Three days isn't too long, right? Though I must confess, when I started writing the chapter, I decided it wasn't the 'second' chapter, so I had to re-write a new one xD This chapter's a bit short (and I've come to the conclusion it's a necessary filler, not much I can do about it), but I figured out how the story's going to proceed *nods furiously*. I'm totes excited. Guess what I'm not excited about-the food poisoning my salad gave me...stupid greens.

Thanks to my reviewers Vecktus (yay for being for the first one!), anon, and thewhitespirit (I think caffine is contagious, ^-^).

Read and enjoy!

Seven months pregnant was not something Lightning relished feeling. Short of breath, waiting out a spell of dizziness by supporting herself over the countertop, the calm serenity she'd woken up with that morning before spraying the bedside in watery vomit seemed a faded memory created decades ago. Trembling fingers tucked damp layers of pink back and she closed her eyes, wincing at the strain her arms were under; she had herself pushed back to keep the wood from pressing into her distended belly and propped herself up enough to keep whatever weight she could off her tender breasts. Maker, how long do I have to stand here? With a revved up metabolism, she was constantly overheating and even the thinness of her pastel yellow maternity top couldn't help her cool off. She hung her head, inhaling slowly, trying to fight off the prickly pain flaring in her legs and feet through shifting her weight.

Moving along with her mother, the baby decided to stretch into her ribcage, rivets of agony shooting up from her torso. Her whimpering cry barely audible, she struggled to stay upright, gritting her teeth when swirling dots invaded her vision from her irregular panting. "Please…stop for a bit." Where are you Hope? She knew he'd gone to the library after school, but didn't think he'd be gone this long.

As if by some miracle, a promising grate of a key being inserted into its lock instilled a brief feeling of euphoric relief. However, a quick reality check brought her spirits crashing back down, for having him here would do nothing about her pain. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, but it only exacerbated her irritability and standing there with his backpack and holding a jar of peanut butter and a bag of sour gummy worms, Hope was the perfect target. She watched him close the door, shutting out the evening air, ducking his head as if he already sensed something was wrong. Though oblivious to how long she'd been standing there, his features crinkled into a hopeful smile which she deadened with an icy glare. Her stomach took a nauseating drop and she covered her nose. "What's that smell?" Onions and garlic and what her mind could only gather as week-old fatty grease. She swallowed rapidly, fighting the urge to gag.

His eyebrows furrowed and he cocked his head, his puzzled expression fading fast. "I stopped by Serah's and…she and Snow were cooking, but I didn't stay there—"

"Hope, you reek."

Wordlessly, he shrugged off his bag, letting it land on the floor with a heavy thud and set the items—a peace-offering to her cravings—on the other end of the counter. He opened the window above the sink, short diaphanous curtains instantly billowing, and grabbing a fistful of his gray sweater, pulled it over his head, his dark blue shirt rising with it. He tossed it at his backpack, noting that she still didn't look appeased. "Something else wrong?" he asked wearily. She could go from being adorably needy and silly to a demanding, poison-tongued, belittling queen viper and he found himself surprisingly willing to handle her fluctuating moods, quite to the point where Snow even joked about having a masochistic streak. But tonight, he didn't have the energy required to keep his heart immune to her scathing remarks; a particular Pulsian had already broken him down. I'm tired, please don't tear me to shreds.

She tried to straighten up, her inability to only fueling her anger. "Wrong?" she seethed, balling her hands. "This is wrong—you're still a kid yourself and here I am carrying your child!" Granted he wasn't in the eyes of the law, but three months after turning eighteen didn't make him any more ready handle the responsibility than if he'd been sixteen.

His shoulders sagged, a spark of subdued temper flaring. "Damn it Lightning, why won't you let me prove myself? I can't change the fact that I'm always going to be younger—if that bothers you so much, go and find someone else—I'll go jump off a cliff or something."

She gave a sarcastic snort, flinching at the flurry of agitated movement inside her. "Oh real mature."

"Well it's not hard to exceed the low expectations you have for me," he retorted, freezing when he noticed how badly she was shaking. "Hey, you need to sit down…"

You think? Embarrassed and prepared to get to the couch without him, she once again pushed herself off her arms, breathing heavily from the exertion and ignoring her blurry vision, she turned around, her whole world tilting before she even took a step. Damn it!

"Light!" He dashed to her side, sliding between her and the counter, wincing as she collapsed against him, shoulder into his chest; stifling his gasp, he wrapped a tight arm around her back, lowering her with him to the floor, pulling up a leg for her to lean against. "Lightning, you should've said something sooner," he said quietly, his voice a chiding sigh.

Sitting between his legs, she tried to muster an expressionless face, like the throbbing ache in her back, burning lungs and rapid needles pricking her legs weren't bothering her. Like the impending birth or that her lack of maternal warmth towards the baby inside her at times meaning she was a bad mother, didn't scare her; that she had the possibility of ruining more than one life didn't want to make her give up her own life in atonement. Frowning, a tear rolled down her cheek, followed by another one, wetting a path for others to glide down. A hand gently pressed to the side of her flushed face and she didn't move away, instead allowing its guide to his chest. Born from his touch and the beating of his heart, a tiny tendril of comfort unfurled, enshrouding her with a delicate sense of peace.

