Chapter 21: A Glimpse Into You

There was no doubt the question of Hope's absence would've been foremost on the minds of the two young women sitting at the backseat of his vehicle had they the inclination to think it and therefore voice it, but seeing as the two were otherwise occupied with another subject matter, and neither the driver nor the front passenger were feeling loquacious enough to impart the reason for his absence, it was all for naught, really. Instead, the chatter was kept to the prevailing subject of the dresses that were purchased today, and much enjoyment was had over the feeling that a rather important and life-altering mission was accomplished. Nerves were still shot with excitement, giggling and wailing could be heard, and flailing could be seen from the periphery—and Lightning could've sworn she felt the very atoms move as their waving arms displaced air particles.

She crossly muttered with a tsk, "Calm down!" when Serah and Vanille actually started bouncing in their seats, giving dogs a run for their money when the volume and pitch of their voices were raised to an all-time high, and though slightly cowed by the elder Farron's admonishment, the two briskly returned to a toned-down version of their exuberant exhibition.

Noel glanced at the two from the rear-view mirror, watching with an air of smugness, no doubt expressly happy that they weren't in his immediate vicinity and therefore was altogether enjoying the fact he was not required to join in the squealing. He couldn't really fathom why mere garments that would only be worn once could instill this kind of reaction, but as long as his participation wasn't expected, he would gladly leave the two to their own devices.

Once they were at home, though, the contagion had spread to Mrs Estheim during dinner as Serah and Vanille proceeded to regale the older woman with their epic tale of the quest to find the perfect dress, imparting the woes and tears and frustration and excitement, what they could remember of the comments made over the gowns that were paraded upon the selected audience members ("Hope kept saying 'strapless!' Really!" muttered Serah vehemently with a shake of her head, to which Nora just smiled fondly), of the feeling of rightness that had come over the bride-to-be as she found The One.

And then came the discussion about the marriage license and the ceremony.

It was the practice in Cocoon to simply head over to the registry and pick up the necessary digital document. Once signed and completed with the signatories' fingerprints scanned into the document, when the 'Send' key was pressed, each of the signee's identification cards would then be automatically updated electronically—a practice that was meant to keep the governmental fal'Cie apprised of Cocoon's census, something that would enable them to keep track of the population and of the populace's change of status, and also to sniff out fraudulent identities from entering Cocoon society.

Ceremonies themselves weren't a requirement, but simply a practice to make the beginning of marriage romantic and not so hampered by governmental issues. As well, the ceremony was meant to enable those who wed to celebrate the union with families and friends. Some couples would sign their license on the day of the ceremony; some would sign their license and have the ceremony later. Others would simply sign the license and not have the ceremony at all. It was the license itself that legalized the marriage to the fal'Cie, as ceremonies could vary depending on how the couple wanted it done.

"Snow grabbed two of the documents," said Serah with a rueful shake of her head, though hearts glittered in her eyes. "In case he screwed up signing the first one." She released a dreamy sigh. "Isn't he so considerate?"

Lightning could only roll her eyes in reply, stabbing at the creamy cauliflower on her plate before chomping on it.

Nora bade them goodnight after dessert, and the two younger women, still reeling from heady excitement and nowhere close to descending from their high, cajoled Noel into showing them the rest of the house—specifically, the homeowners' bedrooms, as those had not been part of last night's impromptu house tour. Lightning had followed along as unwilling chaperone, just in case the two in question caused some sort of ruckus that she could easily defuse, or so she convinced herself.

...Curiosity about a certain location could also be her reason, though if asked, she would promptly and unmitigatedly deny it.

With a shrug, Noel led them to the hallway that lay opposite the guest's wing, pointing and muttering towards closed doors. "Dad's office is through there. Mom's is this one here. They're the only ones who've got their offices separate from their bedroom." Heading towards a door identical to the ones that lined the hallway, he indicated, "Here's my room," and proceeded to turn the knob and led them inside.

It was actually two rooms that had been combined. The walls were a calm watery blue and held a number of band posters tacked up haphazardly. At their immediate vicinity was a small seating area: a couch and two comfortable chairs faced an entertainment centre that held a large television and a multipurpose game-and-movie console. Large windows spanned one entire wall, interrupted only by a pair of doors leading out into the balcony that wrapped around the whole second story of the house, and curtains ran along the span and were folded up in professional-looking pleats to let the evening light in. Near the windows stood a desk that held a laptop and pen-holders and books and magazines, paired with a leather rolling chair in front of it. Beside it was a huge open doorway that led to the bedroom proper where a king-sized bed could be seen, furnishings and linen emanating masculinity and youthfulness in its décor of rich, dark wood and dark blue bedding.

