Part 1: At a Loss
"I want to thank you again for this," Nanoha announced to their benefactor for the evening as the group strolled among the crowds. "It's been so long since I've been to the circus, and I've always wanted to bring Vivio to one."
"Anything for my friends!" Arisa beamed proudly, flashing a thumbs up. "And it has been a long time since we've all been together like this. I just can't believe we never brought Fate-chan to one of these."
The golden-haired girl blushed ever so slightly. "Well, there was a lot of Bureau work when I was younger, and I was on probation for quite awhile, and I wanted to make up for what I'd done..."
Nanoha reached up to squeeze the other woman's shoulder. "We know, but that's all in the past. Let's just enjoy this evening, alright?"
"Well, I want to thank you as well," Amy added, directing it towards Arisa. "It's nice being able to get out of the house and give the kids something to do. Speaking of which..." She raised her voice. "Karel, Liera, don't go too far!"
"Not to worry, Vivio and Arf are with them," Nanoha soothed, smiling as she watched the four children run from cage to cage to look at the animals.
Arisa snickered. "Yeah, I was a bit confused when you asked for four child tickets; Arf is sure milking that form for all it's worth."
Amy blew out a breath. "I was just surprised you managed to get them at all. I tried before, but they all sold out too fast."
"Arisa-chan's family has... connections," Suzuka answered a bit cryptically, then sighed. "I was hoping Hayate would come, though. It's been awhile since her last visit."
"She promised next time," Fate told her, patting her sympathetically. "There was a situation that demanded her attention, and she couldn't get out of it. Don't worry, I'll drag her next time if I have to."
The purple-haired woman was mollified some, smiling in amusement. "Thanks, I appreciate that. Well, we might want to go find seats in the big tent now, the show will be starting soon."
"Good idea," Amy agreed, noting the kids in the distance. "Fate, could you contact Arf and have her round up the kids?"
"Sure thing," Fate replied, smiling and nodding as she began to send the telepathic message to her familiar.
The children were collected and they found their seats, that turned out to be highly valuable ones in the middle of the front row, which surprised most of the group, who began to wonder again about Arisa's "connections." But the show promptly began and attention refocused on the center ring as the announcer welcomed everyone and began to call out the acts.
It was vaguely similar to what Nanoha remembered from her childhood, although those memories were a bit foggy. The last time she had gone was before Fate and Yuuno arrived, when her father had taken the family shortly after his recovery, so the general atmosphere brought her a nostalgic feeling; she found herself wanting to bring the rest of her family next time as well.
Vivio, Karel and Liera in particular became enraptured by the daring trapeze artists, got many laughs out of the clowns, and even Fate seemed to be quite enthralled by the various circus acts. But that seemed to change when the lion cage came up, as Nanoha noticed the amusement promptly vanish from Fate's face. Wondering why, she glanced back and forth between Fate and the act, as the lion tamer used a chair and a whip to guide the lions through various flaming rings and perform other feats.
Nanoha gently covered Fate's hand, which was currently tightly gripping the arm of her chair, while she leaned over to whisper, "Are you okay?"
Fate turned to her and forced a smile, using her other hand to pat Nanoha's. "I'm fine."
The other woman seemed to relax some as Nanoha returned most of her attention to the show, but out of the corner of her eye, she could see the barest hints of Fate's jaw tighten whenever the whip cracked. It confused her as to why, but then she caught Arf glancing over from the other side, looking a bit concerned.
Despite Fate's words, Nanoha had know Fate long enough to know when something was bothering the other woman, and also knew when she didn't want to talk about it; this seemed to be such a case, but it appeared that Arf at least sensed it, too. Nanoha continued watching the show while Fate's demeanor calmed, but when other animal tamers came out, the stoicism returned. Nanoha briefly wondered if Fate had a problem with animals being treated that way.
Whatever the issue was, Nanoha decided to let it pass and just take Fate's word for it; she'd trust that Fate would talk about it if she needed to. And this was supposed to be a night for enjoyment, so she let her gaze drift back to the show, letting a smile come to her lips as she caught occasional glimpses of Vivio's delighted face.
But little did she know at the time, that it was only the glimpse of bigger things to come.
"You had to what?" Nanoa asked in disbelief to the holo screen several days later from her home on Mid-Childa.
