Disclaimer: I should think it clear by now that I do not, and never will, own Final Fantasy XIII, have stock in Square-Enix, or anything at all that would give me any sort of claim to ownership of anything in this story crafted by Square-Enix. Also, while not strictly a romance, this story will heavily feature the lesbian pairing of Fang and Vanille. If that's not your cup of tea, I don't care to hear about it. Don't read it.

Author's Notes: Boy it's been a while since I've had anything to post here. And yet, here I am again, back and hoping for more reviews, criticism, and flames than ever before. In terms of real *notes,* however, I understand and support the reasons that Lightning's real name was localized as 'Claire,' rather than 'Éclair,' and though I'm usually a stickler for the original versions of such things, I'm going to use 'Claire' when the need presents itself, rather than 'Éclair.'

As usual, I wouldn't think to post something without sending it by Houndemon, so a big round of thank yous for her masterful job in editing and critiquing it for me!

Prologue

By OkashiraShinomori

Beta By: Houndemon

After so much silence, so much comfortable quiet, the voice was jarring, disorienting. Simply strange. Language seemed a far-off concept, a distant and unimportant memory. But as her mind began to come back to itself, it began to sort out the voice, if only slowly. The transition from existing and understanding through one's soul, back to one's body, was a difficult one. Far more so than she would have expected it to be. Especially being that it was her second time experiencing it.

One just didn't get used to it, it seemed.

Like a groggy sleeper awakening from a long, deep slumber, the woman's consciousness stirred, the words beginning to make sense, to become recognizable. "Awaken, Daughter of Pulse. This is but a brief encounter; you will want to remember it."

With the solidification of her consciousness, awareness of her surroundings, in part, began to return. It was cold, unforgiving. Sharp edges seemed to close in all about her. "You sleep too early; awaken." The voice was indistinct, and yet reverberated loudly in the woman's mind, almost enough to make her want to wince, were she capable. She could neither make out nor identify anything distinct about the voice: its gender, its tone, its emotion, nothing. It had interrupted her sleep, however.

"Excuse me, the sleepin' part wasn't exactly a choice, more of a result," she answered, mildly surprised at the sound of her own voice. It had been a while. "What's goin' on, anyway? This ain't how this worked the last time." Her memories of the 'last time' were hardly infallible, but she certainly didn't remember any mysterious dialogues.

Rather than a response, a general wave of amusement washed over her like a wave. It was almost…patronizing. "Your Focus was incomplete, last time. This time, you apparently completed it. This crystal sleep is that which the fal'Cie intend to be permanent."

Were they able, her ears would have perked up, but she made a mental frown instead. "Intend? You mean it ain't really?" Why wouldn't it be? They…had completed their Focus, hadn't they? The voice had made that distinction clearly. They, as Ragnarok, had destroyed, or set Cocoon on the road to destruction, and saved it all at the same time. Even if they had misinterpreted it as one or the other, by accomplishing both they pretty much covered themselves, hadn't they?

The sense of a chuckle again washed over her, and she grew a little more frustrated by it. There was a feeling of superiority from...whatever it was, the voice, one that might be deserved but no less annoyed her. Whatever it was was clearly capable of interfering with the crystal sleep. Was it releasing them? Just...talking to them? Or was she alone here, with it speaking only to her?

No, do not fear solitude, you are not alone in my attentions, however you may wish you didn't have them at all." Her lips turned up in an unconscious sneer. She wasn't quite sure she liked having her thoughts read. "It is simply easier to explain to but one of you, so that you might take your time relating it to your companion."

Explain? So that meant there had to be a catch, didn't it?

"It would appear I have arrived too late to halt personally the destruction wrought by the fal'Cie of Lindzei. I gather their intentions from you, and am disappointed. Not merely in their selfish singlemindedness, but their inability to understand. This world was created for both races, one as guardian, one as provider, to work in tandem. In that, the fal'Cie failed." There was almost a feeling of disappointment, palpable somehow. "But they change nothing. Humanity was made to persevere, and I do not plan to interfere, not directly. But with the fal'Cie they have so long relied upon gone, they are disadvantaged, and I would ease that."

