Public Enemy

It had started out as a good day, sure. He had stayed up the entire previous night after having made out with the woman he had ardently desired for all these years. His thoughts had been buzzing from the feel of her lips against his skin to the way her skirt would hitch up when Lightning stretched her arms around his shoulders, and the bulge of her bellybutton ring against his abdomen. The latter two thoughts especially ensured that he definitely wasn't going to get any sleep, and it also provided him with much discomfort throughout the twilight hours.

After that night, it had seemed like a promising morning—they made good progress through Oerba and gained invaluable experience as they trekked through the empty streets of the abandoned city. All six of them had been having lighthearted conversations in between killing anything in sight, and Sazh and Lightning were actually getting along quite well: Sazh had confided in Snow that Lightning was a big softie at heart, which was then followed by a very severe threat to Snow's manhood if he dared breathe a word of that to Lightning.

Then he had held Lightning's hand, felt some fuzzy feeling deep within him, and was as happy as could be and everything was splendid. Absolutely splendid. He had been imagining things to discuss with Lightning or, more importantly, he envisioned different things they could do once night fell, and none of them included him sleeping in a cold, damp corner of a warehouse, alone and miserable because he had hugged some damn image created by Barthandelus.

What did he do that was so wrong? Why wouldn't Lightning accept his apology? He hadn't hugged the stupid thing because he was still romantically interested in Serah, or because Serah came first or…or whatever the hell it was that Lightning claimed he did. The only thing he remembered feeling is a deep, intense sense of relief at the thought that, now that Serah was back, maybe things could settle down and they wouldn't have to be so concerned about whether or not they'd survive the next day. It didn't make much sense, now that he thought about it, but hindsight is a bitch that way.

Things were going decently well up on the rooftop overwhelmed by flowers, too, once he got going and didn't fear quite so much for his life. He had managed to kiss Lightning, and he had felt her body respond to him positively before being pushed away. That meant she didn't despise him to the point where physical contact repulsed her, which was good. But then that little bastard boy came running onto the scene, his fourteen-year-old pride all out on display, and ordered Snow to leave. On any given day, Snow would have fought back…but he was so enraged by the interruption that he was forced to remove himself, lest he repeat the Mah'habara incident, only this time he'd have taken Hope by surprise instead of it being the other way 'round.

Now he was staring at the cold, metallic roof of the warehouse; bitter, pissed off, tired, and hungry. Somewhere between being chewed out by Sazh, getting into a verbally abusive shouting match against Fang that he may have lost, and trying to make things up to Lightning he had forgotten to eat. As a result, he was facing his second night without sleep.

What had started out as a good day resulted in the most miserable day he had ever spent on Gran Pulse, and quite possibly Cocoon as well.

Snow was not happy.

He grumbled into his trench coat, feeling terribly sorry for himself. If Lightning could just believe him when he had explained what had happened, then maybe they'd both be spending a lovely night beneath the stars on the flowery roof, which would have been a fantastic spot for a romantic romp or four. But, no, instead he was here…

That woman is too damn stupid sometimes.

A grunt escaped him as he sat up and sighed, thoroughly aggravated with the entire situation he found himself in. Calloused hands roughly pressed against his face, trying to force his annoyance away. Fang, who had apparently just switched shifts with Vanille, was quietly padding by but stopped when she saw Snow.

"Can't sleep?" she asked kindly, using her staff to help her lean down to his level.

"Not at all," he mumbled, his voice thick with exhaustion.

"If you'd like, I can help you with that…" She glanced down at Snow, smiling warmly, her hands glowing a faint purple. Snow nodded appreciatively.

The last thing he remembered was Fang's staff hurtling through the air at record-breaking speed, but that was right before it smashed against Snow's head and effectively knocked him unconscious. Were he still in the realm of the waking, he would have heard her sneer. "Stupid ass."

He should have known it was coming as soon as he heard the niceness in her voice.

The passage of time continued on its merry way without Snow being aware of it, and some while later he was roused by Vanille's surprised intake of breath, followed by long-lasting guffaws by Sazh as Fang explained exactly how Snow had, during the course of the night, suddenly sprouted a lump the size of a chocobo egg on his head.

