Stepping out to the grassy fields on the knoll of recent gravestones the village had made only a few years back, Lebreau carried a fresh batch of flowers to the stones. Sun shining, air mildly cool with just enough breeze and enough pep to brighten anyone's day, the weather seemed in direct contradiction to the injured restlessness Lebreau carried beneath her breast. It took five minutes to climb the gently sloping knoll and find her grave. Lebreau's heart ached when she saw it. She knelt before it in the grass.
"Hey, Lightning," Lebreau said quietly, settling before her stone in the grass. The inscription on the stone hurt her further to think about. Lightning Farron. Loving wife, sister, and friend. It'd been inscribed before things had gone to hell with Serah, of course. "I've brought you flowers," Lebreau continued in that soft tone, not loud enough to be overheard on the wind. Lebreau started unwrapping the plastic wrap from the bundle of them. "Roses," Lebreau revealed, upturning the stone holder to put her flowers in. "Your favorite." Lebreau nestled them in before they looked nice in the metal can. She bit her lip, staring down at her inactive hands, then back at Lightning's stone again.
"Light…" Lebreau wasn't religious. She wasn't even sure if she believed in an afterlife or not, just for lack of giving it much thought. She wasn't the one to go visiting graves to talk, that seemed much more Vanille's kind of thing, but then again, she never expected she'd have to decide on it so soon. That death would catch up to her so fast and steal away her closest friend. "I don't know if you can hear me," Lebreau continued in that quiet tone, "Or if I'm being foolish, coming to you like this…" Lebreau preferred to think the former. It had an unexpected, soothing effect, thinking that Lightning could hear and see this, could know she wasn't alone. "I miss you, Light. I miss you a lot."
Lebreau let out a little sigh with the admittance, trying to settle her breath. "We don't talk about you much. Not yet. It's painful with the things going on with Serah… if you can see this, I guess you've seen that too… which, on second thought, I guess it might be better if you can't see any of this." Lebreau shook her head, "I just wanted to visit you, Light. Let you know… you're not forgotten, you know? Things are fucked up here without you; I always said we'd be a crazy mess without our leader. Looks like I was right." Lebreau offered a genuine smile, but it was sad. "But we're surviving. It's hard as fuck without you coming in, stirring up my business with you and Fang, you know?" Lebreau fingered the edge of the stone. "But we get by… Fang gets by."
Lebreau let out a long, aggravated and pained sigh then. "That's a bit of why I'm visiting today. I'm having trouble, Light. Having trouble forgiving your sister in this." Lebreau tapped with a finger idly, eyes lifting to observe the sky. "I know you love her, Light, and you probably have more understanding of this if you're up there… but I can't do it. I can't forgive Serah for it, even without her here anymore." Lebreau's eyes returned back to the grave. Her chest ached. "What she's doing to you… what she's done…" Lebreau fingered a blade of grass on the carving next to Lightning's name. She flicked it off the stone. "I wanted to be honest with you," Lebreau said. "I don't know if I'll ever get there. If I'll be able to forgive her some day… because I don't see it likely. Not even with years of passing... shit."
"I've been a bad friend," Lebreau continued on to admit, "I let Vanille choose, and I didn't try to hold onto your sister. I'm not protecting her now, and talking about how I can't," Lebreau winced, that rush of pain coming back when she thought about it all, "I really can't… and I'm sorry for it. Shit." Lebreau rubbed at her eyes in aggravation, "I don't know how you'd feel about it all, Light, and I've really tried to figure that out… but I know Fang's gonna take care of your sis out there, and Serah… Fang's happy believing it's you. That's enough, right?" Her gut wrenched, "I didn't know what to do. I still don't. Not without you. And I'm sorry, Light. I'm sorry I let it get that way… that I couldn't fix it when it did. God, Light," Lebreau shook her head. "I miss you out there. Really bad. I want you to know that, okay? Someone misses you bad. We haven't forgotten you, the real you. Not all of us have."
Lebreau let out another ragged, calming breath, heart too hyper in this visit with her old friend, but she'd stay for a while yet. If Lightning really was up there and all that, this visit and visits to come would be the very least Lebreau could manage to remember her friend.
