~*Smile Like You Mean It*~

"Do not brood over your past mistakes and failures as this will only fill your mind with grief, regret and depression. Do not repeat them in the future." - Swami Sivananda


Vanille knew that, when it came to Lightning, there was a single fact that one simply could not forget.

An annoyed Lightning was not a safe Lightning.

The entire party was stranded in a cave near, if she remembered correctly, Taejin's Tower. They were outside the gigantic valley that ridged the stone monolith, sheltering from the sudden, heavy downpour of rain that had turned the world into a murky gray mess.

Snow was also aware that when Lightning was frustrated, she had a tendency to hit someone. Most likely him, if he so much as put one foot over her tolerance line. So he made sure there was a safe amount of space between them before speaking. "So it's raining. So what? We'll wait here until it clears up."

A small, easily unnoticeable tic began going in the former soldier's right eye. "This is ridiculous. We don't have time for this." She had her arms crossed and her expression screamed her impatience—if one knew her well enough. Otherwise she just appeared emotionless.

Sazh removed his Chocobo from his hair, letting the little avian shake itself dry. Afterwards, it became a small yellow puffball that Vanille couldn't help but giggle at. "Lighten up a little," he encouraged, wringing out his jacket as he spoke. "The rain is so thick that we can't even see an inch in front of our own noses."

Lightning scowled but didn't argue the point further.

Fang leaned her spear against the wall, stretching her arms over her head with a lazy yawn, not at all bothered by the current situation. "Showers here in Gran Pulse don't last that long. The lot of us will be off by morning, at the latest."

Vanille noticed Hope looked like he was going to add something, but Lightning shot him a warning look and he turned away, hiding an amused smile. Instead he said, "So, there's a valley or something beyond here, right? How deep is it?"

"I heard that it's supposed to lead straight to the center of the planet!" Vanille piped up.

"Really? It's a good thing we're not near it in this storm," Sazh commented wryly.

"It's not that deep," Fang shrugged, waving it off.

"Been down there before?" teased Snow with a relaxed grin.

Vanille enjoyed listening to their banter, but as far as she knew, Fang had never been inside the aforementioned canyon before. She sat down near the entryway to the cave, just close enough to catch a few stray raindrops but not enough to be drenched by them.

"Sure have." Her childhood friend then proceeded to launch into an inventive story about a tribal dare to test her courage and slay some monstrous creature that resided in its depths—which Vanille knew for a fact was most certainly not true. She couldn't help but smile at Fang's impromptu tale.

It wasn't long before an argument arose from the ever practical Sazh regarding Fang's lack of a plan when it came to her "tribal test", with Snow fighting in favor of the female warrior's "make it up as she went along" strategy.

The girl's attention wandered, and her eyes settled on Hope, who was sitting not far from Lightning. He had one glove rolled up, and he was stroking his Brand with furrowed brows.

Is he thinking of something complicated again?

She stood up and went to stand near him, pretending to have a great interest in his mark until Hope glanced at her.

"Hey," he greeted.


"Not really…" He tugged his glove back into place.

"That's good. Worrying makes it progress faster!" Vanille remarked cheerfully.

"Oh…great. Yeah." His eyes rolled. "That'll help me sleep at night."

She giggled lightly and patted his shoulder reassuringly. "You'll be all right."

"Of course he will," said Lightning unexpectedly. "We all will."

And her tone of voice made it clear to the both of them that she believed it.


Insomnia was one of Vanille's least favorite things. That and…well…certain kinds of spiders. And when she was younger, thunder used to frighten her pretty badly.

She turned onto her side and tried to sleep, but the rain was starting to really get on her last nerve. Not the rain itself, but the sound it made. A hissing, droning grumble.

Giving up, she opened her eyes and stared out of the cave. The rain still came down in freezing sheets, showing no sign of relenting. Slowly, carefully, she got to her feet and looked behind her. She had positioned herself closest to the cavern entrance, and the person nearest to her was Fang. The warrior was knocked out cold, and though she'd never admit it, Vanille knew that she was probably as tired as the rest of them.


Wincing every time her bracelets jangled against one another, the girl decided to go outside for a little fresh air. Now rain, rain didn't bother her at all. She didn't even flinch as she stuck her head outside, feeling the cold droplets pounding against her skin. Her pink hair darkened and clung in damp strands to her face, but she ignored it.

