It was another warm day on Gran Pulse and Light, Snow and Hope emerged from their safe little secluded camp. Snow moved the heavy metal box, one of many they had stacked to prevent the larger hunting dogs from working their way into the relatively safe valley. The six-foot-five unmoveable force grunted as the obstacle finally yielded and Light was the first to step through followed closely by Hope as he had to jog to keep up with the pace of the two taller and much more disciplined adults both of who were very much aware of the sickness the boy had only just recovered from.
"Are you sure you're ready for this? One more day resting up won't be so bad." Snow said as he rested a hand on Hope's shoulder. He had beaten Light to the punch this time, both sharing the same concerns.
"He's right, Hope. You were pretty sick and there's really no need to feel like you have to rush back out there." Light indicated the Central Expanse which was now visible through the two cliff walls either side.
"I told you, I'm fine. I need to do something soon, or I'm going to loose my edge." Light smiled at that, it was still strange for her to hear him talk in that way since to her he was still just a sheltered child. It really wasn't fair to view him as such and she knew it. He had worked so hard to prove himself capable and grow beyond his previous physical limitations, largely down to her involvement and rather harsh treatment when he first decided to join her. Looking back on that time now caused her to cringe, Hope had changed so much and if she didn't realise what she was doing to him when she had, Hope would have trained himself to be anything but himself just to impress her and not feel like such a waste of time. That would have been a tragedy.
"Well when you put it like that." Light said after a moments pause. "We'll just head to the lake and then head back."
"That's not exploring!" Hope stated incredulously and Light sighed.
"Maybe not, but I already told you, we're taking it easy today." Hope looked set to argue but Light was already jogging into the sunlight briskly. She glanced back seeing Hope follow, shadowed by Snow who just shot her an approving nod. At least someone thought she was doing the right thing.
Hope had to admit by the time they reached the little body of water, he felt washed out but it wasn't something he wanted to admit openly and so made a decided effort to hide the fact from his two friends. Not that they believed his act for one second, not that they would believe him even if he did feel okay. It was days like this that he really hated being as young as he was.
"It's quiet." Light said aloud as Snow came to a stop just beside Hope who was resting hands on knees trying to get his breath back.
"Yeah. We're the dogs? They're usually all over this area this time of day."
"I don't like it. We should head back, now."
Hope sighed and stood straight, no way was he going to just have them invent a reason to head back just to make him feel better about being weak. He hated himself so much. Part of the team he maybe and because of his focus he had to be, but that didn't mean he wasn't the weak link among them.
"Why don't you just admit the reason we're heading back is me." He snapped, his voice still softly spoken and his head down. He had never been good at any kind of confrontation, the only reason he fought was to protect him and those he cared for. Even when he had reason to be angry he could control it, contain it and keep it there inside.
"Seriously, Hope," Snow's usual smiling face was serious as he watched the area around them. "Listen."
Hope still wasn't convinced but done as he was asked listening carefully. He heard the water lapping gently and the wind as it disturbed the grass at his feet and a few of the flowers that grew by the water.
"It's…quiet." He agreed and now shared their concerns.
"Come on. We're leaving." Light wasn't one to run from a fight, Hope understood why she choose to this time, whether they admitted it or not they were looking out for him. Light set off, running a little faster than before and Hope had to really push himself to keep up and being tired still from the journey here and still not one-hundred-percent after his ailment, he was struggling a little. Luckily Snow was right behind him so just as Hope stumbled, a strong supporting hand came from nowhere to save him.
"Whoa, easy." Snow brought them to a stop and Hope dragged in a couple of steadying breaths glancing up at Light who had also stopped and was heading back to them.
"I knew you weren't ready." She stated but she was far from angry with him.
"I'm sorry, I honestly thought I was okay. I didn't feel this bad till…I'd been running for a while."
Hope wasn't sure why, but ever since he was branded by the Pulse Fal'Cie, he got these feelings. Bad ones. He stood a little straighter and looked towards the hill to their right somehow knowing. . .
"W…we have to move." He stammered out and Light was the first one to take out her weapon while Snow scooped Hope up and hoisted him over his shoulder.
"Nothing like a morning workout!" He shouted as he broke into a full on sprint, Light close behind, Gunblade still at the ready just as a huge Armoured Mecha crashed through the top of the hill. Bits of dirt and grass showered them, mostly harmless say for one little rock that caught Light just right. She called out softly, clutching the side of her head where blood was already trickling free. Her steps became awkward and her path weaved before she was finally overcome and down she went.
"Light!" As Hope called out, Snow stopped and spun around to inspect the situation, but now Hope couldn't see anything. "Put me down, you need to help her!" Snow done as he was bid but not without instructions of his own.
