Himeno is six years old when the tests begin. Too young to understand it all, but old enough to realise there is something wrong with her. She is a child with fleeting, intense pangs of want only to see the objects of her desire burst into flame before her eyes.
She quickly learns to want less.
She is seven when Sho chooses her. For what, she does not know, but it means she has to go away and Yoko doesn't get to come too. She pouts, demands to know why, but the researchers wave her questions away unanswered, interested only in their golden boy now. Yoko gives Himeno her doll - an old tattered thing, but Himeno takes it nonetheless - and they hold hands until they are forced apart.
She does not see Yoko again, but she keeps the doll, comes to treasure it as she did her friend. One day she takes it in her arms and presses it close to her face, inhaling the musty scent and remembering the girl who owned it. The doll alights, hot ash slipping through her fingers.
She is seven when Sho leaves her behind. Her cheeks burn underneath streaks of hot tears as she struggles with bitter disappointment. The researchers don't care to explain much to the children, but she is astute enough to realise her rejection means she is of little use to them. Agito is chosen, but she is left behind, and it's not fair because she has always behaved and worked hard. She has been good and please I don't want to be alone but she is still a child and she is not chosen and there is nothing else that matters.
One researcher places his hand on her arm to lead her away from the room. Resentment bubbles within her and she feels it boil beneath her skin, scalding the man who no longer has a use for her. She will go, but she will not go forgotten.
She is seventeen when the attacks begin, and the Pillar appears along the the enigmatic man who stylises himself "The End". She is briefed on the mission, prepares herself, and enters the Pillar along with her fellow SEALED members. The End greets them in the lobby with derision. She hates him, she thinks, for wanting to destroy a world that could accept someone like her, but there is a moment when he looks at her and she sees something that resembles sadness. Himeno remembers that morality is rarely black and white.
George Jackman has just been erased, and Himeno's stomach curls at the thought. Why would someone betray those who are only trying to save the world? Sho approaches her afterwards. Himeno dislikes small talk, but Sho's attempts to connect seem genuine. He has honest eyes, she thinks. He is precisely the sort of person that makes this world worth saving.
Shortly after they have arrived at the second floor, The End appears before her. Do you remember, he starts, voice sombre, before she can speak, Guernica? Swimmy? That doll in Nagi's jacket pocket? Her sharp remark dies in her throat, and she watches the man cautiously. Do you remember, Himeno? This is not your world. She listens as he tells her of the meteor, the two worlds, the truth of Sho's decision. Help me save you, Himeno.
Why would you want to save me, she asks. A calloused thumb brushes her cheek, and Himeno wonders if his eyes have always looked so sad.
They have reached the end of the Pillar's fourth floor when The End forces them to vote for a companion's erasure for the last time. Himeno is itching to progress forward, to take down the man that wants to take everything away from her. When Zenji is revealed as the traitor and erased, she steps away from the voting panel, eyes set on the door to the next stratum. But The End appears, with that self-satisfied smirk plastered on his face, and the exit remains firmly locked. I'm going to need you all to select one more time.
There is no other way to proceed, so they vote again. Himeno sees her own face flash red on the overhead monitors. She opens her mouth, then closes it again. What can she possibly say? Himeno has thought about death before, about how she would like to go. She did not image herself red-faced and struggling to hold back tears. She had loved this world, a world ugly and terrible and beautiful all at once. She should know better than to love what brings her pain.
She says nothing before the red beam strikes. She does not trust her voice not to crack and expose the weaknesses beneath her skin. She closes her eyes, and awaits her fate in silence.
Himeno is not surprised when her face appears on the monitor overhead. Her normal demeanour is abrasive at best, and she's certainly not a convincing liar. She glares accusingly at Sho, tastes bitterness on her tongue as she thinks how unfair it is that he chooses who to save. Himeno has no hand in her own fate. She has been forever doomed by the decision of an eight year old boy.
I don't regret betraying you all. She is grateful that her voice is even, cold, clinical, while she feels like she is crumbling. Anger writhes inside her, begging for release, but the room suppresses materia usage. Himeno raises her eyes to the judgement contraption. When she is gone, her materia will fall to the floor, the clang echoing across the vast chamber. It alone will be of more use than she ever has.
The beam hits her and she expects heat, but there is none. She expects to burn, as she has burned countless others. She is afraid, but finds there is no pain.
There is nothing.
Himeno is six years old.