Fang's not really sure how it happened. She's awake, Vanille too, and somehow they're just in time for the race to the grand showdown. Everyone's here, even Serah, and there's a new guy, too, brash and brown haired and wearing tribal designs that Fang knows from somewhere, but can't quite put her finger on. But there's no time for pleasantries, to exchange queries of clan and lineage; someone called Caius has been messing with chaos, time's been fracturing all over the place, and it's time to end everything once and for all.
"This ends here," Lightning says calmly, facing off against this Caius with Serah to her left and Fang to her right, and everyone else readying weapons behind them.
Caius only smiles. "The flow of time does not always bend to the slightest whim," he intones, and his voice, that accent, Fang's heard that before. She knows that voice, she's sure of it, but there's a familiar numbness along the edges of knowledge that says that she'll never remember, that it's buried deep in the shattered crystal memories between her first brand and the end of her long sleep.
"No," Serah says, and Fang's impressed - the last time she'd seen Serah the girl had been crystal, and the time before that, newly l'Cie and unconscious. She'd been slight, tiny and delicate-looking, and while anyone that commanded the loyalty of both Snow and Lightning had to be worth something, Fang hadn't really pictured her being much in a fight. But Serah's speaking now, strong and confident, and the grip she has on that bow of hers tells Fang it's not just for decoration.
"Today," Serah continues, "time doesn't bend for anyone." There's a soft flare of light around her, centred on her hand, and Caius staggers slightly.
"You," he says - "what have you-" and raises his sword, swirling black and purple motes starting to gather around the blade.
"Now," Lightning says, and brings her sword back; Fang can feel magic stirring about her, gathering in readiness for a strike.
"Let's hit him hard," she says, and reaches her free hand to her shoulder.
She doesn't have her brand anymore; she'd had time enough to discover that, at least. But it's left its mark under her skin, a throbbing mess of magic woven through with the cool sting of her Eidolon, and when she calls, her crystal materialises in her hand.
Fang smirks, tossing the crystal in the air, and leaps almost immediately after it, twining her magic down her lance and smashing it through the crystal.
"Bahamut!" she calls, and drops back to ground as above her, the sky darkens.
"Fang," Lightning gasps from beside her, and when Fang glances over she's pale, eyes wide. "Fang, what are you doing?"
"Calling Bahamut," Fang says, glancing up at the sky; the clouds have thickened now, and there's the first gate, appearing high above.
"You would summon my ally to this fight?" Caius intones, a mocking smile on his face. "If you feel your defeat would not be sure enough, I welcome the assistance."
"Shove it, chaos-boy," Fang snaps. "Bahamut is mine."
Caius only smiles, and Fang yanks her gaze skyward and reaches out with her magic at the same time. The connection to her Eidolon is still there, but faint, so faint, the cool rush of Bahamut almost subsumed under the swirling mass of chaos. Bahamut wants to answer her, wants to help so badly, but the chaos is all over and through him and he doesn't know whether he can keep control. He's fighting it, fighting her, desperate not to appear on the battlefield and end up bowing his head to the wrong master.
The gates start dropping, Fang's call nearly irresistible now, and she reaches out, Bahamut's thin strength on the other side, and together they manage to release the summon.
There's a noise, like the shattering of a hundred crystals, a sharp crack that echoes through her skull, and the gates above her flare a deep purple-black - and then they keep falling, faster now, sharp and true, and she tries to move but she's not fast enough, not nearly fast enough-
She remembers how Death felt, racing through Eden, and facing Orphan; how it rose thick and choking around her, pressure on her chest and thick coils of magic dragging her under a cloud of purple-black until finally everything shattered around her in stabbing pains.
The feel of this is the same, the shattered summon rebounding on her with all of the strength it had used to call Bahamut, tainted purple-black with chaos. She doesn't even have the breath to scream, waves of pain washing through her as gate after gate slams down. She feels numb, adrift, nothing but the lances of pain and the crush of chaos magic, and even though she's certain she shouldn't be able to hear anything over the staggered beating of her own heart, floating in from somewhere is the faint echo of Caius' mocking laughter.