"Run, now!" he ordered and Hope started running as fast as he could, looking back briefly satisfied that Snow was now following with Light. He stopped without warning looking down at his feet. The earth below him seemed wrong, subconsciously he knew it was the Mecha, its extendable arms tunnelling below them. Hope's eyes widened and in the split second the huge diamond tipped edges erupted from beneath them, he dug deep within himself and poured all the energy he could spare into a barrier of protection. The ground lifted and cracked, shifting under their feet as the Mecha literally tore a deep hole in the ground, steep earthen walls either side of the newly formed valley. Hope was able to keep his balance but Snow was much taller and carrying extra weight. He stumbled into the gaping wound in the earth, clawing frantically with his one free hand to try and catch hold of anything before he hit the bottom.
Hope called out as Snow fell, landing thankfully unhurt on a previously buried root.
"Snow!" Hope tried to reach down for his friend, but he was too far. Snow couldn't even climb up as Light was still out cold and there was barely enough room for Snow to stand. "Hold on, I'll…do something." Hope stood, the ground still shifting quite a bit and he had to be aware of where he was putting his feet.
"Hope, just run!" He heard Snow say but there was just no way he was leaving them. With a deep breath, Hope reached into his back pocket for his boomerang though how that was going to help against the Mecha he didn't know.
It stood taller than any other machine Hope had ever seen, where its feet should have been it had a faintly glowing disk, spinning fast, providing the force required to keep it hovering. Most of the frame work was rusted but that didn't seem to prevent it from functioning though the one consolation was the movements of its upper structure were slow and sluggish.
Hope rolled clear as its upper arms, which were also tipped in a diamond edge drill, swept the air where he had been and he tried to ignore just how close he had come to loosing his head.
The second attack was incoming and Hope lifted his left hand, willing another protective barrier out towards the attacking limb. The clash of the two powerful forces caused such a bang that it was heard for miles and the young L'Cie hoped Fang and the others back at camp would come and investigate.
A third attack with the same limb came tumbling towards him yet again, this time with more anger behind it, determined to shatter the barrier it seemed and that's exactly what it done. Hope screamed as the force of the blow sent enormous pressure back towards him and his head felt like it was going to crack open. He recoiled back, holding his head a small trickle of blood flowing from his nose. He wiped it away and moved quickly to avoid another swipe of the arm, landing on his stomach and skidding to a halt before scurrying back to his feet and running.
The attacks were relentless, Hope barely had time to move never mind cast anything and he was reluctant to use the barriers for fear of more of the previous pain. But he had to do something.
With a grunt of determination, Hope ran right for the Mecha, dodging flaying limbs and the shifting earth at his feet till he was as good as under the hovering machine. He was out of breath and still hurting from the mental blow but he knew this was the only chance they had. He was relatively safe beneath the machine, it didn't seem to detect him and that's where Hope would stay. He knew to cast once meant to give away his position. He had to make the element of surprise count for as long as he could, but with limited reserves it was going to be hard.
Being a Mecha it was weak to water and thunder, those would hurt but…he knew it wouldn't be enough on their own. He had to think. He had to assail it with so much power that it wouldn't be able to react and he quickly summoned the wind. His left hand drew in the currents of warm air from about him, pulling and churning his hand, influencing their direction, slowly feeding the currents and building upon what they already had. He felt dizzy, he could feel his whole body moving freely, the wind itself his dance partner. He felt lost within it, his eyes were open but he saw nothing, he could only feel what was happening to him.
The winds momentum was perfect and Hope spun within the funnel of the quickly moving gale, his feet having cleared the ground and his left hand now calling upon another element. The moisture in the air gathered, drop by drop and it spun together with the wind, Hope dry and secure at the eye of a quickening storm.
He could feel the water dance around him. It touched his face gently before continuing on its way and Hope's eyes squeezed shut as he conjured yet more elements for his perfect storm.
A deafening clap of thunder echoed through the air as the warmth of the wind and the coolness of the water clashed, creating a powerful friction. Sparks were flying. Hope could feel their electric heat and he called out. He wasn't sure how long he could hold all three elements together, but he needed more power, he had to drop this thing.
He screamed again, this time as the wind got away. It lifted the giant Mecha off the ground and high into the air, above Hope who was being quickly drained as the spell sucked more and more from him. The wind carried with it the water and the thunder and with each revolution of the hurricane, the machine was bombarded with those elements, sometimes simultaneously. Hope could feel each blow, sensed when one was about to collide as he continued to feed the tempest.
The Mecha's legs had been ripped free of the earth it had sliced into, and Hope could feel the ground just below him begin to close. He wanted to stop and help Snow, but, the spell wouldn't let him. It wanted to run its course. It wanted to live its life to the full.
The boy at the centre of the perfect storm screamed, this time in pain as the magical energies were leeched out of his every pore. It felt like his own life was being taken away. . .
