Disclaimer: Do not own, unbeta-ed, et cetera. Spoilers for all three seasons; and hints on some aspects of the MGLN Vivid manga.
This is a fic written after someone dared me to do something similar to a certain infamous MGLN doujinshi that was circulated a few years ago, whose title is Betrayers, while adding my own personal touches and whatnot. It was a most interesting dare, and this fic, here, is the result. To read this doujin, and/or find out more details about it is your choice - I can only say that you'll understand and probably snicker/strangle me at certain puns and trickeries I made if you've previous knowledge about it.
In terms of story formatting - I'm using a similar format that I did for ciel bleu, since it seemed to work just fine for this one as well. Scenes in present tense means it's something happening at present; if there's a 'rewind.' label and it's in past tense - it's something that happened in the past.
A chinese song as the fic theme, today. Ye Qu (translated to Nocturne), by Jay Chou.
That being said, I hope you enjoy this.
Stage One: Equilibrium
The white roses that I gave you
Withered in the darkness
Ye Qu, Jay Chou.
She's on the floor; slumped against the cold, broken rubble that was a wall once. Raising Heart, broken and cracked and blinking, is on the ground - a tantalizing few steps from where she is.
But still too far, nonetheless.
Her face is lifted up, gently, with Bardiche's blunt side.
She feels her vision blur; and she knows - she knows - that it's not just because of the concussion she has. Neither is it just because of the liquid warmth pouring out from the side of her stomach that makes her dizzy.
It's not, because she can feel warmth by the edge of her eyes, and a strange, constricting feeling in her throat.
It's because she's crying.
Her name is said in a soft, calm voice.
And so completely devoid of the warmth she once knew.
"Even for you...that's a little pathetic, don't you think?"
And it was.
She's riddled with injuries, while the other only suffered mere cuts.
"Why..." Her voice is a hoarse, trembling whisper. "Fate-chan...why?"
Something flickers in those cold, red eyes.
"That's really a question not worth answering, Nanoha." There's muted amusement in the blonde's soft tone.
Amusement, and nothing else.
"I don't understand." Her eyes burn. "I don't understand. Why are you - why are you...what changed, Fate-chan?"
Fate responds by moving Bardiche; the cool metal leaving her chin only to rest mid-air, one sweep away from her.
One sweep that can end her life, if the scythe is out.
The device hisses.
Fate twists her wrist -
Fate T. Harlaown is silent.
And her silence says everything.
She knows she should move. Her instincts are telling her Fate is serious, and if she doesn't move, she will die.
Fate will kill her.
It makes something drop to the pit of her stomach, and it makes her want to cry that much more.
"You...intend to kill me?" She has to ask.
"Is that a question worth answering?" Fate banters back softly, strangely reminiscent to the sentence used before; and Nanoha finds herself wondering if it's actually mockery in that question -
It's another long moment before she answers.
Mostly, because she doesn't know.
Partly, because she agrees with Fate.
But, even so...even so...
"Tell me," she says.
She wants to hear it from her mouth.
Her voice is cracking and hoarse and raw with so many things from hurt to anger to confusion -
"Tell me that you will kill me, Fate Testarossa Harlaown."
Fate's fingers tightened around Bardiche.
A smile flickers on that face.
There is a fondness in that tone which is both familiar and heartbreaking.
Familiar, because it's reminiscent to all those times Fate was quietly amused over her antics and whatnot.
"You're as straightforward as always."
And heartbreaking, because there's really just amusement and nothing else.
"Perhaps this will be good enough of an answer, Nanoha?"
The scythe of death moves.
There's no hesitation.
There is no hesitation at all.
Her eyes shuts involuntarily.
She still remembers the day Fate kissed her for the first time.
It happened after saving Vivio from the cradle.
Not immediately, but later in the night when the hospital room was dark and quiet.
Fate had knocked on the door, come in, and sat by the bed. There was no chair to sit on - the hospital was just that packed with people and patients.
And while Nanoha was wearing the hospital gown - Shamal had literally demanded that the brunette stay in the hospital for observation - Fate was still wearing her white shirt (somewhat crumpled) because there was a lack of hospital gowns; and the brown dress jacket and yellow ribbon that comes with the military attire seemed to have disappeared.
Yes...Shamal had insisted that Fate stays in the hospital for a few days, as well.
"How are you feeling?"
Fate responded with a wry grin, head cocking a little. "I'm fine. Shamal was being a worrywart."
"Somehow I doubt that." She eyed the white ceiling absently from where she's lying down. It was likely that Fate was still feeling the strain of having used her limit break. And while the effects may seem insignificant now, in a decade's time...
"You're too stubborn for your own good, Fate-chan."
Blonde eyebrows twitched.
"You too. You ended up pushing yourself, didn't you?"
She couldn't help but smile at that. They were arguing over the same thing they argued about when they were in the sky, and it was funny, for some reason she could not name.
"But I came back safe, with Vivio."
Fate's response was to offer a crooked grin. "Yet not unscathed."
She sighed at that. "You're such a worrywart, Fate-chan."
"I am." It was a strangely open admission, and one that makes Nanoha look at the blonde.
There was something unreadable and intense and piercing in those dark red eyes.
"It's part of who I am, no?" Fate murmured.
She blinked at the other.
There was something different about Fate's demeanor again.
She had felt it, earlier, when they met again after the crisis was over - it hadn't feel like it was anything bad, but it was definitely different. And because it didn't seem like it was anything bad, she had let it slide... but that didn't stop her from wondering what happened when Fate had met Jail Scaglietti.
The blonde offered her another half-grin, eyebrows slightly raised in question.
She had the oddest feeling that Fate found something funny.
It made her give the other a suspicious look.
"Okay. What are you laughing at?"
Fate chuckled then.
"Well..." A short pause, before the blonde spoke again. "You know how big Zanber is, right..?"
Too big, she almost wanted to say.
