Chapter 23: I Should Go
Perspectives in Bold.
Thoughts and time changes in Italics.
Songs mentioned, referred, or themed to:
I Should Go by Levi Kreis
Disclaimer: I do not own MGLN or any of its characters.
Ginga and Hayate got married a year ago. Fate's grandmother passed away and Fate made the unfortunate (fortunate?) mistake of kissing Nanoha in a graveyard (kind of a strange place to kiss someone). After the funeral, Fate starts pulling away from Kaya and they break up a few months later. Fate moves in with her step-grandparents, and stays in Mid-Childa after the break-up. Nanoha is angry after the kiss and vents to her father, who gives her some advice. She is left confused about what she wants and needs. And that's where we find our dysfunctional characters...
Six months ago... December
Fate settled her full weight on her overflowing suitcase. She shoved a stray white T-shirt back into the bag before tugging the zipper closed. Releasing a sigh she rolled off the top of the bag and stood. Tomorrow she left Uminari with a mixture of anticipation and anxiety.
Due to an unexpected sabbatical of the TSAB biology teacher, a position opened up at the middle school. Jail emailed her and told her to apply for the position. Of course, a phone call came the next day. Her uncle didn't deem it fair for her to get the spot unless she underwent a thorough interview like any other candidate.
So she spent a half-an-hour answering his inane questions, then another thirty minutes answering his idiotic questions like 'what color is your brain', 'what kind of tree would you be', and 'what kind of mythical beast would you be'. After all of that he told her she would hear from him in the next few days. Five minutes later he called back. He said it was a close competition but she got the job.
The school would use a temp until winter break, after which she would start teaching. She felt bad for using her family connections to get a job, but that didn't stop her from accepting it. In January she would be faced with a classroom of thirteen year-old students.
As much as she appreciated her step-grandparents, she wanted to go home. At the end of high school, she wanted nothing more than to be away from home. After university her world flipped, and she felt like she needed to be back in Uminari. The move would be a big change, but she felt ready for change.
Dark red eyes scanned the small room for anything thing else. Empty. A reflection of how she felt more often than she admitted. She kept her break-up from most with exception of her family, Ginga, and Signum. Though her reasons for the split she kept all to herself, especially reason number one.
Though she never contacted Nanoha, the other girl occupied her mind more often than she would admit. Certain things triggered more meaningful memories. A song or a shade of blue. It was usually something simple that recalled moments they shared. Her daydreams tortured her by replaying the night they spent together more than two years ago. Teary blue eyes filled with pleading haunted her thoughts, always begging the question of what if she stayed. But 'what if' and 'if only' did not change the present.
Closing the door to her room and to her thoughts, she joined her step-grandparents for dinner.
Two days later...
"Why do you have so much stuff?" Precia complained as she carefully placed the cardboard box in her arms on another one.
Fate lumbered down the basement stairs. "I lived there for six years," she gruffly replied from behind the plastic bin in her arms.
"You left half of your stuff in Mid-Childa. And you still have this much left?" Precia surveyed the newly occupied basement space. Boxes and crates all belonging to her daughter were stacked along the wall. "You, my beautiful spawn, are a hoarder."
Fate pointed to herself, "Kettle." She pointed to Precia, "Pot." The blonde nodded toward racks and boxes stacked in the adjacent corner. "All of that junk is yours."
Sculpted black eyebrows knitted into a frown, "How cruel." Precia sighed, "So ungrateful. That's all of your childhood memories."
"That's upstairs." Fate replied defiantly. "All of that," she pointed to the corner boxes, "is a result of your hoarding."
The doctor playfully glared at her daughter, "At least that was the last of it."
"Yeah. I'm hungry. What's for dinner?"
Precia's frown deepened, "I think I'm going to start charging rent just for the grocery bills."
"I don't eat that much."
A dark eyebrow arced at the defensive claim.
Fate huffed her annoyance, "I don't."
"My wallet says otherwise."
"Mom," Fate drawled. Her phone buzzed in her pocket, interrupting their mock argument. "What Hayate?"
"Fate, please try to sound a little more cheerful. I'm not death calling."
"That's what I tell her." Precia chimed in.
Fate lowered the phone slightly, and waved her mother away. "Stop eavesdropping."
"I wasn't. That thing is obnoxiously loud." The doctor walked toward the kitchen anyways. "You've been spending too much time with your grandparents."
Fate dutifully ignored the jab. "I'll try being more cheerful next time," Fate grumbled to Hayate.
"Good. You'll be working with kids soon. Better practice that cheerful tone."
"It's scary how fast information spreads around here." The soon-to-be teacher settled on the living room couch.
"Of course I know. Your uncle told me after he made me guess who was going to be my new co-worker."
Fate made a note to herself to have a word with the new headmaster. "Right. So any tips for me?"
"Get eyes on the back of your head." The serious tone to Hayate's voice caused Fate to worry. "Bring an extra set of clothes, a can of mace, a taser, and a bat with you to class on the first day. Make sure the bat is visible."
Fate frowned. She didn't know whether to respond seriously or laugh. "Ha ha right."
Part of Fate was still doubtful. "Really?"
"Of course not." Hayate laughed at Fate's expense. "Just act as happy as you were when you answered and you'll be fine."
The sarcastic edge wasn't lost on the new teacher. "Thanks."
"Oh by the way," Hayate paused while Fate listened more intently, "Why didn't you tell me?"
"I have no idea what you're talking about."
"About the break-up."
Fate sighed, she made another note about talking to Ginga. "I didn't really want to talk about it. And Ginga was supposed to keep it a secret."
"She's my wife. We have no secrets." A pause. "Shamal and I overheard her and Signum talking about it."
Fate rolled her eyes, "I'm sorry I didn't tell you. Who did you tell?"
"No one. Why would I tell anyone? Contrary to what you may believe I do not spend all my time talking about you." Hayate was silent for a moment. "It's not like you come up in conversation. I don't go, 'Oh, Ginga and I are great. But I heard Fate broke up with her girlfriend'."
The line was silent.
"That's exactly what you say isn't it?"
"Not those words exactly." The teacher finally relented, "So I told a few people. Friends we all know. Think of it this way, I saved you the trouble."
Fate rolled her eyes, "Thanks."
"I'll make it up to you. Stop by the school tomorrow. I'll give you a tour and help you with your paperwork."
"Okay." Fate's mind was already elsewhere, "I'll see you tomorrow."
