White Album 2 Omake/Story04/Chapter 1
 Chapter 1 - That Song, One Year Later
"I, I'm sorry, I'm in a hurry right now."
"Don't say that now~, give it another thought would you, Ogiso-chan?"
With the students finally having been released from their responsibilities for the day, a clamor fell upon the classroom that had just finished its fourth lecture.
Within that atmosphere, Setsuna tried to push her way out of the classroom, but a single male student managed to keep her from getting away.
"But, there's only a week before the Houjou Festival..."
"Just one song, okay? We'll figure it out if we practice two or three times!"
"I'm not so skilled as to finish in such a short period of time, you know."
This stubborn man was always trying to invite her. Though he tilted his head to the side a bit, he kept showing her such a vivid expression on his face.
... the truth was, she was in a hurry to catch a view of "him" from behind as he was leaving the classroom just ahead of her. However, she didn't reveal her intent at all.
"It's okay, we'll figure out what you'll be singing."
"No, actually this is a bit of a hassle, sorry..."
And again, she gave a soft expression waving both her hands lightly, with a pose that said, "I respectfully decline".
It'd been about half a year since she entered university, but Setsuna had almost always given this expression.
Which is to say, guys would give her countless reasons every time in various places. However, if there was one thing to add, during the half year she was here, they had never shown their "true character".
"Look, what about the "WHITE ALBUM" you sang at the school festival last year?"
However, as soon as he said that...
Setsuna's voice would break, as if her usually gentle voice and attitude had cracked.
"Even "SOUND OF DESTINY". We can play either of them right away."
"The truth us, we saw that stage performance. We immediately left the shop we were at and headed straight for the school."
"I, is that, so...?"
And, it was as if the man was in a daze, not having noticed the girl in front of him had her voice and her fuzzy expression break up just even a little bit.
"... well, personally speaking, I really want you to be singing that song."
"You know, the last one at the school festival. The original one, called..."
Which was why at that instant, it was as if he hadn't noticed the sound of the cracks from the mask that she was wearing...
"All right~ enough of that~"
"Senpai, you're gonna piss off being so friendly to a girl you haven't even met, you know?"
"I, I don't want you telling me that, Iizuka!"
"Right, right, we get it, we get it. I figured pretty much exactly the same thing."
"... I don't want you saying that either, Io."
But at that instant, thanks to two familiar people who barged their way in, he hadn't noticed how she had changed at the last minute.
"I'm sorry for always causing you trouble, Takeya-kun, Io."
A few minutes later, they were at a sidewalk cafe table close to the social sciences section. Right off the bat, Setsuna had been grateful to her two friends for stopping him, or rather, her own chaos.
"You're quite popular as always. Though I'm not exactly envious of that."
While sipping her ice coffee, Mizusawa Io gave a light apology like she always did with Setsuna.
That way she had with her blunt, yet beautiful words hadn't changed from when she was in the attached school. She'd put guys with good looks to shame in an instant.
"This is the fifth time now. Offers are finally coming in from half of the participating bands."
Dropping milk into his black tea, Iizuka Takeya gave her a different expression than what he would usually give other girls. It was obvious it again added a hint of praise to the legend of Ogiso Setsuna.
He had a slender body that put females to shame, and light-brown hair. Infamously known for his womanizing tactics, he'd improved quite a bit since coming from the attached school.
"... really, what is with all that?"
To Setsuna, who was well known regardless of her year or gender, these two were part of the smallest, yet most important community of "four".
"As always, the Miss-Houjou-Three-Year-Streak signboard hasn't withered away one bit. Of course, that includes yourself."
"She's the original Miss Houjou, so she's got another year under her belt... if you go in, anyway."
"Someone like me can't go..."
"Setsuna, that's your ego talking."
"Eh? Ah, umm... well, I meant that I don't really have any reason to..."
"Well, in that case I can tolerate that."
"Don't make fun of her, Io. Well, even if her modesty ignord the sarcasm from other girls, it'd be because Setsuna-chan is half-serious about it. It's far too problematic."
"U, umm... though I do think that Takeya-kun also does it just as much."
Even after entering university, it was as if the two hadn't known Setsuna's popularity had dwindled, so they couldn't help but tease her.
Around the time they enrolled, various clubs would be persistent in visiting during the classrooms for student orientation. Within only a few days of her student life, her name would roar amongst their members.
And after Golden Week when the noise settled down a bit, the days came where the executive commitee would frequently visit every day asking for her to join the preliminary rounds of the Miss Houjou Contest in June.
And after a brief period when she finally managed to escape that, out came the bands participating in the outdoor summer live performance, competing for her role as a vocalist in their groups.
And now, with the university festival live performance only a week away, the battleground had transformed into a war of solicitation.
... and at the same time, the final, lackluster selection for the Miss Houjou Contest was explained away by "Ogiso Setsuna's declaration of non-participation".
"Well~ Setsuna's not one to hate girls. A world of difference with a certain junior around here."
"Speaking of which, what're you gonna do with the Taisho Romance Tea House? The girls still haven't given up it seems... on the "two of you", that is."
To begin with, everyone in the program had noticed the genre that shop had taken, what the girl(s) achieved in last year's school festival, as well as how big the thing would be.
"At any rate, they're pretty firm at preventing misunderstandings. A world of difference from the band members leading around female vocalists."
"And you yourself happen to be so much better than them, huh? That's cool!"
"The ones who happened to do this twice in a row now are the band members, right?"
"Ahaha, the two of you are just like always. Makes me a bit relieved."
Setsuna giggled with a smile at how blunt the two were with one another. One couldn't think of it as a conversation between a man and a woman.
