Disclaimer: The author of the fanfiction (babbler) does not, in any way, profit from the story and that all creative rights to the characters belong to their original creator.

Is Something Burning?


She'd be home soon. Fate Testarossa stared out the window of the small TSAB vessel. She closed her eyes for a second…

Fate, her jacket folded over her arm walked up the path to their shared house and opened the door like she did a hundred times before. The smell of cookies engulfed her immediately. She hung her jacket on the same hook she always used and took off her shoes, placing them next to Vivio's tiny sneakers.

She tiptoed into the kitchen and stole a still warm cookie from the jar and cautiously made her way into the living room step by step. Vivio was sitting on Nanoha's lap with her back against the armrest. Fate stepped a little harder than normal and Vivio turned her little head in the direction of the noise. Fate stalled for a second and then gently tackled Vivio onto the ground using one hand to tickle her side.

"Hahaha…Nanoha mama help!" Vivio squirmed in Fate's tight hug. Nanoha sat their smiling not even attempting to get up as tears formed in her eyes from the intense tickling.

"Lets tickle mama," Fate whispered and Vivio's eyes lit up.

The pair jumped on the totally unprepared Nanoha. Fate held Nanoha tightly as Vivio tickled her mercilessly.

"Stop….hehehe…you two aren't getting dessert after dinner if you don't stop."

Vivio pouted and relented, stopping the tickling and hugging into her mother.

"Vivio start setting the table like mama showed you how."

"Okay!" Vivio ran off.

Nanoha turned to Fate and looked into each other's eyes for a second then their lips melted together. Fate had been gone for a while and the kiss was delicious.

The pair stood in unison. "I think dinner is just about ready Fate-chan."

"I've been looking forward to it for months."

"I bet that's not the only thing you're looking forward too." Nanoha gave Fate a half lidded sultry look that caused the latter's face to erupt in blush.

Fate opened her eyes and smiled. In less than an hour she would be home to that happiness, though that hour would be longer than a lifetime. She slouched slightly in her seat. Why did it seem to get harder being away from home the more trips she took? Shouldn't it be the opposite? This was a short trip compared to some of the others. She turned her attention back to reviewing the information of the case…

Beep! Beep! Beep! Fate opened a weary eye and stared at the blinking screen in front of her. She rubbed her eyes and clicked the button.

"Fate?" Hayate asked, slight confusion in her voice.

"Yes?"

"I was just wondering if anything was wrong since you didn't transfer your material to me right away when you landed."

Fate's eyes shot open and she peered out the window. "Umm…I fell asleep." She blushed.

"You do know you can send that stuff before you land right?"

"That's just part of my routine." Fate tried to yawn discretely without Hayate seeing. Even though she wasn't working under Hayate anymore it felt unprofessional to her somehow. Fate walked the short distance of the ship and disembarked.

"Well. Have fun. You always work so hard and everyone needs downtime." Hayate waved her finger at her. "If I even see you thinking about doing work I'm going to…well I can't do much but I'll be very annoying."

"Yes Hayate." Fate's face reddened again. Everyone liked to take care of her.

"…and stop by for lunch some time. I miss eating together." There was a sound in the background like an electric toothbrush and Hayate smirked at the screen. "Bye."

Fate sat aboard her car and closed the door behind her. It still smelt new despite being over two years old which showed how much she used it. She didn't need a car, as Nanoha often pointed out, but money was never an issue for them so Fate didn't feel overly bad about having a toy as expensive as her car. Fate was too innocent to realize that, people who will not be named, would pay top dollar for certain items belonging to Fate, her car being one of them.

Ten minutes later Fate walked up the path to her house bathing in the tranquility of a cool summer afternoon. The birds were chirping, the smell of freshly mowed lawn was in the air…and an acrid smell she couldn't put a finger on. The neighbours next door often had barbeques so she passed it off as just the lingering smell of something they had cooked.

"VIVIO!" Fate jumped at the sudden shout from inside. Someone sounded high-spirited she smiled. It was nice hearing Nanoha in person.

