Happy birthday to RadiantBeam, creator of the Shadows and so far as I know the first person in the fandom to pair up Lutecia with Vivio! And a really good friend, besides.
~X X X~
It was raining in Cranagan.
Not a hard, driving rain, but a steady fall, enough to make puddles in the depressions in streets and sidewalks, to make drivers turn on headlights and wipers and to turn passerby, seen from above, into a forest of brilliantly-colored discs from their umbrellas, like the indicators on a tactical display.
Lutecia Alphine wondered what it said about her that that was the metaphor she came up with.
The twenty-five-year-old woman heard the soft step of slippered feet on the carpet behind her, and turned away from the floor-to-ceiling window. Takamachi Vivio, her blonde hair slightly rumpled and eyes red-rimmed, extended a steaming mug to her. It was the one Vivio had gotten her for her birthday five years ago, the one covered in butterflies and bearing the comment, "Don't bug me until I've had my coffee!" At home, though, it was more likely to be filled with tea, as it was now.
Lutecia accepted the mug and inhaled, savoring the scent of the tea and the warmth between her palms.
"You weren't in bed when I woke up," Vivio said.
"I didn't sleep well, and didn't want to wake you by flopping around."
Vivio gave her a slightly lopsided smile.
"I missed you."
Lutecia sipped her tea. It was just as she liked it, strong and sweet. Vivio always got it perfectly, even when she was half-asleep.
"Out with it, Lulu," she said.
The blonde poked her in the chest, just above her cleavage.
"Whatever it is that's bugging you."
Lutecia arched an eyebrow at the woman who'd been her girlfriend for six years, her lover for three, and the center of her existence since the bad old days when Jail Scaglietti had order her to kidnap the then-child.
"Why do we have to do this every time?" she asked rhetorically. "Shouldn't you know by now that you can trust me with stuff?"
Lutecia pursed her lips, thinking that over. She glanced around the room, seeing the little touches—the couch they'd argued over for an hour; the bookshelves filled with actual books on paper, most of them rare and historical; the little wall shelf of silly knickknacks they'd bought each other to commemorate various dates and holidays. Vivio was embedded so deeply in her life she'd never get her out; it was like their souls had become intertwined over the years.
"It's hard to unlearn twenty-one years of practice," she decided. Kidnapped by Scaglietti at age two, raised by him to be one of his little terrorist group, three years with her mother Megane at the penal colony Mau Gram trying to rebuild some semblance of normalcy, only to be recruited by the Naval Special Intelligence Service, who'd eagerly snatched up the potential of a highly trained and powerful mage who hadn't been raised to view her magic as a sacred trust to be wielded by a hero.
Holding her feelings back was second nature to her. She'd learned damned fast that people like Due and Quattro of Scaglietti's Numbers couldn't be trusted with her feelings, that they'd twist them up and use them against her. Then, as a Shadow, there was the question of operational security; obviously an espionage agent had to hold things back. And, most of all, she'd hidden away the truth of what she was from her mother, her friends, and beyond all Vivio, for fear that they'd hate her when they saw what a dark and ugly thing she was inside. Until at last the strain broke her and it all spilled out, and yet Vivio hadn't left. She'd held on all the more tightly to the girl she loved.
And yet, still, getting at the root of any problem Lutecia had was still like pulling teeth. Vivio had to wear away at it, pushing, prodding, nagging, because while Lutecia was the kind to bottle things up inside, Vivio was one of those who insisted on dragging everything out into the light so it could be analyzed, looked at from every angle, and a resolution achieved. Knowing that her lover had a problem but not knowing what it was, was maddening, frustrating, and painful for her. So they did their little dance.
The wind had shifted, and the rain began to clatter against the glass, streaming down the pane like a liquid curtain.
Vivio reached out and rested her hand on Lutecia's shoulder, so that the summoner could feel the warmth of it even through the fuzzy, terry-cloth robe she'd thrown on over her lacy nightgown.
"Please? You know that if something's worrying you, then it worries me too, and worries are a lot scarier when you don't know what they are."
Lutecia sighed, then drank some more of her tea.
"I know." She sighed again. "This one affects you, too, so I couldn't keep it from you for too long, anyway." For that reason, she gave in a lot faster than she was prone to do.
"What is it?" Confusion and concern filled the blonde's heterochromatic eyes.
"You know that the NSIS has a new director, don't you?"
"Uncle Chrono retired last month. Fate-mama said it was because the pressure of the job—of being the one who made the kind of decisions he had to make—was wearing him down."
