Epilogue: Formalities

It had been almost a year by the time Lightning rang my doorbell. Honestly, most nights I'd hoped that she'd secretly surprise me in my room again. When I'd opened the door, I'd been blown away by the way she looked. I'd rarely seen her outside of her uniform or a t-shirt and shorts ensemble. Today was completely different. Her hair was in an intricate knot at the base of her head and she was clothed entirely in scarlet. This must have been her dress uniform; it had a similar if not larger cape. A variety of metallic pins glittered above her chest. In an interesting development, she was also wearing heels.

And I was finally as tall as her. Hah. Tiny son of a bitch, my ass.

I leaned in to kiss her, but she stuck out a hand and stopped me.

"Is you're father home?"

"Yes," I answered bitterly.

"Perfect."

Perfect? These months without her here in person had felt like an eternity. Personally I wanted to do things that would require my father be nowhere in the vicinity. The woman was well aware of this. I had made myself explicitly clear during our recent talks.

"There will be plenty of time for that later," she whispered into my ear. "But right now," she stood back and resumed speaking formally, "I need you to tell your father I'll be waiting for him in the living room. Also, could you please put on some clothes and join us."

Wonderfully bossy as always, just the way I loved her.

I leaned in and kissed her anyway. The second my lips made contact, it was like an internal switch went off. It wasn't just mine either; she practically attacked me. She rammed me backwards into the wall opposite the door. I knocked over the table that held my father's house keys in the process. We only paused momentarily when he shouted down at the sound of a decorative bowl shattering.

"Who was at the door?" he called from upstairs.

"Just Lightning, Dad," I said, as her mouth made its way down my neck and across my clavicle.

"Oh, she's back? Would she like to go out for brunch at the place we went for her birthday last time?"

"That would be great, Mr. Estheim," she said, this time our roles reversed.

"Alright, we'll leave in an hour." Finally the man was done interrupting us.

An hour. What couldn't be accomplished in an hour? Now to just make our way upstairs. She reached down and snapped at the waistband of my boxers.

"I thought your father warned you about walking around in these near me," she whispered into my ear.

"Who do you think I did this for?" I pointed at the discarded shirt to the right of the door. "Second I saw you in the peephole; I knew you'd appreciate it." I bit at her earlobe.

I spun us around, trying to back her up toward the staircase. Hopefully, I was clear enough in indicating what I wanted. She got the message. As soon as she mounted a couple of the steps, she leapt forward and wrapped her legs around my waist. It was kind of a miracle I didn't fall over, basically a testament to my eagerness. Three-quarters of the way up, I stopped to rest her against the wall. Though I was taller, that didn't mean I was suddenly the strongest man in the world.

As I had her supported against the wall, I was able to let my fingers run along the backs of her legs. Then I noticed something slightly odd beneath her dress, a tiny nub bit into one of my fingers. When one of my hands slid beneath the fabric, she moaned quietly. What I found was a strap. Turned out she was wearing one of those bits of lingerie that had straps that attach to stockings. Could she have been any sexier in that moment? I doubted that were possible. I strummed at the ribbon like a harp. We could literally see my bedroom from there. My fascination with her underwear would be my down fall.

For this was the moment we heard, "I have a couple of questions for Ms. Farron about…"

My father froze in his tracks as he met us at the stop of the stairs. Quick recap: Only minutes ago, my father and I had met in the hallway to grump about who would arrive at 7 a.m. on the weekend. I had a shirt on then. At this moment I was nearly naked, hands inside Lightning's dress, and pinning her to the wall. I also looked moderately vampiric with my mouth and neck smeared in lipstick.

Lightning wriggled so I could put her down, but the hand playing with the strap went the wrong way. It got caught, and ended up being shoved upward through her garter belt. When I did set her down, that entire side of the lingerie piece came down with it. Forgive me, Light, I know not what I do.

Gentleman that he was, my father turned around and walked toward his room.

"Tell me when you're ready to leave for the restaurant," he called from behind the closed door.

With him gone, Lightning bent over to untangle my hand. I had the damn belt so twisted, she ultimately had to unhook it completely. We stood in the stairwell, the mood dead. She rustled a hand in one of her pockets.

"I told Serah that red was a terrible idea," she said, removing a packet of pre-moistened wipes.

She vigorously scrubbed at my face, trying to remove the stain. Giving up, she handed me a few fresh wipes.

"Here. Soap alone won't get rid of it. Tell your father I'll be in the living room. There are things we all need to discuss," she said the last part loud enough for my father to hear.

Carrying her lacy garment and wearing only one shoe, she hobbled her way back down the stairs.

I walked back to my room and searched for something moderately formal. Nothing that said I was trying too hard though. Clearly something important was going on. I settled on a pair of grey slacks and a button up. Should I wear a tie? What was she planning? Better safe than sorry. I grabbed a turquoise, silk one.

As I rounded the corner towards the living room, I could hear them speaking privately.

"I take it by your appearance that today is the day?"

"Yes, Sir. Though, I'm worried that I might be rushing things. Am I? Impulsivity is not one of my better traits. But I know for certain that I don't want to remain in this holding pattern."

