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Sweethearts

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Katarina Claes felt a horrible feeling in her stomach.

And it wasn’t because of the copious amount of cake she had just consumed. Well, that was part of it, but it was something else this time.

From the kitchens behind her, the duke’s daughter heard as a familiar voice cried out, “Ehh? M-my cake! What happened to it? I made that especially for Hearts Day!”

Oh. That hadn’t been a free cake, had it? It was something Maria had made special.

Oh no. Oh no no no no no.

Katarina felt her heart sink.

Maria, one of her closest and most precious friends had made a special cake, and she just had to go and chow down on it!

Ugh. Damn her stomach! Why did she have to go and be hungry?

This all started about an hour ago. Actually, no, it started this morning when she skipped breakfast to harvest her fields. It was truly a bitter battle between her inner council, but in the end, she decided she could eat later, but the ideal time to harvest would be right away that morning, so she did. Then she went off to class, feeling the beginnings of hunger pangs coming on.

By the time she left class, she was truly regretting her decision to skip breakfast, so she started wandering toward the kitchens, and then, like a miracle, she saw a free cake sitting there. It was looking and smelling as delicious as a cake could look and smell. She was just going to have one bite. She really was! Honestly! But… ugh, why did Maria have to go and make such an amazing cake?

Katarina had just left the kitchen when Maria showed up. It seemed like someone else was with her, but from her current position a bit down the hall, she couldn’t tell who.

She flattened her body as best she could against the wall so Maria wouldn’t see her, slinking along until she could peek in at the scene in the kitchen without being seen. As the brunette snuck a look around the corner, she realized who Maria was with. Oh no. This was even worse than she imagined.

“It will be fine, Miss Campbell, I’m sure you’ll be able to make something else in no time,” Prince Geordo reassured the light mage with a comforting smile.

“Thank you, Prince Geordo, but that cake was very special to me,” Maria replied, looking worried.

Gah! Katarina ducked down quickly so she didn’t have to look at Maria’s disappointed face. It was like looking at a sad kitten.

“May I ask why this cake was so special to you, Miss Campbell?” Geordo asked, arching a suspicious eyebrow.

“Eh?” Maria’s cheeks went a bit pink, “W-well, it’s… I’d rather not say….”

“Oh? Why not?” Geordo pressed her, a smirk on his lips.

This was so, so bad! She might have just raised yet another doom flag! If Geordo realized she was the one who had stolen poor Maria’s cake, he’d surely be ready to exile her!

Oh gods, there was something even worse, now that she thought about it.

It was obvious what was going on here. Of course Maria couldn’t say why that cake was special. She had made that cake for him! Hearts Day was a day where everyone could confess their love to the person they cared for most! Maria was trying her best to win the heart of the dark prince, and Katarina, like the villainess she was, had to go and ruin it all for her!

“I… I’ll do my best to make another cake…” Maria muttered, glancing worriedly around the academy kitchen at the remaining materials, “But Hearts Day is tomorrow! I just… I don’t know if I can make it in time…”

Okay, yeah. She’d screwed up big this time.

And so, she decided, she would have to un-screw it up right away.

Katarina scurried off down the hallway. If Maria couldn’t make the cake in time, she’d just have to do it herself.

---

Later that day, Katarina made her way to the kitchens as soon as her last class ended. Normally, she’d pay a visit to the Student Council room first, but today she had priorities.

Not to mention, Maria was in the council, and she couldn’t bear to face her yet.

Right, all she had to do was bake a cake like the one she had eaten earlier, and bring it to Maria before tomorrow!

“Yosh!” Katarina readied herself, tying an apron on as she set out her ingredients, “Let’s see… Maria’s cake was really sweet, so I’ll be sure to add lots of sugar. Hm. Flour sounds like something that goes in cakes… And, I think I’ll throw in a couple of veggies from my garden too! Geordo always says he loves the taste of the crops I grow in my own farm, so it’ll be like a bonus!”

Katarina talked out loud to herself with a smile as she set out to start baking. It couldn’t be that hard, right? She looked over the storage shelves, pushing aside some odds and ends as she searched. Something fell on the floor, but she paid it no mind, she was only focused on acquiring the main ingredient. After a few minutes of searching, she found it! The thing she needed most of all; the key ingredient to making a great cake. The frosting!

Grinning widely, she turned back to where she was setting up her lineup on ingredients… and found another person standing in the doorway. Her eyes met those of a certain young light mage, and the school kitchen was quiet for a moment.

“L-lady Katarina? What are you doing here?” Maria asked, eyes wide with confusion.

Katarina let out a loud yelp, tossing the can of icing straight into the air.

“Maria! Why are you here?” Katarina blurted suddenly. Maria couldn’t be here- she needed the cake to be a surprise! She had to think quickly here, “Don’t you need to tend to your farm right now?”

“Eh? I don’t have a farm, Katarina. You do,” Maria replied, looking confused.

“R-right. Ehe,” Katarina rubbed the back of her neck, looking away.

“So… why are you here, Lady Katarina?” Maria asked again.

“W-well… I…” Katarina took a step back. She knew there wasn’t much of a choice here, so she did what she probably should have done in the first place. Pressing her hands together, she bowed forward apologetically, “I’m the one who ate your cake Maria! I’m so, so sorry!”

“Eh? Kata--?”

“I’m making you a new cake so you can give it to the person you like for Hearts Day! I hope you can forgive me!” Katarina finished, cutting Maria off as she attempted to respond.

