Note: I drew the dresses featured in this fanfiction before I actually wrote it. You can find them in my deviantart gallery. My handle there is, SHOCKINGLY, "leradny", but you can also search for "wallmarket ffxiii". The designs are missing accessories and different hairstyles.

-
My Fair Lightning

"Agh--ackkk--guys!"

"Hope!"

"Lightning, they got Hope!"

"I see that! I--"

-
They've beaten a hasty retreat and none of them are seriously injured. But they still don't have Hope back, and after they've had some time to recover in a convenient dark alley Lightning stands up. "Okay." She wobbles on her feet but shrugs off Vanille's concerned hands. "Okay. Plans."

"Let's see," Fang muses. "We don't know where Hope is or why they've taken him. So, we're pretty much--"

"Lightning, we can't just leave him!" Vanille pleads.

"I never said we would! I just need to think a little--owww." She sits back down and gestures for the healer to go ahead. As Vanille sets her ankle (everyone gives a sympathy wince) Lightning asks, "Sazh? Any thoughts?"

"I don't think we want to wait until they tell us why they've taken him." Echoes of what happened to Dajh are starting to loop through Sazh's head. "Let's just find out where he is and bust him out."

-
Sazh knocks on the hotel room door and Fang lets him in. "What news, mate?"

"Ugh." He crumples into a seat and pinches the bridge of his nose.

"Oh, no..." Snow sounds about as distressed as Vanille looks. If he were a woman, he'd probably be wringing his hands too. "They've got him in a maximum security cell in a maximum security prison and we're going to have to leave him!"

"What? No!" As Sazh filters through the scraps of information he'd gleaned, he sees that everyone is getting antsy. "There ain't any prisons around here. He's in some rich family's fortress of a house until they get a transport vehicle with enough security to handle a fourteen-year-old boy. That gives us... a week, give or take."

"That's good, right?" Vanille asks. She and Snow are instantly more hopeful. "I mean, at least it's not a prison..."

He glances over at Lightning, who sighs. "Let me guess. They're throwing a party, and for the next week their house will be filled with hundreds of caterers, decorators, and guests."

"Right."

"Damn it." Lightning sinks into another chair and buries her head in one hand. "Hope is bait! All those people are extra security without the pay--they want us to try and sneak past them."

Vanille gives a despairing cry and buries her head in Fang's shoulder, but the black-haired Oerba doesn't seem impressed. "Why don't we just forge invitations to the party, get ourselves dolled up, and forget the whole sneaking thing?" Even Snow gives her a dagger-filled glare, and he's practically the king of voicing half-baked crazy plans that are more useful for boiling Lightning's blood.

Sazh scoffs. "Honey, that ain't never going to work."

"You're right, that was stupid. Why don't we sleep on it and think up a proper plan tomorrow?"

They're too relieved that Fang has finally learned some tact to think that something might be up. But the next morning, Lightning bangs on the door raging about how Fang's bed had been empty when she'd woken up. Vanille is by her side and insists that she has no clue where her friend is, either.

Sazh isn't too surprised--not even when Fang returns after a few hours and Lightning shuts the door before giving her a resounding smack. They know the two neighboring rooms are empty and no sound seems to carry through the thick walls anyway--Vanille and Snow just brace for Lightning's tirade.

"Do you have any idea how stupid that was?!" Fang rubs her face but doesn't seem phased at all. "We've already got one person behind enemy lines! This is Cocoon's safest district, which is crawling with all sorts of security, and we only have a week before we lose any chance of getting Hope back at all! Don't tell me you were forging invitations to that damn party!"

"First off, I'd suggest you chill out before you turn into a corpse." Lightning glares at her, but takes a deep breath. "Second: I was not forging invitations. Like I said, it was stupid."

"So what were you doing?"

"Stealing some."

While Lightning is frozen in shock, Sazh jumps up and grabs her around the shoulders on some instinct. This turns out to be a good thing--a split second later she snaps out of it, but she's too busy trying to get at Fang to spend any energy actually breaking out of his grasp. The sheer effort drags both of them forward about a foot; Fang just walks out of reach and waits. "Lightning!" Vanille whimpers from a safe vantage point behind Snow. "Lightning, please calm down!"

"Even if you do," Sazh adds, "I'm not going to let you go until I think you're calm. We need Fang alive, no matter how annoying she gets."

"Fine!" Lightning takes one deep breath, then another. Finally her arms hang down by her side and she asks, in a strained but mostly calm voice, "Fang?"

"Yeah, mate?"

"Why were you stealing invitations when we told you it wasn't going to work?"

"No, you said forging invitations wouldn't work. So I went to their mailbox and pilfered some instead."

"Their mailbox," Snow repeats. Sazh releases Lightning and joins her in staring at their possibly insane friend.

"Yeah. Only, I didn't actually go to the mailbox since it's guarded--I hopped on the post truck. There's sacks of last-minute RSVPs." Fang withdraws a small sheaf of cream-colored envelopes with a proud grin and tosses them over to Lightning, who takes them as if she's sleepwalking. "Don't open the envelopes right now--turns out we don't have to present them at the door, there's a list. We have to steam them so we can put them back on the next truck."

"Why didn't you tell us, Fang?" Vanille asks, after a moment of more stunned silence.

