A/N: This is a side-story to RadiantBeam's Lutecia/Vivio fic, "Shadow." It'll make very little sense if you haven't read that one first, so...go read it! It's good, besides.
Back so soon? Okay...here's a little background as to how Lutecia first got that job of hers...
~X X X~
Retirement suited some people very well.
There were the ones who saw the end of their working careers as a surge of freedom to be embraced, shackles dropping away and a cell door flung wide. They seized upon the time now available to live their dreams. Some would travel, to see the places and sights they'd only imagined. Some took up courses of study, expanding their minds. Some immersed themselves in the pleasures of society, of friendship, or of gaiety and frivolity. Some dedicated themselves to new hobbies that engaged their minds. Some merely relaxed, savoring the joys of idleness.
But there were others.
~X X X~
As TSAB penal colonies went, Lutecia Alphine thought, Mau Gram wasn't a bad one. It was a world currently in the process of being settled. a new frontier where criminals were given a second chance to make a life for themselves. As such, it was restricted to those offenders whose crimes were minor or non-violent in nature, or for those whose extenuating circumstances mitigated the severity of their offenses. The governing principle wasn't suffering through punishment, but the chance for a fresh start.
Some of the residents weren't even criminals, but voluntary immigrants. Lutecia's mother Megane was among that group. A former TSAB Ground Forces field agent, she had willingly accompanied her daughter into exile, to make sure that Lutecia was properly taken care of.
Lutecia had been very grateful for that. The shock of having all her assumptions about the world turned upside down at the age of ten, then the court judgment that insured she'd be separated from both her old friends among the Numbers and the new ones, Erio, Caro, and Vivio, that she'd just made, were terrible shocks to her. Looking back on it with the benefit of three years' grace, she could see that it was very likely that her mother's presence was the one thing that had kept her sane. The video letters and the occasional calls helped, but it was Megane who was there on a day-to-day basis, helping Lutecia through the bad times.
It had been a very rough first year. Lutecia's learning to smile and be happy came at a price, and that price was pain. Her cold, withdrawn, purely goal-driven self had had no time to smile, but no time for sorrow, either. The new Lutecia could cry for the people she'd hurt, wake screaming in the night calling for Zest before realizing that he was dead, or feel a cold fist around her heart at every relapse, every moment of weakness her mother showed.
Later, Lutecia would come to realize that one reason why Megane seemed to cling to her as hard as she clung to Megane was guilt. She was a mother, after all. She was supposed to protect her child. Instead, not only had she been captured while on a mission, but an analysis of her genetic data had led Jail Scaglietti to kidnap Lutecia. And it had been the promise of Megane's recovery from her comatose state which Jail had used as bait to get Lutecia to commit crimes for him.
Lutecia had never blamed her for such things. How could she? Being able to see her mother, helpless, victimized, behind the green walls of that life-support tube every day had driven out resentment over Megane's "abandonment." She'd felt it at first, but once she'd seen her mother's own suffering...
And now I'm seeing it again, she thought ruefully, biting into a homemade muffin. She looked through the kitchen door into the living room, where her mother sat on the couch, staring at the video broadcast, her eyes dull, her face blank. Almost like she was back in the tube.
~X X X~
"I think she's ready, sir," said the blue-uniformed captain.
The admiral nodded. The report on Lutecia Alphine was complete. Standard, routine surveillance of a wide-area dimensional criminal whose sentence had been commuted to colony residence had filled it out thoroughly. It suggested precisely what he'd expected would happen.
If he'd made the offer three years ago, she'd have turned him down. She'd have had no reason to accept. Guilt would have stayed her hand. But he'd seen her potential as a prospect even then. It was just a question of her having the right motivation.
As he'd expected, life had brought her that motivation. He hadn't even had to lift a finger to manipulate events. Why should he, when careful observation of the scenario had told him life would bring him the outcome he wanted on its own? He'd learned that lesson from his mentor's mistakes.
The admiral looked at his deputy director.
"I agree. Make her the offer."
"Yes, sir." The captain shut off his screen, making Lutecia's picture disappear. He turned to the door, then paused and looked back over his shoulder.
"If you don't mind me asking, Admiral, why is it that you've taken such a personal interest in this one recruit?"
"I feel some responsibility towards her. She's a close friend of my sister's children, you see," answered Chrono Harlaown.
~X X X~
Lutecia closed the cabinet and made the last entry on her shopping list, then wandered back to the living room door.
"Mother," she said in her soft, shy tones, "I'm going to go into town to buy some groceries. Did you need anything?"
It took about ten seconds before Megane spoke up.
"No, that's all right," she said, her voice dull.
She turned to go, then stopped and said, "I love you, Mom."
"...I love you, too."
~X X X~
As TSAB penal colonies went, Lutecia thought, Mau Gram was almost a paradise. Beautiful, temperate weather, a forgiving climate...
...and nothing to do. Nothing for a woman in her prime, a Bureau field agent, a woman who'd been a mage and a soldier, who'd taken a device in hand and gone out to fight evil.
