Worlds Apart
by Cyberchao X

Chapter 2

"Wolkenritter Auto Repair, Bannings speaking." At those words, Suzuka Tsukimura secretly brightened up. Her call was for business purposes, but she'd hoped she'd get to speak to the girl she'd seen the previous day.

"This is Tsukimura Suzuka. I'm calling to check up on the progress of my limousine."

"Ah, Tsukimura-san…it's going to be quite an extensive repair job. For most customers, I'd probably want to go over just how much they're willing to pay to keep the car they have, but in your case, well, I'm sure that you can afford whatever needs to be done."

"Indeed. I'm no expert on cars, but I feel like it was a blessing that the armor was actually required for once because it gave my security team no choice but to allow it to go to the shop."

Arisa tried to parse this. "…So then you really just have the one car. That's…kind of short-sighted."

"It's not easy to get a car like that. Doubly so when I'm trying to avoid dealing with my father or any of his associates." Arisa said nothing in response to that. "Oh, surely you've heard the rumors."

"Even if I hadn't, an armored limousine dented from gunfire would've made me suspicious. I'm sure your father's no worse than mine, Tsukimura-san. Just leave a callback number and I'll keep you posted," Arisa finished, not wanting to go any further down that path of conversation.

Suzuka did so. "This is a personal number, so don't be careless with it."

"Right. Filed under a single initial." She grinned, then wondered why she was grinning. Arisa didn't grin even with most of the regular customers, and she hardly expected Tsukimura to become a regular customer. "Though if she's going to have just the one armored car, maybe she'd be better off just hiring a personal mechanic." Now that'd be the life. She'd basically just live over the garage and work when she was needed.

"Geez, what's got you in such a good mood?" Vita asked.

"Oh, nothing," Arisa replied.

"Imouto-chan, you should already know the answer to that," Signum said. "Tonight's family dinner."

"Yeah right. Your wife's cooking is nothing to smile about," Arisa said.

"You know full well who cooks for family dinner. Though I'm sure that you'd rather be eating something else that she brings." Arisa had been touched by the sentiment the first time she'd been told that she was an honorary member of the family, but she'd received no shortage of teasing from the Wolkenritter girls ever since the first time she'd laid eyes on Zafira's future sister-in-law. Arf and Fate weren't blood relatives, of course; they'd met in the orphanage they both grew up in. Arf had no memories of her parents, whereas Fate…Fate's mother was still alive, but institutionalized, having had a psychotic break after the death of Fate's twin sister Alicia. Arf had taken the younger girl under her wing upon her arrival at the orphanage, and when she aged out of the system, she ended up taking on legal guardianship of Fate, though she insisted that their relationship be sisters, not mother and daughter, given that they were only 5 years apart in age.

"Shut up. But yes, I'm glad Arf-san is doing the cooking."

"Oh, don't deny it, we all know you want to make goo-goo eyes at Fate-chan," Vita said.

"I don't deny she's attractive, but she's not really my type. She's almost as quiet as your brother is, and…"

"And she's possibly even more broken than any of us. Yeah, Arf-san's a saint, taking on caring for her and getting involved with our crazy family."

"I don't know how she remains so optimistic. Wasn't 'Testarossa' actually Fate-chan's original family name, and she took it on when she took Fate-chan in because she didn't have one of her own?"

"That's what Zafira told me," Signum confirmed. Arisa was just glad that the topic had changed. Given how much teasing she received about Fate, she really didn't want the sisters to know that her thoughts were stuck on someone she'd never met in person and had talked to once over the phone, ostensibly for business.

'I'm sure your father's no worse than mine.' The Bannings girl had been quick to try to wrap up the conversation after she'd said that. Suzuka had to concede that as a child, she'd thought the world of her father—because she was his little princess and he spoiled the crap out of her. He was a good father; he just wasn't necessarily a good man. And he understood her desire to distance herself from him as an adult, even supported it. Said he was happy that she'd made something of herself; that it was all worth it.

So, no, it wouldn't be hard to conceive of worse father figures, even if she did have to live a guarded life. When push came to shove, hurting her probably was the best way to get to her father. "You seem lost in thought, Tsukimura-sama," her assistant told her.

"Just musing on the nature of family. I've had to distance myself from mine for…'reasons', and yet, I know it could be so much worse."

"I wouldn't know," Suki replied. "My family life was pretty normal, aside from the occasional awkwardness surrounding my appearance. Freak confluence of genetics."

"I don't think that's how genetics works, Makimaro-san. You might just be adopted."

