Bartholomew took the news of the Cie’th stone and the potential to travel via their magic extremely well.
“I see.” The man said when Hope informed him about the properties, and that he could just use those stones to travel between the settlements and New Bodhum. His father had asked about transportation to Dajh’s party and offered to hire airship services since Sazh would very obviously need to stay at home and prepare for his son’s party. “...Should I be worried about them?”
“They’re perfectly safe.” Hope was quick to say. “They don’t even react to people who don’t have magic. Actually… they don’t react much even to people who do have magic. Fang managed to make it work, though, and it somehow recognizes us and…”
He wasn’t sure how to explain it. He probably should have thought it out better before actually starting the conversation, and maybe he had, but the words turned to dust on the edge of his tongue in the face of his father’s impassive expression.
His father sighed after a long moment of silence while Hope tried to find his words again, and folded up his newspaper. “I’d like to investigate these Cie’th stones if possible. And— thank you for telling me about them.”
“—That’s how I got here.”
Vanille made a humming noise in acknowledgement as they sat together on a makeshift bench in the Katzroy residence foyer, watching numerous children shriek happily as they ran around each other out in the front yard while the adults murmured quietly behind them in the living area.
“It should be fine if it’s just him.” Vanille summarized for him, bringing a finger to her lips in thought. “Fang might not like it very much, though. She’s a bit protective of the Stones.”
“I don’t blame her.” Hope said. “I don’t want anything to happen to them either, but I don’t want to lie to dad about how I’m getting around. I mean, I don’t think I need to lie to him about this.”
Not that he had to lie to his father about anything else, but… there were other topics, stranger topics, that he didn’t know how to bring up yet. It was hard enough trying to tell his dad about the Cie’th Stones, awkward enough trying to explain a magic that still bound all the ex-l’Cie together even though they were supposed to have been over their experiences already.
It would be so much worse to try and explain— different futures. Prophecies. Mythologies come to life. Time travel.
That was a bag of worms he didn’t want to open yet. It had taken him years to get over the idea of changing the past when he first found out that time travel might be possible, and he had years to deal with his grief then.
He kicked the back of his heel against the wood of the bench, watching Dajh’s friends wish him a happy birthday in the yard.
“It’s not really a lie, right?” Vanille offered tentatively. “It’s just something really hard to believe.”
“He believed me when I told him about what happened in Bodhum.” Hope countered, remembering that painful conversation. “He believed me about being l’Cie, and about the Sanctum.”
Vanille didn’t answer that, instead pushing her shoulder against his, reminding him that they had yet to take off their outerwear. That was the reason they were still in the foyer, since Sazh had ordered them not to go dripping mud through the house when he already had to go running after half a dozen kids far younger than them.
“Thanks for lending Bhakti to me.” Hope said instead, changing the subject. “He’s pretty amazing.”
“Did you manage to learn anything useful?” She asked, the tension from the previous topic dropping.
Hope thought for a moment, and nodded. “Yeah. A lot of things, actually. Technology back during the War of Transgression was really advanced. Ahh— I mean…”
She smiled at him, and waved off the words. “Things are really different now. I know. Everything looked so strange after I woke up… even though it shouldn’t have been all that different. You guys changed all sorts of things, a lot of it for the better!”
“But some for the worse.” Hope concluded, knowing that Vanille would never admit that aloud even if she found it to be true. Some things must have been worse, considering the type of technology he found inside Bhakti. There were some ingenious connections that he originally thought would be dangerous, or a fire hazard, but seeing as the robot hadn’t combusted in five hundred years, he might have miscalculated.
“Not the important things.” Vanille told him. “I think I like the people more.”
While it was obviously meant as a compliment, he couldn’t help but wonder just how people acted five hundred years ago for Vanille to say that so earnestly.
“You kids ready yet or what? How long does it take to take off a jacket, anyway?”
“Longer than you’d think, old man!” Vanille quipped back at Sazh, who appeared at the doorway to give them an amused look, seeing as the two of them were still fully dressed and seated on the bench with no indication of moving.
“Well, the two of you will have to clear out soon.” Sazh told them, wiping his hands on the makeshift apron that was dusted with flour. Hope wondered just how large the cake was supposed to be. “Serah’s bringing in her batch of students for the party as well, and this place is about to get a whole lot messier.”
