Disclaimer: I don't own Vivio or Lutecia and am making no money for this.

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Shadow

Having worked her job for eight years, Lutecia Alphine had quickly gotten used to being tired. The kind of missions she were given often started during the evening, usually during twilight hours, and lasted well into early morning. She'd grown accustomed to only getting two or three hours of sleep, or sometimes forgoing it completely if she didn't have the freedom. That exhaustion was easy enough for her to work through, something she could push aside and live with on a daily basis.

The exhaustion she felt now… that was a different kind.

This exhaustion left her so tired that she considered it a miracle she could even walk straight, much less keep her eyes open. Simply drawing breath was a painful chore, and she couldn't see without her vision blurring and spinning slightly, trembling from the inside out.

And the thing was, it was all so subtle, so well-hidden from those she knew that no one detected it; or if they did, they knew not to ask her about it.

Lutecia had done her best to keep her friends and family sheltered from the true nature of her job; she had done things, seen things, that continued to haunt her and would probably haunt her until the day she died, and she'd be damned if she let anyone she loved experience that same personal hell. Caro and Erio, she knew, had a vague idea of what she did for a living, as they had assisted her on missions several times in the past; but Erio was an Enforcer under Fate's command, and Caro was one of the main medics and occasionally went out into the field. They had, at most, a minimum understanding of her job and what it required of her, nothing more.

She'd been more successful at shielding Megane from the influences and side-effects of her job and intended to keep it that way. Her mother had already gone through hellfire and back, both before the incident with Jail and afterwards while recovering. Lutecia would willingly die before she subjected her mother to anymore emotional agony, whether it was caused by her or anyone else.

Between Fate and Nanoha, Lutecia often suspected that Fate knew more about her job than she let on; after all, Lutecia's branch was the one that often supplied Enforcers with a majority of the information they needed to track down and capture their targets. Thankfully, if Fate knew anything about it, she wasn't about to tell Nanoha or Vivio. It was harder to say with Nanoha; Lutecia knew that the older woman had experience with dealing with several people involved in her kind of work, but she didn't know if the brunette had ever delved deeper than that or just let it be.

Vivio's knowledge of her girlfriend's job was about the same as Caro or Erio; she'd participated in several missions when she'd been younger, but she'd been too young to fully grasp the concept of what Lutecia did and she hadn't been involved in it again for years. She asked about it every now and again, but it was more along the lines of who had been captured and what they'd done more than anything else.

Sometimes Lutecia felt guilty about keeping such an important part of herself from the people she loved. Sometimes, when it was too much, when she'd seen something she wanted to forget or done something she wanted desperately to erase, she considered telling them, but in the end, she never did.

Because if she did, that would force her to stop and look at herself. That would force her to realize that maybe, deep down, the reason she was so damn good at her job was because she was really no different from the people she hunted on a daily basis.

Then again, if she wasn't any different from the people she put behind bars, why did she feel this sick? Why did she feel so tired?

So tired… I just need to rest…

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"Cia?"

"Lu-chan? Hello, Mid-Childa to Lu-chan, come in Lu-chan…"

"Hey, are you feeling all right, Lu?"

Lutecia blinked groggily, shaking her head; wincing, she rubbed her temples and blinked, meeting the concerned gazes of her best friends and girlfriend. "Eh?" she mumbled, wincing as a headache pricked at her brain. "What'd I miss?"

"Are you okay?" Caro frowned, noticing that the purple-haired woman hadn't so much as touched any of her food or taken a sip from her favorite cherry Coke. "You've been spacing out since you got back from your mission."

"Ah…" Crap, am I really that obvious now? Grimacing, Lutecia rubbed her eyes to soothe an ache. "It's nothing, Caro. I'm just tired. Didn't get much sleep."

"You had another all-nighter?" Erio's frown was disapproving and scolding all at once. "This is the third one in a row. Can't you ask for a break? You look burnt out."

"Like they'd give me one." Lutecia's smile was brief but genuine. "I'm one of the best at what I do. My superiors would have a heart attack if I suddenly asked for some vacation time."

Erio didn't seem settled and Vivio had been oddly quiet during the whole exchange, but Lutecia knew better than to call either of them on it; she wasn't in any mental or physical state to handle them right now. She felt ready to collapse if she stayed any longer. Pushing her plate away and taking a quick, short drink from her cherry Coke bottle, the Belkan summoner stood. "I think I'm going to head home and take a quick nap," she said. "Mom's heading out with Genya and Subaru today to welcome Ginga home, and I have the rest of the day off. I think that'll help."

