A/N: And it continues! This is the sequel to Finding Home, my first fanfiction. I've tried to keep everyone in character, but there may be the occasional slip up as needed to fit with the story. Comments and reviews are much appreciated. I was originally going to rate this M as a precaution for potentially graphic battle scenes that will happen later on, however, as I have yet to write those scenes which potentially may not happen, I have decided to lower the rating to T for the time being. If it comes to the point where it does get very graphic, I will change the rating then. But for now, it will remain T.
A special thanks goes to my friend Lily for being my beta reader. And thank you to those who have read my previous fanfiction, favorited the story and left comments. ^^
Disclaimer: The characters and the worlds I write in do not belong to me. The stories that I write are intended for entertainment purposes. I do not make any money from them.
*** ~ Chapter 1: Sand ~ ***
O Tainted fal'Cie of neither earth nor sky
Shunned by thine own, with vengeance you cry
Bound and buried to darkness, forever cast aside
But not forever gone, even after the Maker tried
- the Forgotten Text
SLASH! SLASH! WHACK!
It had been over a month since the almost fatal battle with the twisted Behemoth King happened. For three weeks, Lightning was bedridden, too weak to stand on her own. For three whole weeks, she watched as her new family took double and triple shifts every night, in case another one of those horrifying beasts wandered near their home. And for whole three weeks, Lightning couldn't have felt more helpless.
WHACK! SLASH! SLASH!
Lightning was disgusted with herself. Disgusted with how slowly she healed. Disgusted with how she could no longer use magic. Disgusted with how useless she was, as the very people she vowed to protect from all harm, risked their lives every day to ensure she was safe. Their efforts guarded the whole town, yes. But in truth, for all of them, there was really only one person they were really doing that for. Lightning.
SLASH! WHACK! WHACK!
Even after she downed potion after potion during her recovery, that did very little to speed up the healing process. Lightning wasn't even sure they made a difference at all except to leave a sickeningly sweet aftertaste in her mouth. She must have ingested over fifty of those little vials by the time she was able to stand with help. But in her eyes, that was no better than being bedridden in the first place.
WHACK! WHACK! WHACK!
The pink haired soldier crumpled to her hands and knees in the sand, sweat rolling down the side of her face as she gasped for breath. Her gunblade was vertical in the sand just behind her. She moved to stand, only to crash down on the sand harder, her vision ebbing.
"Light!" Hope scrambled up to the older woman as fast as his feet would allow. He squeaked when the sand shifted unexpectedly under his shoes, Hope almost wiping out on the sand in front of the soldier. But he caught himself at the last moment, and prevented a very embarrassing spill.
"Easy now" the younger boy said, kneeling down next to the trembling woman. He wrapped his arms around her shoulders to steady her, her body clearly spent from all the exertion from her prior actions.
"Tch." This was the epitome of uselessness. Just look at her! How pathetic was she? She had barely done anything and yet here she was ready to pass out like she had fought a million Humbabas. Well, maybe a million would be overdoing it. But needless to say, Lightning was rather frustrated with herself at this moment in time.
Hope sighed. Four days ago, Lightning was finally able to stand on her own, albeit on shaking legs. The first day back on her feet, she spent most of the day relearning how to move. Her horrific wound had finally closed up, leaving a wicked scar along with it, but having been bedridden for so long, her muscles didn't quite function like they did when she was in her prime. Just walking once around her house left her winded and exhausted.
The second day, Lightning was at it again. That is, moving around and trying to orient her muscles once more to movement. She lasted a bit longer than the first day, but eventually succumbed to exhaustion. Serah tried to convince her sister to give it more time and to rest up some more. But Lightning, never being one to sit in one place for too long, was going stir crazy in her own house and wanted nothing more than to be outside doing… something.
The third day, Lightning actually made it outside of the house. She got as far as Serah and Snow's place and back to her house before collapsing, a feat that anyone would admire and praise. But such a thing was lost on Lightning. To her, that was a failure. Why was walking around so hard all of a sudden?
