Proper Path to Glory

Myriad Connections



---- September 14th, 1943
----
RAF Mildenhall Festival Grounds

There was a very good reason General Maloney’s speech casting aspersions on Witch’s and Witch-centric military units didn’t go over well with this crowd.

Ever since the fall of Gallia, London and much of the surrounding countryside had been under almost constant state of bombardment. The Neuroi seemed determined to take full advantage of the momentum they had gained in the Mediterranean Theatre and the Belgian front. The citizenry were well aware of the bravery and strength of the courageous girls who put themselves in harms way in order to protect those who could not protect themselves.

Also, a great many of those in attendance were refugees... survivors of the razing of Cardiff and ‘Operation: Spearhead’ only 22 months earlier. The only reason they were alive was because of the 501st Joint Fighter Wing.

--

Twenty-two months earlier, the 501st had famously been under the command of the outspoken, larger-than-life, Colonel Hanna Murphy. An indomitable force of nature who was often spoken of with the same sense of awe as MacArthur or Rommel.

At the age of 25, Hanna was well past the retirement age of most witches. However, she was one of those rare specimens whose powers did not wane significantly in adulthood. Most who knew her attributed that to sheer cussedness.

It was during her tenure that the 501st gained wide-spread notoriety - acting as the first line of defense against the Gallian-based Neuroi aggression on London and its environs. They got the dirty jobs done - although not without cost.

At this point in the war, the 501st had a higher than normal rate of personnel rotation. This latest batch of newcomers were proving to be quite promising. Hanna’s newly assigned second-in-command, Major Minna Dietlinde-Wilcke, was a wonder. Initially, the Colonel had been a bit concerned about the girls age but soon understood that those fears were unfounded.

The youngest Ranking Field Officer in the theater, Minna was reliable and as no-nonsense as they come while on the clock. Off-duty though, she was accessible, easy-going and sported a surprisingly wicked sense of humor. She was capable of being on friendly terms with her pilots without undermining her own authority. Not an easy juggling act for some.

Major Wilcke wasn’t the only new face in the 501st. Captain Sakamoto Mio, Lieutenant Takei Junko - a long-time friend of Captain Sakamoto - and tag-along transfer Elizabeth Beurling, the kukri-wielding troublemaker who would eventually be transferred to the Suomus IVAS [the so-called Suomus Misfit Squad].

On November 11th 1941, while the bulk of the Allied military’s Europa-based forces were deployed against escalating enemy action along the Karlsland-Orussian border, the 501st Joint Fighter Wing – ‘Murphy’s Marauders’ as they were called at the time – were the only battle-capable Witch unit in the vicinity when the Neuroi launched a sneak attack along Britannia’s under-protected southwestern coast.

Caught by the short hairs, personnel stretched thin and unable to mount an appropriate response, Central Command quickly determined that Cardiff would simply have to fall.

Colonel Murphy was instructed to take her squadron and arrest any Neuroi advance until Military and Civil rescue teams could evacuate the citizenry. Once on the scene, Murphy ascertained that their job was going to be a lot tougher than simply holding off multiple waves of attacking ships.

Neuroi hunter drones and small attack craft, even in these numbers, were manageable. The problem was the presence of three massive Neuroi craft that the military had classified as Dreadnoughts. Distinctive in their design, the Dreadnoughts were never used in battle. They were the vanguard that established Hives in captured territory.

Once complete, the Hive would meld with the land and begin to emit a slowly spreading miasma that would ultimately kill everything it touched and convert the mass into Grey Matter.

Once complete, the Hive would be almost impossible to kill.

Hanna knew that they couldn’t allow it to happen. Even if it cost each and every one of them their lives, they had to stop this Hive from being established in Cardiff. Out-numbered, under-supported and over-matched, the 501st engaged the enemy.

Assigning her heavy-hitters to systematically eliminate the three Dreadnoughts, Hanna entrusted the defense of the line to her two cage fighters, Sergeants Beurling and Barkhorn. She assigned their new young Corporal, Charlotte Yeager, the task of leading three other squad members to provide protection to the Evac teams and rescue crews clearing the battle-zone.