That expression of hers was far different from the face she had at the classroom, displaying a sense of comfort in her mind.
Setsuna should have been able to connect with others in this way since leaving the attached school and entering university, but these two were the only ones she'd show this face to. Yes, even if you include her family...
"I'm the same as always... nothing will really ever change. Nothing will change."
... which was why, they were the only two who'd bear witness to this gloomy tone of hers.
"D, did you know? He's started a new part-time job."
"... is that so?"
"This time he's a cram school tutor. And it's for people headed into Houjou University."
Takeya changed the topic in a way it felt rather sudden.
"Eh, if it's for regular exams at Houjou University here I definitely wouldn't take that."
"Geez, going for such difficult stuff, even if it's a part-time job."
"I wonder why he likes going through so much trouble? Besides, it's just being attentive during classes, taking your time and preparing yourself, isn't it?"
But, for Io, it wasn't a change of topic at all. She knew she had to follow up, regardless of whether it was Takeya.
"That's why recently, he leaves right after the lectures. He's always getting into the classrooms quicker than other students."
"I see, really... just like Haruki-kun."
The two of them didn't see the relieved look on Setsuna's face, because they knew she was eager to hear about "him".
"How many jobs does he have going? There's the family restaurant, and the convenience store, right?"
"Including the internet cafe, that makes four. Seems like he'll go late into the night."
"And then he goes through lectures, reports, and exams in all subjects without missing an inch... when the hell does he sleep?"
"I'm telling you, he's so busy with this crap it's insane. Of course it's not really to avoid Setsuna-chan, you kn..."
"I know. I already know that much..."
That was because she had been desperately trying to follow behind him as he hurried out of the classroom.
"Have you talked to him recently?"
"No, not for the past month."
"Not even phone calls? Texts? Haruki doesn't do any of that either?"
"No... that's not it, it's just that there's no way the two of us would be."
For two people in the same social sciences department being in first year, they should be able to do texts and phone calls, and if they were really wanted, they could be talking to each other every day when they meet. Having said that, Setsuna couldn't even touch Haruki's cellphone number. And even if she sat beside him, or tried to talk to him, she honestly couldn't tell how that would develop at all.
"But then you two won't move ahead at all, Setsuna. Are you fine with being like this?"
"They can't move that soon. Even you should know that, Io."
Half a year ago... She was a girl who was only an idol in appearance yet mischievous with her family. Haruki should have been a class president who was so direct with people. And yet, he had hurt her.
"Then how about you give up chasing after him?"
"Okay now, that's not how you should..."
"He's supposed to be a man of sincerity, so what value does Haruki have in being someone who threw it away...?"
His betrayal, as a friend, as her friend... and as a friend of a girl who isn't here, was very unforgivable. Even so...
"It's my fault."
Setsuna wouldn't blame Haruki like Io and Takeya did.
"I was the one who chased after Haruki-kun. I pushed away Kazusa."
And she hadn't forgotten about the girl who wasn't here.
"I've split those two apart."
And, she couldn't even forgive herself. Though she grieved that nothing had changed, she couldn't forget. Even now, Setsuna prowled through a labyrinth that she had no hope of escaping. Perhaps for an eternity.
"But thank you guys, for worrying about a timid girl like myself."
"Well... we're best friends, right?"
In actuality, the kindness they had was a little painful. Because the truth was, there was only one person Setsuna had promised to be best friends with. Up until last year, Takeya and Io both took her in alone from "the group of three". But they could be with her like this, even if they were wrapped up in Setsuna's pride. They could be with her like this, even if now two people had disappeared from her "group of three".
"You're the only ones I have."
To Setsuna, they were beyond friends.
"W, well, I'm happy you say that but, you should really go and make more friends."
"Yeah, it's a nightmare to have just Io as the only female friend of yours. I worry that maybe one day, you'll catch that wicked tongue of hers."
And because they were beyond friends, they knew.
"You have a really good personality, see... it's such a waste to see you continue to be passive like this."
"Though I worry you'll catch her way of smiling during a conversation while casually kicking at people from under the table."
They knew that the Setsuna now wasn't happy. They knew that they had to be there to support her now.
"If you would, you know, open your heart up... you could find more friends you could smile seriously with, or get into arguments with, right?"
"Yeah, yeah, there's plenty of girls who would get along well with you, Setsuna-chan..."
"Someone like me can't."
"Everyone would just hate someone like me..."
They knew that no matter how much they tried, they wouldn't be able to help Setsuna regain her smile.
"What does everyone see in me, anyway?"
"They just put on a smile, not really revealing what it is they really mean."
"They're lying cowards who can't even seriously smile or get angry."
"It's as if they're businessmen or something."
Setsuna had changed.
She had become enveloped in sorrow, six months ago, in the snow at that airport.
"If it was gonna be like this, maybe I shouldn't have performed on stage..."
It was an unfortunate incident to Setsuna.
It was an unfortunate incident to the people around Setsuna.
"I shouldn't have gone up to the rooftop..."
Even so, to Setsuna...
"I shouldn't have ever listened to WHITE ALBUM..."
Because of that incident, she had instantly lost her beauty.
Setsuna had changed.
She'd have a sad expression that would sometimes leak out. And it was largely felt not just by the man, Takeya, but also by her classmate, Io. And it seemed as if they'd be enveloped in it.
As she was now, the young girl who was like an idol was no longer there. She'd been swapped with a woman that acted like an actress, couldn't control herself, and was at the whim of others.
And if those who didn't know of Setsuna's true nature ever came nearby...
Indeed, that would be the real reason why Setsuna paid more attention to her surroundings far more than when she was at the attached school. She would bury herself so as to not stand out.
