Title: Second Wind
Oerba Yun Fang opens her eyes and the first thing she sees is crystal. Blue crystal, blue enough that it looks like ice.
She's immediately reminded of Lake Bresha after Anima, in its death throes, crystallized the waters and everything else in it. She can't help but smirk, just a little; fal'Cie were just like children, always wanting to have the last word.
Then she becomes aware of the dull pain in her side and lower back. She tries to sit up, but her shoulders won't let her. She frowns and tries again, tensing her abdomen and pushing with her arms. She manages, after a few labored moments and a second of panic-is she so badly wounded that she didn't notice it?-to get herself upright. She surveys her surroundings and is not surprised to find herself in an unrecognizable place.
It happens entirely too often.
She's in a cavern, a very large cavern that's at least a hundred yards in length and width and entirely covered with, or made of, crystal. Not ice, she thinks. Even the floor's covered in it, but it isn't cold or wet, at least.
She shifts her hand to the injured spot and is relieved to find that it isn't bloody. She presses a little too hard and hisses; a bad bruise, then. She glances at the immediate area around her and finds shards of broken crystal around her; a small miracle that she didn't get gored on a sharp one. Six feet from her is a thick column that reaches from floor to the ceiling, also made of crystal. She glances up and sees the twin craters forming from the center, with cracks spidering from the jagged edges.
Her hand falls on something round and smooth and she knows immediately what it is. Using her lance as walking stick, Fang manages to get to her feet.
She remembers, now, and is grateful and happy that Vanille is not there, that Vanille had woken before she had and had long ago left. She doesn't know where she is, or how long she has slept, but instinct tells her that she must leave to find food and shelter. Her hand goes to her right shoulder and relief comes again in a great flood; if her Focus is complete and the brand gone, then Vanille was free as well.
As she walks away, her mind, though still sluggish from slumber's weakening grasp, wanders to a certain blonde soldier. Her pace hastens to leave the crystal cavern behind.
Colonel Lightning Farron shuffled paperwork reluctantly. She hated paperwork with a deep and unabiding passion and was well-known within the Guardian Corps to use every excuse necessary to avoid it herself or to hoist it onto some unfortunate subordinate. The latter was the easier way, especially since she had so many subordinates to bully, but there were several occasions where the paperwork was simply unavoidable. This was one of them.
She'd rather be on a hunt for a rabid pack of gorgonosipids or on the trail of a bloodthirsty oretoise than sit in her office contemplating a foot high pile of paper that her commander had ambushed her with.
With a sigh reminiscent of someone getting ready to do something unpleasant, she lifted her pen and began to write.
Her head began to pound thirty minutes in.
Her shoulders tensed up with frustration forty-five minutes in.
After an hour, her office phone rang and she yanked it off the cradle so fast, the console nearly fell off her desk. "Farron."
"Sis? You weren't answering your phone."
"Serah." Light gratefully dropped her pen and flopped back against her chair, rubbing the heel of her hand against her forehead. "I'm sorry, I'm in the office today. Amodar locked me in and took my phone. So I couldn't escape, he said," she muttered darkly.
Serah laughed, tucking the phone into the crook of her neck as she hung laundry out. "Paperwork again?"
"There's so much of it this time," Light muttered grumpily. "I'm going to drown in it. I already have a headache and I haven't even put a dent into the damn pile."
"Aww. Well, do you think you'll be able to come by for dinner tonight?"
"I might if I sell my soul for some minion to do all this work for me." Light glanced at the clock on her wall and then at the unfinished pile. No way would she get it finished in the same decade.
"I thought you already sold your soul last time Amodar collared you."
"Oh, that's true. How about yours? It's nice and wholesome, I'm sure it'll get me a good minion."
"If I do that, then who'll feed the children? And tend to the livestock and the farm?" Serah let out a gusty long-suffering sigh. "You take me for granted. It hurts."
"You're right, I'm sorry. The imaginary livestock and farm will simply wither away and die. I guess we'll just have to sacrifice Snow's soul. I don't think the children will mind, all he was good for was plowing the fields anyway. The imaginary fields, that is."
Serah laughed again. "Well, jokes aside, what time do you think you'll get here? I'm making your favorite, pasta with meatballs and spinach."
Light moaned in longing. With some regret, she turned back to the work at hand. "I probably won't make it in time for dinner. But I will worship the ground you tread upon if you save me a plate."