It was a long and hard-fought and hard-won battle. The girls had used almost every bit of magic they possessed in the doing of it. But in the end they were triumphant. The Dreadnoughts had been destroyed and the attacking waves had either also been obliterated or scattered and in retreat.

Cardiff itself had been leveled and would need to be completely rebuilt. The mission itself had been a success, with civilian casualties limited only to those who had died in the initial wave. ‘Murphy’s Marauders’ however, lost two of their own – brand-new recruit Private Lisette Harshaw… and their commander, Colonel Hanna Murphy.

The final Dreadnaught had put up one hell of a fight. Hanna’s attention was diverted momentarily as she tried to coordinate a synchronous attack on the monolithic alien ship. Her body was neatly bisected by a stray Neuroi particle beam.

As she fell from the sky, with the odd sensation of seeing the lower part of her body floating above her, she knew she was already dead. It just hadn’t caught up to her yet. Calmly, she keyed her mike and spoke her final words.

“The squadron’s yours now Minna. Take good care of them. I’m counting on you.”

Minna took those words to heart. She blocked off the grief she felt at her mentor’s passing and carried through with the rest of the mission. After eliminating the final threat to the city she and the rest of the squadron, even though exhausted and mostly powerless, rushed to assist in the civilian relocation effort. Cardiff had been decimated, but the people were still alive and that was what mattered most.

--

Six days later, during a special ceremony, the 501st Joint Fighter Wing was lauded for its heroic action. Colonel Hanna Murphy was posthumously assigned the rank of General and awarded the Allied Forces Medal of Special Commendation. The unit designation ‘Murphy’s Marauders’ was retired with honor.

During the same ceremony, acting upon Colonel Murphy’s written recommendation, Major Minna-Dietlinde Wilcke was promoted to Colonel and formally given command of a newly re-minted 501st Joint Fighter Wing - unit designation ‘Strike Witches’.

At barely 17 years of age, Minna Wilcke became the youngest Wing Commander in military history.

☆ ☆ ☆

The relocated former citizens of Cardiff - indeed everyone in Britannia - never forgot the debt they owed to the 501st. After the Combat Demo, the girls were warmly received by the crowd. Charlotte had a cluster of male admirers flocking around her, begging for a handshake or a picture. Yoshika, Lynette and Francesca were sitting at a folding card table, greeting guests and signing autographs.

Many of the older people simply wanted to express their gratitude to the girls for their bravery and service. But most of the younger adults and kids wanted the autograph of a war hero. It didn’t really matter that none of the three at the table had been part of the Cardiff liberation. Just the fact that they were members of the Strike Witches was enough. As far as these people were concerned, they were the best of the best. Hometown heroes.

After about 90 minutes of graciously signing press-kit photos and shaking hands, the little Fuso maiden was beginning to get a bit sleepy. Stepping away from the table to stretch her limbs she noticed a cute younger girl, maybe about 12 or 13 years old, standing off to the side of the crowd staring intently at Lynne.

Yoshika idly observed her for a while. The tiny blonde girl started towards the table, then stopped and turned around. After seeing this behavior repeated three times and noticing the clenched fists and look of determination on her face, Yoshika decided the small girl was working up the courage to talk to Lynette.

The scrutiny must have been noticed for the girl gave a guilty start, glancing at Yoshika and then resolutely walking up to the table.

“Um. Excuse me. Sergeant?” Lynne turned to the source of the voice. “You are Lady Lynette Bishop of Glys, are you not?”

Lynne hesitated slightly. “Yes.”

“I thought so. I’ve seen you before, at formal functions and such. Our father’s work together on the Royal Council.” the girl stated. She paused momentarily, as if deciding how to proceed.

“Well, i-i-it’s just, I-I really admire you.”

Digging a toe in the dirt, she cast her glance downward with a full flush on her cheeks.

