Disclaimer: I do not own Final Fantasy XIII.
Summary: "Fourteen was yesterday," he said, but she didn't understand. Not then. Five years, five birthdays, and of growing up. — Hope & Lightning, HopeLight, HopeRai
Childhood Was Yesterday
"I didn't think anybody was going to…" Words trailed off only to come upon an awkward finish. "Well, you know…"
Night had fallen. Shadows danced and soft glows warmed the stretch of canvas placed before one of the more disastrous holes in the walls. Where they were was silent, save for the small clinks from the stacking of dishes and the collection of silverware. With the last of the guests went the noise, and a comfortable stillness had settled within the "almost" household.
Months ago, the destruction that had taken place had left little options in terms of living space. The ruins of Yaschas Massif seemed to be the best option, though it was odd (and slightly creepy) to be taking up residence in what seemed to be a Pulsian ghost town. Paddra—or so the analects hinted at—had clearly seen better days. With time, the beasts and dweller Cie'ths had been eliminated and driven off, leaving the area suitable for living. Needless to say, threats were still faced on a daily basis—not to mention the people of Cocoon were still pretty rusty when it came to supplying for themselves—but at least they had somewhere to stay.
Wired lights crisscrossed from wall to wall, courtesy of the NORA faction. Small residences hugged the canyon walls while others—like this one—were nestled among the remains of the archaeopolis's architecture, placed high above the main floor where it was safer. Serah and Snow were a little ways off while Sazh and his son were by the canyon as he needed the space for tinkering with the machinery… and for the chocobo, too, of course.
With beaten stone walls and encroaching flora, the "house" was more of a temporary shelter than anything. Not that Lightning cared for what it was, Hope mused. Since she (and he) had occupied it, her set of words to describe it had always been more or less the same.
"It is what it is."
"It's your birthday," was her cool reply. You shouldn't have to feel guilty for it. The second piece of her response went unsaid, but he discerned it underneath the first. Even though the reinstated soldier still carried her air of mystery, with time, understanding her came to be a bit easier.
"Yeah," he muttered a bit lamely, slouching over the wooden table. The boy rested his head against the surface, recalling with a slight shudder how long it took to sandpaper the thing. "I'm just… It was just sort of tiring." With Snow and all…
The roofless structure allowed for natural starlight to come into the shelter. While it was still dim, he could spot the tiniest of smiles cross her features just before she turned around, dumping the used dishes into a makeshift sink. In her answer, she made clear her grasp of his insinuation to her now brother-in-law.
"Understandable," she said simply. With an irritating squeak, the faucet was on, spluttering an uneven stream of water. After a few minutes, she muttered a curse under her breath.
Hope lifted his head off the counter to look across the room, curious. "Cold again?"
"… Unfortunately." Another squeak and the faucet was off. Leaving the dishes behind, the young woman went back to the counter to tend to the party leftovers instead. As she stared fixedly at the remains of the plain birthday cake (for sugar was a rare commodity), she was visibly incensed, fingers drumming on the table lightly. Hope nearly smiled, amused at the situation in its entirety for he knew just how irritated she could be when small military slip-ups came like this.
He caught himself though.
"Want me to go tell them?"
The reinstated GC soldier looked up, momentarily jarred from (what he guessed to be) raging, violent thoughts. It only took seconds to compose herself, the anger dissipating to be replaced with a weary counterpart. Her answer was automatic.
"No," she replied. "The base is dangerous at night." Civilians took to the higher levels of the old ruins while the military occupied the last few tiers where much of the technical necessities were operated. PSICOM was still a bit shaken over the whole Cocoon incident, but they were pretty good at knowing how to get things done. If only they'd get the water right, Lightning added mentally, still irked.
"I can do it," Hope insisted, watching her rummage through the kitchen drawer. Apparently, his request had refocused her thoughts again, looking for a way to properly preserve the food.
"I'll go tomorrow." Hands slid the cake across the counter so that it sat in front of her.
