XXX

Long hours after a mentally exhausting funeral, Serah sat at Fang's side. Alone with her, it was quiet, but for the tick of the overhead clock.

"Please," Serah whispered her last, "I can't lose you too."

A wellspring of pain blossomed in her chest, Lightning and Snow still plaguing her mind. Serah hadn't eaten since a nibble the day before. She still couldn't keep it down. Not with the memory so revoltingly fresh…

"…Claire?"

Serah's breath caught at the word, eyes lifting to the warrior. Fang lay broken in her casts, but a free hand lifted, reaching for her.

Serah's heart shattered again.

"Fang," the word was an effort. Serah had spoken and sobbed all day, wishing she could stop it. Halfway through, she'd retreated. No one saw her again until the procession. Serah had needed that time.

But even now, it wasn't enough. Serah could feel the sob rising in her throat. She forced it down as best she could. Fang didn't need to see that.

"It's me, Fang." Serah took Fang's lifted hand.

Fang blinked several times over again, eyes heavy with the fog of the sedatives she'd been fed. Even now, they pumped into her. A true miracle she'd come away at all.

Fang took her hand with her great strength. She kissed the top of it, then pressed it to her heart. "I'm sorry," Fang looked at her, seeming eerily focused as their eyes met. Fang's eyes fluttered.

Serah breathed, on such short time, "It wasn't your fault, Fang," in the midst of all her pain, her heart soared for this. Fang hadn't left her yet. She glanced at the drip, cursing the drugs in the machine. A sad necessity, when she remembered her rage… Fang needed these days of rest.

"I'm sorry I couldn't save her…" Fang whispered, voice faint. "Claire…"

"Fang," Serah echoed, at a loss, "It's… I'm Serah. Claire's…" she almost bit through her lip.

Fang clutched her hand so very tight, blinking eyes meeting one last moment. "I love you."

Fang's eyes flickered, and like that, she went out.

XXX

Against the doctor's advice, they'd taken Fang home.

Gentle tears moistened slick cheeks tired and damp. She'd long ago stopped rubbing, for it made little sense and only hurt. She doubted she'd ever stop crying again.

Serah sat at Fang's side, holding bruised fingers while slowly soothing cream to ease the aches. Fang wouldn't wake. Not with the IV pumping enough sedative to kill a horse through her veins, but Serah didn't know what else to do. None of them did. After seeing Fang snap as she had… Serah feared Fang was already gone.

"Serah,"

Serah didn't look up, didn't try to voice a response. She'd just break down to tears again, the way she had at every attempt. She sat quietly, hearing the footsteps approach her from behind. She just moved her thumb, soothing that cream in the only way she could help.

A hand touched her shoulder, so soft she almost missed it. Serah wouldn't look away from that hand again. Anything else would choke her with tears again.

Vanille sat beside her, quiet, and watched. Serah merely dipped her fingers into the salve again, dipping it over Fang's split skin.

Vanille stopped her on the tenth time, free hand covering hers. "Too much."

Excess of salve might cause reaction.

Serah couldn't even heal right.

She still wouldn't look away. She'd see Fang if she did, or Vanille, or Lebreau or Gadot with their broken faces, trying not to snap, to hold together for her. The way Claire and Snow had held for her. Why did they all hold for her? Serah should've thrown herself, letting the behemoth feast. Fang wouldn't be dying if she hadn't been so selfish, so useless to do anything when in dire need. She should've—

"Lebreau made soup." Vanille squeezed her fingers. "You should eat it."

Serah lowered her head, putting the salve back down again. She wouldn't go anywhere. She wouldn't leave Fang like this.

Vanille's fingers squeezed hers again. "I'll bring it up."

Serah wouldn't break from that hand.

XXX

Fang tossed in her sleep, anguished. Not even sedatives could bring the warrior rest.

Serah had advanced to taking her in whole. Directly responsible for this, for being useless, Serah vowed to herself that she had to look. She wouldn't be a coward with this. Fang deserved better than that.

After two days of nursing with small steps of faint courage, Serah had finally will enough to leave the room for more than just a bathroom break. She wouldn't breach either room, the ones previously hers or Claire's, but she'd ventured to the kitchen once, sprung with an idea to bring soup to Fang.

She hadn't woke Fang yet. She lay there, troubled as ever, with injuries still healing clean. The cuts were gone, but her wrist still casted, protective wrap over her stomach where broken ribs mended. Everything had scarred. Serah still flinched, reaching up that blemished cheek. Fang would be marred forever.

All because she hadn't moved.

