The Wolkenritter are Hayate's children. Because she likes someone doesn't mean she thinks they're the right person to take care of her children; nor would she want to place the burden on someone whom it would weigh too heavily on.

Nanoha and Fate are currently twelve, have troublesome personality traits (Fate's difficulties with affection, Nanoha's aggressiveness), and adding five more wheels to the Nanoha/Fate relationship isn't doing them any favors. Arisa and Suzuka are not mages and removing the Wolkenritter from a mage environment and the ability to practice their greatest skills isn't just a waste, it's a hardship: fighting for the Bureau helps them feel they're atoning for previous crimes in a way life on Earth won't. Most of the other cast members by StrikerS (chronologically we haven't even reached the epilogue for A's) aren't even known to Hayate yet. Yuuno has a large and difficult and non-combat job (see comment on Arisa and Suzuka) that consumes most of his time and attention.

So we're really down to just Chrono: combat mage, hypercompetent, strong sense of duty, older, proven responsible, and with his relationship with his adopted sister Fate, proven able to take in and treat as family people from outside his life even if he once fought them. Which is really the killer qualification; nobody else has shown quite that much maturity and forgiveness yet.

The Cold Inside The Soul

Chrono arrived at Headquarters expecting an investigatory team from Headquarters to be waiting for him; a couple of Enforcers, some staff, probably a Brigadier General or a senior naval Captain. Instead, only his mother and his sister were there to greet him.

Something was grossly wrong. He knew it. He could feel it in his bones. The attack on Hayate, on her last deployment, in a way she'd expressed concern to him as one officer to another. It was too coincidental. And very few conventional forms of attacking Hayate Yagami and her knights would have worked. Present Hayate with enough bodies to beat the Wolkenritter and she would never have stood and fought. AMF to degrade Klarer Wind and Shamal's detection ability. Infiltrate cloaked assassin. It was too perfect. Too planned.

And if the attack on Hayate had been tailored to kill her, it was not a random incident. It was a targeted assassination. And that meant a lot of bad, bad things. The fact that the investigation he'd expected hadn't materialized compounded them.

"Mother." His nod was curt; Chrono was still on duty for the next ten minutes.

"I've made arrangements for them to stay with us, if you want." Lindy Harlaown replied. Fate looked hopeful about it; she was friends with Signum. The Harlaown estate on Midchilda was suitably impressive for a family that had a three-generation tradition of ascending to flag rank and housing another four people would not present a serious challenge.

Chrono glanced over to Zafira. Signum was the most senior of them by rank and when it came to matters related to that, but Chrono had grown to trust Zafira more on issues related to the personal dynamics of the group...or Zafira scared him less than the others.

The wolfman nodded. Going back to the house, Hayate's house, now...too painful. Too many memories. The Wolkenritter were still fragile emotionally and would be for some time. Chrono nodded in turn to his mother. "That would probably be best."

It hadn't been hard at all to get the Wolkenritter transferred. They weren't really covered under the Bureau's regulations, but familiars were, and there were mechanisms to deal with familiars who were willed to others when their original owners died. The paperwork part had been relatively painless. It helped that Rein appeared to genuinely enjoy doing it, which left Chrono at a loss to explain. He didn't really mind the holowork to file his reports, but the Unison Device approached such things as joyous experiences.

Maybe the little Unison Device had snapped, but Chrono didn't know who to ask to confirm or deny that, and finding out probably involved asking Rein herself. Asking someone who was qualified to say they were crazy was an obviously bad idea. For now, he just let it slide with the justification that it wasn't unstable behavior if you could predict it and nobody got threatened.

"I'll want to make an appointment with Muhammed." Chrono added to his mother. "Talk to him about some of this."

To her credit, Lindy Harlaown reacted as if her son was talking about a therapist, rather than the head of Naval Counterintelligence. "That can be arranged. I'll have someone handle the moving too."

"Thank you," Shamal put in.

Shamal was up early the next day. She usually was. It was normally her job to...she froze. Not anymore. She didn't have to make breakfast for anyone anymore. Still, she dressed and headed downstairs for the lack of anything better to do.