Hayate and Ginga's Apartment...
"What are you doing?" Ginga asked as she peeked at her quiet wife from the kitchen.
Hayate didn't look up from her phone screen. "Calling Nanoha."
"Just seeing what she's up to." Light blue eyes narrowed on the young teacher.
"Hayate," Ginga stepped out of the kitchen. Darker blue eyes filled with guilty mischief finally looked at her. "You have the 'I am about to make trouble face' on. What are you up to? You just talked to Fate."
Hayate pressed send, devious glint in her eyes. "Nothing, nothing."
Ginga rolled her eyes then sighed. She shook her head. "Put it on speaker."
"Hey Hayate, I'm kinda busy so if this isn't urgent I'll call you later."
"Wow you need to work on your phone etiquette too."
"What?" Nanoha replied, obviously confused.
"Nothing. What are you doing?"
"Finishing up a paper I have to turn in. Soon. Very soon. So..."
Hayate quickly interrupted, "Oh Fate called me today." The teacher shrugged off the questioning look her wife was giving her. "She's back in Uminari." Nanoha remained silent, so Hayate decided to continue, "She going to work at TSAB middle school next quarter."
"Oh." The tapping of the keyboard Hayate previously heard ceased. "So she's back for good then?"
"So far." Hayate raised an eyebrow at Ginga.
For a moment the couple thought Nanoha disconnected. "I see. If that's all I have to get back to my report. I'll talk to you later. Say hi to Ginga for me."
"I will." The brunette rushed.
"That was quick." Hayate frowned at her phone screen.
Ginga narrowed her eyes. She plucked the phone from Hayate's hands. "No more meddling tonight."
"Aw Ginga, why not?" Hayate whined, but Ginga walked away, phone in hand. "You're no fun."
"Oh yeah?" Ginga questioned from the kitchen. "Then you can have fun all by yourself tonight."
Hayate's eyes widened. "What do you mean?" Silence. "Ginga?" She briskly followed her wife into the kitchen.
Ginga leaned against the kitchen counter with a grin. A mischievous glint sparkled in those sky blue eyes. "Took you long enough."
"Tease." Ginga sat her glass of red wine on the countertop.
"Mrs. Yagami, what time is it?"
Hayate glanced at the microwave clock, 12:05 PM. "No cell phone Saturday," the teacher whispered. No cell phone Saturday was a twenty-four hour block during which they both kept their cell phones off. "Sorry."
Ginga just smiled and took her wife by the hand. She placed a chaste kiss on Hayate's lips. "Make it up to me."
"As you wish."
Three Months ago...
Rays of sunlight slipped through the blinds, falling on the still form beneath the cream comforter. The first notes of Love The Way You Lie began to play from the iPhone sitting on the nearby nightstand. A pale hand shot out to silence the alarm. The arm returned to the warm confines beneath the comforter. Fifteen minutes later Say Hey started to play, again the pale hand creeped out and grabbed the phone dragging it back to beneath the sheets.
Ten seconds after the phone disappeared beneath the sheet, the lone occupant of the room burst forth from her warm cocoon. "Shit," the disheveled woman cursed. She flung aside the comforter and slid out of bed. In her hurry to the adjoining bathroom she tripped over her dirty clothes from the previous day. "SHIT," frustrated she kicked at the bastard jeans only to stub her toe on the area rug, "SHIT!"
After a hasty shower, Nanoha grabbed her bag and the paperwork she needed. She briefly considered going without coffee but decided against it. Her fingers drummed against the counter waiting for her coffee to brew. While waiting she refilled her kitten's food and water bowl. As she did that, the ever lazy feline watched from her spot on top of Nanoha's work desk.
Nanoha glanced over at Kiara, "You're welcome, your highness."
Blue eyes narrowed on the kitten, Nanoha swore she saw those yellow eyes roll. Eyes that said, "It is your job to please me, human."
It was hard for Nanoha to say she loved Kiara. Some days she enjoyed curling up with the little furball. Other days they tolerated each other's existence like hostile roommates.
She maneuvering through traffic, nearly spilled her coffee on her shirt, and patiently endured her boss's speech about tardiness despite being five minutes early. It was just shaping up to be one of those days. Nearing the end of the day she was chastised for spacing out because she let the water run for too long.
She rushed home for a quick shower. Thankfully, she picked an outfit the night before. The only delay was Kiara refusing to relinquish her spot on Nanoha's heels. As she tried to remove the feisty animal, Kiara used her knife-life claws to slash her hand then bit her finger. She escaped the incident with a band-aid on her left hand and around her pointer finger.
Fortunately, the cake she pre-ordered was ready for pick-up. Despite her terrible day, she was right on time to help with the final preparations for her parents anniversary dinner. She took a fortifying breath as she sat in her car outside of the banquet hall. It was the first peaceful moment she had all day since lunch was a hastily swallowed granola bar that nearly choked her. The stress rolled off her in waves as she clung to the steering wheel.
As the day's strain slipped away, persistent thoughts rose to the surface. For the past three months these feelings evolved from a slow simmer to boil she struggled to control in her waking hours. Her long pale fingers slipped to the center of the steering wheel, her thumbs traced the brand insignia. If asked she would deny, but when she was alone the truth was irrefutable. She was avoiding Fate.
But she had a feeling she wasn't alone. Fate was avoiding her too.
Their days of dodging each other had come to an end. The prospect of seeing Fate left her balancing on the thin line between excitement and anxiety. After that kiss, buried feelings re-entered her system. They took root and pushed all else out. Ultimately, they were the catalyst that pushed her away from Kaho. Unbidden, she recalled the hostile split.
Nanoha grabbed her keys off the key hanger. She turned back to Kaho who wore an unreadable expression.
"I'll see you tonight." Nanoha pressed a quick kiss to Kaho's cheek. She turned away, faintly saying, "Love you."
Before she could turn the doorknob, a hand wrapped around her forearm. Questioning blue eyes drifted from the grip on her arm to the chocolate eyes staring back at her. Kaho allowed her hand to slip away.
"Nanoha, what's wrong?"
Nanoha let her bottom lip to slid between her teeth. "Nothing." Wrong answer. 'Nothing' almost always meant something.
"I'm working from home today." Kaho elaborated, "You've been going to the bakery a lot these past couple months." Nanoha looked down. "If something's wrong, we should talk about it."
