The Difference

"She won't come out of her room, matron."

The matron looked up from the newspaper she hadn't really been reading for the past half an hour. It was so strange to see Vanille without a smile on her face, but when Fang was in pain, Vanille hurt too.

"I'll talk to her." The matron folded the newspaper and pointed at the freshly baked cookies on the dining table. "Have some."

"I'm not hungry." Vanille's fists clenched. "I should have been with her, matron. Maybe then –"

"Now, don't you go blaming yourself either." The matron wrapped her arms around Vanille. The girl still had some growing to do. Right now, she was all knees and elbows. "Your powers have been playing up lately. We agreed – all three of us – that it wasn't safe for you to help Fang with her superhero work until your powers settled again. Now, sit down and have some cookies."

"I guess I could have a few." Vanille's stomach rumbled, and she winced. "Well, maybe more than a few."

The matron smiled faintly then turned to go upstairs to speak to her other daughter. Fang was nineteen now, studying journalism at Nautilus University. She should have been in Nautilus preparing for her mid-semester exams. But she had come home because right now it hurt too much to be anywhere else.

"Fang." The matron knocked on the door even though she knew it wasn't necessary. Fang could hear her coming from a mile away, had spent years learning the exact cadence and rhythm of her footsteps. She'd probably heard every word the matron had said to Vanille as well. "Can I come in?"

"Go away." The words came out muffled, most likely by a pillow. "I want to be alone."

"No, you don't. That's why you came home." The matron tried the doorknob. It wasn't locked. "I'm coming in."

Fang lay face down on her bed, her face buried in her pillow. The matron bit her lip. Fang could have quite a temper at times, and when her emotions got the better of her, she was often hard pressed to keep from doing something she would regret once she'd calmed down. But when Fang got quiet like this, when she retreated into herself, then the matron knew she was well and truly hurt. And she couldn't bear to see either of her daughters in pain.

"I saw what happened." The matron sat on the edge of the bed and rubbed Fang's back with one hand. She'd done this before, back when Fang had been young and so much smaller. "It isn't your fault."

A ragged sob came from the young woman on the bed, and before the matron could blink, Fang's arms were wrapped around her middle. It was a testament to Fang's hard-won control that all that the matron felt was a tight embrace. Even the smallest slip on Fang's part could have crushed her.

"It's all right." The matron held Fang close. Her daughter was the strongest person on the planet, but she was still only nineteen years old. "It's all right."

It took a long time for Fang to settle, and as the matron rocked her back and forth, crooning soft, nonsensical words of comfort, her thoughts went back to the horrible event that had come so close to breaking her daughter.

Things had started out with a bang as they always did. A few minutes past noon, the matron had been watching television when an emergency news report interrupted the broadcast. A commercial aircraft carrying several hundred passengers had begun to suffer engine failure. The cause of the failure was unknown, but the aircraft was in the process of crashing over the Cocoon wilderness, several hundred miles from Nautilus.

Then Fang had come. The matron's heart had swelled with pride as her daughter, resplendent in her costume, swooped out of the sky like some kind of god to catch the plane and carry it down to safety. But a few hundred feet off the ground, everything had gone wrong. An explosion had blown the fuselage to pieces. Fang had been stuck with the biggest piece, one that held almost half the passengers. However, the other pieces tumbled away, headed straight for the ground.

The news crews hadn't been able to catch it, but the matron knew how Fang must have felt: the horror of having to choose who would live and who would die. Fang had gotten her section of plane down as quickly as she could and then rushed to try and catch the others. But even Ultrawoman couldn't be in two places at once. Fang had tried – she'd tried so hard – to catch all of the falling passengers, but it was too much even for her.

A fall from hundreds of feet off the ground was nothing more than a death sentence.

The matron's heart had broken as the broadcast of the tragedy ended with footage of Fang standing over one of the bodies, her face a mask of utter desolation as a howl of grief tore from her lips. Then Fang had flow, flown fast and far, to the only place that could give her comfort. Fang had come home, and now it was up to the matron to try and put the pieces of her broken daughter back together.

"Look at me, Fang." The matron tilted Fang's face up, and her heart broke a little more when her daughter refused to meet her gaze. Fang was ashamed, ashamed because instead of saving everyone, she'd only managed to save most of them. She had done the impossible, and it still wasn't enough. "Fang, I need you to look at me. Please."

Slowly, Fang lifted her chin. Tears were still rolling down her cheeks. Despite the strength she possessed, she looked the very opposite of invincible. "I failed, matron. I… I failed and now people are dead."

"You did your best, Fang. I know you did."

"And it still wasn't good enough!" Fang sobbed. "I still wasn't good enough!"

The matron took a deep breath before she replied. She could feel it, deep in her bones. Whatever she said next would stay with Fang forever. She'd only felt this way once before, on the night she'd found Fang and Vanille. The Maker had been kind enough to give her these two children. She had to believe that they were sent to her for a reason, and she had to do her best to guide them.

"Sometimes, Fang, our best isn't good enough." The matron caught and held Fang's gaze. "You are stronger and faster than anyone on this planet, but that doesn't make you a god. There are going to be times when you aren't strong enough, times when you aren't fast enough. There are going to be times when you fail."

"So what then? Am I just supposed to give up?" Some of the fire was back in Fang now, and it bled through in the brilliant emerald of her gaze. "I'm supposed to save people, not let them die!"

"You didn't let me finish. You can't save everyone, and you can't always win. But you can try. That's the most important thing, Fang. If you fight, fight so hard and so long that you can't take another step, can't even remember what it feels like to not be fighting, if you can do that then even if you can't save everyone, you'll know, deep down inside, that you gave it everything you had, that there wasn't anything else you could have done. That's all you can do, Fang. That's the best you can do."

