|In the Middle
Author: jaybear1701 PM
Fang finds herself caught between her love for Vanille and her growing attraction to Lightning. Light/Fang/Vanille to Light/Fang and Vanille/?.Rated: Fiction T - English - Romance/Drama - Lightning & Fang - Chapters: 14 - Words: 70,725 - Reviews: 373 - Favs: 249 - Follows: 234 - Updated: 04-17-11 - Published: 04-19-10 - id: 5910183
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Lebreau's amber eyes stared down at Lightning Farron, whose prone form lay motionless before her. Utterly defenseless. She watched as the corners of the soldier's lips tugged downward into a frown while her brow creased slightly.
The dark-haired woman leaned toward Lightning. Reaching out a hand, Lebreau brushed a few strands of strawberry blonde hair from Light's face, her fingers lightly skimming across the soft skin.
She made sure she was careful in not disturbing the blinking circular device attached to her best friend's forehead. Although Lightning looked like she was merely sleeping inside a Guardian Corps laboratory, Lebreau knew she was actually in a medically induced coma-her consciousness presumably in the Beyond.
"She looks like she's in pain," the bartender observed. She straightened up and glanced at the woman sitting on the other side of Light's bed.
"She's been like that for a while," Serah Farron said as she clutched one of her sleeping sister's hands. "They all have."
Serah twisted her body slightly to look at her fiance, Snow Villiers, who was unconscious on a medical bed behind her. The brawler had a pained expression similar to Light's on his ruggedly handsome face. Next to Snow loomed the hulking figure of his best friend and second-in-command, Gadot.
"Is there anything we can do to help them?" Gadot asked Dr. Bartholomew Estheim, who was busy checking lifesign readings off monitors closer to the laboratory's other two comatose figures-Sazh Katzroy and Hope Estheim.
"I'm afraid not," the scientist said. "We can help keep them physically comfortable, but other than that..."
Gadot punched a giant fist into an equally massive palm. "Dammit," he grumbled under his breath.
Bartholomew kept his head down as he punched-in notes into a thin datapad, its glow reflecting off his thin wire-framed glasses. He appeared to be calm, cool, and collected. But Lebreau, with her sixth-sense bartending super powers, knew he was anything but. She could tell by the tightness around his eyes and mouth, and the way his shoulders tensed any time someone spoke to him. He was trying to remain detached, professional. But the fact remained that his teenage son was lying in a coma alongside his closest friends, with their essences off in the ether somewhere.
They had been like that for three days now. And no one knew for sure if they'd be able to make it back.
"They'll be fine," Lebreau said with conviction, pushing away the cold anxiety clawing at her own chest. Whatever battles their friends were facing in the Beyond, they would prevail. She had no doubt. "They're heroes. They can do anything."
Serah let out a nervous breath and smiled at her gratefully, though it didn't quite reach her blue eyes. "Thanks, Lebreau."
The bartender nodded, knowing that nothing any of them could say would make them worry any less. She gave one last look to Lightning before she walked around to check on Snow, Sazh, and Hope. She eventually found herself standing in front of the two crystallized women that her friends were so desperately trying to save.
Despite their current states, Oerba Dia Vanille and Oerba Yun Fang were stunning. Lebreau could still remember the night she met Fang, back in Bodhum. The Pulsian warrior had entered the beachside bar where Lebreau worked in search of a lost friend. Fang definitely had stood out-not just because of her strange accent or foreign clothing. And not just because of her wild beauty, not that Lebreau had failed to notice that aspect of the woman. No. There was just something powerfully confident about Fang that commanded attention. She was like an irresistible force.
Lebreau chuckled. An irresistible force that met quite the immovable object in a certain headstrong, strawberry blonde soldier.
She walked up to the living crystal and ran a hand across it. She marveled again at how warm it felt against her palm. Her gaze drifted toward Vanille, whom she had never met formally. She wished she had. Leberau pressed closer to the crystal, her face mere inches from Vanille's shimmering glass visage. She could feel heat radiating from the girl. It caressed her entire body. She didn't know why, but she felt her stomach flutter.
