Disclaimer: Final Fantasy XIII isn't mine. Woe.
A/N: So as I was playing the game over a month ago, I got to the part where they finally zoom in on Lightning's stomach, and I realized the girl has a belly button ring. And I was like, "Lightning...has a belly button ring? Lightning?" It seemed so very OOC of her that I couldn't help but wonder what had to transpire to make her do such a thing, and thus this story developed. It was sitting, gathering dust in an unfinished state, in my documents folder, but then I saw (XIII-2 SPOILER ALERT...kinda, at least) the final DLC from XIII-2 and cried and cried and cried and therefore had to finish this story because it is, while angsty (it's the Farron sisters...for them, it's always angsty), rather more humorous, and while perhaps it's still bittersweet, it possesses more of a sense of hope. So I hope you enjoy this spin on a tiny detail of Lightning's design, and as always, reviews would be lovely.
Navel Piercings Are All the Rage, Sis
"Light! Wake up! C'mon, sleepyhead, wake up!"
The soldier groaned and tugged her pillow out from under her head so that she might hide underneath it instead. "Ugh, 's too early for this…" she grumbled into the mattress. "Do you know how late I got back from patrol last night?"
Serah remained unfazed by her sister's less-than-cheerful morning demeanor, as she busily yanked up the blinds to allow bright sunlight to stream into the room. "It's not too early," she dismissed with a laugh. "It's after noon, for Eden's sake! And I'm not gonna let you sleep your birthday away; that would just be sad."
Lightning opened a bleary blue eye, peering out from under her pillow through a scattering of pink hair. "Oh. Right. My birthday," she said, her thoughts not yet syncing in her half-awake state.
"Your eighteenth birthday," Serah reminded her, and she snatched the pillow off the older girl's head. "This means you have to do something crazy."
Still not rolling off her stomach, the soldier rolled that one eye sideways and regarded her little sister. "It does?" she wondered, but then she yawned and buried her face into the mattress.
The younger Farron bounced onto the edge of the elder's bed. "Yep. You're a legal adult now, so you can do all sorts of stuff you couldn't before."
"Gee," Lightning drawled into the sheets, "like join the army and fight for Cocoon?"
Serah pursed her lips, her brow crumpling. "Wait a second…how did you do that before you were eighteen?"
"There're workarounds, apparently," she tiredly informed the mattress, beginning to slip into unconsciousness once more.
Serah caught onto the change in Lightning's breathing, and she tugged on the back of her sister's white tank top. "No more sleep, Light! I made breakfast and everything, even if it's practically time for afternoon tea by now, and you're not gonna let all those waffles go to waste, are you?"
After a final moment of silence, the soldier rolled onto her back and scrutinized her sister, as if she expected such a promise to be a trick. "Waffles?" she echoed warily, but there was a definite spark of interest in her eyes.
She grinned broadly. "Waffles," she confirmed. "With chocolate chips. And strawberries. And syrup. You just might go into a diabetic coma and die from all the sugar, but I swear it'd be worth it."
Lightning curled herself up into a seated position and shrugged exaggerated indifference. "Well, if you went through all the trouble…and there's, y'know, chocolate chips…"
"Extra," Serah confided conspiratorially, leaning in towards her sister as if imparting a great secret. "The recipe said to use one cup, but I used two…" She trailed off, waggling a pair of fingers.
The elder Farron practically bounded out of bed. "Why didn't you say so right when you barged in?" she complained, as the younger was hot on her heels and able to catch every word as she marched down the hallway.
"You were the one griping about the time; you got the conversation off-track," Serah pointed out primly. "I did nothing but wish you a happy birthday like a good sister."
Lightning relented at that, and she lifted her eyebrows at the spread on the kitchen table. There were chocolate-chip waffles with strawberries and syrup, alright, but there was also a plate of muffins and another of pastries and an entire tray of sausages and bacon. She took a plate from the cupboard and, faced with the overflowing table again, felt compelled to ask, "When did you get all this?"
"While you were sleeping the day away," Serah replied airily, already helping herself to a forkful of bacon. "You would've heard me, but you were snooooring," she concluded with a wicked sing-song lilt.
"I don't snore," Lightning denied automatically, heaping her plate with waffles and loading on the syrup.
"Okay, fine, you don't, but you were still dead to the world," the other conceded as she peeled the wrapper off a muffin. She paused halfway through that task and inquired, with rather more hesitance, "So…how did that patrol of yours go? At least Lieutenant Amodar gave you today off, but you were out really late, like you said…"
The soldier shrugged, although she did stare at the syrup bottle a second longer than made sense before she set it back on the table. "Oh, it was routine. Lots of marching over rugged terrain. Lots of not-sleeping. Nothing dangerous," she was sure to add, her gaze flickering to Serah's.
