A/N: Finally. Finished. Over 7,2k words. I'm definitely going for longer chapters. And for faster writing. Have a good read.

The Meaning of Us

Chapter 3

By: Caelion

The trip to the hot springs was scheduled on the next Friday. Four days passed really quickly and it was already Thursday before Nanoha could even notice. She checked her luggage one more time and, when she was sure that everything was packed, she closed her suitcase. It was already dark outside and the only source of light in the room was a small table lamp. The whole house was filled with silence and Nanoha noticed that her vision was a little foggy. She looked at her phone to see what time was it. It was already 11pm. Time to get some sleep. She took her pyjamas, turned the lamp off and left her room. She went straight to Fate's door, opened them and stepped inside. Her sister had already finished packing her things and was lying on her bed, ready to sleep.

"They passed by quite fast, didn't they?" The brunette started. "I mean, those four days, we're finally going on the trip tomorrow." She began to change her clothes while Fate was watching her in silence. "I can hardly wait." Nanoha continued. "I don't think I'll be able to sleep tonight." She stopped then and looked at her sister. "Fate-chan? Why are you so silent?"

Slowly, the blonde got up and started walking towards her. "Nanoha..." She reached out her hand and cupped the brunette's cheek gently. "How about... staying here?" Fate's voice was low and attractive. She came closer and rested her other hand on Nanoha's side. "Just the two of us... alone." She gazed into the other's eyes warmly and started to close the distance between their faces.

"Fate-chan... what are you... doing?" Nanoha tried to form a question; but the sight of Fate's lips right before her own was making her words only weaker. Beautiful, full and seductively red, matching her eyes. Had she used her lipstick? The brunette spotted some stray hair on her sister's face and instinctively wanted to remove them but she found out that she couldn't move her hand. The gap between them was becoming less and less noticeable, Nanoha's heart was beating like crazy and she could swear that their lips almost touched. Just a little bit more, a few millimetres... no, no more than two and...

Nanoha opened her eyes and looked around, breathing heavily. Yes, she was in Fate's room but the blonde was hugging her from behind, still asleep. The brunette lifted her hand and slowly touched her lips with her fingers, still feeling the warmth before her face. Was it only a dream? But it was so realistic... She took her phone from a night-table, opened it and closed after a short while, sighing silently. 'Two in the morning, what a great start of a trip...'

Nanoha's phone rang after four long hours. She didn't even have to open her eyes. Every time she tried to get some sleep, the images from the dream appeared before her, making her even more awake. She turned off the noisy device and tried to break free from Fate's arms but the grip was too strong. In the end she had to wake her sister up. Finally, she got up and started to put on clothes she prepared last evening. After going through all of her 'morning rituals', she went to the kitchen to prepare the breakfast. Her mothers were already there, making food for the rest of the family. "Good morning," Nanoha greeted them and came closer to help them.

"Good morning, Nanoha," Momoko looked at her daughter and suddenly a serious expression appeared on her face. "What's wrong sweetie? You look very tired." She asked with concern, while Precia returned the greeting and let her wife handle the case.

"Um, I was so excited that I couldn't sleep," The brunette lied, trying to explain herself. "But don't worry, mama, I'm all right." She smiled, assuring her mother. "I'm just a little-" yawn, "-sleepy."

Momoko caressed Nanoha's cheek gently. "Be sure to get some rest during the trip, okay?" She went back to making sandwiches while the other started to pack them into a large basket.

"Okay, mama."

It was already seven in the morning by the time the members of Takamachi family finished their breakfast and packed everything into their cars. Nanoha and Fate were going to ride along with Precia and Momoko. Kyouya and Miyuki had their own car and they had agreed to take Suzuka, Arisa and Yuuno with them. Hayate, with her family, was going to give Subaru and Teana a lift. When everything was ready, all they could do was to wait for their friends to arrive.

"Ah, they're here!" Nanoha called the rest when she spotted a long, black limousine stopping a few meters away from their road. "Morning!" She greeted her friends and help them with packing their things into Kyouya and Miyuki's car. "Ooh, you really took them!" She pointed at a large, covered with blanket cage, held by a tall, blond-haired boy.

"Well, I couldn't really leave them at home, my parents don't know a thing about animals." Yuuno offered Nanoha a small smile and, after greeting the rest of her family, got into the car, putting the cage on his lap. Arisa and Suzuka joined him after a while.

"Ready to go?" Miyuki asked, fastening her seat belt.

