Fang woke up recollecting nothing.
Well, something, of course. She still remembered everything that led to today; it wasn't as if she had been robbed of her entire memory. Still. She could not, for the love of the Creator's bloody undergarments, remember anything before this morning. Breakfast, precisely; with Lightning, Sazh's outdated newspaper and a cup of tea.
And unless a certain meddlesome fal'Cie is involved, Fang had never lost track of so many hours in one chunk. Not even when she had finished half of Oerba's ale supply on a bet. She still didn't know how exactly had she woken up in the same bed with one of the elders, but it wasn't as if everything just went blank and on again. There were flashes. Very unpleasant flashes, but all the same: memories.
She mentally probed her mind. Found none but very dark, very cavernous recesses.
"I don't remember anything," she said, staring up at Lightning's nose. It was clean.
She reached up to play with strands of pink hair, but heard a disgruntled 'tsk' and felt her hand being batted away.
"You see?" There was a leisurely sequence of movements as she wiggled and finally settled for a more comfortable position. "And you've got nothing to with it, I bet."
The slightest pause. "Yes."
And a sound of ripping fabric.
"Now, why don't I quite believe that?"
More ferocious ripping and a bitter medicinal smell. "Then I request you to immediately vacate my lap."
Fang chuckled. Even from her current position – head resting on Lightning's lap – she could see the scowl forming on the soldier's brow. "Cold. Getting the couch for asking the right question? You'd make for a terrible wife, sunshine."
The scowl deepened. Most grown men would find it a sign to immediately seek the nearest l'Cie-proof shelter and hope they haven't offended the Creator overly much. But instead of feeling the aforementioned logical dread, Fang found it terribly, terribly cute – even upside down like this. Especially upside down like this. Her survival instincts never quite worked when it came to Lightning.
"Stop making non-existent allusions to our relationship."
"Allusions," she drawled, "like what?"
"Exactly like our relationship being more than it is," Lightning said, and Fang could hear the grind of her teeth.
"More than it is?" Fang said, smirking. "How else can you explain me waking up on your lap then?" Yep. her survival instincts were definitely faulty.
"That's easy," said Lightning. Then, before Fang could throw a quip, Lightning pressed something cool against her forehead – eliciting a loud 'ow!' and a reflexive jolt. And then very evenly: "it's because of this."
"Because of— damnit, Light!"
She started groping around on the ground with the hand that was not pinned between Lightning and her body with the intention to find a leverage and hoist herself up to bolt to the nearest water source and wash the infernal thing away. It didn't take much, however, for Lightning to thwart her effort with a palm to her collar bone and a none-too-gentle push back down. Or a rough shove, Fang should say. Between the shove and the badly stinging ointment, she began to wonder if someone pissed in Lightning's morning tea or something – what's with her being obsessed with tea drinking to the point of being anal retentive.
Or maybe it was just the time of the month.
"You on your pe— ow." She winced again as Lightning began dabbing the ointment on her wound in a series of stilted, definitely not gentle repetitive motions. "Yep. Silence. Gotcha."
And then found her view of the night sky unobstructed, Lightning having withdrawn her hands. The stinging immediately went away, replaced only by a dull, cool sensation.
"Power play, eh. I must say though, Light, I don't really do the good girl act too well – do I need to call you mistress Farron?"
And nice: Lightning had actually growled her name. Who knew pressing people's buttons could be so fun. Almost as fun as Snow—
Fang frowned. There was something about him... and the urge to do awful things with her spear.
Ah, well; probably nothing, she thought, waving the gory fantasy away. Or tried to, because the image Snow at the end of her spear stuck like wonderful superglue.
"Say, Light?" No acknowledgment came, she continued anyway. "Snow got something to do with my current condition here?"
She could tell what Lightning was thinking, but with her position it was quite impossible to judge exactly what. She would've sat up and stared at Lightning in the eye, but the lap was too damned snug to even think of vacating it – and besides, how many people had had the chance to lie on the Sergeant Farron's lap and lived to tell the tale? Exactly one, she'd wager: quite sure on her chances of living through the night and telling the tale herself.
Which begs the question: why was Fang on Lightning's lap and not, say, left to rot in a crevice somewhere or attended to by Vanille? Because normally there was no doubt that Lightning would've done exactly that: left her in a crevice with or without Vanille. Because a leaking forehead or amputated arms? Who the hell cares?