"He's lucky I didn't get to him, or else my gun'd be pointed at his a—ahh, hey, look who woke up! Long night, kid?" Sazh boomed cheerfully. Snow tried to blink, wondering if Sazh had somehow known that consciousness had been restored to him, but the effort he put into thinking was pointless once Hope started speaking.

"Not really a long night, no…I slept pretty well."

Vanille grunted in annoyance. "I bet you did," she said, almost coldly. If Snow weren't in such severe pain, he would have been astonished at her tone.

What happened? What's going on?

"I'm going to go pee," Hope announced, and his footsteps were quick as he began to dart across the pavement, but somebody must have blocked him: a short moment later a thump was heard, followed by a soft "Oof".

"You aren't going nowhere, kid," Sazh warned. Snow's interest soared, and he wished madly that he could see what was going on. "You and I need to have a little talk."

"A…about what?"

"Somethin' tells me you know exactly what about," Fang said lightly, though her voice was no less menacing than Sazh's. At the mere sound of her vocal cords in action, Snow felt angered all over again…and then pain wracked his brain from focusing his hatred too much.

"Is this necessary?" Hope said, and the sounds of a struggle could be heard. He must have given up shortly into it.

Vanille's dancer-light footsteps reverberated off the walls. "You know you don't have a chance with her, right?"

"What are you talking about?"

Sazh tried to be gentle with his words, but a slow crescendo built his voice into a rather uncomfortable volume. "You know what we're talking about, Hope. She's twenty-one. You're a fourteen-year-old. She thinks of you like…you're just a kid!"

Hell yes you are.

"You guys are all crazy," Hope muttered, and it seemed that he was trying to escape through the door, judging by his amount of effort going into his exhales and grunts. "I don't know what you're talking about."


"I just want to pee! Why can't I pee without you guys badgering me about this? And why won't this stupid door open?" More scuffling noises ensued as Hope tried desperately to retreat.

"You can't keep trying to screw Snow over by showing Lightning how awesome you are and then making Snow look like a jerk," Fang said slowly. "Even if you did succeed, all you'd manage to do is leave Lightning heartbroken and alone. Why don't you get that?"

A loud thud echoed through the warehouse. "Snow doesn't deserve Lightning!" His roar echoed through the warehouse. "All he does is screw up and make her feel bad! She and I have been together since...almost since the beginning. She's the only person here I can count on, and Snow's trying to rip her away and he's...he's gonna just make things bad for her in the end!"

...the hell does he know? I resent that! He has no idea what's going on!

"Hope, it's okay, calm down-"

"No! You made me talk, even when I had to pee, so now you have to listen! You're all being so stupid about this!" His voice was not hysterical, but it was loud and adamantly enforcing his thoughts. "You saw what happened yesterday with Snow - do you really think that, at the end of all this, it will be any different? Snow's just gonna run right on back to Serah. You know it will happen, but you keep shoving the two of them at each other anyway! You're setting her up be devastated, and once that happens she'll leave us and never come back!"

Is that what all this is about? He's afraid Lightning will leave him?

An excruciating stretch of silence passed between those gathered; the air was uncomfortably thick. Snow strained his ears to hear what was going on, but the most he could make out was, possibly, quiet sobbing...or it may have been some monsters scuffling in the distance. Finally Sazh said, "S'all right, Hope...S'all right. Calm down. Let's walk outside. We need to do some man-talking." Afterwards, the metal of the door ground against the cement, and two sets of footsteps escaped the warehouse.

Snow's mind tried to understand what had happened, but it didn't work too well. He instead focused on Sazh's voice, which was still permeating through the metallic walls despite his distance, and he could clearly make out him speaking to Hope about Snow and Lightning's strange relationship, about how Hope needed to let things take their course, and then a question that involved what exactly happened on the roof and how Hope felt towards Lightning. This last section, which would have been the most educational conversation Snow would have ever eavesdropped on, was cut off when Vanille and Fang began to speak.

"That," Vanille said slowly, "was awkward."

"You," Fang countered, "were a bit chilly back there to Hope. What was that about?"

Vanille's beads tinkled. "I just don't get why the guys fawn all over Lightning. What about us?" she sighed. "I don't get it."

