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Her Pulse, Her Cocoon

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Lightning's legs hurt. They'd been walking across Pulse for twenty-three days, and all she could think of was how much of the sky the planet had taken up as they fell from Cocoon. Fang had assured them they were making good progress, but it was impossible to imagine any progress meaning anything against this endless sheet of land.

So Lightning sat in the grass, holding her tongue so as not to fuel Snow's constant whinging about the walk, and Hope's maybe more legitimate complaints. The boy crouched by the fire with Vanille, learning how to gut and clean the birds that she and Fang had brought back from the day's hunt. The menfolk had proved to be worse butchers than they were hunters, but Fang said there was hope for Hope yet. She made a point of that phrasing, like a sergeant repeating a joke in case his squad laughed this time.

Fang stood by the thicket that half-closed the entrance of the cleft where they'd made camp, where most of her body could still catch the early-evening sunlight. It gave her skin a glow that was the opposite of anything Lightning felt right now. She, too, was ignoring Snow's attempts at banter, glaring instead at the outside world.

Lightning realised she was staring. She started to pull her attention back to the tiny flowers by her hand, but Fang's head turned, almost without seeming to move, and she felt the other woman's attention land on her like a piledriver.

"Light, a word?" The wide vowels of Fang's Pulse accent took a moment to register. Black hair waved as Fang jerked her head out in the direction of the trail.

Distracted by something Sazh had said, the others didn't seem to have heard, but as Lightning started to pull herself upright, suppressing a groan, Vanille looked up. She glanced from Lightning to Fang and back, some strange pain on her face that the shadows in the cleft almost hid. Then Hope asked a question about whatever his wrists were buried in and the younger of the two Pulse natives turned back to her work.

The aches were worse for having sat down. Lightning thought she just about managed not to hobble as she followed Fang out through the brush, but she was glad that the foliage hid her from the camp sooner rather than later.

"Where are we going?" She called after the blue shawl that stood out so clearly against the evening-muted green of the leaves. How the other woman hunted in that thing was beyond her.

Fang paused, not far ahead, and lifted a branch out of the way. "Through here. Found it while we were scouting."

Both of them had to duck to follow this new path, but Lightning could see where Fang must have clambered through before, where footsteps had flattened some of the low-growers, and where a handful of thinner branches had bent or broken. Others, that Fang had somehow not disturbed despite her broader frame and longer arms, scratched at Lightning's shoulders and knees as she passed.

After a few yards, the thicket thinned, revealing what looked at first like a similar nook to the one they'd made camp in. As she followed Fang, though, Lightning saw that it opened out, and her breath caught as she saw what lay beyond.

On one side, the rock wall rose into an overhanging cliff, the evening sun striking slanted rays from its edge down into the gloom below. On the other, the rocks gave way to gnarled fingers of blue-green crystal, some that must have been fifty feet high. Each seemed to catch the sun a slightly different way, so that looking from one to the next was like peering through a sheet of running water. The roots of the crystals were overgrown with pink flowers, and a narrow-stemmed plant poked up jewelled heads through the bushes.

In the middle of the cleft was a pool of clear water where all the colours of the evening mingled. It looked fresh, though Lightning couldn't see a stream that fed it. Here and there along its banks, smaller spires of the same blue crystal twisted up into the air, scattering light across the rocks, the grass, the flowers, Lightning's eyes, Fang's skin, almost dazzling.

Fang drove the point of her lance into the soil not far from the water's edge, then shed her belt and shawl beside it. The shawl came off in one continuous movement; Lightning still hadn't figured out how she did that. Underneath, she wore plain black shorts that matched her bra and armwraps.

Lightning watched, unspeaking, as the other woman sat and began unbuckling her boots. Was she planning to swim? Had she asked Lightning here to keep watch for her?

"Dammit, Light, sit down." Fang sounded as acerbic as ever. "We've walked bloody miles, and the water's lovely. Take your shoes off and give your feet a rest."

The water did look inviting. On the other hand, this was Pulse… "Is it safe?"

"The pool?" Fang sounded surprised. "Should be. I've not done any tests or anything, but it flows out through there-" she nodded towards the crystal fence, "and it's definitely fresh."

"And the wildlife?" That was the real worry.

"Nah." Fang shrugged, setting her first boot to one side. "Ledge is blind at the far end, and any beastie that wants to get in the way we did will give us plenty of warning. 'D probably go for the others first, and they'll shout if they need help."

"The others…"

"Vanille knows where we are, don't worry." Fang twisted her head round to shoot Lightning a baleful look. "Seriously, stop worrying. Take off your sword and boots and get your feet in that water. You might have fooled the men but I've seen how you move. You're trained for sprints and cities, not hiking."

With that, she set her second boot next to the first, turned round without getting up, and slid into the pool. It was deeper than it looked, coming up almost to her hips. As Fang bent forward to splash her face, Lightning found the clasp of her swordbelt with one hand and undid it. Thick Pulse grass cushioned the weapon's fall, and it barely made a noise.

