Quick Note: This takes place in the Hayate x Vivio Files, when Vivio is 14 and Hayate is 27. If you want to read the rest of the stories, they are listed chronologically in my profile =). If you haven't read any of the Files stories yet, I'd recommend reading "You Never Lose By Loving" to understand why Vivio is blushing when Hayate smiles at her =P...
"Age does not protect you from love. But, love, to some extent, protects you from age."
– Jeanne Moreau
The graveyard was black and gloomy. Stumbling about, Vivio Takamachi tripped and fell into an open grave. Looking down, she saw that to her horror…a monster appears!
"Gah!" Vivio groaned, dropping her head onto her arm in exasperation. "That's the third time this game!"
"Bad luck," Fate chuckled, riffling through the monster box to pull out a monster for her daughter to confront. The angle was awkward, since she had Nanoha snuggled up in her lap as they sat on the same cot and the box was on the ground, but Fate pulled a cardboard square out and tossed it over to Vivio. Vivio caught the piece deftly with one hand despite being sprawled on her stomach in her sleeping bag.
"A Mi-go, sweet!" she crowed, and got out her dice to confront the monster.
"That's not fair! Fate-chan, how come whenever you draw a monster for me it's something crazy like a Leng Spider or a Dark Young?" Hayate protested from where she was leaning against Nanoha and Fate's cot. The knitted toque she wore was slightly lop-sided—it was Vita's first and last attempt at knitting, but Hayate cheerfully wore it everywhere—adding to the mischievous twinkle in her blue eyes. "I nearly lost all my stamina points on that last fight!"
"Stop being such a baby," Nanoha teased. "I absorbed that loss for you, didn't I?"
"And yet all the monsters Nanoha gets are Cultists," Signum drawled. "I concur with my Mistress—there is clear favouritism going on between the Takamachis."
Fate laughed, shifting Nanoha's weight so that her leg didn't fall asleep. "Hey, come on—it's a cooperative game, why would I possibly favour my family over anyone else?"
"It's an affront to our Mistress!" Rein chirped up from Shamal's shoulder, although her serious tone failed to conceal her giggling.
"Hey, come on, no duelling while we're on vacation!" Vivio jokingly complained, tossing her dice and grinning when she defeated the monster. "Here, as a token of goodwill between the Yagami and Takamachi household, I present to the Mistress of the Tome of the Night Sky a…" Vivio flipped over her new item gained from the monster fight, "…Book of Dzyan." Solemnly, she bowed and presented the card across the laid out board to Hayate; just as seriously, Hayate accepted it with both hands, a smile twitching on her lips.
"I accept this token of goodwill," Hayate said, adding the card to her pile of items in front of her character sheet. "All past feuds between our noble families are forgiven." They all burst into laughter.
"Vivio-chan could be a diplomat one day!" Shamal rose, laying her lap blanket down. "Does anyone want more cookies?"
"I'll help," Fate offered, disentangling herself from Nanoha, who moaned her complaint at losing her personal blanket warmer. Hopping off the cot, Fate followed Shamal out of their tent towards the cars. The camping spot they had found was a few hours out of the city limits, far enough away from the light pollution of the city to be able to see the stars. It was a beautiful night, and only the fact that they were on the last day of their weekend vacation kept all of them playing together instead of sleeping or stargazing in silence.
"Thanks so much for inviting us to come with you on this vacation, Fate-chan," Shamal said quietly to Fate as they pulled cookie packs out of the trunk.
"It's no problem—is something wrong?" Fate asked, a little surprised. She leaned on the car, waiting for Shamal to elaborate.
The blonde knight hesitated, as if worried about giving away an unspoken confidence. It was a look that Fate recognized by now to mean that whatever it was, it involved Hayate in some way. Even after eighteen years, the Wolkenritter still held themselves to their oath as Hayate's knights seriously. Thankfully, as the years went on they were finally starting to realize that sometimes what was best for Hayate meant sharing their own worries with friends. Shamal sighed, spinning one of her rings around a finger.
"…It's her new job."
"You mean as Commander of the Capital Defence Corps?" Just saying Hayate's new title still awed Fate. It was humbling, to see how far Hayate had risen in the TSAB over the years, through sheer dedication and an insane amount of work hours. Why, only Chrono had a more impressive promotion history, but he didn't have the stigma of being a reformed "criminal" to mar his early career like Hayate had. And while Fate loved the Navy and respected its Admirals, Hayate's job was much more impressive. Her new post carried responsibilities that were just as much political as it was military. Being the Commander of the CDC meant that Hayate worked closely with the mayor and other agencies within Cranagan, and oversaw all the military branches within the capital city. Functionally, she had influence in the regional TSAB branches as well, which was a frightening amount of power for a single person.
Remembering how Regius Gaiz had abused the power and responsibility of the position, Fate winced and felt her fists clench.
