Disclaimer: I own nothing.
"I tried to let you go
I wish I could turn back time
And show you just how I feel
I needed you to know
If it takes my whole damn life
I'll make this up to you."
Amazingly, after Nanoha left and her tears had been shed, Lutecia fell asleep once again, a dreamless slumber that could have lasted for days if she'd been given the option. A part of the summoner wondered if she was truly more tired than she claimed to be, or if the sandman of fairytales had developed an annoying habit of haunting her in her waking moments.
She might have been spending more time sleeping than usual, but nothing changed the fact that even when she slept like the dead the sound of a needle hitting the floor could wake her faster than any magical blast. Lutecia was pulled from the depths of her slumber by the sound of the doorbell ringing yet again, and as she sat up recalled that Nanoha hadn't locked the door on her way out. "It's open," she called.
Lutecia felt an odd mixture of relief and fear as Vivio cautiously pushed the door open, peering inside sheepishly. "Hey," she whispered. "Can I come in?"
"Hmm, well, actually I have my superior officer on hold, but if you insist."
Vivio giggled, and Lutecia felt some of the apprehension drain out of her as the younger girl walked into the room. The summoner sat up, then paused as she realized Vivio's uncanny timing in her arrival. "Er, Vi, do Nanoha-san and Fate-san know you're here?"
Vivio shrugged. "I left a note," she said simply. Under normal circumstances she would have had Burning Glory contact Raising Heart or Bardiche and leave a message, but he was still being repaired for recent damage. "The way Fate-mama and Nanoha-mama were talking when I left, I could have burst in butt naked and done the salsa and they wouldn't have noticed me."
"Interesting image," Lutecia murmured, and Vivio snickered. The purple-haired woman sighed and ran a hand through her hair. "But Vivio, I'm serious. I'm already on Nanoha-san's hit list."
"Well, yeah, but I figure Aunt Hayate knows Nanoha-mama well enough to keep her at bay if Fate-mama can't." Even as Vivio's amused tone made Lutecia smile slightly, the younger girl shrugged. "Besides, if worse comes to worse I'll just talk to her myself. She has to look me in the eyes again sometime today."
A sinking feeling made itself known in the pit of Lutecia's stomach, and she closed her eyes, taking a deep breath before she opened them again. "Vivio," she began slowly, "I didn't tell you about my business as a Shadow to cause all out war between you and Nanoha-san."
"It isn't a war. I love Nanoha-mama, and I admire her ideals. It just makes my life a lot harder when I know she's trying to convince you to stay away from me because of those ideals."
"You knew she was going to visit me?"
"I had a vague idea she would. She looked angry when I went upstairs, and I heard her and Fate-mama talking before she left. Fate-mama didn't want her to go, but she did anyway."
Lutecia blinked before she fell back against the couch with a groan, rubbing her eyes. "That would explain part of her bad mood," she muttered. "A small part of it, anyway. Mostly she was just mad at me and the NSIS as a whole."
Vivio fidgeted for a moment before steeling herself. Her feelings were clear, at least to her, but she still had to ask this; Lutecia's reasoning this morning, while understandable, had still been incredibly superficial in terms of justification for her choice to remain a Shadow. "Cia?"
"Why do you still do it?" Vivio's voice was hesitant now as Lutecia looked at her. "If it causes you so much pain, then why are you still a Shadow?"
There was a long moment as Lutecia stared at Vivio before she once again averted her eyes to the ceiling, and she laughed softly. "Why am I still a Shadow?" she repeated softly. "I've lost count of the number of times I've been asked that…"
Vivio waited. Several more minutes passed before Lutecia spoke again. "For one thing, it's just how I'm built," she said. "My mother was absent from my life as far back as I could remember, and the Doctor wasted no time in training me to be the perfect weapon. I saw death and murder every time I traveled with Zest, even when he tried his best to shield me from it; and eventually, he stopped trying. I was a weapon, Vivio, not a person. Never a person," she mused, and sighed, wondering why that didn't depress her. "Even when I became a Shadow, the same logic applied. I went out under orders, I did what I had to do, and that was the end of that. I never had anyone telling me I could be something different, something better, and even when Erio and Caro gave me that hope I lost it when I was recruited to join the Shadows. Even now, when I know I can be better than that, the mindset is incredibly hard to break."
