Disclaimer: I don't own MGLN, Vivio, or Lutecia. I am merely torturing them for my own enjoyment and am making no money from it.
"I'm not afraid of dying
It's something we all do
But I'm scared to death of living
The rest of my life without you."
-Jason Michael Carroll
Yagami Hayate considered it a blessing that her three boys hadn't yet entered the teenage stage of their lives. While she saw potential bloodshed in their future over who would end up with Yuuno and Miyuki's daughter Nami, two years their senior, they weren't old enough yet to actively pursue her or cause their mother and father any real grief. When that time came, Hayate dearly hoped she and Verossa would be able to handle it.
Watching Fate and Nanoha raise Vivio was a good learning example. She'd called them on their day off to see what they were up to, and was being treated to a lesson without even having to pay.
"Nanoha-chan, it isn't even eight yet." Stifling a smile behind her hand, Hayate tried her best to soothe her old friend through the communication screen. "By all standards for someone as old as Vivio and Lutecia-chan, it's still early."
Over Nanoha's shoulder, Fate mouthed the words 'I told her so' at Hayate, blinking innocently when Nanoha glanced at her darkly. "She said she'd only be gone a few minutes," the brunette muttered mutinously, not willing to let her daughter completely off the hook. "And she was out all night. Coming back late in the morning is one more strike."
"She probably lost track of time. You know how she gets when Lutecia is around." Amused and loving, Fate ruffled Nanoha's hair. "We were the same way when we were her age."
Hayate was hit with a sudden fit of coughing, causing her old friends to blush. Laughing at their expressions she leaned back in her chair, glancing down quickly at the report she'd been leafing through when she'd gotten the call from Nanoha. Quickly scanning the basic report, she dropped her eyes to the name of the Naval Special Intelligence Service agent assigned to the case and winced.
"What's wrong, Hayate-chan?"
Of course they'd notice.
"Nothing really," Hayate sighed, flipping the folder closed and sliding it into the cabinet of her desk. "Just reading over the latest report from the NSIS. One of their Shadows was covering the job when it went wrong."
"I thought NSIS agents lost the ability to monitor their cases after they're passed over to Enforcers?"
"They can, it's a choice. This agent likes to keep tabs on how things go once it's out of the agency's hands." Hayate shook her head. "The mission went sour. I'm worried about how she's coping with it. She was entertaining the kids while the man was being interrogated, and she seemed pretty fond of them." She smiled humorlessly. "I wonder sometimes how she even got into the NSIS with such a gentle heart."
At that particular moment there was a crash from the hallway, followed by a sound that vaguely resembled a warped, high-pitched war cry. Hayate winced again. "Sounds like they broke something that time," she mused. "And that's my cue to soothe bruised egos."
Hayate just smiled slightly before the screen closed. Fate leaned back, bracing herself on her elbows against the couch, and immediately noticed Nanoha's tension. "Hey." Understanding it, she sighed. "You can't judge her, Nanoha. We weren't there to see what happened."
With a sigh, the brunette shook her head, fighting to ignore the queasy feeling in her stomach. "Yeah, I know. But still… I don't like hearing about the Shadows and what they do. It's like they forget how nasty their methods can be and what kind of consequences come from those methods."
Fate said nothing, just leaned over and draped an arm along Nanoha's shoulders, nuzzling her hair quietly.
Vivio Takamachi noted two things immediately upon waking.
The first thing was the fact that she had gone from deep sleep to wide-eyed wakefulness in the snap of somebody's fingers. Normally even on school days or training days, it took her a good ten minutes or so just to get out of bed. She wasn't fast to wake up, regardless of the situation, and to be this alert so quickly was in itself odd and unordinary.
The second thing was what had probably caused her to wake so quickly in the first place: even though she still felt warm from having her girlfriend sleeping at her side—okay, fine, technically she'd been on top of her because of the couch—the space where she'd been was empty. Confused and still a little disoriented from waking, Vivio sat up and ran a hand through her hair. "Cia?" she called.
"In here, Vivio."
Lutecia's voice drifted from the kitchen, and Vivio stood, taking a few seconds to stretch and roll her shoulders before she headed towards the doorway. "What time is it?" she asked, rubbing her eyes absently with the back of her hand and shaking her head to clear her brain.
"A little after six." Moving with ease, Lutecia set a mug of warm caramel milk on the table, chuckling at the gleam that came into Vivio's eyes upon glimpsing her favorite drink. "Sorry. I thought I'd let you sleep a little longer."
Vivio shrugged, sitting down and pulling the mug close. "Didn't feel right without you there, anyway," she admitted, taking a sip and pleased by the fact that the drink wasn't hot enough to burn her tongue. Leaning back in her chair and craning her neck slightly to glimpse the clock, she winced. "Oh, man, Nanoha-mama's going to skin me alive. I told her I'd only be a few minutes."
