Soldiers


Fate's waiting for a bus, and Jin pries into what's none of his business-- then ends up making the most startling offer Fate may ever have heard.

Date: 2017-10-03
Pose Count: 20
Fate Testarossa 2017-10-03 23:44:56 84317
    Fate Testarossa has not had a good weekend. In fact the start of her week has been downright miserable. Between losing a Jewel Seed to Nanoha, and Precia's subsequent inquiry after the fact, she has been unable to search for any further Jewel Seeds for the past two days.
    She would never say the reasons why, and was evasive even with her own Familiar when Arf pressed on the fact, but the truth of the matter is, Fate was hurting. It was too painful to see her mother looking far more frail than she had remembered her being. And the lesson Precia instilled in her subsequently afterwards still left the girl with a sore sting that made movement difficult.
    So she is at the bus terminal. It's getting on toward evening, and she strayed a little far in her bull headed attempt to look for the Seeds even when she should reasonably be recovering. But reasonable is not something she can afford to be, considering her circumstances. The child soldiers on in her quest. Her quest that she has given up for the day.
    This is exactly why she's settled on a bench, the small foriegn blonde child looking utterly exhausted and waiting for a bus home.
Tin Soldier 2017-10-03 23:58:47 84318
Another soldier, not a child but very, very familiar with the way they think, and altogether too young to have already mustered out, lost another job today because of something Osiemnastka asked him to do. The black band is still on his upper arm, but he did well today, so the persistent critical voice is currently silent. You can do what you want with your time now, it had told him. I will let you know when there is need again.

He's on his way back to wherever it is he's staying, wherever it is he keeps whatever he has, and he looks tired and somewhat on edge-- hands jammed in his pockets, a thousand yen to his name, limp slightly more pronounced than usual--

--and then he sees Fate sitting on a bench and looking a lot more worse for wear than he himself is. Immediately the youth relaxes, expression going from sort of blankly bleak to warm with camaraderie. The actress isn't with her right now, and there's no girl stuff for him to mess up going on, but she's a child and she's alone in a bus terminal and that's not right. And she's exhausted.

And something about her is crying, even if it doesn't show on the outside.

He comes over and takes a seat one down from her, so there's an empty one between them. "Mind if I sit here?" he asks deferentially, almost diffidently.
Fate Testarossa 2017-10-04 00:16:06 84319
    All alone, exhausted, head swimming with pain. Somewhere along the way on her path towards gaining Precia's affection, she stumbled a bit. But now she's set proper on her course. This is just a natural effect. Her mother loves her, and Fate just needs correction every now and then is all.
    Love, as Fate Testarossa has grown to understand it, hurts.
    These thoughts cycle quietly through her head as she waits, scarlet eyes staring ahead, vacant with fatigue. So fatigued she almost doesn't hear the question. But she does here it, and it makes her jump somewhat, exhausted, miserable, wine-hued eyes flicking up. Briefly there's a silent stare; before the memory of the Korma Chameleon sinks in, as does recognition. Though she had not caught the young man's name, she certainly remembered he too is a mage. He has to be, if he's in possession of such a finnicky Device. Her shoulders tense; though his approach is genial, another mage always means another potential rival for Lost Logia.
    "No." She answers curtly after a beat, before there's a flinch at her own brief social failure. The answer was meant to be at least a little more polite seeming than the frosty and guarded tone made it out to be.
    Fate is a terrible liar. In both word and manner.
Tin Soldier 2017-10-04 00:26:17 84320
There, he settles into the seat instead of being perched hesitantly on the edge of it. He's amiably silent for a moment.

Then, "I know it's not my business, but it seems to me like you're in opposition, or-- or competition, with a lot of the other mages. It doesn't seem very fair to me that they're all on one side and you're... forgive me if I'm mistaken, please... you're alone except for your actress friend. If I am not mistaken, then... do you want help?"

