Pairings and Characters: Kain/Lightning, Bartz (mentions of Vaan and Terra)

Rating: T (violence, mild language, mild sexual references)

Summary: She was nothing like the women of Baron, whom Kain was normally besotted by. She was harsh and cold and fiery, and that stark difference was exactly why she fascinated him.

Notes: Gift-fic for xykojo, done for the Chaotic Cosmos gift-exchange!This was a lot of fun, came out of this with a new ship! :B

Using Australian English spelling of things, if there are any questions regarding that.

The sun was beginning to set, streaking that day's new encampment with a golden-reddish light, by the time Lightning had made it back from her assigned scouting mission. Kain watched her approach from his sentry post on the outskirts of the camp, the butt of his spear, Gungnir, thrust into the soft earth.

He kept his face carefully schooled beneath his dragoon-style helm and his arms crossed in front of his chest, though his pulse began to quicken at the sight of the exhausted solider. He'd volunteered to take the dusk sentry duty for exactly this reason – that way he'd know if she made it back at all this time, or if Chaos's fiends finally slew her.

He remained wordless as she neared his position. Should Kain be expecting that tap on the shoulder tonight? The fading light seemed to make her fair skin take a golden hue, made her hair and eyes seem lighter and more brilliant shades. He took in the stiffness to her walk, the dried blood from healed cuts on her arms and cheek, the weary cast to her face.

Kain nodded to himself. Lightning had encountered Sephiroth again, then. That was the only possible conclusion he could draw from the combination of light, taunting injuries and that determined detachment in her blue eyes. The Chaos warrior seemed to have taken a bizarre interest in her, in the absence of Cloud's presence in this part of the world. Disturbing, to say the least.

Lightning would not relish another fight today, not after having fended off a madman with a sword longer than he was tall. Kain tried not to let his disappointment show on his face. It was understandable, given the circumstances. After all, they only sparred occasionally, as exhilarating as Kain found their bouts.

Beside him, sharing his sentry duties, Bartz waved a hand in Lightning's direction, grinning widely as she approached them.

"Hey! How'd it all go? Did you find anything useful?" Bartz asked her, sounding too energetic to be really taken seriously. But instead of the usual scowl and backhand that Bartz's unwitting enthusiasm usually elicited – Kain could vaguely remember her muttering "bad as Snow", once – Lightning just turned away with an annoyed tch. She stalked off in the direction of the camp.

Kain crossed his arms over his chest, watching the golden sunlight strike the vivid red of her cape attached off her left shoulder as she retreated. Her sharp mannerisms and cold fire were nothing like the court ladies back at Baron. Truly, Cosmos had accepted all walks of life into this war.

A little put out by the woman's lack of reaction to his greeting, Bartz scratched the back of his head.

"Sheesh, Light sure is cold today. Must've been a bad one," the usually outgoing adventurer murmured quietly, and Kain could only incline his head in agreement.

No, he realized with a sinking stomach as he rested the haft of his Gungnir against his shoulder, there would be no sparring with the quick-footed soldier today.

Kain was alone now, the only one awake as the others had slowly retreated to their tents. He sat by the warm fire, still armed to the teeth with his lance and his dragoon armour, taking this opportunity to enjoy the quiet, to think without distraction.

The camp was dark and quiet now, with only the crackling of the campfire and the sound of soft snores from the hastily constructed jumble of tents. These people were far from military standards, Kain noted. The King of Baron would have had a fit at the sorry state of affairs in this war, but there was little that Kain was permitted to do to enforce proper order. The Warrior of Light was the accepted leader, and he didn't seem to care a whit about how they went about fulfilling his grander strategy.

The crunch of gravel under boots alerted Kain to the fact that he was no longer alone, and he quickly looked up. His helm hid his eyes as they widened in surprise. Lightning.

She stood across the campfire from him, that odd mechanical sword drawn, her entire demeanor seeming like a whirlwind of ice and stubborn determination. Kain felt a thrill run through him at the sight, at the obvious challenge in her blue eyes and the arrogant way in which she held herself. So, they were going to spar this night after all. He rose to his feet and collected his weapon with one, smooth movement. He'd been prepared, even if he hadn't expected it.

"I did not believe you would be willing to spar, tonight. Sephiroth is a worthy foe." His voice was low, so as not to carry to any of his comrades still awake in their tents. Their battles were a private affair, and he did not wish to have any intrusions, no matter how well-meaning the others might be.

She gave him a level look, as if to say, you've got to be joking. At his continued silence, she placed a hand on her hip. Her voice was cool when she finally spoke.

"Tch. I have a lot on my mind. You're a challenge. It works."

He couldn't argue with her logic, as Lightning jerked her head off into the dark trees beyond the campsite. Kain trailed behind her by a good two paces as she led him into the night, listening to her heavy boots swishing through grass and crunching over rough earth. Indeed, she was hardly the noblewomen that he was normally enamored by. She was harsh, solved problems with her sword and was unafraid to face things head-on.

Kain, who had been warm from the fire, began to feel the cold creeping beneath his dragoon armour as they left the light behind. There was but a silver fraction of the lone moon this night, but the stars seemed abnormally bright against the sheer black expanse of the sky. Kain didn't let himself to stop and look, only focused on the murky shape of Lightning's white jacket, the slight glow given off by her pauldron.

Ahead of him, he heard Lightning mutter a curse to a foreign goddess, stopping in her tracks.

"Sentry," she told him softly. Kain searched his memory briefly, for who was meant to be standing watch for the dead of the night. A pair of voices ghosted on the air towards them, coming from a position in the trees only a couple of dozen feet from where he and Lightning had halted.

