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The Kids Are Alright

“Do you think,” he asks, “everything is different now?”

“Maybe,” she says again, so many maybes, “but it doesn’t matter. I’ll take care of you.”



In which Hope is bitten and becomes a vampire. Lightning tries to pick up the pieces. Also, the real hero of the story is Sazh. Spoilers for Gran Pulse.

19,460 words of shameless vampire!fic. It's pretty much my magnum opus.

Part One




Two days later, she grabs Snow and Fang, pulls them into the next room. Vanille follows them, hesitating in the doorway, and when Lightning says, “come on,” she rushes over, stands a little behind Fang.

“I,” Lightning says. Thinks about it, tries it again. “I’m taking Hope back to Cocoon.”

Fang doesn’t say anything, but Snow erupts. “What are you talking about? Take him back to Cocoon? Are you crazy?”

“I’m taking him back,” Lightning repeats, and Snow yells, “that’s exactly what Dysley wants!”

Snow closes his eyes, breathing hard, and Lightning watches him. When he looks at her again, his lower jaw is shoved out, a picture of stubbornness. “If you go back, you’re walking right into his hands.”

“I don’t care,” Lightning says.

“Lightning,” he snaps, “he’ll use you to destroy Cocoon.”

Snow is already standing right in front of Lightning, trying to tower over her. She steps forward, slams her hands into his chest. Pushes him back hard, and when he staggers but stays upright, she pushes him harder.

Listen to me,” she snarls. “I. Don’t. Care.” Snow’s back is against the wall, and she can’t push him any further. She settles for punching his shoulder, leaves her fist there. She can feel his body move as he breathes. “Hope’s dying, and I’m going to take him back and fix things.”

“What are you even talking about?!”

“What am I--” Lightning tightens her fist, feels her knuckles grind against the joint of Snow’s shoulder. He winces, and she tightens her fist again. She doesn’t know what she’s supposed to say, or how she’s supposed to say it; how to explain that she can see Hope’s ribs, even through Snow’s stupid shirt that he’s still borrowing. Or that his wrists look so small, or that his face looks thinner now. Or that his lips are white now, and that when he’s half-asleep, he’ll say, I’m thirsty, I’m thirsty, like it’s something Lightning can fix. She doesn’t know what to say, because there are too many things to say, and so she looks at Vanille and Vanille looks away.

“He’s starving to death,” Vanille says. She’s looking at the floor, avoiding all of their eyes. “You can tell, if you look at him. He looks--” She looks up at Fang, reaches out and touches Fang’s elbow with her fingers. “You remember, Fang?”

Lightning looks at Vanille’s fingers on Fang’s arm, watches Vanille pull away. When Snow moves, sliding sideways along the wall to get away from Lightning’s fist, Lightning looks back at him.

“He’s getting worse. He hasn’t been able to keep any food down, and now he can’t keep down water.” Lightning licks her lips, then presses her bottom lip against her teeth. “If I take him to Cocoon--”

“You’ll feed him humans?” Fang asks. Lightning shrugs, says, “if it’ll work.”

“Does he know what you’re planning to do?” Snow grabs Lightning’s wrist, lets go when Lightning starts to pull away. “Lightning. Does he know what you’re planning to do?”

“Of course not,” she hisses. “What do you think I could say? He wouldn’t go-- He wouldn’t do anything. He’d be happy to sit here and wait to die, and you would let him--”

“That’s not fair,” Snow says, so she says, “then help me.”

Snow leaves then, pushes past Fang and Vanille with probably more force than he needs. Lightning can hear him stomping through the next room, then clattering down the stairs. “Idiot,” she says, so she won’t cry out of frustration, “idiot brat.”

“I’ll talk to him,” Vanille says before Lightning can take two steps toward the door. “I’m going with you, so I’ll talk to him.”

“Fine,” Lightning says, and she watches Vanille run out of the room, chasing after Snow. She stares at the door for a few more minutes, then looks at Fang. Fang is looking back at her, arms crossed and chin lifted high, and Lightning feels her shoulders begin to rise. “And you?” she asks, lifting her chin in turn.

“I go where Vanille goes. You know that.” Fang smiles a little, and it’s crooked, higher on the left side of her face. “What you’re doing, I think it’s good. I’d do the same thing for Vanille.”

“I know,” Lightning says.

“She would hate me for it, though.”

Again, Lightning says, “I know.”

“He’ll hate you, too.”

Lightning licks her lips, feels a loose flap of skin. Bites it, feels it tear. There’s a little blood in her mouth, on the tip of her tongue. “It will be worth it,” she says, and tries to think that it’s true.

Snow comes back when Lightning is repacking the supplies with Fang. Snow stands next to them, looking down at them for a while, and Fang finally snorts, gets up and leaves. Lightning watches her leave the building, probably to find Vanille; a bit of her wants to follow.

“He’s really dying,” Snow says. Lightning looks at him, follows his gaze. Watches Hope sleep on a bunk, the way he’s been sleeping almost all day; he had slept most of yesterday, too, and had only looked worse when she had made him get up for a dinner that left him retching and spitting. He will probably look even worse tonight, and even worse tomorrow. She wonders how many tomorrows he can look worse for.

“Yeah,” Lightning says, then adds, “hopefully.” When Snow kicks her leg, she shifts away, says, “his brand is still there. I think-- It looks like it’s opening.”

“If he becomes a Cieth...” Snow takes a few steps toward Hope, then stops. Moves back next to Lightning, close enough that she can feel his hand just above her neck.

“I don’t know what will happen if he turns Cieth. Fang said she’s never really heard of anything--” Lightning yanks the last strap of her pack closed; she pulls too hard and the strap snaps back, whipping across her hand. It hurts. “Anything like this happening before.”

Snow looks as frightened as she feels. He doesn’t run away, though. Just looks at Hope for a long time, then hunkers down next to Lightning, his elbows propped on his knees, hands grazing the floor. “Have you talked to Sazh yet?”

“Of course.” Lightning licks her lips, presses her bottom lip against her teeth. There’s still the tang of blood in her mouth, from when she tore the skin off her lip, and her lip feels swollen and tender. “We talked about it last night. He noticed--” she jerks a thumb back towards Hope, but keeps her head bowed so she doesn’t have to see him. “Yesterday, I think.”

“And he’s coming?”

Lightning nods quickly, feels a little lightheaded. “Yeah, he’s coming.”

“I can--” Snow clears his throat loudly, breathes, clears it again. “I can tell Hope, if you want me to.”

It takes Snow a long time to wake Hope up-- long enough that Lightning makes it over, too, standing just behind Snow. She rests her hands on her hips because it feels too awkward to let her arms hang loose. Her palms are slick with sweat, and they slide off her hips; she fists her hands, rests her fists on her hips, and waits for Snow to wake Hope up.

When Hope finally drags himself upwards, rubbing his eyes and wincing against the sunlight, he looks very, very normal; very, very human; like a very sick kid. His lips have faded to the same color as his face, and they’re chapped. The circles beneath his eyes are bigger and darker, and his eyes are more fever-bright than they were last night.

