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Five things Fang carried (and one thing she keeps)

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Five things Fang carried (and one thing she keeps)

5. (The beginning of the end)

She doesn't remember this. Not even in dreams - or in nightmares.

She doesn't remember her vision, right after she was branded, Ragnarok tearing through the crust of what she could only assume was Cocoon, the people of Pulse already gearing for a war.

She doesn't remember Vanille holding tight to her hand as they walked into the military rendezvous point, everyone's eyes on them, the Chosen, the ones who would defeat the nest of vipers that was Cocoon.

She doesn't remember standing on the prow of the Gran Pulse warship, wind streaming through her hair and Vanille at her side, other warships of the fleet spread to either side as they converged on their target.

She doesn't remember the aerial bombardment, the warships against the Cocoon defences, as ship after ship fell around them, smoke and screams thick in the air. She doesn't remember gazing at the devastation, horror tight in her throat, or shaking off Vanille's hand as she leapt forward, one foot on the deck, one clawed foot on the prow, before launching herself towards Cocoon's shell, power wreathing around her arms.

She doesn't remember the feel of the power of Ragnarok, like fire coursing through her veins, like she could fly, if she wanted.

She doesn't remember delivering the blow that cracked Cocoon's shell.

She doesn't remember the feeling of that power leeching from her, suddenly weak against Cocoon defences, falling. She doesn't remember the last Pulse warship plummeting in flames, Vanille's scream in her ears.

She doesn't remember how it felt to turn to crystal, cold creeping up her limbs towards her, sure in the knowledge that she had failed the people of Gran Pulse, the people who had depended on her for their victory in this conflict, for their safety.

She doesn't remember any of it, everything between her brand in Oerba and her waking in the Pulse vestige just gone, like it was never there, nothing but a blink of an eye between the two.

She doesn't know why she feels so sad, so broken, when she looks upon her brand and sees its scorched remains.

She doesn't remember.

 

4. (You know you're the same)

Vanille sees her first, crying out and breaking into a run up the stairs. Fang dashes up after her, not sure at first what's happening - and then she sees her, sprawled across the final terrace before Anima's sanctuary, small and pale against the darkened stone.

Vanille falls to her knees beside the girl, pressing her fingers to one slim wrist, but Fang doesn't bother - she knows the girl's not dead. Here, in Anima's vestige, there's only one reason for someone to be lying still - and there it is, black against the girl's pale arm, the mark of a Pulse l'Cie. Now that she pays attention, she can feel it, too, the distant spark of recently-used magic hanging in the air like faint static prickling over her skin.

"She's alive," Vanille says, looking up at Fang, eyes wide, and Fang snorts and toes the girl's thin arm.

"That's not all she is," she says, and watches as Vanille puts her hand to her mouth, overcome, as she realises the girl has been branded.

"What are we going to do?" Vanille asks, hands still clutching the girl's wrist like it's Vanille who needs the strength rather than the poor unconscious girl.

"Take her outside," Fang says. "Make sure she can get herself home."

"Shouldn't we - talk to her? Maybe we can-"

"What are we gonna do?" Fang asks, and it's not a question. "We don't know who she is or where she comes from. We're Pulse l'Cie."

Vanille looks down at the girl, her delicate features and soft clothes that look totally unsuitable for battle. "We could explain-" she starts, but Fang is already shaking her head.

"'Hi, you're a Pulse l'Cie and it's your job to destroy Cocoon. Probably.' That's gonna go down well."

Vanille's hands tighten on the girl's wrist, and then deliberately loosen. "At least she wouldn't be alone," she says, head down.

"I'm sure she's got family," Fang says, but she knows that really, she has no idea of anything. The girl could have family but she might not; they have no way to know, least of all why Anima would brand a stranger from Cocoon, when they'd banged on the door for hours that first day with no response. Anima wasn't talking to them, but it was quite happy to make new l'Cie.

Well, screw that. If Anima wanted new l'Cie, they must be off the hook; they'd get this girl back out of the vestige, Maker knew how long she must have wandered through the maze of corridors before she'd made it here, and then clear out.

