Welcome to the first of my collection of one shots/one shot requests dedicated/written for various members of the FFXIII community! This was the first prompt I was given, a LightxHope request, and I was quite tempted to fill it, especially given my own addition to the prompt, Martina McBride's Concrete Angel (which I do not own, by the way, though I have used its lyrics liberally in this particular one shot). That being said, this one shot is rather dark and contains some mature themes, read at your own discretion.

In lieu with the purposes of this fic, this is a A/U, and please assume Lightning and Hope are the same age. n_n

The dedication:

For Crystal, who has been waiting for a LightxHope

For LadyAlaska, whose advice was to 'just write naturally'

For Marika, who loves Hope as much as I do

For The Other Altaria, who told me of this song and I discovered my own love for it.

Concrete Angel

She walks to school with the lunch she packed;
Nobody knows what she's holding back.
Wearing the same dress she wore yesterday;
She hides the bruises with the linen and lace.

Lightning put her head down on her desk, feeling the cold wood soothe her throbbing temples. Laying her pink bangs on the crook of her elbow, she tried not to brush the mottled bruises just underneath the pale pink hooded top she wore. Goddammit... The teacher was lecturing about something, but her entire body was too tired to pay much attention. Phantom pain dragged at her limbs and she resisted the dire urge to close her fatigued blue eyes. She allowed the teacher's words to wash over her, feeling the lilting rhythm of the syllables lull her into some form of relaxation.

But with her head down, there was nothing else to do except listen to the words, try as she might to block them out.

"...We have a new student joining us today. Why don't you take the empty seat next to Ms. Farron there?" She groaned inwardly. Great. No one wanted to sit next to her in class, and the teachers were always trying to push new students to her. But that wasn't going to help - no one wanted to sit next to her not because they hadn't given her a chance, but because she wasn't friendly. Because she pushed people away before they got within arm's reach of her.

She spared one glance at the newcomer through suspicious, narrowed eyes. A slight tremble of something that held akin to shock permeated her aching, tired frame. He wasn't looking at her with the lewd, scared looks most of her classmates gave her. The green eyes held something like suspicious criticiality as he looked over her features. She suppressed the instinct to scowl - the dark circles under her eyes probably weren't helping his impression of her.

She didn't speak to him as he sat down, gingerly, carefully, moving her elbow off the desk so he wouldn't accidentally brush it when he sat down. But she bumped it anyways, on the side of the table, and a pained hiss escaped her lips. She saw him shoot her a curious glance. Ignoring it, she went back to putting her head down on the table, pink hair pooling in a mess around the left side of her head.

"I'm Hope Estheim," she heard him say. Turning her head to face the pale morning light streaming through the windows, she pointedly didn't look at him.

"Good for you," she all but snarled back.

Brushing her way past the throng of people in the school hallways, Lightning tried not to touch anyone as she walked by. It wasn't hard - people gave her a wide berth whenever she stalked through the halls. Something like satisfaction grew inside her when people instantly moved to get out of her way: her unfriendly demeanor was well known, and she wouldn't have it another way. Putting on the cold mask she presented to the public, she winced when the post at the end of the hallway brushed her shoulder.

The warm spring afternoon air felt nice though, and she let herself enjoy the moment before... Before I have to go home. Her feet were heavy as they tiredly dragged her back on the half hour walk home. She ditched her bag at the entrance to her room - there wasn't really an incentive to work, only an overwhelming urge to sleep.

And it seemed that her eyes had only closed for a brief moment that might have lasted a few heartbeats, or perhaps for several hours, when she was dragged back into consciousness, her body being slammed roughly against the wall of her bedroom. The impact drove the breath from her lungs, and she sank to the ground, clutching her hand to her chest, trying hard to breathe. Help me...

She stared, helplessly, up towards the icy cold blue eyes of her father, the merciless, unforgiving gaze instantly shredding every single scrap of fight she had left. The second blow sent her sprawling on the ground; she didn't even try to get up. The bitter stench of alcohol invaded her senses as she gagged at the smell, trying to move her hand to cover her nose.

