One thing that I will always know is what recycled air tastes like. It was sharp and crisp, chilled to make it feel cleaner. It held a slight scent of wildlife to it, but we all knew it was artificial. Any visitor on a spaceship for the first time would comment on how the air was so nice, but for those of us who went on and off of it,nothing was as nice as our native planet's atmosphere. This thought was driven home as I was teleported onto my normal ship. The familiar bridge greeted me along with the captain. He smiled and told me how glad he was to have me aboard once more. After a polite conversation, I excused myself and headed off to my room to unpack from my unplanned vacation.


Amber Dreams III
By: Satashi

"I'm back," Fate called out sweetly as she opened the door to her quarters. Tea looked over from her desk and smiled happily at her partner before starting to quickly save her work so they could talk. The blonde made her way across the room and began to unload her small suitcase after placing it onto her bed. Despite being a warship, the room she was given was large, almost the size of three normal ones. Although she shared it with Tea, the enforcer she was personally training, it was still clear how much she was spoiled so she would stay on that particular vessel.

"How was your stay?" Tea asked, spinning her chair around so she could look at her friend. "What happened, I heard you were in a viral outbreak zone or something?"

Fate laughed uneasily as she slid her suitcase under her bed. "No, Shamal just... tweaked the truth a little. Vivio was sick and I carried her around, that's all."

"Really?" Her voice was mixed with unsung laughter. "Vivio is still small enough to carry?"

"No," Fate sighed and sat on the bed. "My hip hurt a little while after I sat her down, but... It just feels so weird to not be able to pick her up like that."

"The joys of motherhood." Tea almost bit her tongue when Fate's eyes suddenly went downcast. "I'm sorry, are you and Nanoha having a fight or something?"

"Am I that transparent?" Fate smiled lightly at the situation. "It seems like everyone can tell I'm upset, even though I try to hide it."

"I don't know about everyone else, but I've been with you for almost two years now, half of that in this room and on missions... I guess I just have a feel for it?" Tea stood up and walked over to the bed to sit by her friend.

Fate smiled again, once more noticing that the girl had recently started wearing her hair down in imitation of hers. She knew that the gunslinger looked up to her and felt a small sense of embarrassment when she remembered that she had done the same thing when she was younger. Signum still teased her about it from time to time, and even had a picture of the blonde with her hair braided up in a ponytail that she still kept with her.

"So," Tea began, leaning forward and looking to the side at Fate. "Want to talk about it?"

Fate took the offered help and thought what she could ask that her friends haven't already told her. "Can I ask you a question instead?" She got a curt nod. "How do you see me in my relationship with Nanoha?" Tea paused a moment, rolling the question over in her mind. "Please, be honest Tea."

The redhead licked her lips. "Promise not to get upset?" This time she was nodded at, so she took a deep breath. "I think you're a little selfish."

"Selfish?" Fate repeated the word, shocked at the answer. Many words had gone through her head when she asked, but selfish hadn't been one.

"Yeah," Tea's word trailed off as she thought of how to better explain it. "You're a lot like Subaru." Fate once again looked as if she had been slapped in the face. Confusion was clear in her eyes and her mouth was open a little as she tried to process being compared to the hyper, energetic girl who never seemed to stop talking. "You see," Tea went on, once more catching Fate's full attention. "Subaru always... clings to me. She calls me every night and when we're together she is always touching me. I know she is overly affectionate, but I think she tries to make up for her not... being born the same way I was… Like she has to try that little extra bit to keep my attention. Sometimes she gets really self-conscious about it and calls me up with this puppy dog face and asks me if I still love her." She sighed out and gave an annoyed look at the door across the room before shaking her head. "Sorry, I went a little off there... but sometimes that's how I see you. I don't know if you do or not, but... yeah."

Fate stayed silent for a long moment, looking down at her lap. As Tea realized that she probably wasn't going to get a reply just yet, she went on a little more. "Despite this, I can't really stay mad at her, you know?" Fate looked over at her again, this time getting a smile. "If she didn't really love me, she wouldn't worry about it so much. I know she's selfish and needy and clingy, but... she loves me." The girl scratched her cheek lightly. "Though I wish I was more like Nanoha-san, she seems to always know just what to say--hey, I'm sorry did I say something wrong?"

The blonde wiped her eyes and shook her head, smiling. "No, no you really helped."

"Don't cry, I have no idea how to deal with that." Tea grinned with as much humor as she could manage.

"I won't." Fate sat upright and smiled at her, eyes closed. "I've cried so much the past few days I don't think I can let any more out." She waved her hand when the girl went to ask about it. "I'm okay now, really... Thank you, Tea."

"...Glad I could help, I guess." The girl smiled back but looked at the door when a knock came on it. "Come in?" To her surprise, the captain himself opened the door, making each girl stand and salute their friend.

