A note from the author: READ ME. The final chapter will change perspective. In grand fanfic tradition, we are closing out with Hopes POV. The first sentence of this story was an observation about him and he was privileged with the first line of dialogue. It seemed fitting to give him the last word.


Year 4AF – Fathers

July

"I have something we need to address as a family," Hope said.

The group had been lounging in the living room after dinner. Serah was knitting, Lightning was whittling, and Snow was reading. The book was something about grafting citrus trees. He'd decided that a vegetable garden was not enough; he wanted to fully sustain their dietary needs with his own hands. Meat he'd killed, plants he'd harvested. Hope would never admit it, but he was looking forward to oranges alongside the miniscule limes Snow already grew.

"Gods alive, you two aren't pregnant are you?" the man said, looking up from his book.

"Of course not," Lightning said, chucking her project toward his head.

"Funny you should mention parenting," Hope said, every facial muscle contorting and tensing. "I've been in contact with one of mine."

"What?" Lightning was the only one to speak.

Everyone else just held a blank stare.

"You all remember when I applied to take correspondence courses with the university? It turns out my father was a shadow partner in the entire endeavor. So when my name showed up in the system… Well, he called me."

"Bartholomew has been alive this whole time, but he never came for you?" Lightning said.

She arose and approached Hope. Taking his hands in hers, she waited for an answer.

"It's all very technical," he said, wincing. "At least that's how he put it. While all my legal documents here have me registered as Hope Estheim, this is not the case for the global census. I appear as Hope Villiers. And this part we all know: during the first year they wiped our names from the records in relation to the l'Cie manhunt. Paperwork, video files, everything. Snow had only introduced himself by his first name, and Light is registered under her given name. He hadn't known where to look."

"That's bullshit. There is no reason he couldn't find you by now," she said, her rage rising to the surface.

"You think I don't know that, Light?" he said softly.

He let go of her hands and pulled her into a hug. Resting his head on her shoulder, he breathed in her scent. No one was going to like what he had to say next. Placing a peck on her cheek, he readied himself.

"He's asked me to live with him. The university staff has never seen scores like mine. They want me there with a scholarship and paid internship. The entire thing is unprecedented. We agreed that it was in my best interest to go."

"What? We?" she said, pulling away from him.

"You know. The school, me, my father."

"That's wonderful, Hope. I don't know what to say," Serah said trying to inject life into the room.

At least someone was siding with him. It was beginning to feel like he and Lightning were going to have an argument in front of a silent audience. He'd meant for this to be a family discussion, not an attack. He'd also expected more of a response when he mentioned his father's existence. Instead everyone had micro-focused on his future. Lightning had been more dramatic about the pregnancy jibe.

"We agreed to nothing," Lightning said.

"It's still a good thing right, congrats kid," Snow awkwardly interjected.

"Can't you just be happy for me?" Hope said, more dejected than anything.

"I…I can't deal with this right now," she said.

With that, she retreated down the hallway. He followed immediately after; aware that he'd gone about this is the wrong manner. Discussing anything with her had always been an act of funambulism. Any wrong word and he'd be flung off the rope to his death, or at least to the losing side of the conversation.

"Let me in," he called meekly into the room. Silence. "Please."

The door slowly opened. They both sat on the bed. She refused to look at him.

"I'm terrible with this 'feelings' shit. You know that. Believe me when I tell you, I am happy for you. All of this is a fucking miracle no one was prepared for." She tapped her shoulder to his. "I just can't believe you never told me. I am your partner, Hope. That means you trust me first. You come to me first. I deserve more than to be blindsided in front of everyone."

She leaned in and began kissing him, trying to redirect her frustration. She'd always used physicality to express herself, but recently she tried to win every disagreement with sex. Though Hope had conceded on every occasion prior, this time they needed to work through the problem at hand.

"I do trust you most. I love you. So, I was scared of what this might mean for us. I thought that if I ignored it, maybe it didn't actually happen. The possibility of leaving you, it terrifies me," he said.

"It's not forever. I'll always be here," she said.

"What if I don't come back? What if something changes? What if you find someone else?"

She placed his palm to her heart. "And you'll always be here. I love you," she said, touching her forehead to his. "We can never predict the future. Living on Pulse is proof of that. You are the only person I've ever loved. That won't easily change. But don't think you're off the hook for not telling me something so damn important."

