Hello again! This is an AU fic, if you hadn't noted it in the summary. It's more of...'if none of the l'cie stuff happened.' Main pairing, Hope/Lightning. Secondary pairing, Snow/Serah.

The rating might change, but I'm not sure yet.

Disclaimer - I do not own FFXIII, any of the characters, or any of the Final Fantasy franchise. Except for, y'know...merch. Enjoy!

This was ridiculous. "Worst birthday ever." Lightning sighed, turning away from her sister and now future brother-in-law.

"Come on, sis! Don't get mad at her." Snow said with an annoyed twang to his voice.

"I'm not your sister, and I'll get mad at whoever I damn well want." She slammed her hand down on the polished wood of the dining room table, shaking the glasses and serving dishes that resided on it. "You really think I wanted to hear that my sister's engaged to some moron on my 21st birthday? You really are a moron."

Snow stepped past Serah with a determined look in his eyes. "You're not giving us a chance, Light-"

"I won't allow it." Her voice was firm, and held a specific coldness to it.

"That's not fair, Lightning!"

"Get out of my house." The look in Lightning's eyes was so sharp, so piercing that it almost made Snow want to shy back as if in pain.

Snow scoffed; Lightning wasn't going to win this war. "…fine. Come on, Serah. Let's go tell NORA. At least they'll be happy for us."

Once they were out of the house, Lightning slammed her fist down on the table, almost smashing a beautifully wrapped box. …right. Her gift. She tore the ribbons off of the box, and slowly lifted the lid. "…how practical." She lifted the shining survival knife from its delicate place and inspected it. It was nice, she had to admit. But really, who in their right minds would tell someone something like that on their birthday? She flicked open the knife, and stared at her reflection in the blade. "…goddamnit!" She hurled the knife across the dining room until it hit the wall, leaving a nasty gash in the wallpaper as it slid to a halt in the wall.

-6 months later

"Claire, I need you to try this on." Serah held a beautiful dark blue dress out to Lightning, demanding that she try it on. "I've narrowed it down between this one, that black one, and the dark green one. Although, I like the black and blue ones better than the dark green one. Either of those two will match my dress a lot better, so…okay! It's between the black one and this blue one!"

Lightning glared at the dress, then shot that same glare to the store personnel working the dressing rooms that day. He was a poor soul indeed… She snatched the dress from her sister, and angrily stalked over to an empty room. Why isn't this moron doing his job? And just like that, he dashed over to the room, and unlocked it. He'd already received one black eye today from this woman, and he'd really prefer not to gain another.

She slammed the door to the dressing room, kicking it to make sure it was securely closed. …Or in pure frustration, rather. She had to admit that the dress was beautiful, though. Once the dress was successfully zipped up, she stepped out of the dressing room with the same scowl on her face.

"That's beautiful on you, Claire! It'd look better if you weren't scowling, though…" After thinking for a moment or two, Serah smiled and clapped her hands together. "Alright! We'll go with the blue dresses for the bridesmaids! And…Claire, since you're the maid-of-honor, you'll have a different bouquet than Fang, Vanille, and Lebreau."

Lightning simply shrugged. She didn't particularly care who else was a bridesmaid and what they were wearing. Heck, the only one she actually knew was Lebreau. One that note, she hardly knew less than half the people on the guest list. She didn't care, either. She'd given up on the battle against the engaged couple long ago; she knew she wasn't going to keep them apart no matter how hard she tried. "Are we done here?"

After a confirming nod from Serah, Lightning retreated back to the dressing room. She wanted to hurry up and get the hell out of there. …not that she had anywhere to go, of course. She figured she would retreat to her favorite café, and read the newest book from her favorite author. She'd found the café only two days after her birthday six months prior. Apparently it had been across the street from her workplace for three years, but she never seemed to notice it. It was a dull job, to say the least. She had almost immediately found work in a pharmaceutical distributing office after Serah had practically begged her to retire from the Guardian Corps. She had gone from a promotion she'd worked so hard to get to being a secretary. She hated every day of it. She wasn't too good at it, either. Almost every client who would call wishing to speak with her boss became instantly terrified by the voice on the other end. She was honestly surprised that she hadn't been fired yet.

Once ready to brave the harsh winter weather that awaited her, she swiftly left the dressmakers' shop and headed to the comfort of the café.

-4 months later

Lightning growled at whatever was shaking her awake, hoping that her warning would scare the offender away. After a few moments of silence, she snuggled further into the blankets in a sleepy victory. This, however, did not last long. The shaking returned full-force, along with her blankets being ripped off of her. She (very angrily) raised a fist at the opposing force, and swung blindly at whoever it was that thought this was a good idea. When she hit nothing but air, she cracked her eyes open, and glared at the offender, who appeared to be afraid (as he should), and…embarrassed. Why should this idiot be embarrassed?

…The realization seemed to hit her like a ton of bricks. The weather had grown surprisingly hot in Bodhum, despite the usual cool springs that the locale usually experienced. And due to the lack of any heat relief mechanisms in her temporary room, she chose to wear…less than she usually wore at night. She wore a tight, formfitting ivory nightgown that barely even reached her thighs. The straps were hardly visible, while the bodice lacked much coverage at all. Normally, to come across a woman of such beauty in such little clothing first thing in the morning would be a blessing; however, this was neither the beautiful woman of his dreams, nor was it the best day to find such a thing.

