Ohhh, I'm so excited to be starting a new story, you have no idea. I've decided to tackle something that's been on my mind lately...just what kind of mother would Lightning make? As Fang will say in one of the later chapters, 'it's a lot easier to finish raising a child that isn't yours'.

Some things to be noted: I want to try a new way of telling a story, so these chapters aren't always going to be in order-they're going to flip flop between front-story and back-story, but I'll make sure to clearly state the time...it'll be up to you to remember certain things and I promise my updates won't be so far apart *cringe* that you'd forget. Deal? This is still very much a HopexLight fic. And I'm not dealing with an underage Hope. Did I mention the pairing was Light and Hope? I put Light through a lot of crap, so if Hope (I admit, I don't go easy on him either) makes her happy, then by all means, I'm going to make him make her happy.

I shall try and beat back OOCness with an ugly stick, but bear with me. Everyone's older and I haven't gotten a clue of how their personalities would change; I've got some strong inclinations so I'll swing it as best I can. Oh and don't hate on the name of Serah and Snow's kid, xD, I've tried so hard to change it because it's really weird and I personally am not too fond of it, but hey, they picked it, right? So ages...Lightning's 30, Hope's 23, Serah's 28, Snow's 30...and Vanille should be 28 and Fang 30 as well (seems like with exception of Hope, everyone was either 21 or 18); the kiddies are mentioned in the chapter.

Now, this being the start, it jumps right in. Explanations and winding thought-processes come later (because at this point, they're not realizing anything new really). That being said, I hope this brevity is hooking enough to make y'all interested. And if not, the second chapter surely will and if that doesn't work...then I have failed at making Light a good mommy. *hangs head*

xAltaria: I hope I've uploaded this in time to make your journey a bit easier! *crosses fingers*

Read and review if you think it's something you'd like to see continued!

"When you gonna give it up, girl?" Fang asked, lounging on the sunbaked picnic table of the Last Resort's camping ground. She brushed a black fly from her tan knee, leaning back to rest her elbows on the edge of the splinter-giving wood. She could still comfortably hear Vanille's voice as she shrieked along with the kids by the river. "You settled down in every other way." Her remark instantly earned a piqued glare and she smirked.

Clad in umber shorts and a baggy black top that constantly kept slipping from her shoulders, Lightning licked her finger gingerly, rolling her eyes. "I really don't see why we had to bring her along; she's just pissing me off," she muttered. She stared at the Pulsian warrior, looking away when the older woman caught her eye. "And she's doing it on purpose." Huffing she sat on the family van's bumper, swallowing her blatant distaste for the decal on her sister's torso, which proudly read 'My Hubby's a first-class Hero'. "What's with that…apron?"

"Sis, if I got sauce on my dress, I'd cry." Serah rummaged in the back of the car's spacious back, pouting when she came up empty-handed. Always coming across the serving spoon, now that she needed it, of course she couldn't find it. She picked up a worn chocobo plushie, tossing it further in. He'll want that later. "And in all honest actuality, you two really get along." She lifted the covered bowl from the trunk and lowering her voice to a whisper, she added, "Hope even confided some juicy bits about you two—though in those cases you were almost always inebriated in some form or another, so he never really took it to heart." She giggled, setting the dish on the table. "But he's always been quick-tempered and with that, comes some spicy jealously. It's so cute, Sis. You should see him."

Lightning froze, finger still in mouth, staring hard at the bowl of potato salad, greatly unnerved. Why is it that I don't know what she's talking about? "When was this?" she asked quietly.

Fixing the straps on her yellow sundress, Serah put her hands on her hips. "Well well well, here you were not ten seconds ago scolding Snow for sticking his finger in the pudding and you're," she reached to pull her sister's hand from her mouth, eyes widening at the wound, "oh, you cut yourself. Geez, say something, we have band-aids."

Manning the grill with Snow, Hope glanced up worriedly at hearing there was a need for band-aids. "Someone hurt?"

Serah gasped, dramatically letting go of Light's hand. "Oh my, I almost forgot we brought your medic along." Her half-hearted swoop wasn't nearly fast enough to avoid the swat on the shoulder and she giggled girlishly. "She needs you Hope."