"How about this," he suggested. "If for some reason you find yourself incapable of telling me something, I'll wait until you're ready. No judgement."

"Like that'll ever happen," she said, glaring before biting his ear angrily.

He'd inured to her glares over the years. The fact that she even bothered gave him a sense of satisfaction. It meant that she couldn't read him nearly as easily as he could her. Not that he enjoyed keeping secrets; he loathed it. But something can be said for a bit of mystery.

December

Hope flicked through screens on his monitors. He was absorbing the information, but found the task tedious. The assignments his department had given him were becoming less compelling by the day. It was clear to he and his coworkers that he'd be better suited to anything else. His superior had just finished negotiations with another department about Hope's transfer when the man returned to the lab.

"Hey, Estheim, there's a call for you," the man said, slouching into his chair and loosening his tie.

"I take it didn't go well?" Hope said swiveling in his chair.

"It went just dandy. They are moving you up the damn ladder. The director himself wants to work with you."

"Oh." Hope wasn't sure if he should be openly pleased in front of his colleagues.

"Anyway, get your ass out there. Someone claiming to be your dad is talking poor Tom's ear off."

Hope grimaced. Why of all people would Snow be calling him at work? Serah called him on weekends during the evening, and then Snow would briefly interrupt before returning to whatever asinine activity he found fascinating. Hope stepped over to the phone and dialed Tom to relieve the poor secretary of Snow. A small click and suddenly the overwhelming man came on the line.

"So like I said, if you ever see a rash like that on your," Snow continued unknowingly to Hope.

"Please, never finish that sentence."

"Hope, took you long enough."

"This better be an emergency," he sighed, painfully aware that everyone in the lab was staring at him.

It wasn't unusual to get familial phone calls. The matter was simply that the young man kept to himself. This was the first his coworkers had heard of any semblance of home life. Surely if they were asked, at least one would respond that Hope had been assembled somewhere within the facility.

"Well, yes and no. You see I had to call now because if any of the women knew I were calling they'd kill me. I had to take the opportunity when neither of them are home. So just remember I am your advocate here. I am on your side. Even though everyone else isn't. Saying crap like it's Lightning's decision to tell you or not."

"Tell me what?" Hope's voice lifted with nervousness.

He felt his heart begin to race as panic filled his body. Surely she'd inform him if something dire had happened. Wouldn't she? Didn't she at least care about him enough for that? She hadn't mentioned anything when they spoke the other night.

"Well," Snow paused to weigh his options, "I technically can't be the one to tell you. The girls are right on that."

"She's injured isn't she? Please tell me she's safe."

Hope had lost the placid demeanor he usually assumed at work.

"She's. Uhm. Different maybe? No that's not right. I mean I'm really overstepping my bounds here, kid. But I can say this. Visit. Visit soon; because I don't want you to blame me for not warning you ahead of time when it's too late."

"Too Late? She's dying isn't she?" Hope's hands shook as he clutched the phone.

"No, she's not dying," Snow's usual tone softened, "but she is having regular doctor's appointments. I'll see you soon kid."

"Fuck that, I'm taking the first flight home." Hope slammed the phone in its cradle.

The man hadn't noticed that all of his colleagues had crowded around him; his superior was even gripping his shoulder.

"Estheim?" The older man released his hold. "Is there anything you need?"

"I don't even know at this point. Time off I think." Hope removed his glasses to pinch the bridge of his nose.

"No problem."

Hope also knew he needed answers. Why couldn't Snow just tell him exactly what was happening? He wasn't sure whether to scream or sit back down at his desk and pretend nothing had happened. After gentle persuasion, he logged out and returned to his apartment to pack.


Hope fumbled with the keys to the apartment, only to realize the door was unlocked. He immediately saw his father sitting at the couch waiting for him.

"What is this I hear about you asking for leave and running off to that godforsaken town," Bartholomew said.

Hope ignored his father and made his way to his bedroom. Upon entering the disturbingly sterile space, he flung open the mirrored doors of his closet and starting throwing clothes on the bed.

"You can't ignore me, son. I rushed home as soon as I got word of your meltdown. Regardless of what's going on, we have that ambassador's dinner tomorrow. Everyone's eager to learn about what life is like on the less civilized areas of Pulse. I mean, honestly, most colonies rebuilt near ruins. Yet there you were, in what barely classifies as a village."

