Edited 24/05/2012 - Grammar fixes, etc.
hic et nunc.
This is the reality of it all.
The first few days after the fall of Cocoon were filled with chaos.
The sound of ricocheting bullets, explosions, sweat, and blood filled the air.
Many were awed by the beauty of this place – hell, they had called it, for years and years and beyond, but why ever and how it that a place scorned by gods and lived by demons could be so breathtaking –
But more were terrified by creatures they couldn't even begin to recognize.
And humans' first instinct upon meeting the unknown had always been the same.
(destroy destroy destroy –)
Hope was the first to almost die.
Farron – Serah Farron, tore open his shirt. He wasn't going to wear it any time soon, maybe never again. Her fingers, hands, even her own clothes, were stained with blood. His blood.
"Stay with me, Hope," muttered the girl. "Stay awake."
Not too far from where she was, a creature, a humongous four-legged thing, blue and black – whatisthatthingSnowClaireRUN – roared; and through the ground below her, she felt the trembling. Something, or a few things, was trampling on the ground in the distance.
The boy in front of her choked out even more blood.
"Supplies, supplies – " She dug furiously through the brown pouch that Lightning had thrown at her in the heat of the moment, ohgodwhatdoIdo, she was muttering incoherently, she was frantic; she's not trained for this, for fuck's sake, Lightning wasn't ever injured too badly for her to handle when they were younger, and when her sister was, there were hospitals; but damn it, this was Hope, and she would be damned if he died today, so fast, when they were finally not l'cie anymore –
She staggered all of a sudden, and fell on top of the younger boy. Something had just completely barreled her over.
And Hope jerked under her.
"Shi –! Oh, shit – shit – Serah – " That thing – it was Snow (hessafesafesafe) –he rolled over from above her immediately, and she scrambled to get off Hope; the boy's face was twisted in pain and he looked like he was going to fall unconscious any second now -
"No, no, Hope, dammit! Stay awake! Stay with me, Hope!" Her voice rose, and she lifted a hand to slap his face sharply. Her other hand was pressed hard on his stomach, where blood – so much blood – was flowing out.
"I'm – " Hope's voice was strangled, hoarse and raw, he stopped, coughing, but that was good enough, good enough for that moment, and she almost sagged with relief – but no, there wasn't any time, and her hand moved to dig through the pouch again, this time remembering what Lightning had shouted at her before launching herself at that creature, "Wrap it tight! Tight, Serah!"
Beside her, Snow's eyes jerked from the battle to Hope to Serah to Dajh (who stood motionless in shock and horror he'sachildaCHILD) then back to her, and it was a split second decision – "I have to help them, Serah – " his voice twisted with tension and pain and guilt, and Serah understood, she understood, but she didn't dare take her eyes off Hope even when she wondered why or how he had barreled into her isheinjured –
"Go," she whispered, not knowing if he heard her or how much time passed in between his words and now, because he hadn't waited for a response before running back into the fray. "Stay safe. Please."
Behind her, the battle was thick and furious.
And beside her, Dajh watched it all, astounded, unmoving.
A behemoth, she later found out.
It was a behemoth. And they couldn't kill it before that thing decided to get on two feet. Nevermind that she didn't quite understand what it meant, the expression on Sazh's face spoke volumes. It was a miracle that they even lived through that.
Lightning's closed fist trembled to a degree Serah never thought possible. Her gloved fist had cracked into a boulder, drawing blood. The look in those eyes was cold, indescribable, and her shoulders were tense.
The soldier – former...? (there was too much chaos with Cocoon's government, and no one knew what was what) – dropped to the ground beside a sleeping Hope. Her sharp blue eyes surveyed his figure, the rise and fall of his chest, before closing her eyes briefly and rubbed at the bridge of her nose. She exhaled a long sigh, leaned against the rock behind her; her weapon was in easy reach, and her eyes opened to keep vigil once more.
He was alive.
Alive, but he would forever keep that ten-inch scar on his stomach, and it was ugly, because Serah wasn't a trained medic, they had no manadrives, and her stitches didn't even come close to clean with how her fingers had trembled and how quickly she had to work.
She tore her gaze away from him – them – and her gaze trailed back down to the man whose head was resting on her lap, and like her sister, she watched.
