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            Even now, I see it when I close my eyes.


            I think— that it’s been burned into my heart.


            The morning, when I heard that Nanoha-chan had fallen from the sky. The bandages covering that body. The venomous red, dyeing white skin.




            — That night, when I lost her, as she protected me while I was distracted.


            I don’t think— I will ever in my life forget.


            How she smiled widely and told me, “It’s alright,” trying not to worry me. How her cold hand that had become whiter than the morning sunlight, touched my cheek.


            How she smiled worriedly and told me, “Please smile.” How that gentle red, disappeared as if melting into the darkness of the night. Her voice. Her warmth. — Everything.


            The final prayer of Reinforce, who was a precious, beloved family member to me, even though we weren’t related by blood. Her, final prayer.


            Her final wish, that pushed me forward when I was so timid.


            Never, ever



            — will I forget them.



            neunzehn ~ (Verbindung) ~ 】



            It was something I didn’t want to suggest. If there was even a little danger, I wanted to avoid it.


            But, she said.


            “I’m going.”


            If that was the case, who could stop her? No one— would be able to.






            Making the new Device in secret presented more of a problem than I had thought.


            But of course it would. However knowledgeable, we didn’t have a specialized mechanic. It was also during a war, so few people could be spared to develop it.


            There was a basement that I had quietly made into my hideaway, thinking it would be useful someday. Two days had passed since I, along with several squad members, had holed up in an area that could be completely seen by just slightly turning your head left and right.


            The Device was gradually taking form, and the final adjustment phase— was only a little ways off.


            “... Hayate-chan.”


            As I stared at the assembling program as it flowed across the monitor, Rein, who was next to me, suddenly called out to me quietly.


            That downturned expression had become much more pale in the bluish light of the monitor. ... For some reason her expression was different from usual, mixed with perplexion and hesitation.


            “... Yes? What is it?”


            I spoke. Then, she slowly shook her head. She doesn’t want to be overheard here?


            “... Is something wrong?”


            Switching to a telepathic channel, I called out a second time using a private, protected circuit. After a few moments, a slow, shaking voice replied.


            “... It’s about Fate-san.”



            Startled, I jumped. “Is something wrong?” A squad member next to me immediately asked, and with a smile I answered, “It’s nothing.”


            “Did you notice, Hayate-chan?”

            “... Vaguely.”


            I breathed a sigh.


            That which I had wanted to believe was just my imagination, was changed to certainty by Rein’s words. What had deflected my magic was probably only partially her high defense.


            The edges of the repelled, evaporated magical energy that I had felt here and there, did not belong to her. —... However, her Barrier Jacket, which is a characteristic of that magic, showed no particular change.


            But, that right arm.


            Thinking back— it was obviously a different design from what I remembered. I couldn’t see any armor covering her arm, and white skin was exposed.


            When I saw blood flowing out, I thought a piece of her armor had just been torn off in an attack... But if it had been like that from the beginning...


            “... Inside— something is Unisoned with her.”

            “What kind of Unison Device is unknown but... probably...


            Though it was just a hypothesis, I held my head in my hands. At the contents of that telepathic message, it pounded in pain.


            “... I think it’s probably being rejected.”

            “Because Fate-chan can’t use a Unison Device to begin with.”


            Even at the best of times Unison is strongly connected to compatibility. If one were to go against that and force it— naturally, the mage would suffer some backlash.


            “But I think in Fate-san’s case it’s a partial Unison.”

            “... But, that is-”


            Unheard of. Impossible. — Partial Unison? Such a thing couldn’t be.


            “To be precise, using one’s own magical energy to limit it to one area of the body, might be correct.”

            “... How reckless. Is it possible? I’ve... never heard of anything like that.”


            — So backlash was apparent in the right arm, obviously suffering from overload? Has Fate-chan noticed?


            “I don’t know... But that’s currently the result.”


            —... What foolishness. Wanting power that much... Just what is she trying to do?



