When everything is all said and done…
Well, they ask questions, of course.
Fate never really expected anything else, but perhaps she had never understood what it was the TSAB might want from her. Certainly they don’t seem to want her personally.
“Are you sure that your mother’s goal was resurrecting Alicia Testarossa?” her interrogator asks for the seventh time, this time with another adjustment in phrasing; still far too polite.
His name is Mikel, she thinks, and Fate bristles under his attention. “I don’t know. If that was what she wanted, I wasn’t the first person she would have told.” (She never knew, after all, until Precia was already spilling her guts to the Arthra.) “Didn’t you hear the recordings?”
“If that was what she wanted?” Mikel asks, his eyes gleaming.
“If,” Fate growls. “I don’t know. I don’t know, because my mother never trusted me with anything. Is that what you want to hear?”
When everything is all said and done, she has to air her dirty laundry out in order to get him to lay off, and isn’t that a little sad?
“I’m going to kill him,” Chrono says, steaming mad, when she casually recounts the story to him. She is only beginning to understand that she knows nothing; she wouldn’t really notice a boundary violation, even if it grabbed her in a headlock and started choking her. The TSAB was just doing its job, wasn’t it? It’s not their fault they had to treat a nine-year-old girl like a prisoner of war.
If you’ll let kids into your military, it only makes sense to to treat children like adults in every other sphere of life, doesn’t it?
“He shouldn’t have done that,” Chrono says vaguely, schooling his expression into something less wrathful.
Fate shrugs. Chrono cares about her, and even care is something she often shies away from; still raw, and sometimes more confusing than outright anger.
“I just don’t know what he was expecting me to say,” Fate mumbles.
“Peh. If they wanted mission reports in triplicate, they could have kept this in-house.”
For a moment, Chrono’s self-control slips, and Fate can see that he’s angrier than she’s ever seen before. Angrier than he was with Precia. “Fate, do you know they’re still picking through the Garden of Time?”
“They asked me to identify some wreckage,” Fate says cautiously. Not that there was much left of the vessel; what didn’t fall into imaginary space was crushed in the turbulence and weight of the aphotic dimensional sea. “I couldn’t help with most of it.”
“Ridiculous. They’re still hoping for salvage,” Chrono growls. “We won’t experiment with human cloning ourselves, because that would be immoral. But as soon as someone else gives us a fait accompli, we’re tripping over ourselves to crib from their research notes. If I didn’t know Yuuno myself I would wonder if someone was using #97 as a petri dish for Jewel Seeds too.”
The thought is so sick and sudden that Fate takes a step back.
“Were they expecting this?” Chrono hisses. “Hoping for something like this? Morally bankrupt posturing, they might as well be honest and outsource their dirty laundry. Twenty years ago, even a hint of this sort of thing would have gotten you fired and court-martialed.”
“You’re not much older than I am,” Fate says in protest, before she remembers that she’s not actually nine years old. She’s four years old, carrying around five years of baggage from a girl who died, the story of someone else’s life.
Chrono smiles thinly. “I’ve studied my history and law.”
“I’ve studied history and law, too, but I don’t talk about times that I’ve never been through as if I was there.”
“You haven’t studied on Midchilda,” Chrono says. He’s staring past her and through her, now, looking at the wall behind her and thinking of something else. “I’m so sick of cleaning up messes after they happen. It’s too easy to let other people make messes and then pretend that we’re only the cleanup crew.”
He’s so angry. For a moment, Fate forgets that he’s not angry at her.
Fate remembers exactly what it feels like to die.
Alicia was sitting on the open roof of her home, watching the clouds go by. She didn’t imagine that she could be in danger; she didn’t know that she could even die, until something burst in the distance, an expanding white radiance eclipsing everything and catapulting her through the air-
Fate knows now that Alicia couldn’t have survived the dimensional quakes and explosions, even if her body hadn’t broken. Killing radiation swept through her body at the speed of light, surely sealing her fate — but she didn’t know that then.
