Chapter 01: Broken Vow
Academia -400 AF-
It had been three months after Noel saved Hope from the assassination attempt Snow had warned them before he set out on his journey with Serah and Mog. When the incident occurred, blood had been spilled and even Noel had been wounded. Although it wasn’t fatal, the Director of Academia himself had stayed by the brunette’s side the whole time, until he fully recovered.
“Don’t die on me now, Noel. Otherwise, I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself.”
The silver-haired young adult had uttered with a tone filled with despair that day, as he held both of the hunter’s tanned hands tightly, afraid that the younger male wouldn’t open his eyes again…ever. Nevertheless, when night fell, Noel had awakened, overjoyed with the sight he beheld, of Hope Estheim whom he’d successfully rescued just in time when the assassin was about to send the silver-haired director to his death.
The brunette had smiled then, yelping in pain as soon as Hope launched himself onto him, embracing his temporary guardian as if there was no tomorrow.
“I—I’m sorry, I couldn’t help myself,” the older of the two males had said then, withdrawing quickly as he seemed embarrassed for over-reacting.
However, Noel had shaken his head and smiled wider instead, saying, “I’m glad you’re safe.”
Three months had passed since then. Neither Serah nor Snow visited them even once during those months, which was understandable. Then again, both Hope and Noel were certain that the two—including Mog—were safe and would make it together. They would defeat Caius and return to Academia along with Lightning, Sazh, and his son, Dajh. They were also certain that somehow, they would know that both the hunter and the director were safe too, and were now proceeding on the new Cocoon project, as well as retrieving Vanille and Fang’s crystal from inside the pillar. They knew—could feel it—that they would all make it. That in the end, there would finally be the happy ending they all deserved.
What Noel and Hope didn’t know—couldn’t have predicted—was the bond that formed between them after the incident that nearly took the silver-haired male’s life away. It began with the conversation the two had had during lunchtime, not even a week after Noel’s wounds had fully recovered. The hunter was able to guard the director again, and it was when they were having their lunch after Hope agreed with Noel’s insistency that the older male needed to eat.
“You know, I remember I had this talk with Serah. About what kind of future it would be, if we did fix the timeline.” The brown-haired hunter had started, putting aside his bread for a while.
Hope had looked up from his own plate to gaze at the teen before him then, intrigued by what Noel would say next.
“That time I said, perhaps it would be a future where I wouldn’t have existed at all,” the younger male had continued, whose words had immediately made the director’s heart ache, although he wasn’t sure why, “But if it was the bright and happy future that we all yearn for, then I guess I wouldn’t mind. It’s better than the future where I came from, after all.”
The sound of a fork clanking against the plate was what made Noel turn his head back to the silver-haired director. He alone hadn’t realized it either that he had said those words with a distanced gaze, reminiscing when the talk happened between him and Serah, forgetting for a brief moment that Hope was there with him. That was why he was surprised to find a look of sorrow within those green eyes—ones that had captivated him from the first time he laid his own upon them.
“You will be there, Noel,” the leader of humanity had said it as if he wanted to convince himself, as he had emphasized each and every word, “You have to be there…in the future we’re fighting for.”
The hunter was quiet for a moment, thinking what to respond. However, Hope had spoken again.
“I…don’t want to be alone anymore.”
“But, Hope…Serah and Snow will come back. Lightning too, and the others as well. You’re not alone. You never are…” At the end of this sentence, the slightly taller hunter had bowed his head. Hope understood Noel was referring to his own loneliness, and it pained the director in the way he alone couldn’t fathom.
“I know, Noel. It’s just that I’ve been so focused on the future and the past. To a point I almost didn’t care about the present. And do you know what’s there in the present for me? It’s you. You stay, while Serah and Snow left once again. Only you did stay, and still do, Noel. With me here. I won’t let anything take that away from me again. Ever. Not even the future we’re all working so hard to build.”
What was once started with a casual chitchat, had turned to be a heavy discussion that none of the two would’ve wanted to have. It was true that Noel hadn’t expected the Director of Academia to feel so strongly towards him. Especially not when all this time, the hunter had thought that his feelings for the older male were unrequited.
