Disclaimer: Final Fantasy XIII is not mine. Again, this is sad, because I want a Lightning. I also don't own the song "Hurricane" or any of the lyrics therein; these belong to 30 Seconds to Mars. It's an absolutely fantastic song, so give it a listen if you haven't already.

A/N: Long oneshot is looooong. It wasn't meant to be, but it kinda mutated along the way, and who doesn't want more Farron family angst? Well, I'm not altogether certain how much of their backstory/childhood is actually addressed in the game, as I haven't, uh, beaten it yet (ahahaha...), so if there are inaccuracies or something, I do apologize. Also, this fic is split into different sections by the lyrics, which kind of act like mini-chapter headings, and then there are sometimes more sections within those, so try not to get too confused by all the line breaks.

A/N the second: As it says in the summary, this is all set pre-game, except one part, which takes place on Day 12. As always, if you make it to the end and decide that you like it, please review!

A/N the third: Because this needed to be longer (ahaha), I added another section right near the end at the advisement of Anonymous Reader, whom I really wish weren't anonymous, so I could somehow let them know...ah well. It does improve the story, so thank you, whoever you are, and if you come across this again, I hope you agree.


(the promises we made were not enough)

One of Cocoon's rare storms unleashed its wrath on the seaside town below, dumping rain onto the rooftops and pounding against the windows of slumbering Bodhum. Lightning cut across the dark, angry clouds and was always followed by the sky-rending crack of thunder, and following that were the faint howls of feral beasts in the outlying regions.

In a certain house, a small, pink-haired girl burrowed further into her covers and whimpered, "Claire, I'm scared."

Across the room, seated on the edge of her own bed in a position of rapt interest rather than fear, Claire glanced away from the window to view the bundle of blankets that was her six-year-old sister. "Of what?" she asked. "The monsters?"

"No, not the monsters," Serah protested, although she was forced to concede, "well, yeah, but mostly the lightning."

"The lightning?" her older sibling echoed, brow wrinkling in honest puzzlement as she looked up at the tormented clouds again. "Why?"

"I dunno," she said with a child's simple, instinctive logic. "It's just scary."

Claire frowned. She'd always liked lightning personally and felt that the Cocoon fal'Cie should allow more storms, since the lightning looked so pretty as it flashed jaggedly across the sky, and she even liked the thunder because it made it sound as if the lightning had done a good job, like some sort of celestial applause.

At length, she opined, "You shouldn't be afraid of the lightning. It protects us."

The younger Farron peeked out from underneath the rumpled bedclothes. "What?" she asked, curiosity overwhelming her fright.

The elder motioned vaguely at the window, at the world beyond its panes. "Listen to the monsters: they're howling because they're scared of the storm, too. The lightning will keep them well away from Bodhum tonight, and not even the Guardian Corps can do that."

Serah considered this. "You really think so?" she wondered, although she still cringed as the room was briefly illuminated and the rolling thunder shook the walls.

Claire crossed the room and sat on the edge of Serah's mattress, instead, and gathered her bundled sister under one arm. "Yeah, I do," she said softly. "Tell you what, li'l sis—if it helps, whenever it storms, pretend I'm the lightning, okay?"

The small girl blinked. "Pretend you're lightning?"

Claire hummed an affirmation.

Serah frowned. "But lightning's scary, and you're not scary. I like you."

She grinned, the expression there and gone. "It might be scary, but only because it's so strong and fast. Don't you think I'm strong and fast, too?"

Her sister gazed up at her with adoring eyes, which testified without any words just how much the younger Farron thought of the elder: the entire world and then some. "'Course I do. You can do anything," she declared confidently.

Again, there was a sliver of a smile on Claire's young face. "Right. And so remember how I said the monsters were afraid of lightning? Well, I didn't just mean the ones out in the wild country; I meant the ones in here, too, like the ones you're afraid of in the closet and under the bed and in the dark. I always check those places for you, don't I? But see, when the lightning flashes, it brightens up all those places, too, and it also makes the monsters go away."

Serah's face lit up, and not just from the electric afterglow. "Wow, really? It can do that? I thought only you could do that."

Claire tapped her sister's small nose. "Well, I'm the lightning, remember? Whenever it flashes, that's just me checking up on you and making sure you're still safe. It's nothing to be scared of at all."

"Oh," she said, her eyes rounding, and she giggled. "I wish it could storm every night!"

"Even if it doesn't, I'll still be here," Claire assured her, and she got to her feet. "You okay to sleep now?"

The little girl bobbed her head and found her pillow again, curling up against it like a cat. She was quiet for a long time, and her sister had assumed she'd fallen asleep despite the unrelenting storm, but ultimately that wasn't the case.

"Hey, Claire?"

An electrical flash reflected in pale blue eyes, and the older girl looked away from her renewed vantage at the window to regard her sister once more. "Yeah?"

"You'll save me, right? From all the monsters?"

Claire's expression softened as she looked at her younger sister, who was still peeking out from the blankets as if the fluffy material were a shield and still watching her as if she had all the answers.

"Always, Serah," she promised. "Nothing will ever hurt you."

(no matter how many breaths that you took,

you still couldn't breathe)

There was another storm gathering on the horizon six years later, and Claire once again stared out a window at the dark, curling clouds that tarnished the afternoon sky, but her gaze was more distant than even that.

The house was empty, painfully so, hollow and lifeless and silent.

Normally Serah would be babbling cheerfully on about something, but not today. Not after yesterday. Maybe never again.

Claire's jaw tightened as her hands balled into angry, impotent fists. No, her sister would smile again, even if their mother were dead. She would make sure of it.

That flash of resolve flickered into curious wariness, though, as she saw something else through the window: two men in dark suits were approaching, one of them carrying a briefcase. She watched them come all the way to the door, and only after they rang the bell did she dare answer. Secretly, she had hoped they would turn back, but now it seemed that luck had failed her.

She pulled open the door and regarded them with suspicion. "Yes?"

The shorter of the two men focused on her. "Are you Claire Farron?"

"Yes," she repeated, and she glanced between them. "Who are you?"