The hurtful tirade of anger grated her ears, and Lightning wanted to move her hands over her ears. She didn't want to hear it all again, about how her mother and Serah had died in the car crash, about how it was her fault. Just...stop it...

She didn't move, curling into a fetal ball on the floor that was slowly turning to ice. There was no point in crying - her tears didn't move anyone; he'd taught her that. There was no point in acting remorseful, or showing emotions. He'd taught her that too. Watching the new bruises bloom across the pale skin of her arms and neck, Lightning tried to pull herself into a sitting position, eventually making her way to the bed. She felt the tears begin to prickle the back of her eyes; closing them, she willed that weakness to leave.

It wasn't that she didn't want someone to care about her, she was afraid of being close to someone else. She'd been close to her family... And look how that's turned out. Afraid to show the bruises, her own weaknesses outside of the walls of her house, she channeled her pain into anger and the icy cold exterior she wore like a mask. It was her only way to lash out against her own pain, to feel empowered by her suffering.

Slender fingers curled into weak, trembling fists as she tried to control the shaking of her body, trying to control the dry heaving of her form in the silent, unrelenting moonlight that sliced through the spacing in between the blinds like a blade. As much as she hated them, the silent tears began to trickle down the swollen skin of her left cheek, as she quickly buried her head in a pillow, to find a way... any way to stop her interior from cracking even more. Closing her eyes, Lightning tried to ignore, to shut out the throbbing pain in her back, but things didn't work that way. Nothing in life ever went her way.

The teacher wonders but she doesn't ask -
It's hard to see the pain behind the mask.
Bearing the burden of a secret storm,
Sometimes she wishes she was never born.

Lightning picked at her food, pushing it around the plate in an attempt to make it seem like she'd eaten more than she actually had. She didn't have the stomach for food after last night. Snorting to herself, she wondered since when she actually had an appetite for food - her life was a vicious cycle, consuming itself, but to no end. A clatter of a plate somewhere near her abruptly made her jerk up - no one was stupid, or crazy, enough to sit anywhere near her at lunch. Looking up, she saw it was the silver haired kid the teacher had made her sit next to in homeroom the day before.

"Leave me alone," she snapped, directing her sharp comment to her food, not even bothering to glance at him.

"You looked lonely." The shrewd comment rubbed her in the wrong way several million times even before the last syllable finished reverberating in her eardrums. She wanted to get up and screech, wanted somehow, to escape. But there was nowhere to run - she was stuck in here, in the reality she didn't want to accept. Just... leave me alone. And yet, as much as it hurt for her to accept the fact, he'd been the only one to see through her blunt, cold exterior for what it really was. And his comment had been in no way wrong - she was lonely, and in pain, and... God, there are so many things messed up with my life that I don't even... not that she wanted to admit it to anyone. Least of all someone who had the nerve to actually ask her about it. As much as she wanted someone to pour it out onto, she was scared of the thought of it, of opening up.

Why the thought of it terrified her, she wasn't quite sure of her own aversion to it. I think... I just don't want to... I don't want to give myself to openly to someone else, and have that all ripped away with a few words, or... Or one action that would utterly change everything. An action she had tried for years to convince herself had been out of her control, but unable to. Why...

"Yeah? Well, congrats," she hissed back in his direction, shoving her indecision back down her throat, fighting to keep her voice steady. "Mind your own business."

He didn't listen to her words though, simply beginning to eat. Ignoring him, she began picking at her food again. A few snickers sounded somewhere behind her back - she could guess what they were about, but she didn't care. Not that she'd cared about something so trivial since... Since...

Raking her hand through her pink bangs, she gripped the tendrils of hair, as if the grip would relieve the throbbing in her temples. She didn't want to think, didn't want to be here. Sometimes... I wish...

Collecting her things, Lightning stuffed her books into her messenger bag, slinging it over one shoulder. The strap cut into the new bruises she'd received the previous night, and she let out a hissed breath, trying not to let it show on her face. Time to go home... and face another sleepless, tortured night. The thought made her cringe. I don't want... to go home. And the only time she'd actually tried to run away... she'd been faced with the impossibility of life on the streets. A place arguably worse than what was her reality at home. It wasn't worth it, even if it meant...

