Pre-notes: There's a certain dialogue reference to the Japanese version of the game here. This is not existent in the localized English version of Final Fantasy XIII. If you find yourself getting confused when this certain thing pop up, yes, it's probably related to this.

Song quote below is from Gravity, by Vienna Teng.

Minus Six
I. rise and shine

"...these are the scars that silence carved..."

It was a place she greeted day and night for much of her life, save for the past eight years.

Bodhum's seaside beach.

She'd walk past the early, grey-white sky of the seaside when leaving for work. In the wee morning hours, it had always been quiet, the beach empty of people, empty of sounds and cheers and laughter; and in its place, she'd hear the sound of waves so clearly they sometimes resonated, with cries of birds reaching out to their companions in the distant sky.

And when duties demand it, she'd come by in the afternoon for whatever was it she needed to perform - break up fights, apprehend little thieves, drag a drunkard to jail... and every time, she would always spare a moment - just a moment and no longer - to ingrain the sight of the bright, clear blue sky into her mind; the feel of soft white sand under her feet.

At sundown, when she didn't have overtime work or night shifts, she'd spend at least five minutes feeling the wind, and letting the warmth of the reddish-fire sky soak into her skin before heading home. She'd do the same even if it was late in the night (and that happened often with her demanding job), when the sky was an enchanting black with stars that glittered brightly.

And just a little - just a little - when she would stand there and close her eyes briefly and just feel, something would uncoil.

That stunning scenery, the feel of the wind and the warmth of the sun, the sea-salty scent of the air - this was the place she'd grown up in. This was... the one place she had missed the most.

( - and maybe that was why she's here now - )

White, grey sky.

The wind was chilly; the loose sleeves of her shirt and pants grazed against her skin softly, and her hands tightened their clasp slightly on her raised knee. Beneath her, the wooden planks she sat on felt almost as if they were rocking; the waves of the sea under the pier were a little strong, now.

After nearly a decade of this being missing from her life, she was, once again, at Bodhum seaside beach.

And she relished it.

There was a part of her - the soldier side of her - that thought, vaguely, something was wrong. That something - she - should not be here. That Bodhum was no longer accessible. The town that she knew and grew up in, with everything in its place, with the same sky and wind and sea, was no longer there. Even if this town hadn't been destroyed, it would have, at the very least, been damaged after the Ragnarok event.

This should not exist, something told her.

But a larger part of her didn't care much.

She didn't know why, and the sense of urgency, concern and wariness that should have been at their height - they just weren't there.

Then a shadow loomed over her back; she didn't have to see it, she felt it from the lack of warmth.

"I should have figured that of all places you would have loved to be, it'd be here."

It took only a split second for Lightning to recognize that voice, though she didn't turn to confirm her suspicions.

Her eyes closed (they shouldn't, the soldier part of her warned, and an even smaller part of her questioned, where is my sword?), and she inhaled, lightly, tasting the salty air. "Should I be surprised to see you here?"

There was a pause before the question was tossed back, almost guardedly. "Should you, Light?"

"I don't know."

An honest admission, one that didn't even take a moment of hesitation.

She could almost feel the surprise radiating from the person behind her at her answer.

The shadow moved soundlessly; and now a figure was sitting next to her.

A silence stretched.

Then:

"You know you shouldn't be here, don't you?" that person asked at last, casually, almost humorously.

Lightning obliged with the briefest of nods, eyes still closed. She did know, though not why and how. "Mmn."

A warm hand grazed her shoulder before pressing into the nape of her neck, brushing against locks of faded cherry, tugging gently, turning her around a little -

"Look at me, Lightning."

For a moment, she didn't resist. Though why, she could not fathom, and didn't try to find out (she should, something told her, but she wasn't). Then a thumb brushed against her cheek, moving to just below her ear, almost featherlike -

Lightning's move had been instinctive then - her own hand shot up to grasp that appendage; fingers wrapping around smooth, velvety fabric - and her eyes opened to meet the most piercing stormy green; green that was void of humor and amusement it usually had, green that was far too serious and somber and sad and sad -

Expressions that did not suit this person.

They confused her. Startled her.

Her grip on the black-sleeved wrist tightened.