And today, being the fourth day, Lightning decided to skip walking and go straight to battle training. Poor Hope was dragged into this mess, having been the 'lucky' person to go check on Lightning first thing this morning. Since making that promise to Serah those many nights ago, Lightning stayed true to her word and never went anywhere without someone else with her. That was more a health safety thing than an actual life safety thing, but nevertheless, when Lightning Farron made a promise, she sure as hell kept it. So when little, innocent Hope bounded into her house this morning, Lightning practically dragged the boy to the beach to help her train. Her body wouldn't train itself after all.
"Light" Hope said, furling his brow. Lightning was trying to stand again, but he would not allow her. "Please take a rest. Please?"
"I'll get enough rest… *huff* …when I'm dead or crystal" was the pink haired soldier's reply. "But I can't do that now Hope. *huff* Especially because we don't know… *huff* … when one of those thi-"
"When one of those things will attack again" he finished for her. "I know Light. I know. It's just that…"
Hope gawked at Lightning when she first told him he'd be helping her train. In fact, he asked her to repeat what she said just to make sure he wasn't hearing things. The silver haired boy knew his 'adopted mother' took the protection of the town, more specifically the protection of their family, extremely seriously. But there came a time when one crossed the line into stupidity and recklessness. And this was one of these moments. But Lightning was stubborn. More stubborn than a chocobo. And chocobos could be really stubborn.
The young boy hoped he could change her mind somehow. Perhaps if he argued enough with her, she'd tire herself out and that would be the end of that. But his refusal to help only seemed to empower Lightning more until he finally relented. And the moment he did cave, Lightning immediately dragged him off to the far end of the Oerban beach where no one would bother them. Hope sighed.
"Please Hope…" came a trembling voice beside him. "Help me…"
Hope bit his lip. Serah is so going to kill me. Against his better judgment, he helped Lightning to her feet and retrieved her gunblade for her. "One more time and then you take a break, alright?"
Lightning nodded stiffly. Her head was already spinning and too much movement would probably do her in. But she refused to acknowledge it. She was not this weak! Her family depended on her. Like hell was she going to let them down!
Hope backed up to the row of fist sized balls of sand in the sand. He shifted the water skin looped around his shoulder a bit. Originally Lightning wanted him to whip his boomerang at her while she dodged and parried with her gunblade. But Hope was in no mood to have to repair his beloved weapon, nor did he like the idea of his boomerang slipping by Lightning's shaky defenses and flattening her on her back. So he offered sand balls as an alternate. Harmless. Easy to make. And still a decent target.
Lightning tensed in anticipation.
Hope picked up two sand balls in his left hand and one in his right. He pulled back his right arm, pausing just a second longer to make sure yet again that Lightning was ready. When she tightened her grip on her gunblade and said nothing, Hope bit his lip again as he launched his triple sand ball attack. As the first projectile sailed through the air towards Lightning, Hope silently prayed to the Maker that what he was about to do would not kill one of his best friends. Literally.
Lightning's blade cleaved the first ball of sand cleanly in half, the halves splattering the ground with wet sand on either side of where Lightning stood. The soldier had less than a second to react to the second projectile, Hope's quick hands deftly flinging sand balls at Lightning not unlike elemental spells he used to fling at enemies during their days as l'Cie. If the sport of baseball ever existed on Gran Pulse, you'd definitely want Hope on your team as the pitcher. If you blinked, you'd strike out. Fast.
Lightning gritted her teeth, struggling to loop her blade around in the air like she normally would to chop the second target in half. Her body would not move like she wanted it to. It was sluggish, clumsy and out of balance. Lightning, as much as she hated to admit it, was not lightning fast right now.
Somehow she managed to slash diagonally just in time to divide the ball of sand flying at her face, the halves sailing just past her shoulder and hip to explode behind her in the sand. But now Lightning was precariously balancing on the heels of her boots, body arching backwards as that was the only way she would have been able to smash the second sand ball before it hit her.
Lightning let out a startled cry as her third target struck her in the shoulder, exploding on contact and sending her crashing to her back, her gunblade flying.
The impact itself was barely anything. Perhaps a small shove, if that much. However, with Lightning's balance already compromised and her body extremely fatigued, it didn't take much to flatten her. Lightning groaned, her body aching horribly all over as the sun blinded her sight as if mocking her failure. A shadow loomed over her.
"Are you alright Light? Say something!"
"I hate… sand…" she growled in exasperation.