Vaan and Terra, then, he realized with a frown. It would be a simple enough matter to slip by them unnoticed – Vaan took great pains in getting Terra to laugh and smile, so doubtless the boy would be preoccupied with whatever tale of pirating or thievery he chose to tell this night. The more watchful members of their group, such as Squall Leonheart or the Warrior of Light, would have been much harder to avoid. Kain followed behind Lightning as she took a hard right, so they would pass a good distance from where two sentries were standing.

Finally, they reached a clearing a small space from the camp. It was flat and grassy, a few white and weathered ruins looming in the darkness around them. Lightning must have come across it during her scouting mission, Kain noted as he watched her stride ahead of him. A good find, and a good place to match their blades and their skills, a place where the clash of swords and fire of battle would not reach the sleeping ears of their comrades.

He heard the sound of buckles being released, and suddenly the glowing light from the pauldron was coming from somewhere off to far left. Kain hid a slight smile. There would be no unfair advantages given this night.

Lightning turned back to him with a sharp pivot. Though he could not see her face in the shadows, Kain was confident that she would be smirking at him.

That was Lightning's way, after all.

"No magic. No buffs. First drawn blood is the victor, but aside from that, no rules," Lightning told him, and he heard belt buckles clink, grass shift as she entered a wary and defensive battle stance. Kain hefted Gungnir, feeling his own smile touch his lips.

The usual, then.

"As you wish," was all Kain said to Lightning as he lashed out with the bladed end of his lance, unsurprised when his blade cut through naught but cold air. He swirled the lance back to his side and returned to a ready stance, braced and tense, his blood pounding with the exhilaration of battle. Lightning was fast and elusive – such obvious and straight-forward attacks never worked on her. He stilled, listening to the creak of leather, the scuff of boots through grass –

There it was. He brought his lance up in a square block, feeling deep satisfaction as sparked showered down from where he had halted Lightning's overhead cut, one that would have bit deeply into his collarbone had he not blocked. The contact between their blades was only momentary, for as soon as Lightning had felt the block, she whirled in under his guard. He heard the creak of leather gloves as she clenched a fist, and jerked his head back sharply. Her brutal uppercut sailed past his chin, missing her target by mere inches.

With a vengeance, Kain seized on the half second she was off balance for, bringing Gungnir striking across in a blow that would have broken the ribs of any but a Cosmos warrior. As it was, the haft of Gungnir only glanced against her as she darted to the side, letting herself skid through the grass with her dodge's momentum, until she'd put more distance between them. Kain returned to his battle-ready stance, waiting. A blow, but the rules were the rules. No blood, no victory.

His eyes strained against the darkness, and could only make out her position now from the gleam of moonlight along the curved steel of her blade, from the harshness of her breath. He was probably a bigger target than she, he realized. His black armour, polished to mirror-brightness, reflected the sliver of a moon and the starts with a malicious glint. Nothing for it. Kain waited, and he wasn't disappointed.

She was faster this time, her blows coming in rapid succession, only the flash of moonlight on her saber giving him half an instant's warning that he needed to block. Kain was fighting by feel, by pure sensation now, and barely holding his own, but she was just dodging his brutal retaliations as she weaved in and out from under his guard and his strikes. It was a bizarre and brutal dance of steel in the darkness, neither yielding ground, neither willing to admit defeat.

Lightning was even faster now, and Kain felt the rush of air, saw the glint of pale light on steel and suddenly he was airborne. But if there were one place Kain felt at home, it was in the air. Instead of letting himself fall prey to additional strikes, he reversed the launch and thrust Gungnir downwards, streaking towards the ground and impacting just inches from where Lightning had just been standing.

Kain thought he heard her make a small sound of approval, but that could not have been correct. Lightning was furious, icy, deadly, and that was what drew him to the challenge. In an instant, he locked blades with her again, forcing her back with his superior strength and power behind his stance. She swung under the block, sweeping his legs from under him even as he staggered backwards, his breath whooshing from his lungs as one booted foot smashed into his ribs. He landed with a loud crash, but he was on his feet to meet Lightning's next strike with ease.

This was what he knew. Even if nothing else stayed the same in this crazy world, what with its wars, Cosmos and Chaos, this would remain. The simplicity of battle, the glory of a struggle with an opponent of equal skill, would remain forever. Kain could feel her harsh breathing on his skin now, knew the suppleness of the iron-hard muscles of her body from the ease in which she fought him.

It was captivating, filling his senses.

With that one moment of weakness, Gungnir was torn from his grasp, a quicksilver blade lancing for his face. Kain froze, bracing himself for the flashing pain. In this light, Lightning would hardly be able to tell how she'd hit him –

A cool, razor sharp edge rested against his neck, holding steady in spite of its user's obvious exhaustion. Lightning's breath was coming hard and fast, so close to his face now, she was so close he could feel her body warmth. Somehow, he could smell the heady scent of roses.

"Yield." Her voice sounded unsteady, coming from somewhere close in the dark. She'd not drawn blood, but she claimed victory nonetheless. Kain wished that he could see her expression, but the dark concealed her features well.

"Yield," he agreed quietly, and the blade vanished from his neck. She remained so close, though.

She was the furthest possible thing from everything back home, where ladies at court were mages, refined and largely sedate. She didn't need a hero. But Kain? With all his flaws and weaknesses, was nothing like the perfect knights of Baron, either. He was no hero. In an odd sense, it felt right.

His breath came shakily, but she didn't pull away as he cupped her chin and pressed his lips to hers.