“Hey, Hope,” Snow says, soft and gentle. As soft and gentle as Lightning has ever heard him talk, the late nights he sat with Serah on the couch, when Lightning stayed up late in the kitchen, filling out reports and eavesdropping, because she was never able to make Serah laugh like that. “You awake?”

Hope nods slowly, cants dangerously to the side. Snow jerks forward, grabs Hope before Hope can careen too far to the side, and Lightning edges closer, fists tighter on her hips. When Hope finally shakes Snow off, he’s leaning against the wall, his head propped against the post of the bunkbed.

“I’m fine,” Hope lies, “just tired.”

“I know,” Snow says, and Snow looks back at Lightning, pursing his lips. Lightning looks back at him, looks away. Shifts a little, and waits for Snow to get on with it. “Hope, you’re pretty sick.”

“I’m not,” Hope says, “I’m just tired--” and Snow interrupts, voice rising a little. More than Lightning ever heard his voice rise with Serah.

“You’re sick, Hope. You lost-- You lost a lot of blood, and you’re in pretty bad shape right now. If you got an, an infection, or something, then. We think it’s best if we go back to Cocoon for a while. Just a. Just a while.”

“Because of people-- Because people are there.” Hope is surging up on the bed and the smell of ozone is snapping through the air like the smell of fear. The hair on the back of Lightning’s neck is rising, and the hair on her arms, too. “I don’t want to-- I’m not. I’m not what you--” Hope breathes in, a long, shuddering breath, and the hair on Lightning’s arms rises higher. “Not what you think.”

Snow does soothing better than Lightning; he’s moved to sitting on the bed, like Hope isn’t half a moment from throwing panicked magic through the room. Snow reaches out, pats the mattress next to him, and Lightning shuffles forward, perches on the edge. She can feel her tongue rising up in the back of her mouth, closing off her throat, and the ozone smell in the room is making her cringe.

“We don’t think you’re anything, Hope,” Snow says, and he reaches out, punches Hope’s knee. It’s insane, makes Lightning want to flinch and roll her eyes at the same time. She settles for closing her eyes, tucking her head down. Tries not to pull magic into the palms of her hands. “We just think, maybe a doctor or something. In case, you know.”

“Light?” Hope asks. Lightning opens her eyes, looks at the bend of Hope’s knee. She tries to blow her hair out of her eyes, hopes that her face looks calm enough. It must, because the ozone smell is starting to fade, and the tension of magic is lessening, just a little.

“I want you to come to Cocoon with me.” Want, because that’s the word that always got Serah to break, to give in and do what Lightning needed her to do.

“Do you--” Hope moves, makes the springs of the bed squeal. “You won’t make me do anything I don’t want to? You promise?”

“I promise,” she lies, and Snow shoves his knee against hers, looks at her like she’s a monster. She feels like one, just a little. “Nothing you don’t want.”

“I don’t believe you,” Hope says, but he takes her hand when she holds it up, lets her lead him from the bed. It’s enough for her: the bad guy’s role always needs more players.

They leave just before dusk, and no one says it’s because of Hope, that Hope’s skin burns too quickly, too easily. Hope drags behind them, slow and a little clumsy, and Lightning doesn’t really know what to do. Doesn’t know if she should hang back with him, or if she should ignore him. She settles for an uneasy medium, lagging back far enough that she’s in the middle of the group, walking next to Vanille and Fang.

Vanille looks a little brighter, a little happier, and every step that takes Oerba further away makes her look a little lighter. Fang looks much the same, like something is falling from her shoulders with every two paces. Lightning wants to ask them, wants to know the name of every person they loved five hundred years before. She wants to know that there’s someone else who’s lost everything, and doesn’t know how to keep moving (but somehow, does so, one step after another). When she looks at them, though, she thinks that maybe it’s because they have each other, and Lightning had that; after her parents, she had Serah, and Serah had her. Now Serah has Snow, and Lightning is still stuck dragging behind, feeling stupid and immature and like such a brat some times.

“It’s not too bad,” Fang says suddenly, and Lightning looks from her to Vanille, waits for Vanille to respond. Only realizes when Vanille looks back at her that Fang was talking to her.

“What isn’t?” she asks dumbly, and Fang says, “everything. Hope, Oerba. It’ll all turn out.”

Lightning wants to believe it-- desperately, desperately wants to believe it. There is so much that she wants to believe-- that Hope will be okay, that Cocoon will stay in the sky. That Serah, beautiful, silly, wonderful Serah, will wake up one day.

When she hears Serah’s laughter, she feels the world fall out from under her feet.

Serah looks like-- like her. Like beautiful, silly, wonderful Serah. Serah, Serah, Serah-- she looks just like she always did, always will, and she is all Lightning has (and all Lightning has ever wanted, just her baby sister, happy and there and alive). Lightning wants to hug her, kiss her, touch her and know that she’s real. Lightning’s feet, though, won’t move, and her knees feel as though she is shaking. She never knew that happiness could be so terrifying.

“I didn’t think you’d come back,” Serah says, and her hands are behind her back, she’s looking down like she’s trying to keep a secret (beautiful Serah, silly Serah, wonderful, wonderful, wonderful Serah). She never could though, not when they were kids, and not now. She looks up, smiles at them all, and Lightning stumbles forward a few steps, until she’s shoulder to shoulder with Snow.

“Serah,” Snow says, and Lightning wants to repeat it after him, wants to cry. Her mouth is dry, her throat hurts.

“I thought,” Serah says, twisting her foot along the ground, such a kid, “that you wouldn’t come back to Cocoon. I thought that, maybe, you didn’t understand.”

Lightning is aware of too many things. The way Serah is tracing patterns on the ground with her toe, the way Snow is trembling beside her. Fang and Vanille and Sazh, clustered beside them. Hope, standing right behind her like he’s hiding. The sun is sinking behind Serah, throwing a halo over her hair. Somewhere, a bird is screaming. There is too much, and not enough, and not all the screaming of the world could drown out Serah’s next words.

“I thought you wouldn’t destroy Cocoon.”

Beautiful, silly, wonderful Serah. Lightning closes her eyes, feels something rise in the back of her throat. She can’t move, can’t speak-- can’t even open her eyes, because she doesn’t want to see Serah’s face, doesn’t want to see Serah trace stupid pictures in the ground crystal.

“What are you talking about?” Snow asks, and Lightning feels him step away from her, moving towards Serah. “We’re trying to save Cocoon.”

“Save Cocoon?” Serah laughs, a pretty little laugh, and it sounds cold. Lightning bites back a whimper, and listens to her baby sister. Serah’s voice sounds a thousand times too loud. “I brought you together so you could destroy Cocoon. You understand, don’t you, Snow? You have to do it to save everyone.”

“Serah--”

“You promised,” Serah’s little voice says, like it used to say late at night, when Lightning was in the kitchen and she could hear Serah in the living room, talking to that stupid boyfriend Lightning could never approve of, “that you’d be my hero. Snow, you promised.”

