Just A Dream

Lightning woke and for one long, long moment, all she could was stare into the darkness around her. Slowly, far too slowly, her pulse returned to normal and her breathing evened out as her senses reminded her of where she really was. She was in her bedroom – the bedroom she shared with Fang – curled up to the pillow the other woman always used. The sheets beneath her were smooth, but slightly damp with sweat, and a thin sliver of light crept in from under the bedroom door to reveal her gun blade propped up against the wall.

Swallowing thickly, she reached over for Fang's pillow and pulled it up to her face. It still held a hint of the other woman's scent, and Lightning felt something that was almost a sob well up for deep inside her. This was real. All of this was real and her dreams had been just that… dreams.

She forced herself to sit up and rubbed at her face. It had all felt some real. She had dreamt of another world, another her, who hadn't been able to wake Fang and Vanille from their stasis. Her attempts to free them had led her to another world, and from there, to a confrontation with a former servant of Etro determined to kill the goddess. In the end, the madman had been defeated, but it had cost Lightning her sister and the world had been plunged into chaos. Encased in crystal, she would awaken hundreds of years later to a world that was once again on the brink of annihilation.

Still trembling slightly, Lightning dragged in another harsh breath. Just thinking about the dreams made her break out into a cold sweat. She'd lived an entire lifetime in those dreams, maybe more than one, and at the end, as she'd wandered that distant world, the shadow of the Maker hanging over everything, all she had been ale to think about was how the life she'd come to think of as her own – this life – had all been a dream.

She shook her head. The idea that everything around her – her house, her children, her family and friends – the idea that all of those things were just a dream was too horrible to even think about. But it was all right. She was awake now, really awake, and this, this right here was real. She and the others had fought the fal'Cie and they'd won. Then Fang and Vanille had woken up and all of them had gotten their happy ending.

But before she could stop herself, she was out of her bedroom and walking quickly down the hall toward the girls' bedroom, her hands trailing along the walls to make sure that they were real, that she could feel them. As quietly as she could, she eased open their bedroom door, and looked inside. A great sigh of relief left her. The girls were there. Averia was sleeping on her side, scowling faintly at something in her sleep. Not far off, Diana was sleeping on her stomach, her blankets kicked off and her arms and legs spread out so that she looked like some kind of starfish. Perched on the little girl's back was Mr Snaggles, the plush toy somehow managing to stay upright as Diana fidgeted and mumbled.

Closing the door, Lightning headed down to the kitchen to make herself some hot chocolate. She didn't want to go to sleep yet. If she was honest, she was afraid she'd have the dream again, and the thought of being away from her family, her children, was enough to send a chill down her spine. Once the hot chocolate was done, she took a seat at the kitchen counter. The lights were off, but the moonlight coming in through the window provided just enough light for her to see. Biting her lip gently, she looked over at the phone. It was late, but it was right there and…

She picked up the phone and dialled a familiar number.

"Do you know what time it is?" Fang mumbled over the phone. The other woman was sleepy, but there was still a hint of teasing in her voice. "It's two in the morning, Lightning. I know you miss me, but really…" Fang trailed off as Lightning remained silent. Normally, Lightning would already have begun to scold her. "Lightning?" Fang's voice was worried now. "Lightning, is everything all right? Did something happen to you or the girls? What about –"

"I just needed to hear your voice." Lightning felt her cheeks grow hot. Even after being married to Fang for years, she still wasn't entirely comfortable with saying things like that. It was different when they were alone in their bedroom where Lightning could show the other woman how she felt, but this was awkward. "Everything is fine, Fang. I just need to hear your voice, okay?"

Fang was silent for a moment, and then Lightning could hear the rustle of blankets as the other woman sat up. "Lightning, everything is not fine if you're calling me at two in the morning just because you need to hear my voice. Usually, you'd be telling me to shut up." Fang chuckled, but grew quiet when Lightning still didn't take the bait. "Lightning, what's wrong?"