At first there had been her reunion with a daughter that desperately needed her. And there had been her own medical recover. Physical activity, albeit confined to her recovery-therapy regimen combined with constant emotional needs had occupied Megane's time. But it hadn't lasted. The emotional wounds had healed. The scars would still be there, probably forever, but they were no longer open, suppurating, in need of constant care. Their hearts were settled, and Megane found herself alone but for a largely independent daughter who only rarely needed her direct attention.
The first sign, Lutecia thought, was how hard Megane had pushed herself in her physical therapy. For the first nine months or so she'd been content to take things at a sedate, reasonable pace, but after that she'd driven herself harder and harder, exercising both her body and her magic to the near-breaking point, completing her recovery far sooner than they'd expected.
It hadn't been because Megane was a Takamachi Nanoha, driven to acts of heroism, desperate to return to the field.
She'd just needed something to do.
Some people took well to retirement.
Megane Alphine did not.
Forced inactivity, lack of mental stimulation, the sheer lack of anything for her to do on Mau Gram suited to her skills and character had driven her into boredom, and over two years of it into depression. Lutecia was the convict, but it was Megane who was in prison.
~X X X~
They approached her as she got off the bus. There was no stealth or secrecy about it. They were TSAB naval officers, this was a penal colony, and she was a felon.
"Lutecia Alphine, may we have a word with you?" asked the taller one, a thin-faced, blue-haired lieutenant commander.
"Do I have a choice?" she asked. The response was a bit out of character for her; thinking about her mother's problems had gotten her testy.
The officers weren't put off by this, though. In fact, they surprised her. The second one, plump, round-faced and green-haired, actually smiled.
"As a matter of fact, you do. Indeed, that is what we're here to offer you." She wore a lieutenant's insignia, though she appeared a few years older than her male companion.
"Shall we talk it over?" the man asked.
Lutecia looked at them for a second, her face a flat mask, before she answered.
The walked down the street a bit, then stopped at a cart where the green-haired woman bought two slushed-ice drinks that came in neon-bright colors rather than recognizable flavors. She offered a choice to Lutecia, who accepted the fuchsia-pink one while leaving chartreuse for the lieutenant. The thin-faced man watched the entire proceedings with a look of disapproval. Lutecia sipped her drink, tasting, she guessed, about four different kinds of sweetener. The lieutenant took a deep tug on her own straw and smiled with apparently genuine pleasure.
"If we may?" the commander said.
"Of course, of course."
They strolled along the street, Lutecia trailing behind them as if they were a family, parents and child out on a shopping trip. She was curious, of course, but thought it better if she let the two officers take the initiative. When it became clear that she wouldn't speak up, the man did.
"Miss Alphine, we think you have something to offer us."
"You're here now because you worked for Jail Scaglietti for several years. Theft, assault, destruction of property, trafficking in restricted Lost Logia, and kidnapping are among the charges, with multiple counts of all but the last."
"I know." It was her own life, after all.
"But you're here now, rather than prison, because Lt. Colonel Yagami pleaded for clemency in your defense-and because there were mitigating circumstances. Your mother was comatose. You believed Scaglietti when he said he needed one particular Relic to restore her. He was lying, of course, but a child that age could hardly be expected to recognize that."
"Thank you," she said, a bit sarcastically.
"I know this history is hardly news to you," observed the female officer, "but there is a point to it."
They passed a couple of men who were talking, and the officers fell silent until they were well along.
"What we're working around to," the lieutenant resumed, "is that despite your youth, you've already learned a lesson that most of our military officers never come to understand."
She stopped and turned back to face Lutecia, her partner stopping as well.
"That sometimes it is necessary to take steps outside the usual bounds of behavior, even the law, to protect your loved ones."
Lutecia tipped her head to one side, looking curiously at her.
"How is that important?"
"Because that fact is more important than your magical skills in why we're here."
She glanced from the commander to the lieutenant and back.
"You're asking me to commit a crime?"
"Of course not!"
"It sounded like that, Commander," Lutecia pointed out.
"I know. This is who we are."
He handed her his identification.
"Naval Special Intelligence Service," Lutecia read, then returned the card. "What's that?"
"We're a bureau established by the TSAB Council, dedicated to the principles that we've just discussed. In short, we exist because there are some times when it's necessary to fight fire with fire. It's an idea which most TSAB mages find difficult to understand."
Lutecia thought of the mages that had brought down Jail-Ace of Aces Takamachi Nanoha, Enforcer Fate T. Harlaown, the young Erio and Caro who were Lutecia's own age, and all the others. She had to agree that the commander had a point. They were heroes rather than soldiers. The kind of people who adopted artificial mages found in the course of a case-or who spoke up to protect young girls who'd been their enemy out of sympathy for her reasons for fighting.
"The ends justify the means?" she asked.
"You're right. I can't imagine most mages I know agreeing to that."
