Notes: My apologies for taking so long. Things have been... hectic before and after New Year. As always, constructive critique is desired and will be much appreciated.


Nachthimmel

✭ ✭ ✭ Monday, January 26th, 1:30 AM ✭ ✭ ✭

Fate T. Harlaown rose from her bed and walked out of her room. She wanted to go get a glass of cold water from the kitchen, but she found herself stopping at the door to the room next to hers. That same door was now open, revealing an interior lit by the half moon dominating the evening sky. On her back atop the bed standing against the far wall, beneath the window that allowed the silvery light into the room, was Takamachi Nanoha, her curvaceous form clad in a cute pink one-piece pajama. Her blanket lay in a small pile at the foot of the bed.

Smiling, Fate walked to the bed, where she picked up the blanket and tucked her dear friend underneath. She was about to turn and leave when her eyes fell on Nanoha's moonlit sleeping face.

Fate hadn't a clue how much time she spent standing and admiring the beautiful sight. When she snapped out of it, she instead sat down on the bed. Almost absentmindedly she laid a hand on Nanoha's right cheek and caressed the soft flesh and silky skin with her palm.

Letting out a quiet sigh, Fate withdrew her hand and stood up. When she turned toward the door and was about to walk out, a small, drowsy voice reached her ears: "Fate-chan?"

Nanoha sat up on the bed and scrubbed at her eyes.

Fate sat down on the same spot she did earlier. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to wake you."

"What are you doing in here?" It wasn't a reproach, for the other girl, half-awake as she was, had a little smile on her lips.

Fate told her why.

"That's so nice of you," said Nanoha, her voice still an adorable, sleepy drawl. Fate's heart gave a noticeable clench in her chest. "I think I forgot to close the door and pull up the blanket when I came back from the bathroom."

"Ah…" A long, uncomfortable pause came over Fate, for she couldn't find anything to say in the face of the cuteness overdose that was the girl sitting this close to her. When she found her tongue again, all she could manage was: "You should go back to sleep. I'm returning to my room."

The smile faded quickly from Nanoha's lips. She lowered her face and let her copper-red bangs obscure her expression. But Fate did manage to catch a glimpse of it, and all she saw was sadness.

"You're not staying?" Nanoha murmured in a quiet voice.

Fate's breath caught. Her lips remained closed. She had no idea what to say, because she couldn't tell if Nanoha was fully awake or still enveloped in a sleepy stupor.

A very soft hand curled around one of hers and squeezed it. When Nanoha looked up again, her eyes were wet and shining with a voiceless plea.

"I'd love to," Fate whispered, her voice more breathless and uneven than she intended. "Can I… stay with you tonight?"

Nanoha didn't answer. She smiled, laid down on one side on the far side of the bed, and lifted the blanket as if in a welcoming gesture. Her heart racing madly, Fate slipped under the blanket and lay down so she was also on her side and face-to-face with the other girl. And yet the pounding organ refuse to slow down. If anything, it only gained speed with every moment she spent gazing at Nanoha's adorable, sleep-stained features.

Fate couldn't hold herself back any further. She eased an arm under Nanoha's neck, draped the other across her waist, and pulled the other teenager into a tight embrace.

A loud gasp. A sharp, rapid rise of body temperature.

When Nanoha looked up at Fate's face, at which point she realized that little more than a hand stood between the tips of their noses, all of the sleepiness had already evaporated. Nanoha's eyes were wide, her cheeks aflush.

Did she just wake up? Fate wondered. Do I… have to leave now?

Only when Nanoha burrowed more deeply into Fate's embrace and eased her face into the crook of Fate's neck and blessed her skin with searing warmth did she let out a sigh of relief.

Which Nanoha heard. She chuckled softly. "You looked and sounded like you were afraid I'd kick you out of my bed, Fate-chan."

"I was," Fate confirmed, embarrassed. "I feared you were sleep-talking with your eyes open earlier." The chuckle became a laugh. "Do you even remember what you said?"

Nanoha fell quiet as her body heat rose sharply again. The answer she gave was soft: "I do now."

"Did you really want me to stay that much… or was it something you didn't mean to say?"

"It's kinda obvious, don't you think?" A long pause. "I did mean it. I really did. It's embarrassing but… I've always wanted to go back and sleep in your bed."

"Then why didn't you say anything?" Fate murmured, feeling as if a huge rock had been lifted off her shoulders. "I'd have been overjoyed to hear that the day you moved into the apartment."

Nanoha breathed: "You would?"

"Yes," Fate confessed. "That night you spent in my bed gave me the best sleep I ever had. And to tell you the truth, I… haven't been sleeping as well since."

That was an understatement. Even after her friend had taken up residence in the apartment for three full days, Fate still tossed and turned in her bed for hours on end, knowing that the warmth and softness she craved to put her arms around and pulled against her body slept but a wall away.

And it drove her nearly insane with frustration. And it also made her afraid that she might have done something bad to Nanoha that night that the girl wouldn't want to be in the same bed with her ever again.

"Um… thanks?" murmured Nanoha, her voice a sweet, happy lilt.

"You didn't answer my question though. Why didn't you say anything?"

"How could I… after everything Lindy-san told me?"

That gave Fate a pause. It wasn't what she expected to hear. "What did she say?"

"She said she hoped I'd enjoy staying in the guest room. That she spent a great amount of effort cleaning it up when I was packing up at my house. That since I was going to live here for a while, she'd like me to have the comfort and privacy of a whole room, all to myself."

Fate blinked, surprised. That didn't sound like kaa-san at all. What was she trying to do?

"So, you know, I can't say anything to that. I feel like I'd hurt her feelings if I told her I wanted to stay with you instead."

"You don't have to," Fate said.

"I don't?" There was a hint of playfulness in Nanoha's voice, suggesting that she knew what Fate was about to say.

Fate's right hand started combing through Nanoha's long, beautiful copper-red hair. "No. I'll tell her that I'm going to sleep in your bed instead."

Nanoha pulled back to look up at Fate and showed her the smile on her lips. "For how long?"

"As long as you want me to."

"Can I take you with me when I return to my house?"

"Who says you can go back? You're staying here with me, forever."

Nanoha laughed, and Fate laughed with her.

"Hey, Fate-chan?" called the other girl after a while in a soft, quiet voice.

"Yes?" Fate closed her eyes and tightened her arms a little more so she could feel Nanoha more clearly with her front. She loved every rise and fall of Nanoha's soft breasts against her own. She, in fact, was afraid she couldn't stay awake for much longer because of how comfortable it was to hold Nanoha like this.

"Have you thought about what where you're going to live after we graduate?"

"I'm going to move to Mid-Childa. You're also doing the same, aren't you?" She waited for a nod from Nanoha and continued: "Kaa-san will stay here because she likes living on Earth much better, so I'll get my own place. Why did you ask, though?"

"Because I'm wondering… if you'd mind if I move in with you… and share the rent."

Fate couldn't believe what she just heard. Her heart was dancing madly in her ribcage. But she was taking too much time in replaying Nanoha's words in her head, and her silence sent her dear friend into a panic.

"I'm sorry for asking," Nanoha said hurriedly. "If you're not comfortable with it then…"

Fate laid a gentle finger across the other girl's lips and hushed her.

"Would you like to come to Mid-Childa with me next Saturday to look for a place?" Fate asked, her voice full of the excitement she couldn't conceal. "Kaa-san can set us up with an agent then."

A sharp intake of breath from Nanoha, on whose flushed face then bloomed a bright, huge smile. She couldn't say anything in response, but what Fate saw was more than enough.

"So you got the answer to your question," Fate murmured. "My turn?"

"Go ahead."

"How many bedrooms would you like our place to have?"

"Our place?" repeated Nanoha, her expression dreamy.

Fate's heart skipped a few beats. "Yes, our place."

Nanoha's expression nows turned a little shy, but there was a teasing gleam in her eyes. "Two."

"One too many, no?" Fate tried to feign sadness in her voice. She wasn't successful.

"Well, I'll need one for you to sleep in when you make me mad and I do want to kick you out of my bed." She laughed at that.

"Don't you think I deserve the sofa in that case? Or maybe the floor?"

"I don't have the heart." Nanoha lowered her face again, but not before Fate once again caught a glimpse of the shy smile on Nanoha's lips.

It sounded like a married life I'd kill to have, the thought came to her unbidden, to her chagrin. A good married life in which my wife still wants me to sleep well even when she's angry with me. Warmth exploded on her cheeks.

Probably a life I don't deserve.

"In any case, I'm surprised you're so enthusiastic," continued the other girl. "Do you realize that you'll going to fall asleep looking at me and wake up seeing me?"

The image that Nanoha's softly spoken words painted quickened Fate's heart and filled her with an indescribable emotion. "Why is that a bad thing?"

"Because… it makes it look like you're married to me."

