A/N: DAMNIT! a;lkdjsf;kjdsf. I just realized a couple of my line breaks disappeared. Re-uploading to fix that -_-


XXX

What is it?

The humming of the computers, damnit, and the stupid fluorescent lights casting a vomit-inducing greenish hue over everything in this tiny little jail called "cubicle." And you know what else? The idiocy of this stupid job, and this oppressively dull atmosphere, and the poor souls damned to stare at flickering outdated computer screens until their lives have wasted away and they need eye prescriptions in the double digits. In short, life is giving Setsuna a headache.

She's been doing these exact same tasks and thinking those same thoughts for the past three weeks. She may as well sleep here – all she does is go home and pretend to sleep anyway, so staying at work would at least spare her the horrible mid-morning commute. And clearly, she thinks, this job is as useless as it makes her feel. The entirety of her employment she's done nothing but type "I fucking hate this" for sixty full pages – no copy/paste, that would be cheating – and play online roleplaying games. Nobody, even her bosses, has noticed yet. In the meantime she navigates her ridiculously busty character in the World of Witchcraft and wishes that actually being a demon is as fun as pretending to be one online.

Moral of the story? Demons, even half-demons, should not hold office jobs.

"You need to redistribute your talent points and switch to a single-handed weapon, or else your attack speed will be too slow."

Mana doesn't even need to look up from her own screen to tell her any of that. Setsuna silently curses her silly façade of a life for the two-hundred and twelfth time that day, as she had been doing since Evangeline had come to warn her over a month ago that she was destined for great pain.

After her character is killed by ogres for the sixth time in the past hour, Setsuna decides now is a good time for a break. She leans back in her chair and sticks her hand in her pocket, running her finger along the edge of the card hidden there. Looking down she can just barely see the beginnings of her portrait.

Setsuna hadn't even realized the picture on the card was her own until she'd begun training on Earth. With Mana.

After stepping through the portal she found herself standing in a dark room, face to face with the girl that would be in charge of keeping her in line. She was intimidating to say the least, with two guns tucked into her belt, but hardly looked the part of your average demon. With no further insight than that, and spared the pleasure of an introduction, she was lead to a chair and made to sit down, and what followed was excruciating pain comparable to what she'd felt on her worst days in Hell.

Setsuna had no clue what was going on – one minute she was being shoved into a seat with Mana's hand resting on the top of her head, and the next she was gritting her teeth against a headache that could only be described as agonizing.

Pure, raw information that she couldn't fully comprehend was being shoved forcefully into her mind – cars, air conditioning, handshakes, palm trees, what the fuck is ice cream? For a full two hours Setsuna could feel her brain scrambling in an attempt to understand these new things. She thought it might be like trying to alphabetize an encyclopedia that's been put through a paper shredder.

It took a full twenty-four hours after she'd been left slack-jawed and wide-eyed on the floor of that room to understand her own analogy, but at that point she knew her brain was done sorting. She sat up, and Mana was there.

"I assume Guardian training went alright?"

"I'm here, aren't I?"

"I see you've at least learned sarcasm."

Setsuna was pretty sure she'd already been capable of that, but Mana didn't seem like the kind of person that appreciated back-talk, and she isn't really the type to dish it out anyway. Now though, three weeks later and more-or-less situated on Earth, she feels her resolve cracking from the constant off-hand criticisms.

Which brings us full-circle, back to Setsuna the fake guardian angel half-demon from Hell being picked on by her demonic watch dog about an online role-playing game.

Sometimes it's easier not to acknowledge the strangeness of things.

"I like my character's talent build."

"It's inefficient, just like your handling of this mission."

"I'm not sure why you care so much."

More of the resolve cracking.

"The faster you grab this girl's soul, the faster I get paid."

Part of her wants to argue, but Setsuna knows she's being slow about the whole process. Even Asuna had contacted her a week ago to check on her progress and was dumbfounded that she hadn't even spoken to her charge yet.

