Author's Note: Based on my interpretation of the song "Youth Without Youth" by Metric. I have included the lyrics in a second chapter in case you've never heard the song and you're curious. You don't need to know the song to read the story.
This is a sequel to my other one-shot "Lost Kitten" but you can read the stories in either order.
AU Notes: In this universe, Serah doesn't have a sister. Her last name is Leone. The events of Final Fantasy 13 and 13-2 never occurred. This story is based in the City of Eden. The Guardian Corps (GC) are the police force. Sorry that Serah is a bit OOC.
Youth Without Youth
AU fanfic - Serah's POV
"Youth without Youth, born without time / Youth without Youth, can you read my mind?"
Snow came back today. As much as I liked to call him unpredictable, he always stopped by on a Thursday. There was no pattern to his appearances, except for the day of the week. It wasn't like we'd see him every Thursday, or even the first Thursday of the month. I didn't even know what day it was until I saw him sauntering over, his arms full of goodies. But he was back, so it must have been Thursday.
It was a bad morning to be a Thursday. I had woken up, head pounding, with my blanket wrapped around my ankles and my face plastered against the dirty floor. The dust made my dry mouth feel even more like cotton. A shot of vodka helped, swallowed straight from the bottle, but today I was sure I needed water. Our taps were shut off last week, evidence that it had been more than a month since Snow had been around. We all depended on him for stuff like that; so much that he started calling himself Mr. Hero. I didn't mind his new alias because I was sure none of us used our real names around here anyway.
The early afternoon light had startled me awake, the brightness of it almost violent, the way it sliced through the curtain and shone directly in my eyes. Begrudgingly, I'd untangled myself from my makeshift bed and straightened my sleep-rumpled skirt, giggling when the lacy fringe ripped off in my hands. It wasn't even funny. It had been my nicest outfit, the one that showed the most leg. That had only made me laugh harder, the noise bitter and sharp enough to cut my lips on the way out, which had seemed appropriate somehow. After all, the joke was on me.
Maqui stirred on the couch, wincing at the volume but still too groggy to complain about it. As I headed to Lebreau's room to look for something else to wear, I spied with my little eye a large silhouette through the front window. It was the hulking figure of the Hero himself, his body mercifully blocking that damnable sunlight.
"Snow!" I squealed, running out to him before he'd climbed the steps to the door. He carefully placed the box he was holding on the grass before sweeping me off my feet in a hug.
"There's my girl!" he said happily, his blue eyes shining under his black headband. "How're things?"
"Things are things," I replied in my enigmatic way, bringing my hand up to investigate his newly acquired stubble.
"Of course they are," he said, giving me an extra squeeze. Then he let me go to retrieve his box. I skipped ahead and opened the door for him.
"Get up, everybody," he shouted, stepping into the house and kicking an unlucky Yuj awake. It served him right for passing out in front of the door, but I still felt sorry for him as I stepped carefully over his crumpled body. The blue-haired addict had a bad habit of falling asleep anywhere.
"Gather 'round!" Snow bellowed, placing the box of toys on the coffee table.
"We got a new target?" asked Maqui, wiping sleep from his eyes. He scooted over so that Snow could join him on the couch.
"The target," Snow replied with his signature grin. "The biggest score I've ever seen."
We all hurried over in interest. There were five of us now crashing in the house including myself, Yuj, Maqui, Gadot and Lebreau. No one remembered whether Snow owned the house or rented, but we called it NORA house, which stands for No Obligations, Rules or Authority. It wasn't pretty and was basically falling apart. The roof leaked, the doors didn't lock anymore and the only furniture was the dilapidated couch and coffee table. I loved the place because, unlike Safe Houses and Shelters, there was no one here to preach to us.
As I leaned against the couch where Snow was, he tossed something at me. I caught it without thinking.
"What's this?" I asked, curiously surveying the heavy round object.
"Flash grenade," he answered. "Don't pull the pin on it, or we'll be blinded."
"Are we using this? For the raid?" I asked excitedly.
"You bet," he said with a wink.
