It took him another two days before Hope realized just what Lightning and Snow had been talking about before their conversation turned to… other things.
“Adamanchelids?” He echoed dumbly as he pushed aside the lunch the Rygdea had forced upon him. “You guys are trying to take down Adamanchelids?”
“That those big turtles?” The soldier asked between full bites of his food, before waving a fork around in Hope’s direction, “then yeah. Those big turtles. We’re moving around the junior versions of them.”
“Adamanchelids are the junior versions.” Hope told him dryly, completely ignoring the man’s attempts to push the lunch back toward him. “You don’t have to fight them, you know. They don’t attack unless you attack them first!”
“Those things are scaring people.” Rygdea tried to explain. “They walk by— the ground shakes! They’re heading this way, and we can’t afford to find out whether or not they’re going to freak out over a human settlement. It’s not that I’m trying to pick a fight, but if we just run away, then people will— will you just eat your food?”
“No.” Hope answered simply, causing the older man to make some pathetic exasperated noises. Not that it mattered in the least, because there was no way anyone was going to make him actually put steamed Triffids into his mouth, they were absolutely disgusting.
“How old are you, eight?” The man asked irritably, pointing accusingly at Hope with a fork.
Hope didn’t rise to the bait. “It would be a— a dumb fight! They’re really hard to take down, and if you even try to take on an Adamanchelid, then there’s a good chance of something even bigger coming along to hurt you for it. Like you said— they’re the junior ones.”
“You know what?” Rygdea asked, finally sighing and putting down his utensil. “You’re sounding a lot like Snow right now. Is that what you wanted to hear? You’re just like a miniature Snow, trying to tell me what not to do and all—”
“—or more like Sergeant Farron, actually. What do you do, practice glaring like her?”
“Maybe I do it just to annoy you.” Hope told him, and Rygdea laughed.
“I’d believe it, too! But we weren’t supposed to be talking about those Pulse— I know, I know, Gran Pulse, no need to correct me— giant turtles of doom. I had two goals here: get you to eat your lunch, and talk to you about the trial.”
Hope very deliberately ignored the lunch that Rydgea had brought claiming it was one of the healthiest fads recently since Triffids were apparently one of the most nutritious foods not bundled into a pack together by the fal’Cie. Hope had forgotten all about those first two years before the people of Cocoon learned to actually create their own diets, so dependant on fal’Cie generated foods that they turned to scientists to ensure they would get all their necessary vitamins and nutrition from the now unprocessed foods they were consuming.
It had taken a lot of experimentation and adjustment of taste for people to acclimate themselves to the much bolder spices and tastes of Gran Pulse.
Triffids were, apparently, one of the steps getting there. Triffids were also something Hope was determined to skip over.
“You should just leave the Adamanchelids alone.” He very deliberately drove the subject back toward where he wanted it to go.
Rygdea threw up his hands in surrender. “You think I have some magical power to change people’s minds? It’s not up to me. Even if I can get a few people to listen, I can’t get everyone to listen. You are going to be scared and antagonistic until it’s at least been tried, alright? You can’t get kids to understand why scraping their knees hurt until they actually do, and you can’t tell people to just sit still and play it safe and expect them to listen! If we can take down an Adamanchelid, then we can prove that the Guardian Corps can keep everyone safe. If we can’t… then, well, we’ll just run like hell in the opposite direction and learn from our mistakes.
“I don’t see how you expect me to be able to change anything when I can’t seem to even get you to eat your own lunch!”
“It’s disgusting, it’s not as healthy for you as everyone wants to think, and it has the consistency of slime when you boil it.” Hope summarized. “In short, Triffids are to be planted and not eaten. Planted and left alone, because guess what, on Gran Pulse Triffids will attack you as well.”
“Kid, I have been heading these expeditions to clear out monsters for months. Ever since the day we landed on this world. I know what I’m doing, and you know what? Triffids are delicious. It says so on all the holovid shows, it’s back by professional cooks, and I’m going to say—” Rygdea picked up his fork again to spear a large forkful of the slimy flowers and stuffed them into his mouth confidently before his expression grew more pained, “—that they’re just as delicious as everyone says.”
“You look like you’re about to cry.” Hope informed him. “Your eyes are red.”
“It’s just a bit more spice than I’m used to, that all.”
“No, it’s not.” Hope continued to call him out, taking a vicious glee in his retribution. It served the man right for trying to feed him that trash. “It’s completely bland, and slimy. See? It tastes horrible, doesn’t it?”
Rygdea appeared to give up the pretense after a long moment, grimacing and moving to grab at his water before chugging his drink down in attempts to rid himself of the taste.