Stop it.” Lightning surprises herself, flinches back as she says it. The words feel like pieces of glass in her throat, and she thinks she may bleed. She breathes in, a sharp breath that nearly chokes her, and says again as she opens her eyes, “stop it, Serah.”

Serah’s face looks hurt, like it’s about to crumple. Her mouth opens, her eyes widen, and she holds out her hands, like every time they had a stupid fight over a stupid thing (sweaters and earrings and whose turn it was to do the dishes).

“Lightning,” she says, like an apology or a plea, “you can’t hurt me. You love me too much.”

And it’s true, truer than anything else that Lightning knows. She would do anything-- will do anything-- to keep Serah from turning and walking away. To keep Serah from crumpling into the crystal dust that covers Oerba. Lightning can feel her knees shaking, from fear or pain or a deep, aching love, and she tightens her hands into fists, lifts her chin.

“I don’t understand,” she says, a blast to all of her pride, and Serah smiles brightly at her, says, “you never do, Claire.”

And then Serah’s face does crumple, melting into Dysley’s. A trick, all a stupid trick, and Lightning wants to bury her face into her hands and sob, wants to tear Dysley’s face from his skull, wants to watch the entire fucking world burn so that everyone can feel as much fucking pain as she has in the last five minutes (and five days, and five years, ever since she had to walk home from the hospital alone).

“Dysley,” Hope breathes behind her, and Lightning tightens her fists, feels the tension lance through her bones. She starts to take a step forward, reaching back for her sword, and then Hope grabs her hand, twists her fingers in with his until they’re about to break. Lightning stops, resting on the ball of one foot, the heel of the other, and twists her fingers back with Hope’s.

“You don’t yet understand,” Dysley says, lifting his hands, grandstanding, “but Providence will lead you back to Cocoon, and to Orphan.”

Hope’s hand is sweating in hers, and he’s moved close enough that she can feel his chest against her back. When he whispers, she can just hear his words.

“I can fight,” he says, and she knows what he means: he can die for her; he will die for her; for her, and Vanille, and Fang, and Snow, and Sazh. And for Serah, and Cocoon, and for his mother and father. For whatever will save their fucked up little world, spinning in a big empty sky.

She squeezes Hope’s hand tighter, hears him make a sound of pain, and says, “it’s not Providence. We’re going back for ourselves, not for you.”

Dysley laughs, slow and dry, like the old men who play chess in the parks. Check, and mate. “Every step serves its purpose. The l’Cie and the Calvary, they will each serve their purposes. Orphan is waiting for its saviors.”

Dysley disappears like pyreflies and when Lightning reaches out, tries to grab one, it burns in her fist, pops out of existence with a flash of light that sneaks through the gaps between her fingers. She opens her hand, turns it over; rubs her thumb at the blistering burns at the base of her fingers. When Hope lets go of her other hand, moves around to face her, she rubs at the blisters a little harder, doesn’t look up.

“What will you do?” he asks, and he takes her hand, holds it flat and steady in his. He touches the blisters with his fingers, pours a cure into her skin. Lightning breathes through her mouth, tastes the tang of magic on the air, and pulls her hand back.

“I’m still taking you to Cocoon. It doesn’t matter what Dysley said.”

Hope frowns at her, looks like he’s about to argue, so she grabs his shoulder, grips at the fragile skin and bones beneath the stupid, borrowed shirt. “I’m taking you,” she says, “to Cocoon. I’m going to fix things.”

She’s not really an idealist-- she left that for Serah years ago. She knows the world never goes how she wants it to-- she knows that in the end, parents die and kids get lost and sometimes, the hero loses his way, and never saves the day. She knows that it’s all pretty much a bitch, and she knows that sometimes, there’s not much to get out of bed for. But Hope’s bones are fragile, feel like the bones of the birds that nest in the grassy downs of Cocoon (snap its neck with a twist of your wrist, one of her instructors had taught her, and her thumb is resting by Hope’s neck, where she can see the dream of his pulse), and sometimes, she wishes she could be like Serah. Hope a little more, pray a little more; find the good guys, and cheer them on (and maybe, just maybe, be one of the good guys, not the soldier but the hero).

Hope hesitates, so she shoves his shoulder, pushing him back into Snow. Snow catches him with a grunt, says, “what the hell, Lightning?”

“We’re going,” she says, action in the reaction, and she turns to Sazh, asks him, “you think you can get us to Cocoon?”

“Lady,” he says, a cocky grin on his face, the left half of his smile higher than the right, “get me an airship, and I can get you anywhere you want.”

x

They find an airship in the water of the lake, covered with gray moss. It’s fully dark by the time Fang and Lightning are climbing over the body of the airship, scraping chunks of the moss off with their fingernails. The moss feels like hair, or fur, and it tickles the palms of Lightning’s hands. She pushes bunch after bunch off the roof of the airship, and each bunch splashes into the water below, sends ripples that glint with Cocoon’s light.

Sazh has already crawled into the cockpit, and Lightning can hear him muttering to himself, asking himself, or no-one, where this or that gauge are, and what the hell this knob is for. When Lightning shoves an armful of moss off the edge of the roof, she finds herself looking in the windshield, and Sazh is grinning up at her, giving her a thumbs up.

“Got it,” he leans out of the window to yell up at her, like she’s not right there. “This girlie will fly like a bird.”

“That’s the idea,” Lightning says back dryly, and she doesn’t really aim, but still grins when the next bunch of moss lands on Sazh, catching in his hair, hanging across his shoulders. He scowls up at her, rolls his eyes, and crawls back into the cockpit to mutter to himself. Lightning watches him through the windshield, then looks for Hope.

He’s sitting on the shore, and Vanille and Snow are hovering over him, looking like chocobos hovering over a nest. Vanille keeps moving closer and closer, reaching out like she wants to touch him, then she skitters back; moves forward, and back, over and over. It looks like a warped dance, and Lightning remembers the aching pain of flirting in middle school. She licks her lips, then clears her throat. Yells awkwardly over the water, “we’re ready to go--”

Her throat is too dry, though, and her voice cracks, fades away over the water. She slides off the plane, splashing up to her thighs in the water, and starts wading toward the shore. Lightning is two, maybe three yards from the airship, when Fang yells, loud enough for everyone on the beach to hear. “Vanille! Come on--”

Vanille passes Lightning in the water, and she smiles at Lightning. Her fingertips are trailing in the water, a pathway of ripples leading back to the shore, and Lightning looks at them, then at the edges of Vanille’s skirt, where the water is beading on the fur.

“Are you ready?” she asks Vanille, and Vanille’s fingers dip further into the water, the ripples spreading out from her wrists.

“I’m ready,” she says. She reaches out, touches Lightning’s wrist with her wet fingers. “Are you?”

“Yeah.” Lightning turns, watches Vanille wade the rest of the way to the airship. She’s watching Fang lean down to pull Vanille up to the cockpit when Snow comes to stand beside her, bumps his shoulder against hers.