A grin quirked.
"I'm remembering how I wielded it like a baseball bat to send Jail flying into the wall."
Nanoha's jaw hung slightly open at that.
Fate snickered a little.
Did she just snort at the idea?
There was something incredibly amusing about that thought.
Maybe it has something to do with the fact that Jail was the one man they had chased for years. Or maybe it had to do with Fate wanting to arrest him for so long after discovering he spearheaded Project F. Or maybe, it had to do with him kidnapping Vivio for ridiculously insane reasons that still makes her angry but...
Oh, what an end to their enemy it was.
She can't help it. She laughed.
"Finally, you laughed," Fate noted, a strange warm humor lacing her tone.
That made her blink.
There was something troubled yet relieved about the smile Fate was wearing, now. "The past few days have been tough on you, Nanoha."
She can't help but smile again, and moved to sit up.
"H - hey - you shouldn't - " Fate's startled words was cut off when she shook her head.
Immediately, Nanoha could feel the lethargy take over her, and the sudden, sharp pang in her chest that made her grunt. She wavered unsteadily, her vision swam and she was dizzy, and then she felt herself dropping - only to be pressed against the other.
Fate had woven her hands around Nanoha, keeping her steady. She could hear and feel the heartbeat belonging to that of her best friend - and it was strangely calming. The combination of a familiar scent that was Fate and the familiarity of the hold - it just about made her sink bonelessly in that protective hold, and she could feel her eyes closing, almost on their own.
The blonde sighed.
"Ahaha.. sorry, sorry."
"Are you okay?"
She smiled, even though Fate couldn't see it. "Yeah."
And she truly was.
The dizziness and lethargy was slowly leaving her.
She cracked an eye open experimentally to stare at Fate's white shirt, and found that her vision wasn't swimming.
Nanoha breathed in, slowly, and then moved to gently disengage herself from the blonde's steady hold; even if one of Fate's hands remained by her waist, just in case.
She missed the hold immediately, because the room was chilly; and because the warmth she could feel emanating from that one hand was making her heart skip a beat.
Fate's dark red eyes were fixed on her, concern - and something more - plain in them.
"I..." a pause. "I wanted to tell you I'm sorry," Fate says, quietly. "I couldn't make it to the Cradle."
"Fate - "
A finger was pressed against her lips, stopping her words.
"Let me finish?"
Nanoha wanted to scowl, partly because it really wasn't Fate's fault that she wasn't there, and partly because things had ended well; but doesn't say anything more.
She was pretty sure she radiated discontentment and impatience, though, because a flicker of amusement crossed Fate's features.
"I'm not sure if I can ever put into words the experience I had when I met Jail," Fate mused, and Nanoha's eyebrows rose.
That sight made the blonde smile again. "You were wondering about that, weren't you?"
She felt her cheeks heat up a little.
Was she that predictable?
A ghost of a smirk crossed Fate's features, and she wanted to pout.
"Be sure not to pout in front of your students," the blonde teased. "It would be unbecoming."
Fate chuckled, but just as quickly, the amusement in that gaze was replaced by something far more...serious.
Serious and unreadable.
"I hesitated for a long time now," was the murmur. "I worried, I doubted, and I was afraid."
"Caro and Erio reminded me of why I shouldn't ever have to." Fate smiled, a little, and Nanoha detected a hidden pride at the mention of the two kids. "I've you to thank for, in that regard...you, because of what you taught them, and because of how you helped me raise them."
Fate's soft words were warm and sincere.
In the darkness of the room that was illuminated only by the moonlight from the window, there was a strange silver shine in those red and almost black eyes.
"But... it's also true," Fate continued after a pause, "that sometime in the future, I'll probably start wondering again. I'll probably start worrying and doubting, all over again."
There was something self-depreciating and almost sad yet accepting in that gaze.
"And that's fine," the blonde whispered. "That's fine, because I know that's how I am...and because Caro and Erio have accepted all of that that makes me who I am, as my family have, and...as you have."
A hand cupped her cheek, brushing against her skin gently.
"This is why I'm done hesitating. I'm done thinking about what-if's."
Nanoha wasn't sure what the blonde was getting at, and it probably showed.
"I'm done hesitating, Nanoha."
The next thing she knew, she had stopped breathing.
Fate had angled her face up slightly with a finger to the chin, and brushed their lips together.
A sharp sound - an incredibly sharp sound of clashing metals reverberates in her ears.
The wind is howling, all of a sudden, only to fade the next moment.
"That's enough, Fate-san!"
Nanoha's eyes opens and she sees a boy - a teenager that is now the age of fifteen - with ruffling red hair and long white jacket - standing in front of her protectively.
Bardiche had not struck her.
"Erio.." There's surprise in Fate's tone, and its more emotion that she has heard from the blonde today.
"Sorry," another voice, but just as familiar, came from above. "He got through with his sonic move."
Fate nods, slightly. "It's fine."
There's a curiously humored note in Fate's soft voice as she observes Erio, as if their weapons are not clashing and fighting for dominance.
The blonde smiles, a little.
"You've grown, Erio."
The boy falters for one moment, and then digs his feet into the ground again.
"Why..." His voice is trembling. "Why are you doing this? Why - even Nanoha-san...you would kill her..?"
"Eisen," Vita says, quietly.
The cartridge rolls, once.
Erio's gaze darts from his former teacher back to his guardian.
"Why...why - !" He sucks in a breath, one of desperation and hurt both, grits his teeth and - "Caro!"
Somewhere, somewhere high above - a dragon roars.
Nanoha knows at once what Erio is planning to do.
A tactical retreat.
It's the best approach, because he most certainly would not be able to fight on a level ground with two S ranked mages.
She feels the burning heat of molten fire heading straight for them.
"Sonic move," Strada and Bardiche intones at once, almost at the same time.
Two flashes of yellow is all she sees and -
The world explodes in fire.
