Moving on from your first love is never easy. It's even harder when you've promised to guard her children for the next two generations. [KonoSetsu-ish] [OneShot]. MEGA ANGST
For the beautiful Adele, with love, and in the hopes that our future Will be leagues less depressing than this.
If your plans involve making the future unstable, you better do what you can to get the present in order.
That was Negi's logic. It's good logic, Setsuna thinks, and Konoka certainly agrees too. She looks on in eager excitement at his plans unfolding – she remembers Mundus Magicus and thinks how much more interesting and exciting life would be if Earth were like that. She wants it to happen. She understands the importance of it all, and Konoka is excited to do what she can to help.
She still wants to be a magister magi though, that much is for sure, and in her optimistic perception of the future she sees herself helping the unfortunate in the world one place at a time. It'll be hard at first, adjusting to all the sadness and tragedy the harshest places have to offer. But with magic on one side and Setsuna on her other she's confident she can do it.
But life is full of curve balls, and as she progresses through a dual education – college and magic, an odd combination – she learns that it's not quite so simple. It's not as easy as running in somewhere and curing all the sickness and diseases that manifest in underprivileged populations.
Because even if she could possibly do that, even if she could do it openly, which she can't, there's still the issue of people themselves. There's no one solution for every problem, and sometimes there aren't solutions at all, because where there are people there are politics and war. Every place has its own past, and thousands of years of culture and history can't be erased by good intentions (even if you have the resources to back them up).
Although she can gather that much from her studies, she doesn't fully understand until she's sent on her three-year Magister Magi's test. xxxxxxxx
Konoka is twenty-one when she graduates from college and finds herself in the magical version of the Peace Corps.
She is tired by the time she's twenty-two. There are billions of people in the world and only one of her, and it seems no matter how many lives she's saved there are five more that she can't get to in time.
And it's not the fact that there's really no reward for this job – Konoka doesn't need money, and she has no desire to be famous – but she hadn't been expecting to be punished for it, certainly.
But maybe that's being dramatic. The people that try to rape and/or kill her don't attempt because of what she's doing, usually, but rather in spite of it. She just happens to be an innocent looking girl in various impoverished and corrupt countries.
But thank God for Setsuna, because Konoka is sure she would've been dead twenty times over if it wasn't for her. If the swordsman hadn't been there to discretely dispatch quite a number of people… well, Konoka shudders to think what could have happened to her. She'd probably be sliced to pieces.
Like those men after Setsuna is done with them.
But she never sees that, thankfully, because Setsuna is always careful. Konoka doesn't need to come face-to-face with first-degree murder, or the sick intentions of her pursuers… she would say that they're victims of their circumstances, anyway, it's not their fault they're the way they are…
Setsuna agrees with her, at least in conversation. She thinks Konoka also doesn't need to come face-to-face with the fact that some people simply aren't worth saving. xxxxxxxx
At twenty-three, at the end of her third year, Konoka is more than tired.
The memories in her head plague her at all hours of the day and night, and she suffers from insomnia on a regular basis. She stares at the ceiling and tries to focus on breathing, but the screams in her head are so loud and the pictures so bright that her meditations always transition to her sobbing into the pillow. If she has a pillow. Usually she'll just bite her forearm if not.
Setsuna, who always keeps watch and sleeps against the door if she sleeps at all, will come to her then. She kneels beside Konoka and takes her hand and just sits there, letting the girl cry. It's not as hard for Setsuna to watch everyone die around her – her disillusionment happened the day of her birth – but this is hard. Watching Konoka sobbing over things neither of them can control…
It's not something she gets used to.
It's especially bad where they are now, in the unfortunate village that happened to be the stopping point between two warring religious groups. The supposed soldiers of all shapes, ages, and sizes come back here in various stages of death, and despite their opposing sides she treats them indiscriminately. Some of them are missing limbs, eyes, organs. Most are brought back in literal pieces and thrown over the cliff on the west side of the village.
Konoka, the Tokyo U. graduate whose clothes in college cost more money than these people will see in their whole lives, watches them cart off the ones she either can't or doesn't have time to heal. She'll be working on one person, and a foot away three others will be dying. She pushes herself until she can't stand, and whens she's exhausted and can't even walk herself back to her room there is no relief, no sense of satisfaction, because while she's asleep a hundred more people will die. And twice that many tomorrow.
Her only silver lining is Setsuna. The swordswoman doesn't engage in these people's warfare, although with their lack of training and weapons she could probably dispatch one of their so-called armies in its entirety. Instead she watches Konoka work until there's blood up to her elbows and Setsuna literally has to pick her up and carry her back to their room. Konoka will protest half-heartedly – I can do more – but Setsuna won't hear it. She does much more than twenty other mages combined could do as it is, and it's obviously taking its toll on her body.
Konoka is almost at that point now, and with one week before they have to leave she's getting more and more desperate. She wants to do everything she can while she's still here.
"Ojou-sama," Setsuna says gently because Konoka is shaking form head-to-toe with stress and exhaustion, "I think it's time to go home."
The mage shakes her head and stumbles to the next injured patient, and Setsuna can only bite her tongue and watch. xxxxxxxx
The influx of injured soldiers decreases as one side emerges victorious. The injured members of the other party become prisoners of war when the winning side takes over the village. They occupy the inhabitant's houses and eat their food, but in return, they allow the villagers to live. When they'd understood that Konoka was a "doctor," they'd agreed to let her and Setsuna to stay.
"You must not heal the other army's wounded," their leader had said in broken English, "They're heretics and will die in whichever way they deserve."
But Konoka isn't about to have that happen. She crosses her arms and stands her ground, and Setsuna inconspicuously rests her hand on Yuunagi's hilt. She's glad that these people haven't gotten their hands on guns yet, or this situation would be a lot worse.
"No. I'll agree to heal your wounded first, but after that you have to let me help the prisoners too. They'll be able to leave right after I'm done, and it'll only take a day for me to help them all."
That's a brave promise considering how many people are hurt, but Setsuna isn't about to call her out on it.
The man, a 6'7" bag of muscles adequately nicknamed "Tiger" by the locals, only laughs at her.
"Now, now, little girl," and Setsuna can already see what's going through his mind, "You're awfully feisty for such a small thing. Maybe if you take off your clothes and I beat the fight out of you you'll agree with me –"
Setsuna draws her sword and points it at his throat before he can finish. There are some cries of alarm from the soldiers behind him.
Tiger just laughs again, "I don't know where you girls get the idea you can take on a man, but –"
This time Setsuna flicks her wrist, and the soldiers' eyes widen as their leader's shirt falls neatly off his body.
He looks a little more serious now.
"Fine then. Have it your way." xxxxxxxx
The next two days neither of them sleeps. After threatening their leader Setsuna can pretty much guess she's going to be a pretty obvious target, so she keeps her eyes and ears open at all hours of the night.
Konoka finishes the last of the army's injured men on the evening of the second day, sits back on her haunches, and takes a deep breath.
"You're amazing, Ojou-sama," Setsuna smiles at her tiredly, and Konoka manages to smile back.
"We only have one more day, but I think I can patch up the rest of them at least partially."
"You do mean tomorrow, right?"
Setsuna eyes Konoka's pale complexion wearily. She's in no condition to keep going, but as expected, she's not going to take no for an answer.
"At least let me work on a few, they're just on the other side of the village," she pauses, looking down at her lap, "Um, but I think I might need you to help me up."
Konoka stands with the other woman's help. Leaning against Setsuna's shoulder, they both make it to the prisoner's encampment on shaky legs only to nearly collapse again.
"What the Hell…"
Neither knows which one said it; probably both.
There are bodies everywhere.
"He… he said he'd…" Konoka mumbles, eyes wide, and finds that her legs aren't working that great anymore. Setsuna holds her up and peers into the building that was supposed to house the injured prisoners. The screams of the dying come from inside, accompanied by laughter.
Konoka tears herself out of Setsuna's hold and stumbles forward. How can this be happening?
"He – he said he'd wait for me to be done," she gives up on walking and can only sink to her knees among the bodies strewn on the lawn, "And they were all going to leave, Secchan, I don't understand…."
