First of all, sorry for taking so long. The irony, two reviews I really wanted to reply to I couldn't as they were anonymous ones. So, I'll say it here: congratulations anon and K-n1n3 for your deductive skills. Shame on everyone else. =P
Again, sorry about this chapter, both for taking so long and for the quality, which could have been better. On the bright side the lenght is good and there's some interesting things happening.
Nanoha was gritting her teeth in barely suppressed anger.
"Hayate, step aside," she requested.
Her friend shook her head and firmly held her ground, blocking the passage by standing in front of the door of the infirmary so that Nanoha couldn't leave the room.
"Nanoha, you need to calm down. You can't go and beat up the student council president." Hayate tried to reason.
"Watch me," the other girl challenged.
"Damn it, Arisa, a little help?" The short haired brunette looked for support.
"I don't see why I should hold Nanoha back," the short haired blonde answered, "in fact I'm more inclined to help her hunt down and beat Harlaown."
"Vita, I choose you! Stop Nanoha!" Hayate called out, the first hints of panic entering her voice.
"I'm not a goddamn pokemon!" The redhead effectively deafened everyone in the nurse office. Later that day Hayate would also swear she saw the window's glass crack.
Once the ringing in her ears stopped, Nanoha decided to ask gently one last time for her friend to get the hell out of her way. It must be said that the Takamachi's brand of gentleness was often confused by the rest of the world for death threats. Just like many mistake their concern for murder attempts.
Perspectives aside, what Nanoha did was glaring at Hayate while clenching her fists.
"Hayate, unless you can give me a really good reason for why I shouldn't neuter Harlaown, and honestly I doubt you can, then I suggest you move aside before I'll have to remove you myself."
The cosplay loving girl made eye contact with Suzuka, who was still observing the pictures with a critical eye together with a frowning Yuuno, and silently pleaded for her help.
"Nanoha-chan, while he definitely deserves anything you can come up with, killing Chrono-san won't solve anything. Sit down and use your head instead of your fists," the purple haired girl spoke confidently and calmly.
There was a lengthy pause during which no one moved or said anything, and for a moment it looked like Nanoha wouldn't listen. In the end, though, she huffed, crossed her arms, and sat down near Arisa, who had seemed to be supporting her approach of "murder first - ask later".
Hayate sighed in relief and slumped in a seat beside her savior who finally looked up from the photos to make eye contact with the ticking bomb known as Takamachi Nanoha.
"Now, let's examine the situation with a cool head," Suzuka started but was interrupted by Arisa who was still playing the part of Nanoha's supporter.
"What's there to examine? Mister Chrono Harlaown spends his weekend cheating on his girlfriend. Those pictures are clear enough evidence of this."
"Arisa-chan, please, don't interrupt me," Suzuka asked gently with a smile. All presents felt a shiver go down their spines.
"Now," the purple haired girl continued, "let's start with this girl Harlaown is supposedly cheating on Fate with. Do any of you know her? I mean, if we're going to throw accusation we should first make sure she's not a relative or something."
Hayate could have sworn she heard more giggles from outside that sounded like Shamal's, but no one else noticed so she chalked it up to her imagination.
"That's Amy Limietta, she graduated here last year."
The girls blinked and looked at each other before turning toward Yuuno, who had made his proclamation with his face firmly planted on the desk.
Hayate grabbed one of the pictures and looked closely at the girl that was hugging Harlaown's arm in it.
"Now that you've said it, I think I remember seeing her every now and then at school. I didn't know you were friends with any of the upperclassmen," she commented.
"I wasn't," Yuuno answered glaring at the short haired brunette, "but someone made sure I'd remember this particular girl as the one I totally made a fool out of myself in front of. Someone made sure I'd remember Amy Limietta's face and associate her with the most humiliating, mortifying, suicide-worth, embarrassing event of my whole life."
"Oh...Oh!" Hayate's eyes widened as she understood what Yuuno was referring to, "You mean she's the one from the party last year?"
"What party?" Vita asked looking suspiciously at her friends.
