The Deep Shadow of Chrono Harlaown

Chrono knew he was fading, but he had much more to do that night. There had been... a rash of problems that he had to send his own operatives after in the past three days. Eight missions in three days, all of them with their own special complications. And he had to make sure it was all taken care of; that he and his agents could still operate as they should. As they needed. As everyone needed. Didn't change the fact that his headache was getting worse.

He finished writing a report and sent it to the various parties who needed to know about the special circumstances that surrounded one of the target's deaths. In that case he had been "about to take an innocent hostage; upon attempting to immediately incapacitate him, the agent missed her target slightly, causing the target to fall and attempt to grab the hostage by the arm. So the agent shot his arm." Leaving it a bloody mess, but he didn't include that in the report. The target had died from the fall off the building; the shot that blew his arm off had merely been the last straw in determining that he would fall.

After he cleared the report from his monitor, he pulled up his next agent's report, and he cringed. This one was going to take a lot more writing around in order to make it look like something else. Maybe kill or be killed? He tried not to use that too much, because it threw a red flag to anyone who was looking (namely Yagami Hayate, who, while never outright stepping against him in his necessary actions, certainly knew how to push his buttons if she thought he crossed a line). He wasn't looking forward to the talking-to that he was likely to get about this one.

As he started in on the report, he heard a knock on the door. After he cleared his agent's report from his screen and returned to typing his own, he called, "come in."

Amy stuck her head in. "Honey? It's late; come to bed."

Chrono kept typing. "Got lots of reports to write. I'll join you in under an hour." He saw out of the corner of his eye that she had sighed in response, but he kept typing.

"Are you hungry or thirsty? I've got some leftovers here that need to be eaten and can get you something to drink to get you through report writing... I know how much you hate it."

Chrono kept typing. "I'd love that, thank you, Amy. A water and something small."

His wife disappeared from the door. Chrono had to stop typing to yawn and stretch. He tried not to, but there wasn't anything he could do about it. He managed to not glance at the clock, though. He knew that the instant he knew what time it was, he was done for. He pulled up the agent's report again to get a couple details to fill in a few gaps in the report that he had been typing while Amy had been in the room, then wiped it and continued typing. He'd gotten another paragraph in when his wife returned to the room carrying a tray.

"I know it's probably too much food, but it needs to be eaten or thrown out tonight," she said as she entered this time. "Just toss the rest into the kitchen garbage when you're done." She set the tray down next to him, and stood there with her hand on his shoulder for a while, watching him type, but unable to see what he was typing. "Honey..."

Chrono kept typing, his eyes on the screen that was currently a little harder to see in order for Amy to not see the report from her vantage point. "Yes?"

"I'm afraid."

Period. Double carriage return. Shift- "Of what?"

"For." She let a long pause draw out, the only sound the beeping of the keyboard. "You." She paused again, this time much shorter. "Of your department."

"Nothing has ever been confir-"

"I know what you do, Chrono. There's no need to sugarcoat it." She had cut him off. She must have been extremely upset about this. "I'm afraid that you've changed."

"I'm committed to the same things I always have been, dear." His fingers were flying across the keys as he squinted to still be able to see his screen, even at the perfect angle. "You know that."

"Your principles. You would never have done this when we met the girls." There was no question of what 'girls' she was talking about, as one of them was her sister-in-law. "You even stopped Admiral Graham from doing something very similar back then."

If only she knew that Graham had held the position she was objecting to him holding at one time. "I would do the same now; it was not necessary to do what they were trying." Only because the girls' idea worked, though.

"That wasn't the only time you fought against these kinds of efforts, Chrono."

"I was more naïve then. We both were." He knew his voice sounded somewhat dead because of his split focus, but he hoped that she'd chalk it up to tiredness.

"You were the best Enforcer I had ever seen. You were promoted to Admiral faster than even your father. It's not something that you ever would have contemplated back then."

Chrono kept typing. "I'm not cut out to be an agent, Amy. I know that."

"You wouldn't have been able to do this. You shouldn't now. What changed? The man I married wouldn't have headed this department."

"The man you married already was." The beeping continued unabated. He thought he almost had this one finished. He paused just long enough to wipe his brow.

The grip on his shoulder became tighter for a split-second, then relaxed. "Then you first changed before then. What was it?"

"I got less naïve. Just as everyone else did."

"When?"

A momentary glance upward toward the concerned face of his wife before returning to the screen. "When the whole family changed. When we were afraid we'd lost a member again."

"Why-? Nanoha's accident had nothing to do with... what you do now."

"Not directly." Chrono kept typing. "It changed my mindset slightly; opened possibilities."

Amy sighed, and Chrono let out a breath too. She had given up on the line of questions, and was going to leave him be for the rest of the night. "Just... there's a line, Chrono. A line that I don't think you've crossed yet, but have likely come very close to. There's a limit... and don't you dare cross it. I will know if you cross it, Chrono Harlaown. Don't think that I'm just a blind civilian taking care of kids and a house. I'm still the analyst that handled the Arthra for more than eight years. I don't want you to be doing what you do... but if you're there and refuse to cross that line... that's better than someone who wouldn't be able to make that distinction. As long as you can still make that distinction." She squeezed his shoulder gently. "I'm holding you to that hour." She left, making sure that her body moved precisely the way he liked it as it passed through his vision. The door shut behind her with a soft click.

As Chrono restored the visibility of the screen so that he didn't have to squint so hard to see what he was doing, he let himself stretch and read over the report. After fixing a pair of typos, he fired it off – he wasn't going to be able to make it any better than that for scrutiny.

Before he pulled up the last agent's report, he rubbed his eyes and thought over his wife's little speech. While he had practice coming back to most of her points (as Hayate was eager to test him, he had gotten good real fast), the speech at the end had touched a nerve. He knew he was close to the line that Amy was referring to. It wasn't something that was easy to determine whether he'd crossed, though. There was a part of him that fully believed that the ends justified the means. A part of him that watched many good soldiers of his die for the ideals of the TSAB. A part of him that watched even some close friends fall in battles that they could have won long earlier if 'kill' were an option.

He didn't listen to the other part anymore. He couldn't afford to. Innocent lives depended on him every day. He settled in and started to type the last report of the night, then glanced back at the agent's report and bit back a groan. Hayate was going to lay into him the next time she saw him.

Chrono kept typing.