Disclaimer:

I own nothing except my used tissues.


The Lieutenant Colonel listened calmly while I tried to give him an explanation regarding my absence from the exam. Sitting in the chair beside my bed with elbows on his knees and fingers interlaced before his face, he had listened without interruption until the end of my story. His eyes were staring at the wall after I finished speaking, and not at me, though I could have sworn that they had held a faint light in them, as though of understanding. He sighed and closed his eyes. When he reopened them they were firm again.

"I see. It is a lamentable tale, and one that I too am saddened by. Admittedly it is the hardest for those who know the victims personally. However, despite such circumstances I must call into question your actions thereafter. It is not appropriate for one who deals within or is aiming for Magical Enforcement to be so easily moved by their heart. Ones judgement is reinforced by reason, and distracted by feelings, Second Lieutenant; you must always remember that. The responsibilities of an Enforcer are pivotal to the safety of the citizens not only here on Mid-Childa, but to each and every one of her jurisdictions, and possibly even beyond. Had this trivial occurrence appropriated itself during one of your missions, the repercussions of your actions could very well have proven detrimental to us all." He sighed again, and abruptly pushed himself up off the chair. "Second Lieutenant Harlaown, you will receive a final verdict regarding your examination at a later date after revision of your evidence." And then he left.

That Day

Chapter IV

By AshLikeSnow

Day 3: Not Alone.

It was late morning now and I was sitting in that lonely chair that was next to my bed in my hospital room. I had noticed at once that it was a comfortable seat, with its springy, but not hard cushion and its slightly reclining back. It wasn't really what I wanted. I had originally planned to sit on the chair and get myself uncomfortable so that I could have a serious think to myself. Not a self-absorbed thinking session where I would be prone to losing myself, but a conscious and deliberate one. The chair defeated me on that account. I wonder if I should have sat on the floor instead.

Yesterday had been a long day. Not exactly because of how much I had done, but rather because of how much I hadn't. It wasn't exactly a pleasant thing to have to face and come to grips with, especially in the morning, but I knew that if I didn't sort it out then it would only get worse. Still, it wasn't an easy task, and to tell the truth, I was at a loss for where to start.

I decided to take Yuuno's advice, and take one step at a time. It would be easier if I were to figure out which was the easier to deal with and fix it first, and then move onto the other afterwards. It wasn't much competition; I decided to deal with the Enforcer issue first. Or at least I had meant to until I remembered the fact that even thinking about the issue brought irrational anger coursing through my body, spreading down to even my fingertips.

It wasn't as though I didn't understand his words and his perspective on things, but what the Lieutenant Colonel had said seemed almost as though it had been seared into by brain as soon as the words left his mouth. Degrading the severity of this incident into a 'trivial' circumstance was no worse than spitting upon a comrade's corpse in my opinion, and I silently fumed at it.

It was with a start then that I broke out of my reverie when a knock came from the door. Quickly recovering I answered back "Come in." It was probably the doctor coming for another check up.

The door opened slowly to reveal two figures. I was wrong again. Hardly believing my eyes, I slowly stood up from my chair and found myself standing before two of the people I least expected to see, though I admit I probably should have.

"Fate-chan, dear, how are you feeling?" I was quickly enveloped in a hug while the other figure hung back but was giving me a broad smile.

"Momoko-san! Shiro-san! What are you doing here?" I managed to breathe out the words but upon reflection, it wasn't such a good idea. The tight embrace, on top of your mum's hair meant that I hardly had any breath left.

"Visiting you dear, it's what people do at hospitals." She had pulled back and was now holding me by my shoulders at arms length. "We had heard that you were sick and in hospital too, so we came over to see you."

Too? Oh. Of course. They must have been visiting you.

Your dad explained it further. "We had just come in this morning to visit her after being picked up by your brother. Your mother, Lindy-san had told us of course what had happened the night that it did, but we weren't exactly allowed or even able to come here until things were organised for us, so it really took a while." He looked tired, as did his wife, but there was a certain amount of relief which appeared to show on both of their faces.

