Enforcer Fate Testarossa Harlaown was known as a determined, driven person in her work. She would pursue criminals relentlessly, with a combination of patience and intensity that left her aides and co-workers disbelieving, even awed. So finding her still at her desk an hour past the workday's end wasn't unusual.

She'd been counting on that.


But her time was running out.


Fate looked up. It was Shari standing over her desk, looking crisp and clean-cut in her brown uniform despite the time of day. Her eyes were kind and concerned behind her glasses.

"Can I help you with anything?" Fate's aide offered.

"No, that's all right; I can take care of it."

"Isn't that the evidence summary for the Lada case?" Shari asked, glancing down at Fate's screen.

"Yes." Fate wanted to curse, but kept her voice level. She'd hoped Shari wouldn't ask.

"Fate, that's grunt work. You have an aide for a reason, you know. And even if you wanted to spare me the trouble," she added, deftly forestalling Fate's next objection—next excuse—"that doesn't have to be filed for another three days. There's no reason to put in overtime on it."

"But I wanted—" Fate began, but Shari cut her off, wagging a finger back and forth at her.

"No, no, no, Fate. We can't have the TSAB's star Enforcer wearing herself out doing meaningless paperwork." Funny how that term still applied despite the purely electronic nature of the office. "And it sets a bad example for the staff. It's as if you don't trust us to do our jobs."

Fate winced. There was a good chance that Shari was at least halfway making it up for the sake of manipulating her superior, but it still hit home.

Given how Fate was feeling, she didn't want to let anyone else down.

Besides, she couldn't run from her problem forever.

Not when I live with its source.

No, not its source, its object.

"You're right, Shari. This doesn't need to be done right now." Fate tapped a few keys, saving her work, then closed out the screen, making the keyboard and display vanish. Remembering her days attending school on Earth, she observed that Midchilda's magic-based technology at least had the side benefit of maintaining a cleaner workspace. "I guess I'll go...home, then." Oh, why did she have to think of that?

"Did you want some company?"

Fate shook her head.

"I'll be fine." No, I won't, and it'll be easier to be alone for it.

Shari, always perceptive, must have caught a whiff of what Fate was feeling, but also knew that it wasn't something that she could just drag out of her superior. Shari wasn't Nanoha, after all, who would relentlessly do what was necessary when Fate was hiding her feelings.


Does everything today have to remind me of her?

But Fate knew even as she had the plaintive thought that it wasn't true. Things weren't reminding her of Takamachi Nanoha. It was her own mind that couldn't shake the image free. Thoughts of her were always there, just under the surface, and so she kept seeing Nanoha in everything she encountered.

That was when she realized that hiding from her feelings wasn't going to work. She could linger at her desk until midnight, but sooner or later it was going to come out. She lived with Nanoha, after all. They slept in the same bed. And no one was better than Nanoha at seeing the pain hidden behind another's eyes.

No, it was going to come out, and Fate knew that she had to face up to it. At least she could find the courage to say what she had to say openly, on her own terms.

The drive home went by in a blur. Ordinarily, Fate savored the minutes she could spend behind the wheel, but this time the pleasures of driving were wasted on her. In what seemed like only moments after she'd wished Shari a good evening, she was walking through the door of her own apartment.

And there was Nanoha.

She'd been Fate's best friend since forever, had taught Fate that even though she was an artificial-life copy there were people who loved her for who she was, or rather that she was worthy of being loved as Fate, not just as an imitation of someone else. They'd supported each other both in work and in ordinary daily life. That they'd live together when they'd left Earth for Midchilda permanently had been a foregone conclusion. Fate had no idea what she'd do without Nanoha in her life other than it wouldn't be pretty.

"Fate-chan, you're late. You ought to call when you're going to be stuck at work, especially when it's your turn to make dinner," Nanoha chided.

"I'm sorry," Fate said softly. "I'll start right away."

Nanoha shook her head.

