Time passes slowly when you have nothing to do. Lightning Farron found this out the hard way.
After the fall of Cocoon, the remnants of the government took over care of the citizens and most of the work of establishing new cities and towns on the world of Gran Pulse went to the military. Even Snow's ragtag group NORA was taking part in the building efforts, planning to recreate was much of Bodhum as possible at a lake near the fall site. The idea seemed good, but Lightning questioned it practicality. Her sister, Serah, had convinced her otherwise, which was an easy task for the younger Farron. Lightning had a soft spot for her sister, though she was loathe to admit it to anyone, which was part of the reason why she had consented to Serah marriage to Snow so soon after her awakening. She agreed, though, only on the condition that everyone Serah planned to invite was available. And, knowing Serah, she planned to invite everyone.
"Lightning, I'd feel bad if I forgot anyone," Serah had explained when she'd shown her sister her list. "I want everyone who helped both of you to be there."
Lightning did her best not to mention that half the people who had helped their misfit bunch of l'Cie were dead, knowing the thought would upset Serah more. The thought alone pained Lightning herself, thinking of the people who wouldn't be there. Vanille and Fang, the two who most deserved to be present, were sealed up in the crystal pillar supporting Cocoon, having sacrificed themselves to save everyone else from the impending crash into the planet below. No one else knew of their sacrifice, which saddened Lightning even more. Twice they had become Ragnarok, the monster of destruction, and twice they had chosen to spare the people of Cocoon rather than leave them to oblivion.
The thought kept Lightning awake at night, leaving her restless and irritated in the morning. That on top of all the idle time she had, put her in a worse mood than she'd even been in. No one needed her help, not the military or NORA (not that she wanted to help them) or anyone. Even Serah was too busy to spend much time with her. Lightning spent most of her days wandering the surrounding areas, hunting animals or gathering plants for food. Fang had taught her what to avoid when they had last been on Pulse, so no one had gotten sick from any of her spoils. Serah had adapted to the odd materials quickly and had prepared, even from the first day, delicious meals.
The rebuilding efforts took a long time, even with the tools that had been salvaged from Cocoon. There were few who were willing to go back there, so foraging was scarce, meaning that trips to get materials were undermanned and long. 'New Bodhum', as Snow affectionately called his little town, had progressed the farthest, with fully-functioning public buildings and a few houses. As NORA ran the town and many of the Cocoon citizens still saw NORA as a bunch of rebel rousers, the town was inhabited by those who were considered Snow's friends. Sazh and his son, Dajh, lived on one of the houses, Lightning and Serah lived in another, and most of NORA lived in a third. Hope lived with his father in one of the larger, unfinished cities, but he often spent time in New Bodhum, the NORA members taking a fast liking to him when they learned why Snow had such an easygoing relationship with him.
Hope's father, Bartholomew, constantly apologized, as if he was foisting his son on them instead of making sure he wasn't alone when the official was working for days on end. The new government that Bartholomew was helping to found, the Academy, was taking up a lot of time. He had told Lightning once that he regretted at times his decision to work on it, knowing that he was only continuing to tear the rift between him and his son.
Lightning never saw much of Hope, too wrapped up in her hunting to see him. Nothing in their daily lives brought them together, and she realized that she missed him, wondering how he was doing. It surprised her when, on typically boring morning, she found him lying on the beach, the small stretch of sandy ground between the town and the lake. His hair was a ruffled mess and his bare arms were covered haphazardly in bandages. He was breathing heavily, and didn't notice her approach.
"What are you doing?" she asked, cringing that her words came out stricter than she had intended.
Hope was startled, his breath catching for a moment as he pulled himself together and sat up, confusion on his face for a second before he spotted her, smiling. "Hi Light."
She looked down at him, hand on her hip. "What happened to you?"
"Oh, this?" He raised his arm too look at it. "It's… a bit of a long story."
"I have time."
He hesitated. "You… won't get mad, will you?"
"I won't," she answered, wondering what he could have been doing that would make her mad at him, or that he thought would make her mad.
"I've been practicing… magic."
"I know we lost that when we stopped being l'Cie, but Vanille told me when we were in Oerba that before the war, there were people who could actually use magic without being l'Cie. I wanted to try it out."
"And the bandages?"
"I was trying to use healing magic, but it didn't work out too well. I can get it to work a little, but not enough to fully heal."
"You've been cutting yourself?" She felt anger rising within her, but she kept it out of her voice, controlling herself. It bothered her that he would risk himself in such a silly venture.
"Not much," he replied quickly, "so don't get angry. I stopped when my dad found out, so I'm just wearing these until they heal. I figured I'd practice attack magic instead, but I don't think anyone would be happy if I burnt down the house, so I' m trying to cast a fire spell out over the lake."
Hope chuckled. "Get me a log and I'll bring you a torch in an hour or two."
She cracked a half-smile, pleased by his miniscule progress and his humor. She was actually surprised that he had managed it, but part of her knew that she wasn't fully surprised by this. His father had told her that Hope had become very curious and had developed a deep love for knowledge. There was so much potential that some of the other scientists of the Academy were constantly suggesting that Hope be integrated into an investigation, though Bartholomew's stance was clearly against it.
Beside her, Hope stood up, stretching out his spine with a grunt. "I don't think I'll be making any more progress today."
"Any plans for the day?"
"Not that I know of… Why do you ask?"
She stood up as well, tapping the handle of her gunblade with the heel of her palm.
Without having to say a word, Hope picking up on her message and nodded in consent. The two set off out of the town into the wilds, leaving the beach behind to clamber over rocky ridges into the tress and grasses that had been untouched in the building of the town. Lightning had thought she would need to slow down, but Hope kept up with her fine, using the open spaces to close the gap between them.
