Quick Note: This technically takes place in the Hayate and Vivio Files (full list of fics linked in my profile page, shameless self-plug!), but it works as a stand-alone as well. Chronologically, it comes before "Lose By Holding Back"; that story does elaborate more on Hayate's internal motivations.


Words and hearts should be handled with care, for words when spoken and hearts when broken are the hardest things to repair.

—Anonymous


Gut Feeling

The beeping sound of an incoming message cut through the pleasant haze in Hayate's head. She abruptly broke off the kiss, sending the woman sitting in her lap rocking backward in disappointment.

"I thought you told them you're in a meeting?" the stately blonde groaned, a hungry edge to her voice as she lost no time in continuing to unbutton Hayate's blouse. Morgan Link, a Second-Lieutenant of the TSAB Navy, knew well how to make the most of a little bit of time. She also knew how to perform dexterous actions in small confined spaces—like on Hayate's precariously balanced office chair while straddling the woman in question.

It was a skill Hayate welcomed enthusiastically.

"I did," Hayate managed to gasp, unwilling to take her hands off of Morgan's thighs and out from under the other woman's skirt, but the non-lizard part of her brain was ordering her to check her message in case it was urgent. The rest of her brain was still locked in on her gorgeous girlfriend who had won the battle with the small buttons on Hayate's shirt and was slowly edging her fingers up Hayate's stomach.

Morgan's words were disjointed as she kissed her way down Hayate's neck, panting. "Then…shouldn't they know…that…you're occupied?"

"It could be important." Hayate pulled Morgan up and kissed her deeply, caressing her cheek until the other woman moaned. She pulled away, reaching sideways to tap the holoscreen's audio-receive button. "Yes?"

"I'm sorry to interrupt your meeting, Colonel," Lucino's voice answered crisply. A combination of being a consummate professional and an old friend of Hayate's kept Lucino from adding any unnecessary stresses to any particular words. Morgan rolled her eyes, sighing audibly as she got off Hayate's lap and straightened her skirt and uniform. Lucino continued, "You have a non-scheduled visitor. Should I tell her that you are occupied?"

Hayate frowned, catching onto Morgan's hand to keep her girlfriend from sneaking away. "Non-scheduled visitor? Someone important?" She tried to think about who could possibly be visiting who didn't already have an appointment, and yet would be important enough for Lucino to interrupt with a call.

"Officer Cadet Vivio Takamachi."

Vivio? Ah, Hayate remembered, it was Friday—Vivio often dropped by headquarters after school to visit her various family and friends at work on Friday after class, both as a friendly visit but also as part of her eventual advanced officer training. Normally Hayate was more careful in scheduling her trysts with Morgan on other days, but the fallout of the Mariage incident had resulted in Hayate working overtime for the last three weeks, and exhaustion had scrambled her brain.

And, well, the heavy make-out sessions had scrambled her brain too.

"Colonel?"

Hayate startled, realizing that she was keeping Lucino waiting. "Sorry—yes, let her in. I mean—give me two minutes, to, ah…"

Dryly, Lucino suggested, "Finish your meeting?"

"Yes, that," Hayate said sheepishly, and closed the holoscreen.

"Did you have to do that?" Morgan asked, sighing heavily. She sat on the edge of Hayate's desk and relinquished Hayate's hand so that the brunette could rapidly button up her shirt. "You know that I don't have any more time off before I get deployed again, right?" With a rough affection she finger-brushed Hayate's hair into some kind of order for her as Hayate tried to sort her uniform out before Lucino sent Vivio in.

"We'll find time," Hayate promised, smiling. "Come on, Morgan, this is my niece. I can't just blow her off."

"She's your niece—she should understand not to bother you when you're working."

An ironic statement, but Hayate let it go. Gently grasping Morgan's lapel, Hayate tugged her in for a quick peck. "She's not a bother. Be nice, please?"