“Hey, Sis,” Snow says, and Lightning bites her tongue, counts to three before she says, as mildly as she can, “don’t call me that.”

“Yeah, sure,” Snow says easily, and then he says to his other side, “you ready, Hope?”

“I guess,” Hope says. Lightning leans forward to look around Snow; Hope is looking toward the airship, and his face is scrunched up like he’s upset, or thinking about something. Snow must notice, too, because he punches Lightning’s shoulder with one hand, and ruffles Hope’s hair with the other.

“Take your time,” he says, and then he leaves them there, Lightning standing awkwardly in the water, Hope standing beside her. Lightning looks at Hope, then looks away. Looks back, and asks, “Hope?”

“I think,” Hope blurts out as soon as she says his name; his face is pale, but there are red splotches on his cheeks. “I think-- I mean. Vanille. I think Vanille...” he trails off, looking down at the water.

She tries to wait patiently, but he’s not saying anything, and she can hear the whirr as the airship’s engines turn over and over. Finally, she reaches out, touches Hope’s wrist the same way Vanille had touched hers, and Hope looks up at her, says, “she doesn’t touch me anymore.”

“She doesn’t,” Hope says, “pull me along, or-- or hug me, or even. She doesn’t touch me. Not like she used to. I mean. I think.” Hope turns his wrist in Lightning’s hand, twists until he’s grabbing her fingers, and he squeezes hard, and Lightning squeezes back. “I think she’s scared of me, or, or hates me, or.”

He’s still staring at the water, and his shoulders are rising and falling madly; when he takes in a gasping breath, Lightning can only think, please, god, don’t let him start crying.

“I think,” she says very slowly, completely at a lost-- no clue, no idea, because what do you say to little boys who become monsters, “that she’s scared you’re angry with her.” Hope swallows loudly, a wet, crying sound, and Lightning adds, “she looks at you. A lot. And she smiles.”

I don’t,” Hope cries, wails, and Lightning grabs him, pulls him in for the tightest hug she can manage. It always helped with Serah, when Serah would be hysterical and crying from a bad day at school or a shitty boyfriend or just not having parents; maybe, she thinks, it will help with Hope, who is thin and brittle in her arms.

“She doesn’t,” Lightning says against the top of Hope’s head, his hair tickling her nose, sticking to her lips, “hate you. None of us hate you. We would never-- I would never hate you. Never.”

It’s so much more painful than it was at Palumpolum, and she holds him so much tighter than she had then; she holds him as tight as she wishes she could hold Serah. Hope shakes in her arms, and she can feel her jacket over her breast soak through with his tears. It’s so stupid, and he’s such a kid, and she awkwardly kisses the top of his head, says, “I’ll still-- I’ll take care of you.”

Hope scrubs his eyes red, then dunks his head in the water before he goes back to the airship with her. It’s still pretty obvious he was crying-- his eyes are red and puffy, his nose is still running, and when he talks, his voice has that stuffed, heady sound of the mourning. Hope mumbles something that Lightning can’t really get, and then he squeezes into the back of the cockpit, shoving himself into the corner. Lightning shoves herself back with him, nudging Snow out of the way. Then Vanille comes, and cramps herself in with them, her hip and breast and shoulder pressed up against Lightning’s side.

“It’s tight,” Vanille says to the cockpit at large, and Hope makes a wet-sounding laugh on Lightning’s other side. Lightning sighs, feels her body press against Hope and Vanille both.

“As long as we don’t crash,” she says. Sazh snorts from the pilot’s seat, and Snow and Fang, folded up beside and behind Sazh, give Lightning a look she can’t understand.

“It’ll be fine,” Vanille says, their eternal optimist with her ten thousand tears, and Hope says after her, in his tear-soaked voice, “yeah.”

And somehow, it almost is. The airship shakes, shudders, feels like it’s falling apart around them, but it holds together, god only knows how. The turbulence throws them around the tiny cockpit like dolls, bruised and scraped, blood trickling from their lips and their elbows. Hope makes terrible sounds, like a mad dog, and tries to dig himself into the corner, away from them (and, Lightning thinks, the pit of her stomach filling with sickness and fear, their blood). Lightning tries to hold herself up off Hope, her arms braced against the cockpit’s walls, and Vanille drips cures through the cockpit, tries to wipe off her own blood onto the edge of her belted sash.

“Just a bit-- Hope, we’re almost,” Lightning says, and Hope makes the same mad-dog sound, shoving his face against his knees, his hands locked over the back of his head. Lightning licks away the blood on her lip, tastes the tang of metal and salt, and says, “Sazh.”

“I’m trying,” Sazh snaps back, his voice tense and angry-sounding. Then the airship spins madly in the air, lifting on a-- a swell, or whatever the fuck there can be in the air that can make them spin like this. Sazh curses, then the airship levels out, stops spinning. Lightning licks more blood from her lip, swallows down the taste of it, and the taste of her rising nausea.

“Dysley,” Fang says darkly from where she’s pinned under Snow’s heavy weight, thrown by the last airswell, “could have at least given us a good ship.”

Snow chuckles, and even Lightning can’t stop herself from smiling, just a bit. Hope’s hands, still locked over his head, loosen a little, and Lightning watches the back of his head, the knob at the nape of his neck.

“It’ll be okay,” she says, to all of them, and to herself, and it almost is. The cockpit is small and painful, and the airship is thrown through the air like a toy-- but it holds together, god knows how. And with each swell, they rise higher in the air, and Cocoon grows larger in lunges, closer and closer, until Sazh is cursing and trying to aim the airship for the gaping hole in Cocoon’s shell, left from the war centuries ago.

“We’re in,” Sazh says as he spins the airship through the hole, and then a wing snaps off, caught on the edge of Cocoon, or a tree, or the just the anger of the fal’Cie; Lightning sees it spin away past the moss-stained window, and then Snow yells, “brace!”

She grabs Hope, wraps her arms around him, then thrusts her shoulder against the wall, digging the toes of her shoes into the floor, trying to lock herself, and Hope with her, between the wall and floor. Then the world explodes.

When she comes to, she’s lying on her back, and she feels hungover, like she drank too much, smoked too much. She tries to open her eyes-- sticky and gummy, her eyelids stick together like her eyelashes were braided together. She tries again, then lifts her hand, tries to rub her eyes. She can feel something, wet and sticky, coat her palm, and she thinks, ah, blood--

Don’t,” a very strained voice says. “Don’t move.”

The words sound like they’re coming through a cloud, and she tries to swallow; feels her tongue, thick and heavy, in her mouth. Her head is throbbing, feels thick with pain and confusion, and she’s trying to place the voice when she feels something like wet light pour over her face.

Her face must change, because the very strained voice says, “it’s a cure. You-- there’s a lot of blood.”

