Theme 38: Wicked

Pairing: Lightning Farron/Squall Leonhart, trace hints of Quistis Trepe/Squall Leonhart

Lightning's eyes were already narrowed when she entered the dimly-lit room.

Despite the five years Quistis had known the older woman, there was still something in the icy stare of the decorated Brigadier General that unnerved her. A chill ran down the blonde woman's spine, and she stood up from her chair to speak only for her words to never leave her thoughts; her sudden movement attracted Lightning's glare onto herself.

"Quistis," Lightning's voice was tight, controlled, but nonetheless heated as she stalked towards the Elite SeeD. It was a dangerous and challenging tone; daring Quistis to give her just one excuse to strike. The twenty-six year old woman was pissed. "What. Happened."

Quistis' lips flattened and her contemplative blue eyes peered beyond her spectacles to consider Lightning's pair of burning sapphires. With her years under her belt, Quistis neither flinched nor fidgeted under the pressure of Lightning's accusatory hiss.

"Come." The SeeD beckoned coolly with one step back and to the side so as to allow Lightning access to the seat beside her own. "Sit with me."

"Don't patronize me." Lightning growled before thrusting a finger at the other woman's direction. "I know it was your fault!"

A tired breath left the blonde woman's lips and she suddenly felt so much older than her years. Quistis picked her spectacles from her nose with her left hand and slipped it in her breast pocket. Her posture straightened, and she spoke deliberately. "I know, Light." She spoke patiently, and motioned to the seat beside her with a slow, small wave. "But you might want to sit while we speak." Her lips curled into the faintest of a pleading frown. "I would."

Lightning had half the mind to challenge her with a fist to her face- and would have, half a decade ago. Instead, Lightning saw beyond her own urgency and noticed Quistis' remorse. The tearstains on the younger woman's porcelain cheeks; the dark rings under her eyes only noticeable with their short distance in the dim lights; the slight redness in her eyes all painted the blonde's torment and self-mutilation. She was not appeased by Quistis' suffering—no, not even in the slightest—but Lightning had matured enough to gain a measure of patience.

Dating the blockheaded Leonhart would do that to a woman.

Quistis did not speak when Lightning stalked forward to take the offered seat with arms folded and a silent demand. The blonde did not comment when Lightning's gaze bore into the metal tank before them. She folded her skirt behind her legs and sat herself down gracefully, though just as tensely as the woman beside her.

"You picked up the message." Quistis started, her eyes darting between Lightning and the faint glow of the screen beside the metal tank; the values displayed had not changed since she last left this room the day before the previous, and were nothing to be alarmed of. Thank Hyne.

Lightning grunted. "You forget; I was there." She shot the younger woman an annoyed look. "'Immortal Commander of Seed'?" She scoffed at the blatant hyperbole. It was a clear message to only those that truly knew Squall that something had happened to the SeeD Commander. "You guys weren't exactly subtle. Serah guffawed when the DGN anchor introduced the report; they're always professional, after all. I, more than anyone, would know just how mortal Squall is."

While it was Squall's job to lead SeeD, it was SeeD's job to convince the world that Squall Leonhart is invincible. In the past five years, the term 'SeeD' evolved to become synonymous to Balamb's Lion, both through exploits and through the media, especially through the DGN- Dollet Global News- broadcast. Because of her connection to SeeD, but mostly because of the depth of trust she had earned from Squall throughout everything, Lightning was privy to sensitive information including the close relationship between both groups; a relationship the general public did not even suspect. It was a magnificent, if reckless, plan that focused all eyes on Squall Leonhart, for better or for worse.

This was just another case of the latter.

"Seifer's been raising hell, you know…" Lightning began in a pensive tone, recalling the DGN reports of 'Squall Leonhart's current exploits. She needed to calm her nerves or she would soon regret what her anger could make her do. "...posing as Squall. What was that—an image inducer? Odine has really outdone—no, not Odine." Her blue eyes suddenly shone with lucid clarity. "Rufus Shinra. It's the same tech."

"Very astute." Quistis nodded curtly at Lightning's expert deduction. She was honestly impressed at how far along Lightning Farron had changed from the thoughtless and impulsive woman the blonde SeeD had first met those many years back. When they first met, Lightning had never given anything much thought; she was always too busy grasping the pieces before her eyes to ever consider how each piece formed a much larger picture.

