A/N: Welp, I'm actually out of that two-year writer's block, for now at least. Maybe I'll just write this one little thing and lose my way again.

My excerpts are getting longer and more descriptive than they ever used to be. This is Lightning and Laguna we're reading about, practically opposites, so buckle up for meandering descriptions and character thoughts. I'm still not quite confident in my ability to tackle something novel-lengthy, especially because of life, so I'm starting small. We'll see if I even write anything in a while after this.

Also, why am I Fluffy Cookies now instead of FantasyWriting? No real reason.

My warnings? This one shot includes strong language, some graphic violence and it's really long. That's all I've got to say.

IMPORTANT HEADCANON: Lightning's l'Cie mark is white in Dissidia, and that basically means she won't turn into a Cie'th (basically a zombie) so she can fight. Keep that in mind for the story for some later events.

. . .

"Communicate. Even when it's uncomfortable or uneasy. One of the best ways to heal is simply getting everything out and if you live bitterly, you live a lonely existence."

- Unknown


Between Enduring Nightmares and Momentary Lullabies

Lightning thinks that words are too simple when it comes to emotions. Too open-ended. Words are just the fringes of your mind's dimensions and demons. They make for double-edged swords when they come with the leverage feelings give. They simplify the wondrous shitstorm that's inside you.

Much like all of Cosmos's faction, she just wants to know why they're at war, but the needed words, the precious questions, don't come forth. Why does it gotta be them of all people to hurl themselves into a tangle of blades and poisonous conflicts? Couldn't it be more gods that satiate their boredom by getting into petty squabbles with other ones? And yet, she's asked nothing. They've asked nothing.

The actions speak for themselves better than potentially poison-tipped words, right? Deities get to use their divine intervention like it's a shining toy, like how so many rich people get to pitch wads of gil at the one thing they just can't stand to be without.

Her overcoat's stripped of her, swaying with the breathing ripples of Sanctuary's water, the same refreshing stuff Lightning's apparently 'resting' in, as Tifa told her some whatever-number-of-hours ago. Those humming cold, alien currents are also something simple and potentially earth-shattering. They're something that reminds Lightning's hardening nerves that she's still present. That she's at least got what makes her who she is, and that she's not some mirror-eyed puppet awaiting the day when something or someone shatters some sense into their noggin.

Fingertips scale Blazefire Saber's glistening flat side, almost slamming away on it like a piano screeching at her to let loose. The beautiful gunblade is perched atop her knees, calling her name.

As much as I want to, maybe my mind needs 'rest' after all.

So here she still sits, like a goody two shoes in Order's Sanctuary even when she knows she can just up and leave without a care in the world.

When she's the eye of a storm, assaulting targets that might as well beg to be hacked to bits, her intention is right where she needs it, and the words are straightforward. Something firm, unchanging, and factual, unlike words driven by emotion. Kill. Keep steady breaths. Watch out for sharp edges. Kill.

Minds are too much for words when it comes to almost everything that strikes the heart. They twist, they laugh, they convince, and their middle name is either manipulation or truth all the same. What your mind screeches most, your words try their best to deliver. It's what makes people suddenly so fucking difficult to understand emotionally sometimes. It's all communication's fault for trying to get something so complex out in such a way, something that's best shown from the brutal actions it causes when it comes to the outside world.

Her mind is a shitstorm itself. She's seeing images of herself stabbing both the gods of this realm with a malevolent smirk. There's also the memories—almost being impaled by a pillar of ice and doubling over in pain as she made lightning strikes lurch from her hands—and they always let her envision herself dying and what-ifs that were certainly possible in those situations.

She definitely doesn't want to talk to anyone right now. But she needs to vent somehow and it makes her grit her teeth against curses.

Lightning merely sits still, breathing at the robotic pace of the silver water that grips, yanks and gives out onto her goosebump-textured legs. Sitting and waiting for those thoughts to come snatch her up. Making herself vulnerable and all stupid-feeling. It sucks and makes her want to hunt beyond Cornelia Plain's patterned, freezing, and dull skies and hack away at living things with their own possible venomous words.

What even am I here?

Her fingertips depart from Blazefire Saber's addicting touch to the wiggling zipper of her turtleneck. There lies the gateway to another realm of what-the-fuckery. More cunning mind tricks and puppet plays. Right behind it there's some blistered, white tattoo that tickles away at the soft and stubborn seams of her amnesiac brain. That's the thing that inherently makes her a witch. It's the stupid leech that warps her hands into wings of cackling flames, trigger-happy lightning strikes, jumpy water drops, and screaming gales whenever she screeches for them.

It's going to hurt when she remembers what that parasite is, because she can already smell the bullshit that emits from it. She just doesn't know its context, why it's tearing away at her mind; but it's so toxic that she already knows it's got to do something with probably more gods, more crap, and even less freedom. It has 'do what I say' etched and scarred all over its cruel, guffawing pattern. The damn thing hurts, always makes her chest well up with sickening, laughing magic when it's all concocted, turning her into a storm.

Before her emotional thoughts toy with her even more, in the flooded, grey distance, splashing footsteps stir alive.

"Hello, what's this? Lightning's actually not trying to lop off someone's head in her free time?"

Laguna's loud, upbeat tone scissors its way into her abusive thoughts with such ease, cornering her into refocusing. But when those loud, splashing footsteps of Loire's start clashing with the obnoxious whistle that scurries past his lips, Lightning swivels around to glare him down. She fails to close her mouth against a strained, weak sigh. Her eyes are pinning themselves on the rhythmic waves lapping onto her skirt, and she knows that she'll have to communicate now, of all fucking times.

"What is it, Loire?" Her words, while hard and true, are also chained by a shriveled, uneven throat. Dry and tired, thirsty and longing for freedom. Lightning just wants to soar, make her own arcs, and abandon her consciousness if it means she doesn't have to open her mist-softened lips. She waits for his annoying words to drum her ears.

Running water fills in the gap between them, delivers the unspoken words to her ears. With it comes winds that pull away at her rose hair strands, almost like they're trying to reach for the barrier of thick clouds staring them down. Slaves to gods, her mind hisses.

