Who feels completely guilty for how long this took? *raises hand* Me... I'm sorry. I was gone, enjoying the world of-of The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, after reading about Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (not till November!), and I just-just-lost track of time... But it's here now, and that's what counts, right? Right?

I'm so sorry.

But here is the last chapter! :D Ready for your perusal. The end is here, and whether Daybreak ends here for you or not, it's been an amazing journey with all of you. I have been late and forgetful and you've managed to read on despite that! Huzzah! But in all seriousness, Hope's journey, and our own, has come to it's own conclusion here. But in a way, nothing really ends. It keeps going, whether we walk with it or not. I may edit this note later, but for now, this is enough I think.

Without further delay, the last chapter pf Daybreak. Omake may be there for some of you, but for others, this is the close.


"In three words I caevn sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on."
— Robert Frost

"Hope…for the last time, you don't have to help me do anything. I'm fine. I just…I need to get used to it as all." Maqui brushed Hope's hands away, trying to smile at him while rolling away in the wheelchair. He settled only when he was out of Hope's reach, and tried to broaden his smile, even as his hand reached for the sleeve of his left arm, his fingers pinching the loose end of the sleeve. His touch lingered on the very edge of the sleeve, feeling the bandages around what was left of his arm. Hope watched Maqui, the blond having forgotten about Hope as he stared at his missing limb with clouded eyes.

Hope squinted his eyes when the light from the hospital window started to shine through the blinds, casting pillars of light on the floor. The door was ajar and voices were floating in and out of the room, doctors and nurses, as well as occasional citizens, passing by the room.

"Maqui," Hope mumbled, shaking his head as Maqui continued to stare at the sleeve. "I-I know it seems bad but-"

"It's all right, Hope. It's been long enough. I mean…I mean…" Maqui trailed off, looking at his hand as he set it in his lap. He shook his head, swallowing when his throat began to close up. "They filled me up with pain meds and everything. So it should be all right. I just want to get home already. We have to do-do a bunch of things still, don't we?"

Maqui looked up at Hope and Hope could feel his chest getting tighter and tighter the longer he looked at his friend. Maqui's face was dark and tired, deep purple bags under his eyes. His hair was more of a ruffled mess than ever and every move he made seemed to channel to the arm that wasn't there. Maqui tried to smile at Hope but it was crooked and forced, the ends already twitching down.

"You still have to think about-about life now, don't you, Hope?" Maqui closed his eyes and nodded. "I mean, now that there's no Saorise, there's no stopping you, you know? And this?" Maqui raised the stump that was his arm, eyes twitching and flinching until he let himself slump. "I'll be all right. Really. I'll figure out how to do a few things again, I just have to practice. I-I'll figure something out…"

Maqui trailed off again and looked back at his hand, and Hope could only look on. Maqui curled his fingers, then relaxed them, then curled them again. His eyes misted over and when he spoke, his voice was barely above a whisper, "I mean…look at the others. Vitan, Tiaw-I helped that happen. I led them there-none of them even came back and-"

"Maqui, no-"

"And I know," Maqui choked, bowling over Hope's voice. "I know you and Lebreau and everyone else are going to do something stupid and blame yourselves for this. But it's not your fault. It's not Lebreau's fault. It's not Rygdea's or Lightning's or anyone else's fault. Just mine." The last few words came out as a choked gasp and Hope winced, shaking his head and kneeling next to Maqui.

Maqui shook his head, trying to roll away from Hope. "Just me…that's all I have to blame for this, all right? I mean-I mean, I was the one who asked them. I was the one who led that stupid decoy thing."

"Sultur-" Hope tried, shaking his head and trying to get a grip on Maqui's shoulder while the other rolled away again.

"I'm the one who said yes!" Maqui shouted, glaring at Hope.

"You were doing it for me!" Hope screamed back, eyes flashing. "You were doing it for me and for Lebreau and everyone else-"

"And look at what it did for everyone, Hope! Look at what it did!" Maqui seethed, grasping the arm of the wheelchair and pushing himself up. He swayed slightly on his feet but threw his arm out to keep his balance, glaring at Hope the entire time. "Look at what it did for us! Four of our comrades are dead and I'm missing a fucking arm because of my mistake-"


"No," Maqui muttered, making Hope's mouth snap shut. "I don't want to hear about how-how this is somehow not my fault. Or-or that backwards logic you use when you try to say that something's your fault. I don't want to hear it."

"But Maqui!" Hope cried, desperation kicking his heart. He stepped forward and tried to grab Maqui, but the blond shoved his hand aside. Hope let his arms fall away, eyes scrunching up when Maqui's back hit the bedside.

"No matter how you try to spin it, Hope, I'm the one who did it to myself. I led those people on the mission-"

"They agreed to it-"

Maqui shook his head. "I'm the one who led that mission. I'm the one who led them to Saorise. I'm the one who got them killed, I'm the one who said yes, I'm the one who thought it was worth it, and I'm the only person to blame for my missing arm-"

Maqui's speech was cut short when Hope's fist slammed into his cheek, knocking him on the bed. Maqui yelped at the strike, his hand going to his throbbing cheek before he tried to push himself up with his one arm. Hope was towering over him and he held his fisted hand to his chest, body shaking while he approached Maqui. Maqui pushed himself upright on the bed, eying Hope and his clenched hand. Maqui didn't miss his friend's trembling and he sighed.

"Hope, I know that you-"

"No. Don't say anything," Hope whispered, gritting his teeth. Maqui blinked at him but Hope just walked closer, reaching a hand out and pulling the forgotten wheelchair with him. Maqui tilted his head to the side when Hope turned away from him, grabbing his bags and setting them under the small space under the wheelchair, slinging the extra bag over his shoulder. Hope reached by the bed, pointedly ignoring Maqui's stare as he grabbed a bag of medications. Maqui's heart started to race, watching every move Hope made, the tightening of his face, and waited for the yelling to start.