"Is that really good enough? Those people who died… I know what everyone else will say. They'll ask why I couldn't save them. They'll ask why I saved some people and left others to die. They'll hate me, matron. They'll hate me so much for not saving the people they loved. I know, I'd be the same if someone could have saved you and Vanille but didn't."

"Yes, some of them will hate you. But think of the others, the one who love you for saving their loved ones." The matron took Fang's hands in hers and squeezed them. "You are strong, Fang, so very strong. But there are different kinds of strength, and now, I need you to be strong in a different way."

"I don't understand." Fang's eyes were filled with such need that the matron could hardly bear to meet them. But meet them she did.

"I need you to have a strong heart. You were sent here for a reason. I don't know what that reason is – that's up for you to decide – but I believe it's because you could make a difference here. You are the strongest person I know, and I don't say that just because you can throw cars and carry ships. I say that because I believe in you, and I believe that you're strong enough to take all the weight of the world upon your shoulders. You can carry all of the hate and sorrow, and all of the love and joy, and you can carry those things for as long as it takes to make this world a better place."

Fang's voice was small, so much like the child she'd once been. For a moment, her expression was exactly the same as all those years ago: lost lonely, and looking desperately for assurance. "But it's so heavy, matron. It's so, so heavy."

"Yes, it is heavy." The matron nodded. "But you are strong enough. I believe in that more than I've ever believed in anything. And you won't be alone. No matter what happens, I will always love you, Fang. You and Vanille, you saved me."

Fang sniffled. "We didn't save you. You were the one who saved us."

The matron thought back to that dark time, to a life without Fang and Vanille. They had saved her, saved her more than they would ever know. "You did save me, maybe not in the way that you think, but you did save me." She patted Fang's hand. "I meant every word I said. You won't always be able to save everyone. But if you want to help people, if you want to make the world a better place, then you have to be able to accept that. Don't ever forget the people you couldn't save, Fang, but don't let those memories hold you back. There are still many others who need your help."

"I'll try," Fang growled. "I'll try to save everyone. And even if I can't, I'll just get stronger and faster until I can." She smiled shakily. "That's all right, isn't it? I can try even if it's impossible. I can still try."

"Of course you can." The matron hugged her daughter again. "But in the meantime, perhaps you'd like some cookies. Unless Vanille has eaten all of them."

X X X

Vanille hadn't eaten all the cookies, but she had run off with them. What followed was a friendly wrestling match outside the house that ended with Vanille in the middle of a new crater while Fang walked off with the last few cookies.

X X X

"Vanille tells me that you've been spending a lot of time at the South Pole." The matron glanced across the table at Fang. Three months had passed since the plane crash and her daughter had thrown herself back into her superhero work. To the matron's relief, the press had been relatively kind. The obvious grief that Fang felt for her inability to save all of the passengers had tempered all but the most strident of her critics. Those critics had received quite a few scathing letters from the matron.

"How does Vanille even know that?" Fang frowned. "Wait… of course, she has a tracker in the costume, doesn't she? Crazy brat." The last part was said with no small amount of affection. "I should have seen that coming."

"I asked her to put that in there. You know how much I worry about you. You're not invincible, you know. So what have you been doing down there?"

"Practicing. It's the only place on the planet where I can be alone. I need to get stronger, matron, and faster. I have all these powers, and I'm still not that good at using them. Well, I'm going to get better. Much better."

"I see." The matron smiled. "If that's what it takes for you to keep being the kind of person and hero that you want to be, then that's fine with me. But don't forget to keep up with your studies, and I want you to visit more often. You don't have any excuses, not when you can fly back to visit."

"I will. I promise." Fang's lips twitched. "I might take Vanille down there too. It shouldn't be that much longer before her powers sort themselves out and I… I don't want her to ever feel like I did that day."

It was so like Fang to worry about Vanille instead of herself. "That might be for the best, actually. She's been spending a lot of time in her lab recently. It worries me when she gets like that. All she wants to do is help you." She paused and coughed. "And that last robot of hers… I worry sometimes that she might end up a super villain."

"Vanille? Not a chance. If she even thinks about it, I'll knock some sense into her."

"I know." The matron watched Fang walk out the door to get Vanille. "Fang."

"Yes?"

"I'm proud of you."

X X X

Author's Notes

As always, I neither own Final Fantasy, nor am I making any money off of this. The same applies to Superman.

I recently had the chance to see Man of Steel. I won't say the movie was perfect (it wasn't), but I thoroughly enjoyed it. In fact, I don't think I was bored once throughout the movie, which says quite a lot to me. The movie also got some of my creative juices (that phrase always sounds so icky) for this story flowing again. Some of my favourite parts of the movie were the flashbacks to Superman's childhood, and I'm not ashamed to say that those scenes were what moved my thoughts toward the content of this chapter. Even superheroes can fail, and even superheroes can weep.

I also want to clarify the comments I made on my profile about this story. If anyone was under the impression that I was going to abandon this story, I apologise. That isn't the case at all. Rather, what I meant was that I would be looking closely at this story to see what worked and what didn't since the last two chapters don't appear to have been well received. The last thing I want to do is ruin a story, so I will be taking some care to ensure that doesn't happen. If you have any suggestions, I'd love to hear from you. If you're interest in more Man of Steel flavoured goodness, have a look at the latest chapter of Final Fantasy XIII Omake Theatre for some Faora!Lightning putting the beat down on Superman!Fang.

If you want to know where I'm up to with updates on my other stories, check out my profile. You can also find a link there to "The Last Huntress," a short story that I've got up on Amazon. It's 17,000 words long and if you enjoyed Whispers of the Gods, you are likely to enjoy it as well. Check it out – you won't regret it.

As always, I appreciate feedback. Reviews and comments are welcome.