She meant the world to you, and when she was gone, the world meant nothing to you.

You're home for the first time in centuries, but you've never felt more lost.

You don't recognize a thing, and if you hadn't seen the windmill from Taejin's Tower, you'd think all these crystal dunes meant you'd be way off—Oerba's over off beyond some mountain, past some field of flowers. But you saw, you and Vanille both, and the two of you sat huddled near the rim of the tower, looking out over the place that used to be your home.

She shook, and you shook right along with her, and the two of you held each other, wrapped up in your sari under Cocoon. You pulled her into your lap and talked after that, talked about a time when l'cie was just a word and Cocoon was full of monsters. She didn't say much, just sat and listened to you, and you only stopped when she told you, her voice very small, that she was going to go to sleep if that was okay with you.

Your heart nearly broke.

So you cuddled up with her, far away from the fire and the others, and held her through the night. You don't remember falling asleep, but when you woke, she was hunched by the rim of the tower again, staring off over Oerba and covering a cough with her hands.

The air was bad, and it'd bring on a cough quicker than ice, or that was what you told her. She agreed, yeah, it was the air, and neither of you mentioned what seeing your home's rotting bones could do to you.

That's why when the time comes to split up the troops, you told Lightning that you and Vanille would take the rear. She was feeling a bit under the weather, you said, and you didn't pretend not to see the pity in her eyes. She must have seen you last night, else why would she let you go so easily? You tried not to look her in the eyes after that.

But once the lift lets the six of you off at the bottom of the tower, you don't have to try so hard anymore because she's up front with Hope and Snow, and the most you can see of her is her back.

"Well," Sazh says, looking out across the dunes and squinting because the sun's just high enough to catch on the crystal. "Nothing out here looks too appetizing, huh?"

Breakfast doesn't come easy when all there's to eat is cie'th and crystal, even if you and Vanille have been up and down these lands one hundred times over. You kick some dust and set your hands on your hips. "Everything's been chased off," you say, huffing. "Cie'th ain't too friendly, you know."

Vanille makes a little whine, and Sazh claps an arm over her shoulders. "Hang tight, little lady. We'll find us something," he tells her, smiling. She just nods her head and muffles another cough into her hands. "Gotta be something around here, right?" he asks, and there's a bit of concern in his eyes.

He's not talking to you, but you answer anyway, "Maybe."

You don't know a single thing that could live here now, and if something new is here, you don't know how to find it. But you're not thinking too much about finding food, not when Vanille is looking so goddamn frail under Sazh's arm.

You step to her, press your fingers to the side of her cheek and get her to look at you. "You alright, Vanille?" you ask, and she just smiles weakly and nods.

There's nothing reassuring about it, and your brow furrows.

Sazh looks at you and then Vanille again, and he gets this real acute look of worry now. It reminds you of the matron, how she'd look at you when you'd gotten beaten and bruised. You haven't thought of her in a long time, though, and you think now isn't the time to start. If you stop to think about the dead, you won't ever get back up.

"Let's get you off your feet," he says, shaking her shoulders a bit. "Brynhildr's always up for giving rides to pretty girls." He tries for a smile, but she doesn't do anything more than say she'd like to sit for a while. Just catch her breath.

You and Sazh trade looks, but he hands her off to you and lets you walk her towards the crest of a dune. He throws a Runiga into the air for the rest of them to come on back while you keep her close.

"Don't you worry, missy. We're gonna find something soon. Fix your brands right up, and then we'll head back for that bastard up in the nest. Never thought anyone could rub me worse than that prick Dysley, but then he went and changed, you know?" you tell her, holding her close around the shoulders. You know you're babbling, but it doesn't matter a bit to you.

"We'll be alright, kiddo-promise. Might not have turned out so good last time, but we've got back up this time, and we're gonna get through this, you hear me? You'll be okay." You smile down at her, hopeful.

She looks up, her face gray and terribly distressed, and presses a hand to her thigh. She gnaws on her lip, and there's moisture collecting at the corners of her eyes. It takes you by surprise, you look she's giving you, but when she speaks, that hits you harder.

