Author's Note: Well, hello again FF! It's been a while, I hope I haven't gotten too rusty~ Basically, inspiration for this was that unlike what seems to be the majority, I actually love Alyssa as a character. I don't know, I just don't think she's the evil type. You have to remember that she was Purged too, so she's had a pretty iffy past. Also, Hope and the others are complete do-gooders - she's just normal, which compared to them looks positively diabolical, right? Anyways, call this a one-shot for the moment, although if reviewers ask, I could carry it on? Rated T, just to be safe.
DISCLAIMER: I don't own anything, all characters belong to Square etc. etc.
Yaschas Massif, 1XAF
It was dark, but not because of the eclipse that had apparently once darkened the valleys of the Yaschas Massif. Hope Estheim peered out of the tent that had been placed up as a sort of temporary headquarters for the Academy whilst they carried out their investigations of the area - specifically, the Oracle Drive that had been discovered there a few weeks ago was the source of the most interest for the Director. Hope had of course brought together a search party as soon as he had heard. Alyssa had been equally as enthusiatic about the find, so Hope had offered for her to accompany them. "After all," she had said, grinning from ear to ear. "you'd be lost if I didn't organise your reports for you, right?"
The girl was an unstoppable ball of energy. The complete opposite of Hope, even though in theory they could have been very similar. They were the same age (Hope was exactly a month older), they both came from Palumpolum - they were even Purged from Bodhum at the same time. But their stories, once so interlinked, had gone on to become so very different. Everyone knew his story. It was well known that he had been turned into a L'Cie and gone on a periless journey that would eventually bring about the Fall of Cocoon, and the Day of Ragnarok. It was not so well known that the Fall of Cocoon had in fact been the young mans Focus, once upon a time. Since then, Hope had picked up the pieces and now look where he was - the Director of Academy Research, Team Alpha. His pale green eyes looked skywards, and he gazed at the stars.
Am I doing the right thing? Are you... are you proud of me, wherever you are?
Hope thought about his mother a lot, even though it had been ten years since she had passed. He thought of Fang and Vanille, who had laid down their lives to protect the world and lay slumbering inside the crystal pillar they had created as a result. And he thought of Lightning. Lightning, who everyone assumed had given her life to save Cocoon and now either lay in the pillar alongside Vanille and Fang, or lay dead. Hope refused to believe that. Sometimes, he swore that he remembered her smiling and laughing at the base of the pillar the day that they unfroze and their brands disappeared, but that was impossible. Wasn't it? Everyone else told him so. But still Hope held on to his belief. He had already lost so many; he simply couldn't lie down and accept that Lightning was gone, too.
Yep, everyone knew Hope's story. The team tried to be as sensitive as possible. Alyssa, especially, seemed to be particularly wary of the topic. She had the most deadly way of glaring at a person that could make a sentence dissipate before the person had begun to verbalise it. The Purge was practically a taboo topic in Team Alpha. Not just one, but two Purge Survivors made it so that it was basically never mentioned. Hope didn't mind as much anymore - although it was still painful to think about, it wasn't so chest-squeezingly hurtful anymore, it was more of an uncomfortable ache. Sometimes, though, he actually like to talk about it. The people on his team were certainly interested to hear. Alyssa, however, would suddenly become distant, and her eyes would glisten, and she would quickly find an excuse to leave the room at the very mention of the Purge. Hope knew that she had been caught up in the Purge, and he knew that she had survived (how else could she be standing as she was now?), but he had thought it impolite to ask what had happened inbetween. Based on her reaction, her experiences had been traumatic - Hope understood, perhaps better than anyone, that if you didn't want to think about something, to have it brought up by someone else made the whole thing about a hundred times more painful.
He did wonder, though.