"I'm Tyus, and this is Finch," the short one explained. "We're from the Bodhum branch of the Sanctum's Family Services Department. May we come in?"

Ice water trickled down her back, and Claire stiffened, her fingers tightening on the doorknob so much that her knuckles bleached from the strain. Her blood pounded in her ears, deafening her, and she couldn't believe this were happening, couldn't believe that they wanted to—

"Claire? What's going on?"

Serah's timid voice drifted through the thick fog of her thoughts, and Claire managed to drag herself back into the present. She looked over her shoulder at her sister, who stood in the foyer with wide, frightened eyes and an air of undeniable fragility. The anger flashed back, rising in her throat, but she swallowed it even though it was so potent it nearly choked her.

"Nothing really," she lied with effort. "How about you check on your garden? You want to make sure it's okay before the storm hits."

Serah's gaze shifted to the two men and then back to her sister. "A-Alright…"

"Go on," Claire said, forcing lightness into her voice and a flickering smile onto her face. "Everything will be fine here, I promise."

The younger Farron remained uncertain and hesitant a moment longer, but she managed to nod. She slipped outside past the men, glancing back once before continuing on to her garden.

Claire finally stepped back from the door, even if her movements were reluctant and mechanical. "Come in, then," she said, making sure it didn't sound like too much of an invitation.

Tyus and Finch crossed the threshold and followed the girl into the kitchen, where they sat themselves at the table and opened the briefcase. Tyus shuffled some papers and, considering them in order, raised his eyes to hers—she had remained standing. She didn't want to sit with these men at her parent's kitchen table as if they were all old friends and she wanted them to be here.

"First of all, we'd like to offer our condolences for the loss of your mother," he said.

Claire paused. She hadn't been expecting that, but since it didn't make anything better, she brushed it aside. "Just cut to the chase, would you?" she said, doing her damnedest to stomp the quaver from her tone and not entirely succeeding. "Why are you here? Just tell me."

Tyus glanced aside at his partner before he sighed and laced his fingers together. "You seem like a bright girl, Miss Farron, so I'll be straight with you. Your new status as an orphan makes you a ward of the state, and it is now our responsibility to take care of you and your sister."

She grit her teeth and tried to keep the tears from welling up in her eyes. "I don't need you to take care of me," she nearly snarled. "And I can take care of my sister! I know what this is about, and you will not take her away from me!"

She pounded her fist into the table, and the reverberations upset the neatly stacked papers.

Tyus straightened them again, seemingly unruffled by her fury; he'd doubtlessly faced similar wrath before. "The law is clear," he said levelly. "Neither you nor your sister is a legal adult, and neither of you now possesses a parent or guardian. We will find homes for the both of you, and once you turn eight—"

"No!" she yelled, tears streaming freely down her cheeks now, the fair skin flushing with rage. "She's my sister! I promised her I'd always protect her, and I will! You will not take her away and force her to be raised by strangers who don't give a crap about her happiness!"

"Miss Farron, please sit—"

"No!" she echoed, and she jabbed a shaking finger in Tyus' face. "The only way Serah is leaving this house is either at my side or over my dead body!"

Finch, surprisingly, interceded, placing a hand on his partner's shoulder to hold him down and raising the other peacefully in Claire's direction. "Miss Farron, wait. Things do not need to get so…absolute. The law is clear, yes, but there are…" and here he waggled his hand, "loopholes, shall we say."

"What're you doing?" Tyus muttered under his breath.

"We're here to protect families," Finch said, equally quietly, "not tear them apart. I think this girl is more than capable to undergo this route, don't you?"

Tyus resisted a moment longer, but then he slumped back in his chair. "Whatever you think's best. Dig your own grave."

The taller man seemed to ignore that last statement, as he turned his attention exclusively to Claire. She was still breathing hard but no longer was certain what to be angry at.

"Miss Farron, like I said, there is a loophole, but there are many, many strings attached to it, many provisions you must fulfill for it to be possible. It will allow you to become your sister's legal guardian, but you must understand that it will be far from easy."

Claire nodded slowly, determination hardening her eyes. "Whatever it takes," she declared.

"Alrighty then," Finch said, sifting through the paperwork. "There are two major obstacles in your way: work and school. You must complete your education, and you must also be able to financially provide for not only your sister's schooling but also everything else: food, shelter, medical, those sorts of things. However, like my partner said, you seem like a bright girl, and as you did just turn sixteen," he said, glancing down at a form, "you might well be able to test out of further education immediately, since you were already taking courses advanced beyond your grade. We can arrange such a test for you, which would then allow you to legally bypass attending further classes come the new year."

She studied him, and at length she nodded again. "I will take the test," she agreed. "And the other provision?"

Finch folded his hands on the table and looked at her squarely. "You will need to find a job, and you will need to find one before the month is out. That not only means you need to get hired, but you also need to have proof of your employment to give us, for example, your first paycheck. This requires you to not only be hired but also with enough time to spare. If it takes you longer than two weeks to be hired, you see, you will not make the cutoff."

She didn't seem deterred. "Anything else?"

"No," he admitted. "But by becoming your own guardian, you forfeit any support the state may offer you if you encounter any future problems. We will liaise with you periodically, and if at any time we judge you unfit to care for your sister, she will be removed from your custody, and that will be a final and unchallengeable decision. Is that clear, Miss Farron?"

"Perfectly." Claire tried not to get her hopes up too high, as the road ahead would be pitted with holes and otherwise full of obstacles. But she would get to remain with her sister, and that would always be enough for her. She needed nothing else to live.

Finch spread out the appropriate paperwork on the table, pointing to the parts Claire had to fill out and sign, and then just like that they were swept back into the briefcase, and the two men were rising to their feet. She shook their proffered hands, if only because it was polite, and showed them to the door. Once they'd disappeared down the walk, she slumped against the jamb as the emotional strain suddenly exacted its toll, and it was then that Serah crept back into view.

"Sis? Is everything alright? I thought I heard yelling…wait, your eyes are all bloodshot. Why're you crying? What did they do?" she demanded, a streak of righteous anger there and gone.

Claire shook her head. "Nothing, Serah. It's all going to be okay, I promise you that. I'll make sure of it."

