Disclaimer: I own nothing. If I did, we would have a season of Ouran Highschool styled hot NanoFate madness.

I would like to thank anamatics for proofreading this and generally being an awesome chat.

This is the first part of a larger story timeline I've been brooding over since I watched the Nanoha movie. The stories will mostly come in one-shots or shorter multi-parts but I needed some sort of frame to smack all later stories on, and so I decided to use Fate to introduce my little piece of the Nanoha fandom.

Now dear reader, let not my rant dwindle your task at hand; sit back, grab a drink and get yourselves comfy. Let me tell you a tale of the many significances to life, small and great alike. Let me tell you about the sun and wind in the depth of a soul and the freedom that comes with flight. Let me tell you a story...

When I Think About Flying

A Nanoha Story

Written by Shigan

"No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings."

William Blake

-.-.-

Part 1

-.-.-

Fate Testarossa Harlaown was at peace.

Brushing off the last crumbs of the picnic, she stood in the dry grass of the Mid-Childan high summer, watching the three women in her sky. The sound of a child's laughter cut through air and she smiled fondly when the voice of her love and spouse Nanoha joined in.

She watched while Nanoha and Vivio patiently guided their youngest family member through her first steps of flight. Both children were using temporary devices issued to the fledgling mages, providing them with a rudimentary barrier jacket. Fate's smile grew when the little girl stretched her tiny arms and legs while her face was scrunched up in concentration. Her daughter hovered a few inches above the ground, kicking and flailing, trying to reach her sister and mother.

The toddler wailed, looking exasperated and frustrated as she stared up at her older sibling. Vivio's sleek form crossed through the air, encouraging little Sora with delighted hoots while Nanoha was urging her daughter along with kind words and gestures.

It was a brilliant day with only speckles of clouds breaking the sky and Fate felt her heart lighten as she watched them.

She remembered her own initial struggles with flying. It had been a difficult and exciting moment, the skill of flight worked quite differently from other magics, and while it didn't exactly mark you as a powerful mage it gave an unimaginable freedom. She remembered looking into Linith's kind eyes when she for the first time stepped into the air, trembling in hands promising her safety. The sky had been pale then in the early winter and her mentor's hands seemed to be her only source of warmth.

She became a skilful aerial mage but flying had never come naturally to her. It had taken months of training and fine-tuning before she could perform even the most basic of combat forms in the air. But she had pressed on and forged her skills, to not master the art would have been to disappoint mother and that would be unforgivable. She learned to love flying and feel the cut of the wind. It had always been her friend in the air, no matter how cold or relentless. She loved the sound and feel of it as she let it ravage her skin and loved it even more for carrying her, letting her climb both higher and beyond her limits, again and again.

Arf had once told her that wolves believed the winds to be the bringer of good and whimsical things, but only if you listened to it carefully and let it ask of you one request. She had treasured that story as a child, when a word or an appreciative glance from mother would have meant more than the sun.

Vivio streaked past above laughing as Sora toppled after her, the child's auburn hair whipping into her face. Fate giggled at the adorable sight. How ironic she thought, that their youngest who grew to look more like Nanoha every day would not have her birthmother's natural affinity for flight.

Another cry of joy echoed through the air as her oldest swished past them, avoiding a particularly menacing tree-branch by the skin of her teeth. The girl showed no signs to wait for her sister whatsoever as she zigzagged through air, throwing her body into a double somersault sure to make Nanoha proud. That one was bound for trouble. On the contrary to Sora, Vivio's skill was pure Nanoha. The girl had bounced into the skies as if she belonged there all along. Fate remembered plenty of occasions spent chasing her out of the sky, if only to get her to land and have dinner.

Then, there was Nanoha, her love and life for almost a decade. Fate rested her thoughts because there were simply no words that could make Nanoha's affinity for flight justice. Nanoha flew like the wind blew, simple and natural. She reminded Fate of the late summer storms, hot-tempered but benevolent in strength as they swept in the rain.

She had followed Nanoha's career from a wide-eyed fledgling to her rise through the aces, through hard battles and even harder choices, deep despair and the breaking of her body. Always one step behind her beloved in the air, Fate knew Nanoha's ability the best. Nanoha didn't fly; she soared and did so with the burning intensity of a deep-space sun. She did not command the sky but lived and breathed it like a cloud.

She loved her wings and Fate loved to see her flying.

A scared whimper suddenly grew to cry when Sora lost grasp of her spell and predictably tumbled into a free fall. The toddler wailed in frightened abandon and fell, straight into Fate's waiting arms. The enforcer gathered the trembling small body, kissing the girl lightly on her sweaty forehead to sooth her. The child smelled of dirt and something sugary, clinging to her helplessly. Claret eyes, almond-shaped like Nanoha's perked up at the sight of her rescuer and her face broke into a toothy, shy grin.

Something tightened in Fate's chest at the sight. Her long-term deployments had cost her a great many firsts of her daughter's infancy. Her duty was a strict one and could take her away for months but it made the small discoveries she made about her daughters all the more special.

Sora was going to have her ears. And while Vivio liked to call them car doors, Fate knew her baby would be beautiful.

"Hey," Nanoha landed beside her and leaned in for a brief kiss. "Where were you right now?"

"Just thinking." Fate smiled and accepted the gesture. It had been far too long since she spent time with her family.

"Oh," Nanoha's face fell into a mock-pout. "More work?"

"Heavens no, those cases are as closed as close can be. I'm just happy to be able to be here. I know it means a lot to you."

Nanoha nodded understandingly.

"We'll need to thank Chrono later, I'm glad he managed to juggle your assignments a bit. You were owed some vacation time anyway, so why not now for our anniversary right?"

"Anniveshury!" Sora laughed, looking between her two mothers. Nanoha ruffled her hair affectionately.

Fate nodded. In truth, she had wanted to be there for her next mission regarding a stolen piece of Logia. The suspect was the original owner's young son who had also disappeared. While the Logia was not classified as dangerous it had still piqued her interest. She had fidgeted in front of her terminal for days before putting the case to a rest, trusting Teana to see it to completion. Her work would always be a part of her, Nanoha knew this and Fate could not have asked for a more understanding wife. With both of them in the organisation there would always be duty, and while the sacrifice was hard it was something they both had come to accept.

There were times however when Nanoha would ask Fate to come home, and so she did. She still found it hard to refuse Nanoha anything.

"Nyaaaa!" Fate had to steady her grip around the bouncy three years old in her arms while the little one giggled and kicked with her legs. "Mama loves mama!"

Nanoha perked up at her daughter's words. "Oooh, she's a sharp one isn't she? I think we might be related. Yes honey, mama sure does."

Fate felt the air leave her lungs when Nanoha's face broke into one of those smiles, making her legs go all rubbery as if she was fourteen again.

"We should go flying." She said suddenly, the words had come automatically as in response to her love's smile. Nanoha looked surprised at first, because between Fate's deployments, her own duties and the daily humdrums that came with raising two children, she could barely remember the last time she had heard those words. Her face softened, and then nodded understandingly.

"We should." She said, as her smile turned into the suggestively impish grin that seemed to be a Takamachi trademark. Fate felt blood rush to her face.

-.-.-.-.-

The saying went that time healed all wounds. Fate couldn't be sure, being so awfully young. But as the days and months passed Precia's betrayal seemed all the more like a distant memory, a place she was destined to leave and never return to. Sometimes the pain was still acute, but it grew more and more distant as her new life began to take shape. The impressions of cracking whips and the break of her skin began to fade, slowly, but undoubtedly as the presence of her new family grew.

There was the soft rustling of Arf's breath and her new brother's gentle voice when he came to wake her in the mornings. Amy's slightly pitched voice in the kitchen, humming quietly in song while she readied their breakfast. Then there was Lindy's rare presence in their home when the admiral was on leave and would become mother, with all of what the word meant with awkward questions and large dinners. It was something as simple as a group of people sharing meals and space and the stuff of living, and through this, Fate was healing.

Somewhere in her heart however, Fate doubted she could ever love Lindy like the memory in her had loved Precia. There were things to a childhood you could never erase.

Then, there was Nanoha.

Fate did not understand attraction then but she would know it better than most. She did not understand Nanoha and her relentless attempts to befriend and reach through her walls. Nanoha had a normal life with friends and family, good people who filled the girl with an endless supply of happiness which she readily shared with the world. She would not understand what the brunette saw in her for a great many years to come.

She did understand however that when Nanoha smiled Fate would always think of sunlight, and while the brunette had been the one to chase her so stubbornly, Fate knew she would be the one to never let go.

-.-.-.-.-.-

"Focus, Testarossa!"

The sword came from above, sweeping for her head. She avoided it barely by throwing herself flat on the ground when a kick almost snapped her neck. She pushed herself away, up, feeling the muscles of her arm tear in pain as she landed on her feet, fumbling for balance. Bardiche felt heavy in her hands, the familiar gray of his handle seemed leaden as she gripped the sword-form stiffly en garde. Another blow from Signum's sword rang in her ears as she instinctively threw up her weapon in defence. This time, the older woman's strength proved superior and she fell.

The sweat trickled in her hair, gathering in small droplets at the nape of her neck where they ran down the slope of her clothed back. Did she still have a back? She could not feel it. The dirt pressed against her face, getting everywhere with each and every breath she painstakingly braved, into her clothes, mouth, nose, eyes oh god. Still, the grainy feeling of it came as a relief. The burning stickiness of sweat mixed with saliva, forming a vile salty mess, caked, and layered over her lips. She spat it out, almost retching in the effort.

Salt was good. It proved a good distraction from the pain that burnt in her side. Or at least gave her something else to focus on while she rolled away from the knight in a desperate attempt to salvage the battle.

Her feet found hold at last and she coiled her body, sensing the approach of her opponent as she readied her weapon. A burning stab of more pain exploded in her leg, the agony near blinding her. This made her oddly at peace and she welcomed it as a friend. She thought the wetness on her cheeks might have been tears, but that was not important.

There was a rumbling in her chest and she realized she was screaming, a deep, throaty sound like an animal, devoid of sense and reason. Signum stared at her and shouted something, her face frozen in fury. Or she thought she did. It was getting harder and harder to see but the blur of purple was advancing at her. Fate acted. She launched herself into the air, feeling the burn of her body working without magic, swinging Bardiche in a wide diagonal arc for Signum's torso while she spit out something tasting of copper.

