Preface: A long, long time ago, I was a part of the channel #lililicious on IRC, where I met Nagumo, who is also an author on this site. We got to talk, and we eventually came up with a rough sketch of a storyline for "Mahou shoujo lyrical Nanoha." Years later, I finally found the time and passion to finally flesh out the story and begin to write it.
It may be a bit too late, but I guess better so than never.
Once again, I cannot promise regular updates, as I've never been busier in my life than I am right now. I'll do my best to keep the wait between updates reasonable, but I cannot make any promises.
If you do like the story or have constructive feedback for me, do let me know.
For now, I hope you will enjoy it.
PS: Much credit goes to Nagumo, without whom this story would never have existed. So thank you.
✭ ✭ ✭ New Calendar 0065 ✭ ✭ ✭
It is not too late yet, Presea Testarossa, whispered the sweet, seductive voice that had been residing inside her head for as long as she could remember. There had been times when she wondered if it was responsible for her more violent moments… but she always dismissed the idea the instant it surfaced. After all, the voice had been providing her with vital knowledge she wouldn't have had otherwise. Periods of insanity, to her at least, were a cheap price to pay.
That is true, Presea thought. She was still falling into the iridescent void that stretched as far as she could see. She knew that unless there was something that would intervene, she would remain falling. For all eternity.
Then perhaps you would reconsider?
There was glee in the voice.
There was only despair in her heart.
The staff she held in her hand flared alive and reverted to its original form.
Impossibility was the word every mage associated with the act of casting spells in the imaginary space. Not so. Not true. Not if you had enough energy at your disposal to disrupt its effect first.
Power bloomed white-hot in Presea Testarossa's heart at the same time laughter rang like chimes in her ears. Not even the nine Jewel Seeds she briefly possessed yielded this much output.
Good night and sweet dreams, Presea.
Heat engulfed her and white light blinded her vision. Presea Testarossa closed her eyes.
✭ ✭ ✭ Thursday, January 15th, New Calendar 0074 ✭ ✭ ✭
"No point being upset," said Yagami Hayate. "You'll age more quickly." She used her chopsticks to lift a piece of shrimp tempura to her mouth and chewed leisurely on it. Sitting opposite her in the school cafeteria was one of her two best friends, Takamachi Nanoha, who hadn't touched her lunch and was stirring the content of her similarly unconsumed glass of lemonade with the straw.
"I'm not upset." The voice of the other eighteen-year-old was calm and quiet, but the tight corners of her mouth belied her carefully hidden emotions.
"Heya, Fate-chan," said Hayate with a smile.
Nanoha nearly knocked the glassful of lemonade on its side as she turned her head so fast Hayate thought the girl was going to break her neck. What greeted Nanoha was an unresponsive wall. She had forgotten that she chose to sit with her back to the same wall because she wanted a view of the entrance to the cafeteria.
Hayate laughed into both hands. Her whole body shook.
"Not to you." She wiped a tear from her face. "In any case, I don't see why you're feeling so…" she cleared her throat at a sharp look from Nanoha, "anxious. Fate-chan's going to turn down whomever put that love letter in her shoe locker."
"You don't know that."
"Sure I do. The last twenty-five victims would probably agree with me." Hayate looked around. Some of those were in the vicinity. "Want me to ask for their opinion?" She grinned.
Nanoha ignored her and continued to not eat her lunch.
"What a waste." Hayate reached over and picked up a wonton floating in Nanoha's soup. It was quite good. The other girl pushed her entire tray of food to Hayate's side of the table.
"Seriously. If she hasn't found a romantic interest from this school during the last two and a half years, she's not going to now." Hayate pushed the tray back.
Nanoha didn't say anything.
"Speaking of which, there's a question I'd like to ask you." Hayate ate another shrimp tempura while her friend looked at her suspiciously. "You've been friends with the sexiest and most popular girl in school since you were nine, you sleep over at her house every other week, and you walk to and from school with her every day. You're crazy about her. Why aren't you sleeping with her?"
"Hayate-chan! What kind of question was that?!"
"A genuine one. I'm positively curious."
A long pause.
"I can ask the same of you." Nanoha's eyes gleamed in a way that gave Hayate pause.
"I'm not sure what you're talking about." She lifted her glass of iced water to her mouth. Only when she began to drink did she notice the straw sticking out of it.
"Then I'll ask the person whom you always stay behind after school to wait for."