Some stupid number of seconds, or maybe even minutes later—Lightning can't tell because her mind and all the words she's taken in are undoing the knots of her sanity—she hears Laguna pop some joint while a mumble, laced with words that Lightning can tell are too simplistic for something so time-consuming, pulls itself out of his unsure mouth.

"Uh... lemme take a wild guess; you're even more mopey than usual?" Lightning, with the motions of a marionette, brings her worn, leery stare up to him. Laguna's rubbing away at his neck, and even though he's several paces away from her, she can feel the genuine uncertainty tracing his dirt-caked, suddenly inflexible shoulders.

"Okay, let's go for something more specific,"—Laguna can't believe he's mirroring the steadiness of Lightning's eagle-eye gaze that's drilling into his skull—"you're upset."

In the bowels of her mind, Lightning laughs away. She bites her tongue against pointless words. She's a breathing clutter of mostly negative things. It shouldn't be too hard to dissect her with given time, unless someone dares to scour her sharp-structured expression for her intentions.

"I'll take that as a 'yes' from our scowling comrade." Laguna finishes, sauntering closer to Lightning as she lifts herself from clapping water. One brown drop crawls off and down her darkened, suffocating miniskirt. Three by three, even more drops painted with the ugly rawness of war coalesce with those god-infested, silver ripples. Her gunblade's mechanism hums the melodies of all things technological, collapsing into a mess of folding and flexing edges, and before Laguna's eyebrows drape over his worn, eye-bag decorated eyes, he swears he sees that beautiful jumble somehow nestle itself into Lightning's holster.

Adding that to my official list of 'Oh, that just happened'.

Laguna sets a throbbing knuckle on the dark skin folds pulling at his eyes. There's dust and grime digging into his tender muscles, and the resulting itchiness compels him, howls at him to roll in Sanctuary's aged and pure-ish-holy-whatever-water. And there, somewhat closer now, squeezing out her dripping crimson cape's scars and insufferable memories from wailing blades and graceful sparks of sorcery, stands Lightning, elegant in her straightforward arm movements.

Focus, Laguna. He attempts to adopt a confident stride, closing in on her. Lightning pep talk first. Much-needed bath later.

"Much as I know you love to sulk, Lightning,"—Laguna pivots a bit on one of his sore legs, draws a knuckle to his lifting chin, and coils his free arm around his midsection—"you're still on our side of this thingamajigy-war, so you've gotta let it out some time, you follow? Staying on the same page is the best chance we've got at staying alive and sane."

Lightning looks up from her choking, torn cape, and there in her shifting eyes, Laguna catches the words, hesitant and impatient as they are, before they free themselves from her mouth. "I'm not in the mood to talk today, Loire."

Despite the raspy voice, Laguna has to admit that her defiance, while strained, is authentic as ever. Laguna's chest pumps itself, seals air in widened lungs for a second, and releases a cascade of breath through his nostrils. Good ol' Lightning, letting it all out in ways harder than reasonably talking, or, as Laguna believes moreso, ways that aren't really good for moping heads.

"On the contrary, my dear, definitely-not-pessimistic-comrade,"—he daringly nudges out a wink from a crinkling eye—"your mouth's usually zipped on a daily basis nowadays. Didn't you complain a lot more at the beginning of this war?"

Again, Lightning's dodging well-aimed, venomous knives with silence. Her parched throat's twisting and rolling in its coffin, waiting to die, much like how her ears are waiting for all the tainted words in the universe to take their leave.

"C'mon, Light. Doesn't hurt to say somethin' about what's going up in there." Laguna cocks his head and slaps a dry finger on his temple, catching Lightning's shrinking gaze again.

This time, when Lightning tries to suck in aimless, heavy retorts, her mouth goes off on its own. Fuck you, mind.

"Listen, you; I told you I'm not in the mood." Her poor throat's been pulling at her for a while, always somehow luring thirsty eyes back to the water below. But Lightning narrows an eye at that foreign stuff. It reeks of divine bulllshit, not to mention how many times she's seen musty boots and gunky laces invade its choppy barriers.

"Jeez, jeez, seems our Lightning's getting even more tense. Easy there, Flash." Laguna yields, bringing up his arms in surrender.

Lightning shoves grey, metallic-scented nails further into her freezing cape, scratching vulnerable palms. Her mind's happy to garble up Laguna's words if it means he'll finally hush up. Except, it doesn't, because she's had it, so her mind's crying, screaming, and kicking away. This nonsense Dissidia bloodshed, those futile parries, those satisfying feints that scored a smirk on her once-bloodied lips, and that stupid, cackling clown, that bitchy know-it-all time sorceress, and that poor Onion kid, falling prey to this steaming pile of horseshit...

There goes the mind, mocking her, yanking her strings. And all the gibberish that repeats in her head—a miserable, broken record—always brings her wavering gaze back to the water that brushes against her boots' rusted heels. Fucking gods—a sweet, sour snort wiggles itself free from her windpipe—they're everywhere, those assholes.

"Yoo-hoo, Loire to Farron? You there?" Laguna listens for more hints of bitterness, waits for more outbursts.

And he just keeps going on and on, Lightning's mind simultaneously seethes and chuckles.

Damn you, Laguna. Damn you for trying to get so close. And the words find their way out again before she blinks.

"Look, I'm tired and I need thinking time. So can you just leave me alone?" Lightning's mind pulses, almost pukes on itself. It coils into regret and anger and feeds on her half-hearted, little words. A sigh slips from her head's desires, and her eyes finally hook onto Laguna's again.

Pissed, bitter, and sorry. What a perfect time to breathe and talk.

Slippery hands relax themselves on the cape she's been gripping with an ever-tightening-hold. This 'resting' only tugs away at Lightning's splitting patience. Everyone besides them is venturing beyond this safe haven, probably losing their guts and blood to thirsty sorcerers and armor-clad nightmares as time slips away like sand through her fingers.

Laguna, raking a palm over his sticky neck, finally cracks. The gaze he feeds Lightning seems to be his same, old surface at first, but then she sees something about it—maybe its the jerking, arced eyebrows or the 'Oh' that he says roughly and smoothly at the same time—that exposes so many chapters of his thoughts and words to her feasting eyes.