Alyssa was a cheerful, happy-go-lucky young woman. On the surface, it would appear that she was quite content with life. She was clever, enthusiastic and had the most infectious smile. But Hope was a rather perceptive person. He noticed the little things about a person. He noticed the shadows under her eyes that never really seemed to disappear, no matter how she tried to cover it up with make-up. He noticed the slight shaking of her hands after every large bang. He noticed her fear of the dark - her tent was the only one of the team to be illuminated, even though she had turned in for the night hours beforehand. He noticed that she avoided searching caves and other tight areas. And very occasionally, out of nowhere, she would start breathing very heavily, and have to sit down, pale and terrified-looking, eyes wide like a deer in headlights. Anxiety attacks. These would generally last no more than ten minutes, and she mostly made an excuse and hid somewhere until they were over. As a result, people tended not to notice the stunned expression, and eventually Alyssa had managed to convince anyone that asked that everything was fine, she was fine, thank you for asking though.
But Hope noticed.
Of course, though, it was none of his business, right? Hope's experiences had taught him that if someone wanted to talk, they would. It wasn't right to upset someone to sate your own curiosity. He told himself this a lot of the time, though he was still concerned about his assistant.
He looked out over the Paddraean Archaeopolis. The stars lit up the Academy base just so - it was calming, and the Director stood and listened to the sounds of Gran Pulse that had been a lullaby to him once upon a time. You could hear the rustling of leaves, and the occasional call of the wild animals that wandered the plains. Hearing something peculiar, Hope leaned forward slightly. It was almost a whining sound. It was soft... what was it? It changed as he listened carefully, breaking into what he could only describe as a sobbing noise. He looked around, but he couldn't see the source of the sound. Whatever it was, it was getting quieter.
"An animal?" was his first thought, although he'd never heard that call before. The Yaschas Massif was silent again. He looked at his watch: it read 1:58am. He should probably turn in for the night, they were out exploring the ruins again tomor-
A scream ripped through the night, high-pitched and anguished. It ended as soon as it had started, a whimper echoing in the breeze and lingering in the air. Hope turned, for he was sure it had come from the direction of the tents where his colleagues had gone to sleep.
"Is anybody there?" he called, staring at the tents, hand automatically feeling for the boomerang that he still kept in his back pocket. For old times sake, he told himself. After a while, there had been no reply, and nothing else had happened; Hope allowed himself to relax slightly, turning away and looking back out across the headquarters. He would have to ask in the morning if anyone else had heard it. No point in waking everyone else at this hour.
He yawned, and stretched his arms out, running one hand through his silvery hair absently. He really should be going to bed now. He turned slowly, miving to turn out the lights of the conference area.
"Still up, Director?"
Hope jumped at the sound of the voice, which triggered a small giggle from the other person. "Alyssa." he sighed, turning to face her. She was boiling the kettle, mug with sleepytime tea already prepared and waiting. She looked over at him, giving a small smile. The shadows under her eyes seemed slightly darker than usual, and her smile just fell short of her grey-blue eyes. "Actually, I was just about to go.." he said.
"Bad timing on my part then, I suppose?" she replied, smiling. "I won't keep you up. Good night, Director." She yawned, pouring the boiled water into the mug, gently adding a teaspoon of sugar and stirring. Her movements were gracefully silent; practised, like this wasn't the first time she had prepared a quiet midnight snack. Hope nodded, turning to leave. "Good night, Alyssa." After a moment, he remembered the piercing noise, and turned, pondering. "Alyssa.." he said, "you didn't happen to hear a sort of... screaming just now, did you?" She looked at him, cheeks warming and eyes narrowing in thought. She brought one finger to her lips pensively (she always did this when thinking). After a pause that was just a little bit too long for that question, she shook her head.
"I don't think so." She took the cup of tea and slumped into one of the chairs that surrounded the conference table. "Why do you ask?" "I thought I did, that's all." he replied, walking over towards the table and sitting in the chair next to her. "It might just have been an animal, I guess?" Alyssa said casually, shrugging. "I wouldn't worry, Director - you watch too many horror films, that's what it is!" Hope nodded, though horror films were his least favourite and he hadn't even attempted to watch one in years.
Something wasn't right here. He wasn't sure exactly what, but there was a peculiar tension in the air. They looked at eachother; a clash of green and blue. Alyssa looked away first, taking a sip of her drink. He traced the shape of her face with his eyes - what was normally round and warm seemed drawn in.
"Are you alright?" he asked eventually. She paused again, nodding slowly and tentatively.