"And why is that… a bad thing?" Fate heard herself murmur. She tried to sound mirthful. She came nowhere close.

A long pause. A quickening of breath from the beautiful girl currently bathed in the silvery light. "Because it's not going to be easy for you to find a romantic interest."

"It's never been easy, and it won't be for another long, long while." Maybe forever.

"Why?"

"Because it means I'll have to find someone I like more than you first." Complete silence from the girl with the vivid copper-red hair, whose body was becoming noticeably warmer. "Sometimes I did wonder how I was going to feel when you get married, Nanoha."

"And?"

"I was too afraid and sad to continue wondering. Every time."

A sharply drawn breath. An explosion of heat from the curvaceous form cuddled in her arms.

"Then you should've taken the initiative and claimed me for yourself already," muttered Nanoha in a voice so low Fate could barely hear. She couldn't believe what it was that her ears registered.

"I'm… sorry?"

"Nothing!" Nanoha said hurriedly. "I'm just talking nonsense to myself. I guess I really need to get some sleep."

"You should," Fate replied in a voice that had grown uneven due to all of the emotions Nanoha's words had stirred in her.

"Good night, Fate-chan," whispered her best friend.

The moon chose that exact moment to hide itself behind the clouds and allowed the room to be plunged into darkness. It was in that same darkness that Fate felt the touch of something soft, warm, and moist on her left cheek. It lasted for no more than a heartbeat, but it suffused her entire body with heat and her mind with burning emotions she didn't want to harbor while the person she held in her thoughts nights and days remained ensconced in the curves of her arms.

Takamachi Nanoha had never kissed her before.

"Thank you," said the other girl, her voice a touch breathless, "for all of the nice things you told me tonight."

"You're welcome," Fate replied, feeling as if she was about to die from happiness.

"Then um… good night again, Fate-chan."

No more words came from Nanoha for the duration of the night. The memory of the kiss, quick as it had been, and of the feel of Nanoha's lips kept Fate awake for another few hours before she managed to drift off to sleep.

✭ ✭ ✭ 7:30 AM ✭ ✭ ✭

"Nanoha-chan," called Lindy Harlaown, who was sitting in the living room and reading the news on her holographic screen when she saw her––hopefully––daughter-in-law walk by with a towel draped over her left shoulder. The girl had woken up early this morning and spent the last hour on the treadmill in the exercise room. She would have preferred to go for a run in the local park, but she disliked being tailed by agents from the Bureau.

"Yes, Lindy-san?" Nanoha stopped and smiled at her.

"I know you're going for a shower, but would you mind waking Fate for me first? She'll need to get ready so we can have breakfast when you get out of the bathroom."

"Sure." Nanoha turned and headed toward her room.

You're welcome, Fate, thought Lindy.

Nanoha didn't know that Lindy was aware of Fate spending the night in her bed yet––she walked by the room earlier in the morning and saw them tightly cuddled in each other's arms because the door was left open––but Lindy was very happy that it happened. She wasn't sure who made the first move, but she was satisfied all the same.

She only hoped that they would take the next step soon. She did have a close friend who earned a living––a very comfortable one at that––as a wedding planner in Mid-Childa…

✭ ✭ ✭ Break ✭ ✭ ✭

When Fate T. Harlaown opened her eyes, no more than the length of a finger stood between the tip of her nose and that of Takamachi Nanoha's. The beautiful girl with the pony tail was on her knees and forearms, her upper body clad in a sports bra, white with blue stripes, that left bare her smooth and toned midriff and her lower one in a pair of black, short spandex shorts that left little of her long legs to imagination and clung all too seductively to the juncture of her thighs.

Though Fate sometimes got to see Nanoha wearing just as little––at the beach, for example––she never had a chance to appreciate her beautiful curves this close. So for the hundredth time since she lay down on Nanoha's bed last night, Fate inwardly voiced a thankful prayer to God.

Smiling, she greeted her dear friend: "Good morning, Nanoha."

The other girl gave a huge start and probably would have leapt off the bed and run away if Fate hadn't put her arms around her and pulled her down until her breasts rested firmly atop Fate's own. The distance between their noses was reduced to half a finger. Nanoha's cheeks were so red the heat emanating from them reached and caressed Fate's own.

"Your eyelashes are long and pretty, Nanoha," she said with a smile. Her hands were folded atop Nanoha's bare lower back, and the mere feel of Nanoha's skin, which was becoming increasingly warm, filled her head with thoughts that she did her best to ignore.

It certainly didn't seem possible at first, but the other girl succeeded in blushing harder. Fate felt as if she had put her face next to a fired-up gas stove.

She's calm and resolute in the face of danger, Fate mused, but she's so shy around me. She's so cute.

"Um… good morning," Nanoha squeaked after a few minutes of searching for her voice.

"Good morning," Fate greeted her friend again. "Did you sleep well?" A quick nod. "Did you go for a run on the treadmill?" Another nod. "Should've waken me. I'd have liked to join you."

"Well, you have one treadmill in the apartment," said Nanoha. Her voice was small and the blush on her face showed no sign of subsiding. The breaths that she released were warm and almost enough to make Fate drunk. "You'd not have liked sitting on the floor waiting for your turn."

"That wouldn't have been bad either." Fate smiled. "You do look um… sexy in this getup. I'd be happy watching you on the treadmill." Had she had a second chance, she would have used a different word, but the Nanoha she held in her arms right now was brimming with so much sex appeal that the word rolled naturally off her tongue.

Nanoha squeezed her eyes shut in embarrassment. Her curvaceous body trembled in Fate's arms.

"Hayate-chan is a bad influence on you," she muttered. "You kept teasing me." Even so, Fate saw the small twitches at the corners of her friend's lovely mouth. She would go as far as to say that Nanoha was trying to keep herself from smiling in pride at the compliment.

"I'm not teasing you," Fate murmured and feigned looking hurt. "I love the way you look. I'm not averse to waking up to this nice view every morning." Fate rubbed the tip of her nose against that of the other girl.

Nanoha pressed her face against the pillow on which Fate rested her head. "Stop it."

She doesn't sound like she's mad. Fate prompted: "Or else?"

"Or else… I'll be too happy to be coherent and continue talking to you."

Fate gave a soft, amused laugh and spent the next few minutes silently enjoying the pressure that Nanoha's youthful form exerted on her front. Her hands, meanwhile, lovingly traced the curves of Nanoha's lower back with her fingertips and drew from the girl quiet, happy coos. She wanted to lift her head and kiss along Nanoha's mostly bare shoulders. She wanted to ease her hands farther down to enfold the cheeks of Nanoha's bottom to learn how soft they were.

She couldn't be sure if Nanoha was going to appreciate it, however, so she abstained.

"What were you doing on top of me earlier, Nanoha?" Fate asked, finding it increasingly difficult to think due to the storm of emotions inside her. "Not complaining, just curious." She laughed inwardly at her friend's sharply drawn breath.

"Lindy-san said to wake you so I um…" Nanoha fell quiet. Her body temperature spiked.

"That didn't answer my question."

"Well…" was the only word that Nanoha could utter. Fate believed that if she kept interrogating the other girl, the latter would burst into flames out of embarrassment.

"Whatever the reason, I'm happy you came back to bed." Fate snapped her fingers. The blanket bunched up at the far end of the bed rose into the air and draped over their bodies. "Goodnight, Nanoha." She closed her eyes.

"Don't goodnight me!" Nanoha squeaked. "We have school this morning! You need to wake up!"

"Fifteen more minutes would be fine." Fate cuddled Nanoha more tightly in her arms.

"Fifteen more minutes would be too late!" While she did sound vehement, she lay still in Fate's embrace and, if anything, seemed content to stay that way. Smiling, Fate continued to hold her and relished the scent of perspiration rising from her cuddly body. Even when sweaty, Nanoha smelled good. "Oh jeez! What can I do to get you to wake up?" Fate wasn't sure how her friend managed to sound equally exasperated and fond, but she did.

"Give me a good morning kiss, and I'll be good to go." Fate opened her eyes and found herself gazing up at the face of her best friend, which was as red as a ripe tomato. Dazed by the adorable expression Nanoha made, Fate lifted her hand and stroked the girl's left cheek.

A long moment of silence.

"Kiss you where?" Nanoha breathed.

"Anywhere you like." Fate smiled up at the girl with the lustrous copper-red hair, slightly tilted her face, parted her lips just a little, and closed her eyes. Her heart slammed itself repeatedly against her ribcage.

She waited.

After what seemed forever, she began feeling Nanoha's face drawing closer to hers. She wanted to open her eyes so she could see the expression on Nanoha's visage, but she knew the moment she did would be the one in which the magic died. So she kept her eyes shut and patiently waited for a present she had been wishing for from the bottom of her heart.

Which didn't come.