And the confusion she felt must have showed, because that finger pressed more firmly, almost tenderly, against her cheek -

"You.." the pink-haired woman paused, for the briefest moment at a loss for words, then - "You...you're sad."

A ghost of a smile appeared on that face. Lightning wondered if she accurately observed a hint of bewildered amusement.

"...I am," was the quiet admittance.

Her head tilted slightly in response, questioning.

An even longer silence that stretched this time, and Fang - Fang, a small part of her mind finally named - stared at her with the most serious eyes she'd ever had, looking like she was trying to search for something and coming up with mixed results.

That was when Fang's eyebrows creased, and she sighed, a wry grin on her face.

And for the third time since she had known Fang (the first time was in Palumpolum, when they talked about Vanille, the second time was the battle with Orphan - ), pain, sadness, and anguish were written so clearly in those eyes.

"You have to wake up soon, Light."

"What's on your mind?"

This voice, unlike Fang's, was noticeably more timid; too cautious, too worried, and too strained.

And oddly enough, Lightning did not know the answer to the question. She didn't know what was on her mind.

"I...don't know."

The footsteps were much less quiet this time, and she heard the wooden planks creak with movements that eventually stopped beside her, where Fang once sat (how long ago was that? Five minutes? Thirty? One hour? Two? A day?).

She glanced up to peer into pensive cerulean eyes that drifted away after a moment, opting instead to look past the sea distantly.

That girl - Vanille - clasped her hands behind her back, shifting restlessly from foot to foot; expression conflicted.

The soldier didn't say anything; her gaze trailing back to the sea, sky, to the white and blue and white and white..

"Hey, Lightning?"

"Hmm?"

"How's...Serah?" was the unexpected, almost random, question.

She paused (a small part at the back of her head started to ring with alarm, but it was still too muted). Serah. Serah Farron, sister, three years younger than her, was in crystal stasis, got out of crystal stasis, married Snow -

"She's..." vaguely, Lightning remembered her reading Pulsian notes late into the night, remembered the makeshift wedding ceremony that was put together by a bunch of ragtags that called themselves NORA, remembered her laughing and sad and worried and smiling, remembered the girl whom she abandoned everything to save - "...doing well."

"..That's good to hear." Vanille sounded as if she expected that answer, voice brightening a little (but why was she expecting that answer?). Then it faded, sounding guilty. "I didn't get to apologize to her."

A pause. Then:

"You know she has forgiven you, Vanille." She didn't know why or how she knew that Vanille would know; she just knew.

The answering response was a slight, almost forced smile.

Then the topic was switched back. "When you have time," the younger girl (though chronologically older) said as if to address her previously unsaid question, "with little else to do, all you do is...watch. And observe."

"...Watch?"

"Mmhm."

The soldier had the faintest feeling that she should ask how and what Vanille watched, but she didn't.

"They are anxious, Lightning." Vanille said quietly. "And they are worried."

They? They...who?

She should know this. She should.

The ringing at the back of her head grew just that bit louder.

"Hope's running himself ragged. Serah hasn't really been sleeping."

Something, some part of her she couldn't describe, stopped at that; and she turned to look back at the other girl.

And finally, Vanille turned to look at her pensively.

Cerulean blue; pale blue.

"You have to go back, Lightning."

"She's protecting you, you know."

She? She, who?

"She's the reason Vanille and I am here, trying to get you back home."

That confused Lightning, and she told her as much (but there was a part of her, some part of her soul that knew this she, knew it like the back of her hand, knew it like she understood her own sword - ).

"I've no idea what you're talking about."

"You don't?" was the casual question.

"I..." she paused. She wanted to say no. But there was something stopping her. Something that she should recognize but didn't. "...'She'?"

"She." Fang's voice softened just that little. "And she's afraid for you. She didn't realize..." The Oerban woman trailed off, grasping for the right word and not really succeeding. "She didn't know that you were you, and in the confusion and surprise of everything, she just...did too much. She didn't know you were you, at first."

This time, Lightning was completely confused, and she glanced up from where she sat to stare at Fang, who stood next to her, spear hooked loosely under the elbow with arms crossed.

Under the red-orange sky - there was a strange, almost enchanting, gold hue to Fang's nearly black hair; the freckles of grey and brown somehow more distinct, the iris in those green eyes just that much easier to see, the play of dark shadows on her skin and face making her features all the more pronounced -

"I'm me." She semi-parroted back, confusion and a demand for Fang to explain herself clear in her tone.

