Here's to you

"More tea, Milady?"

"Mm… No, I'm quite alright, thank you."

Takane Shijou stared at the bottom of her willow patterned teacup. She was blinking slowly, almost mechanically, like a clockwork doll. Everything about the silver-haired witch was mechanical… or maybe ceramic, for her pale skin looked cold to touch. Whilst her cheeks and lips were light pink, they didn't betray any signs of life. The slight rosy hue could have been painted.

She wasn't moving. Not even her fingers- folded on her lap- trembled.

The only slight motion she gave was the fluttering of her lashes… and then, a small, barely audible sigh. The sigh was loud as dust particles in the air alighting upon the floor.

Nobody else would have heard it. Nobody except him.

Butlers were trained to detect the slightest hints of discomfort in their masters' faces, so it was only natural he'd notice… but that wasn't the only reason he was so perceptive.

She was the first witch who had ever summoned him as furniture.

Takane was an elegant lady who had desired a butler who prepare her tea perfectly- and Ronove had fit the criteria perfectly. That was how it had started. But it hadn't stayed like that. Although both looked young, they had been in each other's company for some two hundred years now… and, really, it is impossible for two people not to become close after such a long period of time. The fact they both conducted themselves in such dignified manners, yet shared the same odd, slightly mischievous sense of humor underneath it all, certainly helped.

Their relationship wasn't just one of a witch and her furniture. They were good friends, too.

As a butler, it was his job to realize when she was uncomfortable and offer her more tea. As a friend, it was his job to be concerned about her, and try to make her smile.

It was unlike Takane to be so quiet. Only yesterday they had been sitting together in this same white-washed room, discussing whether the miso ramen of Hokkaido was better than the pork bone ramen of Kyushu. What had changed?

He thought he knew.

It was probably… something to do with that.

Of course, that incident had shaken up all the witches who resided in Purgatorio- but most of them had tried to laugh it off. As Lady Lambdadelta oh-so-charmingly said, forcing a small smile to hide her disgust, 'well, we all thought that old hag Aguauau would do something crazy like this at one point or another. She's totally insane, you know. That's what happens when you sit in your office all day reading books, drinking tea and talking to your pet cats, oh ho ho ho!~'

Takane wasn't like that, though. She couldn't fake bravado so easily.

She had smiled to Lady Lambdadelta during the meeting at the witches' senate yesterday, and had agreed with her words… but Takane hadn't truly meant it.

She was still thinking about it.

And it was still upsetting her.

"Takane…" said Ronove gently- now using her first name, as opposed to the more polite (but rather more distant) 'Milady'. "Forgive me for asking, but… could you possibly be worrying… about Lady Featherine's miko?"

Takane's shoulders tensed slightly at that.

That had to be the right answer.

A smile silence fell between the pair; Ronove not wishing to push Takane into talking, and Takane trying to calm her breathing, and organize her thoughts.

It took her quite some time.

"… ...You're right," she finally answered. Takane sighed again; eyes moving from her cup to meet Ronove's. She had never looked more miserable before- and, for the first time, she was truly acting like the seventeen-year-old girl she appeared to be, instead of the majestic witch she truly was. "I have been thinking… and… I can't comprehend how Lady Featherine could be so cruel- not to her own miko. Sealing her in that closed room…" A shudder. "It's barbaric. Witches are supposed to bring happiness to other humans; not force them into lifetimes of endless suffering. As a witch, and also as one who used to be a human, I cannot forgive that. I cannot. I didn't want to be a witch so I could watch others getting hurt, I… I…"

She broke off, unable to continue. Silently, she dipped her head; hiding behind her long, silver hair. She couldn't look Ronove in the eye; not when she was going to make an announcement that would surely upset both of them.

Her shoulders were trembling.

