On Chocobos

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The Chocobos on Gran Pulse were much bigger and stronger than the Chocobos on Cocoon that Lightning had grown up with, and the only method of transportation around other than by foot. And while a forward march was perfectly fine for her, even Snow had been enchanted by how friendly and acquiescing the Chocobos were to carry them around. It helped that the monsters seemed less likely to attack when they were being carried by the giant birds who could outrun the best of them any day. It was because of that fact that Lightning had resigned herself to learning how to ride a Chocobo, which was something she had never imagined herself doing, and therefore never found the time to learn.

The practice hadn't taken long, not when Fang and Vanille were so enthusiastic about the group learning to ride, and the creatures themselves being quite docile in nature. Still, even Chocobos could be unpredictable, and with their great size and strength, could very easily injure any one of them with a wrong move. They could carry Snow without flinching. It was for that very reason (paranoia, Sazh had snorted quietly to a giggling Vanille) that Lightning had Hope ride with her the first few times. If the Pulsian Chocobos looked a proper mount for Snow, then surely they were much too big for the youngest and smallest member of their party.

"He could ride with me," Snow had suggested at the beginning with a grin, giving Lightning a confident look. "You know I'd keep him safe, Sis."

After her obligatory protest to that moniker, Lightning had sniped that surely even the strongest of Chocobos would stagger with his behemoth weight, and that both her and Hope together probably weighed less than him. Snow had moped for a few seconds after that comment, but regained his good humour as she rolled her eyes at him.

Still, it was a bit of a hassle when they landed in a fight while on the Chocobos. That split-second delay for her to untangle Hope's grip on her before jumping into the frey had cost them many pre-emptive strikes, although no one was stupid enough to comment on that in front of her.

It was only when a nervous Hope had tugged on her coat one night by the campfire and asked her if it was okay to learn to ride a Chocobo himself ("I won't fall!" He claimed confidently) that Lightning realized all the others were very discreetly trying not to listen in to her answer.

"I can help!" Vanille claimed in the short silence after Hope's proclamation as Lightning tried to come up with ways to inflict pain on the group without crippling them for listening in. The Pulsian girl scooted over to them, nudging Hope's shoulder with her own. "They're sweet things, really. And it's not hard once you manage to mount them."

Sazh gave a nervous look in Lightning's direction before adding, "Hell, we'll all help. S'not like we haven't figured it out ourselves, right? And I may not have as much practical experience as these two here," He gave a nod to Fang and Vanille, "but I've had to read all about them to Dahj before. Ones here can't be all that different."

"Kid needs to stand on his own sometime," Fang commented flippantly. She quirked a grin and claimed a seat next Vanille, who was nodding vigorously enough Lightning almost wondered if her head would fall off. "Might as well start with Chocobos rather than learning your triple backflips."

"I can do a cartwheel!" Hope protested, but then grinned, abashed. "Kind of."

Fang barked out a laugh and reached over Vanille to ruffle his hair. Lightning turned her gaze to Snow, who had stayed silent so far. "I suppose you'll contribute as well?"

"Of course!" He claimed, but then toned down his voice under Sazh's teasing tone and Vanille's laughter. "We'll find the smallest Chocobo for him."

Lightning was torn between wanting to hit Snow for his jokes (not too hard. Just hard enough) and contemplating that idea seriously.

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"Make sure to push yourself up firmly on its back," Sazh was lecturing. "You don't want to kick its wings accidentally while mounting or else you're in for a nasty shock."

Hope was eying the Chocobo speculatively, and then raised his arms in attempt to reach the Chocobo's back. "I don't think that's going to work..."

"We could make you a step-ladder," Snow jibbed, patting Hope's head condescendingly. "You could share with Vanille."

"Hey!" The girl in in question protested. "I can mount my own Chocobo, thank you very much! Better than you!"

"Try a running start," Fang said. "Jump before you reach it. Ain't nothing to it."

"Make sure to jump before you run smack into the Chocobo," Snow joked.