"Speak for yourself. Sazh's all over this." Fang slapped her backside. "Besides, if I was a guy, or if I weren't interested in men, then I'd be all over that girl, too."

"What?" Vanille seemed shocked, and a little hurt. Snow wasn't sure whether to be disturbed, annoyed that this was the reason that he couldn't hear Sazh and Hope's discussion, or incredibly intrigued. "Why doesn't anybody care about me?"

"There, there...We care about you! You wouldn't be forgotten! It'd be a ménage à trois!"

Another silence. "Fang...sometimes I don't really know why I'm friends with you."

"I don't really know, either but, come on, the idea was pretty damn good."

"No, Fang. It's a horrible idea, and it'd never work. Besides, it'd be weird and...and it just wouldn't work, okay?"

After that, the two females delved into an in-depth debate on the logistics of such a relationship and the pros and cons of one as they made their way to the opposite edge of the warehouse. It became so in-depth that Snow's aroused interest suddenly disappeared and he wanted nothing more than to get the hell out of there and try to listen in on the conversation he had previously heard. He slowly, painfully crawled over to where the door was and thanked his lucky star that Sazh and Hope had left it slightly ajar. He didn't dare stand, lest Vanille and Fang discover that he had been privy to their conversation, and so he continued on his belly, propelling himself forward by slightly raising his body and pushing with the balls of his feet. It was a few minutes before he completely removed himself from the inside of the warehouse, but once he got outside he didn't really know what to do. His head still felt like an adamantoise sat on it, the sun made his headache worse, and he feared that Sazh or Hope would appear from around the corner at any given moment and beat the shit out of him over some stupid misunderstanding between Snow and Lightning, or because he would have interrupted them.

Oh, the day was not getting any better.

Snow flopped onto his back and shielded his eyes from the burning rays of the sun, trying to formulate a plan. He had somehow become Public Enemy Number One, which did not bode well with him at all. He needed to either find a friend or just lay low until everyone was all ready to leave -

Where's Lightning? She's probably the only one that won't try to kill me today, ironically enough...

A shadow passed over the sun, and Snow peeked through the crack of his fingers to see if it had been a cloud. Instead, he found a rather disheveled Lightning peering at him from over the rooftop of the warehouse. "You sound like a whale when you roll over. The whole building shook."

Despite himself, Snow couldn't help but grin. "Good morning, beautiful." It might have seemed like sarcasm, but Snow thought otherwise...and he was desperately hoping it would be enough to put her in a good mood. Maybe it'd even be enough to brush over the whole issue from yesterday?

"Shut up, Snow."

Or not.

"Still mad?"

"I said 'shut up'." She paused and pursed her lips as she surveyed the area. "Where is everyone?"

"Hope and Sazh went to talk. Vanille and Fang are inside, and I strongly suggest you don't listen to their conversation."

"Didn't really want to," she responded. "What happened to your head?"

"Fang," he said simply, as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. "How come you're up there?" Snow noticed the flimsy blanket held firmly within her grasp, and he suddenly realized that she had been absent during the debacle inside.

Lightning just shrugged before vaulting over the low walls of the roof. "Hope used some weird spell. It put me to sleep."

The struggle that was Snow trying to stand to his feet was only worsened by the sense that the ground was continually leaping up at him. "Huh," he scowled, once he managed to stand fully. "Sounds like some sort of date-rape spell."

The joke was not appreciated, which became apparent when Lightning folded her arms across her chest and frowned. "He was just being nice. Courteous. More than I can say about you."

"Please. That kid'd do anything to jump into your pants, and you know-"

He hadn't realized that she had been carrying her gunblade, because if he had, he'd have been much more careful with his words. His error was realized too late, however, as he found himself at the mercy of her blade tip, which was uncomfortably close to his jugular. "Like you're any different?" She said snidely, and when Snow's eyes raised to meet hers, his heart dropped to his stomach. Behind her lashes he spied nothing but anger when she gazed at him. "You'd say any lie to do the same. You weren't so different back when we first met, either. You haven't changed a bit." She dropped her blade and walked past him, her shoulder ramming against his, hard.

Snorting derisively, Snow turned to watch Lightning leave. "Whatever. Keep telling yourself that, Lightning. When you're ready to man up to the truth, let me know."

