2015-08-13 - You're Her Real Daughter

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Title: You're Her Real Daughter.

Lera goes to Lindy Harlaown's house, after the fight with Jaren and Eas's rescue. She has a long talk with Fate about how to get stronger and mothers.


Lera Camry and Fate Testarossa


Lindy Harlaown's apartment.

OOC - IC Date:

8-14-2014 - 8-13-2015

It took Lera awhile to get from the beach that Setsuna left her at to Lindy Harlaown's house. She had a stop at Infinity Institute's dormitories between the two. She returned to her room at Infinity Institute's dormitories, but she regretted it. After the basic first aid was done, Lera found her room to be utterly lonely; she didn't have the constant presence of Soaring Sky there. She didn't have anyone else to talk to.

That let her mind start to wonder. The heavy feeling of that less wasn't completely banished by Setsuna Higashi; indeed, she had something new that she needed to worry about now. Eas is Setsuna. She decided, after a night with poor sleep and an aching hand, that she needed somewhere else to go to.

The text to Lindy was nervous, but necessary.

She arrived a couple of hours earlier. Once she did, Lindy and Chrono had gone about using a healthy array of Physical Heal spellls to get her back to normal. The cut on her forehead and the bruised and broken ribs were healed. Her hand, now, was sore and swollen instead of broken. She had it wrapped up in bandages. She was given one of the guest rooms.

She sits there, now, looking out the window. Despite a day of sleep, Lera Camry looks tired. Her orange-red hair is pulled back into a ponytail, which is rough and loose; she hasn't combed it since Tuesday. Her eyes look out the window with a drained look, and her knees are pulled up against her chest. She rests with her back against the wall.

Sooner or later, she needs to talk to Fate. She asked Chrono to mention to Fate that she was here. He went off to explain.

The feeling in Lera's stomach is a tight, scared one. She doesn't know, yet, how she will possibly explain this to Fate. She knows it will worry her. And, worst of all, it will be apparent that something is wrong. After all, Soaring Sky's presence can't be felt by Bardiche.

<SoundTracker> Karma - Tales of the Abyss OP Cover - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DY54Dc11Lds

~Not long ago~

Fate had her legs drawn up, as she sat on her own window sill in her still mostly bare room, window open, staring out into the sky. Bardiche rested upon her dresser in his standby form, a mere golden jewel. Surprisingly she wasn't the first to break the silence. <You have to talk to her.>

"What do I tell her Bardiche?" Suddenly wearied by the answer to her own question, she lays her head down, then turns it, pressing a cheek against her knees. The movement hurt her aching ribs, "That I couldn't keep my promise, and I can't tell her why?"

<<No. You have to talk to her because she needs you.> "Noone needs me." Fate mumbles quickly enough.

<<...I do. And she does too Sir.> Then a moment later, <<Sky isn't with her.>


A knock at the door. However, despite knowing how to knock, Fate doesn't seem to understand she's supposed to wait for acknowledgement to come in, as the knob turns and she pushes it lightly with her toe. She carries in a tray with a slice of tiramisu, a sweet she'd taken a liking too, even if people insisted it would ruin her ability to fall asleep at her 'bedtime' and a kettle of tea. The tiny sugar bowl seemed overfilled and the creamer had just as much, if not more.

Without much warning, she lays it down beside Lera. She looks her up and down, then her gaze stays down They weren't all that unalike right now. She too had a lot of bandages covering her, though you couldn't see the ones at her ribs. Just the ones wrapped around her hands. "Ummm..." Figuring out what to say was much harder than she thought, "You don't have to talk if you don't want to, but I can- uh..." She quiets, "...sit with you if you want."

Lera looks up when she hears the knock at the door. She isn't surprised when it's Fate. She opens her mouth -- she was ready to say "Come in" when Fate knocked -- but the girl is already there. She doesn't find it in her to correct the behavior. She is, after all, tired. She looks at her for a moment and her eyes widen at the sight of the bandages. She knows where they came from, now, after that conversation with Eas. It doesn't make it any less distressing.

No, rather, it hurts more. She knows Setsuna Higashi's secret; instead of a dangerous executive of Labyrinth (even one she wanted to help) hurting Fate, it was another friend hurting her. That connection is suddenly made and twists in her like a knife.

"Sure," Lera answers, quietly. She slides to the side -- careful of the tray -- and makes room for Fate to sit diwn next to her on the bed. "You... you okay? You look like you've seen better days."