"Huh, a soulless husk of a sister worshiping the ground I walk on doesn't sound like it's worth pasta. Care to renegotiate?" Serah said, tongue tucked firmly in her cheek.
Lightning couldn't help but grin. "I can take Caleigh off your hands tomorrow with the twins."
"You may kiss the ground I tread upon with my pasta in hand. When should we expect you?"
"Probably not until late. I'll call before I leave the office. Anything else, your highness?"
"That's majesty to you. The spawn all say hi and bye."
Lightning smiled at the faint chorus of voices in the background. "Tell them I said hi and bye back. See you tonight."
Fang didn't know how long it took her to get out of that crystal maze, especially since she couldn't tell which way was north with the entire bloody fucking thing blocking out the sky, but she made it before she starved or gotten herself killed, which was always a plus. She also didn't see any sign of Vanille, which she stubbornly took as a good sign that the younger girl had made it out safely on her own and tried vainly to keep the nagging reminder that Vanille had the worst sense of direction she'd ever seen at bay.
Though she moved at a steady pace, her mind wandered frequently to the other l'Cie and especially to Lightning. Questions bubbled inside her mind, making her chest feel tight and uneasy, but she shoved them away as she trekked to freedom.
Several times, she had to stop to regain her breath. Her limbs still felt strangely heavy, but she was slowly regaining her strength. She felt light-headed at some point and knew that for a sign of dehydration; she had to find a source of water and soon.
In the back of her mind, she wondered how Ragnarok had had the foresight to make a path out of the crystal pillar. Either way, she was glad she didn't have to climb or scale a wall. The beastie could smack a viper's nest out of the sky as well as be a bloody thoughtful architect. But she was thankful all the same.
When she finally found her feet on solid earth, night had fallen. She took a deep breath, breathing in the scent of Pulse: wild, free and the very faintest hint of danger. She eyed her surroundings and saw nothing but a vast expanse of fields dotted with boulders and most likely a few ridges that could abruptly lead off to a leg-breaking precipice. She knew better than to travel after dark on Gran Pulse, no matter how well she knew the terrain. Though it stung her pride to admit it, but she wasn't anywhere near to full strength and without light, she had no idea where she was.
There was the barest sliver of moon in the sky, just enough that Fang could see that a large shadow fell over her. A quick glance up brought a smile to her face; there, suspended by crystal, Cocoon hung in the sky like a great specter. She felt strangely pleased that she'd brought it down from its place in the heavens, but not destroyed Pulse with it. She wondered if it was still habitable; surely Orphan's death would have destroyed the other fal'Cie. She remembered Lightning telling her that all of Cocoon's fal'Cie came from Orphan and with Orphan's death, the other fal'Cie would fall.
The thought of seeing Lightning again squeezed at her heart and pushed her onward. She moved slowly through flat even ground, ears pricked for the sound of anything that might want to take a bite out of her.
Gods, she was going to be humiliated if a gorgon got the best of her.
Fang kept walking until her breathing became shallow and uneven. She found a large boulder and pressed her back against the cold roughness and simply slid down until she sat on dirt. She laid her lance across her lap, leaning her head back as she caught her breath. The temperature was cool and slightly humid; spring, Fang thought. She'd woken in spring.
Spring meant mating season.
Which meant breeding gorgonosipids. And oretoises. Both were particularly unwelcoming to humans when they were out searching for mates.
Maybe a nap was in order.
Sergeant Bristow sat in the open door hatch of a velocopter, a stun rifle strapped to his side. The aircraft cruised along the edges of the Archlyte Steppes bordering Oerba, with both the sergeant and a four man squad on patrol duty for any wandering packs of beasts interested in a taste of human.
The cool night air, disturbed by the silent spinning blades, fluttered his uniform collar and thin jacket lapels. He wore a lightweight helmet with night vision capabilities, and a leash and harness around his waist and legs should the velocopter have to evade an aerial attack. The winged beasts mostly avoided aircrafts, but it wasn't uncommon for one to try for a free meal.
"Sir," his helmet's radio chirped with the voice of a memeber of the squad. "Half klick at our two o'clock, I see movement towards Outpost B5."