Vivio said nothing, knowing there was more to be said; when it became obvious she wouldn't speak, Lutecia inhaled deeply and continued.
"To complicate matters, to a certain extent I do agree with what we do as Shadows; that in accomplishing our missions and taking out our targets, we're ensuring the long-term peace and stability of the government, if not the planet. I agree with it," she repeated. "It's much easier in terms of ability to handle a problem for long-term rather than short-term, because half the time we don't have the kind of power needed to solve the short-term problem. I don't agree with the methods, but that's my own personal belief as a person."
The silence that followed was longer and thicker, and Vivio had the feeling that Lutecia was finally reaching the heart of the matter, her real reason for remaining a Shadow. Finally, Lutecia looked at Vivio. "I never told you about Miranda."
"No." Just from the way she was talking, Vivio knew Miranda was dead.
"I met her when I was thirteen. She was my partner, and nineteen at the time. I worked with her for four years. You would have liked her." Lutecia's lips twitched slightly. "She was a bit of an airhead, but she was there when it counted."
"She died when I was seventeen." Lutecia's voice softened slightly. "We were working a case and were ambushed, got separated in the fight. I got distracted, and she took a knife that should have stabbed me. She was twenty-three," Lutecia whispered. "She'd just gotten engaged to her boyfriend. She wanted me to be a part of the wedding. And she bled to death in an alley because I hesitated, because I let some little kid distract me."
Again, Vivio nodded, swallowing the lump that had sprang into her throat.
"It wasn't just that, though she's a major part of it." Lutecia shook her head tiredly. "Miranda, and many of us, believe wholeheartedly in what we do, why we do it. It doesn't make them bad people, it's just how they think, and screw the TSAB mages who preach their ideals when they have S-ranked powers." The Belkan summoner smirked at that. "So the saying goes, in any case. They believe in what they do, genuinely believe it, and every day some of them die for it." Lutecia rubbed her eyes again. "And for me, it isn't just them, but even the people I've killed. I can't… I don't know how to explain it. I've never tried to figure it out. It's just a feeling I have, that if I stop what I'm doing that somehow… somehow, I'm letting them all down."
Vivio absorbed this quietly, letting the words sink in and sorting them out while Lutecia watched her nervously, clearly unsure as to what reaction to expect from the younger girl who had always aspired to be like her mothers. Finally, Vivio sighed. She hesitated for a moment, then bit her lip. "Can… can I ask you something?"
The nervousness drained out of Lutecia's body to be replaced only by weariness and an odd sense of wishing she could just fade into oblivion at this particular moment; she didn't know how much more she could answer for before it became too much. She rubbed her temples to fight off a coming headache. "Go ahead," she said. "But I can't promise you'll like the answer."
I wonder if I could still find a way to invent a time machine. If I could, I'd use it to jump back eight years from now to tell my younger self not to take the job; it'll break her heart in more ways than one. I'd tell her—
Vivio gathered herself up now; even if she knew the answer was something she wouldn't like, she was Nanoha's daughter through and through; bravery was an inherited trait for her. "When you… told me about your job…"
"I mean, it wasn't like I was angry that you told me about it… I was happy. I was happy that you trusted me with that. But it made me realize…" To keep the tears at bay as she felt them rise once again, Vivio swallowed hard. "It made me realize that Cia is only half of who you are. I've known Cia all my life, but I don't really know Lutecia at all." Even if she didn't cry, the tears were still in her eyes when she looked helplessly at Lutecia. "Why?"
--don't let Mom come to Mau Gram. For the love of everything good and holy, when she insists on coming along, beg her to stay on Mild-Childa. Please.
