A/N: My first venture into 'Hopurai', albeit one-sided. And Cid Raines is just too smexy to leave out. Beware of spoilers.

Also, I've proof-read this, but do let me know if you find any mistakes.

Disclaimer: I own nothing.

It was the hug—that was the thing that started everything. One innocent, gentle hug, filled with relief and accompanied with compassionate words he never knew she is capable of. One hug, and he was caught in her net; charmed, light-headed and, he thinks now, enamoured. The memory starts a fire of glowing warmth within him.

Of course he knows it's a crush. He has had crushes before, but it seems different this time. For starters, the girls he used to fancy had been around his age. Light is twenty-one. The girls he liked had been shy, timid, bashfully pretty. Light is… strong, straight-forward. Capable. Beautiful.

And the girls he liked had never treated him like a little brother.

He lies on the bunk in one of the sleeping quarters of The Lindblum and stares at the dull dark-grey ceiling above. Snow is supposed to be taking the bed below him but got sent to the infirmary instead to have his injuries treated. Hope closes his eyes, trying to coax his mind to sleep, but a persistent image keeps creeping into the darkness. He almost lost his life today. He could have lost his father, too. His home's destroyed, he can't ever go back to Palumpolum again, and yet, the only thing he can think about is Lightning—having her warm arms around him, hearing her whisper into his ear, telling him she will keep him safe.

Lightning. He wonders what her name really is.

He turns to his side and squeezes his eyes shut again. He was tired before but now he is strangely wide awake. He rolls over to the other end of the bunk and looks out the little porthole-like window. It is pitch black outside—the only thing he can make out are the rhythmic flashes of the lights on one of the ship's wings. Sighing heavily, he plants his head back on the pillow.

Two minutes later, he is squinting at his watch. It is almost one in the morning. He has been tossing and turning on the mattress for forty-seven minutes.

One last time. His eyes close and in the abyss, he sees nothing at first, but his heart is not so easily subdued. A tint of pink flashes by. Light pink—just like the colour of—

Hope scrambles out of the bed and leaps onto the floor, reaching for his shoes. It is useless. He will do nothing but drive himself mad if he stays here. Maybe a short walk around the ship will tire him out and finally give him the peace he needs. The bare, metallic hallways of The Lindblum are quite cold, so he slips on his jacket and tucks in his scarf nicely.

As softly as he can, he slides open the metal door and carefully peers outside. No one is about. He doesn't know why he feels relieved—the Brigadier General never said they are prohibited from exploring the ship. He silently closes the door and walks down the hallway, taking a moment to get his bearings right. He should reach the main hall of the vessel if he takes the next left.

His surroundings are eerily quiet, with the constant hum of the engines in the background. He meets no one at all—no soldiers keeping watch, no guards patrolling. In the main hall, he wonders where he should go next. There are wide corridors around him, meeting in a sort of cross-junction in the centre. The l'Cie had not exactly been given the guided tour of the ship when they arrived, so other than the sleeping quarters, he doesn't really know where everything else is.

Clueless, he stands there for a while, staring out through one of the large windows in the hall. He has a better view of the sky from here. Granted, it is still very dark, but he can see some of the other airships that make up the Cavalry fleet. The huge, majestic curves of The Lindblum's wings are also visible. He stares at them in wonderment, awed by their incredible size. It's hard to believe people can build such a huge thing… or did the fal'Cie make this, too?

Suddenly, he stiffens. Even with the engines' noise, he can hear something from the hallway he came from. Quiet footsteps. The faint clink of metal hitting metal, the soft slap of leather meeting skin. His heart jumps to his throat. He recognises those sounds.

Without thinking, he scuttles to a dark corner and huddles there, crouching deep in the shadows and calming his breaths. He doesn't know why he is acting like this, as if he isn't allowed to be wandering around here at all, but he keeps silent and stays hidden as someone walks past and takes the next eastward corridor. It is too dim to see exactly who it is but the silhouette of a tall, slender figure is all he needs to catch, and anyway, he'd know those footsteps anywhere.

They are Lightning's.