The smaller Pulsian was just as striking as Fang, albeit in a completely different way. There was a softness to her, a gentleness, that the dark-haired warrior lacked. Although Snow had once said Vanille was present at the Hanging Edge during the Purge, Lebreau had only seen Vanille for the first time on a monitor, when the media had reported about the "dangerous" l'Cie captured in Nautilus. Vanille had been walking, handcuffed, next to Sazh. She had looked so fragile and vulnerable that Lebreau had felt a surprising and overwhelming desire to protect the poor girl. To hug her tightly and tell her everything would be all right.
It had been an unnerving feeling, and the bartender had pushed it aside, focusing instead on getting Purge victims to safety and attempting to find a way to catch up with Snow. They met in person in Eden, but again without any formal introductions. While Team NORA had kept their focus on Snow, the bartender had watched Vanille in the corner of her eye, felt her breath catch in her throat. She was even more beautiful in person, her green eyes shining with so much unfailing optimism even as chaos erupted all around them in the crumbling city.
Lebreau heard a slight cough behind her, breaking her trance. She took a step backward and turned to face an amused Gadot. She felt her cheeks burn. How long had he been standing there? Long enough, it seemed, as a knowing smirk appeared on his tanned face.
"Shut up," Lebreau said.
He merely laughed as she walked back toward Lightning and Serah. She never was the religious type, but as she took a seat next to her friends, she sent up a silent prayer, hoping someone out there would hear. Please bring them home.
Two figures broke through a milky cloud, only to be enveloped by another. They continued to run, one in front of the other, in the dense mist, hoping they would eventually reach a clear end. But just like countless times before, none came.
"Come on, Vanille." The taller of the two said. "It won't be long now."
It wasn't often that Vanille became annoyed with her best friend. In fact, she couldn't really remember any time she felt annoyed with Fang in the 500-odd years they'd known each other. But right now, in the world between life and death, she felt like smacking the dark-haired warrior upside the head for her stubbornness.
"Fang," Vanille huffed. "Stop."
Fang shook her head. "We need to keep moving."
"But we're not getting anywhere," Vanille complained, her voice dangerously close to a whine. They had been on the move non-stop since they regained their memories in the Beyond. "For all you know, we're going in circles."
"Beats standing still, doesn't it?" Fang turned to her with a wink. "Lady Luck won't let us down."
Realizing Fang wouldn't listen to her, Vanille decided to take matters into her own hands. She armed herself with her binding rod and cast its three silver lines at her dark-haired companion. Sorry Fang. The hair-thin wires thread themselves around Fang's legs and tightened quickly.
"Vanille, what the bloody hell-"
Vanille planted her feet in the ground and tugged hard, just as she would if she was binding a Kalavinka Striker, except of course the winged fiend was nowhere near as headstrong as a certain warrior from Pulse. Taking Fang by surprise definitely helped, and Vanille used it to her advantage as she sent the taller and stronger woman crashing into the ground.
Vanille loosened and retracted the lines as she approached Fang, who, despite her obvious surprise, managed to glower at her from the misty ground.
"You weren't listening," Vanille explained. "Can you, for once, just listen to me? This isn't gonna get us home," or to Light, "any faster." Sternly, she placed her hands on her hips as she stood above Fang. She wasn't sure where this new-found confidence and forcefulness came from - perhaps it was an aftereffect of merging with Fang when they created Ragnarok. But she decided she quite liked it.
"What would you have us do, Vanille?" Fang sat up, clearly irritated. "We have to get out of here."
The petite redhead crouched next to the dark-haired woman, balancing on the balls of her feet. "I know, Fang, but... Something from before was keeping us from remembering things, from remembering our family. And now that we've come to our senses." She shook her head. "I can't help but think that whatever it was that didn't want us to leave is blocking us in somehow. We need to try something different."
Fang exhaled an overly dramatic sigh, before muttering, "Fine."
"Good." Vanille sat on the ground and crossed her legs. "I'm glad you're seeing things my way."