Air swoops through Laguna's tight lips, and the smile he makes is enough for Lightning's pupils to flicker a bit, even if she's stone-faced for the most part. "Okay, let's start over." Laguna says, and just like that, he's some inches away from Lightning, so her glare retreats back to her cape, and she tries to pin her sight on its droplets, the swooshing backdrop that accompanies it, and no, no, you're in my way, you idiot.

"Alright, Lightning, you're stressed from all this fighting and your responsibilities, aren't you? Not hard to see that." He really does see it, from the knots on her forehead to her soft, fragile squeeze on her cloak. Laguna's fingers gnaw on his chin, and he reels his gaze back a bit to give Lightning some space.

"I mean I get it, you know? Throwing yourself into a minefield with lots'a burdens weighing you down, looking over all of us like you're a mama bear or something like that." Laguna's intonations aren't trying to run down Lightning's eardrums now, and Lightning finds herself drinking in his softer presence.

"And damn, Lightning, if I don't give up my thanks somehow, that negative stuff in your head probably isn't going to budge." Laguna slurps up even more of her fresh, resulting actions. Lightning pulls up her cape, and up with it, dyed in a coat of dampness, comes her overcoat.

"And so, my fellow compadre, that's why I've been sticking around; all just to make sure that pretty little face of yours isn't always, well, as gloomy as it is right now."

Something about the sincerity that frames his pitch, the appealing, genuine grin he's got, and the actual appreciation he gives her that she so long craved from this war zone makes Lightning's flaring mind stop and scrunch itself up into a ball of lukewarm goodness. Her thoughts shovel up some fresh words, all of which only slam into the stubborn barricade that's her teeth. And so, once again, silence wraps them both in its sneering embrace. Because, really, any words she can draft up can't mix up so perfectly well with Laguna's proposition. Not when swaying emotions cling to her mind and, subsequently, her words.

She just doesn't get people like him; social, outgoing, friendly. That's not how the clock in her head ticks. This isn't some end of the world scenario where she needs to bark commands and think time to dodge, a right hook, or one kick's all I need. It's just a simple exchange.

With a self-taunting snort that brings the flickers of a smile to light for just a second, she lets her mind dance with those truthful words of Loire's, stupid and endearing as they sound. Laguna's eyebrows jerk up, and his mouth's curving up even higher. Now he just needs to get her to talk about her worries. That slight, short-lived grin of hers isn't enough, and it's poking away at his wobbling thoughts. Even then, sitting on a brief throne of celebration, he knows he's not gonna get Lightning to speak up about personal stuff in an hour.

"D'aw, didn't I mention that you're making me blush with those navigation skills of yours, too?" Laguna sucks in the scattered bits of his pride and eases up on Lightning's eyes. And on Lightning's dirt-adorned lips, Laguna sees her mouth battling a headstrong silence.

"But anyways,"—his arms swoop down to his sides—"if you ever need to vent, just remember that I'm the only one here right now sharing my oxygen with you that's er... not unemotional." Laguna twirls on a reluctant heel, stirring up a short-living curtain of rain.

"Oh, and you should drink some water, ma'am." Laguna finishes, sliding a wink over one of those playful, green eyes of his.

When Laguna starts to take his leave, Lightning's face stretches itself and her eyebrows can't resist the strings that pull them upward. Laguna Loire, of all fucking people, got her attention for a good while and renewed her bloated, seething head into sweet, tasty clump of satisfaction.

Maybe it was his appreciation for all she'd done to keep them alive here. Or it could've been the little things that made it all the more unique. Could've been the fact that he didn't play so hard to get and translated his mind flawlessly into words at the perfect moment. Could've been his honesty. Or maybe her mind just likes to screw with her like that.

It makes several different kinds of no sense, how he's made her thoughts run at a smoother pace, how her head no longer screams in agony, and how her mouth finally unclenches itself with quick words at the ready. And for the first time since Laguna approached her, Lightning moves like an actual person instead of a perfect puppet, whipping on her cold, itchy overcoat and calling his name before she takes fast steps toward him. Laguna's head wheels around and his eyebrows jump at the unexpected.

"Want me to quit pouting and drink some of this crap, Loire?" Lightning steadies a sharp digit toward the currents below while she barely hides a smirk. "Keep playing therapist and help my mind get some real rest."

Lightning definitely doesn't mix 'professional therapist' and Laguna together. But there's something about his presence that weaves her head's nightmares into a lullaby, at least now that she's seen him, intentions and all, and yet, not enough of him.


Laguna doesn't correlate 'rest' with running for miles on end through barren landscapes on sore legs. But if it means Lightning won't eternally frown and lose her head over some personal stuff, then he's damn sure he'll keep up with her pace. So, against a whirlwind of retorts, he smacked his jaw right down, fastened sweaty grips on some grenades and his precious MP9 machine gun, and tagged after her.

Lightning mentally scowls at herself, almost snorting at how much of an idiot she was in Order's Sanctuary. With harsh, battle-hungry minds like hers, it's no wonder she almost lost her patience just sitting there.

But at least I made myself try.

Even if Tifa was the one who made the suggestion to rest, Lightning can't get mad at her now. Tifa's aims, like Laguna's, were meant to cut her some slack after all. So for that, with a sharp huff as she swivels another way on nut-brown earth while throwing up drapes of dust in the salty air, she commends them for breaking down some of her imperial walls to help her.

A few hours of physical rest is all she needs, but that tacked-on obligation saps away her mental energy. It always gives her this crave to act, to protect them all from these monsters, these distorted, physical, and spiritual beasts. Lightning's an unbalanced, inhuman thing, and she's almost sad that it's hard for her to feel the way she does now.

The pursuing wind sews its icy grip into her cold overcoat. Goosebumps birth themselves on sweating, frigid skin. The same dull clouds from before, Lightning notices, followed them here; a divine eye that never lets up on its slaves.

You gods aren't going to get us killed, not now.

Lightning's finally spreading her wings, focusing on the now. The momentum she gains from pushing her weight off of a collapsed pillar, the breeze she inhales, and even the gales that are slamming bold currents into her writhing nerves spoon-feeds her the rush she so desperately needs.

