A note from the author: There will be a handful of things you'll want to know before you read. I'm using the AF means of keeping track of time, but this takes place exclusively after the first game. It for the most part ignores the novellas and other media (one specific exception will be clear in Chapter 2). My intent was to write a story that covered the 4 years from Light's perspective while Hope is reaching adulthood. Each year will consist of a series of scenes based on the theme of the chapter. With that said, time will move a little irregularly. I'll have months marked; I've arbitrarily made the Purge/Fall take place in June (though I doubt they'd use the Gregorian Calendar). Line demarcations mean that we're still in the same month. I'll give time markers to differentiate between weeks or hours taking place etc. And with that, enjoy!
Year 0AF – Left
Of all the changes that had taken place these past weeks, the item perched on Hope's nose appeared the most startling. They caused his fluffy white bangs to kink at odd angles, which sweat then cemented into place. The lenses even managed to highlight his eyes to further infantilize him.
"Could you please stop staring," he said almost mutedly.
It had not been the first time today. He'd lost his spark by now, left only with ennui. Needless to say, Lightning couldn't stop.
The glasses had revealed themselves the previous morning. He had casually pulled an oblong case out of his pants pocket. It's not like she had never seen the box before; he regularly emptied his clothes to be laundered. She just never realized that something so mundane was within. She'd half expected a family heirloom.
"I told you," he said while leafing through a Natural Disaster Relief pamphlet, "that my contacts have expired already. It's not like I can waltz down to the doctor for a fresh pair."
Between the weeks on the run followed by adjustment into portable homes, enough time had passed that Hope had to pitch his old contacts lest he endanger his vision.
The boy had been sitting on one of three mattresses on the floor when he threw the pamphlet and ran his fingers through his hair. Lightning noted that, unlike before, he slid his fingers to tuck it behind his ears exposing the frames. The gesture seemed both suggestive yet innocent. She paced over from the rickety card table and joined him on the mattress. He turned to face her expectantly as she lifted a hand toward him and pinched his cheeks. The two of them seemed to be aware that she hadn't initially planned it. At the last moment, her hand had short circuited and completed an entirely different action.
"Kid, I'm just wondering what else you could be hiding from me," she said, flopping onto her back, her hands cradling her head. "I'm taking care of you from here on out. If you have any other medical needs, I have to know." Hope almost responded when she interrupted him, "Or Snow. If it's a guy thing."
Hope coughed. "Trust me, Snow is the last person I'd have a man to man talk with." He slumped over, resting on his elbow. "I'm fourteen. That ship has already sailed."
"What?" Lightning said startled.
Strike number two of unexpected Hope-centric events.
"Wait, no. Not that ship. I just meant," the boy said blanching, then started swinging his free arm around, "puberty and those types of discussions."
Lightning slapped his thigh in a motherly manner. "If you say so."
"Guess who got a job today?" Snow said, strutting between the trailers.
"You what?" Lightning said questioningly.
The family had been sitting outside. The evening air was preferable to the unregulated heat of their home. It had only been a few weeks since Cocoon's fall and almost everyone had been busy adjusting to life on Pulse. How could Snow of all people find work?
"While being a gigolo is technically a job, I doubt you should brag about it in front of your fiancé," Hope said, plucking at blades of grass.
"Oh how quick we are to judge, little man," Snow said, reaching to ruffle the boy's hair. "I am gainfully employed by the fine folks of the Human Services Department."
Serah clapped gleefully while Lightning remained utterly confused.
"As you all know, the government is in a bit of retooling right now. So we aren't sure what each of our official titles will be. But for now, I am an administrative assistant with social services. I start tomorrow. We're working out of a series of tents until the actual offices are built."
"Don't most secretaries have some sort of degree?" Hope asked skeptically.
"You've wounded me, Hope. Show of hands. How many of us here have college degrees? What's this? Just me? That's right. How do you think NORA stayed afloat? Lebreau's food wasn't that great. We needed some form of consistent cash flow. Stop glaring at me, Lightning. I'm telling the truth. I completed my degree online while working. Only by the time you met me I was working evenings and monster hunting with the crew during the daytime."