"Hai!" The three responded and Kyouya turned the engine.

Fate was already sitting inside her mother's car, trying to figure out the best place for another cage, this time with sleeping Linith inside. Finally, she decided to leave it on the middle seat and when Nanoha got inside, the two took a hold of the cage together, interlacing their fingers on top of it. Momoko decided to check their baggage for the last time while Precia went to lock the front door of their house. It took them no longer than a few minutes and soon the two cars left the front yard. The trip has finally started.

"-ha; Nanoha, wake up," A gentle voice called her. "Nanoha, we're in the hotel already, wake up,"

Slowly, Nanoha opened her eyes and rubbed them with her left hand. A tall blonde, sitting next to her, was gently shaking her arm. "Fate-chan?" Nanoha looked around, they were still in the car but the front seats were already empty.

"Finally," The blonde sighed lightly. "You were sleeping so hard that I couldn't wake you up." She unfastened her seat belt and got out of the car. Then, she went to the other side of the vehicle and opened the door next to Nanoha.

"Thank you," The brunette stretched her legs and opened her phone. "Oh my, it's already nine o'clock." Nanoha stood up and yawned loudly. "Sorry," She made a quick apologize and turned around to look at their surroundings. They were on a large parking, next to their car were standing two more. "Ah, aunt Lindy is already here, isn't she?"

"Mom said that they came here yesterday to help with preparing the hotel or something like that. I heard that it's right after renovation. We can spend a weekend here because Chrono-san and Amy-san agreed to do some minor works."

"Maybe they need some help if that's the case?" Nanoha asked but her sister shook her head.

"I've already asked. Aunt Lindy said that it's not necessary and that she invited us here to let us rest."Fate took the cage with Linith and closed the car, locking the door. "Come on, Kyouya-niisan and Chrono-san took our bags already, we need to see our room." She said and took the brunette's hand, leading her to the huge stone stairs. They reached their destination after a minute of climbing up. In front of them was standing an impressive, Japanese-style mansion.

"Wow," Nanoha couldn't help but stare in awe at the building. "Aunt Lindy has said that it's a big hotel but I didn't expect it to be that big." She started walking again. "Ne, Fate-chan, the weather is great today, do you want to go for a walk after lunch?"

Her sister nodded her head enthusiastically. "Sure, I saw a shrine not far from here. We could go there." They were a few meters away from the mansion when the front door opened, showing Arf dressed in an elegant, black and orange kimono. "Morning, Arf," Fate waved her hand, Nanoha smiled and repeated her sister's gesture.

"Good morning!" The orange-haired girl smiled widely and moved to the side to let them in. "It's good that you've arrived, the hotel was so empty with just four of us here." They took off their boots and put on white slippers, prepared specially for guests.

"Where's everyone?" Nanoha asked, looking around. They were walking through a large hall, there were many guest rooms located on both sides, most of them empty.

Arf scratched her cheek. "Lindy-kaasan has gone for a walk with Momoko-san and Precia-san, Amy-neesan and Chrono-niisan are on the back of the mansion with Kyouya-san and Miyuki-san. Yuuno-san, Suzuka-san and Arisa-san are waiting for you in your room.

They reached their destination after about a minute of walking. "Lindy-kaasan thought that you'd like to gather in one room anyway so she chose you the biggest guest-room we have here." Arf stated proudly, sliding apart the door. "I'll excuse myself then." She bowed lightly and started to turn around when a voice stopped her.

"You're not going to stay with us?" Fate asked with a hint of disappointment.

Arf gave her an apologetic smile. "I'm sorry, but I need to welcome the rest of our guests, they should arrive soon."

"Ah, okay, see you later then." The blonde returned the smile while the girl turned around and left.

Nanoha and Fate stepped inside, spotting their friends immediately. They walked towards them and sat on the floor, curiously looking around. The room was big enough so even fifteen people could easily sleep on the floor without making it crowded. Apparently they were on the other side of the mansion, they could easily enter to the garden on the back of the hotel through a large door. Their things were laying next to the opposite wall. Futons were already prepared and the two sisters quickly claimed their own one.

"You're not going to sleep together, are you?" Arisa asked, crossing her arms.

"Why not?" Nanoha countered with a smile. "We do this every night."

"Ah, spare me the details." The short-tempered blonde was seemingly getting angry by just thinking about it but her violet-haired friend immediately reminded her to control her emotions.

