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            Stretching up my hand as far as I can into the high, high sky.

            I will destroy the birdcage located high overhead, so far out of reach of my hand.


            What I need are the tools and the strength.

            And, wings to reach that high place.


            Even though my objective is so clear.



            No matter how much I struggle, how much I stretch out my hands.

            The wings to reach that high place—... I can’t help but feel that they are unobtainable.





            As I am now, am I able to destroy that birdcage?


            And once I destroy it, will I be able to hold you, who is trapped within, in my arms? Me, next to you. You, next to me. Sharing warm body temperature. Smiling together, embracing each another?



            ... No matter how many times I close my eyes and try to picture that scene.


            The sight of me, my hand unable to reach the cage, falling into the ravine, and.

            ... The sight of you staring in shock upon seeing me, is all I can picture.


            Hey... “God,” I don’t know if you exist or not, but...



            Just how much longer do I have to struggle

            —... until I can destroy that cage, without hurting that precious girl?



            zehn (Sturm) ~ 】



            Within the room that had fallen silent, I packed my luggage. ... It’s better to have few personal belongings.


            A cup I use, a blanket, and. ... The necklace hanging around my neck.


            These are enough.



            Maybe because I had few things from the start, in twenty minutes the room had been neatly put in order. I slowly looked around the silent room.


            A room I lived in for three years. ... A place, full of memories with Nanoha.


            If I said I wasn’t lonely, I’d be lying. ... But. Controlling my tightly pained chest, I opened the door wide.


            —... My destination was the female barracks of a new unit. I had withdrawn from Hayate’s unit, and transferred to one under direct control of my mother Lindy.


            I hoped wholeheartedly for intensive training, and so I began to volunteer for missions. Morning would begin... and turn to night. I’d take a shower, sleep like a stone, and morning would come again.



            Over and over I repeated that.



            Before I knew it... a span of two years had passed.


            I, who had been an apprentice, was now in the position of a captain, and so was entrusted with even greater missions. I had gained free entry into the castle too.


            During this time, I never saw Nanoha. ... No, “I was unable to see” might be more correct.


            If we met, I’m sure... I would make you, who is so unknowing... I would make you cry, Nanoha. I would want... to feel your presence in my arms.


            ... But,”


            As I advanced smoothly down the corridor, somewhere in the back of my mind I ruminated on the words the commander had spoken to me this morning. ... Supposedly, there were orders assigned directly to me by the supreme commander.


            At my destination, I was informed of the details—... escort duty of an indefinite period.

            And the subject was...



            “ ... Fa... te... cha...?”


            On the other side of the opened door. Deep, deep blue—... was there.


            Far, far more grown up compared to what was in my memories. With a countenance that had become more suited to the word “beautiful” than “cute.” Shorter than me by half a head. Bewitching, flaxen hair.


            ... Fate-cha...-!”


            I missed you. I missed you so much I was about to break. Over and over I had dreamt about you.


            Your warmth. Your words.


            Even now, my body remembers them as though they were branded onto it.




            —... Ahh... See. The hand you’ve reached out like that—...


            I am honored... to finally be able meet you.”


            The warm smile you’ve given me.


            It is a great privilege, Your Highness. I am Fate T. Harlaown. From today forth, I will be serving you as your personal guard... I hope that you will find me worthy of the role.”



            As I am now... Still. I definitely should not receive them.


            “... W-hy...-!”



            —... And like that... these feelings.

            Hurt you, who I wanted to protect.






            I just—... want to see that face, I thought. Ahh, what am I saying? I’m right next to you every day.


            Nevertheless, I wanted to meet you.



            Even though I was making a wall between us. I wondered if that would create distance between Nanoha and myself.


            It was a total contradiction.



            ... But, I didn’t know what I should do. I wanted to embrace you, but was too scared to reach out.


            Having seized the doorknob to that room, I couldn’t move. That knob that had been so cold had stolen my heat, making it warm now.


            I couldn’t put any strength into that trembling hand.


            I supported my stiff and trembling right hand with my left, and took a deep breath. It felt as if the late night’s unusually cold air were cooling even the inside of my feverish head.


            —... Doesn’t Hayate have the key? Even if I did turn it now... there’s no way it would open.


