MAR 5, 2014: Edits completed, this prologue and chapter 9.5 were added. Other than that, please enjoy the story, and don't forget to review!
Prologue: Unable to move on
Inertia - (noun): the tendency of a body to preserve its state of rest or uniform motion unless acted upon by an external force; disinclination to move or act
It was hard to move forward. Without Snow by my side, I didn't know what to do. He'd always held me up. When things looked hopeless, he'd been there with his never-ending optimism, assuring me that there was always another way. 'We make our own destiny' he'd say. On my own, I found it so hard to look past the immediate crisis, as if the solution was on the other side of a fence that I was too short to peer over. My ideal future that I'd been picturing this whole time - a wedding, a house, and a family to live in it - had been uncovered to be a shallow fantasy. The promises he'd made were just as lost to me as he was... as I was, myself.
I felt as if I was drifting on an endless sea of emptiness. No wind pushed the sails of my heart in any one direction; there was nothing to ease me out of my purposeless existence. Even though we'd won against Caius, even though the world had been saved, it didn't feel like anything was resolved. It didn't feel over.
But, the world didn't just stop, like I had. I realized that it didn't matter how lost or scared I was, it wouldn't matter if I just refused to get up in the morning, the world would go on. Time would keep moving on – without me.
I closed my eyes against the sun that poured in though my window. It didn't matter. I didn't matter.
As if in protest, I heard heavy fist-falls resonate against the front door. Three solid knocks.
Whoever it was, eventually they'd give up on me and go away. Just let me fade away.
The pounding got louder.
"Serah?" the voice carried through the door, down the hallway of my apartment and into my bedroom, and still managed to sound like it was whispered directly into my ear.
"It's almost noon, Serah. Please come out."
A week had gone by since we'd saved the future. I was starting to feel like we'd done something wrong along the way. No matter how I looked at it, things were still unfinished. Fang and Vanille were still in crystal stasis, Lightning had not returned and Snow… was nowhere to be found. I kept thinking that maybe it was because I was supposed to die, in the end. But I am here and they are not. Was my whole journey just a waste of time?
"I'll give you five more minutes, and then I'm letting myself in, okay?"
The first few days, I'd been more optimistic. I figured that it would take a while for them to find me in this new world, that maybe Snow would check New Bodhum 3 AF first and that Lightning might be waiting in the past for me at the base of the crystal pillar. I put a lot of faith in those time gates to bring back what was most important to me. I ignored the memory of all the Gates getting swept into the vortex in the sky. I told myself that my Hero would find some way to get back to me, no matter what. I convinced myself that, with Caius dead, my sister would be released from her otherworldly prison.
Today, I stopped kidding myself. He was gone. She was trapped. They were both lost to me. And I was lost without them.
I heard the lock click and the doorknob turn as someone entered my apartment. I debated pretending to be asleep, but I didn't see any point in it.
"I'm in here," I said, sitting up in bed.
Noel walked into my bedroom, his eyes cautious, not settling on anything. I didn't notice at the time, but each step he took was forced, as if he was fighting the urge to leave, as if he didn't want to come closer.
He took a seat on the edge of the bed, and faced the wall. His hands were clasped in his lap.
He didn't say anything.
"Noel, I just can't…"
"Didn't I tell you?" he asked, deliberately cutting me off.
My stare was a cold wind against his back. Appropriately, he shivered but he still didn't face me.
"Maybe you don't remember but… When we first met, didn't I tell you not to lay down and wait to die?"
I'd never forget the day that the beach of New Bodhum became a war-zone, invaded by monsters from another world. I had stumbled out of my room, disoriented and scared as the air moved around me, distorted by the rip in time's fabric. A bright light blinded me. The echoes of bullets rang around me, while my friends were running and fighting, shouting out to me but I couldn't hear their words, and in the cacophony, those monsters attacked my home. I think that was the most scared I'd ever been in my life.
The chaos jarred my senses; it was hard to believe that the battle in front of me was real. So, when I was knocked to the ground, when one of those monsters towered above me in the seconds before it meant to kill me, I was completely numb. I think I'd called out to Lightning to save me.
Suddenly he was just there. Guarding me.
"Get up, Serah."
The young man from the future, who'd I'd get to know as Noel, stood there and confidently handed me a weapon. His clothes were weird, his loose-fitting pants seemed to hide his legs from view while his shirt was embroidered in a tribal fashion that I'd never seen before. I normally wouldn't have trusted a stranger like him... But, I'd seen him in a dream... and he knew my name...
"Can you fight?" he demanded, as if willing me to change.
Fight?! Me? No one had ever asked me to before.
"...If I have to..."
"Well you're going to have to."
With that, he'd turned away, as if the matter had been settled. Just like that, we were a team. While he squared off against the next foe, I couldn't help but notice on the back of his shirt... there was a pair of wings. In a moment of clarity, I'd been certain that he been sent by Lightning.
It was his words that helped me fight on.
"And one more thing, Don't ever lay down and wait to die!"
The back of my neck burned with shame.
"But…" I countered, even though I had no excuses left.
The day we'd met was the day I'd started standing up for myself. Where had that determination gone?
"Didn't you promise?"
It was time to stay true to my word.
In this new world of 500 AF, the drive to find my sister had all but dried up. I knew for a fact that she'd turned to crystal on the distant shores of Valhalla. But Noel's insistent glare reminded me that all wasn't lost. Not yet. I was still alive, after all. There was still a chance that things could change, this time, for the better.
I swept my feet over the side of the bed, preparing myself for the awkwardness of the world outside and the heartache that was sure to follow me wherever I went. The world's problems may have been sorted out, but my life was only just beginning again.
It was time… to move on.