She narrowed her eyes, or tried to broadcast mentally that she was doing so. "So you're tellin' me you're the Maker? You expect me to believe it was you who created...everything? And did nothin' when the fal'Cie ripped apart Cocoon? Or Hell, when they tried to do it centuries ago?" In which she had played a significant part, admittedly, but that wasn't important at the moment. "What are you doin' here now?"

Again that sense of patronization just made her blood boil with frustration, and she longed to...to do something to ease it. "My concern is for the longevity of my creation as a whole. The individual is ultimately unimportant in the grand scheme of the experiment."

"Experiment!" Humanity, the fal'Cie, Gran Pulse and Cocoon were experiments! Frustration mounted higher at her total inability to do anything. "If the individual's nothin' to grand ol' you, what're you doin' with the two of us? What can you possibly need from us that you can't do yourself?" She spat the question, or as near to it as possible.

Inwardly, she was actually very pleasantly surprised with how well she was absorbing everything. It had never occurred to her that she would meet the Maker, had in fact never given the being's questionable existence much thought at all. Assuming she wasn't having particularly strange crystal dreams, and that this...whatever it was was actually occurring, she was remaining on task very well. Perhaps, though, it was one of those things that would be expected to give her a breakdown later. Later? What sort of later did she have?

"The destabilization of humanity by the fal'Cie of Lindzei, however unexpected, is unfortunate but irreversible. To directly intervene in order to set things to rights would compromise an already fragile experiment." The voice had taken on a suddenly cold and hard tone that sent shivers down the woman's spine, or evoked a similar feeling, rather. "Rather, I will allow you to return, to help in what ways you know. Stabilize them, right them, rescue them from themselves before humanity meets an end as quickly as did the fal'Cie upon whom they relied."

Silence fell, a silence more profound than the statement that had preceded it as the Maker's commands sank in. "...haven't we done...enough? We've been slaves for...for centuries! And now you want to bind us to another Focus? We're not your damn servants! I don't care if you did create us, you haven't done a damn thing since then, and now you try to command us!"

Before she could formulate another thought, the terrible voice interrupted. "I do not presume to command. Humanity's will is ultimately free, no bond strong enough to restrain it. It would be a gesture of futility. Rather, I release you from your slumber; it will be yourselves and those about you who command you, whether through guilt, through love, through despair...You are such who defied your fate, destroyed the creations of one who is to you a god. This task is natural for ones such as yourselves, and it will be done."

That it sounded like a foregone conclusion, a fate that they could not fight, despite the Maker's praising that they could and had, served only to bring the woman's rage to a head such that she could not even respond, could not form the words. The voice very nearly chuckled. "Perhaps it was best that this is how the world worked out. It was not intended so, but perhaps the fal'Cie cultivated humanity, brought them to the cusp of this moment. I shall enjoy the legacy that unfolds, however unintended it may have been for Lindzei."

Her head spun, particularly with mention of 'Lindzei.' The name was familiar, but only in a distant manner. It evoked no particular memories, except that annoying feeling of knowing something, and having no idea what it was. It was dizzying to think that the fal'Cie had been actively breeding humans for this precise moment. What did that mean for them? They had fought fate, only to find out that this was what fate had meant to happen anyway? Dizzying and horribly frustrating.

A chuckle reverberated about her, somehow helping to steady her thoughts. Humanity is potential embodied. Even had the fal'Cie guided you, they gave you naught but knowledge. Anything and all that you have done has been by your own hand, nothing added, nothing taken by the fal'Cie. She was startled to remember that Lightning had said something similar. So had they not been too far off?

I think you will indeed be suitable guides towards an age of humanity. If only you will tread that path.

"Fang? Fang?" Wakefulness seemed to return all at once from absolutely nothing, and Fang sat up abruptly, mildly disoriented by the simple act of movement. And by realizing that there was indeed an 'up' once more. A wave of nausea swept over her, and she reached out blindly, clutching at a warm, soft arm, and closed her eyes for a moment, allowing it to pass. The voice continued calling her name, panic making it higher and higher until she gave the arm a squeeze and shook her head.

