Pain

A "Relationships" Series What If Story

Co-Written with RadiantBeam

Disclaimer: We own none of the characters involved

Note: As humans, we have infinite curiosity, it's why fanfiction is written. But sometimes, we wonder what might have been for a story if a plot point comes up and is never explored. This story explores the possibility if Yuuno had been forced to go out to fight on the field next to Arf and Vita. So, no one can complain about a wasted plot.

Warning: Darker tones ahead. Reading this may make you want to seriously, seriously hurt someone, or cry, or both.

Before anyone says that this belongs as a part of the main story, it's got two separate endings, so, it's its own story.

There will be two endings to this what if story. Yes, we did an AU ending to our AU story.


Yuuno was down.

He was out.

He was amazed he wasn't dead.

Or at least, he didn't think he was dead. After all, if he was dead, would he still be feeling this incredible pain? Would he still hear the voices of Arf and Vita, faded as they were? Would he still be able to see the wreckage of battle around him, even if his vision was failing?

And the pain...

A burning sensation in his chest, like he'd been shot; a clenching pain, like someone had closed their fingers around his heart and was squeezing tightly, without remorse.

It hurt.

It was so simple, wasn't it? Back up the rookies, make sure that they got out alive, everyone comes out of it alive. Simple, easy, how did it turn out this way?

"I guess, maybe I should have dodged." He managed to groan out, wincing with each word.

"Shut up!" Vita yelled at him as she surveyed the battle area. "You better not say anything until we get you to a hospital!" There were tears falling down her face as she glared at him, at the area, and at the idiot who got Yuuno into this situation.

Yuuno blew out a long breath. "Don't think I'll last that long," he said weakly.

"You'll last! You'll damn well last, you idiot!" Vita whipped her head around. "Arf! Where are the medics?"

The familiar, in her full adult form, looked just as angry, just as frustrated as the small Knight. "They're coming as quickly as they can."

"Is Shamal with them?"

"She insisted on coming as soon as she heard Yuuno's name." Arf looked around. "How are the rookies?"

"They're fine." Vita gritted her teeth. "The stupid moron on the ground held his shield long enough to protect the stragglers, even with hellfire raining down on him."

"Right, Yuuno, oh gods! Yuuno!" Arf's eyes widened as she saw him start to pale. The two quickly stripped him out of his shirt, finding his chest bleeding heavily as they did what they could to stop it. "Stop bleeding, dammit! Yuuno! You promised us you would come back! You stop bleeding right now!" Arf yelled at him, tears falling down her face as hers and Vita's hands got more and more covered in blood as they did what they could to stop it.

Even with his life bleeding out of him, Yuuno chuckled. "Sorry... I'm causing a of trouble for you two..."

"Don't talk!" Vita barked. "Save your strength, Shamal will be here any minute!"

Yuuno kept talking. "Just... can you apologize to Nanoha and Fate for me? Tell them... I really messed up this time."

It was the last thing he said before everything faded to black. The last thing he heard was Arf screaming his name.

"Yuuno! YUUUNO!" Arf screamed, shaking him. "Get up! Come on! Get up!"

"Don't you dare die! Don't you dare die on me!" Vita yelled loudly. "SHAMAL! MEDIC! WE NEED MEDICS! HURRY UP!"

Shamal arrived a few moments later to the scene as the two were trying their best to try and get Yuuno to stay with them. Shamal ran to the group. "We're here, Vita, Arf..."

"Shamal! Yuuno! He... He's not... Hurry, please!" Vita yelled, pushing on the wounds, trying to keep Yuuno's blood in his body.

Shamal only had to take one look at Yuuno before she got to work, easily sweeping Arf and Vita aside. The first trick, she knew, was to stop the blood flow; only then could she focus on saving his life.

"Shamal?" Arf was practically whimpering.

"He's still alive." Shamal's voice was quiet, focused, but relieved nonetheless. "Just barely, but he's still fighting." As she started to apply pressure to his chest and signaled for another medic, she looked at Vita. "What the hell happened?"

Vita could tell, then, just how scared Shamal was. It was the only time she ever cursed.

Clenching her fists, Vita trembled and glared at where the rookies had left. She knew that they weren't totally at blame, she knew it. It didn't make her feel better. "That IDIOT!" She yelled, tears falling down her face. "He's such an idiot! Puts up a barrier to make sure that everyone gets out safely, and the instant that it goes down, he takes an attack that he should have been able to block. But, no, he's so tired that his own personal field isn't active and it cuts into him!" Vita screamed and stomped on the ground, cracking it.

As more medics gathered around Yuuno, Shamal took a deep breath and quietly retreated, signaling for Vita and Arf to join her.

"Are you sure you should be leaving him alone?" Arf asked anxiously.

"He's fine. For the moment." Shamal bit her lip. "It's bad. He took a direct hit. By some miracle the blast missed his heart, but he's still sustained critical damage. I need to take him straight to the medical ward."

Shamal took another deep breath.

"One of you has to tell them," she whispered. "One of you has to tell Fate and Nanoha."

"I'll do it." Vita all but growled it. "I was the one who agreed to take the damn mission."

"Shamal... Do... Do you think Yuuno will..?" Arf asked, looking at her bloody hands and trembling horribly.

"We'll do everything we can, Arf. Everything we can." Shamal said to her, looking at the scene grimly.

Vita trembled, tears falling down her face. "Why?" She asked no one in particular. "Why does everyone I try to protect get so hurt?"