Hope just waited triumphantly.
“...You’re a brat, you know that?” The soldier said after a long moment of scraping his tongue on the back of his teeth. “Forget what I said about you being like some miniature adult before.”
Hope just rolled his eyes, and then continued on his previous conversation. “If you’re going to take on the Adamanchelids, you should at least take Light with you. Maybe Snow.” And me, he bit back the childish pout at being left out of things. He should be used to that by now. “They’ve fought them before, and they’re still alive.”
“If I could just send the two of them, I would.” Rygdea agreed, but then seemed to retract his statement. “That is, if I could send the two of them! Neither of them are officially enlisted, and I’ve already pulled enough strings to get them involved in the kidnapping case. Right now, the two of them are still considered civilians and I’m not sure how much you know about this, Hope, but I need actual enlisted soldiers who are both well trained and used to actually following orders to go on this mission. They want to nag at my men about how they can’t take down Pulsian monsters? Sure. Do it from the safety of their own homes. Unless they decide to officially join up with the Guardian Corps— again, for the case of Miss Farron— then I don’t have as much say in this as you think I do, Hope.”
“You have a lot more sway than you think you do.” Hope grumbled under his breath as he pushed aside the container that was supposed to hold his (rejected) lunch.
“What was that?” The soldier demanded, having definitely heard him.
“What if the Adamanchelids weren’t too close to the settlements?” Hope asked instead, wondering what kind of solution could be found in this explosive situation. “How much space do we actually need, anyway? Gran Pulse is a big place!”
“For those things? A lot of space. If people can see them, they’re far too close. And yes, I know exactly how big they are. Look, they can be miles from us and they’d still be too close. You can’t claim that people won’t freak out knowing those things are around this time around, kiddo. If nothing else, everyone still remembers what happened in Eden. No one wants to see monsters roaming the streets like that again, and I can’t help but sympathize there. As it is, I’m surprised there isn’t more outrage that those things exist in the first place. You of all people should know the lengths a mob will go to when they think they’re under threat.”
“I also know that they don’t have to be scared of them.” Hope said, and watched as the soldier only nodded in agreement without a real response. “And that the fear could be negated if they had only known they didn’t have to be afraid in the first place.”
Rygdea winced, and set down his own fork. “...This isn’t like the l’Cie incident.”
Was it just an ‘incident’ now? The thread of bitter was pushed aside to be examined later even as Hope shrugged, dismissing his personal objections to the phrasing. “Yeah. It’s not. But it’s still something that we can learn from, or should have learned from. The— what happened in Eden was terrible, but letting that fear rule is isn’t going to help.”
“Hey, you don’t have to tell me that, kid.” Rygdea agreed. “I complete agree with you. I’m just saying— politics makes things complicated. The people want to feel safe, and therefore they want the monsters as far away as possible, or wiped out if we could manage it, and there’s not much I can say or do about that. I’m just a soldier, you know. I follow orders.”
Hope looked down, brows furrowing in thought. That was right. Despite Rygdea’s promotion and the people who assumed the man would make a good Primarch since he had been the one who disposed of the previous Primarch… Rygdea had yet to accept that power and responsibility.
From Hope’s memories, the man had very reluctantly taken tiny bits of power as it was thrust upon him, but his full induction to politics had been a slow thing met with much resistance from the man himself. Eventually, Rygdea would make a great leader complimenting the Academy’s rise to power and the peaceful negotiation between the scientists and soldiers until a compromise could be created where they became one entirely new system of government.
How had things gone the first time around?
Back then, Hope hadn’t been as caught up with politics as he was now. He had been in a daze then, still grieving the loss of not only his mother but the millions of people who died in the Fall, and in the loss of Fang, Vanille, and Lightning. He hadn’t found anyone to talk to then, bottling up his own emotions in hopes that they would eventually fade enough for him to confront without as much pain as he had been in then.
Snow had been there, but… Hope had stayed away. He stayed away from Sazh and Dajh back then as well, figuring that all of them just wanted some time with the ones they loved the most. He had assumed back then that perhaps the next time he saw them would be at Snow and Serah’s wedding, yet that wedding happened due to Lightning’s absence, and then…
And then Sazh and Dajh just— disappeared. Soon enough, Snow went on a journey and disappeared along with them.
Hope had never been given clear answers about that.
He mostly focused on his studies until Serah disappeared as well and Team NORA contacted him about the possibility of her traveling through time looking for Lightning. It was then that Hope changed course in his studies rather than floundering through subject after subject trying to learn just a little bit of everything. When the Oracle Drive was first activated, Hope had been there and that had been the last straw in his decision to study up on time paradoxes.
