Disclaimer: Do not own. Aside from basic, instant grammatical checks, this is unbeta-ed. Mistakes are mine and mine alone, and I give thanks to 808tenshi for playing a guinea pig - and for coming up with the title of the fic. It was strangely, and annoyingly, difficult to find a title for this story.

This story was partly inspired by the MGLN movie that perked my interest in this fandom again, and you can thank Craxuan for planting the thought for this fic in my head...although the end result was a little different from what it was supposed to be.

The theme song for this fiction is Hero, by Enrique Iglesias. It's picked for a certain, specific reason. Kudos to you if you can tell what I was thinking when I picked it. Although, I don't believe it to be difficult to understand why. :)

I hope this will be a good read for all of you.

ciel bleu
"Would you dance if I asked you to dance?"

"I love you," the sixteen year old girl blurts out.

Fate pauses midway of drinking water from the bottle, and gives her a confused look. "Nanoha?"

She feels her ears burn. Her heart's pounding erratically, and she stares at her feet.

The soft wind chills her warmed face; and she can't help but flinch in surprise when a finger brushes against her cheek, prodding her to look up gently.

"I love you too. You're my best friend." Burgundy eyes looks warmly at her, and Fate's smiling that gentle smile that she often wears - "...but, what brought this up all of a sudden, Nanoha?"

Concern, curiosity, and confusion all crosses Fate's features. "Did something happen?"

The brunette fights the urge to grimace and stomps down the building exasperation.

And fails gloriously.

Nanoha sighs.

"Mou, Fate-chan."

The taller girl just blinks back.

The brunette lifts a hand to fold over Fate's palm that's brushing her cheek. It's an unconscious action, but she finds herself fingering the cap of the water bottle that Fate still holds in her hand.

"You," Nanoha enunciates, in a tone that conveys so much more than just wry amusement and trembling confidence, "can really be so dense sometimes."

"Nanoha..?" Bewilderment.

To that, her response is to pull the blonde down to her, and press their lips together.

The bottle drops, and water spills.

She feels herself tremble.

"Where is she?"

"Nanoha-chan, calm down - "

She grabs at Shamal's white sleeves, gripping her arms tightly.

"Where is she?"

"Nanoha - "

She's ready to shake Shamal hard for the answer. She really is.

"Take a deep breath and calm down first." Hayate's suddenly next to her, voice firm and hands holding her wrists. "For her, if for nothing else. She needs you, but not when you are like this."

Her eyes closes.

Fate-chan. Fate-chan.

She breathes in deeply, and tries to swallow whatever is it that's clogging her throat.

"Tell me," she whispers.

"...Room 432. Go straight ahead, and left at the intersection."

She sprints down the hallway, forgetting her schoolbag that she dropped when she had reached for Shamal, and jerks the door to Fate's room open unceremoniously, breath heaving.

Nanoha doesn't know what she had expected to see.

She knows this, though.

Fate staring out the window, motionless and silent despite the sound of the door opening roughly, isn't one of them.

Neither, is Fate with a sling on her right arm, and red-tinted bandage wrapped around her head, one of them.

And there is something about that sight - that very sight - that makes her heart lurch.

She steps closer, until she's just next to the bed. Fate doesn't turn, but Nanoha knows the blonde has sensed her presence.

Her mouth works to say something.

But she stops.

Why, why is it so difficult to say something, anything, now?

What can she say?

She really doesn't know.

She knows some details of what occurred, but ultimately...ultimately...

Nanoha shakes her head, and breathes in again.

"Fate-chan." That comes out strangely easier than she thought it would be.

She watches the figure on the bed stiffen; possibly in surprise. Did Fate think it was someone else?

Nanoha sighs, and can't help but let the relief flood into her voice. She's safe.

"Fate-chan," she lifts a hand to brush against soft gold locks, tugging gently, imploringly.

The blonde turns to meet her eyes.

There's a haunting, lingering shadow in that gaze that Nanoha knows was never there before. It's different, from the one she's familiar with. It's different from the scars left behind by Precia. It's different.

And Nanoha knows that everything will be different now. Different, because Fate has experienced something that would change her life forever, different, because this is going to be a new part of Fate that she won't be able to relate to, and different, because this widens the gap between them.

