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One Night in Palumpolum

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PALUMPOLUM ALLEYWAY

"Doesn't look like we'll be going anywhere for a while." Fang sashayed back into the cozy sunlight alleyway where she and Lightning had been hiding. "Entire city blocks are locked down."

"I've made it through worse." Lightning sat impatiently on a wooden crate. "I can do it again, with or without you." She leapt down and blew past Fang who hastily grabbed her arm.

"Easy, soldier girl." Lightning stopped long enough for Fang to say her piece. "You'd leave a trail of destruction right to your friend's front door." She did make sense. "They'll sweep this area then move on, it'll be easier then."

Lightning wrested her arm free but stood in place, she knew Fang was right. "I don't like waiting. We're too vulnerable here."

"There's rooftop gardens that will hide us from view. And neither of us are much of a slouch should PSICOM come down this way..." Taking lance in hand, Fang lightly tapped it twice on the stone walkway. "Nothing we can't handle." She hopped up onto the crate where Lightning had been sitting and stretched out, making herself comfortable. "Just as well." She yawned. "Could use a rest..." She rubbed a still sore cheek. "Especially after that."

Lightning folded her arms and watched Fang nurse the red mark across her face. "You deserved it."

"I'm not complaining." Fang chuckled, "Not many are so bold." She looked to Light, "I'll watch my tongue."

"Good." Lightning impatiently tapped her fingertips along her arms. "The sweep can't take too long."

"Hopefully Snow and your friend can hide as well as us... Hopefully your friend is leading the way."

"He's fourteen."

"Then he sounds overqualified to lead Snow." Lightning began to smile but stopped herself, Fang catching just a glimpse of it.

"He's smart." Lightning conceded. "Has a long way to go, but- I have faith in him."

"High praise," Fang smiled to her, "-coming from someone like you." Lightning didn't take it the way Fang was hoping, ignoring her. "I was trying to say you seem very adept." Lightning turned to her. "I'm giving you a compliment."

Lightning acknowledged that with a faint nod, casting her eyes downward slightly. "Thank you."

"A woman of few words."

"A soldier trying to fight a war."

 

"A war?" Fang looked about the quiet sun-washed alleyway, she could smell cherry pie cooling on a windowsill somewhere. "Yes... It truly is hell on earth right about now..."

"We say the same about Pulse." At least Fang got Lightning talking, she was worried they'd spend an hour in dead silence.

Still, that comment was not about to be ignored. "Gran Pulse. You say the same about Gran Pulse." It wasn't the first time she had heard someone describe Gran Pulse that way. "Gran Pulse is as much hell on earth as this alleyway, and it makes me think the people of Cocoon don't understand what that phrase means."

"Wild and untamed, dangerous." Lightning added. "That's what it means."

"Which is so much better than having PSICOM hunt you down for even coming close to a l'Cie." Fang was the one aggravated now. "Truly, this is heaven!"

"It would have been if you never arrived."

"Do you honestly believe that?" Fang leapt off her crate and walked over to Lightning. "I have not harmed one innocent, nor have I threatened you or yours." Lightning stood tall, not about to back down from her. "All I want is to find Vanille." She tapped along her white brand. "Find Vanille and put things right." Fang became slightly emotional as she spoke. "Can you understand that?"

It didn't take long for Lightning to respond, dropping a bit of stubbornness from her voice. "Yes." The pair looked to each other's eyes. Lightning admitted, "I'm sorry." She wasn't sure what else to say, "I'm sure you're very nice."

"Not really." Fang laughed, "People have called me kind, but not nice." She backed down a bit, helping Lightning relax. "I suppose we both have loved ones we're fighting for."

"We do." Lightning nodded to her, dropping her guard slightly as Fang backed off. "I prefer to keep my mind on the task at hand. Serah's very important to me."

"And Vanille to me." Fang now completely dropped any aggressive posturing she took.

Lightning seemed to appreciate Fang's actions and tried to make peace. "It's good to be working beside someone who understands." Fang nodded to her, walking back to her crate to rest in the shade. "But I don't like waiting."

"Believe me, I know. Every moment we wait is another one where Vanille is exposed. But you're a soldier, you know sometimes you need to lie low."

"The moment their sweep has passed us..." Lightning began.

Fang grinned to her, "We're on our way, and nothing will stop us." Fang believed, from the faint look of approval on Lightning's face that she won some respect with the girl. It was a start.