The room was simple and spartan despite the richness of the furnishings, clean but for a scattering of clothes on the edge of the bed, seemingly only reflecting Noel's current life in Cocoon where the only visible traces of his past in Gran Pulse were a set of intricate double swords hanging from a wall. An inheritance, perhaps. A rightful legacy and reminder of where he came from.

His room was met with exclamations of approval and amazement, the subject of his past was not touched on at all, for which he was grateful, though he was teasingly reprimanded by Serah and Vanille for not having a poster up of Elida Karmic on his wall as they were convinced he was a closet fan.

Then came what they referred to as the pièce de résistance: Hope's room. Whereas Noel's room was located in the middle of the hall opposite from his adopted parents' respective offices, and said parents' bedroom was at one end of the hall, Hope's room was at the opposite end, and upon entering, the tourists couldn't help but notice that the floor-plan was the exact same layout as Noel's—only more cluttered.

The furniture in the antechamber were more worn, exhibiting years of usage from the young boy who bodily jumped and flopped down amongst the couch's cushions and the computer chair's seat, his body's imprint growing and eroding history and familiarity on the faded upholstery, seemingly held in suspended time when they failed to be witness to the last six years he'd spent away from home. Built-in shelves ran along the walls, holding books, movie and games cases, trophies, action figures, model airships and robots, cute monster plush toys, and various random knickknacks; a good portion of these were stacked haphazardly on top of one another, somehow evoking some sort of organization despite the chaos.

And seemingly existing on its own plane of cleanliness and order was a special case enclosed in glass that housed a collection of boomerangs—which prompted laughter and jeering amongst the younger of the visitors. The collection was lovingly displayed under its own set of spotlights. Some boomerangs were spread all the way to their wingtips, some were folded, held upon stands and dais, each accompanied with a card catalogue with their model names and the dates from whence they were acquired.

Compared to Noel's desk, Hope's was a large corner one, housing two computer monitors as well as a laptop, each showcasing random screensavers in their inactive mode. Vanille was prompted for a password when she deigned to check out the contents of one computer, no doubt fishing for information to be used later for nefarious purposes, but no amount of typing in random probable words would permit them to scour its contents. Giving up, their attention were drawn upon the surface of the desk where heavy encyclopedias were laid open, at a glance educating them to—to their collective puzzled wonderment—flans. Various genus and species of flans scowled at them from the spread pages, and variations of "what the heck?!" were all they could utter in response.

The room exuded warmth despite a slight staleness, though Noel expounded that he had it on good authority that Nora made sure the housekeepers cleaned it at least once a week.

A mild breeze came in from the open balcony doors, and the four stepped outside, Serah and Vanille exclaiming over the garden before them.

"Wow! I didn't know about this!" said Serah, walking towards the balustrade and leaning to take in the sight and smell of the garden. "It's so beautiful!"

Lightning turned, looking for all the world as though she was walking aimlessly when in truth she was counting windows and doors until she came to the familiar ones of her guest bedroom with its curtains in roses motif, and filed the information away for later perusal. Or something.

"I guess that concludes the tour," said Noel, leaving Hope's doors as they had found them, walking hand in hand with Vanille behind the elder Farron. Lightning faced them, giving the equivalent of a facial shrug, watching Serah trail her hand over the balcony rail as she followed after them.

"I can't believe he has that many boomerangs," laughed Vanille. "He has a shrine of them. A shrine! Oh Maker!" She chortled, an arm over her belly as she bent over in mirth, stopping Noel in his tracks as he merely shook his head and waited for her to calm herself.

"I know, right?" agreed Serah, letting out a chuckle herself. "I mean, I knew he liked boomerangs. I just didn't know he liked them that much. And there were trophies, too, right?"

"Yeah," said Noel with a smile. "I heard he used to enter boomerang-throwing contests before he went to Academia and those were from some of the ones he won."

"So the guy's got a hobby. So what?" contributed Lightning, just a slightly bit annoyed at the immaturity her companions were displaying. "He might've grown out of them. Who's to say he's still into them now that he's older?"