That was all easier said than done, in Setsuna's opinion. Just because she'd had the knowledge of what social interactions should look like forcibly woven into the fabric of her psyche doesn't mean she's capable of performing them.

"Finished all your work I see."

Startled out of her self-defeating thoughts, Setsuna swivels in her chair to get an eyeful of the stubbly chin-strap of her office manager.

"Mr. Takahata," she offers in greeting, not bothering to minimize the incriminating window open on her computer.

"I know this job isn't the most stimulating, but at least pretending to work will prevent me from having to turn you over to the lady in charge."

Dread promptly announces itself by gouging holes in Setsuna's stomach.

"I suppose that means I'm being turned in."

"Yes," Takahata agrees amiably, the smallest of amused smiles on his face. "I suppose it does. I'll arrange a meeting for you tomorrow morning, first thing when you come in. Better to get it over with."

Procrastinating has never sounded better, in Setsuna's opinion.

He's halfway down the hall when he turns around again.

"And Ms. Sakurazaki? You'd do more damage if you redistributed your talent points. Since your using a double-handed weapon, a damage-dealing specialization might be better."

And with that he disappears around the doorway to the office kitchen, leaving Setsuna with the cheerful thought of I fucking hate this life.

XXX

Setsuna is beginning to suspect Earth is spoiling her.

Even though her time on the blue planet has hardly been enjoyable up to this point, she finds she has to constantly remind herself that where she comes from is so much worse. There's no comparison between monotony and tediousness versus mind-numbing physical pain and loneliness.

But somehow she still manages to find mediocre things to complain about. It's silly and spoiled, really, to even notice that Ms. Konoe's office chairs are so much more comfortable than hers. And yet as her butt sinks into the pillowy goodness of a plush armchair, she can't help that vague feeling of indignation when she thinks about the back-breaking plastic-y thing on wheels she has to go back to.

Her (perhaps too serious) examination of furniture is interrupted by heels clacking on the hardwood floor.

Setsuna hardly has time to notice the styled brown hair and the frustrated expression and the opal necklace and the gold bracelet and the fitted dress that's more appropriate for a date than a professional environment according to the limited fashion sense that was installed in her brain via Mana –

Alright, so she notices quite a bit before her thought train comes screeching to a halt once again by the sound of heels, this time being kicked off and bounced against the wall. But only because it's hard not to notice how absolutely loaded this woman must be, even to Setsuna.

"Can you believe this?"

The woman throws herself on her chair in a display of impressive recklessness. She lands sideways so her head is resting against one arm and her legs are dangling over the other, pink-heart-covered-socked-feet swinging in the air.

"Um," is Setsuna's sympathetic response.

"He thinks he can just give me away like I'm a prize – not even! He's basically selling me to the highest bidder just to make sure his company doesn't collapse when he retires. As if I couldn't run it myself, like I need some – some – some stupid guy to just come in and rescue me like I'm a dainty princess. I don't understand why he doesn't just train me to take over instead of trying to find someone who'll probably come in and mess it all up for his own personal gain anyway."

"I'm sorry?" More sympathy. Kind of.

"You're right," the woman Setsuna assumes to be Ms. Konoe does a spin in her swivel chair, "I don't even really want to run this business. It's so boring – for me, anyway. I'd rather be out doing something cool, but, well, I don't usually get so mad. It's just some of these guys… I mean who wants to spend their life with a man who only marries you for your dad?"

"Not you, certainly."

Ms. Konoe, or at least Setsuna hopes it is or she's just wasted a lot of time, pulls her feet up on her chair so she can hug her knees.

"Exactly. Marriage should be about love, and passion, and fate, right?"

"I've heard that many people who get married for financial reasons end up living happily."

"You really think so?"

Setsuna doesn't really know, but she nods anyway.

"Maybe you're right and I'm just being too romantic about it. Are you married, Miss, um…?"

It's at this point the brunette realizes she'd just come storming into her office to rant at a complete stranger.