"Tch, don't listen to her, I don't need—"

"You weren't really going to say you don't need me, were you?" Hope interrupted, conveying a wounded yet serious tone as he approached, stepping too close to claim mere medical assistance. Lightning looked up at him, aquamarine eyes narrowed—it was a trait she did quite often and by now, he could tell the subtle differences in almost all of them. This one accompanied with the sly smile, lower lip slightly pulled under—definitely not a look of annoyance or disapproval; there was no mistaking the smoky challenge in her gaze, a dare that he would do well to heed. He leaned lower, nuzzling her before going in for a gentle kiss. She broke it off almost immediately, tousling the back of his head.

"You sweet sweet boy," she mused, hooking him with her arm, the tiger's eye bracelet on her wrist giving a slight rattle. "I had something a little rougher in mind."

Hope averted his gaze briefly, shifting uncomfortably, but bringing her closer all the same. "We're in a forest," he mumbled.

She gave a delectable hum, rubbing against him, slipping her fingers beneath the collar of his plain white shirt. "With plenty of trees."

"Maker Light," Hope breathed out heavily, resting his forehead against hers. A cool hand stroked the back of his neck, fingers soft and apologetic.

"Yah, never even had a chance to escape her clutches," Fang commented.

Lightning sighed; Hope taking the time to look at her finger, blinking at the severity the little cut actually posed. "Yes Fang, back when he just fourteen years old and grieving for his mother and I worried sick about Serah, all I could think about was making him a real man and yanking him behind the nearest boulder or group of convenient shrubs. Yeah whatever." Hope kissed the tip of her finger; crossing her legs, she leaned back on her arm. "It's been in my mouth, you know," she commented candidly, like it had the chance of putting him off.

"Oh I was watching."

A hot flame licked up within her and she pulled him closer, teeth on the sensitive skin of his earlobe. "I wasn't kidding about earlier," she breathed. "I really did have something rougher in mind."

Hope looked over his shoulder, grinning at Fang. "Know how she got to trust me back in Gapra Whitewood?"

"Whoa-ho there!" Snow guffawed, nearly dropping the plate of the barbecued lobo ribs. And the secrets come out.

Lightning snorted, wigging her wrist out his grasp. "You wish that was how it went down," she retorted.

He grinned devilishly. "Plenty of trees as I recall."

Lightning flicked his abdomen. "Watch it. I take that seriously."

Fang cackled, getting up to stretch. "Yes despite the fact—"

Serah cleared her throat loudly, holding her hand to her chest in an effort to make it seem more natural. "Sorry swallowed wrong," she said thumping herself a couple times, earning skeptical looks from the women.

Lightning gently pushed Hope back as he tried to wind an arm around her waist. "Despite what fact?" she asked coolly. You want to throw dirt? Go ahead, but don't miss on purpose.

"Sunshine, it was a joke, forget it, the time for it has already gone by," she said nonchalantly, waving her hand. The younger Farron had made her point clear enough and contrary to popular belief, not only did Fang possess tact, but saw herself fit to occasionally exercise it.

"A joke? Oh I really want to hear it then, I insist—because it seems my relationship with Hope is always up for ridicule."

Serah turned back anxiously, looking to her husband for any signs that would suggest his help in stopping the impending storm; his head bowed low, he seemed only too diligent in grilling.

"You want at it? Fine. Lemme put it black and white for ya, you say you take 'that stuff' seriously and in the end effect, you—"

"Please no animosity, things are getting a little too heated. I think we all know Hope was old enough to make his own—"

Lightning reddened. "Oh great Serah, like that sounds any better—yeah, I messed up, I fucked him when he was seventeen." She easily broke from the hold Hope had steadily been trying to keep in her and stormed off.

"And excuse me while I find that funny!" Fang shouted after her. "First time and the mighty soldier gets knocked up!"

"Fang, was that really necessary? Claire," Serah called, knowing her plea had zero chance of bringing her back. She ruffled through her bangs, letting her arms flop to her sides. Great…

Hope pointed a finger at the dark-haired smirking woman. "You know I wish you'd get over her," he spat sadistically. "The age jokes are all cute and fun, but really, it's overdone now. No one should give a shit how old I was because it sure as hell doesn't concern them and when you start to dirty our decisions, you mock that innocent little girl that's playing right over there and I will not tolerate my family being derided by some jealous bi—"

"Hope!" Serah scolded, red-faced.

"You'd better watch that mouth for yours," Fang warned lowly.

"And you better GROW UP!" he shouted.