"I can hear you just fine, Vanille," she croaked, opening her eyes again and immediately regretting it. The light was so bright... She didn't have time to squint, even, before the other girl had thrown her arms about her neck and nearly tackled her to the ground. A ground which seemed excessively hard and...filled with sharp pokey things. It wasn't the least comfortable, but she supposed it was forgivable in the present situation. Chuckling to herself, Fang wrapped her arms about Vanille's shoulders and held her close, setting her senses to figuring out where they were while her companion alternately laughed and sobbed.

Years of experience had taught her that Vanille's inner emotional states tended to change quickly and often when she allowed them to show, which was rare enough that when they did it was tumultuous to say the least. Her frown only deepened as she gazed across their surroundings though. She recognized none of it, and though the memories she was beginning to piece together told her it should have been the interior of Cocoon, it looked nothing like it.

Much like Lake Bresha had been after the fal'Cie Anima had destabilized and crashed into it, every structure around them seemed to be made of crystal. But rather than simply be crystallized, or covered in crystal, it was if crystal had swept through wherever it was, swirling and solidifying into whorls and loops, great arches and waves, like a snapshot of the ocean in the throes of a great storm. There was no distinct direction up or down, nothing looked distinctively like the ground or the sky. Fang found if she focused hard on one piece of crystal, she could see the shadows of man-made constructs behind it, fragments of buildings, vehicles, or scaffolding. Scattered about them were shards of crystal, enough that it looked as if something had fallen and broken across the area they sat. Looking up revealed the remains of a spiderweb-like network of lines of crystal, most of which had apparently fallen to where they were now. Had that been where they had been? Could an abrupt fall even wake them from a crystal sleep? It didn't seem likely.

"This...is Cocoon, isn't it?" she breathed, sweeping her gaze across the eerie landscape, eyes widening as they adjusted to the light. Light whose source she couldn't yet place, but which seemed to be coming from essentially everywhere, as if radiated by the crystal itself. "And we're awake, aren't we?" Gently, she pushed Vanille away from herself, holding her a little closer than at arm's length.

The other girl looked just as she had when last she had seen her, preserved perfectly for...however long in crystal slumber. Her eyes were dark with tears, and shining trails down her cheeks further evidenced her distress, but she was whole and alive and seemingly none the worse for the wear. Fang found herself smiling despite the situation, and Vanille nodded slowly. Cocking an eyebrow, she playfully reached down with one hand, lifting the edge of Vanille's skirt over her left thigh and peering down beneath the cloth. As she had expected, and desperately hoped, all she found was smooth creamy skin. That...dream (Focus?) was beginning to fade already, forgotten like any other dream. Maybe that was all it was...

Flushing with sudden embarrassment, Vanille swatted her hand away and pushed the edge of her skirt back down. "Fang!"

Fang laughed, though she quickly quieted it when it echoed back eerily at them, and grinned, flashing Vanille her right bicep. A scar remained, the skin looking pink and newer than the rest of it, but there was no l'Cie brand there. "Just checkin', that's all. See? Mine's gone too."

Vanille blinked at her briefly, eyes widening, and she snatched at the edge of her skirt again, lifting it to peer at where her own brand had been. She looked back up at Fang, a look of relief and joy that Fang had only ever seen before when they had made up midway through Sulyya, when last they had both been awake, shining on her face. "We're free! We're really free!" she exclaimed, apparently uncaring of the strange echo it made. She bounced briefly in Fang's lap as if indecisive as to how to expend her energy, then pushed Fang's arms aside again and wrapped her arms happily around the other woman's neck.

Laughing, Fang's back slid off the projection of crystal she had been resting against and down onto the hard crystalline ground, wrapping her arms again around Vanille. It felt so good, so right to be able to hold her again. She had no concept of the time she had been in the crystal slumber, but her body told her that it had been far too long since she'd held Vanille like she was. Vanille's words made her think, briefly, of that dream that lingered still. Were they really? At the least, she assured herself, they were truly free of the fal'Cie. No matter what else held them in thrall, they had that at least. "That we are," she answered softly, burying her face against the top of Vanille's head.