            So, there’s no need to be so uncertain. Just think of it as testing it.


            Breathing a sigh I tightened my grip, and turned the knob. And then, contrary to my expectations, the door opened wide.


            Spread before my eyes was—... deep, darkness.



            Within it—... your figure, was there.


            To confirm you were sleeping, I softy approached so as not to wake you. And then I noticed... there were tears around your eyes.


            Did you cry yourself to sleep? Your cheeks, with a hint of swelling, were red.


            Suddenly, her crying face from that time came to mind. —... Ahh... I’m sure. That again, it’s my fault.



            “... I’m sorry. ... I’m sorry”


            Though I want to treasure you. Though you’re truly, truly important to me. My ambiguous sentiments, can surely do nothing but hurt you.


            Though I want to embrace you.

            —... I cannot embrace you.


            You’re so close. I can touch you if I just reach out. And yet, why is it that the more I learn about reality... the further away from you I feel?


            “... I’ll be here.”


            Nevertheless, I’ll be here.



            Even if... it isn’t in the way I want.



            Always, always...


            “... I’ll be here. ... No matter what form, always.”


            ... Ahh—... That is, a lie. I want to be the one to hold Nanoha’s hand and laugh with her.


            I’m afraid. What if I’m still not strong enough?

            ... With my meager strength, I fail to break the cage.


            Falling into the dark ravine, leaving you behind.


            Seeing your melancholic expression watch me as I fall.


            Hurting you with fragments of the unbroken cage.



            —... All these things, I’m afraid of.


            Though they’re nothing but predictions. Though I may already have the strength. Even so. ... Measuring that strength myself is something I can’t do.


            ... Nano...,”


            I touch the girl before me. Though you are “Nanoha” when you sleep. If I call that name, I feel like I wouldn’t be able to restrain this longing heart.


            With my incomplete strength, I feel like I would carelessly break the cage.



            —... I couldn’t call her name.


            Who I’m fighting against or what I’m fighting against. Without even knowing that... I tried to place my lips over Nanoha’s.



            Nevertheless—... in the end... even after putting up that fight... Cowardly, I... could only brush against the tip of what I sought.






            —... Since that night, another half a year passed.


            We were, as ever, “Knight” and “Princess.” Pasting on an impassive smile, escorting her as usual.


            Arming myself with lies. Concealing this heart that was about to fester. I tucked away the feeling of wanting to reach my hand out.


            Maybe I still haven’t grown up.


            I sighed with a bitter smile. The sky I looked up at was filled with stars. Meanwhile, off in the distance, I could hear the sounds of magnificent music and excited chatter.


            —... Today, was Nanoha’s sixteenth birthday.


            After seeing off Nanoha, who was wearing a dress, and her steward Hayate, I stationed myself at my guard post.


            It was an out-of-the-way plaza that could see the most remote balcony of the hall. I had volunteered for that post. Aside from myself, there were no guards there.


            The people in the hall where the party was being held were at a far enough distance that I could just barely make them out with my naked eye. ... But, that was fine.


            I didn’t want to see... Nanoha smiling at everyone. “I wonder who Nanoha is smiling at now.” That sort of thing.


            ... It’s selfish jealousy. Despite the fact that right now, I... don’t have any right to tie Nanoha down.



            “... How much longer, do I have to struggle...?”


            I gazed at the palm of my hand, wrapped in cold armor. My pathetic face reflected off it dully in the moonlight.


            ... Fate-chan...”


            Thinking about such things absently, I suddenly noticed my name being called. Laced with anxiety, a small, hoarse voice.


            As I was looking about, the voice called out, “Up here.” —... I turned my face, to the person the voice belonged to.


            For an instant, my heart leapt. Suppressing it, I squeezed out as calm a voice as I could.


            ... Why might you be here, Your Highness?”

            “Ehehe... I slipped away.”


            Looking from the balcony above my head. Was her, looking shy, with a smile blossoming on her face.


            I was happy, and yet... again, I felt a pinprick of pain in my chest.


            If the guest of honor goes missing, everyone will be worried.”

            “... It’s alright, no one will notice. I’m sure.”


            Peeking out from the gap between the curtains was the typical scene. Indeed, it seemed that the party wasn’t going to stagnate regardless of her presence.


