They stood and watched the chocobo chick flit around aimlessly, conversing with the others as though they were all long-lost relatives… which, for all he knew, they could have been. Much as he understood the chick, it wasn't like he spoke its language. Vanille, who had looked so grim the entire night, finally had a big smile on her face, like he was used to. It, in turn, made him feel better, and he chuckled when she put her hands to her mouth and cooed.

"Oh, look! They're friends!" she said, tilting her head. Sazh grinned, shifted his weight to his other foot, and was suddenly struck by a sense of loss: Dajh would have loved to see this.

"Excuse me!" Surprised, Sazh turned and saw a gangly teenager, barely older than Hope (…best not to think about that), holding a camera and standing a little too close. "How would you like to have your pictures taken with the chocobos? Best kind of souvenir! You can even have your own postcards made in the Nautilus shops!"

Vanille, still completely distracted, wandered off a few steps – Sazh sighed with relief. No doubt she would love to have their picture taken, but there was no way he'd do it. Sure, they were cute and all, and he did let one ride around in his hair all day long… but the chick was just that, a baby. He didn't necessarily like the looks of these bigger ones, and besides, they smelled something fierce. "Hey, thanks," he said, rubbing the back of his head, "but, uh…"

"Come on, sir!" the picture kid cried, brandishing the camera around his neck like a weapon. "First one's free. Don't you think your… uh… girlfriend would love it?"

That just about struck Sazh dumb. He understood where the mistake came from, a bit – to an outside perspective, they were either relatives or romantically inclined, and due to the obvious difference in… well… tone, it was a pretty easy choice. Still, it didn't keep him from gaping at the boy, open-mouthed and stammering without much cohesion.

"Sazh!" Of course. Perfect timing. Oblivious to the situation, Vanille skipped over with the chocobo chick following close behind, grabbed his arm, and made to drag him away. "You have to come see, this chocobo can do tricks, and–" She stopped dead, and Sazh glanced down at her with a little frown. Please, anything to get him away from this kid… but quite naturally, it didn't work out that way. Within seconds, she (almost) completely grasped the situation and began shaking him enthusiastically. "Oh, a picture! Can we, Sazh, can we? Come on, please?" Entreating loudly, she cocked her head and looked up at him with eyes that put sad puppies to shame. For a moment, he looked into those eyes and merely imagined refusing, but that stupid gaze quickly disarmed such thoughts. You'd think he'd be used to it, as the father of a boy who'd perfected that look long ago, but then again… he had a hard time saying no to Dajh anyway.

"…Okay," he sighed.

"Hurray!" Vanille squealed, and in gratitude she threw her arms around him in a squeezing hug. Through his haze of mortification – this just made everything exponentially worse – Sazh happened to glance over at the picture kid.

The look on his face was enough to give him a lifetime of headaches. Sazh groaned. This was just peachy. Right now, he would do anything, anything, just to get this kid out of their hair so they could go back to enjoying to their Nautilus Park date and he could pretend he'd never heard the g-word… date. Oh, no.

"Just over there!" His mind whirling, he felt himself being dragged across the grass to a spot by the fountain, between a set of pillars. Wasn't that the exact word he'd used, date? Two chocobos were herded in by a staff member and a few obliging children, joined on a whim by some of those fluffy creatures, and before he knew it, the boy hefted the camera up to his face and began issuing demands. "Okay, lady, turn to your right a little more… wait, too much, back a bit… okay…"

Taking advantage of the picture kid's unwavering and somewhat irritating focus on Vanille (there were really only so many ways a person could stand), Sazh scooted a few steps away from her under the guise of situating himself on the grass. It was still hard to wrap his head around the idea that people thought… people thought… him and her… date.

"Hey!"

"Yeah?" he replied, jumping a bit. Vanille had her hands on her hips, and fairly glowered at him until he felt rather uncomfortable… or, you know, more uncomfortable.