"Ah... you know... Ginga's party..." Hayate trailed off nervously waving an hand in the air as she saw Arisa's expression darkening.
It was a tacit agreement between them that no one should ever mention the party the Nakajima girl had held at the beginning of last year. While a lot of good had come out of that, as it was then that Hayate and Vita became part of Nanoha's group of friends, it was also true that what happened that night included some not-very-enjoyable moments. Including, but not limited to, Nanoha's special brand of befriending.
"That night never happened," Arisa deadpanned with a tone of finality running an hand through her short blonde hair.
Next to Yuuno, she was the other true victim of that party, or rather, of Hayate's plan to live up said party.
Although if one were to hear Hayate's opinion, then the only victims were Hayate herself and Vita, who had to fight for their lives against Nanoha's overreaction when the White Devil came to avenge her friends. And if there was enough time and one continued to listen, the whole thing would become a crazy tale of an epic conflict that was more absurd than believable. But that was beside the point.
"Ok, so she's a former schoolmate," Nanoha said, "can I go and have a few words with our most esteemed president about betraying his girlfriend now?"
"Sure, and then what? You're going to look for Fate and tell her her boyfriend, who is also her childhood friend and whose mother she's friends with, is seeing someone else behind her back?" Suzuka asked rhetorically staring intently at her friend.
Nanoha opened her mouth to say something but she couldn't find the words.
"Yeah, Suzuka is right," Yuuno interjected looking apologetically at her, "no offense Nanoha, but you can be a bit... too blunt and tactless. Besides, as things are she might not even believe you right now."
"So you're saying we should do nothing?" Arisa voiced Nanoha's thoughts as she punched the table.
"Not at all, I'm just saying we should think before Nanoha-chan goes around and gets herself expelled because she beat the student council president to a pulp," Suzuka reasoned out.
"I just wanted to talk with him," said girl murmured, making her friends look at her with various degrees of disbelief.
"Do you think we're stupid or something?" Vita gave voice to what they all were thinking.
Nanoha didn't answer, she just crossed her arms and huffed, unhappy with the situation.
That was when the door to the infirmary opened.
Klarer Shamal was leaning on the door of the school infirmary, biting her hand to stifle her laughter. She knew eavesdropping wasn't a really polite thing to do, but since she was the school nurse and the students in question were arguing in her office, she felt her actions were justified.
Besides, it wasn't everyday that she someone could get one over Hayate and Suzuka, the queens of gossip.
The blonde nurse bit harder when she heard a bit of the conversation about making sure Amy Limietta wasn't a relative of Chrono's. Really, to think these girl, hell the whole school even, could make a blunder like this... Oh, she was going to enjoy this.
Putting the sheer hilarity of the situation aside, though, Shamal felt a genuine smile pull her lips at Nanoha's attitude. The protective and passionate nature of the auburn haired girl could be worrisome at times -and she was grateful her friends stopped her this time- but knowing Fate will be able to rely on such a good person was also quite the relief.
Her expression sobered a bit as she thought at the red eyed child, or rather girl now. She still remembered that day when she was just an intern and her supervisor had told her to go check a blonde child out of the hospital.
**9 years ago-
Shamal walked down the corridor to the waiting room where people with minor injuries were waiting to be looked at by a doctor. Among them there was the blonde child Shamal had been tasked to get out the hospital, preferably by calling a relative who could pick her up, after all they didn't want legal problems by letting someone so young go on her own.
The young intern couldn't help frowning at how cynic that sounded, and the frown deepened when she heard it was another child just slightly older who had brought the blonde one in before she had been convinced to leave. Really, what kind of world were they living in if children had to take care of each other while adults, the responsible ones, were just thinking about their paychecks?
Shamal got in the waiting room unconsciously glaring at everyone while looking for the little one she had been told to politely kick out. Because, really, that's how it sounded to her. She was starting to hate her work, or maybe it was just her superiors...
Finally her amethyst gaze fell on the child she was looking for, a little girl with long blonde hair in two messy pontails and nervous, almost fearful, red eyes that darted left and right as she... panted?
