A/N: Please check my profile to see a link to MakudeX's Youtube video that he created, which is based off of Revelations. Quite a few weeks went into preparing it, and it is only the first of a series of videos that is being planned. Please leave a comment on his YT, and also feel free to review this chapter - I always appreciate it!

It had been strange, at first, for her to ascend the icy steps back to Cocoon - the home that she had grown to loathe because of all the ghosts that haunted every corner. She hadn't wanted to come back but a sense of duty to those that she had grown to care for had forced her to make this journey, to traverse back into these unholy grounds that she had fought so hard to both save and destroy.

The feeling was odd, to say the least. She knew she was the cause of the permanent silence that fell onto her ears, knew that she was part of the reason why a huge number of the planet's population lay dead across her path, and yet, despite the death and decay, she also knew that what she did was for the greater good and that all this destruction was a necessary evil. She had, after all, saved Cocoon from a madman and prevented the deranged fal'Cie from sacrificing everyone to the Maker.

Despite this knowledge, she couldn't help but feel twinges of guilt whenever she would stumble over a dead body or the remains of a once glorious building that was now little more than crumbled concrete.

When faced with the signs of the fate she had decided upon for so many, she could do nothing more than bite her lip and look away, ever towards whatever goal she had in mind for that day. It was the only way to get by without being crushed by the overwhelming reality of just what they had done.

Nimbly she hopped over the side of a fallen apartment building, noticing out of the corner of her eye a blackish puddle of blood and a hand that had, unlike the rest of the body, been saved from being crushed beneath the rubble. Nothing can be done about it now, she thought coldly, the same way she had been thinking since she ascended the steps to this snake's nest. All I can do is keep moving forward. Feeling pity or remorse will only slow me down and drive me crazy.

Pausing, she strained her ear to listen for her little partner. She heard the soft patter of feet behind her hopping over the same obstacle she had just passed over and, now reassured, she moved on without looking behind her.

Cocoon was much different now than it had been. Thanks to the layer of ice cradling it from the bottom and the ultimate death of Phoenix, the sun-fal'Cie, the planet was no longer the temperate climate it had once been: it was now exceedingly cold. The warming ultraviolet rays from Pulse's sun was unable to penetrate the atmosphere Cocoon and so the temperatures were constantly frigid. In addition to losing its heat source, Phoenix had also been the main light source of Cocoon - now that it was gone, so was the light. During what should have been daytime it was a constant dusk-like state of darkness, and night would envelop them in ultimate blackness.

No one had been prepared for this change, especially Lightning, who had escaped Cocoon as soon as it tumbled to its death. Because of this she had been forced to scavenge for much warmer clothing from either stores that still held such valuable remains amongst its pillaged goods or borrow from those who were unfortunate enough to perish during Cocoon's fall, all in order to make sure she wouldn't freeze to death on her Good Samaritan mission.

In addition to the temperature, the business of the people and their constant comings and goings, the life and activity of Cocoon, had been replaced with the gentle descent of crystal dust falling from the sky and landing silently on the ground below, collecting in a thin layer on the ground. It was oddly serene and unsettling all at once.

Aside from that, there was almost nothing – Cocoon was still and lamenting its demise.

It had gotten worse as she plunged deeper into the heart of this lost cause. When she had first returned she had seen people leaving in droves to get to the refugee camp, their faces filled with hope for a new beginning and sorrow for all that they had lost. Occasionally, too, she could find signs of violent lifeforms still struggling to survive: some of the wild, indigenous beasts of Cocoon still lived, and attached to their life was a hunger that was unrivaled by anything else Lightning had seen before. There were plenty of times where Lightning had to jump in and save the day for someone who was being dragged off by frenzied beasts that were eager for fresh meat.

Many times she was received with thanks, but the few occasions where she had been recognized made her think twice before running again to someone's aid. Even though she had just saved their lives she was, to them, responsible for all the death and all the devastation that lay in plain sight around them. To them, she was still a l'Cie, branded by the Pulse fal'Cie to continually bring them harm. To them, she was still a monster.

And though she'd never admit it out loud, there were times when she would silently agree with them.

None of her actions had been heroic, after all. They had all been done out of self-interest, out of the desire to persevere and keep surviving. If they had refused to accept the fate of destroying Cocoon, none of this would have happened and they would have turned into Cie'th and, eventually, Cie'th stones. No one would have been hurt, Cocoon would have still been standing, and life would have gone on as normal.