She nodded and finished unwrapping her muffin in the following brief, tense interval of uncomfortable silence. She hated asking about her sister's patrols, as she knew she would never want to hear about the horrible deeds Lightning might be forced to commit, but since Lightning herself would of course never volunteer such information willingly, sometimes she had to ask.
She strove to ignore the fact that everything Lightning had just said was probably a lie.
The elder Farron was halfway through her first helping before the younger found the space in her throat to speak again. "So," she chirped, forcing brightness into her tone until it could sustain itself, "about the whole turning-eighteen thing…you are going to do something crazy, mark my words."
Lightning glanced up, still chewing, and merely arched a delicate brow.
"I'm not entirely sure what," Serah confessed, answering the unasked question, "but it's gotta be something good. What can you do now, anyway? Already covered the army…I guess you can sign contracts and enter sweepstakes and order stuff off those infomercials."
"Exciting," she remarked.
Serah huffed. "Well, maybe not everything is—ooo, ooo, you can go gambling now! Let's go to Nautilus and you can gamble!"
Lightning selected another waffle and did not look away from it as she spoke. "Firstly, I only have the one day off, and secondly, I'm on a corporal's salary. It barely covers this house and this food and your schooling as it is. I can't risk losing any of it at some stupid rigged card game."
Another pall settled over the table, and Serah nibbled on her muffin to mask her ever-present fear that maybe too much tragedy had already happened in their lives, that maybe they'd never be able to be sisters again. At length she pasted another smile on her face and said, "Well, I'll think of something. We're going to go shop around after this—I didn't buy you a present yet 'cause you're so hard to shop for, but you can pick out something nice and I'll get it for you. Okay?"
The soldier shrugged ambivalently. "Okay."
They finished the rest of the meal without further conversation, and a surprising amount of the food had disappeared into Lightning's stomach. Serah sometimes worried that, thin as her sister remained, she never got enough food working those long hours for the Corps, but it appeared that she had no trouble packing it away.
"I'll just get dressed then," Lightning said, getting to her feet and placing her dishes in the sink.
"Not in your uniform, sis!" Serah called after her, and upon receiving a Look, retorted, "Well, it's been a really long time since I've seen you in anything else, and I thought you might've forgotten you owned other clothes!"
The elder regarded the younger for a stretched moment, and then she conceded that with a vaguely amused nod and continued on her way.
Serah had cleared away the leftovers by the time Lightning emerged, dressed like a proper civilian, and together the Farron sisters stepped out into the summer sunlight and wandered into Bodhum's shopping district. But two hours later, they had come up empty-handed, as Lightning truly was incredibly hard to shop for and nothing had piqued her interest. Serah was about to slump on a bench and cry—she had wanted to make this a memorable day for her sister, an actual fun day—when she caught sight of something that fulfilled a different requirement than presents but an important requirement nevertheless.
"Light! Tattoos! You can get a tattoo at eighteen! That's super crazy!" she declared giddily, pointing a finger at the tattoo and piercing parlor down the street.
The soldier shot that idea down, though, as she sneered, "A tattoo that looks like what? A l'Cie brand?"
Serah winced at the example but had to acknowledge that wasn't the best of ideas. "Oo, yeah, good point."
The older girl shook her head and was about to move off when the younger caught onto her arm. When she gave her sister a questioning look, Serah explained, "Okay, tattoos aren't any good, but what about piercings?"
Lightning gave her head another little shake. "You can get your ears pierced before eighteen. There's nothing special about that."
Serah waggled her brows. "I didn't mean your ears, Light. Get a nose ring! Please?"
She snorted and held up a hand. "Um, no."
The fifteen-year-old pouted. "Oh, why not? That won't make you look like a l'Cie!"
"No, but I've always been worried that if you're not wearing anything in the hole and then you blow your nose…" She trailed off, pantomiming a possible trajectory with that same hand. "Besides, the Corps won't allow facial piercings. It's dangerous on the battlefield, as someone could just rip it right out, and it also doesn't fit the requirements for the uniform."
But Serah would not be deterred. "How about your lip, then? Or your eyebrow?"
Lightning fixed her with a somewhat incredulous look. "Didn't I just say that the Corps doesn't allow facial piercings? Aren't my lip and eyebrow on my face?"
"Yeah, yeah, ripping and uniforms, you already said," Serah grumbled, convinced that the Guardian Corps had invented such rules just to ruin her plans. Sparing a few moments on developing a dodge, she ventured, "But your tongue isn't obviously on your face…aha! You can get your tongue pierced! There ya go!" she finished, triumphant.