"Setsuna Sakurazaki, from human resources. And no, I'm not."

"I guess your father isn't trying to marry you off either, huh?" Ms. Konoe sighs dejectedly.

"My parents are dead."

Ah, perhaps the first truth she's spoken to a human since she'd arrived. Judging from Ms. Konoe's expression, Setsuna guesses she probably should have lied.

"I'm so sorry for your loss," Ms. Konoe mumbles. She reaches her hand behind her head embarrassedly, but her voice is sincere. "That must have been very hard for you."

"Not really," Setsuna shrugs, not thinking much of her boss's reaction. Another day, another social faux pas.

"You seem very down to Earth, Ms. Sakurazaki. I wish I could be a bit more like you."

More like tactless and ignorant of social nuances than down to Earth, Setsuna knows. As if to back up this thought, a long, awkward silence stretches between the two. It consists of Setsuna making too much eye contact and not offering a response, and Ms. Konoe still being rather embarrassed and confused by the whole exchange.

And then she realizes an employee probably isn't sitting in her office for no reason.

"So, uh, was there something you needed help with?"

"I got caught playing computer games by Mr. Takamichi. He sent me here."

"You make it sound like school detention or something."

"You're not going to hit me with a ruler, are you?"

There's a short silence before Ms. Konoe's laughter drowns it out.

"You have such an intense expression," she says between giggles. "For a second I thought you were being serious."

Well, she had been, since Setsuna's idea of detention comes from Mana's outdated memories of a highly religious private school.

"I think that's the first time I've laughed all day," Ms. Konoe admits once she regains her composure.

"Glad to see you're feeling better, Ms. Konoe. Is there anything you might need me for, or should I get back to work?"

"No, nothing I can think of yet. Maybe I'll call you back in here when I need a level head again though," she smiles, getting up to open the door for her employee.

Just as Setsuna's walking through the doorframe there's a hand on her wrist.

"Ah, I did think of something! Call me Konoka, will you?"

"I will," Setsuna says, closing the door behind her.

XXX

Mana is looking at her like she's a stray dog, but Setsuna is used to that.

Plus, she really looks the part right now. Her outfit is soaked and sticks to her skin, and despite her best attempts, she somehow managed to track mud all over their apartment's carpet.

"Do you know what a door mat is for?" Mana asks, pointedly and disdainfully looking at the shoe-prints on the floor.

"Sorry," Setsuna offers, finally pulling her shoes off and setting them beside the door. She sits on the armchair in front of the TV and turns it on. Far from being a brain-killing activity, Setsuna actually considers TV to be educational – she learns a lot about humans from these shows, at least.

Mana watches from the kitchen, waiting for her water to boil, and sighs. There's going to be a big, wet Setsuna-imprint on that chair now.

And she can't even blame her for it, really. The girl isn't doing it because she's inconsiderate. Rather, it's because she legitimately doesn't understand why someone would care if their seat was wet, or if their lights were left on, or if their roommate knocks on their door at four in the morning to ask what the phrase curb stomp means because she heard it on the TV.

Mana hadn't been too happy about that one.

It's too bad her information transfer couldn't be more specific. As it stands, however, the most she could do was give the other girl's brain some images and their corresponding pictures, like a child's book, so Setsuna can recognize things and their basic function. But transferring context for those words, while it would prevent many strange social interactions for Setsuna, would require Mana to transfer the context from her own memories. And she's not about to do that.

The slang and sex-related words, on the other hand, are an entirely different matter, and more annoying in some ways.

Mana hadn't thought it necessary for Setsuna to know phrases like friend zone and getting plastered at the time. She regrets that frequently now, and if Setsuna didn't cower away whenever Mana mentioned her desire to just implant these things in the girl's mind, she would've done it by now.

The water boils and she dumps her instant noodles and soup packet in the pot – cooking isn't her strong suit – and when she turns back around Setsuna is staring out the window.

