Disclaimer: FFXIII and all related concepts are properties of respective owners. This is a fanfic, not for distribution, profit, etc.

Pre-notes: With the collab fic (Cicatrices, under pen-name 'Doing It Wrong') posted, I thought it'd be interesting to have this posted as a sort of irony parallel. :P Though, please understand that this doesn't mean both stories will be updated at the same time.

This is also unbeta-ed, because I'm lazy. Hence, please notify me of any issues, and take note that grammar and tenses are one of my weakest areas. And - of course, now that it is publicly known on how I view Fang's character, understand that you will not see a suave, flirtatious Fang here as well. You may want to look elsewhere if you're expecting that sort of Fang, because I'll not be writing her that way.

Finally, an instrumental song you may really want to take note of: Kyoudai, by Ben Chan (FMA cover). This song is directly related to a song performed in the fiction, and easily found on youtube.

Otherwise, please enjoy. :)

Quandary
Part I

It's the strangest thing to watch and to hear.

Fang's hair isn't the purest of the black; it's a combination of the darkest of grey and flecks of brown and something that reminds her of storm; and under this light - this bright, bright moon that shines in the darkness - it just seems more silver and black than anything else.

But it isn't that that surprises her the most.

It's the soft, haunting melody that she hears which catches her off-guard.

The Oerban warrior is perched on a rock, her eyes closed, and the side of a long white stick of sort is pressed to her lips; long, slender fingers moves rapidly across the blemished white, the tune of the melody moving with each time her fingers moved - the quick, sometimes long and sometimes short, inhale of breath -

She feels her breath catch.

Lightning isn't a musician of any sort, but that doesn't mean she can't recognize beauty when she hears one. She's heard plenty of songs, liked plenty of songs, liked the way they made her heart beat, liked how a chill just runs down her spine and how she'd feel the hair on her arms stand when a song hits just the right note; and this - whatever is it Fang is playing, or how she is producing such melody - jagged, raw, soft - and yet so harsh...

(- and so very Fang -)

...There just isn't much that could describe how it feels like, only that she feels.

So she listens, quiet, unmoving.

She listens.

And then it ends.

Fang exhales, and glances up at her, head cocking slightly. Of course the taller woman would have had sensed her presence.

"Like it?" She asks, raising a brow. The stick is tapped against her shoulder in a steady rhythm.

Lightning's brow twitched.

There's a hint of smugness on Fang's face; the taller woman clearly knows that she is good, and isn't afraid to flaunt it.

The soldier gives her a pointed look that says, I know what you're doing.

Fang smirks.

"You play well," Lightning says, ignoring that smirk.

"Coming from you, that's a compliment," Fang grins, before she gestures to the empty spot beside her with that - stick.

"What is that?" she asks, even as she moves to sit. Somehow, calling it 'stick', with the kind of melody it produces, doesn't do it justice. She'd much rather call it by the name it deserves.

"This?" A pause; Fang fingers the stick in her hand gently - and there's something strangely tender in her gaze as she stares at it. "It's a flute."

"Flute," Lightning echoes, testing the sound of it on her lips.

Fang nods, murmurs. "I didn't think I would be able to play this again."

That made her pause. "Why?"

It's a long moment before Fang answers.

And for the first time since Lightning met her, Fang looks like she's trying to find the right words.

"Never crossed my mind," the warrior said at last. "Too many monsters roaming about in Oerba at that time, and playing this would attract attention."

"But that was then." Lightning pointed out. "Oerba is safe now."

Fang twirls the stick in between her fingers. "I thought the flute was missing, as well." Then she smiles, slightly, "I have to thank your sister for finding and keeping it."

Lightning feels the barest hints of a frown gracing her features. "None of us would have thrown anything belonging to you or Vanille," she says firmly.

Fang's eyebrow quirks, and she nods - be it of acknowledgment, or in gratitude, or both, Lightning isn't really sure.

Then the sound of a loud, loud cheer vibrates through the air - alongside a couple shrieks. Which...probably meant someone (or a few people) did something really stupid.

She's fairly certain it's something idiotic, actually, because there are very few things that is not idiotic when it involves NORA.

"The party's still on," Fang says, "Why aren't you in there?"

"Why aren't you?"

Fang shrugs. "Not much for crowds."

Lightning suspects that Fang just doesn't see the reason to celebrate. Because for her, time had been frozen. If nothing else, the warrior possibly requires time to take it all in; and a party just a day after their return is not good enough.

"And I am?" she asks back, crossing her arms.

(- they are falling back into a familiar pattern that she's forgotten -)

Fang grins. "You never know. It's been four years, after all."

