One-shot | to say those words with you | 12, 964 words
Post StrikerS. Spoilers abound.
BGM: "Falling like the stars" — James Arthur.
Fate T. Harlaown
like a river
I flow to the ocean I know
One of the conversations they had early on, in the ups and downs of their younger days, goes like this.
"Do you believe in soulmates?" Fate asks. She is seventeen, with a wider view of the world, but sometimes she still feels very much like a frog in the well.
Nanoha's eyebrow arches. Her lips twitch just the tiniest bit; an indicator of bemused humor.
She wonders if she's being too abrupt. But then again, upon returning from her too-long-mission, she set about searching for Nanoha immediately — going so far as to travel down from the ship to the central base, making a beeline for Nanoha's office. She knows she could've seen her after work is done for the day, of course, but...
"What brought this on, Fate-chan?" Nanoha asks as she flicks a holographic blue screen away, to better peer at the blonde across the table.
A slender figure, decked impeccably in white and blue. Warm slate blue eyes that hint on purple are fixed on her, and brown hair is tied up in a familiar arrangement of a side ponytail.
She's remembering how that hair was loose and spread across the bed, with trembling fingers curling into the sheet tightly.
Fate shrugs, cheeks warm despite herself.
"Just… wondering?" the enforcer offers.
A pause. Then:
It's just bland acknowledgement, but Fate's never going to know how Nanoha manages to imbue a healthy amount of skepticism into it.
Honestly Fate shouldn't even have asked. She doesn't think Nanoha really believes in such romantic ideas, nor does the brunette ever depend on such beliefs.
In fact, Fate's not too sure if she believes in the idea either.
"Fate-chan," Nanoha says, pulling her back into the present.
Fate blinks — because when did Nanoha stand and move around the table to better face her? — and her response is instinctive this time. "Yes?"
There's a very short pause where the brunette doesn't say anything, but somehow — somehow — it feels like there's a multitude of things said in that silence.
And it feels like Nanoha's about to reach out for her. But, instead, she leans back against the table, palms pressing deliberately on the flat surface.
Unreadable slate blue eyes scrutinizes her.
"You went somewhere," is the calm, careful and almost too-soft comment. "Where did you go?"
They are maybe three steps from each other.
"I — " she pauses, not even sure where she went — if she had? — because one moment she's talking to Nanoha, the next her mind goes still, and then the brunette's suddenly within reach. Her finger twitches, and she awkwardly locks her hands behind the back to stop the temptation. "Uhm."
Nanoha just raises both eyebrows. Did she notice? God, Fate hopes not, especially since she knows Nanoha can already tell that something strange is going on.
When the corner of Nanoha's lip ticks up just the tiniest bit, however, Fate knows she's been caught.
But still the instructor doesn't move, merely watching her with calm curiosity.
It's silly to be hesitant, Fate knows. She already knows what it feels like to slant lips over Nanoha's. She knows what it feels like to have Nanoha in her arms. She knows what lies beneath that compassionate gaze, and the expressions that Fate never even know Nanoha could've made till that moment.
Granted, at that time, for that particular lost logia case that had spiraled downwards to the point where massive firepower backup was called in, namely, Nanoha, Hayate and the Wolkenritter — she had narrowly escaped death.
She still does not know how the argument actually started — but somehow one thing led to another, it drove them too far, too raw, Nanoha's lips crashed down onto her own, and they fell back down to the bed in a frantic tangle of limbs and heat.
It had left them in an awkward dance of being best friends and something more. They are young, still children fumbling to steady their feet, and yet teetering towards adulthood — arguably far quicker than an ordinary child should have to.
It also did not help that Fate had been tapped for another mission very soon after, leaving this thing hanging between them.
The deployment lasted two months. And for this entire period where she had been out of touch, there was this constant, lingering presence beneath her skin, making her feel as if her body was no longer solely her own. Like she had been possessed by another.
Even now, the feeling still lingers, as if it has seeped into her blood and bones down to the soul.
She never thought being touched that way would have resulted in this. It's strange and terrifying and comforting all at once.
"Fate-chan?" The one who owns a part of her calls again. Nanoha.
She blinks, cheeks flushed. Then she shakes her head, and then takes a step forward.
"I-I just came back from this planet with...with a strange culture," Fate starts, then pauses because she's not sure how to condense everything she wants to express in a few words. She always has trouble trying to express what she wants to say. "Apparently, when they were partnered with another," she gestures at the air between them, "they partner for life."
She's two steps away from the other. "It was a puzzling culture, but..."
"Did they term their partners as soulmates?" Nanoha hasn't moved, even if Fate knows that Nanoha is completely aware of the distance between them.
She almost smiles. "Sort of. They were partnered based on a process. A system." A pause. "But the ones I had the chance to talk to, they did love each other," Fate feels the need to clarify. "It was...apparent."
"Hmm." Nanoha's quiet. Simply accepting her words as it is. "Is that what got you wondering about soulmates?"
Loving each other despite being partnered based on a system, as if already destined. Nevermind that it may not be the case for every single person on that planet — the fact is it did happen, and to more than just one couple.
Isn't that a miraculous thing all on its own?
She offers the other a crooked grin. "Weird, right?"
"Fate-chan has always been weird," Nanoha agrees teasingly, gaze soft.
It makes something deep in her chest ache.
Nanoha watches her for a moment longer. And then the brunette is reaching out to grasp her hand, tugging her closer until they are in front of each other.
She goes willingly, and is so, so aware of how close she is to touching the other. Nanoha is still leaning back against the table she's half sitting on, shoulders relaxed and calm; Fate towers over her by half a head.
"Did you just get back from your mission, Fate-chan?"
"Un." She nods.
"And you came here?"
She nods again.
She pauses, briefly, before shaking her head this time.
And that's not to say she didn't get injured, it's just… it's already healed. A graze she picked up on her side early on during the mission — it had more than enough time to heal.
Nanoha looks at her like she knows that Fate is not telling her everything. But she doesn't call her out on it.
Their fingers tangle together.
"Am I your soulmate then, Fate-chan?"
Slate blue, calm and unreadable, watches her.
If there is such a thing as destiny, she thinks. If there is, she wants to say yes. The way they had met, from fighting to becoming friends and then to something beyond that she could not describe in mere words.
And then for it to culminate into this moment — does that not say something about them?
But Fate will never know if there really is such a thing.
Destiny may be her namesake, but the decisions they have made from then to now are their own, not an engineered process.
"I don't know," she says instead, soft and quiet. "Do you think I'm your soulmate, Nanoha?"
Nanoha's hand is warm to the touch.
"Nyahaha," The brunette laughs, a little sheepishly. "I don't really know either, to be honest. But, you know, Fate-chan, if such a thing as soulmates do exist, and you are not mine..."
Her hand is squeezed lightly, and brought close to press against the chest.
Fate can hear Nanoha's warm, steady heartbeat tapping against the back of her hand; right above the scar that she knows is there.
"I think…" Despite the slight flush to those cheeks, Nanoha's words are steady. "I think I still would have chosen you anyway."
Now, isn't that one of the most romantic things anyone could ever say?
It's a spur of reckless bravado and rarely seen initiative that makes her lean down to rest her forehead on Nanoha's, the free hand she has palming against the table for balance. The grin she gives the brunette is crooked, and her words are soft. "You would defy destiny?"
"I have already chosen you," Nanoha repeats, shy but sure, like it's the simplest thing she could ever declare.
There's really nothing Fate could say to that, except:
"I chose you too." She can't imagine even choosing anyone else.
There is no fanfare, no cliche confessions, no dramatic adventures.
It's Fate who kisses her first this time.
When Fate was at a tender age of thirteen, she realized, suddenly, that there were no graves to put flowers for Precia and Alicia.