But now...

"I'm glad, you know. You're…" There was a short pause as Quistis considered her words, then smiled slightly, the corners of her lips tugging upwards despite the dull twinge in her heart. She honestly admitted to Squall's lover. "…really good. For him."

The atmosphere between them had become less tense, and Lightning prodded Elite SeeD Trepe once more.

Lightning inhaled softly.

"Hey… Quistis…" Her words were slow and deliberate; a stark contrast to her earlier harsh tone. Quistis' posture slackened; she already knew the words Lightning would speak next. "…could you tell me what happened?"

"It's my fault." Quistis admitted sorrowfully. Lightning made no movement at the admission; she listened quietly but attentively. "I should have thought it through more thoroughly; I should have had a plan." The blonde shook her head violently, and her gaze, a maelstrom of emotions, stared into Lightning's eyes. "But I couldn't help myself. As soon as the intel came, I knew the chance that town would be caught up in the crossfire was too high. There was no time to evacuate them, and the Ragnarok was still too far away. I-" Her orbs suddenly dimmed as she recalled the grim aftermath. "…I should have been better."

Lightning's eyes were downcast when she spoke. "You… you both saved the town."

"No." There was so much pain in Quistis' tone, and it reflected in the longing gaze she spared the metal tank. "Squall did."

"You both did." Lightning disagreed.

"I only made the choice to stay back. I messed up, and Squall paid for it. It's my fault."

Lightning snorted. "Squall made the choice to stay back with you. He could have left you." She folded her arms grumpily. "You damn heroes." She scoffed.

Quistis' eyes shimmered painfully at Lightning's unintended reminder. "I should have listened to Squall. You know what he said when this all began?"

"Of course. I was there." A heavy sigh left Lightning's chest as she, too, recalled Squall's briefing after the first incident, five years ago. "'I don't need heroes, heroics, and martyrs'." Lightning quoted. "'If things get too tough, drop it and leave. Nobody dies.'"

Quistis chuckled at Lightning's detailed reenactment. "For a moment there, you sounded just like him."

"Whatever." They both said simultaneously, and shared a hearty laugh.

"Etro," Lightning began with an amused smirk as she reminisced the epilogue to their halcyon days. "I could just imagine Squall rolling in his grave at that."

Quistis blinked owlishly at Lightning's thoughtless comment. "Don't joke like that!" Her instructor voice came through her harsh chiding of the older woman. Her eyes widened at her outburst, and she inhaled a calming breath. "Please, don't joke like that. He's not dead."

Lightning shrugged carelessly. "I know I should be furious at him. And you. But I can't. You two protected that town. You saved many lives."

There was a sliver of pain in Lightning's eyes.

"But…?" Quistis prompted softly.

Lightning stared at the blonde woman, studying her features and measuring her worth; if she could speak to the younger woman with this matter or not. "Sorry. It's- it's for Squall and I to discuss."

"I can guess, you know." Quistis gingerly wrapped a comforting hand around Lightning's palm. It was cold, and slightly damp to touch; it betrayed the strong front Lightning tried to convey. "I… I know you're not happy with this life Squall chose."

Claire Farron's father departed when he answered the call of duty, and Lightning quite simply refused to experience what Claire did.

"No." Lightning's truer feelings trickled through. "No, I'm not."

Quistis did not push any further, only offering Lightning the comfort of silence. The blonde SeeD did not like the choices Squall made, either, but she believed in Squall and their cause. After that bloody massacre that sparked all this, how could she not believe Squall when he and the rest of the warriors chosen by the false gods confessed the true lifespan of the world? It was uncanny how, at the beginning, everyone knew lands beyond their own existed, but had no clue as to whom and what are their inhabitants and history.

Entire civilizations and empires did not just grow overnight, after all.

So everyone had met in secret. King Cecil, Empress Ashelia, Queen Garnet, and the former High Summoner Yuna to name a few of the nobility, and prominent figures the likes of Sky Pirates Vaan and Balthier, Cloud Strife, Terra Branford and Celes Chere, all attended. It was decided that SeeD, under Squall Leonhart's command, will take charge of smiting the more dangerous of cutthroats before another thousand perished from uncontrolled greed. The rest would do their part in forging alliances and creating peace treaties.