"At ease, girls." He told them with a grim tone. "I know you just got back, Fate-san, but I need both of you to depart immediately to help a newly administrated planet. There is a group rebelling against the alliance with us, and it turns out they have been a problem on that planet for some time now. It is best we fix this now so our negotiations and visitations with the planet will go smooth in the future."

"Both of us?" Fate asked, slightly confused. "Is the group that powerful?"

"I'm afraid so, their technology was one thing that lead us to make the treaty with them. Our men are experiencing high level AMF type devices; we will need both of you there until it is settled. Are you able to depart in half an hour?"

"Yes sir," Fate saluted once more and heard her partner agree as well. The captain nodded at them and turned, leaving the girls to prepare themselves. "Well… I'm sure Nanoha will just love hearing I'm going out again so soon." Tea gave her an apologetic look before going to her desk to get her things ready as well as give her some privacy for the phone call. 'Great,' Fate thought to herself as Bardiche connected with her house's device. 'I just know she's going to give me that concerned look…'

~**~

Nanoha let out a long drawn out sigh as she closed the door behind herself. "Vivio, I'm home." The standard greeting spawned forth a bundle of energy that latched onto her waist in a hug. After a quick 'welcome home!' Nanoha ruffled the girl's hair. "How was your day?" The woman watched Raising Heart fly around the room a moment before coming to rest in the air nearby them.

"It was good, my friends and I stayed in the library after school to study together. We ended up being scolded for being too loud when discussing a problem." Vivio stuck out her tongue playfully and got a small laugh from her mother. "Ah, I just remembered, Fate-mama left mail for you."

"Oh?" Nanoha perked up a little and made her way to the house device before Raising Heart flew in front of her. "Oh! Raising Heart, sync with the house and play messages please." She smiled proudly at her friend who could now do many new things.

"Playing message one of one," Raising Heart flashed briefly before projecting a monitor in front of herself.

"Hello, Nanoha, Vivio," Fate greeted them in the recorded message. "I am leaving for a mission very soon, so I'll be gone by the time you get this. Teana and I are being placed on a newly administered planet to help the transition between governments. I'm told they are advanced and have AMF devices so the chances of mail while I'm there is slim. So, I want to send my wishes to both of you. Vivio, don't worry too much about your test, okay? Don't let Nanoha-mama work too hard, hear me?"

"Yes ma'am." Vivio answered, making Nanoha scratch her cheek lightly.

"And Nanoha," Fate's voice got softer. "Please think about what we talked about. I'm sorry I can't be there to help you with it." She hesitated a moment. "I'll see you in about a month. Bye-bye." She waved slightly, the emotional parting being ruined by Teana calling out that they had to leave.

"A month..." Vivio looked up at her mother. "She'll be here before my graduation, right?"

"Of course, she promised didn't she?" Nanoha answered instantly, making Vivio smile. When the daughter happily went back to her TV shows, Nanoha looked at the now frozen image. 'Fate-chan... Please make it back in time...'

~**~

Nanoha gave a small sigh as she slowly moved her hand up to turn off the floating monitor before her. Raising Heart hovered next to her and instantly moved another monitor to replace the now closed one for her. "Thank you, Raising Heart." The words were said out of habit, her mind elsewhere at the moment. "I haven't been able to contact Fate for a week now..." Closing her eyes, she inhaled deeply and let it out slowly. "She promised she would come for Vivio's graduation... I believe her." Glancing up at the monitor again, she smiled as the video started playing once more. A chef was on the display, instructing his audience how to properly hold a knife while cutting small objects.

Nanoha watched the small segment and looked down at her garlic clove with a new interest before slicing it horizontally twice and then vertically several times. In the end, she beamed down at her work on the finely minced garlic. "Well, at least we won't have chunks in our smashed potatoes, huh, Raising Heart?"

"Please be careful not to cut yourself again, Master." The device told her instead, making Nanoha shift to hide the band-aid on her right hand. "Check your fish, please." The device continued, displaying a countdown timer that still had four minutes left on it.

"It still has a few minutes left." Nanoha replied, scooping up the things on her cutting board and placing them into a pot with the potatoes she was about to finish mashing.

"And remember, fish can overcook and dry out just as fast in four hundred degree oil as well as hot air." The chef on the screen spoke up after the device re-wound the episode and moved a monitor in front of Nanoha so she had to look. "If your oven has a history of being finicky, pull the fish early to check if it's done."

Nanoha rolled her eyes and went to the oven, picking up her thermometer and carefully checking the food's temperature. A moment passed and a beep sounded, signaling that the fish was, indeed, cooked through. "Well I'll be..." Nanoha mused as a potholder was grabbed to remove the pan. "Thank you, Raising Heart." The device fluttered around her, shifting monitors once more so the woman could check what to do next without having to try and remember on her own.

"Mama!" Vivio's voice came up from the living room. "I'm home!"

"Welcome home!" Nanoha called back happily, turning so she could meet her daughter half way. "How was your last day of third grade!?"

"It was really fun!" She gave her mother a high-five and took off her backpack that was overstuffed with the contents of her cleaned-out desk. "What smells so good?"

