A/N: I always set myself the challenge that if I write about characters in a bizarre situation, I do so where they remain in canon. With an idea like this, it's very easy for it to fall victim to whatever a fanfic author might want to happen, rather than what the characters would really do. Thus we do not control the characters, but the characters control us. We study them and how they behave, and then we can only act on that to the best of our ability.
So I hope that I've pulled this off to which all Noerah fans and maybe non Noerah fans will enjoy. I dedicate this chapter to you and the many more who may happen to stumble across this story in the future, kupo!
Adam & Eve
Chapter 1 – Paradise
Time travel was once something Serah thought could only exist in the imagination of the human mind or the gods themselves. To have the ability to go back in time and change the past, it was what Serah had longed for more than once in her life; to stop her Dad dying on duty in the Guardian Corps, to save her mom from getting sick with that illness…to stop Lightning from disappearing. The wish to alter past events was like chasing the impossible. No matter how many times had Serah gone over things in her head, thinking of how they might've played out differently if she'd known what was going to happen...well, it didn't change anything. Time couldn't be controlled
And then in one night, that the unchangeable was changed when she met Noel; the young man who lived 700 years in her future. Soon, they'd been setting out on their journey through the many centuries, all in the company of a moogle named Mog, whom Serah thought could only be real in mythology. The thing was, their whole adventure had felt like jumble of myths and legends come to life, but none of it was a lie, it was all the truth.
Their quest to find Lightning had been a long road, filled with its highs and its lows. They had done so much together, things Serah was sure she would never forget in this lifetime or the next. But it was only a matter of time before they would draw near to the end of their journey, and finally, they did…or so they thought.
Within the gate they restored in Academia, they saw Valhalla, the place in which Lightning was waiting. Prepared for their final confrontation with Caius, they had said their farewells to Hope and Alyssa, and allowed themselves to be absorbed into the gate.
Serah remembered her first trip through the Historia Crux, how amazed she was by those magical crossroads both she, Noel and Mog levitated in, as if caught in the coils of a wind tunnel. Even though was no wind of such to hold them up, it was a strange feeling every time, as if they were flying without the need of wings. That excitement steadily worn down over Serah's many revisits there, that it became second nature to her. Even so, her and Noel couldn't resist the temptation of giving a twirl in the pathways they floated in every once and awhile. This time around however, they were more mindset on their quest than that of the thrills of defying gravity, believing that a battle would be awaiting the trio once they reached the other side.
Despite how smooth a trip through the Historia Crux was, exiting a gate was always the tricky part. The sudden change from zero gravity to gravity pulling them down as they were dropped out from the gate, it often made landing on ones feet a luck of the draw...for Serah anyway. Because although she tried to ready herself for it each time, often than not she would wind up falling over, while her partner would pull off his own landing perfectly with not a single hitch.
It seemed landing on her rear end had become a bad habit of Serah's, but Noel was always there to help her up, often with a witty comment in hand.
"Need some assistance Milady?"
The fact Noel found her clumsiness amusing embarrassed Serah. She wanted be courageous like Lightning, but her lack in balance made a mockery of herself, that on every tumble, Serah would have to pat herself off and quickly march ahead, before Noel could see the faint glow on her cheeks from embarrassment.
He always could tell of course; Noel wasn't one to be oblivious. They'd been traveling together for over three months, or maybe more. Time seemed impossible to keep track of anymore, but even so, that length of time, they had spent every day of it together, and it enabled Noel to be able to read her like a book. Serah never had to say a word, he would just always seem to know when something was bothering her simply by the how she carried herself, at least that's what he'd once told her with a crooked grin. Noel was great at analyzing people like that, which made her cumbersome act of falling over even more unbearable, because he knew it embarrassed her and he knew cracking jokes would make it worse. He always had been such a tease.
Still, what Serah wouldn't give to relive any one of those moments, anything, than to be experiencing this.
Always it was a sight to behold, how their bodies radiated with light on leaving a Time Gate. The sparkling afterglow of those translucent gold rays, rippling over their skin and clothes like the gentle currents of waters were mesmerizing, that when Serah wasn't being transfixed on their new surroundings, her breath would be stolen away by those few second wonders.
When Serah had fallen this time on leaving the gate, Noel on cue immediately went to pull her up, much hastier than usual in fear of the threat of Caius and the eternal battle that he and Lightning were locked into, to the death. But they had quickly realized this wasn't Valhalla. Instead they ended up in a different, but very much familiar world. And upon Noel's hand linking with hers, they had been made aware of another problem as his blue eyes went wide, and he froze.