That was part of the persuasion too. Serah didn't heed Vanille's request that she move, nor for Lebreau's insistence, or Gadot's gentle pleading. She moved because she had to. Because she hadn't moved before.

Serah found Vanille collapsed upon the table downstairs. It hurt to look, but Serah forced it. She'd ignored the girl's visits for days.

Vanille was wretched. Hair unwashed, probably as dirty as her own, her normally healthy skin was ashen as the bedresting Fang's. Only one cheek exposed, even in slumber, Serah could easily see the dark circles under her eyes. In a plain, undecorated shirt and baggier pants, hair down and free of bangles, she resembled nothing of the girl Serah knew as her best friend.

Serah suddenly wished she was strong. Strong enough to carry Vanille into the living room and place her on the couch- if it wasn't taken, she'd had such vistors of late- or the fold out, or somewhere a good night's sleep could get to this girl too.

But she wasn't. Serah had never been strong. Not like her mighty husband or speedy, graceful sister. Else she could've helped… could've stopped the slaughter…

"Vanille,"

After two days of quiet silence and half-whispered requests, her own groggy voice startled her, indelicate and harsh. Vanille woke at first mention, springing up before Serah had even touched the girl. "What? She didn— " she fell deathly quiet at the sight of Serah out of Fang's room, working her throat a full minute to speak. "…Serah." It's all her mind seemed to process for the moment.

Serah had swallowed rapidly in her own preparation. "You shouldn't sleep here," she finally said.

Vanille tried to say something else, but couldn't think of anything worthwhile. She hugged Serah instead, wrapping small arms around the girl. Serah's guilt doubled again, plagued with additional pain. Claire had always hugged her when she fumbled with words… but Vanille was too small. And the girl didn't fumble. Wasn't supposed to.

Serah let the tears fall, not wanting to be louder by fighting them. When Vanille pulled away, she didn't reach for them either, instead only found her voice for a couple words to say. "You either."

Serah only lowered her head. Vanille lingered, but when Serah glanced to the door, Vanille made her way out.

"I'll be back in two hours."

Serah stayed to make the soup. It was easier to push back when she kept her hands busy, focus away. Menial tasks. Those which Serah could do.

When smoking hot and finished, Serah took a bowl upstairs. Fang rustled now and again, as she had since day one. Serah sat on the bed in her spot, placing the bowl on the dresser at her side. The twitching wasn't at its worst today, so Serah rearranged her to sit up more. Fang couldn't swallow on her own, but Serah knew a thing or two about tending. She just wanted to get some of it in her.

She dipped one spoonful of the broth and blew it cool. Carefully, she lift the spoon to Fang's chapped lips and parted them. When the liquid touched her tongue, it moved back along the incline to Fang's throat. Gentle as a feather, Serah touched her throat and tenderly, very careful, massaged Fang's throat muscles. It took a moment to find the spot and Serah supposed it'd already gone down, but her reflexive swallow followed only a moment after.

Serah kept her fingers there and reached for another spoon. While she didn't think Fang at any real danger with the broth, Serah wanted to be sure the food went down alright without any choking. She continued this into the night until the bowl was almost gone. Fang turned then in her sleep, away from Serah and the spoon feeding.

Serah finished the rest of the bowl herself in one swallow and pushed it aside on the dresser. That scar marring her cheek shone prominent at Serah, who winced, reaching frail fingers to touch the spot she'd fondled before. A small rise to Fang's perfect skin, like the long-faded scars to her shoulder, body and legs. Fang was full of them.

At the gentle stroke, Fang's head turned again, cheek caressing Serah's hand. The movement dropped her stomach again, threatening the sip of soup she'd just had to come back up.

She'd seen Fang move to Claire a thousand times before, the same cuddle of Claire's skin.

Serah removed her fingers, feeling sacrilegious to their love.

Fang's cheek smoothed the pillow without her, searching for that warmth.

Serah left that night and showered, the first hours gone away.

Fang's face joined the haunt, till Serah crumpled under the pain, sliding down the shower wall. Serah curled.

She wished for death.

XXX

Serah woke on the couch, hair still freshly damp and clothed. She barely wondered how she'd gotten there before seeing Gadot on the floor near the table. Serah flipped off the couch in a rush, barely breathing until she'd found Fang in her room. Vanille's voice abruptly stopped at Serah's entry. Serah realized she'd been talking to Fang.

"Serah," Vanille stood, making to leave the spot Serah usually occupied, "I'm sorry. You should— "

"Sit." Serah ordered in a voice that bridged no argument. Vanille sat immediately. Serah's guilt soared. Of course, others would've wanted to visit Fang alone. Especially Vanille. She wasn't the only one wallowing in pain here… "I'll make breakfast."

