Class: White Mage
Title: Like a Wolf in Sheep's Clothing
Summary: After puberty hits, Lightning has some pretty mixed feelings about her looks.
Characters/Pairings: Lightning, Serah, Snow, Fang, Sazh, (can be read as pre-Lightning/Snow)
Word count: 2,138
Rating/warnings: T, for negative body image and a scene involving harassment.
As a preteen, her skin fits perfect. The Bodhum sun cooks her golden and lightens her hair almost white.
Claire runs across the beach, her feet sure in the sand as the others run with her, and she laughs—bright and open.
Lightning crosses her arms over her chest as the clerk examines her breasts with passing interest. “Can we hurry?” she snaps while he scans the milk.
His mouth twists into a frown. Great. Now Lightning is the rude orphan. She shifts her weight again, then swipes her card. The summer day outside is fading to pink when he hands her her bags. “You wanna—?” the clerk begins.
“I’m busy,“ the words are scripted at this point.
She lugs the bags home and uses her free hand to tug her shirt down to cover her midriff, making the shadow between her breasts visible, along with the upper curve of her white bra. There was a time when she walked home without the weight of eyes on her thighs. She yanks down the hem of her shorts to bare her midriff again.
No winning, Farron.
The sun lowers over the waves, and Lightning looks straight forward and lengthens her stride.
Serah applies mascara the way Lightning polishes her gunblade. Lip gloss shines on her sister’s smile, soft and pink, and she says, “Don’t blink, Lightning, or this will hurt.”
Lightning’s eyes water as the brush swipes over her lashes. God, why is her sister so smart? It seems like every four or five months there’s another award ceremony to go to, with the parents of Serah’s classmates drinking in Lightning’s appearance.
Last time, Lightning had worn a nice button-up a size too small because it had been their mother’s and her best pair of black pants. She hadn’t worn any makeup. Three parents had approached, asking if she needed anything. She’s not going to make that mistake this time.
The mascara goes on without any more fuss, and Serah examines Lightning’s face. “Nice,” she hums, then tugs Lightning’s blouse down. “We need to get you clothes that fit a little better.”
Heat creeps up the back of her neck, no turtleneck to hide the flush. But Serah has turned already, to refasten a pin in the curls of her hair. Lightning clasps her hands white-knuckled behind her back. Chewing off the nail polish before the ceremony would be bad form.
Her hands wrap around her feet as her forehead presses into her knees. She exhales ten even breaths, before she slowly sits up, muscles loose. Propped against the wall, her gunblade shines.
She finishes stretching, then she reaches for her weapon. Bodhum wakes as she flicks the blade out, air warming with the rising sun. Slash, block, aim—she shoots the first can off the box, but only grazes the second—dodge, roll—don’t slice yourself, Farron—shoot, miss. That’s what she gets for not aiming—block, slash, slash. Keeps going—lather, rinse, repeat. Lightning pants by the end of of it, as she checks the accuracy of her shots.
The back door opens, and Serah slips out wrapped in a green robe. “Looking good,” her voice is quiet, gaze fixed on the gunblade in her sister’s hand, “Has Amodar gotten back to you?”
Serah takes in the sweaty strands of hair clinging to Lightning’s face, the too-tight tank top and too-short shorts. “You’re looking good.”
“I’m disgusting,” points out Lightning while she wipes down her weapon.
“I mean,” Serah huffs, hands fisted on her hips, “You look good, Lightning. Healthy and happy. I—maybe this is good for you. Somehow.”
Lightning has lost some of that softness, packed on some muscle—but this, this is the closest Serah has gotten to approval of the Guardian Corps thing. “I think so, too.”
“But we’re going to get you workout clothes that fit. This weekend. Got it?” Serah tells her, as she turns away to go back inside.
Just this once, Lightning doesn’t argue.
Lightning steps before the mirror. The uniform smells new, like chemical-treated fabric. Likely, it’s from Palumpolem. The leather thigh pack whines as she moves. She flexes her hands, the metal plating on her knuckles foreign, and her new gloves creak, too.
In the bathroom light, her boots gleam with polish.
She repositions the buckle at her waist again, then toys with the belt at her hips. Lightning spreads her legs, and the skirt doesn’t impede the movement at all. Shifts to the start of a backflip, then stills before she does anything that will damage the bathroom.
Lightning yanks at the red cape—it detaches, immediate, to hang bright in her hand. She folds it, then sets it on the counter.
Her hands move to the part in her jacket, underneath where the clasps end. Lightning snorts as she pulls apart the flaps. Great. A clear view of her navel piercing. That’s professional. Well, they assigned her the uniform—they’ll have to deal.
Lightning smoothes her hand over her uniform again and again, then fingers the glowing lights on her pauldron. She grabs the folded cape before she leaves the bathroom.
Later, laughing, Serah asks about the cape. Without smiling, Lightning says, “It makes me feel cool.”
And then—they both laugh, till Lightning’s stomach aches with it.
Cocoon shines nearly red overhead, almost like a red eye, and Lightning shivers. Gran Pulse has no temperature control.
Vanille gathers the wood from who knows where, then Sazh lights it with a snap of his fingers. “Fang ’n Hope better hurry up with that food,” Sazh grumbles as he sits before the fire, legs stretched out, “I’m starving.”
“No, you’re not,” Vanille giggles.
As the two argue over whether Sazh is, in fact, starving, Snow catches Lightning’s gaze from across camp. In the purple dusk, his expression is shadowed, but the fire has the tear in his hand gleam.
Snow looks away from her to stare at the tear.
Does he look at her and see Serah? Hell, Lightning barely glances at still water if she can help it. She swallows against the tightness in her throat.