Lebreau settled more comfortably in the grass, leaning back against the tree that overhung Lightning's grave. "I'll just talk to you, Light." Lebreau promised, quiet again. "Without the bad. I miss just talking to you like this, you know? You're my best friend." Lebreau breathed in deep and slow. She closed her eyes. "I'm not gonna forget you, Light. That's the promise I can make. I'm always gonna make it back again. I promise you that."
It would have to be enough. It was all Lebreau had.
5 Years Later
Vanille reached the clearing in the woodlands on the back of her of her shared chocobo and gasped. Gadot hugged her around the middle tightly to keep her from falling, and Vanille, in turn, squeezed her little boy. Vanille couldn't speak as she gazed upon the hidden camp, secluded back so far through the trees, it'd taken five days just to trek through the forest before they'd reached this far-out place.
The lay of the land was beautiful. The clearing was big, large enough to house several blocks of suburban homes, but that fate hadn't been destined for this beautiful place. Too many fiends for Cocoon to risk establishments in or near the forests without clear-cutting them, which they just didn't have the tech to do anymore. The location had been chosen well; even if someone happened to wander into the wild forest way out here in unsettled land, it'd take them days of travel to reach this place, and they'd have to know precisely where to find the clearing, else they'd pass it easily. Even forgoing the wise choice it was to choose this beautiful, secluded place, Vanille was breathtaken with what had been done.
A house had been built in the middle of the clearing. Hand-made, no machine had touched this beautiful, crafted, two-story foundation that stretched even bigger than Vanille's four-bedroom house. Dark, roughly hewn wood that'd been carefully crafted and measured made up the bulk of the home, with lighter-shaded wood used for the windows, which opened outwardly without any glass. The neatly-laid home had flowers from little buckets built into the house with all a manner of beautiful displays, and an overwhelming planting of roses outside the windows. An open landing with a porch and several deck-rooms had spots to sit outside, covered from rain if on the bottom floor, open to the sky if on the second. Quaint wouldn't quite cover the house Vanille observed. It was beautiful.
Beside the house, rows of chopped up dirt revealed where trees might've been before Fang uprooted them for building. There were no stubs of trees left, but rather the ground had been made into a pleasant garden, covering the ground for as wide as a field branching out. As Vanille drew nearer with her family, she found the ground irrigated as well, sectioned and watered off from a gushing river that faced the western side of the property, flowing through the land, back into the trees, providing fresh water for whatever Fang and Serah might need. On the far left, behind the house and garden, a new project looked to be underway. With that section of the clearing, fresh wood lay stacked, some chopped, some whole logs, with a foundation laid on the ground. Vanille couldn't imagine what else they'd need; with all they'd done in the five years she'd been gone, Vanille sat amazed.
It was simply the most beautiful lot in her life she'd ever seen, including any she'd had from her tribal days. Fang had built them the perfect home from nothing.
"Wow," Gadot echoed her thoughts simply. "Fang went to work."
The chocobo jostled in stepping; waking the little boy cradled in her arms. He yawned and blinked. "Mamma?" he tilted his head back to look up at Vanille, his daddy's eyes staring up. "Yum yums, mamma?"
"Soon, sweetie, shh," Vanille kissed the top of his little firetruck-red head. "Look, we're here."
The child looked onward then into the clearing and promptly started bouncing atop the chocobo's back in celebration. "Yay! No more Cho-wabo!
"Soon," Vanille promised again. They pulled up to the house and dismounted. Gadot pulled their little boy down with her. Vanille didn't see anybody in the immediate vicinity. "Hello?" Vanille called out experimentally. "Is anybody here?"
"Vanille!" Someone called from behind the house, in the trees. "Stay there!" It took a moment before rustling of feet could be heard in the leaves, then a moment longer for Fang to appear at the side of the house, carrying with her a large stack of wood that she dumped near the front and hurried to Vanille. Vanille rushed into her arms and Fang picked her up straight and cleanly, warming Vanille instantly in those strong, muscled arms.
"Fang," Vanille had to bite her lip to stop the tears from overcoming her. It'd been so long… she'd been nervous, even, how Fang would come to greet her after such a long while away. There, curled to her body like a little cat, Vanille both had missed and forgotten how good it felt to be held by Fang. Try as she might, even with the lip bite, tears came fresh to her eyes as she squeezed.
"I've missed you," Fang claimed words that were in her soul. Vanille whimpered into her neck, legs full around Fang.
