"I thought my heart was going to stop, Yuuno-kun," Nanoha said, almost babbling. She'd had to talk to someone, to get things off her chest, and Yuuno was always good for that—maybe even better than Fate. She was closer to Fate than anyone, but even the blonde Enforcer wouldn't have denied that Nanoha was more used to supporting Fate in that relationship and it ran the other way much less often. They were sitting on deck chairs on the apartment balcony, looking out over the brilliant city lights. "I don't even consciously remember going after her; I was over the edge before I could even think."
"You're her mother, Nanoha. That kind of reaction is natural." The archaeologist and librarian's voice was gentle and reassuring.
"What kind of mother nearly kills her own daughter!" Nanoha exclaimed.
"It was an accident, Nanoha."
"Was it? I blew the support out from under a non-flyer twenty stories above ground! I was so hurt and upset by what she'd said—"
"What she'd said? You didn't mention anything about that."
"It was before the session started. She...Vivio was afraid of me, Yuuno-kun. She was terrified that I'd...I don't know what she thought I'd do, but I swear she'd have jumped in front of a bus rather than have a mock battle with me."
"Ah," Yuuno said, nodding. "That reputation of yours."
"You've heard such things?"
"Everyone has, Nanoha. You've done so many incredible things, been involved in so many incidents that ordinary people can barely comprehend, that the facts don't seem real to people. That means that the stories grow in the telling, because they're legends rather than reports. Sometimes they make you a larger-than-life superhero, the Ace of Aces. But that kind of power, and the resolute way you push yourself to use it regardless of the cost to yourself scares people, so you also become the White Devil. Haven't you ever noticed?"
"I spend most of my time with the same group of co-workers, who all know me, and a limited circle of friends."
"Maybe we should have told you, then. Fate gets it a lot, since she works off-planet with people who don't know you. Chrono just thinks it's funny," he added sourly.
"Vita-chan got really angry at Vivio; she lit into her about believing bad rumors about her own mother and Vivio was really sorry about it afterwards, but...do you think I might have still been mad at her? That I subconsciously didn't control my attacks like I should because I somehow wanted to hurt her?"
"No!" Yuuno protested at once. "No, Nanoha, that's...that's just not who you are. I can see you going all-out because you wanted to win the fight after that exchange, but you'd never put Vivio in harm's way. An accident is an accident, that's all. If you're in any way responsible, it's because ever since the breakup of Riot Force 6 you've been primarily dealing with Air Force recruits and aren't used to thinking of the limitations of the ground-bound in a training session. Otherwise you might have held your attack until she was away from the roof's edge. But there's no malice in that—and you did act at once to save her. She was scared, but not hurt."
"Thank you, Yuuno-kun."
"It's what I'm here for," he said with a grin.
She leaned forward, cupping her chin in her palms, her elbows braced on her knees.
"Ground-bound..." she murmured.
"What was that?"
"Yuuno-kun, am I a bad person for feeling sorry for Vivio?"
"Sorry for her?"
She raised her head, looking up at the blanket of stars.
"If anyone took the sky away from me, I don't know what I'd do. And Vivio...Everyone significant in her life is air-capable: me, Fate-chan, Vita-chan, you, Hayate-chan, Zaffy, Signum-san, Shamal-sensei, even Arf can fly. And Vivio..."
"Does it bother Vivio? Most of her school friends would be ordinary Belkan-style knights...well, what we call Belkan-style, not the real thing like Hayate or the Wolkenritter or Vivio use," he drifted off, the researcher momentarily distracted by the details. He shook his head. "Anyway, flight would be the exception rather than the rule among them."
Nanoha sighed, bitterly, and then she said something that she'd only said to Fate, and that just once, on a night when everything had been going hellishly wrong and too much liquor had left her maudlin, dredging up every failure from her life.
"It's my fault."
"That doesn't even make sense!" Yuuno protested.
"She's a clone of the Sankt Kaiser, the Belkan Saint-Emporer. You know what that means better than I do, from all your studies. She was designed, not just Vivio herself but her original, to be unspeakably powerful. In our fight inside the Saint's Cradle I'd have lost if Vivio's mind hadn't awakened and started fighting to hold her body back. Do you understand what that means?"
"Like you said, better than you do. That wasn't Vivio you fought; she'd had a Relic implanted within her by Scaglietti, and Quattro was channeling the power of the Saint's Cradle through her."
"I know, but even so...do you remember from the files how we first found her—how she'd destroyed those Gadget Drones Scaglietti sent after her from pure reflex? An untrained child of five performing magic that did what B-rank mages had to resort to strategy to accomplish? The sheer force it takes to overload an anti-magic field?"