What met her was not the steel-gray of Laevatein but a punch. The world moved very slowly as Signum easily stepped through the path of her blade, ramming her fist knuckle-first into Fate's cheek and throwing her head back with a crack.

Another flash and the knight was suddenly there again, blue to her claret, only to abruptly deliver a knee into her lower belly. She staggered, refusing to fall. There was a wheezing sort of sound and she realized that it was her own breathing. No pain, strangely, but the sound of tissue giving out and what she thought must be her organs gnashing against ribs. Fate's guard had been down and the blow struck true, slamming into her solar plexus with a resonating thud before she was thrown backwards onto the grass. The world spun, twisted and she threw up, breathed, and threw up again. The knight of the sword stood over her, watching, with something akin to deep pity.

Finally, with her belly emptied and the cool touch of grass against her head, Fate's senses returned.

"…is time you went too far. You could have killed her!" Shamal's distraught voice broke through the mist. The swordswoman offered no rebuke at her partner's outburst.

"Pathetic Testarossa, do you hear me?" Signum glared at Fate, her voice was thick with contempt. "Look at yourself and tell me honestly if you ever believed you could beat me like you are now?"

"Signum!"

"Quiet Shamal." The leader's voice was trembling with rage as she stood by Fate's fallen body. "Is this it, Testarossa? Is this how you honour her while she fights for her life? By failing your goals and becoming a pitiful animal that rolls in her own pain as if it is all that mattered in the world? Would she have wanted this if she was awake and whole?"

Fate glared back at her, then looked down to the ground, trying to ignore the ebbs of heartbreak that threatened to overpower physical pain. The knight of course, showed little mercy.

"You dishonour her while she battles death alone, where none of us can aid her. You dishonour your family and friends and their faith in you to be strong. You dishonour Bardiche and the very art someone taught you by using them in disgrace and anger. You dishonour me by daring to use me as an excuse to become a beast, unable to look beyond her own selfish needs." Signum drew a long, bitter breath. She sheathed her sword with a hollow bang before turning her back to the girl she knew would be great. "And in finality, you dishonour yourself and the dreams you have worked so hard for. You deride achievements you've come to reach and in doing so you belittle everything you are and could ever be."

"Do not come before me again Testarossa, lay still and hurt and be your animal. Let the pain accompany you for a while and see if it truly is your friend." The knight said and her words were smooth like glass, shattered yet sharp. "If you rise with integrity then we shall fight again, but if you stay an animal it will be me who kill you. That's the least I can do for her in repentance for Vita's failure."

The older woman strode away without giving Fate's broken form a second glance, Shamal stayed behind to activate her healing spells before she too left quietly. Only then did Fate manage to muster the energy to sit up. Her whole body still felt like a bruise and her left cheek was swollen. Two of her teeth felt threateningly loose.

She thought of Signum's words as she nurtured the dull pain all over her body, nausea overcame her as she tried to stand. The evening had broken into night and she looked up to see the spring constellations lit up through the dark. She felt her heart grew numb, wondering how long it had been since she flew beneath them.

Several blocks away, Takamachi Nanoha lay in her hospital bed, seemingly asleep to the soft beeps of machines. Raising Heart rested around her neck, like its master it was quiet, as if waiting for someone to walk through the door.

-.-.-.-.-.-

Fate's second duel with Signum took place three months later.

Breaking out of her depression had not been an easy task but with support and love, Fate had persevered. The combat mage in her was by then more than eager for a rematch. She retook her enforcer's test and passed, much to Lindy's joy, and would soon be assigned to a ship for cadet duties. Nanoha's room stopped being a place of despair. Fate visited often but did no longer grieve. She would spend afternoons in her sleeping friend's presence, finishing homework and talk about the small things her life consisted of, hoping that Nanoha, wherever she was could hear her.

The sadness was still there, a terrible sense of absence when she looked at the girl who belonged with the sky. Nanoha's vitals had long-since stabilized but she also grew weaker and Fate realized there may come a day when time could no longer heal her friend. This terrified her even when she swore to no longer let the grief define who she was.

She would live while Nanoha slept.

She would fly where her friend could no longer go.

But first, there was Signum.

Their fight had been a harrowing affair, and she would always wonder how the outcome would have been if not for Shamal. The engineer corps spent two weeks rebuilding damaged structures, the complaint from other organisational sections caused a diplomatic rage and two buildings reported power outages lasting several hours. On the top of that, both combatants had suffered injuries severe enough to land them in intensive care for roughly forty-six hours each, taking them out of commission for weeks.

They might as well have grown them new limbs and organs while they were at it, as Shamal would later say. Hayate had been furious.

"It was a worthy battle." Signum would later say, and for once she would not cave before her Mistress's burning glare. "The second of the kind I've had in my life."

To that, Fate could not argue. There were things one could only be convey in battle and she knew Nanoha would agree. Waving off a still upset Hayate, she turned to the two knights in her hospital room.

"Let sparks lit a fire, I believe your saying goes. I'm sure your masters would be proud." Shamal commented dryly, inspecting the yards upon yards of bandages covering the knight. She looked over at the blonde who looked no better. "I'm glad you feel better Fate-san, since I don't believe the TSAB will sponsor more of our Signum-branded therapy."

Fate felt her throat thicken in gratitude. In truth, her behaviour had been that of a spoiled, self-righteous brat. She had been a disgrace at best and while Fate could understand her reaction logically, she found it hard to forgive herself. That, Shamal had explained, was not to be Fate's concern. The fact stood that Signum never gave up on her as a warrior. It was a debt repaid and a trust not lightly invested, and so she would do best to live with the honour.

It was a heavy concept to digest and Shamal's words would stay with her for a many years. She and Signum would share numerous battles and never did she break this wordless faith. Friendship, she discovered, could come in many different forms. The fight had nearly killed them both. Thinking back however, Fate came to remember it as a beginning.

It was the blood they forged on that day which would change a small part of the future. That day, Fate learned of the knightly Blades.

Warriors of the old, Shamal would tell her, neither knights nor soldiers but students of the art who followed strict personal codes of justice and conduct. A Blade dedicated their life to the perfection of their skill, and by the teachings of their respective orders always entered combat with sacrifice in their heart.

Fate was not surprised to hear that Signum belonged to one such order. They were called The Ring of Fire, becausewhat touched must be burned. The knight's face became distant at the mention of her past.

"Death is not the goal but the sacrifice," she had said. "The price one might pay for the perfect battle. If I died such a way, it would not have been a wasted life. You did me great honour by giving me this chance, I live and am a better Blade for it."

This confused Fate. Did they go through their life seeking death? Hoping it would prove them better warriors?

No, she explained. The Blades served in many occupations in ancient Belka, protectors in the true sense of the word, be it through their weapons or other skills. Signum had been a royal knight with duties to her country, but before such came her integrity as a Blade, the loyalty to herself and the person she strived to be. Skill, conduct, personality, goals, relations; the Blade was the person in the same sense a mind belonged to the body. There was no easy way to describe it.

"If you wish Testarossa, I could teach you."

Signum's offer had come like a strike from the blue. Fate gaped. Shamal stared at her fellow knight.

"With no master of the order, it is…"

"I am what's left of the order Shamal. If not me, then who?" Signum looked at the doctor pointedly, then to the blonde. Fate realized that band-aids and bruises did not dull the intensity of the knight's stare the slightest. "What do you say?"

For some reason, Fate found her face breaking into a wide smile, the truest one she had smiled in a long while.

"If it means I get to spar with you daily, I say yes." She grinned and noticed that her cheeks hurt from the motion. Signum merely nodded though Fate swore her eyes softened for a bit. "You mentioned I was the second one to give you such a fight. Do you mind me asking who your first was?"

To her surprise, Shamal was the one to laugh in an outburst of genuine mirth while the swordknight suddenly looked uncomfortable.

"Not who, but what. She sought out and fought a Tengu."

Now it was Fate's turn to stare.

"Yes, the Mid-Childian legends named after the folklore of Earth, intelligent beast warriors of the mountains. I believe they've been extinct for a while now." Shamal said while retrieving a heap of fresh bandages and piled them on Signum's bed.

"But… but those are fairy tales!" Fate exclaimed and looked over at the swordswoman, whom despite her apparent discomfort did not deny it. "Beasts with long noses, horns and masters of sword arts!"

"Oh no Fate-san, the Tengu were quite real back then when Signum and I were young. The adults of our time would use them to scare the children to stay out of the forests, and only the very foolish or very desperate would actually challenge them as game."

"But you fought one, why?"

"Shamal, I don't really think it is necessary to…" Signum tried weakly but was briskly shushed.

"It is mine as much as it is your story to tell."

The world grew very unreal as Signum looked down at her sheets as Shamal begun to recount the deeds of their youth. Stuck in the endless boredom of a sickbed, Fate couldn't have stopped listening if she so wanted to. And why would she want that?

"Signum was a Spark back then, which is what the students of her order call themselves when they still follow a master. She did not become a knight until her skills were scouted, so when we first met, she was still a child-in-learning." Shamal began while squeezing a generous dollop of disinfectant onto her palms. "And she was an avid student as you would expect, brash and a quick study, certainly no lack of confidence either. I thought she was a prime candidate for the royal knights, very gallant and proud like they wanted them. So when she one day decided to pursue a certain Lake Knight's attentions, she thought the best way to do so would be to challenge a dangerous beast to prove herself worthy of the honour."

"So off she went, and was gone for nine days and nights. Finally, when her masters and friends had given her up for dead, the Lake Knight found her by the forest's edge with a broken arm and nearly bled to death. It took them ninemore days to save her life and months for her to make a recovery."

"And the Tengu? Did she defeat it?" Fate asked as expected of a combat mage.

"No, but she did return with a Tengu sword in her hand. It made her quite the name among her peers."

"Then what about the Lake Knight? She must have thought her brave!"

Shamal chuckled when she realized how young the enforcer really was. Stuff of a good story would always bind those young of heart, and in that sense, Fate was really nothing but a child caught up in an adventure.

"She was very upset with Signum and wanted to smack her hard. In reality you see, the Lake Knights follow a very different code than those of the Blades. She had in fact been willing to have Signum all along, and would have been perfectly fine without all the old talk of honour and propriety."

"Ooh," Fate cooed. "But I'm sure Signum was cool like that."

"May I inform you two of that I'm still present in this room?" The knight snorted, slightly annoyed.

Fate giggled at her new mentor before asking keenly. "So how does the story end?"