Hayate choked. Nanoha smiled and added: "I wonder why she's been holing herself up in the teachers' lounge recently. She used to come here and eat lunch with… the three of us."
Observant, aren't you? thought Hayate, dismayed.
"She has a lot of grading to catch up on." She decided to take the proverbial gloves off. "And for your information, I do get to sleep in the same bed and do various things with her."
"What various… ?" Nanoha snapped her mouth shut.
"Oh, you sure you want to know?" Hayate laughed at the crimson color rising on Nanoha's face. "Let's continue this when you stop having to sleep on the floor, Nanoha-chan." She winked and grinned at the other girl.
It's too soon for you to have adult conversations with me.
"Who's sleeping on whose floor?" the voice of Fate T. Harlaown said from behind Hayate's back. She nearly jumped from her chair. Dear Mother of God!
Unfortunately, Nanoha did. The top of her head collided with the very low, slanted ceiling. It was the reason why this very corner of the cafeteria was unoccupied during rush hour. Hayate only wondered who was the idiot that chose to put a table and chairs here.
"Ow!" The girl with the long pony tail doubled over and clutched at her head.
"Are you okay?" cried Fate, who rushed over to Nanoha's side.
"I'm… I'm fine," muttered Nanoha.
"There's a small bump here," said Fate worriedly as she examined the top of Nanoha's head. "I wish I could use magic to heal you. Does it hurt?"
"Of course it does," Hayate interjected. "You should kiss it better."
Nanoha's forehead nearly struck the edge of the table. She glared at Hayate.
"You know that doesn't help." Fate gave her a confused look.
"It doesn't, but I'm sure she'd like it anyway."
"Really?" The Enforcer turned to look at Nanoha.
The girl with the vividly bright copper-red hair froze dead as her complexion went scarlet. She looked like she really wanted to say yes but didn't dare, and really really didn't want to say no. Her crush just appeared utterly confounded by her lack of response.
I swear, you can be really dense sometimes, Fate-han.
"I'm fine, Fate-chan," muttered Nanoha. "Don't worry about me, and have a seat."
"Okay." Face still awash with concern, Fate sat down on the unoccupied chair. Hayate wanted to laugh, but she didn't want to die, so she kept a straight face. With much effort.
"So who was it, Fate-chan?" Hayate asked after a few moments of uncomfortable silence. Well, between the other two girls anyway. Hayate herself was having a lot of fun watching them.
"Who was what?"
"The one who gave you that love letter and asked to meet you near the swimming pool."
"The captain of the tennis club."
"A girl this time, wow. It's a first." Hayate retrieved a small notebook from her breast pocket and consulted the entry associated with the person in question. "Natsume Suguha. Three sizes: 84-60-85. Face: 8 out of 10. Average height, but very pretty legs." She slipped the notebook back into her pocket. "What?"
"You sound like a dirty old man, Hayate."
"Tell me something I don't know."
"I also find that little notebook quite disconcerting. I don't know why you keep one."
"I like to remember the pretty girls in school, Fate-chan." And I enjoy teasing her whenever she sees the entries and gets jealous, she finished mentally. "And don't worry, you're not in it."
"I'm not sure if I should be relieved or insulted." Fate laughed.
"Don't take me wrong. I'd love to record your measurements, but Nanoha-chan will kill me." The young ace of the Mid-Childan Aerial Tactical Instructor Corps, oddly enough, didn't react at all to the jab. She was busy staring holes into the table.
"Anyone would beat you up for such lecherous behavior, Hayate."
Only your precious Nanoha will Starlight Breaker me the moment I write down your name, Fate-han.
"So, what happened to Natsume-san?" asked Nanoha suddenly. She didn't seem to have heard a word that was exchanged between Hayate and Fate.
"Same story." Fate gave a sad, guilty smile. "I turned her down."
Relief was palpable on Nanoha's face. The last visible traces of pain departed. It was like she was never hurt to begin with. Fate, as usual, didn't notice. Given that this same event had occurred for the twenty-sixth time, it was rather incredible to behold.
"What exactly did you tell her anyway?"
"Why do you need to know, Hayate?"
"Because I require new excuses to use on the people who don't take a clue and keep pursuing me anyway. Knowing how blunt and ruthless you are, I'm sure you have some good ones."
"That sounds awfully like an insult."
"Not intended as one. So, what did you say?"