"And don't kick its wings!" Sazh added. "You should try to settle your legs under its wings, so that it can still move as it wants."

Hope looked toward Lightning for direction, and she nodded. "Remember learning to jump the trees in the Gapra Whitewood?" She told him quietly. "I'll help you through."

At this, the Chocobo in front of them warbled in agitation, flapping its wings wildly for a moment and taking a few steps back, snapping its beak before settling. Lightning and Snow exchanged a short look as Fang exclaimed, "Whoa! You're a wild one, ain'tcha?"

Lightning shifted a bit, reconsidering her idea to grab what looked like the smallest Chocobo in the group. Docile creatures or not, there was a temperamental one in every group, and temperamental creatures several times your size is never a good idea. While she was sure Hope would be able to take care of himself, there was a sneaking voice in her head that said he would underestimate the Chocobo just because the birds were such a childhood icon, and really, it was hard not to think of them as anything other than sweet and gentle creatures who could barely even fight back when provoked...

"And, up!" Snow had decided that Hope could learn how to mount a Chocobo later and just lifted Hope up onto the Chocobo, much to the boy's embarrassment. It really didn't matter that she had tried to select the smallest of the Chocobos, Hope looked absolutely tiny in comparison, despite being not that much smaller than the rest of them.

He was surprisingly steady, though, and took to the lessons extremely well, managing to follow everything that Vanille said from how to get his Chocobo to turn in the direction he wanted, to what speed he wanted the Chocobo to go at. Lightning watched all of it off to the side with her arms folded, a lingering frown on her face as she kept an eye on the scene. They didn't really have the time for this... wasn't it good enough for Hope to just ride with her?

Sazh addled up beside her once he was done lecturing on how to properly treat Chocobos, and smiled at her dis-concern. "I guess that Chocobo's out of the nest now."

"I didn't choose one that small." Lightning's frown deepened.

"Not exactly what I meant, but let's go with that." Sazh agreed. He stared at the scene for a while, listening as Hope pretended to run Snow down, the blond laughing as he ran away. "Kid's got potential. The bird seems to like him."

"The bird likes everybody." Lightning grumbled, although her frown lessened. "Doesn't mean it's not dangerous."

"Well, I doubt we'll get bloodthirsty Chocobos knocking on our doors for riding them. What's the matter, soldier? Bird too much of a threat?" Sazh teased.

Lightning scoffed. Of course not.

Just a few meters away, Vanille was laughing as she chased Hope on his Chocobo, and Fang chased after her. Snow had tripped and fallen not some time ago, and he took Vanille down with him as she ran past. Once Fang was close enough, Snow took off with an arm around Vanille's waist, the girl shrieking with laughter. Hope yelped as Snow made a grab for him as well, and urged his Chocobo to run away.

Lightning found her lips twitching into a smile despite herself as she watched Fang spew profanities at the man, swinging her staff and prompting him to run faster. Still... she watched at the Chocobo squawked and flapped its wings, inciting a shout from Hope before he got the bird to calm down.

She supposed it wasn't so bad. Despite being so much bigger than what she would have assumed, the mild manner was there.

"Light!" Hope had ridden up to her, both hands on the Chocobo's back as he smiled widely. "I think I'm getting a hang of this!"

"Of course you are!" Vanille had managed to wiggled her way out of Snow's grip and had left the two adults behind her to squabble like children. She sounded a little breathless as she came up beside Hope. "You've got down the one thing you really need to work with a Chocobo!"

"And what's that supposed to be?" Sazh interjected, sounding amused.

"Love, of course!" Vanille said.

Hope looked contemplative. "Love, huh?" He reached out and stroked along the Chocobo's neck, rubbing at its feathers affectionately.

The Chocobo let out a squawk and turned its neck, nuzzling Hope as the boy letting out a surprised string of laughter, hands coming up to pat affectionately at the downy feathers on its head. Vanille squealed in delight, cooing over the sight as Sazh proclaimed, "See? I told you the bird likes him!"