"Fate, are you giving Nanoha-chan a hard time and trying to not wake up?" Lindy's voice echoed into the room, which caused the fragrant body on top of Fate to freeze. Lindy's footfalls, this time uncharacteristically loud, drew closer. In ten seconds, she would be peering into the room.

Heart sinking, Fate sighed and opened her eyes. As she was about to say something to her friend, her vision blurred and Nanoha's lips brushed upon hers in a quick but tender kiss.

Then the other girl rushed out of the room. Lindy's footfalls halted, then faded away.

For the next several minutes Fate remained on her back and stared at the ceiling while moisture gathered in her eyes, welled, and overflowed.

✭ ✭ ✭ Break ✭ ✭ ✭

"So," prompted Lindy Harlaown, who was seated opposite her dear daughter at the dining table. "What was it that you did to Nanoha-chan?" The girl had run out of her bedroom––well, theirs now––with a face that belonged on a sunset and dashed toward the bathroom. She had stayed in there for the last twenty minutes. If she insisted on not coming out soon, both of them would be late and she would earn herself a nasty cold.

"Well, I didn't do anything," answered Fate, who had already donned her uniform and was now chewing tastelessly on a slice of toasted bread. Her eyes were downcast, her complexion bearing a soft strawberry glow.

"I see." Lindy lifted her cup of coffee and took a sip.

"Anyway, kaa-san?"

"Yes?"

"Would you have some free time tonight? I'd like to talk to you about something… sensitive."

"I always have time for my daughter." Lindy smiled and took another sip.

Takamachi Nanoha chose that very moment to emerge from the hallway and sat down next to Fate at the table. The other girl, fully dressed in her school uniform, no longer appeared so flustered she could barely look Lindy in the eye when she ran past her. At this moment, she was projecting a calmness that led Lindy herself to question whether the whole thing was a figment of her imagination. When Nanoha smiled at Fate and asked her to pass the pepper, the latter looked like she was doubting her own memories.

Then Lindy saw Nanoha sprinkle pepper into her black coffee and the sugar onto her sunny-side-up egg, both of which she consumed without noticing anything. Fate, meanwhile, was too busy pursuing her own thoughts.

It wasn't easy for Lindy to keep a poker face.

Breakfast ended on the quiet side and the two girls washed their plates together at the sink without saying much prior to leaving the building.

NowLindy was very curious as to what happened in that bedroom. She suspected she would learn tonight, when Fate would come to speak to her, though.

✭ ✭ ✭ 10:14 AM ✭ ✭ ✭

"So," said Yagami Hayate as she sat down on the grassy ground, "what did the honor student Takamachi want to talk about so badly with fellow honor student Yagami that the former forced the latter to lie to the P.E. Instructor and then dragged her to the back of the school?"

Hayate had known something was amiss as soon as her best friends arrived at the train station. Nanoha, though doing her best to hide whatever she was feeling inside, kept stealing surreptitious glances at her crush. That was why she wasn't surprised at all when Nanoha approached her during physical education.

"You didn't have to put it like that," protested Nanoha as she settled down next to Hayate.

"I didn't have to be the one faking a stomachache either," she pointed out, grinning.

"I couldn't. Fate-chan would have insisted on accompanying us to the nurse's office, and this is a conversation I… don't want her to be a part of."

"Are you telling me that to Fate-chan, my well-being doesn't come close to yours?" She winked.

Nanoha opened her mouth as if to argue and promptly closed it a heartbeat later.

Hayate laughed. "Yes, Nanoha-chan. You know that she cares about me very much, but there's no question which of us she would save if both were drowning and she could only help one."

The other girl said nothing in response and lowered her eyes to the ground. Hayate would go so far as to say that Nanoha was torn between being happy and disturbed.

"Oh come on, don't feel guilty." Hayate patted her friend on her back. "You know I'd rather save Signum if she and Fate-chan were in the same situation."

"That's equally disturbing…"

"It's about whom you can't live without." Hayate smiled and shook her head. "But that's enough about such a depressing topic. Tell me why you're in such a hurry to pull me out here."

"I kissed her this morning." Nanoha cupped her cheeks with her hands as her face was lit up into a brilliant red. "On her lips. And now I can't bring myself to look her in the eye anymore."

Hayate was so astonished she stayed silent and stared at her friend for a full minute. Afterwards, when the shock finally wore off, she said: "Uh… well, tell me the entire story, will you?"

So Nanoha did.

It sounds like Fate-chan was the one making the first move after all, Hayate decided, very much impressed. She was obviously flirting with her. I wonder why she chose to, though. It's rather unlike her.

"What do you think I should do, Hayate-chan?"

"Nothing."

"Nothing?"

"From what I've seen of Fate-chan this morning, she didn't look like she minded. She talked to you and me like she always did." Fate was actually more quiet than usual, but Hayate didn't believe it implied anything negative. Probably the girl was overjoyed that Nanoha gave her what she wished for.

"Well, that's true…"

"I bet she'll be very happy if you kiss her again." Hayate reached over and pinched Nanoha's left cheek. She laughed at the wince on Nanoha's face.

"I don't want to risk it. I did it in the first place because she was so cute when asking for a good morning kiss that I… couldn't hold myself back." Her voice dropped to a nearly inaudible level. "Plus, there's the fact that Fate-chan seemed to like it when she touched me and I her…"

"In that case, try touching her more often and see how she reacts." Hayate grinned. "Whatever you do, though, don't go overboard like I did with Signum. You know how well that went."

"Actually, you never told me what happened," said Nanoha curiously. "I didn't ask because I felt that you didn't want to talk about it."

"I got over it, so I guess I can now." Hayate smiled. "It went like this…"

✭ ✭ ✭ One month ago ✭ ✭ ✭

Signum nearly dropped the cup of hot cocoa from her hand when she stepped into the room and her eyes dawned upon the lovely sight atop the bed. Her Master, Yagami Hayate, was sitting with her back against the mattress and her entire body clad in nothing more than a towel that exposed a good part of her cleavage, her shoulders, and almost the entirety of her long, shapely legs. Her chestnut-colored hair was still wet and her eyes intent upon the pages of the Book of the Evening Skies, which stayed afloat in front of her face.

Hayate noticed Signum's presence. Smiling now, the former waved and gestured at the bed as if to tell Signum to sit down next to her. Throat too dry and face too warm for her comfort, she put her cup on the bedside table and did as bidden to and found herself exerting every iota of her willpower to keep her eyes from wandering along the younger girl's wonderful curves.

"You should put on some clothes," Signum said and couldn't help but wince at the reluctance in her voice.

"Oh." Hayate took a quick glance at her body and chuckled. "I had a flash of inspiration for a new invocation during the bath, so I just grabbed a towel and rushed out here."

"Ah."

"More importantly. What do you think about this?" A wave of Hayate's right hand sent the Book floating toward Signum. Her Master then began to talk in an excited voice as she pointed as several figures she freshly drew on the pages of the Book, but not a word of what she said managed to get into Signum's ears, for her concentration had given in and her eyes were free to look wherever they wished to.

It had been a long, long time since Signum shared a bath with Hayate, so she had no idea when the girl had managed to develop such a wonderful figure.

Her shoulders were straight and slender, their skin unblemished and shining with moisture under the fluorescent light, as they joined on either side of her neck, upon the nape and throat of which Signum had dreamed of pressing her lips.

Hayate's chest was no longer the gentle swells that Signum remembered. Her breasts had grown so full, so round, and so lovely she wished she could bury her oven-hot face in Hayate's tight and deep cleavage and simply feel the wonderful softness she knew she would find.

Signum had had many opportunities to admire Hayate's legs, but not until now did she see everything the younger girl had to offer. From the tips of her toes to the long and shapely thighs that joined Hayate's lower torso beneath the towel, every inch of moist, snowy skin Signum's eyes could feast her eyes upon, she wanted to caress for the rest of the night with her dry, dry lips.

And yet, what mesmerized Signum the most were the lucent eyes that were gazing into her very own and seemed able to divine her most secret thoughts.

Yagami Hayate had grown up to be such an amazingly beautiful girl Signum could barely control the feelings that were boiling the blood in her veins and painfully squeezing her heart.

"You didn't hear a word I said, did you?" remarked the young Queen of the Evening Skies, her lips lit by a mischievous grin.

"How do you know?" Signum admitted guiltily.

"Because every word I said was nonsense, Signum." Hayate laughed. "Anyone who tried practicing what I wrote would have better luck chopping off their hands."

Signum blinked in shock and remained dumbfounded for several minutes before comprehension dawned on her.

"Then what you said about inspiration in the bath was…"

"A lie," the girl finished for her. "I wanted to know how you'd react when you saw me dressed like this." Her smile widened until it nearly split her face in two. Another wave of her hand recalled the Book of the Evening Skies and returned it inside Schwertkreuz, the small Device bearing the shape of a golden cross that hung atop her inviting cleavage.

Signum couldn't find a word to say.