The taller woman arched an elegant eyebrow at her. And for reasons Lightning just couldn't grasp, there were equal amounts of muted relief and sadness flashing past those green eyes -

"Not so lost after all, are you?" murmured Fang, this time strangely amused.

"I..." Lightning's mouth closed. Her eyebrows furrowed. "I...no. No, I'm not." The answer came just as quickly, as easily, like she had always known it - but questions, so many of them, were bubbling deep in her, and she couldn't even begin to catch any of them - "I...don't belong here, do I?" she asked, the question odd even to her, but strangely most fitting and needing to be out.

The relief in those eyes was palpable this time. "No. No, you don't. Go home, Light. It's past time you should."

Yet, a part of her hesitated.

The Pulsian warrior looked like she sensed that, and stared at her.

Silence stretched.

"What are you waiting for?" Fang asked at last, her tone almost cautious and just that bit suspicious. "You already..." a pause, then as if realization struck, "you've known since your first conversation with Vanille and I, haven't you? You knew you didn't belong here since then."

It was Lightning who broke the eye contact and looked away.

She did know. Or at least, a part of her did. It was the part of her that demanded she look things in the eye and take things head on. It was that very part of her that threw facts in front of her unrelentingly while slicing idealistic fantasies away.

So yes. She did know.

And Fang apparently knew that as well as she did.

It was almost funny; Lightning felt as if she could hear the gears working and shifting in Fang's mind, and then the taller women bent down on one knee, grasped the soldier's chin with a finger and lifted it back to face her in one swift motion before she could even do anything -

"Are you..." Fang stopped, conflicting emotions playing in piercing green eyes, and then she continued with a voice so low and soft and forced, "...Is it because we are here, Light?"

The silence Lightning graced her with spoke volumes.

She pushed that finger away with the back of her hand, and turned to stare at the sea; and how the waves glinted gold and orange.

"Light." This time, Fang's tone was filled with a sort of fond exasperation.

In response, she sighed, closed her eyes and rubbed the bridge of her nose; face twisting in a half-grimace, feeling as if her chest was tightening just that little bit -

Then she stiffened in surprise when she felt an arm reach around her, pulling her into Fang's body, pressing the side of her head against the older woman's collarbone; and she could barely react, let alone figure how to react with the astonishment filling her -

"Fang - "

"Masters of Miracles, remember?"

She stopped, the thought of shoving Fang away frozen momentarily.

Her right hand curled instinctively into a fist.

"Go home, Light." Fang said quietly, and she could almost feel the soft vibrating from where she was pressed into - "your family needs you, and you know that."

She did.

"And, well, you know." Though Lightning didn't see it, she knew that Fang's lips had curled into that trademark smirk of hers. "With how miracles come to us, you'll probably see us sooner than you think."

That she couldn't help but snort at, and she sighed, feeling herself relax just a little in Fang's grip -

"Both of you better."

The soft chuckle was all she heard and felt before her eyes closed of their own accord.

Pat.

Pat, pat, pat.

Pat pat.

Pat!

" - lair...an lair - "

There was something soft on her cheek, patting gently, and insistently. And her skin felt as if it was being soaked by warmth though she couldn't see it, as if some sort of warm light had been directed at her.

" - Aun lair - "

Then she felt as if her shoulder was being tugged.

Lightning tried to open her eyes, a process that seemed too difficult to even do - there was a dull, consistent throb at the back of her head, and she was strangely lethargic; all she wanted was to return to the darkness.

But the insistent patting on her cheek, and the tugging, spurred her to try harder.

And after what seemed to be an eternity - first squinting from what she thought was bright light, then allowing for her blurry vision to adjust and clear -

She was face to face with pale blue eyes. They were a near mirror to the shade of her own eyes, and they brightened instantly -

"Aun lair!" Small, chubby hands were instantly wrapped around her neck, and she was hugged tightly. "yu wade."

"You're awake," Lightning parroted instinctively, with a voice hoarse and raw from disuse, her own hand pressing into that small back gently, almost absently. A child? She forced herself to ignore the dull ache at the back of her mind, trying to remember who - this - this child that was barely even a quarter her height is, who loosened her hold and scrunched her face at the correction.

