"What do you want to talk about today, beneath the starry sky?"
When Sunday morning finally rolled around, Lightning was rather glad, though for the wrong reasons. After declining Jesse's offer and proceeding to say she was going to spend the day with Hope, her roommate began to do that eyebrow waggle – and it lasted all of Saturday to the morning of Sunday.
"So you're going on a date today, right?"
"It's not a date."
"What a shame."
"What's a shame?"
"That it's not a date!" Jesse was rather insistent. "Come on. A boy invites a girl out for the day; maybe even planned out something to do. I think that passes as a date."
Lightning was solid as always. "Not when said boy was A. Asked by my sister to do it and B. Is six or more years older than me." Hope was twenty-one, or something – ages with Snow, she remembered.
Pursing her lips, the brunette was not amused by her attitude any more. "Age is no reason to deny a possible love!" She cried, throwing her hands up – gestures that the younger was not appreciating. Her jaw nearly hit the floor as Lightning headed for the door of their shared dorm room. "You're not going in that, are you?"
"I can't see why not." Lightning looked herself over – all she did was wear her clean uniform without the shoulder guard.
"Do you not have any other clothes? Like something cuter? Or colourful, even?" Jesse was a little disbelieving. "I mean, I don't have the stature to wear cute stuff – too tall, y'know? But you're the perfect shape! I'm envious and yet you're hiding it under this ugly uniform!"
Lightning was rather offended. "I like the uniform. And my clothes are never . . . colourful."
Jesse wouldn't have it. "At least wear something that isn't the SRTR uniform. Didn't you bring any civvies clothes?"
If she was going to get out the door without Jesse dragging her down, Lightning would have to cave. And cave she did, however begrudgingly. "I have some shorts and a t-shirt that my sister made me pack."
Hope mulled around the parking lot. He didn't bother to drive down today – public transit was cheap and quick, and would show more of the city than car windows would. He somewhat regretted wearing jeans in the summer heat but it didn't cross his mind for very long. It was apparent he wasn't the only one waiting for someone outside the base. To his left were a few women, probably wives; and his right, a younger boy who he could assume had a sibling or parent in the SRTR.
Every few minutes, someone would walk out of the base – some in uniform, others in casual clothes. He noticed a few in particular; the familiar rose-haired girl (Who wasn't in uniform like he had half-expected – a pair of denim shorts and a black fitted tee) as well as a dark-haired boy and a brunette with a high ponytail. He waved when Lightning took notice of him, and she began to separate from the other two to head in his direction. The brunette took notice of Hope as well, and pulled Lightning back a few steps out of hearing range.
A bit out of the loop, Hope slowly put his hand back down.
"Hold on a sec', Biggs," Jesse said, trading her puzzled boyfriend's hand for Lightning's arm to pull her back.
"What now?" Lightning asked, trying not to sound irritated – but really, she wasn't trying that hard.
"Hot damn!" Jesse kept looking from Hope, who was a short distance away, back to Lightning. "He's a fox!"
"E-excuse me?" Lightning wriggled her arm free, a little appalled at the brunette's praising slang.
Jesse shook her head. "And you're trying to deny that you have a date with that nice piece of –"
"I'm right here!"
"—Sorry, Biggs, love you too. But really – go for it! If he's that pretty and single, it's gotta be one of two things."
Lightning could care less about either, she decided, but was going to hear them anyway.
"One – He's gay."
"Hope is not—!"
"Keep an open mind, sweetie. He's already got a girly name," Jesse took Lightning by the shoulders like they were setting a game plan. "Or two – he's got someone in mind. But! The fact that he's setting aside a day to show you around means you might be it!"
The younger wasn't buying it. "I've known him for about two weeks now, and probably spent about 24 hours with him over those two weeks. He's an adult – if he doesn't want to get arrested, he's not going to think of me like that."
Oh. Lightning never felt a sting from her own words before.
"Uh . . . was there a problem? Back there, with the ponytail girl."
"No. No problems. Jesse just talks a lot, is all."