Snow slammed the grill top shut. "Both of you need to calm down! I haven't been able to cook a decent hot dog since the two of you opened your mouths. We're supposed to be having fun and enjoying a little down time." He flipped the lid again, gray smoke billowing out; quickly fanning through it, he caught the young silver-haired man before he could disappear into the woods. "Hope, come help your big bro out and Fang—go take a walk."

He was still the same stubborn, strong-willed, silly Snow she'd fallen in love with, but fatherhood had uncovered a mature streak that often became apparent when disputes arose. In protecting the innocence of little eyes and ears, he acted as a brusque peacekeeper instead of picking a side and supporting it wholeheartedly. Quietly satisfied, Serah dug a bottle of water from the ice cooler. So he'd just been biding his time.

Irked at how easy it was to blame her for starting the whole thing, Fang rolled her eyes and casually started in the direction Lightning had gone; Hope immediately tensed up as if to go after her and Snow grabbed the back of his neck, subduing him with a rough massage.

"Not that way," he corrected exasperatedly. Can't you give the kid a break?

"Criminy, why don't you teach me how to take a walk then?" She sauntered off towards the river.

Staring at the cold lunch spread on the table and deciding nothing further needed her attention, Serah slipped off the apron, tossing it into the van. "I'm going to go…" she changed her mind, seeing how oblivious her husband was to Hope's miserableness. Oh hon, if I stormed off, you'd hate the person who kept you from following me. "Actually, Hope why don't you go find Light? I'll check on Vanille and make sure she's still ok," she giggled. Prism probably needs a nap. "C'mon Snow—we don't have to cook everything right now."

Leaning against the jagged bark of a tree with breached massive roots, Lightning wiped the dirt from her shorts, the slicing, shooting pain from her finger catching her so off guard, a slight burn in her eyes accompanied her elevated heartbeat. "Etro…" Inspecting the bloody digit, she pressed at the wound with her thumb, pushing herself from the tree as snapping twigs gave away someone's approach. He came a little closer, stumbling over the roots. Her gut twisted and she tried not to feel a defeated guilt. "Hope."

"Lightning, don't take what Fang said—"

"Hope, she's right—"


Riled by his raised voice, her eyes flashed dangerously. "You have a family," she countered angrily. You never had a chance! Who knows what you could be doing right now? In a quick blink, she was pinned against the tree, the force he was using anything but tender.

"Damn right I do; I'm proud and I love my family—I love you." No more did his green eyes shine with an undertone of soft fear and abandonment, but an aching sadness troubled them all the same. "Face it, Light. Accept it. Nine years and yet there's still a part of you that refuses to acknowledge the fact that I love you."

Her gaze lowered when he caressed her cheek; his hand so warm and affectionate, she had the impression if his touch had been able to convey any more love, they'd have both melted into each other. She swallowed. "Nine years? Hate to break it to you, but when I laid my eyes on you, never did I think I'd come to love such a whiny brat." He wasn't fazed and she combed through his silver hair, letting his long locks slip through her fingers. Ticklish pleasure seeped up her waist when he suddenly changed his position and between the thin fabric of shorts, she could feel his outline.

"When you kept pushing me away, I developed a need for you; when you smiled at me for the first time, besides my heart feeling like it would explode, I realized I had a crush on you. And when I heard the panic in your voice, your never-ending worry for my safety…the times you let me hold onto your arm so I could calm down from some stupid fear," he trailed off, his fingers ghosting down her right arm. He looked into her eyes. "You still do."

"Hope—" she was cut off with a quick kiss and she found herself oddly turned on by the fact he was grinning.

"Lightning, you've always been special to me. Even when I was scared of you, I never wanted to leave your side. Resolute. Strong. Courageous… Beautiful." Her eyes were wide and he kissed her cheek. "Adorable." He sighed softly, leaning against her, hands on her hips. "I love you, Claire. That's why I'm here. And your daughter?"

She slowly wrapped her arms around his middle, gazing over his shoulder; his palm against her naval piercing, his breath ghosting her ear. "That perfect little being came from you and she loves you so much she gets frantic when she can't express it enough." Lightning laughed through her tears and tilted her head the slightest.

"Right, I get it," she said. She stroked the back of his neck. "You understand though…what I meant when I said she was right." I didn't want you to end up like me…having to deal with something irreversibly life-altering that confines you to a certain path before you're ready.