She grinned at Fang's eye twitch before bowing her head and closing her eyes. With both hands, she folded her middle and ring fingers into her palm and held them in place with her thumb. She then brought the still outstretched pointer and pinky fingers of her two hands together.
"You want us to pray?" She could hear Fang's irritated huff.
Vanille cleared her mind, reaching out with it into the Beyond. She knew they weren't alone in this world of limbo. Something was out there. She could feel it. And maybe it could help them. Etro, please hear me. Vanille inhaled slowly and deeply before exhaling, allowing a sense of calm to wash over her, relaxing her muscles. Her heart rate slowed. She felt light and weightless, like dandelion fluff caught in a breeze. Something was carrying her somewhere, trying to make her see... And suddenly, in her mind's eye, she saw a flash of something. An archway? But it disappeared. The more she strained to see it, the more elusive the image became.
"Give me your hands," Vanille ordered without opening her eyes. She placed her own hands on her knees, palms up, waiting for Fang's grip.
"We're wasting time," Fang said gruffly.
The red-haired mage just sat patiently. After a few moments, the warrior grudgingly complied, just as Vanille knew she would.
Vanille felt the now familiar jolt as their palms made contact and their fingers wrapped around each others' hands, their spirits once again combining like when they were joined as Ragnarok. Warmth spread from their point of contact and wrapped around the younger Oerban. She chuckled a bit, not surprised in the least to feel what, or rather who, occupied Fang's thoughts and feelings. They were filled with strawberry blonde and flashing blue.
Not one word, Vanille. Fang's thoughts invaded her mind without warning.
I didn't say anything. She shot back, amused.
You don't have to, remember? I know everything that goes inside that brain of yours.
Vanille squeezed Fang's hands. Just shut up and concentrate Fang.
They took several calming breaths, in and out, until their breathing synchronized. Together, they reached out with their minds, cutting through the mist. It felt like they were floating like clouds, soaring above shimmering landscapes. Releasing all control, they let their consciousnesses be pulled through different areas by a force neither could identify. They began to see, or rather feel, the presence of other nameless souls. Perhaps they too were trapped in the Beyond. Or perhaps they were merely illusions, scattered figments conjured by the creators of this ethereal world.
They paid them no notice, until they came across a tall man in a billowing tan trench coat, his shaggy blonde hair covered by a black skull cap. He was walking in a valley created by deep blue crystallized waves of the former Lake Bresha, with a much shorter, pink-haired girl following beside him.
Is that...? The question from Fang tickled Vanille's brain.
It can't be. Vanille responded with a frown.
They were pulled past another scene. This time, two chocobos raced on a colorful, neon-lit track. The rainbow hues shined brightly on the yellow feathers of the giant birds as well as the dark skin of their riders - a father and a six-year-old son from the looks of it. It wasn't long before they saw another father and son pair, the older man's dark brown hair in stark contrast with the silvery locks of his teenage son. Dozens of haphazardly scattered books lay open before them on a table, and even more thick tomes were stacked high around, like miniature skyscrapers made of worn leather and cracked parchment.
Vanille wanted nothing more than to reach out and touch the friends who had become closer than family. But she couldn't. She was caught in a current that wouldn't slow or stop until they reached their destination.
How can they be here?
It's... got to be a trick, Vanille.
The muscles at the back of the redhead's neck tensed, and Vanille knew it was caused by Fang's anxiety about who they might see next. Sure enough, they drifted past a steely eyed soldier, who was following a trail of footsteps left behind in the sand by a beautiful dark-haired woman who had run ahead of her on a beach. Vanille's heart fluttered with missed beats and her stomach tightened, again because of the warrior.
What if... what if it's really them, Fang?
That's... not possible. She didn't sound so sure.
But... if anyone can make the impossible, possible...