"Now, Arisa-chan, we're on vacation." She patted Arisa's arm while Nanoha put out her tongue towards the blonde, taking a hold of her sister's hand in the same time.

"Um, Fate-san," Yuuno started, watching as the other tried to open the cage with Linith using only one hand. "Aren't you scared that she's going to run away?" He asked with a bit of anxiety in his voice, trying to ignore Suzuka and Arisa playfully poking each other next to him.

Fate finally managed to open the cage. "It's okay, your pets will be fine." She assured him when the dark-grey cat stepped outside and laid down again, this time on Fate's lap. "See?" She smiled and started to gently stroke the cat's fur.

"Oh, I should have taken one of mine," Suzuka said with a little dreamy voice, looking at Linith. "They must feel lonely without me." Nanoha laughed at her friend's remark while Yuuno let out a sigh of relief.

The rest of the guests arrived about fifteen minutes later. Hayate, along with the rest of her family, entered the room with a loud 'hello', followed by Teana and Subaru, both a little more reserved than their friend.

"Hayate-chan!" Nanoha stood up and hugged her friend. "Hey, Vita-chan," She ruffled the little girl's hair playfully and went to greet Signum and Shamal.

"Hey, what's in this cage?" Subaru asked curiously, pointing at the large object, covered with blanket, behind Yuuno.

"Ah, my pets." The boy answered and turned around. "Actually, I should take it off now." When the girls took their place in a circle around the cage, Yuuno pulled off the cover. Behind the small, metal bars were lying two ferrets, sleeping peacefully next to each other.

"Wow! They're so sweet!" Subaru squealed and looked closer at the two animals. "What are they called?"

"Yuuna and Nanami." Vita answered before Yuuno could open his mouth. "Ferret boy thought that the older one is a male so he called it 'Yuuno'; He changed it when Shamal told him that both of them are females."

"Who are you calling 'ferret boy'?" Yuuno started, while everyone burst out with laughter, stopped by Subaru's enthusiastic voice.

"Look, they woke up!" The girl shouted, looking at the two pets like hypnotized. The boy stood up and went to get his bag while the rest still stared at the animals. The bigger ferret looked around, then turned to the smaller one. "I wonder what it's going to- OH MY GOD!"

"What happened?!" Yuuno came back immediately, bending over the cage.

"W- W- What a perverted ferret!" Subaru stammered, pointing at the two, her eyes wide.

The boy sighed, straightening himself. "That's why I thought it is a male..."

After eating the lunch, Nanoha and her friends gathered in their room to kill some time before going to the hot springs. They had many things to talk about. Subaru and Teana wanted to know why Signum called Fate 'Testarossa' and Nanoha, despite her sister's pleadings, volunteered to tell the story.

"Hmm, I think it happened about five years ago..." She started, scratching her chin lightly, while Hayate and Arisa were holding protesting Fate. Signum just smirked, remembering the whole happening. "All of us were on a trip to Italy and we managed get some tickets to a display of Italian cars." Nanoha continued while the blonde stopped her struggle and was just listening silently. "Did you know that Fate-chan loves sport cars?" The brunette teased her sister and continued her story. "She wanted me to take a picture of her standing in front of a black Ferrari Testarossa and-"

"I've told you, I tripped over a- Mmm!" Fate desperately tried to explain what the brunette was going to say but Hayate covered her mouth with her hand.

Nanoha smiled widely. "I tell you, even professional models don't pose like this on those expensive cars!" She looked happily at Fate, who was burning red with embarrassment, and imitated the pose her sister made back then. "I have pictures!" The brunette added, laughing along with everyone.

"So now..." Hayate managed to say something after a few good minutes of uncontrollable laughter, caused not only by the story itself, but also by extremely embarrassed Fate. "How about you?" She pointed at Teana.

"Um, what about me?" Teana asked hesitantly.

"Tell us a funny story!" The brunette answered cheerily and sat next to the girl. "It's our little tradition, everyone must tell some kind of amusing tale. Didn't I tell you?"

"Ah, no, you didn't." She responded and thought for a while before speaking again. "But I'm afraid that I don't know any..."

"I'm sure you do," Hayate didn't give up. "You just don't remember it now, take it easy and tell us when you're ready." She patted Teana on her arm lightly and turned again to the rest. "So who wants to do it now?"

Suzuka raised her hand lightly in response. "I think I have something fitting," She opened her mouth to start but Nanoha interjected.