Clear silver eyes meet wine-red, and there's no guile in them. "I'm not very smart, but I follow orders very well if you tell me what you need me to do, and I can improvise pretty well in the field. I'm not interested in the things that the other mages want to get-- I'm just a soldier without an army. And-- my... my spells are all for moving inanimate things around, but I'm best with metal? And I'm very good at shielding. I can shield you. And then it would be more fair."
Fate Testarossa 2017-10-04 00:44:08 84321
    Actress friend? Fate's brow knots. For a moment the small blonde draws an utter blank on who Jin could be talking about before she once again remembers the Korma Chameleon. How the others had mistaken Arf for a few choice guesses at an occupation.
    Jin is a Mage, so Fate doesn't need to hide it.
    "She's not an actress, she's my Familiar." Is all the explanation she gives at first, still guarded and wary. Until he slams the girl with an offer she hadn't quite expected. And this leaves her staring for a long, silent, moment.
    For all Nanoha wants to be friends, the one thing in the way was always the Jewel Seeds. The two girls unable to find an accord due to vying in opposition for twenty one sparkling gems of calamitous power. Nanoha's ideals and Fate's desires constantly clashing and putting them at ends.
    And here is a complete stranger offering Fate aid. This can't be for nothing, there must be some ulterior motive, she reasons. Even if there was one, it's the first time in a long time someone just offered to help, so quickly.
    It's a very different situation from say... Takashi, or Lacrima- or the other members of UMBRA. under normal circumstances Fate's answer would be a flat no and complete shutdown of the conversation. But something he says hits some subconscious part of Fate that she's not entirely aware of.
    You're alone.
    "Mn..." Scarlet eyes dart away, eye contact impossible for the girl, with anyone, right now; still sore from her mother's last lesson in more ways than one.
    "... And what about you. What's in it for you?"
Tin Soldier 2017-10-04 00:51:40 84322
"I get to do my real job again. Which is--" Jin cuts himself off, shuts his eyes tight and shakes his head. He can't look at her when he says it, because he doesn't want to see that distrust flare up again. "Which is helping someone like you. I couldn't help my brother, but... I was too weak. I'm stronger now," he explains, faster, and looks up again to meet her eyes. His own are pleading. "I'm strong enough to be useful, now. But you need to tell me what to do. I need someone to give me orders, someone like you. Someone who-- who has the odds stacked up against them. Someone that has to deal with unfairness. I-- I'm no good for anything, otherwise. I'll never be as good as my brother was, but maybe I can be good enough, good enough to make a difference for you, when I couldn't for him."
Fate Testarossa 2017-10-04 01:09:40 84324
    Fate watches. She stares. Intent and judging, her gaze remains focused now, as sharp and silently cutting as a knife, even palpable when Jin closes his eyes. Unfortunately the irony does not register with her. An injured young man coming to her, wanting to be needed. Compared to a starved girl, needing to be wanted.
    Fate's fingers clench, rumpling the hem of her ruffled black dress. And her eyes cast downwards once more. His offer is so genuine. It's different from the aid offered by UMBRA- aid given for the sake of research or mutual benefit. But that's so clinical and cold compared to this sudden outpouring from a man she had only just met. A complete and total outpouring that lets her begin to piece a puzzle together about him. It's an incomplete picture, but it's a picture nonetheless. One that draws out a far more gentle side of Fate that she had forced herself to suppress in the name of appeasing her mother; for in spite of her rocky upbringing, Fate did not turn cold nor cruel as she presents, but only all the more sensitive to the pain of another person.
    "... Did something... Happen to him...?"
Tin Soldier 2017-10-04 01:22:42 84325
Jin's hands are fists on his knees, now, clutching the fabric of his trousers; she asks that, she asks that, and again, he can't look at her. His face burns with shame, and his head lowers, silky grey hair falling to shadow his face. "He drowned. We lived in Sendai. He drowned in the tsunami, trying to get someone else free, where they were pinned under the water. I was-- there were four generations of our family living in our house, four generations of heroes, of people who grew up to serve our nation, to help the people that lived around us. Everyone drowned. I'm the only one left, and I don't deserve to carry the family's name, but I can't let it die. I won't. I was too small-- he had-- his hand-- he drowned holding me and I was too small to pull him out and he wouldn't let go of the person he was trying to save--"

