He noticed that it was easy for one of his companions to get lost in a fight rather than get lost in her thoughts.
Kain Highwind, the dragon warrior, studied Lightning with intense purple eyes, seeing the way that she carried herself down the path. They were temporarily separated from their allies since they were scouting ahead for more enemies. Who would be able to fight them better off than him and Lightning? He knew that she didn't like to admit it, but they made a good team. She would never say such a thing or admit getting closer to him after he attempted to put her to sleep.
Did he regret it? Absolutely not. In fact, he wished that he could try to do it again and succeed this time. Their future battle in the Rift would be a fight to the death, and the last thing that he wanted was to see Lightning die. The more he fought, the more he adored her. Strong, courageous and focused. And compassionate. He saw that side of her even when she tried to conceal it from him.
"Quit dawdling, Highwind," Lightning said as she overlooked the land from their spot on a hill. "Time is limited."
"Of that I have no doubt," Kain whispered mostly to himself. He approached the stoic soldier and stood beside her, overlooking the vast wasteland that they were currently travelling through. There were no mannequins within his sight, nor in Lightning's. If that was the case, she would have run off into the fight as soon as she could. Sometimes he wasn't sure if she was doing it to show off or to avoid something. Or perhaps it was both. Perhaps she was showing off her strength to prove that she could stand on her own two feet. Perhaps she was avoiding depending on him, the traitor.
He didn't blame her for taking the betrayal hard. He believed that he was her closest companion before he attacked her. And Lightning wasn't extremely close to people. He wasn't sure if their other comrades saw it or not, but she did reach out to them on more occasions than one. It was probably too subtle for people like Vaan and Laguna to comprehend though.
But Kain saw it. He longed for her to reach out to him whenever she was hurting. And he knew that she was hurting. She was even quieter than she previously was and she always volunteered for the most dangerous missions before anyone else. She was alienating herself, but he couldn't figure out why. This was more than just her recovering from his reappearance.
"Kain, if you're just going to stand there, I'm going off alone. You're a liability when you're like this."
"You'll do no such thing," he said as he shook his head.
"There aren't any enemies here anyway. That probably means that they're all gathered somewhere else. We need to scout the area and track them down before they can corner us."
"Must you always be so intent on searching for a fight?" Kain pondered softly, gazing at Lightning from behind his mask. He already knew the answer, but he wanted to hear her response anyway.
"Yes," she confirmed without hesitation. "We need to make it to the Rift before we're manipulated and forced to travel a longer road. We can't stand fighting the clones any longer. As long as they continue gaining strength like they have been, we'll be lucky if we even make it to the Rift."
"We'll make it," Kain said confidently. We'll make it and you know it.
"Not at this rate. There's no time for hesitating or side-quests. So it's time you let go of your hobby of slowing down the inevitable so we can get this done."
That made Kain fall silent. She knew what he was pondering all the time, then. She was far better at reading him than he was of reading her. Was that a good thing or a bad thing? He wasn't sure. "I'm surprised you can read me so easily," he finally admitted.
"You're an open book, Highwind," she responded smoothly, stepping past him so that she could continue on ahead. Before she got more than a full step away from him, he grabbed her arm and forced her to come to a halt.
"You, on the other hand, are indecipherable," he commented quietly.
"I'm glad to hear it," Lightning piped, tugging her arm to get it out of Kain's grasp. But he didn't release her. "What?"
Dare he? He had to…This was something that he needed to do, no matter the consequences. "I have something for you," he said quietly. He reached back and all of a sudden, he had an item in his hand. He held it out to Lightning, seeing her stunned expression.
"Firion's rose…" she nearly whispered, her soft blue eyes locked onto the item. It glowed with an unnatural hue in Kain's bare hand, the light emitting from the item reminding Kain of the light that shone in Firion's heart. He was a good man.
"Give me that," Lightning snapped, snatching the rose out of Kain's hand. He blinked in surprise, seeing her suddenly infuriated expression. "You have no right to hold it. Not after what you did to him."
She means when I put him to sleep, Kain realized as he allowed his hand to fall back to his side. "He would want you to have it," he said calmly. That was why he gave it to her.
"Maybe," she agreed. "But I can't believe that you were thinking of me when you put him to sleep. You're cold enough to take him out without warning but then grab the flower for me?"
"Perhaps I thought it would do you some good to hold the rose," Kain responded while keeping his composure. Suddenly he saw a side of Lightning that he hadn't seen in a long time. Angry. Bitter. …Sad.
Lightning only grunted, gripping the rose tightly as she finally tore her arm out of Kain's grasp. After a moment, though, she looked back up at him with furrowed eyebrows. "How did you know about the rose, anyway?"