Nanoha detected Kaho's strain to sound objective. Almost as if she were giving a presentation to a class, not trying to broach her girlfriend's reticent behavior. Nanoha took a step away, retreating physically and emotionally, "Can we talk about this later?"
"I'd like to talk about it now."
Nanoha ground her teeth. She gripped her messenger bag strap a little tighter. "Really Kaho, nothing is wrong. I've just been preoccupied lately. It's hectic right now." Nanoha stood resolute, forcing her conviction. "I need to go. There's going to be traffic soon."
She tried to move toward freedom, away from the tense atmosphere. However, Kaho's next words stopped her.
"You mean, preoccupied thinking about her." Accusation heavy in her tone.
Nanoha set her jaw. Defensiveness tainted her voice with anger, "What?"
Kaho looked to the side, for the first time diverting her gaze from Nanoha. "I catch you staring at it. Sometimes. That card you took from her." Nanoha felt a cold chill run down her spine. "I know you carry it around with you. It took me a little while to put the pieces together."
"You went through my wallet?" The question was cold and rhetorical. She knew the answer by Kaho's averted gaze.
"I didn't know what was going on. I didn't know what changed. You just shut down on me."
"So you went through my stuff?"
"I had to know. We shouldn't have anything to hide from each other." Kaho argued.
Nanoha felt a mixture of emotions. She knew nothing good would happen if she remained in the room. Not trusting herself, she decided to leave. "I don't know what to say to you right now. I don't want to say something we'll both regret."
Nanoha opened the door. "She hurt you, didn't she? She must have." The words were no more than a whisper, but to Nanoha they echoed as if shouted in a canyon.
"Don't." She warned. "You have no right."
Anger bubbled up in Kaho's chest. She wasn't going to give up what was hers. "I have a right to protect you from someone who has obviously hurt you so much that you can barely talk about it. I don't know what happened, but I should know. I am your girlfriend." She didn't relent at Nanoha's attempt to speak. "I know she was the one that hurt you. You didn't laugh when I met you. You barely smiled. There was so much sadness in your eyes." Auburn hair hid Nanoha's downcast gaze. "She was the one, wasn't she? The one who broke you."
Nanoha's shoulders fell. She was silent for a beat. "And you broke my trust." The door slammed shut, leaving Kaho to her frustration.
Nanoha sighed. Her parents had understood, never questioning her short responses and unwarranted violence against dough. Not even when she started crying while giving a customer change.
When she the storm of emotions subsided within her, she listened to voicemails from Kaho. The first asked if she was coming home. Her heart strained during the second, a simple 'I love you'. It wasn't the words, it was the honesty that hurt. For a month, perhaps longer, a virus spread from her mind to her heart. Her mind was suddenly host to thoughts of another. The dormant feelings emerged from the dark corner she hid them in. Gradually, they overcame her resistance. They wore down her ability to fight back.
She stood outside of her door, key poised to open the door. In her brief hesitation she came to a decision she delayed for too long. Determined, Nanoha opened the door.
She walked into the small living room to find Kaho cradling her favorite coffee mug. She eased her purse onto the floor and sat on the arm rest of the recliner next to her. Blue eyes searched the carpet for the words she needed.
"I'm sorry." Kaho vaguely offered. Nanoha closed her eyes, she didn't want Kaho's forgiveness right now.
"You were right." Nanoha shifted her gaze to the the off-white wall. She felt confused brown eyes searching her form for answers. "I–I shut you out. I'm sorry." Before Kaho said anything, Nanoha continued, "But I needed to think." Watery blue eyes finally met the mocha ones looking her way, "And I think we need a break."
The silence was deafening. Kaho's gaze went cold. "You need a break. Not me." She placed her mug on a lamp stand. "I refuse to give up on us, Nanoha." Kaho stood, defiance in her eyes. "I'm not going to lose you to someone who doesn't deserve you."
Nanoha shook her head. "I'm sorry, Kaho." She took a deep breath. She needed to be clear. "I don't want to be with you."
Kaho faltered in her fight. The words affecting her like a sucker punch to the gut. She didn't know when things went wrong. Where had she been when Nanoha's heart changed. Where had she been when someone a thousand miles away stole Nanoha from her. She wanted to fight against this sudden storm, but the clarity of those words left standing on sinking ground. From the strength in those blue eyes, she knew it was a battle she lost and never stood a chance of winning.
In her desperation Kaho fought back. The fight that followed was filled with hurtful accusations and bitter declarations. The shouts and screams morphed into sobs and silence. Neither side won, and neither bridged the distance created in the aftermath of their war.
Nanoha traced the brand insignia again. Sighing heavily as she thought about their ill-parting. She started moving out the next day. Words shared were short and straight to the point. Nanoha did not blame Kaho for outburst or for her loathing. She inflicted a sudden and sharp pain on Kaho, so she accepted her hatred. The only time she fought back was when accusations of Fate's part in their split came about. There were more reasons to her distance than the catalyst that was Fate.
Tap, tap. Nanoha jumped at the unexpected knock against her driver side window. In her panic she pushed her hands against the steering wheel, sounding the car horn, scaring all in the vicinity. Calming her racing heart, Nanoha finally turned to her intruder. She swallowed thickly.
Fate, she whispered to herself. Gathering her meager composure, she opened the door.
"I'm so sorry," Fate spoke quickly, "I didn't mean to surprise you." Guilt faded into concern on the blonde's face. "Are you okay?"
Nanoha hardly blamed her for asking. She had stared at the blonde as if she were a mythical creature for a good thirty seconds. "Yes. I'm fine. Sorry I was daydreaming." Skepticism filled burgundy eyes. "Did you need something?" Nanoha tried divert her attention. She looked at the boxes Fate was carrying.
Fate followed the sapphire gaze to the boxes in her hands. "Oh, your sister recruited me into her labor force." Fate looked at the extra bags in her hand. "And my Mom generously donated her load to me."
A smile tugged at Nanoha's lips. "How kind of her."
"A saint." Fate enjoyed the smile on young vet's face. "Okay, well, I was just checking. So I guess I'll head inside."
"Okay." Nanoha bit her lip. "Fate!" The blonde paused and turned to face her again. "I'll walk in with you."
Obvious surprise flitted across Fate's face. Too stunned to speak she nodded in response. Nanoha grabbed her bag and the cake.
They walked side-by-side towards the hall, both searching for a proper conversation piece. "How's vet school?"
"Right." Nanoha shook her head at her short answer.