Setsuna's heart aches at the sight, and when Konoka turns to look at her, distraught and hysterical, her sadness is overwhelmed by fury.
"Why… why would he do that? I don't… they were just going to leave, Secchan, they were just going to…"
Konoka looks back at the building, listening to the prisoners' screams, and the girl is so damn tired and overwhelmed she doesn't even cry.
That someone could do what these men are doing to other human beings is disgusting, Setsuna knows, but it's part of humanity and part of the world. But to spit in the face of Konoka, who has wanted nothing in her life but to help those around her, who healed these men back from the brink of death out of the kindness of her heart, who is killing herself day in and day out without ever asking for anything in return…
"Secchan, where are you going?" Konoka manages to snap out of her trance in time to see Setsuna walking towards the building in the distance.
The swordsman doesn't answer, and Konoka can feel the anger radiating from her like heat, "D – don't, Secchan, we'd just be doing the same thing if we –"
"Not 'we,' Ojou-sama," Setsuna stops to say, "Just me."
She doesn't care if these people will see her wings because none of them are going to live to tell the story, so she flies in with her sword drawn and swinging. Bodies hit the ground and blood sprays on her clothes, but she doesn't care because, God fucking damnit, she's watched Konoka fall apart one too many times and she's too far out of patience to know mercy.
With every death she calms just a little bit, and she regains enough presence of mind to save Tiger for last. He's backed up against a corner clutching the stump where his left foot should be. Setsuna yanks her sword out of one of the many bodies now piled up on the floor and turns to him.
The more cynical part of her wishes she had something dramatic to say to him before she slices his throat, but Setsuna has never been one for giving lectures, so without further ado she swings her blade through his jugular.
He grasps his bleeding neck and she can kind of hear him through the squelching hole in his throat, "Demon… bitch…"
His corpse stares accusingly at her, and even though he's dead she still shrugs at him.
"That sounds about right."
Konoka can hear the commotion inside and tries not to think about what's happening, but she can't help but see eventually because when Setsuna comes out she looks like she took a bath in ketchup. There are two people leaning against her for support and she sets them down gently in front of Konoka.
"They were the only two prisoners still alive," she explains, and she can't bring herself to look Konoka in the eyes right now. Instead she works on shaking some of the blood out of her wings.
The injured men stare at them both with wide eyes and back away from Konoka when she goes to heal their wounds, but after realizing her intentions they sit still for her.
The older of the two says something in a language she can't understand, and Konoka stares inquisitively at him.
"Your friend," the young man explains, "My father says she must be an angel, and that she heard his prayers and came to rescue us."
His father approaches Setsuna with head bowed, mumbling what are probably prayers and praises. He looks up at her, presumably for her approval, and she shakes her head at him.
"Tell your father that I didn't do anything but swing my sword. She's the one that called me here," Setsuna motions to Konoka, who is still treating the son's arm. He says something to his father in that peculiar language, and the old man looks back and forth between the two women in front of him.
When Konoka is done healing his son, the man takes her hand and, keeping them linked, slides a leather bracelet off his skinny wrist and onto hers. With a thick accent he tells her, "Thank you."
Konoka stares at him in amazement. In the past two months of her Hellish stay in this country, not a single person had thanked her. She can't help but tear up because damn it feels good to know that, at the very least, one person appreciates what she's done here. Wiping her cheek she smiles at the man, and then at Setsuna. Thank you, she mouths to the swordsman, who only shrugs off her thanks and smiles back at her.
When the two men make it clear that they'll be able to leave on their own, Konoka and Setsuna make the mutual decision to go home a day early. xxxxxxxx
Their flight has a one day layover in London, and it's not until they check into their hotel and are getting ready to sleep that Konoka allows herself to full-blown cry again.
She cries for all the people she watched die, and she cries at what Setsuna did for her, and she cries for herself. She won't be the same after what she's seen and done on her travels.
By habit alone Setsuna had planned to sleep with her back to the door, but she reminds herself that the hotel has working locks and forces her body to step away. She sits on the bed next to Konoka and holds her hand.
"It's not fair of me to cry, is it?" Konoka asks through her tears, "I'm the one that gets to go back home after all that. Those people are stuck there until the day they die."
"That's not your fault, Ojou-sama, you've done more in three years than most people do in a lifetime. I think you've earned your right to cry."
Konoka wipes her eyes and tries to smile.
When her sniffles die down and there's nothing but the sound of an occasional car on the road, Setsuna stands up to retreat to her bed only to be yanked back down again.
"Stay," Konoka's voice is quiet and pleading. Setsuna doesn't argue with her.
When she's under the covers Konoka turns to face her, wrapping her arms around the other girl and cuddling up to her chest.
"I wish… I wish there was something I could do to repay you for what you did for me. Yesterday, and for every other day."
"This is thanks enough," Setsuna mumbles sleepily. This is the most peaceful she's felt in a long time.
She can feel Konoka shake her head in disagreement.
"It's not. Nothing ever will be, but for now there's not much I can do except…"
Setsuna can feel the girl in her arms shift slightly, and by the time she opens her eyes they're already kissing, and Konoka's hand is on the bare skin just above the waistband of her pants.
"Thank you," Konoka whispers, and even in the dark Setsuna can tell they're blushing on a similar scale.
For the first time in three years they sleep well. xxxxxxxx
When they get home they're both barraged by their friends and occupied in trying to readjust to their "normal" lives. Konoka spends the first week back with her father to get caught up on the political scene, and Setsuna is called back to Mahora to take care of something concerning the wards.
By the time they're able to get a moment alone what happened that night is too far past.
Neither one brings it up. xxxxxxxx
After the week with her father Konoka amends her goals. Going around the world like some kind of superhero was an unrealistic, ignorant dream, she realizes. So she tells herself one thing at a time, and her first focus should certainly be the place she knows best: her home.
Negi was never lacking in insight, even at ten, but at twenty he's now got experience under his belt. Konoka asks him in good faith what she can do, and he tells her that he knows one thing of particular importance that only she can do. She listens, and when the conversation is done, she knows she has to change her image of the future once more.
Culture and history and people and politics have all manifested themselves in a war between the magical spheres of east and west, and with Japan as the headquarters of Negi's plans, uniting those two sides is a must-do. Everyone with knowledge of magic has to be on the same page if their world – and she's proud she can say that now, that she's part of that we – is to be brought, as benignly as possible, into the world of mundanes.
Her dreams have been cut down, but she still believes. She still wants to be part of that change.
So Konoka meets Kenjiro, who is kind-hearted and protective at best, or average and jealous at worst, and agrees to marry him. Traditional marriage is what worked for her own parents to unite the Kanto and Kansai, after all, and she hopes this one will be enough to unite all of Japan.
She asks Asuna to be her maid of honor because asking Setsuna to be part of this at all is unfair. She had dreams too, Konoka knows.
She walks down the aisle and says her vows, and Setsuna stands by the window with her eyes closed and listens to nothing at all but sound of her world falling to pieces. xxxxxxxx
Things go reasonably well after that, politically speaking.
While Japan's crowd of magic users adapts to the change in atmosphere, organizations across the world make their own necessary adjustments. Konoka is not alone in her sacrifice, although she only calls it that in her most private of thoughts and even then only on her worst days. Otherwise she calls it compromise, or depending on the audience, maybe even love.
That doesn't make it any easier to bear though.
Setsuna is still with her, in terms of space and time at least. They never talk about what-could-have-beens. They live their lives, separately and together, cynically comforted by the fact that each is suffering as much as the other.
The swordsman cares very little about the changes in the world – only as much as the next person – but she understands the decisions that were made. Konoka will always be who she is, that kind-to-a-fault girl who would put the wellbeing of others far above her own. She wants to help save this world, and Setsuna tries not to be resentful about the fact that what she wanted had nothing to do with that at all. She tries not to get angry when she hears the maids gossiping about the newly weds' sex life, or when she has to watch the two interact from a distance. But she is angry.
Still, Setsuna does her best. She never cries over her apparently irrelevant and misplaced dreams, and she never throws her sword down and leaves, and she never lets herself shake Konoka by the shoulders and scream what about me? What about you?