"You're back. Isn't it quite late?"
Opening the living door room, Setsuna would hear the carefree voice of her young brother Takahiro. He was playing a fighting game with familiar, flashy sound effects that greeted her for a while.
Since the new year started, in just a two month rush, Takahiro had managed to get a D grade and slip into the School of Houjou University with his effort and skill. But ever since entering, he'd just been fooling around like always.
"Where's Mom? Already asleep?"
"Yeah. I think she went to her room..."
"I see, then I'll go head into the bath..."
In that brief moment she was relieved by Takahiro's words, her mother appeared in pajamas along with her father, suddenly revealing themselves from within the dark kitchen. That gaze of theirs had a sense of worry, reproach, and relief. It was what Setsuna feared before arriving home, not being able to endure even a bit of it...
"You're home much later than you should be."
"Just a bit. It's been a while since I went drinking with Io and Takeya-kun."
"Oh, so you were with them then. Then..."
Her mother's relieved expression wasn't toward Setsuna, but to the one behind her.
Though it seemed like she was trying to relieve someone else far more than she was trying to relieve herself...
"Wait right there, Setsuna."
In the end, that goal of hers didn't work out, and Setsuna's father gave her a stern look as he always did.
"I did call home, didn't I? I did say I didn't need dinner, didn't I?"
As if to repel that gaze of his, Setsuna began explaining herself before he asked any questions.
Which is to say, there was an error in her ways...
"What time is it now?"
"... twelve thirty..."
In other words, she'd clearly known that the day had already changed.
"When you called your mother, you said that you were coming home at nine, yes?"
"I planned to come home as soon as I was done eating, but for some reason the conversation got lively... then, we went for a drink and..."
That excuse of hers wasn't a lie or anything.
After the lecture had ended, she'd gone from the university's sidewalk cafe to the family restaurant, and from there Io had invited her to a bar, and before she knew it the last train had gone for the night.
"You have to call us if anything changes. Everyone has been so worried."
"Well... I just kinda forgot, didn't I?"
That excuse of hers wasn't a lie or anything either.
Because, it'd been a while since everyone had fun. Almost to the point that everyone really lost track of time.
Probably Io and Takeya had both invited Setsuna because they were worried of how down she was.
But up until now, she'd come to believe that the two really enjoyed themselves in the several hours they spent together.
... because, it was no exaggeration that Setsuna felt the same way.
It should have been clear they all enjoyed themselves.
"I'll be careful next time. That's enough, right?"
"Wait right there, Setsuna. I'm not done talking."
That wasn't to be. Setsuna wanted to end this no matter what.
And that was because she wanted to remain in this comfortable state of hers far more than the hate of this lecture she was being put through.
"Come on, Dad, you're so dull. Can't you take a guess?"
And, the moment Setsuna tried to end the conversation by running down the hallway, her younger brother began his cover fire.
"Going to drink with everyone is just a ruse. I'm pretty sure along the way those two snuck out and started making out."
But that was just in name. In fact, it was throwing a landmine for Setsuna to step on.
"Because you know... it's pretty obvious that both Mizusawa-san and Iizuka-san both don't mention his name."
"Mind your own business!"
"Sis, even you're hiding this particular important detail. What're you so shy about?"
As always, Takahiro didn't take his hands off the gamepad, probably not even half-aware of what it was he was talking about.
Even so, Setsuna lost her composure in an instant. She was so disturbed she was grinding her teeth at the irresponsible suggestion coming from him.
"Is this true, Setsuna?"
It couldn't be.
Because she hadn't talked with him at all in the past month.
"I'd think Kitahara-kun's quite level-headed when it comes to that sort of thing."
"I'm telling you, that's..."
A lie. There was no way she would blame Haruki.
He wasn't even level-headed one bit.
He wouldn't even ask that they spend time together alone...
"I hadn't seen him recently so I can't really tell, but seems he changed a bit when he entered university."
Only that particular detail wasn't a lie or anything.
He had changed...
Haruki had changed.
"Taking a girl around his age late at night like this..."
"I told Haruki-kun not to call home at all."
It was because he had changed... along with Setsuna.
"He said he was worried so he'd call but, I was sure Dad would answer so..."
"Setsuna, what do you mean by..."
"Dad! I'm already a university student! I can't believe I have to get permission from my parents just to come home late at night!"
- ――What on earth am I doing?
- Really, what on earth am I doing here...?
"What do you mean by that? Isn't it normal?"
"It's not! I've asked other girls, and they haven't had parents who were this annoying, you know?"
"That's their life, and we have ours."
"I don't understand what you're saying! You say it's normal, but it doesn't make sense when compared to the others! So what do you call normal, then!?"
- ――There's really no meaning to this.
- I don't have any reason to oppose my father. I don't have any reason to be stubborn like this.
"Setsuna! That arguing of yours is only getting away from the main point..."
"We're adults now, so we can take care of ourselves!"
- ――Besides, it's a lie.
- There's no way that the two of us could be alone together right now.
"Umm, is that what you call adults dating one another?"
At some point, Takahiro had stepped away from his game and looked in with a disturbed face.
"That's right! So what's wrong abou that? We're not fooling around, we're serious about this, so there's no reason to be worried or even against it!"
"... umm, when you say that so clearly, it's kinda hard for me to respond as a younger brother..."
- ――Why do they believe me?
- It's just random things I'm spouting, of an impossible "dream".
- It's a delusion that I created half a year ago, being disobedient when I shouldn't be."
- Why, why do they believe me...!?
"I was having so much fun coming home and now it's all for nothing... I'm going into the bath!"
"W, wait a second, Setsuna..."
She was at her limit.
