Disclaimer: I own nothing.
Long Distance Goodbye
"I don't think I'll make it on my own."
-Goo Goo Dolls
Lutecia hummed softly to herself as she clicked open her can of cherry Coke and took a sip, absently scrolling through the small packets of information popping up on the holoscreen floating in front of her face, dismissing certain pieces of information with a quick flick of her fingers and studying other pieces intently, taking another drink. Even though it looked like she was handling important matters, in fact she wasn't doing much of anything at all; the order from Admiral Chrono Harlaown kept her from being on active field agent status thanks to her almost-breakdown, and Vivio still had some time left in school before she headed home.
With a sigh, Lutecia made another piece of information—some small, forgettable story about a live action skit on television mocking the government once again—disappear from the holoscreen and leaned back against the couch, the diamond earrings she wore flashing dimly in the low light of the apartment. "Agito," she called absently, "don't raid the fridge too much."
"Aw, come on Lulu, have a heart." The red-haired Device's voice was plaintive, clearly meant to tug at her heartstrings. "I haven't had a decent meal in days."
"I thought Shamal's cooking was getting better."
"It barely passes beyond toxic."
Lutecia sighed, blinking when her message box flashed. "Go ahead, but don't take anything too sweet. Mom will notice." Ignoring the Device's cheer of victory, the purple-haired summoner clicked on the message and opened it, scanning it quickly without even bothering to read the fluff, going straight for the main message.
Her eyes widened, then narrowed. With a flick of her wrist, she closed the holoscreen and set her cherry Coke down on the table, leaving it only half finished as she stood, grabbing the jacket she'd slung over the couch and pulling it on as she strode to the door.
"Lulu?" Agito stuck her head out of the kitchen, wobbling dangerously under the weight of a muffin. "Where are you going?"
"Something came up." Lutecia was on autopilot now; she'd entered the mode ever since reading the message. "Tell Mom when she comes home that I'm out, Agito. I shouldn't be too long."
"Wait a minute, aren't you on—"
The door closed with a soft click before Agito could even finish the sentence.
Lutecia didn't know quite how her team leader still assumed she was on active duty, but when the mission was a chance to take down the second-in-command of the drug lord, she didn't really care. Especially since, at the very least, this would even out the scales; the family's blood would always stain her hands, but at least in capturing this man, she could make the stain fade somewhat. Grateful to find her workplace mostly empty—or, at the very least, not containing someone who would know she was not supposed to be there—Lutecia reached the conference room and knocked on the door, as per usual, before stepping inside.
Vernon Ransam barely glanced up from his report, simply waved Lutecia in. "Good to have you back, Alphine," he said. "You got my message, I take it."
"Yes, sir." Lutecia slid into a chair, flicking a glance briefly at the tawny-haired young man at her side before focusing on her team leader. "You've tracked down the second-in-command?"
"Hiding in his big, fancy mansion outside of town. Not discreet, but for a long time no one's really checked to see who owns the place and he's been careful to cover any tracks that would lead back to it." Ransam smirked, flipping the folder shut, and finally met Lutecia's gaze. "I know what happened screwed you up, Alphine, but the fact is, you have all the more reason now to put the heat on this guy and take him down."
Lutecia was half tempted to ask just how her team leader didn't know she was supposed to be on break from the case, considering Chrono had issued the decision several days ago, but she didn't dare question it. Whatever punishment she received for disobeying orders would be worthwhile if she could take down the drug cartel's second man.
"What's the plan?" Absently, the purple-haired woman drummed her fingers against the table, in tune to one of Vivio's favorite songs that had gotten stuck in her head. "Go in and kill him? Or do we want him alive?"
"I'd like to say kill him and be done with it, especially since taking this guy in will probably really alert his boss to what's going on." Ransam scowled in frustration. "But since that guard friend of ours put a pistol to his head, we don't have many other options."