"Are you su—"
"Are we going around town or not?"
Seeing as the subject was begging to be dropped, Hope shook his head. "Actually, I wanted to show you something else first before we go into town."
Hope rounded the base, making sure the PSICOM watch didn't think he was doing anything suspicious. Around the fence and construction materials, until a pipe twice his size came into view. Lightning could only be confused – especially when Hope beckoned her over to the pipe with him.
"It's . . . a pipe."
Almost proud-looking, Hope rested his hands on his hips. "Yup."
"A gigantic, unused . . . sewage pipe?"
"A gigantic, unused, sewage pipe."
"Why are we here, again?"
Hope laughed, the sound echoing about the rounded walls as he walked into the entrance. "They were going to use it for something-or-other in the renovations years ago, but nobody comes around here anymore. I used to play in these pipes as a kid, and found some pretty cool places."
Lightning sighed. "Did you think I wanted somewhere to play? I'm not a child."
Oh the irony. Hope shook his head, walking further down. He stopped when her footsteps halted a few paces behind him. "C'mon, everyone gets a walk down memory lane, right? This was my favourite escape back in the day."
"You sound like an old man."
"Well, maybe I am. Hurry up, there's more stuff down here."
Lightning rolled her eyes, though seeing little other options, complied. The pipe had been sanded smooth, though over the years it had only deteriorated a little bit. The ground was rougher than the walls from people trekking back and forth through it, though if it had rained, it would probably be slick enough to be dangerous.
"I don't have any interest in your childhood," Lightning deadpanned, "Just so you know."
Hope wasn't amused. "I know. Look – I was asked to show you around Palumpolum, okay? This is my Palumpolum."
He edged farther down the pipe. Lightning thought about turning around and leaving, but he had already gotten her this far – might as well see whatever he had in store for her. It almost looked like there was light at the bottom.
"Palumpolum is known for a couple things, right? Open markets, wealthy estates, the bayside PSICOM base, and of course, the producer of goods that dwells beneath the cliff."
Lightning couldn't quite connect the dots he was laying out for her. "It's the Fal'Cie Carbuncle that's in Palumpolum, right?"
Hope nodded. "Right. For a long time, I was too chicken to find out what was at the end of the tunnel. I only found out a couple years before I left for university, actually." He climbed out of the tunnel, Lightning cautiously following from behind.
The cavern practically radiated a warming glow of oranges and reds and yellows. There were wire frame platforms scattered about the open cave, but none too close to the middle; that was taken up by a gigantic figure. Geometrically, the Fal'Cie Carbuncle resembled something between the cocoon and butterfly stages. Its main body gave an iridescent yellow-orange glow as if lit aflame, while the two appendages to its sides were shaped almost like wings.
"This is . . . ridiculous. How could PSICOM not close up an abandoned pipe that led directly to something as precious as a Fal'Cie?" Lightning gasped at the scene.
Hope crouched, his boots making light taps against the metal tiles. "You see a Fal'Cie up close for what I'm assuming is the first time in your life – and the first adjective you come up with is ridiculous?"
Lightning frowned. "I'm just saying – how did PSICOM miss this?"
Hope dug his hands into his pockets. "Your guess is as good as mine."
She shifted a little – maybe embarrassed. Hope couldn't tell – it was hard to tell what the deepening of a frown meant for her. She did it in so many different contexts.
"You're right. I've never seen a Fal'Cie before," Lightning took a few steps forward, looking up at the Fal'Cie. "And it is pretty . . . amazing, I have to say."
Hope gave a wry smile. "Well, there's a step up from 'ridiculous'."
She whipped around, nearly making him jump when she faced him. "We can't stay here too long. If any Sanctum workers see us here, you'll be fined and I'll be kicked out of the SRTR."
Ah, he hadn't thought of that. "I guess you're right. Though they won't recognize you in civvies."
"That's not the point."
"Alright," Hope conceded, "We'll go. I always found this place to be a good location just to think."
