A/N: This is a direct sequel to "Midnight of the Heart." That story dealt with Fate's issues, her decisions and the angst that came of them. Now we get to see Nanoha's reaction to Fate's revelations, and how she deals with Yuuno and Fate's...shall we say controversial?...solution to the triangle. Hm...triangle...triangle...maybe the third story in the series could be "Triangle Heart"? Okay, so I can't resist a lousy gag, I admit it.
~X X X~
Takamachi Nanoha was weeping.
Ordinarily, Nanoha wasn't prone to tears. On some very deep, fundamental level, Nanoha didn't believe in pain or sadness. Not because those things weren't real, but because they were something that could be broken through, defeated. If a person tried hard enough and was honest about their feelings, her experiences had been that even the sad things could be understood and accepted, denied power, even made into happy memories and a source of strength to face the future.
This time, though, she cried.
Because it was all her fault.
Nearly three years ago, when Section 6 had been disbanded, Nanoha's best friend since childhood and girlfriend since they were sixteen, Fate Testarossa Harlaown, had broken up with her. Nanoha had been hurt then, too, but had accepted Fate's wishes because they were Fate's wishes. Fate had departed on her duties as an Enforcer with missions taking her to the farthest reaches of TSAB-administered space.
And Nanoha had moved on with her life.
Not easily, not at once, but she'd moved on. She'd turned to Yuuno Scrya, whom she'd known even longer than Fate, whom she'd had feelings for in her junior-high years, before she realized that what she felt for Fate wasn't what ordinary "best friends" felt. She'd been surprised that those feelings towards Yuuno still lingered, how the gentle, serious boy who'd inspired her dreams had become an equally gentle and serious man, but more than that, a loving and reliable man, a man she could trust with her heart.
And over time the ache of Fate's sudden breakup began to fade. It never quite went away, not really, but Nanoha had come to accept it even if she didn't quite understand what had caused it.
Until last night.
Fate had made one of her periodic returns to Mid-Childa to testify in a case she'd helped break and had paid a visit to Nanoha and Yuuno. Nanoha had seen then what she hadn't seen since they'd been nine: the pain buried in Fate's burgundy-red eyes, a brittleness of manner and expression that told of a woman about to fall to pieces. Well, Nanoha wasn't having any of that! If the girl she loved (and regardless of what else they did or did not feel, their friendship was easily close enough to use that word on its own) was suffering, then she was going to share that burden with her. Fate had always been a private person, not inclined to bare her soul in front of groups, so rather than press the point in front of Yuuno and seven-year-old Vivio, Nanoha had visited Fate's hotel to get the truth out of her one-on-one.
In that, she'd been successful.
She'd even gotten the reason for Fate's suddenly breaking it off with her three years ago.
Which is why Nanoha wept.
Because the reason for Fate's pain was Nanoha herself.
I can't deny it, Nanoha thought as she hugged the pillow to her chest, all the while wishing it was Yuuno. Or Fate. Someone to hold her and tell her that she wasn't a bad person, wasn't an unfaithful lover. She'd never broken a promise, never slept around...but there were more ways to be unfaithful than in the body.
Yuuno had held her all night when she'd returned, shattered, from Fate's hotel, held her and comforted her, but he hadn't denied it. He hadn't argued against what Fate had said.
And Nanoha had realized at last that she was doing it again, to him. That there was a reason why Yuuno, despite having loved Nanoha for years and years, despite being a caring father to Vivio, had not asked Nanoha to marry him. He knew that when they got to the part about "forsaking all others," that Nanoha's vow would be a lie.
Fate loved her, and when they'd been together Nanoha's heart had ached for Yuuno.
Yuuno loved her, and while they were together Nanoha's heart still ached for Fate.
So many people went through life without finding someone to care for them deeply, selflessly, and completely. Nanoha had found two such someones. And I've made a mockery of their feelings. I've betrayed them both, hurt them so badly.
"Fate-chan..." she whispered aloud. "Yuuno-kun..."
She thanked the heavens that today was a school day, that Yuuno had been able to get Vivio dressed, breakfasted, and off to class while claiming that "Nanoha-mama was tired and still in bed." She didn't want to worry her child with her problems. That thought just made her guilt worse, though; she'd adopted Vivio when she'd been together with Fate, giving Vivio a two-mother family. Neither woman had wanted to explain romantic breakups to a four-year-old, so they just went on letting her think of Fate as a "mama."
And why not? Nanoha asked herself. Fate loves Vivio as much as I do. She's a great mother! I don't know what I would have done, those early days, without her to show me what it really means to be a mom.
