A/N: I decided to create and publish this story since it has honestly been in my head for days, however don't worry, Components is still going to be completed.
Cloak and Dagger
The morning sun crept through burgundy curtains, spilling out across a spacious white bedroom of a third floor studio apartment in Bodhum. The room would have almost been devoid of colour, had it not been for splashes of maroon upon the rug, pillows and on smaller trinkets. Or for the strands of pink hair splayed out upon a crisp, clean pillowcase.
It was seven o'clock on a Sunday morning and the one day of the week that Lightning forced herself to stay in bed under her sister Serah's strict orders. She was usually one to be up and ready before sunrise, with an early morning jog behind her, however this was the day Serah felt she should relax. Bizarrely for the woman, Lightning lay sprawled under the blankets, sound asleep, whilst Serah bustled around in the kitchen making breakfast.
Weekdays saw Lightning as the hardworking Sergeant of the Guardian Corps. As the main and only provider of the family, it was important to her that Serah was provided with the opportunities Lightning never received at her age. Currently in her final year of studying, Serah was to move on into higher education, which the older Farron was keen for her sister to progress onto, despite the costs involved and the hours she would need to work to pay the debts off. It was this dedication to her sister that currently had her lying exhausted in bed. Her slumber was not to last however, when the screeching of chair legs, and banging of furniture from the apartment above clawed at her ears, to which she responded by shoving the covers over her head. She succeeded in muffling the noise, but at the cost of being engulfed in suffocating heat, though it didn't stop her from dozing off once more. She awoke to the sound or the front door slamming shut, the walls of her bedroom shuddering from the impact, which was followed by the opening and closing of her own door.
Serah was also the early rising type, a trait they had inherited from their late mother, and the girl always made it her duty to ensure her sister was well fed throughout the day, knowing that Lightning would skip meals in favour of working if she didn't keep an eye on her. The younger Farron placed her back against the door with her hands still upon the handle, an apron still tied securely to her small waist.
"Morning sis!" She whispered. "I don't mean to disturb you so early in the morning but I've got some pretty exciting news."
Lightning stirred under the covers, rolling over onto her back in order to push the blankets back for cool air.
"We've got a new neighbour on the next floor… Mrs Jefferson died." Serah said, pointing to the ceiling.
"What?" Lightning replied groggily, almost certain she heard wrongly. Serah kindly repeated and Lightning frowned at the news; she had seen the older woman only yesterday as they passed on the stairs and she had seemed fine. She sat up to face her sister, who had wandered to the foot of her double bed to sit down, looking as worn-out as Lightning felt.
"She died in the early hours of this morning. They've moved her possessions out and everything!" Serah beamed.
"And they've found a new tenant so soon? Why are you happy about all this?" Lightning replied sceptically, pulling the rest of the covers back to wander to the en suite bathroom to brush her teeth.
Serah moved towards her sister's modest dresser, pulling out the second drawer to rummage through clothes.
"I hope the new tenant is my age, because we could be good friends and I will actually get to participate in the girly activities you hate so much!" She called out, picking out some black denim shorts and throwing them towards the bathroom door.
Lightning scoffed between brushing at the thought painting nails and facemasks. If the newcomer was into all that, it benefited her just fine. Turning to the carelessly placed shorts, Lightning bent down to retrieve them, lifting her head in time to be hit in the face by more items of clothing.
"Serah! I can dress myself." She hissed, pulling the white tank top off her face.
Serah giggled as she closed the drawer, moving towards the bedroom door that linked to their living room.
"Yeah, I know, but can you dress yourself in something that isn't your work uniform?" The girl made a quick exit as Lightning dived for a cushion to hit her with.
Breakfast had not been a peaceful affair, as the tenant upstairs continued to painfully scrape furniture across wooden floors, as well as bang walls.
Lightning involuntarily ground her teeth when a screech with the impact of nails against a chalkboard echoed through her ears.
Close to breaking point she stood up abruptly from her seat at the kitchen table, the chair legs skidding back.
"That's it. It's barely daybreak and they're making a racket! I'm going up there." Lightning shouted, heading past the adjoining living space to fetch her canvas shoes.
Serah raced her to the front door, spreading her arms out to bar the way.
"You're not going to make a good first impression!" She exclaimed. "She's just moved in so of course there'll be noise, silly."
Lightning rolled her eyes.
"Fine." She dismissed and returned to the kitchen for some coffee. "So how do you know all this? It sounds like the tenant moved in during the early hours."
Serah sauntered towards the kitchen sink with her back to Lightning.