It left the young teenager feeling strangely guilty because of how long it took her to realize that simple fact. For so long she kept a photo of them by her side, and yet the thought to set up empty graves never occurred to her.
And now, at the age of twenty two, the reminder of it still sends a stab of guilt through her.
Even stranger — why is she thinking about it again? It's a thought she put to rest so long ago, and yet…
Is it too late to consider setting up graves? Is there a reason to? Are they actually dead?
A part of her wonders, to this day, if they reached Al-hazard.
And if they did...
Another explosion rocks the floor beneath her.
The small child in her arms flinches, and her grip tightens protectively.
" — bzzt — Fate! — bzzt — hang on, captain — bzzz — comi — !"
The comms in her ear drop, and it's suddenly too silent. She wonders if something happened to Teana. She hopes not.
"Jamming barrier," intones Bardiche. "Activating decoy signals."
Ah. That answers it.
She supposes it's a good thing she dropped beacons all over the place. It may buy her a little time. Another thing she will have to thank Shari for, later.
Red liquid soaks into the left side of her dark uniform, dripping slowly to the floor and seeping into the white cape that's half spread out on it.
She takes in a shaky breath. Her side throbs with excruciating pain. Clearly, her attempt at first aid had not gone so well. This injury is beyond what healing capabilities she has — Shamal could've handled it, she thinks. But the other blonde is not here today.
She wonders if she should cauterize the wound with electricity. But then there is a dilemma in doing that — while scarring is the least of her concerns, she doesn't know if she will black out if she attempts it.
And from the trembling of the boy she's holding close, she can tell that the child is beginning to panic. "W-what— "
"Shh." Fate shushes, tone light but still strained. "We need to be quiet. Just for a little while. Alright?"
The boy subsides obediently.
"That's a good boy," the enforcer murmurs, squeezing affectionately for just the briefest of a moment — and then leaning back against the wall.
She nudges the boy to rest on the other side of her, away from the floor that's slowly pooling with blood, and closes her eyes.
She's tired, all of a sudden.
"...H-hey?" A timid, boyish voice.
"Why is your cape wet? And red?"
A naive, innocent question. A child who has never even seen blood before. She wonders if Alicia was the same.
Will she see her if she dies today? Will she see Precia? Linith?
Nanoha is going to be so mad at her for even thinking it.
Her breath is light and shallow, and cold sweat beads down her temple. Still, she does not open her eyes yet. "I knocked over a jar of red paint accidentally," she says lightly. "Don't worry, I'll get it out soon."
She can feel the child frowning at her, curiosity overtaking fear. "But it's warm. Is paint supposed to be warm?"
"This paint is a bit more special," Fate lies for lack of a better excuse. "Try not to touch it, okay?"
"Oh. Okay." The child wiggles a little, and Fate has to suppress a gut reaction to gasp as white-hot pain from the movement against her makes her dizzy.
And suddenly — an explosion rocked the area, rattling the ground and causing bottles of liquid on shelves to clang and teeter dangerously.
"Decoy one, four, eight destroyed." Bardiche.
The boy flinches and trembles.
"Decoy three destroyed. Eleven, fifteen. Four... seven... two."
Have they resorted to a search process by elimination? That's really not good news at all.
Fate lets a hand drop to grasp Bardiche that's been lying next to her, ignoring the feeling of slick blood on her gloves, and takes in a steadying breath.
That's half of her beacons gone.
Aah… she's about to run out of time, isn't she?
"Scan," she breathes out. "Let me know if anyone comes close."
Bardiche blinks. "Commencing scan, sir."
Her other hand ruffles lightly at the soft brown hair belonging to the child. His entire head feels like it could fit into her palm, and she's left feeling like she might just snap his neck if she moves her hand the wrong way accidentally. He's so small. So fragile.
Fate refuses to let the child die.
And she refuses to let herself die today.
She made a promise, after all, and she is going to do everything to keep it.
In the dim darkness of the room, eyes of molten blood open and glimmer faintly.
Fate T. Harlaown is a person who gives too much.
Too kind, too selfless, too willing to let herself get hurt for the sake of others.
Because… when it comes right down to it, if there's a choice to make — to choose between others and herself — it's really not a choice at all.
But even Fate cannot deny that it gets tiring, sometimes.
Not because she doesn't want to give. Oh, far from it.
Rather, it's a question of whether she has anything left to give.
She is twenty five now.
Older, knowledgeable, and even arguably wiser. She is far less reckless, even if it is still an innate part of her, and her actions are more often than not tempered with caution and thought for the sake of those closest to her.
But her worst enemy is undeniably still herself.
On the rare, quiet days when exhaustion settles on her shoulders and refuses to leave, Nanoha may find her perched on the windowsill of their shared room, curled into herself like a child with arms around her knees.
Fate stays there for hours and hours, quiet and still and melancholic, the cup of tea by her side going from hot to lukewarm to cold as burgundy eyes stare up at something that no longer exists beyond the sky.
That first time it happens, Nanoha gives her the privacy and quiet that Fate never said she needs, and disappears into the study citing reports to be written.
Somehow Nanoha knows she needs the space, grants it, and after what was deemed an appropriate amount of time, moves to distract her. First with dinner, then a funny story about her student that Fate listens to with muted amusement, then with fingers curling around the wrist and a literal tug towards the bedroom.
The intimacy they have is usually of mutual give and take. They have both taken the lead, before, and they have surrendered to each other just as often. In some instances though, like this one, the brunette will take anything and everything that Fate can possibly offer. Nanoha does not let her fight back, finds ways to possess and repossess her, almost as if she's trying to drag everything out from an overflowing box that Fate tries to keep a lid on.
In times like this, the truly possessive side of Nanoha shows up, unleashing a kind of raw, tender violence that sears into her skin, her bones — her soul, and Fate can do nothing but give into it until the world tilts on its axis.
The second time the brunette catches her goes like this.
"Come here," Nanoha says after watching her for a long moment, voice soft and tender. Slender hands pull her to rest against a warm chest, into the present, and away from her scattered, muted thoughts of dark void.
She goes easily, obediently — because when has she ever been able to deny her? — breathing in a familiar scent and listening to Nanoha's steady heartbeat. Her eyes close involuntarily when fingers scratch lightly at her scalp, sliding loose the black jacket that she had not even taken off and loosening the yellow tie around her collar.
"Fate-chan," Nanoha sighs then, so quietly and almost too sad, chin resting on top of her head, "you really are too gentle for this world."
She wants to disagree.
Nanoha is the one who walked into this relationship, knowing that, at any moment, Fate may get injured or even die. And had, if the visits to the hospital wing over the years said anything about it.
Nanoha made herself an anchor, and knew exactly what it entailed, not just for Fate, but also for herself.
And she is selfish to let this happen. To let her do this. To want this.
So who, really, is the selfless one?
and I need you to know
we are falling
Takamachi Nanoha has only ever fallen in love once, and that love grips her for her entire life.
She is seventeen when she realizes just how far her feelings go.
Looking back now, she wonders if Reinforce had foreseen this. The words that person had said then… words that she had logically understood but had no way of grasping their true weight at the age of nine.
"One day you will understand why."
Long white hair that moved slowly with the soft wind accompanied by gentle red eyes, with a backdrop of white snow.
"When you meet someone you love as deep as the sea, and want to protect that person's happiness..."
Did Reinforce see this coming when she had been face to face with Nanoha and Fate? Did she predict this? Or was it just wisdom from Reinforce's own experience, with how dear Hayate was — is — to her?
She wonders if she will ever know for sure.
A coffee can is placed on the table in front of her with a soft tap.
"You look like you're deep in thought, Nanoha-chan."
She blinks, and looks up to see a pair of blue eyes the shade of dark sapphire.
