Author's Notes:It has been a long and fun journey for me writing this story. I never imagined I would get as addicted to FanFiction as I have, and I owe a lot of it to the support I have gotten from readers and friends. When you're being encouraged and pushed along, you can't help but keep going. G-AnakinRPG has helped with that a lot – he has ensured my work has gone out of the door at the best of my ability and nothing less. Best. Beta. Ever. This last chapter has gone through the most edits and drafts and rewrites out of the entire tale, so it has surely had a lot of thought put into it for a sending off. I hope you enjoy the final chapter, and please continue your support, it makes me happy and keeps me going.

Securing Insecurities

Stage 10 – Fall

Six friends stepped out into the void that presented itself at the end of Orphan's Cradle. A beautiful pristine white room with only one entrance and only one visible exit allowed them to step away from the harsh surreal world of the cradle right back to the heart of Eden, the holme of the fal'Cie that powered the world – Orphan.

"Let's do this," Lightning said, marching through the open bulkhead door leading to the real Cradle. The others followed on her heels, the six of them stopping when they reached the end of a large platform coated with a red carpet, outlined with glowing light.

"Ready?" she asked, looking down below them. The home of Orphan was impossible to describe. The balcony they stood on overlooked a massive spherical room. Four antenna-like protrusions were aimed at the very center, their structures made up of cogs, springs, cables, glass plating, gold décor accompanied by a faint hum. It was as if four diabolical clocks were aiming laser guns at the throne before them. The throne looked to be made of white marble, the symbol of Cocoon's fal'Cie etched in it, more clock-like décor adorning the back of it, as well as below it and on the arms. The floor it sat on was amazingly beautiful – gold and steel girders crisscrossing in a pattern, glass plating over top of it all, revealing the glowing water below it. Directly behind the throne was a large circle of floor that had been removed, the pure and glowing water in unobstructed view. It was all very bright – the glow from the water reflecting off of the clock turrets and gold plates and glass. Under different circumstances, it would have been awe-inspiring. Instead, it was haunting and eerie.

The entire room began to tremble, the party finding it difficult to maintain stance atop the balcony.

"This is it. Moment of truth, hero," Light nudged Snow as she leapt down from the balcony to the ground below. The others followed her, landing on the ornate glass floor. Looking around, they could see more thick cables hanging down the walls, the ticking of the turrets echoing as they moved.

The sound of shattering crystal filled the room as bright green and bright blue lights shone in two human shapes. They solidified into the crystallized bodies of Serah Farron and Dajh Katzroy.

"Life's spark shines on, once freed from its fleshy shroud," a familiar voice announced. At the same time, a mechanical owl came flying into the room, the bulkhead door sealing shut behind it. It circled the ceiling a moment, distracting the group from Barthandelus' entrance through a rip in the fabric of reality before the throne. "Dreams, meanwhile, shatter in a flash." He sat in the throne, holding his staff in his right hand. He tapped it smartly on the ground twice, one crystal shattering at each tap.

"Dajh!" Sazh cried out in horror as he saw his crystalline son turn into numerous shards of blue crystal that fell to the floor below and melted through to the water underneath it. Snow screamed his own protest of anger when the same happened to Serah, her shards a deep green color. Snow lost it – he screamed as he ran forward, fists ready to strike. He got no closer to the throne than a few feet before he was blasted away onto his back, Barthandelus' barrier holding him at bay. The others ran to his side, Lightning and Hope kneeling down to help him. Vanille and Sazh already had out their weapons, Fang rushing forward with her lance to block the others behind her.

"Think! Where is the real Serah?" Lightning's words bore into him. He knew it couldn't be truth – he refused to believe it.

"Hey, listen," Sazh said, the baby chocobo began to squeal in excitement as it danced on Sazh's gloved hand.

"It isn't real. It's just fal'Cie smoke and mirrors," the older man advised, overcoming his own reservations about the scene he just witnessed. Hope put his hand on Snow's shoulder, his weapon in his other hand.

"Yeah, they don't work wonders, they play tricks," he said. He clicked his wrist and the boomerang unfolded in his hand. Lightning helped Snow to his feet before readying her own weapon. They stood, all in a line, before the laughing Barthandelus.

"At last, my errant l'Cie," the humanoid fal'Cie began. "Men fight men. Men battle beasts. Cocoon wars with Pulse." The old man stood up. "There can be no end to such conflict. But Cocoon's end is imminent and inevitable. Will you not at least slay Orphan and make it quick? As an act of mercy?" The mechanical owl that had been circling above began to descend, slowly dropping down to throne level.

"Mercy? You mean murder!" Lightning sneered at the old man. The others gave their agreement as she continued. "And Cocoon won't die. We're not here for that," she said. "We came for you!" The blade of her saber was pointed directly at the fal'Cie's head.

"Such willful insolence. Disappointing. You prolong Cocoon's suffering," the old man said, beginning to hover as he shook his head in frustration. He was hovering higher than the throne, looking down on what he saw as nothing more than insects that were far overdue for a squashing. "And to what end? Refusing me but condemns another to face your Focus tomorrow. If you truly seek salvation, then you will obey!" The mechanical owl did a final lap around the room before rising up and flying directly into the glowing staff that Barthandelus held above him. In a bright flash of white light, the old man was no longer there – in his place was something that resembled a marble statue that had been given life. It was adorned with numerous open mouthed faces, lined with gold, a single face in the center that was larger than any of the l'Cie themselves. A halo of silver steel wings adorned either side of the fal'Cie's head, giving it an evil yet angelic appearance.