She waits, expectantly, for Sky to call her out for ignoring her own troubles.

When no reply comes, Lera's eyes track downward slightly. He wouldn't be there to correct her again. Not any time soon. Lera's shoulders droop slightly with the thought. She reaches out to pour them both some tea with her good hand. Her eyes lingered on the overfilled sugar bowl for a moment.

As Lera pours, she may realize it's green tea. If so, then why are a sugar bowl or creamer even here?

Such questions are best not asked.

Fate sits down on the bed beside her, keeping her gaze lowered. She shifts a little in position and folds her hands on her lap. "I'm okay." A moment later, "I'm good at dealing with hurt."

That is nowhere near what the answer should ever be from an elementary schooler.

"You're not though." Fate comments after a while, "And that's okay too. Even if you're not-"

Fate closes her eyes after a moment, then whispers, "-okay. I should just stop. I'm sounding stupid." She turns to look up at Lera, "Saying that, flying around the subject when I really do want to know." A beat, "When I'm actually really worried about you. If you want someone to talk to about what happened, I'm here."

'I'm good at dealing with hurt.'

Lera's heart breaks a little more when she hears that. Her shoulders shake, slightly, but she keeps her eyes lowered on the cup of green tea in her hand. She doesn't sip it. She merely lets the warmth of it flow into her hands. She doesn't disagree aloud, either, when she speaks about Lera being good at dealing with hurt. She is good, she thinks, at some kinds of hurt.

Her eyelids half-lower, when she thinks of how she lost her dad when she was little.

But then she looks up, startled by the other girl's remark. She opens her mouth to say that she isn't stupid, but Fate keeps speaking. 'I'm really worried about you.' That, too, makes Lera's shoulders sag. Her head bows down and she swallows. She isn't sobbing; she isn't even crying.

But she has to think of a way to answer.

"Yeah," she says softly, "I want to. It's just... I--" She stops, hesitating. She doesn't know where to start. She feels her emotions turning inside of her, all of the guilt and anger and sadness coming back to the surface. She doesn't start at the beginning. "I lost Sky. I got angry and I thought I could beat him by myself. And... and I lost Sky."

A beat.

"I was stupid. I kept thinking everyone would hate me, if I couldn't solve my own problems. I thought Mom would--that she'd never want to see me again, if I couldn't succeed." Lera looks down. "All of those things I told you, and I still did that kinda thing. I'm just... so stupid, y'know?"

She puts a hand over her face, covering it.

Fate watches Lera. Although Lera may not be crying, she'd become more attuned to what she is saying when she isn't saying anything at all.

She waits, and listens. Her eyes show a myriad of emotions during this time, and in the end she feels... well. She shunts that aside.

"Don't say that." A whisper, "I don't think you're stupid at all."

She shifts her posture so her palms are on the bed, turning her hip to the side. "It's really hard, living up to the expectations of others. You think things like that. Feel things like that. It just becomes really overwhelming. You feel-"

She takes a moment, frowns, looks back down at the bed, "-trapped. You feel trapped. You think if you rely on anyone but yourself, people will think less of you... well..."

Her eyes return to Lera, shining with adoration, "...I don't. I completely get it. And just because you said a lot of similar things to me once doesn't mean I think less of you. I think the world of you. No matter what. I just want you to be happy. You were there for me when I didn't even know I needed you to be."

She manages a small, fond smile, "...Thank you for that. So please-" She puts her hands togteher, and bows her head, "-allow me to be there for you, just like you were for me, when I messed up again, again, and again. We'll get your partner back, I promise."

Lera looks up, slowly, at those words. She blinks her eyes; there aren't tears there, but it feels like there should be. She cried her eyes out already, though, and most of what's left is a feeling of emptiness. She needs to get Sky back, if she can ever make any of this right, and she doesn't know how to do that. That empty feeling leaves her drained, as the purpose she has -- that she can thank Setsuna for helping her find that -- has nothing to back it.

But, bit by bit, Fate makes that empty feeling go away.

"Fate," she says softly. She looks down at that small fond smile, then the way her hands are clasped and her head bowed. She inches over closer on the bed, and wraps her arms around the younger girl. Tightly. "I didn't want to let you down. I was so angry at myself, because I thought I did that. But..."

Her voice catches, finally. She was about to repeat that she was stupid. She has to focus, to force herself to not say that. "...Thank you, Fate. I... I've got a lot to do, don't I? To try to make things right? To..." To find a way to save Sky. "Maybe I should start from the beginning."

