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Champagne and Brandy

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Lightning leaned against the pillar, watching the lantern light flicker on the wavering surface of the canal. Her dress felt unfamiliar on her skin, beautiful though it was; long and straight, the color balancing somewhere between golden and ivory. She was acutely aware of every alien thing about how she looked tonight: the few, tightly-curled strands of hair allowed free of their combs to brush the creamy skin of her shoulders bared by the sweeping neckline, the heavy pendants swinging from her earlobes (crystal to match the beading covering her dress), the layers of strangely-scented powders on her face. The silk mask was no less familiar than anything else, really. It wasn’t that she didn’t like it, just that it was… strange.

She shook herself, jewelry clinking, and returned her attention to the crowds, trying not to stand like a soldier. She doubted she’d ever see anything as beautiful as the city at Carnival; every arch and gondola illuminated, every spire and dome shining, every square brilliant with torchlight, and every square inch full of people dressed to kill. Even with her eyes closed, the smell of smoke and sweat and grease and spice flooded her nose, almost drowning out the reek of the canals, and she could hear the soundtrack of the festival – talking, laughing, shouting, eight thousand street musicians all playing different songs. It was beautiful.

She scanned the crowd, almost reflexively. Serah was across the canal dancing with an absolute bear of a man; she could see two girls dressed as Harlequins feeding each other sweets; a man in purple carried a little girl over the bridge on his shoulders. Her happy people-watching was suddenly interrupted by fingers tapping her (bare) shoulder and making her nearly jump out of her skin. Scolding herself, she turned to face her approacher: a girl in an enormous white hat, with green eyes sparkling out of a rose-embroidered mask and a firm grasp on her companion’s wrist. “Hi,” the intruder announced. She yanked on the captive wrist and shoved her friend between her and Lightning. “She wants to dance with you."

Lightning blinked twice, once as she tried to figure out the situation and once as she sized up the girl in front of her. Gleaming black hair was swept up under a wide-brimmed hat with a three-foot plume. The blue velvet tailcoat did nothing to disguise her womanhood; nor did the ruffles running from her throat to the base of the shirt. A slight blush was creeping out from under the feather-edged mask, and Lightning realized she was being presented with a rueful smile. “Sorry about this,” her semi-reluctant suitor offered. “She’s impossible. Um, would you like to dance?” Lightning frowned and glanced her over again from knee-high boots to that ridiculous hat, noting the friendly look to the other woman’s reddish-brown eyes. That decided her. Awkwardly, she stretched out her hand to the other woman. With only slightly more confidence, Tifa took it and raised it to her lips.