She picked her way over to where Fang had sat, realising as she did so that she was carefully avoiding treading on the flowers. Lowering herself to sit was an ordeal, and she almost dropped the last six inches. Fang's attention fell on her, and again she could feel weight in the other woman's regard. Suddenly self-conscious, her fingers fumbled as she hurried at the first of her boot-buckles.

The boots came apart in stages; the first two buckles let her lift the shin-guards out, and she tossed them over by the weaponry. Then she took her left boot off, and realised a mistake: her right was closer to the water, and it would be awkward to shift to dip her left leg in until she'd unbooted the right.

Somehow, with Fang watching her, that was actually embarrassing. Feeling suddenly hot despite the fading light, she struggled with the final buckle. A vision rose of Fang reaching over and undoing it for her, but fortunately it came loose before that could happen.

The water really did feel good, like pulling long, fresh socks up her moaning calves. Lightning wriggled her toes under the surface, a slight tingling suggesting the return of long-suppressed circulation to her soles. Leaning back, she stretched her legs out, and almost kicked Fang in the thigh.

The other woman caught her right leg in both hands, just where her calf muscle started to thin out. Slowly, looking at what she was doing, Fang began to massage the muscle, working up to the knee and back down. The movements were a bridge between the cool of the water and the gentle warmth Lightning found flowing back into flesh she'd demanded too much of for too long.

"Mmmmm." Relief lifted the sound out of her. "Thank you."

"Welcome," Fang grinned. "You should know to take better care of yourself than this."

"It's not exactly been a normal month."

"Excuses." Fang gave Lightning's calf one sharper squeeze and then dropped it. The leg felt melded with the pool, so liquid she didn't think she could raise it if she wanted to. Fang started on the other. "This is more than just you wanting to show up Snow for a whiner."

"I'm not-"

"I don't blame you." Fang leaned into her hands, sending a jolt of pins and needles through Lightning's muscle. "If I had a sister, and that oaf was planning to marry her, there'd be hell to pay. But you have a problem with resting."

"Yeah, well, I haven't had much chance to practice." Why did her voice sound petulant in her own ears? "Serah, and work…"

"Bollocks. You chose work that wouldn't give you time to be weak." Fang dropped Lightning's leg into the water, then shook drips from her fingers all over Lightning's lap. She started to work her armwraps down her forearms, and somehow the gesture made her seem uncomfortably close. Lightning pressed her knees together.

"I didn't exactly choose to be Serah's only living family."

"Everything I know about your sister says she's a lot stronger than you and Snow give her credit for." Fang balled up the armwrap and tossed it over by her weapon. "You, on the other hand – did you ever even grieve?"

Lightning frowned at the other woman, feeling her temper start to rise. "Why this now?"

"If not now, when? We may not have much more time."

Despite herself, Lightning put a hand to her chest, where her brand was. "If we run out of time it won't matter."

"And what if we find a way, but you're too worn down from trying to be strong and get yourself killed?" Fang slid the second of her armwraps over her wrist and straightened it out idly. "What if you get one of us killed?"

Lightning watched the other woman's shoulder, where the edge of her washed-out brand was visible. Was the strain of the journey slowing her down? She felt bad at the end of most days, but they'd had to do a lot of fighting along the way and she'd more than held her own.

Fang tossed the second armwrap aside and turned her back. "Dammit, Light, have you ever wanted anything?" Lightning couldn't parse the mixture of stresses she put on the words.

"What do you mean?"

Over her shoulder, clearly pained, Fang said, "I mean have you ever done anything in your life that you didn't think someone else needed you to do?" For a moment, she seemed to check herself, and Lightning started to breathe, but then the other woman pressed on. "Or were you basically a l'Cie all along?"

Words flooded through Lightning's head, angry words, but she couldn't find wind to say any of them. It felt as if her entire torso, from gut to throat, had become a block of stone. Her teeth were clenched. Dimly, she realised that she was starting to feel the night's chill, but she couldn't feel it.

"Can't answer?" Fang turned suddenly and came up to Lightning, water surging ahead of her. She placed cool hands on Lightning's thighs. "I've noticed the way you look at me, even if you haven't."

As Fang leaned closer, Lightning found her attention fixed on the other woman's nose, and then her top lip. Her skin was impossibly vital. Lightning could almost imagine she could see the other woman's pulse. She felt paralysed, interrupted in the middle of a sentence she hadn't even started. Like Serah as she turned to crystal, but nothing inside Lightning shimmered now.

Her forehead tingled as the coils of Fang's fringe encountered her own. Their noses touched. Voice hoarse as it sank towards a whisper, Fang said, "I want you, Light. I want to know what you want."

Lightning forced herself to look Fang in the eyes. Her irises were robbed of much of their colour by the fading evening, but still held depths to rival the pool she stood in. She felt the tip of Fang's finger sliding under the hem of her skirt and tensed. "What about Vanille?"