“Vanille?” Lightning asks, and the voice, Vanille’s voice, says, “there’s just one more--”

The cure slides down Lightning’s face, trickles down her neck like water; then she can feel something soft wipe at her face, like thin cotton. Lightning swallows down the taste of blood in her throat, then tenses when Vanille wipes blood from Lightning’s eyes. Then Vanille’s fingers touch Lightning’s face, above and below her eyes, and Lightning takes in a sharp breath and holds it. Then curses, softly, when Vanille yanks Lightning’s eyes open, tearing the clotted blood on Lightning’s eyelashes.

“Sorry,” Vanille says, her voice still tight; her face is swimming in Lightning’s eyes, like through tears (and if she’s crying, over this, she will be so humiliated). “There’s no water, and with the cures--”

“It’s fine,” Lightning says through grit and blood and the threat of pained tears. She shuts her eyes tight, then opens them as wide as she can. Vanille is still swimming in her eyes, fuzzy and liquid. “Where’s-- Where’s Hope?”

“He’s sitting with Fang,” Vanille says very carefully, and her face swims a little slower now, turns a little more clear. “It was-- Head wounds,” she says, “bleed a lot.”

And when Lightning can really see Vanille’s face, white and tense and scared, she wonders what she missed. If sitting with Fang really means wrestled away. If a lot of blood really means he was hungry.

“Okay,” she says, slowly, and she reaches out, touches Vanille’s knee, pats it like she used to pat Serah’s. Like that will show Vanille that she understands everything Vanille’s not saying. “Thank you.”

Vanille smiles, the same bright, brittle smile as always, and says, “let’s go, then.”

The blood loss has made Lightning woozy-- she staggers as soon as she tries to get up, and falls to a knee. She presses her forehead against her leg and tries to breathe around the red roar in her eyes and her eyes and her head. Vanille comes up behind her, puts her small hands on Lightning’s shoulders, thumbs on either side of Lightning’s neck.

“A head wound?” Lightning asks when she lifts her head, blinking; there’s still blood on her eyelashes, still trying to clot together and blind her. Vanille’s fingers drum on Lightning’s shoulders, middle and first fingers beating out on Lightning’s collarbone, thumbs still against Lightning’s neck.

“They bleed a lot,” Vanille says, in a bright voice, and Lightning rolls her eyes to herself, says, “right.”

The third time’s the charm, and Lightning makes it upright; the roar in her head is diminishing, and her body doesn’t stagger too far to the left when she takes a step forward. Vanille lets go of Lightning’s shoulders, and stands beside Lightning instead, pointing into the trees and saying, “they went that way.”

The trees were probably a city four hundred years ago. There are the cracked remains of pavement beneath the moss and roots, and if Lightning squints, she can see crumbling buildings between the trees. An town, probably, before there was a Hanging Edge. Abandoned, forgotten, and how lucky for them. Lightning takes each step high, trying not to trip over roots and cracked pavement, and Vanille winds them through the trees, following some invisible path.

It is a very long walk, and Lightning wonders, a pit in her stomach, how far away Fang had to take Hope.

Then she says, when she’s trying not to slip on the moss and split her head open again, “Hope thinks you’re scared of him.”

The look Vanille gives her is very wide-eyed, like the way Serah had looked when Lightning had told her what she really thought of Snow. Wide-eyed, and a little hurt, and like Lightning is missing something very big.

“I’m not,” Vanille says, and she grabs Lightning’s hand, her thin fingers squeezing Lightning’s hand painfully tight. “I’m not, I’m really not.”

“I know,” Lightning says, because Vanille is looking at Lightning like Lightning said she doesn’t trust her; like Lightning doesn’t know that Vanille sits by Hope’s side whenever Hope’s having a nightmare. “I know you’re not, but Hope thinks-- He says you don’t touch him anymore.”

“I do,” Vanille says, “it’s just that.” She squeezes Lightning’s hand harder, and looks away. Lightning really hopes Vanille’s not going to cry, because when Vanille cries, it’s the ugliest out of all of them; when Vanille cries, it’s the saddest out of all of them. “It’s hard. Sometimes. Because it’s my fault, you know?”

“Sure,” Lightning says, and Vanille snatches her hands back. Another mistake, Lightning thinks, and she says, “it’s hard for me, too. I was supposed to protect him.” And she thinks, angry and hurt and wanting to scream and cry like a child, like I was supposed to protect Serah.

The rest of the walk is awkwardly silent; Vanille doesn’t touch her, doesn’t really look at her, and sometimes, Vanille’s breath sounds wet and sad. Lightning is feeling angry again, and she’s dizzy and swollen feeling. The world feels like cotton beneath her feet, and the moss is slippery underfoot. She stumbles and Vanille doesn’t say anything, doesn’t hold out a hand to hold Lightning up.

“Here,” Vanille finally says as they round a tree, a sharp end to the bitter walk. Lightning swallows, blinks her crusted eyes.

Hope is sitting in the dirt and moss, his head bowed between his shoulders. Sazh is sitting in front of him, tearing shreds of moss from the ground and holding them up for the chocobo chick in his hair, like the moss is greens. Fang is standing beside them both, one hand on her hip, the other hand holding her spear. Lightning blinks again, and rubs at her forehead, wincing when the fresh scabs catch on her skin. It stings.

“Don’t,” Vanille scolds her, “you’ll start bleeding again.”

That’s when Hope turns around; his mouth is puffy and his left cheek looks bruised. His eyes, she thinks, look a little wild.

“Light,” Hope says, and Lightning says, “let’s go, then. Where’s Snow?”

“Trying to figure out where we are.” Sazh groans as he staggers upward, like an old man. Lightning wonders how sore and bruised he is; if he feels as old as he suddenly looks. “Could be on any side of Hanging Edge now.”

“We just need to get out of the trees,” Lightning says, and she looks up past the trees, to the sky beyond them, and to the cities beyond the sky; when she tips back her head, she feels her stomach rise to the back of her throat, and her eyes swim again. She swallows it all back, grits out through her teeth, “then we can see where Eden is.”

“Are you,” Hope asks very hesitantly, a couple feet away from her, “all right?” He leans forward, like he’s going to take a step, and Fang leans forward at the same time, and the bangles at the head of her spear jangle. At the jangle, Hope’s face goes white and he leans back, turning half away and shoving his hands into his pockets.

Lightning scowls at nothing in particular; at everything and everyone. “I’m fine,” she says, at Hope and Fang both, and she flicks her hair back over her shoulder. It slides back, whispering against her neck. “Let’s go, then.”

She leads the way, because everyone else is just standing around, looking at her and at each other like the sheep on Gran Pulse. They run into Snow there, in the midst of all the trees, and Snow grins widely at them all, jerks his thumb back over his shoulder, the way from which he’d been coming.

“Found a town,” he says, “thattaway.”

“How big?” Lightning asks, and Snow’s grin widens.

“Not big,” he says. “Looks like it’s dying. There weren’t many civilians, looked like.”

That’s good; that’s very good. Lightning says as much, even says, “good job,” and only rolls her eyes when Snow preens at the compliment. But a town of soldiers is what they need, because Lightning’s sure that if it was a civilian, a woman or a child, Hope would fight her even more on this.