She opened the door and stepped into their small porch area. Taking off her uniform jacket she hung it on the….the hook was already taken by a leather jacket with studs on the shoulders. Fate stared at the jacket unable to comprehend it. If there had been a leprechaun hanging from that hook Fate would be less baffled. She could not fit that jacket into the conceptual space of her home. She placed her jacket on an open hook and took off her shoes. Vivio's shoes weren't there but there was a pair of black closed toed stilettos that made Fate's eyes glaze over for a brief second has she tried to picture the person that had ventured into her home with those shoes and that jacket.

Fate shook her head in confusion and opened the door. There were two people talking somewhere but the low rumble of music drowned them out she couldn't tell if it were Vivio and Nanoha or a guest.

The acrid smell hit her nostrils again. Stronger now and more pungent. Fate looked up to see light smoke rolling along the ceiling. Fate rushed in the direction of the smoke and threw open the kitchen door to find the room filled with it and more still billowing out from the stove. She grabbed some oven mitts and pulled out the charred roast, a tear running down her eye both from the ruined dinner and stinging smoke in her eyes.

She opened the window in the kitchen and moved to the living room to open the windows there. She made a mental note to check why the fire detection system didn't set off.

"Vivio! You are not going out wearing that! No means no! "

"I'm old enough to dress myself! I don't need your two cents."

"You'll drop that tone right now or you'll never take another step outside."

"I'm late mama!"

"No you're not late because unless you change right now you are not going out!"

Fate listened quietly has she opened another window besides the kitchen. This was the independence Nanoha had ingrained in her. She spoke to her mother in the same tone has her mother was speaking to her. Fate didn't remember having this kind of fight with Lindy. Did Nanoha fight with her mother like this? Fate looked off into the sky trying to imagine Momoko and Nanoha fighting like that. She blanched. That would be a scary fight.

Vivio rushed down the stairs with Nanoha close behind.

"What do you want? I put on the leggings for you! Leave me alone," Vivio yelled running for the door, slipping as she did, in her stocking clad feet.

"Where are you going and when will you be home?"

"I already told you that ten times! Where's my purse!"

Fate eyed the black leather shoulder bag on the sofa where Vivio must have left it at some point. She picked it up, smiling as she did, and walked toward the porch where the pair was still yelling. She had given her this for Christmas the year before and it was expensive. The leather looked worn, and with its weight Fate imagine Vivio might be carrying around a dictionary in it, but it was obviously well taken care of.

"Where is it? I'm sure I left it here." Vivio's butt was sticking out of the closet.

"Here you go." Fate gently dropped the bag by her daughter's feet causing Nanoha to jumped. She had not heard Fate walk up behind her, or enter the house for that matter.

"Fate-mama!" Vivio pulled her into a bone crushing hug. Vivio was wearing a very short red cocktail dress with black leggings underneath. She was also wearing black stilettos and the studded leather jacket. Fate eyes glazed over once more has she tried to reconcile her earlier vision of her daughter with this sixteen-year-old one standing before her. Where had all the years gone? It felt as though a few short weeks ago she had Vivio in her arms reading stories. This Vivio could probably hold her.

"I still want my kiss before you leave."

"I'm not a child!"

"…and you're never to old to kiss your mama!" Nanoha barked.

Vivio smiled coyly, took a step towards Nanoha and then twirled around to kiss Fate on the cheek with an added sternum-shattering hug. "Fate-mama I love you." She ran out the door giggling.

"It's hard to believe that's our little Vivio." Fate said smiling and nudging Nanoha in the ribs.

Nanoha slid down to the floor, her hands over her face. "She doesn't listen to anything I say! She's so headstrong! I'd like to take her and grind her into little bits!"

Fate pulled Nanoha to her feet. "Hayate would say 'Who could ever have predicted that?'" Fate placed a finger to her chin and tried to imitate Hayate's voice as best she could.

"Hehehe." Nanoha nuzzled her face into Fate's chest. "That was a terrible Hayate. Hehehe."

"Go lie down and I'll cook supper. You don't look well Nanoha-chan."

"Oh….I'm cooking supper. It should be done…." She looked around at the opened windows, the acrid smell of burnt supper registered in her brain for the first time.

"I'm sorry Fate. I wanted to have a nice supper cooked for you but…"

"Shhh…." She led Nanoha over to the living room and forced her to sit. "I'll handle it."

"Can't some of it be saved?" Nanoha followed Fate into the kitchen.