To keep NORA house running, Snow recruited us for a raid every so often. It was usually a standard cash grab. Sometimes we'd hit a bank, but mostly it was small businesses that didn't have security cameras. Snow would stake a place out, only involving us as muscle and getaway drivers. But lately Snow had found an even bigger source of income, hitting drug suppliers. Last time, we'd knocked off over a kilo of cocaine. So when he said the score was big, our eyes glittered like the gil we expected to make.
Snow waited until we were all grouped in the front room before speaking again.
"We're hitting the Church of Eden tomorrow night."
"What's with the church, all of a sudden?" Yuj asked, lighting up a joint. "They got nothing we could use. A bank's got more money than them."
"Not to mention fewer fanatics," Lebreau added in agreement. Much of her resentment towards religion came from her devout father who took it upon himself to beat the evil out of his daughter.
"It's not the money," Snow replied excitedly. "They've got a stash of the new stuff. More than I've ever seen! You guys, this could be the biggest score in history!"
"The new stuff?" questioned Maqui, lifting his innocent eyes to me. He was the youngest member of our little group. Snow found him on the streets, ten years old, abandoned and hungry. Now he was twelve, and our resident mechanic and electronics expert.
"Synthetica," I clarified. "The drug everyone's talking about. You know," I said, shoving him playfully because of his confused expression. "Dreams So Real," I said, mimicking the throaty voice of the woman who dealt behind the convenience store.
"Right," Snow acknowledged. "And it's selling on the streets for 1000 gil an ounce."
"It went up," Lebreau noted.
"That's just it," Snow continued, "it's so popular, they'll buy no matter what the price."
Gadot moved closer, his large muscular body taking up nearly a quarter of the small room. He and Snow usually handled the intimidation part of our raids, pointing guns and demanding money. I didn't know the details, but I was pretty sure Snow had met him in jail. "So what's the plan?"
"Listen close, kids," Snow said, and we all leaned forward intently.
It was a standard misdirection ploy: while Yuj and Gadot create a diversion, Maqui would cut the telephone and power lines to disable the alarms, and Snow and I would sneak into the back of the church to retrieve the goods. The flash grenade would serve as the signal for everyone to get out, meeting the getaway driver, Lebreau, behind the church.
"Don't you think they'll recognize us?" worried Maqui. "We've used the parking lot behind the church as a meeting point for a couple of our raids now."
"It'll be fine," soothed Snow, confident as ever.
"Besides," added Yuj in a condescending tone, "Only me n' Gadot will be risking our necks on this one. You just have to snip a few wires and then wait in the van."
"They could catch me while I'm doing it, you know!" Maqui huffed, always trying to compete with the older teen.
"Right," I said, hoping to bolster his confidence. "We're all in equal amounts of danger." I tried not to roll my eyes while saying the last bit.
As much as the others teased the kid, it was his mechanical know-how that saved our necks most of the time.
At the end of the meeting, everyone scattered to do their own thing. Lebreau headed to the kitchen to cook us all some breakfast, Maqui followed Yuj outside with the box Snow had brought, and Gadot left the house without a word. I stayed seated on the couch, glad for some time alone with my Hero.
"I got you something," Snow said when everyone had left the room.
"Ooo presents!" I squealed as he handed over a package.
I opened the box excitedly, ready to be happy regardless of what it contained. But when I saw the white and pink fabric, I was mesmerized. I lifted the dress from the box, my mouth unconsciously open in surprise. It was like something from a fairy tale: white satin with pink ribbon cris-crossing the bodice. At first glance, I was skeptical. Black had been my color for as long as I can remember, because it was sexy and dangerous. In fact, I don't remember ever owning anything white. I wasn't that kind of girl. White was for virgins on their wedding day. But this dress was anything but chaste. It was short enough to show off my long legs, and it had open spaces on either side of the waistline. In summary, it was perfect.
Snow chuckled at reaction. "So I take it you like it, then?"
"Oh Snow, I love it!" I looked at him over the dress and smiled.
There was heat in the eyes that looked back at me. "Wear it tomorrow night," he said in a firm tone. The kiss he left me with seared my lips.
The reflection of the rising moon made the crystal steeple of the Church of Eden shine with a "holy" light. Situated in the heart of the city, the Church itself towered over every other building, its ornate architecture weaving both stone and crystal together in neo-gothic style. On nights like tonight, the beauty of church's spires and arches seemed to call out to everyone, both "believers" and nonbelievers alike. Even I stopped for a moment to drink in its ethereal splendor.