I was looking at your dad. Had he just referred to you as 'her'? I could feel my insides churning within me in guilt. Here were your parents, both obviously fatigued and yet so worried that they had shrugged off their own lives to come visit you halfway across the universe. Worse, they had obviously heard about what's been happening with me too and had not only come to visit me, but also acted as considerate as to not even mention your name. I didn't feel good about myself.

I opened my mouth to try and say something, to explain, to apologise, anything to ease my own conscience; but I was stopped before I had even begun by a raised hand. Your dad beat me to it.

"Fate-san, if you're about to do what I think you're about to do then I'll make it clear now and say that there's no need." His face had pulled on a martyred expression as he spoke, but then he continued more gently, "How long have we known you, and how long have you known her? How many times have you been there for each other, fought for each others lives? Both Momoko and I know how close the two of you are, and so we know as well that if it's anyone that's worried about her then it would have to be you."

I couldn't believe it. Not only were they not disappointed, they were consoling me. The sincerity and the meaning of his words touched me so deeply I found that I couldn't keep my eyes on either of their faces, which were evidently filled with trust. I stared at my feet instead while emotions swirled my chest.

"Thank you. And.. I'm sorry." Despite his words, I still found myself guilty.

Your mum silently hugged me again, while your dad broke into laughter and reached over his wife's shoulder to pat me good-naturedly on the head. That seemed to break the tension up a bit.

"Guess she really was right. Fate-san can't seem to get through a day without apologising at least once." He was still chuckling. I blushed.

Your mum released me from her embrace again with a light smile on her lips, but noticing my cheeks turned to her husband and chided him gently "Ok Dear, enough of that now, can't you see she's embarrassed? Sorry Fate-chan, he's like that sometimes."

"Ah, no, it's fine Momoko-san. I'm used to it by now." And I really was. I couldn't help but feel the corners of my lips lift.

"Well, I'm glad you're alright with him." Her eyes flicked to her husband and then back to me. "But seriously Fate-chan, we heard that you were sick as well. You're feeling better now I hope?"

I definitely couldn't keep my lips straight this time as her evident concern warmed my heart. "Yes Momoko-san, I'm feeling much better now, thank you." It was the truth I suppose. At least regarding my fever it was.

"I'm glad then." She looked happy at my response, but then seemed to wrestle with herself for a short while before speaking again. "Fate-chan, I know.. I know I may be asking something difficult of you, but I-, well, I don't have anyone else to ask."

I wasn't quite sure where this was leading, so I remained quiet.

"Lindy-san had told us what happened, and that was how we knew about it, but really, we weren't given any details. At least not as much as we would have liked I mean, nothing beyond her having been hurt whilst on a mission. We had wanted to ask when we arrived, but Shamal-sensei seemed so busy, as did Chrono-kun, and umm.. Vita-san didn't seem very responsive. So I was wondering if you could please tell us what happened."

I licked my lips. Her face was down-cast, as though fearing to hear rejection, while your dad was looking at her with slight disapproval, but had voiced no disagreement. I guess I really wasn't the only one who was desperate.

I wasn't sure what to do. I had yet to come to terms with it myself and yet they were aski-

No.

I really am stupid. These were your parents I was talking about. The two people who in all honesty should have been disappointed in me but weren't. The same two people who had treated me as though I was family from the first moment they had met me. The same two people who were acting like any parents would when their child was hurt or in danger. I owed it to them. I owed it to them if for nothing more than the fact that parents have a right to know about their children. I kicked my own hesitation and other useless feelings aside and took your mum's hands in my own while I led her to the bed for us both to sit. Your dad decided to keep standing but had moved closer to us, standing next to his wife.

