Posted: 10/02/20081st revision: 14/09/2008

-o-

Ignis Fatuus
Part 2

-o-

She was dreaming.

"Ne, Nanoha-chan..."

"Hmm?"

"What do you dream of?"

She blinked at the sudden question.

The brunette sat up from the soft patch of grass, dimly noting the stray leaves and soil that stuck to the back of her clothes and hair, and glanced at the girl next to her.

Long golden hair was spread out on the ground, and burgundy eyes, clear and bright, were staring up at the blue sky.

"...Dream of?" repeated Nanoha.

"Yeah." Maple eyes glanced at her curiously before a mischievous smile quirked on her lips. "Let me guess. You dream of getting married to your dream guy, having ten kids, and living happily ever after?"

The brunette gave her an incredulous look. "Ten kids? Are you crazy?"

"Of course not. I'm perfectly sane - " Nanoha snorted loudly " - and I'm sure a lot of people can testify to it."

She shook her head. "Whatever you say, Alicia-chan."

The blonde laughed.

Nanoha poked her in the ribs.

Alicia twitched reflexively. She batted that hand away and growled, "Hands off, Takamachi."

She scooted a little further from where the brunette sat.

Nanoha clicked her tongue, and a wide (too wide) grin formed on her face.

Burgundy eyes were instantly wary, and Alicia sat up quickly from where she had lain.

"Oh no, no you don't..."

"Don't what?" Nanoha asked innocently, crawling towards the rapidly retreating blonde who used her hands and legs to push herself back.

It wasn't very long before Alicia's back hit a tree trunk, though.

"..."

"..."

"...Crap."

Nanoha pounced.

The blonde shrieked.

They were a tangle of arms and legs and laughter, blades of grass picked off the ground and into their clothes and hair.

Nanoha was never one to admit defeat, though, and Alicia apparently knew that, because she was the one who called a halt to it.

"Okay, okay, time out!" the blonde said loudly, breathless and still giggling.

She dropped back to the bed of grass, and stared at the blue sky.

Nanoha huffed, and rested against the tree trunk.

The soft, chilly breeze cooled their warm skin.

"...So what do you dream of?"

The brunette glanced at burgundy eyes briefly, before her head tilted up to gaze at clouds.

"Well, I have never really thought about it..."

"In other words, you don't know?" the bemused reply came.

She huffed again. "So I don't."

Alicia laughed again. "Plenty more time to think, Nanoha. We're only sixteen." She paused, and her voice turned teasing. "Or perhaps not so plenty? With you, we'll never know, will we, Miss Daydreamer-Who-Likes-To-Look-At-The-Sky?"

Nanoha glared at her. "And what about you?"

"..Hm." A little smile curled on Alicia's lips. "Well, I'm thinking a freelance journalist may not be so bad..."

Blue eyes blinked.

"A freelance journalist?"

The blonde nodded. "Yeah."

"Why?"

"I think they are incredible."

"Incredible?" She stared at a musing Alicia.

"Don't you think so?" Burgundy eyes glanced back into blue ones. "They explore places, go everywhere, do whatever, experience things, and...write what they saw and felt. And to be able to describe so many emotions and sceneries in words alone...isn't that cool?"

Nanoha thought about it for a moment.

"...I suppose it is kind of cool."

"It is." Alicia lifted a hand, her fingers brushing over brown hair. "For words to be so...so ALIVE, Nanoha...that's not something easy to do."

Nanoha blinked at the hand that moved away after tugging lightly. There was a little leaf twirled gently between two fingers, and then Alicia flicked it into the air, watching the wind carry it high up in the air.

"And besides..." The other trailed off.

Nanoha waited for her to continue, but she didn't.

"...Besides?" The brunette probed.

Red eyes looked back at her. "...Wouldn't it be easier to preserve memories that way?" She paused, and her expression turned wry. "We are only human, Nanoha-chan. And human beings often forget things."

The brunette gave her a curious look.

"...Even important ones. Don't you think so?"

"You're rather philosophical today," noted Nanoha.

Alicia chuckled. "Yeah. I guess I am."

A smile twitched on Nanoha's lips.

Then the blonde sobered.

Those burgundy eyes switched from playful to serious, and Alicia stared at her. Really, really stared.

And for one of the rarest times, Nanoha could not read the emotions in that gaze. It was meaningful and yet not, seemingly saying everything and nothing at the same time...and most of all, that piercing look was directed at her.

It made Nanoha fidget uncomfortably.

"Alicia...?"

"You are the same, Nanoha."

Nanoha blinked at her for the fourth time.

"...Me?"

The look on Alicia's face was unfathomable.

It was a look that sent a chill down her spine.

"Don't you think you have forgotten some important things, Nanoha?"

"Some..." Confusion flickered past blue eyes. "Important things?