She's in Erio's strong grip, on Friedrich.
The wind is beating against her skin, and the pain from her stomach - from everywhere on her - is almost overwhelming.
"Hang in there, Nanoha-san!" Caro.
She feels the girl's magic flow into her, warm and soothing and calming.
"You're going to be safe," Erio mutters. "The Church - we - " he's suddenly choking on his own words, and trembling. "You're going to be okay, Nanoha-san."
Cool droplets of water splatters on her cheek.
The boy is gritting his teeth, trembling like he's trying to restrain himself from going back to that battlefield, and he's crying.
She glances behind her; and despite her blurring vision, she sees two figures - one in white and black and the other in red - floating mid-air in the reddening sky, motionless and watching. And beneath them, there are rubbles and broken buildings stoked with fire.
But it's no good.
From this far, and with how her vision is fading in and out - she can't tell what the expressions on those faces are.
She can't tell at all.
So why is it that she wants to cry, too?
How nostalgic it was, to see them again.
She fingered a petal, eyeing the pale shade of pink that was almost white under the dim moonlight.
"Nanoha, what are you doing...? You're going to get a cold, you know."
She turned to smile at the other.
"Hello to you, too, Senior Enforcer Testarossa," she pointedly said; purposefully calling the blonde by her newly promoted rank.
An elegant gold brow lifted.
"And hello to you, Instructor Captain Takamachi."
They eyed each other challengingly for one full minute, and then burst into a fit of snickers.
Only to be interrupted when Nanoha sneezed.
"I'm fine. And I will be going in soon."
"Soon," Fate echoed. There was exasperated amusement in her tone.
"Soon," she repeated.
"Mou..." Fate sighed, stepping closer till they were just one step from each other. The blonde unbuttoned her brown military jacket deftly, shrugged it off, and slid it over Nanoha. "Must you always worry me so?"
She could feel the remnants of warmth that belonged to Fate from the jacket that hung over her shoulders now, and her cheeks reddened a little at the thought.
"You're just a worrywart, Fate-chan."
"And you aren't really helping much in that department," Fate pointed out wryly, tugging at the jacket gently to adjust it, "especially with the no-holds barred battle we had with the forwards this morning."
Nanoha smiled a little in remembrance. "It's a good memory?" She offered, and closed the jacket in a loose grip with a hand in an attempt to preserve the warmth.
The blonde just sighed. "It was, but.." That soft voice turned wry. "Please inform me beforehand next time."
Nanoha couldn't help snickering, resting her head on Fate. "Ahaha. Sorry. I thought Hayate-chan would have told you."
"She didn't," was the dry response. "Like you, she takes just as much pleasure teasing me."
"That's because Fate-chan is too cuuuute to not tease."
"You... that's - honestly, I'm not..." Fate groaned. The blonde couldn't find the words to voice her frustration. "Mmrgh." The nonsensical growl that Fate attempted to give really wasn't a growl at all.
Fate really didn't have it in her to growl, did she?
She laughed, hands moving to wrap around Fate. "It's okay, Fate-chan. You're fine just like that."
"As tease material, I'm sure."
Her hold loosened, and she glanced up to meet Fate's exasperated gaze, eyebrows lifting.
"My, did my Fate-chan just get sarcastic?"
The blonde flushed, and almost jerked backwards - but she was faster. Her hands had moved to curl around Fate's neck instead, and refused to let the blonde escape her gaze.
"I - I - that's - " Fate was at a loss of words, again.
Nanoha remained silent; content to let Fate try to dig herself out of the little hole she fell in.
And then, after a full minute of stammering:
There was a hint of whining in Fate's tone.
She smirked, but relented, and moved to hug her instead; face buried in her shoulder.
"H - hey..?" The blonde hadn't expected that sudden movement, but all the same, Nanoha had felt a hand brushing against the top of her head gently.
"Tomorrow...we'll be going back to our separate departments." She wondered why her voice dropped to a sudden whisper. She hadn't exactly willed it that way voluntarily.
"Mm. We are."
Riot Force Six had officially disbanded.
"I heard your department is planning to integrate internal investigative work as part of enforcer duties?"
"Yes.. with all the recent revelations about Regius, Jail and..." Fate paused, "...everything that happened the past year, I suppose, it's no surprise that the proposal came about."
She smiled, slightly. "Looks like it's going to be a busy work schedule for you, Fate-chan."
Fate chuckled, and she felt the vibration of it from where she was resting her head on.
"Possibly. But..." Now, there was something not-quite-sad but not-quite-happy in Fate's soft voice. "I suppose it would do the bureau good, in the long run."
Not-quite-sad and not-quite-happy; because it meant discovering that there were more corruption in the bureau, and because discovering them meant having the ability to mitigate them.
Fate's line of job did not involve things that were in black and white. Most of the times, it would be in varying shades of grey.
But then, the same could be said for hers, too.
Life really wasn't as simple as it was a decade ago, was it?
Not to mention Vivio was now officially her child - though that wasn't to say she thought of the girl as a burden. It was...more of because she wasn't confident in herself that she could make her precious child happy.
And because there was that equal chance that one day, one day...she would fall from the sky.
Nanoha stared at the white shirt belonging to the girl she was leaning on, and loosened the hold she had.
She moved to grasp the blonde's hand.
"Nanoha?" Her hand was squeezed back gently.
There was warmth and concern both in Fate's soft voice.
Really, she was beginning to see it now.
How could she ever be so blind?
She hadn't believed it possible for herself to be with someone.
Because, after all, she was shot down once, and it could happen again.
Which was why, even though she understood the feelings that she had for Fate a long time ago, she had never acted on it. Not even when Hayate purposely set them up in the same room.
It was a not-so-subtle hint on Hayate's part to tell her - or Fate? - to get a move on (Nanoha had really wanted to hit Hayate for her scheming).
But then again, Hayate had probably meant for both of them to get a move on it.