“Anyway, I started seeing you in the newspaper, you know, in the Strike Witches and all. And I just… I just think you’re so amazing. You could easily avoid being involved in all this. You could live in privilege, but you don’t. You use you power to help people. You do something.”

Her voice became firmer with conviction. Finally meeting Lynette’s gaze, the Britannian ace could see younger girls eyes shining brightly.

“My father says a proper lady shouldn’t concern herself with war and such things. But he’s wrong! I just know it!”

Suddenly the shy youngster moved forward and took one of Lynne’s hands in both of her own.

“I want to use my power to help people as well. I want to become a Witch, just like you.” the girl finished, slightly out of breath. “You are my hero Lady Lynette.”

“Well, I…” Lynne’s first instinct was to shy away but she suppressed that impulse. This girl who looked up to her, who reminded her of herself at that age, deserved a strong role model. The honey-blonde beauty decided that she needed to live up to this girls expectations. “What is your name?”

“Oh. I’m Abigail. Abigail Wainwright. Abby. It is very nice to formally meet you Lady Lynette.”

“Well Abby, first of all I’m not “Lady Lynette” when I wear this uniform. I’m simply Master-Sergeant Bishop. But please call me Lynne.” she explained with a gentle smile.

“I don’t really think of myself as heroic. I always try my best but I wouldn’t be able to do anything without my squad mates and my friends there to back me up.”

“Still…” Abigail replied. “To be able to find the courage to do it in the first place…”

“Everyone has different reasons for why they fight Abigail. Some do it for duty, some for honor, some for glory.” While she spoke, she saw Yoshika returning and her soft smile suddenly became radiant. “And sometimes, if you are very lucky, you get to fight to protect someone who is precious to you.”

Reaching out her hand found that of the Fuso girl and clasped it tightly. “Someone who fills you with more courage and hope and love than you could ever believe possible.”

It was obvious to Abigail that the words were now meant for the tiny chestnut-haired girl who had joined her.

“Someone you want to cherish and keep safe so they can stay by your side forever.” Yoshika replied, also caught up in the same rush of emotion, the same removal from reality.

“Forever...?” breathed Lynne.

“Forever…” Yoshika whispered back.

They could see only each other. The first thing Lynne noticed when she became fully aware again was Abigail staring at them intently, hands clasped together under her chin, eyes wet with tears. Her first thought was that they had somehow upset the younger girl, perhaps embarrassing her with their outward display of affection.

“I’m so sorry, Abigail. That was very rude of us. Please don’t be upset.”

“No. No. Not at all.” Abigail rushed to assure her. “It’s just…” she giggled cutely. “It’s just that you made my insides melt.” She sighed and smiled. “You two really love each other a lot, don’t you?”

“Yes. We really do.” Lynne answered happily, still holding Yoshika’s hand tightly.

At first, Lynette thought that she would be shy about showing Yoshika affection in public. But that wasn’t the case at all. In fact, the opposite was true. It made her feel empowered.

“We were about to have lunch. Please come join us.” Yoshika offered the newcomer kindly.

“Yes. Please do.” Lynne agreed happily.

“Really?” the tiny blonde yelped. When Lynne nodded yes, she turned to face Yoshika and performed a Fuso bow. “Thank you. I’m Abigail Wainwright. You can call me Abby. It’s nice to meet you.”

Yoshika returned the greeting with a matching bow. “Abby-chan, hajimemashite. Miyafuji Yoshika desu.” *It’s nice to meet you, Abby-chan. I’m Yoshika Miyafuji.*

As the Fuso maiden followed Lynne and Abby out into the fairgrounds she was beaming with pride. Listening to Abigail relate her feelings to the person she admired made Yoshika happy. She thought it was important that Lynette hear from an outside party just how wonderful and special she really was. Someday Lynette would even be able to see for herself just how wonderful and special she was. Yoshika was determined of that.