Serah frowned faintly, not privy to all the details and consequently somewhat confused, but she nodded in the end.

She trusted her sister.

"Come here, would you?" Claire asked, her voice distant and hoarse.

Serah obeyed, only to be gathered in an unexpected embrace. Her older sibling had never been the most physically affectionate of people, but it didn't take long for Serah to realize this wasn't a hug prompted by sisterly love: Claire's arms were too tight, her fingers digging in too deep.

Almost as if she were terrified that Serah would disappear should she let go.

"I'm here, Claire," she reminded her, feeling that vocalization might be necessary. "I'm not going anywhere."

The elder Farron bowed her head into the younger's soft pink hair and exhaled a sigh, some of the rigid tension finally melting from her body, but she did not yet release her hold.

"No," she mumbled, "you're not going anywhere."

(no matter how many lies that i live

i will never regret)

"No luck today, either?" Serah asked as she handed her exhausted sister a glass of lemonade.

Claire accepted the drink listlessly, still sprawled on the couch, and shook her head. It seemed that Bodhum just didn't want to employ a sixteen-year-old girl with unremarkable social skills. She supposed she shouldn't have been surprised—this was a resort town, after all, which prided itself on bending over backwards to satisfy the every whim of demanding strangers, and while Claire had a few opinions and some colorful choice words about that degree of customer service, maybe she would have to succumb to it.

She didn't want to, didn't want to sacrifice her pride and her dignity: they were all she had left. But it that were the only way to keep Serah…

Well, she would sacrifice anything, wouldn't she?

Up to and including her own life.

"You'll find one," her younger sister was saying, undisturbed by Claire's lethargic despair but only because she failed to understand the true cause: she simply believed that Claire was doing this for the money. She did not realize that the last two members of the Farron family would be torn asunder if Claire were unsuccessful.

At this point, though, she didn't believe that Claire could be unsuccessful, either.

A bubble of laughter escaped Serah as a memory surfaced. "I mean, you're the lightning, right? If you can chase all the monsters away, you can do anything!"

Claire was halfway through another automatic nod when those words struck something inside her, and she sat bolt upright on the couch. "Wait, what?"

The younger girl recovered from her surprise at the elder's sudden animation, but she managed to repeat, "You're the lightning, remember? I've never been afraid of thunderstorms since, I'll let you know," she added with another soft laugh.

Claire's eyes focused on something far away. "I'm the lightning?" she breathed, her thoughts racing to connect the last few dots and achieve comprehension. I chase all the monsters away…

"That's what you told me…" Serah agreed hesitantly, and her forehead wrinkled as she watched her sister leap up and sling her bag back over her shoulder. "Wait, Claire, where're you going?"

"I'll be right back!" she yelled, already racing for the front door.

It shut again rather loudly behind her, and Serah scratched the back of her neck. "Geez, what's that about?"

Claire's breathing was fast in her chest by the time she arrived at the Guardian Corps/Bodhum Security Regiment Headquarters, a small recruiting office on the far side of town. Even at this point she knew the Corps' true headquarters was the airship Lindblum, but the Corps needed some checkpoints along the way. She waited half a minute for her heart rate to slow and her composure to return, and then she walked in the entrance and right up to the desk.

A heavy-set man occupied the desk's chair, and he looked like a fellow that had once been incredibly muscular but lately had been slacking on his upkeep. Nevertheless, he was imposingly large, especially to the stick-thin Claire, but she kept her head high and shoulders square.

He glanced up. "Can I help you, miss?"

She looked at the little sign on his desk. "Yes, Sergeant Amodar. I'd like to join up."

He snorted, assuming this was a grand joke, but when she continued staring at him with unamused eyes, he coughed and arched a brow. "You're…surely you're not serious."

"I'm very serious, sir," she replied, glaring a little. "Surely you don't treat all potential recruits this way."

Amodar blinked at that, and then he chuckled. "Proper little spitfire, aren't you? I have to say I like your style." He shook his head and leaned back in his chair. "How old are you, miss?"

Aware that lying would do her no good, she replied honestly, "Sixteen, sir."

"Sixteen?" he blurted. "That's not even the legal age!"

"But I am my own legal guardian," she replied, unflustered, and she dug in her pack for the corresponding form, which she handed over. She didn't want to make a play for pity, but this was her last chance, so she reluctantly added, "If you note at the bottom, sir, acquiring a means of support is the only way I can keep custody of my little sister; otherwise, I lose her to the foster system."

"Means of support, huh," he echoed, but his voice was quiet and gruff, his eyes troubled. "That's rough, miss. That's incredibly rough."

"I know my age is a deterrent," Claire said, keeping her own voice as level as possible. "I know that my size and stature inspire no immediate confidence, either. But I need to protect my little sister, and if the only way I can do that is to protect all of Bodhum, then that is exactly what I will do."

Amodar studied her for a long moment, and then he asked, "How old is your sister?"

"Twelve. Well, she'll be thirteen next month, but twelve for now," Claire replied. "Her name's Serah."

He nodded, slight bobs of his head. "I've got a niece who just turned four," he offered, sounding somehow wistful as he added, "My little sister's kid."

The pink-haired girl waited patiently, uncertain what to do with that information.

Eventually, he exhaled a gusty sigh and placed his hands flat on his desk. "What to do with you," he murmured, apparently to himself, as he proceeded to dig in one of his drawers without offering any explanation. He pulled out a form—and how Claire was beginning to loathe filling these things out—and clicked on a pen. "What's your name, Soldier Girl?"

Claire opened her mouth, hesitated, considered, and said, "Lightning. Lightning Farron."

"Lightning?" Amodar repeated, looking up. "As in the electrical stuff from storms?"

"Yes, sir."

"That can't be your real name," he pressed.

"It is if you write it down," she responded frankly. She knew the power of Paperwork.

He tilted his head to the side. "I really do like your style. Enough to humor you on this if you just tell me why."

She paused, giving it some genuine thought, and finally said, "I know that lightning can't protect in the traditional sense. I know that it only destroys. But it's quick and precise and causes no collateral damage: it always hits what it aims for, in other words. That's what a soldier should be, right? That's what the Guardian Corps should be."

