A/N: This story is another entry in RadiantBeam's ViCia/Shadows universe, as you might have guessed from the title. This one was done at her request (and with a lot of help in discussing various sections of the story!), to show the conversation between Nanoha and Fate once Nanoha returned home after Chapter 2 of "Sunrise." You probably won't have any idea what's going on here unless you read that story first. Besides, you don't want to miss out on all that delicious angst, do you???

~X X X~

She looks like hell, was Fate Testarossa Harlaown's reaction when her wife returned home.

Fate had seen Takamachi Nanoha in dire straits before. She'd seen her in the hospital with near-fatal injuries. She'd seen her at the moment when she'd expected death at Vita's hands. She'd seen her wracked with despair and anger when the Numbers had kidnapped Vivio. And more conventionally, she'd seen Nanoha beaten to a pulp any number of times after a particularly arduous mission (often accompanied by an equally battered Vita's "You shoulda seen the other eighty guys.").

This was different.

"Nanoha?"

She was on her feet and walking towards the brunette at once.

"You were right," Nanoha said dully. "You were right, Fate-chan. I shouldn't have gone."

Fate helped Nanoha slip off her windbreaker and hung it up.

"You spoke to Lutecia?"

Nanoha nodded.

"It...didn't go well."

Fate made a show of glancing over Nanoha.

"Well, you don't look like you've been in a fight."

"It didn't quite come to that," Nanoha answered seriously.

Nanoha's tone of voice told her much more than the words themselves. It said that while perhaps a genuine fight hadn't erupted with shooting magics and summoned beasts and two S-ranks going hand-to-hand in a densely populated residential area of the city, it almost had, and maybe something nearly as bad had happened.

Fate slipped an arm around Nanoha's waist.

"Come on," she said. "Why don't you tell me about it? You'll feel better."

"Why?" Nanoha asked. "We talked to Vivio about why she came home late and she ended up in tears. I talked to Lutecia about Vivio and it didn't help."

Fate didn't miss the fact that the customary "-chan" had disappeared from Lutecia's name.

"It may not have fixed the problems, but at least you got your feelings out instead of keeping them bound up inside you."

"Maybe that would have been better," Nanoha said, not ironically, but quite seriously. Nanoha was the last person in the world to go crying on someone else's shoulder. Self-sufficiency was a lesson drummed into her as a child, when her father's extended recovery from serious injuries combined with the need to keep the family business up and running had left Nanoha further down the priority list than she should have been for her mother, brother, and sister. Rather than complain, Nanoha had done her best to bear up and be able to stand on her own two feet, so she wouldn't be a burden on everyone else while they worked hard fighting their own problems. Only, it got to be a vicious circle--the more capable she became, the more she was left alone, until by the time Takamachi Shiro was fully recovered and a normal family life was returning, Nanoha's personality was already fixed.

Not that Fate particularly minded. She possibly owed her life, probably her sanity, and certainly her happiness to the fact that nine-year-old Nanoha had possessed a will and determination that many people two and three times her age lacked, or never would develop.

It also translated well to Nanoha's job as a TSAB Air Force combat instructor. The qualities she possessed were the qualities that made a good mage, and experience had taught her where the line between self-sufficiency and trusting in comrades needed to lie.

Where it did not translate well was into motherhood. Nanoha did not have the instinctive touch with children that Fate, to her surprise, had. She hadn't even wanted to be a mother; she'd stumbled into it when Riot Force 6 had rescued the child Vivio and the two of them had bonded at once so that even after the incident was over Nanoha had adopted Vivio, becoming her legal guardian. It was sweet to see how the tough-as-nails Ace of Aces had been completely won over by the little girl, and how instantly Vivio had returned that love.

But motherhood did not come to Nanoha naturally. She was inclined to be a bit too strict, expecting Vivio to stand on her own a bit more than was necessary and simultaneously being overprotective when it came to outside risks. Finding the right thing to do in complex parenting situations was as hard for Nanoha as was any magical battle. If there had ever been any doubts in anyone's mind as to how much she loved her daughter, all they'd have to do was see how hard she worked, how much she worried about being a good mom.