Casting one more swift glance towards her sleeping companions—all of them were quiet and still—Vanille headed off. She didn't plan on going far, but maybe the exercise would exhaust her enough to finally get some shut-eye.

It was a bit difficult to see the road at times, and she walked slowly, carefully, making an effort not to trip. She found a cliff ledge not far from the cave, which overlooked a swirling creek swollen with rain water. She had to squint and blink several times to clear her vision enough to see it, and when it came into focus, she found a strange, nostalgic feeling pricking the back of her mind.

Vanille lifted her head, raising her eyes towards the heavens. Rain splattered against her, and she felt her cheeks, ears, and nose becoming numb. Pulse rain was no different from Cocoon rain, after all.

The last time she had stood on Gran Pulse was more than five hundred years ago. Half of a millennium. The concept was overwhelming. She and Fang….She and Fang…She and Fang had been about to destroy Cocoon, but fortunately, they hadn't succeeded. But so many lost lives! How many descendants would they have had? How many things could have been different? What if one of the kids that could have been born ended up as a doctor that found the cure for some kind of horrible disease?

Her hands were stained red with the blood of innocents, and there was no way to cleanse them. None.

She stared at her fingers, curling them until they formed a fist. She couldn't imagine her nails becoming claws or fire burning across her body. Those memories were better left repressed and hopefully, forgotten.

But still. So many dead. So very many gone, and their children and grandchildren went with them. Hundreds of unrealized lifetimes and dreams and…

Unable to shake off her sudden rush of melancholia, Vanille fell onto her knees and folded her hands across her skirt. Something wet and warm trailed down the side of her face.

It's…it's the rain. Just the rain.

She sat that way and didn't move for some time.


Footsteps shook Vanille out of her depressed trance, and she hurriedly stood up, tugging her various garments back into place. She frowned, hating how her bear fur half-skirt always ended up soaked and weighing twice as much whenever it got drenched.

"Vanille?" A young voice asked hesitantly.


Whipping around, she put a very real looking grin on her face, tucking her hair behind her ears. Not trusting her voice yet, she hummed, "Hmm?"

Hope seemed to be almost smaller. That was probably because his platinum locks were pressed tight against his skin, and his clothes were hugging his slender frame. Despite the cold and the damp, his green eyes shone brightly, even in the gray gloom.

"What are you doing out here?" He asked, attempting to wipe some clinging droplets off of his eyelashes. She noticed that he was tense, probably fighting off a shiver. Well…it was cold.

"Is everyone worrying about me?" She inquired, flicking her gaze back towards the overflowing stream.

"Well…I don't think the others are awake. I mean, Light and Fang might be, but it's kind of hard to tell."

Vanille shook her head. "If Fang was awake, she'd not let me wander off." She smiled again, watching him while putting on a façade of cheerfulness. Inside, her heart twisted as guilt burned internally. "Why're you awake?"

Instead of answering, Hope crossed his arms. "What's wrong?"

"What do you mean? I'm fine! We should get back before they wake up and—"

"Stop," he interrupted. "I know you well enough to tell that something's on your mind."

"I…well…" She shrugged helplessly. "I'm just in a bit of a slump."

"Thinking of something complicated?" Hope asked, echoing her own words to him.

"Not really," she admitted, averting her eyes. "It's just…"

To her surprise, he walked straight up to her and without a moment of pause, embraced her. His skin was warm against hers, and she blinked in shock, startled.

"If it's too much right now, face it later. Right? That's what you told me."

"This isn't something I can just…ignore."

He placed his hands on her shoulders and leaned back, staring hard. His green eyes bore into hers, and she wasn't able to look away.

Making a small sound that was partially annoyance and partially confusion, Vanille sighed, long, deep, and slow. "It's just…Fang and I…Ragnarok…" She saw the words forming on his lips before they were even out. "No!" She protested suddenly. "It won't be okay!" Pulling back, she tilted her head up and studied every individual drop as they fell to the earth, and she imagined for an instant that blood was pouring from the heavens. Bleeding itself dry.

Hope was unsure what to do; his expressions were easy to read. "Vanille…"

"I don't want anyone else to get hurt," she admitted softly. "That's why…I was going to become a Cie'th."