"I could see, you know," murmured her Master, who sidled closer and rested a side of her face on Signum's left shoulder, "which parts of my body that you looked at." Her voice was very soft and filled with happiness. "I could tell that you liked what you saw."

Flames erupted on Signum's cheeks. Still at a loss for words, though.

"Do you know how stressed out I was lately?" A small, soft hand curled around Signum's large, callused one. "I was afraid that you still saw me as the child you swore your sword to years ago. I tried so hard to get you to see how I've grown, but you acted like you couldn't care any less."

And can you even imagine how difficult it was to keep up the pretense? thought Signum, distressed.

"I tried to wear less to bed every night," continued Hayate, her voice sad, "but you always pulled up the blanket and turned the other way. I tried to touch you more often to let you know how I felt, but you always brushed me off, stepped back, and ran away. I didn't know what else to do."

I know, thought Signum. It hurt me too to see you unhappy, but it was the only solution I could come up with.

"But I'm glad I did this. Now, at least I know what I wanted to know."

A warm, soft hand touched Signum's right cheek and gently turned her head sideways. Now she found herself gazing down at a furiously blushing Yagami Hayate, who then closed her eyes and kissed Signum fully on her lips.

Nothing in this world had ever given her a more wonderful feeling than receiving a kiss from the girl whom she cared so much about.

The love Signum carried inside her, which wasn't different from that of a woman to her little sister in the beginning, had changed every time a new season arrived and reinforced the realization that Hayate was growing up to be a lovely girl.

With that single kiss, all of her long-suppressed emotions had exploded onto the surface.

And they destroyed whatever was left of Signum's resistance. All she could do at the moment was watch Hayate push her gently onto her back and settle down on all four atop her front. The fluorescent light from the ceiling seemed to be drawn to Hayate's body, all of the curves and softness of which were now completely bare to Signum's eyes because the towel had fallen off.

Heat was surging everywhere under her skin as her eyes fully registered the beautiful sight before her. All of her most primal instincts were urging her to lift her head, just slightly so, and close her mouth around the deliciously stiffened nub tipping Hayate's left breast and bathe every inch of the perky roundness with kisses. All of those instincts were also commanding her to slide down and ease her burning face into the inviting gap between Hayate's thighs, where she could lock her lips upon Hayate's softest part and taste every girlish flavor she had to offer. Signum could tell from the light in Hayate's eyes, too, that the girl would love to see that happen.

"I already know the answer," whispered Hayate, her face flushed and her voice trembling, "but I still want to hear it from you." She took a deep breath. "How you feel about me?"

"I'm in love with you," Signum whispered back. "More than you think you know."

Hayate smiled. The genuine happiness that shone on her face squeezed Signum's heart.

"Do you want me?"

"So much that sometimes I feared sleeping in the same bed as you," Signum confessed. "You being so close… gave me dreams that always made me want to cry."

Hayate's smile broadened as her complexion became a vivid red too beautiful to behold.

"What kind of dreams were those?"

"The kind where I get to touch and kiss every part of you." Somewhere in the back of Signum's head, a voice was screaming in horror. But unlike usual, that voice was barely audible now. At the moment, all that Signum could hear was the sound of her own heart pounding.

Magic sang in the air as the door, left ajar since Signum came in, locked into place. A sound barrier, too thin to be noticed by anyone in the house but not too thin they could hear anything coming from within, coalesced into a dome over the bed.

"They don't have to be just dreams," intimated Hayate, her voice soft. "They can be reality in this bed, every night, as long as you wish them to." She took Signum's right hand and placed its palm on her cheek, which was so hot Signum thought her skin was going to burn. "All of me is yours."

Hayate kissed Signum again on her lips with much more passion than when she did last. Signum, against her own feeble will, returned the kiss with all of the desire pent up inside her. When they pulled apart, her beloved Master simply smiled and gazed down at her as if to tell her to finally take the initiative and do what she should have done months ago.

Signum obeyed.

Her hand, which was still on Hayate's cheek, coasted down the side of her throat, where it pried a soft gasp from her throat, before it caressed along her shoulder and finally closed around the girl's left breast, to the erected nipple tipping which it offered a gentle pinch. The soft moan that rose in response was so full of pleasure it muted away the tiny voice at the back of her head and led her to the conviction that what she was doing couldn't be more right.

"Don't," whispered Hayate the moment Signum's hand uncurled from the beautiful round globe. Hayate was about to say more too, but swallowed every word when Signum's fingertips fluttered downward just so she could luxuriate upon the downy smoothness of Hayate's deliciously flat abdomen. When she looked up and gazed into Hayate's eyes, all she could see was a wordless plea. The girl wanted much more than a simple caress.

"Farther down," she urged.

So Signum pushed her hand farther down and let it envelope Hayate's girlhood. What she held in her grasp at the juncture of those long, shapely thighs was a mound of silkiness softer than anything she had touched. There, Yagami Hayate was searing-warm and so delightfully wet Signum had to stop herself from lifting her hand to her lips and sampling the slickness coating her fingers. Her mouth letting out quick gasps and melodious cries, Hayate seemed to grow even warmer and wetter when Signum rubbed her lovingly and let her palm memorize the texture and explore every curve.

Hayate's breathtakingly beautiful countenance shone with love, joy, and need.

"Master…" Signum called, her voice breathless.

Her beautiful Queen shook her head. Signum had no idea how a simple gesture could radiate so much seduction and innocence at the same time, but dear God, it did. "Hayate."

"Does it feel good… Hayate?"

"It feels wonderful." The girl lowered her face, on which a joyous smile had bloomed, and offered Signum another deep, fervent kiss. "So please don't stop." Every word that she mouthed against Signum's lips pooled more heat to the already growing warmth nestled between her thighs.

Just when Signum thought she couldn't be any happier because she managed to bring this much pleasure to Hayate, all hell seemed to break lose.

Hayate's visage began to ripple in Signum's eyes. By the time the image stabilized, what Signum found herself gazing upon was a face about ten years older and far more beautiful and infinitely familiar and dear to Signum's heart. That same very same face was equally as red as Hayate's, covered with a thin sheen of perspiration, and haloed by a delighted glow that belonged on someone who had just experienced the time of her life.

Come up here, whispered a sultry voice in Signum's ears. Your turn.

The vision changed again. This time, Signum found herself gazing down at the same woman, in battle attire and seated on a massive throne made entirely out of white gold. In front of her stood many men, each armed to the teeth with magical Devices and wearing on his face an expression painted from tension, fear, and growing bloodlust. By contrast, the woman's face showed naught but sorrow, her lips wearing a pained smile that said she knew death was awaiting her and she had resigned herself to her fate. In the instance that followed, the woman closed her eyes, lifted her arms, and opened her hands.

Goodbye, my beloved dawn.

White light blinded her eyes and a loud, heartbroken scream that was formed with Signum's own voice filled her ears at the same time that utmost horror and pain tore her heart into pieces.

"What's wrong, Signum?" called Hayate's urgent voice. "Signum!"

She found herself supine back atop Hayate's bed. Crouching over her in all four was her Master, still bare as the day she was born, with a face stricken with worry.

"Yes…?" Signum said, her voice weak and shaken.

"What happened? You just stared at me with a blank face and wouldn't respond to me no matter what I did. I… I didn't know what to do."

"I… I am sorry." Signum gently brushed Hayate aside and climbed off the bed. Her legs were so weak she could barely stand, but she managed to remain upright with her sheer force of will. "I'll sleep on the sofa tonight. Goodnight, Master." The last word she spoke drained all colors from the girl's face.

Before Hayate could make a sound, Signum strode out of the room.

It was the first night Signum did not spend in Hayate's bed. It was the first night she found herself curled up atop the sofa and trying to endure the terror, the cause for which continued to elude her, and the crushing pain that refused to subside.

✭ ✭ ✭ Break ✭ ✭ ✭

"I was upset with her for a couple of days," Yagami Hayate admitted. "You'd be too, wouldn't you, if Fate-chan told you she loved you, took you to her bed, left you there half-way through without a word of explanation, then acted like nothing ever happened?"

"Signum-san must have a very good reason," said Nanoha. "She loves you too much to hurt you on purpose. You know that."

"I do. It's why my anger didn't last long." Hayate sighed. "I tried so desperately to get Signum to tell me, but when she doesn't want to do something, nothing short of a direct command from me can change her mind. I'm not going to do that."

"So you've been waiting for her to open up instead…"

"Little else I could do." Hayate sighed again. "Anyway, enough about my problem. It's not why we're here." She grinned mischievously at her friend, who was spooked enough by what she saw on Hayate's face that she backed off a little. "Want to go shopping after school today?"

"Sure…" Nanoha swallowed hard, "but what are we looking for?"

"Nothing in particular." Hayate gave the other girl another grin. This time, Nanoha looked outright frightened.

