You guys are the best. The amount of support and kind words were most unexpected, but always heartwarming and humbling. Thank you 😊


The next night Lightning led Fang out of her house, down the driveway, to the motorcycle she had borrowed from work. After a short argument ensued about the safety of helmet wearing, Lightning's unrelenting insistence wore down the stubborn brunette, who unhappily took the offered helmet and tucked it under her arm.

"Alright. Can we go now?"

Hiding a smirk, Lightning reached into her bike trunk for the next item in her bag of safety apparel. It would be another argument, most likely. Fang's rough edges, as charming as she found them, included an aversion to anything that was motivated by safety-first in mind.

"Listen, it might get a bit chilly tonight." A light breeze picked up around them, driving her point home. She held up a standard issue leather jacket she received from work and presented it to Fang, who promptly shoved it back in the opposite direction.

"Don't need it."

"Fang…"

"Really. If you see me shivering, then I'll give you wages for a week." Fang crossed her arms and raised her chin, almost daring her to argue. "Thanks, though."

Lightning sighed, hiding her amusement by pinching the bridge of her nose. "It's going to get chilly on the back of the bike. Your shirt isn't going to shield you from the elements—"

"The elements? Ever listen to yourself?" The brunette wrinkled her nose and offered her a lopsided grin. "We're goin' on a date, not into a bloody ice cave. At least, I hope that's not where we're goin'." She tilted her head, green eyes narrowing in suspicion. "Is it?"

Despite herself, Lightning laughed at the serious tone. "No. And stop trying to figure out where we're going. It's a surprise." She pushed the jacket back out again, lifting it by the shoulders. "The sooner you put this on, the sooner we can leave." Fang eyed the jacket wearily. She tried again. "It's just a jacket, and it's not only about the weather, if something happens and we fall, this will help you."

"So, you're worried about me." Fang said it slowly, like tasting a new flavor, deciding if she liked it or not. "Worried if we fall." A slow grin spread across her face, green eyes twinkling under the setting sun. "Don't want me scratching up my pretty skin, huh?"

Lightning smirked at the teasing tone. "Right." Her usual sarcastic response lacked any bite because it was true; she loved Fang's skin.

Fang made a noise, something between a hum and a clicking noise. "Fine, then. You win." She accepted the jacket without another word, much to Lightning's amazement. She had been on the verge of giving up, having come up against the Oerban's stubborn side many, many times.

"Thank you."

She turned back to the trunk to fetch her own jacket. Fang muttered behind her, and Lightning was certain she heard the words Cocoon, dating, and ritual. She ignored them.

Maybe she was overdoing it forcing Fang to wear a helmet, a jacket—forget the gloves, she wouldn't dare push her luck—but this was the one thing she couldn't help: safety precautions. Why take unnecessary risks? Especially when riding in any kind of motor vehicle—

"Tell me, does this mean we're goin' steady, now?"

The playful, lilting voice drew her attention and she paused, half way done zipping her jacket, and turned around to face the brunette. "What are you talking ab—". As her gaze settled on Fang, who flashed her a cocky smile, her question answered itself.

Oh.

How could she have utterly forgotten that the jacket she gave Fang had Claire Farron embroidered along the breast pocket? Her cheeks warmed and her mouth ran dry. "I see." She gave the tall and proud Pulsian a once over, unable to resist the urge. "Ha ha," she managed weakly.

A fluttering in her stomach made her shift her feet. A pressure, big and heavy, settled on her chest, constricted her lungs, and she tore her gaze away from the breast pocket, away from probing green eyes that observed her with hawk-like scrutiny.

"It looks—you look good."

"Thanks." Fang fitted the helmet over her head and slid the visor over her face, but not before winking in a manner Lightning found both thrilling and suggestive. Whatever emotion swelled in her chest that made it impossible to breathe faded away to something familiar.

Long nights in a cold, motel room seemed further and further away, like a lifetime ago. She wanted that with Fang—oh yes, she still wanted that, thought about it, dreamt about it, ached over it, but she liked this too.

