"Claire. Claire, no- come back." Fang gripped Lightning's shoulders and gave Lightning a gentle, but determined shake. "Claire!" Fang shook her again. "Please wake up. Claire- Please- you can't," Fang choked, oblivious to her wet eyes as she gripped Lightning steadfast. "Don't leave me." Fang gagged, short of air as her grip on Lightning's shoulders turned to steel. "Don't leave me, dammit!" Brick crumbled behind Lightning's shoulder as Fang's fist made a permanent indentation into the stone. Fang pressed her forehead against Lightning's, fist grinding further into the stone and blood and grit alike dripped from the divot, eyes closed. Fang's breath swelled as she whispered to her girlfriend one last time. "I can't live without you, Claire."

Lightning was still.

"Fuck." Fang whimpered, her tone raising as she hauled back and punched the wall again. "Fuck! I need you! I couldn't- I should have been here, with you. It should have been me. Dammit!" She hit the wall again, knuckles raw.

Serah watched Fang crumble. She called out to her, heart shattered in shared agony.

Fang turned sharply at the new voice and Serah's blood ran cold. Pure, untainted rage ran thick through dark eyes that'd narrowed to slits as Fang looked upon her with no sense of recognition in the slightest. Serah started, crawling back before her wrist touched upon her husband's limp arm as Fang snarled at her, an anger and devoid in her so dangerous that Serah felt her own life threatened with a chilled certainty. Fang was out to kill.

A loud snort brought both womens' heads whirling on the spot to find a new intruder down near the entrance in the shape and form of a Beta Behemoth King. Fang snarled, growling verbally as she stood from Lightning. Realizing that she meant to engage the beast, Serah scuttled over and ripped the spear from the Kaiser Behemoth's corpse to toss over at Fang. It skidded across the stone just as Fang picked herself up fully and stopped, hitting the side of her boot. Fang kicked the weapon up, eyes never breaking from the feral beast.

She charged.

Reckless abandon tossed to the wind, Fang shot at the beast like an unrestrained animal, darting in to drive her spear handle-deep into the standing monster's stomach with a vicious, blood curling howl that didn't even sound remotely human. Her spear lunged into the beast with a sickening squish before Fang bodily ripped it out with all her force, cutting a swathing chunk out of the beast's side.

The creature screamed and reached back, ripping a circular, spiked blade free of its head. Fang raged as the monster's side, bleeding profusely only moments ago, simply grew back its hide, flesh stretching to cover the raw wound and completely close over the deadly infliction. Fang seethed and darted forward to rip it limb from limb.

The Behemoth was ready for her attack this time and Fang's rage blinded her to her surroundings until the clawed paw was inches from her face. Pain ripped across Fang's face as the claws pierced her cheek deeply in the slash that sent Fang careening into the wall, where she hit it with a thud, head smacking back against the crumbling brick. Fang seethed, adrenaline eating up the pain as a circular blade came for her neck. She ducked the blow and loose rock tumbled as the Behemoth's blade wedged halfway into the brick behind her.

As it prepared to yank its tool out, Fang reared up her spear into its arm and hauled back, cutting a long, deep incision into its forearm that had it dropping the hilt of its blade to grab the open injury. Blood seeped between its paw, honing Fang's eyes into the oozing. It wasn't enough. It had to die, to feel its life seeping out of it in last moments with the realization that it wasn't going to make it, that she had prevailed wholly over the vile creature as its blood seeped out.

Fang jerked her blade up again, stabbing through the creature's paw over its arm all the way back through to the initial injury. She ripped her spear out savagely as the monster howled in agony. Fang growled and hauled back, thrusting her spear so deeply into its heart that it nearly pierced through to the other side. The monster stilled, eyes glossing over. Fang was the last thing it saw before it died, falling back with a terrific thud as it hit the ground.

Serah's heart pulsated at the savagery of Fang's assault. Fang was wild, feral in her deep-seated anger. Forgoing her own safety again, Serah called out to her weakly, timid. "Fang..."

If Fang heard her at all, she didn't show it. Pausing only long enough to viciously yank her spear from the Behemoth's corpse, Fang took off down the alley, inhumane rage spurning her feet. She wiped blood from her eyes and ignored her bleeding cheek, biting back the taste of blood on her tongue. Claire's blood.The image wouldn't leave her mind, of Lightning sitting there, propped against the wall, insides leaking out all over the stone...

Serah followed at a distance, heart aching.