It hadn't taken Serah long to figure out why. It was the touch of Noel's hand on hers that had given the inklings of warning. Too much warmth resonated from Noel's touch, because there was no leather separating her skin from his. Her gloves were missing, and as that heavenly golden light on their bodies dissipated into nothingness and the summer breeze hit their skin, so did they realize-
…their clothes were gone too.
Somehow on making the trip from the Historia Crux and into this time, every possession on them had failed materialize on the other side. To make matters worse, no Time Gates were anywhere to be seen, meaning they couldn't travel back to Academia, leaving the two in the worst predication Serah could ever imagine beside those to do with turning to crystal or the end of the world.
Today was not a good day.
She could tell what Noel was about to say, she'd heard it in the low sigh he'd made on his return from scouting the area to know it wasn't good news. They were in the vast forest of Sunleth Waterscape within the Riparian Corridor valley, and Serah knew off the top of her head that there was no civilization for miles. So really, there was only one thing they could do. Yet knowing this, Serah refused to move from where she sat down against of the trunks of the large trees surrounding them, the thought of budging from that spot filling her with fear.
Her shut eyes on Noel's approach, her arms wrapped tighter around the wriggling Mog, who was the only means available to conceal her nakedness from the young man. The poor moogle however was not enjoying the close proximity of her body one bit, nor having the life slowly squeezed out of him.
Old leaves mingled in the grass crunched under Noel's feet as he walked over, stopping short of her.
He took a deep breath. "Serah-"
"No!" she cried, furiously shaking her head, "No! No! No! NO!"
"We can't stay here," Noel told her, his tone surprisingly calm considering their little problem. "This place is overrun with monsters and we have little in means to defend ourselves. The longer we stick around, the more we run the risk of not getting out of here in one piece."
Just like the vanishing trick of their garments and belongings, so were Noel's weapons gone, even down to the hunting knife he kept strapped to his belt. They still had Mog who could transform into a bow or sword if Serah so chose, but Noel must've figured out she wasn't about to hand the Mog over right now, not without a fight.
"I'm not moving, Noel!" Serah said, holding moogle closer to her body as she huddled up further into a protective ball. "I c-can't…I can't do it!"
If it were Lightning here, she would've told her to stop being a crybaby and get on with it. Nudity certainly wasn't something to go losing a life over, or endangering others at that. Still it was surprising how much leeway Noel was giving her about all this, but Serah was sure that would eventually give out, along with his patience.
"Serah, I know this is hard for you, but we can't sit around and wait for help; nobody is going to come looking for us. The only ones who can bail us out of this, is us. We have to go, the sooner for the better don't you think?" Noel said to her with a sincerity that it made something stir within Serah's chest.
She bit down hard on her lip, trying to banish it.
"I know, b-but…"
Why did Noel have to make this sound like such an easy thing to do? It wasn't like Serah was used to being naked. She and Snow had only ever kissed; they'd never gone as far as the bedroom because in truth they hadn't been properly married. Like everything else in Serah's life, their marriage was put on hold after Lightning disappeared. Time moved on for everybody else, but she was stuck in limbo, waiting for the grains of sand to drop, because as far as Serah was concerned, she could never truly be happy, not without her sister. Snow, had known that too…
So while others in their small community fell in love, got married, had kids and shared their lives with their other half, Serah could only watch on in envy, sad she wasn't able to experience any of that happiness of raising a family, or the intimacy of love with her Hero. For this, it was why Serah wasn't used to the bareness of another's skin, and right now she was scared of at what she would see; scared of what Noel might see, if he hadn't seen enough of her already.
How much Serah wished this wasn't happen. She wanted to be in Valhalla with her sister, not here, or like this.
"You're afraid I'll look," Noel said. It wasn't a question.
With small audible whine, Serah gave a quick nod of her head.
"I see," Noel fell quiet for a while as he stayed pondering among his thoughts, before he asked, "If we work out a system, then will you go?"
This caused Serah to open her eyes, just barely catching a glimpse of Noel's toned legs before she forced them shut again, and she buried her reddening face onto the top of the Mog's head, his jewel antenna tickling her cheek. "S-System, what kind of system?"
"Well…" Noel shifted on the ground where he stood, taking some time to think it over some more. "How about this, wherever we go I'll walk ahead and you just follow. So long as you're behind me, I won't see anything. Sound good?"
Serah's heart thudded out of control against her ribs, making it difficult to consider anything. Whether she wanted to or not, she needed to think rationally about this. She couldn't remain here and leave Noel to do the grunt work of searching for the Time Gates by himself. He had already taken a big enough risk earlier when he'd left her alone. If the three wanted to survive, Serah didn't really have any other choice. They had to work together on this.
