A/N: Hi, everybody...it's Nighty, again...
Sorry for leaving the fifth chapter off for so long...*headdesk* Yes, it's summer now (yay, more sleep!) but I'm still doing a lot of studying and my computer time has been restricted. D: So, as you can see, it was pretty hard to finish this chapter.
I haven't been on Fanfiction in a while, but I haven't forgotten this fic, and I think I owe you all a long chapter for the months that I've made you wait—if there's still anyone out there reading this. .
For those of you who reviewed the previous chapters: Thank you SO much. I can't ever thank you enough for your reviews and/or faves. I love you! ^^
Well, here we go—the fifth chapter. Hope you like it. :)
Lightning's eyes flew wide open and she jolted upwards in shock as she heard Fang's mocking laughter echo on the other side of the door.
What—? She's taunting me! Does she know?
Fang's accented voice, scornfully pitched to imitate the sing-song of a lullaby, called out to her from beyond the door, "I know you're there, Sunshine…!"
Lightning sprang upright, her face contorting into a snarl of unutterable hatred.
Everything had been entirely ruined.
She wanted to kill Fang.
A growl of unfettered venom built up in her throat, and she released it in a vicious war cry as she seized the doorknob and savagely yanked open the door—
…and found that she couldn't.
Across the hallway, a high-pitched feminine scream sounded as Snow realized that he, too, was unable to open his door.
"What did you do to the door?" Lightning bellowed, yanking on the doorknob as hard as she could in vain. Her doorframe shuddered violently as Snow tugged fruitlessly on his doorknob as well, preventing her from opening her own door. Seized by a sudden fury, Lightning struck her door in rage and violently wrenched the doorknob.
And thus they were engaged in a frantic tug-of-war, each yanking on their doorknob in a frenetic effort to open their own door, which prevented the other from opening theirs.
Fang, witnessing it all, laughed harder as the doors slid back and forth, doorframes trembling dangerously beneath the onslaught, connected by the length of twine.
Lightning felt fury, dark and vengeful, gathering in the center of her chest. With a final, inhuman snarl of frustration, she gave the doorknob one more vicious jerk in a desperate bid to open her door.
The twine snapped, and Lightning was sent tumbling backwards from the momentum, still gripping the doorknob, as the door flew wide open—
...only to be bombarded by an explosion of splattering water balloons.
Fang exploded into full-out laughter, doubling over and holding her stomach, not even attempting to contain her hilarity.
Slowly, Lightning rose from the floor where she had been knocked down by the assault: livid, dripping, and plastered with soaking wet water balloons. Water streamed from her drenched clothes, soaking the carpet underfoot. Her hair fell in sodden locks over her eyes, and with one tense hand, she clawed the obstruction aside.
Murder in her eyes, she advanced upon Fang.
"You," she spat.
Sensing the danger, the Pulsian woman hastily retreated a safe distance, still grinning widely. "What's the matter, Sunshine? Can't take a bit of water?"
"You," Lightning repeated in a rage-choked voice. It was the only word she could get out.
"Come on, Farron." Fang gestured dismissively to the wreckage. "You have to admit, your prank was a bit of a failure...to use a euphemism."
A vein pulsed at Lightning's temple.
"Fang," she snarled. "I. Am. Going. To. Kill. You."
"Didn't you say that last time, too?" Fang's infamous smirk appeared on her lips as she backed away down the hall, shoulders lifted in an unapologetic shrug. "Just face it, Sunshine: You're never going to be able to come up with a prank better than mine."
The mocking words tugged at Lightning's patience, driving it almost to the breaking point, goading her temper. It took every ounce of self-control left in the soldier to just barely restrain herself from killing Fang.
"Get. Out," she managed between clenched teeth.
Fang smirked and headed for the staircase. However, she couldn't resist tossing one more barbed jibe over her shoulder.
"Oh, by the way, Sunshine…Snow? Really? Of all the people you could have teamed up with, you picked Snow?"
And she fled before Lightning could do more than glare after her in impotent fury, her derisive laughter lingering for a long time in the stairwell after she'd left.
Slowly, Lightning relaxed.
Her breathing was fast and shallow, passing over her lips in short spurts. Her chest felt tight, strained from the effort of controlling her temper. Only Fang was able to madden her like this; no one else could get a rise out of the typically stoic soldier. No one else had come so close to driving her to the point of insanity.
Tch. That's quite a feat.
She went to her bedroom, kicking the door shut behind her. Staggering to her bed, she sat down and closed her eyes, combing her fingers through her water-drenched hair.
Outside, she heard Snow call, "Sis?"
Snow. The entire reason my plans failed.
She didn't answer. She heard a door creak open outside, immediately followed by a high-pitched scream that seemed to shake the house to its foundations as Snow was assailed by the barrage of water balloons.
Lightning uttered a groan of frustration and let herself collapse across the bed.
This was unbelievable. For a soldier of her caliber, her standards were slipping. Defeated, twice in a row. It made her cringe with humiliation just to think about it.
Very well, Fang.
Did the Pulsian-born huntress want a fight? She'd get a fight!
And Lightning was determined to emerge the victor.
You may have won this battle…but you haven't won the war.
It was high time to show Oerba Yun Fang what she was truly up against.
"Oh, Snow! What happened to you?" cried Serah.
Snow limped into the kitchen, wincing and sodden, water sloshing around his boots with every step. He stopped in front of Serah and stood there, looking miserably at her. A pool of water quickly accumulated underneath his feet.
