"Jihl…" Jeanne cradled her baby to her chest, "Oh, Jihl."
Lightning avoided eyes with her parents. Everyone in this room knew where the fault really belonged, and she couldn't meet their eyes for it, but Lightning said what had to be voiced for Jihl and her mothers to hear. "It sounds cheap now, but Jihl and I had just agreed to stop seeing Fang. We weren't… ready or good for a baby. Then we put it together this morning."
It felt like lava boiled under her feet, Lightning was so crushed to tell them. It wasn't a happy scene. Jeanne was nearly in tears and Lightning knew exactly why now. Cereza faired little better, but probably felt just as bad as her wife, sitting next to her on the bed with an arm around Jeanne. Lightning stood alone against their family, rightfully so. She felt like she'd betrayed them all collectively.
"We both did it," Jihl said from the comfort of Jeanne's arms, perhaps feeling too coddled with Lightning hot on the grill in front of them. "I liked having sex with Fang too."
Lightning winced at the wording. 'Liked it' would only hurt Jeanne more, even if it was true. Jihl hadn't shared the deep guilt Lightning had over Fang, but it wasn't what her mother needed to hear in this delicate time. And sure enough, Cereza's brow fixed tightly at the sound of it.
"Lightning, please," Cereza asked, tapping the bed. "Sit." Lightning obeyed unquestioningly, though she sat a few inches apart from Cereza, undeserving. "We're going to help you both through this." Cereza told them, sounding strained. "You don't have to take this on yourselves. Pregnancy's a big thing, and we're both here for you every step of the way."
"Mums…" Jihl voiced quietly. "I didn't want to hurt you like this. I'm really sorry."
"We know, Jihl." Jeanne couldn't stop squeezing her. "We know." Lightning bit her tongue to keep from joining in the apology. She didn't deserve even the words of remorse to them. She'd impregnated their daughter through rape.
Jeanne rested her head against Jihl's, then quietly requested. "Lightning; can you give us a few moments with our daughter, please?" Lightning stood immediately.
"I'll take her," Cereza volunteered, offering Lightning a kindness she didn't deserve instead of staying out there alone.
"You don't have to," Lightning countered it, "It's okay. I can wait outside alone."
Cereza seemed uncertain whether to let her stay there alone or not, but Jeanne just breathed. "Thank you, Lightning." And decided for them. Lightning took her leave nervously and closed the door behind her, cutting off sound completely. Sliding down against the wall, Lightning held her face and breathed.
"Mum…" Jihl voiced uncertainly, not sure what to say with Lightning gone from the room now. Jeanne had lifted her head with a stressed poise she hadn't had before. Jihl had seen her mother like this on few enough occasions already; when she told them not to sleep with Fang, when she addressed the Umbra in the council before, it was her mask over the pain and Jihl's strong side of Jeanne. It made her nervous.
"I need to know, Jihl." Jeanne said with her tone, and Jihl reckoned it was time to slide off her mother's lap. But Jeanne looked down at her seriously, importantly before she really could. "Sleeping with Fang, you enjoyed it? You're not just covering up for Lightning?"
Jihl caught in her mothers' steely eyes suddenly felt little and smaller. "I did…"
Jeanne still sounded strained. "I know you never wanted a baby, Jihl," her mother detected accurately, "That Lightning did, and you went along with it for her, but… enjoying it tells me it wasn't just for Lightning."
Jihl slid from her lap, bowing her head from the look in her mother's eyes. "I'm sorry."
Jeanne stood, hand to her aching head. "I know, Jihl, but consequences come from our actions. You knew Fang was Ragnarok, and that she's been used to give children for years. Lightning wanting a child doesn't okay what either of you did to her; nothing should okay that kind of extreme."
Jihl's head hurt. She had enjoyed Fang right in the midst of Lightning's heavy guilt, but she'd been too preoccupied with her girlfriend to worry much about Fang. She still was. Fang hadn't really occurred to her a bit since Lightning said they were done having sex with her, not even when they'd figured the pregnancy. But, technically, it was Fang's baby she might be holding. Not Lightning's, Fang's… it sent a little shiver through her to think of it that way. "Mother… I don't know what to do."