Kain chuckled. "Firion made it no secret that he was trying to get you alone to speak to you about something. Naturally he and I spoke about the rose, since he asked me about how to get you to stop fighting and speak to him.
"...Right," she said simply. She started past him and he allowed her to go on for only a few feet before he followed her. Though she had showed no signs of wanting him close, that was exactly where he wanted to be. Intrigued by her personality and style of fighting, he couldn't keep himself away from her for too long. She was a fighter who wasn't only battling for her own sake. More and more often, he noticed her getting in the line of fire for their allies. While he admired her bravery, he was concerned for her safety.
The man hummed shortly and looked from the path to Lightning, surprised to see her glance over her shoulder at him with softer eyes than before.
A small smile formed on Kain's lips as he nodded. After that, they didn't bother conversing again. Surely battle was on her mind, but she was all that was on his.
She won his heart. Now he had to attempt to win hers.
Silence surrounded Lightning as she sat at the mouth of a cave, the air around her completely still as no threats made themselves known. The only things that were threatening her were the things in her mind. Specifically, memories. Memories of herself and those that she found herself longing for. She couldn't say for certain what sparked her sudden regaining of memories. There was a rumor that she heard: The more you fight, the more your memories come back. That wasn't why she fought, though. It was her fighting that led to this problem. If she hadn't been so eager to fight, she wouldn't have these haunting memories.
But they were haunting her before she even recalled them. She fought to try and fill the aching in her heart, but as she regained her memories, the aching only got worse. Her past was so terrible. She was so terrible. The memories were scattered, but she remembered enough to know that she wasn't a good sister. She had a sibling…Serah. She was cursed and Lightning didn't believe her. In fact, she chased her away and lost her forever because of that. She fought to avoid that reality. And now she continued to fight to avoid this one.
She was leading everyone to their deaths. Vaan, Laguna, Tifa, Yuna…Kain. She was the one who suggested going to the Rift and defeating the mannequins. She was prepared to lay down her life for the fight even if she wanted to live. She was so cold and stoic that nobody would miss her once she was gone. This was the fate she deserved for betraying Serah's trust anyway.
Sitting on the rock, she turned around to look at the rest of her sleeping comrades. I'm sorry, she thought silently. I'm sorry for making you forfeit your lives as well.
She glanced down at the flower in her lap, picking it up and running her index finger over the delicate tops of the petals. This item was connected to her past somehow. All that she could remember was rose petals dancing in the air. Fluttering, flowing, landing wherever they were meant to land without any interference. It was beautiful. The only beautiful part of her past that she could remember.
"You need not take guard duty every night, you know."
Lightning actually jumped at the voice since she believed that everyone was asleep. She set down the radiating flower and looked over at the man who interrupted her deep thoughts with an expression of scolding. "I'm fine."
Kain Highwind didn't pay attention to that comment though, not that he ever did. Instead, he sat down on a rock beside her and gazed at her. "I think I'm beginning to understand," he said lowly, careful not to wake their comrades as he spoke to the soldier. "You're upset about something from your past. You're…regaining your memories, aren't you Lightning?"
Grunting, she looked down to the side. "…How'd you guess?" she asked softly.
"The rose," Kain responded as he shifted his gaze to the flower. "The way you hold it and cling to it…It's dear to you." Upon hearing Lightning's silence, he continued. "That, and I've heard a rumor that the more you fight, the more your memories return to you. And you've fought many battles lately. You can't just be secluding yourself because of them; something else is upsetting you. Your past."
Lightning fought a bitter smile as she gazed at the rose in her lap. "…Not bad, Highwind," she finally said. He said earlier that she was indecipherable, but he just read the situation with extreme accuracy. Of course he didn't understand everything, but neither did she. All that she knew was that the past was too much to cope with sometimes. She did have a happy end after everything ended, right? After the curse was lifted? Because she couldn't remember it. She didn't remember where she found the strength to pull through.
Kain moved closer to Lightning, though he wasn't too far away in the first place. "What's so bad about your past that has you sulking, m'lady?" he pondered softly, the endearment making Lightning's heart skip a beat. With such a sincere tone, she felt the need to respond honestly instead of lashing out. Despite Kain's attempt to put her to sleep, she did trust him. With her life and with her heart.
"I don't remember all of it," Lightning responded quietly. "But I remember that I had a sister. She was cursed and I…I didn't believe her when she told me." She looked over at Kain, eyes filled with pain at the memories. "I even threatened her, Kain. Chased her out of the house. And then…She was captured. Because of the curse, she turned to crystal and I lost her. My whole world turned upside down… I couldn't face it. So I fought instead."
"Much like you're doing now," Kain inserted in a whisper.