For a moment, Fang made the exact same face that Vanille had tried to hide earlier as they left the camp. "We have an understanding." Then she rallied. "You know she met your sister back on Cocoon?"

"What?"

"Yeah, she took a while to open up about it but it sounds like Serah made a good impression." Fang pressed in even closer, filling Lightning's awareness. She could hear the other woman's breathing mixed with her own. "I only have you to go off, though." Lightning shivered as a droplet of water from Fang's hair fell onto her cheek and ran down it. She almost didn't feel Fang's lips press against her own. Then the kiss was stronger than she expected, her own lips made soft and fluid against the other woman's face.

Tension rushed through her shoulders, and she reached up to hold Fang's cheeks, almost falling backwards as her upper body lost the support. She kept herself upright, kissing, holding, by catching Fang's hips between her thighs. There was a moment's coolness from the wet fabric of her shorts, then they heated through.

Something tugged at the bottom of her ribcage, and she realised Fang was unbuckling her belt. She ran her fingers up into thick black hair, marvelling at how good it felt to hold, how strong, how soft. Her eyes were closed; she was afraid to open them, to see the woman in her hands. Breath – whose, she couldn't tell – washed heat across her face.

Fang slid the belt loose and started on the clasps above and below it. If her hands were less familiar with the machined clips than a simple buckle, it barely showed. As her top loosened, Lightning felt like she was expanding out into the air, radiating the strange tensions racing through her into the breathtaking landscape of Pulse.

The zipper at her throat pulled tight as Fang tried to lift the top back past Lightning's shoulders. The other woman drew back from Lightning's face just far enough to say, "What the hell kind of… garment is this? Does it ever end?" Lightning could feel the words as they brushed her own lips.

Fang grabbed the zipper and yanked. Reflexively, Lightning glanced down as the movement exposed her brand. Her forehead caught Fang's nose, and their heads were getting in each other's way. After a moment's confusion, Fang ran fingers down Lightning's throat and over the top of the brand. Lightning shivered, from the chill touch, the eerie smoothness of the fal'Cie mark, the fear that the moment had passed.

"We have a little longer yet, huh?" Fang's voice sounded loud, even though she'd barely raised it above a whisper. She pushed outward under the lapel of Lightning's jacket with her hand, mirrored the gesture with her other. Lightning put her hands back on the ground behind her, letting the top fall away as Fang's hands went over her shoulders and up to her neck.

They kissed again, and this time it was Fang's fingers clenching in Lightning's hair. She expected pain from the pulling, but it never came. She wriggled her wrists out of the jacket and grabbed Fang's waist, pulling herself against the other woman's body. The water round her legs felt transformed, like wearing a skirt of the most ephemeral silk.

Fang placed her hands on Lightning's collarbones and pushed, gently. "Lie back."

Lightning did as she was told, leaning backwards and lowering herself to lie among the flowers. She pressed her chin to her chest to watch as Fang rose out of the water, supple curves of muscle moving in her arms with the lift. Lightning felt as if she was being climbed, Fang's body pressing between her thighs, dripping onto her skirt and exposed abdomen.

She put up her arms to embrace the weight of the other woman. It felt like being completed, some missing part of her rushing back under warm skin. Fang kissed her, pressing her head into the grass. She felt Fang's tongue on her lips and offered her own, tentatively, unsure if it was wanted. Fang responded with a hot murmur and pushed harder.

There seemed to be endless ways to bring their lips together, their hands, their bodies. Lightning found herself working muscles up and down her legs, squirming her hips against Fang's, guided by some sensation she had no words for. Tight heat spread from beneath her, filling her arms with ferocious, grasping strength.

"Tell me you want me." A flat edge in Fang's breathed words stopped Lightning, and she opened her eyes.

"What-?"

"I want to hear you say it." Fang caressed Lightning's cheek, and Lightning felt suddenly bereft at the handful of inches between their faces. "Tell me you want me."

Words caught in Lightning's throat, as if she was trying to speak at the end of a flat-out sprint. "No, I-"

"Goddammit, Light," Fang pulled back further, and Lightning was struck by a sharp chill. "I need to know. I need to know you want this, you're not doing it because it's another thing you think you have to do for some reason."

"But-" Lightning clenched her fists, trying to hold onto the other woman, but Fang's position gave her the leverage advantage and Lightning couldn't get a grip on her close-fitting bra. She was slipping away.

"Tell me what you want!"

"I don't-" know, but how did she say that? She tried to push herself up off the ground but Fang was still on top of her. How could she be so far away and still pinning Lightning down? How could Lightning let her get so far away? "Don't stop!"

The words came out of her in a gasp that was almost a sob. The evening crystallised instantly, cold enough that she shivered. The heat of Fang's body seemed to be happening in a different world. Lightning felt as if she were the only thing not solid in the universe, as if she might drain away into the grass beneath her.