Bottling it up is the only solution. She grows apart from even her best friends as she coils further and further into her pain. She's like a live wire, and they can feel it.
Kenjiro can feel it too, and they never get along very well because of it. He's a 'nice' guy, definitely not even close to how bad it could've been; even Setsuna would not deny that. But when he sees Konoka staring into space when they're on dates and feels the overwhelming sensations of loss between his wife and her guard, he takes it as a personal failure. He tries on several occasions to talk to Konoka about it, but she's always deflecting and distant during those conversations, so eventually he stops trying.
All that changes when Konoka gets pregnant two years later.
Now everyone has to keep the child in mind. There's no room for personal feelings and vendettas, even in a mansion as sizeable as the one they all share. The tension gets swept under the rug, although it remains as a palpable undercurrent.
Setsuna does her best to stay far away from the two – despite her shattered dreams, what right does she have to be part of this life except as Konoka's ever-faithful guard? But with Kenjiro going out of his way to do the work of his rather incapacitated wife, and spending more and more time out of the house, many of his duties fall on Setsuna.
She refuses at first, but when it becomes clear that Konoka actually needs help, she gives in. After a few weeks they can't help but feel their dormant chemistry once again. By the third trimester they're attached at the hip, and happier for it, although no one dares to mention that when Kenjiro is home.
Konoka is lying in bed reading one night with Setsuna half-dozing in the armchair in her room. The swordsman is immediately at full alert when she hears the other girl grunt in pain.
"Nothing," Konoka says with a gentle smile, the only thing that will put her guardian at ease, "The baby's kicking."
Setsuna looks in wonder at the protruding belly in question and hesitantly sidles closer.
"Is that okay? Should I call a doctor?"
"No, silly, it's perfectly normal. Do you want to feel?"
She does want to feel, but saying so would break their post-marriage dynamic of 'don't ask, don't tell,' and so Konoka takes the hesitating girl by the wrist and brings the hand to her belly.
"It's – it's actually… kicking."
Konoka laughs at the astounded expression on Setsuna's face.
"Of course Silly, did you think I was lying?"
She hadn't, of course, but that doesn't make the movement any less surprising.
Even with her hand on Konoka's stomach and the comfortable quiet, they still don't give voice to the thought that this is how it should be.
Setsuna doesn't let herself get depressed over it this time. Even though she doesn't necessarily buy in to the overly-sentimental garble about the miracle of life – how could she, having witnessed so much death – there's something so spectacularly hopeful about this new being.
Eventually Konoka picks up her book again, but she doesn't disrupt their position. Setsuna sits, for the remaining hour before Kenjiro gets home, feeling the hope she'd denied herself for so many years. xxxxxxxx
The maids' gossip gets to Kenjiro eventually. In the last weeks of Konoka's pregnancy he makes a remarkable effort to be at home all day, every day. He doesn't like what he's hearing about his wife. His efforts force Setsuna away, but she keeps her distance now accompanied by the bit of courage she'd gathered from that night.
Her relative happiness, if you could even call it that, only infuriates him more. So when Konoka goes into labor at four in the morning no one in the house wakes Setsuna. The maids scrambling and fussing in the hallway draws her out of her light sleep, and at first she thinks maybe Kenjiro got home a day early from his overnight business trip in the next city over. But when she hears someone shouting about a hospital she knows otherwise.
She wastes no time running out of her room and sliding in socked feet up to a group of maids standing at the end of the hallway.
"Where's Ojou-sama?" She asks, frantic and demanding.
"One of the butlers is taking her to the hospital. Her water broke."
The woman's tone is short and demeaning. These are Kenjiro's maids, not Konoka's, and their loyalties obviously lay with the couple. The rumors of Setsuna's supposed infatuation are enough for them to dislike her. She'd never held it against them, but her attitude is rapidly changing.
"Why the hell didn't you wake me up?"
"Kenjiro-sama said on the phone not to bother –"
Setsuna doesn't wait around to see their surprise or listen to their responses. Instead she runs right out the front door and into the driveway. The car is gone, and if she wasn't mad before, she's overcome with fury now.
She takes her courage and, in an act of utter defiance, spreads her wings and flies.
Her eyes are good, but in the dark the headlights all look the same. She stops searching for the car and flies straight to the hospital Konoka had insisted she be brought to months ago. She stops right at the entrance, and people stare in awe at her white wings but say nothing. By now the knowledge is becoming widespread. Acceptance, however, is another thing entirely. When she walks up to the receptionist who'd been staring at her with mouth agape since she landed, the woman eyes her like she'd just walked in with a dead body on her shoulders.
"I'm looking for Konoe Konoka," Setsuna says impatiently, glad not for the first time that Konoka chose to keep her last name. The woman is still staring at her, but Setsuna doesn't care how ridiculous she looks to these people with her baggy t-shirt and gym shorts and no shoes.
"She just came in a few minutes ago," the woman answers; everyone knows who Konoka is now. "Are you a relative?"
Setsuna, who is panicky and pissed off beyond belief after having had enough mistreatment for one day, leans over the counter and stares the woman down.
"You will tell me where she is, or I will beat the shit out of every single member of your staff until someone else does."
She wishes for the first time in her life she hadn't worn her contacts and dyed her hair, but it seems she's intimidating enough even at her decidedly non-threatening 5'4".
A nurse steps in for the terrified receptionist and takes her down several long hallways and into the maternity ward. Setsuna can hear Konoka's screams from one of the rooms, and she rushes to the door only to be stopped by a hand on her shoulder.
"You can't go in there, you don't have her permission and the husband hasn't arrived yet – "
"If you think I care even the tiniest bit about – "
The screaming from inside stops, and in the silence Konoka's dazed and tired voice is clearly audible.
"K – Ojou-sama, I'm coming – "
She puts her hand on the doorknob only to be stopped again. This time she turns around with the full intention of punching the woman right in the mouth, but she's surprised to be greeted by a set of hospital scrubs.
"Put these on first," she says, and Setsuna yanks the thing on and bursts through the door in one fluid motion.
"Ojou-sama," she sighs in relief to find Konoka okay. Sweaty and in obvious pain, but okay.
Konoka smiles at her, and maybe it's the fact that she's so vulnerable, or maybe it's all the oxytocin in the room, but Setsuna feels stronger just by the sight of it. She made the right decision coming here, she knows.
"I'm glad you're here," Konoka's voice is soft and earnest, and when she weakly reaches her hand out Setsuna takes it.
Only to have it squeezed to the near-breaking point when another contraction hits Konoka like a truck.
Setsuna bites her lip and tries not to cry out in surprise – who knew the girl had that much strength? The lip-biting and hand-squeezing is then accompanied by an assault on Setsuna's ears when she hears Konoka scream.
She knows she doesn't have a right to complain when the woman in front of her is suffering so obviously, but standing there and watching her suffer without being able to do anything is impossibly hard.
"Can't you do something?" She asks, raising her voice over Konoka's and staring haplessly at one of the nurses standing by.
The woman shrugs, years of experience keeping her calm.
"She said she wanted to do a natural birth. It's all part of the process."
Another scream sends Setsuna's anxiety skyrocketing again.
The doctor at the foot of the bed says something about pushing, but Setsuna's not listening to him.
"This is… kind of embarrassing," Konoka mutters breathily between contractions, and Setsuna does her best not to stare at the bloody sheets and the man standing between Konoka's legs.
"You – you shouldn't feel that way, Ojou-sama," Setsuna tries to wrack her panic-addled brain for something reassuring to say, "Remember that time in college when I was trying to help you get to the bathroom and you threw up all over me? Um, that was – that was way worse than, uh, this…" Not helpful, she realizes immediately, but to her surprise Konoka laughs so hard the doctor has to remind her where she is.
"God I love you," she says through her giggles, and despite the scream that follows, Setsuna's heart soars ten thousand times.
"You're almost done Konoe-san, just a little more…"
There doesn't seem to be any time at all between when the doctor's voice trails off and when it picks up again to tell the nurses to take the baby.
