“La vraie bravoure est montrée en exécutant sans témoin ce que l’on pourrait être capable de faire avant tout le monde”* ~ François de la Rochefoucauld* “True bravery is shown by performing without witness what one might be capable of doing before all the world”
---- IFS Akane: Flight Deck A — Ready room
---- 11:45 Hours
Yoshika and Lynne found Commander Wilcke in a duty office, just off the flight deck — head buried in a stack of diagrams and charts, pencil tapping against the desk in a syncopated staccato.
The Strike Witches leader didn’t need to see the face or even place the voice. There was only one person who called her ‘Commander Minna’. When the Fuso pilot first joined the squad, she was wholly unable to pronounce ‘Wilcke’ or even make a close approximation. So ‘Commander Minna’ it had become. She was fairly certain Yoshika could properly pronounce it by now, but it would just sound weird coming from her at this point, so she had never pressed the matter.
“Sergeant Miyafuji, I was going to come find you after the briefing. I understand you did some outstanding work today. And you saved the lives of both Lieutenant Juutilainen and Ensign Lucchini. Thank you.”
“Ano,” Yoshika muttered in embarrassment “I helped ma’am, but I certainly didn’t do it on my own.”
“Without you there things would not have gone as smoothly. I was told exactly what happened with Lucchini. If not for your assistance, she would most likely have died. I’m very grateful you were there.” The commander placed her pencil down and turned fully away from the desk to face the young pilot. “Is everything alright? Can I help you with something?”
“Yes, ma’am. I request permission to return to duty.”
That was certainly a surprise. Minna didn’t know the intimate details of Yoshika’s injury, but she knew enough to understand that, even if there was little to no physical damage, there had been serious psychological damage inflicted, that would take a long time to fully heal.
“I appreciate the offer Sergeant, but I think it would be better all around if you remain on the ship. You can still work in sickbay if you wish, of course. I know they would be happy to have you.”
“Ma’am, with due all respect, you need me. They don’t. There are two other healers onboard. We have three of our own squad out of commission. I may not be 100%, but I can pull my own weight,” Yoshika reasoned. “You need me.”
Minna glanced at Lynette as she digested Yoshika’s words. The Britannian girl nodded a ‘yes’, although she looked oddly distressed. Studying Yoshika’s expression carefully, she could see some of the girl’s usual fire re-ignited in her eyes. She also took into consideration the Fuso healer’s actions today. She seemed functional, both mentally and physically. Functional enough to get by, at least. They couldn’t really afford to have anyone sit this battle out. The Karlsland commander sighed deeply and reluctantly relented.
“Very well. If you truly believe you are able to fight, I’ll allow it. On the understanding that if it turns out you can’t, for whatever reason — physical or emotional —you will return here immediately. Not only for your own sake, but for your squad-mates as well. Understand?”
“Yes, ma’am! I understand.”
Minna stood and Yoshika came to attention. “Sergeant Yoshika Miyafuji, you are hereby authorized to return to active duty. Report to your squadron, Sergeant.”
The Fuso pilot saluted her superior. “Yes, ma’am. Thank you, ma’am. You won’t regret it”
“Make sure that I don’t.” Minna answered seriously, returning the salute. “Dismissed.”
Yoshika turned to leave but as she exited, the commander suddenly called her to her.
“Oh, wait. Miyafuji, Clostermann asked to speak with you. Why don’t you go do that now? We’re going to be starting a little late anyway. I’m still waiting for Lieutenant Aisaka’s division to deliver their analysis charts. Besides, the Major is still busy with the Akane pilots, getting some details sorted.”
“Okay, commander,” the brunette ace acknowledged. “I’ll do that right away.”
Yoshika led Lynette by the hand, heading towards the recovery suites. The Britannian girl was working up the courage to tell her love that she didn’t want to visit with Perrine. She was afraid that, if she did, she herself might be the one who would start an altercation. She was still very angry about the Gallian pilot’s actions and words earlier on the atoll.
Lynette had wondered, for a while now, what Perrine’s problem with Yoshika was in the first place. She had never been able to figure it out.
Perrine and herself had joined the 501st at roughly the same time. They had shared quarters briefly, while both the base itself, and the membership of the 501st, was being expanded. Through that shared experience they ended up befriending one another. Although aspects of their personalities were different, they shared many similarities as well. Both were quiet, private individuals, rarely given to socializing. Both were of noble birth — with all of the privileges and responsibilities that entails. And, while Perrine could seem emotionally cold to people, she had always treated everyone with respect. Until the arrival of Yoshika Miyafuji.