He grinned shyly, refusing to completely give in. "So maybe we got ahead of ourselves, but look at our baby and tell me she wasn't worth it. She's my future and so are you, for as long as you'll allow yourself to be."

She pushed him back. "Hope, I'm not—"

"You have my heart and soul in the palm of your hand and you can crush it at any time." She narrowed her eyes, about to protest and he pulled her closer. "Light, you change your mind, you're unpredictably stubborn, the length you'll go to ensure what you think is best for the ones you love, especially when it seems to involve you distancing yourself, scares me." You'd leave me if you thought I was better off without you.

Cracks were running through her heart, fissures that would only close when the pain in his eyes absolved. "Hope, I wouldn't, I couldn't ever leave you." But she remembered a fight all too clearly where she stated would do just that. Her eyes fluttered closed. Maker, and I hadn't been kidding.

He leaned down, pressing their foreheads together. His lips brushed against her cheekbone. "Do you love me?"

"Yes," she whispered, tears gathering. Please don't. Don't make me hurt you anymore than I already have. Seconds trickled by and she embraced him, grateful for his silence. "I love you Hope. Rest assured about that."

Hope looked down, having discovered the leather belt around her waist from the of which hung her survival knife; he pulled at it childishly, unbuckling it and making it a few notches looser. "I didn't want Fang to come," he admitted softly. "She's always trying to guilt you and it's really—"

"Hope." She stilled his fingers. "She's just envious that I have you."

"I think it's the other way around, she's envious of me," he muttered.

Lightning snorted. "I don't think it's like that and besides, she has Vanille."

"Yeah well, Vanille's not her Sunshine."

His bitter tone had her amused until she noticed the mockery hadn't reached his eyes and instead, he looked troubled and hurt, withdrawing from her, shoving his hands into his pockets. She knew Fang could be intimidating and while the woman seemed to thrive on being bluntly caustic, she slowly began to suspect that she'd been picking on Hope a little more than he let on. In an ireful protectiveness stemmed from when he was still just a boy, easily rendered to a tearful sulk after harsh words, and in progressive flow now that she had a little one to defend and shelter, she dragged him forward, encircling his lanky middle. "I'm only going to say this once and it'll be up to you to remember it. Are you ready for it?"

"Oh poot! Snoooooow! You left something on the grill and now it's on fire!"

Hope grinned and Lightning sighed, drawing away reluctantly, one arm dropping to her side, keeping one hand gingerly cradled to her chest. "Still need my words of reassuring wisdom?" she asked; he shook his head. "Will you go help her then? The idiot's probably not even in earshot." It was a mutual reaction when her breath rose as his hovering teased to close the narrow gap between them and like a keen awakening, every part of him deemed itself sensual to her: the light hold he had on her hips, ever so slightly pulling her to him, silver silken locks feathering down her face as he dipped his head, warm lips against the pulse in her neck. Guess who's confidence came back.

"Come back with me."

At times she found herself submitting to his gentle power, wanting to even. During her pregnancy, he'd seen her at her best and her very worst, more often than not, being the ever-supportive victim. Not to mention what I'm still putting him through… He endured all he had to; loving her all the same with a stability she could give into. In a relationship strengthened and trialed by time, she'd wholly been won over and didn't mind sharing dominance when the occasion called for it. It was the least she could offer. "Give me a little more time," she breathed, resisting the urge to throw her arms around his neck and have him once more brace her against the tree under entirely different circumstances.

"Not too much longer, ok?" He grabbed her hand, pressing his thumb to her palm, worriedly eyeing the cut. "That really needs to be looked at," he said quietly. She lifted her head and he was caught by the low-burning fire in her eyes. Maker, now would be the perfect time. But instead of following the impulse to kiss her, he decided to return the favor and leave her wanting.

Snow tossed the pronged poker into the air, getting it to do a triple spin before he had to catch it; the rag once used wipe the grease from the grates a pile of ash stamped into the ground. "So…still haven't married her?" he asked, trying not to make it the awkward start of a conversation that it undeniably was. He flipped over the hissing patties, fat and juice sizzling into the flames. He really hoped he wouldn't take it the wrong way and the silveret only raked his hair back.

"Not from the lack of trying," he admitted meekly. He bit his lip. "And it's ok, I mean I knew from the beginning that our relationship would be anything but traditional." He scanned the picnic area, but there was no sign of Light.

