Posted: 13/09/2008

-o-

Stigma
Nanoha: Part II

"Dark Chariot"
- Peer Raben, 2046.

-o-

Later, she had woken up feeling groggy and tired and sore.

But she had not forgotten, even for the briefest instant.

From the corner of her eyes, she had caught sight of Fate, back resting against the wall. The blonde's face was buried in a palm, and her elbow rested against her knee that was covered with blanket.

The blonde wasn't asleep, she could tell.

Because a dangerous amount of remorse literally radiated from the girl.

And Nanoha found a sudden urge to tell her that she shouldn't regret it.

Then the touches and kisses from last night whirled back into her mind, and the words she wanted to say were suddenly lost. Her throat was almost painfully dry, her face flushed and red, her heart hammered against her chest, and she could do nothing but tremble involuntarily.

She tried to calm down, and she did, just a little; pushing herself up and against the cold bed railings, she felt the cold autumn air quickly enough, and pulled the sheet up to cover her.

The coldness subsided.

But the lingering touches from last night did not.

Being so very aware of the girl who held her the way no one else had (who was just some steps away from her) did not help, and her eyes shut; unwilling to look at the room and the clothes thrown carelessly to the floor, unable to look at the girl who did this to her.

In her mind, she was remembering what happened. Vividly.

Eyes the color of wine and maple.

Of molten blood.

Blood.

Filled with so much confusion and pain, a gaze so sharp and piercing that saw through her so easily...

...And those eyes just seemed to ask why the goddamn hell was she here.

Just like that, a few hours went by in silence.

A silence that spoke of so much.

Then her phone rang.

Her head snapped up, and she stared (blankly) at her blinking pink cell phone, which continued to hum its tune.

She moved before she realized, standing up; and felt - those burgundy eyes piercing into her - the sharp, biting cold.

Somehow she restrained herself from shivering, both from the chilly air and that burning gaze. She picked up her shirt that was on the floor, below some other garments, slipped it over herself - her only protection against the cold (and those eyes) - and picked up the phone.

When she saw the name on the screen, she cursed under her breath.

Beep.

"...Yes? Nanoha here."

"Nanoha-chan?" Momoko's worried voice came. "Where are you?"

The brunette grimaced.

"Fate-chan's...apartment. I'm sorry, I..." had sex with my best friend. "...forgot to inform...you."

She wasn't lying.

Her mother paused at that. Momoko knew enough to make reasonable conclusions about her lack of contact.

Nanoha wasn't entirely sure how her mother would react if she told her, literally, what had happened.

Then Momoko sighed. "...Alright. Be careful next time...and don't forget again!"

"Aa," the brunette nodded, even though her mother could not see it.

"How's Fate-chan?" Concern. Sympathy.

It was Nanoha's turn to pause.

She wasn't entirely sure how to answer that either.

And she could still feel a pair of eyes stripping her bare, even with her shirt still on.

"...Managing," Nanoha said at last, voice faltering slightly. Managing.

Yes, Fate was...managing. Through her.

"She's..." The brunette forced the words out of her locked throat. "...Resting - " Brooding? Regretting? " - now. And I will be back...later, okay?"

"Mm...okay. And then..."

She listened to the rest half-heartedly.

By the time goodbyes were exchanged, the brunette's mind had already ventured back to Fate.

The phone was placed back on the table.

Nanoha suddenly wished the phone call had not ended, because she had just realized that she would have to turn to meet Fate's gaze; and she did not know what to say, or how to react.

So she didn't turn. Couldn't turn.

She didn't have to turn at all, when hands were suddenly wrapped around her shoulders, back pressed against another warm body (she could feel the curves and bumps through her thin shirt) and she stiffened.

For a moment, one very brief moment, she had wondered if Fate wanted more. More of that. The thought of it made her tense involuntarily, and she knew she wasn't ready.

But Fate hadn't moved, and Nanoha reached out, hesitantly, to grasp at those arms around her.

"F-Fate...?"

The hold tightened.

And then the question she did not expect came.

"Do you hate me?"

The surprise almost made her jerk, and her reply was reflexive. "No! No, I..." A falter. Her hands trembled. Her mind whirled. Was that what the blonde had been thinking about earlier? Was that why she had felt so much remorse coming from her?

Anger was stirring, and the sudden sadness she felt made her choke on her words.

Her voice was hoarse and trembling. "...How could you think that?"

But Fate did not answer that.

"Let me take care of you."

Nanoha stopped at that, and blinked. She was too caught off-guard not to.

What did Fate say?

"I...Fate...?" Her voice faltered, perplexed at that request. Or was she hearing things?

"Let me take care of you." Hands tightened around her.

This time her pause was longer.

She didn't really understand what Fate meant by those words. She was also perfectly capable of taking care of herself.

Fate would know this just as well.

And yet, all at once, she felt herself soften, anger dissipating, and she sighed.