"So, Lightning,"—Laguna almost trips in his pitiful attempt to catch up to her pulsing shadow—"this how you prefer to unwind?"

She can't bring herself to respond with the adrenaline skipping through her system, so she only nods. Or maybe she's lying to herself and doesn't want to talk, period.

In the distance behind them, Sanctuary's glowing stronghold is no more. It's been swallowed whole by hungry, all-knowing clouds, Lightning confirms, splaying her hands through pink curtains of hair and shoving them away out of her sight, even if she knows the stupid things'll come right back.

The air breathes into life again, tossing away sheets of silence and yawning for Lightning Farron to soar. Brown, uneven terra firma is at the mercy of her constant pivots. Lightning can't help but let her concentration drug itself at the sight of little overhead stars that scratch away at the ceiling of clouds.

The way the dirt's coughing under her heels, how the misty wind picks away at her cape and strawberry curls, makes her thrive. It's cold as hell and the steel in her limbs is so powerful that her strides grow. The more she moves, the hotter she'll be. Even if it's an exotic, distorted, mess of a world she's surviving in, the dust she rakes into the air and the breezes that creep up into her nostrils are familiar, lovable senses that make her all the more excited.

"Just don't forget we aren't exactly in top fighting condition," Laguna's words barely grasp Lightning's delirious ears. She's starting wonder why she even needed him at all. Nature's ruthlessness is all she needs, really, to properly rest.

She isn't in the mood to talk again, but her mind isn't as much of a hurricane as it was before. Swelling in her rib cage is a meek, strong warmth that dances with her roaring adrenaline. Bound and free. Bittersweet and joyous. Her cleansed, rejuvenated mood fights the rage and defiance that's strummed the strings of her skull ever since this nonsense war began. It's the only way to balance her head's screams.

Then there's Laguna. Fucking Loire. She still can't fathom how or why she's patrolling with him of all people. He's not some poor, innocent kid like Vaan that she has time to protect, nor is he the bold, quiet Yuna that focuses and follows her lead. No, he's Laguna, a trigger-happy machine gun guy with a terrible sense of direction.

When the next thought tries to come about, Lightning's nose succumbs to the sheer cold weather. Sniffles rip themselves from her crinkling nose, morphing her sprint into a jog.

"Even the invincible Lightning can't resist the cold, huh?" Laguna says against strong currents. Finally, cyan eyes latch onto his. Rolling cyan eyes, that is.

"Tch." Lightning realizes he's lagging at her rear.

"You gonna say something?" Predictably, she's gone off ignoring him before he finishes his question. Laguna breathes in while his throat decides to get heavy, a little uneven, a little unsure. His strides begin to reflect hers. Just like that, he's taking in gulps of air beside her instead of behind her.

Cornelia Plain's sour airstreams and unforgiving terrain long since whisked Lightning away into a utopia of all good things, though she knows that it lies like all fairy tales do. They fabricate false beliefs, heroes being a thing, juvenile things and the like. But nevertheless, loping across a brutal battlefield like this, inhaling gritty air and exhaling it, listening to the crimson plasma inside her course within while it burns her sore, beating body, makes her believe anything. Maybe one person can be special and do all the hard, impossible stuff and save the day.

The run feeds her will, her purpose. She's gliding and this war will not deter her.

Finding something, anything to get her to speak up again out of thought-land, Laguna squints his sight on Lightning's suddenly blinking belly button. Against all his better judgement, he leans in her way a bit too much. Lightning tries to steer herself astray, but Laguna never lets up.

"Move," Lightning finally croaks through the cold. She's having an abusive relationship with the wild right now, loving it and hating it at the same time. Laguna's interference isn't helping.

"Whoopsie! Just checking out that piercing of yours. Never knew you, uh, had one." Laguna's shoveling out whatever comes to mind first, because in all honesty, the idea of getting a piercing scares the heebie-jeebies out of him. No way in hell am I jabbing a nail in there for a little bit of bling.

"Yes,"—Lightning's pace begins to thrive again while she scours her head for a reply—"I do."

Off she goes again, letting her sprint replace his role as a 'therapist'. Even so, Laguna rejoins her just when she's about to let their unborn words be engulfed by nature's ballad again.

"Anybody ever tell you you're a bit of a stick-in-the-mud, Lightning? Actually, make that more than 'a bit'."

A swift 'hmph' is all that she can let out now. Her mind still has the uncovered remains of trainwreck, yet to be concealed by her run here, colored in ash and near-death experiences—being smashed into the ground and avoiding an edge on complete reflex is what she sees for a bit—and so the gears in Lightning's head shift toward silence in the outside world.

The worst part is that she can already see that running like this, free, exposed and born anew in these plains, won't lull her to sleep any longer. It's a dirty, true realization that makes her strides heavier and makes her heart slam to the soles of her feet. She's really living a false dream, poisoning herself with sensations that please her mind. No matter how superficially awe-inspiring Cornelia Plains feels when she runs in it, its unheard lies begin to pull at her heartstrings when she remembers what world it's a part of. Slowly. Carefully. Like a leech, like that damn brand on her chest. So seemingly useful and great at first, only to add on to her swelling headache.

Suffering the pounds of their feet below, disparate soil converts into samey-samey sand. The lonely coastline brooms what little waves it can collect to their feet. Lightning accepts its offer and lets her throbbing knees, hot-blooded and bitter, strike its melancholic beach. Briefly, her mind screeches like a banshee, telling her to move, now, but there's something about this grey shore that provokes her mind's terrors.

It's nothing; I need to keep running, keep soaring, keep resting, Lightning wants to think, but it's too late. Her recollection twists and distorts into a junk pile, sifting through its ignorant, blank illustrations. This damn coast; it always derides her like this, no matter how focused she thinks she is. It's alien and familiar, tangling her in a wreck of feelings. She's been on a beach before, she knows she has, but what beach it was evades her hungry mind. Not just this conniving one, but the beach she loved so much and spent so much time at.

Dissidia denies her request to remember, and she's left wasting her time and waiting, grasping at hope.

