Fate, Stay Ranma

Chapter 4

"The Boys"

To: 'Sato Hiroyuki' Sato_.jp

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Subject: Big Scoop!


Big news. And I'm calling in a favor all at once. There was a full blown, I-kid-you-not monster fight in Nerima today. Can you run a story on it? I remind you of your niece's recovered cellphone with all those celebrity numbers, but only because the girl involved is a missing person, and this will save me some legwork if her family notices, and comes to me.

Do whatever you can to make it as noticeable as possible and your debt is waived. I really want to help this girl. I've enclosed pictures.


[[[ ]]]

To: 'Tendo Nabiki' ice_.jp

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Subject: re: Big Scoop!

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You know, if I had any ounce of journalistic integrity whatsoever, I'd laugh in your metaphorical face, kiddo.


[[[ ]]]

To: 'Sato Hiroyuki' Sato_.jp

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Subject: re: Big Scoop!

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No, if you had any ounce of journalistic integrity whatsoever, you wouldn't work for a tabloid, and I wouldn't have called you. A regular paper doesn't have the circulation I need. I want to cast as wide a net as possible with these, I've never heard of the district she called home.


[[[ ]]]

To: 'Tendo Nabiki' ice_.jp

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Subject: Holy Shit

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You wound me. Seriously. Right in the heart. But these pictures are smoking, Tendo-san. She's hotter than the topless girl on page three. Seriously, the ASS on this girl! Amazing. If this is paying off a debt, sign me up. I might even get a promotion for this. I'll definitely get page one, and you'll get your wish. Her face will be scattered over the country. Hell, we'll even give you a finder's fee for the photos. Get on IM, I need some quotes from you to BS some sort of story to go with this.


[[[ ]]]

Nabiki's little laptop beeped softly at her as she clicked out of the instant messaging program. A faint smile touched her lips- Hiro had been only too eager, gleeful even, to write the story. Firm promises of tens of thousands of yen, and and even more fervent promises that anyone asking about the mysterious blonde girl named 'Fate' would be put in contact with her.

All in all, it was win-win for everyone, and it was intensely productive. Still, the day was bothering her. She leaned back in her chair, looking at the laptop...but instead focused on the reflection of her face in the dark glass of the monitor. She ran her hand through her hair and let it fall again, the disheveled look suiting her mood.

It had been a really amazing day. Magic was really REAL.

Oh, of course the curses had been a big hint, but the giant monsters and the whole dark magical girl thing had driven the point home in the way that an aquatranssexual really couldn't. The curses were an amusement. What happened today-it had a gravity that changed everything.

Well, not everything. But it cast many, many things into serious doubt. Like her goals. She had been aiming to be a big fish-disdaining martial arts like her sister practiced in favor of business. Information. Snooping. A little bookwork for betting, That was what the really important people did, right? That was the only way to command her own destiny.

But apparently, she had-like many others-not had complete information. And now, if she wanted real control of her life, she needed to revisit certain things-like martial arts...and magic. If she didn't want control of her life snatched away by another rampaging monster while Ranma wasn't around, it was time to learn the rules of this other game instead of dismissing them.

The easiest way to do that was to stay friendly with Ranma. That wouldn't be hard. A bit dim, but he was a likeable sort. Sort of like Akane if she took her Ritalin. But if she was honest with herself, there was another, different problem.

She shifted her hand over to her mouse, calling up the picture folder, and opening the zip file she had sent to Hiro. Clicking the first picture, a lively action shot of Ranma in her girl form...Fate form, really, burst to life on the screen.

Blonde hair swirled behind her, the curvy, lithe form captured in the middle of a back-flip, affording the viewer a view of both her infectious, gleeful grin-as well as the rather spectacular backside Hiro had been so enthused about.

"Dat ass indeed." The brunette girl muttered softly to herself, heat rising into her cheeks as she traced the curves of Ranma-chan with her eyes.

Nabiki lost track of how long she stared at the photo, but she began to notice the burning in her cheeks easing downward into her chest, warmth suffusing her bust as the peaks of her bosom tingled, and she gasped, slamming the laptop closed and banging her forehead lightly against the case.

"This is NOT happening to me."

[[[ ]]]

"Seriously, what are you going to do about Kuno? He's already up and around, even though his jaw is wired shut."

