A/N: Having been playing Final Fantasy XIII and XIII-2 over the last few months, I've become really enamoured by the Hope/Lightning pair, and this story has been tickling my brain for the last little while. It's AU (as I can't seem to come up with any fic that isn't :P ), and features adult Hope, with Lightning only a few years older than him. Not really sure yet where this is going, but I hope for your patience and support.

Disclaimer: Final Fantasy XIII/XIII-2 belong to Square Enix.

Chapter 1: Hope Returns


Driving the hover car, Hope could see the glint of the ocean on the horizon. How long had it been since he'd last been to Bodhum? Six years? From the air highway, he could see the buildings of the tourist city beginning to spring up, hiding the ocean from view. Somehow, the thought of what could await him there made his heart beat an arrhythmic tattoo inside his chest, and he swallowed, trying to force down his sudden nervousness. One particular face sprang to mind—the thought of her, of seeing her after all these years...it was difficult to stop the excited thrum that rode his nerve-endings, and he impatiently beat his palms against the steering wheel in an effort to curb it.

On hearing the incessant tapping, Noel woke from the passenger seat beside him and stared at him groggily, shielding his eyes from the glare of the bright sunlight reflected from the windows of the buildings ahead.

Hope glanced over at him. "Sorry if I woke you."

Noel just shook his head. "Looks like we're close."

"Yeah."

The younger man yawned, stretching his arms above his head.

"We'll be arriving soon," said Hope. "So if you don't mind calling ahead to the villa so they'd know to expect us in a half-hour or so—"

"Yeah, sure."

"Here." Hope handed his phone over. "It's number 9. Brenda ought to be up by now."

Noel took the phone and dialed the number, head cocked to the side as he waited for his call to go through.

After the third ring, a voice answered, "Estheim Residence, Brenda speaking, how may I help you?"

"Uh, hi, Brenda? This is Noel."

"Oh, good morning, Master Noel."

"Morning to you too. Just wanted to let you know me and big bro will be arriving soon."

"Very good, sir, we'll have your rooms ready for you."

"Thanks. Possibly breakfast too?"

"Of course, sir."

"Great. See you in thirty minutes or so."

"Yes, sir."

"Okay, bye."

"Goodbye."

"Here," said Noel, tossing the phone back to Hope.

"Thanks." The silver-haired young man pocketed the phone, all the while clicking on the signal to leave the air highway for the Bodhum exit. This early in the morning, the city was only waking up, with very few traffic lining the streets. Orange lights on either side lined the air highway as he began to make the descent to the ramp that made way for the concrete road, both of them letting out a small oomph at the not-so-smooth landing.

Noel laughed, and Hope only shook his head, muttering, "Yeah, yeah," as he drove on.

Bodhum had grown so much over the years. More hotels now lined the main street along the beach. There were a number of people already up and about: surfers riding the early tide, and joggers and bikers on the pathways. Small breakfast bars and restaurants have opened up, scattered here and there.

A longing to see what else was different from his memory of the place sprang inside him. Later, Hope thought, after we've settled in. There'll be plenty of time to explore our new home.

Hope Estheim was the tentative heir to Estheim Industries. Somewhat of a prodigy, he had skipped several grades all throughout his school years from elementary to post-secondary, and at the young age of twenty, had just finished his post-graduate studies and a short tenure teaching Chrono-Science and Technology at The Academy. He had made an agreement with his father, Bartholomew Estheim, founder and head of Estheim Industries, to work at one of the company's smaller branches in order to gain experience in case he decided to follow in his father's footsteps and head the company.

He had taken his adoptive brother, Noel Kreiss, along. The latter, having just finished high school, hadn't been in any hurry to decide which career path to take, and Nora had suggested that being in a new environment might help him see what he wanted to do.

From Main Street, they headed north, up the hill to the residential area of the city, and then westbound to the district called Village on the Hill—more commonly known as Snob Hill, Hope recalled, where the residences were separated by gates and walls, each house trying to outdo each other in terms of opulence.

Driving up into a non-imposing metallic gate, he grabbed the keycard from the side pocket of his door, and rolled down his window, pushing the card through the slot at the side wall. With a buzz, the gates began to open, and he drove up the short driveway lined with colourful flowers and stopping in front of a two-storey, fifteen-room house—modest compared to their neighbours'.

At the door, the head housekeeper, Brenda, greeted them as they got out of the car. "Master Hope, Master Noel, welcome."

Noel gave a nod and a wave before making his way to the trunk.

"Good morning, Brenda," said Hope with a smile. "And thanks for the welcome."

"Sirs, if you'll leave your luggage there and make your way to the dining room, I'll see to it that they get to your bedrooms. Somehow, it seems like I'm the only one here, and I'm really sorry for being short-staffed."

"No, it's okay," Hope replied as he helped Noel unload their stuff. "I was actually the one who requested only one housekeeper is needed. The two of us should be able to get by on our own."

