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No matter how badly you feel for Flandre, the important thing to keep in mind is that she could easily slaughter everyone in this room with all the effort it takes you to breathe. One misstep in what you're about to do could be fatal.
Not that that's going to stop you from trying.
Sometimes you wish they'd spliced compassion out of your brain when you were born, because it's damned inconvenient.
You plunk towards Flandre one slow, dragging step after another, and only when you pass Meiling by does anyone remember you exist.
"What are you-" Meiling starts, only for you to hold your hand up in her face.
"You two back off," you say, all gravel and irritation. "Let me do this on my own."
"You'll not tell us how to handle my sister!" Remilia says, scowling heatedly at you.
"Oh, shut up," you say, and with them thrown for a loop at your rebuttal, you trudge towards Flandre, stopping just out of arm's reach. Remilia and Meiling make no moves to pull you back, evidently deciding that, comes down to it, they'd much prefer having that extra second or two to get away in case you screw it all up.
"I said go away," Flandre murmurs, her head bowed as though someone had attached a great weight around her neck.
"Flandre," you say, gently. "Look at me."
She swallows, and slowly, jerkily looks up at you. "Why don't you listen?"
"I'm not sure how much this is worth, coming from me," you say. "But what happened earlier wasn't your fault."
And then she, of all things, edges away from you. "How can you lie to me like that?" she whispers, those blood-red eyes fixated on your own.
You take another step, and she pushes herself further back. "Would a monster feel like this about itself?"
A bitter, strained little laugh leaves her. "You don't know what it's like," she says, her fists clenching tight enough to pop cartilage. "How much this hurts. How... how thirsty you get."
"...So do you get blasted apart often?" you ask. "Because if this is a common occurrence, then you might actually have a point."
"That's just it, isn't it? If- if I can't even control myself when it matters..." She hugs herself, shaking all the while. "I'd never have stopped. And it felt right. Everything felt so right."
You take another step, forcing Flandre to scoot back further. "So?"
"I... I want to do it again." She giggles, the noise horribly broken. "Just tear and rip and smash and kill and-" Her hands fly to cover her mouth, her eyes stretching wide as they possibly can, and a wretched little sob wracks her frame.
You grit your teeth, the sight before you firmly outclassing any platitudes you could come up with. Instead, you take another step towards her. She whimpers, skittering away from you fast as her feet can push her, hands still clamped firmly around her traitorous lips. She shakes her head as you approach, but you still follow her, step by painstaking step, until she backs up against a wall, shivering at your approach. Her hands slip. "Stop it, stop it, go away go away please don't come any closer I don't want to hurt anyone else I'm sorry please-"
What you're about to do next is incredibly stupid, even by your standards.
You drop to your knee, flinching as a jolt of numb fire surges up your mulched leg, and gently grab Flandre's wrist. She abruptly falls silent, her whole body motionless as you guide her limp fingers towards your neck.
She whispers, "Don't."
"I trust you"-a weary little smile is all you can offer her-"to do the right thing."
You let your hand fall, leaving hers around your throat.
Her fingers begin trembling first. The shakes work their way down the arm and through the rest of her body. "But- but I-"
Shaking your head seems an appropriate response, so you do. "If it's so easy for you to lose control, then I should already be dead."
A muted whimper slips through her lips. "Why? You're not family. You don't know me. Why do you care?"
You lay your hand on her shoulder. "Why shouldn't I?"
She doesn't say anything else, still shuddering, still staring at you through teary eyes.
"You said I couldn't help you. Let me prove you wrong." You squeeze her shoulder. "Please."
You can feel everyone else's eyes boring into you as they wait to see whether or not Flandre's about to use you to paint the walls. Even if she does, well, you can't say you regret trying.
Her fingers slip from your neck, and she clenches them into a fist, bringing it to her mouth so she can bite down on her knuckles. "How?" she asks, her words muffled. "How can you help?"
The tell-tale pumping of pneumatic legs is the only warning you get before the little medical mech edges into view on your right, even that machine smart enough to understand that maintaining a healthy distance between itself and Flandre is a good idea.
"Hello!" it says, and you could almost swear you hear trepidation in its childish voice. "Ready to dispense medical aid!"
