A/N: RadiantBeam originally posted her story, "Borderline," to the AnimeSuki forums as a "what if?" kind of story, an alternate universe to her ViCia/Shadows stories. I thought it sounded interesting...or maybe I just liked the angst...so I asked myself, "Okay, but what if it was in the 'main canon' of stories? And what if, as was pretty much inevitable, Vivio found out? This story immediately demanded to be written. Like "Borderline," it's not part of the "official" fanon timeline.

Most of you reading this are probably already familiar with the ViCia stories, but if you're not, you should at least read "Borderline" and the third chapter of "Sunrise" before this one, or it's just not going to make any sense at all. Which is what happens when we're what, twenty-five stories or so into the series?

~X X X~

It took Vivio nearly five minutes before she felt able to speak.

"Wow!" she breathed, her voice still not quite under control. "Where did you learn to do that, Lutecia?"

The first time they'd made love, the morning after Vivio's eighteenth birthday, it had been sweet and loving. Lutecia had basically let her enthusiastic-though-virginal girlfriend do whatever she'd wanted, all the things she'd wished for, offering gentle guidance when reality didn't quite match up with the things Vivio had read. Their second and third times had been very similar.

This night had been very different.

The older woman had skillfully, expertly built Vivio's passions, her hands and mouth moving on her in a performance choreographed to drive the blonde wild, mounting her urgent need until she was almost out of her mind, then letting things ebb, or allowing her just the slightest surge of release to keep the pressure under control, before finally driving her higher and higher until her mind seemed to explode in a series of soul-shattering climaxes.

Vivio had meant it as a rhetorical question, just another way of saying, "That was awesome!" She was surprised when, after a minute, she got an answer.

"Work."

She was also surprised by the flat, dull tone her girlfriend had used, so different than it had been before.

"Work? You mean, they teach you to—" Vivio began, then cut herself off. "Oh."

Because Lutecia's work was as a Shadow, an agent of the TSAB's covert operations service. The use of sexuality in espionage was so elementary as to be a basic, fundamental strategy. Whether it was gaining information via pillow talk, using an intimate relationship to gain access to people's private quarters, setting a target up for blackmail, passing on false information, building a sense of trust and intimacy in order to better manipulate someone into doing what the agent wanted, or luring them into a vulnerable position for assassination, seduction was a standard part of an agent's repertoire. There was a reason the media portrayed female spies, especially, as sexy and glamorous.

That phrase certainly fits Lutecia, Vivio thought. The sleek, slender beauty had an allure about her that Vivio figured she herself would never master. Her own face and figure, and more importantly her personality, could project sexiness in the in-your-face, direct appeal to the hormones kind of way, but she couldn't add in that air of mystery that a seduction demanded. She could never, for example, pull off the merrywidow and silk stockings Lutecia was wearing with anything like the same effect.

It was funny. Since Lutecia had confessed being a Shadow to her, Vivio had had to ask herself some hard questions about how she felt about loving someone who could do such things as assassination, blackmail, or torture, the allegedly "necessary" evils of covert operations.

She hadn't thought about what in retrospect was the most obvious issue. After all, did she hate Signum or Vita or Zaffy or Cinque or Ix or (she assumed, though she'd never asked) Fate-mama because they'd killed in the past and with far less social justification than Lutecia had? Or Grandpa Shiro, Uncle Kyouya, and Aunt Miyuki?

But she hadn't thought about the idea that Lutecia had almost certainly slept with other people as part of her job. Or, given Lutecia's age and how long they'd been together, that she'd almost certainly done so while the two of them were a couple.

Vivio suddenly realized that she'd let a long time go by since she'd last spoken.

"I can't believe that I didn't think of that until now."

"I didn't want to talk about it," Lutecia said. "We were both so distraught about our feelings when you first found out I was NSIS, and you never really asked too much about the specifics of my work."

"Yeah, but I mean—it's just a job, right?" Vivio was trying to be worldly and mature, and failing badly.

"I...don't want to talk about it now, either," was Lutecia's reply, punctuated when she rolled over, away from Vivio, and broke their skin-to-skin contact.

"I think we have to," Vivio told her.

It got Lutecia to turn and look back at her over her shoulder, at least.

"I don't see why."

"It's kind of important, don't you think?"

"God, you're a Takamachi, all right," Lutecia sighed.