And suddenly, she heard an explosion so loud and strong her head snapped around to stare.

She was in a building. A building that was shaking so badly, with hot air searing her, and with dark grey smoke suffocating her.

It was nearly pitch black, and the cracked walls were painted red by the emergency lightings. Tables, chairs, papers, broken glasses, spilled liquid, even a half burning white coat that was rapidly turning black -- items that decorated a laboratory were scattered messily, and the alarm blared loudly.

"What the..."

"Nanoha."

She turned around, only to freeze.

"A - Alicia..."

Blood trickled down the blonde's face, dripping from her chin. Her golden hair was streaked red with crimson liquid, and the red light shaded her burgundy eyes to a color of molten blood.

And there was a sad, so very sad, smile on her face...

"What do you think you have forgotten, Nanoha?"

-o-

She jerked awake, heaving for breath.

Cold sweat soaked her shirt.

"Nanoha?"

Her head snapped up to stare into concerned burgundy.

"A - Alicia?"

Unreadable emotions flickered past red eyes at that name.

But the blonde did nothing but sit next to her on the bed.

"Nanoha..."

A finger caressed Nanoha's cheek gently.

And she flinched. Whether it was because her skin prickled from the sudden touch, or whether it was because she just did not expect it, she jerked before she could stop herself.

Fate's hands stopped in mid-air, and deep burgundy eyes, so intense she could not read any emotions in them, pierced into her.

Nanoha realized her mistake a second too late.

She tried to speak then, mouth opening and closing rapidly, to explain, to say something. Anything.

She failed.

Only her ragged breathing filled the air.

Fate retracted her hands.

To leave?

Of course she would leave; the brunette had practically rejected her...

And the thought of it made Nanoha move so fast that Fate had barely the time to blink, the brunette fisting white sleeves with shaky fingers. It was not a feeling she could comprehend, nor was it something she could even begin to describe with just three words - an unexplainable fear.

Stay.

It was a silent plea, because she could not say anything, could not even mouth the word, could not do anything but grasp onto Fate's clothes.

The blonde hesitated.

Then she reached out again, warm hands holding her face -- she tried not to flinch and failed, because her skin still prickled, but Fate ignored it this time -- and calm burgundy locked onto wild, panicked blue.

"Take a deep breath, Nanoha." That soft tone said, coaxing gently. "Slowly. Breathe in..."

She felt herself inhaling, and she shut her eyes.

"Breathe out..."

Exhale.

Inhale.

Exhale.

The warm hands left her face, and she felt fingers brushing away brown hair from her sweat-soaked forehead.

"Better?"

Instead of opening her eyes, she slid down bonelessly into the blonde's arms. Her head rested against the crook of the taller woman's neck.

"Nanoha..."

"I - I'm sorry. I just..." Her throat felt dry. She needed water. "I just..."

"...Bad dream?" A soothing hand on her back.

A pause.

"...Yeah."

"Want to talk about it?"

"...No. I...it's okay, Fate-chan," she whispered, but it came out more like a croak. "I...the dream...I can't...remember."

What did you forget, Nanoha?

Her eyes squeezed shut, her shaking fists crumpled the white fabric further, and she buried her face deeper into the coat that smelled of antiseptic and fresh bandages.

And despite the gentle, protective hold that felt so warm, she was cold.

So very cold.

-o-

Fate sighed.

"Are you sure, Nanoha?" A pause. "I don't think another day of observation would hurt.."

The brunette wrinkled her nose at the other. "I have been in the hospital for four months, Fate-chan. I need to get out."

"But earlier - "

"Just a bad dream, right?"

"But..."

Blue glanced into red.

Staaaaaaaaaaare.

The blonde twitched.

-o-

Yuuno Scrya glanced back and forth between the two.

"...Did I miss something?"

Nanoha had a little triumphant smirk on her face that she tried (and failed) to suppress; and Fate was...massaging her temples, right eyebrow twitching.

The blonde shook her head, and lifted the bag containing clothing and toiletries from the bed to Yuuno's receiving hands. "Shall we go?"

"Sure." Green eyes looked at the two females curiously. "The car's at the front door."

The blonde nodded. "I still need to finalize a few procedures, so go on ahead. I will be there in a few minutes."

And once more, Nanoha did not miss the quick glare Fate darted at Yuuno before exiting the room.

Silence filled the air.

He cleared his throat.

"...Shall we go, Nanoha?"

She nodded awkwardly.

The blond man lifted a free hand towards her, and for a moment, Nanoha stared at it blankly.

She reached out, slowly, with her own hand, only to stop when she was a mere inch from touching his.

She was hesitating.

Which was very stupid, in actuality, considering they had done so much more than just hold hands...

But still she did not move.

It was right. It was supposed to be right.

So why was she hesitating?

He grasped her hand then, and all so suddenly, holding it firmly.