"I am not getting my tongue pierced," Lightning denied flatly. "Even if I were made a l'Cie and my Focus was to get my tongue pierced, I would rather turn Cie'th than fulfill it. You realize there's an artery in your tongue, right? If they're even a little off, I could bleed out right there in the chair, and while that would be certainly qualify as 'something crazy'," she sneered, apostrophes sarcastically clanging, "I would really prefer to survive until my nineteenth birthday, thank you very much."
Serah rolled her eyes at her sister's latest protest. "Fine, fine. Not your tongue, then." She tapped her forefinger against her chin in renewed thought, and to the soldier's horror, her eyes lit up again with fresh glee. "What about your belly button? That's hidden enough to keep the Corps happy, plus there're no arteries anywhere near that! Eh?"
Lightning leveled her with a look. "No."
"Oh, come on!" Serah pleaded. "Navel piercings are all the rage, sis!"
Her deadpan expression stagnated. "What? Where on Cocoon did you hear that? And as if that would be a reason," she added scathingly.
"Well, you have to do something," the younger girl insisted, the exasperation creeping into her otherwise upbeat tone. "You only turn eighteen once and all, and you've already dismissed all my other ideas. So unless you can come up with a better one, you are totally getting your navel pierced and I will not hear another objection against it, ya hear?"
Lightning smirked faintly, the corner of her lips flickering. "Since when did you become so imperious? You sound more like a commander than Lieutenant Amodar, or Captain Blythe, for that matter."
Serah tilted her head back and planted her hands on her hips, the model of arrogant disdain. She couldn't hold the pose, though, and she dissolved into laughter, bending at the waist and raising a hand to stifle the giggles. "Yeah, well, I don't know," she said lamely once she'd quieted enough to speak. "But that doesn't change the fact that you're doing this!"
The elder opened her mouth to offer a fresh rebuttal, but something held her tongue in check this time. Perhaps it was the simple fact that it had been a long time, not truly since their mother had been alive, that she had felt so much like a sister to Serah. How strange that such an unorthodox suggestion could conjure that again.
Her blue eyes softened, and she made sure to mask that by rolling them in feigned annoyance. "Fine, fine. If it'll get you to give up this bizarre quest for craziness, I will get my navel pierced," she conceded in begrudging tones. "But nothing else, got it?"
Serah snapped a teasing salute. "Got it, Corporal Farron!" And, grinning ear to ear, she seized onto her sister's hand and crowed in delighted victory, "One belly button ring, coming up!"
"Oh, goody," Lightning drawled, but she allowed herself to be dragged inside.
And then, somehow, it was almost three years later (two years and ten months, but oh, how it felt so much longer), and the atmosphere in the Farron house had since devolved into something even more awkward and strained. Lightning was liable to blame such increased tension on the rude and uncalled-for intrusion of one Snow Villiers into their already-fractured family, but she knew, not so deep down, that Snow had merely been a crowbar wedged in the cracks long formed and even longer ignored in the sisters' wounded hearts.
It wasn't Snow's fault. But regardless of the exact culpability, the distance still existed, and Lightning knew that this effort would be little more than a paltry façade of a normalcy that had dried up years ago.
But it was Serah's eighteenth birthday, so she had to try.
She knocked on the jamb of Serah's open bedroom door and managed a weak smile when her sister looked up from her sprawl on the floor. "Hey," she greeted softly. "Happy birthday."
The teenager glanced back down before raising her eyes again, as if she needed that extra moment to summon her own smile, but Lightning felt that it nevertheless seemed more sincere than her own. "Thanks, sis."
The soldier didn't move right away, still leaning against the jamb, and she drummed her fingers on the wood. After a stretched moment, she cleared her throat and ventured, "You only turn eighteen once, you know. I've heard from a reliable source that this means you have to do something crazy."
Serah's smile slowly broadened into a grin, a twinkle dancing in her eyes. "Are you serious?"
Lightning forced a nonchalant shrug. "Unless you don't want to, of course," she allowed, giving the other girl an out.
"No, wait," Serah said, lancing to her feet. "I want to. I just…I can't believe you remembered."
"Hey, now," the elder remarked, lightly teasing, "there's no call for that."
Serah appeared fleetingly contrite, but she gathered up her purse and followed the sergeant out the door. Lightning led the way a step ahead of her sister, her long strides eating up the distance with the practiced swing of a veteran of a hundred patrols, but she made sure not to move too fast for Serah, who paused occasionally to peer into shop fronts or greet an acquaintance. They made their way through Bodhum at an agreeable pace overall and stepped, somewhat gratefully, out of the warm sun and into the shade of a familiar tattoo and piercing parlor.
Lightning put in their order, and as they waited for someone to free up, they sat in the lobby: Lightning settling in a chair, legs crossed at the knee, and Serah standing and scrutinizing the various tattoo designs posted on the wall.