Vanille. Fang squeezed her hands. You were right earlier. Something's trying to trap us. Bet it's the same damn thing that kept taking our memories. We need to focus. Find a way out
The younger Oerban wasn't sure who exactly Fang was trying to convince. She could feel the warrior's hesitation despite the conviction of her thoughts; knew that Fang's resolve had collapsed the moment she saw Lightning. Or what they thought was the Guardian Corps soldier.
But they continued their mental journey anyway.
They floated past a gray stone archway inside a vast antechamber. Within it, a portal swirled, flashing a dizzying array of colors, like a twisting kaleidoscope. Vanille felt her heart leap. Or was it Fang's? She wasn't sure. But she did know-they both did-that the archway would lead them home.
When Vanille opened her eyes, she and Fang were sitting on a cold, rough floor made of weathered brownstone. They were in what appeared to be an old temple, with a vaulted ceiling. It reminded her of the Pulse Vestige, but much older, ancient in fact. The redhead shivered slightly, not sure if it was from the chill in the air or the foreboding atmosphere.
"Huh." Fang sounded impressed, her voice echoing around the chamber. "Guess you were right, Vanille." She stood and pulled the redhead up to her feet before releasing her hands.
"It's been known to happen," Vanille rolled her eyes, silently sending a prayer of thanks to Etro.
Ahead of them was a steep staircase that led straight up. Each step had crumbled edges that looked ready to collapse at any moment. So, of course, it looked to be the only way out.
"Guess we can't go anywhere but up, eh?" Fang said, eyeing the stairs warily. "We'll have to move quickly."
"Right." Vanille nodded. She was about to bound onto the first step when a soft, melodic voice came from behind them.
"At last, you have arrived."
Vanille turned, as did Fang, weapons at the ready. A woman stood in
front of them, wrapped in wisped shrouds the color of emerald and sapphire that matched her eyes. Her long, silver hair cascaded down to the floor in waves. Her skin was pure alabaster. She was, in a word, breathtaking, and Vanille felt a surge of warmth and trust flood through her. I know her.
Unfortunately, Fang didn't seem quite as impressed. Before Vanille could stop her, the warrior rushed toward the newcomer and jabbed at her with her double-bladed spear, but she impaled only empty air. The woman had vanished only to instantly reappear beside Fang. Her eyes now swirling with inky darkness, the woman raised a hand, palm up, and Fang was sent sprawling to the ground by an invisible force.
"Fang!" Vanille rushed to her friend's side and crouched down next to her. "Are you all right?"
"I'm fine," Fang growled, instantly jumping back on her feet. She pointed her lance toward the stranger, stepping in front of Vanille in full on sentinel mode. "I'm just gettin' started." The dark-haired Pulsian drawled.
Vanille lowered her binding rod and laid a hand on her friend's shoulder, squeezing it gently and initiating their connection.
It's all right, Fang, she said. There's no need to be afraid.
Brushing past the warrior, Vanille moved to stand before the silver-haired woman, whose eyes had returned to their original blue-green hue.
"Vanille?" She could hear the worry in Fang's voice, but she ignored it.
Instead, she put her hands together, as if in prayer, and bowed before the newcomer. "I apologize for my friend. Thank you for helping us get this far. Lady Etro."
"Etro?" Fang inhaled sharply. "As in goddess with a capital G?"
"I am indeed Etro," the woman replied with a small smile, "but there is no need to bow before me, child."
She reached down and placed long, delicate fingers underneath Vanille's chin and brought her head back up. The gentle touch sparked more warmth and a relaxing calm within the redhead.
"You must not linger," the goddess continued, "My younger sister will not be distracted long." Off the Pulsians' questioning looks, she added, "I believe she is known as the viper in your world."
"Fell Lindzei is here?" Fang stepped forward to stand beside Vanille, her spear still firmly gripped in both hands. "Where is she then? I wouldn't mind a rumble with the she-devil."
"That would be most unwise," Etro said, tilting her head at Fang. "She wants nothing more than to destroy you."
"Why? What did we ever do to her?"
"You had attempted Cocoon's destruction, did you not?"