Lutecia heard Erio mutter something to Caro but ignored whatever he said, managing to leave the cafeteria as gracefully as possible. More than anything, she wanted to forget about the mission she'd had last night; she just wanted to go home, and rest, and maybe once she slept a little she'd—

"Cia?"

--nearly slam headlong into the ceiling. How the hell had Vivio gotten so damn good at sneaking up on people without making any noise? "Vi," she said, struggling to regain her composure. "Ah… I didn't hear you. You startled me."

"Sorry." Vivio smiled slightly as Lutecia tilted her head back to meet her gaze; the older woman was gradually getting used to the growth spurt the golden-haired teenager had experienced only a few months ago. "I guess I'm still just a little worried. You look… sick or something."

The spurt of guilt was quick and strong; Lutecia stepped closer and gently rested her cheek against Vivio's shoulder, one of the perks of the girl's growth spurt she'd quickly taken advantage of. "I'm fine, Vi," she murmured. "Really. Just a little tired. I'll be good as new soon enough." She flashed a brief smile, and Vivio lightly slid an arm around her and gave her a gentle squeeze.

"If you say so. I just don't like seeing you like this."

Lutecia closed her eyes and simply enjoyed the sensation. She still felt exhausted, but her biggest reason for enduring it was more than enough to assure her that she was doing the right thing.

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Vivio Takamachi had turned seventeen only a week ago, and happily admitted that she knew little about the mysteries of life. She wasn't old enough yet to fully grasp larger concepts of the world and its people, and she still tended to think with her heart instead of her head from time to time.

However, she knew she was old enough to tell when her best friend turned girlfriend was dealing with a problem and stubbornly trying to figure it out herself. In the past, whenever there had been an issue it had usually been Lutecia who was the first to try and get to the bottom of it, if only because she had been more suited for it personality-wise and was the oldest. And generally, said problem had usually stemmed from Vivio, because at the time she'd been younger, less experienced, and a tad immature.

But now Lutecia was the one with the problem, and Vivio didn't know what to do.

Groaning with frustration, the teenager rolled onto her back and stared up at the ceiling of her bedroom, at a loss as to how to handle the current situation. A part of her believed it best to just leave Lutecia be, to let her figure out whatever was bothering her and to stay out of it; another part of her wanted, desperately, to provide the support she'd always been given by the other girl in the past. For a brief moment Vivio wished she had Burning Glory with her; he'd have advice, surely, but she'd been separated from her partner for the time being, as he had been cracked during her latest mission. He'd recover without a problem, but he wouldn't be back in his mistress's hands for another week.

Maybe I could ask Fate-mama and Nanoha-mama… As soon as the thought formed, Vivio shook her head. She'd seen her mothers interact enough over the years to know that if one had a problem, the other sought them out. She knew that. What bothered her now was whether or not she had the right to step into Lutecia's personal problems—she knew, somehow, that Lutecia's problem was personal and ran emotionally deep, though she didn't know how she knew.

After a few minutes, Vivio narrowed her eyes and sat up. Cia was my best friend before she was my girlfriend, she thought. Whenever something was bugging me, she never used to leave me alone until I told her. She never forced it out of me, but in the end I always told her, anyway. Decision made, the girl nodded before leaping off the bed and shooting down the stairs, taking the steps three at a time.

She paused as Nanoha called to her from the kitchen. "Vivio? Where are you going?"

"I won't be gone long." Vivio slid on her shoes and grabbed the keys. "I'm going over to visit Cia real quick, Mama. I'll be back in a few minutes."

"Well, okay, have fun."

Vivio paused for a moment, shooting a suspicious look towards the kitchen; deciding not to push her luck, she nodded before stepping outside, closing the door behind her with a click.

A few minutes passed before Nanoha poked her head into the living room, where Fate was meticulously putting together a report on her laptop. "Ne, Fate-chan…"

"She's not bugged this time, Nanoha."

Nanoha grimaced, dropping onto the couch next to her wife. "I can hope, can't I?" she muttered, and Fate chuckled softly. The brunette sighed. "I know nothing's going to happen, but I'm still worried…"

Gently setting her laptop aside, Fate draped an arm along Nanoha's shoulders and gave a light squeeze. "She'll be fine, Nanoha. Vivio tends to be more mature than we sometimes give her credit for."

"But she looked so worried when she came home today!"

"If it's really important, you know she'll tell us about it. Vivio never could keep a secret from us. Just trust her, okay?"

Nanoha sighed and nodded, resting her cheek against Fate's shoulder.

"Yeah, okay."

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"Megane-san?"