"Hey, is this the one with your cat which learned how to open a fridge?" She asked but realised what she did when the violet-haired girl nodded her head. "Oh, sorry," She laughed nervously.

"It's okay, Nanoha, this story is getting old anyway." Fate came to her rescue with an innocent smile. "But you've just embarrassed another five years out of my life so I need to pay you back properly." A grin appeared on her face when Hayate and Arisa got up to immobilise the brunette for safety reasons.

The day passed quickly and the evening came in a blink of eye. The main attraction of the whole trip were hot springs so naturally, after many hours of talking and having fun together, the girls were lazily soaking in the hot water. The mansion had four different baths, two outdoor and two indoor, just in case of bad weather. Two of them were designed for males and two for females. The weather was great however so everyone choose the outdoor baths.

Teana and Subaru were sitting next to each other with their eyes closed, Suzuka was reading a book while Arisa tried to peek at the text above her friend's shoulder. The atmosphere was content, to the point where Fate needed to wake up Nanoha who fell asleep in the water. The blonde pinched her sister lightly, to make sure she won't drift off to sleep again, and returned to talking with Arf.

"Ah, I could stay like this forever..." Hayate broke the silence, delight in her voice. She was lying on her back, 'using' Shamal as her body pillow, who was gently massaging the girl's shoulders. Behind the blonde was Signum, sitting with her legs on both sides of her friend, hugging her and resting her head on Shamal's back. Vita, on the other hand, was floating on the water and watching the starry sky.

Nanoha stood up after a few minutes, took her towel and left the bath. "Where are you going, Nanoha-chan?" Hayate asked her before the girl reached the door.

"I'm going to take a walk, it's really hot here and I'm getting sleepy." The brunette entered the bathroom where guests could wash their bodies before walking into the hot springs. She waved to her mothers, her older sister, Lindy and Amy, who were preparing to join the rest of the girls, and put on her clothes. The air outside the bath was pleasantly cool and the drowsiness flew away quickly.

The hot springs were located behind the hotel. The whole area was surrounded by an old forest. Nanoha was walking a stone path, along a bank of a small river dividing the forest from the hotel grounds. The girl looked around curiously and couldn't help but notice how silent her surrounding was. Indeed, the mansion was a few kilometres away from the nearest town. To add the atmosphere, the garden was lightly illuminated by many lamps standing here and there. When Nanoha looked forward again, she saw the path splitting into two directions. The left one was leading back to the hotel, the right one, to a small, wooden bridge. She looked at the opposite bank of the river, it was thickly covered with trees but it was too dark to see what was between them. She chose the first path and walked back to the mansion. She didn't want to get lost after all.

Her friends had already left the hot springs by the time Nanoha got there. She talked for a while with Amy before going back to her room. When she entered inside, everyone was sitting on their futons, talking and occasionally laughing but ready to sleep, so the brunette took her clothes and went to the bathroom to change and wash her teeth. She put on her pyjamas and went back to the room after a few minutes. Nanoha located her sister's futon quickly and slipped in it right next to the blonde.

"Here we go again..." Arisa started.

"What's wrong, Arisa-chan?" The brunette asked innocently, taking a hold on Fate's hand who, in turn, became a little red.

The shorter blonde just pouted. "Find yourself a boyfriend instead of clinging to your sister all the time." Nanoha just laughed in response while Yuuno choked with his drink. When Shamal went to help the boy, Arisa looked at Fate and added. "The same goes for you."

"I don't want to hear it from you," Nanoha countered with laughter while her sister looked at her lap, taken aback by the remark.

"But Arisa-chan, that's..." She started but was stopped by Hayate.

"Okay, that's enough." When all voices in the room died down, the brunette continued. "We're on our vacations now, let's talk about it another time." The subject was rarely taken, mostly because of both Nanoha and Fate. The two were just constantly avoiding talking with and about males. With a few exceptions naturally, including Kyouya, Chrono and Yuuno. Most of the girls nodded their heads, except for Arisa who was still sitting there with her arms crossed. "Arisa-chan?"

The blonde sighed and looked down. "Okay, I just... don't want other people to call my friends freaks." The confession didn't really surprise the rest. They knew that she cared about them in her own, maybe a little strange but devoted, way.

"I understand, Arisa-chan but- Nanoha-chan?" Hayate looked at the brunette who paled and was opening and closing her mouth repeatedly. "What's wrong?"