The doctor smiled gently while she spread some ointment over Signum's bruised face, caressing the younger woman's sharp features while she considered her answer. Truth was that she had made up her mind the very day when the fifteen-years-old Signum strode into the Watery Halls, heart set on an impossible and potentially fatal quest to prove herself worthy of Shamal's favour.

The Healers of the Deep Lakes were sought for their defensive arts, but also as company due to their somewhat controversial training as night companions. Shamal had by her seventeenth winter lost count of her offers, all promising her of good positions at courts or with generals who wished for a 'female Lake Knight of good repute' to be their personal attendant.

She had never been squeamish about this particular aspect of her training. After all, it was their function to heal both minds and bodies. They too, were knights of the laws and with the law there was duty. It was an expense to themselves one wordlessly accepted, a part of their sacrifice, though not necessarily an unpleasant one.

She remembered how students of other orders like Signum's would seek them out at night, both for the treatment of wounds and other comforts. The students of the Lakes did not mind. They were all young back then, and it was a ritual to their culture. Shamal had enjoyed the brief romantic encounters when the young Blades would tell of their heroics while she dressed their wounds.

Then there had been Signum, a rangy, quiet girl with wild eyes and wilder hair, who upon setting her eyes on Shamal would look at nothing but her.

Raised by the order from a young age, Signum had always valued action before words. The proud girl never spoke her thoughts but had established her intents clearly, though mostly through her fists and sword. On the upside, it gave the Spark a valid reason to seek her out. Shamal recalled fondly the quiet girl at her door, marred with fresh wounds to be tended. The downside however, was the drama.

Shamal remembered numerous preventable brawls where Signum had persistently fought off every single one of the Lake Knight's suitors, calling them unworthy in awkward but dignified flusters. The healer in her had not been amused. This went on until one day Shamal, tired and exasperated of this circus, yelled at the girl to act on her intentions if she ever had any, or so help her, she would run away with the first knight to walk by and call her 'dama'.

It was not meant to be a mistake.

Signum had stood silent for the longest time, holding Shamal with the most solemn gaze. And when she finally spoke and made her pledge, Shamal wanted nothing else but to activate Klarwind and knock her straight across the great hall. The potential danger of the quest was not lost on the young healer, but to say so would be to compromise Signum's honour and that she could never do.

The Spark left the following morning, most likely to die and there had been nothing Shamal could have done. The wait had been torture and she near shattered when Signum was proclaimed lost. Among their friends, the doctor understood Fate's grief and persistence the best.

So when Signum returned, as good as dead and under the threat of losing her left arm, Shamal had poured her soul and wind into making the younger woman whole and refused to settle for anything less. When the would-be knight woke on the ninth harrowing, sleepless day, Shamal had accepted her mule-headed claim to her on the spot.

Fate looked at her expectantly, eager for the rest of the tale and looking every bit her thirteen years.

"I don't know Fate-san. Their story hasn't ended yet, but the Lake Knight is very happy."

Shamal's expression was downright sunny when she spoke. Signum made a barely audible noise from her bed as the enforcer looked at them from one to another, realization slowly hitting her between the eyes.

"Oh," she gaped, and then spluttered. "Ooh! She fought for you!"

-.-.-.-.-.-

Things were never easy, not even when they went well.

Nanoha woke up after eight months spent in coma and she did so to a body no longer hers. There had been no shortcuts for the path she needed to tread and the time that followed had consisted of everlasting toil and tears. Fate had been there, or tried her best to, as her heart bled for her friend who had become too weak to even sit without assistance.

She stayed through Nanoha's depressions and moods, and sat through nights when the brunette's anger became unreasonable and cruel. Fate stayed and became a comfort and anchor, a presence Nanoha could hold on to on her worst days.

It was a challenge like none she had faced before, but Fate stayed, and held Nanoha and told her one day everything would be alright.

-.-.-.-

Part 2

-.-.-

Puberty was supposed to be a world shaking, life-alternating thing.

Fate had watched older kids grow and settle into their changing bodies and hadn't envied them. Chrono in particular had had a horrible time with his voice. It had been a few difficult years for the young enforcer when he could barely call a command without sounding like a coarse windpipe. Amy in particular, had found it difficult to keep a straight face.

So when Fate finally hit the years of endless dreading herself, she was a little worried. Her body seemed set on denying her anything dramatic however as she slowly shot up in height and felt herself change in the places she was supposed to. She had a nose where there was supposed to be one, breasts that were in no particular hurry to swell and no legs that doggedly refused to look like anything but twigs. She was, to be honest, a little disappointed when she realized that perhaps there would be no huge revolution to how she had always looked.

Lindy would pull her in front of the mirror and chuckle as if she was seeing something Fate couldn't. The woman had once looked into her eyes, telling her absently that her face was made to cry. Bewildered, Fate had been too stunned to inquire further. It was Yuuno who recognized the quote and showed her the old poems about the noble queens of ancient Belka, the wars fought to their great beauty and the sorrow those battles had caused.

Was she beautiful? Fate asked herself that question as she stared critically into the mirror and tried to picture herself as one of the gorgeous, confident women on the television. The world in general seemed to think that beauty was important.

Did it matter if she was?

She was after all a mage and bound to obligations of her own choice, a military personal and an agent for a greater good. Did it really even matter if her lips were glossy and her skin was soft?

The effort seemed rather futile to her. Having curls in her hair would not fasten her battlespeed nor refine her technique with Bardiche. Lipstick and mascara would not help her get the upper hand when Signum relentlessly struck her to the ground. Her skin was flawed and always covered by nearly healed bruises, so did it really matter if she was pretty or not?

Probably not. Face for crying or whatever.

Fate would probably have settled her opinion with that simple an answer if not for Nanoha. Her friend's own trials with puberty was getting rather complicated and rapidly pulling the blonde along. She had begun to notice the changes in her friend's appearance, and while the same changes looked drab on her own body they truly made Nanoha glow. This made the blonde's gut pinch in a funny way, hence the complication.

Nanoha's natural sweetness had only boosted since her body caught up with her mind, and her friend was blossoming radiantly. Fate had with no small remorse expected to watch her friend being snatched away by the droves of mooning suitors, but again, the brunette proved to be special.

The surprise came when she noticed that the onset of admirers did not actually take her friend's time away, but pushed them closer. For every boy (or girl!) that worked up their courage to express their interest in Nanoha, the more the brunette would withdraw and spend her time with Fate. She always let her admirers down gently but Fate grew worried as time passed. She really wanted what was best for Nanoha, and while spending less time with the girl who was her sun would hurt, Fate was willing to make the sacrifice if it meant for her friend to have a date.

She did enjoy the closer proximity though, and she was pitifully happy when the brunette would hide with her from the overwhelming attention.

At first it seemed all her happy imaginings were playing a prank. Nanoha had always been the more physical of them, a trait you perhaps acquired naturally when growing-up among a loving family. Fate did certainly not mind. She did however notice the small changes to their relationship when Nanoha's hugs begun to last just a little longer, their morning greetings grew just a little more affectionate and her grip became a little tighter while walking hand in hand. She noticed Nanoha looking at her at times, with a far off expression that made Fate wonder if she had something on her face.

Fate liked this evolution and it made her heart beat just a little faster when Nanoha was near. The room would always seem a little brighter when her friend walked in, and when Nanoha smiled Fate thought the sky seemed so much higher.

When she told Hayate of her observations, the shorter girl had nearly sprayed banana milk all over her laptop laughing. The class-rep had refused to offer her an explanation but wished Fate the best of the devil's luck, leaving Fate more confused than ever.

Things stayed like this for a while and would probably have remained so, if not for meddling of schoolwork and the physics of gravity. For Fate, what she first believed to be her world shaking, life-alternating event came in the form of a late study session turned sleep-over at her home. They had dodged the dreads of end term cramming for weeks and were finally going to bed after a long afternoon of linear algebra.

They were used to sharing a bed since childhood and had continued this tradition despite their newfound edginess around each other. Nanoha would simply stretch herself out beside Fate, limbs sprawled and oblivious to the world, her personality intact even in sleep.

That night however, the arrangements had been slightly different. Nanoha had claimed the bed space closest to the door and showed no sign of moving which efficiently trapped Fate between the wall and the snoring Takamachi. This was all fine and dandy until it forced Fate to lean over the other girl to reach and set her alarm. Granted, if the prodigal enforcer in her had been her rational self she might just have asked Nanoha to do it for them. Her teenaged body however willed it different.

Perhaps the prospect of coming closer to Nanoha's willowy form had been a tad bit too exciting, or the temptation of seeing her sleeping up close a little too sweet. Whatever the cause, Fate lost her battle and thus set forces beyond her control in motion.

She stretched out one arm while doing her best to support her weight on the other, reaching over Nanoha carefully and quietly to not disturb her. The soft puffs of the brunette's breathe pushed gently against her ear. She shuddered as warm skin suddenly pressed against her abdomen and reminded her of how dangerously close they were. A thousand impossible thoughts danced through Fate's mind then; and though she knew her soul might be lost, she lowered her gaze to look at Takamachi Nanoha.

And merciful heavens, she was beautiful.

Nanoha was awake. Gentle cobalt eyes were fixed on her, open and calm, grasping desperately to be strong. The strength she saw! The power she knew could raze the skies and triumph death lay before her, frightened of her, and fighting her greatest battle. That night, Nanoha took one step forwards and opened herself to the possibility of rejection.

Fate's hand missed the alarm clock. The motion lowered her body by the fraction of an inch.

Pressure pushed against Fate's lungs. She gasped helplessly when she felt their breasts brush against each other so briefly, paralyzing her while her brain scrambled in panicked nonsense. Fate forgot how to move, and things would probably have remained that way if not for Nanoha.

The ace let out a trembling sigh as she reached up, slowly, as if she wanted to give Fate a chance to escape what none of them would be able to walk away from. It was a small act, but she did so with compassion so gentle it broke Fate's heart. The enforcer in her told her desperately to retreat in the face of so many unknown variables; the woman in her stayed and let destiny take its swing.

Fate breathed heavily when she felt Nanoha's arms encircle her waist, crushing their bodies together, close, close, until she was no longer able to distinguish where she ended and Nanoha begun. None of them moved for the longest time as they lay there, holding each other and listening to the other's breathing.

There was no denying the raw attraction they felt as every brush of limbs erased the slow torture they had been bottling for months. Fate fought for air as she felt her body meld against Nanoha, feeling ever swell and dale of the brunette's body pressed hotly against her.