Shamal's eyes softened slightly; she stepped forward and hugged Vita quickly, gently, before releasing her to go back to Yuuno.

Arf looked at the small Knight worriedly. "Vita?"

Vita blew out a long, hard breath. "You go with Yuuno, Arf. I... I have to tell Nanoha and Fate what happened."

Arf nodded, trembling, before hugging Vita as well. "I'm sorry... I couldn't protect him either."

Vita nodded and hugged her back. "I... I'll go tell them. Just make sure to stay with him."

Arf nodded and went to help Shamal as Vita took trembling steps away from the scene. Along the way, she glared at the rookies, who were wondering what happened. She could feel rage, intense, blinding rage that threatened to swell up and make her take Graf Eisen and do things that would get her, Hayate and all the Wolkenritter in trouble.

That was the only reason that she settled for glaring, before she left, quickly.

(---)

Even if Vita wanted to immediately go to the house and break the news to Nanoha and Fate, to better deal with their reactions, she knew she couldn't do that. For one thing, it was almost midnight, and for another her clothes were all bloody.

She took only the minimum amount of time to stop at base to switch out of her Barrier Jacket, simply washing the blood off before changing back into her uniform.

After changing, she braced herself for the worst possible mission.

(---)

Nanoha yawned tiredly, turning over sleepily and nuzzling into Fate's neck. The two had finally managed to settle down to sleep a few minutes ago, contenting themselves with waking to find Yuuno slipping quietly between them when he returned. The night was quiet, and Fate's arm felt nice around her waist.

At first, she thought she was dreaming when the doorbell sounded. When it went off again, she opened her eyes and groaned. "Fate-chan..."

"Yeah, I know." Fate yawned. "Want to stay up here?"

"No, I'll come down. The bed gets cold when I'm alone."

Fate smiled and kissed her on the lips. "Come on." She yawned, wondering who would be there at this hour of the day. Getting out of bed, the two were quick to wrap robes around their bodies and head downstairs.

The doorbell went off again, causing Nanoha to twitch slightly. "Remind me to turn off the doorbell late at night."

Fate nodded, but had no intention of doing that. Opening the door, she blinked in surprise. "Vita? What brings..." Fate trailed off, seeing how stiff, nervous and terrible Vita looked, almost as if someone had done something horrible to one of the knights. "What's wrong?"

Nanoha peered curiously over Fate's shoulder. "Vita-chan? It's late..."

"Yeah. I know. Sorry. Something kind of happened." Vita took a deep breath, hoping it would relax her. It didn't work. "Is Vivio up?"

"She's at Momoko and Shiro's tonight. She wanted to sleep over."

Oh, thank you, Vita thought. She hesitated, fidgeted, and wondered if she should break her news on the doorstep or come inside.

Fate sensed her confusion, stepping back. "Why don't you come in? It's late, and kind of chilly tonight."

Vita smiled weakly. "Yeah, thanks."

When they were all inside and in the living room, Vita grimaced, she really, really did not look forward to what she had to say. "Nanoha... Fate... Arf, Yuuno and myself... We... We had a mission today..." The two of them nodded, they figured that when Yuuno had slipped out of the bed. "And... There was a surprise attack." Vita fidgeted, she could FEEL the tension levels rising dramatically.

"Yuuno-kun... Oh gods!" Nanoha's face was pale, her eyes wide as her body trembled. "Did... Is he... Vita-chan, tell me! Is he dead?"

Vita plunged on; now that she was talking, it felt like she simply couldn't stop.

"Arf and I got seperated with a small group of recruits, and Yuuno... he was stuck behind with another group. One of the attackers... he could match Yuuno's rank." Vita heard her voice break. "I couldn't get there in time. Yuuno must have held that shield for at least an hour, despite the constant attacks. He..." She closed her eyes, shuddered. "He only dropped it for a moment. He needed to catch his breath. He was weakening. The minute the barrier dropped, the bastard let off another shot."

"He got out of the way." Fate's voice trembled. "Vita, tell us he got out of the way."

Vita slowly opened her eyes.

"There were recruits behind him," she whispered.

"Y...You're lying! Right? Please, oh, PLEASE! Vita! Tell me that you're lying!" Nanoha had a scared look on her face, her mind flashing back to when she was little, seeing her father in the hospital.

Vita had her eyes closed and she shook her head. "He... There was so much blood... So much... Shamal... she got there... But..."

"He... He can't be dead!" Fate trembled, her eyes watering.

"He was so weak... So pale... Shamal said he was still alive but... I don't know!" Vita suddenly cried out. "I don't know! So much blood, I couldn't stop it! I wanted to stop it, I just couldn't!"

It still haunted her; the image of Yuuno, pale as a sheet as red blood poured from the wound on his chest, too much blood, the blood had looked so bright...

With great effort, Vita forced herself not to cry out again.

"Shamal took him straight to the medical ward," she said. "Arf went with them. He was still fighting. Just barely, she said, but he was still alive. He wanted..." She swallowed hard. "He wanted me to tell you guys he was sorry, that he really messed up this time." She cleared her throat. "I don't think he'll die, but... you deserve to hear it."

"We... We need to go, Vita..." Nanoha said stiffly and went to her room to get some clothes on, Fate following a moment later.

Vita sat in the chair, her hands shaking horribly as she stared at them. She could still see the blood on them, so much blood, so much...