"Um, what?" Nanoha jerked her head and looked at her friend. She blinked a few times and spoke again. "Could you repeat? I kind of spaced out," I'm just a freak after all. She let out a small laugh and scratched her head nervously when she felt everyone's eyes on herself. "Sorry, I'm a little sleepy, how about calling it a day?"

"Yeah, I think that everyone is already tired," Shamal smiled. "We still have two more days."

Hayate looked at Nanoha, who seemed lost in thoughts, but nodded her head anyway. "Right, let's go to sleep today." She got inside her futon and laid on her back while Yuuno went to turn the light off.

Nanoha also laid down with Fate next to her and closed her eyes. A few minutes passed before she heard her sister whispering into her ear.

"Nanoha?" She started hesitantly. "Are you asleep?"

Answer or not? "No, what's wrong?"

The blonde stood silent for a while. "It's nothing, good night."

"Um, good night." She was too tired to think about it now.

"Nanoha?" Fate's voice brought the brunette back to reality. They were on their way back to the hotel after a trip to the local shrine. The afternoon was going to be rainy so they decided to go right after breakfast while the rest went to the nearest town.

"Yes?" Caught again, how many times was there before? Nanoha realised that she was just staring blankly at the road before her. Too obvious to hide it now. "Sorry," She gave the blonde an apologetic smile. "I was thinking what we're going to do after coming back to the mansion." Liar. Arisa's words from the evening before were the real reason and Nanoha knew it.

"Ah, okay then." The two went silent again. It was awkward. True, they had always understood each other without words, but now Fate felt like her sister was surrounded by the wall, and she was unable to get through it. Even if she was holding the brunette's hand it felt different. Limp and cold. And this time the blonde was positive that Nanoha had a serious problem but for an unknown reason she was determined to stay silent about it. Why? Has Fate lost the brunette's trust at some point? Then how to regain it again? There is a way, isn't there? The blonde felt that her stomach twisted when she thought about it. She was going to try. She had to try. But what if Nanoha wanted to just get some rest? They were on holidays after all. Then she should talk with her after coming back home. Yes, that way should be the best. Unwittingly, Fate squeezed her sister's hand lightly. The thought itself was restorative enough to lighten her mood. She looked around and decided to hurry up; dark clouds covered the horizon.

It started to rain about an hour after Nanoha and Fate's come back. Hayate was excited about bathing during the rain so after the lunch they went along with her to the outdoor hot spring. The three decided that the experience was very unique as they sat in the hot water, with cold raindrops falling of their upper bodies.

Meanwhile in the indoor bath, the atmosphere was a little more steamy. "Ah! Subaru!" Teana shouted, falling into the water along with her friend. "Stop groping me, you idiot!"

Suzuka looked at the two with worry, covering Vita's eyes. "Maybe treating Subaru-san to sake wasn't a good idea after all..."

"Don't worry," Arisa patted the girl's arm. "Hayate does the same without alcohol." She answered, watching Teana who managed to break free from Subaru's grip but immediately got pulled back to the water by the said girl. Vita just shivered at the thought alone. The evening was going to be interesting.

Hayate, Fate and Nanoha came back after fifteen minutes. It started to rain so hard that sitting outside became more of a trouble than of a pleasure. They still had a lot of time left until the dinner so they decided to spend it together with their friends. The room was rather silent. Subaru was sleeping in the far corner while Teana was still drying her hair up with an angry expression. Yuuno went to feed his ferrets and Suzuka was playing with Linith. Or rather, Linith was playing with Suzuka's hair. Strangely, the cat would take an interest in the girl's long, violet locks every time she tried to pet it.

Signum and Shamal went to the kitchen to get some drinks for everyone but, as Hayate remarked, it was taking them terribly long. Oddly enough, she was also highly convinced that they don't need any help and a mysterious grin was the only answer that Nanoha managed to get. Fate, on the other hand, knew that something more then loose family bonds was between the two.

Of course, the matter of Hayate's family was interesting enough that even Teana wanted to ask about it and was held only by her good manners. Subaru, on the other hand, wasn't which, as an addition to her curious personality, made her ask the question before her roommate could stop her. Hayate just laughed and answered that they are quite distant relatives, reassuring, now moping, girl that it wasn't so personal to not ask about it.