"What the hell is that?" Snow cried out, the six l'Cie's mouths agape in shock and awe.

"That? That's Barthandelus' last stand!" Lightning announced, rushing forward with her blade. Each of the l'Cie sprang into action like a well-oiled machine – Hope casting powerful magic to enhance everyone's powers, while Vanille cast her own magic on Barthandelus to weaken him.

"Your efforts will be futile, l'Cie, for I am fal'Cie!" the numerous faces on the gargantuan creature bellowed.

"I'll wipe that smirk right off your face!" Lightning said as she landed in front of the center face, slashing across its mouth with her saber. He cried out more in irritation than agony, beams firing from the open mouth. Lightning leapt into the air, barely dodging the attack. Barthandelus was charging up another blast when gunshots echoed through the room, elementally charged bullets striking him in the cheek.

"Take that, you bastard! I'll show you to use tricks on me. My son will grow up and become a man like his father, protecting his family!" Sazh yelled over the gunfire. The baby chocobo chirped excitedly from inside his bushy Afro, staying out of the line of danger. Sazh was suddenly hit by a shockwave from one of the other faces, however, landing on his side.

Fang leapt into the air and brought down her spear, digging it into the forehead of one of the marble faces. The blades only pierced shallowly, but gave her the ability to throw the creature's aim off as it attempted another blast at the fallen man. Sazh managed to get up, firing his guns once again.

"Can't keep a good man down!" Sazh said as he nodded his thanks to Fang. She was losing place in the stone, so she again launched herself into the air to land on yet another marble face. She was able to dig in a little deeper, causing Barthandelus to miss Snow by just a hair. He rolled away from the misguided beam, and then quickly got up, charging Barthandelus. He reached the center face and began punching wildly, the way he would have punished a punching bag.

"Snow! Get out of the way!" Lightning shouted, landing in front of the center head once more, slicing across the large nose and just barely missing Snow's arm. "Switch with me! Trade blows!" she ordered. "Right!' Snow acknowledged, punching the massive face while Lightning recovered from her strike and got ready for another. Just before she landed another strike, Snow dodged, the two of them repeating their teamwork.

The four cables from Vanille's rod landed on the back of one of the angelic wings on Barthandelus' head. Hope threw a powerful surge of lightning through the cables; Barthandelus' smaller faces crying out in pain.

"Look out!" Fang screamed at them, peeling off one of the heads and sending it crashing to the floor, its face locked in a permanent scream.

"Way to go!" Sazh praised as he finished off another one of the heads with charged blasts from his shotgun. It was more powerful than using his two guns in dual pistol mode, the blasts more erratic and stronger than small single fire bullets.

"Two down, two to go," Fang grinned. The fight was going easier than she expected. One head was gone from each side of the beast, with only one more remaining per side, and then the massive one in the middle. Loud screams suddenly filled the air.

"Vanille!" Fang screamed, watching helplessly as the younger woman was thrown into the air, the cables refusing to release as Barthandelus jerked his head in the opposite direction. That was just enough to tear everyone's attention away, small laser beams blasting into Lightning and Snow's chests, sending them sprawling. Vanille finally landed back on the ground, knocking Hope down with her. Fang and Sazh rushed to their sides, helping them up.

The group had started out strong, overtaking their foe quickly, but he was beginning to find his niche and upped the ante. Laser beams continued to launch randomly from the eyes of the remaining faces, keeping the six l'Cie on their toes. Dodging so much left them unable to counterattack, leaving Barthandelus free to charge a stronger attack from his center face.

A sound like an atomic bomb echoed through the room as the blast that emerged from Barthandelus was fired off. Everyone was knocked on their feet, except for the two youngest l'Cie. They were in front of the others, holding hands and yelling as they struggled to keep up the magical barrier that saved them all from death. Just when they thought they might pass out from exertion, the beam stopped. The two kids fell backwards, but did not pass out.

"Recover! We got this!" Lightning assured them, the four adults taking charge. Hope and Vanille crawled to the side, their energy and power vastly worn out from the concussive blast.

Lightning found her inner acrobat as she leapt from face to face, landing powerful sword blows with every movement. Snow jumped into the air and onto Barthandelus' back, hanging on to the back of his head. He began to pound mercilessly with his fists, sending small shockwaves into the massive brain of the fal'Cie. Sazh's elementally charged bullets peppered the front of Barthandelus, the older man taking care not to hit his comrades. Fang was again leaping into the air like a dragoon, digging her spear into the back end of Barthandelus' body over and over. The giant creature screamed in anger and pain with the barrage of attacks.

Rage fueled the massive fal'Cie, his body beginning to glow with golden light. Snow was thrown off of the fal'Cie's back as it reared up high, revealing giant arms with clawed hands.

"Oh shit!" Lightning exclaimed, leaping away from the suddenly larger foe.

"We have to retreat!" Sazh cried, as several beams of light began to fire from the creature, its arms swiping down as well to catch them off their feet. They ran back until they were once again with the teens, out of Barthandelus' reach.

"What now?" Fang asked, breathing heavily. Everyone was looking at Lightning, waiting for an answer. The de-facto leader, it was up to her to make the call. Explosions filled the room as the oversized claws tore into cables and clockwork.

"We can't stop. Not now. We've come too far," Lightning said to her friends.

"Yeah, you're right, but we're overpowered here," Sazh pointed out. "We're running out of strength. We can't keep this up."

"He's right," Hope said softly. The others turned to look at him.

"What are you saying?" Vanille asked, confused.