She nearly jumped out of her skin when she felt a hand on her shoulder. Looking up, she blinked as Nanoha, dressed in light clothes, nodded at her. "Come on, Vita-chan... We're going to go see Yuuno-kun."

Nanoha nodded, she knew, she knew all too well.

(---)

The trio quickly made their way to the emergency ward, Arf was there waiting for them, trembling, her hands were still bloody, she hadn't bothered to wash them off, just sitting on the chairs, looking at her hands as she trembled. She looked up and sniffled before crying and hugging Fate, who held her, the blond's tears fell silently as the group sat, and waited, and waited.

It would be hours before they would hear any news at all.

As they sat, a flurry of movement made Fate blink and look up in confusion; her eyes widened as Lindy gently settled down next to her, Chrono and Amy not far behind. "Mom? How did you..."

"My social network is wide and fast as the speed of light." Lindy smiled gently at her daughter. "I thought you could use some company. Nanoha," she added, "Momoko called. She said she can keep Vivio as long as you need her to."

Nanoha nodded, silent, rocking back and forth silently, her face unreadable. She didn't think she could say or do anything more, she had to be strong, she needed to be strong, she would wait, she would...

Totally start crying the instant she was pulled into a hug by Lindy, who moved right next to her. "I... I can't... I can't..." She hiccuped as she broke down in a mass of sobs and tears.

"Can't what?" Lindy's voice was soft, her embrace gentle as she cradled Nanoha in her arms. As she comforted the brunette, Amy and Chrono both gathered around Fate, offering her silent support. Well, silent in Chrono's case. "Hey," Amy whispered.

Fate tried to smile, failed miserably. "Hi."

Chrono looked at Arf, who was looking anywhere but at Fate or Nanoha, tears still falling down her face and frowned lightly at the blood on her hands, but didn't say anything. He glanced across the hall, where Vita was sitting, completely silent. She looked up and flinched slightly, before looking back down.

Amy rubbed Fate's back softly as the blond trembled. "Fate, it's okay. Don't hold back." She sighed as the blond shook her head softly. "Fate, don't hold this in, you don't want it to eat away at you." She whispered softly.

"W...why?" Fate sniffled, her face scrunching up as she tried to stop her tears.

Amy could only guess as to what Fate was asking, but she knew the blond well enough to try. "Why didn't he get out of the way?" she offered.

"Why... Why did this happen to him?" She asked, her voice trembling. "Why did it happen to him?"

Amy was silent and shook her head. "I... I don't know." She whispered softly.

"His way of thinking was simple." Chrono finally spoke up. "He knew what he was doing. He knew that if he got out of the way, the recruits would be killed. He figured he was strong enough to survive the blast, and decided to take the risk so he wouldn't lose anyone."

Fate nodded, she knew that. Heck, she had gotten a few injuries herself by doing things similar. It didn't make it any easier to accept.

Lindy sighed as she held Nanoha, who was passed out. Rocking back and forth softly, she hoped to keep the demons of the younger woman's mind away, if even for a little while. I wish I could promise you two that he will be alright. I wish I could promise you that. She thought sadly, her shirt damp with tears from Nanoha's crying.

They lost track of time. It could have been minutes that passed as they sat there, or hours; it was hard to say. There was no clock on the wall to tell them how much time had passed. At some point Fate rested her head against Amy's shoulder and fell asleep, just as exhausted by everything as Nanoha was.

Just as Vita was beginning to wonder if she'd have to charge the doors to get any news, Shamal came out of the room.

She looked like hell; pale, her eyes tired, her body trembling slightly. Clearly, she'd been ignoring her own needs to tend to Yuuno and the other injured. As she came outside, both Nanoha and Fate stirred as Arf stood up. "Shamal?" she asked softly.

Shaking her head, Shamal dropped into a chair. "It's bad," she whispered. "We managed to stop the blood, so he isn't in danger of bleeding to death anymore, but we can't get his body to stabilize itself. He used up too much power, and he used it too fast."

"What are you saying?" Vita frowned. "I only saw him put up one huge shield."

"He threw up a smaller one before he got hit." Exhausted, Shamal rubbed her eyes. "That's what did him in, that tiny shield, and that explains why he survived the blow. We..." She swallowed hard. "We lost him once the way here, but I managed to bring him back. Right now we're trying to get his magical levels stable again, or else his body will shut down."

"I..." Shamal rubbed her forehead tiredly. "I did all I could..." She slumped tiredly, showing that she was as tired as she looked.

Vita clenched her fists together. "I... This is my fault... I should have refused the mission, or I should have stayed with him."

"Some familiar I am..." Arf muttered. She had went with him, promising Fate that she would protect him, and she had failed, horribly.

"You can't blame yourself," Shamal murmured. "No one saw this coming. The attack was unexpected. It's a miracle there were no causalities." Though at the rate things were going, Yuuno would die.

After a moment, she lifted her head, looking at Fate and Nanoha. "I'm sorry," she said. "I wish I had better news."

They nodded softly, and Nanoha forced a small smile onto her face. "Shamal... Thank you... For doing your best." The pain in her voice was evident, but she still tried to smile.

Shamal nodded quietly before she rose again. "I have to go back in," she said. "I can't leave him alone for too long."

She got tired nods from everyone, but Vita grabbed her arm, causing her to look at her. Take care of him.

Shamal nodded at the mental request before going back inside.