Although, really, Lynne had already begun to undergo a transformation of her own accord. There was no doubt in Yoshika’s mind that if Lynette hadn’t acted - if yesterday hadn’t happened - she would have continued to doubt and fret and second-guess her feelings until it was too late.

The Fuso ace had known from the day they had met that there was more to bashful Britannian than was evident from appearance. The aspiring healer had become adept at reading people at a very young age. Both her mother and grandmother held great store in understanding a patient’s personality as part of determining their method of treatment.

Yoshika, with her bubbly disposition, had a way of making people feel at ease around her. She had the same effect on Lynne as she had on everyone else, and whenever Lynne felt at ease her true personality had shown through. It didn’t take long for Yoshika to deduce that something had happened in Lynne’s past that led to her obvious personality quirks.

She, quite honestly, hadn’t been prepared yesterday upon accidentally discovering just how dark that something in her past had been. Initially, after she confessed her feelings, in the back of her mind she kept thinking about when and how to address Lynn’s emotional problems. She was worried for her love and didn’t want her past to disturb the future they could make for themselves.

But she was quickly finding out that Lynette was breaking out of her mental prison on her own initiative. “Just knowing her love for me is returned as deeply is giving her the strength to become herself again.” Yoshika thought gratefully. “I feel stronger too.”

“Like I found a part of myself that I didn’t even know was missing.” she muttered aloud.

The two girls in front of her turned to look inquisitively.

“What was that Yoshika?” Lynne asked. “I couldn’t hear you.”

“Hmm? Oh, I said I hope they have a Fuso food stall. I’m dying for Takoyaki.”

“Takoyaki?” Abigail looked at Lynette inquisitively.

“Grilled Octopus Balls.” Lynne smiled. “They’re much better than they sound. If you try them just think stuffed mushrooms, breaded and fried. There’s this creamy... stuff inside. It’s really delicious. Yoshika has made them for the whole squadron a few times.”

Alas, there were no Fuso food stalls to be found. Yoshika had to content herself with a selection of local fare. Abigail still seemed slightly nervous, so Lynette quickly set her at ease by engaging her in lighthearted conversation as they ate.

“So, Abby, what is your skill set?”

“I have a heightened spatial awareness. Also limited precognition. 99% accurate up to 10 minutes.” She frowned slightly. “After that it bottoms out rapidly to 48% after an hour. But…” she brightened up. “my electives instructor said I could bring those numbers up with the proper training.”

“Cool.” Yoshika interjected. “Our commanding officer has enhanced spatial sense as well. Combine that with precognition - even limited - and you would be an awesome tactical officer.”

Abigail gave an excited gasp. “Really? You really think I could be useful?”

Lynne chuckled at the girl’s exuberance. Reaching across the table she ruffled the youngsters hair. “Absolutely.” She replied happily.

“Hey, you guys.” A familiar voice shouted out.

Charlotte approached their table juggling two huge plates laden with just about everything the festival had to offer, a long loaf of French bread tucked under one arm. Francisca was picking up the rear hauling two six-packs of soda for her, the girls and Vince and a quarter-keg of Guinness Dark for the adults.

Unburdening herself on the picnic table Charlotte sat down heavily. “Jeez. Those boys sure are are demanding. Pose this way, pose that way, can you raise your butt any higher, blah, blah, blah.” She grumped loudly.

Francisca hugged her from the back. “You loved every minute of it.” She chortled happily.

Looking across the table with her chin resting on Charlotte’s shoulder, the twin-tailed pixie spied the addition to the group. “So who’s the new blood?” she asked with a smirk.

“This is a fan… and potential Witch Abby Wainwright.” Lynne informed. “Abby, this is our friend and squad-mate Francisca Lucchini.” Francisca gave her a silly grin and waved. “And this boisterous redhead is our friend and mission commander, Captain Charlotte Yeager.”

Charlotte reached across the table and gave the tiny blonde a hearty Liberion-style handshake. “Pleased t’ meet you Abby.”

Abigail stared back at her wide-eyed. “Y-You’re Glamorous Shirley!”