But even despite how things are going to be different, she finds herself thinking - and she feels something like an ethereal fist curling and tightening around her heart - Fate is beautiful, and if it could take that shadow away from the blonde's eyes, she can do anything, and everything.

"Nanoha." It's a bare whisper, rough and hoarse and muted, and the girl looks down and away from her. "I don't - I can't..." The girl stops. Her uninjured hand closes into a tight fist.

Fate's trembling.

She's not crying, but she's trembling.

Nanoha doesn't know what to say, or what to do.

So she leans forward and cups her face instead. Her fingers brushes against dry skin, past the soft bandages that almost feels damp, searches dark burgundy for something - just, something - and finds everything and nothing.

She moves to press a kiss against her forehead, over the bandages, and pulls the blonde into an embrace.

And it's enough.

It's enough to make Fate choke up, breathless and shaking.

Fate snakes a hand around her waist, tightens her grip, and pulls her back down to the bed.

"And just where do you think you're going, Nanoha?"

There's blatant amusement in that tone. The blonde really isn't even trying to hide it - but, then again - she never really tries to hide it when it involves Nanoha. Suppress it and hold it in, maybe, but not hide.

"I - I, uh." She's at loss for words. It really doesn't help that she can feel the warm, bare skin pressing onto her back. Not to mention that this is the morning after they had just - just - just had -

Nanoha feels her face go hot.

"Hmm?" Amusement. And more amusement.

She feels herself scowling suddenly.

Turning around in Fate's arms while lying down proves to be an interesting experience...of sort, but she tries to ignore that, and glares up at the other.

"You're enjoying this too much," she says to her accusingly.

Fate smiles, her eyes are a mix of amusement and gentle warmth both, "I am," she admits shamelessly, nuzzling her. "It's not often when I could catch you by surprise, yes?"

Despite herself, she feels a pout forming.

The blonde just chuckles, tightens her hold, and presses a kiss to the side of Nanoha's forehead.

"I love you," Fate whispers, and there's more than just humor in her soft voice.

There's so much more than just that.

It's a conversation that she still can't decide if it's amusing or - or..or annoying. Or something.

Honestly.

Fate's still snickering.

Whatever self-restraint the blonde normally has had all but broke down in the name of laughter.

And when Fate starts to calm down, she would take one look at Nanoha, and burst into a laughing fit again. Oh, she's trying to hold it in, alright, but she's failing.

It's making her sulk.

The blonde waves the multiple screens floating in front of her away even as she still laughs.

"Bard - pfft - Bardiche, please save the records for now, I - I'll get back to it afterwards. I can't really - pfn - I can't do work right now."

"Yes sir." The blue screens blinks out of existence.

"Fate-chan!" She picks up a stray pillow and throws it at Fate, aiming at her face with deadly accuracy.

The blonde deflects it easily with a raised hand.

And damn it all, Fate's still laughing.

She scowls, and pounces.

"Eck - Nanoha!"

Both of them falls back to the bed, with Nanoha hovering over the other.

That doesn't stop the blonde from laughing, though.

"Stop laughing!"

That command only serves to trigger more laughter from Fate, even if she's really trying to suppress it, head turned to a side with the back of her hand pressed to her lips.

"Sor - pff...sorry, but...pfff.."

"Fate-chan!"

"I'm sorry!" Fate exclaims, and Nanoha knows she's genuinely apologetic because really - that's just how Fate is - but damn it, that doesn't mean the blonde has stopped laughing.

"It's just - " the blonde exhales, out of breath, and appears to be calming down...somewhat... "Nanoha. You said, Yuuno and I?"

And bursts into a fit of laughter all over again.

Well, fine. Nanoha knows one way that would make her stop.

She crushes their lips together, swallowing the remains of Fate's laughter and startled yelp.

It really doesn't take the blonde long to respond (retaliate), and she's curling a hand around Nanoha's neck, angling to deepen it -

But damn it all, Nanoha can tell that Fate is smiling into the kiss.

When they broke apart, the blonde's pressing her face to the crook of Nanoha's neck, breathless and shaking with silent laughter.

Nanoha supposes that this is much better than the full blown laughter earlier, but..

"Mou," she sighs. "You're still laughing."

Fate chuckles. "I'm sorry." She brushes her lips against the nape of Nanoha's neck, gently, affectionately, and then lets her head fall back down to the bed and stares up at the brunette.