"Nanoha..." Lindy said softly as the younger woman trembled. "Shamal's working hard."

Nanoha looked at Vita. "Please, please tell me that the bastard didn't get away."

Vita smirked coldly at that. "Like hell he got away. I didn't go after him myself, but Arf chased him down and gave him one hell of a beating in my place." That was the only reason that it had taken Arf so long to get to Yuuno, otherwise she would have beaten the small knight to where Yuuno was.

Arf was hugged tightly by Fate, who rubbed her familiar's back and thanking her. "Fate... I... I don't deserve it..." She slumped, her eyes reflecting her sadness. "I... I couldn't protect Yuuno. It's my fault."

Fate just shook her head and tightened her grip on Arf. "You got the man who hurt him," she choked out. "That's what matters."

Arf nodded and hugged Fate tighter. She still felt miserable about everything that happened.

Vita twitched gripping her knees tightly. If only I hadn't... If I hadn't taken this mission, or put it off for a bit... She hated this, hated waiting. It was just as bad as when she held Nanoha all those years ago after she had gotten injured badly.

"Lindy?"

"Nanoha?" She blinked as Nanoha looked at her in trepidation.

"What.. What will happen now?" She asked, not as the Ace of Aces, but as a young woman scared stiff for someone she loved.

Lindy hesitated for a moment before she spoke. "It... it all depends on whether or not they can stabilize the magic in Yuuno's body. It isn't unusual for people to die during the procedure, or to come close to death, and Shamal already said he died once before, but was brought back."

She knew it wasn't the best thing to say, but it was the truth. She wished that it wasn't so true though.

Amy looked at Chrono, who nodded. "I'm sorry, I need to leave." He kissed his wife, before nodding to the others.

"I understand." Fate nodded at him, her voice trembling lightly. "Thank you, for showing up, brother."

"Chrono." Lindy's soft voice made him look at her.

Chrono smirked. "Don't worry, Mom. I won't do anything stupid."

She nodded as he left, sighing heavily. It was times like these that she wanted to curse the world for all it was worth.

It would be hours sat in silence before any news was heard.

Shamal came out only to find the small group asleep; Nanoha was still cuddled against Lindy, Fate dozing between Arf and Amy. Vita sat by herself, arms crossed over her chest and her head bowed as she slept. Moving quietly, Shamal gently stepped over to Vita and gave her a light shake.

Vita woke in an instant. "Shamal." She kept her voice low, mindful of the sleeping family. "Is he...?"

Shamal couldn't fight back the smile; despite her exhaustion, she was overjoyed. "We've managed to stabilize him," she said softly. "It's still touch and go from here, but his chances are much better." All she wanted to do was find a bed and fall asleep.

Vita sighed and hugged her, tears falling down her face as she couldn't keep the relief from crashing out of her. "Thank you... Thank you, Shamal."

Shamal winked as Vita let go and sat down, yawning tiredly. "I'm... Rather tired..."

Vita smirked. "You can't sleep yet, you still need to wake the others up and tell them the good news."

Shamal smiled tiredly. "Good point..."

It didn't take much to wake the others up, and the news caused more tears, but of genuine happiness.

"Can we see him?"

Shamal shook her head. "Not yet... I'm sorry, but he needs to rest." The look on their faces made Shamal chuckle. "You can visit him tomorrow."

"Thank you, Shamal. Thank you." Nanoha got up and hugged the doctor for all she was worth, Fate joining a moment later.

____________

Beep...

That was annoying.

Beep...

Yep, still annoying.

Beep...

Okay, that sound needed to die.

Beep...

Why did it feel like his body wanted nothing more than to fall apart right then and there?

Beep...

Had he over-did it with Vita in training again?

Beep...

No, she wouldn't put him in this much pain. What happened?

Beep...

Wait... he'd been on a mission, hadn't he?

Beep...

Yes, a mission. And something had gone wrong. He'd tried to protect the recruits...

Beep...

He'd been alone, without Arf or Vita, and he'd wanted to protect the kids. If he'd moved, they would have been killed.

Beep...

At least he got to say goodbye to Vita and Arf.

Beep...

Wait, he wasn't dead, was he?

Beep...

Not if it hurt that much to move.

Beep...

Where was he?

Beep...

How long was he out?

Beep...

And why the heck did he feel some hands running up and down on his arms softly?

Beep...

Okay, seriously. That noise needed to die.

Given a solid thought to latch onto, Yuuno groaned softly and tried to open his eyes. It took him several tries, ignoring pain, and he blinked groggily as his vision swam.

"Yuuno!" He heard voices from around him yell out happily, wasn't that a sign you were insane?

As his vision came into focus, he grinned lightly. "I am dead then."

Nanoha frowned at that. "Why?" Was the thought of seeing her again so horrible that he would rather be dead?

"Because the first thing I see are some beautiful angels to greet me."

On his other side, Fate gave a strangled laugh. "Yuuno, we'd have to be dead to greet you."

Yuuno frowned slightly at that; his brain was still lagging behind his body. "Wait... I'm not dead?"

Nanoha shook her head and squeezed his hand. "No... You aren't dead. You almost did die though." She sniffled, tears falling down her face again.

"Nanoha... Fate... How long...?"

Fate squeezed his arm gently. "You were out cold for the better part of a month. Vivio's shown up every day after school, hoping to see you awake."