The walk took over an hour and Hope was nearly out of breath by the time Lightning pulled to a stop, her boots firmly placed on the rocks. Below her, the cliff dropped off sharply, the ground below covered in deep shadows that hid something even she dared not discover.
"We won't be getting across here," she mumbled, seeing the other side fifty feet away. She hadn't brought her Grav-Con Unit with her, having never seen the need, and even if she had brought it, it only worked for one person.
Hope looked tentatively over the edge. "Never knew this was here…"
"Now we know. Best to head back and work in another direction."
They turned around and started heading back, but Hope stopped. "Light?"
"Why did bring me out here? You wouldn't have come this way if it wasn't for me."
Lightning paused, thinking it over. Why had she brought Hope with her? True, she hadn't spoken to him in a while, but for her, usually a short conversation was enough. Had she been testing? She felt like she was, but testing him for what? If he still retained his fighting skills? If he could keep up with her? He had asked a valid question, but she wasn't sure she could answer it.
A sound caught her attention and she drew her weapon, flicking the blade out and turning towards the trees, where she thought she had heard it. Behind her, Hope drew his boomerang and took another step back, ready to engage whatever-it-was from a distance. Neither of them expected a Behemoth King to come charging out of the brush at them. Lightning dodged out of the way just in time, but Hope's opportunity to move was cut off as it snapped its teeth into his side and dragged him over the side of the cliff.
"Hope!" Lightning picked herself up and ran to the cliff side, seeing the large beast plow its way along the shadows, hearing Hope's cry of pain with every jostling tread of its feet. She sprang off along the cliff after them, running as fast as her body could carry her, her muscles burning and her legs sore, pushing herself to keep up with the creature.
The land gradually sloped upwards, granting Lightning a chance to jump down into the valley, right on the creature's tail. She could see blood dotting the grass, trampled underfoot, making her already beating heart beat faster. 'Hope won't last much longer if this keeps up,' Lightning realized, her mind racing to find a way to stop it, and soon.
Her prayers were answered as the land sloped back down suddenly and the cliffs ended, closing the creature in. Lightning attacked, jumping onto it back and slicing into its hide. It dropped Hope, causing him to let out as gasp of pain as he hit the ground. She jumped off and shot it as it turned, landing on the ground and shooting it again. She had never had to fight one on her own, but she wasn't running away.
It charged at her and she rolled to the side, slicing up through its leg. It roared and turned to snap at her, but she shot it in the mouth and hopped away as it howled in pain. It took a swipe at her and she backed against the wall. She jumped over it second swipe and landed on its back, stabbing her blade into the hide near its spine. The Behemoth bucked and twisted, but Lightning had pushed the blade in deep and her hold was firm. Finally, it pitched upwards, throwing Lightning back into the air, her grip unprepared. Her gunblade remained in its back and she landed on her back, momentarily stunned as it turned to her on hind legs and pulled the massive spiked blade from its back, stepping towards her.
Suddenly, a giant orange light flared from behind the creature and it turned slightly, just enough for Lightning to see Hope leaning against the rocky wall for support, the residue from the magical fire sparking around his hands. The Behemoth King turn and stepped towards Hope, but Lightning sprung out and grabbed her gunblade, twisting it and ripping it out to cause the most damage possible. It howled and turned back, swiping at her, but she dodged under it as the blade swung up, thrown off kilter by another fireball to the back. She hopped up and slashed it across the face, another deep blow, spilling lots of its blood in sharp trails along the ground as it roared and swung its blade around in a frenzy. Lightning dropped back and shot it once more, aiming for its head wounds, and it collapsed on the ground, unmoving.
Hope let out a sigh and dropped down against the wall, grimacing in pain, holding his side. Lightning jumped over the felled Behemoth and ran to his side. She could see the tears in his shirt, the bloodstain covering most of his chest and spreading down his legs. Dropping down, she pulled off her white vest and yanked his hand away from the wound, pressing the waded-up piece of clothing to his side.
"Hold this here," she instructed sternly, pushing his bloody hand against the fabric. "Keep the pressure on it."
The moment she moved her hand, though, Hope did the same. "Light-"
"Hold it!" She pushed his hand back. "I'm going to get help."
"Stop arguing with me and do it."
Lightning stopped, looking up in surprise to meet Hope's eyes. They were clear, concentrated, calm, not even a slight sense of panic on his face. This brought her up short, unable to break the eye contact between them, something striking about his composure that held her back.
Hope was the one who broke contact, looking down at her hands on his. "I'm fine, Light. Look." Slicing her hands off, he lifted the edge of his bloody shirt, showing her the bare skin of his side, wet with semi-wiped blood, a curved row of white scars where his skin had torn. "I healed it," he said simply, as if it answered all her concerns.
She stared for a moment before her eyes met his again and he smiled slightly, only touching the edges of his mouth in a hesitant, curious way. "You're not mad, are you?"
Lightning, to her own surprise, smiled and laughed. "You always think I'll be mad at you. I'm just glad you're okay."
"'Alive' would work better. I'd hardly say I'm 'okay'," he said, trying to stand up. He grimaced in pain and dropped back down, clutching his side. "I stopped the bleeding, but I think some bones are still broken."
"Then we'll get you back to town." Lightning helped him to his feet and they clambered over the felled Behemoth King. "But tell me one thing."
"What is it, Light?"
"How do you know my name?"
"Barthandelus said it when he was disguised as Serah, remember? I asked her about it afterwards and she told me."
"Hmm…" was her only response, mentally noting that she would talk to Serah about it later.
"What about the Behemoth?"
Lightning smiled. "I'll send someone to drag it back. We'll have Behemoth steaks for dinner."
"As long as you're not cooking them, it sounds good."