XXX

Under safe, monitored transport, they brought Fang back to Lightning's for three days of intensive care. Sophia explained Fang's conditions, the treatments and care she'd need, and told them everything they had to do to get Fang well again. It took Fang a full two days to come out of her drugged stupor, but even then, she wasn't coherent and Lightning wasn't left alone with her at all. She barely saw Fang period in those 3 days. Jaeger wanted to take her immediately, but Sophia managed to convince them to stay for a 72 hour long watch to monitor Fang and advise everything that she could in the limited time she had watching Fang.

They took Serah's room. Jaeger and Anya stayed with her at all times, as did Summer and Vanille. Sky came out to bark at her on occasion or help Vanille make food, but the Yuns stayed pretty secluded otherwise, except for Hawke, who varied between their worlds with Serah in a middle base somewhere. Lightning was not welcome, as Jaeger made clear every time she entered to bring in food or try to sit with Fang.

Fang barely ate. From what she heard, it seemed like little progress was being made, but Lightning knew it'd take time. She didn't get to see much, but Fang's muttering became quieter and she went to sleep on occasion, which Lightning reckoned was a good sign. Jaeger itched, ever more agitated to take Fang home by that third day.

Serah was a source of comfort for Lightning. Since Jaeger had warned Sophia off of revealing Fang's condition outside of family confidentiality, Lightning would've been left in the dark without her sister. They spoke quietly in her bedroom regarding Fang and other things: school, Hawke, Fang's family and how they were. Lightning tried to keep their conversations as unintrusive as possible, only wanting simple updates, not to spy on Fang.

"And Anya?" Lightning pressed gently, "Is she okay?"

"She's much better with Fang," Serah told her quietly. "I don't think she hates you like Jaeger does. I think she— "

Lightning hushed her, steering the conversation away from that bend. "As long as she's doing better," Lightning said quietly, reaching a hand out to brush aside Serah's hair. "What about you?" Lightning asked finally, the last and most important person to her in all this mess. "How are you holding up, Serah?"

"I'm okay…" Serah said quietly, eyes darting down to the bed. "I wish it wasn't like this now."

"Me too."

"I was so excited," Serah confessed, tears taking her eyes when she next looked up at Lightning. "We were both gonna have our dreams."

"Hey," Lightning chastised lightly, wrapping an arm around Serah's back as she sniffled. "Hey," Lightning rubbed her back, quiet a moment as Serah sniffed into her shoulder. "Your right to it was never revoked," Lightning said after the long moment. "This is my catastrophe, not yours."

It only made Serah stifle a sob. "My dream includes you," Serah cried weakly.

Lightning stroked her back soothing, "I know, Serah. I know." Serah sniffed again against her shoulder. Lightning tried to ease the harsh truths. "Some things you can't fix. I messed up, Serah. I'm sorry." Lightning pet her back in vain attempt to calm her. When she'd given Serah a moment to mourn the loss of a first dream, Lightning finally backed away a little bit on the bed to look at her. "Serah." Serah peered at her through watery eyes. "I want you to listen, okay?" Lightning prefaced, "You can talk when I'm done."

"Okay…" Serah agreed timidly.

"Hawke spoke to me a few days ago," Lightning told her, "Spoke to me about you. You're quite taken with her by now, aren't you?"

"It's horrible timing," Serah wiped at her eyes. "She's been so sweet through all of this…"

"I've noticed. She takes good care of you, from what I've seen."

"She's got a good spirit." Serah agreed softly.

Lightning nodded. "I've been thinking about this for a while, Serah. About the offer Hawke made concerning you and the dig site position and all. She told me the option's still available if you wanted it."

Serah lowered her eyes. "You wouldn't be able to come."

"Realistically not," Lightning agreed, trying not to be harsh about it. "But my mistakes aren't yours. Serah, I've been looking into new positions to take with the Guardian Corps. I might have a few options with the GC."

Serah's eyes lit up. "Claire, that's great! That's what you've always wanted."

Lightning half nodded, only half a truth in there. She, too, had primarily wanted the position to watch over Serah and care for her. Actual life had a nasty way of turning her youthful desire upon her again, but it was no one's fault to blame but Lightning. She couldn't let Serah suffer from her actions forever. "The spots I'm looking at are full-time occupations. I'll even have to go away for boot camp the first few months before I'm assigned a post. Camp is a 24 hour, all week occupation, you know."