"I know Vivio has heterochromatic eyes - with one that looks like mine and the other that looks like Yuuno's, but - how in the world did you equate them to Yuuno and I having possibilities of being together?"

Nanoha feels herself beginning to sulk again.

Fate smiles. "You do know you weren't making sense, right?"

The brunette scowls, and responds by hiding her warm face in Fate's right shoulder, this time resting completely on the other. She knows, of course, she knows, but...

She feels the soft rumbling of gentle laugh belonging to that of the one below her.

"Nanoha," Fate murmurs, her tone still humored and laughing yet hinting on something more, something indescribable; and a hand tangles with Nanoha's hair, and then the blonde's patting her on the head gently, before working down the length to her back.

"I'm yours." she says, strangely serious now. Serious, and so much more that it makes something in her chest clench and skip a beat. "Before, now...and in the future."

She knows she's being silly.

She knows, and she can feel her ears burn.

"Okay?"

"Okay," she whispers, muffled by the shoulder, but she thinks Fate hears it anyway, because the blonde tightens her hold a little.

rewind.

There was a time, once upon a time, when she had been terribly cruel.

So much so that she never knew she had it in herself to do such things, and it was enough to make her hate herself.

"Leave," she said, fingers curling around the glass in her hands tightly. "Leave me alone."

Her legs felt terribly numb, no matter how she tried to will them to move. They just won't move.

And she no longer knew if she wanted to try anymore. It was hopeless. It was just so hopeless.

"No," was the clear, firm response. "I won't."

"I don't want you here. Leave!"

She threw the glass that she was holding in her hand blindly - and heard the sound of it shattering.

There was silence.

And then warm fingers brushed against her right cheek, gently prodding, telling her to look up.

She resisted.

"Nanoha. Look at me."

The other hand joined to touch the left cheek, and slowly, but gently, Fate forced her to look up.

So she did.

And she felt herself breathe in sharply.

Her hands trembled.

There was blood - blood by Fate's left temple; blood that was steadily dripping down the face.

"I'm not giving up on you, Nanoha." came the whisper. "I won't."

There was so much conviction and determination in that voice. So much, so much, that Nanoha found it difficult to breathe. She could feel something constricting in her throat.

The blonde wrapped her arms around Nanoha, and she could hear the steady heartbeat belonging to that of Fate.

It made her want to cry.

Vivio.

Vivio, Vivio, Vivio.

She still hasn't figured how, exactly, did that little girl worm her way into her heart.

It feels like it was only recently when she had been jealous over the idea of Yuuno and Fate having a kid that would look like Vivio, and now - now, she's sick with worry and so much fear that Vivio may -

"Nanoha."

A pair of hands finds their way around her waist, and she's suddenly pressed against another warm figure.

"Fate-chan…" She leans back, reflexively, and feels like she can just sink in that hold.

Her eyes close involuntarily. Why is it that she feels so exhausted, all of a sudden?

The hold tightens. "Have you slept?" The question is full of concern and none of the reproach.

She smiles wryly despite herself, and sighs.

"Not really," she admits, head turning to rest against the crook of Fate's neck, under her chin. She moves to fold her own hands over Fate's.

"You should," the blonde says, but doesn't actually tells her to go, or attempts to pull her to bed.

"I agree, my master."

She thinks Fate has quirked a smile at Raising Heart's sudden words, and it makes her feel the slightest inclination to pout. She probably would have, if it isn't because of everything that happened during the time when Riot Force Six was attacked.

"What are you doing, anyway?" Fate asks, one hand disengaging from where it is to tap at the blue screens in front of them.

She sighs.

"Damage reports."

"Just damage reports?" Fate says, this time with a bit of wry amusement. The blonde's toggling between the reports that she's been looking over earlier, and quite obviously, damage reports weren't the only things.

She can't help but work up a smile.

"Mostly."

"Mostly," Fate echoes, a hint of exasperation in her tone.

She leans further into that embrace, nuzzling slightly.

Fate sighs; hand dropping to wrap around her waist again. "You look exhausted, Nanoha."

"So do you."

"You more so."

"You can't tell me you weren't running around getting things organized in Asura, Fate-chan." The brunette curls her palm around the back of Fate's hand, fingers entwining with fingers.