The other smiles at her. "Coffee? It's my treat."
"Thank you," she murmurs, reaching for the can and opening it. The warm touch of the can is comforting, perfect for the cold weather in Uminari.
She looks out the window again, where trees with falling reddish brown leaves lining the pathway to their school sway gently. The sky is a reddish yellow, and it reminds her so much of Fate.
Autumn, for whatever reason, suits the blonde extraordinarily well.
Nanoha glances back to peer at her other best friend.
Hayate isn't looking at her, opting to stare out the window too from where she's sitting, an elbow resting on the window pane with the chin propped up against the knuckles. Brown hair ruffles with the wind, and Nanoha can't really help but stare at the little ribbon clipped to the side of chocolate locks.
And suddenly a finger is poking at her nose.
"...Hey now. Don't space out on me again." Hayate scolds. "What are you thinking so deeply about?"
"Nyahaha… sorry. I, um… " She tries to grasp at one of the thread of thoughts that has been swirling in her mind all week. "I'm just thinking that we are all going to graduate soon."
"Hmm. And this has absolutely nothing to do with the conversation Fate-chan and you had a week ago?"
She blinks. "What…?" What conversation? When? They literally saw Fate just this morning before the blonde had to warp back to headquarters for a meeting. Multiple conversations have occurred since then, let alone last week.
A corner of Hayate's lip ticks upwards. "The rumor mills are swarming with it, Nanoha-chan. The cool and suave Enforcer Testarossa Harlaown making a special visit to central base to visit a certain Ace of Aces Captain Takamachi as soon as her mission ended."
A beat of silence. Rumors? What?
"...Hayate-chan, you say that like she never visited me before. Why would there be rumours?"
"Hmm." Hayate's gaze turns speculative. "That's true, normally. But then, someone caught you looking particularly flushed with your uniform looking quite out of order and walking strangely like someone did all sorts of unspeakable things to you…"
What. Wait. What?
Memories of feverish touches sprang to the forefront of her thoughts, making heat rise up her neck. She tries to shut those thoughts down, but the way Hayate is staring at her with knowing eyes is not helping.
Much less when the reminder is making her feel as if she's feeling those touches again…
"W-wait a second!" She scrambles to protest. "Nothing happened that time! And she didn't— "
Her mouth clamps shut immediately.
Hayate's dark blue eyes are gleaming. "Oho…? That time? Does that mean she's already done all sorts of unspeakable things to you, Nanoha-chan?"
Can she not answer that?
It was actually two months ago in the aftermath of that other mission, and they haven't actually done anything since, even if Fate's kisses that day left her feeling completely weak in the knees.
Her face feels really warm now.
...And thinking logically, there's really no way such a rumor could have happened. It's well known that she, Fate and Hayate are best friends, so it really isn't strange for them to be seen next to each other. In fact, how did Hayate even find out? Isn't that the strange thing about this? Unless…
She resists the urge to press her face into her palms and fails completely. "You tricked me, didn't you?"
"Of course I did." That cheerful, blase tone. "Rather, if such a thing did occur, I'm sure the perpetrator could be convinced to stop."
As appreciative as Nanoha could be at that protective gesture most times, today is not one of them.
Her voice is muffled through her hands. "...You are mean, Hayate-chan."
"Nanoha-chan and Fate-chan is just too cute to not tease." Not even a denial. Hayate, damn the mischievous girl, has the gall to reach over and pat at her head gently like she's a puppy to be mollified.
She glares at the other through the gaps between her fingers.
"Though," the gentle ruffling on her head stills. "You have kind of been out of it since her visit, you know."
Hayate isn't wrong.
"And therefore," the brunette continues with a gentle smile, sitting back in her chair, "As a concerned best friend of yours, I have to ask: Do you want to talk about it, Nanoha-chan?"
They stare at each other for a long moment before Nanoha slumps and lets her hands fall back down to the desk with a long sigh.
"...Was it that obvious?"
The words she said to Fate then were no lie. I have already chosen you.
But the enormity of them did not quite strike her until a moment after she said them, the words that seemed to just flow naturally out of her, the words that then defined their relationship when Fate reciprocated.
The moment she had spoken them, it was as if everything in her had meant them. She wanted Fate to realize that. She wanted Fate to really understand what she had meant. She wanted to carve that very simple fact into Fate and make sure the blonde would never forget it.
Nanoha had moments where she had been possessive, but never before had it ever reached that terrifying height until that day.
"Do you think Fate-chan is happy?"
Unreadable dark sapphire eyes stare at her.
Then, after a moment.
"Does she not look happy to you, Nanoha-chan?"
Nanoha does think Fate is happy — or as happy she could be, at least. Even if sometimes the glimmer in those red eyes may be shadowed sometimes.
Those are things she can do very little about given the kind of lives they are all leading.
But, she can be there for Fate.
She can do her best to protect that happiness.
In part, it is why she stopped the urge to keep Fate by her side her despite how possessive she felt sometimes. She had to let the blonde roam, free from her influence, her orbit. So that Fate can grow. Gain her bearings, find her foothold.
So that it is not her that Fate is solely depending on.
The power she had held over Fate back then had been exhilarating and terrifying. And even now, still… she knows she still wields that power.
I chose you too, Fate had said.
The words they had echoed to each other. It's binding, in a way. It's acknowledging the power she holds over Fate, much like what power Fate has over her.
Can she really and selfishly bind Fate to her? She is far from blind as to how important she is to the blonde. If she lets this grow… will it hurt Fate in the long run? Does she dare to do this to Fate? What if—
"What if I died?"
At the age of ten, she had learned how fragile life can be.
The twin scars on the front and back of her chest are proof of that.
Tick tock tick tock. The clock will keep moving unfailingly, ignoring any desire or fervent wishes for time to be at a standstill. She remembers the wrinkles in her mother's features, and the shades of grey and white in her father's hair, as if proving undeniably that her parents are another step closer to death.
Death is a constant companion, lurking just out of sight but so very there.
An ethereal fist curls around her heart, impossibly tight.
She wonders how long a life she will lead, with the kind of career she has. She knows better now, and she's always going to do her best to come back safe and sound, but… it's never going to be a hundred percent certainty.
Takamachi Nanoha is not invincible.
And she is so afraid of sending Fate down a path of self-destruction.
Therefore, if she means to protect Fate's happiness, then…
Is it arrogant to think that she has too much influence over the blonde? Maybe it is. She knows that Fate has so much she wants to do, from the people she wants to protect to goals to achieve. Fate has her own orbit now, too.
But she's still afraid.
Because as much as those are things to do, things full of meaning… that doesn't mean Fate lives for herself. She doesn't know if it's even possible for that person to do, with how Fate has always been.
"That's a strange question, Nanoha-chan." Hayate is watching her with a stillness that is rarely present.
The humored, mischievous gleam usually shining in those sapphire eyes is completely gone now, replaced with things rarely seen out in the open. Wisdom that belies her age. Understanding. Gentleness.
"Even if you died, you would still have had a good run with Fate-chan." A pause. "Do you not think so?"
A simple response to a complicated question.
It's not meant to be a cruel answer, either, but it is.
But this is all that Hayate offers on the matter, as if there's nothing else that can be said.
It's the truest and most honest response that she thinks anyone could ever give her.
It's also the saddest.
The thought doesn't bring her joy. She takes in a deep breath. "That's true... You're right."
Hayate watches her for a moment longer.
"Not that you are going to die anytime soon though." Hayate adds. "Because if you do, I'm going to be so mad at you. I'll be even madder if you are actually sick to the point you might die and you decided to keep it a secret."
"Ahaha…" Nanoha laughs weakly. She hadn't meant to give that impression at all. "Of course not. It's just… I wondered, that's all."