Bright and early the next morning, Nabiki had opted to join them on the walk to school once again, and Akane was clearly surprised, and more than a little suspicious, but had managed to reign in her misandric comments for the morning, apparently granting Ranma limited amnesty, given that Nabiki seemed to get along with him.

"Uh." Ranma hedged, flushing. "I got a little carried away, huh." He glanced off to the side, looking at nothing for a moment, then back at Akane. "Sorry?"

Akane gave him a startled look. "What are you apologizing for?"

"I shouldn't have butted in, I guess? It's just that weird lightning made something...um...snap."

Akane blinked. Repeatedly.

Ranma blinked at her blinking, and tentatively waved his hands in front of her eyes. "Moshi Moshi?"

Akane frowned, but her expression softened, irritation leeching out of her entirely, and Nabiki marveled wondering if she'd ever seen Akane that relaxed around non-family. "Sorry. Thank you for apologizing. But you don't have to. You're practically a folk hero in school now. I just don't like people butting in on my fights."

"Oh. Okay, I get that." Ranma replied instantly. "But shouldn't a girl-" He began, but another glance sideways had him cutting off what he was going to say, and he stared off into space again for moment, and actually looked taken aback, which made Nabiki snicker, and Akane look on in confusion, and a little suspicious irritation.

"Shouldn't a girl what?" Akane demanded testily.

"Um..." Ranma's eyes shifted to Akane, and then to empty space. Then he looked at her again, panicking a little at the fire in the tomboyish girl's eyes. "Not stoop to their level?" He tried, slowly, and Nabiki had to cover her mouth at the painfully obvious prompting from Fate, now that she knew what to look for. "Nabiki explained some of what you go through yesterday after we got home. If you let them do this every day, it might validate them doing the mob thing, and that's not honorable...boy...or girl." He finished talking, and gave Akane a hesitant look. It was all Nabiki could do to keep from an attack of the giggles at the 'is she buying this?' expression the boy wore.

Without Nabiki's inside knowledge, Akane took the words at face value, and Ranma got a surprisingly sunny smile from the youngest Tendo for his troubles. "I suppose not, but I haven't lost yet, and it helps me keep in shape. Maybe when it gets to be more than I can handle I'll look for ways to stop it." She offered, shrugging. She walked another few steps, looking at Ranma thoughtfully.

"You know, I don't much like boys. For obvious reasons." Akane began, gesturing at the upcoming schoolyard with a bob of her head. "But even if you're a little rough, you're surprisingly tolerable. Even if I'm not looking for the marriage our fathers want. I've decided you'll be an honorary girl."

Ranma choked. "What th-" He began, a scowl beginning to darken his face, and Akane giggled, darting in front of him and sticking out her tongue, and Ranma was suddenly startled at her good humor.

"It's a compliment. Compliment!" She assured him. "Would you want me to lump you in with them?" She asked, gesturing to the schoolyard, and the massing boys, visible now in a shapeless mob, waiting for her arrival.

"Well, no, but I'm a guy-!" Ranma began angrily, and Akane smiled.

"Relax, Ranma. Nabiki, calm your boyfriend down while I go deal with the mob." Akane stuck out her tongue again, and darted off, her jumper fluttering in the breeze of her passage.


"Boyfr-argh. Beaten to the last word by my little sister. I may never live this down." Nabiki griped, frowning at Akane's retreating back.

Ranma glanced nervously at Nabiki, his cheeks red. "..."

"Just relax, Saotome. No need to get all fired up yet. We've got other things to worry about than Akane suddenly warming up to you. Just be happy she didn't call you my girlfriend." Nabiki's cheeks warmed suddenly as the words tripped past her lips, but only slightly. Her control was good enough Ranma didn't seem to notice. She wished she could see Fate to see if the invisible girl noticed, but that would bring problems of it's own.

"Yeah. When do we start looking for Fate-chan's family?" Ranma asked pensively, apparently reluctantly letting the matter drop.

"Already started. Sent the pictures off last night. A pretty famous tabloid owes me a favor. You might get recognized in your girl form because of it, though." She warned.

Ranma looked duly impressed, though her statement that he might be recognized gave him pause. "Recognized how, exactly?"

"I took some pictures of the fight yesterday, remember? With any luck, by the end of this week, the new issue of the Daily News will be out with you on the cover. Which means people might identify you from it."

