A week of sleep and zombie-like activity wasn't nearly enough time to soothe physical and emotional wounds, but it was a start and nothing in the foreseeable future threatened to destabilize their recovery. A lack of opposition made sure of that. And because Serah had wanted it as bad as the snowball fight and insisting it would provide the closure they were all unconsciously yearning for, she'd gotten Light, who'd been the only one not keen on it, to agree having a party.
Slow jazz spilled from the TV speakers, an unwinding undertone for the clusters of casual chattering. The rich aroma of glazed roasts saturated the air, mouth-watering to those who hadn't already helped themselves to the dish. NORA members crowded the kitchen, listening in open-mouthed reverence to Snow's gesticulative, glorified recount of particular moments. "So I'm fightin' there, right, got my back turned—three creeps on my left and this PSICOM nut on my right. Shiva's doing the best she can, but we're all fighting separately, you know, no Hope to throw out those cures," he held up a finger, taking a swig from his Pinot Noel, causing Lebreau, who caught him from the corner of her eye, to shake her head with a sigh.
"How many times do I have to tell you? You sip, not swig," she reproached, turning to give the sahagin stew a stir, bubbles releasing a gamey smell of fish, marinated flan and honey. Maqui watched intently, self-consciously wiping his mouth when she gave him a pointed look.
"Aw, it doesn't change the taste any," Snow reasoned, discreetly offering his wine glass to his wife—his being inconspicuous consisting of wrapping his beefy arm around her and handing the glass in a slow, controlled manner like it couldn't be seen. A strapless peach cocktail dress hanging from her svelte figure, Serah giggled, tilting her head back and allowing the dry, bitter liquid to pool into her mouth, surprised at the way it burned her throat, a fiery warmth pleasantly consuming her inside.
"Ahem, she's still a minor," Lebreau pointed out.
Even so, Serah felt free within her husband's secure hold, no amount of moral law breaking could reach her; he was her embassy where only his rules applied. "She's alright," Snow consoled. "Anyway I'm in a tough spot and who comes to help her hero out? My girl! Arrows start flyin' and I'm wondering if I should duck—just in case."
Hey! Serah looked up with a small pout, quickly assuaged when he pulled her closer. "Saved my life," he added, a devoted sparkle in his eyes. The NORA gang clapped and cheered, a few of the lieutenants her sister worked with raising their glasses.
"Of course, you got yourself a Farron, lucky bastard. Mighty rare creatures—only two in the world," one laughed.
Where is she anyway? Serah turned around, a polite fleeting smile when she made passing eye-contact with a guest she didn't know. The living room was filled to capacity and the only voice she could recognize was Sazh's no-nonsense tone as he admonished Dajh for his cookie in-take. She better not be washing the makeup I put on her off.
In the quietness of Hope's room, Lightning sighed, rubbing her forehead with the back of her hand. Why did I think a bunch of strangers taking over our house would help me move on? Oh right, I didn't. Being accepted by the town or even knowing the people responsible for this mess were dead-and killed by her-wouldn't give her closure. Because she knew that, even if Hope didn't realize it at first, it wouldn't give him any. "Come here," she murmured, sitting back on the bed. His black buttoned short-sleeve shirt open, Hope wandered closer, his pale narrow chest sporting a red scorch mark from the right-out-of-the-oven deep-dish pan Lynn had accidentally bumped into him with. "I still don't understand how you were able to stand so close without her seeing you."
Sometime during the night, the soft cast on his right arm had been attacked by Serah and Snow and it was now decorated in lopsided hearts and badly-drawn potions. He didn't mind since it made him smile. It was only awkward knowing that it happened while he was sleeping with Light.
Her hair in loose waves down both shoulders, a diamond butterfly barrette pinned her bangs to the side, and a bit mascara and pearl pink eye shadow gave her the soft innocence her sister still had; and when combined with the surprised expression she made when guests went up to hug her, Hope thought she looked beautiful in an adorable way.
But every time her eyes fell on him, he caught a glimpse of indescribable sadness and he worried it was because of what he'd done. Some parts of the battle he remembered clear as crystal while others were a passionate haze of emotions, but he knew the amount of lives he ended up taking. He'd been on the path to becoming a monster and it had frightened her. I would've killed her. "I'm sorry," he mumbled.