"The new director wants me to go back on field duty."
"Field duty? But why?"
"She says that it's a waste of talent to have an S-rank mage working in intelligence analysis and training, that the NSIS doesn't have the resources to keep its best talents behind a desk." Which was true enough. The Shadows were the TSAB's covert operations group. Espionage, political manipulation, and outright assassination were their stock in trade. For a Shadow, field duty didn't just mean risking her life, it meant using people's trust only to betray them, seducing them only to use their intimacy against them. Kidnapping. Extortion. Torture. Murder. All the things that the idealists of the main service branches refused to do even when they were necessary to save innocent lives, to preserve the peace.
In a society where mage-warriors were trained from childhood to be heroes, there weren't a lot who would sacrifice principles and get their hands dirty for an often nebulous "greater good." Even fewer of them were high-ranked talents.
"Then maybe she should get off her chair and do it herself if she—and why are you smiling?"
Lutecia couldn't help but giggle.
"You're just so quick to defend me. It's so sweet!"
Vivio blushed, then suddenly grinned knowingly.
"Wait a second. Nice try distracting me, Lulu, but I don't give up that easily."
"You're getting better at that." She drank more tea.
"Hey, I've been hanging around you long enough to pick up some tricks." The teasing grin then vanished from the blonde's face. "Lutecia, you're not seriously thinking about doing this, are you? I don't want what happened to you before to repeat itself."
Lutecia wasn't really sure how to answer, particularly as Vivio had used her full name, which she only did in moments of extremely strong emotion. Her instincts told her to avoid the topic, duck the confrontation, but she knew it would only be putting off the inevitable for when she got sent on a mission requiring time away from home or she came back bloodied.
"The trouble is, Director Gaiz is right. We are shorthanded. I'm the only S-rank in the service, and I sit behind a desk. I'm young and healthy and in the prime of my power; I can contribute more as a field operative than as an analyst or trainer."
"But what would it do to you, Lulu? The last time...the last time you did this, it nearly destroyed you!"
"Hey, I've been studying my defensive magic," Lutecia protested. "I've got a pretty good teacher, you know." She brushed her slim fingers along Vivio's cheek.
"That isn't what I meant. Okay, yes, I'd be worried about you going into battle, but I'm not going to be a hypocrite about it." Vivio herself was an air combat mage with the Bureau, and was routinely deployed into major battles. "I'm talking about the cost to your heart, not your body. Shadow fieldwork gave you a complete breakdown last time."
"I know, but...I can't help but wonder, sometimes. When I see a mission report on an assassination designed to look like an automobile accident where a car two back went off the road and a bystander died, I can't help but think, 'I could have done that cleanly.' When I see that an electronic datatheft was blocked and the target went to ground, I know I could have achieved it. When a job gets botched because a bodyguard proves tougher than expected, I know that I'd have a contingency ready. It hurts to see that, Vivio, and it's been getting worse for a while."
"It's not your fault for not doing more than you're able," Vivio insisted.
"But I am able to do it."
"You broke down, cried all night in my arms, and revealed all kinds of classified information to me because you couldn't take it any more! And it wasn't even something you did yourself that was the end of it!"
She exhaled slowly.
"But it's different now."
This was the part she'd been dreading. The part that had been keeping her up at night. But she had to do it. She had, at least, to ask the question.
"Lutecia?" Vivio asked, seeing the changes in her expression, her posture. She could read Lutecia like no one else, and the sudden fear in her eyes reflected what they saw.
Lutecia stepped back and turned away, unable to face her love. She didn't have the courage to see Vivio's face when she asked it. She went back to the window instead, peering out into the rain and feeling a hint of the cold outside seeping through the glass.
"Or is it that you couldn't bear knowing what I did on NSIS assignments? How would you feel if I came home to you after insuring that someone gets fired so one of our agents can take her place? Or that I'd fed a recovering addict's habit so we could use it to blackmail him for information? Or that I'd kidnapped a woman's baby to hold hostage for her support her employer knowing there was a better than even chance of her getting caught in the act and killed? Or simply committing murder with my own hands?"
The examples weren't just twisted fantasies of Lutecia's admittedly morbid imagination. They were all things she'd actually done during her first tour of duty as a field agent.
"Could you stand it, knowing that I'd come home and put my hands on you, knowing the kind of things I'd been doing?"
Strong arms closed around her, wrapping around her torso just below her breasts. She felt Vivio's lushly ripe curves press up against her from behind.
"Stop it, Lulu."