Vanille bowed her head, "…Thank you."

It only made Serah feel worse. She hurried downstairs to cook, eyes blurring again as she went.

Serah took a long time in making breakfast, long enough for Lebreau to wake, who gave her a silent hug upon entering while Serah stirred up their breakfast. She set aside a small bit for Fang, the stuff that'd dissolve easier. Lebreau attempted talking to her, but it squeezed them both so awkward, she gave up and set the coffee.

Serah busied herself with menial tasks until Vanille came back down again.

Serah turned to her, heavily weighed. "…You want some breakfast?"

Vanille easily read Serah's clear anxieties. Though she had no appetite either, she accepted for Serah's benefit. "We have to go soon, though," Vanille told her, taking the plate from Serah and laying her food. Serah offered Lebreau too, who declined, and Gadot, who nervously took a plate. His food was gone in seconds, following his habitual stress habits. Vanille ebbed her plate towards him. "The hospital still needs volunteers."

"Me too, for rebuilding," Lebreau admitted without thinking.

Gadot froze in the midst of Vanille's plate. He swallowed hard. "I can sta— "

"No," Serah countered, knowing the intent to babysit. She didn't need a watcher. Not while the town was still a huge mess. Her friends had responsibilities just as hard. Lebreau's place had been demolished. Keeping busy helped. Serah wouldn't keep them from that. "You should go."

"It's no trouble…" Gadot started, but Serah cut him off.

"Really," she insisted, not wanting to burden. She struggled to keep her tone level, away from the emotion that threatened to overtake her, from that horrid anguish that ate at her insides. "I'm just gonna take care of her. I won't do anything rash, and I know all her care. I've got it." Serah shut her mouth against the waver, then re-strengthened her vocals. "You guys go."

It took one more urge to get them, but the trio hugged her out the door, promising to come back and check in whenever they could. Seeing Gadot with Vanille burned. They used to laugh about such a thing, both choosing the gentle giants. Claire would balk and threaten Snow not to crush her, and Fang would laugh with a lewd comment, most time about their sex.

It was a joke among them… something they'd never share again.

Tears streaming once again, tears that never stopped streaming, Serah carried breakfast up.

XXX

After she'd fed her something more than the drip, Serah washed her with a warm cloth. She wished she could've taken Fang to the bath. They'd undressed her these past few days, keeping her naked under the sheets. It was easier to clean that way, and Fang naturally slept in the nude. Though she usually had a partner…

Serah steeled her mind, focused on her task. She rubbing the cloth over Fang's smooth skin, coming upon another scar every few inches she'd soothed. Fang's fantastic body was covered in them, both fascinating and appalling, how one woman had so many. Serah counted every time.

At the same time, she shuddered with a task so intimate. Bad enough to see Fang this way, how only Claire ever should've, worse that she had to touch. Serah cringed with every sensitive-area wipe, completely averting her eyes at the legs.

Serah ached when she wiped Fang near, stomach dropping at the worst of this task.

It took a full fifty minutes, four of which spent rolling Fang onto her back, but by the time she'd finished, Fang appeared marginally better. Serah rolled with all her strength, only able when Fang naturally helped. She covered the woman again, dropping the towel to her bucket.

At least Fang would rest clean.

Serah sat with her awhile, even tried to talk, but the conversation turned too much to things she tried to avoid. When it all became too silent, allowing for too much thought, Serah picked up to search for a chore. Sadly, the guest bedroom held little to do. Without willing to leave her yet, not until they reached lunch, Serah started to pace. Even that kept her mind too free.

Fang made another noise, fast drawing her eyes. She turned on the bed again, curled on her side and mumbling, words incoherent, if they were words at all, as half-escaped whimpers from her throat.

The dreams were coming back again.

Serah hastened to her side. She sat on the bed again, hand lifting to Fang's head for fever check. She felt warm, but not hot. Serah touched her shoulder as she rustled. "Fang," Fang still tossed, receiving no rest for all their efforts. Serah called to her again, but her voice only seemed to trouble Fang. She gave up the effort and tried to still the woman, to let her ride it out.

Fang stiffened, arching taut.

Serah eyed the drip with malice. How long would she be like this? Was it really helping any at all? Fang's ribs were still healing along with her wrist, but the way she tossed in her slumber proved no less dangerous than a Fang up and alert.

Serah wondered at the drip. The doctors had told them, and Vanille seemed to understand, but who knew what kind of drugs they needed to keep her like this? The only time Fang had woken, she'd thought Serah was Claire. Did these drugs cause hallucinations or vivid dreams in her?

