Above and Below
Legal Disclaimer: I don't own any part of the Final Fantasy series.
Here it is: the final chapter to Above and Below.
I would like to dedicate this chapter to my readers, in particular, to those of you who have read this story all the way through since I first began posting chapters, and who—despite the unpredictable and often late updates—kept with it and always took the time for reviews. This chapter is in honor of you.
It feel strange to be putting up the final chapter on the story; it was a fun story to write, though it will feel a bit weird being done with it. Nonetheless, it's satisfying to be able to complete it and tie everything together.
Thank you once again for all of the reading and reviewing you have done. It is remembered and deeply appreciated.
~Logos Minus Pity
Ch. 14. Timing
It was done. At long last, with many long months of on and off toil, the house was finished. The stones had long been set, the walls insulated and covered, the windows installed, and the fine dust and dirt of work swept away to reveal a newly shining residence. The modest two-story house and patio looked perfect to Lightning, even better than what she envisioned when she had first begun her work.
She hoped—no, that was wrong; she knew that Fang felt the same way, too. There was no question over Fang's exuberance in the project, and her genuine excitement at the finished product. No, the real question now was, where was Fang?
They had agreed to meet after Lightning finished up her squad inspections on the base. It had taken a bit longer than expected, and Light had called Fang to let her know that she was running late, but the evening was now setting in, and Fang had not yet arrived. Just as she was reaching into a pocket to pull out her comm. device, said woman bounded around the corner, a bag slung over one shoulder.
"Sorry for the delay, Light," she apologized. "Had to run and pick something up."
Lightning waved away the apology. "It's alright, Fang. What was it that you were getting?"
"C'mon!" Fang ignored the question and sat down on the edge of the courtyard, legs dangling off the stone edge and over the gentle moving waves of the lake, gesturing for Lightning to do the same. She followed suit, knowing that it was better than trying to press her point again; she would have to be patient and wait and see. Fang opened the bag she had brought with her, setting the contents down on the stone.
"Thought I'd get us something special," Fang finally explained, pulling out two glasses and a bottle of liquor. The small bottle glittered in the setting sun, the dying light making the contents sparkle like an orange flame.
Lightning examined the clearly expensive purchase with a critical eye. "This isn't to your normal tastes," she remarked casually.
"Like I said, smartass, something special for a special occasion. Now shush."
Lightning smiled but remained quiet. She was not, by nature, as deliberately antagonizing as what Fang could be, though she had far more experience now in knowing what she could say or do to make Fang sigh in exasperation and occasionally reverse their roles. She had long since learned to take those small victories when she could.
She instead watched with interest as Fang expertly poured out the liquid into the two glasses. Even in a smaller amount, the beverage still shone a brilliant light orange, making her wonder exactly what it was. She supposed she would soon find out, though, as Fang, evidently satisfied with her initial pour, pressed one of the two glassed firmly into Lightning's hand. She then grabbed the other, holding it up.
"To a job well done," Fang intoned formally, lifting her glass for a toast. Lightning did not follow suit though.
"No," Light said slowly, mulling it over. "To us."
She lifted her glass high, waiting for Fang to respond. It only took a brief second. Their glass chimed merrily as they clipped against each other.
A small, secret smile curved on Fang's face as she and Lightning downed their glasses. The beverage was delicious; it tasted of fresh rain and warm sun and the first bloom of flowers; it tasted like spring. That alone confirmed what she had already surmised; it was a Cocoonian beverage, designed to taste nothing like alcohol and to be as delicious as any would be purveyor could imagine. It was a fitting toast to their accomplishments.
Their house had a magnificent view of the sunset over the water, and they enjoyed the view now. It was a typically warm night for the Oerban summer, and the suns rays flamed against the water and the massive orb of Cocoon in a whirlwind of colors that was matched by nothing else.
Lightning was content like this. She and Fang talked for a little while, but ultimately settled into an easy and comfortable silence as they watched the horizon and Fang periodically refilled their drinks.
She was very happy, Lightning realized. Not just in this moment, but particularly in the past few months. It was easier now to look back and admit just how discontent she had been in the wake of first deciding to leave Bodhum. It simply wouldn't have worked for her if she had continued trying to force things into place there. A façade, a mask, a falsehood…Amodar had been right all along: she needed to move beyond the sleepy little town at the edge of Cocoon. She hadn't known where that would take her, and perhaps hadn't wanted to think about where, and yet she couldn't imagine things having ever turned out better than what they were. She was happy with her job here, with the impact she felt she was making, and she was happy with the excitement and challenge of being on Gran Pulse. And though it was something that she had not even fully admitted to herself yet, she was, at long last, okay with Serah and Snow. A new chapter in her life had begun, and Oerba was her home now, much more than Bodhum. She glanced at Fang out of the corner of her eye as the woman sipped the last contents of her glass. The warmth from the liquor spread easily across her midriff. Fang was as much a part of her home now, too.
