It was nearly an hour after Vanille had left, promising to return the next day, that Rygdea entered the much warmer hanger and stopped just at the doorway, looking rather bewildered.
“I must have taken a wrong turn.” The soldier exclaimed flatly, drawing Hope’s attention away from Bhakti, who had been powered down and was staying with Hope on the interim until Hope managed to find a way to copy the little robot’s systems onto a more modern processor. The man squinted dramatically at his surroundings, shielding his eyes with a hand as if protecting himself from a bright light to see better when in truth there were only three lamps that Hope kept lit scattered about his workplace unless he needed more illumination. “Yup. Must have. This place isn’t as dreary as where I’m supposed to be. Hey, you happen to see a kid around here? Yay high, all stoic and no-funny-business and has the attitude of a middle-aged man?”
“That’s very funny.” Hope responded dryly, frowning. “I do not. And I’m not that short!”
Rygdea snickered before lowering the hand he had to indicate height at around his ribs, finally stepping in fully and then running a hand through his messy hair. “What happened to this place, anyway? Looks cozy. Better yet— what happened to you?”
Hope ran a hand through his own shortened hair self-consciously. “...Vanille helped me cut my hair. And decided to decorate.”
By decorate, she hadn’t managed to change too much, although she left a pure white pelt over the shabby couch in the corner and hung several beaded bracelets over his lamps before leaving a pile of colorful knitted blankets that she managed to stuff into her bag in order to make sure Bhakti was safe for the ride over his chair and around the surrounding floor because she claimed the area was ‘too cold!’ and he needed something softer to step on, anyway.
Apparently Snow had finally slowed down in his sporadic knitting efforts, although the result from the past several months meant that there were far too many blankets for him to even give away and therefore he wouldn’t miss what Vanille had taken to spread over Hope’s workspace.
Which might have been fine if Snow hadn’t been attempting to knit… well, Hope didn’t know what they were since the yarn blurred together into ghastly colors somewhere in the middle of the blankets.
“She did a good job.” Rygdea complimented, although he gave Hope a pointed look. “It’s just strange to see you with your hair so short now. Thought you were going to take after my hairstyle these past few days.”
The teenager scoffed, but moved to brush against the strangely prickly edges of his hair again, the feeling foreign even through his gloves. Vanille had been hesitant to cut his hair so short at first, and in the end it still wasn’t as short as he would have liked, but the wispy strands were definitely off his neck now, and his bangs were cut shorter than when he had been a l’Cie.
(A part of him wondered if this meant he could finally flip the mirror back over again and not see his mother watching him out of the corner of his eye.)
“You look like a hooligan.” Hope said, his tone as free as he usually was with… well, Snow. It made Rygdea’s eyebrows shoot up before Hope remembered that this man hadn’t spent years babysitting him whenever his father had to be at an important meeting, and that this Rygdea had only really known him in the past several months as the reserved and eccentric teen with too-large dreams that he kept indulging.
Rather than take insult, however, the soldier laughed loudly.
“Well!” The man exclaimed after his laugh, smirking. “I guess this is what you would have been like if you acted your age, huh? It’s good to know you’re not as hopeless with making friends as I thought you were. You had your dad worried for a while, you know! With the whole not going to school thing and all, we weren’t sure if you’d ever figure out a way to be a normal kid again.”
“I think it’s more concerning that you talk about me at all.” Hope griped, but couldn’t help the fond huff. He… really should thank the man properly one day. Rygdea didn’t have to go out of his way to look after a dysfunctional teen, didn’t have to indulge in Hope’s strange ideas, but the man usually did so anyway. Even the teasing and check ups were things that he missed— after he left for the future.
“What can I say? Your life is like a reality show; it’s riveting to keep track of. That is, if you actually did anything other than this— which you still haven’t told me what this is, yet.” Rygdea waved an arm to gesture to the hanger, and made his way over to the ratty old couch, flopping down with a heavy and satisfied sigh.