He was silent, the seconds crawling by, and she chanced a peek at him, wondering why he wasn't saying anything. He was glaring at the ground as if it had been the one to brand them L'Cie, and was the cause of all their worries and fears.

"You've hurt people before," he started slowly, every syllable clear and precise. "And you're afraid to do it again, right?"

She hummed an affirmative, spreading her fingers out and watching the cleansing, cold rain stream off of her nails, avoiding his gaze.

"Sometimes…people need to get hurt. I know that sounds bad, but…if we don't fight to save Cocoon, and Serah, and Dajh, then who will?"

Vanille didn't have an answer.

Hope went on cautiously, as if he was afraid to provoke a reply from her. "This is probably what every extremist says, that someone will get hurt along the way no matter what. But there are innocent people on Cocoon, and they'll be sacrificed—all of them—they'll all die if Barthandelus executes his plan. He wants to kill them to bring the Maker back. We have to hurt PSICOM and the monsters and whatever else stands in our way because if we don't fight, then everyone dies."

She brought her hand to her mouth, knowing he was telling the truth, rotating slowly to face him. She looked him in the eyes—such ridiculously wise eyes for a fourteen year old—and tried to find her voice. "Hope…"

"I know you don't like hurting people. I can understand that. But I…" Hope put an arm out and clenched her wrist, and she blinked at him, unafraid, just a little startled. It seemed like he was burning to say something, but in the end he just gave up and uncurled his fingers, taking a step back. "I don't want you to go Cie'th," he added quietly, almost completely drowned out by the rain.

"Oh…I…" Vanille pushed her hair back, picking through a list of thing she could respond with. "Okay!" She announced, her voice cheery again.

"Um…uh…what?" He tried to knock some water out of his ears. "Okay what?"

A grin split her face. "I trust what you say. We'll save Cocoon together!" Inside, she felt a dark premonition stir her heart, making her feel a bit uneasy.

"Right. Great!" Hope jabbed a finger back towards the cave. "Now, can we go back? It's kind of freezing out here." He, too, was smiling.

Vanille giggled and followed him, walking lightly and delicately, kicking pebbles into puddles and watching the splash with childish glee. She took his words and held them close, taking comfort in the truth of them.

She felt…lighter, somehow.

Before they reentered the cavern, she said in a hushed voice, "Hope?"

Pausing, he turned to face her with a questioning expression.

She dashed forward and held him close, but startled the poor boy by breaking the contact sooner than usual, taking both of his hands in hers and resting her forehead against his. "Thank you," she breathed. "That's just what I needed to hear."

He's so clever! Always knows what to say to cheer me up. But…

The sensation she had—the warm, nice, golden feeling invading her very soul—was something she hadn't felt in five hundred years. But it was a welcome surprise. Regardless, he was fourteen…she was nineteen…

His green eyes met hers, and she was relieved when he didn't move away. "Y-You're welcome."

Give him a few years, Vanille told herself.

She closed her eyes and lied to herself again, letting herself think that maybe, just maybe, Hope could think of her the same way.

You said it made you happy when I smiled. Were you really joking?

Vanille enjoyed their close proximity for a few more seconds before releasing him. Walking into the cave as if nothing had happened, she settled back down at a point a little farther from the entrance, but still near enough to Fang that she could be reassured by the older woman's presence.

Even though her lids had fluttered shut after only a few seconds of thought, she sensed someone sit down on the other side of her. She recognized Hope's voice in her ear, a low whisper that ghosted across her skin and almost made her shiver. The interior of the cavern was warm compared to the outside, and his breath was the same.

"Were you crying, earlier?"

She didn't reply. Had it been that obvious?

"…I'll be there for you. You don't have to hide your tears in the rain anymore." With that, he moved only a little bit away from her, probably facing Lightning since he drew comfort from her like she did from Fang.

Speaking of Fang…

One lazy eye opened and Vanille suppressed a shocked yelp.

"Were you awake this whole time?" Vanille said in such a low voice that no one could possibly hear clearly.

"My lips are sealed," Fang remarked before going back to sleep with the air of a lazy lioness whose nap had just been disturbed.

For the first time in a long while, sleep came easily.


Author's Note: This is old, actually. Started this two weeks ago and I just now finished it. Insomnia woohoo! Anyway, sorry about the horrible OOC-ness that is probably in this story, but I have fluff that builds up in my system that needs to be written out.

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