"Maybe you lost your mind, kid. We're in this to win it you know," Fang scolded him. There was no way she was giving up. It wasn't in her nature.

"No, he's right. We can't keep this up. We are running out of strength. He knows it," Snow agreed with his younger comrade and lover.

"That's why we go full force," Hope suggested. More confused looks met his eyes. "He thinks he has won, right? So lets go full force. We give it all one last go. Our most powerful attacks and magic, no holding back. Give it everything, and we can beat him."

"I think I was wrong. The kid hasn't lost his mind, he's just plain bonkers!" Fang said, her mouth turning into a wide grin. "I like it."

"Are you sure you can handle it?" Snow asked. Hope shot him a glare. "Okay, I get you. Full force, all of us," he said, holding his hands up in defense.

"I can use Death against him, but I need time to charge it up" Vanille added. "If he is weakened enough, it should finish him off. Just keep him off of me."

"This is insane!" Sazh cried, throwing his hands in the air.

"That's why it's gonna work," Lightning smiled triumphantly. "Everyone get ready. Attack him with everything you have, and when Vanille says she's ready, get out of the way." Lightning met each one of their gazes, her eyes boring into them with determination and trust. "And Fang? One more thing. He isn't a kid. He's a man." Fang looked embarrassed as Hope smiled his appreciation to Lightning. It was about time she recognized him as such. He had come a long way from being the boy he was when they met.

"Alright! Let's go!" With the final order from Lightning, the group sprung into action once more.

"Again you attack, but why? You waste your energy and power when you should be using it to bring your salvation!" Barthandelus bellowed. They answered him with a barrage of attacks.

Sazh fired the strongest shotgun blasts he could, channeling every ounce of elemental energy into every shot, yelling in rage at the giant fal'Cie. Hope cast a spell that none of them had seen before – several large orbs of pure white light launched into the air and fell back down in loud squeals, exploding as they collided with their target.

Barthandelus screamed in agony, thrashing his arms about. His thrashing was stopped only when Snow landed on the back of his head again, this time with a shockwave so strong it made the fal'Cie's entire body shudder, its head slamming down onto the floor with a loud crash. That was the moment Lightning thrust herself forward, her sword charged with thunder, slashing maniacally through the air, sparks flying every time the blade connected. Booms of thunder sounded as the charged blade surged with power and into the body of their foe.

Fang screamed as she was landing from her highest jump, Snow flipping forward onto the ground and grabbing Lightning by the arm, running to Sazh and Hope, the four of them in a huddle. When Fang landed, her spear drove deep into the back of Barthandelus' neck, cracking his head. His cries of pain and rage filled the room, so loud that with the exception of the Pulsian women, they were all covering their ears.

"Fang! Now!" Vanille cried, the older woman leaping away just as a solid black orb of energy found its way from Vanille's arms into the crack of Barthandelus' head. Loud explosions echoed as the powerful Death spell began to tear the fal'Cie from the inside out.

"Hey! Put a lid on it!" Sazh demanded as the screaming fal'Cie's cries pierced their ears. It reared up one more time, still screaming, but its whole body glowing a metallic blue.

"Release! At last, release!" Barthandelus ordered, beginning to fall backwards and sink into the massive silver pool of liquid. With those final words, the Death spell finished its job and silenced the enemy; Barthandelus' shattered face disappearing into the water.

"At last. Its done," Lightning said, the six l'Cie gathering before the pool to watch their adversary sinking away. Sighs of relief came from all around.

"All right!' Snow shouted, pumping his arm in excitement. Fang and Vanille traded high fives, Sazh bent over with his hands on his knees in exhaustion.

"We did it, huh?" Snow asked, grabbing Hope and hugging him.

Something didn't feel right to Lightning. It wasn't over, she knew. No, there was still a fight left, and they had just used up their last bit of strength. Their eyes raised to the sky as the mechanical bird appeared again.

"It's that bird again! It didn't die with him!" Hope cried, pointing at the owl. Their eyes followed it as it dove into the pool of water before them. The world began to shake violently as the water turned gold, and flashes of light filled the room. They heard a voice speak to them. Something was coming from beneath them.

"A haven, yea. Yet it must fall ere we be saved," the voice announced. The water was bubbling, flashing gold and white, something starting to emerge from it. "Too frail a shell, and humans should not thrive." The voice was eerie and similar to Barthandelus'. As the light began to stop flashing, they were able to see what was coming out of the liquid.

A giant onyx fist rose into the air and slammed down in front of them, shaking the floor. "Too stout a shell, and they would not die. Slaughter and salvation!" When they could regain their stances, they could all see what their new foe looked like.

The new beast, or demon, or whatever it was continued to speak. It had two faces, one looking like onyx with glowing red eyes, a pointed chin, and of course the large fisted arm. The other occupied the right half of the creature; a pure white like porcelain, feminine featured, with a much smaller arm with a golden helmet, green eyes glowing from inside of it. Behind the entire beast was a giant golden dial, much like the clockwork from the very room they were in. The spires were long and pointed, but did not move. Behind that was a second much larger dial with numerous faces surrounding it, each face spinning and tickling like clocks, the larger dial with longer, more ornate spires, the entire ornament slowly clicking as it spun.

"Two irreconcilable Focuses we bore. Yet bound were we in a cocoon prison, impervious to our power. And so we thank you, for granting us out longed for birth." The demon was long winded and seemed to enjoy its own voice radiating through the room. When the light and steam cleared, a third head revealed itself stuck between the other two. It was also porcelain white with a gold helmet of some sort, but its eyes were solid gold and similar to an insect.

