I do not own Final Fantasy XIII and make no profit from this story. In fact, I'm not even sure why the hell I wrote this story today when I'm supposed to be working on Chapter 22 of Evolution. (I have about 15 pages so far, and if I hadn't written this today, I might have finished THAT today. God, I suck sometimes.
This story is a small bunny that arose from a conversation that I was having with Extrinsical. We were discussing Serah, and I had an idea. This turned out to be different than I'd intended. Some of you may really HATE this story. Sorry about that.
"Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse."
-excerpt from "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot
Happily Ever After
"Damn it!" she yells as she drops the hot pan back onto the stove top. The sautéed vegetables fly out of the pan onto the stove top, one igniting in the flame. The hot oil splashes out of the pan and speckles her hand and forearm. She curses, loud and colorful, shuts off the heat, grabs the burning pepper between her thumb and forefinger and chucks it into nearby sink. Her fingertips throb-pulse-throb in time with her racing heartbeat.
It isn't supposed to be this way.
She exhales a hard breath and walks over to the sink to run her burned hand under cold water. The water hurts as it touches her sensitive skin, makes the small burned patches flare up and turn blood red. She hisses and winces, waits for the cold water to numb her entire hand. She looks over at the pan of vegetables and wonders if they can be salvaged.
She hates cooking!
She pulls her hand out from under the water and looks at the burns. They are small and inconsequential. Barely worth noticing. Much like her.
She snorts in disgust at her childish, defeatist attitude, wonders for the thousandth time what the hell is her problem. She blows on the burns, feels them sting and throb, watches the skin yellow and blister in tiny bubbles. The skin looks like burnt parchment. She touches the rising blisters, winces and realizes that it feels that way too. She considers if it's worth taking a painkiller before deciding against it. The burns will be gone before she knows it. They will be gone like they were never there. Just like the thousands of people that died during Cocoonfall.
She shakes her head roughly, hoping to rattle some sense back into herself.
"What is wrong with me?" she wonders aloud. She has everything that she ever wanted. No. She really does. Absolutely everything!
Her sister wants a relationship with her. More than that: she wants to try to be friends, to respect Serah now as an equal rather than treat her as a child. She even lets Serah call her Claire again, which is an enormous leap forward after a never ending litany of marching in place, punctuated only by the occasional giant step backwards.
She has a nice home; and while she misses Bodhum and the simple, quiet beauty of the city by the sea, she has grown to love the wild, untamed beauty of their small corner of Gran Pulse.
And of course, she has her husband.
Yep. She's living the dream. Every minute of every day, she lives the life she's always wanted.
Ever since her parents died and she and her sister had been left to fend for themselves, she'd dreamed of having a real family, in a real home. As Claire ('Lightning! Claire died with our parents Serah!') and she had scraped and begged for food, Serah had dreamed of cooking a real meal in her own kitchen. She'd dreamed of making dinner for her husband and children. She'd imagined them all together (even Claire, when she wasn't imagining strangling the bitch) sitting around a table, eating large meals together. Laughing together.
Claire (Lightning!) had thought her a fanciful dreamer. Serah could see that her sister had other ideas about the future. Where Serah had desired hearth and home, Claire had desired strength and distance. And so Claire had disappeared, balled up like an unwanted dress and stuffed deep somewhere inside the icy persona who called herself 'Lightning.' Once that happened, once her sister had vanished too, Serah had been so lonely. She'd yearned for someone to offer her the love that had been absent from her life.
Then she'd met Snow and she'd fallen in love at first sight.
Snow had been strong, and brave, and so, so sweet. When she'd first clapped eyes on him, she felt her insides melt. He'd been hanging around with a local 'resistance' group, talking about protecting people, planning patrols. He was larger than life: positively dreamy. She'd been dying for him to pay her any sort of attention. And when he did, she thought she'd turn to a puddle at his feet.
He had been perfect.
The perfect date. The perfect first kiss. The perfect boyfriend: supportive and devoted. She'd been walking on air, on the road to having everything she'd ever wanted.
She remembers the first time they'd made love, back before she became a l'Cie and everything went to hell . Snow had held her afterwards, her head pressed to his chest, his heart beating a steady, calming cadence, and he'd gone on and on about how perfect their lives would be together. They would be married. He'd protect her and love her until the day he died. They would have a dozen children, both their own and adopted. They would have a home near the beach, near her sister's home. He would continue to protect the citizens of Bodhum. He would protect her.