"Ready when you are, Light."

She didn't respond, her brain no longer firing on all cylinders. She snatched her own helmet off the handle of the bike and shoved it on her head to hide the redness marching around her neck and ears like an army of red ants. She threw her leg around the bike, turned the ignition switch and revved the clutch.

The smell of gasoline wafted around them. Two strong arms locked against her stomach, long legs brushed against hers. She could feel every contour, every curve of every single inch that was pressed against her back.

Focus.

She sighed and reigned in any distracting thoughts about the woman behind her. "Let's go."

She maneuvered the motorcycle out of the driveway and down the street.

The scenery whizzed by like a reel of film: cars, stores, houses, and people. She went slower than she knew the Pulsian liked, but when they passed the city gates and entered the vastness of Gran Pulse, she sped up, pleased when the woman behind her whooped in joy.

After driving on a long stretch of dirt road, she pulled off the path and maneuvered the bike through thick grasslands and a dense forest, finally stopping at a clearing in front of a lake.

She parked the bike on a patch of dirt, reached into the trunk, and pulled out a small basket and a blanket. Fang lifted herself off the seat and removed the helmet, shaking out her tousled hair.

The Oerban's dark hair fluttered in the wind, the light from the setting sun catching her highlights so that they shimmered, and Lightning fumbled the basket and averted her eyes.

"A picnic?" Fang asked.

The delight in Fang's voice made her stand up straighter. "I thought it'd be nicer than going to a restaurant." She began to walk, basket and blanket in hand, to an old, gnarly tree with massive tendril-like branches. They stopped at the base of the tree, enveloped in a canopy of green and yellow leaves. "I know how much you enjoy being outside." She placed the basket on the grass and laid the blanket out.

Fang plopped down on the ground with a happy sigh, stretching her legs out and leaning on her hands. After taking out a couple of bottled waters, silverware, and containers of food, she sat down on the blanket across from Fang and stretched her legs out, mirroring the other woman's position.

"So, a date? What's all this about?" Fang plucked a blade of grass, twirling it between her fingers. "Don't get me wrong, the gesture is sweet. I'll give ya that." She flicked the blade of grass away and dusted her hands. "But us?"

She'd been waiting for that question—which meant she had a rehearsed answer. "I know you said that I didn't need…" She trailed off, noticing Fang's tense posture, the slight furrow in her brow. It was as if she was waiting to be disappointed, already expecting to be let down.

Fang deserved more than a scripted answer, and so with that, Lightning tossed her carefully planned response out the window and tried again.

"We never had a first date, so here it is. This is how I would have done it." She risked a glance at Fang, expecting a sarcastic response, maybe a glib comment. When none came, she buried her discomfort and pushed on. "I know it's late, given everything we've been through."

"Better late than never." Fang pursed her lips, though she looked more relaxed than before. "You thought about it? Before?"

"I did." She opened the picnic basket and lifted a set of plates, setting it behind them. "I thought you knew that."

Fang glared at her for a long time, took a deep breath, and exhaled loudly, and Lightning got the impression she was spared a long, nasty lecture. Instead, Fang simply shook her head and arched an eyebrow. "Never got that impression from you."

Lightning winced and focused on spooning the warm food onto a plate, chewing her lip and contemplating the last few months—how could Fang know what she herself only realized a few weeks ago?

"You're right," she said, covering the containers of food once she was done filling their plates. "How would you have known? I suppose that's my fault." Her quiet tone breathed conviction, and Fang looked at her with a measure of disbelief. "Really. I mean it."

The words seemed to deflate the brunette, saving them both from another argument. "Not all of it's your fault," Fang responded, accepting her plate of food. "Maybe I could've done a few things differently, myself."

"It doesn't matter. What does matter, is that we're here now." Fang's eyes widened very slightly at the admission, and it annoyed Lightning for a fleeting moment—had she really been that bad? She was trying to be more honest and open.

Fang brought her plate of food up to her nose, inhaling deeply and humming in approval. The gesture quelled her irritation. How many times had she used the woman in front of her, selfishly, brutally, and then kicked her under the rug like a dirty secret?