Hope unzipped the bag with one hand and threw the medication inside without so much as a word. Maqui swallowed and pushed himself off of the bed, wobbling slightly at the empty feeling at his side.

Standing…like this…with nothing at my side. Nothing to swing. Nothing to clench.

It's strange…

"You can be such a hypocrite." Maqui's eyes snapped to Hope and his chest swelled, hot and tight.


"You keep telling me…telling me not to blame myself for what happened to me. So why is it okay for you to do it?" Maqui stepped away from Hope when he turned to him, his eyes now slits and his voice strained. "You tell me that what happened wasn't my fault, even though I can think of a thousand ways it is. But when this-this happens to you-"

"That's different, Hope-"

"How is it different?" Hope asked, his voice raspy. "How? Saorise was the one who triggered this-"

"It was a medical procedure to save my life. That's all. I didn't-I was the one who-"

"You blame yourself for the others dying. You blame yourself even though they chose to go. They chose to go." Hope shook his head, blinking hard when his eyes started to burn. "They had a choice at least. They had a choice."


"I don't want you to think that this is your fault. I don't-I don't-" Hope shuddered, pressing the palm of his hand to his eye. "Is this-this how you felt when I said-said those things about myself. Is this-but it's not your fault, Maqui! How do I make you see that-I don't know-" Hope stopped and closed his eyes, trying to breathe through his nose while wiping at his eyes. Maqui shook his head and stepped toward Hope but Hope backed away.

"I'll…I'll figure this out, Maqui," Hope said, eyes hardening. "I'll figure it out, and you can figure out how to make me stop thinking that way and maybe-maybe we can figure out something with your arm. Because-because you need-and I-Damn! Why won't it stop!" Hope snapped, rubbing his arm hard and fast over his eyes.

"Hope…" Maqui mumbled.

"You should go outside, Hope. You've had a long, long two weeks." Both boys jumped at Lebreau's voice, eyes swiveling to the door. Lebreau was leaning against the doorframe, her arms folded over her chest, a slip of paper tucked in her arms.

"But-but, Lebreau, you shouldn't be moving like that either-"

"I'm fine, Hope. They have me hopped up on so much pain meds I can't even feel it. Besides, they used a few good cure spells with those mana drives to speed up the healing." Lebreau ignored the disbelieving look Hope sent her, waving her hand at the door. "Go on! I need to talk to Maqui alone, and as cute as your bromance is, I need you to high tail it to Lightning. Besides, I'm sure you're eager to get to her, too."

Hope stuttered, his cheeks burning bright red, and Maqui had to bite his lips to keep from laughing. He stopped though when he remembered the word 'bromance' and glared at Lebreau.

"Bromance? What the hell-"

"I was a little shocked as well. Does Lightning know about this, Maqui?" Lebreau smirked when Maqui gasped, shaking his head and backing away, his cheeks turning as red as Hope's. "I mean, really, it's not nice to try and steal a woman's man. Especially when that woman is Lightning. She'll kill you."

"I'm not trying to steal anyone!"

"Whatever helps you sleep at night, Maqui." Lebreau turned to Hope and offered a smaller, lighter smile. Hope blinked at the sudden change but Lebreau rolled her eyes and swept Hope into a hug before he could say anything. Hope blinked but Lebreau was already pulling away from him, her smile still in place. "Go ahead, Hope. I'll make sure to make this quick and then Maqui and I will meet you outside, all right? Besides, whether she admits it or not, Lightning really does want to see you."

Hope bit his lower lip and gave her a slow nod, rubbing the back of his neck and glancing at Maqui. He gave the blond a small wave before hesitantly stepping out of the room. He gave both of them one last glance before closing the door with a soft thud.

Lebreau pressed her ear to the door, listening for Hope's fading footsteps before her eyes went back to Maqui. Maqui was staring at her, his eyes wide as she made her way to him once she was sure Hope was gone. Maqui inched his way toward the wall and tried to slide toward the door, eyes narrowed on Lebreau in case she made any sudden moves. Lebreau raised an eyebrow at him, placing her hands on her hips and blowing a stray strand of hair from her face.

"Even wounded I can outrun you. Just sit down on the bed and let me talk." Lebreau ignored Maqui's pout, tapping her foot and waving her hand at the bed. Maqui let out a sigh before flopping on the bed, letting his hand rest in his lap and trying to ignore the desire to toy with his shirt. Lebreau watched him, narrowing her eyes when Maqui bowed his head, the corner of his eyes drifting to his empty left side.

Lebreau pinched the bridge of her nose before crinkling the papers in her hands. She glanced at Maqui and slowly made her way to the bed, blinking when Maqui flinched when she sat down. She brought her hands to her lap as well, her fingers running along the edge of the papers. She stared at Maqui out of the corner of her eye and she almost smiled when she caught him looking at her as well.

"So...wanna talk, Maqui?" Lebreau asked, rolling the papers over and over again. Maqui shook his head, snorting at her.

"I just had a talk with Hope, and I'm sure that Rygdea will want to talk to me when we're home anyway. And Snow...Gadot...Yuj... So...sorry to say this Lebreau, but I really don't want to talk right now."

Lebreau grinned, kicking her legs against the bed. "I think I can understand that. I mean, you got hit by Hope of all people. You're just not having a good day, now are you?" She watched Maqui's cheeks flush, holding back a chuckle when she saw him stutter and shake his head, but her chest swelled when she saw the corners of his lips start to twitch up.

