Summary: Jihl and Lightning. An imagining of how it could have happened.
Disclaimer: All characters belong to Square Enix.
The heavy clomp clomp of boots and a sharp knock announced Lightning's arrival at her door. Jihl Nabaat set aside her report before calling out, "Enter!"
The door swung open, and the soldier stormed in. Field gear, Jihl noted.
"Jihl! Are you insane? Have you all gone mad?!"
Jihl allowed Lightning a few seconds to stew, before smiling pleasantly. "I see you've received your orders."
"You're asking me to send thousands of people to their deaths!"
The smile grew wider. "It's not a terribly exciting task, but an important one, I can assure you."
Lightning smashed her fist on the desk. With some irritation Jihl realized that perhaps this situation would require a certain amount of... manipulation.
She dropped the smile from her face, and stood up to full height.
"Major, if you have a complaint, I expect it delivered in a civilized manner. I do not tolerate subordination, even if it is from an old friend."
She paused for a beat, saw Lightning's eyes narrow in anger, before the other women folded her arms in challenge.
Jihl declined to acknowledge it. "Your objections to the Purge have been officially noted. Three times to date, I might add."
"Then make this the fourth. I won't play your games, Lt. Colonel."
"Three times lucky," Jihl returned. "There will be no fourth, not even for someone of your stature. PSICOM looks badly upon traitors, and you, dear friend, are dangerously close to that line."
Lightning glared, opened her mouth to speak, seemed to think better of it.
"That was not a threat, Lightning. I am not being deliberately cruel. In fact, this assignment is a favour." Jihl held up her hand to cut off Lightning's snort of disbelieve. "You're under watch, and this is the only way left for you to prove your loyalty to PSICOM, and to Coccoon."
"By asking me to sacrifice innocent lives? No, Jihl, I know you too well. You like it, seeing me squirm every chance you get."
"Accusations? That's rather harsh of you. Remember our promise in the Academy?"
Jihl rounded the desk and stopped by Lightning's side. She could see Lightning's jaw clench. Always so angry... Always so easy to play...
She continued, "No matter what, we'll both make it to the top. You may find my methods distasteful, but they are efficient."
Lightning merely turned her head to stare back at her. Jihl reached up and brushed a pale lock of hair from her face. A twitch of the eyes was the only thing that betrayed Lightning's unhappiness with that action.
"You know I would always want you at my side." Fingers ghosted a cheek. "The way things used to be. But," Jihl gave a sigh, "You're too stubborn."
Lightning tensed. "Stop it," she said, "I know what you're trying to do."
Jihl ignored her. "So much talent. If only you'd follow my lead, things would be so much easier."
Lightning's left hand caught hers in a vice grip.
"I think I've let you take the lead for too long."
"You never had any objections, before."
The grip tightened.
"I was too blind to see."
"Have I ever done us wrong?" Jihl kept the voice neutral, calm.
Lightning suddenly flung her hand away. "There was never any us, Jihl. Only you. It was always about you."
Jihl remained silent. When Lightning got emotional, it was always better to wait out the storm than fight it.
The minutes ticked by as their eyes remained locked. And as always, Lightning was the first to turn away.
Lightning let out a harsh breath. "I won't do it Jihl. Not anymore. Not civilians."
"Lightning," Jihl admonished softly. She reached out again, tilted Lightning's chin back. The other woman refused to meet her eyes.
"My dear, sweet Lightning," she murmured. "If I had a choice, I wouldn't have asked you. Other factions are moving, and they'll use you to take me down."
"Jihl, stop," Lightning sighed.
"If I had shown favouritism, it'd be both our court-martials."
"I can't." Blue eyes flicked up, intense. "I'll kill soldiers, but never our own people. Not even for you."
Jihl smiled faintly. "You were always the proper hero. That's what I loved about you."
Lightning gave a wry grin. "You never loved me."
"I did, a long time ago."
"You always say that."
"It's true." Despite herself, Jihl felt a twinge of nostalgia.
"Seems we keep having the same conversation."
Suddenly Lightning's mood shifted again.
"Jihl, withdraw the order."
Jihl's voice became cold. "Impossible. You know that."
Lightning's voice was colder. "Then assign someone else. I refuse to be your lapdog for this."
Out of the corner of her eye, Jihl saw Lightning's fist clench. Almost idly, she wondered if she should bait her again, then dismissed the thought as juvenile.
Lightning gritted her teeth. "Damn you Jihl. You set me up."
"No, Major, I believe the only one at fault is you. Accept your assignment, or turn yourself in."
"Like hell I will."
Jihl fixed Lightning with a stare, and now her voice was ice.
"Then be prepared to run, because you've just run out of time."
"So, this is what it comes down to."
And she was gone.
Jihl moved to close the door, then sat back in her chair.
Lightning's loss would be a setback, but she was not the only pawn in the game. She took off her glasses and smiled. Indeed, Yaag would be more than adequate for the task, and he had always been an easier one to control, anyway.
She leaned her chair back, and indulged herself in a moment of self-satisfaction. Really, Lightning was always so easy to play.