“So tell me more about romantic relationships in your village,” Hope implored, setting down the tablet he’d been drafting new technology on when he noticed Noel growing bored with sitting still.
Noel grinned and leaned his sword, which he’d been polishing over and over for the better part of the last two hours in an effort to amuse himself while Hope worked, against the wall. Standing up to stretch his legs, he circled around Hope’s desk a few times, tapping his chin in deep thought before he perched on the edge of the desk, not sitting, not standing; casual but always alert. “Well, for a long time, when the population started dwindling, the important thing was reproduction…we wanted more kids, we wanted more people. Romance wasn’t the first priority, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.”
“That makes sense,” Hope said, nodding as his eyes followed Noel around the room, his movements as he sat down on the desk. “An antiquated idea seen mostly in a lot of the older, more primitive Pulsian tribes, but I understand the merit in the practice in the case of your village.”
“I should have known you’d approach it with such an intellectual response.” Noel said matter-of-factly, his tone trailing off at the end, quieter, a hint of sadness. “Well, there’s two kinds of people, really…well, there were, at least. There were people who knew their lives were short and didn’t want to get attached, because that made it harder when you had to watch your loved ones die; and then there were people who knew their lives were short and thought that they should live it to the fullest, they just wanted to die in love.”
Hope leaned forward attentively in his chair, resting a hand on Noel’s leg; the warmth his body radiated soaking into his fingers, comforting, familiar.
“I can see the reason in acting either way, honestly…” he admitted, turning his face up to catch the sad, distant look Noel’s face adopted when he spoke about the village full of people he’d lost.
The hunter was silent for a few moments, thumbing through a stack of papers half under his thigh. “Then…there’s some people who are just fated to be together, and whether or not they’d thought they needed to fall in love or not, they just…need each other.”
Hope smiled slowly and placed his hand on Noel’s, his soft fingers filling the spaces between Noel’s calloused ones. “Here, people would call that ‘soulmates’, two people that live that are just…fated, as you said, to find one another, and to fall in love.”
“I like how that sounds…soulmates.” Noel repeated, tasting the term on his tongue, how it felt as he said it. “It sounds comforting. My grandmother told me once that they used to call the pairs like that ‘halves of the heart’; that there was a belief that when Etro made us, she took a part of each person’s heart and gave it to the one they were supposed to fall in love with.”
“That’s incredibly beautiful…” Hope sighed, leaning against Noel, his head rested against Noel’s side, Noel’s fingers stroking his hair.
“Hope?” he asked after a few minutes of silence, tucking a flyaway strand of hair behind Hope’s ear. “Do you think soulmates can live in different times? Centuries apart, for instance?”
“It’s definitely a romantic notion…” Hope reasoned. “It would explain why some people never find that person that’s meant for them, because they can’t time travel to find them… Why?”
Noel’s face broke out into a wide smile as he hopped off the desk, startling Hope as he grabbed his hands and pulled him up out of his chair, against his body. “Because I’m pretty sure you’re my soulmate, Hope. Why else did I feel so drawn to you?”
Hope’s face was bright red. “Not…Serah? I thought…the two of you were…I thought for sure…I just never asked.”
Noel shook his head. “I’m Serah’s guardian, yeah. Etro blessed her and sent me to watch her; I’m that for her, like Caius was for Yeul. But we’re not like Caius and Yeul, not in every sense. They…they were fated, halves of the heart.”
“But…” Hope stammered, his voice barely a whisper, his turquoise eyes wide, shocked.
“And I felt something for Yeul, yeah, I’ll never deny that I love her. But she was always Caius’s.” HIs voice grew quieter, then, not so much bitterness coating the words as it was the quiet sadness of acceptance. “And Serah…even if we like each other, Serah loves Snow, she loves him with this unsurmountable loyalty and passion, he really is her hero.”
Hope let out a small sound, barely above a whisper.
“You’re the only one I haven’t been second best to,” Noel admitted, the smile returning to his face as he squeezed Hope’s hands in his strong grip.”You’re the one I’m meant to be in love with. I’m meant to protect a lot of people, and I love them, but you’re the one I’m meant to fall for, you’re the other half of my heart.”
Hope pressed against him, burying his face in Noel’s shoulder to hide the tears leaking from his eyes but unable to hide the soft shake in his shoulders as he cried surprised, overwhelmingly happy tears. His arms found their way around Noel’s neck as the hunter’s arms slid around his hips, pulling them tighter together, so close that for moments there was no office, there was no Academy building, no world; there was only them, their breaths synchronized, their hearts beating together. Noel’s hands slid up and down his back, rubbing in soothing circles, the way he always calmed him down from nightmares, stress, anything that threatened him.
“To be honest, I never thought I’d have someone like that, Noel.” Hope confessed through the tears and the slightly stuffy nose.
“Like me? A lover?” Noel asked quizzically, kissing Hope’s temple as he spoke. “But I thought-“
“No, I’ve had a few lovers, I’ve always been honest about that.” Hope corrected, shaking his head and making a soft, dissatisfied noise when a strand of hair stuck to the tears on his cheek. “A…a soulmate, is what I meant. I was convinced I didn’t have one…”
Noel pulled back and took Hope’s hands in his own again. “Hey, look at me,” and when Hope did, when their eyes locked and there was that ripple of electricity, that jolt in both of their hearts, Noel said “Everyone has one. We found ours.”
Hope grabbed a tissue off of his desk and wiped at his damp cheeks, smiling softly when Noel grinned at him and wiped the very last tear off with the pad of his thumb. “I had feelings for Vanille, I still care very deeply for her, but it was obvious that she and Fang were all each other needed. There was a time that I had feelings for Snow…but while they cared for me, I was second place as well.” he explained. “To not be…is just amazing.”
“You were just waiting for me to come, along huh?” Noel teased, pressing their foreheads together, kissing Hope’s nose. “Sorry it took so long.”
A quiet laugh, a blush. “Sorry the world had to be in danger, I guess…” Hope joked. “But…yeah, here you are. I don’t think I could manage life without you now, honestly. It’s childish.”
“It’s not childish to need somebody.” Noel insisted, his hands holding Hope’s face gently. “I need you. And the big idiot and Serah are gonna finish fixing things, and then we’ll have a new future that we all helped build. I’m…not thinking I can ever go back to my own time.”
Hope jerked away from him, catching his gaze and looking devastated, then embarrassed. “I’m sorry…I just…I would..understand the obligation, if you needed to return.”
Another quick shake of the hunter’s head. “There’s no one there…or maybe there will be, once the future changes. But maybe…I don’t exist there anymore, if we changed it as much as we need to. Here, I have you, and Serah, and once this is all over, Lightning, and your friends Vanille and Fang. And even Snow….I guess I can put up with him, too.”
Hope laughed once, quietly, and then hugged him. “I don’t ever want you to leave,” he murmured as he clung to him. “It’s selfish, but…I need you, I need your guidance and your protection and your companionship…”
“I just need you. We need each other. I’m not going anywhere, Hope. What did I tell you my greatest fear was?” Noel asked.
“Being abandoned and not being able to help anyone you care about?” Hope offered, his voice muffled into Noel’s hair.
“Exactly. I’d never leave you, because I would never want to be left alone again. I love you, Hope, my soulmate.”
“I love you, Noel, the other half of my heart.”