He decided not to relay more than that. His thoughts were always about not wanting to grow up, after all.
"C'mon, there's an exit up to town this way."
If he was allowed, Hope thought that Lightning's interest in the markets was almost entertaining. Every time she looked back to find him watching her as she cascaded over a shop here or there, she would look away and walk off like it was no longer captivatingly interesting. She would stop at a window, or even peer through a door, but didn't dare go into any of the shops. A couple of times he even caught her staring up at window displays of girlish clothing; something he didn't quite expect.
"If you want to go inside, just say so," Hope piped up after the fourth window she begrudgingly turned away from.
"I don't have any pocket money to spend even if I wanted to," Lightning said matter-of-factly. "I've just never seen so many –"
"Actual stores?" He laughed. "Yeah, that's what most people find when they come into the city. Everything's bought online these days; actually talking face-to-face to get your goods is a rare thing."
"Is shopping like this normal for you?"
"It was when I lived here all year 'round." Hope looked about. Across the street was an open air cafe of sorts. "Hey, you hungry for lunch?"
Lightning shook her head.
He raised a brow. "Really? But it's already like, two o' clock – and we left at eleven."
"I don't have the money to pay for food. I'll just eat when I go back to the base – the mess hall runs twenty-four hours." She answered, and turned to continue walking—
—Only to run into a little boy.
He was half her height, dark-skinned and in overalls. He seemed rather distressed, but managed to stay on his feet after running into Lightning. Since almost every expression of hers looked rather angry, her mild concern seemed to frighten the boy even more. He began to shuffle away, but Lightning took him by the shoulder.
"Is something the matter?" she asked, getting only flustered mumbles from the little boy. "Are you alright?"
"Hold up," Hope said. Lightning's direct approach seemed to do nothing but pressure the boy. Hope knelt to eye-level with him. "Are you supposed to be alone?" He asked calmly.
"I. . . uh, I—no. . ." Though his round face contorted in effort to hold it in, the boy began to tear up and wail. Hope, a little shocked, stood back up, and looked to Lightning.
"Don't look at me! You're the one who made him cry," Lightning accused.
"I thought – okay, I didn't mean to! I was just trying to be nice, I don't really know how to deal with kids!"
"What, you think I do? Serah's the one who knows how to do this kind of stuff!"
All through, the crying didn't cease. "W-wahh, Daddy—!" the boy sobbed – which seemed to bring the two of them back to their senses.
"Your Dad? Oh! You got separated from your dad?" Hope asked. His reply was a deeply snot-filled sniff and a nod. "Okay, uh – well, then let's go talk to the Guardian Corps over there. . ."
Lightning frowned, and took the sobbing boy's hand. "Let's go. I'll help you find your dad."
"What do you think you're doing?" Hope asked, "The GC will have an easier time finding his dad than just us two."
Lightning glared. "Within a year, I'm going to be the GC. Starting early is just fine with me."
The little boy's tears seemed to subside for the moment, as he watched Lightning in a bit of awe. Hope, on the other hand, sighed.
"So, what's your name?" he asked, directing his attention to the lost member. "I'm Hope, and this is Lightning."
"Dajh," the boy mumbled out.
"When did you last see your dad?" Lightning was going to take charge if it killed her.
"Um, store. That way." Dajh pointed southward. Hope could recall a handful of department stores a few blocks down. "I was looking at stuff with Dad, but then my chocobo began to fly away. . ."
Hope was a little stupefied, imagination immediately forging a picture of a great big yellow bird perusing the market. "Chocobo?"
As if on cue, a little yellow bird popped out from Dajh's hood, and chirped appreciatively. "I chased him out of the store, but I ended up here. I went back in the store, but I couldn't find him anywhere, so I went back outside and . . ."
Lightning nodded, and turned to head for the store. "He's probably still around the store area."
"You're gonna help me look for my dad?" Dajh looked up at Lightning hopefully. She nodded – tried to smile, too, but gave up quickly.
Hope shrugged, following after.