What is she doing out here? It is the first question that pops into his head. Two and a half hours before, she had retired into the room she had to share with Fang, who had been muttering something about finally being able to have the rest they all needed. He hasn't seen her since. Is she having trouble sleeping, too? Maybe she, like him, simply wants to stroll around for a bit, but she had looked like someone with a mission when she passed him just now.

Her figure disappears down the hallway, her steps never missing a beat, as if she knows exactly where she is heading. Hope makes a split second decision then. Slipping off his shoes, he is inwardly relieved that he hadn't taken off his socks before getting into bed. He follows her, silent and stealthy, trying to soothe his guilt by telling himself that he is just curious. It is not like he thinks Light is off to do something questionable. He inadvertently remembers how suspicious she had been when the Cavalry picked them all up a few hours ago.

Some of the corridors they pass by are well lit, so he takes extra care to be as inconspicuous as possible. He knows how sharp her senses are, especially since she is a soldier, and once or twice when they take a corner, he actually expects her to be just round the bend, waiting in the shadows to pounce on him and demand an explanation for his behaviour. But no, she walks on, never turning back, never stopping or pausing, and he trails behind quietly. For a brief, panicked moment, he wonders how he will be able to get back to the resting quarters. He has no idea how many hallways and corridors they have taken.

Deal with it later, he can almost hear Vanille saying to him.

In front of him, in a distance, Lightning stops at some point. He presses himself against the wall, making sure to be cloaked in the shadows, and watches as she tugs open a steel door and enters. He looks around curiously. There are many other identical doors around him. The fact that she has chosen that particular one means she really knows where she is going.

... Or maybe she knows she is being followed, and now she is just baiting him into a trap.

Hope takes in a deep breath and closes his eyes, counting to ten. Then he moves as quickly and soundlessly as he can towards the door, praying that it is not going to suddenly burst open and reveal a very pissed off Lightning. There is a tiny glass window at the top of the door and, hearing nothing on the other side, he slowly peers into it. He can see a long flight of stairs leading down somewhere that is brightly lit. The window is too small for him to make out anything else.

With a sudden surge of boldness, he reaches for the door handle and pulls, opening it by a crack. He stands still and waits, listening for any sound, but the only thing he can hear now is the booming of his heartbeat in his eardrums. Crouching low, he opens the door wider and looks in furtively. He can't hear any footsteps now. Where is Lightning? He still can't see much without sticking his whole head in, so, very carefully and slowly, he silently pulls the door further to scan around the room.

The hall down the stairs is spacious and very bright, filled with numerous instruments and equipments akin to those in a laboratory. But it is the sight of something else that surprises him even more. In the centre of the room lays Serah, her crystal form shining brilliantly under the white lights. Lightning is close by, a gloved hand clasping her sister's rigid fingers. He can't see her face from where he is.

There is someone else there, too—a well-built man almost like Snow, with ebony hair and a commanding stature in a pale grey uniform. His cloak is gone and he stands tall just opposite Lightning, looking down at Serah as well, his expression serious but neutral. Cid Raines.

"I didn't think you'd come, to be honest." Raine's voice is calm and collected, as it had been when he met them all hours before.

"... I came for Serah," is the short, rather defensive, reply.

"Naturally." A pause, then, "It's Lightning now, isn't it?"

The words hit Hope like a tonne of bricks. He stares at them, confused, stunned and with a million thoughts racing through his head—Is he just giving her a chance to see Serah? Why is he looking at her like that? Why do they have to meet at this time? What's wrong with tomorrow? Why is Serah in a lab? Are they experimenting on her? Are they trying to get her to wake up?

But despite the flurry of silent questions, one persistent thought manages to pry its way into his brain. Does Lightning… know Raines? But of course she would. He is a Brigadier General of the Guardian Corps, which she is—or was—a member of. Of course they would know each other. He is her superior. She is his subordinate. She has spent a few years in the military—she was bound to have met him sometime in the past. It is a little strange to think that someone as high-ranking as him knows a lowly Sergeant, but still... it's not entirely impossible. Strange... but absolutely not impossible at all. So, Hope thinks, if the two soldiers know each other from their time in the army, why did Raines say, It's Lightning now? Wasn't she already known by that name when she joined the Corps?