Silence.

"Be that as it may," Fate says eventually, this time opting to be frank, "you're the one who's more exhausted right now."

"Mm," she agrees, if only because she knows it to be true. She's not an illogical person, and contrary to popular belief...she knows her limits. She just knows there are times when she has to go over her limits.

(Fate knows that, too.)

The blonde sighs again, but doesn't say anything else, opting to just hold her close.

Nanoha feels another smile forming despite herself.

Fate really does know her too well.

She tightens the grip she has on Fate's hand.

"How do you know me so well?" Nanoha asks, rather randomly.

"You mean, how do I know when not to poke at your stubborn side?" Fate teases.

"Fate-chan," there's a hint of whining in her tone.

The blonde chuckles.

"Because I know you love Vivio." There's a subtle pressure on the back of her head, and she thinks Fate had just pressed a kiss there. "And I know, for the ones you love, you would do anything and everything for them."

Nanoha's grip tightens.

"And this is why I know you'll rest soon," the blonde continues, soft, sure and firm, "because I know you won't jeopardize any chances to save Vivio."

In Fate Testarossa's voice, there's something warm and sincere and admiring - and once more, once more, she feels something tightening in her chest, and there's that unexplainable lump in her throat again.

She closes her eyes when she feels her vision blur, a little.

"We will get her back, Nanoha."

It's a while before she responds; and when she does, she does it by lifting Fate's hand to her lips, and pressing a kiss to that palm.

Her voice cracks when she whispers.

"Okay." Thank you.

rewind.

"Isn't it about time you confess already?"

"Arisa-chan!"

Nanoha choked on her fruit juice. Feeling a surge of nervousness, she leaned back from where she sat as the other loomed closer, hands on hips. Her eyes darted back and forth between a reproachful Suzuka and an annoyed Arisa.

"Arisa-chan? What are you - "

The blonde frowned at her. "Don't Arisa-chan me. You know exactly what I'm talking about."

"Wha - what?"

That only served to make Arisa scowl further.

"You love her, don't you? Get a move on already. You do realize she will be leaving on a long term mission tomorrow?"

"Arisa-chan!" Suzuka's soft voice was scolding, indicating that Arisa did go a little too far this time.

Said blonde huffed. "What? You know she's being stupid too. If she wasn't staring at Fate, she's brooding. All week!"

rewind.

She didn't really know when she started loving Fate.

Well, she loved Fate, but she never knew when was the defining moment that changed the love to something so much more. What she did know was that she first realized it the one time Fate fell asleep on the couch, head resting on her lap; and she had spent all of that one hour just watching the blonde.

It had been a tough few days for Fate.

In particular with how new revelations about 'Project F' came to light.

On Fate's hands, neck, face, and...random places on her, really - there were charred marks from electricity burns. These burns were the price of saving a child from himself.

Erio Mondial.

(and it wasn't the only price.)

It wasn't the first child Fate had saved, but it was the first child that Fate had felt the most responsibilities to.

The blonde hadn't said anything of such, nor had she implied so in any way - but to Nanoha, it was obvious. Fate had a habit of piling more and more responsibilities over herself, so much so, that it was all Nanoha could do to restrain herself from just shaking the blonde silly.

She sighed, leaned back against the couch, and glanced down at her lap - the blonde was still fast asleep, and her features were calm and peaceful.

Fate was beautiful. She really was.

Inside, and outside.

And she was still hurting so much.

Yet, there was nothing Nanoha could do. Nothing she could do to take that pain away, nothing she can do to stop Fate from doing whatever was it the blonde would most definitely do..

But that was a lie, wasn't it?

The truth was, Nanoha did know better.

Nanoha did know that Fate regarded her more importantly than anyone else, even more than Fate's adoptive family.

If she wanted to, she could have...manipulated it in so many ways.

If she wanted to.

But she won't. She can't.

Because all she wanted was Fate to be happy, and though she may be blind to many things, she wasn't blind to the fact that Fate was happy now.

She wanted her to be happy.

And suddenly - just that suddenly - Nanoha found that for one short moment, she couldn't breathe.

( - it's like realization crashing down on her - )

This is why.

rewind.

Fate's hand was stretched invitingly.

The blonde was smiling.