Lutecia's drumming faltered for half a second before picking back up at its usual pace. On some level she was shaken by how coldly Ransam had dismissed the deaths of innocents, and wondered when his retirement was coming up; perhaps she was overreacting, but she couldn't fight the feeling that she'd just glimpsed a hint of a rogue Shadow in the making.
She was distracted by the other man's soft "Yes, sir" and glanced at him for the first time. Her trained eye recognized a rookie Shadow right away; while the kid clearly wasn't as young as she'd been when she'd joined the NSIS, she saw the unnatural stiffness in his posture, heard the politeness in his tone and sharpness that was just a tad uncalled for, saw that small light of nervousness in his eyes despite his attempt to look composed.
Ransom noticed her glance and chuckled. "So, you finally noticed. Alphine, meet Deryl White. Just finished his preliminary training, so he'll be joining you today for his first mission."
"With all due respect, sir," Lutecia began, glancing at the boy again before continuing on, "don't you think it would be better if I did this myself, or had someone more experienced in the case working with me?"
"White's a member of our team, he's just new to the field. And really, what's the worst that can happen?" With a snort, Ransam leaned back in his chair. "You've got enough experience and firepower for him, Alphine. Just let him hide behind you and see how things work, this guy isn't going to be that hard."
Lutecia disagreed, but she knew now wasn't the time to try and buck her leader's decisions.
The mansion was, as Ransam had stated earlier, big. Extremely big. Lutecia was actually surprised to discover there was no wall or fence around it, and no clear system of defense; the thing nearly looked like a castle of the Belkan age, with tall towers and dark gray stones, built upon a rolling green landscape far outside the outskirts of the main city.
But where are the guards?
The lack of a noticeable defense system wasn't the only thing that had the summoner's wariness going up a notch; it was the complete, utter silence and stillness that seemed to have fallen over the whole mansion. Other then the occasional breeze blowing by, briefly stirring the grass, there was no sound coming from the large home and no sign of life.
Perhaps she was being paranoid; after all, with such a build, the mansion was clearly meant to be a place that no one could easily hear or see anything. But still, something about the whole situation had a chill running down her spine.
Shaking her head briefly to get her thoughts back under control, Lutecia glanced at Deryl. Seeing the nervousness in the boy's eyes, she gave him a brief smile. "I'm fine, White. Just thinking." She turned her attention back to the mansion. Perhaps she was over judging the situation, but better safe than sorry. "Do me a favor and stay close to me, okay? I don't like how this feels."
Deryl frowned, baffled. "How it feels?" he asked.
Of course, he didn't notice it. The boy was just a rookie; only time and training could give him the ability to detect when something felt fundamentally wrong. "Just stay close to me, please? It'll give me a peace of mind."
She was relieved when he hesitated, then nodded his consent; perhaps he couldn't understand what she was thinking, but at the very least he wouldn't question it. Absently brushing a loose strand of purple hair back behind her ear, Lutecia took a deep breath and closed the distance to the mansion.
The walk was relatively short, and as they headed for the door no one came to either greet them or stop them. Nervously, Deryl cleared his throat. "Hey, shouldn't someone be trying to stop us?" he asked. "I mean, we're kind of trespassing."
He was beginning to notice it now, too. Good; the sooner he picked up on these things, the better. "Could be nobody's home," Lutecia replied casually, and bounded up the stairs with far more light-heartedness than she felt. She knew there was no reason for it, but out of old habit she lifted her hand and knocked on the door.
It creaked open under her hand slightly, just enough for her to know it was unlocked.
Shit. This wasn't good. Unlocked front doors, especially in cases like these, usually meant something bad had happened, or something bad was about to happen. She lowered her hand. "Say, White, do you have your Device on you?" she asked.
"Good. You might need it." Absently, she brought her hands together so her fingers brushed the double-stranded bracelet that was her Device's Standby Mode when not on duty. "Asclepius."