Unless, of course, they had been acquainted even before that. The thought evokes something inside him and he suddenly feels the need to quell the inexplicable and irrational rage rising within. He doesn't stop to consider that he is probably over-reacting.

Lightning makes no response to the question imposed on her. She touches Serah's face lightly, then draws her hand back, arms straight and stiff by her sides. "You're really set on challenging the Sanctum?" It sounds more like an observation than a question.

"Yes," Raines says without hesitation. "The fal'Cie have pulled at our strings for long enough. Cocoon belongs to the people and it must be returned to them. If we remain under the Sanctum and fal'Cie rule, nothing will ever change. The growth of humankind will be stunted; we will never progress, never learn to fend for ourselves, never be independent. Change will be difficult, but it's necessary."

"Still as idealistic as ever, I see," Lightning comments, resting a hand on the hilt of her gunblade. Raines' answer is just a faint, knowing smile. She returns her gaze to Serah and for a few minutes, both of them simply look at her in silence.

"... Snow says she'll turn back," murmurs Lightning. "Were you the one who told him that?"

Raines frowns, shaking his head. "I didn't say she will awake for sure. There is the possibility of that happening, though we do not know when, and I simply pointed that out to him. You heard Fang's story, didn't you? For her and another to awaken at the same time, that is too much of a coincidence, I think." He gestures towards the equipment and machines around him and continues, "Our team of researchers are doing what they can, but without data on the Pulse fal'Cie, I am afraid their progress is rather unpromising."

"… What about Cocoon l'Cie? Have there ever been reports of them coming out of their stasis? Surely the Commander of the Cavalry will have access to information like that."

Raines is silent. He keeps his eyes on Serah's static form before him, a hand resting on a hip, and sighs.

"Cid." Lightning's tone is unwavering. It deals another powerful blow to the watching Hope's spirits.

She said Cid. Not Raines. Cid. He suddenly hates the name.

"There have been no cases of Cocoon l'Cie being chosen in the past few decades," the Brigadier General said, stroking his chin thoughtfully. "Of the eighteen known to have fulfilled their Focus during the War of the Transgression, only ten had been found, and their records dated back centuries. We do not know their exact location now, and no, there has never been any evidence of crystal l'Cie waking up… except Fang's words, of course."

A pregnant pause fills the air as both of them stand there in silence, Raines looking at her like a hawk. Hope yearns to see her face—to find out how she is reacting to everything—but although she has turned away from Serah, folding her arms in her usual manner, he can still only see her back. It's probably a good thing—if she catches him spying on them, who knows what trouble he'd find himself in.

Raines sighs again and smoothes back his hair, taking a few steps closer to Lightning. "I'm sorry," he says earnestly, his face troubled. "I wish there was something more I could do, Clai—"

"It's not your fault," Lightning cuts in a little harshly. There is a hint of frustration in her voice. She inhales deeply and repeats, this time softer, "It's not your fault." It's mine, Hope can almost hear her think.

"… When Serah was made a l'Cie, why didn't you come to me?" Raines asks after a moment. There is a pleading tone in his grave words, surprising Hope, as if the Brigadier General himself had known Lightning's sister well. "I could have taken her away, kept her off PSICOM's radar. She would have been—"

"Stop it," Lightning hisses, suddenly sounding very bitter and angry. "You have no right to say that. You know damn well I couldn't have—" She leaves the sentence hanging abruptly, a hand reaching up to massage her temples, her shoulders tensed and her breaths heavy, as if she is trying to contain a furious beast clawing its way out from her. Hope is filled with overwhelming curiosity. What is going on? What is it they are telling each other silently? He knows now from Raines words that both of them clearly have some sort of history in the past, but what, exactly?

"... I'm sorry. That was a tactless thing to say," Raines apologises again, almost inaudibly. Lightning turns back to Serah and touches her crystallised hand.

"Please, just... don't tell me what I could have done for her," she says quietly. "If I had believed her in the first place, maybe none of this would have happened, but I didn't, so here we are. It's passed; I'm tired of feeling guilty and shouldering all this regret. I just want to take down the people responsible for this and try and find the answers we all need, and hope—pray—that one day, she'll come back to us."

