Top Tier

"It was always going to end this way." Serah peered through the driving rain at her opponent. Vanille had put up a good fight, but it was over now. Serah's arrows had proved faster than Vanille's magic. One more arrow would be enough to end it.

Serah's lips twitched. "It really is a pity that you suck so much. Otherwise, this might actually have been a challenge." She readied her arrow. "Oh well, this makes it what, ten in a row now?"

She fired.

Winner: Serah Farron.

Loser: Oerba Dia Vanille.


Vanille threw her controller at the couch in disgust. Thanks to Serah, her character looked more like a hedgehog than a person. "This game is such a pile of crap."

Serah giggled and fought the urge to do a little victory dance around Vanille. It would have been fun, but it wouldn't have been the least bit sporting. Then again… she looked back at Vanille and decided that she didn't really care if it was sporting. How many times had Vanille won these little competitions of theirs? She was going to savour her victory while she still could.

Doing a merry little jig around the fuming Dia, Serah was forced to dodge a couch cushion followed by a shoe. "Hey, don't blame me. You were the one who said we should play this game. It's not my fault you suck."

"I don't suck!" Vanille jabbed her finger at the television. "My character sucks. There's a difference."

"Yes, your character does suck. But you're forgetting, you are your character."

Vanille opened her mouth to unleash a snappy retort only to realise that Serah was absolutely right. In a bid to raise money for charity, the former l'Cie had given their permission for a video game to be made that used their images. They hadn't expected it to be a fighting game, and they certainly hadn't expected it to be so popular. It had already raised enough money for three hospitals, and it was still only the first week of its release.

"Well then, the game has it wrong." Vanille pointed at the image of her on the television screen. "Look at those stats, they're wrong, wrong, I tell you! Strength: D, Speed: C, Agility: D, Magic: S, Hit Points: D, and Special: B. I mean come on, I do not suck that much. This game makes me seem like some kind of pathetically weak, clumsy idiot."

Serah gave Vanille a thoughtful look. "I don't know. You are kind of clumsy. Remember when we went ice-skating and you almost severed your own carotid artery with your ice skates? And what about that time when I took your chocolate and you ran face first into a pole while chasing after me? And let's not forget that –""

"Gah!" Vanille leapt to her feet. "Okay, fine. Maybe I'm not that awesome, but there is no way your stats are right."

"I wouldn't say that." Serah grinned. "I think they're pretty spot on. Strength: C, Speed: A, Agility: A, Magic: B, Hit Points: C, and Special B. Yep, that sounds about right. I'm awesome."

Vanille's eye twitched. She'd endured two hours of horrible pointy death at Serah's hands, and this was the last straw. If she couldn't get her revenge in the game, she'd have to do things the traditional way. With a growl, she leapt at Serah. "Raaaargh!"

One short scuffle later, and Vanille had another loss to her name. Serah was sitting on top of Vanille, and she had both of the red head's wrists pinned above her head.

"Still think I'm not better than you?" Serah leaned forward and smirked. "All you have to do is admit it, and I'll let you up. If not…" Her fingers ghosted along Vanille's sides. "This is going to get ugly."

"I…" The last thing Vanille wanted to do was admit that Serah had won, but she was very, very tickling, and the younger Farron had even less mercy than her sister when it came to things like this. "I…"

"Are you molesting my sister again, Serah?"

Serah practically threw herself off Vanille. "I was not molesting her."

Fang raised one eyebrow and sat down on the couch. "Really? Because every time I walk in on you two, you're always doing something weird. More often than not it involves you pinning her down and groping her." Her lips curled. "Maybe I should tell Snow that he's got some competition."

Serah's face went the same colour as her hair. "It's – it's not like that."

"I believe you," Fang said in the fakest voice ever. "So, are you two going to tell me what started it this time?"

Vanille looked at the television. "It was the new video game about us. We were playing it." She paused. "And Serah keeps winning because she's a dirty cheater."

"You're only saying that because you suck." Serah frowned. "Harder than a vacuum cleaner."

Vanille would have lunged at Serah again, but Fang pulled her back. As much as Fang loved her little sister, she didn't think Vanille had much of a chance against the younger Farron, at least when it came to hand-to-hand combat. However, Serah did have a point. Based on her stats, the Vanille in the game did kind of suck.

"She might be right," Fang said. "I had a chance to play this game at Hope's house a few days ago – you were pretty horrible. But if I remember right…" She went back to the character select screen and pulled up her stats. "I'm pretty awesome. Let's see… Strength: A, Speed: A, Agility: A, Magic: B, Hit Points: A, and Special: A. I'm awesome, all right." She looked at Serah. "I'm definitely better than you, that's for sure."

Serah scowled. Fang was right. But Serah wasn't done yet. "I bet my sister is better than you."