Lightning shook her head faintly as her pink bangs shifted to cover her eyes a tad more, the cool night air also making the soldier uncomfortable. Kain's comment was right on. "You're doing a good job reading me, considering I'm unreadable," she said quietly.
A small laugh left the man's lips as he shook his head. "It's only simple logic. You fought before to avoid your problems, so you're doing the same now. Even if it means that you're regaining even more painful memories."
"That's partially it," she agreed softly as she looked out the mouth of the cave.
"There's more? I suppose I'm not so skilled with reading you after all."
Lightning smiled faintly before the expression of happiness quickly faded. "I can hardly handle so many battles on my own, for more reasons than one," she confessed in a whisper. "But…This war needs to be fought. I'm already leading everyone to their deaths, so I can manage to fight the most battles and regain more bad memories. Better me than them."
"Such a burden," Kain whispered. Lightning looked over to the side when she felt Kain's breath on her cheek, seeing just how close he was to her. Even if the mask was in the way, she could sense quite a few emotions radiating from him. Concern and care were the top two. But frustration was obviously another, since he then swore under his breath and shook his head. "Why would you take this yoke upon yourself?"
"Look at them," she said softly, glancing over her shoulder at their sleeping companions. "They're so naïve compared to you and I. They're completely unaware of their pasts…And it needs to stay that way. If their pasts are as bad as mine, they don't deserve to remember them. They're too good for that."
"And you're not? You don't deserve the pain…"
She shook her head and looked back down at the flower. "But I do. I betrayed Serah and I'm leading this group of good people to their deaths. It's my fault in the end that they'll-"
"Everyone made their own decision concerning this. They're doing it because they see it as right. But they wouldn't be able to do it on their own. Your courage spurs them on so they can accomplish their own goals." When she didn't respond, Kain spoke again. "Darling, look at me," he said quietly, lifting his hand to her cheek as he gingerly turned her face towards him. She didn't lash out at the name, nor did she smack his hand away from her like she would have done with any other man. "It's because of you we have hope that this cycle will end. You're beautiful inside and out and we're all fortunate to have met you. No matter what your past or future is. Neither will define you."
Lightning shook her head faintly again, though Kain's hand remained on her cheek. "The memories are too much to bear sometimes," she confessed in a whisper. "It's tearing me apart that I'll always lead people to their destruction."
"You'll do no such thing," he said lowly, voice husky in sincerity. "'Lightning' has destructive properties, but you are not destructive towards us. You're the light that guides us."
"Don't lie to me, Kain," Lightning whispered.
Suddenly, his hand came off her cheek. He raised it and tore off his helmet, revealing his handsome face and intense purple eyes. While his long blond hair was different than what Lightning was accustomed to, it was his eyes that drew her in. "I would not lie to you, now or ever," he murmured as he stared directly into Lightning's eyes. "To accuse me of such a thing would be the same as accusing me of not caring for you. And we both know what blasphemy that is."
Her breath was caught in her throat, her eyes locked onto the ones that held her captive in their purple depths. "Kain…"
"Forget your past, Lightning," he said huskily. "Forget all the things that make you suffer and feel free again."
"If there's one thing I remember, it's how to forget," Lightning responded quietly. "But that's not what I need to do. I need to live despite the fears and regrets. Take it all in without running away or blaming myself. It's time to move on."
"Indeed it is," Kain agreed softly. He moved himself closer and gave Lightning a small kiss on the forehead. She accepted the gesture without fighting, her eyes shutting as his lips lingered against her pink strands. Despite not having full memories from her past, she knew that she had never experienced love from another person like this. Love in the form of a simple kiss and a listening ear.
Kain withdrew but then wrapped an arm around Lightning's shoulders as he pulled her closer still. Her head found his shoulder as she gazed out the mouth of the cave to a world that was being lit by the light of a new day. The light that would continue to shine over this world so long as she and her companions completed their goals.
"From now on, let me do the fighting," Kain whispered in Lightning's ear. "You have enough weight on your shoulders. Allow me to ease the return of your memories."
Giving in to such a sincere, heartfelt request was one task that was easy for Lightning to accomplish. "I will," she promised as she gazed at the rising sun. After a brief moment of silence, she spoke again. "And Kain?"
"Yes, my dear?"
"I may remember how to forget, but I'll never forget you."
"Hmph," the dragon warrior hummed with a small smile, pulling his beloved closer as he followed her gaze to the sun. He only had one thing to say to that. The words would remain true so long as they both lived, and he preferred to believe that they would also be accurate long after the two of them escaped this endless cycle of war. He set his cheek on her head and spoke the truest words that ever escaped his lips.
"Nor will I forget you, my Light."