"Fate-chan…?" Nanoha's voice, frail with emotions broke through the haze.

"Yes?" She whispered breathlessly in dread. Did Nanoha regret it? Was it just a spur of the moment?

The brunette quickly dispelled her fears when she brushed a hand through Fate's hair. And again, Nanoha proved to be the brave one. "I think I am in love with you." She said, more like a statement than a plea.

Fate stared. It was rare to see Nanoha so vulnerable, her voice trembled with fright and she realized how much courage those words must have taken. She continued: "Not friend-love like we've been but in love, you know. Like the boyfriend-girlfriend kind, but I guess this would be girlfriend-girlfriend instead." She giggled nervously. "I… I hope its ok."

"Mmh," Fate nodded into Nanoha's neck, lost for words while she hugged her friend even harder. Finally, her tears found their way. She wondered if it truly could be joy that hurt so badly and she said no more, holding onto what she knew had always been her most precious thing in the world.

Fate did not give Nanoha an answer that night, and on the contrary to cheap romance novels, nothing aside from sleep happened. The next morning, Fate woke up in her best-friend-turned-something-more's arms and they got up, prepared for school and walked there holding hands. A few noticed the change in their interaction but chose not to comment. They had always been close.

They would spend a great many more nights holding each other, dodging their respective families or just kissing until their teenaged brains exploded a little and leaked out through their ears. Fate wouldn't answer Nanoha for a long time to come, mostly because she didn't quite know what to say and she had always been shy.

They didn't date much but tried to synch their missions as much as possible. They made out, and sometimes when too many pieces of their clothing came off, one would break off to stop the other. The natural connection between them deepened while they tried to take it slow. Their relationship was as intense and careless as it was responsible and devoted. They were young, most likely in love and acted every bit the ardent, besotted couple.

It was then Fate realized that she did care about being beautiful. She would perhaps never really be into make-up and lipgloss and having perfect, porcelain skin, but she learned that there was a great many facets to what it meant to be beautiful. She observed that while her face might be made for crying, to Nanoha she would always be Fate, and this was far more important than any world shaking, life-alternating thing.

Fate told Nanoha she loved her on a Tuesday. She did so after returning from mission that could have gone better and walked straight into Nanoha's arms. After that they kissed more deeply than they had previously done before. They were growing up as their bodies changed, and while neither of them was ready to take the final step into adult intimacy they acknowledged they would eventually, and at the moment it was enough.

She and Nanoha were very much in love but beyond love there was still life. There were their careers as TSAB officers, the S-rank exams and the approach of adulthood stretching on and on, but between now and then lay adolescence and school and the friends they had come to depend on. Some things could be learned while some needed to be lived. None of them saw the need to hurry.

Fate was in love she realized, and it was Nanoha who made her beautiful.

-.-.-.-.-.-

"Fate-mama?"

Fate turned to meet a familiar pair of heterochromatic eyes and she smiled reflexively. At the age of twelve, Vivio was outgrowing the baby-fat on her cheeks and had gotten taller, which was nice since it made her more convenient to hug.

"Yes, Vi?"

The pair stood by a huge, magically generated training field and watched as Nanoha soared through the sky, belting Subaru with one shooter after another while the younger woman fought desperately to stay afloat. Fate thought the Nakajima was doing fairly well, all things considered. Vivio aah-ed knowingly when a huge, pink explosion suddenly rocked through the field.

"You met Nanoha-mama when you were nine, right?" The girl asked discreetly as the dust settled.

"I did. Sure brings back memories." Fate's smile widened.

"How did you know she was the one?"

Fate's brows jumped a notch in surprise. Did Vivio just ask her what she thought she did? The girl looked up at her mother expectantly with a typical Vivio-face, open, focused and just a little naive. It was in all a good thing Vivio took after the Takamachi branch of the family.

Fate considered her question and decided that her daughter was old enough for a real answer. She and Nanoha hadn't been much older than Vivio was now when they started dating. Hayate of course, had spun their story into a wild romantic tale of youth and legends. Vivio grew up with those tales and while Nanoha encouraged this happily, Fate did not. So her girl had gotten old enough to ask for a first-hand account? Very well then, so be it.

"I didn't." She answered truthfully.

"Really?"

"Really. Why so surprised? We were nine. In Japan and most of Earth, that's not even middle school."

"Well, Nanoha-mama said you whooped her with the Scythe of Love and she's been besotted ever since." Vivio said cheerfully.

Fate laughed. "That's not exactly how I remember it but it's very close. I did whoop her good the first two times we met. But to answer your question, no, I didn't know she would be anyone at first. She was another mage, and an enemy to boot. We fought and she won, then your grandmother dragged me off to court. You already know all of this."

"So when did you know?"

"You have to be more specific. When did I know what exactly? Are you asking me when I knew I was in love, or when I knew we would stay together and be a family?"

Vivio's face blanked a little.

"There's a difference?"

"Yes. A very big one too."

"How so? I thought staying with someone and marrying them was a part of being in love."

"It is, but at the same time it is not." Fate explained cryptically. "Your mother and I loved each other for a very long time, but we didn't take the last plunge until we had you."

"I don't understand." Vivio complained in a voice Fate remembered well, the ice cream voice. "You wouldn't have married Nanoha-mama if it wasn't for me?"

"I don't know honestly." Fate continued while Vivio stared at her, horrified. "I wasn't being very fair to Nanoha back then. She was always at home, and even when she wasn't I was always on the top of her priorities while I went off all over the universe to enforce things. It was as difficult for her as it was important to me, and while I loved her I could never be entirely sure how long we could keep it up. It's all part of being an adult, Vi. We had different dreams of what we wanted to do with our magic. Nanoha's just kept her more conveniently at home for a healthy relationship, while I..."

"Was living the secret agent dream?" Vivio grinned knowingly. "I watch the telly shows you know. It really does sound grand, Fate-mama. All the infiltration missions and cocktail parties and whatnot, do you guys really seduce people undercover?"

"No," Fate replied blandly, cursing the media representation of the job. "We do not."

"Sorry." The girl said. "Though I could just be sorryfor you, heh."

"You spend way too much time around your aunt. I recognize Hayate's brand of unsound wit."

"Hey, if said wit is gonna make me a general someday, I'm all for it. Let's go back to the topic, mama. When did you know, before I came along?"

Fate hmm-ed thoughtfully and looked up. It was a nice day and the sky would be deep with good winds. It reminded her of another evening, when the streaks of pink and white had whirled around her while Nanoha laughed and chased her through the clouds. The brunette's slim form had been aglow with her magic, finally recovered to her full potential. They had raced through the night until the sun broke and burned the clouds into an ocean of red. For that moment, all worries were forgotten and rested with the ground. In the air there was only flying.

When they finally landed they were both frozen stiff and had bellies rumbling with laughter. Fate had uncaringly wiped her runny nose and could not have been happier. Her Nanoha was whole.

"I can't say exactly. You mother was always there for me as I for her, I did my best at least. Not because we were madly in love but because we were best friends and cared for each other deeply. The madly in love part came later. She showed it more, which made it easier for me." She explained, and Vivio noticed how her mother's face grew gentle. "I think I always knew, even before I was old enough to understand the feeling."

There was a slight pause as the girl took this in.

"Weeell, that's about as clear as mud." Vivio commented wryly. "So you never had a defining moment? Not a big 'Ahaa!'-sort of thing?"

"If I said I did, would it help you?"

"Mou! Even Sora is going to find someone before me!" Vivio groaned and flailed her arms in exasperation.

"Don't be ridiculous, your sister is still in pre-school."

"Exactly! I mean, by our family standards, she should hit her big one in less than four years! You and Nanoha-mama set the bar way to high, or early, depending on how you look at it."

"That's four years for you too, plenty of time." The enforcer pointed out.

Vivio made a face. "But then I'll be sixteen! I'm supposed to have moved on to the… the advanced stuff by then!"

"…what advanced stuff?" Fate asked a little fearfully.

"The aunt Hayate sort of advanced stuff, combat tactics excluded. She told me you guys were already all over the bases by the time you hit junior high." Vivio sighed in obvious, overwrought drama. "I am sooo behind. Hey— Fate-mama? Where are you going?""

"Aunt Hayate and I are going to have a talk." Fate replied firmly but with an odd smile, likely the one she used during her work as chief investigator Harlaown when facing down rampant mages and wanted felons. Vivio was smart enough to shudder at the sight of it.

"Can I come?" She asked weakly, sending her favourite aunt many mental apologies.

"No, stay here and watch your mother for me. She likes the attention."

As if on cue, Nanoha blew up a building.

-.-.-.-.-.-.-

A few years later when Vivio had gotten old enough to draw her own admirers (setting Nanoha off on a motherly rampage of over-protectiveness), Fate found herself often looking upon the child she'd helped raising with a mix of pride and worry. Vivio took after Nanoha, taking the world in stride armed with little more than a smile, a well-rooted belief in her own abilities and stubborn faith in the goodness in all things.

Fate watched her daughter grow tall and bloom, and saw her fend off the awkward affections of moonstruck admirers with some great relief. The girl had a good head and she could only hope that when love did find Vivio, she would have the good sense to act on it wisely.

Hopefully in a more responsible way than how her mothers had done.

Not that Nanoha and she hadn't tried being responsible and taking things slowly like all the good advice said. Some things however, would always be beyond your control. Fate accepted this as a fact of living. Her mother's descent to insanity, her death and the many things she had seen during her years as an active enforcer had taught her that much. It was only instructors and free agents like Nanoha who could stalwartly keep their beliefs in that everything was redeemable, given a divine buster or two.

Fate loved her spouse to the skies and beyond, but the woman could be such an infuriating meddler.

Like now, when she fruitlessly was trying to talk their daughter into staying away from some green-eyed high schooler who raced sky-jets and owned her own vehicle. Fate could literally see the teenager's ire growing as her mother's ranted on and on about the hazards of the sport, which was rather ironic since she was married to a speedster.

Fate held her own worries. She had driven a sky-jet herself and knew the dangers. No parent would indeed wish that sport upon their teenager and if not for Sacred Heart, she would certainly have followed Nanoha's trail of motherly wail.

She was more concerned about this 'cool and in-the-know' young lady who held her daughter's attention. As Nanoha so crudely put it, Vivio did not have a Fate, and seeing their daughter run from one crush to another was aggravating Nanoha to no end. It was true that none of Vivio's flings had been nearly serious enough to justify such concerns but inexperience and youth could get to the best of them.