"If I may say so," Laguna interrupts the ironic tranquility of it all, creasing his arms, "it's a pleasant sight, ain't it, Lightning?"

There's nothing for her to say. For a moment, she wishes she could shove Blazefire Saber's edge into one of those Chaos bastards and watch their hollow corpses bleed until they bled no more. Internal images twist and meander into pictures that she shatters soon after. No. She has to focus. Run. Fly. Anything but sitting.

"Well, at least I got you to talk a little bit. Wasn't easy, but at least I'm making faster progress with you than Squall." His words are less louder, less lively. Laguna's coming up beside her when he sees her expression rise from the dead. Eyelids shield flickering eyes while she inhales. Laguna's smile wears itself thin when he sees her gaze go off away from his. He's losing her for all the reasons she hides in her head's web.

At the end of it all, she's really just sitting again. Laguna's there, breathing and alive like she is, but the nice bit of freedom she felt at Sanctuary isn't coming from him again. Instead, it's only come and gone from her drugged sprint across Cornelia Plains, in the warm embrace of the freezing wild of this world, from her innumerable senses and instincts. She drank a transparent bottle, so clearly laced with lies and truths that gave her a burst of satisfaction only to poison herself in the long term like all drugs do. Her heart thumps against her sorry, meek rib cage, disappointed, stupid-feeling, and longing. For reasons beyond the reach of words, Lightning grabs the biting, sharp edges of her thunderbolt necklace. It's small. Insignificant. No. It's something she came with here. A part of the fragments that made her who she was, so it's wholly authentic.

Lightning's short-lived wings are cut. Laguna's unsung lullabies are transparently useless to them both. And the calm, scorning shore unravels more nightmares for Lightning to bear. The quiet creeps up on them, brings with it a curse too heavy for words to dispel. Lightning scratches her knees, scowls at the memories of images that once painted Blazefire Saber with blood, near-death experiences—the haunting suffocation of Ultimecia's time compression rings stronger and truer than ever—and she snorts at the stupidity and significance of it all. This beach; it's another insult this fucking war fetches her bleeding mind. It kicks away at her amnesiac mind's grip, knots it into threads of hungering patience, and chains her to her knees, lost and wanting.

You're just a slave...

"Lightning—"

"You can't help me. Quiet."

The brand on her chest knives her mind, slits in little bits of bleeding orders. Cosmos's beautiful, lying face weaves into a storm among her head's mysteries. Dissidia, this shitty war zone; it's all a lie that wants to kill her, kill them all. And here she is, doing a bidding she had no say in to survive.

Striving. These deities and their excuses; they know life is something so potential and vast. It's almost like they read her mind when they threw them to a place where fighting is a must. War. Wounds. Survival. Stuff that makes Lightning's insides intoxicated and alive all the same. Unbalanced and too much to take in unnoticed. Her mind's poisoned beyond the shallow grasp of words.

The only way she can soar again, to vent and rest, is to smash her dear gunblade into something evil and alive, dare everything she has against it. Consequences. Action. Destruction.


As if the all-knowing skies heard her wishes, a massive, searing meteor-like thing accelerates from the atmosphere, sucks up the precious few seconds of silence they got to share, and Laguna witnesses it taint bleached sand and Lightning's skin with a cruel, bronze shade. By the time he's throwing his dilated pupils to a safe spot, Lightning's hollering some form of 'scatter' or 'move'. Whatever the hell she exactly says mostly falls prey to the fangs of the howling fireball, but he gets the drill.

Sand bares its gritty teeth against brisk heels. The quilt of dust that trails their escape is a tame entity that sacrifices itself to the flames. Fire claws into the innocent ground, and Laguna's eardrums pulse, almost crack in unison with the tearing land.

As if the shore begs Lightning to keep it company, clouds and pages of soot singe her eyes even as she closes them. Bitterly, she sips up a curse and snorts at images of herself painting Cosmos crimson from a stab wound. The thought doesn't make a lick of sense, she madly denies. Blazefire Saber slides into her moist, drained grip, and if sprinting in this bone-chilling landscape woke her up, this threat's going to warm her up and give her the wings she wants so badly. Her mind mocks her efforts, and Lightning's lips wind some way, up or down, in pure, malnourished hatred.

The calm lies. The calm always fucking lies. Dissidia loves to still her flight, to capture her and clip her wings. It never lets her rest freely.

Dust-curtains fall and Laguna's at the border of her eyesight, drawing himself from a crouch. Those roaring, cackling flames now litter the shoreline and hot air drifts effortlessly through her lungs. Cold and warm, awoken and vicious, Lightning flicks Blazefire Saber into a gun, raises the gunsight to a stilled eye, and showers the newborn prancing target with projectiles. Predictably, it zigzags around them, laughing in perfect discord with the lurching inferno encircling it.

Laguna watches the fast spectacle of Lightning's not-quite-bullets strike away at the barrier of fire as he locks and loads his machine gun. It's a weird, advanced thing, that gunblade. Where he ought to see carbon emit from the mechanism, he sees none. Where he should see solid bullets, he instead spots jerky, little electric bolts that miss the mark by centimeters. But what gets him most of all, makes him especially jealous, is that she never has to reload the sucker. In the midst of distracting, trivial thoughts, he squeezes his own trigger, watches his bullets join with her force-bolt things. The sheer recoil of his MP9 makes him withdraw a step, but it's got a ghost of a smile tugging on his mouth.

Given the unnatural weight of his heart from the quiet, calm before the storm seconds they shared, he can't bring himself to transform his half-smile into a full-fledged, gaping grin. It's just not right, already constricted as is.

Fueled by chaos, the fire and its glowing branches narrow and give out in a scuffle of sparks. And there, in a fresh crater, dusting off a vibrant, dotted shoulder, stands Kefka Palazzo, vain, demented, and insulting as ever. He takes to the skies, and even with the anticlimactic backdrop of silvery clouds, that violet Cheshire cat grin of his makes him strangely disturbing enough. Mismatched fabrics and conceited diamond patterns slip around bullets as he waltzes around the useless shots.

Harlequin fucker, Lightning thinks in hysterics.