The shame of her actions overwhelmed her; the force of it almost physical, so much that she glanced away from Fang and stared at the dirt. One day, Fang would forgive her, because it was in her nature to forgive. Beneath all the bravado and cocky confidence was a compassionate woman, who for whatever reason, cared about Lightning and was willing to give her a second chance. But, could Lightning ever forgive herself?

She doubted it.

"Lightning." Fang said her name so softly; she almost didn't answer, believing it was the wind and nothing more.

She raised her eyes from the patch of dirt she'd been studying so intently. "Yes?"

Fang cocked her head to the side, seeming to sense her somber mood. "Did you cook this yourself?" She watched as Fang's fork hovered over one of the stuffed mushrooms on her plate.

She thought the question odd, but answered. "Yes."

"All of it?

"Yes."

"Today?"

"Yes, today."

Fang quirked her head and gingerly poked one of the mushrooms with the fork. She brought it to her mouth and as she chewed, a low, happy groan rumbled out of her throat. The blissful expression on Fang's face left the soldier dumbstruck, and she momentarily forgot one of her mother's cardinal rules:

Don't stare.

Fang brought a bottled water to her lips, watching her over the neck as she took a long sip. "Fine feast you've prepared. How'd you find the time?"

Why Fang insisted on a play-by-play of her day was baffling. "I had everything ready last night." Fang seemed to be hanging on every word, and so she gritted her teeth and continued, certain her cheeks were aflame. "I left work early to cook."

There it was again: surprise. It irked her. Was it so hard to believe she cared enough to plan their date?

"Yes, Fang. I planned the meal, prepped the food, and came home early to cook it for you." The Oerban's mouth hung partially open at her rant, though Lightning thought she looked more charmed than anything else.

Fang's chuckle was musical. "Alright, alright." She patted Lightning's leg and pushed at her shoe playfully. "I'm just winding you up, having some fun. Sorry. This is great, thank you."

They began to eat. Fang dug into her food the way she did most things, with gusto. Lightning picked at her own food, more interested in observing the woman across from her. The chicken breast, slathered in a creamy, wine and butter sauce, earned her glowing praise. She muttered a thank you when she needed, sneaking furtive glances at the Pulsian when she wasn't looking.

Which was perfect.

Lightning mapped every contour of Fang's face as the Oerban spoke between bites; the soldier zoned in and out of the conversation, caught between listening to Fang's exotic voice and watching her delight in the food she had so painstakingly prepared.

When Fang had all but licked her plate clean, Lightning wordlessly presented Fang with her own half-eaten plate of food, ignoring the sheepish look and half-hearted protests.

It didn't take much convincing.

"Sorry. I'm just starving." Fang cut into another piece of chicken, lathered it in the creamy sauce, and brought it to her mouth.

She waved it off. "I had a big lunch. I'm not that hungry." She grabbed another container of food and spooned the rest of the meal onto Fang's plate. "The more you eat, the less I have to take home."

Fang looked satisfied at that.

The bright summer sun, less intense than before, continued its slow descent towards the horizon. Lightning figured they had a few more hours before nightfall. She enjoyed watching Fang eat—she had no idea why. It was baffling. Fang dug into her food with zeal, food she had prepared.

There was something…satisfying…about it.

She puzzled over the thought until the clang of dishes drew her attention back.

"You're a right, proper good cook." Fang set her plate down and leaned back on her arms, a lazy, content smile on her face.

"I've cooked for you before."

"Oh, I know. It's always good. Just surprising."

"Why?"

"Cause you're a warrior, a fighter," Fang explained, propping herself on one of her elbows. She hummed and rubbed her stomach, sighing happily. "We fight. We don't cook."

Lightning bit back a grin. Fang was practically purring. She'd have to start cooking more. "So, because I'm in the Guard, I shouldn't be able to cook well?"

"Yup."

Lightning laughed, thinking the observation absurd. "That doesn't make any sense."

"Sure it does. Can Snow cook like that?" Fang asked.