It fit perfectly. Snugly. His hand was bigger than hers, and a little rough, but familiar and warm. She stared at their joined hands, feeling oddly fascinated, and horribly, horribly...awkward.

She felt herself stiffen when he tightened his grip slightly.

But it was...right.

She did, after all, love him. Her memories were proof of that.

"...Let's go." Yuuno said, quietly. Was that a faint tremble she heard in his tone? Fear?

And all at once, she felt guilt seeping in.

She curled her fingers around his, and smiled. Forced a smile on her face.

"Mm. Let's."

It was right.

This was right.

-o-

"...That's her, isn't it?" A gruff voice said. Clear blue eyes, darkening and furious, glared at the backs of two figures walking to the door.

A firm, gentle hand was laid on her shoulder, as if trying to calm her.

"He's there, Vita-chan." A soft, motherly voice said quietly. Sadly. "Doesn't that explain everything?"

The red-haired girl gritted her teeth, fists clenching tightly. "That bastard's a coward. A goddamn coward."

The grip on her shoulder tightened slightly. "Watch your words, Vita-chan." And however gentle Shamal's tone was, there was underlying steel in it.

"...Hmph."

"And what of her?" A cool, male tone asked.

Vita glanced at the tall, dark-skinned man next to her. His hands were crossed, and his expression nothing but stoic.

Her gaze turned back to them, and furious blue turned even darker.

The tone of her voice was low, much too low for someone as loud as her, and much too cold and hard.

"I hate her."

-o-

Her hands were wrapped around herself tightly, and her head was bowed. The wall was cold against her back, and the grip she had on both her forearms could have drawn blood, if it wasn't for the white sleeves that protected her skin.

She was shaking.

Shaking with so much grief that threatened to make her break the moment she lost control.

"...Something wrong, Testarossa?" A bland, female tone.

Her head snapped back up to look at the source of the voice, and she uncrossed her arms, her trembling hands hidden in pockets.

Fate forced a smile on her face.

"Just a little...cold," she shrugged lightly.

"Oh?"

Mocking concern.

The blonde tore her gaze away and faced the window, glaring at darkening clouds.

"Is there something you need from me?"

The other shrugged. "How is the patient, Testarossa?"

Fate glanced back at her, and impassive blue pierced into the blonde.

"...Healing," Fate said, tone soft. Weary. Bitter. "She's...healing."

Azure eyes narrowed at her. The gaze was suddenly cold, and almost glaring.

But the blonde did not waver.

The other turned then, breaking the contact.

"That's a good thing, isn't it, Testarossa?"

"Signum - "

"Isn't it?"

The blonde felt her fingers curl reflexively into tight fists.

"Yes," she said. "Yes, of course."

-o-

A/N: I was...sorely surprised, to find a certain email addressed to me. Just a little while back.

There's an issue that I think I need to clarify but, before that, I'd just like to say one thing. While I have encouraged people to come forth with questions of any matter, I would (very much) appreciate it if statements and questions are done diplomatically. Not accusingly, not annoyedly, not demandingly. This is the first and last time I'll entertain such an...undiplomatic...question, and I am doing this only because I did wonder if there's a need to clarify my position.

However, back on track. My preference on pairings? NanoFate. It was NF, and still is NF.

I have mentioned this before and I will say it again. Yuunoha is only on an experimental basis, if not just to build on his, dare I say, very lacking character. Which, in part, is because of lack of screentime in both A's and StrikerS. And also because of the plot ideas I came up with, which I very much doubt will change again - as it is one big puzzle - Yuuno is an essential, vital character in this fic. As is the pairing. Yes, the pairing is vital to the plot. But whether it will last, is another question.

I could have chosen to create an original character, yes, but unfortunately I'm not much of a creator, and I'm somewhat averse to creating OCs when I have available canon characters to use.

Nonetheless, as some of you have observed in this and the previous chapter, Nanoha is having a lot of doubts. So yes, while there will eventually be a fair bit of Yuunoha scenes, they are not necessarily good ones. When I say NF or YN scenes, I do not mean, oh, they will cuddle, kiss, etc etc. No. It will likely be a long while more before such a stage is actually reached. It could be interactions, and, point in fact, there will be a lot of interactions. Whether it is the good or bad kind, however, is another question all together.

However - most of you...or at least some, should know my preferences very well, considering the fics I have written. And if you know me well enough by my fics, you should at least have an idea how things may end up to be, regardless of whether it is good or bad.

In anycase, I have said all I wanted...and this sore point aside, I hope this chapter was interesting. I know it posed more question than answers (actually, no answers at all?), so...have fun figuring things out? :D

Ah, and also, as to what theories is right...I'm just going to say a few of them are just a quarter right. But no, I can't directly tell you if you actually got them right. That'd ruin the surprise. E-cookies to all who came forth with their theories!

-Eagle.