With a bloodthirsty roar, Fang leapt onto the street where two Alpha Behemoths were feasting on some helpless civilian corpse, fighting over the snack between them. The monsters heard her, but Fang was already upon the first by the time proper notice was given away from their meal. Slicing deeply across the first Alpha's thick neck, blood splattered over her face and chest, mixing to seep into her hair. Fang was satisfied to hear a squelching choke as, unable to process his own magic for healing in time, the beast collapsed, dead.

The other roared and immediately stood without injury, whipping out its blade in fury and cutting a swath at Fang that whooshed through the air. Fang jumped back- and again when the blade came swiping at her chest once more. As it hauled back its fist to swing at her again, Fang bolted in, anxious to make it bleed and jabbed a quick stab to its stomach. She backtracked to get out of its immediate vicinity- just in time for her shoulder to explode in agony as the Behemoth's blade buried halfway into her arm. Fang cried out and dropped her lance, cursing at the now-useless appendage. Before she could even stoop to collect her weapon, white-hot pain ripped up her back as three more claws pierced her from behind, pitching her forward until she met the original Behemoth's head, where he forcibly headbutted her. A crack echoed throughout the street as Fang fell back.

Serah couldn't even scream, though she was writhing inside. She tried to force herself up, to run out to Fang and save her- or at least distract the Behemoths that were prepared to tear her apart- but she couldn't move. Not an inch. It was like her brain and her body commands had completely cut off from each other. Serah strained against this force to no avail, the crippling shock locking her limbs in place, in horror.

Fang hit the ground with a thud over her freshly scratched back injuries. Before her body would allow her the sense to get up, a heavy, clawed paw pierced her just under the chest. Fang heaved as she realized what was happening- a second before the full Behemoth's weight pressed down upon her. Another crack broke the air as several ribs snapped and fractured under the beast's growing weight. Fang shut her eyes, choking on the metallic, sticky taste of blood as her body, overwhelmed with conflicting agonies, roared in protest to her injuries. Fang felt sharp teeth bite into her thigh that even adrenaline could do little to curb- and with Fang's on the dying end, the pain was starting to grow again, seeping through her like a plague that made every breath an effort, every millisecond hell.

The crushing force suddenly lifted from her chest and Fang's eyes shot open to see the Alpha Behemoth that was standing on her bite ferociously at the Humbaba, not wanting to share its meal. The Humbaba's teeth tore from her leg as it growled, swiping at the Alpha. Fang took her new opportunity and gripped the handle of the blade in her arm. Gritting her teeth, she flinched, crying out as she ripped the weapon from her arm, causing a new rush of blood to gush from the open wound. Ignoring it, Fang threw the blade, spiraling it out from her good arm to careen at the two fighting Behemoths at an almost superhuman speed. The sharp end of the blade cut a swift path through the air, squelching horribly as it cut into the Humbaba Behemoth's eyes, far enough to nick the brain. The great beast fell without ceremony and Fang rolled, closer to her spear as the Alpha turned on her.

Serah watched it eye Fang, then look to the bodies of its fellow Behemoths surrounding monster didn't advance, but watched her as Fang similarly stilled, hateful eyes locked on the beast. It waited. Serah held her breath and prayed for Fang to retreat, to leave it alone and return, broken as she was, but still alive. Fang eyed the beast in turn. Her eyes flickered to the spear, not but a few feet away near her legs. The beast watched her, judging.

Fang lunged. The feral creature jumped too, jaws open wide to snap her neck. In her bloodlust, she'd misjudged the distance and the speed of the Behemoth's leap. Fang lifted her arm to block her face, simultaneously slamming a foot down on the edge of her spear to lift the end vertically, and locked it in place between her legs. The beast's mouth snapped shut upon her wrist, snapping it easily only seconds before its body followed in the land of the jump- impaling itself neatly on her spear and showering her with a spray of blood as the creature sputtered, choked, and died on her weapon.

Fang kicked out as best she could and rolled quickly to avoid being crushed by its body. Her body screamed in protest and Fang grunted, letting out a pathetic sort of whine as she cradled her wrist to her stomach. With the absence of an enemy around to slay, Fang's adrenaline dwindled and hot, fresh agony began to register, overwhelming her senses in a soaking wave of pain. Fang's heart pumped heavily through her chest. She swallowed and turned her head, wincing as her bloody cheek touched the warm stone of the street- stone that was only warm because it was splattered and drenched in blood.

Heavy footfalls pounded from the street, a little ways away. Fang fought the rising pain in an attempt to concentrate, heart quickening at the prospect of another conflict. Fang was damaged and agonized, but if it was another Behemoth...