"And yet that didn't stop you from asking…so obviously you must care a little, right?"

Hope looked down and didn't say anything, unenthusiastically turning shish-kabobs of beef, onions, mushrooms and green peppers.

Snow grinned, easing into man-to-man advice mode. "I understand man, she's the love of your life, the mother of your daughter and the term 'girlfriend' just doesn't seem strong enough anymore." He brushed a little more marinade on them.

"I've already asked her three times and she always gets so depressed afterwards—she feels horrible. She said it was like being backed into a corner with the only way out meaning you had to run over the person you loved. I don't want to do that to her." He didn't mention her cold ultimatum if those four particular words ever left his lips again.

The blond chuckled. "Then why not try the 'I wanna make you an honest woman'," he suggested half-jokingly, Hope's silence reiterating just how fatal such a proposal would actually be. Yeah that was a dumb thing to say.

"Sometimes I don't defend you when Light bashes you."

"Oh hey ouch…she still does that? Well, then other times you stick up for your buddy, right?" he grinned, elbowing him.

Hope released a tiny smile. No, those times I just don't say anything. He lifted the foil of an aluminum pan, staring at gelatinous squares of pale yellow, mottled orange and fiery red. "What are those?"

"You haven't lived until you've tried Vanille's flan custard," Snow said solemnly, using tongs to delicately transport the sweetmeat to the lower grate, where its skin instantly steamed, crinkled and caramelized.


Snow shook his head. "It's the only way man."

The fast-pace river, clear as liquid glass as it rushed over rainbow stones made smooth by its timeless erosion, provided a backdrop of mild noise as it emptied into the waterfall, its danger shrouded by the muted uproar most waterfalls of its sheer size had.

Vanille gasped, staring at the violet, aromatic flower the little blue-eyed messy-haired boy held out to her. "For me?" she asked in surprise, smiling when he nodded shyly. She crouched down, hugging her knees. "Would you be so kind to put it in my hair then?" She waited patiently while he tucked it above her ear with the clumsiness of a four-year-old. "Oh you're just too cute!" She straightened up, tackling him into the biggest bear hug her thin arms could manage.

"Vanille, I wan' to go closer, can we?" Her milkshake pink hair in two distinct layers, the top one being the shortest was pulled into a spiffy ponytail atop her head, while the rest barely brushed her shoulders in loose waves; her ends bearing a crisp edge from her recent haircut. Her features were small and delicate, her downturned mouth a pout when she wasn't smiling, eyes the teardrop shape of Hope's, framing turquoise seas soulfully wide—she didn't have pleadful gaze of a puppy, but the endless curiosity of a patient and expectant kitten. Her left eye held an aura of mystique as the lower half of her iris had a stark splotch of emerald, surrounded by a gentle viridian which gradually faded into its original oceanic blue. "I wan' to see where the water goes."

"It falls down, silly. And it's too dangerous to go close, we mustn't ever go past that bush and we can never cross the river because it's much too wide—that's why your mommy said to stay here and that's why I'm here to watch you." She gave the girl a little tap on the nose.

"But l wanna see it myself—"

"Food's ready!"

Vanille giggled and grabbed her hand. "Maybe your parents can take you later, but right now, let's go get some grub! C'mon Prism."

Hope snapped the spindly little arms off the twig and tossed it with the pile on the table. Light was sitting on the bench, hunched over, head in hands, band-aid over her injured finger. The loose black fabric had slipped off her shoulder, revealing tanning skin. "You ok?" He wiped his hands on the seat of his pants, moving closer; she automatically straightened up, spreading her knees to allow him closer. He threaded his fingers through her hair and she gave him a half-lidded somnolent look. Her cheeks were a rosy pink and he couldn't tell if it was from her hands or part of her sudden sleepy demeanor.

"I'm fine." Her voice was a breathy whisper; her eyes closed and her head slumped, her cheek just above his belt. He swallowed, stroking her hair gently, torn between moving her and letting her stay where she was. She was like this before we left too… Her arms wound around his slim waist and she nuzzled him.

Gathering the twigs off the table, Serah glanced at the pair, quickly doing a double take. Oh, I was about to say… The tenderness in which a mystified Hope caressed a barely dozing Light brought a smile to her lips. "You two were so meant for each other," she said quietly.