Lebreau left the stove and swept towards the NORA leader, shaking her head. "What did you do this time, Snow—slip in the shower?" With two fingers, she plucked the hat from his head and held it high in the air, watching the water trickle out of it and onto the floor with obvious disapproval.
"Are you all right? You're not hurt, are you?" Serah asked anxiously, stroking Snow's damp bangs out of his eyes. Snow didn't answer.
"Probably doing something stupid again," Lebreau muttered, adding "Towel," to Vanille, who'd come to gawk at Snow with Maqui close behind.
Vanille hurried off to fetch a towel.
Maqui stared wide-eyed at Snow and blinked several times, as if unaccustomed to seeing his leader looking so depressed.
"Uh, Snow…" he said awkwardly. "What happened?"
Shivering, Snow shook his head, scattering droplets of water.
"Oh, don't give me that crap," Lebreau snapped, taking the towel from Vanille, who'd come pattering back into the kitchen and was now looking curiously at Snow. She threw the towel at him. "Answer the kid's question: What the hell happened?"
Snow toweled his hair, but he remained silent, avoiding their probing gazes.
"We won't laugh at you," Serah murmured comfortingly, rubbing his arm.
Snow sighed and cleared his throat, looking down at his feet.
"Sis happened," he mumbled.
"What?" Serah's blue eyes widened. "Claire? What did she do to you?"
"No, no, she didn't beat me up or anything…" Snow struggled to explain. "Let me go back to the beginning. It all started with Fang…she pranked Lightning..."
Vanille held back a giggle.
"Sis got pretty ticked off, and she wanted to get revenge on Fang. She went crazy—she almost sliced me to pieces in the hallway because she mistook me for Fang."
Vanille's green eyes widened, and she put her hands to her mouth.
"So I offered to help her get revenge…because Fang pranked me this morning, too. We were going to attack her with a flood of water balloons…but Fang did something to the doors and it ended up backfiring on us, which explains why I'm soaking wet right now. Fang and Lightning were yelling at each other in the hallway, and then Fang left...I saw Lightning a little while ago when I was going to the stairs, and she—she yelled at me for ruining her plans and then she stormed off."
A stunned silence followed Snow's words. The expressions on his audience's faces ranged from fearfully anxious (Serah) to wholly unsympathetic (Lebreau).
Vanille broke the silence, timidly. "Is Lightning okay?"
"Is Sis ever okay?" Snow groaned, rubbing his face. "Knowing her, we're gonna have bloodshed on our hands in about five minutes. At least she didn't slug me this time."
"I need to talk to Claire," Serah murmured. She glanced away, troubled.
Maqui looked blankly from Snow to Lebreau, as if begging one of them to clarify things.
Lebreau rolled her eyes and leaned back against the counter, folding her arms. "You know, Snow, you really should have stayed out of this."
"What?" Snow looked indignant. "But I didn't do anything!"
By way of answer, Lebreau leaned forward and whacked Snow—lightly—across the head.
"You idiot!" she chided. "Don't you know anything about girls? Rule number one: You never get in the way of a girl fight. And if you do, you never take sides. Especially with Fang and Lightning. Girls are vicious, vicious creatures when they're angry. If they want to turn April Fool's Day into a battlefield, they're going to turn it into a battlefield."
"Oh," Snow mumbled stupidly, rubbing the side of his head.
Lebreau shook her head in mock despair. "You idiot," she repeated, though more fondly. "Whatever. Just go and sit down; it's almost time for breakfast." She shoved the NORA leader out of the kitchen, adding over her shoulder, "Serah, the coffee."
"Coffee!" squealed Vanille, diving forward. Lebreau and Serah had to use their combined strength to stop her from attacking the coffee maker.
"No coffee for you, kiddo!" Lebreau hauled her away from the coffee maker and pushed her out of the kitchen. "Dining room. Go."
Vanille pouted, but skipped towards the dining room, only to crash into Dajh in the middle of the hallway.
"Dajh!" she exclaimed, sweeping up the toddler and swinging him around several times before setting him back down on his feet. "I'm sorry, everyone completely forgot about you! Where were you?"
Dajh just giggled adorably and clapped his hands together, beaming up at her.
Vanille leaned down and smiled at him, tilting her head and putting one finger to her mouth. "Hm...were you with Sazh?" she asked.
Dajh gave a little bounce. "Nope!"
Vanille giggled. "So where were you? Don't keep it from me! You're only going to make me worry, you silly little boy." She took one of his little hands in hers, but dropped it again in surprise. "Oh! Your hands are all sticky!"
Dajh grinned and held his hands up. "Syrup!" he proclaimed.
Right on cue, Maqui's indignant voice drifted out of the kitchen.
"Hey, who ate all my hotcakes?"
Sazh was not a morning person.
Despite his usually easygoing demeanor, he could be "one crabby old man" (as Vanille liked to call him) in the mornings. Sazh was a person who enjoyed his breaks. He didn't get a lot of them, quite frankly. Thus it took every ounce of willpower he had (accompanied by quite a lot of complaining) just to roll out of bed in the morning. And even then he wasn't fully awake until he'd gotten his cup of coffee.
He didn't understand how everyone else could do it. Why weren't the kids groggy after they woke up? In fact, Vanille was positively bubbly in the mornings. She skipped around cheerfully as if the thought of resting had never even crossed her mind.
Dajh, too. The little boy bounced right out of bed in the mornings and he was off, chattering incessantly like a bumblebee—leaving his father to grumble and grouchily get up after him.
Nrgh. They're kids.