"I er, woke up from all the commotion and went to investigate…"
Lightning raised an eyebrow. "You 'went to investigate'? It mightn't have been safe, what were you thinking?" She chastised, causing an uncomfortable silence between them. "Did you see anything?"
Serah busied herself filling the sink with hot water. "To be honest, not really. There were lots of boxes just outside the door, which I'm guessing all belonged to the poor old woman because her favourite armchair was just left lying there also."
"Then how do you know she's dead?" Questioned Lightning, her interrogation skills kicking in to full swing.
"Is overhearing the words 'poor dear was carried off with her face covered by blankets' enough proof?" Serah countered, washing a plate with slightly more vigour than necessary as she spoke.
Lightning frowned. Something didn't seem right. She was a light sleeper, even more so than Serah, therefore if the old woman had died in the middle of the night, how had she not heard anything?
"Moving on… what's the new tenant like?" She took a sip of coffee in order to appear like nothing was wrong. Serah shrugged.
"I didn't see her, but judging by the strong smell of perfume across the hallway, I'm guessing the tenant is a she, anyway."
Lightning almost spilt the coffee in disbelief at her sister's quick assumptions, but quickly recomposed herself by shuffling in her seat. She couldn't help but see the flaw in that the perfume could have belonged to anyone who lived on the fourth floor.
"I just think it's suspicious that someone has moved in hours prior to an old woman dying." She said, throwing back the mug to drain the rest of the sweet liquid. "I'm going for a walk."
Serah craned her neck round to watch her sister as she made her way for the door, the two soft clicks of the door opening and closing signalled her departure. She wiped her hands dry on her apron before fishing around in the back pocket of her shorts to pull out her phone.
"Hey, Lightning's gone out for a bit, it's safe to come over."
Before making her way outside, Lightning decided to take the ascending staircase to the fourth floor, her steps silenced by the red carpet that flowed throughout the building. She poked her head around the corner to see an empty corridor, minus a sequence of potted plants that were reoccurring on every floor. She casually began to walk down the hallway, eyeing each door as if she were taking part in a line up of criminals. She stopped at the door directly above her own apartment: Room 404.
There was a faint voice murmuring behind the door, which she took to be the television, whilst dainty footsteps across a wooden floor confirmed that there was someone inside. As much as she didn't want to play the role of friendly new neighbour, she raised her hand and rapped her knuckles upon the chocolate coloured door and waited.
She prepared herself to fake a smile as she waited, as much as the thought of doing so pained her. The television could no longer be heard in the background and any movement behind the door stopped, causing her to knock again in case she wasn't heard. There was still no answer. Lightning frowned and took it upon herself to press her ear up against the door, where she heard slow, careful steps creeping further away from the door, the floorboards creaking as the person did so.
So whoever is inside is avoiding visitors. Great. That's even more suspicious.
She made a quick retreat down the stairs, feeling like she was looking too far into things, passing a tall man at the entrance on the ground floor, smelling heavily of aftershave.
She had returned hours later in the afternoon, after a routine stroll around the city centre, ignoring all shops as if she had been on patrol. She fumbled around for her keys as she approached her front door, announcing her arrival to an empty living room.
"Serah?" Lightning called, placing her keys on a side table whilst she removed her shoes.
"Just a sec!" Came a faint voice from her sister's bedroom, as Lightning aimlessly walked around the room, feeling like something was different.
She slide open the balcony door, allowing fresh air to enter the large room when she realised there was an unfamiliar scent around the place.
"Have we had visitors?" She asked Serah's closed bedroom door.
"Visitors? No, why do you ask?" Came the younger Farron's innocent reply from within her bedroom.
Lightning wasn't convinced. She marched over to the door and opened it without warning to see Serah sat cross-legged on top of her bed.
"Sis, what're you doing? I could've been getting changed just there, talk about privacy!" Serah almost squealed as she watched Lightning stride over to her bed to look under it.
"You've had someone in here, I can tell." She said from under the bed. Convinced no one was under it she moved onto a wardrobe. The second she did so, the floor strained and the open bedroom door creaked as if there had been a draught.
Lightning spun round and followed the noise to the front door as Serah shouted behind her that the open balcony caused the movement and nothing else. The familiar click of the front door opening told her otherwise, but she was unable to see the intruder in time.
Lightning turned slowly on her heels to look at Serah, her face looking particularly dark and murderous. The younger girl looked sheepish, standing with her legs crossed and arms behind her back.
"Since when have you had a boyfriend?" Lightning hissed.
"Why does it matter? He's a nice guy, honestly." Serah replied calmly.