Lightning tapped her temple twice before grabbing the handle of one of the doors and sheathing her blade. "I've known the truth since the beginning of this mess, Snow. I just forced myself to believe otherwise." The door opened up a smidgen once she began to pull, but Snow strutted forward and slammed it back shut, which caused the other to pop open. His headache and irritation fueled his anger.

"You don't know shit, Lightning. You've been lying to yourself this entire time, trying to come up with excuse after excuse as to why you can't go ahead with anything, when the truth of the matter is you're nothing more than a damn coward. You pretend you're so big and tough by throwing me aside, by pushing everyone else away, but you know what? You only come across as an ass! And with Serah, all you do is-" He stopped suddenly when Lightning's angry little fist forced his jaw from its socket. He glared coolly at her, and she returned the gesture readily. Without blinking he set his jaw back into place, leaned forward, and pushed her hand, which was reaching for the open door, away. "All you've done about this Serah mess is find all these different lies to cling to, to keep you from making the hard decisions that I've already made. And you know what? As soon as you make them, you still scramble for reasons why you should go back on your decision-" A second punch came soaring from the left, but he ducked under it and allowed Lightning's fist to hit nothing but air. "As soon as that Barthandelus crap happened, you pulled away without even listening to my explanation. I'm not the smartest guy in the world, but I'm not a liar. You're just too much of a coward to believe me. You know what the implications are of our relationship, and you're just looking for every excuse in the book to not deal with it!"

Lightning was positively seething by this point. "No, Snow. You don't know shit about me. You have no idea what's going on in my head, and no idea why I do the things that I-"

"Then tell me!" Snow roared, his fist slamming against the door behind him. His head throbbed, his jaw ached, and now his hand was stinging. He knew that the entire population of Pulse was probably aware of their argument, and he didn't care in the least. "I'd sure as hell love to know what you're thinking, 'cause I don't have a damn clue!" His eyes aimed towards the sky as he let his head fall backwards in exasperation. "You won't let me get close to you, and when I try you sit there and say I'm a damn liar!" What do I have to do to prove how serious I am about this? "I mean, I had to find out from some scary-ass fal'Cie what your name is! Just tell me things-"

"You don't deserve to know anything," she said, and her voice was like ice. Her eyes shot to the left, where they hovered for a few seconds before flying back to Snow. "Go back to your damn damsel and play 'hero' all you want. You don't need cowards like me in the picture, right?"

How did it get to this point?

"Lightning, no, wait-"

"Get away from me, Snow. I'm done with this conversation."

"Wait, dammit!"

She tried shoving his hand away from the door, but he countered by sweeping his forearm over her wrists, pressing her arms back down. "You're not going anywhere, Claire," he breathed. At the mention of her name, Lightning's face froze, and her expression swayed between outrage and sorrow. "You can't walk away every time you're upset. You can't leave whenever thing's don't go perfectly."

Back straight and head held high, she enunciated clearly: "Watch me."

And watch he did as she soared back up to the roof in two leaps - one that took her to a window sill, and the next that took her to her destination. Snow could do nothing but stare in astonishment at her pathetic behavior, and he was left wondering how the hell a simple 'good morning' had escalated to what it had.

I shouldn't have lost my temper, but...

Enough was known about Lightning to realize that she only behaved in such an immature, and violent, manner when someone, particularly Snow, struck a very major nerve. He didn't know if it had been the mention of Serah, or the idea that Lightning was a coward, that had sent her flying off the hook, but there was definitely something amiss. His only real regret, aside from losing his temper, was not finding out what they underlying factor was to this entire mess. Why couldn't she confide in him - no, why wouldn't she?

Why did she run away every time he wanted answers?

Why did she have to hit him so damn hard?

He rubbed his jaw absentmindedly, craning his neck to peer at the roof. He knew she wouldn't go inside, not yet. She would probably fume by herself for the next thirty minutes, and then appear downstairs, acting like she had just woken up, then she'd demand to leave at that exact moment.

Fine, let her do just that. I don't care.

