For those of you curious, Chrono will be making an appearance at some point. I haven't forgotten about him. This chapter went through some much needed revision and my thanks goes to the wonderful people on the Animesuki board.
Chapter 7 begins here. Standard disclaimers apply. Comments and criticisms are always welcome.
- Chapter Start -
Accepting the invitation from Yuuno, Signum and Zwei entered the man's home. To Signum, who had been here before, quite a bit had changed since her last visit. It was actually quite a mess now that she took a better look. Charts lined the walls with myriad equations, code, and symbols on them. Tomes and datapads were strewn about. To top it all off, there was a stack of unopened mail and boxes shoved into a corner by the door.
"If I did not know the cause, I would reprimand you most seriously for living like this," spoke Signum evenly as Yuuno took her coat and hung it on the rack. She noticed that Zwei was trying to contain herself and doing a successful job so far. Both females removed their shoes and set them next to Yuuno's.
"Sorry about that. With everything that's been going on, I haven't had a chance to keep things organized. At least the kitchen is clean." He was looking rather unkempt himself, his normally bound hair was sticking out in places and there appeared to be dark circles under his eyes. Yuuno turned to Zwei and took her coat as well, seeing that she had taken on her full sized form rather than the compact form she normally used.
"I also believe that I told you to take up a hobby." A single pink eyebrow rose in a questioning look. The tease more implied than intoned.
Rubbing the back of his head, Yuuno let out a small laugh. "That you did..."
A slightly awkward silence descended that was broken by Zwei's soft voice. "Daddy, can I meet Mommy now?" While being born with a copy of Eins' memories and personality, Zwei was still her own individual and somewhat of a child even to this day. Shamal had once theorized that had Eins been a normal, human girl in her earlier years, she probably would have acted like Zwei.
Blinking at being called 'Daddy', Yuuno filed it away for later. Right now, he had family to reintroduce. "Sure, Zwei. Come on." He looked to Signum, his actions asking if she was coming as well.
"I will wait in the kitchen. I wish to speak with you beforehand and I... do not wish to interrupt. Zwei, it will be alright," spoke Signum before placing a comforting hand on the short girl's shoulder. The pinkette then began attempting the hazardous trek from the front door to the safety of the kitchen. At one point, she was almost certain that one of the books tried to nip at her heels. Considering the kinds of objects that Yuuno regularly dealt with, it was not entirely out of the realm of possibility.
As Signum made the dangerous journey, Zwei reached out and took Yuuno's hand. Despite all her vigor and desire to meet Eins, there was still a strong nervousness sitting inside her. It would be her first real meeting with one of the two women who gave her life.
"It'll be alright, Zwei, just like Signum said." He gave her hand a reassuring squeeze. "She's actually been anxious to meet you. She wants to meet her daughter." Yuuno hoped to ease the girl's worries at least a little.
Navigating through the piles of research, he led Zwei to his bedroom door and knocked on it. A calm and beautiful voice a moment. "Enter." That voice seemed to make the girl at Yuuno's side tense up slightly, prompting another squeeze from the man.
To Zwei, the world seemed to have gone silent save for the sound of her heartbeat. She did not hear the sound of the door unlatching, nor the slight creak as it swung open. Swallowing her nerves, the Unison Device stepped into the room with Yuuno at her side.
The contents of the bedroom had been pushed to the sides to make room. The bed was upturned and leaning against one wall with the frame on the opposite while shelves had been shoved as far out of the way as possible. A faint green array of magic glowed against the white carpet. At the center of that array was a small desk with a multitude of cables running to the box housed within it. Atop that desk was a large display screen, hovering just above its emitter.
Standing serenely in that display was Reinforce Eins, a smile on her face.
"Mommy?" asked Zwei in a hushed tone, her fingers slipping from Yuuno's as she approached the display.
Eins almost had tears in her eyes as she finally was given the chance to meet her daughter. "Zwei... My daughter."
It was too much for the girl. She cleared the distance to the computer and placed her hands on the display, desperate to have some form of contact with the woman behind it. "I wanted to meet you, Mommy." Her voice trembled as though trying to hold back overflowing emotion.
In the background, Yuuno quietly excused himself from the room, carefully shutting the door as he did so.
Eins reached out to place her hands against her daughter's. "And I, you." It was a surreal experience for her. The idea of having a child had never before crossed her mind in all the time she had been alive. Yet, here was hers. She could see herself in the girl on the other side of the display. The curve of her jaw. The shape of her lips. Every little feature that Eins had was reflected in this little girl. The eyes, though. They were a lighter color, but those eyes belonged to her Mistress Hayate.
