Summer cradled her arm at the elbow where Fang wasn't injured. Lying on the bed, Fang closed her eyes. "Are you ready?" Summer asked softly, voice floating over Fang, who croaked.

"Yeah."

Summer began picking the clumpweed from Fang's arm. Unbearable pain would follow soon enough, but for now, as Summer removed the placeholder for skin, Fang just felt a draft. It stung, of course, having air exposed to the raw wound. Fang had never been squeamish, but even she knew how awful it looked. And Summer knew it better than all of them, the one directly responsible for reknitting Fang's muscle and sinew bit by bit. With more air exposed, the wound stung a little more and continued to do so as Summer pulled the grassy-ended pieces out. "Tell me when you've had too much."

"I will," Fang promised, being quiet for the first part of this so Summer could concentrate. She wanted to take Summer's mind off the injury, but it was too dangerous at the start. "Thank you," Fang only said. Summer stroked her elbow in responding caress as she pulled the last of the clumpweed clean. Fang could feel the fresh air of the room on her injury like a stinging plague. She tried to relax and bit down on her teeth in case the urge to bite came when she started. Summer's second hand left her elbow as the first went to her forehead. She didn't warn Fang because Fang would tense, and it made the pain worse. Fang just waited, eyes closed with an arm that felt empty and stung at the touch of air.

The light glow of green behind her eyelids accompanied with an expected, but startling grip of agony in her arm. Heat like molten lava sliced through Fang's arm. She could feel the fine tendrils, so miniscule as to be little millimeters of flesh. The innermost skin near the muscle where they'd cauterized started to bleed freely again. Skin that wasn't meant to heal seemed to grow out of nowhere in an accelerated, unnatural fashion that broke and bled burnt edges of flesh. Fang could feel her heart start to race as her body's functions took up speed with the healing that wasn't supposed to happen this way or at all.

She knew it was impossible; the layers of skin Summer stretched to grow wouldn't compare to a tenth the height of a fingernail, but it felt like her flesh was knitting, and it was, but the impossibly thin knitting was imagined more than felt. Nerves in Fang screamed as that paper-thin skin grew from her bodies accelerated processes going way too fast. Fang simultaneously wanted to puke, and was glad she'd managed to take in so much because at the rate it felt like this was going, she'd burned through the meal and a half already. Excruciating of the broken skin had Fang sweating in seconds. She wanted to die by the end of the minute.

"STOP!" Fang finally cried out, tears forming in her eyes when the lava boiled out of her arm. The fibers didn't immediately stop, and Fang's heart sped even further, dangerously in panic. Had Summer not even heard her? What if she didn't stop? What if it never did? What if this anguish pushed so far that Fang's heart imploded before it could even give her a mercy of passing out? The boiling stirred, sizzled, went straight to her head and— fizzled out.

Fang let out a meek cry of agony from her spot. She curled on her side and Summer let her to keep the fresh blood from dripping out of her arm. She followed Fang there, crawling after her, hand still on Fang's forehead a second before something cool pressed into the gouged divot in her arm. It made Fang cry again. "Fang," Summer seemed to be saying more than once.

"Summ…" Fang whimpered, curled like a little child. The painful and cooling thing pressed into her arm drew back. Fang reached for it meekly, both wanting it back and hating it. Her heart only just started to slow. Fang breathed out in pants.

"Fang, you did well." Summer said, her words starting to register a little more. "That was very good, Fang. Relax." Summer's lips touched the short ends of her hair above her ears and warmth kissed there, taking Fang's mind from her steaming arm. "That was great," Summer told her again. "You lasted more than a minute. You're getting so much better, Fang."

Fang still panted, out of breath. "Is Mom… Mom's— "

"She's not here," Summer eased, reassuring Fang of that, which made Fang breathe just a little easier again.

"Good," That was good. That meant, in these un-soundproofed rooms, she hadn't screamed loud enough for Anya to come running. Fang's mother shared too much pain already; Fang hated having to let her see this as well. Fang's mind fizzled as the pain gradually faded and her racing heart slowed down. "That's… good." She kept her eyes closed. "You said… a minute?"

"Over," Summer told her again, "You lasted over a minute, Fang. I got a lot done. If you continue to hold out that well, we're going to see real healing of this gouge soon. You did so well."

"Are you…" Fang breathed out hard.