Somewhere deep within he felt an inkling of fear, though. She would demand to leave, to go to Cocoon at that exact moment, and all they knew of what was awaiting them was that the Calvary would possibly be in an all-out war against the Sanctum and its citizens would be hysterical. Doubts about whether he was really prepared for such an event flooded his mind: Barthandelus had, after all, taken quite a toll on the entire group of them. He wondered if they would truly be ready for something like Orphan, which was probably a much more powerful fal'Cie than the old bastard himself.

Worse, though...what if something bad happened on Cocoon? If they got into a fight with some beast that overpowered them? What if Lightning were to fall in battle? She had a tendency to jump in front of attacks that threatened the safety of another in the group, especially Hope, and she would have no qualms about taking a life-threatening blow to save someone else. Snow knew that no beast could fell her in normal battle, when she wasn't concerned about the safety of those around her, but...what if she was taken down by protecting others? By protecting him?

They were on bad terms right now, and it was doubtful that she'd speak to him any time soon. If she were to take a fatal blow in battle...

Snow was certain he wouldn't be able to move on. He needed her, more than he realized. She gave him a reason to fight: he wanted to be with her when it was all said and done. Each day was another chance to draw nearer to her, to learn about her; and though today didn't go well - or yesterday, for that matter - he still hoped that things could be rectified. He couldn't lose her.

He wouldn't lose her.

He would do everything in his power to ensure she was safe. She had to be safe.

The hairs on the back of his neck prickled as he thought, and as he flew around he realized what it was that Lightning had noticed earlier. "What are you looking at?" Snow's eyes bored into Hope and Sazh, who were standing silently quite a distance away, but still within earshot. Sazh just threw his hands in the air, while Hope looked away, abashed. Snow gingerly ran his fingers though his hair before turning towards the door and sighing with great exaggeration. The same digits that had previously traveled through his hair now wrapped around the door handle and prepared to open it, but Hope charged forward and told him to wait. "What?" Snow snapped impatiently. He didn't really feel like being told off by a fourteen-year-old when he was already ticked off and in a horrible mood.

"I...I just...wanted to say..." Hope looked hopelessly over his shoulder at Sazh, who was tapping his foot impatiently. "I...just...why did you do that to Lightning yesterday?" he blurted, and though his cheeks tinged after his question, he wasn't about to back down.

Had Hope asked the question in any other manner, Snow would have flown off the handle, completely losing whatever cool he had remaining. The curious manner that Hope had tipped his head, the sincerity and sadness in his eyes, and his sorrowful tone, however, caught Snow by surprise. As a result, the only thing he found himself doing was swallowing hard and dropping his arm. "It's not like you to find out the facts before attacking me," Snow said with a small smile. Hope looked away, his cheeks now an unearthly shade of scarlet. "What happened yesterday," Snow mused thoughtfully. "I saw Serah and thought that everything would be over. I was relieved, and when she came running towards me, I just didn't really know what else to do. There's no sinister plot or anything...just me being stupid." He leaned against the door heavily, releasing his breath slowly, carefully ensuring that his head did not press against the cold metal. "Everybody thinks that I ran back to Serah because of some deep emotions that I felt towards her or whatever. That's not it. That's not it at all."

Hope pondered this for a moment before asking, quite nervously, " don't feel that way towards Serah, then?"

Snow looked down at Hope, a harsh expression on his face. "Not anymore."

A nod was given by the younger boy, who had now shoved his hands in his pockets. "And...what about Lightning?"

"What about her?"

"Do you...what will you do with Lightning when all this is over?"

Snow's heart sank a little further. "That depends if she still hates me as much as she does right now." He pointed to the bruise that was sure to have formed on his face by now, and Hope seemed shocked by whatever met his eyes. "If she's willing to talk to me, then I'd like to sort everything out and..." Snow suddenly felt very embarrassed and exposed, but he felt no need to hide his desires. "I dunno, if everything works out well, I'd like to...maybe start a family up or something."

"With Lightning?"

"She's been a good mom to you and Serah, so why not?"

Hope visibly cringed. "You care about her that much?"

Snow was thoughtfully silent for a good stretch of time. Did he care about Lightning that much? Was he willing to start a family with her, share a house and his deepest emotions and desires and all that, despite her reaction to him today? Wasn't he pushing things a little quickly? She had, after all, just knocked his jaw from its proper residence...