Now, though, Vivio had a father, too. And no matter what happened, Nanoha's inability to decide whom she loved was going to carve a hole in Vivio's happy family. Would she lose Fate-mama? Yuuno-papa?
Both of them?
It would serve me right, Nanoha thought. It was a real risk, too. When that much pain was released, it had to have effects. Both of them love me, and I...and I...
And she loved both of them.
They'd taken themselves in and out of her life, making sure that she'd been in proximity to one at a time, and that had in turn shaped her relationships, but she'd never given even of them her whole heart.
What's wrong with me? she pleaded. I love them both so much. Yuuno had showed her a world of magic and taught her how to make the sky her own. Fate had showed her that she could use that power to save people from the demons that haunted them. Even when she'd been a little girl, long, long before she knew the pleasures of adult love, she'd known what she felt for the two of them wasn't how she saw her other friends, people like Arisa and Suzuka and Chrono. There was something different about it, deeper, well beyond "liked" or "cared for" that could only be called love.
"Love is supposed to be a good thing," she whimpered aloud. "Why does it have to hurt people because I feel it?"
No one answered her, and she buried her face in the pillow and began to cry again.
If only someone was here.
But no one was. Fate was...somewhere; Chrono had called saying that Fate had left a message with him saying she wouldn't be at the party that night (a party being given for Fate) and that she wasn't accepting calls. Yuuno had gone looking for her, Yuuno because Nanoha was the one who'd...
She'd never seen Fate so, so broken as last night. She'd been tearing herself to pieces for three years because she loved Nanoha and couldn't have her. Part of Nanoha wanted to scream at her, to shout "If it hurts you so much then why did you leave me?" Only she knew why. Fate had left because Nanoha couldn't love her the way she loved Nanoha.
But I do! a small voice whimpered from inside her. I love Fate-chan so much. I'd do anything for her!
But it wasn't true.
I'd do anything for her-except stop loving Yuuno-kun. And the reverse was just as true.
What is wrong with me?
The sound of the door opening jolted her out of her spiral of self-pity.
"Yuuno-kun?" She sprang up when she heard his voice. The tall, elegantly handsome scholar came into the apartment, then stepped aside to let his companion join him. "Fate-chan? Oh, Yuuno-kun, you found her!" Nanoha didn't know which of them to hug first, Fate for being safe or Yuuno for making sure that she was, but then realized that there was a good chance neither one particularly wanted a hug from her just then, so she dropped back onto the couch.
"Are...are you okay, Fate-chan?" The blonde looked worn and exhausted, the bloodshot whites of her eyes matching the irises in color, and she still had on her Enforcer's uniform from the day before, rumpled from wear.
Fate sighed heavily.
"Yes...no..." She shrugged, then gave a wry little smile. "I'm not really sure."
"I'm sorry...I'm really, really sorry!" Nanoha sobbed out. "Both of you! I wouldn't blame you if you hated me now."
Fate laughed bitterly.
"If we hated you we wouldn't be having this problem, Nanoha." She dropped heavily into a chair, the lack of her usual grace revealing just how exhausted she was. Nanoha expected Yuuno to come take his usual seat next to her, but instead he took another chair, pulling it around so it made a kind of triangle with the sofa and the couch. She didn't know why he'd done that; it was clearly a very purposeful move, but all Nanoha could think was that he, too, was angry at her. Unlike both women, Yuuno was very slow to anger, but his rage would burn white-hot when aroused.
He sat with his elbows propped up on his knees and folded his hands together in a gesture that looked thoughtful.
"Nanoha, Fate and I have been talking. It's very clear that among the three of us, we have problems." He gave a heavy sigh, and Nanoha realized that he, too, looked worn out and haggard, though by no means as badly done in as was Fate. Then again, whatever burdens he carried weren't three years old.
"I know. I...I love the both of you so much and yet I've been awful to you both. I can't even imagine what it must be like to feel...to feel betrayed by the one you love every minute you're with her."
"Though you say you can't imagine it, you expressed it very well," Fate said, making Nanoha wince.
"Fate-chan, I can't...oh, God, I'm so sorry, Fate-chan. And you too, Yuuno-kun! I wish...I wish...Oh, I don't know what I wish, except that I could stop hurting you."
"Even if it meant doing something unusual or strange?" Yuuno asked.
"Of course! I just want to stop hurting the two of you!"
They glanced at one another, sharing a meaningful look that made Nanoha realize that they'd already talked things over. Yuuno and Fate had something planned out between them.
"Can I?" Fate asked. "I want to see if I can actually say it."
Nanoha looked back and forth from one to the other, then settled on Fate as the Enforcer began to speak.