Tell me about it. I think I got some in my socks somehow. Hope breathed in relief. A grumpy Lightning meant an alive Lightning. How horrible would it have been if that actually did kill her. Hope shuddered at the thought. But before he got caught up in how weak Lightning was right now and agonized over it, he pulled out an all too familiar vial from his pocket and popped the cork. "Here Light. Drink this. It will make you feel better."
Lightning almost gagged when pure sweetness trickled down her throat, leaving a thick after taste. "Ugh…" she moaned. This was just torture. Not only did the inside of her mouth taste like pure liquid sugar, her body hurt more than it did before the potion if that was possible.
Hope chuckled. "You're probably sick of those by now."
A snort. "You think?"
"Up we go" the young one said, gently snaking his arm under Lightning's shoulders to help her sit up leaning against him. He offered her the skin of water he had with him. "That should help more I think."
Lightning gave him a weak smile, hands shaking as she took the skin from him. She struggled to hold the skin high enough to get the water out, to busy gulping back water to notice Hope's helping hand as she quenched her thirst. Lightning was in pretty bad shape to say the least. But Hope said nothing. He knew what it was like. To struggle. To despair. To feel left behind.
Thinking back on it now, their roles were reversed when they first became l'Cie. Lightning was the strong and powerful soldier. And he… a helpless and lost child reaching out to her, to anything, to save him. He would never forget the time he and Lightning first trudged their way through the Vile Peaks. He was struggling to keep up with her. Tripping on things. Catching his breath every few minutes. It was rough. And when Odin appeared, he thought he was done for. But she didn't abandon him.
Lightning protected him. Guided him. Pulled him to his feet and dusted him off whenever he fell down. She believed in him. And he would do the same for her. Hands down, no questions asked.
Now, it was Light's turn to struggle. To despair. To feel left behind. It was hard. So much harder now for her than it was for him back then. She was chasing them all. Lightning was always at the forefront of things. She was the leader. She was the one who led the charge and struck first. But now, she was behind them all. Watching their backs. Watching them all move forward while she was held back. Hope couldn't imagine what that must be like for her. And it was because of that he said nothing. It was their silent understanding of sorts. A testament to the bond their formed and shared. It was now his turn to return the favor.
The water skin rested in the sand by his knee. And while it was cool to the touch, that was not what was giving him goose bumps right now. He didn't know when it happened, or how, just that Lightning was now laying down in the sand next to him with her head on his thigh, her back facing him.
"L-Light?" he squeaked again, his cheeks going red, his hands up in the air as he didn't know what to do with them.
"Just let me… stay like this… for a little bit… Hope…" Lightning said breathlessly.
Hope's jaw was clenched shut, his eyes focused on the waves lapping at the shore as his hands were in fists hovering by his chest. He sat rigid like a rock, very conscious of how he was breathing right now, which was in jerky spurts at the moment. He must have looked like a complete idiot, but what else could he do? Lightning had never ever done anything like this before. And as much as he had fantasized about such things in the past - Lightning was gorgeous and kick ass after all - the fact that it was happening right now just seemed… unbelievable…
Hope chewed on the inside of his cheek. "Ummm… Light?"
The soldier didn't reply. How many minutes had passed? Hope wasn't sure. For all he knew, only seconds had passed by. Though in truth, how much time passed by was unimportant. All that concerned him right now was that Light's head was on his lap.
When Lightning still didn't respond, the silver haired boy chanced a glance downward. What he saw kept his gaze. The pink haired soldier was curled up on her side, a calm and peaceful expression on her face. Wisps of pink hair fell across closed azure eyes, pink lips spread slightly with Lightning's gloved hands just barely touching the side of his leg. Her breaths came out slow and soundless, the older woman deep asleep with no signs of waking. Hope felt his lips arch upwards into a smile. He slowly reached back and rested his hands in the sand behind him. Hope looked up at the cloudless sky, squishing grains of sand between his gloved fingers.
The sand is not so bad, I guess.
From inside the deepest depths of darkness, something shifted. A grin. It could feel it. Yes. It could feel it. The taint was spreading.
Soon. Soon it would finally be time. Time to shatter the light. But for now, it would wait. The taint needed to spread more. And more. And more. And more.
And spread it shall.