Things had changed after that then. Hope always made sure that Noel was present wherever he was, as if he feared that once he took his eyes off the hunter even for a second, the brunette would disappear. Sometimes Noel thought it was somewhat ironic, knowing that it was his job to keep an eye on Hope, not the other way around.
One time, the director’s temporary guardian had braved himself to confirm what he had been thinking. They were in Hope’s apartment after a long day at work, sitting side by side in the silver-haired man’s living room, only the two of them once again. Just like the last time they had had an unexpected serious discussion about the possible future where Noel didn’t exist. Although this time, the talk started with a question that Hope would have found it so random had Noel asked him about it earlier in his office out of the blue.
“Have you ever thought that perhaps Snow has set us up, Hope?”
“…Whatever do you mean by that, Noel?” Hope had raised an eyebrow upon hearing the question, his mug of hot chocolate resting on one of his knees.
“You know,” the hunter leant back onto the couch, “I told Serah once. There’s a chance she told him too.”
“Noel, I don’t follow…”
What Noel had said next surprised the older male, and it nearly made the mug he was holding slip from his grasp.
“I like you, Hope. Always have, since we first met.”
Hope hadn’t said anything after Noel’s confession. Though he hadn’t torn his gaze apart from the younger male either.
“I’ve always been thinking. Do I dare to believe that the reason why you seem so afraid of losing me is that you feel the same way for me? What with your past, of always being left behind, do I dare to believe that at least, I am special?”
The answer Noel had gotten for his questions wasn’t verbal. As soon as Hope put his mug down on the table and gently pressed his lips upon his, the hunter knew that the director harbored the same feelings towards him, after all; and that had proven enough.
“We need Noel,” Lightning’s sister started to explain after Hope asked them what he could do to help, “…We need him to fight Caius, Hope.”
When all Hope and Noel could do was to stare at each other in response to Serah’s plead, Snow had taken a step forward and playfully smacked the hunter in the shoulder.
“Relax, shorty—” Of course Snow was referring to Hope.
“I’m not short anymore, Snow. Thank you.” The silver-haired male countered.
“—We’ll return him to you in one piece. Promise.” It was obvious Snow ignored Hope’s comment about his height.
This time, it was Noel who spoke, “Don’t make a promise you can’t keep, Snow.”
The tall brunette might hide his excitement to finally take part in the battle again, which was hopefully the final one. The battle to defeat Caius, on top of that. Hope knew better, of course. He knew the boy whom he could now call ‘lover’ longed to be in action, to fight. Moreover, the director hadn’t neglected his work to build the ultimate weapon for one of them just because his personal feelings for the hunter got in the way. Speaking of the weapon, the silver-haired director remembered some time ago what Serah told him before she and Noel left for some Graviton Cores and crystal hunting.
“After we find this Chaos Crystal you mentioned earlier and hand it to you, please by all means, use it to build a weapon for Noel, instead of me.” Serah had said then.
“But why—?” Hope had asked in response, even more confused when all the shorter girl had given him was a smile, before she left with Noel and Mog.
It all made sense to Hope now. After all, Serah was Lightning’s sister. She might have already known it even before Noel told her, that the hunter had feelings for him, and the director returned those feelings.
The Paradox Weapon had long been finished, and yes, Hope specifically designed it for Noel. Although he still kept it safe somewhere, because he didn’t know when Noel would use it. Not to mention after Noel had been tasked to guard him, there had been no reason for the hunter to fight. Except for the assassination attempt, which Hope thought didn’t necessarily need an ultimate weapon.
However, the time had come; and all good things must come to an end. Noel must leave Academia—leave Hope—and go with Serah and Snow, to defeat Caius. Perhaps all Hope could hold on to now was the wishful thinking that yes, Noel would come back, as Snow had promised. All those talks about the future where Noel didn’t exist be damned. One way or another, the director would find a way to be reunited with the brown-haired hunter.