Megane Alphine paused, recognizing the timid voice even as she looked up; the smile came to her naturally, and she easily pulled Vivio into a hug. "Vivio! Long time no see. How have you been?"

"I'm fine." The girl fidgeted nervously from foot to foot before she spoke again. "Uh… how's Cia?"

Megane's eyes softened; she sighed, looking back at the apartment door. "I don't know what happened to her on that mission," she murmured, "but whatever it was, it hurt her badly. She's asleep on the couch right now. Didn't even make it to her room. She came in and just passed out on the couch without changing or anything. She's sleeping right now, but she isn't resting." She shook her head, torn. "I didn't want to leave her, but she insisted that I still meet with Genya and Subaru today."

Vivio nodded, absorbing this information wordlessly. After a few minutes, she swallowed. "Ah... may I visit?" she asked weakly, wondering how to word her question right so Megane didn't get the wrong idea. "I was just… she was acting a little strange before, and I was worried. She always used to help me when we were younger, so I thought… yeah." She shrugged, hopelessly awkward.

Megane smiled slightly; she understood Vivio's awkwardness and trusted the girl's heart enough to let her try. "I was hoping you'd say that," she admitted. "I haven't locked the door yet, I just stepped out, so you can go in. Maybe you can help her."

Vivio nodded again, her throat suddenly dry.

She hoped she was worthy of Megane's trust.

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True to Megane's word, Lutecia was asleep on the couch, sprawled out on her back, one arm draped over her stomach and the other covering her eyes. She was still dressed in her training uniform for the day—black shirt, dark gray pants—and though she was sleeping, her whole body seemed tense and drawn. Moving carefully so as not to stir her, Vivio sat on the edge of the couch, cautiously leaning forward to grip Lutecia's arm and lower it so she could see her face more clearly.

It was obvious that whatever sleep Lutecia was getting, it wasn't a peaceful sleep. Her brow was furrowed, soft whimpers occasionally escaping her lips and her breathing hitched. "Cia. Hey," Vivio whispered, giving her a light shake. "It's just a dream. Wake up." She repeated this a few times, but it wasn't enough; obviously, even if she wasn't resting, Lutecia was still deeply asleep. Vivio looked around nervously, hyperaware of the fact that she and her girlfriend were the only people in the room and really, in way of clothing, Lutecia wasn't wearing much. "A-ah, well, I've seen Nanoha-mama do this to Fate-mama a couple of times, so I don't think it's a bad thing," she decided after a moment, and following Nanoha's example she leaned in and lightly kissed Lutecia, a chaste touch of skin on skin.

The kiss was light, and thankfully had its desired effect; Lutecia shifted slightly, sighed, and her lips softened and warmed beneath Vivio's. Feeling her stir, Vivio pulled away, sitting back up as Lutecia opened her eyes, blinking. "Hey," she whispered.

Lutecia gazed at her for a few minutes before she smiled slightly and covered her eyes with her arm again, blowing out a long breath. "Either the nightmare I was just having turned into a dream, or I'm awake," she mused, lifting her arm and sitting up.

"I could make a comment about what kind of dreams you'd have involving me, but I'll resist the temptation." Vivio grinned.

"Yes, definitely awake," Lutecia decided with a laugh, rubbing the back of her neck. She stretched slightly and yawned. "How did you get in?"

"Your mother let me in." Vivio shrugged. "I was worried. You weren't acting like yourself before."

Lutecia stiffened; her voice came out as a squeak. "Was it that obvious?"

"You were my best friend before you became my girlfriend, Cia." Amused, Vivio placed a light kiss on the tip of her nose, enjoying the benefits of her growth spurt. "Whenever you're upset, you always go off by yourself. You've done it for as long as I can remember."

The purple-haired woman grimaced. "It really isn't a big deal, Vi. The sleepless nights are just catching up with me, I guess, and you know—"

"Is it because of your mission last night?"

Lutecia said nothing, and Vivio went on hesitantly. "You and Erio-nii mentioned it back in the cafeteria, so I thought it might be connected. Like maybe something went wrong or… whatever." She offered a slight, nervous smile. "You can always talk to me about it, you know."

It was just the thing Lutecia wanted to hear, the release she'd craved; but old habits died hard, and she stubbornly refused to let this aspect of her life touch Vivio. "Something happened," she said evasively, "but it's not really a big deal. It's just a matter of a lot of hard work going to waste and…" Her breath hitched, "… and a lot of things going wrong. That's really it, so—"

The hand that stroked her cheek was gentle and warm, the fingers that ran through her hair soothing. Vivio's eyes softened slightly as Lutecia looked down. "Cia," she said softly, "if that's really it, why do you look ready to start crying as soon as I leave the room?"

