Hope hit the ground with a running start, completely ignoring the pain in his ankles as he didn’t even stop to brace himself from the jump, heart pounding in his chest as he raced forward despite the warnings of his security team still on the airship. The rest of them hadn’t been able to time the jump like he had, and were now stranded on the ship for the next minute while the pilot found a better angle to either dock or close in again with the turbulent winds.
In the back of his mind, he knew that he shouldn’t be going off on his own like this, especially toward the darkened skies before him crackling with magic and smelling like an ion storm sending obvious warning signals to stay away, but—
There was nothing.
The landscape before him was entirely barren, nothing but jagged rocks in the sky lifted by powerful magic so that this battle would be out of the reach of everyone else (what a shame, because Hope had developed numerous plans to help where he could and the Academy had targeting systems all over Gran Pulse just in case which would all be dismantled now that the big battle was over… but was it over?), and there was nothing but the burnt stone somehow covered with scorch marks and patches crumbled into dust from the force of magic that swept over the area.
Hope didn’t know whether his chest felt so tight right now because of his fears or because he pushed himself to run faster than he thought he could, the exertion leaving him breathless and vaguely dizzy as he approached the scene of battle.
There was a lone figure standing at the edge of the crumbling platform of stone, brown hair blowing in the strong winds as he stared out into the distance toward where the storm was moving-- a large spiralling castle in the distance, unable to be reached thanks to the separation of land and the way magic grew more treacherous to closer one went. It was the one place that the Academy hadn't been able to study because no one was able to get to this new area to begin with. Did he want to go there?
Hope held a hand to his chest as he came to a halt, slightly bent over from the intense feeling of relief because that meant he was still alive and hadn’t been stupid enough to get himself killed over this stupid thing because what if —
The ground shook beneath him, once again a grim reminder that it was nothing but magic holding up this area of land and that this new world did not take kindly to anything in the sky for long, enough that most airships had to be grounded except for extreme emergencies, and even then all pilots were told to fly carefully and very close to the ground. Nova Chrysalia was more treacherous than it would seem, granting immortality to those on the earth but taking it away the moment anyone left the ground. It was a reminder that he had colleagues worrying for him, perhaps almost as much as he worried while begging for the aid of an airship when the battle first started, enough that they were risking their lives in the air while he was here catching his breath.
With that in mind, Hope took the last several steps, once again ignoring the pain that resounded through his ankle as he let the fear and worry he felt earlier twist itself into a righteous anger that quickly pounded through his veins.
Noel looked up only when Hope was barely two steps from him, ready to say something before his eyes widened at Hope’s obvious fury. The last two steps didn’t slow as Hope pulled an arm back and punched the younger man, watching in an angry (and so relieved) satisfaction as Noel was pushed back half a step and brought a surprised hand up to his jaw.
“Don’t you,” Hope started, flexing the fingers of his hand because that hurt but it had hurt even more to see Noel run off the moment the hunter had glimpsed the phantom image of Caius, as if nothing else mattered but an re-enactment of their previous fight; as if Noel could somehow change the circumstances of their world if he did things differently, “ever do that again.”
And it wasn’t his ankles that hurt the most from the jump, and it wasn’t his hand that hurt the most from the punch because Hope had never been a very physical fighter and he had never been a close range fighter enough to actually learn how to throw a punch correctly but— In the end, it was the pain in his chest that gave him a hard time, because he couldn’t remember the last time he felt so… scared. Terrified, even.
And it was only now, standing on a crumbling land that would soon fall back down to the earth, surrounded by a magical storm that was moving away and with the wind seeking to push him off his feet and the sound of thunder loud in his ears, Hope could acknowledge that his fear hadn’t only been for Noel’s safety when the hunter ran off to fight with a ghost. He had been scared for the other man, yes, but the terror he felt even now was much more selfish than that.
Don’t ever run off like that again, Hope couldn’t say, because he had already known in that one moment when the hunter first took off, that it would happen again. And again. He had seen it in Noel’s eyes: the need for redemption, and a desperation that made his heart hurt.