"We're going to help you with that," Cereza answered when Jeanne seemed too stressed to. "We just want you to realize the gravity of this, Jihl. Have you and Lightning even considered yet what you might say to Fang?"
"She probably has," Jihl mumbled, her thoughts on it haven't extended that far about it.
Cereza glanced at Jeanne. "It's something you should try to figure, Jihl. Fang lives with us; she's a human being. Jeanne and I aren't the best examples when it comes to this, but we've never slept with Fang out of a desire to, or because it pleasured us to do so. We're not… condemning your reasons as any worse than ours, Jihl. But we've made the best of exceptions we can manage with Fang concerning Rhea. It may be something you should consider… "
"You want me to talk to her about it?" Jihl asked, stomach feeling even queasier at that. What an awkward conversation that would make.
"We can't tell you what to do, Jihl," Cereza cautioned, "And this is still a very early stage. You should be sure about the pregnancy before deciding anything, but… we'll know that well enough within the next few weeks, if you're far enough along."
"We will?" Jihl questioned, confused by that statement. "I mean, Lightning and I think it's true, but… I don't menstruate regularly or anything. How are we going to know?"
Cereza glanced at Jeanne, who answered with a breath. "Fang's Ragnarok, Jihl. Rather quickly, all of us are going to be able to sense the power growing within you, and you're not going to be allowed to use magic anymore."
"What?" Jihl snapped to attention especially at that last bit. "Why not?"
"It endangers the baby." Jeanne said simply. "Drawing on your magic inadvertently draws from the child's growing power as well. You'd hurt your child that way."
Jihl settled to the bed with an unhappy face, looking at the long strands she'd worked hard to weave through little piercings this morning and had accomplished, not as neatly as her mothers, but was proud of. "Even my hair?"
Cereza actually smiled a very little. "I hated that too."
"You're as bad as Cereza, I swear," Jeanne breathed. "Jihl... you know how much you mean to us, don't you?"
"I know," Jihl affirmed, meaning it because she felt it from her mothers every day.
"We're not trying to be harsh about your pregnancy. We just want you to understand the consequences and help you with them."
"Mums…" Jihl bit the inside of her lip, "Lightning and I are… ill-equipped for a child. We haven't even seen what raising a normal family is like, and haven't even thought about raising one. We always figured, with Cocoon, that we'd snuff the kid if we birthed a girl… rather than let her grow up like we did."
"Jihl," Jeanne breathed unevenly, and Cereza wrapped an arm around her.
"It's okay, Mums. We don't live there anymore, and Lightning's really starting to adopt here. It's just that, I'm not really going to know what to do, and Light's not going to either, but… if I… have a baby… I'd want her like Rhea. I'd…" Jihl shifted her shoulders uncomfortably. "I'd want to raise her the same way you did Rhea. If you can... show us how to do that."
"Jihl," Jeanne bowed in to hug her, "We're your parents. That's why we're here; to help you with these things." Jihl basked in the dual-hug she was getting, much more comfortable with this kind of affection from her parents over their stern parenting.
"We love you," Cereza added in hugging her.
"I love you too, Mums," Jihl told them and meant it.
"You're making me nervous."
"Sorry," Lightning apologized, eyes returning to the bowl in front of her on the bed that was hers to eat from. "I've never seen you eat as much as me."
"I better not end up eating like you." Jihl warned, "You've practically live in the kitchen." Lightning made a face, but didn't protest the true claim. Jihl glanced down at her belly. "Sure feels like it though… at most, I can be what, four weeks along?" Jihl reached down touched her bare stomach. "It's inheriting a Yun appetite already."
"Yun appetite…" Lightning mumbled, thinking to herself.
"You see how much Fang eats, don't you? It's like twice what you do."
Their door creaked, followed by a short knocking before Fang showed up in the doorway, then looked away at Jihl's nakedness on the bed. "Lightning, Jihl…"
Because Jihl made no effort to, Lightning pulled up the blanket and tossed it over her. "Fang? Is something wrong?"
"No," Fang answered simply, "Cereza asked me to tell you; I'm going out to Gran Pulse with a few of the Umbra, and she wanted to know if you'd like to come too."