"Come on," she says, and crouches next to the girl, sliding one hand under her knees and one under her shoulders. When she lifts the girl into her arms, she's lighter even than Fang expects - small and delicate and not at all needing protection, dammit. Fang refuses to get involved - she won't. She's already got Vanille to worry about; this new stranger can take care of herself.

Vanille walks at her side, casting anxious looks at the girl as they walk through the vestige. It's quiet aside from their footsteps, and as she glances down and catches another glimpse of the girl's delicate face she has to admire her, just a little, for wandering into a place so obviously eerie.

The girl doesn't stir as they walk, and eventually they come to the entrance, stepping out onto the sand. Fang glances around - they can't leave her lying out in the open, brand visible for all to see - and then walks over to where the sand rises into scrub, trees on the top of the bank beyond.

She goes down on one knee when she's under the trees, gently setting the girl down on a patch of grass. "We'll leave her here," she says, glancing up at Vanille. "I'm sure she can find her way home from here."

She stands, dusting off her knees, and Vanille makes a soft noise. "We're not - we're going to leave her now? Before she's even awake?"

She's not saying anything Fang's not already thinking - and it wouldn't be a concession only to Vanille, but also her own conscience - they can make sure she wakes up and sets off safely before they head onwards, and it might go some way to easing the guilt she feels.

"Of course not, silly," Fang says, mustering a smile. "We'll wait from over there, where she can't see."

"Thank you!" Vanille says, clasping one of Fang's hands in her own, and then she kneels beside the girl.

"You're going to be okay," she says, patting her on the hand, and Fang ignores the parallels her brain is making between them - both so young, both needing protection - and draws Vanille back into the trees. The stranger will be fine, isn't her concern or responsibility, and if she tells herself that enough times, she might even believe it.

 

3. (Tear down the sky)

"Let's give up," Vanille says. "Forget our focus, we don't need it!"

"We don't need it?" she says, tone harsh. "Look, if we don't figure it out and pull it off, you're gonna be a Cie'th." She can't understand what Vanille is on about - this is her life she's talking about.

"It's just-" Vanille says, "-making a kid that young that young a l'Cie? It's not right!" She's upset, Fang can see she's upset, but that doesn't change anything, and Vanille has to see that.

"Yeah, it's unfair," Fang says, putting her free hand on her hip. "But guess what? We grin and bear it like good l'Cie, or the fal'Cie starts making more. Like that girl, the other day." She takes a breath, because this is important - it's something she knows, even with a giant blank in her memories and only five days of consciousness under her belt. "It doesn't matter what our Focus is. We do it. Whether we like it or not."

"But-" Vanille says, and Fang can see the desperation in her eyes, how she wants to cling to what she believes is the truth, but can't quite manage it in the face of what Fang's saying.

"Say we call it quits," Fang says, gentler now that Vanille's coming around. "You think these people will let us go? They'll lynch us in the street."

She moves forward, putting her hands on Vanille's shoulders. "Listen, Vanille. We do what we gotta do, and we get ourselves off this filthy world, as fast as we can."

She shepherds her into the open lift, Vanille still struggling to accept what she's saying. She knows it's going to be difficult - Vanille was always the kinder one, always the one with a soft spot for people in trouble, other young kids. Seeing a kid that young, five or six at the most, becoming a l'Cie - yeah, it's tragic. But she doesn't know him, doesn't have a moment to spare for a Cocoon l'Cie, child or no, in the face of trying to discover their Focus and save Vanille from becoming a Cie'th.

"Fang?" Vanille says as she turns in the lift, maybe wondering what Fang has planned.

"You get out of here first," Fang says, and turns, taking a step out of the lift. "I'll buy you some time."

Vanille makes a noise, something between concern and distress, and Fang moves quickly to reassure her; she doesn't want to leave Vanille alone either, but it's more important that Vanille escape clean, and let Fang deal with the Cocoon soldiers who are no doubt on their tail. "Ah-ah," she says. "Now don't you worry," and then softens her tone, because Vanille deserves more than a just a flippant response. "I'll come and find you, no matter where you go."

In the distance, she hears the faint squeal of the last door they'd jammed behind them coming down; she doesn't have any more time to waste. She hits the keypad, setting the lift to get Vanille out, and then takes a step back and slams her lance into it, short-circuiting it and hopefully stopping anyone else from messing with it.

