Proper Path to Glory

Peace, Love and Understanding


---- September 13, 1943
---- Regent's Park, London - Britannia
---- The Home of Ellen Darnell: 21:00 hours

"Miss Miyafuji?"

Yoshika sleepily opened her eyes in response to the voice that was gently trying to awaken her. It took her fuzzy head a few seconds to register where she was. She looked up with bleary eyes. "Klaus-san?"

"I am terribly sorry to disturb you both," he said quietly "but I thought you should know that it is 9pm."

Yoshika's eyes opened wide. "Oh! Oh no. We have to be back on base in half an hour. We'll never make it in time."

This was all her fault, she thought. She had wanted Lynne to rest, knowing that she had been tired from their long day out as well as the now obvious stress she always carried inside of her. She had intended to watch over her, not meaning to fall asleep herself. Before she could panic Klaus placed a gentle hand on her arm.

"I anticipated as much Miss." Klaus told her, still speaking quietly so as not to wake Lynette. "I took the liberty of having the car brought around. We can have you both back to the base in minutes. Please don't worry."

"Sou desu ka? Klaus-san arigato gozaimasu." Yoshika breathed a sigh of relief.

"I'll await you both downstairs." Klaus told her. "Please ask Miss Lynette to stop in the kitchen on her way down. My wife made her a CARE package." He gave Yoshika a wink. "I know it contains a batch of the butter toffee biscuits she loves so well."

Like the stately older gentleman he was, Klaus bowed to her once more and silently made his way out of the room.

Yoshika looked down at the beautiful girl sleeping peacefully in her lap. She hated the thought of disturbing her but they really needed to leave. She leaned over and whispered softly into Lynette's ear. "Lynne-chan, gomenasai, we have to get up now."

Lynette smiled although her eyes remained closed. "It all right Yoshika-chan. I'm awake." She remained lying in Yoshika's lap as she sleepily stretched her arms and arched her body. She finished by turning face up and then opened her eyes and looked directly into Yoshika's own.

Lynette looked… different, Yoshika thought. Something in her eyes was different. Even under normal circumstances, everyday life, Lynne always looked slightly uneasy. She never made extended eye contact with anyone, shifting her gaze as if fearing scrutiny. When around unfamiliar people she would almost visibly shrink into herself.

But now, Lynette's eyes were clear and full of life. No… more than that. They were the eyes of someone who had come to terms with something... who had set a great weight aside. She was still Lynette, but it seemed as if the Lynette she knew had been a slightly blurred version – trapped in amber – and had now broken free of her prison.

"What… happened?" Yoshika wondered.

The gentle smile Lynette wore filled Yoshika with such a radiant warmth. "Hello."

"Hello. Are you feeling ok?"

"Mmmmhmmmm." Lynette answered as she stretched once more. "Marci's butter toffee biscuits. I can't wait." Locking eyes with Yoshika once more she reached up and caressed her cheek in an intimate manner. "Are you ready?"

Yoshika suddenly found she had forgotten how to breathe. All she could manage was to nod yes. The little brunette was absolutely stunned by the manner in which Lynette was acting. Forthright… flirtatious even, like she had been earlier in the day. The intensity of the older girls gaze had her mesmerized.

Lynette sat up shaking off the remaining drowsiness clouding her mind. Standing and offering Yoshika her hand, she said "Shall we go then?"

Yoshika took the offered hand, allowing Lynette to pull her up from the sofa. She got another surprise when Lynette wrapped her arms around Yoshika's waist and drew her close. Hugging the tiny brunette tightly she spoke softly in her ear. "Thank you so much for today. I cannot imagine having a more wonderful day or spending it with a more wonderful person."

Lynne then pulled back a bit so she could look at Yoshika directly. "You mean everything in the world to me. I just want you to know that." Releasing her hold, Lynette turned and headed for the door.

It took Yoshika a moment to collect herself. She just stood there processing everything that had just happened over the last two minutes. Savoring the feeling of Lynette's arms around her, of Lynette's warm breath as she whispered in her ear, of Lynette's sparkling eyes holding her captive…

"Are you coming Yoshika-chan?"

"Oh! H-hai."

Klaus was just about to walk out the door when the girls reached the main foyer. "Ah, Miss Lynette. I'll be waiting in the car for you. I believe you still have a few minutes. Marci has been waiting to see you, if you don't mind."

"Of course." Lynette said. "Thank you so much Klaus."

"Not at all Miss." The butler answered with a smile.