Hope frowned at the gesture. It meant that the man was settling himself in for the long haul, but he wasn’t exactly planning on staying in the hangar for all that much longer. Maybe to finish up a few more things, but…
“Didn’t I say it was a science experiment?” Hope told him, and swerved in his chair. “And I’m not here all the time. I’m going home soon.”
“You’re like this mini adult,” Rygdea said, making a face before grinning to show he was joking. “You know what most kids do? They get up, they go to school, then they hang out with friends and pretend the word responsibility doesn’t exist. They, uh— they have hobbies and play games and get into fights with their parents complain about homework and girlfriends and some of them are good kids who get good grades and follow all the rules, but they still follow this pattern.
“Most of those kids grow up to be exactly the same as adults, too. Get up, go to work, hang out with friends and pretend responsibilities don’t exist, then complain about their family or work or relationships. They have too many hobbies and interests and things they want to do so they accumulate vacation days and promise themselves to get around capturing a bit of their lives back.”
It was an awfully familiar conversation, and Hope was struck again by just how similar this new timeline was to the old one at times. “Are you describing yourself, then?”
“Yeah, sure.” Rygdea admitted with a shrug, “and the basis of most kids and adults out in the world. I guess that’s where the term ‘young adult’ comes in. When you’re old enough to be an adult, but you still feel like you’re young enough to still be that kid, you know? That’s why people are young adults until they’re in their thirties.”
“I still don’t understand why you’re telling me this.”
The soldier made a humming noise in agreement, different to the tone he had before, and that got Hope curious enough to give him the time to form his thoughts.
“I have a point.” The man said eventually, looking thoughtful now. “I’ve been speaking with… people, regarding the trial. While we can argue that you are underage and therefore should not be forced to testify in court on a subject matter that is clearly traumatic, I doubt that argument would hold against all the things that have happened this past year.”
That was true enough, and Hope didn’t argue on the ‘underage’ portion. Rygdea didn’t know.
“I thought I’d run through the game plan with you. Your interviewers are planning to release the audio interviews the day before the trial once they’ve cleaned it up a bit. From what I’ve been told, they’re doing Serah’s first, and then yours, just to give the story a more linear perspective. Give people just enough time to digest a new side of the story before everything’s forced to trial. They’re saying this will tide things over to us in a small way… ahh, I don’t know. I’m not a lawyer or anything.
“The point is: it’s more than likely you’ll be called up as a witness, and this is going to happen after the interviews are released, so you’re likely to get all kinds of questions. You’re a good kid, Hope. A good kid, but you act more like an adult than most people I know. It works for you. But you’re, what? Fourteen?”
Fifteen now, Hope didn’t comment.
“Your dad worries, you know. Even if he doesn’t say much about it. He’s damned worried about this trial and having to put you up for the public to gawk at. He won’t say it, of course, but you’re still young and if you talk to the judge— or at least tell us to do it, then we might be able to get just a written statement and excuse you from having to appear. You’ve got every excuse to stay a kid the next few weeks. There’s no need to act so adult all the time.”
Hope thought about it, resisting the urge to pull up his legs onto his seat in a childish manner while he figured out Rygdea’s, and in the process his father’s, method of thought.
He did understand. Appearing in public meant more than an audio interview. It gave the public something visual to memorize; a face to attach to all their feelings of despair and anger. It hadn’t been a year yet since the Fall, and Hope didn’t imagine that many people had made peace with the events completely. It was one thing for people to know about the ex-l’Cie still living amongst them, and another thing entirely for mobs to form once they had a common target.
And mobs would form. He wasn’t stupid enough to rule that out.
A single person ruminating in their negative feelings was dangerous enough, but put those people in a crowd of like-minded thinkers and that danger level grew exponentially. People did drastic things when they imagined themselves justified in their actions.
Who knew what would happen after the trial? The interview wasn’t a guarantee that things would go their way, and even if the other side was in the wrong, they had the overwhelming support of people who also felt just as angry as they did. Hope wasn’t going to fool himself out of understanding the public opinion.
“You don’t want me to appear at the trial.” He summarized, thinking it over. “Because then I’d be more of a target than I am now.”
