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From What We Cannot Hold

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Why does tragedy exist? Because you are full of rage.

Why are you full of rage? Because you are full of grief.

- Anne Carson

 

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Luxerion, 831 AF

Daily Death Toll: 756

(Classified) Total Death Toll Since 500 AF: 80 million+

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Total L’Cie Still Frozen: 3

Total Bhunivelze Researchers Remaining: 1

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I feel it! I feel grief! And pain! I feel anger!

No! No! I will not accept it! I will not allow it!

.

 

“Smile, Vanille,” he says lightheartedly, gently closing the door behind him, balancing the new bouquet alongside all the previous ones that have already wilted. He’s running out of incense to make this room smell like Pulse. “I brought you flowers. You’ve got to tell Fang to turn and look at me.”

 

The first day that he heard a child refer to Bhunivelze as a moon was the beginning of the end.

He supposes it’s inevitable, that people will forget; it has been several dreadfully long centuries, after all, and if you’ve been a child in Bhunivelze for ten years and Luxerion for three hundred, you’d forget Bhunivelze, too. The atmosphere in Bhunivelze had always been gloomy, but now, it’s become utterly permeated by loneliness and sacrifice: the researchers who have secluded themselves often jokingly refer to each other as orphans. He still sees their families occasionally, if they are still alive. He never hangs around for too long, though, lest he lets slip something about the supposed-dead. How’s the mother, where’s the child, is everything all right: the conversations nearly never go past five lines. Most of the time he just ends up collecting memorabilia in the team’s stead, ferrying memories and wedding rings between the decaying earth and the abandoned sky. Three hundred years since the fall of Bhunivelze, the researchers’ still-occupied work desks have come to resemble haunted burial sites, and instead of the Director, he’s become a harbinger of despair. A black bandage around his wrist instead of a yellow one means a death. A striped bandage – multiple deaths. A checkered bandage like a board of chess – does anyone even want to know?

(He spends a few hours or days in the final craze trying to dig graves for them on the surface, long after they’ve failed to leave bodies behind.)

 

“Don’t go looking for trouble, Hope,” Snow warns, discreetly passing him a loaf of bread. A part of the thinner man wonders how the food quality for something created from chaos can even go down, but doesn’t say it out aloud. “Things are getting worse.”

“When are they ever not?” A tired joke. Both their faces are wan. Snow lifts his sleeve, stares down at the snarling arrows of his l’Cie mark. The poor man’s had to summon Shiva five times in the past week.

“I’m just telling you, I want you to stay here with me.”

“I can’t stay in Yusnaan, Snow.”

“I don’t mean Yusnaan. I mean stay. In general.” The blonde’s eyes are piercing. It’s enough to make him gingerly drop her hand. “You know exactly what I mean.”

 

A mob corners him in one of the back alleyways, pinning him against a wall and knocking the scientific instrument from his hands. The dark protective glasses slide past his face and crack against the stone tiles, a small sorry pile in the whole mess. He squints, all-nighter sensitive eyes not used to the burst of sunlight. They punch one eye straight back into darkness.

“Is it really him? Director Hope Estheim?” The voice is a sneer, his title an insult.

He waits patiently. Sometimes someone’d feel pity for him and let him go, satisfied with using him as a punching bag. After all, even those who hate him the most usually want him left alive – God and Hope Estheim are the two things in the world that have a track record for producing miracles.

“What a honey-tongued coward and liar.”

Snow is not coming today. The l’Cie has his own share of issues to attend to, and bless his heart, even if Snow may lose his composure, he’ll never turn into a tyrant. Hope exhales, smothering anger with what’s starting suspiciously to feel like despair. It won’t be long now.

“Why even hate him? Why even keep him alive? God has abandoned him. He’s never been loved by the Gods, never done anything for us –”

The next blow nearly crushes his windpipe, makes him choke on his own blood. He closes his eyes, soundlessly curses the day, and forces the device to release.