“Do you need help in the kitchen?” Hope asked, finally starting to tug off his scarf and shrug out of the winter jacket he still had on. Vanille pulled off her gloves next to him, but stuck her tongue out childishly as Sazh laughed at her.
“Could always use an extra hand.” Sazh admitted. “But them Team NORA says they’re bringing in food, too. We might actually have so much that the kids might not be able to eat everything.”
“There’s not that many kids.” Vanille observed. “Even with Serah’s students.”
Sazh tapped her on the head as she got up, and Vanille pouted.
“I don’t just mean the munchkins.” The man said with a shake of his head, looking amused. “Don’t forget that the rest of you happen to be kids as well.”
“Even Snow?” Vanille sounded gleeful.
“Especially that one.” Came a dry response from behind Sazh, who moved aside to reveal Lightning dressed casually in jeans and a turtleneck sweater that clung to her figure. “I’d trust Dajh with more than I’d trust that idiot.”
“Dajh is a good kid.” Sazh defended his son, but only shrugged rather than defend Snow against that quip. “Either way, I’ll take all the help I can get. You figured out how to use the oven now, right, Vanille?”
“That was just one time!” She protested loudly and huffed, settling her hands on her hips. “Snow said the oven would make a loud noise when the food was done!”
“Rule number one is that you never want to just listen to what Snow has to say.” Hope inputted with a smile.
“Yes.” Lightning agreed dryly. “Always check with someone else. Serah is a good bet.”
As if on cue, there were the sounds of children shouting out greetings from the yard, and Hope turned to see Serah and Snow making their way up to the house with at least four other children in tow who all immediately joined in on the games outside rather than heading toward the house.
“Good morning, everyone!” Snow announced loudly as they entered, holding the door open for Serah as she beamed up at him. “How’s it going? No houses burned down?”
“That was your fault for telling me the wrong thing!” Vanille protested again.
“Is this what you call ‘morning’, Villiers?” Lightning asked instead, arms crossed and looking unimpressed. “You’re late.”
“Oh, that would be my fault.” Serah covered for her husband, who only shrugged and grinned at her. “I had a run in with a few of the parents on the way down, and I stayed a little longer than I was supposed to in order to talk to them. I’m sorry.”
“You did what you had to.” Lightning told her, expression softening.
Snow leaned over to mock whisper at Hope as he shrugged off his coat, “She picks favorites! I would have gotten hit if I used that excuse!”
“You wouldn’t have a reason as good as that.” Hope shot back.
Serah looked around as she took off her own scarf and light coat, and frowned lightly. “...Where’s Noel?”
“Oh, he and Fang are still out.” Vanille informed her. “They’ve been pretty competitive lately— might take a while before they get back.”
“How about we move this conversation somewhere that won’t be blocking the door?” Sazh suggested, looking exasperated with the lot of them. “I’ll take whatever help I can get in the kitchen, and someone to help look out for the kids while they’re playing.”
“I’ll help in the kitchen.” Hope volunteered immediately before Snow even had the chance to give him a pointed look and then possibly say something about making friends. He slipped past the rest of them, Vanille and Serah following along at a more leisurely pace behind him as they chatted and caught up.
The Katzroy kitchen wasn’t a very large room, and on that day looked smaller than usual with the piles of pans and used pots on the counter, each filled with different types of batter or with bowls of different fruits cut up and ready to be mixed in.
“Just how many cakes are you planning on making?” Serah exclaimed once she and Vanille managed to squeeze into the small kitchen, Sazh following along behind them after he got both Snow and Lightning to agree to look after the children outside. “We don’t have that many people, Sazh!”
“Yeah, that’s right.” The man said with a shrug even as he moved around the ground and took his place at the counter next to all the cake mix boxes. “But we’ve got a bunch of kids, and I know first hand how much food they can eat. Which reminds me that if you’re all going to help, you need to know that the sugar for all of this has been halved— they’re going to eat a lot. Don’t need them staying awake for a week.”
That was probably for the best, but… Hope eyed all the different trays wearily.
“I don’t think they need cookies and cupcakes with all this cake.” He commented lightly.
“Then they can take some home. Haven’t you lot had gift bags given to you when you go to a kid’s party?”