"Are you sure, sir?"

"Yep."

"But—"

"Really, we don't really need all the space in the house, and I'm sure we won't be using all the rooms while we're here."

"But the cleaning and cooking...?"

Hope thought for a moment. He began to feel bad since he was essentially telling Brenda her services were not required and taking her job from her, but he felt that not having any help around would be beneficial in letting them learn to fend for themselves. They were adults now, after all. "How about coming by once a week for general housekeeping? And possibly groceries? You'll still be paid the same as when you had a full duty, if that's what you're worried about."

Brenda bit her lip in an uncustomary show of apprehension. "I suppose that will be acceptable, sir," she conceded, wringing her hands as she watched the masters of the house empty out the hover car. The Estheims were what would be considered "new money", and being wealthy, had to be allowed their display of eccentricities. She couldn't help pursing her lips as she watched the younger of the two, and shook her head at the wisdom of adopting someone who had been found on the wilds of Pulse. She schooled her features and wiped disdain from her expression. It just did not do to be openly disapproving of her employers' children.

"And that's it," said Noel, beating his fists together. "That's all of them."

"Great," replied Hope, reaching for something from the backseat of the car. "Just give me a minute to set things up." He held two triangular objects in his hands, which he began to set on either end of their luggage pile, appearing to be doing some mental calculations as he adjusted the objects. "That should do it...I think."

"Well, if it doesn't work, I guess we'll just have to do it the old-fashioned way," chuckled Noel.

"Okay, on a count of three, press the blue button. One...two...three."

Blue light emitted from the sides of each triangle, connecting together with a small buzzing sound, and the luggage pile began to float.

"Seems to be holding," commented Hope with a dubious edge to his tone. "Oh well, let's take them up." He began to gently push the floating baggage from the back, while Noel assisted at the front, opening the other half of the double front doors so they could fit their pile through.

Into the foyer and up the staircase that led to the bedrooms they went, without any mishap or dropped bags—a fact of which Hope was happy about as it meant the experiment with his invention of the floatation device was a success. Each of them randomly picked out a bedroom, hoisting their own belongings from the pile and dropping them wither and yon into their room of choice.

Hope had chosen a room near the end of the hallway, with its windows facing north and east, adjoining the wrap-around balcony that circled the entire second floor. From the hillside, beyond the trees, he saw the ocean, sparkling brightly even from this vantage point.

With a smile, he turned and surveyed his new room. The walls were pale teal, bordered by cream, and a king bed stood at the centre over a round rug. Off to the side by the northern windows was the walk-in closet beside an adjoining bathroom, and an oak desk and leather chair were set at the corner of the north and east windows.

He rubbed his chin as he thought. Maybe I ought to put shelves along that whole wall there. Or maybe turn the next room into an office. I guess I should wait and see until next week when I'm scheduled to show up at the branch office before I start redecorating here. Yeah, I guess I'll just do that.

Sighing over the mess of his stuff on the floor, he began to collect them and made a show of tidying up and unpacking.


After the better part of an hour of unpacking and showering, Hope finally emerged from his room and made his way down to the breakfast area adjacent to the living room. Noel was already at the table, and Brenda was nowhere to be found.

Hope gave his brother a questioning look, to which Noel replied with a shrug.

"Mom called," said the brunette in between bites of eggs benedict.

"Already?" asked Hope as he reached for the pot of coffee.

"You know her. Told her we were fine. We didn't run over or into svarogs or anything, and even the main highways were monster-free."

"Was she relieved?"

"Not really."

They both chuckled.

Hope checked his watch. It was nearing noon; no doubt the beach would be bustling with people by now. He wondered if the girls he used to meet down at the boardwalk were still around. Would they remember him?

"So what's the plan?" asked Noel as he rose from the table and made his way to the sink with his dishes.

"Well, I need to figure out where Estheim Bodhum is located, but I'm not really in a hurry since it's still a week before I have to officially go there. We can check out the downtown area, though. I think there's an annual fireworks festival coming up in a few days."

Noel turned the faucet off and dried his hands with a towel. "Say, um, if I were to meet, say, a girl..."

Hope looked up. It's already come to that, huh? "Are you asking me if you can bring them over?"

Noel nodded.

"I suppose that would be okay." Hope thought and quickly said, "Your business is your business. I guess, just keep it to your side of the house? And, you know, be responsible?"

"The same rule applies to you, too, you know that, right?"

"Yeah, of course. But I am here to work, you know?"

"Oh, come on, you can't just be all work and no play. You're at a beach city, you should have some fun."

"Inventing gadgets is fun," replied Hope grudgingly.

"I mean, you should let loose once in a while. Hang out with friends. Hang out with girls." Noel emphasized the latter with a nod. "And speaking of, we should go down to the beach and check out what's out there."


Thanks for reading :)
Apr/2012