The shockwave clears the path; if no one in Luxerion knew of this incident before, they knew now. He needs to get out, before he starts a civil war on the streets. He forces himself to get up, swallow the blood and filth. The eyes staring back at him are defiant and full of centuries-long anger, disgust and disappointment. I can’t die. Not here.

The realization that his people are finally willing to kill hurts, takes away his breath more than the wound itself. The clock is tolling, calling forth all of God’s followers and children. He is unwanted.

“Leave…”

No one moves an inch.

He doesn’t know what he has been expecting from the world: gratitude, or, more paradoxically, faith.

“Leave, or I’ll…” his hands move down again towards the storage packs. The crowd scatters at last, a flurry of commotion and profanities.

Yes. Fear me. The sickness in his heart is threatening to make him throw up. He might as well die choking from his vomit at this point. He squeezes her hands as she leads him out of the clearing, her presence a lifeline. What would they say if they could see her? Call me mad?

“I’m sorry.”

 

I’m doing this…

(For whom?)

(For you.)

He attempts to bandage the wound alone in an abandoned house, wincing as waves of pain shoot up towards his brain. Tears well up suddenly, as he chokes on names that he can remember and names that he can’t. He shouldn’t resent anyone. How could he resent anyone? Everyone has been so brave. Everyone has tried so hard to make it to the next century and the next year.

I’m doing this so all of this would have meant something, the plea echoes within his skull, fourteen then seventeen then twenty-four and twenty-seven, ageless and childlike and so, so pathetic. Just show me a way.

 

He collapses onto the ground right in front of Fang and Vanille’s frozen forms with ears full of Order followers’ renewed chants and redemption songs, and he’s too tired to think shut up.

The irony doesn’t escape him. He’s fighting a war on two fronts, death on one end and eternal life on the other. They are choking sanity out of him, life and confidence and the will to resist God. Their chants are rising, a faith like a sun that dwarfs the glimmer of love in his own chest. A hollow ache is resounding in murmurs and echoes behind his ribs. I want to be saved, too. I just want everyone to live.

If only eternal life wasn’t so fucking conditional.

 

His final steps in Bhunivelze are broken and stumbling, made in haste and vain wishes. He can’t feel his body, though the wounds have begun to crack and bleed. If she’s no longer there… If she’s no longer there…

The door opens. His vision blurs into a heart-shaped face, concerned and lined with fatigue.

“Director – you’re hurt –”

You’re alive. By Cocoon, you’ve alive. He throws his arms around her and pulls her close, never mind the blood still flowing down his neck and staining her clothes. “I’m fine. Sandra, please, you must leave with me.” The incredulity on her face churns his stomach. God laughs. You think you can defeat me? “You’re the last one left.”

“But I have to work on this, Director. If I can somehow crack this code, you can finish the rest on your own –”

“It’s not worth it,” he rasps. Silence falls. She’s lifting a hand to touch his cheek, and he realizes, belatedly, that he must look like he’s about to start crying. “Don’t die for it.”

“But the world, Director,” she argues, even as tears are also beginning to leak from her dark eyelids. “Everybody down on the surface –” she’s getting upset now, her hands balling into fists. “My niece and nephew – you can’t –”

“I’m sorry.”

“Director!” She seizes his shoulders, shakes them the way Vanille used to, and he lets her. “We can’t give up on this, not when we’ve finally gotten this far!”

“I don’t… I don’t mean that.” It’s then that she finally notices the bandage on his hand, the hastily-drawn black streaks through it. “Your family was lost in a cyclops attack two hours ago.”

She stops. He pulls her back into the hug.

“Did they go… quickly?”

What difference would one more lie make? “Yeah.”

A pause before the next sentence. Her voice is coarse. “Are you alright?”

No, don’t ask, not this, not here, not ever. He closes his eyes, counts the seconds. “Why do you all always ask about me? I’m always alright.”