The small dark purple gems flashed once in response. "Barrier Jacket: Engage," came the reply, and Lutecia barely even blinked as her Barrier Jacket flashed into place, her mind already beginning to run through every possible scenario for what could happen once they set foot into the mansion.
"I'm ready to go, Alphine," Deryl said softly.
Lutecia nodded to show she'd heard him, then pushed the door open. It swung in silently, with only a soft thud as it hit the wall. Stepping into the mansion, the Belkan summoner wasn't soothed by what she saw; despite the large size of the room and the grand, sweeping staircase that led up to the second level of the house, the place was completely deserted.
She grimaced. It was possible the drug lord had caught wind of the NSIS's intentions and had finished off his second-in-command himself, but that didn't explain why the house was so empty and silent. It was also possible that the second-in-command had heard he was a wanted man and had fled the premises, but that didn't explain the sinking feeling in her stomach. "White, you remember what I told you?" she asked softly.
"Stay close to you?"
There was only one hallway leading from the entrance, and making sure she had Deryl close by Lutecia set out to check it. The walk was a short one, and in the end it wasn't as bad as she'd feared; a kitchen, rather large, if disturbingly empty and quiet like the rest of the house, with no other doors or hallways. Deciding that the place they needed to go was up, Lutecia backtracked to the entrance and this time went for the stairs.
Thankfully, they weren't attacked on their way up; the staircase was large in itself, but still not as wide as Lutecia would have liked if it had come down to a fight. Breathing a quiet sigh of relief when they reached the top, the red-eyed woman quickly eyed the hallway. Unlike downstairs, there were several doorways. Reaching the first door and rattling the knob, Lutecia found it locked.
Deryl slipped quietly to the other door and nudged it open before he called softly, "Just the bathroom." Nodding, Lutecia left her door and headed down the hallway. Checking the second to last door before a large pair of double doors, she found what could roughly be considered a storage closet. Bracing herself for a battle, she headed for the last door.
The double doors were open a crack, and Lutecia faltered when she drew closer and the scent hit her full on. Shuddering, she closed her eyes. "White, brace yourself," she warned. "This isn't going to be pretty." Hearing the boy gulp softly but murmur an affirmative, Lutecia bypassed the curved handles of the door and pushed it open with her hand.
She'd warned Deryl beforehand, but nothing could have properly prepared either of them for what was on the other side of the door. Massive bloodstains darkened the walls and the floor, signs of struggle were evident from broken furniture, ripped drapes, and overturned trinkets, and sprawled on the bed in a gruesome pile were the bloody, torn bodies of several maids and butlers.
Feeling the strength drain out of her legs, Lutecia wobbled and sagged, tightly gripping the doorframe for support as the blood drained out of her face; behind her, she heard Deryl gag wetly, and didn't even comment as she heard him vomit. Pressing her hand to her mouth and fighting back the rising bile and fury, she closed her eyes. This is Alphine, she said, establishing a telepathic link. No sign of the target yet, but it looks like he figured it was too much trouble to train his staff in combat or get them safely away from here.
Ransam cursed. How many?
I'm not sure, I'd have to go closer to check. From where I'm standing, I'd guess at least five or six.
She opened her eyes, distracted from her conversation as Deryl shakily stepped into the room, his grip on his Device lax with the shock he still felt, his eyes wide and his face pale. "W-who did this?" he whispered weakly. "W-who would…. W-why would anyone…?"
Perhaps time away from the fold had slowed Lutecia's reflexes; perhaps she'd been too stunned and shaken by the scene, or perhaps she simply hadn't been paying attention. It didn't change the fact that in the end, she saw the rustling curtains, the flash of movement, too late.
"I told you to stay near me, White!"
Even as the portal flashed to life in her hands and Garyuu exploded forth, blades drawn, she knew it wouldn't work both ways; her summon would easily reach the man, but he'd already drawn his Device and let off a shot with a girlish scream, the small beam of energy, a magical bullet hurtling for a stunned, frozen, terrified Deryl.