Yuuno blinked and frowned, confused as, for a moment, he blanked out on why he was in the hospital bed in the first place. It hit him a moment later; holding up the shield, dropping it to regain his senses, seeing the shot coming straight at him and...

He laughed weakly. "I need to apologize to Vita," he mused. "I never even planned to get out of his way when I realized where he was firing."

"We know..." Nanoha smiled at him softly. "There was someone behind you. I'm just glad you're alive."

Yuuno smiled softly and squeezed her hand. "I'm sorry, Nanoha, Fate... I... I didn't mean to worry you two so much."

They shook their heads at him, smiling. "This sounds familiar." Fate smiled at him softly. "Almost like someone else who ended up here a long time ago."

"Fate-chan, you better not think of following our example and ending up here."

"It really doesn't feel good," Yuuno added helpfully, making Fate laugh softly. "I seriously thought I'd been killed..."

"Shamal said that she lost you once when bringing you in. She managed to bring you back. Yuuno-kun... Don't... Don't you ever worry us like that again!" Nanoha cried out, her eyes closing as tears fell down her face.

At that, Yuuno blinked. "I worried you?" He sounded incredibly surprised, or maybe that was brain damage speaking?

Nanoha nodded and Fate squeezed his hand gently. "Of course you did, you silly ferret." Yuuno got a small chuckle, before groaning as his chest didn't agree with the extra movement.

"Yuuno!" His lovers called out at the same time and he shook his head, panting lightly.

"Okay, no more making me laugh." Yuuno groaned out with a weak grin on his face.

Nanoha frowned worriedly. "Are you in pain? I can call someone..."

Even as Fate moved to stand, Yuuno shook his head weakly. "Don't bother," he murmured. "It's not something you can treat. The wound has to heal on its own."

"Yuuno..." Fate said softly and squeezed his hand. "We were just so worried, that's all."

"I'm sorry." He said, closing his eyes and taking a breath. "I just..."

The doors opened at that moment as a small girl walked in slowly. "Nanoha-mama... Fate-mama... Is Yuuno-papa still..." Vivio trailed off as Fate moved to the side, letting Yuuno wave tiredly at her. "Yuuno-papa!" She yelled excitedly and ran for the bed, stopping short of jumping on it when Fate grabbed her to stop her. "Mou... Fate-mama!"

"Now now, Vivio, Yuuno's in the hospital... Don't tackle him."

"You and Nanoha-mama do all the time." She pouted, getting a small chuckle from Yuuno.

"It's okay, Fate. Come here, Vivio." He smiled at her lightly as she crawled into his bed, hugging him.

"Are you going to come home soon?" Vivio immediately curled up by his side, snuggling as close as she possibly could without hurting him. "The house is really quiet without you."

"Oh?" Yuuno smiled tiredly.

"Uh huh. And Nanoha-mama and Fate-mama are sad."

"Vivio," Nanoha murmured softly.

"I'm sorry, Vivio. I didn't mean to make them sad."

She nodded hugging him tightly. "I missed you too."

Nanoha smiled sadly, the scene reminded her way too much of herself when her father was in the hospital. What Vivio was doing was something that she had wanted to do with her own father so long ago.

She just wished that she could have gone back in time and stopped what happened from happening.

Yuuno saw the look in his lovers' eyes and smiled slightly, gently rubbing Vivio's back. As worried as he was about them, he knew he couldn't just dismiss Vivio, either.

Fate nodded to Nanoha, who walked out of the room. "Vivio, Nanoha-mama and I are going to go see Shamal, okay? You keep Yuuno-papa company."

"Okay!" She called out happily. "Bai bai, mama."

Fate smiled as she walked out of the room. "Nanoha..." She said softly to the other woman, who was standing at the edge of the hallway. "Nanoha, it's okay, he's alive, Vivio didn't have to deal with the same neglect you did." She took Nanoha's hand with hers and rubbed Nanoha's palms with her thumbs. "He's alive, he's alive, Nanoha, he's in there right now talking to Vivio, giving her attention, he saved those people..." Nanoha wasn't reacting, at all, and Fate frowned. "Nanoha..."

The woman rocked back and forth, her hair casting shadows on her eyes and muttering something that Fate couldn't make out. "Nanoha!" She let go of Nanoha's hand and grabbed her shoulders, getting her lover to look at her in a shocked sort of wonderment.

"Fate-chan... What... I... I zoned out, didn't I?"

Seeing the tremor come into Nanoha's hands, Fate drew her female lover into her arms without hesitation. "What's wrong?" she asked softly. "It isn't like you to be spacing out like this."

Nanoha trembled and hugged Fate back tightly. "Just... I had a flashback... I... I saw my father and Miyuki..." She closed her eyes, trembling slightly.

"Nanoha?" Fate was worried for her.

"I... My mind flashed back to when I was a girl, my father was in the hospital... Hurting... Miyuki was with him. Mom and Kyoya were working... All alone... Couldn't bother them, needed to be strong for them so that they wouldn't worry."

"Nanoha..." Fate had gone beyond getting worried and was starting to get terrified.

"I... It hurts, Fate-chan." Nanoha trembled. "It hurts so much to be here."

"Nanoha..." Fate let go of the hug and grabbed Nanoha's arm. "Come on, let's walk." She smiled reassuringly.

"Fate...chan?"

"I want to know. I want to know why my Nanoha is hurting so much."

"But what about Yuuno-kun?"

"Vivio's keeping him company. He'll be fine, Nanoha. Shamal will call us if there's a major change."