"Hey, nothin' wrong with bein' even more famous. Oh, an' Fate-chan says thanks." Ranma commented cheerfully. Nabiki smirked.

"She's very welcome. Just remember you said that. Being famous means different things for girls." She commented cryptically.

They came to the school gates before Ranma could inquire as to Nabiki's meaning, and they had to step over the bodies of the morning mob. Ranma inspected them with a critical eye, whereas Nabiki just made a face, stepping over a boy from her own class. The downed boy's eyes fluttered just as she stepped over him, and his eyes widened at the clear view up her uniform skirt-before he was sent back to dreamland from an idle swat of Ranma's foot.

Nabiki gave the boy a surprised look, and a rare smile. "Thanks."

Ranma flushed. "No big thing." He mumbled, looking away. "I think something's on your sister's mind...They shouldn't be picking themselves up this quickly."

Nabiki hummed, glancing around the courtyard. "She's probably wondering where Kuno is. I don't see him in the pile."

"Would he really be here, broken jaw and everything?"

"Yes." She said, simply.

"Are all the guys that go ta this school nuts?"

Nabiki smirked...and it was an expression entirely devoid of anything resembling genuine amusement. "Welcome to Furinkan, Ranma Saotome."

[[[ ]]]

They were late for school. And as usual, it was HIS fault again.

"Look, I said I was sorry!"

She didn't reply. It was probably petty, but he irked the daylights out of her. It wasn't that he wasn't up to her standards...he was quite cute, and had a fantastic body...but had unfortunately been claimed by Azusa. They were only in first year of high school, so unfortunately, Azusa wasn't at all too young for him, but it made some of his habits, ones that she could have easily overlooked if she had gotten to him first, incredibly annoying.

Like his sense of direction. She needed to pull him back on course at least four times on their way from dropping Azusa off at the middle school. She sighed. "Just...don't worry about it. Do you have the phone?" Yohko Mano looked at Ryoga Hibiki severely.

He nodded meekly, and and she relented. "I'm serious about this-when you get lost again, stop moving and call us, okay? I enjoyed the vacation, but it nearly broke us. We're not coming to Seoul to pick you up again, got it?"

His face burned with embarrassment, and she wrung a few drops of petty satisfaction from that, and immediately felt bad about it. She didn't want to drive him away...but she wanted a boyfriend of her own SO badly...

The face of the boy they'd met the previous day sprang to mind, and suddenly she was looking forward to school again. Their new allies went to school here. Of course, there was a risk that the new girl...Nabiki? Had a claim already. But there was hope! And that was all too rare for the 108th generation Devil Hunter, Yohko.

As cheering up went, another potential boyfriend was a pretty good way to do it, and she finally smiled. "Look, there it is. And the gates are still open! You're forgiven. Now, RUN!"

The last little jog turned into a full on sprint as the school gates began to close, but Yohko and-miracle of miracles-Ryoga darted through through without incident. Without warning, though, Yoko was halted mid-stride as the lost idiot grabbed her collar, almost yanking her off her feet and certainly almost choking.

"What are you DOING?" She snapped at him. "Didn't I tell you we were late?" She glared, rubbing her offended neck.

"Uh...You were going to fall." The boy offered uncertainly, pointing at the ground.

"I was...Uh..." Yohko paused, looking around. Prone bodies of numerous boys dressed in the respective uniforms of sports...no, wait, there was one dressed in a lab coat...and another dressed in a leisure suit...and yet another in a Pikachu costume. "What happened here?"

"They're all still breathing." Ryoga reported, checking the nearest one. Just then, another student poked his head out of the door, calling to them.

"Yo~! New kids! Better get a move on, and let the nurse take care of them! Another minute and you'll be late!"

The head disappeared before they could question him, and Yohko stared in shock. "What kind of a school IS this?"

[[[ ]]]

The usual routine for transfer students was kind of tedious, and Yohko was a little annoyed by the whole thing. She wondered what everyone in her class in Yokohama was doing right now, and wistfully looked forward to the end of this whole incident so she could transfer back.

Maybe. If things went well, maybe she could stay up here with Ranma. That would make the whole move worth it. She smiled to herself, sidetracking her morose thoughts with a pleasant daydream about the handsome boy sweeping her off her feet, and drawing her in for a kiss, and-the daydream suddenly sidetracked itself into an image of her kissing the voluptuous blonde Ranma turned into.