"Is he okay?" Konoka asks, breathing hard but worried by the lack of cries. A light slap to the baby's bottom fixes that issue, but her relief doesn't last long.
"She's just fine, but you're going to have to keep pushing, Konoe-san, there's still the placenta."
Setsuna cringes at the gruesome image. Maybe this is worse.
When it's all said and done though, and the baby is cleaned off and no longer covered in some weird jelly that Setsuna prefers not to think about, they both agree it was all more than worth it. Silence ensues except for the sounds of a nursing baby, and they both stare in awe at the little creature in Konoka's arms.
"He wanted a boy," Konoka says finally, "But I'm glad she's a girl."
"What are you going to call her?"
"Mmm… what about Setsuna?"
It's obvious she's kidding, but the swordswoman momentarily imagines everyone cooing over the baby –
"Aww, look at how big Setsuna's getting!"
"Oh dear, did little Setsuna mess her diaper?"
The blush is immediate.
"Um, I'm not sure that's a good idea."
"I figured," Konoka laughs, "And somehow I don't think Kenjiro would be very happy about that."
She pauses, and they both realize they'd completely forgotten about him.
"Well," Konoka clears her throat and continues, "You are the one that's here, and I think my daughter should be named after my most loyal friend."
The statement hurts as much as it feels good, but Setsuna smiles anyway.
"So how about… Sakura."
"As in, Sakurazaki."
Setsuna smiles for real now. The petty part of her she doesn't acknowledge is thrilled by the idea. The two of them will share the secret of that name's origin together, outside of Kenjiro's knowledge. Good.
"I love it," she says definitively.
She meets Konoka's gaze for a moment. The new mother looks like she wants to say something, but her eyes are suddenly directed to the door.
"Ken," she says, and she smiles in that pleasant way that Setsuna has come to recognize.
"I'm so sorry, I got here as fast as I could but the damn train was – "
He sees Setsuna and stops suddenly.
"What are you doing here?" What you should've been doing, she doesn't say. Instead she gives Konoka's hand one last squeeze and walks right past him out of the room.
She sits in the lobby and listens to the sound of them argue, but eventually that quiets down and she can only hope it's because Kenjiro realized that's no way to greet a newborn.
Later, when Konoka is asleep and the baby is taken for vaccinations, Kenjiro comes out to see her still waiting there.
"You should go home."
He's finding it difficult to be calm. As if the idea of him being absent during his daughter's birth isn't enough, the thought of his wife's amorous guard being the first to see her makes him furious.
"And as long as I'm here, if you have anything at all to do with my daughter it'll be purely coincidence. I hope you know that."
He'd never spoken to her rudely before, only in cold and polite tones, but Setsuna is unphased. She gets up to leave, and even though she knows he's probably right, when she's out the door she can't help the smile.
She's had more to do with his daughter already than he'll ever realize.
"Sakura," she repeats the name to herself, and walks home in a happy daze. xxxxxxxx
Little Sakura grows fast.
During the following four years, the obvious aging of Konoka's child comes juxtaposed with the fact that Setsuna is, in contrast, not aging.
Konoka stands up from her desk one day, announcing a lunch break, and the swordsman offers to meet her in the kitchen. Setsuna's kept her distance from the other woman since her little tiff with Kenjiro four years ago; the two hardly talk now, but she's a constant in Konoka's life regardless.
When Konoka doesn't appear in the kitchen twenty minutes later Setsuna figures she must have stopped by her bedroom. She knocks and doesn't receive an answer, but she can hear someone sifting through the clutter on the vanity.
"Ojou-sama?" She calls out in warning, opening the door slightly to find Konoka standing in front of the mirror and examining the reflection of her face.
She doesn't respond and Setsuna steps in the room, closing the door behind her. She leans against the wall and waits patiently for Konoka to speak.
"I'm getting wrinkles," she sighs tiredly, touching a spot on her forehead.
"Is that what you're worried about?"
"No," she finally looks away from her reflection to make eye contact with Setsuna, "I'm worried about you."
"For what reason would you trouble yourself over me?"
"Because you're thirty-two and you don't look a day over eighteen."
"I thought that was supposed to be a good thing," she laughs, but nervously. She'd been noticing the same thing for some time now.
"Do you… do you know why?"
"Maybe I'm just lucky, I guess."
Konoka purses her lips and says nothing. She stares at Setsuna until the girl begins to fidget under her gaze. Finally she relaxes and laughs at herself for being paranoid.
"I guess so," she says, and they let it go. xxxxxxxx
The political turmoil in Japan has died down, and its united magic association is leading the charge into the new era. Konoka's proud to say she instigated that change.
Still, there are some days she has to remind herself that everything in her life has been for a purpose, including her marriage.
It's not likes he's completely miserable, she tells herself. It's hard to find faults with Kenjiro: he's compassionate, he's handsome, and he loves her. If they weren't married Konoka knows that women would be all over him. The thought should make her jealous, but somehow it doesn't.
Sometimes she has to wonder why he married her at all. For her part, Konoka is pleasant and cooperative at best, and distant at worst. She doesn't know why he loves her so much, but when she'd jokingly mentioned that to Setsuna her companion had just laughed at her.
"It's impossible not to love you, Ojou-sama," she'd said easily, and Konoka doesn't think Setsuna realized the second meaning of her words.
But that was back when they still talked. Nowadays they hardly speak, and any semblance of conversation is interrupted by her duties as a mother or a politician, or she's bothered by Kenjiro. Not 'bothered,' she tells herself, because a husband doesn't bother his wife by trying to talk to her. Isn't that the joke? Most wives complain that their husbands don't listen, and here I am taking him for granted all the time…
Konoka sighs and tells herself to snap out of it. She has a daughter now, and at the very least she has to keep it together for her sake, so she thinks back to the actions she's taken during her life to change the world for the better. As far as her marriage goes… Even the happiest wives probably have moments when they need to remind themselves why they got married, Konoka thinks, and those reasons should be enough to keep me happy.
She doesn't think about why they don't. xxxxxxxx
Sakura's birthdays are always a huge event in the mansion, and her fifth one is no different.
Setsuna ducks underneath a few colorful streamers to open the door for the last set of parents picking up their son. Konoka had made absolutely sure that her daughter wouldn't have to live the same lonely childhood that she did. Sakura goes to school, and she does gymnastics, and she attends other kids' birthday parties like everyone else her age. The only way you can tell her apart is the constant tail of guards strategically placed around her. Sometimes Setsuna is one of them; more often, and true to Kenjiro's threat, she isn't.
"Hi!" The child's parents greet her enthusiastically when she opens the door. Setsuna only nods in response, and after a moment of awkward silence the wife smiles uncomfortably and tells her,
"We're here for Senji."
"I'll go get him."
Setsuna can hear the two children and Konoka in the kitchen, and she walks in to find everything covered in cake batter – Konoka included. There are balloons in every corner, but most of the streamers have been torn down by the destructive force of nature called kindergarteners.
"Senji's parents are here," she says evenly, but raises an eyebrow at Konoka's condition. Half her face is covered in rainbow sprinkles.
"I figured," she says, grabbing a kitchen towel and vainly trying to wipe the goop off various parts of her body, "Senji, mommy and daddy are here."
The boy in question jumps up immediately and runs to the front door. Konoka follows quickly after to say hello to the parents since they hadn't come in earlier.
"Konoka-san! It looks like the kids had a lot of fun. Your house is beautiful by the way…"
Setsuna tunes out the polite conversation at the door and grabs Konoka's discarded towel. Sakura is staring at her with big, curious eyes – Konoka's eyes – and Setsuna wonders how long she'll have to watch her.
She still doesn't know how to interact with children despite that she's been surrounded by them ever since Sakura started daycare. The little girl doesn't seem to have the same qualms about talking with her though.
"Hi!" She says brightly.
"Um, hi," Setsuna mumbles, squatting down to be eye level with the girl. That's what you're supposed to do, right? I think… "Do you want this towel to clean up?"
Sakura looks at the towel, then back to Setsuna.
"You're that Setsuna lady, right? Everyone says that you're mommy's friend, but I hardly never see you guys talk!" Her voice is overly loud in that oblivious way, and Setsuna cringes at the volume.