Hope blushed. "I'm just incredibly lucky," he said, mostly to himself. His blush deepened when Lightning actually looked up, smiling softly. His heart pounded with elated joy when she took the compliment without turning it around and simply rested her head again.

Fang grinned, brutishly stabbing an uncooked hot dog with a stick. "Here come the kids."

Hope flinched in anticipation, knowing that Light would soon be interrupted from her little snooze. He leaned down. "I'll grab you a plate."

Hollering and bellowing, his hooded gray and white t-shirt green with grass stains, Prism trampled through the bushes followed by Vanille who was a tad less animated in her whooping and fist pumping. She offered apologetic giggles around. "I think he got a wee bit excited—"

"Hey momma, I scare away monsters!"

Serah intercepted the little boy, spinning him around. "Just like daddy?" she cooed. "I'm sure you're starving, let's get some food in your belly."

Lightning drew herself up, opening her arms as a little girl shyly came closer holding a paper plate scattered with chips and a charbroiled hotdog. Seeing her mother's ready invitation, she grew a little bolder. Her teal top had no sleeves, held in place with a thin bow serving as a strap over her right shoulder; her black skirt gave a soft swish as she lifted her leg, an attempt to climb up that would've ended in a food disaster had Light not picked up her and perched her on her leg, wrapping arms around her six-year-old daughter. "Hey Mabel," she greeted quietly,

A smile adorning her face, Mable offered her the first bite of her ketchup-streaked hotdog. "Wan' some?"

Lightning took a careful bite, hesitating until she realized it wasn't hot enough to burn her. Her daughter crowed in delight, unleashed a rather mischievously gleeful laugh, and promptly shoved as much as she could into her own mouth.

"Guess everything tastes better after mama has a nibble," Fang remarked with a wry smile, sitting down next to her.

She tensed, not quite ready to forgive her so easily. "Or she was using me to test—" Lightning jerked her head back as a dry chip crunched against her lips and narrowing her eyes, briskly wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. "Don't do that." The chip was dropped meekly back onto the plate, little fingers leaving the rest of her food untouched. Was my tone too harsh? She sighed, giving the despondent body a squeeze. I'm sorry. "Anything you want to do?"

She kicked her laced boots together self-consciously, bending the edges of the plate. "Sissy's taking Prism to the water and she said—she said I could come, do you wan' to come with me?" Picking at the stones creating the bracelet around her wrist, she finally looked up, searching eyes shimmering with a gem of hopefulness; her mother twirled a lock of her hair around her finger.

"She's got her mother's smile," Fang commented. Lightning brushed her thumb over her child's lips; she wasn't smiling, at least not visibly.

"Yeah I'll go with you..."


Lightning wisely moved the plate out of harm's way as Hope crouched down beside them. He rested his arm over her lap and like having Mable in her hold, she found the contact comforting—though his caressing fingers aroused something a little heavier. Bouncing happily, their daughter leaned forward expectantly and Hope obliged her with a doting kiss. A fleeting shadow crossed his face at the warrior's proximity and without a look back, she got up and left.

"Keeping mommy company?" The little girl nodded enthusiastically. "Can I keep her company now?"

"Ummm…" She tilted her head ponderingly, swinging her legs back and forth, absentmindedly patting the thigh she was sitting on. "O-k." She turned around, reaching to play with her mother's lightning pendant. "Don't forget about the water, 'kay?" She hopped down and only managed to wander a few feet before getting snapped up by Snow.

She had no reason to dislike him, though strongly influenced by her mother's behavior, her reactions towards him varied greatly. She giggled at her new height in his arms, but was reluctant to give him a kiss.

Hope sidled closer, placing his chin on her knee, trying to ignore how inviting her bare sun-kissed legs looked. "You know she could've seen you," she said flatly.

"My hand was behind her…besides, it was completely innocent. Serah wants to know if we want the tent."

Lightning arched an eyebrow. Well if you aren't hard to read. "And the kids?"

"They'd sleep in the van with her and Snow."

"Is it already set up?"

Hope nodded. "In front of the van."


He pressed closer, hand trailing down her calf. "She said you looked tired."

She couldn't stamp out her wry smile quick enough. "So I need a nap?" His pleading eyes were desperate with a pained desire.

"I've been stuck with Snow, you can't blame me for that."

"Hope, stop, you're drooling on me."

"No I'm not, Lightning, I'm serious."