The truth was, she actually made a good counter to Fate, who was a bit inclined to coddle, but that was something Nanoha never quite believed.

It was no surprise, then, that dating was a bit of a hot-button issue with Nanoha. The four-year age difference between Vivio and Lutecia had been the major obstacle, the very tangible fear that the woman would rush the teenager into adult matters before Vivio was ready.

Well, Lutecia had, but not in the way Nanoha and Fate had been fearing. Instead of something as mundane as sex, Lutecia had apparently had a near-complete breakdown over her job. Which was completely understandable to Fate, since the job in question was as an agent of the Naval Special Intelligence Service. Or when stripped of cute euphemisms like "covert action operative" and "active sector field agent" meant something very not cute. Thief. Spy. Saboteur. Kidnapper. Torturer. Assassin. All the things she'd been for Jail Scaglietti, only with a government license.

Not exactly the sweet young lady they'd expected to have their daughter back home by eleven.

Nanoha didn't even believe the TSAB should have such an agency, let alone that one of its members should be dating their daughter. Fate was more open-minded on the subject, maybe because she'd once been on the other side of the line, had been a criminal on her mother's behalf. She didn't actually have a very different outlook on the NSIS, the "Shadows" as the rest of the TSAB called them, than Nanoha did. The major difference was that she could actually acknowledge that there was something to argue over, that there were shades of gray instead of merely lumping it all into black.

"It'll help me," Fate told her, and that was that, as she knew it would be.

"All right."

They went into the kitchen and Fate ushered Nanoha into a chair, then ran her hands over her wife's shoulders from behind.

"You're all tensed up," she said gently.

"Yeah. It's...I'm so worried about Vivio, Fate-chan. You saw how she was this morning. She really cares about Lutecia. It's not just a crush or puppy love. She fell for Lutecia the same way that--"

"I did for you?" Fate asked, gently rubbing along Nanoha's neck and shoulders, feeling the extent of the tightness.

"Yeah. You know that's the only reason I was ever able to put up with this, because what Vivio felt was the real thing. I thought Lutecia did, too..."

"And now you don't?"

Nanoha let out a sigh.

"I don't know what to think. She says she is. She insists on it. She threatened to draw down on me when I accused her of being on a deep-cover assignment to use and manipulate Vivio, but...she's a Shadow. Lies and deception are what they do. She's been one the whole time, Fate-chan. It's why they let her go in the first place."

There were so many different things to react to in that short speech that Fate wasn't sure where to start. She began to massage Nanoha's shoulders in earnest while she sorted it out, gently but firmly digging her fingers into the sore muscles through Nanoha's white blouse.

"She was going to fight you?" she started with the most dramatic.

"She claimed she was. I wouldn't, not unless she forced me, but I dropped the point anyway. I'd like nothing better than to cut her down to size, but if we fought, the real loser would be Vivio. And it's the middle of a residential area there. People could be hurt in the fallout--or she might use them as hostages. Using up innocent lives to get what they want is what Shadows do."

Nanoha took a long, hard sigh.

"Do you really think Cia is capable of that?" Fate asked. "The girl Hayate said had trouble walking away from her cases because of her gentle heart?"

"Hayate-chan said--?"

"This morning? Before Vivio came home? Hayate was telling us about a Shadow operation that went sour and ended up with the Enforcers?"

"Wait, then that--that was what Lutecia told Vivio about? Why she admitted what she was?"

"Almost certainly. It'd be a very unusual coincidence if two female NSIS agents had missions break down and hurt them simultaneously. Particularly since that explains why Hayate reacted when she first glanced at the report--you remember that, right?"

Nanoha did, then turned in the chair to look up at Fate.

"Then Hayate-chan knew Lutecia was NSIS?"

Fate pursed her lips.