They sat there, simply holding each other and relaxing in the bliss of their mutual freedom and apparent new lease on life, Vanille never questioning their circumstances for an indeterminable amount of time. Eventually, Fang eased Vanille away from her and helped her to stand, casting a look about them. "Well, I don't know what time it is, but stayin' here seems like a dull prospect." She glanced down at Vanille, cocking her head in a random direction. Any was as good as the other, she supposed. "Shall we?"

Vanille looked about them, taking in the strange alien landscape, the barely visible remnants of civilization, and nodded, her ponytails bouncing. "Yeah. This place is kinda creepy." Unable to disagree, Fang turned to the now empty circular crystal bed in which they had lain, eyes flicking about it until they fell upon their weapons. It was strange, and almost certainly a divine intervention that their crystalline forms lacked everything but their flesh and blood bodies. And yet each time they had awoken, their clothes and weapons had both been right there with them.

Taking her polearm from its resting place, she handed Vanille her rod and swung the shaft of her weapon over one shoulder easily. The dark-haired woman opened her mouth to speak when the perfect crystalline world around them shuddered. Vanille squeaked in surprise and reached out to grab Fang's arm as the ground rumbled beneath her. Somewhere in the distance they could hear the sound of crystal falling and shattering against more stable crystal, a sound like glass cracking. The rumbling was brief, but more than just a little bit unsettling.

The both of them were silent for a long moment, waiting with baited breath for a second coming of whatever it had been, but after a few moments it seemed none was forthcoming. Swallowing hard, Vanille eased her grip on Fang's arm. "Isn't this...how can Cocoon, um, have...earthquakes?"

By design, Cocoon was immune to many of the common forms of natural disaster that plagued regular planetoids. Not being constructed of earthen plates sliding along an inner core of molten rock, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions were either non-existent or could be facilitated through other means by the fal'Cie, but never naturally. Rather, with the livable part of Cocoon being on the inside of a sphere, its climate, weather, everything that would normally be perceived as nature was entirely up to the will of the fal'Cie. Even with the fal'Cie presumably deposed, there should have been no chance for nature to shift, as there simply was no nature.

"I...suppose it would depend on whether the whole thing's like this or not," Fang mused, looking around at their crystalline surroundings. She didn't remember exactly what they had done as Ragnarok in order to save the plummeting Cocoon, but vaguely remembered catching the planetoid with a spire of crystal. Unless the unsupported weight of the outer segments of Cocoon were stressing the structure too much and causing a collapse, she couldn't imagine why it would be experiencing such tremors.

Beside her, Vanille shivered and crept closer, absently folding and sheathing her rod in its pouch behind her, in easy reach if the need arose. She found herself distinctly hoping it did not. Likewise in silence, Fang reached a practiced hand behind her back and slipped her polearm's shaft into the springy clasp she had fashioned from a particularly resilient bone off an animal she had slain so many centuries prior, covered with leather and attached to a strap. "Whether it is or it ain't, I don't intend to stick around long." Glancing down at the younger woman she cast a smile she hoped was uplifting. "Let's get outta here."

Unspoken was the desire to go home. Maybe even to find their friends, assuming they were still alive. If it had been another couple of centuries...

It didn't bear thinking about just yet.

"Yeah," Vanille agreed, though her voice still trembled slightly. Still hanging loosely onto Fang's arm, she started forward, and Fang chuckled, stumbling slightly before taking the lead. Despite their long sleep, it didn't seem as if Vanille had forgotten her promise not to run away anymore. Smiling fondly, Fang ruffled the other girls hair and chuckled at the confused and startled look she got in return.

Just like last time, even if everything else had changed, at least they had each other. And to Fang's way of thinking, that was enough.

Author's Notes: Really short prologue, I know, not my usual length, but I'm trying to slowly get into the mindset of the characters, and introduce everything without cramming all of it into a single chapter. Expect chapter 1 to be more along my usual lines in terms of length. As per usual, please review and let me know if I'm living up to expectations! All forms of criticism welcome!