A trembling hand moved to brush through blond locks, as if trying to reassure herself he was fine, safe, and safe.
He was safe, but his arm was broken.
Nothing, nothing, could describe the lurch she felt when she saw him unconscious, dragged to her by both a battered, limping Lightning and a weary, bleeding Sazh – and then thepure relief, when Lightning reassured her.
"So much for being ex-l'cie." Sazh muttered. "We need some damned manadrives."
The next few months were hell.
Tension, tension, and tension.
The first few meetings were punctuated with fights and blood.
The next few, there were tense, uneasy negotiations.
And as time passed, the expression on Lightning's face grew more forbidding; though sometimes too weary and too old.
PSICOM, Guardian Corps, even former comrades that she'd protected Cocoon with in the past –
Tension, hate and fear were the only words that described the air between former l'cie and Cocoon.
Cocoon needed them to guide their survival.
They needed Cocoon's force to survive, because at the moment, all that was helping Cocoon to survive was sheer numbers.
("This is a place where survival is for the fittest," Lightning had said to PSICOM's squad captain, her harsh and cold words cutting through like a hot blade sinking into a block of butter – and Serah didn't know she was quoting Fang until Snow told her later on.)
Few Cocoon citizens were sympathetic, most were not.
But they worked together despite the tension, the fear, and the mistrust.
They had to.
Two years passed.
Sometimes, even though Hope had been healed – with the assistance of manadrives provided by Cocoon – she would see him rubbing at his stomach.
"It just...it feels weird," he had admitted when she asked if it bothered him (an alarmed part of her had wondered if she had done something wrong back then). He was tugging at his leather glove, securing his manadrive. "I feel like the skin is pulling sometimes, and it's not as if it's anything bad, but...yeah. Just...weird. I think I'll get used to it in time."
The boy – he was steadily growing taller now, and his height went just past hers – stretched lightly, and smiled at her sincerely. "I know I thanked you before, Serah, but...thank you. Again. For saving me. If it wasn't for you, I would have – " he stopped, rubbed at his nose, and smiled wryly. "Well."
She had smiled at him affectionately, squeezing his sleeved elbow gently. With his favorite shirt gone, not to mention growth spurt, he now wore a plain t-shirt (found randomly, he said), and a brown jacket.
"Hope," a familiar, feminine voice called from the door behind her.
"Coming!" He looked up before darting his gaze back down to her.
"Stay safe," Serah said, "and..." a pause, and she glanced at the door too, just as a shadow disappeared. "Please keep her safe, too."
"I will." He squeezed her shoulder lightly in reassurance and left.
When he was gone, she returned to the books.
Not history books.
Three years passed.
It was an impromptu wedding. Not really impromptu, she remanded after a thought, but. It was, in a way, because it was small, and quick, and ended with an informal party with only a few people, and NORA.
The cynical would've considered it unreal, because it was just - terribly put together.
There wasn't any priest, but not for lack of trying – Sazh decided to take that position in the end – and it was done in Oerba, where flowers once bloomed.
Were blooming, really. If only barely.
When Lightning had told her about Fang's and Vanille's history, gestured at the empty flower beds, a fond but distant smile on her face; Serah had taken it upon herself to plant flowers there (volunteers for carrying items came in the form of Snow, Hope, and Dajh). There were more green stalks and leaves, at the moment, but there were also closed buds; and some of the more miniature flowers - in white, red, yellow, viridian - had already bloomed.
Her sister squeezed her shoulders lightly.
"I'm proud of you, Serah." Lightning smiled, faint and soft; then she moved to cuff Snow on the shoulder gently. "And you. Remember what I said." There was a hint of warning in that tone, but the humor and warmth all but tempered it down.
Snow grinned the biggest grin, ever.
"I will. Definitely, sis."
Six years passed.
By this time, all of them – except Dajh – had almost died in some way or some form.
In Serah's case, it was an assassination attempt.
It was a wakeup call. Things hadn't been the most peaceful for the former l'cie, but they had grown...almost relaxed, in part because everyone was focused on survival. And for the most part, time had helped in making people forget.
How in the world though, did it slip their mind that there would be some who'd be hell-bent on hate for l'cie?
Lightning had never held her so tightly since the time their parents died.
Snow had completely snapped and left the assassin a bloody, whimpering mess.