Setsuna hastily turned her back and ran to the bathroom, protecting her image as a selfish and unreasonable girl.
"Oh~ boy, she's really pissed off now..."
The sound of her anger echoed down the hallway, and with the violent thud of the bathroom door, the people of the Ogiso residence were called back to reality.
"Well, she got tied up in a lot of strings for a year too... shouldn't you be more prepared, Dad?"
The father had a discouraged, yet desolate look on his face. The younger brother could only sigh with a bitter smile.
"Mom, what's wrong? You've been spacing out a bit."
"Ah, it's nothing. Nothing at all."
And, the mother who'd been following Setsuna's expressions in silence...
"It's nothing... I'll leave it at that."
She'd been still measuring the meaning of the tears that almost escaped Setsuna's eyes.
".... a, aha, ahahaha..."
Throwing herself in a cold shower as if to freeze her mind and her body, Setsuna's gloomy thoughts were released within that noise.
Only hatred towards herself ran through her head.
Hatred of how her enjoyment had been all for nothing.
Hatred of how composed she was with lying even to her family.
And, hatred of the lies themselves.
Lies protecting her own identity, which came at the cost of hurting herself as she was right now.
"... ahaha... ahahahaha...!"
Setsuna had returned to the Setsuna from a year ago.
That "Ogiso Setsuna", who was always in the center of everyone, who was always alone.
"I'm a liar... I'm such a liar!"
No, a tiny bit had changed from a year ago.
Because right now, Setsuna couldn't bear with her past self, losing her heart little by little as it was cut up and wounded.
One week later...
"What do you mean?"
"I'm telling you, it's such an impossible mistake that it's that impossibly important."
"... seems quite impossible."
The tension was suddenly so furious as Setsuna woke up and took a phone call from Io first thing in the morning. Her words were so desperate, they didn't quite get to the point.
"ourThe social sciences' Taisho Romance Tea House was left unprepared even this morning, so we can't even guarantee opening by ten!"
"... what time is it now?"
"It's already past six."
"... are you awake?' "Fuaahh..."
Today was the first day of the Houjou Festival.
Classes were on hold for the duration of the university's festivities, and Setsuna had been planning to stay in a warm futon in this cold morning. Her mind hadn't awoken yet, and her body was shivering all over, so even she gave such a vague response that didn't quite get across.
"Anyways, that's how it is, so I'm pulling some strings here. Using whatever I've got. Or rather, a call to all hands."
"Well certainly, we're exempting a certain someone within our group, but if it's for personal reasons and depending on the circumstances, we may have to summon them by force."
"... I see..."
"No objections from anyone who's planning to sleep at home until noon."
"Don't sulk and sigh like that. You think I want to call you like this right now?"
"I'm sorry, you're doing great, Io. But serving customers isn't what I..."
"I know. We both don't want to revisit that nightmare."
They referred to the school festival from last year. As the two VIPs in their class, they went through hell on the first and second days of the festival. Cosplaying in this kind of shop made them think far too much about what kind of looks they'd get, and from what kind of people. They just hated it.
"We're behind the scenes, in the kitchen, working on pastries! You're great at that too, right, Setsuna? As our role model, we're begging you..."
"If that's all it is... then, it can't be helped."
"Thank you Setsuna! I'm in your debt!"
A while ago, friends of hers in her university program would go through lengths to make these kinds of requests. Despite their high confidence, she'd send them away in disappointment. This time was different though, and Setsuna accepted despite her reservations.
"But I'm not serving any customers, okay?"
"I know that."
"No surprises, okay?"
"I swear to the gods. You won't even be cosplaying!"
"... all right, what time should I come?"
"Those cooking will start around nine I think, so meet up in front of Building 6."
"All right. I'll see you later then."
"We'll be waiting~"
Hanging up on that restless and busy phone call, Setsuna once again sulked with a sigh.
Certainly she was annoyed with being unreasonably called early in the morning on a holiday. However, the suffocating feeling of the bustling festival she was being called to was something she lamented far more.
To be honest, she didn't even want to spend a day at the university festival.
Because, she could imagine.
She could imagine meeting overly familiar people who'd been openly trying to talk to her, within that bright, busy and free atmosphere.
Bumping into anybody from the bands or groups would be quite awkward, considering she refused them saying, "I have plans that day..."
And that school festival... or rather, that university festival would bring up various memories.
Memories that were dream-like, as well as nightmarish...
Cutting down those painful memories, Setsuna woke up once again, and looked at the time.
And, confirming she had about three hours to spare, she slowly rolled out of bed, and opened the door to first start on making breakfast...
Once she put her hand to her head and pondered, she hastily ran through her dresser.
Three hours later...
"What do you mean?"
"I'm telling you, it's such an impossible mistake that they just impossibly disbanded the whole thing."
Meeting up right at 9:30, Io's first words were rather calm and composed, but clearly the point didn't get across.
If Setsuna had to summarize what happened, somehow the whole deal about not being prepared enough to open at ten was an exaggeration that Io heard from the others. In actuality, the staff actually said something along the lines of, "It'd be nice if we had one or two people helping".
And since the help was needed was nothing more than Io and perhaps one other person, their search for other members had ended now.
"Really~ I'm sorry, Setsuna. Anyways, you've been dismissed. Good work."
"Don't give me such a scary face. I apologized, didn't I?"
It's not that Setsuna was angry at her for messing up in such a horrendous way anyway.
It's just that, she couldn't believe in this convenient excuse of hers.
Because after all...
"Hey! What the hell's the meaning of this, Takeya!?"
"Now~ now~ don't get angry, Haruki. Be glad we didn't get in any trouble."
In the end, she wasn't the only one who was involved in this misunderstanding that these two had came up with.