"I'm so proud of you," Serah said, enveloping him in a hug. She had been the only one privy to this information ahead of time.
"Speaking of monsters," Snow said, turning to Lightning, "the construction crews are having a heck of a time with monsters onsite. They've been supplied with a security detail, but the poor bastards keep getting injured. I told them I might know someone interested in a job."
Snow winked at her. She would never live this down, that her future livelihood would come about because of this idiot.
"I'm too young to have a son this rebellious," Serah said as she rumpled Hope's hair.
"Aren't toddlers by definition 'terrible?'" Lightning mocked.
"If I'm a toddler, what would that make you?" the boy shot back.
He picked up his workbooks and stomped his way out of the trailer, making sure to glare at the women before slamming the door.
"All I suggested was he take a break. He spends all his free time studying," Serah said.
"He knows that, but maybe you shouldn't play the parent card so hard," Lightning said sliding into a chair at the table.
Snow and Serah's custody of Hope had been a point of contention amongst the entire household. Hope thought at 14 he'd be fine fending for himself. The adults had completely overruled him on that point. The only agreeable option was for Lightning to become a guardian. The legal system, however, did not agree. Her current freelance job was deemed both unstable and endangering. As a single guardian, this was unacceptable. Snow and Serah were legally married and neither had dangerous occupations. They had submitted the marital paperwork his first day on the job.
Lightning picked up a pencil and spun it in her fingers. She'd barely stepped in the door and she'd already managed to infuriate the boy. She had become accustomed to his pigheadedness, but it seems that this bout had arrived out of nowhere. Serah slipped a piece of toast and a jar of jam in front of her.
"It's your job," Serah said, sliding into her own seat.
"What about it?" Lightning said, peering out the window.
"He's worried about you."
Lightning's eyes settled on the boy. He was sitting in the grass with his pile of books; the wind kept flipping the pages involuntarily. He growled in frustration, and then glanced back at the trailer. When his eyes met hers, she threw her upper body flat against the table.
"And you wonder why he worries," Serah said while bursting into laughter. Not even a glare from her sister could sway her.
"That was a fluke," Lightning said, nonchalantly flicking crumbs off her shirt.
"What has gotten into you lately," Serah said, resting her chin on her palm. "Not that I don't like this new you, it's just a surprise." She sighed, pleased with herself.
"Anyway, what were you bringing up my job for?" Lightning scratched her neck, and then tried to inconspicuously glance over her raised forearm. This time, Hope smirked and gave her a little wave.
"You look equally as concerned about him is all."
Lightning leaned back into her chair closing her eyes. "And?"
"It doesn't take a genius to tell he barely tolerates me or Snow. You two were attached at the hip whenever he wasn't at school. But now you're out most of the day. When you do come back, you're covered in new scrapes."
Serah gestured at a fresh bandage on Lightning's bicep.
"It's not like there are many options for a soldier that," Lightning paused, "did… what I did. It's a miracle in itself that I wasn't punished more severely. Some of us don't have other skills to fall back on. Or," she snorted, "loving, breadwinning husbands to support us."
Lightning had meant for her rant to be mocking. Yet it had somehow read as warm and playful. Snow was growing on her day by day.
"You forgot 'adoring.' Husbands are always 'adoring," Serah said regally sticking her nose up in the air. "Speaking of which," she leaned in towards her sister, "we've been here months. When are you going to go out on a date?"
"With who?" Lightning dropped Hope's pencil.
"I don't know. Anyone. Just because we live in one room doesn't mean you have to be celibate. We can get out of your hair for a night," Serah said playfully winking.
Lightning let out a phlegmy sigh from deep within her throat.
"I do not need sex advice from my sister." She cleared a spot on the table to rest her head on. "I've basically met everyone in the vicinity already. Trust me, no one catches my interest."
She heard the door clang open.
"I think maybe I do need a break," Hope said placing the books beside her head.