At the core of the religion was the worship of the Fal'Cie that feed and protect the people of Cocoon, including Eden, Orphan, Phoenix, Carbuncle, etc. But over time, the Church of Eden itself had evolved into something more like a cult. The self-stylized "believers" don white clothing and attend mass nightly, and often speak of the dangers of ingratitude to our Fal'Cie "masters". As much as I enjoyed sunlight and clean water, I didn't feel the need to waste my nights in a stuffy room while condescending priests scold me for not being thankful enough.
Snow and I walked into the church, hand in hand. For once, we were just another couple in the crowd. I wondered if Snow planned the raid this way just so we could be together. Did he consider this a date? I wanted to ask him, to tease him about those sorts of things, but I didn't. Our relationship was complicated. I liked Snow, a lot, but I wasn't naïve enough to think that I was the only girl in his life. He floated in and out of my life like the breeze. We were lovers, but I didn't need to play house. I knew that, as unreliable as he was, I needed him. He was the only person who ever treated me like I was worth anything. I convinced myself that I didn't care whether or not he loved me. So I kept my questions to myself and just enjoyed his company as much as I could before he disappeared again.
The congregation filed into the pews of the hushed church, amicable conversations rose and fell until the priest rose from his chair on the pulpit, silencing the crowd. I'd never been to mass before so I didn't know what to expect. In fact, I've never been inside the church before today. Even so, I was calm, snuggling comfortably against Snow's arm. In my imagination at least, tonight was a date. Here I sat, just an ordinary girl in a white dress in a church with my sweetheart beside me. I smiled sardonically at myself, my hand curling around the gun I had concealed in my satchel. As if.
"Let us pray…"
As expected, the lights cut out, courtesy of Maqui, plunging the congregation into complete darkness. That was our cue. Snow and I got up from our seats, he leading me by the hand to a side door. I held my other hand over my eyes in preparation. As we reached the door, a flash of bright light pressed against my skin, peeking between my fingers. Snow opened the door a crack and pulled me in. When the door closed, we were once again in darkness.
Yuj and Gadot entered from the back of the church, encased in the light of their flash grenade. They wore robes that hid their faces and hands in the folds. People were screaming in panic and confusion, their eyes still trying to adjust to the dark again.
"Bow to your Fal'Cie gods!" Yuj yelled in a fever-pitched voice. In one hand he held a lighter and in the other, fireworks. His manic laughter pressed under the door ominously as I heard him light the fuse.
"Yuj is high?!" I panicked, grabbing the fabric of Snow's trench coat.
"Don't worry, Serah," Snow whispered back, hurrying down the dark corridor. "The plan was to make a distraction, right?"
"No, Snow, this is bad!" Another problem the blue-haired teen had, other than his sleeping habits, was an acute fascination with fire. I had gotten in the habit of hiding all lighters and matches in the house when he was around. Sparklers and fireworks were like catnip to his drug-addled brain. "He's going to set this place on fire!"
"C'mon, Serah, we don't have time for this," Snow urged gruffly.
He continued along the deserted hallways with a singular determination. I knew it didn't matter to him what happened to the church, as long as we left with the drugs. I followed him with resignation, my ear still trained in the direction of the assembly. The sounds of commotion faded as we penetrated deeper into the church.
Though we passed several doors, Snow didn't slow his pace, so I figured he must have known where the stash was kept. At the end of the hall, he turned left and hopped up the stairs, two at a time. I pulled ahead and raced him up the steps. I giggled to myself when he increased his speed, using every inch of his long legs to overtake me. At the fourth floor he stopped, breathing hard. The stairs continued to stretch above us, spiraling up into infinity. Looking up at them made me dizzy.
"Serah, c'mon!" Snow called in a hushed voice, holding the door open for me. I ducked under his arm and into yet another long hallway.
Here on the fourth floor there was no indication that we were still in a church. To me, it looked like any other office building complete with elevators, board rooms and cubicle offices. Emergency track lighting lined the hallway. At the end of the hall, about thirty feet away, I spotted the silhouette of a man. Snow pressed his finger to his lips, using hand signals to tell me we needed to move forward and enter the second door on the left. The shadow didn't stir, and I realized that the person was facing away from us. I played the most dangerous game of "Red Light, Green Light" of my life, both Snow and I pressing our backs against the wall and praying the darkness would conceal us from view as the man turned around. Green light again, and we tiptoed all the way to the door Snow had indicated.