I drew a deep breath to make sure I was calm before I began to speak. I spoke slowly at first, almost haltingly, but I found that the longer I spoke, the easier it became and the faster I retold it. This was different to yesterday, when I was speaking to the Lieutenant Colonel. I wasn't explaining the 'how' or the 'why', but simply stating the 'what', and it seemed to bring my mind back into perspective. There was no room for me to add my own guilty thoughts into the story, and so with detachment I spoke, spoke of the entire mission from beginning til end, and at the end of it I couldn't help but feel lightness coursing throughout my body. A weight was lifted from me; a weight which I didn't even realise was there.

It was as though placing it into words was part of the cure, and my thoughts which previously resembled just a haphazard knot of emotions seemed to be untying themselves and rearranging, shifting slowly but steadily back into coherence. I realise now that having been able to speak about it gave me a chance to bring what had happened under scrutiny, and finally to be able to begin to accept it. I remember being told that the first step to understanding was through acceptance. Seems there really is some truth to that.

By the time I had finished speaking, I found that I was slightly out of breath, and tried to calm myself. My eyes which had initially been fixed down upon my own hands, had taken to their faces towards the end. Your dad had one of his arms wrapped around his your mum's shoulders while his remaining hand was in one of hers. They both looked slightly sad, but on their faces they had small regretful smiles. It was almost as though they had expected it to turn out like that, and yet had had been powerless to stop it.

Your mother was lamenting, almost to herself. "That child.. she really is always pushing herself too hard. It's been that way since she was small, and yet she never seemed affected." A pause before sighing dejectedly "I guess this really was just one time too many."

Your dad gave your mum's hand a gentle squeeze of comfort, yet he himself seemed to have a distant look on his face, as though he was thinking. It took him a few seconds to voice himself.

"Fate-san, I was wondering, do you know why she happened to be on a mission? I thought she had just taken leave for herself. Or at least that was what she told us she was planning to do in her last set of letters."

I could feel myself squirming under the weight of his question. That small sense of achievement I had been feeling had suddenly dissipated.

I returned to staring guiltily at my own laps. Certainly I knew why. I knew why you were there that day out in the God-forsaken wilderness in the dizzying snow. Knew without a doubt that the reason you were so grievously injured was because of me. It was for this reason that my guilt was constantly threatening to overpower me, the reason I was so desperate. It was entirely my fault.

"She.. volunteered for it." Pathetic. "She told them she was free.. when they asked her for help." You're pathetic.

I really was.

Not only was I the cause of all this mess, I couldn't even own up to it; resorting to hiding behind a half-truth. Where had all that talk about standing strong gotten me? Why was I so far from the strength I was aiming for? In spite of the encouragement, the understanding and the acceptance from everyone else, it seemed as though I had hardly moved forward for myself at all. My guilt was holding me back.

Your dad suspected nothing despite my hesitation, or at least if he did, he gave no indication of it. Instead, he simply nodded, almost satisfied with the answer. After that, with most of their desperate curiosity satisfied the three of us made small talk for a short while. That is to say your parents tried to make small talk while I gave short, half-hearted responses. I was once again captured by my own thoughts, and they seemed to notice.

"Fate-chan, it seems as though you may be getting a bit tired. How about we let you get some rest and we come back to see you again some other time?" A polite question from your mum which I couldn't help but agree to. I nodded.

She stood up from where she was sitting on the bed "Ok then, how about I help get you back into bed?"

I shook my head. "No it's ok, I'll be fine by myself."

"Then would you like me to open that window for you for some fresh air? It looks like there's a nice breeze out there, and since it's not snowing at the moment it shouldn't be too cold." She was smiling warmly at me as she asked.

Another shake of my head. "Really, it's fine. No need to fuss over me."

"I see. Then I guess we'll just leave it here." She hugged lightly me as I was still sitting at the edge of the bed. "Fate-chan, get some good rest ok?"

"Get well soon Fate-san." Your dad was waving at me. "We'll be back to see you."

I waved back as well after your mum let go of me. She had almost made it to the door where her husband was waiting when I called back to them.

