“Again!” I shouted, glaring down at the fourteen year old slumped in the mud at my feet. I smeared my bangs out of my eyes, blinking away the drops of rain that had collected on my eyelashes. I slowly began to circle the exhausted Hope, my grip on the hilt of my gunblade tightening as he turned his head to look at me. “Get up!” I bellowed, kicking the puddle of water that had been accumulating on the ground, showering him with muddy water. “Again!”
“I need a break!” he shouted back, pushing his own soaking bangs out of his eyes. “Take it easy on me! I’m not a solider!”
“That’s a damn good thing!” I exclaimed, roughly kicking more water at him. “Don’t forget that you wanted to use one of these things!” I brandished my own blade at him, pointing it down at the matching weapon in his hand. “Get up!”
Even though I had told him multiple times that only the most skilled warriors were able to master the use of a gunblade, he had been aggravatingly insistent on learning how to use one. I was just as adamant about not agreeing to teach him, must to his disappointment. His L’Cie magic was much more valuable to us than his combat skills, but still he wouldn’t drop the subject. That’s when I told him if I could find a suitable gunblade for him then, and only then, would I teach him.
I never actually expected to find one.
I managed to find said gunblade, after over a week’s worth of searching on Cocoon’s online weapon shop, that was a reasonable weight and easy to wield. I was shocked that I had gotten so lucky; finding a working interface on the surface of Gran Pulse was few and far between and I made sure to let Hope know that.
When I handed him the gunblade, one of the Guardian Corps early models reserved exclusively for people of limited strength, his eyes got so big that I was sure they would pop out of his skull. He was so excited that he had demanded to begin his training straight away. Even though I had promised to teach him, that didn’t stop my reluctance from resurfacing. It had taken me years to become accurate with this particular weapon and our Cieth clocks were steadily running out of time. We didn’t have the luxury of waiting for our youngest comrade to learn how to wield a gunblade. We weren’t on a pleasure cruise.
Hope coughed as he rose from the wet earth, his right arm shaking from the exertion of lifting his weapon off the ground. He was exhausted and he wasn’t doing a very good job of hiding it. I stopped pacing and examined him closely. His bottom jaw was quivering as well as his shoulders and his knees. The poor kid was freezing on top of it all.
“Let’s stop for now,” I said, flicking my wrist to fold my weapon into its gun form then swiftly returned it to the scabbard hanging above the back of my knees. “You’re freezing. We don’t need you getting sick.”
I began to walk past him, not giving him a chance to argue the point, but his left hand wrapped around my shoulder and stopped me in my tracks. “No, please Light, not yet. I want to keep going,” he said, backing a few paces away and taking a combat stance. “Please?”
I sighed heavily, my shoulders slumping. This kid was too persistent for his own good. He may not have wanted to stop, but I did. Sparring in the rain was beginning to get on my nerves. The freezing water was pouring out of the sky in droves and I very much wanted to get out of it. Whose idea had it been to spar in the rain anyways?
Oh, yeah, mine.
I ground my teeth together as my gaze met Hope’s, the tremors that were racking his small frame had gotten worse and if I looked hard enough I thought I could see a faint blue tinge to his lips. I sighed once more as I stepped forward and corrected his stance then backed a few paces away, slowly unsheathing my gunblade.
“You ready?” I asked him, my eyes never leaving his. He nodded and quickly pushed his hair out of his face. “Then you make the first move this time.”
He stared at me in wide-eyed bewilderment only for a few moments before he tightened his grip on the hilt of his gunblade and charged me. I quickly side stepped his attack and hit him on the back with the butt of my weapon, almost sending him sprawling. He quickly regained his balance then whirled around and swung at me. I whipped my blade up and met his with a sharp metallic clang, the sound echoing in the air around us. I smiled and nodded at him, impressed with his tenacity. I knocked his blade away and tried to knock him off his feet with the flat end of my gunblade, my smile widening as he jumped nimbly out of the way. I took a swing at him while he was in the air and he parried my attack with the grace of a seasoned pro. That’s when I decided to step up the difficulty. As soon as his feet touched the ground I assaulted him with a barrage of attacks, surprised when his blade met every single one of my attempts to break through his defenses.