Yuuno frowned as her words began to sink in.
"You're talking about a level of potential for an S-rank at least, probably SS or even higher. But she isn't-"
"No, she's not. She's officially C+, and Vita-chan expects she'll easily pass her B-rank test in a couple of months. Her defensive spells are really, really good; she blocked a Divine Buster and it didn't even slow her down. The reports grade her top-end shield into the AAA range and it's pretty certain those effects will nudge up into S territory, but overall she'll be lucky to ever reach as high as AA. And it's my fault."
"I still don't follow."
"When we got back from that mission, Shamal-sensei gave Vivio a complete medical examination. It's not every day that a girl's aged up from five to fifteen, channels the power of an ancient lost civilization, and then gets pulled back down to where she started, right?" Nanoha gave a little laugh, not her usual distinctive "nyahaha," but softer and half-choked. "She...she'd been damaged by it. Her Linker Core was permanently affected. The Relic had been bonded to it, and I ripped it out of her by brute force. That's what did it. All she's ever wanted was to be a top Ace like her mamas, and I destroyed that dream before she'd ever gotten the chance to even dream it."
"There's no way you could have known that."
"I didn't have to know it. If I'd been thinking, I could have tried something else—knocked her out with magical damage, maybe, then brought her out where the Relic could be carefully extracted under properly controlled conditions. But no, I had to be the hero and save her all by myself. Nanoha-mama to the rescue of her little girl!"
"Stop it!" Yuuno grabbed her hand, making her turn and look at him. "You don't really believe that, do you? Five...five Blaster System-enhanced Starlight Breakers hitting simultaneously, and the shock of extracting the Relic, and snapping her link with the Saint's Cradle, and reversing the changes to her body, and after all that she was still conscious. Exactly where did you expect to get the power to knock her out from? You could have burned all your life energy through the Blaster System and still not pulled it off. Going after the Relic was the only real chance you had to save Vivio, and you took it. That's not arrogance; that's what heroism is."
The intense sincerity on his face was almost a tangible force, the kind of force that could rock seven years of guilt on its foundations—but only rock, not destroy. That kind of hurt couldn't be absolved overnight.
"Maybe," she murmured, "but every time Vivio or anyone mentions how she can't fly, all I can think of is how I was the one who stole the sky from her."
Just inside the open balcony doors, Vivio slipped away before either of the adults turned and caught her eavesdropping.
~X X X~
"I need to learn to fly," Vivio declared flatly at morning practice the next day.
"You need to what?" Vita asked,
"I need to fly," she repeated.
"What, because you fell off a building? Look, kid, there are better ways to deal with your problems than wishing for stuff you can't have."
"That's not it, Vita-sensei. I...I need to be able to do this."
"And I need a little less backtalk! After that little stunt you pulled yesterday disrespecting your mom in epic fashion, you're not exactly in my good graces here. You're lucky you apologized or we'd be doing target practice with you as the target!"
"That's why I need to fly," Vivio shot back. "Look, yesterday I had a really, really bad day as a daughter, all right? First I insulted Nanoha-mama to her face, then I nearly scared her to death when I fell, and then when I got home I found out last night that she blames herself for what I can't do!"
Vita crinkled her nose doubtfully.
"I know Nanoha. There is no way she'd say something like that to you."
Vivio shook her head.
"She didn't know I was listening." She left out Nanoha's worries about the training exercise, but told Vita everything else Nanoha and Yuuno had said. Part of her felt a little guilty for revealing her mother's feelings, but Vivio told herself that ultimately these were secrets about herself and that made them hers to disclose. Particularly when Nanoha-mama is wrong about things!
"She said all that?" Vita mused.
Vita shook her head.
"Damn, Nanoha, why didn't you tell anybody you were feeling like this? Why do you always have to carry these burdens on your own?" Vita was as close to Nanoha as she'd have been to a sister, Vivio knew, so anything Nanoha was holding back hurt her, too.
"That's why I need to be able to fly, Vita-sensei. I don't want Mama thinking that she's responsible for hurting me or taking something precious from me!"
Vita sighed heavily.
"She would, too. Nanoha loves the sky more than anything but her family and friends. Thinking that you'd be denied it forever, and because of something she did..." She broke off, shaking her head.
"Nanoha-mama used to take me for rides in the air when I was little, showing me the world from the sky. That's what opened my eyes to the wonders of magic, the good things it meant. Before that, I'd known that there were people that used magic to help people: you, Nanoha-mama, Fate-mama, Aunt Hayate, Subaru, Tia...but never that magic itself could be a good thing. So it's not just that the sky is Nanoha-mama's special thing, but special to both of us."
