A/N: When I wrote Metamorphosis, I never considered a sequel at all, but after reading so many wonderful reviews and seeing just how many people wanted a continuation and wanted to know Light and Cid's past, I gradually changed my mind, and after countless hours trying to work out something coherent and realistic, here we are!
This first chapter might be a little slow-going at first, but I wanted to lay down the setting of the story and tie up some possible loose ends from the game. As always, I've proof read this, but do let me know if you spot any errors.
Naturally, since this is a sequel, it'll make no sense unless you've read Metamorphosis...
Disclaimer: I own nothing.
"Wait for me.
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."
Arrival – Day 1: The Lakeside Town of New Bodhum – Train Station
He awoke with a jolt as the carriage swerved round a bend, hitting his forehead against the glass window. Wincing quietly, Hope rubbed his bruised skin gingerly and yawned, stretching his arms and feeling his joints and bones cracking. He looked at his watch. His nap had only been fifteen minutes long.
He leaned back in his seat and shifted his attention to the scenery outside. Even after all these years, it still felt strange to see plants, ferns, trees and grass in between the many buildings, as if the flora formed an inherent part of the town. Growing up in Palumpolum, the only greenery he remembered seeing were those in his garden, in the parks and outside the city boundary. Of course, now the only place still left remotely like that was Eden—a part of the original Eden, anyway. It had been the only city in Cocoon still liveable and salvageable after Cocoon's descent.
Fast forward six years, two months and twelve days and the world Cocoon citizens knew before had undergone drastic changes. Despite initial protest and confusion among the people, new cities and towns were built—and were still being built—on the lush plains of Gran Pulse. Naturally, at first, very few were prepared to inhabit the lower world they had been taught to fear, and Eden began overflowing with refugees and migrants, all needing to hold on to that one bit of Cocoon left intact. Mankind had grown too comfortable and too complacent, so it was no wonder that everyone ran like headless chocobos when the fal'Cie were no more.
Necessity changed that, however. People soon realised they needed food, supplies, a roof over their heads. With the fal'Cie and Sanctum gone, they had no one else to rely on but themselves. Starting a civilization anew on a strange land had been extremely challenging and difficult in the early stages, especially with the absence of order and a governing body, but with mankind's foolishness came persistent perseverance and the will to survive as well.
At least the people had the opportunity to rebuild. "We're still alive. That's something." Hope remembered Vanille saying that once.
Vanille. The name evoked a throbbing melancholia within him. He found himself moving his eyes to the far west, where the shattered shell of Cocoon lay. The closest town to Eden on Gran Pulse was New Bodhum. One only needed to take another hour's train ride to the station below, where there were air-ferries to transport people to the city above.
Stifling a yawn, he glanced at his watch once more. If the train was on schedule, it wouldn't take him more than ten minutes to reach New Bodhum's station. He wondered if Lightning would remember to meet him. Suddenly, he was filled with intense excitement and eagerness, like the young boy he used to be. He couldn't help it—the last time they had seen each other was almost five years ago. Even though they lived about three cities apart from one another now, they had stayed in regular contact through e-text, e-mail and video-link. It almost felt as if they hadn't even left each other's side.
He still missed her a lot, though. Going back to find his father, settling down in their new lives, clearing up the mess they had inadvertently made, he understood that he couldn't possibly have stayed with Light, Serah and Snow after the Sanctum's defeat. Even Sazh left with his son, plus chocobo chick—off to find a new home and a new future on Gran Pulse.
Hope had wanted all that as well. How could he not? Only thing was, the future he really desired had someone else in it, too.
She opened her eyes and the first thing she saw was the ivory ceiling above her. Military training kicked in like instinct and she found herself running over the usual questions in her head everytime she awoke—Where was she? At home. Was she in danger? No. That eliminated most of the other questions. What day was it? Saturday… afternoon?
… Train station. The sudden thought made her sit up and look at the clock. "Shit." She should have already been there five minutes ago. She didn't even remember lying down on the couch, much less taking a nap. Raking a hand in her hair in an attempt to brush it down, she went to the kitchen to take a quick swig of water and grabbed her gunblade from the coffee table, more out of habit than necessity. She never worked in the weekends anymore. Serah made sure of that. The New Bodhum Security Regiment was far from undermanned, anyway. Plus it gave her more time to spend with her sister—even if that almost always included a rash, one-track-minded brother-in-law tagging along.
Lightning jogged down the streets, paved with stone but lined with grass, and wondered if Hope's train was on time. The railway system between New Bodhum and other places was new but mostly reliable, except for the occasional delays by stray monsters loitering around the rail lines. Thinking about Hope made her involuntarily smile. She had not seen him in… four, five years? He had grown so much during their journey together but the evolution of his letters and messages over the past few years reflected his growing maturity as well. He wrote and spoke of many things—his father, life without Nora Estheim, his new residence at Palum-Vale, his studies throughout high school.