He says nothing. He simply stands there and looks at her respectfully, his head nodding slightly.

"I guess the only consolation I can take is that she's not a Cie'th, at least," Lightning points out a little sardonically.

At her words, Raine's face changes, like he has just realised something important. With a deep frown, he moves to her and inquires in concern, "Have you been checking your brand? Where is it?" He eyes her up and down, sharply scrutinising every bit of her skin in a way that immediately spikes the anger and jealousy burning deep within Hope. He grits his teeth, jaws tightening. Lightning lifts her fingers from Serah to, he presumes, touch the left part of her chest. He is reminded of their horrific encounter with her Eidolon, Odin. Yet another time he had been staring death in the eyes and she had leapt to his rescue.

Raines looks at her, his face unreadable. He slips off the glove on his left hand and, when she makes no move to stop him, reaches out to push hers away. She stands silently, arms by her hips, watching him, and Hope finds himself starting to shake with fury. Surely she is not going to let that man...? He has a sudden urge to rush down the stairs and shove him away from her.

There is a soft rustle of clothing and metallic chain, then the sound of a zipper. Lightning remains motionless.

The audible sigh from Raines is evidently one of relief. "It's still in its early stage," he says. "Not even half-way yet. You're very fortunate, considering what you've been through in the past few days."

"Fortunate," she mutters with a huff. "Huh."

Raines gives her a pointed look. Hope hears him redo her top and then, instead of drawing his hand back, he reaches up to her face. Lightning's reaction is far from what the silver-haired boy expects. She does not protest but seems to almost lean into his touch. When Raines bends his head down towards her, time as Hope knows it appears to stop for him. All of a sudden, all the ricocheting questions and emotions spiralling inside him dissipate into the air, melting away into emptiness, and he is left staring at the scene before him like a zombie, completely devoid of any feelings.

Raines kisses her and Lightning submits. Hope is frozen to the spot, his mind blank save for a single thought thundering repeatedly in his ears—This can't be happening. This can't be happening. This can't be happening.

He doesn't know how long the two soldiers stand there, so caught up and entwined in their intimacy, and he can't remember just how long ago he actually started breathing again. He watches as Raines rests a hand on her waist and pulls her closer, her own fingers moving up to his collar. Then, as sudden as it began, she breaks off and takes a few steps back, turning away from him.

"Enough," she says callously, but Hope can see a part of her face this time, and her expression betrays her words. Behind her, Raines rubs his forehead, taking a deep breath as he puts his glove back on. A finger brushes his lips, as if he is recalling the feel of hers moments before.

"This band of l'Cie you've been travelling with," he says, his voice returning to its usual tone. "Do you trust them?"

"More than I trust you," comes her flat retort and he unexpectedly chuckles softly.

"A wise decision. After all, we might be enemies the next time we meet." He says it without a care in the world, but Lightning turns to him and responds sharply, "What's that supposed to mean?"

Raines shrugs, giving her a thin smile. "Only that you can't predict the future. Who knows what will happen tomorrow?" His countenance grows bleak as he speaks. "… If I had known we'd be here like this today, I would have made some very, very different decisions in the past. Trust your… friends, if that's what they are to you, but more importantly, trust your instincts. Make a choice and stick with it."

Lightning sighs. "Right. I can't believe I'm getting advice from you of all people…" she mumbles wearily. There is a brief silence before she says, "I have a favour to ask."

"Anything," Raines replies at once.

"That man… Bartholomew Estheim…" Hope's breath catches at his throat. "Can the Cavalry keep him safe until everything is over?"

"Of course. I've placed him under the guard of the Third Squadron. They have orders to return to our base before tomorrow's siege." Raines crosses his arms, his eyebrows raised as he ponders over a matter. "His son is aboard the ship, no? Should he be sent away as well?"

Lightning shakes her head. "Hope's a tough kid. He's been through a lot, but he can hold his own," she says. "He's my charge; I'll take care of him."