Lynne turned to Yoshika, clasping both of her hands. "I really wanted you to meet Marci but we simply don't have the time right now. I hope one day you will come back here with me so I can introduce you properly."

"I will Lynne-chan. I promise." Yoshika assured her. "Ano… my head's still a bit muzzy from that nap. I'll wait for you outside, ok? I think some fresh air will wake me up."

"Okay. I'll be as quick as I can." Releasing Yoshika's hands, Lynne hurried down the hallway towards the kitchen.

Yoshika watched her disappear into a doorway and then she walked out the front entrance. The crisp night air filled her lungs and cleared her mind. Zipping up her jacket and stuffing her hands in the pockets, she leaned against the granite railing of the porch and raised her head to take in the night sky.

Not many stars were visible due to the light pollution a massive city like London threw off, but some shone through. The smell of fireplaces lit against the autumn chill tinged the air. It was quiet save for the background noise of the occasional vehicle passing by.

"She loves me. She's been trying so hard to tell me all this time and I've been blind to it."

Yoshika thought back to all the times they had shared since they had met a few months earlier. The memories of everything that made Lynette so special to Yoshika came to the forefront of her mind.

And also… that day… That horrible day.

Looking at it from this perspective, she suddenly realized that both of them had probably misunderstood the entire situation. She had been angry about Commander Minna's seemingly unfair restrictions on the flight crew. She was upset because she felt like the men were being discriminated against. But… what if Lynne thought she was upset for an entirely different reason?

They had both jumped to conclusions. Lynette because of her low self-esteem and herself because she was being completely stupid.

She thought about today's events.

Yoshika replayed the entire day in her mind. Lynette had been attentive and engaged. Yoshika was so happy to see her friend truly enjoying herself that she hadn't given any thought as to why she seemed so different. Little intimate gestures made during their outing recalled themselves to her. Then coming here… their interaction in the arboretum – Lynne's special place.

"Lynne-chan planned the entire day around us arriving at this point. Her equivalent of hitting me over the head with a 2x4." A regretful smile tugged at her lips. "I truly am an idiot. How could I not see it?"

"Lynne-chan," she thought sadly "please forgive me. I didn't understand. But I do now."

Determination filled her soul.

"I love you too and tonight I will let you know. I'm sorry for making you wait so long."

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

Lynette entered the warmly lit kitchen. There, sitting at the table sipping her tea was Marci. Like her husband Klaus, she was in her mid-50's. Even wearing a maid's uniform, she projected a motherly aura that Lynette had cherished after the passing of her own mother.

Marci got up from the table and rushed to Lynne, enveloping her in a warm hug. "Hello, dear. It's good to see you." She was beaming even though tears threatened to spill out. "I've missed you so very much."

Lynette was also overcome with emotion. For over three years this woman had taken care of her, worried over her and loved her as much as she did her own children. "I'm sorry I didn't make more time to visit Marci. I didn't even know I was coming until this morning."

"It's all right dear, I understand. You're doing a very important job." The older woman assured her. "I know you haven't forgotten us."

They broke apart from their hug and Lynette took a nostalgic look around the kitchen. The arrangement of fresh flowers on the wide windowsill. The biscuit jar, as always, filled with Marci's baked goods. But the refrigerator looked different. It was plastered with photos and news clippings held by magnets or scotch-tape. They covered the side and part of the door.

Photos of Capel-le-Ferne and of her squadron. Most of them, however, were of her… usually along with another member of the squadron. And in the majority of those, Yoshika was the squad member she was pictured with. Marci followed her gaze.

"The 501st are in the news a lot it seems." She said with an air of pride in her voice. "You and your friends are really amazing Lynne. You've grown so much… done so well. I'm so very proud of you"

She took Lynette's hand and together they walked over to the refrigerator. She pointed at one of the pictures. "That's the girl you brought with you, right?"

Lynette blushed slightly. "Yes. Her name is Yoshika." She answered breathlessly. "She's my most precious friend. I wanted you to meet her, but I… kind of fell asleep." She finished in embarrassment.

"Klaus told me she seems like a fine young lady." Marci said kindly. "So... when are you going to tell her?"

"Huh?" Lynne looked confused. "Tell her?"

"That you're in love with her." Marci stated simply.

Lynette's eyes opened wide. "How…?"

"How did I know?" she gave Lynne a gentle smile and stroked her hair. "My dear, I've raised four daughters. I certainly know the look of a girl in love."

"Well, I-I'm working on that now, actually. I've been dropping a lot of hints lately. Especially today." Laughing softly, she added, "Yoshika is very smart, but sometimes she can be completely clueless."

