The Other Battlefield
"So I was thinking for New Year we could have a party, maybe?"
Serah's approach was hesitant, which Lightning was more than used to from the early days of her sister's relationship with Snow. It was always when she wanted something she knew she wasn't allowed to have.
"What, you mean we host it? I see why you dragged me out here now. You want me to buy everything." Lightning sighed, grabbing a box of cereal and placing it in the shopping basket that Serah opted out of carrying. Maybe they'd need something bigger to carry everything if Lightning let her sister get her own way.
Serah giggled, "Well, I say 'party' it would just be all of the usuals plus the NORA crew, if they're not already busy."
Still unconvinced, Lightning pressed forward down the aisles, leaving Serah to browse behind her. She hated shopping for food when Serah tagged along, as everything always took so much longer; therefore it was probably her fault for not seeing alarm bells when Serah initiated the idea.
"Do you still have something against the NORA lot? What's wrong with them?" Serah asked, finally catching up.
"They're friends with Snow for a start," Lightning huffed, "Willingly."
The sisters shared a laugh and moved on, passing men, women and children aplenty as they fought their way through what was unusually a popular aisle. Mind drifting as they walked, Lightning stared off into the distance, pondering the idea of a get together of friends to celebrate a new year. It would be nice having everyone together, as she certainly didn't hate Christmas as much this time around, the return of Vanille and Fang contributed to her better mood significantly.
The feeling of something being put in the basket alerted Lightning to the present, when she realised that she been staring detachedly at a blonde man's crotch for the good part of half a minute. Of all the places to look while spacing out. Worst of all however, was the awareness that he was staring back intently, winking in a way that made him look as though he had a nervous twitch instead.
She changed her course, pulling Serah roughly into a different aisle and brushing it off as her attempt to get them through the crowd.
Thoughts returning to Christmas, Fang had invited her for another nightly walk, which she didn't intend to decline. The recollection of kissing her brought a strong, bubbling feeling to the surface which she loved and loathed. It was neither the time nor place to feel aroused and it frustrated her; how could someone have such an impact on her?
And Fang of all people.
She repeated Fang's name over and over again in her head, the more she said it the more it sounded surreal for a person's name. Lightning smirked to herself before realising how immature she was being. This was just another way that Fang managed to sneak into her mind.
"Look we can just come back later if all these people are getting to you."
"I didn't say anything."
"You didn't have to, it was that look on your face."
Always concerned about her feelings, always with that gentle, calming approach, Serah had solely adopted the same nurturing proficiency from their mother. But trust Serah to think that there was something wrong with her.
Or was there? She was beginning to feel strange over her thoughts of Fang and that should be entirely illegal on its own. What would Serah say if she knew? All Lightning knew was that she was being pathetic; the way she acted the other night, the way she was acting now in worrying…
How in Etro's name was she meant to look Fang in the face again?
"Don't look now," Serah whispered from over her shoulder, "but a guy keeps staring at you and following us around the place."
"Three guesses…" Lightning sighed, rubbing the bridge of her nose and turning slyly to look.
She had no interest in the man whatsoever, whether it be the one she accidently stared at, but Serah was beginning to pull at her and show her anyway. Unfortunately, it was him.
"Let's just keep going we're nearly done."
The check-outs were so close by now and Lightning had almost avoided it, the next set of questions that she always got sick of hearing. Right in the corner, an empty conveyor belt awaited them, but no, drilling into her ear was Serah's concerned voice.
"Don't you want that special someone in your life, Claire?" The use of her real name made her twitch involuntarily.
Lightning bit her lip, watching as the check-out became occupied by another customer with a lot of groceries. This moment was just the beginning of what the rest of her day was going to be like, she was sure.
"Why are you even bringing that up?" Lightning asked, still chewing her bottom lip. She kept her vision purposely in the opposite direction of Serah so she couldn't see the wave of uneasiness that had just washed over her face.
Just as persistent as herself, Serah began incessantly prodding at her back until she turned around and even then, prodded her with every word spoken.
