Of Things Unseen
"You're a family." Chrono said softly. "And I'm just some guy who picked up the Book first. You owe me nothing." He held up a hand to stop the Wolkenritter replying. He hadn't let them get in a word since they'd been on the ground, because otherwise they'd start calling him Master or something and he couldn't handle that right now. "That's the way it is as of this moment. We'll discuss this further later. For now..." He grimaced. "I have to stop Nanoha killing anyone."
It wasn't as idle a threat as Chrono would have liked. Nanoha Takamachi's emotions ran hot and her opinion on the use of excessive force was "just a little bit more." She had been a close friend of Hayate.
"Security alert. Combat mages to Deck Two accommodations." Chrono's grimace got worse. Was he already too late on this? He shot Signum a look that told her to handle things here as the senior Wolkenritter and turned, heading up to the second deck of the ship.
It was to his surprise that he discovered not Nanoha, but his own adoptive sister Fate, holding a Ground Forces officer at Device point. Nanoha actually appeared to be trying to subtly restrain Fate. Chrono advanced towards them slowly. "Fate, what's going on?"
"I casually asked if the Captain knew she was aboard. She said no." Fate replied. "She was looting Hayate's quarters, to boot."
The captain of a starship had a right, laid out in Bureau regulation and going back in tradition to well before starships, to know of anyone aboard their ship at any time. For someone to come aboard ship without the captain's knowledge was not only a serious breach of protocol, it implied a security failure that would see someone face a court-martial.
Chrono looked the woman, who was at least his age and probably older, over again. She seemed angry rather than worried, despite the crackle of Bardiche's energy blade two millimeters from her throat. Her uniform was the blue-and-blue of Ground Forces Headquarters, but her rank tabs said she was a lieutenant. That explained why she hadn't known better than to give the answer she did about whether the Captain knew she was aboard.
"Fate," Chrono said softly, "give her room to swallow, would you?" Though he phrased it as a request, they both knew it wasn't. Fate drew Bardiche back a few more millimeters. "You're not in Hayate Yagami's chain of command and you don't appear to be with Graves Reg. That rules out any good reason to be going through her things. Name and service number."
"Auris Gaiz. Zero six nine four eight three four," the woman replied.
Chrono shook his head. "Your father won't like this." He reached up and tapped the communications bead in his ear. "Harlaown here. Are we supposed to have an Auris Gaiz aboard?" He listened to the answer and it made him frown. "She was going through Lieutenant Yagami's personal effects. She's currently in custody." Another pause, this one much shorter. "Understood." He tapped the earpiece again. "Lieutenant. You have until a Mage Team arrives to come up with a good explanation for why you were here and what you were doing. Failing that, you'll be escorted to the brig and remain a guest of the navy's penal system until your father pulls enough strings to get you out."
Auris Gaiz did not offer an explanation, and instead went to the brig as promised. Chrono entrusted Fate and Nanoha with Hayate's belongings, something they took with surprising solemnity considering they were...still only 12. Chrono shook his head. He'd at least been 13 when he'd had to deal with this kind of responsibility. Not much, but still better.
Responsibility. He had to fight off a shudder. He had a new one. He couldn't put this conversation off any longer. Saint Kaiser knew he wanted to...
"What do we do? Say?" Vita asked.
"The forms must be observed. He is master of the Book now." Signum replied. "We have no real choice, and you know it."
"You're correct," Zafira rumbled, in his wolf form. "But did you notice he wouldn't let us get a word in?"
"Old officer's trick. Not letting us dwell..." Signum's voice failed her. She couldn't say aloud what she'd meant to. "Dwell on it," she finished lamely.
"Maybe," the wolf replied. "But the look in his eyes when we opened our mouths seemed a little panicky to me."
"He's coming." Vita added dully.
The Wolkenritter all dropped to one knee the moment Chrono entered the compartment, to his horror. Then he noted that Zafira hadn't because he was in his wolf form and had to switch back, and took advantage of it. "On your feet." Chrono said quickly. "And if any of you call me master I swear I'll throw myself out an airlock. Don't change out of your Barrier Jackets either."
"Each," Signum was careful not to say master, "owner," but Chrono winced anyways, "has decided what we wear."
"Those are Hayate's personal gift to you. It would be immensely disrespectful of me to her, and to you, to take them away." Chrono replied softly. "I picked up the Book first, that's all-"
"No." Rein replied. "Hayate meant it to go to you. She could have given it to anyone. The Book can be teleported to anywhere, and I could have carried it with me to find anyone she asked. She wanted it to be you, because you were responsible, a good person, and wouldn't get carried away with emotion like some others she might have given it to."
Chrono's expression betrayed none of his internal horror. Hayate had thought he was ready for this, to command demigods, immortal and near-perfect warriors...and very attractive ones...what was she thinking? "All right then. Doesn't change that much. Still responsible." Chrono wasn't sure if he was trying to convince the Wolkenritter, or himself, with that statement.