Eyes narrowing as she tried to focus through the haze before her eyes, Fang angered her weeping body and sat up, sending horrible jolts throughout her stomach. Fang braced herself up on her only good elbow and cringed as she dragged her screaming body to her feet. Her leg pulsated, still bleeding freely, and she felt ready to puke from the pain in her abdomen. Still, Fang conquered the weaknesses and stood looking out over the distance, her vision still frustratingly hazy.

"Holy shit! Chris, we've got a survivor, critical condition. On the double!"

Fang blinked at the surprisingly close voice and found a stream of three soldiers and a medic rushing out from a sidestreet and coming at her. Two of the soldiers ran right past, but one stayed behind with the medic, who's eyes popped out at the sight of her injuries. "Hold still, miss." Fang's eyes were on the soldiers tromping off into the distance. The medic took her arm gently by the wrist and injected a phial of green fluid into her arm, a high dose of cure. Fang barely noticed, and nothing visibly immediately healed.

"Where are they going?" Fang asked, watching a few other soldiers whizz by as well.

"The Behemoths have mostly passed through." The medic told her. "The soldiers are clearing out the strays, and we medics for survivors and deceased," readying another bottle, he explained. "We need to clean sweep the area, remove those who weren't as lucky."

Fang's heart pulsed. Claire. A horrifying certainty passed over her. They were going to take Claire! Fang almost gagged on the realization. "No." Ripping her arm from the medic's grasp, which sent a nice, fresh onslaught of agony through her broken wrist, Fang took off, ignoring the calls and pounding footsteps from behind her and the burning heat scorching through her veins at every step. Her body felt done for, but Fang wouldn't stop. They can't have her.

When she reached it, the alley was already bustling with soldiers. Fang screeched and lunged through the huddle. Surprised soldiers became instantly defensive at her intrusion and struggled to hold her back, but even weak and broken as she was, nothing was to stop Fang from reaching her girlfriend. Breaking through the huddle of four of them, Fang didn't even notice Vanille's presence as she leaned over Serah, checking health and vitals. Vanille spun at the ruckus and gasped. "Fang!"

Fang shoved aside a soldier as her broken wrist screamed and others grabbed for her, but it didn't matter. Breaking free of them all, Fang knelt next to Lightning and held a hand out to touch that fair, blood-matted hair, pushing aside a few strands with her locked-up hand gently.

One of the soldiers readied his weapon behind her.

Vanille dashed over- but Fang, in her panic to protect Lightning, would have no intruders. Refusing to recognize her, Vanille found herself pinned to the wall by the neck with Fang's broken appendage as furious empty pits glared at her for intruding upon their space. Fang's arm increased the pressure at her throat, so beyond any sense of recognition that she couldn't even see Vanille.

The soldier aimed his weapon and shot, piercing Fang's neck with his missile. Vanille sobbed and held out her arms to catch Fang as she fell, minuscule dart protruding unkindly from her bruised skin.

Vanille never wanted to let go.

XXX

Serah trembled, cold, veins thick with ice that slowed every movement, every instance into a lonely, frigid existence. She had no thread with which to hold on to and felt numb. Too much had happened and Serah's mind was too heavy and guilt-laden to wrap her mind around it. A deep, isolated agony dwelt inside of her and Serah was too frozen to even contemplate how it'd ever be thawed. She was haunted, shivering to her core and frightened by the smallest measure.

Snow's arms wrapped around her, holding her, safe and secure against that warm chest where nothing could ever break their happiness...

Serah stiffened rock-solid at the kind and cruel memory of her lover that very morning. Snow's jaunty face, that ever-smiling fool was etched into her mind with something harder than a permanence. But the memory was crippled now, with the image of the Behemoth's blade protruding from his chest, blood oozing and soaking through his shirt. The air was so rank with the smell of his blood that it suffocated Serah, even now, in simple memory, the image overloaded her mind and Serah whimpered, hand on the door handle, standing there shaking.

No. Serah tried to banish the memory that was wrought through her mind. Be strong. Serah shivered. Claire would want you to be strong.

Claire...

Crippled by the new arising recollection of her still, blood-littered sister, Serah lurched. The dual pictures of Snow and Lightning clouded her mind, and the little sips of water that'd been forced on her since the medics' arrival churned in her stomach. Serah released the door handle to Fang's room and stumbled down three doors to the restroom, where she practically tripped in her way to the toilet and proceeded to empty what little her stomach had left to hold. Gagging on her bile, Serah choked it out, waiting for a relief that would never come.

When she heaved and heaved breathlessly, followed by no more, Serah unsteadily braced her arm out to the side, using the toilet paper roll to help her stand. Serah fumbled over to the sink. She washed out her mouth and face with the cool water, the images still burned into her mind. Serah steadied herself on the counter and almost collapsed when her eyes lifted to the mirror.