"I had to take Fate off active duty for awhile," Hayate was saying. "She didn't mention this to you at all?"
Nanoha bit her lip and shook her head. "No. And she hasn't been by here lately. She might be staying at the apartment she has, but I thought she only used that occasionally when she needed some alone time, or was only going to be in town for a night. She normally stays here to spend time with Vivio and I if she has a few days off. What happened?"
Hayate sighed. "I'm still in the process of going through the report, but there was an incident with a case she and Teana were on, apprehending a class-A criminal on administered world #24. Fate failed to capture him, and Teana had to rescue her and do it instead. And then she failed her annual combat evaluation. It's obvious something is bothering her, but she wouldn't tell me or Teana what it was; I thought you might know."
"She hasn't seemed too different from normal to me," Nanoha answered, thinking, remembering last week. "She did seem a bit troubled at the circus we went to... did the case have anything to do with animals?"
"No, not that I can see," Hayate answered. "I can tell something is bothering her, but so far, she's refused to go see any doctors or counselors I've recommended. Whatever it is, I don't really want to put an official investigation on it unless I have to..."
Nanoha nodded firmly, getting the subtle message as the other woman trailed off. "I'll talk to her and look into it."
Hayate appeared relieved. "Thank you, I was hoping you'd say that. You are both my precious friends, but because of my position in Investigations, anything I do in this matter I'd have to officially record. Fate may not have wanted to speak to me because of that. If you can clear things up, and her scores come back up, I can return to her active duty and record it as just a momentary stress-related incident that was solved by some time off."
"Understood, I'll do my best," Nanoha told her, then signed off, determined to get to the bottom of things.
"Thanks for meeting with me like this," Nanoha thanked the other woman as she slid into the private booth in the restaurant.
Except her initial plan didn't go quite as she'd hoped.
"I'm fine, Nanoha, really!" Fate insisted from the other side of the table in her apartment.
"Are you sure?" Nanoha questioned, studying the other woman. "I'm not sure what happened in your last assignment, but Hayate and Teana were worried about you."
The golden-haired agent fidgeted a bit, but nervously laughed it off. "Just a bit of stress; I just need a few days off to relax, that's all."
Nanoha took a sip of her tea, then placed her cup down, realizing the other woman wasn't going to be forthcoming. "Alright, if you think so..."
That was when Nanoha concluded that Fate couldn't be pushed for her reasons, so Nanoha had to handle this carefully if she was going to proceed; she didn't want to upset Fate by going behind her back, but her instincts told her something else was going on here and she needed to find out what. She hadn't actually done any investigations before, but Fate had often talked about hers during their times together, and one thing the agent had always stressed was how important having enough information was, and how to go about getting it. Thus, Nanoha decided that the first order of business was to find out exactly what happened; Hayate obviously couldn't officially tell her, so that left just one person she could ask.
"It's no problem," Teana answered with a smile. "I'm off for a few days awaiting reassignment while Fate is on leave. Although I was a bit surprised you contacted me, though I assume it has something to do with Fate."
Nanoha nodded, pausing for a bit to thank the waitress as she delivered menus and glasses of water and took their orders for drinks, then left. "Can you tell me what happened with your latest assignment? Strictly off the record."
Teana seemed to pick up on her meaning. "I think so. It was actually me who requested that the incident become classified, because I care about her, too. But I know you two are close friends, so I can tell you, and hopefully you'll understand why. It all started when we got our next investigation to track down a criminal on administered world #24, a B-rank mage who had performed a variety of criminal acts such as vandalism, theft, bank robbery, etc. Basically anything involving money or valuables. He had struck a few worlds before, but always managed to stay one step ahead of the authorities pursuing him. However, the Bureau received new reliable intel that placed him on that world, and we went in."
"Seems normal enough for your line of work, I assume anyway," Nanoha commented. "Fate talked about her assignments on occasion. Anything out of the ordinary about this one?"
"He was a bit more skilled than most, as evidenced by the fact that he could stay ahead of the law," Teana answered, pausing as the waitress came back with drinks. "But he was also fairly skilled in combat, too. The few Bureau agents we spoke with before we went in, told us he was able to outwit them in combat. But Fate figured his love for money was his weakness, and managed to deduce where he'd strike next."
"A trap?" Nanoha questioned.