And Fate woke up afterwards, hooked up to the life support that her mother had surely used to grow her from zygote to girl, looking like so much generic hospital equipment, and her mother was crying.
Her mother was so old. “What happened to you, mama?” she asked, and her mother just kept crying, holding Fate’s hand to her cheek.
“There was an accident,” her mother said, as if Fate was asking about her own well-being, and not her mother’s. “You were very badly hurt. You’ve been healing and sleeping for a long time.”
Fate’s head hurt, trying to think- “Am I all better, now?”
“You’re going to be just fine,” her mother replied.
But she wasn’t, not really. Everything was different in ways she couldn’t understand, her memories went out of order when she wasn’t careful, she kept trying to write with her left hand and she couldn’t do it anymore, her mother just kept getting colder and colder day by day until she had become a completely different person-
“Your name isn’t Alicia,” her mother said to her one day, and she couldn’t believe it. “Your name is Fate.”
“I don’t understand,” Fate said. She remembered thinking of herself as Alicia, she remembered calling herself Alicia, she remembered when her mother called her Alicia, she was Alicia. “I remember…”
“You were very hurt,” her mother says. “Your memories aren’t all right.”
“That can’t be true,” Fate said.
Something broke in her mother, and she slapped her.
There were no words for the awful, nauseating vertigo, the destabilization of everything that Fate had ever trusted in her life. The loss of her name and her vision of herself, the loss of her expectations that her mother could be kind.
“You are not Alicia,” Precia hissed, angry at Fate for something that she didn’t even do. “You are Fate, do you understand?”
Her mother never even bothered to imagine a better name for her than an acronym. Just negated her claim to a person’s name, and gave her the name of something that wasn’t a person at all.
“I think your name is beautiful,” Nanoha says to Fate one day, a few months after Precia is dead and gone in imaginary space; stealing a moment between the beginning of a catastrophe and the end. “It’s like destiny.”
“You know. Fate.” Nanoha smiles. “I like to think it was destiny that we met.”
Fate doesn’t know how to feel about that. “Do you believe in that sort of thing?”
“Ahah, well…” Nanoha ducks her head bashfully. “I don’t know. I want to?”
“It seems a little sad to me,” Fate says. “If we’re only friends now because of time. That’s all.”
“I don’t see it that way at all!” Nanoha says. “Just because we were destined to meet and become friends, that doesn’t mean that destiny made us do anything!”
“We met and became friends because that’s who we are,” Nanoha says, actually flailing as she tries to explain herself. Fate watches Nanoha’s hands, tracing figure-eights in the air, more than she listens to Nanoha’s words. “We were always the kind of people who would make the choices that we made, and do what we did, and feel how we felt.”
“And that’s destiny?” Fate asks.
“What else would it be?”
Nanoha’s hands are still, no longer writhing, but Fate watches Nanoha anyways.
“It’s getting dark,” Alicia says to Fate. “We should get home soon.”
Alicia isn’t lying or exaggerating, either. It starts to rain, water pounding against Fate’s face like powdered glass and liquid carbon; she knows that she’s in a world that has never existed, some dream dreamt up by the Book of Darkness, but that doesn’t make it feel any less real.
“Fate?” Alicia asks. “Are you listening to me?”
“Sorry,” Fate mumbles, reluctant to move from her spot in the shade of a nonexistent oak. “I don’t want to go home right now.” I don’t want to go home and look at mom- “I want to stay here.” I want to stay here in this dream. “For a little while.”
“Ah-! That’s okay!” Alicia drops to the ground with an audible thunk, taking root next to Fate. “I’ll stay here, too.”
Alicia reaches out and takes Fate’s hand in hers, and Fate doesn’t have it in her to push her away, but…
“I know this is all a dream,” Fate says, and Alicia doesn’t deny it. “Mom wouldn’t have made me if she still had you.”
(“That was wrong of her!” Nanoha always says, as opinionated as ever, and somehow never annoying for it. “You’re not just a replacement for Alicia! You’re your own person!”