Shamal's own eyes narrowed as she inspected her more closely. The little one kept her left arm close to her body, her hand rubbing lightly her shirt -dirty and worn- over her stomach, her breathing was short and her eyes seemed to get out of focus every now and then.
How the hell a doctor could ever even think she was fine was beyond her.
The blonde intern went to the child who noticed her approach and seemed to tremble at realizing she was coming closer to her. Seeing the little girl scared reaction, Shamal tried her best to put on a reassuring smile as she knelt down in front of her seat.
"Hello little one, I'm Klarer Shamal, I'm a doctor here. What is your name?"
"My name is Fate," she answered in a soft shy voice.
Shamal hummed and nodded, "and how old are you Fate?"
"Hum... I, I'm...six?" she answered uncertainly.
"Ah, that's a nice age," the aspirant doctor said trying to sound reassuring and encouraging, but at the same time taking note of the obvious trouble Fate had breathing, "so, can you tell me where it hurts, Fate?"
"I'm fine, really, can I go home now? I'm fine."
Shamal was fast enough to conceal her frown in a mildly concerned expression. That...wasn't the answer she expected.
"Well, if you're really sure you want to just go home... we'd still need to contact your parents so that they can come to pick you up," she answered, but what she was really thinking was that Fate's parents could convince their daughter to let herself be examined for whatever injuries she obviously had, "so, why don't you tell me your family name and your mom's or dad's name?"
"I'm fine, there's no need. I can get home by myself, I'm fine, it's not too far. I'm fine, really..."
Shamal observed her feeling her concern grow. There was no mistaking the fear in Fate's eyes, nor the flinch and stifled whimper when she had mentioned contacting her parents. A cold sense of dread and fury threatened to overwhelm the violet eyed woman. Taking a deep breathe, she put up a calm front in order to deal with little Fate.
"I'm sorry but I can't let you go home alone. Listen, why don't you let me buy you a snack from the vending machine and then you tell me if there's anything I can help you with?"
On cue, the child's stomach choose that moment to growl loudly. Fate blushed a bit, adorably so, but she nodded silently and grabbed Shamal's offered hand with her right. It didn't escape the young intern's notice the fact that Fate still kept her left arm pressed tightly against her side.
As soon as she could, she made Fate sit on a wheelchair and bought her the promised snack. Nothing like a treat to make a child loosen up.
Fate, however, must have been really hungry because she stuffed the food into her mouth with so much vigor she began choking on it. Shamal hurriedly knelt down to help her, and that was when she saw blood coming out of her mouth as she coughed.
Swearing up a storm in her mind and calling her supervisor with a number of epithets she wasn't going to say out loud near a six year old, Shamal pushed Fate's wheelchair to the radiology department, because, damn it, she became a medic to help people, not to get rich and kick out a patient because her boss was more worried about flirting with the nurse behind the lobby's desk than doing his fucking job!
As it turned out, the reason Fate was coughing up blood was that she had three cracked ribs and one had punctured a lung, albeit the extent of the damage was small enough that it'd heal on his own after some rest and maybe some oxygen. That injury also explained why she was keeping her left arm pressed against her side, although her dislocated shoulder might have played a role in that too. Various bruises covering her body completed her diagnosis, along with the fact that, judging by her weight and Fate's unwitting admission, she hadn't eaten a decent meal in at least a week.
Shamal had already popped the blonde's shoulder back in place -and it was starting to unnerve her greatly that even then Fate didn't cry nor complain- and she was instructing the child on maintaining an upright, seated position and rest, when the head doctor barged into the room effectively breaking at least three separate hospital regulations.
"Klarer!" he yelled, adding yet another breach of the regulations, "what is the meaning of this?"
"The meaning of recovering a child that obviously needs medical attention, sir? It's what I, as a medic, am sworn to do," Shamal answered with a glacial calm.
Her boss, on the other hand, reddened and looked like he was going to explode. He grabbed her forearm and pulled her close to hiss in her ear, an obvious -and futile- attempt at not making a scene.