She hadn't been paying attention to her surroundings. Someone shoved her roughly against the wall, as fear took over her body. No! Anything but that... Pushing her slender body off the gravel littered ground, she stared up at the face of a senior she knew by sight, but never bothered figuring out the name of. She was fairly certain he'd tried to ask her out before though - she'd sent him on his way with his ego in tatters.

"So, Farron. Letting the new kid sit with you? What about me?"

"What about you?" she muttered back, pushing dust off her clothes and beginning to walk away. A hand closed on her wrist, pressing deeply into the bruises on her arms, forcibly turning her around. He shoved his face into hers.

"What about me? Who do you think you are? You're making a mistake right here." The grip tightened, and she couldn't hold back a whimper.

She struggled against the grip, trying to wrench her wrist out of it. I don't want... "Leave me alone." Her voice held none of its usual potency - the similarity to her daily nightmare was so great it was choking her with fear, eroding the hard exterior she wore like fire melting ice. The older boy's other hand slammed into her collarbone, the contact pressed against the many layers of bruises and cuts alike that she made sure to hide beneath long sleeves, pinning her against the brick wall of the school's exterior.

And at that, Lightning couldn't hold back the cry of pain. No, please... no...

The contact was instantly removed from her the moment the sound of agony left her lips, and she slid to the ground, thin arms hugging herself as she closed her eyes. Don't cry... don't cry, she berated herself, hating herself for letting her weakness show.

"You okay?" Opening her eyes, she saw the concerned sea green eyes and platinum hair of the boy that had sat beside her at lunch. Hope... right? Shaking, she took the hand he offered her, carefully rearranging her top so as to not let the bruises and half healed incisions on her skin show. She let go the moment she was upright, as he eyed her with the same concern he'd shown earlier.

"I didn't ask... for your help," she tried to snap, hating how pathetic her voice sounded right now.

He raised an eyebrow again. "Really? You look like you needed it." There was a pause as they both looked at each other: she was trying to muster a convincing glare, while his piercing green gaze probed her features, searching for the vulnerability she knew he wouldn't find. "And, I'm sorry for putting you in the situation. I heard what he said," he finished awkwardly, finally looking down at his hands.

She brushed it off, feeling the words prick something like gratitude in her frozen heart. It's been so long... since anyone's actually apologized to me... for anything. The thought struck her like a physical blow. Eying him again, she observed his movements under narrowed eyes; he was obviously waiting for her to say something.

"Don't worry about it..." Her voice trailed off, unsure of how she should be reacting to the concern. She felt like she should snap back some catty response, but this had been twice in the same day that he'd made her feel something other than tired, worthless, or in pain. And... it doesn't... It doesn't feel as bad as I thought it would be.

For the first time in years, the relieved expression he gave back to her made her feel something other than the flat, controlled despair that she'd let her inner temperament settle to. And in that heartbeat, she wondered if he'd actually cheered her up, somewhat.

Hands flat against the tiled wall of the shower, Lightning let the warm rain drum on her back, pink hair dripping as she wiped it off her forehead. He hadn't bothered her today... yet, but it lurked in the corners of her consciousness like a rabid dog that wouldn't let go of her injured leg. Wrapping a thick towel around her middle, Lightning stared at her naked form in the mirror, the pale skin mottled by various bruises and cuts. Sure, half of it was fading, but that left the other half of her slim form looking like she'd come out of a war.

And in a sense, it was a war, and one she couldn't win. There was nowhere to run, no one she trusted enough to tell. She was stuck between hell... and impossibility. Pulling a thin black tank top over her undergarments, Lightning tried to rub some warmth back into her thin arms, remembering the grip of the older boy that had pinned her against the wall of the school. And then Hope's warm gesture of concern, the one that had made her feel like...

Like it's possible for me to be happy again.

Crawling onto her bed, she wrapped herself in the sheets like a pupa undergoing metamorphosis. And under the swath of silk sheets, the possibility of coming out of the cocoon as something intangibly beautiful didn't seem so far away. Slipping into a dream state, the sheets, instead of being her catalyst to growing wings, instead snapped the wings off, broken shafts of feathers sliding from her hands as the cloth became suffocating and all too real.

