It was their first meeting.

Burgundy eyes peered up at the board, searching for her own name among printed papers laid out on the wood.

"Ah...found it," she muttered to herself, and glanced to the top of the pinned paper. "Class..."

"...I-D."

She blinked. Someone had just echoed her own words. Someone...next to her, actually.

She turned to meet curious blue eyes.

A girl.

A slender girl, half a head shorter than her, with long, silky hazel brown hair. Which was tied up in a...ponytail? A side...ponytail, if it could be called one.

An unexpected, coincidental meeting...

The corner of her lips twitched into the beginning of a smile. That was a rather interesting hair...style.

The girl who was staring at her raised both eyebrows. "Is something funny?"

She had the grace to flush a little.

But she didn't get the chance to respond, not when the other suddenly stumbled forward into her.

"Wa - !"

Reflexively, she grabbed the shorter brunette, steadying them both before they could fall.

"Sorry!" a boy shouted from a short distance away before running off in a rush.

The girl in her arms grimaced. "Ow."

Fate glanced down at her. "Um...are you okay?"

Blue eyes blinked up at her.

Silence.

Then the brunette flushed, laughing a little nervously, seeming to get her voice back (at last).

"...Y-yes."

Another pause.

She felt a smile forming on her lips.

"...Can you stand?" she asked softly.

"Oh! Er, y-yes, of course!" The brown-haired girl straightened instantly, and took a step back. "Sorry about that."

"It's all right."

A pause.

A long, awkward pause.

"So! Um...class 1-D?" asked that girl.

She nods. "Yes."

"Then I suppose we will be classmates." A grin spread across the brunette's face as she lifted a hand. "My name's Takamachi Nanoha."

A gust of wind blew.

Her gaze locked onto dark blue that hinted on violet.

She smiled, grasping that hand lightly.

"Fate. Fate Testarossa."

The large clock at the top of the tower above them chimed, once, twice; heralding the start of the school semester.

Impasse
1: First Meeting

"Year one student representative: Fate Testarossa, class 1-D."

"Hai."

The sound of a chair shifting backwards across the floor resounded faintly in the silent auditorium.

A tall, slender girl, with long, silky yellow hair, walked forward. Her steps were soundless and graceful, posture straight and solid. Eyes, so a deep shade of red they almost seemed black in the shadows, were aloof and distant.

The perfect picture of a cool beauty.

"Pretty, isn't she?" murmured Suzuka.

Nanoha didn't reply.

She merely watched, curious about the girl who seemed aloof.

"Fate Testarossa, sixteen years old. Apparently she scored full marks in the entrance exam," a male's voice whispered from behind them.

Three pairs of eyes blinked, and as one, they turned.

"Yuuno-kun?"

He smiled.

"Are you interested in her, Nanoha?" His eyebrows waggled suggestively. Of course, the blond boy had to be the observant one. He always seemed to notice everything. Always.

The brunette flushed. "How did you know she scored full marks in the entrance exam, anyway?" She was interested in Fate, though it was for an entirely different reason than Yuuno seemed to think. Those burgundy eyes, while so aloof, were...tired. Just, exhausted.

And she wanted to know more. Wanted to know why she seemed so...sad.

Yuuno tsked. "The rumors are all over the school. Or at least among the first-years students. Just think about it..." he pointed an index finger at the podium, where the blonde had just stepped up to. "Our school's entrance exam isn't that easy, you know. And that girl, scoring full marks in it? If no one knew about it, now that would be a surprise."

Arisa grimaced at the memory of the exam. "Oh, don't remind me."

Yuuno chuckled. "Maa. I wonder what she will do later..."

Nanoha gave him a confused look. "Do about what?"

This time he shrugged and gave a vague smile.

"You will see."

And soon enough, it became rather obvious what Yuuno was referring to.

A group of girls and boys had surrounded the startled first year representative once homeroom period was over.

"Testarossa-san, is it true you scored full marks in the exam?"

A cat-whistle. "Be my tutor - ack!" Poor boy got nudged in the rubs, hard.

"Don't listen to the dork. So where are you from?"

Fate forced a little laugh out, lifting her hands in a calming gesture.

Her replies were polite and almost humored, a gentle smile on her face.

But her eyes, thought Nanoha, were as distant as always, if not quietly amused.

Then their gazes met.

Red against blue.

It was only then that she realized how striking those burgundy eyes were. A subtle, dark shade of wine that seemed to pierce so sharply, as if they could see everything within her.

And her heart pounded for reasons she could not describe.

That gaze was as bland as it was beautifully sharp.

She was pulled into it, and all she could see was...indescribable redness.

For one long moment - one moment that seemed to last forever - the noise around her seemed to mute itself.

"Alright, settle down!"

And then the spell was broken, when Fate turned to look at the front. The teacher had arrived.

"...You're really interested in her, aren't you?" Yuuno, sounding like he was incredibly amused, murmured behind her.

Nanoha twitched.

"Just look at all these people hunting for freshmen to join their clubs," grumped Arisa. "They are really beginning to annoy me."

"Maa, maa." Suzuka smiled. "This will only be for the first week or so, won't it?"

"Hey, hey! Listen! A first year female student is beating all the seniors in kendo!" Boy A rushed forward to his friends.

"Which first year student?" Boy B.

"Her name's...uh...I can't remember."

Boy C groaned. "Oh, so typical of you."

"But I know she's the first year student representative!" protested Boy A. "That pretty blonde girl. Remember?"

That caught Nanoha's attention.