Not that this really made Serah feel any better.
"You promise, no peeking?"
Noel didn't falter for a second. "I swear on it."
Serah narrowed her lips, "Cross your heart?"
"And hope to die," finished Noel.
"Stick a needle in your eye?"
"Stick a need…that's a little extreme, isn't it?"
"Just say it!" Serah squirmed, hugging the frantic Mog tighter.
"Haha alright, okay. I solemnly swear to stick as many needles in my eyes as you so wish," Noel chuckled, exhaling a breath from his lungs. "Already pledged my life to you as it is; blinding myself needn't be much of a problem."
Despite how serious Serah wanted him to be, she couldn't help but crack a smile. Even during the darkest times on their journey, thinking positive was always Noel's strategy, whether for readying for an impending battle, or when dealing with issues of the past or present. Whether they were words of encouragement or Noel just being himself…he did help, more than he probably realized.
"You don't have to do that," Serah said a little less on edge. "All I'm asking is you don't stare, or I'll set NORA on you, and Snow, a-and Lightning!"
"There's no need to worry. I make promises, I don't break them." Noel said with an honesty striven into his vow. "As a hunter and future guardian you have my word."
Serah's vice hold around Mog loosened, much to moogle's relief, as some of the tension and anxiety cooped up inside her was dispelled from her muscles.
"Thank you," she said. Eyes still closed, Serah tilted her head in the young man's direction. "But Noel, what about you?"
"What about me?"
The confusion in his voice made Serah's face go hot again. "If you walk ahead, t-then I'll…"
She couldn't bring herself to finish, not in a million years. Fortunately it was her silence that finished for Noel what she could not. He got the message.
"I'm not a prude, I'll be fine," Noel said with such casualness she envied him for. Serah could almost hear the smile in his voice. "Just don't go getting too distracted by the scenery, we clear?"
Serah wasn't naïve, but it took her more time than need be to figure out Noel wasn't talking about the views in Sunleth Waterscape.
"Oh! Yes we're clear, I swear on it too!" she nodded, feeling Mog in her arms do the very same. "Kupo, kupo!"
"That's good," Noel spoke affirmatively and he approached her by a few steps, and a few steps alone. "So, shall we?"
Her breath held, Serah felt every one of her limbs lock in place and in that very second as she seized up. Her brain told her to move, but her body refused to budge an inch. Instead, she was huddling into a smaller more protective ball, still conflicted from within.
"I said you can trust me," Noel reassured her, flinching on hearing him move closer. "See? No eyes."
Cautiously Serah cracked one eyelid open, followed hesitantly by the other and her heart once again went rampant. Noel was knelt right in front of her and a whole lot nearer than she'd anticipated him to be; that it took her by surprise.
It wasn't like she hadn't seen him naked before. Serah had the misfortunate of that occurrence much earlier on, the day after the meteorite hit in New Bodhum. She had risen early that morning, having not gotten much sleep, since so much was on her mind from the night before. She thought a quick shower might help wake her up, but little did she know she wasn't the only one to be out of bed. Lebreau was already in the kitchen, preparing breakfast for the team who were still heard snoring fast asleep in their rooms, along with the familiar sound of-
'Is someone in the shower?'
'Oh, that was me. I must've forgotten to switch it off; sorry about that.' Lebreau had told her innocently, while getting the pots and pans out. "Why dontcha go on in? I'm sure it'll do you a whole load of good after all that fighting last night.'
Despite being somewhat suspicious of Lebreau's smile, Serah still feeling drowsy, had gone against her better judgment and continued on her way…and got one hell of a scare when she stepped into the bathroom, just as Noel was stepping out of the shower.
Serah had never run so fast from the NORA house, nor screamed so loud in her entire life.
What better way to start off her journey than seeing her recently acquainted companion in the nude, and then having to convinced Gadot afterwards that Noel hadn't been trying anything with her, just to get him to stop strangling the hunter draped in nothing else but a towel; although Noel sucker-punching him out cold seemed to have done the trick, not that Gadot would ever forgive him for it.
The situation they were in now was worse any misunderstandings, a hell of a lot worse. They were stuck in the middle of nowhere, stripped of their garments and everything on them and they had no answers as to why. Only time would tell if things would be alright again, and if the three of them would live long enough for a tomorrow. One thing was certain though, was that Serah didn't have to be afraid of Noel. He wasn't a creep or con artist as Gadot kept suspecting him to be; Serah had learnt that through their time together as they had eventually become friends that they were now.