They looked around the market for anyone who looked like they were missing a child. Dajh's description of his father was 'a tall guy with big hair and a scruffy chin', so there was little to start with. For a while, the boy even sat on Hope's shoulders in hopes that they could spot the man from far away. That is, until a rumbling came from behind Hope's head.
"Hungry?" he asked, looking up to Dajh sitting on his shoulders. A nod. "Ah, I guess we never did stop for food. I'm hungry too. What about you, Lightning?"
Lightning shook her head. "I told you. I'm going to eat when I go back to the base."
"Really now," Hope smirked. Lightning hid her face by looking away and punched him in the arm, which to his dismay, really did hurt. He almost forgot she could take down Snow. "Let's grab something to eat then."
"That one!" Dajh pointed above Hope's view over to the ice cream stand. It was rather hot, being a summer's midday. Something cold sounded better and better.
Hope set Dajh down, leaving him with Lightning to order the snacks. "What kinds do you guys want?"
Dajh wiggled with excitement. "Vanilla!"
"I don't want one."
"Chocolate for Lightning, then."
"Strawberry is bette—" Lightning stopped herself. Her frustration made Hope laugh.
"Strawberry it is."
Hope walked over to the stand, leaving Dajh to grasp at Lightning's hand until she complied to take his.
"Are you and Hope like Daddy and Mommy?"
Lightning hacked a cough. "What?"
Dajh scuffed his feet a little. "This feels like when I used to go out with Daddy and Mommy back in Nautilus. I'd get to sit on Daddy's shoulders and Mommy would walk with Daddy."
Lightning shook her head furiously. "No. Hope is a . . . friend. We're not married or anything like that."
"Are you gonna get married someday though?"
Dajh shrank back.
Lightning retook her words. "I mean. . . no. Hope is a lot older than me. People don't really like that, and it's more-or-less illegal."
Dajh knit his brow in thought. "So you're not allowed to marry someone older than you?"
"That's not it either, but –"
"Is something the matter?" Hope returned with three cones in his hands. Dajh beamed a smile wider than possible for his face. He held his hands out eagerly as Hope held out the vanilla cone.
"And strawberry for Lightning."
Hope held the cone out to Lightning, who refused to take it. He held it out. She looked away. He put it to his own mouth –
She snatched it from his hands and spat a thank you.
Hope chuckled. "It matches."
"What does?" Lightning looked about herself.
"Your hair and the ice cream."
". . . whatever."
Dajh looked from Hope, who had his own chocolate cone, to Lightning with her strawberry one.
"It does match!" He nodded.
They continued to walk as they ate, Dajh on the ground this time – one hand holding Lightning's, the other holding his ice cream. Hope walked a little ahead of them, keeping an eye out for anyone that fit the profile for Dajh's father.
From behind him, the chocobo from the boy's hood peered out, and peeped. It pointed to the right insistently with its beak. Following its gaze, there was a dark-haired man in a green pilot jacket walking rather brusquely. "Big hair. . . " Hope looked back. "Hey, Dajh –"
"Daddy!" he had already taken notice of his father, and let go of Lightning to go running through the crowd.
The man in question took notice, face lighting up at the sight of the boy running towards him. "Dajh!" He caught the boy in his arms, holding him in a strong hug. "Where have you been? I've been looking all over for you! –And where did you get the ice cream?"
Hope and Lightning caught up just in time for Dajh to point at the two of them. "Hope and Lightning found me. They helped me find you and bought me ice cream!"
The man looked the two of them over. Lightning's posture seemed to stiffen.
"You two took care of him?"
"Sort of," Hope said.
The man smiled. "I gotta thank you then. When he disappeared, I didn't know what to think."
Dajh looked to the two of them again. "Can I play with you guys again?"
The father laughed heartily. "Well, not today. It's getting late. But if you two 're ever in Nautilus, come find us. Dajh seems to like you."