Stay calm, stay calm. She wants you to hold her, otherwise she wouldn't be in your arms right now. Hugs were something she tolerated from him and once in a while, he could get away with a quick peck on the cheek if he didn't mind the scold that would come later; she usually had nothing against a cuddle initiated by him, granted he didn't move around too much, but ever after that night and especially when she found out she was pregnant, it was all way the back to square one. She gave no verbal restrictions, her eyes were the only repellant she needed. It was only after the first trimester where she started accepting and returning his affections again. He tentatively placed his hand to her belly, rubbing the firm skin beneath the thin stretchy fabric. My daughter's in there. Happiness and pride intertwined, humbled by the woman who was carrying his—their—child.

She wanted to cry again, the relief at finally being able to take an adequate lungful of air almost overwhelming as little limbs settled down, soothed by the caress of another's hand. She knows her daddy. It was an issue she'd had difficulty accepting; she still saw herself as taking care of him, it was hard to picture him a father. However, it wasn't his parenting she was worried about.

Hearing her quiet sniffle, he moved his arm from around her shoulder, pressing the heel of his hand to her lower back where she arched appreciatively. The floor probably isn't the best place for her. "Hey Light, want me to take you to your room?" Sighing, she nestled her head on his shoulder and he selfishly regretted his question—he wasn't ready to give her up.



"Sorry for snapping at you." She felt a kiss atop her head and drummed her fingers against his chest, shifting her weight. "And I really have to pee," she added quietly. Her mouth twitched into a shadow of a smile at hearing his chuckle.

"Got it." He sidled out from under her, offering her support from the side. Once up, she wrapped her arms around his neck, bringing him as close as the baby would allow. Her tranquil penetrating blues held an essence of dreaminess, the slight part of her lips bringing a solemn seriousness to her face. "Light?"

"Will you sleep with me tonight?"

"W-what? N-not that I'm saying no," he rushed. So late in the pregnancy, he was actually worried about her sleeping alone, especially since it seemed like she wasn't getting any sleep at all, but ever since… "What changed?" he asked, his voice a bashful murmur.

"You calm Mable down…and you'll calm me down too."

Staring through the darkness, curled on her left side, she tried to ignore her discomfort. She'd been drilled to sleep with a pillow between her legs, but with Hope now behind her, she felt oddly and miserably self-conscious. It was weird. She sighed at the tiny kick. I know, I know. She was contemplating another way to get her hips aligned when a hand suddenly made its way between her knees, carefully working a pillow through. She blinked. Maker.

"Um, you're supposed to do that, right?" He leaned back down, snaking his arm over her waist, taking the way she grabbed his hand, intertwining her fingers through his as a 'yes'. His cheek to her shoulder, he knew she was in pain—her breathing was too slow and controlled. A pang of guilt stabbed him and Fang's words came rushing to him.

"You're no smarter than Snow. I bet he's been doing it a lot longer than you have and you don't see Serah balloonin', now do ya? You're makin' that girl miserable. Think she wanted to have a baby? She deserved a little stability for a while and here you come, throwing it right out the window."

Swallowing thickly, Hope tried to move past her. "I have to go."

Fang gave his shoulder a sharp shove. "Aye, look at me when I'm talking to you—I'm not sayin' this for my health. What are you going to do for her? Huh? Answer me that."

"I'll take care of her!"

"With what? Your good looks? Your pretty little eyes—fat lot of good that'll do her!"

He gently removed his hand, using it to smooth down her hair. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "For putting you all through this."

She gave a sleepy stir, nudging into him. "Hmm? Sorry? Don't be," she yawned, "not like there's any other way."

He found her words reassuring. She doesn't blame me. Does that mean… "Did you...I mean, w-well maybe you never really thought about it, but…did you ever see yourself, wanting to have kids—with me?"

The vulnerable positions you constantly put yourself in around me. She guided his hand to where Mable was kicking, flattening his palm against her restless stir. I couldn't see myself being with anyone else; there's no one else I trust like you. "Hope, can we talk about this tomorrow? Right now I can't give you a straight answer and I'd like to be facing you."

As if seeing Snow poking his head in her refrigerator wasn't bad enough.

"Good morning!" Vanille chirped, her eyes sparkling with a brightness considered illegal before 10am. She hoisted a wicker basket filled with baked goods into the air. "We come bearing gifts! Made 'em myself—well Fang helped a little too, didn't you?"

"Sure did. Caught the ingredients with my bare hands," she said, grinning at the dubiousness creeping over the pregnant soldier's face. "I'm kiddin'. But you should know, we only make the best stuff." Strolling over, she leaned against the back of the couch, leisurely crossing one leg over the other, rotating her foot in small circles.

"That's right. Back in Oerba, being a mommy was a big deal—that and finding a suitable mate," she giggled. "The elders came up with all kinds of recipes, I was surprised at how much I remembered!"

