4# - "A Rival?! No, Silly, That's Just My Ex!"

It was early afternoon. The sun streamed through the windows of the estate, and Hayate Yagami poured herself a third of a cup of tea.

Then she added a splash of brandy, approximately half the cup's volume in sugar, and then whiskey.

Hayate always said that she had got into that habit after meeting a green-haired little fairy who had taught her wisely, but Hayate was somewhat infamous for her fondness for absinthe, and so such statements should always be taken with a pinch of salt. It was possibly true that she thought she had met a little green-haired fairy, but many other things were also possible – and indeed probable – when she was doing shots because of the stress of handling Nanoha.

"Isn't it a little early in the afternoon to be drinking that?" Reinforce said, staring with horror at the waste of sugar.

"Shut up, Rein," Hayate responded, with utmost grace and poise. "Nanoha is in Northern Ireland, hunting a VAMPIRE infestation. At least until she gets bored and decides to go and pick up cute girls from a nearby town. I need some fortification." She shuddered. "Let's hope this time she waits until after she's destroyed the entire complex in nuclear fire."

"Uh, don't you mean 'hope this time she doesn't destroy everything in nuclear fire'?" Rein asked.

"No, of course not. I don't hope for things which don't come true," Hayate said. "We'll just pin her actions on terrorists, or possibly UFOs. Depends if she decides to burn target markers into crop fields so she can practice again."

"I believe she has expressed the idea that large explosions are romantic," Rein observed.

"No, she's observed that pink is romantic," Hayate sighed, drinking her abominable tea-sugar-brandy-whiskey mix. "I personally think that explains a lot about her psychology."

There was a bleep from the fax machine in front of her, and Hayate leant forwards and checked the printout. She paled.

"Rein," she said slowly. "We may have a problem."

"Oh?"

"Yes. The Church is getting involved."

"Oh my."

How many divisions has the pope got, Stalin once asked. He was then rather surprised to discover that the answer was that he had seven active divisions, with extensive mechanised forces and magic-using specialists capable of, in extreme cases, nuclear-level firepower. And was, in fact, the unchallenged overlord of Italy. And had he turned his eyes on the Holy Land, which is like catnip for militant popes.

It was pretty surprising how no one else had noticed that the papal states had reformed in the aftermath of the Second World War, honestly.

"That's not the worst news," Hayate said, though. "According to this very convenient fax, the Church has sent one of its top agents to… oh. Oh no. That can't be right."

"What?"

Hayate shook her head. "We're just going to hope that Nanoha is on her top game," she said. "Oh. And the new one, as well. Suberry or something. Whatever. Nanoha needs to stop bringing girls home."



Over in Ireland, it was late evening. The last traces of bloody hued light had faded from the sky, and now inky blackness consumed all light.

Some might have questioned how there was this strange temporal disparity between two locations in the same time zone. And indeed, it was most peculiar. And the fault of the Nazis.

"Okay!" Nanoha said, smiling widely at Subaru. "So I'm just going to Dublin to see if there are any cute girls with sad eyes there who I need to save from giant kittens. You can go punish everything in this creepy old abandoned manor house. It's like training! Remember, if you don't do this well, I'll have to mark you down in my report!"

Subaru frowned. "Aren't… we in Northern Ireland?" she asked. She wasn't sure. She hadn't really been paying much attention in the briefing.

"Yes!"

"… isn't Dublin quite far away?"

"Yep! But you're forgetting two things," Nanoha said, counting on her fingers. "One, I can fly. And two, I'm a ninja."

"You are?" Subaru frowned. "But you don't dress in black."

Nanoha nodded. It was a very good point. "Yes. That's because I'm such a good ninja that no one suspects it. Real ninjas don't dress up in black pyjamas, except sometimes when we're going to bed."

Subaru's jaw dropped wide open. "Ninjas are so clever," she said in awe. "How do I become one?"

"If I told you, I'd have to kill you," Nanoha said, and frowned. "Again," she added, because she was an honest girl.

Subaru was left on her own. She frowned, as her somewhat dented intellect tried its best to interpret her orders

There was a house full of undead. Which was a silly name, really, in her opinion, because they were dead and then reanimated by what Hayate had said was Belkan superscience-magic-stuff. So they were really more like… she tried to think of a name. Corpsebots! Yeah!

So, she had to kill them all. So it just made sense she would charge in through the window on roller skates and kill everyone inside. Or unkill them. Whatever the term was for killing the undead. Or nonalive.

"Zero Fist!"

"Zero Kick!"

"Zero Grabbing You By The Head And Beating Someone Else With Your Flailing Body!"

Subaru wasn't sure why she was shouting out all her attack names, but it made her feel better.

She paused for a moment. She was covered in blood, oil, and nothing was moving any more. So that probably meant she had done well and Nanoha would be pleased with her and say nice things about her. Nanoha was so cool and so awesome and…

Subaru's torso fell off her body, sparking.

"Ow," she said, after a few moment's thought. She was only half the woman she'd been.

An excessively sinister figure was standing in front of her legs. With their long black cape, glowing yellow scythe which sparked lightning, similarly glowing eyes, and perfunctory grasp of 'clothes are meant to cover things', she was either an evil force the world had never seen, or a goth.