"Who the hell do you think you are to go against my instructions? You're just an intern here, I am the medic, I make the decisions."
"With all due respect," Shamal said, without really meaning those first words, "that decision was irrational and unethical."
"Damn it Klarer, this is not a charity organization, we cannot took in every homeless orphan that manages to wander in! Either you find her family, if she has one, or you kick her out," he said giving his ultimatum.
"I'm not gonna throw her in the streets."
In contrast to her boss getting more heated, Shamal's voice and face was turning more and more cold as their argument went on.
"Then you'll follow her on the streets, is this what you want? Are you going to throw away your chance to become a doctor for that child?"
Shamal was about to finally loose it and use some not really polite nor proper words about what she thought of him, his hospital, his conduct, and his ancestry, along with a rather rude suggestion about what to do with his stethoscope, when she was interrupted by a soft voice coming from behind her.
Both adults turned to look at the blonde child sitting on the bed. They had almost forgot she was there, and Shamal felt herself blush thinking about what kind of language she was about to use where little Fate could hear her.
"My m-" she tried to say something before seemingly changing her mind and wording it differently, "I'm the daughter of Precia Testarossa."
The shock on the head doctor couldn't have been greater if the child had said she was a vampire alien and started fluctuating in the air spouting flames from her mouth. All of a sudden she was relieved from treating little Fate because she needed the best doctors they could spare instead of an inexperienced intern.
Soon after Shamal was sent home, having been granted the rest of the day off. She also had the promise of a rather generous bonus being deposited on her account within the week, but all it did was souring her mood even more. She spent the evening ranting about corrupted old farts while a disconcerted Reinforce tried to calm her down.
Shamal sighed remembering that day, and a familiar sense of guilt and regret made itself known. If only she hadn't let her boss push her around, if only she had fought to remain by Fate's side, if only she had shared her suspicions sooner... maybe she could have spared the young girl further pain.
'At least she's well now,' the school nurse thought with a little bittersweet smile.
And speaking of the devil, Fate herself was walking down the corridor with Signum. Shamal's smile turned into a more heartfelt one as she greeted the two.
"Klarer-sensei," the pink haired third year said, "could you have a look at Testarossa's arm? I want to make sure she's in top form for today's practice."
"But of course, it'll take just a minute," she answered with a smile looking from one girl to the other, "it's so nice to have such a conscientious student such as you, Signum. You know Fate, Signum is always helping other students and accompanying them to my office whenever someone gets injured, in fact no day goes by without her visiting me at least once."
Aaaand, there it was, that adorable slight blush as the pink haired girl coughed and looked to the side to avoid their gazes. This was really her day, Shamal thought as she opened the door to her office and went in.
"Ahhh, Shamal! Knock before you enter!" Hayate screamed in panic as she hurriedly grabbed the photos still on the table and threw them in her bento before closing it. Rice and silver halide, yum.
"This is my office Yagami, I'll come in whenever I feel like it, with or without knocking," Shamal replied with a serious face.
"...right, sorry," the short haired brunette apologized sheepishly.
The blonde doctor smiled once again, she wasn't really angry, she just needed to reaffirm her authority every once in a while. Besides she knew the outburst was due to little Fate's appearance, whom they were talking about. Shamal's smile became a smirk and a wicked gleam entered her eyes: it was time to have some fun.
"So Fate, how was your weekend?" she asked while pushing her in a chair, "did you and Chrono have fun Friday night with the house all to yourself?"
Shamal saw Signum raise an eyebrow at her question, but the pink haired senior didn't say anything. Hayate's and her friends' reactions were much more amusing as they turned their full attention to the two blondes.
"Mh, yes, it was nice," Fate answered squirming a bit as her sleeve was rolled up to allow Shamal to check her arm, "but I spent the rest of the weekend looking after Lindy. Oh, she wanted to know the name of the cooking school you went to, she was saying something about fining and possibly arresting them for fraud..."
A choked sound escaped Shamal's throat. She had almost forgotten she was in a whole lot of trouble with Reinforce for basically poisoning her boss with her home-made dinner. The blonde nurse knew Lindy wouldn't do anything against her, no, that woman would take it out on Rein and then make it so Rein herself would take care of Shamal herself. She just hoped her housemate was feeling merciful.