"We don't talk very often, but we've been friends since your mom was your age."
It's a fact she has to remind herself of sometimes.
Sakura squints her eyes and leans forward, putting her hand on her chin in an exaggerated expression of thoughtfulness.
"I dunno, you're kind of scary."
Tactlessness – another feature of children Setsuna can't seem to adjust to.
"Well, that's okay," she announces, nodding sagely, "Mommy says you're her best friend so you must be really nice, because mommy's really nice too."
"She is very nice," Setsuna agrees, and she hears giggling from the doorway.
"I'm glad you guys think so highly of me."
Konoka is leaning against the doorframe and smiling at both their conversation and at Setsuna's obvious awkwardness. Setsuna and Sakura hardly interact at all, and although she hadn't been there for her husband's "speech," she can pretty much guess what happened.
"Mom!" Sakura gets up suddenly and stumbles on some spilled food. Setsuna catches her, and the child merely wiggles out of her grasp and continues on her way.
"Since it's my birthday can I play outside late today? Setsuna already said she'd watch me and everything!"
"Oh did she now?" Konoka gives Setsuna a skeptical look, to which the swordsman just shrugs. Looking out the kitchen window she can tell it's going to be dark soon.
"Well alright," she acquiesces, "But only until dark, and only if Setsuna promises to keep you safe."
"Do you promise?" Sakura looks at her with excited eyes, and before she can stop herself Setsuna remembers looking into the eyes of a very similar five-year-old girl. She can't help but smile.
"As long as I'm alive, Sakura, I'll always keep you safe."
Konoka smiles too, although something about her expression is sad.
"That sounds familiar," she says quietly, and the two women take a second to remember. But only a second, because after that Sakura is dragging Setsuna out the door by her hand.
"You're a lot less scary when you smile," Konoka hears her daughter say when they're around the corner, and she bites her lip to keep from laughing at that. xxxxxxxx
The unusual duo is hardly out the door before Sakura is off running, jumping, skipping – Setsuna wonders if she should do anything, but if playing consists of her standing there and watching the girl jump around randomly, she can deal with that too.
Unfortunately, boredom is another facet of childhood.
After fifteen minutes the girl stops being a child-sized pinball and stands still in the front yard, squinting into the light of the setting sun.
"That's bad for your eyes you know."
"Mommy could fix it. She can fix everything," she says easily, and then wistfully, "I wish I could do magic too."
"Why can't you?"
"Mom and dad said they want me to go to normal school first, until I'm older. Then I can do all the magic I want!"
"That sounds like fun," Setsuna humors her.
"You know what?" Sakura spins around, and with the sun behind her it's actually quite dramatic for a five-year-old, "I think dad doesn't like you, but I do."
"That… makes me very happy."
It's an honest reply. Setsuna would be lying if she said she didn't want to be part of this girl's life – she's a huge piece of Konoka's, after all.
"Good. And since we're friends now, I'm going to show you something really cool."
"Oh? And what's that?"
Sakura takes off running again, which is pretty much a light jog for Setsuna considering the height difference. She leads the swordsman around the house twice in varying patterns, as if they're going somewhere very far away. Eventually she takes a different turn and walks into the backyard.
There's a steep incline there with a large stone wall built against the side, almost like it's slicing the hill in half. Sakura climbs to the top of this and looks over the edge of the wall, sticking her hand between the links in the chain fence that prevents her from falling through.
"Isn't it cool?" She says in awe, staring at the ground thirty feet below.
It's a decent sized drop, but Setsuna can see nothing remarkable about it.
"Why is it so interesting?"
"Because!" Sakura answers indignantly, obviously offended that her companion doesn't appreciate her discovery, "Don't you think it's neat that we're so high up? It would be so cool if I could jump that high all the time."
Setsuna considers that, and then something else as well. She struggles with the idea for a minute, staring down the side of the wall in contemplation with Sakura at her side.
'You know what? I think dad doesn't like you, but I do...' Well then, fuck him.
If she's being childish, she'll blame it on too much time with Sakura.
"That would be pretty cool," Setsuna finally says, and she can't keep the excitement completely out of her voice, "But do you want to see something way cooler?"
Without further ado she scoops Sakura into her arms and, ignoring the twin rips in her shirt, lets her wings out with great flourish.
"Woah! Setsuna, you can – "
Before the words are out of her mouth Setsuna is off into the sky, slowly and carefully at first to let Sakura adjust. But the girl doesn't seem to need the time. She is immediately overcome with joy, giggling and laughing and squirming in Setsuna's firm grip.
"How's this for cool?" Setsuna asks, maybe a bit smug, and Sakura nods enthusiastically.
"This is the coolest thing ever ever ever ev- ahh!"
Setsuna readjusts her grip, double checking her hold on the child in her arms before launching herself in a series of flips. Sakura screams excitedly at the sensation of being airborne and upside down.
She does two circuits around the mansion, barreling into corkscrews and loops – partly for Sakura's entertainment, and partly for her own; she hasn't flown since the day Sakura was born. After about ten minutes she lands gracefully back where they started.
Sakura gushes on the way back –
"I knew I'd like you! That was so much fun, we're gonna be best friends right? Oh! You should fly me to school! And –"
And Setsuna smiles proudly at having done something worthy of praise for the first time in who-knows-how-long. The sun is officially behind the horizon now, and as they walk up the front steps of the mansion she can see a few figures silhouetted by the fading light.
"Mom!" Sakura sprints forward into her mother's arms, "Guess what? Setsuna did the coolest thing."
"So I heard," Konoka answers, and although her tone is patient, when Setsuna is close enough to get a good look at her face she knows that something's wrong.
"Ojou-sama, are you – "
"How dare you," Kenjiro steps out of the shadow of the mansion like a lion out of a cage, stepping between the maids that'd gathered. He points his finger and clenches his jaw in the perfect picture of accusation, "How dare you endanger my daughter like that, if you think I'm just going to stand by while you –"
"Ken," Konoka holds one hand up in the universal sign for stop. He hesitates, but when she hands Sakura to him he reluctantly backs down.
"Mom, dad, what's wrong?"
Konoka ignores her daughter's innocent question for now and takes two steps forward. Her arms are folded and her lips are pursed, and Setsuna can't help but feel like a child about to get scolded by her mother.
"You said you'd keep her safe."
The other meaning of her words – you put her in danger – are like a slap in the face for Setsuna. Whatever good feelings she'd had before are rapidly disappearing and being replaced by dread, embarrassment, and something she hasn't felt in a long time: fear.
"But, don't you remember? We – we used to go flying together all the time, even when we were kids, and – and even in college, remember? Besides, Sakura loved it, and you should've seen the way she flew. If she had a pair of wings she'd be the best – "
"Whose daughter is she?"
" – flyer out there and… what do you mean?"
"But mommy, I'm fine! Setsuna wasn't mean or anything – "
Konoka holds up her hand again for silence, but she doesn't look away from the rapidly withdrawing girl in front of her.
"Whose. Daughter. Is she?"
Setsuna lets the answer roll of her tongue automatically, even though she can feel herself cracking at the edges. She doesn't let it show.
Setsuna is glad she's bowed her head so she can see the floor, or else she wouldn't know where she is. She feels like she's staring at herself, at Konoka, at this scene from somewhere far away. She'd never really had parents, and when she was younger she'd always done her best to appease those of higher rank, so she's not used to being scolded.
And more than that, she's not used to Konoka being seriously, furiously angry at her. Knowing how easily Setsuna is embarrassed and doing this in front of other people, and Kenjiro no less… She must really hate me.
There was a point in time when the idea was unthinkable. Now she's not so sure.
And maybe it's partly because she'd been so happy a mere five minutes ago – was it really that short? – that this feels so much worse than it might've some other time.
Setsuna can hear some of the maid's snicker in the background. She closes her eyes and clenches her fists against the blinding, bursting explosion of feelings in her chest – anger, humiliation, resentment, misery – and then like someone hit the rewind button it's all gone.
When she lifts her head and opens her eyes again, Konoka's angry stare hasn't shifted at all. Nothing about her has changed in the four seconds it took for her to say that name and lift her head back up, but something in Setsuna has changed.