Her office door opened right then, and Hayate swivelled her chair around as Vivio trotted in, the little girl's cheeks blushing red as she greeted Hayate with a wide smile. She was still in her school uniform, and to Hayate's amusement she noted the ever-present wrinkles in Vivio's sleeves. Nanoha could never get Vivio to roll her sleeves up properly when she did any rough-and-tumble activities, but other than the scrunch marks on her sleeves where Vivio often pushed them up carelessly, Vivio's uniform was military-pristine as always.

"Hayate-san!" Vivio dropped her schoolbag easily on the couch by the door, then pulled up short as she realized that Hayate wasn't alone.

"Good afternoon, Vivio. Can I introduce you to someone? This is Second-Lieutenant Morgan Link. Morgan, this is Officer Cadet Vivio Takamachi."

Morgan smirked, amused at Hayate's formality, but waved a jaunty hand at Vivio. "Hi."

"Nice to meet you, ma'am." Vivio saluted, her brows furrowed slightly in an unsettled expression.

"Um," Hayate said, not wanting an awkward silence to deaden Vivio's spirit or raise Morgan's disdain, "Morgan is in the Navy, just like Fate-chan."

"Really?" Vivio walked a little closer, curious. "Are you training to be an Enforcer too, ma'am?"

"I'll be taking my Enforcer exam by the end of the year," Morgan smiled, a touch condescendingly. From Hayate's personal judgement of Morgan's performance in the field…her military performance…she didn't think that it was a realistic goal, but Hayate didn't want to make Morgan lose face by commenting. Morgan twirled a lock of hair around one finger, tugging absently at her tapered bangs. "So, did you have fun at school today, Vivio-chan?"

Vivio shrugged, sitting on one of the guest chairs in front of Hayate's desk. "It was okay. This year the teachers are finally letting me take the accelerated courses in addition to being in the OTP, so I'm looking forward to that."

"Oh? I took accelerated courses in school too." Morgan's hand wandered to cover Hayate's, but Hayate lifted that hand to cover a fairly-realistic fake cough. She couldn't help shivering as Morgan rubbed her back soothingly instead, the touch reminding Hayate of their earlier activities.

"Really?" Vivio asked politely. "You must be pretty smart then, ma'am."

"Not as smart as Hayate here," Morgan replied, and Hayate definitely noticed Vivio's reaction at Morgan's omission of rank in that address. "Colonel at twenty-two, right dear?"

Vivio lowered her gaze, clearly aware that she was an intruder on a private moment.

"Just work and luck," Hayate deflected easily. She didn't like Vivio's subdued manner and forlorn expression… Hayate gave a large jerk, slapped her forehead and turned to Morgan, her blue eyes wide in apologetic remembrance. "Oh Morgan, I'm sorry, but I just remembered—Vivio, didn't I promise you that I'd take you on a tour of the TSAB Mid-Childan Main Office today?"

Just like the smart, quick-thinking girl Hayate knew Vivio to be, the little blonde replied immediately, "Yes, you did. I'm sorry to interrupt your meeting, Second-Lieutenant Link..."

"Well, I can't ask Hayate to break her promise to a kid, right?" Morgan shrugged amiably, and rose from her seat on Hayate's desk, brushing the inside of Hayate's thigh with her knee in the motion. Morgan trained her green eyes on Hayate in a private smouldering look. "I'll see you, Hayate—tonight?"

"Sure," Hayate smiled, feeling a light blush rise on her cheeks as she thought about it.

"Bye, Vivio-chan," Morgan waved dismissively, and left.

"So," Hayate grinned, pushing her chair back and walking around her desk, "Shall we go? I can show you the view from the roof of this place—it's fantastic!"

Now that it was just the two of them, Vivio seemed to perk up a little even as her blush deepened. "Don't I get something for covering for you?" She teased cheekily, bouncing off her seat and running to pick up her schoolbag, eager to get on the way.

Hayate laughed. Yup, Vivio was a clever girl. "Sure—ice cream, on me?"

Vivio beamed in delight and ran out, humming a happy song under her breath. Hayate stopped by Lucino's desk on her way out.

