AN: Right, simple fic to attempt to get back into the swing of things. And because I'd been neglecting one of my favorite friendships of the series.
"How do I look?"
After answering that question almost a dozen times in the past hour, it should have been relatively simple for Negi to come up with a polite, cheerful response for the latest query. True, the last few had resulted in dramatic wardrobe changes instead of providing the proper reassurance, but he still thought that was the best way to say it.
Instead, what came out was, "You aren't wearing a dress, Setsuna-san?"
…Which he didn't think was anything close to what a gentleman should be saying on the night of a ball.
Thankfully, Setsuna seemed to be too busy fidgeting with her tie to pay attention to any failed attempts at support. Negi was about to open his mouth to correct himself anyway when she dropped her hands and looked up at him with such an expression of abject helplessness that Negi wondered if he would have been better off simply pretending not to hear her initial question.
"I can't dance in a dress," Setsuna mumbled.
"Oh!" That he knew how to fix. "That's okay—I was going to ask if you could look after—"
Negi trailed off. Maybe he didn't know how to fix this after all, because Setsuna was no longer looking at him. Or even adjusting her tie. Her eyes were fastened on the floor between them, her face steadily turning a violent shade of red—the exact same color, in fact, as one of the dresses Konoka had tried on… earlier—
He'd overheard Rakan earlier—he wasn't sure anyone hadn't—but he hadn't really thought about…
"Is this—I mean are you—is this for a… date?" he probed uncertainly.
Setsuna gave her head a quick shake. "Kono-chan asked for one dance," she blurted out, the words skipping over her tongue so quickly that Negi barely understood them. "It isn't a—we'd have to be there anyway to keep you and Asuna-san safe."
Negi nodded cautiously. "But you want to look nice."
Setsuna's eyes darted briefly back up to his.
An awkward silence fell, and Negi decided to assist Setsuna in her careful examination of the floor.
Negi thought he knew better now, after Ako, than to believe that he would be any good at helping someone with romance. But he also wasn't sure if anyone else they knew could be more helpful. And it didn't seem right not to try when one of his students—his friend—looked so distressed.
That still didn't leave him with a very good idea of what to say.
His eyes wandered back to a socially acceptable height. Some of the red had faded from Setsuna's cheeks, but she was still standing very, very stiffly in her suit. It was one of the ones Gödel had provided, he realized abruptly. Haruna had talked him out of picking the first suit he laid eyes on, and during a lot of burrowing through hangers, he had definitely spotted the one Setsuna was wearing.
So, unsure of how they were supposed to have this conversation, he started by saying what he should have said in the first place.
"You do look very nice, Setsuna-san."
Something very close to relief flashed across her face, and eye contact was reestablished. Negi felt some of the awkwardness slide away, and he took a step closer, fumbling through the words needed to express what anyone—most people, he corrected hastily—with eyes could see.
"But even if you didn't, Konoka-san likes you too much to care what you wear."
That brought the blushing back and worse than ever, but Negi was pretty sure that the happy, embarrassed smile that had twitched its way into Setsuna's expression meant those had been the right words. The sudden straightening of her posture supported that. As did—
Setsuna exhaled swiftly and directed a broader, less private smile at him. "Thank you, Negi-sensei."