“Correct on both counts.” Charlotte responded. “If you want an autograph though, I’m sorry but you’ll have to wait a little while. I’ve lost all feeling in my hand.” She slumped over on the table.

“M’hungry.” Charlotte fake-pouted, but Francisca wasn’t about to be baited. “Well, it’s a good thing you have two platefuls of food right in front of you then, isn’t it?” The diminutive Romagnan playfully scolded the older girl.

Charlotte smiled and dug in. Between mouthfuls she peppered the air with questions. She was obviously in one of her more hyper moods. Generally the buxom ace, although light-hearted and jovial, gave off an air of level-headedness. Occasionally though, if she were tired or excited, her demeanor bore a very strong resemblance to Francisca’s, rapid-fire speech pattern and limited attention span included.

“So, the guys aren’t back yet?” Charlotte observed. “I wonder what’s keeping them.”

“That General Maloney person came and got them when they were coming down off the stage.” Yoshika told her. Her brow furrowed slightly. “I heard something about ‘review your performance’…”

Charlotte frowned as well. “What the hell could that pompous windbag have to bitch at them about that would take over an hour?” She looked around for her partner. “Yo, Lucchini. Go try to find those yahoos for me, will ya? Or at least find out what happened to them?”

The petite girls shout of “Roger!” was already fading as she dashed into the crowds. She returned immediately with an embarrassed expression. “Umm, where should I look?”

Charlotte turned toward Yoshika.

“Ari?” Yoshika questioned. “Oh, right. They went over toward the hangers on the west side of the base.”

With another “Roger!” Francisca was off once again - this time in the right direction.

“And stay out of trouble!” Charlotte yelled after her.

Yoshika felt slightly troubled as she watched Francesca disappear into the crowd. General Maloney gave her the creeps. She got such a strange vibe around him. Nothing he said or did seemed genuine or sincere.

And when he smiled it made her skin crawl.

"I hope they’re OK.” Yoshika thought to herself.

☆ ☆ ☆

“I cannot believe you allowed that child to make you look like such a fool. I don’t believe you are taking this seriously.” General Maloney grumped as he paced in front of the M.A.G.U.S. pilots.

Bill Fiske frowned. “With all due respect General, that “child” is an experienced combat pilot. A very capable combat pilot. I wasn’t holding anything back and neither was she.

“Besides…” he continued ” we were supposed to be putting on a show to highlight all of our strengths, not just your lab monkeys.”

Maloney stopped pacing directly in front of Fiske and leaned in close, attempting to give an intimidating glare. Fiske returned the scrutiny of his gaze calmly and undaunted. This infuriated Maloney all the more. His face was almost purple with the anger and frustration that constantly boiled inside of him coming to a head. He took a deep breath preparing to launch some choice invective at Fiske.

However, before he could yell a single word, the door in the rear of the bay opened and Brigadier General Briggs entered. He was alone. Unlike General Maloney, Briggs preferred not to travel with an entourage. Ignoring the position Maloney was in with Fiske, he strode up to the three pilots with a broad smile.

“Wonderful show, gentlemen. Well done.” He shook hands with each man in turn, brushing past Maloney as if he weren’t even there.

“So, tell me lads, are those gadgets as much fun to fly as it looks?”

The Brigadiers easygoing manner caused Vince to momentarily forget he was talking to a superior officer. “Fun doesn’t begin ta describe it.” He answered with all the enthusiasm and bluster of youth. “It’s th’ most incredible feeling ever. It’s like you become one with your machine and the sky belongs to you. Like it’s home.” His eyes were shining brightly. “It’s like you can do anything.” He became self-conscious, suddenly realizing whom he was speaking to. “Uhhh… Sir.” He finished lamely.

“It’s ok, son. I get where you’re coming from.” The older man grinned jovially. “I felt ‘as one’ with my old Sopwith. So I can only imagine.”