Thankfully the hinges were well-oiled and the door made no sound as we slipped inside. The room was a standard office, with a desk, two chairs and a bookshelf. I let out the breath I had been holding as I dropped myself into one of the chairs. Snow walked straight to the bookcase and pulled a heavy tome off the shelf. I peeked around his arm and found the book was hollowed out, the inside filled with a bag of crystal shards. Synthetica. Mission accomplished.
Snow turned to me, bag in hand, and I gave him a thumbs-up.
"Put this in your purse," he ordered, holding the treasure out to me.
Eyeing the drugs with anticipation, I cleared my throat. I'd only tried it once, but the high was something that no other drug or alcohol or sex could ever touch. It was like the world was remade especially for me. The sharp edges of reality smoothed out and polished to perfection. I didn't know how much of what I saw and heard was hallucination, but the people around me became nicer, gentler and everyone was in love with me. I wanted to feel that way again. I needed it.
"Snow, what if this is a decoy?" I asked, trying to hide my eagerness. "Don't you think we should try some? Y'know, for quality control."
Though the room was dark, there was no mistaking the narrowed eyes of suspicion. I waited patiently for his assessment, making it seem as though I didn't care either way. But then his expression changed to surprise and what he said had nothing to do with drugs.
"Do you smell smoke?"
On the main level, smoke billowed out around the evacuating congregation. The Roman candle that Yuj had shot into the church had lit some of the tapestries on fire. When Gadot noticed the smoldering fabric, he tossed another flash grenade into the nave and pulled his friend out of the church, making sure to abandon their cloaks in the vestibule. The two made their escape mere moments before the believers stampeded out of the front doors. In the confusion, no one could spot the two as they made their way to Lebreau's van.
"Didja see that?!" Yuj exclaimed, energized by his performance.
"What a mess," Lebreau acknowledged.
Gadot shook his head, clearly unimpressed with the other's adlibbing. The plan had been for them to distract the congregation, especially the priests. At no point did they agree to set the place on fire.
"Where's Maqui?" demanded Yuj, who had been anticipating the younger boy's shining eyes of admiration.
"Hasn't come back from snipping the wires," Lebreau responded quickly.
Sirens announced the coming squad cars. Someone had called the GC. Moments later, the church was surrounded.
"Hurry up, Hero," Lebreau muttered under her breath.
Maqui was packing up his tools behind the church. While the main power line had been easy to sever, the alarm system had taken more time to crack. The procedure required him to break into the safe box without tripping the alarm and then hacking the termination codes to disable the security. The boy was already on edge, and the echo of approaching sirens doubled his anxiety. As he threw the tools haphazardly into his carrying case, a cruiser pulled up behind him.
"Stop what you're doing!" shouted the officer as he stepped out of the car, gun steadily aimed at the boy's head.
Maqui jumped to his feet, fearful tears already in his eyes.
"What are you doing here, kid?" demanded the officer, surprised by how young the boy looked.
"I-I," Maqui stuttered, sniffling back the tears. "I was just playing, I swear!"
The cop looked over at the case Maqui was holding. The pack was bright red and depicted a family of chocobos having a picnic. It was the backpack I'd bought him for his birthday last year. It really was a bit childish for a twelve-year-old, and Yuj teased him mercilessly for it. However, in this situation it served its purpose. The cop was baffled. He had better things to do than to intimidate little kids.
"Put your toys away," scoffed the officer, as he headed back to his squad car. "This is not a playground."
Maqui grabbed the last of his tools and booked it back to Lebreau's van.
Footsteps echoed down the fourth floor corridor, breaking the strained silence between Snow and me.
"They're coming!" I squeaked. Nervousness always raised my voice to pitches that only dogs should be able to hear. Whether or not Snow understood me or figured it out for himself didn't matter. As long as we got the hell out of there before we got caught.
