1st revision: 20/08/2008
1. RoE is a "pseudo" sequel to White Devil. It is also heavily referenced to Ode to Darkness despite that it's not quite a sequel to said story. Specific references to both of these fics will show up at some point in this fic, so I do recommend reading both of them before looking at this or risk some degree of confusion.
2. Rein aside, StrikerS characters does not exist here.
3. This story is based off the premise of TSAB being corrupted. It's not something I'll be expanding on, though, because the bureau plays only a small (despite it significant) role here. The theme of this story is more about... hm. Fall from grace? Heh.
Resplendence of Ebony
- Yasunori Mitsuda, Xenosaga OST.
When she felt the threads of magic that connected the two of them being pulled, she knew something was wrong.
When the telepathic contact that she desperately held onto faded, she knew it was too late.
And when the bond was severed, she lashed out; first from the waves of agony that hit her when she felt it forcefully broken and snapped apart, then from the realization that sunk in a second later.
Soul bond: A connection of heart, mind and soul. Something so precious and sacred it could kill its partner if the other was destroyed.
And she broke.
She didn't die, but something in her broke.
Long, wavy strands of magic flowed through her veins, her blood; like fresh water in a steady stream, before they pooled in her linker core.
It was unfamiliar and familiar.
A foreign sensation in her body, and yet not.
It was something she had never felt before - or had she? - but her whole body seemed to recognize the warmth flowing through her.
Burgundy eyes opened to see a grey ceiling, cracked and worn with age.
The blonde sat up, slowly, grimacing when she felt the dull throb on her bruised hands and body.
Her throat felt parched and dry. How long was she asleep?
She glanced up.
The soft tapping of feet jerked to a stop.
Slate blue eyes. Soft, concerned...and brimming with tears.
The name came to her before she even realized who it was.
The brunette flung herself towards her without warning, and her hands moved to Nanoha's waist to steady them both before her back could hit the wall.
"You're okay..." Cracking voice. She felt Nanoha's grip on her tighten, and she automatically moved to rub the other's back in a reassuring gesture.
"I...what's...wrong?" Confusion. "How did I..."
She stopped. Her motions froze.
As if those words were all the trigger she needed, she remembered.
Bile rose in her throat; nausea settled in her stomach.
She was suddenly dizzy, and dull pressure forced its way into her brain.
Arf. Arf. Arf.
And Nanoha was too near, too close.
The blonde shoved Nanoha away, and had only a moment of intense regret when the brunette hit the wall hard, a wince forming on that face, before she threw up water - acid water - on the cement floor. As if her stomach was empty of nourishment.
When was the last time she had eaten?
There was a sharp, sour taste in her mouth, and she choked on it. Her dry throat burned with a stinging pain. A trembling hand clenched tightly at her chest, as if trying to calm the thundering, erratic heartbeat.
Her other hand crumpled the sheet.
Oh, god. Arf...
Her familiar was dead.
Her partner was dead dead dead -
More bile rose up her throat.
But there wasn't anything else she could get out.
Her vision blurred, even as she hacked air out of her throat.
She felt cold. She felt numb.
And there was something so different; something missing.
The warmth - the lingering, phantom warmth that she once knew like the back of her hand - was there, just there, but she couldn't reach it, couldn't grasp it.
It was gone.
She couldn't think.
"Fate - "
Black spots appeared in her vision.
She blacked out, and felt only the faint sensation of slender hands catching her before she could hit the floor.
"...Lash back...severed connection..."
She felt soft cotton, damp and refreshingly cold, dabbed on her face.
"There's something... Master Hayate is..."
"...Testarossa...duel...no longer any chance..."
Fate jerked awake.
Her breathing was harsh, and the collar of her shirt felt damp; soaked with cold sweat.
There was a soothing hand on her back.
A glass of water was pressed to her lips gently.
"Drink." A quiet command.
She did. Little sips of cool, fresh water soothed her dry throat, and then her empty stomach was suddenly demanding more, grabbing that hand to tilt the cup further, gulping down the remaining water in just a short few seconds.
But her breathing was still heavy.
"Slowly," that soft voice said. A hand rubbed her back gently. "Deep breaths, Fate-chan. Deep breaths."