On the other side of the screen, Zwei was having similar thoughts. It was one thing to see photographs. It was another to actually meet that person. She could truly see the similarities between herself and her mother. Perhaps it would be even more pronounced when she was freed from the confines of the computer. "Um..." Everything she wanted to ask seemed to have died on the tip of her tongue.
Eins seemed to sense Zwei's hesitation. "Would you tell me about yourself, Zwei? What little I know is from speaking with Mistress Hayate," asked Reinforce in a tone of voice she hoped sounded motherly.
The girl with powder blue hair nodded happily, drying moist eyes as she did so. "Well..." And so she talked. Zwei went on and on, telling Eins anything and everything. Her first sight had been Hayate's joyful face. Her first meal had been a tomato nearly as big as she at the time. Hayate's embarrassed and pleased look when she called her 'Mommy' for the first time.
The older device listened with rapt attention, wanting to know everything she could about the time she missed with her daughter. Occasionally she would ask a question or tell a brief story from her journey through cyberspace in her quest to reconnect with the family she had been separated from.
She told Eins about her first unison with Hayate and the first mission she went on. Everything from the beginning up until even last week when she beat Vita in a card game was laid out before her second mother. They talked for hours in that bedroom, illuminated by the glow of the magic circle and the light of the display.
While Eins and Zwei bonded, another conversation was occurring in the relative safety of Yuuno's kitchen.
After braving the path, Signum had taken a seat at the table. While Yuuno escorted Zwei to Eins, the pinkette pondered the situation. She had done so many times over the course of the day since Lady Hayate had informed them. It was not the meeting with Eins that bothered her, rather she was glad to be given a chance to reconnect with the woman. There had only been a short amount of time in which Eins had been living with them, fortunately enough for Shamal, Zafira, and herself to finally bury the hatchet with Reinforce.
Old wounds and grievances had seemed inconsequential when finally given the chance to mend things. Vita had disagreed at the time, needing more time to really get over her own grievances. When Eins had decided that the best way to ensure the permanent destruction of the Defense Program was her own death, Vita's time ran out and the Iron Hammer Knight was unable to make peace.
The largest concern for Signum was the Defense Program. Reinforce claimed it was gone and Lady Hayate said that Yuuno's research supported this. It was still a significant worry. Not just for the potential fallout in terms of military action and the repercussions against everyone involved, particularly Lady Hayate, but also for the emotional damage it could cause. Signum did not claim to be an expert in the ways of the heart, but it was blatant to see just what could happen if the events from The Book of Darkness Incident repeated. Hayate would be devastated. She couldn't even begin to imagine how Zwei would take it, now that they had met.
Her thoughts swirled about as she heard the sound of a door closing. Approaching footsteps told her that Yuuno had left Eins and Zwei to become acquainted.
"Would you like anything to drink, Signum? Yuuno offered as he bypassed the table and went towards the refrigerator.
"Some water would be appreciated," answered the General of Fire without turning to look at the blonde.
There was a clinking of glasses and the sound of flowing liquid. "Here." Yuuno set the tall glass of cool water in front of Signum before taking a seat opposite her with his own glass. A sigh of tiredness escaped his lips while the pinkette nodded in thanks.
Taking a few drink of the refreshing fluid, Signum then set the glass down and folded her hands. "You have not been sleeping well, I take it." It was a statement rather than a question. Something to get the conversation going.
"Not really, no. There's a lot of data to sort through, experiments to run, and supplying Reinforce with mana on a regular basis." Though he appeared exhausted, Signum could tell that he was genuinely happy with his situation. The man was a scholar, after all. "Anyways, what did you want to talk about?"
"It concerns the Defense Program. Is it truly and utterly gone?" Signum's eyes were dead serious and had taken on a steely look.
Yuuno took a drink from his own glass and then nodded. "I've been running every possible analysis and examined Reinforce's code thoroughly. Everything has come up negative. In fact, if it weren't for the amount of damage she's suffered, I'd be pretty suspicious," explained the Head Librarian honestly.
Signum gestured for him to elaborate. Lady Hayate had not gone into any significant detail regarding how this had happened, only that it had.
"If Reinforce came to me, perfectly healthy and only a little weak, That would mean that some of her regeneration ability remained. That regeneration is what made the Defense Program virtually immortal. That same regeneration is completely gone from Reinforce. Almost as though it were never there in the first place. Since there is nothing that can allow for regeneration..." Yuuno trailed off at the end to take another sip of water.