"I know," Serah nodded, "But I think you should do it. They're much more likely to bring you in on young. You're thinking of doing this soon, if I'm understanding? Because I think that's great, Claire. It's perfect for you."

"I think it's good too," Lightning agreed, "But I wouldn't want you to be alone."

"Oh, Claire," Serah started to brush off, "You don't need to worry about a few months absence! I'd have school anyway and I'm sure Hawke would visit and— "

Lightning shook her head. "School doesn't make sense." Serah quieted, brow furrowing. "Not when you have such a promising offer of accomplishing your dream in Gran Pulse with people I trust to take care of you." Serah went completely mute, eyes widening in complete shock. "I've been giving it a lot of thought," Lightning repeated, "And I don't want you to pass up your dream just because I wouldn't be there." Serah gaped wordlessly. Lightning touched her arm. "You're growing up, Serah. Even if I want it… I can't cling to you forever."

Serah started shaking her head. "No, Claire. I wanna stay with you. I don't wanna go to Gran Pulse without you."

"Hawke's in Gran Pulse," Lightning pointed out, "I know you're not going to forget about her just like that. I'll be absent for months, Serah. I don't want you to be lonely during that time."

"But not permanent," Serah still shook her head, "You'll come back, and I wanna live with you, Claire. It's supposed to be you and me."

Lightning smiled softly, "If you want to live with me when I get back, I'm not going to deny you, Serah. But I think this will be a good experience for you. We've never really been away from each other, and you have yet to explore the worlds."

"I want to do that with you." Serah said tearfully.

"I know," Lightning stroked her arm softly, "We still can. But Hawke can take you back to Paddra, and that, I can't do." Lightning's smile was sad. "I haven't made any decisions yet, and we can talk about it as much as you want. It's just a thought I've been reflecting on, and one you should be too. If you want to try a stint in Paddra, maybe I'll go after a position with the GC after all. It's not how we thought of it… but I want you to think about it just the same."

Serah's arms squeezed around Lightning in quiet, comfort-seeking hug. Lightning knew Serah never imagined working in Gran Pulse without her there, but her sister wasn't going to get another offer elsewhere, even if Lightning would've set her off somewhere she didn't know people, which she wouldn't have anyway. She snuggled Lightning for a long time. Lightning thought she might've fallen asleep, but after a long while, she asked. "You'll get off sometimes inbetween, won't you?"

"I suppose so."

"Can I visit you on those breaks?" Serah asked meekly.

"Of course," Lightning cradled her warmly. "I'd be sad if you didn't."

"I have to think about it," Serah said, muffled from her burrow in Lightning's shoulder.

"Give it some thought," Lightning pet through her hair, "You have two more weeks of school before we can do anything, and more if you need it."

The bathroom door behind Lightning opened, revealing Lebreau drying her hair with a towel. "I'm not disrupting anything, am I?"

"You're fine," Lightning assured quietly. She kissed Serah's brow before separating from her. "I'm going to make a pot of tea. Would you like a cup, Serah?"

"Please," Serah asked with a nod.

"'Brue?"

"No thanks," Lebreau slid in the other side of the bed, "Your bed is more than enough to carry me to happy dreams."

Lightning rolled her eyes and started downstairs. She went to the sink, filled a pot, and heated it. Lightning fingered through her tea brands as the water came to a boil. Maybe Serah would like a mango apricot today.

A door opened somewhere behind her. Lightning glanced back at Serah's bedroom hallway where Anya stood and quickly, quietly shut the door behind her. Anya didn't move fast, but she made eye contact with Lightning and started for her. Lightning braced herself. Perhaps Anya's resolve had hardened in the past few days of caring for Fang. Lightning couldn't know for certain.

Anya stepped up beside her at the stove and flipped on the sink. Quietly, she summoned her attention. "Lightning." Lightning eyed over in her direction, ready for a verbal smacking if it came to that. Anya's eyes were still soft as she washed something clean from her hands. "…thank you for finding my Fang. We'd have gotten nowhere without your help."

Lightning scanned Anya's genuine face as she continued to rub the goo from her hands. She made such a reflection of Fang's healthy self, it stung Lightning to look at her. "You shouldn't thank me." It felt wrong. Lightning turned away, back to her teas that she mindlessly thumbed through.