The sergeant tilted her head back, her eyes closed, and remarked, "I imagine you have plans for tonight."
Serah glanced at her. "I…yeah. Snow's taking me out to dinner, and then he promised we could stargaze."
"You know most of them aren't real stars. It's just the lights of cities on the opposite curve of Cocoon."
"I know," the teenager confirmed softly. "But it's so hard to see the real ones through that gap in Cocoon's shell, and, you know, sometimes you have to make your own wishes, right?"
Lightning opened her eyes, but only to stare bleakly at the ceiling. "Yeah," she breathed. "Hope's what you make of it, I guess."
A man emerged from the stalls. "Serah Farron for a navel piercing?" he called out.
Serah lifted her eyebrows at her sister. "Guess this is it."
Lightning nodded. "Good luck, or something, I guess."
"You aren't coming with me?" she asked, pausing halfway into her first step.
The soldier looked between the waiting man and her sister, and she relented with a sigh and followed them into the back. "As I recall, you didn't accompany me," she pointed out, suddenly seeking an excuse for her lack of automatic solidarity.
"Yeah, but you're you, Light," Serah said. "The tough, strong soldier and all that. I'm just…well, me." She shook her head. "And I'm actually kinda scared," she then divulged in a whisper, glancing aside at her sister as the man prepared the necessary tools.
"There's no need," Lightning told her. "It doesn't hurt that bad. The clamp hurts worse than the actual needle, to tell the truth."
The younger Farron pulled a face. "I'm not sure that makes me feel any better."
The elder pursed her lips but could think of nothing further to say. Then, on some long-forgotten instinct, she reached across the scant distance and gently took the other girl's hand. She ignored the faintly prickling heat in her cheeks and tried to shove away the conviction that such an action was not only stupid and ridiculous but also somehow shameful and wrong, as if offering comfort were a mortal sin. But even with that resolve, her tongue was still clumsy as she attempted to articulate her motives.
"Just…y'know, you can squeeze as hard as you want. Or whatever. To help the pain," she mumbled.
Serah stared at her with a kind of unsuspecting wonderment, and then her face broke into a smile again, this one more brilliant than Lightning had seen in years upon years. "Thanks, Claire."
"Well, now, it's nothing," Lightning dismissed, attempting to reclaim her cool façade with dry humor; hearing her real name had done nothing for her already-scattered composure.
"No," Serah denied softly, and she tightened her fingers around her sister's. "It's everything."
The soldier considered protesting anew, but like she had three years earlier, she let it slide because, like three years earlier, she enjoyed this fleeting moment of genuine sisterhood again. So she gave Serah's hand a gentle squeeze in acknowledgement of that bond.
When the needle pierced her skin, Serah predictably tightened her hold, her expression also creasing in a grimace. Lightning bore the pain in her fingers with all her soldierly stolidity, her own face not even flickering. This was something she could do, what she had always been able to do: be strong for Serah.
She was surprised, although not altogether unpleasantly, when Serah retained hold of her hand for a few seconds longer than she really had to.
And even when she let go, a ghost of the warmth remained behind.
Serah got up from the chair, still holding her shirt up so that she could review her new ornamentation. After several seconds, she grinned broadly as an idea occurred to her and proceeded to dig in her purse. "Hey, wait, Piercing-Dude—can you take a picture?"
The man raised an eyebrow at being branded with such a moniker, but then he shrugged and held out a hand to accept the proffered camera. "Yeah, sure."
Serah planted herself next to Lightning, who had her own brow arched, and tugged at her sister's shirt as well. "C'mon, Light—gotta flaunt it, right? The Farron Sisters: incredibly crazy on their eighteenth birthdays!"
The soldier exhaled a long-suffering sigh and, with an expression of extreme protest, pulled her shirt up until her three-year-old piercing was also exposed. Serah laughed, a bright tinkling laugh that the other hadn't heard in the longest time, and tucked her arm around her sister's waist.
Lightning glanced down, as equally surprised as she had been only a minute before by such a similar gesture, and tentatively mirrored her younger sibling's action. Her hand settled comfortably, the other girl's shorter frame fitting easily, safely into her side, and she raised her eyes back to the camera.
"Cheese!" Serah sang out, one hundred percent bubbly enthusiasm.
"Yeah, cheese," the man echoed in significantly more bored tones, lifting the device to his eye.
Nothing was as it had been, Lightning understood as that moment slowed to a standstill. Nothing would ever be sunshine-perfect again. But maybe there could be glimpses of happiness…maybe happiness didn't have to be constant and undying; maybe it could vanish for years before it showed its face once more.
Maybe the intervening time didn't matter as long as there was the chance, the spark, the hope to live such happiness again.
Now was one of those rare precious moments, and Lightning would not let it slip through her fingers.