"No, I guess you really can't call this a good day." Maqui sighed, shoulders slumping. Lebreau shrugged, pretending to inspect her feet.

"Well...I know for sure that you'll be having a talk with Rygdea later, but he might be yelling, punching, and consoling you all at the same time," Lebreau said, tilting her head toward the ceiling. Maqui snorted and she smiled more, blinking a little harder than she needed to.

"But you know Maqui...I think-well-" Lebreau sighed, crinkling the papers a bit more, but stopped and smoothed them out when she realized what she was doing. She looked toward the door, eyes flashing when she saw a shadow flit just underneath it, and paused. Maqui shook his head though, taking advantage of her hesitation.

"It's not like I don't deserve it, after everything I've done. I led some of our friends to their deaths and I wound up putting everyone in danger-"

"I guess Hope didn't hit you hard enough. That's okay though, I'll just pick up where he left off," Lebreau seethed, raising her hand and forming a fist. Maqui's eyes widened but he hardened them just as quickly, glaring at her and steeling himself. Lebreau gritted her teeth but let her hand fall to her side, shoulders falling.

"You don't deserve it," Lebreau muttered, her eyes drooping. "No matter what you think, no one deserves this." Lebreau ignored Maqui when he started to stutter, opening and unrolling the papers in her hands completely. "And Rygdea and Hope and Lightning and Snow and just about everyone agrees with me. So quit trying to beat yourself up over it."

Maqui gave her a small smile and nodded, but as Lebreau looked into his eyes, she could see the lie there. The way his eyes would continue to glance at his left arm, and the way he would pinch his fingers together and look at the floor, gave away his nerves. When his eyes met hers they would never stay connected for long, and Lebreau thought she could see his thoughts.

I'm never going to be able to do my favorite things again.

I'm not going to be able to just sit in the backyard and work with the cycles or any of my gadgets.

I'm not going to be able to hold my loved ones. I'm not going to be able to be the same again.

I just...can't.

"I talked to Rygdea, actually," Lebreau said, folding the corners of the papers up and down. She waited until Maqui's head tilted toward her before sucking in her breath. "About what we're going to do now and all of that. I mean, things are so uncertain now, so I guess I was just trying to find something that I could do or focus on. Not that I can do much until I'm all better. Rygdea really stressed that one." Lebreau licked her lips, looking from the papers to Maqui. Her voice started to shake and Maqui raised an eyebrow at her.

"Sorry," Lebreau muttered, her face reddening. "I guess...well, I asked him and he says there are a lot of things we need to do. And we talked about Hope and De Novo and all the other things and people and places that we have to worry about. And he started to rant and rave about all the things that are wrong with the higher ups, and how he was going to kick your ass later because you were being such a dumbass and he really needed to give you what for and all..."

Lebreau trailed off and Maqui was smiling despite himself. Lebreau grinned at him and nodded. "Yeah, you smile now. But just you wait until you're well again. You think I'm kidding when Rygdea says he's going to kick your ass, don't you?" Lebreau asked, giving Maqui a light shove on the shoulder.

"Oh, I don't doubt it. It's still funny though."

"Whatever," Lebreau said, rolling her eyes. Her shoulders slumped and her smile fell. "We talked about you a lot, actually." She didn't look at Maqui when he glanced at her, even though she could feel his eyes on her. "We talked about what had happened and how-how we were going to help you. Talked about how you were going to be really negative and-and about your arm."

Maqui nodded, his eyes dark and downcast. "Got the nail on the head, I suppose."

Lebreau glanced at him, narrowing her eyes. "We talked about what we were going to do. I think we both wound up yelling a lot, but I forget everything we said. I think we were just mad...and there wasn't exactly a long list of people we could really talk to about it, so we took it out on each other. But then we got to talking and-and..."

Lebreau ran a hand over her face, blowing her breath out and kicking the bed a little harder than she meant to. The back of her heels began to throb and she winced. But she tried to use it to center herself and her thoughts. She looked at Maqui and had to hold back a sigh when she saw that his eyes still glued to the floor. She turned around on the bed, resting her legs on the mattress and turning her body to face Maqui. Her stomach shuddered strangely and her hand twitched, but she fought back the need to rub the area.

Maqui flinched when he saw Lebreau moving, but before he could react she was grabbing him by the shoulders and turning him around. Her eyes bored into his and her face was tight. Maqui blinked, shaking his head slightly when he saw that her eyes were strangely wet and bright, but Lebreau talked over him. "I need you to look at me, Maqui. This is important, okay? I'm just trying to make it come out right, because I don't know if you want it or not. So please..."

Maqui's chest rose and he nodded, smiling. "All right. Sorry."

Lebreau shook her head. "It's all right. I know-I think I know why you're being like this. And I can't blame you or anything. But listen, all right? I don't wanna repeat myself." Lebreau reached for the papers that had rolled off her lap, laying them out between her and Maqui. Maqui's eyes trailed down to them, but Lebreau grabbed his chin and forced him to look up at her face.

"So I talked with Rygdea and we started thinking of ways we could help you. And he gave me this idea...and when I was well enough, I started making a few phone calls, and I asked Rygdea for a few favors, and he was more than willing to help. And-and it took some arguing and some shouting. Rygdea wound up helping a lot to, and never believe him again if he says he doesn't know how to talk with other people. Seriously. The way he and the other guys maneuvered around each other was just-"

"Lebreau," Maqui muttered, raising his eyebrows at her. "I know you're bowled over by how awesome Rygdea was and all that, but I really have no idea what you're getting-"

"Prosthetics. Mechanical prosthetics"

Maqui's mouth snapped shut and he tilted his head at Lebreau, not quite sure if he had heard her right. His mouth opened and closed a few times, his breath short and raspy. His throat was tight and he licked his lips. "Lebreau, what did you say?"