"Momoko-san!" She turned back around to face me as I flustered. "Mm.. Thank you.. for everything. And Shiro-san too." They both smiled at me in response and waved at me another time. And then the door closed yet again, leaving me with silence for company.


It was a few hours later in my room when I had another visitor. I had spoken to the doctors in the interim after your parents had left, and received permission to be discharged since I was no longer sick. I was in the middle of changing back into my own clothes when there was a knock on the door.

"One moment please!" Hurriedly, I finished removing the hospital gown and started buttoning up my blouse. Finishing with the bottom button, I walked over to the door and opened it to see who it was. It was my mum.

"'Kaa-san!" I hugged her. "What are you doing here? How are you?"

She was hugging me back gently. "I'm fine Fate, and really now, what a thing to ask. Of course I had come to see you." We had pulled back and she smiled as I blushed lightly. "But it seems as though I worried for nothing if you're here up and about. Have you been discharged from the hospital?"

"I have. I spoke with the doctor a short while ago and after giving me a check-up, he gave me the ok."

I was holding onto my mum's hand and led her back into the room towards the chair so she could sit. Once there I let her take a seat, and returned to sorting out my things. There wasn't much really, so I took to neatly folding the hospital gown.

Mum started talking again as I folded. "I see. I'm glad I caught you before you left then. Did you happen to see Momoko-san and Shiro-san?" She was speaking to the back of my head.

A quick nod. "I saw them this morning when they came to visit me. We spoke for a while. They mentioned you and 'nii-san were the ones who arranged to have them brought here?"

A light hum to indicate a positive. "I had received a message from Amy after Chrono called her to let her know where he was. I decided that it would definitely be better for her parents to know so I went over to speak with them directly. Of course they were mortified at the news, and so I tried to arrange for them to see her."

Nothing I didn't really already know, just in greater detail. I had moved on to fixing up the bed sheets on the bed. "Wasn't that a great deal of work? I mean, having citizens of non-administrated planets travel here must have taken a lot of convincing at the main office."

I turned to face her when a light chuckle reached my ears. "Oh it wasn't such a big deal. Your brother and I just sort of threw our weight around using our titles. It's rather convenient really." I answered the smile on her face with one of my own. She continued after I turned back around to continue tidying up.

"It was a shame that I couldn't leave with them though – with Momoko-san and Shiro-san I mean, and could only get here now. There were a large number of other things which I couldn't put off so I had to take care of those first before I could come over." She stopped there for some reason, pausing before she continued again "And I do believe one of those issues had to do with you Fate." I looked back over at her again when I heard that, noticing she was eying me in a very professional way, and it reminded that she wasn't an Admiral simply in name.

I was groaning inside. I could tell what was coming.

"Lieutenant Colonel Lancer from the Investigation Bureau happened to contact me earlier today. Do you remember the man?" Of course I remember. I nodded, in a resigned kind of way. Her eyes softened. "Well I guess from looking at your face, you know what this is about and so I won't belabour it." I brightened considerably I think. "He told me that you mad missed out on taking the exam because of what's been going on and that he had come to directly speak with you, but from what I gathered when we were talking, he wasn't exactly impressed."

I wasn't really surprised. He really seemed as though he meant every word that he was saying. Despite my apparent feelings of unconcern, I asked almost casually "So I take it he told you that I failed miserably?" False bravado.

She nodded.

Honestly, I really wasn't surprised, but it still hurt. It doesn't matter whether it's expected or not, failure always seems to cut at a person's self-esteem and pride.

I think my own disappointment showed, for mum quickly tried to console me.

"But it's ok Fate, I spoke to him at length about the kind of history the two of you had, and it seemed to convince him. He agreed to allow you to take the exam again. He scheduled it for the day after tomorrow in the morning again." I mentally groaned again. I didn't particularly want to be given a second chance out of pity, though I guess I didn't really have a choice in the matter at this point.

