Disclaimer: I don't own FFXIII-2 or FFXIII. That honor belongs to Square Enix.
Pairing(s): Hope/Lightning (can be understood as one-sided), vague allusions to Alyssa/Hope (definitely one-sided)
Summary: In a world without Lightning, Hope dreams the same dream. Sometimes, the barest of comforts may be found in inevitability.
Author's Note: Not beta-read. This was written in about an hour following a 14-hour rampage on FFXIII-2. I realized that I really dislike Alyssa's character, in part because of how selfish she is. When she asked about when Cocoon would fall, she was relieved the answer wasn't soon. She spared no thought as to the fates of those who would come after her. The more I reflected on her character and her interactions with Hope, the more I realized she could be the exact opposite of Lightning. And then I got to thinking about how Hope would view them, what he thought the entire time he was Director. Feel free to leave reviews! I'd appreciate any feedback and comments, even if they're disagreements. Please note though that I'm not trying to stir up any drama over shipping wars. I simply don't like Alyssa's character, and this dislike holds true regardless of my shipping preferences for Hope. As a matter of fact, I don't usually ship anyone with anyone else in FFXIII or FFXIII-2.
The thing is, the thing is, Hope Estheim is not a boy, man, child who forgets past sorrows. He bears them quietly at first on frail, shaking shoulders and then later, on broader shoulders that still shake when there is no one to see, to know, when there is no one around for miles and miles.
The thing is, Hope has never forgotten the face of his mother as she fell into that abyss, her hair framing her face lovingly, her body twisted in ways that were grotesquely beautiful. Nor has he forgotten Fang's fierceness, the sound of her accent curving sharply on words that never knew falsity, or Vanille's cheery visage, always smiling, always laughing, even when he knew no one could ever truly be that happy.
Perhaps, above all, he has never been able to forget Lightning. Lightning who found him weak and wanting, who never minced words, never ceased to chastise him for being too childish. Lightening, who despite her coldness and cruel words, never left him behind. When he clenches his hands now, he can remember the feel of her knife in his palm—cool and steady, echoing the presence of its wielder. That knife had been the only thing she had left behind. He had given it to Serah reluctantly, half wanting to keep it for himself. But Lightning had loved Serah the most out of everyone, loved her more than anything else in the world, and Hope had thought she would have wanted Serah to keep the knife.
When he had handed it over, he had felt so lost. He had felt like he was standing on the edge of the abyss his mother had fallen into, seeing nothing but darkness. And when Serah had knelt to the floor, hands curled into fists, the blade gleaming from the gaps in her grip, Hope had felt that same pressing urge. He, too, had wanted to sink to the floor and curse the beauty around them. A victory march turned funeral. But he had stood instead, hands swinging loosely by his side and he had thought—he had thought in a state half-dreaming, half-mad, I will find her.
So many years later, he is still dreaming that same dream. For ten years, he had been the only one left. The others had disappeared, gone the same way Lightning had vanished, leaving only the barest of whispers behind. He, alone, remained. Always the survivor. There are days when Hope thinks the burden of that survival will crush him with its weight. He is blindly searching for something and there will always be a voice inside him saying that there is nothing to be found, that everyone else is right. She is dead. She is beyond his reach. She has always been beyond his reach.
The day they find the Oracle Drives, he tries so hard to appear the aloof Director. He says nothing when the image of Lightning appears, sword in hand and focused as ever. The sight of her face is so familiar and so comforting that his knees almost give out from under him. He doesn't fall, but it's a close thing. He stumbles, and Alyssa rushes to catch him. He waves her aside. The rest of the research team falls to the side of his vision like so many gray figures. For a moment, he thinks the only real person in Paddra is Lightning. Grainy as the image is, washed out as it is, she lives in a way that Hope has not lived in years.
She is more than he is. She, who hasn't even been alive in this world. For all that Hope has done to research and fight for answers, he feels like an empty husk in comparison. She burns. Fire bright. His hand clenches invisibly around a knife that he no longer has.
That night, Alyssa comes to him as she has for so many months before. Always with that same request. "Director, won't you eat with me?" As if she isn't transparent, as if he hasn't seen right through her. He knows what she wants. He knows she thinks they can bond over survivor's guilt. It is common knowledge that the Director escaped the Purge alive. She is lonely and she thinks he is lonely and she imagines something will come of it.
Hope is lonely, but it is not a loneliness that can be filled by false affections and illusions of domesticity. He does not want Alyssa and the companionship she promises. He does not want her arms around his waist or her coquettish smile. He wants to be with the only group of people who ever loved him, ever accepted him. He wants to be surrounded by Vanille and Fang. He wants to be by Lightning's side, gazing at her in awe and deference.
He wants them back, and the ache only strengthens with each image of Lightning he comes across in the Oracle Drives. They always show her in battle, riding on Odin or surrounded by beasts that obey her every command. She never smiles. Her face is always weary and desperate. When he dreams, he dreams of Cocoon shattering into fine crystal dust. He dreams of seeing his reflection in the cracks of Vanille and Fang. Sometimes, he dreams Cocoon falls on him, and as he breathes in the crystals and the shards pierce his lungs and throat, he sees Lightening lose, her gunblade knocked aside.
In those dreams (nightmares), he always dies before he can see her die. Small mercies.
Sometimes, he lies awake at night and thinks of what he would say to her if they ever meet again. Words like, 'I missed you' and 'I never stopped believing you were alive' seem so contrived, so hollow. He wonders how she will respond to him, whether she will be as grudgingly affectionate as before, or whether her eyes will be too world-weary to see him. He fears that he might be to her what Alyssa is to him—a shadow, a non-entity.
The day Serah appears with the strange man called Noel by her side, he thinks for a wildly delusional second that she is Lightning. He reaches for her hands without a second thought, cradles them carefully in his own. Their faces blend—Lightning, Serah. When he comes to his senses, it is only because Serah's face is ultimately too gentle, too kind to be Lightning's. He drops her hands as if burned, and turns away when her surprise gives way to an almost knowing look.
So many years, and yet this part of him will never change. It doesn't matter how many alternate paths Serah and Noel will create, how many futures they will spin together—this part of him will never be able to change.
There will always be Alyssa. Rumors abound. People talk. The Director and his right-hand woman. But Hope looks at Alyssa, and he sees only someone inherently selfish, someone who fears death and will never be able to fight against it. He sees white, picket fences and monotony that will burn whatever is left of him into ash. There are days when he wants to ask her if she thinks she can truly compare—to Vanille, to Serah, to Fang, to his mother, to Lightning, to any of the women in his life. They who never feared death, and only feared not choosing to fight and letting others die in their stead.
He never asks her. She never stops asking about "that woman" in the Oracle Drives.
In the moment before his death, when everything he has created for Lightning and Cocoon betrays him, Hope does not go without fighting. He raises Nue and attacks tirelessly until it is ripped away from him, seconds before a metal arm cuts his throat.
This is not a future where he sees Lightning, he knows. But as he dies, breathes in his last, gurgling breaths, he takes comfort in the knowledge that this future, this life, is a false one.
When time rewinds itself, he will not remember this moment. He will not live this moment. But he will still be Hope, and he will still dream the same dream—that of meeting Lightning again.
The thing is, the thing is, Hope Estheim is not a boy, man, child who forgets how to love.