"Well since this is such an important day for you, I thought we'd have something nice. I'm making some oven cooked fish with lots of sides and a salad that seems like it will be rather tasty." Nanoha went back to her cooking as Vivio inspected everything, doubt in her heterochromic eyes. "Don't worry, Raising Heart is making sure I do everything right. Oh, show me your report card!"

Vivio proudly took out her small cell phone device and allowed Raising Heart to connect to it to retrieve the information onto a display. "I made the honor list again!"

Nanoha looked proudly at her daughter's straight A's. "Congratulations! They will give you a special award at your graduation, right?"

"Uhn!" The small girl looked pleased with herself. "I can't wait until next school year starts! The new building looks really nice, and they even have a science lab as well as a training ground for mage P.E. classes!"

The mother couldn't help but giggle to herself, reflecting back on her grade school and remembering how excited she got about summer breaks that she could spend with her friends and Yuuno without worrying about studying. "Being excited is okay, but make sure to make memories during your summer break as well okay? Pushing yourself too hard isn't good for you." As soon as she said the words, she reflected back on what Fate had talked with her about and fell silent for a brief moment. "Anyway, dinner will be about ten more minutes or so, why don't you go get settled in and change clothes?"

"Yes ma'am." The child smiled and retreated to her room, now carrying her backpack with one hand.

"...Have you made a decision?" Raising Heart asked after a few moments.

"Excuse me?" Nanoha blinked.

"About resting." The small orb flew around Nanoha so she could stay beside her head, shifting monitors again to help Nanoha cook while talking.

"I just don't know... I understand what you are feeling, I really do... But at the same time it's hard for me to picture myself behind a desk. I'm a fighter, not a leader. I can train people and make sure they will be okay, but when it comes to documents and papers I just... I don't know Raising Heart, this would change my whole career, you know?" A small silence passed over them as Nanoha stirred a pot. "I have a small mission I need to go on tomorrow, I'll think more once I get back from it, okay?"

"Yes, Master." The device agreed with the simple request and let the topic drop when a now casually-clad Vivio came back down the stairs.

~**~

"I'm back." Nanoha's tired voice floated around the empty heli-pad, lost in the sounds of the slowing blades above her head. Once her boots touched the roof she let Raising Heart turn back into its normal form and float around her, as well as reclaiming her standard-issue base uniform. Several people filed out behind her, some walking while others limped painfully.

"Final check, guys." She called out to them while repressing a yawn. The moon was high over their heads and the night shift of section six had already been at their posts for hours now. Listing off the names of her small unit, she checked each one and directed some to the hospital wing while the others were dismissed to their barracks.

Once the routine was completed, Nanoha trudged to the door herself. Down the stairs she went, and made a half-hearted attempt at being debriefed before she was dismissed. Making her way to the parking lot, the woman felt a small smile come to her lips when she spied Yuuno sitting on the hood of his car. Her best friend returned the look and opened the door for her. "Long mission?"

"Don't remind me." Nanoha leaned the seat back and rubbed her forehead as Yuuno walked around to enter the driver's side. "It was so annoying; the people I was commanding were so green that it really gave us a disadvantage. I am proud of them but sometimes I just wish I could..."

"Take a breather?" Yuuno asked curiously, arching an eyebrow at her.

"Not a word," Nanoha replied back, her voice mixed with both annoyance and humor. "Thank you for picking me up."

"I couldn't let you drive home after you contacted me. You looked more dead than alive, no offense."

"None taken. Still no word from Fate-chan?"

"I told you when you called me, I'd let you know the second I got in touch with her. Communications are still cut off...Don't worry, she's strong and Tea is also with her."

"I know, but still..." Nanoha sighed out and rolled onto her side to get comfortable, watching the lights of the city glide over the inside of Yuuno's car. "She promised she'd come back, and Vivio's graduation is tomorrow." She found her hand being patted and she interlaced their fingers in an attempt to draw some comfort from her childhood friend. "She'll be fine; Fate-chan is just always bad about making dates." Instead of a reply, she felt Yuuno squeeze her hand lightly. Closing her eyes, she sighed out and listened to the soft music playing on the radio before drifting off, only to be woken after what seemed like only a few seconds. Finding herself being carried up to her front porch, the girl sighed out and spoke against Yuuno's neck as she held onto him. "How bad is it when the top flight ace has to be carried to her bed by a librarian?"

"I can drop you, you know." Yuuno teased back, getting a sleepy chuckle against his skin. "Vivio seems to be asleep, should I wake her?"

"No, she's staying at Syn's place tonight. I don't like leaving her alone." Nanoha felt herself be sat on her feet inside her bedroom and wobbled a bit when her friend withdrew from her. "I can't even stand properly."

"You're tired." Yuuno watched Raising Heart flutter around her master before resting on the pillow-topped podium by the bed. The word Recharging scrolled over the orb's surface steadily in a smooth rotation. "Do you need anything before I head out?"