Snow is looking at her again. The firelight flickers across his face, and his hand tightens around what is left of Serah. Does Snow see Serah in Lightning?
She rises, calls to Vanille and Sazh. “I’m going to wash off, before it gets too dark. I’ll be back soon.”
Snow doesn’t follow, but he watches her go.
They’re a day from Oerba before Lightning can’t put it off anymore. As the others wind down for the day, she takes her pack and goes to find a stream. Lightning pulls soap and her razor from the bag, before she strips down.
Hair removal in Bodhum was so much easier—three times a year she’s go in to get it all removed, then no more fuss.
She hasn’t used a razor before becoming a l’Cie since she joined the Guardian Corps.
Gooseflesh rises over her skin at the chill of the water, and she grits her teeth, and plunges herself into it. With shaking hands, she lathers her underarm, then waits for her hands to still and then zips the razor over it. Partway through the other side, the grass rustles—and she turns to see—
Fang grins at her, teeth bright white. “I wondered where you went running off to. Mind if I join?”
Without waiting for an answer, Fang slides her clothes off, before folding them. Lightning resumes her task. Sitting on the bank, she soaps her leg up, Fang asks, “Who’re you trying to impress, Light?”
Lightning’s hand stills. She half-shrugs. “Maybe I’m trying to impress you.”
Fang barks a laugh, splashes a wave of water at Lightning, washing away the soap, and Lightning glares at Fang through her sopping bangs. “You know Vanille and I don’t bother,” Fang points out, “This something you care about, then?”
Even the approaching dusk isn’t enough to hide Lightning’s flush. She re-lathers her leg and finishes shaving without a word. Fang watches as Lightning does the other leg.
“It’s different,” Lightning says, after.
“Because Vanille and I are too uncivilized to waste time on our beautification?” Fang snaps, nears Lightning, fierce and proud even naked, the chill making her brown nipples hard and tight.
“No,” Lightning says, folding her arms over her breasts, “No. It’s not… I’m used to it, that’s all. Bodhum was so warm, you were just expected to shave. If you were a woman, anyway. I’m used to it. It surprised me when you and Vanille… did everyone in Oerba…?”
“Some people shaved. Some didn’t. It wasn’t compulsory, either way. You can do whatever you want, Lightning. Nobody but you cares, understood?”
They all do have more important things to worry about, don’t they? Lightning flushes again as Fang washes herself with Lightning’s soap.
Lightning tosses the razor out that night.
When it starts to show, fair but visible against her skin, Lightning finds herself having to refrain from buying another razor when they stop to buy potions. As ever, Sazh is the first to notice as he examines the razor on the screen. She backs up to the potions again, but not soon enough.
He puts a warm hand on her shoulder. Lightning tenses then relaxes, saying, “It seemed silly to worry about how I looked when—“
His gaze darts to where an arrow peeks from the top of his shirt. “Yeah. I get that.”
And he squeezes her shoulder one last time, smiling, before he goes to find Vanille.
Something in Lightning settles.
In Eden, they rest in a small side-street. Snow sits beside Lightning, near enough she can feel the heat coming off him. “Here,” and he hands her the tear.
Despite living in his pocket, the crystal is cool. She nods at him, and then she traces the contours of the tear with her fingertip. “We’re going to get her back,” he says, all cool confidence, “I promise you, Light.”
“I know,” and she tightens her grip.
He grins, cocksure, rests his hand on her hairy knee, gently thumbs over it. Lightning allows herself to lean against him, just for a moment, as she tries not to count the arrows on his mark.
“We’re gonna be okay, Light.”
“Who are you trying to convince, Snow? You or me?” she asks, her voice quiet.
Snow removes his hand, and that’s all the answer she needs. Lightning hands the tear back.
Snow’s hand is warm on her shoulder. Lightning half-turns to look at him, the ever shifting structures around them churning her stomach. “Stop moving, Fang,” snaps Hope, as Vanille strokes Fang’s hair.
She’d taken a pretty nasty slash to the abdomen leaving Hope to patch her up, like normal. Lightning arches an eyebrow at Snow.
“We’re getting close.” He nods ahead.
Barthandelus. She follows his gaze, then glances at the mark on Snow’s arm—wonders how long till the eye appears, how long till they are like the doomed members of the Cavalry? Lightning looks back at Snow, to find Snow watching her. “Yours any better?” he asks, lifting his arm to indicate his mark.
“This some kind of ‘I’ll show you yours if I show you mine’ thing?” asks Lightning, lifting an eyebrow and folding her arms over her chest.
Snow blinks down at her as he pulls away his hand. “Uh… I guess I… where is your…?”
She glances ahead of them: Hope is still crouched over Fang, Fang is still whining—“dammit, Hope, just get on with it,” which probably means she’s fine. Vanille continues petting Fang like a particularly difficult dog, as Sazh watches over them with his neutral, steady expression. The chocobo hops out of his hair, to land on Fang’s face—she laughs, then groans, while the chick whines what is probably an apology.
Lightning turns her back on them to face to Snow head-on. She unzips her turtleneck, just enough he can see her own mark dark against the pale of her skin, and her neck heats pink despite herself. Arrows creep up over her chest, angry red at the center, with the beginnings of the eye. Snow reaches to her and doesn’t touch her mark. No, he zips up her shirt, and his face is unreadable, dark, and his free hand goes to his pocket to grasp the tear.
“We’re going to be okay,” she tells him, her voice low. “And we’re going to get Serah back.”
Snow grins. “We’re nearly there,” he says.
And then, his mouth is warm on her cheek. “For luck,” he says, leaving her to go check on Fang. Lightning allows herself a smile, before she goes on ahead, too. They’ve got to keep going.
A little extra luck might go a long way in what comes next.