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Afflatus Misery

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A hypercube of hope lay within the Tesseracts, prior to the Narthex, before the Nascent Throne; before Fang's Crystal Throne. From the sun-drenched overpass of the present, Lightning remembered:

"I call Point," said Fang, stepping to the fore of the group. "Looks like Eden's waiting for us. A gold one this time! We should…" She turned. Only Lightning was present, about-face. "What in the hell?" Fang approached her statuesque leader, hands upon her hips. "Hey, Light? Where's the others? You think they got left behind somehow?"

A drifting silence, drifting; drifting as the fuchsia did, as the information did, overhead. Lightning stared into the recesses of the distance before her. Information, migrant, and unable to settle into one form, one place, she understood. Her understanding was marked by an acceptance of the fluidity of her knowledge, of people.

This was a Cradle but for one Orphan—not her.

"Yo, Light!—" tried Fang, head slanted before her—in her personal space. "—Anybody in there?"

Lightning decoded her silence as such, "I'm thinking they were transported someplace else, by accident."

Fang assumed the remainder of the space blocking the recesses. "So that's what you think? This is just one big accident, huh? It ain't like you to kid around…" Alert, Fang turned, searching. Sight for Lightning became a sheen of sweat-scented dark, smooth-scented drapes and sharp shadows of Kain's Lance; all surrounded by data. "Never would've figured the fal'Cie made mistakes. They're not human, after all. Then again, l'Cie ain't exactly human, neither…"

"Everyone makes mistakes," said Lightning. "Or everything, I should say. They're pretty hard to avoid."

"Right…" Fang's steps were clear-cut, as were her hunting eyes as she turned her head this way and that. "Why is it that I have such a hard time believing you for once? Something wrong?" Her sidelong search stopped. Lightning returned the regard, head-on. "Hmm…I'll take that as a no. You're just as confused as I am, anyway!" That smile. Lightning held onto the gift, unable and unwilling to return it, not even after Fang resumed her searching. "We'll figure this out, don't worry. Any ideas on what to do?"

Such pressing matters pressed Lightning down, farther into the hexagonal flooring so unyielding. Reasonable ideas floated aloft, indisposed to seizure. Even with her head camouflaged so in the knowledge, that was of no assistance to Lightning.

Fang caught on. "What's with you, soldier? Look, whatever you have in mind, just lay it on me. I don't think sitting around waiting is doing us much good. The others might be in trouble somewhere!"

"Then we fight, and keep going. Together." Lightning walked away, towards Eden. "Hopefully, we'll find them again before the last fight. Stay by my side." Battle would, perhaps, keep her mind from wandering. Temporary respites from such reprieves were both welcome and unwelcome. The same could be said of Fang lagging behind. Lightning stopped just before the fal'Cie. "You coming?"

An amused sound reached her as Fang ambled the small distance between them. "So much for me calling Point," said Fang.

Lightning, not amused, replied, "So much for you staying by my side."

"If it makes you feel any better," drawled Fang, sounding pleased, "I'm still here. And if we ever get separated, we'll find each other. That's a promise! How 'bout you?" Humbled, Lightning nodded her promise. Shoulder-to-shoulder, they stood, unerring before the fal'Cie Eden surrounded by the shining Cradle. "Those first two battles were a cinch," recalled Fang. The hint of excitement in her voice echoed deep within Lightning. Echoing, slanting supposed intractable tangents with ease. "I feel like I can trust you with my life, you know. It's a nice feeling, especially right now."

"You can," assured Lightning. "I trust you with my life, too. We're a great team, Fang. Don't worry. We'll find the others soon."

Fang hummed her agreement. "I know we will. Something just tells me this was no mistake. Getting to fight with only you by my side, so close to the last showdown…"

A glance in Fang's direction, lingering, sealed Lightning's resolve. The timing forced skepticism to the background. The words Lightning wished to speak became the momentary tense of her hand. At the same time, both women reached with their finger. They found the hand they wished to hold, and seized it. The action was not hesitant, nor imbalanced in its wishes.

Lightning's reason willed her to believe, at the time, that she was foolish for thinking such things.

Don't Linger.

Transported in a flash of gold, together, down into the likes of height amid stylized windows and depth. Columns of extravagance: patterns of exclusive lightning accented their surroundings. Though the area was enclosed, there was no ceiling Lightning could see. Covering that expanse of height overhead, the Tiamat Eliminator—a Militarized, winged annihilator—descended upon Lightning and Fang as they readied their weapons. The patterned floor beneath them reflected indigo, with carvings of their shadows, prepared. Enemy Intel, secured: a fight to an arctic death. Lightning was no slave to defeat.

