In the two years she'd spent living on Gran Pulse, Lightning had learned a few things that she never would have learned had she not been forced to relocate. For instance, she learned that her life wasn't a gift anymore it was a privilege she was tasked with protecting. She learned that in order to preserve her own life, she had to protect others around her. Gran Pulse didn't operate on the 'every man for himself' principle that Cocoon had.
On days like the present, Lightning reflected on her new life and new lessons. She perched on a rock overlooking a freshwater lake with glassy blue water. To her right lay a pure white stretch of beach while a swamp lurked to her left. The sun warmed her now-lightly tanned skin while she stared across the still water, thought consuming her. Idle time had become rare, and she'd developed an ability to appreciate it.
As water splashed into her face, a string of obscenities and hysterical laughter invaded her ears. Lightning released a surprised "Oh!" and wiped the water from her eyes before looking over at Fang, Vanille, and Hope, who had been attempting fishing for the last several hours.
"Looks like some fish down there wants to play with you," Fang jeered between laughs. Vanille clutched her stomach in a fit of laughter on the bank, and even Lightning had to control rising laughter when she saw Hope scrambling for land, soaked to the bone and his fishing pole floating out in deeper water. The sixteen-year-old's face was flushed red as a cherry and his platinum hair formed a water-soaked curtain over his eyes while his black tee clung to his body, showing how much his body as matured during his two years on Gran Pulse or how much it hadn't, as Snow liked to say. Hope insisted he would grow even taller and he'd develop more muscle someday, but his defensiveness did nothing but bring on more taunting from Snow.
"Shut up," he grumbled, changing direction and swimming to Lightning's rock in favor of quieter company. Fang laughed aloud as he hauled himself up and sat beside her, wringing the water out of his hair. Lightning looked away as Hope pulled his shirt off and started twisting the water out of it, fighting a blush.
"I didn't know you had half those words in your vocabulary," she chuckled as he slipped his shirt back on. Hope blushed as his lips lifted in a shy half-smile.
"NORA is full of colorful mouths," he answered.
"They'll be even more colorful if you don't catch some fish," Lightning replied, playfully pushing him. "Get back in there!"
Hope frowned. "But the fishing pole's clear out there!" he complained, pointing out across the water. Sure enough, about two-hundred feet into the lake, Hope's lightweight fishing pole bobbed atop the glassy water.
"You can swim," Lightning said. Hope shyly looked down.
"Not very well," he murmured. Lightning rolled her eyes, but didn't prod him any further.
"I guess I'll go find some fruit or something
Lebreau should be able to work something out," he murmured after a few minutes. Lightning looked over at him.
"I'm sure you could still catch a couple of fish," she replied.
"How? I don't have anything I can use."
"You've got two hands. I'm pretty sure Fang knows how to fish with her bare hands, so she could probably show you." Upon looking up to find the tempestuous Pulsian, Lightning found that neither Fang nor Vanille were anywhere to be seen.
or not," she amended. Hope's shoulders sagged forward with a sigh before he looked around.
"Fruit it is then."
"Wait," Lightning said, grabbing his wrist when he stood up. She gnawed her lip for a moment, comtemplating whether or not she was actually going to act on what she had in mind.
"What is it?"
my father and I used to go camping all the time when I was a kid," she murmured. "When I was seven, he taught me how to catch a fish with my bare hands."
Hope was silent for a moment. "Oh. Cool."
Lightning snorted and pushed him off of the rock and into the water. Hope surfaced and clung to a chunk to driftwood, sputtering water before glaring up at Lightning. "What the hell, Light?!"
"Don't tell Snow I showed you," she called down to him. One eyebrow skewed in confusion. "What are you oh."
Hope was cut off by the sight of Lightning removing her overcoat, gloves, and boots. His cheeks reddened when she unzipped her blouse to roll the collar down and dipped his head under the water on the other side of his piece of driftwood in hopes of lessening the redness.
He looked back up, wiping the hair out of his face when a splash sounded behind him. Lightning was nowhere to be seen atop the rock, and instead, Hope found her in the water behind him, tucking her wet hair behind her ears.
"Follow me," she ordered, propelling herself to small island further out into the lake. Still utilizing his driftwood, Hope followed her out. She hauled herself onto its bank and crossed to a crescent-shaped inlet, where Hope saw dozens of fish idling in the shallows.
"You have to know where they feed," Lightning started, lowering herself to her stomach on the bank. "Places with lots of shade and vegetation like this are a good place to check."
Hope lay down beside her. "I think I can remember that much. What's next?"
Lightning dipped her hand into the water. "Put one hand in the water and start wiggling your fingers. It moves the water and makes them think it's another fish over here." Hope watched as she demonstrated, his jaw dropping when a fish began slowly moving toward her hand.
"When it's close enough, reach out and gently stroke its underside," he whispered as she touched it. The creature sidled into her hand, and Lightning gripped it just hard enough to pull it out of the water. She dropped it on the grass and wiped her hand on her skirt. "That's all there is to it."
Hope watched the fish squirm in the wet grass for a few seconds before nodding. "Seems easy enough."