Things had been going along so well. Then the Pulse Vestige had appeared outside Bodhum, and all hell broke loose. She'd managed to get branded by a Pulse fal'Cie right before Claire's birthday. In a moment, every dream she'd ever had had exploded like fireworks. She'd broken it off with Snow, she'd run away. She'd fallen so deep into depression that she'd considered ending her own life to end her suffering.
But Snow-perfect, wonderful, supportive Snow-had refused to surrender. He'd promised to fight for her. He'd proposed to her, insisted that she was the only woman for him. She'd wept at the romance, felt full to bursting with love for him. Knew right then that she had found the man of her dreams.
Serah stands in her bathroom bandaging the palm of her hand and spends a moment wondering what the hell had changed from then to now.
Snow is still the same man now that had proposed to her. He's still a romantic. He's still an idealist. He's still a protector. He fights to protect her as well as all the other people living in their small, growing community. He still wants to have a big family. He still loves her with every fiber of his being.
He still goes out on wild adventures.
Preemptive strikes, he calls them; or sometimes he calls them patrols. He hares off into the wilds to 'establish a perimeter' around the as yet unnamed town in which they dwell. Nothing has changed. Except his partner. No longer does he fight with his childhood friends from NORA. While they are still around and still his friends, there is only one person whom he trusts to have his back.
It's ironic really. Lightning had thought Snow a useless idiot when they'd first met. She'd tried to drive him away from Serah. And Snow had called Lightning a 'miserable, hateful bitch' back then. He'd told Serah that if she and her sister hadn't looked so much alike, he'd have sworn there was no possible relation. He'd postulated body snatchers. Pulsian invaders. Anything but actual, biological relation. Lightning, he'd said, was miserable and he hoped he never saw or spoke to her again!
Yeah. That was then.
Snow has so much to say to her sister now. And her sister actually smiles at him once in a while. Serah doesn't have to defend him anymore. There's no more animosity at all between them at all. They are more in tune when sparring-physically or verbally-than Serah has ever been with either of them. She watches them as Claire teases Snow by calling him 'Hero' and he answers her casually by addressing her as 'Sis.' Something in her clenches and for a moment, Serah wonders if she's jealous.
The answer is simple. Of course she's jealous!
Oh sure, it would be easy to suspect that something untoward or traitorous is going on between her husband and her sister. They spend more time together than she spends with either one of them, after all. But she knows that's not the truth. Neither of them would ever consider betraying her in such a manner. They both love her, and respect and admire each other, far too much to jeopardize their family with something so pedestrian as an affair.
But even if they were screwing around, that is not the source of her jealousy. It would be easier if it were something as simple as sex between them. But what they have between them is so much more than simple body fluid exchange. While she was stuck in crystal stasis, they'd had all this...time together. They'd fought together side by side to save humanity. And of course, to save Serah herself. They'd put their differences aside and put their lives in each other's hands so that they could save the one person whom they both loved above all others: her.
Fate, thy name is Irony!
They have a bond now that she can't touch. And Claire has her husband's respect in a way that Serah never will. Snow views Claire-no, not Claire. He views Lightning as an equal. He may love and worship Serah (and she knows he does) but he trusts Lightning. He trusts Lightning to keep herself and him safe. To protect them both. More than that, he trusts her to keep Serah safe if something were to ever happen to him. And Lightning trusts Snow in the same way.
Is she demented for being angry that she is the glue that holds her family together? Is she wrong for wanting, just once, to not be responsible for everyone else's happiness? Sometimes she just wants to be Serah again and hang them all! She wants to go out exploring and see this beautiful and terrible world that her sister can't shut up about. But she will never be part of her family's adventures.
Oh, Snow would never forbid Serah from joining him on his 'patrols,' (despite what many might think of her husband, he is tender and kind and progressive) but he would no longer enjoy them either. He'd be too nervous. Too terrified to take his eyes off of her. She knows that his biggest fear is losing her again. He never speaks about it, but she knows all the same. After all, he is her husband. So she'll never go because she cares for him too much to take away his happiness.