Still half-asleep, Sazh shuffled slowly downstairs at a snail's pace. Once he reached the first floor, he lumbered straight towards the kitchen.
"Daddy!" yelled Dajh, shooting out of the kitchen and cannoning straight into Sazh. He happily threw his arms around his father's waist. "Hi, Daddy!"
"Morning, Dajh." Sazh smiled tiredly and patted his son's afro. Dajh beamed up at him before racing off, giggling.
"Good morning, Sazh!" The younger Farron, helping Lebreau at the stove, smiled as Sazh hobbled into the kitchen.
Nrgh. How can they be so cheerful in the mornings…?
"Make way, make way. Old man comin' through," the self-proclaimed "old man" grunted, maneuvering through the busy kitchen and heading straight for the coffee maker. Serah intercepted him and filled his favorite mug with coffee, adding precisely the right amounts of cream and sugar to create a perfect mixture.
"Here, I got it!" Serah handed Sazh his coffee with a smile. "Here you go."
"Thanks, Serah." Sazh took a generous slurp of his coffee. Aaah. Caffeine.
Feeling slightly more awake now that he'd gotten some coffee into his system, the "old man" looked about. "Hey, where'd Dajh go?"
Maqui stamped up to him, looking accusingly at him. "Do you know what that kid did this morning?" he complained. "He ate all my hotcakes! And dumped the syrup all over the floor! And Lebreau made me clean it up and—"
"Oh, cut the crap, Maqui." Lebreau came up behind him and lightly whacked the side of his head—though Sazh noticed her expression was affectionate. "How old are you, three? Dajh is a little kid. He's only six. You're seventeen. It's not going to kill you to mop up a spill, right?"
The blond teenager crossed his arms. "Well, no, but—"
"So shut up!" Lebreau put a hand under his chin and shut his jaw, effectively silencing the boy, before striding into the dining room with another plate of hotcakes.
Sazh looked from the retreating back of the NORA healer to the dazed face of Maqui, who looked as if he'd just been banged on the head. He chuckled and nodded in Lebreau's direction. "Chasing after that one, I see."
Maqui's face flushed red. "N-no way! I don't know what you're talking about! I'm not—!"
Sazh chuckled and exited the kitchen, leaving the red-faced, spluttering teenager behind him.
In the dining room, he found Snow, sitting in his chair and leaning on the table with a somewhat disgruntled expression. Vanille and Dajh were skipping around the table, laughing and playing some sort of game with the chocobo.
"Heya, Pops!" Vanille abandoned the game and skipped over to Sazh. "How are you?"
"Trying to stay awake." Sazh nodded in Snow's direction. "What happened to him?"
"Ooh." Vanille winced and leaned conspiratorially towards Sazh. "He got busted."
"By…let me guess, Grumpy?" Sazh lifted an eyebrow.
Sazh snorted. What a surprise. "Well, stuff like this wouldn't happen if the kid didn't act like such an oaf."
"Hey!" Snow shouted indignantly, rousing himself from the table at last. "I actually didn't do anything this time! It was Fang's fault! And what is it with everyone calling me an oaf?"
"It's because you are." Sazh took another sip of his coffee. "Oh, well. No doubt I'll hear more about this later from Lightning and…Fang?"
He slanted a suspicious look at Vanille, who put her hands behind her back and smiled up at him innocently.
"Oh, don't give me that look, Vanille." Sazh shook a warning finger at the girl. "Seen that look too many times before on Dajh's face. You're involved in this. I'm guessing you're going to get an earful from Miss Grumpy, too, when she comes down."
Vanille only giggled and scampered off, twirling into her seat, closely followed by Dajh.
Sazh sighed and shook his head. Kids. They didn't have a care in the world. Oh, well. He'd always been happiest whenever Dajh or Vanille or the other kids were happy. There really wasn't any other thing in this world he wanted more.
"Well, see you all in a bit. I'm going to take advantage of the fresh air. Hopefully by the time I come in, Lightning and Fang will have reached some sort of ceasefire."
"Don't bet on it," Snow grumbled, throwing himself back down into his seat with a mighty thud.
Sazh took his coffee and went upstairs to the third floor. Ever since he'd repainted the balcony white, this was a morning ritual he never neglected. The others teased him about it, saying that he'd take his pistol to any bird that so much as pooped on the pristine white paint, but Sazh remained undeterred. It had taken him a long time to paint that balcony so beautifully, and he wasn't about to stand by and let some passing bird ruin his work.
Sazh pushed open the set of sliding glass doors that separated the house from the balcony and stepped outside, taking a deep, appreciative breath of air as he did so. The fresh, dewy morning air was wonderfully invigorating to his senses. It helped chase away every last trace of drowsiness lingering in his brain.
Refreshed, Sazh downed the last of his coffee and lowered his mug—only to spit out his coffee out in total shock as he finally took in the sight of his balcony.
And it was definitely not a pretty, pristine white.
Everyone present at the dining table jumped in shock as Sazh came rocketing down the stairs faster than a bullet from one of his pistols, screaming incoherently at the top of his lungs and gesticulating wildly up at the upstairs floors.
Dajh looked definitely worried. "Daddy, are you okay?" he asked timidly.
Vanille looked from Dajh to Sazh, the corners of her mouth twitching as if she were trying not to laugh, but she said nothing.
Maqui, who'd rejoined the group, simply gawked at the normally tranquil man and wondered what the hell was happening.
Snow got up from his chair and cautiously approached Sazh, putting up his hands. "Hold it, old man. Would you please make some sense over here?"
And, as everybody knew, when Snow was asking you to make some sense, you were in deep trouble.