The silver-haired male was aware that he was thinking too far, and that Noel and the other three had begun to worry after he became so quiet. That was why he forced a smile.
“Of course, Noel is free to go with you. There’s no reason for me to hold him back. But Serah, Snow, and Mog…would you please give us a moment?”
Serah nodded all too quickly, making Mog go all ‘Kupo? Kupo?’ when she dragged the moogle and Snow away from their sight. Noel seemed bewildered too, but the director motioned for the hunter to follow him to his private office.
Once they were there, Noel watched the director punched in the codes to open his safe, and a moment later, a weapon was retrieved from it. Hope held the weapon—the dual swords—carefully, as he marched forward to where Noel was standing.
“I guess it’s time to finally give this to you, huh?”
The taller brunette didn’t take the weapon right away, though. He was way too concerned with the frowns that had formed on the slightly shorter man’s forehead. He hated to see his older lover frown, because it looked like something was troubling him. Nevertheless, Hope thrust the weapon to him and he had no choice but to accept it. As soon as the director let go of Odinblade—that was what he had named the weapon—he whispered the words in a tone so low that only Noel could hear.
“I don’t want you to go…”
It took all Noel’s willpower not to give in to his deepest desire to stay in Academia with the director, instead of going with Serah and resuming their mission to fix the timeline. Especially when his other half was looking very saddened with the possibility of him leaving Hope behind. However, all the hunter could do in the end was reaching for the shorter man’s arm with one hand and pulling him into a hug. The brunette buried his face in Hope’s neck.
“I will come back to you. I promise.”
“No, Noel. Not this time, you won’t.”
Puzzled, the brunette drew back to stare at Hope’s face.
“What do you mean?”
“I can feel it. It’s time,” the director replied.
“Time for what, exactly?”
“For you to go. And you’ll never come back this time. I can feel it. Therefore, the only thing I can do is to chase you. I’ve fixed it, Noel. The time machine Alyssa built. It’s time for me to use it again. And then…we’ll meet again in the future.”
“We’ve discussed it before, haven’t we? 500 AF, isn’t it? We’ll both go there…using our respective methods. If you leave, I’ll leave too. After all, I want to see it with my own eyes. The new Cocoon. I want to see it being launched together with you, Noel.”
“That’s why…you’d better kick Caius’s ass as soon as possible and come back to me in time, in one piece. Promise?”
Hope let out a chuckle, but his eyes were glinted with sadness. It broke the hunter’s heart. Then, the next thing they knew, Noel had rested Odinblade on Hope’s desk and was now locking his lips with the silver-haired director’s, desperation and need transferred in both directions through the passionate kiss, which could become their last.
Once they broke the kiss, the brunette unclasped his necklace and took Hope’s hand, opening the palm and facing it upward. He put his necklace there, all the time being watched silently by his older lover. Then, he closed the palm and wrapped his own around it tightly.
“Keep it safe for me. I want it back, of course. After I beat Caius, after I witness the new Cocoon being launched with you. Until then, I entrust this necklace to you.”
Now, there was no more denying it. Noel would really go, and Hope would chase him. The director nodded before he rested his head on the hunter’s broad chest. As soon as he felt Noel’s strong arms around him again, Hope shed a single tear.
Academia -500 AF-
Hope’s heart was beating so fast. Noel, Serah, Snow, and Mog were down below, in front of the Academy’s headquarters. They were in danger, as the director witnessed from afar how Caius transformed into a flying monster that looked like a Bahamut, and started attacking them. The silver-haired male asked the pilot to fly them ahead closer to the four time travelers and by the time they were within his sight, they were holding back very abruptly from the run when the monster landed in front of them.
“Serah, get down!” Hope shouted, before he signaled to his subordinates to open fires towards the monster.
The counterattacks sent the monster flying and when it seemed safe enough, Hope ordered his subordinates to go ahead and secure the area.
“Hope is here!” He heard Serah exclaim in relief when she saw him.