“We’re just going to blow our way through?” Fang asks, and Lightning nods.

“Push through, and find a road. Follow it towards Eden. Maybe we can find something on the way, train or something.” She tries to push her hair back out of her face, but the blood is sticky-dry, and her hair just falls into her eyes again, awkward and uncomfortable and red in the edge of her sight. “Find some supplies, too.”

“Sounds like a good plan,” Sazh says, and he reaches out, scruffles Hope’s hair before he pushes on through, taking point alongside Lightning. Lightning tries to step back, keep some distance, but Sazh just shoves in close, slings an arm around her shoulder.

“You need help with this?” Sazh asks, and Lightning bites back what she was going to say, and lets her shoulders sag under the weight of Sazh’s arm. Sazh’s arm just gets heavier, and he’s using his weight to push Lightning along, staggering through the trees like a weird, two-headed monster. “I figured, you’re planning to--” he jerks his chin up, then says, “with Hope, right?”

“Yeah,” Lightning says, because it’s one of those things you can’t miss; because she can feel herself buckling under something, whether it’s Sazh’s arm or the fact that, ten feet behind, Hope is following after her. “I thought that, maybe, a soldier...”

She trails off, and Sazh pulls her even closer with his arm; it’s awkward, so awkward. She can feel her breasts pressed up tight against the side of Sazh’s body, and the stubble on his chin and jaw scratch at the side of her face. His breath is hot on her neck. It is, she realizes, like hugging her father; she wonders if this is what being hugged by a man always feels like.

“You’re a good woman,” Sazh says, real soft, into the hair over Lightning’s ear. Then he lets go, and pushes past her, leading their little ragtag group. It is probably best, Lightning thinks, because her throat is burning and her eyes are swimming, and she can feel something painful welling inside her, like tears.

x

They erupt on the town like a storm, pouring in over the embankments loud and fast. Snow was right: the town is empty, little more than a military outpost, a crumbling relic from a nearly-forgotten past, staffed with nearly-forgotten soldiers. The first half-dozen soldiers are on lookout, and Vanille and Sazh take them down with magic flung from their palms and fingertips. Fang and Snow charge in behind the magic, human tanks with brittle laughter, and Lightning follows behind them, a hand on Hope’s back.

“I’m fine,” Hope says; he weaves, though, when he flings fire. Lightning keeps her hand on Hope’s back, where she can feel his ribs and the knobs of his spine. The frantic, bird-frail beat of his heart.

The last lookout collapses under a heavy blow from Fang, and Lightning pulls her hand away from Hope, fingertips dragging over the fabric of the borrowed shirt. She edges away, side-stepping, looking at the bodies.

One of the soldiers, a few feet away, is still breathing, raspy and high-pitched like the whine of a dog.

“There should be supplies in the shed,” she says in her sharpest voice, bossy and strict, and maybe it’s because she’s been dragging them all across Cocoon and Pulse for weeks now, on some quest to avenge her baby sister, but no one questions her, or tries to argue with her. Fang, though, gives her a sideways look, and Lightning has to lift her chin.

And Fang gets it, has to get it, because she says, “Vanille, go look for some potions.” And, like it’s an afterthought, she says, “and take Hope with you.”

Snow and Sazh follow fast enough, and as soon as Hope is through the door of the shed, Sazh hot on his heels, Lightning turns, says, “help me?”

They drag the soldier back the way they came, to an overhanging lip of earth at the edge of the crumbled town. The earth is sliding down, and thick, gnarled roots are twisting through the overhang. Fang takes the soldier’s feet, and Lightning takes the soldier’s hands, and they hide him beneath the lip of earth, like a grave of roots and dry dirt.

“He’s still alive,” Fang says, wiping her hands on her hips. A streak of dirt smears across Fang’s thigh, across naked skin, and Lightning looks down at her own hands, dirty and flecked with the soldier’s blood. She wipes them on the back of her skirt.

“The stories,” she tries to explain. The ones she used to tell Serah, the ones she used to hear from classmates and friends. It sounds stupid, though, feels stupid. “The stories,” she repeats dumbly, “I didn’t know--”

“How will you?” Fang asks, and Lightning says, “I don’t know.”

They climb through the rubble of the town, following everyone else. When they catch up with the rest of the group, Lightning grabs Hope’s arm and drags him back a few feet.

“We’ll catch up with you,” Lightning says to Snow and Fang, and Snow looks at her, then nods slowly. Fang doesn’t look at her, just reaches out and grabs Vanille’s hand. Hope tenses beside Lightning, starting to pull away, and she tightens her grip, pulls him closer. “Don’t go too fast.”

“Right,” Snow says, and Fang starts to walk away, pulling Vanille with her. Vanille looks back over her shoulder, first at Hope, then at Lightning, and Lightning stares back, waits for them all to go.

When they’re all walking away, she turns and drags Hope with her, back through the rubble she had just clambered through. Hope’s breathing hard beside her, like he’s been running for miles, and she’s hoping he doesn’t hyperventilate on her, because she really can’t deal with that right now. She looks around, then spots the soldier, crumpled beneath tbe overhanging ledge where she’d left him a few minutes ago.

“Come on,” she says, pulling Hope, and Hope pulls back, just as hard.

“Light,” he says, “I don’t,” and she pulls harder, hard enough that Hope starts to fall, scrambling to stay on his feet. She kicks out, swiping his feet from beneath him, and when he falls, she grabs him and drags him down with her, twisting so they’re pressed up against the ledge.

“Don’t,” she says, “fight me on this.” Hope’s body stiffens so she says, “please.”

He holds very still when she shifts, pulling him until he’s sitting between her legs, leaning against her chest. When she reaches out, snagging the soldier’s arm, Hope makes a sound like a sob.

“Please,” he says, and he’s finally crying, voice loud and breaking, such a kid. “Please, please, Light, I don’t, please--”

She bites her tongue, because she doesn’t know what to say to make it better, and knows too many ways to make it worse. She pulls hard, all her weight, and the soldier’s limp body falls across them, pinning Hope to her. The soldier’s still alive, breath faint, and his hand falls open, fingers twitching.

“Hope,” she murmurs, and Hope shakes in her lap. “Hope, you have to do this-- I’m going to be right here, and I won’t go of you, and--” she doesn’t really know what she’s saying. Doesn’t think he can hear her, anyway, because he’s crying too loud now, panicked sobs that are minutes away from full-blown screams. She swallows hard, because she’s pretty close to screaming right now, too.

“I can’t,” he cries, “I can’t, don’t make me--” And that’s it, that’s the thing. It’s Lightning staying back here, holding Hope in her lap while she tries to convince him to-- to what? Kill someone? Drink their blood? Bite into someone’s flesh, and feel it rise up around his teeth; feel their blood, salty and warm, rinse through his gums. It’s Lightning, because there’s no one else, because there aren’t any moms to hold their hands anymore, help them cross the street.