The brunette's gaze is sharp and piercing. "Really?"
"Really," she says firmly this time. "I'm not dying, and I'm not sick."
Sapphire blue eyes stare at Nanoha for a moment longer as if gauging her sincerity. Then those shoulders relax minutely — but the edge is still there in that gaze.
"Then… that being said."
Hayate's soft voice rings in the silence of the classroom, and there is something about the calm, level tone in it that demands complete attention. And at the back of her mind, she's reminded of how much talent her friend holds as both a commander and a politician.
"On the off chance if something happens," Hayate says. "One in a billion. The super rare possibility where the instructor who is only meant to be a reserve in the military has to go to a battlefield. The extremely super low possibility of you being in danger. The even lower possibility of you, the Ace of Aces, being defeated. If that happens. If, and I'm saying if, then…"
Soft wind travels into the classroom.
"She won't be alone. I will make sure of it. We… myself, my knights. Chrono, Lindy, Amy… all of us. She's always going to be troublesome, but we will never stop taking care of her." A beat of silence. "We will never give up on her."
And isn't that really all she can hope for when it comes to the person she's most worried about?
It feels like something is clogging her throat.
She takes in a deep breath in an attempt to clear her heavy lungs, cupping the now lukewarm coffee can.
"...Okay." The smile on Nanoha's face this time is genuine and full of gratitude. "I understand."
Hayate's piercing gaze remains on her.
"The same goes for you too."
Ice goes down her veins.
The possibility where Fate may not return to her, which is honestly a lot higher than the other way around. It's something she tries not to think about, but it doesn't mean that thought doesn't lurk at the back of her mind, faint and yet very present.
The grip on the can tightens.
If she loses Fate…
Honestly, she doesn't know what she will do. She can't even imagine it.
But she knows what Hayate is trying to say.
She isn't alone. She may still get lonely, sometimes, but she hasn't been alone for a very long time, now.
"...Yeah." She exhales slowly. "Thank you, Hayate-chan."
The shorter brunette stares at her for a moment longer, before sighing, and leans back against her own chair.
"You know, Nanoha-chan, you may have this strange tendency of going maximum power to save people and make friends that I don't always approve of, but other than that, you're actually just a normal girl who's very much in love and an idiot who's really overthinking things right now."
Spot-on triple stabs to the heart. Hayate is merciless.
But she can't help but hone in on a particular comment.
"A normal girl who…"
"Don't even deny it, no one will believe you. You fell so hard for Fate-chan, and you're so weak against her piercing red eyes and sensual voice it's actually gone from cute to kind of ridiculous."
"S-sen… sual… "
Her face goes hot again.
"Oh. She's blushing, she's blushing." A pause. "...Actually you're looking really red, Nanoha-chan. Even your ears are really red. You don't have a fever, do you?"
The difference is this.
For all the similarities they bear — the inherent self-sacrificial nature and exasperating habit of putting the wellbeing of others above themselves — Nanoha is hard around soft, and Fate is soft around hard.
Despite how open Nanoha may be, she does not let people in, easily.
But when she does, it is so, so easy to hurt her even without meaning to.
She is so abnormally single-minded when it comes to protecting and saving others even at the cost of herself — and that has been proven time and again to be both her greatest strength and weakness.
In return, she bears the risk of being hurt easily. And when it comes to the people closest to her heart… even without meaning to, and even in some ways that may seem completely inconceivable, every single one of them have hurt her before.
Proof is how she so willingly bears the loneliness without a word when her family could not be there for her. Proof comes in the way Nanoha had let Vivio hurt her during the Cradle event to save that small child. Proof is Nanoha letting Fate do what she needs and yearns to do at the cost of herself.
Nanoha gives in so easily, to the needs of others. Yet, when it comes to things she herself needs — she rarely, if ever, reaches out.
Despite how easily others hurt her, intentionally or otherwise, the deepest, darkest corners of her soul remain behind a steely wall. She does not show her grief, her pain, her sadness; and exactly how much of all that does she still hold, really? How much of that is still so tightly reined in by sheer control?
And who could understand the feeling of being what she is, a replacement and a failed experiment, who had been manipulated in ways that no living creature should ever have to experience?
The answer: no one. In that, she is alone.
In that, she coped by herself, a task made infinitely harder with the life and career she chose, further marred by things she had seen that would forever color her.
Because what it comes right down to — is that it is unforgivable for anyone else to be hurt by this sad, sad burden that she bears. It is not something she wishes on anyone. In fact, it's something she never wants anyone else to feel.
Toss a coin, see the mirrored qualities, compare the differences.
When it comes to themselves, their own feelings, their own wellbeing, the difference is this.
Nanoha falters. Fate hardens.
Forever is not a term Nanoha uses lightly.
Three years after Vivio is saved from the Cradle, life continues unfailingly for a twenty-two year old Nanoha. The clock keeps ticking, bringing with it a change of priorities and goals and feelings and strength.
Vivio grows a couple inches taller, and Nanoha finds the patterns in her life incorporating this new child, who's grown to be one of the most important people in her heart, familiar and constant.
Sometimes there is the ghosting feel of weakness draping over her own body, a momentary heaviness, that she knows comes from what she did three years ago. And sometimes there is the phantom pain from the scar tissues on her chest that she will never tell Fate about.
They are cold reminders of the shackles that she has to place on herself.
In spite of that all — her resolve to protect others is still very real, and very there. Just because it's muted does not mean it will not flare the moment the situation calls for it. Just because it may be a cause of worry for those dear to her doesn't mean she will stop.
Just because Fate is overprotective doesn't mean it will stop her either. Nanoha may willingly let herself be protected for the most part — if only because she knows Fate needs to be able to protect her — but that doesn't mean it will stop her when it truly matters.
And even when she is deathly afraid of the consequences that she will have to bear — it will not stop her.
The only difference, compared to when she was a child, is that there is the constant reminder she does not have to do things alone.
She is not alone.
That faith grounds her, tempers her actions, and allows her to move with more caution and less recklessness. In fact — the last time she was desperately careless with her life was to save Vivio from the Cradle, and she had been alone at that time.
Not everything changes, though.
For all the changes that occurred in her life, the constant still seems to be Fate and the way she is not often around. It's almost as if Riot Force 6 had not happened.
"Come home safe, Fate-chan."
It's both a request and a demand, the soft words that leave her mouth.
Soft lips brushes against her temple. A warm hand squeezes over her own.
"I'll do my best," Fate murmurs to her, "I promise."
It's not quite the promise Nanoha wants, but she knows it's the best she will get from the other.
Her heart aches at the bittersweet guilt in those burgundy eyes. That expression again.
She moves to snake her hands around the blonde, burying her face in Fate's collarbone and breathing in a familiar scent.
Her hug tightens, hard enough that Fate lets out a breath before laughing softly at the gesture. Fingers tangle with loose locks of brown hair, patting gently at her head.
A hand curls around her back.
"I promise I will be careful." A pause. "And, Nanoha... it's only a routine mission."
Routine missions have gone seven ways to hell before, as evidenced by the injury that crippled her at age ten — so that's not exactly reassuring. And she can tell that Fate's really just trying to downplay the seriousness of it — an enforcer of her level doesn't get pulled into routine missions for no reason.
Least of all when said person had just returned from another mission that lasted three weeks.
Her grip tightens.
"What if you can't help it?"
The hand patting her head stills.
Nanoha doesn't quite mean to ask it that way, but she did. For so long she tried to just stay strong, because there's Vivio to think about now, and because she knows everyone is still worried about the injuries she gained from the Cradle three years ago, but—
This is Fate leaving her, again.
Her fingers curls in on white shirt, crumpling it. In Fate's arms, she feels vulnerable. Off guard. Protected.
