It had been a long time for that moment finally arrived. Months, years, centuries… during which the world had almost disappeared and shatter all dreams and hopes.
But, against all odds, it had arrived. Challenging fate, time and death itself, in a world that had just come back from a long illness caused by the Chaos of Valhalla.
The long-awaited wedding of Serah and Snow.
It was a beautiful though simple ceremony. There were not so many intact resources in the world and everything would take a long time to return the way it once was. Not to mention they had come back to the year 500AF, after Cocoon’s crystal pillar collapsed, and Bhunivelze no longer hung in the sky over Gran Pulse.
Fortunately, New Bodhum still was in one piece, and though it had grown since its construction, as they expected, it was still a small coastal village, calm and peaceful. The old NORA house was still there, and despite all the years that had passes, the couple would go back to their home.
Not many people attended the wedding, only the closest to the couple. Snow, dressed in a suit that ironically didn’t suit him, had arrived first and stood before the altar, disposed under a tent on the beach under a bright sun, with his best man, Sazh, who had volunteered to be so after Hope’s refusal, since, according to his words, Snow would need someone with some experience in weddings so everything could go off without a hitch, and Sazh had been a married man time ago. Snow would’ve preferred some of his old friends from NORA to be his best man, but they died centuries ago. After all, it was a post-apocalyptic 500AF.
So Sazh was at ringside in a suit and bow tie with his son Dajh and the chocobo chick Chocolina flitting gaily around the eager, excited Snow. Just a little further was Lightning, as Serah’s maid of honor, waiting for her sister to show up with Hope seating at her side, accompanying her on that day so important for her and Serah.
Serah finally appeared, and the wait was worth it simply because of the sight of her. Her wedding dress was of the purest white, simple but decorated in a way it seemed her thin body was covered in feathers. Just like an angel down from the heavens, and might it have to do with the fact she actually returned victorious from her adventure in the uncertain land of death. Since Lightning and Serah didn’t have a father who could bring them to an altar, the one who was guiding Serah arm in arm to her future husband was Noel, the young hunter, who had agreed to do so at the request of Serah and Snow himself. He had been quite reluctant at first to attend the wedding, but now he looked happy and smiley, though slightly melancholic.
Once she reached Snow, the ceremony began. The couple made their vows, Lightning and Sazh handed them the rings they exchanged after promising eternal love and allegiance, and then the priest who presided the wedding pleaded to Mother Goddess Mwynn to bless the imperishable bond that existed between Serah and Snow, and he declared them husband and wife. The newlyweds kissed backed up by enthusiastic applause and congratulations.
Lightning cheered excitedly, too. But in her blue eyes was a spark of sadness.
Then came the feast, the ball, the celebration… Serah and Snow’s joy was contagious and filled the air with happiness and delight, so all the guests participated in the couple’s rejoicing.
All but Lightning.
The young former soldier had discreetly withdrawn shortly after Serah and Snow’s first dance. She had a long walk on the beach of New Bodhum and, at sunset, she had ended up at the old pier and stayed there, alone, lost in her thoughts and an afflicted twinkle in her eyes.
She had devoted her life to Serah, to protect her sister over her life. She was all that she had, her only pillar of support. And now she no longer needed her protection, as Snow would ensure that nothing will happen to her. Lightning knew that, no matter how hot-headed he was, his devotion to her sister was blind and wholehearted.
On one hand, it soothed and made her happy. But on the other one, being aware that Serah no longer needed her was killing her from the inside.
She knew she was being selfish, that she should have known that someday Serah would leave Lightning’s mantle of protection and safety and begin to live her own life. But she couldn’t help it. Serah was everything to her.
What would be her path from now on? She felt completely lost in life.
“Hey, Light”, a voice said suddenly beside her; Lightning turned, startled, to see Hope there, staring at her with a gentle smile. “It took quite long to find you.”
“I didn’t want to be found”, she smiled unwillingly. “That wireless device you gave me was sometimes such a snitch.”
Hope looked at her in concern. Lightning cursed to herself; he knew her too well to ignore the sadness she was unsuccessfully trying to hide.
“How you’re doing?”, the young man asked after a minute; Lightning couldn’t help but surprise, once again, at noting how well her friend had come to know her. He hadn’t needed to ask “what’s wrong” nor “are you okay”: Hope knew what was wrong and that she wasn’t okay.
She halfheartedly shrugged.
“I’ll survive, I guess. I simply have to get used to the idea the mission of my life has come to an end.”