The blonde forced herself to calm down and follow those instructions.
Her mind was regaining clarity.
Sad, sad blue eyes...
There was a weak smile on the brunette's face.
"How're you feeling?" The girl in ponytail released her - and she was suddenly missing the faint warmth - and placed the cup on the side table.
"I'm..." Arf. Arf. Arf. "...fine."
Nanoha didn't call her bluff.
Instead, she said, "You have been sleeping for three days." A pause. "There were moments when you woke shortly, but you returned to sleep soon after."
The blonde didn't remember that. But she did remember the one time she threw up.
She saw a bandage wrapped on Nanoha's elbow, stretching halfway to her wrist.
Nanoha blinked, then glanced down, and hid her arm behind her back instantly. "I - it's nothing." There was a forced grin on that face. "I was...careless, that's all."
That was a lie.
A lie so blatant that even Fate would know.
"...Really?" Burgundy eyes searched sad slate blue. Don't lie to me.
Perhaps Nanoha sensed she couldn't lie, turning away instead of answering.
Fate should probably be hurt by the gesture, but all she felt was emptiness.
And maybe the blonde did want to get hurt.
Fate grasped the other so quickly Nanoha couldn't react, and the bed creaked with the sudden movement.
"Fate - " A surprised gasp.
She was above the brunette, one hand pinning a wrist to the bed, the other gripping that bandaged arm tightly.
"F-Fate-chan, that..." Nanoha winced. It must have hurt.
"Who?" The blonde asked.
She knew. She remembered.
But she had to ask.
"It wasn't - "
Her hold tightened, and the other drew in a sharp breath, pain more apparent on that face now.
The bandage felt damp under her fingers.
"Who?" she repeated, softly.
Nanoha refused to answer despite the pain. "Let me go, Fate-chan." Her words were just as soft, if not tired. "...You are hurting me."
It was those words that broke her hold, and she released her grip, turning her hand around to see blood on her palm, and staggered backwards.
What did she just do? What did she just…
Her hand trembled. She felt dizzy. She could feel the tremor in her veins, and it made her press that hand back onto the bed for balance.
The sheet was smeared a faint red.
Instead of responding to her name, what came out was something hollow. "I remember."
"I remember," Fate repeated numbly.
She remembered lashing out.
She remembered the destruction.
She remembered the fighting.
And she remembered blood.
"...I did that to you, didn't I?"
The flash of emotion in Nanoha's blue eyes was all she needed for an answer.
Suddenly, the hand pressed to the bed did not feel so steady anymore.
Her mind whirled with memories.
She was dizzy.
She felt faint.
She hurt her.
She scarred -
She jerked at the sudden denial.
"No," warm hands were suddenly on her face, holding her there; forcing her to look into furious, beautiful blue eyes. "It's not your fault. It's not. It's not, Fate-chan."
Everything was unraveling.
"I hurt you," her retort was ragged and hoarse and disbelieving, "I hurt you."
"It wasn't your fault - "
"What did Shamal say about the wound?" She wanted to know. She needed to know. It was her - her Bardiche Zanber - that slashed at Nanoha's arm...
The brunette bit her lip.
The ruthlessly logical part of Fate's mind was already calculating.
Three days since Arf died.
It had been three days, but that injury had not healed.
It was still bleeding.
Either Shamal's magic had not been totally effective or...
"How deep was the wound?" whispered Fate.
Curative magic can only go so far.
And if it couldn't heal properly...
The blonde grabbed the hand - the bandaged one - on her face.
"How deep was it?" she repeated, words louder now, but hoarse and shaking.
Nanoha didn't answer, and looked away.
Fate reached for that little knot which held the bandage in place, only for the brunette to grasp her hand, stopping her.
"It will heal, Fate-chan." Nanoha sounded so sad, and it hurt to hear that. "Won't you let this go?"
She couldn't. She couldn't.
Maybe Nanoha could tell from her expression that it would haunt her forever. The grip on her hand loosened, and the brunette eased back to her knees, silently extending the bandaged hand out to Fate.
And somehow that gesture said so much more than Nanoha's silence could ever say.