"Oh?" Somehow, Fang had a hand free to trace the line of Lightning's jaw with a finger. The touch felt like a scalpel, piercing through flesh to the spirit within.

"Don't stop. Please." Lightning couldn't remember speaking ever feeling so hard, as if she'd die if she didn't get the words out. "I need you. I need-"

Fang's lips silenced her, flattening her again against the ground. Time lost all meaning. She could hear none of Pulse's sounds, neither animals nor the wind, just the beating of blood in her own ears and throat.

She almost yelped as Fang slid half-off her to one side, the anxiety of loss racing through her again, but the other woman didn't break away. Instead, she stroked a hand down Lightning's neck, over her collarbone and the smooth curve of her bra, then down her waist, cold right at the point of touch but leaving warmth in its wake like whiskey.

When the hand reached the belt of Lightning's skirt, Fang paused, and Lightning felt the smile in their pressed lips before the other woman pulled back and she could see it. "How do I get this damn thing off you?"

Lightning reached up to Fang's cheek, stretched her neck to pursue another kiss. "It's just a belt buckle and a stud. And the zippers. Uh," she felt the moment dancing through her fingers like a runaway moogle.

"How about you take it off for me?" Fang's eyes narrowed and her smile showed a few more teeth. Lightning shivered appreciatively.

One of Lightning's arms was trapped beneath Fang's flank. With her free hand, she tugged at the belt, struggling as the awkward angle made it bind against the buckle. She found she couldn't look away from Fang's face to see what she was doing, pinned under the other woman's hawkish, hungry glare.

Fang laid her hand on Lightning's breast and squeezed. For a second, Lightning lost all sensation in the rest of her body, her grip slipping on her belt as she was sucked into that single point of pressure. The fabric of her bra was soft, and Fang's fingertips drew lazy circles around her nipple. Lightning felt her chest tightening, breath unsteady in her throat.

Despite herself, she shifted awkwardly, desperate to free up more leverage on the wretched belt. Fang leaned in and kissed her again, hand unrelenting on her chest. She could feel the other woman's amusement, but she had neither breath nor concentration to protest. With every circuit of Fang's fingertip, she dissolved yet further. She seemed to exist only where there was tension, heat, the electric tingle of touch.

Somehow the belt finally came out of the buckle. It took an awkward stretch of her fingers to pop open the stud underneath; the zips would be hopeless. How was she going to get any further without Fang letting her go?

"Struggling?" Fang spoke almost right into Lightning's teeth. "Do they design clothes in Cocoon to be awkward?"

"I-" Lightning was silenced by another kiss, but then Fang pushed herself back and freed Lightning's other arm.

"Go on. Show me."

Feeling even more watched, Fang's gaze trailing over her skin even more tenderly, even heavier, than her fingers had, Lightning slid down the zippers on her skirt. She had to prop herself half-up on an elbow to start working the garment down over her hips. Fang made no move to help, her hand lying tantalisingly close in the grass.

Once the skirt was loose around Lightning's thighs, Fang lifted a lazy finger and indicated Lightning's bra. "That too. I'm not likely to stand much of a chance with it, am I?"

Lightning froze, suddenly aware again of the evening's chill. She looked down the length of her body. Failing sunlight was losing the warmth of its colours, and the blue-green diffractions of the crystal spires heightened the effect. She looked and felt pale. But then she turned to Fang again, to the intensity of the other woman's face daring her to refuse.

She pushed herself all the way up to sitting, so she could reach to slide the skirt over her knees and, stretching, clear of her ankles. Then, as she tossed the skirt over by the other discarded clothing, she moved round to kneel facing Fang. Throughout, the other woman's expression never faltered. Where Lightning looked pale, Fang had become ethereal, faint blue highlights limning her hair like ghostly fire.

Reaching behind herself with both hands, Lightning found the clasp of her bra. The movement made her arch her back and thrust her chest out, she realised, and that did get a reaction from Fang. The other woman's eyes fell away from Lightning's, chasing the strap that slid over her shoulder as she removed the bra. Lightning looked down, watching Fang, trying to be a statue for her, some strange hot pride burning in her gut.

After what seemed an age of waiting, Fang finally met her eyes again. The other woman whispered, "Amazing…" She pushed herself upright to face Lightning, one smooth, serpentine motion. Lightning felt her face cupped in Fang's hands, inhaled the other woman as she pressed their lips together again.

Then Fang was moving her mouth away from Lightning's, down Lightning's jaw to her neck, breath like fire on her skin. One of her hands slid to Lightning's breast, and without the muting fabric of the bra her touch seized the air in Lightning's lungs. Lightning reached for Fang, trying to pull their bodies against one another, but her arms fumbled at the unfamiliar configurations. There were a few confused seconds of what felt almost like wrestling, and she found herself flat on her back again, Fang towering mere inches above her.

The other woman's hand was over Lightning's hip, at the waist of her shorts. "You're absolutely certain you want this?"

