I don't own Final Fantasy XIII.


"Serah! I'm home!" And the tone of voice isn't exactly cheerful, but it's really the best that Claire can do.

Claire's never really cheerful. She never really smiles, either. Maybe Serah's just a horrible sister for letting Claire stop smiling, but the truth is that Claire didn't smile much even when their parents were both still alive. Oh, the smile would still be there – but it was small. So small. It's even smaller now. Just a slight upward twitch in the corner of her lips.

She's wearing it now, Serah notices, as she walks into the kitchen. Along with a badly tailored sweater and her school bag. Both used to be Serah's. There's a twinge of guilt, since Serah knows that Serah's the one who tried tailoring the sweater and Claire still has to use… what? Three belts to hold it in place? Yes, one around the hips in the normal position, but then one under her chest and two coming from the shoulders leading to nowhere. Not three, then. Four – four? – and that's even worse. Serah hopes Claire doesn't really need four belts just for that. Hopes that it's just some kind of… fashion statement.

"S-Serah…?" Claire seems to be choking. Serah knows why. More guilt. She tries to pretend it doesn't exist. Quickly, Serah turns her gaze back to her sister's face. Claire's lips are parted, her eyes are wide, and the twitch that could have passed for a smile is completely gone.

Serah self-consciously smoothes down the coat of her uniform. She should probably say something. Something like, 'Hey, I'm a GS recruit now' or 'Sorry, but we needed the money' or 'The military was getting small, and they were going around recruiting today…' Instead, there's a strangled-sounding "Hi, Claire. How's school today?", and her lips turn up in a bright smile, smiling like she always does when Claire comes home and what is wrong with her.

"Everything all right?" she babbles, wondering why is she talking about this this isn't right what is she doing. "The whole business with Arlene sorted out? It's not like you to start a fight like that! Really, Claire – I can't ground you, because your hobbies are pretty much non-existent – you need to get a hobby, really, it's not healthy to spend all your time on schoolwork and P.E. – but I suppose it could be argued she had it coming and I talked to your teacher about it a few days ago, and no one's getting expelled. He's settling for detention, lots of it, but I couldn't really argue him down, so you'll just have to bear with it, and-"

What is she doing what is she doing why the hell is she acting like nothing happened. She could have said anything. She could have said, 'I got a new uniform' or 'They're having a community play at the children's center' or even 'I was bored so I joined the military' - because when she looks at it from a different angle, yes that decision was that shallow - but she settles for that? This was just asking for a blow-up. Not just a blow-up. A nuclear explosion of the highest order. And it was far, far too late to change what she said now.

Serah realizes she's still talking and things are coming out of her mouth in a strange, mixed-up waterfall that's so fast she's not entirely sure what nonsense she's spouting. "- why can't you be friendswith people, honestly, it can't be that hard. Even acquaintances. Maybe I didn't have all that many friends, but I had acquaintances! Unless you're not telling me something. Claire, are you not telling me something? I'm trustworthy! Are you embarrassed? Ooh, do you have a boyfriend I don't know about? You should bring your boyfriend over and then we can chat because I'm sure your boyfriend isn't nearly good enough for you, tell me his last name, I'm sure I can check with his parents to see if he's a nice boy or not- though he better not be just nice, he'd better be amazing if he knows what's good for him -"

This was not good in any way, shape, or form.

She looks closer at Claire, and winces. Claire doesn't look angry. She looks confused, maybe a little scared, and she has the face of someone who's about to be angry - but she doesn't look actually angry. That's good. But the reason that might be so is that Serah is rambling like there's no tomorrow and there's no possible way for Claire to cut in and actually sound angry unless she screams.

" – we're having stew for dinner today, beef was on sale, so I got some bread from that bakery you like-"

"What the hell," Claire says. "What the hell." Blankly, not even all that loudly. No anger, no surprise, just an expressionless face and, "What the hell."

Serah stops and sighs. She takes a seat at the kitchen counter, props her head on her arms. "Thank you for shutting me up," she says quietly. What was that…?

"No problem." Claire sits down too, the schoolbag dropped on the floor. Serah catches it, hopes the textbooks aren't damaged.

Silence.

Then, "So, Guardian Corps, huh…?"


Out of breath. She's out of breath and her throat's raw and her legs aren't working properly it hurts bad but she won't stop, can't stop running. She's not allowed to, and even if she was, she needs to do this, doesn't she, so she might as well do it as good as she can. So instead of concentrating on how much everything hurts and how she can't breathe, she thinks instead. Not the thinking about how much longer this would take or how long she's already been running. That's a worthless train of thought to pursue and would probably make her feel worse. No. Something less straight-cut, something with loads of little trails to ramble off onto.

That way, she's distracted and she won't think so hard about 'I'm dying I can't breathe someone get me water I'm dying it hurts arggh.'

Her hair is plastered to her face – hair. She grabs onto that thought like a lifeline. Her hair. It's been cut – of course it has – to a few inches short of shoulder length. She misses her old hairstyle, but at least she gets to keep her bangs, which were pretty non-descript in the first place. Maybe she should have dyed it, too. She doesn't mind pink, honestly, she rather likes it, but pink in the military was a little off.

She's an official recruit, with her nice shiny uniform that she's been told to wear specifically with a Battleship Gray shade turtleneck sweater, oh yes, that's totally different from Taupe Gray or Slate Gray or just plain gray. And it has to be specifically folded at a specific angle up to specifically her elbows with the beige coat specifically belted around a certain part of her waist and the shoulder guards – oh no, it's pauldrons, isn't it, she didn't even know that was a word - are polished to a perfect shine or else. The pauldrons are just digging into her shoulders, too, and if Claire knew -

… Claire.