"Mana?"

"Hmm?"

"Why doesn't the sky at home do this?"

"Wasn't this explained to you?"

Setsuna shrugs.

"Evangeline said that our world is dying, but is that why? Because it doesn't rain?"

Mana hums in affirmation and dumps her instant soup into a bowl. She joins Setsuna in the living room, resting her meal on the arm of their couch.

"Most people think so. You probably weren't outside during those times, but it does rain. Just not very often. And in order for resources to be sustained, the planet needs water. No water, no resources. It'll be completely useless soon."

"Ah."

Setsuna touches her wet clothes thoughtfully and continues to watch the downpour outside. Mana takes a bite of her food before speaking.

"How did your meeting with that woman go today?"

"Um, good, I think."

That doesn't mean much coming from Setsuna.

"She didn't scold you?"

"No. She was complaining about men, and her father forcing her to get married, or something along those lines. Then she said she'd call me if she needed advice again."

Mana puts down her chopsticks, the only indication of her surprise.

"You gave her advice?"

"Not really, no, but she seems to think I did."

That's good news for her, Mana thinks, relieved on Konoka's behalf.

"Well, at least you'll have a reason to talk to her from now on. Or you could just keep getting in trouble at work."

Setsuna nods distractedly and fiddles with the hem of her still damp shirt.

"I was thinking…" She finally turns away from the window to face Mana, "If Heaven is so much better than Earth, why don't the angels just kill everyone and take their souls there instead?"

"Because," Mana pauses, taking a second to think. "…I don't know actually. Maybe because humans are happy here. But the angels must have their reasons."

'…We're all connected in one way or another, so the destruction of one life could mean the destruction of many…'

Asuna's words ring clear in Setsuna's mind, but she doesn't mention it. It's not much of an explanation anyway, so she opts for turning back to the TV.

They sit in silence through the commercial break and halfway through an episode of Seinfeld. Mana isn't a big fan of television, and especially not since Setsuna came around. Shows like the sitcom on right now are particularly dangerous.

Setsuna narrows her eyes at the TV and opens her mouth, and Mana steadies herself for what she knows is coming.

"I don't understand. What are they betting on?"

Mana stares stone-faced at the screen and tries to decide if it's better to lie or tell the truth. But, well, part of her duty as Setsuna's babysitter is to help her get accustomed to the life of a human so she can properly act the part. This is part of what I'm getting paid for, I suppose.

"They're betting on who can go the longest without masturbating," she finally says.

"Oh."

Setsuna lets that information cycle through her mind for a minute, and then:

"What does masturbating mean?"

This is not worth the money.

Mana sets her empty bowl down on the coffee table and disappears into her bedroom. She reemerges balancing an open laptop.

"Here," she puts it on Setsuna's lap. "Just look it up."

Setsuna looks at the laptop and then at Mana, who has retreated back to the couch, then back at the laptop again. Finally she puts her fingers to the keyboard and types the word into Google.

The gunman relishes the silence, happy at having found a less ridiculous solution than giving her naïve roommate the "bird and the bees" talk.

Or so she thought.

"Is that what this girl's doing?"

Before thinking about it Mana turns to Setsuna, only to find the laptop's screen has been turned to face her. She gets a good eyeful of some woman lying on a desk and spreading her legs before her reflexes can kick in and turn her head away.

"Damnit, Setsuna," Mana curses, trying to unsee the fragment of video. Setsuna looks at her quizzically, and Mana can only sigh and agree, "Yes, that's what she's doing."

"Why do people do that?"

"Why don't you try it and find out?" Mana growls, exasperated by this whole situation.

She hadn't been expecting Setsuna to listen to her quite so immediately, although she probably should have, and before she can say a word the girl is stripping in the middle of their living room.

"Not here you idiot!"

Setsuna pauses, hands on the clasp of her bra, and waits for instruction.

"Your room. Go. To. Your. Room."

"Oh," Setsuna nods, "Okay."