It's a long moment before the blonde leans back and cups her cheek, angling her face up gently.
Fate is watching her quietly.
How is it that someone's gaze could be so impossibly soft? How is it that those eyes could convey so much sadness and guilt and love when nothing is said?
"I have no intention of dying, Nanoha." Quiet words. Something like resolve glimmers in those dark burgundy eyes.
A thumb brushes lightly at her cheek.
"Before..." The blonde pauses for a moment. "Before I met you, I don't think I would have minded dying. I… would have died for Mother, if I needed to."
Oh, she knows. She knows. She's not nine years old anymore, but the thought of Precia still sends a wave of sadness and anger through her. How is it that someone could have such a strong grip on this person before her, even after death?
"But… I'm not okay with dying, anymore."
Fate takes in a breath.
"I want to see Erio and Caro reach for their dreams. And I want to see Vivio grow up. So I will be really careful."
She can tell Fate means every word.
"I'd still die for you," Fate says truthfully, softly, so honestly that it feels like an ethereal fist has curled around her heart tightly. "But… I want to live for you, too."
An invisible lump is clogging her throat.
"I want to stay by your side." Fate thumbs at her cheek gently, burgundy eyes soft. Quiet. Self-depreciating. "If… if you will let me."
Fate says that like there's ever a chance of Nanoha saying no. After all they have gone through — she still says that?
Does she even know how much she means to her?
She takes in a deep, steadying breath.
Nanoha sometimes can't help but wonder if Fate actually realizes to what extent. Time and again, the blonde had surprised her with innocent, pure naivety. The blonde listens all the time and without fail, but that doesn't mean she understands.
She wonders if there's a way to really, really make her understand.
"Fate-chan. You know, I..."
But then, the only thing she can really do is show how unwavering her own feelings are. So that's what she will do. And keep doing.
And maybe one day Fate will finally grasp how much she needs her.
She will actually chase her right across worlds and dimensions if she has to.
She lifts her hands to cup that face gently, pulling the blonde down slowly until they are eye to eye and a bare breath from touching.
"I belong to you. Everything that I am."
Her body. Her heart. Her soul.
She slants her lips over Fate's.
There are many times, over the years, when Fate looks at her like she doesn't comprehend how is it that Nanoha could need her. It's like the enforcer doesn't realize how she protected her. And it's like she doesn't remember when she had been the one to save her.
Nanoha remembers though. Vividly.
In the Garden of Time, when Fate sent crackling thunder down from above before one of the gigantic machines could strike her down. Even then, still wordless. Silent until circumstances made her speak. And the quiet offer of working side by side elated her; left her feeling stronger.
In that period of pure terror and despair, when she thought that maybe she wouldn't be able to walk or fly ever again, that maybe she wouldn't be able to do anything anymore — and then Fate was there, all quiet conviction and determination, refusing to allow her to give up even when Nanoha did not know if she could believe in herself anymore.
In that moment of weakness when Riot Force 6 was burned down, and her child kidnapped. She had been watching the night sky with trembling hands clenching at the railings tightly. She was thinking, desperately, that she needed to go, needed to ignore all orders to wait and assemble and just go — because otherwise she wouldn't be able to save Vivio, wouldn't make it.
And then Fate was there, holding her, a grounding presence that kept her steady and soothed her nerves.
Fate has done all these things for her and more, yet the blonde could not understand why Nanoha has grown reliant on her?
The honest truth is, regardless of how strong and how determined Nanoha may be, she is still young and weak and vulnerable. She's barely an adult, for all the resolve she may have, and she is so human in her struggles it is heartbreaking.
But when Nanoha falters, it is Fate who keeps her steady.
That is also the truth.
The simple fact is that Nanoha loves her.
Somehow, someway, it is Fate who captures her first.
It is not the other way around.
She is twenty two and so in love that she thinks she might just go mad if something happens to Fate.
Or rather — she had, once upon a time.
Nanoha still remembers that day vividly — the day where Lindy had ordered her, Hayate, and the Wolkenritter to be pulled from their current tasks to go to Chrono's ship. Originally, they had been urgently gathered because a joint effort was needed to seal a highly unstable lost logia that Fate was struggling to manage.
Instead, they scrambled for a rescue mission.
She had never been so afraid when she saw Fate slammed against the wall, with a hand curled tightly around her neck, lifting her off the ground. Blood trickled down the blonde's temple, neck, soaking into white cape — and Fate was so helpless in that grip it sent tremors of fear down Nanoha's veins.
That… that was how much trouble Enforcer Fate T. Harlaown had been in. A versatile, skilled combatant at close and far range both, with impossible speed to match. An S ranked mage. And she was cornered.
Somehow though, Nanoha was in time. They were in time.
She honestly didn't know what she would have done if she was too late to save her. If she had failed her like she did Precia and Reinforce… what would she have done then?
If Precia had been saved, Fate probably wouldn't have had as many nightmares growing up. If she managed to reach out to Reinforce, maybe things would have been different for Hayate and the Wolkenritter.
Those events were the failures that haunted her for the longest time. She had been there, and even with all the power she had at her disposal…. she couldn't do anything.
But… this time, Fate was okay. The blonde sustained injuries, but she lived.
It would be a lie if she said she wasn't furious, though. Emotions rarely got the better of Nanoha — she normally had such a good handle on them that the last time she lost it was at the tender age of ten.
They ended up arguing. The entire thing derailed, Nanoha was too high-strung for once, Fate too stubborn, and… and then. She may have cried a little. She may have startled the other when she reached out like she was trying to stake a claim, not that Fate stopped her.
That day, her control was in complete tatters, and Fate was the cause of it.
Somehow it was Fate who reached her where no one else could. There were many, many people she considered precious to her, and she loved them all. But none of them touched her the way Fate did.
It had always been different with Fate, for some reason. She loved her, too, just as much if not more.
It was just different. And it made her vulnerable in ways she never had been before.
Fate was so achingly gentle.
Clumsy, trembling, but so very tender. It was as if Nanoha was something Fate couldn't bear to hurt — as if she was something too fragile, too precious — something so wholly essential to breathe. The kisses that travelled her body felt like they were seeping through the skin to settle some place deeper than even her bones, branding something into her that would never leave.
And when those fingers trailed into her, Nanoha couldn't help but arch and tilt her head back, nails involuntarily scraping against Fate's back in a way that was sure to sting — the blonde didn't even seem to care, mouthing at her pulse like she was trying to memorise her thundering heartbeat—
What could she do but surrender completely then?
After, she'd woken up to soft voices in Fate's room on Arthra. Nanoha's face was half hidden by the pillow, bare body covered beneath blankets in the dim light.
Fate was seated next to her on the bed with the back leaning against the wall, dressed simply in a white shirt, not buttoned fully, and loose slacks. There was a faint glimmer reflected in those dark red eyes as the blonde faced three monitors positioned in front of her, steadily tapping away at a holographic keyboard.
"...in three hours. Be ready." It was Chrono on the main monitor, she recognized faintly. "While the trail is still hot, we are going to chase after the target and make sure he does not trigger another unstable lost logia."
"I'll be ready," Fate confirmed.
And somehow, even without knowing the full context of the conversation, Nanoha knew Fate was going to leave soon.
There was a pause before Chrono spoke again. "...How are your injuries?"
"I'm fine." Fate's tone was gentle and with a smile. "It's just a minor scrape, onii-chan."
"A-hem. We are at work, Fate."
A soft chuckle. "Yes sir."
Another beat of silence.
"I'll back you up better, this time." There was faint regret in Chrono's tone. "We were not expecting the target to react so violently. I would have really preferred if Nanoha and the rest will be able to join us for this mission, but..."
"It's okay." The blonde assured her brother. "I understand. Nanoha and Hayate… they have their own missions that they need to get back to."
