[ Battalion 386 HQ, Southern Mid / September 18, 0078 11:35 ]

"Nakajima, you stay. I'd like a word with you."

"Yes, Ma'am," the young blue-haired Lieutenant raised her dull, sunken eyes.

Others avoided looking at her. She was the weird one out at the Battalion 386. The Captain pulled a lot of strings to keep her from being reassigned to the Preservation Corps, and nobody quite knew why. Whatever past history they shared was classified.

As the last of them left, the Captain opened the window, letting the warm September air and sunlight into the briefing room. Neither, however, could dispel the atmosphere of gloom that quickly spread inside.

"Can you at least pretend you were listening, dummy?" Captain Lanster spoke, at last. "I have enough trouble keeping you on the force already, so please don't give me any more."

"I am sorry, Tea," Lieutenant Nakajima replied guiltily. "I have been thinking…"

"Again?" The Captain let out an exasperated sigh, then walked over to the sitting Lieutenant, hugging her head tenderly. "It will be three years tomorrow."

"Yes," Subaru's voice almost broke but she held back.

"I know it's pointless but… What happened to Nanoha-san wasn't your fault. Or hers. Or Commander Hayate's. Nobody could have predicted what happened. Nobody at all."

"If only I could have been stronger, faster…"

"You wouldn't have achieved anything," Teana cut her harshly, still nursing her head. "You would have just gotten yourself killed. And me."

"I am sorry…" Subaru was on the verge of crying again.

"That's all you ever are these days, baka Subaru. You don't imagine I'm not having those very same thoughts all the time, do you?"

A bird chirped merrily outside. They didn't stir.

"Hey, Tea. May I sleep over at your place tonight?"

"Again? How long has it been since you last talked to your Dad?"

"I don't remember."

"And your sisters?"

"I don't know… Last month."

"And you have been neglecting your training, too. You are such a hopeless idiot," Teana sighed. "When will you stop beating yourself up for something you couldn't change?"

Subaru didn't answer.

"Alright, alright, you can come over. We can take a day off tomorrow and go visit them."

"I would like that…"

"Then go wash your face and pretend you are working. I will drive us home."

After the door closed behind Subaru, Captain Teana Lanster slumped back into her chair and hid her face in her hands. It hurt. It hurt so very much.