"I'm fine, Fang," Summer reassured, brushing back her sweaty hair. "Don't worry about me. It was only our first round. Rest up a little."

"Okay," Fang took that advice. Fresh blood aside, she knew she wouldn't notice a difference if she looked at her arm now, but then she hadn't noticed a difference when they first began either and Summer re-knit her sinews. That muscle and bone fully healed now, carved out flesh was yet left to be regrown. Summer had saved her from amputation, restored use of her arm, and then some. She said they wouldn't even be able to notice anything that'd happened by the end of it. Fang trusted her hand and appreciated her effort beyond a kindness or love. Summer had saved her arm.

"Summer," Fang said when her breath was fully caught and her heart almost back to normal.

"Do you want some water?"

Fang reached up where Summer brushed long fingers through her messy hair and caught them. She squeezed those slender fingers and palm, which were still warm. "You're perfect," Fang blurted because she didn't know how to express her gratitude with words.

"Nobody's perfect, Fang." Summer said in that voice of all-understanding that floated on wings above.

Fang squeezed. "Pretty damn close."

Summer's fingers scrunched in her hair. "Get some rest, Fang. We'll try again in a minute."

"You know," Fang admitted softly. "I deserve this."

"No one deserves torture. Especially not you, Fang."

Fang knew where Summer's tender heart lay when she started to talk of such things, but Fang hadn't really gotten to speak of Lightning. Not in a quieter fashion like this, and certainly not with her father, which stung. "Lightning doesn't have this," Fang reminded, wanting to talk about it to someone. "She doesn't have a family to support her. That's worse than this. She deserves more. What if she's struggling?"

"Did it sound that way on the phone?" Summer asked gently.

"…No," Fang admitted, "But she's good at hiding that kind of thing." Fang rebutted before Summer could say, remembering back. "She was good at hiding it… when I used to hurt her. I didn't even know… how damaging…" she knew now, of course. Summer knew now too. Fang had told her family over a dozen times: Lightning hadn't been at fault. Sky didn't believe it and Dad wouldn't even listen. Fang didn't even know how her best friend truly felt about it, Vanile was so involved with her problem and 'plaguing' Sky with infertility for life. Fang wasn't selfish enough to invest her further in more problems.

That left Anya, Summer, and Serah, who automatically loved her sister no matter what. Anya had a very hard time with it, she was so conflicted, but at least she listened and let Fang talk to Lightning. Summer, even Fang was unsure of. She'd hated Lightning at one time; Fang had thought this would make her hate Lightning even more, but when Fang told both sides of the story, she'd just listened quietly and took it in. Her neutrality on the subject carried, but Fang thought she understood.

"Lightning's strong," Summer said, surprising Fang until she continued. "You told me that, Fang, and she sounds like it."

"I know…" Fang murmured, but her worry didn't go away. Stronger than her or not, no one could carry what she and Fang went through together by themselves. Lightning needed someone too, and they'd already stolen away her beloved sister to boot.

"Jaeger's not ready, Fang." Summer offered softly then. "She needs more time before you bring Lightning back. All of us do, yourself included." Fang craned her head back to look at Summer with open eyes. "Like your wound," Summer compared, giving her a small little smile. "One painful step at a time."

Fang squeezed her fingers again. "I'm ready for another."

"Don't rush it." Summer coaxed. "Take one more minute, Fang. Then we'll start again."

Summer's fingers sadly left hers in preparation for the next time. Fang turned her head back and closed her eyes again to wait for it. Gradually, she would heal of this. And so would Lightning.

XXX

Lightning crossed the busy mess hall to sit beside her roommate and tentative acquaintance-friend, Candice. She set her tray down and seated herself for a short lunch. Candice barely cast a glance her way at her arrival. "Lightning."

"Hello, Candice." Lightning started in on her carbs: smashed potatoes and carrots, cooked together in what the soldiers had collectively termed Mash. That, and the slender cut mystery meat that changed by the day filled their three basic food needs for the jobs: carbs, protein, and vegetables. It was a sensible choice, if not a favored one.

Lightning couldn't help thinking of Fang as she reached for the salt for flavor. She was on her mind after that call earlier today. Fang would hate these meals. She'd still been so small when Lightning saw her on that surprise visit last month, Lightning hoped she was eating enough. She couldn't imagine Anya not shoveling food into her skinny little daughter, but still. She'd thought Fang might be bigger by then. At least her arm looked better. Not that Lightning could see under the bandage, but the pure fact that Fang still had an arm was encouraging.