He stroked her bangs out of her face. She responded by defensively crossing her arms over her head. The last thing she wanted was for him to see her embarrassed.
"So, what did I miss?" Hope leaned onto the table, lounging with his temple propped on his fist.
"Nothing," Lightning grumbled. Would he ever stop staring at her?
"Oh, just trying to find a girlfriend for Lightning," Serah said. She stood up to retrieve another piece of toast.
"Girlfriend?" Hope said hesitantly.
Lightning knew now wasn't the time or place, but she felt the need to immediately correct the statement.
"No," she said peeking between her arms.
"No?" Hope asked, ready to gauge her response.
"Yes and no," Lightning finally sat up. "I've only dated women so far. But I've been attracted to men." She looked at Hope, who was now cleaning his glasses with his shirt. "I'm a difficult person to be with, you know that from experience. Few people make the cut." This was not a conversation she wanted to be having with him or her sister. "But you missed the part where I told Serah that I don't plan on dating for a long time. At least until we're completely settled here."
What the hell was coming out of her mouth? She needed to cut herself off somehow.
"News to me," Serah said placing the snack at Hope's usual table spot.
The boy slid into his seat and touched the bandage on Lightning's arm. All of her hair stood on end.
"Light, what happened this time?"
"We've finally moved on from administrative buildings and are onto permanent housing. It's a new area; a baby gorgonopsid wandered onto the property. Easy enough for me to relocate. He did scratch me in the process though." Lightning seemed unfazed, but Hope had a horrified expression. "Don't worry. I'll be fine."
She made to flick his forehead. When he winced, she merely brushed his bangs like he had hers.
"You're too easy to read, kid."
"Likewise," he said giving her a knowing smile. What he knew, she wasn't sure.
"Do you ever miss them?"
The question caught Lightning off guard. Who was this Hope had been asking about?
"Vanille and Fang, I mean." It was a meager voice that barely eclipsed Snow and Serah's snoring.
"Sure, I miss them as much as the next person."
"I mean more than that. Like an ache that is leaking out of your body like sweat. Slowly draining you until you're not sure it was ever there in the first place. Until that moment when the wind kicks up, and your sweat freezes your skin and you're in a different kind of pain." His voice hitched, trying to contain a sob that was clearly lurking in his throat.
Lightning sat up and stealthily crawled around the sleeping couple to sit next to Hope, who had his back pressed to the wall. Once she reached him, he rested his head onto her shoulder. The woman wasn't sure whether to interject or just wait for him to finish. She could tell this was less about their comrades, and more about his parents. She reached around to rub his arm, but released when she felt his skin flex.
"I know I shouldn't feel miserable. They were never meant to be with us anyway. But I still feel like this can't be how it ends."
"Hope, you have a right to your own feelings. You don't need to be ashamed."
"That's exactly the problem." Hope paused, "I don't feel it anymore. It's almost been a year and the more time passes the more I realize we never really knew them. Not the way we know each other now. Maybe that's for the better."
Lightning kissed his forehead warmly, and the tension in his muscles released. He liquefied until his head was in her lap where she could slowly stroke him like a housecat. His voice resumed even more quietly than before.
"I get that Vanille loved Fang."
"Jealously is not a crime." Lightning couldn't help but sigh.
"Again, that's not what I mean." He gasped slightly as Lightning began to scratch between his shoulder blades. "Snow has Serah, you will eventually have someone, and where will that leave me?"
"Stop being such a pessimist. You're young. There is plenty of time for that crap later."
"I'm fifteen. If not now, when?"
"I'm twenty-one. Does it look like I'm in the midst of a torrid relationship?" She was beginning to become grouchy, whether it was from exhaustion or a foreign source, she couldn't tell. "No. No I'm not. But do you see me complaining? Hell no. Because I have you guys, and I'm prioritizing my family right now. I always will."
Hope rolled over at the end of her tirade so that he could look up into her face. He watched her expression soften when he stroked her cheek with the back of his fingers.