✭ ✭ ✭ 9:30 PM ✭ ✭ ✭

Takamachi Nanoha was wide awake when Fate entered the room, but she remained still with her front facing the wall and squeezed her eyes shut. Since the morning, she had had much difficulty engaging in a conversation with Fate, because every time she looked at the other girl's face, all she thought about was how soft Fate's lips felt when she kissed her. Even now, half a day later, she still hadn't figured out what to say.

"Nanoha?" Fate's voice was soft. "Nanoha?"

Nanoha didn't move a muscle on her body. She was afraid that if Fate knew she was awake and lay down next to her and said all of the wonderful things Fate liked to say when they were in bed, she would lose control over herself and did something even harder to explain like what she did in the morning.

A hand fell gently on and began stroking Nanoha's head.

"Raising Heart?"

"Yes?" responded the red jewel placed on top of the bedside table.

"If she wakes, please tell her that I'll be in my room tonight."

Nanoha's heart sank as panic welled in her. She wanted to toss the blanket aside and beg Fate to stay and ask her for forgiveness if the impulsive kiss was the reason behind Fate's decision. Before she had a chance, Raising Heart's monotonic voice had spoken again.

"Would you tell me why you're not staying with Master?" said Raising Heart, who then added belatedly: "In case she asks."

A moment of silence. If Nanoha had to guess, she would say that Fate was taken aback by the response. Usually, Intelligent Devices did not question as to why a command was given to them.

"I do want to," Fate replied, "but I don't expect to have any sleep tonight. I don't want to disturb hers either." Her hand moved from the top of Nanoha's head to her upturned cheek, which she caressed with the tips of her fingers.

"She wouldn't mind. Plus, you and Master do not need to wake early tomorrow."

Nanoha did have permission to take Tuesday off because she needed to go to the TSAB building in Downtown for her monthly checkup appointment. Although the Bureau mages assigned to her would provide escort, Fate didn't trust them and insisted on accompanying Nanoha even if she had to miss class. To Nanoha's surprise, Lindy granted her approval without a second thought.

"You're assertive today, Raising Heart." Fate laughed quietly. "To tell you the truth, I'd also like some time by myself to think about a few things. It's difficult to do that around your Master because all I want to do is snuggle with her and forget about everything else. But keep that between us, okay?"

"I understand. Goodnight, then."

"Goodnight." Then Fate was gone.

"You heard what she said, Master," announced the red jewel a couple of minutes later.

Nanoha lay still on her side as thoughts whirled in her head. From the way Fate touched her and talked about her to Raising Heart, she didn't think the kiss in the morning had any adverse effect on the relationship between them.

In that case, what could be bothering her so much she needs time alone to think it through?

✭ ✭ ✭ Tuesday, January 27th, 11:01 AM ✭ ✭ ✭

"Took you more time to come back than I thought," said the prisoner seated in the armchair after Adrienne had materialized inside the chamber in a brilliant white flash and eased herself into her own armchair.

"Setting up the Seeds is not easy, Aria," replied Adrienne. "They're high-energy objects that must be shielded properly. I cannot leave them in dimensional space without ensuring that they will be safe from the Bureau's wandering space-time probes, can I?"

"I see."

"That is a mild response coming from you," observed Adrienne, smiling. "Are you feeling well?"

"There's no point arguing anymore. All I can do is pray that no one will lose their life over this catastrophic, misguided attempt of yours."

The older woman laughed, to which the prisoner sighed and said nothing. She frowned, however, when Adrienne snapped her fingers and three big crystal rings appeared out of thin air. Hollow inside, each was almost filled with a radiant liquid. The one on the left was shining with the color of emeralds, the middle of the cloudless morning sky, and the right of freshly spilled blood.

"The Restoration is almost done," mused Adrienne. "95% each. It should conclude soon."

"Adrienne?"

"Yes, little one?"

"Do you remember when you started calling me Aria?"

"I do not. It has been such a long time." Adrienne rose from her armchair. "But you must forgive me. I am quite exhausted, and I must rest. I will see you when everything is over, Aria."

She smiled and vanished in the same manner with which she had appeared in this very chamber.

"But I do, Adrienne," said the prisoner in a voice soaked with sorrow, "as well as the reason why. By all means, I should be hating you with all my heart… but I cannot."

Tears rolled hotly down her cheeks.

✭ ✭ ✭ Break ✭ ✭ ✭

Yûno Scrya was relieved to see the electronic report in his inbox. The data processing had taken so long he was afraid it wasn't going to conclude at all.

Now let's see what you're hiding., he thought as he sat up on his high-backed swivel chair.

Nearly a week ago, he had been surprised to read in a report from the TSAB office on Earth that an attempt for the life of his old friend and one-time crush, Takamachi Nanoha, had been made. The report included the spectroscopy data collected from the site of the attack by Reinforce Zwei herself along with the request to have the Infinity Library, Yûno's employer, analyze the data and match whatever magical signatures it could find against the TSAB's database.

Yûno had been shocked when he examined the data for the first time and saw how noisy it was. Despite knowing that it was going to be so due to the interference of the surrounding environment, he didn't expect to find a deliberate and exceptionally effective attempt to hide the signature of the caster.

Were he to make an educated guess, he would say that whoever attacked Nanoha had built into their Sealing Field a magical mechanism to distort the residual mana flux inside the space that it enveloped to prevent any subsequent attempt at uncovering the truth.

It means the caster is in the TSAB database, and they know it.

Yûno had forwarded the data to the Forensics department of the Infinity Library and invoked his senior staff researcher status to fast-track the analysis and enable the usage of the quantum computer. It spoke highly of the skill of the attacker that even with all of the processing power behind one of the fastest number cruncher in the universe, it still took nearly a week for the Forensics department to finish their work.

Suppressing a thrill himself, Yûno opened the report and began to read from beginning to end.

It took him three more tries to believe what he read.

This isn't a mistake, he thought, stunned. It's a 99.9% match with the records. It can't be a mistake. But that person couldn't have been the attacker! Not unless someone could be at two different places simultaneously!

A name suddenly flashed in Yûno's mind.

Oh God, he thought in horror and bounded from his chair and rushed out of his office. I have to let Chrono know. This is not happening!

✭ ✭ ✭ Break ✭ ✭ ✭

The huge apartment was empty when Takamachi Nanoha opened the door. For as long as she could remember, Lindy Harlaown was always there to greet her as soon as she stepped inside.

But the retired Admiral wasn't going to be in Uminari for the rest of the week. Neither were Shirou and Momoko. Nanoha's parents had decided to close their cafe until the following Monday to go off on a vacation trip with Lindy and Arf to Lindy's ancestral hometown.

In Mid-Childa.

Worse, Nanoha only learned about it during breakfast this morning, when Lindy announced her imminent departure in with a casualness fit for a discussion regarding the lunch menu. Nanoha's parents later told her during a phone call that they accepted Lindy's invitation because they were feeling burned out from work and wanted a chance to blow off some steam. Upon being asked as to why they never mentioned this to her, they explained that Lindy called them the night before and, as if it were sufficient a reason, ended the call.

Parents, she thought, dismayed, I'm never going to understand them.

"You should change into something more comfortable, Nanoha," advised her friend as they put on their slippers and entered the living room. "I'll fix something for lunch."

Ten minutes later, Nanoha stood in front of the full-length mirror on the wall and stared at her reflection while heat rapidly gathered on her cheeks. She was wearing a white lycra camisole that clung to and flattered the curves of her breasts as well as the toned quality of her abdomen, but it wasn't the major contributor to how embarrassed she felt. It was the red sweat shorts tight as the camisole and cut as close to her bottom as possible so it could expose almost the entirety of her legs. Though the bikinis she owned revealed far more skin, what she had on right now dripped sensuality and suggested that they belonged in a bedroom and were meant to be discarded onto the floor ten seconds after they were put on.

Nanoha didn't buy them. Hayate did.

The other girl had dragged Nanoha into the local shopping mall yesterday and by the time they left, Nanoha held in her hands a big paper bag that contained the teeshirt, the sweat shorts, and a whole lot of stuff that even a drunk Takamachi Nanoha wouldn't have the temerity to put on.

It shocked her that she wanted to put them on.

She still remembered the appreciative look on Fate's face the previous morning. She still recalled the pride that swelled while the girl told her how sexy she looked.

It was why she wasn't trying very hard to stop Hayate from buying the outrageous outfits.

Steeling herself, Nanoha made her way to the living room.

What greeted her wasn't the same empty living room she remembered walking into. It was one brightened by fresh, gorgeous flowers. On the glass table in the center stood a crystal vase from which bloomed a dozen roses, each large as a hand and of a different, distinct shade of red. Near the sliding glass pane that would open to the balcony sat several clay pots full of beautiful mountain lilies the deep lavender of which soothed away the harshness of the light of the sun glaring in from beyond the balcony. More crystal vases much smaller than the one on the table decorated almost every corner of the living room, each bearing a different type of flower of every possible color that Nanoha could imagine, their aroma permeating the air she breathed.