Her voice is cracking, fading away on the wind as she shakes in his grip. All he wants is to protect her. “I’m so, so sorry.”

He knows that when he opens his eyes, he’ll see that he’s hugging air.

 

Burn it all down, his heart whispers, as he trudges his way through multiple chaos infusions in the Yusnaan warehouses, freely letting his Augur’s Quarter access card slip through his numb fingers. Pandemonium hears him, breath hitching in what can only be fal’Cie’s fear as he stops abruptly and slowly runs his hand down the length of rusted pillars, listening to divine breaths and energy vibrations. Even she next to him can only remind him of a time back in Palumpolum, a nutriculture complex and a butterfly-shaped child of Cocoon: they had come so close to slaying the fal’Cie then, and he’s not sure he wants to stop now.

He’s unarmed. There’s only a screwdriver in his storage packs, a maniacal, feverish mind in a labyrinth lost for thought and words. His lips curl up into a mockery of a smile. It’s when he’s pushed into a corner that he is the most dangerous.

Don’t do it, Hope, she pleads without her voice, an edge of God’s concern creeping into her visage. He senses her presence probing the rabbit holes of his memories, scavenging for something Lightning Farron should know. People have enough reasons to hate us, don’t you think?

I have enough reasons to hate you, don’t you think? He shrugs, smiling widely and baring his teeth, before brusquely pulling her in for a kiss. They’ve somehow reached the Wildlands by the time he finally breaks from her lips.

 

He clicks the buttons into place for the last time, severs for good the ground connection to the one grand secret he’s held for over three hundred years. Up now to Bhunivelze, in every way that counts. Although he’s traveled this path countless times by himself, the loneliness has never quite hit this hard. Is it because there’s no more false hope? Is it because he’s walking willingly to his death?

Well, if anyone deserves to be hammered into stardust…

He laughs at the utter farce of it all, the irony, the meaninglessness. God wants me. That one final good look in the mirror, the telltale flickers of gold behind pale green irises – desires and nightmares have finally come together and made sense. The God of the Cathedral is known to possess a youthful face and emerald eyes. Why wouldn’t you just reveal this to me sooner? Why don’t you have a heart?

Hysterical shouting at gods have never gotten humans anywhere.

Imagination dreams boldly of throwing spells at the creator, fira and thundara and poison, and he chuckles quietly to himself, remembering inert time gates and charred capsules. Waves of chaos have begun to encroach upon the shores of Yusnaan and the Wildlands, and sooner or later, it’d be visible from the North Station of Luxerion. If God wants a new world –

It all comes in a rush.

Give my friends back. Give back Vanille, give back Fang… and set her free. The world spins in black and white, the trees and ruins pawns and knights. He cannot crush the phantom by his side with his weight just as he cannot banish the God with the power of his mind. Don’t… Don’t let her continue to die.

Is that all?

The Queen’s gambit: two queen-protected white pawns against one in black. He turns away to stare down one last time at the world, ignores God in his fancy. It’s time to say goodbye.

I’m sorry.

I never quite realized… how beautiful this world is.

 

How do you even address a God?

He steps forward, hesitant-awed-hollow, the shell-shocked husk of a failed general. This world hasn’t seen surrender terms for a millennium; gods and fal’Cie have all gone for total war and left only wastelands in their wake. If what this God has been cooing in his ear is correct – if this has been meant to be all along –

Would there even be a waste land at the end of this, a home to return to?

(the other unsaid question: do you even know what you’ll become?)

The chill freezes his breath, turns it into whispers of light and snow. Up here, unknown and unblessed, thirteen cycles of thirteen years from year one thousand, he’s surrounded by ghosts. Their gaze follows him, turns as he approaches the central monitor with the rose-haired goddess of the dead. God’s mother, daughter, fear, beloved – that’s what he’ll know, and so that’s what the real her will become. That’s what these ghosts would want her to be, anyway, having been taken into the chaos by her hands –

(You’ll be more than that, won’t you?)