Fate can't help but stiffen for a moment, when Lera's arms wrap around her. It's only for a moment, but it's notable. Maybe Lera might even notice the look in her eyes. She looks down for a brief moment, the smile becoming... well it's hard to say. She just looks sad.

But then, that fades, like some summer shower that had never been there, leaving only humidity behind. And a rainbow perhaps, because the smile is back. One wonders if it's genuine, but it seems to be. Her hands touch briefly upon Lera's arm that's around her, and she allows herself to enjoy the feeling.

"You're wrong Lera. There's no way you could ever let me down, unless you stopped being you." Soft, gentle. The tone she always wished she heard from the lips of another. Something validating her existence. Well... at least she can give that to someone else. "You don't have to do a thing to make anything right again, except that."

Her fingertips fall away from Lera's arm, as she finally says, "Just please wait for me. It's the only thing I ask. It's a bit selfish but..." She lets her feelings creep into it a little, "I can't fight at my best without knowing there's someone to come back to."

There is the briefest moment of tension and dread when Lera feels Fate tense. Setsuna Higashi running away when Lera hugged her is still fresh on her mind. But, then, the hug is returned and Fate's smile comes back. She feels the younger girl's hands on her arm and lets that warm feeling start to push away some of the darker, more hurt feelings. She hesitates, but she lets go of the idea that Fate would hate her.

All she had to do was be herself.

It takes a long time for that to settle in her mind. It stands at odds with all of the things that she thought and felt over the years. All of the times that she beat herself up in her mind, for getting a lower grade in science class than she should have; for making half-broken Storage Devices to show others; for not being the daughter that she thought her mother wanted. She realizes something, looking down at the top of Fate's head.

This was what she wanted to hear for years, now.

Her lip trembles and Lera realizes she lied. Her eyes well up with tears and she pulls back from the hug to wipe at her eyes, but she doesn't stop smiling down at her. Unlike the other tears she cried in the last few days, these come from a better place. "O-Of course, y'know?" she asks. "I... I'll wait. I won't go off on my own again. I mean it." She skips a beat. "And... besides, you gotta rest up, too, y'know?"

She pulled back from the hug, but she promptly puts her uninjured left hand over one of Fate's bandaged hands.

People needed to rest.

Not constructs.

Fate remembers how little sleep she got for nearly a year. How many sleepless nights she had just thinking about how she could do better. little time she let herself recover between battles. Just another justification for that incorrect line of thought. The hug ends, and Fate starts a little too. As if she both wanted it to end, and... didn't.

"I'm fine. I'm perfectly fine." Fate says softly, and looks up at her, "And Bardiche is fully repaired now. I can do this for you now." She wasn't a person, but she valued people above all things. She could push herself to the brink for people. That is what she told herself.

Just to see them smile.

Just to feel needed.

Even if it didn't last.

Even if it turned out not to be real.

She could do that.

"Was it Jaren?" There's something cold in her tone, "I made an agreement with him once, that we'd leave each other alone on our missions." A moment later, "I have no intention of sticking to that now."

"Yeah," Lera answers the question, quietly. She didn't know about Fate's agreement to not fight him. "He... brought those anti-magic drones of his." She hesitates, skipping a beat, before she looks up at Fate. "He attacked the marina, first. He was after a Lost Logia."

Another one, her tone seems to say. She was surprised too.

"It's called the Guardian of the Ten Thousand Points, or Citadel, for short. It's... different than the Jewel Seeds. It's big and strong. It shrugged off some of our attacks," she finishes. Her lips purse together and she looks down at the bedsheets for a moment. "I think it uses Belkan magic. It said... it wanted to go home and Jaren promised it that."

Her voice shakes as she relates the story. It isn't easy for her to get this out. Speaking it is like reliving it, in her mind's eye. "When they left, I was just so... so angry. All those people he hurt, because he came here with Mom's Device. And all the times he hurt Ren-chan and Endo-san. I... I took off after him and tried to beat him. Like I said I wouldn't. And then, I--"

She looks back down. "Sky tried to protect me, and he..." Her voice catches, and it's with a restrained, held back sob that she continues. She sees the Intelligent Device cracking again in her mind's eye. "...he broke. Then Jaren picked me up. He said... y'know, how Midchildan magic has trouble killing people."