Deryl White had closed his eyes; he didn't want to see the beam actually hit him, though logically he knew he'd probably die before he felt any pain. He was only sixteen, but he liked to think that he could die without regrets; though really, it would have been nice if he could talk to his mom and dad one last time, and tease his little sister, and really, now that he thought about it he probably should have confessed to that girl he liked and asked her if she'd like to go to the dance with him….
"Geez, White…" Lutecia's voice was ragged, shaky, almost hoarse, and she laughed weakly. "What am I going to do with you, huh? I can't really cover you on this…."
Baffled, Deryl slowly opened his eyes. Why was Lutecia dead, too?
Then he saw.
Garyuu had the man down, one blade pressed threateningly to the man's stomach and the other at his throat, the man blubbering and whimpering like a baby. The Device he'd used to take the shot had been knocked away, completely shattered by the strength of the insect summon.
As the smoke from the attack slowly cleared, Deryl finally glimpsed Lutecia; the older woman was down on one knee, trembling slightly, her hand tightly gripping her side. Even from the distance, he could see her Barrier Jacket had been shattered, the attack having shot straight through her side and clean through. Her breathing was ragged, but she chuckled. "Oh, man," she whispered hoarsely. "Vivio's going to scold me for this…."
The diamond earrings she wore flashed as she crumbled to the ground in a heap, passed out long before she hit the ground. Deryl stared for a moment before he scrambled to her side.
"Alphine! Alphine, hey, wake up! Come on! Alphine! Pull yourself together!"
Even in his fear, he saw Garyuu twitch and made the mental connection.
I need the team leader, now! Alphine's down! I repeat, Alphine is down, and it looks pretty bad!
Blood was already beginning to pool beneath her.
Vivio sighed, twirling her pencil absently between her fingers and resisting the urge to check the clock. She'd wanted to go over to Lutecia's as soon as she got home; though a day or two had passed since the fallout of learning the truth about her job, the younger girl was still concerned about her girlfriend's wellbeing and didn't like leaving her alone.
She actually had almost made it out, but Nanoha had caught her and insisted that this time, at least, she stay home instead of doing her schoolwork at Lutecia's apartment. It was enough to make her scowl, but she'd obeyed without much of a fight; the brunette had gotten better in accepting that her daughter was keeping her relationship as it was, but Vivio still knew things were fragile right now between her mother and Lutecia.
She'd also reasoned that focusing on her homework could keep her reasonably distracted from thinking about Lutecia, but in that aspect it was failing miserably. The history homework was laughable at best, and even the math wasn't tripping her up as badly as it usually did on a regular day. It was ironic, she mused; perhaps she was doing so well because she couldn't stop thinking about her girlfriend and figured the sooner she got her work done, the sooner she could see her?
Nanoha's warning call snapped the honey blonde out of her thoughts, and with one last glance in her mother's direction the teenager sighed and tried to focus more on her homework; but it was hard. She couldn't completely ignore the nagging feeling in the back of her mind that something was wrong, that something bad had happened. It was starting to overwhelm her, honestly; the more she thought about it, the more worried she became. Shaking her head, she glanced up. "Nanoha-mama—"
Before she could say more, the sound of knocking interrupted her train of thought and made Nanoha look up curiously. Exchanging a look with her wife, Fate came downstairs from where she had been working on an Enforcer report and opened the door. "Hello?" She blinked in surprise. "Onii-chan?"
In the doorway, Chrono gave a small, tight smile. "Hi. Would you mind helping me out, Fate? I might need your Enforcer skills to figure out why the hell an agent I strictly listed as off-duty ended up in the hospital with a side injury."
What, did you really think I was going to kill Lutecia?
And I am back from hiatus, baby! At least until chapter 2 of this fic needs to come out anyway, heh.
Also, don't ask me why this fic has the title it has. I was listening to "Long Distance Goodbye/Landing" by Trevor Rabin when this idea came to me, and the name just stuck.
Read and review, please!