Lightning tried to quell her smile as her fingers twitched for a camera. Alright, so maybe it was okay for Hope to ride on his own. Just as long as she was still there to make sure that nothing bad could possibly happen. And if all Chocobos were genuinely that fond of children.

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"You can't stay here!" Hope whispered as he tried to push the Chocobo behind the bush. He and Snow had gone to scout ahead earlier, preparing for their trek to Oerba, when Hope had stumbled across the same flock of Chocobos that they had run into when he was learning how to ride. Snow had gone ahead, ruffling the boy's hair and telling him he should say goodbye. Hope had easily found the Chocobo he learned to ride on and said a quick goodbye before jaunting off after Snow... only to have the Chocobo follow him.

The giant bird was trotting quite contentedly behind him, warbling as Hope kept trying to dart out of its sight. It cocked its head at him as Hope whispered frantically, "We've got this really hard Cie'th quest coming up... and then we're heading to Oerba! It's too dangerous for you to come with." The boy deflated. "Not to mention, the others would never let me keep you."

The Chocobo didn't seem to care, and it pushed back against the boy, headbutting him in the chest hard enough for Hope to stumble back a step or two. They were getting closer and closer to the campsite, and Hope could already see the distant gleam of the fires. He had to make sure to dissuade the Chocobo before they got any closer to the others.

"It's really better if you stay here- with the rest of your family." Hope tried to reason. His hands lingered on the soft crown of the Chocobo's head, rubbing softly as the bird warbled at him. His eyes darkened for a moment, thinking of his own journey and the family he once had. "You'll regret it if you leave them. Family's important."

The Chocobo fluttered its wings, taking no heed of Hope's warnings. The boy stood there for a while, continuing to stoke the bird's head and knowing that he should be heading back real quick before they sent someone out to look for him. But... just for a little while longer?

The Chocobo crooned softly at him, and took a step forward so it could curl its neck around the teenager, nuzzling into the side of his head, nipping lightly at his hair. Hope laughed quietly, one eye scrunched closed as he felt the hard beak sift by his ear. He laid his head against the feathers on its neck, arms stretched wide to try and wrap around the bird as he took silent comfort in its presence. He had never been the type to obsess over Chocobos like most children, but having met them up close and personal now... he could understand why they were so beloved. They were warm and loving, willing to carry or to comfort.

He could feel the Chocobo rub its head against his shoulder, and smiled into the downy feathers. "I don't understand why you'd follow me..." he lifted his head and stared into the glassy black eyes, oddly intelligent. "But you really should go back. It's dangerous where we're going. There are things we have to do... and they could be terrible things..."

The Chocobo gave a loud screech in protest, and Hope waved his arms to hush the creature, hoping in vain that no one would hear that.

"No, no, don't do that! I'm just trying... oh, I'm just trying to get you to go home!" The bird continued its loud protests and stomping at the ground, and Hope realized that if this continued, soon every monster in Gran Pulse would wake and locate them. "Look, if I try to talk to the others about it, will you calm down? I don't think it's a good idea for you to come, but I can at least ask..."

At this, the Chocobo calmed and quieted, looking oddly satisfied with itself. It puffed its feathers and preened, and then reached over to try and preen the teen's hair as well. Hope batted the bird away weakly, wondering why in the world he was negotiating with a Chocobo. It was stupid of him, really, but he didn't know what else to do and it had worked.

There was the approaching sound of footfall and Hope turned to see Lightning come around the corner, startled by the sight of the giant bird.

"Hope?"

Well... Hope tried to grin as the Chocobo butted against him once more, crooning into his ear. "Uh, Light! Hi!" He lifted a hand to pat at the bird's head, and gave a nervous laugh. "I wanted to ask... can I keep him? He followed me home, honest!"

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AN: So that was a little snippet written for ffxiiikink, although the request was for Hope and Chocobo, so I added that second part in after that. XD;;