"Because…" Another prod. "You. Always. Avoid. This. Topic."
It was quite possible that a bruise would soon form if she didn't stop.
"Tsk. That's because it's not very important. If being in a relationship was more important than protecting you, you'd still be crystal to this day."
Her comment had won over Serah's silence, to her relief, but there was a feeling brewing in her gut that this was not going to be the last she heard of this topic.
She unloaded their groceries without another word from Serah, other than a few noises of affirmation when she requested the next item, which meant nothing other than she had hurt her sister's unnecessarily timid feelings.
Lightning spun around, "Look Serah-"
The man from earlier grinned, rolling up the sleeves of his checkered shirt to give Lightning an eyeful of tattoos similar to what Fang adorned on her arm.
Wherever Serah was, it didn't quite matter at that moment; the only real problem now was getting out of the supermarket without acknowledging the light-haired man any more than she had.
"Look, I'm not interested." She said outright, handing over cash to the check-out attendant, yet the man laughed cockily, grinning toothily.
"'Not interested' are we?" He reiterated, leaning casually upon the conveyor, "but I saw you staring."
Lightning shrugged, "Yeah well I wasn't staring at much."
A warm, heavy hand grabbed her shoulder to force her to turn back around, but Lightning refused to have any of it. Her fist was already curled into a ball ready to strike, however her sister already had it covered.
Stamping as hard as she could, Serah effectively smashed the man's toes with the heel of her boot.
"Didn't you understand the first time?" Serah huffed.
He cursed, taking it as a hint to leave.
It wasn't what she would have done; a quick punch to the gut or lower would've sufficed better but Lightning was otherwise proud of her sister for that short moment.
"And who taught you to be so aggressive?" Lightning said sarcastically, smirking all the while.
Serah mimicked Lightning's usual stoic expression, cracking her knuckles whilst drawing a pretend gunblade, striking a battle stance.
"Only the best of the best," She said, striking downwards with the imaginary blade. It reminded her of the times that Serah used to spar with her, using branches as swords when they were children. "Just wait until I'm the one playing the overly protective sister."
Lightning merely shook her head at her sister's childishness, a faint smile creeping over her features.
Lightning laughed unsurely, "Yeah right."
"Did you hear?" Vanille said; phone cradled between her shoulder and ear, "Serah said Lightning agreed to hold a New Year's Eve party!"
Fang had only just entered the kitchen with a pile of dirty plates, having enjoyed her favourite Cocoon-based meal yet – pizza. Dropping the dishes into the sink, where Vanille currently had her elbows buried deep in foamy bubbles; Fang regarded what Lightning agreeing to a party actually meant. It certainly meant the soldier was either feeling ill or a little less uptight about large amounts of guests in her home.
Was this all a part of Lightning's unwinding? The undoing of her stoic, shielded self?
One could hope.
Wiping suds upon Vanille's nose, Fang leaned back upon the counter beside the redhead.
"And how much of this party do you think was Serah's idea?" Fang said bitterly.
Vanille smiled broadly, "...All of it of course."
The days between agreeing to the party and New Year's Eve came fast.
Lightning paced the space between the fireplace and coffee table nervously, as if she was awaiting a sentence on her life. Not only was everyone due to arrive, but she had unconciously been avoiding Fang ever since she had kissed her. By now Fang was certain to be aware that something was wrong, but Lightning suspected that Fang was starting to understand the reasons behind her behaviour, which was worse. She reasoned with herself that as much as she didn't want to chat about their relationship, of lack of.
Serah sat munching on crackers behind her, completely unaware of her inner turmoil, the fact that she was even remotely hungry made Lightning feel slightly jealous. Having last eaten a whole twelve hours ago, the emptiness did nothing to settle her fluttering stomach.
The sound of reverberating glass caused Lightning to throw her head up suddenly, the dull sound of a snowball hitting their front window reminded Lightning of a few days previous:
Crack. The mystery sound interrupted Lightning from her nightly routine of polishing her gunblade. It sounded for the third time and this time Lightning was able to pinpoint it in the direction of her window. Carefully laying down her weapon and replacing the cap on the polish, Lightning sauntered over to her window, pulling back the curtain with a frown.