"I know the kind of things you've done. I know what you are and how you became that way. And I know why it was you decided to remain a Shadow instead of quitting or transferring. Good or bad, you believe in the work they do, that we need people who are willing to get their hands dirty for the sake of the rest of us. Don't you think I know that, morally, it's the exact same whether you do those things yourself or you teach people how to do them for you? And I'm here with you. I just don't want to see you put yourself through a repeat of what happened before."
Lutecia let out a long, shuddering sigh. Her hand trembled so much she nearly dropped the half-full mug of tea. Her free hand covered Vivio's.
"Thank you," she whispered. "Thank you, Vivio. I'd hoped, but...you don't know what it means to me to actually hear it, to have you put it in your own words."
Vivio didn't say anything, just held Lutecia tight.
"You see, that's what does make it different this time," she continued, her voice still soft. "Then I...I had divided my life into two different worlds. I would plunge myself into darkness, into lies, deception, and violence at work. Then I would come home, and I'd bask in the light—my mother, my friends, most of all you. You were all my inspiration, the thing I was fighting to keep safe by what I did—but you were also, I thought, pure in a way I could never be. I was afraid I'd corrupt you by sharing any part of myself, or that you'd hate me because of your innocence."
She sighed again, letting out a long breath.
"Lulu, that's nonsense."
"It's not nonsense, Vivio; it's really how I felt."
"That isn't what I meant," Vivio said warningly.
"I know. And don't you see, that's exactly my point."
She could tell from the tone, without even looking, that Vivio had her brows scrunched up in confusion that gave her that adorable little crinkle between her eyebrows.
"I don't live in two worlds any more. I know you love me, the me who was a spy and assassin, not the fake me I'd pretended to be. Even your mother accepts it, though she doesn't like it a bit, and accepts that I really do love you." There was no need to specify which of Vivio's mothers she was talking about. "It isn't something I have to carry by myself any more. Oh, there's nothing that makes it happy and fun—there'd be something very wrong with me if it were, but it's not pure darkness, either. It's..."
"If you say 'shadow,' you're going to wear the rest of that tea," Vivio warned.
"Yes, ma'am," Lutecia said with a giggle. "No bad jokes before breakfast."
"Good; glad you understand."
She slipped her arms from Lutecia and turned her lover back to face her. "Lulu, is this really what you want? You're not doing it just because you feel guilty or because Auris Gaiz is a manipulative bitch? 'Cause I will pitch her non-magical hind end out a window and have Aunt Hayate cover it up if she ever hurts you, NSIS director or not."
Lutecia giggled again.
"Yes, Vivio, this really is what I want. Not for the Director or for my past or for anything else, but just for me."
Vivio's hand cupped her chin, holding her face still while she stared into her eyes. Whatever she saw there after nearly thirty seconds of looking must have met with her approval, because she nodded.
"All right, then."
"Was I supposed to say something else?" She leaned in and kissed her. "It's your choice, Lulu, and it's not like you're asking me to move or make any major upheavals in my life. I'll miss you when you get deployed on missions, but I'm used to that since nearly everybody I care about is in the military too."
She smiled broadly at Lutecia, and for some reason the summoner found tears welling up, clouding her eyes like the rain had the window.
"I love you, Vivio."
"I love you, too." She waited barely more than half a second, then grinned and added, "Now that you're a full-time sneaky covert operative again, Lulu, how about you seduce your lover into a series of perverse and immoral sexual acts?"
Lutecia held up her mug.
"But I haven't finished my tea!"
"I'll make you a fresh cup afterwards."
"Oh, I doubt it." She grinned at Vivio. "That would require you to be able to move after I'm done with you, and I just don't see that happening."
~X X X~
A/N: I wrote this story to fill in a gap between RadiantBeam's current working (definitely not set in stone!) choice for Lutecia's future career with the Shadows—as a trainer of future agents (which I hinted at in my AU-to-continuity fic, "Border Crossing") and the way she's an operating field agent in deathcurse's non-canon-but-uses-the-Shadowverse "Crime Never Sleeps."
Longtime readers of this series will note that I have Vivio call Lutecia "Lulu" instead of "Cia." As RadiantBeam noted in "Sunrise," "Cia" represents, to Lutecia, the "fake image" of the ordinary girl, the facade she presented to Vivio during their early years of dating and friendship. I've always taken that a little more literally than RadiantBeam does, so I tend to have a bee in my bonnet...all right, it's basically an obsession...that Vivio would find a new nickname for Lutecia to represent her acceptance of the "whole" person. And hey, Vivio calls her Lulu in canon (see ViVid), so why not?