"Mom called and got Fate-san, so they know you stayed here." Her body thrumming with nervous energy she kept strictly in check, Lutecia moved to the sink to keep her hands busy with dishes and water. "You could just tell her I needed some company."
Vivio smirked. "If I said that, she'd totally take it the wrong way." She took another gulp of milk. "Where is your mother, anyway? I figured she'd still be around."
"She went home with Genya after calling your house, and she's been there all night." Lutecia couldn't quite suppress the usual shudder she felt whenever she thought of her mother having a sex life. "We have an agreement. I don't ask what she does with her nights, and she doesn't ask what I do with mine."
"Maybe I should try that with Fate-mama and Nanoha-mama."
At Lutecia's soft laugh Vivio relaxed, leaning forward and resting her head in her arms, content to just wordlessly watch her girlfriend move around. She couldn't quite explain it, but for some reason she was filled with an unusual fear; a sense that if she looked away, even for just a moment, Lutecia would vanish.
Odd, I've never noticed how quietly she moves around until now…
"Is Shadow your official name?"
Had it been anyone else, Lutecia would have given them a bland look and the cold shoulder; but Vivio was the one asking, and she sounded genuinely curious, not judging in any way. "No. It's something the TSAB mages tacked onto us back in the early days, and it stuck. Kind of like…" She paused for a moment. "Well, you know how you call a member of the Air Force an Ace, or a member of the Ground Force a Striker? You call them that, but officially on documents they're still just Air Force agents or Ground Force agents. It's the same for us. Officially we're recognized as Naval Force agents, but unofficially we're called Shadows."
Vivio nodded, absorbing this information without further comment. After a moment, she closed her eyes. "Hey, Cia."
"Have you ever considered giving it up?"
And there it was again: no cruel judgment, no harsh reproach, just quiet curiosity. Lutecia couldn't have denied Vivio an answer even if she tried. "Numerous times," she admitted honestly. She winced as the water flowing from the sink got too hot and scorched her hands, quickly twisting the knob to cool it down. "But in the end, I never do anything about it."
Vivio opened her eyes and lifted her head. Lutecia sighed and turned around, leaning back against the counter.
"I'm not the kind of mage you're familiar with, Vi. From the very beginning of my training I was taught to go in for the killing blow, something that's generally looked down on in the TSAB." She looked down, studying her hands. "Every time I go into a fight, I go in knowing that if worst comes to worst, I'll have to kill my target. I was molded into a killing machine, taught to always use the terrain to my advantage to end someone's life." She lifted her eyes, met Vivio's gaze. "Right now, if you were my enemy, I'd have five different ways to kill you just from being in this room with my skills."
Vivio said nothing, and Lutecia lowered her eyes again.
"I considered quitting and going into another branch, but the NSIS has ruined me for anything else but what I'm doing now. My final instinct in a fight will always be to kill, and I can do that knowing that the NSIS will protect me, that they've given me a reason for that. In another branch, I wouldn't have that protection, or that justification, if I killed someone, because the TSAB operates under a different set of beliefs. I'd constantly have to keep myself in check during a fight, constantly have to be on guard against that killing instinct, and it isn't worth it." She smiled slightly, tiredly. "If I quit and went into another service branch, I'd be a greater threat there than I am now as a Shadow in the NSIS."
Finishing the thought, Lutecia turned around and once again focused her attention on the sink, though now the water was cold enough to numb her hands. As she winced and gave up with a sigh, drying her hands with a towel, Vivio stood.
She'd never mastered the art of moving as silently as Lutecia did, but she was gentle enough to make up for it; her arms slid around the shorter woman's waist, her hands clasping together at her stomach as, with a shuddering sigh, she rested her forehead against Lutecia's shoulder and closed her eyes. Understanding Vivio by body language alone—something she'd always been good at—Lutecia reached down, gently covering Vivio's hands with hers. "I think I'm in big trouble," the Belkan summoner murmured.
Vivio laughed softly and tightened her hold slightly, pulling Lutecia closer.
"I think we both are, Cia."
It was soft, more of a statement of fact than an announcement of her arrival; Vivio couldn't summon the energy for much more beyond that as she slid off her shoes, hanging up her jacket and closing the door behind her with a click, pausing briefly to catch a glimpse of the rising sun for a few seconds. For some odd reason, though she'd just woken up she felt lethargic, as if all her normal recklessness had been drained from her body. Her shoulders and arms ached slightly, though she could attribute that more to holding Lutecia than anything else, and she didn't particularly mind that pain.
Oddly enough, she just felt so tired.
Come to think of it, whenever Cia came back from her missions she always said something about being tired, too…
Vivio had never really taken note of Lutecia's behavior after she'd completed her mission before; if her girlfriend had been quieter and more withdrawn than Caro or Erio or perhaps a little more depressed or contemplative, the younger girl had simply chalked it up as part of her personality. Lutecia was, after all, much more composed and reserved than most of the extended Takamachi/Yagami/Harlaown family. Vivio had never had a reason or whim to suspect that the cause was anything else beyond that.