Fang stretched and then placed her hands down against the stone, but she either misjudged the distance slightly, or Lightning's hand was closer to her than she realized, and their hands touched—Fang's landing softly on Lightning's—and Lightning felt a bolt of electricity jolt through her at the unexpected contact. It was not the first time she had felt such. It seemed with ever increasing frequency that such unintentional and casual contact left her flustered. It would make her breath catch for the barest second, make her heartbeat quickly pound in her ears, make her muscles jump. For casual nature aside, she couldn't shake how very intimate the small physical contacts were to her, and how she focused so tightly on them, despite her best efforts to relax.
In this case, though, it appeared that her momentary weakness had betrayed her, and she felt herself freeze as Fang's intense gaze pinned her in place, searching. Fang made no attempt to move her hand from where it rested, nor did Lightning make any attempt to move hers. Instead she waited, unable to break away, counting heartbeats as she waited for something—for anything —to happen. But to wait like this, caught and fearing what would happen next…the silence and the tension were nearly killing her until Fang finally broke it.
"How long are you—are we—going to dance around this, Light?"
"Around what?" she asked, licking her suddenly dry lips. She was terrible at trying to feign ignorance to deflect questions, and would never normally try this approach, but she felt so heady, a mix of the fiery drink in her stomach and the hypnotic stare that had caught her yet again.
Fang sighed before shaking her head in a resigned fashion. Even so, there was a strong undercurrent of amusement in the motion, hinting at what she thought of Lightning's unusually poor counter. "Should've known you'd make me act first."
Lightning had only a passing moment to try and puzzle out Fang's words before the woman closed the distance between them and gently kissed her. At that point, any thoughts she was in the midst of forming abruptly fled her conscious mind. She was taken completely off guard, robbed of her breath and of her wits, unable to focus on anything but the despairingly sweet feel of Fang's warm mouth against hers.
And just as quickly, the sensation was gone, and Lightning was left reeling. Fang had pulled back, clearly trying to gauge a reaction from the still thunderstruck Lightning. Whatever she saw there—surely the intensive longing and desire Lightning so sharply felt even now—must have been encouraging, because she put a hand up to cup Lightning's cheeks and then leaned back in before Light could utter a word.
Fang's lips moved across hers in soft, insistent pecks. On the corner of her mouth, on her lips, over and over until Lightning found herself falling forward and struggling to capture those lips and kiss back, an unexpected moan startling even her when it emerged from her throat.
At that, Fang pulled back yet again, this time a knowing smirk on her face as she chuckled. Nonetheless, her eyes gleamed with a predator's heat. "I'll take that as a good sign. Especially considering you've yet to get violent or—"
Lightning stared into Fang's eyes…those oh-so very green and glinting eyes. She did not want to match banter right now. She didn't even need to think.
Green means go.
"Fang…shut up," she commanded strongly, and then leaned in to press their lips together again. Fang was never so glad as to follow a command as at that moment. The empty bottle and glasses fell to the wayside as she wrapped her arms around Lightning. They kissed over and over again, until all that either could taste was the remnants of spring from each others' skin.
Lightning woke up with one of the more tremendous headaches she had experienced in some time, and with the confusion of not being able to clearly recall how she had ended up safely in bed from last night. The sunlight pierced through cracks in the window shades, making her squint as her eyes adjusted and she sat upright. A figure helped to block the harsh rays, though.
Fang was already up and standing, her back currently turned away from Light as she faced the window, a glass of half-finished water in one hand. She was partially undressed, wearing only her choli on top. Her sari was instead peeled down such that it only served now to wrap around her waist as a makeshift skirt, leaving even more skin bared than normal. Instinctively, Lightning looked down at herself. She was wearing a thin sleeveless undershirt, with the sheets still tangled around her. The indentation on the bed next to her confirmed what she was beginning to recall—that Fang had taken the spot next to her, instead of her usual sleeping residence on the pull-out couch.
Alerted by the rustling, Fang turned around to look at Light, setting her glass down on the bedside table. Lightning spoke before Fang could.
"We…did…" She was unable to form an appropriate question as her eyes jumped back and forth between herself, the bed sheets, and Fang. She felt the heat rising in her face whenever her eyes lingered on Fang's exposed skin. For her part, Fang remained oddly unreadable, interrupting only once it became apparent Lightning was not going to finish coherently.
"We went to sleep together last night—or maybe more appropriately, we passed out—but that's all, Light. I'd like to think that with all of the history between us, we deserve better than a drunken night of mostly forgotten fumbling."