There was too much pain as the harsh blow came down, hard, on her body. She wanted to forget. She wanted to be one of those statues outside of her school, the ones with angelic smiles that stood strong even in the thundering storms. The ones with wings that could never break; the wings that would continue to beat for the rest of time.


Standing awkwardly at the corner of the mall, she waited for him. Why did I even agree to come? she thought bitterly. But anything was better than staying at home, as as spring blazed into summer she found, unconsciously, that she had let Hope into her life... somewhat. There was no way she'd open up completely to him, there was no way she could ever tell him, but...

But with him... I feel like someone cares.

And maybe her reasons for sticking with him were selfish and naive, the wants and needs of a child. But she didn't care. As much as she hated to admit it, being with him made her realize how much she had missed human companionship, how much she missed being cared for. And that made even the nights somewhat bearable; more bearable than what they had been for years.

If only he would stop asking me about...

"Hey." He was suddenly beside her, and she let out a huff.

"Didn't even see you coming," she remarked, rather reproachfully.

He flicked a tendril of her hair off her shoulder where it had settled in the wrong place. "Kudos to me." His fingers brushed a fading bruise on her cheek by accident, and he quickly pulled his fingers away from her. "Are you ever going to tell me where you get all of these?"

"I told you already, didn't I?" She shot him a glare under the guise of pushing bangs off her forehead.

He didn't look like he believed her. "Right. And if I believe that story, I believe that pigs can fly. Well?"

She ignored him. As much as he cares... I can't tell him. Was she scared of his rejection if he knew? Or was she scared of what might happen to him if he knew?

Hands ripped at her throat, as she tried to stifle the cries coming from the back of it. Her throat raw, she didn't think she could scream anymore. The familiar coppery taste of blood in her mouth forced her to swallow, the metallic taste burning as she did.

"Don't you dare tell anyone, you worthless excuse... If you do, it'll make this look like a pretty little dream next to a nightmare."

She didn't want to know, didn't want to fight back. There was no point. The girl that had been 'Claire' had long been buried under the scars and stones of hurt and fear. The hard cold front she put up to everyone outside of her home was just that - an act. It was better to be unfriendly than to be weak. And to channel her own pain onto others by being the unforgiving, unfeeling figure of authority in her life... that made it easier. She didn't want looks of pity, she wanted wings. And every time her fledging wings threatened to take flight, they were broken and bent underneath the unyielding pressure of reality.

"It's your fault!" The words were accentuated by a blow that sent her sprawling on the floor, unable to open her eyes as she held one shaking hand to her swollen cheek.

"I love you," she managed to choke out. And it was true... she had. Once, in a happy life that had been torn from her in the blink of an eye. She wanted to convince him that she had... that maybe she could still find her kind father under the shell of rage and blame he'd lain on himself and her.

A swift kick was the response to her words. "And that's how much you mean to me. You killed them, don't try to deny it!"

He was insane.

In the desperation and utter devastation of that moment, she had been forced to accept it. She'd tried yelling back before, tried fighting, but it was useless. She was weak and he was strong. At first, she thought it was only natural for him to blame her; she'd been there at the accident, and he hadn't- maybe that had been naive of her in itself, but she'd clung to that like it was her saviour. And she had waited for him to return. But as weeks, months, and finally years dragged by, she had to accept that there was no going back.

And for her, there was no way forward.

A statue stands in a shaded place -
An angel girl with an upturned face.
A name is written on a polished rock,
A broken heart that the world forgot.

The thought that she might care about him made Lightning feel uneasy. What if...

"Look, Light, can you tell me?" His green gaze was serious. "We're friends, right? And friends tell each other their secrets."

"You sound like a little kid begging for candy," she retorted.

The only way she could deal with it was by projecting onto others. She didn't mean to push everyone who came into her range away... well, maybe she did, but there was a reason why she cut off any sort of relationship before someone could crack her core.