“That’s not going to happen.” Rydgea assured him. “Your dad won’t let that happen to you, and Sergeant Farron… well, she’s definitely not going to let anything happen to you. Not to mention all your friends.”
“If I don’t testify, then the jury might not get the full story.” Hope said slowly, running through the scenarios in his head. “The lawyers could… phrase questions in ways that will make the kidnappers look like they were doing the right thing, and there’d be no one to say otherwise.”
“You don’t have to worry about that. They’re clearly in the wrong, and there’s nothing they can say that will change that.”
“But it doesn’t matter if they’re wrong or not. People don’t like l’Cie, even if the real story is out there and we’re not l’Cie anymore. If we don’t tell our sides… if I don’t say what happened to me, then no one’s going to listen. It doesn’t matter if I write it all down… they’re not going to read it. Not unless I get them to listen to me. Isn’t that right?”
“Hope.” And here Rydgea finally dropped the cheerful act, looking as serious as Hope had seen him back on the Lindblum, leaning forward to rest his elbows on his knees on his expression evened out to something casual, yet alert. “You may not believe me, especially since the system on Cocoon has failed you already, but I will make sure things go the way they should. I’m asking you on your father’s behalf, since he’d never ask you to do this no matter how much he wants to protect you, but if you just say that you don’t want to take part in the trial, I’ll make sure you don’t have to. And I’ll make sure the trial goes the way it should.”
Hope took a few seconds to digest those words, watching the soldier’s casual posture.
“...Isn’t that an abuse of your power?” He finally asked, giving into the impulse to pull his legs up onto the chair. “Mr. Next-Primarch?”
“Ahh.” Rydgea winced, and slouched forward to rub a hand over the back of his neck. “You heard that, then.”
Hope also knew that Rydgea would never accept the position. Would argue for the demolishment of a system that allowed the rampant corruption to continue, and would eventually urge the preliminary government to turn over a fraction of power to the academics instead and put the Academy in a high position of power.
But for the first year after the Fall, the people would clamor for a leader they knew and understood, for a system of familiarity to blanket themselves into a false sense of security. They wanted someone to take over, and with Cid Raines as the last Primarch before the Fall of Cocoon and the one who killed him…
“Just rumors.” Hope lied, because he hadn’t been following along the politics at all, but he also knew that it wasn’t exactly a secret that Rydgea was being pushed into a leadership position, or that he would eventually have a hand in the creation of the new system of government. “People aren’t going to like it if you so obviously side with the l’Cie who brought down the world.”
“Then they can find someone else to lead them.” Rydgea said flippantly, raising his head again with all traces of embarrassment gone. “I’m not here for them to delude themselves into thinking the old world still exists.”
“You don’t have to side with us, you know.” Hope reminded him. It would probably be easier for Rydgea if he didn’t, actually, and the man could still do the good work that Hope remembered from a different future. “I can take care of myself. We all can.”
“Yeah, yeah,” the soldier admitted gruffly, scratching at the stubble on his chin, “It doesn’t mean the adults can’t worry about the kids a little.”
“You’re not as old as you make yourself sound.”
“You’re right. I’m still a young adult! But you know what? I might have told your father that I’d keep an eye out for you. Not in so many words, mind you. But it means I have a right to be irritating and bother you at random hours.”
The admission made Hope furrow his brows. That… made sense, in a way. Even when he had grown up last time, Rydgea had made a point to stop by often and randomly. The man used to babysit him, even, and would call him up sometimes even after Bartholomew Estheim had died.
“I’m not going to ask you to help me get out of the trial.” Hope decided to tell him outright. He was sure that if he sounded even the slightest bit hesitant about it, Rygdea wouldn’t give up on trying to ‘help’. “I think that I need to do this. And I won’t try to be more childish in order to gain sympathy, either. I’m not just another kid who needs to be protected, and if I act like that instead of like I usually do, then I’d just be lying to everyone.”
The soldier gave a dramatic sigh, and stood up from the couch.
“You,” the man declared, “are going to give everyone around you grey hairs before long. Too adult for your own good. How are we supposed to keep you safe like this?”
