this story consists of five chapters that will tie into the plot of XIII-2 as much as possible. within will also be major BL of the Noehopu variety, though if the rating will be bumped, it won't be for several parts yet. if you can't stand the pairing, you probably shouldn't read.
also this will be my first honest attempt at finishing a multi-chapter work. if i fall behind in updating, feel free to curse me out in PMs to get me back on track.
no, i'm serious.
without further ado, enjoy!
"Director of Academy Research, Team Alpha. Hope Estheim, at your service. And you, you must be Noel."
Tanned and calloused hands, crisscrossed with the pale white of scars and the dark rope of tribal twine, rested upon the metal railing, grown chill in the perpetual darkness. Even if not for the monstrous fal'Cie hanging far in the sky above Paddra, the ruined stones around him would still have been pockmarked with the shadows of midnight. The eclipse might have been in full force, but humans still had their own biological clocks to punch, as the emptiness and lack of sound told the hunter.
"Perhaps it's not the recording that's broken… it's the immediate spacetime in which we are located."
It was a bit like he could see the glimmering light of the gate just out of the corner of his vision, or feel it pulling him towards their next objective regardless of his want for a break, but he'd sooner go toe-to-toe with a Behemoth, alone and weaponless, than voice those thoughts to Serah. His time-travelling companion had seen little to no opportunity to truly rest since they'd left New Bodhum, and he'd be damned if he would interrupt that. Somehow she had made it this far with nary a complaint, even considering the few and fitful hours of sleep they had gleaned in the Academy bunks in Bresha.
Sometimes Noel wondered if her will was simply stronger than his. All things considered, Serah had less of a stake in all of this than he did - she could return home and live out her days in relative safety and happiness, even without her fiancé and sister. It wasn't the events of her history they sought to alter. The soil of her life was rich and verdant; his, his was as white as bone, shifting sands and towering mountains devoid of hope.
And yet - and yet, were either of them to falter and stumble in their conviction, he knew in his heart of hearts it would be himself first.
Though jarred from his spiraling thoughts, the seasoned hunter didn't jolt unduly as he turned, darkened cerulean eyes flickering up from his knuckles. It wasn't so much the approach of another person that surprised him, despite the time, as it was the recognition of who it was joining him at the scaffolding's highest peak. A quick glance took in an Academy uniform, broad shoulders, and New Bodhum's ocean sealed in bright eyes.
"Hope." The brunette man nodded in polite greeting. He chose not to pursue further conversation; instead, he turned to gaze out over the ruins of the city, feeling a silent but palpable connection to the stones beneath him.
Yeul... I wonder if this happening was something you had seen. Did you know I'd end up here? Is that why you smiled?
The research director seemed content to keep Noel company by quietly approaching the railing some distance away, rather than leave well enough alone. But then, he couldn't know of the teen's aversion to people – he had only just gotten used to Serah, really, stopped shying away in trepidation when she approached. Such caution was born of loneliness and isolation.
Everyone but Yeul and Caius looked unfamiliar; alien.
"You know a great deal concerning the Farseers," Hope stated suddenly, shattering the almost-companionable silence with a veiled query.
A bolt of unease shot through the hunter as he twisted. "Yeah?" he responded calmly, feigning comfort as he rested his full weight backwards upon the railing, arms folded (as if to separate himself from it all).
Undaunted, the silver-haired man regarded him with an odd look – searching, as if trying to discern something about the brunette merely from observation. There was something eerily methodical about his interest, but at a glimpse of honest curiosity, Noel shifted with disquiet.
Offhand, he noticed that the scientist's eyes reminded him of Yeul's, but possessed a steely sort of detachment – almost like Caius. And he shivered, and thought to himself that he ought to stop floundering in futile memories of the past.
The advent of Hope turning away, his eyes instead dropping to examine the backs of his metal-plated gloves, instilled a sort of melancholy bittersweet taste in the native Pulsian's mouth. Pushing it off, he fiddled with the edge of the leather vambrace on his left arm, eyeing a cleft in the tanned behemoth skin that hadn't been there before.
"I'm glad Serah knows someone like you."