"I don't bite! Come on!" Sazh took a deep breath. He could see the picture kid waggling his eyebrows at them, either in irritation at their reluctance to just get the photo over with, or some kind of creepy innuendo he didn't want to think about. What was he supposed to do? Sure, they were friends, and sure he wouldn't have cared an hour ago if nobody had brought up the g-word, but to know that people saw it another way than he did made everything kind of… awkward. He couldn't explain it to the girl, either, because that would require a lot of fumbling for words, strange explanations, and indignant squeaks from his chocobo. Besides that, acknowledging the whole "date" issue meant that he cared what other people thought, and Vanille… Vanille would… well, he didn't know. She never struck him as the sort of girl who really cared how strangers felt about her, and would it really matter to her if people thought they were on a date-date?

No. If he brought it up, she'd probably strike a pose, call him silly, and forget about it entirely… or she'd outwardly dismiss it, while inwardly calling him a pervy old man.

Either way, he didn't like the outcome, but he had to say something. That kid wouldn't stop waggling his eyebrows.

"Look, Vanille, I–" he tried.

"What?" she asked, cocking her head. He gesticulated aimlessly, searching for the right words, and she watched him flail for a minute before putting a hand to her chin. "It's… something to show Dajh later, isn't it? About the chocobos, and the park?"

Sazh blinked.

That… was true, wasn't it? The main reason they'd gone to Nautilus Park was because Dajh wanted to come here, one day. What was today about besides having something to share with Dajh when they saw each other, besides days of running away and countless nights of sorrowful exhaustion? Didn't he want to have something to give his son, before he gave… well, before he gave himself up?

As he pondered this, Vanille smiled up at him in uncertainty, a little bit of that uncharacteristic sadness stealing back onto her face. At that, something in him reared up and set fire to his insides, and all he wanted was to wipe that sadness off her face. What did it matter what others thought, in the end? It was for Dajh, in the end, and for Vanille – to make them both happy. What's more, he decided, it was also about spending some time with a friend… his best friend, in a way. She was all he had, right now… it wouldn't hurt to humor her. It could never hurt to humor her. How many times had he done it already?

He'd always been awful about spoiling Dajh.

Having made up his mind, Sazh returned her small smile with one of his, and waved his hands lightly to shoo her back into the frame. Vanille giggled, skipped back a few steps, and watched expectantly as he slid next to her and looked over at the picture kid. Thankfully, he'd stopped his eyebrow waggling, and seemed to be busy setting up the shot. Without one of her usual giddy laughs, Vanille put her left arm around him, and her other hand against his side in a sort of half-hug. Without a second thought, Sazh dropped an arm across her shoulders.

The camera flashed, and the boy pressed a copy of the picture into his hands, practically begging him to buy more later, and Vanille hopped around him trying to get a good look at it, and to his absolute surprise, he couldn't stop smiling. It really had turned out well… it made a pretty picture. As the kid walked away, probably to accost some of the other guests (thank heavens), Vanille took the photo from him, examined it briefly, and tucked it into one of his pockets.

"For Dajh," she said, and Sazh felt his heart melt – just a little bit.

"Yeah," he replied, and they shared a grin. Taking a deep breath, Sazh bowed a bit and extended his arm toward her. To hell with what anyone else thought. "Come on, now, little lady," he said in that goofy voice he used when he was trying to make Dajh laugh. "We've got more park to see."

Linking her arm with his, Vanille nodded, and together they walked off across the grass. He still felt a little too conscious of other people's eyes on them, but he tried not to let it bother him. It was a fun day, he'd say when he showed the photo to Dajh, just a fun day spent with a very close friend… that was all.

Right?


AN: Aww. So, first Sazh and Vanille story. Frankly I think they're adorable, and I love the whole cast of XIII, but Sazh is hands down my favorite. He's a doll. This, of course, takes place during the whole Nautilus Park thing, before Jihl showed up and spoiled the whole thing. Both Sazh and Vanille had some very dark things on their mind, but they did a pretty darned good job of hiding everything, so that's why this is so light - Sazh has no idea what Vanille's thinking about, and he doesn't really want to think about the whole let's-turn-myself-in thing. Also, it says romance, but I guess this could also be seen as friendship. The whole "girlfriend" thing puts a tint on it, I think, that sways it toward the romantic side, and I wrote it with the intent of it being a romance, but whatever floats your boat.

Either way, Sazh is the best daddy ever. Also, I might add something else I had in mind after I finish the game (yeah, I know, I fail - I'm almost there, though) - and this is named for the song "Smile" by Uncle Kracker, which I listened to on repeat while I wrote this.