Lebreau rolled her eyes, but her hands were shaking. She reached for the papers and flattened them in her lap before bringing them to Maqui's face. He blinked at them, narrowing his eyes, and he had to hold back a gasp. Something in his stomach clenched; curled and curled until it was nothing but a tight ball in his center. His eyes roved the pages, widening the longer he studied them.

The papers were sketches and blueprints. All of it was on grid paper, but on each of the sheets there were pictures of an arm. There were several designs of the limb; with metal, tubed muscles, fingers, just everything. There were small equations written in the corners of each of the papers and Maqui slowly took the papers out of Lebreau's hands, flipping through them himself. His eyes scanned the small numerical values and the design features, eyes widening when he made it to the design for the hand. He blinked, hard and fast, as he studied the material lists, or when his eyes flickered to the specific designs for the hand, showing when fingertips would open up and reveal small gadgets that were going to be put there. Small drills, a tiny hook, and one finger would be filled with lighter fluid, and each design was followed by more notes in chicken scratch writing.

Lebreau watched him from over his shoulders, and when Maqui finally tore his eyes away, she clasped her hands and started to speak, her voice high and rushed, "I-I don't know how soon it will get done, but the guys I talked to said that they could probably get started really soon. And some of the guys from the mech room from De Novo said they'd like to help too, like get the materials and all that. And as long as you're willing I'm sure this can be really helpful. You'll have to get used-used to having a normal prosthetic before they can add these attachments and all, and I don't know how long that will take, but it's-it's something..."

Lebreau swallowed, her voice rising more and more. "I mean, I know it's not going to be the same as having an actual arm and hand and everything, but I figured that this way you'll be able to do all those things you love and you won't have to worry about the small, finer parts about mechanics, because they're adding all of those cool little features to the hand, and it's supposed to function like a normal hand would and so-so-"

"Lebreau..." Her eyes snapped to his while she sucked in breath, her lungs screaming from talking so much and so fast, but Maqui wrapped his arm around her before she could say another thing. Lebreau's eyes widened but Maqui shook his head and brought her closer, burying his face in her shoulder. He swallowed hard, heaving a little when he exhaled, and his hands were still gripping the papers tightly in his hand, pressing them into Lebreau's back.

"Thank you..." Maqui muttered, his eyes wet and burning. "Just thank you, thank you, thank-" Maqui's voice cracked and he slammed his mouth down, shaking his head and trying to bring himself closer to her. "Th-thank you..."

Lebreau nodded, flipping her hair away from her face and returning Maqui's hug. She wrapped her arms around his waist and pressed him closer. She smiled when she felt something wet and hot leaking through her shirt, and when she spoke her voice was calm, "You don't have to thank me, Maqui. You don't. I just-I wanted to help you. I wanted to help you so badly...and I-I just hoped that this would be enough-"

"It's more-" Maqui stopped, voice cracking, but he forced the words out. "It's more than enough. I just-I don't know what to say, Lebreau. I don't. I just-just thank you. Thank you so much."

"I'll always be there for you Maqui," Lebreau whispered, shutting her eyes and tightening her hold.

"We all will."

Maqui nodded but Lebreau's eyes swiveled to the door, watching the shadows move more erratically on the floor. She smiled into Maqui's hair and closed her eyes, her chest swelling before gradually releasing and letting the flood of warmth fill her.

The door burst open, slamming against the wall with a loud crack as Snow, Gadot, and Yuj filed in the room. Their voices filled the room, saying congratulations for finally making his move, and asking him why it took him so long, and that Maqui better appreciate them for all the trouble they went through to make this happen.

Maqui whipped around, mouth dropping open, but he was yanked into a hug by Snow before he could get so much as a peep out. Lebreau snorted at his reddening face, shaking her head when Yuj started to pull on Maqui's hair.

"You're really blond...just like our hero here, aren't you?"

"I wonder how long till he realizes that some of that writing is yours, Snow?"

"don't tell him now! He'll think the thing will blow up! All I did was write a few suggestion in, I'm not actually building it or anything."

Lebreau smiled, blinking hard as a sigh slowly made its way from her.

Your family is always there for you.

The place was as familiar as ever. He had seen it over and over for the last few months, and had lived in it for almost a year.

Even though it was familiar though-it seemed like it had been ages since he had been there.

The wooden planks that made up the cabin were older though and covered in scorch marks, leaving blackened hunks of wood. There were holes in some of the walls, revealing the endless white snow that stretched on outside. Around the room there were shelves, but they were all bare save for a few straggling books. Even those were worn, hanging open and nearly falling off the shelves, pages torn and falling out, sometimes fluttering to the ground.

Hope's eyes roamed the floor, which was covered in the yellowing pages of old and forgotten books, and the dirty, blackened planks, and the sheets that were stained red.

But he knew it wasn't his room.

He slowly looked up, amazed by the lack of feeling in his chest. There was no fear and apprehension in this room, but when his eyes met the door that he knew so well, there was a slight tightening in his chest. It was not a terrible tension though-it did not tell him to run away. Did not tell him he would die.

In truth, he did not know what he was supposed to think.

He slowly made his way to the door. He pushed aside the papers and books on the floor with his feet, making a small, narrow pathway to the door. And the closer he got, the brighter the door became. Just behind the door there was an orange glow, and when Hope was right in front of it, small slivers of flames would leak out of the sides or from under the door.