"That's not the problem, you lied to me..."
"I didn't, I didn't I'm telling you! It was just a really bad misunderstanding!"
"Who's going to believe that crap...!?"
She heard a nostalgic voice from behind her.
A voice of someone who would calmly argue with others, even if the person were a teacher.
A voice of someone who, despite complaining, wouldn't refuse any kind of request.
A voice of someone who, despite being shy and turning away, would directly convey their feelings.
Because after all, Setsuna wasn't able to turn around for some time.
"... I'm sorry, Setsuna. But this had to be done."
And, Io whispered right by Setsuna's ear so that the man behind her wouldn't hear.
"Even you should know a day like this is a double-edged sword."
Setsuna stared straight back at Io, who was looking at her.
Or more accurately, the image of herself reflected in Io's eyes.
"However, right now it's a path you have to take. You can't return back to the way things are if you run away or keep being this way."
And Setsuna's expression was that of great anxiety, unease, loneliness, and fear.
"... try taking a gamble on this, would you?"
And, a glimmer of hope...
"Well, that's how it is, so you two can do whatever you two want."
"That's right, you don't have any kind of odd job planned right now, and you could go back home and go to bed."
"Of course, since you did come here, you could take a walk around here. It is a school festival that runs once a year, you know?"
"Ah, today they're doing an outdoor live performance, at the main assembly hall."
Takeya and Io slowly slipped behind both Setsuna and Haruki into Building 6 to escape. Their combination in this kind of suspicious operation was a success. ... though it was similar to the two "here", they didn't have quite a history that they could be proud of.
"Anyways, we'll leave the rest to you two. Let's go, Io."
"Yeah, right... well then, see you Setsuna, Haruki."
And then, the two "here" were helpless, being left behind in front of the school building.
Only two remained from the group of four, and the moment the noise had settled down, they had realized that this wasn't a place for just them, but that of an open area.
As the place would open to the general public in about thirty minutes, the students were in a rush with preparations heading in and out. Everyone was avoiding the two as they passed through the entrance.
"It's, been a while."
The man who always preached about "never troubling others" and the woman who tried to bring an atmosphere of "not wanting to stand out" remained there for a bit of time. Passerbys who were curious gave them glances that were annoying.
And for about ten minutes, the two had wasted time, slowly walking through the campus that was uplifted by all the clamor.
"It's really, been a while."
Proof of that came from teh fact the two hadn't been exchanging any words for the last ten minutes.
Because it wasn't that Setsuna wasn't saying anything. It was because she was trying hard to get a glimpse of his face from the side.
However, there were also things that he shouldn't be doing either.
Proof of that came from him averting his eyes if they met, and then when he came to look at her again, he had a shameful look on his face.
"Are you doing okay... Haruki-kun?"
"Yeah, well... I'm alright."
The name of the person next to her is Kitahara Haruki.
About a year ago they'd known each other. About a year ago they'd known their feelings for one another. About half a year ago they'd pass by one another, and about half a year ago, they'd separated...
However, he was still special to Setsuna, even now.
"I heard you've been doing lots of part-time jobs. You're not pushing yourself, are you?"
"Well, not really... I've been coming to university every day."
"I see... well, I guess that's true."
Even though Setsuna would give such a harmless, stereotypical answer, she'd think it over and over and over.
Because, "it had been a while".
Despite taking the same lectures together, they haven't even been greeting each other.
She'd always wanted to talk to him.
Because she'd always try to go after himi when leaving the classroom.
However, it was expected that their conversation would suddenly take apuse like this.
And because she knew it'd be this way, she'd stop running after him as she was chasing him.
Even though the last eleven minutes had been useless, they'd been prompted to take action at the last moment.
Walking through a campus they were familiar with, if they took the usual path they did, they'd eventually reach a place they'd have to pass by.
The main gate, covered in signs of various colors.
If they took a step forward from here, they'd return to their usual days.
The usual days after classes where nothing would happen between the two of them, and nothing would begin.
"Umm... well, I'll be..."
But today wasn't any kind of day after classes.
This day couldn't be left the same way as yesterday.
"What'll you be doing, after this...?"
Because there were 364 days to say things like "I'll leave it to tomorrow" or "I'll leave it to next year".
"It's the university festival, isn't it?"
"Yeah, it is."
Setsuna finally got things started, looking straight at Haruki.
And, what she was saw was anxiety, unease, loneliness, fear...
In the end, the exact same feelings that she had been carrying.
So, Setsuna gripped her hands tightly behind her back.
"U, umm... I know Takeya-kun and Io were like that but..."
"Setsuna, do you..."
"Do you really have nothing to do at all?"
- ――What about you, Haruki-kun...?
- You're busy with part-time jobs, right?
- You don't have time to be dilly-dallying in a university festival like this, right..?
"......... no, I'm free."
She'd long forgotten the kindness that she naturally gave Haruki a year ago.
However, she knew how she'd treat him.
"Yup, that's right."
She only needed to keep him from making excuses.
In particular, as she cared for him, she had to make clear the consequences of him doing so.
"Then, then, you know..."
"It's a school festival, isn't it?"
"We're in the middle of a festival, aren't we?"
See, just like that.
"Then, where do you want to go? I heard somebody famous was going to show up on the first day."
"I'm hungry. I didn't get any breakfast this morning."
The simulation had ended long ago.
An operation that was put together two hours ago, going as planned.
"Do you want to eat candy apples?"
"I'm fine with ramen."
To an extent, Setsuna had noticed when she got a phone call from Io.
She noticed her vagueness, her play on words, and how she cared for her.
She'd been given this conviction that Io would bring along Haruki.