Other than the door, the only way out was a window located high on the wall behind the desk. Alone, I would have been trapped, but Snow was tall enough to open it. Thankfully, it opened onto the fire escape. He lifted me up and I crawled out and onto the metal landing. He passed the bag to me and then lifted himself out as well. He closed the window as much as he could from the outside and we crouched beneath it, hoping our pursuers wouldn't poke their heads outside.
We heard the door crash open behind us, followed by angry voices and the sounds of rummaging through the office. Snow put his arm around my shoulders, a reassuring smile on his face. Though I was scared, I knew that he'd protect me. With my Hero around, I knew I had nothing to fear.
The voices were too quiet for us to hear the conversation inside the room, but the words "fire" managed to waft out on the breeze. I took no pride in my prediction coming true, swallowing my "I told you so" bitterly. We needed to get back to the van before things got any worse.
Cue the sirens. I watched in horror as the squad cars surrounded the building. We were trapped.
"Snow, what now?"
The fire licked out from the first floor windows below. It was too dangerous to go back inside the building. Unfortunately, the people in the room seemed to come to the same conclusion. Fingers curled around the bottom of the window, pulling it up slowly.
"Snow!" I whispered urgently.
He pulled me to my feet and we climbed down the ladder to the third floor landing. Above us, the clergymen from the room were climbing out the window. Any moment now they'd spot us. Below, the flames danced wildly and the police were approaching.
I looked over at my Hero, hoping he had a plan. I followed his gaze to the roof of the building next to the church. From what I could tell, it was a two-storey dilapidated apartment building. He nodded his head as if he came to a decision.
"Serah, we're gonna jump," Snow asserted.
I reassessed the distance between the two buildings. It was over fifteen feet.
"No, it's too far!" I complained, coughing as the smoke from below enveloped us.
"On the count of three, alright?" he said, climbing onto the railing.
I had no choice. The police were on first level of the fire escape now. I joined him on the rail, crouched and ready to pounce. He took my hand and I nodded.
"1… 2… 3, GO!" he shouted, launching himself with his powerful legs. We flew over the alley. Smoke obscured my vision and I couldn't make out the edge of the building ahead of us. Had we jumped far enough? Were we high enough? Fate don't fail me now, I thought apprehensively.
Below, a commanding officer was yelling "Go, Go, Go, GO!" sending the troops up the fire escape. The smoke was so thick, I couldn't tell if they'd spotted us or not. But even if they had, hide-and-seek rules prevailed – they had to tag us before we were caught.
With a satisfying jolt, the hard surface of the roof slammed into the soles of my feet and I collapsed from the impact. We'd made it!
Snow pulled me up, a goofy grin on his face.
"Let's get out of here!"
Unsurprisingly, the door leading down into the building was locked from the inside. Snow shoved the door with all of his weight but to no avail. Loose bricks and other construction materials littered the roof. I hefted a brick to test its weight and then motioned for Snow to step aside. He gave me a curious look before moving out of the way. I aimed for the window just above the door and threw the brick with all my strength. The window shattered with a crash, and sure enough, an alarm sounded.
Unperturbed, Snow reached his arm through the broken window and unlocked the door.
"You coming?" he smiled, leading the way down the stairs.
The alarm shouldn't have fazed me. I mean, we'd had plenty of raids go sour at the last minute, usually because some bystander had called the GC. From those experiences I'd learned that I can run very, very fast if I needed to. But panic started to set in when I realized that it wouldn't matter how fast I could run if they blocked off the exits below us. We'd be caught like rats in a cage.
"Snow, what if they close all the exits?" I shouted breathlessly at his back, trying to keep up as he sprinted down the stairs.
"Don't worry," came his typical response to danger.
For a moment I thought he'd just leave it at that, his devil-may-care attitude too dense to understand that we'd both be arrested and the raid will have been for nothing. However, he stopped suddenly at the top of the last flight of stairs, and in my absentminded panic I ran right into him.
"Still have that flash grenade?" Snow asked, cutting me off. I nodded, pulling it out of my side-pouch.
"Okay, here's the plan: We'll throw the grenade out the door, which will ruin their night vision. They'll still be guarding the area, so I'll run out and distract them. While I keep them busy, you slip out of the building and find Lebreau and the others. Got it?"
Of course. His plan was to keep the drugs safe. I understood. He'd be arrested and we'd bail him out with all the money we'd make selling Synthetica. It was completely logical. Or so I tried to tell myself.