#

PALUPOLUM STREETS

The sweep passed and they were able to make headway again. Crossing the bridge running alongside a waterfall it looked like the worst was behind them.

"We're close." Lightning and Fang had a moment of calm, looking forward to scant pockets of resistance. "Try the cell." Light suggested. There was a golden glow about the place, the evening sun casting long shadows from every point.

Fang took a seat on a wide stairwell, "Alright, let's get Snow on the line." Fang raised the cellphone to her ear but the moment she turned it on a loud static screech is the only thing which came. "Aaah-" She held it away from her, "Damn thing's still jammed." She snapped it shut, "He can take care of himself."

"We'll just have to believe that." Lightning paused, wondering something. "Hey, Fang."

"Hmm?"

"The others are safe right?" She thought of Hope, worrying about the kid. "If any of us got caught, they'd make an announcement."

"Yeah they would." She almost spoke sarcastically, "They'd have to let everyone know that the big bad l'Cie can't hurt them no more." Sighing and speaking candidly, "These Coccoon people, bunch of cowards and blowhards."

Lightning paced back and forth before her, "These Cocoon people have spent centuries under fal'Cie law, in constant fear of a Pulse invasion. If it weren't for Serah, I'd have been out there too. Hunting l'Cie." A waterfall beside them, Lightning casually walked to the railing as she continued, "Would have been nothing but targets to me." She might not have had many qualms about hunting Fang down at least, realizing just how close she was to hunting so many friends.

Fang offered her an olive branch, remembering that Light might feel about her homeland as she felt about Gran Pulse. "Well, Gran Pulse is just as twisted..." She described what she had been told, "Cocoon's just a floating nest of vipers, ready to strike." She looked down at the brick streets, "Or so I thought..."

"So, you became a l'Cie to fight the vipers?" Lightning didn't seem to pick up on Fang's waning tone. "And destroying the nest is your..." She could feel the brand on her chest. "Hm, I mean, our focus now."

Fang climbed to her feet, walking to meet her. "Until we woke up here, we'd been in crystal stasis." Standing beside Lightning, she had to admire the view. "Which means, we must have completed our first focus..." If only she could remember, leaning on the railing she groaned and showed her frustrations, "Why can't I remember that part?! My childhood's clear as day... but the one thing I need, it's just, gone. Blank. Like an empty page. I reach for the memory, and nothing's there..." She started to descend the stairwell as Lightning followed. "Then there's my brand, it's all messed up." It had been so long since she had confided in someone, and maybe Lightning could understand. Fang had to wonder what was beneath that stubborn layer. She wasn't the bitch she first came across as, maybe Lightning wouldn't be either. Showing her burned white brand to Lightning she continued, "Vanille and me, we lost our past, and our focus."

It seemed to work, slowly Lightning softened. "And now, you want to find them? Be a Pulse l'Cie." Said without the venom of some past remarks. "An enemy of Cocoon?"

"Why does everyone follow up saying 'Pulse l'Cie' by reiterating that they're enemies of Cocoon?"

"Force of habit." Light sighed.

"Doesn't matter." Fang shrugged the whole thing off, hopping down a step and standing with her back to Lightning. "Pulse and Cocoon can rot for all I care! If I don't figure out our focus soon, Vanille's gonna be a Cie'th."

Looking to the heavens, Fang said something which Lightning would never forget. "I'll tear down the sky if it'll save her."

Lightning opened her mouth to speak but nothing came. They stood in the moment, looking up to the golden sky. Fang feeling so alone, just needing someone to listen. She had told Snow about her and Vanille, but as good as the guy was she couldn't relax around him.

As the silence continued, Fang decided to keep moving, taking a few more steps down the stairwell. Stopping when Lightning spoke again, "Hey..."

"Hm?" Fang turned around as Lightning slowly came down to join her on one of the landings. "We should keep moving."

Lightning had something to say but no idea how to say it. "I-" She stammered, she never stammers. She couldn't believe it. "I just..."

Fang placed her hands on her shoulders, giving Light time to speak. She looked slightly bemused, something must to have gotten to her. What could it be? "Got something to say?"

Lightning shook her head, there was but she just couldn't find the words. Sighing, "Nothing. Let's keep moving... You've still got point."

That certainly wasn't nothing, Fang knew that much.