On top of that, Fate had the sneaking suspicion that she, Nanoha, and Yuuno were going to have an interesting conversation once he was well enough, but for now that was in the future. Gently taking Nanoha's hand, she led the other woman outside.

"Fate-chan?" Nanoha muttered softly as Fate led her away from the hospital.

"You never told me why you hated to go to the hospital so much." She said softly as they walked away from the hospital doors.

"It... It's not something I want to bring up in casual conversation."

Fate made a show of looking around. "We seem to be alone now."

Nanoha smiled shakily and squeezed Fate's hand. "Can we sit down? It's kind of hard to explain."

Without hesitation Fate led Nanoha over to a nearby bench right across the street, draping an arm over the other woman's shoulders as they sat down and pulling her close.

"It..." Nanoha took a deep breath and leaned against Fate. "The doctors said that my dad came really close to death a few times. Mom only told me when I was in high school that dad actually had died a few times but was brought back to life." She closed her eyes and sighed deeply. "I... I never knew how bad it was..."

"Nanoha..." Fate said softly, rocking back and forth slowly, trying to soothe her.

"Remember... When I was in my coma, Fate-chan?"

"I could never forget." Fate said softly, closing her eyes, that was one of the worst moments in her life. At least the pictures she got of Nanoha and Hayate riding around on Zafira was always cute and funny sometimes.

"Did you know that the doctors had been discussing if I should be cut off from life support?" She asked, trembling slightly as she recalled that time in her life.

At that, Fate's eyes snapped open. "What?"

Her voice had gone low, deadly, in the blink of an eye. Her grip on Nanoha tightened slightly.

Nanoha laughed. "Nyhahaha... yeah. I guess they didn't think I could hear them. A few were really pushing for it... they thought it wasn't fair to keep me hooked up if I had no hope of recovering, but Mom and Dad fought them tooth and nail over it."

"I'm glad that they did." Fate said softly as she tried to fight back the sudden rush of anger that swelled up in her.

Nanoha nodded, that was the only thing that she could remember from that time, she had only regained enough consciousness at that point to hear that, before she relapsed. "You were there every day, I heard."

"Yes..." And the only reason that she had been allowed to do so was because Lindy had pulled enough strings to keep her away from doing anything, stating that her mental state would keep her from performing at her best.

Which was probably the truth.

"I'm glad." Nanoha smiled softly, before leaning up and kissing Fate on the lips. Smiling softly, the blond returned the kiss, pushing her tongue into Nanoha's mouth.

As nice as it felt to have Nanoha relax completely against her and return the kiss, Fate was still mindful of their surroundings, and pulled away after a few minutes.

Nanoha blinked, then pouted. "Mou, Fate-chan."

"We're in public," Fate reminded Nanoha lightly with a laugh.

"So?"

Fate laughed again; never say Nanoha didn't mind showing love when she felt like it. "Nanoha, we'd have to go home to take this further."

"Mmm... Fate-chan's soft and warm... I want some Fate-chan and if Fate-chan isn't given to me soon, I'll have to just go and get some Fate-chan on my own, and that would embarrass her." Nanoha warned with a small grin on her face.

Fate laughed and nodded. "Alright, alright, let's go home then. I'll give Lindy-mama a call to pick up Vivio tonight."

Nanoha smirked.

Fate sighed, even as she smiled.

"Late tonight," she amended.

(---)

Yuuno panted, something wasn't right. Why did he feel so tired all of a sudden?

"Papa? Papa?" Vivio's eyes widened as Yuuno got more and more pale, before slumping against the bed. "PAPA!" She screamed in fear.

At Vivio's screams, Shamal, who was in the hallway just coming to check on Yuuno, was in the room in a flash, Vita hot on her heels; one look at Yuuno had her paling. "Oh, hell," she whispered. She'd been so relieved, she'd forgotten the aftermath of the body trying to readjust its magical levels.

"Shamal?" Vita pulled Vivio into her arms. "What's going on?"

Shamal whirled around. "Get her out of here," she said tensely. "This isn't something she needs to see." Not waiting to see if Vita followed her order, she turned back to Yuuno and summoned all available medics.

"Auntie? Will papa be okay?" Vivio asked, whimpering as she was taken out of the room.

"Shamal's the best doctor here, Vivio. He'll be okay." She wasn't sure, she didn't know what was going on right now, and it was eating at her. "I think Yuuno just got worn out and Shamal's over-reacting." You better just be over-reacting, Shamal. She thought to herself.

Just as they exited the room, Amy came wandering in; maybe to visit, or to see what Fate and Nanoha were up to, Vita wasn't sure. In any case, the Knight was happy to see her.

"Aunt Amy!" With a wail, Vivio flew out Vita's arms and over to Amy.

"Whoa, hey there, kiddo." Amy easily swept the girl up into her arms. "What's going on? I thought you'd be in a good mood after seeing your papa!"

Vivio sniffled. "Something's wrong," she said softly. "Papa got really pale, and Aunt Shamal had to come in."

Amy blinked and looked at Vita, who shrugged helplessly.

"Where's Nanoha and Fate?"

"Nanoha-mama and Fate-mama said they were going to find Aunt Shamal, but they never came back." Vivio sniffled, causing Amy to look at Vita, who nodded and left to find a communication array.

"Maybe they went for a walk? You know that Nanoha doesn't like hospitals." That seemed to calm the little girl down as she nodded. "I'm sure that they'll be back soon, okay?"