And for a while, a good, long while -
The younger Farron had been numb from her miscarriage.
It was that time again. The anniversary of Cocoon's fall.
Liquor and alcohol arrived by way of NORA.
And some way or somehow, they had managed to revamp one of the abandoned houses in Oerba to a makeshift bar that looked nostalgically similar to the one in Bodhum. She had even recognized one of the decorations - and she knew it was the same as the one in Cocoon because of the intricate design that couldn't be duplicated easily (Lebreau just smirked when she noticed her stare).
Serah didn't ask, neither did Lightning, but she saw her sister's gaze narrow suspiciously at the band of 'rowdy, noisy irritants' - Lightning's words, not hers.
Entry to Cocoon had been barred for a few years now. Have they been sneaking up there?
She wasn't even entirely sure if she wanted to know how and where they obtained the liquor.
Snow lifted his glass. His gaze was unusually somber, and serious (but then again – there hadn't been much to laugh about for the past few months, and for the briefest second, she felt a ghost of pain in her now-empty stomach –).
"To Fang. And Vanille."
The small crowd broke out in cheers.
She watched her sister knock back her first cup in one swift movement, poured another cup, expression indescribable; and then Lightning moved to the quiet balcony, away from the noise.
Serah tugged at Snow's sleeve gently, and he looked back at her; concern and love and worry was on his face, and she could just tell what were the questions running through his head areyouokay? feelingsick? isitstillhurting? Serah –
"I'm going to the balcony – Claire's there," she told him, feeling her chest clench tightly at that expression, and glanced outside.
He smiled and squeezed her hand gently, "okay. I'll see you later."
She hugged him back – I'm okay, Snow – before she moved.
Her sister's back was to her, and her gloved hands were resting lightly on the railings; the still-full glass sitting on it.
It was always at this time each year that Lightning had looked the most distant.
Not sad but...distant. Far away. Staring at the unreachable Cocoon.
Before Serah could reach Lightning though, she noticed Hope walking, and towards the balcony.
She watched him place a hand on her shoulder.
Lightning nodded briefly, almost unseen, as Hope said something.
"...think they'll come back anytime soon?" That was her sister.
"It's already a miracle that we aren't crystallized," he said, "so...why not? Miracles have happened before."
There was a ghost of a smile on Lightning's face. "You haven't changed."
Hope smirked, a smile oddly reminiscent of Lightning's familiar one, "I believe in them. And I'll keep waiting."
"That's good," her sister murmured in reply, distant again.
Then he sniggered. "It's going to be funny though."
A light pink eyebrow rose at him.
"I'm the same age as Fang now," he clarified, smiling, then added. "Minus the five hundred years thing, of course."
That statement made Lightning pause.
And then, unexpectedly, her older sister chuckled.
She turned to face him fully then, and the expression on her face ranged from amusement, surprise, wonder, and perplexity as she observed his features almost clinically. He was taller than her already.
"You really have grown," was the remark, and there was a strange sort of humor there, as if Lightning found something funny.
Hope looked like he was trying to resist pouting or sulking.
"Wasn't gonna stay a kid forever."
She just smirked at him.
He huffed at her, and when the humor faded, they looked back into the midnight blue sky again. It was breathtaking, with how the dark grey clouds seemed to rush forward towards the barely visible Cocoon that glimmered blue and white; and with how silver light seemed to reflect off dark green forests and canyons.
"I miss them," Hope said quietly. "Vanille, Fang..."
"I know." Lightning's response was equally soft. Hope moved to drink from his glass. Then, almost nonchalantly, but definitely teasingly, clear blue eyes slanted towards him, "you had a crush on Vanille, didn't you?"
He choked on his drink.
"I – wh – what? I don't –" the boy – man – was spluttering. "Where did you –"
Lightning just raised her eyebrows in amusement.
He rubbed at his face, cleared his throat and sighed.
"How did you even get that idea? Because you know, I don't!"
"Hmm," she mused, "Fang may have alluded to it a few times."
"When did the two of you even –" he groaned then. "Both of you pulled the same shifts back then." He answered his own question; of course they would have pulled the same shifts for guard duty. They had been a good combination, and there was no reason to break up that partnership when survival was important.
This time, Hope did sulk; it made him look younger, like the boy he once was.
She smirked in response and poked him in the forehead.