Instead she had fought to save her sister, her last remaining family. She chose peace of mind over the peace of the people. Along the way she killed whoever dared to impede her progress, despite how those men and women were only doing what they were ordered to do. Somewhere in between, she had committed the greatest sin of all and fallen head over heels for a damn, lumbering giant that still continued to desecrate her mind with unwholesome thoughts, in spite of the distance she had purposefully placed between them.

At what point was the population of Cocoon really in her thoughts? She could say all kinds of crap about giving the people what they really wanted – freedom from fal'Cie rule – but is that what they truly did want? Did someone give the populace some kind of poll so they knew that everyone wanted to be free of their benefactors who so carefully coddled them?

She grunted and hoisted herself up and over another fallen skyscraper. These thoughts had plagued her since before the fall of Cocoon, before Fang and Vanille had sacrificed themselves and become Ragnarok, and they would not abandon her.

Fang and Vanille...they're gone for good, aren't they?

They were the true heroes in all this; not Lightning, not Snow, and not any of the others. Had it not been for those two tribeswomen, everyone and everything would have perished – including her. Those two had been Cocoon's enemy, but they did all that they could to ensure their friends' survival.

Lightning sighed and reached back over the fallen concrete, waving her hand around in empty space until she felt another, smaller hand latch into hers. With another grunt she yanked the light weight up and over the obstacle she had just crossed and watched as Hope's body flew through the air. Another tug on his hand, towards the ground this time, forced the boy to flop down onto the hard concrete.

"Ow," he said, rubbing his backside and giving Lightning a lighthearted grimace.

She gave the briefest hint of a smile. "Toughen up," she said with a soft punch to his shoulder. He feigned reeling backward, clutching at his arm, a forced, pained expression on his face. When Lightning just rolled her eyes with a smile and turned back around, he quickly righted himself and jogged in front of her, down the only path available to them.

As Hope decided to lead the way she couldn't help but shake her head in wonder at this durable young boy. To say that she was surprised to see that he had tracked her down and set his mind to following her despite the harsh environment would an understatement of drastic proportions.

Before she left she had told Hope and Sazh her plans of what she was going to do, hoping to help calm any furor that may have resulted in a sudden disappearance on her part. They had protested, saying they should come along, but convincing arguments on her part convinced them that she needed to go alone - though it must be said that Sazh saw through her excuses and made a side comment that had made the young woman appreciate his oft-hidden wisdom.

But, at first, she had only wanted to come to Cocoon to see if she could discover any clues on how to free Fang and Vanille from their crystal slumber. Dysley's office was raided, along with a few other prime fal'Cie locations, but she had found nothing, of course. After a few days of pointless examining of documents that seemed top-secret, she decided to retrace her steps back to where Cocoon and Pulse were joined to see if she could take the railways and get to Palumpolom to make sure Hope's father had made it out. It had been a sudden decision that was brought on by her want to help rectify some wrongs, as she had seen the widespread devastation she had caused on her trip to Eden.

Of course, along the way she had an awkward meeting with the NORA gang, where Gadot proved to be more astute than Lightning wished, but that was another story entirely.

Once she made it back to the connecting point, she took off down the railways. That night she stopped to rest and, huddled beneath her blankets and coats and without a fire of any sort, she heard some rustling behind her. Lightning had grabbed her blade and, in a blind frenzy in the darkest depths of night, she had somehow managed to pin someone to the ground with a sword pointed at their throat. Thankfully she had learned what Hope's panicked yelp sounded like through the course of their quest together and so she immediately recognized his mangled cry for mercy.

After a lot of cursing and yelling on her part she had begun to drag him back to Pulse, but his pleas to go with her swayed her, just as they had not long after they first met, and she was too drained to argue with him further. She agreed to take him along with her to his hometown.

Once he was over the shock of nearly being murdered by Lightning, he was able to speak coherently enough to tell the story of how he had found the normally hard-to-trail soldier. Apparently he gotten tired of waiting at the refugee quarters for her, like she had instructed him to do, and used what resources he could scrape up to make the return trip to Cocoon. Each and every day he would make the trip and wait at the conjunction of the two planets, trying to spy her out. Mostly, he admitted after much questioning, he just wanted to be the first one to greet her back.