Certainly not Lightning.
For someone with such a comfortable lap, she sure was acting suspicious.
The answer was slow in coming. "He..." A pause. "I believe he's innocent in this matter."
And it seemed like Lightning was fighting an inner demon and had only barely won, judging by the hesitance and the not quite imaginary emphasis on 'this matter'.
"And that's not the whole truth, is it?"
"I'm hiding nothing."
Fang hummed. "Who said you were hiding anything? Because I think that's the sign of a terrible liar, Light. Maybe you should—"
Lightning abruptly rolled her over and stood up, and Fang found her cheek sharing an intimate moment with the ground.
Rubbing her cheekbone, she groaned and propped herself up slowly. "So much for a romantic stargaze," she muttered, then glanced around. Besides sparse trees and what sounded like an infestation of obnoxiously loud bugs, she found herself utterly alone.
Still: pressing. Lightning's. Buttons.
Rolling over – back pressed firmly onto the ground, she spread her arms wide and stared at the sky. It was beautiful and all, and she felt like she should appreciate it – but then again, it's Gran Pulse. It's always beautiful.
Just like how Lightning is always too uptight.
And just like how there's always a nagging feeling of maybe she'd gone too far or maybe she'd pressed a dozen too many buttons or maybe she should stop feeling guilty for enjoying the rightful pleasure of teasing the grumpy ex-sergeant.
(Or maybe Vanille should also stop by with one of her herbal tea and relieve Fang's migraine – where was the ever-present redhead, anyway?)
It was quite rare for Lightning to storm away without attempting to land her fist on Fang's face first, which usually spelled serious anger management issues. Well, more than usual.
But then again, it's Lightning. Most of everything annoy her. The men (and a boy) and their habit of drying their undergarments by hanging them over the campsite, for example. Her hair being factually described as pink, strawberry, or anything even remotely cutesy. Being called pinkette. Being called sunshine. Being teased about her pale, basement-dwelling skin. Being told innuendos of riding Odin (and occasionally Bahamut).
And pretty much everything not involving Serah or Hope or occasionally Vanille she doesn't mess up Lightning's tea.
But the good thing about Lightning? She always comes back. Fickle loyalty didn't earn her the title of unofficial leadership over their ragtag bunch of l'Cies, after all.
"Welcome back, sunshine," Fang said to the sky when she heard a rustle and the dull thuds of footsteps followed by a smell of burnt meat. "Always knew you'd come back."
She'd spent enough time gallivanting with Lightning to know that 'up' meant 'sit up and shut up or else'. With her interpretation skills of Lightning's monosyllabic habit also came the knowledge of when to obey and not meet the ground with her face for the second time tonight.
So she sat up and shut up.
"Tilt it up," Lightning said, referring to her head. Then manually did so anyway, cupping Fang's chin and forcing it angle upwards before resuming more emotional bandage tearing.
It would have been romantic, Fang decided, if little miss sunshine there didn't look downright murderous. Feeling wizened, she kept her mouth obediently closed.
"So," said Fang – attempting a more light-hearted topic when the sound of tearing became more ferocious and the absence of her spear slightly more alarming, "did a pack of king behemoths decide to make me their personal doormat?"
At this point Light was holding Fang's bangs up with one hand and liberally pasting a cool, foul smelling something onto her forehead. Only strands of pink hair met Fang's attempt to gauge Lightning's facial expression – an attempt that became futile when a strip of bandage rendered her vision temporarily white. Then colour returned, and Lightning's face simply screamed 'jackpot!'
A jackpot that came in the form of very controlled, very practised facial expression that was trying its very best to be emotionless. The guilty often overcompensates – and she knew that it was just one form of Lightning's manifestation of guilt. The other being blind rage followed by a punch to her future brother-in-law's face.
Lightning took her time jerking Fang's head left and right as she tied the ends of the bandage and fiddled with the knot to ensure that it was secure. Though quite sure that bandage applying usually did not involve yanking the patient's head like a rotor blade, Fang really quite enjoyed the atmosphere. Not only had she lived to tell the tale of lying on Farron's lap, it would seem that she would also live to tell the tale of being personally treated by the pink whirlwind of death in such an intimate proximity.