It felt like those last few years didn’t even— hadn't even—
Hope held his breath and looked away, both hands fisted and tight against his side as he tried his very best to will away the maelstrom of emotions which matched the weather surrounding them. It was his own damned fault. Of course Noel was going to chase after impossible things; wasn’t that what everyone who Hope cared about did? It was his own damned fault for believing, for wanting to believe, that maybe things would be different this time around. That someone else would be stuck here with him, because even Snow had left for one of the fledgling cities and Sazh had retreated into himself; but when Noel decided to stay with him the past several years, Hope had allowed himself to believe…
He just… should have known better.
“...Sorry,” Came Noel’s murmured response, but Hope couldn’t bring himself to acknowledge it. The younger man had made it obvious with his actions that this fight with Caius would come first even though it was merely a fight with a ghost that would in no way save the world now. It was obvious in the way he looked at the Temple of the Goddess in the distance, in the longing within blue eyes that Hope suddenly wanted to hate so much (but he couldn't, and that knowledge brought along just as much pain) because for the first time since he was fourteen, he had allowed himself to believe that there would be someone who would put him first, and he had allowed himself to fall in—
Hope shoved all his weight down on one ankle petulantly until the pain sheered white hot through his blood to clear away that line of thought.
“We need to get you off this thing.” Noel said after a few moments, a tentative attempt at lightening his tone as he reached for Hope.
Hope just jerked out of the weak grasp, unable to handle the touch with the knowledge (and gods, wasn’t it a slap to the face that now he was finally thinking this through without the glaze of infatuation— and when had that first started affecting his behavior? Months go? Years?) that he had been wrong this entire time. Noel had stayed with him, yes, but the younger man had never truly looked his way. Not when there were the ghosts of Caius and Yeul still lingering in the Wildlands.
He didn’t know why he demanded such a thing of Noel, to never do that again, because the younger man certainly wasn’t going to agree to it; and even if he had, it would only have been a lie. It had just been his stupid heart which forced the words from him, and it was just as well that Noel hadn’t responded to it.
The world could have been falling apart around him (just like the stones under his feet) and in that one moment Hope wouldn’t have been able to bring himself to care. He was certain that some of his inner struggle must have shown in his expression despite his utmost to hide it, but he just needed a few more minutes to put together the pieces of his heart, that was all. Now that he knew the situation, now that he had solid proof right there in front of him, just standing there looking as guilty as Hope had ever seen him look, Hope could acknowledge that he had been a fool the past several years.
And now... now that he knew, now that he understood the depth of his own heart, Hope would be able to get over this and move on. He always did.
“...Let’s not stay in the Wildlands anymore.” Hope said, barely audible over the winds. The ground was shaking underneath them, indicating that there would be merely moments left before everything started to fall. “Let’s move to Luxerion.”
“Yeah, sure,” Noel agreed, panic starting to seep into this tone as the ground started crumbling beneath them. He reached out again to grasp at Hope’s arm, to pull him along, and this time Hope did not resist. “We’ll go— you shouldn't have come here. This place is dangerous, and—-”
When the stones gave way from under them, and when Noel managed to catch him; by the time the faltering airship caught up to them and managed a rough landing in by the northern Academy campsite, Hope had steeled himself enough to understand that all of Noel’s actions and agreements between them would be entirely on a professional, if friendly, basis.
Unlike the city of Yuusnan which was still under construction because of the amount of extravagance people demanded from every building and detail, Luxerion was a far more subdued area to live in. The streets were comfortable and a bit narrow, and the buildings compact and built on top of each other— it was the first city to be built after the Chaos destroyed everything and created Nova Chrysalia, and certain streets certainly looked the part of a city built for refugees.
In other areas, Luxerion was cozy and comfortable, and Hope wondered why he never thought to move there after the collapse. He had spent those years in the Wildlands instead, travelling whenever needed in order to keep an eye on everything, and taking almost daily (dangerous) trips to check on the progress of Bhunivelze. It would have been easier for him to stay on the floating planet, even, the only thing in the sky that didn’t seem a target to the hostile Chaos, but…
He had his own reasons for coming back each time. At this point in time, the artificial world in the sky had deteriorated to a point where it wouldn’t be able to support the amount of life still left in Nova Chrysalia, and while the majority of the technology was still viable, Hope knew without having to ask that there was no way any of the people he cared about still left alive would ever leave the rest of the population for a safe haven on Bhunivelze.