Fang and Lightning might have started dating, but they hadn't stopped being competitive. If anything, they'd only gotten worse. According to Vanille – who had relayed the information while looking completely traumatised – the amorous couple had taken that competitive streak all the way to the bedroom. And given the stupid grin on Lightning's face whenever she talked about Fang, those particular competitions didn't actually have a loser. Well, except for Vanille and the neighbours.

"Are you sure about that?" Fang pulled up Lightning stats, and her brows furrowed as she read through them. "Wait… Strength: B, Speed: S, Agility: S, Magic: A, Hit Points: B, Special: S." She made a disgusted sound. "I know Lightning is fast and all, but an S in both speed and agility? And they even gave her an S for Special too? Her Army of One is not that good."

"Really?" Lightning drawled as she ambled into the living room with a bottle of water. She favoured both Serah and Vanille with an amused look. "I heard screaming in here earlier. Serah, please tell me that you weren't molesting Vanille again."

"What? You too?" Serah glared. "I do not molest Vanille."

"Are you sure?" Lightning had learned a few things from Fang – some of the more interesting things had been learned in the privacy of their bedroom – but teasing was definitely one of her favourites. After years of being on the receiving end, she was developing quite a taste for it. "You've been staying here for a week now since Snow is away on an expedition, but already you've managed to walk in on Vanille when she's in the shower three times. Coincidence? I think not. And don't even get me started on how you stole some of her underwear."

"That was you!" Vanille jabbed one finger at Serah. "Pervert!"

"That's not what happened," Serah screeched. "I was doing my laundry, and we wear similar sizes. They must have gotten mixed up in mine and…" She trailed off as the other women all shook their heads together. "I am not a pervert." She had to force the words out. "It was an accident."

"So why haven't you given them back yet?" Fang pulled Vanille into her arms. "Don't worry, Vanille, I'll protect you from that awful pervert and her groping."

Serah's eyes narrowed. "Keep pushing you guys. I have a bow, and I know where all of you sleep."

There was enough of Lightning's deadly seriousness in Serah's voice to convince them that maybe it might be better to move onto something else. They moved back to the video game.

"You know," Lightning said. "I'm the best character in the game."

Fang rolled her eyes. "I know you think you're the best thing that ever happened to the world…" She winced at the icy glare Lightning shot her. Time to pull her foot out of her mouth. "Well, okay maybe you are the best thing that ever happened to me, but you are not the best character in the game."

"Nice save." Lightning gave Fang a small smile. "But I've checked the forums. Everyone agrees that I am the best character in the game. Vanille might be bottom tier, but I am top tier."

The huntress's eyes widened. "You checked the forums?"

"I wanted to see what all the fuss was about."

"You checked the online forums for a video game? You, Lightning Farron, did that?"

"Yes, and I'm the best character in the game." Lightning picked up one of the controllers. "If you think you're better, prove it."

Fang bit back a smirk. She'd played a few games over at Hope's house. There was no way she could lose. "You're on."

All Lightning did was smile.


Fang darted toward Lightning, intent on ending the battle with a single, brutal blow of her spear. Instead, she took a gunshot straight to the face. Before she could even think about recovering, her body was being riddled with more bullets before she was hurled into the air. As she tumbled through the air, Lightning leapt after her, grabbed hold of her sari, and threw her back into the ground with enough force to crater it. Fang stumbled to her feet just in time to hear Lightning whisper three words.

"Army of One."

And then there was nothing.


All of her aggravation at Serah forgotten, Vanille turned from the carnage on the television to face the younger Farron. "Did you know that your sister is a video game ninja?"

Serah gave a slow, stunned shake of her head. She and Vanille had been playing for a few hours now. Fang hadn't played badly at all. But Lightning… Lightning had run over her the same way a giant freight train would have run over a crippled hamster with three legs. To call it a fight would have been a gross, cruel distortion of the word 'fight.' It had been a massacre.

"You were saying?" Lightning asked.

"That…" Fang gaped. "That…" She blinked. No, this was real. Lightning had just kicked her ass in a video game. "You must have cheated."


"Either that or you got lucky."

"So you want to try again?"

Fang growled. "Again!"


Fang launched herself forward with all the speed she could muster. She wouldn't give Lightning the chance to use her weapon in its gun for. But whenever she lashed out, Lightning was never there to be hit. The other woman was like a ghost, darting and weaving through each of Fang's attacks. But she did more than dodge – Lightning left cuts and gashes in her wake. Little by little, she was wearing Fang down. And as Fang lunged again, her spear extended, Lightning vanished.

The cold metal of a gun pressed against the back of Fang's head.



