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            —... I was told that it was okay to seek the sky.

            That I didn’t have to be a bird in a cage.


            So I reached out my hands.

            Straight up into the clear, clear sky.


            The sun that hung there was very warm.


            ... Unbelievably—... warm.



            Nyahaha... We... just kissed, huh.”



            I was so happy I thought I might be dreaming.


            Fate-chan, your face is all red~.”

            Y-You’re also-”


            With both of our faces bright red.


            As we laughed together, her forehead pressed against mine, and the warmth that came from it felt hopelessly dear to me.


            Her gentle eyes, so close to mine... made me feel happy.


            I love you, Nanoha.”


            Fate-chan’s face looked cute as she smiled with closed eyes.


            I love you too.”


            I want her to always be beside me smiling like this, I thought.

            I want to always be by her side, smiling together with her.


            From my heart so full of happiness that I wanted to cry, I wished for this.


            I don’t need anything else, so—... please.

            Let this happiness last forever.


            As I felt Fate-chan’s warmth



            —... I kept praying for that alone.



            sechs (schmerz) ~ 】



            Every day is the same. From morning until evening, I study.


            When that’s over, I return to my room and gaze up at the sky through a window covered by iron lattice. From my bed, I long for that square fragment of the world.


            —... I’d repeated this routine until I couldn’t stand it anymore.


            The round moon’s figure was cut into pieces by the lattice. Its light too, was obstructed by a thick curtain, and did not reach through.


            A wall called safety... a cage called my room.


            I hated it.

            I hated being there.


            I hated that solitary world where there wasn’t enough light even in daytime.


            ... But, recently it hasn’t been so.


            Because, at night I can meet my beloved Fate-chan.

            So this isn’t that hard.


            I’m not lonely, at all.


            —... But.



            Even if I say no. Even if I wish for it not to.

            ... Someday, definitely... the truth will be revealed.


            I wonder what you’ll think when you find out?


            I have to tell you. But, I can’t.


            ... I... don’t want to.


            I don’t want us to be separated.


            That, is the reality I don’t want to notice.

            No matter how far I reach forward, stretching out both hands.


            In the end, I’m only... a bird in a cage.



            I couldn’t stop the tears from flowing as I thought this.


            —... Within my cage, again, I sang.






            The next day, my morning lessons were ended and lunch would be next. Apparently, Hayate-chan had a mission today and a different knight was coming to escort me.


            The man that came to pick me up from my room was a typical middle-aged knight who ceased his salute in a relaxed manner before opening the door.


            ... As I thought, except for Hayate-chan’s group, I’m not good with knights. Within a gaze that watched more carefully than usual, I walked down the long hall.


            Every time I passed by someone I was saluted.

            Every time I saw this—... my chest ached.


            Walking a while, I came upon a familiar face. It was Chrono-kun. ... He was usually off on some mission so I didn’t expect to see him here.... I was about to call out as we drew near, but I froze.


            —... I saw a beautiful gold color. Hopelessly precious deep red, was there.


            Nanoha? ... Why... are you here?”


            —... Why?


            Hey, Fate! You’re being discourteous to the princess!”


            —... Why, is Fate-chan...


            Prin... cess?”






            Hearing those scolding words from Chrono-kun, surprise, uncertainty, despair... a jumble of emotions filled her wide, wavering eyes.


            This truth is incomprehensible. Even if I comprehend, I don’t want to understand... she had that kind of expression.


            ... Nano... ha...?”


            With a hoarse voice, she called my name.



            It’s not... it’s not, Fate-chan. I am—... I, am...!


            Who do you think you are!? A mere apprentice addressing Princess Nanoha so casually!”


            As I stood there dumbfounded, I heard an angry roar from behind me.



            —... Stop.



            Someone like you should keep her mouth shut!”

            ... t-op.”



            —... I’m begging you.



            Know your place!”


            Stop it!”


            No, no, no, no.

            How, why!?


            Stop it... Don’t say... anything more!”


            Fate-chan’s wide eyes—... stared at me. But, they looked pained.


            ... Fate-chan, Fate-chan!”


            When I called to her, she squeezed her eyelids shut. Over and over, she shook her head.


            When she turned her face toward me again, it was wet with tears. Her lips were clenched together so tightly it was painful to see.


            The crimson light that lit my world—...



            ... Please... forgive, my... rude... ness.”



            slowly, began to go out.


            Probably, at that time... Fate-chan understood. If she declared our connection, it would cause trouble for me.


            But, I didn’t care about that. It’d be fine if I just had Fate-chan.




            ... Fa—...!”


            My mouth that had opened to pleadingly call her name was suddenly covered. —... I turned around, and there was that familiar figure.


            Oh, I thought it was noisy. It’s you, Chrono-kun.”

            ... Hayate. Your mission is complete?”


            Yep,” she said, giving a quick salute.


            ... There’s trouble, suspicious movements in the kingdom to the east. Gatherings of unusual people. And clearly not civilians, but soldiers. They may be trying to cause some kind of disturbance. ... Despite this, it’s a small kingdom, so the brass doesn’t know anything about the significance of it.”


            ... I see... As we expected.”


            What are those soldiers for!? Just a show of force!? When there are so many people in need of help!”


            Even as they spoke I wanted to break free from her hand and run to where Fate-chan was, but the force she held me back with was too strong... I couldn’t do anything.


            Nnn...! —...!”


            Only a silent scream escaped the warmth of her hand.



            ... By the way, you there. ... What squad are you from?”


            From behind my back, I heard Hayate-chan’s tone of voice change all of a sudden. What had been cheerful until a moment ago, was now piercing cold.


            ... Hearing Hayate-chan’s voice like that for the first time, my body stiffened. The middle-aged knight she was talking to stiffened in the same way.


            What squad are you from? ... As the princess’s steward, can I say something? Making the princess cry, do you not have any manners, I wonder?”


            —..., P, pardon me...”


            The hand over my mouth moved away. ... She whispered these words into my ear.


            ... If you want what’s best for Fate-chan, you need to be patient now, okay?”


            That’s true... without a doubt.

            —... But, even so!


            ... There will be no next time. ... Understood?”


            Still smiling sweetly, Hayate-chan called for the Guardian Knights waiting behind her, instructing the one named Signum-san to report to the higher-ups in her stead.


            ... Shamal, take care of Nanoha-chan. Take her up to her room, okay?”

            No! ... Because, Fate-chan is crying!”



            Nanoha-chan. Please... try to understand.”


            Just what kind of being a princess is to a knight. How supreme a being she is.


            And for Fate-chan to have touched that being... If it were to become known—... Try to understand just what would happen to her.


            ... No... No...”


            Chrono-kun. ... Can I borrow Fate-chan for a minute?”

            ... Yeah.”


            It looked like Chrono-kun already understood. Everything, and all of it. Fate-chan couldn’t say anything—... All she did, was look toward me.


            ... Can I have a little of your time? Fate-chan.”


            She didn’t reply at all to Hayate-chan’s question.





            Watching her back as she left, and calling out her name—... were the only things I could do.



            Calling her name and stopping her.


            If I did that—... then what would I do?


            Apologize? Say, I’m sorry I deceived you?



            What would I do even if I apologized?


            What do I want to do?



            Why, how?


            ... Fate-chan...”


            Calling her name and embracing her.



            —... As I am now, even that


            would do nothing but hurt her.



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