"It's just been tough between work and school." She sighed, "I've had a terrible day, so my outlook on life isn't the best." She pursed her lips then continued, "And my cat hates me."
A blush rose to Nanoha's cream-colored cheeks after catching Fate's playful smile. The blonde continued walking to save her companion from further embarrassment. "Cats are racists like that."
Fate said nothing more for which Nanoha was grateful. Upon entering the kitchen they were greeted by a stressed out Miyuki, who immediately unloaded them. Before either could get a word in edgewise, Miyuki assigned Fate to last-minute décor and ordered Nanoha to food preparation.
Fate attempted to say something to Nanoha but was shoved out of the kitchen with a box in hand. Miyuki grinned broadly, proud of her work. If she kept them separated she knew the party would be a success.
Nanoha breathed a sigh of relief. She sipped her champagne and watched as her parents slow danced in the middle of the dance floor. Set-up merged into toasts which blended into dinner that gave way to the slow dancing. After a non-stop day she finally had a true chance to just sit down and enjoy her parent's anniversary party. Only a few remained and most of the clean up was finished. Her gaze floated across the dimly lit hall, landing on long golden blonde hair falling smoothly down a lithe feminine frame.
In the chaos she hadn't spoken to Fate again, but she knew she wanted to. Seemingly attuned to her thoughts. Fate turned away from the older couple she was talking to and met her eyes across the room.
Fate stood in front of her, leaning against the chair across from Nanoha. "Takamachi's sure know how to throw a party," she tilted her glass in Nanoha's direction. She turned to Nanoha's parents. "It was really sweet."
"They deserved something special." Nanoha stared at Fate's profile. She wanted to break the tension. "You've been avoiding me." Mission complete.
Had it been anyone else, Fate may have been surprised by the blunt statement but this was Nanoha. She smiled, "I have." She met Nanoha's inquiring gaze, "You've been avoiding me too."
Only slightly embarrassed by her lack of tact, Nanoha continued her inquisition. "Why?"
"I don't know. Maybe the same reason as you."
The answer was both frustrating and reasonable at the same time.
Nanoha brilliantly cut the tension again, "Want to dance?"
Hesitation flashed through wine-red eyes. "I don't think–"
"Dance with me." A dark blonde eyebrow rose at the command.
Fate nodded and took Nanoha's hand. They easily swayed to an old slow tune. Nanoha stared at Fate's sculpted features while the blonde pretended not to notice the intense scrutiny.
"Now you can't run away," Nanoha mumbled. Fate frowned at the whispered words. "Why have you been avoiding me?"
"We broke up. Stop stalling."
Nanoha shrugged. "I'm sorry too. I heard about you and Kaya."
"Yeah. Just wasn't meant to be."
"I'm still waiting for that answer." The silence carried on for so long, Nanoha thought Fate wouldn't respond. With her head against Fate's shoulder she felt the deep inhalation of the blonde in her arms. "Because you scare me." Nanoha pulled away to frown at Fate's confession. The blonde just smiled, that close-lipped smile tinged with melancholy. She had seen it before coupled with that glint of pain in burgundy eyes. Before she could say anything Fate stepped away, squeezing her hands. "I should go."
Something must have flashed through her eyes that cemented Fate's decision because she felt Fate release her hands. The words were familiar, tainted with feelings of hurt and separation.
Nanoha released the hold she had on the teacher. "I'll see you around."
Fate's smile quirked upward. "See you around. Goodnight, Nanoha."
She grabbed her purse and walked away, leaving Nanoha to her own reasons. She could've asked Fate to stay and she had a feeling the blonde would have obeyed. But she had avoided Fate and she needed to accept the reasons why before asking for something she wasn't ready for.
Two months ago...
Fate rolled her head trying to work out the kinks in her neck. A gradual beat started between her eyes, marking the beginning of a migraine. She had stayed late grading papers. Most of her class did okay on the test. Of course, there were the usual suspects that seemed to accept being at the back of the pack.
One particular student did exceedingly well on her tests, but slacked on homework. On the bonus question, instead of drawing a plant cell she drew a plant behind prison bars and a flower shanking a tree. Honestly she worried about today's youth, while at the same time she enjoyed the creativity. The girl got a hundred on the test so the bonus didn't really matter. Still it was very troubling.
Her thoughts drifted to her early teen years, conjuring a teenage girl with auburn hair and a bus-stop. Those thoughts came to an immediate halt as a small animal ventured onto the road. She burned her brakes to stop. Scared the animal tried to run, but appeared to be injured. Fate quickly pulled off the side of the road and turned on her emergency lights.
"This is not a good idea, Fate." She mumbled to herself. "Not good at all." Getting out of her 4Runner she used a flashlight to shine into the grass the animal hobbled into. "Please don't be a raccoon or something with rabies."
She found the animal shrinking back into the thick grass. On closer inspection it looked like a puppy, with wet, matted red fur. On its hind leg was a nasty looking gash that appeared fresh. "Poor thing." She held her hand out to the frightened creature, allowing it time to sniff her hand and relax in her presence. She spoke softly and gently coaxed the small pup closer to her.
Finally, she was able to pet the pup. After awhile she was confident she could carefully lift the pup. The animal lacked any strength to struggle so she placed the pup in her passenger seat. She wrapped a blanket around the shivering puppy. As she tended to her phone, the puppy's eyelids slid closed.
"You're running late, kid."
"I know." Fate glanced at her side. "Erm. Do you know a good vet nearby Hashimoto's store?"
There was a long pause. "Why do you need a vet?"
"I may have picked up a stray. It's a puppy. It has a gash on its leg and up its side. So any suggestions?"
Fate thought she heard whispers in the background. "There's an emergency care place near you. I'll text you the name and address."
"Uh-huh." Precia's text arrived a moment later. "Don't come home if you have rabies." Fate rolled her eyes. "And don't roll your eyes at me."
"Good night, Mom."
Fate placed her hand in front of the sleeping pup's nose, relieved to find soft breathing. "Let's get you some help."
She rushed through the front door of the clinic, the weak puppy cradled in her arms.
Fate spared a worried glance at the puppy in her arms before looking around for help.n Burgundy eyes widened when they found equally surprised sapphire eyes.
"Fate?" The vet found her voice first. Wrestling her shock into submission, deep blue eyes drifted to the bundle in Fate's arms. "What happened?" Immediately slipping into her professional persona, Nanoha marched directly to the teacher's side.
