Commodore Fate Testarossa Harlaown was halfway through the latest in a seemingly interminable series of operations reports when the phone beeped. She wondered for a moment why no one was picking up until she realized that it was her personal link, not the office one.

"Fate Harlaown," she said as the screen opened to reveal a blue-haired man in grease-stained coveralls.

"Ms. Harlaown, this is Vinny at AutoDimension. We hit kind of a snag in the work on your car, and it's not going to be ready until after three."

"After three? I specifically cleared time on my schedule because you said it would be ready at twelve-thirty!"

"I'm sorry, ma'am, but--"

"Fine; I'll pick it up tomorrow."

"Ms. Harlaown, we're closed on the weekends."

"Closed?" But I need my car this weekend! Vivio and I were going to take a mother-daughter trip!

"Sorry, ma'am."

"What time do you close today?"

"Five-thirty."

Fate sighed. She'd be tied up between two and eight at the least with Hayate's mission-coordination strategy session and the reception for Admiral Letti. Such were the perils of leaving the field for an administrative position.

"Blast, I can't make it by then." Her already frayed temper was starting to reach the breaking point with each new thing going wrong. "Okay, fine, I'll have Nanoha go by to pick it up for me."

"N-Nanoha, ma'am?"

"My wife, Lieutenant Colonel Takamachi. She gets off work at four, so she should be there around four-thirty."

She was tired, angry, distracted, and most of all she wasn't expecting to have to play Sherlock Holmes while talking to her mechanic, but even so Fate still thought later that she should have noticed the beads of sweat forming on Vinny's forehead.

~X X X~

"I'm really sorry to ask this, Nanoha, but--" Fate requested several hours later.

Nanoha waved it off.

"Don't be silly, Fate-chan. I'm glad to help out. Besides, AutoDimension is close enough to HQ to walk to. It's really no trouble."

"Thanks. I mean it."

Nanoha chuckled. She knew how much it meant to Fate to be able to spend time with their daughter; it was the primary reason why she'd made the lateral career move out of the Enforcement Bureau, to be with her family.

"Well, if it means that much to you, sweetheart, you can make it up to me with your special lasagna."

"We're out of oregano."

"I'll pick some up!"

Fate laughed.

"Deal. I love you, Nanoha."

"Love you too, Fate-chan." Nanoha blew her a kiss and shut down the screen. "Woohoo! Fate's cooking tonight."

"Dinner after ten, my master?" her Intelligent Device, Raising Heart asked.

"Oh, yeah, that reception thing. Oh, well, for Fate's lasagna, I'll wait!" Life, Nanoha decided, was good.

"Protection."

"Eh?"

Raising Heart's autoguard came up just in time to block the magical cannon shot that had blasted out of the adjacent alley. Mint-green sparks flew as her shield staved off the attack.

"Barrier Jacket: set up!" Nanoha snapped, scanning the environment to assess the situation.

"Barrier Jacket: Exceed Mode."

"Get her, guys!"

"Divine Shooter!" Nanoha cried even as her Barrier Jacket was taking shape around her. Four pink bullets of magical energy wove their way through the screaming civilians on their way to their targets. An experienced soldier like Nanoha tended to be security-conscious even while off-duty; while she hadn't seen anyone in the alley before the attack she had picked out the three men on the sidewalk who seemed as if they might have been watching her. One of the three had ended up in the scream-and-run crowd, but the other two had started to rush her at the sound of the command.

That was stupid, the combat-instructor part of Nanoha's mind reflected. The two men were obviously trying to launch a close-range attack on her but had been too far away when the ambush was sprung. Her Divine Shooter took them both down before they'd gotten within five yards of her, leaving only the threat from the alley remaining before Raising Heart's magic-staff Device Mode even settled into her hand.

A quick casting sent a burst of pink light washing over the alley--no damage, just illumination. There were two of them, one sprinting towards her with a spear-like device in his hands and one hanging back with a device like a malachite-tipped magic wand.

"Accel Mode!" Nanoha ordered, and Raising Heart reformed itself, taking on the unbalanced U-shaped head of its shooting mode.

"Accel Shooter."

A dozen pink blasts, homing bullets like Divine Shooter but much stronger, formed and shelled the attackers. The Belkan knight in front got eight of them; two were enough to punch through his device's autoguard and the last five hits were purely overkill damage. The Mid-style mage fared better; he'd hunkered down behind active defense and was still conscious after the smoke cleared, though he'd been knocked down.

"Shall I be shot, my master?" Raising Heart inquired.

"Hey!" Nanoha yelled at the mage. "Who are you and why did you attack me?"

"I...I..."

"Barrel extension, Raising Heart."

Three runic circles formed in the air in front of Raising Heart's tip, forming a power-enhancement channel for Divine Buster.

"Okay, I'll talk!" the mage shouted, his Barrier Jacket vanishing and his device returning to its jeweled pinky-ring standby mode. "Just don't shoot!"

"Darn."

"Now, now, Raising Heart, we're all friends here."

~X X X~

"Mou, you don't have to laugh at me," Nanoha moaned. "It's not funny!"

"Oh, yes it is, mama!" Vivio managed to say between chortles. "You really need to do something about that reputation!"

"Fate-chan, tell her it isn't funny!"

Fate, though, was laughing so heard that tears were running from her eyes, so clearly she'd be of no help in that area.

"So let me get this straight," Vivio gasped out. "Fate-mama was mad at the guys from AutoDimension because they didn't have her car ready when they promised they would, right? So she couldn't make it and said you'd be over to pick it up."

"That's right."

"But they heard your name and figured that Fate was sending you there to go all White Devil on their ass?"

"Language, Vivio. When you're five centuries old, then you can talk like Vita-chan."

"Sorry, mama. But that's pretty much it, right? So they hired a hit team to keep you from blowing up their building, insuring they'd all have closed-casket funerals, or whatever other horrors they'd imagined you'd do to them?"

Nanoha sighed.

"...Yes."

Fate launched into more howling gales of laughter.

"But from what you said, those guys were lame. A B-rank, a C, and a couple of Ds? Even with your limiter you barely had to work enough to get Raising Heart's attention."

"They're mechanics, not combat mages. Vinny knew a guy who knew a guy, that sort of thing. They looked like hardcases to the guys who hired them."

"So what happened to them?"

"I turned them in to the police for assault. Their leader seemed happy to confess, so I don't think I'll have to testify to anything. Then I picked up Fate-chan's car, bought the oregano, and came home."

Vivio nodded, then thought of something.

"Wait a minute. How did the mechanics know your reputation, mama?"

"They do a lot of work for military customers. I guess people talk." Nanoha sighed again. "I'm not that scary, am I?"

"Well...only sometimes," Vivio teased. "Even I fell for those rumors once."

"I guess so..." She turned to Fate. "And would you stop laughing already? Mou, you'd think I'd at least get some respect for getting AutoDimension to waive the bill for the car repairs!"

~X X X~

A/N: The spelling for Letti's name came from the new DVD release for A's. While I'm not yet sold on "Aruf," I see no reason to insist on "Leti" when the official romanization is otherwise.

And come to think of it, a B-ranked mage actually would be pretty much a hardcase in a local, civilian underworld. Just not when taking on the Ace of Aces!