A/N: This story is one of the ViCia/Shadows series created by RadiantBeam, and falls just after her story "Daddy's Little Girl" in the sequence. This is the first time I've written a story in this series featuring the main couple rather than being NanoFate sidestories or background matters about the Shadows. I'd like to note that for forms of address, honorifics and so on, I've tried to follow what RadiantBeam uses in her fics in this series since I'm working within that series.

~X X X~

"I still can't believe we can hear this," Willy Vespa said. "I mean, shouldn't she have better security on her--"

Rollin Windom held up his hand, cutting the younger man off. Vespa was still so much in so many ways the fresh-faced boy he seemed to be.

"Oh, that's great! I've wanted to go to that place for years! Nove told me all about it." The young girl's voice was bright and chirpy over the sensory tap.

"This isn't her Device," Windom explained. "This is the house system, her home link—and she lives with her mother."

"So?"

"Oh, but wait. Nanoha-mama will never let me stay overnight with you, not now that we're dating."

"So, if she installs a bunch of security on it, her mother's going to notice and ask questions. Instant blown cover."

"Yeah, but what about operational protocol? I mean, an open line?"

"Actually," a deeper, sultrier female voice answered the first, "I have that covered. Well, presuming that Nanoha considers Cinque Nakajima a suitable chaperone."

"Cinque?"

"She's stationed in Harbor City for the next two weeks; I...prevailed on her to put you up for the night."

"Do you really think that she'd use it for anything sensitive?"

"She's giving away her location for tomorrow."

"There's a story behind that, isn't there, Cia?"

"Maaaybe...and I'll tell you tomorrow."

"I just wish Fate-mama was home. She's lots easier to convince."

"It builds character."

"She's making a date with her girlfriend. Even someone as twisted as her wouldn't combine that with an op."

Vespa grinned at him. It made the seventeen-year-old's face look even more boyish, Windom thought.

It made the subject of the grin seem all the more incongruous, even ironic.

"That's what she thinks, at least."

"Right," Windom agreed with a nod. "Let's talk to Jim. We've got less than a day to set this up."

~X X X~

The giant Marine Garden amusement complex had been the setting for the denouement of the Mariage terrorist incident six years ago. Large parts of the park had been devastated by the battles, but the rebuilding efforts had been complete and comprehensive so that no scars from the past lingered to remind pleasure-seekers of the day that violence had exploded among them.

Lutecia Alphine had been involved in that incident, though strictly on the fringes. She'd still been confined to exile on the Mau Gram penal colony then, but the violet-haired summoner had helped the investigation by researching into Ancient Belkan references to the Mariage and Ixpellia.

The one who'd recruited her help back then was, ironically, the girl who now walked beside her. Lutecia and Vivio Takamachi had carried out a long-distance friendship, a friendship that had only deepened when Lutecia had been granted an early release not more than a couple of months after the end of the Mariage incident. They'd been best friends for years, despite the fact that Vivio was four years younger. Now, though, they'd taken that friendship up another step, to romance and dating.

As always, it had been Vivio who'd pushed things to the next level. It wasn't that Lutecia didn't want it, or even that she was oblivious to Vivio's own feelings, just that as always she let Vivio be the one to jump the emotional gaps between them, even though she was waiting on the other side to happily catch her. The age difference was one problem; it would be so easy for her to lead Vivio one way or another if she really wanted to that Lutecia wanted to reassure herself that whatever was happening was what Vivio herself wanted. And there were other reasons, besides.

Secrets.

Shadows.

She hadn't been able to talk about those things before—maybe it wasn't even a friend's place to hear them. But Vivio wasn't a friend any more. Lutecia had given way, let her cross that last gap.

And now what? Could she hold Vivio close, kiss her, touch her, all the while knowing that Vivio didn't know who and what she was? While lying to her? And if she told the truth, what then? Would Vivio hate her for what she was?

That isn't even the most important question, Lutecia realized. Her real fear wasn't for the loss to herself, but what it would cost Vivio—her innocent purity, maybe even her faith in what she'd been raised to believe. Vivio's dedication as a mage cadet for the TSAB was to become a heroine like her mothers, part of the next generation of champions defending the dimensions. Like she thought Lutecia was. Broken ideals can never be repaired.

"Cia? Hey, Cia!" A hand waved in front of Lutecia's face.

"Wh-what?"

"Cia, are you okay?" Vivio asked, looking worried.

"Yes, I am."

"Are you sure? You were staring off into space like you were a thousand miles away, and you looked...upset. I didn't do anything, did I?"

"What? No, no, of course you didn't."

"If you don't want to do this..." Vivio began. "I mean, Marine Garden is kind of a little-kid thing to do for a date."

"Vivio, I was the one who invited you!" Lutecia protested.

"Yeah, but isn't that just because you thought I'd think it was fun?" Vivio still had the worried look. "Wouldn't you rather do something more grown-up, Cia?" she asked.

"What I want," Lutecia said, looking directly into Vivio's heterochromatic eyes, "is to spend the day with my girlfriend, going on rides and playing games and seeing the sea-life shows and eating junk food and just having fun in all kinds of different ways. And what's not grown-up about two people doing fun things together, anyway? Look around us; there's all kinds of couples."

"Yeah, but most of them are my age."

"Most isn't all." Lutecia tapped Vivio on the end of her nose. "Why are you so worried, anyway? Our age difference never bothered you before."

"We were just friends then. Now we're dating. It's different."