Then again, didn't she have every right to treat him that way? To her, it probably seemed like he was running back to Serah, just like she had said before, even if that wasn't the case. He shook his head and returned to the question at hand. "I care about her a hell of a lot more than I ever realized," Snow said solemnly. "I just keep screwing up when I'm trying to show her that." The question didn't need to be answered fully; not yet. He still had time to ponder whether a future with her was still likely, and to try and mend whatever rift had come between them.

Hope nodded a few times, and then grew very serious. "What will you do if you see Serah again - the real Serah?"

What will I do?

He had never really thought about it. Yes, he cared about Lightning, and his romantic feelings for Serah were nonexistent, would he break the news to her? What would he say? How would he act? Could he do it, with Lightning looming in the background? What if she came running to him again, like the false-Serah did yesterday? Could he refuse her? Would he hurt Lightning for the umpteenth time?

Snow's shoulders slumped. "I have no idea," he admitted.

Hope didn't seem entirely satisfied by this answer, but he didn't press Snow any further. Instead, he walked forward until he was at Snow's side, facing the opposite direction. "I'm sorry for getting in the way, even after I promised I wouldn't. I...don't want Lightning to get hurt, and I don't want her to go away." Head hung, he continued. "Don't make her leave, Snow. Convince her to stay with us, with...with you." At that Hope sidled through the door that Snow was not occupying.

Sazh then strode forward, beaming proudly at Hope's back. "He's a good kid. Little confused, and a bit of an overachiever when it comes to women, but a good kid overall." Chocolate eyes raked over Snow. "You look like shit," he commented, a goofy grin on his face. "Can't imagine why."

Snow shrugged. "Women hate me today, I guess," he said in resignation.

"I gotta admit, you deserved it. Bastard."

"Yeah, yeah..."

Sazh scratched his chin for a moment. "Sleeping Beauty didn't take kindly to you today, huh?"

"I'm not going to talk about it," Snow muttered in response. "I just hope she realizes that I'm telling the truth - preferably sooner rather than later."

"Don't worry, Trench," Sazh patted his shoulder reassuringly before beginning to side-step through the door. "She's got a fiery temper and a mean right hook, but she has the potential to be smart, too." Sazh's face turned forward, into the building, and he mumbled a very audible "oh shit".

Snow, interested, stepped in close behind. There, standing no less than ten feet from the door, was Lightning with her face masked in glorious indifference. She noticed the two men walk in and she simply walked away, her head now slightly bowed. Hope rushed over to them, mentioning that he wasn't sure how long she was there, but she had been present when Hope had walked inside as well.

An uncomfortable silence stretched for two minutes before Fang and Vanille rejoined the group from their conspiratorial corner. "So," Fang said, drawing out the vowel, "do you guys think that jealousy would ultimately ruin a Ménage à Trois relationship?"

Sazh blinked several times. Snow groaned. Hope just looked confused.

"'Ménage à Trois'? Is that Oerban for something?" Hope asked Fang. When she burst into laughter, he turned instead to Snow. "What?" He said defensively.

"Don't corrupt the kid," Snow said, leaning against the wall. Vanille rolled her eyes at Fang and approached Snow, already prepared to patch his wounded head.

"She hasn't stopped talking about it since you snuck out," Vanille said quietly. She noted the newly formed bruise on Snow's cheek and raised a questioning brow at him. Snow just gave her a pointed who do you think? look that explained it all.

"You knew I snuck out?"

"I didn't blame you," Vanille grinned, withdrawing her hands once the spell had done its work on both of Snow's injuries. "Lightning hasn't said a word, either, since she woke up, even after we said 'hello'," she said, her voice now a low whisper as Fang and Sazh began speaking on the subject of choice. "Did something happen?"

"What happened with Hope yesterday?" Snow ignored the question from Vanille. He didn't want to talk about it anymore. It would be best to forget about it and move on.

Vanille shifted uncomfortably, unconsciously drawing nearer to Snow as she did so. "Oh, nothing. Just put Lightning to sleep."

I bet that's all he did. They wouldn't be acting so weird if that was it.