"…Yes," Shamal admitted, wringing her hands. She turned her gaze back to the tent, where the lantern light projected shadows that danced and laughter carried through the thin walls. "Hayate-chan's been under a lot of stress—there have been a lot of discussions about new units and about sensitive policies. She's barely sleeping and she keeps getting sick…I'm worried about her."
"I'm sorry I never noticed," Fate said abashedly. Guilt made her shoulders slump as she thought about all the times she had dropped in on Hayate and never noticed that anything was wrong. True, Hayate only officially had her new title for five weeks, but shouldn't Fate have noticed the kind of burn-out that Shamal was describing?
"Oh, I didn't mean to make you feel bad!" Shamal quickly reassured her. She patted Fate's shoulder, and Fate took that as a signal to start walking back to the tent. "I just wanted to say how glad we are that Hayate is finally getting a break. So thank you and Nanoha for asking us along."
"Of course," Fate said. "But really, you should be thanking Vivio. She's the one who brought up asking Hayate and all of you along." When Fate thought about it, Vivio had thought up of this entire trip, excitedly planning all the games and relaxing activities for their weekend get-away. Her daughter was cleverer than Fate had originally realized—the packed vacation schedule wasn't because Vivio was bored, but to prevent the workaholics from finding any time to pull out accounts or training files.
"She's gotten cunning, that one," Fate chuckled to herself. It was nice to see Nanoha relaxing as well. In fact, the only lamentable thing about having the huge tent for everyone to share was the fact that she and Nanoha didn't, er, have much alone time. Maybe Fate should suggest an "evening walk" to Nanoha just like Arf had with Zafira? (Speaking of those two, Fate hadn't seen them since their "walk" after dinner, and she really didn't want to know why they haven't come back yet.)
"Finally!" Vita grumbled as Fate and Shamal unzipped the tent flap and ducked back inside, kicking their shoes off under the extendible vestibule. "We were about to just play for you guys."
"No cookies for you then!" Shamal threatened, passing the chocolate chip cookies to Vivio first.
Fate ignored the minor bickering and joined her wife back on their cot, shivering as Nanoha slyly started rubbing circles on Fate's thigh under their blanket. "Behave," Fate whispered into Nanoha's ear, snuggling close.
"And if I don't?" Nanoha purred back, no longer focused on the game at all.
"Then I won't show you where I put the extra tent." Fate kissed Nanoha's cheek, conscious of keeping it PG-rated in front of their daughter and wicked best friends. Teasingly, she murmured, "It's a two-person tent, and I know of a good spot on the other side of the trees…"
"Ew, mamas!" Vivio complained, her cheeks red. "I didn't need to know that!"
"Oops, was that louder than intended?"
"I curse my good hearing," Vivio pouted, burying her face into her sleeping bag and slamming her pillow on top of her head.
"It's a good thing your room is on the other side of the house then!" Hayate teased.
"No, we soundproofed Fate and Nanoha's bedroom as a wedding gift," Signum deadpanned.
"Oh yes, that explains it." Hayate winked over at Vivio. "You see how much we love you, Vivio?"
Vivio blushed again, and Shamal, Rein, Nanoha and Fate all exchanged smiles at the cuteness. Signum and Vita didn't seem as interested in the childhood crush, and seemed more interested in reading their Otherworld cards for each other in challenges as they tried to pass their part of the game.
Fate kept an eye on Hayate for a few more minutes. Yes, after talking with Shamal, she could see the dark circles under Hayate's eyes, but more subtly, the slight bleariness in Hayate's gaze as she took her turn to move her player's piece. The Lieutenant-General had a great public mask that she wore at work and for her worried friends, but Fate had spent many nights collapsed in the same bed as her friend after exhausting missions. She knew when Hayate was worn to the bone, and from the micro-twitches of Hayate's eyelids and the overly controlled manner she used to fiddle with her cards, Fate could tell that Hayate was running on fumes.
"Fate-chan? Your turn!"
"Ah, sorry." Fate turned her attention back to the game. "Another gate appeared!"
"I'm heading for it," Vivio told her, staring intently at the monsters resting on the gate. "I mean, I can fight them both, and that way we don't have to worry about them moving in the next Mythos turn."
Hm, Fate observed, the next monster movement would bring the beasts down on Hayate's player piece. She hid a smile at the intense look in Vivio's odd eyes as the younger blonde tried to hide her glances over at the side of the cot, where Hayate had settled down by propping an arm on the edge and pillowing her cheek with it.
"Let me see…then someone please move me to the Curiosity Shoppe for the Clue token. Maybe we'll be lucky and win this game by sealing gates."
"Argh, I can't believe it!" Nanoha stared aghast at her card. "I…I'm lost in time and space…"
"How are we going to win now?" Rein gasped, scrutinizing the board. "We needed Nanoha to seal that gate! We only have three turns left if we're not lucky…I'll run new computations and see what our chances are of getting a gate opening on a seal…"
"It's just a game, Rein, you don't have to do computations…"
"Injury card!" Vita sniggered, picking up the deck and fanning it out for Nanoha to pick one. Fate was about to give Nanoha a consolation kiss when she noticed Vivio rise unnoticed in the commotion and sneak over to the other end of the tent by the bags. Deliberating, Fate decided to keep silent, watching her daughter as the other players started arguing a new strategy.