Then the day came when he was finally able to spy her coming from far down the road but, thanks to his vantage point high above her, he saw that she was not returning to their new home and instead taking a different route on the rails. Without thinking he hurriedly ran after her without any supplies to speak of.

When she realized that he was not exaggerating - he really didn't have any supplies - she chastised him for his hasty and ill-thought decision, reminding him of how important his pack was and how, many times, his pack would be the sole factor in determining whether or not he lived. She then went into a long-winded lecture on how vital proper rations were, how important knives or weapons would be, how a blanket was much-needed once they progressed beyond the conjunction point...

Really, though, she wasn't fooling either Hope or herself. She was relieved to have some company to travel with. She had gotten so used to traveling with five others and leaving her mind on either auto-pilot or ignore mode that, when left alone for a great stretch of time, she had been surprised at what a bitch her thoughts managed to be. Her trip from that point on was a lot more tolerable and, dare she say it, slightly more enjoyable because of her youthful companion.

She was now watching Hope as he side-stepped a rather gruesome-looking splatter that lay in his path and tried his best to ignore the fleshy bits that clung to the pavement. The shade of his face was a bit pale, maybe on the green side, but it wasn't nearly as bad as it had been initially. For the first few days Lightning found that she often had to stop and comfort Hope as he threw up on the side of the street after seeing something particularly ghastly lying alongside their path. He'd be embarrassed afterwards and try to brush it off as nothing, but she wasn't a fool: she knew this trip was taking a toll on him mentally.

And why shouldn't it? Lightning was probably eighteen, maybe nineteen, before she had to face sights like this. Even then, it wasn't nearly as widespread as what they were witnessing now, nor were they as…awful. He was only fourteen and witnessing signs of a terrible battle where the people who died had no chance of surviving; they had been totally helpless when it came to their demise.

If anything, she should have been bothered that Hope was becoming accustomed to such sights.

She called forward to Hope, trying her best to don the least affectionate and most straightforward voice she could. "How 'bout I blindfold you?"

Hope stumbled in his tracks then righted himself quickly. Without looking back, he said, "…what? B-blindfold?"

"I don't want you to see this stuff, Hope. You shouldn't be seeing it."

"Oh." There was the slightest touch of disappointment in his voice. "No, that's fine. I can handle it."

That's what worries me.

She shook her head slowly. Maybe she was being too protective of Hope, trying to save him from viewing the gruesome reality of the world. He wasn't Serah she wasn't his mother-figure, and she shouldn't go around fooling herself that she could somehow make things right with Serah through Hope.

She could guide him as a friend, maybe, or perhaps as a sort of a mentor, but she could never take Nora's place, or Bartholomew's.

Let the parents do the parenting.

She almost laughed at that. When it came to Serah, she certainly hadn't tried to act her part of the sister. The two of them had an odd relationship – they had never really shared confidential information with each other, nor had they participated in…much of anything, really, with each other. No, all that stopped after their father died.

So…maybe Hope was her chance to act the part of the sister; the part that she had given up for the sake of raising Serah on her own as a teenager.

She shook her head, unsure of what to make of it all. For now she would play the role she had always donned with Hope and pray that everything would turn out well.

Their travels continued until the duskiness of day made way for the desolate darkness of night. By that point both were dragging their feet from exhaustion and when they hopped down the now above-ground-level railway to the soft grass below, Hope nearly stumbled and fell off the decent-sized hill they were on.

They clambered down the gentle slope until they were nestled between two hills. Lightning strained her eyes to see if she could find any decent place to rest and, this time, she was in luck: she spotted a very shallow cave that almost seemed carved into the mound of earth to her left, and it was beneath the tracks so they were able to feel some smattering of security. The damned beasts were prowling everywhere, after all, and since both required rest they had to find the place they felt was the safest for both of them to sleep at once.

Hope, so tired that his words came out as grunts, didn't bother dragging out his blankets. He fell to the soft dirt beneath him, curled into a ball, and fell asleep within minutes.

Lightning clucked her tongue and left him for the time being, leaving the cave to collect any wood that she could find. This proved to be difficult both because of the penetrating darkness and the fact that there was nothing dry around. After searching for nearly twenty minutes and only finding a few twigs, a pine cone, some needles, and a huge pile of shit, she threw her discoveries on the ground in anger and stomped back to the cave. There she unraveled every blanket that she owned and began layering them over Hope, muttering darkly to herself the entire time.