Teana nodded. "Sort of. We put trackers in places on several of the banks and high-class neighborhoods, and sure enough, he struck a home one night and made off with the goods. We tracked him back to his warehouse hideout on the docks, and that's where things began to go wrong..."
"This is Teana, still no sign of him," the junior agent reported as she worked her way on foot through the dock district.
"The tracer indicates he entered this area, before it went offline," came Fate's response through the channel. "He has to be here."
"He must have found it," Shari's disappointed voice called out, from her position in the Bureau ship in orbit. "I designed those tracers myself, and no way would anything down here interfere with them."
"Which means he may be onto us," Fate deduced.
"It doesn't matter," Teana replied, coming up on the next warehouse. "We have Enforcers ringing the area and covering the sewer system, and also divers underwater. There's no way he can get out this time; we have all escape avenues covered."
"A cornered snake is a dangerous creature," Fate cautioned. "Be careful. I just cleared B sector, and now moving onto sector C."
Teana nodded. "Roger, I'll join in a bit, after I finish up-"
"Found him!" Fate's voice sounded. "And I think he has a short-range teleporter! Shari, begin tracking magic signals, I'm going in to stop him!"
"Fate, you should wait for backup!" Teana called, taking off running, raising Cross Mirage and firing a grappling shot to an above crane in order to swing over several buildings. She cursed, realizing Fate herself had admonished Teana against rushing in too fast, but she had to admit that sometimes it was necessary.
Fate's open channel continued to broadcast for logging purposes. "Wiggs Bedge, you are under arrest for suspicion of theft. Surrender or-" Her voice cut out for a moment as sounds of a scuffle replaced it.
Teana cursed as she landed from her swing as Cross Mirage continued to guide her to Fate's location, picking up speed and ordering Enforcers in as Fate's anguished cry came over the channel. "Fate! Are you okay? What's happening?"
There was no response, but part of the warehouse she was heading to exploded, blowing out side walls and setting the building ablaze. But Teana didn't let that stop her as she blew open a door and entered, casting her eyes about for Fate and the criminal, and that's when her eyes widened.
"Fate!" she called, firing.
The suspect was brandishing a pair of magical energy whips, crackling with electrical energy, one of which had encircled Fate's ankle. The unmoving agent was currently on her back among some smashed crates, as if he had just toss her into them.
Wiggs dissolved her shots in mid-air with his other whip as he turned to her, coiling it around and sending it in her direction. Teana dove and rolled, coming up to cast her bind, but he was already moving and slipped out of it before it could snag him. He yanked Fate towards him, pulling her along the ground while sending the second whip at Teana again.
"You'll never take me!" he cried triumphantly. "Not while I have your precious agent hostage!"
Teana grit her teeth and decided on a different tack, standing her ground and firing her grapple line straight at him. The line entangled the whip, coiling around it and holding it tight.
"Cross Mirage," she spoke in a low voice.
Wigg's expression changed as he pulled a few times to get his whip loose, and realized he couldn't. "Uh oh..."
Her device pulled the line back hard, yanking him off his feet and sending him straight for the gun mage, who casually brought her second gun around to blast him as he flew toward her. His stunned body hit the ground and the whips dissolved, leaving Teana a bit surprised it was over so quick, but then she remembered Fate and sprinted over to the prone woman, rolling her onto her back.
"Fate, are you okay?" she asked in worry, worried about all the cuts and red gashes along her partner's barrier jacket that left it almost half-shredded.
Fate's eye's seemed to come back into focus. "Teana? What happened?"
"You tell me," she said, helping the other woman to sit up as Enforcers began filing in, binding the suspect. "You should have been able to take that guy. What happened?"
She put a hand to her head, closing her eyes, then opened them, appearing a bit worried. "I... don't know."
Nanoha's eyes narrowed a bit as Teana finished her tale, her mind putting something disturbing together from the gun mage's story and the minor incident last week. "Could it be...?"
"You know something?" Teana asked eagerly, sipping her drink.
Nanoha bit her lip. "Maybe, but I don't think I can say, if you'll understand. I'm not entirely sure myself."
Teana nodded. "It's okay. I trust you both, and I just want her back to normal. For a few days afterward, I'd catch her staring off into space, and sometimes when she trained, I could detect her hands shaking a bit. Something spooked her, I think."