The pain builds, and with every shallow rasping breath she manages to draw she gets angrier. It had been Lightning and Serah's cause, before; and if it was Lightning's cause she would support it, no question - but she'd just woken from a second crystal slumber, had missed the entire affair. It hadn't been her cause.
But now... now Caius has taken something of hers. He's touched Bahamut, tried to warp him with chaos, made it so that she can't call him. Bahamut was a gift, a message from the Goddess to her. Bahamut is hers.
Now it's personal.
The pain flares suddenly, twin spikes of agony down her spine, but this is different; not magical pain, this time, not blades of power, but real like the slash of a knife. She's abruptly back in her body, can hear Caius laughing much louder now, hear Vanille screaming, feel the faint shimmer over her skin as Hope casts Curaga after Curaga. She's still on her feet, but barely, her body supported by another, forehead on their shoulder and a gloved hand tight on her arm, Lightning's ragged breathing in her ear.
"Fang-" Lightning breathes. "Come on, come on-"
She's gasping, trying to get enough breath to answer her, and then she feels like she's splitting open, hot trickle of blood down her back, and whatever she might have said is lost in her choked off scream.
For long moments, it's all she can do to breathe. Lightning's still talking, murmured words that Fang can't process, but she can listen, let them wash over her, something to focus on that's not the pain. I lost you, Lightning is saying, I lost you for years and then I lost myself, and now I've found you again I'm not going to lose you. Not again, not ever. Come on, Fang, just keep breathing, and so she does. She does. And with each gasping breath, the pain recedes.
"Ngh-" Fang says finally. Her back still aches, but all the stabbing pain is gone; she thinks she should be able to stand on her own and rejoin the battle, if it ever started. She lifts a hand to Lightning's shoulder and pushes herself upright - and nearly staggers backwards, unbalanced. It's only Lightning's speed that saves her from a tumble, snapping out her hands to grab Fang's shoulders and steady her.
"Fang-" Lightning breathes. "You have wings."
Fang glances over her shoulder, and sure enough, there they are - huge feathered wings, half again as tall as her. The feathers are black, with a red-orange sheen to them, and they feel warm behind her, air shimmering around them.
Lightning lifts one cautious hand towards them, fingers outstretched, and jerks back before she gets close. "They're burning," she says, eyes wide, and that's the second time today Lightning has looked like that, like she's lost. "Fang, do they hurt?"
Fang shakes her head, and without quite thinking about it, folds her wings in a little, so they take up less space. Now that she knows they're there, it's like she's always had them - she just knows where they are, like she knows the positions of her arms, her legs; automatically compensating for their weight.
"Warrior," Caius says, and he's not laughing any more. "What have you done?"
Fang pulls back from Lightning and turns towards Caius, folding her arms. She opens her mouth to tell Caius what she thinks of him; how dare he ask her what she has done when it was him who tried to steal Bahamut away; corrupted the summoning and caused the backlash in the first place. How dare he.
The rage boils up inside her, and when she speaks her voice is different - low and guttural, a rasp to her consonants.
"By the grace of Etro, emerge from the midnight void," Fang says. "Come forth, master of the rift."
"What are you saying?" Caius says, and he takes a step back.
"Shoulder the sky," Fang says. "Enfold the earth." She takes one slow step forward, then another. Her magic is wild, out of her control, but seemingly directed for all that; it's gathering under her skin, along her feathers, woven through with a cool tang.
"I control Bahamut," Caius says, "I control Bahamut. How are you doing this?"
"A name in blood," Fang says, "a pact of ruin. Bahamut shall rise, his bond eternal and unyielding." She shakes her wings out, and they're doing more than smouldering now, tiny flames licking at the edges of her feathers.