If such an exchanged occurred, then Hope didn’t know about it. He shook his head, wondering if that’s what his mom used to do when he got to invite a lot of children over for his birthday. He had never thought about where all that extra party food went…
“Shame. That’s how you make sure nothing goes to waste.” Sazh just shrugged nonchalantly, and moved to wash his hands before continuing with the baking. “Serah’ll know what to do. Hope, don’t let Vanille tell you how to handle the oven.”
“I’ll try not to.” Hope said, unable to hide his amusement.
“Alright,” the older man acknowledged, and smiled at the group. “Let’s get working, then!”
It took a really long time (far longer than Hope expected) to extricate himself from the children after he brought out the cake for Sazh and was promptly attacked by an older group of Serah’s students who happened to be ‘too old to play with the little kids’ and were curious about him. Luckily, or perhaps unluckily, there were only four of them, and three of them happened to be girls.
He doesn’t remember being that rambunctious at that age. He doesn’t remember being that rambunctious at any age, really, seeing as three of those four children had argued very loudly whenever he tried to get away and would eventually draw him back into… whatever they were talking about. He didn’t even remember. Must have blanked it all out.
Of course, he got no help from Serah when she came out, as she only threw him a wide smile and left him to her students.
Traitor, he thought warily after he finally (finally) made his escape once one of the girls managed to drop his arm long enough for him to slink away. They had so much energy he wondered just how their families managed to deal with them. Or maybe it was compounded by the amount of people? Perhaps one child was just fine, but add another and they started to get loud and uncontrollable. Add an entire group and—
He didn’t know how Serah managed to do it.
He had never been popular in school; usually managed to stay away from large groups of people and succeeding thanks to his friends.
Hope felt a pang of regret at the thought of them.
He pushed himself further into the corner as he heard the shrill voice of the one of the girls (Emily, and she was eleven and the oldest of the bunch, older than Percy by three months, and Carol and Eliza by almost two years and— well, there was a lot she managed to drill into his head in that short amount of time) passed right by where he was hiding.
They were clingy. Even the boy of the group seemed to have no regard at all for personal space and tended to talk right at Hope’s face when he had something to say, which was quite often. It was like dealing with a whole group of—
Well. Of Alyssa.
And that thought wasn’t helping him at all. It just added to the churning of his stomach to think about how he’d left Alyssa behind. It wasn’t something he liked to think about often, if at all. But it seemed he wouldn’t be able to escape those thoughts.
There was a heavier gait that followed along with the children, and those footsteps slowed to a stop right next to his hiding place, prompting Hope to hold his breath and wondering why he felt so paranoid about this because they were just kids but everyone seemed to want him to get along with them for some reason and he was just too different and this wasn’t going to work out at all, what would he tell poor Dajh if he had to run away in the middle of the little boy’s birthday party…?
“Why are you hiding in the coat closet?”
Hope let out an unintentioned squawk as he felt a heavy hand drop onto his head and Snow grinned at him from hardly inches away from where the man was leaned down.
Scratch that— the kids weren’t the only ones with no regard to personal space.
“It seems you’ve made a good impression on the students.” Snow observed, still grinning even as Hope shoved his hand away. The main straightened up again, waiting for Hope to either explain himself or maybe attempt to leave his hiding spot. “Haven’t heard Emily this loud in at least three weeks since Pierre turned her down. She seems pretty eager to get to know you!”
Hope murmured something unpleasant under his breath directed at the man, and Snow laughed loudly. It made the boy freeze up for several moments, wondering if anyone was going to come and investigate the noise.
Apparently even Serah’s students were used to Snow’s boisterous attitude, seeing as no one so much as batted an eyelash in their direction.
“Don’t you have other places to be?” Hope asked instead, frowning up at the man.
“Nope.” The blond stopped then, and then amended, “Fang’s been looking for you. Wondered where you dropped off to.”
She and Noel must have returned while Hope had been being pushed around by kids physically younger than him by four years (and that was nearly a fourth of his physical age so that was really strange to think about) and it was embarrassing enough that Emily was nearly his height because Hope couldn’t wait for his growth spurt to kick in.
“Don’t think too hard about it.” Snow told him sympathetically as the man must have seen his conflicted expression and correctly deduced what it was about. “Those kids are just at that age. She’ll get another crush by next week, or even before that. They’re just kids.”
