"I'm not having second thoughts." Fate breathed in, the memory of the cool evening air tinged with the charred scent of exhaust running through her senses alongside what she was really sensing. The oval building roof had no guardrails, although the ledge was slightly raised in warning of the edge. Below, the lit-up windows of the apartment buildings created dizzying stacks of coloured lights that converged on the tiny street beneath her feet. It was past rush hour, so the traffic congestion had thinned. The night had painted all of this a muddy slate blue, broken only in the bright circular pieces of sidewalk beneath the streetlights. "I'm just remembering."
"And what have you remembered?"
"…That I'm not much different than the girl I was before," Fate replied, her hands in her jacket pockets. It was cold, but she was already so numb that the chill didn't bother her.
"Even after so many years?" A smirk crept onto Precia's lips.
"No," Fate said. "I changed. But in the end, I still couldn't stop myself from coming back to you. I'm remembering how I used to go to you, always hoping that you'd smile at me. Even if I knew that you would beat me, every time."
"And that's what you're looking forward to?"
Fate stepped closer to the ledge, her shoulders hunched in. Being both a fighter and a flying mage, her balance was perfect. The height meant nothing to her, nor did the thinness of the ledge bother Fate at all. "I deserve it."
"What do you deserve?" A third voice asked, low and firm. Fate's hands twitched, but her knees had done the opposite and locked in place.
Fate nearly hadn't recognized that voice—all her memories of it were soft and kind.
She wasn't supposed to be here.
"You're out of time," Precia told Fate, her purple eyes darkened into a deep burgundy. "Come now, and she won't be able to stop you."
"What do you deserve?" Lindy Harlaown asked again, stepping forward so that Fate could see her in the corner of her vision. Her second mother was in civilian clothes, looking like she was going out grocery shopping instead of tracking down her wayward daughter across the galaxy.
Coldly, Precia said, "I told you, you're out of time."
"You're not out of time," Lindy responded, and Fate startled, glancing between Lindy and Precia. But Lindy was only looking at Fate.
"You weren't supposed to be here," was all Fate could say. All she had to do was shift her weight forward, and gravity would finish the job for her. Lindy's gaze gripped her tightly though, as if the teal-haired woman had a physical hold on Fate that she couldn't shake.
"Why not?" Lindy asked, although her tone wasn't particularly questioning. She was still looking at Fate in that odd way, compassionate but distant as if she were still the Admiral of a warship.
Precia wasn't quite sure how to deal with this Lindy.
Fate wanted to cry.
"I…no one was supposed to see it." A little too late for that now, wasn't it? At least that voice was just Fate's own, inside her own head. Just…Fate's own… The blonde shook her head, shivering. "How did you know?"
"How did you know?" Precia demanded.
No answer was forthcoming for a while, as Lindy observed Fate with her solemn eyes, the ends of her longcoat fluttering in the wind. Fate swayed slightly, but the wind had changed direction and gently nudged her back upright. How had Lindy gotten here? Fate would have noticed another teleport…of course, Lindy was a flying mage, and it wasn't like Fate was exactly very present in the here-and-now to notice anything anyway.
She didn't want to think about how Precia got in all those places.
"I've been worried for a while." Lindy's voice was even, confusing Fate and Precia even more at the lack of strong emotion. "Yuuno told me you had left. He was worried." She glanced around the rooftop for an instant before bringing her gaze immediately back to Fate's.
"I thought that you would probably come here."
The rush of feelings that comment had made Fate feel was too much. She closed her eyes. It probably wasn't a good idea, given how shaky she already was. The vertigo would tip her over the edge. Well…maybe it was a good idea then.
"Fate," Lindy commanded, and Fate was compelled to open her eyes and look at her. A brittleness gathered inside Fate's chest, and she could feel her breathing speed up as she struggled to hold it together.
"You left something for me." Lindy held up a crisp white letter in one hand. "I'm sad that you chose this method, Fate. I know that you have more courage than this."
Fate twitched. Lindy hadn't chosen that phrase by accident.
"At the very least, you should tell me what you want to say in person."
"Please," Precia scoffed. "Why does it matter at all?"
Lindy watched Fate silently.
Fate bit her lip.
"…I should never have been here."
"Why?" Lindy challenged.
When Fate didn't respond, Lindy shifted in place. Absently, Fate noted how her adoptive mother's body language had changed so that Fate's own attention was drawn inward, away from the edge. It was a good Enforcer tactic to use to distract targets in a gentler way than openly confronting them.
"Why don't you deserve to be here?"