'Or' was being used here in the computational sense, by the way. If it wasn't, I would have used 'xor'. And I don't mean xor.

"Hello," the sinister figure said politely. "I was worried for a moment, but then I realised you were a horrific abomination of magic and or science, and therefore it was fine for me to cut you in half." She paused. "I'm very sorry for the inconvenience," she apologised.

"Why did you cut me in half?" Subaru wheezed.

"Because you're a VAMPIRE?" the stranger said. "You are, right? Please don't say I made another mistake and Carim is going to shout at me again! It wasn't my fault I got that report on Halloween! Oh dear, I've made a mistake and it's all gone wrong and…"

"I am a VAMPIRE," Subaru said, because she felt bad for the stranger and how distressed they sounded. "Do you know what the last two letters in the acronym stand for?"

"That's classified. I'm Fate, by the way?"

"Well, Nanoha is going to be angry with me and…"

Fate gasped. "Did you say 'Nanoha'?"

"Yes, I said Nanoha. She's my new…"

Fate frowned. "Oh darn," she said. "We said her name three ti-"

The wall exploded.

"Oh, hiya Subaru!" Nanoha said, smiling contentedly down at the bisected Subaru as she floated through the hole in the wall. "Are you done yet? Because I found a cute girl with sad eyes who was having real problems with a giant kitten, and trust me on this, it's… ohmigod! Fate-chan! It's so good to see you again!"

"Nanoha, she cut me in half," Subaru complained.

"Oh, don't you know?" Nanoha said happily. "Well, you probably don't know, because you've never met her before, so I should introduce you! Subaru, this is Fate! We went out for a while! She has the saddest eyes of anyone I ever met! Fate, this is Subaru. She has a rare talent for surviving when she gets blown up! Or cut in half, it seems! Well done, Subaru-chan!"

Nanoha paused.

"Oh, don't you know?" she repeated. "Subaru has a rare talent for surviving when she gets blown up! Silly, silly Fate-chan! How could you not know that? Especially when I'd already told you!"

"So… romantic," Subaru wheezed, her heart melting from the romance. And the after-effects of being cut in half from a lightning-scythe. But mostly the romance, apart from the bits from the scythe. Slowly, she began to drag herself over the ground, to where her bottom half was.

"How dare you show up!" Fate protested, pointing her scythe at Nanoha.

"Hey, you're the person who said my name one of the three times," Nanoha said, crossing her arms. "Why'd you do that if you didn't want me around, hmm?"

"You left me!"

"I didn't leave you, Fate-chan," Nanoha said reassuringly. "I just wasn't where you were for quite a long time and found some new girlfriends in the mean time."

"You broke my heart!"

"I didn't!" Nanoha protested. "Fate-chan! How could you say that! That's totally untrue. If I'd broken your heart, you'd have been all argh-argh-argh-Nanoha-chan-why-have-you-stabbed-me-in-the-chest-with-your-Device! And when I tried that, I couldn't get past your ribcage! And I only did that because you tried to hurt Raising Heart!"

"It tried to eat my soul!"

"That's only how it shows it's friendly," Nanoha said, stroking the red gem on her staff. "There, there. She didn't mean it."

Feeling very embarrassed, Subaru crawled over to her legs and got to work reattaching them.

"You've changed! You're not the woman I fell in love with! You're a monster!" Fate accused.

Nanoha stared at her in confusion. "I don't follow," she said.

"Follow this!" Fate shouted and cut her head off.

Subaru blinked. That was very fast. She hadn't even seen Fate's arms move. And then Nanoha's head hit the ground with a noise sort of like a bowling ball dropped from a height, and she realised she was screaming. With her newly reattached legs, she pulled herself up.

"Please don't kill me," she begged of Fate.

"I'm afraid you have to die," Fate told her seriously.

"But… but what if I don't want to die?" Subaru protested weakly, backing away from the deranged killer.

Fate's eyes widened. "I… I didn't think of that," she said, turning paler. "It would be very rude for me to cut you apart if you didn't want to be cut apart. But I already did that… but you fixed yourself, so no hard feelings there. I… I don't know. What if it's the wrong thing to do? What if I'm not meant to do it? What if I'm being a bad girl by doing it and," Fate slapped herself around the face, "No! Bad Fate! You mustn't do bad things! Be a good girl!"

Subaru stood there in confusion, waiting for the next thought to come along. There was something she had been meaning to do.

"I know!" Fate declared, eyes darting around nervously. "I will call Carim. She's a bishop and she always knows what to do when I have this sort of question."

Yes, some of you may be wondering how the Catholic Church has female bishops, when it has always stood firmly against the ordination of female clergy, claiming that it would break the apostolic succession. Well, yes. However, in the dark days of WW2, one thing led to another, and… well, ta-da! Female clergy!

Fucking Nazis.

… uh, that was two separate clauses. Even though if you read it out loud, you'd say "female clergy fucking Nazis" and then probably titter. Well, no Just as their male predecessors, female members of the clergy were required to be celibate.