She leaned into the hold, an involuntary smile curling on her lips. "That's not necessary, you know."

"Let me take care of you," the insistent request came. Almost desperate.

"Fate-chan..."

"Please."

She couldn't deny her, could she?

And even if she did, she didn't know what she would be denying.

Nanoha sighed again, and she turned to wrap her own hands around Fate's waist. Her full weight leaned against the blonde, and she felt herself relaxing almost by instinct, and she pressed closer, burying her face into the crook of Fate's neck.

And after a moment, she voiced her agreement. Her voice was wavering and uncertain.

But it was an agreement, nonetheless.

Fate was silent at that. But then again, Fate had always been quiet; and her silence often said things that would never be said with words.

Nanoha did not understand the significance of her consent, nor did she know how much it would affect them.

But she knew it meant everything to Fate.

And that was a good (terrifying) enough reason for Nanoha to say yes.

Just how much power did she hold over Fate Testarossa, exactly?

-o-

Ragged breathing.

She was awake in an instant, hands automatically reaching for the shaking girl beside her.

Another nightmare...

Her eyebrows creased.

She pulled Fate into a tight hold, murmuring sweet nothings into her ear.

The blonde relaxed almost instantly, and yet, at the same time, she seemed to stiffen, as if the hug was foreign and strange.

Sometimes, or so Nanoha had realized, depending on how bad the nightmare was, Fate would have different reactions.

A few times Fate had resisted before she caught herself and remembered. Sometimes she didn't. Sometimes all it took was just a bit of coaxing, but there were times when Nanoha had to literally pin the girl and force her to calm down.

And sometimes, the blonde would end up crying. Sometimes, Fate would just curl up into a ball, staying close but not latching onto her; and other times, she just let Nanoha pull her into a tight, reassuring hug.

Each and every time, though, similar words would leave her mouth.

Her fault. She killed him. She should have realized. She should have retracted Bardiche. She should have done this, done that, done this, done that...

Nanoha's effort to stop her had sometimes proved beyond futile, because those times, the final blow in those words always made her shut up and unable to meet Fate in the eyes.

I shouldn't have forced myself on you!

She wanted to tell the blonde so badly that it wasn't true, but every time her eyes locked onto those piercing, intense dark red ones, she just couldn't say anything.

Those times, all she could do was press her lips against Fate's, give herself to her and take; Fate often resisted, and sometimes Nanoha just let it end there, but other times (when the nightmares were very, very bad), she pushed and pushed until the blonde responded fully.

She did tremble, despite it all.

But it got easier each time.

There were some moments when she wondered what all of it meant.

Were they friends?

Just friends...with benefits?

Or lovers?

She no longer knew what and how to label their odd relationship.

Some weeks later, it was obvious that Fate had reached her limit.

Nanoha wasn't surprised to see an outburst coming from Fate; she had known it was coming sooner or later, with the way those red eyes seemed to ask incomprehensible questions (the same questions that were unspoken but there when Fate kissed her for the first time).

So she had waited, because she knew there was only so far and so much she could push the other girl for answers.

But that didn't mean she wasn't surprised at what the question was.

"Why don't you just give up?"

Give up?

That question stung like a knife piercing into her.

Even worse, the very idea of them arguing over that matter hurt even more.

She had to stop herself from accusing Fate of how dense the blonde was, take in a deep breath, and reply with a question of her own.

"Why should I?" Her eyebrows narrowed and a little - mocking - smile formed on her face, daring the blonde to answer her.

The answers that shot out from Fate's mouth had astounded her.

Clone, fake, killer, rapist...

And worst of all, she hurt her.

For a moment, Nanoha couldn't reply, at a loss of words. How long had Fate been thinking - no, torturing - herself like that? She couldn't believe it. That was what Fate had thought?

She took in another deep breath, willing herself to calm down. An outburst of her own would have only made the situation worse, and she knew it. She did have a counter of her own, because it was as plain as day that Fate was acting irrationally; and vindication soared when Fate fell silent, but that did not mean Nanoha was happy, because she had no retort for the statement about being hurt.

She was hurt, very much so, and that was because Fate was blaming herself for everything.

She had chosen to stay, and it wasn't just once or twice (it was thrice) that the blonde had given her the option of leaving, and she did not.

Hadn't Fate realized that yet?

...No, apparently.

Not at all.

So she did tell her that she was hurt.

Fate reacted with silence, she always reacted with silence when faced with these things, but the flash of emotion in those burgundy eyes told Nanoha everything she wanted to know, and she felt a faint satisfaction amidst the anger rising deep in her.

And before Fate could move (she was expecting her to escape), she held her elbow in a tight grip, pulled her down, and watched shock go past those eyes with her next words.

"As long as you won't forgive yourself," her gaze was hard, and her tone furious but calm, "you will continue to hurt me."

The astonishment written on Fate's features and the way the blonde had frozen would have been amusing if Nanoha hadn't been so angry.