"Because," Fate whispered, "I'm not right. I'm not a proper person."
Lindy looked at her, the intensity in her eyes compelling Fate to make an abortive half-step towards her. Although her question was delivered in a flat tone a hint of exasperation was audible as she asked, "Because you were born in a different way?"
Fate shook her head harshly, her chest heaving with rapid breaths. She bit her lip, the rippling pressure of her quivering teeth on her lip grounding her. "Because I've got her inside my head."
Precia only looked right back at her, silent and no longer smiling.
And then Fate was looking at nothing but the open sky. Her knees were shaking, and while Lindy did not move at all Fate could see the older woman's muscles twitch as she stayed her impulse to drag the teetering Fate back from the ledge. Fate panted, feeling sweat drip down her temples, staring dazedly at the hazy drop in front of her.
"She's not your mother. She's not Precia." Lindy's voice cut deeply, the tone causing Fate's vision to blur over as she stumbled back, squeezing her eyes shut to drown out Lindy's voice. But she heard it anyway.
"She's some part of you, Fate. And you used to hold her back, somehow, keep her separate from the sweet, kind and loving Fate that I know. What changed?"
"Of course you know!" Fate cried out, turning and stumbling over, barely clasping at Lindy's coat before her legs gave out. She felt those warm, safe arms catch her, and lower both of them down onto the pavement in a tight embrace. That open wound inside her chest tore further, and Fate sagged into Lindy's arms. "Arf…I'm so sorry."
Still, Fate could remember the hollow snapping inside her heart before she even heard Arf scream. The sequence of events never made sense to Fate anymore, but she was certain of one thing.
Arf had died for Fate.
And that was when Precia had first spoken to Fate, inside Fate's head. I told you that was what familiars were for.
That was when Fate broke, even if she had continued to go through the motions. She had played her part so well even Fate herself had forgotten that she had broken inside.
"She knew! She was the only one who knew…like mother, like daughter, right?" Fate laughed harshly, tears cutting hot trails down her chilled cheeks. "Mother had her life with Alicia, and then she had one with me…and something about being with me broke her. And even with all my efforts, I still came back to what Precia had taught me…"
"Fate!" Lindy pulled back, cupping Fate's face between her hands and holding the eye contact. "Listen to me—look at all the people you saved! Erio and Caro grew up loved and happy, because of you! Look at Nanoha and Vivio, and what joy you brought to them! And Fate, you're my daughter, and a sister and an aunt—"
"I can't do it anymore!" Fate clenched at Lindy's sleeves tightly. "I'm too tired, Kaa-san, I can't hold them all together anymore." She clutched at her head, quivering. "I'm already in pieces."
"Fate?" Quietly, Lindy stroked Fate's cheek with her thumb. "Why can't you bring them all together?"
Together? Fate stilled, her vision glazing.
"Because you had learned from experience, haven't you Fate?" Precia said. She was standing on Fate's other side, her eyes red and grim. "Bringing Lindy to me had gotten me and Alicia killed. Bringing Erio and Caro together had them leave you, isn't that right?"
"I don't want to talk to Precia," Lindy said firmly, giving Fate a little shake. "Fate?"
"I got her killed," Fate whispered, still staring at Precia. "When I brought you and Nanoha to see Mother…" Her breathing was speeding up, and she had to put her head between her knees to try and keep from passing out. A warm hand rubbed her back as if she was a little girl again.
"Is that why you feel you can't have all of us together? Because you're afraid that something bad will happen if we do?"
For a moment, Fate stared at Lindy, shocked at what she had said. Then suddenly, a bout of laughter burst from her mouth, startling both of them.
"That makes no sense at all." Fate continued laughing, silently crying the whole while. "I really must be crazy."
And so you finally admit it, huh Fate?
"Not for that," Lindy disagreed. "Worrying about your family doesn't make you crazy, Fate. I worried about how you and Chrono—and even Amy—would get along." She gently wiped away Fate's tears. "If you ask them, they'll tell you how nervous I was back then."
"You were?" Fate asked weakly.
Lindy nodded. "Fate, you're allowed to take this at your own pace. Trust in how much your families love you, and how much they all love each other already." A proud spark lit in her eyes. "Despite things, I've always felt that I had five grand-children, after all."
"I…" Fate stammered, confused.
"Do you believe it?"
Fate was silent.
Lindy asked, "Do you believe it?"
"I'm scared to," Fate admitted. "But I'd like to."
"Let's start there," Lindy smiled, rising to her feet and offering Fate a hand up. Fate reached out, then hesitated. She glanced sideways at Precia.