Fang finished by sitting back down on the edge of the bed, refusing to break eye contact. Lightning realized that her momentary distress upon awaking could have—and must have—been easily misconstrued by Fang, so she desperately tried to orient her swirling mind. Fragmented memories of last night, hindered by the still dissipating fog of sleep and dreams, rapidly pieced themselves back together. In a flash, she remembered. In that same flash, her hand snaked out before she could think, reaching for Fang's face…to what? To confirm? To question? She wasn't even sure until her fingers halted just as abruptly, hovering bare inches away from foreign features. And her mind screeched to a halt then, utterly at a loss. She was suddenly uncertain, as untrusting and, dare she even think it, as fearful as she had ever been. She felt exposed, open, and vulnerable, as if her chest was helplessly bared for a blade to the heart. That alone was terribly disorienting, lending to the feeling of precarious teetering. Memories completely aside, all she could think of now was what could happen if she let her hand continue its intended journey. She wasn't sure, and that uncertainty was more terrifying to her in the moment than anything else.
But before she could retract her hand, before she could retreat back into the walls she had spent her life building, a word stopped her.
Fang's voice was gentle but firm, and Lightning's already curling fingers stopped their escape. Against Lightning's judgment, Claire looked at Fang, and fell into those intent and equally vulnerable eyes.
"Claire, I'm here."
The words were said as a simple statement, with not even the faintest hint of sarcasm or teasing behind them. Lightning felt her fingers tentatively uncurl, felt her arm extend those few more inches, and felt Fang's cheek press against her hand, immediately grounding her confusion even as a sense of intrigued pleasure began to blossom from somewhere in her chest.
Her fingers trailed a delicate pathway across Fang's face, following the route that her eyes took her. She skimmed her fingertips over the tanned skin, the high cheekbones, the strong curve of an eyebrow, the sculpting of the chin. She felt more than heard with a detached fascination the inhalation of breath when her thumb lightly skimmed across the soft skin of Fang's lower lip. When she moved to trail her thumb back across those same lips, a hand reached up to catch hers. Lightning finally looked up to meet Fang's gaze. Those eyes, normally a bright and shining malachite, seemed darker than what she ever remembered, ringed in black but still glowing with a deep inner heat that sent an involuntary shiver racing through her, making her feel very self-aware again, and not in an unpleasant way.
For Lightning, no words needed to be spoken, from either Fang or herself. She knew, for once—unequivocally—what she wanted.
She extricated her hand from Fang's before the woman could do anything, and in an equally deft motion, moved that same hand behind the back of Fang's neck. Then she leaned in to capture Fang's lips with her own. There was no hesitation behind her kiss—it was direct, bold, and forthright, but still filled with a gentle tenderness and warmth. In one sense, it was uncharacteristic of her, but in another, it was everything that she was in the very fiber of her being.
She deepened the kiss, allowing more feeling into it. Fang responded in kind, and half pushed Lightning back down onto the bed even as Lightning half pulled Fang back with her. Light muffled a gasp against Fang's lips as the woman's hands began slowly but fervently exploring the curves of her sides and the press of her stomach muscles.
But it was Lightning who laughed at Fang's heated groan and began moving her lips and tongue further down to explore the lines of Fang's neck and collarbone. It was Lightning who edged her fingers underneath the fabric of the choli to feel more skin against her own. And when Fang's comm. device began beeping with an incoming call, it was Lightning who let out a snarl of displeasure and reached over to silence it.
"If it's important they can leave a message," she growled, before drawing a grinning Fang's mouth back to her own. She had other plans for the day now.
Lightning had never been the easiest person to get along with. It was a fact that she was widely renowned for among her peers, and one that she was not unaware of. All the years of lost childhood had hardened her, almost beyond hope of ever being able to maintain a semblance of normalcy again. At the time, in those late teenage years of hers when she first dedicated herself to the military and the rift between her and Serah had begun to appear, a part of her had recognized what was happening. Claire had seen it. But Claire had agreed to be frozen, to fall into her own crystal sleep behind Lightning's persona—not for Lightning, but for Serah. Everything had been for Serah.
That had changed when Snow entered the picture. His entrance had heralded the whirlwind of change that was to come.
Lightning tried to ignore the ever emerging truth that she could not protect Serah forever, that Serah would not want or need her protection forever; and it seemed that the more she tried to push away the truth, the more fate laughed in her face. The unthinkable happened: the Purge. With Serah's branding, the all too fragile world Lightning had steadfastly built up around her had shattered, and Lightning had been forced into a role that she had no desire, but no choice to play in. A multitude of hard facts that she would have remained willingly ignorant of were instead shoved down her throat. She had thought to herself more than once, how much easier would it be to just give up? To just stop struggling against all of the impossibilties…but she could not bring herself to. She was a fighter and she would not stop until her last breath, even when bereft of any hope.