"So," her blonde-haired, gray-eyed roommate roused her from her thoughts. "You ever going to tell me what happened with you and that pretty, penis-wielding Yun of yours?"

Lightning wasn't so bothered by her crudeness; that fit a lot of the people here, but she corrected her anyway out of respect to Fang and her culture. "She's called a stud."

"Right." Candice corrected, "Her Studliness. So?"

"So, what?"

"So, are you going to tell me any little detail yet? Or ever?"

Sometimes, Lightning reckoned she'd do better in the mens' barracks. Less prying. "Probably not."

"Oh, come on," Candice sighed at the repeat refusal, "Motherhood is a long way from GC serving. There's not any truth to those rumors, are there? Some people doubt that you were ever pregnant." Lightning lifted her eyes from her meal to give Candice a completely drab and unamused look. "I didn't say I was one of them!" Candice defended. Lightning returned to her food, heart settling back a little bit. "Why don't you like to talk about it at all?"

"It's private."

Candice scoffed, "If you wanted it private, you shouldn't have made yourself a celebrity over it." When Lightning didn't respond, she turned back to her Mash in defeat, but wasn't entirely ready to drop it. "They still write columns about you sometimes, you know."

"You shouldn't read into gossip columns, Candice."

"It might be gossip," Candice allowed, "But there's a point of coincidence and a point of fact. When PSICOM's two, top-ranking officers disappear just after you announce the miscarriage of your baby with Fang…"

"I hardly see how those events are related."

"Yeah, sure," Candice rolled her eyes, "If you won't tell me anything about you two together, at least explain to me how Fang looked when she came her. I mean, one minute, we see her beautiful self abandoning you on television— "

"She didn't abandon me." Lightning interrupted sharply. "She— " at the sight of Candice's overly curious face to the outburst, Lightning corrected in a calmer tone. "She never abandoned me."

Candice quirked an eyebrow. "Is that denial? Or truth?" Lightning returned to her food, done answering questions about it. Candice wasn't. "Knowing you, I'm going to go with truth." Showed how much Candice knew her, anyway. "That still doesn't explain how Fang disappeared for months, and the next time anyone else saw her four months down the road, she's stick-thin and starved-looking with barely any hair and a huge bandage over her Yun tattoo. Aren't they supposed to never purposefully hide that? Like it's some kind of Yun pride or something."

"You read into things too much," Lightning answered, just wanting this conversation to end.

"Or just enough," Candice countered. "If Fang didn't abandon you…"

"Dyke," Lightning glanced up, almost in relief at the timely insult, but her relief was short-lived as wannabe-badass Noel Kreiss leaned over the opposite side of the table with his little hoodlum entourage of two thuggish supporters. "Excuse me, did I say dyke? I meant Light. They just sound so similar."

Lightning didn't give him the grace of a second glance, though Candice wasn't so subtle in her hatred. "Go fuck yourself, Kreiss. Unless you have your precious little boy band do that for you."

Noel's eyes narrowed hatefully in her direction. "Unless I order them to fuck you first. Would you like that, Candice? We can shove a little bit of meat between those tight cheeks you save for Lightning. Let you know how it really is to be fucked."

"Kreiss," Lightning drew his attention before Candice could jump back into a fight. "Talk to her again and you won't have a penis to fuck with." Lightning grabbed Candice' leg under the table and hoped she'd take the hint to be quiet.

"Oh, the girlfriend coming in to save the day," Noel leered, "That's sweet. I rather deal with you anyway. Guess who just got signed on, First Class PSICOM, Light-dyke?"

"You come all this way to pump your penis at me?" Lightning disinterestedly stirred at her food. She'd have preferred not to respond to his taunts at all, but it'd come to fists if left with Candice and His Manliness. The last thing Candice needed was another referral for misbehavior.

"You'd like that, wouldn't you?" Noel continued to taunt. Having a real boy-boner for PSICOM, he'd taken instant, personal offense against Lightning. His promotion to PSICOM would actually be a nice thing because he'd move away for it. "From what I hear, you love to pump my penis, wouldn't you? Transvestites are just your style, aren't they?"

"That why you're offering yourself up?"

