～ funf ～
Every time I heard that tender voice call my name, my heart raced.
Every time those warm eyes turned toward me, my heart raced.
Before I knew it, the time I spent thinking about Nanoha had increased.
Every time I remembered that smiling face, I would feel an impossibly sharp pain in my chest. The next thing I knew, any time we spent apart—... was enough to make me cry.
I realized this wasn’t “love for a friend,” when I moved here and met Hayate.
Because we were the same age and assigned to the same squad, I soon became friends with Hayate, but I never felt those kinds of emotions toward her.
Hm—... that’s strange?
It was soon after that I realized this.
Ahh, I see.
I love Nanoha romantically....
... I quickly realized.
But, I couldn’t say it.
I was afraid.
Of damaging our relationship.
Of troubling Nanoha.
So, if I could see Nanoha and laugh together with her closer than anyone else, that would be fine. —... That was what I thought.
I couldn’t lie about my feelings when Nanoha’s presence in my life was so great.
—... Before I knew it, she had become a part of me.
【 funf ～ (Antwort) ～ 】
Having seen the two of them off, I now stared at the door that had thudded feebly to a close, blocking my view.
With a thump, I leaned my forehead against it and sighed. ... The boards of the door, cold from being exposed to the outside air, felt kind of good now.
When I talk with Nanoha my chest burns.
My heart throbs painfully.
Ahh, it’s probably only me who feels this way.
—... I couldn’t stand the sorrow that thought made me feel.
Even though we just parted a moment ago... already, I miss her.
My dry laugh echoed around the now silent room. Again, it returned to my ears.
I went over to the top drawer of the small, provided desk. Unlocking it, I gently pulled something out.
Produced from within, was a small, prettily wrapped bag.
—... When I received my first wages since coming here, it was the first thing I bought.
Grasping the pay envelope tightly, my eyes went over the many things inside the display case. Passing through the door of a shop that I would never have entered alone before and trying to control the pounding of my heart, I had the thing I picked out wrapped up in a bag.
It had appealed to me the moment I saw it, a pendant set with a very beautiful stone. It was rather expensive, but still, if it would make her happy then I’d try hard to afford it. ... I tried a little too hard, and ate only bread until the following month, though now it was just a funny story.
Originally, I intended to give it as an expression of gratitude. Just the sentiments of, “Thank you for being friends with me.”
But for some reason I was too embarrassed to give it to her. So here it remained. And now that I had realized the romantic feelings I had for her—...
“... Such a coward, I am.”
Something I could do for a friend, I couldn’t do for the person I loved.
I was afraid... What will I do if she thinks I’m strange?
I let out another sigh.
Nervously trying not to tear the wrapping paper, I opened it and took out the contents. Around my neck was the pendant with the attached memento coin that I always wore.
—... And, one other thing.
Always worn hidden so that no one could ever see it, it was so new it was still unfamiliar to my skin.
... When I slowly moved, clink... a faint sound of metal meeting metal came from inside my clothes.
Noticing the sound, I pulled what had made it out and gripped it tightly. Within my slightly trembling hand was a pendant adorned with a different colored stone than the one I had taken from the bag—... but of the exact same design.
Slowly holding them up to the moon, the two stones scattered its light—... and the lifeless room seemed to brighten a little.
“Good evening, Fate-chan!”
“Yes, good evening. Nanoha.”
Since then, the seasons passed once again, and winter preparations were now underway.
Opening the door, the cold air caressed my body, and danced within the room. Chilled to the bone from being outside, Nanoha’s fingertips had a hint of red.
“It was cold, wasn’t it? I’ll make some warm coffee.”
“Mm, thanks. That’ll help~. Au~... It was cooold~.”
There wasn’t a jacket or anything over her slender, shivering body. ... Had she really come all the way from home, in this cold, dressed this lightly?
Even if she lived nearby, I still thought that was too rash. ... Knowing Nanoha, I’m sure she just dismissed it by saying, “Oh, well,” again.
I guess it can’t be helped, I thought with a wry smile, covering her cold hands with my own. For some reason the difference in temperature made me feel a little like crying.
“... No, it’s nothing. ... I’ll prepare it right away. You should get a blanket.”
I shook my head back and forth a few times, trying to clear my jumbled mind. After watching her make her way into the room, I went over to the built-in kitchen.
Though the rooms of the women’s dorms were small, it helped that they had both a kitchen and a bathroom. From what Lindy-san had said, the rooms of commanding officers had more amazing facilities but, well, I still had a long way to go until then. As an apprentice, this alone was plenty.
While the water heated in the kettle that I took out, I searched for a pack of instant coffee. Opening a brand new one, the savory aroma of coffee spread through the kitchen.
“... Nanoha~. Would you like milk?”
There was no response from Nanoha in the room. ... That’s strange... There’s nothing to interrupt my voice so there’s no reason she wouldn’t be able to hear it, but... When I tried calling out again, there was still no response.
Becoming worried, I turned off the stove and returned to the room, and was met with the sight of Nanoha pressing against the windowpane to look upwards.
“... Nanoha. If you stand by the window won’t you get even colder?”
Giving only that vague reply, Nanoha continued to stare intently into the sky. Starting to feel a little lonely, I took a blanket from my bed and wrapped it around Nanoha’s back to keep her from getting any colder.
“What are you looking at?”
Following Nanoha’s gaze I shifted my attention to the window—...
“Yeah, it looks like it’s started falling.”
Closing her eyes happily, she smiled. Lightly running a finger over the clouded windowpane, from where the outside was now visible, the shapes of dancing snowflakes could be seen, coloring the darkened sky white.