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"That you're going to insist on talking this out no matter what it takes, even if you have to go to ridiculous lengths. You're just like your mother in that respect. She'll talk to her enemies all through a fight and if they don't want to listen, she'll blast them into the ground and keep right on talking." She sat up, then swung her legs off the side of the bed. "Sometimes I think the only reason people fight back at all is just to try to get her to shut up."

Vivio flinched at the way her girlfriend's words bit at her, and her temper started to flare.

Then it stopped, and she smiled.

"Nice try."

"What?"

"I almost didn't notice what you were doing there. Deflecting the topic and hoping to start a fight over something else so you can lead me farther and farther away from the point."

"I—I wasn't-"

She couldn't get the words out, and Vivio knew why. Lutecia couldn't lie to her. Manipulate, yes; deceive, certainly; leave important things unsaid, absolutely; but not to look her in the face and simply, plainly, say things that weren't true.

"Lutecia, I've loved you since I was twelve. Don't you know by now that you can tell me anything?"

"Why?"

"Because that's what love is."

The violet-haired Shadow shook her head, still not looking back at Vivio.

"No, Vivio, I mean, what's the point of talking about it? Talk won't change anything. It won't make the past go away."

She made to get up, but Vivio was faster; her hand snapped tight around Lutecia's wrist.

"That's not true! It can change a lot! If people don't talk to each other, how can they understand each other's feelings?"

"That sounds like something Nanoha would say."

"She's the one who taught it to me. And Fate-mama taught me something else: talking to someone may not be able to change the past, but it can change how the past feels to you now."

Vivio sat up and pulled Lutecia back against her, slipping her free arm around Lutecia's waist and resting her chin on the older woman's collarbone so their faces were pressed together side-by-side.

"You're not going to let this go, are you?" Lutecia said. Her voice was full of reluctance and misery but with an underlying warmth—that while she really did not want to do this, it still touched her on some level that Vivio would care so much.

"No, I'm not."

"...You're not going to like it."

"Probably not," Vivio agreed. "But we've been over this before."

Lutecia exhaled slowly.

"I suppose we have."

She clenched her fists in the sheets.

"Yes, I've slept with people in the course of missions. There it is. Oh, and yes, a senior female agent did teach me the...'tricks of the trade.'"

"Miranda?"

She shook her head.

"God, I wish. No, Miranda had died before that. They...we...won't use an agent on that kind of mission who isn't of age."

Vivio tried to think about it but couldn't. She simply had no basis for comparison. Even trying to imagine herself having sex with anyone other than Lutecia felt flat and unreal.

"Could you have refused?" she asked.

"Yes. They wouldn't push the unwilling into it, partly from decency but mostly just because it'd put the mission objective at risk. I didn't try to get out of it, though."

"Why not, since you seem so bothered by it?"

"I'd probably have lost my active field agent status if I had. I'd already drawn one bright line about refusing to kill outside of the direct scope of the mission, even when rationality suggested that I should. One scruple is a personality quirk, but when they start adding up...There's not much point in a spy who won't get her hands dirty."

They'd already had the talk about why Lutecia was a Shadow at all, why it had meant so much to her, so Vivio didn't ask her to expand on that answer.

"Is it because you feel like you cheated on me?" she asked instead. "That you didn't want to talk about it—is that why?"

"No."

There was a long pause.

"Mostly not. Some of it is. Do you feel cheated on?"

"Yeah, some," Vivio admitted. Truth ran both ways, after all. "I mean, I've been aching to touch you for years, and you wouldn't because of our ages and all the rest of it, and to hear that someone else has...yeah, it feels bad. But I know it's just a job, too. It's not like those people are boyfriends or girlfriends or something."

Lutecia shivered.

"No, definitely not."

"Lutecia?"

She didn't answer. Then Vivio remembered: mostly not. Or in other words, what was really wrong didn't have anything to do with Vivio or their relationship.

"Was it really awful?" she said softly.

"Sometimes it was," Lutecia said. "The first time...the target, he...had a taste for virgins and, lucky me, we had one one available. You remember, I didn't hit that last growth spurt until I was nineteen, so we did a makeup job and told him I was fourteen." She gave a sickly little smile. "It worked perfectly. While I had him...distracted, I had my wasps take over his personal computer, one he kept isolated from any networks for security's sake, and extract all the data he was hiding."

"I hope you killed him after that," Vivio said fiercely.

Lutecia blinked.

"It wasn't that kind of mission."

"He deserved it, using you that way."

"I was the one using him, Vivio."