She looked up briefly, rubbing the clear gel between her fingers before returning to gingerly tend to the burn, feeling him flinch from the contact. "For what?" she asked mildly. She held him still. "Never mind. Don't answer that. Unless you did something I don't know about yet."
There it was again, that sadness, except now it was in the way her fingers lightly caressed down his sides before grabbing the edges of his shirt to button them. "Lightning, I…" She spent nearly every moment with him and there were times where she laughed with the others, so it seemed…like everything would be fine. But since the day she wept she loved him, the words never again left her lips—no matter how hard he tried to weasel them from her with 'I love yous' of his own. He wanted to hear it again as him, Hope. Not as the Guardian who brought ruin and salvation.
"Put your coat on," she said softly, standing up. "We're going for a walk."
Laden with plates, Sazh backtracked back to the door, sparing three fingers to open it, a refreshing night chill blowing a sprinkle of snow in. "Hey hey," he greeted. "Come on in, Wright."
The doctor held up a festive bottle; a plump, blonde woman on his arm. "Sorry we're late…"
"Ah no, party's just getting interesting. Who's the lovely lady?"
Wright flashed a quick smile. "This is my enduring dear Selfina, whom without my life would be a pin-board of dates and meetings never met."
The woman giggled bashfully. "Nurse first, secretary second."
"Well pleasure to meet you ma'am. Make yourselves at home, just excuse me, I gotta run these dishes to the kitchen."
"Claire!" Serah waved as her sister came down the stairs with Hope tagging behind. Aw yay, she kept the hair clip in. Blacking leggings and boots, she'd thrown a dark brown slim coat over her beige cardigan, heading quickly for the door. It's so late though. She bumbled her way past Snow and his little gang. "Where're you going?" she asked, eyes wide.
Yuj pointed to the on-screen button on his new electric-yellow phone which was being held in a curious Snow's big hands. "And that right there is the camera, just tap it and you're ready to go. No lag, it's awesome."
"We'll be back soon, don't worry."
"Be safe..." The sisters shared a chaste kiss. Click.
"Murder your husband for me and delete the picture," Lightning added amiably.
Serah blinked, put off by the sweet tone. "W-what?"
"Dear great goddess, is that a coat I see on you, Lightning? Tell me it isn't so. Hope too?" Wright emerged from a group of people, eyebrows knitted in a half-hearted disapproving frown. "It's slick out there. From a doctor to his patients, I'd advise you to stay inside…" Her lips twitched as if to smile sheepishly, but the effort died too soon and she lowered her eyes humbly instead. Hope was looking up at her and everything in the way his green eyes shone suggesting he was clearly enamored. Wright felt a pang of plaguing guilt. He had yet to tell her… He'd counting on it being a fluke, for he was almost certain she didn't have a boyfriend, but he wasn't blind. Hope is no doubt closer to her than anyone.
She picked up on the sudden gloomy demeanor, but decided not to remark on it. "Well, Ian, from a friend to another, I appreciate the concern." She glanced down at Hope. "But we'll be fine."
She got halfway to the door before she spotted William already starting for her. Great, now what? She waited out of mere civility, keeping the teenager to her side.
"I'd like to talk a little—"
"Make it quick because I don't want to."
He faltered at her blunt snub. "Well now that things are settling down and with Hope's," he gave the boy an acknowledging nod, "successful crash course, we can better understand—"
Hope grinned, sticking his tongue out at the professor as she pulled him along.
"Lebreau, what's with all the cooking? Serah's not gonna like the weight you're making me put on," Snow chuckled. There was a slight tug on his arm.
"Well don't be such a pig, then. Half of this I'm putting in the freezer for you guys—poor Serah shouldn't have to do so much cooking when she's supposed to be resting."
"Aw thanks, that's real sweet." She went back to tugging Snow's arm until he finally realized she was trying to get his attention; he grinned. "Did you really get a picture?"
"I did babe. It's on Yuj's phone, but I'm sure he'll send it to you." She batted her eyelashes and he laughed, leaning down and giving her a slow kiss, wrapping his arm supportively around her waist when she wobbled. "See? Everything's going to be fine."