"This can't be happening," Caius says, and his voice is higher now, unsteady. "This was not in the visions!"
The power is nearly overwhelming now, tiny flames across the full length of her wings, and she unfolds her arms.
"Rain down hell," she grinds out, and shoves her hands forward. "Megaflare."
Her magic surges up, pouring out of her in a stream of light and slamming into Caius.
The world goes white-
"Fang," Lightning is saying. "Fang, open your eyes, Fang, please, please-"
She opens her eyes.
She's lying on the ground, gravel digging into her back and her wings sprawled awkwardly to either side. Lightning is kneeling over her, one hand bracing against the ground and the other gentle at the pulse point of her throat.
"Fang," Lightning says, eyes wild and relief heavy in her tone. "Fang, say something. Anything."
"You're here," Fang breathes, and her voice is her own again; she feels, not less, but different, alone again in her own skin. "You were calling me."
"I will always call for you," Lightning says, and her voice is shaking, "I will always come for you. I swear."
"Lightning," Fang says, and Lightning herself is shaking now, tremors that Fang can feel through the hand on her throat. "Lightning. Light. Come here."
She lifts one arm, touches Lightning on the shoulder, and that's all it takes; she almost crumples against her, although the hand at her throat stays gentle. "Shh," Fang breathes, and tilts her head to glance around.
Caius is on the ground some distance away, Serah and Noel crouched to either side of him. They're talking, too soft for Fang to make out what, but that's not important to her right now and she's sure she can catch up later. Everyone else is over near Caius too, facing away from them in what she assumes is some kind of attempt to give them some privacy.
"Hey," Fang says, and turns her face into Lightning's hair. "Hey, Light." Because it's all coming back to her; what Lightning was saying, when the summon backlash was surging through her and she could barely breathe - the words that gave her the strength to hang on, to fight her way through.
Lightning's breathing evens out through what Fang suspects is only sheer force of will, and she lifts her head a little. "Hm?"
"You're not going to lose me," Fang says. "I'm here, I'm right here, and you're never going to lose me again."
Lightning chokes out something inarticulate and tightens her grip.
"I swear," Fang says, and then takes a breath, trying to get the words right. Lightning deserves no less. "I would pledge myself to thee, Lightning Farron," Fang says, and Lightning jerks herself up, hair messy around her face and pink in her cheeks, staring wide and incredulous.
"Shh," Fang says. "I would pledge myself to thee, Lightning Farron," she says again. "I am Fang of the clan of Yun from the village of Oerba, and while I do not have much to offer-"
"Shut up," Lightning breathes, but she lifts the hand at Fang's throat to the side of her face, and her fingers are gentle on Fang's cheek. "I can't believe you," she says. "You spend years asleep and nearly die twice within the first hours of your awakening, and now you're, what is this?"
"While I do not have much to offer," Fang continues, because it must be obvious where she's going, even if the specifics are different to how they do things on Cocoon, and Lightning's not saying no, or shoving her away, "I would spend the rest of my days with you by my side. Lightning Farron, will you accept my pledge?"
Lightning takes an unsteady breath, and then another. "Fang of the clan of Yun from the village of Oerba," she says slowly, like she's trying to copy Fang's inflection, get the words right. "I am Lightning of the clan of Farron from the town of Bodhum, and I accept your pledge and pledge myself to you in turn."
"I accept," Fang says, and then lifts a hand to Lightning's cheek to copy her gesture, because she can. Because she's allowed now, because she spent weeks looking but not touching, watching and wondering whether Lightning felt the same, if she would ever-
"Did we just get engaged?" Lightning says, voice still a little wobbly, and Fang smiles.
"Don't tell Hope, you'll break his heart," she says, and is gratified when Lightning cracks a smile of her own.
"Snow already broke his heart," she says, "and he didn't even realise-" and then they're laughing together, and everything's going to be all right.
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Phoenix Fang by sqbr, comments to her DeviantArt.