Precia looked back at her, then chuckled soundlessly. "Don't worry. I'll be waiting."
"I know," Fate whispered, and managed a small smile in response.
Lindy held out her hand. "Let's go home."
Fate took it.
It was an oddly nostalgic feeling, walking up the path to the Harlaown house while holding Lindy's hand. Fate shook her head, needing the feel of cold wind on her face to keep herself in the present.
"Fate?" Lindy had noticed.
"It's hard to remember," Fate admitted. "It's been so long since I thought about what I'm doing, instead of what I remember losing."
Arf. Precia. Alicia.
Amy. Chrono. Karel and Liera.
Erio and Caro.
She had pushed them all away when she had gotten lost inside her own head. It had been for the better…but Lindy was right.
Fate had been afraid that she'd drag down her good, noble and shining family when Precia had appeared. When Fate had first realized the darkness inside her mind, she hadn't wanted to taint their light. But Lindy had been right—Fate hadn't given her motley, unconventional family enough credit.
Lindy squeezed Fate's hand. "They'll love you, always."
"I made an appointment with Shamal for tomorrow," Fate said. The sudden non-sequitur statement didn't get a reaction from Lindy, who watched her unassumingly. Almost shamefully, Fate rushed on. "So she can…It doesn't excuse how I've acted, but—" She trailed off at the gentle look Lindy gave her, and ducked her head, chagrined.
"There's nothing to forgive. We'll get through this, at your pace."
They were nearly on the doorstep now. Movement behind the sheer curtains made Fate stop, look, then gasp.
"That's Erio, and Caro! Amy, Chrono, the kids…Vivio…" Fate stared, shivering. "Nanoha. Lindy, what are they all doing here?"
"I called them," Lindy said, holding tightly onto Fate's hand in case she got any ideas. Of course, Fate knew seven ways to break free and run from a hold like that, but she couldn't against her own mother. Besides, Lindy probably knew eight ways to stop her from running—she hadn't become an Admiral for nothing. "You get to know many people during tenure as an Admiral, and call in your favours someday. I called all of them here for your birthday."
Fate stared at the drowsy people in the Harlaown living room—her niece and nephew were dozing on the couch, Amy was chatting with Vivio and Caro while Chrono and Erio came from the kitchen with trays of water glasses. And Nanoha was curled up in a chair, so still that for a moment Fate thought that she was asleep. Then she saw that her dearest friend's eyes were open. Nanoha was staring off into space, and the expression on her face made Fate's heart skip a beat from the emotion.
Mother knew best, after all…Lindy had called them here because Fate wouldn't have.
"Do you want to go in?" Lindy asked, handing the responsibility back to Fate again. Her mother infallibly knew her thoughts so well.
Fate gazed longingly into the living room, drinking in the sight of all the pieces of her life gathered together. The tremours shaking her body stemmed just as much from relief as they did from fear. Fate was tired of being afraid.
"Not…right now. But yes."
Fate met her mother's eyes, soft tears sliding down her face.
"Yes, I do."
Fate had to fix herself, but she wanted her entire family with her every step of the way.
Closing her eyes, Fate smiled, content.
"I'm spending my birthday with my family."
Author's Note: Oh my, a happy ending from deathcurse? ^_^
Now, if you care for long and nerdy explanations =D…
For those who wondered about Fate's condition:I left it vague about what exactly happened to her, but what I had in mind was a mix between a mood disorder and schizophrenia. I'd lean more towards schizophrenia actually, despite showing only part of what the full disorder is like. Contrary to popular media depictions, it's actually difficult in real life to know when someone has schizophrenia since many people just hear the voices in their heads but don't show any outward abnormal signs*. Most of the "crazy" behaviour is done in response to what the voices tell them to do, or to try and drown out the voices that constantly speak to them. But unless they do something unusual and get "caught", most schizophrenics actually spend years undiagnosed and fairly well-functioning in their lives.
There's an added bonus in that schizophrenia has some genetic basis, so it's quite possible Fate could have inherited it from Precia (and Precia herself wasn't exactly working with a full deck of cards in Season 1, so it's a possibility).
Fate realizing that these voices aren't real isn't implausible, as schizophrenia patients who take medication actually don't stop hearing the voices—they just become aware that the voices aren't real.
All in all, Fate is probably far too well-functioning in this fic to truly have schizophrenia, but I tried to keep it somewhat grounded in reality while tweaking things for artistic licence =).
*(The stereotype of jerky movements and jaw-knawing in schizophrenics is actually a terrible side effect of the medication they are on.)