Suddenly he lifts his head and his face is wet and crumpled, his eyes are agonized as he looks at Fate, so pleading. "Osiemnastka is the one who's made me strong enough to help. He's frustrated because I'm not smart, because I'm not as good of a person as my brother was, but he was willing and able to give me the power that no one else could, and if I have someone-- if you-- if you can just tell me what you need me to do-- he always told me what to do, but in the end I couldn't because I wasn't strong, but I'm strong enough now to do anything you need me to do. Please..."
Fate Testarossa 2017-10-04 02:17:16 84326
    Fate is a child. Well meaning as she may be, children are prone to asking the worst questions at the worst times. Of course she would ask that. Especially given the context of Jin's plea to ler him aid her. And so he answers.
    In short order Fate's gaze is down on her lap.
    "I understand." She says so softly, the whisper is almost inaudible. "I know how it feels. To feel weak, when you come from strong stock." She makes an admission she never had before. Fate Testarossa had always told Arf; and she had always told herself... 'I am a Testarossa. I am strong'. That is how the world should have been. That was the one notion that could keep her going in spite of everything, but the truth is, the girl knows far beyond her years precisely what a frail, fragile, delicate thing a human can be. Physically and emotionally.
    There's a hesitant shift. As though she were going to edge closer on the bench before she decides against it, and opts to speak, instead. "Alright." She makes her decision. "... Alright."
Tin Soldier 2017-10-04 13:04:13 84334
Strong stock. The strongest-- and they all loved him, one by one, and he still let them all down.

Fate's first sentence-- her admission-- hits Jin deeply. She's a child, she shouldn't have to already be a soldier, shouldn't have to face these things on her own like this, shouldn't have to cry so, on the inside, over the loss of things...

...and he still does not know how deeply her pain runs, how explicit and complete it is. He only knows she hurts, badly, and is alone, and needs him. And--

And she's accepted, she's agreed. She's agreed to need him.

The youth's face transfigures behind the tears he is still unused-to, and he looks brighter and more confident than it seemed possible for him to be when she saw him in the cafe, when she saw him come in. He lifts a hand up to his face to touch the salt tracks, as if making sure they are tears instead of blood, and then wipes his rumpled sleeve across his eyes and lets out a small, sheepish laugh, still sounding a trifle wet. "Thank you. Thank you-- the other girl called you Fate, and I think-- I think that you must be. I will do anything to help you, I will protect you in any way I can, if you let me. My name is Jin Meiyou, but I am Kouboku, Private First Class. PFC Kouboku."

The bus is pulling in to the station, and he holds out his hand across the empty seat: it is not the bow of introduction, it is the hand of friendship, of loyalty. If she takes it, it is warm and strong and as gentle as his face. "You alone have the right to give me orders, Fate-san," he says, and it has the ring of an oath. "If you ever stop needing me-- I only ask that if I never fail you," implication: if you don't die "you find someone else who needs me and give them my service. But it's you I want to help, as long as you need me."

Whether or not that hand is taken, when the bus finishes pulling in and people queue up to get on it, Jin stands. "Do you want to tell me on the bus what it is you need help with the most right now? Jewel seeds? That seemed to be what they were most interested in taking. If not, we can talk more about it when you are more rested."
Fate Testarossa 2017-10-04 13:36:01 84335
    Fate isn't entirely alone. That's not entirely true, but even still; oftentimes, she can certainly feel it. Having to shoulder the burden of bowing to Precia's whims, hunting dangerous artifacts for a woman who scorns her every attempt and desire for the affection that every child is due, and that Fate does not recieve. That pain runs deep, though try as she might to not show it, it's there. There in her eyes; the ever present, weary, sorrow brimming behind scarlet eyes that never seems to go away no matter what expression she wears like a mask.
    She waits though, patient and cool, letting Jin have the moment he needs to wipe his eyes. Shifts again, hesitant, as though considering giving some form of comforting touch, but then shies herself back from any contact as quickly as she considered it, opting instead for a more proper introduction. Yes, that girl called her Fate. ... That girl. Fate's eyes grow distant and contemplative for a short breath before she shakes the thought free.
    "Yes. Fate. Fate Testarossa."
    And then. A hand is held out.
    Fate is again hesistant; physical contact is a difficulty for the child, for the only touch she has ever known was not kind nor gentle. Just beginning to reach back for it is a testament to her gentle and sympathetic nature. But she keeps the contact brief; gentle and strong though his grip may be, she flinches at the touch and shies away after a polite few seconds, before she nods. Onto the bus then, and she takes her place in the line, rising from her seat with a very ginger slowness to movement. She can think of a person Jin can assist. If she ever fatally fails that person herself.
    A slow breath as she sinks into a seat at the back of the bus, and her hands are on her lap. "The Jewel Seeds, yes."
Tin Soldier 2017-10-04 14:05:16 84337
Jin notices the hesitation, the flinch, the withdrawal; he also notices the gingerness of her movement, and something within flares bright and hot with protective fury.