Vivio shook her head.

"Lutecia...I know it's only been a week since it happened, but you...you made my first time something wonderful for me. I'd wanted it so badly for a long time, yes, but I was still really nervous. And you were patient and gentle and showed me how to do the things I wanted to when I was too rough or too clumsy or just too ignorant. Every bit of it was loving and incredible and it'll be a beautiful memory for me forever. And that sick bastard stole it from you."

Lutecia gave her a long look.

"You really mean it, don't you? Exactly like that?"

She slipped from Vivio's embrace, but instead of getting off the bed just turned so she could sit cross-legged, facing her girlfriend.

"Of course I do!"

Lutecia shook her head.

"You never stop surprising me, Vivio."

Vivio grinned at her.

"It's a Takamachi thing."

She took Lutecia's hands between hers.

"Go on. Please?"

Lutecia nodded, then took a deep breath.

"I came home, got in the shower, and scrubbed my skin raw. I remember that I had lunch with Caro the next day and had to make up some story about being sunburned."

She shivered.

"Was it always like that?"

Lutecia shook her head.

"No. Sometimes it was, if the target was particularly disgusting in his or her tastes, sometimes it was unpleasant, sometimes I enjoyed myself, and sometimes, most times really, it just...was. But it wasn't doing the job that was the problem. It was afterwards, when it was all over, and I was left with just myself."

She sighed bitterly.

"I spent the first year or so telling myself that it was just a job, that sex was just a physical act that didn't mean anything. I kept repeating it, even to myself, even when I wanted to tear off my skin, because if I'd admitted what I was feeling, I'd..." She shook her head, apparently not wanting to put it into words.

Vivio wasn't sure she wanted to hear the end of the sentence.

"It doesn't matter," Lutecia spared them both. "By the second year, it wasn't a lie anymore. It was a job. I guess it's true, you can get used to anything if you have to," she said with a short, barking laugh.

"By the third year, I remembered that that particular job has a name."

She was gripping Vivio's hands more tightly, her long nails digging into the blonde's skin. Vivio doubted she even realized she was doing it.

"So there you have it. Your girlfriend isn't just a thief, an extortionist, a torturer, and a murderer, she's also a whore."

She looks so stricken, Vivio thought. It didn't matter that Lutecia was a beautiful, elegant young woman nearly as tall as Vivio herself, now. She still seemed like that tiny, broken child she'd been when Erio and Caro had rescued her from Jail Scaglietti.

Maybe in some ways she always had been. After all, it had been what was broken in the girl, the capacity to do things that others shirked from, that had led the Shadows to recruit her in the first place.

"How...how could they use you that way? Knowing what it cost you?"

"I'm good at hiding things," Lutecia said. She smiled gamely and said, "I hid from what I was from you for eight years. If it took that long for me to give up the truth to the person I love the most, then how long do you think it would be before I let co-workers see it?"

"But the Shadows, they know you. I mean, they knew Lutecia, not just Cia."

Lutecia's smile was sad and laced with irony.

"Different lies for different people, Vivio."

She got up out of bed and plucked a soft, fluffy robe off the hook behind the door, slipping it on over her lingerie-clad form and knotting the cord. The action made Vivio realize that she was starting to feel chilled, the sweat evaporating off her overheated body.

"You shouldn't have lied."

Lutecia flinched at the gently chiding tone.

"I couldn't tell you, Vivio. It'd be a serious breach of protocol to tell a civilian"—in this case, meaning non-NSIS, not non-military—"girlfriend about my work. I probably shouldn't have told you when I did, according to the rules; they only let it slide because you're the Director's niece and because of all your other connections."

Vivio shook her head.

"No, not me. I understand why you couldn't tell me. Them. The Shadows."

Lutecia started. She hadn't expected that from her. Vivio got out of bed and crossed over to her, cupping her girlfriend's face between her palms.

"You are not a w-whore," she said, blushing as she stumbled over the word. "You are a spy. You did things that you shouldn't have to have done, and other things that there's no justification for anyone to be made to do, but all of it, it was for the sake of protecting people like me. If you'd told them, I'm sure your superiors could have helped you realize that."

"You give us more credit for decency than we've earned."

Vivio snorted.