Quite suddenly, Lutecia wished she'd gone ahead and picked a fight with Nanoha. Facing down a Starlight Breaker would have been less terrifying than baring her soul to Vivio. To buy herself time she lowered her hands from her temples, clasped them together tightly. Finally, she took a deep breath. "How was I supposed to tell you?" she asked.
Vivio blinked. "Tell me?"
"I came back to Mid-Childa when I was thirteen, Vi. Not even Mom knew why we came back, only that I was considered socially fit to interact in society. You were thrilled, Caro was crying, Erio was trying not to cry, and Agito looked like she couldn't decide if she wanted to scold me for taking so long or hug me like she would never let me go. How was I supposed to mention, quite casually, that the only reason I was even home in the first place was because I'd taken a job that asked me to kill and torture people?"
A quick glance told Lutecia that while Vivio obviously wanted to interrupt, she was keeping herself at bay. Apparently, the younger woman had no intention of giving an inch. Wincing slightly, she carried on.
"I knew hiding what I was from you was wrong. I knew you had the right to know what I did, why I did it, and that in hiding it I was only setting myself up for this situation, which is why I originally planned to tell you the truth when you were eighteen, or sometime before that. I wasn't particularly looking forward to that moment, but I knew I owed you that much before things got too serious."
Vivio's eyes went curiously blank. "Too serious."
Lutecia recognized the warning signs immediately; she'd seen that look in Vivio's eyes once or twice before. Because she knew that anything she said at this point wouldn't change the outcome, she gave herself over to fate. "Yeah," she mumbled. "Too serious." Should've taken my chances with Nanoha-san's Starlight Breaker, she mused with a sigh.
Watching Vivio lose her temper was like watching a volcano erupt. It started off slowly, gradually, the anger gathering inside of her until it practically radiated from her body and everything exploded out. Lutecia had seen enough off-planet volcanoes to know they didn't even compare to Vivio's rage. Oddly enough, the older woman couldn't recall a time when that fury had been directed at her, and the fact that she was capable of provoking such emotion from the youngest Takamachi made her nervous. "Vivio?" she asked weakly.
The eruption never came. Already half rising, the nervous tone of her girlfriend's voice was enough for Vivio to release a shuddering sigh before she dropped back down, trembling slightly.
"You know, you just dodged the question." Fiercely reining in her rising temper for the time being, Vivio rested her head in her hands, closing her eyes. "You've always been good at that. I never noticed it when we were kids."
"You're seventeen, Vi. One more year to go before you're considered a legal adult, so you're still a kid in your own way." Lutecia ran a hand through her hair. "And as for dodging the question, yeah, I did. So that's my own fault." She blew out a long breath. "It's a defensive mechanism. Right. Okay." Noticing her girlfriend's posture, she inhaled deeply. "Vivio, lift your head. You're not the one who's wrong here."
"I just want to know why." Vivio's voice was impossibly soft, impossibly small, and made Lutecia crumble in a way no enemy ever had. "I want to know why, Cia. Why you didn't trust me enough to tell me this." Now she lifted her head, locking a gaze on Lutecia that left no room for retreat or lies. "Do you really think I'm that weak?"
Lutecia had stood down drug lords, religion-crazed maniacs, and perverts. She'd looked into the eyes of murderers and addicts, and never felt any true sense of fear or worry. Looking at Vivio now, the older woman realized she wasn't simply afraid.
She was completely, thoroughly terrified.
Knowing it was cowardly, Lutecia looked away to focus on her hands. She could commit murder and other cruel acts without blinking, feeling an inner twist of guilt and disgust, but never showing any sign of it outwardly, but seeing the pained, confused look in Vivio's eyes—and knowing that she was the one who had put it there—stabbed at her heart like a poisoned dagger.