The disappearing distance between them cleared the fog from Fate's brain. "I think she's a puppy. I found her on the side of road." This earned her a raised eyebrow from the vet. "She's weak and hurt, Nanoha. She has a gash on her hind leg. Please help her."
Nanoha felt the pleading in the blonde's voice. "Doctor Saitou," she turned to the older man who popped out of nowhere, "I have a pup about three months old. Signs of malnutrition." Nanoha inspected the puppy closer. "Female. She has a deep gash on her left hind leg. Looks relatively fresh."
"Is there a known cause?" The old man nonchalantly asked.
Fate shook her head, answering Nanoha's unspoken question. "No."
"Any obvious broken bones?"
"Then take care of it."
Nanoha spun around, staring at the experienced vet. "But-"
"No excuses. How are you going to learn if you don't practice." The old man scowled and ambled up to the two young women. "Let me see." He lifted the blanket and stared at the puppy for a while. "She's good practice. Take X-rays just in case and check for a chip." Though the man was shorter than Fate by a good six inches, his strong cinnamon gaze made her feel like a child. "You gonna pay for this? It might cost a leg and a leg."
Fate remained silent. Unsure if that was a joke or the old man was telling her the puppy might lose its leg. She wasn't certain. "Yes... sir."
"Get to work, Takamachi. I'm too old to hold your hand all the time." Fate smiled at that, and after rolling her eyes so did Nanoha.
"I'll get right to it." Fate handed the tired pup to Nanoha's careful hands. "Don't worry I'll take care of her."
"Hurry up, Takamachi." Doctor Saitou shouted from down the hallway. "I'm going to watch you. I don't trust what they teach you at that school."
Fate grinned as she heard the old man mumble more complaints about Nanoha's slow pace. She took a seat and waited for the Nanoha's return.
A few hours later, Fate felt a hand shake her shoulder. She rubbed her eyes to clear them of the haze her nap placed her in. "Hey," her voice was low and raspy. Taking a moment to recover her bearings completely she turned to an exhausted Nanoha. "How is she?"
"Good. She's sleeping and we gave her some pain relievers. Luckily, no broken bones and the cut wasn't terribly infected."
"So what now?"
"Well I didn't find a chip, so I'd say you adopted a very high maintenance puppy."
"Yay." Fate said with mock-enthusiasm.
"And now I take all of your money." Nanoha said with a grin that was too wide.
The blonde shook her head, "Alright, let's see the damage." Nanoha typed up the bill.
"Here you go."
"Did you give her a new leg?" Fate stared, wide-eyed at the bill. "I think you made a mistake. There's one zero too many here."
Nanoha made as if she were checking it. "You wanted the best. You got best. Now you've got to pay the price for the best."
Now it was Fate's turn to roll her eyes. "Next time I'm just going to drop off my injured animals by the door and drive away."
Nanoha smiled at the blonde for a moment. "You wouldn't do that."
Burgundy eyes clashed with sapphire. "I wouldn't."
"I can't imagine you're ready to take her home, and I want to observe her overnight. So she will stay here tonight and you can pick her up tomorrow."
"Okay." Fate held her gaze. "Thank you, Nanoha." The vet nodded. "Even if you're overpriced and overrated." She laughed as sharp blue eyes narrowed on her.
"Good night, Fate."
"Good night ." An unreadable expression passed over Fate's face. "Get some sleep, Nanoha. The best vet in town can't be falling asleep on the job."
Fate sat in her parent's driveway tapping her steering wheel. She considered her serendipitous meeting with Nanoha. Her brow furrowed thinking about who sent her there. "Mom," she whispered in the dark cab. Suspicion brewed in her mind. She shook off her wandering thoughts. It was too late to think. She needed her bed to forget about the chunk of money she'd have to hand over the next day.
Friday morning. If she wasn't exhausted, she would be thrilled that it was a few hours from the weekend.
"Morning." Precia greeted cheerfully.
Something like a grunt emerged from Fate.
"Still a morning glory." Lindy patted her back and placed a mug of steaming coffee in front of her step-daughter. A few sips later, life visibly entered Fate's features.
"Where's that wild little animal of yours?"
"I left her at the clinic. She wanted to watch her overnight."
Fate missed the look Precia shared with Lindy. "Are you going to keep it?"
The blonde pursed her lips in thought. "I think so."
"Better find a pet friendly place to live." Lindy offered.
Fate smiled, "Yeah sure. I doubt I can even afford something after last night." The green numbers on the microwave caught Fate's attention. "I better go. Bye." She gave both her mothers a hug and headed for the door.
"Hey, you better be home by seven." Precia shouted.
Fate waved her acknowledgement. Just as she turned the doorknob, she remembered something. "Did the both of you know Nanoha Takamachi worked at that clinic?"
"Oh really? She works there?" Precia shrugged. "Maybe that's why the name came to mind."
Red eyes shifted to her mother. Lindy met her stare and then looked at her wife's back. "Your mom knew."
Precia's head shot up, "Lindy!"
Lindy sipped her coffee, "I believe she said 'I wish I could see the look on their faces when they see each other'."
Fate shot her Mom a mock-glare. "You're lucky I need to go."
"Yeah, yeah. Get out of here before your Uncle fires you."
After the door closed, the doctor turned to her wife. Lindy smirked at the disbelieving stare she was receiving. "I can't believe you made me your escape goat. You told me to send her there."
"Oh please. If you knew Nanoha was working there you'd have sent her there too." Precia didn't argue that point.
"You better be careful. Together, those two are trouble."
Lindy kissed her wife on the cheek. "So are we."
She glanced at her watch again. Six o'clock. Dinner was at seven. She was definitely going to be late. Fate slid out of her 4Runner, grabbing her purse as she went. After bursting through the glass doors, she slowed her approach to the receptionist.
Immediately her attention went to the woman's crown of brown curls.
"Hi, what can I do for you, miss?"
Fate pulled her attention back to the woman's chocolate eyes. "Hi, last night I dropped off an injured puppy?"
"Oh, that cute little thing." The receptionist said as she started sliding things into her purse.
"Hang on, sweetheart. I'm gonna go get the doctor and I'll be right back." The woman grabbed her white purse and briskly disappeared around the corner.
"O-okay." Two minutes later, Fate contemplated ringing the small silver bell on the counter. Just as her hand hovered over the bell, an auburn flash emerged from the hallway.