The phantom turns, wanting. His adoring expression doesn’t waver, but he sees through her, remembers light with the final skips of his heartbeat. I love you, I love you, I love you.

Hope, she inquires, stepping away from him at last. He doesn’t listen. Are you ready?

Pain. So much pain. But that one wish, that one prayer, more radiant than crystal and more powerful than God…

Light, tell me… is this… how you felt when you walked up to that abandoned throne?

 

Come, Bhunivelze, he says finally, opening his arms above the heart of a Bhunivelze that is and will always be his, raising his head defiantly under a ceiling of stars drowned out by despair and chaos. The God stirs in his cosmic presence, scintillating-intense-wanting. The invisible l’Cie mark etched above his pulse once again feeds on human blood, yearns now for his whole soul.

The God will consume him. He has no illusions of mercy and grandeur. His soul will be thrown carelessly into the chaos; if he is lucky, light will shatter his heart into a million pieces. Pain will be as breathing, loss as heartbeat. To step into the radiance of divinity; never forget that you will burn.

The last few exhales are filled with longing, the stain of love and sin. He produces something from his hands and wraps all his sins tightly around his neck. Memories flicker by in a flash, laughter and embrace and human belief. There are things that he must remember. There are things in this universe worth dying for.

This is not the end of the war. It’s the beginning of the next one.

God’s satisfaction looms. The first touch illuminates and warms his skin; the second one incinerates his final words in a searing supernova down to the nerve endings of his fingertips. The phoenix always chooses to die; it is only through its faith that it gains the right to rise. His obstinacy spits out the words, demands the price. Let us form a covenant.

God’s will reverberate back in his own tone within his own skull, hurling him, as a comet, straight into the next two centuries of perpetual night. The worlds are mine.

 

But I have looked too long into human eyes.

Reduce me now to ashes – night, like a black sun.

- Marina Tsvetaeva

Chapter Text

The more one hesitates before the door, the more estranged one becomes.

- Franz Kafka

Wasn’t that the definition of home? Not where you are from, but where you are wanted.

- Abraham Verghese

 

10:45, Platform 6, Paris.

11:05, Platform 12, Zurich.

11:20, Platform 17, Amsterdam.

Attention please! Please note that this is a platform alteration for the 11:08 Northern Rail service to Toulouse. This train will now depart from platform 2. Platform 2 for the 11:08 Northern Rail service to: Toulouse…

As the automatic announcer continues to drone through the day’s schedule, a young woman steps gingerly into the arrival hall, peering at the sound and fury with wary yet not unamused cerulean eyes. Her figure is lithe, her features seemingly relaxed; although she’s dressed simply in a pastel blouse and pants, her brilliant head of soft rose hair is turning more than a few heads. The style is unique, the color’s pale but radiant, and even though one longs to gaze at it for long enough to remember something they’ve long lost, they just can’t

I’m… home?

The young woman ponders her own rhetorical question, attempts to taste the meaning of it on her tongue. Her expression is stoic and just a little tense as she briskly approaches one of the LED screens, clicking through several buttons to search through the general directory.

The city’s train station isn’t the largest in the region by any means, yet it’s still quite heavily utilized, and the train she’s arrived from has been full. As opposed to stations at nearby cities such as Lyon and Marseille, the arrival hall here boasts more lifestyle shops aimed towards young women and tourists, and the woman smiles somewhat idly to herself at this, recalling fleetingly a home from many centuries ago. She finds – then picks up a small cup of latte from – the closest coffee shop, the white foamy top rich and seemingly still steaming under her scrutiny, and squints at the exit of the station, the just-a-shade-too-bright late afternoon light. A small sip. And then two. The phone rings in the pocket. It’s a call from her sister.

“Ah. Yes, I arrived safely. On time, too. Don’t worry – I’ll just take the bus to the apartment… Love you too. Don’t stay up too late grading. Later.”