When he hears her words, Hope feels something wrenching his heart, twisting and pulling at his soul in a thousand directions. He can't describe his exact emotions now. Jealousy and warmth, relief and anger. Hatred towards the man who is allowed to lay his hand on her as he pleases and yet, gratitude towards him as well for what he is doing for his father. Pain at seeing her so at ease in another person's arms, wishing desperately they'd been his, and yet he is stirred by her honest declaration and promise.

"I can tell you two are close," Raines remarks. There is no hostility or envy in his voice at all. Lightning doesn't deny or concur with the statement. She moves to Serah and leans down, laying a kiss on her forehead. It is one of those rare moments Hope can see how warm and human she really is underneath that thick, hard shell of hers—something that Raines obviously has had the opportunity to experience in the past.

She leaves him without a word and he, in turn, keeps silent as well, though his eyes follow her every move. Hope quickly shrinks back, thankful that her footsteps drown the soft thud of the door as it closes. Grabbing his shoes, he sprints quietly further ahead in the hallway, his legs stiff from crouching so long. He almost trips but manages to reach a shadowy corner as the door opens and Lightning appears. Pressing a hand to his mouth, he forces his breaths to slow down, hoping she will not look his way. He has no idea how well hidden he is.

She leans back on the door, closing her eyes and letting out a sigh. For a short while, she simply stands there, and under the dim light, her hair gleaming and her defenses down, she is just beautiful. Something jabs at Hope's heart. For a brief moment, she looks almost as lost as he is. He has never seen her like this before.

When she turns abruptly, opening the door and going back into the lab, the jab turns into a merciless stab, shattering him in an instant.

Hope doesn't know how long he stands there, staring down the empty corridor. When his feet start to move again, his steps are stiff, mechanical, like it is someone else controlling his body to walk. He passes the door Lightning had been standing against and glances at the glass window on top, but he doesn't have the urge to look through it anymore. He is afraid of what he might see—what they might be doing on the other side. Just the thought of her… with that man… instead of me… His vision blurs and he hastily rubs his eyes. His fingers are wet. He stares. I'm crying?

One minute he is in that hallway and the next, he is already outside his room. He has no idea how he managed to find his way back; he barely even remembers walking through the ship. Chucking his shoes at the foot of the bed, he climbs up to his bunk and lies there, face flat on the pillow, suddenly drained of all his energy.

Stupid stupid stupid. He's messed up. He's weak, even though he had thought his time with Lightning and Snow had toughened him up. He's a fool, too, for being this way just because of a childish infatuation with someone else. I'm so fucked up. His pillow is starting to get damp, his thoughts beginning to veer into his darker side. I'm just a kid to her… There's no way she'd feel the same way... I'm her 'charge'... She said so herself...

He thinks about Cid Raines, about the cool, nonchalant manner he acted around her, the smooth, decisive way he touched her and kissed her. A familiar rage starts to bubble on the surface. Are they lovers? She didn't behave like they are when she first entered the lab. Her actions confused Hope—at times, she had appeared indifferent and cold, but why had she let Raines kiss her then? Perhaps they had been lovers in the past? Their conversation had certainly hinted as much, but how could it have happened? Raines, a Brigadier General, must be at least in his thirties, and Lightning is so much younger than him. Did their relationship begin when she was teenager? How could it possibly have when their age difference is so—

Hope stops short. So big, is what he had been thinking to complete that train of thought, but that is the exact situation he is in now, isn't it? He, fourteen and still a child in so many people's eyes, desires someone seven years older than him. Seven years. When he is her age, she will be almost thirty.

Just like her and Cid Raines now.

He was crying moments before but now his eyes feel grainy and as dry as sand. Fatigue begins to overwhelm him but he can't stop thinking about how much he hates Raines and his relationship with Lightning even though he, Hope, is in a similar position. Had Raines been to her how she is to him now? Was that how everything started? So if he waited, say, five or six years, he'd have a chance of being with her? But with Raines still around, there's always the possibility of them...

Hope buries his head into the pillow, his cry of frustration muffled by the soft material. He will lose his mind if he keeps thinking about it. Why am I feeling this way? It's just a crush. I'll get over this... I just need time... It's just a crush...