"I thought you'd grown up?" Lightning asked, clearly humored now; even though all that showed her mirth was the warmth in those clear blue eyes, and the small, upturned curl of lips.
The soldier was smiling.
For Serah, it meant relief, and the tension that she didn't realize was there faded from her shoulders. Her sister was smiling. God knows what she could've done if Lightning couldn't bring herself to smile, ever again, ever since the assassination.
And she knew she had Hope to thank for that. By herself, she couldn't have even done much - and it wasn't as if she was even at the right state to help her sister.
The thought of it – made a wave of anguish wash over her like a phantom ghost brushing against her skin.
She had to stop herself from flinching in surprise; Lightning had obviously sensed her presence, because the two Farron sisters were facing each other now.
The soldier beckoned her forward, head tilting as if amused and confused at her hesitance. There was a ghost of concern and worry and pain – reminding her of Snow's – in her expression.
Serah felt her lips curl into an involuntary smile. And for reasons that completely escaped her, her eyes felt as if they were burning and blurring.
"Hey," she said softly.
Seven years, two months.
Human beings were always good at adapting, and they adapted.
There was a sort of easy camaraderie between Lightning and Hope she couldn't quite understand. Was almost jealous of, sometimes, in fact. From mentor and student, they had become partners and friends. Maybe best friends.
So understandably, she had been completely alarmed when Lightning had shoved him against the wall sharply, a tight grip on his shirt; with eyes gone cold and hard like she was staring at an enemy. She was looking up at him – he was half a head taller than her now, bigger and broader (his growth spurt had been incredible); but size – among other things – didn't intimidate her in the least.
Tension crackled between then, and they were both glaring at each other.
But there were just silence, and as if they had sensed her, Lightning all but removed her hand, turned, and left without a word.
Hope sighed heavily.
"Don't worry about it, Serah." His voice was a couple tones deeper compared to five years ago. He glanced at her completely frozen figure. She was still gaping at them, eyes wide. "It's..." he faltered, "Well...it's nothing...much."
Her gaze darted from him to the door where she disappeared and back to him.
"That wasn't nothing," she told him, eyes narrowing.
"I –" he stopped, and then shook his head. "It's just...people change, Serah. Seven years...seven years is a long time, and with everything that happened –" he cut himself off again.
Then he looked at her imploringly, trying desperately to make her understand, as if there was something in those words that he was trying to convey.
"People change, Serah." He finally said, and for a second, his older gaze flickered with experience won wisdom. "They change. Adapt. Survive."
Hope had refused to say anything more than that.
So had her sister.
But even despite the conflict, they still moved out on patrols like they always had. Snow had sworn up and down that they were still the most natural partners in battle he had ever seen. No one ever came close to them, from the way they interacted without words as sword clashed and as spells formed – it was natural. It was as if whatever happened that day didn't even affect how they worked together.
Things were awkward and tense for two weeks.
Then as if nothing happened, they were back as usual.
Serah hadn't the slightest clue what happened, and Lightning wouldn't say anything no matter how much she asked.
But sometimes, just sometimes – she would notice his lingering gaze on her, a little too long and a little too sad, before he looked up at the sky with indescribable emotions playing on his face, at the crystallized Cocoon that was but just a small little ball that could fit in her fist if she tried to grab it from this distance –
And she wondered.
For Dajh, this was when things took a turn for the worse.
He was still young, too young, barely an adult, and naive.
He grew reckless, reckless like what most teenagers were prone to be, thinking himself fearless and invincible.
It wasn't until he almost died and Hope lashed out at him for his recklessness that he changed again.
The grass crunched underneath her soles, and the sound made blue eyes glance back at her before returning to the red orange sky (she was looking at Cocoon again, as she was apt to do.).
"Hey," Serah said quietly.
"Should you be moving around?" The question came, but her sister patted at the ground next to her.
She huffed, but moved to sit next to her. "You two don't let me do anything. I can at least walk around."
Lightning smiled a small smile. Her hand fingered her trusty weapon on her lap gently, almost absently.
"You are pregnant, Serah," the soldier said, as if that explained everything.
She knew, of course. After the scare of her near-death, Snow barely left her side, and Lightning – Lightning had hunted down this small group that had banded together to destroy l'cie. It was – it had been a very long few months before a semblance of normalcy returned, and before Snow finally relaxed. It took even longer for Lightning.