The high-born Gallian had been confrontational with Yoshika from day one, calling her naive for her pacifistic nature, and insisting she return to her ‘provincial little village’. Instead of being reserved and stand-offish, like she was with the others, Perrine seemed to delight in tormenting the new arrival, even going out of her way to create conflict. A lot of it was just petty nonsense, and it never made sense to Lynette why it was so. It was as if Yoshika brought out Perrine’s worst nature.
Why would Perrine want to talk Yoshika? Surely she couldn’t be looking to harass Yoshika now…not under these circumstances…not after everything that had happened today. Her brave, beloved soulmate was pushing herself so hard — dealing with so much. Having to listen to Perrine’s childish nonsense right now was the last thing she needed.
Her body trembled with anger as she replayed the scene in her mind. “So, the Great Miyafuji isn’t so great after all.” She balled her free hand into a fist, brow contorting in rage. So lost in thought that she didn’t even notice they had stopped walking until she felt the tiny Fuso maiden grab her by the shoulders.
“Lynne? Lynne, daijoubu?” Yoshika asked with concern. “What’s the matter? I’ve never seen you like this. You look so…angry.”
“N-no. You are wrong,” she stammered, “Nothing is the matter.”
Yoshika fixed her with a knowing look. “You really are bad at telling lies, your emotions are written all over your face.” Then smiling, she added, “You should avoid card games.”
With that, the angry expression became one of mild embarrassment. She let out a quiet laugh, in spite of herself. Her little Fuso maiden always knew how to lighten her mood.
“Alright, I will admit I am a bit upset.”
“Ah! Now I get it,” Yoshika relaxed considerably. “I thought you were mad at me about something.”
“No. Just her. Especially after this morning,” the Britannian grumped. “Sometimes, I wonder why I’m her friend at all.”
“Because she isn’t a bad person,” Yoshika concluded kindly. “She just really doesn’t like me for some reason. I wish I knew why. My okaasan could probably figure it out after talking to her for 10 minutes, but I simply don’t have a clue.”
“Your mother has a degree in psychology, correct?” Lynne asked suddenly, veering off the subject at hand. “Can you talk to her about…umm, you know…what happened?”
“Oh, that,” she acknowledged, shaking her head. “No. That isn’t a good idea. I’m sure she would agree with me. It really isn’t wise to psychoanalyze family members…or anyone emotionally close, for that matter. It’s an art that requires a subjective touch. In fact, she told me I shouldn’t consider it as a course of study, as I would have no affinity for it,” she rubbed the back of her head in embarrassment. “I get too involved.”
“I have no doubt about that.” Lynne responded with a loving smile.
“If something like this had happened a year ago, I may have asked her advice on who to talk to, but now I will figure that out on my own.” Yoshika intoned, resting her forehead against Lynette’s own, “I may still be young, but I am a grown-up now. And, if I’m troubled by anything, I’m not going to run to my mommy…I’m going to run to you.”
Lynne couldn’t think of anything clever or meaningful to say. So instead, she impulsively drew the younger girl close and kissed her. Yoshika smiled into the kiss and returned it with equal fervor. They spent a few precious minutes kanoodling in the secluded companionway, until Lynette finally had to draw back and take a breath.
“Wow,” she muttered. “and we get to do that all the time from now on, huh?”
“Hai,” Yoshika giggled playfully. “I’m looking forward to it.”
The Fuso girl was glad they had this moment alone. Just being with the girl she loved smoothed out all of the rough edges in her soul and sharpened her focus once more. She was now eager to get this show on the road and beat the enemy. They were interfering with her and Lynette’s alone time and, to her, that was more than enough reason to kick some evil, jerk-asses through the black torii.
“Look, let me go see Perrine-san by myself. I’ll be fine. I won’t let her get to me, even though she seems to know how to push my buttons. Why not head on back and let everyone know I’m back on the job. Maybe they’ll be less overwhelming in their welcome if they know I’m coming, ahead of time.”
---- IFS Akane: Deck 3 — Medical bay
---- Recovery suite #2 — 12:15 Hours
Perrine H. Clostermann — former Pilot Officer of the Forces Aériennes Galliaises Libres’ 602nd Flying Corps, current Flight Officer of the Combined Allied Air Force’s 501st Joint Fighter Wing — lay in her bed, bored off her ass. Where the hell was Miyafuji anyway, damn it? She was sure the major relayed her request, although she had given the Gallian pilot an odd look when she made it.