"Let this little guy do his job, Flandre, and you'll feel much better," you say. "That's a promise."
Flandre looks so very small. "Y'mean it?"
Memory of your first meeting with her strikes like lightning. "Cross my heart, hope to die, remember?"
And she smiles, just the tiniest bit. "Yeah." Her wavering hands reach up and pull yours off her shoulder, the better to tightly intertwine her fingers with your own. She swallows, then screws her eyes shut. "Do it."
"Dispensing product!" chirps the mech, ambling closer before it sprays a burst of mist over the two of you. Flandre tenses up, a shocked little gasp escaping her at the sensation of the mist flowing over her, before she abruptly sags against you, her head coming to rest against your chest.
"It doesn't... hurt?" she mumbles, her speech thick. "It doesn't... it doesn't hurt."
You throw your other arm, broken hand and all, around her back, and pull her close. Her voice comes out softer than velvet. "I'm sorry. I messed everything up for everyone. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
"Flandre," you whisper. "You're better than you think you are."
She doesn't respond, but her grip on your hand tightens to the point it's painful. Her erratic breathing grows slower, more stable, with every passing second, but her steely grip doesn't slacken in the least.
You don't care to jostle her, and are content to stay like this until Remilia approaches, her footfalls light enough you only notice her when she steps into view. She kneels next to you, her lips pursed as she looks Flandre over. Then she leans in, awkwardly reaching around you to hug her sister.
She doesn't say anything.
There's no need.
The last of the piano-wire tension in Flandre's body fades away, her painful hold on your hand fading with it, leaving her completely limp in your and Remilia's arms.
"Well," Remilia eventually says, her voice tinged with the kind of awe that only comes from observing something spectacular at an age where you think you've seen it all. "I think you've just saved us from an incredible mess." Her eyes flick mechward. "What is in that spray?"
"Classified!" says the mech.
Remilia rolls her eyes. "Of course it is."
"What isn't classified," you say, "is that, unless the dosage was horribly miscalculated, Flandre's not waking up any time soon. But you wanted to see to her injuries personally, right, Remilia?"
Remilia smiles, just at the corners of her mouth. "Oh, you know me too well. However, I think I'd rather operate in peace." She glances at Meiling, who'd sidled up during your conversation. "Would you mind escorting him outside?"
Meiling taps two fingers against her forehead. "Gotcha covered, boss."
You grunt. "Not sure if anyone's noticed, but I'd rather not just drop Flandre. Help?"
Remilia huffs in mild amusement. "I'll simply assume you forgot to say please."
You release Flandre, and in the brief moment before Remilia smoothly takes up your slack, you get a clear look at Flandre; tear streaks may stain sleeping face, but her expression is as peaceful as when you first saw her asleep. Remilia cradles the sleeping girl close to her chest, her expression unreadable as she threads fingers through her sister's hair.
"I think we should maybe get going?" Meiling cautiously suggests, her firm grip on your arm belying her words.
"Wait." Remilia's command stops you before you could even start. "Before you go, AE... Why?"
There's many, many ways you could reply to that question, but in the end, there's only one real answer. "I've been brought low in my life before," you say, softly. "Maybe... maybe I just didn't like seeing someone else in that state when I could do something about it. Is that so terrible?"
Remilia's expression is chilly. "Considering what you initially came here to do, I'd say it's at least extremely odd."
"I'll give you that one." You fix Remilia with a grim stare. "Take care of her."
She looks vaguely insulted. "That's what I intend to do. Now away with you, I've work to do."
Meiling nods before hauling you to your feet. She starts pulling you along as fast as one dares with a cripple. The medical bot trundles after you, and your little group makes it to the door in relatively good time, considering. Just after you step outside, Remilia raises her voice. "Ah, AE, one last thing."
You look over your shoulder. "Yes?"
Her answering little smile has just the barest trace of warmth to it. "It would be... regrettable, if I had to kill you after all this."
She breaks eye contact, and Meiling takes that as her cue to shut the door. The three of you, man, woman, and mech, stand in silence before Meiling elbows you in the side. "I think she likes you."
"It's a sight better than her trying to slay me," you say.
"Uh-huh." She folds her arms. "By the way, thanks for what you did for Flandre. Even if you were a big idiot with how you did it."