"Hi, Fate! I'm so sorry about Sheila. She's normally more helpful. But she has a date tonight. And it's been a crazy day. Of course, she's been nervous all day because this is her first date in a while. And..." Nanoha snapped her mouth shut to keep from rambling.
"I completely understand. I'm running late too." Fate bobbed her head up and down, thinking about making it home by seven. Then she caught Nanoha's raised eyebrows. "Not for a date. I don't have a date. Well I have a date, but not a date date." Fate shrugged and looked away, "I have family thing."
Nanoha held her lips between her teeth, but her twitching brow gave away her desire to laugh at Fate's stumble. "Right." Regaining her composure she looked up from her clipboard. "I'll try to get you on your way."
"I gave her some stitches. I think she'll heal up just fine in a few weeks." Nanoha turned back to face Fate before opening the door to the kennel. "She didn't have an identification chip or a gps tracker. I checked in with a nearby Humane Society and they don't have any missing dogs fitting her description. So I can process her adoption today, if you are planning to adopt her?"
Fate smiled and Nanoha unconsciously copied the action. "Yes, I am."
"Great. I'll implant an ID chip if you'd like?" Nanoha opened the door to the kennels.
"Yes. May as well take all of my money at one time." Nanoha chuckled at that.
"I'll try not to take all of your money."
"I think it's too late for that." Nanoha scooped up the sleeping puppy from her bed. "Is she okay?"
"She's just a little drowsy. But I think you have a sleeper on your hands. So hopefully you won't have to try too hard to keep her activity to a minimum."
She placed the puppy on the examination table. "She's had most of her shots. Thought of a name yet? I can put it on her id information."
"Erm..." Fate combed her fingers through the puppy's thick rust-colored fur. "Red?"
"Was that a question?" Nanoha smiled, and crossed her arms over her chest. "We can hold off on the chip until you bring her in for a check up?"
"I should choose a name for her now. Or."
"You'll end up calling her 'Red'."
"I was going to say 'Girl'." Nanoha rolled her eyes.
"Are you going to spay her?" Fate's eyes widened a bit. "You don't have to decide now. It's just something to think about."
Burgundy eyes drifted to the puppy, who stared back at her new owner. "You're turning out to be very costly." The puppy tilted its head to the side. "Yes, you." In response, the puppy let out a small bark.
"That's a good sign. She likes you."
The blonde looked up from the puppy, eyes filled with joy. "I'll name her 'Arf'."
"That's a step below 'Red'."
"No, she's definitely an Arf." Fate said while looking at the puppy. The puppy responded with another soft bark. "See she agrees."
Nanoha rolled her eyes. "She's your dog. At least she's nice to you so far. I feel like I should have adopted a puppy instead of kitten."
"Oh? The cat that hates you?"
"Yeah. She thinks she owns me."
"What's her special name?"
"Sophisticated." Fate jabbed. Nanoha narrowed her sapphire eyes on the blonde.
"She vicious, huh?"
"She's temperamental." Nanoha commented as she filled out a paper.
"Well, animals are a reflection of their owners." Nanoha looked up with a half-hearted glare.
"Arf is lazy so I guess you're right." The vet checked Arf's bandages. "I'm going to insert her chip. Can you hold her?"
"Sure." Fate looked away from Arf.
"There's no needles involved Fate."
"Just put the chip in please." Nanoha chuckled as Fate kept her eyes averted.
"Okay. All done." Nanoha took off her gloves and shuffled the paperwork. "Here's your bill, I'll take your payment at the front desk." Nanoha loaded Arf into a carrier. "I'm lending you my carrier. Just give it back to me when you come back next time." The vet frowned as the blonde remained silent, "Fate?"
"Hold on. I'm processing." Fate stared at the bill.
"Could've been worse."
"Yeah you could have taken a leg too along with my arm."
Nanoha giggled as she walked out of the examination room.
"No wonder you're a vet."
"Yes. It's all about the money." Her words dripped with sarcasm.
"Feels like it." Fate pulled out her credit card and handed it to Nanoha. Nanoha walked Fate through the process of signing various papers. "That's it. She's all yours."
"Thank you. But I feel like you should be thanking me."
"Don't hold your breath." Nanoha looked at the computer screen. "Uh-oh."
"It's six forty-five."
"I gotta go." Fate grabbed the carrier and headed towards the door.
"Drive safely. Good night."
"Good night. Thanks again."
Nanoha's smile faded away as she watched Fate disappear from the parking lot. Sighing she sank into her chair. Fate Testarossa, Nanoha shook her head. "She must be something. Never seen that dopey look on your face before."
"She is something. And I do not have a dopey look on my face, Doctor Saitou."
"Just don't go pining after all of our customers. This office ain't eHarmony."
"Good. If you need me I'll be in my office. But don't bother me if you don't have to."
"Okay." Nanoha sighed again. She needed to talk to Fate. Soon. Sort of.
Fate burst through the door, whilst holding the pet carrier stable. Fifteen minutes late. Fifteen minutes behind schedule was on time for her. Gently setting Arf on the floor, she closed the front door and opened the carrier door. When no red furball tumbled out of the cage, she decided to check if her new family member was still inside.
Huddled in the back of the cage was a wide-eyed Arf. Immediately, Fate toned down her stress levels and sat in front of the cage. "Come on, Arf. It's okay, girl." She kept her voice calm and steady. Fate slowly reached into her bag and withdrew a bag of dog treats. Catching the scent of meat, Arf hesitantly crawled towards Fate. Arf paused when all four of her paws were on the hardwood floor. Fate watched as the puppy debated her next move, suspicious of the strange ground she stood on.
To distract the puppy from her suspicion, Fate waved the jerky in front of her nose. In a blink of an eye the treat was gone from between her fingertips and devoured by a puppy that looked too cute to eat that fast.
"That worked well."
"Better keep that trick in mind when you have kids."
Fate rolled her eyes at Precia. "Yeah I'll be sure to keep dog treats in my purse."
"I was talking about coaxing a child out of its comfort zone." Precia grinned, "But if they're being difficult then I'd suggest animal crackers. Always worked."
Fate narrowed her eyes. "They didn't always work."
"Oh they worked." Fate remained silent. Even as an adult she would get random cravings for those addictive crackers. "So this is the newest Testarossa, huh?" Arf briefly diverted her attention from her treats to smell Precia's offered hand. After a quick whiff, she went back to begging for treats.
Precia ran her hand to through the puppy's fluffy red ruff. "She certainly has some unique looks."