Damage was the priority.

In the air, level with the enemy, scores of magic symphonized from Lightning with Fang's assault from the ground. Grenades of ice battered them, freezing the body before detonating. Now that the fighting power was down to two, Lightning had to re-adjust her instinct to shift roles. Through the successive attacks of ice from the airborne Eliminator, she listened with her logic for signs of needing to convalesce. Likewise, Fang had her back. This battle was a matter of trust over strategy; unity instead of singular strength.

"Hey! Lightning!" shouted Fang, between swipes of her arm from de-buffing. "You've got me, right?"

Already healing, Lightning shouted back over the cacophony of combat, "Yeah, Fang! I've got you!"

Fang's smirk was signal enough to summon the portals of a new paradigm about their persons once again. Damage from Lightning's magic; damage from Fang's lance. Together, in mid-air, they double-teamed the Eliminator for as long as they could manage. After their acrobatics, a breather on the ground was needed. Recovery time was swift. Attacking in sync once again was imperative. Chain boosting: crucial. The grenades of ice became mere consecutive inconveniences of vapor over time.

Strength was the priority.

Lightning fought through her pain, through her doubts, through the worries of purgatory. Concentration chiseled her unwanted emotions into something useful. As steadfast as Fang's cobalt defense she became. Assailants of Lightning's guard reared stronger as she healed. Grew stronger as she fought. Soared stronger over her sight as she sought a way out of this misery of mêlée. So many options, but through it all, she needed to win, with Fang.

Resolve chilled to unbreakable, Lightning embodied the unstoppable with such strength at her side. Implications manifest, she fought to rid herself of such thoughts, such feelings. Lightning would surrender to no one.

"I'm no one's slave!"

Not Fang, not Orphan, not Cocoon, not the fal'Cie. No one; not even fate. Nothing.

Decisive strikes from Ultima Weapon delivered her verdict. Illusions of hesitation to the onlooker were anything but. Calculated determination, moving, stirring, and shaping the flow of battle. Lightning continued to strike, making the most of the light in the room to hit her recoiling target's weak spots. Fang maximized Lightning's efforts, doubling her own damage output. Lightning's efforts, too, doubled; back-flips and kicks, shots so precise, harm so pronounced it wounded her to stop and wonder.

A slave to indignity through denial. Openness and sincerity, no matter how humiliating, are a notch less than this habit.

Now was not the time. Now was not optimal. Now wasn't right, nor wrong, nor objective. Fighting was now. Fighting with Fang by her side was the moment. So difficult, it was, to hold the pieces of reality together while battling in a subset of actuality. Reflexes were paramount. Realizations were incorporated in this vitality. The enemy refused to wait for her to catch up with the pace of cohesiveness.

After the Tiamat Eliminator's transformation, Lightning learned of the pain of being battered by a storm of lasers. The first was tolerable; the second, larger, was not. Lightning flinched, unused to such rough treatment from projections of light. Right beside her, Fang did the same. Lightning's pain belonged to Fang—all of it. They had to be in this together, completely, or they would meet their end. Lightning worked to heal her comrade, her priority.

Trust was the priority, the precedence, and primacy. This was no mistake.

Upon its staggering, Fang ejected the annihilator high amid the luminescence. Beauty in motion and in strength described Fang as she leapt to maintain her damage output. Lightning assisted. Working in cycles, they kept the Eliminator airborne. Lightning sensed Fang's morale increase second by second. It sated Lightning, swelling her from her core on out. Fatigue was illusory in the scope of her drive—their drive.

"C'mon!" rallied Fang, both of them soaring in the midst of decadence; "We can do this, Light! We can do this! Just a bit more…"

A simultaneous strike of their blades trounced the enemy. Fang was quick to rejoice as she and Lightning descended for the final time. Gone in a fluid erasure was the Tiamat Eliminator. Gone was the notion that Fang was all Lightning needed to conquer her goals.

Vanished, was her reason.

Lightning registered Fang's clamp on her shoulder before her return to the ground. Shock dulled her senses, from how simple the battle had been despite a few surprises. She stared out the sightless windows, unable to think.