"You try it then."
Hope did his best to replicate her actions. He submerged his hand in the water and wiggled his fingers, holding his breath and waiting for a curious fish to swim his way.
"You'll catch more fish if you breathe, Hope," Lightning grumbled, though her smile screamed her amusement. Hope took a deep breath and resumed what he was now calling his "fishy seduction."
He broke out in a grin when he noticed one coming his way within a few minutes. "A little further," he whispered. He stroked its scales when it came close enough, shuddering at its slimy texture. "You're mine," he snickered as he gripped the fish and pulled it out of the water. He gave a victorious cry when he'd almost gotten it to the bank, gasping when he felt its tail whipping against his wrist and gaining freedom with every movement.
"No! Wait!" he cried, leaning over the water and extending his other hand to grab it again. His knees dug into the soggy earth, allowing him to keep his balance for a few extra seconds. The fall was inevitable, however, and when Hope had regained control of his catch, he realized he couldn't regain his balance. He yelped as he fell face first into the water. He knew he'd lost his fish for good when its tail slapped him in the face during its escape.
Coughing and wiping mud out of his face, Hope sat up, cracking one eye open when he heard unfamiliar laughter coming from the bank. Lightning still lay on the bank, but she'd hidden her face in folded arms, shoulders trembling with unsuccessfully muffled laughs. She looked up at him before hiding her face again, her laughter intensifying.
"Pretty funny, huh?" Hope snickered, grabbing her arm. "Lets see what you think of it!"
Lightning gasped as Hope pulled her in, immediately surfacing and spitting the water in her mouth back into his face. When Hope opened his eyes again, he waited for the deathblow, only to find a still-smiling Lightning in front of him.
"It's on now, Estheim," she muttered, grinning and throwing a wad of seaweed in his face and swimming out into the deeper water. Hope chuckled. "You asked for it. Especially because I lied about not being able to swim," he added after she was out of earshot. He ducked under the water and propelled himself out toward her.
Unable to hear the sounds of Hope swimming behind her, Lightning stopped and looked around for him. He wasn't in the inlet, and he wasn't anywhere around her. A surge of panic flooded her as the thought that maybe he really couldn't swim flashed through her mind, then again when something wrapped around her legs and pulled her underwater. She opened her eyes to see what had grabbed her, only to find herself staring into Hope's face. She pushed away from him and swam to the surface again, taking a breath and waiting for him to come up for a breath before going back under. She gently picked a piece of seaweed from his bandanna and touched his leg with it, swimming circles around him. When he saw her, she pulled him down and went up for a breath again.
The next hour passed in a flash as each tormented the other in the water before Lightning swam back to shore, hauling herself up onto the bank to catch her breath. Hope followed her and lay down next to her, smiling.
"That was fun," he murmured, closing his eyes and leaving the sun to dry him. Lightning let out a soft "mmm."
"I haven't played like that since my dad died," she whispered, a smile threatening to show on her face.
With the sun warming their soaked bodies, it was easy to fall prey to the lethargy it induced. Hope refused to let it lull him into nothingness, however, and sat up, stretching.
"We ought to get back," he said, looking over at Lightning. He lingered a moment on her half-asleep face, watching as her eyelids fluttered in an attempt to stay awake without having to sit up.
"Did you hear me?"
Desperate measures became necessary as the sun began to sink closer and closer to the horizon, as Lightning had fallen asleep and had adopted Hope's sleeping habits somewhere along the line. She groaned when he budged her, swatted his hands away, but never turned over. In spite of his aggravation, Hope couldn't help thinking about how cute his behavior was in her. It didn't change the fact that they had to leave, however.
"Don't kill me, Light," he said aloud. "But you leave me no choice."
He leaned down to her, cheeks becoming stained deeper and deeper red the closer her got, and shyly pressed his lips to Lightning's, unable to focus on the kiss through the knowledge of the punishment that would come after she'd woken up.
Hope's heart leapt in his chest when Lightning finally woke, and he squeezed his eyes shut before pulling away. He opened them again when no blow came, and instead something draped across his neck and pushed him down pulled him down, actually, and found that Lightning had wrapped her arms around him and had brought him down for another kiss.
Hope couldn't help himself. He'd been helplessly in love with Lightning since he was fourteen and had often daydreamed about moments like this, never once thinking they would actually come true. In his shock, he didn't return her kiss for a few seconds while his brain caught up to the moment, his heart thumping as he finally collected the presence of mind to kiss her back, his hand traveling her hair and sifting through it. His heart raced as he took charge, taking Snow's unwarranted advice for once in his life and gently running his tongue along Lightning's lower lip, heat rushing his face when she opened her mouth for him. Summoning everything Snow had ever told him about how to win a woman over with a kiss, Hope shyly explored her mouth with his tongue, blushing even redder when a small sound escaped Lightning undoubtedly a moan.
He pulled up for air, red as a tomato and unable to help the grin on his face. Even Lightning sported a smile and a blush of her own, though both had more of an air of maturity than Hope's.
"We should go fishing more often," Hope snickered.