“Stop it,” she snaps, and her voice sounds just as hysterical. “I can’t-- I’m not going to sit here and watch you die. I don’t care, I don’t care about any of this, they don’t matter.” She breathes in, feels her chest shake. When she wraps her arms tighter around Hope, he falls against her a little, but he turns his head away. “Please. Hope, please, just this once.” When he shivers, she says, final shove, “let me take care of you. Please.”

When she pulls the soldier’s body up, so his neck is bared and bent to them, Hope wipes his face. When she lies the edge of her knife against the soldier’s neck, where they can see the pulse, Hope lies his hands on Lightning’s thighs, and when she cuts, he digs in his fingers and lets out a moan like he’s dying.

“I don’t,” he says, and she puts her mouth next to his ear, and says, “now,” and he drinks.

He chokes on the blood, stiffens in her arms and spits it out over the soldier’s neck. He gasps for breath, but when she presses her forehead in the hollow between his shoulders (and she wonders when he got so thin, that she can feel the knobs of his spine against her face), he sets his mouth back against the soldier’s neck, drinks again.

It goes easier this time-- has to be going easier, because she can hear him swallow the blood down, then gasp for breath. Another swallow, and another breath. She counts in her head, gets to thirty or forty, and loses count. The sounds, slurping and a noisy swallowing, are making her sick to her stomach; when Hope bites, crunching through the soldier’s tendons, she has to bite back a gag.

It takes a long time. A long, long time. She keeps her eyes closed, and her head pressed against Hope’s back. She’s sweating, with fear or nerves or sickness, and she can feel the sweat run down her back, dampen Hope’s shirt. Her hands, still wrapped around Hope’s body, are slick with it. Hope crunches through the neck again, and Lightning can feel blood drip onto her arms. It is, she thinks, a very nasty feeling.

“Lightning,” Hope says in a very small voice, after the last crunch. His fingers are still digging into her thighs, and his hands feel as hot and sweaty as her own. She wonders if he’s scared, too. She shudders, feels his body stiffen.

Don’t,” she says, “don’t even--”

After a moment, he says, still in a small voice, “Light?”

“Better.”

“Can we. I don’t think I can-- Can we stay? Like this. For a while.” His voice is tense, filled with something she doesn’t want to think about. Can’t think about.

“Yeah.” She turns her face against his back, rubs her cheek against the fabric of his shirt. She thinks of her mom, the way she used to be rocked in a chair when she was little. How, when she was sleepy and warm, her mom would carry her upstairs to her bed. How she didn’t want her mom to let go; how she didn’t want to have to get up from the rocking chair. She wonders if Hope’s mom used to rock him, too. “Yeah,” she says again, soft and gentle as she can. The kindness feels like a foreign tongue in her mouth. “We can stay like this for as long as you want.”

It has to be at least an hour, probably longer, before Hope says okay like a death knell. Lightning’s legs are cramped and bruised and when she lets go of Hope, her arms feel numb. It takes some shoving to get the soldier’s cold body off of them, and she tries not to look at its neck. Fails, and stares at the torn skin and muscles, the shattered bones. The soldier’s head is barely connected to its body, only by a few flaps of skin, and it makes Lightning’s stomach roll.

Hope fidgets next to her, looks nervous and gun-shy, like he’ll run if she looks at him wrong. He opens his mouth, then closes it. Wipes his hand across his lips, and smears blood across his cheek. Lightning moves, takes a step forward. Hope flinches, wipes his mouth again. More blood is smearing across his face. She swallows, then holds out her hand. When Hope takes it, his hand slick and warm in hers, she tugs him close, holds his hand tight.

“Come on,” she says, and she turns away so she won’t have to see his face. “Let’s go get cleaned up.”

x

It is two days later that Hope bites someone; he is skittish and awkward, and if Lightning knew how to coddle him, she would. He is careening through something; he smiles at them, but he jerks away whenever someone’s voice is raised. When Vanille holds his hand (and she always holds his hand now, plays with his hair, wraps her arms around his thin body; a penitence performed with love), his shoulders tighten up, rising up around his neck, but his mouth quirks, like he’s trying not to smile. It’s a little maddening, and maybe, Lightning thinks, it means things are healing.

“Teenagers,” Sazh says, like that explains away Hope’s everything. Vanille clears her throat, though is sounds more like a laugh, and Snow mutters something about bigger problems.

It’s two awkward, painful, beautiful days. Cocoon is beautiful, smells like rain and green, growing things; when she squints up into the darkening sky, Lightning can see the glint of Eden in the middle of her world, and they are always getting a little closer.

And sometimes, when they’re clambering over rocks and roots and gravity of their future, Hope laughs his awkward, skittish, teenaged laugh.

“He’s doing pretty good,” Snow says to Lightning, when they’re bringing up the rear. Lightning can hear Hope saying something to Vanille, something indistinct and quiet and wonderful in its banality. “Better than I thought. I thought, after he, you know.” Snow trails off, gives half a shrug, and Lightning licks her lips.

“Yeah,” she says, and there is something painful in the center of her chest, like fear and happiness twisted together. “Better than I thought.”

They have just broken their way through a line of PSICOM soldiers on the second night when Hope shuffles up to Lightning, reaches out and grabs her arm. He’s hanging back, looking stiff and uncertain, and Lightning tries to gentle her voice. “What?”

“I,” Hope says, and he stutters over it; everyone else is turning around, edging closer, and Hope looks like he’s beginning to blush. “I just, uh. I’ll catch up. To you.”

Lightning looks back over Hope’s shoulder, where PSICOM soldiers are crumpled in the shadows of tree roots. He’s little and thin, awkward and stilted, and she doesn’t want him to walk off into the night by himself; doesn’t want him to crunch into someone’s neck without her there to hold him up afterward.

She doesn’t want to lose him, in the forest or in Cocoon or in his own strange, broken head.

“Do you want me to,” she hedges, only half a question. Hope shakes his head, though, pulling his hand away from her arm.

“No, it’s just--” He takes a step backward, and his mouth is quirking down, like he’s trying not to frown. It’s painful. “I’ll catch up. In a few minutes.”

“Okay,” Lightning says slowly, feeling hesitation climbing through her chest. She’s about to reach out and grab his hand, to force him to take her with him, when Sazh bumps against her, reaches out to shuffle Hope’s hair.

“Don’t take too long,” Sazh says, and Hope gives them all a horrified look before he scrambles backward, sinking into the night.

When Lightning tries to swallow, her throat feels tight; all she can hear is the dull roar of nighttime between the trees.

“He’ll be fine,” Sazh says gently, and he’s reaching out for Vanille’s hand. Vanille reaches back, and swings their hands. Lightning watches their hands swing, Vanille’s hand looking tiny and Sazh’s hand looking strong. A world of girls and men, swinging beside her.

There is a moss-covered rock a few steps away. The steps feel awkward and clumsy, like her feet are numb. She sinks down onto the rock, and rests her arms on her knees; rests, in turn, her head upon her arms. Closes her eyes and listens to the nighttime’s roar.

