First the important stuff- all the characters contained within this story belong to Square Enix, blah blah blah. Now go out and buy as much of their paraphernalia as possible, so that Sqeenix can make boatloads of cash and not be bothered with coming after small fry such as myself and other fanfic writers.
You know the drill: read, review, lemme know what you'd like to see happen in the story, as this is still very much a writing in progress. Cheers!
It had been nine months since the fall of Cocoon. Nine months since their lives had been completely changed. The survivors were still adapting to their new lives on Gran Pulse, although it wasn't an easy one, what with no Fal-cie caring for their every need or want. It was, however, one the people could proudly claim as a life they have carved out for themselves.
Hope stood on a small hillside, looking over the crystallized remains of Cocoon as they sparkled in the late afternoon sun, the light bathing him in golden hues. For him, the past nine months had been a blur. First it had been the search and eventual reunion with his father. They were making inroads to a better relationship between father and son, but at times things were still rough. The refugee-like nature in which everyone lived didn't make it better, yet he had to admit, it was better than being completely parent-less. His fifteenth birthday was a few months later. His father and friends did their best with what they had, anything they could to help him keep his mind off the fact that it would be his first birthday without his mother. Snow had given the youth an AMP-powered manadrive glove that his former NORA pal, Maqui had salvaged and modified. Serah had baked him a cake with help from Sazh's little boy, Dajh. He was grateful for their gifts, for their company, but inside, he still felt the sadness, the emptiness. Only Lightning seemed to notice this, and she had pulled him aside to confront him. He could still remember their conversation.
"You've been crying, Hope," she had said, matter-of-factly.
"I- I dunno what you're talking about," he stammered, green eyes avoiding her gaze. He tried to smile and failed.
Lightning had gently laid a hand on his shoulder and he nearly jumped at the touch. "Look at me, Hope". Her voice was gentle, but firm. He had hesitantly raised his eyes to meet hers.
"It's okay to cry, Hope, understand? It doesn't mean you're weak. You've been through a lot, and it's expected. Holding it in is much worse, believe me."
And he did believe her.
At the time though, he had sighed, and nodded his head. Lightning reached inside her leg pouch and pulled something out, holding the object out to him. Hope's eyes widened, recognizing it immediately.
"B-but that's…" he gasped as she placed the knife into his hand.
"It's like mine, but it's not the exact same one. Any time you feel you're not strong enough, I want you to take this knife out and remember all the trials you've been through to get where you are now. You're much stronger than you realize, Hope." The corner of her mouth curled into one of her rare smiles.
Hope nodded his silvery head, looking at the knife in his hands. "Thanks, Light."
Then Lightning gave him a hug and a kiss on his cheek. "Happy birthday, Hope." She then turned and walked back to where everyone else was partaking in the cake, her usual stoic demeanor firmly back in place. Feeling light headed from the kiss, Hope dazedly followed behind.
That kiss, no matter how brief, how sisterly like, was nearly his undoing. That was the last thing he wanted to remember, especially when he was up on that hill trying to get Lightning out of his mind in the first place. Today had been Snow and Serah's wedding and Lightning, being a part of the wedding party, was in a dress. Seeing the woman he had idolized- and developed a painfully huge crush on- looking so feminine, so gorgeous, was almost more than his adolescent hormones could take. As soon as the ceremony was over, Hope had slipped away to calm his racing mind. Deep down, he knew he had to tell her, but how? He knew she saw him as just a kid, maybe even a little brother, but he wasn't going to be a kid forever. If he waited until he was a man, he feared he'd be too late. Somehow, he thought, I've got to tell her. I'll go crazy if I don't.
It probably wouldn't feel so urgent if it weren't for the fact that he'd be leaving soon for training. After his birthday, Hope had decided to join the newly formed Expeditionary Corps. Created from the remains of PSICOM and the Guardian Corps, their purpose to explore and map Gran Pulse, seeking resources that could be of use to the colony of Cocoon survivors, and to destroy any Fal-cie that may be a threat. Lightning had already joined, given her knowledge of the terrain, and she even retained her old rank of sergeant. Given what the teen had learned from her, and his own knowledge of Gran Pulse, Hope had thought it would be a good idea. It wasn't like he could go back to being a normal schoolboy anyways. Not after…
He had been so lost in thought; he hadn't heard someone approaching from behind until he heard the soft "damnit" which could only have come from Lightning's voice. He turned around in time to see her bent over, hitching up the hem of her dress to take off her shoes. She straightened up with a sigh of relief and, hateful shoes in hand, continued to climb up the hill to Hope. He had turned away slightly, not wanting her to see the blush that suddenly spread across his cheeks. He was glad the sunlight was making everything look rosy.
"There you are Hope," the woman called out to him, coming to stand beside him. "Your father was worried you had gone missing."
"Sorry about that," he pretended to be embarrassed, laughing and scratching the back of his head. "Just need a moment of space. I don't really do formal events well. They're… kinda boring."
Lightning made a noise of understanding and agreement. "You aren't the only one. I certainly wouldn't be in this dress or these awful shoes if Serah hadn't insisted on it. If she wasn't my sister…" Her voice trailed off, shaking her head.