After all, it did happen to her mothers and that was after a promise to specifically take things bloodily slow.

The problem seemed silly now, but she and Nanoha had been best friends before they were a couple and both had been terrified to do something which would damage their relationship permanently. What they had not predicted however was that they would not suffer the initial physical awkwardness most young couples did. Nanoha and she had practically been joined at the hip since the age of nine and just being with her came to Fate as naturally as breathing. This in turn led to a whole new world of trouble when the curse of hormones struck the young Harlaown, and they had struck hard.

The TSAB began demanding her skills for longer deployments during their first year of high school. It had been tough, and juggling the stress of enforcer duty and schoolwork had taken huge chunks out of her life. Things only got worse when she rose through the ranks and the missions took her farther and farther off world. Sleep became a rarity and time with Nanoha a precious luxury.

Her first long-term deployment lasted for three months. Three months spent to by any means intervene what would have blown into total war over the remnants of lost logia. Unadministrated world #174 was a planet as far away from civilized space as one could get. With little resources and widespread poverty, the population had turned the existence of magic into a religion where mages were worshipped as holy warriors of the sun. Fate could still remember the harsh heat of the sandworld while they had fought relentlessly against natives using rudimentary but powerful magic. The battles had raged during the night while the days demanded guard duty for TSAB superiors carrying out the endless negotiations.

She remembered the child she could not save, a boy who upon coming to his senses immediately began kicking and screaming before turning his knife against her. The TSAB had been an enemy to those people, a foreign power which viciously fared war against their holy men and what Fate saw during her battles would colour her for years to come.

Then there were the good things, the small things. She remembered the taste of the first swallow of water after the break of night and the camaraderie of her fellow agents. There was the sight of the sun rising amidst the dune-sea and the smell of blooming cacti under the stars; the true assessment and confirmation of her capabilities as an investigator as they were recognized, but most undoubtedly, she remembered herself thinking of Nanoha.

Private communication had been strictly forbidden after they had arrived and assigned to their groups, and to be honest, Fate doubted she would have had the energy to talk to Nanoha even if a link had been possible. She had brought a great many stories home but most of them would remain between her and her fellow crew. Nanoha had been a warm presence at the back of her mind, a comfort during cold nights and hard obligations and something to go home to when duty was at an end.

Under the night sky of a foreign world, Fate had looked up at the stars across indefinite space and realized just how away from home she was. She thought of Nanoha's brightest smile and her heart would grow sick with absence.

When Fate finally was released from duty, she did not bother to dismantle her barrier jacket but set her teleportation coordinates for Uminari. A quick shower and a message to Nanoha before making her report was all she had paid attention to before beaming down to Earth's surface and set course straight for said brunette's house.

She was still unsure of what she had hoped to accomplish by flying there, especially since she had arrived well past midnight. The curtains to Nanoha's room had predictably been closed and the lights off, the neighbourhood was completely silent.

Her mind was reprimanding the selfishness and downright ludicrousness of her actions. Nanoha would be at school tomorrow and she could just as well have waited until then. Her old shyness kicked back in full force where she hovered outside the brunette's window in a moment of hesitation. Would Nanoha even want her to be here? Or would she be annoyed to be awoken untimely on a school night? What if she was the only one who had missed Nanoha so desperately? The uncertainties gnawed at her as she raised her hand to the window.

Her knuckles had barely touched the glass when the window was pushed open, nearly knocking Fate out of the air. Her worries were dispelled bluntly when the blonde felt air leave her. Nanoha emerged from the room, cobalt eyes shining with wet streaks.

"Fate…" Nanoha whispered in a sigh broken with disbelief and relief. Fate barely noticed the loss of the affectionate –chan to her name, neither did she notice the brunette having lost weight nor her room being messier than usual. All she could see was Nanoha in her nightdress of white linen and the beauty which pierced her chest with pain.

Nanoha wasted little time gawking as she pulled the blonde into her room and threw herself into Fate's arms, barely letting her land. Fate gathered the girl to her, wanting to hold everything of Nanoha while the brunette buried her head in the nook of her neck, shaking in small sobs while trying to speak at once.

"I was so worried," Nanoha stammered between tears. "They wouldn't tell us anything! All we could get was from the official newsfeeds and they were all of the horrible war. Lindy-san tried to get as much as she could to me without breaking protocol but they were all about the casualties! Oh Fate, we had no messages at all! They only told us that we would be informed in case of emergencies and your stupid admiral forbade even that. I— I wanted to beat him up so badly, I don't know what I would have done if something happened to you and I wouldn't even have the right to know—!"

Fate shushed her while she felt her body tremble in fulfilment. She inhaled Nanoha's warmth, and then silenced her with a kiss. In truth, it was meant to be a short one, a brief touch of lips to appease and comfort the shaking girl who clung to her as if their lives depended on it.

She was pleasantly surprised when Nanoha suddenly kissed her back, fiercely. It was an adult kiss, driven by the need to show how much they had hurt during their separation.

As it turned out, Nanoha had missed her too.

Fate barely noticed herself being pushed down on the bed and Bardiche shutting down her barrier jacket. She did however hear the rumpled dress shirt she hadn't changed for days tear at its seams as Nanoha clawed eagerly at her clothes while trying to keep their lips together. Whatever restraint they had built together over the past few years broke in seconds of madness. Fate threw caution to the wind when she pulled Nanoha's nightdress over her head to reveal the pale of her body and when they had finally lay down she knew the siege was lost.

They had come together breathlessly, again and again, in a sweet savagery with limbs banging awkwardly against hips and Nanoha roughly angling her head to kiss her just a little deeper. It was everything and nothing like Fate had imagined it to be. The first flight is always the highest.

Fate gave to the affection and tender violence, trying her best to stay afloat amidst gasps and hushed whispers of love. She thought she could have died contently then with Nanoha in her arms as the brunette cried her name, voice trembling.

She did not remember when or if they even meant to sleep, but when months of battle and exhaustion finally caught up with her body, Fate succumbed to the peace. She fell to wordless whispers and the safety of Nanoha's arms around her waist. There were no more sounds then, no more crackling burns from spells or the cries of those living. Fate slept soundly for the first time in weeks, her arm draped across Nanoha's breasts.

It had been a serene night, in recollection perhaps the best one of her young life.

Mornings however possessed a tendency to remind you of that the rest of the world was still at large and most likely out to kick you from behind. For Fate and Nanoha in particular, this took shape of a doting mother who at 7:30 sharp strode into her daughter's room with all the indignity of someone who had risen early to cook breakfast only to have said daughter not showing up for her meal.

Takamachi Momoko's scream had been mighty indeed, as witnessed by the many neighbours blissfully sipping their morning coffee until that moment. This had only prompted the man of the house, Takamachi Shiro, together with the rest of his household to rush to his wife's aid while brandishing whatever weaponry they had time to scramble, only to walk into the scene of every besotted teenager's nightmare.

Momoko's fury had been formidable, and Fate's ears would still burn at the memory of all hell breaking loose while mother and a still very naked daughter carried out the most terse and awkward conversation of their lives. Nanoha had mercifully shoved as much of Fate as possible beneath her covers in a desperate attempt to preserve them some dignity, which by both Earthian and Mid-Childian standards wasn't a whole lot by that time.

Breakfast had been a silent nightmare and Fate was all set for activating Bardiche to carve a path to her freedom when Momoko in a more amendable tune announced that she would be speaking to Lindy. By that time, having her family knowing about her hormonal exploits with her girlfriend of nearly two years seemed more like a blessing than burden if it could buy her a ticket out of the Takamachi house.

Lindy and Chrono had taken the news with little surprise, particularly Chrono who broke from his usual stoic self to giving her a knowing thumb-up. Fate regretted that she lacked the Harlaown trait of being so nonchalant regarding personal details.

She was endlessly grateful to whatever part Lindy had played in the following negotiations. Whatever had passed between mother and stepmother had certainly been for the good, because when Fate was finally invited to sit down with Momoko for The Great Talk she did so while being treated to Midoriya's finest.

It had indeed been embarrassing and mortifying but like most things it passed, and just as their families grew used to their relationship, Fate and Nanoha too got used to them knowing. Family was in the end still family and Momoko still Nanoha's mother. It was in all a healthy development for all of them though Fate wished it could have hit them kinder.

So when Vivio after a month or so dumped her sky racer and one sunny afternoon pulled a very embarrassed Lutecia Alphine home for dinner, Fate knew her daughter would do things right. Lutecia was a shy and fragile looking young woman, but a very accomplished mage under Hayate's command. The open adoration Vivio showered upon her put Fate oddly at peace as she watched the young not-yet-official couple trying their best (and failing) to be discreet.

It was not that she didn't worry for the wellbeing of her child, but unlike Magical Mother Paranoid Nanoha, Fate trusted Vivio's reason and sense of things. After all, Vivio was their daughter and so should be able to figure out that there was not one correct path to act when the heart struck. The secret Fate thought, must be to see all ways as the right one and treat your love always as your first and the last. Watching Vivio sneaking flustered glances at the serene Lutecia while poking at her peas, Fate knew with a smile that her girl would come through a winner.

The world was at peace in general, until Sora picked this timely moment to ask where babies came from.

-.-.-.-

Part 3

-.-.-

"You know," Hayate begun in a voice Fate knew meant trouble. "That guy over there's got the hots for you."

Fate looked past her best friend's lopsided grin, following her thumb and a piece of potato chip she was holding.

"And so does that lady, right over there." Hayate went on, making Fate looked again.

"Oh please," Fate snorted, sipping her drink. They were sitting by the oak bar in the officers' club, knocking back a few drinks. Hayate rarely saw Fate during work and would be damned if she wasn't going to hog her friend for a bit. Being the only SSS-mage recorded in recent history, Yagami Hayate was one of the few who dared to stand up to the Takamachi Wrath. Fate shook her head at the brunette's sly expression. "I know the type. All they see are the stripes on your shoulders."

"Could be, or it's your legs in that skirt. Damnit Fate, you guys really do get all the looky stuff." Hayate said, casting Fate's new uniform a dirty look.

"It's the same uniform you've been ogling for years. All they did was adding two new stripes. Same difference, ma'am."

"Bragging about your promotion, Harlaown?"

"Not at all. I'm just saying my uniform has always looked better than yours." Fate said and smiled into her glass, then nearly choking on her drink when Hayate shoved her playfully.