Quite suddenly, Lutecia was immensely glad that Vivio hadn't been conscious when she'd been abducted during the JS incident. She knew at that moment that if Vivio had looked at her then the way she was looking at her now, she never would have allowed herself to hand her over for experiments. Or at the very least, if she'd managed to hand her over for experiments after looking into those eyes, she would have lasted approximately five minutes before rushing back in to save her.
Vivio had always known that, of course. Not Lutecia's feelings on the matter of the incident, but she'd always known what role her girlfriend had played in it. She'd never blamed her for it; she'd forgiven easily and without asking questions, accepting Lutecia into her life without hesitating. Forgiveness, that natural trust, seemed to be an instinct that ran strong in the Takamachi family.
And Lutecia hadn't returned that same forgiveness, that same feeling of trust. She'd chosen to hide her work as a Shadow; not that she was wrong in doing so, but she certainly could have found a way to tell Vivio, at least. She'd simply chosen not to because hiding it was easier. By not telling Vivio, she'd kept herself in a position where she never had to stop and think about just how much the younger girl meant to her, and how much it would hurt to lose her, how much telling her would hurt her.
Excellent logic, Alphine. She smiled bitterly to herself. You're hurting her either way.
"You aren't weak, Vivio." Dammit, she still couldn't do it; she still couldn't look her in the eyes. Coward, coward, coward. "You've never been weak, even when you were a child. The only weak one here is me." Lutecia sighed. "Honestly, I didn't even expect you to come back today. You should probably head home. Nanoha-san will be furious when she realizes where you are."
Coward, at least look her in the eyes when you're giving her the okay to walk out of your life!
The long-awaited eruption finally came. At this point, Vivio couldn't have controlled her anger even if she tried.
Lutecia had, admittedly, seen scarier things than a teenager losing her temper; some of those things had nearly taken her life. Still, the fury in Vivio's voice, the force behind her fist as it slammed into the table in front of the couch, was enough to make her jump. "Vivio?"
"This isn't about me." Vivio had to take a deep breath to keep herself from completely yelling, but there was a dangerous, dark edge to her voice that hadn't been there before. "This isn't about me, and dammit, this isn't about how weak you think you are! I'm here now, and either you're going to talk to me so I can understand what you're thinking, or you'll have to tell me to get out and never come back!!"
For a minute, just a minute, Lutecia was sorely tempted to do just that; to chase Vivio away, to force her out of her life so she wouldn't have to hurt anymore. Gazing at the girl's face, she knew she could do it—but she'd never recover from it.
Somehow, knowing she could do it and didn't want to seemed worse.
Very slowly, very carefully, Lutecia leaned forward and covered Vivio's hand with hers, gently stroking the back of the younger girl's hand with her fingertips to calm her. Even as she saw the confusion come into Vivio's eyes to replace her anger, Lutecia saw that the gesture had its desired result: the muscles in Vivio's hand relaxed, the tension draining out of her arm at the purple-haired woman's expert touch. Gradually, the tension seeped out of her shoulders, and her whole body seemed to relax. Satisfied, Lutecia pulled her hand away.
Vivio's voice was shaky now, just as confused as her eyes; and somehow, Lutecia found that she could handle confusion much better than she could handle hurt or anger. She took a deep breath, steeling herself for what she was about to say. She exhaled just as deeply and finally met Vivio's gaze. "I was scared," she said at last.
Vivio blinked at that, and Lutecia saw the questions forming on her lips; but thankfully the younger girl remembered herself and bit her tongue. Appreciating it, Lutecia smiled at her briefly before she continued.
"I was scared," she repeated softly, "because I've never had anyone like you in my life before. Zest did the best he could to look after me when I was young, and Agito always went out of her way to make sure I was never alone, but neither of them could prevent the fact that I saw things, did things in my childhood that weren't normal for my age."
"Erio-nii and Caro-nee…"
"Did their best to bring me back to the light, yes." Lutecia chuckled softly. "Don't get me wrong, they're my best friends. I'll always be grateful for what they did for me. It isn't their fault that I decided to become a Shadow and go back to how I'd been when I was with the Doctor."