There's also the fact that Fate and Chrono is part of the navy, while Nanoha is from the air force, and Hayate the ground forces.
Politics can be so frustrating sometimes.
"...Alright. We will have another debrief later before we go."
With another few taps, the holographic screens flickered out.
Fate sighed softly then, head tilting to face the ceiling as she leaned further against the wall. A hand — the hand with rolled up sleeve where a bandage was wrapped from the wrist to the forearm — was left to rest lightly on the bed, right in front of Nanoha. It was positioned in such a way that it was clear Fate was trying not to move it too much.
And Nanoha wasn't really sure what possessed her to do it, but she reached out to trail a feather-like touch down it, wary of causing pain. The bandage was dry and rough against her fingertips.
Fate startled at that, and burgundy eyes were upon her. "Nanoha. You're awake."
"Your hand…" Her voice felt a little raw. "Does it still hurt?"
"I'm fine now." The response held a similar softness to when the enforcer had responded to Chrono.
It made her heart ache, for some reason.
Fate, strangely enough, felt like the person closest and furthest to her right now.
"...Were you awake long?" the blonde asked then.
"Long enough to know Arthra is leaving in three hours." Nanoha's gaze met those soft red eyes with a sigh. "Repairs on the ship are completed?"
She tangled their fingers together — Fate just watched, letting Nanoha do what she wanted.
The enforcer nodded. "Supplies are being restocked right now."
"Do you regret this?" she asked suddenly. This, meaning them. The things that happened between them yesterday.
There may have been a flush on Fate's face, but her gaze was also filled with things that, for once, Nanoha was not able to read.
Fate was silent for just a bare few seconds. And then.
"No," was the quiet, firm response. "Do you?"
A breath left her then. She wasn't sure if it was born of relief or fear. It may have been both. "No."
There was so much more that she felt she needed to say, and yet nothing would come to mind.
It was Fate who spoke first this time.
"We… " A soft inhale. "We should talk about this."
She didn't disagree.
Indecision was visible in Fate's features. "But I'll be… I have to go, soon."
Blonde eyebrows were furrowed, and that gaze was filled with guilt.
She had to smile at that. That was just so like Fate. It clearly wasn't her fault, and yet…
"It's okay. I understand." She squeezed that hand lightly.
Hesitation still radiated off Fate, and it was so visible that Nanoha sat up and let the blanket pool to the waist. She knew she was bare, and she knew she was feeling too warm from the neck upwards, but that didn't stop her from straddling the enforcer and curling her hands around Fate's face.
Fate started with a visible flush on the face — hands hovering just an inch from Nanoha's thighs like she didn't quite know if she was allowed to touch her. She was also completely silent, like she was too stunned to say anything.
Slate blue looked down at red.
This might have been the first time in a long while where the blonde had to look up at her, and there was something about this position and the lack of clothing and the draft of cool air she could feel between her legs that made her feel completely vulnerable.
"We will talk when you are home," Nanoha managed to say firmly. "So you are going to come home safe. Okay?"
Fate managed a small nod. "Okay."
"As for now…" She thumbed at a smooth cheek, pausing. Hesitating. But she knew she had to get this out before she completely lost her nerve and dove for the blanket again. This was far too bold, even for her. Her voice felt shaky. "For now... I'd rather you just kiss me, Fate-chan."
There was a long moment where Fate simply stared at her.
Then, the blonde took in a deep breath and let a hand curl around Nanoha's thigh and the other up her back, warm fingers pressing gently against skin and tangling with loose brown hair. The sensation made her so much more aware of how bare she was right now — and that Fate was not.
The kisses from hours prior were fresh in her mind, and she could still feel the phantom touches on her skin and the way she had crumbled completely—
This was bad. She knew she was completely flustered now. Her bravado had depleted thoroughly, and Fate was still staring at her — and she wasn't even sure if she imagined the dark, hungry flicker in those features that sent a shiver down the spine.
Her original goal may have been to chase that pained, guilty look away, but this had now evolved towards a direction that wasn't exactly intentional.
"One day," Fate murmured then, "One day, I think you might just drive me insane."
Nanoha would have argued that it was a mutual feeling, if not for Fate surging up to capture her lips, the hand on her back pulling her even closer and moulding their bodies together. And the blonde was evidently a fast learner — the kiss wasn't innocent, nor was there much fumbling like last night. It was full of intent, possessive and set on taking her breath away.
It was hard to think of anything else after that.
Missions have a way of spiraling downwards, and Nanoha has experienced more than enough to know this.
It is now four months after Fate had been pulled away to the routine mission that really should have taken no longer than a week — and who could've expected the mission to extend to a month, then two, and then four?
And then for it to culminate into a sudden loss of contact in the last month?
Life really does have a way of throwing the kind of curve balls that Nanoha sometimes feels too defenseless to endure.
"—hey, Nanoha-chan? Are you listening?" A hand on her shoulder snaps her out of her reverie.
She blinks, pulled back into the present. "Um, say that again?"
Hayate's soft sapphire eyes are on her. "How about I take Vivio with me for tonight? You want to be here, right?"
Beside them, the heart monitoring machine beeps steadily. In front of her, Fate T. Harlaown is unconscious, so still she could have thought her dead if not for the steady rise and fall of her chest.
She exhales slowly. "...That would be really helpful, if you don't mind. Shamal-san said she should naturally wake up in the next few hours or by tomorrow, and I… I'd like to be here."
"Of course not," Hayate says firmly. "She's like a niece to me."
She forces a slight smile, eyes trailing over the bandage wrapped around the temple, a faint tinge of pink seeping through it. "Thank you, Hayate-chan."
Hayate's hand curls around her shoulder supportively. "Fate-chan really overdid it this time, didn't she?"
She couldn't disagree. "Yeah."
A gentle squeeze. "She saved a lot of children."
Nanoha's heart aches at the thought, a mix of pride and sadness and worry. "She did."
Child trafficking across worlds and dimensions. Fate had been entirely absorbed in the case the moment it came to her attention, discovered during the routine mission.
She had always been too invested when it came to children.
Fate ended up painting a target on herself too, as a result, and she was ambushed while picking up another child. Teana just only managed to get to her, and the blonde barely escaped with her life.
Had her former student not been in time to save Fate, then… she really and truly could have died.
Fate T. Harlaown could have actually died this time.
It's enough, Nanoha can't help but think. She has waited long enough.
Who is driving who insane this time?
Very soon now, Nanoha is going to find the words that describe exactly what she wants from Fate.
That this happened is just one more reason to act, and a large part of her is so very done with waiting.
Fate may want to live for her — and it's a thought that makes her feel equal amounts of humbled and cherished and hurt — but there is so much more than that that Nanoha wants and struggles to describe.
There is so much more that she needs, and it doesn't even seem like Fate realizes to what extent.
What she needs. What she wants.
This is what happens two days later.
Fate is staring up at the ceiling from where she's sitting on the bed, resting against a couple pillows. The bandage wrapped around her head is not there anymore, but beneath those loose clothes, there are still smatterings of plasters and bandages.
Nanoha, meanwhile, is standing by the table, pouring water into a paper cup.
"For some reason…" Fate's words are distant and distracted. "I felt like I had a really long dream."
Nanoha pauses, then places the pitcher back onto the table gently.
"You've been asleep for a few days, Fate-chan."
She hands over the cup, which Fate takes with a small thanks. "What did you dream about?"
Fate doesn't reply immediately, sipping at the drink.
It's another heartbeat before the response comes.
"I… dreamt of Alicia."
The hands holding the cup now rest on the lap, and red eyes are staring distantly at the ripples in the water.
Fate's deceased family is a topic rarely brought up.