"Nope! I figured if you'd gotten that stuck you wouldn't want to bury yourself in the kitchen, so I ordered pizza." She hopped up off the sofa. "But as punishment for not calling, you'll have to pick the pineapple off your half, nyahaha!" she teased.


The blue-eyed brunette squinted at her.

"Hey, Fate-chan, is something wrong? I was just teasing—well, mostly—about not calling..."

Fate shook her head.

"No, it's—" She was about to try to say "it's nothing," but stopped herself. You have to tell her. She deserves to know the truth of what you're feeling from you, she said to herself, even if it ends up hurting us both.

"Nanoha, I...I have something to tell you. I didn't want to have to face it, so I kept making excuses to stay late at work."

"That doesn't sound like the Fate-chan I know."

They sat down on the couch and Fate took Nanoha's hand between hers.

"This is going to make you angry," she said, "and I didn't want to face that." She almost tried making a joke about "the wrath of the White Devil" or the like, but didn't. Nanoha's fearsome combat reputation had nothing to do with the kind of anger Fate was afraid of and they both knew it.

"Fate-chan..." Nanoha said, confusion plain in her eyes.

Fate took a deep breath.

"After...after you went to work this morning, I knocked your snow globe of the Tokyo Tower off your desk, and it...shattered."

Nanoha's eyes widened. Of course it wasn't about a knickknack; that would have been silly. But that particular snow globe had been a gift from Nanoha's grandmother. She'd bought it at the gift shop of the hospital where she'd been taken for her specialist's treatments. Treatments that had failed.

Fate had held Nanoha while she cried for nearly two hours straight at the news of the older woman's death five years ago, and now she'd gone and destroyed the last tangible memento Nanoha had of her.

"I'm so sorry, Nanoha," she said, tears beginning to trickle down her cheeks. "I don't—I know there's no way to make it up, but I—"

Her stammered apologies were cut off forcefully by a crushing embrace.

"Fate-chan, you idiot," Nanoha murmured against her ear. It made Fate flinch at first, as she took it as an accusation, but Nanoha immediately followed it up with, "How could you think I'd be angry with you over an accident?"

"But I—"

"Did you mean to break it?"

"Of course not! I'd never..."

Nanoha pulled back and rested her forehead against Fate's.

"Then it's all right, isn't it?"

"Nanoha, I know how much that meant to you."

"I know you do. But I still have all my wonderful memories of Grandma regardless. And Fate-chan's happiness is more important to me than any object." She brushed her fingertips over Fate's cheek. "When I think of you being so worried all day, it hurts a lot more than losing my snow globe."

"Nanoha—" Fate's eyes began to tear up again.

"No more about it!" Nanoha told her flatly, then enforced her point, silencing her with a gentle kiss.

~X X X~

A/N: I've had some variation on this particular fight/worry/comfort exchange with my wife at least twice a year since we met (we're both klutzes :) ), so it's definitely drawn from life.

~X X X~

Vivio's Magical Omake Theater!

"I have to say, it's a unique choice," Fate said.

"Nyahaha..." Nanoha laughed. "Well, she is of the age where she's interested in superheroes and magical girls..."

Fate just grinned. Their daughter Vivio, for her first Halloween costume, had chosen to dress up like Nanoha, her outfit looking just like Nanoha's Barrier Jacket. There was even a copy of Nanoha's Intelligent Device, Raising Heart, in spear-tipped Excelion mode. Vivio skipped around happily, laying waste to—er, "befriending"—imaginary enemies.

"Oh, so you think you can get away that easily?" The little girl leveled her device at a china cabinet that appeared to have committed a heinous act of villainy. "Well, take this! Divine Buster!"

The red jewel set in the staff flickered.

"Divine Buster," echoed a slightly metallic, feminine voice.

"Nanoha, you didn't give her—" started a horrified Fate before she was drowned out by the roar of the giant pink energy wave. All three of them stared at the new open-air balcony their apartment had acquired where the cabinet, the wall, and the bathroom beyond had previously been.

"Um, I thought a real Barrier Jacket would be safer in case of accidents?" Nanoha offered in her defense.