"But seriously, it's a damn shame you don't spend more time planet-side. Imagine the ruckus you would make by just swaying your butt down the conference hall a few times a week. Nanoha would have to get a shooting upgrade to keep the moonies at bay."

"First, my butt does not sway. Second, I would take no particular pleasure from becoming the centre of base gossip."

"You should, you're already on the hotlist of 'sexiest female personal' of the season anyway." The brunette commented absentmindedly.

Fate stared. And this time did choke. "What? How?"

Hayate finished her drink and waved for a new one. "Easy as pie. I put you there, with Nanoha's blessing of course."

"You what?" Fate could not believe her ears and gawked at her friend.

"The internal magazine wanted some recommendations, so me and your sweet wife got together and pitched you in. Seriously Fate, it's not a competition but you're bloody well winning that thing."

"I don't want to win a beauty listing!"

"Of course you do! I imagine it will put some swell to the kids' school funds. Nanoha seemed very happy at least. So anyway, I thought I ought to give you a heads up. If you feel like you're being ogled while on base, it's most likely our fault." Hayate shrugged happily in her perfect Heehee-so-whatcha-gonna-do?-face.

"Hayate! I can't believ— How can you be so…!" Fate tried to find the right word.

"Considerate? Fun-loving?"

"Considerate how? You put me in some paper to be a sleazy sex-object!"

"The considerate was for Nanoha, you sock. And the sex-object part is seriously pushing it. You were properly dressed in all the photos we sent in, and showing a little lace here and there never hurt anyone. Hey, don't you think I saw this reaction coming from you?"

"Do I even dare to ask what made her agree to this? She's… she's my wife!" The blonde exclaimed bewildered, ordering another drink, knocking the wood to make it a stiff one.

Hayate hmm-ed while she played with her fresh glass of liquor. "I'm by no means an expert here, but if my Nanoha-senses aren't completely off, I would say it's because she misses you."

Fate looked at Hayate incredulously, still unsure if she should be angry or just plain weirded out. Her best friend and wife— the love of her life, had decided for some ungodly reason to parade her looks to a bunch of strangers, and all because Nanoha felt lonely? "That makes absolutely no sense at all."

"Doesn't it? I think it makes perfectly sense."

"Then do share your wisdom, General Yagami." Fate snapped.

"I shall! Consider this then, Investigator Harlaown." Hayate quipped smartly. "How long have you been married now?"

"Four years. You know this damnit. You were the bloody maid of honour for both of us!"

"Ease up on the grouch, soldier. And how many months have you spent planet-side during this time?"

Fate went silent. Hayate had touched a sensitive subject, and her head felt hot from the drinks.

"…Nine months." She answered dourly.

"And that's counting the extra time you received due to Nanoha's pregnancy. You spent seven months of your first year on that piece-of-dust moon tracking that smuggler ring, then followed with another six months to chase those responsible down. I bet you had to spend a good deal of that time under cover too, meaning that you were forbidden any personal messages that could be tracked. Am I right?" Hayate counted on her fingers while speaking.

"No, yes, you're right. That was a big case." She sighed.

"Right. So you got home, went through the whole gene-merge-something insemination process which predictably needed your presence, and we all thought you would hang around for awhile, but what happened? You stayed long enoughonly to make Nanoha pregnant, and then shot off to deep-space again."

"You don't have to make it sound so callous." Fate said defensively. In a small corner of her mind however, she knew her friend had gotten it exactly right.

"Don't be a wimp, Fate. I tend to demote those when I'm on the drink."

"I'm part of the naval forces. You don't have the authority."

"No, but your brother could." Hayate's voice was all too smug for Fate's liking. She loved her friend, but there were moments when Yagami Hayate would make Nanoha's devil look like a Belkan saint. The general continued: "You were barelyin time for the delivery, would probably have missed it if you didn't teleport straight into the hospital. Oh, and I bet Signum never told you she and Shamal sat through the morning cravings and mood swings, did she? She mentioned something about you two and a warrior's pact."

Fate stared at her half-emptied glass mutely. She had not known and the shame stung harsher than the gin.

"So I'm the stereotypical workaholic who starts out sweet but becomes a lousy spouse after time, is that what you're getting at?" She asked tiredly.

"No, I'm providing you with the evidence as to why Nanoha felt lonely. You guys have only been married for four years. You're practically still newly-weds, especially if we count the months. Did you consider that she maybe, you know, wanted to act like it a little?"

"Being newly-weds? But we…" Fate began sheepishly.

"I don't mean honeymooning. The other stuff. Go out in public, dinners with associates and friends, giving her the opportunity to show off her sweetheart like a happy girl in love."

The enforcer considered Hayate's words through the haze of alcohol. Her friend had a point, a lot of good and valid points really, but none of this explained why she had ended up in a ridiculous hotlist.

"That can't be the reason she agreed to the magazine." She stated with some difficulty, wishing she hadn't downed the last brandy.

"Really? Maybe she just wanted to show off how hot her wife is?" Hayate chuckled and passed her another shot. "You're not a bad spouse, Fate. I'm Nanoha's best friend too and I wouldn't have her marry anyone but you. You're one of the kindest and most responsible people I know, and you've loved her since before either of you had periods—!"

"Hayate!" Fate near shrieked, her face was flushed like a beet.

"Fine, since you were kids. What I'm trying to say is that she's a newly-wed and a near-single mother who's so young she probably still gets the love heats. So yes, she might do irrational things to get a little attention from you." Hayate downed the last of her martini looking freakishly merry. Both friends shared a moment of understanding before bursting into giggles, trying to fit the mental image of such a Nanoha into their minds.

"Oh god," Fate said in between laughter, burying her face in her hands. "Some days, I still can't believe I married her."

"And you better remain that way." Hayate said dryly. "Or I'll have to sic those drooling fangirls on you personally, and no means shall be holy. The fact that you're sleeping with The White Devil doesn't exactly turn them off, you know.

At this, Fate's head joined her glass on the table.

Later that night:

Nanoha had just put the children to sleep and sat on their bed, catching up on tomorrow's schedule when she heard the front door close. What followed were the uncharacteristic sounds of wobbly steps and soft curses, culminating in Fate near slamming the door to their bedroom open with barely controlled flair. Nanoha stared at her obviously very intoxicated spouse and the state of her usually immaculate uniform. And was that lime peel in her hair? Oh Hayate… you little—!

All her anger at her friend was quickly dispelled however, when Fate pointed at her intently and spoke:

"I love you." She said, her voice surprisingly clear in the light of her condition. "I love you more hotly than all the deep-space suns. I married you, and I'm sorry if I haven't been great. But I want you to know that I always want to be with you, and be a parent with you, and cook for you, and go out with you on sunny days to show the whole world how beautiful you are."

Nanoha gaped. In fact, she wasn't sure if there was anything else she could do. Fate scrambled for words while her intellect caved in beneath the weight of alcohol.

"I'm not making you a single mother! And please don't enter me in any more sexy-lists. You don't need to, ever!" Fate rambled while she stumbled forward and collapsed on their bed, embracing the brunette with all the grace a drunk could muster. "I'm right here Nanoha, and I loved you before you even had periods! I did, promise!"

Single mother? How did she know about that? And whatwhatWHAT?

The ace of aces blinked in complete and utter bewilderment at the now seemingly unconscious blonde in her lap who reeked like she had drained the whole bar. Nanoha thanked all the present deities that she loved them woman, or heaven knows what she would have done. Drinking with Yagami Hayate she remembered, was not for those faint of heart.

-.-.-.-.-.-

"Mama, am I yours?"

Fate stared at her daughter from her desk. Sora stood beside her with all the seriousness a six-years-old could muster. Her shoulder-long hair, now slightly darker than Nanoha's was tied to the side of her head with a kitty-ribbon in a style mimicking her birthmother's. Together with the shape of her nose and cheeks, there could really be little doubt about the child's parentage.

The question caught the blonde unprepared. "Of course you are mine, Birdwing. Why do you ask?" Sora shuffled her feet under her scrutiny. "Did you sister tell you some wild story again?"

"No, Vivio is fine." The child answered but looked uncertain. "She's been nice to me today."

Fate waited for her to gather words and courage. Unlike her sister, Sora never did grow into the carefree Takamachi personality. While Fate could technically blame her ignorance of Sora's moods on work, the truth was that her daughter was just one tough cookie to understand. The girl had developed from a happy toddler to a precocious girl, an uncannily observant child with odd worries who would often bury herself in her own interests. She was neither timidly shy like Fate nor stalwartly stubborn like Nanoha but possessed a peculiar ingenuity. She was quiet, but spoke openly about her opinions; patient, but angered quickly when wronged.

It was only when pitted against Vivio in competition that Sora would break from her shell and push her slight frame beyond exhaustion. Having no siblings of her own aside from Chrono, Fate found it difficult to understand what went through her youngest's head while she tried to best her sister. Nanoha had called it healthy sibling rivalry but as Fate observed the face of her beautiful child, she wasn't so sure.

Fate smiled gently and pulled the girl to her, ruffling Sora's hair. "Tell mama what's bothering you."

The child hesitated, then looked up and met her Fate's eyes before speaking. "Mama, when you go away on the big ships, could you bring me with you?"

Fate raised her brows. "You know I go away on the ships to work don't you?" Sora nodded. "That means I will be occupied with grown-up stuff on the ship, I wouldn't be able to take care of you like Nanoha-mama does at home. Plus, there would be no kids your age around to play with. Wouldn't that be boring?"

"That's alright, I can read while you work and catch bad logias."

"Even if mama is busy all the time?"

"Yes." The child nodded and a small spark of worry flashed in Fate's mind.

"Wouldn't you miss Nanoha-mama and Vivio? I'm certain they would miss you for dinner and games." She asked carefully. Sora thought long before answering her.

"I would miss them very much, but Nanoha-mama and Vivio will be fine without me."

That definitely set of bells of alarms in Fate's head. The enforcer in Fate tried to analyze the situation, or tried to, as a pair of all too familiar red eyes searched her own. "And we can speak on the screeny, so they will know I'm alright."

"Sora," Fate tried to not sound too worried. "Tell me why you want to go away with me. Did something happen with your sister and mama?"

"No, they are fine." The child put her small, still chubby hands on Fate's knees, puffing her cheeks indignantly as she tried to make her mother understand. "I want to go with you because I'm yours, like Vivio is Nanoha-mama's and aunt Vita's."