He woke up during the process and rubbed his eyes. "Light, I've got that coat on that we found. It's warm enough."

"Just take the damn blankets," Lightning mumbled, unlatching her cape to throw it around her shoulders once Hope was buried beneath a foot-thick pile of cotton and wool.

"There's like…six here, Light. I'm hot. Take some for yourself. It's too cold at night without some blankets."

"You're warm?"

Hope nodded sleepily as he lazily began pulling the topmost blankets off him. They were halfway removed before he fell back asleep, his hand still clutching the edge of on blanket. Lightning shook her head and accepted the luxuries offered to her, wrapping one around her shoulders and the other was draped over her legs. Her most precious possession, her gunblade, was in her lap, within a second's reach in case she should have need of it tonight.

Her eyes steadily closed as she listened to the silence of the hours of darkness. Punctuating the stillness was Hope's soft, rhythmic breathing, and it was the comfort of regularity that she found therein that helped push her into fitful slumber.

It seemed as if she barely closed her eyes before she felt a strange tugging at her arm. She tried to elbow it away, thinking it was Hope attempting to snatch one of the blankets he had given to her. Her elbow met something hard and the "oof" that followed after made Lightning feel a smidgeon of satisfaction at having told Hope off without even having to open her eyes and bark at him. Only a couple seconds passed before the nudging began again and this time Lightning felt the full effects of her exhaustion as she woke up, infuriated and ready to lay into Hope for daring to annoy her at such an early hour.

Her wrath slipped away when she heard his quick, panicked breathing. She glanced quickly towards the cave entrance but spied nothing there, mostly because she could barely see two inches in front of her. She tried to see Hope's face, to see if anything was wrong, but again she could see nothing. She grabbed at her pack and dug around for a flashlight until she produced it and shined it on her young companions face. He quickly lurched forward and covered the beam of light with his hand, and a moment later she felt his breath on her ear.

"Something's out there."

Her head snapped back to watch the entrance again, this time the grogginess quickly draining from her as adrenaline began to pump through her veins. Forgoing vision, she tried to listen intently instead. She tried to hear whatever it was that had Hope so riled up, but still there was nothing.

Just as she was about to tell Hope to go back asleep, she heard what it was that must have roused Hope: a loud snuffling, very close by, followed by very low, deep growls. Whatever it was must have been large: its slow footsteps sounded like small rolls of thunder.

Lightning didn't dare walk to the front of the cave to annoy that which was disturbing her sleep. She had a good idea that whatever it was owned the huge pile of shit outside and she didn't want to mess with that - she and Hope combined didn't have the manpower to take down a baby adamantoise.

Hope, too, must have had a similar idea of what it was lurking outside. He slowly took the flashlight from Lightning and, only allowing a small sliver of light out through his fingers, he shined it upwards so they had just enough light to see each other. He then looked to Lightning, his brows knit in consternation as he quietly exclaimed that the thing could easily step on their tiny cave and finish them off for good in a cave-in.

"We can't do anything about it, Hope. It's right outside."

"We can outrun it," he said in a rushed whisper. "It's better than staying in here!"

Her body protested at the very idea of running – ever since her l'Cie powers left her, she found that her continued journeys were making her feel exhausted. But, in the same breath, she knew Hope was right: they could easily outrun the big beast that was on their front door, and running might be safer than staying inside and praying that the dumb dinosaur wouldn't step on their hiding place and cause it to collapse.

Then again, all the beasts that managed to survive were more active at night, and if they ran they'd be open to an attack from any angle. When they were l'Cie, when there were six of them, that wouldn't have been an issue, but now that there were tough Pulse nasties out there and it was just the two of them, one of whom having relied strongly on l'Cie magic…

"We have to stay put, Hope." He opened his mouth to protest, but Lightning hushed him quickly. "It'll be fine. That thing is probably too small to make the cave collapse…and it might not even be one of those dinosaurs."

"You know it is," he said in a low voice, his eyes glued on the cave entrance.

"Doesn't matter what it is. It's too dangerous to go out. That's my decision, and this is not a democratic vote. Go back to bed."