Fate prodded the black mass with a knife. It was burnt to a crisp no matter how you looked at it. Even if some of it were good it would have that horrible burnt taste on the meat. "No." She said bluntly shooing Nanoha out the kitchen door and closing it behind her.

"Bardiche, why didn't the fire system activate?"

"It is set to an extremely high tolerance. Would you like it reset sir?"

Fate stared hard at the roast. Was Nanoha making a habit of burning her meals? "Set it slightly lower." The whole kitchen could have been on fire and the alarm wouldn't have went off with the current setting.

Fate opened the fridge and took out some cheese, ground beef, and tomato sauce. She was dying for some lasagna. Nanoha made delicious lasagna and she hoped hers own concoction would measure up.

She tied an apron around her waist and set a pot to boil. She wished she had asked Vivio where she was going and then realized she could just ask Nanoha. When had tiny Vivio become such a handful? She was always such a well-behaved child….but then it wasn't hard to predict that Vivio might be a tad wilful. It perhaps didn't help that Nanoha's job was rubbing off on her home life adding to both of their stress.

Fate slid the noodles into the boiling water and left the kitchen. Nanoha was sitting with her back to her; her hair cascading down the back of the couch. Fate smiled evilly (as evil as a person like Fate could anyway) and tip toed towards Nanoha. Fate moved slowly avoiding the creaks in the floor she knew were there and then hovered a second just behind the couch.

Nanoha was asleep. She could see her reflection perfectly in their large television across the room. She sat besides Nanoha carefully as not to wake her. Watching Nanoha sleep was like breathing for Fate. Something she couldn't live without and missed sorely when it wasn't there. She'd spent many nights laying in bed watching Nanoha's peaceful slumber until sleep overcame her.

"How long was I asleep for?" Nanoha's eyes suddently shot open. "What time is it?"

"About ten minutes," Fate said running a finger along Nanoha's jawline.

Fate walked back to the kitchen and took the pot off the burner. She took the ground beef out of the freezer and took out a frying pan. Her mind wasn't exactly on cooking at the moment. She closed her eyes and opened them again while stifling a yawn. Some coffee was in order.

Fate heard the tinkling of glasses behind her and turned to find Nanoha with two long stemmed wine glasses in her hands. Going to their wine-cooler she removed a bottle of…she wasn't sure. There had not been anything in he cooler other than around special occasions when they would pick up a bottle of something or other.

Nanoho poured the clear liquid into one of the glass and sat it beside Fate.

"What's this?" Fate brought the glass to her nose.

"Non-alcoholic wine. I picked it up by mistake." Nanoha poured herself a glass and sat on the countertop.

"I didn't know you liked wine." Fate hesitantly tasted the beverage. It was quite sweet.

"I thought we might give it a try." Nanoha smiled. Her eyes still half-lidded from the sleep that had embraced her a few minutes earlier. She swirled the wine and then gave it a taste.

"Where did Vivio go tonight?" Fate asked adding some mushrooms and onions to the ground beef.

Nanoha eyes scrunched shut for a second and she grimaced. "A party with Eihart-chan and the girls. Shouldn't have let her go at all….Oh Fate, what am I going to do…what are we going to do?"

"I didn't realize things were like this." Fate scruched her brow. Nanoha always seemed so happy and carefree when she called.

"Umm…I didn't want to worry you….you've been gone a long time. She's growing up fast and you've been gone most of two years."

Fate's eyes shot open. Out of the last two years she had been home for only four months. She realized with a sigh that it must be the reason she had yearned to be home. "I'm sorry Nanoha. I won't be doing that anymore." Searching her mind, she couldn't figure out what drove her to accept missions that took her away from for such long periods of time.

"I'm just glad to have my best friend back."

It was 1:30am now. Nanoha was sound asleep. She had been for quite some time. She had often said she slept easier with Fate at her side and that night proved no exception. She placed the book she was reading on the nightstand and switched off the lamp.

BANG!

Fate jumped. Rolling back the covers she got out of bed and tip toed to the door to open it a crack. She pressed her back tight against the wall and slowed her breathing. "Bardiche…"

"It is Vivio sir."

Fate looked in amazement at her device. It was the first time in their many years together that it had ever interrupted her mid-sentence. She pulled on her robe and descended the stairs.

