Dealing with the aftermath isn't always easy.

It's hard.

In fact, it's downright hell.

-o-

Sonreír: Part II

She's seeing too clearly what she can't be,
What understanding defies.

- "The Tower,"
by Vienna Teng.

-o-

The balcony door slid open.

"Fate-chan.." Hayate hesitated.

"Mm?"

"Dinner's ready," she said after a moment.

The blonde turned - away from the orange-red sky - to meet solemn blue eyes.

Almost unconsciously, her fingers tightened their grip on the cold railing.

"..You haven't eaten since this morning, and.."

There was fear in Hayate's eyes.

Fear, and worry.

Not of her, but for her.

It made something in Fate ache.

She released her hold on the fence.

Just like that.

"Yeah," Fate heard herself saying, soft, if not almost unbearably gentle, "I'm starving."

Surprise flitted past blue eyes, and then - relief.

The blonde felt a strange sort of weight settling on her shoulders.

So she smiled a little half-crooked smile that meant everything and nothing.

Just like that.

-o-

Control.

Her greatest strength.

Her worst ability.

Food tasted like ash.

But she ate anyway.

Tension begun to fade from Hayate's shoulders.

It made Fate want to say something; and she did, sort of.

"I'm not - " Stop.

Silence.

Hayate leveled a questioning look at her, the fork in her hand placed down on the plate with a soft clink.

"I'm not..?"

"I'm -- " Another pause.

Hayate waited, blue eyes searching.

For a long, long moment, Fate did not say anything.

She had trouble finding the right words to say.

"I'm...not going to do anything...stupid," she said at last.

As if that covered all the unspoken questions.

It was a plain answer.

It was a stupid answer.

It was strange, if not clumsy.

(And it was contradicting, because Fate always do stupid things.)

But Hayate understood.

-o-

Fate Testarossa Harlaown was someone who had seen many things.

(Too many.)

Some of those were things she was better off not knowing.

She didn't break, however.

But that was then.

Now, the pillar - her pillar - the one thing that had supported her for years, were nothing more than a ghost of a memory.

And --

-o-

Electricity crackled around her fingers.

She snapped her wrist towards the items piled on the ground.

Burn, burn, burn.

She fought the urge to stomp out the fire, and merely watched.

They were all burning away..

The wind blew, and for the briefest moment - because the fire dimmed - ribbons - she felt the ground beneath her waver; she gritted her teeth, clenched her fists, and -

How could such small things - they were just strings, strings that were lit with fire and rapidly turning ash black - threaten to make her break then and there?

Three hours prior, she rummaged around their apartment, and picked up items that belonged to her, items that were most precious to both of them, and piled them outside.

She allowed herself a moment - a moment and no more - to remember.

To ingrain them into her mind.

And after that, she burned them.

-o-

Fate isn't a believer of the past.

She dislikes clinging to memories, and hates depending on things that no longer existed.

(She loathed depending on anything.)

So she burns them.

Because she knows that, one day - should anything threatens to break her - she would start clinging to memories that she shouldn't cling to.

So she burns.

And she turns away.

The look Signum gave her upon finding out what she did was a terrible mix of resignation and understanding.

"I can't decide if I should call you admirable or a fool, Testarossa."

(Fate thinks it's the latter.)

-o-

She threw herself into work.

It wasn't altogether surprising, if at all.

But at least she didn't smoke.

Smoking had been somewhat of an on and off affair for her. She couldn't really remember when it started, but she knew it was after she became an enforcer.

It wasn't until that particular mission that killed her comrades that the addiction becomes overwhelming.

It was a time when everything went to hell, when she was just that close to breaking - maybe it was the pressure, maybe it was the deaths, maybe it was because she just couldn't handle how her hands would shake and how she would see blood and those lifeless eyes of her comrades and -

No.

She hadn't smoked at all. Not since that time.

Couldn't.

Maybe it was because Nanoha had disapproved of her smoking.

Maybe it was because she knew just how much they - all of them - have been watchful around her; and smoking would be a recipe for more concern.

(And that was the last thing she wanted.)

Maybe it was just -

Honestly, she didn't really know why.

It was probably a combination of everything.

But she knew she couldn't even bring herself to touch it.

Which was probably a good thing.

And probably not, too.

She didn't think driving herself to exhaustion every single day was any better.

-o-

Fate Testarossa Harlaown isn't someone that could be left alone often, despite appearances.

She can't be left idling, can't be left without something to do, can't be left doing nothing.

It's irony, because she buries herself in work so often and so harshly - that sometimes, for certain periods of time, there is just nothing to do.

And when there's nothing to do, she thinks.

The blonde knows it's dangerous to let her mind wander, because her thoughts almost always go downhill, and it's the same cycle of self abuse all over again, and she knows just how much it's affecting everyone else, so she makes an effort to not think.

But it's hard. It's a difficult process, to actually stop thinking.

Sometimes, she's successful.

Other times, she isn't.

(That's most times.)

It's hell.

It's hell, and she can't stop it.

-o-

A/N: It's...been a while, hmm? Rae brought up the topic of beta-ing Paper Thin and Sonreír, which in turn made me read this fiction, all over again. And...yeah. I guess I sort of just sat down and...wrote. It's an overdramatic version of the culmination point, but I digress. I can't say I was planning to post this so quickly - if at all - but I'm obliging a certain kiddo who has a birthday approaching in two days. Anyway. First part of this fic is already beta-ed, but not this part. Maybe another time. And yes, Diana, I'm letting you off the hook this time, since you still have that other thing that you owe me. And I'm waiting for it.

Hope it's a good read. It's 4 am, and I'm feeling drained.

Later.