He gave her an incredulous look, as if he couldn't believe she would have that suggestion at a time like this. She gave him an equally stern look, yanked his blankets to her side and tossed them over his head and around his shoulders, then pointed to the ground. Knowing he wasn't going to get anywhere, Hope did as he was commanded but his eyes remained glued to the outside for some time with the flashlight still in his hand, his ears pricking up at the slightest noise, and he looked as if he wasn't about to fall asleep any time soon.

She half-considered knocking him unconscious with a few choice moves she had learned in her training so that his mind could get some form of rest, but something gave her the impression that it was the wrong thing to do and so she let the idea go. Instead, she let him watch the cave entrance with fearfully large eyes.

She smiled to herself and looked down at his head when she felt Hope scoot a little nearer after the baby adamantoise took another thundering step closer.

"Nervous?" she asked quietly, arching a brow high.

"That thing could kill us."

"Yeah," she said casually. "It probably will."

Hope's eyes darted to Lightning in fear, but then the whites of his eyes lessened as his face crinkled into a tiny grin. "Don't do that! It doesn't help my nerves!"

Lightning grunted in amusement and turned to look at the door, watching the very edge of one of the beasts clubbed feet swing in front of the entrance. Lowering her voice further, she moved elsewhere with the conversation. "Think your dad can keep up with our pace when we head back?" She knew he had been worried about what condition his father would be in if they found him, and she was hoping the certainty of him being alive that was in her question would alleviate some of his fears.

"My dad? Keep up?" He scoffed quietly. "No way. He works all the time at some desk job and doesn't do anything but that. He's out of shape."

Before she made her statement, she chewed the words around in her mouth. "You still sound a little bitter about your dad being gone all the time."

A knowing glance was shared between them. "You always sound that bitter."

"Do not."

Another grin before he looked down and stuck his finger in the dirt. "I can't help it. I guess I forgive him, but it's kinda hard to just...forget that he was never there, y'know?"

She nodded, a silent gesture urging him to keep sharing his thoughts.

"And, like...all that time I only had my mom to go to, so she and I became close. I saw how much it was bothering her, how dad was never home, how stressed she would be for whatever reason, and it made me...it made me hate my dad all the more. Then came all the missed vacations, the plans that always fell through because of work, all the things for school that he never cared about...y'see?" He was picking at the edge of the blankets now, avoiding Lightning's steady gaze entirely. In a defensive tone he added, "If somebody grows up without many friends and with a dad that's never around, then...yeah. You get close to your mom. She's all you have."

"I get that," came the soft reply. "I didn't think less of you because of your grieving, you know."

"I know," he said softly. Hope was sitting with his head buried in his knee. "You just needed me to be strong. We couldn't afford any weak members...and I was weak."

"You grew out of it," she said with a half-hearted smile.

Hope's mood didn't lift at the joke. "I was only useful because of my magic. Now that it's gone-"

"Now that it's gone, you're still among the strongest people I've ever met," Lightning finished firmly; so much so that Hope looked up in surprise. "You've gone through a lot and kept your head pretty even through it all. Don't let anybody discredit you, not even yourself. Most adults wouldn't have made it in your shoes, so don't you dare think you're weak. Got that?"

"Yeah," he said, his chin lifting slightly. "Got it."

Silence spread between them again as they huddled near each other, both praying silently that the clumsy turtle wouldn't step on their hideaway. It seemed to be munching on the nearby greenery and, occasionally, the slightly pungent smell of defecation would reach their nostrils. They could at least be thankful that the things were herbivores...from their experience, carnivores smelled much worse.

She mentioned as much to Hope, who had to stifle a laugh.

At least an hour dragged by and the beast had not yet moved. Its grunting had ceased, as well as the sounds of it eating, so Lightning could only assume that it had fallen asleep right outside their doorstep. She wished Hope would follow suit, but the young boy seemed as awake as ever. She couldn't say the same for herself - she felt her eyelids drooping and, at times, she had to jerk herself back into a state of wakefulness. She was being outclassed by a kid!

Some movement alerted her a bit more, but it was only Hope shimmying away from her a bit, wrapping his blankets more tightly around his shoulders after setting up the light between them. Now that the dead of night had struck his breath was forming a very visible mist in front of him and his face was paling from being exposed to the elements. Lightning took some pity and shuffled off her layers to grab her cloak. Her fingers already seemed to freeze and cease to respond from their few seconds of exposure, but she was still able to make a hood of sorts for her young friend so that he could be a little warmer. Without a word she sat back down and once more donned her blankets again.