"But… maybe, because I exist as a witch, in a world separated from humans… I can't help them all that much. When witches grant miracles, our efforts are not rewarded, because no humans truly believe in miracles. Oh, don't misunderstand- I'm not selfish, and I'm not desperate for praise and recognition when I grant wishes on Tanabata…"

"You don't need to try and clarify your words- I understand perfectly." Ronove offered her a small, hopefully comforting smile. "You truly want to help people. You're not a selfish person. Well…" A soft laugh. "Maybe you can be selfish when food is involved, but you're a fine lady on all other counts, pu ku ku~"

"Thank you. I was certain you would understand. But… it's… sad. Nobody believes in my magic… so when I bring humans happiness, they can't appreciate it. They don't know who to thank. So, maybe miracles mean very little. Humans only recognize witches when they are being aggressive or harmful. So… I think…" Takane paused; but her eyes remained steely. She had been thinking this through for a very long time, and nothing would sway her. "I think… only humans can help other humans."

"Milady? Surely you're not suggesting-"

"I rather think I am."

Takane spoke the words clearly. They were words which many witches like her had spoken before when they tired of their endless lives. It was easy for wiches to become disillusioned. After all, their existences were so thin and fragile; just like hairs on the human head.

Takane spoke with such perfect diction it was impossible to believe she had said anything else.

This was the truth.

There was no denying it.

And it was impossible to make her change her mind.

"I don't want to be a witch anymore."

Takane Shijou, with her long silver hair and mysterious smile, was quickly becoming a very promising and popular idol in Japan. When she danced and sung on stage, sparkling like a diamond, she was able to bring smiles to thousands; even if it was just a temporary happiness. But people loved Takane. She was able to make people happy, and they cheered her name louder in return, so she sparkled even more brightly; no longer like a diamond, but a star.

The mystery surrounding her only made her more intriguing. When asked her age, she would smile, place a finger to her lips, and say 'it's top secret'. The same response was given when people asked about her home town; her childhood; her family; her hopes; dreams; aspirations; even her favorite color.

But she saw no problems in divulging her favorite hobby with the general public.

Moon gazing.

That was how she'd earned the nickname 'the mysterious moon princess'. Certainly, she was very much like a princess, both in her appearance and mannerisms. It was a title that suited that strange, silver-haired girl with the unreadable smile, the strange sense of humor, and the penchant for black tea.

There were even joke rumors that perhaps she came from the moon, and bathing in its rays had dyed her hair white. Maybe she was actually a magical fairy girl, like something from a shoujo anime?

Takane always smiled when she heard wild theories like that about her past. They weren't quite as farfetched as some people believed…

She was drinking black tea that very moment; resting on the balcony of her home, elbows on the railings, as she stared up at the night sky. It was sprinkled with a dusting of silver stars, and the large moon hung over it all; casting an eerie, almost sylvan, light upon the roofs of houses and treetops in the nearby park.

The wind gently tugged at her hair, making it flutter through the air. It was cold, but not uncomfortably so, and the cup of tea in her hands warmed her sufficiently.

Takane continued to stare up at the sky… and she smiled.

It was a very soft smile filled with love. It was the kind of smile a person would wear when they had been reunited with their family, friends or loved ones after a very, very long time.

She held her teacup up to the stars, as though offering a toast to the night sky above. No human could have understood these bizarre actions- but maybe another witch, or even a demon, could.

Here's to you, she thought.

I made it.

I'm finally a human. Now, I can make others smile simply with my voice. I can't grant miracles anymore… but miracles are too big and complex for humans to comprehend. It's better to give people simple joys like this.

Isn't making others smile the greatest pleasure in life? It's even more delicious than the cookies you used to bake, ahaha~

The tea here isn't nearly as good as your tea, of course… but that's a minor inconvenience. You know, I found I really like instant noodles, too. Ramen is so delicious; and it's more fun when I can eat it with all my new friends.

Haruka, Chihaya, Makoto, Miki, Hibiki, Iori, Azusa, Yayoi, those noisy twins… even Yukiho. I think… they're all my friends.

I'm happy.

I'm doing just fine.

By this point, her smile was almost luminous.

I hope the same of you, too…