Sazh clutched at his afro and took several deep breaths, trying not to hyperventilate and failing miserably. "My—balcony!" he managed to scream between gasps for air. "It's ruined! It's destroyed! It's—it's—there's a chocobo on my balcony!"
Maqui and Snow exchanged looks.
"Uh…Sazh," Snow said, as the man continued to splutter and wave his hands wildly in the air. "It's just a bird. Shoo it off or something."
"No! There's a chocobo painted on my balcony!" Sazh clarified, jabbing wildly in the direction of the upstairs floors. "Who could have done such a thing? Who could have—"
Snow sincerely hoped that whoever had committed the crime was a good runner. Or was bulletproof.
"And my chocobo slippers!" Sazh fumed, flailing. "They were nailed to the balcony! It's going to take me forever to get them out! It's going to—"
Maqui blinked. Sazh wears chocobo slippers?
All this time, Vanille and Dajh had been staring wide-eyed at Sazh, exchanging frightened, guilty glances every so often. Finally, the six-year-old could hold it in no longer. "We're sorry, Daddy!" he blurted out, his voice squeaking in fear.
The sound of his son's terrified voice brought Sazh up sharp.
"What?" he said, falling still at last. He squinted at the quaking Dajh, then shifted his glance to Vanille, struggling to understand. "Are you saying—you mean—you mean you were the ones who painted on my balcony?"
Silence fell upon the dining room.
Vanille glanced at Dajh, then back at Sazh. She nodded slowly.
"Sorry, Sazh," she squeaked. "It was just a prank…you know, for April Fool's Day. We didn't know that you would react like that…we're really sorry, Sazh."
All Sazh could say was, "You. Painted. My. Balcony."
"Um…we'll help you repaint it tomorrow, if you like," Vanille offered earnestly. "I mean, the paint we used was washable, and, um...I'm sure we can get your slippers out without damaging them too badly. Please don't be mad, Sazh. I mean, the chocobo was pretty, right? Dajh is a really good artist!"
The tension in the room deflated, as did Sazh.
"Nrgh. Fine," Sazh groused, stalking over to the table and thumping himself resignedly into his seat. Sazh, you big softie. You could never resist kids.
"Whew. Good job, Vanille," Snow told the redheaded girl. "Finally got the old man to stop shouting."
Vanille giggled behind her hands. "He still looks pretty grumpy, though!"
"Smile, Daddy, smile!" Dajh demanded adorably, clapping his hands together.
"No, Dajh, I am not smiling, not after you wrecked that balcony," Sazh grumbled. He shook his head wearily. "Why'd you have to do that? I mean, of all the pranks…"
Vanille leaned her elbows on the table and said, in all seriousness, "But Sazh, it's April Fool's Day."
Snow pounded the table and laughed. Maqui grinned and slapped high fives with Vanille.
"Nrgh. I still can't believe that you…Nrgh," Sazh said again, choosing to end his sentence in incoherence.
"Thank Etro it was you two who did that prank," Snow said, grinning. "You're the only two people in the world who could do something like that and get away with it."
"Yeah, yeah, you done teasing the old man?" Sazh asked, but his face softened into a smile. He patted the top of his son's head. "Fine, fine. Let you kids have some fun today."
"Yaaay!" Dajh cheered, bouncing up and down on his chair.
Maqui grinned and looked over the top of Dajh's head. Suddenly, his eyes bulged out in shock and his mouth dropped open. Rendered absolutely petrified with horror, he could only stare wordlessly and point one trembling finger straight ahead.
Everyone present at the table twisted around in their seats to see Gadot, unmistakable under his new halo of orange ringlets, standing at the top of the stairs.
An incredibly awkward silence ensued, in which Gadot stomped down the steps and stormed into the dining room, glaring mightily at everyone.
"LAUGH AT ME AND DIE," he threatened.
Everyone shrugged and turned back around. Gadot thumped himself into his seat, causing a minor earthquake to shudder through the dining room, and began stuffing himself with hotcakes.
Maqui and Snow exchanged glances, but, fearing for their lives, they said nothing.
The awkward silence caused by Gadot's arrival was only prolonged as steps sounded in the hallway and Hope entered the dining room, the blanket still wrapped around his knees.
"What?" Hope demanded, as everyone stared at him.
"…Uh, Hope?" Sazh queried. "What happened to your pants?"
"And why are you wearing THAT?" Maqui blurted out.
Dajh giggled. "I told you Uncle Hope was wearing a dress today!" he chirped to Vanille.
"IT'S NOT A DRESS, IT'S A—!"
"It's okay, Hope," Vanille soothed, getting up from her seat and putting her arms around the furious boy. "We know it's not a dress. Just come and sit down."
Hope slid into his seat next to Vanille, glowering at everyone as he did so, daring one of them to say one word about his questionable attire.
"So…!" Vanille said brightly, trying to alleviate the tension that had settled upon the table. "Anyone seen Fang lately? I'm kind of worried about her...I don't know where she is..."
"Haven't seen Fang since the whole prank incident." Snow leaned back in his chair. "If she knows what's good for her, she'll be running. Sis is out for her blood."
"What?" Hope raised his head, momentarily distracted from his misery. "Are Lightning and Fang fighting again?"
"Yep." Vanille nodded. "But don't worry! Lightning will be fine. Fang's not a mean person; she just likes to play pranks! And she never takes it too far. She's really softhearted inside."
Everyone exchanged glances.