Osiemnastka, though still silent, is incredibly pleased; apparently the boy did need a target for his protection and affection in order to be as effective as Osiemnastka knew he could be.

It does not show outwardly other than an increase in Jin's respect for her personal space; he does not offer touch again, and remains on the outside of Fate's invisible bubble of distance in the line and on the bus. If she takes the center of the back bench with room for five, he takes the window; the reverse likewise.

Fate's agreement gets her an instant nod. "If I find another, I will call you that very moment. If you find one, call me right then if I am not already with you, and I will fly to your aid. If I have to touch it to keep someone else from it, in the course of the fight, I will, but that is your prerogative; unless you wish it otherwise, my primary role will be making certain that you have the time and space and freedom to acquire it yourself. I am good at running interference and shielding and taking the brunt of attacks, at making myself a bright and dangerous target... but I can also be the subtle one who moves in the shadows and gets to the target, if you would rather do the visible fighting."

His tone and manner are confident, listing his skills to his superior officer, the resources he can best offer her. "I won't let them stop you, Fate-san. And I won't let them sway me away from you. You are the one I will always support in whatever way you need, for as long as you need me and I am alive."
Fate Testarossa 2017-10-04 14:17:25 84338
    Bardiche, too, is silent. But the black axe of light has already made it known that he speaks only when he deems it absolutely necessary; the core of his communication coming in the form of his ever present silent and stoic support for his young wielder. Bardice, too, can understand the sense of silent outrage. It is a feeling he goes through every day, and allays the best he can the only way he knows how, in quietly always being there for Fate.
    But then she shakes her head. "Don't... don't touch them." The Jewel Seeds, she means, getting right to the core of the matter. "They react strongly to wishes, and have the power to grant them. But it's almost never how you truly want them to be." She explains the lost logia's monkey paw nature. "If you have your Device you can seal them with magic. Even then, they should be stored internally. Even a support type like yourself should be able to do that." Mused after he details just what he can do. So she gives the briefing. At least before her lips purse. Determined as Jin may be, the girl pauses. "Do... You and your Device get along?"
    It is a very valid worry to voice, regardless of how much of that support is offered,
Tin Soldier 2017-10-04 18:12:55 84339
"They-- the wishes. They're not the way you want them to be? That doesn't seem fair either, especially-- well, especially if those who make the wishes don't have any warning about that..." Jin repeats, making sure he's getting it right, then looking contemplative. "...but I guess that's how wishes work. If you want something you have to work for it. And if you can never have it, then a wish won't change that..."

He's taken in the rest of what Fate says, too, working through it slowly; she'd paused and asked what, to her, is a very important question. And he'll answer it after he's thought that through, too, but he has to correct something else she's said first. "I'm only a support type because that is what I am for. My combat skills are proper combat skills; I am a fighter, and have always been so, even before this. It is only that I fight to defend; I am not an aggressor," he says matter-of-factly; this is his comfort zone. "I am only efficient when I have someone to follow and protect."

Briefly, he gives a bright smile, amused and pleased. "In that way, I suppose I am more like a Device than a Mage! Maybe someday I'll be as good at it as Bardiche," he says, leaning over a little ways to say it like a shared secret, half joke and half admiration. Straightening up again, he adds very seriously, "I don't think Osiemnastka is equipped to store a Jewel Seed, so I will leave all handling and transport of them to you."

Finally, he addresses her most important question, and he does it with a truly serene smile. "We do now. We've come to an understanding, and he has acknowledged the need I have to follow, without being disparaging about it. No matter what magics he can perform, he's realized he cannot change my nature, and now supports me wholly."
Fate Testarossa 2017-10-04 22:24:48 84389
    It is a very important question. If an Intelligent Device and wielder are not in sync, then both will be severely hindered. Be it by the user's lack of skill or the Device's refusal to cooperate. And Osiemnastka seemed very harsh about cooperation the last time she had seen it. But Fate drinks in Jin's explanation. Not just a support type, but a support combatant. A shield, but also a blade that strikes in the name of defense. Very much like her own Bardiche; a thought that evokes a more solid inkling of how dependable Jin just may well be.
    "If it's an Intelligent Device, the function should be there. I can teach you how if necessary." And it may well be necessary for Jin to hold onto a Jewel Seed or two at some point. But she purses her lips. "That's right. Wishes- dreams- they're something that have to be earned." Earned like how she strives so hard to earn her mother's favor. "If you and your Device are in better sync now, then... That's good."
Tin Soldier 2017-10-04 22:59:45 84395
"He's an Intelligent Device, but-- he's weird," Jin says helplessly. "Osiemnastka -- are you capable of storing Jewel Seeds? If Fate-san shows you how, is it--"

That voice, far less harsh than it had been, comes across to both of them. No, that is not in my available list of functions, Jin. Fate, I am afraid you will have to seal them, but Jin and I will be more than capable of covering you while you do so. I regret that it is not within my power.