A minute passed; Lutecia took another deep breath.
"It gets to you." Her voice was barely above a whisper. "You wouldn't be normal if it didn't; you wouldn't be considered fit to be a Shadow if it didn't, but after awhile, it really gets to you. Killing people, torturing them, constantly having to change who you are to get information, having to manipulate and use people like they're nothing more than dolls." She laughed hollowly, with no bitterness to the sound. "Hunting down rogue Shadows… somehow, those are the worst missions you could ever go on, because it forces you to see what you can become if you aren't careful… what happens when the job stops getting to you and you start enjoying it."
Vivio opened her mouth, hesitated, then closed it. She wanted desperately to interrupt, to say something, but she knew now wasn't the best time.
"I'm not going to lie." Now Lutecia looked away, focusing her gaze on her hands. "In a way, I did use you." She inhaled shakily. "It was selfish, and not something I'm proud of, but I won't deny it. That doesn't mean…" She faltered here, hesitated. "That doesn't mean that I was pretending to be in love with you.
"It wasn't something I planned… it just sort of happened, gradually, even when we were young. You accepted me into your life without hesitation, into your family, and I had never felt that before. When I got older and more experienced and my superiors started sending me into more dangerous situations, I got through them just by thinking about you, thinking about the fact that you were back home waiting for me. It was enough." Lutecia closed her eyes, felt the hot sting of tears, and fought them back. "I didn't know why back then, but for me, knowing you were waiting was enough. When I was with you, even if it was only for a few hours, I was able to forget about being a Shadow. For just a few hours, with you I could be someone normal, someone who loved and was loved in return; I could feel warm again."
The tears started falling then; Lutecia couldn't have fought them back even if she tried.
"It's true that I only showed you Cia, and not Lutecia as a whole. For what it's worth, I wasn't acting. Everything I ever said to you, everything I ever did, was genuine. I only showed you Cia because I was afraid of losing you… because I was afraid of exposing you to the nastier things in life, afraid of losing that warmth. You were innocent, and I never wanted to taint that. I wanted to protect it. And in the end, I failed." A soft sob escaped her. "I'm sorry, Vivio. I'm so, so sorry."
Several moments of silence passed; Lutecia couldn't even bring herself to look up at Vivio; not that she really could have if she wanted to, anyway. She felt the couch shift slightly and cringed, expecting the worst.
She didn't expect to be pulled into a tight embrace so fast that the air practically whistled out of her lungs, and she definitely didn't expect to be kissed so deeply that her brain threatened to leak out of her ears. She responded to the kiss naturally, without really thinking about it, and when Vivio broke the kiss and buried her face in her hair, she blinked. "Vivio?"
Vivio was trembling as she held Lutecia. "If you ever keep something like this to yourself again, I swear I'll beat you over the head with Burning Glory." Lutecia was stunned to hear tears in the younger girl's voice; she sounded ready to cry.
"You… you will?"
"Of course I will!" Vivio pulled back to look Lutecia in the eye. "I love you! We're supposed to face the scary things together, not alone!" Seeing the look on Lutecia's face, she fiercely reined in her emotions and gently drew the older woman back down into her arms. "Nanoha-mama and Fate-mama are supposed to protect me," she whispered. "It's great that you want to do the same thing, but we're supposed to help each other out and support each other, not hide things that are painful."
Lutecia released a deep, shuddering sigh, curling into Vivio's arms and closing her eyes; the tears came an instant later, and she collapsed into sobs. Vivio's arms tightened around her slightly, but the girl didn't say anything; simply closed her eyes and held on.
The tears didn't last long; only a few minutes before they ran dry, fading away into nothing more than soft, slightly ragged breathing. Lutecia, for her part, was perfectly content to stay right where she was and not move; she could easily spend the rest of her life like this, she thought, closing her eyes. She knew she couldn't, of course, but it was still nice to dream. Without even thinking about it, she sighed softly.