But now she knew the cause.
And truthfully, she didn't know quite how to handle it. Now that her initial reaction—comforting Lutecia—had passed, she was left with an aftermath of frayed emotions and her realization that her ideals clashed against the feelings she still had for her girlfriend.
Because despite knowing the truth now, Vivio realized something: I'm still in love with her. I still love Cia.
"Vivio Takamachi, just where have you been?!"
The look of maternal wrath on Nanoha's face would have made even the veteran members of Squad Six cower with fear. This was the true White Devil, aflame with motherly fury and indignation, and not even Fate's gentle murmurs into her ear seemed to soothe her. Despite what she saw, Vivio smiled weakly even as her shoulders slumped. "Hey, Nanoha-mama," she said.
Nanoha blinked; in an instant, her fury was gone, replaced by a puzzled expression and growing concern that darkened her blue eyes. Resting a hand on the brunette's shoulder, Fate spoke for both of them. "Vivio? Did something happen?"
"I guess you could say that," the golden-haired girl mumbled. She sighed. "Can I go sit down? I really need to rest right now. Please."
She barely waited for her mothers' consent before leaving the hallway for the living room, dropping onto the couch with an exhausted sigh and resting her face in her hands for a moment as her eyes stung. She felt an ache in her chest that made her want to cry, though she couldn't quite put her finger on why she felt that way. Gathering her composure, she looked up at Fate's light touch as the blonde passed her to settle in a chair, burgundy eyes concerned, and Nanoha entered the room after a few minutes. The two looked at each other uneasily before Nanoha cleared her throat. "Is it Lutecia-chan?" she asked at last.
Vivio tilted her head to the side and smirked, briefly amused by how her mothers were walking on eggshells around her; while they'd correctly guessed the source of her current heartache, their reasons for making that guess seemed a little off. "We didn't break up," she sighed out, and sat up, leaning back against the couch. "If anything, I think we're closer now."
Nanoha and Fate exchanged another uneasy glance, and Vivio could practically read their minds: if she and Lutecia had gotten closer, why was she acting this way?
"When you say closer…" Fate began cautiously.
Vivio blinked; Fate's words sank in only a second later, and she blushed scarlet. "We didn't do anything like that!" she yelped, holding up her hands and shaking her head furiously. "I swear! We were just talking, and I lost track of time!"
Their daughter's vehement denial and red face seemed to soothe Nanoha and Fate, at least enough for the two to chuckle at Vivio's expense as she struggled to regain her composure, pouting. Even as she was warmed by the familiar feeling of their laughter, she knew what she was about to ask next would destroy the comfortable atmosphere. Taking a deep breath, she leaned forward, looking at her hands for a moment. "Hey, Nanoha-mama, Fate-mama…"
They both looked at her.
"… Do either of you know what NSIS stands for?"
Vivio didn't have to look up to feel the tension gather in the room, feel Nanoha stiffen and Fate wince, but she did anyway to meet their eyes. Several seconds of awkward silence passed before the Ace of Aces spoke, sitting down next to the teenager; her voice was bland and emotionless. "Naval Special Intelligence Service," she said. "It's a branch that was created by the TSAB as a means of gathering information."
"I'm surprised you know about it," Fate commented absently, frowning. "It's not a branch that's commonly discussed among TSAB mages. Even the higher-ups don't know all that much about it, with the exception of a handful."
Vivio allowed several more seconds of silence to pass before she closed her eyes, gathering her courage. The knowledge of what Lutecia did for a living was too heavy a burden for her to bear alone, but now that she'd started talking about it, she realized just how heavily what Lutecia did would clash with the ideals of her mothers. Fate and Nanoha were heroes, always had been and always would be; they went into a fight always willing to save someone's life, or to help as much as they could to save the world. For them, no sacrifice was needed to keep peace intact. They could save everything, would save everything, without sacrificing anyone to do it. Lutecia was different; she lived her life, did her job knowing that she would one day be forced to kill someone to uphold the law. She would and could save the world, but at the cost of someone's life—quite possibly her own one day.
The thought of Lutecia sacrificing herself made Vivio shudder.
Vivio opened her eyes, releasing a deep sigh. I can't hide this from them, she thought miserably. It'll just weigh me down until I tell them. Her hands clasped together tightly. "What if I told you," she said slowly, "that I know about the NSIS because Cia is a Shadow?"
In the silence that followed, Vivio could have heard a pin drop. After several minutes, Nanoha's eyes narrowed slightly. "Lutecia-chan is a member of the NSIS?"