She must be truly blind, though...because she never knew Fate reciprocated those feelings until that day in the hospital.
"Nanoha?" Fate repeated, a hint of worry creeping in. "What is it?"
She had obviously been lost in thoughts for far too long.
The brunette found that she couldn't help but let a smile form.
"Nothing to worry about," she said reassuringly. "It's just.."
Sakura leaves rustled gently; the wind was picking up its pace.
She tugged on the blonde's sleeves, stood on her tiptoes and moved until she was close enough to whisper into Fate's left ear.
The sound of the wind and leaves muted the words that she spoke.
Fate did hear what she said, though, because the blonde jerked her head back and was suddenly a stammering mess, face beet red to the tips of her ears.
That was when she laughed despite her own warming cheeks, her heart light and her thoughts clear, and she pulled the blonde down into a kiss.
It was a kiss that would evolve into so much more that night.
The door slides open, and Hayate steps in quietly.
Her eyes move automatically to where a Fate T. Harlaown is sitting on the bed, and Shamal by her side, tapping at the blue screen.
The brunette finds that she can't quite suppress the sigh that wants to come out.
"Why is Captain Fate always overdoing it?" she asks rhetorically, stepping closer. "Bardiche, too." She glances at the triangular device on the table.
"I'm fine," is the automatic response.
"You are not." Shamal frowns down at her fellow blonde in all her motherly rage. "Did you realize how dangerous was that? Fighting Nanoha-chan when you're still suffering the effects of unison with Rein-chan? You could have collapsed, or worse, died!"
She feels her fingers twitch involuntarily at the reminder.
And for an instant, reality fades out and memory took over.
She's remembering the first time Fate and Rein did a unison, because the situation was just that critical.
What was long golden blonde hair had turned black, and dark red eyes a bright amber. Barrier jacket was grey, instead, with black lines; the once yellow triangles a stark green, the white cape a mismatch of faded blue and pale orange.
Her best friend was still beautiful even then, despite a strange exotic feel to it.
There were bodies all around Fate. Bodies, motionless and burnt and cold from the mix of ice and electricity; and her - her - with blood coughed from her lips as she leaned against Bardiche heavily - and Hayate remembered hearing Rein crying, silently, through their telepathy connection.
She was too late.
She, Yagami Hayate, had been too late.
"I didn't," Fate's voice snaps her out of her reverie. The conversation between Fate and Shamal resumes. "Collapse, that is."
Fate's body was - is - rejecting the unison.
The thought made her curl her fingers on the left hand into a tight fist.
Hayate sighs again.
"How is it that the phrase goes?" she muses wryly, walking around to stand in front of Fate, hands crossed. "Like master, like device, Fate-chan?"
Dark red eyes locks onto hers.
"I did what I had to do."
And beneath the calm of that gaze, she can see it - the turmoil of emotions - the raw, raw heartbreaking emotions -
It makes something in her stomach clench.
"I know," she whispers, arms moving to wrap around her best friend.
The blonde sighs into her shoulder, and she feels the weight of Fate leaning against her.
It's a telling sign of how exhausted her best friend is, and it leaves a bitter aftertaste in her mouth.
"I know, Fate-chan."
Night had come when Nanoha reached home.
Fate was looking lost in thought again.
It was happening a lot more frequently, nowadays, and it had grown increasingly harder to figure what sort of things Fate was thinking about.
But there was one thing - one thing - that she was certain of.
Fate T. Harlaown had seen something that she wouldn't ever forget.
Nanoha never asked, because Fate never wanted to tell, but she knew it bothered Fate on too many levels.
It was Hayate who told her to go to Fate, today, and there was something strangely sad in her fellow brunette's gaze. Hayate had offered to take Vivio for the night and then teased, a little, but it was overshadowed by the lack of humor in those blue eyes.
She wondered what happened during the meeting Fate and Hayate had.
She snapped out of her reverie; the blonde had noticed her, head half turned to meet her from where she sat.
"Hey," was her soft response.
And she moved to wrap her arms around Fate's shoulders from behind the sofa, brushing a soft kiss against the blonde's head.
It was a habit for her to do that, nowadays.
"How's everything today?" asked the brunette.
Fate sighed, and leaned into the hold, resting her head against Nanoha.
"I wonder if I could use the word 'progressing' ...?" was the murmured response, dark burgundy eyes closing.
"Fate-chan?" It was a venturing question to tell Fate she was there if the blonde wanted to talk.
Fate's response was genuinely apologetic. "Classified."
"Mm, it's okay." She had expected that much.
"Tomorrow," the blonde continued, "I have to leave for a mission."
"I'm not sure how long it would take, this time.."
Classic Enforcer-type mission, that.
"It's okay, Fate-chan."
Fate reached up to squeeze at her arm before going further up to angle her down a little -
"I'm sorry," the blonde whispered. "And thank you."
Their lips pressed, briefly.
Then she's moving her own hand from where it was wrapped around the blonde's shoulders; brushing against silk gold hair and smooth skin on the neck to the jaw line -
And the kiss became that much more involving and almost rough.
The previously apologetic and sad burgundy eyes darkened and smoldered.
She hadn't been entirely aware when Fate had reached around to pull her down to the sofa.
There was a sudden, strange sort of desperation and hunger in Fate's kisses that startled Nanoha; as if the blonde was trying to pour all sort of emotions into it, as if some sort of hidden restraint that was there for the longest time had finally broke, and those burgundy eyes shone with an indescribable, overwhelming intensity that made her tremble.
It was a night that had been seared into her memory, never to be forgotten, and one that left her dazed and feeling its phantom touches for days.
It was also the last night they had together before everything changed.
War knocked on their doorstep.
And they were on different sides of the door.
"Ara, General Yagami. What brings you to the laboratory?"
Oh, how she dislikes that voice.
And though Signum remains staunchly silent by her side, Laevantein is out and sheathed at the side with a hand ever ready on its handle.