She was at a loss for words.

"Do you like them?" inquired her friend, who had appeared out of nowhere. Her hand slipped around Nanoha's right.

"I love them," she breathed, still finding it difficult to believe her eyes. "But it's still winter, how in the world did you find all of these?"

"Express delivery from Mid-Childa. It's mid-spring over there right now. Spent most of my time last night browsing their online catalog."

"They're so beautiful I wish I can sit here and look at them for the rest of the day… but why are they here?" Her breath caught as she turned her head and saw her friend gazing and smiling at her. "For me? But they must've cost you a fortune…"

"Would it make you feel better if I said I bought them because I was feeling particularly happy last night?" She lifted Nanoha's hand and rubbed its palm on her left cheek.

"Because?"

"Because I would get to spend all of today with you." She gazed into Nanoha's eyes and gave her a genuinely joyous smile. "Is it good enough a reason?"

"Since I moved in," she murmured, all the while wishing that her heart would stop doing somersaults in her chest, "there's barely any moment in which I'm not next to you."

"There was almost always a third person," Fate pointed out. "Hayate. Mom. Arf." She chuckled. "I got to be alone with you only once two nights ago. Maybe you didn't notice, but you and I were asleep during most of it."

"What's good about being alone with me anyway?" Her eyes lowered to the floor, Nanoha realized that there were fewer and fewer thoughts in her head and it was becoming harder to concentrate on any of them. It was as if the warmth of Fate's soft hand was pouring into her and derailing any train of thought it came across.

"Because then I'll be the only one you look at. That makes me happy."

Words finally failed her. On her feet she remained, which she had no idea how, as a comfortable silence enveloped both her and the girl she loved.

Until both of their stomachs gave a low rumble and ruined the magical moment. When Nanoha turned around to look up at Fate, both of them couldn't keep a straight face and laughed.

"I'm sorry." Fate pressed her forehead against Nanoha's. "I haven't fixed anything for lunch yet. I was busy moving the flowers from their hiding place."

"I don't mind. I can wait a little more."

"Okay." Fate's small, cute nose touched Nanoha's and nuzzled it briefly. It made her want to tilt her face and steal a kiss from the pink, full lips right beneath. "By the way, did you already know about the flowers?"

"I didn't. Why would you think so?"

"You mean this lovely outfit wasn't my reward?" Fate faked a disappointed pout as her eyes left Nanoha's face and traveled downward. The lower the golden-haired girl's gaze went, the more Nanoha grew conscious of how much of her curves and skin the camisole and shorts revealed.

She blushed. "No, dummy. You told me to change into something comfortable, remember?"

"Then I'm happy I asked you to," Fate announced. "You're so cute in it. Plus, it shows off all the right places on your body, too." Her tone was sincere.

Nanoha thought that her head was going to explode from the incredible amount of heat that was pumped to her cheeks. She lowered her face and asked in a tiny but happy voice: "Do you like it that much?"

"Definitely."

"Then would you like to see me in this kind of outfit more often?" She couldn't believe what she was saying. Or the ease with which the embarrassing words had rolled off her tongue.

"Yes, but I'd like to be the only one who can."

"How come?"

"I'm afraid anyone you show it to would try to steal you away from me, you being so gorgeous and all." Fate leaned in and placed a kiss on the tip of her nose. "Rivals to compete for your attention isn't something I need now. I've become too greedy recently. I want all of it, Nanoha."

All Nanoha could do was remain still on her feet and look up at the other girl and try not to cry. The bright glow of affection that enveloped Fate's countenance made it so much more difficult.

Smiling, Fate added: "Wait for me, okay? I'll get the food ready soon."

Nanoha spent the following fifteen minutes on a sofa and tightly hugged a cushion in her arms as she again and again wondered if she had been waiting for something that had always been within her reach.

The lunch that followed was pleasant and much less excitement-inducing. Nanoha and Fate spent much time talking about school and their future plans over the Chicken Alfredo Pasta Lindy had served the previous night and Fate had reheated over the electric stove.

Once they had finished the food and washed the dishes together, they sat down on a sofa in the living room and watched a bit of afternoon news. It was then that Nanoha grew conscious again about the practically nonexistent distance between their bodies and how much she'd like Fate to put an arm around her shoulders and pull her in close.

"Hey, Fate-chan?"

"Hm?"

"Would you like to go for a walk on the beach? The weather is so nice outside."

"Do we have to?"

"Some exercise is good for you after a meal."

"I know it is…" Fate lay down on her back atop the sofa and laid her head on Nanoha's lap, "but a walk seems so much work on a day off. Can't I take a nap on this sofa instead?" Her smile said the young Enforcer meant not a word. She was playing around.

Face warmed to near melting, Nanoha drew a deep breath and gathered her courage before she bent down and kissed her friend's forehead. "Come with me," she invited, "and you won't regret it after we come back here."

"What's going to happen when we do?" inquired her friend, whose voice was equally soft.

"Well, I assume I'm going to be tired afterwards, so I'll change into some comfortableclothes and go back to my room to have some rest." Nanoha combed her fingers through Fate's silky hair and stroked her scalp. "You're welcome to join me then."

Fate's smile broadened. "And for how long do I get to stay in bed with you?"

"As long as you want to," Nanoha whispered. Her left hand trailed downward and her forefinger outlined Fate's full, moist lips. She smiled as Fate opened her mouth and closed it around the fingertip and sucked it gently. "I'll let you hold me and look at me as much as you like. You'll have my attention all to yourself today, Fate-chan." Toward the end, her voice had dipped so low she was afraid her friend didn't hear her.

Fate did, to her relief. The smile that graced her lips was beautiful and bright.

"Is it a promise?"

"Promise."

Nanoha had figured out why Lindy and her parents chose to take a vacation to somewhere so far away so abruptly.

She was grateful to them for it.

✭ ✭ ✭ Break ✭ ✭ ✭

Fate T. Harlaown glanced sideways at her friend, who, like Fate herself, was seated with her arms around her knees on the beach and watching the gentle waves roll inland and depart with the same soothing, merry sounds that accompanied their arrival. The sky was clear and blue, the sun bright, and the chilly winds bringing with them the salty smell of the sea to the beach that was at the moment empty aside from Fate, Nanoha, and three Bureau escorts standing awkwardly several hundred feet away.

Nanoha hadn't said anything to Fate since they left the apartment. During the half an hour they spent walking along the beach, hand in hand, the girl with the copper-red hair had looked ahead with a face that said she was deeply immersed in her thoughts.

But Fate was content with Nanoha's mere presence and the feel of Nanoha's soft hand in hers, so she kept her silence as well and followed Nanoha's lead.

Nanoha lifted her hands to her mouth and breathed on them to offer them some warmth. Although she had put on a long skirt, a sweater, and a scarf, she had nothing on that would shield her hands and face from the increasingly chilly winds. Even Fate herself felt her own hands growing a bit numb.

So she leaned over, slipped an arm around Nanoha's back, eased the other under her calves, and lifted the girl up before she deposited Nanoha between her legs so Nanoha's back reclined against her front. A soft gasp was all Nanoha could issue before Fate took Nanoha's hands, pale and cold, into her own and held them there to warm them up.

As if to show her gratitude, Nanoha turned her head slightly and nuzzled Fate's right cheek with her left. Color had begun to show on Nanoha's complexion again, but whether it was from shyness or embarrassment Fate had no way to tell and, honestly, could care less. What her eyes were riveted upon were the smile that widened and slightly parted Nanoha's dry lips, which were only an inch away from hers. The kiss that brought tears to Fate's eyes a little more than a day ago was brief, but she still could recall with perfect clarity how soft they were.

It took all of Fate's strength to stop herself from tasting that softness one more time.

It was then that a young man and woman, whose arms were linked, walked by. The woman only gave Fate and Nanoha a brief glance and a smile before returning her attention to her boyfriend, who grinned openly and surreptitiously mouthed two words to them as if he was afraid the young woman would get mad at him should she learn what he was trying to say.

Fate chuckled and gave him a proud nod. He winked and walked away.

Nanoha waited until the couple was out of earshot to pipe up: "What did he say, Fate-chan."

Fate tightened her arms around her gorgeous friend. "Good catch," she murmured into the back of Nanoha's head. The pleasant fragrance of the shampoo from Nanoha's early morning shower was still there, accentuating her girlish natural scent and making Fate's heart race. "He thinks we are a couple… and that I'm very fortunate in having you for a girlfriend."

"That would have been true if I had been the one holding you." Nanoha wasn't looking at Fate, but Fate could see very well that the girl's ears were getting red. The singsong note in her voice suggested that if Fate were to look at Nanoha's face, she would find a shy, happy smile. "Do you know that many girls in our class are crazy about you? If I had a coin every time one of them said they'd love you to ask them out, I'd be rich by now."