At least the Device is polite now.

"Are you broken?" asks Jin a little desperately.

No. I am inherently incapable of sealing or storing Jewel Seeds. I am an Intelligent Device, but I am the lingering result of an experiment with a Jewel Seed six years ago, and thus cannot interact with them.

Jin's mouth opens and closes. He looks at Fate, eyes wide. He's silent for a second, and then gets a strange expression on his face-- which resolves into one of determination. "All right-- all right. Can you-- was that Jewel Seed sealed?"

No, replies Osiemnastka.

"Well. We'll have to get it for you before anyone else does," he says to Fate, eyes glittering silvery bright, decision made. "I don't need to know what you need them for, but-- I will make sure it is yours, Fate-san."
Fate Testarossa 2017-10-04 23:21:55 84398
    That is a much more polite Device than Fate had remembered. Though Jin says he's 'weird'. This doesn't overly surprise Fate; most Intelligent Devices are not without their quirks and demands. But then Osiemnastka confirms it. He cannot store Jewel Seeds. An admission that makes Fate's brow knot briefly with curiosity.
    Curiosity that is slaked only a beat later. "An... Experiment?" This revelation only yields more questions for the girl than answers. Her lips purse. But the two have now come this far on a moving bus. She couldn't just ask Jin to help her with this herculean task against other mages without telling him her reasons.
    "I... Need them for my mother. She needs them." For what, Fate doesn't admittedly know. But they must bring Precia happiness if she gets the woman the whole set.
Tin Soldier 2017-10-04 23:30:00 84401
'I need them for my mother.'

She's looked so tired, sitting there on the bench, exhausted and broken. She was so determined, even to the point of cutting off potential friends and going it alone. And the way she walked--

'I need them for my mother.'

"And-- you'll be able to be happy when she has them?" Jin asks hopefully. "You won't have to-- to fight, anymore?"

His hands are curling into fists over his knees again, wrinkling the already-wrinkled fabric even more. "I will help you get them. I don't have a phone-- but Bardiche, I think, can call me. Can call Osiemnastka, whenever you need me. And someday, I think-- I hope-- you won't even need to call, and I will be there whenever you need me."
Fate Testarossa 2017-10-04 23:38:12 84403
    That's right. She needs them for her mother. This lonely little girl, so determined to go it alone, is doing everything for the sake of her mother. Fending off Nanoha and other mages to the point of her body breaking, returning home to harsh lessons and rebuke for her failure, or mild neglect, upon her success. Her answer comes as fast as a snap, and is both earnest and true.
    "-Yes." A simple answer, and one Fate sees as inevitable. "Mother needs them to be happy. She can't be without them. ... It's my duty as her daughter to make her happy. ... Then things can go back to how they used to be."
    How they used to be in those shining days of playing with Linith as an actual cat, when Precia made promises of picnics and to spend more time with her.
    "Mn..." No phone. But the Devices can reach each other easily, this is true.
    [Yes.] Bardiche solemnly confirms.
Tin Soldier 2017-10-05 00:18:47 84411
That's a firm nod from Jin, then. "I understand duty to family," he says with quiet resolution.

There's a brief, awkward silence, and then Jin laughs nervously and brings his hand up to rub the back of his neck, looking away and blushing. "Sorry about no phone. I know everyone has one, but I don't have the money for one, and I wouldn't really know how to use one of those cellphones if I had one. So-- thank you, Bardiche."

Finally, the bus is nearing Jin's destination; one more traffic light and it'll be there.

"You can also call Osiemnastka if you just want to talk, that's okay too," says Jin, genial and honestly friendly. There's nothing about pity in his smile as he stands up, taking hold of a hand loop overhead as the bus stops. "I lose jobs like some people lose socks in the dryer, so I have a lot of free time. Ja ne, Fate-san!"

The light comes on and the door at the front of the bus opens, and the grey-haired soldier boy limps up the alley between seats, shoulders squared and head held higher than it's been in some time.