Bristow turned to watch the movement, tapping at his helmet's controls to zoom vision. "Hunting pack of gorgons, looks like. Small, I count only a little over half a dozen. Radio it in to the outpost, they'll take care of it."
Quiet night, Bristow thought as he settled back into his seat by the door, resting his boots against the landing skids. Even for spring, where the beasts practically threw themselves at the walls of various human settlements. A far cry from Cocoon, when attacks were sporadic at worst and the most action any Guardian Corps soldier would see would most likely be the sparring ring at headquarters, or rescuing a bunch of drunk teenagers who'd wandered too deeply into a neighboring forest.
Pulse was alive, both a paradise and a death trap. The sergeant rubbed at the rough beard on his chin, lips quirking slightly. He remembered fearing it when the Sanctum used it as a prison colony for convicts and exiles. And when Cocoon fell, he'd been terrified of walking, fighting, on this unknown world where he'd been taught only monsters existed. And now, now, he supposed he'd come to love his new home, in a strange way. People populated it, adapted to it, and, maybe for the first time, learned to live and be human again.
Not that there hadn't been some troubles at first, he mused. The beasts here would have torn apart Cocoon's cities easily, but they'd toughened up fast. In a way, he felt a strange sense of pride that they'd done it, that they'd built a life, without the help of the fal'Cie.
"Sir, there's- I think there's someone down there." Bristow examined the pilot's pointed finger at the console, noted the weak heat signature and heart beat.
"It looks human, sir. Too small to be a gorgon, unless it's a young one. Not moving either, could be injured."
Bristow nodded in acknowledgment. "All right, we'll check it out. Land the bird. Private Shay, get the med kit and gurney ready. I'll take point, Spanner and Murphy, cover our backs."
He drew his rifle and with a quick hand signal, climbed out. Giving the area a quick sweep, Bristow moved swifty to the still figure leaning against the boulder. The squad medic, Shay, knelt beside the woman, checking her pulse and scanned for injuries as Bristow stood guard.
"Looks like she's just unconscious. No visible wounds, looks a little dehydrated." He did a quick search with his scanner. "No bone breaks or sprains."
"How the hell did she make it out this far? Maybe from Cocoon? There were no reports of a ship crashing."
"Doesn't look like an accident, sir. I got the gurney, let's get her loaded u-" A hand shot out, grabbed the medic by the lapels with an audible growl. "Whoa, hey, lady!"
Fang's eyes opened, narrowed on the hapless soldier's helmet face. "Who the bloody hell are you?" The tip of her lance was already aimed for his throat.
Bristow snapped his rifle sight to Fang. "You want to move your weapon, ma'am. We're friends, we'll get you out of here. We won't hurt you." Though he had a weapon trained on her and she looked fatigued, his body tensed. There was an air of danger around her, much like a wounded and cornered animal. She looked unpredictable and Bristow knew to approach that with every kind of caution; Pulse had taught him that.
"Friends don't go surrounding me with fucking guns in the middle of the fucking night," Fang snapped. Her eyes narrowed at the uniforms. "You look like Sanctum dogs." Her fist tightened around her lance and she shifted her legs under her, ready to spring up and attack.
Bristow blinked at her words, his face still shielded by his helmet. The Sanctum had fallen with Cocoon years ago; only the Guardian Corps existed now. Deciding perhaps the woman might have suffered a head injury, he kept his tone calm and even. "We're Guardian Corps. We were patrolling the area, spotted you here and assumed you were injured. We won't hurt you. We can take you to a doctor. If you'll release my man, we can fly you straight back to Oerba."
Somewhere in Fang's mind, the soldier's words nudged a memory. "Guardian Corps... Lightning. I think-she's a sarge. Sergeant. Is Lightning still in the Guardian Corps?"
Bristow was surprised. "Colonel Farron, you mean?"
"Yeah. I don't want a bloody doctor. Take me to her. She knows who I am."
"She's most likely off-duty by now, but we can house you until tomorrow. Please, ma'am, lower your weapon. This is Private Shay, he's a medic, he's only here to help you. We won't hurt you."
Fang growled again, but lowered her lance. "I want Lightning. Get her on the fucking phone or radio. She'll see me."