“Fate-chan, do you like snow?”
Maybe because of the cold, those cheeks were a little red. In the room that had now become dim, those blue eyes were the only light burning. ... I should probably turn a light on.
“Mmm... I... don’t hate it, I guess? ... And you, Nanoha?”
I thought it over absent-mindedly. Without realizing the intent of her question, asked in a voice softer than usual, I returned it to her.
With a shy smile, Nanoha turned her body away from the window so that we faced one another. For the first time today—... our eyes met.
Those eyes were, even more so than usual, incredibly beautiful.
“I looove snow. Because...”
As I stared into those eyes, they slowly closed. Long eyelashes that hung toward her cheeks trembled a little.
“Because, um... well.”
As though it was somehow difficult to say, with stammered words. That facial expression—... as though she were worried, as though she were about to cry.
Not wanting to see Nanoha make that kind of face, and ardently wanting to soothe her somehow, my trembling hand slowly stroked her cheek.
“It’s okay, why don’t you take your time and calm down? ... Alright?”
As I stroked it several times, my hand was covered by the palm of a hand that was trembling as much as mine. After a few moments, the firmly shut eyelids slowly opened.
—... Again, that blue gazed at me.
“Well... Um. Because this way, I can be close to you, Fate-chan.”
The small, trembling hand that tightly grasped mine was hot. My brain couldn’t immediately grasp the significance of those words.
“Fate-chan, I... love you.”
I had thought they were words I would never receive.
“I... love you.”
I had thought these were feelings I would never receive.
“... You, aren’t lying? This isn’t... a dream?”
“I could never-! ... lie to you.”
My chest tightened painfully.
“... I... love you too. I love you, Nanoha.”
Many tears fell, soaking the blanket wrapped around Nanoha. They weren’t just mine—...
“..., I’m so... glad.”
I continued to tightly embrace her, and Nanoha tightly returned my embrace. The warmth within her arms felt wonderful—... Hopelessly so, it felt wonderful.
“I love you, Nanoha. I truly, truly... love you.”
“I love you too, Fate-chan. I really love you!”
Over and over again, we said, “I love you.” With our faces buried in each other’s shoulders... just for a while...
As though pouring out the painful feelings we had felt until now, our two voices rose into sobs.
“... I thought you might reject me. I was afraid, so I never said anything.”
“I was the same so... I understand. I’m sorry for making you feel scared, Nanoha.”
When I wiped at the tears that had gathered in the corners of her eyes, she twisted away like it had tickled. Finding it cute, I slowly and carefully wiped away the rest.
“... Mm. Yeah...”
Suddenly, I remembered it.
I reached out and grabbed the pendant I had taken from the bag in the topmost drawer. As Nanoha made a puzzled face, I went on to place it around her neck, then fastened it.
“It’s a present for you. ... I didn’t think I’d be able to give it to you.”
“... For me? Is it really okay?”
Feeling embarrassed again all of a sudden, I looked away. “Because it’s something I bought for you,” I said, and felt her embrace me tightly.
“Nyahaha, Fate-chan, I love you!”
Blushing deeply, Nanoha closed her eyes and smiled at me happily. It made me feel very glad.
“I love you too, Nanoha.”
She still looked shy, but I understood what it meant as she quietly closed her eyes. Feeling like my heart was about to burst from the tension, those soft lips drew near to my own.
Pressing them together just once, it was an unskilled kiss. But, to a hopeless extent, it was truly blissful.
—... I wished for that moment to continue forever.
“Fate, shouldn’t you hurry up?”
“Just a second, Chrono.”
One month had passed. I couldn’t easily see Nanoha, but I was fine. It felt like the matching pendants were tying us together, and furthermore, I thought that the more distance there was between us, the more joyful it would be when we met again.
—... But truthfully, I was still a little lonely. While thinking thoughts like, Ahh, I want to see her soon, I spent my days immersed in training.
And then came the first promotion test since I joined the military.
I had completed the skill test that morning and now all that was left was the next day’s written examination. When I spoke of areas that I was having some trouble with, Lindy-san said, “I’ll teach you,” looking terribly delighted.
So for the afternoon, I was going over to Lindy-san’s place for a while.
“Since I’m preparing for a mission, would my squad room be alright?” Although she said that, I didn’t know where that place was so I had gotten Chrono to guide me.
The squad rooms were given to knights with the status of commanding officer or higher, with one person per room. They were inside the castle, so this would be my first time stepping foot there.
“... I wonder if it’s okay for me to come here...”
“I’m here, and you have Mother’s permission, so it’s fine.”
While following so as not to lose sight of the back walking ahead, I cast my eyes about restlessly.
... Yes, as might be expected of a castle, it’s very large. And furthermore, pretty. I’ve never seen paintings that large. ... They must have been really hard to paint.
As I walked down the corridor in a way that felt a little like I was on an expedition, I saw Chrono, who was up ahead, suddenly stop and salute.
It was at the moment when I hurriedly looked up to salute as well.
I couldn’t believe it.
Because, she shouldn’t be here.
There’s no reason... for her to be here.
Round and round, chaotic thoughts coursed through my body painfully. My heart, my head. —... They felt like they were burning.
I couldn’t believe I was seeing the figure before my eyes.
“Nanoha? ... Why... are you here?”
My hoarse voice echoed through the strangely quiet corridor.
While looking at blue that looked like it would start to overflow at any time, my body moved—... The pendant around my neck made a harsh metallic sound.
It felt like that sound,
was telling me—... “Forever does not exist.”