Fate T. Harlaown stood up, letting the screen and keyboard she'd been working at vanish. Stretching, she walked over to the window of her hotel room. The mission had barely been worth the attention of one of the TSAB's top Enforcers, so she'd let her aide Teana Lanster take point during the investigation as a training exercise. Tia had done a good job in tracking down the killer, a rogue mage who'd been trying to cloak his crimes behind the legend of an allegedly "cursed" Lost Logia, handling most of the investigation on her own with only a couple of gentle nudges from Fate when necessary. In thanks, Tia had offered to file the report, but Fate had shrugged it off-she was the lead officer and it was her responsibility. What she didn't say was that she'd intended to put a number of complimentary remarks about Tia's performance in the file.

She was done now, though, so at least she'd get a chance to rest and relax for a night and a day before they shipped out on the next evening. Outside the window, snow fell in big, fluffy flakes from a twilight sky, drifting lazily to the ground. Fate's eyes followed a couple of them down to the ground, to the park that made up the hotel courtyard. As she did, she noticed a couple of figures emerge from a side door into the yard. They were girls around ten, who laughed as they ran, arms wide, through the falling snow, leaving tracks behind them. One scooped a handful of snow, packed it, and splattered the snowball against the other's coat. Crying defiance, the second girl started making a ball of her own, and in moments the fight was on in earnest, wide smiles on their faces as they threw and dodged.

Fate smiled, too, watching their antics, and found herself looking back in time, into her memories.

~X X X~

-Ten Years Ago-

The January snowflakes were big and fluffy as they drifted down, and the streetlight next to the bus-stop bench made them glitter like tiny jewels. Fate sat quietly watching them while next to her, her best friend Takamachi Nanoha kicked her legs impatiently. Unlike Fate, the brown-haired girl disliked waiting.

"Mou, I wish we could just fly home," Nanoha said. Her petulance made Fate smile.

"You know that we can't do that."

"But I hate waiting."

"I don't mind," Fate replied softly.

"Ehh?" Nanoha hopped down off the bench. "How come you're so patient, Fate-chan?"

Fate found it hard to put into words. Part of it was that she treasured these quiet moments. So much of her life-the real life that was her own, not the false memories she carried that were really her sister's-had been spent in conflict that times of peace, to be spent with the people who cared for her, were still new, to be treasured.

The people who cared for her. It was really amazing, when she thought about it. She'd never imagined there could be so many! Hayate and her guardians, especially Signum; Arisa and Suzuka; Chrono, Amy, and Yuuno; Lindy-mama, who was, ever so gently, starting to broach the idea of adopting Fate for real, who'd emphatically denied that Fate was any less human just because she'd been created as an artificial mage; but most of all Nanoha, who'd fought so hard and so long for Fate's sake.

"I'm...not really patient," she said. "I just...it's okay not to be doing anything. Being with y-my friends by itself is good."

Nanoha blinked, then smiled.

"Yeah! You're right, Fate-chan."

Looking up at the snowflakes, Nanoha opened her mouth and stuck her tongue out. Fate didn't really understand the gesture, but she opened her own mouth and extended her tongue in imitation of her friend. Though she tilted her head up in the same way as Nanoha, she kept glancing sideways at the other girl and so saw Nanoha weave her head back and forth for some reason. Then a snowflake landed on Fate's tongue. It was a big one, so she could feel it crumple from the heat of her skin into a droplet of water.

"Hey, you caught one!" Nanoha beamed at her. Oh, is that what it's about? Fate turned her head slightly and caught another one, then smiled back at Nanoha. It's kind of fun, she decided as the two of them darted back and forth nabbing as many as they could. Watching Nanoha skipping about, having fun like a normal girl her age, gave Fate an odd feeling. She felt her own smile growing to match, until the two of them were laughing together.