There was a certain domesticity about the scene. If marriage entailed the routine returning nightly all bloody, amnesiac and in need of patching up. Probably not.
Although Lightning and her suspicious attitude had just enforced the marriage analogy, because she was acting exactly like how a man caught cheating would. She would make a terrible spouse.
Because all terrible spouses Fang had had the sadistic pleasure to observe always seemed to have this habit of fiddling with things around them when confronted with the truth. And judging by the amount of time Lightning was spending scowling at her pouch and rummaging through it, that is exactly what she will be in the future.
Thus Fang had surmised two things: that Lightning and all terrible spouses are atrocious liars, and that her pouch was probably a portal to another dimension. Fidgeting or no, there was a limit to how long one could shift through the items in a pouch the size of Hope's girly fist.
"Right. Let's try this again," Fang said, her near infinite well of patience trickling away bit by bit. "What do they call this?"
A snort. "Funny. I meant this, sunshine." She indicated the air around her head – and could've sworn Lightning's hands twitched for the briefest second. Something definitely fishy there. "Not remembering anything? Feeling like you've been hit in the face by the Creator of all hangovers?"
"Hangover," Lightning said, not bothering to look up from the depth of her pouch. But at least she was moving on to her satchel.
"I would call it an 'accident', if I were you." The quotation marks enclosing the key word were not implied as much as overtly stated through the rare rise of tone in her voice. It was the verbal equivalent of bold typeface.
Yet another silence.
Right. Deep breath. Hassling her wasn't going anywhere. She would have to try another tactic to pry information out of her pretty mouth. But it seemed like she had taken too long in deciding her tactics, because something black, long and ugly entered her peripheral vision.
And Fang found herself looking down at a skewered black remains of... something.
That was the moment that she realised Lightning was beyond terrible in fabricating the truth. So terrible it took every single fibre of her willpower to give her a crash course in lying there and then.
"Trying to change the topic, Light?"
"No. You need to eat." The skewer moved back and forth in the air, as if a vibrating black stick could possibly entice Fang to put it in her mouth.
"Slightly charred. Hope dropped it into the fire."
She stared at her. "I don't know if you like to eat charcoals, Light, but I definitely don't."
"Fang. Quit being so stubborn."
"Think that goes for the both of us."
With a sigh, Lightning retracted the skewer and went back to her leather satchel, retrieving something in an opaque contained. She held it up for Fang's inspection, colourful jelly swishing around in it. "Last night's flan pudding. Although I should warn you that-"
Without further ado, Fang snatched it and downed the contents within a few gulps. Damned she was starving. Not starving enough to eat barbequed rocks, but Snow's pudding? Definitely.
She stopped short of the last mouthful and looked at Lightning staring intently at her. Akin to how she stared at a monster before going forth to slaughter it with fancy flips. "...what?"
"You don't... feel anything?"
"A sudden jolt in the stomach. Heart palpitations."
And she was the one with a bandaged head?
"Hold still. Let me just check your temperature..."
Scoffing, Lightning batted her hand away and started collecting the scattered items to be replaced back into her satchel. "Obviously you don't. Never mind."
"Right. But heart palpitations and jolting stomach? I gotta say Light..."
"It just looks like the pre-emptive of a very bad case of diarrhoea to me." Seeing Lightning's resulting death glare, Fang's faulty survival instincts only made her laugh. "Not that your look's helping much. Difficulty holding it in?"
Lightning spared her a glance, then resumed stuffing her satchel back to the brim. "I liked you better when you were comatose."
"Why?" Fang's grin became wider. "Because I was such a fragile little flower who you could do whatever you please to? In fact," and she sidled closer towards Lightning, placing a hand at her shoulder and leaning close to her ear, "how can I be sure you didn't follow your fantasies and take advantage of my body? What a perv- damnit Light!"
Once again, she found herself sharing a loving embrace with the ground. This time after having her shoulder twisted and body slammed down. If this is how Lightning treats wounded comrades, no wonder every time she switched to medic in fights, one or three of them would end up having parts of their bodies as monster play toy.
"Sorry," Lightning said. "Reflex."
For the second time of the night she unpeeled herself from the ground and sat up, groaning.
She looked at Lightning to see her nonchalantly tying her satchel close. Frighteningly nonchalant for such a violent woman.