Against the edge of the table for too long, she arched her back, realizing in mid-motion how it wouldn't help her conflicted Hope. Indeed, he stayed quiet for a couple seconds. The fact she couldn't keep back her coy smile didn't help either. She brushed back his locks, feeling his forehead, slightly surprised by his flushed temperature. "You're really working yourself up. And I'm not even doing anything."

"You're cruel." He nudged against her hand, swallowing, and she chucked him under the chin. He had begun to pant and in attempt to maintain at least a shred of being outwardly calm, he hid his face, breathing in the scent of her vanilla sandalwood lotion. She tousled his hair.

"You missed your chance. Half an hour ago, we were undisturbed."

The arm across her lap was tense and Lightning had half a mind to massage his shoulder until with alarming clarity she noticed his other hand wasn't on her calf anymore. Reaching down, she jerked his arm away, his resistance short-lived; his gaze ashamed and resentful—she felt a stab of pity. Maybe that was a bit harsh. Thankfully the kids seemed to be nowhere in sight along with Vanille and while Serah, Snow and Fang were a ways away chatting, she had a feeling they hadn't escaped their attention. Wordlessly, she yanked the young man up, a whimper falling from his lips as she tugged him along.

Biting her lip, she tried to keep distance between them and reaching the tent, she gave him a smart smirk, going in backwards so she could keep an eye on him.

"Poor Hope," she purred huskily. "Not going to last too long, huh?" She grinned at aggressiveness, his weight taking her to the sleeping bag-covered floor. Not so gentle when you have to wait. I'll keep that tactic handy. He stopped suddenly and she looked at him inquiringly, blinking when he stroked her cheek.

Her drowsiness had vanished, but something still seemed off about her. "Are you sure you aren't the one with the fever?"

She groaned. "Hope, don't be a kid. I'm aroused. My temperature's going to be a little high. Yours is no different."

"Feel kinda sorry for him," Snow mumbled, scratching the back of his neck. "I mean…he's still like a puppy, y'know?"

Rather admiring her sister's elusive tactics along with the sentiment that in such a constrictive environment, it was unfair to Hope, she sputtered at his comparison. "Are you really talking about—"

Fang cackled. "You mean that phase where they want to hump everythin'?"

"Fang!" Serah covered her mouth. "He's a person, not a dog."

Snow chuckled uncomfortably. "I was kinda talkin' about how excitable they get..."

"Oh I think he would've been alright. He started taking matters into his own hands. Quite literally." She grinned, shaking Serah's shoulder.

A hush fell over the forest as a short shriek of the highest pitch knifed the air; Snow marveled at the speed in which Lightning suddenly tore from the tent, nothing but a blur of pink, black and umber. "Whoa, they weren't even in there a minute."

Fang snatched at the red spear leaning against the tree, high-tailing after her. "Because that wasn't Vanille screaming!"

Oh no! Her cry a faint-hearted gasp, Serah took off after her, Snow thudding close behind.

"Hang on!" Vanille forcibly pushed the uncertain Prism to the side, stomping her feet in decision before just running along the bank, an arm frantically outstretched to the flailing girl getting swept into the middle of the river's current where she would become nigh impossible to catch.


Vanille skidded to a stop as Lightning cut into her path and she covered her mouth. "I'm so sorry," she cried.

"Don't just stand there," Fang shouted.

The smaller Oerban's eyes widened and she quickly sprinted forward again, yanking her out her malboro wand. "You ready?" she called. With an aim and a heave, she flung it forward, its hooks soaring into the air, hoping that at least one would snag the helpless girl and that Fang would be able to reach her before the weapon did any damage. A promising tug, a pitiful cry, and she ground her heels into the ground. "Hurry—I've got her!"

Snow steamrolled through the bushes, adrenaline spurring him to continue even at the inevitable sight. A slimmer build and lighter on his feet, Hope flew past him.

Without letting go of the spear, the warrior plunged into the crisp water. Already so near to the drop-off, the undercurrent threatened to sweep her off her feet; it proved too strong for the wand's shallow grip on Mable and she was brutally ripped free.

"MAAABELLLL!" Hope struggled in vain to catch up, pulled by his heart and her plight to go faster.