"I should." Anya countered, then confessed after a short moment. "Fang's been mumbling the past few days. It's mostly incoherent, but today she said some things…" When Lightning didn't answer, Anya pushed a little further. "Did she hurt you, Lightning?"

"We both made mistakes." Lightning said finally, noting a slight nod of Anya from the corner of her eyes.

"I don't know what happened," Anya confessed, "But thank you for coming to us. For bringing my baby home." Anya unexpectedly kissed her on the cheek, taking Lightning by complete surprise. When she turned back to stare, Anya had tears in her eyes and had just turned off the sink. She met Lightning's eyes for only a second, then started back to Fang's room. Lightning watched her until she disappeared into the room.

XXX

The house was quieter without constant company. There was a time that Lightning would've killed for this peace of mind, sitting home at her apartment alone with precious moments to herself, but it felt different now. Quieter. A bit empty, even. With the Yuns finally gone, taking Fang and retreating back to Gran Pulse, Lebreau had stayed a couple more days, then left home too to take care of her businesses and start a new direction with whatever career she might like. Serah was out at school, leaving Lightning in complete silence in the apartment she'd lived in for more than six years.

Boxes stacked around the place, making it even less homely than before. Lightning and Serah were preparing to move just a few days after Serah finished the last of her classes. She'd debated the idea thoroughly with Lightning and herself and ended at the only option that made sense to both of them. Serah would be going to Gran Pulse to reside with Hawke and work alongside the native peers to the land. Lightning was proud of her and had spoken extensively to Hawke, but it'd be a big change for both of them. Lightning had never been that long without Serah before; they were both going to experience new things with this decision, and the prospect scared Lightning a little.

All the same, Lightning was ready. Sitting at home was not an occupation for Lightning, and if it went on much longer, she'd go stir crazy with the quiet. It was ironic, she thought. Something she'd once craved so much, to just have a peek of it every night, now she found a bit overwhelming in silence. She'd like the barracks, Lightning thought. At least there'd be movement and other noise of life there to absorb into. Lightning liked her space and privacy, but she found an increasing dislike to the quiet indoors. Most of these final days were spent outside with nature, running, practicing, or at the shooting range with other gunners. Lightning was ready to start with her fellows soon.

Exactly one call had come from Gran Pulse in all that time. Lightning had been surprised; it was Anya who contacted her and asked after her well being. Lightning was glad to hear of the baby steps being taken with Fang, less so of the strain she could hear in Anya's voice when she asked of Fang's withdrawal. But Fang seemed to be making small bits of progress that would take great heaps of time, and Lightning was glad to hear it. After assuring Anya everything was okay with her and informing her of Serah's incoming trip, which Hawke seemed to have already mentioned, Lightning bid her goodbye and told Anya to keep safe. All in all, it was a thousand times more than Lightning could've ever expected from their family concerning Fang, and she was happy to hear it.

Serah came home in the early afternoon on her final day and found Lightning packing up the last of their things, including her prized gunblade she'd been given by Fang. Serah stopped when she saw it on the bed, paused too by the sight of it. Lightning hadn't been able to package it away yet. It rested so casually on the bed, a gleaming gem.

"Claire…"

Lightning glanced up at her, eyes warming at her sister. "Hey, Serah."

Serah crossed the bedroom to her, regaining her movement. She stopped at Lightning's side, glancing at the gunblade, then back to her older sister. "You're sure you want to do this?" Serah checked again, such a warm spirit. "I don't want you to be lonely either…"

"I'm going to be fine, Serah," Lightning said and meant it, lifting an arm around Serah's slight shoulders. "Can I have a hug?"

Serah embraced her, squeezing her wholly in her smaller arms. "I love you, Claire."

Lightning pressed her lips to Serah's head and warmed in her sister's little, but so comforting arms. She was going to miss this most of all.

XXX

3 Months Later

Lightning returned to her bunker later that day. Sweating, tired, and fresh off of all-day sprints, Lightning was ready to take her shower and drop. GC had a wicked sense of 'morning' and she was more than ready for bed. Passing Candice, one of her four squadmates who shared her room, Lightning passed off the message to her fellow soldier. "Lieutenant wants to see you."

