Disclaimer: I don't own MGLN. I'm just being mauled by plotbunnies. Vicious plotbunnies.

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Ghost

Mother captures the innocent white mage during your battle with her for all your Jewel Seeds. She's quick about it, as she always is—zap, a brilliant flash of pain and light the color of blood, and when you open your eyes you're back in the Garden of Time, your rival by your side.

For the first time you can remember, Mother doesn't lift a hand against you for your near failure; she only has eyes for your rival, for the white mage beside you, and as she grabs the girl roughly by the collar and begins to pull her away you know what is to come.

(You know, because Mother has done this to you countless times before.)

Something inside you that wasn't there before flares up, and with a cry of anguish you leap forward, knowing deep inside that if Mother takes the white mage away, it will all end.

But compared to Mother, you are nothing but a lion cub batting playfully at the queen of the pride. She slams you into a wall with a mere wave of her hand, and your head cracks sharply against the wall.

"Fate-chan!"

Her voice is the last thing you clearly hear before you sink into familiar unconsciousness.

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You are confined to the Garden of Time after that.

It wouldn't be so bad if Arf was there, if it was nothing but a silent castle floating in silent nothingness where you feel more dead than alive. You can handle the silence.

But it isn't silent.

The white mage doesn't scream like you used to whenever Mother raised her whip against you. Instead, she whimpers and gasps as the leather sings across her flesh and tears streak her cheeks. Stubborn pride doesn't allow her to scream, even if she starts crying as soon as Mother appears, whip in hand. She cries and she whimpers and she gasps, and sometimes she just hangs there limply and takes it without a sound, her eyes dull.

(During those moments of silence, you believe her to be dead.)

You wish she would scream.

You sit with your back huddled against the door, your face buried against your knees and your hands jammed tightly against your ears, your eyes squeezed shut. You want to pretend that as long as you're curled in a tiny little ball, you can't hear her suffer, can't feel her pain.

It doesn't work.

(You don't want to care about her this much.)

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When Mother is away tending to whatever she tends to while she isn't looking for the Jewel Seeds, you sneak into the room and heal the worst of your (former) rival's wounds.

It doesn't really help much. Mother trained you in the art of speed, not defense, and healing magic is unarguably defensive. You aren't very good at it, but you still try, and the girl known as Takamachi Nanoha doesn't seem to mind being your guinea pig as you figure out what works and what doesn't, what soothes her pain and what increases it.

"Keep trying, Fate-chan. I know you'll figure it out."

Slowly, the glow that forms beneath your fingers closes open cuts and causes old scars to fade away. Her smile is still laced with pain but grateful, and she's smiling just the way you remember. You never smile back, but she must see something in you to keep her happy.

Your pathetic attempts at healing don't mean much in the long run, since Mother always comes back to give her new scars.

You keep sneaking back anyway to heal them.

(You shouldn't care about her this much.)

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She's suffering for you.

She's dying for you, and you can't save her.

You know she's dying. She's been locked within the protective fortress of the Garden for nearly two weeks, surviving on the scant bits of food and water you give to her when you heal her wounds, but it isn't enough. Infection has seeped through the cuts you couldn't close. Her skin is pale and slick with sweat, her eyes glassy and her breathing shallow. She's lost too much blood, she's too weak. Her spirit isn't broken, but her body is.

But she endures the continuous beatings for you.

Because ever since Mother caught her, she has shown no interest in you. She leaves you in peace to wander around the Garden; she ignores you in favor of the girl who stands in the way of her dream. She hasn't lifted the whip against you in nearly two weeks.

And as long as the girl known as Takamachi Nanoha is still alive, she will continue to do so.

She's dying for you.

She's dying because of you.

"I want to see you smile, Fate-chan."

She's slipping away, and all you can do is watch, because you aren't strong enough to save her.

(Why does it hurt so much?)

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You weren't supposed to care about her this much.

Watching her die isn't supposed to hurt this much.

But you do.

And it does.

You don't want to care about her.

But you do.

(You're strong enough.)

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It was the most important battle of your life; it went down in history books. You were considered a hero, the girl who rebelled against her abusive mother to save her former rival like some cliché manga storyline.

You don't remember any of it.

You don't remember blasting down the door with Bardiche, you don't remember fighting Mother; you don't remember the pain you felt or the amount of blood you lost, the way you trembled but fought on. You don't remember the moment Mother lay still on the floor in the corner, her skin pale as wax and blood seeping from a cut on her temple.

(You didn't kill her, you're told later, you just knocked her out. An incredible feat apparently, since you were near dead when you did it.)

The battle itself is nothing but a blur in your memory, a blur of feeling and lights and sounds.

All you clearly remember is the end of that battle, cutting the chains with what little strength you had left. You tried to cradle your former rival in your arms the way she did long ago, but you were too weak for that. In fact, the force of her knocks you over, and the two of you just lay that way for what seems to be an eternity, both of you too weak to move at the moment.

You're covered in blood, your whole body shrieks with agony and you can't really breathe because Nanoha is on top of you, but as you gaze up at the ceiling you're the happiest you've ever been. And then you feel her shift, feel her arms slide around your neck, and she nuzzles quietly against you, smiling weakly.

"Thank you, Fate-chan."

You blink a few times, not used to being touched without pain following; after a few minutes you cautiously wrap your arms around her waist, and as her warmth merges with yours an incredible feeling of peace sweeps quietly through you, and you close your eyes.

And you smile.

"Hey… guess what…"

"What?"

"You got me to smile… Nanoha."

She laughs, and it's the sweetest sound you've ever heard.

The End

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To be honest, I always wondered why Precia didn't just take Nanoha out herself during the last half of the series. It certainly would have made things a bit darker. In the original version of this Nanoha actually died after Fate rescued her from Precia, but in the end I couldn't bring myself to do it.

I really should try updating my other stories instead of posting one-shots like this...

Read and review, please!