But it had been different with Hope. He hadn't approached her with the same look the older students in the school approached her with, he didn't see her standoffish nature as that. He saw it as something deeper, instinctively. She knew he knew there was a deeper meaning behind the way she acted, but there was no way in hell she was ever going to say.

And as much as she hated the thought, she didn't want to see him... I don't want to see what happened to me happen to him. As much as she hated reality, and everyone who approached her, there was no way she could wish her own fate onto any of them.

Everyone deserves the right to be loved.

And with him, she felt almost like herself. Apart from the obvious things she could never say, she found herself opening up, like he was the dewdrops that opened the delicate petals of a rose without getting stabbed. It had been weeks... months, of him trying before she allowed it. He didn't give up, not when she pushed him away with harsh, biting words, not when she snarled in his wake.

Unlike me.

There were still days when she found herself dragging her slow, tired, aching body to school, but those days had become less and less. She found she was glad for the companionship he offered her, the utter trust, despite her way of speaking. She didn't dare reveal the inner, fragile soul the hard exterior sheltered. She was scared.

"You know, it helps in a conversation if you stop spacing out like that." Hope's gentle rebuke snapped her out of her own self pity.

"Sorry," she muttered.

"Come on, I'm starving. Let's get something to eat." They'd been wandering around the mall for hours, not really interested in anything for sale, but just talking. Talking that she'd let him dominate, but occasionally put something into. She shrugged, careful not to let the motion shrug off the thin sweater she wore. He'd already asked her why she never wore short sleeves or shorts - and at the time, she'd told him to mind his own business. He hadn't pried again, but she knew the suspicion was only going to get worse as time progressed to July and August.

Picking at her food, Lightning tried to swallow something... anything as to not make him suspicious. She couldn't tell him everything tasted like sawdust because she had no stomach for food.

"You eat enough for a quarter of a person, did you know that?"

"You're more annoying than a fly that won't buzz off, did you know that? You sound like-"

She caught herself before she said 'my mother.' He knew she lived alone with her father, and she'd skimmed the details of the accident, not wanting to tell him the real story... for more than one reason. But Hope had been insistent, prying details out of her that she never dreamed she'd tell anyone.

And it wasn't like he was stubbornly persistent or anything... maybe she was weak enough to finally cave and let some of it out.

But he hadn't judged her, not when she had honestly told him that they'd been driving her to a lesson when her mother had made a wrong turn. He didn't say anything, only reached for her hand in a comforting gesture. She hadn't brushed it off, even though she probably should have. But the truth was, Lightning found that she had enjoyed the moment of warmth their locked fingers had provided.

"I sound like who?" Clearly, he hadn't noticed anything to her sudden stop of words - looking at his bemused expression, she knew he assumed it was because it was something bad.

"You sound like someone died and made you the primarch who won't stop bugging me about my lifestyle. That's who."

He laughed, softly. "Kind as ever, Light." A sudden boom of thunder interrupted any further words they might have said.

"Shit. It's raining," she muttered. "Sorry, Hope, I've gotta get home."

His hand lingered on her shoulder, unconsciously brushing one of the fading bruises. "Stay safe, okay?"

If only you knew how much I wish I could.

Closing the door behind her, Lightning tried to sneak past the bright band of light that came from the living room in the otherwise dark house, but luck was not on her side this evening.

"Get over here." Her feet automatically obeyed the command. He shoved a handful of money into her fingers. "Go buy me three bottles of wine." He was drunk... again. But she wasn't going to argue, not when she knew what the alternative was. Stepping out into the storm, her hair was dark with precipitation in moments, clothes plastered to her thin frame as she tried to see past the sheet of rain. Dim, watery lighting provided by the insufficient streetlights was enough for her to see, as she slowly made her way to the liquor store.

And it was only when she got there that she remembered that she hadn't brought any ID to show that she was over the age of eighteen. She didn't want to go back home - there would no doubt be... She would just have to hope she looked mature enough to be a young adult, even though she knew she must look pathetic in dripping clothing, and a figure that might not have tipped a hundred pound scale soaking wet.

"Get lost, girl. We don't sell to minors."

"But..." Her response trailed off pathetically when the man glared at her. It was probably better to go... she didn't want the police on her tail if he decided to report her, even if his information was false.

