Heads turned towards the sound of glass breaking, water splattering in all directions.
Said blonde grimaced.
"Are you okay?"
Red eyes blinked rapidly, before focusing on that concerned gaze belonging to Hayate.
"...Yes. Yes, I'm..." the blonde laughed wryly, "I guess I was sort of zoning off. Sorry about that."
Hayate raised both eyebrows, but her tone was fond and exasperated. "Daydreaming again?"
"When do I not, Hayate?"
The brunette gave her a half-hearted reprimanding glare in return, which Fate chuckled at, before she bent down to pick up the broken shards of the glass.
"Stop that. You could cut yourself."
Fate merely shrugged, and continued picking.
"I'm more careful than that, Ha - "
Her finger prickled.
A drop of blood mixed with the clear liquid on the floor.
Hayate arched a delicate eyebrow. "...You were saying?"
The blonde grimaced again.
There was an odd flicker in those burgundy eyes that Hayate did not miss.
But Hayate dismissed it as a cause of being cut and chided lightly.
That was the first sign.
But no one had caught it.
Signum furrowed her brows.
"Something wrong, Testarossa?"
"...Sorry. I guess I'm sort of out of it today."
Signum did not sound the least concerned.
She did not sound like she believed Fate either.
"...Really. I am."
This time the pink haired woman shook her head.
Her words were mild.
"I find it difficult to believe that your aim could be off for more than a meter, Testarossa."
And it was.
Both their gazes moved towards the wooden target which stood proudly, neither unblemished nor broken.
....The tree, on the other hand - which was a good distance away - had a nasty burnt mark with a long, crooked indentation in it.
Fate was working on her scythe beam, which moved in half circular motions, and she had missed the target.
By a long range.
The blonde's expression was near unreadable.
Signum, however, had noticed traces of a frown on that face.
The second sign.
Nanoha's tone was tight with concern.
"What happened to her?"
Hayate gave the taller brunette a sober look, eyebrows knitted in such a way that showed she was confused.
"That's what I would like to know as well, Nanoha-chan."
"Why in the world did she just - stand there ?"
Hayate could only offer a helpless shrug in return.
"She's the fast one - she had always been the fastest," Nanoha was rambling, and her voice was rising to near panic levels. "So why did she just stand there!"
Her companion did not reply.
Then the door opened.
Nanoha almost spoke, but Hayate was faster.
"How is she, Shamal?"
Her tone was cool, controlled, and her piercing stare demanded Nanoha to calm down.
And just for that moment, Nanoha's throat locked up.
"I..." Shamal paused. Her gaze darted between Hayate and Nanoha before returning to rest solidly to her master. "She's...fine."
The blonde's tone was oddly detached. And her purple eyes held concern and worry, but there was something else, something so off...
Hayate's eyes narrowed, though Nanoha did not see it.
"...Exhaustion made her lose judgement, and..." Shamal gestured in the air, "she failed to move at the worst moment possible, which made her get hit."
A weak explanation, thought Hayate, if nothing else.
"Exhaustion," repeated Shamal. "She's been working too much, as usual."
Normally, those words would be accompanied with fond exasperation.
But Hayate noticed it was not there this time.
Third time's the charm.
When Nanoha saw her the next time, Fate was awake.
And she was staring at her hands, gaze distant.
The brunette wondered what she was thinking about, to not even sense her presence. Years of training and military work had honed the blonde's instincts, but recently, they do not seem to be working at a level where Nanoha would feel comfortable letting Fate out of her sight.
The blonde clenched a fist.
And then those burgundy eyes were suddenly intense, burning with some kind of emotion she could not identify.
Nanoha watched, trying to discern what Fate was thinking about. She could not bring herself to enter the room, not when Fate seemed so...thoughtful, and not when she knew Fate did not want any assurance about her failure from the past mission.
She tried to ignore the strange ache of discomfort squeezing in her chest.
It was futile.
"She requested for leave, Nanoha."
Hayate shook her head before the other could open her mouth.
"No, I don't know why," she answered the question she knew Nanoha was about the ask, "and she refuses to say."
Nanoha sighed, and fell back down to the chair, two fingers massaging the bridge of her nose.
"I don't get it," muttered Nanoha. "I just don't get it. Why would she do that?"
"Maybe the last mission took more out of her than we expected?" Hayate sighed. She moved around the chair to squeeze Nanoha's shoulders reassuringly. "I'm sure she will explain to us when she comes back."
"...I'm going to find her."
At that, Hayate grimaced. "No, Nanoha-chan. You will not." The last thing she needed was her other commander taking leave.
"Nanoha. Give her time. You know as well as I do she likes to be left alone at times like these."
It was a long moment before Nanoha sighed in acquiescence.
The chain rattled on the hard, metal door.
Light poured into the dark room when the door swung open with a creak, and he squinted.
A shadow stepped in front of the door, and the near painful light was blocked.
A pair of eyes glinted coldly at him.
"It's been a while," he murmured. "Have you come to visit your poor little father?"
He could feel unbidden fury rising in the figure that stood by the door, and felt vindication soar in his chest.
She hadn't changed. No, not at all.
"You," the distinctively female voice growled, "are not my father."
His smirk widened.
Jail Scaglietti's fingers clasped and flexed experimentally, regarding her with a cold, humored gaze. "Denial, denial..."
She gritted her teeth, but did not rise to the bait.
And it seemed as if she was content to glare at him.
"So," Jail murmured. "Why are you here, Fate Testarossa?"
Burgundy eyes darkened to midnight blood.
A/N: I'm not really sure why I feel like posting this. Maybe it's the Christmas spirit. -snort- I wrote this nearly...two years ago, and its been generally left alone till recently, when I've been cleaning up things on my laptop.
It feels strange to re-read a lot of things. An odd feeling of deja-vu. I wrote a lot of things I can't really remember writing, and some I can't believe I did/could write. But...yes. It's a funny feeling. A mix of weary amusement and irony.
In any case. This fic.. well, kudos to you if you can guess what's going to happen. I don't think this will be very long, if I can help it, but who knows how inspiration works. And, I have only ever mentioned this fic once, to someone, I think, and what would happen, but...it's certainly been a while. A pretty long while.
You've this, thanks partly to someone who somehow managed to wrangle a co-authoring deal out of me, and thanks partly to the fact I did start writing again, even if not for this fandom. If you're interested in Mai Hime, search for a fic titled Insanis. The other author (808Tenshi) and I, we've two chapters out, with more coming when...well, when we're done.
We will see if this manages to put me back in writing gear for this fandom, in the meanwhile.
And with that being said.
Merry Christmas. :)