She looks back down, not wanting to meet Fate's eyes. "So he kicked me off a building instead."

Fate Testarossa sits there looking at Lera, the whole time through the explanation. Her eyes show her surprise when she mentions a Lost Logia, and it having to do with Ancient Belka. She knew next to nothing herself.

Her education had been a very focused one.

She looks so calm, so reassuring, so supportive as Lera's voice shakes and trembles. Maybe she even looks somewhat guilty, when she hears that Ren and Endo got hurt. Just like when she had, time and time again. She continues to look this way throughout the entire story. Until the end.

Her mouth hangs open a little. Then it slowly closes. The words come slow, as hesitant, individually enunciated things. "I... see...." A moment later, Fate's feet have touched the floor.

<<Get Set. Barrier Jacket.>

A flash of gold, and it manifests, a cape fluttering onto her shoulders and affixing even as the fabric still falls. She's staring ahead at the window for a moment, as Bardiche materializes fully into her hand. "...I'll be back."

Given how fast she can be Lera, if you intend to stop her, now might be the time.

COMBAT: Fate Testarossa transforms into Barrier Jacket!

Lera expected Fate to get angry. She knew those words weren't empty. She knew that saying the truth would make the girl upset. She didn't, quite, expect this response, though. Her eyes widen as Fate transforms, her cape fluttering out from her back. She hasn't seen Fate's Barrier Jacket since the Garden of Time. It takes her aback enough that she falters for just a moment, while Fate's eyes turn towards the window.

Then she springs into action, as she realizes.

"Fate! Wait!" she calls out, coming to her feet. It's still shakily; she took a bad enough beating that she will need another day before she is back to walking around without a dozen subtle little aches. She still manages to move fast enough to grab the younger girl by the hand, gently but firmly.

"Please don't run off and fight him," she says, quietly. "He... he's tough, and Citadel--Citadel is a Lost Logia. It's dangerous."

She keeps talking, half-rambling, as her voice becomes more desperate in its tenor. "We... we should know more, okay?" she says. "Before we do something like that. And..."

She looks down. "...and I need someone to keep me company," she admits. "I don't wanna be alone, right now. Y'know?"

In her barrier jacket, she was strong enough that she could shrug off Lera's all too human hand as if it were a kitten's paw. She does not. She lets it remain there. She lets it halt her. "I'll win." Fate says firmly, coldly, without any doubt in her tone the moment Lera says he's tough. She had before, even if it was only because... and this time he had a...

No, she wouldn't think about that.

But there's more words, pleading, rambling. For a while, she stares at the window, as if she fully intends to just go, no matter what Lera says. It's only at the final statement, that she closes her eyes, takes a breath. "Alright. I'll stay with you." She doesn't allow her barrier jacket to fade, but Bardiche shimmers back into a jeweled triangle on the back of her glove.

"Alright." She says again, and slides back onto the bed, still in her barrier jacket. Not even one moment later, the door opens, and pops in a smiling face topped by green hair. "Ah, Feito-san. Remember. Not in the apartment!" A beat, then she adds, "Security deposit." Fate's eyes light up with realization, then shame. "Oh! Yes ma'am!" The barrier jacket dematerializes. Lindy's presence vanishes, and the door shuts as if she were never there. Crisis averted.

COMBAT: Fate Testarossa transforms into Fate Testarossa!

Lera looks intensely relieved when Fate relents. She didn't lie in the slightest -- the idea of being alone, again, was hard for her to swallow -- but she didn't want Fate to rush to fight Jaren alone for other reasons, too. After what just happened, it seemed like a chance for a tragedy. She sits back on the bed, too.

Then the door pops open. She stares, briefly, at Lindy. Her eyes are wide. "Ah--" She hesitates, a moment, and then her head tilts to the side. Her expression screws up when Lindy points that out. She even bites her lower lip.

It is a little funny. The giggle stays in her throat, though.

"...thanks," she manages, after a moment. Her eyes glance at the door for a moment. She waits -- she can't be sure that Lindy isn't there, so she waits until she feels like she might not be. Then she glances down. "There was something else, Fate. It's... she said you already knew. But this has to stay a secret. From everyone, y'know?" She repeats, adding emphasis: "Everyone."

Fate Testarossa is a girl who kept her motivations hidden for nigh on a year.

It took independent research from Lera and her mother to figure them out even in part.

She's also hiding her relationships with all of the Labyrinth Executives, including their secret identities.