“...yeah,” Fate always says, and something awful always insinuates in her insides.)
Alicia squeezes Fate’s hand, a reminder of her tangibility. “Are dreams really so bad, Fate?”
Fate closes her eyes because she can’t bear to look Alicia in the eyes. “Mama was never that nice to me in the real world.”
“Do you think this version of mama is less real just because she’s nicer to you?”
“She’s just a simulation,” Fate says.
“Sure, but that doesn’t mean that she’s not real. You think you’re fake, and even you’ll admit that you’re real, aren’t you?”
Fate opens her eyes again, and looks askance at Alicia. “I am fake.”
Alicia doesn’t say anything for a long time.
“Can I ask you a question, Fate?”
Fate nods, grudgingly.
“Why do you think you’re fake?”
The irony of Alicia herself asking her clone that question isn’t lost on Fate. “I’m just a copy of you with your memories, Alicia.”
“If you died, but you left all of your memories and love in a clone, would you want Nanoha to treat your clone like a stranger?”
Fate bites her tongue and struggles to spit her words out. “No. But that doesn’t mean the clone would be me.”
“Isn’t it the same difference?” Alicia asks.
She isn’t- she can’t-
“I’m not you,” Fate stammers, stands up, bumps against the rigidity of the oak tree. “I’m not.”
“Why not?” Alicia asks.
“Because!” Fate shrieks. “I’m not you, and that’s it! You’re not even Alicia, either, you’re just a simulation, you’re just as fake as me-!” Her breath comes in gasping, broken sobs. “You’re dead, Alicia and I have no right to pretend to be you!”
“Why not?” Alicia smiles sadly. “You have everything left of me. My memories. Everything I loved and felt. You have more right to call yourself Alicia than anyone else does.”
“I don’t-” Fate swallows. “I’m not you, I’m right handed, you were left handed, I’m more talented with magic than you are, I don’t remember things the same way you do-”
Alicia listens patiently until Fate peters out, and then she asks: “So, if only you had all of those things, then you would think of yourself as me?”
Fate can’t bring herself to say yes.
“If I survived the reactor accident — with brain damage, say, that ruined my ability to move the way I used to, and damaged my memories, would you say that I was a completely different person?”
Fate can’t bring herself to say no.
“Just… stop it,” she whispers.
Because- “I can’t be you,” she whimpers.
“Because mama loved you!” Fate screams. Because it would just be too horrible if she was Alicia, if she really thought that she was Alicia-
It’s a hideous idea spat forth from the pages of a tragedy. A mother, bringing her daughter back from the dead, only to enslave her and set her to the task of resurrecting her daughter. As if her daughter wasn’t right there with her, alive and whole and happy.
It’s just too horrible to live in a world where all of her mother’s love could be so senselessly wasted and poisoned into irrelevance. Precia’s love for Alicia has to mean something, the best thing that came out of being a clone was knowing that Precia wasn’t hurting her own daughter-
“If I was you,” Fate says. “If I was you, then wouldn’t mama have known? If I’m you, then mama loved you, and she hurt you anyways, I don’t, I won’t, she, I don’t want that! I don’t. Don’t. Please. You can’t make me.”
“I won’t,” Alicia says. “I won’t ever make you do anything.”
“Don’t make me,” Fate sobs, begs. “Don’t.”
“I won’t,” Alicia says. “I won’t make you stay, either.”
When everything is all said and done, Nanoha takes her aside.
“Are you okay?” she asks, straight to the point. “You’ve been quiet ever since you got out of the book.”
Fate Alicia Fate shrinks into herself. “I don’t know if you would believe me,” she mumbles, as if that’s an excuse for anything.
“I’ll try,” Nanoha says, and Fate shrinks further into herself.
“I think I’m going insane,” Fate says.
“Then I’ll help you,” Nanoha replies, and she takes Fate’s hand in her hand. “Maybe I’ll even go crazy with you?”
And Alicia Testarossa bursts into tears.