"Eating ramen at thi stime would be bad, wouldn't it?"
Which was why she took her time with the clothes she picked.
It wasn't anything flashy or plain.
It was something to avoid catching other people's attention.
"... it was also bad last year, wasn't it?"
"... it was, yeah."
But, she wanted him to say it was "pretty".
Because, troubled as she was, she'd done her best picking out these clothes and accessories...
"What toppings you want, miss? I can put on sesame, red pickled ginger or cut garlic!"
"Ah, it's okay... this is fine."
"Come on, you've got nothing to lose, throw in some garlic! It'll really bring out the flavor!"
"Hey, Asai, what's with suggesting garlic to a girl in the morning?"
They'd entered a ramen shop that had been just opened by the Wandervogel club. The store clerk there had a strong build, and with customers building up he'd call out to with such a vigorous voice that it surprised them. It wasn't something one could call being comfortable.
But to Setsuna, not being that comfortable was comfortable.
It was just perfect, being worried about other things without the two of them being able to concentrate on one another.
Just as Haruki admirably pointed out, their order didn't take three minutes before arriving. Somehow, the ramen's flavor from the university festival wasn't anything to talk about.
At first, the two would take a bite, and look at each other with a bitter smile.
But, it would seem that they didn't seem as tense about things falling apart today. This atmosphere of them eating in silence was warm, just like the steam coming from the ramen.
"Okay~ welcome everyone! The famous Wandervogel Ramen Shop is open for business~!"
"You can take your seats right now, how about mister? Ah, then see you later~!"
As always, the giant's roaring treated the customers with little hospitality.
And within that noise, Setsuna had been at ease, having little regard for her conduct or her words. Sitting besid ehim they ate ramen, drank their soup, and then...
"... what is it?"
"Ah, well... it's nothing."
There was nothing wrong with his gaze.
"You've got my attention, just go ahead and say it."
Because the soup didn't warm up just their bodies, but their feelings as well.
Because although it was a singl estep, their stamina had been brought up.
"Well, I think it might be rude if I told you directly."
"Ah, perhaps you mean... this?"
"Yeah... I was thinking it's been the same like always."
When Setsuna noticed that Haruki was looking a little past her face, she moved her left hand in an instant.
And, her hair behind her back sprung up.
- "That's how you eat ramen, you know."
- "How you eat it...? Oh, you mean keeping your hair behind you?"
- "Yeah, umm... but it's not like you'r egoing to hold it with your hand the whole time."
- "It'd be simple enough to tie it up. But I'd look pretty ugly if I did that."
- "Because, my hair already has two knots, you know? If I put another one, I'm not sure what that'd look like."
- "Is that really a big deal...?"
- "It is a big deal. If I had straight hair like Touma-san, then it'd still look cute even if I tied it up."
- "But you're cute, Setsuna."
- "Ah, well... it's because you're always worrying so hard about those kinds of details, it's so middle class-ish it's cute."
- "I'm not sure if I should take that as a compliment or an insult."
- "S, sorry..."
- "... well, whatever meaning it is, it doesn't matters ince I'm happy."
- "S, Setsuna..."
- "Heheh... now, eat up, eat up! It'll get soggy if you don't hurry!"
Even that time started off with a "thoughtless and rude" thing.
"This habit of mine won't change that easily."
Even that time, it was in a ramen shop at the school festival.
The two had formally become lovers, and that happened to be their first, big day.
"Nothing'll change in just a year..."
"... I see..."
"Yup, that's right."
Haruki again fell into silence, hearing Setsuna fret as such.
However, that silence was not from feeling unpleasant, but rather being at ease.
Because they understood that the Haruki of now could accept the Setsuna of now.
Because they understood that it wasn't important for their conversation to continue.
Which was why, as if satisfied with this comfortable silence, Setsuna slowly sipped up the last of her soup... and then realizing that she took too much salt and calories in the morning, she became flustered.
Haruki was a bit flabbergasted with her reaction, and then he smiled a little.
Setsuna also smiled, holding back the pain in the back of her nose.
"Here you go, Haruki-kun. I got two extras."
"Yup, they smelled so nice I just kinda picked them up."
"... you don't regret eating up all the ramen from just now?"
"Sure, which is why I'm fine with two. You can have the rest."
"Hey wait, just wait a moment... I also ate ramen with you just now, didn't I?"
"But I can't really eat any more than this..."
"Then what were you thinking getting extras?"
"Eh...? But isn't it a good thing?"
"Do something about that worn-out housewife sense of yours..."
And then the events that followed for several hours until the sun set...
Setsuna couldn't clearly remember it all.
- "C, Class E's haunted house was really scary..."
- "Sorry Setsuna, I think that was probably my fault."
- "I see... so you were responsible for making sure everyone would look so menacing, Haruki-kun."
- "Ah, well, umm..."
- "Nothing less from a former class president. Even when you dropped out of it, you still have quite a bit of influence, yup."
- "I'm telling you, that's not it... they're attacking head-on like this for a different reason..."
- "Kyaaaaahhh~! I'm scared, Haruki-kun!!"
- "S, Setsuna...!?"
- "Uuughoo~, flirting with Ogiso-san in a public place like this~!"
- "Gukaaa~, and even calling her Setsuna~, you traitorrrrr~!"
- "You zombies shouldn't attack me with feelings~! You guys are supposed to be dead~!"
Even though she wished to spend time like this.
Even though she wished to spend time with him.
- "S, Setsuna... do you really plan on going to the Taisho Romance Tea House?"
- "Eh~? But today's the last day! Haruki-kun, even you didn't come to my class, you know?"
- "Well look, remember the first day just before it opened..."