"Why do you say that?" The comment caught him somewhat off-guard, eyebrows reflexively jumping as he regarded the statement at face value. He wasn't sure, yet, how he felt about this conversation – both talking to this stranger (which was what Hope was, despite his and Serah's friendliness, despite their owing him one, even despite his familiar eyes) and being in this place, this desolate relic of his forgotten people, here where he could almost feel the weight of his ancestors pushing down on him and trying to consume him, coveting life –
Stop being superstitious and snap out of it, he told himself firmly. Whatever ghosts of the past may have lingered after the civil war, none could harm him now.
And oh, he realized after a moment, Hope had begun to answer his defensive question.
"-ow gone, that is," he was saying. "Serah's the kind that always needs someone. I remember Lightning was the exact opposite." A fond sort of half-smile quirked the corner of his lips, and Noel dipped his head in agreement. He had noticed that much from his brief meeting with the woman.
"And Serah, she trusts you." Seemingly uncomfortable with the direction he'd taken, apparently not having wanted to pursue this topic of conversation, Hope's gaze fixed intently on the ground beneath them. "That's proof enough. That you're a good person, I mean."
Not quite sure what to make of that – a thoughtful downturn to his bottom lip, and his questioning eyes lingering on silver hair for a few moments before looking up at Fenrir hanging in the night sky – Noel took the statement firmly to heart. "Thanks," he said, the one word conveying his complete gratitude expertly.
Even if he doesn't know me at all.
The unusual pair fell silent for a time. Content to maroon themselves in their individual thoughts, they struck a strange image indeed – men of complete opposites, one a healthy wild tan and the other as pale as the winter sun, enjoying the companionship of tacet understanding.
But then Noel sat. Though "sat" was too vague a term – really he sank to the metal panel beneath his sandaled feet with a sigh, folding his arms over his knees and leaning back against a rounded post. At the stirring, Hope looked over with some wry amusement.
"You should get some rest," he remarked once Noel had made himself comfortable. "You'll have a long day ahead of you tomorrow, I think. After all, if paradoxes were easy to solve, we would have done it ourselves." Though upon the last phrase, he frowned. "You do the Academy a great service by offering to lend a hand. I hate to concede that we can't do it, but, well... we can't."
"Not a problem," Noel replied, somewhat muffled by the vague tint of tiredness creeping into his voice. "Serah wants to help, so we'll help. And somehow, I feel like it's something we should do." The hunter snorted. "We ought to call ourselves the paradox brigade. Seeing as taking care of Atlas for Alyssa back then ended up being our job."
Hope's lips twitched. "Fitting." But he made no response, as if... as if encouraging a reply to the first unstated question.
After a long moment, Noel shook his head. "Can't sleep," he confessed. Against his better judgment, he awaited a reprimand –
"Rest whenever the opportunity arises," the violet-haired man says firmly, tapping a seven-year-old Noel's forehead for emphasis. "There may not be another. You'll learn that quickly."
"Fool!" Caius hisses, nearly baring his teeth at Noel, aged twelve, crouching protectively over a prone Yeul – only ten. The boy stares up into the face of doom, eyes watering, and he brushes the unshed tears away pathetically – "You fool," Caius says again. "Mistakes born of ill rest are mistakes preventable. What if you had failed her? What if Yeul had died? Could you live with that burden?"
"Caius," Yeul rasps, reaching up for the tall man's hand. Her eyes are full of pain – the gash in her side looks vicious, but is a shallow wound, barely dangerous. "Caius, stop..."
And through it all, Noel wants to scream, "Where were you?"
"Where were you?" the hunter whispered to himself, knuckles clenching white.
"I see," the young research director said at the same time, causing Noel to glance up, his azure eyes alive with perplexity. It took him a few seconds to teleport back to the present, and when he refocused on the current events around him, his eyebrows crinkled.
Just stop thinking about it.
"Neither can I," Hope confessed to the empty air. Gloved fingers drummed dully on the steel rail, unaware of or unreceptive to his companion's guarded interest. "Everything that's happened today – it hasn't completely sunk in. I can't help but think about it all."
"Mmm," Noel agreed.
Nearly in tandem, the both of them shivered as a fresh breeze stirred, the rasping of long grass and colorful flowers atop the nearby cliff providing a pleasant, buzzing backdrop. The unfamiliar sound put Noel right back on edge, and he reached back as if to comfort himself with the feel of his double-bladed sword. His hand met only air, and he frowned. Left it in the bunks with Serah, didn't I? But at least his hunting knife, sheathed at the small of his back, gave him a little peace of mind.