A small face, blue eyes, faded soft blonde locks that were nearly reaching the length where it could be tied -

"...Raine?"

It was as if Lightning saying that name was all the child needed to light up with a happy grin; chubby fingers patted her cheek gently again, eyes wide and staring intently as if to be certain -

"Yu awe wade."

That...was an improvement, she supposed, feeling vaguely amused now.

"Raine." She tested the sound on her lips. Yes, she knew this name.

Her sister's baby kid. Her niece. Four years old in a couple months. The quiet, intelligent child that was more calm Serah than exuberant Snow (thankfully).The little girl she had grown fond of. Raine Villiers.

Raine.

And then it all came back to her, foggily, in flashes - but more than enough for her to piece things together.

Hope. Green water. Fang, Vanille. Green water. Foreign, ancient thoughts she could not even begin to understand (and oddly enough, a small part of her told her in no uncertain terms she would never be able to - ) then blacking out and then - then...then...what?

Something growled.

Lightning blinked and sat up, the dull throb at the back of her head spiking momentarily; her arm cradling the little girl to her easily, as if it was something she often did.

"Im hungi.." Raine muttered, though she was obviously not objecting to the hold, wrapping her small hands around her aunt once more.

There was a long pause before Lightning could even begin to think of what to say or do; her thoughts still felt too muddled, distant, and strange. And there was something - some sort of presence somewhere, in and around her, something so foreign and familiar and comforting and frightening all the same; sticking to her like a persistent little parasite that didn't

and wasn't going to

suck her blood and overtake her - but it was there, there, and it wasn't leaving, caressing her somehow with a phantom touch, grazing all over her skin and giving her goosebumps only to soothe it the next moment - and it was strange, strange, strange and foreign to her and all so comforting and reassuring at the same time -

"Can ee get some food, aun lair..?" That voice, belonging to that of her niece, pulled her out of her muddled thoughts - she was sinking just now, sinking into something she couldn't recognize and wasn't sure she could get out - like a lifesaver she never knew the child could be - and she choked out a sudden, shuddering breath, suddenly realizing that she wasn't breathing -

"Aun lair?"

"Y...Just - one s- moment - Raine," she managed to whisper - or was it croak - out, trying desperately to slow her pounding heartbeat that she hadn't realized was beating a mile a second.

The child tightened her hold around her neck - and that gesture, the feeling of her warm niece in her arms, hearing Raine hum an 'okay!' at her - somehow, just somehow, calmed her down; and those - that - that strange thing - it disappeared.

Lightning exhaled.

She pressed a hand to her face, trying to rub the lethargy and disoriented thoughts away, and looked around.

Where was...where was she?

White-blue painted walls, desk on one side, cupboard on the other; a... her military garb hanging on the door of her wardrobe -

Lightning was in her room. Her own room, in Oerba.

Something growled again; Raine's stomach.

She couldn't help it this time: she snorted lightly and moved, testingly, to get out of bed - Raine was still hanging off her like a koala bear, and she would be damned if she dropped the child. It was a dizzying moment when she tried to stand; her whole body felt heavy from disuse, like something heavier than Raine was weighing down on her shoulders, and her balance was off.

The soldier stood there for one full minute, unmoving, and she exhaled when the dizziness passed.

"Raine?"

"Yes, aun lair?"

"Where's Se - your mother? And your father?"

"Oh." That bright voice dulled a little, "Mommy's...not feeling well."

Lightning paused, the concern for her sister cutting into her disorientation. She shifted her hold on her niece to look at the suddenly sullen child. "Why?"

"Daddy sed mom din slep well, so he med her go to seep. Mommy and Hope was wathing aun lair for the las few ays.."

Wathing? Las few ays?

What..? It was a very long one minute before that statement made sense.

Watching. Last few days.

"Oh." she said in response, distractedly. How long had she been asleep..? And what the hell was - is - wrong with her?

Her niece's stomach growled again, as if on cue.

"Hungy," came the petulant whine.

She sighed, half amused and half exasperated over her interrupted thoughts that were slowly, very slowly, clearing. Then she poked Raine's forehead fondly before maneuvering to the door, cautiously, carefully; the severity of the dull ache in her head seemed to be proportional to how quickly she moved.