Never thought of that, did she?

That instant, Nanoha decided she did not want Fate's attention going elsewhere or anywhere back to the issues they were arguing (was it even an argument?), because she knew Fate would only end up torturing and berating herself about it.

And so she tugged the blonde down with a hand reaching around her head, and crushed their lips together.

-o-

Nothing had gone right since the day blood was upon Fate's hands.

Nanoha could not even begin to comprehend the feeling of having killed someone, because she never had the chance.

And because of that, sometimes, she felt like they were drifting apart.

In some ways, she supposed, they had already drifted apart.

Despite Fate's effort to live, truly live, Nanoha did know better.

The blonde could smile, laugh, joke, but she knew.

The hardened look in burgundy eyes when faced with missions, the flickers of shadows in her gaze, and the distant look on her face when she thought she was alone sometimes. There were even a few times when Nanoha had seen her pause and blank out, staring at her own hands as if she was seeing them for the first time.

It was those few times when Nanoha found that she could not bring herself to intrude.

Because she knew nothing good would come from her advice.

Because she didn't know how it felt.

Nanoha watched Fate. In front of her was the cool, calm and confident Fate Testarossa Harlaown; but there was a shadow of hesitance that she caught - so similar to the time when they were nine years old again; as if Fate was still the innocent, naive and awkward girl, and Nanoha was the ever-bright sunshine that brought a variety of colors into Fate's life.

A part of her wondered if it was still that way.

She couldn't shake off the feeling - the doubt - wrenching her heart.

In some ways, she did understand Fate. But in some others, she no longer did.

And yet...

"Nanoha..?"

She snapped out of her train of thought.

"Hmm?"

The blonde paused, studying her features.

"Is something bothering you?"

Nanoha smiled.

Yes. Fate had healed. The blonde had scarred, but that was unavoidable.

Fate had healed.

That was all that mattered.

Nanoha reached for the other's hand then, thumb brushing over the roughness on the knuckle.

"It's nothing, Fate-chan."

Her lips brushed over the faint scar. It was something she had done many times now, as it was the only way she could voice her relief - because she no longer knew how to describe it in words. She just plainly did not know how to tell Fate, in words, that she was glad. She had tried, but then it felt so empty, and Fate would grace her with a look of confusion.

The brunette knew it was partly because of the fact she no longer understood Fate.

She pressed Fate's palm to her own cheek, and felt the gentle warmth coursing through it.

Warm.

All at once, she felt the tension from her shoulders fade.

It was real.

This was real.

And that was all that mattered.

So she smiled a smile that was meant for her alone.

-o-

A/N:

End.

I am now officially on hiatus. Some of you may have been expecting this, prior to notices I've given before. And yes, this is something I have considered for a long time. But being me, I was indecisive as usual. I told myself that I would make a stand when I post this; when Stigma is completed. And yes. I am now.

Admittedly...it took me a long time before I was able to write this last scene for Stigma. I won't say I know if this is really how Nanoha thinks. Honestly, I don't know at all. I'm the sort of person who writes and think later, despite the fact that my personality may scream think first, carefully, and do next. With writing, I just seem to throw all caution to the wind, and this was the end product.

This fiction was finished on the 23rd of August, shortly after I was done with RoE. And with this, I have cleared all backlogs of MGLN fictions with the exception of Ignis Fatuus, Expiation and Impasse - all of which are long fictions, and will possibly take a ridiculously long time even if I try to update them. The last, still-in-planning long fiction, whose tentative title is Broken Glass, will be paused indefinitely. Ignis Fatuus, Expiation and Impasse will also be paused indefinitely. I do not know if I can update. I will not guarantee updates.

Drabbling in this fandom had been fun. Fun, and sometimes exhausting. It's probably because I find it so easy to relate to Fate. And that's also probably why I seemed to do better in MGLN compared to other fandoms. It had been amusing at first; a kind of morbid, wicked irony, to have a character who seemed to be a mirror image of myself. Sometimes I think I'm writing myself and not Fate. And now...hmm. I wonder which is it?

Nonetheless. Things have gone wayward for too long, and it's about time I put a stop to them. To those of you who wanted me to continue writing - I'm sorry. To those of you who had reviewed, and/or remained a constant reviewer, you have my greatest thanks for your support. And to all of you, thank you for reading what I wrote.

A shout out to Enraptured, Hoppy-chan, Ray Venn Hakubi (I'm still looking forward to see an update from you, by the way), Syaoran Li Clow, BPHaru, KoSSa (I saw that site of yours, and I was - still am - flattered. Thanks.), Tsukiyasou, Digikaren (don't think I will be able to take on your offer of cookies and ice cream..), Icarisain, guubear and...I'm going to miss out a lot of people. I just know it. Well. I'm going to stop here before I get ahead of myself.

My thanks to all of you. It's been a good year. It feels like less than just a day when I look back now.

This is Aki, signing off.
13/09/2008.