She meets that stare head on and feels
Looking at that perfectly blank expression puts Konoka on edge, and the realization bombards her without warning: for them to be standing here like this, with Setsuna's head bowed in one of the many signs of respect Konoka always chastised her for, she knows something has gone terribly, terribly wrong in the past five minutes. Or maybe it's the past ten years.
She's still too upset to let it show, but suddenly it's hard to remember – why was she doing this? What justification could she have possibly had for humiliating her – her – for humiliating Setsuna? Set-su-na. As in, Secchan…
She doesn't look away. She reminds herself that her daughter was in danger, that as a mother she's perfectly right to be upset, that even though Setsuna had made that same promise to her twenty-eight years ago and hadn't broken it, not once, something could've still gone wrong…
Konoka bites her tongue and claws to keep a grasp on that anger because she's already too deep in it to go back.
Holding her gaze steady and pushing all that out of her mind, she manages to say without flinching,
"You are never to fly with my daughter again."
"Yes, Ojou-sama, I will never fly with your daughter again," Setsuna repeats.
But in the long-run she does Konoka one better.
She doesn't fly again at all. xxxxxxxx
Konoka doesn't sleep well for two days after that. Her conscience doesn't let her.
On the second night she gets out of bed quietly, trying not to wake Kenjiro, and descends the steps to the first floor.
She opens the door for a breath of fresh air, undoing the latch and slipping out into the night. It's too cold to be dressed in only a nightgown, but she needs to clear her head so she doesn't bother with a jacket. Besides, Konoka doesn't plan on walking very far anyway. She sticks to the path that runs along the side of the building.
There's a quiet shuffling from above her on the roof, and she turns just quickly enough to catch the edge of a shadow disappearing out of her line of sight.
It's pretty late at night, but there's a garden on the rooftop, and there are plenty of people in this mansion so she doesn't think much of it. But when she turns around to go inside something slips underneath her foot. She bends down to pick up two torn pieces of paper.
They're slightly wet, like someone had washed their hands right before touching them or something, and Konoka's not sure why she's bothering with them at all except that the shape of the two pieces put together and the texture of the paper is familiar enough that she can feel her breathing get faster because there's no way that –
She holds the two pieces up to the moonlight and sees Setsuna in profile staring back at her.
The card's been useless since the nullification of their pactio when she'd gotten married, of course, but the picture of Setsuna's fourteen-year-old self remains clear as day. She probably didn't mean for me to find this, Konoka realizes, and she doesn't let herself think much of anything else at first, but the thoughts come sneaking anyway – She's been keeping this for twenty years. I guess I shouldn't bother asking myself why. It's not raining, which means the dampness is probably from –
Setsuna doesn't cry.
She hasn't since she was sixteen, at least not to Konoka's knowledge.
Konoka holds the torn card gingerly in her hand and walks back to the house on auto-pilot.
She opens the door.
She locks it behind her.
She makes sure Kenjiro is still asleep.
She walks to the hallway bathroom and locks that door behind her too.
And then, finally, she cries.
And cries. Konoka cries until she's nearly choking on her sobs and her head is aching, and then she sits on the bathroom floor with her hands fisted in the shag rug by the side of the shower and wills herself to believe the things that have gotten her this far in life –
That she's dedicated her existence to helping people, and that she's succeeded in that mission.
That the union of Japan's magical governments by her marriage sped up the formation of the new world.
That she's probably saved tens of thousands of lives from a war driven by ridiculously outdated politics.
And then when she's run out of those thoughts and doesn't feel any better, she's forced to face the one that trumps them all:
Even knowing that her refusal to get married would have cost plenty of lives and way too much time, if she could go back – God, what she would do give to go back, why the hell has it taken her so damn long to admit it – she wouldn't do it again.
She would let it all fall apart.
To spend her life with Setsuna instead. xxxxxxxx
The next day Konoka looks at herself in the mirror and knows she has to at least try.
She pulls Setsuna aside and apologizes profusely, and Setsuna only nods and smiles and jokes, "It's fine, Ojou-sama, just more proof that you're capable of disciplining your kids."
And they both laugh good-naturedly and Konoka tries to tell herself that Setsuna's being honest. But whatever change occurred in Setsuna three days ago hasn't reversed.
After a couple of years it becomes apparent that it probably never will. xxxxxxxx
Konoka's death is slow and anti-climactic.
But that doesn't make it any easier to deal with.
She gets sick at thirty-eight, but it's not really obvious until thirty-nine.
Setsuna watches her decline, and she can hear the relevant political figures mumbling to themselves about whether the new government will be dominated by what was once Kenjiro's sphere after she "passes." She wishes they'd all just shut up and die.
She listens to Kenjiro arguing with Konoka one night. No matter how much Setsuna dislikes him, his love for Konoka is real, as evidenced by how absolutely panicked and desperate he'd been since the "diagnosis." If you can call it that, anyway. Wizards are hardly doctors.
"Can't we do anything? You're – you're – you! You have more magic in your body than an entire army, can't you just heal whatever it is – "
"I heal injuries, Ken, not something like this."
Setsuna doesn't eavesdrop any more than that.
Kenjiro is being an idiot by even asking, but for once Setsuna doesn't blame him. Not asking is admitting that it's hopeless, that there's no chance, because if magic can't fix it and science can't fix it then where does that leave you?
But still, he should know better. Asking Konoka to heal herself with magic would be completely counterintuitive –
Her magic is what caused this. xxxxxxxx
It's three months after Sakura's twelfth birthday.
They don't bother with respirators or IVs or anything dramatic like that; it wouldn't help anyway. Konoka is sitting on her bed, the perfect picture of calm, when she turns to Setsuna and says:
"I'm going to die today."
Setsuna's hand grips the arm of her chair a little tighter.
"This isn't like back in middle school when you'd do fortune telling, is it?"
Konoka laughs at that, but her answer is perfectly serious.
"Nope. I'm going to die today."
"What… should I do?"
Setsuna asks because what can she do? It's not like this is coming as a surprise; they all knew it was going to happen. But somehow hearing it, even straight from Konoka's mouth, doesn't make it feel any more real.
The brunette seems to be just as unable to grasp her own prediction, and she only shrugs in answer. She walks to the vanity, the one she's always had, and looks in the mirror. She can't help but laugh at her reflection.
"I look so old."
"You're as beautiful as ever," Setsuna says it unabashedly because now is not the time to be embarrassed.
"I think that statement is more for you, Silly."
It's true; Setsuna has hardly aged at all. Maybe, if you tilt your head to the side and squint, she looks a bit older now. But that could just as easily be an aura of mental age rather than actual physical aging.
Konoka walks back across the room and plops on her bed. She sits with her legs crossed and her chin resting in her hand, and she's looking at Setsuna the same way she had eight years ago.
"I guess it's not just luck after all."
"No, I suppose it isn't."
"What are you going to do with your long life, do you think?"
Setsuna doesn't want to answer that question because the fact that Konoka has to ask means that she won't be around to see it. She's not ready to face that yet, absolutely not, because even though nothing in their lives had gone according to plan, they'd always, always been together.
A future without Konoka is unthinkable.
"Nothing," she says.
"If you're dying today then so am I."
Konoka lifts her head up, obviously alarmed.
"Over my dead – oh, well, I guess that's actually about right. What I meant is: no you absolutely will not."
Setsuna wonders if she did that on purpose to make her laugh. It kind of works.
"Actually," Konoka says, "I have a favor to ask you. But I think, before anything else, I'd better talk to Sakura. Would you call her for me?"
"Of course." xxxxxxxx
After searching the house Setsuna finds Sakura doing homework in the kitchen and bows in greeting.
"Your mother would like to see you in her room, if you're not too busy."
Sakura flips her book shut and stretches before getting up,
"Thank you, Setsuna-san."
Setsuna sits down in the now unoccupied chair and waits for… well, whatever's coming. She picks the textbook up and glances at it. Cellular Biology and Physiology of Mammalian…
She doesn't even want to finish the title. How someone can read that is beyond her, let alone a girl that's only in seventh grade and who's supposed to be on summer vacation. Mahora's gotten tough, I guess.