"It's personal, and I'm not sure what I can do about it, but I'll do what I can," Nanoha answered, as the waitress began bringing them their lunch.
"I wish you luck, and let me know if I can be of any help," Teana offered as she picked up her silverware.
Nanoha thanked her as they began to eat, but her thoughts were disturbed; she got the impression that Fate had never told her everything that happened between her and Precia all those years ago. All she knew was that Precia had mistreated Fate, but the exact details of which she never found out. She had noticed scars on Fate's body years ago when they took baths together as children, but those had mostly healed over by now.
As Nanoha parted from Teana at the restaurant, she realized that if she was going to help Fate, she'd have to know exactly what happened all those years ago, and there was only one person who could tell her. She was a bit ashamed to go behind Fate's back like this, though she kept telling herself it was for her best friend's own good.
She placed a call to Earth.
She was horrified to find her suspicions were correct.
Nanoha shakily put her tea cup down once Arf had finished her story. She had some suspicions about what might have gone on, but she didn't expect this, not glad she had decided on a face-to-face chat in the Harlaown's home in Japan, instead of cover the communicator.
"I figured you might come asking one of these days, and while Fate asked me not to say anything, I heard about Fate being taken off duty," the familiar commented sadly. "She's still trying to hide it and keep it bottled up inside and I don't know what to do about it. Linith once told me there was a brief period where Precia honestly loved Fate, back when she still thought Fate was Alicia. But that slowly changed, and she grew colder and colder, culminating with the abuse sessions after Linith left. Fate never told you partly because she was afraid to, and partly because she considered it over and didn't want to worry you."
"I can see why," Nanoha replied, understanding. "I wondered, but never asked. I never realized it got that bad."
"There's a bit more that I believe to be related to all this, which is why Arf asked me to be here," Lindy added, the last member of the trio present. "This is something only the two of us really knew, although I suspect Chrono was aware of it a bit. When I adopted Fate and became her mother, things were fine for awhile. She was a quiet child, but very obedient and good. Which is why I was surprised a year or two later, when she suddenly started doing things."
"What kind of things?" Nanoha questioned, leaning in.
"Nothing too major at first," Lindy replied, thinking back. "She'd knock something over, like a glass of juice, or not finish her dinner, or make a mess, or just decide she didn't want to do her chores. She'd apologize, but then do it again, almost deliberately. Eventually, I had to start some punishments, which mostly consisted of sending her to her room. It was as if she was behaving like a five-year-old exploring their boundaries, instead of her real age. It really confused me, especially when it showed no signs of stopping. But I have experience with Chrono, and finally found something that worked."
Nanoha glanced back and forth between Arf and Lindy, as the latter paused. "What was it?"
"Spanking," Lindy said at last. "Once I resorted to that, the incidents cleared up. She would still do something occasionally, but it gradually faded away and she slowly became a normal young lady. Other than Arf, I was the only one to really know what Precia did to Fate, so I think subconsciously, she needed to be hit to know she was loved."
Nanoha blinked as an image of Lindy spanking an adult Fate went through her mind, and she quickly shook her head to clear it, instead focusing on the confusing part. "How can someone feel love from being hit?"
"It's complicated, and I'm not too sure myself," Lindy answered. "But it's something about a physical confirmation that someone cares enough to hurt you when you do things you know are wrong. I'm not sure Fate consciously realizes it. Precia hardly spent much time with her, the few such instances being when she was punishing Fate."
Nanoha was still having a bit of a hard time fully grasping things, but could almost see the connection, as strange as it was; Fate had linked attention from loved ones, with physical punishment in her mind. She developed normally past that, mostly, but apparently some still remained.
"When you defeated her all those years ago above the ocean," Lindy continued, "I think you had a bigger impact that you realized. She recovered fairly fast from her mother abandoning her, because she had someone else to focus on: you. If she's refusing to go see a counselor, you might be the only one who can help her now."
"How?" Nanoha questioned. "By defeating her in combat again? We spar from time to time, but I know she holds back because she doesn't want me going all out and stressing myself."
"I'm afraid I don't know," Lindy admitted. "When she grew up and seemingly became a normal woman, I assumed it was over. Some people absolutely refuse to go to counselor, because they don't want to tell a stranger their problems, they don't want to bother someone, they don't think they can be helped, or they are afraid."
