Oh...my...god... The last chapter is finally here. :[ Man, that's depressing, considering how much freaking fun it was to write this series. Looking back, this fic doesn't make much sense and it kinda has nothing to do with the actual game, but it sure was fun! And it seemed like most of you didn't mind too much. :] Thank you to all who have reviewed and have been patient with my slow updating-ness. But hey! Isn't it usually worth the wait? ...Don't answer that. :P But seriously, thanks to all the people who have supported this from the beginning and thanks to the people who are just discovering it now. You guys really mean a lot to me. I love reading and answering your reviews, and getting to know all of you!

Okay, enough of the sentimentality. *wipes tears* Without further ado, here's Ch. 8!

I, like, soooo don't own these characters/worlds/whatevs! *shot*

The Benefits of Silence

Chapter 8: Break or Blossom

Vanille stared at me, hands on her hips and an angry pout playing at her lips. I looked at her for a second before gazing out at the glistening orange ocean once more. She rolled her eyes and sighed loudly.

"What happened?" she asked in a sharp, demanding tone.

I shrugged, lounging on the wooden skeleton of a beach chair, my jacket and bandanna heaped in the sand next to me. "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Oh, I think you do," she shot back, sitting on the chair next to me. "You and Lightning have hardly spoken to each other this past week, and quite frankly, I'm sick of it." She watched me, waiting for a reaction. "Now tell me what happened!" she demanded.

"Maybe it's her time of the month," I deadpanned.

"I'm being serious!" she exclaimed. I closed my eyes, a breeze whispering around me. "And it's not just you," Vanille continued. "She's hardly spoken to any of us. Not me. Not Sazh. Not even Hope."

I looked at her now. She was watching two children playing on the shore, throwing sand at each other; a small frown tugged at her lips. Eventually, she returned her gaze to me. "I miss her, y'know?"

Glancing away, I reached down to pick up a handful of sand before letting it run through my fingers. "Yeah," I said, the sand quietly blowing away with the wind. "I miss her too."

Suddenly, Vanille was in my face, her eyes blazing with determination. "Then why don't you do something about it?"

"There's nothing I can do!" I replied, annoyed by her constant perusal.

"You're ridiculous!" she shouted. Before I could retaliate, she continued. "She was fine one day, then stony and cold the next. Hope said she had wandered off in the middle of the night while we were in the Gapra Whitewood, and didn't come back for a while. Wonder who she went to see?" she asked sarcastically, placing her hands on her hips. I couldn't look at her; instead, I stared down at the sand, the sand being considerably less critical. Suddenly, I felt a hand lay on my shoulder. "What happened?" she asked gently.

I sighed and ran a hand through my hair, tiny sand particles scratching my scalp. Her soft eyes met mine as I prepared to tell my pitiful story. "I kissed her," I whispered.

Vanille's eyes widened, her expression unceremoniously aghast. "You…what?" she asked in disbelief.

"I kissed her!" I shouted angrily.

Vanille just stared; her mouth twitched as she searched for something to say. "Wait, wait, wait," she said, waving her hands. "You kissed her?"

I went back to playing with sand, obstinate bravery gone entirely.

"Did she reject you or something?" she asked, dumbfounded.

I lay back down, staring at the pink-streaked evening sky. "Not exactly."

Her face popped into my line of vision. "Well then, what's wrong? You two should be," she paused in consideration, "…happy."

I closed my eyes, placing my hands over them. "Obviously, there were some…complications."

Vanille glared at me. "Details, you idiot."

I glared back at her. "Can you leave me alone, please?"

"No," she stated easily. "When Lightning's sad, everyone's sad. So spill it."

I groaned loudly. "Leave me alone! I just wanna mope."

"Oh, right," she said, rolling her eyes. "I'll just watch you mope your life away. That'll go well."

Sighing, I rolled over on my side. She soon scampered over, sitting down in the sand in front of me. Her eyes were surprisingly soft now. "Come on; just tell me."

I stared, scanning her eyes for reassurance. "I messed up; it was a moment of pure impulse."