"Nanoha, this...this isn't a new thing between us. We, all three of us have been remarkably constant in our feelings for over a dozen years, more than half our lives. You're the only person Yuuno and I have ever loved-as a lover, I mean, not friends or family. And we two are the same for you. You haven't been able to choose between us, but you've never had any kind of interest in some third person, right?"
"Mmn!" Nanoha squeaked, nodding firmly. I might be stuck between them, but I'm not...flighty or wanton. It was small comfort, but at least some.
"And those feelings don't look like they're going to change. Yuuno went off to the Infinity Library to give you up, but he never forgot you or found someone else. I headed out on deep-space assignments and avoided Mid-Childa as much as I could to try and forget you, but I couldn't get you out of my heart. You were my lover for years and couldn't forget Yuuno, and now have been Yuuno's lover for nearly as long and can't forget me."
Fate fidgeted nervously, toying at some of the worst creases in her uniform. The gesture wasn't like her, making Nanoha wonder what it was that had her so off-balance. She didn't have to wait long; the preamble was done.
"So Yuuno and I...well, it was his suggestion, but I-" She stopped, took a deep breath, and plunged on. "Nanoha, would you consider...being with both of us?"
Silence fell like a hammer. Whatever Nanoha had been expecting, this was not it. She looked back and forth from Fate to Yuuno, and what she saw there she didn't like. Weariness. Resignation. Everybody dreams of love, she realized. Everybody dreams of "happily ever after." And I've stolen that from the two people I love most!
It was too much for her. A fresh flood of tears erupted, and she leapt off the couch, fleeing back into the bedroom.
"Nanoha-" the two of them exclaimed. She'd flung herself down on the bed, but they followed her, both sitting on the edge next to her. And in the next instant their hands reached out for her, Yuuno taking one of Nanoha's in a warm, comforting grasp while Fate gently stroked her hair from the crown of her head down to the nape of her neck with a soothing touch. They were worried about her, she realized. I don't deserve them! she wailed inwardly. Someone like me shouldn't be loved they way they do.
"Is it that awful a thought?" Yuuno asked, keeping his tone light. "I know that on your planet such things aren't done in most societies, but we thought it might prove a better solution then what we've been going through."
"But it's so unfair to you both!"
"Life is unfair, Nanoha." Her fingers wound a loose lock of hair around them, letting it slide in and out like a serpentine coil. "But be honest. Could you look either at Yuuno or at me and say 'I do not want to be with you. We can be no more than friends'-and mean it? No going back, no wondering what it would have been like, no quiet longing moments when their name is mentioned, no breakdown when trying to explain to Vivio why either her Fate-mama or her Yuuno-papa wouldn't be a full-time part of her family anymore? Could you say that and mean it?"
Could she? Could she point a finger and tell either one of them to forever leave her life, her bed, her family? Maybe she could. But could she do it and not regret, not leave the one she was with feeling incomplete, like there was a part of her that was always out of their reach? That she didn't know. Maybe she could, if it was she who cut the ties, as opposed to one of them walking out as they'd done before. But the past was against it. And when Nanoha tried to imagine life without Yuuno or Fate, it felt as if a great gap had been carved open within her.
"No..." she whimpered, then more strongly, "No, I don't want to lose either one of you."
"Then what's wrong?" Yuuno asked.
"But...but it's like you each get half of a person! How can you call it a relationship when the one you love spends half her time thinking about someone else?"
She wondered, then, if they'd shared a glance across her back, a wry smile, or perhaps a look of resignation, because wasn't that what she'd been doing anyway? Neither came out and said it, but it was impossible that they hadn't thought it.
But they didn't say it. Instead, they took her arms and drew her up into a sitting position so she was cradled between the two of them. Nanoha was cold, and they felt so warm and comforting.
"It isn't like that, Nanoha," Fate told her.
"But it is," she sniffled. "I'd get each of your full attention, and you'd only get half of mine. Unless..." she brightened as a thought struck her, "Fate-chan, are you saying that you and Yuuno-kun-?"
Both blonds laughed at that.
"No, I'm afraid not, though it would very neatly tie things up, wouldn't it?" Yuuno answered. "But it's not to be; I'm just too manly for Fate."
"Idiot," Fate teased him.
"And to be fair, I've never really thought of Fate that way either. She's more like a sister than anything. Which is part of our problem, I think. Your romantic rival isn't supposed to stay one of your closest friends."
Nanoha smiled despite herself.
"But Fate-chan makes all her friends that way: me, Signum, Hayate, you...we're all people that she's fought one way or another."
"Hey, at least I'm not like you, Miss Befriend-Them-'Till-They're-Unconscious!"
They all laughed at that one, before the knowledge of their situation stilled the momentary good humor.