"You…" Fang shot to her feet. She'd been played. "You did more than look at those forums, didn't you? You studied them. You… you cheater!" Behind her, Vanille nodded in support. How fitting that Lightning was a cheater like her sister.

"It's not cheating if it's in the game. Besides, you could always look up the forums yourself."

Fang frowned. Then she frowned some more. "Vanille, get me your laptop. Now."

Lightning started to get up. "We can have a rematch after you've looked at a few things."

"Oh no." Fang pulled Lightning back onto the couch. Vanille came back with her laptop, and Fang started skimming through the forums dedicated to her character. "We're doing this now. I'll learn as I go."

"It's your funeral."

And it was. Many, many times – right up until Lightning had to leave for an evening shift with the Guardian Corps. The final score? Lightning: 30. Fang: 0.


Lightning got home a little after midnight. On her way past the living room, she stopped and stared. Fang was still there with her fingers moving over the controller as she practiced combos and special moves. The look on her face was something between a scowl and a grimace.

"Fang," Lightning said as she sat down on the couch beside the dark haired woman. "Have you been here since I left?"

The laughter that came from Fang was more than a little crazed. "I can beat you now, Lightning."

"That's crazy talk." Lightning paused. "And I mean that. You're taking this way too seriously."

"Let's go." Fang handed Lightning a controller. "We'll see who's better this time."

Half an hour of relentless slaughter later, Fang had yet to win a game.

"I don't get it!" Fang growled. "How do you keep winning? I've looked up everything that I can do to beat you, and none of it works."

"Remember what I said earlier? I'm top tier. I wasn't joking. If you bothered to read the tier discussion, you'd have seen that everyone agrees I'm broken – as in way too good compared to all the other characters." Lightning allowed a hint of a smile to cross her lips. "They're thinking about banning me in any tournaments they play."

Fang twitched. Her jaw clenched. A ragged, gurgling, rumble came from deep inside her chest. "So you're telling me that you are so good in this game that they're thinking of banning you? Am I hearing that right?"


"Then you were cheating!"

"No. We're not playing a tournament, and they haven't made a final decision about banning me yet."

Fang shot Lightning a dirty look. "You know you're going to pay for this."

Apart from teasing, Lightning had learned something else very important from Fang: how to let things go. "Fang, you could get mad at me, and we could spend the rest of tonight arguing." Lightning pulled off her jacket and gloves and set her gun blade over on the coffee table. "But consider this: you've got the real Lightning Farron in front of you, not a video game. Do your really want to stay angry at me, or do you want to carry me up to bed?"

"Are you trying to use your feminine wiles on me?" Fang chuckled. "Because it's working."

"That was the plan, yes." Lightning smiled. "So, what'll it be? Do you want to spend the rest of tonight fighting the video game me, or do you want to spend the rest of tonight doing whatever you want to real me?"

It wasn't even a question. Living up to her stats (Strength: A, Speed: A, Agility: A), Fang lifted Lightning into her arms and bounded up the stairs. It wasn't too much longer before Lightning proved she deserved her stats as well. An S rank in Agility could mean a lot of things…like a wonderful degree of flexibility and astonishing manual dexterity.

The real Lightning, it seemed, was top tier in a few things as well. Only this time, Fang wasn't inclined to complain.

Game over.


Author's Notes

As always, I neither own Final Fantasy, nor am I making any money off of this.

This was a silly little idea that popped into my head this morning. I tried to get rid of it, but it continued to stick around until I finally got it down onto paper (or rather onto a screen). It's exactly the sort of thing I need before I dive into Whispers of the Gods and The Vestige again.

For those of you who don't play video games, allow me to explain some of the terminology. In fighting games, characters are generally divided up into several tiers. The top tier characters are, by and large, simply better than the low tier characters. What this means is that if two people of the same skill play, the one using the top tier character should beat the person using a low tier character.

Lighting's reference to her game self as "broken" is another piece of fighting game terminology. "Broken" is often used to describe a character that is so good that it feels like they "break" the game. Such characters are generally so far, far above the other characters that playing them is considered unfair and they are either banned or restricted in some manner (e.g., Meta Knight from Smash Brothers).

In the video game, Lightning is top tier making her one of the best characters in the game. However, she is so much better than the other characters that she is considered broken (which is why Fang couldn't beat her despite Fang being a very good character herself in the game). On the other hand, Vanille is so bad in the game that Serah would probably beat her on the basis of stats alone (look at Serah's in-game stats – they are far better than Vanille's).

Fang's accusation that Lightning is cheating is a reference to the fact that some casual fans of fighting games consider the advanced techniques and strategy employed by those who take the game more seriously to be akin to cheating.

If you're interested in my original fiction, you can find the details in my profile.

As always, I appreciate feedback. Reviews and comments are welcome.