Heavy footfalls thundered throughout the narrow corridors as Snow broke into a flat run, making for their campsite. Sweat was beginning to pool at his temples and brows, dripping into his eyes and slipping towards his mouth, the salty taste of sweat prevalent on his tongue. Instead of pausing to wipe the glistening moisture from his face, he increased his speed until he was sprinting madly for the exit.
In his earlier retreat to the cavern he hadn't realized how deeply he had traversed into Mah'habara. It wasn't until his desire to repay Hope did he realize how far he had gone into the cavern. The length of time it took him to retrace his footsteps back, instead of cooling his nerves, only increased his want to cause an equal amount of suffering upon Hope that he had caused Snow. His thoughts drifted and scattered until he began fueling the burning flame of anger within him. He recalled all the times where Hope received the attention Snow rightfully deserved, the attention he should have gotten until Hope intervened.
Lightning giving Hope her cape, whispering all those comforting things in his ear while I froze on the sidelines.
Lightning ruffling Hope's hair and smiling so easily around him when I have to fight tooth and nail for something other than her fist.
Lightning pulling herself away from my touch when she so willingly hugs Hope.
Hope forcing Fang into the caves, interrupting the first damn moment where Lightning actually allowed me within an inch of her.
Lightning wouldn't come back to him. Lightning wasn't like that. Snow knew her well enough: that moment with her, that wonderful, blissful moment where everything was left behind in the dust, forgotten, and it was just the two of them standing there…that wouldn't happen again. Lightning would make sure of that. She had been scared away too soon, interrupted before she could get used to the situation. It was all because of a stupid, meddling teenager.
His conscience bit at him, reminding him that this was only a young boy with a crush acting stupidly, but his anger retorted hotly that Hope's stupidity had caused him to lose the one person he wanted more than anything else.
"Hope!" Snow bellowed, only a few hundred feet from his goal now. He saw the opening at the end of the tunnel, the proverbial white light. Hands curled into tight fists, his arms pumping insanely at his sides. The actions he would take when he confronted Hope were unknown. Pure emotion was driving him now on his rampage. The only thing he knew he wanted was to make Hope pay for the irreparable damage he'd inflicted upon his relationship with Lightning.
Hope had destroyed every moment, every treasured second, Snow had with Lightning. Now, when Snow had been slowly discovering where his emotions lay and was beginning to confront them head-on…now, when Snow was able to touch Lightning intimately for the first time ever…
He destroyed it. Snow wouldn't get that moment back. He wouldn't get Lightning back. And how the hell could he turn back to Serah after all these revelations he'd had of their relationship?
Lightning would never seek him out again.
This is all Hope's fault.
"No you don't, big guy!"
Two horrendously strong arms wrapped around Snow's waist, a body slammed into him moments after. Fang's momentum rocketed them forward, sending them crashing magnificently into the stone floor and walls.
A small, deep gash blossomed above his eye and blood poured profusely forth from it, blinding him with a waterfall of scarlet. Fang groaned about a foot away, but Snow didn't give a damn about her. She deserved whatever pain she was in.
Struggling to his feet, Snow felt his anger beginning to bubble over, crossing the line into an emotionally-sparked insanity. "I'll beat your ass, Fang!" he growled. "Get the hell out of my way! I have a score to settle!" He took a step towards the end of the tunnel and fell forward again thanks to Fang's hand wrapped tightly around his ankle.
"Think about what you're doing!" she shouted, using her free hand to grab the back of his knee. Flipping him easily onto his back, she crawled up to his torso and, taking advantage of his pain and confusion, sat on his chest, pinning his wrists to the floor. "Is this really the best way to fix this? To go after Hope? He's fourteen, and you're a damn giant! You made a promise to his mother, remember?"
"I don't care!" Snow yelled, rearing up in an attempt to throw Fang off. "The little shit knows exactly what he's doing, even if he is fourteen!"
"What are you talking about? He hasn't done anything!" Fang said, pinning his arms with her knees.
Snow roared in frustration, but Fang wasn't about to be shaken off any time soon. She kneeled over him, pinning him down and prepared to knock him unconscious if need be. Snow continued to struggle for a few more minutes until he realized how fruitless the battle was. The better half of his mind had also taken over by then, calming him down to a point where he could think logically again.
"He flies into jealous fits every time I'm
with Lightning," Snow said, resting his head against the cool stone
floor and gazing at the ceiling. "Every time I'm with her, he finds a
reason to interrupt. Every time, Fang. This time…I don't know. Lightning won't come back after this." The last sentence was little more than a whimper.
Fang, sensing Snow's lessened desire to fight, released his arms but retained her perch on his chest. She ripped a small, loose piece of cloth from her sari and used it to help clot the blood that still seeped from above his eye. "He's just a kid, Snow. He doesn't know what he's doing, or what's happening because of it. You give him too much credit," she chuckled.
Shaking his head, Snow responded with, "No, I don't think you give him enough. He's a smart kid."
"Probably smarter than you, I'd reckon," Fang grinned, dabbing gently at Snow's wound.
With a weak laugh that was followed by a sigh, Snow said, "You're probably right."
The quiet pattering of light footsteps was heard by Snow, coming from nearby. When he glanced over his shoulder, he spied the very person they had been conversing about. Hope's countenance was dark, shadowed and burdened, and his eyes glowed with an angry light. "What are you doing?"
"Chatting," Fang said with a shrug. She and Snow met gazes, with the former arching a brow to the latter, who gave a shrug. "What's up, kid?"
"'Chatting'? Doesn't look like chatting to me," Hope said, his voice light, betraying the angry glare of his eyes. "First it's Serah that you cheat on, and now Lightning? Huh. Some hero."
Snow pushed himself up off the ground, sending Fang sliding down his chest. Suddenly Snow understood how it all must have looked. "It's nothing like that, Hope –"
"That's a new one," Hope said, rolling his eyes. He took several paces forward, his hands emanating extreme heat. "You're only looking out for yourself and what you want."
"Hope, hey, come on, you're being dramatic—"
"No, Fang! You haven't seen everything that's gone on with him and Lightning!"
"I came in here to see why Lightning looked so upset when she came out, and I guess I have the answer!" He narrowed his eyes at Fang, then turned his attention back to Snow, his fury tripled.
"Whatever you think happened? That's not why she's upset, Hope," Snow said hotly, getting to his feet. In the process Fang fell to the ground on her rear and she let out a grunt of annoyance but still stood up to join Snow's side.
"And, believe me, me and this big guy have other things to do than hook up."
Hope took another step forward, the spark in his eye gleaming in the dull glow of the heat that surrounded his hand. "Then why were you on top of him, Fang?"
"Because she was stopping me from getting to you," Snow replied, the anger starting to return to him. "You did nothing but get in the way of me and Light, and now it's done more damage than you –"
"I did it because you shouldn't be with her!" Hope fumed. "You're engaged! To her sister, remember? Or did you forget about Serah when you were staring up Lightning's skirt?"
"Did you forget that you're only fourteen? You have no business sticking your noise into this! If you're jealous, then just remember that you don't have a chance with Light anyway!"
"Low blow," Fang coughed to the side. Snow ignored her.
Hope, however, had all his attention focused on Snow and had heard, and understood, every word and the implication of them. His hand glowed with the pent-up energy of an unreleased spell, and Snow, sensing danger if something wasn't done immediately, dragged himself into action, grabbed Hope by his collar, and proceeded to try and shake some sense into him, but Hope took it as a threat and released the flame. Snow, unprepared for the blast and too slow to react, received the full brunt of the spell on his forearm. The skin blistered immediately and Snow, bellowing in pain and anger, pushed Hope against the wall, pinning him in the spot by his collarbone with his good arm.
Hope eyed Snow's arm with a mix of fear and triumph, and Fang spied it with concern, but Snow barely paid any heed to the burning in his flesh. He forced the thought of it out as he tried to take calming breaths so that he wouldn't retaliate against the young boy; so that he wouldn't break any promises that he made despite how much he wanted to beat some sense into this foolish little child.
"You shouldn't be with her," Hope said, still eyeing the arm. His voice was hard, steely, convicted.
"What the hell do you know, Hope? You don't know a damn thing about what's going on. The only thing you're riding on is your obsession with Lightning, not fact!"
"Not fact?" Hope mocked, his eyes darting from Snow's skin to level with his eyes. "'Not fact'? I was right next to you when you and Sazh were staring at Lightning's ass! I was there when you put the moves on Lightning when you were taking guard! I saw how you looked at her after I got my eidolon! What isn't factual about it?" Snow's mouth opened wide to speak, but Hope dared to cut him off. "Lightning's not Serah, Snow," he choked, and despite the discomfort that was occurring due to Snow's grip being tighter than he thought, Hope's eyes were still glued on his captor. "You can't treat her like some…some piece of meat, either - I see the way you look at her! I'm not going to let you hurt her any more!"
He felt Hope's sneakered feet kicking against his shins but it hardly phased him. Instead Snow kneeled down, lowering his hand from Hope's collar to his arm, gripping it tightly. The boy had begun gathering energy for another blast, and Snow didn't know if he could handle another attack of that nature—the pain coursing through his body was already nauseating, weakening him by the second and draining him of the will to carry on with this nonsense. Pure adrenaline, and his own pride, was the only thing keeping him standing now, but he wasn't fool enough to press the boy beyond the bounds of reason. Despite his small size, Hope was a powerful spell-caster, and Snow didn't need a second dose of that fireball. "You honestly think that Lightning's…that Lightning's nothing more than a piece of ass to me?" he said, his voice a quiet growl.
Fang, always the voice of reason, decided to step in once Snow's face turned an unhealthy shade of albino-white. "That's enough." She grabbed Snow's good arm and gently tugged on it, signaling for him to let go and leave. "I think you've said your piece, big guy. We've got to get this fixed up –"
"How can Light be anything else to you, Snow?" Hope's voice cracked. "You already have this," he gingerly reached out and wrapped thin fingers around Snow's engagement necklace. "You already have everything you need. Don't mess with Light's feelings. Leave Lightning out of it."
"Can this wait? Snow, you've—"
A raised, blistering hand silenced Fang. "Despite what you think, I'm not pathetic enough to use Lightning like that. I wouldn't do that to her."
"You already did it to Serah. You've already cheated on her." Hope said in a strong, low voice. "That's not very heroic, is it? What's stopping you from doing it to Light?"
Snow's burned hand balled into a fist, the sickening, gelatinous form his skin had adopted made his stomach churn - that weakness couldn't be shown. He drew his arm back, driving it forward with a strength he didn't know he possessed. Hope's eyes grew wide as saucers and gasped audibly from surprise before jamming his eyelids shut, right before Snow's knuckles connected—
-to the stone directly next to Hope's ear. Hope, realizing he was okay and in one piece, released a small, quiet sob of thanks and relief.
"'Not very heroic', huh?" Snow repeated through labored breaths. Black specks were beginning to float in his line of sight. Cheating on Serah? "Maybe you're right, Hope. Maybe you're right about all of this. Maybe I should just ignore Lightning for the rest of this damn trip, not look her way or anything and just let you drool all over her like you've been?" He chuckled weakly, mirthlessly. "You say I've been staring at her like a piece of meat? What about you? You did the same things I did!" Hope paused in his actions, looking startled. "You think I didn't notice? You were all for the adventure when you were walking with Sazh and me. You thought Light's chest was the most fascinating thing in the world earlier. At least I don't try to purposefully distract Lightning to get a good look down her shirt!"
Fang, after chuckling at the thought of Hope admiring Lightning in such a fashion, rested a hand on Snow's back and Snow only faintly registered her persistent demands to 'stop this shit'. He was silently thankful she wasn't physically getting between them — that would only raise the tension and put Snow even further on edge. This needed to be settled, here and now.
Hope's eyes were brimming with tears, though why they were there was unknown to Snow. Perhaps he was becoming aware of how wrong he had been, about how much damage he had caused. Still, though, he fought to prove he was correct. "I'm not the one who's engaged to Lightning's sister! I'm not the one who promised Lightning I'd always be there for Serah!"
Hope's right. Snow couldn't keep his promise to Serah, not when…
He glanced over his shoulder at the sound of some sort of scuffle and saw Fang restraining Lightning, who seemed intent on forcing her way to Snow and Hope, probably to yell at Snow for starting the fight or something. He was confused by the angered expression that quickly clouded to worry when she laid her eyes to rest on Snow's injured arm, whose knuckles were still grinding against the stone.
Snow stumbled backwards, falling onto his behind, and looked questioningly at his arm, wondering how the pain became so intense so quickly. Skin was oozing at parts, literally dripping to the floor from his hand. Elsewhere, mainly from his wrist upwards, blisters had erupted, their trail only disappearing at Snow's shoulder to hide beneath the black cloth that clung uncomfortably close to him. Excruciating pain was threatening to drag him into the realm of unconsciousness.
One final glance at Hope, who had thrown his macho façade into the wind, was all Snow could take. The boy looked horrified by the sight of the damage he caused, or it could have been that Lightning was shouting at him, yelling at him for one thing or another.
Lightning then swirled into Snow's line of vision, but he didn't understand that it was because she was kneeling before him, trying desperately to get him to respond after he fell back against the stone floor. All he knew was that the world was quickly dissolving to black, and the feeling of guilt wasn't relenting any because, after all, Hope had been right. Snow couldn't keep his promise to Serah. Snow was cheating.
Hope had good reason to be revolted.
"Tell Hope's he's right," Snow said thickly, right before succumbing to the sweet, guilt-and-pain-free release of oblivion.
Snow tumbled back and forth, into and out of reality. He heard voices now and again, but their speech was muffled and made little sense.
He was still for some time, trying to recall what had happened. He remembered the caverns of Mah'habara, Lightning, running through the caves, away from him; his mad dash for the exit, Fang bursting into the scene...then Hope.
He shifted somewhat, as much as he could manage. What had he done? He had acted on rage at first, nothing more, and if he had succeeded with his initial intentions he would have harmed the boy he had sworn to protect. No, it was more than harm...at one point, Snow wanted Hope dead. Snow would have acted on his urge were it not for Fang's intervention, and he was extremely grateful, for once, for her meddlesome ways.
Eventually he regained control of both his mind and body and willed himself back into consciousness. He took a mental inventory of the state of his body and was pleasantly delighted when he felt no pain, not even from his arm. He also couldn't open his eyes. Voices, this time much clearer than they had been, were the only thing his body could register.
"—ning's pissed. She hollered at me for not running off to get her, as if that would have helped," Fang snorted. "I had to stay and make sure you boys behaved. Which you didn't."
"I'm sorry, Fang. It's all my fault." Hope sounded miserable.
"Damn right it is! Next time try talking before attempting to protect Lightning's honor!"
Snow sniffled a little. His chest was cold. Where was his shirt?
Hope seemed exasperated. "I know, you said that four times—"
"I'll say it a fifth, then!'
Snow struggled to sit. He wanted to add to the conversation, but all that bubbled out from his mouth was a very distinct "aghshit."
Almost immediately two sets of hands found his shoulders and forced him down again. "And so the Hero makes his dramatic entrance." Snow heard the sarcastic smirk through Fang's words and wanted nothing more than to push her off her seat.
"Why do I feel like a dinosaur sat on my head?" Snow moaned. Now that he was beginning to wake the pain had begun to seep its way back into his body, gathering largely behind his eyes. He placed both his palms against his temples and pressed hard, hoping it would quell the thrumming between his ears. There was a lot of pain there to account for.
Hope stuttered nearby. "P-probably because of all the magic we had to use. I-it's too much, more than your body should have taken in one night, b-but…" he swallowed nervously. "Between Vanille, Lightning and I, we, uh, we managed to make your arm as good as new."
Snow flexed his fingers and was thankful they weren't crunching or oozing. "Thanks."
A loud thump prompted Hope into speaking again. "I-I'm sorry, Snow. I was…" a small sob resounded. "I wasn't thinking. I just saw Light all upset and you and Fang…and…"
Snow heaved himself up, trying his best to ignore his screaming muscles and pounding headache. Fang protested against his actions but he shook his head quickly and regretted the motion just as fast. He reached blindly for Hope, as he still couldn't muster enough strength to open his eyes, but when his hands continually fell on empty air he decided enough was enough.
His eyes fluttered open and immediately winced at the brightness of the moon. Night had fallen, obviously. The others, or the lumps of things in the distance that he assumed were the others, appeared to be sleeping. Fang, Hope, and Snow sat far from them, near the mouth of the cavern they were to travel in the morning.
Snow saw Hope's fuzzy outline in the moonlight and grabbed the confused boy by the arm, dragging him over to where Snow was sitting. "It's okay, kid," Snow mumbled, wrapping his not-so-tender arm around Hope's shoulders. Those same shoulders heaved silently; no doubt encouraged by emotions Snow had felt several times over these past few days. Snow closed his eyes, blocking out the horrid light, and Hope began to try and explain himself again. The noise hurt Snow's brain even more so he quickly silenced him. "You were watching out for Light," Snow responded lightly, ignoring the growing migraine. "I can't be mad about that. In fact, you keep an eye out…watch over her for me when I'm not there." Though he tried to emphasize the last few words, it came out as a weak sigh.
Hope nodded once, but still he quaked under Snow's arms. Snow brought him into a tighter bear hug. "I'll leave you two alone, then," Hope said sleepily after some time, when his body ceased seizing from his tears. The words that followed were nonsensical and ended with a small snore.
Snow couldn't even think about the weight of what Hope said. He couldn't think right now at all, in fact.
"He's had a rough time," Fang said, smiling at the sleeping form of the boy who had tried to kill Snow just a few hours earlier. Snow jumped - he had forgotten she was there - and the motion made him feel dizzy and nauseated all over again. He wanted to sleep, to rest, but his wishes conflicted with his unwillingness to wake Hope, who didn't seem quite so lethal when he slept.
"That makes two of us," Snow mumbled into Hope's mussed mane.
"We talked awhile. He gets it now." Her voice was low, for some reason. Though Snow couldn't see it, she held a cup and was staring into its contents. "Sometimes I forget he's just a kid, you know? He was just trying to protect her."
Snow grimaced. "I know." And yet I flew off the handle because of it…
"Don't be upset with yourself. For the most part, you did pretty good. Didn't kill anybody. I'd say that's a good day," Fang pat him on the shoulder once. Snow was about to ask what words had passed between Fang and Hope but then Lightning approached. He didn't know she was kneeling by his side, but her distinct scent gave her away. His eyes flew open.
Snow's breath caught abruptly in his chest when she asked how he was feeling. "Never better," he said with a winning grin that he was able to summon entirely because it was her.
She touched his arm momentarily, and when she retracted her fingers a burning sensation, this one pleasant and not at all disfiguring, was left in her wake. "Get some rest. You'll need it." Without another word she snaked one arm beneath Hope's knees and the other supported his head. She lifted him easily, turning silently to walk over to where Sazh and Vanille slumbered, laying him down to rest on the soft grass. She followed suit soon after.
"At least she's talking to you. Good sign, right?" Fang offered her fur sash to Snow.
Snow grunted in reply, burying his head into the softest pillow he'd had in weeks. Fang, however, wasn't quite finished. "Don't blame yourself for falling for her, Snow."
Why is this suddenly everyone's business? "I thought you said you didn't see anything," he groaned again.
"No, I said I saw enough to know you weren't talking about an engagement," she corrected, taking a seat next to him. "Which means I saw everything. I just walked away and pretended to come back when I interrupted. I'm no dummy, you know."
One day I will get my revenge on you. Just not today. I just…want you to shut up now.
"It doesn't matter. I know Lightning. She won't come seeking me out any time soon, if ever." His voice was stifled by the fur beneath his lips.
"At least you're not denying that something's there…"
Awh, damn it. I'm too tired to think straight. I hurt too much. Leave me alone. "Go to hell, Fang."
"Already there, remember?" Fang jabbed his shoulder carefully. "Good night to you, too."