"Uh, Vanille…?" Snow said. "It wasn't Fang we were worried about." Mentally, he added, Softhearted, my—
Vanille sat up, a look of indignation appearing on her delicate features. "You don't think Fang can take care of herself?" she accused. "That's not true! Fang's clever and she's a great fighter, and she's taken care of me all these years. If anyone's a survivor, it's Fang!"
"Yeah, but you've never seen Lightning when she's really angry before," Snow pointed out. "When Sis gets mad, she gets really mad."
"Well, if it's a betting matter..." Sazh rubbed his chin, deep in thought.
"I'd bet on Light," Hope said loyally.
Vanille sat back, hurt visible in her wide green eyes. "You're wrong," she insisted. "Snow! Didn't Fang outsmart you and Light with your prank?"
"Well, yes—" Snow began.
"There!" Vanille said triumphantly. "Just you wait! I'll bet Fang will come up with the best prank yet!"
This would have sparked a heated debate, had Sazh not intercepted and put an end to the argument.
"Okay, calm down, everyone. If we're lucky, it won't come to war and bloodshed, Fang and Lightning will reach some kind of truce, and we'll have a happy, peaceful, somewhat normal day. Okay?"
"Define 'somewhat normal', funny man."
"Fang!" Vanille cried, jumping up from her chair and running to her friend. She threw her arms around Fang, making the woman laugh out loud.
"Where the hell did you come from?" Snow demanded, startled by the Pulsian woman's sudden appearance.
Fang raised an eyebrow at Snow as she took her seat at one end of the table, on Vanille's other side. "From upstairs, O Village Oaf. Thanks for the warm welcome. Glad to see you're doing fine after your little…splash."
Snow scowled and stared down at the tabletop.
"Where's Light?" Hope asked, far more concerned about the status of his mentor than about Snow's dignity issues.
Fang lifted a shoulder in a shrug. "Haven't a clue. The last I saw Light, she was upstairs, threatening to kill me. No idea as to where she's absconded this time."
"You…didn't hurt Lightning, did you?" Sazh asked her in a low voice.
Fang snorted. "Me, hurt Light? Yeah, if you can call splattering her with water balloons hurting her. No, funny man, the only thing that's hurt is Sunshine's pride."
"What did you do to her?" Hope demanded, furious at the thought of anyone injuring his hero's pride.
The Pulsian woman's palms hit the table in exasperation. "Why do you all think that I've done something to her? She tried to prank me! All I did was cause the plan to backfire on her. It's not like I tried to kill her or something."
Vanille nestled up to Fang, her green eyes wide. "They thought you couldn't take care of yourself," she whispered, glancing at the others. "They said that if you and Light were fighting, Light would win."
"Oh, worried about me, were they? I'm sure I appreciate the concern." The sarcastic edge in Fang's voice was unmistakable. She put her arm around Vanille's shoulders. "Don't worry about it, love. It'll take quite a bit to bring me down so early in the battle."
These words, carrying with them the promise of a dawning conflict, were not reassuring to anyone.
As a matter of routine, Yuj was always the last one in the household to rise. It was somewhat of a mixed blessing—he rose late enough to avoid the hectic excitement that was typical of mornings spent in their house, yet too late to witness the hilarity that often accompanied it.
This didn't seem to bother the kindhearted (though fashion-obsessed) young man, however. He was somewhat of a pacifist and preferred to avert conflict, although he too carried the youthfully rebellious attitude characteristic of all NORA members.
Of course, he'd been mercilessly teased by the other NORA fighters for his tendency to sleep late. He'd been called mocking names by Gadot, smacked over the head by Lebreau, and rudely jolted awake in the mornings by Maqui pouncing on him to interrupt his sleep. Yet despite all the disparaging comments from his teammates, Yuj maintained that a good night's sleep was absolutely essential for the health of his complexion and figure, and supported this belief firmly.
Unfortunately, sleeping late today would not allow Yuj to encounter any less conflict than anyone else.
In fact, he was in for his own share of trouble.
Yuj's alarm clock went off at precisely nine-thirty, feeding a quiet beeping noise into his left ear. The junior NORA member slapped his hand down on the clock, abruptly cutting off the beeping noise, and rose, stretching as he did so.
Smoothing one hand through his silky hair, Yuj crossed to the window and drew aside the curtains, allowing sunlight to flood his bedroom in a torrent of effulgence.
"Another beautiful day," Yuj said cheerfully to himself, gazing out at the perfect, pristine blue sky outside.
He remained at the window for a few moments, unable to tear his eyes away from the matutinal beauty, before finally remembering that he needed to go downstairs.
Yuj hurried to the bathroom.
Out of all the people who shared the house with him, Yuj was the only one to have his own personal bathroom. When they'd first chosen rooms, he'd insisted on having a bathroom all to himself so he would be able to spend as much time as he wanted on his toilette—which, as the others teased, took about an hour and a half.
A massive mirror lined an entire wall of his bathroom, always kept spotlessly polished so Yuj could better admire his handsome features. On the adjacent wall, there was another mirror, a full-length one that served as a panel to conceal the massive shelf behind it where Yuj kept his beauty products.
The nineteen-year-old opened the mirror and ran one finger along the rows of conditioners, lotions, powders, perfumes, shampoos, cleansers, color dyes, glosses, and numerous other cosmetics. Satisfied that they were all present and in order, Yuj closed the mirror and reached for his hairbrush, glancing into the glass as he did so.
The hairbrush clattered to the floor.
Yuj stared in utter horror at his reflection as he beheld himself. Slowly, he raised his trembling hands to his hair.
