"Good work today!"
The trainees dragged themselves slowly up the stairs back to base to hit the showers, having just finished morning practice. This group was coming along nicely. I'd only had them for a week, but they were all really shaping up. Another week and I could probably start advanced training. Of course, there was always one problem in every group. Looking up, I saw her lagging behind everyone else, as she had been for the last four days.
Actually, she'd been called a child prodigy by her previous instructors. Thirteen years old and a fully licensed C rank mage, capable of showing up everyone else she'd been trained with. They had expected great things from her (though not as great as my accomplishments, they'd been quick to add). I think those expectations were starting to get to her, though. She looked completely worn out all the time, even after she'd just woken up, and her fatigue had been affecting her performance. Something told me that she was overexerting herself and doing extra training.
"Can I talk to you a moment," I asked, walking over to her.
"S-Sir…I mean Ma'am!"
"Just Nanoha is fine."
She must be really tired to not even notice me approaching her. She was looking at me intently, eyes full of worry. It looked like she'd burst into tears at any moment. I didn't think I was that scary.
"Have a seat; I just want to ask a question."
We both sat on the stair steps, but she still looked just as anxious as before. Then, before I could even ask anything, she already started to answer.
"…I'm not cut out for this…am I?"
"I can't keep up with everyone; I'm not learning this stuff fast enough. I can tell, I'm just dragging everyone down with me. Maybe I should just quit…"
"…is this why you've been staying up late to train?"
She suddenly looked sheepish, having obviously thought that I didn't know.
"You know, overworking yourself can do a lot more harm than you think. Trust me, I know."
"But, everyone's expecting me to do so well! If I don't try my hardest, if I don't keep pushing myself, I'll let everyone down!"
"Is that why you became a mage?"
"Because it was expected of you? Is that the only reason you're doing this?"
She looked away from me, staring at her feet.
"Ne, do you know about the Jewel Seed Incident?"
"Of course! It's almost legendary! You were only nine years old without any magical contact at all, but you still managed to single handedly seal the missing Lost Logia, and defeated the enemy mage who became the TSAB's youngest enfor…"
She trailed off, suddenly blushing furiously as she realized what she'd started gushing over. It was kinda cute, seeing her so animated like that. It had taken some years, but I'd finally gotten used to being a hero figure for the rookies.
"Did you know that the first time that mage and I met, she beat me?" I said, knowing that the TSAB didn't have full documentation of events before Lindy and Chrono had arrived.
I couldn't help but laugh softly. Her expression upon hearing that her hero had been beaten was priceless.
"Nyahaha. Yup, she beat me. Several times, and badly, too. But I kept standing up, time and time again, and eventually I was able to beat her. Do you know why?"
She looked weary now, probably thinking I was just trying to tell her not to give up, to keep working hard; that I expected great things from her too.
"I didn't care about being stronger, or being better than her. I didn't even care about saving the world. I just wanted to face her as an equal, to be able to look her in the eye and understand her sadness, even if it was just for a moment."
I reached out and put a hand on her shoulder to show my support.
"So, don't do this for anyone else, ne? Don't keep pushing yourself for everyone else's sake. Find your own reason. If you do that, you can be as strong as you have to be."
She looked up at me and smiled; a genuine smile. It was nice thing to know, that I'd helped her out. Even if it was just a little.
Breaking through the sadness in their hearts and finding the smiles they never knew existed. That is my wings. That is my hope. My name is Takamachi Nanoha.