"Fang," she says, voice wavering like she's choking on the words because she can't get them out quick enough. "Fang, I-"

She breaks off into another fit of coughing, really coughing, and bends over, near retching from the way she's gasping for air. You only get half a second to put your other hand on her shoulder too, face pulled up in alarm, before her skin goes a bright white, and you're taken so by surprise that it nearly blinds you.

You call her name, blinking and reaching for her, but your vision is spots of white against gray, and you don't snatch a single glance before you're thrown, laid out on your back in the crystal. Something crunches under you, but you're rolling to your feet out of pure instinct before you can think to wonder what it is.

When you rise, your vision's blurring back into focus, and Sazh is screaming your name and then Vanille's name like the damned fal'cie just came down to scrap with you.

The sound you hear first. It's real distinct, even with Sazh yelling in the background. Metallic, like someone is screeching through an old microphone. It cracks and fluctuates, and you know it's cie'th before you even get your eyes on it.

The cie'th is big, blue-gray crystals jutting every which way from its shoulders and arms, and stares straight ahead with its one, bulbous red eye. It lumbers and careens, slipping in the crystal dust and catching itself with its too big arms and then staggering with its stick thin legs for balance. It's a monster, screeching and screaming and lunging forward like its the first time its really walked, and you whip out Kain's Lance just of habit, taking notice of the splinters in its pole. You must have landed on it too hard.

"Fang! Fang, no!" Sazh screams at you, scrambling up the crystal dune toward you, and you glance between him and the cie'th, not sure what he's getting at. "Don't! That's Vanille, Fang! That's Vanille!" he hollers, and your blood turns to ice all at once.

Your face twists in surprise, eyes wide and searching, and you can't find Vanille anywhere. She was just here, she was just here, but all you see is a cie'th careening toward you, it's massive arm pulled back to swing. It hits you across the side, and your arm lights up with pain as you go tumbling down the side of the dune. The crystal dust in the wounds don't hurt near as much as looking up and seeing your sister like that.

Sazh is at your side in an instant, but you've only got eyes for her.

"No," you say, not even bothering to find your feet again. "No, no, no, no." This wasn't supposed to happen. You were supposed to save her, protect her, keep her safe and sound and happy, and now she's... she's...

"Vanille!" Sazh screams. "You stay right up there, missy! We're gonna... We're gonna fix you! You just stay right there!"

She doesn't pay him a bit of mind, beginning down the dune after the two of you.

"Heal her," you say, looking at the old gunner so suddenly. "Sazh, heal her! Come on, quick!"

He looks down at you, so pitiful, and then back at her. He pulls his pistols like he's listening, but he can't seem to raise them to her to cast the spell. Instead, he presses a hand to his own brand, and grimaces so terribly that it shakes you down to you bones. You drop Kain's Lance, and feel everything drain from you.

She's too heavy in that new body. She was never so clumsy before. But now her legs are too little for the rest of her, and her shoulders rock back and forth as she walks. There isn't even a hint of a skip in her walk now.

One thought keeps running through you, over and over and over, screaming so loud that you can't hear nothing else, and it says: she's gone cie'th, you let her go cie'th, she's gone, she's gone, she's gone.

"No, no-don't shoot! That's Vanille," Sazh waves his arms over his head, looking back behind you, and you turn and see the rest of them come running only for Hope to freeze where he stands and Lightning and Snow to stutter to a slow. Hearing those words makes you sick right to your marrow.

"Vanille?" Snow asks, gaping and squinting at her, but Lightning's quick. She's always been quick.

"We need to slow her down," she says, and there's just a hint of a tremble in her voice, her eyes wide. She's always been a woman of action, and you hate her for it a little. "Snow, get Fang and Hope out of here. Sazh, help me daze her."

Snow heaves you to your feet, but he's slow because he's still looking up to Vanille with such heartbreak on his face, so he doesn't even feel you remember yourself when you see Sazh flick a ball of light from the end of his pistols at your sister, your little sister. She staggers a little, slowing, and you come alive and turn on Sazh with the kind of menace that lit your arm up centuries ago.

