A/N: Here's my hand on Lightning's caring side.
Lightning stood up from her seat, unable to withhold the anxiety dwelling in her. She paced back and forth in front of the window, arms crossed against her chest, as she waited for Squall to return.
The beautiful rays of sunshine were a stark contrast to their mood.
"Everything's going to be fine, right?"
She turned to her side, leveling the worrying Onion Knight a reassuring smile- or as encouraging as she could, given her own inner turmoil.
"Of course." She replied. She placed her hand on his head, ruffling his hair in the way she knew annoyed him the most. "Squall will come through that door with our information. You can count on it."
"Stop doing that." Luneth brushed her hand off and gave her an annoyed glare. He sighed, turning back to the metal frame. "And I don't mean that. I know Squall will pull through." Luneth paused and considered his next statement. "The only question is, how far will he go to achieve his goal?"
The pinkette's lips thinned, knowing what the Onion Knight really wanted to ask.
"Would you think any less of him?" She shot back.
The sound of a door opening cut off whatever reply from Onion Knight. Both warriors faced Tidus and Terra as they entered the hallway bearing a tray of food and drink.
"Is he still not done?" Tidus asked nonchalantly, seemingly unfazed by the tense atmosphere. Terra for her part looked nervous, glancing between the metal door and at the two warriors beside it.
"It's already been two hours." Terra added softly. Gathering her courage, the half-esper continued. "Maybe… maybe it's time he should give up?"
"Heh, try telling him that!" Tidus smirked. Terra seemed to deflate at the prospect of convincing the stoic brunet.
Not that Lightning could blame her. The cold seriousness in Squall's eyes when he ordered them all to leave the room while he interrogated their prisoner sent chills down even her spine. His storm blue eyes, normally glinting with thinly-veiled mirth or shimmering in its aloofness, bore an eerily cold-hearted and calculating glint when he retreated behind the metal doors with their captive.
Not to mention his parting question.
Lightning suppressed a shudder as she remembered his tone, devoid of all emotion save a tinge of silent fury and anticipation.
"We don't need this alive, right?"
"Light?" Tidus called, snapping the pinkette out of her reverie.
"What?" she deadpanned.
"Want some bread? Cid was kind enough to have the other moogles give us a discount." Tidus held the tray up.
Nodding, Lightning took a slice. "Thanks."
"I still feel uneasy about this." Luneth said, having already finished his meal. "I mean, the manikin looks just like-"
"I know!" Terra cut him off. She had deposited her tray on a nearby table and was now gripping her elbows tightly, not liking this dreadful atmosphere. She sunk to her knees, shoulders slouching forward. She suddenly snapped towards the other warriors, eyes frantic. "This is a bad idea; we should stop him!"
"We can't." Lightning stated before shaking her head, amending her proclamation. "Rather, we shouldn't. We need to know this. The faster we gain this information, the better." She crouched down on one knee in front of the half-esper, placing a hand on her shoulder and squeezing it in comfort. Lightning's blue eyes softened as they locked with Terra's. "Just trust in him and forget about this. Sleep this off; you don't have to be here."
Terra smiled weakly at the pinkette. "But… what if that isn't really a manikin?"
"It's a manikin alright." Tidus squatted beside her, leveling her with a confident grin. "Otherwise, Cid would've said something."
"You say smart things, sometimes." Luneth commented at the Blitzball star. Tidus scratched the back of his head sheepishly.
"Cid doesn't normally tell us anything important." Lightning decided to point out, bursting Luneth's bubble. "Sometimes, I wonder why we keep him around."
Terra opened her mouth before closing it, blushing slightly. Tidus noticed the rubor on the half-esper's cheeks and grinned.
"It's because he's a moogle." He poked the half-esper playfully on the shoulder, making her swat his hand away.
Luneth snickered as Terra's blush deepened before she, too, joined Tidus in his merry laugh. Lightning quirked a small smile as her eyes softened. The tension mere moments ago seemed to evaporate.
The metal door suddenly opened, making four sets of eyes snap at the brunet.
"Squall, how did-" her words died in her mouth.
Lightning inwardly cursed Squall's lack of a sense of timing.
Terra audibly gasped, hands flying to cover her mouth as she quickly stood up and scampered out of the hallway, slamming the door behind her in fright. Tidus grimaced, sharply averting his gaze away from the grisly sight as he fought the urge to emeticise while Luneth could only gape in horror as his gaze shifted to a spot behind the tall brunet, his brain momentarily drawing blanks as he tried to comprehend what his eyes were seeing.
Lightning herself stared up at the brunet, blue eyes wide and shell-shocked, as she took in his appearance.
Squall Leonhart stood there wearing only a white sleeveless top and dark leather jeans, hands in his pockets and looking at them with his usual aloofness as the sun's rays struck him, giving him a halo-effect. This would've have been a normal sight- not something that would raise alarm bells- had it not been for the dark red staining the image.
Red trailed from Squall's hands up to his elbows; some patches had clearly dried up while some of the liquid trailed downwards. His white shirt had blotches of dark crimson and even his trousers could not hide the sickly stains. Squall's cheeks and forehead had patches of red trailing in clear directions; she surmised the brunet had scratched that area or wiped his sweat off during the procedure. Blood drenched Squall's feet and she could clearly see bloody pools where the tall brunet walked.
Despite all her training, Lightning couldn't suppress the flicker of horror that flashed through her features as the tall brunet calmly closed the metal door behind him and looked at them as if nothing was amiss.