"Sure. I'm fine, Director. A little tired, but what can you do?" There was the smile again, but it lacked the normal conviction. Hope raised an eyebrow. Having worked together for five years, he had picked up her little quirks, like the way she twirled her blondish hair around her index finger when she was writing reports. Alyssa, too, had worked out that an eyebrow raise was the Directors way of saying "Riiight, suuure you are..." without saying it in so many words. "Alright, fine." she relented, sighing and staring at her reflection in the warm beverage, blushing. "But don't laugh, okay?" She looked to her side. "I... had a nightmare." She rolled her eyes, exaggerating a bored reaction. "I know, pathetic. I mean, hello - you are twenty-four!" She got to her feet, tea in hand, and peered over the views that Hope had earlier. She paused again. "I don't really know why it scares me so much. You'd think that I'd just get used to it eventually, but no. Every single night, exactly the same..." Hope stayed quiet, watching the young woman. She hesitated, like she was being extremely careful of what she was saying. "I mean... it was ten years ago now. I even have proof it's not real - I've seen it with my own eyes. It wasn't my name. It wasn't. It's impossible." She sipped her tea. "So why can't I just get over it already?" she sounded frustrated as she turned to face the Director. He nodded very slightly, attempting to make sense of anything that she had just said. Alyssa smiled. "But then, you don't have a clue what I'm talking about, do you?" There was a shimmering in her eyes that she furiously blinked away. "I'm so sorry, it's just that I've kind of just kept it to myself all this time and so I've never really talked about it so I'm just trying to figure out a way of explaining it without sounding completely crazy. Besides, I hate to make too much of a fuss because everyone would be like geez Alyssa, it's just a dream, chill, and then I'd be all like it's not just a dream, not to me, you can't have the same dream for ten years without it meaning something, right?" By this point, she was rambling nervously, getting progressively more worked up as she continued. She had started pacing, fiddling with the turquoise tie she still had around her neck (apparently, she hadn't changed before going to sleep). She was saying everything and nothing, and Hope blinked. He was trying his best to listen, it was obviously bothering her. But no matter how he tried, what she was saying was making no sense to him. It was like a puzzle with half the pieces missing. "Alyssa." he said eventually, patting the seat next to him. She stopped mid-sentence and looked at him, blinking away a fresh onslaught of water from her eyes. "Come on, sit down." She obliged, sitting next to him and swivelling the chair so was facing him. "Relax, alright? Why don't you tell me what happened in your dream, it's obviously upsetting you." He looked at her calmly, trying to make eye contact. She looked at her lap, restlessly avoiding looking at the young man.
"I..." she paused yet again. Hope wasn't sure he understood what was so terrible about a nightmare to upset a grown woman this much. But then again, had he caught in her ramblings that she had had this dream more than once?
"...Okay. You know what happened in Bodhum ten years ago. I was there, visiting my friend Nena and her family. You probably don't remember her, but she used to be in a few of your classes, back in Palumpolum. She had moved to Bodhum the year before because her father had gotten a new job or a promotion or something. So everything was great and we went to see the fireworks on what was meant to have been my last night there. They were beautiful. I mean, like nothing I've ever seen before beautiful. And everyone was so happy - smiling and laughing, making wishes.. I even saw someone propose. I wished I didn't have to leave. Just as the fireworks finished, all the screens flashed on with a picture of the Primarch. He said that... he said that they'd found a Pulse Fal'Cie in Bodhum and... we were all going to be Purged." She stopped, for both of their stomachs had knotted. Hope had also been there, remembered the fear that tainted the atmosphere. People started yelling, some screamed. He himself had looked at his mother for reassurance that she couldn't quite give. "Everybody went crazy. All of a sudden, PSICOM were everywhere and... it was chaos. Nena looked terrified. By the morning, the train was ready and people started to get on. I didn't want to. I was surprised more people weren't resisting. I wanted to run. Every bone in my body was yelling at me to get the hell out of there. But I couldn't do it. Where would I go? I was fourteen years old, for crying out loud! Besides, I couldn't leave Nena, and she was too scared to do anything but follow orders. So onto the train I went." She shuddered, still speaking to her shoes. Hope had never seen the girl so quiet and reserved. "Nena's little brother wouldn't let go of my hand the whole way there. He was only three, he didn't understand. He said to me, "'Lyssa, will 'ou stay with us when we go 'ome?" I said yes. What else could I say? Nobody else was talking. It was like most had already resigned themselves to what was going to happen. My parents weren't in that carriage. I'd been pushed on with Nena and her family." The first tear rolled down her cheek. She wiped it away quickly. "I never saw them again. I... I assumed they never made it out of the Hanging Edge." Hope grimaced. He understood only too well what she was feeling, having lost his mother in the same way. He hesitated before quietly reaching and placing her hand in his. He squeezed gently, not having the words. For the first time, she looked up at him. She shrugged very slightly, not bothering to wipe away the next tears. "You never said." Hope said softly. "I'm so sorry." She shook her head.