Vivio smiled wanly.
"For myself, it's really just a question of power. I'd like to fly because I'd be a better mage, capable of doing more. But for Mama's sake...it's so much more important."
"C'mon, kid. Let's go talk to Mariel."
~X X X~
Mariel Atenza was an engineer assigned to the TSAB Ground Forces' headquarters lab. Vivio's Aunt Hayate—General Yagami Hayate—had headhunted her away from the Navy into her own branch of the service. She'd been the one to design Vivio's Device, Parsifal.
"Secondary modes?" the green-haired woman asked. "Sure; it's like I said when I gave you the boy, once we establish what your needs are, we can add parts to give Parsifal the capacity to do what's necessary. We can complement your strengths, like Raising Heart's Accel and Excelion modes make Nanoha a better shooter, or we can correct for your weaknesses, like Cross Mirage's dagger form. Cross Mirage is Tia's device, by the way."
"Mmn! I know."
"Oh, that's right. Sorry, I lose track of which of Nanoha's extended family keep up with each other." Mariel, Vivio recalled, had once been assigned to the Asura, where she'd been a support operator while her mothers had been lead field agents in their teens. "Anyway, what's the situation here?"
"She needs to be able to fly," Vita said.
"What? Can't do it?" Vita pounced, a challenging grin on her face.
"N-no, of course I can. But let's have some data, first. Vivio, can I see Parsifal?"
Vivio slipped the black marble bracelet that was Parsifal's "at rest" form off her wrist and handed it over. Mariel crossed the lab and put him in a boxlike insert in one of the lab's many consoles and shut the door. It reminded Vivio of nothing so much as a person getting ready to heat instant food, which made her feel sorry for her device. Screens began appearing in thin air and a keyboard beneath Mariel's hands, and Vivio found herself looking at her own image, only in a variety of colors and shadings. The engineer's hands flew over the keyboard, the images changed rapidly, and she made all kinds of little noises, hums, and clicks of the tongue.
Vita waited through about thirty seconds of this, then shrugged and turned to Vivio.
"Treat you to a juice or something while we wait?"
"Yes, thanks." Vivio wondered if the lab vending machine had caramel milk.
"Hey, hey!" Mariel called. "I'm not going into a scientific fugue state just yet, you know! You field operatives are so results-oriented; you have no respect for the process."
"That's 'cause our process usually consists of 'use a bigger hammer,'" Vita joked.
"Watch it, Vita, or next time you've got Graf Eisen in for a tune-up I'll insert piko-piko parts so he squeaks when he hits things."
"The wrath of the support staff can be terrible," deadpanned Vivio.
"Aaaaaaand, here's your problem!"
"Really?" both of Mariel's guests chorused.
"Yep!" Mariel beamed. "It's the classic immovable object problem. See, if you watch the flow of magic here, and here, and here, and...and you don't really care about that, do you?"
"No, we care, really," Vivio piped up.
"We just have advanced degrees in hitting stuff rather than magical engineering," teased Vita.
"Let me sum it up, then. As we all know, the primary power of the Belkan Sankt Kaiser was to wield the Saint's Armor, an unstoppable defensive force. It's just with the Alhazred technology of the Saint's Cradle, everything was scaled up. But that's why Vivio is pretty much a shield-first kind of mage. Here's the problem, though: the basic flow of your magic, right down to your Barrier Jacket, Vivio, is all about resisting the effects of outside forces on your body. The very essence of flight magic is to create such an outside force."
"So I'm grounding myself," Vivio sighed.
"Basically. It's not that you're not powerful enough to fly, it's that flight magic would have to fight your own magic to get you aloft as well as the usual stuff like gravity, inertia, and so on."
"Turtles don't have wings," she echoed.
"Hey, don't be dismissing the power of my science so lightly! I'm just outlining the problem. Now, we move on to the solution, which is now completely obvious, especially given who your mother is, Vivio."
"I don't get it," Vita admitted. "Nanoha's device upgrades are like mine: more of the same, but bigger and stronger."
"The other one. Fate Testarossa Harlaown?"
Vivio clapped her hands together.
"Oh, I get it! Sonic Form!"
"Exactly. When Fate switches to her Sonic Form, she redirects the magic from her Barrier Jacket to her movement magic, giving her a constant sequence of Sonic Moves. The downside is a weakened defense."
"So I can have a Flight Form or something?"