"Bastard!" you scream, and clock him clear across the face. "Don't you touch her, don't you fucking touch her!"

You go in for another hit while he's recoiling, but Lightning's still too quick, too quick. She catches you around your middle with one arm. You elbow her twice before she brings her other arm up around your neck, and then its all you can do to try to throw your head back into her.

"That's Vanille!" you cry, and your eyes water like you're actually crying. "That's Vanille you goddamned idiot! You have to heal her, fucking heal her already."

Lightning pulls back against you, pulls you away from your only sister, your only love, your only hope in all the goddamn world. She pulls you away and calls to Snow, "I've got Fang! Help Sazh!"

You see the Hero turn and face her, turn and throw his arms up against her blows. They bounce right off his skin, but he tells her to stop, stop Vanille stop, that he's there for her, that she's a hero too and heroes never die. He tells her they're going to save her, tells her not to worry one bit, just hold on a little longer. Don't worry, he tells her, don't you worry. They're definitely going to save her.

She keeps beating against him, and your throat goes tight and it's got nothing to do with how Lightning's holding you.

She takes you away, you and Hope both (he's crying and shuddering, but he keeps looking over his shoulder like he expects Vanille to be back to herself) and just takes you away.

You tell her no, tell her you have to help her, tell her you have to save her, tell her you're the only one who can, but she just tells you to listen, just listen, just breath and listen to her because she needs you to be with her on this one. She takes you down to your knees telling you that she's here, that she's going to help you both but she needs you to breathe, she needs you to think.

"No," you tell her, shaking your head, sobbing all the while. "I can't leave her. I can't."

She presses against your back, and you feel a shudder run through her, and she tells you, "We're not going to leave her."

Then Hope comes to you front, grasps your hands in his, and tells you that he's going to make things right, that he's going to get Vanille back, that he's going to do whatever it takes to save her all through tears and broken hiccups. It sounds like he's praying for it instead of reassuring you.

You look at him for a while before you can't no more because there's tears finally clouding your vision, and then you turn your head to the sky to curse the gods over and over. You and Hope break down together until your tears won't come no more and your voice is too hoarse to work.

And that's when Lightning finally releases you, easing you out of her grip like she's scared you'll either take off or just fall to pieces without her holding you together. You slump forward, but Hope's there, and he keeps you up. "It's okay Fang," he says, and he sounds more the kid than he ever has. "It's okay."

Lightning slides both her hands around you, and she holds you in an embrace with her face buried in your hair. The two of them keep you like that, telling you over and over that things will be okay until the sun is dropping low and two Ruingas explode against the orange-red sky.

Lightning disconnects first, slowly, and looks to the signal and then to you. She reaches around you, barely touching Hope's shoulder, and tells him she needs his help. His face is still red, but he pulls back, rubbing his swollen eyes with the palms of his hands and nodding at her. She stands, and he follows her lead. Then she bends, loops her arms under yours, and pulls you up as careful as she can.

Your legs feel less like jelly now, but you can barely see for all the red in your eyes. Lightning pulls one of your arms around her shoulders, and then takes hold of your waist. You feel Hope loop your other arm around his shoulders, but that barely helps, and you got to lean on Lightning.

The sun's nearly gone when you start towards the Ruingas, and you keep quiet and just try to use your head, but you can't string two thoughts together as you are because the only thing you can think is Vanille, Vanille, Vanille. So you just keep on putting one foot in front of the other until you don't need Lightning or Hope to walk anymore, and they're just wrapped around you because you still need that.

"Lightning," you say abruptly, "Do you think I'll get her back?"

She wants to answer right away, but hesitates and then tells you not to worry, that the lot of you have done the impossible before. Those weren't the words you were looking for. You deflate, falling on her strength again to help you walk.

When you find Snow and Sazh, Sazh takes Hope's place, and good thing because your legs go limp again at the sight of Vanille staggering through the dust and howling at Cocoon. Snow's lost his bandana and is propped on his toes, curved over a drop of sapphire. His face is all scrunched up like he don't know what he's looking at, and you hear the echo of his pleas in his silence. His voice is probably as hoarse as yours.