Slowly, she unrolled the bandage. Pain flickered on the other's face with every touch - it clearly was no minor injury.
The red-stained cloth dropped to the bed.
It was at least five inches long, running along her hand.
Jagged, and burnt. Fried from Zanber's natural element: electricity.
And the wound was still open, white flesh and dark red liquid mixing together horribly.
Her mind was blank.
What had she done?
What had she…
Lindy. Chrono. Amy.
They were gone - her family, her remaining family.
In the hands of TSAB.
But she felt nothing.
Just numb, and strangely hollow.
"...Hayate-chan and Rein-chan have gone missing," Nanoha was saying; voice soft and quiet. "Signum-san, Shamal-san, Vita-chan and Zafira-san are looking for them now but..."
She didn't respond, continuing her work on that hand, wrapping a fresh bandage around that gaping wound.
A quick knot was tied, tightened with gentle pressure; but not enough to hurt the other.
"Answer me, Fate-chan."
The first-aid kid was shut and placed on the table, and she moved to stand.
Nanoha grabbed the other's hand before she could - run - move.
"Please." A bare whisper.
She was still.
There was a weight on her back, so familiar and heavy all the same.
Brown hair tickled the back of her neck.
She felt water soak through her thin shirt.
"Fate-chan..." Soft, cracking, watery voice.
But she couldn't.
She had failed.
She did the very thing she swore not to do.
She didn't deserve it.
But Nanoha needed her.
And that was all it took for her to respond.
She never did forgive herself for what she did then.
The blonde turned, one hand caressing that damp cheek, saw surprise flicker in blue eyes, and crushed their lips together.
It was far from her usual gentle gestures; hard and harsh, invasive and almost violent.
Nanoha didn't seem to care - hands went around her neck, tangling with blonde hair, and they fell back to the bed.
Fate hated herself for giving in.
Deft fingers unbuttoned Nanoha's shirt.
Even more when she knew what they were doing would hurt her - them.
That was probably the word to use.
She was pouring - bleeding - in all she had, and she was devouring all the same.
Breath was stolen, words were cut off, and thoughts were taken.
She marveled at that clouded, hazy, flushed expression on Nanoha's face, knowing she was the only one who made her like this, and hated herself for it.
She wanted Nanoha to hate her. To scorn her.
But calm slate blue were only accepting.
She couldn't agree with that.
So she didn't stop.
Didn't stop when pain begun to edge in in those gasps, didn't stop when tears pooled at the corner of those eyes.
She muffled the cries with her mouth, tasted her with a degree of desperation and hunger she never had before; felt the slender frame beneath her tremble and shiver with her every touch, felt it jerk and shudder involuntarily.
But there were no complaints, no resisting, no requests for her to slow down.
Nanoha was stubborn in many ways.
She knew that.
And because she knew, she asked.
"Why?" Her soft tone was ragged and hurt and pained.
No matter what she did, how much she did...
Hot breaths mingled.
Blue eyes, clouded and calm and intense all the same, looked back.
"Why?" she repeated, voice a hoarse whisper.
Her finger moved on its own accord, grazing against the tears on that cheek gently, brushing away damp locks of brown hair that stuck to the skin.
Nanoha just watched her with those dark, beautiful electric blue eyes.
The same pair that always pulled her into another world, away from her realm of chilly darkness.
The same pair that always saved her.
And the same pair that always, always -
"Because you couldn't cry." Couldn't, not wouldn't. Couldn't.
-reminded her it was alright to be weak.
For a moment, she could only stare, unable to decipher those words.
Because she couldn't cry, Nanoha cried for her.
Because she was numb, Nanoha felt the pain in her place.
That meant Nanoha knew. She knew what Fate was trying to do.
Warm, gentle hands were on her face.
Trembling fingers. Sweat-soaked flushed skin and drowsiness that entered blue eyes. She had used - played - her till Nanoha was spent and sore; and still...
There was a soft, tired, gentle smile playing on Nanoha's features.
"Because I love you."
And she was crying now, even as the brunette tugged her down lightly.
Fate couldn't even think of resisting, and then Nanoha was pressing their lips together.