"Probably. She certainly knew this morning, and knowing Hayate, I'd expect that she would be aware of it. She did get herself attached as an advisor to the Council's Intelligence Oversight Subcommittee when Chrono accepted the Director's post, after all."

"Then why didn't she tell--never mind," Nanoha cut herself off, over twenty years in the military reasserting itself. Hayate wouldn't breach obligations of confidentiality and classified-data regulations without a very good reason. Such as Lutecia being assigned to Vivio in a deep-cover manipulation or recruitment mission.

"That's one less worry, at least," Fate said, knowing that Nanoha was coming to the same conclusion. "If Hayate knew that Lutecia was a Shadow, then she wasn't assigned to subvert Vivio's loyalties to some other political agenda."

"I suppose I should have known it anyway. If it was some kind of deep cover operation worth spending eight years on, the Shadows wouldn't risk it by sending Lutecia out as an active field agent. You probably figured that already, huh, Fate-chan?"

"You can't expect to be thinking clearly with Vivio in the state she's in," Fate phrased her "yes" with care, then kissed Nanoha softly on the forehead and turned her around so she could resume the shoulder rub.

"No...Fate-chan, I don't know what to do. I told Lutecia flatly to get out of Vivio's life before she does any more damage and she just as flatly refused. 'I can't just walk away from her, not unless she wants me to,' she said."

No surprise, not if Nanoha had put her back up with some of those accusations.

"Eight years, she said," Nanoha continued. "What kind of person can do that? Can go out and intentionally kill someone, then come home and help a girl study for history class? Or torture an innocent man to verify some point of information and the next day escort her girlfriend to a school dance? Or--" She broke off, shaking her head.

Fate slipped her arms down, hugging Nanoha from behind.

"Someone like me," she said.

"Fate-chan?" Nanoha gasped.

"Lutecia was raised and trained by Jail Scaglietti. Do you think I don't know what it's like to be raised by a monster? He made her into his tool like my mother made me. Only he did a better job. Jail was cruel and insane, but never abusive. He controlled her with false kindness, manipulation, and the promise of her mother's health and life. Where all I had was Arf and Bardiche, she had Zest and Agito and the Numbers to care for her and support her, and all the while she was learning to steal, to kill, to lose sight of what ordinary people from a normal background take for granted."

"But...you're not like that, Fate-chan! You're not!"

"Because of you." She kissed Nanoha on the top of her head. "Because you found me, and wouldn't give up on me, and showed me the truth."

"That's not true, Fate-chan! You were never a bad person! I knew it right from the first time we met!" Nanoha immediately reassured her. Some things never changed.

"My mother...wasn't as good at it as Jail," Fate said. It was still painful to talk about Precia Testarossa, and she clung to Nanoha for support, now, as much as to support. "She lost herself in grief and hate, and I was broken more than I was truly turned. If...if she'd genuinely loved me, Nanoha, I would have followed her to the end, and I don't think you'd have seen in me what you did. Helping my mother to find the magic to save my sister? Of course I'd have done that, with all my heart."

"Fate-chan..."

Nanoha reached up to cup Fate's cheek, no doubt feeling the tears beneath her fingers.

"So that's what Jail did, up until the very end when he took control of Lutecia by force. That difference is why I was accepted as a probationary contractor with the TSAB at once, but Lutecia was sentenced to Mau Gram for eight years pending her ability to re-adjust to the priorities and values of ordinary society, while reunited with her mother."

"But she was released because of the Shadows. She said that was why she was let out early."

Fate sighed.

"Meaning that from their point of view, her re-socialization was complete. Her ability to do the things a Shadow does wasn't a defect to them, but an asset."

"I'm surprised they didn't try to recruit the Numbers as well."

"They probably would have, except that the Combat Cyborg project has been dragged so far out into the light the government would be scared of letting any of it be linked with covert matters. They'd rather play with the technology than the people at this point, build their own Uno or Due."