Candice sighed and took off. Lightning fetched her things from her trunk and headed for the showers out in the back building. She lockered her clothes and showered in the communal bathing hall. Any hesitations she'd had with this type of privacy had disappeared within the first few days. Lightning relaxed under the hot, soothing stream, unbothered by the open range within the shower room. A few newbies they'd recently picked up glanced around nervously, holding their towels close. No one else gave any specific heed.

Lightning relaxed fully under the stream before she finished up. There was just something about the press of hot water to her skin that made the day after a long workout. She dried with her towel, fixed her hair, and dressed before leaving the emptying building. Supper was being served. Lightning was too tired today; she was going to take advantage of the almost-empty bunker and her corner room to get some early sleep today.

That had been the plan, anyway, until Lightning opened the door to her small room. She wasn't as alone as she'd thought she would be.

"Uhc… " The noise turned her. It was meant to be a name, but for all Lightning's discipline, it went right out the window at the backside sight of her.

"Lightning," Fang recognized immediately, but didn't step towards her.

Candice stood from her bed and crossed to the door with a sly grin. "She is something, Light."

In any other moment, Lightning would've thought to warn and silence her tentative friend from starting rumors, but she physically couldn't think to that extent. The door shut behind Candice's exit. Lightning stared at the woman left in her room, this unexpected, breathtaking visit from Fang.

Fang looked radiant; much better than when she'd last left. Fuller, though not to her strongest extent, she seemed well on her way to recovery. Still thin for Fang, and not as primed as she used to be, the sight of her with shorter, wild, scraggly hair in every which way caught Lightning unfamiliar. It'd been a long time since she'd noticed a woman like this; not since Fang.

Lightning's eyes lifted to Fang's, where familiarity flashed through her own like a script. She hadn't seen those eyes in person for a long time. She'd forgotten how pretty they were on Fang. Her name kept repeating through her head like a mini mantra. She couldn't believe Fang was here. "Hey," Lightning finally managed after a long, stretched moment of silence.

"Lightning…" Fang said again, the words seemingly poorly planned, or escaped her too.

Lightning watched her for a long moment, but when Fang didn't speak again or couldn't find the words, Lightning forced her own, which blurted. "What are you doing here?"

"I'm sorry," Fang blurted, then hurriedly rushed to cover up, "I mean, I came here to say that. Except, not like this. I meant to— um, say some things— talk to you, I mean. If you want to. Hear me out, I mean… " Fang gave her a pleading look that Lightning. "I just… can we start over? This conversation, I mean." Fang added quickly.

Lightning hid a little smile that threatened the corners of her mouth, regardless how awkward this felt. She crossed her arms and leaned back against the doorframe. "Go ahead."

"Okay," Fang tried to steady herself, "Lightning, you look good."

Lightning hiked an eyebrow. "Do I?"

"Good like well!" Fang scrambled, dissolving to panicking again. Lightning let her off the hook and stood from the door.

"I'm kidding, Fang," she tried to ease, straightening. She nodded to a little metal table at the foot of one of the bunks. "Why don't we sit down? It might help."

"Okay," Fang meekly agreed, going where directed to the small table. "Are you... How are you doing?"

"I've been all right," Lightning half nodded to the room. "I like it here."

"That's good," Fang nodded, still at unease. When the silence threatened again, Lightning half-smilingly said.

"You look good." Lightning offered a little smile in attempt to calm Fang down. Fang smiled too, eyes still troubled, but maybe a little more settled.

"Mom and Dad keep a close eye on me," Fang agreed, "As do the rest of them… Sky, Vanille, Summer and Serah…"

"Serah helps?"

Fang looked down a little guiltily. "She makes good food. Mom's been cooking with her, and they combine all these techniques… Gods." Lightning smiled a little more at her face. Fang sobered a little. "They help my therapy, make sure I eat, you know."

"That sounds good," Lightning nodded to her, "It's done you some good. You look a lot better, Fang."

"Maybe," Fang said quietly, "But I haven't been able to get over something yet. And I always think about it. I think about it every day."

"Fang…" Lightning lowered her eyes.

"It's how I treated you." Fang went on to say, "How I never trusted you… how I hurt you, and when I almost…"

"I've forgiven you for that," Lightning said quietly.