We continued sparring for what felt like hours, dancing around each other with the contact of our blades ringing in our ears. I couldn’t believe that the boy holding that gunblade had been the same scared teenager that I had met on the crystallized surface of Lake Bresha. His constant whining at the beginning had made me want to pull my hair out. I had gone through the same uncertainty when my parents had died, but his continuing denial of his predicament had been infuriating. I had to keep reminding myself that he wasn’t like me. He didn’t hide his emotions and that was something that I almost envied. I wished I would have been able to grieve properly for my parents, but my new duty as Serah’s sole provider had taken over and that’s when the soldier part of me was born.
Needless to say, I was proud of how far he had come. He was a much more talented at magic than anyone else in our group, even Vanille. He was so much stronger mentally and emotionally than I would ever be.
I took a deep breath as I parried another of Hope’s attacks and decided to end our sparring match. He had practiced enough for one night. I blocked Hope’s downward swing then expertly disarmed him, sending his gunblade sailing through the air. The blade sunk into the wet ground a few feet behind him and when he tried to run for it, I tripped him then swiftly retrieved his weapon.
“Better. Much better,” I remarked, walking over and helping him up off the ground. “You’ve improved.”
He coughed then spat out a mouthful of muddy water. He leaned over and rested his hands on his knees, breathing in deep gulps of air. “You were right, Light. Using one of those things isn’t easy.”
I held back the impulse to say ‘I told you so’, but he had known from the very start what he was getting himself into. “I’m impressed,” I told him, folding my gunblade into the scabbard as I handed him back his own. “You might be able to use one of these after all.”
His green eyes lit up like a pair of hundred watt light bulbs at my compliment. Then, before I even realized what was going on, he launched himself at me and threw his arms around my neck. I froze and stumbled backwards a few steps, shocked by how quick he was. A flashback of when I had hugged him while we were in Palumpolum flew up in front of my eyes, but that instance had been different; I had been prepared for that. This I hadn’t been prepared for.
“Thanks, Light,” he whispered into my ear, his breath warming my neck. “You have no idea how much this means to me.”
I hesitantly wrapped my arms around him and returned his hug, awkwardly patting his back a couple times. I could only imagine how ridiculous we looked standing there in the pouring rain. The fact that one of our friends could walk out and see us at any moment made me pry his arms off of me then hold him away at arm’s length. Yeah, that would really complete my night; my friends thinking that I was some kind of pedophile.
I was getting ready to say something when Hope snaked his hands towards mine and grasped my fingers. “Uh, Light, there’s actually something I wanted to tell you…” The slight tremor in his voice didn’t go unnoticed by me.
I frowned, not sure if I should humor him or not. I wanted to pull my hands out of his, but something stopped me following through. “What?”
“I, uh…well I…” he stammered, averting his eyes away from me and looking down at his feet. I could feel his hands shaking and I was pretty sure it wasn’t from the cold. “Light, I…” And when he looked back up at me I saw his expression shift to something I couldn’t quite put my finger on. “I just wanted to thank you…for everything.”
I narrowed my eyes at him, having the feeling that what he had just said wasn’t really what he had intended to say. I almost told him to spit it out, but then I remembered that we were still standing in the rain. “Don’t worry about it,” I replied, hoping he wouldn’t see the blush that was creeping up my neck when his grip on my fingers tightened. “Let’s turn in. We’re getting an early start tomorrow.”
“Sure,” he said, letting go of my hands and falling in step beside me. The short walk back to our camp was quiet.
I sighed in relief when I saw our tents come into view. If I never experienced another rain storm for the rest of my life I would die happy. I was so water logged I was pretty sure I didn’t ever want to go swimming again. I was getting ready to unzip my tent flap and jump inside so my bedroll didn’t get wet but Hope’s voice stopped me.
“Good night, Light,” he said, smiling sheepishly at me. “Sleep good.”
I nodded. “See you in the morning, Hope,” I replied before quickly slipping inside my tent.
Once I was in a dry set of clothes and snugly wrapped inside my bedroll I fell asleep to the sound of the rain hitting the roof of my tent, the skin of my hands still tingling from where Hope had touched them.