Fang rubbed her back. Vanille tried to contain her rush of emotions. They'd have plenty of time to visit and reunite with Fang, something Vanille desperately wanted and dreamed. Fang understood her too and didn't try to let her go, but when Vanille's legs relaxed back down to earth again, she kept her arm around her shoulders, warm.
"Well, look who came with you," Fang claimed with a grin, holding a hand out to Vanille's stout husband, who shook it. "Good to see you, Gadot. It's been awhile."
Gadot nodded, his appearance vastly changed from the last of him Fang had seen all those years ago. Still a big bear that Vanille loved to cuddle and squeeze, he'd matured a little since the time Fang had last seen. Gone was the fiery-dyed buzzcut he'd once had, replaced instead his naturally-darker hair at the roots. Reasonably cut at slightly more than a buzz-trim, he had a few days' growth of scruff as well now after their journey. It suited him well too, Vanille had always said, fitting his face and cheekbones just as well as when it was shaved. Vanille varied her opinion of it by the day, and Gadot seemed open to whichever fancy she had. Though, it could be a bit more well-trimmed after their venture all this way, Vanille still liked it there.
"I could say the same," Gadot agreed, nodding to Fang, who looked a remarkable bit just like she had. Vanile knew of Yuns longer life expectancy and had expected it, but the lack of change may have taken Gadot a little off guard.
"And who's this little guy?" Fang asked, referring to the little boy Gadot cradled in strong, buff arms, a strength that still couldn't match Fang's, judging by her healthy appearance. She held a little finger out to the child, who shied away coyly.
"This is our son," Vanille introduced, "Snow. Snow, this is your Uncle Fang." Snow hid his little face, then peeked from Gadot's neck. "Say hello," Vanille encouraged the little guy, who buried his face again. Vanille ruffled his growing flop of red hair, looking to Fang. "He's just shy," she explained.
"He should meet Serah," Fang encouraged, "Maybe that'll open him up a little bit." She waved them along with her. "Come on; they're both inside. And we've sure got things to catch up on."
"Serah?" Vanille asked before she could stop herself, bewildered with this. Had Fang woken up from her malfunctioning brain? Had she eased out of it and was now okay? She looked fine, alright, very healthy and happy. Perhaps time secluded has brought them both to reality? Vanille just didn't know; with no correspondence to this remote location but for the single, little slip with directions Fang had managed to send last month when she'd deemed it safe, Vanille hadn't heard anything else from her friend.
"Oh, yeah," Fang nodded, encouraged, starting to lead her away. "Come on, I'll show you. She's my pride and joy, you know." Fang led them up the porch, through the front door into the house. The place was just as beautiful and homely inside as it had been out. Carved wooden chairs stood around a six-person table in the kitchen with the open bay window right behind it, streaming the sunlight in. Curtains blew in daintily over the clean surface of the table and counters set behind it so pretty.
"We just got those last month when I contacted you," Fang announced proudly. "Lightning wanted something thinner than the animal skins. Lightning, you upstairs?"
Vanille's brow crossed in complete confusion. A voice so eerily gone responded before she could think it out clearly.
"I'm coming," the familiar voice returned, somewhere muffled from upstairs. It'd been a long time since she'd last seen Serah, but that voice didn't sound like her at all.
"Do you need help?" Fang asked, crossing the wide living room to the stairs to assist.
"I'm fine, Fang," the second voice reassured. Vanille caught her first glimpse of her descending the stairs. Her jaw dropped wordlessly.
A lovely, beautiful woman descended the stairs, but it was not any Serah Vanille could see. Arms finely honed and muscled like Fang's with a runner's legs and thighs to match, this woman was more healthy and fit than Vanille would've ever predicted Serah's small little body could be. Paler than Fang, even with her exposure to the sun, she was still light-skinned with hair half-pointed, half-locks like the older sister always had. Her breasts were impressively huge like Fang's with a morbidly familiar lightning-bolt pendant between them, though the reason for their size was obvious with that giant, swollen bulge of a belly protruding as she descended the stairs. At least 8 months pregnant, or what looked like it anyway, Lightning Farron – no, Serah, Vanille had to repeat in her head, Serah descended the stairs, not an inch of that shy, frail girl Vanille knew reflected.