Hope is the first to speak, and his hands squeeze against leather when he asks "What do we do now?" All he gets for an answer is the howls of your little sister.

Oerba don't knock you hard like you thought it would. It's broken and decayed, but it's nothing you haven't seen before. It doesn't weigh on you, not a bit, because you don't feel anything but the moon on your skin and the chill in the air and the metal grate you're sitting on biting into your thighs.

You've got your head back now, but you can't feel but a trickle of heartbreak, and you think maybe your lance's not the only thing broken because you've got to be busted if you can't feel anything.

Hope's still crying, and you should be too. You should be needing Snow and Lightning sitting there talking you back up because you can't do nothing but cry and cry and cry, but you aren't in there with them. You're sitting out on the stairwell, gazing at your lance with a blank expression because you just can't feel a single thing.

You got one knee by your shoulders and the other bent in front of you with your lance lying across your thigh. You're fingering the material, tracing the cracks and mapping the damage. You think it's broken for good, that the next fight will see it turned into pieces, but Lightning thinks you just got to fix it up a bit, splint it maybe until you can find something to fix it for good. You dig your nails into the cracks, feel them widen a bit, and look out to Vanille and think you'd do anything if only she could be fixed.

You watch her settled against the old windmill, all jutting crystals and hulking limbs, and you think for a minute that maybe you could fix her, but even as you think it you know that there's no fixing that. There's no fixing it, and you told her all along but she never listened, not once.

And now she'll never hear you again, all because she was too caught up in the fantasy the rest of them were spouting to see the truth of things. You think maybe she was too caught up in her own fantasy too.

But she didn't hear you then, and you know even if you called her name until your throat bled she wouldn't hear you now. Nothing you can do can get to her because she ain't in there now, but that doesn't stop her name from coming out your lips like a prayer.

You say her name over and over, trembling each time, until you hear boots slapping rusted metal behind you, and then you're nothing but silence.

"You look tired," Sazh says, sitting down a ways from you and dangling his legs over the metal balcony. You spare him a glance, and he doesn't have his guns, and there's a deep purple bruise by his temple and on his brow.

"How's the kid?" you ask, and you can feel him eyeing you.

He rubs the knees of his pants with his hands and says, "More like the boy I met in the Vestige than the one that made it to hell with a smile." He gives you a little grin, one that's more forced than ought to be possible.

You don't rise to his bait because you got no cares left for Pulse, not when your sister's dead and gone. He clears his throat, asks what about you, and you tell him you're good enough.

He sits quiet for a minute, thinking, and then says, "You're still not alone, you know."

You tell him you know, but you're busted and what you know isn't the same as what you feel, but he doesn't need to know that.

"Besides," he says, "We'll have her back before you know it."

Your face twists up, and you tell him, "I'm no mess like I was before. I know she's not coming back." He looks at you all surprised, and you look right back at him. "No coming back," you say, "Don't got to try to tell me otherwise."

He tries to smile and says, "Hey now, you're giving up on her when there's still a chance."

You ignore his words because they're just more of that fantasy, more of the stuff that turned Vanille, and you tell him, "You got real lucky with Dajh, sorry about that by the way, but getting out a crystal's one thing. Once you go cie'th the best chance you got is death."

And now he's looking at you with wide eyes and tense muscles, and you know what you're suggesting, but you just sit there still as can be while he eyes you like he might call for the rest of them or jump you for Kain's Lance. He's got his legs pulled up now like he's about to go for your spear, and he's speaking quick, saying, "Fang, you're not thinking about killing her. Tell me you're not. She's still got a chance, so don't you do anything crazy."

You pick up your lance, set it down beside you, and throw your feet over the ledge. Sazh has taken hold of your wrist, and you don't stop him.

"She ain't got a chance. I know the stories, and no one's ever turned back," you tell him so calm that he grips you tighter. There's no fairytales on Pulse about monsters becoming people, and you're not so stupid in the head to even hope for that now.