"...Then there was nothing encouraging the Defense Program to reconnect to her. She was useless to it," finished the woman as she pieced together what the man across from her was saying.
The blonde gave a nod. "Pretty much, yeah. And since everything has been consistently turning up negative, its just been a matter of rebuilding her code so that she can live outside of the computer once she can produce enough mana."
Signum gave an appreciative smile after a moment of contemplation. "Thank you for clearing my doubts, Yuuno. I will trust in your work." Her stern posture relaxed slightly, no longer on edge from concerns about a worst possible outcome.
The ticking of his wall clock echoed about the home before Signum broke the silence. "Might I inquire how exactly you are providing Reinforce with mana." Yuuno hadn't elaborated on how the procedure worked, not had Lady Hayate. Perhaps if there was something that could be done to aid in this, it would lessen the burden on the librarian.
That seemed to brighten Yuuno's mood. Well, most anything scholarly would do that. "Its... a bit of an unusual procedure, to be honest," he began.
"Unusual?" Signum left that word hanging, not quite certain she liked the sound of it.
"I had to find a way to translate my mana into a format that could be understood by Reinforce's Linker Core in her current state. I wound up looking into a lot of different methods of mana replenishment for ideas and calculations," he explained freely. "In the end, I developed the spell I've got running now. While I only need to provide intermittent bursts of mana, the connection has to remain open at all times so that each transmission has the same... frequency, if could call it that."
Yuuno continued explaining in further detail. Unfortunately, Signum was a Knight, not a scholar, so much of the man's exacting detail went over her head. When he paused for a moment, she interjected. "Is there anything that we can do to assist you with the replenishment? It appears to be taking quite a toll on your well being."
"I don't think so, not without reworking a copy of Reinforce's replenishment spell to allow more donors or connect a donor to me. And I don't have the time or resources to do that." He shook his head in dismay. Any lessening of any of his current tasks would be a significant help, but he couldn't see any way of delegating from where he was at.
"Have you not forgotten that you have allies in this venture? Allow me to take a copy of the spell to Shamal and Zafira. With good fortune, they should be able to work something out," spoke Signum confidently.
The blonde haired man blinked as Signum's words sank in. "Well, now I feel like a fool," he stated simply, resting his chin on one palm.
"In your defense, we did only discover the truth of the situation today," she replied.
"True. I'll make sure to have a copy ready by the time you two head home." Yuuno seemed to have recalled something a few moments after his reply. "Signum, why did Zwei call me 'Daddy'?" It was certainly nothing he'd ever heard from her before.
There was a pause before Signum answered. She seemed to be contemplating something. "In a way, you could be considered her father and she views you as such. Though she may be borne of Reinforce and Lady Hayate, Zwei would not exist without your considerable assistance and she knows that." Looking towards the bedroom, the pinkette continued. "She said as much on the drive over, much to my own surprise as well."
"I... see," responded Yuuno in a somewhat bewildered tone that showed on his tired face. The more he thought about it, the more it made sense if he looked at it from Zwei's point of view. Even if he only started out by assisting with research, but the time Zwei had been born he had become far more involved. There was an odd feeling associated with it, but not unpleasant in the slightest.
"Is there a problem with that?" queried Signum flatly, raising an eyebrow as she did so.
Shaking his head and waving his hands in a placating manner, Yuuno was quick to clarify. "No, not at all. Its just little unexpected, is all." An amused smile appeared on the librarian's features. "I wonder why she never said anything."
"That would be something you would have to inquire about from Zwei herself. I would consider the possibility that she was either unable to find a way to bring it to your attention or afraid that it would change the status quo unfavorably," offered Signum honestly.
Yuuno found himself agreeing with that sentiment. "I never thought that being forced to take a vacation would lead me to be reviving the 'dead' and finding out that someone I've known for years considers me her father."
"At the very least, you can say that you do not lead a boring life, Yuuno," commented Signum with a smile.
"Is Zafira going to be coming after me with that gun again?" questioned Yuuno hesitantly, but with some amount of humor.
Signum chuckled. "Zwei should be able to dissuade him on that front. I do believe you should still be wary around him for a while though. There is a particular rumor floating around headquarters that, while he knows is false, has him in a particularly foul mood."
The blonde man took on a slightly confused look. "What do you mean. I thought Zafira didn't put any stock in rumors."
"This one involves Lady Hayate, yourself, and I believe the phrase I heard was 'expecting the stork'?" she stated plainly.