"Vanille," Serah recognized when she reached low enough on the stairs, voice calm and even, not plagued with excitement, but graciously welcoming in that easy tone. "We hadn't expected you this soon."
Fang nodded in agreement. "You must've been booking it to get here so fast. We expected tomorrow or the next day after that."
Vanille couldn't help her stare, eyes straightly focused on the belly.
Serah smiled kindly in understanding of her shock. "Incredible, isn't it? I hate to think how much bigger I'll be in a few months, but Fang takes good care of me." She sidled beside Fang and touched her arm sensitively. Fang wrapped it around her side protectively.
"A few months?" Vanille gawked, forgetting all other graces and unable to see anything else but the pregnant belly. Serah was pregnant again. She was pregnant again.
"They're twins," Fang filled in at Vanille's confusion, rubbing up Serah's side in comforting. "We're gonna have three." Fang shone so proudly. The comments didn't register to Vanille. Not until a third voice spoke up, small and tiny.
"You're my Aunty Van?" Astonished eyes finally pulled from the belly to look at the little squirt that had spoken. Barely 3 ½ foot tall, the little voice sounded much more like the one Vanille remembered. Her eyes caught on the little girl; strawberry blonde haired, green-eyed and daintily thin with a little ponytail made, pulled off to the side.
"Yes, that's your aunt." Serah encouraged. "Vanille, this is our daughter, Serah."
Vanille stared at the little girl, eyes fixating on her in shock for the little Serah she represented— the real Serah, not Lightning's replacement.
Fang beamed at them all. "She's beautiful, isn't she? We're so proud."
The little girl blushed, "Daddy," she reprimanded, shy.
Serah brushed her daughter's shoulder with a hand. A hand that had a small circlet around her ring finger, one Vanille recognized from long before. It was Lightning's wedding ring, wound around Serah's finger like it belonged. "Is this your son?" Serah asked kindly in direction towards the little boy. Vanille couldn't gather herself in a reasonable amount of time, so Gadot answered for her.
"Yes, this is Snow." Gadot introduced a second time, re-situating him so they could see his little face.
Serah nodded her understanding and respect. "It's good to remember those we've lost. Keep a piece of them living on with our children." She smiled kindly, "He's beautiful, Vanille."
"Thanks…" Vanille echoed, feeling surreal and surrounded in this strange, dream place. Fang and Serah had their daughter, with more on the way… neither of them, the least bit aware how creepy it all way. And Serah was worst; Serah, who behaved like Lightning in mannerisms, tone, and voice. It'd probably been her idea to name the child after 'her sister' as well. Vanille felt so small and dwarfed in this homely, almost mystic place.
"Is Lebreau outside with the chocobos?" Lightning asked, peering around the open window for a glimpse.
"Lebreau couldn't come," Vanille revealed, and was glad for it. This would've snapped her thin thread concerning Lightning and all that'd happened since her death. Serah frowned and looked hurt, not in an overt sense, but Vanille could see it in her eyes, the very little bits Lightning had shown. "She couldn't get away from her new business long enough," Vanille lied, inexplicably feeling bad that Lightning's best friend couldn't come.
Serah seemed to read the fib easily from her face, which freaked her out as another trait Serah had never possessed. Nodding softly, she said, "I'm sorry to hear that," she placed a hand over her enlarged belly, a bit of sadness radiating at them. "I was looking forward to seeing her again."
"Maybe next time," Vanille lied again, knowing Lebreau would never come with Serah so deeply like this. Vanille couldn't tell the woman from her deceased counterpart one bit. This was the sort of thing that drove one mad. It'd driven Serah mad, for sure. As they entered the kitchen, Fang talked about their home, building it with Lightning and the adventures they'd shared together in first starting it up. Vanille saw a hand-crafted gunblade on the wall, which Fang said Lightning had made, buying a surplus of bullets before they'd gone with the right pieces to craft it together like it was Lightning's side project to relax before they'd gotten the house up. As she carried on with the stories of their adventures, hunting, building, crafting and preparing the home, Vanille watched her mannerisms, becoming increasingly aware of one cold fact that'd always keep Lebreau away.
Even Vanille struggled as their visit went on to remember, but it became increasingly clear as time passed. 'Serah' was gone. In this household, in the remote meadow of the forest away from people, sanity, and human contact all in one, Lightning lived on.