A month ago, he told her he had a short break coming up and that he'd like to spend some time at New Bodhum, considering he had never been here before. She neither rejected nor welcomed the idea but offered to meet him at the train station and even put up with him at her house for the length of his stay, to which he politely declined.
When she arrived at the station twenty minutes later, the train from Nautilia—the next city eastward of New Bodhum—was already there. She scanned the platform but saw no sign of a silver-headed boy. Some passengers were still disembarking from the carriages. She heaved a quiet sigh of relief. So she wasn't really late.
... Or maybe not. "Lightning!" A familiar voice called out from behind her and she turned, only to be greeted with a sight that stopped her right in her tracks. She stared at the person walking up to her with a wide grin, bags in both his hands, and the only thought passing through her head sounded almost indignant—This isn't Hope...!
And yet she found it necessary to question incredulously, "Hope?"
He continued grinning and dropped the bags, engulfing her in a warm, tight hug. "The one and only," he chuckled and as she was pressed up against him, she started to wonder why her mind had been so set to look around for a boy that she had completely disregarded the obvious logic—of course he wouldn't still be a kid after all these years! That was a terrible misconception on her part.
"You… look different," was all Lightning managed to mumble as she stared at him. It wasn't exactly true, since they had actually spoken to one another via video-link a couple of weeks ago, but she had no idea what else to say. His platinum hair was shorter and his face was more mature and seasoned, but although his voice was deeper and his green eyes more pronounced, they were still as she remembered—kind and expressive. He was as tall as her now, maybe even a little taller; she couldn't believe how much he had grown since they last saw each other in person. She used to have to tilt her head southwards to look at him and now… well, Hope wasn't the fledgling teenager she had always envisioned in her head anymore.
"And you… look the same as always," he replied in a tone similar to hers, giving her a light punch on the shoulder. She found herself smiling slightly and reached her fingers out to poke his forehead. He let out a deep breath, then pulled her into his arms once more. "It's really great to see you again, Light," Hope murmured into her ear.
This time, she hugged him back, filled with warmth and a sudden overwhelming sense of protectiveness—something familiar that she felt whenever she thought about Serah. Hope always was the little brother she never had.
It was good to feel her so close. He breathed in her scent and remembered how the last time he had embraced her, his face had been embarrassingly only at the height of her shoulder. Her reaction to seeing him physically for the first time in five years was rather awkward, to say the least, but still, her words pleased him greatly. More than anything, he wanted her to see that he was a child no longer. He thought he had accomplished that, right until the moment she jabbed his head as she had done a long time ago.
Light hadn't changed much. It had been only a few weeks since they spoke on-screen, and yet, the first thing that struck him when he saw her was still her reserved beauty. When he studied her closely, he noticed that the crinkles of worry that she used to have on her forehead had disappeared, and that her faded cherry-coloured hair seemed longer now. Her build had remained slender and supple. No doubt she was still renowned for her agility and stamina on the battlefield.
"How're Snow and your sister doing?" Hope asked as they left the station and she led him towards the city square. He was booked in for one of the hotels there—he'd have liked to stay with Light for the next eight days but he really didn't want to impose on her, especially since she would be working most of the time. Snow had actually offered his place, too, but Hope wasn't comfortable with the idea of getting in the way between him and his beloved wife anytime soon. (He had an image of himself lying in bed and squeezing his ears shut with a pillow to block out the creaking noises of the bed in the next room—Torture.)
"Fine. Serah's been keeping him in check," Lightning responded laconically. "They're…" She paused, as if looking for the right words to continue, then said, "… trying."
Huh? He blinked at her. "Trying? Trying to what?"
"For kids." Succinct and brief—Lightning's trademark.
"Oh… Well, I'm kinda surprised they waited so long, to be honest," he said with a shrug, inwardly glad that he hadn't accepted Snow's offer. Things would have been pretty awkward. "Snow has always been saying how he wants a big family and all."
Light flashed him a sudden wry smile. "Like I said, Serah's been keeping him in check. They might have got married early but she wanted them to be financially sound and things around here to settle down first before thinking about babies," she pointed out. "At least one of them is sensible about family planning…"
"I guess it would have been really tough to bring up a child here a few years ago. Everything was just bits and pieces and monsters were crawling all over the place," he remarked, casting his memory back to when the first few towns were being built on Gran Pulse. "Do you still patrol along the west side? Or do you get to sit behind a desk and scream orders now that you're a Lieutenant?" She had told him about her recent promotion a few months ago in one of their mails.
