallwards would likely be more insecure with their status. "Konoka…well, she doesn't care. She never did."

"Well, Kyo does," Ethan scowled, but for once he didn't seem to be directing that glower at Asuna. "The Wallwards worked hard for their status. It costs a lot to maintain it. Even if it's not easy, he still has to do it."

"Seems dumb to me," Asuna said. "The only people I've ever met who flaunted their status were creeps who were trying really hard to hide just how lame they were. The people who actually had the right stuff are always humble about it."

Ethan grunted, getting to his feet and looking pretty crossed. "Look, you don't know Kyo, so don't you dare judge him. He's the best friend I've ever had."

"Hey," Asuna sighed, getting up too. "I'm sorry if I implied that Kyo was a creep, okay? I didn't mean it like that." She stuck out a hand. "I'm just looking out for Konoka."

Hesitating, Ethan glanced at Asuna's outstretched hand. He rubbed his jaw awkwardly then shook her hand roughly, accepting the apology. "Alright. I get it. I'm looking out for my best mate too."

"Can I ask you something?" Asuna ventured, picking up her calendar. It probably wasn't the best time to ask, but she had been curious for some time. "Don't take it the wrong way."

"What?"

"Sometimes, do you…well, kind of wish that you could just be Kyo's friend, and that's it, none of this employee stuff?"

His dark brows furrowed in a defensive frown. "And what's your point?"

So that's a yes, in guy-speech. "Well…why do you still do it then? Still be his steward, putting yourself in a position that you don't really want to be in?"

Ethan pocketed his Blackberry and thought for a bit. Then he shrugged. "I'm his friend, so if he needs the favour, I'll do it for him."

Figures that Asuna wasn't really going to get a good second opinion on the matter. Guys and girls felt differently about this stuff—and anyways, the case Asuna was thinking of had other complications worked in as well. "Cool. Thanks."

"I wanna ask you something too."

"Yeah?"

"That girl." Ethan glowered before jerking his head. "Setsuna."

"What about her?" Asuna prompted, her turn to be defensive.

Now looking distinctly uncomfortable, Ethan shrugged again, shifting on the spot. "Is she…you know."

"What?" Asuna asked again, already rapidly trying to think of the best way to answer a bunch of potential loaded questions…

"Is she like…" Ethan coughed. "Gay?"

Asuna nearly choked in surprise. Not exactly the question she had been expecting, and while thankfully it wasn't as touchy of a subject to answer it still wasn't exactly something Asuna wanted to address. Experience taught her to dodge those kinds of questions. "Why do you care?" She asked evasively.

Now it was Ethan's turn to dodge the question. Asuna could tell in the way his eyes flicked away and in the tensing of his shoulders. Idly, he answered with a wry grin, "Just curious, since, well, you might have noticed that Hazan sorta likes her and all. Just looking out for a friend."

Yeah right, I'm soooo sure that was what you were getting after. "Hazan-san seems like a big girl…I'm sure she can handle things herself, if she wanted to try things out." Asuna thanked Mana for her dry commentary on Setsuna's behaviour towards Konoka in high school (of course, Mana had grossly overestimated Setsuna's capabilities, but no use dwelling on that now). It gave her a perfect comeback.

"Yeah, I bet she can," Ethan agreed, smoothing out his shirt. "Anyways, I'll confirm the schedule with you later tonight. I'll book the restaurant too, why don't you deal with the guard stuff?"

"Sure," Asuna said, nodding and waving him off.

Was Setsuna gay?

Sheesh…Asuna had never seen anyone gayer for another person than Setsuna and Konoka together.

No, she had to be fair. That's where it hurt so much to have to be a witness to the current tangled mess.

Asuna had never seen two people who loved each other more than Setsuna and Konoka together…even when they couldn't be together.

**O**

Finally, Setsuna thought, some privacy. She liked being with the rest of their classmates—their friends—but sometimes she just wanted to spend some quiet time with Kono-chan alone.

Since Konoka hadn't let go of her ever since they had ducked off for a walk in the woods together, it seemed that Konoka had the same sentiment.

"It's such a nice day for a picnic, don't you think, Set-chan?" Konoka sighed happily, running her hand down Setsuna's arm until they were holding hands.