"Yes."

"Tell me again."

"Please," Lightning struggled with the force of her own words.

"Say it." Fang's eyes narrowed in her shadowed face, but Lightning could feel the ravenous grin that underpinned them.

"I want it." Then, more confidently, "I want you."

Fang ran two fingers under the waistband, right where her hip met her back, where the grass tingled against her skin. "No hidden zips in this one? Padlocks? Anything?"

Lightning got no chance to reply, as Fang's kiss burst over her lips like a fireball. She twisted, lifting enough of her weight that Fang could slip the last of her clothing loose. For a moment, she felt weightless, unsure what to expect as the other woman shifted position above her. Although she could clearly see Fang's movements, her eyes felt unfocussed, taking nothing in.

Then Fang lowered her head and pressed her lips to Lightning's breast. If her fingers had been fire, they were a feather compared to the stars exploding beside Lightning's heart now. Her senses emptied; there was just the touch, the rasp of breath in her throat, the distant tingle of grass under her naked back, and no body in between them.

Fang's hand ran up the inside of Lightning's thigh, and it was all Lightning could do not to crush it as her legs squeezed together. Hot fingers pressed into her loins, and every muscle in her tensed. She could distantly hear herself moaning in short, stuttered gasps. Fang made tiny circles with a fingertip, and grass ripped as Lightning's fists clenched in it, frantic for anything to hold onto.

Fang was moving again, kisses trailing a low line over Lightning's abdomen, her nose a distinct warm point above them, stray hairs of her fringe like the spines of a stinging plant on Lightning's skin, so full of sensation was she. Lightning realised she was squirming, almost writhing, with every rush of tightness through her waist and hips. At once she felt obliterated, formless, and yet so real that the flowers and crystals dissolved into dreamlike haze.

She shifted under Fang's relentless progress, allowing the other woman's chest between her knees, waiting, waiting, desperately waiting for her lips to reach her fingers, waiting to learn what that would feel like. As if reading exactly Lightning's patience, Fang paused on the threshold, fingers still playing, lips almost still. Lightning heard herself make a sound that might have been 'yes', and might have been 'please', and might not have been in any language known to mortals.

Fang's hand moved outwards, just slightly, and Lightning let her legs be spread further. Somewhere very far away, her knees shook with the effort of control. Then Fang's kisses were moving again, pressing down into Lightning, deeper than she thought she could ever have yielded. For a moment, she glanced downwards, unable to believe what she was feeling, but then Fang's tongue ran over some soft ridge of skin and Lightning's face creased as she gasped.

She felt as though she existed only at the hot, wet point of Fang's mouth, that the rest – the scratchy grass, tangled hair, wailing breath, howling rushes of tension through her muscles – was just walls from which she echoed. Her lips were working as if to meet Fang's, though her head was thrown back, her hazy vision full of the earliest stars, far above.

The underside of Lightning's thigh whispered with the distant passage of Fang's sharp fingertips, and she realised she knew the shape of the other woman better than her own. The fingers moved up, just under Fang's chin, cool where everything around them was burning. Then, a short sharp fountain of pain, racing out through Lightning's bones and up her back as Fang pushed in, deeper and deeper yet.

Lightning cried out, arching her back, tearing at the grass. Wild forces twisted her, violence without object or target. She thrashed as Fang's movements quickened, then fell back flat, liquid for a moment before another wave of spasms. Somehow, Fang followed her rhythm, as if they were dancing.

Like an incoming tide, each crest rose higher than the last, taught Lightning new intensities of nameless sensation. Fang murmured into her as she worked, Lightning hearing, if that was the word, through her own spine. She answered in tight, high breaths that were closer and closer to screaming. Every moment wrung her tighter, flattened her more limp, seized her again.

Then, finally, her body answered, blossoming like a crystal flower struck by lightning. The heat that filled her was a stormfront, crashing turbulently through her gut, spreading over her skin in an aurora of pins and needles, raising her pulse to thunder, grasping her throat, roasting her eyeballs to tears. What noises she made in that explosion of wild sensation, she had no idea.

The rush subsided slowly, lowering Lightning back into herself, newly aware of each individual molecule of her body, each hair now goosepimpled erect by the cold air, her heartbeat and breathing like she'd just finished a sprint but her musculature loose as from a massage. As for her head, there was only a quiet mirror of the sky above.

Fang lay alongside her, propped up on one elbow, gazing down with a soft smile on her lips. She leaned closer and kissed Lightning, gently. Lightning felt dew on the other woman's lips – her own, now cool, faintly salty. Limply, she put up a hand and ran one finger along Fang's cheek.

"First time?" Fang whispered.

"I've… never done anything like that."

"No kidding." There was no sarcasm or teasing in the other woman's voice, only a surprise that wasn't really surprised. "Did you enjoy it?"