"But I haven't." Fang countered, hand sliding over Lightning's. She stared at them on the table; Fang's slender hand over hers. "There's no excuse for what I did, and that includes when I was high with Jihl."

"You were being raped," Lightning refuted softly. "We both hit our breaking points back then." It'd been three long months since the date, but Fang reminded her like it was yesterday again. She remembered seeing Fang, so frail in the street, the effects of her words to Fang.

"But you trusted me." Fang pointed out. "I didn't."

"I didn't either," Lightning demurred. "Not when it counted, I didn't."

Fang squeezed her hand on the table. "You gave me a second chance," she softly objected, "After I tried to rape you and proved myself unworthy. I broke your last straw in that tape," Fang claimed. "And then you came back for me again." Lightning lifted sad eyes to Fang.

"You wouldn't have run if you weren't being raped."

Fang settled back in the chair, surprising Lightning. Her last words were almost unintentional bait; bait that Fang hadn't taken. "You're always going to be better than me, Lightning. Better and stronger. But how it happened, and everything that took place afterward, even how my family treated you like the villain. None of it was fair to you."

"Anya was nice," Lightning countered softly, "And Summer kept us all sane. I wouldn't have expected even that, delivering you back how I did."

Fang just shook her head. "You even gave up Serah for her happiness."

"Is she?"

"She's in love," Fang confessed, "And misses you a lot."

Lightning smiled sadly, happy to hear how well Serah was getting along in Gran Pulse. She sounded happy, which was all Lightning ever wanted for her sister. "I'll see her when she visits again."

"I think you should see her sooner." Fang countered, pretty firm. "You should come back to Gran Pulse."

Lightning smiled faintly at the notion, but ultimately sad. "You're being fanciful, Fang."

"I mean it," Fang said, "You have what, one, two more months of boot camp, then you're off? You don't need to take one of their positions, Lightning. You can come live with us."

"I can't run away with you, Fang." Lightning met those determined green eyes with memory, reflection, and wist. "We'd never work out. I'm not going to ruin your life again."

"Not with me," Fang shook her head, "I proved I'm not good enough for you over and over again. I wouldn't want you to be with me; you deserve better than that. I'm talking about it for Serah. You can live with her and all of us in Gran Pulse again."

Lightning gave a small smile, but it was still sad. "Make it sound easy, won't you?"

"It is easy," Fang insisted, "I came back here to apologize and make things right. What's right is that you should be with Serah, both of you living your dreams near each other again. And me, my family, and Hawke will all keep you safe. All the Yuns know what really happened now; you can come back, safe with us."

Lightning's eyes watered a little, staring down at Fang's hand. "And what about Yuns like Scar?" Lightning asked softly, gently realistic.

"Serah's been with us for over a month and hasn't even been the target of an attack."

"You also don't live in Paddra anymore." Lightning shook her head and added, "And Serah's not me," she wished it were different. "Even before they knew about the lie, I managed to get attacked twice. I'm sure more are unsettled with me now with it out in the open."

"I can protect you." Fang said. Lightning's eyes lifted to hers sadly, taking in those viridians that would never fully leave her mind.

"I'm not gonna cause strife with you or your family again, Fang."

Fang lowered her head, maybe seeing the conviction of that in her eyes. "There's no way I'm going to convince you, is there?"

"No," Lightning agreed sadly. "I'm afraid not."

"Well…" Fang's voice grew a little strained, "If I can't make that right… " Fang's eyes watered when she looked up again and caught Lightning's eye. "I at least want you to know how sorry I am. For everything I did to you, Light. I can't say… I was horrible to you, Light. I'm sorry for all of it."

"I wouldn't say all of it was bad." Lightning's eyes sparkled a bit, wet like Fang's. "...There is something you could do for me, Fang."

"Name it," Fang said, wiping at her eyes to get ahold of herself again.

Lightning gazed into those pretty viridians, eyes she'd never forget. A person she'd never forget. The only love of her life she'd ever had or would, lost by stupid circumstance that couldn't piece them together again, even if she wanted it now as she gazed at Fang. "Call me Claire," Lightning echoed soft as skin.

Fang embraced her, and Lightning knew it was the end. She would only be Fang's friend ever again.

And she was happy knowing that.

-Fin-