Setsuna had claimed the weight of their picnic basket before they had even stepped outside the building, even though it kept her sword arm hindered (since there was no way she was going to forgo holding Kono-chan's hand!). "I'm sorry Kono-chan, I didn't even think to help you prepare the food…"

"Aw, that's alright. I like cooking for you." Konoka beamed and snuggled up to Setsuna's side, trusting her guardian to keep them from tripping each other. They found a little clearing and spread out their groundsheet, laying out their lunch in the sweet meadow grass.

Konoka started it first, by insisting on feeding Setsuna by hand. And it must have been something in the hazy summer day, because Setsuna found herself getting more and more flustered whenever Konoka's fingers brushed her lips, and not flustered in a bad way.

"Your cooking is amazing, Kono-chan," whispered Setsuna as she caught onto Konoka's hand, holding it on her cheek.

Her beautiful friend smiled, her brown eyes warm. She stroked Setsuna's cheek, the touch just as tender as it was arousing. "It's easy to cook for someone I love."

Konoka said that she loved Setsuna all the time, but this time Setsuna felt something stirring inside her stomach. Come on, say it… "Kono-chan…I…" She licked her lips, sweating. "I love…eating the food you make!"

Thunk! Setsuna sighed, leaving her hand from where she had face-palmed herself. Why couldn't she just say it?

"Set-chan!" Konoka pulled Setsuna's hand away and kissed the red mark on the black-haired girl's forehead, somehow using that motion to slide onto Setsuna's lap. All of Setsuna's higher thinking immediately flew the coop as she gasped, her senses filled with just Konoka. The scent of her hair, her warmth, the sight of her hands coming up to wrap around Setsuna's neck, the feel of her breasts against Setsuna's own…

She kissed her hard, feeling Konoka's startlement that quickly changed to eager passion as the brunette reciprocated, pulling them closely together.

When Konoka finally pulled away slightly, gasping for breath, Setsuna panted as well, finding her hands up the back of Konoka's shirt. While a tiny, tiny part of her was spazzing over taking such liberty with her Ojou-sama's body and for doing such inappropriate things, most of her was just revelling in the glory of feeling Konoka's soft skin under her fingers. Somehow she had ended up on her back, with Konoka lying on top of her, her lady's long hair forming a silky veil around them.

"Set-chan," whispered Konoka, trembling with desire. She laid her shaking palm on Setsuna's stomach to keep herself from doing anything else with that hand. "Are…are you sure you want to keep going?"

Setsuna knew how much Konoka wanted her. All these years, Setsuna wanted Konoka as well, but it was her own feelings about herself that had always kept her thinking that her desires were shameful. Ever since they came to the Magical World, Konoka's advances had become more and more daring, and far less subtle. But a sensitive girl like Konoka would be very aware of Setsuna's discomfort with the idea of intimacy between them. It made Setsuna love her more, just for that kind consideration.

"Set-chan?"

Without a word, Setsuna kissed Konoka lightly, clasping one of Konoka's hands. She drew Konoka's hand up and placed it on her breast—

Aversion suddenly flooded through Setsuna's whole body, making her jerk in revulsion and surprise.

And then Setsuna remembered where she really was—

"GET OFF!" She shrieked, her full attention snapping back into the cave. Tsukuyomi's weight pinned her down on the bed, the small swordswoman's hand resting on Setsuna's chest. That sensation sent Setsuna into a renewed frenzy, half-sobbing as she struggled, her horror washing away the last vestiges of the false dream planted inside her mind.

Tsukuyomi pouted. "Awwww, Senpai…a few more seconds, and you would have taken me all the way with you." She removed her hand and sat back on Setsuna's bare stomach, still straddling the half-demon girl. "It would have been really good too."

"No!" Setsuna jerked, struggling, panicking and thrashing to dislodge Tsukuyomi from her.

With a sigh, Tsukuyomi hopped off the bed, looking incredibly disappointed. "I wasn't going to do anything against your consent, you know. It wouldn't be as fun. Oh, my hopes had been so high, when you wanted me to touch you…"

"No, I didn't!" Setsuna screamed, feeling the burn of shameful tears wetting her eyelashes. "I didn't, I didn't, I DIDN'T!"

"Oh?" Tsukuyomi raised a delicate eyebrow, smiling knowingly, letting her eyes trail down Setsuna's body. "But you were still pretty turned on, weren't you?"