“You don’t have to move in with me,” Hope told Noel before they even got to Luxerion, aware of how his words contradicted his earlier demands. He finally had the time to calm down and think things through, but everything was still as confusing as the first moment he realized how he felt. His emotions always seemed to contradict each other— giddy and resentful at the same time when the hunter wouldn’t give him enough space to just— muddle through his feelings.
But wasn’t that exactly what he wanted? Someone to stay with him no matter what?
“I know.” Noel had responded, more subdued after the fight. Maybe it was because he realized the extent of his own actions just as Hope had, or maybe it was a reaction to the change in Hope’s attitude. Either way, the hunter seemed to be quieter and watched Hope’s actions more often than not lately, as if trying to figure out some sort of puzzle.
Hope tried (and he really did) to not let that scrutiny affect him.
Their move to Luxerion was rather uneventful despite the handful of Academy employees who swore up and down that they would keep the Wildlands base in tip-top condition, promising they would update him on everything they discover the moment they discovered it. There were others who decided to go with them, because it would do Luxerion good to have an Academy influence as well, and since the trains were being built for travel between lands, it would be easy to get back and forth.
Hope, despite the suggestions of other Academy members, chose one of the older sections of Luxerion to stay in rather than the newer and grander areas. The apartments were just fine for him, and reminded him of a time when Academia had still been under construction, when he and his father would share a small space so different from his spacious childhood home that there would be no room for grief in every corner.
He would do the same here as well, although the emotion now was different.
Noel went with him, and Hope didn’t have the heart to protest— or perhaps the better descriptor would be that he couldn’t find it within himself to protest for long, because while one minute he could convince himself that it would be best if they had more space between each other (maybe it would be best if he stayed away from Noel in the first place), another minute would find the idea of them apart absolutely abhorrent.
Was this how people normally felt? Hope wondered, trying to sort through his turbulent emotions. If that was the case, then he was glad to have not made any connections strong enough like this while growing up— he would have never been able to decide to sleep for four hundred years if there had been someone he felt this way about.
Love, Hope tried desperately to tell himself in the mornings when they brushed elbows while preparing breakfast, was far overrated. He didn’t have the time for it. He certainly did not have patience for the roller coaster of emotions. Hope had other things to do concentrate on; important things. What had once been a warm feeling that sustained him during the most stressful of days on Nova Chrysalia, was now a nagging ache.
It wasn’t like they were in a relationship beyond that of friendship. It wasn’t like Noel ever promised to do anything more than be there, and it wasn’t like Hope had ever given voice to what he was feeling. (He hadn’t even known about it until recently.)
Surely something like this couldn’t take over his life, not when Hope had been operating so efficiently before. He would just have to remember how to managed before the revelation, and perhaps venture to his mental state from before he met Noel.
It was obvious that his attempt either wasn’t working, or was a little too successful when Noel cornered him one evening before Hope could head for bed after a long day of working out schematics for an easier method of travel between the lands and Bhunivelze.
“You’ve been avoiding me.” Noel accused, clearly frustrated as he blocked the doorway. “And it’s not your work.”
“I apologize.” Hope responded smoothly, forcing his racing heart to calm at the proximity. “I’ve been— distracted as of late. I’m certain this is a stage that will pass and allow me to concentrate more on what needs my attention.” Like his work.
“And that,” Noel snapped, waving an arm down to indicate Hope’s entire being. The younger man was clearly struggling with his words, nearly vibrating with his need to express a frustration at the change of attitude. “You haven’t spoken like that in years— not to me. Don’t apologize. Just tell me what’s wrong.”
“There’s nothing wrong.” Hope insisted, not budging from his spot despite the temptation to back up a step. There was no way he was going to bring up what was on his mind, not when he was ready to forget it all.
“Did I do something wrong?” Noel asked, sounding so lost and frustrated that Hope had to look away guiltily. “I thought you wanted to come to Luxerion. We used to just— set off in the Wildlands all the time. We haven’t explored this place, we haven’t figured out the shops, we haven’t even talked to the neighbors yet!”
I have, Hope thought, and wondered why Noel seemed to be waiting on him for that. It was true that they used to do things like that together all the time, half because Noel was always antsing to go off hunting or exploring new areas, and half because Hope always wanted to speak with different people on their experiences and knowledge. It was just convenient that the two of them went together so that Hope could collect his samples and ask his questions while Noel took care of the monsters that plagued others.