"Dysley?" Snow questioned, wondering if they had truly defeated the fal'Cie.

"No. Not anymore," Sazh answered, staring up at the gargantuan demon. It began to speak again, all three mouths emitting creepy voices.

"We are the Abandoned One, born but now to die. Our name is Orphan. By your hand, the world shall know redemption," it said, spreading its arms apart, golden wings spreading behind the right side of the creature as it did so. It sank back lower, the three heads and the arms above the rim of the pool, the remainder of its mysterious body still in the pool beneath. As it settled into its position, it began to chuckle from the three heads, eyes gazing at the six l'Cie before them.

Before anyone could speak, it opened its clawed fist and generated a black orb of energy, purple and pink tendrils of power reaching out to attack the being's adversaries. They cried out in pain and agony, collapsing on the ground in weakness. They had used up too much of their energy and power to defeat Barthandelus, they had nothing left to face this new foe. Fang was the only one still up, though only on her knees as she gripped her spear, dug into the ground like a pole.

"Have you ever paused to consider our reason for making l'Cie of men?" the being asked. It spoke using all three voices in perfect unison. "We fal'Cie are crafted for a single purpose and granted finite power to that end. With men, it is not so. Men dream, aspire, and through indominateble force of will achieve the impossible. Your power is beyond measure. We take l'Cie that we might wield such power. Through you, we obtained the freedom from our bondage. And now, your Focus alone remains. Defy it, and all will be for naught. Cocoon's sacrifice, and that of Gran Pulse as well."

Orphan raised its onyx arm, forming a glowing orange sphere that it sent down, snatching up Hope and firing shocks of energy into his body. He screamed in agony and pain. Vanille, Fang, Lightning, Sazh and Snow watched helplessly as he was levitated above them and in front of Orphan.

"Yet, if we but summon the Maker, we will be granted the chance to begin again. All our sins absolved, and the world – born anew. Submit, l'Cie! Become Ragnarok! Lead us into the light!" Orphan commanded, shocking Hope more and more. He continued to cry out in pain, writhing and screaming. They watched on, helpless.

"Stop it! Let him go!" Fang demanded, standing on her feet.

"We have no need of flawed l'Cie," Orphan said, casting her demands aside. He glared at both Fang and Vanille, condemning the two women who failed their former Focus.

"Stop it! Leave him alone! Take me instead!" Snow's deep voice took them all by surprise as he, too, stood up to confront the demon.

"Snow, don't!" Hope managed to cry out, but his voice was silenced with more shocks to his small body. Orphan paused, considering Snow's proposal before finally accepting and threw Hope to the ground, leaving him sprawled on the floor. "Ragnarok. The will to guide a world unto oblivion. Can you bear the sin of our salvation?" Orphan was actually asking a legitimate question, not taunting the man in the least.

"You heard me. I said I'll do it!" Snow shouted at the beast, meeting eyes with its demonic onyx half.

"You can't! It's too much! Please, don't do this!" Hope cried, getting to his hands and knees and watching the scene unfold before him. "If you become Ragnarok it might kill you! You can't leave us, you're part of us, Snow! Part of you and me!" the teenager continued his pleas to Snow.

"I know. Trust me, I know!" Snow announced, flexing his fist in his other hand. "I want to protect you! All of you! And Serah! I know she's still alive… " he yelled, suddenly wondering what the hell he was doing. It was insane, to take on the form of Ragnarok and think that by doing so, he would spare everyone else the responsibility and sin. But wait – if he didn't do it, one of them would, and he couldn't bear that. There would be nothing else to decide. He should save all of them from the Focus and the fear and the pain. But if his desire and love to protect his friends, especially his boyfriend, was true, then why was he getting ready to drive his fist into Hope's fretful face?

Hope's eyes were closed, tears streaming down as he awaited the pain that never came. He looked up to see Fang had grabbed hold of Snow's arm, Sazh the other, and they were wrestling with Snow. Lightning and Vanille stood in front of Hope, their arms outstretched in protection.

"What do you gain from hurting Hope? We're in this together! What's wrong with you!" Lightning shouted, her confusion flowing. Snow began to calm down, his body trembling. What was he doing? This was the man he loved and he had raised a fist to him. He was going to hurt him. What was happening to him? Why would he let himself do that?

"I have to do this Light! If I don't someone else has to! I don't know what's happening to me… I- I'm already changing I think!" Snow shouted, shoving the others away. He looked down at Hope, his eyes filled with apology – for hurting him, for deserting him, for everything. His head was awash with confusion, nothing made sense. It had to be because of the fal'Cie. It was contorting his thoughts and his mind.

"He's filling up with the power of Ragnarok! Anger and rage, despair and sadness! Ragnarok thrives on it, so Orphan is filling his head with it. This isn't really him, you know he would never hurt Hope, not by choice!" Vanille shouted to the others. It may not have been she who had previously become Ragnarok, but she knew the legends and the tales – the transformation would take a complete mental change as well as a physical one.

"No!" Serah shouted through glass so thick that she was neither heard nor seen. She had been watching the entire scene below, the fight with Barthandelus, the rise of Orphan. She felt helpless. She couldn't find her way out of the prison of the cradle, instead she only found the room she was in, watching the entire scene. She had to dismiss Valefor as she weakened considerably from the power of the cradle, so she was alone and frantic. She had no weapon. Her power wasn't yet under control or focus. All she could do was watch as Hope was tortured until Snow offered himself in sacrifice, but then she became confused when he prepared to attack him. Her pain and anger were overpowering but she managed to keep it in control. Even though she didn't like it, she still did not want Snow to hurt Hope, nor for the two men to destroy what they had. She just had to find a way to do something!

