Disclaimer: I don't own MGLN. I only own a few aspects of this fic, since it's slightly AU.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Innocence

The young white mage was about Fate's age, only thirteen. Fate knew by judging the girl's looks, though her experience was much less than her own. She was strong but naïve; it would leave her quickly enough, given the time.

The girl was alone, much like she was. Fate didn't know how she knew this; she just did. The white mage's only companion was a large blue wolf who walked loyally by her side, with a gruff voice and stoic demeanor; and somehow, she knew he wasn't really hers, either. There was a bond between them, much like Fate's own bond with Arf, but it was not the bond of a familiar and its creator. It was similar, but not quite the same.

Fate watched the pair seal a Jewel Seed, then scowled and shook her head, wondering why she was so curious in the first place.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

"Ne, Zafira… how many Jewel Seeds do I need to wake my family up again?"

The hand rubbing the wolf knight's head was impossibly small given the task it had to perform, unbearably gentle despite the violence it would one day have to cause. Zafira shifted slightly on the bed so he was looking into his charge's eyes. "Nine at the least. That's what Shamal said."

"Right… and we have three so far, not counting the ones we lost while fighting Fate-chan and Arf-san."

Zafira twitched at the '-chan' attached to the black mage's name. It bothered him how kindly Nanoha treated her rival at times; too kindly, in his mind. He loved the girl dearly, but sometimes he worried for her. Her heart was too kind. Though he said nothing, Nanoha sensed his disapproval, and her arm slid around his neck, snuggling the wolf familiar closer.

"I know you don't like it when I call her that, but I can't help it. She doesn't seem so bad. Her eyes… they're sad. I'm sure she has a reason, too."

A soft rumbling sigh from Zafira made Nanoha smile quietly to herself, and the knight shifted again so he was nuzzling her neck. "I know," he rumbled at last. "And her familiar seems kind enough. But I worry about you, Nanoha. You shouldn't think of others so much when you have problems of your own."

Nanoha's smile slowly faded and she lifted her eyes, gazing up at the picture she'd propped on her nightstand; the picture of her family in its entirety, alive and whole, happy and healthy before the dimensional disturbance that had sent her parents and her siblings into a comatose state until she could locate the pure Jewel Seeds.

"I can't help it, Zafira." She lifted her free hand, gently touching the glass, and felt an all too familiar clenching pain in her chest. "They wouldn't want me to turn away from her, either."

Zafira felt the tremors ripple through her body and closed his eyes as her tears began to fall, her sobs muffled by his fur.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

"You're bleeding, Fate-chan!"

The blonde blinked several times in confusion before she hissed and jerked away from Nanoha's touch, her hand instinctively flying to her wounded shoulder; she felt the warm blood soak into her glove and could have cursed. She'd felt the sting as the rock slashed her, but she'd been too focused on surviving the cave-in caused by a wild Jewel Seed to pay much attention to it.

"Don't touch it, that'll make it worse." Mindless of Fate's rather abrupt retreat Nanoha knelt next to the other girl, and the only reason the red-eyed blonde didn't attempt another quick escape was because her back was against the cave wall. Setting Raising Heart down for a moment, the brunette frowned contemplatively as she studied her rival's wound before nodding quickly to herself and tearing off a piece of white clothe. "It isn't deep, so you won't lose much blood, but you still need to cover it so it doesn't get infected."

And with that, Nanoha quickly looped the clothe around Fate's shoulder and tied it down.

"OW!"

Fate's startled yelp of pain and surprise bounced off the walls and echoed through the cavern, and Nanoha immediately jerked back, eyes wide. "I'm sorry! Did I hurt you?"

"Uh…" At a loss, the black mage timidly lifted a hand and touched the makeshift bandage. "No, you just… you caught me by surprise."

There was an awkward pause as Nanoha processed this before she nodded; after a moment, with nothing else to do, she settled next to Fate. For a long time they sat that way quietly, side-by-side; trapped in the small cavern, there was nothing else they could do until Zafira and Arf reached them.

"… Do you think Zafira and Arf-san are all right?"

"Last time I saw them, they were fighting." Fate shrugged and grimaced as her wound screamed in objection. "But I'm sure they're fine, unless they tear each other apart before they can find us."

"Zafira wouldn't do that," Nanoha said quickly, and met Fate's surprised look evenly. "I can't say the same for Arf-san, but Zafira has never considered her his enemy. If he doesn't have to fight her, he won't."

Fate blinked several times, leaning back against the wall. She didn't get Nanoha at all; they were both fighting for the Jewel Seeds, but the girl had been nothing but kind to her from day one. Even her familiar, Zafira, had been kind to Arf on numerous occasions. It baffled her to no end.

"… Hey…"

"Hmm? Yes, Fate-chan?"

"Why are you so kind to me?"

Nanoha smiled, and Fate felt her heart skip a beat.

"I want us to be friends, Fate-chan."

An explosion in the corner and a pair of relieved cries alerted the two mages to the arrival of their companions.