"Lucino-san, could you message Nanoha-chan so that she knows that I'm taking Vivio out for ice cream later?"

"Sure," her secretary agreed, smiling at the sight of Vivio shifting impatiently by the glass doors as she waited for Hayate to finish talking. Lucino then looked at Hayate for a few seconds, then glanced back down at her computer screen. "Should I send the performance reports to Rein for you to look over at home before your…meeting with Second-Lieutenant Link tonight?"

Hayate blushed, keeping a happy smile on her face. She knew how most of her friends saw her relationship with Morgan—there was no need to bring down a day's mood in disputing over it. "Sure, thank you." The sudden appointment cut into Hayate's carefully planned work schedule; mentally, she tacked on a few more overtime work days for the rest of the week to compensate. But ah well, what could she do?

"Have fun with Vivio-chan."

"Sure will." Hayate found herself walking off with a bounce in her own step, feeling cheerier than she had all day.

**O**

"Vivio!"

"Nanoha-mama!" Vivio squealed, letting go of Hayate's hand and running.

Hayate smiled as she watched Nanoha and Vivio greet each other in their usual sweet, over-enthusiastic display of affection between mother and daughter, taking a seat on a bench by the park playground as she patiently waited for Vivio's excited rambling about her school lessons to end.

She had heard it all earlier in the day, after Hayate had taken Vivio around the Main Office and showed her all the workshops and conference rooms, providing funny stories to make the otherwise fairly boring tour funny for the girl. True to her promise, they had both scarpered off to the nearby park for ice cream, Hayate playing truant on the rest of her afternoon at work with only a small twinge of guilt.

Nanoha had found them ambling around the park chatting.

Vivio still had a cute tendency to start stammering whenever she got nervous or too excited.

That nervousness seemed to have vanished as Hayate observed Vivio winding down her recitation as Nanoha and Vivio drifted over to where Hayate was sitting.

"Hayate-chan," Nanoha said happily, giving Hayate a hug. "Thanks for taking Vivio out today."

"No thanks needed—I had a lot of fun," Hayate replied, smiling at Vivio.

"I'm sorry that Vivio interrupted a meeting of yours today," apologized Nanoha, but when Hayate flushed, the Ace of Aces cocked her head, then smirked. "Ah, I see."

"It wasn't a problem," mumbled Hayate.

Nanoha tilted her head, observing Hayate with her steady gaze. "Vivio? Why don't you go check out that new slide for a bit?"

Vivio rolled her red and green eyes, clearly understanding the code for 'adults want to talk now; no children allowed'. "Okay."

"So," Nanoha said after Vivio had run off to the playground out of earshot, "How's the girlfriend?"

"Morgan's fine—she's working hard. I think she's going to test for some new ranks soon. I'm not sure which ones—I guess I'll ask her tonight."

Nanoha flinched. "Wow, she's visiting the family already?"

"It's not…visiting the family exactly," Hayate tried to explain, knowing that it's going to come out totally wrong. A little defensively, she added, "Besides, we've been going out for three months, isn't that 'meet the family' appropriate?"

"…That kind of depends on how serious it is."

"Oh." Hayate sighed, leaning back on the bench and looking up at the blue sky. "She's not having dinner with Signum and them anyway."

"More of a private rendez-vous?" Nanoha said dryly.

"Kind of. Yes." Hayate shifted—it was tiring, how awkward all her conversations were with her old friends about Morgan. Turning the question around, Hayate asked, "How's Fate-chan? I heard that she's still out on assignment?"

"Yes," Nanoha sighed, a lonely air about her. "I'm counting down the days."

Hayate hated seeing her friend so down. Smirking, she elbowed Nanoha gently. "Hey, when are you and Fate going to make honest women of yourselves?"

Nanoha flushed, but her face took on that dopey, love-struck expression that she always had when with Fate, or thinking about Fate. "Well…soon. Really, this time."

Hayate laughed. "So, do I get to be your maid of honour?"