My father let out a warm laugh followed by a long sigh. "Ms. Farron, the day that you first came into my home I already knew it was a foregone conclusion. Forgive him for taking the long way around. Today, tomorrow, ten years from now. He'll only ever have one answer for you."

"Thank you."

"No. Thank you for giving me these years with him."

By the time I entered, the two of them were awkwardly sipping coffee. Lightning was on the couch while my father sat opposite her at an armchair. She directed a slightly nervous smile at me. After we'd first parted, we'd video chatted about once a week. It quickly escalated into an everyday thing, and before I knew it I could read most of the nuances in her face.

I sat as gently as I could next to her, taking her hand in mine. There was an extra cup of coffee and coaster ready for me. My father wouldn't relive the same mistake as the last time she'd visited. He'd also humiliatingly installed a fire sprinkler system. I wondered what he'd install after the incident on the stairs.

"As you are aware Mr. Estheim, I have been dating your son for eleven months now."

Of course he knew. He'd actually found out before I had the chance to tell him. My very public display of affection had made it all over the news. TV stations had run video feed both from security footage and people's personal cameras. Articles from every outlet were covered in headers about the return of l'Cie magic. For months I'd been mortified of going to class, as everyone tormented me about my make-out session on TV. It'd only been a playful teasing; girls thought it was romantic, guys wanted to know how I'd snagged someone like Lightning. But still, I was already miserable enough that I couldn't see her. I didn't need to be reminded of it.

The one person I didn't understand was my father. He'd merely shrugged the whole thing off. As if it were a matter of due course that I'd be with her. This is my son. His name is Hope. He is male. He has green eyes. He will love this woman.

Everyone who knew us had seemed so certain of it. The only one who had ever questioned the possibility was the woman herself. By that time, I was head over heels.

Even Serah and Snow already considered me a brother. The spare room was now full of baby toys and a bassinet. He'd kept up his promise to visit regularly, towing his family along in the process. Lightning claimed to receive more images of me holding her niece than the infant's parents. According to Snow, if his daughter couldn't make memories with her aunt she sure as hell would with her uncle. Despite that fact that I was only dating Lighting, as she just so frustratingly clarified.

"I am a member of the military. I lead a dangerous life, but I have no intentions of changing my career."

"Of course, it's an honorable profession. I appreciate your service," my father said.

Where the hell was this conversation going? Clearly they both knew something I didn't. Lithely, she stood up and kneeled in front of my father taking his hands in hers.

"He is now 18. He has graduated high school and no longer has responsibilities in your home. Please let him become part of mine."

"Of course you have my permission," my father said in the kindest tone I'd ever heard. It was the way I remember him speaking to my mother when I was young.

"This might be easier if you stood," she said to me.

As I stepped toward her, she adjusted until she was now on one knee. I couldn't have possibly heard her correctly. Was this really happening? Did she actually want me, forever? I could feel my heart trying to break free of my body. I watched as she held out her hand. Instead of a ring box, she produced her signature sparks.

"You've trusted me with your life. I am entrusting you with the rest of mine. Hope Estheim, will you do me the honor of being my husband?"

I dropped to my knees and kissed her deeply.

"Yes."

I kept attacking her with tiny kisses. Her nose, her cheeks, her lips. Anywhere, everywhere. When my father cleared his throat, I disappointedly stopped my barrage. Lightning took the opportunity to reach for her bag. She smiled impishly as she pulled it off the couch and into her lap. Undoing the zipper, she removed a rather large present. It was wrapped in silver and black paper with a large gold ribbon. She gave me a kiss and shoved the package into my hands. I looked at her slightly confused and began to open it. I laughed the second I lifted the lid from the box.

"I didn't think you'd remember," I said, fingering the shimmering pelt.

"How could I forget one of the two times I inadvertently proposed to you in as many days?"

"If you'd given me the chance, I would have said yes those times too." I unfolded the pelt and held it up to my chest. "I don't think this'll fit me now though. Your hopes of having a gremlin husband are dashed."

"At least you're still adorable."

She took the pelt from me and handed it to my father. He wouldn't know the significance of the gift, but he would know that gremlins were hard to come by. Their only known habitat was the now-crystallized Sunleth Waterscape. The fact she'd acquired one for me spoke to her investment in our future. It wasn't the largest kill she could manage single handedly, Oerba-style. But it was the one I'd asked for. Grabbing my left hand, she held it over a freshly restarted meteor shower.

"This may sting a bit," she said.

The level of elation, devotion, and raw energy in her magic was astronomical. This must have been what she felt when we'd first kissed on the platform.

A solitary spark traveled up my finger and spun at the knuckle like a ring. Then it reshaped into a tiny lightning bolt encircling the base. I felt a sharp pinch, but nothing I'd consider painful. With that, a small brand was left on my skin. Thin enough that a gold band would cover it.

The scar would eventually heal to a shade almost identical to my skin; only we knew it was there.

Even now, decades later, when she runs a finger across it I can still feel her love vibrate through it.


Author's Note: I'd like to thank everyone who read, favorited, followed, reviewed, or merely dropped in for a chapter or two. Seriously, I love the hell out of you.

-R