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dreizehn

 

 

            The sky that had been so clear gradually clouded over, and by the afternoon turned into a downpour.

 

            I watched this from the other side of the window.

 

            It’s like it’s crying, I thought—... like a child who doesn’t know what to do.

 

            Crying out in a loud voice, until it becomes hoarse.

 

            Don’t cry.

 

            I drew my face closer to the window, until the tip of my nose touched it, when clink, there was a faint sound.

 

            At the end of my gaze, pressed up against the glass, was the necklace that was now completely familiar to my skin. The one that, on that day—... Fate-chan had given to me.

 

            The stone had gotten damp from touching the condensation that had formed on the window. Dragging a finger across it, I wiped the moisture off.

 

            ... The tiny droplets that still remained ran down the stone’s curve and fell to the floor without a sound.

 

            —... Ahh, she’s crying.

 

            I let my fingertip touch the stone again. ... Illuminated by the moonlight, it was a gentle, deep red. It always reminded me of her gentle eyes.

 

            Fate-chan is crying. At that thought, my body began to move.

 

            Heading toward Fate-chan’s room.

 

            Everyone was already asleep, and I hurried along the silent corridor with quick steps.

 

 

            I don’t know why I thought that. But it was like it was seared into my mind.

 

 

            Like a wish. Like a prayer.

 

 

            I focused only on that thought.

 

 

            dreizehn ~ (verurteilen) ~ 】

 

 

            “Na... ... no, ... ha...”

 

            Hearing that pleading voice, I slowly ran my hand through her hair. Again, and again, and again.

 

            When I did, the arms around me tightened just a little. It was to the point that it hurt a bit, but I said nothing.

 

            “Anyway, let’s go inside, Fate-chan. You’re getting cold, aren’t you?”

 

            Fate-chan’s body felt cool as I held her. Perhaps she had been out in the rain. From that beautiful golden hair, droplets fell, one after another.

 

            “... Yeah.”

 

            Despite answering, Fate-chan wouldn’t let go. To soothe her, I patted and rubbed her back.

 

            ... I didn’t know why, but. I thought she seemed confused. She was shaking as if she were frightened of something.

 

            “I’m... right here, Fate-chan.”

 

            —... Deep crimson quivered. An indescribable fear was reflected in those depths.

 

 

            I opened the door, and sat Fate-chan down on her bed for the time being, before taking a towel from the closet. Maybe it was freshly washed, because it was fluffy and warm.

 

            I quietly covered her head with it, and began to carefully dry her wet hair. ... Even while I did this, Fate-chan didn’t try to let go of my hand.

 

            That hand that held on so tightly, was very cold.

 

            “... I’m sorry.”

 

            Those softly spoken words were raspy, almost as if they would disappear at any moment. I shook my head several times to those words, continuing to wipe away moisture with the towel.

 

            “It’s alright. But... finally. You called my name.”

 

            The room fell silent. A murmur. Then her body twitched slightly.

 

            “... No-, this, I mean... I was confused, e-excuse me...,”

 

            At my words, her body tried to pull away. To keep that body from escaping, I put my arms around her shoulders.

 

            They were so smooth and slender it would almost make one doubt she was really a knight. —... The shoulders of any slim girl her age.

 

            ... Her face was hidden by the draped towel. I pulled on it until her expression was completely hidden. All I could see now, was her mouth.

 

            Perhaps flustered by having her vision suddenly obscured by the towel, Fate-chan twisted around in my arms.

 

            “Fate-chan, you’re alone right now.”

            “... Eh?”

 

            I stroked her head through the towel.

 

            “You’re alone. You can’t see anyone, can you? There’s no one here aside from you.”

            “...”

 

            Perhaps not understanding my words, Fate-chan paused her movements.

 

            “So, no one will hear your true feelings if you say them out loud.”

 

 

            As I finished speaking, I slowly kissed her head. As I repeated this many times, her body turned toward me, and I was held tightly by trembling hands.

 

            —... With the towel still on her head, I couldn’t read her expression.