"I'm here to speak to the doctor... Quattro."
It's a smile that makes her sick to the pit of her stomach.
"Of course." The combat cyborg bows - but Hayate knows better than to assume it's a sign of respect - and gestures. "Through the door, General. Doctor is working on...enhancements... for the androids."
Human-like robots that have no will of their own; yet intelligent enough to act sensibly.
It's a pale mimic of the technology that makes combat cyborgs, but...
For mass production and war, it's perfect.
She nods, and brushes past the other brunette to the metallic door, Signum flanking her left.
"Oh - General Yagami, if you don't mind me asking a question?"
She pauses, but doesn't look back.
"What is it?"
"How's Fate-ojousama nowadays? The Doctor misses her, you see.."
From the corner of her eyes, she sees Signum's lips thinning, and the grip on Laevantein tightening.
"And he's worried too. He wasn't really happy to know she and Rein unison-ed, again, without his knowledge. She's reaaally making it difficult for him to collect data. Important data, too, I should add."
She waits for the explanation; Quattro lets the silence hang for a dramatic pause.
"For our dearest Fate-ojousama, these data could help him research how to mitigate the mean, meaaan effects of unison for her. So if the princess doesn't come in for her check-ups like she should, or if the Doctor isn't informed when she does an unison, it's a little...troubling."
She thinks Quattro's smile has grown predatory though she doesn't see it.
"After all, Fate-ojousama is his precious first child, ne?" A sing-song voice with mocking concern.
Oh, how she would give anything to shut that cyborg up right now.
Hayate tastes something metallic and salty in her mouth; and there's a sharp, throbbing pain by the side of her mouth. She's bitten her lip too hard again.
And she doesn't know how her voice remains level, but it is.
"I'll inform the captain to stop by later."
Hayate moves; the metallic door slides open.
Quattro claps her hand. "Thank youuu~!"
Nanoha is sore.
Her throat feels painfully dry, and she forces open her eyes to see a pair of heterochromatic eyes.
"You're awake," a male voice says kindly.
It's the voice of her childhood friend.
The man with glasses squeezes Vivio's shoulder gently, and the little girl simmers down sullenly.
But she really doesn't have to ask that at all, because the question makes her remember.
Her eyes shut involuntarily, and she lifts a heavy, trembling hand to press against her face.
Her best friend and lover had almost killed her.
Just the thought of it...the very thought of it -
"Nanoha..." there's a hint of something bordering of sympathy and warning both, in his tone.
Vivio is here.
She breathes in, deeply.
And moves to sit up.
Yuuno is quick to assist, adjusting the pillows behind her and helping her settle.
She feels terribly weak. The side of her stomach throbs.
"You've been asleep for a week," Yuuno says, "your injuries have more or less healed, but...take it easy on the stomach. That one there...was a nasty wound." He reaches for the jug on the table and pours water into a plastic cup. "..And you must be thirsty."
She nods, almost imperceptibly, and accepts the offered cup.
The sip she takes turns into a gulp that almost makes her choke; her throat feeling like it's going to burst to accommodate the flow of water as the fluid settles comfortingly in her stomach.
"Easy does it," Yuuno chides gently.
"Sorry," she whispers.
Then she glances down, at Vivio, and finds that she can smile much more easily for her daughter.
"And I'm sorry for worrying you, Vivio." Her hand reaches out to ruffle dark blonde hair affectionately. "But mama's okay, now."
That only serves to make tears gather by Vivio's eyes again, and the little girl's suddenly scrambling up the bed to hug her.
"I'm okay," she whispers.
There's something in Yuuno's green eyes that tells her he knows she's lying, despite the concern and worry in them.
And it's not the shade of red she wants to see.
She feels her eyes burn, and she squeezes them shut.
Her daughter is warm, and it comforts her.
She can't help but feel that something had changed, irrevocably, and for the worst.
And there is nothing that can make it right again.
Nothing at all.
The sudden extrajudicial deposition of a government to replace the deposed government with another body, usually by a small group of the existing establishment. A coup is considered a success if the government fails to prevent or successfully resist their consolidation of power.
But, if it neither fully fails nor achieves overall success...it is far more likely that this will lead to a civil war.
And a civil war it was, thought Teana.
The coup on the TSAB had caused a creation of a new high council; with the old ones - that had protested - stripped of command and labeled rebels. This new council ordered the construction and arming of physical, destructive weapons; effectively rendering the old law that forbid such weapons null.
Furthermore, a controversial proposal for the building of organic weapons was sent in - and passed.
The effect was instantaneous - stunned offices fled to take refuge with the Saint Church when they were deemed rebels after protesting. Some others joined the church when it was announced that they would take arms against the bureau. And the remaining had cheered, not because they wanted bloodshed, but because they believed magic too soft a method to uphold the law.
It probably didn't help that the "JS" terrorist incident four years ago had further raised questions on how useful magic was as a tool of justice and protection.
But with that being said, it was also true that this wasn't the actual starting point where people had begun wondering about the necessity of physical weapons. It was an age old question that had been debated countless times, after all.
Perhaps, to say that it was the incident that sent these debates into a frenzy and set things in motion, would have been a better choice of words.
One of which included the coup.
Thus begun the Second Civil War.
"...Squadron five is reporting an ambush, Captain Fate. Estimated damage of androids at seventy percent."
"Maintain position," Fate said simply. "Inform squad two to push forward to their position, and merge both teams."
Translation: They were collateral damage.
Teana tapped at the monitor, her free hand pressing at the headset attached to her ear and speaking into it over the explosions, noise, and sharp wind.
"Aah...also, one more thing, Teana."
The orange-haired girl head glanced up at her captain, who was staring up at the sky absently, where there were explosions, myriads of colors, and bursts of light; all of which were signs of a battle raging on. It was only a matter of time before they gained the upper hand. The enemy was tiring, and the androids were far more resilient.