"After what you thought of my last plan? Tch. I was better off without you lot."

"You would have saved Lightning from getting all worked up, though," Sazh points out.

"She was already pissy. I thought she could use a good tantrum."

Lightning rolls her eyes and plugs in the electric kettle, which serves more to prove Fang's point than anything. Vanille takes Fang's wrist and says, obviously determined to make the best of things: "Well, that was really clever of you, Fang!"

"Hang on," Snow says. "We still don't know how we're going to get 'all dolled up.'"

"Someone probably has an idea," Sazh points out.

Fang grins.

-
Vanille twirls around in front of the mirror in a soft red dress with white trim, and matching lacy gloves. Her hair has been let down to hide her piercings, and her skirt hits just above the knee so her L'Cie mark is fine. Sazh still thinks she's having too much fun.

"How'd she get clothes that fit all of us perfectly?" he asks. Vanille is pretty average, like him, but Snow doesn't have so much as an inch of wrist or ankle poking out of his suit.

"Mine has a sash, so it's adjustable, but I guess she went to a specialty store for Snow..." She stops twirling just long enough to take a look at herself and fluff her hair. "It's a shame we don't get to keep these."

"Yeah, you look so adorable!" Snow shrugs at Sazh's eye roll, then looks at the door when it bursts open.

"All right, mates!" Fang stands in the doorway with her hair neatly combed for once, in a strapless blue dress with a long skirt slit up to her thigh. But when Sazh looks at it again once the light has shifted, there's a definite green tint. "Lightning's almost done, so let's get ready to rescue the hell out of Hope!"

Snow coughs after a long pause. Vanille clears her throat and asks, "Fang?"

"What, love?"

"Don't you think you're showing off a bit... much?"

Fang glances at her tattoo and L'Cie mark, then shrugs. "People will just think it's another tattoo or something. We'll be fine."

"No, I meant... skin."

"Just a bit?" Everyone nods vigorously. "Ah. You know, I was worried about that."

"Well," Vanille sighs. "It's too late to do anything about it--"

"I'm not showing nearly enough!" Fang finishes, and tears the dress so that the opening runs up clear to her hip.

"Fang!"

"That's the ticket." She picks off some stray threads while Vanille wavers, horrified.

"No, it is not the ticket!" Snow insists, while he supports the redhead by her shoulders. "You just ripped up a dress that costs... who knows how much gil you threw down the drain!"

"About eight thou, give or take." The price makes Vanille wobble even more violently, but thanks to Snow she remains standing--and probably conscious too. "Besides, we didn't actually pay for any of these."

"It's the principle, Fang," Sazh snaps.

Fang glances into the mirror, then her eyes widen. "Guh."

"It's a little late to see the error of your ways, isn't it?" Snow asks.

Fang runs into the room, flails at someone approaching in the hallway, then turns around and clutches at Vanille. At first Sazh looks around for his pistols since Fang being scared is a sure sign that they're in trouble, but the purple-clad figure stops in the doorway and asks--with Lightning's voice--"Are you all ready?"

"Guh." Snow's voice is about an octave higher than usual. Sazh gives the blond a kick in the shin with a stiff but weirdly-well-fitting dress shoe. As someone who intends to marry Lightning's little sister, the last thing Snow needs is another reason for Lightning to get on his case--and damned if she won't take a compliment the wrong way. Somehow.

"Yeah, Lightning. We're done."

"Good. By the way, Fang--thanks so much for leaving me to finish dressing by myself."

"Ihelpedyouwithyourzipper!"

Lightning doesn't seem to notice how fast Fang is talking--she just pulls her gloves up above the elbows. "Well, you didn't tell me where the gloves were, or the shoes. Also--" She takes a breath and adjusts the ribbon across her shoulders. Sazh keeps his eyes on her face through sheer discipline, but at least she doesn't look too different there. "I can barely move in this dress."

"It was the only one I could get for your height, and I knew you wouldn't go for this one." Fang gestures to her own dress. Lightning squints at it for a second, then shrugs (dear god, her shoulders are bare).

"Okay. Just to be clear, I'm going in first with Vanille as my little sister. Everyone remember their fake names?" After blank nods from everyone Lightning goes on, "Sazh, you're following about twenty minutes behind us..." Once she's finished with the run-down everyone nods, then she gestures for Vanille to follow her. Despite Lightning's handicap, the shorter redhead hurries to catch up.

"Even if it is too tight," they manage to hear. "You look really beautiful, Lightning!"

"Thanks, I guess. Just remember I'm Sofia..."

Snow slams the door. "You did that on purpose, you bitch!"

"Oi--I only saw her from the side! How was I supposed to know she's a bleeding fox?"

"Guys, relax." Sazh thanks his lucky stars that they'd been briefed before getting ready, that he was paying attention then, and also that Vanille seems immune to Lightning's new... look. Otherwise they'd be finished. "We need to concentrate on rescuing Hope, and there's at least half an hour before we have to look at Lightning again."

"Oh yeah. That." Fang flops down on the foot of a bed and runs a hand through her already-crumpled looking hairstyle, then looks up. "I kind of like it, though. Looking at her..."

"What were we supposed to do again?" Snow asks.

Sazh pinches the bridge of his nose.