"Never pegged Lightning for a liar, though. Didn't seem the type," you say, and you're still letting him hold you fast. "She's just got her head wrapped up in miracles like the hero. You all do," you say, and you think maybe later you'll regret the edge to your words but you don't care for that now.

"But I know what's what," you tell him, turning over your shoulder to look at his face. He's looking older by the second. "So don't try to feed me that shit," you say, vicious, and he's holding you so tight it's starting to hurt.

You see his lips move and purse and then open, but he's not saying anything because maybe he's got no fatherly words for you this time. You think, good because you didn't want to hear him talk anyway, and it's just as well if he figures out all these words are wasted breath, and they don't got enough of those left to be throwing them away.

You've got a kind of scorn in you now you didn't know existed until he started trying to make you think Vanille's coming back. You always liked the old man before, but now your blood's so close to a boil you can barely stand to keep your face. But you don't try to rein it in because when you're like this all you see is red, and there's no pinks or oranges anywhere.

But he's not angry, even after you tripped over an apology for his son, and the most he's done is try to keep you grounded with that hand of his. You yank your arm from his grasp because you don't need that either. He's breathing hard and looking at you with such pity, and you tell him to sod off, but instead he starts to wheeze. It comes out with a rhythm, and you realize he's singing you something because that's all he can think to do.

"You must leave now, take what you need, you think will last. But whatever you wish to keep, you better grab it fast."

Its takes you by surprise, and you tell him, "Oh, shut it," but he just keeps on, and you have to grit your teeth and look away because he's looking so so stupid and so goddamned pitiful.

He sings, slow and careful, and at every refrain you've got to look away from him just to keep the scorn alive. He hums when the music in his head kicks in, and you think the melody's broken and fractured, but he keeps on, and you feel your gut start to twist, and suddenly you're not so clogged you can't feel nothing anymore.

It's on you like a flood before he hits the last note, and you feel the bile in your throat and the trembles in your chest like a wave you've already ridden coming back around.

You got his voice leading you through it this time around, but the tears still come out, pitiful as the last time. You fold over, spine so bent you might have broke it, and listen as he waltzes you through everything, and when the final verse is sung, and he ends it with, "and it's all over now, baby blue," you keep falling to pieces.

You're choking out apologies, telling him you never meant for anything to happen like it did. You're sorry for Dajh and everything you've done, and somewhere in there you're wailing that you can't give Vanille what she needs, and he's not singing now, but he's telling you that he forgives you, that he never blamed you, that you and Vanille both got to meet Dajh officially, that it's no good to give up now, that you got to make Vanille come back, that you can't give up. He sounds just like the rest of them, but you can't help it, and you think maybe for just a minute you can make believe Vanille's not gone forever like you know she is.

He's got his hand on your shoulder now, and he don't stop talking, telling you all the things you want to hear, and for the moment that's all you need. But you know this feeling's going to run out just like his song, and when it's gone, all that's gonna be left is the fact that nothing's changed: your sister is gone forever and you can't even end her suffering.

The windmill groans under you.

If you and Vanille hadn't been up and down it twice a day as kids, you might worry it's trying to give out on you. But this has been your hideout since Vanille was old enough to climb, and you aren't too worried for it. But sitting up here, you don't feel so cheery like you used to, and looking up at Cocoon and imagining it dropping just gives you pains now.

Used to be the most fun in all of Pulse, lying back with Vanille and picturing all the ways it could come crashing down. Vanille wasn't much for it, but you'd sit and wonder for hours with nothing but the sound of the windmill's rotating to lull you through your thoughts. Now you look up at Cocoon all twisted up inside.

You don't have the stomach to try dropping it a second time, but you can't help hearing it hiss and spit at you like the viper you've been told it is. Even if you had the strength to do something to it, you don't think you could figure whether to save or let it rot.

There's people up there you know, and you made the mistake of getting friendly with them, and the destruction you caused before is eating away at you already. And you know for a fact Vanille didn't want it gone, but you can't help but feel it deserves to fall because you're all that's left of Pulse, and it's the cause for it. But you know you're five hundred years too late to be fighting Cocoon for Pulse, so all you've got left is connections you didn't want and guilt you can't shake.