Throwing his empty suitcase on the bed, Hope finally responded.

"A village you were quite content to leave me in for four years. I thought you were dead. You, however, have no excuse. You knew exactly where I was."

"There is no reason to rehash this. All I want is for you to clean up this mess, calm down, and give me an explanation," Bartholomew said, easing into an armchair.

"What's the point? I'm sure someone debriefed you as they drove you home," the young man said bitterly.

"However you may think of me, I don't spy on you."

"You don't actually care about me either," Hope said shoving things into the suitcase. "You've been absent my whole damn life. I left my only family for the chance to get to know you. If Light hadn't been so adamant about it, I doubt I'd have stayed here this long."

"We are spending time together. As mentioned, we have that mandatory dinner tomorrow."

"A business meeting? You think that a meeting qualifies. Tell me, Dad. Name one thing you've learned about me? Wait, I'll give you a clue."

He walked up to his nightstand. On it was a framed photo. The picture was of the Farron-Villiers-Estheim-Zaidelle clan the day Alyssa had officially joined the family. The adults stood in the back, while the youngest members stood in front of them. Out of all the photos they'd taken over the years, Hope was partial to this one. Snow and Serah each had a hand on Alyssa's shoulder. The girl had an arm locked with Hope's. Lastly, Lightning was resting her head on his shoulder and had an arm wrapped around his chest. This image was the only proof that the woman ever smiled.

"Who's this?" Hope said, pointing to the blonde girl. "You've never once asked me about her. Do you already know? Or do you just not care?"

Bartholomew squirmed in his chair. For the first time that evening, he looked tongue-tied.

"Well?" Hope asked, dropping the frame into his father's lap.

"What do you want me to say? It's not a matter of not caring. You've never brought it up, so I didn't see the point of asking about an ex-girlfriend."

Hope bit his lip. Even mentioning Alyssa brought with it the reality of Lightning's situation. There was no time to be arguing with his father, he needed to go home. Wrinkled clothing shoved inefficiently in the suitcase, he struggled with the zipper. Finally, he grabbed his luggage and tried to exit the room. Bartholomew stood up and blocked the doorway.

"Alyssa Zaidelle was not my girlfriend."

Bartholomew's eyebrow twitched; he was waiting for more.

"You spent your entire life leaving me to other people. Leaving me to mom, leaving me to Light, leaving me to the Villiers. I doubt you could ever understand the flipside of that. The willingness to care for someone and expect nothing in return. The people in this photo? They are the only family I've known on Pulse. Alyssa wasn't my girlfriend. She was my sister," Hope said, tugging at his hair. "We lost her last year. So if," Hope gripped his father's shoulders, nails biting into the fabric, "I get a phone call that my family needs me, don't expect me to be you. Light is my partner. I can't go through this again. Not with her."

No longer able to contain his emotions, his rage bled into anguish. His father wrapped his arms around him as he slumped into the embrace. They held each other until Hope became restless. He still needed to get to her. Feeling his son wriggle free, Bartholomew spoke. The man would find the soonest flight out for his son. While he still needed to attend his meeting, he himself would catch a flight the following evening.


It took Hope seven hours across one velocycle, one flight, and one ill-conceived chocobo-taxi to arrive at the Farron-Villiers doorstep. Everything about his home was exactly as he remembered it. He'd worried that after four months that it wouldn't feel right anymore. As if his abandoning the house would likewise cause it to reject him. Instead, the flowers in the front garden stilled smelled like his first kiss. Lightning's pile of scrap lumber was still leaning against her workshop. Every other minute feature seemed there to remind him of how madly in love with her he was. Had he honestly worried that any time spent away would lessen his feelings?

He opened the door and stepped through the threshold. Serah looked up from setting plates on the table for dinner.

"Hope," she whispered and tackled him in a hug. "I didn't expect you." The woman began crying. "I also didn't expect to miss you this much. It's only been a couple of months."

"Of course you'd miss your only son," Hope answered snarkily and tried to peel her arms away from him.

"What are you doing here?" she asked, releasing him.

"Your favorite hero called him," Snow said, strutting into the room.

Serah's face sunk. "You told him didn't you? Lightning doesn't need any more reasons to kill you."