"It seems that squadron one is hesitating."
The one and only team of Fate's battalion that wasn't filled with androids. They were also the only squadron up in the air battling; the one Fate was observing.
"Send them a reminder. They shoot to kill."
Fate's voice had remained distant, cold...and so incredibly nonchalant.
She breathed in, once, before nodding.
She relayed the order.
There was a flash of yellow.
Again, she glanced up - and saw that Fate had grasped Bardiche in her hand.
Red eyes remained on the sky, but they were no longer distant.
"Teana," the blonde said quietly. "Prepare for battle."
"Defenser," Bardiche intoned.
A gold globe enveloped both of them, bare seconds before pink energy balls struck them from all directions; sand and dirt was sent flying.
And breaking so far into the defensive line recklessly?
Either these people have a death wish, or...or it was them.
She can't help but sigh.
In all honesty, it probably was them.
Really. As reckless as usual.
"Cross fire," she whispered, feeling bits of her magic drained as balls of magic formed over her.
She heard the sound of whirling metal.
It was a sound she recognized in a heartbeat, even if she couldn't see it with the cloud of smoke.
She did not hesitate.
Her magic flew in three different directions - one set upwards and veering thirty degrees, one set to her left, and one set to her front.
And her aim was true - for all three directions, explosions struck.
She had predicted where they were correctly.
But she knew it wasn't over, yet.
Her former comrades were not so weak to be taken down so easily.
Another explosion, and -
The smoke cleared.
In front of her was Erio, a yellow flaring barrier held up with a hand. Above her, were Caro, and Fried; both of which staggered from the impact of her bullets. To her left, was Subaru; whose fist had slammed right into Ginga's defensive barrier.
The older of the two sisters had been forced backwards, a little, her heels digging into the sand; but the shield was not broken.
Hurt and betrayal shone on Subaru's stunned expression.
Teana's grip on her gun tightened; she tried to ignore that look, and could already feel herself failing.
She glanced up briefly.
And her captain...
Her captain was already locked in a battle with Takamachi Nanoha.
She wondered if she imagined seeing her former teacher anguished with an utterly broken expression on her face, and thought she probably did - but it was too far for her to really tell.
I'm coming in, a voice echoed in her ear, ETA in ten minutes.
She recognized the voice; it was Vita.
Just hold on for a little bit more, Teana.
She felt a moment of relief.
It was five against three right now... and she was fairly certain she would have to take on Caro, Erio, and Fried alone; perhaps with a few stray bureau officers (that was not taken down yet).
But, if it was just for a couple minutes..
She steeled herself.
There was no way she was going to go down today.
Not when the first stage of the plan was about to be completed.
It was a battle that lasted an hour for Teana.
One that left her heaving for breath but otherwise fine; aside from bruises and cuts that would keep her sore for a while.
But she knew the battle was far from settled. It was forced to a halt because reinforcements from the bureau was in sight, and..
Also because Fate had injured Nanoha severely.
"Teana," Vita said as she touched down on the ground beside her, followed by the blonde. "We're retreating as well."
"Hai." She glanced at Fate, whose expression remains hooded.
Her captain was staring at the remains of a broken building lit with fire; a fire caused by Fried.
But as usual, the blonde was unreadable.
One would think that she would be able to read Fate after working under her for so long, but..
No. Perhaps, the better way to put it was she had been able to read her mentor's emotions - to a mild degree. It would have been unusual not to; working together for years would have produced some sort of understanding, after all.
But Teana could only imagine what Fate was feeling, now.
It had grown progressively difficult to read her captain ever since...ever since that time.
That time - that one scene - that set her, Teana Lanster, on the path she was on right now; committed in supporting Fate's - and General Yagami's - cause.
In whatever way she can.
Who wouldn't, after seeing what she did?
It was a room that was cold, and dark; the large screens that were scattered around the room buzzed grey and black. And at the center of it were broken machineries, three large broken glass tubes, and...
Three rotted brains.
The foul, foul stench that stung her nostrils back then... and Fate, who slammed a hand into a screen nearby that caused the glass to crack and her skin to break and blood to drip, trembling with unspeakable emotions -
It was a travesty, the things that they had discovered and the things that were set in motion during their investigations, starting from the point they had discovered that hidden room and beyond. How could one damned terrorist attack by a perverted doctor ever cause so much repercussion?
Vita's query snapped her attention back to reality, and she breathed in deeply; she waved a hand, and a blue screen floated in front of her.
The scene that was seared into her memory still shook her to the core.
If things had been a little different... she would have been fighting alongside Subaru and Nanoha-san, rather than against.
But as it was..
"Commencing retreat," she reported. "ETA - two hours before full retreat. Sir."
She wasn't going to regret her decision.
Not even when the sight of Subaru's hurt expression haunted her.
" - so we ask you, for your permission, Nanoha-san - "
God forbid, she wants to break down again.
She closes her eyes, and presses her face to her clasped hands; elbow resting on the table.
The dull throb by the side of her stomach is ignored.
Nanoha breathes in, deeply.
"You said Vivio has agreed?"
"..She has, yes." There's a sad, guilty note in Carim's quiet voice. "But even so - you're her mother, and - and..."
She can't stop the bitter words from forming.
"And I would be powerless to stop it, because you will press on anyway?"
"Even so, Nanoha-san. You are her mother. We would...we would prefer to do this with your blessing and - Vivio...would need her mother. That girl..."
It's Chrono who speaks, this time, firm and strong.
"By doing this, that girl will be revered and hated, both. By formally taking the position that is her birthright... it would be - a burden for her... and a blessing for the rest of us."
She finds herself admiring his tenacity for a moment; she knows he has lost too many men to count in an unexpected ambush by the bureau, and his fleet was wiped out.
Not to mention Lindy had passed away in the explosion that rocked the Navy headquarters.
Yet, he is stoically calm.