Teana couldn't hold her tongue when she met Momoko for the first time. She recognized the woman from the bakery and asked about her husband before even thinking about it. It was one of those rare times when Momoko didn't know what to say and she was glad that Fate was there to explain everything to the girl. It wasn't really Teana's fault, she didn't know that Momoko and Shirou divorced a long time ago. They had a really good friendship with each other and everyone could think the same. In addition, how could she know that the brunette was her friends' step-mother? And furthermore, their 'real' mother's wife? Never had she met any homosexual people. Bad experiences with her own family had also ensured her that a possibility of such situation is almost null. Then again, right before her eyes, she had an ideal example that not always things go wrong.

Finally, after over half an hour, Signum and Shamal came back with the drinks. "Sorry," Signum started, her face a little red. "We have... ran out of-"

"Water." Shamal interjected and started to hand out the drinks with a totally perfect smile. So perfect that no one, even Hayate, dared to question it.

It was already half past midnight when they decided to go to sleep. After the whole day of having fun together everyone was pretty tired and fell asleep quickly. Except for one person.

Nanoha shifted again in the futon, trying to not wake her sister up. No matter how much she tried, she just couldn't drift off to sleep. She laid down on her back, watching the celling, then she turned on her right side. Fate's hands were wrapped around her lightly, the blonde was lying behind her. Nanoha closed her eyes and once again tried to sleep but the result was easy to predict. She started to play the whole day in her head right from the morning to the evening. No use. Next method, thinking about something pleasant. She thought about the time spent with the certain blonde but it just made the things worse when her imagination drifted too far.

The last way she could think of was cuddling with her sister. And even if she usually felt guilty for doing it without the blonde's initiation, this time she was determined to try it anyway. Slowly, she shifted one more time, on her left side, and started to look for a 'right spot'. Her gaze naturally stopped on Fate's breasts, then, after chiding herself, went higher to the blonde's neck, her sleeping face and finally, her lightly parted lips. Nanoha rested her head on her hand and just stared. Somehow, she couldn't look the other way. The sight before her was strangely entertaining and... tempting.

Nanoha moved a little to look closer and felt Fate's warm breath on her face. The scent of blonde's hair hit her nose as something was pulling her nearer, the smell was so nice and intoxicating. There were only a few centimetres between their faces and their noses almost touched. Nanoha tilted her head and slowly started to close her eyes. She saw the images from her last dream, the look in Fate's eyes, her seducing moves and the fine line between her parted lips. It was all she needed to make her final move.

She was just about to kiss her sister when a small gasp escaped from the blonde's lips. "Nanoha..." Fate shifted a little in the futon, now looking even more innocent and defenceless than before. The brunette jerked back roughly and covered her mouth with her hand.

Nanoha realised what she was going to do and felt sick. Of herself. Of her twisted feelings which had been making her life harder for the last four years. But it wasn't what mattered to her the most at the moment. She almost betrayed all of her sister's trust. She looked at Fate once again, this time with fear in her eyes, but the blonde was still asleep. Sleep talking? Nanoha let out a small sigh but it wasn't all. She felt as if something was choking her. She needed some fresh air. She got up carefully and, after putting on her slippers, she went out of the room, straight to the garden. Nanoha started to run as soon as she got outside. No matter where, she wanted to flee from all of this, to become 'normal' again.

She was running until she reached the small bridge she saw the day before. She collapsed on the wood and started to breathe heavily. It didn't happen, right? It was some kind of madness, wasn't it? A dream, her imagination... Even if the brunette tried to push the vivid memory away, she couldn't. Had she really tried to do it? No, she had almost done it, completely willingly and she wasn't going to stop. One part of her was glad that Fate 'chose' that particular moment to talk in her sleep, the other one was terrified.

Nanoha felt that tears started to come to her eyes. She promised herself to not cry because of this, to be strong, but she couldn't stop. She let out the first tear. Then the second. And the third, then she stopped counting and just started to weep. She took a hold of the wooden railing and rested her cheek on her forearm, shutting her eyes tightly and crying openly in the middle of a warm, summer night.

Nanoha couldn't look into Fate's eyes. Whenever the blonde wanted to talk with her she would just give her an evasive answer, look at her phone and find some excuse to go somewhere else. It was already the fifth time when she was going to the bathroom just to avoid her sister and it wasn't an easy thing to do. Nanoha wanted to be with her, to talk with her normally, but in her current state she just couldn't. The whole trip was making it even harder, their friends weren't blind and too abnormal behaviour of the brunette could raise a wave of questions.