You squint at her. "Excuse me?"
Meiling starts waving a hand about for illustrative purposes, although what, exactly, she's trying to illustrate in the first place is beyond you. "What were you thinking, getting into maiming range like you did?"
"And you're still an idiot!" Her condescending expression softens. "But, granted, you're a living one, so I'm willing to cut you a break."
All her waving brings to your attention a nasty, jagged red line across her arm where it was previously severed, and a spring-loaded question fires before you can stop it. "That does not look like it's holding steady."
She pats the point of severance. "Oh, this is just Remi's patch job. I'm gonna need a proper stitch-up from the folks at Eientei 'fore I trust myself to punch anything with it, or I think it might just fall off on me again."
"And this is the same woman we're letting operate on Flandre, because...?"
Meiling quirks an eyebrow. "Flan still has all her limbs intact, it's different. But, if you want to go in there and tell Remilia what she can and cannot do, be my guest."
You raise a hand, before pausing to really think hard on that, and then sheepishly lower said hand. "I see your point."
"That's cuz I'm smart, see?" She taps her forehead. "Not like the big meathead standing before me who came in punching people and blowing everything up."
"Madame, I have had enough of your insults," you drawl. "However, I've got one last job to handle and then I'm officially bugging out. You can make up for your rudeness by tagging along, if you like."
Meiling smiles, her playful condenscesion fading. "Then I would be glad to accompany you, sir."
"Everyone is happy again!" says the mech.
"NEIGHTOACHFOUR!" Marisa bellows, charging into the room with broom held high.
"Motherf-!" you say, lurching aside with a cripple's gusto, which is to say, not much. Even the mech scuttles away much faster than you, which is severely demoralizing.
Meiling springs forward, catching the witch by the throat and slamming her to the floor, sending the witch's broom flying against a wall. She swiftly follows it up by planting a foot on the blonde's chest.
"Marisa," Meiling says, looking coolly down on the witch. "You really have to stop barging in everywhere. It's really rude."
"Meiling," Marisa replies, surprisingly calm given her current predicament. "You look... not dead."
"Eh, I'm pretty tough." Meiling removes her mighty foot, allowing Marisa to sit up without fear of her sternum being crushed. "Anyway, you're officially too late to do whatever it is you came here for."
You nod. "While I'm going to assume the best-case scenario here and say your concern for Flandre is admirable, I'm certain Remilia would twist your head off your shoulders if you interrupted her right now."
The witch sags, slapping a hand against her face. "Aw, nuts, this is just not my day."
"I don't think it's anyone's day, honestly," you say, "although Flandre and I are certainly competing for the worst-off."
Not counting the dead, of course.
God, that's sobering.
"So... Neightoachfour?" you ask, desperately searching for a way to buoy your mood.
Marisa sheepishly rubs the back of her neck. "Hey, it has a bunch of syllables and everything, it's a good war cry."
"Presumably because it confuses your enemies long enough for you to beat them up?" you venture.
She shrugs, then hops back to her feet. "That too."
"Pfah!" Meiling thumps a fist against her chest. "You obviously haven't heard of ancient Chinese battle cries, Marisa! They could go on for days!"
Marisa's eyes narrow into little lines. "You bullshittin'."
Meiling holds her pose for a few seconds more, maintaining an admirable poker-face, before she starts sniggering. "You're damn right I am."
As Marisa begins bickering, very much one-sidedly, with Meiling, XJ's voice crackles over your comms. "Sir, we have confirmed contact with the target. Escorting her to the drop-site, over."
"Wilco," you say, immediately regretting it as Marisa hears you and decides to switch targets.
"So what was that all about?" she asks, giving you a hard eyeball that would impress the most grizzled of veterans. "What're you plotting now, eh? Eh?"
"It's a long and complicated story," you say, and carefully push her away to a distance where she isn't breathing up your nostrils. "Suffice to say I'm on a mission of peace, and let's leave it at that."
"I don't believe you," she immediately declares, still matching that maddening stare with your own; you refuse to blink, but your eyes are starting to water.
"How about instead of bothering me over things I'm not doing, you go help someone who actually needs it," you say, your patience thinning. "Go find Patchouli. She's got a broken wrist and also I electrocuted her."