It had gotten to be a habit for them to go everywhere, but…
“You should go.” Hope encouraged instead, because it didn’t do to dwell on whether they should have explored together or not. These emotions would be things that Hope would have to deal with on his own, but that didn’t mean that Noel should suffer for it. He wasn’t sure if his own words meant that Noel should go and do all those things, or if there was another meaning altogether. “Don’t hesitate on my account.”
Noel didn’t seem to pay the last words any mind, as his intensely blue eyes narrowed , still focused on Hope.
“...So I did do something.” He said instead, grabbing on to what Hope didn’t say. His expression turned from serious to hurt as he continued, “But you won’t tell me what.”
Hope opened his mouth to respond to that, but then thought better of it. Instead, he turned away for a moment and tried to ignore his heart twisting. “It’s not… that.”
“Yeah? Then what is it, because I sure can’t figure out what’s going on. I get why we came here, all right? I get that. But I’m here with you. And—” The younger man cut off in frustration, running a hand through his hair. “And since time isn’t exactly an issue in this world anymore, that’s going to be always.”
Hope felt a surge of irritation— although whether that was due to Noel’s choice in phrasing or whether it was because of his own traitorous heart, he wasn’t certain. It wasn’t like that statement was an admission of anything. The both of them had been alone for too much of their lives, and ended up sticking together mostly out of a mutual understanding of what it felt like to be left alone. Of course Noel would think of that as them always being together, especially since that’s what it’s been like for the past several years already. Ordinarily, Hope would have thought the same thing. After all, where else would they go?
Where else could Hope possibly go?
“I know.” Hope responded instead, wondering just how his voice sounded like over the rush in his ears. What could he possibly say to something like that, without giving away his own feelings on the matter? How could he respond in kind, and yet be genuine about it without pressing and without setting himself up for further heartbreak? “...Thanks.”
He winced at his own choice of words, and reiterated as Noel continued to give him that— that intense look Hope couldn’t figure out, “Sorry. I’ve just been focusing on things I shouldn’t be. It will pass.”
...He would make sure of it.
Once he made sure there was nothing wrong, Noel waited patiently for Hope to wake up.
It had been too long since he had last seen the other man (thirteen years, seven months, and twelve days), ever since Hope left Luxerion altogether with an excuse about work that barely made any sense at all back then and made less sense each time Noel got into contact with the scientist. On the rare occasion that Noel actually spoke to Snow (once in a blue moon seeing as the two of them were still just… awkwardly polite around each other but not close enough to so much as send greetings once in a while), the blond man admitted that he had heard little from Hope as well other than the continuous research that continued to be transmitted from Bhunivelze.
As the centuries continued on in Nova Chrysalia, the sky grew more and more perilous to journey through. The journey to the artificial planet in the sky soon grew to the so dangerous that even the most daring of pilots would refuse the trip. Materials were sent via a thin rail line built so the scientists would have what they needed, but…
Noel fisted his hands. If he had known that no one would be able to travel to and from the artificial planet, he would never have let Hope leave. He thought— he didn’t know why, but Noel had honestly thought that the trip would be for a week. A month, at the most. Hope always said that he was leaving— but the man was always back soon enough to explain the words had meant a temporary absence.
But how was Noel to know? The scientist seemed to live inside his own head the past few centuries, often needing prompting to either eat or rest. If it weren’t for the fact that they were essentially immortal outside of wounds or illness now, Noel was sure that Hope would have collapsed long ago.
Maybe that was what this was, Noel mused as he ran fingers through pale strands of hair absentmindedly. He didn’t know how Hope managed to get off the impossible artificial world, but the man appeared at his front step that morning looking ragged and confused, falling unconscious before Noel could even get a word out.
It was fine, though. If the past three centuries of life had taught Noel anything, it was patience. There were things he needed to say, but he also needed the right moment. He had been waiting thirteen years to say this (ever since Hope left and was suddenly gone, leaving a hole in his life he never noticed had been filled), because he had words that couldn’t merely be said to a communicator.
It was fine. He had faith that Hope would be back, and… here he was.
(This time, he wasn’t going to let Hope go again.)