"It's not your fault, don't apologise." She wiped a few tears away and took a breath. "We waited and waited in little groups there. Nobody knew what was going on. At least Nena and I had Jace to distract us. We told him stories and played around with him, and we weren't dwelling on our situation too much. After what felt like hours, a group of four or five people came running towards our group. They said they were called NORA and they'd found a way out and anyone with children needed to run now if we wanted to get out. The others could stay and fight if they wanted to. They didn't need to tell us twice. Nena picked Jace up and we ran, the three of us, their parents, and a group of other fugitives. It looked like a family, two adults and a child. We followed the directions they'd given us, and came out at Lake Bresha."
"Meanwhile, apparently, everything had gone crazy back there. NORA people were engaging PSICOM in a full on revolt. Loads of people died. They were looking for us. PSICOM, I mean. What would happen if we managed to escape? So we kept running. Looking for a way out, or somewhere to hide at least. We heard shouting from behind us, and that made us run even faster. After forever we reached a sort of abandoned village type thing. We picked a house and hid, the five of us. The other fugitives kept running. Looking for a better hiding place, I guess. Or just panicking, I don't know. What I do know is that there were a lot of footsteps, and then a lot of screaming, and some gunshots... and silence." She sighed heavily, no longer concerned by the steady stream of tears. "They shot at everything, I think. All the houses, the floor... the walls of the house shook. Jace started to cry. We all hurried to quiet him, and I think he must have understood that much, because he stopped making a noise. They can't have heard him, because we heard the order given to fall back. There were some more footsteps. And then we were alone again." Alyssa was shaking slightly by this point. She played anxiously with a lock of hair with one hand, and dried some runaway tears with the other. She turned and rested one elbow on the conference table. "You'd think that... that we'd had enough trauma now, and now we'd... we'd escape. But Etro was having none of that. Just a-as we were getting up to leave, we heard this crack. I froze, and I looked at Nena. She looked petrified. I said "I think we need to go. Like, now." That's when... the ceiling fell on us, and the world turned black."
Hope couldn't supress a small gasp. Out of the blue, he saw the young woman in a whole new light. It all made sense now. He wanted to comfort her, but at the same time didn't want to insult her with empty words and condolances. He settled for reaching across and moving to hold her hand. He was unprepared for Alyssa turning and burying her head in his shoulder, arms wrapping around him. He could feel her tremble, the dampness of tears accumulating on his jacket. He returned the hug slowly, carefully and just a little awkwardly. Two full minutes they stayed there, the only sound the occasional sob coming from the assistant. He looked down at her blond cloud of hair as she pulled away, eyes puffy and beginning to get a rim of red. "I'm sorry." she murmured, voice cracked. She rubbed her eyes. "I'm so sorry.."
"It's okay. Please... please don't apologise. I just can't believe you never said anything before." he replied softly. She looked to the side.
"I relive it every night. It's like the sun has disappeared. It's cold, and dark. Nobody replies when I call for help. Everything hurts, my whole body feels broken. Every breath is harder than the last..."
"And then it's like I'm lighter than air. When I open my eyes, I'm standing in front of an epitaph. There... there are so many names. So many lives lost that day. I look down the list... and it's me. I'm there. My name, right next to Nena and her family. I scream... and then I wake up." She looked down, rubbing her eyes with the tips of the fingers. "Every night. Every single night. I've... I've seen the grave. I saw it five years ago. But no matter how I try, I just can't shake the feeling that my name was meant to be on there too." Hope grimaced again.