"Yep." Then Fate remembered why she was in a rush to get home. "Sorry I'm late, Mom. It just..."
"It's fine, Fate." Precia scratched behind Arf's right ear. A few strokes and the furball fell into a deep sleep on Fate's lap.
"That's a neat trick."
Fate stood carefully, cradling Arf. "So where's everyone? I don't smell smoke and if Chrono is around something is always burning."
Precia laughed. "That's true." She started walking down the hall towards the backyard. "Your brother's not here tonight."
"But you said..."
"Of course. And what is so important that you lied about a barbeque to get me to come home on time?"
"Oh so my daughter finally decided to show up for dinner."
"Hi Ma." Fate kissed her mother's cheek.
"She's so cute, Fate." Lindy held out her arms to take the sleeping puppy. "What's her name?"
A sudden blush creeped up Fate's neck. "Oh no what did you name her?"
"What do you mean 'oh no'."
"When you got one of those blue Beta fish, you named it 'Blue'."
Lindy followed up with, "When we got you a turtle, you named him Mister Green."
"Not only did they have the most obvious names. They both died." Precia finished.
Fate held up her hands in defense. "First of all, those were very fitting names that they both loved. Second, Mister Green did not die." The young woman crossed her arms over her chest. "He ran away. Or he floated away. The how is not important," Precia smiled, fighting off her laughter. "And fish dying don't count. Fish are high maintenance pets. Extremely fragile."
Fate waved her hand at Arf. "Look at her, she's resilient. I found her at her worst. Things can only get better from here." The corners of Precia's mouth tugged to form a smirk, instead of firing off a snappy remark she deferred to her wife.
Lindy placed a hand on Fate's shoulder, she gave her daughter a reassuring smile. "Just let us know when you need help digging the hole."
Lindy chuckled as she walked into the kitchen. Red eyes met gleaming violet, silently daring the older woman to say something. "Well?"
Precia grinned, "What?"
Fate narrowed eyes on the doctor. "Nothing helpful to add?"
Precia continued to smirk. "I think your mother covered it." The comment earned her a withering look. "Come on, let's go to the deck."
Fate followed her mother to the backyard. Lindy joined them. "So you didn't answer my question. What's her name?"
The blonde ducked her head and mumbled, "Arf."
"What is it?"
Cerulean eyes met deep violet ones, silently communicating their thoughts and driving Fate crazy with suspicion. "Cute." Lindy finally broke the silence.
Silence prevailed among the three of them. Fate waited for Precia to say something, but no follow-up comment came as her mom focused on the strips of marinated meat she was turning over on the grill.
"Fate bring Arf over here." Fate walked over to where her mother was and laid a sleeping Arf on a makeshift bed of towels Lindy had laid out.
"You're welcome, sweetheart." They sat down on the backyard deck stairs. Fate still remembers the summer weekends her family spent building the tiered patio deck. Long days where frustrations flared with the temperature, and arguments resulted in pieces of wood in the neighbor's yard. But nothing compared to the pride in the final product. Fate smiled as she recalled those days. "What are you thinking about?"
"When we built the deck."
Lindy chuckled. "Your mom refused to use the level. And I didn't want a crooked patio."
"You threw a two by four at her."
"It was a small piece of wood. And I missed."
"You missed Mom but you hit our neighbor. Poor Mr. Okamura."
"I did not. I hit his bonsai."
"Which was like hitting him."
"It was one branch." Lindy rolled her eyes.
"He cried. It was like you broke his arm." Fate chuckled, remembering the piercing cry of her neighbor.
"I couldn't believe it went over the fence."
"Chrono was proud of the distance you covered. Mr. Okamura didn't even look at us after that."
"I think his wife was happy about it." Lindy recalled when they all rushed to the fence line to see what happened. They were met by the sight of Mr. Okamura crying over the bonsai and his wife wearing a sinister grin.
"Cause he loved that plant more than her." Both women were silent as they recalled their own memories of the experience. Fate glanced at her mom, who appeared to be invested in her grilling.
"How was work?" Lindy asked, stealing Fate's attention.
Fate shrugged. "Okay. Returned tests today." A frown overtook her features as she recalled her problem student. "There's one girl in my class. She does great on tests, but she doesn't do her homework. It's a shame too. Her answers to conceptual questions are thorough so I know she gets the material. I don't know what to do."
"Do you think she just doesn't like the subject?"
"No, I think she's intrigued. Hayate mentioned she had similar problems with her."
"Think it's problems at home ?"
"I don't know. She seems withdrawn. Participates if I encourage her to, but doesn't go out her way to try." Fate shrugged expressing her helplessness with the issue.
"Did you look at her academic record? See if there's any pattern of changes."
"I'll check." Fate shook her head. "I think she could do well in Honors courses next year, but not if she continues to ignore her homework."
Lindy nodded her agreement. "Well you can only help her if she accepts the help."
"I know." Fate looked over her shoulder at her mom. "So why is mom being so quiet?"
Lindy took a sip of red wine and looked over the backyard. "She has something to tell you."
Fate's furrowed brow spoke for her.
"She'll tell you. Just let her think on it for a while."
"Dinner's ready." Precia announced. Fate thought about what her mother had said. But conversation never seemed to turn to the real reason for the dinner. After the meal Lindy began to clear the table. Fate rose to help her but she was immediately told to take a seat.
Fate grew tired of the silence between herself and her mom. "What's going on, Mom? You're scaring me."
Precia looked bashful, "Sorry. Let's go downstairs."
Worry bubbled within Fate as Precia remained uncharacteristically quiet.
"Mom, what's going on?" The young teacher asked as they made their way into the basement.
"You know your mother and I enjoy having you home again. But..."
Fate interrupted. "Mom if you want me to move out I will. I can find someplace to rent."
"Fate, that's not what I was going to say." Precia ran her hand over a sheet draped over a rectangular frame. "You're welcome to stay here as long as you want. But I know you want your own space."
Fate leaned against the basement wall as her mom stared at the covered frame. "I planned on doing this when you got your undergrad. But I think I was right to wait."
"Doing what, exactly?"
"You know, your father was terrible at math. But he was a brilliant artist." She removed the sheet from the frame, reveling a portrait of a man with shaggy blonde hair smiling at the baby raised above his head. There appeared to be the reflection of a dark-haired woman in a window in the background. The woman was holding a polaroid camera.
Fate stepped forward running her hand over the textured canvas. She turned back to her mom with imploring eyes. "Is that...?"