She nodded. "Okay, so what else?"

Sitting up, I stared at the ocean once again. "Well, first she pulled away." I closed my eyes tightly. "For those few moments, I completely forgot about Serah. I felt horrible; what kind of terrible person forgets about their fiancée?" Vanille stared at me, silent and listening, waiting for me to continue. "Then Lightning just stared at me all wide-eyed for the longest time. I was too ashamed to look at her. I mean, I was supposed to marry her sister! She must have thought I was such a monster." I opened my eyes again; the children's parents were now helping them with their shoes. "All I could think was, 'How do I fix this?' When she asked me why I did it, I knew I needed to think of an answer quickly."

I stopped, holding myself together. Why did Lightning have this effect on me?

"What did you say to her?" Vanille asked quietly.

Silent for a moment, I quickly glanced at her before gazing at the family again; they were walking away now. "I told her that I was sorry, that I had mistaken her for Serah."

I didn't look at Vanille for a long while. When I did, disappointment and awe stared back at me. "Why—"

"Why would you say that?" a venomous voice spat from behind. Quickly turning around, I saw Hope and Sazh standing side-by-side. Sazh stared at me in shock; Hope clenched his fists at his sides. "Why the hell would you say that?" Hope asked again.

Vanille stood up, holding her hands out to declare innocence. "Hope, calm down. He was just—"

"You know," he continued, ignoring Vanille, "I always knew you were stupid, but not this bad. Do you hurt everything around you?"

I stared at him.

"Hope…" Sazh said, placing a hand on his shoulder. The boy quickly shook it off.

"No, I'm sick of him getting away with everything!" he shouted. "You couldn't save my mom. You practically abandoned NORA. And now you've hurt Lightning too!"

"Hope, stop," Vanille pleaded.

"You're just so stupid!" Hope exclaimed, tears forming stubbornly at his tear ducts. Vanille was right. I had hurt Hope when I'd hurt Lightning. "Why don't you—"

"Hope!" another voice called. We all turned around to see Lightning running towards us. I was so happy yet sad to see her. She stood between me and the boy, holding a hand up, and said, "Stop it."

"No! He ruins everything!" he screamed, jabbing a finger towards me. "How can you defend him, Lightning?"

"You need to calm down, Hope."

"You're so stupid," he shouted, looking right at me. "You're always doing stupid things and saying stupid things, and lying to everyone, including yourself! Why don't you just go—"

She slapped him across the cheek. Hard. Hope cried, his tears staining trails down his cheeks. "Don't you dare finish that," Lightning spat, staring at him, thin-lipped and eyes afire. Hope ducked his head, wiping his tears away hastily. Lightning sighed loudly and rubbed her eyes; she still hadn't slept. Glancing up at Vanille and Sazh, she quietly commanded, "Take him back to the house."

They nodded and Vanille gently held Hope's hand. "Come on," she whispered, snaking her fingers through his. Hope nodded and they headed back to NORA's hideout, Sazh throwing an affectionate arm around the boy's shoulders.

I looked at Lightning, now pinching her nose with eyes closed. This was the first time I'd seen her up close all week. She had prominent bags under her eyes; the woman needed sleep. As tired as she looked, she was as beautiful as always, her hair dancing around in the wind and cheeks flush from the cool air. My heart throbbed.

She eventually looked at me, letting her hand fall to her side while the other rested on her hip. We were silent for a few moments before she said, "He was just emotional. He didn't mean what he said; don't take it to heart."

I nodded and quietly replied, "Yeah."

She stared at me for a few seconds before giving a curt nod and turning on her heel.

"Where have you been?" I asked, desperate to make her stay. "We haven't seen you all day."

She shrugged. "Walking."

"Where?"

"Around."

"Around where?"

"On the boardwalk."

"Are you ever going to say more than three words to me?"

She was silent for a moment, watching families return home from an evening out. "What does it matter?" she asked finally.

"Four words," I mumbled. "At least it's something of an improvement."