They stuck around until Dajh finished his treat, idly chatting with the father – Sazh, as he introduced himself. As a pilot, he had stopped in Palumpolum for the time being because of the ship he flew here. As a single parent without a stable babysitter, he brought Dajh along. Hope gave a proper introduction of Lightning and himself, and once more had to give something of a condensed explanation of his vague relationship with Lightning. He was starting to think that maybe they should sort out some kind of name for it. It wasn't 'friend', it wasn't 'family member' – it certainly wasn't 'significant other', either.
As the sunlight waned, the father and son gave their goodbyes, and the pair thought it best to be on their way. Hope suggested going back to his place for dinner before Lightning returned to the base.
"I thought you couldn't cook?" She said, her scepticism poorly hidden.
"I didn't say I couldn't," he said, as they walked from the bus stop up to his door. "I don't do it often though."
"I thought you lived on your own when you go to school. It's not like you can live off take-out and pre-prepared meals."
"What if I told you I did?"
"I'd say you ought to make better use of your money if you've got it to burn like that."
The meal was actually pleasant. Salad, steamed vegetables, steak, among other various side dishes. For her size, Lightning ate quite a bit. She'd get pretty tall, if she kept packing it in like that. Hope only burned one dish, luckily, to which they both decided not to taste test considering it had been blackened beyond recognition. Conversation was a little sparse, but when it did spark, it felt worth it. He even made Lightning laugh a little. A rare thing, but a savoured victory.
As the evening waned, he noticed she kept looking at her watch, or the clock on the wall.
"When do you have to be back?" he asked, interrupting the conversation. He nearly forgot – when it came to the army, bedtime really meant something. (So you couldn't be a silly child like he was and hide a comic book under your covers with a flashlight or whatever.)
"Before midnight; coming in right at it though is frowned upon though – they don't say it, but you can tell," she answers, rimming the cup of slowly cooling, half-empty coffee mug in her hand.
"Well, it's already eleven; do you want to start heading out? It's only a twenty minute drive," he asked. "Probably shorter, with less traffic at this time of night."
She frowned. "Yeah. . . I guess."
He paused, midway of getting up from his seat. " 'I guess'?"
He seemed to strike a chord in her, since Lightning stood up rather indignantly, downing the last of her lukewarm coffee and leaving the empty cup by the kitchen sink. It was rather hard to watch her scrunch her eyes clothes to swallow the last of the bitter drink; he could more or less assume bitter things weren't her favourite. After all, she had the same cup for the past couple hours – he had two cups already – and out of the corner of his eye when he turned around, he could see her add another teaspoon of sugar. Probably in hopes of easing the bitter taste.
In his minor reverie, she was already at the entrance, lacing her boots back up. He almost wished he hadn't suggested it; now she seemed all too eager to leave.
The car ride was quieter than dinner was. She fiddled with the radio a bit, though nothing seemed to hold her interest, and soon enough she let it be on whatever station it landed on. The car ride felt a little longer than twenty minutes with the silence, but surely it was shorter than that.
He wasn't sure if he should get out of the car, as they stopped at the gate, but Lightning leapt out first. It would be awkward to talk through the car window, since that's what she walked around the car to, so he stepped out for the minute.
". . . Thank you," she said, a little standoffish, looking at the ground. "I had . . . fun, today."
"You look like you need to gag."
"Take the gratitude while it lasts."
He chuckled. "I'm kidding. I actually had fun today too. You're off next Sunday too, right?"
She nodded, more eager than he would've thought.
"Then I'll pick you up at the same time then," He smiled, putting a hand on her head. Her hair was soft like he thought, but he had to rethink letting his hand go any farther to touch her face. (Weird.) He withdrew then. "Good night, Lightning."
She opened her mouth, but it was a minute before any sound came out.
"Call me Light."
He blinked. She felt compelled to explain.
"—Lightning is a mouthful for a regular occasion."
"What about Éclair?"
"That's not my name any more."
"Right," he nodded. "So. . . Light. Just Light." He tested the word, and the different feeling it gave in comparison to Lightning. He vaguely wondered what brought on the nickname after she was so insistent on her new name, but took it as her accepting him more, to some degree. Regardless, he wished her luck with training, and hopped back into the car. She didn't say good night, just nod and give a hesitant wave, before running into the base, flashing her pass at the security guard before entering.