"I know Uncle Chrono better than that. Forget decency; do you really think he wouldn't protect his only S-rank field agent against herself?" She crushed Lutecia against herself, the thick fleece robe blunting the outlines of her girlfriend's body against her skin. "You always do this. You always take it all on yourself so the rest of us don't have to suffer. You didn't tell Megane what you do so she wouldn't blame herself, you didn't tell your co-workers about your pain, you're always coming back hurt from your missions-"

Softening fabric or not, she didn't miss Lutecia going stiff in her arms.

"Did you think we didn't notice? We all did: Erio, Caro, and I all realized that you'd come back hurt far more often than you should have."

"I—"

"—may be S-rank, but raw defense isn't one of your strengths. And you'd rather take the hit than let someone else be hurt." She softly kissed the top of Lutecia's head. "You shouldn't have tried to carry it yourself. Especially not now that I know about you being a Shadow, so you don't have to keep things secret."

Lutecia looked up at her, meeting Vivio's eyes of her own accord for the first time in a while.

"Vivio, do you really not understand?"

Lutecia stared searchingly into Vivio's eyes, looking for something deep in her gaze. Vivio was genuinely baffled.

"No, I don't!"

Lutecia sighed, then a tiny smile started to play around the corners of her mouth and she shook her head.

"You're my girlfriend, Vivio," she said, "and I'm talking about having sex with other people while I've been dating you."

"...Yeah," Vivio said.

"And you wonder why I've had trouble bringing it up?"

Vivio blushed.

"I was trying not to think about that part. Besides, you said that wasn't the big problem, and you were just so hurt-"

Lutecia laughed.

"What in the name of all that's holy did I ever do to wind up with you?"

"Well, you humored a little kid when she wanted somebody to talk about Belkan history and politics with, you put up with a best friend who was four years younger at an age when four years meant a lot, and you didn't step on said friend's crush when you should have brushed it off, but instead nurtured it sweetly and treated her with love instead of taking advantage of her or kicking her aside. Plus, you did it all while you were keeping a secret that made you feel like you were twisted and corrupt and not worthy to stand next to the rest of us. That might have a little to do with it." Vivio hugged her tightly.

"Look," she continued. "I know you like to keep us safe, that coming home and seeing me, and Megane, and Caro and Erio living our happy and innocent lives let you know there was something worthwhile that you were protecting, so you'd have the strength to go dive back into the darkness, right?"

Lutecia nodded.

"But it's different now. I'm with you, not just 'Cia,' and that means no. More. Secrets." She tapped Lutecia playfully on the nose with her forefinger to punctuate each word. "Besides, you're retired now."

"From the field. Now I'm training other agents to go out and do the kind of things I did, which is worse in some ways."

Vivio laughed, which took Lutecia completely off-guard.

"Who's acting like Nanoha-mama now?"

"What?"

"Well, do you teach your students to do all the things that you insisted on doing and led to your breakdown? Or do you teach them to be responsible and do things the right way even while you can't make yourself do as you say?"

Lutecia flushed bright red.

"Well, I..."

"Thought so." Vivio kissed her, a quick peck on the lips.

"Vivio!" Lutecia exclaimed, then gave it up and giggled. It was so good to hear that, after everything from the last few minutes, that it gave Vivio a serious case of the warm fuzzies. She kissed Lutecia again, soft and lovingly.

"Vivio, would you..."

"Yes?"

"Would you stay for the night?"

"Of course. Just let me call mamas, okay?"

"You might want to put something on, first. They know we're sleeping together, but..."

Vivio blushed again, realizing belatedly that she'd been naked throughout the whole conversation. It just hadn't seemed important enough to notice at the time.

"You always liked sleeping next to me, even when we weren't dating," Vivio remarked, reaching for her shirt.

"That's because," Lutecia admitted softly, apparently trying out the "no secrets" thing, "when you hold me while I sleep, I don't dream."

~X X X~

Vivio's Magical Omake Theater!

Vivio panted for breath, trying to make up the oxygen debt. Spending the night with her girlfriend wasn't just romantic and loving, it also had fringe benefits. An enthusiastic round of morning-after lovemaking didn't happen when she woke up on her own bed, alone.

"Lutecia," she said when she could talk again, "that was incredible."

Her lover blushed.

"Thank you."

"That reminds me. You said that you were training new field agents in the skills needed to be Shadow."

"Uh-huh. Infiltration and stealth, how to bypass security systems, interrogation techniques, psychological manipulation and interaction for dealing with contacts—"

"Seduction?"

Lutecia blushed faintly.

"Um, yes..."

"Well, if you ever need a subject for a class demonstration, I'd be glad to volunteer!"