I waited for a reaction, but received none. She just stared at the boardwalk, not acknowledging my comment at all; suddenly, she turned around and walked towards the shore, leaving me behind.

I watched her go; as she reached the waterline, she stared down to the waves. One imbued with a bit of power washed up and ran over her boots. She looked at them for a moment before sitting down and taking them off, one-by-one, leaving them in a heap by the shore and walking away.

A flash of anger pulsed through me. So that was it? She was just going to ignore me; ignore this hulking problem to face it later? I finally rolled off the beach chair and stomped towards her, my fury escalating with every step.

I caught up to her as she walked along the water. "So that's it?" I exclaimed, glaring at her back furiously.

She stopped and glanced over her shoulder. "What are you talking about, Snow?"

My heart started at my name. "You're just gonna walk away?" I stated more than asked.

Facing forward again, she simply replied, "I like walking."

I rolled my eyes. "Yeah, I know. That's not what I meant."

"Then what did you mean, Snow?" she asked angrily, pivoting around to face me. "You wanna know why I'm not crying over you? Why I'm not begging for you to hold me? Why I'd rather walk a boardwalk all day than look at you? I don't know what you want from me!"

"I wanna know why you're not happy anymore!" I exclaimed, throwing my hands in the air.

"I am happy!" she answered. "I'm so happy, I can barely contain myself."

"You're not happy," I replied. "Hope knows it. Vanille knows it. I bet even Cornelius knows it! When was the last time you even held him?"

She threw her hands in the air. "How am I supposed to know? I don't keep track of how often I hold my cat!"

"Well at least you admit that it's your cat. Maybe you are capable of loving! I was starting to worry!" I shot back sarcastically.

She stormed towards me and grabbed my collar, pulling my face to hers; her eyes could've cried venom as she spoke. "Don't you dare! Just because I'm not so obsessed with it that I mistake my fiancée's sister for her doesn't mean that I don't know how to love!"

"You could've fooled me."

Her eyes fell slightly and her grip loosened. She stared at me and my heart throbbed. What had I done? Releasing my collar, she pushed me away, refusing to look at me. "Lightning…" I began, "I didn't—"

"You're just angry because I could never love you." I stared at her as she looked up at me, breathing hard. "At least one good thing came from Serah's death," she continued, "she was saved from marrying you."

My arms lay like jelly at my sides; suddenly, I felt sick.

"You asked if this was it," she said after a few moments of silence, ducking her head and fiddling with her nails. I stared at her, unable to speak. "Yeah," she answered quietly. "This is it."

o-o-o

My heart thumped in my ears, only adding to the queasiness within my stomach. My bare feet slowly became buried in wet sand as the waves rushed forward before losing heart and pulling back again. I couldn't deal with this anymore; and I had been doing so well all week, too. One comment and I gave him exactly he wanted: attention.

His words echoed in my mind; how dare he doubt my capability to love! His standards were too ridiculous for me to even compare.

I wanted to run, but my feet stayed planted to the ground. I couldn't listen to his cruel words anymore. Funny, how I'd always assumed that I was the harsh one out of the two of us. Apparently, he could be horrible too. That fact stung a bit, as I felt partly responsible for it.

We both stared at the ground, avoiding each other's gaze.

"What happened to us?" he asked suddenly. I stared as he lifted his head and met my eyes. I could only watch him; it was impossible to offer any condolences.

I wanted to tell him that what I said wasn't true, that I didn't mean it. I ducked my head again, hiding premature tears; I'd sunk so low as to shame my sister's death and her fiancée's love.

I shook my head, whispering an answer. "I don't know."

He looked back at the ground and my legs gave out from under me. As I sat in the damp sand, the water slowly seeping through my skirt, I covered my eyes, trying to stop the tears from flowing. "I don't know," I repeated through my hands.

Snow sat beside me, a couple feet between us. I cried harder. I wasn't usually one for nostalgia, but I wished things could go back to the way they were before. Was that even possible? We'd said such terrible things to each other.