"I said I was flattered, but I wasn't interested in having a relationship right now."
"Sounds like you wouldn't mind having a girlfriend had you been interested." Hayate glanced at the girl with the pony tail, who was growing a little pale in the face. The girl was afraid of the answer Fate might give.
"I wouldn't mind." Fate tapped her lips thoughtfully. "Not that I ever gave it much thought."
Had Nanoha been alone, Hayate was sure the girl would have sobbed in relief.
You're welcome, and you owe me some Häagen-Dazs. But sheesh, aren't you two hopeless without me.
"In any case, what were you two talking about when I got here? I remember hearing something about someone sleeping on the floor."
"Oh, I was speculating that Nanoha-chan should be sick of sleeping on the floor whenever she slept over at your house."
"I'm not… Ow!" she yelped the moment the heel of Hayate's left shoe descended on her fully covered right toes.
"What's wrong, Nanoha? Your head hurts?" Fate raised a hand and gingerly touched the small bump on Nanoha's head. The girl looked ready right then and there to invoke healing magic and all of the normal humans around her be damned.
"Must be," said Hayate, grinning.
"And to your point, Hayate. I wanted her to sleep on the bed, but she always insisted that I did."
"She's considerate that way. But hey, I have a solution that will please both of you!"
Nanoha opened her mouth and closed it the following heartbeat, for she had recognized the look in Hayate's eyes. The other girl risked another stomp on her toes should she choose to speak.
"Just sleep in the same bed together. Your bed's big enough."
"It actually isn't. Not for two. I don't mind but I'm afraid Nanoha may find it uncomfortable."
"Well, not point thinking that until you try!" Hayate declared cheerfully. "Right, Nanoha-chan?"
"Um… yes." The other girl murmured in a tiny voice and lowered her face. Her ears were red.
You picked the right time to be brave, eh?
"It's settled then." Fate smiled.
"You're a little eager, aren't you, Fate-chan?"
"Sure. Nanoha looks cuddlier than my body pillow." Fate's smile broadened.
Yagami Hayate was absolutely certain that her friend was joking, but that didn't stop Nanoha's forehead from landing on the surface of the table with a loud thud. Unfortunately, it looked like it was the table itselfthat was about to sizzle and melt.
Fate's jaw dropped.
"Um, why don't you get some food before lunch hour is over, Fate-chan?" urged Hayate.
"She'll be fine. Seriously, go before they run out of things for you to eat."
"Please go, Fate-chan," breathed Nanoha, whose forehead was still touching the table. "I… I do have something to discuss with Hayate-chan anyway."
"Okay." The golden-haired girl rose to her feet and walked to the lunch counter. She sometimes would turn her head and looked back at the table in worries, though.
"You're very welcome, Nanoha-chan." Hayate put a palm on a part of Nanoha's head that was not hurting and mussed her hair. "Two cups of Häagen-Dazs would do. After school today?"
"Don't you need to wait for her?" Nanoha's forehead was still glued to the table. Hayate thought it was because the girl was too embarrassed to show her face.
"Didn't I mention tons of grading? It'll take her a while."
"What about you? Are you ready to abandon your beloved Fate-chan to treat me to ice-cream?"
"I'll invite her along. She's been dying to try their new lemon custard flavor. She'll be happy."
"Sheesh, and I thought I was going to have some quality alone time with you."
"Don't say that within her earshot, or I'll never score above 50 on her German exams."
Yagami Hayate laughed.
✭ ✭ ✭ 6:00 PM ✭ ✭ ✭
Signum sighed and stared at the mountain of homework on her desk that she'd have to finish grading by tomorrow's night. Not a single one of those blue notebooks belonged to a student in her class, as they all were Mathematics homework, not German. When she asked Tsukimiya-sensei for some extra work––the same thing she did every day during the last month, only with different instructors––she didn't think that the other woman would dump this much stuff onto her lap and depart so quickly she could have sprouted wings. Signum never had a chance to rescind her offer. It was why she was still in the teacher's lounge two hours after the office became deserted and yet she had finished but a third of her self-inflicted workload.
Had her honor as a knight not been as rigid as it was, Signum would have walked away and hidden herself in her favorite refuge: The Fire-breather Bar & Grill in Downtown Uminari City, where she had been spending her late evenings for as long as she had been asking for extra homework to grade from her fellow instructors. She couldn't possibly get drunk––her metabolism, enhanced by her vast magical reserve, burned away alcohol as fast as she ingested it––but at least her effort to overcome the hurdle did take her mind off things she didn't want to dwell on.