Bristow felt a frisson of fear go down his spine. Colonel Farron was known for her... displeasure when she was disturbed during off-duty hours. He'd heard stories of how a tongue lashing from her could flay the skin off a seasoned veteran's bones. But something about the woman, with her wild green eyes, odd clothes and determined expression made him think that maybe he could take a verbal beating. And Bristow didn't want to find out if the colonel would be more displeased if this woman was someone she knew and they didn't alert her immediately.
He nodded in affirmation. "I'll radio it in."
Lightning tugged wearily at her tie and unbuttoned the top of her uniform. The new GC uniforms weren't the most comfortable, but they certainly did look nice in a way. She opened the front door to Serah and Snow's house and was immediately blasted by sounds of what could be mockingly called music in the living room.
"Turn that down right now," she yelled over the noise, the headache returning with a vengeance to attack her sinuses. She managed to catch a chorus of "aww's", but the music was tuned down.
Serah appeared at the kitchen doorway, a slight smile curving her lips. "Hey, sis. How was work?"
"Terrible. Never ending pit of paperwork. Got most of it done, though." She dropped her briefcase to the floor with a resounding thud. Serah gave it an inquiring look. "More paperwork because I'm just a good little soldier." She said it with a sneer.
Serah laughed. "Amodar?"
"Amodar," Lightning agreed. She dropped down to a seat at the kitchen counter while Serah slid a plate of reheated pasta before her. "Oh, thank God. I haven't eaten anything at all day." Happily, she began to eat while Serah finished chores.
"How are your ears still working?"
"Hm?" Serah hummed absentmindedly. "What do you mean?"
"The girls were blasting something when I came in. Nearly made my ears bleed from the volume of it."
"Oh, you get used to it."
Light gave her a considering look. "Do the neighbors get used to it, too?"
Serah chuckled. "I'm not sure as I haven't heard any complaints." Reaching into her pocket, she produced a pair of earplugs. Lightning laughed. "Smart. The neighbors could have complained and you didn't hear it."
"That's true," Serah agreed, placing the earplugs back into her pocket. "The plugs don't block it out entirely, but at least my head isn't ringing. I heard them turn it down when you came home." Serah turned away when the phone rang, a brow furrowing slightly. "Who could be calling this late," she murmured, picking the phone up to her ear for a moment.
Serah held the phone to Light. "It's for you," she said. "A Sergeant Bristow?"
Light took the phone, curling her fingers over the mouthpiece; irritation settled over her fine features. "I know Bristow. I'm sorry. I know I said I wouldn't let the Corps call here."
Serah only shook her head. "It's fine, I understand. Only for emergencies, right?"
She nodded. "I'll take this outside. Hopefully, it's nothing serious." She straightened and strode through the sliding glass doors to the backyard patio, her posture stiffening as she shifted the phone to her ear. "Farron."
"Sir, this is Sergeant Bristow. I'm terribly sorry to disturb you this evening."
"What is it, Sergeant?" Her tone was clipped and cold.
"Sir. Approximately half an hour ago, I was on patrol with my squad in a heli about twenty-four klicks due west from Oerba, in the Archlyte Steppes near the Spire," he responded, referring to the crystal pillar holding Cocoon. "My men and I saw someone who appeared to be injured. We ascertained there was no distress call placed previously. We proceeded to set down and administer medical aid. The... civilian was suffering from dehydration, but appeared to be in acceptable mental capacity whereupon she stated she knew you, sir. She gave me your full name. She insisted that we contact you."
Light's breath hissed out between her teeth. "Do you do everything civilians tell you to, Sergeant?"
Bristow felt his spine stiffen in preparation for a tongue lashing. "No, sir. However, I believed the civilian genuinely knew you and believed it was best to contact you. Sir."
"Did the civilian give a damn name?" Light snapped. Her hands fisted in a mix of irritation and annoyance.
"Did the civilian provide identification or a reasonable explanation of how she came to be in the middle of the Archlyte Steppes in the middle of gorgon mating season?"
"I- no, sir."
"Did she provide you with any other information other than my name?"
Bristow felt cold sweat trickle down his back. "No, sir."
"So you feel it is necessary to contact an officer who is not even your direct CO at the request of a civilian who, as of this point, has no name, identification, or physical description?"
"Sir, I was unable to ask for this information as the civilian is currently unconscious. She-she appears to be about roughly under six feet, shoulder-length dark hair, dark eyes and tanned complexion. Roughly 130 pounds, carries a long spear. Wearing a blue robe of some description, boots, tattoo on left shoulder."