It had been difficult— how could anyone identify a time paradox if they didn’t know what was wrong with their own history? But then he felt the weight of a responsibility he didn’t understand; a sense of something missing, a part that he had to play in order to be useful to the others.
“There’s no ‘just’ anyone.” Hope said stubbornly, and looked up again to see Rygdea looking away, the man scratching at the scruff of his beard in thought— or perhaps just unable to face Hope with that last statement. “I mean…. I’m ‘just’ some kid, right? If that’s the case, then Light’s ‘just’ another soldier as well, and Snow’s ‘just’ some civilian that might happen to run into your troops. If that’s what you want, you can put it down as that. But let them go, too. It has to frustrate them that the Guardian Corps is just getting themselves into unnecessary trouble, and it has to trouble you as well that they’re not allowed to help. You know they’d be a huge help.
“You’re ‘just’ as soldier as much as I’m ‘just’ a kid.”
“What do you want me to say?” The man asked instead with a defeated shrug. “Yeah, okay, I could let them come along again. It’d be good to get help from two people actually experienced with fighting those monsters. But I don’t have the power to call off the mission, Hope. And before you say you want to come with— yeah, I know what kids your age always say— you’re not allowed. Besides, it’s the day of your dad’s Paddra expedition, and I’m pretty sure you already signed up for that.”
Hope straightened at that. “On that day?”
“That very day.” Rygdea confirmed. “What, you think I plan around your schedule?”
“No, it’s not that.” Hope said, and slouched back into his seat again. Now he could remember, especially since he had seen the date on his father’s schedule for the trip in the first place.
The first time around, the news had transmitted non-stop about the militia who died bravely defending the citizens from the dangers of Pulse. Hope had only briefly remembered that when he first saw the date, thinking nothing more of it because that was in no way related to the new Paddra expedition in any way.
Now, he wondered if Snow had agonized over that the first time around, arguing tirelessly with the soldiers who refused to back down from an enemy too powerful to take on for a cause that was worth so little.
Was that the expedition that Rygdea hoped to undertake…?
Now he was starting to understand the frustration and pain he heard in Snow’s voice before.
“Look, don’t look so worried about it.” The older man reassured him, even reaching over to ruffle Hope’s shortened hair. Rygdea grinned, and pointed a thumb at himself. “I’ve got this. Nothing bad’s going to happen that day, yeah? So let’s just drop it for the moment and focus on something more immediate, like that pesky little trial everyone’s been talking about…”
Hope very reluctantly let the topic go, but reminded himself that it would be another thing that he would work on changing.
After all, everything was already changing so much.
“It doesn’t seem right.” Hope grumbled as he sat with his father to listen to the audio interviews. The packet would be released to the public the next day, and Rygdea had sent them the interview ahead of time so that Hope could prepare himself for exactly what everyone would be able to hear.
As such, both he and his father had sat down that evening to listen to it, the atmosphere tense as Hope heard himself recounting once more just what happened the day he was kidnapped, how he got out (excluding a few details like his magic and just how Noel had found him, which, luckily, made Noel sound more like a good samaritan who just happened to pass by during a hunting trip), and then the questions regarding what led up to the Purge and his journey as a l’Cie afterward.
Hope couldn’t tell what his father was thinking, as Bartholomew’s expression had been blank the entire interview.
“And what doesn’t seem right?” His father asked patiently.
“This makes me sound—” He clenched his hands tightly into fists, and then held his breath for a few seconds as if holding as his tension inside his body, before releasing a loud sigh and consciously flexing his fingers again. “—like a child. A victim.”
He wasn’t that. He knew better, could do better. He learned from all those experiences and there was no way he was as weak and in need of help as the interview made him sound. While the session was unedited to allow the most impact, it had just been the way the questions had been phrased and the progression of questions in general. It didn’t sit right with him that the interviewer made him out to be so…
He could understand it, at some point. Like Rygdea had said, him being so young meant that it was the perfect ploy to gain sympathy. They would tell the truth a little at a time, starting with the people that the public was most likely going to sympathize with.
But the manner of which the interview was conducted felt like a lie.
“Hope.” And here, Bartholomew finally looked… tired. The man took off his glasses and rubbed at the bridge of his nose, furrowing his brows as if combating a headache. His father looked so tired in that one moment, with the two of them sitting together at that tiny kitchen table resting their elbows on the countertop (mom would have snapped at them to keep their body parts off the table), that Hope couldn’t help but feel guilty.
