Another day (another dawn)
She can't sleep.
Half the kids are tossing and turning, shuffling in their beds, and it seems like the entire other half are snoring. There's too much noise, and she's too hot, even though all the windows are cracked. There's not much of a breeze, but she needs to get out of here -- needs some fresh air, a moment of peace.
It's easy to slide the window next to her bunk open and slip out, heading across the square. It's late; Oerba is quiet, lights off in most of the houses. Everyone's in bed pretty early nowadays, asleep soon after the sun's down and up with its rising. There are more and more clan remnants trickling in, and that means more mouths to feed. Even the kids pull their weight, although some of them are getting too old to be kids anymore.
She comes up onto the jetty, feet slapping quietly on the wooden boards. She's getting too old to be a kid herself, really, but she was never a child; the orphan of Yun, grown up too fast. There's a war coming and everyone knows it -- she's not the first child who's seen her clan destroyed, and she's not going to be the last.
Once she's well over the water she flops down, feet dangling over the edge and head tipped back. There's nothing out here but the shushing of the water against the posts of the jetty and her own soft breathing -- and Cocoon, hanging over them like a vulture, its blue/green glow casting a dim light across the the bay.
She knows it's just a matter of time. She might still be a "kid" but she keeps her ears open, listens to what the traders out of Haerii and Paddra are saying. There's a war coming, and it's going to come soon.
They're building ships in Haerii, warships that will fly them to Cocoon. She's not one for mechanics, can't help with that, but at the change of the season, she's to have her trial, and be recognised as a Warrior of Yun before Anima. She can surely fight in the battle, fight for Pulse and what's left of her clan.
Her fingers itch for her lance, and she presses them against the jetty, matches her breathing to the shush of the waves. The war is coming, but it's not coming yet.
She can wait.
It's 0200 hours and she's out on the jetty. She's supposed to be working, but when she'd come back in to the station after that last call out Amodar had taken one look at her and ordered her home, never mind that she was only halfway through her second shift. She knows he's worried, about her, about the number of double shifts she's been pulling recently, but she doesn't know what to say.
She can't tell him that she only looks so exhausted because she's too tired to hide it; that she feels like this all the time. She can't tell him that Serah's the only thing that holding her together, that if it wasn't for her she thinks she would have fallen apart years ago -- that even now she feels ripped to shreds, grasping every day for the threads that can hold herself together.
She slumps down onto the jetty, Phoenix's silvery light shining gently down on her. It's been a long day of petty irritations and tedious bullshit, and she's physically exhausted. She knows that she's not normally this bad; knows that on an intellectual level, but here and now, she's too tired to fight the spiralling of her thoughts. She should be going home to Serah, but instead she's lying here under fal'Cie moonlight, just another thing she's not managing to do right. She's trying, she really is, but with every day that passes it becomes clearer to her that she's failing in all sorts of unexpected ways.
She doesn't know how to be a parent, and this latest thing with Serah is just another example. She's taken up with some hooligan, long hair and a trenchcoat and a massive attitude problem, and she doesn't know how to have that conversation with her, where she talks about her concerns without it descending into a screaming match. Serah's of age, mature and more than able to make her own decisions, but she's still young, she's still naive. She can still make mistakes, and when it comes right down to it, screaming arguments aside, Lightning's terrified.
And she has no idea how to handle that, really; she's been terrified since the Corps showed up on her doorstep with a flag and empty platitudes that ripped her whole world apart. She's dealing with it as best she can, like she always does -- which is to say by locking down as much as she can and trying to take control of the situation. Because if she's in control, she can re-cast the situation as a mission, and if she has a mission, she has progress goals and an end result and there's something she can do.
But this fear about Serah -- Lightning doesn't know what to do with that. Serah's her own person; she's not trying to control her life. She just wants her to be safe. She just wants to know that Serah has thought about things; wants to know that Serah's thought about all the dangers. How can this idiot know how precious Serah is? How is he going to keep her safe?
Serah is all Lightning's got left in this world. She can't lose her too.
III. War of Transgression
She should be asleep.
Vanille is, just up the hill. The orphanage has been repurposed as barracks, and all the beds are full, over a dozen people crammed in on the floor besides. She should be there, with them, getting some rest, but here she is instead, out on the jetty again. She's never been one for sleeping in close quarters, and there's a argument to be made that she would rest better out here than in there, and that's probably what she'll tell Vanille in the morning. The boards are rough under her shoulderblades, but it's mostly quiet, just the occasional whine of the wind and the slapping of the waves against the jetty posts. She's not going to sleep, though, not with how she feels right now.
Not with fal'Cie-given power shivering through her veins.
She's never felt like this before. The heat of battle is a rush, that sudden awareness of everything that's going on, feeling her heartbeat loud in her ears, a tingling in her muscles that lets her move -- but it's nothing compared to this.