Yuuno's reaction at first was an understanding nod of his head. Zafira tended to get worked up whenever Hayate was involved. It was completely understandable as the man viewed Hayate as his daughter. It was also apparently rather amusing to watch him chase down a particular librarian. Being the librarian in question, Yuuno didn't quite see the humor when the Guardian Beast was on the warpath with his dubiously acquired magic shotgun.
His reaction slowly turned into shock as the rest of Signum's words processed. His cheeks burned and he began to stammer while making frantic gestures with his hands. "But. But. We. That is. I. Her. We haven't. We're not. How?"
The sight nearly caused Signum to go beyond her characteristic chuckle and into a full on laugh. Nearly.
It took a little while for Yuuno to compose himself again, though he hadn't been able to fight down the blush on his face. "I'm going to go out on a limb and guess that one of Hayate's pranks backfired?" The commander's pranks and jokes rarely went awry. But when they did, they tended to do so spectacularly.
"Ms. Finiero overheard Lady Hayate's jest," Signum clarified with a nod, much to Yuuno's horror.
"Oh, Kaiser..." There was an audible thump as the blonde's head hit the table. He knew all too well the power of that woman's rumors.
Still, Yuuno's reaction turned a few gears in the pinkette's mind and she began pondering something that hadn't come to the forefront in a while. That something being her Lady Hayate's love life. Lady Hayate had always been a work driven individual, even so far back as middle school. Something that she shared with her two best female friends: Nanoha and Fate.
When girls her age were first fawning over boys, or girls if their tastes ran in that direction, Lady Hayate was in communication with the TSAB's officer academy. When young cadets were running around after hours with their boyfriends or girlfriends, Lady Hayate was practicing with her deadly array of spells. When other officers were getting married, Lady Hayate was reviewing case files and troop deployment strategies.
It was not to say that she was so driven that she did not have fun. She certainly had enough fun, sometimes at the expense of her friends and family when she was in a teasing or groping mood. However Lady Hayate's work drive left little to no time for romantic endeavors. She'd never had a boyfriend or girlfriend, though the number of individuals who had desired to obtain that title was not small. Even the rare few who managed the courage to ask her out in the first place, were turned down.
Verossa Acous had been one such individual. He had sought something more than friendship with Lady Hayate, but had decided against bringing the topic up when he'd summoned up the courage. Signum supposed that she and the rest of the Knights had something to do with that. They had taken a good long look at the, at the time, boy when he'd approached their Mistress and found him... lacking. To the General of Fire, it was for the better. To Signum, Verossa was a exasperating individual at best and distasteful at worst.
Now that she was thinking about it, Signum began considering two possibilities. The first was that Lady Hayate simply had no interest in developing a romantic relationship with anyone. She already had a family in the Wolkenritter and an array of very close friends. Perhaps that was enough for her.
The other possibility was that Lady Hayate simply had a rather high standard set when considering a romantic partner. Shamal had once commented how people tended to set all kinds of standards based on those around them. Why that had come up escaped Signum's mind at the moment, but it seemed relevant to her current train of thought. Should she seek a female, that woman would likely have to stand up to the standards of Enforcer Fate.T Harlaown and The White Devil to name a few.
Were Lady Hayate to find a male desirable, he would have fewer, but no less intimidating individuals to face. Admiral Chrono Harlaown, Knight of the Shield: Zafira, and even the man sitting across from her, Head Librarian of the Infinity Library: Yuuno Scrya.
Signum doubted that the number of individuals who could meet up to such a high standard could be counted on more than one hand.
That led to another line of thinking: Suppose her Mistress already had romantic designs on someone and was waiting for the most opportune moment to strike. Signum doubted that was the case, as very little about their Mistress escaped their watchful eye. Though there was always a chance. Lady Hayate was a notoriously detailed strategist and had hidden plans right under the noses of some individuals before.
If that was the situation... Who could it be? The only possibilities that came to mind were her closest friends. Fate or Nanoha were possibilities. Were Chrono not married, he could be a candidate. Though he was probably the least likely target amongst friends for Lady Hayate to place her affections upon. Eventually, Signum's theories landed on Yuuno.
Yuuno was a more likely candidate than previously thought, now that the pinkette considered it. Lady Hayate often stopped by the library in person for information or even to say hello to the man. Not to mention how often she stayed here. There was always a chance something could happen without the Knights' knowledge. Personally, Signum did not mind the idea of her Mistress entering into a more personal relationship with the librarian. He was a good man who respected Lady Hayate, they had been close friends for years, was willing to go that extra mile for her, and would sooner die than make her cry.