He let out a low whistle. "Now that's what I call a compelling argument. Alright, Lightning Farron, I'll let you join up. I doubt that my telling you about the rigors of this job would faze you, so I won't even bother trying to talk you out of it. As long as you complete basic training, you're good to go, really. How's that sound?"

She nodded. "Whatever it takes, sir."

He slid the forms across the desk, and Lightning signed the bottoms and slid them back.

Amodar shuffled them into a file. "I'll send this up to HQ today so that you'll be able to start the BT tomorrow. Report here at seven-hundred sharp, alright?"

"Yes, sir," she acknowledged, and she bent her right arm across her chest, the hand near her heart and the limb level.

He chuckled again. "And she even knows how to salute. Y'know, I think you'll be fine, Farron."

"Thank you, sir," Lightning replied. You've no idea how much.

Serah looked up from the couch when her sister walked in the door. "You're home! What was that all about, anyway?"

The elder paused with her back to the younger, her fingers still loosely cradling the knob. "I got a job," she allowed.

Serah leapt to her feet and clapped her hands. "Oh, Claire, that's wonder—"

"It's Guardian Corps."

Her hands faltered an inch apart, and she slowly lowered them to her sides. Her sibling still hadn't moved away from the door. "You—you're—I…but that's so dangerous," she finally managed to whisper. "All those monsters…you realize you'll actually have to fight them, right? It's not some game."

"No, it's not. It hasn't been since Mom died," Lightning replied hollowly, and she managed to pry her fingers from the knob. "I signed up under 'Lightning', by the way."

Serah shifted her weight uncertainly. "That's why you got this crazy idea, isn't it," she said, resigned. "From what I said earlier…"

She nodded.

"Well, maybe it'll be a good luck charm," Serah continued, determined to be optimistic. "I mean, if the monsters are scared of real lightning, maybe they'll be scared of you, too."

"That would be nice," the new recruit said to the door.

The younger Farron swallowed. "So, uh…"

"I report for basic training tomorrow," Lightning answered, anticipating the question.

She nodded. "Oh, okay. Um…well, congratulations anyway. On finding a job and all. I mean, it must be a relief…"

Lightning finally turned around and walked away from the door, and she settled her hands on her sister's slim shoulders. "It really is," she agreed, squeezing briefly before letting go. "Let's get some dinner, alright? I kind of feel like celebrating."

Serah forced a smile, and as her sister headed towards her room, she called after her, "Hey…do I call you Lightning now, too?"

She stopped and said, without quite glancing over her shoulder, "You can call me whatever you like, Serah."

The younger girl's smile because more genuine. "I like Lightning."

Invisibly to her sister, Lightning smiled, too.

(there is a fire inside and it started a riot

about to explode into flame)

Upon completion of basic training, Private Lightning Farron received her uniform and gunblade, and she wore it for the first time before the graduation ceremony and studied herself in the mirror. The Corps was lucky that she had already reached her full height, so she wouldn't need to get a different uniform following any inconvenient growth spurts.

Although, she thought with an inward sigh as she glanced down at her chest, some growth spurts would not be considered so inconvenient. Even at sixteen, she was still built mostly like a boy, and while she knew that womanly curves would probably only be annoying on the battlefield, nevertheless…

"I'm a soldier now," she told her reflection sternly. "That stuff doesn't matter. I'm a soldier."


She glared at her reflection now, which sported the same faint blush across its cheeks. "Ugh! I'm hopeless," she grumbled, and she stalked away from the mirror.

Following the ceremony's conclusion, Serah stood next to her sister and gazed around the Lindblum's vast interior with fascinated eyes. "This place is amazing," she admitted, having somewhat come to terms with her sister's dangerous career choice over the past two weeks. She hadn't come to terms with it entirely, but that was because she could still see the only halfway healed cuts and bruises on Lightning's bare skin, could still see the exhaustion, both mental and physical, that lingered in her ice blue eyes.

Lightning hadn't talked about any of it, of course. She had just come home in the evening with fresh wounds and doctored them herself in the bathroom, and then once she'd come home from the store with a supply of painkillers which had steadily dwindled. Serah had stayed quietly out of her way, not wanting to make her sister feel bad for doing her best to make everything better.

Besides, Serah knew the worst was yet to come. Lightning had only been in training up until now. Now she would be in the field, fighting actual battles and killing actual enemies. It made Serah's stomach a little sick to imagine her sister killing anything, even feral beasts. She'd always been a gentle person. It was hard to picture her dealing death.

"Oh, here comes my commanding officer, Sergeant Amodar," Lightning said out of the side of her mouth, dragging Serah from her distressed thoughts. She looked up in time to see the large man approach with a broad grin on his face, and he clapped Lightning on the shoulder, right on her new neon-striped pauldron.

"Well, looks like Soldier Girl made it through after all!" he declared brightly. "I knew you were made of tough stuff and, by the way," he said, lowering his voice, "thanks for not making my gamble on you come back to haunt me and all. The captain would have had my ass for that one."

"Sir," Lightning said, thrown off as usual by his gregarious manner and reverting to the safety of noncommittal replies.

His eyes traveled towards the shorter pink-haired girl, and his grin widened, if that were all possible without the top of his head coming off. "You must be the famous Serah!" he said, and he stuck out a hand. "Lightning's told me all about you!"

Serah accepted the hand but not the words. "Somehow I doubt that," she replied wryly. "Light's not the type to run on at the mouth."

He laughed. "True enough! But it's nice to finally meet you. And some bragging doesn't need words, eh, Farron?"

Lightning frowned, her brow quirked. "I suppose not, sir," she conceded, again not entirely certain what she was conceding to. She glanced away and caught sight of something she did not wish to see but had halfway expected to encounter: a tall man in a dark suit holding a briefcase.

"If you would excuse me for a moment, sir," she told her superior, and she slipped away, leaving her sister with him.

The sergeant cocked his head as he observed Lightning engage the man in conversation, as he witnessed her sign yet another form, and he knew exactly who that man was. He was distracted from his internal musings, though, by his subordinate's sister.

"Um, Sergeant Amodar?"