- "Io should be in today too! Don't fool around and let's go!"
- "Uh, the one fooling around is..."
- "... hey! Woah... there's still a line, even though it's the last day!
- "Hey! Isn't it foolish to be lining up for you won class? I'm telling you..."
- "It'll be fine, as long as we talk for a bit it won't be boring to wait. Come on, let's go!"
- "Wait! Please think about my safety being with these guys in line~!"
And despite that, Setsuna's memories, consciousness, and her experience today were all mixed in with her past memories, as if held captive up in the clouds.
"Let's check the store for social sciences! Takeya-kun and Io should be there!"
"No, let's stay out of that one."
"You know Setsuna, you'll always be like that no matter what."
"Like that... like what?"
"Like how people see you, and like making sure no one misunderstands you, or something."
"I'm aware of that, though?"
"Yup, I'm rather too conscious of it. I do watch how other people look at me."
"Then you should be aware even now... if the two of us should show up there, you know?"
"It'll cause a, misunderstanding?"
"No, it's nothing."
Her past was mixed with her present, her dreams with her reality, and her recolletions with her hope . Those times, places, and scattered details devoured Setsuna from within one after another, stirring her feelings.
"The gates will be closing soon..."
"Yeah, it's 6:45 PM."
"I see, there's no event tonight for today's festival, is there?"
"Well, it is the first day."
"No folk dance either..."
"I see... I see..."
"J, just want to ask..."
"Umm... do you want me to walk you home?"
"Ah, well... could you let me send you? Please."
"Ah, well, umm..."
"Sorry, forget what I said just..."
"Could we... cool off for a bit?"
The day came to a close before they knew it.
Night had fallen.
- "What's wrong?"
- "... something stepped on my foot."
- "Ah, sorry, the last time I did folk dancing was back in elementary..."
- "No, it wasn't you, it was some other guy."
- "Look, we can dance where there isn't anyone else, right? Truth is my feet have been stepped on plenty of times."
- "... pff!"
- "This isn't something to laugh about. And it's your fault."
- "A, ahaha... but you know..."
- "I figurd it'd be real noisy, but it's beyond what I expected... you're too popular, Setsuna."
- "But Haruki-kun, you did promise to take this burden upon yourself, didn't you?"
- "Well, sure. That's my privilege and responsibility... umm... as your boyfriend, I guess?"
- "... could you not be silent when I say something that's embarrassing?"
- "Ah, sorry... I was just savoring it..."
- "Geez... Setsuna, your standards are real low..."
- "Heheh... heheheheh..."
- "Could we... cool off for a bit?"
- "Yeah, let's go to a vending machine or something."
- "No, over there by the tree is fine."
- "But aren't you thirsty?"
- "I am."
- "But it's not my throat that's dry..."
- "It's my tongue..."
- "... ah..."
- "Being by the tree is nice..."
- "I don't want to be anywhere else but there..."
- "......... okay, let's go."
First at the second music room, and then by the tree on campus...
The two had confirmed their feelings for one another on those nights of the school festival.
"Well now everyone, how was the first day of the Houjou Festival?"
"The executive committee announcement indicates that there were almost five hundred more in attendance compared to last year, which has set a new record..."
One could hear the sound of a radio personality from outside, which wasn't nearly as busy as it was during the day. The voice echoed in a dark classroom that was no longer of interest.
"By the way, our staff members had been real busy running around and recording the outdoor stage performance."
"I really wanted to see the Watos Troupe's performance! Someone just fill me in with your impressions of it!"
"... well, it can't be helped that I'm complaining about it, so listen to how things went with me bearing with only an onigiri since the morning... wait, I'm just complaining again! Well then, here's the next song..."
The voice would be that of the Houjou FM broadcast, coming from the only broadcasting office within Houjou University.
Even in today's age when it was simple to stream online to the world, Houjou FM didn't. The broadcast was owned by a group that was a little old-fashioned, going through the trouble of making sure only those within the university could listen. This closed nature and slightly old-fashioned programme was indeed popular amongst the students.
"You're not cold, Setsuna?"
"No, I'm fine."
While the radio broadcasted sounds of shouts and joy, the two both stared at different scenery outside.
A very dim light and the winds of the late fall came through the open window.
"It was fun, wasn't it?"
Holding down her hair from the cold winds that swayed it, Setsuna murmured those words from her heart.
She couldn't tell if those words were about today, or if they were about last year's festival. However, that murmur of hers came with a happiness that she hadn't shown recently.
"Yeah, it's beautiful, isn't it?"
And Haruki's answer echoed to show his satisfaction with Setsuna overflowing with such emotions.
It wasn't as great as last year, but certainly it showed optimism.
"We ate ramen, takoyaki, candy apples, crepes..."
"My stomach's still heavy."
"That was my first time to the manga club, but it was interesting. The drawings weren't tha~t great though."
"But they were fine... being so extremely deformed, anyway."
"The flea market was fun. I really got lost so many times there, though."
"How much do you have to haggle with the stores, though?"
"I couldn't get to go to the Taisho Romance Tea House thanks to a certain someone."
"I'm begging you, at least imagine what kind of disaster would strike going there."
"Even so, even so...! It was really, really fun~!"
"Yeah... same for me."
Unable to contain her excitement, she took a deep breath, as her gaze turned from the window towards the classroom inside...
And then, she gulped that breath down in an instant.
It wasn't because her expectations had been betrayed, but because they'd come eto pass...
"It was fun, Setsuna."
- ――Don't, don't don't...!
The alarm bell that was Setsuna's heart violently rang.
Her eyes got used to the darkness before she knew it.
She remembered why she looked outside this whole time.
... it was because that expression Haruki had back then had been burned into her eyes.