I didn't mean my words; but what if he meant his?

I don't know how long we sat there for. Neither of us had the emotional strength nor courage to move. I came close to apologizing many times, but I always bit my tongue at the last minute, more tears taking its place instead.

Suddenly, I thought of Serah, how she always said, "If everyone had an expiration date, then the world would be a whole lot more forgiving." I had brushed her off at the time, nodding and agreeing without really understanding what she was saying. I understood now; I didn't want Snow and me to stay like this, arguing and hating each other. I couldn't lose another family member.

"I'm sorry for what I said to you," I mumbled into my knees, a sob shuddering through me. "None of it was true. Serah loved you. The fact that she didn't get to marry you is just one more wonderful thing that she missed out on."

I heard him scoot over, his arm aligned with mine. "It's okay, Lightning," he replied softly. "It really is."

Curling tighter into myself, I cried harder, quietly aware of the warmth soaking into me from his arm. All this time, he'd been looking for one thing. I was sorry I couldn't give it to him. "I'm sorry I'm not Serah…"

Suddenly, I felt his hand on my chin, forcing me to look at him; the breeze stung cold on my wet-rimmed eyes. I avoided his gaze, ashamed of my current state; what ignominy and pity I must've warranted.

Calmly, he said, "Don't you dare be sorry." I finally met his piercing gaze. "I didn't mean what I said. You can love; I've seen it. You can love with your whole heart." I could hardly breathe; I only stared at him. "I've never once mistaken you for Serah. Not a single time." He shook his head softly. "I'm so sorry I put those lies in your head. Never be anyone but you; understand?"

I looked into his eyes before gently nodding my head.

We were so close in that moment, but I didn't want to push him away. I no longer saw him as Serah's fiancée. He was just Snow; a blond-haired idiot who was too emotional for his own good, but I loved him all the same. We seemed to be such opposites; in the end, we would either break or blossom. I couldn't tell which just yet.

I finally asked the question I'd wanted to all along. This time, I knew which answer I wanted. "Why did you kiss me?"

He brought his forehead to mine, our noses barely touching and our breath mingling. "Because I need you, Lightning."

Unable to contain a sigh of relief, I smirked slightly before gently pushing my lips against his. He stiffened for a moment, but quickly relaxed, his arm trailing its way to the small of my back. My hands snaked their way through his hair, holding him against me.

Then a powerful, icy wave washed over my legs, surprising me out of our kiss.

He chuckled as I regained my control. Turning back to him, I glared softly. But he took that as a cue to kiss me again. I closed my eyes, soaking in every detail about this moment. The beach was silent besides the wind and the waves; we sat together in our silent dome. I'd never forget this moment, even if we did end up falling apart.

o-o-o

We walked back to NORA's soon after our conversation on the beach; Lightning was starting to nod off on my shoulder, but she'd never admit it. She still refused to sleep after we got back, opting instead to make a cup of coffee. Before she could even get the drink out of the cupboard, I threw her over my shoulder, much to her obvious displeasure, and set her on the bathroom floor, throwing an old pair of shorts and a t-shirt at her before quickly closing the door.

"Snow, let me out," she commanded angrily, hitting the door.

"Put the pajamas on, and I will."

"I'm not tired."

"I never said you were tired; I just want you to put on the pajamas. That's all."

I heard a loud groan and her head thump against the door. "Snow…"

"Just put 'em on, Light."

Eventually, after much incoherent grumbling, she knocked on the door. "Can I come out now?" she asked, clearly annoyed.

Upon opening the door, I saw her, arms crossed, in the pajamas. "Yep!" I exclaimed.

She threw a sarcastic smirk at me before sauntering out, smacking me in the chest on her way to the kitchen. She peeled through all of the cabinets and counters before slowly turning around with a glare. "Can you tell me what happened to the coffee?"

I shrugged innocently and sat on one of the barstools at the island. "How should I know?"

She stared at me, thin-lipped and fingers drumming on the counter separating us. "I'm not playing games, Snow. Where is the coffee?" she asked, enunciating every syllable.