That shook her out of the daydream.

Did it matter so much? Perhaps not. Being who she was, it seemed like there was a secondary bloodline curse...this one on her love life. One potential boyfriend lost to Reiko, soul-sucking queen of the damned, one potential boyfriend tried to rape her under mind control, another years and years in the past, and another stolen out from under her by Ayako Mano, her rogue cousin. And just to make sure it wasn't too boring, Ayako had used mind control to do it.

Being a Devil Hunter was suffering.

Still, maybe a boyfriend that was a part time girlfriend was just the ticket to get out from under her rotten string of luck? After all, she had occasionally...sought 'comfort' from Chi when she got too lonely, so she couldn't honestly say the pretty blonde girl was a turn off...

"Uh...Yohko-san? Is something the matter? You're all red."

"Gah!" Yohko jumped, blushing furiously and spinning to face her assailant-Oh. It was HIM. "Ryoga, why are you..." She began testily.

"You told me to follow you when I wasn't sure where to go." He pointed out. "It's lunch time."

"Already?" She blinked, realizing that she'd gotten up and left the classroom without thinking about it, and narrowed her eyes at him. If she was picking up his 'lost' habit, cute or not, he was going to get such a slap.

"Already." The third voice cut in, despite the crowd of students moving around them, and Yohko and Ryoga both jumped...to see Ranma Saotome grinning at the pair of them. "Yo."

"Ranma-san!" Yohko perked up instantly, happy thoughts of big muscles overriding her constant frustration of late. The boy in question nodded affably.

"Hiya. I never got a chance to thank ya yesterday for the assist-" Ranma began, but Ryoga cut him off, beginning that old rant again...

"You bastard, I waited for three-OW!"

Yohko kept her smile firmly in place while she lifted her foot after stomping on Ryoga's to shut him up. "I was glad to help...and to have help. The last three we could only hold off while Ryoga-kun finished them off."

"Three?" Ranma blinked, startled and more than a little impressed. He glanced off to the side, and Yohko wondered what he was doing before she remembered suddenly Nabiki had told them about the previous magical girl following him as a Ghost. "Let's go see Nabiki. She sent me to find you guys so we could finish the talk we were havin' yesterday."

"Absolutely!" Yohko agreed winsomely, moving in a little closer, smiling at him. "Lead the way." She resisted the urge to take his arm-much as she desperately wanted to-because she didn't want to offend their new friends by diving in before she understood the situation. She might have almost no pride when it came to finally getting a boyfriend, but there were still a few things she wouldn't do...like steal one.

In what Yohko considered a very hopeful sign, Ranma blushed as she moved closer, and nodded "Alright, she's waiting out by the trees..." He began, leading them off. Ryoga followed along behind, muttering under his breath.

[[[ ]]]

Ranma was a little relieved when Nabiki assumed the role of moderator for the meeting-despite Fate-chan's assistance, he wasn't really swift when it came to picking up on social cues. Truth be told, he was still trying to figure out who the boy with Yohko was. The name was vaguely familiar, but he was reasonably certain he'd remember why he seemed so upset. He carried around most of the memories of less-than-decent things they'd done while on their training trip like a weight around his neck.

"Pay attention." Fate whispered as his attention started drift while he shuffled through his memories, looking for something relevant to the cranky boy sitting with them. Abashed, Ranma nodded, straightening up in time to catch Yohko's rundown on her background, being trained since she was young to be a devil hunter, and her partner...He was intrigued at that. He was naturally the best, but maybe she would be up for a match? His eyes slid over to the ghostly blonde girl beside him, marveling that that thought even occurred to him. It had to be her influence. Well, and the trouble with the Amazons. If that didn't teach you to take a girl fighter seriously, nothing would.

Yohko went on, gesturing to the boy with her. "...And this is Ryoga. We met him when the first of the Eaters showed up, and he and Azusa hit it off, and we've been looking after him ever since." Ryoga winced and blushed at the description, but didn't contest it.

"...Looking after?" Nabiki asked, interested.

"Well, there's his Jusenkyo curse, but we also keep track of him. He gets lost fairly easily-"

Ranma stiffened, that bit of information the final piece of the puzzle. He sat bolt upright and smacked his fist into his hand. "Ryoga Hibiki!" He exclaimed.

That got the attention of all the girls present, and Ryoga scowled. "You finally remember-?"