"Just stay here, it's late." Nanoha opened her closet door and hid behind it while changing into her pajamas. "I need a ride back to the base anyway since my car is there."

"I'm not taking you to morning training." Yuuno told her flatly. "You're sleeping in."

Nanoha moved from the closet and walked over to him, now sporting a button up that went to her knees. "Yuuno, please, I'm too tired to argue about this right now…"

"Then you're too tired to teach tomorrow. I'll take you to the afternoon one, that's all I'm budging."

"…Fine." Nanoha rubbed her eyes and felt Yuuno gently guide her to her bed. "…Hey, Yuuno?" After being tucked in, she smiled up at him lightly. "Thank you for always supporting me."

"Hey, what are friends for, right?" He tapped her nose and got a small giggle. "Rest; I'll see you in the morning."

"Sweet dreams." Nanoha snuggled down deeper in her bed and felt sleep wash over her before Yuuno could even close the door behind him as he left the room.

~**~

Yuuno yawned sleepily when he finally awoke, looking up at the familiar guest room of Nanoha's house blankly for a few moment before remembering that he took his friend home last night. Sitting up, he rubbed his eyes and repressed a second yawn from coming. Light was already spilling into the room and he heard no sounds from the house. 'Odd, it's already this late?' The man left the room and padded down the soft carpet to Nanoha's room, where he knocked softly. "Nanoha?"

No reply came to him, and he gently opened the door to look in. His friend was still in the bed, cheek resting against her pillow and one hand hanging off the side. The covers were sprawled out half on her body and soft, steady breathing was heard in the morning's silence. Slowly, Yuuno closed the door back and smiled to himself before returning to his room. A monitor was brought up and after a few short moments, Vita's face appeared before him. "Good morning, Vita," he greeted casually.

"Yo, what's up?" An explosion rang out behind her and the girl turned her head to the side to shout out. "Oi! Stop messing around and block the attacks!"

Repressing a chuckle, Yuuno got to the point. "Nanoha is still asleep. If she wakes up in time, I'll bring her to the afternoon session. If not, could you possibly cover for her again?"

"Of course." Vita tapped her device on her shoulder. "Make sure that idiot gets some good rest for once, okay? I don't want to have to yell at her again."

"You know as well as I do, she doesn't take no for an answer. If not for her accidently sleeping in, I just know she would have woken me up for this morning's class." The two shared a knowing look before nodding at each other. "Till then."

"Ja." Vita's image vanished, leaving Yuuno to make his way to the study. The room was large and homey, complete with several shelves of old tomes that he himself had given or recommended for Vivio's studies. Picking up one, Yuuno moved to a large chair and sank back into it, crossing he legs on a footstool and opening it up to read.

The male enjoyed his break from the world for a good hour before he heard his name being called out in a slightly annoyed tone. "Yuuno-kuuuun!" Nanoha came into the study, still in her pajamas, and put both hands on her hips. "You let me oversleep on purpose!"

"I have no idea what you mean," he cooed out while still reading. "It would be rude to wake a lady from her beauty sleep." A growl answered him, followed by a light bop on his head. "Did you sleep okay?"

"Yes," Nanoha humphed at him and turned to walk away. "I'll be ready in a few minutes; I don't want you to be any later for work than you have to be. I feel bad enough making you taxi me around."

"Friends do that," Yuuno reminded her simply. "Remember when I broke my leg? You and Fate were both there for me."

"So was Hayate-chan, but I think she was just using it as an excuse." Nanoha's words made the boy blush, and that was enough for her. "Thanks anyway." As she left her friend to return to her room, she let Raising Heart fly around her several times before going to her closet. "Are you recharged?"

"Yes, my master. Yourself?"

"You bet. I haven't slept that long in a few weeks." Despite her words, she still stretched out and yawned. Her pajama top was unbuttoned and fell to the floor, revealing several bruised areas on her body, as well as white cloth wrapped around her ribcage that was still stained a dark crimson. "I will have to postpone my checkup until tomorrow since I don't have time after training this afternoon."

"Master..."

"I'm fine. Really." Nanoha shook a finger at Raising Heart. "I have a job to do, and I need to do it properly. Everyone looks to me as an example, and I want to be sure Vivio has a good mother figure so she will also work hard." If her device was going to continue the conversation, she didn't show it. Instead, the orb flew around her once more in concern.

~**~

Nanoha looked around the large auditorium curiously, eyes scanning the mass of seats filled with parents of students. Luckily for her, Vivio's graduation grade was the only one being presented tonight. Although a small party was being held afterwards for the students to celebrate, she knew the main purpose of it was for the parents to approve the schedule their children had picked out. This at least let her know she didn't have to stay for very long afterwards and could instead use the time to treat her daughter to something special for doing so well this year in school. Hearing her name being called, Nanoha smiled and walked down the aisle to a few empty seats near the front so she could sit next to Elena Virage, Vivio's best friend's mother. "Hey," Nanoha greeted happily. "What a night, huh?"

