Toward the Sun
Gran Pulse is beautiful.
It's nothing at all like the hell it's compared to, up in Cocoon. She doesn't know what she was expecting, but whatever it was, it wasn't this; the grass on the Steppe lush and green under her feet, the sky bluer than anything she's ever seen, deep and real, not some fal'Cie illusion, and the sun brushing warm against her shoulders.
Gran Pulse is beautiful and wild and free, and it makes perfect sense that this is where Fang's from, because if she had to choose just a few words to describe Fang, those would be the ones.
She spends probably more time than she should thinking about Fang, if she's honest. But it's difficult to concentrate sometimes when she glances over and sees Fang watching her in turn, a searing heat in her eyes that sends shivers through her.
It's unspoken, this thing between them. They both know the score; everything hangs in the balance, everything, and there's no time for any distractions. No time for the flutter in her stomach when she looks at Fang, and sees her grinning back, hair wild around her face.
So she buries the feelings, buries them underneath everything else; the fear for Serah, the despair if they don't make it in time, the anger at Barthandelus and the fal'Cie. She has to be strong, has to be focussed.
Serah's counting on her.
Oerba is heartbreaking.
It's absolutely quiet, covered in crystal ash that deadens all noise, even their footsteps along the crumbling roads. Fang had spoken of flowers, a blaze of colour bringing the town to life, but compared with that Oerba is practically a grave, grey and dead.
And then they discover the Cie'th.
She can see Fang tearing into pieces as each new corner they round hides yet another wandering Cie'th, a tortured soul who might once have been someone she knew. Fang's putting on a brave face, but it's just an act and she can see right through it to the wounds beneath.
She aches for her, wants to soothe her hurts and hold her in her grief, but even if Fang would let her, she can't, there's no time; the fal'Cie is here, and then they're flying blind into Cocoon, the fate of the world on their shoulders.
There's nothing she can do except wait.
Cocoon is saved.
Serah and Dajh are here, smiling in the sunlight, and in the distance she can see transport ships from Cocoon, ferrying residents saved from the monsters down to the surface of Gran Pulse.
She should be happy, even manages a genuine smile for Serah and Snow, finally reunited. Barthandelus and Orphan are gone, Cocoon was saved; they've won. And yet-
Fang's absence feels like she's missing a part of herself, like there's a hole, right under her sternum, like she can't take in a full breath of air, because if she does she'll crumple, break into pieces like Fang did in Orphan's chamber.
They're alive, but Fang's gone.
She never knew that winning could feel so much like losing.
The chamber glows blue.
It's taken her two months to find it, to find them; the final resting place of Fang and Vanille, deep in the heart of the crystal pillar.
Fang looks different in crystal - a blurry version of herself, pale and washed out. It's not fair, that she's been reduced to this, all her vitality and presence diluted into a crystal mould, frozen for eternity.
She sits next to her, feet flat on the floor and arms resting on her knees.
"I never told you," she says. "And now I might never get the chance. So stupid-"
Her hands tighten on her knees, knuckles white as she stares fixedly at her toes. "We did what we had to, we kept our eyes on the mission and we did it, we saved the world. Well. You saved the world, you and Vanille."
She sighs, dropping her chin onto her arms and closing her eyes. "But I-" her voice rasps off, and she clears her throat. "But I never told you, and I regret that every day. And it's not much use to me now, but if I don't do this I'm going to shatter, and I don't know that I would ever put myself back together."
She swallows. "Fang, I - I know in the end we didn't have much time together, but I fell for you so badly right from the moment I saw you swoop in on the back of Shiva, back in Palumpolum. You were my at my side the whole way, and now that you're gone I, I don't know how to function without you."
Her throat constricts, tears pricking at the corners of her vision. All of a sudden, it's more difficult to talk. "Serah says that I need to grieve for you so that I can let you go. Says that I need to tell you everything I couldn't say, but I don't even know how to begin. How can I let you go when I never even had you in the first place? I wanted you so deeply, but you were never mine."
"I was always yours," Fang rasps, and her head snaps up, eyes open and staring, but it's real, she's real, weakly trying to push herself up from the crystal floor.
She doesn't- She's can't-
There's no conscious thought involved; one moment she's sitting next to Fang, the next she's wrapped around her, face buried in her neck and legs tangled together.
"Lightning, shhhh," Fang says, and one shaking hand comes up to gently stroke through her hair. It doesn't make any sense, that Fang should be the one just returned from crystal sleep and yet here she is the one falling apart, but she feels like Fang's arms around her are the only things holding her together, like if she stops breathing in the scent of Fang's hair she's going to completely shatter.
"Don't leave me again," she rasps out, voice almost completely gone.
"I will never willingly leave you," Fang whispers into her hair, and her arms tighten around her. "Light, I swear."
She breathes in deep, concentrates on the moment - the clean scent of Fang's hair, tinged with the Steppe breeze; Fang's hands, one splayed on her back, the other tangled in her hair; Fang's body pressed against her, warmth gradually seeping into her.
This isn't a dream, this is real. Fang's really here, and she's never going to leave again.
And in the hole under her sternum, Lightning feels that fluttery feeling grow.