Candice snickered. Noel's fists slammed to the table on either side of her tray as he leered in uncomfortably close, invading Lightning's personal bubble times ten. "You think you'll get away with it because you have a pretty bitch-face that you can smile at anyone and have your way. But I know you. I know you've slept your way into the GC and you won't advance for it. You can kiss that Corporal spot goodbye, let alone Sergeant. As PSICOM's scouted, I'll make sure of that."

Lightning was disappointed to hear that. It meant he might not be leaving after all, but Noel was nothing anyone couldn't handle. With more brawn than brains, he wasn't likely to do anything that had effect on her. "Thank you for sharing your plans." Lightning scooted back her chair, "Now, if you'll excuse me— "

Noel reached out and grabbed the front of her shirt. Candice started to stand. Lightning looked down at those hands. "You and the Yun bitch are gonna pay. Threatening PSICOM relationships with the tribes. Was it worth it to suck her peewee penis in your mouth?"

"Your nose is about to break in my Mash in three seconds." Lightning warned, pointed look aimed downward at his hands on her shirt scruff. Others had started to watch and Candice was ready to pounce. As satisfying as it would be, Noel wasn't worth the bruises on her first to punch. They learned control here, and he clearly had none. It was a wonder he hadn't slept with someone to pick up PSICOM's notice.

"It's a wonder a Yun even took note of you."

"Three." Lightning warned.

"Heh," Noel released her and brushed off, "Thank God the plan died. That was probably Fang's interest the whole time, wasn't it? Knock up the Cocoon bitch and get out. Bet she had other girls too. The Yuns love spreading the polygamous seed to all you bitches— "

Lightning grabbed his shoulder with a strong arm. In a second, a loud CRACK rang out with a squeal of pain as Noel faceplanted her wooden bowl of Mash with his nose. Lightning gave an extra shove and he practically cried. "Mother fuck!" Lightning held him there and leaned over.

"Next time you insult Fang or the Yuns," Lightning whispered only to him, a hairbreath above him. She reinforced the grip holding him down. "It'll be your balls that I crunch." She released him and stepped back. The two morons with him stood there like they didn't know what to do. "Candice," Lightning reminded to come away with her because Candice was otherwise preoccupied with staring.

"Traitorous bitch!" Noel almost cried after her, face full of blood and Mash with his nose off-crooked and broken. "You'll get what's coming!"

"That was amazing," Candice breathed, catching up to her walking away.

Lightning's jaw clenched too hard to answer, she just continued along silently, wanting the ever-present eyes to stop watching.

XXX

Sky watched Fang step into the water. Shy, back turned to them and Jaeger, she was embarrassed about her body and letting it be seen this way. Even from a backside view, Sky could see the bones in her back protruding at angles they shouldn't, angles that showed how undersized and tiny Fang still was. Hawke's strength aside, anyone would be able to pick Fang up like a little girl and toss her. Little Vanille could probably carry her. Sky just wanted to take her back home and feed her. Her best friend was a stick and needed it.

"Sky," Vanille called, tearing Sky's attention away. She could afford to take her eyes off Fang because Jaeger was with them this time, and Jaeger wouldn't let Fang out of her sight for an instant. Instead, Sky's eyes found Vanille in the pool of hot springs on her back, floating as she righted herself to talk to Sky instead. "Won't you swim with me?"

"Of course," Sky moved through the shallow waters to Vanille in the middle of the pool. The water only came up to her shoulders in the very middle at its deepest point, but it was enough to bury Vanille's head under. She had to swim, as she was doing now, to keep her head afloat in the large bath. Sky's arms came in under her and Vanille let herself be scooped. Vanille curled in comfortably to her chest and conversed.

"I like it here."

"These springs, or my arms?"

Vanille smiled up at her in that cute little way she had about her that sang of innocence and cutesy things. "Both," Vanille snuggled in her arms a bit, "But I meant the springs when I said it. This place is so nice and warm." Sky only nodded, and Vanille pushed. "Don't you think so?"

"It's quiet," Sky said, not quite agreeing. It was one of Sky's first times out of Paddra, the trip with Fang to Cocoon not included, but Sky was already quite convinced she knew her favorite place already. "I'm kinda glad our rooms aren't soundproof," Sky confided and Vanille seemed surprised, as she would be, because Sky valued their privacy when it came to intimacy.