"I know it's a little early, Nanoha, but...call it my celebratory gift?"

She wasn't sure why she hesitated.

She was still shaky on her feet, and Shamal still insisted that, while walking without the crutch was fine, she was going to have to keep a portable one with her at all times.

The silence went on long enough that Fate offered her another crooked grin. "You don't want to?"

Oh, but how she did. How she did.

"I - " her throat locked. "I do. But - "

"Will you trust me, Nanoha?"

Burgundy eyes that were locked onto hers were warm, questioning, and humored; but Nanoha could tell - beneath all of that, there was still that hint of shyness, worry, and doubt.

That sight made her sigh, and Nanoha moved to take her hand, squeezing it.

"Of course I do, Fate-chan. Don't ever think otherwise."

Those dark red eyes seemed to brighten at that.

"Then..." Fate moved, not giving her any chances to hesitate further; one hand pressed against her back, and the other hooked under her legs. "Let's go."

"W - wait - !"

And they flew.

Her eyes squeezed shut involuntarily, arms tightening around Fate's neck; the blonde was speeding, and Nanoha hadn't felt the sky for the longest time. She hid her face in Fate's shoulder, and all she could hear and feel was the sharp, sharp wind.

And then the wind stopped howling in her ear.

Fate had come to a halt, and was strangely quiet. Out there, in god knows where, only the ruffling wind broke the silence.

"Nanoha." Fate said, once and only once; an unsaid request for her to open her eyes.

But she didn't want to. She wanted this so much, and yet - and yet -

( - thy name is fear - )

It was another period of silence before Fate spoke again, breaking the silence.

"You know," Fate said, "I debated on doing this at night, or in the morning. I decided it has to be the latter, in the end. Do you know why, Nanoha?"

Her grip on Fate tightened.

She shook her head, eyes still closed.

The warmth in Fate's soft tone was leading her to believe that the other was smiling gently.

"Open your eyes, Nanoha."

She didn't want to.

"Please?"

The plea made her crack her eyes open, but she stubbornly refused to look at anywhere but Fate's white barrier jacket. And even despite that, she could see hints of blue from the corner of her eyes.

( - it's enough to make her heart pound - )

"Over there," Fate started to say, almost as if on random, "is where kaa-san's place is. She's been missing you, Nanoha. She wanted me to tell you to come over to play again, one of these days."

She refused to look.

"There - is Hayate's house. We're going there, this evening. She promised us a good dinner. Vita won't admit it, but she's waiting for you, too. And Signum mentioned something about Vita and Shamal working together to make some dessert..."

Oh, no.

There was wry amusement (and muted horror) in Fate's voice. "Signum hadn't looked particularly happy about that when she told me and she...dare I say it, looked afraid?"

She can't help it. She snickered into Fate's jacket. Signum, afraid?

"Your family's there, too."

Now that comment did make her pause momentarily, and she glanced up to look into Fate's warm burgundy eyes.

"They are?"

"They are. Lindy-kaasan and Chrono-niichan arranged it." Fate smiled, and nodded at a general direction in front of her. "Look."

She looked.

And all that she saw was a vast, vast blue.

It was an unconscious action, but her grip on Fate's jacket tightened.

At this position that Fate chose to stop at, there was blue, and only blue, surrounding them. Further ahead, much further ahead, were white clouds of all shapes that looked like frozen whirls of tornados; light beams from the bright sun cutting through them at random locations - and was that hints of grey and black she saw?

It may rain, later in the night.

She found herself thinking she could fit all of that in the palm of her hand, if she tried.

The sky. She was in the sky, again.

The air was crisp, clean, cold, and she was tasting it.

And God forbid, it was beautiful.

Fate hadn't stopped talking, and there was something so unreadable and so gentle in her soft tone. "Still remember the question I asked you earlier?"

The question where Fate had debated on doing this at night or in the morning.

The cold wind chilled her skin, but she savored it. She savored it.

"Why?" She found herself whispering back, distracted but still focusing on that voice. Her cheeks had felt strangely wet, and warm.

Fate smiled.

"Isn't this what you missed the most, Nanoha?"

Her eyes burned.

(it was.)

"Nanoha-mama?"

"Hmmn?"

"Fate-mama is late…"

The brunette stops midway of lifting her cup of coffee to her lips, and glances at her daughter.