He straightened up in his seat. "It won't take me that long…"
Despite her bout of aggravation, she gave a small smirk, though it was hidden in the curtain of her hair as she bent down, searching for the elusive saran wrap. "Still a kid," she commented, the slightest hint of amusement in her voice. Finding the box, she drew out a length of plastic, estimating its width against the cake remains so as to use as little as possible. Despite being out of uniform and in sweats and an old tank top, soldier girl returned, observing her duty with a bit too much seriousness—much more than what the task of wrapping cake required.
If she had been a little less focused, she would've picked up on the long beat of silence from her companion.
While Hope couldn't say he felt any different (the great leap in age had taken place back when he was still fourteen, really), he couldn't help but feel just a bit dejected. Perhaps he was less than a liability to her now, but her words made it clear that, in her eyes, he was still a child. And who could blame her, really? How could he be seen as an adult when he was still shorter in height? How could he be taken seriously when she still had to look down at him in terms of eyesight?
"I'm fifteen now," he grumped. "Fourteen was yesterday."
He would've liked some equal ground, though he didn't understand why it was so important that it had to be with her.
Lightning glanced up from her undertaking, arms still stretched out with the length of wrap. As she met the hardened determination in his eyes, a perplexed look crossed her face. But within moments it had vanished, features forming back into the Standard Lightning Expression she always wore. "Yes," she said finally, looking down as she set herself about wrapping the cake. "It was."
Hands smoothed down the wrapping as a hush settled between them. Soon, her motions stilled. Unconsciously, her eyes lifted to look up at the looming figure in the sky—Cocoon. Nearly a year. It occurred to her.
It occurred to him.
"Went by so fast." The young woman snapped back, glancing at him. Light came down upon him, revealing his posture. Hope, too, had been gazing at the hollowed shell Cocoon now was. Feeling her eyes on him, he connected his to hers and gave her a grin. "Time, I mean… You know…"
For a moment, they were entirely silent.
And then: "Your father—"
"Yeah." The smile faltered. They had yet to find his father amidst the influx of refugees, and for now he was staying with her. It wasn't too bad—not bad at all, but… "Well," he appended, "they're still evacuating, so…" Again he trailed off, and this time his eyes broke away.
Lightning was quiet, perhaps taking his motions in. The expression on her face was unreadable. "So don't grow up too fast," she said at last, finishing his thoughts, "or he'll miss all of it."
They remained that way: Her at the counter and him across the small room, back straight against the seat.
She was the first to move.
With a few strides, Lightning closed the distance between them. A hand lifted towards him, but paused erratically in the air for a moment as though she didn't know exactly what to do with it. At last she settled on ruffling his silver locks. Despite how Hope welcomed the contact, something in him sank. She was treating him… Like a kid, he thought. Still a—
The hand was removed.
Her words jarred him from his thoughts. "What?" he said stupidly.
The soldier heaved a sigh and crossed her arms over her chest, averting her gaze. "… The water. I need it."
It took a moment for him to register her words. Soon, the smile was back and his eyes lit up. "I'll be quick, honest!" he cried, adamant. "I promise!"
Lightning turned away, shifting uncomfortably. An unsettling feeling came over her as she registered the loud clacking of wood against wood. The chair met the table in almost an eager sort of sound, and she couldn't say she liked it. Just let him go, came her conscience. Let him go—
"Just be careful," she called back over her shoulder. "Don't go—"
Words were left hanging in midair as they came to a stop. Without turning around, she knew he was gone. A rare smile came upon her face: the third time that night, if that smirk could be counted among them. "Still a kid," she breathed, returning to clean-up duty at the counter.
Those smiles were coming up a lot more these days.
A/N: Amidst the mind-numbing button mashing, these two are what prompted me to continue playing to the very end. Needless to say, they've grown on me since (and the game, too… sort of). :) This was going to be a very long one-shot at first, but I thought it might flow better if it were split up in parts instead.
This is my first time writing (a longer?) Final Fantasy XIII piece, so I am welcome to criticism, especially if the characters seem OoC. I've also been RPing for too long and it shows. Sorry if everything seems blah at the moment; trying to get back into the swing of writing a story instead of a forum post. D;
WHOA caught that repeat mistake and edited. Thank you, BrightSpecks! :D