"Hmm. Sounds like Klaus." Marci chuckled. Lynne hugged her again tightly. Marci held her tenderly and they remained like that for a moment. Lynne had missed this warmth and feeling of security.

Reluctantly, Lynette finally broke the embrace. "I'm so sorry, but I really have to go." Her voice was full of regret. "If we're not back at the base on time we'll get into trouble."

"I know dear. It's alright." Marci assured her. "Best get going then. Just promise me you'll come home again as soon as you are able."

"I promise I will. Is… is it ok to bring Yoshika with me too?"

"You'd better bring her. I want to meet this girl who has stolen your heart."

Lynette giggled happily. Glancing at the kitchen counter she spied something else. Giving Marci her best puppy-dog look she said. "Ummm… butterrr tofffeeee?"

The maid looked heavenward with a poorly-suppressed grin, then walked over to the counter near the stove and picked up a box carefully wrapped in plain brown paper. She handed the package to Lynette, ruffled her hair and kissed her on the cheek. Then, grabbing her shoulders, she spun the girl around and shooed her out the door with a pat on the behind.

"Off with you."

She waved goodbye... and allowed the tears to come.

"Please take good care of yourself Lynette. Please come home safely."

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

The sound of the opening door pulled Yoshika from her thoughts. Lynette closed the door gently and turned to face her friend. She looked extremely happy, Yoshika thought, although it looked as if she had been crying a bit too. It was quite obvious that these people meant a lot to Lynette.

She wished they didn't have to rush. Lynne had been looking more alive than she had ever seen. She hoped it would continue. They walked to the car together. Klaus got out and opened the rear door. He took each girl firmly by the hand and assisted them in.

He looked through the window at Lynne and his serious, professional face melted into a grin. He winked at her and said "You've only got 10 minutes Miss. I believe this could technically be considered a matter of State, wouldn't you think?"

Yoshika was confused. Even more so when Lynne's only response was to smile and nod.

They started moving quickly down the residential street and soon came to a main artery. Klaus pulled in to traffic and immediately cut into the far-right lane where punched the accelerator, passing car after car. Yoshika leaned over to Lynne and whispered. "Isn't Klaus-san worried about getting a speeding ticket?"

"My Aunt Ellen works for the Foreign Ministry." Lynne explained with a hint of amused embarrassment. "This car has Diplomatic plates. We could probably rob a bank and not get pulled over."

When Yoshika arched her eyebrow Lynne chuckled. "Well, maybe not rob a bank but…" Both of them laughed.

The ride continued on in a comfortable silence. Yoshika watched the streets of London pass by and began thinking about what she was going to do tonight and how she was going to do it. Unnoticed by Yoshika, Lynette had been carefully unwrapping her package. She was lost in thought, staring out of the window when Lynette suddenly startled her.

"Yoshika-chan!"

When Yoshika jerked her head around Lynette stuffed a cookie into her mouth. She was rewarded by the comical look of confusion on Yoshika's face.

"Butter Toffee Biscuit." Lynne said simply with a playful look. "They're addictive."

As Yoshika munched on the cookie Lynette leaned her head to rest on Yoshika's shoulder. Once more Yoshika felt completely flustered. Her pulse raced.

"She's being so adorable. I'm going to confess to her. And I know she'll say yes… probably. So why do I feel so nervous? I don't do 'nervous'."

Jittery butterflies danced in her stomach.

"This is either going to be a lot easier than I thought or a lot harder than I thought."


---- RAF Mildenhall Officers Club: 22:15 hours

Charlotte sat at a table in a darker corner of the bar along with Corporal Fiske, a Jack and Coke and a second pitcher of beer. They were pleasantly buzzed and were watching Francesca and Vince Mallory shoot pool.

"They certainly get along well." Charlotte observed.

"Yeah." Fiske agreed. "I think Vince is really enjoying hanging out with someone closer to his own age for once." he laughed. "To him, Padric and I are the 'old guys'."

Charlotte laughed as well. "I know what you mean. I'm not even 20 but I feel old compared to Lucchini, Miyafuji and Bishop."

Fiske rocked his chair back on two legs and fished around in his pocket for a cigar. He bit the tip and lit it. Noticing Charlotte watching with interest he asked. "You want one?"

"Hell, yes. A necessity when drinking." She reached over and took the offered cheroot. She got it lit, took a few puffs and sat back in contentment. "I know it bothers some people, but I just love the smell of these. It really takes me back."