Fate listened to her daughter's recount, too baffled for words. Taking note of her silence, Sora continued. "They train her all the time to make her a better mage, but not me. Nanoha-mama loves me but she will only pat my head and tell me I do good, but she always tells Vivio to do better."

Sora's thin lips curled slightly, playing her face into timid smile Arf would have dubbed as pure Fate.

"I thought maybe it's because Vivio is like Nanoha-mama. She always makes mama laugh while I can only make her smile, Vivio is very good at flying while I am still learning, she is big enough to help mama with everything but when I try I always get in the way. I know they love me very much but they are always together with each other."

"I thought if Vivio is Nanoha-mama's then I must be yours, and when I got big enough you would train me to be like you. But you always go away and are too busy." Sora looked a little sad at her own conclusion but pushed on bravely. "Mama, if I go with you on the ships, will you teach me like Nanoha-mama and aunt Vita teach Vivio?" She asked hopefully. "I will be good."

Fate's heart broke at the sight of her sweet girl hanging her head. Sora very rarely cried but right then the girl was looking at her expectantly as if a word from Fate would decide her whole world. How to solve this? She sent a few mental curses Nanoha's way.

Fate knew Nanoha was a dedicated mother who loved both their children to the high heavens. She had after all been there during the early pregnancy and knew just how much Sora was wanted. The brunette was an uncompromising parent who expected the best for her children, and though motherhood hadn't come naturally to her she tried her damnedest to learn from the children as they grew. These same qualities however could make her path of thoughts just a smidge inflexible.

What Nanoha had obviously missed was that Sora wasn't the slightest like Vivio, or any of them. Their daughter had grown into a little stranger beyond their expectations and Fate wondered just how long the child had been pondering such thoughts.

Taking Sora along on her ship was of course out of question. So what to do? Hurting the child's feelings in such a sensitive matter could create a rift between them which would be hard to heal. She would have to tread carefully.

Fate knew that Nanoha was more focused on Vivio because she was older and would soon be challenging the taxing A-rank examination. Also, for Nanoha, Vivio would always be the little girl who had called out for her from the depth of the Cradle. It had been a painful battle and a strong memory, tying mother and daughter deeply to each other in ways Fate could not touch.

No wonder Sora felt left out when Fate was away.

The blonde's mind worked quickly as she lifted the child onto her lap and hugged the little girl close. Her daughter smelled like a bundle of grass and sunlight. The girl accepted the embrace but did so with a quiet reservation unlike her sister who would have pounced at the slightest chance for a hug.

"Sora," Fate formed her words carefully while putting together her explanation. To be a mother was one thing, but to help a child grasp something of this complexity another. "Mama is going to be frank with you, so be a strong girl ok?"

"Mmh."

Fate breathed. "I can't bring you along with me when I go away because it would be dangerous for us both. A ship is a place for grown-up mages or those who have passed their examination to become one, do you understand?" Fate explained. Sora just nodded, listening carefully but hung her head. "If you were there it would make work more difficult for the other agents working together with me, because you're still not old enough and everyone would have to look after you."

Sora turned in her lap and tucked her head under the nook of Fate's neck. Damn. The girl was not making it any easier for her. "I miss you very much when I am away, but to have you with me would endanger your safety and all of us would be very sad if something happens and you were hurt."

"Nanoha-mama would be very angry and yell at you." The child agreed sadly. Fate could only chuckle to that, trying to imagine the size of the pink beam coming her way if such a thing were to happen.

"That she would. I want you to listen carefully now Birdwing, because this is important." She said. Fate turned her daughter to face her, cradling her small face between her hands. Tucking a stray lock of hair behind her baby's ear, she put their foreheads together. "You are my daughter and you will be mine to teach, and I will train you to be the best mage you can be. This I promise you."

"Can I be as good as Vivio?" The innocent question made Fate laugh. She squeezed her girl gently.

"You can be anything under the sun, Sora, if you put your heart into it."

"But I can't go on the ship." Sora observed and now she did really did look like she wanted to cry.

"No, you cannot. But I will give you a teacher who will be yours alone." Fate replied firmly.

Much later that night, when the rest of the Takamachi-Harlaown household had gone to bed, Fate stayed up with the excuse of finishing paperwork. The conversation with Sora had taken up her thoughts during the whole evening as she considered her options. Finally, she connected the private line through her terminal and waited until a familiar face popped up on screen.

"Fate-san?" Rein looked up surprised. "Do you have any idea of what time it is? Did something happen?"

"I'm sorry for the inconvenience, but you don't look like you were sleeping either." Fate remarked with a smile.

"Mistress Hayate's schedule keeps kicking my butt and I guess I'm letting it." The device grinned humourlessly. "So what can I do for you?"

"I need you to connect a private call for me to the Wolkenritter."

"Sure thing. Anyone particular in mind?"

"Yes, I'd like to speak to Signum if she is available. Tell her I need a favour as a fellow Blade."

-.-.-.-.-.-

"I'm still angry at you."

Fate smiled widely.

"I believe I'll live. Did so the last time." She replied.

"Nyahaha! The Takamachi anger is to be feared, you know. "

"The worst that could happen is me getting the coach, and we both know that's not where you want me while I'm on leave." Fate sounded downright smug.

"…damn, you win."

"I mostly do. It comes with the job."

Nanoha rolled her eyes at Fate while she stood at the end of a training field, observing the ongoing battle taking place overhead. She did so with the calm objectivity of an experienced instructor, but Fate could sense her tension where she stood.

Sora Takamachi-Harlaown exploded past them above them using a training device, doing her best to dodge the cracking indigo lightning ripping through the air while Signum fired and advanced upon her in once, her sword falling in a methodical pattern, forcing the young girl to retreat.

"So when did you talk Signum into this?" Nanoha asked with a hint of disapproval in her voice.

"During my last leave."

"Fate!"

"What?" The blonde uttered. Nanoha's voice held a hint of real anger.

"I can't believe you set this up without consulting me first!"

Fate frowned at this. Nanoha's commitment to her family was legendary, so she supposed she should have discussed it with her wife first. At that time however, Sora's needs had taken precedence.

"I apologize, but I'm not sorry." She said, watching the brunette for a reaction.

"You'll need to explain yourself."

"Must I really? Sora wanted a teacher, so I found her one."

Signum chose this moment to shout something before shattering the girl's shield with a cut of her sword. The impact, slightly boosted by magic sent Sora flying through the air. The girl threw up two successive smaller shields beneath her just in time to avoid hitting the ground, then, launched herself upwards when a purple bolt struck the space where she had been moments ago.

"She's gotten faster." Fate commented while observing their daughter critically. "And she's good at thinking on her feet."

"You're changing the subject. Fate, I'm not mad for you choosing Signum. I think she will do Sora a lot of good, better than I could probably. I'm mad because we didn't have the chance to sit down and discuss what would be the best for our baby together, as mothers."

Fate blanked.

"Oh."

"We should have done so with Vivio. Vita and I began training her entirely without consulting you, and at that time I thought you wouldn't mind but you did, didn't you?" Nanoha asked, moving closer to Fate, who grimaced.

"Maybe a little," she admitted. "But I didn't do this just to get in your face."

Nanoha smiled gently. "I know. That would not have been like you. But don't you think its weird how we can talk about everything else but keep our separate disciplines when it comes to our daughters?" The enforcer looked over at her wife quizzically. The ace she decided, had give this some thought.

"Go on," she said.

"I'm not even sure of what to say. It's… I guess I thought we would be doing everything together forever and ever but life didn't quite turn out that way, did it?"

"No, but I see what you mean. Parenthood is one of those things you would expect to be sharing in a marriage. It is a bit odd I admit, but is it really such a bad thing? The kids seem happy with how we're doing it." Fate said. She wasn't entirely convinced by her own words however, seeing how much time she spent away.

"I know Sora is lonely, Fate. I'm not blind to her needs."

The blonde looked over at her wife, momentarily confused.

"Then why—?" She grasped for words, not wanting to criticise Nanoha's parenting.

"Why I left her alone? Why I could never be for her what I am to Vivio?" Fate nodded tersely while following their child in the sky. Nanoha continued. "Because she willed it that way, and please, let me explain," The brunette lifted a hand when Fate opened her mouth to protest. Meanwhile, Sora zigzagged through the air in momentous leaps, trying to dodge Signum's projectiles as best as she could. The girl had not been allowed a staff, forcing her defence to rely completely on magic and speed. Predictably, the knight's attacks shattered her barriers decisively one after another, but the child kept moving.

"Sora is a lot like me when I was little, long before you came along." Nanoha explained. "My parents were always very busy with the shop. My sister and brother hung out mostly together because I was too small. Even Arisa and Suzuka were really best friends to each other. However you looked at it I was always the third wheel, the odd one out of a bigger group, the kid who needed to be brought along. It was painful and scary at times because I felt like I would never have someone special to my life, someone who came to this world and was placed there to be with me. It does sound a little selfish now, doesn't it?"

Fate grinned. "Not at all, just appropriately self-centred."

Nanoha shoved at her good-naturedly. "I know they all loved me very much but I always had this constant feeling of that I needed to look further for my own path, I just didn't know where to go."

"Enter the ferret."

"He hates being called that you know," Nanoha giggled. "But yes, Yuuno came along and I became a mage which was all sorts of strange and exhilarating. And right when I was growing used to blasting things with pink light, I met you."

The brunette's last words came like a sigh. Fate searched Nanoha's face and saw relief and something indefinable tender. Nanoha, the enforcer realized, had begun to look her age. The signs were still gentle and they only enhanced the stark beauty of Nanoha as a whole. She saw the girl, the woman and the mother, all three layers blended into one. Signum choose this moment to toss their daughter across the sky in a small explosion, making both mothers cringe.

"What I'm trying to say is that Sora may be feeling like I once did, and if such is the case there's very little I can say or do. I can do my best to coddle her, but she's the one who needs to go forth and seek what I and Vivio cannot give her. I'm relieved she sought you out instead of moping however. You Harlaowns have your ways of taking initiative." The brunette said while giving Fate a friendly elbow to her side.

"So she's a Harlaown now, is she?" Fate asked dryly. Sora had certainly been smothered as a Takamachi last week when she got an A+ in math.

"Isn't she?" Nanoha smiled toothily and shot the blonde a wink. "She's definitely one of the quiet, broody and persistent types. We Takamachis know them well."

Fate could only laugh openly at that. "Then you support her training with Signum?"