"Yeah well," Fang secured her weapon to her back and brashly crossed her arms. If the warrior had felt embarrassed by her failed attack on the goddess, she didn't show it. "That Focus, lest you forget, came from the crazy fal'Cie you all abandoned."
The goddess raised an eyebrow. "I created no fal'Cie."
"Whatever." Fang shrugged. "It's misplaced anger is all I'm saying."
"Fang…" Vanille chided under her breath, again placing hand on the dark-haired woman's shoulder. Stop it. She's on our side.
Etro merely smiled serenely at Fang. "It may very well be, but Lindzei cannot help but act on the duty bestowed on her."
"You mean a god has a Focus?" Vanille asked before she could stop herself.
"In a manner of speaking, yes,"
"To do what!" Fang asked, incredulous.
"Protect our Maker."
"What, you mean Pulse?"
The goddess shook her head. "The Maker of Pulse, Lindzei, and myself. Our father."
The dark-haired Pulsian let out a sharp laugh. "You mean to tell me the makers have a maker?"
"You humans assume we are gods, but we are no more divine than the one called Barthandelus."
Understanding dawned on Vanille. "You're a fal'Cie," she breathed out in surprise.
Etro inclined her head in assent.
"Perfect," Fang said. "We have quite a bit of experience dealing with your kind. I have no doubt we could take the viper."
"Your…confidence…is admirable, child," Etro replied with narrowed eyes, "But unlike your kind, my siblings and I cannot perish in this realm. If you provoke Lindzei, she will not hesitate to crush you and the former l'Cie who ventured here."
Vanille shivered as icy cold tendrils of realization wrapped around her chest. It was them. Their consciousnesses had floated right past their friends. No. Our family. She looked over at Fang. Aside from squeezing her hands into white knuckled fists, the warrior showed no emotion.
"Yes," Etro answered, as if reading their minds. "Your friends are here, trapped with illusions created by my sister."
"Where are they?" Fang practically growled, taking a menacing step torward Etro. "We have to help them."
"Do not fear, child," Etro raised a hand, in warning, to stop Fang. "I have dispatched aid to them. You must channel your energies into reaching the portal to your world, at the apex of this temple. I will ensure the others meet you there."
"How do we know we can trust you?"
"Fang!" Vanille admonished. She loved Fang for her brashness, but the last thing she wanted was for them to offend the one being who could lend them a helping hand.
"It's a valid question, Vanille. What if it's another trap?"
Deep down in her core, Vanille knew it wasn't. But she doubted that would be enough to convince Fang, especially now that Lightning was involved.
"I have watched over you since you were a child, Yun Fang." Etro approached Fang and cupped her cheek. Although the dark-haired woman flinched, she didn't back away. "I know words alone cannot convince you. But, you shall see, it was I who sent you the eidolons; I who stopped Ragnarok five centuries ago and, again, in Orphan's cradle; I who restored your memories when Lindzei sapped them away."
Vanille could still remember the fog that seeped into her mind and robbed her of her memories in a hazy bliss. She watched as Fang's green eyes widened, heard her gasp as she saw whatever it was that Etro intended for her to see. Etro removed her hand, and Fang dropped her spear and collapsed to her knees. Vanille immediately kneeled down next to her friend, who was sucking in deep lungfuls of air. The redhead wrapped one arm around Fang and gripped her shoulders with both hands.
The warrior placed a hand over one of Vanille's and squeezed.
I'm all right, she mentally said to Vanille before standing again to address Etro. "If you really want to help us, then why don't you just stop Lindzei?"
Etro shook her head. "Two sides of the same coin are we, neither one capable of overpowering the other. But bend we both to the will of the First."
"The First?" Vanille asked.
"Pulse." Etro explained as the Oerbans once again rose to their feet. "When you l'Cie were brought here after Cocoon's fall, Lindzei demanded your eradication, while I called for your release. Pulse, as arbitrator, agreed to send your friends back to your world and, in exchange, you both remained here. You must once again convince Pulse to free you and your friends. Even Lindzei would not challenge his word."