She stayed bowed forward with her palms together for a long moment, waiting for Maria to respond.

After what felt like an eternity, Maria asked, “Are you really trying to make a cake?”

“Yeah…” Katarina looked up to find Maria surveying the ingredients she had laid out on the counter.

“Using garlic?” Maria held up a clove.

“I grew it on my farm! Geordo says he likes stuff I grow myself, so I thought if I put that in the cake, he’d like it even more!” Katarina explained, “That way, when you give it to him, it will leave even more of an impression!”

Maria blinked, “Well, that would certainly leave an impression… But anyways, I was actually going to give the cake to— Lady Katarina!” Maria suddenly cut herself off, pointing up.

Katarina followed where she was pointing. Above her head was the can of icing she had tossed upwards earlier. It had landed so that it was resting gently upon one of the crossbeams of the kitchen ceiling. Or, at least, it had been resting gently until a few seconds ago. However it had landed up there, it started to tip off balance… leaning forward further… until….

“Awk!” Katarina let out a noise of surprise as the canister of cake icing landed square on her face.

“Ah! Lady Katarina, are you alright?” Maria dashed across the kitchen, by Katarina’s side in an instant, “It’s all over your dress….”

“Y-yeah, I’m fine,” Katarina murmured, wiping her eyes off so she could see the kind angel of a girl already preparing some towels to clean her up. Maria was even concerned about her clothes. Katarina felt her guilt deepen even further, “I deserve it anyways, I ruined your cake Maria.”

“You didn’t ruin anything, Lady Katarina,” Maria murmured quietly, wiping some icing off her dress, “I made that cake for you after all.”

Wait. What?

“Huh?” Katarina turned to the blonde in surprise.

“It’s true, I would have preferred it if I could have given it to you on Hearts Day, but if you enjoyed it so much you couldn’t stop eating it, then I’m happy,” Maria looked up at her, smiling that sweet, protagonist-y smile of hers. Katarina felt her mind spinning as she tried to process both what Maria had just told her and that blinding smile all at once.

“You… were going to give the cake… to me?” Katarina asked warily.

“Of course! Hearts Day is a day for…” Maria blushed, looking down, “…for showing your love to the one you care for most.”

Katarina felt her heart flutter. She always was hoping Maria didn’t hate her… but was it true? Was she really… Maria’s best friend?

She was about to ask when Maria reached out and wiped her finger across Katarina’s lower lip.

Katarina felt herself shiver at the light mage’s gentle touch. Some part of her brain said Maria probably tasted as sweet as the icing, but she hardly had time to process the thought.

Maria lifted her frosted finger to her own lips!?

Ehhhhhh!?!

Wasn’t that… an indirect kiss?

“M-Maria?” Katarina felt her mouth go a bit dry.

The blonde reddened suddenly, as if she was shocked by her own action. She looked down, unable to meet Katarina’s eyes, “Um, L-let’s get you cleaned up.”

After a few minutes, the icing had been cleared off of Katarina’s face. Maria had done her best, both with the towels and a bit of light magic, to get the remainder of the icing out of her dress.  They quickly put up all of Katarina’s ingredients, the quiet of the kitchen occasionally punctuated by Maria explaining to her that certain ingredients shouldn’t be used in cakes. Before long, the kitchen was back to how it was before.

“Thank you so much Maria!! I’m really sorry about all the trouble,” Katarina apologized again earnestly.

“It was no trouble at all! I treasure any time I get to spend with you, Lady Katarina,” Maria responded with that odd hint of emotion in her voice again. Katarina could never quite place it, but it always seemed to show up when she was talking to her.

“Y-you know, if that cake was really meant for me, it’s probably for the best. I don’t think any of the others would love your baking as much as I do,” Katarina admitted, twirling a strand of hair around her finger. She didn’t know why she found that such an embarrassing thing to say!

She was about to say something else, but then.

Then, Maria leaned over… and pressed her lips ever so lightly to Katarina’s cheek.

Everything froze. The kiss was so light, Katarina could have mistaken it for a leaf brushing past her in the wind if she’d had her eyes closed.  

“A-ah, Lady Katarina…!” Maria pulled back, with a rosy blush across her face. Katarina could feel the tips of her ears had gone hot as well.

Suddenly, a distant chime echoed through the academy grounds. Outside, the bell tower was striking 7 pm. It was time for dinner, and Katarina didn’t want to take any chances missing any more meals.

“W-well… ehe, I guess we should get going, right?” Katarina asked, face burning.

“R-right,” Maria replied, looking down. Her pink face matched her dress.

Cute. So, so cute! Katarina could hardly contain herself at the sight. She shook her head, clearing her thoughts.

“Well…. Um, Thank you for the cake! Even though I kinda ate it without asking. Sorry again about that,” Katarina tried her best to sound courteous.

“I’d be happy to bake for you every day if you wished it, Katarina,” Maria smiled back at her.

Katarina felt her heart skip another beat. Spending so much time with Maria wasn’t good for her health!

“R-right, well, um, Happy Hearts Day! I’ll see you later!”

“Yes, a very happy Hearts Day to you too, Lady Katarina,” Maria smiled sweetly at her, giving a little wave as she walked away.

Yeah. Yeah, this was definitely a very, very happy Hearts Day, Katarina thought to herself as she returned to her dorm room. She reached up, lightly touching the spot where Maria had kissed her.

Probably the happiest she’d ever had.