Precia nodded her assent to the unspoken question. "He certainly knew how to capture emotion. Painted that from a polaroid picture I took. Looked more realistic than the picture."
"It's beautiful, Mom. But I thought all of his work was hanging around the house."
"Only a few. I put most of his art in storage when he passed."
Fate smiled as she looked at the careless way her father's shoulder length hair fell. "So you kept his art in storage. Not a big deal. Why are you being so secretive?"
"I'm getting there." Precia crossed her arms over her chest. "He sold a few paintings when I was pregnant to cover some of our bills. Nathan had a friend in an art gallery that managed to get a decent price for the paintings of a young, desperate artist. Some were gorgeous pieces, so I told him that and I told him he didn't have to sell his artwork."
Precia laughed unexpectedly, drawing her attention. "He laughed at me. And told me I didn't know anything about art. He told me he only sold pieces of shit." The doctor shook her head. "He pointed at that painting I have hanging at the end of the upstairs hallway."
Fate nodded in understanding. The painting was of a pregnant Precia staring into a mug of tea, with tears rolling down her cheeks. "And told me that was something he would never sell. Then he pointed to a really rough-looking piece that, I felt wasn't his best and I told him that. He said he would never sell that. It was a landscape of a lake. He painted what it looked like to him the first time his father ever took him fishing."
"Then he turned to me. And in the most serious voice I'd heard him use, he told me he'd sell everything in that room to make sure you were cared for and happy." Precia pulled an envelope from her back pocket. She took one of Fate's hands and placed it in her open palm. "I never wanted to sell his art, but there were times when we had to make ends meet. And like any great artist it seemed his artwork was suddenly worth more after he passed. All of his art is yours and I'm sorry I sold it."
"Mom," Fate tried to interrupt.
"Let me finish. We needed the money, and I know he would've told me he didn't care. But still I care. And I'm sorry. Hopefully, this makes up for it." Precia closed Fate's hand around the envelope.
Fate opened the envelope and pulled out the statements within. One was a mutual fund statement and another was a cashier's check. She stared at the mutual fund. "Mom," Fate shook head and opened her mouth several times to say something.
"I took some of the money we got from his paintings and invested it. But it's yours Fate. From your father."
"Mom I can't accept this." Fate stared at the zeros.
"Like I said. That mutual fund is from him. He may not have had much to his name when he died. But his name is worth quite a lot these days. It's yours Fate and so are those boxes behind you."
Fate looked inside of the boxes finding more frames of her father's artwork. "Mom," the blonde was at a loss for words. Her whispered thank you, sounding weak to her own ears.
"I'm so proud of you, Fate." Precia held her daughter's hand. "I'm the fortunate one. I'm so grateful to your father. I'm able to give you this because of him. And you deserve it." She squeezed Fate's hand. "Without you I don't know if I'd be married to that beautiful woman upstairs. And I might have missed the chance to raise two amazing kids."
Fate bowed her head. "I don't know what to say."
"Your mother and I started accounts for you and your bother. Something to help you get your life started."
"Thank you. I don't..." Fate shook head and sat down on the work out bench. "What do you say when someone hands you a $81,000?"
Precia smiled and sat beside her daughter. "Thank you is enough." She bumped the wide-eyed Fate with her shoulder, "This is us giving you the best start we can." She kissed Fate's forehead. "Go tackle the world, kid."
Fate pulled her Mom into a tight hug. "Thank you so much." She tucked her face into her mother's neck. "And not for just this. For everything."
"Your welcome." Fate pulled away and brushed stray tears from her cheeks. "You're not up-set that I kept this from you, are you?"
Fate gave her a look that said 'are you crazy'. "No. Of course not. I wouldn't even know what to do with this before now."
"And you know now?"
Fate smiled. "I think Arf would like a yard." The doctor grinned. "And I heard this neighborhood is pretty good place to live."
"I want you to find someplace that you love." She grabbed Fate's hand and squeezed it. "But if you lived nearby I'm sure your mother would appreciate it." Tears threatened to spill from Precia's eyes as she said that.
"Help me search?"
"To get you out of my house?" Precia asked with a grin. "Of course."
"Hey, anyone interested in dessert? I made cream puffs."
"I'll have some." Fate called back.
Precia laughed as she followed Fate upstairs. "Now I see why you want to live close-by." Fate chuckled and jogged upstairs.
Lindy held out a plate of chocolate cream puffs to Fate. Her daughter took the plate from her hands and placed it on the coffee table. She surprised Lindy with a bone-crushing hug and whispered 'thank you'.
The officer returned the hug and whispered 'you're welcome' in return. Their moment was broken by loud knocking on the front door.
Lindy checked the peephole and frowned. "Chrono?"
Chrono's eyes were wide and he looked winded. "They keep coming back." Precia whispered to herself.
"Hey Chrono, what's going on?" Fate asked. Her step-brother looked like he was struggling to catch his breath.
The navy-haired boy stepped into the entryway closing the door behind him. "I'm glad you're all here."
Fate frowned as she watched her older brother look around nervously. "You look... anxious."
"I'm not. I'm just..." He took a deep breath, meeting all the inquiring eyes of his family. "I have something to tell you. Don't panic."
Fate almost told him to take his own advice.
Chrono took a fortifying breath. "I'm getting married. Amy and I are getting married."
Lindy lit up and wrapped her son in a tight hug. "Congratulations! I'm so excited for you."
"Finally." Fate said with a smile and hugged her brother after her mother finally let him go.
Precia pulled him into a tight hug, only after telling him, "About time."
"There's something else too." The women of his family stared at him with questioning in their eyes. "Amy's pregnant." Chrono said just before he fainted and fell flat on his face. None of his family members were quick enough to react after the shock of the news.
"Well, help me carry him?" Precia asked Fate.
"I got his head." Fate volunteered.
"Fine. I'll get his legs."
"I'll get some ice." Lindy offered. She looked at Chrono. "And some vodka."
A/N: Thanks for reading! I'm alive. I disappeared and I'm sorry for not writing or responding to messages for so long. I'll be sure to reply to those who sent me PMs. Thanks for all the support this story has! Sorry for any errors. I know this chapter may feel like fast forwarding through time, but I feel like I just fast-forwarded thru the last six months of my life so I guess it's a reflection. This chapter sets the stage. And now that the stage is set... I can finally write the chapters I have been waiting to write since I started this story!