The top cupboard on the right of the fridge; but I wasn't about to tell her this. "I haven't a clue." She quietly ground her teeth, and I added, "But I know something better than coffee."

She rolled her eyes and disbelievingly asked, "You do, do you?"

I nodded, slowly getting up from my seat. "Oh yeah!" I exclaimed, nodding my head. "It's fool-proof. You can't go wrong."

Crossing her arms as I slowly approached her, she asked, "And just what is this magic solution of yours?"

"Well, it's quite simple really," I said, standing right in front of her now. "If you just let me…" I quickly grabbed her torso and threw her over my shoulder once more. She was too strong for me to simply grab her hand.

A loud groan erupted from her throat as she rained punches upon my back. "Damn it, Snow! Put me down!"

"Trust me, Light!" I exclaimed with a grin, running towards the bedroom.

She snorted. "Trust you. Right. I can't seem to let my guard down for a second without you throwing me over your shoulder!"

I threw her down in the bed and jumped in next to her, grabbing her abdomen and pulling her back when she tried to escape. Trapped in a bear hug, she pushed against me, struggling to get free. "Night night!" I exclaimed, throwing the covers over us.

"Let me go!" she cried; I was as adamant as she, however, and wasn't about to let her go. I tightened by hold and rolled onto my side.

"Man, I'm so sleepy. I could just lay here all night!"

Wiggling her head from under my shoulder, she angrily spat, "Snow! Let go!"

I ignored her happily, faking a long yawn; if she wasn't so angry, this situation could've been much more relaxing. Still, I was tired regardless, and thought of drifting off there and then.

I was cut off as she quickly seized opportunity in my slacking arms, scrambling off the bed, but I grabbed her ankle in time. "Will you just go to sleep?"

"For the last time, I'm not tired."

"Then just pretend you're sleeping."

She groaned loudly, but complied nonetheless. With a heavy sigh, I relaxed and shifted to face the pillow, eyes closed. "How can you not sleep?" I asked. "I love sleeping."

We were silent for a few moments. I opened my eyes to see her playing with her fingernails.

"What is it?" I asked.

She met my eyes quickly before looking at her nails again. "You know how I said I always like silence?"

Nodding my head, I answered. "Yeah…"

With a heavy sigh, she continued. "Well, there are only two times when I don't. The first is at the end of a battle, when everyone is either dead, wounded, or too traumatized to speak; and the second is at night." She stopped playing with her nails and stared off into space. "Serah always snored a bit at night. We shared a bedroom until my mother died; her snore was comforting, letting me know that if something came for us, at least I wasn't alone." She rolled over on her side, so that her back faced me. "I don't like being alone. Not at night, at least. The world always seems much more daunting and ominous at night."

Wrapping an arm around her waist, I pulled her towards me. "I snore," I informed her, "but too loudly to be considered comforting."

She rolled around towards me again, closing her eyes. "I'll just smother you with a pillow if you get too loud," she said with a smirk.

I chuckled softly before slowly drifting off to sleep.

o-o-o

I woke up to gentle tugging on my shirt and a strange sound. Coaxing my eyes open drowsily, I glanced down to see Lightning pressed up against me, lightly chewing on my shirt as she slept. My brow furrowed in confusion before I shook my head and chuckled, laying my head back on the pillow in hope of more sleep.

Just as I was going under once again, I heard the door creak open. Quickly looking over my shoulder, I saw Hope standing in the doorway, Cornelius sprinting in and onto the bed, immediately sitting next to Lightning's head.

"Hey kid," I greeted, rubbing my eyes roughly. "What's up?"

He stood there for a minute, shuffling his feet before finally asking, "Can I come in?"

"Yeah sure. Just keep it down. Lightning's still sleeping."

He nodded, quietly walking to the foot of the bed, and replied, "Okay…"He cast his eyes down once again.

"Are you okay?" I asked, confused.