Setsuna idly spins a pencil between her fingers until the sound of footsteps coming down the stairs snaps her out of her trance. She gets out of the chair and turns to go back upstairs, but she's caught off guard by Sakura's tear-streaked face.
And if there's one thing Setsuna knows how to deal with less than children, it's crying women.
"Uh. Are you alright?"
Sakura doesn't answer, and she's staring at Setsuna like she's a complete stranger. Which is kind of true, she supposes.
"Fine. I'm fine," Sakura mutters, and picks up her book and leaves.
Setsuna makes her way back to Konoka's bedroom, not sure what to expect, but finds the brunette in the same calm disposition.
"It was okay, she's just upset," she says, seeing the question in Setsuna's confused expression, "And now the only thing left to do is talk to you."
"What about Kenjiro-sama?"
It almost pains her to ask, but Setsuna's not cruel enough to exclude a husband from his dying wife's last thoughts.
"It's… probably better if I don't say goodbye. He won't take it well; he's never been able to wrap his head around things he can't control."
Setsuna's kind of figured that out by now.
She goes to take a seat in her usual armchair, but Konoka pats the space next to her on the bed. Setsuna sits and tries to get comfortable, but the feeling of impending doom makes that kind of difficult.
"Are you going to be okay?"
Setsuna stares at her for a moment, a little lost.
"I thought you're the one that's in mortal danger?"
"That's exactly why no one should worry about me. I'm going to die today, and after that I'll be… well, whatever happens. So no worries. But you," she pokes her finger into Setsuna's shoulder, "Are going to live."
"I never agreed to that."
They're being awfully silly, especially for today considering the circumstances. But maybe that's why everything's tinged with just a little more humor and honesty that usual; there's nothing to lose anymore.
"Even if I asked you to?"
"That's not fair. You can't order me from beyond the grave."
"You better hope I don't become a ghost then."
It all sounds rather absurd, but then they did know one in middle school.
Silence, and then,
"Are you really going to die?" Setsuna hadn't meant it to come out in a whisper, but it does.
"Yeah. I am."
That's it? Just like that?
No, that can't be right. If they're going to die they have to die honorably, or fantastically, or something – either of old age or performing some spectacular feat of heroism. Those are the only two ways Setsuna will accept. This, what's going on right now in front of her, she won't.
"You can't," she says firmly, running pieces of the bed sheet between her fingers.
"Because I need you here," Setsuna says, and if her voice cracks on the last syllable they both ignore it.
Konoka bites her lip nervously.
"I was afraid you'd say that."
"You already knew," she mumbles, and maybe her hand motions are starting to become a bit shaky so she stops playing with the sheets and lets her hands sit idly in her lap.
It's been such a long time since she felt anything real, but this pit of dread is undeniable.
Setsuna gets up suddenly,
"Don't – don't call me that, not now, I can't – " A hand grabs the hem of her shirt and yanks her back down with surprising force. Her back is to Konoka and she can feel the hands in her hair, already starting to braid in sections just like when they were kids. She's not sure if Konoka's doing it because she wants to relive that childhood peace, or because she knows Setsuna is crying.
"You can," she says soothingly, "And I need you to. I left you money – "
"I don't need money."
"You will when Kenjiro kicks you out of this house."
"It won't matter if I'm–"
"And," Konoka pulls gently but firmly on a lock of Setsuna's hair, preventing her from finishing the defiant thought, "Think of it as future payment."
"Payment for what?"
"For watching over Sakura, and her children too."
"I won't do it."
"Se – "
"No!" Setsuna puts her hands over her ears and refuses to listen, and she knows it's childish and stupid and won't get anywhere but fuck it all, goddamnit because there's no way she's going to accept this kind of ending, no fucking way.
"I won't do it," she says, and she doesn't care about letting Konoka see her cry anymore because she has to say this face-to-face, "You can't… you can't do this to me. After everything, I've always – I gave everything I have to you already: my life, my dreams, everything is in you, and when you die I'll have nothing, and expecting me to carry on after that – asking that of me when you know I can't say no to you is just… please, I'm begging you," Setsuna is outright sobbing now, but she can't bring herself to care, "Please don't make me do it."
Any words after that dissolve into gibberish, and Setsuna hates that all her feelings decided to come back from vacation right this instant.
"I haven't seen you like this since you were a teenager," Konoka says softly, pulling Setsuna's crying, shaking figure to her in a hug. She runs her fingers through Setsuna's hair, and in circles on her back, and lightly over her arms until the sobbing quiets down and the normally stoic woman is left a tired, shaking mess in Konoka's arms.
"It's a lot to ask, isn't it?" She mumbles softly, and she can feel Setsuna nod against her shoulder. "I know it is. It's not fair of me. But I'm asking you because no matter what I have or haven't said to you in the past fifteen years, I trust you more than anyone else in the world. You've kept your promise to me since we were, what, six?"
Setsuna knows she's being baited, but the acknowledgement feels so good she lets it happen anyway.
"I'm going to be selfish and ask you, for the last time, and if you say no I promise I won't – "
"Yes," Setsuna says, voice muffled by Konoka's shirt. She pulls herself away and wipes her bleary eyes. "I don't know why you even thought you had to ask; I made that promise already years ago."
"I just wanted to hear you say it again."
Konoka remembers that day, Sakura's fifth birthday, and allows herself a tired sigh.
"There are a lot of things I want to say to you…" She wipes a stray tear from Setsuna's face and watches the drop of liquid slide off her finger, "But I don't think I can say them now."
"Then when will you say them?"
She pauses for a moment, thinking.
"You'll hear them when you need to," Konoka finally says, "Now you should probably go to bed. It's almost one in the morning."
"No buts, Missy. Off to bed with you."
It's so goofy; it's such a relatively normal 'good night' that Setsuna still can't quite believe in the possibility of waking up tomorrow to such a drastically different world.
"Secchan, one last thing," Setsuna's already at the door, but she walks back to Konoka who is waving at her like she wants to whisper something in her ear. She's surprised to feel the kiss on her cheek and the hand squeezing her own because it's been forever-and-a-half since that happened.
"Thank you. For everything," she whispers, and when Konoka let's go of Setsuna's hand and pulls away there is that smile – the only one that puts Setsuna at ease, the only thing that ever has.
Setsuna never wants to forget that, so she takes a moment – just one selfish fraction of time – to burn that picture into her mind.
And the next morning she's glad she did,
Because Konoka is gone. xxxxxxxx Wingspan xxxxxxxx
Sakura is in the kitchen, sipping a cup of coffee tiredly and trying in vain to absorb the information in the newspaper.
The headlines are all over the place about the arguments over Mars. The leaders on Earth all have their panties in a twist trying to decide which country gets to plant their flag in Martian soil. Sakura folds up the paper and pushes it away from her. She'd rather stare at the darkness outside than read any more about these ridiculous policy makers. She wonders how her mom dealt with all the bullshit.
"You're up early."
She's caught off guard by Setsuna. The swordsman goes to pour a cup of coffee and sits down at the table across from her, glancing idly at the newspaper.
"They still fighting?"
"Of course. It's like kids arguing over a toy or something. Everyone seems to have forgotten that there are already people on Mars, I have no idea where they got the idea they can just walk right in there and call it their own."
"People have always been like that. War seems pretty inevitable at this point."
Setsuna was alive for the beginnings of the change, even though the woman doesn't look older than twenty-five, so Sakura takes her word for it.
The swordswoman finds the political drama just as distasteful, apparently. She pushes the paper away from her and asks,
"So why are you up?"
"Saki had a nightmare. She woke me at three and hasn't been able to go back to sleep. You?"
"Seemed like a good day to get up early." And mom died twenty-two years ago today. Sakura knows that's the real reason.
Even two decades later it's hard for Sakura to cope with her mother's death. They were close right up until the last day of her life, when she'd walked into that room to the unexpected content of their last conversation.