"Maybe because I will," Lutecia whispered. "And as a Shadow, I can't do that."

"A Shadow?"

Vivio's voice held her confusion, but Lutecia saw the curiosity in her eyes was more understanding. She reached up, caught Vivio's hand in hers, and held it tightly. "Shadow is the name assigned to people who do my job," she said at last. "Kind of like how you have Enforcers or Aces or Strikers, we're called Shadows because of the nature of our assignments." She grimaced. "In the words of the guy who trained me, it's our name because we go to the darkest corners to get information, because we do things no one else would dare to do."

"And in your words?"

Lutecia laughed hollowly. "In truth, Shadows are expected to do the dirty work. We do whatever it takes to get our information, be it killing, raping… I even know fellow Shadows who have families, and they go out and sleep with other people to get what our superiors require." She shook her head. "Sometimes, if we've seen a mission all the way through, we're allowed to keep tabs on it once it goes into the hands of an Enforcer."

"… Is that… what happened last night?"

Lutecia looked up; Vivio seemed a little pale, but her grasp on her girlfriend's hand was tight and warm. "Yeah," she said. "I'd been tracking this guy for awhile—he's big on drug smuggling, we've been after him for months. I didn't get to him myself, because doing that would have involved me crossing some moral lines I don't want to cross, but I managed to get one of the security guards he turned at a plant he uses for his route." She closed her eyes. "He was scared… which is normal, with a guy this powerful, but we promised him he and his family would be safe. His wife was very kind, very gentle and understanding of him. They had three kids; the boys were twins, only ten I think, and the girl had just turned thirteen. I spent most of my time with them; my superiors handled talking to the guard. When we left, we were sure he'd come through for us."

There was a long pause; Lutecia shuddered, swallowed, but she didn't open her eyes.

"I got the call after three hours of sleep," she whispered. "The Enforcer monitoring them had noticed something wrong and sent for us, but by the time we got there it was already over. The guard… he wasn't a bad guy," she said, as if trying to defend him in some way. "He loved his wife and his kids, loved his job, but… he was weak, mentally. He couldn't handle it all. For him, it was too much." Her grip on Vivio's hand tightened slightly. "And he had a gun, one he'd gotten from Earth… they were descendants of Earth, I think, and he still had the gun his grandfather had brought with him. It had no magical tracker on it, so we didn't detect it until he'd already used it."

Suddenly, Vivio realized how this was going to end. "Cia," she whispered.

Lutecia shook her head and went on. "We found him in the living room, which didn't faze me so much, I hate to say. I've gotten used to seeing dead bodies, especially when… when I've had to kill myself, so I'm used to it. But…" She exhaled heavily. "He did it systematically. The room he shared with his wife was closest, so he shot her first; used a silencer so no one would hear, stayed up later to make sure they were asleep. She looked like she was sleeping, except…" Her voice trembled off here, hitched. "… Except she had this bloody hole in her head."

Lutecia's hands were trembling now, but she kept talking; the dam had finally been opened, and everything she'd been keeping inside flowed freely.

"The girl's room was next, and she… you know how you're thirteen, and you can't really decide if you're still a kid or a teenager? Her room was kind of like that. Her walls were all covered in posters of bands, she had make-up on her dresser, and she was sleeping with this ratty little stuffed dog that she must have had from birth. She had a hole in her head," Lutecia whispered raggedly, "and she was sleeping with a little stuffed dog that her dad probably gave her when she was a baby."

The tears didn't come. Vivio waited for them, and Lutecia wanted them to come, but they didn't. She still felt pain, and anger, and grief—but the tears didn't come.

"The boys were last. They had twin bunker beds, one on top and one on bottom. One of them was…" Lutecia laughed softly. "He was hanging half out of the bed, you know? Like some stroke of luck or some really attentive guardian angel was the only thing that kept him from falling to the floor. And his brother was beneath him and sleeping backwards; his feet were on the pillow and his head was under the blanket." She blew out a long, ragged breath. "I'd just seen them alive a few hours ago. They looked like they were sleeping, and they had little bloody holes in their heads."

A moment of silence passed; Lutecia finally opened her eyes, tears shimmering, but they didn't fall, and she looked at Vivio, anguished and amused in the worst possible way. "I've been a Shadow for eight years," she murmured, "and seeing a normal dead body didn't faze me. But I saw that last night, and… it stuck with me." She laughed. "It made me realize that I've gotten far too used to killing, or at least to seeing the dead, and I just felt so tired."