"I…" Lightning scrubbed at her face, her hot chocolate forgotten. "I had a bad dream."

"A bad dream huh?" Fang sighed. "I've had a few of those myself over the years. I've never liked them. It doesn't matter how strong or fast you are, you always feel helpless in those kinds of dreams, and I hate that. Do you want to tell me about it?"

So Lightning did, and when she was done, Fang gave a low whistle.

"That's a bad one, all right, but don't worry, it wasn't real. This, right here, you and me talking on the phone, that's what's real." Fang chuckled. "And don't forget you gave birth to Averia – I'm pretty sure that was real. You damn near broke my hand during that." Lightning's lips twitched and Fang pressed on. "And don't forget all the weird stuff the kids get up to. I don't think even your imagination could come up with all of that. Face it, Lightning, we're stuck with two weird but wonderful kids and an extended family that is, at best, quite bizarre."

This time Lightning laughed, and her hand tightened around the phone, wishing Fang were there beside her. She could almost see the lazy smirk on the other woman's face. "I guess so. Come home soon, Fang."

"I will. The expedition should be done sometime tomorrow, so I should be back the day after that." Fang's voice took on a more serious tone. "The Yun used to say that Etro sends us dreams like yours to remind us of how lucky we are to have what we do. Maybe there are other worlds, Lightning, worlds where we don't get our happy ending, but you and I? We've got ours, and there's not a damn thing in the universe that's going to take it away."

Lightning smiled. "Good night, Fang, and thanks… you know, for not laughing."

"Did you really think I would?" Fang was smirking, Lightning was sure of it. "Besides, it's been two weeks since we've seen each other. The absolute last thing I want to be doing with you when I get back is arguing. Good night, Lightning."

Lightning hung up and turned her attention back to her hot chocolate. The beverage was only lukewarm now, but she didn't mind. There was enough sugar in it to make it appealing anyway. However, just as she was about to head back upstairs, she heard footsteps. Her lips curled. She'd know those footsteps anywhere. A few moments later, her daughters appeared. They made a beeline for the fridge, seemingly unaware of Lightning at the counter.

"Getting some ice cream?"

"Ah!" Diana screamed and nearly ran face first into the fridge as Averia grabbed hold of the nearest thing she could find – a plate – and hurled it in Lightning's direction. Lightning plucked the plate out of the air and set it on the counter. Not bad, Averia's aim had been spot on.

"Don't do that, mom!" Averia growled as she switched on the lights. "What were you doing sitting here in the dark?"

Lightning smiled faintly. "I was thinking about a few things. How about you two? Were you looking for the ice cream?"

Both girls exchanged guilty looks.

"I woke up, and I was hungry," Diana explained. "And I thought some ice cream might help me get back to sleep."

Averia shrugged. "If she was going to have some, I wanted some too."

"I see." Lightning looked at her two children. They weren't supposed to be sneaking ice cream at night, but really, it was the sort of thing she'd come to expect from them. Besides, she could use a little ice cream herself after the night she'd had. "In that case, why don't we have some together?"

They both stared at her for a moment, and then there was a flurry of motion as the girls grabbed the ice cream, some bowls, and then sat down at the kitchen counter beside her. With one last, slightly suspicious look at her – normally it was Fang helping them sneak candy in the middle of the night – they pitched into their ice cream.

"Night ice cream is the best," Diana explained. She was up to her second bowl already, and Lightning hadn't gotten even a third of the way through her first. "Because it's colder at night and that makes it better."

"Really?" Lightning smiled. This had to be real – she refused to believe that her imagination could come up with a statement that bizarre. Beside her, Averia gave a long-suffering sigh.

"Definitely." Diana nodded firmly. "Everyone knows that."

"So, eating ice cream during winter should make it extra good, right?" Averia asked.

"Exactly." Diana gave her sister a sunny smile. "There's never a bad time for ice cream."

Once they'd finished eating, Lightning put the dishes in the sink and led the girls back upstairs. At the door of the girls' bedroom, she paused.