"Thanks 'kaa-san."

"It was nothing dear. Not as though I could just sit back, and I can't say I don't understand how you feel in this kind of situation either." She was looking out the window, and I had the distinct feeling she was thinking about her husband. But she then abruptly looked back at me "Enough about that now. What else to do? Ah, I know, how about we go visit her? You're fine now and everything here's packed up already, and I haven't visited her yet. You can lead the way."

I looked back at my bed which was neatly done and at the hospital gown which was neatly folded. I could make no arguments. I still wasn't sure about myself however, and was feeling uneasy.

"'Kaa-san, how about you go ahead first? I think I'd like to go to the washroom beforehand." Delay for as long as possible.

She hummed to herself again. "I suppose, but I'm not really sure which room she's in though."

"Just head towards the intensive care wards and ask the nurses. I'm sure they'd be able to tell you. Or ask for Shamal, she would know where her room is. You remember where the intensive wards are?" Anything to give me some time.

She seemed satisfied with that."Yes I remember, and alright. I'll see you soon ok Fate?" She stood up and walked out, lightly waving as she went through the door.

I slumped backwards into the chair.

I don't know why I didn't tell mum I couldn't see her. It was almost as though it caught me by surprise when she asked, but it didn't. I had been expecting it. Maybe it was because she's my mum and I felt that I couldn't lie or disappoint her. Maybe it was because I was tired of running away from it. Yet despite what it was, despite being forced to a head to make a decision, I still couldn't make up my mind.

I placed my hands in front of my chest and held them together to stop the trembling again. I had hardly noticed that I was. I felt something in my shirt pocket. Slowly untangling my fingers, I reached into my pocket and took it out. I saw a metallic device gleaming silently in the final vestiges of afternoon sun. I had forgotten that I wasn't alone here.

"Bardiche."

(( Sir. ))

"Do you know what's been happening?" A slight whisper.

(( Yes Sir. )) A strong reply.

".. What do you think I should do?"

A pause.

(( Sir, fighting is what we are good at. Choose the path with the least amount of pain. ))

The path with the least amount of pain..

I stood up and started moving; moving with purpose, with direction. I was no longer swaying in indecision.

I was coming to see you.

I strode down the halls as quickly as my legs could carry me, without a glance for others who passed me by, ignoring their stares at someone virtually racing down the halls. I knew where the intensive wards were, it wouldn't be my first time there. It was a fairly dangerous line of work we took up admittedly.

I found myself in front of Shamal's office and looking inside for her, but she wasn't there. I frowned to myself.

"Excuse me, could I help you with anything?" A nurse which I didn't recognise had seen me look in to Shamal's office.

"Yes, umm- I'm looking for Doctor Shamal, would you happen to know where she's gone?" Hang on a second, why didn't I just ask which room you were staying in instead? I'm not thinking clearly. It seemed there was no need to amend my question however, since she seemed to answer both in one.

"She just left her office when another visitor came to speak with her. I believe they went to Intensive Care Room 145." She replied politely.

Thanking her quickly, I took off again, counting room numbers as I went. I found the room a short distance from Shamal's office actually, and noticed the door was ajar. I looked in and found Shamal quietly talking with my mum just behind the door.

With heart thundering I pushed the door open further and it squeaked slightly. Breaking off their conversation and turning around at the noise, both my mum and Shamal were staring at me with surprised faces, only to be replaced quickly with smiles. I was looking further into the room and saw that a bed was in the centre, surrounded by a large number of machines and two chairs, one on either side

Shamal spoke to me quietly and I looked towards her "Fate-chan, I'm glad to see you're finally here." She was looking at me intently, and with eyes that shone, almost as though with tears.

I nodded but quickly averted my eyes again to avoid not only the embarrassment, but in case she would make me spill tears of my own. Instead I rested my eyes on the still form on the bed. My already rapidly beating heart almost decided to give out then, but I grit my teeth, and tried to calm myself. I couldn't turn back now.