The words circle continuously in his head, gradually lulling him to sleep, but even as he starts to doze off, he can't stop the stubborn tears in his eyes.


Lightning masks her feelings convincingly and with such ease that Hope, at first, wonders if he had dreamed everything that happened nine hours ago. As they—he, she, Snow and Fang—confer with Raines and his second-in-command, Rygdea, about the upcoming attack, Hope watches her every move carefully, wanting to find tell-tale signs of her private meeting with Brigadier General Bastard, but she remains as stoic as ever, her arms crossed and eyebrows arched down in a deep frown.

For the first time that morning, he wonders why she had gone back into the lab last night. Did she just want to spend some time with Serah before today? Did she just go back to talk to Raines, to catch up on everything, for old time's sake? Did she want to continue where they left off before, when he had kissed her and she had pulled away? Did they… do more than that?

His face burns hotly and he doesn't know if it's due to embarrassment from thinking about her in such a situation or annoyance towards Raines. After an unexpectedly peaceful night of sleep, Hope understands now that his jealousy and anger towards the man is completely childish and silly, but he still cannot help it. Seeing both of them acting so intimately with one another infuriated him.

He jumps slightly when he feels someone touching his shoulder. He looks up, only to be greeted with Lightning's concerned sapphire eyes. "Hope," she says quietly. "Are you alright?"

He swallows hard, his heart pumping feverishly in his chest. Had his behaviour given him away? "Yeah," he replies glibly and turns away, still sensing she is watching him from behind. If she is disbelieving, she doesn't show it.

Rygdea tells them to get prepared and meet him in the hangar in fifteen minutes. "Do you need anything from our armory?" he asks.

"A couple of Potions and Phoenix Downs would help," remarks Fang and he nods, leaving with a quick salute to his commanding officer.

Then, to Hope's dismay, Raines turns to him and lays a gloved hand on his shoulder, as Light had moments before. "Your father was escorted to our headquarters at Eden a few hours ago," he says somewhat kindly. As if he's speaking to a kid, Hope thinks acidly. "He will be well-guarded there. I've personally seen to that myself, so worry not."

Bastard, is the first word on the tip of Hope's tongue and he has the grace to feel deeply ashamed. This is not the way he should be behaving towards the person who had saved his father's life—the man who had saved his own life. And Lightning's, and Snow's, and Fang's. "… Thank you," Hope mumbles a little stiffly and, against his better judgement, adds, "Sir."

Raines gives him a small smile, different from the one he had given Lightning the night before, and yet, Hope feels the incessant agitation beginning to rise within him. He turns away and follows the others as they leave the bridge and head towards the hangar. The Brigadier General follows silently behind.

Rygdea is already by the airship they are supposed to be boarding, a pouch of supplies in his hands. He passes them to Fang. "Y'all ready then?" he questions.

"Bring it on." Snow grins, as confident as ever, and smacks a fist against his palm. "Dysley, here we come! Your retribution awaits!"

"Go easy on the cheesy lines, hero," Fang snickers and Lightning rolls her eyes. Rygdea opens the hatch to the airship and motions them to step in.

"Good luck and Godspeed," Raines says gravely as he looks around them, giving them a smart salute. His second-in-command follows suit. "Be safe. May we see each other again on the other side." His gaze rests on Lightning longer than the others—the only reason Hope notices this subtlety is because he is watching the Cavalry Commander very, very carefully.

Fang raises a hand in an affirmative wave. Snow just gives a thumbs-up. Lightning salutes back and then turns away without a word, and Hope feels a strange sort of contentment and triumph at her apathetic actions. Hiding the dark look on his face, he hops into the airship and squeezes into a small space between the cargo, never casting another glance back.


The air in Gran Pulse is heavy, humid and surprisingly refreshing. The surroundings are bright and alive—lush, colourful plants and flowers in every nook and corner, patches of ivory clouds on the light blue sky above. Crystal clear water run wildly from streams, forming small waterfalls over cliffs and tiny pools between trees and ferns. Fang and Vanille are clearly relieved to be home after so long, the latter especially excited and cheerful despite everything they have been through. Sazh and Snow are equally awed and amazed by this sudden change of location.