Somewhen in November, 2007

**O**

Setsuna

"Crap," Setsuna muttered. She twisted, trying to look at the back of her thigh. Her leg wound protested, making her wince and crane her neck instead.

Stupid Mana, for shooting her. And for accusing her of all those things.

And for being right about it all.

The bullet wound was just a graze, but since Mana had been using rifle rounds the gouge was wide enough for copious bleeding to result from Setsuna's negligent walking. She sighed, pulling away the cloth of her pants from the wound's edges, sending another jolt of pain through her thigh.

Growling, Setsuna braced herself against the sink, lowering her head. She needed to clean her wound, or at least wash the blood off herself and get into some new clothes. A shower seemed pretty unavoidable, but she hated that it was still bright out. Setsuna never felt comfortable with closing her eyes instead of using the darkness to keep her from seeing herself.

Ever since that time, she was never sure what she'd be seeing when she opened them again.

By feel Setsuna found the window blinds and yanked them as tightly shut as she could. Even so, she could still see tinges of red through her eyelids instead of pure black, but it was the best she could do.

At this point she had to stop, breathing heavily to calm her heartbeat down.

Ever since yesterday, everything hurt worse than before, especially inside her head. Too many memories triggered by just one simple reminder.

Deal with it! Setsuna exhaled and pulled the tie on her pants, trembling when she felt them slide down and bunch up by her ankles. Having a few shots to mellow her anxiety would be preferable, if Setsuna went for that kind of stuff.

Shizuna-sensei had actually suggested benzodiazepines early in their therapy sessions, but Setsuna had refused vehemently. A warrior had to fight what made her afraid, not use drugs as a crutch…and in a way—a sick way, Setsuna knew—she wanted to feel the agony. It reminded her that this was indeed reality and not…not a dream.

The dreams Tsukuyomi had woven using the Psychi Kinigi spell had made everything feel easy and well. Despair had only returned when she had woken from the lies.

Or she was just being stubbornly masochist again, as Asuna liked to accuse of her.

Setsuna's fingers fumbled on her shirt, but finally she managed to yank it off, feeling a rush of unease when the cool bathroom air touched her bare skin.

Oh god…Brutally, Setsuna tore off her underwear, ignoring the burn of her injury and leap into the shower, nearly breaking the half-open shower door in her haste. She jerked the tap, flinching as ice-cold water spurted out of the showerhead onto her shoulders before slowly warming up. Her leg stung as the water washed out the wound, and Setsuna just let it happen, focusing on bracing herself against the tiled wall and not losing it entirely.

She couldn't stand the sensation of touching her own body, but at the same time she couldn't bear being dirty. Both took her mind to dark places…what irony. It figures that life would want to hand Setsuna Sakurazaki one big joke after another.

Quit whining and pull yourself together! The little sarcastic and scolding voice in her head changed depending on what Setsuna was admonishing herself about; Evangeline's voice tended for her more stupid actions, Asuna's for her stoic-warrior-nonsense…but the one Setsuna feared most was reserved for whenever she was just plain scared.

And fear was an emotion Setsuna had been swimming in far too much lately.

She fumbled for the soap bar, lathering it between her hands until she had two handfuls of soapy foam. Breathe, breathe, it's not a big deal—she touched her own shoulder, still feeling okay at that contact. You're fine. As her hands soaped downwards, Setsuna felt herself start to tremble again, despite her efforts to control her breathing and jitters.

It's fine.

Water ran in warm rivelets down her back and arms, the droplets bleeding together and falling in fat drops onto the tile.

Cutting through the blinding pain in her chest was the creeping sensation of blood trailing down her stomach—

Setsuna gasped, inhaling a shuddering pant into her lungs and breaking her meditative breathing. It's fine, there's nothing to be scared of—it's fine—it's—

Shame and disgust burst from her gut, sending a wave of nausea to drive Setsuna to her knees. She banged her shoulder against the faucet but that didn't faze her, and Setsuna clutched at her head, struggling to breathe through the tension in her chest.