Her gaze lingered on her rapier, which was sheathed and hanging on a coat-tree in the corner of the cabin. A shaft of sunlight, streaming through the porthole, caught the exposed hilt of the blade, reflecting a golden glow. A dimmer glow emanated from the gold leaf inscription, pounded into the leather scabbard and running the length of it. It was a quote from 17th century Gallian writer François de la Rochefoucauld, a contemporary of the Marquis du Clostermann, her paternal ancestor. ’La vraie bravoure est montrée en exécutant sans témoin ce que l’on pourrait être capable de faire avant tout le monde.′ In Britannish, it translated as ‘True bravery is shown by performing without witness what one might be capable of doing before all the world.’
More than a weapon, it was a family heirloom — one of a very few remaining heirlooms of the once-wealthy Clostermann vicomté. And she, it’s last remaining heir. The family estate, the vineyards and the families living and working the land…all these were now hers — as was the responsibility that stemmed from them. At this point, she had liquidated most of the family’s heirlooms and assets, in order to care for those in her employ, as well as repair some of the local infrastructure that had been damaged or destroyed in the Neuroi aggression. And, of course, feeding, clothing and housing close to a dozen children who had been left parentless and homeless.
Nobody else needed to know any of this, though. It was, quite frankly, none of their business.
She glanced up, hearing a light tapping on the frame of the open door, and saw Yoshika peeking her head in sideways.
“Perrine-san, may I come in?”
The Gallian pilot nodded and motioned her to enter. Yoshika waited expectantly for Perrine to tell her what she wanted, but the blonde aristocrat just stared at her for an extended period of time, the atmosphere growing thicker by the moment. Yoshika finally broke the uncomfortable silence.
“Commander Minna said you asked to see me?”
“That’s right,” Perrine acknowledged. “They patched me up well enough, but between the blood loss and the entry wound, they won’t certify me for active duty. I was hoping you would finish the job so I can return to our unit. Will you?”
“Are you okay that it’s me?” Yoshika asked carefully, knowing she wasn’t one of Perrine’s favorite people. “If you’d rather someone else, I know their Lieutenant Winters can do just as good a job as I can.”
“They already offered me her services.” the Gallian answered shortly. “I would prefer yours.”
The statement surprised Yoshika, although she didn’t allow her expression to convey that. She was actually kind of happy that Perrine trusted her that much, considering her ongoing, quite vocal, disparagement. Although it was understandable. Magical healing can be an intimate process, so it made sense that Perrine would rather have Yoshika do it than some random stranger.
“It isn’t trust, exactly,” the Fuso maiden thought to herself. “But I’ll take what I can get, I suppose.”
“Alright then. I’d be happy to help you Perrine-san. I’ll do my best.” Yoshika responded brightly. “Are you ready right now?”
“If it isn’t too much trouble.” the Gallian girl responded, her voice containing a touch of haughtiness — but not as much as usual. It was pretty obvious she was consciously dialing back on her attitude.
“No trouble at all. Let’s get you back on your feet, shall we.”
Gathering her magic and clearing her thoughts, Yoshika began her work. The bullet had gone through clean, somehow missing every vital organ. The wound had been sterilized and dressed, but beyond that there was little more the doctors could do to treat her. There was swelling round the entry and exit wounds from the damaged muscle tissue, as well as internally. All of that could be dealt with fairly easily. This would be simple in comparison to the injuries she had tended to earlier.
It took less than 10 minutes for the young healer to complete her task. She felt satisfaction at another job well done, although that was muted slightly upon studying her patient’s expression. It didn’t look like physical discomfort, but there was something odd about the girl’s demeanor. She looked semi-detached, as if lost in thought.
“Is something wrong?” Yoshika asked carefully. “Do you feel unwell?”
“What?” Perrine looked up, startled. “Oh. No. No, everything seems fine. Nice work.”
Again, just like when Yoshika had entered the room, there was an extended silence that grew more and more uncomfortable. It really looked as if the Gallian ace had something more to say but just wouldn’t or couldn’t say it. Finally Yoshika decided to end the stalemate. If Perrine had something to say to her, it could wait until later. At the moment, she had other things to do.
“I’ll go let the staff know I treated you, okay?” she said in a kind voice, turning to leave. “Someone should come by soon to re-evaluate you and sign off on your release.”