"It's not quite that easy. Fate's Sonic Form is enhancing her basic abilities of speed and movement. You're trying to go in the opposite direction, so you're going to need some help from Parsifal. We'll strip a couple ranks off your Barrier Jacket, which will make you...average, actually, then add in some flight-enabler parts directly to Parsifal...that'll take a cartridge load to activate initially, I'm afraid...but it could work..." Her fingers were flying over the keyboard, her eyes taking on the obsessed stare of the enthusiast.
Vivio turned to Vita.
~X X X~
"That's all, everyone. Excellent work today!"
Fourteen mages, ranging in age from eleven to twenty, sweat running down their faces, hair tousled, Barrier Jackets smeared with dirt and in some places ripped, looked up with beaming faces at their instructor's praise. This latest batch of recruits was coming along nicely, Nanoha decided.
"Make sure to do your cool-down stretches before you shower, and I'll see you tomorrow," she said, and waved as she flew towards the training-ground exit. She wondered what she was going to do for dinner that night; Fate wasn't due in for another month and Nanoha was getting sick of her own cooking. It wasn't a school night, so maybe she and Vivio could go out to eat? She still felt bad about how everything had turned out in training; it had been supposed to be fun, since the both of them liked to work hard at practice. Instead she'd found out that her stupid reputation had made her own child scared of her, and then after they'd patched that up she'd gone and justified it by accidentally pitching Vivio off a skyscraper! To say that the morning hadn't been one of her shining moments as a mother didn't come close to covering it.
Vivio didn't seem unhappy, though, she reminded herself—but while that had been true enough for the afternoon after the incident, she'd been positively pensive the next day, as if something big had sunk in.
No, the simple truth was, it had been an awful week, and Nanoha really hoped that she could spend some family time with Vivio just to make up for it.
Funny, that sounded like Vivio, but no one's around...
That was unmistakably Vivio, but the voice had come from...above? Nanoha raised her eyes, then suddenly did a double-take in shock. Vivio was descending through the air towards her? Nanoha didn't wait for her to arrive, but went airborne herself, meeting her about thirty feet off the ground.
"Vivio...what's going on?"
Vivio pirouetted in midair.
"It's Parsifal's new Valkyrie Mode!" she said excitedly. "Mariel just finished the adjustments today!"
"Mmn! It's his second-stage form, combining lighter armor with flight enablers so I can get into the air!"
Nanoha looked the girl over. The basic bodysuit was the same—Vivio apparently really didn't like miniskirts, which as a mother suited Nanoha fine—as were the boots and gauntlets, but the black dress was gone. In its place were elaborate shoulder guards that ran down her upper back and from which sprouted equally elaborate blued-steel wings, fully articulated right down to the feathers, though they didn't actually flap, instead curving around her in an aerodynamic match to whatever her flight pattern was. They looked kind of odd, though also appropriate somehow: wings for the ancient saint, metal for the girl who was metaphorically a shield rather than a sword or a shooting-staff.
And they held her aloft.
"You do know that flying inside city limits is forbidden, don't you?"
"Mmn. But...I wanted to show you right away!"
Nanoha smiled back at her.
"In that case, since we're already in trouble...I'll race you home!"
"Accel Fin!" Raising Heart cheered, conjuring Nanoha's flight booster as they took off.
"Hey, no fair!" exclaimed Vivio. Not to be outdone, Parsifal invoked his own booster magic, "Walkure Beschleunigung" and the mother and daughter arced off into the bright blue afternoon sky.
~X X X~
A/N: Obviously, the discussion of the effects of Nanoha's Starlight Breaker-ing the Relic out of Vivio are pure speculation on my part, largely as an attempt to justify the direction I've taken with Vivio's abilities (I can at least try to be internally consistent with myself!). Vivio's talk about how flying with her mama as a child helped to inspire her about magic was, however, not original but inspired by the Sky Colors doujinshi, which is sweet, very short, by Fujieda Miyabi (!) and most importantly, translated by the good people at NanoFate dot net, who I'm very happy to plug because it was their work that introduced me to MGLN in the first place!
German translations are again largely by Google.
~X X X~
Vivio's Magical Omake Theater!
The candle flickered, casting weird shadows across the faces of everyone in the circle.
"And then...and then..." Nanoha intoned in a sepulchral voice, "the farmer turned to see a threatening figure, dressed all in black, carrying a giant scythe!"
"Eeeek!" Caro yelped, then realized that the six-year-old next to her hadn't so much as flinched at the climax of the ghost story. "Vivio, aren't you scared?"
"But...but...isn't that just Fate-mama?"