Snow leapt into the sky, the heat of power surging through his body and overtaking him. Orphan watched as the man allowed himself to land on the ground, forcing the power to stay within him. Snow looked around at his friends. Sazh, Fang, Vanille. All four of them were C'ieth. Golems, soulless and miserable.

"What did you do to them? Where are they?" Snow asked, horror filling him. "Make them human again! This can't be real!" Except for Hope.

"After all we went through to get here! We've come too far for this to happen" Hope cried falling to his knees. He watched as the four C'ieth approached Snow and began to hit him, their massive arms slamming his body over and over.

"I'm sorry, Hope! I didn't mean for this…" Snow muttered between blows. "Is this what you meant by bearing the sin of salvation?" He asked Orphan as he fell to the floor. He couldn't even bear to look back at Hope, whose eyes he knew would pierce his soul and destroy his last bit of resolve.

"Please… stop!" Hope pleaded with Orphan and the C'ieth. They ignored him, finally falling atop Snow's battered body. "Stop it!" Orphan's only response was hideous laughter from its three faces. "Give them back!" Hope demanded. He wanted his friends – his new family – to return to him. He wanted Snow to recover his senses and hold him in his arms in safety. Snow began to scream from under the pile of golems.

"Salvation is born of sacrifice – miracles of misery," Orphan said, Snow raising into the air and glowing with orange energy emitting from his brand. "From shattered shards, a new crystal legend will arise." In a flash of light, Snow changed form, no longer a man, but a large beast.

The Ragnarok form of Snow stood, his body with metallic armor matching that of Shiva's, but with a masculine ruggedness that fit his more muscular body. His hair was wild and the face beneath was that of a lion, a beast seen only in zoos from long ago. He stood on four legs like an animal, growling like one as well. His clothes were missing, his body covered in fur instead. Hope stared in horror at the thing that replaced the man he loved.

"Yes!" Orphan cried as Ragnarok roared, leaping up onto the force field that protected it. "Let anger be your strength!" Ragnarok continued to scratch and tear at the shield, roaring. "Despair! Despair and save us all!"

The shield finally shattered like glass, shards flying everywhere. "Lo! The day of wrath is come!" Orphan cried in triumph. Its death was imminent!

But no, it would not come. Flashes began to invade Ragnarok's mind. Memories. First there was the memory of Hope and Snow's confrontation in Palumpolum, Snow saving the teenager from a falling death. Then there were flashes of Hope's battle against Alexander, his victory! More flashes of memory – their trip to the Springs. Holding Hope in his arms in the water, keeping him from drowning. Their intimate talk. Their arrival in Oerba. Meeting together in the house in the city, making love. Their conversation the next day. The fight in Eden. Snow's fight with Lightning that led to his expression of love for Hope. The two men exchanging wristbands before diving into the heart of the cradle. His head began to clear as the memories surged through his mind. Anger didn't drive us. We just had things worth fighting for. Each other. Our friends and families. Our freedom. Everything! he thought. Ragnarok was fading. Falling to the ground.

Snow woke up on his back, staring away from Orphan. His body had returned to normal, his clothes returned.

"Yet again!" Orphan said with venom. "How many times must you fail?" He was referring, obviously, to the l'Cie as a whole – Fang and Vanille had failed five hundred years before, and now Snow, too, had failed. He felt coolness on his body as the feminine half of Orphan blew a spell upon him. Healing. Another force from Orphan dragged him into the air by his arms, keeping him suspended in front of the fal'Cie. He groaned – his body was still aching.

"Just let us all go," Snow pleaded. Orphan ignored him. "Retake the form of Ragnarok. Deliver us that which we have too long been denied!" Orphan ordered. He sent powerful orange energy flow through the mans body, trying to force his will. Snow screamed in pain, but when the pain stopped he was again filled with the coolness of healing.

The healing never lasted for more than a second, however, as he was electrified again and again, the vicious cycle of torture and healing continuing.

"What do you want?" Snow asked, breathing heavily. He looked down to see Hope staring back at him, his eyes filled with tears of hopelessness.

"Steep yourself in hatred. Let it infuse your soul with the strength it craves. Your awakening demands an offering of pain!"

Hope stood up and approached Orphan. "Hope… run!" Snow ordered, running out of energy.

"No! I'm not weak! I'd rather fight and lose than give up without even trying! Orphan! You think you are winning but you won't. Our resolve is too strong! Snow, I'll help you or die trying!" Hope argued. Suddenly blasts of energy came from behind him, hitting Orphan all over its body. Hope turned around to see – it was Fang, Vanille, Sazh, and Lightning. They were back! And human!

Snow was tossed aside as Orphan screamed. Fang caught him, helping him back to stand on his own feet. Hope ran to his side without hesitation.

"Hmph. Miracles out of misery. You've got to be kidding me," Sazh scolded the agonizing demon.

"Yeah Snow, you're not dumb enough to believe that, are you?" Vanille joked, sending her own cooling healing through the man's body. "Come on, let's get you back on your feet."

"Sure, we've all had better weeks," Lightning said, approaching her friends.

"You're all alive!" Hope cried in happiness. "How! You were C'ieth! Big lumbering golems…" Snow argued, not understanding their return from C'ieth.

"Could be more fal'Cie smoke and mirrors," Lightning suggested.