"Just think, soon we are going to be sitting at their high school graduation wondering where all the time went. I'll take this any day." Elena giggled at Nanoha's worried face. "Don't worry, I'm sure Vivio will stay with you until she's forty."

"She better," Nanoha played along. "I don't want to be an old maid with several cats."

After sharing a laugh together, Elena checked her watch. "Still half an hour to go... Is Fate-san with Vivio?"

"She's on a mission," Nanoha's words were mixed between annoyance and concern. "She promised she would be back before then but she hasn't even called me."

"Are you worried?"

"Fate-chan can handle herself, I just feel like she isn't contacting me because she knows I'll be furious if she isn't here tonight. She promised Vivio, and trust me when I say that my little girl has puppy dog eyes that will make anyone break into tears."

"Syn-chan just gets annoyed and puts her hand on her hip with a glare. It's the cutest thing you will ever see." The two mothers giggled again while Nanoha checked her watch despite having just being told the time.

"She should be here... So help me if she comes in at the last second, I'm going to give her an earful for making me worry."

"So you are worried."

Having being caught off guard, Nanoha simply sighed. "Well... I'm always a little worried about her. She's strong and won't give up, but still..."

"Love, what can you do, huh?"

"...Yeah." Heaving a small sigh, Nanoha leaned back in the chair and crossed her legs. As the chairs around them started to fill, the two mothers made small talk until the lights started to dim and the stage light up slowly. With their attention there, Nanoha felt a bit of pride swell in her chest when Vivio walked on the stage in front of the curtain and stood in front of a microphone.

"Thank you for coming to the Saint's Academy's third grade graduation." Giving a small bow, several whispers were heard about how cute she was in her little gown. Half expecting to hear her mother's voice say 'that's my daughter!' Vivio raised back up and smiled. Her mis-matched eyes scanned the room and found her mother quickly, her happy mood pausing briefly when she noticed the empty chair by Nanoha. "Without any farther delay, I present to you, the graduating class." Several people clapped and Vivio bowed once more before walking off the stage.

Nanoha sighed and rubbed her forehead. "She saw."

"I couldn't tell."

Propping her cheek up onto her palm, she braced her elbow on the armrest next to her. "Must be my maternal instincts. I'm going to scold Fate-chan really good for this..." The curtain rose up, cutting off any more conversation they might have had.

Raising Heart bought up a small screen for Nanoha, who quickly moved it in front of herself. A small blinking word flashed on the screen, declaring the input to be recorded. As their names were called out, the children went one by one to the middle of the stage; got their award saying they graduated, and returned to their seat. Occasionally, a student would be given two awards, each one being announced by the Sister at the microphone.

When Vivio's name was called, Nanoha felt everything else shift from her focus and she watched with pride as her daughter walked across the stage. The first award was announced just like the others, followed by a second stating she was on the honor roll. Finally, a third award was announced of being the top of the graduating class. Not being able to help herself, Nanoha found her hands clapping louder than everyone else's and even called her daughter's name out loudly. The small girl on stage stiffened lightly but accepted her awards and hurried back to her seat, blushing darkly.

Elena nudged her friend lightly once her daughter sat down, smiling at her and making Nanoha clear her throat and pretend as if she didn't just have - what Fate called- a "mama moment."

The rest of the award ceremony lasted almost a half hour before finally wrapping up and allowing them to disperse to a large outside area. Tables were filled with drinks and snacks for the students and several teachers were walking around, discussing the child's schedule and expectations for the next school year at the building next to where they were used to going.

"Nanoha-san," a sister greeted contently as she found the woman. "Good evening, thank you for coming."

"Of course." Nanoha smiled back, placing her hands on Vivio's shoulders and pulling her to stand in front of her, much to the girl's displeasure and embarrassment of being practically hugged in front of all her friends. "I wouldn't miss it for anything."

"I'm glad," the teacher flipped through some papers she was holding and offered one to Nanoha. "Here is what Vivio-san has requested for next year. I'm a little worried she may have overloaded her schedule."

Nanoha hummed as she looked over it, seeing the word advanced in front of all of her general education courses. Besides that, she spied a strike martial arts training instead of the standard P.E. class, a magic tutoring session taking half her lunch and break time allowed, and "requested library permission" instead of study hall. "I see... Vivio, this will be really hard. Are you sure you don't want to take your full lunch?"

"I eat fast, and we normally go to the library anyway." Vivio answered her politely, testing to see if she could move away but found Nanoha's one hand on her shoulder pulling her close once more.

"Well... Okay then, if this is what you really want." Nanoha handed the paper back to the Sister. "I approve."

"It will be bad if she has to change classes midway in," the teacher advised helpfully. "Are you sure she should be completely in advanced classes? Normally a student will only pick their best subject to advance in."

Nanoha nodded. "She has a private tutor as well; he's my best friend and head of the Infinite Library. Vivio is really smart so I think it will be okay."