Marisa slowly blinks. "Y'did what."
You sigh. "Just... just make yourself useful and go help her out, would you? I'm sure that'd get you some goodwill with her. I'll even tell you where I hid her body."
She rubs her chin as she considers this, then nods. "A'ight. Well, let's get movin', buddy, I don't got all day here."
"And I have a leg that could be spread over a sandwich, but you don't hear me telling everyone to slow down, do you?"
"Kids, please stop fighting," Meiling says, laying a hand on each of your shoulders and giving the two of you a good shake. "Don't make me give ya a whipping."
The little medical bot trundles past while you're all tangled up, and heads straight out the door.
"...Did my robot just give up on us?" you ask.
The four of you, mech tucked underneath your arm after a short chase, emerge from the stairwell into the mansion proper, and find your men still in position.
"Sup, blondie?" HK says, straightening up from his slouch. "And also hello to you too sir," he adds hastily upon seeing your glare.
"Sir," LG says, standing at attention. "We moving?"
"You know it," you say, setting the mech down before you trudge onwards. "Fall in on me."
"They're very friendly sorts for a couple of faceless goons," Marisa idly notes as they get into position behind you.
"Hearts and minds, ma'am," LG says. "Hearts and minds."
"Hmph. Well, if sticking with you guys means I have to go at the speed of slow, I'm not buying it." She flips her broom up into the air and hops aboard it, which is an impressive feat considering it was hovering at eye level. "I gots me a witch to find. You lot do... whatever it is you do! I honestly don't care."
With that and a whoop of excitement, witch and broom rocket down the hallway, trailing stars as they go.
"Surprisingly chipper for all her earlier complaining," you muse. "Well, it doesn't matter. Let's get this over with."
You leave the mansion through the same hole you entered, emerging into the welcoming summer heat. In the time you've been gone, the Valkyrie has acquired a cadre of curious fairies crawling all over it, eagerly inspecting the machine with all the glee that comes from something new and technological showing up unannounced, and the pilot is impotently shaking his fists at them from the safety of the cockpit.
More important are the two of your men milling around near the ship, accompanied by both Kyouko and Mystia. The latter has certainly seen better times, her dress now covered in dirt and twigs sticking in her hair, while the former is busy nervously shuffling back and forth. The moment she spots you coming, however, she brightens up enough to put gigawatt bulbs to shame.
Kyouko bounds over to you at the speed of holy shit she's fast. "You got it back!" she squeals, fists balled up and pressed against the bottom of her jaw even as she bounces on her feet; just the giddiest girl you ever did see. "Come on, come on, let's go!"
"Aren't you giddy," you say, lightly as can be managed.
She starts tugging on the mech, which has dug its feet into the dirt. "No talk, just move, c'mon!"
So focused on pulling the machine along come heaven or hell itself, Kyouko completely fails to notice Mystia stumbling along until she's standing right behind her.
"Kyouko, please stop bothering the huge man and his robot friend," Mystia says, causing her friend to nearly trip over herself as she turns around.
"Hey! Mysty! This is-"
"I know what it is." Mystia looks at you with dull eyes. "She hasn't stopped talking about your little wonder bot ever since she found me again."
"Well, it is really good stuff," Meiling says, nodding to express full confidence in your medical equipment.
Kyouko blinks, then smiles a big, toothy grin as she wheels on the redhead. "Ah! You're looking a lot better from before, miss!"
Meiling smiles, but otherwise remains silent. All the better, given how Mystia is now leveling a finger, chipped nail and all, at you.
"Hey," she says, squinting so deeply you're surprised she can see anything. "You... you got Kyouko out from that one place, huh? She told me all about it."
"Where else would I go to be grievously maimed?" you say. "I certainly didn't get it from this place."
She smiles, sickly but genuine. "Heh. You're all right." That smile capsizes quicker than a canoe with a you-sized hole in the bottom. "Now give me a dose of your techno-future magic drug bullshit or I will tear your face off."
"That's... certainly one way of asking," you say, leaning back in case she actually goes for it. Kyouko's mouth is hanging open as she stares at Mystia in genuine horror, and everyone else tenses up in case the birdie tries something. "But I completely understand where you're coming from." You pat the top of the mech. "Permission granted. Dispense at will."