"Uh…"

Seeing Nanoha's eyes go blank with the stress overload, Hayate took pity on her. "Don't worry, Nanoha-chan, I was kidding. I mean, assuming that Fate's best man is going to be Chrono-kun, then it would be a toss-up between Yuuno-kun and myself for you, and you have been friends with Yuuno-kun for longer than with me. I won't be offended if you pick him to be your Maid of Honour." By the time she reached the end of her speech Hayate couldn't hold her serious countenance anymore and burst out into giggles, causing Nanoha to pout.

"You're terrible, Hayate-chan!"

They sat in silence for a while, watching the children playing on the playground. Shouting and the squeaking on hands on metal bars and the swish of clothing on plastic slides filled the quiet nicely.

"So," Nanoha said, her voice soft. "Any wedding bells for Hayate-chan?"

"Well, not all of us have Fate-chans," Hayate quipped, her tone carefully level. "Besides, I'm aiming to become a General before I'm thirty. Eight years to jump three ranks, that's going to take up a lot of my time!"

"Don't toss that girlfriend of yours to do it," Nanoha said hesitantly, despite a tone of reluctance in the words. "You really ought to take care of yourself at the same time, you know? Even if," she rolled her eyes, "people like to take advantage of how kind you are…"

"I know," Hayate broke in, deliberately leaving it vague as to which part of Nanoha's speech she was responding to. "Trust me, I'm fine with it."

Hayate liked how her life was going.

She was fine with things, how they were…because Hayate knew that Morgan wasn't The One. It was a gut feeling that Hayate was familiar with; a feeling that was absent whenever she looked at Nanoha and Fate, or Chrono and Amy. Hayate didn't have time for an Epic Romance.

This was fine.

It was easier this way.

**O**

Hayate kissed Morgan to muffle their cries as they both collapsed on the sheets, chests heaving silently. Thank god Morgan was a quiet lover—despite the Wolkenritter mostly vacating the house on the nights when Morgan came over, Hayate still couldn't help feeling mortified with the thought of them overhearing. No doubt serving on Navy ships had taught Morgan the same discretion.

"That was new," Hayate panted once she could speak without shaking.

Morgan laughed, laying her head on Hayate's shoulder. "You liked that?"

"Hm, very much." Hayate wrapped her arm around Morgan's waist, laying back onto the pillows. It was probably well past midnight, and despite what people thought, Hayate really did need at least a few hours of sleep a night before she woke at an ungodly early hour for work.

"Good," Morgan said smugly, snuggling closer.

"If you're staying the night, I have to warn you that my alarm is going off bright and early at 5 AM."

"It's Saturday."

Hayate yawned. "You know the saying—If you're talented, become a Striker. If you're smart, become an Enforcer. If you're crazy and insomniac, become an officer. I need to put in some overtime."

"Overtime on a weekend? When your girlfriend is willing to blow off combat training to spend a morning in bed with you?" Morgan sighed, amused and disgruntled. "You're crazy."

"Sorry."

"Make it up to me?"

Hayate bit back a sigh, trying to stir up enough energy to wake up more. If Morgan wanted more sex, Hayate was going to need a coffee or something before she could perform. "Sure?"

"You know how I'm trying to apply for the Lieutenant position on my ship?" Morgan traced lines on Hayate's side, more affectionate than arousing. "I need two signatures of character nominations—not military performance, just character. Can you recommend anyone?"

"I don't mind signing for you," Hayate offered, stifling a second yawn.

"You would?" Morgan kissed Hayate's throat. "Thanks so much, dear."

"Hm, Admiral Royce would be another good name—he's Navy, so his endorsement would probably mean more than mine." Even for a character nomination, Hayate was well aware—and even admitted her own bias—that endorsements with big names, ranks and reputation could make or break an application. "Royce works for the main branch, so it wouldn't be a conflict of interest for him to endorse Navy officers for deployed ships. He's well-respected despite his youth, and his own career promises to take him to high places too. He knows you too, if I recall correctly?"

"Just a little," Morgan admitted. "I was too in awe to really talk to him when he trained my unit in Interplanetary Relations."