“Did you have her not letting you out of your sight for nearly a full hour?” Hope deadpanned.
“...Do you really want to know the answer to that question?”
“Urg. No.” Although he could see Serah being vastly entertained by the idea… or not. He wasn’t sure. Either way, he didn’t want to think about anyone having a crush on Snow (and maybe that was how Lightning tried to pretend that her little sister wasn’t actually married to the man).
Snow just chuckled, and managed to herd Hope from his previous hiding spot. “C’mon. I got a better place for you. Did you know all of those brats are scared to death of Fang? I’m sure she wouldn’t mind you hiding in her shadow for a bit since she wanted to talk to you.”
“What, she actually knows them?”
“Everyone in town knows each other.” Was Snow’s evasive answer. “The kids are probably following you around because you don’t visit enough for them to get to know you. We don’t get a lot of visitors in New Bodhum, you know. Most of us have been here since the very start of the town… granted, wasn’t that long ago. They’re going to be curious about anyone new.”
“Hmm.” He didn’t resist as Snow ushered him away. As they made their way through the small dwelling to the kitchen (which, thankfully, didn’t have any kids in it at all) and Snow waved to get Fang’s attention from where she was talking to Sazh.
“And here’s our tyke!” She greeted them as they came up, leaning on the counter which had only recently been wiped off all the spilled flour. “Heard the viper looking for ya. Caught her eye, have you?”
“The viper?” Hope questioned, but then shook his head. No. He could see where that term might have come from, judging from Fang’s smirk as he rubbed his arm. She did have quite the grip, and a way of not letting go at all. “Never mind. Snow said you were looking for me?”
“Sure was.” She responded, and nodded toward Sazh, who just looked resigned. “Not just me, either.”
“I wanted to ask—” And here Sazh paused, looking rather embarrassed, which was something Hope hadn’t seen the man do before. “That is to say, Serah’s a fantastic teacher. She’s got a real good head for making sense of things, and at keeping the kids in line. But she’s got to deal with over thirty of the kids, and they’re all different ages. I don’t envy her. She’s got a different lesson plan for each one of them, you know?”
“That sounds amazing.” Hope admitted. “She must be really busy.”
“She is. And, well, Dajh has been having a bit of trouble lately and I didn’t want to bother Serah for more of her time. Maybe he doesn’t really need the help, but I’ve got the job to run and Serah’s already overrun…”
“And I’ve been out too much with Sis to help here.” Snow butted in with a shrug, reminding Hope that the man was still standing behind him and had never left. “Can’t say I’m all that good with teaching, either…”
“Dajh needs a little extra help with his letters.” Sazh said straight out, and then shrugged helplessly. “It’s not that bad. Few things with spelling, with writing, and a bunch of rules I can’t even remember well enough to teach him about grammar. Vanille volunteered to help, but then we realized—”
“We might speak the same language, but our written language is drastically different.” Fang cut in.She didn’t look very impressed. “Not hard to learn, but we’re not the prime examples to go teaching it. We asked Noel about it, and what do you know? His writing is even more different to the rest of us. Can’t read a word of anything he puts down on the paper.”
“I’m not surprised.” Hope shrugged. “The writing four hundred years in the future was drastically different as well. I had to relearn the language.”
It was strange to bring that up now; to remember the bright cityscape and the people who had been so eager to share information and spoke in a manner that was both similar to him and yet not. The basic words were the same, but the slang… that was completely different. Everything he thought meant one thing would actually turn out to be another.
That had led to some… rather embarrassing moments for him.
It would make sense if Noel was from a future even even further than 400AF.
The others gave each other a look above his head, and Hope felt a further sense of awkwardness. This was the first time he actually brought up the future in front of them. They must have known that he remembered, seeing as Hope couldn’t see an option where Serah and Vanille didn’t tell the others what was going on. Ever since he was informed that everyone other than him knew about the futures when he first woke up in the hospital…
It just reminded him that there were things he really needed to know. It was one thing to give people space (and that was a concept he was intimately familiar with, especially with the life he had lived previously), and another thing entirely to let pertinent information go dark.
But the question was how to bring the topic up, and the right moment to bring that topic up. He still hadn’t managed to have a conversation about the future with Lightning yet, and Hope had a feeling that she would want to know about everything he knew.