"Sorry." Lightning shook her head, abstaining from relying on Squall's most trusted SeeD. "I can't speak to you about this."

"I understand." Quistis nodded.

Lightning quickly changed topics. "So, how is he?"

"He's finally stable." Quistis informed succinctly. There was a pause as Lightning continued to stare at the younger woman, urging her to continue her debriefing. "…Light, how much of what happened do you want to know?" She asked slowly, hesitantly.

"Everything." Lightning was undaunted by Quistis' wary tone. "I want to hear everything."

"It's not pretty." Quistis warned her softly.

"I can take it."

"…Intel revealed each bomb had a ten kilometer radius. Squall and I- we did the only thing we could think of: a dual barrier spell to coat the town. Only," Quistis' features became grim as she remembered how she faltered after the first blast, and Squall stepped up. "Squall placed his barrier above mine. We knew how crazy the idea was, but it was all we could think of. Squall… he took the brunt of the feedback."

Quistis remembered berating Squall as they leaped towards the roofs, racing against time to reach the highest point of the town after he had suggested to shield the town. 'Inverse Proportionality Law of Magick', 'Magick Cancellation and Amplification Theory', 'Barrier Recoil Threshold'; Squall had absorbed all her knowledge and made that damnable decision that her life mattered to him.

Lightning's throat was suddenly parched; Squall- that damn schoolboy- always sacrificing himself for his friends. She remembered the footage of the aftermath: the town had stood proud as ever, but the mountains that once challenged the heavens were humbled; flattened were all that was left.

Whoever they were, they desperately wanted Squall dead. Unfortunately for them, SeeD wasn't limited to Squall Leonhart.

"Standing where we were, we managed to raise the barrier high enough that the explosion did not spillover to the town, and bought enough time for the Ragnarok to destroy the stealth bomber. I was knocked out for a few minutes. Squall- when we found him…" Hyne, this was so hard to say. Her mind flashed back to the sickly warmth of his blood coating her body. "Squall died."

Lightning's blood ran cold before logic kick-started her heart. "But you said he was stable! That he's alive!"

"Squall was clinically dead." Quistis looked away. "He suffered numerous burns; his left arm and ear were disintegrated; his right arm was bleeding profusely through his skin and its entire neural network was fried; his legs were shattered under the weight of the explosion. He wasn't breathing, Light. He had no pulse. His pupillary reflex was gone."

"But then how is he-?"

"Shiva." Quistis stated simply. "Shiva took over and cryopreserved what remained of Squall's body. We thought- we thought we lost him. It was all my fault because I did not want to abandon the town."

No good deed goes unpunished.

"Snap out of it, Quistis." Lightning warned before Quistis spiraled back down into her depression. "Squall chose to save you, remember?"

"I… yes."

"So…" Lightning slowly stood, wobbling on suddenly weakened legs towards the recovery tank Squall was in. Her eyes zeroed in at the small window, silently cursing when all she could see were Squall's eyes pressed shut, and the scar that reminded her of just how reckless her lover could be. "Squall is- is Squall…" Her voice actually cracked as she struggled to think amidst the multitude of worries. "Is he- for life. Is Squall-?"

"He's fine." Quistis' hands were pressed against each other on her lap, a silent prayer to thank the gods for the luck Squall was blessed with. "He will be fine. We're- we're regrowing his limbs."

It took a mighty blow for Lightning to be stunned. "…What?"

"We called everyone we could. It's-" Sheer, unadulterated dumb luck. "-fortunate that Dr. Ross is with SeeD now. After thawing Squall and retrieving Shiva, we turned to Dr. Kadowaki and Dr. Ross. Aki, she's been working on a project since before moving here. Stem cells."

Quistis abstained from mentioning that Squall would be the first human subjected to the revolutionary procedure. It was better that Lightning would hear this from Aki, personally, if only to give an accurate assessment of Squall's prognosis.

Quistis knew that she was too emotionally invested in the matter.

Lightning's breath hitched in surprise. She knew of Dr. Aki Ross' research, of course, but to learn just how far the former CTI researcher had come with her passion was quite humbling.