Vivio smirked, cracking open an eye. "You're thinking again."
Lutecia blinked, looking up at her with a tired smile. "You can tell?"
"You always sigh like that when something's on your mind." Vivio opened her other eye, gently running a hand through Lutecia's hair. "What's up?"
Lutecia paused for a moment before slowly sitting up, meeting Vivio's gaze. The trick behind this, she thought, was how she told her. Or how blunt she felt like being about it. She took a deep breath. "I'm, uh… I'm leaving," she muttered.
There was a pause; then…
As interesting as it was to see Vivio go so pale in such a short amount of time, Lutecia knew she had to do some quick reassuring. "Vivio. Vi, hey. Look at me." She cupped the girl's chin, and the gesture made Vivio blink; to Lutecia's relief, the shocked glaze cleared from her eyes. "Breathe. It isn't because of you."
"As cliché as it sounds, it's because of me." Lutecia smiled sheepishly as Vivio blinked. "I said some rather gutsy things to Nanoha-san about re-training and taking time to figure myself out, but it's the truth."
After a moment, Vivio nodded slowly. Encouraged, Lutecia went on.
"I'm burned out. I don't like admitting it, but it's the truth. The rate I'm going at, I'll get killed on a mission in about five years." The thought made Lutecia wince. "And seeing those kids… it reminded me that there are innocents out there. I stopped believing that after Miranda died, but after seeing them… It's made me stop and really look at what I'm doing, what I'm becoming, and I don't like what I'm seeing."
Vivio looked at Lutecia quietly; finally, she groaned softly and rested her forehead against her girlfriend's, closing her eyes. "Where are you planning to go?"
"Mau Gram. I'd still be there if I hadn't become a Shadow, so I thought… you know, I'd go back to my roots and stuff."
"Okay. When are you leaving?"
Amused, Lutecia leaned up and lightly kissed Vivio on the lips. "In a few days, give or take how everything works out."
Vivio sighed at that. "That doesn't surprise me, knowing you. You probably have it all planned out already. How long will you be gone?"
Lutecia grimaced at that. "I… don't really know," she confessed. "However long it takes me to figure myself out, I guess."
Vivio's response was another soft groan, and it made Lutecia smile. "Any chance I can talk you out of it?" the younger girl asked.
Vivio sighed and pulled her forehead away, snuggling Lutecia back into her arms as she fell back against the couch. "Let me guess, no contact either."
Lutecia rested her head against Vivio's shoulder; now that they'd both gotten over the initial shyness of it, lying together like this felt extremely good. Vivio rested her cheek against Lutecia's hair and closed her eyes.
"Yeah?" Somehow, the old nickname still warmed her in spite of everything.
"Be careful, okay?"
Lutecia blinked; her eyes softened slightly, and she smiled. "Okay," she murmured, closing her eyes. As her heartbeat slowed and her breathing evened out, she remembered something. "Vivio."
"You really do need to go home soon. Nanoha-san's probably worried sick."
Vivio just smirked.
"Nanoha-mama can wait."
Nothing naughty happened, all right? All right.
Once again, I owe major thanks to DezoPenguin, who has been kind enough to more or less beta this fic and give me his honest opinion on it in the early stages, and encouraged me to no end. So, again, thank you. You really saved me this time.
When I first started the series, I knew that sooner or later I'd need a steady plotline to build off of; hence, "Shadow" was born. However, for the longest time I was hesitant to write it, because in writing it I was going into territory I'd never touched before. But I took a leap of faith with it, and it's gone much better than I could have ever hoped. DezoPenguin and Dracis Tran (Spawnofthejudge on AS) took it even further and built a whole world around the Shadows!
In the end, of course, I couldn't resist giving Vivio and Lutecia a happy ending after all the hell I put them through. Granted, Lutecia needs to figure herself out now, but... they still love each other, and that counts for something.
Thank you for reading! So, for the last time...
Read and review, please!