Briefly meeting my eyes, he wrung his hands. "I just—"

Suddenly a low groan came from beside me. Cornelius was scratching and chewing at Lightning's ear, and she tried to shake him off. "Go away," she mumbled; her brow furrowed and she slowly opened her eyes, angry at the daylight for being too bright. She rolled her eyes tiredly before closing them.

"Hey, Lightning," I said, shaking her slightly. "We have a guest."

Groaning and rubbing her eyes, she asked, "Who?"

I nodded my head at Hope.

She followed my gaze and stared at the boy for a few moments. "Hi," she mumbled.

He smirked. "Hi."

She stared at him in tired confusion and asked, "Something wrong?"

Glancing at the ground again, he shuffled his feet. Lightning noticed his discomfort and immediately sat up. "Hey, what's the matter?" she asked gently.

"Come on, kid," I said, finally sitting up. "Sit down."

Hope waited a moment before carefully sitting at the foot of the bed. Wringing his hands a bit more, he finally turned to me and mumbled, "I'm sorry for what I said to you." Looking away, he continued. "I didn't mean it. I was just…" ashamed tears glistened in his eyes. "…angry. I'm so sorry."

I smirked and ruffled his hair. "S'okay."

Nodding gently, he turned to Lightning and said, "Lightning, I'm—"

Hope was cut off by the shock of Lightning wrapping her arms around his shoulders and hugging him tight, burying her face into his hair. "It's fine," she said. "You don't have to say anymore."

The boy sniffled and returned her hug, tiny tears rolling down his cheeks.

"Aww!" a voice suddenly exclaimed from the doorway. Looking up, all of us saw Vanille with a sizable grin plastered on her face, Sazh just behind with a similar expression. Lightning sighed and let go of Hope, who quickly wiped away his tears.

"Do we get a hug too?" Sazh asked.

"No!" Lightning exclaimed, falling back into the bed, Cornelius bolting into Hope's arms in surprise.

Vanille shrieked and belly-flopped onto the bed, nuzzling her head against Lightning's face. "Sleepy Lightning! Sleepy Lightning!" the pig-tailed girl chanted, over Lightning's growls and ire.

Sazh walked over and sat at the foot of the bed next to Hope, stroking Hina affectionately. "Lebreau's got breakfast ready if you want any."

"What'd she make?" I asked, rubbing my eyes roughly.

"Pancakes!" Vanille squealed; Lightning looked exhausted with an arm draped across her eyes.

"All right, all right," I said, waving them off. "We'll be out in a few minutes."

"Okay!" Vanille shouted as Lightning flinched. "We'll be waiting. C'mon guys!" She dragged Hope and Sazh out the room and was just about to close the door before popping her head in again. "Don't be too long, or else we'll come back in here and wake you up again!"

"Out…" Lightning grumbled; Vanille grinned and bounced away, closing the door.

"Finally." Lightning rolled over towards me, eyes closed. "They're so loud in the mornings."

"Mhmm…" I agreed, collapsing back into the mattress, throwing an arm around her.

She pressed against me and I instinctively held her tighter. We'd come so far and been through so much together. I wouldn't have thought for a second that our relationship would come to this.

"Lightning! Snow!" Vanille called a few minutes later from the kitchen. "Don't make me come in there."

Lightning groaned and rolled away from me. "Can't we Silence her?"

I chuckled and rolled onto my stomach, rubbing my eyes and head in one rough motion. "Nah. She'd find a way around it." I yawned widely and poked her side. "Come on; she really will come in here."

Lightning groaned.

Shuffling over to her, I leaned over her cheek and gave her a quick kiss on the cheek, earning a surprised and annoyed growl. "Get up."

"I hate you," she grumbled into her pillow.

"Not true," I said, with a grin. "Never true."

THE END

Man, how weird is that? THE END! *composes self* Do not cry, Lexi. Do NOT cry. Please review. I would love to know what you thought of this fan-girl's fantasy. :] Hopefully, you'll from me much more in the future!

And special thanks to Riaeth for editing this ENTIRE fic. *hugs* You did so good. :}

Lexicer.