"Yeah! How ya doin', man? It's been ages!" Ranma cheered, holding out a hand for a handshake, and Ryoga swatted it away. The pigtailed boy looked puzzled for a moment, then snapped his fingers. "Right, right. Be right back." He rolled to his feet and took off at a dead run, leaving two bewildered girls behind, and one angry boy.

Fortunately, the items were easily located within the school, and he ran back out to the assembled group with his arms full. Beside him, Fate gave the items a bemused look as he finished a quick explanation of why he needed them.

"...Seriously?" She gave him a skeptical look. "No one is that...Seriously?" She repeated, flabbergasted.

"Yup. I was kind of a jerk, so this is the least I can do." Ranma affirmed.

"While I definitely want to encourage that kind of self awareness when you interact with other people, and I'm delighted you understand why that was annoying, I'm not really sure he doesn't bear some responsibility. Who picks a fight over bread?" Fate shook her head. "I'm beginning to understand how you turned out the way you did...you didn't really ever interact with any normal people until Nabiki-chan came into your life, did you?"

Ranma hedged. "I feel like there was at least one...way back when I was little, I had a normal little buddy."

Fate smiled faintly. "Well, that's something, at least..."

Right about then, the boy and his ethereal companion returned to the group, and Ranma walked right up to Ryoga and deposited the pile of school breads at on his lap. "There ya go. Every last one."

"What...?" The girls were all caught in a state of confusion, but Ryoga simply glared at the pigtailed boy.

Ranma averted his attention to the girls. "The short version is, Ryoga an' I went to school together in Junior High. Pops wasn't too keen on a real education, but he said learning how to learn would keep me sharp. Ryoga and I were buddies in school, but Lunchtime was kinda a free for all. And I kept winning the fights for bread. Curry bread, soba bread...and a bunch more. It's all there. I wasn't very nice about it."

Nabiki eyed the pile. "While I think it's a little childish, these sorts of things add up, I guess."

Finally, Ryoga couldn't keep still, and he angrily swatted the pile of bread away, rolling to his feet with a snarl.

"What, you want more? Isn't that a little greedy?" Ranma blinked.

"You think this is about BREAD?" Ryoga demanded furiously. "Why did you run out on our man to man fight?"

Nabiki and Yohko were watching the proceedings with a skeptical eye, but Ryoga's declaration garnered some sympathy from both girls, and they began to nod along with the lost boy. Ranma's next words stopped them short, though.

"Uh...Ryoga, I waited for you in that abandoned lot for THREE DAYS."

"What." Nabiki interjected flatly, her nodding ceasing, and she gave Ryoga a sharp look, but the boy with the bandanna wasn't even looking at anyone but Ranma now.

"Oh gods." Yohko groaned, smacking her face in her hand. "Sadly, this is not outside the realm of possibility."

"Oh, sure, but when I arrived on the fourth day, you'd run off with your father to China!"

"I didn't have a lot of options, man! I passed out waiting for you and the old man dragged me off!"

"But if that wasn't bad enough, I followed you all the way to China! You cost me my humanity, Ranma!" Ryoga was in no mood to hold back any more, and he launched a punch at Ranma that the other boy twisted to avoid, the blow skimming the tip of his nose with it's passage.

The memory of Jusenkyo still fresh in his mind, even Ranma Saotome needed no help to connect the dots, but he was still caught off-guard by the assault. He was honestly too startled by the implications of the statement to fight back, and horrified by the spurious accusation and the sneaking suspicion it might be true, all he could do was dodge the furious blows, the words 'your fault' echoed over and over in his ears.

Nabiki watched the progress of the fight with disgust, privately wanting Ranma to smack some sense into the idiot, but when he failed to launch a counterattack, she blinked. The expression on his face was honestly appalled. That was endearing in it's way, but horrifically dense, and she couldn't rely on Fate to get through to him while the bigger of the two idiots was energetically trying to take his head off.

"Something's wrong. Can you get between them? I think Ranma took Ryoga a little more seriously that he deserves."

Yohko nodded in agreement with Nabiki's assessment, but hedged at the idea of actually doing it. "This is going to be tricky. He's...ridiculously strong." She murmured. "And stubborn."

Nabiki glanced at the students around them, grimacing. People were starting to take note of a martial arts battle, and that meant she'd be expected to take odds...and the idea of favoring Ryoga was surprisingly distasteful. "Can you use your magic trick to surprise them into stopping?"