Grateful for the extra warmth, Hope pulled the cape closer to his head with gloved hands until only his nose and a small patch of skin was visible. "So," he said after a moment of chuckles between them, "I like your cape."

"Red's not your color. It looks terrible on you."

"Your face looks terrible on you!" Hope shot back.

"That the best you can do?"

A second's pause. "...yeah."

With a shake of her head, she muttered under her breath: "All these months and you still haven't learned any proper insults? Pitiful."

Hope gave a shrug, but with all his bundles of blankets it only looked like a fat red lump shuddering in the night. "Snow and Fang were ever the only ones I could insult." He stopped and rubbed the tip of his nose against his soft covers. "Usually they weren't able to figure it out, though. Guess it went over their heads."

More than likely.

Another stretch of absent sound, interrupted only by the quiet snores of the beast outside, ensued. Hope seemed lost in thought, while Lightning still struggled to stay awake. She didn't want the poor boy to stay awake, alone, with that monstrosity right on their door. She knew that he would soon open his mouth to talk, since he was feeling quite chatty tonight, and she hoped it would happen soon so her mind could be jogged back into action.

She didn't have to wait long.

His hood was jerked back a bit by his own hand, revealing his face once more. "Do you still think of Fang and Vanille often?"

The only answer she could come up with was an honest one, and that was that, yes, she thought of them quite often - nearly every day. She didn't bother going into detail on why she believed they were the true heroes, or how she was realizing just how much they had to suffer through and sacrifice to get through their journey...that wasn't what Hope was wondering now. He wanted a simple answer, and that was all she gave.

"I think of them a lot, too. I miss Vanille, and even Fang, even though she teased me so much."

"It means she liked you," Lightning said, falling a bit to her right in order to nudge Hope. "She thought you were a good kid."

"I thought she was an ass half the time," Hope mumbled.

Lightning caught this and bit back another chuckle. "Your mother would kill me if she heard how we corrupted your speech."

"Well, good thing you didn't hear me when I fell off that light post the other day. You would have been afraid she'd come back and murder the crap out of you." He flashed a toothy grin before his face quickly fell. "What about...what about your parents? Do you still think of them a lot?"

He wants to know if the pain of her memory will ever go away, doesn't he?

Lightning bit her lip, deciding on the best way to answer such a question. If she were to be completely honest then, no, the pain never leaves. She had some recollection of her parents all the time, more often than she wished, and each time a flashing image of their gravestones would accompany it.

And the worst part was that she at least had that memory of her parents being put to rest. All Hope had was the image of his mother falling to her death, and she could imagine that he pictured his mother as one of those unfortunate souls that they had discovered who were splattered against the pavement. What a morbid thing to have to envision for a child!

But, according to Hope, Nora died as a hero. She saved Snow. How did my mother die?

She shook that thought away, banishing it forever. It was unfair to make that comparison.

"All the time, Hope," she murmured, almost to herself. "The pain will always be there, but it will lessen over time. Especially if you have good friends." She paused, reflecting. "I've heard someone say once that friends have no value to survival and that, in combat, a friend can be a dangerous thing to have. You focus so much on them that you can fall instead." She let out a low breath of air. "I thought that was true for a long time, and for a lot of reasons. Now, though, I know better. You, and the others, helped me see that. Hopefully you'll see the value of friendship, too, and learn to use us and come to us whenever you start feeling down. I could have used something like that back in the day."

Once more he disappeared into the red depths of her cape. "So...we're friends? We can talk about anything then, right?"

"If I feel like it, sure."

Tension was strung in the air while he considered his next words. "So, say I have a question - "

"Out with it."

"Okay." He breathed in and out for a second, perhaps trying to calm his nerves. "Okay," he repeated. "What...I mean, we're not done on Cocoon yet, so we've still got a lot of time 'til we get back to Gran Pulse, but, um...what are you going to do with Snow when you get back?"

Lightning frowned. She did not want to talk about this. She had done her damndest to keep it out of her head since she left and, in fact, the main purpose of leaving was to ensure that Snow realized that he and Serah were practically made for each other. With a bit of a growl she said, "Nothing."

Hope retreated further into his hood until she could no longer even see his nose. Whatever he was considering, he didn't want Lightning to have any part of it. Several minutes passed before he uneasily asked another question, and though it was only two words, it still jarred her. "Why not?"