"By all means, recruit her into that secret sword club of yours. It will do her good to choose the people she belongs with." If the brunette felt any sadness over her daughter's choice, she did not show it. Fate however, knew her better than anyone else.

"Nanoha," She said. It was the only warning the brunette received before arms encircled her. Fate held the woman while she trailed kisses along her neck. "Do you know what I thought back then when you nearly blasted me to kingdom come with Starlight Breaker?"

The brunette shook her head.

"I thought: What an odd girl, to fights so hard both for me and against me. And she shines so prettily in the blue. Today I might die, but if I survive this pink terror of doom then I would like to meet her and understand her, if only to know the wind beneath her sky."

Nanoha was quiet for some time. "Really?"

"Maybe not in so many words, I was nine remember?" Both chuckled and thought back to the battle that had changed their lives. "You're a good mother, Nanoha. You've raised two wonderful children, but they come with complications and flaws like we all do. Things might not always turn out the way you want it to, but that doesn't mean it's your fault. You can't take the blame for something the both of us should carry together. And even if Vivio and Sora do fault us one day, they will forgive us because of the good things we put in their hearts. So believe in yourself, and in them. I know Sora loves you very much, she would be hurt if you thought otherwise."

"But I jus…"

"Shhh… Her path is her own to walk. And Vivio will always need you dearly."

Nanoha relaxed into her embrace. They fell silent and watched their daughter's flight until the knight called it a day. Battered and bruised, Sora landed wobblingly and dived straight into Nanoha's arms. Her body was stiff in exhaustion but when she faced her parents it was with a brave and sunny smile.

They helped each other to carry her home while the child began to nod off. The evening turned into night as Nanoha and Fate shared a smile and burden. Vivio greeted them at the door, nodding knowingly when she saw her sister's state and then bolted for the kitchen to heat dinner. The family carried their youngest to her room where her mothers cleaned her up the best they could. Vivio sat by the bed and held her sister's hand as the little one slept like the morrow would never come.

What was family to a child really? At the end of all things, what could they do but to trust them to do their best?

Fate thought of Lindy, and discovered she had no such answer.

-.-.-.-.-.-

"How can you love me so much?" Fate asked Nanoha one day, not really expecting an answer.

They had both taken some time off. Having finished a longer case spanning over half a year, Fate was more than ready to spend some time at home. All of Nanoha's present class had finished their programs with flying colours and the instructor could not have been more content. Vivio was staying with Vita, most likely training and moping alike since Lutecia had been deployed on her first long-term assignment. And there was Sora, who finally had been allowed her own staff which unsurprisingly had taken the shape of a sword. The device had been constructed to fit the roots of her birthmother, taking the primary form of a slick-looking nagimaki. Excited to try it out, the child had gone off with Signum.

The Takamachi-Harlaown couple was in other words, for once in their life, utterly and totally free. Fate could see no better reason to pack their bags and go flying. They had done so often in their youth, spending days crossing through the countryside in free flight or combat, matching each other's skill and speed. The nights that followed had been equally exhilarating, when the young couple had greedily come together in eager passion.

It was a part to their relationship she missed, a freedom which grew scarcer with age and responsibility.

She had asked Nanoha the question out of the blue after a session of particularly frantic lovemaking. They were resting by the base of what once must have been a skyscraper, now a beautiful mountain of steel and rubble covered by deep moss. Nanoha was seated beside her, half-dressed in Fate's shirt while she worked on Raising Heart, optimizing the flight algorithms.

Fate admired the silent landscape of the sunken city. It was a familiar sight. Nanoha had found the place on one of her solo flights and took a liking to its tranquil beauty. At some point of time, natural disaster must have elevated the sea, turning what once might have been a metropolitan city into a watery wasteland, leaving only towers and hyper-structures above water. That was long ago and the place was now abandoned though vibrant with a fauna of wilful vegetation. There was no lingering atmosphere of destruction but an overpowering sense of peace.

She enjoyed the sounds of waves and the scents of moist greens. In its own bohemian way, the city was strikingly beautiful. It was theoretically here Nanoha's and her paths had crossed irrecoverably, even if the field-reconstruction never did it quite the justice it deserved.

Nanoha had looked at her strangely from her work to look at the blonde, her face surprised but unreadable.

It was perhaps a silly question, asked so many years into a marriage where neither held complaints. For Fate, it had been a spur of the moment, a lofty attempt to understand what benevolent karma made her worthy of the woman who completed her soul.

Lindy had warned her about it many years ago but Fate knew the power she gave Nanoha through love. Their relationship had always been a gamble, and she knew an eventual fall-out would have consequences to devastating for words. Her younger self however had willed the risk and dangers, and Nanoha in turn had never betrayed that trust.

With her power, Nanoha could have manipulated Fate to do anything. But instead of enslaving Fate to her feelings, the brunette had nurtured and set her free. When she could have stranded her in dependant isolation, the ace had encouraged her to go forth into the world and break her solitude. Thanks to Nanoha, Fate had made her own friends, associates and life. She had Erio and Caro, and so many others who loved her independently of Nanoha's influence.

Deep down, Fate acknowledged what her spouse had done in stunned gratitude. She had liberated what once was a scared, golden-haired child from her shackles and let the girl into the world. Fate loved the ace, but no longer because of juvenile notions of destiny. The emotion was no longer an obligation and need to fulfil. She loved the brunette because it was her freedom to decide, and Fate had predictably chosen Nanoha.

The ace thought long and well before giving her an answer.

"I fell in love with someone beautiful, so I set her free," Nanoha replied cryptically. "And when she came back I knew she would be mine to keep. So I treasured and cared for her the best I could, until one day she suddenly asked to marry me."

Fate blushed wildly. Even after nearly ten years of marriage, Nanoha still knew how to bring her to her knees.

"How could I not?" Nanoha said and smiled widely. "You came to me when I was alone and changed the world as I knew it. You cherished me and let me cherish you back. You motheredmy children, who are the suns of my world. You gave me all this, and ask this silly question?"

Fate looked up at the exceptional woman and shook her head at her own vanity. The answer had been a little overwhelming and very Nanoha-like.

"And why do you love me, Fate?"

The question had been sweet but the answer proved difficult. The blonde rose to her feet, walking to the water which gently stroke against chiselled granite. Nanoha deserved an answer, but she wondered if her feelings could properly be put into words.

She decided to try anyway.

"When I go flying," she began, her voice weighed by uncertainty. "I think of the winds and clouds and how they will affect me. My mentor once told me they were the best guides to the sky. She told me to always listen and be aware of their currents, and the sky would always welcome me. But when I started working for Precia I lost that sensitivity. I got used to cutting through the air, using it for my needs like one would utilize a tool."

Fate looked down at the waves and noticed the chill in the air. Night was drawing close and they would soon need to look for better shelter.

"When I saw you in the air, you reminded me of my mentor. You soared through space like the bird she wanted me to be, free of so many burdens. And when we fought I envied how easily you absorbed the skill. If we had not met, I would have lost the joy of flight and with it perhaps a piece of my soul."

She was acutely aware of Nanoha's eyes on her back, piercing her with attentive curiosity. She continued:

"When we fell in love, I learned to fly better than I previously could dream of; even when we were separated, I would go higher because the bare vertigo would always remind me of you. And when our children came I moderated the dangers I previously enjoyed, because I suddenly wanted nothing else but to go home and care for the three of you."

She remembered the time she had teleported straight into the hospital's delivery ward, upsetting about a dozen of TSAB regulations, only to land straight into the scene of Nanoha in childbirth. The brunette had hollered an inventive mix of curses at the sight of her, making even the hardened midwife blush. Vivio had bolted for a hug at once, wondering why her sister was hurting mama so.

"I don't know what to tell you, Nanoha. I don't think I'll ever know the answer as to why I love you." Fate explained contemplatively. Quietly, Nanoha came to her side by the water. An equally quiet but purposeful embrace followed as the brunette hold her close.

"I'm sorry I can't answer your question," She sighed as she felt how Nanoha's lips travelled her collarbone. There was no seductiveness to the gesture, only affection. The brunette hmm-ed and broke away, looking at her with the same unconditional compassion Fate remembered in the face of a nine-year-old. "But there is one thing I do know."

"Oh?" Nanoha waited.

"When I think about flying," Her voice was firm. "I think about you."

-.-.-.-.-.-

-Fin-

-.-.-.-.-

A/N: Thirty-six Word pages of epic love hilarity deserve a comment. I originally had a very clear plan for this story. Fifteen pages, three segments, get in get out, Yes-sir-Fate-is-awesome, bam. My life never works out planning-wise, but I live and learn and… learn again I guess.

As you've perhaps noticed, I've foregone to take the Vivid manga into account, because well, it reads to me like a Nanoha version of DBZ ^^;. Also, it's because Vivio and Lutecia are too damn cute together ^_^.

I know I usually try to add some piece of wisdom involving my observations of life, the universe and everything here but truly, this time it's all in the story. While Nanoha is not the coolest fandom I've ever stumbled into, I do like Fate. A lot. I like how her character has such a strong sense of integrity. She is the many things you see in a truly good, but *not* naïve person. I was rather torn over how I would write her at first, but in the end, Fate came to me like a person who would best be defined through those she loved.

So, I give you thirty-six pages of my many interpretations of love, taking Fate through a chain of family, friendship, girl-crush, attraction, marriage, motherhood and finally a concluding attempt by Fate herself to put words to a feeling that comes in way to many shapes.

Signum's and Shamal's story is deserving of an expansion and it is tearing my mind apart in writer's schizophrenia =D. Why Sora? I guess she's not strictly necessary, but I've always pictured Vivio a little bit as Nanoha's to protect and teach and make awesome. So I needed a child to portray Fate as a mother, and someone with a very different personality than Vivio's. I really did try to use Vivio for this at the start but she just wouldn't go there, so Sora came to be, and thanks to her we got the whole Fate-teleporting-into-room -with-screaming-Nanoha-in-childbirth visual. And no, Sora's name is not a coincidence with the story's general theme =D.

Also, do google nagimaki if you've never heard of it.

I don't usually write for a specific audience. If you are a fangirl/boy, I hope I made you squeal. If you are a romantic, I hope I made you fuzzy. If you, like me, are a devourer of thoughts and tales, then I hope I have provided you with an intelligent piece of reading. Finally, I hope you had as much fun reading as I had writing this. Good tales after all, are equally enjoyed by the people on both sides of the pen.

And if anyone should wonder: Yes! I do love aviation.