You turn from it for a second when you hear someone hollering at you ground side, and you roll over to the edge and peek your head over it. Lightning's standing below you, looking up with words ripe on her lips, but before she can start speaking, you pull your head back and set your eyes back on Cocoon. You're not ready to let this train go because princess down there's got something to say. You've still got to make yourself right for not having the power to bring down the viper's nest when everything in your chest is telling you Vanille would have never turned cie'th without it.

But before you can finish convincing yourself it's better set to be saved then torn down, you feel the metal beneath you shake, and you know she's coming up to say what she's gonna say whether you're willing or not.

She pulls herself over the side of the turbine's platform and looks at you laid out with your lance across your stomach. Then she settles near you, her back on the turbine and her thigh right by your head. She doesn't wait for something she know's not coming, just starts talking and says they haven't found anything yet. What they thought they'd find, what you thought you'd find, you're not sure, but it doesn't surprise you in the least that nothing's turned up.

When you don't pick up the other side of the conversation, she looks at you from the corner of her eye and locks onto your lance. She reaches over and picks it up when you don't fight her, inspecting the damage with a careful eye. "If you keep neglecting it like this," Lightning says, "it won't last."

She's right—the cracks have spread all up and down its length. You tell her you don't think you can do anything for it, and when she tells you to give it to her for the night, you say,"Nothing you can do for it either." She stiffens at that, but gives it back to you anyway.

"I could help you if you'd let me, Fang," she tells you, but you don't say anything to that. You know she wants you to by the way she gives pause, but you won't give her a thing.

Finally she relents, but what she says doesn't give you the peace you want: "She's backtracking."

You suck in some air, and tell her, "Yeah, she is." You've seen her stumbling against her debuffs back towards Taejin's Tower.

You know Lightning's eyeing you now, waiting to see how you'll react, but you still don't give her a thing. You're not even looking at her.

She licks her lips and asks, "So Pulse can't help us?"

You've been through this with Sazh before, and you can already see this ending with you wrapped in her arms, burying your sorrow in her neck. You won't let her take you down that road again, so you just say, "What do you think?"

She takes a measured breath, and you know she's getting to the meat of things because niceness didn't work. You should have let her take your lance instead. "If Pulse doesn't have the answers, maybe Barthandelus will,"she says, and there's a drop in her tone that's made your mouth go dry.

"Maybe," you say, and you've got a fear in you better suited for someone who's not already lost everything.

You know what's coming next, even as Lightning keeps her mouth shut to give you a minute to think. You're surprised you've made it so long without the lot of them beating this into your head. They can't stay in Oerba, not forever, not with their brands ticking down like clocks until the moment they join Vanille as cie'th. They've got to push forward or everything they've worked for will be wasted.

She tells you so after a few seconds to get her words straight. She says they can't be long behind Vanille. She's worried about everyone, about Hope and Sazh and Snow and you and Serah, Serah, Serah. "We have to keep moving," she tells you, "Or we won't have anything left." You want to tell her you don't have anything left already, but you know what she'd say to that.

Lightning's come a long way since Palumpolum, more than the rest of you for sure. You told her there that all she had to do was survive, that she was doing it for her sister, that she couldn't just give up because then what would happen to Serah. Since, you've seen her do more than survive. She's gone from a force of nature to a guiding light, but she still manages to be both when the time calls for it. She's both Lightning and Light, and all she wants to do is save you like you saved her.

She's done it before, back in the Ark, but Vanille was with you then. You still had something worth fighting on for. Now she could give you all the speeches she wants, and you still wouldn't rise for her words.

She's talking still, but you start not to hear her. Her words are flowing into one ear and out the other. "So come with us, Fang. Fight for your sister. That's still your plan, isn't it? If you give up on her here, this is how it'll end," and so on and so on, and you think she must be giving one hell of a speech because she's turned to you, and she's looking so sincere.