He clapped Mallory on the shoulder. “It’s an adventure son,” He said in a low voice intended for only the young pilot to hear. “You’re meant to enjoy every minute of it.”

“So Mr. Fiske?” Briggs asked, turning toward the man he had addressed. “What do you make of the 501st’s young Fuso pilot? Quite the little spitfire isn’t she?”

“And then some.” Fiske agreed. “What little I’ve seen tells me she has the chops, all right.”

“We’ve got a stack of reports about her back at OOC.” The Brig chuckled. “She once blew up a Neuroi by force-feeding its particle beam back down its own throat.”

Finally he turned to address Lieutenant Hughes. “Nice job with your unit Lieutenant.” The General extended his hand. “Working with experimental aircraft is always a dicey situation, and this seems about as experimental as it gets, no?”

“Just so General.” Hughes answered, shaking the proffered hand. “But these are good lads I’m workin’ with. Any praise ya have ta give is ta their credit, rather than m’own.”

“Nonsense, Lieutenant. I’ve read your records.” Briggs stated firmly. “You’re being needlessly modest. I’m sure Mr. Fiske and Mr. Mallory would be the first to say it wouldn’t be the same unit without you leading it.” He glanced over at the two. “Am I right boys?”

“Absolutely correct, sir.” Fiske stated sincerely. “That’s right, sir.” Mallory added.

“Well, I thank ya Sir.” Hughes concluded. He had the distinct impression that the Brigadier was sizing each of them up, personality-wise, and that each of them had passed muster.

Briggs finally turned to acknowledge the presence of General Maloney. “Trevor. I was just looking for you. You’re free right now, correct?” It wasn’t phrased as a question. Maloney appeared as if he had a lot more to say to his erstwhile pilots, but whatever it was he kept it to himself.

“Of course Douglas.” His eyes narrowed slightly. “You gentlemen are dismissed.”

The pilots didn’t need to be told twice. They saluted their superiors and headed for the door with Mallory in the lead.

Once outside the darkened hanger, the bright sunshine and fresh air blew away any pall cast by all the drama and animosity in the hanger.

Vince broke the silence. “That was deeply uncomfortable.”

“Yeah.” Fiske agreed. “Did you see the tension between those two? I thought I was going to see two old guys beating the crap out of each other for a second there.”

“Ha.” Hughes answered seriously. “Maloney would ‘na have th’ balls fer it. He’s nothin’ but a mincing ponce. A ‘Commissioned in the Classroom’ sort. Before the Neuroi showed up he was a desk-jockey Sargent-Major in the Front Office.” His brow furrowed in thought. “Y’know, come ta think on it, I canna ken how he wormed his way into Central Command. His background does na’ call fer it.”

“Getting off-point here.” Fiske interrupted. “What I mean is… doesn’t it seem like, I dunno… there’s something going on behind the scenes we are totally unaware of?”

He gave his Lieutenant a serious look. “So many things don’t add up. Think about it. Maloney had his nose in every single aspect of the program, but beyond him, I don’t recall seeing another ranking officer at the CCRC the entire two months we were there. ”

Fiske’s random thoughts began to solidify. “Everybody in R&D has been pretty tight-lipped about the tech. Uncharacteristically so. They spout the same ‘reverse-engineered’ garbage that Maloney was trying to peddle to the crowd earlier.” He fixed the Lieutenant with his gaze. “All I know is that the goddamned ‘battery’ that runs my suit is a piece of something that’s trying to kill me on a regular basis.”

He then turned to the youngest of them. “I agree with you in one sense Vince, they are one sweet ride. But I get the creeps every time I get into the damn thing. I simply can’t enjoy it as you seem to.”

“And we’ve never even been in live combat against the actual enemy. Only simulated Neuroi drones. So, yeah…” he concluded. “I’ve got some issues.”

A familiar voice rang out and the three spun around to the source of it. Francisca came screeching to a halt in front of them. “There you guys are. We were getting worried. Shirley sent me out to find you.”

“We just had a very through de-briefing is all.” Bill commented wryly.