Hope studied her dress discreetly, like he had throughout the entire ceremony. It was a pale sky blue color, which he thought matched her eyes perfectly. Designed by Lebreau, another of Snow's former comrades, the dress had a halter-top, which left Lightning's well-toned arms bare. The soft fabric came from around her neck and criss-crossed in the front, making for a plunging v-shaped neckline. Hope was grateful for the slight growth spurt he had, as it meant he would no longer get an eyeful of her breasts each time he faced her. The asymmetrical hem was cut at mid thigh on her left leg, fluttering and folding softly down to where it was cut just above her ankle on her right. Even her hair was styled in a more feminine manner, a few curling pink wisps brushing against her cheek. Overall, Hope thought she looked stunning.
Aware that he might've been looking too long without saying a word, he glanced away with a shrug, feigning indifference. "It's not that bad," he offered.
Lightning snorted. "I look ridiculous."
"I think you look beautiful."
Then Hope's heart leapt into his throat as he realized what he just said. Paralyzed by fear, he stared fixedly at the crystal pillar that now supported Cocoon as his face burned. His head pounded. He couldn't breathe. He couldn't think. He just wanted to disappear.
Lightning looked down at him, arms folded, brow arched. Then she chuckled softly, shaking her head. Her hand reached out and tousled his silver hair. Hope winced at her touch, but worked up the courage to glance her way and crack a small smile.
They stood together in silence, staring at the crystallized form in front of them as it twinkled and shimmered in the sunlight. They remained that way for some time, until Lightning broke the silence:
"You miss her, don't you? Vanille, I mean. It seemed you two were pretty close back then."
Hope looked up at Lightning in surprise. He couldn't fathom how she came to that conclusion, especially when Vanille knew of his crush on Light long before he had admitted it to himself. Still, they were close. She always knew how to make him feel at ease. Perhaps because the girl from Oerba was the only one could confide in about his infatuation.
"Yeah, I guess I do, a bit." Hope finally replied. "But her heart always belonged to Fang. And now they're together, forever."
Lightning didn't reply and again they stared at the crystal together in silence. The sun was starting to sink lower, painting the sky with streaks of crimson and gold, and bathing their bodies in a similar color. Hope glanced over at Lightning. The lighting suited her, he thought, as it made her pink hair and pale skin look even more radiant. He found it hard to swallow again, and it made him wonder if it was going to be like this for him every time she was near. In the midst of his despair, a nagging voice popped into his head.
Tell her how you feel!
He fidgeted, glancing up nervously at the woman beside him. She looked so beautiful, it made his chest hurt. There was no way she would take him seriously.
Hope closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
"Uh, L-Light?" Hope stammered, biting his lip. The woman looked at him, her keen eyes staring into his own.
"I'm… joining the Expeditionary Corps. I've been thinking about it since my birthday, and I think the time is right to go."
Lightning sighed, "I had a feeling something big was going on with you, the way you've been acting. You're sure about this, Hope?" The teen nodded, thinking, have I really been acting that odd? Great…
"Then I guess the only thing I can say is, I wish you the best, and stay safe."
Hope blushed a little at her words, but he smiled hesitantly, encouraged.
"I still want to become stronger, you know, just like back when I chose to follow you." Hope pause to study her expression, fearful he was about to ramble, trying to delay what he needed to say. He inwardly steadied himself for what he would say next.
"Back then, I did it for myself, to give myself a reason to keep going after…" Hope's words failed him for a moment, but Lightning nodded in understanding. "B-but now…" He willed himself to continue "now, I-I want to be stronger… for you, Light."
The woman blinked in surprised bemusement. Her brow furrowed, trying to make sense of what Hope had said. He cringed at her expression, mistaking it for a scowl. But he had gone this far; there was no turning back now. Trembling, he stepped forward, taking her hands in his, causing her to drop her shoes. He noticed the sharp contrast between the calluses of her fingers and the softness of her palms, where her gloves would normally cover her hands.
"Hope…?" Lightning's voice sounded surprised. Hope kept his gaze focused on his hands holding hers, realizing how much his hands have grown since the last time they had touched hers. They were the same size, a bit bigger, in fact.
"I know that... that right now, you just see me as a kid, b-but I won't be one forever," he glanced up for a moment before dropping his eyes back down and continuing, "W-what I hope is that in that time, I'll have grown into a man, a man that is worthy… of your love." Lightning's eyes had grown wide as his confession continued to tumble from his lips. "Please, give me a chance to earn your love. I know… you've earned mine."
Hope was shaking uncontrollably now. He couldn't even raise his head anymore to look into her eyes. So he did the only thing he could think to do; he kissed her.
He was surprised at how soft her lips were, how warm they felt. Hope wanted to commit the sensation to memory, in case it was the last time. A thrill of pleasure shot through his body, warming him from deep within. Shocked by this new feeling, the teen pulled away, breaking the kiss as fast as he started it. He turned and would've run back down the hill if Lightning's hand upon his shoulder hadn't stopped him.
He heard the beginnings of a lecture in her voice and decided to stop her before she began. His ears burned enough as it was.
"I'm sorry," he mumbled, green eyes tearing up as he stared at his shoes. "This will probably be the last time we'll be seeing each other for a while. I leave for training the day after tomorrow… Goodbye." Hope shrugged off her hand and walked a brace of steps before stopping again. He turned his head slightly, but still couldn't bring himself to turn around and fully look at her.
"I love you, Light."
And then he ran down the hill, leaving Light staring after him, trying to comprehend what just happened.