"You know you've described most civilians in Oerba, Sergeant. For all we know, this mysterious civilian who knows my name could be out poaching in the middle of the night, albeit foolishly with a damn robe, but since we don't know who she is, let's just assume that. So instead of taking her to the nearest GC station or hospital, you called my personal line hours after I've gone off-duty just because this idiot civilian knows my name."
"Sir." Bristow gulped. Even if he wasn't face to face with the colonel, a fact for which he was eternally grateful for, he could feel his bowels turning to water. He glanced over his shoulder to where Fang lay lulled under a mild painkiller and wished desperately he had asked for her name before she dropped out like a light back into sleep. And felt a surge of resolve. "She insisted on seeing you, sir. She referred to you as sergeant. I think she may have come from the Spire-"
"Oh, so she can't even get my rank right. That's brilliant, Sergeant." Lightning's voice was cold enough to freeze rampaging oretoise in its tracks.
"Sir," Bristow gulped. "Please, I can bring the civilian to your residence."
If it was possible, Lightning's voice got even colder. "You want to bring Guardian Corps business to my personal residence? Is that right, Sergeant?"
"Or wherever you choose, sir. I-I believe the civilian. Sir."
Lightning sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose, her rage cooling as she heard the earnest tone in the soldier's voice. She knew Bristow's reputation as a steady and efficient officer who wouldn't bring trivial matters to her attention. She turned her wrist watch to her eye, examining the time. "What's your ETA?" She asked after giving her address.
"No more than twenty minutes, sir. We'll head out now," Bristow responded, relief practically pouring out of him. "Thank you, sir."
"Get here asap," Light said flatly and flipped the phone shut.
When her ears picked up the telltale mechanical hum of a velocopter, Lightning opened the front door. Glowing rotor blades slowed as the aircraft set down silently on the wide open lawn. She strode out to the porch and stood with legs spread to shoulder width, arms crossed and face expressionless. It was dark, the last vestiges of the setting sun just barely coloring the evening.
She saw two figures emerge and stride towards the house. It was too dark to make out the figures, but she scowled at them. The one at the forefront was undoubtedly Bristow. He stopped just before the steps and snapped his heels together and saluted.
Lightning gave a single nod and flicked her eyes behind Bristow. The porch light shone directly behind Light and her shadow fell over the newcomer, obscuring their facial features. The person stood awkwardly, as he had difficultly standing. He wore a loose Guardian Corps long coat, with the symbol of the Corps emblazoned over the breast pocket. His hand rested briefly on Bristow's shoulder as he walked-more like stumble-towards Light.
A woman, Light thought, brow arching. Lightning stiffened her posture and her voice snapped out. "State your name and rank."
"I-what? You-you... don't you remember me?"
Bristow angled his body, raising his arm up for support. "Sir, we found her dehydrated and injured. She was asleep during the trip here, she may be disoriented."
Irritation rose in her throat, made her hands fist. She shifted slightly and stepped down before the stranger. "Listen here, civilian, I don't know you or how you got my na-"
Her voice broke off as light fell over her face. The face was tanned and streaked with sweat and exhaustion. Tousled dark locks fell over her temple and over sharp cheeks and green eyes.
"Sir?" Bristow asked tentatively as the silence stretched out for too long. He could practically swim in the open tension. Lightning's mouth was still parted as her eyes were fixed in an intense gaze on the other woman's face. Her fist shot out, quick as a snake, and gripped the Guardian Corps lapel, bodily dragging the woman up the three steps up the porch and to the light.
Fang smiled nervously, eyes squinting slightly. "Still doing your name good, I see."
Lightning's body seemed to snap at her words. Very deliberately, she stepped backward away from Fang and realized that she'd forgotten to breathe. There was a roaring in her ears, as though she were under water. Later on, she would wonder what exactly she was feeling, but at that moment, she didn't hear the screen door open noisily, or the sound of light feet.
"Mommy?" A slim girl, no older than twelve, appeared at Lightning's side, a hand brushing over her strawberry blonde locks. "Who's that?" She asked, turning eyes full with curiosity to Fang.
Author's Note: Please review :( I'm told that I'm a jerk for that ending, btw. /rage away at me all you please! Less than three, because ff doesn't like me to display the relationship between numbers. What a foresight thar.