How long has it been? A few months? A year?

It’s small walk from the exit to the closest bus station. She walks quickly, looking up every other second as she checks her phone for new texts. She’s dozed off a little on the final leg of the train, and perhaps there have been new messages…

Oh, and there are always going to be those that have already been repeatedly read…

Have you arrived yet? Call me when you get off! We haven’t talked since yesterday.

The journalist girl came to visit us :eyes: :eyes: She sounded super disappointed that she still hasn’t been able to find you! D:

How you been, Lightning? Yeul’s curious too. We should catch up :ok_hand:

Dajh’s doing great! Took him to a doctor just in case, said everything seems just fine with him. Got a little annoyed with me if you know what I mean.

The sounds of accelerating wheels. She stops, waiting for the pedestrian crossing light. A tour bus slowly pulls past her, the bright red open top vehicle full of curious tourist families. A few children wave at her, giggling with cutely braided hair and exaggerated expressions. She offers the smallest of smiles back at them.

Thank you so much for coming, Light. That was truly wonderful, and I’m really glad we got to see everything during the summertime… have a safe trip back home, alright? Say hi to Serah and Snow for me. I’ll send the wines shortly to the address you gave me…

… And no more texts after that.

There’s an anxious kind of determination in her walk as the light shifts and she follows through.

… I’ll need to shower. And then unpack. Check if Hope’s package has already arrived. Are there bills that need to be paid? They’ll expect me to come to work tomorrow. At least the weekend is coming up.

Having read through her calendar one last time – she’ll need to visit a few places and stock up on a few things, but there’s nothing that can’t wait until tomorrow – she tucks the phone back into her pocket and leans gingerly against the glass pane of the bus stop. She’s the only one waiting – but that’s just as well, for she appreciates the peace and quiet as well as the prospect of finding a window seat. The bus should come in the next three minutes or so, and in twenty minutes, she’ll be in her room and on her bed, stretching against the clean-smelling sheets and resting her sore body against the soft mattress.

Her travels are finally at an end – at some point, even the knight or the savior has got to go home.

 

She still remembers that first night, when this life was first thrust upon her from the glimmering depths of Cosmogenesis: she had sprung up from her bed with a pounding heart and trembling hands, and when those shaking fingers had not been able to immediately enclose themselves around the hilt of a sword, she had panicked. “Serah,” she had cried out desperately, every fiber of her being burning with fear even though she did not understand just why her stomach had suddenly been tied into a thousand knots. “… Serah? Are you there?”

“I am here,” a familiar voice echoed back, and if the suspension of loss had been broken at the sound of her sister’s voice, the suspension of disbelief only doubled down, pressing upon her like an invisible, yet impossibly heavy weight. She only realized that she had been holding her breath when her sister’s body collided forcefully against her own in the doorway and nearly knocked all the wind out of her. “Sis… are you okay?”

“… Serah,” she repeated, and this time, the world seemed to settle into place, solidify and set. They were standing next to each other in the darkness, Serah’s features barely perceptible under the faint moonlight spilling through the window. Her sister stared back at her fondly yet a little bit too understandingly as she reached up to touch her sister’s cheeks, her hair. The tingly warmth felt like it could almost burn, but she welcomed – and shamelessly savored – the sensation. The question fell from her lips before she had had the time to ponder it over. “Is this – are we – real?”

“We are real, Claire,” her sister reassured, although she couldn’t tell why Serah sounded sadder than confused. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Why did her very own name sound wrong? “You – you said Claire –”

There was a strange glint and a hint of hesitation in Serah’s eyes as they peered up at her own. “Lightning?”

She stilled, her muscles suddenly relaxing as something within her gave away. That word – that name – had also sounded wrong, even though the sound of it had resonated somewhere deep underneath her, a drop of water on a seeming ocean of yearning buried in the very core of her being. “Serah. I’m not making sense. I just – must have had bad dreams.” Everything remained hazy – crystal edges – green lights – the hardened golden radiance of a god. She couldn’t put a face or a name to any of it. “I thought I had lost you…”

She would have sworn her sister’s face had grown, if possible, even sadder. “Do you… remember?”