“It will be fine,” she can hear Sazh say to Vanille, and Vanille says something back, something soft and tired and full of that exhausting love that is pulling them all along, a gravity in the center of their hearts.

She is half asleep, vague, fuzzy nightmares growing in the corners of her eyelids, when Hope stumbles back to them, tripping over a root or rock or lip of earth, a grave rising upwards. Snow calls her, says, “Sis,” and her back pops as she lifts her head from her arms.

There is blood on Hope’s face; just a little blood, a smear of blood, on the right side of his chin. Lightning can’t look away from it, can’t stand or hold out her hand or smile. She takes in a breath, shaky, and lets it out, and tires to figure out what Serah would say, because Serah could always fix the things Lightning broke.

“Got some tomato soup on you,” Sazh says blandly, and the words feel like a slap. Hope jerks backwards, his feet sliding on the leaves and moss underfoot, and Lightning feels all her muscles tense. “On your chin,” Sazh adds, and he thumbs his own chin, miming the smear.

“I didn’t,” Hope says, and he’s scrubbing the back of his hand against his face roughly. His eyes are glinting in the faint light; they look a little wide, a little wild. The muscles in Lightning’s body are twisting tighter.

“It’s cool,” Sazh says, still talking, just talking. He sounds bored, or maybe just a little amused. He’s grabbing Hope’s shoulder, yanking the kid closer, and then he’s licking his thumb, then swiping it over Hope’s chin. “Dajh still makes a mess when he eats. You’re all kids.”

And it is so fatherly, or maybe so motherly; it is something huge and powerful and stupid, and Lightning can hear herself laughing, a little crazy and a little stressed and a little lost in this world hanging in a big, big sky. Everything is falling apart, but maybe it’s falling together, too, and Sazh looks like her father and sounds like her mother and loves like her sister. Vanille is laughing, too, and Fang is looking a little amused, and Snow is looking like his stupid, stupid, stupid heroic self.

Lightning holds out her hand, and it shakes; she can see it shake, like autumn leaves, and she reaches out, stretches as far as she can. It’s Snow that grabs her hand, holds on tight, and he pulls her up from the mossy stone. The leaves underfoot are slick and wet, and the nighttime is still roaring in their ears; she twines her fingers with Snow’s for a moment, just a moment, and she thinks, if Serah was here-- But Serah’s not here; her mother’s not here, her father’s not here. There’s no one here but five other pieces, broken pieces in a cheated game.

They’re the remnants, the fragments of the dead and the dying, the last pieces of their families. They’re a little broken, and a lot fucked up, and as they dance their way to Eden, six monsters in a monstrous world, she thinks they’re going to be alright.

Date: 2011-01-15 04:23 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] hiza-chan.livejournal.com
God, I don't even know what to say. I think back to those raving comments I left on each of these snippets and just- it was easier, when they were grouped into little comments because now- well, I don't even think it's possible to quote back all the little things that I loved about this. And just. There's so much, so much freaking detail in it, little things that really make the story. Things that most writers forget to include because they're so caught up in plot and danger and they forget about including life.

I loved every single word of this 19,000 word monstrosity. Every single one, and even the bits that I'd already read before were such a pleasure to reread. Everything came together so well, and there's that underlying pain and tragedy that just really hurts, but it's wonderful to see the way they all came together, like a family. And just, you are so right. Sahz is the hero of this story. I teared up about the tomato soup line- it's just- so silly, and of course he'd be nonchalant about it and "Dahj still makes a mess when he eats," that little reassurance of normalcy that Hope NEEDS and jesus, the characters.

Each of them are so, so, so perfect. So perfect and Vanille and Lightning and god, the lake scene. Lightning doing it and Snow looking at her and then what Vanille said afterwards. And like, the way you finished it.

I have to admit, when you were first writing it I had NO IDEA how you were going to finish it because I really like- I don't know how I would have finished it, since it runs so parallel to the actual story. But you did it really well, and I feel like leaving it there is just- it's nice. It leaves hope, and just. Yeah. I loved it.

There’s no one here but five other pieces, broken pieces in a cheated game.

and

six monsters in a monstrous world, she thinks they’re going to be alright.

But really, just everything. It's so beautiful and I am bookmarking it to read over and over again and I hate that the FFXIII fandom is so TINY because I want to show this to the world. This was beautiful, Kiri, and I love you for each and every letter.

Date: 2011-01-15 08:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] midnightdiddle.livejournal.com
!!

I don't really know what to say in response, except thank you! Thank you for helping with it, because frankly, I never finish things unless someone, like, is all supportive and interested. And thank you for liking it! as;dflkj Shameless vampire fic is just so. You know. So thanks for even taking a chance on it way back when.

And yeah, Sazh totally became the hero. And the tomato soup bit was the core of the fic; like, I was sure I was going to end the fic on that conversation, but getting to that point was really difficult, especially since I wrote the fic linearly, other than writing the first biting/feeding bit early, when I showed it to you? But other than that, I was working from beginning to end, so it was pretty difficult to get to that point, and to set it up. And to be honest, by the end, I was like, "ASD;FLKJ SCREW IT, IT CAN'T GET LONGER. ENDING NOW." So. !! I'm glad you enjoyed it, and I'm glad that it worked well together. :D

But really, just everything. It's so beautiful and I am bookmarking it to read over and over again and I hate that the FFXIII fandom is so TINY because I want to show this to the world. This was beautiful, Kiri, and I love you for each and every letter.

♥ Thank you so much! ...and also, do you know any good FFXIII communities? I've been kinda looking around, and you're right, this fandom is tiny and silent. D:

Date: 2011-01-15 08:25 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] hiza-chan.livejournal.com
This fandom is very tiny and silent. The only comms that are even kind of active are [livejournal.com profile] ff13_fanfic and [livejournal.com profile] hopexlightning. And then there's a Vanille/Fang ([livejournal.com profile] oerbas) and Snow/Serah ([livejournal.com profile] kristallised), but those aren't very active. Hell, the only thing that seems to still be alive in this fandom is the kink meme. It makes me sad.

BUT YES. THIS WAS AWESOME, I LOVE IT. Shameless vampire fic may be shameless, but it's also beautiful.

Date: 2011-01-18 03:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] cygna-hime.livejournal.com
SDAGFHDJKK;

God, that is just so perfect. Beautiful and sad and gritty and here I go down into keyboardsmash again AFSDHJEYR%IGDJ.

I love the tone, like a lot. It fits in with FFXIII just right, bittersweet and painful and occasionally hilarious. And the voices are spot-on -- I can hear the characters talking. And ;lkadgjskls the last line, so just right for this fic in specific and yet if you stuck a tagline on the game itself you couldn't find a better.

ASDFGHJKLSADFGHKJLYGWTKEJLKHL again.

One itsy nitpick: there are a few places where there's no capital letter at the start of a line of dialogue leading in from the narration. Other than that, we're back in keyboardsmash-perfect land.

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