“But it’s easier to say than to do”, Hope replied gravely. “Isn’t it?”
She sighed sorrowfully. He had a point, such a good point.
“Yeah”, she whispered, closing her eyes to the sunset light. “It is.”
She felt her hands slightly shaking. She crossed her arms, trying to hide it, not wanting to look like an idiot, let alone in front of Hope. Her own pride, and she had a lot of that, prevented her from it.
But she underestimated her friend once more. Hope came closer to her and gently embraced her with the warmth of sincere and genuine friendship. Lightning didn’t struggle, and laid her head on his shoulder. His proximity chased away the horrible cold that had lodged in her heart at the prospect of losing her only sister. It was the same feeling she had when, after reuniting with him, she cried bitterly Serah’s death and Hope tried to comfort her with one of his deep, sincere hugs.
Few things could comfort her when she faced Serah’s loss. An embrace from Hope was one of them. The embrace from her best friend.
“You know Serah will be happy”, Hope said in her ear. “Maybe Snow does what he wants and he can’t tell the difference between a behemoth and an adamanchelid, but he’ll do everything in his hand and more than that to make Serah happy. I understand you’re worried, but Serah can take care of herself, too. And now she won’t die for being a Seeress.”
“I know that, Hope. I don’t need you to tell me that. I know Serah will be happy with Snow… I’m suffering for myself”, Lightning replied after hesitating for a moment. She felt Hope’s body momentarily tightening.
“What? Why?”, his friend’s light-green eyes twinkled in confusion.
She didn’t want to get to explain her doubts and uncertainties, but she knew she wouldn’t confess them to anyone but Hope. Not even to Serah.
“If it’s not up to me to protect Serah anymore… tell me, what else do I have left? I’ve toppled the fal’Cie rule, I have been Etro’s Champion, I fought against the Guardian of Time, I managed to defeat a god and restore his throne to its rightful owner and save the world from utter destruction in only thirteen days. And for what?”, Lightning trembled. “I don’t know what to do with my life, Hope. I feel… lost. With no path to follow, nor a goal to achieve.”
Hope squinted. He perfectly understood his friend, as he felt that way so many times, when despair overcame him.
“You could live”, he simply replied. She unwillingly chuckled.
“Just like that? Without nothing to fight for? I wouldn’t be sustained by such an empty focus.”
“Staying alive despite all miseries is no small thing…”, Hope objected giving her a bittersweet half-smile. “Personal experience.”
“You’ve stayed in this world. You have remained as a mortal being throughout all these centuries. But, what about me? I was made a divine warrior and now I have no battles to fight. I have nowhere to go”, Lightning’s voice was tinged with anguish. Hope greatly ached by seeing her like that. That was supposed to be a happy day for the Farron sisters, not the beginning of a life crisis for the older one.
“You don’t have anywhere to go?”, the young Director of the Academy repeated. “I’m sure Serah and Snow will happily let you stay at their home, Light. She’s your sister, and the fact she’s now married doesn’t mean she’d left you behind.”
Lightning shook her head.
“I can’t do that. Serah and Snow need their own space and privacy, and I won’t ever be a kept woman. Besides, they’ve already decided to let Noel stay with them. No doubt Noel feels even more lost in this world than me.”
Hope didn’t know what to answer. He felt Lightning’s pain with wounding intensity. In a sense, it was a cruelty to have brought her back to a world that had forgotten her for centuries. He had spent thirteen whole days talking with her almost continuously, learning something new about his friend every day, but moments like this showed that he had much yet to learn about Lightning Farron. Her insecurity was one of these things.
“You can’t even imagine how much I hate to see you suffering”, the young man thought gently tightening his embrace, feeling completely useless. “I wish I could do something more for you…”
And then he had an idea. So bold and daring that he was tempted to dismiss it as soon as it came to his mind, but something inside kept him from doing so.
It might work. Absurd as it seemed, it might work.
The only problem was to gather enough courage to tell Lightning.
“Err… Light?”, Hope began, cursing to himself the betrayal of his nervousness, that made him stammer just like the fourteen-year-old kid he once was did; she raised her head and pulled away a bit from him. “If… if you have nowhere to go… and you have no plans… Can I make you… a proposal?”
Lightning raised a brow.
“A proposal? What kind of proposal?”
Hope took a deep breath, trying to calm down. He hated being so shy and inarticulate in those matters. And it kept happening to him when Lightning was around.
“You could… you could come to Academia with me.”