            Returning my gaze to her, that face was distorted with sadness. ... As though some resignation were mixed in, that sort of smile.


            Not able to say anything, all I could do was look at that figure.


            Um, I brought a little food. ... Why don’t we eat together?”

            “... Right now, I am on duty.”


            From the opening in the rails of the balcony, I gently returned the presented plate. Then, Nanoha puffed out her cheeks a little.


            Muu, Fate-chan is so obstinate,” I heard her complain.


            Then, a request from... Princess... Nanoha, is no good?”


            Nanoha never referred to herself as “Princess.” So, this wish... was just that earnest.


            She sacrificed that for someone like me.


            ... There shouldn’t be a knight who would refuse a request of the princess.”


            I, didn’t know what I should do.


            “... The moon is beautiful tonight, huh.”

            “... Yes. It is.”


            As we ate we looked up at the moon together. The light given off by the pale blue moon, seemed like it would illuminate even my heart—... and just a little, I was afraid.


            Your Highness’s garments will be soiled... Please stop squatting down.”

            “But if I don’t squat, you won’t be able to reach the food.”


            I continued to stand, and Nanoha sat. Even so, it was a distance such that I still had to look up at Nanoha.


            Somehow it plainly indicated our relationship now. My already pained chest, was again struck with a piercing pain.


            —... My breath trembled, and I couldn’t breathe properly.


            ... I’m fine. So, please return. His Highness must also be worrying.”

            “All I need is Fate-chan!”


            I turned my gaze away as if I were escaping and looked down. Then from above, I heard her voice, as if she were about to cry.


            You jest... Please stop this, Your Highness.”

            “... Why do you say I’m joking!? ... Why...”


            My ambiguous sentiments. Words. ... Again, they’ve hurt you.



            ... You and I, are ‘Knight’ and ‘Princess.’”


            Even though I know that.


            “... Then, on that night, why... did... you kiss me!?”

            —... -”


            Even though you reach out so far from your cage like this.



            “I’m..., ... in so... so, much...”

            “... I...”


            Feeling something warm fall in droplets, I lifted my gaze. That expression, stained with sadness, was just painful.


            ... pain..., Fa... te, cha..”


            I reached out to her as she held her hands to her chest and cried. My straining fingers reached her cheek.


            Nanoha... Your, Highness.”


            Those fingertips were grasped tightly. That stiff and shaking hand, was terribly hot.


            —... That strength that grasped so tightly it hurt, was heartrending. Gently disentangling the tightly grasped hand, I wiped away the tears gathered around her eyes with my fingertip.


            After doing so for a few moments, the ringing of the bells that indicated a change of shift sounded. ... Soon, a replacement knight would come here.


            It could be bad if Nanoha and I are seen here together. If rumors arose that she slipped away from the party to come see me, I’d be removed from being her escort.


            ... I... don’t want that to happen.


            “... It’s time. I will return later to escort you back.”

            “Fate-cha, ... Wait!”


            Struggling to control my pained chest, I turned my back to her.


            No... I don’t want to leave behind a crying Nanoha. —... I held down my screaming heart.



            “Excuse me.”



            If I become strong, if I reach a fitting rank. —... I had thought this.


            I thought I had become stronger... But—... I still can’t see the end.



            I don’t know how strong I have to be before I’m permitted to reach out for you.


            The more I recklessly head toward my goal. The more I can’t help but feel like the distance between us is growing.


            ... The time when I was an apprentice.



            The distance between us was undoubtedly less.


            The stronger I become. The more I raise my rank. ... The farther away my goal feels. The distance between us just transforms into despair.




            “I love Nanoha.”


            So, I don’t want to give up.



            So, on this occasion, I’ll act.


            I’ll reach out.



            I’m more afraid of running away from you thinking, “I might not be strong enough.”



            Even if it isn’t enough strength, I’ll use all my power to destroy your cage.


            I’m going to come and get you. If that is what you wish.


            I’m going to grasp that hand that reaches out for me.



            I decided this.




            Earnestly, I hardened my will. I waited for a chance to tell Nanoha.






            —... Three days after that... On a certain mission.




            Hehehe. ... You are Fate Testarossa... are you not?”

            “... Why, do you know my...!?



            I would learn, that from the beginning.





            I never had the right.



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