So, she is jealous but not for the normal reasons. The problem is not that she resents the time Snow spends with Lightning, or that they have a bond with one another which she can never touch. When she allows herself to indulge in such fruitless thought she realizes that she is happy her husband and sister have finally come to an understanding. She'd been so afraid that she would have to lose one to keep the other. No. She loves them both and is happy that they love one another too. She is happy that they trust and protect one another.
When she thinks about this sticky topic, the solution is simple. Her problem really has nothing to do with them, their behavior or the happiness they find with one another in their adventures.
Her problem is not their happiness. It is, to put it simply, that she is not happy. At all.
She laughs and it's a bitter, horrid sound.
She has everything she'd ever wanted and it isn't enough for her.
The home that she'd always dreamed of feels like a prison. The family that she'd always longed for frightens her like welded on shackles. The man of her dreams, the love of her life, is now a stranger.
No, she corrects. It is she who is the stranger.
She longs for more than this life now. The time she'd spent in crystal stasis had somehow altered her despite her unchangeable physicality. Perhaps the very permanence of that frozen state is what makes her long for more now. When she'd been trapped in that crystal, all she could think about was the life she'd never lead. She wanted so much to feel the grass beneath her feet and the breeze upon her face. Being trapped in that crystal made her long for freedom. It instilled in her an unquenchable wanderlust.
Of course, she hadn't realized it when she first woke. Then, all she could think about was the unexpected gift of being able to actually live the life that she'd written off in those last moments in her love's arms. On that catwalk in the Pulse Vestige, she'd stared into Snow's eyes and shed a tear to mourn the life they would never have together. So when she'd woken, all she'd thought about was claiming that once-lost life for her own.
They'd gotten married so quickly, as if they were both afraid that to wait would somehow jinx their gift. That fate might notice and take it all away again. Claire had even agreed to the whirlwind wedding. She'd tied flowers into Serah's hair, kissed her on her cheeks and cried as she whispered into Serah's ear: 'You are the most beautiful bride in two worlds, Serah. I wish mom and dad could see you today.'
Snow had been breathtaking and beaming. He'd kissed her with more tenderness and passion than ever before, then twirled her around like a little kid after they were pronounced husband and wife. She'd laughed and cried and smiled and danced. And cried some more.
Serah wipes a tear at the memory. There is no possible way that any woman could have a happier wedding day than hers, despite the horrors around her. She'd had everything.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" She says to the stranger in the bathroom mirror. The image in the mirror blurs. She feels her eyes burn, feels the tears spill from the corners of her eyes to leak down her face. She dashes them away and blinks, willing this melancholy into the abyss. It is preposterous and ridiculous.
It is, as her sister would say, 'unacceptable.'
She hears the clang and bang of the back door opening and closing. Two voices fill the house, loud and boisterous and obviously happy from a productive day on the plain.
"Serah, my darling?" Snow yells from the kitchen. She can hear the smile in his voice, knows that he is in a playful mood. It has been a very good day, it seems. "Where are you?" he sing-songs.
"Serah?" Claire says, voice closer than Snow's. Apparently she's decided to hunt her wayward sister down. Serah rolls her eyes, irritated that she can't have a moment's peace in her own home. "You okay honey? I saw the pan..."
Serah closes her eyes. She should have realized that they would worry when they saw dinner ruined. After all, Serah loves to cook, clean and keep house. She snorts in irritation, finds she cannot stifle the sarcasm lacing through her thoughts. If anything is out of place, then the world must be coming to an end! After all, Serah is the ultimate little housewife. She rubs at her forehead in an effort to abolish the irritation and impending migraine before she has to face her family.
"Serah?" Claire repeats. From the sound, Serah can tell Claire leans against the other side of the door.
"I'm fine," she squeaks and rolls her eyes. Really convincing. She clears her throat and tries again. "Really, I am." She opens the door and sees the worry in her sister's eyes.
Claire-no, this is Lightning now, not Claire-studies her with an assessing eye. Her sister switches between the two personas like others change their socks. Lightning must have detected something amiss in Serah's voice and determined that there is a threat afoot. Serah feels more aggravation well up at being sized up like an enemy while she's standing in her own damn bathroom. Serah watches as Lightning looks her up and down, looks around the small room, catches sight of the bandages on the counter and then zeroes in on the bandage on her hand. Lightning's fingers close around Serah's wrist and lift to get a look. "How bad?"
"It's nothing," Serah says and pulls her hand back. Lightning must be able to tell that she is telling the truth, because she gives Serah a smile and the soldier disappears. And she's Claire again.