Lera asks her to keep a secret. Can she do that?

"..." Her eyes lift up to Lera, even as her hands clasp together in her lap, "I can do that." A beat, "What else happened?"


Lera almost tells her that Eas saved her. Thinking of it buoys her spirits even more, though she can't quite say why. Eas had berated her and insulted her, but she still jumped into save her. She risked everything to save her. She carried her to safety, worried over her hand, and they talked -- for just a moment -- as friends, instead of enemies. She doesn't know if it is misplaced, but that friendship leaves her with a warm feeling.

The remembrance of that warm feeling is why she can't tell Fate the truth. She promised Setsuna that she wouldn't tell a soul.

But, she thinks, Setsuna gave her one kindness: she told her that Fate knows the truth. "...I ran into Eas, a little while later," she says, quietly. "I was somewhere safe then. She--um--she talked to me a little bit. About Labyrinth and about me. She... I don't think she knows it, but she made me realize I couldn't just stay down. I had to get back, y'know? Even if it hurt."

Even if it still hurts.

"But she told me some other stuff, too. About her." She glances sideways at Fate. "About a fight she had," Lera says. Her voice goes slightly distant, as she looks forward. "Setsuna... told me she isn't really my friend, but--but I think she was worried. I don't believe her, y'know?"

The last thing she really expects to hear right now is that Eas met with Lera. Why would s-?

Fate grows very still. Somewhere, deep down, she feels...


And yet, that feeling fades as Lera continues to talk. It wasn't what she thought at all. Shame replaces that, as she looks down at her hands.

She doesn't know what to say. She doesn't know how to feel. She doesn't know how to trust her feelings. Not right now. "Eas gets into a lot of fights." She says distantly, "Maybe it's the only time she can truly express how she feels." A beat, her words are guarded, "Even if it's only through her fists. I guess that makes her a true Executive of Labyrinth." Is that what she really thinks?

"Setsuna San though. I..." One moment passes, then two minutes, then a third, "...I think she's kind. But she has trouble dealing with people. We're a bit alike I think. If she told you that..." She looks up at Lera, "...then I think you can't trust it. I think she's worried about you getting hurt."

Lera glances sideways at Fate, and she wonders for a moment if she recognized the significance of Lera swapping their names like that. She hesitates, before she nods her head, and looks forward. "I think so," she says. "She wasn't happy that I got hurt. She--um, as Eas--kept... telling me how stupid I was."

There is another flinch in Lera's eyes. It stings, even thinking about it. It digs into those deeper insecurities.

"But I think Setsuna needs me, because she asked me for help as Setsuna and Eas, before I knew. I can't quite figure her out, still, but things she did as Eas made a lot of sense, suddenly," she says quietly. "Sometimes, as Eas, she tried to help me. And sometimes, as Setsuna, she tried to make things better for me. She said it was to hurt me, so I'd know what she was doing, like I'd think she was awful for--for hurting you, for the things she did."

She swallows and shakes her head. Lera looks ahead again, her arms hugging her knees against herself. "But I don't. Before that, I was ready to give up. Just... tell Mom to send me home, because I thought I was a failure." Lera's eyes grow distant, as her mind wanders to somewhere else. "I think I know a little of how Nanoha felt."

Her voice grows quieter. "I realized I had to keep going. So I could find out more about her. So I can make her smile, some day."

Fate recognized the significance before, but until Lera confirms it for certain, she doesn't allow for anything but seperation of the two.

Anything else could endanger Setsuna Higashi.

Fate looks down at her hands, shame and guilt evident in her eyes. She lets Lera finish, lets her talk, then says hesitantly, "You want to know more about her? Alright." A breath, a long exhalation, "I'm not sure that its that she needs you. I think it's that she wants you. And despises the fact that she does. Because it goes against everything she knows. She knows hurting people is wrong, but she does it because she can't think of having another place that lets her do otherwise."

Fate looks down from one hand to another, "Everything she does is to protect herself and her feelings. She only knows how to be miserable, Lera. That's why her mission is so uncomfortable to her, it exposes her to people experiencing all sorts of feelings she never knew. She doesn't know what happiness is, or joy, or affection. It's like how you never knew ice cream until you came to this world. But she sees people trying it, liking it, so casually. People like you."