"Actually, no one told me anything. That's why I'm here," Hope said hesitantly.

Serah raised her eyebrows, appraising her husband. Snow shrugged clearly pleased with himself. She called him a good boy and patted him playfully on the chest.

"Can I see Light?" Hope said quietly, worried of the answer.

"Why don't you take this over. She's been a little rundown today."

Serah grabbed a plate and filled it with a mystery meat that Snow had obviously cooked. Hope took the dish and began a somber walk towards the hallway.

"She's in your room," Snow said to Hope's back.

He quickly pivoted with a questioning look on his face.

"You have the most comfortable bed," Serah supplied, a knowing smile on her face.

The more information Hope accumulated, the more terrified he became that Light was in fact on her deathbed. He had an irrational fear that if he were to knock on the door, she would lock him out. Then he wouldn't see her one last time before she passed away. He forcefully threw the door open, eyes closed.

"I won't take no for an answer, how long do you have left?" Hope shouted.

"Four months."

"What?!" Hope shrieked and finally opened his eyes.

Lightning was lying on top of the bed, with her back resting on the headboard. Her hair had grown past her shoulder and was styled in a way similar to the day they'd first met. While she had every right to be angry by his intrusion, she only smiled when she met his gaze.

Hope wanted to be infuriated. He wanted to let her know the anxiety he felt on the way there.

Instead, he was overwhelmed with another emotion entirely. His eyes wandered her up and down, not computing. His brain could not process the image he was taking in. It registered the small things like: she had a book in her hand, her shirt was the same blue as her eyes, her feet were shoeless and crossed at the ankles, one of her hands was held out toward him. He stood rigid as he mentally rebooted.

Hope set Lightning's dinner gently on the floor and slunk onto the bed next to her. He took her extended hand in his, and then placed both their hands and his head against her belly.

"Are you crying?" she said, gently ruffling his silver hair.

"Why didn't you tell me?" he said stroking the mound and tentatively giving it a kiss.

"I knew that if I even mentioned it, you'd come rushing home. I was going to tell you eventually of course. I've tried a couple times already, but each time I felt like I'd missed the timing. Suddenly it felt impossible to bring up."

"Of course I would come home." He looked up, meeting her nervous gaze.

"Exactly. We've been over this a thousand times. I want you to take all the opportunities you can."

"Then give me the one opportunity I desire most. Come with me." He pulled her hand from his hair and kissed it.

"What?"

"I don't know what you're holding back for. Heads up, I've known how I've felt about you since day one. And it's not the day you think." He sat up so that he was level with her. "Before the fireworks festival, I was shopping with my mother. You were there in full uniform. Of course you wouldn't have noticed. But for me the moment was electric. So when I saw you in the vestige, I knew it wasn't a mistake. I was meant to be with you." He left out a soft chuckled and added, "No fourteen year-old in his right mind would chase after someone who wanted nothing to do with them. I loved you first. I will always love you. The chase is over; follow me this time, Light."

Hope ran his fingertips along her jawline. He then kissed her, hoping it may sway her decision somehow. Not that it ever had before.

"If you think calling first is what counts, you are gravely mistaken. I cared for you, just differently. What's important is that I fell in love with the person you became. But I knew that if I loved you, you'd lose more than you gained. No one wants their partner to be a father at eighteen."

"I have a simple remedy," Hope said with a mischievous grin. "Society won't question my fatherhood if I'm your husband."

He kissed her again, urging her to respond.

"If you won't take no for an answer. If you still want me." She closed her eyes. "Then I give up. I'll go with you."

"And?" he asked.

"Don't get ahead of yourself."

"So that's a maybe?" he said hopefully.

"That's a 'don't ask me when I'm pregnant.' I feel like I'm forcing your hand."

"Alright. Four months then. I'll get down on one knee. The whole shebang. Be prepared."

This time she initiated the kiss and began unfastening his white and yellow uniform.

"Lock the door," she whispered into his ear.

Instead Hope stripped off his jacket and began removing her blouse.

"I don't know about you, but I've had no sex in four months. I can't be bothered to leave you for a second," he said, unhooking her bra and sliding it away from her body. He threw it over his head and it landed in the hallway. "They'll get the message soon enough. We have something to celebrate."


A note from the author: With this, I thank you kindly for making it to the end. :D

Lots of love, R-Armchair