Fiora always smiled and said she felt fine whenever Shulk asked her. She couldn't tell if it was true any more.

If it wasn't, she would probably say it all the same, so that Shulk would stop worrying about her. He had problems of his own, problems that were immediate and concerned the fate of two entire worlds, not just Fiora's health. If she had any real problems with her health, Sharla was the medic, not Shulk, and if she didn't urgently need help, she refused to be a burden when the people around her were busy fighting. She should be fighting alongside them, not holding them back by constantly needing their protection. Reyn was already so overprotective that he had accidentally stepped on her foot in his heaviest armour while trying to provide her with cover, and it would be like kicking a puppy to upset Riki.

Some days she did not know how she felt, or even whose body she was looking at in the mirror and saw armour plating, steel blades and clockwork. Sometimes her body would malfunction and Sharla would fix it, in the same way that she repaired her gun when it jammed. More often than not, it performed better than it ever had, the cogs whirring silently without the slightest creak of complaint. Her new Mechon body was faster and more efficient than her weak, frail former human body. She didn't need to sleep or eat, she ran on hardly any power, she could easily hold her own in battle and almost all her mechanical failures were due to compatibility issues between her remaining vital organs and her Mechon augmentations. With every upgrade that Miqol and the Machina scientists invented, these problems became fewer. Her biggest fear – that Egil would regain control of her mind and cause her to attack one of her friends – had never become reality since the day she was fully reawakened by Lady Meyneth. The near-Godlike creator of the Machina race had severed her mind fully from the mechanism that controlled Face Mechons.

Due to the influence of that same Lady Meyneth, she felt different in her mind as well. It felt almost like being a child again, a child with a mother to turn to. Lady Meyneth's strong, serene mind was always in the back of her consciousness. Some of that peace of mind had rubbed off on Fiora, and she felt herself becoming calm even when she could see that everyone around her had begun to panic. Panic seemed unnecessary when it was so easy to mentally remove herself from a situation. Was that a good thing or a bad thing, that a more powerful will than her own was always present in her mind, ready to take control if the situation demanded it? Her new found ability to mentally remove herself from a situation, to surrender herself to the flow of fate, made her more vulnerable to this control. And if she couldn't rely on the sanctity of her mind, it was more of a liability than an improvement to have a body designed as an invincible killing machine. Everything that made her stronger made her more vulnerable, everything that protected her also strained her to breaking point, so how could she give a simple answer to a question like 'are you okay'?

To be honest with herself, she still hadn't fully acknowledged the fact that it had happened at all.

Sometimes the world seemed unreal, a dream that was entirely convincing except for a few minor details that just didn't make sense, or maybe the opposite: a dream that should seem completely absurd, and yet her mind had accepted it wholesale, and only now that she was waking up did she wonder why she had ever believed it could be real. The world in which she was a human girl, sitting on a bench next to Shulk and listening to his awkward conversation as he dug himself into deeper holes, the world in which she was a Silver Face in the Mechon Army, fighting for Egil, and the world in which she was an awakened Mechon, fighting alongside Shulk as an equal, under the guidance of Lady Meyneth, seemed like three completely different worlds, as separate as the Bionis and Mechonis. And yet, they weren't really different worlds. They were all reality, all had happened to the same Fiora. This fact in itself made the whole thing seem more absurd.

There were fairly large chunks of her past that she simply didn't remember any more. Initially she had worried that her mind was going but then she realised that most of it could be explained away easily; she couldn't be expected to remember what happened to her when her systems were knocked offline due to damage, or had been switched off by the scientists for repairs and upgrades, or back when she was under the direct control of Egil or Meyneth. Why did the thoughts of being under someone else's control come so casually to her, as if agency and free will were some kind of expensive luxury? Why did she sometimes simply expect her memories to be deleted through inevitable data loss?

There was one thing that worried her most of all. She didn't feel she could talk to Shulk about it yet. His ability to hold a normal conversation without tripping himself up hadn't gotten any better since they last met, and she wasn't even sure herself whether she could talk about such a topic and remain rational.

It was her lifespan. Machina lived for thousands of years, even longer than High Entia. Even the mildly disturbing baby Machina, floating around the city in their self-propelled life-support cribs, were often one thousand years old. She didn't know how long Mechon lived, because Mechon were built purely for combat and so usually had their lives cut short on the battlefield, and didn't live day-to-day lives where they could sit back and count how long they had existed for. She wasn't a Machina or a Mechon, she was a Homs with Mechon parts, or possibly a Mechon with Homs parts. She had no idea how long she was going to live for. She might outlive Shulk. She might outlive Shulk's great grandchildren and still not have shown the slightest sign of wear and tear. Alternatively, she might critically malfunction tomorrow, or some subroutine hidden deep inside her body's programming might conveniently shut her down the second there was no more war to be fought.

"You wouldn't let that happen, right, Lady Meyneth?" she asked.

"What did you say, Fiora?"

She flinched. Dunban was behind her, his sword at his belt, a thoughtful expression on his face. Why was the old man so good at sneaking up on her? Wasn't she supposed to have some kind of Mechon stealth sensors? If not, why not?

"I was just thinking that I hope everything can go back to normal, once this is over," she said.

"There'll be a lot of rebuilding to do," said Dunban, "Some people don't even have homes to go back to."

"I know that. But eventually," she said, "One day, I want to just be able to sit on the bench in the park with Shulk. And Reyn and you too, I suppose," she added, to be polite.

"That'd be wonderful," he agreed, "Let's make that one of our plans, once we win the battle. Maybe we could even make it one of our reasons to fight."

"I told you," she said, "I'm fighting to protect Shulk."

"It never hurts to have more reasons to fight," he replied, "And less reasons to give up."

"I won't lose Shulk," she said firmly.

"Ah, but Shulk might not need anyone to protect him soon," he smiled, "He's growing in power every day. He's learning to fight, and to use the Monado."

"He's still Shulk." she said, "He's still a fool. He wouldn't tell you even if he was having difficulties."

"And what about yourself, hm?"

"I told you," she looked out across the cliff and over the endless ocean, "I'm fine."

"If you say so," he gave her an amused half-smile, then turned around, "Riki, you ARE sharing all that fish with the rest of the party, aren't you?"

"Riki's fish! Dun-dun get his own!"

Fiora smiled and watched the old warrior chase the heavily armoured but still perfectly mobile Nopon. Picking up a fish that Riki had dropped, Dunban threw it at Riki, who slipped on the fish oil and rolled over and over like a bowling ball with a pineapple attached to it. She remembered Lady Meyneth's words to her. A Face Mechon still had a human heart, one that couldn't be changed, however much the brain was reprogrammed. Her heart wouldn't change, no matter what happened to her. She had left her friends and returned, and they had all been there waiting for them, and none of them had changed.