"We need someone with enough weight to her name to pull the people together," Carim says. "We need her, because she is the sole heir to the throne, and because everyone's so lost right now, and...we need her, Nanoha-san. We need her to unite everyone."
Her fists tightened.
"Nanoha," Chrono says quietly. "Vivio is a strong girl. But she's only ten - " and should not have to do something like this " - and she will need all the support she can get, most of all by her mother."
Really...what else could she say to that?
That's cheating, Chrono.
She smiles, involuntarily, and feels the exhaustion settling in as she leans heavily on her fists, staring at the brown wooden table.
"I can't say no if you put it that way, can I, Chrono-kun..?"
It's her child, after all.
Hell will break loose first before she even thinks of abandoning her child.
Chrono knows it too.
And she knows there's real regret in his voice.
She wonders what he thinks about what his sister and Hayate are doing, but doesn't ask.
She probably wouldn't like the answer anyway.
"Aah, also..." Chrono trails off.
He seems to have difficulty continuing, and it surprises her.
She glances up to look at the older man.
"What is it..?"
"We will need your help, too."
There's something self-depreciating and sad in Chrono's gaze.
"Will you help lead us to victory, Ace of Aces?"
He's asking her to fight them.
"Casualties from the skirmish at 0813 this morning amounted to thirty percent - that's roughly twelve thousand troops of the total number deployed."
Rein taps at the hovering monitor, and glances up - first to look at a silent Hayate whose eyes are closed and hands crossed, then to... the rest of the High Council seated around the long table.
"Of that, eight percent of the casualties consist of the soldiers, the rest androids."
"That's good, isn't it? The experimental usage of the androids as shields is a success. They are taking the damage in place of our officers."
"Possibly, but we must take into account that our resources level are at yellow. While I'm confident it is enough to last us for the duration of the war, there are reported ambushes and stealing - we can never be too careful about how much resources we have. Is there new stock arriving?"
"Weaponry resources are en route from Non-administrated world ninety seven, as well as TSAB-administrated world number three, twelve, and sixty one. Estimated arrival in one hundred and sixty eight hours - however, if we are to take into account the rebel fleets situated around Mid-Childa, there is a possibility that the resources may be intercepted."
"And the androids?"
"The doctor does not believe it an issue, as long as we bring in more prisoners, and have a steady supply of the items he requests: copper, aluminum, and crystallite; all of which are abundant in Mid-Childa itself."
The white-haired man sitting to her left leaned back against his chair, and sighed.
"Hmph. I guess that man is some good, after all."
"If that's the case - a possible replacement of all officers with androids is possible, isn't it?"
She feels her grip tightening on the file she's holding.
"Yes. But that requires an extreme amount of resources."
"Hmm. If that's the case, then.."
The white haired girl glances at Hayate, again, while the conversation continues to areas she did not want to hear.
"We still have the upper hand - the Church forces are still scattered while ours are focused. We should do a decisive strike that will.."
Her master still has that calm, stoic expression.
"You don't seriously think they could fight us with their meager forces, do you? It's.."
And then -
The alarm blares.
"What the hell? Report!"
"Sir!" A frantic voice came through the intercom. "Someone's taking over the main system! We can't stop it!"
"System is being overridden - the armories and the laboratories are being targeted! We can't stop the data transfer - !"
It has started.
"What the - it's being transmitted worldwide! That's - "
She glances at the screen.
Screenshots and videos of the laboratories are being transmitted.
The one showing the usage of prisoners and dead bodies; where they are converted into androids with the integration of metallic items, are being shown live.
Rewind. Repeat. Rewind. Repeat.
The cruel treatments of the prisoners by the bureau are being shown.
"SHUT IT DOWN! NOW!"
Her master has yet to react. She's still sitting there, back leaning against the chair, seemingly comfortably with arms crossed, and silent despite the roaring panic in the room.
A new screen appeared, hovering on top of the table.
"Sir! New report! The church is announcing Takamachi Vivio as the heir to the Sankt Kaiser's throne of the ancient Belka! It's being sent all over the world and dimensions!"
This is it.
This is the decisive point that would change which way the wind blows.
This was what you wanted, didn't you, Hayate-chan?
Stage One: Equilibrium
A/N: The main premise and feel of this fanfic is credited to the Betrayers doujin. While I made some significant changes, I left some others the same, simply because I do not see those parts happening any other way, i.e. the part where Vivio ascends the throne to rally the people together, the use of physical weapons etc.
Notes in regards to some of the significant alterations I made, which in turn made the story what it is now, and some others:
-Definition for Coup d'état was taken directly from wikipedia.
-The part where enforcer duties integrated internal investigations after StrikerS is information that was provided in the soundstages. It's also the main reason for why I allied Fate with Hayate and not Nanoha with Hayate, in particular with how Fate would have the possibility in discovering those three brains thing and etc.
-The surprise combination: Fate and Rein.
Heh. Why not? At first I thought of using Agito, since Agito unisons with Signum. But fire-based and lightning-based doesn't really match compared to ice/water and lightning. Let's just say something drastic enough happened that Fate and Rein unison-ed to save something. :) And when it's done once, well...that's just saying it could be done the second time. Also, before you ask how I came up with that color combinations for the unison: I tossed a coin on a paper with color labels to choose the colors.
The resident mastermind. I've seen various depictions of her doing sekuhara, display cosplay fetishes, generally a prankster and all that...which I do agree on to a certain degree, but...well. There's more to her than just that. She's a pretty cool character when it counts.
She's the Ace of Aces, said to be the one to turn the tide of the battle when it counts. Looked up by kids, admired by people. I don't think I need to really explain why Chrono's requesting her help in particular, and why... whatmore, if we take into account Hayate's planning on things.. I daresay she's there because Hayate would plan it that way.