Watching the movement with impassive eyes, Hope sighed and glanced up at the starry sky once more. "Go sleep, Noel," he said, not unkindly. "There's no telling what awaits you in the future."
The research director turned from his spot, the heels of his boots clacking against the steel as he crossed the platform with muted steps. Upon reaching the downward slope, he paused in his motion, though didn't turn.
"Thank you," he said simply, and continued on his way. Behind him, he left a slightly puzzled young hunter, delicately frowning as he considered the phrase.
He was visibly shaken after the encounter with Caius and Yeul – not his Yeul, he corrected himself stubbornly, but still the gut-wrenching ache persisted. Seeing a girl with the same face - the same voice as hers again, for the first time since she had died in his arms, was positively jarring. There weren't words to put to the feeling.
Somehow, Serah understood that. She had said as much, and those three words – "I won't ask" – were unexpectedly relieving.
"We'll talk about it soon," he had promised, and he had meant it. But in the interim, he would try to understand and sort out for himself the tumultuous convergence of his emotions. Of course, he felt vaguely guilty for keeping such things from her (Caius did seem to be extremely relevant to both Lightning's plight and the uncertain future fall of Cocoon), but he appeased his conscience with the assurance that soon, they'd have a long talk about it.
Running into the Yeul of 10 AF merely ten minutes later, relative to their perception, though in reality one hundred and ninety years in the past, had only made things worse for Noel. The knife in his chest as he saw the girl's fragile form, so similar to the youth he had lived to protect, twisted each time they spoke to her. And the young seeress had left them with even more questions than answers, having said cryptically that she and Serah were "the same".
The teacher from New Bodhum pondered the statement with innocent curiosity. And Noel?
Noel felt like he was going to be sick.
There's no way, he thought to himself. Prayed to himself, like a mantra. No way, no way, no way. Serah can't have the Eyes of Etro if Yeul is alive here. She wouldn't have lived this long, right? She can't...Yeul can't have meant that. She couldn't.
But deep in his chest, he felt his heart sinking.
His attention consumed by such thoughts, the hunter had barely taken in the sight of the southern mountainous area bathed in a warm, natural sunset. The eclipse had dissipated, or perhaps had never been there in the first place.
If you change the future, you change the past.
So Noel thought as they descended again into the crater-like space that had once been an agora of Paddra, long ago. The two of them navigated their way through researchers, up sets of stairs and inclines of scaffolding, towards Hope and the Oracle Drive; no Academy expendables or military personnel sought to detain them as, due to the urgency with which they moved, it was not unlikely that they were supposed to be there despite their lack of uniforms. His rose-haired companion had begun to lag behind, lost in thought and maybe a little unwilling to comply with the brunette's long strides – but he sought answers, and knew his best bet of getting them was to talk things over with Hope.
The tinny noise of his sandals padding against the almost familiar scaffolding was drowned out by a high-pitched voice, shrill in its excitability; he instantly placed the voice as belonging to Alyssa, Hope's assistant and his and Serah's friend from their time in the Bresha Ruins a day or so ago (to them) or five years previous (to her).
"-o are you waiting for?" she asked someone, out of sight atop the cliff that the path he was following hugged.
"… I don't know," a masculine voice, smooth as velvet, answered her. "But… I think they'll be here soon."
Noel had known it was a possibility (and somewhere, he realized he was eavesdropping), but it still made his chest constrict when he fully realized what had occurred. By resolving the paradox in the future, they had prevented it from existing in the past – thereby rendering null the Yaschas Massif they had known previously, the eclipse having been written out of history itself.
This Hope hadn't yet seen Serah alive and well after ten years. This Hope continued to labor in his research over the course of many long years, through uncountable numbers of sleepless nights, devoid of word of his family.
This Hope was still alone.
Noel's pace slowed, waiting for his shorter companion to catch up. Large blue eyes jumped up to meet his as she climbed the slope and, at the question lingering in robin's-egg depths, he smiled grimly and shook his head.
That was the first moment in which Noel Kreiss had doubted the benevolence of their actions.