"... Well, you know best." With a smile, the Sister took the paper and scribbled down the approval and gave Vivio a copy of her next year's schedule, which was also given digitally to Nanoha to store in her device. "Thank you, please have a nice evening."

"Thank you," Nanoha bowed as well and rubbed Vivio's shoulders once she stood up straight again. "I'm impressed, Vivio."

"Mama... this is really embarrassing." Vivio complained lightly.

"Oh, I'm sorry." Nanoha let Vivio go and bent her knees so she could talk to her on eye level. "Do you want to be with your friends a little longer, or are you ready to go?"

"Is Fate-mama at home? Is she too tired to come here tonight?" Nanoha hesitated in her reply and Vivio picked up what it meant before her mother could talk. "Oh... Okay."

"She really wanted to be here, sweetie--"

"I understand. Fate-mama is busy, right?" Putting on a small smile, Vivio continued on. "I'd like to be with my friends for a while longer, should I meet you at the car in a bit?"

"Half an hour, okay?" Nanoha smiled as best she could and watched Vivio trot away from her without getting her usual hug or high-five. 'Fate-chan... Where are you?'

~**~

"What a day..." Nanoha breathed out as she almost wobbled down the hallway to Shamal's office. "I cannot believe I let that attack get through. I don't know what I would do without you, Raising Heart, your auto shield really helped me today."

"I care for you, my Master."

"I care for you too," Nanoha raised her hand to let Raising Heart perch on it so she could give her a soft kiss. "Thank you. Any contact from Fate-chan?"

A few seconds passed as Raising Heart scanned the communication logs she had access to. "Yes, Master."

Nanoha stopped walking at once. "Where is she!?"

"Planet Zebes, requesting backup for the final push on the enemy base in Crateria"

Nanoha turned on the spot, jogging from Shamal's office not a few paces from her and instead heading down another hallway to the main deployment section. "Why didn't you tell me!?"

"You are in no condition for battle, Master."

"That is my decision to make!" Nanoha hit her hand onto a scanner by the closed door and ignored the stinging feeling it caused. Once she was granted access, she stormed in and gaped at Hayate standing before her. Already in her Barrier Jacket, the smaller girl turned and looked at Nanoha in shock. "Hayate-chan!" Nanoha spoke before her friend could. "Why didn't you contact me?"

Hayate licked her lips before replying. "You haven't had time to recover from your last mission, and your students are not strong enough for this. I need you at base."

Nanoha shook her head. "Why are you going?"

"...They encountered a powerful AMF, one that reduces their powers to a point where our basic soldiers are rendered almost helpless. Their technology prevented Fate-chan from contacting us until just recently when they took out a tower that was jamming the signals. Nanoha-chan, I have to go myself so no more people will be hurt."

"That's even more of a reason to use me!"

"Calm down." Hayate put her hands on Nanoha's shoulders and looked at her slate blue eyes until the girl took a steadying breath. "I know you're worried, but--"

"I'm terrified," Nanoha countered softly. "She asked for you didn't she? I know she did."

Hayate stayed silent a moment before answering. "Yes, she did."

"Then that means she really is in trouble, doesn't it?"

"...Yes, that is why I need to go."

"Hayate-chan, I'm coming too."

"No."

Nanoha shook her head. "I won't abandon her when she needs me."

"And I won't let my best friend get hurt because of me." Hayate rubbed Nanoha's shoulders gently. "You are tired and weak, and even went to your training field without contacting Shamal. You aren't in a position where you can fight like I need you to, otherwise I would take you in a heartbeat."

"Hayate-chan!" Nanoha reached up and took Hayate's hands. "I know what you mean, but I can handle myself just fine. I promise to you that I'm strong enough to come help."

Hayate stared at her friend for a moment before finally speaking to her once more. "You can come..." Her words made Nanoha's eyes widen thankfully. "...If you are strong enough to break these binds."

Before Nanoha could open her mouth to ask, several golden ropes wrapped around her waist, ankles, wrists, legs, and biceps. "Hayate-chan!?"

Hayate caught Nanoha as she fell and gently laid her on the floor. "I'm sorry... I'll bring her back to you, I promise." Turning, she raised her voice and spoke in a commanding tone. "Set coordinates to Zebes!"

"Hayate-chan!" Nanoha struggled on the ground, looking up with a hurt and fearful look. "Hayate-chan!?"

Hayate walked to the teleporting platform, avoiding Nanoha's tear filled eyes and pleading face. "Teleport when path is stable." Her name was yelled once more and she couldn't help herself from looking down at her hurt friend, who was now struggling against the bind harshly. 'You can be mad at me, if I can be sure you're safe, Nanoha-chan... Please, trust me.'