"Let's get you some food." And some answers for me.

The little girl cheered.

The first thing she saw when she made her way downstairs to the hall was Hope asleep on the couch.

She stopped at the edge of the furniture, watching him snore.

He looked as if he had been...had not been sleeping, with papers (scribbled on in a messy scrawl she couldn't even begin to read) spread messily across the table, an empty cup with dark brown substance at its bottom by the side, with a crumpled shirt, unshaven, and - a beard? Hope had a beard. For Lightning, that still took some time to get used to, even though she had been one of the first few who noticed when it first started.

" - running himself ragged - "

She froze. Her gaze snapped around the room, grip tightening protectively on Raine - where did she put her sword - what the hell was that and who -

"Aun lair?" Raine asked curiously, unsure of why she had stopped.

There was only silence, save for Hope's deep breathing and Raine's bubbling restlessness.

Lightning exhaled, running an agitated hand through faded cherry locks.

Her imagination? Maybe. Quite possibly. She wondered if she could chalk it up to her muddled thoughts and headache and the strangeness of everything, but the soldier part of her, and the instinctive part of her, refused to let it slide.

She was forgetting something, and Hope was quite possibly the only one who could give her answers.

The impatient part of Lightning wanted to shake Hope awake and get answers, but the more protective, maternal side of her that considered him family wanted to let him rest, because, whatever it was that happened to herself, it was clear that he had been affected greatly.

Answers could wait, and - her thoughts froze.

It was there again. That - the feeling of something draping over her shoulders - like an invisible, warm cloak - a presence at the back of her mind she could not begin to identify, foreign and comforting and reassuring at the same time -

She felt the collar of her shirt tugged lightly.

"Aun lair?"

Lightning breathed in again, and forced herself to relax. That feeling vanished, oddly enough. But the dull throb was still there.

( - and a small part of her told her that this...whatever this was, should raise warning bells, but it was so muted, and so, so silent - )

"Hope's sleeping," she told the child softly, moving again, this time to the kitchen. "We've to be quiet, okay?"

"Okay," was the considerably quieter response, nearing a whisper.

She needed a damned aspirin.

Footsteps. Footsteps that were growing rapid.

"Raine, where are you?" a worried voice called.

From around the rim of her cup, Lightning's gaze slanted to her niece in front of her , who - to her veiled, growing amusement - was looking immensely guilty, the plastic spoon flicking up and down from between her lips.

"..You sneaked out of your mother's room?" she asked in a stern tone, taking a sip from her water, in a voice soft enough to be only heard by Raine. It wouldn't do to let the kid realize she was more humored than anything else; best not to encourage that kind of behavior... even if it was amusing.

And in retrospect, Lightning should have realized that the little girl must have sneaked out to get to her room - she was still a little too young for any of the adults to feel comfortable leaving Raine to her own devices.

Not to mention Raine always did have a habit of sneaking up to some sort of mischief right under her parents' noses.

"..Mommy was ired, and I din wan to wade her up..." the girl muttered.

Lightning's lips twitched. Then something occurred to her: "How did you get into my room?"

She was almost certain that, unless if Raine had had a growth spurt over the past few... days?... she was unconscious, the child just wouldn't be able to actually reach the doorknob to open it. Which would, also, answer why Serah didn't check her room to see if Raine was there (because if Serah did, she would have been in for a surprise).

Big blue eyes stared up at her unblinkingly. "Daddy lef the door oven."

...Oaf.

"RAINE?" The footsteps were getting louder; she was coming downstairs.

The soldier ruffled her niece's hair gently, and called back - "In the kitchen, Serah."

Silence reigned.

And then:

"Éclair..?" Her sister's voice sounded hoarse this time.

The footsteps slowed as they neared the kitchen, and became so much quieter at the same time, as if she was...afraid, if Lightning had to put a word to it.

Afraid.

Serah was afraid.

It made the soldier wonder just how long she had been unconscious, and what had happened - her stomach churned uncomfortably at the thought, and for the briefest second, she wished she had woken Hope up -

Her sister appeared by the doorway, and remained there, frozen with astonishment, disbelief and tears in her eyes.

Tears?

She felt herself freeze for the briefest second at the sight, utterly shocked and confused. Serah was crying. Why?