“Well, c’mon back to our table. Shirley said she has some Guinness Pints waiting for you and that you’d probably need one after dealing with General Windbag.”

“Possibly two or three.” Lieutenant Hughes stated. “William yer redheaded friend is an angel, she is.”

Together they headed back to the picnic site. Francisca sidled up to Vince. “So, that boy you were talking to earlier… I know what booth he woorrrks in.” she said in a sing-song voice.

Vince tried to ignore her.

“I could tellll you if you waaant me to.”

“I ain’t got a clue as to what yer sayin’ missy.” Vince retorted. He hoped that would be the end of it, but unfortunately for him Francisca was delighted to find a new target to tease.

“Sweater-vest boy? Wavy brown hair? Looks like he has Oxford written all over him?”

Vince struggled for a clever retort, but all that came out was “Shut up!”

“You waaaant me to tellll you.”

“Shut up!”

“Tell you where he’s worrrking.”

“Shut up!”

"Yesss you doooo.”

“Please shut up.”

“Heeheehee.”

“please?”

It ended up being a wonderful day. There was nothing else scheduled for the group until the following evening when they would board the U.S.S. Manchester for a short cruise to their next stop in Amsterdam. They ended up designating the two picnic tables they occupied as ‘Base Camp’ and at any given time, you would find some of them there while the others were wandering around.

Late afternoon found them all back together, with the exception of Francisca and Vince. Bill Fiske was sitting at the table with Yoshika, Lynette and Abby polishing off a huge slab of Chocolate cake.

“I’m surprised that you don’t have a background in aviation.” Bill said to Yoshika between mouthfuls. “You’re an excellent pilot. You even knew a move that I thought I had made up on my own.”

“Huh?” Yoshika gave him a puzzled look. “Oh, you mean that vector-change thingy? No I’ve never done that before. I just saw what you did and copied it.”

Bill gave her a blank stare for an instant, remembering the first three times he had attempted it almost planting himself into the ground, then shook his head in wonderment. “Amazing.”

“Anyway,” he continued. “that was a pretty slick trick you pulled off with your shield. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Witch use her shield in quite that fashion.”

Yoshika rubbed the back of her head in embarrassment. “Ano... I may have been showing off just a little bit.” She admitted, giving Lynette a sidelong glance.

Lynne squealed in happiness at the statement. “Really? Were you trying to impress me?”

Yoshika nodded a yes and Lynne threw her arms around the tiny brunette in a crushing hug. Nuzzling her cheek she whispered softly. “You don’t really need to. You’ve already left a lasting impression on me.”

Abby was watching the exchange from across the table with star-filled eyes. “They are soooo adorable.” She sighed.

“Oh sure.” Charlotte smirked, rolling her eyes skyward. “You get to see the good stuff. You didn’t have to sit through four and a half months of watching them pine over each other, miserable as hell.”

“Where did the youngsters get off to?” Lieutenant Hughes wondered. “We ought to figure out dinner pretty soon.”

“I’m not sure.” Charlotte answered. “I saw Lucchini dragging Vince off somewhere about an hour ago.”

Almost as soon as her name was spoken, Francisca emerged from the crowd heading back to the group although she was alone. “We thought Vincent was with you lass. What happened?”

The little ace cocked her head and gave the Lieutenant an odd grin. “He’s become fascinated with one of the local attractions. He said he’ll catch up to us later.” Then bouncing over to the other side of the table she sat on the bench next to Shirley, still wearing a sly grin.

Charlotte looked sidelong at her and raised an eyebrow. “I know that look. What did you do?”

“My good deed for the day.” Francisca answered. “Cake please.”

Charlotte cut a large slice and placed the plate in front of the tiny Romagnan who immediately began to happily munch on the chocolate confection, surveying the scene with contentment. Surrounded by her friends, two of whom were now a very happy couple. Making a new friend and then being able to do something to make him happy. And Shirley was here.

Yep. All in all, it was a pretty spiffy day.

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