He returned his attention to the younger Farron. "Yes?"

Serah wrung her hands nervously, aware that Lightning might take notice of this unwanted intervention at any second, and blurted, "Just watch out for her, okay? She's strong and tough, but…that's not the same as invincible, you know?"

Amodar placed a hand over his heart in the manner of those making solemn promises. "I know, kiddo. I'll keep an eye on her, as much as she'll let me, that is."

Relief flooded her system. "Thank you," she breathed. "Really…thank you."

"Serah?" Lightning called and, not one to yell across rooms, opted to jog over. "C'mon, we've got to get going." She paused, aware of the shift in atmosphere since she'd left, and asked, "Is everything alright, sir?"

"Everything's fine, Farron," Amodar dismissed with an easy smile. "Just having a chat."

Lightning accepted that without suspicion and brushed her fingers against Serah's arm in a summoning sort of gesture, as she was already walking away again. "C'mon, Serah, we don't want to miss the transport back to Bodhum. Goodbye, Sergeant."

"See you when you get back," he replied. "Enjoy those few days' leave now."

Lightning saluted but fell back into step beside her sister, and their pink-haired heads disappeared into the general bustle of the post-ceremony crowd.

Amodar ran a hand back through his short hair and sighed. "Just a pair of kids," he murmured to himself, his expression caught somewhere between sympathetic and angry. "They don't deserve such a harsh fate."

(tell me, would you kill to save a life?)

"You're doing well, Farron."

Lightning glanced back at her sergeant, as she had taken point on this patrol. "We're just walking, sir," she pointed out, not comprehending how she had done anything particularly laudable.

Amodar chuckled. "You're a sharp one, aren't ya? Sometimes I like to encourage the rookies, Farron; humor me, please."

She studied him briefly, the sunset turning her hair and eyes into fire, but then acquiesced with her now-typical, "Sir," and continued walking, her right hand kept low and near her gunblade's hilt, her watchful gaze darting around the rugged countryside.

"Now," he remarked, not deterred by his comrade's taciturn manner, "this is your first patrol outside Bodhum. When we're in the city, things are pretty quiet, as you saw. It's a resort town and all; outside of a few rowdy drunks, not much really happens."

"But there're monsters out here," Lightning concluded for him.

Amodar checked his automatic weapon in a reflexive way. "Monsters, yes, but some bandits, too. Wild folk who don't like living as Sanctum citizens, some rogue l'Cie. Not many of the latter, I'll grant you; it's mostly feral beasts, but you've got to be prepared for all ends. We're not some sort of animal rangers; we're soldiers, Farron. That means at some time or another, you're going to end up killing another human being."

Lightning paused again, sensing that her commander wanted to have a serious discussion, and since she wasn't insubordinate, she would listen. "Yes, sir," she acknowledged.

He regarded her back. "Think you've got the stones to do that, hm?"

"Not anatomically, sir, no," she replied. "However, I do believe I possess the capability."

Just pretend they're Serah, she reminded herself. Whoever's being threatened, pretend they're Serah. It can't be hard to pull the trigger or swing the sword if I believe that to be true.

Amodar snorted at her correction. "You're somethin' else, Farron, you really are."


He shook his head, his grin fading. "Keep moving. We've got a ways to go before we make camp for the night."

They continued on long after the sun had drowned beyond the ocean's horizon, Amodar occasionally imparting advice or general patrol knowledge and Lightning confirming it all with her bare-minimum communication. When they did pause atop a handy bluff that commanded a view of nearly all the surrounding countryside, then, Lightning was already well-versed in how to go about setting up camp.

"So like I said, if you're concerned about human attacks, keep the fire small," Amodar said, sitting close to where his subordinate was constructing the fire. "But if not, might as well make it a bit bigger, as it'll serve as a deterrent to the beasts."

"Are we concerned about human attacks, sir?" she asked, pausing halfway through assembling the kindling.

The sergeant shook his head. "We haven't gotten any such reports in weeks. It's been nice and peaceful lately."

"Could be the calm before the storm, sir," she hazarded.

"Only literally, Farron," Amodar dismissed. "Got word from Sanctum that the fal'Cie decided it's high time we got some more violent weather 'round here. It's supposed to start raining sometime in mid-morning."

"Will we be back at base before then?"

He looked sidelong at her and teased, "Scared of a little thunder?"

She shook her head calmly as she lit the kindling. "No, sir. I've never been afraid of storms."

"Somehow I'm not surprised, eh, Lightning," he said with a chuckle.

She didn't rise to that, concentrating instead on strategically stacking the bigger pieces of wood on the smoldering kindling.

Amodar cracked his neck, easing tension from the stiff joints, and settled in more comfortably. "So, we can do the watch in two shifts or four. I prefer four myself, since otherwise we're both up for a day and half straight, and I've never found that very enjoyable."

"Whichever you think is best, sir," Lightning said with a shrug.

"Four shifts it is, then," he declared. "I'll take first and third and wake you in an hour and a half."

She nodded, slipping her gunblade from its large holster and placing it on the ground in front of her, and she proceeded to curl up next to it. Within moments, the change in her breathing's rhythm indicated that she was fast asleep.

Amodar, who had gotten up and begun pacing a circle around the camp, glanced down at her. "Already? Lucky stiff," he remarked to the night sky, but then the humor in his eyes dimmed. "Sixteen, huh. That's way too young, way too young, indeed."

Lightning didn't stir, already lost to happier dreams.

"Farron! Get up, quick!"

Lightning was alert in an instant, leaping to her feet and swinging open her gunblade before Amodar had even finished his warning. She held the weapon up with a confidence that would've impressed her superior, but he wasn't paying her any attention. She noticed that the fire had been extinguished, and recently, too, if the still-rising tendrils of smoke were anything to go off of.

"Where's the enemy, sir?" she inquired quietly even as she scanned the landscape. It was very dark without the fire; the storm might have been timed for the morning, but the clouds had already moved in and blocked out the stars.

"Shit, they've gotten smarter," he grumbled, and he started off, leaving Lightning to attach herself to his heels. "I spotted them coming over that ridge back there, but they would've spotted our fire, too. Shit, HQ didn't say anything about this…"

"Is it bandits, sir?"