Griffith knelt down next to Nanoha and placed a hand on her shoulder. "Here, let me…" The girl nodded softly, still in a small state of shock at what just happened. The binds on her were easily dispersed and the woman was helped to her feet slowly. "Nanoha-san, I know this isn't the right time to say this but… Hayate-san asked me to tell you to report to Shamal for your checkup…"

"I'm not a baby," Nanoha whispered just loud enough so he could hear. "I was going to go anyway." As she left the room, she could feel the tension in the air break the moment she was no longer visible to the people inside. 'I couldn't even stand up…' she thought as her body went on auto pilot, walking back to the medical wing she had run from earlier. 'Just like back then, I overworked myself to the point of not being able to help anyone.' Raising Heart flew around her, making Nanoha give her a small, gentle smile. "I know, Raising Heart, I did it to myself… Fate-chan wouldn't want me to put myself in danger for her… and I'm… not strong enough right now."

"I feel as if you understand now, my master."

Nanoha nodded sadly. "It took one of my best friends in the world to restrain me for me to understand what everyone has seen for so long… I'm powerful, and I can handle the harsh schedules and expectations of me, but if I don't limit myself, I won't be able to help when the time calls for it… I'm such an idiot." The medical bay door was opened and Nanoha walked in, eyes downcast. "Shamal… I'm here for my checkup."

Shamal looked up from her desk and inhaled deeply through her nose before standing, having known the situation beforehand. The look on her friend's face was enough to tell her that Hayate had already left without her, and she wasn't pleased with herself. "Alright… shirt, please." She watched Nanoha reluctantly unbutton her jacket and undershirt before taking it off to reveal several bruises and cuts along her body. A sigh was given and Nanoha sat on the doctor's bed without having to be asked to. "Nanoha…"

"I know, I'm sorry." Nanoha whispered to her. "I won't do this again, I promise." Her head turned to look at the doctor and she asked something that she never thought she'd hear herself say willingly. "Can we do a full physical and everything too, please?"

~**~

Nanoha looked at Vivio's sleeping figure from the doorway, smiling happily at the girl before walking across the room and slowly pulling the book out from under her. Covers were shifted and the child moved lightly to get comfortable without fully waking up. The mother placed a bookmark between the pages of the tome and sat it on her nightstand before clicking off the lamp on it. As silently as she could, Nanoha left the room and closed the door behind herself. The lights were mostly out in the house and after checking her watch, the girl realized that she was up way past her own bedtime, despite having the next two days off. Instead of going to her room, Nanoha walked to the kitchen and poured some water into her coffee maker to heat it up. The girl took a packet of instant hot chocolate and poured it into a mug before she simply leaned on the counter, staring out the kitchen window out onto the night illuminated by streetlamps.

A sigh came and Nanoha poured part of the now hot pitcher of water into her mug before stirring it and inhaling the soothing scent. Making her way over to the couch, she sat down and took a small sip of her drink, giving it an appreciative look. Half-interested eyes watched the flickering screen of late-night T.V. as the channels were changed. Another sip was taken but she almost dropped the cup when the sudden ringing of the doorbell made the girl jerk in surprise. 'Who in the world would come at this hour?' Setting her mug down, Nanoha stood and began walking to the door before stopping. 'Wait a second…' Her mind suddenly turned fearful and she walked to the door slowly when the ringing came again. 'If that is someone from the base… Oh my god…' Nanoha swallowed and raised a shaking hand to unlatch the deadbolt lock. Prayers came quickly as she turned the second lock on the knob was turned, and the door opened slowly to show the Section Six uniform. Nanoha felt her heart stop beating for a brief second before she realized that she knew the person in front of her. "Fate…-chan…"

"Sorry, Bardiche is being recovered and I couldn't use the key system to unlock the door." Fate's soft words were paired with a glance downwards. A sling was over her right shoulder, holding her left hand in a cast. Her other hand was wrapped in a bandage and white strips of cloth were visible near her neck where her shirt was unbuttoned. Instead of a reply, Nanoha simply opened her arms up and stepped forward, embracing the woman in a careful hug.

"Welcome home…" The words were gently spoken into Fate's ear as she held her.

"I'm home," Fate whispered back just as lightly. "I missed you."

"Same." Pulling back, Nanoha let Fate into the house and closed the door behind herself. "How did you get here?"

"Hayate drove me after we checked out of the hospital. Tea will have to stay for a few days but she told me I should go home before Hayate contacted you and dragged me here." Fate smiled softly and limped a few steps until Nanoha rushed to her. "I'm okay, just…Okay; I'm hurt and really want a bath."

"Not until the disinfectant has had a chance to work," Nanoha scolded while helping Fate to their bedroom. "Get changed for bed, I'll bring you some hot chocolate."

"I would love that, but," Fate's words kept Nanoha from leaving. "I can't get undressed by myself." A shy look made Nanoha almost tear up before helping her to sit on the bed. "Ah… Ow…"

Nanoha began to undo Fate's buttons, and then helped hold Fate's sling as it was removed from her arm. "Does it hurt badly?"

Fate winced at the movement and had to take a small breather before allowing her jacket to come off. "Yes, but as long as I'm not… ow… moving it, it doesn't hurt…" Her eyes closed and the two took another few moments before the white undershirt came off. "My left arm is broken and my right hand is sprained. My ribs are bruised but not cracked at least, and my left leg feels like I pulled every muscle in it."