"No time to be sorry," Fang interrupted, turning to face the man she just caught like a rag doll.

"We made you go it alone," Lightning lamented. She held out her hand. Snow took it in a handshake.

"If you weren't C'ieth then where were you?" Hope asked, still a little confused.

"Somewhere cold and dark, just thinking about everything that happened up until now," Vanille answered. "It was lonely and sad and painful. But all of a sudden it was like-"

"It was like I could see the future. Everyone was happy and laughing," Fang continued. "Serah was there too, and even Lightning was having fun." Lightning turned around with a look of non-amusement at the latter comment.

"I don't know, it was a new Focus or something.," Sazh added. "You know, I'm thinking, didn't really make sense of course. I mean, knowing we were worm bait and all, but… as luck would have it, next thing I know I feel somebody pushing me right along." The chocobo peeked out of his afro, cheering and fluttering his little wings, Hope and Vanille waving to him as he dove back down into his nest.

"You were there too, Snow. Same side. All of us," Lightning addressed the man. "Together to the end."

"You know we all promised each other, we all agreed to stick together and protect each other, and save Cocoon," Hope said, meeting eyes with his boyfriend and smiling.

Orphan continued to explode and scream as it cracked and fell back into the same water from whence it came. The l'Cie stood before it, watching intently. It was then that they noticed their brands had all changed – they were covered in white – like a scar. Just like Fang's had been from the start.

"The brand of a l'Cie. The symbol of the Focus we all faced. The mark of the fate we all shared. Proof of the promise we all made," Vanille spoke as if in hindsight. She had never sounded so mature as she did at that moment.

Orphan was not done, however. It returned from the pool, this time a gargantuan disc, shining a brilliant gold and silver, its face like a porcelain doll, waiting to be shattered. It had no limbs, just a large floating head.

"The heroes never die," Fang teased Snow with his famous lines. "Come on, we've got a job to finish."

"If we have the power to destroy Cocoon, then we have the power to save it. You say you want your day of wrath do you? Well it's coming right up!" Hope added, addressing the monstrous being.

"Its time we gave the people what they really want," Sazh chimed in.

"We can do it. I know we can," Vanille encouraged. She smiled at the chocobo chick, who made another brief appearance with cheers before nesting once more. "We made it this far. Let's make a real miracle happen!"

"Lady Luck sure ain't on his side!" Snow returned Fang her tease, utilizing her own words for once. The two traded smirks and winks as they recognized their respect for one another. The two of them had been a team from early on and Fang had been there for him and Hope both. They deserved to josh each other.

Orphan began to laugh in a childlike manner as it finally moved into place. "You overreach yourselves." It had one head but spoke with the voice of three.

"No. We overreach you," Lightning taunted the being. She was tired of all this talk and self involved bullshit from these beings. All of them so wordy and talkative, yet they had nothing of import to say.

"Is that so?" Orphan questioned.

"You don't believe in anything. You gave up on life before you were even born. Sat poisoning Cocoon from the inside, waiting for someone to come and destroy you!" Lightning contested. Sure, you think the end of the world is salvation. All you care about is death's release."

"So take it, and leave the rest of us alone. We don't think like that," both Serah and Lightning said in unison as Serah watched from above. Her face was red from crying, but she was feeling uplifted having seen Snow make it through his ridiculous trial and his mind return to normal. They didn't need her help now; they could finish the job on their own.

"When we think there's no hope left, we keep looking until we find some. Maybe Cocoon is past saving, but it's out home and we'll protect it or die trying!" Lightning announced to Orphan, the others taking battle stances and smiling in defiance of the porcelain deity.

"We live to make the impossible possible! That is our Focus!" Lightning pointed her blade at the being as it began to scream in rage.

Orphan's defeat came fast. Despite being exhausted, the six l'Cie pounced like wild animals. Orphan's only attacks came from magic, which Hope and Vanille easily protected the others from with their own magic. Fang, Sazh, Snow, and Lightning did what they did best – hand to hand combat. Gunfire, blade slashes, punches and kicks, stabs. They moved in a flurry of action, pulverizing the angry head of Orphan. It was barely able to attack, its focus destroyed under constant assault. With every blow, it began to crumble. Pieces of Orphan began to break off, falling into the water.

Serah watched from above as the last of the being known as Orphan began to melt, its metallic body turning into liquid, oozing into the pool of water below. The glow below the grating everyone was standing on began to fade until it was completely dark in the room. She couldn't see them anymore; she couldn't see anything at all.

"Whoa, what's going on?" Vanille squealed as she felt the floor fall out from underneath her feet. She couldn't tell whether she was floating, falling, or flying.

"Cocoon must already be falling from the sky!" Lightning replied, her voice containing just the slight bit of panic. "We can't be falling too fast, though. We haven't hit the ceiling yet."

"Well can we make a way out of here before we do hit the ceiling?" Sazh asked, patting his head to make sure the chocobo was still there.

"Good idea," Lightning replied, aiming her gun at what she was assuming to be straight up. The sound echoed off of the walls, ringing in their ears, the night sky becoming visible in the small hole in the ceiling. Fang somehow managed to get her body closer to the hole and jammed her spear into it, turning and pushing, prying the hole wider and wider. When it was finally big enough for them to fit through, she began grabbing for hands. The night sky provided just enough light for them to see each other. She led Lightning and Sazh out first, followed by Hope and Snow. Vanille and Fang crawled out last, but didn't push off from the roof.