"Mmn..." Vivio whimpered out softly, tears filling her eyes as she trembled.

Amy's eyes softened. Vivio wasn't her daughter, but she was a mother in every sense of the word.

"Hey, why don't you come over to my house and play with the twins? They've been asking for you. You can stay with me until Auntie Vita finds Nanoha-mama and Fate-mama."

Vivio sniffled. "What about Papa?" She asked helplessly.

Amy met the girl's gaze gently. "I promise I'll bring you back here if something changes, okay?"

Vivio nodded. "Okay."

The pair departed; after several minutes Vita returned to the area, muttering under her breath about busy signals and calls that couldn't be made because of stupid, stubborn Devices. She was jolted out of her reverie as Shamal came out of the room.

It was like the blonde didn't even see her; completely igonoring Vita, she walked calmly to a chair, turned, and dropped into it with a groan, dropping her face into her hands. "Dammit," she whispered. "Dammit. How the hell did I miss this?"

"Shamal?" Vita scrambled to her side. "What's wrong? What's going on?"

"I didn't even think of it, but now it explains why the wound healed so well even though his body wasn't stabilizing." Shamal closed her eyes, slowly. "Yuuno sustained damage to his Linker Core. His body never even stabilized itself; it's shutting down again."

"W...What?" Vita asked, her body gone stiff as her face drained of blood.

"He pushed himself too hard, Vita! I know that he doesn't push himself like Nanoha did when she was little, but he went to the edge and beyond. He tried so hard to keep going, just to return to them." Shamal groaned, her face twisted in a scowl of despair. "Right now, there are other doctors in there, who are better specialized than I am, trying to get his body to stabilize, to get his Linker Core from breaking down and shutting off."

"Wh...What did you mean by his wound healing so well even though his body never stabilized?" Vita had to know, she needed to know about these sort of things.

Shamal took a deep breath.

"Linker Cores channel the magic of any mage; that's a given. But healing magic is almost as old as time itself, and the most simple magic in existence; plenty of legends say that healing magic existed long before Linker Cores even developed." She rubbed her eyes. "For a defensive mage like Yuuno, healing his own body or others is as natural as breathing. He doesn't need a complete, functioning Linker Core to pull it off, he can do it just fine on his own."

Vita swallowed. "What does this have to do with damage to his Linker Core?"

Shamal sighed. "Linker Cores regulate the flow of magic in our bodies. If the Linker Core is damaged, the flow is thrown off and the body can't control the changing levels of magic."

"So, it's like..."

"A flamethrower without a safety valve. It's on, but there's no control at all, it just burns out uselessly."

Vita frowned, a single attack on an exhausted and weakened mage would be a way to do such a thing. "Will he be okay? Tell me the truth, Shamal."

Shamal sighed again.

"I don't know. The only one of us who ever came close to damaging her Linker Core was Nanoha-chan, and even to this day she still has some problems because of the injury she got." She closed her eyes. "All I have to say is, if Yuuno's Linker Core collapses, keeping him alive becomes much, much harder."

Vita paled.

"Bu...But you can stop this, right? Right? You and the other doctors." Vita had come to see Yuuno as a good, good friend since working with him, and he offered a lot of helpful information and tips for the rookies he worked with.

Shamal closed her eyes and shook her head. "I...I can't..." She slumped as she admitted that. "I don't have the skills or the abilities to do that." It was hard to admit that, even to one of her closest companions over the years.

"S..Shamal, but, you're so good at healing. There has to be a way?"

Shamal snapped her eyes up, getting a startled look from Vita. "Yes, I'm good at healing, battle injuries, some sicknesses, making sure people are healthy, I can do all that. Keeping someone alive because their Linker Core is screwing up? I can't do that. I couldn't help Hayate back then... I can't help Yuuno now." She finished, her voice very soft and weak.

Vita swallowed. "So... he's going to die?"

Shamal ran a tired hand through her hair. "He's out cold right now. His body is pushing itself, trying to repair his Linker Core. If it works, he should wake up, probably suffer a few lasting injuries like Nanoha-chan."

"And if it doesn't?"

"..."

"Shamal!"

Shamal closed her eyes. "He won't wake up," she said softly.

"..."

"All we can do is wait... And hope..." Shamal had, long ago, given up any notion that there was a higher power out there guiding and protecting people. Closing her eyes, she let out a small breath. Just this once, please... If there is a higher power out there, please, let him make it through this. It wasn't in her nature to believe it, but, considering that she also didn't believe that she would ever get a kind master, she had to give it a shot.

Vita groaned miserably and walked over to Shamal's side, sitting next to her. "Dammit," she whispered. "Of all the times for Nanoha and Fate to disappear, too..."

Shamal chuckled softly. "Let them enjoy themselves," she murmured. "Right now, nothing's going to change."

Vita stared at the floor.

"... Shamal... you really can't do anything for him?"

"If it was a normal injury, no matter how dangerous, I could help him. Believe me when I say that, Vita." Shamal grimaced. "But his Linker Core is what's damaged, and there's nothing I can do. If anything, my tampering with it would just make the situation worse."

"Just sit and wait?"

"That's all we can do."

Vita looked at the door and frowned softly. Yuuno, you better get better. She thought sadly.

(---)

Signum didn't have to look hard to find her fellow knight. "Hello, Vita." After all, seeing the raw destruction, the craters, the knocked over trees and the red aura of malice coming from the training grounds was a pretty big indicator of where Vita was.