"You're a trigger-happy one, aren't you, girlie?" His words are knotted with nonchalance, but Lightning sees the vicious yearning that they try to conceal. Letting the ironic comment sink in, Lightning's free hand darts for her breast and she feels for the forbidden sorcery. Harmonious with her retained wrath, the brand wails awake and feeds her fingertips. Itchy air quivers in her nose and lungs while already-aching muscles throb in agony before she lets loose.

When Laguna sees his newfangled-witch-partner rip the sky above Kefka and the leaking lightning strikes that follow, he stumbles backward. Somehow Kefka's twirling around the erratic, suddenly-there strikes. He's surging mayhem, going in all the places he shouldn't be able to reach, and then—shit, Laguna's mind spins, almost keeps him from steadying his aim—the clown's suddenly right in front of Lightning, taking his sweet time leaning and leering into her recoiling face.

The edges of Lightning's mouth work into a spiteful scowl as she jumps away and gnashes her teeth. Laguna sees her gunblade's arched borders work their magic, turning the gun into a fine blade again. Lightning brings Blazefire Saber into a high grip, directing the flashing tip at Kefka. Cobalt eyes dare him to near her again.

"What do you want?" her urgent tone snaps at him, taunting and cautious. Lightning's voice longs to be replaced by war's shrieks. She will make this creep hurl.

"My 'thing' ran off on its own again, and it's been gone little too long," Kefka drawls against wrathful lips, crafting miniature, elemental storms in his palms, "you wouldn't happen to know where it went, would you, pinky?"

The nickname is so childish and trite, but when she hears how Kefka refers to his sorceress pawn, Lightning swears she's going to rip his throat out. The last thing she needs are reminders that there are legitimate slaves here.

"Don't know what you mean, buddy," Laguna says in her stead, coming closer to her rear now that they're at a safe distance from him, "but it sure as hell didn't warrant you trying to blow us up like that." In the split-second glance she gives Laguna, Lightning only sees serious traces and humorless angles of a face that isn't his.

"Oh? But that's how I let off my steam. And all this babbling is starting to get old. Nothing a little good old destruction can't fix."

His white hands dance skyward as he hovers again. Torrents glide like banners in the wind from his palms, and the water splits Lightning and Laguna apart in a mess of dodges. By the time Lightning's recovering from a barrel roll, he's flinging globes of ice at them. Bit by bit, the soft earth suffers and exhales its dust.

Lightning reels in a curse. Her lungs are dense and overused prisoners slowing her down. Dammit. She will not let herself be constrained by her drained body. Or by this asshole.

Kefka's laughter pressures the atmosphere, brings with it distorted magic that isn't quite elemental. Saline breezes are diseased and reek of scorching sorcery. Lightning barely takes in fresh air before she tosses spheres of fire at him.

"That's it?" Kefka clicks his tongue several times as he pirouettes around the shots. "You're the Thunder Lady! I expected more demolition out of you and your temper!"

Lightning doesn't know precisely what does it, what makes her feel so alive—Kefka's challenge, her worn out mind's plead to finally let it all out, or her wish to remember the name of a damn beach that feels just like home—but she's already holstered Blazefire Saber and claws away at her brand for more. Thirsty hands unveil the leech from behind her turtleneck and nearly scratch the hardened skin on her breast. She feels the cold electricity flow in and out every orifice, each hair follicle sting and flicker in torment, and Zantetsuken, roughly-curved as always, manifests in her surging, dripping grip.

Ruby petals fall from her whitened knuckles while Laguna's long since dropped his aim. Something about Lightning's unseen magic, how it spreads its wings, how it chills the burning air Kefka brought, has his grip on his MP9 twitching. The concentration of magic makes his eyes well with tears, almost makes him vomit. Swallowing down his nausea, Laguna sees the emotions that bloated her finally start to shed.

She takes her stance.

Kill.

The sadness of it all, it's etched in the breath she takes.

Keep steady breaths.

The way she splits Zantetsuken in two and dances around the plasma diamonds Kefka throws, it's fast and natural to her.

Watch out for sharp edges.

And how she releases both hilts, how the crescent blades impossibly snake around her spotted, soiled body and make the roaring sky bow to her whims, it all has Laguna scared shitless.

Kill.

When the blades return to her grasp in a crisscross, columns of lightning rain on Kefka. The ones that land on him almost push him out of the sky, but even in the distance, Lightning sees his widening grin. She rejoins Zantetsuken, lets the lullaby of grinding steel cleanse her mind, and swivels the curved edges above her in a show of deadly finesse. Sparks spring from them, lunge for Kefka's throat to score blood, and he bounds through them, coming closer.

Like the chaos he is, he's right in front of her again, looking at the spot she unzipped in a fit of rage. Lightning swings for his head and he slips away, eyeing the accursed mark with a cocked eyebrow. Sly, emerald eyes taunt her own. "It feels great to wreck things, doesn't it?"

Lightning's stance hardens in response to Kefka's implication. Veins bulge. Muscles tighten. She's going to shove Zantetsuken down his windpipe and enjoy every second of it. This prick will not draw similarities between them.

Charged muscles release and propel her forward. She spins and thrusts for him, longing to draw blood like the storm she is. Lightning doesn't know how many patterns she carves in his vain clothes, but she knows she paints some spots crimson. The grunts that spill from her mouth are thrilled with a fastened calmness to them.

Kefka's frame deforms under the weight of her starlit whizzing blades. She either hits him more times or misses him more times. She doesn't care. She will ram these sharp ends into him until he gags on his own giggles.

Lightning ends her assault with a final slash that sends him skidding on his feet. His head hangs backward while he snorts. In one smooth movement, it swings forward, ash hair sways, tickles his cheekbones, and the toothy grin he reveals glows against drab surroundings.

"Ah... if that's all, I suppose it's my turn to shine. Let me 'fuel' you up; it'll let you destroy anything and make you feel good as new, I promise!"

Some number of seconds later, he's pulsing with raw energy, too close for comfort, and when she raises Zantetsuken to guard, it's smeared with his disgusting gore. Their pure glimmer stolen, the s-shaped blades burn against his blistering touch. His flaring hands plunge for all the openings he sees—low, high, midway, and bingo—until he finally gets ahold of her nifty-brand-power-source-whatever-thing.