 

Wait a minute... "Hey Lightning."

"Call me Light."

Fang decided to try a small experiment, even if she was half afraid at the answer. "Did you see Vanille's brand?"

"No." A simple answer.

Fang wondered if Lightning even knew where Vanille's brand was. She decided to try something else, "No, huh?". She led Lightning around a bend before asking her, "Want to know how long it is until Cie'th city? Just look at your brand." Fang handn't seen Light's brand either, but knew it had to be somewhere on her chest, she had seen everywhere else. Sure enough when she told Lightning, the soldier turned herself around to check, and Fang knew it had to be there. "You start getting more arrows... And then finally an eye." She began to explain, "Once it opens all the way, you're done." As Lightning unzipped her brown top just enough to expose it, Fang capitalized on the opportunity. "Let's have a look." She casually turned Lightning back towards her, noting how Lightning made the same hushed noises as before. Fang nearly purred, "Don't be shy..."

"Okay..." Lightning hadn't met anyone as forward as Fang, and wanted to believe her approval came from simply not being prepared for this.

"Hmm... Nowhere near. You've got time." Fang finished up her inspection, letting Lightning have some privacy back. "Still, you never know..." Lightning would have been relieved at the news if she had been listening to any of it. She was still shocked that she let Fang in so close. Anyone else would have been given a bloody nose, and she knew she wasn't exactly afraid to strike Fang. "Some people, doesn't take so long." Lightning quickly zipped up her top, barely listening to Fang. "You get a nasty shock, it can speed up the process..." Fang walked to a stone wall and thought aloud, "Vanille's brand must be pretty far along by now. I've got to save her and get her home." Said with such conviction.

Lightning's mind was wandering, "To Pulse you mean?"

Light knew what was coming. "To Gran Pulse." Fang had her back to Lightning, who was somewhat glad for that. It meant that Fang couldn't see the look on her face. "I hear the Sanctum prevents people from leaving Cocoon. Willingly." Fang for her part was enjoying this, even smiling. She had to wonder, checking Lightning's brand was a little too easy. Maybe if she flexed a little bit, "I'd like to see 'em try and stop me."

Lightning managed to say something, "So, that's your plan. Wish I had one." She really did. "Without Serah, without a future... There's nothing to plan for. There's no way out of this mess, and no way to fight it." As Fang had confided in her, Lightning began to feel comfortable enough to speak her mind. "I'm stuck trading blows with the Sanctum, but that's no plan." Fang leaned up against the brick wall, listening intently to Light speak. "Even if we topple the government, where's that leave us?" For Fang, it was a glimpse into the mind of the soldier trying to fighting a war, one that soldier was quickly realizing there was little point in fighting. "With nothing to fight for, I might as well be dead."

Fang wasn't having any of that. "Your sister." Fang looked on sympathetically, walking around Lightning. She had the soldier's attention, "You've got plenty to fight for." The more they spoke, the more Fang had to wonder. There was a piece to this puzzle missing, but she hadn't quite figured it out. "Think about it! Don't you want to see Serah after she wakes up?" She saw she was getting through to Lightning. "That's your future right there. All you've gotta do, is survive." She laughed faintly, "It's simple!"

"Right..." Lightning wasn't convinced of that. If she weren't fighting an enemy, she was stuck living her life. That wasn't simple. Serah and Snow, being a Pulse l'Cie, and then there was whatever effect Fang was having on her. In the space of a few minutes, Fang had left her speechless and she had even allowed her to check her brand. Lightning was put on the back heel, and she didn't like it. She was about to ask Fang to stop when PSICOM troops raced overhead causing enough noise to nearly burst their eardrums.

"Snow..."

"They found 'em!" Fang and Lightning watched as Felix Heights came under attack, an explosion tearing through a rooftop plaza. Their conversation was hastily put aside as both rushed towards it.

 

Moments later they were on a terrace in Felix Heights. Fang's introduction to Hope rather impressed her. "Not bad, kid!" She found the boy singlehandedly fighting a machine ten-times his size.

"Where's Snow?!" Lightning was right behind her.

"He's okay!"

That was all Fang needed to hear, finally a chance to draw her weapon and throw-down. Even if she had begun to wonder about Lightning. "Sure you're up to this?"

"Thing'll never know that hit it!" Lightning was grateful for this, finally a target. She could destroy it, it'd fall, and that'd be the end. If only...