Mana lets herself sink down in her seat a little bit when she hears Setsuna's bedroom door close.

How she hasn't been hit by a car or killed yet is beyond me…

She glances at the spot where Setsuna had been sitting and realizes her laptop is gone. As in, Setsuna took it to her room. Probably to use as an instructional tool. For masturbation.

Damnit.

XXX

Later that weekend Setsuna turns the television on only to be greeted by static.

"What happened to the TV?" She asks Mana, who is sitting on the couch reading.

"I cancelled our cable."

"Oh," Setsuna pauses, "…Why?"

Mana's brain assaults her with the pornographic image her roommate had flashed her with two days ago.

"It was expensive," she says, and Setsuna nods and opens up Mana's laptop, which she had kindly gifted her after the other night. She switches off the TV and opens up her MMORPG.

Mana smiles behind her book.

It's definitely better to lie.

XXX

Like most people who get scolded, Setsuna didn't quit playing her game at work. She just got better at hiding it.

On Monday she changed her desktop to a dark background and now plays in windowed mode. The stripe of black at the top of the screen works like a mirror, allowing her to see if someone is coming up behind her, and although it affects her gameplay a little to be glancing up all the time she decides it's worth the reduction in DPS.

Because even though Mana told her it would be a good opportunity for her and Konoka to talk again, and even though it's her mission to do just that, the idea makes her nervous. Setsuna still doesn't understand what's expected of her by Evangeline and Mana – or by Konoka for that matter.

Is it significant that Konoka had been complaining to Setsuna, and that she asked to be called by her first name? That's what friends do on TV, at least... But does one meeting qualify as "friendship?" And more than that, is that even enough for their souls to be linked? Setsuna figures it must be because she doesn't know what else would be, if not that.

But Setsuna figures she doesn't know much of anything at all, so she decides it's best to sequester herself in her cubicle and quietly play World of Witchcraft.

Unfortunately for her, that plan doesn't turn out like she wanted it too.

On Tuesday she hears the little ping e-mail notification from her computer. She types a quick "brb" to the people she'd been doing a dungeon with – internet interactions are so much easier than real life – and minimizes the window.

Konoka Konoe
SUB: [no subject]

Hey, you said you were sent to my office because of a game right? What was its name?

Setsuna rereads the e-mail again, minimizes the window, and then reopens it. The message is, of course, the same.

Why would she ask that? Does she want the name so she can block people from playing at work on the office computers?

But, well, Konoka's her boss. What else can she do but answer?

me, Konoka Konoe
RE: [no subject]

It's called World of Witchcraft.

Setsuna hits the send button and frowns at her computer. This MMO is the only thing making work tolerable.

She reopens her game, typing a quick "I'm back," and resigns herself to whatever happens.

On Thursday, however, her game is still up and running. She hears the e-mail ping again and minimizes the window, only to find another message from Konoka.

Konoka Konoe
SUB: The Wastelands quest

Setsuna rubs her eyes and reads the subject line again.

The Wastelands is a zone in WoW, isn't it…?

She clicks on the e-mail.

Where the hell is Markrik's wife?

She stares at the line of text and guesses she should be happy her internet access isn't going to be restricted, but is her boss really playing an MMO at work? She figures she should answer regardless and types a quick reply before reopening her game.

Another ping forces her to minimize it again though, and she sighs frustratedly when her computer lags out and she has to reset it. When the OS finally boots she checks the message.

me, Konoka Konoe
RE:RE: The Wastelands quest

OHHHH. Thanks!

Setsuna struggles for a moment, trying to decide if she should reply, and ultimately decides not to. This is already weird enough as it is, she figures.

Except pretty soon it gets even weirder.

A week passes, and just as she's about to forget the whole thing ever happened, she scrolls through her e-mails one Saturday morning to find another message.

Konoka Konoe
SUB: WORK EMERGENCY

"Is that really for you?"