"Oh is that all?" Fang let out a long suffering sigh, and placed a hand on her hip. "And what about you? What's your Focus? Or Pulse's for that matter."
"Now is not the time, and we have wasted much already." Etro looked at them kindly. "You must go now to the portal. Pulse will no doubt find you there, and I will delay Lindzei for as long as I can."
Fang shrugged. "Don't have to tell me twice. Let's go, Vanille."
The warrior darted up the stairs, but Vanille remained in place. She bowed once more in reverence to Etro, who simply nodded in return, and then ran after Fang.
Lightning had stared down death countless times, but never before did it wear the face of someone she loved. The creature that had stolen her best friend's likeness pressed the cold barrel of its rifle into the skin of her brow, pushing Light's head back until the rock wall bit sharply into her scalp.
Still drenched from the storm, the soldier shivered from a bone-deep chill and tried to ignore the stabbing ache in her side. It's not real. She repeated it over and over again, but it was no use. Her "blood" continued to ooze out between her fingers from the gunshot wound, leaving her lightheaded and dizzy. She tried to summon a cure spell, but she felt more and more drained with every passing second. Poisoned-tipped bullets? She also wasn't sure she'd be able to cast it before her attacker pulled the trigger. And there was no way that she could dodge a pointblank shot.
A thunderbolt cracked through the thick storm clouds, bathing "Lebreau" in a violet white hue. The flash lasted a mere fraction of a second, but it was long enough for Light to notice that her attacker's once golden irises were now deep green, with black slits cutting vertically through the middle. Like a serpent.
The word "viper" materialized inside Lightning's mind, along with Fang's voice: "Cocoon is a flying nest of vipers." Light's heartbeats sped up rapidly, as if under the influence of haste. It can't be…
"Any last words?" The doppelganger hissed, no longer sounding like Lebreau.
Lightning looked up at her assailant. "Just do it," she forced out through clenched teeth.
She refused to let it end like this. The soldier had one last ace up her sleeve – unleash any wide area spell she could muster in her state – Firaga, Blizzaga, Thundaga, Ruinga. It didn't matter. At this proximity to her target, she too would be consumed by the magic's raging force. She would essentially self-destruct like a bomb, but if it would destroy the foul creature and help protect her friends, it would be worth it. As she silently conjured the spell in her mind, she thought of Fang and Vanille, Serah and Snow, Sazh and Dajh, Hope and Bartholomew, the real Lebreau and Team NORA – everyone she loved. Everyone she considered family. The people she would probably never see again. I'm sorry.
Another bolt tore through the sky, and in the brief illumination, Lightning caught a glint from the corner of her eye. She heard a faint click as fake Lebreau's index finger made contact with the rifle's trigger. Light waited for the killshot, her blue eyes narrowed in defiance.
Just as she was about to release her chosen kamikaze spell, a long hooked blade swung out in a horizontal arc from the rainy darkness and decapitated the bartender's body double. Its head gruesomely fell to the ground and rolled toward Lightning, as its body collapsed. Shock jolted through the soldier as she tried to move away from the now severed head. Thankfully, before it reached her, it vanished.
Heart pounding in overdrive, Light's eyes darted up into the storm, trying to make out her savior. It stepped into the alcove then, towering over her, and the soldier's breath caught in her throat.
"Odin," she gasped.
Clad in black and gold armor, the familiar eidolon wordlessly reached down, grasped Light beneath her arms, and lifted her to her feet. Unlike when she touched the evil doppelganger, which had frozen Light to her core, warmth surged through her when she made contact with Odin.
Her legs wobbled unsteadily when the eidolon released her, and she steadied herself on the rock face. She cast a curaja spell and, within seconds, the pain in her abdomen ceased. Lightning turned to Odin, who still stood silently, white cape billowing from the storm's gusts.
"You are a sight for sore eyes, my friend," she said.
He bowed before her and stepped out into the rain, drops of water bouncing off his metal exterior. Lightning followed him out and by the time she reached him a few steps later, he had already undergone his gestalt transformation into Sleipnir, an armored mechanical stallion.
