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An Uneasy Incubation

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Even in crystal, we dream. We remember. Memories play over as loops, and we cannot figure out which are Fang's and which are Vanille's. One memory plays, from two sides.

In the depths of Orphan's Cradle, we are suspended like marionettes on invisible strings. Our muscles betray us. Of the three faces of Orphan, all are culpable of the torture we suffer. In our hardened brains, the demands bounce around. Destroy Cocoon. Give us mercy! Mercy? Who tortures who here? The demands still bounced around in our heads. What can we do as crystals?

Barthandelus sends strong quick shocks through us. Sparks touch every point of nerve from the top of our heads to the soles of our feet. Our clothing muffles none of the sensations; we might as soon be naked. Orphan sends the duller pains, the ones that turn the pain into mere monotony. If it seems that we should be dead, Eden casts a healing spell. Pain means nothing if there is to be no relief. Break a bone into shining little pieces, but once the bone is dust, then what more can be done?

We know. They can put us back together, humans are fragile and tiny in the consciousness of the Fal'Cie, little more than pets, and if those who are nurtured up here in Cocoon are kept and pampered, then we are little more than Pulse's strays sent to earn our keep.

Not all of our time encased goes to the torture. Pain means nothing if there is no relief. So we get dreams of respite. Nothing ever feels so good as the calm after the storm. We land on Pulse again, and dream of a world where everyone is happy, and there is no war.Oerba is filled with the laughter of our family home. Our brothers and sisters from all of Pulse's tribes surround us, but she is always the special ones.

We remember those moments too, the ones where we fall in love. We relive the stray hands that meet when Vanille repairs Bhakti and Fang finds the spare part Vanille needs. We remember standing at the top of the schoolhouse garden, and taking hands in the sunset. The vow we always remember. And while the war, and the crimes we committed as l'Cie pass as a blur, we remember the touches, and the moment.

We never held illusions of surviving our Focus. Fulfill it and become crystals, always alive, never really living, not fulfill it and become shambling cieths, whose spark of unconstrained life will eventually cool into a mere rock. When we reach the end of the blurry journey, when Vanille lifts her hand to let locks of Fang's hair fall over her fingers, and Fang cups Vanille's soft cheeks, and we wanted to try the one thing we never did when we woke.

The pain returns the bare moment before our lips touch.

We don't know how long our fugue lasts. Years was Vanille's original guess. Fang raised it to decades, and then we conclude that we're pushing centuries. If we ever leave our crystallized shells, then we shall live in a completely different world. A world of Pulse or Cocoon, neither of us could guess, but the world we fell asleep in would be gone.

In those centuries, the cycle repeats, as cycles do. The torture fills our fingertips, and we never, ever get used to it. It never becomes part of our skin and bones. We carry but a ghost of the knowledge into the good times, only to arise at the final moment, as our lips descend and we have a choice. Pull back and stay in the middle of the end of the war, or lean forward and return to Orphan and the torture.

We always choose to return to Orphan. We always choose to feel something.

They are not satisfied with us. Eventually, our dreams tell us of a new game they play with our puppet bodies. Fang strung up on Eden's side, Vanille on Barthandelus's. The pain only goes to one of us, and the only way for us to stop it is to pass it along. Hurt or watch. Those are our options.

No, a third choice exists.

Do not pass on the pain. Take the pain, subsume the pain. We don't know who thinks first, as two crystals, how do we communicate if we do not know in unison. The bodies the Fal'Cie plays with would not say anything. We only scream in front of them.

Our new method hurts. We cannot turn away, and we cannot give up. We can only wait as long as we can and save the other. Watching hurts. Eden might heal the one of us who does not get the spell passed through her, but our eyes see everything and our connection can never be closed.

We are weak. We shout for the other's mercy. How can we tolerate the pain of our best beloved one? The pain passes from Fang to Vanille and back again on the lips of the watcher. We don't know who breaks, and who succumbs, or if it's only through mercy that our centuries of incubation end in one pure, thunderous crack.

The crystal breaks, and we wake up. One of us remembers nothing. The other only pretends she's forgotten.