"Come on! We have to stay together!" Lightning ordered. She had already gotten Sazh's hand on one side and Hope's on the other. Snow was holding Hope's other hand and reaching out for the Pulsian women. They simply looked up and smiled.

"You know what we have to do," Fang said softly as she gazed into Vanille's eyes. "Are you ready?" Vanille nodded her head, tears already forming at the corners of her eyes.

"Vanille! Fang! Hurry!" Snow was calling out to them with urgency in his voice.

"Please, go on. We have to stay," Fang said.

"What? This is crazy! What are you talking about you have to stay! Come on!" Sazh added in. Vanille shook her head.

"I'm sorry. We can't go with you! We have to do this!" Vanille shouted. Fang and Lightning met eyes, their look communicating everything.

"She's right, we have to let them go!" Lightning cried. "They have a mission to finish!"

"No! There has to be some other way!" Hope screamed, tear already streaming down his face. He let go of Snow's hand and began thrashing about in the air, making his way to Fang and Vanille.

"Oh, Hope! No! Go back! It's going to be okay!" Vanille screamed. Hope didn't listen, he kept moving toward them, not wanting to let them go from the group.

"Kiddo, we got to do this, and you gotta take care of that boyfriend of yours! You know he can't take care of himself, so you hold to your mission and we'll hold to ours." Fang said sternly. Hope was only an arms reach away when he felt strong arms pulling him back. Snow.

"Take care of him," Fang ordered. Snow held on tight to the young man, which was not an easy task since he was thrashing about.

"No! Please! Don't go!" Hope cried, reaching out his arm. Vanille looked at Fang, knowing if she looked at her young friend she would take his hand. Snow kept holding him tight, kicking with his legs to force himself back toward the other two l'Cie. Hope kept calling out, trying desperately to get away.

"Hope! You have to let them go," Snow said softly. He was holding onto the boy so hard that Hope was actually starting to feel light of breath. He was gasping for air between screams and cries. He realized that it wasn't just lack of air, but he was tiring himself out. He didn't want his friends to go. He loved Snow with all his heart, but these were his friends, too. Vanille he hd become especially close to, being the first one to tell his secret to, being there for him from the moment everything started. It was Vanille who had kept him going up through Lake Bresha and into the Vile Peaks before he took off with Light. It was Vanille who had convinced him that things would be alright, that he needed to face his fears and confront Snow about his mother. Vanille had become like a sister to him, and he didn't want to let her go.

"We have to go, kid. You take care of each other," Fang called out as they fell farther away. Lightning had ahold of the back of Snow's coat while he held on to the older boy, trying to calm him. His body was giving up, he was short on air, light headed from crying and screaming, his voice raw. He couldn't even be heard anymore as he called out Vanille's name over and over, his voice not even making noise. Snow was crying as well; sad to see their friends go, but sad to see his young mate in such pain. He knew just how much Vanille meant to him – they were the best of friends; that didn't come easily. Lighting and Sazh were trying to keep cool heads, saying very little as they felt their bodies begin to fall, and a strange kind of coolness coming over them.

They were beginning to crystallize. Lightning felt her self grow heavy, her limbs aching when she tried to move. She couldn't even feel her toes or fingers anymore, her hair was turning rigid and cool. She knew at any moment all four of them would be crystal.

Hope continued to scream hoarsely, his breaths ragged as he felt himself growing heavier, feeling everything slowing down around him. He felt Snow still holding on to him, heard loud noises he couldn't recognize, bright flashes of light below him. He started to ask what was going on, but he felt himself suddenly grow very tired, his body giving in to the sensation of exhaustion. The last thing he remembered was feeling very cold, rigid, and as he closed his eyes he looked down at Fang and Vanille, watching the two women lace their fingers together, and seemingly melt into one another the way Orphan had melted away, and in their place a large creature with multiple arms stood, roaring. He then fell asleep, or passed out – he never would know which.

Snow refused to let go of Hope, even with the strange sensations running through his body – coldness, rigidness, feeling his hair go solid, his joints ache as they locked into place. They were going to be crystal forever, and if that were the case he wanted to at least have his man in his arms. Hope had passed out not even a half minute before Snow felt the sensations start in his own body, watching in awe at the creature that stood in Fang and Vanille's place – Ragnarok. Behind him, Sazh and Lightning were almost entirely crystal, only their faces remaining flesh. He called out to them but before they had time to respond they were solid. Snow stared in horror, but then began to wonder why he wasn't finished crystallizing when the others had. Then a bright blue flash of light filled the sky, blinding him.

"Serah?" Snow asked the air. Before him was Serah, her body decrystallized. She appeared from somewhere he couldn't see – most likely a door or hatch from further down the building. She looked as she always had, but her face was red from tears and her body only slightly beaten. She had been in a fight, but won. She looked across the sky to Snow, holding on to a smaller crystallized person.

"Serah! Is that really you?" Snow called out. He was beginning to solidify more, only his head still flesh. Serah smiled at him.

"Snow! I love you, but I have to help them. I can't come back with you. I know about everything," Serah lamented. Tears fell from her eyes, and from Snow's. He still loved Serah, she would always be his first love, but it was a different kind of love than it used to be.

"Serah, I- Serah, I'm sorry!" Snow cried. "I couldn't save you! I couldn't make everything okay! I'm sorry!" Serah kept smiling at him. Her eyes were bright with a soft glow, her tears sparkling in the moonlight.

"Don't be sorry, Snow. Everything is going to be okay. Join the others, you finished your Focus," Serah explained. "I have a new Focus now, and your safety is part of it."