Soft pink tresses flecked with blood, matted down and clumped with the sticky traces of it, the red death dripping from her hairline where the first incision had been cut.

Serah squeezed her eyes shut, shaking and rocking herself against the counter. Please. She begged to the air. Please, stop it. I don't want to see them. Stop making me see...

The bathroom door opened without her notice, but a few seconds later, a startled gasp broke the stillness. "Serah!" Vanille rushed over to the hospital-garbed girl in her paper dress and Serah felt small little arms wrap around her, holding her. But not big arms. "Serah, my God." Vanille squeezed her. "You're awake." Vanille laced an arm under Serah's, supporting her. "Come on. I'll help you back."

"Van." Vanille started leading her out the bathroom. "I want- " Serah breathed, catching her lost breath. "I want to see Fang."

Vanille paused, eyes flickering over to Fang's door. "Maybe we should wait a little bit... you're still not well..."

"I want to see her." Serah insisted.

"Serah..." Vanille bit her lip. "She...it doesn't look good. You're just coming out of shock now, I don't think it'd be good for you to see her right away... not like this... "

"I was there." Serah reminded her unnecessarily. "I saw it. I saw her... please, Vanille."

Vanille winced, indecision clear. She wavered, then looked to the door again. Cringing, Vanille relented. "Okay, Serah. But I'm staying with you. And just... I know you were there, but... she's hurt. She's hurt bad."

"I know." Serah reached for the door handle, fingers closing around it. "She didn't expect to come back."

Vanille bit harder down on her lip, almost drawing blood as Serah walked in ahead of her. To her credit, the girl didn't halt and double-take at the sight of Fang lying there, which was more than Vanille could say for herself. She came up next to Serah and watched the girl's eyes scan over Fang, horror and sorrow emanating from her at the morbid frame of their friend.

Fang was unconscious, lying on her back. As Serah came upon her, Fang's numerous injuries came into focus. Her left wrist of the arm was casted and bound, limp at her side. Her legs were nicked with little scars that, with Cocoon medicine, would soon fade them to permanent marrings across her skin, including the deeper gash from teeth across her thigh. Serah winced when she saw the cut that'd been slashed across Fang's cheek, a grisly, deep incision that was still a little red, despite the speed of Cocoon's healing practices. Fang's shoulder, too, was still stitched over and not quite as healed as the rest of her. A white bandage wrapped around her head, red at the back. "How's her back?" Serah asked, voice faint.

"The cuts are almost entirely healed," Vanille told her, stepping beside Serah. Their arms brushed as Vanille reached out an arm around her. "They were still open when they laid her down, but they told me its best for her broken ribs if she's lying on her back."

Serah looked, but couldn't tell anything with Fang's paper hospital gown covering the chest and ribs. "How bad is it?"

"Bad." Vanille swallowed. "She has multiple fractures along the bone. I don't understand everything they tried to tell me, but I had to leave for awhile so they could put in struts to line broken ribs, make sure they grow back correctly. There's nothing they can do to speed the healing process other than let her rest. I... I told them to keep her sedated. Fang won't like waking up in the hospital. I thought... she should rest first, before she wakes up..."

Serah gazed, silent for a moment. Vanille could barely hear her when she spoke again. "...I've never seen her so broken, Vanille..." Liquid crystals glittered on their way down Serah's cheeks. "So angry..."

Serah's eyes refreshed, glossy and thick with trembling wetness. "Claire's her world." Serah vocals went tight. "How's she gonna get by, or function at all without her soft touch...or her smiles that'd become so common, or- or even just her presence, being around her and- " Serah choked and felt Vanille's small arms wrap around her again.

Unable to even finish, Serah sobbed and broke down, clutching Vanille back tightly as she wept, crying her soul out to Vanille's too-short shoulder, wishing it were Lightning standing there, hugging her. Lightning or Snow- either of them that Serah'd lost and would never see again, nor feel the warm reassurance of their bodies, or hear the lyrical, savored tone of their voices. Even if it was just to yell at her, Serah would give anything to hear either of them again, especially Lightning, who'd been stolen from her without fair chance to say goodbye. Serah grieved. I'll never get to speak to her again.

The impact hit her with such a crushing blow, Serah was overwhelmed. She collapsed fully against Vanille, silently pleading with every essence of her being for a second chance she knew she'd never get. Vanille held her as she crumbled, feeling incredibly useless in her inability to console either girl. There was nothing she could do... so she just held Serah, and prayed.