"Fate talks to me, but she mostly just tells me she is alright," Arf added. "Even back when we were with Precia, Fate always tried to be strong, not wanting to make me worry or go out of my way to do things. So if you can do anything..."
Nanoah remembered her talk with Hayate, who basically told her the same thing. "I promise, I'll do what I can."
Little did Nanoha realize exactly what those words would get her into, however.
She didn't want to involve anyone else, not even to talk to Shamal, but fortunately there was one resource she could turn to, which was the Mid-Childa version of the internet. With Vivio staying overnight at a friend's house, she had all day and night to do some research. The obvious starting point was to find out who else had gone through abuse, and what they did about it; after all, other people had gone through abuse before. How did they deal with it?
She entered "dealing with getting whipped" into the search box and hit enter, watching as the list of links was populated. Most of the link names weren't very descriptive, except for the first one which had a dictionary definition of the word. So, she clicked the second link, deciding to work her way down.
There are some things in life that one is aware of in an abstract informational way, but that present added emotions and feelings when seen directly. For instance, Nanoha knew kittens could be cute, but it was a completely different feeling to see a kitten in real life and hold them in your hands.
Her current situation was similar, although "cute" wasn't exactly what she was feeling.
Swallowing, her wide eyes tracked over the various people in the pictures and their positions and outfits, and quickly closed the window before her imagination started placing herself in those positions. In a distant way, she kinda knew about such things, but seeing them up close...
That was definitely not the way to help Fate, she decided. After all, the last thing she needed to do was reintroduce a whip into the woman's life, and how exactly were those knots tied?
[Wait, how did...?] she thought in shock, realizing that the window had reopened due to her finger moving of it's own accord. She blinked and quickly closed it down again. [That's enough of that...]
She slapped her warm cheeks to try and clear her mind to focus on the task at hand, and mostly succeeded as she proceeded through the next few links. A few others were of the similar vein, which only made her a bit more flustered, before she finally found a forum where people talked about physical punishment, both abuse and for love.
Curious, she began to read the posts of people who talked about when they were beat as children, some of which were normal spankings, and others were treated more seriously. The raw personal descriptions of some of them really started to move her, as she reached a finger up to wipe away a tear. One male talked about how he had an abusive father who beat him with a board, while another person, a female seemingly, told about how her own father mistreated her. Still other discussions centered around the limits and proper use of physical punishment for one's children.
Then she moved onto the other parts of the forum, where people talked about the physical punishment as a matter of love and affection, something that seemed so alien to her. She planned to just glance over it, but found herself drawn in, wanting to understand "why" people subjected themselves to this.
Before she knew it, it was dark outside and she had to increase the amount of light in the house, noting the time as very close to midnight. [Have I been at this that long?]
She stretched and decided to call it a night, but before she closed the windows, she decided on one last thing. Registering for the forum, she picked MissSeikou as an anonymous name, deciding to use the Japanese name for starlight. She wasn't quite sure any of the approaches people had talked about would work for her, and so she typed out a brief post:
A friend of mine seems to be having some trouble. She was abused when she was younger by a distant mother who used her and whipped her, among other things. She didn't seem to suffer any ill effects later in life, and I didn't really find out until recently when it appeared to be affecting her job performance negatively. She doesn't seem to want to talk about it, to me or anyone else, but I want to help. Is there anything I can do?
She sat back in her chair and re-read the post. She hoped she made things vague enough, but she was relatively confident no one would be able to figure out the connection. Then again, she was relatively confident no one she knew even came to these forums.
Yawning, she hit "enter" and then closed the window, deciding to take a look tomorrow to see what responses she would get If that failed, she would do more searching, but for now, she felt beat and just wanted to get some sleep. But thoughts about Fate and what she had learned continued to run through her mind as she tiredly crawled into bed and her eyes closed.
Little did she realize the path her dreams would take her that night.
Based on some comments in a forum that started about Fate liking to be defeated, I decided to explore the concept a bit, tying it in to her backstory. While this part was mostly from Nanoha's POV, I'll have more from Fate's in the next part, but I will continue to explore Nanoha's evolving feelings as well. Just a fair warning that, while I envision this short series to have a bit of humor and personal drama, it'll probably also end up with some lemony/lime bits.
Not sure if I'll continue this or not; depends on how many people would like me to.