He paused and studied the wood; saw his old scorch marks and cuts. The small bit of proof that at least some of his magic had managed to hurt the door. But in the end, it just wasn't enough to break down the door. It wasn't enough to grant him his freedom.

A part of him would always wonder what would have happened had he managed to open it.

He pushed it to the back of his mind though and pressed his hand against the door. The flames erupted on the other side, seemed to scream at him for even touching the door, but no heat made its way to his fingers. Hope closed his eyes and pressed his forehead to the door, rubbing his skin against the rough wood before letting his hand dropped to the doorknob.

His heart clenched.

But the door opened.

For a moment, the fires around him spread-a wall of flame formed and he shut his eyes and held up his arms. The flames licked his body but the heat never burned him-he didn't even feel the heat, and soon they died down into nothing.

He lowered his arms and slowly opened his eyes, shuddering as a cold chill swept through him. He swallowed hard and glanced around the room, his body flinching with each familiar item he took in. The soot and blood stained floor-the numerous books on the floor. There was the small desk that was pushed against the wall, still cluttered with all manner of books.

And then he saw the bed.

Hope tensed, but the air did not rush out of his lungs like he was expecting it to. He did not feel faint, but there was some nausea stirring in his stomach, and his legs did not twitch with the need to run away from this room as fast as they could carry him. Hope took a deep breath, his eyes hardened and focused on the bed, and took a step forward. Then another. Then another. Step after step, small of course, but each a step toward the bed.

He stopped when he was beside the mattress-his eyes strayed to a few of the visible blood stains that streaked across the sheets. The fresh lines of red that were already dripping down onto the floor. But then he allowed his eyes to go to the occupant of the bed-

It had been years and he still couldn't get over how small he looked then. He was only seventeen then-and so small and tiny the way he huddled to the bed like that. Hope stared at this younger version of himself, his eyes still hard, and his hands now tense at his sides.

This younger self represented everything that had happened to him in this room. This little Hope was almost bare, but the wounds from a recent visit were bleeding and pooling on the bed. This Hope's head was tucked underneath his arms, curled in a fetal position as he whispered into his skin. There were bruises on the pale skin-dark brown to bright purple, blaring in the light of the orange fire burning in the room.

Even though this Hope was muttering into himself, barely above a whisper and far too quiet for the current Hope to hear, he knew what he was saying. Knew because he had spent months praying for it-begging for it, wondering why it didn't come. It hadn't been the only thing he asked for-but over time it had become the most appealing.

Death now though...he knew he didn't want it now.

Hope ran his hands over his face and sighed, his shoulders slumping as an unseen weight suddenly crawled up his back and settled on him. He shook his head and sat on the bed beside his younger self, reaching a hand out and brushing the younger's shoulders.

The younger Hope recoiled before a sob wrenched itself from his throat and the older Hope had to close his eyes at the tearing, wet sounds that began to rip from his own mouth. But he did take his hand away and he did not make to get up. And when the younger Hope's voice was sucked into the air and his eyes widened with terror, and even as Saorise walked into the room with her daggers in hand, the older Hope did not move.

And when Saorise-the younger, vicious Saorise from his past and all his nightmares-knelt down and started to whisper in his ear, just as the dagger began to dig into the skin, the older Hope did not move. He choked and he tensed and his whole body began to shake, but he still didn't move.

"Stop-stop-stop, please, stop! I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry! Please, please, please-"

He had to stay.


He knew he had to stay.

"I don't want-I just-I'm sorry-"

He couldn't keep running. Not from this.

There was escape from this.

I want to die...

Hope closed his eyes again and took a deep breath, his hand still on the younger Hope's shoulder even as he sobbed and bled and screamed and screamed and screamed. And even though he knew he wouldn't hear, even though he knew it didn't matter anymore because this was done and he was free, he said it anyway. And he would keep saying it until he understood it, and he would say it until it sank in, and he would say it forever after that because he knew that he would need to hear it.

"It really does end you know. It ends and you wind up happy. It ends and she's gone. But really...really, it ends, and you'll have your family."

And he'll keep saying it-even after he understands.

Rygdea pinched the bridge of his nose, sighing as he leaned against the wall outside of Hope's room. He could hear the others' voices floating from upstairs, and he winced when Serah gave a loud shriek, causing the noise to lower for a few seconds. His eyes went back to Hope's door and he pushed himself off the wall, turning the knob and throwing the door open without so much as knock.

"Rygdea-what are you-" Hope groaned, pushing himself off the bed and running his hands through his hair. Hope peered behind Rygdea, eyes scanning around before they switched back to the man. Rygdea smirked at him, shrugging. But he watched Hope's eyes, noting the mist over them and the slightly dazed look about him.

"I just thought you'd like to know that everyone is wondering where the hell you are. Including your crazy girlfriend," Rygdea said. He glanced behind him, sticking his head out the door. He spotted the top of someone's head and his eyes flickered when he saw familiar strawberry blonde, so Rygdea smiled and hurried back into the room, shutting the door behind him. He leaned against the door, putting as much weight as he could against the wood.

"Lightning isn't crazy," Hope mumbled, throwing himself back on the mattress. "So don't say that she is."

"I'm sorry, kid, but when someone agrees to go out with you of all people, then there must be a little something wrong with them, don't you think?"

Hope grunted, throwing his arm in the air and giving Rygdea the one fingered salute, but the man just snorted. "Glad to know that despite everything, the depths of your immaturity still manage to shine."

"I learned from the best." Hope shook his head, sighing and finally sitting up. "I guess I should come down though." Hope's eyes traveled to the floor and he bit his lip, running a hand through his hair. Rygdea narrowed his eyes but stayed near the door, leaning against it and closing his eyes. He could almost sense Lightning on the other side, wondered if she was pressing her ear to the door, but he opened his eyes when he heard Hope muttering to himself.