"It would be the simpler answer, but no. Just a lot of recessive traits lining up in a weird way. Both of my parents are ¼-American. Servicemen," she said, "stayed after the war and started families with locals. One of them lived long enough that I have memories of meeting him personally; he said I looked remarkably like his little sister did as a child."

Suzuka nodded in understanding. The talk of Americans had gotten her back to thinking about the working-class girl she'd seen the previous day. Her family name sounded American, but there wasn't the slightest hint of a foreign accent in her Japanese. …Geez, why was she stuck on this line of thought? The girl wasn't that cute. Maybe it was just the difference in their situations that was so appealing—the sheltered yakuza princess and the street tough.

Suzuka decided to bury herself in her work and put it out of her head.

Arisa was secretly hoping to catch a glimpse of Suzuka when she went to the Midoriya for lunch that day. Much to her surprise, however, she ran into a different beauty. "Funny running into you here, Testarossa-chan."

"Oh, hello, Bannings-san. Limietta-san here brought me here for a study session. I fear I'm not quite getting the material in this class."

"You just have to work at it," the other girl with her, the one she'd identified as "Limietta", told her.

"Easy for you to say; you're Harlaown-sensei's favorite student. Enough so that she's letting you date her son."

The other girl blushed. "Chr—Harlaown-san and I aren't dating!"

"Sure you're not," Fate said. "Well, Bannings-san, I'm sure you have to get back to work. See you at dinner tonight?"

"I've already confirmed that your sister's the one doing the cooking, so of course." She turned and headed back to the counter.

"So, uh…you know her?" Nanoha asked.

"Know who?"

"That cute blonde. I heard you say you'd be seeing her tonight for dinner, but you didn't sound that close…"

"She's family. Sort of. Not really. My boss declared me an honorary member of their family, and her brother is engaged to Testarossa's sister. Sounds like you've got a crush, Takamachi-san."

Nanoha turned red. "She's really pretty."

"She's still in university you know."

"So? That makes her, what, 21? 22? Not that much younger than me."

"I know; I'm just teasing you. And yeah, she is really pretty." Arisa thought about it for a moment and added, "And has a bit of a sweet tooth."

"I wouldn't have guessed, looking at her. Where does she put it all?" Arisa just shrugged. "Well, I'll give it a shot."

"If you fail, I had nothing to do with you trying." Not that they'd really believe that I tried to set someone else up with her, she thought.

CCX: Yeah, I think I've finally worked out everyone's age. I liked the idea of Fate still being a student since her backstory had her as younger than the others, but then I realized that Suzuka's apparently already quite accomplished at a young age. But that's not totally impossible, so… The core characters—Arisa, Suzuka, Nanoha, etc., are 28. (Hayate might be 27, but I still haven't figured out what she's going to do once she enters this story in person). The Wolkenritter's ages are 31, 27, and 24, and like her fiancé, Arf is 27, which makes Fate 22. And of course, Suki was two years younger than Arisa and Suzuka in the fic where I introduced her so she's 26. Depending on how long this story gets, I wouldn't be surprised if more of my OCs showed up, but there are a lot more canon characters available to me this time so I may not ever need to use a lot of them. Suki just showed up right away because she was practically the third protagonist of Lonely No More.

It was past 10 PM when Suzuka finally realized just how much of a 'work trance' she'd gone into, and she figured she'd probably have to just stay at the office overnight. Much to her surprise, however, Nanoha hadn't left the bakery yet. "Nanoha-chan, you're still here. I figured you would've been gone by now; I lost track of time…"

"Heheh, I guess I did too…wanna be my taste tester?"

"You know I love your baking, Nanoha-chan. Also I may have accidentally skipped a meal or two… Wow, that's really tasty!"

"Tasty enough to win someone's heart?"

"Oh? What's this all about?"

"The most beautiful girl I've ever seen came in here today…and I got a tip that she has a bit of a sweet tooth. I've been working on the perfect cake to impress her…though I don't even know if she'll be coming back; a friend brought her here."

"Do you even know her name?"

"Just a family name. Testarossa. Also that her sister is engaged to a Wolkenritter."

"Wait, does that mean that your 'tip' came from that Bannings girl?"

"…Are you crushing?"

"…No. …Maybe a little?"

"I feel like we're back in high school. I kind of miss those days, when things were so uncomplicated."

"What's so complicated about your life, Nanoha-chan?"

"I was more referring to your life. I don't like having to pretend that I barely know you. …She asked about you, yesterday. Maybe she's 'interested'? I'll try to feel out her interest for you." Besides, she's helping me out with Testarossa; I owe her.

"You will? You're the best."

CCX: So, yeah, can't have an MSLN AU without having Nanofate. This is Cyberchao X, signing off.