Bile, dense and warm, hikes up Lightning's thudding throat. The bellowing magic scathes the roof of her mouth, makes her eyeless, and she can't tell if she's tasting hot sparks or screeching. Diseased power triggers her nervous system to go haywire, makes her jolt in all the wrong places. Her ears, she swears they're going to bleed out and pop under so many layers of so much fire, too much frost...

Something warm gushes over her torso as she doubles over, liquid and bubbling, and it turns cold fast. A set of thumps, quick and deafening, barks through the magic's sickening whispers that made her ears feel like they were underwater. It's so fucking loud, she's somehow burning and freezing to death, and her throat hurts like hell.

Whatever those thumps were, she realizes that she's hitting a surface and swears that her chest's bleached tattoo is flaking. The ground is comfy and soft, cradling her in a heap of fragile limbs like she's the most precious thing in the universe. That's better, her mind incoherently squeaks. Blackness goes to bright blurs in her sight and she gets her fingers to twitch to life. Then something rough-moving and yet so smooth—fingers, sand, grass?—brushes over her pounding shoulder.

Like all the pressure undoes its curse, her ears catch distinct sounds again. There's lots of gunfire and the supreme smell of gunpowder invades her irritated nostrils, she realizes when she turns on her back. Bullets are soaring right over her bruised body like her guardians, capturing the dull light above them all. They're beautiful heroes, she believes, prepared to whisk her away from this hellhole, ready to turn on her and pierce her meek figure into a rotting corpse.

This war is a big fat middle finger anyways. And this beach is a nice place to die at. Reminds her of the home she can't unveil from her mind's depthless abyss. Maybe she'll die and finally recall it all. Yes. Home sweet home.

But no. She grabs something familiar from a holster and flicks it into a sword. I will not sit and fall. She rolls and stands on numb legs, breathing against all odds. I will fly. Threads of electricity trickle from her stinging fingertips. Her drunk gaze directs itself to a black-haired, familiar—Loire, she corrects herself, watching him lock and reload his machine gun beside her.

"You okay?" Laguna says, never breaking his stare with the clown above them. There's so much more he wants to say; Lightning sees that with how his lips tingle with impatience, but the reality of war keeps him focused.

Her head aches and thuds like there's no tomorrow, but she gets herself to nod in response. She spares a glance at the murky vomit stains that branched through her torso and fights down an incoming dry-heave. She smells like shit.

"I'm afraid that my 'thing's' gotten a little too far away for its own good, and this isn't explosive and fun enough anymore. Have fun killing each other!"

Hovering against gravity's clasp like it's nothing, Kefka laughs and accelerates upward until his shadow blends with the sky.

The cruel suggestion of his words dawns on them, pollutes them even more than Dissidia had already done so. Like a mirror-eyed puppet waiting for someone to shatter some sense into her noggin, Lightning's motions betray her. Poised to kill, the glinting point of her sword thrusts for Laguna's neck. Heartbeats burn. And as Laguna staggers away from her, he already sees it, how her brilliant eyes tell the true story against a body of falsehood.

For the first time in history-knows-how-long, Lightning Farron feels fear become one with her spine.

She's chained by her insides, by her constricting breast. Her mouth refuses to budge. Instincts work against her demands. And yet, her mind has so much left to be unleashed. So she roars with the brand on her chest, against her will and meaningfully. It gleams a rose tint against their dreadful environment and speaks in her stead, stuffing what she has to say with its enchanted toxins.

"Destroy."

Like any other marionette, she charges. The wind that she sees whip her hair into big and small coils freezes her to her core. When she pulls power from her vain-laced mark and watches the ice dive for her target, the cold, slitting-knife sensation feels like it's going to tear wounds all over her mud-smeared hands.

And her mind, the poor thing. Swelling magic and expanding fears weave the blanket of a tornado around her. Through squalid, dirty barriers of air, Laguna makes out her azure eyes and how they blink ablaze in disorientation and desperation. They're quivering and pleading for the cure to their bearer's drug, and she's flying in all her majesty.

Biting down a wave of curses, Laguna holsters his precious MP9 and latches reluctant eyes on the grenades he has. Electricity snaps at him from the nearing storm Lightning's the eye of. She's her own nightmare and she can't escape.

The dust storm that's formed sinks its talons into his eyes. It burns like hell to blink once and everything's getting flashier, louder.

Sorry, Light, but there's no other way to snap you outta it.

A grenade slips into his damp hold, a new thing with its new consequences. It's better than shooting her dead out of the sky, though. Lightning's uncharacteristic screams rise over the whirlwind's walls and almost make him lose his timid grip on the thing. Fuck this.

Laguna's stuck. Lightning sounds like she's in a world of pain, trapped in her own head. And now this grenade's gonna mess her up when she really doesn't deserve it. Laguna's shaking for all the wrong and right reasons. Perspiration flows over his skin, around tired, faltering eyes. Seeing Lightning of all people lose it here makes his fingers tremble, forces his legs to feel like jelly.

No. Focus, Laguna. Joints still themselves on the safety lever of the grenade. I should be far enough. He cradles it against his chest, twists and pulls on the pin. And when the pin comes loose, he throws the grenade with all the remaining willpower he has near the root of the dust devil. He wants so badly to look at Lightning, to see if she survives the blast, but instincts have him bolting and falling on the mocking carpet of sand in the opposite direction.

Air and earth rattle awake. Every bone succumbs to nature's shivers. The shock wave hurls Laguna's hearing into another dimension, threatens to bury him alive with dry soot. He feels Lightning's shrieks drown into the blinding light's blast, and he can't tell if his bones are shaking because of how pitiful and horrifying she sounds or if it's only just because he's a slave to nature's wrath.

Little by little, his eardrums free themselves from the grenade's possessive, dying screech. The rumbling stops and leaves filth all over the atmosphere in its wake. Pouring air into his lungs is a little bit easier. Just a little bit.