"What is it, Hope?" Rygdea asked, smiling slightly.

Hope jumped and looked away, his cheeks tinted pink, but he bit his lip and nodded. He stood from the bed and walked in front of Rygdea, keeping his head bowed the entire time. Rygdea raised an eyebrow at him, tilting his head to the side, but he froze when he heard sniffling.

"Hope…" Rygdea said slowly. "Don't tell me you're about to-"

"Shut up." Rygdea blinked and Hope threw his arms around him, shuddering slightly when he buried his face into Rygdea's chest. "I just…thank you," Hope mumbled. "Thank you, for everything. I wouldn't be here if it weren't for you. And…"

Rygdea shook his head, closing his eyes and letting out a small sigh before gently pulling Hope away from him. "You keep selling yourself short kid. Believe it or not, you had a hand in this too."

"I know," Hope said, wiping his arm over his eyes. "I know I did. But you still…did all of this for me. You wouldn't let me give up or anything." Hope shut his eyes and took a shaky breath, a smile crossing his face. "So thank you."

"Hope, you don't have to thank me."

"I know…I know I don't because you're you and you probably have it figured out. But I still had to." Hope stopped, his mouth parting slightly, and he looked over Rygdea's shoulder. Rygdea watched the clouds slowly reform over Hope's eyes and wondered where Hope was taking himself.

"It's hard…" Hope said eventually, shaking his head, his eyes still glued to the door. "It's hard to think that she's really gone. I mean-I mean I had a dream about her again. And other things..." Rygdea tensed but Hope plowed on, even when Rygdea grabbed his arm. "It was just a dream though. That's what I told myself when I woke up. That it was just a dream. And I-I want to think I got a little stronger, and maybe I've managed to do more than-"

Hope stopped again, shaking his head. "This isn't making sense, is it? It's not coming out right."

"Hope, what are you-" Hope shook his head, opening his eyes wide before blinking rapidly. He let out a small breath, looking back at Rygdea.

"Rygdea…Rygdea, before you said that I should see a psychologist. That you and the others weren't enough to help me, and that someone who knew what they were doing should get involved. But I said you were enough-that I didn't want to tell anyone else what had happened. And it was that. It was true."

Hope's voice dropped but Rygdea was dead silent. He heard the door creak from behind him-could almost picture Lightning's hand as she pressed toward the door, straining to hear.

Hope started to wring his hands together, biting his lip and looking down at the floor. "I was scared though. I was scared, too. I didn't-there are so many things wrong with me Rygdea. Tons. And sometimes, it seems like I'll never get through them, and that no matter what I do I'll still be this weak-pathetic person…who couldn't save-"

"Hope." Rygdea's voice was low and full of warning, but Hope smiled.

"I know. I know, Rygdea." Hope sighed, his shoulders slumping. "I guess…I guess what I'm trying to say is-not that you're not-not great and everything-but-but maybe I-" Hope shut his eyes and ran his hands through his hair, breathing hard out his nose. "I don't want to be-it's not that I'm-"

"I'll talk to Crawford." Hope stopped, his voice dying and his eyes bugging out when he looked back at Rygdea. The man was smiling at him, but there was no mocking in his face or smile. The look was soft-softer than Hope thought Rygdea could look, with the worry lines relaxed and the tension gone. Hope felt himself swell at the sight of it, his chest rising, about to burst. "I'll talk to Crawford and see what we can do about that psychologist. And we'll work through it, Hope. I promise."

I will keep this promise.

I will not let you fall again.

It won't be perfect-

-but what the hell is these days?

"Thank you, Rygdea." Hope sighed, his body shaking slightly, and he looked at the floor, his eyes tired. "Just, thank you." And again Rygdea found himself being hugged by Hope, but he smiled and ruffled Hope's hair and shook his head, blinking a little harder than he had to.

I think this…more than anything, is the first step for you, Hope.

Glad to see you're taking it on your own.

Rygdea held on a little tighter before slowly releasing Hope and smirking at him. "And don't look now Hope, but your girlfriend is eavesdropping on our conversation here. I think you'll want to go talk to her. I mean, she's been waiting there so patiently and-" Hope's eyes widened and he shoved Rygdea away from the door, swinging it open just as Lightning's head disappeared down the stairs. Hope swore when he poked his head out into the hallway, just catching sight of Lightning's head. He turned back to Rygdea, a scowl on his face.

"Why didn't you tell me?" Hope hissed, smacking Rygdea on the arm before hurrying after Lightning, calling her name. Rygdea snorted, shaking his had and rubbing his forehead.

"Cause it's funnier to watch you scramble with her," Rygdea mumbled, a small smile on his face. "Hmph…damn kids, making me all sentimental these days."

"Rygdea, you ass! She ran into the kitchen! Snow and Serah are there-I can't even go in without-without-"

'Without what, Hope? Embarrassing yourself?"


Rygdea shook his head and slowly followed Hope down the stairs, the smile never leaving his face.

Hope sighed and leaned against the couch, eyes flickering to Hazel and Dajh when the two began to chat with one another, babbling on about chocobos while Dajh led Hazel around the living room. Hope smiled at them, chuckling when Dajh pulled Hazel forward and picked up a small chocobo plush from the floor, making it fly in the air and around her head. Hazel started to giggle, reaching for the chocobo and trying to catch the thing in her hands. Hope closed his eyes briefly before glancing next to him, his smile growing.