"You spent... the weekend with Lindy Harlaown... while Chrono himself went out having fun?"
Shamal could see both Yuuno and Suzuka trying to surreptitiously calm down Nanoha who had just uttered the question with so much contempt in her voice, that she wouldn't have been surprised if the blue eyed girl started spouting flames from her mouth. Medically curious, but not surprised.
"Yes," The red-eyed girl answered in a dubious voice. As clueless as she was, even Fate could perceive the strain in Nanoha's voice.
Moreover, both Arisa and Vita were exchanging meaningful glances with expressions matching their auburn haired friend's. And while Suzuka looked like the personification of calmness and serenity, Yuuno himself was eying the three -Nanoha more often than the other two- worriedly.
"So, uhm, Fate, how did your secret meeting go?" Hayate asked, obviously trying to change the topic before one of hotheads of their group decided to resort to drastic measures.
"I don't know. Apparently the letter was from group of five girls, and they wanted to ask me to 'stay away' from Chrono," She answered, her puzzlement clearly showing on her face, "I told them I couldn't and they went away."
Shamal reacted so fast the other girls jumped in surprise.
"What? Fate, were they bullying you?" She asked with apprehension.
"Eh? I don't think so... They weren't really well mannered, but I don't thin-"
Her answer was interrupted half-way through, however, when Shamal realized how pointless it was to ask Fate such a question. So, patting the hopeless blonde's head, the school nurse turned toward Signum and repeated her question.
"Signum, were they bullying little Fate?"
"Well, from their body language and what little I saw it certainly looked like they were trying to intimidate her," the third year student answered.
"But they didn't really do anything," Fate interjected in her usual quiet tone of voice, confused by the conclusion the others were coming to, "I mean, none of them even touched me."
"Silly little Fate," Shamal said with a sad smile and affectionately ruffling her hair, "school bulling means they act tough and steal your things."
Hayate and Suzuka could instinctively perceive something in both her words and actions. They didn't know what it was, but it was clear that whatever it is it probably played a role in how the two blondes got to know each other.
"Still, it doesn't make sense," Signum commented, "why would those girls try to keep Testarossa away from her brother?"
"Well, it's obvious," Hayate vehemently started to explain, "they're just spiteful, jea- brother!"
Shamal tried to keep a straight face, she really did, but they all looked poleaxed, and when she noticed that even Suzuka, the calm, serene, always composed Suzuka, had her eyes wide open in shock, she couldn't keep herself from laughing to tears.
"You didn't know it?" Signum asked the self-proclaimed queen of gossip with her version of a shocked expression, which in the case of the Kendo captain it consisted in an elegantly raised eyebrow and a tilt of her head.
"B-b-bu-but they don't look like each other at all, and they have different family names! And she keeps calling Lindy Harlaown by name," the brunette defended herself, "and how did you know this when the whole school is littered with a different version?"
Meanwhile Shamal was observing the most curious change in Nanoha's mood, from the murderous one she had been less than a minute ago to the bright smile that could light up the whole room with rainbows she was now sporting.
"Chrono told me when he mentioned she was going to apply for the kendo club. And I have no idea what rumors you're talking about, I don't listen to gossip, you should know Yagammel," Signum answered Hayate's questions in a flat tone, although a tiny little smirk pulled her lips upwards at the end.
"You still managed to hear that," the brunette grumbled before turning toward her younger blonde classmate to get the answers to the questions the pink haired upperclassman hadn't responded to.
Nanoha couldn't help but notice that Fate-chan was clutching at her chest, or more specifically at the necklace that was resting under her uniform. She had noticed it last time they were in the infirmary too, when the younger girl had slipped the jacket off, but whatever pendant was hanging from the chain had remained hidden under her shirt, and back then Nanoha had found herself staring at her chest...
The young Takamachi mentally slapped herself and tried to focus on the present once more.