"Come on sleeping beauty! Wake up!" Light lifted her throbbing head. She felt wrong and it took her a while to figure out why. As the back of Snow's long white coat came into focus she realised and lifted herself up, her hand pressing against his back.
"Huh, what happened?" She asked trying to get down, but her movements only caused the man holding her to grip her more tightly.
"Keep still! This root isn't exactly built to hold our weight." Light took another moment to look around feeling very claustrophobic as she realised the were almost buried. The steep dirt walls were closing in and Snow was stuck because of her, not being able to jump or climb out.
With a grunt, Light slowly adjusted her position, careful so she didn't disturb their rather unsteady perch.
"Where's Hope?" She asked suddenly realising he wasn't there and the drop beneath them seemed bottomless. For a horrible moment she thought he had fell until Snow told her exactly where he was. The truth wasn't much better and Light knew they had to get up there and now. "Give me a lift!" She ordered and Snow nodded, planting his feet before he let her go. Light slipped from his shoulders, reaching up with her left hand which he caught securely. She followed the momentum, Snow doing likewise, ready to bounce back. Her fall slowed then stopped before Snow pulled her up with all his strength, Light helping by making herself more streamline. She bent her knees as she came level with Snow once more and he knelt so her feet now landed on his shoulders.
Like a well rehearsed trick both warriors snapped straight. Snow pushing up with his hands now under her feet and just before he let go, Light kicked up, her powerful thighs pushing her up and out of the slowly closing crack in the earth. She landed after a tumble, her head continuing to spin. She placed a steadying hand down, surveying the scene while Snow was now able to jump out, kicking off from each dirt wall, the deep tear in the ground now narrow enough for him to continue all the way up and out.
She nodded to him as he helped her up and both gazed towards the source of the gale forces winds currently whipping her cloak and his coat into a frenzy.
"Hope!" Snow called and Light followed his gaze, spotting the boy in the centre of a swirling maelstrom, the huge Mecha directly above him, a prisoner of the tremendous funnel of wind, cascading with water and electrified by thunder. It was the most powerful force she had ever witnessed and there was Hope, dead centre, arms stretched either side of him, head tilted back, legs ending in pointed toes, like every fibre of his being was fighting for control.
"How is he doing that?" She asked momentarily awestruck and Snow could only shake his head. Their stupor was broken by Hope's scream and Light felt her skin crawl. She knew he was hurting and so did Snow.
"He's in trouble!" Snow called and charged right for the magical hurricane. As they neared the phenomenon they had to take great care not to get swept away and being much lighter, Light was almost taken clean off her feet, if Snow hadn't of grabbed hold of her when he did, she would have been doing one very dizzy dance.
"We'll never get close enough like this!" She shouted to be heard above the noise. "Throw me!" She started backing up, giving herself plenty of room to get a good solid sprint. She shed anything that would slow her down, Gunblade, cloak and satchel before setting herself up for the run.
She didn't pause, her feet pounding the ground hard, thighs pumping harder still, pushing her on, faster, faster. Her arms worked in perfect synchronisation with the rest of her body as she drove on, the moment before she placed her right foot into Snow's hands, it felt like she was flying.
She locked her knees, feeling Snow's strength lift her high into the air. She straightened her body, arms by her head, hands pointed in tips as she desperately tried to make herself more streamline. She cut through the torrents of air, gritting her teeth as she felt both cold and electric heat caress her exposed skin. She bit back the pain, fought through the tempest and fixed her eyes on Hope and reached out for his hand as her momentum started to fade.
She caught his hand a fraction of a second before her body was finally clawed back into the maelstrom around them. Hope didn't budge, he was anchored well in the eye of the storm and she took advantage of the secure hold she had on him and pulled herself closer.
The swirling currents held her aloft as she pulled herself face to face with the young L'Cie who didn't seem to realise she was there. His entire body was tense and tears from his eyes rained up and out into the chaos around them.
"Hope!" She called his name but he didn't look at her, he seemed fixed in that one position. "Stop this!"
"I…I can't!" Light's heart broke as he screamed, agony tearing through his small frame and she knew this was killing him. The power he'd unleashed was out of control and Hope had been taken along for a very uncomfortable ride. She had to do something to starve the spell of its life and that meant cutting Hope off from reality.
"I'm sorry!" She called, drawing her right fist back ready to pound it into him, strong enough to knock him out but not so strong as to really hurt him. As Hope screamed again, more tears fell out of his eyes and into the currents of wind keeping them elevated. Each shinning drop floating by her slowly, a symbol of the terrible pain he was already in and she just couldn't inflict more upon him. "Damn-it!" She cursed and before she had time to change her mind, she reached for his face and pulled to her, snatching Hope's soft virgin lips in hers.