Fate sighs softly, "If you managed to get her to speak honestly, then you'd find that it's not that she hates you. She thinks you're a spoiled brat. But that's only because she's envious. And jealous too. She's afraid of both feelings of wanting what you have, and losing what she has, and... she knows it because she feels this way that she doesn't really fit in Labyrinth anymore, but she can't see herself being anywhere else. She feels..."

She closes her eyes, using the word again, "...trapped. She has to justify everything for the sake of her mission to spend time around you at all." One second, two, three, she puts a hand up to her closed eyes, which are misting up, "I knew all along. I'm sorry. I was trying to protect her... because I know what it's like to feel trapped. To think you don't have a place other than what you've known your whole life. I want the same thing for her, to see her smile, to see her escape." A beat, "Maybe it's a bit selfish of me. To want to save someone the way I was saved."

She opens her eyes, tears running down her cheeks, "She told you she hurt me, but any reason she gave beyond that was probably a lie. It was a fight we agreed upon, with actual stakes. If she won, she wanted me to leave her alone. Because she can't afford to let someone who understands her feelings get any closer to her. She's going to do the same thing to you now. When you wrap yourself in such strong intentions, it's near impossible for someone's words to be heard. She'll care, she'll think about it, but all it will do is cause new chips at her identity and make her more desperate. The only thing that can save her is a true heart, one that believes in everything they have to say. And has the strength to make her listen." A beat, "Nothing else can, Lera. So... let's grow stronger. Together."

Trapped. Lera knows that feeling. It isn't the same as Fate or Setsuna, but she had her own kind of trapped. She felt -- no, she feels -- trapped in her own mission, in proving her skill and somehow winning her mother's love and approval. She may not have a situation like theirs, but it was a feeling she could empathize with.

It reinforced what Setsuna did for her. It reinforced why she tried to push her away. She did everything for her mission -- except, then, that she did something that didn't benefit her mission. She wishes, for a moment, she could tell Fate. But she knows that trust has to be maintained.

She looks down at Fate, her expression sad -- but she smiles, nonetheless. "It's not selfish, Fate," she says, quietly. "And it's okay. You were looking out for her. That's... I'd never be angry about that. Some secrets, we keep because it protects someone. It was like that."

She reaches her good arm out, then wraps it around Fate's shoulders. She pulls her close, into a one-armed hug, and she nods. "Yeah," she says. "We'll do it together. Which means... I have to get Sky back. And we have to stop Jaren, first."

A hug, validation of her feelings. She still stiffens, but this time it feels like she relaxes a little sooner.

Only to tense up again.

Because what Lera says. 'We'll do it together. We have to stop Jaren.' But there's also 'I have to get Sky back.'

Fate looks up at Lera, eyes still stained a little with tears, she didn't really want to confront her on this, but... "Remember what I said, about how you couldn't disappoint me, so long as you're you?" A beat, "You have to promise me that you won't go after Soaring Sky at all. Let us handle that."

A few moments later, she adds, "I meant what I said. I could never be disappointed in you but I'm not against using a bind so strong that even Miss Lindy would have trouble undoing it."


Lera hesitates for a moment. It goes against everything that she ever believed. She has to -- has to -- be useful to people. A tiny voice whispers in the back of her head, if she doesn't make herself useful, they won't like her. If she can't show that she can handle these situations, then what is she? Once, she would have taken that train of thought to its conclusion. She would have rushed off to do something reckless.

Something like fight Jaren Zastava, fresh after one battle, by herself.

But that battle taught her something -- and more than that, Fate told her that she couldn't be disappointed in her. She clings to thoe swords like a desperate hope, as she looks down at Fate. It still takes her a second to agree. But, she thinks, Fate loves her because she is her.

It isn't easy, but it's enough.

"...okay," she says. "But... don't leave me sitting off to the side, either. I won't go running into danger. But when Sky wakes up, I... I want to be right there. That I did everything I could. Please."

"..." Fate Testarossa looks at Lera long and hard, "Alright. But you stay hidden, and you stay safe until we do."

She points a finger at Lera, which almost reaches her nose, "I mean it. You know how fast I am if I put my mind to it. I can put you in timeout halfway across the city and be back before Jaren blinks an eye." ... Did she really have to brag about that? She wouldn't think of it as bragging, but still, yes, yes she did. A beat, she lowers her finger, suddenly looks up at Lera, confused, "Timeout is a thing on this world too, right?"