And if it hadn't been for Hope – Hope who held his former mentor back from unleashing her wrath, she couldn't even begin to image what it would have done to her sister if she had let the anger and thought of revenge overwhelm her.
"I know," she said, almost exasperatedly. "But that doesn't mean I can't even boil water, you know."
Her sister's eyebrows lifted with amusement and she looked at Serah. "I don't recall ever giving that order."
"Snow did," Lightning smirked, Serah glared, "but you know you're almost as bad as him, Claire."
The older Farron just shrugged, unapologetic.
She huffed again, then sighed.
"How's your arm...?" her gaze trailed down to Lightning's bandaged hand.
In response, the soldier lifted her hand and reached around Serah to grasp at her shoulder, pulling her into a familiar squeeze.
"I'm okay, Serah." Lightning murmured softly; forehead touching hers. Serah felt the dry, fresh bandage grazing her, and she inhaled the scent of antiseptic. "You have gotten a lot better as a doctor. So don't worry. I'm okay."
"Serah! Oh, god – SERAH! Come down here, now! Come NOW!"
"Wh – what is it? Hope?"
"It's Lightning! She's – she's – " Anguish. Fear. Pain.
She bolted down, and saw her sister in his arms. Lightning was unconscious, her hand hung limply, blood dripped in a steady flow from her gloved fingers –
Her stomach plummeted.
"I'm okay," the older Farron repeated gently.
It was as if those words were a mantra that soothed her nerves and tension that she didn't realize was there.
Her eyes burned.
"But – your arm –"
She quieted down, and leaned into her sister's embrace. But inside, her throat felt too dry, her chest hurt and squeezed, and she felt as if something – something was clenching her heart so tight she thought it might break.
"Life isn't all roses," whispered Lightning before she leaned back.
A finger lifted to rub at a tear on her face, blue locked onto blue.
"But we deal with it, Serah. We move on. We change. We survive. We adapt."
A ghost of a memory crossed her mind when she said that. Hope said the same thing, once.
She hugged her sister back this time, almost gingerly; she was still wary of all the injuries littered across her older sister's body.
"You're going to have a child soon," Lightning murmured, holding her just as gingerly. She glanced down at Serah's stomach. It was large. Then she paused, as if something just came to mind.
"He or she better not be as rowdy as Snow though, or I'm not going to do any babysitting."
And an involuntary smile broke out.
"Not even if I make your favorite dessert?"
A/N: Let me clarify that when I wrote this, I had no pairings in mind. Snow/Serah was the only exception, because it was canon. Somehow started writing in Serah's pov, and things snowballed from there.
The part where I suggested Fang may have gotten suspicious if he had a crush on Vanille, that's actually a rather valid point. Vanille and Hope were close; not like lovers, of course, but they were comfortably acquainted with each other. So...why not? It doesn't have to be true, but Fang's sadistic humor could go far enough to blow things out of proportion. And on Fang alluding her suspicions to Lightning - that's also another why not. They do work well together, and their abilities suit each other, and I can see them handling shifts as partners. Lightning may be silent during these shifts, but that's not going to stop Fang from talking.
In any case. Keep in mind that lots of things in this fic is left blank for many reasons, the main being that this is Serah's point of view; and she can't get inside other characters' head. I don't think it's too difficult to fill in the gaps with your own imagination either - which is actually the point. Just keep the timeline in mind, and ideas would...probably... fit into places like pieces of a puzzle. Which, also means, while I hadn't intended to press on any particular pairing, those of you with some of the most active imaginations can probably come up with quite a few. :)
I'll admit I've some ideas of my own, and I have a sketchy idea on how things proceeded and came to be the way it is, but - not good with long fics; not gonna happen. As it is, I'm still mildly unsatisfied with this fic...you know how things just click when something feels right? Didn't quite happen for this yet.
On Sazh. I like his character, and I like his dry humor even more. But I had absolutely no idea where to put him. I'M SORRY.
And on the Éclair/Claire thing...I had been indecisive for the longest time. Still am, actually. But...bleh, whatever. If I write anything else for this fandom, I won't guarantee consistency between fics about her name.
Much thanks to Rae for beta-ing, and hope it was a good read.