"What? Wait! What are you-"

"Snow, don't be upset. I have to help you all. What I have to do – it's for the good of all mankind. I'll keep everyone safe, just like I promised in the beginning. Just like we promised. I'm not mad. I'm going to be just fine, I promise you!"

"Serah don't go!" Snow screamed. He couldn't move, his arms locked in crystal around Hope, his legs too solid to kick. Serah reached out and touched his face with her fingertips.

"Oh, Snow, I wish I could stay. But I have a job to do. And so do you. Take care of him. Protect him, keep him safe just like you did for me," Serah said softly, a strange kind of sadness and happiness filling her eyes at once. "He'll take care of you, too."

"No! Serah don't go!" Snow screamed. The words were lost, however, as he finally solidified, the four l'Cie solid crystal, falling down slowly from the sky. The last thing he saw as his eyes were going solid was Serah, merging into Ragnarok, wings sprouting out of the back of the beast reflecting her Eidolon as the other two were represented. Mighty Ragnarok, the power of Bahamut, Hecatoncheir, and Valefor, the three guardians of Cocoon and Pulse combined to save humanity.

"Wake up," a soft voice whispered into Hope's head. Just as the sweet feminine voice repeated her command, he felt his head recollect itself. He started to feel a warmth over his body, the ache in his joints fading away, his skin softening to normal, his hair blowing in the wind, the warmth finally giving way to the faint cool breeze over his naked body. He looked around, saw Snow opening his eyes, watched as the warmth filled him too, letting his naked body touch the ground once again. He felt a strange sensation as the fabric of his clothing began to reappear on his body. Behind him, Lightning and Sazh were just waking up, their clothes reforming no sooner had they set foot back on solid ground. He looked around, no sign of Vanille or Fang anywhere.

"They did it," Lightning said, coming up behind him and putting a hand on his shoulder. "They really did it, they saved the world." The four looked up high before them, Cocoon still suspended in the air. It had gone dark, Phoenix no longer providing light inside Cocoon, but the daylight of Pulse bathed them all. Holding Cocoon up was a crystal – a crystal so gargantuan that there were no words to describe it. It sparkled shades of purple, orange, and pink in the sunlight, the giant column seeming to sprout directly out of the ground, reaching up to hold Cocoon up in the atmosphere. More crystal snaked around the satellite, holding it securely in place, like a giant hand grasping a globe.

"Wow, it's beautiful," Lightning said, feeling in such awe that she couldn't even bring her voice above a whisper. "They did it. They saved the world. Vanille, and Fang."

"And Serah," Snow added, approaching Lightning.

"Serah?" she asked.

"I saw her, Light. Before I crystalized, I saw her. She said she had a new Focus, something she had to do," Snow explained. "I- I tried to stop her, but-"

"You know there's no stopping Serah," Lightning smiled, a tear falling from her eye. "Somehow… I knew. Like a dream, I saw her in my head. Serah, and a beautiful Eidolon.

"When she left she said she loved us and wanted us to take care of each other. Then she faded into Ragnarok with the others," he went on.

"Do you think she knows?" Hope piped in.

"Yes, she does," Snow answered, almost sadly.

"Even if she does, I think she's happy," Lightning surprised them all by saying. "She's happy to know her big lug is going to be taken care of."

"You really think so?" Hope asked. He was beginning to feel the guilt set in – had Serah joined Ragnarok out of despair over losing Snow? Had she always known she would do it? "I hope.. I hope she isn't sad in there," he added, referring to the core of the crystal pillar, where somehow he knew she and Vanille and Fang had to be.

"No, I don't think she's sad. I think she's happy – she helped save the world, she saved her hero for once," Lightning said.

"I never knew her, but I bet she would be happy knowing you're safe and can lead a happy life even without her. I know I would be," Sazh offered. The chocobo chick was fluttering about his head, excited. Obviously he had not crystallized with them, not being a l'Cie, but he had been perched atop a solidified Sazh, the cold crystal beneath his tiny feet. The return of his friend and transportation made him the happiest bird around.

"Sazh! Look!" Hope shouted, pointing toward the crystal pillar, jumping up and down. "Look! Sazh! It's-"

"Dajh!" Sazh shouted in glee. He wasted no time in running ahead, his son the only thing in his sights. The chocobo cheered loudly, flapping his little wings for all he was worth. Dajh was laughing and running toward his father and the chick. "Oh Dajh! It's you! Oh god son, I thought I would never see you again!" the middle aged men wept openly, hugging his son tightly.

"Daddy! I missed you!" Dajh replied, his own tears of joy falling down his young face. The chocobo danced around them both, chirping and cheering, bouncing from Sazh's head to Dajh's and back and forth. Finally he was reunited with his intended owner and buddy.

"Amazing. Just amazing," Snow said, staring at the reunited family. "But how?"

"He's a Cocoon l'Cie. When the Cocoon fal'Cie disappeared, the l'Cie must have been freed," Lightning said. "And Serah…"

"She was a Pulse l'Cie, why was she free?" Hope asked, confused.

"The Maker. No, the goddess Etro. She had to have freed her, to help save Cocoon," Lightning answered. "That had to be it." Tears were slowly falling down her face, saddened by the fact that she never again would see her sister, but happy that she had gone saving the world.

"So Serah, Fang, and Vanille became Ragnarok, and instead of destroying the world, they saved it. Together," Hope said. "Fang the fighter, Vanille the friend, and Serah-"

"Serah, the heart," Snow said softly. He looked down at the young man standing with him. "And here with me, Hope, my love."