Everything hurts, from now and before altogether. Laguna's arms are blazing with internal blood, sore beyond recognition. When he rolls over, he feels heavy and ready to give out. Through a sweat-licked, sandy curtain of raven hair, his searing eyes make out Lightning's tangled and limp form on the ground amidst powdery smoke.

It takes the one glance he gives her to get the half-working engines in his body functioning again. He scrambles forward, almost trips, and runs like the wind going against him. His heart is trapped and banging against his sorry excuse of a rib cage. Please, please, please be breathing.

Every muscle's constricting, brittle and ready to rake through soft flesh. The only thing Lightning knows she can do is pant and feel her flexing back muscles threaten to overstretch themselves. There's also the detestable, painful sensation of her right arm's humerus. When her nerves seem to be in working condition again, she tries to move and the damn thing burns like rage. Inhaling through gnashed teeth, her eyelids knot her eyes closed, trying to keep the flying sand at bay, trying to seal out the pain...

"—ightning! Wake up!"

A sticky palm rains down several times on her aching temple. Wobbling eyelids reveal Loire's gunpowder-smudged face, wide-eyed and gaping. Warm, wet tears are still crossing over her discolored cheeks, every little follicle is biting away at her will to stay conscious, and her brand and right arm flare with pain too much for a single body to bear. She might as well be a dying witch.

She gets giddy, dizzier when Laguna snakes his other arm around her back and lifts her from earth's cushion. Blood bursts throughout her head and lifeless limbs, and she battles a winning headache. Her vision's teetering like a toddler learning how to walk. Dreary and mutated shapes mold back and forth between a shadowy coastline and a bright, beautiful beach with a magnificent display of fireworks, just like home...

Bodhum...

Awareness plagues her, gets her to sit up and suffer the jaws of her right arm's torment. But instead of catching the birth and death cycle of beautiful neon colors scratching the starry night and fading away, she only sees bleak clouds and the alien sand she's come to know and hate.

"You there?" Laguna's patting her back, unsure whether or not he should be entranced by her hypnotic stare into the sky. When her gaze comes back to life, returns to his, she jolts as her right arm droops to her side.

Overcoming a wave of huffs with tight, squinting eyes, she steadies her incoming breaths. "Y-Yeah. My arm—"—she lets a lifetime's supply of cusses flood her mind as the sadistic pain of it tortures her more—"—it hurts."

Catching the emphasis on her last word with careful ears, Laguna whistles at the limp-looking thing. "Er, think my grenade's force busted it. Sorry 'bout that."

Dammit, Loire, but also... thanks.

"At least you're speaking up again though, right?"


Lightning's cape is now her bad arm's sling. Without her best hand and arm, she's practically a walking target in this world, and she despises feeling vulnerable with every fiber of her being.

So much for acting over talking. And not really knowing white magic that well. Hopefully Yuna can make it a little less broken.

Finishing the last loop on her neck, Laguna yawns and pops his dry knuckles, flopping down by the coastline. Hearing a soft grunt and the shuffling of boots going to his side, he almost jumps when he sees Lightning follow suit, landing on her knees. Night begins to expose itself, brushing over the coast with its cooler, darker heavens.

The stars remind me of home, Lightning's mind sighs.

"So, Light, about being a 'therapist'; I don't really think I did much to help. Ah well, at least I tried, right?"

Lightning studies the grin she's come to expect out of Laguna. Winking. Carefree. Honest. She snorts and Laguna almost thinks he's on some kind of drug when he witnesses a small smile take over her mouth.

"I actually owe you one, Loire." Her sight retreats back to the murky waves.

"D'aw, you came close to flat-out saying 'thanks'!"

"Tch. But you were right. I should've vented to you instead of almost getting killed. But—"

"—you're our good ol' stubborn Lightning, of course." Laguna proudly finishes, resting his chin on a knuckle.

Lightning dribbles her free fingertips on the ground, thinking away. She still would've been that asshole's puppet without Laguna there to help, obviously. That's not the only reason she finds it somewhat easier to form her words right now.

This entire time, he stuck with her, whether she liked it or not. He wasn't some person focused on his problems only, devoted the entire day to helping her out. There's also the little bit of appreciation he gave her for her leadership back at Order's Sanctuary, the appreciation that frankly made her heart do flips.

Everything about Laguna Loire is truthful and heartfelt from what she's seen all day. And for all the crap he went through for her, he just wants her to vent the safest way possible in this deceitful war, to keep her head straight and keep them all alive.

Finding her words under the baggage of emotions, she exhales and shakes her head. "Where do I even begin?"

"Take your time and watch your arm." Laguna's steadfast in his reply, trapping her gaze with his own for a little bit.

There's so much she wants to say and her mouth's the only obstacle. Thanks for snapping me out of it. Sorry for being stubborn as hell. This isn't normal for me. I remembered my home, Bodhum. This beach reminded me of it. I was so mad that I wanted to fight. I want to kill the gods here. I want to go home. I feel trapped here. My arm still fucking hurts. I became my own worst nightmare and was scared.

Maybe the words can't pin things down as precisely and powerfully as she'd like, since emotions are a whole entire different language from words, so hefty for words to burden themselves with. Nevertheless, words are life saviors here, she finally understands.

Stringing together what she deems to be an appropriate sentence, she begins to let it all out. "I'm not used to doing this, but... thank you for everything you've done today, Laguna."

Laguna scoots in closer, drinks in Lightning's genuine, softer features slowly. "No problem, ma'am."

Lightning's not sure how long they talk, but the everlasting night's here to stay. Her broken arm pulses and throbs like hell, but she couldn't care less. For now, the words that come forth from them both are sincere and honest little things, she's sure. She doesn't quite share the most sensitive of subjects with him, but for each piece of information she gives away, Laguna listens closely, works his magic, and the shitstorm that is her mind's fear and anger dwindles little by little.

Despite sitting here at this foreign seashore, despite having to live with a freshly-broken arm for now, despite not running through cold weather, Lightning feels the lullaby return and cradle her poor skull, granting her the ability to fly. Nightmares recede. And the way her heart feels a little lighter, way more free than it did at Order's Sanctuary, makes her nerves tingle. And finally, with eager grace and acceptance, Lightning Farron rests free.