*"Oh, my hopes had been so high, when you wanted me to touch you—"*

The shower door cracked as Setsuna practically tripped out of the stall, rolling to her feet right before she crashed into the opposite wall. Frantically, Setsuna seized her clothes and yanked them on, barely refraining from tearing the fabric when the sleeves or cuffs didn't open for her limbs properly. It was hard and immensely uncomfortable to pull clothes on top of wet skin, but Setsuna kept at it, not even bothering with buttons or zippers before bursting out of the bathroom once she had covered herself enough to be decent.

There it was, leaning against her bunk. Setsuna seized Yuunagi, holding it tightly in her hands, her right fist trembling on the nodachi's hilt.

She wasn't back there. She was in Konoka's house. She had Yuunagi, and with her trusted weapon there was no way anyone could get the jump on her to do anything against her will. She was safe.

Really? Tsukuyomi took you even with Yuunagi in your hands.

Setsuna really had to stop being so honest with herself.

**O**

*Let me in, tell me what it is you fear me to know…I will find out, I'm stronger than you, a mere half-demon—*

She held on, calling up memories of Konoka to piss Tsukuyomi off, and to keep herself sane and shivering behind the shield it provided against the cruel voice. She was playing with Konoka, tossing a ball between them—

Konoka was drowning.

Setsuna jumped into the river, and she grabbed for Konoka but they only splashed helplessly.

"Set-chan!" Konoka cried, and grabbed Setsuna around the shoulders, pushing her down into the water. Panic coursed through her—but Konoka was okay, she could breathe, but Setsuna was drowning, it was dark and violent—

She couldn't breathe!

Konoka knew that she was more important than Setsuna…She was just using her right to use Setsuna's life as she pleased…

"LIAR!" Setsuna screamed, jerking and feeling the ropes bite into her wrists. She couldn't bear having Konoka become the villain in her mind, her memories, her…reality. That wasn't what had happened!

Setsuna knew it wasn't…

She believed that it wasn't.

It wasn't Konoka's personality to think something like that, even if it really was Setsuna's duty to give her life for her Ojou-sama. Setsuna fell back to her senses, opening her eyes frantically to see the dank cave ceiling above her, and feel the burn of the ropes on her wrists. She couldn't bear having Tsukuyomi by her while she was so exposed, but at least she knew this was real.

*Real?* Tsukuyomi smiled sweetly, gently running her fingers in a caress down Setsuna's cheek. *Is it?*

Because…it had to be. It had to be.

*How would you know?*

Somewhen in the past

**O**

Konoka

This was the second day in a row where Konoka woke up feeling sluggish and feverish.

I just made up a high-level spell yesterday, and cast it successfully…can't I sleep in? Konoka moaned and rolled over, burying her face in her pillow. Any moment, Asuna was going to barge in and tell her to get out of bed. And she knew that she had to; even assuming that Kyo had contacted their families about the success of her spell yesterday, she should really give Grandpa and Daddy a call herself. And she had promised Ethan-san that she'd go over the house budget with him, and she also had to start researching on the Ward spell origin…

But she was so tired, and her stomach was cramping, in that ambiguous way where she wasn't sure if it was from hunger or sickness. And Konoka really didn't want to be bothered to find out by getting out of bed.

She shifted, stretching a little to try and work the knots from her back. Her hand brushed Kyo's pillow and Konoka pulled back quickly. Silly, she knew…she had done far more than touch his side of the bed, but still…it felt like there was still "his space" and "her space", and Konoka knew that she wasn't the only one to feel that awkward air in their room.

Finally, Konoka sat up, gingerly getting out of bed. Her stomach cramps eased a bit with the change in posture, and she yawned, wandering into the bathroom. A note was taped to the mirror, scripted as neatly as if it were a formal letter.

Konoka,

I'll be spending the day at the Koyane Wards. After you completed your spell yesterday all the magical readings of the Wards changed, and so we are trying to establish new baseline readings.

If you could find out what the elements of the original spell were, and where the Mana Supply Anchors are, it would really help. Thanks.

Kyo

Konoka sighed, rolling her eyes and grousing, "Yeah, it might help if I had access to—"

She tore off the note, and found another one taped beneath it.

Log-in: Konoka

Temporary password: healermage

(But if you could please use my log-in for today, I'd appreciate it…I still have to get Grandmother's approval for your account. I think she'll say yes, but it might be easier if you just use mine for now.)