If it hadn’t been for him…
“Sometimes,” his father continued after a long moment of silence, “I don’t think you realize that you are still a child. And that the things that happened to you shouldn’t have happened to anybody, regardless of how mature you think you are.”
“But it happened,” Hope rationalized. “And I’m fine. This makes it sound like— like I might have been damaged or something.”
He stopped short when he felt the weight of Bartholomew’s gaze on him; studying him.
“Weren’t you?” His father asked, voice calm. “A lot of people were left damaged. Our lives will never be the same again. What happened literally brought down our whole world.”
“Not in the way this interview makes it sound like.” Hope insisted. He had been changed, that was undeniable. Everyone had been, although he preferred not to think of the changes as damage so much as a chance to mature. People had to grow up at some point, even the sheltered citizens of Cocoon. He knew what they would become in ten, thirteen, years… knew what they would become in four hundred years, and what he saw in that future hadn’t been damage— it had been progress. It had been awe and an openness he had never before encountered on Cocoon.
Hardships brought turmoil and pain, but it was nothing something he wanted to translate as negative when Hope knew all the positive effects hardships could bring. Yes, things were terrible in the interim. Yes, there were times when even he preferred that the Purge hadn’t happened and that the fal’Cie had never chosen him for the task of bringing down Cocoon. He would have traded the beautiful and accepting future for another day in the blissfully ignorant past where he could just be… childishly happy again.
But those moments were human, and that didn’t equate him as weak, or that he thought the changes incurred by the Fall to be filled with nothing but awfulness.
Perhaps his viewpoint was skewed, and it was something he was sure never to bring up verbally, because Hope could still understand how close to the tragedy they still were. He understood that the pain never went away, he truly did, but…
From that pain would come a future. A better future. He wasn’t ashamed of his past except for the moments in the dead of night when he would wake from yet another nightmare, but…
The way the interview made him sound was…
It wasn’t like someone who surpassed a turning point in his life, like he saw of himself. The interview made him out to sound like a scared child who needed to be protected. Who was, as loathe as he was to admit, unprepared for the world and who had been damaged by the journey and was now in need for assistance in order to once again lead a normal life.
It was aggravating.
“Hope,” Bartholomew said. “When was the last time you voluntarily spoke with someone your age? Have you spoken to Kai or Elida since what happened in Bodhum? I wanted you to go back to school at first because I thought it would make things… normal again somehow. Allow you to make friends and learn like you used to. When that didn’t happen, I was distracted by other concerns.”
He didn’t have to point out what those other concerns were: between Hope’s accident and subsequent head trauma, which in turn led to a flood of memories he wasn’t supposed to have and along with that knowledge he wasn’t supposed to have… and then the kidnapping; Bartholomew had every right to be distracted from his son’s ‘normal life’ when there was already that many other things going on, alongside all the events that must have been plaguing him from his work.
He wondered if it was a terrible idea to just tell his father about everything that happened. Surely… surely his dad would believe him. Bartholomew believed all the l’Cie things, and had supported him throughout his entire life. He hadn’t questioned anything when Hope insisted on studying into time paradoxes the first time around, and…
He would. Eventually. It was just, with the interview being released the next day, and the trial the day after… it just didn’t seem like the right time.
“I spoke to Ms. Wingspur,” His father put his glasses back on, blinking to adjust his vision again. “Or perhaps I should say, she spoke to me. She had various concerns she wanted to address after conducting the interview, and brought up various questions I never thought to ask.”
The psychiatrist. She shouldn’t have been allowed to talk to his father about— no. His interview was going to be released to the public, and there was no point in keeping her concerns to herself, whatever concerns she might have.
“I know things are weird.” Hope admitted, because there was no way around that. He wasn’t about to actively lie to his father, even if he had to keep things from the man at the moment. “And… I want to tell you about it. I really do. I guess I just don’t know how to yet.”
“I understand that. That is what Ms. Wingspur has determined as well from her interview of you. And that’s why I would like you to speak with her instead for whatever you feel you can not tell me about.”
That hadn’t been what Hope expected, and he couldn’t help but gape at his father in disbelief.
“A part of it is my fault, and I apologize. I had hoped to... “ Bartholomew let out a breath, leaning his elbows on the table. “You won’t be the only one. She shared a concern with me regarding the public mental state and why this trial was happening in the first place. I’m writing up a proposal for Martha to prioritize the people’s mental health within the next year. We’ve been so busy building new homes and physically providing for the people that very little has been done so far to stop and take stock of our mental and emotional health. We’ve barely just finished cataloguing all the survivors mere weeks ago. This should not be acceptable. We’re sending out the remainders of Psicom and Guardian Corps troops in order to clear out land and keep our people safe from monsters, but we never considered monsters within our own community; within our own minds.”