Something cold touched her cheek. She yelped and bounded to her feet and would have summoned Lævateinn into her hand too had she not heard the warm and sweet laugh that could only belong to Yagami Hayate, the Queen of the Evening Skies to whom she had sworn to serve.
"Master," Signum murmured.
The lovely girl with the short, dark chestnut-colored hair was standing an arm's length away, her lips graced with an amused smile. On the fingers of her right hand hung a plastic bag and her left was holding a cup of Häagen-Dazs ice-cream.
"You let your guard down," chided Hayate, smiling still. "I didn't even suppress my power."
"I… I am ashamed."
"You're just tired and hungry." The plastic bag rustled as a neatly packaged bowl––the label on its side read Obaa-chan's World-famous Yakitori––rose in the air at the same time the Häagen-Dazs cup did from her hand. Both landed without a sound on Signum's desk next to the pile of ungraded homework. The now empty plastic bag flew from Hayate's hand, tied itself into a knot, and fell into the trashcan under the desk.
"Sit down and eat, will you?" Hayate took her seat on a nearby swivel chair and crossed her right leg over her left.
There had been many times Signum wished the skirt of the school uniform were at least knee-length. Had it been so, she wouldn't have had so many opportunities to observe how pretty, long, and slender Hayate's thighs and legs were.
The girl did it on purpose, didn't she? She averted her eyes and sat down on her chair. "How did you know I haven't eaten?"
"I came by this office when last period ended and saw how big your pile was. I knew you couldn't finish grading them quickly, and you're not the type to leave work with, well, unfinished work."
"Ah." Signum, eyes glued at the yakitori bowl, detached the pair of bamboo chopsticks from its paper lid and then peeled off the lid itself. The mouthwatering smell of tender cubes of grilled chicken, neatly arranged on top of a bed of steamed rice, permeated every breath she took.
Signum's stomach growled audibly and drew a soft laugh from her Master. She couldn't help it. The bowl had come from her favorite diner in town. The proprietor was an elderly woman who also made the best sake in the world.
Signum put a small piece of chicken in her mouth and chewed on it happily. She, after all, had expected to not have dinner until much later in the evening and had been rather depressed about it prior to her Master's arrival.
"Look at you being so happy because someone gave you food," teased Hayate. "Who could have believed that you are the Bureau's fearsome General of the Raging Flame?"
Heat spread on Signum's face. She kept silent and focused on filling her stomach.
"I called Shamal to let her know you and I went for dinner outside and wouldn't be home until late tonight, by the way."
Signum nearly choked on her food. Hayate chortled aloud.
"Why did you have to give that woman strange ideas? Life's hard enough already."
"Which part of what I said is strange?" Hayate tilted her head and grinned. Unlike most girls her age, Yagami Hayate didn't need to act cute. Everything she did, to the smallest gesture, naturally radiated an adorable quality that made other people stop for a second look.
And wonder why she wasn't their girlfriend.
Signum was hardly an impartial judge when it came to her Master but she doubted anyone would disagree with her.
"Well," Signum cleared her throat and yanked her eyes from Hayate's youthful face, "you made it sound as if we had dinner together." Shamal would never let Signum live it down.
"What's bad about that?" The eighteen-year-old girl smiled innocently. A jury of her peers would have convicted her on the spot. On whatever charges that delivered her to the defendant's stand.
Signum refused to take the bait.
Hayate shook her head ruefully. "Well, it's true we aren't having dinner together." Her eyes shone with a light that made Signum want to run away. "But we can be." Hayate rubbed her stomach.
"You haven't had dinner?"
"No. I only went for ice-cream with Nanoha-chan and Fate-chan."
"You did it on purpose." The bowl was in fact a little too big for one person to consume.
Signum sighed and lifted a piece of yakitori and some steamed rice to Hayate's mouth, which she happily consumed. Signum would rather get a paper plate from the other side of the room and let the girl feed herself, but when she tried last, Hayate invoked her power to reduce the plate to ashes. She wasn't very proficient with fire magic, but she was good enough at it to do so without burning the entire room down.
"You're smiling, Signum."
She immediately wiped the stupid grin––she was certain it was one––from her lips. It was hard to prevent it from coming back, too, for the strawberry glow on Hayate's visage was just too pretty.