Yohko blinked. "I can, but..." She hedged, glancing around, nervously.

"If you do it -now- I can spin it so no one believes what it really is, but the closer they get..." Nabiki offered, then smiled. "You can trust me. I won't hang you out to dry. You're still useful to keeping Ranma-chan in one piece."

Yohko gave Nabiki a dour look, but the mercenary reasoning made more sense to her than an warm and fuzzy tale she could have spun.

With a short chant, and a blazing transformation, Nabiki was left staring at Yohko's retreating back. "No wonder she didn't want anyone to watch."

[[[ ]]]

Ranma and Ryoga were both taken by surprise as the dark red shape slammed to the earth between them, but they dodged handily, and both boys blinked as Yohko stood up, her arms held straight out to block either boy from getting at the other. She started with a winsome smile at the pigtailed boy. "I'm sorry about all this, Ranma-san."

"Yohko!" Ryoga found enough nerve to snap at the brunette. "A woman has no place in a man to man fight-" Yohko dropped her head, and began to shake with fury, and Ryoga had the sense that he had taken a step too far. "Wait, I meant that this is a challenge mat-"

"Oh, I know what you meant." Yohko looked up and smiled at Ryoga. There was no humor in the expression at all. "And this isn't a challenge match. Even I know how those go. You offer a challenge, he accepts, you fight. You took a swing at him like a street thug...a -chauvinistic- thug at that. You're embarrassing us and yourself, and don't think Azusa isn't going to hear ALL about this." She snapped.

"Wait...wait, there's no need to go that far-" Ryoga pleaded.

Yohko just smiled wider.

[[[ ]]]

Watching the whole scene, on a level no one could see save for one (and that 'one' was currently occupied) The blonde magical girl known as Fate Testarossa was gaping in frank amazement at one Yohko Mano. Or more specifically, at the devil hunting ring on her hand.

Nabiki was currently playing it off as fancy martial arts skill to the gathered students, but Fate knew better. That was magic. And not just any magic, either. It was old...impossibly old, older than she had ever seen, but even so, there were telltale signs of Mid Childan power and technique in that transformation. The output now that the device was active was so low as to render the signs of Mid Childa almost invisible, but she had definitely seen it. How was that even possible?

"Yuuno would love this."

[[[ ]]]

There was a small city in central Japan. In this small city, there was a little street. On this street, there was a house. Inside this house, there was a family. This was not your ordinary family of a father and a mother, and two point five children.

Within this house, a young girl of seventeen held absolute dominion. Not because she lived alone, as was increasingly common in some places, or with all of her younger sisters...in fact, on surface appearances alone, Hayate Yagami was the second youngest occupant of the house. In actual age, by FAR the youngest. Yet everyone in the house hung on her every word, and especially in the previous year, had become protective of her to the point of zealotry.

Said girl sighed inwardly, running a hand along the wall as she walked to the living area. Walking was a fairly new development for her, she who had spent her formative years in a wheelchair, but she felt guilty for enjoying it now...reveling in such a mundane act seemed so wrong after all they'd been through.

Vita looked up from the book she was working on as Hayate entered the kitchen and smiled. The little redheaded girl was less boisterous, these days. Which was like saying the Pacific Ocean was 'less deep', but the point held. In the early days, before she got out of the wheelchair, little Vita was like a fire, flitting from place to place, and always burning on some level or another.

After Nanoha's accident, though, she'd become subdued. Calmer. And yet, somehow fiercer. She'd taken the accident personally, and was determined not to see it happen again. But somehow, it did. Only worse.

Fate Testarossa had vanished completely almost one year ago to the day. Losing a friend had hurt Hayate deeply, but Fate and Nanoha were connected in a way even Hayate, one of their closest friends, could not understand. And shortly after the loss had become official, and they were forced to address the possibility that the quiet, serene girl was dead. And as soon as that happened, Nanoha, the ever-positive, sunny faced brunette had slowly begun to withdraw. No one knew what to say or do, but the loss was destroying her almost as surely as her accident nearly had.

Vita's ferocity had come to bear full force, and the tiny redhead had teamed up with Hayate as well as Arisa and Suzuka, and the four of them had fairly bullied Nanoha into continuing her life. There were promising signs, a smile, a laugh, but they were becoming rarer and rarer. They were losing Nanoha to herself.