They probably couldn’t, not if the assassination in 400AF was anything to go by. Not if all the futures that the others still refused to tell him anything about was anything to go by.
Hope just smiled instead. “I told you. I can take care of myself.”
And even if he couldn’t, he would find another way to do things. It wasn’t that he didn’t appreciate the lengths that Rydgea (and truly, not just him but everyone else as well) did things, but Hope was used to operating on his own with very little support. This was already a second chance, and as sad as it was to think it, he had more important things to resolve than just this trial.
Even if this might be a turning point for the timeline and create one of the biggest changes he had seen yet.
“You don’t have to worry about it.” Hope told him. “And you can tell dad that, too. Whatever happens, I’ll take care of it.”
Maybe that was a little much, as Rydgea just gave him a very strange look until Hope squirmed under his gaze.
The man finally sighed, and then stepped over the knitted blankets scattered about to pat Hope briefly on the shoulder before he moved back toward the hangar exit.
“You know,” Rydgea said without looking back, only waving a hand in goodbye, “I can understand why your dad wants to keep you safe, kid. I’ll talk to you about this tomorrow, then.”
Hope didn’t doubt it. He was sure that Rydgea would keep talking to him about not appearing at the trial up until the very day.
He knew the soldier well enough to know.
“Are you going to tell me not to testify, too?”
There was silence from the other side of the phone for several seconds, although Hope didn’t mind. He had taken Bhakti back with him from the hangar and set the little robot on his desk carefully after dinner with his father, who hadn’t brought up Rygdea’s words, but then again, Hope doubted his dad even knew Rydgea had spoken to him about it.
“I would prefer if you didn’t.” Lightning told him, and he could hear the frown in her tone. “Just as I would prefer that Serah not give that interview at all.”
“You still let her, though.”
“I didn’t let her do anything.” She insisted, sounding exasperated. “She would do what she wants, regardless of whether I approve or not. Snow is a shining example.”
Hope grinned, glad that he didn’t have the video option turned on because he was sure she would be angry seeing it. “Or the best example that she does listen to what you have to say. She didn’t marry him in the future I came from, you know. Wanted to find you first. Something about your blessing.”
Surprisingly, rather than scoffing at what he said, the line was once again quiet until Hope frowned, and tapped at the phone he had on a dock on his desk. “...Light?”
“Oh.” Had he… hit a nerve somehow? “Sorry. I guess she didn’t wait in your future.”
“She did. Just like you said.” But then, there was crumpling noise and Lightning’s voice hardened again. “Let’s not discuss that future. We’re here to change what happens, not reminisce.”
That didn’t seem right. He had given it a lot of thought, and moreover, a lot of time, but it didn’t seem like Lightning wanted to share what happened in the different futures at all. In fact, none of the others seemed very willing to share, and Hope wasn’t sure whether it was because they just didn’t want to worry him (which made no sense since it would be best if he knew what happened to best avoid the situation from happening again) or because Lightning had told them specifically not to discuss the matter with him, but… he had a suspicion.
But he still didn’t know just how to bring that up to her.
“Okay.” He conceded, even as he winced. Stupid, stupid… It would just be worse later on if he kept that topic muzzled. He’d have to know eventually. It should be soon. “...So what have you been up to?”
“Tracking down more of that organization.” And here she sounded more certain again. “The good thing is, it’s not as large as I feared. Most of the contacts that Snow and I hadn’t been able to find initially had only been outlier groups. Public opinion may not be as bad as you imagine it to be.”
He doubted that. He had grown up with that opinion, after all, while the others disappeared.
“That’s a good sign, then.”
Was he lying? It wasn’t what he meant to do, yet something about her tone from before withheld him from pointing out what he thought to be nothing more than optimism rather than fact. Maybe he wanted to believe what she said as well.
“Yes.” She confirmed. “So you don’t need to worry. Trial or not, the group isn’t going to get away unpunished.”
He wasn’t worried about that, although sometimes he felt like maybe he should be.
“I know.” He said. “You won’t let them get away with it.”
...And he wasn’t going to, either.