Mahou Sensei Negima and all related elements and characters are the property and creation of Ken Akamatsu, and the autor of this short piece has made no material profit from it, or ever will do.

Any similarity between the characters and events of this story and anyone or anything ever actually seen in real life is a pure coincidence.

"So, what will you do now?".

The question startled Setsuna, both because of its bluntness and because she hadn't noticed anyone sneaking behind her. Instinctively, the swordswoman pulled her blade out while spinning around to face...

"Oh. It's you".

"This whole affair has affected you worse than I thought, Sakurazaki" Mana Tatsumiya commented, vaguely amused. "You are losing focus. Just let her go".

Sheathing her sword back, Setsuna grumbled. "What are you talking about?".

"God, you are horrible at lying".

Setsuna's eyes narrowed angrily. "Go look for a fight elsewhere".

Mana ignored the remark, sitting next to her. From where they were, the chapel was clearly visible below, the guests leaving while congratulating the newlyweds. "I'm not looking for a fight. There's nothing to gain from that. Just wanted to give you some advice. Free, even. If you didn't want to fight for it then, then you shouldn't despair about it now".

Setsuna averted her gaze. "Ojou-sama's decisions aren't for me to question. Neither she nor Negi-sensei have ever meant to hurt me".

"I know" Mana nodded distantly.

"Then why do you try to tease me with that?".

"Because you heart still hasn't accepted what your brain has" the miko said calmly. "Even Miyazaki's heart has learned to accept it. But yours hasn't".

"My heart's whims don't matter".

Mana looked at her, smiling. "They do when they interfere with your concentration". Without a warning, she poked Setsuna with a finger on the forehead. "An opening! Normally, you'd have blocked that without even noticing. You are slipping down. How do you expect to protect your mistress and her husband like that?".

"I-I-".

Setsuna looked down and away, biting her lower lip.

"You should cry" Mana suggested, dryly. "That's always the first step. Get rid of the baggage".

"I promised myself I wouldn't cry. Tears are for the weak. Tears are-".

She was cut by slender arms hugging her from behind, pressing her against Mana's tall, warm body. "Stupid girl. You already are weak where it matters the most. Cry until you don't have any more tears, and only then you'll be strong".

Setsuna hid her face in the taller woman's chest. "Please... don't tell anyone about this...".

"I won't" Mana promised. "This one is for free, as well".

The days, weeks, months and years passed quickly after that. Most of the class already had moved away after the graduation, but the wedding was the actual drifting away point. Kotaro and Natsumi would marry as well shortly afterwards, and went to make a life for themselves. Asuna and Takahata went back to the Magical World. Yuuna left after her father died. Ayaka had a financial empire to helm. Ako became a successful doctor, and Akira made herself worldwide famous at the Olympics. Even Sayo passed on to a higher plane of existence.

Only the seven of them remained at Mahora. Hakase became the undisputed leader of the research institute, while Negi continued teaching with Konoka at his side. Evangeline and Chachamaru continued living at the woods, with Eva every once in a while making token feigned angry protests at Negi for being unable to break the Thousand Master's curse. Mana and Setsuna would smile and nod knowingly to each other at that.

The miko had become Mahora's Security Chief, while the swordsmaster stayed at her friend's side, protecting her family as it grew, child after child. And through it all, she never had cried again. Not because of any promise, but because she didn't need it anymore.

Mana had healed her heart, in her own strange, tough way, much better than Konoka ever could heal her physical wounds.

Until that gray day of autumn. Mana would go with the last leaves of the year.

Konoka's best attempts at healing magic hadn't worked. Ako reaching to the best contacts she could get, and Ayaka's money could pay, hadn't worked either. The illness had grown to the point where it was painfully clear none of them could do anything but to say farewell.

Ako had said she wouldn't get another day, and so all the long gone friends came back one for one. The librarians, Chisame, Kaede and Ku Fei. The twins, the cheerleaders, and even Takane and Mei. All of them gray and old now, all but Evangeline and Chachamaru, who hadn't grown a single day older from when Setsuna had first met them. All of them next to her, next to Mana's bed.

Tatsumiya finally opened her blurry eyes again, slowly. "So..." she wheezed. "I see this is the end. I didn't want you to see me like this...".

"Mana-chan, you aren't-".

Mana placed a finger over Setsuna's lips. Thanks to her youkai heritage, the winged woman had aged better than most of them, looking nearly two decades younger than Mana. And yet, she seemed to have grown five years older in the last few days.

"No, I know I am. Otherwise, you wouldn't be all here...". She made her best to look around, blinking at a nearly morbidly obese woman in a habit. "Kasuga...? Kasuga, is that really you?".

Misora nodded, holding her own tears back.

"My God, you look like a whale..." Mana laughed a bit before choking in coughing, "I'd bet you don't make a lot of running nowadays... Inugami, you're looking good, too...".

Kotaro nodded his brief thanks. Like Setsuna, he seemed quite younger than all of them but Eva and Chacha, Natsumi looking painfully frail and small next to his frame. The freckled old woman looked all around cluelessly, barely recognizing her husband and Chizuru, and no one else.

"I am glad... you all are here, though..." Mana smiled weakly as she felt Setsuna squeezing her hand a bit tighter. "I'll give Sayo-chan your regards. Tell her you're all well...".

"Mana-!" Setsuna hunched herself over her.

"Please, cry if you want... Remember what I told you that time, Setsuna? Well, I was half wrong... You didn't need to run out of tears. They never... made you weak at all...".

Slowly, she closed her eyes back with a vague, lingering smile. At the other side of a tearful Setsuna, Ako checked on her one last time, then shook her head to Negi and Konoka.

"Mana-!".

They all let her cry for what must have been hours, not saying a single word. Until Konoka put a small, wrinkled hand on her best friend's shoulder, gently rocking her back and forth.

"Setchan... she's gone...".

Setsuna had not cried in decades.