There was something oddly soothing, something intensely satisfying and rewarding about this moment just sitting there and watching Hope breathe, until Noel was forced to look away because he couldn’t understand the sheer force of emotions that threatened to drown him in that moment. When was the last time he felt this… content? This settled? The past thirteen years had him constantly on the move, ever restless, but at the same time not able to move on from the spot they used to live at in Luxerion even as the neighbourhood slowly started to fall into disrepair due to most residents moving to the newer and brighter section of the city.
His hand stilled as he felt the faint stirring, and he smiled as he watched bleary pale green eyes blink open groggily, dazed and confused.
“Wha—?” Hope asked, voice thick before he grimaced and coughed.
“I don’t know.” Noel informed him cheerfully, hands resting twined between the strands of pale hair on his lap. Maybe he was being too forward here, but… he had waited a long time for this moment. The fact that the moment was finally here made him feel somewhat giddy. “You fainted… straight into my arms. You know, Hope, if you wanted my attention, you could have just said so. No need for such extremes.”
“...Noel?” The older man asked, and then sat up slowly, forcing Noel to let go of the smooth strands of pale hair. “I’m… on Pulse?”
“Nova Chrysalia.” Noel corrected, and then furrowed his brows in concern. “You don’t remember?”
The scientist took a long moment to think, and then shook his head. “...No, I remember. Sorry. I— I must be more out of it than I thought.”
“That’s fine.” Noel was quick to reassure. “You’ve been gone for a long time. Snow’s tried to send a few expeditions to get you and the others up there, but every airship sent crashed within minutes. How did you get back here?”
“Snow.” Hope latched on to the topic, startling. “That’s right— I needed to tell him something. Was going to tell him something. Was headed to… am I in Luxerion? What— what am I doing here?”
“...I found you.” Noel repeated slowly, his worry starting to intensify at just how lost Hope looked. Maybe there was something wrong that he hadn’t been able to catch. And if his Cure and Esuna spells had done nothing… “Remember? You passed out in front of me.”
Maybe now wasn’t the right now.
“You said that.” Hope agreed, and then appeared to calm a little. The older man grimaced and raised a hand to his head. “...Sorry. I guess I’m more out of it than I thought. I’ve had these repeating… dreams, I suppose. It’s hard to make sure, but… Lightning isn’t here, right?”
There was a twist in Noel’s stomach at the words. “No… you’ve been dreaming about her?”
Hope didn’t seem to hear the question, looking both confused and relieved at once. “...She’s not here, then.That’s… that’s good. I need to get to Snow— there’s something I need to tell him. I’m sorry for inconveniencing you like this, Noel, but I need to go—”
“You just got here!” Noel exclaimed, rushing to pull the other man down before Hope could manage to get up only to fall and hit his head. From Hope’s words, it sounded like the scientist needed some serious rest. Whatever went on up in that artificial planet of theirs must have really messed with the scientist’s head. Maybe the sky wasn’t kind to people living there just as it wasn’t kind to airships. If that was the case, then he definitely had to get Hope to one of the doctors in Luxerion, just to make sure the other man was all right. “Look— I’ll call Snow up, and you just… you just rest, okay?”
“Noel, it’s important—”
“Are you even hearing yourself right now?” Noel interrupted, frustrated. “You were gone for thirteen years. None of us are getting any older, Hope, your work can wait for just a few minutes, okay? Just let me make sure that you’re okay first.”
Hope’s eyes widened, and he looked ready to protest before looking away.
Noel had to bite down hard on his tongue to prevent himself from saying more. Now he could remember… it had always been like this between the two of them. Hope had always put work first and had never been able to look Noel in the eyes for long despite the hunter’s repeated attempts to gain eye contact. It always felt like Hope had something he couldn’t say, something he was ashamed of and felt he had to hide. Noel learned to be patient during that time, because he promised to stay always and he knew that Hope took promises seriously.
They had time. Eventually, eventually Hope would work out all the weight in his thoughts and then Noel would be there to listen, to support, and finally (maybe) reveal his own admissions that he wanted to say but could never find the right time for.
It was fine, Noel told himself firmly. They had the time.
...Or maybe they didn’t, Noel thought with a sudden clarity. With the comparison between how they acted around each other back then and how clear his feelings were after Hope left, maybe… maybe Hope had been the one waiting. Maybe Noel shouldn’t have waited for the other man to clear through his troubled thoughts because Hope’s troubled thoughts had to do with what Noel refused to say.