Setsuna jumps at the sound of Mana's voice from behind her. Normally she wouldn't be caught so off guard, but the girl walks like a freakin' cat.

"It's addressed to me, so I guess so."

She clicks open the e-mail, leaning to the side a bit to let Mana get an easier look.

Good morning Ms. Sakurazaki,

There's been an issue involving your department. Because of the problem's scale, it has become necessary that we address it immediately. At your earliest convenience, but no later than 2:00pm, please meet me at the address specified below. Business dress will not be required, and I apologize for any inconvenience this may cause you.

Sincerely,

Konoka Konoe

Mana's eyes skim over the e-mail and land on the address listed at the bottom. She raises an eyebrow at the street name.

"That's an upper class neighborhood. The address is probably for her house."

"Do you know where it is?" Setsuna asks, already grabbing her jacket from the closet and searching for a missing shoe.

"It's outside of the city. You'll have to get on the metro and take a bus, and even then you'll have to walk at least a mile."

Jeez, I wonder why she lives so far from everything.

Setsuna shoves her laptop and power cord into a backpack and, holding her keys in her mouth, attempts to put her hair up.

"…Are you really going to go like that?"

"Go like what?" She mumbles, mouth full of keys.

"In sweatpants and sneakers, carrying a backpack, and with your ponytail completely sideways."

"Meh," is Setsuna's undignified answer, "Why does it matter?"

It's only when Mana smiles that Setsuna realizes she might actually need to be worried about it.

"You have a lot to learn."

She turns away, seemingly done with the conversation, and Setsuna locks the door behind her and embarks on her trek.

XXX

They're standing outside the mouth of a huge cave. Icicles hang from the top lip and snow blankets the ground where they're standing, and one can only guess it must be far below freezing.

Setsuna managed to light a fire, however, having had flint in her backpack. She sits down with Konoka across from her, enjoying some stamina-boosting grilled fish. A long sigh from Konoka reaches her ears despite the howling wind.

"I don't get it," she half-shouts over the noise. "It's supposed to be right here."

"Do you think we could've missed it?"

"I don't see how. That cave is only, like, ten feet deep and this thing is supposed to be massive –"

Setsuna stands suddenly, drawing her sword.

"Found it," she says, and Konoka follows her gaze to the large, drooling, hairy yeti standing behind her. She jumps back and Setsuna unfurls her wings, swooping in to strike the creature from above. She scores a direct hit, only to enrage the beast and get swatted down like an oversized bug.

"Shit," she stares at her broken arm guard, "These things are expensive to fix."

Still staring at her arms, she watches a barely noticeable aura engulf her. Feeling renewed from Konoka's spell, she goes at the yeti again, striking four times in succession before a quick shout from her magic-using partner warns her to get away.

She jumps back, beating her wings to stay in the air as she watches the ground explode in a glowing, fiery energy. The yeti attempts to claw after Setsuna and fails, its movements being slowed down by the charring of its feet, and it bleats its sheep-like cry as it falls to the ground.

They stare at the fallen creature as if expecting it to get up again. When it doesn't, they breathe a sigh of relief.

"That wasn't so bad," Konoka murmurs, approaching the yeti's body once the magic on the ground has waned. She reaches her hand in its mouth and pulls out one very large tooth – supposedly a magical item, according to the guy that'd asked them to retrieve it. Once she's successfully extracted it, she turns to Setsuna and notices her wounded arm. Konoka rubs her hands together, summoning her healing magic.

"Thanks," Setsuna says in advance, "I don't have any bandages left so –"

Konoka nearly jumps out of her skin when she sees Setsuna suddenly combust into a ball of white-hot flames, get stabbed by two gnomes, and then be mauled by a tiger.

XXX

"Oh what the hell," she can't help but exclaim, throwing her headset down on her computer desk and standing up in outrage, "Why are there so many high-level players that just spend all their time killing us?"

Setsuna stares passively at her character burning to death and shrugs.