And it was wearing them down.

Zaphira stood up from where he was curled around Vita's chair and padded over to Hayate, his claws clicking on the kitchen's linoleum floor. Hayate smiled and crouched down to his level, hugging the big blue wolf, and nuzzling his fur as she lingered. The big man was ever-present now in his canine form, even when she was at school, though she supposed he didn't think she noticed.

It was a little worrying, but trying to dissuade her loyal knights from trying to protect her to look after themselves tended to be a useless effort, so she made sure to spoil them as best she could. If she was honest, a hole might open up in her heart like one had in Nanoha's, if someone took her Knights.

"Signum?" She asked Vita quietly, stroking Zaphira's fur. It was almost hilariously luxurious for such a strong animal, but she liked it that way, and because she did, he did.

"Still practicing. She said to tell you she'd be home before dinner."

Nodding, Hayate moved to the stove to begin preparations for the evening meal. Zaphira followed, curling up on the floor close by, but staying out from underfoot. As she worked, she reflected that Signum was probably the second most personally injured by Fate's passing. She spent time alone, working out her anger and grief in private. It was probably the most healthy way to deal out of all of them, except Signum had become rather more grave over the past year, and that was vexing to Hayate. Signum had just begun to really, earnestly smile before everything and now...Argh.

Frowning into the stew pot, Hayate blinked, as she'd missed someone in musing on her family. But to be fair,


Wait, she hadn't thought that, that was Vita's voice. Before she could even act on the thought, the door slammed open, and the final member of the family, a delicately pretty blonde woman rushed into the house, spilling groceries out of her bag as she ran, looking not at all delicately pretty, but rather wild-eyed and flushed-as If she had sprinted all the way home from grocery shopping.

The same shopping that was now decorating the floor.

"Shamal?" Hayate blurted, shocked, staring at the new arrival, then at the groceries spilling over the floor. She had never seen this side of the older woman before.

"Hayate-chan!" Shamal's hair was a mess, her dress was askew, but she took no notice-another clue that the fastidious knight of the lake had something of serious import to say. "Have you seen the latest 'Nippon Daily News'?"


"You're kidding, right? You ran in here and dropped everything you were carrying to wave that rag in Hayate's face? You need to get a handle on your tabloid fetish, Shamal." Vita provided commentary where Hayate was too shocked speechless to even comment on the absurdity of the situation.

To both of their surprise, Shamal slammed an open hand down on the counter, the loud report startling everyone into silence, and she held up the magazine cover so that the pair of them could see it. The words were large and eye catching. 'YOU CAN'T FIGHT FATE' was the headline, and Hayate felt a pang, given the reference, and then her eyes dropped down to the picture with the headline, and her heart stopped.

A blonde girl of approximately her age, brandishing a street sign like a staff, facing down a hideously ugly monster that looked like a cross between an ant and lava rock.

"That can't be..." She breathed, and glanced over at Vita to see if she saw the same thing Hayate did.

The firey-haired little girl looked as though someone had taken a two-by-four and smacked her square between the eyes. "I don't believe it. There's no way."

"Believe it." Shamal wore a triumphant smirk as she now held Vita, Zaphira and Hayate's attention firmly. "I read the article, she's lost and can't remember how to get home."

Wonder in her eyes, Hayate touched the magazine as though she was afraid it was a hallucination. "Is this real?"

"It really is, Hayate-chan." Shamal beamed, hugging her family tightly. "Fate is alive!"

– – – – –

Author's notes: Well, this took entirely too long, but here it is. No excuses this time. Honestly, I'm not well in the head, and one of the ways this manifests is completely despising my own writing. So these things take time because I can barely stand to look at what I've already written, and I find more and more excuses to put it off.

Quite honestly, the only reason this has even seen the light of day is because when I did put up a page or two at Delphi, the few people hanging around there were positive and encouraging enough to motivate me in spite of this. So, I'd like to give a shout out to PCHeintz72, Cyber One , terrish, sopchoppyand Nanya4, who not only politely pushed me to keep going but also provided ideas and tidbits of background that were invaluable. In fact, Shamal's role in the final scene was Nanya4's idea. Thanks, Guys. And to those of you who took the time to post a review here on , rest assured, each and every one of you managed to make me start thinking about writing more. Thanks.