Holding a shiny pink bag behind her, Serah pulled at a strand of her hair, doing a slight demure twirl, biting her lower lip before smiling helplessly. "After Vanille told me what she made, I had to let her come along." She'd seen her sister a couple days ago, but already she had filled out more—even so, as she had been with her at the last prenatal visit, her physician made it clear she had room to indulge.

Skipping in a jangle of beads and bracelets, she daintily threw her arms around Lightning, hearing the woman inhale at the abrupt hug which was probably a little too intimate for her. I swore to myself I wouldn't harbor any bad feelings. I'm not that kind of person. I really am happy for you. Truly. Pulling back slightly, she flashed an effortless cheerful smile. "Don't let Serah have all the babysitting fun, alright?"

Taking a sidestep, she avoided looking directly at Hope, turning her cheek and lightly wrapping her skinny arms around his shoulders, making sure to not really touch him and releasing a tiny two-syllable breathy laugh. She flounced away before seeing whether he'd hug her back. Lightning hadn't, but her eyes were gentle enough.

"Hey when'd you get to become a slob," Snow chuckled jokingly, picking up Hope's backpack from the floor. He tossed the sweater at Fang, whose reflexes had her catching it without knowing what it was. She unfolded it, hazel green eyes lit with a dull drollness.

"Uh yeah cheers…I guess," she said, knitting her eyebrows, catching Lightning give a faint smile. She threw it on the couch cushion.

Because of the vulnerable position the basket of muffins and breads were in sitting on the counter, Lightning didn't too much think of Snow as he moseyed closer with wiggling fingers, still wearing his ridiculously tattered trench coat despite the summer humidity. And by the time she realized what he was aiming for, escape was futile. "Snow, back—"

"Hey Mable, how you doing in there? Wanna give your uncle a high-five?" he asked, placing both hands on either side of her belly as if to double his chances. "Or how about a hug?"

"Snow stop, you're scaring her into my spine."

"What's with the dirty dishes in the sink?"

Lightning narrowed her eyes at Fang's remark, brushing away Snow's hands. "Well excuse me, I didn't have time to do them."

"I wasn't calling you out, hun. Just thought someone else would've done them. In fact, why don't we ladies stay here?"

Serah beamed. "I was actually going to stay anyway, but that way one of us can stay with Sis while we clean."

Not quite close enough to be touching, Lightning picked up on the sudden waves of ill tension. What's wrong? "Hope? You didn't have time to do them either—you were with me," she said quietly, leaning forward to peer at his face.

Vanille spun the bracelets around her wrist. "Um, gosh I'm sorry. I'd love to help, but I can't stay," she said, laughing nervously. "I've got something to do." Serah touched her shoulder.

"I think you're excused," she said smiling warmly. "Oh Claire," she stuck out her tongue, "I bought some more baby clothes, please don't be mad." She waved the bag in her hand. "Can I put them in your room?"

She leaned against Hope and he was quick to put his arm around her. "Go ahead," she sighed.

"So when the baby finally comes, where you gonna put her?" Fang asked.

"Naturally, she'll be in my room for the first months and…" she cast a glance at the silveret. "Tonight, we'll start moving his stuff into mine, so we have a nursery."

With careful hands, Vanille scooped out a clear-wrapped golden brown muffin and untied the pink curly tie, pulling off the wrapping. "Snow, can I hitch a ride with you?" She took exaggerated steps back to Lightning.

He turned to the coral-headed girl with an accommodating grin. "Sure, gotta take Hope to school now anyway or he'll be late. Almost done though, right?"

"Just finals." Secretly elated about the room situation, he couldn't shake the anxiousness over Fang's staying; her actions could be categorized as over-protective, but why she'd feel so strongly like that about Lightning, he didn't know—and why she showed it in such a hostile manner; it was him, not some lover Lightning had kept hidden and blind-sighted everyone with. Fang was shameless; if she wasn't been doing it already, he didn't put it past her to talk bad of him to Light, perhaps even convince her to leave him. At least Serah will be here.

"You should eat and sit down."

She accepted the proffered muffin with a murmured 'thanks' and dutifully left Hope's side to sit on the couch and munch ravenously.

"All those on the Hero's Express—let's go!" Snow clapped loudly, waving the two young adults to the front door. "Serah not back yet?" He cupped his hands around his mouth. "Bye baby! See ya girls."

"Who ya callin' 'girl'?" Fang called after him.

"Hope, you're going to be late," Lightning reminded gently.

He turned around, watching her straighten up as he grew closer, tilting her gaze up questioningly. Grabbing the back of the couch, he leaned down, capturing her lips in a fierce, possessing kiss. Pulling away, he hastily pressed his lips to her cheek, feeling the light ghost of her eyelashes as she reflexively blinked from the pressure.

Fang clucked her tongue, eyeing him coolly as he ran out; Snow's impatient honking coming to a stop. "Like a little boy," she drawled.

Lightning settled back down, thoughtfully brushing the back of her fingers across her mouth, one hand resting atop her belly. "But he's not."

Concise, sweet, and definitely sets the stage for the next chapter. Didn't think Fang would be the only one caught up, did you? Time for me to curl up in bed...