Sakura taps her nails on the kitchen table and remembers back to her life after that day. The funeral is hazy; just lots of crying, lots of dealing with inheritance, and even at twelve she hadn't been able to escape the flurry of political aftermath. Her dad offered to let her take a year off from school but she hadn't wanted to. Being in that house wasn't exactly appealing anymore – everything reminded her of her mom.
She closes her eyes and tries to recall the day she stopped seeing Setsuna around the mansion on her breaks, but she can't pinpoint exactly when it was. She hadn't asked her dad about it either, and it hadn't seemed pressing. Sakura hardly spoke to Setsuna since she was a small child, and even that memory is rather hazy…
And then Setsuna showed up at Mahora.
Sakura hadn't been happy about that. For a long time Setsuna was just a reminder of what she'd lost. On more than one occasion she'd even blatantly told her to leave me alone, but the swordswoman only shook her head and pointedly made herself scarce for the next couple of weeks.
After a while Sakura stopped asking Setsuna to leave. What was once a painful reminder became a reassurance. Setsuna is a reliable constant in her life, something that won't ever change, like her mother had passed down a guardian angel to her. Angel…
Something in the depths of her memory is trying to surface but can't quite make it.
"What are you thinking about?" Setsuna asks quietly, noting the tense expression on the other woman's' face.
Setsuna doesn't say anything more, but that's par for the course when it comes to talking about Konoka. But today, so many years later and with that non-memory itching under her skin, Sakura's not quite ready to let it go yet.
"She was always staring off into space, wasn't she?"
Sakura smiles to herself, remembering what an airhead her mom could be.
"I remember, even when I was a kid, I would catch her sometimes when she was doing chores or waiting in the pediatrician's office for me. I'm not even sure why she did chores with all the maids around… but she'd just have this expression on her face like she was dreaming, or trying to. Like she had a life in her mind that she only lived when she thought no one was looking."
Setsuna nods, a mere tilt of the head, and Sakura's not up for those non-responses today.
"You had the same look on your face sometimes."
Her grip on the coffee mug tightens, and Sakura knows she's gotten Setsuna's attention. Her daughter Saki chooses that moment, of course, to burst into the kitchen.
"Mom! I still can't sleep," the little eight-year-old rubs her eyes, "Can I go play outside now?"
"It's still pretty dark, honey, I don't think that's a good idea."
Well, the sun is coming up…
"You have to stay right in the front where I can see you from the window, okay? At least until Setsuna and I come out and join you. And put on your sweater – "
But the girl is already out the door, a grin on her face, and Sakura stares out the window until her daughter comes into view.
"She's such an energetic kid," Sakura sighs tiredly, taking a sip of coffee.
"So were you."
She's going to joke that she doesn't know how Setsuna dealt with her, but then, Setsuna really didn't deal with her. That particular responsibility had gone to her mother and a few trusted maids and guards.
And that's because…
It's always bugged her. She's never talked about it – no one ever talked about it after Konoka died, but until Setsuna had disappeared from the mansion she'd hear it in whispers and hushed tones.
Sakura thinks twenty-two years is too long for something to go unsaid.
"You loved her, didn't you?"
Setsuna stands up suddenly, not looking at her, "I should probably go watch Saki – "
"She told me, you know."
The swordsman turns to her, surprised.
"The last time I talked to her, she said… she said a few things actually."
"I'll tell you, but only if you don't walk away from me."
Setsuna considers it, weighing the obvious benefits against the strength of her carefully calculated emotional wall.
She sits down.
"It was a long time ago, and I wasn't really in a great state of mind…" Sakura wracks her brain, willing her mother's words to come back to her, "She told me she loved me, of course, and that I was going to grow up and be strong and compassionate or she'd come back and haunt me."
"Sounds like your mom," Setsuna says with the smallest hint of a smile.
"But she also said something else. I wasn't sure what to make of it at the time but I think I understand now."
"And that was?"
"She told me to stay as far away from the family's politics as I possibly could."
Setsuna raises an eyebrow at that.
"Believe me, I was surprised too. But she told me that spending my life on that kind of thing would be a waste; she said to let someone else do it. I guess she didn't want that life for me. And my mom and I were always really close, but there were some things we never talked about. She made an exception that day though, I guess. She told me about something so personal and close to her heart – I'd never seen her that serious before."
Sakura hesitates. The newspaper crinkles between Setsuna's fingers as she folds it, origami style, into a bird.
"What did she tell you about?"
"She told me about you."
The crinkling stops.
"My mom helped a lot of people. She changed the world, in her own way, but she was never quite satisfied. She said that in her desire to help people she lost sight of the things most important to her. It was at the cost of her own happiness, that's true, but at the cost of yours too. That was her biggest regret: that she took you for granted."
"I was only there for her," Setsuna stares blankly at the table, "Feeling bad about that was probably a waste."
Sakura rolls her eyes even though the other woman doesn't look up to see it.
"Maybe. But she didn't want me to make the same mistake. She said that I was as much your namesake as hers, and forgetting that would be an insult to both of you. I'd already noticed the looks, like I said before, but I guess as a twelve-year-old I didn't put two and two together so I had to ask her directly why this was all so important. That's when she told me… that you loved her, I mean."
"Is that all she said?"
"If you're asking me if she loved you back, she didn't say so. I think she was trying to spare me from viewing my father's and her relationship differently, but it was pretty easy to see. She loved you just as much."
"She never told me that," Setsuna mumbles, and suddenly she seems so much older than her body allows her to look.
She stands up, puts her cup in the sink, and eyes the door.
"I think I… this is hard for me," Setsuna admits, her back to the other girl, "If you don't mind I think I'm just going to go outside and –"
"You said you wouldn't walk away from me."
"I didn't think I would have to."
Setsuna makes a move for the door, but Sakura's voice stops her.
"There's one more thing."
She pauses with her hand resting on the door handle, waiting.
"Before I left the room mom asked me to do her a favor. She wanted me to be happy, above all else, but she wanted you to be happy too. She said that you had enough time left, and that even though she regretted the way she'd spent her life on Earth that you didn't have to. It was pretty obvious to her that you wanted to die, but she wanted you to live because she thought you still had a chance at being happy."
"That's not the reason she gave me."
"Of course it wasn't," Sakura rolls her eyes for the second time, but it goes unseen again, "You wouldn't have listened to her if she had told you that. Mom made you promise to protect me and my kids so you wouldn't have a choice but to take your chances with life. And, well, for my sake too I suppose." Still the same Konoka, right up to the last minute…
"And you?" Setsuna asks, still facing away. She turns the handle of the door a little more, and Sakura knows she's not going to have much more time for this conversation.
"What about me?"
"What did she make you promise?"
Sakura clears her throat and picks up the little newspaper bird on the table, turning it over in her hands.
"I swore that as long as you kept your promise to her that I would do my best to help you find a new life. I think her hope was that we would watch over each other or something, and I guess I owe you an apology on that end…" Sakura trails off, embarrassed, "I haven't done very much to fulfill my end of the bargain, so to speak."
Setsuna doesn't respond at first, and Sakura wonders if maybe the woman is actually angry about it. But then her voice comes quiet but firm,
"You've just done more for me than I could've ever asked for."
She steps outside and Sakura stands up to stop her,
"Hey, wait –"
But the door is already shut, and Sakura figures she should've known that would happen. She puts her own cup in the sink and finds her sweater thrown over the back of an old armchair before heading outside. In the front yard she witnesses something she's only seen a handful of times at best.
Setsuna is talking to Saki – really talking to her. They're looking at the birds in the trees and Saki is pointing at the line of crows on one of the lower branches. She runs forward a ways to get closer, but the birds disperse quickly and randomly from their perches. Saki sighs disappointedly and watches them fly off.
"They're so cool, aren't they Setsuna?"
Setsuna hums in agreement. She turns to face Sakura, who thinks that Hell must've frozen over because the woman is actually, really, sincerely smiling when she raises an eyebrow and asks,
"Do you want to see something way cooler?"
The non-memory fights to surface again, and Sakura knows she's supposed to remember something damnit, something that explains the pang of excitement that comes with those words, but what is it?
"Of course!" Saki shouts with the same excitement that Sakura feels.
And then the two of them, mother and daughter, stand in amazement because for the first time in twenty-nine years,