Lebreau and Maqui had crashed on the couch despite the light that was shining through the windows and onto their laps. Lebreau's head was on Maqui's shoulder and a small bit of drool escaped her mouth, staining Maqui's shirt. Hope's eyes lingered a moment on the empty space of Maqui's arm and he shuddered. Hope reached for his own arm and pressed his fingers to the skin, but smiled when he remembered what Lebreau had later explained to him-of the mechanical arm they were hoping to make for Maqui.

Hope shook his head and stood up, stretching his stiff legs while listening for sounds from the rest of the house. His mind buzzed, thoughts flowing in and out, some coherent while others were not. His gaze drifted around the room and he peered down the hall and the kitchen doorway. He closed his eyes briefly, breathed in and slowly exhaled. His head felt warm and light, and the heat spread down to his chest before exploding, swimming into his fingers and toes.

Even after everything that's happened…I wonder how much would have changed if I hadn't fallen that day.

Hope blinked, turning when Hazel latched on his leg, smiling up at him and shoving the chocobo plush in his hand. Dajh started down the hallway, calling for Sazh and shouting, "The mean girl took my chocobo, daddy! Make her give him back!" Hope shook his head and slowly slid the chocobo out of Hazel's hands, ruffling her hair. Hazel giggled, grasping his fingers in her tiny hands.

If I hadn't been found by Saorise.

"Go show your mom and dad," Hope mumbled, voice distant to his own ears. Hazel nodded, grabbing the plush from him and hugging it to her chest before fleeing to the kitchen. Snow's voice boomed from the room a few seconds later and Hope grinned.

"I see someone's not afraid to get what she wants! Good girl!"

"Snow, don't encourage her to take things from people!" Serah's voice was harsh, but she giggled a few seconds later, with Snow still cheering Hazel for her little theft.

"You should go for Sazh's keys next-he won't suspect a thing."

If I had lived with Lightning instead…like I was supposed to.

"Serah, you're surprised your husband is encouraging reckless, bad behavior?" Hope snorted at Lightning's voice, shaking his head. He turned away from the kitchen, eyes drifting outside where Yuj and Gadot were sitting with Rygdea on the small lawn. Rygdea was waving his hands in the air, a grin on his face while the other two watched his antics. The sun was shining over them, almost blinding as the rays reflected off the windows, and Hope's hands itched. He clenched them though, resisting the urge to open the window and let the warmth flood in.

He'd just go and experience it on his own.

Would we still be here, the way we are now? Would I have held hands with Lightning? Be here…with everyone, just relaxing like this? Would we even exist at all?

Hope didn't notice when Snow and Serah walked in the living room, Hazel sandwiched between them. And he didn't see Lightning walk up behind him, her head tilted to the side at his lost look. Her face was blank and she stopped herself from walking to close to him, just studying him carefully. Serah blinked at Lightning, asked her what was wrong, but Lightning shook her head.

Hope's shoulders slumped and he ran a hand through his hair, blinking slowly and fighting back a yawn. His head was still stuffed and he was still warm all over, the heat almost radiating off his body it felt to him. His eyes trailed on the door, drifted to the window again, and he watched the light dance on the glass.

I wonder…about these feelings of pain and loss... I wonder if it would have been worth giving this up-this life to never, ever feel that pain. To have it disappear completely. But then…I guess thinking about things like that doesn't help much. I should stop thinking about it.

Maybe one day I will.

"Hope," Serah mumbled, glancing between Snow, Hope, and Lightning. "Is something…" She trailed off when Hope turned to the door, unaware that she had spoken. Snow tilted his head, slowly lowering Hazel to the ground. He turned to Lebreau and Maqui, shaking the two of them awake and asking if something was up with Hope while avoiding Lebreau's flying fist.

Lightning kept her eyes on Hope though; watched when he opened the door and stepped outside, tilting his head toward the sky as he walked from the doorway.

Hope kept going, not even glancing at the others on the front yard as their voices fell silent, or Rygdea when the man called for him. He kept his head toward the sky, letting the bright sun hit his face with closed eyes. The warmth coated him, made breathing easier, lighter, and he let the sunshine wrap around him. He could almost feel the rays start to lift him from the ground, all while the warmth slipped into his clothes. Then it slipped into his mouth, eyes, and ears, filling him to the brim with almost unbearable sunshine.

But now I am here. Without Saorise. Without Chaos. Even with them gone there are a lot of things that need to be fixed. Even with her gone, she has still left her mark on me and all of my precious people. She has hurt them and she's hurt me. Taken some of them, scarred others, and changed some of them beyond recognition. And sometimes I feel guilty, other times sad, and overwhelmingly grateful that we are still together.

Hazel moved between her mother's legs and ran outside, calling for Dajh over her shoulder. The young boy followed soon after her and Sazh appeared at the doorway, looking at the others before shaking his head, a small smile on his face. Lightning blinked, her face tightening, and weaved around the others to step outside. Her feet crunched with the grass beneath her and she stared at Rygdea for a moment, watching the man's swirling eyes.

Rygdea was staring at Hope as well, watching Hope bask in the sunlight, breathing the warmth in. A smile flitted across Rygdea's face and he turned to Lightning and nodded, tilting his head at Hope. Lightning clenched her hands but returned the nod, glancing at Hope before taking several small steps towards him.

And Hope just took another breath of warm air.

And I am here, with myself and these people who insisted to keep me here. I am here with all the broken pieces of this. Myself. My life...and I want more than anything to put myself back together.

Hope sighed and lowered his head, bringing his hands in front his face and inspecting the digits. He saw small cuts on the fingertips, as well as calluses and dirt, and he let them drop to his sides. His chest was burning, his head was light, and he pressed a hand to his heart. A brief flash of white and a splash of red flitted through his mind, but it was quickly eaten away by blue eyes and warm hands and the heat from the sun.