"Gran Pulse outside of Paradiso?" Jihl asked in interest.
"Yeah. We'll be escorted wherever we go, and no cities, but if you want a breath of air outside of this place…"
Lightning checked Jihl, who seemed quite happy with the idea. "Okay," Lightning agreed, "Give us a few moments to get dressed?"
"If you have weapons, bring them. I'll be right outside," Fang confirmed, shutting the door behind her.
"Sounds like an adventure." Jihl claimed with a light in her eyes as she started expanding and weaving her hair through again.
"Aren't you supposed to stop magic?" Lightning asked with a worrisome glance.
"When Ragnarok's powers blossom in me, yes." Jihl sighed, "I have a little time till that. Hopefully." She pet her hair over her chest longingly, sad. "I'll miss it dearly when it happens."
"You've gotten attached fast."
"It's okay," Jihl passed off as she fidgeted with the last bits and ended up fingering them through. "You'll just have to grow yours for me."
"Maybe I will."
"You tease!" Jihl cried, "Mean. You're getting me all hot again before we even go on our venture."
Lightning's lips quirked in smile, it was too rare that she got to tease. "Maybe I meant it." Jihl squawked in protest to Lightning's laugh. "Come on."
"You're going to get it later, you know."
"I usually like it when you say that."
Lightning grabbed her gunblade and went to the door, seeing Jihl by the Rose boxes indecisively. "Take the shotguns," Lightning advised, "Too much walking for heels." Pulling up after her, she joined Lightning at the door by Fang. "You ready?" Fang asked politely as Jihl pulled up behind her, which made Lightning glance back.
"Who's coming with us?" Jihl asked, not seeming to share her tension. They'd both agreed with Jihl's mothers that they wouldn't say anything until they knew for sure, but Lightning couldn't stop the feeling like she was hiding something from Fang. Worse yet with the conversation they'd shared this morning.
Jihl didn't seem to mind.
"Nerites, Selene, and Ariadne."
"Ariadne!" Jihl called out in delight, "That's perfect."
"Quite a heavy guard," Lightning speculated. Three full-blood Umbra, surely that was an over
"They're for me," Fang explained simply, "Usually I only have two; even one Umbra could subdue me in an instant with Witch Time, but Cereza asked Araidne especially because she thought you might come too."
"I see." Lightning murmured, wondering at how Fang had phrased it. Had Umbra had to subdue her before on outings like this? "Where are we going?"
Fang shrugged. "Probably Neradas Valley. It's quiet, nearby, and doesn't get big fiend action. They'd want to be extra careful with both of you coming along."
"It sounds pleasant."
"Little sightseeing in Gran Pulse isn't."
"Ariadne," Jihl called out in delight upon seeing the wine-colored Umbra, and hugged her upon it. Ariadne looked well, Lightning noted, hair spilling and connecting into her full outfit at the shoulders, a skintight one woven seamlessly over her tall, lithe form
"Jihl," Ariadne greeted, squeezing back thankfully. "You're wearing your hair!"
Jihl cracked an easy grin, blonde strands covering her body neatly. It wasn't so well done as Araidne's where her hair seemed like leather, but the sight of it seemed to make the Umbra so proud. "Lightning and Mums gave me them for my birthday," Jihl claimed, equally as proud.
"And these are your Roses?" Ariadne asked, taking one from her hand to admire in fully.
"Also presents," Jihl confirmed with a smile, "And the heels."
"You've done beautifully," Ariadne complimented, "Especially with your hair, Jihl. It's very flattering on you."
"Thank you," Jihl grinned.
"Here, sweetie," Ariadne offered, hooking the back of Jihl's guns to the single piercing on the outside of her wrists, just above it. "So you don't have to carry them." She explained, "Most of us weave little holsters for them with our hair, or add belts to keep them in," she indicated her hips where two handles, barely seen, protruding from some slips of her hair that's been seamlessly woven over the weapons.
"Ooh," Jihl cooed in intense interest, making Ariadne smile all the more.
"I'll show you how when we get out there," she offered kindly.
One of the two other Umbra behind her made a noise in her throat, reminding. "Is Ragnarok ready?" Lightning checked to see a completely black colored Umbra with long, falling hair that ran to her knees, blacker even than Cereza's, it seemed to swallow light itself, and so straight and pristine.