Remember? Remember… what? Don’t tell me you actually –”

Serah seemed to ponder over her thoughts a bit, closing her eyes for a moment before reopening them and slowly enunciating her syllables. “Snow Villiers. Noel Kreiss. Caius Ballad. Do you remember any of those names?”

“I…” Although nothing came to her mind, she could taste the strange familiarity of those names, something struggling to be set free on the very edge of her memory and identity. The fact that Serah seemed to know things she didn’t disturbed her; the fact that she apparently was supposed to know about those things made it even worse. “Did I get into an accident? Got hit on the head or something?”

“Maybe… just a little bit, but don’t worry, it wasn’t your fault at all.” Serah’s chuckle was light, if a little wistful. She brushed a loose strand of hair from her older sister’s face and kissed her gently on the cheek. “We got into… something, that’s true, but everything will be all right now. You’ll remember everything soon. Why don’t you go back to get some more sleep? It’s, like, two in the morning. I could… sleep in your room with you, if you’d like.”

“Whatever happened was really bad, wasn’t it.” It wasn’t a question.

“It’ll all be okay now, I promise.” When Serah saw that Claire still held that appraising look, the younger girl smiled and shrugged a little sheepishly. “Swear by Mom.”

“I’m going to make a cup of something before heading back to bed.”

“There’s chamomile in the living room.”

“Could you… actually sleep in my room? You can take my bed. I’ll crash on the couch.”

“Sis!”

“You suggested it. I crash on the couch all the time, anyway.”

 

Those names had come back to her soon enough. In her dreams she pieced together Snow’s antics, Noel’s affinity with the shadows, Caius’ look of utter confidence and despair as he plunged his sword into his own heart. The peanut-shaped house she once lived in with Serah floated back into her memory, and she remembered the smell of Pulse wildflowers from before the fall of Cocoon, not to say the culinary delights of the Glutton Quarter of Yusnaan. Snow, Hope, Fang, Vanille. And there was Sazh and his child, laughing together as they chased the chocobo chick…

“When did you remember?” She asked Serah a few days later at breakfast, poking at her egg a little moodily as the other girl poured out milk for the two of them. “You sounded like you had known it for a good while –”

“Not that long, actually. I’d say everything came back to me probably a month before they came back to you.” Serah tilted her head as if in deep thought. “It’s probably just a seer thing.”

The fear came back to Claire as if she had been hit by a train. “Do you still see anything?”

“No? I haven’t seen anything, anyway. I don’t know what is there to see. This is a new world, and in any case, the goddess has passed.” The look’s on Serah’s face was just a little bit too sympathetic. “You also look pretty human to me now, Sis.”

“Yeah? I feel human well enough, but I haven’t been fighting anything.” Claire exhaled a breath of relief. The truth be told, there were probably a few people at work she wouldn’t mind fighting, but she wasn’t going to risk physical confrontations just over a few sarcastic comments and digs at her physical appearance or work capabilities. She had not fought for a new world just to spend her new life here being mad at a few people. “Have you… found Snow?”

Serah looked away discreetly. “He lives relatively close by – I’ve found him over the internet – but I figured I shouldn’t contact him until you’ve at least remembered everything. I felt like suddenly getting involved with him would, um, trigger your memories. And I wanted those things to come back to you on their own.”

“He hasn’t been looking for you?” Although Claire was amused and grateful, she couldn’t help but let a hint of indignant disapproval color her voice.

“He probably has! But you know Snow, he’s not the most competent at more sophisticated social media stuff, and um…” Serah trailed off for a moment before re-meeting her sister’s eyes. To her surprise, she realized Serah was wearing what seemed like a perfect replica of her Cocoon-shaped pendant. “I think he’s probably waiting for me. To make the first move, so to speak.”