"Could be, Farron, could be," he allowed. "Whoever they are, they're human." He grimaced. "I just hope they're not l'Cie."

She frowned even as she ran after him, even as she remained keenly aware of their immediate surroundings. "Why? Unless they're Pulse l'Cie, they shouldn't be a threat, right?"

He shook his head. "Even Cocoon l'Cie can be a threat. If they can't fulfill their Focus, they turn into Cie'th, right? And the ones who know they're getting close to that…" He trailed off with another shake. "They go a little crazy, start attacking anyone and everyone 'cause they'd rather get killed than turn Cie'th. If they're l'Cie, this is gonna be a bloodbath."

Lightning swallowed, but she steeled her resolve. She had gotten herself involved in this, and there was no use lamenting fate now.

It's all for Serah, she reminded herself. Just remember it's all for Serah.

"Shit, they're in front of us now, too?" Amodar demanded angrily of the heavens, and he pulled up short. "Watch my back, Farron. If they are l'Cie, I've got a mana-drive to help protect us, so I'll be covering you, too. We cover each other, got it? No one's left open!"

"Got it, sir," she replied, settling into a defensive stance with her back to his.

Afterwards, she wouldn't remember properly what had happened. The enemy had been desperate l'Cie, and they had rushed the soldiers, apparently not yet suicidal enough to make the fight an easy one. Amodar had raked them with bullets, cutting down the frontrunners, but there had been more behind those and even more approaching from the other sides.

Every one of these l'Cie wants to kill Serah, she had told herself in the surprising silence in her head. I can't let that happen…

I am Lightning. I am quick and I am precise.

I am Lightning.

Bring on the storm.

She'd flipped her weapon back into its gun form and raised it, barely pausing to take aim before pulling the trigger and moving on. And maybe something of actual lightning did exist inside her, because her shots had not gone wide and her speed had not slowed.

And when one of the l'Cie had attacked Amodar with magic and forced him to shelter behind the power of his mana-drive, he would have been left open, except that Lightning had been there to cover his back and intercept the enemy. She had cut down, a long, slashing diagonal from the l'Cie's neck all the way down to its hip.

Blood had sprayed everywhere, but she had just shut her eyes.

She'd opened them again a moment later, yanking her weapon from the body and switching it into a gun and pivoting around Amodar's bulk to shoot the l'Cie pinning him down.

She inhaled sharply, suddenly remembering to breathe, and glanced around swiftly, but there were no more enemies to kill. "You alright, sir?" she asked, eyes still flickering about.

Amodar lowered his arms and with it, his mana-drive. He twisted around, ascertaining as she had that there were no longer any threats, and finally looked at her with an unreadable expression. "Yeah. You alright, Farron?"

"I was not harmed, sir," she replied.

His gaze lingered on her arm, the one holding her gunblade: it was trembling so badly the outline was nearly blurred, but Lightning seemed utterly unaware of this phenomenon. "That isn't what I asked you, Light," he said, more seriously but more gently. "I asked if you were alright."

She looked down at herself, as if only just becoming aware that she was drenched in someone else's blood.

He sighed and holstered his weapon. "C'mon, Farron. Let's get you home."

She raised her eyes, something tragically lost swimming in their blue depths. "But we're not supposed to report back until tomorrow morning," she pointed out, sounding as if she were reciting something from rote that she could only halfway remember.

"Screw the orders," he growled, angry that she had joined up and so much angrier that he had let her. No sixteen-year-old girl anywhere should be covered in her slain enemy's blood just because she wanted to stay with her little sister. That was unspeakably wrong. "I'm taking you home, Farron, and that's that. You'll just have to deal."

She nodded woodenly, her gunblade still loosely grasped in her numb fingers, and he placed a fatherly arm about her shoulders and guided her from the battlefield.

"I'd like to say it gets easier, but it only ever gets familiar," he said softly after some time.

She shuddered but did not reply.

The click of the front door's latch catching was a quiet sound, but it managed to worm its way into Serah's brain and trigger a survival instinct that launched her into adrenaline-fueled wakefulness. She lay in her dark bedroom, her heart pounding distractedly in her chest and her ears strained for further evidence of intruders.

And yes—footsteps in the foyer, the creak of cabinet hinges in the kitchen.

Serah slipped out of bed, the adrenaline still thrumming in her veins and leaving her lightheaded. She crept over to her door, which was open the slightest crack, and tried to peer out and determine where the thieves were, but she couldn't see anything from this vantage.

What would Lightning do? she wondered, only to laugh at herself inwardly in the next instant. Well, she knew what Lightning would do—she'd charge in and deliver the worst ass-kicking those intruders would ever suffer. Serah didn't think she could quite measure up to that, but she might be able to hit them with a chair or perhaps even the toaster…

She tugged her door open, praying these hinges would be silent, and hesitantly stepped into the hall. She was still blind here, and she crept on further, almost reaching the kitchen when she heard the faucet gush into watery life. Frowning, Serah spared a moment to consider why thieves would want to wash anything, but she brushed that useless musing aside in favor of hefting a potted plant.

Here goes nothing, she thought, and she threw herself into the kitchen's open doorway, arm cocked back to deliver floral destruction—

"Light?" she blurted, freezing mid-motion and balancing awkwardly on one foot.

Her sister stiffened where she stood at the sink, her back to Serah, but did not speak.

The adrenaline finally abandoned its duty, and the younger Farron relaxed, almost dropping her makeshift weapon in its wake. "Oh, thank goodness. I thought you were a thief or something! But why're you home? Didn't you say this patrol was an overnight one?"

Lightning still didn't speak, and she still didn't move. If Serah were to analyze that, she would say that the soldier were acting thusly on purpose—not simply being unresponsive, but deliberately so, as if she would betray something by reacting.

Blue eyes roved the scene and took in the muddy footprints leading to the sink, the fact that Lightning were washing her gunblade, the trickle of browning red liquid smeared on Lightning's right arm…

"Is that blood?" she exclaimed, fear clenching her heart anew.

The older girl remained silent, but her slender frame did tense ever so slightly in a motion like a flinch.