            I moved my gaze to the monitor. A few more lines, and the execution program could be initialized. There were no notable errors or bugs. ... I picked up one of the cartridges that was sitting next to me.


            ... There were one dozen of them, each containing Nanoha-chan’s magical energy. I lightly waved it back and forth, checking it. A faint liquid sound, and a magical energy reaction.


            They were heavier than the ones I used—... to the point that it made me want to cry.





            As she watched me do this, Rein continued painfully.



            “If she continues this forced Unison... Eventually. When her body reaches its limit... it won’t just be her right arm-”



            Ahh— I don’t want to hear something like that.


            “That’s enough. Rein.”


            I forcibly cut the circuit. — Rein smiled sadly.


            “Commander Hayate! It’s finished!”

            “Mm, I see. Thank you.”


            I took the presented object into my hand. Even in the dark room, the small stone sparkled and reflected a red light.


            “... Protect Nanoha-chan, okay?”


            I gently enwrapped the object in the palm of my hand. — I’m begging you, please—... don’t let her fall from the sky.


            No, I’m wrong. That’s— not it.


            “... I’m sorry, everyone.”



            To those here now, and to those who aren’t. — To all those under my command, an apology.


            I’m sorry, for being a superior who selfishly disobeys orders to follow her personal feelings. — Before I could let those words out, they were.


            “We’re proud of you. Commander Yagami.”


            Erased, by smiling faces.



            — Ahh, honestly. You’re such hopeless kids. Instead of scolding me, you’re seeing me off with smiling faces.



            “On this day, I, Hayate Yagami— go to the front lines.”


            — Fate-chan knows the real truth of this war. By saving her, by bringing her back.


            We’ll be able to learn what the key to ending this war is. Then— this long war should end as well.


            “If I come back safely. If I’m able to return to the military— let’s all have a drink?”

            “We’ll be waiting, ... ‘Hayate-san.’”


            That’s probably—. — But. Everyone, as if to hold back their tears, replied with a smile.


            “Everything else... I leave to you, alright? Sharly.”

            “... Understood. Take care.”






            Nanoha-chan wasn’t in the room I headed to. The inside of her room, illuminated by the moonlight, had fallen silent.




            I was searching the places she might be. — There was no sign of her. The darkness was deeper now, and I couldn’t see ahead in the windowless corridor.


            But, thinking that if I turned on a light someone might see me, and that it would be bad to be suspicious, I slowly stepped forward along the wall.


            After walking for a little while, a band of light stretched out onto the corridor. The door ahead that my gaze was pointed toward was shut tight, but light slipped out through a small crack.


            Slowly, I checked the make of the door by touch. It was more solid than others, and was elegantly and extravagantly made.


            — The bedroom of the king.


            Unusually, there was no sign of any knights on guard, and a small voice slipped out. Thinking that I shouldn’t eavesdrop, I went to take my leave of that place, when I heard that voice.


            “Don’t be ridiculous!”


            Our normally quiet king’s, angry roar.


            “— Nevertheless, I’m going.”


            In response, her truly calm tone of voice.



            Without thinking, I quietly moved next to the door. After a short while, a great sigh could be heard.


            “... I’ve heard the rumors. But, think carefully. Isn’t she a traitor?”

            “You’re wrong. ... It wasn’t treason.”


            “Even if that is true— the rumors have spread this far. If she were to return to this kingdom⁠—”


            “I’ll protect Fate-chan. From everything— No matter what.”

            “Nanoha! Think of your standing!”


            “I have thought about it. — For seven years, at that. ... For that whole time.”



            The inside of the room fell completely silent.


            ... It’s her, she couldn’t just leave in secret. Really now—... An honest soul? ... How should I say it?


            “... But, there’s no way for you to go out onto a battlefield, is there?”



            I let a wry smile escape despite myself.


            Truly— just how upright is this girl? If Nanoha-chan is like that— I have to be as well.


            “There is a way.”


            I turned the knob, and showed my face. Within the room were the king, her, and— also, the queen. Surprised by the sudden intruder, everyone’s gaze turned to me at once.