At this, Vanille sobered up enough to counter, "Oh, Lightning, I can assure you that he hasn't."

"Yeah, he hasn't," confirmed Noel.

"Yeah, his first day back in Bodhum, he just bought a new one."

"Yep. He plays with it quite often."

Lightning simply shrugged in reply, shaking her head as though to say 'Whatever'. They ambled along aimlessly until they came to one end of the balcony with stairs that led down to the garden. She slowed her pace and allowed the others to move ahead of her. "You guys go on ahead," she said. "I'm heading for bed."

Serah turned back to wave, grinning as she bid her sister goodnight. Noel gave her a nod while Vanille simply called back, "Goodnight, Lightning." The three then proceeded with their tour of Nora's garden.

Back in her room, Lightning felt restless. Now and again she would find herself sitting on the edge of her bed or walking from dresser to bathroom to closet, from window to door, and back to sitting, stilling her hands from fumbling with the fabric of her clothes or tapping on her lap. She tried to cage her heart down from its rapid beats, tried to stop herself from thinking that the outcome of Hope's meeting with Elida wouldn't be a favourable one for her. She hated the worry. She hated the insecurity this whole situation was making her feel. She had his assurance—"I'm all yours," he had said. And that should be enough, shouldn't it? She could trust him. From the little she knew of him, she could trust that he was one who was true to his word.

Frustrated with herself, she pushed from the bed and headed for the bathroom, hoping a shower would wash away the anxiety. She'd had enough of it.

After another fall from his new—and now just as full of scratches and bruises as he was—hoverboard, Hope just gave up and laid where he landed.

There were a myriad of feelings that swam inside his chest, the foremost of which was freedom. Closure. A chapter of his life that had ended a year ago had now officially had its epilogue written; its last pages flipped past the afterword and into the author's biographical blurb inside the back cover flap. It read: Hope Estheim. Born in Palumpolum, Cocoon to Bartholomew and Nora Estheim, and now a citizen of Academia, Gran Pulse. Successor to the Directorship of the Academy. One time the lover of famed songstress Elida Karmic, and now courting one Lightning Farron (first name unknown).

A smirk pulled at the edge of his lip at the then-and-now's of his life, of the roles he'd taken and of the roles he would take, of the path ahead of him that he had yet to walk. As cliché as it sounded, the possibilities before him were endless. Myriad branches of possible futures stretched out before him, and as he'd learned in Chrono-Science, one had to take them all in stride and simply hope for the best one.

Palumpolum's night lights competed with the stars, winning in their artificial brightness even in the residential areas. The sign for Felix Heights acted as a beacon for Hope as he rose, dusting the seat of his pants and stomping on the edge of the hoverboard to pull it upright, snatching it so he could carry it along. Already his ceaseless mind was listing all the tweaks he would perform on the board so that he could ride it better. Possibly some sort of mechanism to make the sole of his shoe stick on the board's surface, or reconfigure its anti-gravity field to better counter his weight in order for it to keep him upright, or some sort of force-field that would bounce him back on when he started to lose his balance. This project would certainly be less of a challenge than the car, but it was something to do. Just because.

I'll conquer you yet, he thought, smirking to himself. Just you wait.

Before long he reached the gate that led to his childhood home, pulling out the keycard and keying in the pass-code into the control dial set up beside the swiper. The smaller side gate opened, and he trudged in on tired feet, feeling just slightly battered and bruised by his new toy, and reckoned a shower was in order.

After a meal, of course, he amended at the grumble that came from his stomach.

Straight for the kitchen he went, silently thanking his mother for thoughtfully setting his dinner aside, and headed for his room once it was finished heating up in the microwave. Setting the plate down on his desk and the hoverboard on the floor by the chair, he proceeded to empty out his pockets. Keys, wallet, and boomerang were piled over the monster encyclopedias. Then he took his seat and quickly wolfed down his meal, silently inspecting his scrapes in-between bites. After he finished eating, he went back to the kitchen to wash his dish, and then toured the house to make sure all the lights were off and the alarm set and secured before heading back to his room.