"Y'know Light, if I didn't know better I would've thought you were trying me to give me a second bout of amnesia just so I'd shut up." Perhaps permanent amnesia, if Lightning could have her say in that matter.
"You're right about the shutting up part."
"I'm sure you do." But if Lightning thought a nearly dislocated shoulder won't deter her from finding out the truth, she was very, very wrong.
"By the way," Fang prefaced, "y'know you could've just used cure, right."
"I'd rather not re-arrange your face."
"...that makes sense."
Lightning was never a prolific medic, after all. Not even close. Everyone had testified to that multiple times.
But then Fang smirked and looked straight into Lightning's eyes. "But you know that you could've just asked Vanille for help, right?"
Lightning never wavered from the eye contact, but she remained silent. Just one more push, now.
"He's still a child!" Lightning snapped before Fang could even utter half of the kid's name, her voice so scandalled it was if Fang pinned down and molested a child or something.
Strong reaction, there.
"A-ll righty sunshine. Careful with the gunblade. Wouldn't wanna re-arrange my face for real after all your effort do we?"
For a moment, Lightning did nothing but maintain their smouldering eye contact. Then she looked away and folded her weapon back into the sheath. "Sorry," she said. "Reflex."
And Fang wondered if said 'reflexes' also had something to do with her amnesia.
"Right. Never doubted you for a moment, sunshine." She rose and stretched, rotating her neck until she was satisfied with the audible cracks the motion elicited. Then she spared one last glance at Lightning and smirked. "Well then. Guess I'll have to find the answer on my own, eh?"
It didn't take long for Fang to figure out her next course of action. Whatever had knocked the memory off her for so and so hours, Fang knew she could depend on Vanille to give the answer. Known her for 519 years, after all — and kid's never let her down all that time. Either way, she'd make her spill.
So first stop: Vanille.
As she came closer to their camp site, bits and pieces of conversation became audible, and she could identify Vanille's voice against the crackle of fire, talking to Hope.
"Found ya, kiddo," she said under her breath, ducking through a low branch and was about to swipe an obstructing vine away when she heard a 'kwew!' before something round and yellow floated down her vision.
Sazh's chocobo chick.
Fang grinned and cupped her hands together. "Hi there, cheeky bugger," she said when it had perched neatly on her palm. "Alone are you? Where's your old man?"
"He— here," came a choked, high-pitched voice.
Appearing from behind her, he stepped out of nowhere like a ghost. If ghosts hyperventilate and sound like a pre-puberty Vanille. Not that her voiced changed much, honestly. Besides the increased intensity in moaning.
Huffing and puffing, he bent over and supported himself with both hands on his knees. He raised one hand and greeted her, "h— hey there—" gasp wheeze "—Fang. Didn't know you're—" more wheezing "oh for Etro's sake!" Apparently giving up in coherently stringing a few words together, he plopped down into a sitting position, and then lied on the ground with his limbs spread. His loud hyperventilation continued.
Well, isn't today just strange.
Correctly translating his outstretched, fumbling hand, Fang knelt besides and took the water canteen strapped to his belt. She handed him the canteen as watched as he spluttered through the content. "Poked a king behemoth again?"
"T— thanks," said Sazh after he emptied the canteen. Then sat up and wiped his mouth on his sleeves. "That was Snow who poked that infernal thing. I'm getting too old for that. And this. Sheesh." A moment of cooling down, he ran his palm down his face and looked at Fang. "And uh— what... are you doing... here?"
What is wrong with the ragtag l'Cies today? Was she really the one with encased in bandages?
"I think that's more my question. Here." She extended her hand towards him.
No response besides heavy breathing.
Fang wiggled her fingers. Sazh strained his lungs.
More finger wiggling ensued before she deemed him beyond saving.
"Great," she said. "I'm gonna go find Vani—"
Something snagged her sari, and she turned around to see Sazh holding to it with both hands, still on his knees. What world in the Creator's backside did she wake up in? It seemed like everyone just went dumb.
Maybe it was the heat. It was humid.
"Kwew!" the chocobo went, going back into its cosy nest inside his hair.