Maybe now wasn’t the ideal time, but this could be the moment he had been waiting for all along.
“What happened up there?” Noel asked instead, mentally berating himself for feeling so hesitant about the topic. What if Hope didn’t—? “You never really— said. Before.”
Hope’s gaze stayed on the armrest of the old couch, gloved fingers moving to pick at a strand of loose thread. It was a sign Noel had long since come to recognize expressed the older man’s unease.
“...A lot.” He finally said. He shook his head. “I don’t— know how to explain it. For a long time, I couldn’t figure out—” At that, he stopped and shook his head. “No. Don’t worry about it. As I said before, I’ve just been experiencing strange dreams. I’m certain that will come to pass, especially now that I’m down here.”
...Of course Hope wouldn’t say. But at least the situation didn’t seem so dire, especially if Hope could hesitate rather than continue to demand to talk to Snow. There was a dark twist in his stomach at the thought that Hope had come down to talk to Snow rather than just to come back to him, but Noel pushed it away for the moment. He could deal with that later. He would deal with that later.
He couldn’t help it. Well, maybe he could, but… Noel moved the length of the couch and raised his hands to cup the other man’s face, watching every emotion pass through Hope’s face. The older man might have thought himself secretive, but he showed everything on his face and in his eyes. Noel had come to know that, and now he watched as pale green eyes widened in surprise, staring at him incredulously.
Now. Now was the time. What was thirteen years in the span of centuries already spent together?
His mouth felt dry, and his heart thudded loudly in his chest, blanking out his mind of words that he had once carefully prepared. He could feel Hope’s pulse under his fingertips, and the other man was so warm that Noel couldn’t seem to get himself to concentrate on anything other than that little fact. How had he managed to live alone for the past thirteen years? No. He couldn’t let Hope leave again, not without at least saying what he needed to say.
“A long, long time ago,” Noel told him, voice barely above a whisper as he watched Hope’s eyes lock on to his lips to follow his words. “You told me you were going through something. Something you were sure would pass in time.” He huffed out a disparaging laugh, and leaned in to press their foreheads together, basking in that much missed warmth and in Hope’s intake of breath. “It took me… far too long to figure out what you mean. In fact, I was almost too late.”
They had been together for hundreds of years, but Noel had always just basked in the knowledge that he and Hope would stay together, never once thinking that Hope might actually leave and not be able to come back one day. He had just accepted at face value that Hope left most things unsaid, without attempting to pry deeper.
What if Hope hadn’t come down from the artificial planet? Noel might have volunteered for one of the expeditions eventually, and force his way up there. He hadn’t understood until Hope actually left, hadn’t known the depth of the hole that would be left behind. How could he, when Hope had been an intrinsic part of his life for hundreds of years? They had laughed together, fought together, celebrated together, gotten angry and sad and frustrated and frightened together; they had gotten into numerous fights and disagreements, but they never truly left each other.
“I once promised you always,” he whispered, afraid that if he said the words any louder, he might break whatever spell kept Hope’s attention solely on him. “And I mean it. If you need to go see Snow, I’ll go with you. If you want to go back to that world of yours in the sky, I’ll go with you. Anywhere you need to go. So don’t—” He swallowed heavily, the words feeling thick in throat. “Don’t leave me behind here. Not when I—”
Not when you take a part of me when you walk away. Not when I didn’t know much much I loved you until you were gone.
Hope was the articulate one. While Noel had been more willing to say what was on his mind, in this case he couldn’t find the words he needed to express exactly what he needed to express. How could he convey the heaviness of his steps after Hope left? How could he begin to explain all the mornings he made breakfast for two because he forgot entirely— or how he couldn’t comprehend why Hope’s calls were always so short and succinct. How could be begin to say that he paced through Luxerion again and again, or how many times he schemed to make his way up to the artificial planet, how many dreams of realizing earlier, early enough for him to have changed things? How could be express the rage he felt at his own inadequacy, at Hope for leaving and for not telling him about things, at the never-ending world and at the turmulent skies that refused passage?
He couldn’t. He didn’t have the words for it, not like Hope did.
Instead, he leaned in, tilting his head slightly and all too aware of every single one of Hope’s breath, every hitch and how the warmth underneath his hands increased as he pressed his lips gently against Hope’s, the lightest brush of skin against skin before he felt Hope’s lips part to draw breath and a hand against the back of his neck, pulling him closer.
