There was no getting around it. The girl laying on the bed in the room behind me is hurt and scared (but likely unconscious) and it's my fault. I've been on a vigil ever since we arrived back on Mid. I've watched all of our friends come by, stoically taking in each one's reactions. Because I deserve to know just how much letting the girl get hurt hurt us all. It was easy to guess who would arrive first. It didn't even matter that she was off on a mission when we arrived back. The blonde was always the first to arrive.
She sprinted down the corridor, sliding to a stop only when she spotted me. We looked at each other for a moment before I twitched my head toward the door that she was looking for and then she was gone. Inside the room to sit her own vigil… the kind of vigil she deserved and I did not. I had made a note then to remember to make sure Fate got food and sleep from time to time. She needed to be strong; the girl wouldn't be very happy if I let her down that way too. So I didn't. I just didn't expect Hayate to be one step ahead of me.
She came down the corridor more stately than Fate had… she was carrying herself with grace. The look in her eyes broke the illusion though; not that I hadn't already known that Hayate was just as affected by… my failure… as Fate was. But it was impossible to ignore as she walked down the hallway toward me, carrying a plate… no, two plates. One for each of the girls on vigil. I think she forced Fate to eat the one for her.
Mine sits untouched next to me on this bench.
Yuuno was the next to arrive. He looked so much like Fate as he ran along the corridor it took me a moment to determine that I wasn't simply remembering the earlier event. Unlike Fate, he asked me which door was hers aloud. I couldn't bring myself to say anything aloud, so my reaction was much like my reaction earlier, except I added pointing with a thumb over my shoulder. He thanked me breathlessly as he went into the room, joining the others.
I remain outside. It was, after all, my fault she's in there. When she wakes, she won't want to see me.
That brings us to now, with me swinging my feet beneath this bench that's just a hint too high for me to actually touch the ground with my toes. At least not without slumping significantly, and slumping is not done on a vigil. I have a job to do. I realize that I probably should be standing, but my legs are shaking quite enough without any weight on them to begin with. If I tried to complete this vigil on my feet, I'd look pathetic. Not that I don't right now, but… she deserves the best vigil I can give her.
A sound at the end of the corridor attracts my eyes. The long pink ponytail tied by a yellow ribbon is distinctive, and I know who it is even before she's close enough for me to see her face clearly. I'm surprised she came for an instant – She's my rival; Signum's is merely on a vigil similar to mine. Signum sits next to me, staring across the aisle much like I am. She probably knows that Hayate, Yuuno and Fate are all inside, and that's plenty for us to be out here, making sure that no one she wouldn't want in there can get in, and also making sure that everyone she did want in there did get in.
So why doesn't Signum go in?
"I'm needed out here."
She's the one in need right now. What could possibly need your attention out here?
A simple word, but I still look at her funny. "What?" I ask.
"Injuries of the body are often healed more easily than injuries of the mind," Signum says. She's still not looking at me. "She has only injuries of the body for the moment. Yours are of the mind."
We're silent for a while. Both of us are staring at the opposite wall. The door in my field of vision leads to an empty room. There had been some bustling about in that room when I had arrived, but it had long died down. Hopefully it was for the positive reason rather than the negative, but I couldn't help be pessimistic about it when I think about it now. Instead I try speaking again. "I failed."
"I doubt that," was her response. My head snaps so hard as I turn to look at her incredulously that I'm later surprised I didn't break it. "She's been taking on too much; that was a threat that she should have been able to handle by herself. You were busy making sure that the main target was neutralized. From the reports, it seems not only did you instantly complete your job when you heard her cry out, you killed what hurt her so effectively that we don't have any evidence it existed at all anymore. And you were at her side. Less than ten seconds for all of that, by the most conservative estimate on your speed."
"It was too late; she was already hurt."
"We've seen many friends and allies hurt since we joined the TSAB."
I look down at my swinging shoes. "Not like this."
"How are the feelings different, other than by degree?"
I remain silent, watching my shoes as if their pattern of back-and-forth is the most interesting thing in the world. In truth, my thoughts are off in a confusing trance. I don't know what to think. "She'll want to see you when she wakes up."
"She'll want to see you too."
"Not… no, not like this."
"She'd rather I be out here helping you, then."
And she can't be convinced otherwise. I should know.
We pass more time in silence. There are hushed conversations going on in the room behind us, but I tune them out. My job has little to do with what they might be talking about in there. My job is about the door; I could trust even Fate alone to guard the room inside. With my Mistress and Yuuno to help her, and them likely as angry at that thing that did this as I am, I'm not worried about the security of the room at all.
From down the hall I hear more noises, but this time I cannot see anyone I know. My attention returns inward, my eyes to the bland opposite wall. Signum had told me that I am injured. Am I? That would certainly explain why I had failed so badly…
The door opens and Hayate comes out. She takes a look at us and for a moment she is smiling. Then it's suddenly gone. "Hey! Why haven't you touched your food?"
She wouldn't accept the real answer, so I go for, "I'm not hungry."