"Really, thank you for today..."
That happy expression he had on his face.
That expression he hadn't shown for half a year.
... that expression he'd shown until winter had ended.
That's why she couldn't.
Because she'd easily wander away from this euphoria.
And become someone who would trouble Haruki, and make him suffer.
"I hadn't had such a fun day ever since entering university!"
Even though, she couldn't...
Even so, Setsuna couldn't stop the weeping that was mixed in with her own voice.
"It was fun... it was really, really fun today...!"
The one moment that Setsuna feared had come to pass in an instant.
"Why, why are you..."
Setsuna's face became colored with feelings of guilt, regret, and sorrow.
"Why are you still saying something like that...?"
And probably, her own expression changed to be the same as his.
"Something like this shouldn't be such a big deal to you, Setsuna..."
"But Haruki-kun, you said "thanks", you said it was fun..."
"I'm not talking about myself, I'm talking about you, Setsuna...!"
It was more than she had expected.
They got to talk a lot. They walked together. They smiled at one another.
She never thought it would go this well at all.
Which was why saying their farewells should have been enough at this point.
"Fussing over someone like me will bring you no good..."
"But that's just what I want to do. Don't decide that yourself."
However, she hadn't had a grasp on how greedy she'd become after things went so well.
"People in the program, and everyone else, whether they be guys or girls, they're all calling for you, Setsuna. They want to get along with you."
"So, what is it you want to say?"
"I'm telling you... if you just looked outside for a moment, you could find someone you could..."
"I can't do something like that."
"Because I'm... I'm selfish, you know! I have high standards as a woman!"
"That's a lie... the real Setsuna would be far different from her appearance, being popular, family-oriented, a bit mischievous... but from the bottom of her heart, she'd be kind, and she'd come to like anyone..."
"That's, that's... something for only a special someone...!"
She had to move forward.
"Like you said, Haruki-kun, everyone's been calling to me. Everyone's been inviting me."
Not having prepared or planned ahead, she had to go ahead and confront him.
"They wanted me to go into clubs, enter into the Miss Houjou contest, be a vocalist in a stage performance... it was so disgusting and annoying."
"They even invited me to the Miss Houjou contests... it was disgusting anyway, and quite annoying."
"But no one tried to know about my circumstances! They never gave it a single thought! No one tried to understand me!"
"There hasn't been a single person who truly wanted to meddle in my problems..."
Which was why she now had to reveal her true self.
"I'm who they call "that Ogiso Setsuna", you know?"
Reveal herself as a princess with high standards.
"A false idol that everyone brought up on their own, you know?"
Reveal herself as a troubling princess who, perhaps not having any value, one could see how difficult she truly was.
"No one would invite someone like me with any kind of purpose! No one would meddle in my affairs for any kind of real reason!"
And what this princess wanted was not a kiss from a prince.
What this princess truly wanted, was the scolding of a nobleman.
Scolding that was severe, and annoying.
And, lecturing that had sincerity in its words.
Setsuna's left hand entangled itself with Haruki's right hand.
"I've hurt you so much, haven't I?"
One finger at a time, she met with his hand, and wthat soft palm of hers wrapped around with his.
"I've left you alone like this for six months, haven't I?"
"You can make up for it... for the next six months."
And she continued again.
Setsuna's right hand, meeting with Haruki's left...
"And if I should lose to a moment of loneliness and go back, I might end up hurting you again, Setsuna."
"You won't know unless you try."
Within that darkness...
Setsuna's hot breaths, and the faint light that glittered in her eyes, reached Haruki.
"I'm not someone you should forgive, Setsuna."
"That's for me to decide!"
And then, with a firm determination, Setsuna took a step forward.
Bringing his hands to her chest.
Putting her forehead into Haruki's chest.
"Because, I, I...!"
- ――love you... even now, I still love you, Haruki-kun.
They came in contact with one another.
So all that was left was to let their hearts do the rest.
And surely, that was now only a matter of time.
Because the tearful-eyed Haruki couldn't leave the tearful-eyed Setsuna alone.
Comparing the sin of harming Setsuna now versus the sin of having once harmed Setsuna before...
And because he realized the foolishness of bringing about new sins.
"Setsuna, I, I... I...!"
The romance between a princess and a lowly servant...
That twisted and complicated line of fate...
Wasn't something that could be so simply resolved.
"And, today's final song... well, all of you should know about it I guess."
"Because actually, this isn't from today, but from last year's stage performance."
"And it isn't from the Houjou Festival, but from the attached school's festival... an original song doneperformed by junior girls."
"The performance at the time was so amazing, stealing away even guests from the Houjou Festival and flooding the gymnasium. It's such a hot topic, even now, so..."
"The other day, I happened to get ahold of the sound source, so although it's been a year, this marks its revival!"
"This is the School of Houjou University's Light Music Club's song, "The Love That Will Not Reach"."
Everything was rewinding backwards.
"Ah, ah, ah...!"
Her embracing body had stiffened up, and she lost her grip on his hands...
And what remained was the real Setsuna; something that no one had ever seen.
The real Setsuna who had changed, whose expression was colored in despair, that even Haruki hadn't known about.
She only had a little further to go.
She should have carried out the feelings that she had held for so long.
"The Love That Will Not Reach" echoed in the silence of the dark classroom.
But Setsuna didn't hear her own singing.
She didn't even hear Haruki's guitar.
She could only hear the melody that wrapped around those two, played gently and softly on the keyboard...
By someone named Touma Kazusa...
The wounds in Setsuna's heart throbbed with such pain.
- Reference from Tears To Tiara, the Watos Troupe is later mentioned in Izumi Chiaki's route
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