Hope cleared his throat and looked at himself in the mirror, inspecting his hair and clothes. Everything seemed to be in order. Soon, he'd have to head over to Serah and Snow's for the "surprise" birthday party they had planned. They'd gotten married pretty quickly after the whole l'Cie thing. Even though Lightning wasn't happy about it, she pretended to be, because she really was happy about Serah being happy...

Lightning...

He hadn't seen her in so long. It must've been on Lightning's last birthday. Of course, she didn't do much socializing... But then again, that was Lightning.

There was no doubt that Sazh and Dajh would be there too. Then there was Vanille and Fang...

Lightning had told him when he turned sixteen; "Even though they're not right beside you, they'll always be watching over you. They'll be watching over all of us."

Why was Lightning so smart? Maybe it was because she was twenty-five now... Wow...he thought. She really doesn't look twenty five...

He snapped out of it and nodded to himself.

"Dad!" he shouted. "Let's go!"

-

Bartholomew and Hope Estheim walked up the front steps of the Villiers' house, which despite Snow being unemployed, was rather large. Lightning probably helped out...

Hope smiled and knocked.

When the door opened, Serah, Snow and their two year old kid were standing there. "Happy Birthday, Squirt!" Snow yelled, welcoming him into a bear hug. "You're finally eighteen, huh?"

Hope nodded.

"Come on inside!" Serah smiled, ushering him in.

Their son looked more like Lightning than Serah, save for his blonde hair. He acted a lot like the elder Farron sister as well. They had named him Aren.

Stepping into the living room, followed by his father, Hope immediately spotted Sazh and Dajh.

"Happy birthday, son" Sazh grinned.

"Happy birthday, Hope!" Dajh waved.

Lightning was sitting at the table, her head leaning on her hand. Distant as always...

"Happy birthday" she mumbled with a small smile. Hope smiled back at her.

"Thanks for coming, guys" he laughed, scratching his head.

"Wouldn't miss it for the world, man" Sazh shook his hand and gave him a quick hug.

He was slightly disappointed when Lightning didn't do the same, earning her a quick scolding from Serah.

Snow suddenly put his arm around Hope's neck, wrestling style. "That's right, Hope! You're finally a man! How does it feel?" he laughed.

Hope struggled to get out of the neck lock, but eventually, he managed. "I've been a man since I was fourteen, and don't you forget it!" he laughed.

Aren ran to Lightning's side. She smiled at him briefly before hauling him up onto her lap. The last time Hope had seen the group, Aren seemed to favour his aunt over his mother. Hope could relate. He liked Lightning more than both Serah and Snow put together, but then again, he wasn't their son. Bartholomew had sat next to Sazh and Snow, and the three were having their own father's meeting, leaving Serah trying to catch Aren's attention and him staring at Lightning. He happily walked over to her, and she stood up when Serah had decided to take Aren away.

"Hey, Light" he said with a wave.

Lightning awkwardly hugged him. It made Hope think about the first time they had hugged in Palumpolum... Of course, he was a lot taller these days.

"How are you?" he asked.

Lightning shrugged. "Lonely" she joked. "But I'm coping."

Hope smiled.

"It's so good to see you" he admitted. "I haven't seen you since your twenty-fifth!"

"We've all been busy, right?"

Hope nodded gloomily. Since their...transfer... to Pulse, the former l'Cie hadn't had too much time for catching up. It'd been all about getting their lives back on track.

But that didn't mean Hope didn't think about them- mostly Light- on a regular basis.

The crush had intensified every time they met, eventually developing into a longing, foolish love. One-sided, of course.

Snow clumsily tapped his glass with a spoon and laughed. "Alright! Since the birthday boy's here, we can begin this party! Hope, come up here!"

Up?

He was standing near the couch, which was hardly a stage.

He reluctantly obliged. "Say a few words, little man" he smirked.

Hope blinked.

"U-uh... Well... Thank you all... for coming today. I want to thank Serah and Snow in particular... Now that I'm eighteen, I've realised that I can do a lot more than I could yesterday. It's sort of scary." Words now pouring out of his mouth, he blushed and glanced at Lightning. "But I'll still be responsible" he laughed nervously.

This was followed by an applause that continued for a few seconds.

"Now where's the beer!?" Snow. Of course.

"Beer...? Oh, I forgot to buy some... C-Claire, could you...?" Serah smiled heartily at her older sister, who grimaced a little, then sighed.

"Say no more. I'll be back in a little while."

Hope's heart fluttered at the opportunity... to be alone... with Lightning... buying beer... Everything was legal now!

"I'll go with you!" he abruptly blurted out.

Snow smirked.

"But it's your birthday party" Serah laughed.

"B-but... It'll be my first time buying beer... I really want to..." Hope stated, lowering his head in an attempt to guilt-trip Serah and Snow.

"Do you have an ID?" Lightning's voice struck through the conversation. He flicked his head in her direction. "My school card. It has my date of birth on it."

She shrugged. "Then why not? Come on."

Serah sighed, and Snow snaked his arm around her shoulders.

-

"...Where do we buy beer...?" Hope asked, honestly wondering.

"Supermarket" was all she said with a slight laugh.

He blushed. "Right..."

They walked for a while in silence. Hope inhaled sharply.

"U-uh... Lightning?" he started.

"Yes?"He swallowed. "I have something I want to say..."

She looked at him over her shoulder.

"Can it wait? We need to get back pretty soon, or else you'll miss your whole party" she smiled. Hope didn't. He slouched in disappointment. He really wanted to tell her... how he felt, how he had felt for a long time.

"Sure..."

But he wouldn't be able to get her alone for a while yet, not when it was his birthday, with people around him, celebrating. The only one who could tell he liked Lightning was Snow. He'd picked up on it a little after the l'Cie incident. And Hope had always thought he was an idiot.

Hope insisted on carrying the bag of beer back. He wanted to be a perfect gentleman. He had found himself already on Lightning's good side, but a little more politeness couldn't hurt.

His heart was racing, he was trembling. He had to tell her. Now.

"Light!"

He stopped, she stopped.

"What is it? Are you hurt?" she asked, furrowing her brow.

Hope blushed. "N-no! I just need to tell you something, now."

Lightning relaxed and crossed her arms.

"Oh. Well then, go ahead."

"U-uh..."

Oh Maker... All this time and he didn't know what to say...

"Well... Uh..."

Lightning raised her eyebrows.

"I... Light... I... really... Um... For..." He tensed and cleared his throat. "For a while... I've been thinking... Well, rather, feeling this... feeling... I've realised... for a while now... that I really... Lightning, I..." This was harder than he originally thought. "I, um..." Why can't I say it!?! Be a man, Hope! Alright!

"Lightning," he started, looking up and into her eyes, "I really... like you. No, no... Sorry, I love you." Then he quickly looked down, blushing wildly. "I'm sorry... I'm an idiot, right? L-let's just go..."

"Hope."

He closed his eyes tightly. "Yes?"

"Don't be embarrassed" she sighed, tipping his head up to look at her again. "Didn't I teach you to be strong?"

Hope frowned and nodded. "Physically!" he whined.

She laughed, flicking his forehead.
"You're too cute. You haven't changed a bit, you're still a kid!"

At this, he scowled. "Fine then! I take back what I said!"

Lightning couldn't help but laugh a little more.

"No you don't. You still love me." She started to walk, taking the plastic bag from him.

"M-maybe so, but- Hey, Light!"

My first attempt at a HopexLight fic. I love the couple so much xO

I thought of this while on holidays... so...

Anyways, enjoy it... I guess...

BLARG!