After everything they'd endured, Noel respected her. So, even if she was afraid right now, Serah knew she trusted him enough not to go back on his word, just as much as she entrusted her life to him.
"No eyes," Serah repeated, looking up at Noel from where she sat on the grass. His head was turned away, with his gaze directed elsewhere. As promised he didn't goggle her like any other man might've if put in his place. She could see those pronounced blue irises of his moving, holding a focus on the forest he firmly maintained, and never once gazing upon her.
Noel's hand was held out, waiting for her to take it.
With some deep breaths, Serah plucked up the courage to move. Trembling she rested her hand on Noel's slightly larger unwavering one, a shiver to run down her spine by his fingers closing securely around her hand with the same comforting heat as before. And with little to no resistance at all, Serah allowed Noel to pull her up with him.
It was in the midst of this, Mog, upon realizing that only one arm held him captive, took the opportunity to escape and wriggled free of Serah's clutches before she could stop him.
"Mog, no! M-Mog!" she squeaked out helplessly as the moogle flew out of her reach. Yet despite her pleading, Mog stayed far away from her, fussily swing his clock staff around in the air.
"I am not a toy, kupo! I am not! I am not, kupo!" He exclaimed in his high pitched voice, continuing to rant on with many kupo's along the way. But Serah struggled to listen, because with the last of her cover gone, she suddenly felt more vulnerable than she already was.
If not for Noel's hand holding hers, keeping her there, she might've collapsed down on the grass again.
"Whoa now, easy there, Mog; that's being a bit brash considering things, isn't it?" the young man said as he interrupted the moogle, while pointing out an accusing finger. "Or were you, or were you not the one who said Serah was your favorite?"
Serah had almost forgotten that shy comment Mog had spoken back in the Bresha ruins, when they were unsure of what to do about Atlas who had loomed high above the ruins in the pouring rain. It felt like years ago now. In some ways with all this time hopping, it was.
Mog sunk lower in the air from where he floated, nervously twirling at the tiny gem on his staff. "Yes, kupo."
"Then why don't you play nice and cut her some slack?" Noel suggested, one corner of his mouth turning upwards. "Not every human is fine and dandy baring all as you are, Mog."
"Kupo..." the moogle's face became grave with sadness, and he had no sooner apologized to her, before drifting away from them like a disciplined child.
It wasn't his fault. The blame was all hers for reacting in the way that she had. If they ever got out of here alive, Serah was sure she would make it up to the little moogle.
Noel's hand gently tightened around hers, the tender act making her cheeks flush with heat once more.
"You okay?" he asked.
"Yeah, y-yeah I'm fine," Serah lied, fully aware her body was shaking uncontrollably. Her mind a jumbled mess, she covered her free arm awkwardly over her chest. "So um, where to?"
"Honestly? I don't have the answer to that, not just yet," Noel set his eyes on Mog, who was floating around the lush wilderness of the forest around them with incentive, "I'd say following our winged friend is our best bet for now, maybe see if he can track us down one of those gates"
"Okay," Serah followed his gaze, "And if, that doesn't work?"
Noel combed a hand through his hair, looking decisive. "Then we go where the flow takes us; we'll figure something out like we always do."
Serah couldn't help feeling uneasy by those words. Go where the flow takes them, it sounded like something Snow might've said if he was here. Serah tried to imagine him with her now, holding her hand like Noel was…and she felt the need to pull away, even though physically she couldn't. But she wanted him, she wanted Snow to be at her side.
Lying awake at night worrying about her hero in some far off land...the broken look in his eyes when...
No, she couldn't think about that right now.
"The flow," Serah echoed, digging her toes into the grass. "I can...I can do that."
"That's good," Noel said with a smile, and directed a thumb over out at the forest. "So how about the three of us make haste and go about finding ourselves a way out of here, agreed?"
Serah gingerly nodded making the effort to smile too, even if Noel couldn't see it.
"Yeah, let's get going…"
It was only after they set out together, walking through that beautiful wilderness of Sunleth, that Serah realized they were still holding each other's hand. She halted when she did, bringing Noel to a stop as well as she glanced silently up at him with uncertainty. Only when Serah slowly released her grip, did Noel at last let go too, the touch of his hand seeming to linger on hers, before it finally slipped away.
The whole thing happened without a single word exchanged, and they soon carried on walking again afterwards, with neither saying anything about it. But for sometime after, Serah still felt as if her hand was burning from where Noel held it, with the heavy weight of guilt in her chest burning alongside with it...