Lightning had just been debating with herself whether to go home or not when a familiar figure appeared out of the rain.

"Hope!" Her voice sounded too glad to see him when he turned, silver hair streaked grey by the unrelenting rain that fell from the heavens.

"Light. What are you doing here?"

Even now, she couldn't show him her vulnerability. Scuffling her sneakered feet in her wet socks, she looked down. "The old man told me to buy him some alcohol... but the guy apparently doesn't think I'm of age." She tried to make her voice sound like she didn't care, but her voice quavered on the last syllable. She felt him pull her into the siding of an alleyway, out of public view.

"Light... what's wrong?" The moment he held her shoulders, she couldn't fight the instinct to shrug him off. And as she pushed his hands roughly off her shoulders, the neck of the thin sweater slipped, revealing the barely healed cut from a few days ago. She saw him zero in on the wound - it was bleeding now that it had been disturbed. There was no point in covering it now.

"Light." There was a stern tone in his voice. "What are you not telling me?"

She could only stare helplessly at the probing green eyes, knowing how much pain her own eyes were betraying. But she couldn't... couldn't continue to hide it anymore. She was worn and tired from hiding from everything, tired of hiding her pain. Lightning felt tears begin to gather in the corners of her eyes when she realized that even now, even after she had long since denounced human relationships... she wanted someone to protect her. I'm the most selfish person I know.

"Don't you trust me?" The words this time held genuine hurt.

I do! She wanted to shout the words at him, wanted to tell him, and it was only the images of the car crash that trawled through her dreams that stopped her. She forced herself to sound strong, even though inside, she felt like she was being ripped apart.

"That's a stupid question. What do you think the answer is?"

Lightning saw him take a step back at her harsh words, and then the sudden realization that flooded his angry green eyes when she realized he'd taken it the wrong way.

"Clearly, the answer is no! Goddammit, Lightning, why are you being this way? After everything I've done for you, you're still acting like this!" She backed away from the words, until her back was to the slick wall and there was nowhere left to run. "I know you've got some goddamn secret you're not telling me. And time and time again, I've tried to convince you that I trust you. But you don't trust me. So is this how it's going to end?"

He walked away. Every inch of her told her to scream out, to tell him to come back, but the words froze in her mouth. Hand helplessly pressed to her lips, she sank to her knees, watching his fading silhouette disappear into the rain.

She had to go home. There was no other alternative unless she wanted to freeze to death in the rain. The moment her numb fingers turned the doorknob, the door was wrenched open by the towering figure of her father. He pulled her roughly inside, and then threw her against the foot of the stairs. She knelt there, motionless, unable to say a word in her own defence.

"I told you you were useless, weren't you?" She saw the gleam of something sharp in his hands, and imagined it cutting into her skin.

And it did come, mere heartbeats later.

She couldn't think anymore. Fighting back was like trying to claw apart water - her fingers couldn't get a hold in the intangibly fluid liquid, and there was nothing to hold onto. Screaming was beyond her capabilities. As warm blood trickled down her pale arms and back, staining her cold skin with sickly warmth, there was only one thought that permeated her mind over and over, through the miasma of pain and blackness that threatened to drag her into its depths.

Hope... I'm sorry.

Somebody cries in the middle of the night;
The neighbors hear but they turn out the light.
A fragile soul caught in the hands of fate -
When morning comes it will be too lat

Hope gripped his phone tightly in his hand. He'd tried texting Lightning, to tell her he was sorry for what he said to her last night, but she hadn't replied, and when he tried calling her, her phone was off.

God, Light, I hope you haven't done something stupid... because of what I said.

And if she had, he had no one to blame but himself. He knew she'd been in pain, he knew there were demons clawing at her mental condition, and yet he'd still let his anger and frustration get the better of him. She'd been blunt, but that wasn't an excuse and he knew it. Pacing the floor of his bedroom, he ignored his father's suggestion that he went to bed and tried again in the morning.

Light, you're okay... right?