"I didn't know," Fate replied. The only girl who had given her a love letter was a grade below hers. "I'm not sure what part of me is appealing to other girls anyway."

"You're cooler than the boys. You beat them at any sports without any effort at all." Nanoha lowered her face and pressed a kiss on the back of Fate's right hand. "And you're so kind to everyone around you. There's little doubt as to why they think you'd be a perfect boyfriend."

"Not even close," Fate said. "If I were, a certain someone would have fallen for me already."

Nanoha shifted her body in Fate's arms until her right side rested on Fate's front. The face of the girl with the pony tail was scarlet, but her eyes were serious.

"Who's that certain someone?" she asked, her voice unusually quiet.

Fate gazed deeply into her friend's moist, lucent eyes. "You."

"Why do you want me to fall for you?" Nanoha's hands rose to Fate's cheeks.

Fate drew a deep breath and finally said the words she had been holding painfully inside her for so long: "Because I'm in love with you, Nanoha. Would you be my girlfriend and relieve our poor classmates of the fruitless desire to wait for me to ask them out?"

Though her eyes were shining with moisture, Nanoha's lips had widened into a smile more radiant than anything in Fate's sight.

"I'll be more than glad to." Nanoha said and tremblingly pressed her lips upon Fate's own.

When Nanoha pulled back and searched Fate's countenance with her eyes, on her warm, soft lips bloomed a huge, joyous smile that Fate knew was splitting her own face into halves. The expression Nanoha made was just too cute, too beautiful that Fate couldn't hold herself back any longer either. She cupped a side of Nanoha's face with a hand and turned it before she lowered her own face and captured Nanoha's lips.

Nanoha returned the kiss with as much passion in the beginning, but she pulled back and placed her left hand on Fate's mouth after a few more kisses. Nanoha's expression was shy.

"My bodyguards are still here," she said, her eyes downcast.

"Ignore them," Fate whispered, her heart pounding so hard it hurt. "Look at only me. Pay attention to only me, Nanoha."

Nanoha looked up at her with a face alight with love and fondness and a hint of exasperation before she closed her eyes and granted Fate's wish.

Fate had not a clue how long they spent offering one another passionate and sometimes even impatient kisses. She only grew aware of the passage of time again when they finally pulled apart to gasp for air.

When Fate tried to kiss Nanoha again, she laughed and shook her head. "It's enough for now, don't you think? I'm not going anywhere. We still have much of the day ahead of us." She lowered her face and her voice grew soft. "Be patient and wait until we get home, okay?"

"It'll require a bigger reward than just being in bed with you to exercise such restraint, Nanoha."

"Anything you want," Nanoha murmured, her cheeks growing red again. "Anything I can give. I love you too much to refuse you anything." She hid her face in the crook of Fate's neck. It seared against Fate's skin. "Especially… when I know I'll enjoy whatever you ask."

"Aw, you're too cute." Fate squeezed the other girl in her arms. A quick glance at the surrounding showed her the three Bureau escorts who still standing where they were before but now with their backs turned toward Fate and Nanoha.

"I shouldn't have thought so hard about how I wanted to confess to you," said Nanoha. "Not that I came up with any good way to do so anyway."

Fate chuckled. "So that was why you looked so serious during the walk." She tugged gently at the pony tail. "You could've told me at home, you know."

"It's not romantic at all, is it? Plus, I want it to be special…"

"I see."

They stayed where they were for another few minutes and quietly enjoyed one another's presence as well as the relaxing sounds of the waves lapping at the sandy beach. Eventually, Fate began to notice that Nanoha's body was growing restless in the curves of her arms.

"Fate-chan?" Nanoha lifted her face from the hollow of Fate's throat and gazed up at her.

"Hmm?" Fate nipped lovingly at the tip of the other girl's nose.

"It's getting a bit chilly out here," Nanoha whispered. "Would you like to come home now… and help warm me up?" Her voice was breathless and her eyes shining with unvoiced needs.

"Yes," was the only word that Fate could say.

✭ ✭ ✭ Break ✭ ✭ ✭

Takamachi Nanoha was enjoying every second she spent kissing her lovely girlfriend between her widely spread and deliciously slender legs when the latter sat up on the bed and laid a hand on her head. As she lifted her moist lips from the soft and awfully cute girlhood not an inch of which she had left unloved with her mouth and tongue and fingertips, she saw a scarlet-faced Fate T. Harlaown shaking her head.

"No more." Fate's voice was hoarse, for she had spent the better part of the last hour moaning Nanoha's name and crying aloud as pleasure repeatedly seized her and held her in its thrall. "It feels too good, Nanoha. I'm afraid I'll pass out if you continue…"

"Okay." Nanoha kissed the girl she loved between her shapely thighs one last time before she sat down on Fate's lap, slipped her legs around Fate's slim waist, and delivered her equally nude and sweaty form into Fate's loving embrace. Fate's heart was pounding in her perfectly shaped breasts, the hardened buttons tipping which stroked the undersides of Nanoha's own with every shallow, hurried breath and pushed her closer and closer to the edge of release even though neither Fate's searing-hot lips nor inquisitive fingers were exploring the slickness between her thighs.

Nanoha squeezed her eyes shut and did her best to not let out any embarrassing sounds. Pressure continued to build inside her as her hips, against her own will, moved and allowed her most sensitive place to nuzzle and kiss the toned flatness of her lover's abdomen.

The other girl was delighted. "You're still so hot and wet, Nanoha." Her hands coasted down Nanoha's back and arrived at her bottom, which Fate began to caress and knead to her heart's content.

Nanoha blushed. "Not my fault. You're too good at what you do." She nipped at an earlobe with her teeth. "Plus, I was really turned on earlier when you were moaning my name."

"Then I hope you'll be patient enough to wait a few minutes for me."

"Wait while you do what?" Nanoha smiled and ran her fingers through Fate's golden hair.

"While I catch my breath and recover the brain cells I lost because of the amazing things you did for me," Fate answered, grinning. "I don't think I can um… make you properly pleased if I'm not coherent enough."

Nanoha laughed. "Okay."

Fate lowered herself onto the mattress and drew Nanoha with her until she lay on her stomach on top of Fate and was again ensconced in the curves of her arms and enveloped in her body heat. Prior to today, Nanoha had no idea that being held by the girl she loved while neither had a stitch on their bodies would feel so good. Now she couldn't have enough of the wonderful sensation seeping into her from her lover's bare, sweaty skin.

A laugh chimed in the quiet air of the bedroom.

"What's so funny?" Nanoha pressed a soft, lingering kiss on the other girl's lips.

"I'm reminded of what happened yesterday's morning. Weren't we in the same position?"

"Yes." A pause. "Also, you were flirting with me then, weren't you?"

"I was," Fate confessed. "I'm sorry, Nanoha. I got a little carried away."

"It is okay," said Nanoha, "I was happy that you did… because it made me a little more certain that you had some feelings for me. I don't know why you acted that way all of a sudden, though."

That brought a smile to the Enforcer's flushed, glowing countenance.

"It was because of what happened the night before that, when I realized that youthought of me as more than a friend, or a best friend." Fate lifted Nanoha's face with her hands and kissed her.

"In hindsight, I think the way I acted around you recently were rather obvious." Nanoha laughed and rubbed her cheeks on Fate's palms. When the latter eased the tip of a finger between her lips, she took it into her mouth and moisten the slender length with her tongue. Fate's delighted look was everything she needed for a reward. "On the other hand," she whispered around the fingertip, "you hid how you felt so well I didn't have a clue. Tell me, Fate-chan, when did you know?"

"It was so long ago I can't remember exactly." Her girlfriend placed her vacant hand on the back of Nanoha's head and caressed her there. She purred in response to the loving touch.

"Then why did you wait for so long?"

"Because I was afraid." Fate kissed her again. "Since I moved to Earth, I've always thought I was one of the most fortunate. Kaa-san gave me a place I could call home and you were always there by my side, especially when I needed you most. But the more time I spent with you… the worse it got for me." A short pause. A sharply drawn breath. "Have you ever felt a need to hold someone so intense it crushed you every time you look at her and realize you cannot touch her the way you want to?"

Nanoha's response was equally quiet: "Every day. For the last few years."

"Me too," said Fate, her voice at the verge of being shattered by emotions. "Every morning at the train station, the first thing I wanted to say to you was how much I loved you." Another pause. "I couldn't bring myself to each time because I had the feeling that if I tried to obtain more than I already had, I would lose everything."

Nanoha didn't say anything. She gazed into Fate's eyes and wordlessly urged her to proceed.

"My pretense fell apart the first time you slept in my bed," Fate intimated. "That night, I could taste the joy of having you so close. Two nights ago, you talked about moving in with me. I barely slept afterwards because all I thought about was how overjoyed I would be while living under the same roof as you."