It is something very, very deep within the blonde that is locked behind walls and walls of steel. This, Nanoha knows all too well. Even when they have known each other for thirteen years, five of which they spent as lovers, this is a fundamental part of Fate that has never changed.
There are many things that the enforcer can be open about now — but rarely, if ever, does Precia get mentioned. It's almost never when it comes to Alicia.
Fate has decided to bear it all on her own, after all.
The pain. The sadness. The grief.
What could Nanoha do but support her and catch her should she ever fall? There is nothing she can do about the past — she cannot change it, and she cannot take the pain of those memories from her even when she wants to.
But she can be there. She can make her smile.
At least, on that — she will never give up.
"Was it a bad dream?" Nanoha asks then.
"Hmm… I wonder." The blonde muses. Then a slight, sheepish smile forms. "I can't say I really remember."
Despite the smile, there's a faint furrow in the brow, as if saying it can't really be helped.
There's a familiar shadow of something so sad in Fate's eyes that Nanoha wants to chase away.
This is when Nanoha picks up the cup of water from Fate's loose grasp, placing it on the table, before moving to sit on the bed and not the chair. She presses a palm to the bed on the other side of Fate, near the thigh, the better so that their eyes could meet without the other having to look up.
The blonde blinks. "Nanoha?"
"Fate-chan, do you know what date is it today?"
There's an adorable tilt of confusion. "August… twenty one? Twenty three?" Fate sounds unsure.
"That's right." She smiles then. "Your birthday was a month ago."
Fate freezes — evidently, the enforcer had forgotten about it; her birthday had passed while Fate was on the mission. The birthday that was also the day they became friends. The day they lost contact.
"So... this is a little late," Nanoha says.
She moves with intent, and lessens the distance between them.
If she's going to be a tether. If she's determined to be the home that Fate returns to. If that's what it takes to keep her smiling.
"Happy birthday, Fate-chan." Her lips slants over the other's.
For the briefest fraction of a second, Fate is still. But then she relaxes, and Nanoha's fingers are curling around the neck, cheek, tangling with soft strands of gold-like hair and angling to deepen the kiss.
It's a taste that feels familiar and yet archaic at the same time — it's been months — the warm press of tongues sliding together, the way Fate yields to her caress so easily. It makes her want so much more, and she has to force herself to remember that now is not the time.
When they part, Fate is flushed and dazed in her grasp. It's usually the other way around, given the flair of mischief the blonde has sometimes — a trait that seems to only grow as Fate becomes older. Nanoha, in contrast, has only matured.
But, she thinks, it really is nice to turn the tables around sometimes. Maybe she should do this more often.
"Hey, Fate-chan." It's a soft whisper. Her heart thunders loudly in her chest. She presses their foreheads together.
"...Hmm?" Dark red eyes glimmers with something so incredibly soft.
She reaches out to grasp Fate's left hand, sliding something cool and thin onto the fourth finger.
A hitched breath.
When Fate is sad and broken, she is so hauntingly beautiful. There is just something about the image that is very vivid and heart-wrenchingly raw that makes it hard for Nanoha to look away.
Yet, when Fate is happy, truly happy…
"Will you marry me?"
She's even more beautiful then, and Nanoha could not look away at all.
To cherish you.
To laugh and cry with you.
To be your friend and partner in everything.
I vow —
It is April, eight months after that proposal in the hospital room.
To be honest... Nanoha has never given much thought to marriage. The idea of being someone's wife is not something that she has really considered seriously, until that moment when Fate confessed she'd live for her if Nanoha would allow it.
In that moment — anything she could have said didn't seem like it was enough. Anything she did say, up and including the part where she belonged to Fate — felt inadequate.
She doesn't hate the idea of marriage, to be clear, much less if it's to a certain enforcer.
But she also does not need validation of their relationship from anyone save for Fate. Not from the government, not the law, not even their friends or family.
In this — only Fate's opinions and feelings matters to her.
And really. As long as Fate comes back to her, she can be content.
Plus, if marriage is a way of making vows to each other — then, those are things they have already said to each other before, with and without words.
Many, many times over.
Gentle hands rest on her shoulders. "Nanoha-chan?"
"Nya?!" She jerks in surprise, slamming a hand over the paper she's scribbling on. Her gaze darts up, only to see a pair of eyes a shade darker than her own, looming above her from behind.
It's her mother.
Momoko raises an eyebrow at her. "Fate-chan's not going to see your attempts at figuring out what to say for your wedding vows, Nanoha-chan. She's at work."
Nanoha flushes and laughs weakly at the accurate conjecture. Her mother knows her too well. "You surprised me, that's all. Ahaha…"
The older woman smiles down at her.
Her gaze drops down to the pen she's fiddling with. "You could tell?"
"Well…" Momoko's gaze trails over the table scattered with crumpled papers. "Do you want some help?"
Nanoha sighs. "That would be really helpful but… aren't you tired? Shouldn't you rest a bit more?" She's remembering how Vivio excitedly dragged her parents all over Midchilda to visit their favourite haunts, and none of them had the heart to tell her daughter otherwise.
"I've napped enough," Momoko pulls out a chair to sit beside her. "Your father, on the other hand, is still snoring."
And is that not a reminder that her parents are ageing? The thought still fills her with a kind of soft, knowing ache that time is not a battle she can fight with, and she can't help but let her gaze flicker to locks of greying hair.
"Can I see what you've got so far, Nanoha-chan?"
"...You can't laugh at me, okay?"
Another eyebrow arches. "Nanoha-chan."
Her mother still has a way of making her feel like a child.
Silently, she passes over the paper she hid under her hand, cheeks feeling entirely too warm.
There's another two heartbeats of silence as Momoko look over the paper before their gazes meet. A pair of eyes is amused, the other miserable. "...There's only an 'I vow' on this, Nanoha-chan. And what are these three sentences that you scratched out?"
The brunette groans. "Kaa-san."
Momoko huffs out a chuckle. "Weren't you the one who proposed to her?"
Nanoha fiddles with the pen again. "I know," she mumbles.
She doesn't regret proposing. She's looking forward to it, even... the ceremony that will happen in a month's time. The time when the season changes from spring to summer.
But what could she even say that hasn't already been said? What other things could she tell Fate, other than the things she has repeatedly told her time and again?
Frankly, nothing seems adequate.
She chews at her bottom lip. "What did tou-san say to you?"
"Your father?" Momoko muses. "I don't think you will find much inspiration from him. He made a traditional textbook vow."
A pause. Then, curiously, "What did you think about that?"
Her mother smiles then. "I loved it, of course. He meant every word he said, after all."
Could it… really be that simple? Is that really all it needed? To mean it? Then, maybe, the words themselves aren't the most important. And maybe Nanoha has been looking at this the wrong way.
She's never really been great at saying things grandly, to be honest.
"What did you say to tou-san?"
Momoko smiles a small, quiet smile that Nanoha thinks she will remember forever.
"That I will love him."
A heartbeat passes.
Nanoha reaches for a fresh piece of paper, and begins to write.
I swear to god
when I come home
They are twenty seven years old now, and that marks nearly two decades of knowing each other.
Nanoha can count on two hands the amount of times she has been really and truly in danger, whereas Fate has just about lost count of how many times she has injured herself; half of which probably put her in real danger of dying.
But the blonde is safe and alive today, as evidenced by the warm arms around her shoulders. Fate's behind her on the sofa, and Nanoha all but lets herself sink into that embrace.
"Chrono-kun is asking about the promotion again. Do you want to go for it, Fate-chan?"
It's a direct question with no room for assumptions. After all, Nanoha thinks, there really isn't any reason to be roundabout with it, is there?
A sigh comes from the blonde.