Vivio's poking at her egg absently, looking half-thoughtful, and half-worried. It makes Nanoha sigh, but she smiles anyway, if not for her daughter's benefit.

"She is," she says, placing the cup back on the table, "But Fate-mama told us that it's possible, didn't she?" A pause, before she adds. "And don't play with your food, Vivio."

The young girl freezes, fork aimed to poke at the still-perfectly-round-liquid-yolk.

"Okay," she says meekly. "But, Nanoha-mama...it's been two weeks. A day never goes without her calling once."

There's actually many times when that had happened.

Many, many times.

And those times had always been the hardest to deal with.

For Vivio, however, this is the first time - given that Riot Force Six had disbanded not too long ago, and Fate had just returned to her duties as an enforcer.

"Is Fate-mama okay..?"

She feels something tighten in her chest.

She wants to know, too.

If anything happened to Fate..

"Fate-mama will contact us as soon as she can, Vivio. I promise."

The little girl grows silent at that. And quite obviously still thinking and brooding over it, legs kicking at the air.

That sight tickled at her, despite all the worry and fear she's desperately trying to stomp down.

"Well." She moves to rest her chin on her palm, and smiles at her daughter. "Maybe Fate-mama will ring on the door anytime soon, just to surprise us?"

The girl seems to brighten at the thought.

"You think so?"

"Hmm. It's possible. Fate-mama may not seem like it, but she can be quite the tease, sometimes..."

"Oh...you mean like how she always teases you in bed?"

She freezes.

What did her daughter just say?

Vivio slaps a hand over her mouth.

She twitches. That quite obviously means someone told her daughter something, and told her to keep it a secret. And damn it all, if it's who she thinks it is..

"Vivio..."

"Y...yes, Nanoha-mama?"

"Who told you that?"

"Uh…um...Aunt Hayate..?"

Nanoha grimaces, and pinches the bridge of her nose. She knew it.

"What else did she tell you, Vivio?"

"Um...um...Aunt Hayate says it's a secret..? But mama, " Vivio hurries to continue, in an attempt to save her aunt from a certain impending doom, "that's really all she told me!"

And then, her daughter's brows scrunch up in sudden confusion. "I don't really understand what teasing in bed means, though...what does it mean?"

She fights the urge to headdesk. Hayateeeeeee.

Her daughter's still looking at her curiously, waiting for an answer.

Damn it, where is Fate when she needs her?

"It's, ah..." Nanoha grimaces. "...I'll tell you when you're older."

"Ehhh?" Vivio whines. "But why!"

Just on cue, the bell by the door to their house jingles, followed by the sound of the door opening.

Both mother and daughter freezes. Can it be..?

"I'm home," came a voice, faint and muted given the distance. Nanoha, at any time, and anywhere, could recognize that voice in a heartbeat.

All at once, she feels the tension fade from her shoulders. Fate-chan.

Vivio jumps out of the chair, and sprints to the door.

"Fate-mama!"

Nanoha moves too, albeit at a slower pace, and stops just a couple steps from Fate who had collected Vivio in her arms.

She leans against the wall, arms crossed, watching silently.

Burgundy eyes are fixed on her.

Exhaustion is written all over Fate. And in those eyes, there are shadows reminiscent of all the times when Fate has seen and experienced things that would live with her forever.

And she wonders what Fate had seen this time.

It's Fate who breaks the eye contact, turning her attention back to their daughter.

"Have you been giving trouble to Nanoha-mama?"

"Nooope!"

Fate smiles. "That's a good girl."

That sight warms her heart, even when she feels something tightening in her chest.

"Vivio, it's time for school."

"Oh?" Fate asks, putting their daughter back on the floor. "Sorry, I didn't realize. You should go get ready, Vivio."

The small blonde pouts. "But Fate-mama just got back."

Fate bends down, and pats at Vivio's head gently.

"And I'll be here when you come back. We can do whatever you want then, I promise."

"Really?"

"Really, really."

"Okay!" The little girl scampers down the hallway and turns, disappearing from her parents' sight.

This is when she moves.

She lifts a hand to brush against Fate's neck, and feels a rough patch on that otherwise smooth surface.

"You're injured."

Fate leans into the touch, eyes closing. "I'm fine."

"Fate-chan.."