Hope stayed quiet. Something like that had been attempted the first time around, although he heard very little of it that time because it just hadn’t passed. The community was grieving and there were already many people voluntarily seeking emotional help, and no real disturbances for an edict to pass.
“I’d like you to talk to Ms. Wingspur more as well.” Bartholomew quirked a smile and continued, “Yes, I know you don’t like it. You don’t need to make that face at me.”
“I’m not making a face.” Hope insisted.
“You are. I won’t ask why you don’t like her— I’m sure she’ll get it out of you herself. And I understand that you’re—” There was a pause. “—Busy. I’ve asked for your help often the past few weeks, and there must have been more people than I’m aware of who requested your presence. But this would only be one more. She’d like to see you twice a week, for an hour each session.”
This time Hope knew he was grimacing. “I don’t need a psychiatrist.”
“She comes with high recommendations.” Bartholomew continued, as if Hope hadn’t interrupted him. “This isn’t a punishment, Hope. She’s taking time out of a very busy schedule— and on her recommendation, I will also be taking two hours a week to a colleague of hers.”
“What? Why? Aren’t you too busy for that?” There was genuine surprise, especially considering how Bartholomew was already balancing his time almost down to the minute so that he could get the maximum amount of work done and spend as much time with his son as possible. Hope had made many concessions through the years (the first time around), and now knew how to help his father through various cups of coffee or tea at times, and just taking the time to help out at the makeshift office so that his father wouldn’t have to be two places at once.
“I am.” His father agreed pleasantly. “But your words convinced me it was something I needed to do.”
“My words?” Hope echoed, drawing back slightly and furrowing his brows. “...You mean my interview.”
“Not just that. You went through a lot, and you will continue to go through more challenges later on. Anyone would have faltered if they were in your place—”
What a strange thing to say, Hope thought vaguely around his father’s words, considering that he traveled with five others who hadn’t faltered at all.
“And it wasn’t just your journey and what you’ve been through.” Bartholomew paused for a moment, looking uncertain as he closed his eyes to gather his thoughts. “What you just said to me confirmed it.”
“What?” Hope thought back. “That there are things I haven’t told you yet? I know that sounds bad, but—”
His father held up a hand. “Not that. That much I already know. What I want you to take away from your sessions with her is that it’s okay to acknowledge being hurt. You’re doing so much better than almost everyone here, Hope, and I understand that. You’ve always been strong, just like your mother. No, don’t deny it— you could be right in that you aren’t damaged. But… I may be. And I’m sure that a lot of other people are. From the Purge, from the Fall, and everything that might have happened to them after that.
“I might be wrong. But I would rather take the chance of being wrong, than allow my own negligence to cause you further harm. Talk to Ms. Wingspur. Let her help.”
Hope could have protested. He felt like he should have, because that would mean another large change in the timeline for him, because he had never met Miss Wingspur before that day she interviewed him so how could he truly trust her enough to tell her things that he might not want anyone else to hear? How could he answer the personal questions she would inevitably ask him, or stand the silence and judging if he didn’t answer her?
Pick your battles wisely, Lightning had once told him while the two of them had first gotten to the Gapra Whitewood. Back then, she had fed him a continuous stream of advice on how to stay alive, and Hope could remember her words vividly. Don’t run into every battle you can find. That will only tire you out, and when the time comes to truly fight for your life, you won’t have the energy to win. Walk away if it isn’t worth your time and energy.
“...Okay.” Hope finally relented, and watched as his father looked up in surprise. “If it means that much to you.”
He could pick and choose his battles. Upsetting his father over this wasn’t worth it, not when there was already enough on his dad’s plate.
“Thank you.” His father said, and Hope just shrugged and looked away in embarrassment.
“...I’ll go.” He said, “But I can’t promise I’ll actually talk to her. She’s—” He frowned, trying to figure out why he couldn’t seem to find himself to like the cheerful, if overbearing, lady. “How do you even really know if you can trust her?”
“You don’t.” His father responded, and smiled at him, moving to get up from the table. “Perhaps that’s what you learn if you actually speak with her. She agreed to handle your interview and did a good job, didn’t she?”
“...I guess.” Hope relented, and his father reached over to grip his shoulder tightly for a moment before letting go.
“Don’t worry.” Bartholomew told him. “I think your interview went just fine. And remember— if you don’t want to go to the trial, you don’t have to. You can say no at any time.”
That would be the second argument that day Hope would need to win back in the future. For right now, he would pick and chose his battles to ensure he would win the important struggles: the ones that would decide how the future changed.