A very strong urge gripped her. Serah wanted her off. Off the drugs and sedative. Off it all. Fang had been angry, yes, but what would a few more days keeping her under truly accomplish? She'd still be just as mad, or moreso, if she hadn't been roused once in it all. Delusional as she'd been, Fang had come back without the anger once already. She was strong, and she'd never hurt Serah.

Serah's eyes flicked between. Fang jolted yet again.

Serah grabbed the taped needles and pulled, loosing Fang from the drugs.

It'd take a few hours to get Fang to wake. Until then, Serah would stay, meekly trying to soothe her great pain.

XXX

Barely a half hour later, Fang groaned something terrible, rolling to her side just stopping at Serah's knee. She cringed, arms lifting, groggy eyes misty and blurred. Fang reached for her leg, hand patting the bed until she found it and gripped.

"Fang?" Serah gasped. Fang shouldn't wake for hours!

Fang weakly tried to push up on muscles that'd been inactive for days. Even her strong arms collapsed.

"Fang, don't do that," Serah cautioned, taking the arm before she could try again or injure her wrist. "You're in no condition to move around yet." Serah gathered her as best she could and gave an honest effort to pulling Fang up. She stuck like a bolder till tired legs insisted on helping, pulling half into Serah's lap.

Fang tried to speak, but her dying throat cracked. "Oh!" Serah grabbed at her tableside water with the sudden realization and pressed the half-sipped glass to Fang. Fang downed it in one long, refreshing swallow, life trickling down her cottony throat. Serah awkwardly, almost balanced her to her shoulder while she did so in the seated position, Fang sprawled out. She pulled the blanket up to cover her. "You should be groggy… or passed out, rather. How do you feel?"

"Claire…" Fang whimpered, crushing her shattered heart.

For all the mental coaching, Serah couldn't look at her. "I know…"

"I'm sorry," Fang whimpered again, echoing their early conversation in the hospital. She probably didn't even remember having it.

"Shhh," Serah hushed, throbbing at the reminder. She didn't want to cry again. Serah focused hard on just words. "You're not at fault for that."

"Could've saved her," Fang whispered, mortified. With a great feat of strength Serah didn't know returned yet, Fang pushed up with some difficulty, somber eyes turning on her. Next thing Serah knew, Fang had gripped her and dragged her close. Serah initial stiffed, unexpectant, but Fang's arms squeezed so warm, secure, almost as if…

Serah choked on the memory, relative to Snow's strong arms. In another minute, she was crying, quiet tears leaking from unending ducts. Fang's hold went firmer, but she didn't hurt the smaller girl.

Fang started apologizing again. It squeezed Serah's little heart. She never wanted to drop those arms. Half leading them that way, Serah tilted them back to the bed, where she clung. Fang stroked her back, at a loss. She'd never been good with soft words like this, with so little practice for how little Claire broke down.

It took some time for the tears to pass, but Fang didn't want to let go either. The woman eventually stopped shaking in her arms and just hugged, a rare time of need to be held.

When Serah regained composure enough to speak again, she took the opportunity Fang provided in quiet. "I thought…" she swallowed, forcing her vocals to work, "thought you'd left me too."

"I'd never leave you," Fang promised, incredibly sincere. Serah could swear she could hear Snow saying it to her. "I love you."

"I love you too," Serah rushed, grateful for the tender assurance. Fang had little incentive to be so soft now, considering how she must throb inside, but the words filled Serah, soothing the wounds inside her. She wasn't alone in this agony. Fang hadn't left her alone.

She lay there with Fang, closing tired eyes. For the first time since the slaughter, Serah didn't envision the jacksaw, blood gushing from Snow's chest. Instead, she felt… warm, the way she did in Snow's arms. Fang's were smaller with a different curve to her front, but in the one-time peaceful silence, she could almost imagine him there instead, holding her the way he used to, the way he loved her so very much…

Serah snuggled closer, warm in those arms as a first real rest settled upon her there.

Fang kissed her forehead and slept.

Serah woke some five hours later, surprised by her watch when it showed her the time. It'd been the most consecutive sleep she'd had since that attack, and it'd come without the nightmares. Serah breathed a few times steadily. A loose hand rubbed up her shirt, directly pressed to her back where lithe fingers massaged her shoulders. Fingers too small eased out her body, too nimble and skilled.

They still felt good, Serah mentally took note, and not really awkward in a sense that she'd otherwise imagine with Fang's hands up the back of her shirt. Not so much in this case. Fang simply offered what she thought could ease—and it did, wonderfully.

Serah closed her eyes again, resting her head to Fang's shoulder. She wondered if sleep might catch her again while this comfortable. Snow used to rub her so…

"Hey," Fang's hands stilled, then started to retreat, so thoughtful of her comfort.