Fang spoke her thoughts, "We were in sync, weren't we? You and me make quite the team! I think maybe we should lose the others more often!" She looked about, expecting to be transported back to the Tesseracts at any moment now. Disappointed, she said: "Well…so much for your theory about the others, Light. Looks like they're probably stuck in one of these places, just like we are. You think this is a coincidence?"

"No," said Lightning, "two mistakes in a row like this can't be a coincidence." Aimless, she walked toward a window, swept away in disorder. "Someone's messing with us. If they're listening, I hope they know this isn't funny."

"So we're stuck here," chuckled Fang, following her, "big deal! If Orphan's busy messing with us, then it's no threat to the rest of Cocoon. Keep cool, and let it have its fun! We'll get through this."

As Lightning neared the ornate window, she narrowed her eyes from the luster. "I know that. It still doesn't mean I accept this. I don't appreciate being toyed with!" While inspecting the nearby wall, she gave an order: "Help me, Fang. There has to be a way out of here."

"I wouldn't be so sure about that," said Fang, somewhere behind her.

Lightning dismissed her companion's nonchalance, still searching. "Even if there isn't, you're going to look with me and make sure."

"And what if I refuse?"

Lightning turned, slowly, wondering if her ears had deceived her. Upon seeing Fang's impasse in her expression, Lightning's bewilderment relented. In the face of uncertainty, she wanted to be hopeful, daring; bold. "You're kidding, right?" she asked instead. "Tell me you are, and I'll forget you said that."

"Why would I kid around with you?" asked Fang. Lightning stared at her. "What? Why're you looking at me like I just insulted you? I did no such thing!"

Lightning went back to her search of the walls patterned in shadows. "Oh, I don't know. I'd like to say you insult my intelligence."

Fang didn't miss a beat. "So do you. Only I wouldn't like to say it—I have."

There was no time in the repartee to turn and face her. "Good to know you're so direct with me, Fang. I appreciate it."

"I'll say." Lightning heard Fang's unhurried approach. Sandals were a muffled scuff against the cobalt underfoot. The tips of Lightning's fingers ached to fin somethin in the thin crevices before her An escape from the confrontation, from the situation: above all else, an escape. "We just conquered the impossible together—the two of us, on our own." Still nothing. Fang wasn't stopping, either. "Now here you are, jumping at the gun to get out of here and away from me. You sure nothing's wrong?"

Half-way: Fang was half-way away, half-way close. Half-way between credible and unbelievable, as she always was.

Lightning paused her search, feeling like a mime with her hands lingering on the wall. "We need to find the others," she said, unpretentious; "This has nothing to do with you." She turned her head, adjusting to the glare of the window. Readying for the unknown of Fang's proximity in such a situation. "What if they're in danger, Fang? They could be lost. Or worse—dead. That includes Vanille."

"Vanille and me have a strong connection. I trust my instincts to know she's all right. I also trust the others to take care of things without us for a while." Fang stopped, next to her. They stood shoulder-to-shoulder once again, facing each other yet looking elsewhere, akin to swords pointed at one another. "Now that we're here, alone, I want to know something. I expect you to tell me the truth."

Now's not the time for indifference. In the end, it amounts to nothing. In the end, we are nothing. There's no need for extra baggage once we've arrived. Confrontation is healthy—it expels obstinacy.

Lightning held steadfast to her figurative blade with the grit of her grimace. "What is it?"

"Are you done playing martyr?" asked Fang, inclining her gaze downward, then off to the side—so precise. Her meaning was clear; clear-cut. "You may think you're doing us a favor by staying quiet, but I don't."

"Is that it?" Lightning fixed her stance to face Fang. "You want me to talk? Open up to you?"

Fang folded her arms, too tight for comfort's sake. "You make it sound like I should be pointing even more fingers at you. By all means, Lightning, grab my hands and make me point."

"So this is your idea of spending time with me?" Lightning crossed the small pace between them, and affixed her feet to the floor. Fang's hands enticed her. "We're stuck here, and you want to point fingers at me. How comforting."

"I ain't pointing at you," replied Fang, "not right now."

"Nice to know we're getting somewhere." The sarcasm was mechanical, defensive, and rusty. She tasted the oxidation in her throat. Fang's uniformity enforced her discomfort, dragging the vile tang down to her chest and stomach. With narrowed eyes, Lightning voiced a different sentiment, "Why do you care?"

Fang turned around. She began to pace the circumference of the room at her leisure. Lightning followed.