"You're still a child." Lightning said firmly.
"I'm eighteen." Countered Serah, who stomped towards Lightning like a child having a tantrum.
"That's still too young! All guys are ever bothered about is taking advantage of girls and getting laid."
"Oh because you'd know. You've never been in a relationship." Serah huffed.
Lightning opened her mouth to speak but Serah cut her off.
"You're trying too hard to be something you're not." She whispered as tears threatened to fall. "You're not Mom, yet you've always tried to advise me on life choices. And you're not Dad either, yet you play the role of the protective father. You're my sister, Claire. The one I'm supposed to share secrets with about having boyfriends."
"Well let's start now, shall we?" The older Farron said though gritted teeth. "How long have you been seeing him behind my back?"
"A few months now, I see him mostly when you're at work. I never meant to keep him a secret, honestly."
"And that's why you look so tired, is it? You were out with him last night… no wonder you know about Mrs Jefferson dying, you probably saw her getting carried away!"
The girl began to chew her thumbnail out of nervous habit, and Lightning was suddenly acquiring a headache as she watched her sister squirm under her scrutiny. Rather than comprehend the fact that she may be in the wrong about her views on Serah having a boyfriend, Lightning made another quick exit, warning Serah as she passed that she would not tolerate any more visits for the rest of the day, at least.
She had slammed the door on the way out, venting her anger upon the frame and hinges, which were strong enough to withstand such tempers. Her feet unconsciously took her left as her mind raced a mile a minute, the strange neighbour long forgotten in favour of flashes of family moments.
When their parents died, Claire and Serah had been lost, helpless and scared. But Lightning had arrived almost overnight, as a pillar of strength, provider and guardian. She laughed bitterly to herself when she recalled the moment she told Serah to refer to her a 'Lightning'.
She had wandered blindly into a part of Bodhum she did not recognise, a district that wasn't part of her patrol, an area that was noticeably darker than the rest of the city. Before she stalked off further, she stopped in the middle of a square to look around; she was surrounded by the neon lights of bars, which shone brightly despite it only being late afternoon. She tilted her head back, noticing the sky had been completely eaten by tall monoliths with barred windows adorning the first few floors.
She felt unsafe as a civilian without her gunblade equipped, and out of place from the lack of a concealing trench coat, which she noticed many in the area wore. Her instincts told her to leave, and she stepped back slowly, eyes cautiously following every man who walked too near. Her peripheral vision caught a blonde blur heading straight for her, colliding with her almost instantly, however the force did not knock her over as the boy was much shorter. She threw him an angry look, and found he wore a pair of goggles over his eyes.
"Sorry lady!" He apologised, grabbing her hand and stroking it. "You okay?"
Lightning jerked back, almost disgusted. "Yes, fine." She said curtly, pulling her hand free from his intruding grasp. She watched him run into a nearby bar without another word, and she rubbed her wrist out of awkwardness. Her heart almost stopped out of realisation however, when she noticed the boy had stolen her silver bracelet, a present from Serah for her birthday.
"Son of a bitch!" She shouted as she broke into a sprint after the teenager, dodging passers-by as she reached a shady looking bar with the name of NORA. Lightning didn't hesitate to barge right though, fighting past a gathering of drunk, old men. They chuckled and wheezed as she passed, one daring enough to wolf whistle and compliment her on having a 'fine pair'. She clenched her fist, ready to knock out the limited amount of teeth the greasy man had left in his mouth, but the thought left her the second she saw the familiar mop of blonde hair squeeze through a throng of patrons.
She bulldozed her way through the same group, who didn't seem to take kindly to such a gesture as beer cascaded down trouser legs from their pint glasses. The thief noticed her presence soon after, making a dash under the bar counter, however Lightning managed with little effort to grab him forcefully by the scruff of his neck. She yanked him backwards, allowing him to bang his head on the counter as he fell back.
"Is there a problem here, miss?" A concerned voice asked from behind the bar, which belonged to a girl roughly Serah's age. The girl dressed slightly provocatively for her years, Lightning noted with distaste, wearing a white shirt, which kept her shoulders bare and breasts in clear view.
Lightning hoisted the blonde up ruthlessly.
"This brat just stole my bracelet."
The barmaid didn't look too surprised, as if it were a common occurrence and, judging by the array of jewellery the woman wore herself, she sometimes benefited from the his thievery. The young woman slammed down a glass she had been shining and opened the bar hatch to grab the teen herself, showing less clothing on her lower half with skimpy hot pants.