Not really much I can say about my decision to put her in the battlefield rather than playing report-giving girl to the council. Part of it does have to do with the fact that Teana is Fate's aide after StrikerS; so if we are to talk about loyalty - I'd say it's more to Fate than Hayate.
Hmm. What can I say? She probably received the most focus throughout the fic despite various point of views and the plotline and etc. She's not exactly in the middle of it all, but she sorta is, alongside Hayate and co. I guess this is my way of showing she's still the character I like the best.
Big question number one: Was Fate really going to kill Nanoha?
...I'll leave that to your imagination. :D
Big question number two: Is this a one-shot or a teaser?
It's a one-shot. Sorry. I was fairly determined to keep it that way. When I was challenged to write something like the Betrayers doujin, I practically went, "Hell no." That's like asking for a super epic long fic to be made that would take...god, I don't know. Over a 100k words? And requires details and politics thinking? I'm not a plotter, nor am I an entirely knowledgeable on politics and military. Nor... do I think I'll ever be inspired enough to do something like that. So a one-shot, snippet style what-if fic it became.
Although I guess it's not really a one-shot..
But, speaking of which...here are some teasers for what could happen in the next stage.
Fate sighs, and settles back down against the wall from where she's sitting on the bed.
There's a strange, invisible weight on her shoulders; and her head pounds dully, cold sweat dotting it.
She can taste something metallic and salty in her mouth, too, and she stares at her open palm that she coughed into moments ago.
Really, she's been doing unisons with Rein far too many times.
It's making her body destroy itself from inside out.
Not to mention she cancelled the unison by force, this time, which does not bode well for her body. But it was not something she had a choice in. If she hadn't done it... Rein would have been captured too.
The blonde eyes the metal clasp locked to her left wrist, and tries, briefly, to channel some magic.
She fails, and does not try a second time.
Her eyes closes.
Damn it all, she's tired.
She hears the door slide open.
The door closes.
And silence reigns.
It goes on long enough that she sighs again; whoever is it doesn't seem intent to speak until she does, first, and all she wants is some peace and quiet right now.
"What is it?" she asks.
An inhale of breath.
Her teeth clicks shut.
Her eyes opens, and she watches the brunette - the woman who has clenched her fists, her once-lover who is trembling and staring at her like she's in disbelief and despair and in pain yet just as concerned and worried -
She closes her eyes.
She doesn't want to see that expression on her.
Her head throbs.
"What do you want?"
Fate doesn't need to look to know that Nanoha has flinched from her statement.
But the brunette has yet to say anything, so she continues.
"I'll be your enemy once more when I get out of here, you know," she says, quietly.
"Why - "
"You should kill me while you've the chance."
" - we're being bombarded! The rebels have launched their forces, and - "
"General Yagami! Damage is increasing - recommending that we abandon base! It's going to collap - augh!"
Another explosion rocks the building.
The alarm blares, and red lights blinks in and out.
It's a warning sign.
"It's her! Takamachi Nanoha! She's targeting us with a SS rank Starlight Breaker!"
"It's time, Your Majesty."
"Mou...I get why the others are calling me that but.."
"Stop teasing me already, Einhart-san!" Vivio pouts.
"But Otto-san and Deed-san already does that," she protests. And she wasn't trying to tease. Sein-san said to call her that!
The ten year old girl scowls.
"I could just as well call you 'Your Majesty', you realize? You are of royal blood too, Einhart-sama."
"B - but - "
"Stop it. Please?" Vivio begs.
But it's not proper!
The blonde, however, is giving her the...how should she describe this look? It's a look that makes it hard to deny her..
"...Fine," she agrees reluctantly.
Vivio cheers. "Yay!" And proceeds to pull the taller girl forward. "Okay. Time to go. Nove is waiting. Kris!"
A bunny floats by her, lifting a small paw as if to say, yes!
"H - hey, Vivio-san?"
"Are you...okay with this..?"
Vivio jerks to a stop.
The previously bright heterochromatic eyes dims, and a flicker of sadness crosses them.
The blonde sighs.
"No," Vivio admits. "I don't think I'll ever be fine with having to fight Fate-mama, or Aunt Hayate, or Zafira-san or...any of them, especially when we don't know why they are doing what they did."
The grip on her hand tightens.
"But I've to do this. Nanoha-mama...is crying. And everyone's..." Vivio's quiet whisper trails off before it starts back up again. "I've to be strong, for them. They were strong for me, back then, and now..."
"And now?" She encourages gently.
"It's my turn to be strong for them."
"Look at me, damn you!"
Fate flinches, more out of surprise of being slammed to the wall than anything else.
Did Nanoha just curse?
Her shirt is gripped tightly, she's pressed to the wall; and Nanoha is hovering over her on the bed, strands of brown hair tickling her cheek.
The grip on her shirt trembles.
"Look at me," Nanoha says; and that voice is hoarse with so much pain that makes her not want to look at the brunette. "Please."
She finds herself gritting her teeth.
But she looks, anyway, into a pair of slate blue eyes that's glistening with tears.
Nanoha glares at her.
She fights to keep her expression even.
It lasts for all of one minute before that furious look crumbles into nothing but so much love.
"Damn it, Fate-chan," Nanoha whispers, "why can't I hate you?"
The brunette tugs her by the shirt roughly, and crushes their lips together.
Stage Two: Divergence
...is not coming soon.
Lol. Sorry, I couldn't resist. Some of you may recognize the reference of the end statement above about not coming soon, but if you didn't, it's fine to think of it as a prank from me, too. I know some people may probably want to strangle me for it, but...heh.
Honestly speaking, though... This second stage thing probably will never happen. Not a plotter, for one, as I said before. Lack of inspiration and lack of understanding on politics, for another. And it's just going to give way to random plot holes that I may not be able to plug and/or make my brain fried.
Nonetheless. I hope you've enjoyed reading this as much as I've enjoyed writing it. It's different from what I'm used to writing, and writing Nanoha and Hayate was pretty interesting.