"That bad, huh?" Nanoha asked softly, adjusting Fate's hair before letting her lean back so she could get the skirt. "I'm so sorry I wasn't able to help."

"It's okay," Fate took a deep breath as she lifted her hips. "I'm glad you were here, safe. Hayate told me you were hurt from a previous mission."

"I'm fine, just a little banged up. That was a few days ago, anyway." Moving to get the girl some night clothes, she assisted Fate in covering herself with a black teddy. "There, want something hot to drink?"

"Thank you, but… I really don't think I can lift my arms right now." Fate shifted and found Nanoha helping her lean back onto a mass of pillows. "Ah... Ngh… phew. Moving hurts." Fate closed her eyes and inhaled deeply. "It feels so good to be here right now." A few moments passed in silence before Fate spoke again. "Did you record Vivio's graduation for me?"

"I did." Nanoha gave a small smile. "I was so mad at you…"

"I understand, I promised after all." Fate made another grunt of pain as she tried to get more comfortable. "You know… While I was on that planet, I realized something."

"What's that?" The blue eyed girl sat next to Fate and carefully draped an arm over her shoulders, being mindful not to put pressure on them.

Fate leaned her head back onto Nanoha's arm and looked u pat the ceiling. "I've never really worried if I would make it back or not… I've always told myself that I had people waiting on me, so I had no choice but to return. During this mission, I thought something different… I thought that even if I did come back, I would still have missed something really important to Vivio… something that she really wanted me to be there for."

"She understands--"

Fate shook her head carefully. "No, it's not that. I know she understands, but I also know it upsets her… and it upsets me. She made me promise to be there because she wanted me to be proud of her… She wanted me to be there as her mama… And what I realized was…" Turning to look at Nanoha, she felt a tear come to her eye. "I wanted to be there as well. I wanted to be recording her walk and cheer at her when she got her awards. I wanted to hug and kiss her and embarrass her in front of all of her friends. I wanted to be a mother."

Nanoha looked at her while carefully wiping away the tear. "I don't understand, she considers you a mother anyway?"

"No, Nanoha, I…" Shifting with a small yelp, she leaned against her friend. "I remembered what it meant to be a mother. It isn't just making sure that you and Vivio are all right, that you two are happy… I realized that I really wanted to be a part of it, even if it meant complications and misunderstandings… Even if it meant hurting while being away from you two and us getting into arguments again on how to raise her." She felt herself be gently embraced and she closed her eyes again. "When I realized that I was hurting Vivio and you so much by not being there, I finally accepted how much I wanted to be part of your lives… Nanoha…" Moving back just enough to look up at her, Fate smiled sincerely. "I'm not the best mother figure… I will make mistakes, will have to go on long missions sometimes, and might make you and Vivio cry at times… But I want to be there for you…I want to be her mama, and be with you once more… So… Will you take me back?"

"Of course," Nanoha replied softly, a content smile on her lips. "You didn't even have to ask." Moving down, she gave the blonde a gentle kiss. "I'm not the best mother either, that's why we have to work together, right?" She got a small nod and embraced her girlfriend as carefully as she could. "Welcome home, Fate-chan… really and truly… Welcome home."

~~**~~

~Fin

Author's notes: I'm sorry it took a while to finish his, but I hope it was worth the wait. Once again, special thanks to Dezo for looking over this for me and helping me along the way. As before this is dedicated to the NanoFate-dot-us site and everyone who helps bring us translated doujinshi of this couple.

~~**~~

Hayate looked up as a knocking came on her door. "Come in," she called out lightly, saving her work quickly so she could talk to her visitor. When the door opened, she smiled at her friend. "Ah, hey, Nanoha-chan. What's up?"

Nanoha stood in front of Hayate and took a deep breath. "I would like to take a temporary leave from active duty."

The shorter girl smiled brightly and stood up behind her desk. "Oh? What did you have in mind?"

"I would like to continue to train my students, but no longer be on call for missions… I want a desk job that would allow me mornings to train and to be able to leave at five so I can cook dinner for Vivio and Fate-chan."

Hayate walked around to stand in front of Nanoha and lightly sat on her desk, still smiling. "Were you aware that Fate-chan requested to be stationed here and for her mission leave to be reduced?"

This time Nanoha smiled at her and saluted. "Yes ma'am, we decided on it together… as a family."

Hayate saluted back. "Permission to step down granted. I'll expect you to chose a post and report back to me in a few days." The two shared a small laughed together. "I'm glad everything worked out for you, Nanoha-chan."

"Thanks to you as well," Nanoha told her happily. "Thank you for looking after me." Hayate blushed lightly at her. "Now, if you'll excuse me, my girlfriend and daughter are waiting downstairs for me."

"Have fun, Nanoha-chan." Hayate waved lightly and beamed at her friend's back as she left. 'All's well that ends well, they say.'