Awkwardly, she placed the cup she'd been holding on the table, and turned to face her sister. Serah's gaze darted to Raine, and Lightning saw relief flashing, but when it settled back on her - she felt herself tensing up. The turmoil of emotions that played in Serah's blue eyes ranged from disbelief to hope to fear.

And it seemed as if all Serah could do was take one step into the kitchen while staring at her.

But it said so much, especially when Serah didn't seem to be able to move any further, looking at her like she might be a trick of the eye, an illusion; lifting a trembling hand as if to reach out to her, to reach out to something she thought she wouldn't be able to ever touch and feel again -

"...Éclair?" A whisper, trembling, and so, so raw with clogged up emotions.

Watching Serah like this because of...whatever it was that happened, made her throat feel unexplainably dry. She wanted to ask so many things, but seeing her sister like this shoved all those questions to the back of her mind.

Lightning cleared her throat.

"Hey, Serah," she said, head cocking slightly.

It was as if her voice was Serah's undoing - the younger Farron took another step, and that step turned into a run that barreled into her - and her soldier's reflexes were all that stopped them from falling over; one arm went around Serah's shoulders, the other pressed onto the table - "Serah - "

"I was so afraid - " her sister started to say, then jerkily cut herself off, voice hoarse and trembling - "you wouldn't wake up - I - we didn't know what to do, and no one knew what was going on and - and - you...you died - "

Lightning's thoughts froze. Her headache spiked.

She died?

Her sister's misty pale blue eyes stared into her startled ones.

"You died." Serah whispered. "You wouldn't breathe - and - and - you were so still - " The tears streamed now. She was crying, and that sight - "Hope managed to get you breathing again, but then you would - you would relapse again and again and again - you - "

She pounded on her chest, weakly, and Lightning could feel the trembling of those fists; another pound - "you - you were - "

A strangled choke; and she struck again - this time nearly knocking the breath out of her with its force - Lightning grasped those fists this time, pressing them to her; because she knew the next strike would knock her breath out - "Serah - "

"You were so still - " Serah's voice trembled, and there was so much pain and fear in there - "you were so still - "

"I'm sorry," she heard herself say, whisper, so softly she could barely even hear it herself, as if the words came tumbling out on their own; something in her ached to see Serah like this even if she couldn't begin to understand what happened, and she released her grip to enfold the younger woman into a hug - "I'm sorry, Serah - "

And for a while, they just stood there, watched by a confused Raine.

一一一

A/N: The "Masters of Miracles" reference started by way of Fang in the Save Vanille/Sazh chapter of the game (Japanese). It is used and mentioned a few times after that, and right up to the end of the game, as a title for our favourite l'cie. And I can't really do justice to that title cast on our favourite l'cie by trying to explain its relevance, honestly...it may even sound lame to you, right now; so the best I can say is, watch or play the Japanese version of the game, and you'll see what I mean.

I've also received several offhand questions, on this site and elsewhere, asking about the l'cie title. I hesitated to answer because of the mention I'd use in this chapter and reasons above, and I apologize for that. But you're welcome to message me for more/other information regarding the Japanese version of the game, if you'd like, and I'll do my best to respond.

On another issue...Japanese suffixes. Or nicknames. Such as "nee-san," "Light-san" and etc. Considering that I'm trying to press on the J. ver, I really should use these suffixes. But...I decided not to, in the end, because there's a bunch of question marks surrounding certain suffixes that makes me cringe to try dealing with them.

Either way, though...I'd like to say that long fics and chapters are not my forte, nor is adventure type of fic something I'm experienced in writing. I'm more of a drama/angst writer. Expect differences in terms of quality, and whatnot, in upcoming chapters. Even for this chapter alone, I had been tempted to cut off the chapter at the end of dream sequence, but decided not to.

This is actually a rather new thing for me, so, eh. All plot holes (minus unknown ones) have been ironed out. I've around twenty pages worth of notes with a good amount of time from the past week or so spent on it by both the beta and I. There's a news feed of sort on the bio page for this fic, which may be updated sporadically if you're interested.

...With any luck, some good inspiration and lack of laziness, this fic will hopefully be completed. Chapter is beta-ed by Astarael00, per usual, and I hope you've found it an enjoyable read.

Reviews, I dub thee food for inspiration.