Lightning sighed and tilted her head back against the gentle curves of the cave wall. "Hope..."

"You said we were friends and could talk about anything!"

"Dammit...I said if I felt like it!"

"So...feel like it! I always talk with you about this type of stuff. You should talk to me!"

"You wouldn't get it. You're fourteen."

"You don't want to go back because of Serah, right?" Hope asked, his voice holding a cutting edge. "You think Snow's gonna get back with Serah and you don't want to deal with it? So then you're gonna run away from everything? I thought we were going to go to Oerba together, all of us?"

"I never promised that," she said wearily. When did this kid get the right to question her like this? "Besides, Oerba'll be covered in dust soon, anyway."

The anger that Hope was feeling was obvious - it emanated off of him, through his covers. "This is so stupid, Light. You can't abandon us just because you still think Snow is some no-good lowlife. He's not that bad, and...and..."

"And what?" At no further response, Lightning scoffed. "That's all you got? 'He's not that bad'?"

"No," the youth retorted hotly. He was pissed at Lightning, and that set her back. He had never been angry with her before, not like this.

"Then what, Hope? Do share."

He fumed for awhile more, his anger and hurt gathering about him and making him feel a little more foolhardy than normal. Finally he lost his cool and, in a low, rushed whisper he spilled on everything he knew relating to Snow's affection for Lightning.

She sat there patiently and listened to his tirade, hardly able to believe that this young boy had so much knowledge of Snow's intimate thoughts of Lightning. He knew so much that, with any other person, she would have thought they were lies...but this was Hope. He had always been honest with her.

But how could he know about how Snow removed his necklace because he didn't want Lightning to feel second-rate? Or how would he know how much Snow had agonized over coming to terms with his feelings for Lightning before they even had any sort of relationship? How could he have known Snow's resolve to do what his heart wanted him to do, what his mind told him to do, and what he knew would be right? He knew everything, from Snow's thoughts of Lightning to what Snow knew Lightning would think of the unraveling of their heated rivalry with each other; that stupid rivalry that turned into such a demented romance. He talked about how he had overheard Snow and Sazh discuss the topic several times, how Hope had purposefully antagonized Snow for his feelings, how Snow's relationship with Lightning was the reason Hope had blown Snow's arms to smithereens...

No, this young boy knew far too much for it to be a lie, and he was in such a heated frenzy that he wouldn't have been able to make up the lies so quickly. Everything he said was true, at least to his knowledge.

And that left Lightning in a very poor state of mind.

If it all was true, then Lightning had probably made a very poor decision on both Snow's character and his resolve, along with the decision to leave without ever mentioning anything to the brute. She had discredited him in her mind, made him out to be some scumbag bastard who would abandon her as soon as his old flame got back. She had thought that their whole relationship was based on loneliness and missing Serah, had convinced herself of this, and now to learn that he had been in anguish over the state of his tumultuous feelings...

"He's probably told her by now, Light," Hope said finally, his voice hoarse from his harsh whispering. "You don't give him enough credit. You don't give any of us enough credit," he added, hurt.

Lightning sat there, still trying to absorb all the information and feeling entirely shitty about herself at the same time. "Why...did you tell me all that? How did you know?"

Hope slumped to the ground, rolling over on his side to face away from Lightning. "I pay attention to everything, Light; not just to what I want to hear about. And sometimes a friend has to ignore his own feelings and do what's right, especially if doing what's right means you won't abandon us."

With the tiniest shake of her head, Lightning tried to shake off the slight reprimand she had just gotten from a fourteen year old. "'His own feelings'?" she repeated.

Hope grunted quietly, pulling himself further from Lightning. "My own feelings are that Snow's a big idiot most of the time, that's all," he said darkly. With one final tug of his covers he finally fell still. "I'm going to sleep. 'Night."

"'Night," Lightning said a bit weakly while her mind was going a hundred miles an hour and, yet, still getting nowhere.

It was all true, wasn't it? If so, then things just got a bit more...complicated.

She owed Snow an apology for a lot of things, and not just for leaving without a goodbye.

But an apology meant that she would have to face him again.

And facing him again meant that she would have to learn, once and for all, if he had told Serah.

If, for some reason, he hadn't told Serah then she could deal with that. She had been preparing to deal with that for a few weeks now, after all.

But if he had told Serah, then...

...shit. Shit shit shit.