"I promise! I'll stay hidden. And I won't run off by myself," Lera says. "I... I already didn't do what I told Ren I would do." Her expression saddens and she looks down. She would have to talk to Ren; she would have to come clean about that. It wouldn't be easy. "I won't let any of you down again."

She looks back up. There is a pause, as Fate's finger lowers, and that confused look goes across the younger girl's face. The question gives Lera pause.

Did Earth have time out? She assumes so, but maybe that was unique to Midchilda. She opens her mouth; then she blinks a couple of times. "I--I'm not sure. Earth is kinda mysterious sometimes, y'know?"

Fate nods. Earth was a bit mysterious to her. There were talks of the possibility that she might start school this semester. The idea frightened her but she didn't really want to talk about it with Lera. ... The girl who willing to fight so many high stakes battles, frightened of children her own age.

She looks down upon her lap, she takes a moment to take a breath, then decides... "You didn't let me down... I know you think you let the others down but... ...Alright."

She gives Lera a long look, it seems a little sad, "You can keep telling yourself that you let us all down. I know I can't stop you. I know what that is feeling is like. Since I can't say anything that might stop that though, maybe I can at least put it into perspective and make you feel a little better."

She's actually smiling a little as she said that, like she thinks this plan is great, like Lera is just the best to her, "Tell me how much I let you, Nanoha, and the people of this world down. Every time I didn't listen to you. Every time I didn't question what I was doing. Every time I endangered other people. This world. This dimension."

She folds her hands in her lap. "It's alright! I deserve every word. I can take it all. If it makes you feel a little better, then it will make me feel better." Gently, "I'll still see you the same way. Nothing you can say is anything I haven't told myself."

When this conversation started, Fate spoke about knowing what it was like to be hurt. At the time, Lera thought it was like a knife twisting in her gut. She decides that she is wrong: that was a pinprick by comparison. Those words are almost physically painful to hear, especially when they are matched by the smile on Fate's face. She can't even bring herself to smile back; to pretend that the words don't hurt.

She feels a pang of guilt, sharp enough that she almost doubles over. It isn't from the idea of comparing her situation to Fate's -- at least, not exactly -- but at the idea that Fate thinks that.

'I deserve every word.'

She swallows, then she decides that she better make that true. She doesn't have Soaring Sky anymore. She can't communicate her feelings to Fate with her strength anymore, even if she was willing to fight her. She has to find the right thing to say to Fate. It hasn't been easy. "Fate, I..."

She looks down, and then she puts her hands on Fate's shoulder. She looks back up at her.

"...You never let me down," she says. "Yeah, it hurt, to watch all of that, y'know? To watch you go through all of that, and to have to fight you. But I was never disappointed in you. I knew you were trying your hardest, even if we were at odds. And you kept trying your hardest. Even after your mother tried to kill you. Even after she said you weren't a person."

A beat.

"You got back up. You reached your hand out to us, after something so terrible." Lera shakes her head, firmly, and her expression softens. "I've never been let down by you. I'm proud of you, Fate. You're the strongest person I know."

That wasn't what she expected at all. As Lera speaks, the smile fades. She sits there looking dumbfounded at first, before she looks down, at her lap.

And despite Lera saying all these extremely kind things, she can't accept it. It isn't. It isn't...

"...fair. It isn't fair." Her shoulders hunch together, her voice has this dull quality to it. "You go into a battle trying to do the right thing on your own and you're the one who disappointed everyone because you tried a little too hard and lost? I nearly destroy the world and you're proud of me? I'm the bravest person you know?"

Why should a person have to suffer for that, while an... inhuman thing gets absolved, "You got back up too. You reached out your hand to us too. Didn't you?" She looks up at Lera, "I get why you might not like yourself. I don't like myself for a lot of things!" She puts her hands to her chest as if to emphasize that, pointing, while at the same time looking at Lera. "But how can you say that about me, and look at yourself so harshly? I just-" She frowns, looks down again, lets her hand drop, deflates, "It doesn't make sense."

Lera's hands fall away from Fate's shoulders. She winces when the bandaged one hits the bed. She looks at Fate, quiet for a long time, even after she stops speaking. She wants to have a good answer about why it is different for her. She wants to say that it is worse, when she lets someone else down. She wants to say that Fate should never have to feel this way. But, she can't find those words.

She doesn't have a reason.

She can't show the same kindess to Fate that she shows to herself. She looks back down at the ground -- at nothing, really. Her hands bunch into balls on the bed, as she thinks about why. Memories from her childhood play out. A teacher, telling her that her science project simply didn't cut it. Her mother's face, when she made a Storage Device that simply didn't work.