Jumping from the airship, the director couldn’t suppress a wide smile to stretch on his face the moment he saw his brown-haired lover again. His grip on his Airwing tightened when he stepped closer to the four of them.
“Good, you’re okay.” Although it was directed to the four time travelers, Hope’s eyes were only on Noel.
The hunter was as excited and relieved, he replied quicker before Snow could.
“’Course we are. Just took a little detour.”
If he were allowed to be honest, the silver-haired director felt so much emotions right now, he felt as if his heart could burst. All just from seeing his beloved again. After one hundred years, after another long sleep of his. He had waited too long and if he could, he wanted just to run to Noel and embrace him. However, duty came first. After all, Caius was still on the loose and he needed to be stopped. With a hand hung mid-air as if in an attempt to touch the hunter, Hope darted his gaze away, back to the other airship behind him instead.
“Get on board. He’s the best pilot we have. Quickly.”
Wasting no more time, Noel, Serah, Snow, and Mog headed to the said airship, the one flying beside Hope’s. The director watched as Sazh—with Dajh behind him—flew his friends and lover up, away from him. His heartbeat hadn’t returned to normal, for he still worried about them—about Noel. Fear was visible within his eyes as well; he couldn’t deny that he was frightened that they wouldn’t make it. Nevertheless, he had to be optimistic. After all, Noel had promised him.
“I will come back to you. I promise.”
“And I will wait…” nothing but a whisper, the words slipped out past the silver-haired man’s lips.
“Let’s go, Caius.” The hunter muttered with so much determination as he held his dual swords tighter. Odinblade, the weapon Hope had made for him, “You want to see how well you’ve trained me? Now’s your chance!”
The monster was flying ahead of them and Sazh was catching up with it. By the time they got closer to it, Snow provoked the monster so it landed on the deck of the airship and together, the three of them were hastily engaged in a battle. The monster attacked them with powerful blows and magic and at some point, Serah was in danger but Snow quickly covered her. The impact of the strong blow sent Noel to the edge of the airship and had he not grasped Serah’s hand that had reached out to him in time, he would’ve fallen. At the end of Serah’s other hand, Snow was holding it.
“Get your ass back here, Noel. We still need you, alright.”
Snorting, the hunter leapt and landed safely back on the deck, “Didn’t need you to tell me that, hero.”
Caius had transformed to his human form and was ready to fight them again. The man aimed for Serah and Noel quickly dodged his attack with his sword before Caius could hurt Snow’s fiancée.
“Serah!” Snow shouted.
“I’m okay, Snow. Don’t worry,” Lightning’s sister replied with a smile when the blonde came running towards her.
Meanwhile, Noel was still fighting Caius. Their swords clashed and the taller man smirked.
“You fight bravely to protect your friends. Like a true Guardian. No wonder you could save him from his assassination as well.”
“You’re the one behind it?!”
“Who else did you think? With him alive, even though Cocoon fell, humanity could still be saved. With Hope Estheim alive, the new Cocoon would be launched and it would mean a happy ending for all of you. All except Yeul!”
“You’ve lost your mind, Caius! Yeul could live in the new world and future Hope is building as well! Don’t you realize it?!”
“It doesn’t mean anything when she keeps dying and being reborn over and over again!”
With that, Caius swung his sword until it caused the hunter off balance. Noel heard Serah scream his name and the next thing he knew, Snow was running forward towards Caius, ready to punch the man. However, Caius leapt high and cast a powerful magic to the sky. The airship was shaking and Sazh told the three to hang on. Quickly, Noel, Serah, and Snow grabbed the nearest poles while Sazh balanced the airship.
“Look at the sky! It’s tearing apart!” Noel exclaimed, making the other two look up to see what the hunter meant.
What they all saw after that was Caius transformed into Bahamut again and flew through the hole in the sky.
“Is he running away?” Snow shouted his question, “Old man, we’re going after him! Don’t let that coward run away!”
“Yeah I would do that even if you didn’t order me,” replied the pilot.
When Sazh directed his airship to the hole in the sky, Noel noticed another airship catching up with them. He saw Hope on the deck, holding onto the railing.