Chrono, she found, was cooking breakfast. Scrambled eggs, actually, which surprised her though it shouldn't have. Hayate had, of course, cooked mostly Japanese food. It was what she knew. Chrono apparently had different tastes or just different knowledge. "You don't have to do that-"

"Rein warned me." Chrono replied.

Shamal actually blushed and hung her head. "I see."

Chrono felt like he'd kicked a puppy. A very attractive puppy-shut up! he told himself viciously. "Didn't she ever have time to work with you on this?" Don't mention Hayate by name. He'd learned that quickly. Vita was over crying at the mention of Hayate, but Vita had only done it a couple times. Shamal had just started, and there were few things Chrono was less prepared to deal with than a beautiful woman he was responsible for reducing to tears.

"No." Shamal said softly. "Or at least not enough."

"Next time we get leave." Chrono said. "Things now are a little too screwed up. I don't know what I'll have to deal with." He kept hoping that investigative team from Headquarters Branch would show up. He kept hoping that things weren't as bad as they seemed. He also kept hoping the Wolkenritter weren't noticing the things he had.

His mother was next along with Rein, then his sister and Vita, chatting amicably. The two actually got on well, probably because Fate treated Vita as an equal. Finally Zafira and Signum. Chrono hadn't judged it well enough for everyone to have a portion and ended up making himself toast.

Breakfast, like dinner the night before, was a somewhat guarded affair. Some people got along with each other; Lindy with Signum, Zafira and Chrono, Fate and Vita or Fate and Signum but not both at once. But in a group they were mostly quiet. They only showed real signs of life after the meal broke up.

Chrono hoped it didn't stay like this. His family, his mother and Fate, they were important to him, and he didn't yet think of the Wolkenritter in the same way. He was responsible to and for them, but they weren't family.

Yet? Chrono considered that. It was...possible, certainly. But he wasn't sure he really wanted to go there. Aside from the parts of him that were seventeen causing issues...Hayate had been a special circumstance in so many ways. She had wanted a family, been desperately alone. He wasn't.

The Wolkenritter had several times expressed surprise that he kept himself continuously separated from their link to each other via the Book. The truth was that Chrono doubted anyone but Hayate would have stayed connected. Thoughts and feelings that were not his own, constantly? The invasion of his privacy, the confusion...Hayate, so alone, had welcomed the enforced closeness. Chrono could come up with a half-dozen reasons why he didn't, most of them having to do with being seventeen, and that was without trying. The more he thought about it, the more reasons he came up with why he didn't want to. It would doubtless be a marvelous tool for coordination in combat, but beyond that, Chrono simply didn't want to deal with it.

"We've been in pretty deep before," Zafira's voice said next to him, "but not quite so deep as your thoughts now, Chrono."

The young man sighed and drew himself up. "I am thinking that I am not Hayate. She was special. Perfect for you, all of you, in ways I'm only just now starting to realize. I'm not Hayate. And I can't be Hayate for you. Even if I tried, it would destroy me." He closed his eyes a moment and sagged against the wall. "Which is another way I'm not able to be Hayate. She grew up crippled, but she never doubted for a moment that all her dreams would come true. Then they did, and after that there was no stopping her. Everything would work out well because she made it. I'm not that strong, Zafira."

"You have your own strengths," the wolfman replied. Chrono realized, belatedly, that though Zafira usually preferred his wolf form in Hayate's company, in Chrono's he seemed to prefer his human one. "Hayate and many others were and are aware of them. Hayate had faith. You have a mind that cuts through problems as well as Signum's blade cuts anything else. You will not be Hayate, but you will find a way."

Chrono's lips twisted into a half-grin, only touching one side of his face. "Perhaps. But it wouldn't be very Chrono of me to have faith in that."

The wolfman clapped him on the shoulder. "No, it wouldn't. What's planned for today?"

"I have a man to see about my nasty suspicious mind. And you're welcome to come along, but I need your assurances that the others will not find out." He glanced down the hall. "That goes for you too, Rein. You'd better come along too."