"I'm coming!" he shouted. Horror paralyzed his lungs as the love of his life made a bone-chilling veer to left, the perfect distance to make a running jump… "NOOOOO!" She charged, launching off the edge towards the middle of the fall just as their daughter plummeted over. In heartbeat, he was splashing through water only to have a tawny arm rendering him thrashing in a chokehold. He could barely hear her, much less take the time to register her words.

"They'll survive. You wouldn't." She tightened her grip on the spear she'd jabbed into the bank; Snow and Vanille leaning over with reaching arms.

"You can't hold me back!"

The blond grunted, hauling the writhing young man out of the water, enfolding him in a muscular embrace. "Let me go! We have to go down there—"

Pinching the bridge of her nose and harshly raking her wet hair back, Fang clamped her hand to her forehead. "Calm the hell down, we're not givin'—"


"Bloody cur!" Fang whipped around, delivering a sharp kick to the silveret's unprotected stomach; he convulsed, his cry a choked cough—Snow looked up, shocked, eyes flaring into a defensive rage. "YOU THINK I DON'T KNOW THAT?"

"Aaaaaahhhhhh!" In a livid fury, Serah pounced onto the dark-haired Pulsian, pounding her chest with determined fists. "You've got no right, you've got no right!"

"Stop it, all of you!" Vanille rushed forward, wrapping frail arms around Serah's waist to keep her and Fang from falling into the river. "This isn't helping!" she sobbed. "Light and Mabel need us!"

"I'll climb down, I won't jump," Hope rasped, squirming to sit up.

Tightening her jaw, Fang grabbed the back of Serah's head, wrapping an arm around her shoulders. "Sure, and once you make 160 foot descent, we'll find your dead body tomorrow. We'll explain to your wife an' kid—oh wait, Lightning won't marry you, I guess you can figure out why now."

"Enough!" Vanille tried to hoist herself over Serah, reaching far enough to give her dear friend a half-hearted slap. "You've gone too far Fang."

Over the deep, heart-wrenching, broken sobs of a stricken Hope, Serah picked up a distinct sound—her son's terrified, confused wailing. "Prism!" She tore away from the Oerbans, stepping over two men, scooping up the red-faced boy. "Mommy's right here," she cried, kneeling down, mind reeling at the fate her sister and niece might've succumbed to.

"We don't have any time to lose," Snow said thickly, getting to his feet, pulling Hope up with him, cradling his face roughly with one hand. "We'll drive down there and pick 'em up." His tone left no room for doubt, despite the fact that Last Resort was indeed the last charted territory. Beyond that point, no roads existed.

Serah padded over to the van, sliding the door open, placing Prism in his car seat. "Mommy, don't leave," he hiccupped, reaching for her. She kissed his tear-streaked cheek.

"I'll be right back," she consoled.

Nearing the dirty white van's front, Snow quickly turned back, gloved hands up to prevent Hope from going any farther, but he'd already glimpsed the empty tent. Swallowing, he caught the silveret, staring at the trees as he rubbed the back of his head. "Get in the car, buddy," he said miserably, guiding him in the right direction.

Wringing out her blue robe, Fang wrapped her arm around Vanille's shoulders. "Aye Snow, we're gonna stay here; we're used the terrain."

The coral-headed woman nodded. "We'll be a lot faster this way."

"Sunshine's a smart girl, she'll know to follow the river." She jerked her chin to the car. "I know the kid's distraught, but there's no point in trying to find them now. Leave that to us. You go back and get help. And fast, big man. Girl's got no weapon."

Having nothing to say, Snow just gave a quick nod, leaving to move the tent out of the way. Breathing harshly, he hastily unzipped the door, grabbing the multiple sleeping bags, a tiger's eye bracelet, falling to the ground. Light was wearing that… Bending down, he snatched it up, making his way around to dump his armload into the car.

"Quick, shove just the tent in the bushes, no time to dismantle it and no one here to steal it anyway," Fang said, hitting Vanille's shoulder to catch her attention. "Snow's gotta go." Lightning, you'd better be ok. I'm not watching this sorry lot by myself.

There's some DRAMA between Light, Hope and Fang...it gets pretty intense. Mable's name is pronounced May-bel, Latin for 'loveable' or 'dear', which she certainly is. Ok, so some might not think Light's that flirty, but I imagine her being quite the sexy woman when she's comfortable and feels like playing (which at 30 seems to be perfect age for her). Note to self: no more posting at 3am...nothing but heartache comes from it. ANYWAYS, stay tuned for the next chapter! :)