"… ha! Nanoha, hang on! Nanoha!"
What is that… that voice its…
Her vision blurring through the pain, Nanoha opened her eyes at Vita's tear-streaked face as she lay cradled in her arms. "Nanoha, stay with me! Nanoha!"
"Vita-chan…" Nanoha coughed up blood.
There was a mission… to this world. There were… robots…? Casting a glance around the wreckage briefly, a sharp fresh wave of pain erupted through Nanoha as more blood spilt from her lips.
"DAMNIT! Where's the response team? Someone! Anyone!" Vita buried her face in Nanoha's jacket.
Blood… I remember… pain… the sensation of something…
The world began to swim out of focus as Vita's cries got more frantic. "Don't close your eyes, don't close your eyes! Nanoha! Nanoha! NANOHA!"
And Nanoha closed her eyes.
Vita choked back a sob and let out a gut-wrenching scream of pain as the paramedics descended too late.
"Nanoha… Nanoha no…"
"Vita, wake up," urged the soft voice of Shamal as Vita opened her eyes and with a gasp.
"Nanoha, is she…?" Vita paused at Shamal's expression. Then she looked at her hands which were clean of blood. "It was… it was just a nightmare…"
"Third one this week," said Shamal as she flicked on the light, revealing Vita's tear-stained face. "You were having the nightmare again."
"…" Vita hugged herself, wrapping her arms around her body protectively. "It's been six years since then… Shamal…"
"The day's coming up, isn't it?" said Shamal, looking at the clock.
Vita nodded as she looked at the clock. "Ten days, fifteen hours, four minutes, thirty two seconds… till the day I failed to protect her."
Vita got up, putting on her slippers as she brushed tears away from her face. Shamal looked at her worried as she tugged on her housecoat. "Are you going there?"
"Yeah, Fate's not going to be around for a day or two. Someone's got to be there when she wakes up." Vita looked at Shamal. "Let Hayate know please."
Shamal nodded as Vita stepped out into the hallway, headed for the door.
Nanoha awoke to the sight of Vita laying there next to her, dressed in a housecoat. She came to help me again…
Propping herself up on her elbow, Nanoha reached over and poked Vita in the cheek. Her lips twitched and Nanoha poked her again. "Mrgh," said Vita as she opened bleary eyes. "Good morning, sleepyhead," said Nanoha with a smile.
"I… fell asleep again, huh?" said Vita and Nanoha nodded. "I see…"
"You didn't have to come, Vita," said Nanoha. "I'm getting better at bathing myself."
"I have to," said Vita resolutely. "Fate's not here to help you out."
Nanoha giggled a little and then yelped as Vita got up and scooped the much bigger girl in her arms. "Hey, I can walk!"
"No you can't," retorted Vita as she took her into the bath.
Episode 01: Moving Towards A Climax
Ever get the feeling that someone needs you more than you need them? Or is it the other way around? Sometimes I get that way about Nanoha Takamachi, the girl, no, woman I failed to protect. The one blemish on my record. No, it's not just a record; it's a stain on my heart and my pride.
Like all things in this tale, it began six years ago, when we were investigating a set of ruins. It started normally at first, but that's when those robots showed up. Those things we now call Gadget Drones.
It was all a blur back then, and all I could remember is the blood pounding in my ears as we fought. It was what we did best, a front-back line offense, classic and textbook. The drones had nothing on us, their AMF shredded within seconds.
The fighting ended, and we were victorious. I remember turning towards Nanoha when I heard a blood-curdling scream of agony as Nanoha began to rise, a blade sticking out of her stomach. I just reacted and smashed the drone to bits.
The blood, there was so much blood. She was already injured from fighting and blood was everywhere. Even now when I scrub I can feel it on my hands, Nanoha's blood, marking me, telling me I failed to protect her. I remember screaming myself hoarse, trying to get her to keep her eyes open, to stay conscious. She managed to hang on through my yells, and the medics came.
In my worst nightmares, I dream of those eyes slipping closed and I wake up crying, woken by someone, or woken because I can't stand it anymore. I spent hours by her bedside in recovery, and that's when we heard the terrible news.
Six years ago…
"Never fly again?" Nanoha's eyes were wide, horrified really, and full of tears as the doctor hung his head.
"I'm sorry, but you can never fly again," confirmed the doctor. "The damage to your Linker Core during that battle was too extensive, and years of straining it has damaged it beyond recovery. You will be able to cast small spells, but the damage is extensive and will take time to heal."
"How long?" asked Nanoha, dreading the answer.
"… Years. Maybe never." The doctor shook his head. "I'm sorry, I…"
"Don't give me that!" exploded Vita, grabbing him by his jacket and hauling him close. "She can't be a magical cripple, she can't be! Do you realize how much it means to her to fly? To be able to do what she does? You're a doctor, don't you have a goddamn answer to why we can't get the best medical help on staff? HUH? ANSWER ME!"
"VITA-CHAN!" Nanoha's voice cracked like a whip, interrupting her. "Vita-chan… let him go. You're hurting him."
Vita realized this and let go as the man coughed. "I'm… sorry I just…"
"There is also the matter of your legs," added the doctor once he straightened his tie. "It will take years, but you will be able to walk again. We'll get the best medicine and rehab team on staff. It will take time, but it's a heal-all."
Nanoha nodded as the doctor checked a few vitals and excused himself.
"DAMNIT!" screamed Vita, slamming her hand over and over into the wall outside the hospital. "Damnit! Damnit! DAMNIT! Why?"
Vita sunk to her knees, sobbing freely now that Nanoha was asleep and in her room. "I did this… I…"
"Vita…" A hand laid on her shoulder as Hayate leaned over the girl who threw herself into her Meister's arms and bawled like a baby.
"It's my fault… Hayate… I didn't protect her…"
That was the day I swore I would take care of Nanoha, like I took care of Hayate, when she was unable to walk. Fate had her assignments and someone had to take care of Nanoha when she was forced out into deep space. I came over every day, religiously. Until even Nanoha told me that I was overworking myself.
I cooked for her, bathed her, and made many domestic accidents along the way. But in time, we fell into a pattern, a comfortable one. Shamal and Zafira suggested I move out, and live with Nanoha. But no, I couldn't do that. Despite anything, it was still Nanoha and Fate's home, and I didn't want to be in the room when they were making out anyhow. God, that's awkward.
Still, we grew close, closer even and Hayate often joked that she was my second Meister. I didn't mind that appellation. To think the White Devil, so feared in combat, would have a tiny Knight to protect her.
I didn't know it, but Nanoha's accident set off a chain reaction. No one saw it coming, but it was going to shape our futures together. I always knew this girl was special, but I never realized how special she could be.
I often found her looking into the sky after work, as I wheeled her home. She would split off from me once in a while to look at the sky as it turned from gold to grey. She was dreaming of flying recently, imagining the wind whips past her cheeks, and tousle her hair.
I smiled at that, and continued to push her home.
Maybe I would never know how the day would turn out if I hadn't let her be, or noticed the men following her, intent on getting an easy score.
I knew Nanoha attracted the oddest things, but I never expected this before.