Gran Pulse was filled with life, the wet earthy smells saturated the air and the strange alien creature calls echoed through the night. Well, not really so alien, Sazh thought, scratching his nose and sitting up from his comfortable spot near the fire.

The predawn gray had woken him, a quick glance around their makeshift base camp showed the others still sleeping. Snow sprawled out with Hope nearby, Fang curled up on her side one hand gripping the shaft of her weapon, and Lightning snoring softly.

Not so alien after crash landing days ago and having to familiarize yourself with this world below glowing Cocoon in the sky. A place where you'd better learn the how and the what and the why or Pulse would consume you. A dangerous vibrant place.

And not really so strange, he conceded, to those who had grown up here- surrounded by the fresh harsh nature of Pulse. A place I never really hated until…

well, that was in the past. A past I'm going to fix.

A heavy thought that had him looking around the fire one more time, a quick frown that morphed into a silent laugh at forgetting as he shook his head. Watch duty. Sazh stood and dusted himself off, stepping around the fluffy little chick as it lay sleeping. It had taken to the tiny nest made from a discarded scarf, a touch he would've never thought of.

But Vanille had found it and very happily proceeded to arrange the fabric just so- her fingers quick and deft and then gentle as she scratched the chick on its downy head, "Hmmm?" she had asked, her head tilting to the side.

"Ehh?" Sazh started, just realizing he had been staring. Well, maybe not staring- just looking… yeah, "That chocobo looks happy," he said quickly, diverting her attention. Kneeling down and patting her on the shoulder he chuckled, "I'd better be careful, huh? Or you'll be the new favorite."

The chick had ruffled its feathers in indignation as if to say, "You're not the favorite anyhow!"

Affronted, Sazh threw up his hands in mock exasperation, "Ahh, you!" shaking his head and sitting back on his haunches.

A sound from his side caused him to glance over with a suspicious eye, Vanille was laughing. One hand over her mouth, the other around her waist. A silly hiccupping laugh he hadn't heard from her before. A very natural laugh it seemed, the pretty flush on her cheeks giving her away.

Sazh's gaze softened, a smile tugging at his own lips. A sudden unbidden thought that she should laugh like that more often- was pushed from his mind as he stalked towards the twisting turning path from base camp.

With a deep sigh he paused for a long moment, still and frowning. Eventually the spell passed and he looked upwards. The jagged edge of the cliff loomed high above, cutting into the cloud dappled sky. A quick decision and his long legs took him up the steep path, familiarity and gray light guiding him. Cresting the summit, Sazh let out a loud exhale- all that running was doing some good it seemed.

"Morning!" a bright voice chirped.


"Heya," Sazh greeted, voice still rough from sleep, "No sign of creepy crawlies?"

Vanille scooted over on her log perch, giving him room to sit down, "Nope, they're still far away- far enough at least. Nothing to worry over," she assured him with a grin.

"No worries here," he sat down heavily right next to her, "You're watching our backs."

"That's right!" she replied, hands on hips, "Remember, Fang and I are from Pulse. We know how to handle anything."

"Oh really?"

"Yep!" she then leaned in motioning him closer, her voice dropping lower, "You probably don't know, but back then the monsters were scared of me."

A good natured chuckle rumbled through Sazh, "That doesn't seem so much of a surprise."

An indignant flash of eyes, "And what exactly is that supposed to mean?" but the look on his face deflated her, "You're teasing me!" her accent prominent.

He scratched the back of his head, looking at the ground, "It just means you're a fierce one."

"Fierce?" she repeated thoughtfully, "Yes, fierce."

A shift of his boots, then leaning his elbow against his knee and a restless wave of hand, "So… you going to tell me why?"

"Oh right!" she turned towards him, clapping her hands together, "I killed a bear."

His eyebrow quirked, "A bear?"

"A giant bear!" she elaborated, spreading her hands wide, "The 'Terror of the Archylte Steppe' he was called. He'd been there since anyone could remember- and no one messed with him. One swipe-" she hit the log with a thump, "and you were done for. Everyone in the village stayed in when he was spotted, and even all the other monsters stayed away.

"Fang and I had been ice fishing alone when it happened," she continued, "All of a sudden he appeared- not happy either."

"Must've woke up the sleeping dragon, huh?"

"Fang tried to draw him away up a hillside so she could get the higher ground," she mimed with two fingers walking in the air, "But he caught smell of our fish and headed my way."

Sazh looked at her, "What did you do?"

Vanille smiled wickedly back, "Trapped him under the ice," at his raised eyebrow she elaborated, "We had drilled a hole in the ice to get to the fish, so I lured him that-a way. It was clear in the middle of the lake, strong enough for Fang and me but-"

"-not strong enough for a giant bear," he finished her sentence, shaking his head in amusement.

"He fell right through!" she nodded, "With a big crack and splash! When spring came along we went back," she fingered the edge of her fur skirt, "With this none of the other monsters bothered me."

"Too bad it doesn't work now," he watched her fidget with the skirt, "Just our luck, huh?"

"Yeah," she glanced away, putting her hands in her lap, "It's a funny thing."

"Luck?" a yawn escaped.

"Mmmhmm," her gaze went back to him, "Not enough sleep?"

"Not enough rest, maybe."

"Hmmm," she nodded sagely, pigtails shifting over her shoulders slightly, "So much has happened, hasn't it?"

A rhetorical question, but he answered anyway, "And a lot more to expect, too."

Silence for a moment, comfortable and comforting. A silence born of ease.

"You'll get through it… we all will."

He smiled, "Right."


"I'm going back down." Sazh said, standing up and cracking his back, "I can hear Snow from here. You coming?"

"I'll stay up here a little while longer," Vanille smiled at him, stretching out her legs in front of her and tilting her head to the side, "Go on, I won't be long."

He stepped around the log and laid a large warm hand on her shoulder, his hand. Leaning down close, "Alright then," a few strides and he turned and walked backwards, "I'll let the others know," he managed before nearly tripping over a loose rock.

Vanille giggled, earning her a strangely pleased but chagrined face and a sheepish wave before he disappeared below the cliff side. Her mirth faded as she turned her gaze to the sky, watching the pink spread throughout the gray. Hearing the rising calls and breathing in the rich air of her home.

My home, she thought fondly, a trace of nostalgia but much more bittersweet flavoring her memories. A place I never expected to see again after being turned to crystal. A place that's changed so much… and so little- everyone on Cocoon still- she sighed, her lips forming the rest of the thought silently, hates us.

The isolated shelter hung in the sky, ominous in her eyes. Although, she conceded, for those who were born there, it really is a haven. For Snow, Serah, Lightning, Hope and Sazh it was their home.

The thought was sobering. Cocoon was a home, filled with friends and family and she had nearly taken that away. And for one, she had.

Dajh…

She could still see his cute chubby cheeks as he froze into crystal, could see Sazh's face starkly reflected back at her.

Sometimes she woke up with tears still on her eyelashes.

He doesn't deserve this, she frowned, heart heavy in her chest, not Sazh who always knew what to say to cheer her up even when he was hurting too. Who protected her even when she didn't deserve it. Who listened and watched and put that comforting arm around her.

Color rising delicately to her cheeks, Vanille stood up with more of her usual vigor. Her burden lessened with a single simple clear thought, I'll make it right.

A smile and she was finally ready to go back to the others.


Disclaimer: FFXIII is not mine.

A/N: So I fell in love with Sazh and Vanille even before the English version came out, so I had to write them something! It's taken awhile to finish so please enjoy.