"No!" my mouth hissed, speaking without permission. Well, without permission from my brain. "I won't let you get shot!"
"It'll be alright, Princess," he soothed, placing a hand on my cheek. It was a bad sign that he used that particular nickname. A very bad sign. "I'm your knight in shining armor," he kissed my lips gently. "Don't worry, heroes never die."
Oh great. Talk about famous last words. But we were out of time. I could hear the voices of the approaching GC officers through the door now. If we waited any longer, they'd open the door and my chance at slipping away unnoticed would be gone.
I handed over the flash grenade and we booked it down the last staircase. Snow put one hand on the doorknob. In the other hand was the flash grenade. My fingers were on the pin. He mouthed the words 'one, two, three' before shoving the door aside. I pulled the pin on 'two'. Light erupted ahead of me in the front foyer of the apartment building.
I'd closed my eyes in preparation, but it did little to help in the confusion of the situation. Beyond the stairwell door there had been at least six officers with their guns aimed directly at us. Our flash grenade had surprised them, but they still shot in our direction blindly. Snow pushed me to the floor as their bullets ricocheted off the door frame. After the first barrage of bullets, Snow launched himself at the nearest officer, his fists flying. I could hear their guns and attention swivel towards him, and chose that moment to crawl out of the stairwell, moving far to the right of the fighting, hoping the front entrance would be unmanned.
Still blinking to regain their vision, the GCs were focused on the racket Snow was making, further increasing my chances for escape. I'm pretty sure Snow had disarmed the first officer and was shooting at the ground to make the others back off. At least, that's what I told myself when I heard more shots echoing behind me.
Using sound to guide me, I crawled until all of the officers were at my back. Then I got to my feet and ran for the exit. Red lights reflected off the pavement ahead, the sirens announcing the arrival of the fire truck. No one stood between me and freedom. I sprinted the last ten feet and shouldered the door open with all my strength.
I didn't think there would be cops waiting outside the apartments. That's where I'd been dead wrong.
"Hey," called one of them, a man, spotting me dashing past. "Stop her!"
A group of GCs were huddled just outside the doors. I guessed that they were awaiting orders or something. I had no chance. All it took was one of them to grab me. A hand shot out from the group with frightening speed, latching on to my upper arm as the words left the other officer's lips. I hadn't even registered what he'd said before I was spinning around to face my captor.
The first thing I noticed was her eyes. They were big and blue and feminine. It was well after dark, but the flames from the church were reflected in those eyes, making them burn with intensity. She restrained me with a firm grip on my arm, but I was held by the strength of her gaze. At first, her look told me not to try anything, that no matter what I wanted to pull she'd best me. But then, recognition dawned on her features, surprise and fear filling those eyes with something deeper. I felt rather than saw what she was reacting to. A connection of familiarity drew me to those eyes. And then I placed it, where I'd seen those eyes before: the mirror – my eyes. She had my eyes.
As if time had finally started up again, I became aware of the noises that surrounded us: the sirens of the fire truck, the roaring of the flames, the shouts and gunshots behind us in the apartment building where Snow was giving his last stand, and her voice speaking to me.
"Miss Leone?" the officer asked stiffly, trying to get my attention. I was sure I'd met her once before… Officer Farron, was it? "You're under arrest. Anything you say can and will…"
I stopped listening as she cuffed my hands together.
While she led me back toward her squad car next to the blazing church, I searched the pandemonium for my friends. Did they get away safely? I wondered. Behind the church, in the parking lot where we'd planned to meet, I saw a sparkler glowing brightly. It was a sign. They were okay. But more importantly, they were long gone. I heaved a sigh of relief.
I figured I'd be doing some time. But what did that matter to a girl like me? I was born without time. Even when I'd been 'free' I'd had my chains, holding me down. Cocoon was a hell hole no matter where you lived. So I'd see it from behind bars for a while. I'd manage. I hoped they'd let me out on a Thursday. The first thing I'd want to see is Snow's mischievous grin. I'd ask him how he managed to take on an entire GC brigade single-handedly, armed with nothing but his fists. It was sure to be a good story. I didn't doubt that he'd survive. After all, heroes never die…