"So what's wrong then?" Claire asks her.
"Were mom and dad happy?" Serah blurts and her sister freezes and turns confused eyes towards her.
"Never mind." Serah says. She has no business burdening her sister with her 'drama.' Serah walks past Claire to go see her husband but Claire stops her with a hand on her shoulder.
"No, Serah." Claire looks worried now and Serah feels like an ass. "Tell me what's wrong."
"I'm just wondering..." if mom was as unsatisfied as I am... "about them. I mean, I was little and they probably hid a lot from me. No one ever hid anything from you. Were they happy? Were they in love?"
Claire narrows her eyes in a most Lightning like manner. Serah hopes that her last thought is incorrect or Lightning is going to ferret out the truth here.
The problem as she sees it, is that Serah has no idea what that truth might be.
Claire nods once at her and says, "They were very happy. And very much in love. I remember them putting us to bed, turning on some terrible music, and dancing together in the living room all night. It was sappy and stupid. And they were really happy."
Serah bursts out into tears and then laughs at herself. Claire pales, thinking that she's done something wrong. Serah shakes her head, waves her hand dismissively, dashes at her tears and says, "That's so wonderful. That they were happy and they had each other. Even at the end. Even now."
She's blubbering. She needs to pull herself together before Snow comes in here and the whole scene erupts into some horrible soap opera.
Claire nods and Serah sees suspicious wetness in her eyes. She needs to stop this stupidity. She's hurting her sister now and that's unacceptable.
"Let's go," Serah says, putting her arm around her sister. "I need to fix dinner."
Claire looks like she wants to argue. She's still eyeballing Serah like she knows something is wrong. But she drops it, lets Serah keep her secret for now. Serah is relieved. Claire has always been good at letting others keep their own counsel.
"I think the 'Hero' decided to save dinner. You know how he can't resist saving something," Claire quips and smiles. Serah nods, wishes that she could find the same amusement and joy in the statement that her sister feels.
"That's my man!" Serah says and is proud that it sounds honest. Snow appears in front of her wearing an apron and wielding a spatula.
"And that's my beautiful wife." He leans down and kisses her. She wonders when his kisses stopped making her whole body tingle. He smiles at her then catches sight of her bandage. "What happened? You okay?"
She stomps on the irritation at the question. She is the Worst. Person. Ever!
"I'm fine," and she smiles at him. "You know me. I'm a klutz."
Snow gives her a fond smile, puts a hand on the small of her back and guides her into the kitchen. He pulls out her chair for her, guides her into the seat, takes her burned hand and kisses the back.
"Well my love, sit your klutz ass down right here and let the love of your life serve you some dinner. I saved the veggies. Cooked up some rice. Threw some fish on the grill. It's going to be a feast, I say!"
Claire rolls her eyes, and sneers. Not Claire, Serah realizes. She is Lightning now. She is always Lightning with Snow. His partner. Lightning crosses her arms and says to Snow, "Don't you ever stop talking?"
"Don't you ever stop bitching?" Snow returns, not missing a beat. Serah wishes she could be half as 'at ease' right now as her sister and husband seem to be. "Why don't you make yourself useful and set the table?"
"I'm a guest!" Lightning argues.
"You're a pest, is more like it! Set the damn table, Sis, or no food for you!"
Serah watches her husband and sister argue with one another. Watches them glow and smile as they bicker and banter. Watches them work as seamlessly with one another in the kitchen as they ever have on the battlefield.
Everyone is so happy! Everyone but her.
She wonders if this is what love is supposed to feel like. She pats her flat belly and wonders if it will get any better when the baby comes. She wonders if that thought is supposed to make her head hurt. She wonders if she should dread sharing the news of her pregnancy with the two most important people in her life.
Life has gifted her with her 'happily ever after' and she wonders if there is any way that she can give it back. She looks out the window towards the wilderness beyond the 'perimeter' and wishes that she could have just one small taste of freedom.
This is my first ever one shot. I wanted to do a little introspective piece for Serah. This whole story goes from the idea that we are not the same people at 18 that we might be at say, 22 or 23. Our deepest desires change throughout our lives. Lightning and Snow ARE NOT having an affair in this story. I hope I made that clear.
Anyway, sorry if you hate it. This is the beginning, middle and end. Not the Evolution universe necessarily.