Nothing was spoken, nor shared, beyond the harmony in their steps as they walked about the chilled room. Fang was an extension of the floor in its color scheme, yet their purposes contradicted one another—Lightning and the windows spoke a similar tale. Lightning contemplated means of escaping the room with the aid of an Eidolon. The walls around them were not endless. The ceiling above had to lead somewhere. She had faith that the others were all right, wherever they were.

In the mean time, figuring her way out of this rhetorical hole was in order. Estimated alone time upon escape was imprecise.

Lightning soldered her reluctance and common sense together, using what she hoped was luck to bind them together. She held Fang's hand, eyes widening when the woman continued walking ahead of her. When Lightning quickened her pace, Fang did the same. This would have continued had Lightning not found the sense to jerk Fang's hand back.

"Okay, Fang," she said, stepping in front of her, "you win."

Lightning had her hand. She had her close. She had Fang's attention, and still she did nothing. How easy it would be to act. How simple it would be to continue staring. Her inability alone had to give her away. Fang was unreadable as she read her, word for word, letter for letter. Lightning felt the hold in their continued silence—light, simplistic. There was no rush, nor confusion, nor accusation about Fang.

The silence smoothed to sheen, gleaming in all its patience. Their proximity proved less pronounced in its novelty, giving way to familiarity. Feeling what to do next was all Lightning could do, to make sense of things. The subtle manner of the perfumed sweat and salted skin about both of them helped, somehow.

Fang protested not to the hand on her waist. Lightning wanted to move; she wanted to stop. She wanted to do more; she wanted to erase what she'd done and still wanted to do. With Fang's olive skin and the shadows of the room, detecting signs of progress was limited. Silence could only go so far.

"Hmm," Fang hummed, "this must be your way of being shy with me. Never would've taken you to be like this, that's for sure."

Alarms sounded within Lightning's head. She pulled away, looking elsewhere. There had been too much neutrality in Fang's words.

Before Lightning could move away, she felt Fang strengthen the grip of their hands. "Now, now, Light," spoke Fang, "don't be like that. I know you're new to this…"

"I'm not," countered Lightning, unable to look at her.

Fang's eyebrows rose; her lips curled inward. "That's news to me," she muttered. Lightning nearly erupted from an embarrassment so sudden and stringent. "If you're no amateur, then why're you hesitating? I haven't pushed you away, have I?"

"You haven't," said Lightning, regarding her anew; "you also haven't pulled me in, either. I've been hovering someplace in the middle for the longest with you, Fang." Again, that smile—so effortless in quality, boundless in the quantity of motions it set about within. Words eluded Lightning for far longer than she liked. "…what is it?"

"Here's your ticket to freedom. Don't bother asking why I'm giving it to you. Use it wisely."

After licking her lips with a smirk, Fang closed her eyes.

Lightning knew how to use this freedom. The circumstance was incredible—not credible. She didn't want to trust it. Trusting Fang outside of battling and journeying together seemed a thorny suggestion; Fang's face, now beneath her other hand, was not. Lightning waited, hesitated, unable to silence her mind. Even the cool light surrounding them did more to Fang than she did, more than she could, more than she would allow.

This aversion t trying as a sharp, steep downside of this ardor she held, harbored, and hated.

"Just admit it," spoke Fang, "you're shy when it comes to me." She opened her eyes, with enough knowing that it passed as arrogance to Lightning's discriminating judgment. "Admit your feelings with words, Light. I promise you'll feel loads better once you do. Take my word for it."

A stun detained Lightning. She was unsuccessful in getting Fang to let go of her hand. She should have known this would happen… "Let—go—of my damn hand already!"

Fang maintained her grip, and her stance. "Just tell me how y'feel about me, and I'll let you go—"

"—don't you have anything better to do?—"

She never does.

"—we're stuck down here—"

"—we're not—"

She never takes anything seriously.

"—we are—"

"—are not—"

Never. Not even this. Not even you. Don't waste your time.

Lightning retrieved her Eidolon crystal, and tossed it into the air. With the same hand, she used Ultima Weapon to shoot the gemstone, summoning Odin in a coil of pink and petals. The suddenness startled Fang enough to make her let go of Lightning's hand. Lightning mounted her Eidolon, blades in hand, charging toward the only wall devoid of successive windows. Fang ran after her.