She snorted. "No. He can barely boil water as it is."

"How about Serah?"

"She's a great cook." Lightning raised an eyebrow. "Serah isn't a warrior, yes, but that still doesn't prove anything."

Fang sat up, undaunted. "What about me? I'm no good at cooking, not like this," she gestured at the pile of empty plates and containers of food. "I'm a warrior."

"Okay. How about Vanille? She cooks, cooks well." Lightning clapped her hands, confident she busted a hole in Fang's unwavering logic. "But she's a warrior, Fang. There's a flaw in your argument."

"Vanille fought because she had no choice. She's a damn good fighter, but not a warrior." Fang shrugged and dipped her head. "Try again."

Lightning thought for a moment. "Fine. Sazh." They'd all eaten at the ex-pilot's house a few times and she remembered being impressed with his culinary skill. "He's a good cook, and I think we can both agree he's a warrior. See?"

"Nope. Sazh is a good cook because he had to take care of Dajh after his missus passed away. Guarantee you he barely cooked before that." Fang grinned, seemingly satisfied she had proved her point. "So? What's your excuse?"

Lightning rubbed her chin as a flood of memories came rushing back. "My mom." She ran her fingers along a patch of grass. "She used to always cook, every night, for me and Sarah before she got sick. After she died, I took over cooking because TV dinners and instant noodles can only take you so far." She heard a sympathetic hum and shrugged, continuing to speak. "Serah learned to cook by watching me, and then she kicked me out of the kitchen." She chuckled at Fang's triumphant smile. "Maybe I see what you're trying to say. Maybe. We develop the skill if we need to."

"Fighters, warriors, we fight. We don't cook. It's rare. Certainly not the way you did for me. Tells me a lot."

She knew what Fang meant. She had agonized every detail of the meal because it was for Fang. It had to be perfect. She was glad to know her efforts weren't wasted. "Thanks," was all she said.

"Why did Serah boot ya out of the kitchen?" Fang asked after a long moment of silence.

"She said I was doing too much." Her happy thoughts took a sour turn. She didn't like talking about the past—not that far back. It usually soured her mood. "Would you like some more food?"

Fang stared at her oddly before responding. "Sorry. Just had a flashback of my old den mother, just now." Fang wagged her finger in the air and thickened her accent. "Ya want some more? Bottomless pit in this one, and lil bit's ta blame. Always feedin' her the scraps."

"Little bit?"

"Vanille," Fang said, with a grin. They both chuckled. "Used to sneak me her leftovers."

She abruptly stopped and punched Fang's shoulder. Not hard, but enough to catch her attention. "I remind you of your den mother?"

"No," Fang said, laughing at the expression on her face. "Far from it. But the fussin', that musta done it."

"Fussing? Oh." She rolled her eyes. "You mean my table manners? Etiquette?"

Fang took a sip of her water, eyes shining in mirth. "Fussin'."

"Next time, I'll leave the silverware at home. Then you can use your bare hands, 'gran pulse style'." She quoted the expression with her fingers. "Don't worry. We'll civilize the savage in you soon enough." She patted Fang's thigh, delighting in the outrage on her face. "I live to make the impossible possible, remember?"

"I'm gonna pretend I didn't hear that. I'm a Yun. Hunt and gather, and I know just enough to keep my mouth closed when I chew."

She nodded in mock gravity. "There's still time."


After dinner, they took a stroll around the lake, finally stopping back at their tree. Fang seemed to be mulling something over, and she waited for the Oerban to say whatever was on her mind.

"So Serah...you told her? About..."

"About us? Well, she already knew." She tugged on a piece of loose bark, crushing it between her fingers. "Did you know that she knew?" She thought back to the night at the bar, how mouthy Serah had been. She'd been trying to protect Fang, and she was grateful to her sister for it.

"I did. But I never told her."

Lightning nodded, grimacing at the memory. "Well, we had a brief discussion about it."

"What'd she say?" Fang grabbed onto a low branch and pulled, grunting when it stretched her arm.