The blonde smiles slightly, grasping at her hand, and presses a soft, lingering kiss to her palm. "Really."

Despite how used to it she should be by now, it still makes her shiver.

"I missed you." Fate whispers, voice soft and almost inaudible, and filled with so many things; from guilt to regret to pain to sorrow to everything else and in between.

And she doesn't really know who moved first; maybe it's her, or maybe it's the other who had pulled her by the hand - because the next thing she knows is she has Fate backed against the wall, her lips are crushed against the blonde's, and there isn't any part of her mouth that's left untouched, and - god, how she had missed this -

Then they break apart, partly for air, partly because they know Vivio is bound to come soon.

That doesn't, however, stop her from resting her head on Fate's shoulder. The insides of her mouth feels pleasantly raw. She breathes in, deeply, and inhales all of that is Fate and more. She's back. She's back.

"You came straight from the hospital?" she whispers. She could smell the antiseptic, too, and it makes something clench in her chest.

Fate stiffens.

That's an answer in itself.

If there's one thing that Fate is terrible at, it's keeping poker faces in front of Nanoha.

"I'm ready, mama!"

"I'm sorry," Fate says, quietly, this time a little wryly. "But, I'm okay, Nanoha. I really am."

She sighs, and releases the blonde, taking a step back. To Vivio - "Get my car keys please, Vivio!"

"Okay!"

Nanoha reaches over to squeeze the blonde's hand, and wonders, idly, just how many injuries are hidden beneath those clothes. She knows she will find out, soon, and Fate will try to downplay it to some degree, but that doesn't stop her from wondering all the same.

"I won't ask what happened," she says finally; most of them are probably classified information, anyway, "but, if you want to talk about anything..."

The blonde gives her a crooked grin. "I know."

Despite herself, she smiles too, and leans over to rest her head in the nook of Fate's neck.

Was it only a few years ago that Fate would hesitate and say thank you to that offer, instead of an easy acceptance and I know?

It feels like a lifetime ago.

How things have changed..

"Hey, Fate-chan?"

"Hmm?"

"Welcome home," she whispers, and wonders if Fate can tell that her voice is trembling with so many things that she can't even begin to describe herself.

Silence.

Then:

"I'm home, Nanoha."

There's so much warmth in that soft voice.

And it is here that a thought occurs to Nanoha.

Home, for them, isn't a place.

It's a person.

-End-

A/N: I had (have) some concerns about how this fic ended...it doesn't feel like it has enough of a closure, though I've been told otherwise. It probably doesn't help that I had read this fic quite a few times, so it's difficult to tell if the nagging feeling I have is wrong or right.

Writing from Nanoha's point of view had proved to be an interesting experience. I usually write from Fate's POV (or when I was still active, more specifically). But, the movie has perked my interest again, in particular for Nanoha, so...here you have it.

This was originally meant to be a depiction of Nanoha as she ages each year, with one scene per year, but obviously, that end product had different ideas. Guess it shows to say I'm never much of a plotter.

Nonetheless. I hope you've enjoyed the story. :)

Cheers.

Edit (21/04/2011): When at least three people asks what happened to Fate in the second scene, I figured, I think I should place a statement about it somewhere.. and here is my answer: No, this scene is unrelated to the saving Erio part. The second scene occurs after age 16, probably 17; but not 15 - which is when I'm guessing the saving Erio part occured from what information I dug out.

I have absolutely no idea what happened to her either, in that second scene. :D Okay. That's a lie. I've some vague ideas, but I never got around to writing them cause that means going into Fate's pov, and I wasn't sure if that's a good idea. But, whatever it was that happened to Fate - it would be something really dark, and despairing, for her to be in that state. My idea generally lies somewhere along the lines of having her whole team killed and/or her being forced to kill more than quite a few (innocent) people. - is bricked- And, well, brick me you may for that, but you've to admit, not much else would work save of having her adoptive family/Arf/someone equally important or more killed in front of her.

And on the note of scenes structure - my apologies for some of the confusion that seems to have occured. Present tense generally dictates that time is flowing, regardless of what's the time skip. The only time it's back to the past is when it's in past tense, with the 'rewind.' statement at the top of the scene. And once this specific rewind scene is over, it's back to 'present', and it continues where it was left off. I hope that makes more sense.