"At least you got your tooth."

She's used to assholes in this game taking advantage of her relatively low-level character for some quick laughs. Konoka, being a bit newer than her, is understandably more frustrated.

"I'll walk my spirit back to our bodies and resurrect us, you can wait there," Konoka offers, returning her focus back to their game.

She puts her headphones back on and Setsuna leans back in her chair to wait. Glancing up over the top of her borrowed monitor she takes a moment to reflect on the strangeness of her afternoon. Today is the first day she's had on Earth that broke her pattern of work, sleep, work. Even the walk here was strange.

After finally reaching Konoka's neighborhood, she could kind of understand what Mana meant with her earlier remarks.

Everyone had been staring at her.

Despite the various people taking wide routes around her while exercising their tiny pets, it was still a pretty pleasant walk. Whereas the sidewalks around her apartment are usually uneven and end after about twenty feet, forcing her to cross the road every few minutes or risk being hit by a car, the paths here are long and smooth. Trees line the pavement and every front yard is filled with colorful flowers, and from her view on the street she could see tennis courts and pools behind the traditional-style mansions.

She'd passed several people on her way here. Most of them were older woman in their fifties power walking on the other side of the street, clad in Under Armor spandex and pink Nike shoes. They all quickly pretended to be busy changing the song on her iPhones until they'd passed Setsuna completely.

It's not like Setsuna's particularly intimidating, being so small, and only upon remembering Mana's words did she realize those paranoid people were all probably under the assumption that she's going to rob their houses. Konoka's maids and butlers hadn't been much better either, and she faces their scrutiny every time they walk in the room or she has to step outside it. She'd had to spend fifteen minutes just convincing them to let her inside the gate, and Konoka herself had to come to the front door and confirm who Setsuna is before she was allowed in the house.

After stepping inside though, she can almost understand why. Even the furniture in the foyer is probably worth more than both her kidneys. She'd been a bit worried about spending time in such a fancy place considering her obvious lack of etiquette, but to her surprise they'd went back to Konoka's work room and the girl had jumped right back in her computer chair. Turns out she'd needed help with a few quests. Which still left a couple of things unexplained.

"Konoka?"

"Hmm?"

"Did you actually need my help with work?"

"Nope," she replies easily, casting a resurrect spell in-game. Setsuna clicks the 'accept' button on her screen, and Konoka continues, "I had to say that though. My dad goes through my e-mails because he's afraid I'm going to talk about something that might hurt the company and hackers could get a hold of it. He got pissed about the messages I'd sent you earlier, so I kind of had to lie…"

She trails off, giving Setsuna an apologetic look.

"How do you talk to your friends then?" Setsuna asks, disregarding the apology since she doesn't know what to do with it.

Suddenly Konoka looks pretty uncomfortable, and Setsuna wonders if she said something strange. People have friends, right? I think that's normal…

"Well," the brunette starts, not making eye contact, "I don't really… have those."

"Ah."

Guess not.

Silence. Setsuna sits undisturbed through the awkwardness as only an oblivious person can, but finally Konoka can't stand the pressure.

"It's – it's not like there's something wrong. With me, I mean, or, you know, I don't think so anyway… It's just that most people at work don't want to be friends with their boss, you know? And when I was a kid I wasn't allowed to go anywhere outside my yard because my dad was super paranoid since my mom died in an accident…"

Setsuna lets the silence happen again, not knowing what to say to that, and Konoka can admit to herself that she might be getting a little panicked. God, she probably thinks I'm a freak…

(Little does she know.)

"Parents can be so frustrating," she finishes her thought and memories of her first conversation with Setsuna surface. She regrets saying it immediately.

"N – not that I'm not lucky, for having a dad, you know, I mean, I'm sure you know – knew. I'm sure you… knew, uh."

Pause.

"Okay, maybe there is something wrong with me," Konoka mumbles, letting herself sink forward in her chair until her face is in her hands.

Finally, something clicks for Setsuna.