A pebble collided with the window yet again, causing Lightning to double back as if it were going to hit her. The ice didn't make it easy for her to force the window open, but when she did, Lightning was not surprised by who she saw.
Peppered with snow in the dead of night stood Fang, clutching an assortment of stones as ammo for Lightning's window and looking anything but comfortable in the cold.
"Fang," She said expectantly, clutching the window frame gently. "Are you drunk?"
Her comment was met with a quiet laugh and then, "Only intoxicated by you, Light."
Had she really just used that line? The Pulsian had definitely been in the cold too long and yet Lightning had no desire to let Fang inside and wake the household up in the process. They hadn't even discussed their kiss from last night and here Fang was eager to spend more time, and perhaps even more of her kisses with Lightning.
"Fancy another walk outside?" Fang said with her arms outstretched, gesturing to the grounds below.
"I'm going to pass on that offer, Fang."
"But I'm already here!" Fang said with a raised whisper.
Lightning shrugged, "That's what phones are for."
"As if you'd ever reply!"
Like a child, Fang dropped the pile of stones in her fist and looked off into the distance, self-consciously folding and unfolding her arms.
"Then what about tomorrow night or the night after that?"
Lightning sighed, because she hadn't accepted the offer, or any other proposal Fang came up with despite every part of her screaming to say yes to anything she suggested...
The doorbell rang and time stood still.
Only when she recognised the voice at the door to be distinctly Sazh's was she relieved. This was followed by a greater, deeper voice that grated on her most of the time. It wasn't Snow, who was upstairs, but his best friend Gadot who shared the same brutish mannerisms as the NORA leader.
"Hey Serah! Thanks again for having us over, now where'd you like me to put these beer kegs?"
Lightning was hosting her own worst nightmare, complete with alcohol, rowdy individuals and youngsters.
The doorbell rang out again and Lightning found herself the only one left to answer it, opening it hesitantly to see the faces she was dreading to see.
"Vanille," Lightning nodded in approval, eyes glued to the redhead's hands, clutching a tub of homemade cookies. "They smell nice, are they…?"
"Raspberry and white chocolate, yep! Serah's favourite am I right?"
"Mine too-" Lightning began, but Fang interjected with the same reply from behind Vanille, finally causing the soldier to lock eyes with the huntress.
"Light." Fang smirked, tilting her head as if tipping her hat. Set behind her greeting was a challenge deep within her eyes, a one that sent a silent message to Lightning reminding her of their unfinished business.
Lightning let the two pass, thankful that Fang had followed Vanille into the kitchen without a single backwards glance.
For the most part of the night, Lighting distanced herself from the Oerbans, finding the company of Snow and friends surprisingly less stressful. As Lebreau dished out several hands from the deck, Yuj and Maqui poured several shot glasses with unbranded tequila, enjoying a free sip here and there. It was obvious that Maqui, having only recently turned eighteen was becoming careless with how much he knocked back, with Yuj spurring him on to drink more.
I swear if he's sick on the carpet…
"I feel like I'm missing a cigar or something, sitting here playing cards by the fire." Gadot sighed contently, a glass of whiskey in his bear-like paw. "We should have a poker night sometime."
"Not in my house." Lightning said her in a light, harmless tone.
Gadot looked at her with an amused expression, raising his glass towards her before taking a long chug of his drink.
Gadot's fiery hair looked even more intense with the flickering of the fire behind him as he bellowed out a laugh. "I'm not gonna take advantage of your house, but thanks again for havin' us round."
"Enough chat, ladies!" Lebreau placed the remainder of cards in the middle of the table, "let's play."
"Two shots of tequila says Maqui loses again." Yuj laughed.
Banging the table Snow also laughed, "You're on!"
"Guuuuys I don't think I could drink anymore if I lose again." Maqui whined, banging his head on the table in defeat.