Serah set aside the plant and hurried over, grabbing onto her sister's other arm and forcibly turning her. "I said, is that bl—is that—oh, Claire, what…?"

Lightning's eyes stayed stubbornly averted, her jaw tight and face drawn. "It's fine," she dismissed, her voice equally tight.

Serah gestured wildly at her sister's front. "You're covered in blood and you say it's fine? Are you cra—"

"It's not mine."

Her incredulity caught in her throat, somewhere back behind her tongue, and forced her into her own silence. She couldn't keep her gaze from re-examining her sibling, though, and it lingered horribly on the spatter on her neck, the dark and still-wet stains on her shirt, the smears and dribbles on her arms and legs, the congealed clumps in her hair…

"You should be asleep. Go back to bed," Lightning ordered, her voice so coarse she might as well have swallowed gravel.

Serah winced, not at the words or the tone, but at the ones Lightning hadn't said, the ones she could nevertheless hear all too clearly.

You shouldn't see this. You should never have seen me like this.

"Claire…" she said weakly in a voice like a plea.

"Go back to bed," her sister echoed hollowly, and she walked away on soundless, soiled feet.

Serah did so, but she lay awake in the dark and listened to the rush of the shower. It stayed on for a long, long time, and she tried not to imagine how the water curling down the drain would be as pink as her sister's hair.

In the morning, all traces of blood and mud had been cleaned carefully, and as Serah wandered the empty house and listened to the rain pattering against the windows, she could almost convince herself that it had been a nightmare. She wanted it to be a dream; it would be so easy if it were a dream.

Outside, there was a flash of lightning and an answering boom of thunder.

Serah nearly jumped out of her skin and, putting a hand over her frantic heart, exhaled a mocking, acrimonious laugh. Of course, she thought. How cruelly fitting to have that reaction now after all these years, now that she was once again (but also, so very newly) afraid of Lightning.

(crash, crash, burn

let it all burn)

Time slid past, slowly at parts and swiftly in others, and somehow five years had vanished into the ether, and Lightning wasn't entirely certain how it had happened. She had a detailed record of all her missions and promotions and kills at HQ, so she had chronicled proof that those years had existed, and yet…

And yet…

Lightning shook her head as she walked up to the house, her right hand as always dangling a bit farther back than her left, as if even at this point she was wary of needing to draw and fire.

And yet somehow Serah had grown up, become a young woman, and that was what worried Lightning the most. That was the part that had happened too fast, because that was the part she had somehow managed to miss. All those patrols, all that training…she knew she'd been gone a lot, and that the times when she had been home, Serah had given her a wide berth as if the younger Farron expected the elder to return every night dripping rivers of blood, even though Lightning mostly had uneventful patrols and never, ever dared come home battle-stained again.

She had tried, of course, to bridge the gap between sisters, but she was awkward and ashamed and hurt and she'd never been very good with words, anyway. She supposed Serah had tried as well, in her own way, by making life a little easier on her older sibling—doing the household chores and the cooking so Lightning wouldn't have to.

Lightning appreciated the effort, she did. She just didn't know if murmured thanks and sporadic eye contact amounted to much in the end.

The soldier blinked, realizing that she had been standing on the porch for an inordinate length of time as these thoughts whirred like angry bees in her head. She shook her head now, as if she could dislodge those thoughts, and felt her throat close up slightly.

How many afternoons, how many evenings now had she been walking home and thinking these exact same things and still been unable to do anything about it? Every day she promised herself she'd say the right words that would make Serah a sister by choice and not just blood but she could never, ever think of what those words might be.

I'm sorry I'm a soldier and I have to kill people? Or would it just be I'm sorry I did it all for you?

Lightning's expression contorted, and a sharp, soft breath slipped through her teeth.

Yeah, unload the guilt on Serah. That would fix everything.

Emotions still roiling just underneath the surface, Lightning opened the door and stepped across the threshold, glancing up as she did so.

And she froze.

Serah was seated on the couch with a blond young man, both of them positioned completely innocently, but to Lightning's eyes, that didn't make anything better. She knew this young man, this delusional idiot who glorified the lack of responsibility, as if that were something truly laudable, as if there weren't people all over Cocoon laboring for someone else's happiness, as if everything Lightning had ever done for Serah were misguided and foolish.

And now that stupid bastard was sitting on her couch with her sister, and she could not stop her voice coming out as a snarl.

"What the hell are you doing in my house, Villiers?"

Snow leapt up from his cushion as Lightning stalked over, making sure to keep the door wide open behind her as a not-so-subtle invitation to get the hell out.

"I asked you a question," she growled with slow menace. "What the hell are you doing in my house?"

"Light, wait, please!" Serah protested, hopping up slower than Snow, but perhaps that was because memories of a teenaged, bloodied Claire lurked in the back of her mind's eye and made her hesitant and fearful. "I invited him here!"

The soldier glanced aside at her sister, unable to dim the glare in her gaze before she did so, and Serah caught the full brunt of that fire. "What? Why would you do that?"

Serah shied back a step, eyes flickering aside to the blond, and she mumbled, "Never mind, this was a terrible idea…"

"No," Snow insisted, moving forward the step that Serah had conceded. "She's gonna find out eventually, Serah. We might as well get it off our chests now."

Lightning didn't like where this conversation sounded like it was going, and she liked that he was taller than her even less. She knew that wouldn't at all impair her ability to inflict righteous pain on his thick skull, but she loathed having to look up to him, even if it were only literally.

"What am I going to find out eventually?" she demanded, her glare fixed exclusively on Snow's blue eyes.

Snow swallowed, and she vindictively enjoyed that moment of weakness on his part, but any enjoyment she might have been experiencing evaporated when he said, "Well, that we're dating. I'm her boyfriend now."

Lightning blinked. There was no way in either Pulse or Cocoon that she had heard that right…

"What?" she breathed.

Snow draped an arm around Serah's small shoulders. "I'm her boyfriend," he repeated patiently.

The words finally sunk in, finding an anchor somewhere in her brain, and, to the new couple's astonishment, Lightning began to laugh, that quiet yet crescendoing laugh of the blindsided and angrily incredulous.