Zafira noted, again, that Chrono was still refusing to give them orders as their master. Actually, it didn't seem to occur to him to give orders as their master. "Can't let you go alone or even just with Rein. Consider them given."

"Sir." Chrono saluted. Rein copied him, but Zafira did not. The wolf was dressed in his old uniform, the brown-and-dark-brown Headquarters formals. He hadn't yet gotten a Navy uniform. Rein had simply conjured up a match for Chrono's Barrier Jacket as a working uniform.

The man returned the salute. "At ease, Harlaown. I'd tell you to be at ease as well, Zafira, but that would require major reworking of your core program, wouldn't it?"

"Yes sir," the wolfman replied. Was it possible for the head of Naval Counterintelligence not to look sinister? The man's appearance was just a little exotic, with his skin tone a trifle too dark to be Belkan or Midchildan, but it was his reputation that most remembered him by; the man who'd freed the Navy from having to rely on Ground Forces for its intelligence and counterintelligence needs; devious and incorruptible and everywhere at once knowing everything there was to know. He was the sort of person who drove the enemies of the Bureau to check their closets and under their beds, the literal boogeyman.

Zafira didn't think that Muhammad al-Faddil was a threat to Chrono. But he was still a dangerous man, regardless of whether he was currently being dangerous to anyone in particular. It was Zafira's sworn duty to defend Chrono from just such people.

"Sir," Chrono began, "I have concerns that I must express to you regarding recent events."

"Hayate Yagami's death." Muhammad replied. "I read the report she wrote about AMF attacks recently."

"Then you are aware, sir, that she was killed by a similar attack." Chrono said.

Something sparked in Muhammad's eyes. "I was not." He called up a file in hologram form. "The official mission report does not mention it."

Rein stared at the report, reading it backwards through the hologram, then after a moment called up her own hologram. "That's not the report that was filed. It says there was an investigation..."

"There wasn't." Chrono said softly. "I kept waiting for them to contact me or the Wolkenritter."

Now Muhammad was looking very dangerous, his dark brown eyes flashing. "You have copies of the original report?" He pushed a button on his desk, which set up an almost subsonic hum that had Zafira's ears twitching in annoyance.

Rein shot one over to him quickly, reproducing it in about ten seconds from memory. Chrono tried hard not to stare at the Unison Device. No wonder Hayate had been breezing through an accelerated officer's training.

Muhammad examined it and confirmed quickly it wasn't the report on file. He frowned, hard, glowering at the hologram. "This is unwelcome. Harlaown, as we are suddenly overflowing with problems, what was your concern in brief?"

"The attack on Hayate conducted in a manner that leads me to believe she was assassinated because of her concerns about the use of anti-magilink fields. She was not important with in the Bureau, yet. But she knew people who were important." Chrono was surprised that whatever reaction Zafira had to this, he held it in. "The Navy's Representative on the High Council among them."

Muhammad regarded him speculatively. "And your mother. And yourself."

Chrono didn't blush, but he did appear vaguely embarrassed by the suggestion he was a person of importance in the Navy. He was only a team leader, not that important. He didn't know that he'd already been selected to attend Starship Command School as soon as he met the minimum age requirements and that he was expected to make Admiral well before his thirtieth birthday. Perhaps even before he was twenty-five.

"Harlaown. I will be in touch with you on this matter. I may need your help and the help of your assistants," trust the older man to come up with an acceptable word for what the Wolkenritter were when he couldn't, "to clean this mess up. Go home for now. And do not discuss this with anyone."

Chrono saluted again, and turned to leave. He noted Zafira did not turn his back on the head of Naval Counterintelligence until they were outside of the office. The wolfman rumbled softly a moment later. "You believe Hayate was assassinated."

"What we just saw leaves me with no doubts at all." Chrono replied, then made a quiet gesture to indicate they should not discuss the issue further. Not here, at least. He'd have to discuss it with Zafira and Rein at some point, in assured privacy, if only to gauge their reactions and how it would effect them.