Regardless of how embarrassed she might have felt, she stood from her bed with a purpose, and left Snow a perfectly fist-shaped bruise on his left cheek. He would just have to deal with a bruised face in all of his wedding photos.

The wedding was truly stunning. It was an outdoor spring wedding set in the center of beautifully flowering almond and apple trees in a well-known park in Bodhum. The reception was beautiful as well, if not somewhat classy. It was set in a grand ballroom, with tables surrounding the dance floor. The first dances were done and over with, as now was the time for the newly married couple to mingle amongst friends.

Lightning sighed as she twirled the half-empty glass of dark red liquid in countless circles by the glass's stem. She hardly knew anyone that was here, which caused her to feel a little…socially awkward, if nothing else. The people she did know were either out dancing on the floor, or catching up with old friends. What did Serah expect her to do? Did she seriously think that Lightning would willingly party among strangers? She sighed once more, and downed the rest of the dark alcoholic beverage. This was frustrating…

Out of the corner of her eye, she spotted someone take a seat next to her. She only glanced at him briefly, casting his presence aside when she failed to recognize him.

"You must be Lightning, right? Serah's sister?" The man frowned when he received no answer. "…alright. Well, I guess she was right when she said you weren't very social…" To this, he received a glare. "No need to get angry..I'm Hope Estheim."


"I run the book club your sister goes to every couple of weeks. She said you really like to read… Why don't you join us sometime?"

"I don't like being recruited, thanks." Apparently this…Hope guy didn't seem to be affected be her outward coldness…

"Oh, no, that's not what I meant at all." He raised a hand in defense, thinking that it would help. "I just mentioned it because Serah always seems to be taking books back for you to read…" He placed a card on the empty space of the table in front of her, containing the place and time that they met. "Anyway…I assume you were the one that gave Snow that poorly concealed bruise? I don't blame you… He's kind of annoying sometimes…"

"…sometimes?" At last, there was someone who shared her disinterest! "The first time I met him I put him in the hospital for a few days.."

This…scared Hope a little. "Yeah? How come?"

"Serah introduced me to him as her 'boyfriend.' Ever since then, I've raised his medical bills more than the common cancer patients'."

"…wow. Seems a little harsh. But I'm sure I'd do the same if I had a younger sister… You, uh…"

"What?" She hadn't intended for her voice to come out so harsh; she supposed it was just instinct.

"You, uh…you look beautiful tonight… Stunning, even.. Serah's showed me a picture or two of you before, but I never thought you'd be this gorgeous… The pictures certainly don't do you justice…" A light twinge of pink rose to his cheeks as he spoke. He considered himself brave for complimenting such a temperamental woman, based on what he'd heard from Serah and Snow.

It took a few minutes for the words Hope spoke to set in. When they did, she raised her fist, ready to attack. A warm red color had risen from her cheeks all the way to the tips of her ears as she swung. However, she found her fist being halted by a strong, yet careful hand. Had he…stopped her? Her confused eyes stared at his humored expression. Why was he…laughing?

"Haha…Serah warned me about that, too…at first I didn't believe her, but I guess she was right." He gave her a smile, refusing to let go of her hand. "I didn't upset you, did I..?"

Any anger that she might have contained was drained away from her almost instantly. Why did this guy…what was up with him? It was like he could read her every move or something. And…he still held onto her hand. Why did he do that? She turned her head away from him, immediately finding her empty wine glass very interesting. "No…you didn't.."

Hope gently uncurled her hand, carefully massaging her hand as he did so. This seemed to relax her a bit… "Let's try this again." He brought her hand up to his mouth, and placed a delicate kiss on the top of her hand. "I'm Hope Estheim. It's a pleasure to meet you, Miss Farron."

He was so…sweet. She didn't quite know how to react. Her normal reactions just wouldn't kick in. It was like her normal reflexes ceased to exist. All she could seem to do was stare down at him in confusion. She wanted to say something. Anything would do, but the words failed to come to her. When she was finally able to force some words out, it was certainly not what she was expecting. "…It's…nice to meet you too, Hope Estheim."

He could tell her own words shocked her. He delicately placed her hand in her lap to join its match. "Please, call me Hope." He stood from his place at the table, and gave her a disappointed smile. "As unfortunate as it is, I'm afraid I have to leave early. I've got lots of work to finish before tomorrow… Well…it was a pleasure meeting you, Lightning. I hope to see you next time the book club meets up."

She couldn't figure out just what had gotten into her, or why she reached out to him when she did. "Wait!"

Hope paused mid-step, feeling her tug on the sleeve of his jacket. "Yes?"

Lightning couldn't think in that one moment. His eyes…they were… "Beautiful…"


She immediately released the hem of his sleeve, and slapped a hand over her deeply reddening face. "N-nothing! It..it was nice meeting you too, Hope.."

She couldn't understand it. Why did that smile make her feel so…open? She felt like he could see right through her, right down to her very core. She wasn't sure if she liked it or not…but...that smile… She couldn't get it out of her mind as she watched him depart, wishing the newlyweds well before he left. Lightning almost felt…lonely now. Her gaze drifted back to the table after he finally left, and spotted the card he left for her. It was nothing fancy, just an index card with the time and place.

Not sure if you liked reading it, but I had fun writing it! The next chapter will come soon, I promise! Comments are welcome, flamming is not! ^_^