"Which rooms are we in?" he asked, seemingly oblivious to the dreadful atmosphere his re-emergence bestowed.
Lightning quickly steeled herself and grabbed his hand- suppressing her disgust at the fresh liquid's warmth emanating from said limb- and dragged him out of the room as fast as she could, leaving a trail of bloody footprints in their wake.
Luneth looked just about ready to blow up when he opened the metal door sealing the room Squall was holed up the past few hours, revealing the massacred remains of what was once a beautiful blonde-haired woman.
Lightning opened the door and shoved the brunet in. Squall, for his part, remained uncharacteristically silent despite being manhandled the way he was- something the pinkette was thankful for as normally he'd make a fuss about his treatment.
She was about to close the door, leaving him to his privacy, when she noticed he still hadn't moved. Instead, he stared blankly at the mirror, eyes vacant.
"Squall." She called out, trying to get his attention. He didn't respond. "Squall? Leonhart?" She repeated, entering and standing in front of him. She looked up at him and her heart missed a beat when she finally noticed the hollow gaze in his eyes. She needed to try again. "...Schoolboy?"
A flicker of emotion showed in his blue orbs. Squall blinked before looking down, eyes widening slightly when he registered the pinkette in front of him.
"…Get out." He muttered lowly, brushing past her as he took off his shirt and threw it to the side.
Lightning watched his back morosely before she steeled herself, her sorrowfully contemplative eyes regaining its focus. She strode forward, discarding her own top and bottom. The sound of a foreign belt unbuckling drew Squall's attention. He turned back to regard her coolly while one hand turned the knob on the shower.
"…What are you doing?" he asked, despite already having his suspicions on the pinkette's plan.
"Joining you." Came her curt reply, leaving no room for argument. She unclasped her boots and took off her gloves while Squall discarded his blood-stained trousers, leaving him only in his black boxers. Lightning ushered the taller warrior into the shower, unabashed despite her being clad only in her matching black bra and panties.
Squall would have normally complained- or deemed this action inappropriate- but whatever objection building up inside him was washed away when she forced him to kneel down in front of her before she ran her fingers through his clumped up locks, trying to wash away all the caked blood in them.
Neither warrior said anything for the next couple of minutes, both warriors listening absently to the shower's ambiance, too engrossed in their own thoughts .
"Stand up." She told him. Squall stood without protest and Lightning suppressed the urge to sharply look away when her blue eyes instinctively locked with his hollow orbs. Luckily, she was only up to his chin and so broke their gaze when she refocused back on her task.
Lightning leaned forward, running her hands up and down his shoulders and chest, trying to scrub away all the caked blood off the motionless brunet.
Squall's voiced came off tiredly. "You feel disgusted."
The pinkette's hands paused briefly before continuing. "There's nothing to be disgusted about."
"You're lying." He accused half-heartedly. Lightning stayed her tongue. There really was no point anymore in arguing; they were both tired.
The pinkette gripped his arms tightly. Lightning forced herself to look up and meet his lifeless gaze. "I'm not disgusted at you." She deadpanned.
Squall's gaze flickered, searching her eyes for any sign of fallacy. Finding none and realizing what exactly she found repulsive, Squall looked away and mumbled. "…Sorry."
Lightning didn't reply, instead continuing to clean the evidence of the interrogation off his person. "There's nothing to apologize for."
"You're not a coward." He mumbled, making Lightning's confidence momentarily falter. Squall pressed on, ignoring how her grip on his sides grew stronger. "Someone had to do it and we don't have time to waste." He listed off as if he was debriefing her. "The manikin was immune to magic and I'm the only one with training for this. You don't have to feel disgusted at yourself." It scared a small part of her to know that he was trained in the grisly methods of information extraction.
What exactly were SeeDs? The time witch's fear seemed to become justified.
"…and I managed to acquire the necessary information." Her focus snapped back. Her heart sunk and she was trying to figure out why. The brunet continued onwards, looking at a spot somewhere behind her head. "There's a second interdimensional rift. The Lufenians made it but it's not as large as the one you closed. Entire armies won't be porting out. At most, small platoons the size of which we encountered will be arriving at a time."
Lightning's consciousness finally registered what was wrong. The normally stoic brunet was rambling. "The main problem now is knowing how many platoons have arrived. We do now know what the enemy's objective is, so we can plan our next course of-"
"Quiet." She cut him off tensely.
The shower continued to rain water down on the two, matting their hairs against their heads. Lightning's drenched pink locks obscured her eyes from his gaze. His eyes focused on her head.
"Just stop talking, Squall." She continued, unable to bring herself to look up at him. She knew what he needed and cursed him for steeling his heart from her- bottling his pain- yet she also knew what it took to open his heart once more. Squall does what needs to be done, at the cost of his own emotions.
Lightning knew she had to make this sacrifice or she'd risk losing Squall again. At this point, words wouldn't reach the brunet.
Taking a deep breath, Claire Farron pressed her head against the scar on his chest, melding her body against his. Her grip on his limbs faded, her arms falling limply to her sides. She didn't say anything, wordlessly offering herself up for him to comfort.
It was now up to Squall Leonhart if he'd be willing to accept his humanity once more.
The monotonous white noise of the shower filled the silence for rest of their moment.
In the midst of the gathering mist, Squall bowed down his head, burying it against her moist shoulder, as his arms found themselves around her frame.
A/N: Rather serious fic, despite the gang almost going off on a humorous tangent in the beginning.