"Hmph. I believe your conception of commissioned officers is quite skewed," she said in a dry tone. "Of course I still patrol. Being a Lieutenant just means more responsibility—and a fatter pay check."
He grinned at her words and took a moment to look around the city. There were more plants here than Palum-Vale and even with so many buildings surrounding him, he could still get a whiff of the salty, mossy smell of the large lake—Reid Lake—that New Bodhum had been constructed next to. The fishing in the lake was very good, he had read, and the water was so pure and clear that small areas along the shore were being converted into recreational pools for the people. With the exception of Eden, New Bodhum boasted the least number of monster sightings and encounters among the other cities. That was probably one of the reasons Light was only required to work a forty-five-hour week now—something Serah must have rejoiced about.
They only took another five minutes to reach the square and there, Hope saw countless cafes and restaurants, hotels and inns lining the walkways around him, attesting to the booming tourism of the town. There still weren't as many people around as Palum-Vale, where he lived with his father, and everyone here dressed short and simple, certainly not as up-market as Eden or his second hometown. He liked the weather here, though. It was warmer and a little more humid than home.
"Sorry. You're probably wanting the guided tour, but that's really not me..." Lightning said hesitantly and rather apologetically. She must have noticed him looking around. "I can ask Serah if—"
"Don't worry about it," he cut in, shaking his head. "Tours aren't my style. I'll just grab a guidebook from the hotel and take a look around myself later. Besides, this isn't exactly supposed to be a vacation for me… more like a working holiday." He patted the bulging schoolbag slung over his shoulder.
"... There really isn't much to see around here. There's the annual fireworks festival next week, but most people just come for the lake—to swim or fish or maybe take the hovercraft out north to see if they can spot some Dugong-Nyas. If you're keen on trekking, there's a small woodland area about a mile or so south-west of the main gate. The Security Regiment has constant patrols out there, too, so it's quite safe."
"What's the rule on exploration of the plains outside? I am allowed to, right?"
She turned to him sharply. "You should only stay within the safe zones after the main gate—just look out for the signs. The areas beyond the spots we've cordoned off are strictly 'No Civs'."
"I'm not a civilian," Hope retorted a little indignantly. "We fought side-by-side against the fal'Cie six years ago. I don't think just any civ could have done that." He wondered why he felt so annoyed at what she had said. Was it because she was treating him like the incompetent child he had once been?
Lightning sighed, tucked a curl of hair behind her ear and raised a palm, relenting. "Fine, not civilian then. Non-army personnel," she muttered tersely.
It wasn't exactly the way he wanted the discussion to end but Hope was too weary to continue the argument. They shouldn't be bickering over such matters on his first day in town. As quiet and withdrawn as Lightning could be, he still very much enjoyed her company.
"There's my hotel—The Chandelior," he swiftly changed the topic, pointing to one of the largest buildings in the square.
"... Figures you'd take the most expensive one." Light's small smile was unexpected and he felt his face reddening. It wasn't as if he had forced his father to pay for this vacation—Bartholomew had transferred the credit to his account and made the necessary arrangements before he even asked.
"What are you going to do for the rest of the day?" she continued. "Sightseeing?"
He shook his head. "Actually, I was thinking of taking a nap. Couldn't sleep well on those trains," he said, rubbing the back of his aching neck. "After that I'll probably just grab some dinner and work on my assignments. Tourist Mode will have to wait 'til tomorrow."
Lightning stood there with a small frown on her face, as if pondering over something. He raised his eyebrows expectantly. "Serah's dragging me shopping tomorrow, so we'll be out most of the day, but how's dinner at my place after that?" she inquired. "I'll get her and Snow to come along, too. They'll be happy to see you, after all these years."
The invitation brightened his spirits immediately and he wondered if he was doing a good job at masking his delight. To be honest, it mattered not whether Snow and Serah would be there. He just wanted to spend some time with Light, so he agreed at once.
"I'll send you the directions tomorrow. My place is about a ten-minute walk from here."
Six years ago, a 'ten-minute walk' for Lightning would have been more than twice as long for him. He was suddenly reminded of their agonising journey through the Vile Peaks and the Gapra Whitewood—his agonising journey, to be specific. He distinctly remembered her striding along without even breaking a sweat or huffing and puffing like him.
But he was different now. He wasn't Hope the helpless kid anymore. He was stronger, more independent, wiser. Less naive about his feelings and more confident about his desires, but how was he going to make her see that? For the first time since he arrived, he wondered if she still remembered what he had said to her that starry evening by the cliff in the Vallis Media—six years ago, the day they first set foot on Gran Pulse.
The day an ally had turned against them in a blink of an eye.