Claire.

Of course her mind wanders to Claire. Oh, Claire. Her younger, adorable little sister. Her adorable, logical, stubborn, angry little sister.

Fine. She'd thought it'd be fine. Claire had been so calm when they started talking a few days ago. Peaceful, almost. Even friendly. So much so that Serah went into the conversation thinking that it was all going to be fine. Sure, maybe it'd be just a little rough, but Claire was acting mature and tolerant and accepting, right?

That didn't turn out so well. She really shouldn't have been surprised. It wasn't like she had been expecting anything different.

"Why… Guardian Corps, Serah?"

Why. Why. That was the obvious question. Of course it was. The sensible question. The one that anyone with any common sense would have asked. And what could she say? That she felt like it? That she wanted to do something different? Flimsy, flimsy excuses. And suddenly, it all sounded dumb. Stupid, stupid Serah. Listen to reason, will you?

"Serah? Why ar… no. You're not saying anything. You… you don't even know why?"

Stupid Serah. Not thinking about things. Saying "to have something of my own to be proud of"? Claire could come up with a counter-argument to that in seconds.

"Let me get this straight. You joined the military and you don't even have a reason why?"

Of course she had a reason, but she can't explain….

"What the hell! Why did you – what the hell where you thinking?"

She was thinking that… that…

"You could get hurt! You could get torn apart and left to die slowly by a feral beast! Yes, YOU COULD DIE! WHAT THE HELL WERE YOU THINKING?"

She…

"Did you think this through at all? Did you even consider this? You… I can't believe you could do something this STUPID!"

She… well.

"I…"

…snapped.

"Serah-!"

"Of course you could believe I could do something this stupid! You ALWAYS think I'm stupid! I'm sick of it!"

It's been a while since she's lost her temper.

"It's always 'Serah, don't you think this is a bad idea?' 'Serah, shouldn't you do this, shouldn't you do this, what you're doing is always a bad idea, shouldn't you think of something else!"

"…Serah?"

"I felt like it, okay? I joined the military because I felt like it. That a problem?"

"SERAH, YOU DON'T JUST….Serah? You never act like this, what's wrong? What happened?"

Something just had to be wrong for her to be upset?

"Look, do you have a fever or something? We could get you out of GC if you could claim that you were sick at the time-"

Out of GC. Out of GC. She remembers, vaguely, thinking that this was the moment. The moment where everything goes wrong, if something goes wrong, Serah will back down and apologize like she always done, and, with a lot of prodding, gets dishonorably discharged from the military, since the contract she signed was for five years, not five hours. And she makes her decision there.

"SHUT THE HELL UP!"

Her hand is still sore from slamming it on the counter, and she's very, very lucky that she didn't injure herself since the odd way she hit the counter was pretty much the equivalent of punching a wall.

"I am NOT delusional and like HELL am I signing out of the military! THIS IS MY DAMN BUSINESS! STAY OUT OF IT!"

She had ended the conversation right there and stormed off. She didn't want to talk anymore – she was too pissed off. That was a first. Getting really angry. Serah never gets angry. Serah doesn't do that. Sure, she gets irritated, annoyed, maybe a little frustrated, but only those little minor emotions that could be hidden with practice and a sweet smile. Why… that time, why couldn't she smile and just argue her point…? That would have gotten much better results. She wouldn't be having this problem.

She's been avoiding Claire the past few days. Sure, she still takes care of dinner and sure, she still does pretty much all of the chores around the house. But she hasn't talked to Claire and hasn't run into Claire at all. Because, then, maybe by the time they talk again, Serah will have worked things out with herself. Because that confrontation didn't go anything like Serah thought it would. On Serah's part, of course. Because she has a tight control on anger, and she shouldn't have wanted to hurt and hurt until there was nothing left of her enemy. Her enemy, not her sister. She shouldn't have felt so self-satisfied at the look on her sister's face.

Because Claire had been scared. Actually and truly scared. Claire wasn't scared of anything. Claire isn't scared of anything. So why…?

Maybe yelling and screaming is scariest coming from someone who you least expect it from.

She contemplates this thought for a while, before the sergeant bellows, "That's enough for today! Line up!"

And suddenly exhaustion and pain slam into her - Eden, her lungs burn - and it doesn't feel like her legs are working properly as she drags herself into place, her back ramrod straight and her arm snapping up into a salute that she desperately hopes is in the right angle and spot –no, her arms will not drop now, no way –

The sergeant glances over at her, then moves on to the next recruit in line.

Safe.


A/N:

Standard warning for all A/Ns of mine. Don't read if you really don't like rambling.

First thing I gotta say - if you looked on my profile, I lied about the whole done by June thing, assume dead. The reason why I said 'by June' was that this chapter was done since May. The beginning of May. And I didn't update it because I thought this chapter was iffy (eh, I think all my chapters are iffy, I should probably get a beta-reader except I won't because I'm lazy and I don't like talking to people and the last time I had a beta reader, it took a month for my chapter to get back to me) and that this was kind of stupid when I thought about it and I'm not really in this fandom anymore anyway and my other story was much more popular anyway, better to work on that and this is a really long sentence. So that's my excuse, few people who are reading this.

I don't know anything about military training. I looked it up, I found nothing. Feel free to correct me, but the whole training thing isn't really a big part of this story anyway.

Thank you, people who reviewed last chapter. I really appreciate that, it was really encouraging. Yes, Lightning is supposed to be older. Sorry if you thought this was awkward. And... I really should be doing something else right now.

This really is way too long.