Vivio picked up a blanket and came around the other side of the cot, and when Fate looked she suddenly realized that Hayate had dozed off right beside them. The brunette slumped against the cot, her hair splayed darkly across her light sleeve and pale face. Without her eternal smile, Hayate appeared utterly worn out and slightly ill, and so deeply asleep that it didn't seem like anything short of an explosion was going to wake her up.
How sweet, that Vivio was the first one to notice that Hayate had fallen asleep. It wasn't surprising—Hayate's sleep debt had probably caught up with her, and they had been playing for nearly three hours now. And Vivio's always had her eyes on Hayate almost as much as the Wolkenritter did, but for a different reason, of course.
It was so cute.
Well, sometimes Fate was a little concerned. She understood crushes that meant something; Yuuno had crushed hard after Nanoha when they were little, and those two still had a special connection even as adults. But that was a…real crush, as much as Fate hated to use the term. But Vivio's crush on Hayate wasn't the same, and Fate worried that Vivio was going to miss out on real chances if she didn't understand the difference between a crush and crushing. Hayate as her daughter's first crush was adorable beyond description, but it wasn't something, well, plausible to happen.
Fate feigned inattention as Vivio crept up silently behind them and gently unfolded the blanket, lowering it feather-lightly around Hayate's shoulders.
And then Fate saw it.
The realization was like a punch in the gut, or a Starlight Breaker to the face.
Fate didn't breathe for a moment.
She saw the trembling, tender way that Vivio tucked the edges of the blanket around Hayate's neck, locking out any drafts that might chill the sleeping woman. It was in the too-long lingering of Vivio's hands on Hayate's shoulders. In the brief, far too mature flash of emotion in Vivio's red-green eyes as she looked down at Hayate's relaxed face, and in the confused yet reluctant withdrawal as Vivio finally pulled herself away from that moment to make her way back to her seat, looking hopelessly conflicted and lonely.
In that moment, Fate saw a kind of devotion that she had never expected to see in her fourteen-year old daughter. And for that deep emotion in Vivio's expression to be directed towards her childhood crush, one that everyone always teased Vivio about because they found it cute and impossible?
Because they found it impossible…
Fate felt her mind whirling when she suddenly realized, when she suddenly had to admit to herself, that it wasn't so impossible to think of now.
God, it was her daughter! Vivio was just fourteen. She was just a teenager, and yet, for Fate to see that kind of forever in that moment? Fate knew what forever looked like. She had seen it too many times to be unsure, both the bad kind of forever and the good.
The only reason Fate wouldn't call it "love" was because Vivio didn't know what love was yet. But she will. Knowing her daughter, Fate knew that Vivio will find out one day for herself, and then Vivio will realize that to her, Hayate was…
Hayate would be…
This wasn't just a childhood crush.
It shouldn't make any sense. Hayate was thirteen years older than Vivio! She was for all intents and purposes a generation ahead of Vivio! The crush should have been something like a first crush, full of mostly admiration with maybe a hint of shallow attraction.
But undeniably, something deeper ran inside her precious daughter's heart. Fate would bet that even Vivio didn't realize it yet herself.
How mindblowing! How…bewildering.
What was Fate going to do about it? What were she and Nanoha going to do?
This was big.
Fate was not old enough for this! Okay, she knew how to deal with the "Am I in love" talk—she had gone through all of this once with Caro and Erio, after all. But this was Vivio, who had somewhere down the line gotten a crush on Hayate, and somewhere further along, fallen for the older woman. An older woman who was Nanoha and Fate's age, who was one of their oldest friends…
What was the parental speech for something like this?
Fate watched Vivio flick through her character pieces, her red and green eyes unfocused as the blonde pondered about something. A few seconds later Vivio's gaze travelled to Hayate, and it broke Fate's heart to see a dejected and confused flicker in the girl's eyes as she looked at her longtime crush. And again, Fate saw the hint of that warm, forever kind of devotion that made her shiver and tighten her grip around Nanoha's waist.
A touch on Fate's wrist jerked her from her musing. She glanced down to see Nanoha's concerned slate-blue eyes peering up at her, wordlessly inquiring.
"Oh Nanoha," Fate murmured, sifting through her mixed emotions and finally deciding to go with a small smile, "We really have to talk about something soon."
Author's Note: There will be 2 more stories that take place after this one, about Nanoha and Fate dealing with how they feel and think about Vivio's serious feelings for Hayate (these are the "first discussions" referenced in "Prerogative of the Brave," chapter 2). They may not be written anytime soon, but I'll try to squeeze them into my other projects!
A gold Elder Sign to DezoPenguin, for not only recognizing what game they're playing, but for also correcting a mistake in my first draft! ^_-