Then, Nanoha's foot skidded on the snow and she was falling. Fate was there in an instant, but she couldn't get a good grip with her mittens. She tried to shift to take more of Nanoha's weight against her arm and body, but it was too late; she lost her balance, too, but kicked against the pavement so that they didn't fall onto the sidewalk but with a soft flumph into a snowdrift next to it.

"Are you okay, Nanoha?"

Nanoha just laughed.

"Fate-chan, you've got snow all over your face!" The blonde had landed on her left side, in fact getting quite a lot of snow on her. Nanoha reached out and gently brushed it off while they got back to their feet. "Um, could you get my back?"

Nanoha turned around and Fate swept the snow off her coat before cleaning her own.

"There you go."


She looked up at the sky.

"Hey, Fate-chan, why don't we just walk home? It's not that far."

"Won't the bus be faster?"

"Yeah, but...I'd like to hang out with you a little longer today."

Nanoha smiled brightly at her, and Fate felt a strange feeling seem to grow in her, a kind of warmth in her chest that wasn't from heat. Not really understanding, she tried to be funny by teasing.

"Okay, but just be careful that you don't fall again."

"Nyahaha, I don't worry about that. If I slip, Fate-chan will always be there to catch me!"

And with that her pink mitten closed around Fate's black one, and she led the other girl off down the street through the gently falling snow.

~X X X~

Fate turned away from the window with wetness stinging at her eyes, then made a decision and put through a long-distance communications link. She waited a little impatiently while the dimensional connections were made, the civilian system being considerably less efficient than the military channels she was used to working with.

The screen finally opened up in the air before her, revealing the round, puppy-cute face of a five-year-old girl. "Takamachi reside-Fate-mama!" Vivio turned her head and called out, "Nanoha-mama, it's Fate-mama calling!"

"Hey, Fate-chan!" Nanoha called happily. The brunette scurried into camera range, then picked Vivio up and settled into the chair with their daughter on her lap. "We didn't expect your usual call for another couple of days. Is everything okay?"

Fate smiled.

"It is now."

"Ehhh?" Confusion showed in Nanoha's bright blue eyes, and Fate's smile grew wider.

"I was missing my two favorite girls," Fate replied.

"Aw, Fate-chan, you're such a softy!"

"Well, it's winter here."

"That always was your favorite season. Hey, Vivio, since it's winter where Fate-mama is, we should have some hot cocoa tonight, like we would if we were with her!"


Fate smiled.

"All right, then, I'll have some too, so we can have it together."

Nanoha giggled.

"That's so like you, Fate-chan."

Fate smiled back.

"I love you."

Nanoha blinked, caught by surprise by the sudden endearment, then returned the melting-eyes look Fate was sure she was giving her.

"I love you too, Fate-chan."

"Mmn!" Vivio agreed. "I love Fate-mama and Nanoha-mama very much!"

And they talked well into the night, while the snow drifted down outside.

~X X X~

A/N: Thank you very much to RadiantBeam for this one. When I read her fifty-sentences fic, "Stars and Thunder," I was struck by the imagery of #31, "Winter," and in the next instant a story started to spiral off around it. So I asked her if I could use that idea, and she was nice enough to say yes...so this little (snow)ball of fluff is for you!

~X X X~

Vivio's Magical Omake Theater!

"Nanoha-mama!" Vivio cried happily as her mother came home.

"Vivio!" She scooped up the five-year-old in her arms. "I missed you while I was at work." She turned to the petite, red-haired Wolkenritter who'd been providing adult supervision for the little girl. "Thanks so much for babysitting her, Vita-chan. It's Aina's day off and everyone else is really busy..."

"Hey, no sweat," Vita said casually. "I like the kid."

"And did you have fun with Vita-chan, Vivio?"

"Mmn!" Vivio said excitedly, nodding. "We had a tea party with our stuffed bunnies! She said she doesn't get to do that kind of thing a lot, but wouldn't say why. Don't Signum and Zaffy like bunnies?"

The Iron Hammer Knight's face was as deep a red as her battle dress as she fled Nanoha's laughter.