What could she say to that? She felt as if she'd been turned inside-out, then folded back into herself. Already the sensations of the last… howeverlong… were fading away, as slippery to memory as pain. What was the relationship between who she was now and the wild being she had been only moments before? Would she ever feel that way again?

Fang gave her another kiss, a touch less delicate this time, but smiling. "I won't make you answer that one this time. I remember what it was like for me." She laid her arm over Lightning's waist. "But you should learn how to. I'd like to hear your answer someday."

"I'll work on it." Lightning pushed herself up to match Fang's posture, sliding her hand down the other woman's flank and round to the small of her back, pressing them together as she sought out more kisses. She felt full of a languor she'd seldom allowed herself even on her rare days off, every movement smooth and slow but nevertheless light of limb.

Fang lay back, pulling Lightning over on top of her. For a moment Lightning wondered if her weight would hurt the other woman, but Fang seemed so strong between her legs that it was impossible to imagine her ever coming to harm. Lightning wasn't sure where to put her hands, settling for wrapping them under Fang's shoulders, supporting herself on her elbows. Her fingertips were smudged green from the grass she'd pulled at under Fang's ministrations.

There was still tingling sensitivity between her hips where she pressed against Fang, almost like the tail-end of pins and needles. It sent something akin to shivers through her every time the other woman moved. She freed one hand to cup Fang's breast, awkwardly pinning her wrist between them to make it work.

The material of her bra was smooth, offering only the faintest traction under Lightning's fingers. She squeezed, gently, experimentally, remembering how it had felt when Fang found her nipple under fabric, questing to reciprocate. As she did, she felt Fang clutch a little more urgently at her back.

Lightning squeezed again, a little harder, teetering atop the sense that something was expected of her but she didn't know what. She didn't want to pull her mouth away from Fang's long enough to ask. The warmth where their skin pressed together was keeping the night at bay, and the return to camp, and who knew what that would hold.

As she worried, Lightning felt her bottom lip caught between Fang's teeth. The other woman held gently, not quite biting, just for the second as Lightning reflexively drew back. A thought occurred to her. "Do you want me? Uh, to-?"

She heard as much as saw Fang's smile. "Not spent yet, little spark?" A long finger pressed against Lightning's lips. "What do you want, Light? To taste me?"

Lightning kissed the fingertip, lifting herself up a few inches. "I want, I feel…"

"You really don't know how to talk about any of this, do you?" Fang moved her finger up to Lightning's cheek and poked it. "Sit back a second."

Frowning, suppressing a chill, Lightning did as bidden, arriving at a sort of kneel astride Fang's legs. Was this what the other woman had meant? Was it painful? She was rewarded by the breathtaking sight of Fang rising to a sit in front of her, without using her arms, straight-backed, like a stone warrior waking to serve its returning master but infinitely more alive.

Fang embraced her, one hand at the base of her spine and the other between her shoulderblades, filling Lightning's eyes with her own, her mouth with kisses, her world. Feeling almost limp, like a doll, she draped her arms over Fang's shoulders and drifted away in her grasp. Every kiss felt unique, totally unlike those that had come before.

Eventually, Fang reached higher and caught the back of Lightning's head by the hair. Again there was no pain, but Lightning couldn't resist the pull. She found herself looking down – only slightly – into a face that was getting hard to read in the settling gloom.

"You don't have to do anything you don't want to, babe," Fang breathed. "That's lesson one. You get that, right?"

"I do, I just-" Was she answering the question Fang had asked or the one underneath it? "I… I don't have a clue what I'm doing."

Fang pecked her on the lips again, taking Lightning's chin between her thumb and forefinger. "It's important that you say that, you know. None of this is worth a damn without honesty." Then she took a deep breath. "I want you. If we're together alone like this, I'll probably always want you. But you were right to ask."

Lightning nodded slightly, feeling the tension in her own face. Did she need to say something else?

"Good news is, the basics are pretty simple." Fang cracked another one of her unmistakable grins, and Lightning shivered. The other woman ran her fingers round the undersides of her bra. "Help me off with this thing, would you?" Then she raised her arms above her head as if about to stretch.

Lightning put her fingers where Fang's had been, carefully feeling out the bra's lower hem. There was more play in it than she expected, and somehow it stretched enough that she could lift it up over Fang's breasts. The fabric seemed to roll up in her hands, and then she was navigating it round the weight of Fang's hair. She had to stretch to reach over the other woman's wrists, but Fang relented and lowered her arms after only a moment's teasing smile.

Placing the bra carefully on the ground beside her, Lightning met Fang's gaze. Somehow, she looked even larger with her chest bare, the line of her muscular shoulders now unbroken by the black straps. She said, "Just like I did to you, okay? Give it a try. Just, be way more gentle than you think I was. You're more sensitive than you think."

Carefully, noticing that her fingers trembled as she did so, Lightning reached out and touched Fang's skin. Despite the last… what, an hour? And despite Fang's legs between her thighs, this new contact seemed somehow more loaded, a static charge crackling across her fingertips even before she pressed them against warm flesh.

