Written for tsukara during the 2009 Yuletide challenge.

Never Give Up
by Estirose
c 2009

Shibata Kento opened the doors of the classroom totally unlike the S-Rank butler he was supposed to be. Then again, something in the air of this place energized him, made him mad, so sometimes he put a bit too much energy into things. And the fact that nobody was in the classroom made him do nothing more than glare at the empty chairs and wonder what in the hell the class was up to this time. He should have arrived just in time for Mei's last class.

"They've gone outside," a voice came from above, as in answer to his thoughts. The headmistress of St. Lucia's walked down the stairs, paying much more attention to the book she was reading than really to the stairs or to him. Her butler followed behind silently. Kento briefly wondered how she knew that's what he was looking for. Of course, given all that happened, he realized, who could guess anything less than "Kento was looking for Mei"?

Of course, him looking for Mei was obvious even to the stupidest people in this place. Rihito had been her butler for long enough, and it wasn't like Mei's entire class hadn't been standing there when he'd attempted to punch Rihito out for being the overly-skilled idiot he was. Not that he'd tried to punch him out for that, of course; he'd punched his older brother out because he knew that he was better for Mei. And given that Rihito was as much in love with Mei as he was, he didn't want to lose her to Rihito.

Some would say that it was a butler's natural pride to serve those they did serve; Kento called it sticking up for a friend. The fact that he loved her made no difference.

"You do know the school rule, right?" the headmistress asked gently. And Kento did, much to his annoyance. Butler and lady could not love each other, at least in the romantic sense. He didn't care; he doubted anybody did, except to gain power over another through blackmail or humiliation. The headmistress stepped off the stairs daintily and studied him, and he resisted the urge to straighten up. He wasn't there to impress her. He was there to see Mei. "Though I don't know if love cares...."

Maybe she did have something back in that airy head of hers. He suddenly looked at her, unsure if he should mouth off or respect her. Technically speaking, she was the head of a school where he was hoping to work as a butler; all of his training as a butler screamed to obey her. And yet, Kento had spent quite a while just going through the motions of being a good, obedient butler so that he could get that shiny badge and hopefully compete with Rihito.

"Do you think that love cares?" she asked him, her voice gentle.

Obviously, she was expecting him to answer. "Love would be stupid if it did," he said finally.

He looked over at her, and she was smiling. "That's what my friend thought, too," the headmistress said, her tone distant. "Even when her parents lost their fortune... even when she had to leave St. Lucia... she never gave up on love. And love never gave up on her."

Kento wondered briefly about the headmistress' friend, and then resolved not to get involved in her airy daydreaming. It would do him no good.

"I remember the letters she wrote me," the headmistress continued on, brushing forward to one of the chairs and sitting down. "About how she was in love with a man, how she asked to marry him. And how his father turned her down and engaged him to someone else, because he could. Sometimes, she would write to me, and I could see the tears on the paper." She sighed. "Won't you sit down?"

Sitting down hurriedly, he wondered where all of this was going. What did it have to do with anything?

"I remember when she and I were in school," the headmistress said wistfully. "We didn't talk about boys; we knew that our parents were going to pick who we were going to marry, after all. But we talked about other things. We loved our comics; that's what we bonded over, when we lived in the dorms. Our parents thought it was scandalous, but figured that our butlers and our future husbands could set us straight. And really, what did it matter, if we kept it quiet?"

The woman was in full-blown reminiscing mode, he could see it in her eyes. He wished she wouldn't include him in the conversation, because it didn't have much to do with him, or with Mei.

"And then her family went bankrupt, and she and I really didn't have time for comic books anymore," the headmistress said. "Then of course, she fell in love. I let her know she had my total support."

Kento decided it wasn't polite for an S-Rank butler to explode at the headmistress of the school where the love of his life went to. Much as he wanted to.

"You know, she did get to be with the man that she loved, in the end," she said, still lost in her own memories. "And she was happy. That, I think, is what really matters. Not whether she was rich. That she loved, and she was loved. And I miss her terribly."

Was that pain in the headmistress' eyes? Kento wasn't really good at things like that. He was good at yelling at people. He'd even yelled at Mei, before, and he had still held out hope of being her butler then. Still did. If he was going to yell at Mei for giving up, he couldn't give up, either.

"And I envied her that happiness, sometimes," the headmistress added. "I know she taught her daughter that happiness is far more important. Love is far more important." She looked at him steadily. "Love is sometimes better than our own ambitions. I believe that, or I wouldn't be here...."

He felt like she was trying to say something to him, but it was too encoded in her own obfuscated words. And he was about to ask her for clarification. He didn't want her to think he was stupid.

"And neither would Mei-chan," she said wistfully. "I believe her mother had the right idea. Never, ever give up on love...."

Yeah, she was sending a message to him. And he was getting it, finally. It was odd to hear the headmistress tell him, a butler, that he shouldn't give up on loving the one he wanted to be his lady. After all, being in love was against the rules. It was supposed to be against the rules even after they graduated.

But... what if he wasn't a butler, after all? What if he came to her as plain old Kento, the boy she'd grown up with and teased and fought with? Being this fancy butler, well, he was good at it, he had to admit, but he'd never be at Rihito's level. But he didn't have to be to compete. Rihito could be her butler, perfect, unreachable. And he would be the love of her life, the one that she would love, the person that she was meant to be with. Plans started formulating in his mind as he sat there.

"I believe they're coming back," the headmistress said, standing up. Indeed, he could see the girls and their butlers, Mei and Rihito among them, and stood up, smoothing his coat.

Folding his arms behind his back, he held steady as everyone welcomed him home.


Mei-chan no Shitsuji fics