"Aw!" exclaimed Nanoha, her eyes tearing up due to the heartbreaking sincerity she heard.

Fate smiled. "I was awake, you know, when you climbed onto my bed the following morning. You were trying to kiss me."

Nanoha blushed. "You looked so cute I couldn't help myself."

"I waited and waited and waited," allowed Fate, her voice adopting a playfully chiding tone, "but you didn't do anything. I was frustrated and saying to myself 'Please kiss me already' the whole time. In the end, I couldn't wait anymore, so I opened my eyes to see what was taking you so long."

"I chickened out," Nanoha admitted, embarrassed. "I thought I had no right to steal your first kiss when you weren't even conscious. If I had known…"

"Seeing you crouching over me reminded me of what happened the previous night," Fate said, smiling, "I didn't know what possessed me, but I was thinking that I would really like to know how it felt to be married to you and be woken up by you every morning. I wanted to know so badly I acted it out."

Fate drew Nanoha's face down and eased it into the warmth of her deep, pretty cleavage. Unable to resist, Nanoha began lathering hot, wet kisses on every inch of skin she could find. Her action drew from her girlfriend a string of sweet, melodious gasps and earned her loving strokes on the small of her back.

"I cried after you took my first kiss and ran out of the room," Fate confided, "because I realized that being married to you would complete my life… and that it was something I wanted from the bottom of my heart. I wanted to run after you and tell you I loved you immediately, too, but that horrible premonition came back again, with a vengeance." She sighed.

"Is that why you spent so much time talking to Lindy-san last night?"

"Yes. She pointed out something to me that swept all of my fears and doubts away."

"Which is?" Nanoha lifted her face from the incredibly soft and pretty and perky cushions that were her girlfriend's breasts and studied her face. The smile on Fate's lips was full of affection. The sight grabbed ahold of Nanoha's heart and squeezed it hard.

"That the more I kept you waiting, the more I would be hurting you." Fate pulled Nanoha up and hugged her tightly. "I was a fool to not have thought of it sooner. I should have noted that nothing was more precious to me than your happiness. I'm sorry it took so long."

"Don't apologize," Nanoha whispered in a voice that was shaken by the storm of emotions inside her. "You told me how you felt… and that's all that matters to me now." A sob escaped her lips. "I love you, Fate-chan."

"I love you too, Nanoha."

The girl she loved held her and offered her bare body gentle, soothing caresses while waiting for her emotions to subside. Once they did, she rolled Nanoha onto her back and lowered her curvaceous front onto Nanoha's own and kissed away the trails of tears staining Nanoha's cheeks.

"Now that I've gotten it out of my chest," Fate said, "we should move on to happier topics."

"Like what?" Nanoha replied, her voice soft and, despite what they had been doing in bed, shy.

Fate smiled. "Like what you would like me to do for you during the next hour." She eased a thigh into the gap between Nanoha's own and had it nuzzle her wetness. The contact with Fate's toned flesh sent a rush of pleasure across Nanoha's body and pried a gasp from her mouth.

"An hour seems woefully short," she whispered, which prompted a soft laugh from the other girl. "But I'll take it anyway." She took a deep breath. "Let me feel your lips there again, Fate-chan."

"Where is there?" Fate teased.

Blushing hard, Nanoha laid her hands on Fate's shoulders and pushed her gently downward and guided her to the growing, unbearable heat at the juncture of her thighs.

She squeezed her eyes shut when the other girl parted her legs and pushed her thighs as far apart as they would go. Her frame shook in excitement when she felt the warm breaths of her lover on her girlhood. When her girlfriend's mouth enveloped her nether lips and offered it kisses as deep and passionate as those given to her mouth, all Nanoha could issue were moans and gasps that only grew louder and more frequent as the afternoon wore on into the night.

✭ ✭ ✭ 8:00 PM ✭ ✭ ✭

Fate T. Harlaown finally decided that she already spent enough time gazing at the nude form of her girlfriend, who was on her front and immersed in a deep and peaceful sleep. Fate loved the elegantly curved shape of Nanoha's bare back. She loved the way the shallow trench of Nanoha's spine became the sensuous cleft separating the full, round, and baby-smooth cheeks of her backside. And she loved how cute each and every toe on Nanoha's equally lovely feet were, especially when Nanoha bit on a finger and trembled in shyness and pleasure both when Fate took each toe between her lips and adored them with kisses.

It was why it proved so difficult for her to stop marveling at the sight when she woke half an hour earlier and found the latter still soundly asleep.

Chuckling softly, Fate bent over and placed a kiss on Nanoha's upturned, healthily colored cheek before she climbed off the bed, put on a teeshirt, and walked out of the room.

I wonder what she'd like to have for dinner, she thought fondly. She ought to be starving when she wakes.

She froze in her track the moment she stepped into the kitchen. In the very same room that she just left, where her lover was supposed to be asleep, power was burgeoning at an alarming rate.

And Nanoha was screaming in agony.

Fate's insides turned into ice as she sprinted toward the bedroom. Nanoha!

✭ ✭ ✭ 9:12 PM ✭ ✭ ✭

Signum dropped the china plate she was washing. Undeterred, it fell, struck and slipped off the rim of the sink, and proceeded to shatter atop the tiled floor of the kitchen.

The forcefield that had been enveloping the house for many years had vanished without a trace. Though the field held little power––it was meant to raise an alarm from any attempt at intrusion, not hold enough power to stop anyone from entering because then it would be a shining beacon to attract unwanted attention––the fact that it was swept away without making a sound suggested the presence of a mage strong enough to realize it was there and obliterate it instantaneously.

By the time Signum arrived at the living room in her battle armor and with Lævateinn drawn in her hand, the rest of the Wolkenritter had assembled and were standing guard around Hayate. Her six black wings unfolded on her back, the Queen of the Evening Skies held Schwertkreuz in one hand and stood with her back straight in a manner that suggested that she was performing an omni-direction scan and ready to repel an assault wherever it might come from.

Confusion was evident on Hayate's face. Signum realized that her Master had discovered something from the scan, but whatever the result was, Hayate couldn't comprehend it.

A powerful barrier woven by none in the living room coalesced over the Yagami residence at the same moment in time that the front door, a thick slab of well-polished wood, rippled outwardly from its center as if it were water and someone had tapped on its surface. Shortly thereafter, the door began to fall apart the same way it would had it been made out of fine flour and standing in the face of a gust of wind. The wall around the door and even a part of the ceiling soon followed in the same manner, leaving behind empty space and the sight of the Yagami's residence's front porch, upon which stood the solitary form of none other than the last person Signum would expect to find attacking her home.

Fate T. Harlaown. The girl's body was obscured by a snowy cape and her hair tied at the nape of her neck by a ribbon in the exact same pristine color.

Cold sweat rolled down Signum's back. Though she couldn't be certain, she thought that the girl standing at the door now looked younger than the Fate she had been seeing in school. And she certainly didn't recall seeing such an icy expression on Fate's countenance. Ever.

Light flooded the living room. A blood-red glow enveloped Vita's childlike body, sky-blue Zafira's, and emerald-green Shamal's.

Hayate's eyes were wide with shock.

"Stand down now, Wolkenritter!" Signum roared. "Do not attack!"

Zafira appeared in front of Signum in a blur and his armored fist was driven into Signum's stomach. Immense pain stabbed her and yanked a loud cry from her mouth as power exploded from Zafira's fist and rushed into her body, where it violently disrupted her magical circulation.

Her eyes darkened and her grip loosened to the point Lævateinn slipped from her fingers and fell onto the floor, Signum sank painfully onto her knees and toppled forward. She passed out before her body struck the hard-wood floor.

✭ ✭ ✭ Break ✭ ✭ ✭

Yagami Hayate failed to comprehend what she was seeing with her own eyes. Her Schwertkreuz was now on the floor, just like Lævateinn next to an unconscious Signum. Her left wrist had been seized by Shamal's left hand and her throat was an inch from being ripped out by the ominously bright emerald glows tipping the woman's right fingers. A quick look at Shamal's blank facial expression assured Hayate that should she move a muscle, the Knight of the Lake wouldn't hesitate to hurt her. So she only watched in horror as tendrils of power rose from Klarerwind and jacked themselves into her Linker Core and effectively locked down her magic power.

With an equally blank look on their faces, Vita and Zafira placed themselves behind Hayate and on her right side and looked prepared to strike at her with the same deadly readiness.

Hayate's heart was convulsing––never once in her life did she imagine the Wolkenritter would be the first to betray her––but she managed to stay calm and arrive at the logical conclusion.

"Well done," she said, her voice even and cold, "Alicia Testarossa."

"No," the girl in the white cape gave a quiet laugh, "Adrienne Sägebrecht. Thirty-fifth Sankt Kaiser of the Belkan Empire. The maker of the Book of the Evening Skies."