Four years.

Four years before Fang and Vanille woke up again.

Lightning snorts. "Don't count on it."

Fang taps gently at the bandage wrapped around Lightning's right forearm with the flute.

"What's this?"

The soldier glances down before looking back at Fang, eyebrows raised.

"An injury."

Fang gives her a long-suffering look. "I know it's an injury."

Lightning smirks, but relents, arms unfolding. "It's from last week. We were ambushed during patrol." She clenches and unclenches her hand slowly - still heavy, still trembling, still difficult, and she feels the faintest of ire rising back. Not good enough. Her fist curls again, tightly, trying to will her movements to be as smooth as it should be.

"Ah," the other acknowledged, as if sensing the shift of her mood, "so that's why there were so many people in the medic camp."

"...No," she says after a moment. "That's the norm."

There's a sudden bitter taste in Lightning's mouth.

She can't even begin to count how many had died for the past four years, under her command. Under her watch.

But there is no time for mourning.

There's never time for mourning and guilt.

People die all the time now, sometimes almost daily, but it's all too often that no one bothers with funerals anymore, or with breaks, or anything. They were - are - just too busy trying to survive.

"Knock it off," Fang says suddenly, almost sharply. "You're going to break open your stitches."

She uncurls her fist immediately, and the rising pressure building along her muscles (that she somehow didn't notice) fades. Lightning hadn't noticed how tightly she had clenched it, but the dull throb on her arm tells her she did.

The soldier exhales.

Her hand's still trembling, and it makes her want to curse and hurl it against something hard in a bid to make it stop.

"You're different."

Lightning stops, and looks up again, and into those green eyes that glints grey in the moonlight.

That admission from Fang is strange, and came out of nowhere.

She feels her left brow furrow in mild confusion, and waits to see if the other would say anything else.

Fang doesn't though, and just stares. There's an odd light in the warrior's gaze that she can't recognize.

The soldier cocks her head at Fang.

"You...seem surprised."

Time had frozen for Fang and Vanille.

But time did not freeze for the rest of them.

Fang turns her gaze upwards, drifting from the moon to...Cocoon.

"Maybe I am," she murmurs quietly.

There's something so strange in the tone of her soft words that Lightning feels something twist.

And she's suddenly annoyed.

Bordering on just plain pissed off.

She stands.

"Up," Lightning says curtly.

Fang glances at her, but doesn't move.

That doesn't mean Lightning can't recognize how the other tensed slightly - very, very slightly.

"Drank too much?" Fang remarks. "You're still injured. I'd wipe the floor with you."

Lightning doesn't hesitate.

In one swift movement, she unbuckles the sheath hanging by her hips, draws her sword out and -

Clang!

The blade dents against the rock; Fang's not there anymore.

Her weapon is heavy in her grip, the impact jars her arm, and already she can feel the dull throb returning.

It really, really makes her want to growl.

"Have you lost your mind?" Fang's voice is hard, and cold.

"Me?" Lightning scoffs. "You did."

"What the hell are you - " Fang snaps her head backwards just as the blade swipes at her neck; drops to the ground, one palm pressed against the grass, and her leg slides across the ground instantly to knock the soldier off-balance.

Lightning somersaults backwards, heel twisting, and speeds at her again.

Grass flies in the air.

Sword and spear clashes.

They stop, one step from each other, weapons in between.

The sound of the their weapons sliding against each other shimmered in the air.

Fang shifts, just a little, applying pressure.

Lightning knows it's the sort of pressure that, if she tries to move backwards, or swipe at her, it would be to her disadvantage, because she'd stagger.

No thanks to her injured hand.

"Enough," Fang growls. Apparently she can tell too. "You broke your stitches."

Lightning knows; she feels the dampness soaking into her forearm, but frankly, she doesn't give a damn right now.

"Why are you so lost?" She just about snarls back.

Real surprise runs across Fang's features. "What?"

The pressure decreases fractionally for a second - just one second - and she uses it to her advantage, shoving the other backwards with her sword.

Her hand throbs.

But Fang is staggering, is startled, so she pushes on.

Thud!

And suddenly it's silent again.

But Lightning's just more pissed off now.

"That," she growls at the woman below her, grip tightening around her sword that's embedded into the grass next to the taller woman's face, "was pathetic, Fang."

Was that defiance flaring in green eyes?

Something patters.

drip

drip

A splotch of red seeps into the grass.

"What the hell do you want from me, Light?" Fang's tone is low, menacing, and angry; but she doesn't move.

"I want you to wipe that stupid look off your face."

一一一