She was walking though the hall, lost in thoughts again, when she bumped on a certain green-haired woman. "Oh, I'm sorry-" She started and raised her head. "Aunt Lindy!" Her eyes widened a little and she bowed quickly to apologize. "I'm really sorry!" Her aunt just smiled in return and patted the girl's head lightly.

"It's okay, no need to be so formal." She looked at the brunette, then at the rest of the hall and at Nanoha again. "Where is Fate? I wanted to send you to the town to buy a few things, we're kind of busy now and we need some help from you two. I'm sorry, I promised you some rest but-"

"Ah, it's okay," Nanoha scratched her cheek. "I can go, what do I need to buy?"

"You don't want to go with your sister?" Lindy looked at her with surprise.

"Um, no, she is... busy, I think." The brunette masked her puzzlement with a smile. "I don't want to disturb her, she needs more rest than me after all."

"Okay, if that's the case," Lindy gave her a few bills and a piece of paper. "Here you have some money and a list of things to buy. Come back before the lunch, okay?" She smiled warmly and watched as Nanoha started to put on her boots. When the brunette left, she turned around and saw Fate walking from behind a corner. "Ah, Fate, I thought you were doing something with your friends."

"Huh?" The blonde stopped, staring at her aunt questioningly.

Lindy looked at her, puzzled. "Nanoha said so a while ago..."

"Where is she now?" Fate asked.

"She went to the town, she should be back in an hour or two."

"Ah," Fate's mood darkened as she looked at the front door. Nanoha's boots were, indeed, gone. "Okay then." She passed by her aunt and went to her room, still feeling the older woman's look on her back. Was her sister avoiding her? Fate felt that her head started to hurt so she leaned against the wall as soon as she entered the empty room. It wasn't making any sense to her. Nanoha had always been so cheerful and full of energy and suddenly her behaviour changed for a totally different one. Why? Was it because of the blonde herself? She couldn't tell.

"Why so serious, Fate-chan?"

The blonde jumped when she heard Hayate's voice behind her. "Hayate-chan!" She looked at the brunette but lowered her gaze on her feet.

"Has something happened?" Her friend asked with concern, putting her hand on the blonde's arm in a reassuring way.

Fate sighed and looked into Hayate's worried eyes. "You already know, don't you?" She asked and the brunette nodded her head in response. If there was someone able to help then Hayate was definitely the right person to talk with.

The weather was just seemingly better than the day before. It was warm with a few raindrops falling from the sky occasionally and a light wind blowing a little harder from time to time. Nanoha was coming back from the town, the groceries were already in a bag. It was early Sunday afternoon and the streets were pretty empty. She was walking through a stony road leading to the hotel. She sighed and looked up at the sky. Walking like that without Fate was lonely and Nanoha started to wonder how long would it take her to come to terms with the whole situation.

It was surely hard for her. If it was any other kind of problem she could probably ask for help her family or her friends. But being in love with her own twin sister and, what was more important, almost kissing her in her sleep wasn't something she could just go and talk about with other people. This time books were also useless. All those romances she loved to read about were too trite and there wasn't any guide 'how to handle a romantic relationship with a member of your family'. Television? If only she knew a serial resembling her situation...

At first she decided to wait. Maybe she wasn't really in love with Fate, maybe it was just her imagination. After all, those feelings were totally new to her. And so she waited. One month, two months, a year passed and she had to say that, indeed, she hopelessly fell for the blonde. So she tried to cure it with the poison itself. But finding a boyfriend wasn't exactly the easiest thing to do, considering her total lack of attention towards males. In fact, Yuuno was the only possible option and she knew that she wasn't all the same to the boy. There was only one problem. To Nanoha, Yuuno was just a friend and, even if she wanted to, she just couldn't see him as something more. In that situation, asking him out meant lying to another person and that was the thing the brunette wanted to avoid.

There was only one more method left. Possibly the most effective and in the same time the most brutal one. Nanoha had been pushing it for a long time but in the end she needed to reconsider it once again. But was it really that necessary? Was leaving her sister the only way to get rid of those feelings? Not only did it mean hurting herself but also Fate as well. The blonde was really attached to her and Nanoha was pretty sure that separation could only make things worse. But in her current situation it was slowly becoming the only way. And the brunette really hated to admit it. After all, she had tried everything she could, hadn't she? Was there anything more she could do?