Hope doesn't care about any of those now, though. It is overwhelming, this pleasant difference of atmosphere and environment, but the only person on his mind is Lightning. No matter how well she tries to hide it, he knows she's suffering.

The party is camped by a brook. The fire Sazh started is burning brightly, crackling in the aging evening, making Vanille's hair seem even more orange in the light as she lies nearby. Fang, as usual, is close to her, and Snow is leaning against a rock, staring at Serah's tear in his hand. It's his turn to keep watch. Sazh dozes off, chocobo chick on his shoulder.

Lightning is seated by a cliff, about a minute or two away from the campsite. Half an hour ago, she had told them that she wanted some time alone. It wasn't an unusual request from her, considering how long they had travelled together now, so no one objected. They knew how reclusive and solitary she could still be sometimes. Hope watches her silently from behind a tree. She is a few feet away from the rocky edge, sitting with an elbow on a raised knee and her survival knife in her other hand, flipping it open and clicking it shut in persistent, fluid motions. Her face is one of tranquillity, peace.

Hours before, when Cid Raines had crumbled to the floor, defeated yet proud of his final act of free will, a perverted sense of satisfaction and condescension had surged through Hope's veins. He remembered how he had thought, Now Light is mine.

At this very moment, a different emotion fills him—loathing at his own self for having such thoughts and feelings. Lightning isn't property; she doesn't belong to him, and his childish jealousy is uncalled for and completely foolish. How could he have taken delight and joy from someone's demise? He recalled hating Snow for all the times he had grinned stupidly and laughed after his mother's death, all the times he had thought the blonde NORA leader didn't give a damn about using other people. Hope is horrified at how easily he had slipped into the darker, more sinister depths of his soul, a vacant hole without his conscience and consideration of the feelings of others.

He shouldn't have been thinking about himself. When Raines had been beaten to the ground—physically and mentally—he shouldn't have triumphed over their victory. He should have thought about Lightning and her feelings. He should have been worried about her. He's made a promise, after all. I'll try to watch out for you, too, he had said to her in Palumpolum.

Taking a deep breath, Hope steps out and moves towards her, his shoes making a crisp, crunching sound as he walks through the long grass and bobbing flowers. Her head tilts slightly but she doesn't reach for her weapon. Either she knows it is him or she is fully confident about her reflexes in handling an unknown, approaching danger. He's been with her long enough to know not to dispute her capabilities.

"… Mind if I join you?" he asks. She just pats the grassy patch next to her with a nod of her head. He lowers himself down, making sure not to stay too close to her, and leans back on his hands, stretching his legs in front of him. The view of towering cliffs, rocks and canyons before them is simply breathtaking. He never would have imagined himself experiencing such a sight back in his uneventful life on Cocoon.

"We've got a long day ahead of us tomorrow. You should get some rest," Lightning says, glancing at him. Her blue eyes show no weakness at all, but he knows it's in there somewhere. She can't honestly be fine after what happened in the Ark. He wonders if she's hinting at him to leave her alone. He chooses not to care.

"I will, in a while. I just want to sit here for a bit," he replies truthfully. She keeps quiet and merely continues flicking her knife open and close. He inhales the fresh air, gazing up at the night sky. The stars are brighter and clearer on Gran Pulse. He can smell a hint of saltwater. Are they close to the sea?

He doesn't know how long they both just sit there, but when he breaks the silence, his voice is less shaky than he had thought it would be. He inquires very quietly, "You're thinking about him, aren't you?"

"Who?" she counters monotonously.


The knife pauses for half a second—only half a second—before she resumes her actions. She makes no response to his statement, neither agreeing nor denying. He looks at her to catch any sort of body language she might be showing but her face remains indifferent, her shoulders and posture rigid and unrelenting.

Control your emotions, she had told him once. Focus on your goal and shut out everything else. That is exactly what she is doing now. His hatred for Cid Raines burns anew, only this time, it is not jealousy that fuels it but anger towards the man for betraying her. For hurting her.