Admin-Log-in: Kyo Wallward

Password: kkkw432010grimoire

"Oh Kyo," Konoka whispered, touched. He never quite said so, but she could tell that his family didn't want her getting her own log-in to the Wallward database, despite the fact that she's supposed to be part of their family now. While she doubted that they'd actually refuse Kyo's request, she could guess that they'd be furious that he had brought it up himself instead of waiting for Konoka to ask.

And she couldn't really blame the Wallwards. Eishun had been sparse in what information and privileges he had allowed Kyo to have too, not to mention the limited access Konoemon had finally given Kyo to Mahora only after they'd married, and not a moment before.

If things had been…different, Konoka supposed that maybe her family would have been more open with welcoming Konoka's partner into the Konoe family. But with things as they are, even just a few months after their families had officially been joined it seemed like the in-laws were still working out what they hoped to gain from the union.

Leaving Kyo and Konoka to struggle along and try to make something meaningful of their marriage, when everyone around them only saw it for its advantages.

Even from her oldest friend, which hurt. It hurt a lot.

She had hoped that after a couple of months, that everyone would fall into some kind of "routine"…something that would make Konoka wake up and go through the day without thinking. Instead of trying to be Lady Konoka, Mrs. Konoe-Wallward, Kyo's Wife, she really would feel like her.

So that when Konoka walked past Setsuna in the hallway she really would just glance at her and think "Setsuna-san", instead of instantly being hit with the reminder that this was her Set-chan.

And that she isn't Konoka's anymore.

But how could Konoka forget? She kept dreaming about what-could-have-beens.

The worst part was that some of her dreams weren't imaginary at all. And so Konoka would relieve moments when she had been in love…and then wake up in reality.

**O**

She'll kill Tsukuyomi one day.

The pain now was nothing—Setsuna could bear it. Indeed, she was vaguely thrilled at the scent of blood, even if it was her own. It made Setsuna shiver with bated breath, just waiting for when she could tear into warm flesh and laugh in her revenge.

Just wait it out.

Wait patiently.

And your enemy will give you a chance…show you their weakness, an opening to be exploited.

Setsuna was waiting.

Pain was easy to bear. The Psychi Kinigi less so, but the confusion and despair caused by the mind games didn't matter that much to Setsuna in this state. That was for her weaker side to deal with, while her duty was to get them through this ordeal intact enough to exact their revenge.

Footsteps sounded out of her field of vision, warning Setsuna that her enemy was here. Tsukuyomi walked up beside the bed, running a knife along the bed rail. She put a knee on the bed and reached for Setsuna's hands, still bound above her head.

"Finally, Setsuna…I found—"

Setsuna felt the binds give.

Tsukuyomi shrieked as Setsuna erupted off the bed, tearing her raw wrists from the cut cords to seize her captor around the throat. Setsuna dug her fingers in—she meant to throw both of them to the floor to use gravity to her advantage, but it wasn't necessary since Tsukuyomi didn't have any strength in her struggles, to Setsuna's mild surprise. Oddly, the spectacled swordswoman had dropped her knife instead of slashing Setsuna's throat; she must have caught Tsukuyomi well off guard.

Oh yes, it felt so good to feel the shock of Tsukuyomi's struggling through her hands, to feel the panic and life slipping out of her enemy's gasping lips breath by breath…

Setsuna laughed.

"So, find who you expected?" She taunted, watching the last light fade from Tsukuyomi's dark eyes—

…Her enemy had light eyes.

Setsuna blinked, and blond hair turned brunette in that instant.

And Tsukuyomi's face vanished, replaced by someone Setsuna would recognize in any shape or disguise—even bloated in death.

"…Kono-chan?" whispered Setsuna.

No.

No. No no no no no…

Setsuna screamed, a guttural sound tearing from her throat as she threw herself backwards, writhing on the bed and sobbing. She did this…this is what the stronger part of her was. A murderer. A destroyer of everything that she loved.

Konoka's body lay heavily on Setsuna's chest, still warm enough to give off the appearance as if she was still alive. Setsuna needed to find that knife that her Kono-chan had dropped. She needed it…but she couldn't bear to touch Konoka to move her.

Metal chair legs screeched on stone, the sound stopping beside her. Through her tears Setsuna looked sideways, still shaking.

Tsukuyomi rested her chin on her folded hands, gazing at Setsuna with patient calmness. She had dispensed with her bonnet, although she still had the jaunty purple bows in her hair. She still didn't look any less deadly and deceivingly delicate.