"You always know what to say," he said, closing his eyes and falling into a restful slumber.
Lightning and Hope strolled amongst the newly built homes. She wanted him to be the first person to see the house that had been built for their needs. Three bedrooms, two restrooms, a kitchen, a dining room and a living space. Behind it stood what appeared to be a shed. Though it had taken almost a year for the survivors to finally leave the trailers in the midst of the Steppe, she worried that she would miss it. If anything, she would miss the extra hours of daylight that were absent against the forest that the town butted up against.
"This is it," she tried to say impassively as she led Hope to the stone home.
It was everything opposite of the gleaming cities of Cocoon. It blended into the landscape in every way that the metallic mobile home had been an eyesore. The woman's smile betrayed her excitement about the house that she stood in front of. Hope reached forward and squeezed her hand as quickly as he released it. She grinned and ran to fling open the door. The interior was surprisingly modern, outfitted with more furniture than they had grown accustomed to that year.
"This is the best part," Lightning said as she dragged the hesitant boy into the first bedroom.
He stumbled on the threshold and his glasses almost launched off his face. He quickly adjusted himself and shook off her grasp.
"Behold!" She threw both of her arms in the air clearly pleased with herself.
"Light," Hope said terrified of some unspoken thing. That lasted only a moment before she interrupted.
"I made this. Me. I made a bed," she was glowing with a blissful pride she hadn't shown to anyone before. "Well of course, the carpenters helped me. I haven't told anyone yet, but actually I've been apprenticing. Monster hunting has left me burnt out, and I was surprised at how much I enjoy this. My first official project was this very bed. We made it ages ago. For the most part this is all me," she said roughly shaking one of the posts. "I told them I had a growing teenager at home, so they made sure it was as reinforced as possible. You couldn't break this thing with 5 enormous men jumping on it."
Even though the boy had grown considerably, he was no match for her raw power. He had no way of bracing himself when she grabbed him by the waist and threw the two of them onto the bed.
"The mattress isn't the best. But the frame is solid." She sighed triumphantly; then she began to deflate into her usual demeanor.
"Did you make yourself a bed?" Hope quizzed her.
"No. I can always make one later now that I know how. I just felt like you needed a gift." She immediately sat up. "Because you've been doing so well in your studies. But studies aren't everything." She turned away from him, focusing on the wall. "I know you hate these sorts of talks. I also know you aren't coming to Snow about it." She breathed in deeply. "You are not a child anymore. You will need privacy from us. Whether that's to be alone…or alone with someone else. An old mattress on the floor is incredibly uncomfortable. Or so claims, Serah." Her elbows came to her knees and her face rested in her hands.
Though neither of them made eye contact, they had equally red faces.
"Okay," Hope said diminutively.
"I'd better getting going, so I can show everyone back to the house before nightfa…" Midsentence, Hope had flung his body onto her lap in the same supplicating gesture they had both gotten used to.
"Don't leave yet. I haven't thanked you," his voiced muffled into her skirt. "This is the first time someone ever made something for me."
He took one of her hands and kissed the fingertips. "Light, thank you."
A second note from the author: I just wanted to explain what I meant about themes. You can skip this note and move straight on to the next chapter. But if you're sticking around I'll go ahead and be a dork.
As I was working on this, I wasn't initially sure how I wanted to go about it. Eventually I settled on doing separate scenes, that tied into the plot as a whole...but didn't necessarily relate to each other in the way that a point A to point B story might.
Chapter 1's theme is Left.
scene i: Lightning feels Left Out because Hope has withheld info from her.
scene ii: Lightning is Left Behind. Snow gets a job before she or anyone else considers it.
scene iii: Left Alone: Literally- Lightning is single, and less literally- Light doesn't get custody but Serah gets a husband and child
scene iv: Left Behind (again) but this time addresses the idea of being survivors
scene V: They Left to their new home.
So, themes were tackled in various ways. Some will be direct, others subjective. Just thought this might give you insight on various choices made throughout. :P or not.