"It feels a bit more like home to hear everybody else." Sky explained. Not that anybody else had been apt to having sex of late. Strange as that seemed, Sky did miss the comfort level Paddraians had with each other. She liked taking Vanille alone, wasn't ever really a fan of voyeurs watching in on private moments, but here, no one even walked around naked. The Sylk were a private clan, and it seemed the Teff had taken after them in this instance of a town. Lots of people kept to themselves in their crafts and weaving. There just wasn't the whole community Sky had grown up in and loved in Paddra.

"You miss Paddra?" Vanille asked, probably already knowing. Sky had expected to come home in jubilation, mate Vanille in a small ceremony that had plenty of close family and friends, and not her mother if she could help it, and carry on to have lots of kids with Vanille. It's what Yuns did and loved, and Sky was no exception. She had four already; two to a Croft who'd rejected her heart, and two to Summer, who hadn't been ready either untimely time of asking to accept a mate for the rest of her days. Sky couldn't blame either of them too much. She had a tendency to cling and knew of it, but could hardly help it. Sky just wanted a woman to mate and love.

Vanille had been accepting of her, and Sky loved the little redhead with every fiber of her being, but that didn't make recent circumstance any easier to digest. Sky still had a hard time with it. She just felt, if they tried enough, no matter what the Cocoon doctor had said, she could impregnate Vanille. She was fertile, and Vanille must have some eggs still. She was way too young not to. If they kept fucking, one of these times, they'd be blessed. Vanille would have a miracle child, followed by others in later date, and she wouldn't have to be so shamefully sad and depressed every time Sky tried to tell her they had to keep trying.

Sky wasn't blind. She hated Cocoon, but could admit some degree of accuracy to their testing methods, but Cocoon wasn't Gran Pulse. They weren't men, they were Yuns, and Sky was damned if she was going to leave Vanille feeling like an infertile failure for the rest of her life. Even Anya had Fang before her horrible accident; Sky was going to give Vanille one too. At least one. That was a promise she'd made to herself.

"I do," Sky admitted to the question. "I miss the sounds, each other, communal feasts every odd day of the week… these people are too reserved. And that's me saying that."

Vanille offered her a sad smile. All her smiles were sad in some way of late. The way those green eyes shone at Sky, anyone could see the pain in her. Sky had to fix it. She had to make Vanille truly smile and mean it again.

"I wish they could forgive us Serah," Vanille said, meaning the Yuns back in their home town. Letting Fang come back had been big enough, but Sky expected that. Her people were a forgiving sort, even if someone went off and did something astronomically stupid, they were willing to take them back if their sorrow was genuine. And Fang's was. But Serah… familial love couldn't stretch as far as to forgive the sister of the woman they all hated so much. Sky could only do so herself because she knew Serah really had nothing to do with it, and she'd known Serah on the occasion before, but to expect that of her clan who didn't know Serah personally and simply knew Lightning in all her treachery, Sky couldn't blame them for not being able to stretch that far. She didn't know that they ever would. Barring some celestially-given miracle, Serah would likely never be welcomed back to Paddra.

But that was a subject for Hawke and Serah, not Sky. Not that Hawke would really mind staying out of Paddra in one of these cities. She was looked upon as strange there too. As the Yun capital and commercial center, opinions about Cocoon were strongest there. They didn't look upon Hawke's fondness for Cocoon girls kindly. Being their capital, Paddra had more studs than other outlaying towns and villages, and so Hawke was subject to more prejudice there than most other places, since Paddra had no shortage of studs, but everywhere else didn't lack that problem, and so were very more accepting of Hawke. Sky wouldn't put it passed her to move into a Croft settlement with Serah when the right time came around. Serah would miss the family she'd made in the rest of them, sure, but she loved Hawke, and they weren't going to stay out of Paddra forever.

Sky cradled her little redhead's hair and brushed through the water with fingers. "We'll see," was all she said, because Vanille knew just as much that Serah wouldn't be welcomed back. She just wanted to drift away for a time. Sky understood immensely.

"Sky," Vanille lifted up a hand to her cheek to cradle and fondle. Sky leaned into the touch for her. "Make love to me?" Vanille asked with wide, pleading eyes. Sky lifted her in her arms at once, but Vanille raised a hand and touched her lips to halt her. "Not sex," Vanille asked, full of trepidation. "I wanna make love."

Sky's heart broke a thousandth time. She cradled Vanille close and lowered her head to let her lips answer Vanille with all her love. For her, Sky would do anything to please.