"Are you ready to say it now?"

Setsuna stirred, feeling the raw skin of her wrists burn as they rubbed against the blood-soaked ropes. Alone in the chamber with just her enemy for company, with no knowledge of the days—it could have been hours or years. Lying on her back with her wrists bound made her breathing come shallowly, her pale and sweat-soaked skin trembling as strands of Tsukuyomi's hair brushed lightly across her bare stomach.

Something had caved inside of her, falling silently into the hollow where her heart was. As if her emotional understanding of herself had to mirror the quiet wreckage of her mind, Setsuna could feel her strength slipping like cold meltwater through the cracks between her fingers. Dripping away and leaving behind only a damp numbness.

Her lips worked weakly, barely whispering an audible sound. "…What was the question?"

Tsukuyomi laughed.

"You know…I don't even remember anymore!" She laughed again. "But that doesn't matter."

Tsukuyomi bent over Setsuna's prone form and kissed her lightly, pulling back from Setsuna's motionless lips to look her in the eyes. Cupping Setsuna's cheek as sweetly as a lover, Tsukuyomi smiled triumphantly.

"Instead of always carrying her with you, now you have me."

November 23, 2007

**O**

Same day

Kyoto, Kansai Magic Association

Tsukuyomi

Tsukuyomi grinned, pushing her glasses up with a finger.

She was incredibly tempted to reach out and flick the tip of her katana across the unobservant maid's throat, but she just managed to restrain herself. Attracting attention to herself today wasn't ideal; and besides, she wasn't going to taint her favourite blade that way.

She was saving it for special occasions.

Once the maid moved on Tsukuyomi continued on her mission. It really was far too easy to move around once she had by-passed the perimeter security—the Kansai Magic Association put far too much trust in their spells and passcodes. Simple spells that the Shinmeiryuu taught all their students about, and passcodes that hadn't changed since a full month ago when a helpful guard had told her the "safe passage" words. All she had used was a simple threat: only that she would stick a knife into his gut if he lied to her; hardly anything to fret about. Tsukuyomi was disappointed at how easy it had been.

Truly, no one was as fun as her Senpai.

Ah, here it was.

Tsukuyomi slipped a length of purple silk through the bars, moving along undetected. She knew that the recipient would recongize it as one of her hair ribbons.

Her next target was just a few rooms down, and she let the silk pool into a shadowed spot by the door, disappearing out of sight when a mage-guard came by, mindlessly on his routine patrol.

Don't kill him. Not even to mess with him for fun. Really, Tsukuyomi was just dying to reach out and pluck his tanto from his belt…and it would be so easy to get him in the kidney with it, he was so close and so clueless…but no. Restraint.

This was only the first part of her plans, after all. No need to overly complicate things so soon.

Five minutes later, she was back outside the prison wing. Ten minutes later, she was out of the property boundaries, strolling along the sidewalk and humming a tune.

Really, she didn't need the demon summoner or the politician. But to her aggravation, she still had a few loose ends that needed tying—or cutting off. And while she wasn't silly enough to believe that the enemy of her enemy was anything remotely close to "friend", Tsukuyomi could play nice with allies. She had used Fate just as much as he had used her, after all.

Anyways, now they knew that she would be coming for them.

But patience…Tsukuyomi was waiting for the perfect moment.

"Oh, this is so exciting," she gushed, skipping for a few steps. Lifting her katana, Tsukuyomi trembled with excitement as she touched the bloody feather tied on her sword's hilt to her lips.

Just the taste brought back so many nice memories…

Soon.

She hadn't drawn her sword for three years, just waiting for the coming day.

Very soon.

The world can burn for all Tsukuyomi cared, as long as she had her Senpai in the end.


Author's Notes: This chapter was a little more laid-back, a breather episode, if you will, leading into the next arc ^^. It also gave me a chance to show some things that I haven't had time to get into in the previous more fast-paced chapters.

And yes, the multiple mood whiplashes and fan disservice were intentional ^^. This is not a pretty story I'm crafting here.

Sorry for the wait, and thanks everyone for your reviews! They help keep me going whenever I hit a roadblock ^_^ (which is what happened to cause the delay between the last chapter and this one!).