Instead of its usual shade of deep cobalt, Yuj's hair was now a bright, crimson hue.
The boy's mind reeled with shock, staggering as it attempted to wrestle with the total surreality of the situation. There was absolutely no way to explain this, or how it had happened.
So naturally, Yuj reacted, in the only way he could.
In the dining room, everyone glanced upwards as a horrified scream resounded above them from what could only be Yuj's bathroom.
Snow slanted a look at Fang.
"…Did you happen to prank Yuj's bathroom, too?"
Fang looked thoughtful.
"Hm...no, I don't think so."
"Are you done with those yet, Lebreau?" Serah inquired, pausing in the middle of cleaning up the kitchen to stand beside the other girl.
"Uh-huh." Lebreau switched off the heat and heaped another plate with warm golden hotcakes. "That was the last of our batter."
"Except for what Dajh has got." Serah sent an amused smile in the direction of the little boy, who sat on the countertop, feet dangling several feet above the floor, happily licking hotcake batter off a spoon. She gently lifted him off the counter, set him on his feet, and gave him a little push into the hallway. "Go back to the dining room, Dajh. We're almost done."
"Hey, Serah, I'll finish up cleaning here." Lebreau took the cloth from her hand and nodded at the last plate of hotcakes. "Take that in for me, will you?"
"Sure." The younger Farron took the plate and carried it into the dining room.
Before she reached the others, however, she was greeted by a very unexpected commotion.
A red-haired blur crashed down the stairs, screaming at the top of its lungs. Tripping and lurching forward, it tore blindly down the hallway, rushing headlong into Serah and knocking her off balance.
Serah stumbled with a cry of surprise, pitching forward. She miraculously managed to catch herself, and set the plate safely on the table before whirling about to confront the offender.
"Yuj! What was that for?" the pink-haired girl admonished. "You almost made me—"
Any further words died in her throat as she finally registered Yuj's head of bright scarlet hair.
Maqui's jaw hit the floor with an audible clang.
"Dear Etro," murmured Snow.
"It's Gadot all over again," sighed Fang.
"What—what happened?" Serah cried. "Yuj...your hair—!"
Slowly, Yuj rose from the floor, his eyes full of heartbreaking despair. "I...I..." he whispered in a broken voice.
Maqui jumped up from his chair and ran to his friend, frightened. "Yuj, you okay?"
"I LOOK SO UNFASHIONABLE!" Yuj screamed in anguish, collapsing to his knees. Violent sobs racked the young man's body. "The thought...the thought of what I must look like..."
As Yuj burst into tears once more, Fang nodded at his prostrate form on the floor and said quietly, "Probably the first time in his life he's ever looked unfashionable. Must be quite a blow to him."
Vanille nodded, her hands to her mouth. She and Hope looked on with wide, stunned eyes, as did the others. Yuj's breakdown had so shocked everyone that no one noticed Lebreau enter the scene until she opened her mouth and took charge, announcing her presence.
"What the hell is going on here?" Lebreau demanded. Swiftly, she scanned the room with narrowed eyes, until her gaze fell upon the hysterically weeping Yuj at her feet.
Everyone watched with varying degrees of fear and wariness, knowing full well of the ferocity of Lebreau's temper. If anything displeased her, she went at it like a wildcat. Poor Yuj had better be good at running.
Thus, no one was prepared for Lebreau to simply take one glance at Yuj and unexpectedly turn away. Her manner completely casual, she strolled to her seat, sat down, and served herself some hotcakes, as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
Everyone stared at the dark-haired woman. Glancing up, Lebreau finally took notice of the many eyes trained on her. "What?" she snapped at them. "Am I not allowed to eat or something?"
"…Uh, 'Breau?" Snow asked cautiously. "Didn't you notice...uh...Yuj? He, uh..."
Maqui jumped up, exploding, "His hair is freaking red!"
"IT'S SO UNFASHIONABLE!" Yuj screamed from where he was performing a face-plant in the floor, his voice muffled.
"Yeah, I noticed. So what?" Lebreau sat back and crossed her arms.
This only served to further stupefy the others. As they all stared at her with gaping mouths, Vanille reached timidly across the table and tapped the woman's hand. "Um…Libby?" she inquired. "Aren't you...um, surprised or anything?"
"Why should I be?" Lebreau lifted one shoulder in a shrug. A faintly wicked smile played around her lips as she added, "After all, I was the one who did it to him."
A wall of utterly shocked silence slammed down over the room. One could have heard a feather drop.
Snow let out a slow breath. "Dear Etro."
Yuj stumbled to his feet and staggered to Lebreau, his eyes pools of betrayal.
"Lebreau," he choked out, pointing an accusing finger at her. "You—you, of all people! I can't—I can't believe you—!"
Yuj collapsed upon the table and burst into tears.
As Maqui, Vanille, and Hope ran to comfort the young man, Lebreau rolled her eyes. "Whatever. He'll get over it soon." She met the accusing stares directed at her and scowled defiantly. "Come on, it's April Fool's Day! Did you really think I'd let it pass without pranking anyone? Haven't we all been pranked at least once already today?"
"Yeah," Snow muttered, shooting a glance at Fang, who grinned in reply.
"Yuj." Lebreau stood up and went to the shaking young man, who was still crouched over the table with the other teenagers gathered around him in concern. She put her hand lightly on his shoulder. "Truce?"
Yuj didn't react.
"Hey, it could have been a lot worse, you know," Lebreau told him. "I could have replaced your conditioner with glue or something. Besides, the dye washes out. You'll be fine by tomorrow." She ruffled her fingers in his crimson-dyed hair. "And actually, I kind of like this color on you. It looks good."