She can feel the power, humming just under her skin. Even just touching her brand makes her hair feel like it's going to stand on end. Her and Vanille have been going out in the hills for two days now, practising their new magic, preparing for the assault, and it still hasn't settled. Vanille has, she can tell -- she's moving easy in her skin again, all back to normal. Fang, though --
She sighs, tilting her head back as Cocoon comes into view. The power, that heady feeling that she thinks she could fall into, could start craving harder than any drug, if she's not careful -- that's not the worst part.
It's the way people look her them. Look at her.
Everyone's hopes are resting on her and Vanille, and sometimes she wonders if her shoulders are wide enough to bear the weight. She's supposed to be the hero, the "Chosen One", but sometimes she wonders if Anima hadn't made a mistake after all. From where she is right now, she can frame Cocoon with her hands, but it's an illusion; she's only grabbing air. How is she supposed to make a scratch on the real thing?
Tomorrow they board their ship and fly to Haerii to join with the fleet; there's no time to waste, not with the brands on them both two days old and counting. No-one wants their heroes to become Cie'th. The forces from Paddra should be there by then, and then it'll be a short flight up to reach Cocoon. To try and crack a hole in the shell the serpents are hiding behind.
They've got a lot of firepower, along with her and Vanille, but she doesn't know how it can possibly be sufficient. They're going to have to use everything and anything they can to break through, and she's not sure it's going to be enough. Even if she embraces the power murmuring seductively at the back of her mind. She doesn't want to disappoint anyone, but she doesn't know how to do this. All she can do is try her hardest, and hope she doesn't fail.
Tomorrow, they go to war.
She spends her days marking time; sometimes she argues with Rosch in the Pulsian Council; sometimes she protects their hard-won farmland against the wild beasts that still roam the lands of Pulse. It's gone from hell to home in the space of a year; the main settlement is still Landing, in the hills above the Steppe, near the base of the Spire, but they've been trying to clear the old Pulse cities too. Oerba was first, and Snow gave her a long look when she demanded it but backed her all the way with the rest of the Council until they agreed. Now clear of Cie'th, with the buildings restored, it's where most of the ex-l'Cie have resettled.
As if there was any chance Lightning would have gone anywhere else.
Serah and Snow are married now, have their own house; Serah teaches the children in the refurbished school. Hope's dad is here, although Hope himself is back in Landing for now, studying with some academic or other. Sazh and Dajh are here too, and Sazh has tinkered enough with their communications that they can video conference in with the rest of the Council for meetings if needed.
She keeps herself busy, and spends time with the others, but when the days are over and the sun sinks beneath the waves, everyone goes home to their loved ones.
Everyone except her.
So here she is, sitting on the jetty with her back against a post, staring up at the crystal Spire where her heart rests, waiting until she's tired enough that she thinks she might be able to sleep. She's exhausted, physically, but she knows herself well enough to know that until she's tired she'll just lay there with her head on the pillow staring into the darkness for another night, and right now, she doesn't know if she can handle that.
She's lonely, and here, in the still of the night, she can admit that, even if only to herself. She didn't know what she needed until it rode into her life on the back of Snow's bike, and now that it's gone, she doesn't know how she managed to survive her entire life without Fang there by her side; her sly grin and her mocking laughter, the companionable shoulder knocks, trusting her to have her back in battle.
She's lonely, and missing Fang, and she's just marking time, waiting. The Cie'thstone outside Oerba was pretty specific, after all. l'Cie who rest upon Cocoon will reawaken, however long they may wait. She's a bit hazy on the details, but she's pretty sure the four of them -- Hope, Snow, Sazh, and herself -- were crystal for a while there, and they woke. Serah was crystal, and woke. So Vanille and Fang -- they have to wake. They have to.
She settles back against the post, letting her head tip back. She's nearly there, nearly tired enough to sleep. Maybe she'll sleep right here; Vanille had made a comment, when they were here last, frightened and weary but together, at least, about Fang sleeping out on the jetty and Fang had laughed, cuffed her on the back of the head, but didn't deny it. The thought doesn't hurt as much as it should, and Lightning's aware that she has a problem, but it's not one she can solve by herself. She's doing the best she can here, waiting for the time when it will solve itself.
Waiting for her heart to wake.
V. Long time coming
Even years later, she still likes to lay on the jetty, late at night, and watch the glow of Cocoon. Even when the wind isn't singing to her, there's still something calming about it; being alone with the rustle of a breeze, the soft surrusus of the waves. It's always helped her to clear her thoughts, even when she wasn't thinking of much at all. Sometimes she just needs to be alone.
Sometimes, of course, what she actually needs is --
"Hey," Lightning says, face coming into view upside-down, hair swinging over her shoulder tickling the end of Fang's nose. "I was wondering where you were."
"Nah," Fang says, smiling, and stretches her arms up over her head, arms brushing against Lightning's boots. "You knew where I was."
Lightning smiles, the glow from the crystal Spire lighting points in her hair; in the Yun clan pendant that hangs around her neck; the bracelet of troth around her wrist.
"Yeah," Lightning says, and steps over Fang's arms to settle on the jetty beside her, hip to hip, shoulder to shoulder in the night. Together.