Boy B raised an eyebrow. "Fate Testarossa?"

"Yeah! That's the name!"

"How about Signum-sempai?" Boy D asked.

Signum? That name was familiar...

"Kendo champion in the last spring tournament, undefeated for the past two years, and captain of the team," Yuuno rattled off.

The brunette blinked.

Arisa frowned at him.

"Tell me again. Just how do you know all these things?"

He shrugged. "I like reading," he nodded at Nanoha's direction, "and didn't Miyuki-san said something about the kendo skills of a high school student? That's Signum."

So that was why the name felt familiar.

"There's a ten minute break now," Boy A said. "I'm pretty sure next up will be the duel with Signum-sempai, though."

"Woo? Let's go see!"

Shinai clashed together.

"It's started." Arisa peered at the center of the ring.

Yuuno, who had disappeared shortly after they arrived, returned with news.

"Whoever gets first hit wins, apparently." Yuuno commented. The match was as simple as that.

Thwack!

Clack!

Clack!

Fate swiped to the left of her opponent's ribs, which was immediately blocked, Signum's shinai curving downwards.

The older girl retaliated by forcefully shoving the stopped weapon upward with great strength, and launched herself forward.

CLACK!

A second clash, and Fate was forced back a step before she regained her balance. Now neither moved from their position; seemingly glaring at each other through their headgears, the weapons shaking lightly from the contact that had yet to be broken off.

Nanoha would not claim being an expert of Kendo. But, given that she was born in a family that practiced martial arts (even if she totally fails at sports), meant that she knew how to recognize skills and experience to some degree.

And this, she knew for certain; they were definitely skilled.

Signum-sempai had the power, but Fate had the speed.

The taller kendo student jumped backwards a few steps, hands gripping shinai firmly.

And then she ran forward.

THWACK!

The referee raised a hand towards Signum.

"Men!" A hit on the top of the headgear. Senpai may have struck there but...

Then he raised another for Fate.

"Kote!" The forearm of the gauntlet.

Nanoha smiled.

"Both hits struck at the same time. It's a draw!"

The cheering that came after was loud and resounding in the hall.

Fate smiled an enigmatic smile when headgears were removed.

There was a hint of amusement and...enjoyment?... in that mellow, calm gaze.

Signum offered a hand, smirking slightly. "Good match."

"Aa," the blonde agreed, smile growing, and took the hand. "A good one indeed, sempai."

A few boys (and girls) near Nanoha and her friends swooned at the sight of that smile.

Now, that sight made her lips twitch in exasperation and amusement both.

First day in school, and it looked as if this girl was gathering fangirls and fanboys without any effort.

"Fate."

The blonde turned to see amused blue eyes.

"Chrono-niichan."

He blinked once, then his expression changed from humored to embarrassed.

"We are not kids anymore, Fate."

A smile curled on Fate's lips. "Of course...Chrono."

He gave her a half-hearted glare, then sighed when the blonde attempted to look innocent.

"You're settling in well, I see," the black-haired boy commented lightly.

The younger girl sensed a hint of relief in that voice.

"...It's a nice place," she said after a moment, smiling faintly.

Concern flickered past those blue eyes.

"It is," he said instead, and gestured. "Shall we go home?" Your home too, now, he did not say.

"...Yes." I know.

They walked in silence.

Neither noticed a certain brunette watching them curiously.

She felt herself sighing involuntarily, leaning back against the chair; dark maroon eyes staring distantly at white ceiling.

Home. Home, is it...?

Memories threatened to flood back into her mind, and she shook her head; forcing them out.

Then her cellphone rang.

Fate glanced at it, staring for one long moment.

Then she reached for it, studied the caller ID, and felt her heart squeeze uncomfortably.

She took in a deep breath.

Beep.

"...Hello?"

"..."

"...Yes. I'm fine. Please do not worry."

A pause.

"I'm eating properly, too."

Blonde eyebrow creased, and she closed her eyes. Her figure slumped against the cushioned chair. Why, why did she feel this sudden weight on her shoulders that she can't shake off?

"Chrono-niichan and Lindy-san helped a lot. I'm settling in fine."

"..."

"Mm. School was...interesting."

Another pause.

Fate opened her mouth, once, before shutting it.

Her grip on the armrest tightened, and she felt her eyebrows knit involuntarily.

"...Aa," she acknowledged after a moment, her words softer...and almost shaking. "Please take care, then. We can always talk...another time."

"..."

"I will."

"..."

"...Mmn. Bye. Take care."

Click.

The blonde sat motionless for a long time, phone still pressed to her ear.

Du du du du du du du du du...

一一一

A/N: I'd like to point out that whatever information I have on the subject of kendo is googled. Otherwise, my knowledge about it is close to zero, unless if you want to count some martial arts experience of my own. So, here, if there is anyone who wishes to point out something wrong, or wants to help me where this is concerned, I will gratefully accept it.

Secondly...this high-school fic is probably going to be rather predictable drama-wise as events get written. Life is always predictable, in this sense. And if you, my dear readers, have read enough of my stuff, you will probably know that this will become angsty (maybe really angsty) at some point. To be honest, I'm still considering whether I should include the elements of magic...but I'm leaning towards no. My brain is too fried to think for a plot that involves magic.

And I cannot decide if I want Arf and Zafira as human beings or puppies. Zafira as a puppy will be a really amusing sight, but...well.

Hope it's a good read.

1st Revision: 20/08/2008
2nd Revision: 13/04/2011