"Cia, what do you do?"

Confusion flitted across Lutecia's face. "A Shadow—"

Vivio laid a hand on Lutecia's lips, silencing her. "Not a Shadow," she said softly. "You already told me what a Shadow does, Cia. I'm asking what you do."

Lutecia paused for a moment, gazing at her girlfriend without speaking; she blew lightly against Vivio's fingers and was rewarded with a slight shiver from the younger girl as she pulled her hand away. She looked down, gently turning Vivio's hand over in hers and tracing her palm with her fingers. "I kill," she said at last. "I've done it several times, but I've only done it in self-defense. I flirt with whoever my target is depending on their preferences, and I become anything they want me to be: lover, mother, sister, best friend. I haven't raped anyone, though I know several people who have, and I haven't slept with any of my targets, though some of them have tried to convince me otherwise." She smiled crookedly. "Always believed I'd be betraying you if I went that far, because there's a lot more emotion to it, and I'm not in love with my targets like I'm in love with you."

"Good to know, or else I'd have to kill them myself."

The humor in Vivio's tone made Lutecia look at her again. "You're taking this awfully well," she said, noting that except for being a little pale, the younger girl looked as if they were simply discussing the weather.

Vivio smiled slightly, a weak smile that didn't quite reach her eyes but was still genuine. "I don't like what I'm hearing," she admitted ruefully. "After hearing it, I can understand why you kept it to yourself. But…" She shrugged. "You did tell me about it, and you don't look like you're going to cry anymore." In an absent gesture she reached out, gently brushing away loose tears with her hand. Lutecia shivered slightly before she caught Vivio's hand again, gently kissing her palm, and Vivio felt a lump in her throat. "Yeah," she murmured. "You don't look like you're going to cry anymore. I'm okay with that."

And for Vivio, Lutecia realized, it was as simple as that.

"You should probably head home." Glancing at the clock, the Belkan summoner noted that it had been nearly an hour. "Nanoha-san will send out a search squad if you don't."

"Ne, Cia…"

"Hmm?"

"Are you still tired?"

Lutecia blinked, confusion clouding her eyes; she nodded slowly, not sure where Vivio was going with this. "Didn't sleep well," she admitted. "I kept having nightmares."

Vivio nodded; since she still gripped Lutecia's hand she gave it a light tug, falling onto her back on the couch and pulling Lutecia with her, so the woman was snug against her, one arm sliding around her waist. "V-Vivio," Lutecia squeaked, her face bright red, "what are you doing?"

"Role reversal." Vivio tried to play it off, but she was blushing just as much, if not more so, than Lutecia. "I used to sleep on you all the time, now I'm big enough so you can sleep on me." She shrugged, releasing Lutecia's hand to stroke her hair. "I'll deal with Nanoha-mama when I get back."

There was a long, long moment; finally Lutecia sighed and relaxed, accepting Vivio's decision. She slid down slightly, gently nuzzling into her girlfriend's neck, and smirked. "You know," she murmured drowsily as sleep began to creep up on her with incredible speed, "I think I like this growth spurt of yours."

Vivio laughed and closed her eyes, enjoying the sensation of Lutecia resting against her like this. "I'm rather fond of it myself." Opening her eyes, she lightly kissed Lutecia's forehead. "Sleep, Cia," she murmured. "I'll stay with you so the nightmares don't come back."

Lutecia murmured quietly in reply, and was asleep in minutes; but her body was relaxed, her breathing deep, and Vivio knew she was truly resting. She wouldn't be tired anymore. After a few minutes Vivio also nodded off, holding Lutecia in her arms.

They slept together, and the nightmares didn't come back.

The End

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... Where'd the fluff go? Oh my...

Anyway, as a note, I don't know just how "good" the actual Mid-Childan police force is. I'm assuming that there are holes just like any other form of justice, hence how what happened in this story managed to happen. The gun couldn't be detected because it didn't have any form of magic or a tracker on it, and I'm pretty sure you guys know what a silencer is.

I had the idea for this for months, but just wrote it out now. In one sitting. Oh yeah.

1. The references to Vivio's growth spurt are a call-back to DezoPenguin's omake "I Spy".

2. The NanoFate scene is a call-back to DezoPenguin's omake "Something About Fate-Mama Just Bugs Me".

Hopefully this one-shot will inspire you, right?

Read and review, please!

EDIT: Modified because I made a few spelling errors, which proves I probably shouldn't try writing anything while I'm sick.

2nd EDIT: Modified one more time to better fit with DezoPenguin's "Shadows Fall".