 

            “... I love Nanoha. To the point that I can’t do anything about it. I want to reach out, but I can’t-. ... I’m sure, I... I will,”

 

            Those words abruptly cut off. The mouth that hesitated pursed tightly together. As if fearing something, again, that body trembled.

 

            Even so, I refrained from saying anything, from urging her on. I just continued to softly stroke her head.

 

            “... I will hurt Nanoha. Even if I don’t want to, even if I shouldn’t!”

 

            As though it really, truly hurt.

 

 

            “That cold voice that calls my name... won’t stop.”

 

            —... she continued.

 

            It was, like that of a child who didn’t know what to do. A sad, pained voice.

 

            “I can’t remember... No... If I remember, I won’t be able to... stay by Nanoha’s side.”

 

            I heard a sob. —... It was the wailing of her heart. She herself probably didn’t know, didn’t understand. Words that escaped unconsciously.

 

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

 

            —... The words she once gave me.

 

            “I’ll be by your side. ... If the voice won’t disappear, I’ll call your name, Fate-chan.”

 

            I took those hands that had turned white from gripping the sheets so hard. The places where blood oozed out from where her fingernails had dug in, I covered with my own hands.

 

            “Over, and over. ... Until that voice stops. I’ll call your name.”

 

            When I removed the towel covering her, her face was distorted with tears. Running my fingers over those red cheeks, I stroked them over and over.

 

            “If your hands can’t reach, we can just reach out together.”

            “—..., but! I’m a knight, and you’re a princess! You are, someone important to this kingdom,”

 

            So confused, so hurt. With both hands I encased that head that shook back and forth in denial.

 

            “... But, we’re both human. ... Nothing is different between us, ... we’re human.”

            “You’re wrong, I’m—...,”

 

            “Fate-chan.”

 

            The words she continued to speak, the mouth that cried out bitterly. —... I sealed them with my lips.

 

            “... I love you, Fate-chan.”

            “—..., ... I love... you too, ... Nanoha.”

 

 

 

            The arms that tightly embraced me were warm. Not wanting to let go, I tightly returned the embrace, our lips meeting.

 

            Even when it became painful to breath, I didn’t let go. Within my consciousness that was getting hazy, I just called Fate-chan’s name.

 

            “... I love you, Nanoha. I love you.”

            Yes, ... yes.”

 

            Again and again I answered those words whispered in a daze. The tears wouldn’t stop. When I put even more strength into the arms embracing her, I heard something clink together.

 

            Fate-chan seemed to think it strange as well, and we pulled back looking for the source of the sound. At my chest was the pendant, which had peeked through a gap in my clothes without my noticing.

 

            “... Maybe they bumped together.”

 

            Saying that with a shy smile, Fate-chan pulled something out from around her neck. A pendant that I had seen before. ... It was the exact same as my own.

 

            I gently touched the pendant. Beautiful blue peeked out, reflecting the moonlight that entered from the window.

 

            “... That day, I had bought one to match yours.”

            “You’re still wearing it.”

 

            It was as if it were saying that Fate-chan had been thinking of me all this time. And so—... I was so happy, I could have cried.

 

            “You... kept wearing yours too, Nanoha.”

 

            Her fingertips touched my pendant. She stroked it again and again, before enclosing it in a slightly trembling hand.

 

            “... I thought... if I did this... You would think of me, even if it was just a little bit.”

 

            In those times that were so uncertain. So painful, so sad. —... I had always unconsciously grasped it.

 

 

            “Even if you didn’t do that... I would always be thinking about you, Your Highness.”

 

            Unexpectedly, Fate-chan’s voice became abruptly respectful, and when I anxiously raised my eyes,

 

            “... I would have said that before. ... But now, I can be honest, right?”

 

            Fate-chan’s face looked bashful, and was flushed.

 

            “I was always thinking of you.”

 

 

            Soft lips descended. And again, I was held tightly.

 

            “... Nanoha. ... When this war is over, there’s something I want to say to you.”

            “Something?”

            “Yeah.”

 

            I tilted my head back to peer at her face, and she smiled again. That smile, made my chest hurt.

 

            “My princess.... Would it be alright, if I stole you away?”