"Oh, you mean you feel bad for mentioning my parents. I don't mind. I didn't know them, so I have no emotional ties to them at all."

Whatever that means.

"I see," Konoka sighs in relief, "I'm still sorry though. You must think I'm an idiot or something."

A moment, and then another click.

"If you're embarrassed about not having friends, I really don't care about that."

Konoka raises an eyebrow at the blunt choice of words.

"You don't find it strange? I'm sure you have lots of friends. You seem pretty normal to me."

Setsuna is pretty sure she's not normal.

As far as friends go… Well, there's Asuna, that's true, but their relationship is founded on lies. And Mana is paid to be in her company. The only person that even comes close is Evangeline, but she only talks to Setsuna very rarely…

"I don't really know. What constitutes friendship?"

"I don't know either," Konoka admits, and then continues shyly, "But, if you want, you and I can be friends, and then we can figure it out. You know, and play games together and stuff…"

The girl lets her sentence hang and waits for a reply. Anyone but Setsuna would've been struck by how childish and silly that proposition sounded, but instead she just shrugs and says,

"Yeah, sure."

Despite Setsuna's nonchalance, Konoka is practically glowing.

"Really? Are you sure? This is going to be awesome – there's a ton of stuff I've always wanted to do but I never really had anyone I could enjoy it with, but now I can just call you up, right? I mean if you're not busy, of course, and you don't have to hang out with me but –"

I kind of do, though…

"I'd like to hang out with you," Setsuna cuts her off there, "But I don't have a cellphone, so you'll have to e-mail me."

"You don't have a phone?"

"I don't have any friends, so I don't really have anyone to call."

Konoka guesses that makes sense.

"Okay, in that case I'll just –"

She's interrupted by a knock on the door.

"Come in."

An older maid steps into the room and nods politely at the guest before turning to Konoka.

"Miss Konoka, your father is here to discuss some business with you."

"Daddy is? Is he downstairs?"

"He's coming up now, actually."

A man's voice echoes from down the hallway, presumably Konoka's father, and it sends the girl into a flurry of action. She promptly closes the games open on both the computers and hurriedly shoves the extra monitor into a closet before going back for the computer and doing the same. She guides Setsuna back into her chair and reaches for the girl's laptop, lying closed on the corner of their desk, and opens it to face Setsuna. She's just sitting down in her own chair when her dad walks in, and she reverses the motion quickly to make it look like she's just standing up instead.

"Dad!"

"Konokumpf – "

She jumps at him in a tackle-hug more appropriate for a kid, and he pats her on the back and says about as much.

"Aren't you getting a little old to be doing that?"

"You've been saying that for ten years dad. Hasn't stopped me yet."

He only notices Setsuna when his daughter releases her death grip, and the smile drops off his face immediately, his expression settling into something more business-like.

"Konoka, you didn't tell me you had a guest."

"Ah, oh yeah, I forgot," she smiles and gestures at Setsuna, who hasn't budged from her chair. "Dad, this is Setsuna Sakurazaki. She's an employee in human resources."

He sticks out his hand and Setsuna gets up to shake it.

"Nice to meet you, Mr. Konoe," she says and drops his hand to pile her things back in her backpack.

"Nice to meet you, Miss Sakurazaki," he answers just as politely, but his eyes follow her as she gathers her laptop and puts her belongings away.

A nudge from Konoka snaps him out of it.

"Don't be so rude, daddy, she's just here to help me with computer stuff."

He rubs the back of his head in embarrassment, and Setsuna can quite easily see the resemblance between the two.

"I'm sorry," he offers, smiling now, "I'm just very protective of my daughter. Please excuse me for being rude."

"That's alright. If you don't mind, I'll be going now. My roommate is expecting me back shortly."

"Of course," he steps aside from the door and gestures for her to step through. "Get home safely."

Setsuna leaves without another word, but despite his apology she can feel his gaze burning a hole in the back of her head.


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