She explored the shape of Fang's breasts, larger than her own, a little larger than her long fingers could encompass. Fang was watching her watch her own hand. Lightning held her back straight, willing her skin pale enough to be seen in the failing light. The crystals around them gave off the faintest of aquamarine luminescence.

It was with her thumb that it felt least awkward to finally touch Fang's nipple. The texture of the tip surprised her a little, almost more like a lip than regular skin. Were her own like that? Had she ever had cause to notice? She rubbed her thumb back and forth, remembering Fang's injunction to be gentle. The other woman murmured something into her fringe and kissed her forehead.

She broadened the motion of her thumb to a circle, raised her other hand to mirror it. Was that right? She couldn't remember if Fang had done that, both at once. Fang's hands were around her buttocks, squeezing in gentle ripples. Was that a good sign? "Is this…" Was it ok to ask?

Fang caught her chin, turned her face up for a gentle kiss. "It's good. Never hurts to ask, though." Then she kissed her again, more deeply. It was all Lightning could do to keep her thumbs circling, keep the touch gentle. The other woman pulled back, leant back with straight arms propping her up against the ground behind her. "Go on, kiss me."

Lightning hesitated, unsure for a moment, until a sharpening around Fang's eyes clarified the instruction. She put her head forward, stretching her neck and finally having to bend her back, to bring her mouth down to Fang's chest. Again she was struck by that faint similarity of the skin to lips, softer and warmer and smoother than plain skin.

Gentle. She was fairly sure what that meant for her hands. How strong were her lips? Her delicate kisses didn't seem to be getting much response, so she put out her tongue and used it like her thumb, in slow, gentle circles around the tip. Fang made an approving noise, and Lightning thought she could feel it – almost see it, even – coming up through the other woman's breastbone.

Should she move to Fang's other breast? Lightning hesitated, and Fang responded by reclining all the way back. Lightning followed, pushing herself forward and allowing herself to be directed off Fang's hips to one side. She found her head pillowed on Fang's chest, supported by the other woman's arm. Her shoulder pressed into the grass, arm pinned a little awkwardly under her. With her free hand, she found Fang's far breast again.

"Lower, go on," Fang whispered, and there was something in her voice that Lightning had never heard before. Whatever it was, Lightning tensed her legs together at a fresh echo of her earlier passion.

At the same time, chills were racing over her exposed arm. Would Fang feel her trembling as she inched her fingers down the even bumps of the other woman's abdominals? What did that feel like to her? As cold as Lightning felt? Or was the heat rising under her fingers filling Fang's awareness?

She reached the top of Fang's shorts and started to slip her fingers under the elastic, then paused. Fang breathed a "Yes," that for all its quietness sliced cleanly through the evening air. Gently. Reminding herself, Lightning slid her hand lower, unsure of what to expect as the temperature rose at her fingertips.

There was slightly scratchy hair, and the sense of a cliff just out of reach, and a low, soft valley that yielded much deeper and hotter than she could have imagined. It was smooth and slick in there, like the inside of a mouth but closer-fitting and more welcoming. For as hot as Fang felt to the touch, it wasn't a feverish heat.

Fang let out a tiny gasp, and Lightning realised she had let gentleness slip her mind. Was this too much? Had she pressed too hard? She remembered the sharp jag of pain that had shot through her at one point under Fang's touch, but she thought that had to be later, deeper yet.

As much as she dared, she worked her fingers back and forth across the nestled folds inside Fang. Her fingertips felt without surface, formless, at one with what they touched. She could hear Fang breathing, less steadily, less controlled, than she had ever heard before. Lightning bent her head, and again pressed her lips and tongue to the other woman's breast.

Fang's hand cradled the back of her neck. Deep in the heat, her own fingers found a point of firmness, a little like the stiffened nipple in her mouth. Screaming at herself again to be gentle, she ran one fingertip across it. Fang made another gasp, louder this time, then exhaled a long, thin, 'yesss'.

Lightning explored, slight descending ridges that formed a hood, just the right size for her fingers. Fang squirmed around her hand, and Lightning pressed her body against the other woman's, swelling with the sensation of moving together, breathing together. Fang's grip tightened in her hair, pulled their faces awkwardly together. In her newly frantic kisses, Lightning thought she could feel the rhythm her fingers conducted, a kind of rapturous dance, wild even though they were barely moving.

"Please!" Fang breathed the word into Lightning's mouth. Then, quieter, a crystal-clear whisper, "Give me everything."

Another shiver shot through Lightning, and she had to concentrate to keep her fingers moving. She already felt as if she was dissolving, flowing together with the other woman. What would that feel like if she used her mouth, as Fang had on her? Or worse, what if she got it wrong, and couldn't recapture this feeling?

Fang caught her hesitation, and she felt Fang catch it, and her thoughts whirled, trying to think of something to say, anything to preserve what was now slipping out of reach. Then Fang kissed her again, and in the disorientation Lightning's anxieties spun away. Fang said, "You'll know what to do, it's easier than you think. Give me a second."