"Hooray!" it says, and immediately sprays Mystia down.
The moment the mist wafts over her, Mystia's knees give out, the goofiest smile imaginable taking control of her face. "Hiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii~"
Everyone present is struck dumb by her reaction, which lasts until she topples onto her back, giggling like a moron.
"Um," Kyouko says, frowning worriedly as she holds her hands palms-out in an apologetic gesture. "Sorry she threatened to kill you?"
You wave her concerns off. "I don't mind. Anyway, it's been real, but I have to go."
She lowers her hands, looking like you just punted her in the kidney. "What, just like that? You're leaving?"
Even as she says that, the four of your men head for the Valkyrie's passenger compartment, LG carrying the mech along. As they get to work evicting the fairy stowaways, Meiling carefully steps around Mystia, the better to stand ahead of you.
"Well, for one, I desperately need proper medical treatment, instead of relying on first-aid spray," you say. "Unless you can offer me something better, I'm afraid I have to leave."
"But I-" Kyouko shuts up and breaks eye contact, finding the dirt at her feet a much better target to stare down.
"But you what?" you press, and she shrinks down on herself further.
She fidgets for a few seconds before she takes a deep breath, clenches her fists, and looks you eye-to-eye, her expression resolute. "Well, I... I wanted to spend a bit more time with you before you had to go. I don't know when you might come back around, you know?"
How can one girl be so cute. How.
"I gotta admit, that was a question I was going to ask," Meiling says, pausing to swat at a fly before she continue. "Not often we get people quite like yourself around here."
Mystia giggles. "The sky is so pretty..."
"Leaving aside your high-as-a-kite friend," you say, firmly redirecting Kyouko's attention to you, "I can't put an exact time-table on when I might be able to get out again." You gesture at yourself. "I mean, really, look at me. This doesn't fix itself, you know!"
Kyouko sighs, deflating before your eyes. "I get what you mean."
"Well, hey, cheer up," you say, laying your hand on her shoulder. "I'll be sure to visit you first thing."
Meiling clears her throat.
"Still first thing," you say, refusing to change your mind for the big reason of Meiling repeatedly punched you in the face.
While Meiling scowls, Kyouko's face scrunches up as she tries to suppress a laugh. "All right, I'm glad to hear it!"
"Sir?" LG calls, leaning out of the ship. "I appreciate that you want to talk, but we really should be going!"
"Well, that's my cue. Kyouko? Meiling?" you say, and both women perk up. "It's been horrible, with the exception of you two."
Meiling coughs meaningfully.
"And also Remilia and Flandre, I suppose," you say, shrugging. "Even with all the murder attempts."
The redhead gives you a thumbs-up.
"And now I'm afraid it's time to leave you all behind." You pat Kyouko on the shoulder. "Try not to get kidnapped again, would you? I don't want to get maimed further breaking you out."
She merely smiles. "I gotcha. Stay safe, you hear me?"
"I still have to beat you up in a fair fight!" Meiling says, working her knuckles over. "Don't go dying from medical complications or some other crap until I get that much from you, you got me?"
"I'll try to avoid the pitfalls of the dangerous warzone that is the medical ward," you reply, dry as sand. "Now, ladies, if you'll excuse me?"
They step aside, leaving you a clear path to the ship. Both stay quiet as you trudge past them and climb aboard, helped in by LG. You sit down in the spot closest to the door, buckle in, and look back outside. With Mystia zoning out and Meiling and Kyouko watching, you take off; Kyouko waves goodbye as you rise up, while Meiling merely folds her arms and nods when your eyes meet hers.
They stay like that until the ship door closes, leaving you and your men in the dim red lighting of this compartment. Finally, finally, you're able to relax. You sag back in your seat and release a breath you didn't realize you'd been holding.
The exhaustion follows in quick order, the knowledge of your safety at last tearing down the walls that adrenaline had erected. You allow your eyes to drift shut and take simple comfort in the motion of your flight.
Christ Almighty, it feels like you've been doing this for years.
[X] One hour: emergency treatment completed, leg amputated, suit footage reviewed, initial debriefing.
[X] One day: in-depth treatment completed, replacement limb attached, full debriefing.
Cannot fast-forward any further at this juncture.