Something in Nanoha's tone had Vivio instinctively bristling, though she couldn't quite put her finger on why she suddenly felt so defensive and wary. "Yeah," she murmured, glancing at her mother cautiously. "She told me when I went over. She… a mission she had last night went wrong. People ended up dead, and she was a wreck because of it. She's better now," she added softly as an afterthought.
Nanoha's eyes darkened and narrowed, and Vivio could have kicked herself when she realized just what she'd said and how it would sound to her mother. "Mama—"
"Vivio, do you even know what a Shadow does?"
Immediately Vivio knew she was entering a fight she couldn't win. She had, at most, the bare basics of a Shadow and what they were required to do; she doubted Lutecia would have gone into more detail about it even if she asked. "Kind of," she said weakly. "Cia gave me the watered down version."
Open mouth, insert foot. The thought flashed through her mind as Nanoha's whole face seemed to darken.
"Nanoha." Fate's soft voice was enough to keep Nanoha from saying what she thought up front, if only because the blonde could see just how badly their daughter was being affected by this. Nanoha couldn't, and since she couldn't, one more word from her could make the situation even more unstable and cause a rift between mother and daughter that could never heal. Turning her attention to Vivio, who was starting to squirm, Fate smiled slightly, though it wasn't a happy smile. "The NSIS is a branch created by the TSAB to handle certain matters that normal mages wouldn't be comfortable with," she said. "And when I say 'normal', I'm talking about mages like me, or Nanoha, or Hayate-chan, who have been taught to think a certain way and control ourselves."
"And you're saying Cia can't control herself?"
"I didn't say that." Fate kept her voice pointedly calm, soothing, to lessen the fighting edge that had entered Vivio's tone. "What I'm saying is, NSIS mages operate under a different code of beliefs that we might not consider 'normal', which is how they earned their name as Shadows. A Shadow—"
"Kills and rapes, yeah." Vivio shifted slightly in her seat. "Cia told me that much, though she didn't go into detail." She almost defended Lutecia by mentioning what she'd been told last night, but she knew that now wasn't the best time.
"They do more than that," Nanoha muttered. "They kill and torture innocent people, just to get to someone else."
"Nanoha-mama." Vivio's voice was weak. "I get it."
"How long has Lutecia-chan been a member of the NSIS? Did she tell you?"
"I-I didn't really ask her, she was a mess and I didn't think—"
"She's killed people." Nanoha's voice, in contrast to her daughter's, was cold. "You realize that, Vivio, don't you? If she's a Shadow, then she's killed people."
"Well, yeah, I know that, but you weren't—"
"She had blood on her hands." The coldness in Nanoha's voice morphed into fury. "She had blood on her hands, the blood of innocent people, and she touched you with them. They weren't doing anything wrong—"
"You weren't there!"
Vivio's voice, the anguish and pain of it, the tears that threatened to fall, did to Nanoha what no enemy or opponent had ever successfully done. The famed White Devil could do nothing but stare, frozen, as her daughter collapsed into sobs, the tears she'd been fighting back finally breaking loose. "You weren't there," she choked out. "You didn't see her, you didn't talk to her, and you damn well don't know what it did to her! She was an absolute wreck when I came by, Mama! She wasn't sleeping well or eating anything, and she probably would have started crying if I hadn't come in when I did…"
Nanoha looked helplessly at Fate before wrapping her arms around Vivio, pulling the girl into an embrace. "Vivio," she whispered hoarsely. "Vivio, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to…" She trailed off. "I'm sorry."
Vivio laughed hollowly and buried her face into Nanoha's chest, her fingers curling into her mother's shirt. "You know the worst thing about this?" she asked.
"No." Fate came over to her other side, sitting down so the teenager was cradled between her mothers, surrounded by warmth and love she'd always known. "What's the worst thing about this?"
"I still love her." Vivio closed her eyes. "I know what Cia does, what she has to do for her job, and I know it goes against everything I believe in… but I still want to be with her." She swallowed the hot lump in her throat. "I love her, and I don't know what to do!"
Nanoha hugged her closer and closed her eyes, even as Fate whispered soothingly to their daughter.
I don't know what to do either, Vivio, she thought helplessly. I just… I don't know what to do.
Through the windows of the house the golden rays of the rising sun spilled through, signaling the end of night and the beginning of a new day.
So here it is... part one of three. A direct sequel to "Shadow", because the storyline for that one was just begging for a sequel.
Hopefully the scene between Vivio and Nanoha is good, because I agonized for months over how to write it so it got across the message I was trying to deliver... hopefully. Personally, I think it works, but that's just me, and hey, I've been staring at this thing for months on end, trying to finish it.
Special thanks to DezoPenguin, who has been kind enough and certainly patient enough to discuss this story and its plot with me, as well as for suggesting that I make this multi-chapter instead of a one-shot, because I sure as hell can't resolve anything at all at this point.
Read and review, please!