Light leaped onto his back and grabbed the reins, spurring him onward. She didn't know where they were going, but Odin seemed to know as he confidently charged forward. She closed her eyes from the stinging rain and put all her trust in the eidolon, basking in the comfort of his aura.
The rain eventually tapered off and when Lightning opened her eyes again, they were surrounded by a thick mist, just like when she was separated from Snow, Sazh, and Hope. Did they get trapped by illusions too? Her jaw clenched at the possibility.
Lightning leaned closer to the horse's ear. "Odin, can you take me to the others?"
The steed nodded his head, almost imperceptibly, and she sighed in relief.
The white fog was so dense, Light couldn't see past Odin's head, but the horse continued at the same unwavering breakneck speed. He didn't slow until the cloudlike cover thinned out and they found themselves at the base of a massive temple made of battered brownstone. Its entrance was buttressed by cylindrical pillars as wide as an Adamantoise's leg. The structure rose like a tower into the dark sky, its rectangular levels stacked one atop the other like a multi-tiered cake.
Lightning dismounted and Odin shifted back into his knight-like form. There was no sign of anyone there. They were completely alone. She turned toward Odin, one eyebrow raised, and the eidolon merely lifted one arm and pointed to the doorway.
"Right." Light nodded.
Thin sheets of pink and white light surrounded Odin. In a swirl of red petals, he transformed into a rose-shaped crystal that shot forward and disappeared into Lightning's chest, where her l'Cie brand used to be. Warmth once again flooded through her, causing the tips of her fingers and toes to tingle slightly.
She strode purposefully into the temple and began making her way through its dimly lit, mazelike corridors. She encountered nothing inside-no fiends, not her friends-nothing except for stale and musty air and the hollow clack of her footsteps ricocheting off the stone floor. She was close to losing her patience and summoning Odin just so she could throttle him for bringing her there, when her ears picked up the faint sound of voices further down the passageway.
Lightning removed her firearm from its holster and slowed her approach, careful to remain as silent as possible as she neared the end of the hall, which opened up into a spacious chamber. The room was shaped like a circle, with multiple staircases winding up the sides of the walls like tangled vines, each leading to dozens of different corridors.
"Well that's just great," an achingly familiar voice drawled and Lightning's heart stilled. It was a voice that haunted her dreams for almost a year. "You'd think she'd at least have the decency to tell us which way to go."
"Maybe she would have if you hadn't bolted away like a spooked Cactaur," came a second, perkier voice that Light immediately recognized.
Lightning could only stare, completely dumbfounded, as Fang appeared in her line of sight. She was walking to the middle of the chamber, arms pulled back and hands linked behind her head, staring up in exasperation at the multiple paths before her. Vanille trailed behind the warrior, arms crossed.
The soldier's chest throbbed with hope and anxiety. Was it really them? Or were they illusions? The Lebreau that had tried to kill her had seemed so real. What if it was another trap? Light squeezed the pistol grip of her gunblade. Illusions or not, she wouldn't let her guard down. Not again.
The Pulsians had their backs turned toward her, and she swiftly approached them, weapon raised. "Don't move."
She watched as they both tensed, but made no other motions. "Good," Light continued, "Now turn around. Slowly. Don't try anything stupid."
They both did as commanded. Vanille's eyebrows shot up in surprise when she saw the soldier and a wide grin broke out on her pretty face. "Light!" The redhead exclaimed.
She rushed forward, and Lightning trained her gun on the girl, ready to fire if necessary, but Fang snatched Vanille's arm and held her back. The raven-haired woman shook her head at the smaller Oerban, who frowned but stayed still.
Fang looked at the soldier then, her emerald eyes penetrating her to her core, and Lightning forgot to breath.
A/N: A month-long wait is better than six months, right? haha This chapter was originally MUCH shorter and metacog, after the first beta read, convinced me to make it longer. I like to think the additions (which were planned for the next chapter, actually) make this chapter better, so again I can't thank her enough for her input. So, dear readers, definitely send meta some love, yeah? :)