Say what you want, Lightning. Nothing’s gonna change the fact that I swore to make Serah happy and instead I couldn’t even keep her from dying. She winced at the image of crystalline spikes breaking out of Snow’s skin, his eyes empty and haunted in the hell of C’iethdom. “… Yeah, I can see it.” Did she see it, too? “Did you see what… Lumina saw?”

“… What did Lumina see?”

Oh. “Uh, she just hung out with everyone. I didn’t know if you saw anything like you did through your crystal tear because… you were inside Lumina, were you not?”

Serah appeared pensive. She took a mandarin orange from the fruit plate and began peeling it in earnest. “No, I don’t… remember much of it. I think being… my state did not quite help with that. But I do remember your promise to me, and sis, why were you so silly –”

“Serah!”

“You knew what I meant! I wanted you to remember me, but I wanted you to live. I went through my entire journey hoping to be reunited with you in a happier, brighter world. I guess Noel, Hope and I didn’t exactly end up saving the world, but I didn’t want you to blame yourself for it, either! I had no regrets… still don’t. But I’m glad Bhunivelze woke you up from your stasis. I wouldn’t have wanted you to simply melt away into oblivion with me at the end of the world.”

A moment of silence, broken only by the clock on the wall monotonously counting seconds. Claire pretended she hadn’t heard the heartfelt outburst – simply stuffed more food into her mouth – but her ribs ached hollow and there were what suspiciously felt like tears behind her eyes. When the words finally came out a minute or so later, they were muffled. “… Serah, I’m sorry.”

Serah’s eyes softened. As Claire stared, Serah reached out into the drawer – pulled out a box of chocolates – and placed a few in front of her older sister. “I’m sorry I couldn’t be there for you. I know Valhalla must have been next to impossible – Noel and I were on the brink of breakdown just fighting Caius once, I can’t even imagine how hard it must have been for you, with the weight of the world on your shoulders.” A short pause. “And Lumina, too… I really wish I could have seen it, been there with that piece of your heart. I would have known it was you right away, but, you know, if I had been there and aware, perhaps you would have been less lonely –”

“Serah. Can we… not go into all of it right now?”

“… Sis.”

“I… I know it’s unfair and all, and you just want to tell me what’s important, but I just don’t really want to talk about it right now. Give me… some time.”

“… Okay.” Serah looked stricken and torn. “… I suppose maybe Snow wouldn’t want to talk, either. He’s also been through a lot. And I don’t even know for sure that… he remembers. I… I just want to love both of you, to understand everything you’ve gone through, but –”

“He’ll remember. He’s too stubborn to forget. And I think he’ll eventually open up to you, because as much as I used to despise the man, he truly loves you.” In her mind’s eye she spied Serah and Snow going on thrill rides in amusement parks, Snow clasping his arms around Serah as they wait in line for snacks and ice cream; doubtlessly he’d just want to spoil her, love her, and never again let her out of his sight, and how could she judge him, when she wanted that exact same thing? “He – we – I think we just want to enjoy your smile, for a while. Know that you are here. Know that we’re all alive. We gave up a lot of things for this happy ending – the least we can do to honor it is to enjoy this life.”

“Sis. Did I… upset you?”

Claire wondered just how pale – or flushed – she must had appeared. “… No.”

“We’ll… still have your blessing, right?”

“Of course.”

Serah seemed as if she had wanted to say something, but backpedaled at the last second to change the topic. Claire remotely registered that this talk had gone far less well than her sister had originally anticipated. “… Are you going to try to find the others? Fang and Vanille? Noel and Yeul? I’m sure even if you don’t end up talking about anything hard or painful… Hope would still want to meet you again.”

“Serah?”

“… Sis?”

Claire made a point to unwrap a piece of chocolate and slowly chew on it. “I’m not upset, I promise, but would you mind if I decide to… go on a trip for a few months?”