Closing his eyes was an impossibility. Every time he did, he could only see her, standing there in the rain, shoulder bleeding. There was something wrong, he knew that. The way she never mentioned her family in front of him. He knew what her favourite colour was and he knew her temperaments as well as she did, but he didn't know a thing about her private life other than that her mother and sister, Serah, had died in a car accident.

And she never mentioned her father.

His fists balled the sheets of the bed into crumpled pieces of cloth when he thought about that, pushing his fingers through his silver hair. It had been a long time until he'd realized how he felt about her... and why he put up with her moods. And he suspected she knew. How she felt about him, he couldn't guess, but at least she didn't treat him the way she treated everyone else at school.

That was something, right?

He tried once again, unsuccessfully, to call her. Gripping the plastic of his phone, Hope pushed himself off his bed in one energetic movement. He'd find her first thing tomorrow morning. He knew where she lived, even though she'd never let him come to her house. Another thing that he had found odd. She'd been over so many times his father treated didn't even treat her like a guest anymore, almost like another member of their small family.

The urge to run to her place was so great Hope had to contain the burst of energy that told him to run to her house. She would probably slap him if she was still angry at what he had said. It was better to leave it to tomorrow morning, when she would have hopefully calmed down some.

...I love you, Lightning.

Thin fingers of morning dawn reached for his clothes as Hope quickly strode through the mist, brushing small wet droplets of the stuff off his face. He could see the avenue she lived on just a few blocks ahead of him, and he quickly turned the corner, counting to himself as he read the numbered houses.

Hope's fingers paused on the doorknob to the right one... Would he even be welcome in her house? Shoving away the thought, he turned the doorknob.

This has to be the right thing to do.

The fact that it wasn't locked surprised him at first. Wait... she didn't lock her door? There was no car in the driveway - her father had to be out. But the window to what he assumed was her room was open... she was home, right?

"Light?" His voice echoed a little in the empty house. There was no sign of her in the living room or kitchen just off it, and if she was home, she didn't reply. "Light, look, I'm sorry. See, I even came to your place to apologize."

But only silence greeted his words. Hesitantly, he ventured a few steps further into the house, suddenly afraid of what he might find. Her glaring at him with hurt blue eyes? Her figure, hunched in the shadows, just waiting for the moment to screech at him?

And nothing in the world could have prepared him for the sight that greeted him when he set foot in the short hallway that led to the stairs. Oh god... Light... no!

The last word of his thoughts was shouted out loud when he gingerly picked her still form off the ground, her blood smearing his skin and staining his clothes. Her pink hair was streaked with red, and she was cold; her skin holding no warmth of its own as he gently held the upper half of her body upright. Her head rested limply on his shoulder - holding her like this, he could see every cruel rip that marred her form. Eyes closed, mouth shut, she could have been a mannequin that modelled death.

His fingers fumbled for his phone, panic and fear clouding out all other conscious thoughts. His fingers were shaking so badly it was hard to even dial only the three short numbers that were required.



That was the only thing she could see as she pressed her fingers against the cold stone statues, her hands running down the fine chiseled stone, admiring the graceful way the angels' upturned faces looked so serene. She envied their wings. The wings that could never be broken, could never stop beating even in a gale that threatened to uproot the world.

A single pristine shaft landed in the middle of her palm, and she closed her fingers around it, holding it like a lifeline.

"You still have your life to live." The soft words, spoken with a voice she hadn't heard in over three years. Her sister. A comforting presence wreathed over her, erasing the sense of insecurity.

"No, I don't! Serah... even if someone could bring themselves to love me again... I'm..." She was probably the ugliest thing in the world now, as she let her insecurities spill outwards, crying the pain that she hadn't let herself feel in so long.

"No one can make you feel that way, not unless you let them. Claire. You would never let someone put you down like that. You're not worthless and unlovable unless you let yourself believe that."

She couldn't come up with an answer to that. Serah took her silence for compliance, and a small pressure pushed her forwards, past the still, eternal statues of the angels until they came to a stop before a mirror.

There were no marks on her skin.

"You see? What matters is what is on the inside. Even if your exterior is scarred and broken, what exists inside is still beautiful."

She shook her head. No...

"You don't have to look for someone to care about you. He's always been right there. Waiting for you."