Fate, for once, seems exasperated. Nearly two decades ago the blonde couldn't even grasp how to be affectionately annoyed at someone, so the fact that she can do so now is a thought that still warms Nanoha's heart to this day.
Fate huffs. "He could have just asked me directly."
Nanoha is amused. "He might have been hinting for me to convince you to take it." Though, it was Amy, more specifically, who said that. The older woman certainly had no qualms spilling what Chrono is really hoping for, that's for sure.
There's a pause before Fate speaks. "Are you going to convince me?"
"Hmm." The shorter woman muses. "Do I have to convince you, Fate-chan?"
It's a twofold question. If she has to do that, it means Fate doesn't want the promotion — and that means Nanoha will not actually attempt to convince her to take it.
And if she doesn't have to do it, that means Fate has, in actuality, already decided.
"...No," Fate admits quietly then. "I have already decided."
A corner of her lip ticks upward then. "You are just teasing Chrono-kun with your silence, aren't you?"
The arms around her tightens minutely. "Don't tell him." The mischief is so clear in Fate's whisper, and Nanoha has to laugh out loud at that.
"Fate-chan!" Really, when did this person get so cheeky? It's like she's becoming more of a child as she grows older.
"Shh." Lips travel down her neck affectionately. Strands of blonde hair tickle her cheek. "He will find out soon enough."
"Uh huh," her head tilts back a little to give more access. Fingers curl around the arms that are holding her close. "Poor Chrono-kun."
Fate squeezes her again, eliciting another short bout of laughter, and then the blonde buries her face in Nanoha's collarbone with a slow exhale.
"Honestly," the blonde murmurs then. "I wasn't sure what I should do for a while. If I took it, I wouldn't be doing fieldwork anymore unless circumstances call for it. And there are still things I haven't completely resolved yet."
It's both a good and bad thing, this promotion. The good is that it's less likely that Fate will be in danger. The bad is that it means the renowned and powerful solo mage who dominated the field will no longer be active on the field.
"But... I also know that if I take it, Teana can pick up from where I left off." There's unmistakable pride in that soft voice. "You have really taught her well, Nanoha."
"I only taught her the basics," the brunette says gently. "The rest is all her effort."
"You are too humble, Nanoha."
Fate does end up taking the promotion.
What Fate doesn't say is this.
She does love being an enforcer — it gives her a purpose, a goal, a way to protect and save people. A large part of her has considered not taking the promotion.
But she also knows that there are more things she can do if she rises up, things that an ordinary enforcer has no way of doing. She knows that's the real reason why Chrono is hinting for her to take it — her brother had sensed her frustration at the bureaucracies of politics, and was telling her there was only one way to do something about it.
She'd still be able to do what she wants, just in a very different way, with difficult battles in store.
For the longest time, she had been torn over what to do.
Nanoha had remained firmly silent on the subject, refusing to veer her one way or another.
And the truth is… there's another reason for her to take the promotion. It's not her career, or the power that comes with it.
Nanoha was something like a cornerstone for her. A creature larger than life itself. Still is, to be honest.
When Fate was a child, naive and innocent, she had never really understood what she conceded to the other but had given willingly anyway. It's probably fair to say that she hadn't even realized what she gave away without a thought.
Sometimes she thinks she still would have given it anyway even if she did understand it.
It was only a while after they got married that Fate came to the realization that Nanoha did understand what was given to her even when they had been so young. And yet somehow, someway, the brunette had never seen fit to wield that power. Instead of using it, she had guided Fate to find her bearings.
But where she could not understand Nanoha then, she does now. She sees the immense strength lurking beneath the slender figure, and she sees the flicker of vulnerability that's rarely on display.
She… understands just how far the brunette's feelings go for her.
Somehow, over the years, she had become something integral and irreplaceable to the other, and in ways that Fate still does not understand but has learned to stop questioning.
She knows now that when she is hurt, it hurts Nanoha deeply.
Fate has spent nearly two decades on the field, protecting and saving others in exchange for getting hurt to varying degrees and in different ways — giving all that she can and taking the brunt of things to the point where there were moments she had just gone to the brink of exhaustion emotionally, mentally, and physically.
That's a really, really long time.
Then take into account the time she had left Nanoha alone over the years — who's never complained and only demanded for her to stay safe — what had Fate been doing to Nanoha? And to Vivio?
It's time, she remembers thinking. It's past time.
She goes home.
The two of them are fundamentally very different people.
Fate is someone who has to be out there, tackling things on with her own hands, because if someone has to do it, to bear the sadness and anger, to pay the price of another's sin, then — let it be herself, so that there's one less person who will be hurt.
Nanoha may be no stranger to dealing with matters straight on, nor is she ever hesitant at using the strength at her disposal — but that doesn't mean she enjoys having to hurt others. She prefers to teach, to nurture — because really, what better way is there to reach out far and wide than from the beginning when things are just only beginning to sprout? Is that not the fastest and most straightforward way to convey things?
They have different drives, different goals, and different needs.
Life hasn't been the fairest to either of them, all things considered. For all that they have sacrificed and given in the name of other people — they receive very little in return, and so much less than what they really deserve.
Sometimes what they get are things that they shouldn't even have to bear, and yet they endure them anyway.
That is the cruel and sad truth of life.
So in the end… what it really comes down to is this.
The love story they have isn't exactly all that dramatic. There may be moments where they trip, some more nastily than others, but as far as stories go, theirs is probably one of the most straightforward out there.
It's really just a simple story that started by calling their names. Arguably boring, even.
And who can say that's not the best kind of love story to have?
Nanoha's staring out the open window.
It's late in the night now, and the air is cool and fresh from a downpour earlier. The skies are clear, and the stars are bright near the full moon.
Fate lifts her head up from the monitor she's eyeing. "Nanoha?"
The brunette turns around then, offering a hand to her with a warm smile.
A white gold ring on the fourth finger reflects the light overhead.
"Let's go flying for a bit?"
There's a pause.
And then Fate softens; grasps that hand.
— I, Takamachi Nanoha,
Make this vow.
I will shelter you.
I will hold you close.
I will love you.
Today. Tomorrow. The day after.
For as long as we live.
I will walk this path with you.
A/N - A major thank you to Rae, who obligingly did me a favor and picked up his dusty red pen to beta this story after such a long time. Also, I'm just estimating roughly when Fate's birthday may be… if I'm wrong, let me know and I'll fix it.
I kind of realized that I never really wrote a proper love story for these two. A decade ago it was more or less implied in the majority of the things I posted but I've never delved too deeply into it. Nevermind that those fics are not readable, ahem. So I thought… maybe I should actually do it. Do something that may feel like, this is it.
Thus, while I was on a plane traveling interstate in late April, I started to write on my phone. And somehow... it went from a couple simple scenes to nearly 13k words. But that's probably not a bad thing.
This story is also a spiritual successor to ciel bleu, a fic that I wrote ages ago (you do not have to read that unless if you're curious). Writing this was a way for me to address a problem in it — the intention of that fic was to write about Nanoha, but I've arguably failed since it didn't really dig deep into the character itself; it still ended up being more about Fate.
Nearly a decade has gone by since I wrote that though. I wasn't able to recreate and recapture what I did then, and maybe I shouldn't have tried — after all, my writing and view on many things have changed. Though I'll admit there are a few things there that can and would have happened here. Hence spiritual successor, I guess. Maybe even a pseudo companion story of sort. Cough.
Anyway. Nanoha's still ridiculously hard to write, but maybe I can do her a bit more justice now. And depict something that actually feels like a legitimate love story, while I'm on that...
Last but not least: If you read this far, thank you for sticking with the story all the way to the end. If you're new to this fandom, I hope you've enjoyed this. If you're someone old who decided on a whim to visit a fandom whose era had ended — I sincerely hope this was a good surprise.