Hope rested his head in a palm. Now. . . to sort out what was good and what was bad out of what he said throughout the day. It was all rather jumbled in his memory now. Over all though, it seemed like a success. A rocky one, but a success nonetheless. Hopefully Lightning – Light, he mused – felt the same.
Jesse had been reading some kind of magazine in her bed when Lightning came back into their shared room. Immediately, the magazine was tossed aside and Jesse peeked over the edge of the bunk, watching her roommate.
"How'd it go? How'd it go?" She asked excitedly.
Something in Lightning's spine tensed as she neatly untied her boots and set them aside. "How'd what go?"
"You kidding me?" she asked bluntly, sitting up. "I mean you're d-a-t!"
"It wasn't a date," Lightning sighed. "And 'date' has an E at the end."
"Now's not the time to point fingers at bad spelling!" Jesse hopped down from her bed, to sit on Lightning's as the other quickly changed from her civvies into pajamas. "C'mon, tell me what happened. Did you kiss? He kissed you didn't he? I knew he was a fox! A sly one at that."
"We did not!" Lightning retorted, face burning hot. "He just showed me around town, and we had dinner at his place. There was nothing romantic about it."
Jesse whistled. "Real swanky. Did he not buy you anything? What, is he stingy or something?"
"No—" Lightning couldn't tell what she was more angry at: Jesse's insistence or her mild jabs at Hope's personality that Lightning hadn't bothered to explain. "He's not stingy. He. . ."
". . . he got ice cream."
"And you shared—"
"—for a lost kid we found."
"Oh well, that's not as fun."
It was plenty of fun, Lightning retorted within the safety of her thoughts. "Are you gonna get off my bed? I want to sleep."
"Yes ma'am," Jesse deadpanned to get her disappointment in the lack of juicy details across. "But seriously, what do you think of him? If I wasn't already tied Biggs, I would jump at this Hope guy. Whoo-ee, is he ever—"
Lightning shot her a glare.
"Okay, okay, just kidding. I get it – he's your guy."
"He's not my 'guy'."
"Then that glare is uncalled for!" Jesse humphed, climbing up to her own bed. "You goin' out next Sunday too?"
Lightning debated on answering.
"I'm going to take silence as a yes~" Jesse warned from above.
"Okay okay, we are."
"Excellent," the smile was obvious in Jesse's voice, as Lightning shut off the lights and crawled into her own bed.
"Why do you care so much, anyhow?" Lightning asked after a few moments of silence in the darkness.
" 'Cause, you city kids are fun," Jesse hummed. "And so oblivious to yourselves."
Hee hee. This was a fun chapter write, for all it took a while. I wanted to give more meat to it; I know short chapters are frustrating, it's totally understandable that you guys want longer. Your feedback is always awesome! This one is double the length of the previous ones, and I hope it lived up to everyone's anticipations. Of course, there will be more Sundays for Hope and Lightning. I really wanted humour – like burning hefskjdfhsjdkfh –so I was glad that this ended up as light-hearted as I was hoping. Or at least, I hope you guys found it funny. After you re-read and edit things, they get less funny, and you wonder if they were even funny in the first place. ;;;;;;;
Apologies to anyone who feels a character like Jesse and her crew are out of place – speech-pattern-wise anyhow. Cocoon is always shown to be so advanced and all, in hindsight, I feel like she shouldn't talk way she does, but I can't picture writing her any other way. (I know in FFVII they were all fine and articulate, but well, this isn't FFVII now is it? Ha ha, I'm making excuses.)
There will be more drama to come, of course. I haven't quite decided what the next chapter will consist of, but please look forward to it! I'm sure Snow and Serah will also reappear in the near future. (Yes, I also updated the story description; in case anyone was wondering.) Please continue to review! Or even review now if you haven't before! Feedback makes my day.