 

            With a trembling voice, with wavering eyes. But with very clear words.

 

            “... or... no?”

 

            —... It sounded like a declaration.

 

 

            “... Of course, dear knight.”

 

            So I too, made a declaration in return. It was shaking, and hoarse beyond my expectations.

 

            —... Fate-chan’s face was blurred with tears.

 

            “... I’m glad.”

 

 

            That night, I fell asleep in Fate-chan’s embrace. Her arms were warm, and gentle.

 

            —... I was truly, truly happy.

 

 

***

 

 

            Early in the morning, Fate-chan escorted me to my room, taking care so we wouldn’t be seen by anyone. Hayate-chan was standing in front of my room, and the two of us got harshly scolded.

 

            “Don’t make me worry so much!” and, “Imagine what it’s like for someone who has to pull the strings to cover it up!” Stuff like that. Once Hayate-chan got it out of her system, she sighed deeply.

 

            “You fi~nally became honest. Both of you.”

 

            She mussed my hair as if she were praising a small child. ... It was right after that.

 

            Shrill alarms rang out within the castle. I saw a group of knights salute, then run down the hallway.

 

            One of them stopped and saluted Hayate-chan and Fate-chan.

 

            “Permission to report?”

            “... What’s wrong? Just what is...

 

            “... It’s finally begun...”

 

            Hayate-chan seemed to be glaring through the window. Following her line of sight, I turned toward the window. —... There, were the distant grasslands.

 

            There was no sign of those bright green meadows, and instead, there was a large column of fire.

 

            “... They’ve launched their assault.”

 

            Fate-chan continued with strained words.

 

            Dumbfounded, all I did was stand there. The knight that was explaining the current situation also stated that per the supreme commander’s request, Fate-chan was also to be deployed as a front-line captain.

 

            “... In any case, we need to investigate what those bastards’ plan is.”

            “They were so discreet in preparing for this. ... I don’t think it’s a simple invasion.”

 

            There was still no request for Hayate-chan, who held a position of commander. For now, try to get as much support from other kingdoms about as possible, was the order.

 

            Hayate... please take care of Nanoha.”

            “Naturally. ... Be careful, Fate-chan.”

            “Of course.”

 

            After confirming that the knight had run off, Fate-chan slowly stroked my head, and said, “I’ll protect you, Nanoha,” with a smile.

 

            “... Fate-chan, be careful, okay?”

            “I will. Thank you, Nanoha.”

 

            Fate-chan changed into her Barrier Jacket, and ran down the corridor. As I gazed at her back, I felt an indescribable anxiety.

 

 

            —... And when Fate-chan returned to the castle, it was two days later.

 

            As if to say, “I don’t want to accept this reality,” her body was trembling, and her expression was terribly pained.

 

            After concluding a long, long report and the resulting tactical meeting, Fate-chan and Hayate-chan returned to my room with me.

 

            That body continued to tremble.

 

            In front of knights other than Hayate-chan, I couldn’t hold her. So I held her hand, and

 

 

            A single statement.

 

            “... The enemy’s target. ... The reason for this war. ... We found it.”

 

            She continued.

 

            She bit down on her lip until it split, and blood seeped out. That wound looked like it had been made long before she came to my room.

 

            As I was about to reach for a towel to treat it, the hand holding mine tightened.

 

            When I turned back to her, those eyes that were always so kind were stained with fear. —... Pain, and sadness.

 

            “You already are aware of this kingdom’s national treasure.”

            “... Yes.”

 

            A tale that was told to me since I was young. “You’re the one connected most closely to it,” was what was always added to the end.

 

            “... No way.”

 

            A hoarse voice left my throat. ... I couldn’t believe it.

 

            Because this story should only have been passed down through my family and a few others. Fate-chan must have learned of its existence from the meeting earlier.

 

            She looked like she would cry at any moment. Her face was downcast. She shook her head, as if to say, “I don’t want to accept it.”

 

 

            —... And.

 

            “The target of the enemy forces is... our kingdom’s national treasure... and you, Your Highness.”

 

 

            That small voice that sounded as if it were squeezed out, reverberated through the silent room.

 

 

 

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