For the next few games, Lightning watched as Maqui lost the majority of different card games they played. She suspected that the older NORA members had made a secret pact to get Maqui incredibly drunk which, after a large glass of wine, she felt was perfectly acceptable.
"I don't feel too good…" Maqui groaned, holding his head in his gloved hands after his sixth time losing. He removed his goggles in order to rub his head vigorously, giving him an older appearance than he usually had with them on.
Before anyone could react he had flown from the table like a bullet, although in the wrong direction for the bathroom.
"Go outside!" Lightning barked, swiftly moving around the table to chase him.
Behind her were roars of laughter from the remaining men who showed their lack of concern for her floor. Only Lebreau seemed to show some understanding for the soldier, as she punched both Snow and Gadot on their arms.
"What was that for?"
"Bloody men." Lebreau huffed, clicking her tongue.
Luckily for Lightning, Maqui had reached the front door and ever further, so much so she couldn't see him in the dark. Using the light that flooded through the open door behind her and the sounds of retching to her left, the soldier found Maqui heaving into an evergreen bush.
"You okay?" She asked tentatively, approaching him slowly as if he was infected with a disease.
"I think... eurgh, I think I'm dying."
His over exaggerated response reminded her of Hope, who although younger, was by far the more mature of the two.
Footsteps crunched in snow behind them, "I brought water for you, Maq."
It was Lebreau, who had not only managed to find the spare glasses in the kitchen, but the time to wrap up in a coat.
"Saviour… 'Breau," Maqui gushed, pouring the liquid down his throat. "Eurghh!"
Maqui rejected the drink quicker than ever before, spewing more into the bushes to Lightning's displeasure.
"You bitch that's not water!"
Lebreau giggled, handing him another glass whilst retrieving the first glass. It smelled so heavily of vodka, Lightning didn't understand how Maqui could fall for such a trick.
"I know, but this definitely is I promise!"
The sound of something smashing echoed through Lightning's ears, causing her to whip her head around to see Vanille running out of the house with her hand cupped over her mouth.
"Casualty! Make way, casualty coming through!" Fang chuckled through the hallway, stopping at the doorstep. "Told ya you couldn't handle more than nine!"
The upcoming sounds weren't pleasant, instead of Lightning's house being filled with vomit, it was her garden instead.
"Oh for the love of… no more drinking games or challenges." Lightning snapped, making a point to glare at Fang and the NORA crew.
"Hey, come on! It's the kids that are being sick," Fang gestured to Vanille and Maqui. "Don't punish all of us."
It was easy for Fang to say, it wasn't her house filled with drunken guests. A sudden frosty breeze picked up, reminding Lightning that it was winter and that she was freezing.
"Come on you two." Lebreau said, ushering a very pale Maqui and Vanille back into the warmth of the house. It left Lightning and Fang alone in a horrible twist of fate that would mean talking to the huntress more.
The more Lightning and Fang stared in silence, the more Fang's apparent satisfaction over watching Vanille vomit diminished along with her smile. The soldier debated within her mind whether or not to re-enter the house via the back door or to just grin and bear it. Fang was first to open her mouth.
"So about the other night-"
"Let's go inside Fang, its freezing."
"No this is perfect." Fang said sternly, her tone suddenly changing. She closed the door behind her, plunging both women into darkness, yet the snow was able to reflect enough moonlight for the two to see. Fang continued:
"This is perfect because this is the exact same cold feeling I'm getting from you, Lightning… and I'm not sure why."
Lightning balled her fists and bit her tongue simultaneously. Just as she'd expected, Fang was aware of some inner conflict yet by the looks of it, thought it was something she had done. Although not directly Fang's fault this fatal attraction to the huntress was partly due to her exotic good looks. Etro help her, the soldier took a good steadying breath, unable to stop likening the coldness in her lungs to diving into icy water.
Take the plunge you coward. The soldier scolded herself.
"It's just that…"
A/N: After seeing so many new FLight fanfics and updates I felt I needed to get my act together and post a chapter myself... I mean 3 months is a long time, so I hope everyone hasn't forgotten too much about what's happened!
As always, enjoy!