"Or Quattro," Nanoha said bitterly.

Fate shook her head.

"No, they wouldn't want Quattro. They want people who can do what they do...because they believe in the cause, or who are just divorced from our conventional standards of behavior."

"Sociopaths."

"Maybe," Fate admitted. "But not people who enjoy it. Those are defectives--they go wrong sooner or later, and end up hurting people on all sides for no reason at all."

Nanoha looked at her with shock, and even a little distaste.

"Lutecia said almost the same thing."

"I heard it from niichan." Chrono's decision to follow his mentor, Admiral Graham, into filling the NSIS director's seat hadn't gone well with his family, but...he was family. Nanoha hadn't been as forgiving; a chilly politeness between the two was as best as she could manage.

"I notice that you didn't say that he'd have told you about Lutecia."

"If Lutecia had been assigned here to do something to Vivio, it would have been Chrono who'd have assigned it," Fate said. It was a simple answer to the question, but the look they shared went much, much further than that. Fate knew that the two of they were in complete accord about the corollary to that. If he ever did something like that--

No. She didn't want to complete the thought. If Chrono was capable of trying to use Vivio in that way, then there wasn't anything left of the brother she knew. Fate wasn't going to spit on what he'd been to her all those years growing up without cause.

"Would you like a cup of tea?" she offered, mostly to try to get her own emotional legs under her.

"Sure. Thanks."

Fate unwound her arms from Nanoha and went over to the stove. She got the kettle going, then started getting down the tea things.

"Would you prefer green or black tea?"

"Um...black, I think, Fate-chan."

"All right."

Something strong would suit her too, she thought, getting out the Western-style Limoges set that Arisa Bannings had given them as a second-anniversary gift. These kinds of emotional upsets were the draining kind, and stimulation would be good.

"Fate-chan?"

"Yes, Nanoha?"

"How could she do it? Lutecia, I mean?"

"Isn't that what we were just talking about?"

"No, I mean...how could she do it to us? She lied to us for eight years. She as good as became part of our family. She became Vivio's best friend, then her girlfriend. And all the while she was someone else entirely! Erio-kun and Caro-chan, too; she let them believe that they'd done some real good for her, and all the while she was still the same person she'd been for Jail, only with a different master."

Fate didn't answer her for a while.

"Fate-chan?" Nanoha asked, worried at her silence.

"That's it, isn't it? That's what it's all really about."

"What?"

"Why you were so angry this morning, why you stormed out to confront Lutecia." She smiled wryly. "I should have realized it. I guess this has thrown me for a loop as well, or I wouldn't have missed it. You don't get angry about ideas. You get angry about actions. Lutecia being a Shadow, believing in what the NSIS does, that isn't why you're mad. You wouldn't like it no matter what, but it wouldn't make you angry at her. It's the lying, the deception, what she did to all of us, especially--"

"Especially Vivio."

"Yes."

She turned around to face Nanoha.

"It's not even that she lied," Nanoha said. "I mean...we're both in the military. We understand discipline and regulations. We know how that works. I mean, I don't think that the NSIS is restricted enough in what it does, but if you have a covert group, its members don't go around openly announcing who they are. That's why, well, part of why, we haven't told Vivio about Chrono-kun being the director of the Shadows. You probably shouldn't have told me."

"You come first," Fate said simply, because it was that simple.

"That's sweet, but still...Anyway, like I said, I can see why Lutecia didn't announce who and what she was."

"But."

"Yeah. But. I understand her not telling, but that's no excuse for betraying us like that, pretending to be a friend, more than that to Vivio. Vivio loves her, Fate-chan, loves her enough that she's torn up inside and questioning everything. Damn it, Fate-chan, she had no right to do that to her! No right at all! And do you know what the worst part is? She says she loves Vivio, and part of me wants to believe her--but I believed in what she's showed us these past years, too. So how can I know? And how could anyone who loved Vivio treat her like that?"

"I don't know, Nanoha," Fate said helplessly.