            “We’ve created a Device for her.”

            “... Hayate, chan?”


            “Why?” she asked with wide eyes.


            “—... Please forgive me for taking this liberty. However... please understand.”

            “No, Hayate-chan has nothing to do with it! Alone, I’m going alone!”


            I watched her desperately try to conceal my involvement.


            What, you’re trying to cover up my part? — I don’t want you to say such things. Really, how distant.


            At my words, the king grumbled. After a short while the queen, who had been watching from the side, gently smiled.


            “Nanoha, you’ve made up your mind, haven’t you.”

            “— Yeah.”


            “Then, go ahead. Whatever we say, you won’t listen, right? Because you’re stubborn.”

            “— Thank you, Mother...”



            As her head was slowly stroked, a slight red tinged that face. — She looked very happy.






            “Here, your Device is done.”

            “Thank you... Hayate-chan.”


            In a deserted corridor, I handed her the Device. Lovingly, she grasped it tightly.


            Slowly she activated it. — After giving off a faint light, her body was covered with a pure-white Barrier Jacket. Completely different than when with Blauer Vogel, it was a new one for her.


            So that it would never be stained red again.



            Slowly, I activated my Device as well. My Barrier Jacket covered my body. Seeing this, Nanoha-chan’s eyes widened in surprise.


            “— Hayate, chan?”

            “Hey, we’re going, right?”


            I turned my back to her and declared this to urge her on, when my right arm was jerked back. Slowly I turned my head, toward that troubled expression.


            “... Hayate-chan, it’s fine.”

            “Huh? Am I the only one left out?”


            “No! It’s because—!”


            I touched my index finger to those lips that began speaking.


            “‘I can’t cause trouble for Hayate-chan,’ is off limits, okay?”

            “... But, Hayate-chan! This isn’t a game, you know!? If you’re found out-”


            Of course. Just what I thought she’d say.


            “Hey, Nanoha-chan... what am I to you?”

            “— Eh? My best friend, right?”


            Those words slipped out smoothly. Coinciding with a throbbing pain in my chest, something warm spread. She truly is... too much of an upright and honest soul.


            “You put that before my official position, huh... Really now, that’s so like you~.”

            “Fueh? Eh?”


            I breathed another sigh. This time, pretending to force it.


            “I’m your ‘steward,’ right? Or are you trying to take my job?”

            “— Bu, but! That’s not it, Hayate-chan, this is my selfishness, so-!”


            Pulling away the index finger touching her, I roughly pet her head. Entwining my fingertips in soft hair, the gentle combing felt good on my fingers.


            “Don’t you remember, Nanoha-chan? Back then, I told you... didn’t I?”

            “— Eh?”


            That was, a conversation from long ago. That night, when the spring weather was chilly, and beautiful moonlight painted the sky.


            Embracing her who was still young, I had certainly said it.


            “Whatever happens— I am your ally. And I am Fate-chan’s ally.”

            “—... I could never forget.”


            The hand that caressed her head, was gently wrapped by a slightly trembling palm. — It was warm, and soft.


            “These feelings of wanting Fate-chan to come home. They’re the same. So I want to go get her too. As Fate-chan’s best friend, alright?”


            — Because I want to laugh together like we did back then. To talk about all sort of things again.



            I wiped away her flowing tears with my fingertip. That which made lines down her cheeks, I wiped with the side of my thumb, and perhaps tickled by that warmth, her eyes narrowed, and drops overflowed all over again.


            “Also. I— absolutely, will not let you fall from the sky again.”



            — I will do what only I can.


            To live up to the oath I swore on that day to my precious Reinforce. To have that girl who must still be somewhere far away, smile with that soft expression again.


            To never again— turn my eyes from the truth. So everyone can live with a smile. So I can live with a smile.



            I’m sure that her smile, will be protected by that girl.

            — That’s why.


            “— Now then, shall we go?”



            To protect this kingdom, and its people, that she loves.




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