"So yeah, go talk to him," Hayate said sleepily, closing her eyes and drawing her comforter up over both of them.

"I will—thank you." Morgan dropped a light kiss on Hayate's lips, getting the message that sex time was over. Normally, Hayate would make more of an effort—but her sleep debt was really catching up with her, and she still had a lot of work to get through. Morgan being deployed would actually give Hayate a chance to catch up.

"You're staying?" Hayate mumbled as she felt Morgan settle back down on Hayate's shoulder, their bodies snugly close.

"I set your alarm for 4:30." Warm air blew across Hayate's collarbone as Morgan chuckled. "Half an hour is plenty of time." If she said any more, Hayate didn't hear.

Mastering the art of falling asleep immediately was essential in Hayate's line of work.

Especially if she now had half an hour less of sleep than she had been expecting.

**O**

It really was just like any other day at work.

But when Hayate got a text message from Morgan during her lunch break, she was pretty sure she knew what it was going to be about. In the last month after Morgan had returned from her mission, even removing the days when she had been on deployment, Hayate hadn't seen her girlfriend as many times as she used to.

Yet Morgan clearly had quite a bit of free time on her hands lately. Lots of it, apparently.

And from the look Lucino gave her when she walked in to hand Hayate her next set of reports, it had been written all over Hayate's face.

"I'm sorry, Hayate-san," Lucino said sympathetically, patting Hayate's shoulder.

A small smile twitched at Hayate's lips. "I haven't opened the message yet, Lucino-chan."

"Huh? Oh!" Lucino turned red, backpedalling in mortification at her assumption. "Uh, I meant—"

Hayate opened the message on her screen.

Hayate,

Can we meet in the back gazebo at lunch to talk?

Morgan

Hayate looked up at Lucino, who was biting her lip.

"It's okay," Hayate sighed, smiling wryly and dropping her head on the back of her chair. "You can say it."

"…I'm sorry, Hayate-san. I guess Morgan Link and Admiral Royce bonded really well over their daily 'friendly' coffee dates."

"Thanks." Heaving herself to her feet, Hayate tugged at the collar of her jacket and sighed. "Four months this time though—I think I'm doing better." It was her longest relationship to date. So she was doing better in a way… Or else she was getting worse at picking the right partners? Maybe it had some kind of relationship to her increasing rank? Hayate was sure that if she asked Yuuno, he'd do some computations for her. That made her giggle oddly, causing Lucino's look of concern to deepen.

Hayate sighed, sobering. "Lucino-chan, can you call Shamal and tell her that Morgan won't be coming over for dinner?"

"Of course, Hayate-san. I'll take care of it."

"Thanks." Hayate headed for her door. "Um…please don't tell our friends anything yet, okay? I don't want Morgan to end up Starlight Breaker'ed or Giganthammer'ed before I find a way to spin damage control."

From the expression on Lucino's face, Hayate hoped that her secretary wouldn't find a way to "accidentally" slip any hints into her messages to Hayate's protective family and friends.

**O**

It was Excuse #2.

Excuse #2: "I don't want to affect your career because [INSERT REASON]."

At least Morgan did look fairly sorry as she said it. Not that it changed things much.

"It's fine," Hayate assured her, her warm smile perfect. "I would actually be more worried about you—if people found out that we were seeing each other, it might be worse for you. People might accuse you of sucking up to your superiors—" Hayate would not say 'screwing', "—and I wouldn't want that to happen to you."

While her concern was fairly legitimate, it still gave Hayate some satisfaction to see Morgan flush guiltily at the subtext. Hey, Hayate was human.

"Can we still be friends?"

"Of course," Hayate said gently, extending her hand to shake.

They shook hands, as perfunctory as any official business agreement.

Hayate watched Morgan go, leaning against the gazebo pillar with a sigh. Maybe some of Hayate's exes were right. Maybe Hayate was just as cold and unloving as they made her out to be. They might be right. This was her longest relationship yet and Hayate didn't really feel any sadder than saying goodbye to one of her friends. And she must be an absolute stone bitch to be counting all the extra hours in her day instead of recollecting her past moments with Morgan all dramatically at the end of their relationship.