There was a jolt of surprise running through the boy in her arms at first, his lips stiff with uncertainty, but as she pushed a little deeper, massaging her lips against his firmly, his lips parted, inviting and warm. Light closed her eyes as she felt Hope's arms fall, his shoulders relaxing and she sighed softly an action that was felt through their kiss.
Hope was now completely limp in her arms and she encompassed him in her embrace, keeping him close as the great storm about them began to subside.
She slowly pulled away looking at the lad in her arms, his eyes were closed, his head still edged towards her, as if seeking her lips again, wanting more and she immediately felt guilty. They were suspended long enough for Hope to completely pass out in her arms before the magic keeping them aloft dispersed and she braced herself and Hope for the inevitable fall.
The extra weight made her landing harder than usual and she had to fight not to fall. Still holding Hope securely against her, she leapt out of the way as the huge Mecha, now limp and very much lifeless crashed against the ground before rolling into what remained of the hole it had created.
She watched it as it was consumed by the earth before placing Hope down just as Snow came running over.
"Is he. . ."
"He's alive, barely." She assured sitting back on her legs.
"What happened?" Snow was removing his coat and placing it folded under Hope's head.
"He lost control."
"How did you get it to stop?" Light tried to control her cheeks as she felt them burn up. She couldn't possibly tell him the truth and so blurted out a lie.
"I hit him." Snow turned slowly from his ministrations, fixing her with the most hateful glare she had ever seen.
"You hit him! How could you, he's just a kid!" Light just turned away getting angry herself but for a completely different reason.
"It was the only way!" She shouted as she stood. "You can hate me all you want but if I didn't do, he'd be dead!" Snow had stood to match and ultimately tower over her height. His expression was still hard but he just nodded. Light shook her head and quickly gathered up her things while Snow took care of Hope. The walk back to camp was made in silence.
In the few seconds it had taken for Hope to open his eyes, he was surrounded. The first person he saw was Vanille and he felt her soothing magic wash over him, it done a little to ease the aches racking his body but what she couldn't do was replace the energy that had been leeched from him. Keeping his eyes open was hard, talking was harder. He couldn't move his arms or his legs, the muscles in each limb having been worked far beyond their normal capacity.
Sazh was there now talking to him, filling in for Snow who was apparently sleeping finally, having refused to leave Hope's side but the one he wanted to see and speak to most was no where to be seen, he didn't dare ask for her, scared the others might know why.
He settled instead for sleep, managing to for quite sometime if the position of the stars were anything to go by. He groaned softly as he tested his body. He could just about move his arms now, though that hurt quite a bit. His movements earned him Snow's attention who was knelt beside him in a heartbeat.
"Hey, good to see you back with us." Hope just about managed a smile and wondered if he could find the strength and will to speak.
"You just relax, you're safe now." Snow sat down properly beside him. "When you aim to put something down, you mean business, don't you?" While Snow chatted quietly he helped him to sit up. Hope felt like an invalid and he cursed his body as it refused to answer a simple request to move.
"W…why can't I…move?" Snow just shook his head, making sure Hope was comfortable before grabbing a nearby cup.
"You really done a number on yourself. Fang's assured us the feeling will pass. You just need to regain the strength you lost." Snow quickly clammed up, his eyes briefly falling on the figure that had just walked back into camp and Hope slowly turned to see who had got Snow's back up.
Light strode past, not even stopping to look at him before kneeling by the fire warming her hands. Hope's breath caught in his throat and he quickly turned away, cheeks burning fiercely as he remembered quite clearly what she had done to distract him.
"Just say the word and I'll do to her what she done to you." Snow said and Hope looked at him, startled. He almost choked on his breath and coughed out a single comment, almost waking the entire camp.
"What!?" He flinched as all the involuntary movement hurt. "Why would you…want to…"
"Hit her?" Snow finished before Hope unknowingly admitted what had really happened. He was thrown completely and frowned turning back to Light who had stood and was looking right at them, obviously terrified the truth was about to come out.
"No, you can't." Hope blurted out. "Because, she didn't hit me." He had Snow's complete attention and Light's pride right in the palm of his hands. He could sense her glare, feel her heartbeat race, matching his own. "She done…what she had too." He finished, ending her torment. Snow seemed to accept that and the hard edge to his eyes as he looked at Light melted some what.
"I guess you're right." He smiled and rubbed the back of his neck. "Light, I'm sorry."
"It's okay." Hope turned to the woman who was still stood by the fire, her face was cast to much in shadow for him to read the expression she wore. As if sensing Hope's desire she came closer and sat beside him, taking his hand in her own. "I'm just glad, we all understand." She added and Hope, while his heart ached a little, was more than happy to put this entire episode behind them, but he going to be reliving that kiss in his most blissful dreams for sometime to come.
Who knew Light knew how to kiss?