The faces of her fellow students, watching while she tried to not cry when she read a grade report. Setsuna Higashi telling her that she had to get better. Jaren Zastava, speaking over Broken Ground's protests.

'Will Meria Camry even think about you when I'm done?'

Her expression crumples, her eyes filling with tears. Her shoulders slump down, and her posture crumbles, without slumping over. Guilt floods her for thinking this around Fate, much less saying it aloud. Her answer to Fate's question is another question. She knows it isn't a good answer, but it's the best she has.

"What if Mom's so disappointed that she never wants to see me again?" she chokes out. "What if she finally decides she wants me to get lost? What am I gonna do, Fate?"


...didn't expect this.

She really should have.

While it had a lot to do with her friends...

...it had a lot more to do with her mother.

Fate thinks upon her answers as she watches Lera's shoulders shake. As she watches her sob. She digs deep within herself and finds nothing. She'd literally been in a similar situation, punctuated by a violet bolt of lightning from the heavens. She'd been told that she had no place with her any longer. Been offered a place in Labyrinth.

She should be able to give Lera perfect advice. Shouldn't she?

But the truth is...

The truth is...

...she really still wants to go back to that place, from long ago, in her memories.

If her mother was alive, then she'd be still trying to convince her...

...but she isn't.

And their situations aren't the same.

Without thinking, she climbs up onto her knees, onto the bed, and wraps her arms around Lera from behind. "I'm so sorry. I was being selfish again." A moment later, as she rests her cheek against her back, closes her eyes, "If that happens nothing will ever seem perfect to you ever again about your place in the world. You'll want so badly to be with her again, that it'll feel like your heart is being torn apart."

She whispers softly, "You'll think about what you could have done if you could do it all over again. Everyone will tell you it isn't your fault. It may not be." A beat, "You'll blame yourself anyhow."

A few moments later, "I wish I knew the answer, Lera. I don't. I don't. Maybe one day I will." A moment later, she murmurs, "If that happens though, then I'll do everything in my power to talk to her. I'll keep doing it until she realizes just how special a person you are, how special she is to you, and how precious you ought to be to her. And if that's not good enough, I'll do it again, and again, and again. She'll listen to me eventually. She has to." Because... Fate thinks, 'You're her real daughter.'

The guilt doesn't vanish after Lera says that. She wishes, for a moment, that she could take those words back. She wishes that she could say something else, anything else, to make it so she doesn't hurt Fate more. But the words are out there. Nothing can pull them back, so she murmurs softly while she puts her hands over her face.

She is startled, then, when Fate hugs her from behind. She drops her hands from her face, looking over her shoulder, and staring back at the girl. She didn't expect those words from her. She didn't expect to hear Fate's feelings on the matter. If she wasn't crying her eyes out, again -- proving her tears weren't half as dried up as she though -- she might have hugged her. She might have tried to find an answer.

But right now, she has the clarity to realize that there is no easy answer. There isn't a way, besides time, to take that pain away.

"Fate," she says. She hesitates, while she looks down at herself. Is she special? Is she precious to her? She wishes she knew. But hearing it makes things ever so slightly better. "Th-thanks. I'm sorry I..." She laughs, mid-cry, suddenly. "I'm sorry I'm apologizing, y'know? I shouldn't be, should I?"

"It's okay." Fate then repeats, "It's okay."

A hand moves from around Lera, to her back, and she rubs it a little. "It's okay Lera. I'm sorry too. I guess I just see you as so wonderful, that sometimes I don't try to understand your feelings as well as I should. Mother... mother said the same thing didn't she? I think she was right, on that."

A moment later, "I'll sit with you as long as you'd like. Maybe I can't make things feel better but... noone needs to be alone when they're thinking about that."

"Fate... it's okay," Lera says. Could she really expect Fate to not try harder, though? It seemed unlikely. They were feelings that, in her own way, Lera hid. She ddin't want others to know how that hurt. When it came out, it was because she was upset; it was because she was hurting, and blurted them all out. Maybe, she thinks, she should have said more.

It's a difficult thought to process, especially feeling so upset.

Fate's offer is easier. Lera nods, blearily, and then leans her head forward. "...yeah," she says, quietly. A smile almost sneaks onto her lips. Not being alone right now sounds like the best thing she could hope for. "Thanks..."