The sight of the hotel pulled Nanoha out of her gloomy thoughts. She knew that immersing in depressing thoughts wasn't the best thing to do but she needed to rethink everything one more time. And then once more. And maybe she could find another solution. She went to the kitchen and left the bag, waving to her mothers. Time to think about it again. She directed her steps towards the garden, carefully, to not let the others know that she came back. It was like a childish play in hide and seek but she needed this silence and distance. For Fate's sake.

The brunette entered the garden and started to walk through the path she discovered two days ago. Soon she got to the wooden bridge she spent almost half of her last night on. She looked at the other bank of the river, thickly covered with trees. A little hesitantly, Nanoha stepped on the bridge. She crossed the river and, after a few minutes of walking, she found herself in a circular bower. In the middle was a trunk, reshaped to serve as a bench.

Nanoha sat on the 'bench' and crossed her legs. She closed her eyes and inhaled the scent of the trees surrounding her. The world had never seemed more distant, important things became meaningless and this short while was the only thing that mattered. Until she had to open her eyes again. Suddenly, the peacefulness was disturbed by a sound footsteps near the bower. "Who's there?" Nanoha stood up and felt her heart beating faster. She looked around but in the old trees' shades it was too dark to spot the intruder.

"Easy, Nanoha-chan, it's just me." A short figure appeared before the brunette.

"Hayate-chan," Nanoha let out a sigh of relief. "You scarred me, I thought that I was the only person here."

"Sorry," The shorter girl apologized and leaned herself on a wooden railing. "You were gone for over two hours, we started to worry about you." She shoved away some stray hair from her eyes. "And when I went to ask Lindy-san about you I saw you coming out of the kitchen." She looked at the ground. "I'm sorry that I was following you." Then, she raised her head and stood up again. "But it's good that I was able to find you, I wanted to talk with you anyway."

Nanoha let out a small, nervous laugh, seeing the determined look the shorter brunette gave her. "Talk about... what?" She asked shyly and jumped back when the other girl looked into her eyes closely.

"About you." Straightforward. "You act strange lately. You're lost in thoughts most of the time, you get mad at things you used to laugh at before, you've even stopped talking to Fate-chan suddenly, you're..." Hayate didn't even try to hide her worry. "You're acting like someone I completely don't know." She finished, taking a gentle hold of Nanoha's arms, feeling her eyes watering. "Nanoha-chan, what's wrong with you?"

Nanoha looked at her, taken aback by her friend's outburst. "Hayate-chan..." She wanted to deny all those accusations but she couldn't. Everything that Hayate said was true and both of them knew it. The brunette opened her mouth but closed them immediately. A part of her wanted to cry, to tell her friend everything, but the other part, the stubborn one, couldn't let her do it. What if Hayate was going to turn away from her after hearing this? Or worse, what if she was going to tell Fate about it? What if... No, the risk was too high. "I..." She started but couldn't form a sensible sentence. "I'm okay, Hayate-chan," She managed to say finally but, from the look she got from Hayate, she knew that her friend didn't believe her. "Even if I have a problem I want to solve it by myself-"

"And hurt people who love you?" The shorter girl interjected, shutting Nanoha's mouth with the sentence. "Why won't you let us help? Why are you so s-" Hayate stopped, before the last word left her mouth, and rested her head on Nanoha's chest with resignation. "...stubborn?" She finished silently. A pair of hands wrapped around her, pulling her closer, so she couldn't see a few tears in the taller brunette's eyes.

A/N: Wow, that was a lot happening in this chapter. And the ferrets. E-cookie for those who caught the reference.

As for some general info, I've just found a major grammar mistake I've been constantly repeating in the previous chapters (as well as in this one though I have already corrected it). I'll definitely get rid of this after finishing the story but, knowing myself, I'll probably do it earlier anyway.

Now, an evil part of me wants to leave you waiting for the next chapter but I'm in a good mood today (despite my earlier problems with opening a jar full of honey) so I'm going to post a small omake for you. It didn't really happen in the story so don't take it seriously.

Meanwhile in the second bath, Yuuno looked at the sky and raised his hand to his forehead. "Man, I tell you, if I were living in a house full of beautiful women I'd do nothing except for watching them in bath."

Kyouya took his towel and stood up, while Chrono did the same. "It gets boring, believe me."

The blond-haired boy looked at the two, immediately regretting what he said. "I wish I haven't asked..."

A/N: And that's it. Laugh while you can for I'm off to write the next chapter, full of emotional battles, gallons of tears and raging hormones. Maybe not really the last one. So, 'till the next time!