"Well. 'least your chick's still got his head on his shoulders." She snagged her sari away and effortlessly hoisted him up by the arms. Once eye-to-eye (or tilting slightly up, in her case), she grabbed him by the shoulders. Sazh's gaze started to wander, but before it could go far she palmed his cheek and tilted it back to its proper place. This manhandling thing was definitely Lightning's bad influence. "A-a! Look at me, now. What's today about and everyone trying to block me from getting to Vanille and Hope, hmm? Anything to do with this," and she pointed at her head, "little 'accident' I have?"
Sazh glanced around nervously. "Ah..."
"Come on Sazh. I know you could do better than this."
"Me? Do better than this?" His rising pitch and defensive gesture with palms outward already marked him as another terrible liar; though still not quite as bad as Lightning. "Really? I don't know anything—"
Fang diverted her hands to his collar and shook him for a bit. Her near infinite well of patience were— well, not nearly so infinite anymore. In fact, an optimistic guess would put it around sixty two percent full.
"Whoa— okay! Okay!" Great. Nice and loose, now. She shook him again. Lighthing was definitely a bad influence. Not that she didn't find it quite fun. "Damnit woman— easy with the strength! Next thing I know you'd pin me down like you did with Va—"
Realising his slip, Sazh abruptly stopped.
"...nille?" Fang finished helpfully, releasing her grip and giving him a lopsided smile which seemed to just cow him further.
And Sazh, Sazh stared at her wide-eyed and wordlessly. Finally he said very cautiously: "...how did you know?"
Aha. So she did do something to Vanille. One problem solved. Next is to find out exactly what.
"Guess work. But apart from your slip? Her body language."
"Her body language? What? Miss little sunshine there has another body language besides one-hitting Snow and burying people six feet under with her scowl?"
"If you look really, really hard and use your imagination for a bit."
"But," Sazh said still with his palms outstretched — and she noticed he began inching further away, centimetre by centimetre. Figuring he was about to do the predictable thing and bolt, Fang did subtly tensed her legs, outwardly appearing perfectly still.
"Look, Fang—" another centimetre "—I just think that you should just forget about today and live your live like nothing's happened. Uh-huh." He nodded. "That's definitely for the best."
"And why is that, hmm?"
If he so much as move more than a tiny shuffle per second, Fang was ready.
Then, with a jolt he cupped his hands over his mouth and shouted very, very loudly: "SNOW! SHE'S HERE! TAKE THEM AWAY TO SAFETY!"
"What in Etro's blazing—"
Then she heard the boom of Snow's voice: "run— RUN! She's here! SHE'S HERE! Everyone, gear up and get to higher grounds! Now!" Followed by Vanille's squeal, Hope's womanly grunt and what sounded like an oversized bear kidnapping two children and stomping away as fast as it could.
Really, now? They all acted like she did something indecent towards Vanille and/or Hope during her blackout. Better not be the latter. Otherwise she might as well go to Lightning and call her 'pinky'. At least that would be more merciful. She shivered at the mere image of her doing anything to Hope other than chucking him into a nest of gorgonopsids to erase his... feminine tendencies.
Vanille however... well. She didn't mind that that much. Not at all, actually. She grinned at the images already running rampant in her mind. Just one more reason to find her. If she found her, first thing she'd do was to
The chick fluttered down onto her head and gripped a bundle of her hair tightly, perching on it. She didn't need to turn around to know that Sazh had probably already sprinted to the other side of the plains.
Though not quite fond of having a chocobo making a nest out of her hair, she decided it would be better to let it hang around. The chick would be an ideal ransom. If only she could catch Sazh.
But first thing's first. Snow. She still remembered that sudden urge she had to do very fun things to his face, after all. He must be a key player in whatever happened during her amnesia. And finding him meant finding Vanille and Hope, too. Three birds with one stone.
She looked up and saw a blurry yellow blob staring at her. "Your pet's left you behind, eh? Don't worry, we'll get him and roast him over open fire."
The Quest for the Truth had started.
She leapt off towards the direction of Snow's heavy stomping with a smile. It was going to be a fun day.
And here I am, back in existence. Terribly sorry for the lack of update for... more than half a year? Jolly gosh! I'll make up for it. Maybe. Just need my inspiration back. Seriously. Well, anyway, I know this isn't a LOL rollercoaster chapter, but hey, it's building up Fang. The next chapter will be back on track with it's crackiness, I'm sure ;)