"You're family. I'm not. Even without Hayate you have existing assignments-"
"No." Signum replied. She was definite. "We are knights of Belka, bound to your service and by our honor. If you were to be injured or killed, and we had not shed a drop of blood in your defense," Chrono became aware that both Signum and Vita sported bandages, "we would be forever disgraced. Our duty was all we had for millenia. Do not deny us it now."
"We have fought and bled in the defense of every owner we have ever had." Zafira added. "Do you truly believe we would allow that to change when we serve those who are worthy, after having done so for hundreds who were not? You may order us away, Chrono, but that will be the only way."
Chrono just about had a meltdown right there, visibly struggling for a response right in front of the Wolkenritter. Though to his credit, they weren't sure why. Finally, he regained his composure. "I'm not going to do that. And for future reference, unless I specifically state I am giving you you an order as the Book's owner, then it is either a suggestion or if the situation is appropriate, an order from me as an officer."
Chrono sighed heavily. "Nanoha and Fate are holding Hayate's personal effects for safekeeping. Those, by law, now belong to you. You should go get them. Someone already tried to go through them once, but Fate stopped them."
"Vita and I will handle it." Signum replied. "And our things?"
"How close is your tour on the Mirach to ending?" Chrono asked carefully.
"A week. Most of it transit time to Headquarters. This was probably our last deployment." Zafira replied.
Chrono nodded slowly, an unpleasant suspicion forming in his mind. "Right. Signum. Get the Wolkenritter's things too. I'll work out the transfer papers. I take it that means that Zafira and Shamal will be staying with me?"
"Of course." Shamal said, as though it was the most natural thing in the world for a woman of her age and attractiveness to spend time with a seventeen-year-old male. "We'll start drafting our reports as well."
Chrono paused to rub his face with his hand. "Don't bother yet. Write up the descriptions only. Hayate was Headquarters Branch. They'll stage a full investigation." Headquarters Branch was notorious for going to any length to avenge or recover a lost mage. "Go to it."
Zafira and Shamal approached him, while Signum and Vita headed past towards the accommodations. Chrono gave Zafira a long glance. "Thank you. And curse you."
Zafira managed the faintest hint of a grin. "You noticed I deliberately gave you time to stop us. And that I deliberately derailed you. That makes me feel a little better."
Chrono ran his hand over his face again. "Why, Zafira?"
"Because I am supposed to protect you from everyone. That doesn't just mean outsiders. It also means I have to protect you from the Wolkenritter. And from yourself." Zafira said amicably. "Thankfully you're sane and well-adjusted, so it won't be too troublesome."
Chrono fought very hard not to display his horror. From the expression on Zafira's face, he hadn't quite managed it. He'd inherited ten thousand years of their warrior skills, sure, he'd know that going in. But he'd also inherited ten thousand years of everything else, including lying and manipulation and...oh Kaiser, what if they knew how to be seductive? He should send them away right now, while he still had a chance.
Vita had usually shared a double-occupancy room with Hayate, but that wasn't really an option with a male, people would talk, so he'd have to have one of the adult Wolkenritter and... Chrono took a deep breath, trying once again to exorcise incipient panic. Hayate had thought he could do this. Hayate had been certain he could do this.
She had been his friend for years. In all that time, Hayate made but one request of him, her last request to anyone. He would rather shove S2U against his chin and call his most powerful attack than fail her now.
Zafira watched Chrono's edgy nervousness fade away suddenly, replaced by a cool, calculating certainty, and realized that for the first time he was getting a good look at the man Chrono was when he fought. Chrono's voice was controlled and decisive. "It's a privilege, Zafira. Don't abuse it."
"Absolutely not," the wolfman agreed.
"We've got another week of active deployment on the Shaula and then transit time to Headquarters. After that...we'll need to go back to Mid. I don't think we'll get leave." Chrono sighed. "We'll figure out about who's moving when we get there."
"I think we were insulted." Vita observed to Signum.
"No," the senior Wolkenritter demurred. "We were complimented. Chrono was horrified to own us."
"See? Insulted." Vita shot back.
"Vita, if that were true, he would have ordered us away. Instead he limited his ability to give us orders." Signum's tone was soft, but corrective, as if lecturing a student. "Chrono is horrified to own us because he cannot conceive of there being any good in owning a person."
Vita's mouth worked for several seconds before she managed to speak. "He...I'm an idiot. I'm a terrible, complete idiot." It was just like that moment where Hayate had started talking to them about clothes, when they realized that their new mistress either did not know or did not care that she commanded four of the universe's deadliest and who had surprisingly little in common with the average human despite appearances.
Only Chrono knew, had always known. They'd even killed his father, which was a reason to revoke one's membership to the class of person if ever such a thing existed. Signum was right. It was a compliment.