"It's only four years," Lutecia lied shamelessly. "Just think, when you're ninety-two, I'll be ninety-six. That's nothing at all."

"That's about how old I'll be before Nanoha-mama thinks I'm ready to do anything more than kissing."

Lutecia chuckled and ruffled Vivio's hair.

"That's a completely different problem and you know it."

"I just wish I could get that growth spurt. I even look like a kid next to you."

She did have a point. Lutecia had matured into a tall, elegant woman with a long sweep of hair that fell to the back of her knees, a sleek and seductive figure. She'd already taken steps to try and minimize the apparent gap between herself and Vivio's coltish appearance, pulling her hair back in a ponytail with a pink ribbon that matched her T-shirt and adding a blue skirt whose pleats helped to conceal the curve of her thighs and hips. She'd even gone with socks and cross-trainers instead of hose and pumps, although given the amount of walking she anticipated doing it was probably a sensible decision anyway.

But the bottom line was, she was finished growing and Vivio wasn't. Heck, thanks to magic, they knew what Vivio was going to look like as an adult, which no doubt made it all the more frustrating for her.

Lutecia slipped an arm around the blonde's shoulders and pulled her close.

"You shouldn't worry about it so much, Vivio. I love you, and that's all that matters. And as for your age, it's kind of nice when the biggest problem you can thing of will go away on its own, right?"

Vivio pouted, biting at her lower lip. "But what if--"

Lutecia always thought the expression made her girlfriend look utterly kissable, so she took the opportunity to do exactly that. Vivio's lips were soft and warm, and the sensation sent a thrill through her, making her tingle all the way down to her toes.

"No buts. Now come on; we're almost to the front of the line."

They bought their tickets and downloaded park maps and attraction guides to their Devices for easy access. Lutecia started looking over hers, amazed by the variety of rides and attractions.

"What do you want to see first, Vivio?" she asked, bookmarking several interesting ideas and watching them flash on the map. Vivio, however, didn't bother with maps or lists. She just pointed.

"That!"

That was the towering, loop-the-looping, corkscrewing length of Marine Garden's signature attraction, the Riptide. It was an only-five-months-old monster of a roller coaster that doubled the wildness by running on transparent rails and struts so that large portions of it—naturally, the more extreme ones—presented the illusion that the car was hurtling through the air without support.

"Oh, my."

"I can't wait!" Vivio said, grabbing Lutecia's hand and starting to drag her in that direction.

At least we're doing this before lunch, the older girl reflected, and if worst comes to worst...Vivio can fly.

~X X X~

Windom thought the green-and-aqua Marine Garden security uniform looked lame rather than in any way intimidating, but he figured they probably wanted it that way. After all, as a "security force" its major jobs were spotting pickpockets and reuniting lost four-year-olds with their families, not engaging in combat. Most of them weren't even mages, considering that an ANT was standard with the uniform.

His biggest challenge was going to be somehow keeping himself from thinking the whole thing was a joke. Overconfidence always, always led to screw-ups. It wasn't professional, and members of the Black Raptors were always professional.

Even when it was personal.

"Hey, guys!" he said cheerily as he walked into security control. The two guards on duty, one of each sex, looked up at his entry.

"What gives? The next shift's not supposed to be up for another hour," the woman said.

Windom grinned sheepishly.

"Sorry about that. First day."

"Yeah, we've all been there. You know where you're supposed to be?"

"Actually, not really..."

"Typical. They give you more advice on what not to say to the customers than they do on what you're actually supposed to do on the job. Here, lemme check the duty roster. What's your name?" She turned back to the console and pulled up a screen.

"Doesn't really matter."

"Eh?"

"Scarlet Shooter."

Crimson balls of light formed in the palms of each hand and zapped the two guards before they could even turn around. Windom was ready for a follow-up, but neither guard moved; they clearly hadn't been mages and without Barrier Jackets his spell had knocked them out cold. Windom dragged them to the corner of the room, removed their weapons and comm terminals, tied their hands and feet with zip-strips, and taped their mouths. With them taken care of, he then locked the control room door, seated himself at the console, and deftly instructed it to perform a number of functions that were outside the ordinary use of the security system. He then took his own Storage Device and opened a communication link, audio only.

"R-4 to R-1."

"R-1. Status?"

"I'm in control. Automatic alarms are turned off, and the secmen's communications all run through the main system, so they're not getting any messages out. I can't do a jamming field or barrier on the park, though; this system isn't set up like a milspec high-security installation, for obvious reasons. Random people in the crowd will still be able to call the authorities."

"It's a chance we'll have to take. Have you got a visual on the target?"

"Yes. She's in the line for the Riptide. I've marked her location and am transmitting her position."

"Good. Timeframe?"

"Fifty-three minutes until the next change of shift here."

"That should be more than enough time."

Jim Avalon couldn't keep the vicious eagerness out of his voice on the last line, Windom reflected. That tone was usually confined to defectives, the bloodthirsty types who ended up in merc units because they were too kill-crazy for he regular military, and who rarely lasted long in private service either. He'd never heard it from the ice-cold Avalon before.

Then again, like he'd observed, this was personal, for Jim more than any of them. To the rest of the Raptors, Dan had been a friend, a teammate, a brother-in-arms. But he'd been Jim's younger brother.

Blood always called to blood.

~X X X~

A/N: An ANT is short for an Autocasting Neo-magical Transmitter, a magic-damage sidearm. More details are available in Chapter III of Stahlkonigin, where I introduced them. The phrase "comm terminal," however, comes from the official manga ViVid, chapter 1.