Yuj sniffed and straightened. "I got my hair dyed blue in Eden, you know," he mumbled. "It was part of a really expensive makeover. Just one bottle of Liquid Cobalt dye cost me so much gil..."
And he went on and on, but he allowed Lebreau to lead him back to his seat like a six-year-old. She playfully ran her fingers through his scarlet hair, mussing it up, causing him to flail and fuss at her, but everyone could see from the way he was smiling that he had forgiven Lebreau.
"Can we eat now?" Dajh piped up in his little voice, unable to hold back any longer.
Everyone laughed. Lebreau smiled at the toddler and passed him a plate. "Sure. Here you go."
The atmosphere above the table was, for the moment, relaxed and peaceful, in the aftermath of the crisis—perhaps for the very first time that morning. Everyone settled down to eat, talking and laughing in good humor. For those few minutes, the group of housemates put their rivalries aside and simply conversed.
…That is, until the thirteenth member of their household appeared.
At that moment, Lightning stomped down the stairs. With precise, rigid footsteps, she strode down the hall. As everyone turned in their seats to stare at her, she stormed into the dining room, yanked her chair aside, and threw herself down in it.
A deadly quiet fell once more upon the table upon the wake of Lightning's sudden arrival. And this time, everyone was aware of it.
Even the chocobo seemed uneasy, tucking its head under its wing beside Dajh's plate as if to make itself as small as possible.
As the silence prolonged itself further, several of them began to betray their discomfort. Snow shifted awkwardly in his seat, his blue eyes darting from Lightning to Fang. Vanille fidgeted slightly, her fingers playing agitatedly with a strand of loose copper-coral hair. Hope kept glancing at Lightning, his eyes expressing his concern for his mentor. Serah picked up her fork, then put it down again, leaning towards Lightning. The younger Farron said nothing, but her large blue eyes spoke for her, pleading wordlessly with her sister to talk to her.
Lightning pointedly ignored all of the anxious stares the others were giving her. She ate stolidly, her face completely impassive. Only the subtle flickering of her eyes, barely detectable as they darted every so often in Fang's direction, revealed the fury roiling beneath her surface.
In contrast, Fang seemed wholly unconcerned. She leaned back in her seat next to Vanille, her posture completely relaxed, as if she hadn't a care in the world. A faint smirk played around her lips as she observed Lightning, sitting tensely across the table across from her.
Dajh was the only one seemingly unaffected by the tension in the room. He dug happily into his hotcake, smearing syrup all over his hands and face. He reached for the syrup bottle but only succeeded in knocking it over, spilling a vast pool of syrup over the tablecloth.
However, no one noticed. Everyone's attention was entirely focused on Fang and Lightning.
"Um, so..." Vanille began uncertainly, in a feeble attempt to ease the hostility that had suddenly suffused the mood of the table. Her voice trembled slightly, though she tried to keep it cheerful. "Um...Light? Hey...oh, oh, did you see Yuj's hair yet? It's red now! Lebreau dyed it! Isn't it pretty? It's crimson! Or scarlet!" she babbled, trying to fill the silence with words.
Lightning grunted in reply.
It wasn't exactly an answer, but she'd reacted favorably—favorably, meaning, she hadn't killed anyone. Everyone at the table sighed inwardly in relief.
"Hey, you know..." Sazh mused, with a quick side glance at Lightning to make sure that she wouldn't suddenly spring up and attack him for daring to speak. "Am I the only one who's noticed that all the pranks concerning Team NORA all involve hair in some way or another?"
"Hey...you're right..." Snow took a closer look at his teammates. His jaw dropped as his eyes fell upon Lebreau. "'Breau! What the hell did you do to your hair?"
Lebreau scowled at him. "Are you serious? You just noticed?"
"Hey, we don't call him an oaf for nothing," Fang pointed out, smirking.
"Thick, Snow. Thick," Lebreau said, grinning. Snow scowled, and Serah reached over to place her hand comfortingly on his shoulder, though she couldn't hide her smile.
"Hey, we never figured out who pranked Gadot!" Maqui exclaimed suddenly.
All eyes presently turned to Gadot.
The curly-haired behemoth of a man had been very quiet throughout the entire morning, perhaps due to the fact that he had not wanted to draw attention to himself and his newly coiled tresses. Now that Maqui had brought him up, however, it was impossible to remain unobserved.
Gadot glared at Maqui. "I. Will. Kill. You."
Maqui uttered a horrified squeak and dived behind Lebreau's chair.
"Gadot, what did we tell you about controlling your temper when you were little?" Lebreau said warningly, placing a comforting hand on Maqui's head.
"You're one to talk," Snow muttered.
Lebreau whipped about and glared ferociously at Snow. "Shut it."
"So, who was the one who pranked Gadot?" Vanille asked as she tilted her head, trying to drag the others away from the brink of violence.
"Was it you, Fang?" Snow raised an eyebrow at the Pulsian woman. "You seem capable of doing something like that."
Fang snorted. "Do you really think I'd have the patience to arrange someone's hair into dozens of ringlets like that? Hell, I can't even brush my own hair."
"But you have very pretty hair, Fang!" Vanille chirped, clasping her hands earnestly to her chest.
Fang grinned at the younger girl and gathered her to her side in a hug. "Thanks, love. That's sweet of you. But as far as they're interested, I'm not the one who pranked Gadot."
"Well, then, who did it?" growled Gadot, slamming his fists on the table.