Piece by piece…day by day…step by step…I will be myself again. I will be whole and complete, if a little cracked here and there.

I will learn to love myself again. I will not throw away or ignore my weak parts-no matter how much I hate them. No matter how much I want to cast them away into nothing and forget they ever existed. It cannot work that way.

I don't want it to.

Lightning crossed over the lawn just as Serah and Snow, Lebreau, Maqui, and Sazh all piled outside, glancing at one another before sitting in the grass. Serah waved Hazel to her, wrapping her arms around her daughter while Snow wrapped is arms around the both of them. Sazh snatched Dajh up, smiling when Dajh laughed before sitting Dajh in his lap. Lebreau and Maqui glanced at one another, scooting closer and mumbling under their breath.

They all turned toward the light, sometimes watching the small street and the people when they walked by, carrying boxes or bags, or just leaving the house and strolling in front of their homes.

Lightning walked up to Hope and grabbed his shoulder, making him jump out of his stupor. He looked at her, his eyes clouded but bright when he smiled.

She was startled by how…genuine it was. The way the corners were twitching up of his lips were twitching up, soft and small, but very true.

She promised herself it would be the first of many.

I'll open my arms and I'll reach out, and as the light comes down, I will finally see all of these people and all they have done for me. Their hands, which came from both the darkness and the nothing; the hands that fought through my anger and self-loathing and weakness-all to reach for me.

"Light…" Hope whispered, taking her hand in his, twining their fingers together. "I love you."

Lightning blinked, her cheeks warming, and she looked away from him. She bit her lip, shook her head and tried to harden her eyes. Even though she wanted to laugh and maybe scream a little, except she wasn't sure why. Even though those eyes of his were on her, watching her, and her arms itched to wrap around him.

It was much harder when Hope looked at peace with the world. It was hard to be tough and angry and try to pretend to be angry or stoic.

So she decided not to.

And smiled.

And I'll grab those hands and let my family pull me up, kicking and pushing all the way. I will look into their eyes, hopefully without shame, and I will laugh and cry with them. I will not run away from them and their love and warmth.

Lightning bit her lip when Hope kept staring before sighing and squeezing his hand. "Hope…about earlier. I was just a little surprised-Rygdea caught me, and he's well…you know what he is. I wanted to get away from him. But if you want to see that psychologist, you know I'll be with you every step of the way, so don't go thinking-"

"I love you."

I will look at Lightning and tell her I love her. I will look at Lebreau and Maqui and Rygdea and become stronger for them. Thank them for every sacrifice...stay as long as they'll have me. I'll never leave them. I will look at Snow and Serah and let them love me and I'll love them just as much. I'll look at Hazel and see her-and not those people I could not save. I will laugh with Dajh and run from Sazh when he realizes I've given his son another bad idea.

I'll look into the depths and see those faces of people I couldn't save, and I will say I am sorry-

"I love all of you…" Hope whispered, slowly lifting his arms and wrapping them around Lightning's waist. He ignored her small grunt of protest and buried one hand in her hand and used the other to bring her closer. He didn't heard Snow's catcalls or Serah's giggling. But he opened his eyes let his gaze drift to each of them. Prayed his eyes showed everything there was to tell, because he knew he'd never have the words to say it.

Love. Gratitude. Sorrow. Regret.




-but I will not let my regrets crush me. I will not let the guilt drag me from this light again. Even if I hurt-Saorise will never drag me from this. And neither will the ghosts or the voices or anything that has tried to take me away.

I will live again.

I must live again.

"Lightning…" Hope said, eyes matching hers. She was blushing and scowling and Hope thought his heart was going to burst. He held her closer, smiling as his eyes burned and stung. He almost had to close his eyes because of how much it hurt. But it was so warm and right and he just stood there, his arms around Lightning, his heart ready to explode.

Both for myself…

"Love you," Hope said, his voice a whisper, his eyes bright.

And these precious people who have saved my life.

"And we love you too, Hope!" Snow called, grinning until Serah smacked him. But Hope smiled; chuckled when Lightning shot Snow a death threat before turning back to him. Lightning ran a hand over his cheek, peering at him.

"Hope, are you-" Hope's arms tightened around her. He could hardly believe the looks-the emotions-passing over her face. The love. The strength. The tenderness.

Aimed at him no less.

Without them…I would not be here. I know it. I feel it in my bones and in my heart and in my soul. Their warmth…love…all of it I want to give back a thousand-fold. I want to shed this skin of weakness for them- I want save them all and love them until I disappear into forever.

"I love you," Hope whispered again. "I love you, I love you, I love you."

I love you all. And I will keep saying it-long after I am gone.

"Hope…" Lightning blinked hard, shook her head, and blinked again. Her heart was racing and it felt like she couldn't breathe, but she just smiled and nodded. The words bubbled up from her-

"I love you too."

And Hope looked at her and saw the truth in her eyes. The swirling love and warmth and absolute gentleness. And he saw it in Serah's kind eyes and Snow smile, in Rygdea's words and Maqui and Lebreau's actions. In Sazh and his own brand of wisdom, in Gadot and Yuj as they struggled to hold on and understand what was wrong.

Saw all the hands that were reaching down in the darkness, pulling him back up. The many lights-the unending love. So he reached up, his fingers stretching and almost popping from their place.

To my precious, broken family… All I can say-

Hope smiled and buried his face in her hair, letting out a single, soft cry as the others stood and hurried toward him, questions flying from their lips while Lightning held him close to her.

He knew then that things could finally be okay.

-is thank you.