The conversation between the two eldest party members began getting too suggestive for any of their tastes, so Lightning finally stepped forward and cut them off. "Enough. We need to prepare to leave. Pack up your bags, eat, and head back to the bridge." She looked pointedly at Fang and Sazh. "Orphan is waiting for us. This is no time for games. Cocoon could be in danger." Her eyes flashed dangerously towards Snow, and he sensed an alarming amount of animosity radiating from her. "Some of us will finally get the chance to play the hero and get the damsel."

"The damsel is being pretty uncooperative right now," Snow mumbled under his breath. Vanille chuckled and Snow felt the movement against his arm, which she was pressed lightly against. Lightning, too, seemed to notice her proximity and disproved of it, judging by the sudden scowl that crossed her features.

"Or several damsels," she added as an afterthought.

Sazh cheered greatly, "Oh, hell yes! I like the sounds of this!"

Lightning's mood was not improving, and for whatever reason this made Snow happier. It may have been because her irrational behavior earlier had caused this whole mess to begin with, and so anything that could ruin her day now was just sweet revenge.

Rubbing the back of his head in concern, Hope interrupted the festivities to voice his thoughts. "Light, do you think we can do this?"
Sazh's grin faltered and died, and even Fang's perpetual cheeky smirk disappeared as his words sunk in. "I mean, Barthandelus was really difficult yesterday, and Orphan..."

It was then that Vanille abandoned Snow's side to take Hope's hand in hers, but her countenance, too, was drenched with worry. She looked from Hope to Lightning, her mouth open but no words came out. She, too, was hoping for an answer, one that didn't involve running away.

Lightning's eyes flew to Snow for a moment, perhaps hoping that he'd do his job and make one of his heroic speeches. Instead, he nodded towards her, reassuring her, pressing her to speak. Truth be told, the same worries had already plagued him, and he needed an answer as much as the two younger ones.
Brows furrowed, Lightning considered Snow for another moment before turning her attention to Vanille and Hope. With nary a second thought, she glided forward and knelt before the two, her gaze alternating between both sets of worried eyes. "We've endured PSICOM soldiers chasing us through hell and high water. We navigated across Cocoon, alone, with the outside world hating us for what was forced upon us. We've kept sane when we have a ticking time bomb on our bodies. We've travelled across a planet that's at least three times the size of Cocoon. We've killed a few fal'Cie, defeated the Primarch a couple times, survived attacks that most other people would have died in...and, through it all, we've grown to trust each other even though we're supposed to be enemies." At this Lightning's eyes, now soft and kind, landed on Vanille. "We've done more than survive. We've thrived. We've grown and learned. We can handle anything that comes our way. We can do this."
Lightning pulled Hope into a tight hug, and Vanille, unable to help herself, threw herself into the mix as well. Lightning seemed surprised at first, but she just gave a quiet chuckle and stood, embarrassed, tucking her hair behind her ear. She considered the two before her again with a soft smile and, reaching into her pack, she pulled out two very large, very red rambutans, an Oerban fruit, for the two kids, then proceeded to prepare a breakfast with some of the meat they had remaining without saying another word.

Snow had to admit, he was impressed. Not only impressed, but he suddenly became very convinced that, if he were to ever have children, he wanted her to be the one bearing them.

Nearly an hour later they stood at the portal to Cocoon, all six of them exchanging uneasy glances with each other. Finally Lightning pulled out her gunblade and held her free hand against her chest in thought. "Okay guys," she began. "No turning back from here. We're ready. We can do this."

Snow's mind suddenly recalled his fears about losing Lightning. He couldn't allow her to go through that portal; not when things were so hostile between them...

"Light," Snow said suddenly, stepping forward until he was only a few inches away. He was aware that all eyes were on him, even while he felt her annoyance, which was better than the animosity, blossoming forth from her, but he pushed the discomfort aside. He had to. "Did you mean what you said? That we can handle anything that's thrown at us?"

Her hardened walls dropped as she looked at him suspiciously. "Of course."

"I hope, then," Snow said in a barely audible whisper, "that it also applies to us." He took her hand quickly and pressed it to his lips before dropping it and backing away. She didn't seem to know how to react.

"Be careful in there, soldier," he said, smiling weakly.

Then he jumped through the portal.

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