Fiske took a sip of his beer and waited for Charlotte to continue.

"I used to hang out with my granddad a lot. His office and the hanger always smelled like cigar smoke. So cigars just remind me of good times."

"Hanger?" Fiske questioned. "Was he a pilot too?"

"Yup. He was a pilot in the World War and in his later years he ran a crop dusting service. Did some barnstorming too. Texans love that stuff." Her smile was happy but wistful.

"He taught me to how fly a plane, how to ride a motorcycle. He gave me his old Indian Chief for my 12th birthday. And this jacket," she tugged the collar "although it was way too big for me at the time."

"That's pretty cool." Fiske grinned. He then stood up and headed for the back wall. "I'm gonna go feed the juke, you wanna hear anything in particular."

Charlotte scrunched her brow in thought. "Charlie Parker? John Coltrane would be sweet if they got him."

The Corporal nodded in approval. "You're into hard bop? Awesome."

While Fiske was occupied Charlotte once again turned her scrutiny to the youngsters. It looked like Mallory had won the current round. Francesca was playfully punching him in the arm.

Fiske sat back down at the table just as the first few chords of 'Tracitisim' started playing. Charlotte gave him a surprised look. "Oscar Peterson? No way. Sweet!"

They sat for a while just enjoying the music and their cigars. A shout rang out as Mallory won yet another round of pool, leading Charlotte to believe that Francesca was most likely letting him win. Not obviously though. She was making him work for it.

"I wonder if he likes her?" Charlotte mused.

"Well, yeah. I'm sure he does, but not in the way that you mean. Vince is gay." Fiske explained. "Actually, that's kinda how he ended up with us in the first place."

Charlotte was intrigued. "How do you mean?"

Fiske hesitated for a moment but decided there was no harm in telling the story. "When he told his parents his dad kicked him out of the house. Told him to never come back..."

"What the hell's with that?" Charlotte interrupted. "It's no big deal. I mean same-sex marriage has been legal in Liberion since, what, 1923?"

"Yeah, I know. But Vince is from a particularly deep part of the Deep South. For some of those flatlanders it's still the 1800's, y'know?" He sighed. "Poor kid. I know it hurt him pretty badly. You can tell he still idolizes his dad even though he was treated so shabbily."

"So," he continued "long story short, Vince enlisted and ended up testing with a high aptitude for aviation. He was already through the program when it was found out that he had lied about his age. He would have been discharged but he was only a couple of months short at that point. Rather than having wasted all that time and money training him, they just placed him on administrative leave until his birthday."

He filled his glass once more, emptying the pitcher. Charlotte turned towards the bar signaling for another, then turned her attention back to Fiske.

"So, as things worked out, we ended up babysitting him." He smiled at the memory. "Padric… Lt. Hughes I mean and I were both on medical furlough from a pretty bad engagement. We were the only two survivors of our squadron, so we were at loose ends until we were to get slotted again."

Charlotte gave him a questioning look. "The only two survivors? What happened?"

"The Battle of Khartoum." He stated simply.

Charlotte drew in a sharp breath. "Oh, my god. You were 42nd Airborne?"

Fiske nodded shortly.

Charlotte reached across the table and placed her hand over his, giving it a squeeze. "I'm so sorry."

"We lost a lot of good people that day. I lost a lot of good friends." Fiske looked at her slightly misty-eyed. "But in the end, there we were and we ended up taking Vince under our wing. He became our way of focusing on getting past everything. Padric took him home on leave and now his wife has pretty much adopted him." His smile became more genuine again. "When we're off duty, Padric treats him like a surrogate son. I guess we three are pretty close."

"And, as it turned out, we were in the right place at the right time to get picked for the M.A.G.U.S. program." He chuckled at the irony. "Two messed up guys without a squadron and one wet-behind-the-ears kid. A match made in heaven."

They sat again in silence for a while, simply drinking and enjoying the atmosphere. Their liaison, Corporal Donnelly, approached them. "Excuse me, ma'am. I checked the duty log like you asked. Sargent Bishop and Sargent Miyafuji signed in at 21:23."

"Thanks Corporal." Charlotte acknowledged. "Hmm. I wonder why they didn't show up? I left a note on their door telling them we would be here."

"Well, there was a note on their door," Donnelly informed her "but it said 'Do Not Disturb'."

Charlotte raised an eyebrow. "Really?" A smile formed on her lips. "Well then, I guess we shouldn't disturb them."

She gestured to the chair opposite her own. "Can we buy you a drink Corporal?"