But Nanoha and Fate, I hear you say. Well, yes. In many ways, Fate was a very bad priest. Certain exceptions were made for her, on the grounds of her extreme lethality when not worried by moral questions and her steadfast opposition to public displays of affection between gay couples, which meant that the many observers in the Vatican never got actual confirmation of her relationship. Plus, to be honest, at least with her there was no fear that she might act improperly towards young boys, and that could be appreciated in a priest.

Fortunately, this extended authorial diversion was enough time for Fate to dig through the short skirt, cape, leotard and collection of belts which passed for her clothing and find her phone – where, we shall never know – and remember how to turn it on, and then how to find numbers on this new-fangled gadgetry. And enough time for Subaru to try and fail to remember the really really important thing she had been meaning to do.

"Carim," Fate said, frowning, "I have a question." A pause. "No, not that one. You still haven't explained to me how it's all right for me to be a priest who is into other… oh, yes! Yes, I have a female VAMPIRE here who is also a cyborg. I'm not sure how that works. But she doesn't want me to kill her. I did cut her in half already, but she fixed herself. My question is, is it okay for me to kill her even if she doesn't want to be killed?"

What was that she had been meaning to do, Subaru asked herself.

"Damned soul, you say?"

Buy milk?

"Infectious, you say?"

No, she was lactose intolerant.

"A mercy to exterminate each and every last one of those things from the world, you say?"

Oh yes, Subaru thought slowly. She had been meaning to escape.

"Thank you very much," Fate told the phone earnestly. "I'll be sure to call you if I have any more moral dilemmas." Pause. "Uh, you did increase the hours I got on my contract, yes? Last month, I ran out again. Oh, thank you!"

Fate stared at her phone, searching for a button, and eventually managed to hang up. She tucked her phone away, somehow managing to conceal exactly where she was keeping it, and then turned to face Subaru again.

She noticed that Subaru was no longer there.

Fate blinked. "She's trying to run!" she said in an outraged tone of voice. "That is not acceptable!"

The homicidal female priest was in fact wrong there. Subaru was attempting to roller-blade off. Through a house. Which meant that her escape was being accompanied by a lot of smashing and breaking noises, and it was very easy for Fate to catch up with her.

"Stop running away. It'll be quick," Fate reassured Subaru. "Nanoha didn't even notice."

"Didn't notice what?" asked Nanoha, standing behind Fate.

"That I cut your head off, Nanoha," the blonde said. There was a pause. "How is your head still attached?" Fate whimpered. "And why are you not dead?"

"Because I'm a ninja. Stop being so silly, Fate-chan," Nanoha said, in a tone of voice which implied that Fate was perhaps being a tiny bit obtuse. "I just dropped a smoke bomb."

"Nanoha, I cut your head off," Fate told her weakly.

"Nin. Ja."

"That explains nothing. There wasn't even any smoke."

Nanoha stared at her blankly in confusion. "Fate-chan," she said, sounding worried, "have you hit yourself in the head? It's not like you to be like this. Oooh! I know! You're sick and I'm going to have to dress up as a nurse and make you all better! Raising Heart, prepare the surgery kit!"

"ąĐčĔ÷ç❹ⱤⱢⱣffiṁ ϯϰϭϠϣƔ ƝƯƫƇḴḲḄḸḿǿdz," blasphemed her device. Subaru screamed at the sound, her earwax melting, and all around them the rats in the walls sang until their breath gave out.

There was the sound of a crack and a large explosion, and Fate was mysteriously gone, along with most of the ceiling.

"… is she a ninja too?" Subaru breathed in awe, once she could hear again. "I should have known all along. She was wearing black." Subaru turned around, as if the priest had somehow managed to hide behind her, but the terrible stealth of the black-clad woman defied her skills of investigation. "Where did she go?"

Nanoha raised a finger, pointing upwards.

Subaru stared at it. "Ah. Ninja hand magic. Of course." She thought hard. "Fate has issues, doesn't she?" she asked hesitantly.

"That's not very nice," Nanoha said, wagging her finger at her apprentice. "It's not very nice to say that she has confidence issues, that she's got a whole raft of phobias, that she was treated very badly by her mother and that she's a failed attempt to resurrect her long-dead sister merged with a supersoldier project. But yes, she has some problems. Not like perfectly sane people like me."

Subaru blinked. Those were some very long words. She thought about them. Had she even said all those things? She tried to remember if she had.

No, too much work.

"She has such sad eyes," Nanoha sighed happily.

"Nanoha!" Hayate managed, panting as she dropped in through the hole in the roof. "Watch out! Fate is around and…"

"Already dealt with her!" Nanoha said with a dreamy smile, which shifted into a frown. "She has trust issues, I think. She just can't settle down."

"What did you do?" Hayate asked warily.

"I just asked her if she wanted me to see to her injuries," Nanoha said, sounding hurt. "I'm a very good doctor, you know! I help people! With Raising Heart!" She pouted. "Why do so many of my exes try to kill me? I think I'm just unlucky in love."

"I'll never kill you," Subaru said loyally.

"I know you won't, but I said 'try'," Nanoha said, shaking her head.

"… oh." Hayate sighed. "I need a drink."