"Give it back Maqui, you little shit!" She ordered, smacking the boy over the head. The boy begged for forgiveness as he fished into his trouser pocket and handed the bracelet back to Lightning, before being dragged away by his ear into a backroom.
Lightning replaced the bracelet back onto her wrist, ensuring it was secure with a small tug, when satisfied she glanced around for the exit.
"Hey come back here, cherry blossom." The same female voice from before called. Lightning obeyed, stepping closer to the bar.
"I'm Lebreau." She said with her hand outstretched. Lightning took it, watching her bracelet closely this time as they shook hands. "And I owe you a drink in apology."
"No thanks, I really should be heading back."
"Oh but please."
Lebreau looked disappointed and motioned to someone behind Lightning with a click of her fingers. A tall, slender male materialised behind her, with a wild cyan mane. He appeared the sort who prides himself on his appearance; dressed in a white shirt with short sleeves that were rolled up to reveal toned arms in a bad boy manner, and tight black denim jeans tucked into ankle length boots. There was no doubt in Lightning's mind that he would take longer getting ready than she did.
"Yes, Lebreau?" He asked with a voice laced in charm. The barmaid nodded in Lightning's direction.
"Yuj, please help our guest here get comfortable. Maqui's been up to his usual tricks again."
"Ah certainly." The man smiled, placing ring-adorned fingers upon Lightning's shoulders. "Come now, we want nothing more than to say sorry on his behalf." He stepped to the right and winked. "I'm Yuj, by the way."
If it'll get him away from me...
"Lightning." She said politely in turn, sliding into a barstool. "And I'll have a vodka and lemonade."
She initially planned to leave after the free drink, but found her glass to be bottomless as both Lebreau and Yuj refused to let the glass remain empty. Lebreau leaned over the worn counter to study Lightning, pouring another shot of vodka into the glass.
"You're clearly new to these parts, what brings you here?" Lebreau asked.
Lightning shrugged. "An argument with my sister."
"Is that all?" Yuj laughed as Lightning nodded. He turned towards Lebreau. "See she can be trusted." He whispered.
Between hazy thoughts, Lightning wondered how much time had passed as she slowly examined the contents of her glass. Both Lebreau and Yuj had vanished, leaving Lightning to observe the bar properly for the first time. It was dimly lit and made up entirely of wood panels, which did nothing but soak up the smell of alcohol, as did the counter she was leaning on; her glass and arms stuck to the counter every so often. She drained her glass in relief that no one was around to top her up, and dragged herself up from the stool, gripping the edge of the chair to steady herself. Her eyes scanned the crowded room, stopping on a tall, hooded figure that had just entered the bar. She followed the shady form as it travelled to the back of the pub, aware that others watched in fear or respect as the person passed through curtained off area. Curiosity got the better of her and she quickly followed, pushing back the curtain to see shadows of more people disappear through yet another door, as she poked her head out to the right. She easily spotted the black hooded figure leaning against red wallpaper, with arms crossed and foot placed against the wall. The guard looked up from the floor, just as Lightning managed to hide in the alcove, her heart beat doubling.
What am I even doing? Lightning scolded herself as her feet urged her into the view of the guard. She walked down the corridor, feigning ignorance as she made to pass the guard, who came to attention as she closed in. A gloved hand shot out barring her way as she made to pass by, and Lightning looked expectantly at the guard, noticing they also wore a plain black bandit mask across their eyes.
She narrowed her ocean blue eyes to focus passed the shadows covering guard's face, but to no avail.
"You going to let me passed?" She queried as the voices behind the door grew increasingly louder.
The guard stayed mute but shook their head, reaching out to grasp Lightning and escort her out. They got only so far, when Lightning twirled to the left, dodging easily before hitting the sentry square in the face. She made a run for the door, managing to pry it open in time to see a man tied to a chair have his throat slit. She instantly shut the door; eyes wide in shock on what she had stumbled upon, pretending as if she had seen nothing. The guard grabbed her by the face, covering her eyes and pulling her back down to the carpeted floor, she grunted, writhing and squirming her way out of the hooded figure's grasp. The guard grabbed her throat with a slim hand, yet firm grip.
"Get off me! All I want is the bathroom!" Lightning grunted, clawing through the leather of the glove. The guard stopped for a second, abruptly grabbing Lightning by the front of her tank top and forcing her back through the curtains.
Once she made her way outside and away from the stuffy bar, she smoothed down the creases in her clothes, noting that the sky had turned from a pale blue to an inky black. She quickly checked her phone, which had many messages and missed calls all of which from Serah.