"Thank you ma'am, but I still have a ton of stuff left to do to get ready for tomorrow." She gave a salute and headed out the door.

Charlotte turned her attention back to Fiske. "That reminds me, what's up between you and Sargent Miyafuji? She was giving you some pretty intense glares at dinner yesterday. It was definitely out of character for her."

Fiske had been hoping the subject wouldn't come up but there was no avoiding it. He hoped Captain Yeager wouldn't be too angry with him. It felt like they were just becoming friends and he was sure her attitude would change now. But he wasn't going to lie to her.

So he laid it all out for her. How he tried to score with Sargent Bishop, her reaction and his ignorance and Sargent Miyafuji's intervention. All of it.

He finished the story and glanced at Charlotte to gauge her reaction. To his amazement, she burst out laughing. "Well, that explains a lot. I was going to say Yoshika wouldn't hurt a fly. But if that fly deigned to disturb her Princess she'd probably commit fly genocide."

"So they are together. I figured that out after the fact."

"Sadly, no." Charlotte told him.

"Huh?"

"It's obvious they are madly in love with one another." Charlotte sighed. "Everyone can see it except themselves. And so far, neither one has had the courage to do anything about it."

Fiske raised his shot-glass. "Ah youth."

Charlotte raised hers as well. "Indeed."

They both knocked back their drinks and slammed the glasses on the table.

"Set up another round?" Charlotte asked her fellow Liberion aviator.

"You buying?"

"Sure, why not. I got an increase in pay grade along with my promotion." She said happily.

Fiske flashed her a grin. "Outstanding."


---- Abingdon Hall Guest Quarters: 21:32 hours

Yoshika and Lynette walked down the hall towards their room. Approaching their door they saw a note taped to it. Out of the corner of her eye, Yoshika noticed Lynne furrow her brow slightly as she read the note.

We're all at the Officer's Club.
You should come join us when
you get back. - Shirley

"Do you want to go Yoshika-chan?"

"Not really. I just want to stay in and relax for the rest of the night." Yoshika told her. "Is that ok?"

Lynette successfully kept the look of relief off her face. "Yes. I feel the same way. I just want to get cleaned up and ready for bed."

Yoshika peeled the note from the door and opened it for Lynne to enter. She placed the note on the desk by her bed while Lynne walked over to the desk on her side of the room and started to unpack her Care package.

"Oh. Marci put in a box of Earl Gray." Lynette noticed. "We have a hot pot. Would you like me to heat up some water and make us both a cup of tea?"

"That would be swell Lynne-chan." Snagging a towel, a pair of panties and her nightgown Yoshika headed for the bathroom. "I'll grab a quick shower while you're doing that, ok? That way you can take your time in the shower."

"Ok, Yoshika-chan. Thank you." Lynette answered as Yoshika closed the door.

"She's always so thoughtful of me in everything she does." Lynette's fist clenched in determination. "She does all she can to show me how much she cares. Marci was right. I have to say something. I have to tell her. Tonight"

Yoshika emerged from the bathroom in short order, toweling her hair, a cloud of steam and the fresh scent of soap accompanying her. "I'm done Lynne-chan. It's all yours."

As soon Lynette entered the bathroom and closed the door, Yoshika quickly went over to her desk and opened the drawers looking for something to write with. There were a couple of pens, a set of mechanical pencils and a black magic marker. She took the black marker out, flipped Charlotte's note over and wrote on the back…

Do Not Disturb

After taping the note back on the door she turned on the radio that was on the dresser. A pop station blared out of the speaker. Not the mood Yoshika was trying to set. She scanned the dial until she found a Classical station playing a soothing string selection. "Ah, perfect."

To kill time Yoshika took out the copy of 'Stars and Stripes' she had picked up at the base PX earlier. Sitting down on her bed, she opened the newspaper and paged to the News of the World section to catch up on the events she had missed over the past couple of days.

Engrossed in reading, she didn't even notice the passage of time and before she knew it Lynette was standing before her, freshly showered, holding a cup of tea out for her.

"Anything interesting?" Lynne asked.

"Yeah," Yoshika answered "we're in the news."

She handed the newspaper to Lynne, opened to the page in question. A half-page article headed with a stock photo of the entire 501st, standing in front of a hanger at Capel-le-Fern. Also, four photographs of Charlotte, Gertrude and Erica as well as the M.A.G.U.S. pilots during their staged dogfight.

"I wonder if Shirley has seen this yet." Lynette said as she scanned over the page.