"I'm ready," Fang alerted from her side, ever respectfully.
Ariadne stepped aside to reveal the other Umbra as well, an ash-blonde woman with a tone darker than Jihl's, beautiful hair wavy until it hit her body suit, which made quite a contrast Lightning had yet to see. "Jihl, Lightning, this is Nerites," she gestured to the black one after, "And Selene."
"Girls," Selene addressed, then glanced at Fang. "Ragnarok. Come along." Nerites stepped in silently after Fang, and it was only then that Lightning saw she had a long, braid-woven spear with her that rivaled her height, only falling short by a small foot about.
"We'll be walking there," Ariadne told them, "It's not far. We've decided upon the Neradas Valley today with you two along. It's quieter of fiends, but beautiful to visit. Sorry we could not decide on anywhere grander for you, Fang."
Fang glanced at her, "It's no problem. I understand."
"Perhaps you may catch a stray behemoth to bring back."
"I hope so." Fang agreed, then unexpectedly asked. "How is Madam Thalia doing?"
Lightning quirked an eyebrow. The question being completely unnecessary, it wasn't like Fang to make small talk. Perhaps this was something Araidne liked to try to soften raping Fang, but if she and Jeanne were any indictors, it wasn't something Fang enjoyed, much less would instigate. She glanced to the other Umbra to check. Nerites completely ignored them, and Selene only glanced scathingly their way, as if it were a disapproving thing to engage Fang in such a way.
"She fares very well," Araidne answered agreeably, not seeming to care of her sisters' distaste. They carried on through the gardens of Paradiso to the carved stairway and extended balcony off the cliff. "We've actually started considering seeking out Adelaide's father to try again."
"Really?" Fang asked in startled surprise, which Lightning shared.
"Maybe," Araidne allowed as they started down the massive stairs, "But she's almost certainly mated by now. It's been fifty years."
"Fifty years?" Lightning blurted, unable to contain the outburst of startled surprise. Her daughter must've been twenty-eight when taken, added to the twenty-two years Lightning and Jihl had spent in Cocoon, but the Yun… if they'd been twenty by the time Ariadne and Thalia first shared her, that'd put her at seventy by now. Older yet for how long it must've taken to get pregnant with the Yun. Lightning had a terrible image now stuck with her of Thalia and Ariadne picking out a very old and weathered Yun to rape.
Araidne glanced back at her in the stairwell with a faint smile. "Don't look so troubled, Lightning. Yuns hold longer lifespans than what you're used to. We played a bit of favoritism when creating them; along with long lifespans and excellent hunting sense, we gave them strength greater than man as well. The enhancing of their senses came only after we descended to Cocoon, but they were always our prized, Amazonian huntresses. A female Yun spends her average fertile life up to ninety, about middle age. We reckon around the same with all the Yuns. They'll make it to around 150 before age starts to grip them and their senses. Most Yuns don't make it so far because of their nature, but we've seen a few up to 180 years."
Lightning took that all in with a long stare in processing.
"Does she still live?" Fang asked, referring to Yun in question Araidne had spoken of. They came out at the base of the Cliffside, mountainous pillars half-circling them in the dark. Umbra heels clicked on stone as they carried on. Jihl gripped her hand and commented quietly.
"We hold our age well."
Lightning looked at her in complete surprise, the comment reminding Lightning of earlier in their bedroom. It was a conversation for later they'd have.
"We think so, yes." Ariadne replied to Fang, "When we first lost Adelaide, she promised us we could ask of her again, even if mated by the time we were ready, that she'd talk it over with her spouse." Fang nodded, "But…" Ariadne added. "Times are not… as they were back then. We'd hesitate to ask of her, if she could be found."
"She wouldn't say no, Ariadne." Selene contributed with a flecking glance.
"That's why we wouldn't ask." Ariadne sighed, cast a dismissive look from her sister.
Lightning's eyes flicked to the woman uneasily. She moved in closer to Jihl.
"I'm sorry to hear that," Fang said, sounding genuine, which surprised Lightning again.
"Me too," Ariadne agreed somberly.