She pulled away from Lightning, muscle rippling as she readjusted how she was lying. Lightning watched, puzzled, cooling, tensing up again. Fang placed herself with her legs dangling into the water from the knee, flat on her back under the stars. If the glow of her skin had faded from the daylight, the pale illumination of the crystals around them picked her ethereally out of the darkness.

Lightning found her hand taken, let herself be guided into the water. Fang said, "Stand there a second, let me get a good look at you."

Lightning stood in the cool water up to her hips, feet cushioned in the soft bottom. Chill though it was, there was something intimate in the way it rippled at her skin. She looked at Fang, splayed out in front of her, then back to her own body, following the other woman's gaze. The contrast made her feel thin and shapeless, but Fang's eyes told a different story.

"I'm a lucky girl," Fang grinned and squeezed Lightning's fingers. "Go on. Make me even luckier."

Bending forward, Lightning kissed Fang at the navel, began moving lower. The heat she found there was incredible, impossible that a human body could burn so brightly and not turn to ash, impossible that it was something she could stand to touch, impossible that it could feel so good.

She found the path her fingers had walked, explored it tentatively. Her face encountered more resistance than her hand had, the insides of Fang's thighs pressing against her cheeks. Here it would be harder to be gentle.

Going that little bit deeper brought her chest down to touch the water, and what had felt cool and kind on her legs was sharply cold. The clash with the warmth she could taste thrilled her, and she pressed in more forcefully, chasing the shapes she had found by touch before. Fang's legs tightened around her head, the other woman writhing in a way Lightning recognised, suddenly, from her own response.

She felt divided in two, half the electric chill of the water, half the salt hot taste under her lips. She pressed out her tongue and yes, there it was. Just like a nipple at first, but an entirely different structure under deeper exploration. Far, far above her, Fang all but screamed something affirmative as she curled her tongue carefully underneath.

Waves of pressure surged through the flesh around her, and she tried to match their complex rhythm. It was almost like fighting an unknown enemy, blind, hopeless but for reflex and instinct. No act of violence had ever been so exhilarating. She found herself murmuring muffled responses to Fang's every gasped exhortation.

She had felt Fang inside her. Could she do that? Should she? She understood what the anatomy must have been, at least. With the half of her that was cool and aquatic and somehow still detached from the fury and passion above her, she navigated her hand up to her chin, searching for a way in under her tongue.

Where was it? Fang seized her head by the crown, fist tight in her hair, finally painful at the edges of her scalp. Down, deeper than seemed possible, the curve of a bone. Fang almost howling in encouragement. Here? She traced, as carefully as she could, a small circular shape. The world heaved around her with Fang's response.

Pushing in was the most opulent sensation yet, the fit as snug as plush cushions. Again there was the feeling that they were liquids mixing together, not discrete bodies. Here even more than under her tongue she felt the power surging through Fang, her strength, her pulse, her life.

And again, amid fluid indeterminacy, a point of firmer certainty, not quite lined up with what she was kissing. She moved, matching her fingers to her tongue, Fang's passion assailing her from every direction. There were deeper patterns, dimly felt, in these rhythms, simple physical structures in endless recombination, just like their kisses.

Lightning marvelled as Fang rose, faster, grander, tighter, hotter. Somewhere in the distance, cold bodies and a cold night waited their turn, while she swam in pursuit of Fang's reward. Together they ebbed, then flowed again in yet more vibrant cycles. If this was still gentle, it was no gentleness that Lightning recognised, but at every turn Fang gasped for more.

Climax arrived like thunder overhead, crashing down on Lightning's fingers and lips as it consumed Fang above her. She reeled at the reflected force of it, clinging on, nameless dread rushing in at what she might encounter when she had to pull back. She held Fang's warmth as long as she could, unsure whose pulse it was that she could hear receding.

Finally, she had to yield. The water was cold. She was shivering, as if faintly stroked across every inch of her skin. She stood, watching the heaving settle in Fang's chest. Her lips were sticky, and she rinsed them generally with pool water. They tingled after the chill.

She couldn't find anything to say. Fang pulled herself up and slid into the water in front of her, gathered her into her arms. They both seemed to be trembling where the embrace pressed their skin together.

Fang kissed her, started to whisper something. Paused, then let out a breathless, "Wow…"

Lightning put her hands up behind the other woman's head, running them through her hair, kissing back, offering her tongue. She loved how Fang held her, hands pressed flat to the centre and base of her spine. The water swirling round their legs felt like bedsheets, like they were thousands of miles from this wilderness.

Fang said, "That was… you were amazing. You are amazing." Her voice was still breathy, even slightly hoarse.

"I want…" Lightning started. "I don't want it to be over."

"All things in good time, little spark," Fang said, smiling. "Whatever time we have left, I'm yours."