"I don't know." Yoshika replied, sipping her tea. "We'll have to show it to her in the morning."

Lynne was sitting in a chair next to Yoshika's bed reading the news article. Yoshika decided it was now or never. Collecting her nerve she placed the teacup on her nightstand. "Lynne-chan… can we talk for a minute?"

Lynette looked up, startled. "Eh?"

Yoshika had a serious look on her face although she was wearing a soft smile. She patted the empty space next to her on the bed. "Can we… I wanted to talk to you about something."

Lynette's stomach turned queasily. Somehow she knew this was it. But was she about to be confessed to or let down easily? She still wasn't sure. Mentally she tried to prepare herself for the worst. Rising from the chair, she sat down on the bed next to Yoshika. Now that she had committed herself, Yoshika felt eerily calm. She made direct eye contact with Lynette and just allowed the words to flow out.

"Lynne-chan, I wanted to tell you how special today was for me. But the truth is, every single day since I first met you… every single day I've spent with you has been special. You are the sweetest, the gentlest, the most beautiful person I have ever met – inside and out."

She looked up to gauge the effect of her words. Lynette was simply staring at her with a wide-eyed but unreadable expression. She swallowed hard and pressed on, determined to say her piece.

"What I mean to say is… I love you Lynne-chan. I love you and I want you to be my girlfriend. I promise to always cherish you and protect…"

She was cut off as Lynette began to cry. Her hands were held over her mouth and tears were spilling down her cheeks. Yoshika was taken aback for a moment, not quite sure how to interpret Lynne's reaction until she heard Lynne's words, slightly muffled by her hands.

"I'm so glad. I'm so glad," Her eyes were scrunched closed as she sobbed. "Thank you God. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so much."

She gasped for breath. It was safe. She could say it now. Yoshika had finally freed her from all of her doubt and fear. "I love you Yoshika. I love you so very much. I promise I will always take good care of you. I promise will always hold you precious. I… I…"

Yoshika leaned over and took the crying girl gently in her arms. She didn't even notice the tears falling down her own cheeks. They held each other tightly allowing time for both of their emotions to settle.

When they finally moved they moved as one, pulling apart and resting their foreheads on each other, their arms still wrapped intimately around one another. Simply gazing into each others' eyes communicated their feelings more effectively than words ever could.

As one, their lips met in the softest, sweetest, most passionate kiss imaginable. After a long while their lips separated but otherwise they remained as they were. Again, their feelings and thoughts transmitted in their gazes.

As one, they came together for another kiss, only this one was deeper and much more intimate. Yoshika nipped at Lynne's bottom lip and slid her tongue in when Lynne parted her lips slightly. Yoshika, having previous experience, took the lead and Lynette gladly allowed it.

Eventually, Yoshika became bolder with her touches, sending shivers of desire throughout Lynne's body. She suppressed the impulse to tense up. Part of her mind told her she wasn't ready, but she was prepared to allow Yoshika to do as she pleased. She would do whatever she needed to do in order to keep Yoshika by her side forever.

However, Yoshika sensed her hesitation and eased off before she lost control herself. There was no need to rush. They had all the time in the world now. She eased them both down until they were lying on the bed next to each other. They had still not let go of one another.

Continuing to kiss and touch, intimately and lovingly rather than erotically, Lynette felt as if her soul was about to escape her body. She knew it wasn't a dream. Her dreams had never felt this wonderful.

"I love you Yoshika." She whispered softly.

"So it's Yoshika now instead of Yoshika-chan?" the tiny Fuso maiden teased gently.

"W-well, in your culture, 'chan' is used for close friends. But when you become… intimate with someone you just call them by their name. That's how it works, right?"

Delicate fingers softly caressed the Britannian girl's cheek.

"Yes, Lynne." Yoshika answered with a smile "That's how it works."


---- September 14, 1943
---- RAF Mildenhall Shared Flight Facilities
---- Abingdon Hall: 07:17 hours

The "Propaganda Squad" was waiting in the entrance hall for their final two members to make their appearance. The plan was to eat breakfast together and go over any last minute details before the main event. Even though Francesca, Mallory and even Lt. Hughes were shuffling with impatience, Charlotte continued to chat with Fiske unconcernedly. The two girls still had twelve minutes and neither one was in the habit of being late.

Charlotte had been a quite worried about Yoshika and Lynette lately.

It had been obvious, to her at least, that the two cared for one another deeply. It had also been obvious that they had hit a bad bump in their rocky not-quite-courtship a couple of weeks earlier. Both girls had lost their exuberance. Yoshika's outgoing nature had been a bit subdued and Lynette had begun to withdraw from people once more.