"With the funding SeeD provided, Aki has made tremendous advances into the field." Quistis smiled forlornly. "It's not perfect of course; full organ functionality can only be guaranteed for the first three stem cell generations at the present stage." Ergo, they could only safely regrow Squall's limbs another two more times before turning to other less ideal alternatives. "But it's more than enough. Aki may not major in medical sciences, but she is a damn brilliant biologist."

Quistis stood and approached Lightning. She wrapped a comforting arm around the older woman's neck, offering her shoulder for comfort. Lightning was only too grateful to oblige; this was turning into equal parts headache and heartache with every word digested.

Damn you, schoolboy!

"I have Shiva." Quistis told her quietly, switching topics. "She worked really hard. We managed to piece the event from her before she knocked out." There was a reverent shine in her eyes at the bond between Squall and his most trusted Guardian Force. And yet, while it was important to her to nurse Shiva, Quistis, of all people, knew how comforting it was to house Squall's guardian. The blonde steeled herself, her naked hands balling into tight fists. "Though she's still exhausted, she's strong enough to make one jump. Do you want her?"

Lightning stared at her before nodding once. She wanted to help Shiva for saving her reckless schoolboy. "…Alright."

There was the barest of a reluctant pout on Quistis' lips. "…Very well."

Their hands met, and Lightning felt the rush of power when the proud woman of ice was junctioned into her.

'You did good, Shiva.' Lightning thought to the elemental.

'Tired.' Shiva's reply sounded weaker than her statement. 'Nour…ish…'

'I know.' Lightning sucked in a breath, steeling herself before offering, 'Take mine… and rest.'

There was a pause, and Lightning wondered if Shiva hadn't heard her, before the woman of ice's reply finally came. '…my thanks.'

'No, Shiva. It's my thanks.'

"Is everything alright?" Quistis inquired softly of the woman in her arms.

Lightning pushed Quistis away softly as she gathered her thoughts. Patiently waiting with thoughts of her own, Quistis silently watched as Lightning leaned against the tank with an arm raised, staring into the window.

"I'm staying here." Lightning declared.

"I know." Quistis nodded, tucking a blonde lock behind her ear. "We have a room already prepped for you."

"No. I'm staying here." Lightning repeated. "Watching over him."

Quistis blinked. "A-alright. Light, should I-"

"Yes. Please do." Lightning glanced at the woman behind her, and she felt a twinge of guilt at what she was asking. Quistis cared deeply about Squall; grew gray hair because of him… and Lightning was denying the blonde woman her peace of mind. Lightning had already taken Shiva, and now she was taking Squall.

"I need some time alone."

Please, Quisty.

"I… understand." Quistis' nod was slow, stiff; her eyes pained at the thought of leaving this room without Squall. Still, she held it all in, and the face that greeted Lightning was tight and professional. "Aki- Dr. Ross estimates that Commander Leonhart-" Lightning wanted to reach out to her dear friend, but refrained. "-will make a complete recovery in another two days. She will be in later to check on his condition, so you may ask her yourself, then. Regardless, he will need an intensive rehabilitation regime once he is released."

Quistis saluted. "By your leave."

Lightning saluted back in SeeD fashion. "Dismissed."

As Quistis turned, she heard Lightning whisper to her.

"Thank you."

Quistis glanced over her shoulder and gave her a soft smile. Lightning, much like Squall, had a funny way of apologizing.

"It's alright."

The door hissed open and closed, leaving Lightning to her thoughts of Squall, her feelings, and their shared future.

Lightning lightly brushed her thumb against the window as if tracing the contours of the unconscious Squall's cheek, and muttered softly.

"Where do we go from here, lover?"

She choked back a sob, and fell.

A/N: Been a while, eh? Long-story-short, life threw a curve ball, I missed the swing and got hit on the head without a helmet. The blunt trauma is slowly recovering, and I'll probably grow a new set of brain cells (LOL).

My sincerest thanks to Traingham, Eirlys-Tylluan, and Syc0ticEpis0de for their support, and you, readers, for your patience. On a different note, Syc0ticEpis0de has started (what appears to be) a Squall/Selphie, as well as just recently updating Triple Triad King =) Go check them out if you haven't yet!

Lastly, PLDT SmartBro sucks. It's sad that it takes too much money to sue them than what could be redeemed. Mobile internet sucks as well. Gah.