"How much of it was real, these past eight years, and how much an act? Vivio loves that...that..." Apparently, nothing she could think of was suitably insulting, because she gave up. "--loves her so much, but does she? Vivio fell for the illusion, a carefully crafted lie. How much of the real Lutecia was in that, and how much is just smoke?"

She slapped her palm sharply on the table in a sudden, uncharacteristic outburst.

"I don't understand, Fate-chan! I don't understand any of it!"

Fate went back to the table and dropped to one knee beside Nanoha's chair, so that she could put her arms around the other woman on roughly the same level.

"No, I suppose that I don't, either. I don't see how I could live a lie like that."

She paused for a moment.

"But...consider this. I'm making an assumption here--a big one--that the Lutecia we know isn't a lie or a fake, not some made-up role she's playing, but part of a whole. I can't imagine that she's so good an actress as to make it all up out of nothing, especially not after growing up as a shell of herself, suppressing her emotions. It was all too natural, too believable, and not one of us ever had any doubts."

"I'd like to believe that, for Vivio's sake."

"All right, then. Now, say that you're a child who, for whatever reason, has decided to join the Shadows. I can only guess what those reasons might be, but there had to be something. Over eight years, I'm sure that she's done things that were hard for her. Hayate told us that this morning."

"Lutecia told me that this afternoon," Nanoha said.

"Oh?"

"Some piece of sophistry about how she, maybe most of the Shadows know what they're doing is wrong, but that they do it anyway because they think they have to for the sake of the future. It didn't make any sense to me, honestly--I really don't see how you can cross a line now in the hope it'll keep someone else from doing worse later on. The future is too uncertain!" she protested. "The only place those 'kill one person to save a million' questions really happen is on ethics tests and in philosophy books."

Fate couldn't help but think of Reinforce, the first one, who'd willingly disincorporated to keep her corrupted system from restoring the dangerous defense program, but then realized that the example didn't apply, because it was the Tome of the Night Sky herself that was the source of the problem so it was really no different than capturing an insane murderer. This one simply happened to be self-aware due to her nature as a Lost Logia. Her fate had been tragic, but not an ethical dilemma.

None of which had anything to do with Lutecia, anyway.

"Maybe it doesn't make sense to us, but they must believe it. I know that Chrono does. I'm sure that Lutecia thought she was doing the right thing as a Shadow, whatever her reasons for thinking that may be."

"But what does that have to do with--?"

"Shhh, love. Just try to imagine yourself in her shoes. She'd decided to accept this position, one in which she works as hard as you or I do in ours, but instead of coming home from an assignment happy and satisfied, she's all twisted up inside, tainted and dirty from what she had to do to complete the mission. It wouldn't always be that way, but often enough, I think."

Fate paused for a few seconds, trying to find the best way to articulate what she felt.

"At home, Lutecia only has one person in her family, a mother whom she lost from her life at the age of two, and who was used as a psychological weapon to manipulate her in her formative years. I don't know Megane all that well, but I do know that while the two of them get along, they aren't all that close. Then, on the other hand, there's us: You, me, Erio, Caro, Vivio...not a one of us is related by blood to any of the others, but we're a real family in every way that counts. Even when I spent most of the year away from Mid on deployment, this really was home for me, and I knew it every time I walked through the door.

"And Vivio invites Lutecia in, with all the innocent enthusiasm of her age. Sometimes I wonder if she felt what was under the surface with Cia the same way you did with me. Unconditional love, the warmth of family...Vivio offered her all of that. Romance, too, later. Do you remember how it was that Vivio was the one who had to confess? She always had been the leader; Cia won't ask for anything Vivio doesn't offer first."

"That's twice now you compared Lutecia to yourself. I wish that you wouldn't do that."

"Why?"

"Because it brings up all that old pain for you, Fate-chan. I can see it in your eyes." She pressed her palm over Fate's heart.

Better old pain for me than new pain for you, Nanoha, Fate thought but didn't say aloud.