"But that's impossible." he said after a pause.
"I know that. I do. But having that image every time I close my eyes... I don't know, it gets to you." She wiped her tears away and stood up. "So now you know. You must think I'm crazy, right?" Her usual jokey tone was sombre. "Whoa, freak alert, right?" She attempted a small smile. "Seeing Serah and Noel the other day just brought it all back. And seeing that man in the Oracle Drive... he's in my dream sometimes. He's just about in my peripheral vision. He stares straight at me. Sometimes he says things." Hope looked at her.
"What sort of things?" he said carefully. She shrugged.
"I don't... exactly know? It's like... it's like he's trying to tell me something, but I'm not hearing it. I can just feel him there. Watching. Waiting." she added as an afterthought. Hope watched her pensively. She had stopped crying, and now simply stood quiet and thoughtful. The directors mind whirred, clicking all this new information and fitting it in to what he already knew. He had a question playing on his mind, but he wasn't sure if she would want to reply. Having already relived her awful experiences for him tonight, he didn't want his assistant subject to any further trauma. There was a thoughtful silence. Alyssa, who had almost fully composed herself, looked over at Hope. "What?" she asked softly, seeing Hope's expression. It was his turn to hesitate.
"I was just wondering... well, I - and don't feel like you have to answer - I was wondering what happened next?" She placed a finger against her lips, narrowing her eyes in thought and tilting her head slightly to the side.
"I'm not entirely sure. I remember getting trapped, and then it's a bit fuzzy. It was dark for a long time, I can tell you that much. The next thing I'm definitely sure of is that I woke up in a hospital, connected to all these machines and covered in plaster casts and bandages. The doctors explained that I'd been out for a few weeks. They told me that Cocoon had fallen, and I'd been rescued by a group of people. I'd broken a leg, fractured three ribs..." she counted her injuries off on her fingers with what was very nearly a practiced nonchalance. "Um... my arm, that was broken... loads of bruises and cuts... I had a little gash along the side of my forehead... my windpipe was all bruised and squished, so they'd put me on a ventilator just to help me out while I was healing. So I'd been sedated for a fair while. I was lucky to be alive - a miracle, I was told. Nobody else had made it..." she quieted again for a second, remembering those that hadn't been so lucky. "They explained everything that had happened whilst I was out - I'd been transferred back to Palumpolum, because their medical supplies were one of the most plentiful and high-quality, what with it being relatively unscathed by the Fall. They explained about the crystal pillar... and about you and your friends." she gave a small nod over in his direction and smiled ever so slightly.
"It took a long time to recover properly, but afterwards, I wanted to help sort the world out. The Purge couldn't happen again, not ever. I threw myself into it as much as I could - I finished school and joined the Academy. I'd heard about the time gates and was sure that was going to be my field of research. Back then, what had actually happened to me was even fuzzier than it is now. And more than anything, I wanted answers. I thought that if I dedicated my life to the time gates, maybe one day I could go back and get the answers I craved. And maybe, just maybe... fix it so I never had to go through it all in the first place." She smiled a little brighter. "And you know the rest, right?" Hope nodded, getting to his feet. Alyssa was, for the most part, back to her old cheerful self. "I can't let what happened weigh me down though, right? Even if I see it every night for the rest of my life, I'm gonna survive." And there was her confident, determined personality that Hope had come to respect. She looked to have had a weight lifted from her slender shoulders.
"I really admire that, you know. And... Alyssa? You can come and talk to me anytime. We can trade "freak alert" stories." He smiled with just a hint of cheek. Alyssa giggled and nodded. "I'll remember that, Director." Suddenly, she pulled him into another hug. He returned it, not so caught unawares this time. She stared into his pale eyes. "Thank you. For not freaking out. I really appreciate it." They pulled apart, and Hope ran a hand through his silvery hair, yawning.
"I'm going to turn in." he said. Alyssa nodded. "Good. Can't have you not being all bright-eyed and bushy tailed for the exploration tomorrow, can we? Good night, Director." He waved as he turned, smiling. "Good night, Alyssa. And please, call me Hope."