“...This is a dream, isn’t it?” Hope whispered after they parted seconds later, eyes still closed even as Noel chuckled against his cheekbone.
“Does it feel like a dream?” Noel asked instead, heart racing as he dared to nose against skin under Hope’s ear, basking in the warmth and comfort of the other man even as his arms slipped around Hope’s waist to pull the other closer. As the scientist hadn’t pushed him away, but instead drew him closer…
“...It does.” Hope said, voice dazed. “Noel…”
“Hmm?” Noel hummed, warm and giddy and he should have done this from the very beginning but they had always and could make up for the missed three hundred years.
What he didn’t expect was for Hope to push him back lightly, still close enough that they could press their foreheads together, or that the other man would be…
No, that wasn’t right. Hope was pale, yes, but—
He drew in a sharp breath and brought one of his hands up from around Hope’s waist to cup the man’s neck, watching the wisps of light that was slowly becoming more tangible drift on the other’s skin. What—?
“This is a dream.” Hope said again, and this time the other man looked sad. “Noel. You would never say that if this wasn’t a dream.”
“How would you know?” Noel demanded obtusely, but then changed subjects. “Hope, what’s going on? You’re—”
“Dreaming.” The scientist concluded, the glow on his skin getting brighter. He pressed a gloved hand against the side of Noel’s face, and now even his clothes were starting to glow. “I figured it out. I guess… I guess I just wanted to believe that this was the real world, and everything else was a dream.”
“You’re not making any sense.” Noel told him, feeling a rising tide of panic sweep away the previous warm contentment. He pulled Hope closer to himself again, needing to feel that warmth because he had a terrible feeling about that light, about the glow, and about what Hope was saying.
“Light was right.” Hope whispered, pressing his forehead against Noel’s. “She said I would realize it soon. Noel, it’s okay. I already know. They’re important to you and can’t be replaced. Caius and Yeul will always be the most important to you. I understand.”
No. No,, Hope didn’t understand— of course they were important to him: Noel had too few important people in his life, and he would never be able to forget the most prominent figures of his childhood and the reason he was there in the first place, but even that memory was faded in the centuries since he had last seen them. Hope was the one there; here right now, and the one he spent so long with.
“You’ll always put Yeul first.” Hope whispered, and Noel found that he couldn’t say anything in response— not for lack of trying, but it felt almost like a force prevented him from saying anything, like he was being weighed down by the earth and unable to so much as twitch. All he could do was listen to Hope’s (wrongwrong) words and watch as the glow intensified, the rest of the world starting to fade out in the light. “In the end, our time together was a stage, and that stage has passed.”
Hope’s warmth was fading as well, his touch light and almost nonexistent.
“Even if this is just a dream— thank you. And I’m sorry. Forget about me. I wish you all the best.”
Noel jerked away from his home in Luxerion as he heard the explosion and subsequent screams. He was on his feet immediately, taking only a single fluid movement to equip the sword by the side of the couch before he made his way out to see the crowds of people outside looking shocked and scared.
“What happened?” He asked a random passerby, and she shook her head before pointing up the sky and hurrying away, obviously to tell others as well.
He looked up and tensed. What had once been the supply line connecting Nova Chysalia with the artificial world of Bhunivelze had shattered to pieces, and instead of falling down to the ground, it looked like the scattered pieces were moving upwards to surround the planet in a ring of rubble.
“How are the scientists up there suppose to survive?” He could hear a child whisper loudly before he was hushed by his mother.
Hope. The name provoked an odd echo in his thoughts, like a phantom ache he couldn’t quite make out. He was… he was forgetting something… something extremely important.
Poor Hope. The scientist would likely not be able to return with the supply line gone and the sky as treacherous as it was. The thought brought an ache in his chest, and he rubbed at the spot over his heart before turning away from the shining world in the sky, haloed by debris.
He wondered why he didn’t feel as torn up about that as he should. Hadn’t the two of them lived together for hundreds of years… didn’t he have something he needed to say…?
No. It was fine. It was just another disaster in a line of disasters. Noel would just have to endure (alone). He would keep going, keep fighting (what was he fighting for?), and guard Luxerion (why was he staying?).
And in the end, maybe… maybe… he’d be able to see Yeul again at the end of it all.