Lightning’s surprise was reflected in her still-watery eyes, which suddenly widened.
“I mean…”, Hope guessed his friend had misunderstood him. Actually, she hadn’t misunderstood him, but that was what he wanted to avoid. “There is where the Guardian Corps have more activity… Lots of things to do, not so many recruits… You told me the other day you’d like to rejoin them… I don’t have any problem if you want to stay some time at my house… until you find one of your own there, of course”, the young man said hurriedly, blushing up to his ears. “But if you don’t want to… I get it, it’s okay-“
“Wait”, Lightning cut him, still stunned. “You’re proposing me to live with you? At your house?”
“Just temporarily”, Hope was quick to mark, aware of what his words could else mean. “Until you can afford one for you.”
Lightning bit her lower lip, hesitant. The proposal had caught her completely off guard. She knew Hope wasn’t the kind of people who would take advantage of her because she wasn’t having her best time, and she trusted him wholeheartedly too. But she’d never have expected something like that coming from him.
“Listen, Hope…”, the young woman said looking away. “If you’re saying this because you pity me or whatever… it’s not necessary. I don’t want to bother you.”
“Not at all”, he instantly replied, shaking his head. “I told you I wasn’t gonna leave you in the street if I can help, remember? I’m offering this to you because… well, we’re friends, aren’t we? And friends are there for the other one no matter what. I thought that, just maybe… I don’t know, I might try to help you.”
There was silence. The reddish light of the setting sun reflected on the sea.
Then, bit by bit, a genuine smile crossed Lightning’s lips.
“I could never repay you all the help you’ve given to me so far, Hope”, the young woman noted, and poked her forefinger in Hope’s forehead, like she did during their time as l’Cie. “But, anyway, I’ll take your help again. I accept your proposal, Director.”
Hope blinked in disbelief at what he had just heard.
“You mean it?”
“When do I not mean what I say?”
Her friend’s face, framed by those shining strands of silver hair, lit up like a star when his lips parted in the most sincere smile Lightning had ever seen. Unable to restrain himself, he hugged the young woman tightly, softly laughing in pure joy.
“Hey, hey, don’t go overboard”, she laughed in turn, trying to get unsuccessfully serious. “This is only temporary, isn’t that what you said?”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. Sorry, I just…”, Hope pulled away still smiling like a child. “I’ve been alone for so long that the idea of having someone by my side, even if it’s just for a while…”, he shook his head. “It’s hard to picture that.”
“There’s two of us”, Lightning joked. “Well then… When are you planning to return to Academia?”
He thought about it for a little, his eyes fixed on the sunset.
“This very night. There’s plenty to do there, you know… Get the Academy back and running, organize resources, food… Taking care of refugees… I’m the Director”, he turned to Lightning almost apologizing. “I can’t shirk my responsibilities, let alone now that we no longer have the New Cocoon.”
“Got it”, she nodded; she knew what it meant a position of power. “Okay, we’ll go when you consider.”
“Tonight?”, Hope raised his eyebrows. “I thought you might want to stay at least a couple of days with Serah… Not even a week has passed since you meet again.”
“Don’t think it doesn’t sound good for me, but… she and Snow need privacy now that they’re married. Specially tonight”, Lightning added with an almost mischievous grin.
“Oh. Of course”, Hope said amusedly. “I forgot about that. Alright, in that case, we will leave not so late. They’ll have enough worrying about where they’re gonna leave Noel this night.”
Lightning laughed, her laughter clear and crystalline mingled with the sound of the waves. Hope wished he would never stop hearing it, and he promised himself he would do his best to make her happy as long as they were together.
“I’ll tell Serah later. Now let them enjoy the party”, the young woman decided looking at the wedding tent, where her sister and Snow were dancing together, surrounded by guests. She felt distant from that celebration and the whole world too, as she had felt during her journey in Novus Partus to save the world, but both times she had Hope by her side. “It’s funny, isn’t it?”
“What’s funny?”, Hope asked gently.
“Today Serah starts walking a new path in her life… and I do, too. But Serah’s smarter than me, isn’t she? I need someone to show it to me when I’m facing it.”
Hope tilted his head and laughed softly. The last sunrays lit up their figures, standing side by side, enjoying the sunset in the company of a friend that was so close that they’d trust the other one with their own lives without hesitation.
“Well”, the young Director of the Academy remarked after a while. “That’s because she’s Serah and you’re Lightning.”
“And you can’t even imagine how happy it makes me to be the one who showed your path to you, Light.”