“We can catch him!” The director spoke to them from the distance.
“No, Hope, not you!” Serah refused.
“But, what about—”
Before Hope could finish his sentence, Serah interrupted him, “You have to protect Vanille and Fang!”
Behind her, Noel nodded. If it was what his friends wanted—what Noel wanted, too—Hope couldn’t say no. Looking defeated, the silver-haired male nodded his head as well.
“You’re right,” staring directly into his beloved’s eyes, Hope continued, “I’ll see you on the new Cocoon. Don’t be late!”
“Okay!” Both Snow and Serah responded in unison.
“Count on it! This isn’t good-bye!” Noel held up his right arm and gave the director a thumb up, before he directed his fist towards Hope.
“Yeah, we’ll be there. And Lightning will be with us!” Serah added with a solemn look, as if she tried to convince herself with her own words.
Smiling, Hope nodded again. “Take care, all of you.”
With that, Hope’s airship flew away. Once again, the silver-haired male felt something within his stomach he couldn’t comprehend. Something that made his heart ache. Something that felt like separation. However, Noel had said it, hadn’t he? That this wasn’t good-bye. He would return. Hope just had to believe that.
Hope had returned to his headquarters now. As well as Sazh had, after the man flew his airship as close to the hole as possible and as soon as Noel, Serah, Snow, and Mog jumped into it, he returned to the headquarters. He had reported the event to Hope, too. Now, all the director had to do before the launching of the new Cocoon was to retrieve Vanille and Fang’s crystal from inside the pillar before it crumbled, which would cause the old Cocoon to collapse. Sazh had been sent on this particular mission and the silver-haired male prayed hard that he would make it.
“Come on, Sazh.” Muttered the director, as he stood on his post, watching the process on the huge hologram screen before him.
Not long, his team announced, “We’ve got Vanille and Fang. Their crystal is intact! Bringin’ them home!”
All of them sighed in relieved, including Hope himself.
“Thank you, Sazh. Thank you for saving them. They’ve kept our world safe for centuries. But now they can rest, and join us in our new ark.”
“Paradox levels are holding. Sir, they’re not coming down!” The female staff reported in slight panic.
“The gates haven’t been shut down yet,” Hope responded, “Which means, the timeline must still be unstable.”
“Director?” Asked the female staff, waiting for a solution.
“It’s okay. Serah, Noel, and Snow will fix it. They just need more time.”
The Director of Academia looked up at the screen; a hopeful expression appeared on his face. The male staff then announced that the pillar is coming down. So, it was time. For the old Cocoon to collapse, and for the new one to launch. Soon, Noel and the others would come back. Soon, Hope would be reunited with his beloved again. He couldn’t wait. He wanted to fast-forward the fall if he could, anything that could bring him faster to be in the hunter’s strong arms again.
It had already shattered his heart a bit that in the end, Noel was late and couldn’t witness the launching of the new Cocoon with him. His eyes felt hot and his sight was blurred as he realized his tears had pooled just from the thought. Wiping them with the back of his gloved hand, Hope forced a smile.
I’ll just make him do something to make it up for me later when he comes back. Just you wait, Noel.
With that thought, Hope let out a chuckle, picturing his lover’s reaction when it happened. When the new Cocoon was finally floating in the air and all the lights were on, Hope couldn’t help the prideful feeling that overwhelmed his whole being.
This is our ark—our haven. It will be called ‘Bhunivelze’…and it shall be the new home for the human race. A new home for us, Noel. At last. So please, come back soon. Come back home.
As if on cue, his female staff announced that they picked up a reading from the hole in the sky where Noel and the others had jumped into. Hope dashed out from the headquarters as quickly as possible, heading to Sazh’s airship. The man was surprised when the silver-haired director came running towards him, trying hard to speak while catching his breath.
“Take me to them, Sazh. Quickly, please…!”
“O—okay, okay, kid! Get on board then!”
Before he knew it, Sazh had flown them and Hope ran to the deck, hoping to catch sight of Noel and the others. He spotted them.