At the doorway, he stopped, his heart skipping a beat at the pleasant surprise he found by his desk. There stood Lightning, garbed very much as she had been the night before in a simple tank top and sweat pants, her back to him. A smile pulled at his lips as he watched her play with Nue, opening and closing it almost absentmindedly. He finally noticed the balcony doors that he had left open since last night, noting that that was likely how she had found his room. In truth, he had been of two minds on whether to visit her tonight or wait until tomorrow or the next day, unsure as to how to proceed with what was brewing between them. He wanted her, he wanted more—hell, he wanted everything, but in order to have everything, her wanting the same thing was tantamount.

Slowly, he told himself. A step at a time, remember? Take it day by day. Accept things as they are. For now, at least.

"You know," he began softly so as not to startle her, finally stepping into the threshold and gently closing his bedroom door behind him, "with you here, it's like seeing a dream that I never knew I had come true."

Despite the careful way he announced his presence, she still jumped a bit at the sound of his voice, relaxing as she turned to face him, her blue eyes sharp and watchful. Then, with a tilt of her head, almost coy, and with a smirk pulling at the corner of her lips she responded, "What? Me being in your childhood room?"

A thoughtful look crossed his face as he finally reached her, stopping just an arm's reach away. "Nnn...well, yes, that too," conceded Hope as he scratched his head, feeling sheepish. "But I was actually talking about you holding one of my boomerangs. I've always thought boomerangs were sexy, but seeing you with one, especially one of mine, is just...hnngg. It's like seeing a 3D version of one of Maqui's magazines. Only so much better because it's you."

At this, she pierced him with an incredulous look, before shaking her head and releasing a small huff of a laugh. He was rewarded with a wry smile that she seemed almost disinclined to relinquish, but against her will it pulled at the corners of her mouth, and he couldn't help feeling so inescapably happy at the sight of it.

"Hey," he whispered, feeling as though the full-blown grin would not leave his face for a while, watching as Lightning momentarily turned from him to deposit the boomerang back to his desk. When she faced him again, she didn't hesitate to draw him close by the lapels of his shirt, arms snaking around his neck and lips meeting his. As his hands rose and spanned her hips, he angled his head to deepen the kiss, sweetness making way for passion as mouths opened and tongues met and danced, twisted and roamed. Breathing was harshly laboured as neither of them could bear to draw away, but eventually they did, inhaling gulps of air, breathing each other in as they stood forehead to forehead, noses nuzzling together.

"Hey," she greeted back, and he saw on her lips a smile that immediately pulled the breath from him. It seemed to fill her with light, her features at ease, exuding contentment for this moment, and a seedling of hope took root in his heart that this could be the one reserved solely for him, just as Serah had one especially for her.

And he couldn't think of a better gift.

A/N: So I guess you could blame Lightning Returns for a lot of things. I was really bummed when they revealed Hope's render months ago, and that contributed to the lack of will to continue writing. The disappointment was just so heavy that it took a while to shake myself from it. And then the game was released in Japan and I got to watch several livestreams of people playing the game and then seeing the ending, I came to appreciate the choice that Square Enix made regarding Hope. But at the same time was disappointed again when (spoilers spoilers spoilers), though that's mixed with happiness because the end was (spoilers spoilers spoilers), which then gave me the feels and inspiration to finish this chapter.

Random notes (just because I probably should've written about it ages ago):
1) The song that got this fic started when I first heard it was "Dirty Desire" by Hikaru Utada. There have been elements of it infused into the story from Lightning's point of view, but then the fic grew beyond it.

2) Minor characters that were featured in this fic were actually NPC's from Final Fantasy XIII-2. The most notable are Millie and Marie of M&M Bridals, whose fragment was a "Wedding Jewelry" which I thought was somehow fitting when I included them here. Other mentions were Thorne (Hope's professor/lost in a paradox in the game), Pat (receptionist at Estheim Industries Bodhum/gives you a mission in the game), Brenda (housekeeper at the Estheim's Bodhum residence/gives you a mission in the game), and Buddy (security guard at Estheim Industries Bodhum/lost in a paradox in the game).

3) I know a lot of readers find this fic really humourous, for which I'm glad, but I have to admit I never set out to write a humour fic. This story pretty much said to hell with my outline and wrote itself out the way it did. I'm hoping to ease back to the stuff in my outline so there'll actually be an end to this story.

* Reviews are appreciated! They greatly contribute to getting the next chapter out faster ;)
So if you want to know what's coming next, please review.

Thanks for reading :)