She had been right.

After Reinforce, there really wasn't anyone Hayate could let in close anymore. No one had ever felt right, but maybe it was actually from Hayate's side. Reinforce and her…they had let each other in: innocently, fearfully, but with an honest trust that hadn't been betrayed. For that brief, eternal period of time, they had loved each other, a kind of love that was different than anything Hayate could describe, but she had seen similar intimacy reflected in her friends when they fell in love. Rather than taking care of her loved ones, Hayate had felt…taken care of as well, on a level of equals. There had been an odd kind of honesty and openness that Hayate had dared to cherish.

But Reinforce had died. And where she had been torn from Hayate, Hayate bore a scar that she hid under smiles and solemn dedication. And no one had ever come past the smiles close to her deepest, loneliest self that hid behind the love Hayate poured into her family, friends and duty. The same lesson was being driven into her, time after time.

Hey, Hayate didn't grow up a fool.

She got the message.

"Hayate-san!" The sound of her name being called made Hayate jerk her head up in time to catch a small blonde missile that shot towards her and wrapped itself around her waist.

"Hey, Vivio," Hayate patted the girl on the head. She looked up and smiled again. "Hey Nanoha-chan, Fate-chan. Taking a walk together?" Both of Vivio's parents seemed to be glowing, holding hands tightly like teenagers as they both wore goofy grins on their faces. It was actually slightly alarming how wide their smiles were.

"Even better!" Vivio squealed, vibrating so much in excitement that Hayate laughed as she rattled along with the girl. "Nanoha-mamajustproposedtoFate-mamaandthey'regoingtogetmarried!"

"Really?" Hayate yelped, jumping up and down as well, giving Vivio a double high-five. "Congratulations!" She glomped her delighted and blushing friends, squeezing them together tightly. "Is that the ring? And Nanoha-chan was the one who asked? Wow!"

"Did something happen, Hayate?" Fate asked, her perceptive red eyes peering intently into Hayate's.

"Nothing, really," Hayate waved off, not wanting to ruin their happiness with details of her own jinxed love life. "I'm more interested in you two! When's the wedding date?"

"Sometime next summer," Nanoha replied, her manner more subdued as she had taken her new fiancée's lead and was also observing Hayate in concern. "We want Arisa-chan, Suzuka-chan and my family to all be able to come, and we'll have to make sure everyone can get the time off. Should I send you an extra invite, Hayate-chan?"

"That won't be necessary," Hayate said casually, waving it off. "I'm a single agent now, so no extra invite needed."

"I'm so sorry," Nanoha and Fate said in unison, pulling Hayate back into their group hug. When they broke away Nanoha looked equally angry and equally sympathetic.

"You're such a great person, Hayate-chan—I'm sure you'll find someone to love you like you deserve."

"She does!" Vivio declared staunchly, catching onto Hayate's hand and smiling up at her. "I love Hayate-san!"

"Aww," Hayate chuckled, bending down and scooping Vivio up in a hug. "Thanks, Vivio. I love you too."

Even so, Hayate had a feeling that her earlier prediction was right. Love just wasn't in the cards for someone like her.

Watching the soulful joy on Nanoha and Fate's faces, Hayate only felt a small twinge of regret.

A small twinge.


Author's Note: In canon, this story takes place after the Mariage Incident in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha StrikerS Sound Stage X, making Vivio 9 years old and Hayate 22 years old. However, some details are different because of the Hayate x Vivio Files chronology (sorry, no official canon confirmation about Fate and Nanoha's marital status!)

This was inspired by Extrinsical's "Let Nature Run Its Course", where I thought that I might want to write a story where Hayate was dating someone who was mostly using her. But then moral ambiguity came in and all, in typical deathcurse fashion ^_-…

Morgan Link comes from "Morgan Motor Company", with Malvern Link being the area where the company is based. Admiral Royce comes from "Rolls-Royce".