"It's not their fault," the woman told her. "After all, we go to a great deal of trouble to teach them to be the kind of people that they are. Young men and women-often, literally, children-wielding that kind of power could be immensely dangerous if they were encouraged to weigh the long-term greater good against the immediate consequences. Far better for everyone if they think of themselves as heroes, champions of justice fighting to save us all."
"Except," noted the commander, "that all to often justice isn't enough to save us all. Sometimes there are people that the law can't touch until it's too late, people that we know are guilty but that there's no binding evidence against."
"If we had been allowed to handle the Scaglietti matter, he would have been taken care of long before he'd been able to create his cyborg elites, his drone army, or raised that battleship. Corruption from within shielded him, but if not, imagine how the suffering he caused could have been minimized, including what you and your mother went through, had he not been permitted to amass the power he did."
Lutecia was not an idiot.
"You're talking about assassination."
"In that case, yes. In other cases, no. We gather intelligence. Sometimes we pass that information on to other service branches when they can act on it. Other times, we act."
Looking at the two of them, Lutecia suddenly realized that despite his superior rank, the commander wasn't the one in charge.
"And you believe that I would be willing to do these things?"
"For your mother's sake, you were willing to kidnap a six-year-old child and turn her over to a madman for abusive magical experimentation."
Against Lutecia's will, the image of Vivio's smiling face in her latest video letter filled her mind. She felt like she'd been kicked in the stomach.
"We do what we must for the sake of everyone, our loved ones, our friends, and for people we'll never meet alike. We stand in the shadows of the Enforcers, the Air Force, and the Navy. We stain our hands and souls so that they don't have to."
"You make it sound like a noble calling."
"Only if you can find nobility by plunging yourself into a cesspool," the woman told her flatly. "There's nothing honorable or decent in what we are, only in why."
"You said that I had a choice?"
"Of course. If you prefer, you can remain here on Mau Gram and live a peaceful life with your mother."
~X X X~
Megane Alphine stared dully at the broadcast screen. It was the only thing on this planet that ever seemed to change. Her daughter, of course, devoured books by the dozen in addition to practicing her magic, expanding her mind and magic alike, but she was young. She didn't realize that all her work of the past two years would be for nothing, because Mau Gram had no need of it.
Maybe that was all right. Maybe Lutecia was the kind of person for whom a peaceful life was enough. If so, then Megane would be satisfied. She'd left Lutecia alone and vulnerable once through her own failures. No sacrifice she could make now could possibly make up for that.
Besides, it was her fault Lutecia was forced to be here, anyway. It should be a punishment for Megane. That was only fair, right?
The videoscreen beeped at her, indicating an incoming message. Mechanically, she opened it. As she read the message, her eyes steadily widened, paralleling the growth of an emotion she hadn't felt in months.
"Lutecia! Lutecia, darling, come here!"
"What is it, Mom?" Lutecia called. She was putting away the groceries that she'd just returned from buying.
"It's a message for you from the TSAB!"
"That was fast."
"What?" Megane hadn't quite heard what her daughter had murmured.
"Sorry, Mom; it's nothing." Lutecia sat down next to her. "What did they have to say?"
"Admiral Harlaown's office reports that they've reconsidered your case, and that in light of circumstances not properly taken into account at your hearing, your sentence has been commuted to service within the Bureau and probation. Lutecia, this means that we can go home to Mid-Childa!"
"That's good news."
Megane flung her arms around her daughter and hugged her tight in her elation. In doing so, she blocked the light from the brightly-glowing vidscreen, and a shadow fell across Lutecia's face like a lover's caress.
~X X X~
A/N: I admit, I made Chrono the head of the Shadows so he could live up to his spiky black cape. Though if you think about it, if his mentor, Admiral Graham, was his predecessor in that role, it would explain a lot about how Graham was able to embrace "torture a nine-year-old child into insanity, then freeze her forever between the dimensions" as a solution to the Book of Darkness problem, as well as to why Graham was allowed to retire peacefully to his home planet...
~X X X~
Vivio's Magical Omake Theater!
"Thank you for your help today, Zest," Lutecia said, her voice as soft as ever.
The former Ground Forces mage nodded.
"We are allies, after all. But you are welcome."
Lutecia nodded back, then touched the control to close the door to her private room.
"You know," Agito said as she accompanied Zest down the hall, "I kind of feel sorry for that kid."
"Yeah; it seems like she never gets to smile or have any fun. We ought to hang out with her for a bit."
Zest shook his head.
"I think she wants to be alone after missions. She doesn't socialize with the Numbers or Dr. Scaglietti, either. Some people deal better that way with the stress of battle."
"If you say so..." Agito was still dubious, but she kept on after Zest.
Lutecia waited for the footfalls to drift away. That had been a close one! What if they'd come in without knocking? Agito might do that, and then they'd have caught her...
She hit the "pause" button on her remote, and the show started up again, the strains of "Three Blind Mice" started up again...
"Nyuk nyuk nyuk!" she cackled along with the screen.