"Look, Nanoha, this isn't your fault," Fate said.
"That's not...what you said last night."
The blonde woman sighed.
"I was hurting badly last night, Nanoha, from three years of holding back my feelings. I'm not saying that it's not your doing, but it isn't your fault."
Nanoha didn't understand and said so.
"You met Yuuno and me at about the same time," Fate explained. "We shared a tumultuous year together, both with the Jewel Seeds and then the Book of Darkness. You were nine years old, and had never known about using magic, or about the pain and suffering some people could endure, or about making the kind of choices, taking the kind of action that even many adults don't have the capacity to face. Through that, Yuuno and I were there with you, forging the kind of close bonds that most children don't ever have to, because we shared together the kind of things that children are supposed to be protected from instead of doing the protecting. So, we loved each other, not like children ordinarily do but in a deeper, closer way, and when we grew up, it was only natural that desire should enter into it, because we were already so intimate."
"I've had a lot of time to think about these things, the past few years."
"It would have been simpler, of course," Yuuno said, "if you'd only been attracted to one sex. Then one of us would have been your love interest and the other a treasured friend, and that would have been an end to it. But that isn't what happened. I don't pretend to know the whys and hows of it, but you like us both in the way that we like you. You didn't choose that any more than Fate or I chose to be sexually attracted to you." He reached out and took her hand again. "You can choose whether or not to act on that attraction." His fingers were warm, or maybe it was just that she was cold. "You could decide that you're with me now and that you don't want to be back together with Fate despite your feelings for her. Or you could decide that Fate was your first love and you wouldn't have ever been with me if she hadn't left you first."
"Just as," Fate continued, "I chose that despite my feelings, I didn't want to stay with you when you couldn't love only me, and how Yuuno chose to stay here despite knowing that."
She sighed heavily, then gave Nanoha a wry smile.
"I know that I'm the last one that should say this, but at least I have the experience of bad choices. We've spent a lot of time hiding from our true feelings and dealing with the problems that creates. So maybe it's time to at least try accepting our love for each other. There'll be problems there, too, I'm sure, but at least they'll come from being honest instead of from lies."
Nanoha looked into her warm, bright red eyes. They were pleading at her; there was desperation in them, and Nanoha had to wonder at the force of the emotions that had made Fate swallow her pride and come back to a woman that had loved her, but never wholly. She then turned to Yuuno and found his usual affectionate support, the encouragement that he would always stand behind her regardless of what she did. In their own way, they were both trying to give her what she needed.
"But...but how could it work?" she protested. "I mean, how can we spend time with each of you only getting a fraction of what you need?"
"I think it would be just as hard on you," Yuuno suggested. "You'd be caught in the middle, always trying to balance things out between the two of us, responsible for two people's emotional needs instead of one."
"But it's my fault," Nanoha answered, "so it would be a fair burden on me."
Did I just say that? Am I really considering it?
Yes, she was.
"Vivio would like it," she thought out loud. "Both her mamas and her papa in one family together."
"We agreed not to mention that," Yuuno admitted, "because we wanted you to think things through in terms of yourself first."
"Though we knew you'd get to it soon," Fate added. "You've always been a good mother, so there's no way you wouldn't consider her needs quickly. But it's only good for her if things work out, so that's why we held back."
"But if we don't try...that's not good for her either, is it?"
"Relationship problems among parents are always bad for the children, I think," Yuuno said.
"Then, let's not tell her...yet." She took a deep breath. "I mean, if there's some way we can test things out, maybe see if we start breaking down at once?"
She saw the way their faces lit up, these two people she loved most in the world, and the though came to her that maybe, just maybe, it wasn't her failure that she was divided between them. Maybe she was just blessed to have two such special people come into her life, and the real failure would be if she refused to accept the love they offered.
Nanoha didn't know if that was the case, but if the real decision she had to make wasn't between Yuuno and Fate but between her expectations and reality, she was going to try to find out.
~X X X~
Vivio's Magical Omake Theater!
Fate had barely gotten through the door when her daughter wrapped herself around her, burying her face against Fate and crying. Fate's hands immediately dropped to embrace the child.
"Vivio, honey, what's wrong? Did something bad happen?"
Vivio raised her head to look at Fate, the little girl's mismatched eyes spilling over with tears.
"Yuuno-papa won't talk to me!" Vivio wailed, pointing back towards the living-room couch. A plump tan ferret was watching them. Fate covered her mouth with her hand so Vivio wouldn't see her sudden smile.
"Vivio, that's not Yuuno. Didn't Nanoha tell you? We're babysitting my aide Shari's pet ferret while she's on vacation."