"Are you kidding me?" she snapped. "Please tell me you're kidding me!"

Snow raised his free hand. "We're serious here, Light."

"You are not allowed to call me that!" she shouted, her dangerous sarcasm transforming so quickly to fury.

"Okay, okay," he said, waving that hand peacefully. "Sergeant Farron it is."

Lightning nearly drew her gunblade, but she settled for brandishing an enraged finger instead. "And you are not allowed to date my sister! What makes you think I would ever condone that, Mr. No-Obligations-Responsibility-or-Authority? Those are three absolutely horrible qualities for a boyfriend, by the way!"

He studied her accusatory finger for a long moment, and then he stepped another pace closer. "Look, Sarge, we didn't tell you this because we're looking for permission. We're telling you this out of respect, that's all. We're not going to break up just because you disapprove of me."

Lightning drew her hand back, but only so she could fold the fingers into a fist, and she looked around his bulk at her younger sister. "He's an idiot, Serah," she said, ignoring the fact that the idiot could hear that quite clearly. "You could do so much better. Why're you doing this?"

Serah lifted her head, bracing her petite frame as best she could. "I was lonely, Light," she answered, her voice soft but edged with resolve. "He understood what it's like to be all alone, to be an orphan."

Trying to ignore the sensation that she'd just been charged in the stomach by a feral behemoth, Lightning exclaimed, "What? You think I don't understand that? They were my parents, too!"

"Yes, but…but you haven't—"

"I haven't what?"

"You haven't been there!" Serah blurted. "All these years you've been Private Farron or Corporal Farron or Sergeant Farron, but when have you been my sister? You wear that job like it's your uniform and you wear that uniform like it's a shield—there's no getting close to you! I've wanted to talk about the loss and the hurt, and I wanted to talk about it with you so that we could grieve together and get better together, but you've never let me. It's like you're a ghost sometimes…like I've…like I've lost you, too." She looked down at her hands, unable to meet her sister's matching blue eyes as she confessed, "Sometimes you feel as far away as they do, but at least I can talk to their headstones in the cemetery."

Lightning swayed silently on the spot, as if she no longer remembered how to stand, and then slowly, with effort, she turned around and headed right back out the still-open door.

Lieutenant Amodar looked up from checking the duty roster when he heard the door swish open, and he frowned deeply to see Lightning standing in the entrance, her eyes unfocused and the color completely drained from her already-fair skin.

"What're you doing, back again so soon, Farron?" he asked, determined not to comment on the obvious distress his subordinate was radiating with all the intensity that the sun radiated heat.

Her gaze met his in stages, as if she didn't quite remember how to do such a simple thing, and when it did, he was struck by the emptiness in the depths of her eyes. He'd seen that expression before, but last time Lightning had been five years younger and splattered with enemy blood, and this time…somehow, this time, she looked worse.

He sucked in a breath as he stumbled across the one thing he knew would make Lightning look worse. But they wouldn't have… "Hey, Farron! Your sister's alright, isn't she? I mean, for Eden's sake, she's almost eighteen! They couldn't have taken her away now, that'd just be stupid!"

She managed to find her voice. "They didn't have to take her away," she said, dull and hollow. "I apparently did a fine job losing her all by myself."

His brow quirked in uncomprehending sympathy, but for once, he had nothing to say.

"I'm here to request another patrol, sir," she explained, however belatedly.

He studied her with great concern. "You're not emotionally stable, Far—"

"I know what I'm not!" She lowered her head after that outburst, her right hand holding so tightly to her weapon's hilt, as if she expected it to be a lifeline instead of something that severed them. "Damn it, I know everything that I'm not! But what I am is a soldier and what I am capable of doing is patrols! So, please, sir, just give me whatever you have left!"

His concern failing utterly to ease, Amodar nevertheless reviewed the duty roster again. "Erm, let's see…well, all I've got left is a long patrol to the Vile Peaks…couldn't shove that one off on Corporal Rivers again…"

"I'll take it," she agreed.

"It'll take you a week," he emphasized. "And the Vile Peaks are dangerous. You ought to wait for another soldier to free up so you'll have a partner—"

"No thank you, sir. I'll be going, then, sir. Goodbye."

And with that, she left.

When she was far enough away from the office, she slumped on a bench and tried unsuccessfully not to cry.

(no matter how many deaths that i die

i will never forget)

There was a terrible, deafening roar in her ears, and Serah's words drifted in faintly and got caught in an undertow, swirling and sloshing and echoing, echoing, echoing.

I'm a l'Cie.

Lightning felt her mouth open, felt her lips and tongue shape callous and cruel words she didn't mean, but she couldn't suppress the reflex. The anger that had been constantly simmering in her heart, the fury at fate and circumstance that she had always kept carefully locked away…it rose up in her throat, an unstoppable flood of bitter ire.

She couldn't believe that none of it had made any difference.

All the sacrifices she had made to ensure Serah's safety, all the time she had spent toiling to that end…

None of it, now, made any difference.

I'm a l'Cie.

Serah was going to die, or she'd turn Cie'th and suffer a fate worse than death, and Lightning was helpless to prevent it. Whatever it takes didn't apply here. There was no way to turn a l'Cie back into a human.

She couldn't do a thing.

As soon as Snow followed Serah out, Lightning slammed a fist against the counter, her forehead bowing down to connect with the cool surface just after. Bent over, her whole body trembling with barely contained rage and heart-wrenching agony, she pounded her fist again and again as if in percussive accompaniment to the tears which slid so treacherously from her tightly shut eyes.

The drops fell, one by one, to gather in a puddle on the counter.

All this time, all this effort…and she and Serah had begun to patch things up, at least a little, after the initial Snow fiasco; it was still brittle, but it was better. She thought that she'd fought long enough, that it had to all be over, but then…then…

I'm a l'Cie.

No, Lightning realized, opening burning eyes to stare blankly, blurrily at the counter.

Now it was all over.

Serah was lost to her forever.

She choked on her next breath, the sobs taking up all the space in her throat, and wondered if she'd ever be able to breathe easily again.

She wouldn't.

(this hurricane's chasing us all underground)