She glanced away and smiled. "'Please don't have sex in my bathroom again. There's only so much bleach in the world.'"

Fang's soft laugh was a gentle rumble that gave her pause; she was back in the bathroom, and Fang was on the sink, clutching her, coming undone. Vulnerable, but beautiful.

"You're thinkin' about it, aren't you?"

She cleared her throat. "No...Yes. I was. Not something I'm likely to forget."

Silence again, and Lightning reluctantly realized their first date was ending. She didn't want it to end yet; maybe she'd suggest they go back to the bar, or go see a movie. Something cliché, no doubt, but at least it would extend their time together. She locked eyes with Fang, and was glad to know the Oerban shared the sentiment.

Fang, as random as ever, softly whispered the words "Gran pulse style," earning her a confused look.

"What?"

"How about a swim?"

"A swim?" Lightning surveyed the quiet lake. "We don't have," she motioned to their clothes. "We don't have anything to wear."

"Gran Pulse Style." Fang crossed her arms and lifted the hem of her shirt, exposing her abdomen.

"What?" She swallowed a heavy lump, assaulted by the tantalizing image of Fang's toned midriff, and then remembered they were out in a public place. She grabbed Fang's hands before she could lift her shirt any higher.

"There's no one here, Light." Fang laughed. "Just us. We're out in the middle of nowhere."

"But...we just ate." She turned her head, hating the flush she could feel spreading through her skin. "You shouldn't swim after a meal."

"Hogwash I say. I've swam plenty times after a hearty meal. What's the matter? Scared of the lake?"

She bristled. "No. I'm not afraid. Just...what are we supposed to wear?"

"Gran Pulse Style," Fang repeated, like it was the most obvious thing in the world. "Absolutely nothing."

Lightning palmed her forehead, the sensation of her stomach dropping and her heart spiking was nauseating. Fang lifted her black shirt in one smooth motion off her back and dropped it to the ground.

"Fang..." She bent down and snatched the shirt up, coiled it in her hand, and fought the urge to roll it up and squeeze the Oerban's head through the neck of it. Well, at least she's wearing a sports bra.

"So possessive. I'm not even topless," Fang complained, shooing her hands away. "Honestly, never pegged you for the jealous type."

"Well, what if someone sees you?"

"Who? There's no one here!" Fang's hands dropped to the button of her tight jeans. She flicked it open and pulled the zipper down.

"Okay. Right." She followed the Oerban's hand as the zipper pulled down, feeling light headed when the jeans began to shimmy off her hips. "Fine." She bit her lip when Fang bent and wiggled her hips, sliding the jeans off, an inch at a time. "Do you have to be so...enthusiastic?" she complained.

"It's rude to stare." Fang straightened her back, seemingly unperturbed by the fact that her pants were around her knees. "C'mon. Let loose, it'll be fun. Been ages since I've been out here. Vanille would do it if she were here."

"Fang...Please." She massaged her temples, unsure of how to feel about the image of Fang and Vanille frolicking in the lake, buck-naked. Fang's jeans finally reached her ankles, and the Oerban kicked them off. They sailed through the air to land somewhere behind them.

Fang stood straight with her hands on her hips, a silly grin planted on her face. Lightning gave up trying to not gawk. "You have no shame." She shook her head, admiring the Oerban's body, from her dainty feet all the way up to her eyes, and the long, joyous journey back down. "None." She sighed the words.

"Why should I be ashamed? I grew up like this, you should take notes. It's uplifting to be free spirited." When she didn't answer, because she couldn't find a suitable one, Fang shrugged and grabbed the hem of her shirt, tugging her closer. "Come on."

"Excuse me? Hang on." She grabbed Fang's hands before she could lift her shirt any higher. "What are you doing?"

"I'm not swimming alone." Fang flashed her a saucy smile. "Don't be shy."

The teasing words gave her pause, recognition prickling at the nape of her neck: 'Don't be shy. Let's have a look'. Her eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Why is it, every time you say that, you're always trying to peek under my shirt?"