Lebreau smirked and leaned back in her chair. "I think I know."
"What?" Gadot shot up from his chair and stared fiercely at Lebreau as the others gawked at her. "You know who did this to me?" His hands, supporting his weight against the table, tightened ominously into fists.
"Yeah. I mean, I have a pretty good guess." Lebreau tucked one arm behind her head. "This morning, when I went into Yuj's bathroom to get the red hair dye for my prank...I saw something on the countertop. Two things, actually. A bottle of hairspray...and a curling iron."
There was a sharp intake of breath. Everyone instantly turned to look at Yuj, whose face had become the exact shade of red as his hair.
"YOU?" boomed Gadot. He narrowed his eyes dangerously at the violently quaking young man, breathing heavily through his nostrils. "You...you little..."
Slowly, he raised one fist, trembling with barely suppressed fury and white at the knuckles, into the air.
Yuj let out a shriek of fear. Diving out of his seat, he scuttled to join Maqui in shelter behind Lebreau's chair.
"I'm going to kill you, you little runt!" roared Gadot, pounding the table. His already intimidating bulk seemed to swell with rage as he towered above the cowering Yuj. "I'm going to pulverize you! You little—!"
"Hey, stow the threats, Gadot," Fang interrupted, standing up and placing her hands on her hips. "I think your point's been made clear. Look at the kid. He's terrified. And besides, it is April Fool's Day, yeah?" She punched the massive man's arm gently. "Shut up and sit down."
Gadot stood there for a long moment, fist still upraised, indecision scrawled across his face. At last, he leveled one finger at the cringing Yuj and barked ungraciously, "Fine! I'll let you go this time, you little runt. But I will get back at you for this!"
With that, he thumped himself back into his chair and crossed his mighty arms, glowering at nobody in particular.
Yuj slowly surfaced from behind Lebreau's chair. "Is it safe to come out now?" he squeaked timidly.
"Yep," Lebreau answered. "You can come out now. You too, Maqui." The two boys reluctantly left the refuge of her chair and crept back into their seats, though they both kept glancing uneasily in Gadot's direction.
Therewith, peace might have resumed, had Dajh not chosen to look up at that moment and chirp happily, "Auntie Lightning! Guess what?"
Sazh made a frantic grab for his little son, but it was too late. The words had already been spoken. Sazh winced, feeling sure that Lightning would immediately turn her wrath upon Dajh. Please, Etro, please, he prayed fervently.
To his long-standing relief, Lightning did nothing more than flick her eyes upward and emit an interrogative-sounding grunt, indicating that Dajh should go on.
The six-year-old giggled, clapping his hands together.
"UNCLE HOPE'S WEARING A DRESS TODAY!"
Everyone groaned simultaneously. "Oh, dear Etro, not this again," muttered Sazh, dragging a hand down his face.
Vanille hurried to comfort Hope, cuddling him to her. "It's okay! It's okay!"
"What the hell?" Lightning snapped, speaking the first words she'd uttered ever since entering the dining room, eliciting stares of disbelief. "Serah, I thought I told you to give him shorts!"
Serah looked bemused. "You didn't tell me to give him shorts..."
"Why are you wearing a dress, anyway?" Fang eyed Hope in mild puzzlement.
Jumping to his feet in rage, Hope screamed: "IT'S NOT A DRESS, IT'S JUST A BLANK—You know what, never mind." And he sat down abruptly.
Everyone blinked. Snow looked as if he were about to say something, then changed his mind and glanced away. Vanille tilted her head, casting Hope a worried look. She gently took his hand in hers and whispered, "You okay?" Hope gave a nod, but his face still burned scarlet.
Serah seized the moment to speak with her sister before she lapsed back into muteness. She leaned towards Lightning, concern in her pale blue eyes. "Claire…are you all right?" she said softly.
Lightning hesitated. With the others, she could easily put up a barrier of reticence; but with Serah, her own little sister...
"It's Fang," she confessed in a low voice. "She—"
"Hey, Sunshine, what is it?"
Lightning's head instantly snapped to the side to face her rival. She glared at Fang with smoldering eyes, furious at having admitted within her earshot that she had angered her. She hadn't wanted to give Fang the satisfaction of knowing just how unsettled Lightning was that her prank had been defeated so easily, but it was too late now.
"I heard my name." Fang leaned on one elbow across the table, smirking at the older Farron. "Guess you've decided to admit defeat?"
"Defeat to what, Fang?" Lightning's voice was frosty.
"You're obviously never going to come up with a better prank than mine, so why try?"
"Is that a challenge, Fang?" Lightning hissed. "Because it sounds like it is."
By this time, the others had noticed that something was going on, and were warily watching the two women in silence. The air was thick with tension.
"Claire, please..." Serah pleaded softly.
"Fang?" Vanille looked up at the older woman uncertainly.
"It's okay, Vanille," Fang told her in an undertone, then returned her attention to Lightning, raising one eyebrow. "So? You can't deny it, can you? You may be a quick one, Farron, but compared to a wild-born Pulsian...we've been playing tricks all our lives."
"You want a challenge, Fang? Is that it?" Lightning's fingers curled into a tight fist.
Fang smirked at her again. "Only if you think you're up to it."
"I'm more than up to it." Lightning narrowed cold blue eyes at the other woman. "I just hope that when the time comes, you'll be ready."
Fang tucked one arm behind her head in the manner of one completely unfazed by anything that life could throw at her.
A/N: Thanks to LoriMina for the Hope's line about the blanket! :D
Please, please read and review! Make Nighty happy. ^^