Opening her eyes to reality was easier than she expected. But there was no pain, only the slight pressure of someone holding her hand in their own. She was afraid to speak, afraid to shatter the illusion this was.

"Light?" His voice was trembling as she slowly turned her head to look at him, fighting what she now knew to be the effects of a painkiller. "You're... okay, right?"

For the first time since before Serah and her mother had died, she let a small smile spread on her lips. She knew. He had to have found her... and that meant he cared about her. Irrevocably and unconditionally.

"Don't I look okay to you?" Her small attempt at humour made him smile, letting the amusement reach his concern filled sea green eyes.

"Well, you kind of scared me when I first found you, you know." He let out a small sigh. "But it looks like you're really going to be okay..."

"Hope." She wasn't sure how to begin. "I... I'm sorry. About how I acted, about how I spoke... about everything." A finger pressed to her lips, silencing the flow of words she somehow knew it was safe to let out out.

"I know. I know everything. And there's only one thing to say. No one... will ever hurt you again. Not while I'm around."

A second smile stretched her lips, as she tried to get up, only to be pushed back down by his gentle hands.

"Don't. Not till you're better, okay?" Their fingers remained in contact this time, and she let the warmth sooth the inner storm that was raging inside her. The whole surreality of the situation, in that just like that, the binds that had secured her to an inescapable fate had been severed. That she would never cry herself to sleep again. That the cold exterior would never have to be used to protect something as fragile as one broken spirit ever again.

But she wasn't sure if she could change now. Not when...

"Hope?" His name still felt odd on her tongue. He hummed a response. She took a breath before replying, unsure of how her tone should sound. "I..."

"Light." His tone was firm. "You don't need to say anything... okay?"

She swallowed, mauling over the gentle tones of those few words like they were an impossibly big mountain to climb.

"Only one thing," he continued quietly. And to her surprise, he looked away from her, and at his free hand twisted in his lap. The other hand, which was locked with hers, tightened, but not uncomfortably. She found herself squeezing back.

"You're probably going to slap me for this. But... I love you."

The enormity of his words took her by surprise, and for a few moments all she could do was stare. What... How... He took her silence for reprimand as he quickly let go of her; she missed the warmth as soon as their contact broke. "You're upset," he amended quickly.

The storm of emotions was so strong she didn't know how to reply, how to even begin to process the remarkably simple statement. I... Taking a deep breath, she tried to settle her emotions into something that she could focus on. What was most important? She could only allow herself to focus on one of those emotions at a time as she struggled to come up with something that would express the flood of emotions that the simple three words had brought her.

Gone was the hard, cold individual that she's tried so hard to maintain. There was no point in fighting truth, not when everything was laid so clearly and plainly in front of them. There was nothing else she could hide from him, nothing else she needed to hide from him. He now knew her as well as she knew herself. So what... is most important to me at the moment?

Searching inside, she found only one thing that was important; the one thing she'd been denying for who knew how long. And when her own words left her mouth, she knew them to be right, inexorably and undeniably, even if her voice was barely above a choked whisper.

"I love you too."

And that was nothing but the truth.

Through the wind and the rain,
She stands hard as a stone -
In a world that she can't rise above.
But her dreams give her wings
and she flies to a place where she's loved.

Concrete angel.

Undeniably one of the most emotionally draining one shots I've ever written, but well worth my time doing. (: I spent the better part of half a night and a whole day trying to get this right. And hopefully, I have. n_n

And just as a second disclaimer, in no way do I condone abuse in any form - we're trying out dark themes/angst in my writing workshop class, and I thought I would give this a go. So like I said, this was purely experimental; that being said, if you liked the themes explored in this one shot, I do have a longer, full fic version of this somewhat planned out, which explores these themes and more, and I'd be happy to start on that after I finish my current fic if there's enough positivity about me going in that direction.

That also being said, if you like my style, I do have a full length fic up: Nascent Requiem if you want to check it out. Leave love if you wish. 8D The next prompt/request (which is a Serah/Light sisterly prompt) may take me some time as I'm still writing NR, but rest assured it will be posted! (: