Description: Sometimes reality can seem like either a nightmare or a fairytale, but more often than not it's a little bit of both. FFXIII-2 Normal End. HopexVanille. SnowxSerah.
Chapter 1: There's a Difference Between 'Morning' and 'Mourning'.
"SERAH!!!" screamed the familiar voice of Snow Villiers. Hope Estheim turned to watch the burly man barrel out of the hatch on top of the airship. He caught a brief glimpse of utter devastation cross his friend's features as the larger man yanked his fiancee's body out of Noel's arms.
Snow didn't say a word: just wailed and moaned. Noel turned to face Hope, with tears rolling down his cheeks and guilt etched into his eyes.
"Mog..." the young hunter said, reaching out for the creature that was within Hope's arms. He carefully handed the animal over to his young friend as the whirring winds raged around them.
"Hope!" The young man heard a strikingly familiar, accented voice shout his name through the wind.
He turned toward the sound, and he swore his heart skipped a beat.
"Vanille!" he shouted as he bolted toward the red-haired woman. She was already running to meet him, so he didn't get far before her petite body crashed into his. As her arms clenched around his torso, he felt her warm, wet tears soak through the collar of his shirt.
"I missed you so much," her voice pierced right through the raging winds.
"I missed you, too," he answered back, burying his face into her fiery locks.
Then another powerful gust of wind rushed right into them, nearly knocking them off balance.
"All of you get your asses inside right now!" he heard Fang bellow from the doorway that Snow and Vanille had burst through.
Hope raised his head to see Snow already protectively cradling Serah's lifeless body in his massive arms. Noel, too, had risen, and now clutched the weakened moogle to his chest. He felt Vanille pull away from him just slightly. He looked back to see her tear-stained cheeks puff out as she smiled at him. She already had her hand held up, waiting to be taken. Without hesitation, he laced his fingers into hers and pulled her towards safety.
Once the door to the ship's deck was sealed behind everyone, all eyes were glued to the lifeless Farron sister that the wailing Snow held close to his chest. The large man looked like a helpless child as he sat on the ground clutching what remained of his bride-to-be.
Once again, Hope felt Vanille sob onto him. As he held her tightly against his chest, he felt warm trickles sliding down his own cheeks as well. All around them, he could hear their family members' sobs. A new day had dawned, and it was beginning with a nightmare.
His eyes searched the small room for Fang's. When her tear-stained green eyes met his own equally stained teal ones, she immediately answered his silent plea. She crossed the short distance between herself and the two mourning "kids" and pulled them both into a motherly embrace. He and Vanille both leaned into her as she soothingly stroked each of their heads.
No one from the mourning family even noticed that the inner door to the lift had opened, until the unprepared Academy personnel man awkwardly spoke.
"Um... Director, sir..."
Five pairs of soaked eyes latched onto him. He fidgeted uncomfortably, but finally forced himself to meet Hope's gaze. "Orders, sir."
Fang and Vanille pulled back from him slightly, and he already missed their warmth. He cleared his throat. "Activate the Emergency Plan," he said in an authoritative voice, "Right now our priority is making sure none of the citizens are in any immediate danger. Send convoys to all cities in Bhunivelze and to all cities that refused to evacuate from Pulse."
"Yes, sir," the man nodded, and swiftly began to turn away.
"And one more thing," Hope added before the man could close the door behind him.
"Have another pilot take over for Sazh. We need our entire family with us right now."
"Of course," the man replied just before ducking out.
"Daddy? Why'd the weather turn bad? The sun came out just a minute ago..." Dajh asked.
Sazh shook his head. "I wish I knew, Dajh. That's probably something we should ask your big brother, Hope."
"Yeah," Dajh cheered, "My big brother knows everything!"
The middle-aged man chuckled at his young son. He secretly wished Dajh could stay this naive and innocent forever. "Well he doesn't know everything," the father replied, "but he sure is one smart kid."
The father and son remained quiet for a few moments while Dajh contentedly petted and fawned over the little chocobo chick. Their peace was short-lived, however, as the cockpit door opened and two Academy men stepped inside.
The shorter of the two men stepped forward first. "Excuse me, Mr. Katzroy, the back-up pilot has come to relieve you."
"Huh?" the confused pilot asked, "What are you talking about?"
The Academy associate looked uneasy. This triggered alarm bells inside Sazh's head.
"Director Estheim has requested your presence in the deck observation room, sir."
Now the father was even more confused. "What the heck are they still up there for? I figured they'd be in one of the conference rooms having a meeting or something!"
"I-" the associate began awkwardly, "I'm afraid I'm not really at liberty to say, as I'm not entirely sure what's going on myself." The man hesitated again, and now his face was pained. "It's probably best if you see for yourself, sir."
"Uh oh..." Sazh muttered as he practically flew from his seat. "Dajh, c'mon!"
"Coming Daddy!" the little boy chirped, jumping up and grabbing onto his father's hand.
Vanille felt as if she had been ripped into two entirely different pieces. Serah was dead. She didn't know where Lightning was anymore. The world had turned into Valhalla. Everything was a disaster. And yet some twisted part of her was happy.
She was no longer either a crystal or a l'Cie. She no longer had the burden of carrying a world on her shoulders. And after five hundred years of only being able to watch, she now held in her arms the man whom she had fallen in love with when he was still just a boy. Everything was perfect.
This new guilt squeezed her heart. So she squeezed Hope a little bit more. Each time she pressed herself more tightly to him, his hold on her tightened as well. He clung to her just as desperately as she to him. She tilted her head to see that Fang had moved to Snow's side. She had both hands spread across his broad shoulders, squeezing them comfortingly.
Eventually the red-head's eyes traveled to the young man whom she knew was named Noel. The eyes of his downcast face were closed as a silent and steady stream of tears ran down the visible half of his face. Though she had never before spoken to him, nor even been introduced to him, still she knew his story. He had already been through so many trials, and her heart ached for his pain as well.
Finally, Vanille pulled her emerald eyes up to meet the turquoise ones of the man she adored. Though the tears still streamed down her pale cheeks, she couldn't resist the tiny smile that crept onto her lips as Hope looked down at her adoringly. His own lips curled into the tiniest of smiles as he removed a hand from her back to gently wipe away the tiny rivers beneath her eyes. She closed her eyes and leaned her cheek into the curve of his hand. He moved only to lean down and briefly press his lips to her forehead. After that, she was back in his embrace as he rested his chin atop her skull.
She breathed in a new clean, citrusy scent that was mixed with the old, natural scent of his skin. Her hidden lips curled into a smile as she realized the new smell must either be from an aftershave or cologne. He truly was a grown man now. Her heartbeat fluttered. Slowly, she glided a hand across his chest. She felt him inhale sharply before his own heartbeat quickened. They were both already sobering from their state of grief, and beginning to feel the high from other emotions. She would have to let go of him soon.
It was that moment when Sazh and Dajh burst into the room, startling everyone.
"Okay, can somebody tell me what the heck is going on here?" the middle aged man shouted.
"Sazh!" Vanille spun around to see the man whom she considered a father to her. She felt a chill, however, as she was no longer connected to Hope. Soon enough though, one of the young man's hands found its way into one of hers.
"Vanille, Hope," the older man said, noticing their presence first. "What's going-" Then he saw. His dark brown eyes locked onto Serah's body, lying prostrate on Snow's lap. "No..." he whispered to no one in particular. He dropped his son's hand to stagger forward, closer to where Fang stood comforting Serah's distraught fiancee.
Once Sazh's hand left his son's, Vanille immediately knelt down to distract the child. "Dajh, come here," she said smiling at the boy, "Come give big sis Vanille a hug!"
The young boy's eyes lit up as he looked into her bright face, then quickly looked up at Hope, and then back down again. "Sis!" he announced happily as he threw himself into her open arms. Just as her arms closed around the child, Hope moved around the pair, blocking Dajh's view of the scene of mourning.
"I've missed you Dajh," Vanille said cheerfully to the young boy, "How have you been? I hope Daddy's been good to you."
"We've been great!" Dajh replied enthusiastically as he pulled out of her embrace just far enough to outstretch his arms animatedly, "Daddy and I went on a whole bunch of adventures! It was so much fun!"
"Really?" she replied in a chipper voice, standing up and grabbing hold of the boy's hand. "Why don't you tell me aaaaaall about them," she continued as she began to lead him out of the room. Hope closely shadowed their steps, and closed the door behind them.
~end chapter 1