The doors start to rumble closed; she gives Vanille a shove at the shoulder, sending her tumbling backwards against the wall, and leaps backwards, flipping out of the lift just as the doors come towards her. She straightens out of her landing crouch, corner of her mouth turning up; Vanille is safe in the lift, and she's going to get out.

"Wait - Fang!" Vanille calls, scrambling forward, but she's too late; the lift doors close, with her on one side and Fang on the other.

"Fang!" Vanille calls again, and Fang drops her head, one hand pressed to the doors where she had her last glimpse of Vanille's face. "Please! Don't leave me!"

But she doesn't have a choice. "You're not gonna end up a Cie'th," she says, too soft to be heard through the metal, and then footsteps come down the corridor and finally - finally - she can let out some of these emotions, let the heat of battle bring her a measure of calm.

She darts away from the lift, now rising upwards and carrying Vanille to safety, and into a clear area. "You boys coming or not?" she calls, taunting, and spins her lance over her head, shaking out her muscles. "Your fight's right here!"

She just has to buy enough time.

 

2. (The glimmer of a dream)

After Snow storms off, everyone's quiet, lost in their own thoughts. Vanille's the first to move - she walks calmly over to where Raines vanished into light and crystal shards, and dips her head in respect, hands lifted in front of her chest in a sign of respect.

"Thank you," she says, so softly it's barely audible, and then starts off down the corridor after Snow.

As if that was some kind of signal, everyone else starts moving - Hope first, taking one last look before running after Vanille, then Sazh, who just sighs and shakes his head before moving on.

She glances over at Lightning, the only one left, but she's inscrutable as always. There's something in her eyes, though, that Fang can't read - and then she too nods once at the space Raines left behind, and heads towards the corridor.

When the soft echo of her footsteps has faded, she spurs herself into motion, pushing off the tip of her lance and stepping slowly towards the edge of the platform.

"You stupid bastard," Fang mutters, leaning a little on her lance as she stares out across the Ark. "What were you thinking?"

Raines had been lying from the very beginning; and now he'd gone half-Cie'th and then full crystal in the span of a few minutes. Another pawn in the trap the fal'Cie had laid for them. She can remember his promise to her, only a handful of days ago, that he would help her look for Vanille; she has to wonder how much of that, in the light of these new revelations, was genuine, and how much fal'Cie urging. According to Raines, all of it, but even that she doesn't know whether to believe.

"I trusted you," she whispers, and turns away towards the corridor.

Raines is now irrelevant; the Cavalry without a head, and here they are trapped in a bloody Ark in the middle of Cocoon with no way out. Raines must have been made a l'Cie close to the others, maybe even a little beforehand; if he was about to turn, what does that mean for her new acquaintances - for Lightning? For Vanille?

She presses her lips together, fingers tightening on her lance, but her mind is already working, throwing images of her friends and family - no, things that used to be her friends and family - staggering aimlessly over the Steppe. She won't let that happen - can't let that happen. Not again.

The others are waiting for her at the next lift platform; she steps on and Lightning taps the screen to go down. The Ark stretches on before them; she loses track of time, fighting creature after creature designed for exactly this purpose - to make l'Cie stronger. And isn't that the whole point? They're useless now, weak - they'd fought Barthandelus with everything they had and he still brushed them off like they hadn't even left a scratch. If they want to do anything, if they want to complete their Focus, they have to get stronger.

Snow's still not talking after his outburst earlier, but Fang can feel him working up to it; his jerky punches have smoothed out, and he looks like he's paying attention to what they're actually fighting rather than just trying not to get hit in the face.

They finally go through a door that doesn't have a new enemy on the other side of it, and fan out as they take stock of what's ahead.

"Looks like it's a dead end," Hope says.

"What about down there?" Sazh says, leaning forward towards the edge. It looks like the only way forward; there's nothing here on the platform that even remotely resembles a path.

"If the stories are right, it's a maze," Vanille says, and Fang crosses her arms.

"This place is a boot camp for l'Cie," she says. "All kinds of challenges from Gran Pulse are waiting."