And somehow, someway, beyond all and any odds, she had succeeded. She emerged a victor, a hero. Yet even though she stood as a champion alongside her companions, she in truth stood more alone than ever before, without purpose, meaning, or validation, more empty than before. While her friends moved on and grew, she stood solitary, locked in the twisted chains of the past and being eaten up by the ever expanding future. But to accept that truth, and to choose to finally leave her past and move forward, had saved Claire from a slow, silent death from within.
The way had not been easy. Like everything else in her life, she supposed.
She had made a lot of mistakes in her time. She regretted many of those even now, but Lightning could never regret who she had become, and where her choices had taken her. Her mistakes had made her who she was, just as much as her triumphs.
They had gotten her to where she was today, which was currently on her comm. device with Serah.
"Yes, everything is set, Serah, so stop worrying. I'll send you your itinerary later today. And I've made sure to take leave time from Rygdea that week. Yes. Yes. Yes, I will tell Fang you say hi. No, I will not tell her that. Alright, I'll talk with you later, Serah. I love you. Bye."
She ended the call and pocketed her comm. device, moving from the patio out to the courtyard.
Fang was by the waterfront, laying contentedly in a large hammock and presumably soaking up the rays of the midday sun as she napped. Lightning took a long moment just to watch the curve of her bronze-skinned muscles. Her darkly raven hair glinted with hints of red in the strong sunlight. Fang was more beautiful than anyone she had ever met, and not just physically—all that wild and carefree power and expression, but backed with an unfeigned thoughtfulness in nearly everything she did.
And she's mine, thought Lightning possessively, feeling the corners of her mouth tug upward. Just as much as I'm hers.
For all the Lightning was quiet on the stone (she wasn't wearing her boots, after all), Fang still cracked one eye open in her direction.
"C'mere." She gestured for Lightning to join her in the large hammock.
Lightning sighed, shook her head, but smiled and did as asked, curling against Fang's side even as one tanned arm snaked around her shoulders to pull her closer. Lightning gave her a kiss, neither too brief nor too long.
"So?" asked the huntress, her eyes still lazily half-closed, though a grin now decorated her face.
Lightning pressed her head into the crook of Fang's neck. She exhaled sharply. "Powers above and below know what I'm going to do with Serah and Snow visiting. I mean, I told them about us months ago when we first started dating, and she still nearly squeals about it like…like…"
"Like Vanille?" supplied Fang helpfully. "Don't forget she'll be visiting with them, too, Sunshine."
A sound of exacerbation left Lightning's mouth. "I just don't understand why everyone has to make a big deal of it! Who cares?"
She felt the rumbling of a laugh vibrate through Fang's throat. "Because she's likely just very happy for you, Light, probably the same way Van is with me."
Fang shifted to place a kiss on Lightning's head. She knew Lightning hated being in the spotlight, especially when it was about her personal life, but it could only be helped so much. For a person as private as Lightning, friends and family tended to make an even bigger deal out of sudden, unexpected changes like this.
Not quite so unexpected, maybe, Fang had to amend. Vanille had told her as much that she was not surprised something had finally happened between she and Lightning, only that it had taken as long as it did. And Fang had an itching feeling that the younger Farron had been on the exact same page as Van. She tried another approach.
"Well, you can always view it as Serah's payback for your original stance on her and Snow."
A soft knock to the ribs indicated what Lightning thought of that.
"Okay, okay…well, just try to tolerate their, um, uncontrolled excitement for the first hour, and then after that, you can call on your knight in shining armor to whisk you away."
"My knight in shining armor, huh?" Lightning raised her head to look at Fang, her eyebrows raised in skeptic amusement. She, of all people, did not need a hero. But Fang continued with it.
"Mmm hmm," she murmured. "Yours truly, right here. And if even if you don't need the whole being whisked away part, I can offer my services of being able to "punch Snow even harder than Gadot". Also, as an added perk, I'm great in bed. So what do you think?"
She finished looking up at Lightning, giving her best winning smile.
Lightning gave a low, throaty chuckle, indicating a success in Fang's book. "I guess I'll keep you around for a little while longer, though your sales pitch could use some work."
"Really?" asked Fang guilelessly. "Cause it still seems to be working fi—"
She was cut off when Lightning silenced her with kiss, this once much longer than the first. Lightning smiled as she settled back down against Fang's side, feeling significantly more at ease, and happy enough to continue laying out in the noon-day sun for some time, risk of sunburn or no.
She had gone a strange path in life thus far, filled with its fair share of ups and downs, but for this, she would do it all again in a heartbeat.