“Over there, Sazh!”
“Alright! Hang on tight!”
The figures on the distance came clearer in view as Sazh and Hope were approaching them. Then, he saw her. The woman who’d been gone for so long, for so many centuries. The woman he had longed to see again, aside from his mother. It was Lightning. Lightning landed on the deck of the airship first. Followed by Snow, who held out his hand for Serah. Mog was floating around their heads.
“Hope,” Lightning called out to him.
Hope couldn’t move his feet, but thankfully, Lightning stepped forwards towards him and pulled him into a hug, much like what happened in Palumpolum a long, long time ago.
“I’m glad you’re safe,” whispered the woman with rose-colored hair.
“Lightning…” The name was uttered with a cracked voice, “…You returned. At last.”
“Yes, I did. Thank you for having been there for us all, Hope. Without you, we’re done for.”
“Just like what I said!” Snow butted in with a laugh, eliciting a chuckle from Lightning and her sister, Serah.
When Lightning broke the hug, Hope looked around, searching for a certain someone.
“So he’s really late, huh? He’d better pay for it later,” a forced laughter escaped the director’s mouth.
However, the looks in everyone’s faces betrayed his faith in Noel’s return. His smile faded as he stared at them one by one.
“Where is he? Noel…he can’t be this late. Where is he? Snow…?”
Hope’s gaze at Snow was accusing, and the blond hero was about to come up with an answer when Lightning lifted her hand to prevent him from saying something stupid. Instead, Serah’s sister put her other hand on Hope’s shoulder.
“I’m sorry, Hope. But Noel can’t return with us,” Lightning started to explain, “Before we went through the gate, he was still in Valhalla. None of us knows what happened after that, though. He could still be in there or—”
“Then, let me go through that gate to meet him. I’m going to bring him back.” The silver-haired director interrupted, his voice sounded determined, yet every word was filled with sorrow.
“All gates have already been shut down, kupo…” Mog informed.
This time, Hope shifted his gaze to the moogle.
“You can open them again, can’t you, Mog? It doesn’t have to be all of them, just that one gate. Mog…?”
“No, I can’t, kupo…”
Mog flew towards Serah who then held the white creature safe in her arms; but after exchanging glances with her fiancé, Serah handed Mog to Snow, who in return handed something to Serah. Hope caught a glimpse of it. It was one of Noel’s dual swords, the smaller one—the stabbing sword the hunter usually wielded with his left hand.
“Hope,” Serah walked towards Hope, bringing the sword with her, “Before we left, Noel asked me to do a favor. He wanted me to give this to you. He wants you to keep it safe.”
Despite its size, the small sword felt heavy in his hand as Hope accepted it from Serah. His other hand flew to his chest, touching the hunter’s necklace that he had been wearing ever since Noel gave it to him, visible for anyone to see.
“I’ll keep it…”
Realizing he had whispered those words, the silver-haired director repeated himself, “I’ll keep it. Just like what he wants. Serah, thank you for bringing it to me. And all of you must be exhausted. Sazh, please head back to the headquarters.”
It didn’t take long before Sazh dropped them in the Academy’s headquarters. Lightning turned around when she realized Hope wasn’t following them entering the building. At the same time, drizzled started pouring although it was still bright outside.
“Hope, I think it’s going to be a heavy rain soon. You’d better go inside with us.”
“It’s okay, Light. You guys go ahead. I won’t be long. It’s been a while since I went out on the rain, anyway,” Hope replied.
“Are you sure?”
The answer Lightning got was a mere nod. Then, she let the silver-haired young man be and followed her sister, Snow, and Mog, entering the building. What she said was true, though. Soon, the drizzle became rain. The water from the sky poured down on the director’s skin heavily, soaking his uniform, but Hope didn’t care. He lifted his head up, staring into the bright sky as he felt the warmth on his already wet cheeks. No matter how devastated he had become, there was no way he would let anyone see him cry.
“Don’t make a promise you can’t keep. Right, Noel…?”
-to be continued-