Something had changed yesterday. Right before they all left Capel-la-Ferne. They both seemed to act more themselves again, both with the squadron and with each other. After her conversation with Corporal Fiske last night, she had a feeling she knew what the catalyst was.

Charlotte liked both girls immensely and she really hoped that they would find each other's hearts. They were good girls and they deserved every bit of happiness they could get.

So it was no surprise when, looking up, she felt a wave of joy wash over her at the sight she was greeted with. Yoshika and Lynette were approaching them, walking side-by-side, chatting animatedly with one another, giggling and (She raised an eyebrow. This was new.) holding hands.

"Well. You girls are quite lively this morning." Charlotte teased. "Did something good happen?"

"G-good?" Yoshika yelped. "H-hai. It was… ummmm… we we we…" She looked at Lynette with an unreadable expression on her face.

"We had such a wonderful time yesterday." Lynne interjected breezily. "We had lunch. Oh. Yoshika had her first milkshake." She looked upward in thought. "We went shopping. Right Yoshika?"

"H-hai." Although looked rather embarrassed she was wearing a broad smile. "I, umm, bought a… you know… book."

"Yes." Lynette let go of Yoshika's hand and wrapped her arms around the smaller girls shoulders, squeezing her tightly. "She bought this really old, rare book for her grandmother. Isn't she the most thoughtful girl?"

Charlotte was thoroughly enjoying the spectacle she was seeing. Yoshika, timid and stammering, while Lynette picked up the conversation and covered for her. It was as if they had switched roles. She wanted to laugh out loud but she was afraid they might take it the wrong way.

Yoshika's face threatened to turn a color not found in nature. "Y-Yeah, so… breakfast right? Let's go."

She clasped Lynne's hand once again and started to drag her towards the Mess Hall. Lynette looked over her shoulder at the others as she was being hauled off. She was wearing the brightest smile anyone had ever seen her give. "I guess we'll see you there." She said giggling happily.

The five pilots just stood there for a moment, recovering from the gale-force storm of love that had just passed them by.

Finally, Mallory simply said. "Wow."

"Wow, indeed." Charlotte deadpanned.

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

The first hour of the press conference was all about the MAGUS'. The girls were seated in the VIP section. Up on the stage, the three pilots stood in front of their respective machines.

The MAGUS units stood at roughly eight and a half feet tall. An electrostatic seam ran down the front of the unit, allowing pilots access to the flight harness. In spite of its size and bulk, it was rather easy to control. The grey matter armor was surprisingly light and flexible.

R&D hadn't been able to replicate the Neuroi particle beam. Instead, a weapon's rack was mounted across the back of the units holding a variety of ranged weaponry. The propellers, mounted on the bottom third of the legs similar to a Striker unit, were canted at an odd 17˚ angle and the upper housing covered by a shroud or wind baffle.

Flash bulbs were popping as the media eagerly snapped pictures of the MAGUS Units and the pilots. That all stopped as a uniformed man climbed the stairs on the left side of the stage and walked to the podium.

Yoshika make a squeak of recognition. "Ano… that shady-looking guy is the one that left the party early with Commander Minna and Sakamoto-san." She whispered to Charlotte.

"That's General Maloney." Charlotte answered. "Shady definitely describes him."

Everyone quieted down as General Maloney began to speak.

"Ladies and gentlemen, members of the press corps, thank you for coming out today. As you all know, we are here to announce the development and deployment of a new weapon that will give our troops the fighting edge we have been sorely lacking in this ongoing conflict.

The Neuroi crossed the gulfs of space to invade our planet, using technology we simply couldn't match up against… until now."

He half-turned to indicate the MAGUS units on the stage behind him.

"Our researchers have been able to adapt salvaged Neuroi technology and reverse-engineer it to create the ultimate fighting machine. Something that can stand up to the Neuroi's overwhelming advantage."

Charlotte frowned. "Bullshit. He's lying. After a core is destroyed there's nothing left to salvage."

She became more attentive to what Maloney was saying. Although she still hadn't figured out how the so-called 'Core Fragments' that powered the MAGUS were acquired, she knew instinctively and from experience that Maloney's statement about reverse-engineered technology was a complete load.

"Our only lines of defense so far have been the Witch units stationed on the front lines. But they are not enough. All they have ever been able to do is slow down the enemy advances. But we cannot rely on them to achieve a decisive victory.