Fang chuckled and stepped away, raising her hands in mock surrender. "I always have your best interest at heart. Trust me. Besides, it's nothing I haven't seen, so what's the big deal?"

"I've never really done anything like this before," she admitted.

"Not surprising. All that fast growin' up and you've never done something as tame as this."

"I never had time."

"You have time now. All the time in the world." Fang waited, and when she didn't answer, the Oerban sighed, looking mildly disappointed. "Ah well. We'll just have to go back to the bar, and I'll swim on the beach with Vanille."

She grumbled at the image of Fang swimming on the beach in nothing but her underwear, while everyone in the bar watched. "Okay, okay. Fine. This isn't playing fair at all."

She lifted her shirt over her head and folded it, placing it on a patch of grass. After kicking off her shoes and removing the rest of her clothes, she folded and placed them in a neat pile. Finally, she stood next to Fang, clad in only her panties and a bra.

"There. Are you happy?"

Fang stepped away from her and whistled. "Very happy. Thank you, Light. Although," the Oerban tucked a finger under Lightning's bra strap, tugging the thin material. "This here. Making me unhappy."

She removed Fang's finger from under the strap, stepped away, and huffed in annoyance. "This isn't coming off. Yours isn't off."

"You're right. Fair play." Fang reached behind her back and the bra straps loosened against her olive skin. "Off it is then."

Lightning's eyes widened and she whirled around. She heard the rustling of fabric, and then a soft plop when a bra landed on her head. A second later, a lighter fabric landed on her shoulder. The ground tilted under her feet as she lifted the black panties off her shoulder.

"You're trying to kill me." She heard soft laughter behind her, so close, the hair on the back of her neck rose, giving her a chill.

"How many times have you seen me naked?" Fang asked, low and playful in her ear. A hand ghosted along her bare shoulder, tapping her, one-two-three.

She closed her eyes and counted. "I—I don't remember. It's been awhile."

"C'mon then, turn around. Y'know you want to." Fang snickered behind her.

"I think you're enjoying this too much."

"The only reason this is a big deal is because ya made it one. Now I see fit to torture you."

She sighed and continued to stare at the grass, the trees, the mountains. Anything. She clenched her jaw, desperately wanting to turn around, but not trusting what she might do if she did.

"Suit yourself. I'm goin swimmin'."

She heard a loud splash a second later and she finally turned her head, smiling when she saw Fang wading in the lake, cheering loudly. "Water is great. You're missin' out."

Lightning wiped her palms against her legs, startled by the onset of nervousness. She walked to the edge of the lake, letting the water wash across her bare feet. The water was warm from the long summer days—it was the perfect temperature.

Fang watched her fondly. "I told ya, it's great."

"Okay. Turn around." She frowned when Fang gaped at her. "I'm serious. Turn around so I can get in."

Fang splashed her, soaking her calves and knees. "I don't get a show?"

"Some other time." She kicked her foot out, splashing the Oerban in the face. "If you want me to join you… "

Fang rolled her eyes and turned around, not hiding her displeasure. "Of all the times to be shy."

"I'm not shy," she grumbled, swiftly unclasping her bra. She tossed it over her shoulders and slid her panties off, kicking them behind her. There was no way she was going to take the time to fold her undergarments and place them in her pile of clothes.

"I'm turning around," Fang said, holding her hands in the air. "Better get in. Here I go. "

She growled and ran into the lake, diving in the rest of the way. The murky water obscured most of her vision, but she could just about make out the faint outline of legs kicking. She grabbed Fang's ankle and yanked her down, using the Oerban's weight as leverage to pull herself up.

Fang surfaced a few seconds later and she chuckled at the outrage on the Oerban's face. "That's how it's gonna be, huh?"

She flicked a stream of water at Fang, catching her in the face and hair. "Yes."

Fang's eyes narrowed and then she ducked under water, disappearing. Lightning chuckled and dove under after her, unsure of what Fang had planned as revenge, but knowing she'd give as good as she got.

She decided Fang was definitely right—there was absolutely nothing wrong with a bit of spontaneity.