"Challenges, huh?" Sazh says, still looking out over the Ark. "To get us all ready to go wipe out Cocoon?"

Fang snorts, uncrossing her arms to put her hands on her hips, because he just doesn't get it. "We can wait here if turning Cie'th sounds better," she says, but that's not going to happen, because she's not going to let it.

There's silence for a moment, and then Sazh throws up his hands. "I have had enough of this. Where's the way out?!"

"Way out?" Snow says, and huffs a breath. "Who says there was one?" and here it comes, everything he's been building up to for the last however long, since they fought Raines and he vanished into light and crystal and regret.

Fang isn't going to play that game any longer; she's had enough of standing by while those around her turn Cie'th, and she's not going to watch while Snow does something stupid like deny his Focus, no matter how many good intentions he has. It's not going to work - it can't work, because no l'Cie who has ever tried to dodge his Focus has ever managed to do anything but wander the wilds of Pulse for the rest of his life as a Cie'th, and Fang knows that firsthand, can't believe him no matter how much she wants to.

So when the others move forward towards Snow, when Vanille takes his hand and smiles, Fang takes two steps away and crosses her arms.

"Well, count me out."

 

1. (Miracles are things we make for ourselves)

"Vanille?"

"Ready."

She splits apart in blinding light, Vanille's hands tight in her own while every other sense fractures. For long moments she can't think, and then everything coalesces again, and she's not alone. Vanille is with her, and together they open her/their eyes, stretching their arms out with a roar.

She/they can feel Cocoon starting to fall, Eden's dying grasp weakening, and they take several running steps before leaping over the side of Eden's city, falling through the sky at the centre of Cocoon towards the edge. The ground below is splitting apart, red magma bubbling to the surface, and she/they splash through almost without losing any speed.

They are the only ones, now, who can save Cocoon.

She/they burrow towards the edge of the shell, the molten earth around them shuddering as gravity takes hold. They finally breach the edge, lava pouring out, and below them the vast expanse of the Archylte Steppe stretching out in the darkness.

She/they reach out with another roar, stretching out with magic and everything they have, and part of the Steppe just melts, arrowing upwards in a thin spire. They're falling faster now, the shell around and above them totally molten and almost shrieking under the strain. They pull harder, more lava reinforcing the breach, and the spire slams into them, sections on the sides breaking off as Cocoon's fall slows.

She's/they're shuddering themselves, barely able to breathe as they pour all they have, their whole beings into reinforcing the spire, Cocoon slowing further, and then something snaps and she's alone again, Vanille gasping beside her, and then everything shatters into crystal.

It's as much as they can do, but it's enough; Cocoon is safe.

 

+1. (Not even fate can stand in their way)

She opens her eyes.

She's lying on her back, and somewhere to the side she can hear voices, Hope and Vanille, but that's not important - Lightning's leaning over her, kneeling at her side, her face lit with a gentle blue glow - and she's smiling.

"Welcome back," she says softly, and Fang can't help but smile back. She feels - lighter, somehow, all her burdens put aside - they'd saved Cocoon, she remembers that, and if Lightning is here, smiling, then it means everyone else is probably okay. There's no pressing need, no greater concern; no longer anything to hold her back.

"Sorry to keep you waiting," she says.

"It's all right," Lightning says, straightening a little, and offers her a hand.

Fang lifts one of hers - she feels a little tired, but nothing else, nothing that would indicate she'd been crystal for a time - and clasps it, pulling herself up to a sitting position.

"I'm glad you're okay," Fang whispers, much closer to Lightning now that she's mostly upright, and Lightning's smile changes around the edges, something hotter in her gaze that sends a tingle down her spine and sparks an answering warmth low in her stomach.

"I'm glad you're back," Lightning counters just as softly, leaning that little bit closer, and Fang can't help but shiver. Only moments ago for her, she was Ragnarok, draining her strength to save Cocoon; now Lightning is here, and she has a new fire running through her. She lifts her other hand, stroking her fingers down the side of Lightning's cheek, and watches her shiver in turn, eyes darkening. This is something she can have.

"Fang-" Lightning says, tone low, and Fang's smile turns up into a smirk.

"Light," she whispers, voice just as shot, and pulls her in.