Fate noticed how Arf limped, and how Zafira supported her.

She didn't understand them. Truly, she didn't.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

"I want us to be friends, Fate-chan."

Aching from another beating given by Precia, too dazed to move, Fate lay quietly on the ground and stared up at the ceiling, turning the words over in her mind again and again. As blood seeped into her clothes, she closed her eyes.

Why…

Why had she felt so overjoyed to hear those words? Why had they filled her with such hope?

Why did she no longer view Nanoha as a rival, an enemy?

Why?

"Fate!"

Arf came, and as Fate sank into darkness she thought no more.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

"NANOHA!!"

As if in a dream, Fate dimly heard Zafira roar Nanoha's name. She floated there in the sky, confused and unfocused. What had just happened?

Okay, recap.

She'd been fighting Nanoha. She knew that much. It had been a fight for their Jewel Seeds; a winner takes all match. And she'd been losing. Or had she lost already? Her mind felt foggy; she wasn't sure. She knew Bardiche had put out his Jewel Seeds at some point, she remembered that…

And then the lightning had struck.

Fate was quite familiar with Precia's method of punishment. If she saw fit, she'd send down a bolt of lightning to injure her daughter and whisk her back to the Garden of Time.

But she wasn't in the Garden.

And now that she stopped to think about it, she felt just fine. Still sore and bruised from her fight with Nanoha, but nothing too painful.

And now that she was really thinking about it, the blood that covered her arms and shoulders and neck wasn't hers.

"Nano… ha…?"

The white mage stirred weakly at Fate's voice; at that moment the other girl realized that Nanoha was literally on top of her, her arms clamped firmly around her neck and her body shielding her. The large pink shield slowly dissolved over them, raining down into the sea below. Nanoha's grip on her neck loosened, and the brunette slid weakly into Fate's arms.

And in that moment, Fate saw how pale the other girl was, and how torn and bloody her clothes wore.

Then she saw the blood, soaking her back and her chest. No… but that meant…

Nanoha had protected Fate.

She'd taken the full brunt of Precia's attack.

"No! Nanoha, no!"

At Fate's anguished cry the brunette stirred weakly; she opened her eyes and smiled thinly, her whole body trembling. "Good… you're all right…"

"Why?" Tears fell, streaked her cheeks; Fate didn't even notice them. "Why did you do that?! I can't possibly mean that much to you!!"

"But… You do… I already told you…"

And Fate felt her heart stop.

"… I want… us to be… friends… Fate-chan…"

Nanoha's voice faded away into silence; the girl was unconscious. For a moment Fate stared numbly at her; a shudder ran down her spine before she hugged the girl close, her whole body trembling. "Stupid," she whispered hoarsely. "Stupid, stupid girl… don't you understand…"

A wail of pure anguish escaped her.

"I don't want to trust you!"

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

"Za… Zafira…?"

At Nanoha's weak call the wolf knight was by her side instantly; at that moment, the girl realized he was back in his human form. "Nanoha," he rasped, and she was stunned to see tear trails on his cheeks. Blinking, she gently lifted her hand and brushed his cheeks. He covered his hand with hers and closed his eyes, a shuddering sigh escaping him. She smiled weakly.

"Nyahaha… did I make you cry…? Forgive me, Zafira…"

"No. There's nothing to forgive."

Drained, Nanoha lowered her hand as Zafira opened his eyes. Looking around, the brunette dimly realized they were back in the safety of her room, and she frowned in confusion. "What…?"

"Fate allowed us to escape before Precia could attack again."

For a moment Nanoha's eyes widened; she smiled and closed her eyes, patting the empty space beside her. Understanding what she wanted, Zafira transformed into his wolf form and sprang up, settling beside her so she could wrap her arms around his neck and pull him close. He closed his eyes as she buried her face into his neck. "Nanoha?"

"She really isn't a bad person, is she?" Her voice was soft. "Fate-chan, I mean."

"No. She has a kind heart, just as you do."

"Ne, Zafira… do you think it's stupid of me to want to be her friend? Even if we're fighting for the same thing?"

In the darkness of the room, the picture of Nanoha's family gleamed weakly, a faint glimmer of light in the darkness.

"… No… No, not at all." The wolf knight sighed as Nanoha's breathing evened out and deepened, and he opened his eyes, quietly surveying the white bandages stained with blood. His eyes softened slightly.

"… But you're still much too kind."

The End

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

... I... don't know. The plotbunny for this one's been bugging me for awhile, almost since I first watched the series all the way through. I doubt I'll ever expand beyond this one-shot, unless I get plenty of reviews asking otherwise.

This is also AU in several aspects, paticularly that Nanoha and Fate are older than they are in the original series, Nanoha is accompanied by Zafira instead of Yuuno, and Nanoha's family is in a situation that puts her at odds with Fate. The age difference I just felt like sticking in because it fit, but the other two will probably not be expanded on seeing as this is only a one-shot.. unless people request more.

Read and review, please!