"Signum."

"Still upset I see." Signum raised an eyebrow as Vita whirled on her, Graf Eisen in her hands.

In another time, Vita would have snapped at Signum; now she simply scowled and turned away. "Damn right I am," she muttered. "You might want to go away, or you'll be my next target."

Signum blinked.

"So you gave up on trying to contact Nanoha and Fate?"

"Tsk," Vita glared at an errant rock before smashing it with Graf Eisen, "their stupid devices are blocking all communication, I can't get through to them right now at all."

"I see..." Signum pulled out Laevantine, activated it, and took a stance.

"Signum?"

"You still need to vent, obviously, so I'm going to help you in that regard, Vita." Signum knew, even if Vita didn't, that sometimes the best way to express oneself was through battle.

Vita stared. "Signum, no. I could seriously hurt you right now."

Signum raised a brow.

"Your point?"

And in a blur of motion, she attacked.

"Guh!" Vita grimaced, she had forgotten how strong Signum was when she got going.

"What's the matter? You're too distracted by your anger and your emotions?" Signum pushed up, making Vita raise her arms up, only to kick the redheaded Knight away from her. "In battle, a warrior who lets their emotions cloud their judgment is as good as dead."

"I know that!" She yelled back and rushed forward, swinging Graf Eisen, now in its Rocket Hammer form, at Signum, who frowned slightly and flowed back with the attack. While she knew it was unfair, due to years of sparring with Vita, it just seemed like Vita was letting her anger make her predictable.

"Do you now?" Signum asked and lashed out with a slice, cutting off some of Vita's shirt and making her stumble backwards. "Because I just scored a hit on you that would have killed you if I was trying."

"SHUT UP!" Vita screamed and rushed forward again, ignoring the tear in her shirt, which revealed her under-shirt, as she connected blow after blow against Signum, or tried to at any rate as the pink-haired boob monster seemed to flow between attacks, blocking those she couldn't dodge and launching counter-attacks, leaving Vita a bit cut up, her shirt and pants in tatters and the smaller knight breathless.

Signum paused, raising a brow.

"Honestly, Vita, the old you would have killed me in five minutes. This is just pathetic."

"SHUT UP!!!"

In a blur of red Vita attacked; she was easy enough to block, but her anger was making her faster even if her blows weren't strong enough to do serious damage to Signum.

"YOU WEREN'T THERE!" she screamed, tears streaming down her face. "YOU DIDN'T SEE WHAT HAPPENED, YOU DIDN'T SEE HIM!! I WAS SUPPOSED TO PROTECT HIM! I PROMISED I'D PROTECT HIM!!"

At that, she collapsed into helpless sobs. "I promised," she choked out. "I promised Nanoha I'd protect him in battle."

Signum waited, and waited, but when it became apparent that Vita wasn't going to attack anymore, she sighed and recalled Laevantine to its necklace state. "And you failed."

"SHUT UP!" She yelled at Signum, more tears falling down her face. "I failed, as a knight, as a friend, as a guardian! I keep... I KEEP FAILING!" She pounded the ground a few times, her hands starting to get bloody as her skin broke.

Signum watched, her face set still, before she finally had enough, knelt down next to Vita and grabbed her hand before she did any more damage to herself. "Listen to me, and listen well, Vita. Yes, he's hurting, and yes, you couldn't keep your promise to Nanoha." It had taken all of her self control to not call Nanoha "that thing" this time. "But you still did your job by protecting the younger recruits, keeping them alive is one of the jobs a Knight of Belka has, after all."

"But I promised," Vita choked out. "That was the only reason Nanoha even let him go in the first place, because I said I'd protect him." She squeezed her eyes shut against tears that wouldn't stop falling. "And I didn't."

Signum nodded and helped her stand up. "Vita, I cannot say that what you did was the right thing. But if you had abandoned your post to make sure that Yuuno had been alright and left the recruits by themselves, then you would have been in the wrong.

"But, I..."

Signum held up a hand to stop any more protests. "Vita, regardless if it was smarter to go into different groups or stick together, you chose the correct course of action afterwords. It doesn't make it any easier, I know, but sometimes, commanders need to make those hard decisions and hope for the best.

Vita lowered her eyes. "Tell that to Nanoha and Fate..."

"Vita, I guarantee you that if you had told them that you let some rookies die just to save Yuuno they would never forgive you."

"Signum..."

The pink haired knight shook her head. "Even if they would go to hell and back just to save one person's life, they would first make sure that they could save as many as possible. Remember that, Vita."

"I..."

Signum sighed and stood up. "Let's get your hands cleaned up." She said as she picked up Graf Eisen.

"Signum..."

"Vita?"

"If... If that was Hayate instead of Yuuno, would you be talking like this to me right now? Or would you be beating me for failing our master?"

"No."

Signum's simple answer had Vita looking at her, eyes wide. "What?" she squeaked.

"I said no," the pink-haired Knight replied calmly. "I'd be upset, yes, and sad, but I'd know that you tried your best to protect her." She smiled sadly. "That's all we can ever hope to do, Vita. Anything else is out of our hands."

Vita was silent as they went inside to get her hands cleaned up. "Never makes it easier."

"Nope."

"...Thank you, Signum."


At this point, the story diverges into two different paths. Two endings. One bad, one good.

The only thing I ask, is if you read this, read both endings.