“Wait!” Perrine shouted suddenly. Yoshika stopped short and turned to regard her fellow pilot with a surprised expression.
“Listen, Miyafuji…no…Yoshika. Listen, Yoshika. I want to say I’m sorry. It’s just…I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. I… know that I treat you badly. And I know you’ve done nothing to deserve it.”
The Gallian ace paused for a moment, looking downward, but then lifted her gaze to meet Yoshika’s and forced herself to continue on. She had rehearsed all this in her head but, Gods, it was so hard to just come out and say it.
“Lynette was right. I think maybe I do envy you. I am jealous of you. I’m jealous of how carefree you are. I’m jealous of how you always seem so confidant, even when you have no reason to be. I’m jealous of how freely you speak your mind and how easily you seem to make friends and how you often do as you please without getting into trouble for it and…and…and…”
“And Sakamoto-san, right?” Yoshika asked gently.
“Y-yeah. I thought…I thought that you two were…I don’t know…”
“Sakamoto-san is my senpai. I love her, but not that kind of love. More like a familial love. That’s just how we are in my country with our seniors and our teachers — people that we admire and look up to. I want Sakamoto-san to be proud of me because she saw something in me and took an interest in me. She has done her best to teach me and take care of me. Someday, if I am lucky, I will have a precious kohai to teach and to take care of and I will do the same. Pay it forward, as the Liberions say.”
“Besides” she continued softly. “Lynette is the one I love. She’s the only one for me.”
Perrine finally smiled. It was warm and it was real.
“For what it’s worth, I know that she feels the same way about you. She adores you.”
Yoshika returned the smile and nodded. “Hai.”
“I really am glad for both of you.” Perrine answered softly.
She truly was glad. The Gallian noble had been the first to become aware of the growing infatuation that her Britannian squad-mate had been feeling for the little Fuso girl over the past few months.
Perrine was, for her own reasons, intentionally standoffish with her fellow squad members. She had been with them for close to 18 months now and everyone knew that, although they could rely on her, she wasn’t going to be joining the rest of them at the Officers Club any time soon. However, if Perrine had to name one person on base that she considered a friend, that person would be Lynette. If she wanted to continue being friends with her, she knew that she had to make things right between herself and Yoshika.
“I know it’s asking a lot from you,” she said somewhat timidly. “but could you find it in your heart to forgive me? Could I start over? Could we start over? I’d like to be your friend, if you will still have me as one.”
Yoshika broke into a dazzling grin and took the older girl’s hand in both of her own. “Of course, Perrine-san. There’s nothing to forgive. And I already think of you as my friend.”
The Gallian’s eyes grew bright with unshed tears at that statement.
“Jeez, this girl…” she smiled weakly, giving a trembling laugh that threatened to turn into a major emotional moment. Yoshika decided to bring her in for a hug, so the flustered blonde aristocrat didn’t need to feel the need to say anything more.
It only took a minute or so for the Gallian to regain her composure. Yoshika felt the tension leave the older girl’s body and, when she drew back, the young noblewoman once again looked like her normal self — only now without the tsunderé attitude that Yoshika had long-ago noticed was a projected part of her self. This was Perrine Clostermann with her guard down and her true personality showing. A personality Yoshika had known was there all along. That was why she had never taken many of Perrine’s jibes to heart. She was aware it was part of the Gallian girl’s mask.
“Yoshika. Thank you for helping me. And for giving me another chance.”
“Perrine-san dō itashi mashite.” *You’re welcome Perrine-san*
After Yoshika had left the room, Perrine let out a sigh of relief. This matter had been weighing her down even before Lynette had slapped her senseless back on the atoll. She planned to apologize to Lynne as well, for her uncaring words. She chuckled to herself imaging the embarrassed, flustered reaction she would receive from her Britannian friend.
Or then again, maybe not.
Lynne seemed to have changed quite a bit in the month she had been on the road. Not just the slap and the chewing-out. Her combat style had changed significantly, and she carried herself much more confidently than Perrine had ever seen. If all that was a result of Yoshika’s influence, then more power to her.
However, she felt that that was only part of it. Yoshika had been seriously injured (Perrine was still kicking herself over all that stuff she spewed thoughtlessly) and Lynette had not only cared for her and protected her, she had held her own against a massively overpowered foe.
“The power of love,” she reflected, “truly is an awesome thing.”
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