Witches may be more powerful than normal humans… stronger… but they still have human frailties. They can still weaken. They can still be hurt. They can still die. Ultimately they are no different, no better, than we are."

Francesca gave Charlotte a puzzled look. "Shirley? Why does it sound like he hates us?"

Charlotte gave her a reassuring pat on the head. "I don't know kiddo. He certainly isn't being very nice" Right now, she didn't have a good answer. She focused on Maloney once more, recognizing the tone of a speech wrapping up.

"The MAGUS deployment with Karlsland's 117th Luftwaffe will be the precursor to a mass production effort, in order to equip our troops to meet this challenge head-on and decisively put this war to an end. Thank you for your support."

There was applause, although obviously not as loud or as enthusiastic as Maloney would have liked. He frowned at the crowds' lukewarm response. As he walked off the stage he glared at the MAGUS pilots.

"You boys better put on one hell of a show."

☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

The staged demonstration had been going on for about 15 minutes. They had just completed two of the four scheduled engagements, with neither side able to claim an overwhelming victory, as was planned. This was basically a show of strength and talent to impress the crowds.

Francesca had been matched against Vince Mallory, Charlotte against Lieutenant Hughes and Yoshika against Bill Fiske.

Sparing a glance at the crowds below, Yoshika saw Lynette jumping up and down, screaming like a cheerleader. Gripped by an uncharacteristic impulse, she decided she was going to show off a bit.

She left herself open for Fiske to begin a strafing run. At the same instant that he unleashed a salvo, she banked steeply upward and to the left, looping backwards and rotating on her primary flight axis. She ended up behind and slightly below his flight path. Adjusting her attitude slightly brought her up, directly behind him.

For his part, Fiske was rather impressed. "Not bad, kid." he thought. "Want to get fancy, huh? Try this on for size."

The maneuver wasn't in any book or manual. He had come up with it himself. There was no book or manual for a MAGUS unit. He and Vince and Lieutenant Hughes… they were writing it as they went along. He flipped on his back and dove downwards.

As he anticipated, Yoshika matched his maneuver. He continued his downward trajectory and did a mental five-count. Abruptly, he cut his engines, spilled the rudders and restarted the engines so that he was now flying perpendicular to his former trajectory. It was an extremely difficult maneuver that had taken him weeks of practice to get right.

As he charged forward he reached into his weapons rack and pulled the HS.404 Autocannon. This puppy fired a 20mm shell although currently, of course, it was a 20mm paintball. Flipping on his back once more he fired.

However, in the space where his target should be was only empty air. Slightly stunned by his miscalculation, he frantically scanned the area trying to locate his missing quarry. At the last instant he realized she was directly above him, diving toward him at full speed. He dodged to the right and narrowly missed being nailed by her volley.

Fully expecting Yoshika to continue her dive he made ready to perform an Immelmann to end up on her tail. He stared in disbelief as the young Fuso girl cut her engines, spilled her rudders and restarted... flawlessly imitating his earlier maneuver. His maneuver. "Impossible!" was all he could think, as he was once more forced on the defensive.

He opened his throttles full on with Yoshika hot on his tail. With his attention focused on his pursuer he didn't see what suddenly manifested directly in front of him. He was running full tilt when he pancaked into Yoshika's shield. The MAGUS rang like a gong with the impact and Fiske's head did the same.

He quickly regained his senses only to find himself unable to move, trapped against the young Witch's shield as she willed it to accelerate towards her. Before he could react at all he was painted head to toe with dummy rounds.

The headset crackled in his ear. "Fiske-san, are you all right?"

He couldn't help but smile hearing the genuine concern evident in the girl's voice. "I'm fine Sargent. Thanks." He answered. "I've got to say that was some pretty slick maneuvering. I'm impressed."

As he glanced down at the crowd he happened to spot Lynette clapping like mad and gazing directly at Yoshika wearing an expression of complete adoration. "Hmmm. It is quite obvious, Miss Scarlet, that I am not the only one who is impressed."

"Why, Ashley Wilkes." Yoshika answered demurely in an affected Southern Liberion accent. "Ah am quite certain that ah have no idea what you are talking about."

"Pegged her for a movie buff." Fiske thought with a laugh. "I'm glad we can talk normally now." He watched as Yoshika did a three-quarter barrel and zipped to the far side of the arena.

"You really are something else Sargent." He shook his head in admiration. "I'm sure everyone is expecting great things from you." With that, he gunned his suit's engines and flew back to his side of the arena to ready himself for one more round.

~ …to be continued ~

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