"Dinner's ready!"

Meals in the Yagami household were a happy occasion, as a rule. The Mistress of the Night Sky, Yagami Hayate, had grown up alone, and she loved nothing better than to be surrounded by her Guardian Knights—her "kids," as she called them. The Wolkenritter, for their part, had gone centuries knowing only pain and battle as the warriors of the corrupted Book of Darkness. The idea of family life was more like a dream to them, one they still couldn't quite believe was real.

That was most of the time.

Tonight, though, ten-year-old Hayate was having a sleepover with several of her school friends at the Bannings house. That meant that it was the eldest of the Wolkenritter, the blonde and buxom Shamal, who brought the dishes from the kitchen to the table.

"Y'know, it's not too late to order takeout, while we still have our stomach linings," childlike, red-haired Vita actually came out and said.

"Vita, that isn't nice," chided Signum. The elegant leader of the group, though, was not making any move towards the food. Indeed, the expression on her face was reminiscent of the look she got when preparing herself to take on a particularly daunting foe in battle. Vita, of course, did not miss this.

"Oh yeah? Well, let's see you dig in, o fearless leader."

Something happened then that an entire generation of warriors would have sworn was impossible: the Knight of the Sword flinched.

"That is...well, I..."

"Oh, not you too!" Shamal exclaimed. "I'd like to see how you'd have done, with unfamiliar recipes and ingredients and seasonings. This world's cooking is nothing like ancient Belka's! I'd expected Vita to be a brat about this, Signum, but you—"

"I'm sorry, Shamal, but the truth is your food was wholly inedible," her leader told her flatly. "Were we actually dependent on food for all of our energy, we could have been seriously incapacitated, to say nothing of the effect it would have had on Mistress Hayate. I agree that Vita's comments were a bit sharp, but you cannot blame me for being wary of your rather...explosive...efforts."

"I still don't get what that Montezuma guy Arisa mentioned had anything to do with it," Vita mumbled.

"You two are being ridiculous," Zafira cut in. The only male of the Wolkenritter was in his human form, which was somewhat unusual. He generally found his natural wolf shape more comfortable and was adept at using it to do things one would have thought required opposable thumbs. Arms did, however, give him enough reach to snatch a fajita off the tray without waiting for it to be passed. Without a hint of a pause, he bit down, chewed, and swallowed. "This is quite tasty, Shamal."

The blonde gave a happy little gasp.


"Are you sure about that?" Vita asked dubiously.

Signum reached for a fajita of her own.

"It doesn't seem quite believable, but..."

"Maybe he'd been spending so much time with Arf that her taste is rubbing off on him."

Zafira scowled.

"I never thought the two of you would be so addicted to making offensive comments that you would stoop to insulting additional people just so you could continue to mock Shamal," he chided. Vita winced, and Signum's eyes dropped.

"Sorry, Shamal," Vita mumbled. "That last crack went too far."

Signum nodded, though she hadn't actually said it.

"We did not mean to hurt your feelings."

Shamal sighed.

"I know. And I know I had some pretty serious incidents in the past, but...I'm really working hard to improve my cooking so I can help Hayate-chan. We're supposed to be the ones taking care of her, not the other way around! It's one thing when we accompany her on missions, but when we're living here and she's going to school normally, there's not much for us to do but make sure she has a comfortable home to come back to each day."

Signum nodded solemnly.

"I agree completely, and if those are your reasons I'm twice as sorry for doubting you and thinking of myself first."

"Yeah, me too. Sorry for being so snotty."

"Thank you," Shamal accepted their apologies. After all the time they'd been together, that was easy enough. "But, I really want to thank you, Zafira, for having faith in me without hesitation." She walked around the table to him, hugging him tightly and even gave him a quick kiss on top of his head.

Only when she'd spoken did he realize that she'd made a mistaken assumption, for there was no faith or trust involved in his decision. Even in human form his wolf's nose was much sharper than Signum's or Vita's and had given him all the information he'd needed. He'd been about to correct her and explain, but the softness of her arms around him convinced Zafira that it was better kept as his secret.

One of a man's most important skills, after all, was knowing when to keep his mouth shut.

~X X X~

A/N: As those of you who are long-time readers of my stories already know, Shamal/Zaffy is my crack-pairing OTP. ^_-

About Shamal's cooking...it's definitely canon (A's Sound Stage 1, Track 8, and A's manga chapter 6), that she's Not Good At Cooking (Signum, of all people, is the one who calls it "explosive"). Even by StrikerS Sound Stage 1, they're still giving her grief over it. Since the A's Sound Stage track which introduces her poor cooking also indicates that she's getting better, I'm assuming that she does in fact improve to "adequate" and that later-in-time references are more of a running gag by which the others tease her instead of an actual reference to her still being bad for no apparent reason.