She could hear Vivio rooting around in the fridge. Had she had any supper at all Fate immediately thought and walked towards the kitchen. She turned on the light.

"Eeep! " Vivio squeaked. "Fate-mama you scared me!" She flung herself at Fate giving her a third set of bruises as she embraced her.

Vivio had been trying to get some lasagne, Fate observed. She had the lasagne dish out and was cutting a piece with her fork. She also had the tiniest plate they owned ready to put apiece on; probably in the dark the first plate she had come across.

"I'll get you a piece. Go change into your pyjamas," Fate said, sliding her hand through her daughter's hair.

"Yes mama." Vivio said loudly taking off in a run and then slowing down when she realized the rest of the house was completely dark. Vivio reached both hands out to each side and grasped for the banister of the stairs. She moved slowly one foot after the other, her eyes still not adjusted to the darkness.

Fate watched all this from the doorway and was about to tell her to turn on the light but stopped herself when the microwave behind her signalled that it had finished. Vivio probably didn't want to wake Nanoha and a fight at this time of night wouldn't do either of them any good. Fate placed the plate on the table and poured Vivio some orange juice. She looked through the fridge for something for herself to drink and her eyes came to rest on two unopened bottles of rum, along with several wine coolers, and a bottle of champagne.

Bam! Clunk! Bam! "Ouch!" Vivio bounced wobbly in the kitchen holding her left foot. "I think I broke my toe."

"You should have turned on some lights silly." Fate laughed. "Do you want me to look at it?"

Vivio shook her head. Her mouth too full of lasagne to speak.

Fate smiled happily. Even if it was late and Vivio had just gotten home, Vivio was still Vivio. Her soft cuddly Vivio.

"I forgot you were home," Vivio said between bites.

Fate winced and her breath caught in her lungs. When had Vivio become accustomed to her being gone? There was a knot in her stomach now that had not been there a few seconds ago. "I'll be home for a while this time. I promise."

"Mama," Vivio brought her plate and glass to the sink, "would you sleep with me tonight?"

"You're not embarrassed to sleep with your mama?'

"Of course not." Vivio giggled. "I'm not going to tell anyone anyway."

"I might." Fate smiled as Vivio's mouth dropped open. "I'm kidding. I wouldn't embarrass my little girl." The pair walked out into the darkened hallway.

Fate took Vivio by the hand and led the way to the stairs. She knew the house like the back of her hand. She didn't need the lights to navigate in the dark…she stuck out her hand in front of her. It wouldn't be the first time she walked into a wall though even if she did know every nook and cranny.

Vivio turned on the light then walked to the bed to remove a few stuffed animals that were sitting on it. The room wasn't the same as she remembered it. It seemed fuller now with a grown Vivio standing in the room with her. The pink, whites, and baby blues of her childhood had given way to the more adult dark red, navy, and black. The comforter was black, the sheets were black, the walls were black…it felt like a cave somehow despite being on the second floor. When did all this change? It was also easy to tell Nanoha rarely ventured here since layers of clothes were strewn about the room.

Fate snuggled into the bed and Vivio turned off the lights and followed suit. Fate turned to cuddle Vivio has she'd done when the girl was younger, but Vivio effortlessly flipped her over and attached herself to Fate's back.

I shouldn't have had that third glass of wine. I can smell the alcohol…Fate's eyes shot open. She couldn't remember ever being able to smell the alcohol off her own breath and they had drank non-alcoholic wine.

"Vivio?" How did she hide it? Maybe I just wasn't thinking. "Nanoha and I worry when you stay out late. We worry that you might drink and make bad decisions…."

"Mama…"

"…but I know we raised you to be smart and responsible so she definitely wouldn't drink too much and worry her mamas." She paused for a second but Vivio remained silent. "I'd like to tell you not to drink but I think it's best to tell you to be responsible and hope you'll come to me if you ever need help. "

"I only had four."

"Your mama would be drunk from that many and I'm much older than you."

"PLEASE don't tell Nanoha-mama." Vivio snuggled her face into Fate's back. "She'll ground me until I'm 25."

"If you promise me that you won't drink to much…if you can promise me that you'll make choices that's the best for you. Choices that Nanoha and I can be proud of."

Vivio's slipped her head under the blankets. "I promise."

"It's late so lets go to sleep."

"That….that wasn't just about alcohol was it."


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