Part of Signum's mind wondered why she was so stuck on the idea of love and romance today as it tended to be more Shamal's venue than her own. Maybe that trashy novel that had been loaned to her by Ginga Nakajima was having an effect on her brain.
Apparently her musings had left her slightly out of tune with the world as Yuuno's voice finally penetrated her thoughts. "-ignum. Signum. You alright? You zoned out for a little," spoke Yuuno with some concern.
Blinking to finish clearing her head, Signum coughed into her fist before replying. "My apologies, Yuuno. I was... contemplating something. Do not concern yourself with it. Would you repeat what you were saying?"
Acquiescing, Yuuno repeated himself. "I said that it was starting to get a bit late and I was wondering if you and Zwei had plans for dinner since Hayate is going out with Nanoha and Fate."
Signum turned to see the time on the clock and found that they had been talking for quite a while now. The artificial sun was beginning to dip into the horizon and painted the sky a brilliant orange that seeped in through one of the few windows in the residence.
"I had not planned on staying out so late. We were likely going to order takeout or have Vita attempt to cook something," answered the woman, idly wondering if the inability to cook was something inherent in all Belkan Knights or if their group just so happened to be terrible at it. Interestingly, Vita was the most adept at producing relatively edible meals with Zwei as a close second.
"I'll have to make a short run to get a few more groceries, but would you and Zwei like to stay for dinner?" asked Yuuno with a smile.
Signum looked a bit hesitant before answering. "I will accept your offer on two conditions." Yuuno blinked in surprise and confusion as the pink haired Knight stood. "The first being that you permit Zwei to prepare the meal and the second that you permit myself to obtain the groceries." Her tone brooked no argument.
Yuuno nodded dumbly, not quite certain how to even begin arguing that he should be the one to take care of his guests and not the other way around. He supposed that the tiredness from his tasks would count against him and ultimately gave up the idea of trying to go against Signum's stance. "I give. You win," he stated with a tired grin.
A raised pink eyebrow was the response given with a small smirk. "You are indeed a wise man." Yuuno simply let his head fall to the table again as Signum left the kitchen, opting to brave the dangerous path to the bedroom where Eins and Zwei were talking.
Signum's hand hesitated for a moment before rapping against the door softly. "Enter," called out Reinforce Eins' voice. The door was opened and the pinkette stepped into a similarly surreal scene that had met Zwei hours prior. Zwei had reverted to her more compact form and was floating next to Eins' display, a happy smile on her face.
To many, the reunion would seem underwhelming. However Signum had made her peace with the silver haired woman and to her, it ended up feeling more like welcoming back a long lost friend rather than the dead. "It has been a long time, Lady Reinforce. Welcome back."
"It is good to be back, Knight Signum. You seem well," replied the trapped Unison Device in a somewhat formal tone, though there was a smile upon her face.
"I am, thank you," finished Signum, returning the smile before turning to Zwei. "Zwei, Yuuno has offered to let us stay for dinner." The powder blue haired girl's response was a happy exclamation. Before she could ask what they were having, Signum held up a hand and continued. "I have accepted under the condition that he allow me to obtain the groceries and that you do the cooking." Zwei didn't look so enthusiastic as moments before.
Eins stepped in to support Signum. "Zwei, Yuuno is doing a great deal to assist me. Cooking dinner is the least you can do as a show of appreciation."
That seemed to brighten up Zwei's countenance. "Alright. I'll do my best." She turned to Eins' display. "Will you... er, sit? with us, Mommy?" It was a little difficult to find the right words to ask someone who was trapped in a computer to join you for dinner.
"I shall," replied Eins. She would have to ask Yuuno to connect her primary display to the remote unit he had obtained the other day.
"Go get your coat, I will need you to tell me what ingredients you need for dinner," commanded Signum to Zwei, who gave Eins' display a hug before flying off to do as told. "I haven't seen her this happy since Christmas."
"She is quite the young woman. That she calls me her mother makes me regret those lost years all the more," stated Reinforce.
Signum gave a nod. "You will have plenty of time to make memories with her, Lady Hayate, all of us..."
Zwei's voice cut into Signum's words. "C'mon, Signum! Daddy says that the sales are going to end soon."
"We shall return soon, Lady Reinforce. Again, it is good to have you back with us." With that, the General of Fire left the room with a slightly befuddled Eins left behind.
She could vaguely hear the shutting of the front door, signaling the departure of her daughter and general. When Yuuno entered the bedroom , Eins looked at him quizzically. "Daddy?"