"Please don't stop," Serah's tongue spurred in protest, surprising even her. "If it's not too weird, I mean," Serah added, keeping that in mind of Fang too. "It's nice…"

Fang's hands eased back up, resuming the comforting sooth. It felt so good, Serah could fall back asleep again. "It's never weird to touch you," Snow echoed in her mind, eating the strange clip from those words coming from Fang.

"It hasn't— " Serah exhaled on a particular easing spot, "Hasn't felt like this in days," she breathed steadily a few more beats. "I'm glad you're here, Fang. I couldn't do this alone."

"I wouldn't let you. You're my everything too, you know."

The words took a few seconds to register through her haze. Serah's brow furrowed when they did.

"I'm not going to let you go," Fang promised her true. "People don't do that to the ones they love. And I love you. So there."

Serah blinked and lifted slightly, seeing Fang gazing off over her shoulder. Her throat went a little dry. "…Fang?"

Fang's eyes turned on her, but the spark of life in her face hadn't dimmed any. "Yeah, Claire?"

Serah's eyed pillowed in their sockets, stomach dropping to her feet. Breath coming harder in rapid puffs now, she stared at Fang, aghast.

Fang's features softened at once, losing the happy spark, but not the tender love and care. "Hey," Fang eased, hands suddenly losing all appropriate nature. "Claire, no," Fang flattened them together with the hands on her back. Serah couldn't move to save her life, the same way she'd paralyzed before. "I'm here," Fang coaxed, squeezing her. "You don't have to cry about Serah anymore." Serah's blood ran cold. "We'll get through this together. I love you, Claire. I love you so much."

"Oh my God," Serah heaved, acute awareness picking up of their bodies, Fang naked but for half a sheet covering her bottom. And her hands, still flesh on her back. Serah panicked. "Oh my God!" She writhed to get away, slapping at Fang's hands. "Let go of me! Get off!"

Fang released her at once. Serah threw herself off, smacking into the floor. She backpedaled.

Fang watched her with fearful eyes. "Claire?"

"Stop saying that!" Serah screamed, then again when she sat up. "Stay back!"

Fang froze immediately on command, frightened eyes like a child. "…Light?"

"Oh, God," Serah felt vile, unclean, "God," she pulled to her feet in haste. Fang still hadn't moved. She seemed to follow orders well. Serah still hadn't caught her breath. She backed for the door. "Stay. There." Her hand touched the knob. Fang didn't move as she twisted it, just watched her with confused, hurt eyes, enough to ping even the panicked-Serah's sympathy. She looked so regular… "I'll be back." Serah escaped the door with a slam. She didn't stop until she reached the kitchen a full floor down, then ducked away to the space under the stairs, breathing hard, mind racing.

It took long minutes for her thoughts to even slow, more before Serah could think on them enough to process. Her damn heart wouldn't stop racing.

Fang… Fang had… like at the hospital. Serah squeezed her eyes tightly shut. She'd been the same there too, seeing Claire instead of Serah. Was this from the head injury? The doctors had taken scans, none reported any damage that could cause this— this— whatever this was. Something horrid had taken Fang's mind, tricking her entirely. Was it the drugs? The Yun had woken not a half hour after, then they'd slept for five hours beyond! It wouldn't have lingered that far… would it?

Serah curled, biting her lip, struggling to calm her inner panic. Okay. Okay. She just had to breathe. Fang was… dizzy or concussed. Could amnesia cause this, that Fang had remembered all but Claire's face? Was it just even her, or would Fang do that to anyone?

Something deep had snapped in her. No matter the databases, Serah could not cohesively link Fang's symptoms with anything but insanity. Claire's death… Oh, God. Fang had reached her breaking point. This was it, and now…

Serah tried to calm again. She listened, but no footsteps came in following. Fang had followed her order to stay.

What did that even mean? The girl thought she was Claire, spouting off as she'd been. Suddenly invasive touching aside now, she hadn't tried to hurt her or anything. In fact, she seemed rather… docile. Happy, even, despite recent events. Fang had spoken as if she'd been killed, not Lightning in her stead.

Serah checked her body quickly to make sure all was right in making sure she was the sane one, then pinched herself and hoped for a dream. No luck. But at least she appeared sane. Whereas Fang…

Serah tried to pull her thoughts together. She knew she'd run circles now. It was time to get things straight.

Fang was crazy. Period. Fang thought she was Lightning. Period. Fang might still be drugged. Question mark. And Fang didn't appear hostile. Period, question.

Which left Serah… not knowing what to do.