Mum seemed to have realised it was my first time here, probably since she spoke with Shamal. Lightly placing a hand on my shoulder she whispered in my ear. "Fate, we'll let you have some time with her ok? We'll just be outside." And with that they both turned around and exited, closing the door behind them.

It felt almost as though I had been turned to stone as I stared at you, lying with unnatural stillness on your bed. No sudden jerks, restless movements or slight murmurings as though of sleep disturbed you. You were covered up to your chest by a white blanket, and both arms were laid out on top, next to you. A drip was in place, inserted into your right arm, and a clip was on your left middle finger, while an oxygen mask was in place on your face, slightly misted. The slight rise and fall of your chest told me that the mist wasn't my imagination, and that you really were breathing.

I almost tottered over peering at you so intently, but stepping forward for balance, I caught myself in time. That seemed to have gotten my muscles working again, and I slowly worked my way over to towards your right side. The sunlight was fading quickly now, or perhaps it was my eyes which were going misty, for I was having a difficult time seeing, but eventually I stumbled my way over.

The only noises I could hear were my beating heart and the rhythmic beeping of the machines.

Your face looked so serene. Pale and unadorned your brow appeared, with calmness to it that bespoke of a sleep that brooked of no worries in the world. The tranquillity evident in your features was so unnatural it seemed almost eerie, and yet at the same time, beautiful beyond words to describe.

As though mesmerised, I slowly reached out and took your right hand in both of my own. It was cool. Holding your hand in my grasp, I could only stare silently at your face while white hot tears seared down my cheek.

"Nanoha.. "

I was finally here, at your side, holding your hand. I couldn't help but feel as though my heart would break. It hurt just to look at you. So many emotions were yearning to burst forth from this chest of mine that I don't know how I was able to contain it, and on top of it all, my own guilt was riding over everything.

I had caused all this, and the knowledge that it was because of me brought pain beyond anything I knew. Pain which was absolute. Pain which intensified every time I looked at you, but look I did; for this pain would only become worse otherwise. It was a pain which was born and grew through regret and fear, and the only cure for it was to fight; to shoulder it and move forward.

And so I did.


Author's Note:

Umm.. I apologise for the delay guys, but that was a really hard chapter for me to write, and so I think I took a longer time than was really necessary compared to most other people. I hope I learned a little from that chapter though, and that I grew a little bit out of it like poor Fate did. But you know what I realised because of this chapter? Writing a drama takes a bucket load of emotions out of you, and I'm wondering where I keep it all lol.

I hope that you guys enjoyed this chapter, even if it may have been a bit slow for some people (but then again, I think maybe all of my chapters are pretty slow). But yes, there has been some small progression in terms of the story, and some more revelations (lol?) shall come with the next chapter.

And yes, I remember that I said I would post answers to the supposed easter eggs I sorta sneaked into my last chapter, except noone seemed to know what to be looking for lol. Ah well, I guess they were way too cryptic. I guess I shall now present the answers:

Musmurius: 'mus murius' is the Latin word for rat, which just so happens to be the chinese zodiac animal of 2008

Neil Lancer: In keeping with the tradition in the Nanoha universe, Neil's last name is named after the Lancer line of cars from Mitsubishi

Ferocia Argenteus: As with above, this was another reference to car names. However, even by my own standards this was quite cryptic. Ferocia refers to spirit, or ferocity, while Argentus means silver. Now, my intended meaning was silver spirit, which is actually a nod towards a silver Mazda RX-7 Spirit R sports car which I happened to be thinking about.

At any rate, thanks again for reading, and I hope it was a good chapter in your opinion. If possible, I would greatly enjoy reading your feedback and reviews, so that I could write better in the future. And I think I shall leave it here, where I shall now take my leave. So, til next time, take care. –Ash

PS. I'm excited to write about the Enforcer exam either in the next chapter or the one following. I hope I can pull off what I have planned. Wish me luck :3