Her hands go to her hips instantly in these cases, and now in this corridor is no exception. "Stop lying to me. You need to eat something or you're going to fall over."
"Maybe later." I'm saved by the sound of running footsteps. The three of us turn to see the last two of our family running to join us. Shamal's face is worried, while Zafira's in his beast form, where his face is even harder to read than when in humanoid form and it's merely nondescript. They are running together and come to a skidding stop right next to us.
"How is she?" Shamal asks. I look down again.
"Stable," Hayate replies. "She'll wake up soon, they say, but they're being very non-specific about when."
"Who's with her now?" Shamal asks.
"Yuuno and Fate," is Hayate's reply. I lip-sync the names with her. It's my job to know who goes in and out, after all.
Shamal apparently doesn't need any more information than that, as footsteps indicate that she's headed into the room. Zafira on her heels. Hayate pauses for a moment in silence before Signum rises and enters the room as well. Then Hayate is the one seated next to me on the bench, plate and fork in hand.
"I will do it," she says. "Don't doubt me."
I look at her wearily. "I don't, Hayate." And she does. I don't bother to resist, even though I can't imagine ever being hungry again – ever thinking that I deserve food again. Hayate is gentle and kind and insistent, like she always is. My mind isn't on her making noises like she's feeding a baby though. I'm replaying the scene, trying to determine where it went all wrong. I'm fighting the target, and then I hear her cry out. I slam through everything to get to her, but she's already bloody; the device is already broken and acquiring snow on the ground. I'm too late.
Hayate snaps her fingers, which brings me to the present. "Are you listening to me?"
I look down again and mumble an apology. I wasn't even listening when my Mistress was talking to me! How typical of a failure. Her fingers are suddenly on my chin, and she gently lifts my head so that I'm looking at her eyes. Her face is so concerned and loving that I want to cry again. I don't deserve this attention!
"Of course you do," she tells me. "You brought her back safely, and far more quickly than you needed to. You don't know what the others on that mission are saying about you, do you?"
I shake my head gently, unwilling to dislodge the comforting touch of her hand on my chin.
Hayate giggles. "You're being referred to as 'the wild woman' rather than your name or call sign. They're all in awe… not of your and her power, like they normally are, but of your fierceness when she went down. Several mentioned that they never wanted to make you angry."
I blinked at her. They were… complimentary?
"They always respected you," Hayate continues. "Now, though, they admire you. It's a subtle distinction, but a world of difference. And you should know," she smiles now, "I'm so very proud of you."
I try to look down, but her hand holds my head fast; my eyes go downcast, but I cannot hide my face. "Look at me," she says. I can't help but obey. This Master, the one who actually cares for us. The one Master that would never treat us as tools, and always treats us as a part of the family she always wanted and never found us wanting… I could never disobey her. Not when I know that she considers me family. "Your actions today were worth commendation, not rebuke. While I was of course worried about her state of health when I came, I was not worried that she was gone… because you were with her."
"If there was anyone among us that I would trust with her, it's you. Why do you think I keep making sure that you are on missions with her?"
"I… I thought it was because we worked well together."
"You do," she assures me, "but there's more to it than that. She has been watching out for you even before we joined the TSAB, and she never stopped. Ever since the two of you became partners rather than enemies you've been watching out for her as well. It makes us all worry less about the two of you when you're together, because we know that you'll watch out for each other better than many other pairs. You're safer together."
"But… I failed. She got hurt…"
"No. She fell because of her own mistake. You were the one who got her and Raising Heart out. You were the one that made sure that she didn't even feel a bump on the journey. You got her to medical help as fast as was possible; faster than most would have been able to. That's part of watching out for each other: getting help, when you can't do what your friend needs."
The talking had gotten louder in the room behind us. If I were to actually pay attention to it, I might be able to hear what they were saying. However, Hayate's words were commanding my focus. "You performed exactly the way we hoped you would when she needed help. You have nothing to be ashamed of." Suddenly, she's wiping away tears from my face I didn't know I'd shed. "And you've been beating yourself up over nothing."
The door opens and Shamal is standing in the doorway. She looks directly at me. "She's awake and wants to see you."
I didn't hear Hayate's happy cry. I didn't feel Hayate push me toward the door nor did I feel Shamal push me through it. I saw her instantly, laying on the hospital bed… so pale… but her eyes were open and flicking from one visitor to the next. Most importantly, she was smiling at them. Fate was crying, and given the haze I was trying to see everything through, I probably was too. I was, however, frozen again. Even when Fate waved me over, I couldn't move.
"Who are you waving at, Fate-chan?" she asked the blonde, turning her head ever so slowly. There was nothing I could do now; she was going to see me no matter what I did. I still couldn't move. Her face lit up again when she saw me. "Vita-chan, come here."
"Nanoha…" My legs unfroze and I was crying on her without memory of crossing the intervening space. "Nanoha!"
"Vita-chan," she said, wrapping an arm slowly around me and nuzzling into my shoulder.