Determinedly tight-lipped, Signum continued to lift more food to her Master's mouth.
For all of your hemming and hawing, you do enjoy it, Signum, she could almost hear Shamal's voice say in her head.
"That's enough for me, Signum."
"But you barely ate. You'll be hungry later." She hesitated. "Are you on a diet?"
"Yup. I need to watch my weight. You won't like me anymore if I grow fat."
"I'll still like you even if…" Signum snapped her mouth shut and cursed herself for letting her tongue flap so easily.
Hayate was smiling, as she usually did, but her eyes were bright and her cheeks aflush. She looked genuinely happy.
"I should stop talking to you, Master."
"Because you enjoyed tricking me into saying things I didn't mean to say."
"If you had been a little more willing to say what you really felt," Hayate grinned, "I wouldn't have tried so hard."
Signum sighed––which she had done increasingly frequently––and ignored the lovely girl sitting so close to her and proceeded to finish her dinner.
"I should go home," said Hayate. "Rein's not going to be happy if I stay out too late."
Then perhaps you shouldn't have left her home so you can play with my heart to begin with.
"What can I say, playing with you is a lot of fun, too."
Signum blinked in shock. Her jaw threatened to drop.
"I don't need to read your mind to know what you're thinking, Signum." Hayate winked at her as the former rose to her feet and walked away. "I'll see you when you get home."
Signum was so disconcerted by the nonchalance with which her Queen had left her side she was still staring at the opened door of the teacher's lounge five full minutes after Hayate departed.
She hastily consumed what was left of her dinner, disposed of the packaging, put the Häagen-Dazs cup inside the fridge on the other side of the office, opened a small dimensional bubble into which she dumped the ungraded homework, put on her jacket, and literally ran out.
She found Yagami Hayate standing near the school gates, her lips still adorned with a smile.
For the umpteenth time, Signum sighed and stopped next to the younger girl. I should stop playing right into her hand, she thought.
"Shall we go home?" Hayate slipped her left arm around Signum's right. An image of blood and destruction flashed across her eyes and would have made her flinch away from Hayate's touch if she hadn't had so much practice not to.
The terrible vision hadn't been haunting Signum nearly as often as it did a month ago, but whenever it returned, it did so with a vengeance.
Signum was increasingly confident that one day, it would drive her mad. But there was nothing she could do to stop it from happening. She was trapped.
"Yes, Master." With darkness swirling unchecked in her mind, Signum walked Hayate home.
✭ ✭ ✭ 8:30 PM ✭ ✭ ✭
"I don't see why you kept asking for extra work," said the second-in-command of the Wolkenritter, whose freshly washed form was ensconced in a plush armchair in the living room of the Yagami household. Seated in an identical chair opposite hers, across from a table made purely of glass, was her leader. Said leader, who cast terror on her enemies with but a glance in their direction, was wearing a gloomy expression on her face as she tried to finish her grading before bedtime.
Shamal was tempted to help, but she wasn't a believer in encouraging stupidity.
Or an exercise in futility, for that matter.
"Don't say anything," Signum muttered.
"You ought to stop anyway. It's not working, and it won't." Hayate and Rein and Vita were all in the bath right now, so it was a very good opportunity to knock some sense into her leader's head.
"You don't know that."
"You do. Has there been a day during the last month did she fail to wait for you?"
"So what's the point in continuing this folly?"
A very, very, long pause. Shamal took sips from her cup of warm cocoa and patiently waited.
"I'm too old for her," said Signum grudgingly. "A few centuries too old."
"You're running out of excuses, aren't you? Should I repeat what Vita-chan said the last time you tossed that out here?"
Yeah but you don't exactly look like a shriveled up old granny now do you, you overly endowed witch? The words from the perpetually diminutive girl had been invested with so much bitterness and spite Signum herself had been reduced to a loss for words that lasted long after Vita went to her room.
"No thank you," muttered the Knight of the Blade.
"You should know better than to stand against Hayate-chan's force of will." Shamal finished her cocoa and rose to her feet. Her leader was a bit surprised when she found Shamal standing and looking down over her. "And why is it you can't be happy that Hayate-chan's in love with you?"
"Why don't you think about how Vita-chan feels? About how I feel?"
"I don't understand…"
So Shamal bent over and kissed Signum. On her lips. She had to say that the shock that drained all colors from the woman's complexion and dropped the red pen from her fingers was satisfying.