"Hang on!" shouted Fang, pole-vaulting onto Odin. After landing side-saddle, Fang grabbed hold of Lightning. "You've lost it! What's gotten into you?—"

"Carve us a path!"

Against the wall, Lightning carved with the added strength of her Eidolon, striking her blades with little success. At this, Lightning had Odin gallop upward, spiraling aloft near the walls and windows. She held her blades at either side, well aware of Fang's vice-like hold on her waist stripping away her earlier enmity.

Lightning searched overhead for the ceiling, still seeing endless windowpanes, and rising darkness where a ceiling should have been. She thought of the others, wondering if they, too, resorted to using their Eidolons in such a manner. Sazh and Brynhildr came to mind.

Odin continued his path, unrelenting. Lightning focused on keeping him summoned, hoping he wouldn't depart before they found their way out. If Odin couldn't make it, Fang had Bahamut.

"Lightning," spoke Fang, in her ear, "I know, I pissed you off. I shouldn't've said what I did. How was I supposed to get a decent word out, with you looking at me the way you did?" Fang's hold relaxed. Lightning allowed her limbs to do the same. Concentrating grew difficult. "I appreciate your eyes, Light. You see something in me. I wish I knew what it was. Maybe I could…tell you you're wrong, tell you you're only seeing things. Then again, you'd never let yourself be lead astray. Maybe I could be wrong?"

Lightning turned her head, to avoid shouting. "You're talking in circles, you know."

"We're both going in circles," observed Fang. "Or should I say the three of us?" She nodded to Odin. A pause. "How long can he hold out? There ain't no ceiling I can see. Can't see the ground from all the way up here, neither."

"Not much longer…" She wanted to ad thanks to you, but dismissed it as inappropriate. "We didn't come all this way to lose like this. There's no way I'm letting this beat us."

Fang procured her crystal. "Bahamut feels the exact same way."

Lightning felt the connection with her Eidolon slipping, with no ceiling in sight. "I'm glad I can count on you. Really, I am…"

"I'm glad you feel that way. I'm even more glad that you told me." Odin grew fainter still in the midst of Fang's smile. Lightning felt the corners of her mouth rise, in trust; in misery to have such soaring sentiments focused upon one person. Fang pressed her crystal to Lightning's heart, whispering: "We have nothing left to fear now. I've thought about this long enough. I'm tired of thinking…" Harder, she pressed the crystal into her, "I'd rather let this do the work…"

And it did.

Falling from Odin's saddle had been magnificent: a saving grace, and a reawakening in the form of Fang's smile. Bahamut hadn't been necessary. Lightning wondered if Fang had forgotten to summon him. Dismissing all beliefs of duty and fate and timing at that moment broadened her scope of tolerance, of acceptance. In that dismissal, Eden had made its decision to transport them to the Narthex, to rejoin with the rest of the party.

Lightning stood upon the repaired Oerban train tracks, observing Cocoon amid the afternoon sun. Suffering for the sake of endurance and strength summarized the years since relocation to Gran Pulse. From that nascent experience alone, Lightning learned to trust her set devotions. Reconciling differences, and sculpting them into appreciation had been part of the years-long misery that still lingered. It lingered, to remind her:

"'Everyone makes mistakes,'" droned Fang, at her side, "I know, I know! From how many times you've reminded me of that little fact, I'm starting to get worried."

"I have hope things will turn out just fine." Lightning began walking back to the village. "Whatever you did, it can't be that bad. I bet you're only trying to get a rise out of me, anyway."

Fang followed after her, indignant. "Oh yeah? And what if I told you I pulled a stunt that might get you fired on account of me?"

"Then I'll find a new job," said Lightning, not bothering to turn around.

Fang held her hand, without the intent of stopping her. "And what if no one'll hire you after they find out what I did? Everyone knows we're together!"

"Mmm." Lightning hummed, pretending to think on the matter. "Then you and I'll just have to bum off Snow and Serah for the rest of our lives. Shouldn't be too bad."

"You're joking!" Fang stopped in her tracks, letting go of Lightning's hand. "Tell me you're kidding around, and I'll call this whole thing off right now!"

"You shouldn't have made the mistake of lying to me," Lightning said, over her shoulder as she continued on. Fang put her hands behind her head, grimacing. "You know I'm only kidding, Fang. As long as you are, so am I."

"Hmm… 'As long as you are, so am I,'" repeated Fang, ambling along after her; lost in reflection as she smiled to the skies above. "I like that."