If he were to ever fulfil his promise to Yeul, then he would need to know— everything.
But perhaps now, at Dajh’s birthday party, it wasn’t the time to start inquiring.
“I can help him with his letters.” Hope volunteered instead, to keep the others from continuing to give each other those looks. “Vanille’s offer is a good one. We’re all going to need knowledge of Pulsian writing soon. It would help Dajh a lot to be one of the very first to learn, although it’d probably be best to talk to him about that.”
Again, he wasn’t sure if today was the best day to do that. Was it a good idea to offer a kid like Dajh lessons rather than presents for his birthday?
“That would be great.” Snow said, and then thought about his words for a moment before adding, “If you’re not too busy, kiddo. I’ve been told you’ve been swamped with things lately.”
“Swamped?” Sazh raised an eyebrow at that, and turned his full attention to Hope. “What have you been up to these days, Hope? I heard you weren’t going to school.”
Hope shrugged, wondering if he looked as awkward as he felt. It was very likely that the others, just like his father, would have just assumed he would have continued his schooling and follow about this timeline to grow up a second time… except it was different this time around, and that wasn’t something he could deny. Still, he hadn’t expected to feel so put on the spot by that question, like he was supposed to be in school still and telling stories about teachers who assigned too much homework or classmates who didn’t make good lab partners.
He had to remind himself that the question wasn’t insinuating that he was being lazy due to a lacking of school schedule, because of course Sazh didn’t mean it like that.
“This and that,” he replied vaguely, because that was the best answer he could give. Between attempting to anonymously contact former coworkers and inspiring would-be inventors, Hope was attempting to push science forward on his own as well, all the while attempting to weigh the cost-benefit ratio for every little thing that he might change in this timeline. Push too hard and the rush of technology might collapse the fragile foothold the ex-Cocoon citizens had in this society, and he wouldn’t be able to predict any of the outcomes. Who knew? It could be the smallest thing that tipped the scales, and it was something he ran through his thoughts again and again every single day from the moment he woke to the moment he fell back asleep again.
His father might be disappointed with the amount of coffee that Hope was starting to smuggle into his own breakfast in the mornings. It wasn’t going to school, but he wasn’t wasting his time, either. Hope had grander plans in motion that needed both a large push and a subtle nudge.
“Well then,” Sazh said in response to the elusive answer, shaking his head, “don’t push yourself too hard, you hear? Kids these days. Maybe you should come around more often and have Serah’s students introduce themselves to you.”
At that, Snow laughed loudly while Fang snorted from Sazh’s other side.
“Oh, you don’t need to worry about that!” Snow exclaimed, slapping Sazh’s shoulder companionably. “They’ve already done that part!”
That had Fang laughing as well, “Isn’t that crazy one, is it? What was she called again—”
“Emily.” Snow provided gleefully. “And the whole posse she brought over to Dajh’s party.”
“What, not those four?” Sazh asked, and then turned to say to Hope, “I don’t recommend hanging out too much with that bunch. They’re good kids, to be sure, but they’re just a bunch of junior Snow and Team NORA in the making.”
“Don’t worry,” Hope interjected before the others could get too into the conversation. “I don’t plan on it.”
Friends weren’t exactly something he needed. In fact, he had more than the previous timeline, and he was more than happy with the friends he did have. To get everyone back had been… it had been all he ever wanted.
“Alright then,” Sazh confirmed again over Snow and Fang’s snickers on the kids, the two of them murmuring to each other regarding the exploits Serah’s students must have gotten up to in the past several months (including one story that Hope could hear over about Percy having stolen Serah’s necklace once and taken it out of New Bodhum entirely). “If you say you’re alright with it, then I won’t question you further. That means I plan to see more of you around, you hear? You’re a part of this family as well, and we don’t get to see you nearly as much as I see the rest of these oafs here.”
Hope smiled, feeling a wave of relief at the easy acceptance.
“Don’t worry,” he told the man. “I’ll do my best to be over more.”
The future was important, and Yeul’s sacrifice was important… but Hope knew better than the squander the second chance he managed to get on nothing more than research. This time around, he’d be able to grow up with some of the people who meant the most to him, and he was definitely going to find the time for them.