Shamal still felt occasional pangs of bitterness after all these years, but the fact that Signum was dithering on something she deep down wanted and was inevitable anyway truly pissed Shamal off.
"'Blessed be one whose love is returned'." She turned and walked toward her room. "Be thankful."
✭ ✭ ✭ 12:30 AM ✭ ✭ ✭
Signum woke up screaming at the top of her lungs. In the darkness of the living-room and atop the sofa she sat and struggled for breaths and felt the weight of every drop of sweat beading on her eyebrows. Her entire body was shaking, her magic power a flux that betrayed the turmoil that roiled her soul.
A soft, cool hand touched her right cheek. Had she not already been in so much terror, she would have screamed again.
"Are you okay?" Hayate's voice said.
The younger girl was kneeling on the wood-paneled floor, her body clad in a pair of pajamas. As Signum's eyes gradually grew accustomed to the darkness, she could discern the worry heavy on her Master's face.
"Why… why are you out here?"
"I was going for a cup of water when I heard you moaning in your sleep. I was about to wake you because you sounded so," she paused, "frightened."
A chill rushed along Signum's every vein.
"It's okay," she managed. "Nothing more than a nightmare. You should go back to sleep."
Hayate studied Signum silently for a moment before she nodded and left.
The girl refused to do so again the third time she found Signum waking up in absolute terror. Instead, she sat down on the sofa and laid a side of Signum's head on her soft, soft lap. A hand then fell gently on her head and stroked it with a tenderness that made Signum want to cry.
"I'll be here until you fall asleep. Don't be afraid." Her Master's voice was soothing, so much so it swept away a good bit of the terror churning in her stomach. It was the first time she had heard Hayate speak in such a way. "Although… sometimes it helps to talk about what you saw in the nightmare. I'd be happy to listen. I can't imagine what could have spooked you, of all people, so badly, though."
"I don't remember," Signum lied. It was the same nightmarish vision that had been haunting her dreams for the last month. The only difference was that it had never come to her three times during the same night before.
"It's fine. Try to sleep."
"To be honest, I'm… a bit surprised, Master."
"At the fact that you didn't try to convince me to go back to your bed."
"Do you miss it?"
Signum didn't answer. Hayate laughed quietly.
"Well, I do miss you sleeping next to me, but I'm not so low I'd take advantage of someone during their most vulnerable moment." She knuckled Signum's forehead.
"I'm sorry, Master."
"Sleep well, Signum."
She closed her eyes and let herself go. Perhaps the cruel nightmares had decided that she had had enough of them for the night. This time, they let her be and allowed her a dreamless sleep. All that remained in her mind was the softness of Hayate's thighs, the gentle scent of her body, and the pleasant warmth that cascaded over her own.
✭ ✭ ✭ Break ✭ ✭ ✭
The woman in the armchair looked at the shadowy forms on their knees in front of her and felt her anger bubble to the surface. In the very beginning, when it was clear that the control she had integrated into the system, which was quite cleverly concealed were she to say so herself, had survived after all these years and even between the rebuilds and reboots, she had been so relieved. But it was not meant to be… and her hope was dashed. The failsafe mechanism she installed in the hope of preserving all that she held dear had broken down when she needed it most.
"Leave, all of you," she barked, nearly unable to conceal the rage in her voice. She had to remind herself that her servants were not at fault.
"As you command, so do we obey," replied her servants in unison. The incorporeal shadows that were their forms dissipated into nothingness.
A blindingly white light flared into existence, forcing the woman to avert her eyes. A heartbeat later, a second armchair appeared opposite hers. On it sat her companion, whose face was grim.
"Spare me your usual boring lecture," she said. "I am displeased enough tonight as it is."
"So it didn't work," observed her companion.
"If it did, we would all be home already."
"What you wish for is beyond your reach. Your efforts will only bring suffering to everyone, including yourself."
"Your point is?"
"Why can't you forget what's in the past? You can have a happy life ahead of you." A long pause. "I no longer mind, you know. I'll be glad to lend you my help as long as you need it. If you're… willing to come back with me, I promise not to make every of your days a struggle anymore."
"Generous of you," she said. "But I need not your pity. If you are done, kindly leave my sight."
"My offer will always stand in case you change your mind, Adrienne."
Her companion vanished.
I will not, dear one, she thought. So much is at stake, and I will not stop until I reclaim what I have lost.