You let her finish though, let her realize she's gotten away from herself, and then you take a deep breath, clutch your lance so tight you feel it splinter deep enough so you know it's ruined, and then tell her, "Lightning, I'm done."

You've got nothing left to fight for. Vanille's gone, and you're too late to even think about saving Pulse. You got the deaths of millions on your hands and the hate of millions more searing what's left of your soul, and you're. Just. Done. You've burned all you got, and now you've got nothing but ashes, and it's time you own up to that.

Her jaw tightens, and her lips get real thin because she's pressing them so hard. You see her shake her head, and Etro, she really is getting emotional about all this. The corners of her mouth drag down, and she gets out, "Fang, no, I know," but then she stops, chokes a little, and regroups. "Let me help you," she says, and you can tell she's trying to keep calm, but your disinterest is making her falter even more.

She's desperate, you can see that, and after you don't say anything back to her, she gives you her hand. "Lean on me," she near begs, but you're too far gone to hear anything more than garbage, and you don't so much as touch her offering.

So you sigh, long, unhurried, and then say, "You're a better hero than Cocoon deserves, Lightning." She looks downright heartbroken now. "But I'm not looking to be saved." Why would you?

She sits with you for a long time before she finally speaks again, pulling her legs up on the platform and under her, knees touching your hair. She calls your name and cups the back of your head in her hands and makes you look up at her. She's looking down at you, and her eyes are a misty blue. "We'll come back for you," she says "and Vanille." Her voice isn't trembling like it should be. "So wait for us." she tells you, and then she sets you back down, and slowly disappears over the side of the platform.

You still feel her climbing down when you look over the edge, but it's too dark to see her even when she's so close, and you turn your gaze skyward instead. You feel like running after her, you feel like crying, but you can't do either because all of you is shaking right along with the windmill and every bit of you wants for her to be telling the truth, but every bit of you knows she's not.

You watch them leave the next day, headed to the old bridge in search of fal'cie knows what, but you head the other direction, chasing Vanille and clearing her path best you can. She turns on you once or twice, but you can Daze her better now and she doesn't touch you.

You think, this is it, because you know what this means. They're leaving you, and now all you have in the world is a cie'th who's supposed to be your sister. You'll be chasing her the rest of your days, and you'll die chasing her.

The rest of them, they'll go to make their miracle, and if they do, they'll come back for you to make another. Snow told you to keep her safe until they got back, but you don't expect them to.

That's why you don't turn when you hear the fight begin. There are shouts and explosions, but to you they're already dead. Really, they were dead the moment they decided they weren't going to wreck Cocoon.

You can only chase one ghost.

When Cocoon drops from the sky, tears come before you feel it hit.

Pulse itself shudders with delight, and all of the creatures turn their heads skyward and let out a howl of victory, erasing the sounds of your dismay. Pulse has won, the Fal'cie have won, and you, you've lost whatever's left when everything's already gone.

You've stopped cursing the gods because the gods are dead just like the rest of this barren, wasted universe, and they took all your strength and all your everything with them.

Lightning never does come back for you.

In her stead, he comes for you, comes to grant you one last mercy. Bahamut appears in a burst of fiery magic that leaves your arm numb and useless.

His eyes flash red, and his claws are long and sharp as ever.

He turns on what's left of Vanille first, rending her into pieces with a single slash, and while you're rushing at the remains of her, he spins and knocks you across the ground. It takes all of the air out of you, and you don't get a chance to turn over or try to fight back.

One second you're looking up at the sky, bare without Cocoon, and the next, his claws come down on you, ripping four holes through you, his thumb only barely missing your head. You choke on your own blood when he pulls them out, and pain floods through you. The ground turns red with blood, and you reach to touch at the wounds and find fleshy holes gushing blood and lymph.

You always were a rubbish medic. This is probably fatal.

You crane your neck, just wanting to get one more look at Vanille, just one more look at your sister.

Bahamut's claw comes down on you again, and this time he does not miss.

I forgot I had an account here again and didn't upload this thing until months later whoops. Enjoy your tears.