"Lunch break is almost over, maybe you should start getting back to class," Shamal spoke up, effectively stopping Hayate from pressing for more information, "ah, but I need to have a word with you Hayate, and you too Signum, Nanoha."
It wasn't exactly subtle, but as clueless as Fate was, and with how little the others knew about the situation, she would likely get away with it. Or maybe not, judging by the looks she was receiving while pushing the others out of her office, the only one who remained oblivious was little Fate... that girl was seriously hopeless.
As soon as the door closed, she turned to face two curious brunettes and an indifferent looking pink head.
"You knew it," Hayate accused.
"Of course I knew it," Shamal admitted unrepentantly, "I can't believe you thought... I mean, those two may differ in looks but they behave exactly the same... and you thought... pfft-"
She started to laugh once again, much to the young Yagami's chagrin, who huffed and crossed her arms.
Her friend, however, didn't care at all if she was being made fun of. In fact, being reminded of Fate-chan's true relationship with Chrono Harlaown, one that involved no romantic feelings, only served to make Nanoha feel like rainbow colored bubbles were lifting her from the ground and making her float in the air.
"Ah, as much fun as that was," Shamal went back to say while wiping away a tear, "it's a good thing that big mouth here let it slip."
Signum was blushing, she was definitely blushing, and Hayate was sorely tempted to pull out her cell and take a picture. Survival instincts, however, kicked in and prevented her from acting on that thought.
"I'm confident you can spread the word fast enough so that no one will try to bully Fate again, right Yagami?" It was worded like a question but it definitely sounded like a request.
She waited for Hayate's positive answer before addressing the other second year student in her office.
"Nanoha-chan, you might have noticed little Fate is a bit awkward with people, so would you look out for her and keep her from getting into more troubles? Also, since it seems you've taken her into your little group, I'd like for you to restrain your more inquisitive friends"
"Let me guess, I should make sure Hayate doesn't choke on her foot after she put into her mouth?" Nanoha asked while searching her amethyst eyes for any hint about what the school nurse knew.
"Yes, that's exactly it Nanoha-chan," Shamal answered with a grin, ignoring the short haired girl's protests, "You see, because of some legal complications little Fate cannot change her name to Harlaown. However that's not the important...
"Listen, I know you're curious about why she calls Lindy-san by name, but I want you to promise me you won't ask her anything about it," she positively ordered while looking mainly at Hayate, "it's something she doesn't need to be reminded of."
For once Hayate looked serious as she nodded her agreement.
Nanoha did the same, although she couldn't help but wonder... what happened to Fate-chan in the past? How and why was she adopted, what about her own family? Was it because of that that she could see so much loneliness and sadness in her eyes every now and then?
"Good," the blonde doctor continued, "Now run along you two, I have some things to talk about with Signum about her club injury rates."
Once again her half-lie was seen through judging by Hayate's knowing smirk, but at least Nanoha seemed too busy thinking about her new blonde friend to pay much attention to her. She idly heard Hayate saying something about going together to the Takamachi house after club activities to "hold up their end of the bargain" before the door closed.
Left alone, Shamal turned to face Signum.
"...Tell me the truth, you knew about the rumors and you knew they were going to try and threaten little Fate, right?"
"It doesn't make a difference either way," she answered keeping her blue eyes locked with her amethyst ones, "in any case, can I ask why you keep calling her that?"
"Little Fate? Well, I've met her when she was six and more or less kept in touch since then since Rein works under Lindy. I'll always remember her as the little kid who made me the kind of medic I am today."
'And as the child I couldn't protect from getting hurt more than any medic can cure,' Shamal added in her mind, before banning the thought once again and looking more closely to the student standing in front of her. There was an unusual light in her eyes, one she had seen once before, but... was it...?
"Signum," she called taking a step forward coming to stand beside her and putting her hands on the pink haired girl's shoulders, "are you by any chance getting jealous?"
"Wha- I don't- I... I... I need to go back to my class, good day Klarer-sensei," Signum stammered out before bolting out of the infirmary."
"Patience, patience Shamal. Graduation isn't that far away..."