Oh Boo… "You're right." She touched his chest.
"Get a room you two," Lynn called teasingly.
Casted from an unknown source, the clouded sky glowed with a pinkish orange, from which fell thick flakes that soon lost their color and swirled down, a gentle white, blanketing the roofs of dark houses. Despite the quiet, serene tranquility the scenery inspired, the unequivocal innocence required to be swept away had been shattered in Hope. Though he struggled to find it, to believe in it, linked arms with Light, head against her shoulder, a slow-growing fear kept him alert.
Not a word spoken since they left, a dark shadow circled her mind. She tried to tell herself she wasn't abusing the trust he showered her with; it was something he had to overcome and it was her responsibility to make sure he did. A responsibility that I fully embrace. Nearing a certain lamppost, the pressure tightened around her arm and she didn't doubt that he now knew her intention. Passing beneath its yellow light, he slowed considerably, but showed no other hesitance. Later than the last time, none of the little shops were open, but they weren't the point. It was the return. Their footsteps came to a shuffling stop. "Hey Hope?"
The silveret tilted his head up, snow falling from his hair, emerald eyes childishly uncertain, like the gaze of one still suspicious of what lurked beneath their bed. Lightning pulled away, tucking his scarf more securely around his neck before gently taking his cast arm. "Let's go home, ok?"
"'Kay," he mumbled, not moving forward until she gave him a coaxing tug. Too much space between them, he huddled closer, pressing his cheek to the back of her shoulder, holding onto her with both arms. Snow subdued sound and the not-quite silence unnerved him; it added enough stealth to an attacker, making any kind of struggle almost futile.
She knew the chances of anything happening were next to zero, yet she was burning with hyper-vigilance. She wouldn't be fooled by slow-falling snowflakes this time. Almost there and I'm pulling a dead weight. "C'mon Hope," she urged quietly. They were a few steps from entering the lamppost's light and the poor boy was shaking against her, face hidden. "Hope…" He responded with a muffled sniffle. With a heavy heart, she wrapped her free arm around his shoulders, dragging his unwilling body forward, huffing when he stumbled into her, squeezing her tightly.
"Lightning!" He trembled in her embrace, apprehensive of the hard shove knocking against his back any second, tearing him from her and each second it didn't come, he only expected it tenfold the next. She would be thrown to her knees, a knife at his neck, it wouldn't hurt at first, but then the blood would trickle down and the man would press harder, bending him back and she'd be crying, he didn't want her to—
"They're going to take me!" he cried. He twisted his head quickly, glancing at the empty sidewalk and shrieking hysterically as his mind's eye saw racing shadows.
He made to bolt and with a slap she didn't intend, she clutched his face, forcing him to look at her. Tears streamed from wild eyes, silver hair damp from melting snow, locks long enough to drape over her fingers. She relented, softening her hold, placing a hand securely to his back.
The troubled sadness again, it was dominant in her marine blues and he realized with sudden painful clarity that it wasn't something he did, it was this.
"No amount of time is going to make this go away. This fear can't be distilled with avoidance and these memories won't ever disappear," she said, voice wavering. And I'm sorry. The naivety of safety can't be regained. "But you can make new ones," she smiled ruefully, "ones that aren't so scary."
He watched a snowflake land on her butterfly clip, sliding his eyes back to hers. "New memories?"
She gently stroked his wet cheek, a warmth enveloping her when he gave his shy little unsure smile; she drew him closer, a flutter in her chest, emeralds endearingly alight with anticipation. Her soft lips touched his; his light nudge as he devotedly kissed her back. She grabbed his hair, smoothing it down, tracing her thumb along his jawline. "I love you, Hope." With all my heart.
I just wanted to once more give thanks for the continuous support and reviews. All you haters can hate 'cuz it's evident I got enough lovely people who can appreciate this story for what it is ;) Really, I'm super grateful for all of you treating this first adventure of mine with so much love! If you like my writing style, I've got a book out that's just as (well, actually more so) intense; you can head over to Facebook and look up No Air in Space, give the page a like while you're there-it'd mean a lot to me ^-^