"Anyway, I think that's why Cia never told Vivio what she was. I think she was scared, scared of losing Vivio, losing that warmth, and maybe also scared of corrupting her by exposing her to the darker things in life."

"Then why now?"

Fate smiled gently.

"I doubt Vivio gave her any choice. You Takamachis are relentless when someone that you care about is suffering."

This time Nanoha smiled too.

"Vivio is...sort of like me that way, isn't she?"

"Nanoha, that girl is so much like you that I'm half-convinced that you're descended from her original."

Nanoha chuckled. Fate unwound an arm from around her so she could trace her lips with a fingertip.

"I'm glad to see you smile. You haven't done that much today."

"I haven't had much reason to." She sighed heavily. "Fate-chan, even if you're right, what are we supposed to do?"

"I think that's something that we're going to have to ask Vivio. We can support her, even advise her, but..."

"...but this is something she's going to have to decide for herself. It's funny, really; we spend all those years teaching Vivio how to be a person who can make the hard choices with a clear head and a good heart, and now that it's time for her to do it all I seem to want is a way to protect her from having to."

"I think that's called motherhood," Fate admitted.

"Maybe this is how my parents felt when I announced that I was moving to Midchilda full-time?"

"Maybe."

"I just wish we didn't have to wait like this. What happens next, it's in their hands, not ours. I hate being so powerless, in this situation where all we can do is sit around and hope."

"And love her. Whatever happens, good or bad, Vivio will always have that, at least."

"I hope it's enough."

Behind them, the kettle started to whistle.

~X X X~

A/N: For the following omake, please remember that one of Lutecia's fan-nicknames is "loli-Rider"...now start thinking about what that means she grows up to look like!

~X X X~

Vivio's Magical Omake Theater!

"This is a real problem, Corona," Vivio declared. The fourteen-year-old took her responsibilities as class president seriously, and the sign-up sheep for the blood drive was still half empty.

"I know. I wish we could make them understand that healing magic can only do so much. It's important to have a supply in reserve to treat the injured!"

"Mmn." She looked around the gym at the Strike Arts class just filling in. "Like these guys! We beat each other up regularly in practice, but they're afraid of a little prick with a needle!"

"Wussies. You can tell they're still just boys instead of men. Oh, speaking of grownups, isn't that your girlfriend?"

"Cia said she'd come to watch today!" Vivio turned to enjoy the sight of her eighteen-year-old girlfriend walking into the gym.

"I wish I could look like that."

"Me, too," Vivio said with a grin. Lutecia had grown up lithe and sleek, with long legs and a sweep of violet hair that came to just past her waist, naturally drawing the eye to her pert butt. Then Vivio';s grin turned positively evil.

Cia, she said telepathically, would you kiss me? I mean, really kiss me?

In front of everybody?

Yep. I'll explain. I promise.

...All right.

"Adult Form: set up!" Vivio said, and shifted into her grown-up body. She generally did that anyway when practicing magic, but this time there was a different reason. Lutecia played along, walking towards Vivio in a swivel-hipped sashay that turned heads and drew wide-eyed stares as she moved through the crowd. She reached out and stepped into the taller girl's embrace.

"I missed you," Vivio purred, closing her arms around Cia's waist.

"Me, too."

The kiss was, as Vivio intended, dramatic. Open, wet mouths merged, tongues slid together, lush curves melded. Vivio's head swam; it was hard to remember that she had an ulterior motive. After a couple of minutes, though, she managed to pull herself away, and glance at the watching club members.

"Well, I see there's a bunch of you with nosebleeds," she announced. "It sounds like you've got a dangerous oversupply. You'd better go sign up for the blood drive and put it to good use." She gestured towards Corona, who held up the list. "Unless you're saying that you were just having perverted thoughts about your club leader?"

The stampede had already begun before she even had time to clench her fist for emphasis.

"Three years, seven months, and fourteen days to go," murmured a breathless Cia.