"I followed you," he suddenly blurts out, as if a part of him is yearning to see her portray any emotion at all, and when he begins, it is only too easy to continue, "That night, on The Lindblum, when you went to see Serah. I followed you, and I saw you with him. I heard you two talking. I didn't mean to eavesdrop... I was just… curious. I know he is—was —a more important person to you than you let on, so don't try to hide it."

Lightning stares ahead, holding the knife steady now, and doesn't even look at him. He has no idea if she is furious or not. For a brief moment, he has a vision of her suddenly turning to him and plunging that sharp blade into his gut, but she flips the knife back into its safety lock and puts it into her pouch. Is she going to jump up and leave him here without a word? He studies her for a reaction. She is running her fingers through faded cherry-coloured locks, rubbing the bridge of her nose with a heavy sigh. Her expression shows fatigue and, faintly, pain.

"Yes, he was," she admits softly and her direct reply surprises him a little. Then she coldly points out, "But if you're expecting an explanation, tough luck."

"… You're not mad? That I followed you?"

She shrugs insouciantly. "At this point, I don't care," she mutters.

He steels his will and boldly asks, "Was he an old boyfriend?"

"Hmph," is the only sound that comes from her. He takes it as a refusal to answer his question. When she gets up, his heart sinks. This isn't what he had in mind when he decided to confront her. But instead of walking away like he thought she would, Lightning stands still and looks up to the sky, her gaze on the glowing shell of Cocoon, floating thousands of miles away, completely oblivious to the vast world below it.

"This is war," she murmurs. "Nothing is absolute. Comrades from yesterday can become enemies today in a single instant. Raines told me to trust my instincts and I did just that, and I don't regret it. He had his reasons for what he did. I may not truly understand what they were, but it doesn't matter. He made a choice and I made mine. I'm not going back on it just because of our past."

Her words seem callous and hard, but looking at her face, Hope knows that she is feeling far from that. She might be free from regret but a part of her still aches and mourns. She just refuses to acknowledge the fact.

"But you're hurting," he whispers.

She looks at him, her sapphire eyes bright and resolute. "I know," she says under her breath, and for a brief moment, her vulnerable side emerges on the surface. "But it's time to get over it." As quickly as they collapsed, the walls are back up again.

Hope sees it then, as clear as day. Grief, like sympathy, only serves to hold one back, and Lightning is the last person to want that. Cid Raines had hurt her more than she would ever admit, and yet, her behaviour and actions now seem almost uncaring and indifferent towards his betrayal. Of course she'd be like this. She had the exact reaction when Serah fell into crystal stasis. Turn grief to anger, then anger to strength. That is what Lightning does.

… But Hope doesn't want that. He doesn't want her to ever go through something like this again.

When she turns to walk back to the campsite, he quickly scrambles up and reaches out to grab her hand, fingers latching firmly. She stops in surprise and stares at him expectantly but he doesn't look up, choosing to keep his eyes straight on the ground below him, his heart beating wildly in his chest. If he meets her gaze, he isn't sure how his confidence would fare. He needs to say this now.

"Wait for me," he tells her, trying his best to keep his voice serious and steady. "I know I'm just a kid now and I can't do anything, but give me five, six years, and I'll be old enough to protect you then. To take care of you."

His cheeks are aflame and he knows he must be as red as a beetroot. He is still holding on to her hand. She stands there in silence and just as he thinks he is going to melt into the earth in embarrassment, he feels something poke at his forehead. He looks up instinctively, only to see her fingers. There is an array of emotions in her expression when he moves his eyes to her face. Surprise. Gratitude. Amusement. Sincerity. Her eyebrows are raised in a somewhat perplexed manner.

"… We'll see about that," Lightning finally says, her tone neutral. When she walks off, he is left standing alone by the cliff, breathing fast, his pulse a beating drum in his head. Did I really just say those things? He questions himself over and over. His mind is hazy but there is something else he is thinking about—something far more important than his words, something far more significant than her ambiguous response.

While he was holding her hand, she had squeezed him back.

A/N: I'm a big Hope X Lightning fan, but while he's still a teen, the only thing that sits right with me is if he has a crush on her and the romance is one-sided. It'd be a completely different matter if he's all grown up, though...