"How about you two sleep in me and mommy's bed tonight?" Lightning asked.

Diana grinned. "Cool. Your bed is much bigger than mine."

"Well, they are taller," Averia said. She frowned. "But do we have to? I mean, I'm not a little girl anymore and…" She must have seen something in Lightning's eyes because she trailed off and nodded. "Fine, I guess we could, I mean only for tonight."

And so Lightning found herself back in bed with Averia on the other side and Diana in the middle.

"Look, mom, I'm a starfish!" Diana cried, waving her arms and legs around. "This is so cool. I can never move around this much in my bed without falling off."

Averia did her best to fend off her sister's flailing limbs. "Stop doing that!" She pointed at Lightning. "And look at mom, she's right at the edge of the bed. You're the smallest and you're still taking up the most room." She gave Lightning a weary look. "You know, she does this whenever she sneaks into my bed too, mom. She even pushed me out once. I woke up on the floor. And that's not even counting all the times she's stolen my blankets!"

Diana stopped flailing long enough to scowl at her sister. "You fell out of bed on your own, and I don't steal your blankets, you give them to me."

"How can I give them to you? I'm asleep when you take them," Averia growled.

"That's enough." Lightning chuckled and tugged Diana over to her before reaching over and pulling Averia closer too. Diana settled immediately, wrapping her arms around Lightning's middle while Averia ended up using one of Lightning's arms for a pillow. "You can argue more in the morning. For now, go to sleep."

Later, much later, when both the girls had fallen asleep – after another obligatory round of bickering – Lightning was still awake. She could feel Diana pressed again her, the girl's slightly spiky hair poking her in the chest. Her arm, which Averia had taken to using for a pillow, had gone slightly numb, but even so, she could still feel several soft, silky strands of Averia's hair against her fingertips.

This was real. This was her happy ending.

X X X

Author's Notes

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

Tell Me A Story and Ordinary Heroes are two of the happiest stories that I've ever written, and frankly I think that Lightning and Fang really do deserve that happiness. But what if they weren't real? That's a disturbing thought, and one I wanted to write about. Wouldn't the most horrible thing in the world be if they were nothing more than dreams Lightning was having in crystal stasis, the last, fleeting attempt of her mind to keep her sane by offering her everything she's ever wanted.

The way I interpret things is as follows: Ordinary Heroes and Tell Me A Story are both clearly AU after Final Fantasy XIII. Lightning's dreams in this chapter are a glimpse into how things could have been (and how they actually are in Final Fantasy XIII-2 and XIII-3). If there are multiple universes (and certainly Final Fantasy XIII-2 suggests this) in at least some of them Lightning gets the happy ending she deserves, while in others she gets the short end of the stick. Wouldn't it be interesting if all of the Lightning's in those different universes could, in some vague way, sense each other (e.g., in dreams like the ones in this chapter)? It would be just like the gods of the Final Fantasy XIII universe to allow something like that.

But for those of you who like the kids – don't worry, they're not a dream. They are real, at least for this Lightning. As for all the other Lightning's less fortunate and still fighting for their happy endings, let's see if maybe Final Fantasy XIII-3 can give them something to smile about.

And if you don't like this chapter (or what it may imply), just disregard it. Tell Me A Story and Ordinary Heroes both definitely exist in their own universe, and this chapter doesn't have to exist in that universe too unless you want it to. I just thought it would a nifty idea to write about.

On a slighty related note, I do know how Lightning feels. One of the most vivid dreams I've ever had involved me living what felt like an entire lifetime as another person complete with different friends, family, and even children. Waking up from that dream was more than a little disturbing. If you have the time, you might also want to drop by my blog razieltwelve(put a dot)wordpress(put a dot)com., or my tumblr, survivingaustralia(put a dot)tumblr(put a dot)com. The latter has an entry concerning how best to survive being attacked by a koala, while the former has tips on public speaking (along with the usual status updates and other related stuff).

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