Éclair and the Beast

Fang looked down at the mess in the microwave and grimaced. It wasn't that she couldn't cook – she was a survivor if nothing else – but even after years of practice, she still hadn't gotten completely used to the technology that the former inhabitants of Cocoon seemed to love so much. Well, at least she still had a few hours before Lightning got back. The other woman might not be as good a cook as Serah, but she was no slouch in the kitchen, and Lightning was just as uptight about keeping the kitchen tidy as she was about keeping everything else tidy.

"Mommy, what's taking so long? Did you burn the popcorn again?"

With one last grimace, Fang took the blackened remains of the popcorn from the microwave and dumped the whole mess into the rubbish bin. The scorch marks on the inside of the microwave would just have to wait till later. As she ambled back into the living room, Fang felt a grin slip onto her face. Her two kids were there on the couch, curled up under a big, fluffy blanket, along with Serah's daughter. Damn, they were just about perfect, weren't they? But then again, considering who their parents were, maybe that wasn't such a surprise.

"What did you just say, young lady?" Fang asked, moving over to the couch and raising one eyebrow at her elder daughter, Averia, before she reached down and poked her on the nose. The girl had Lightning's hair and complexion, but her eyes were all Fang's. "Well, care to repeat what you were saying?"

"Mommy!" Averia growled. "Stop poking me!"

Fang chuckled evilly. "Why should I? I think it's pretty funny, especially since you were making fun of me for burning the popcorn." Just for fun, she poked Averia again and the girl, all of eight years old, scowled in a very Lightning-like manner and tried to grab at her fingers.

"But you always burn stuff in the microwave." Averia folded her arms over her chest. "And Aunt Vanille always laughs at you and you never poke her." She narrowed her eyes. "And what about mom? Whenever you burn stuff in the microwave you always end up having to say sorry a lot." She paused. "But I think Aunt Vanille called it 'grovelling' or something." She ignored the twitch in Fang's eye. "So, I don't see why you have to poke me."

"I see." Fang couldn't really fault her daughter's logic. Still, she'd have to have a word or two with Vanille later, maybe strangle her a bit. Oerba Yun Fang absolutely did not grovel to anyone, not even to Lightning. She just happened to enjoy sleeping in her bed, with her wife, instead of on their couch. "Anyway, what are you three watching?"

"We were watching something about you and the others, Aunt Fang." The words came from Serah's daughter, Claire, and Fang smiled softly as she took in the way that Claire had snuggled right up to Averia. The pair looked just like Serah and Lightning. The only real difference was that rather than the carefully hidden look of tenderness that Lightning always had when she looked at Serah, Averia just looked sleepy.

"That so?" Fang looked at the television more closely. Looking past Averia, Fang turned her attention to the smallest of the trio on the couch. Her younger daughter little Diana was only five years old and for Fang, looking at her was almost like looking at a younger version of herself, only with blue eyes. However, unlike Claire and Averia, Diana wasn't really watching the television. Instead, she was slowly, but steadily hoarding more and more of the blanket for herself. Yep, she definitely took after Lightning in that respect.

Unfortunately, Fang's contentment at being with her two children and her niece lasted only as long as it took for the commercial break to end, because once it did, she saw exactly what Claire had meant about the show being about her and the others. The show was actually a movie about the whole fal'Cie fiasco that had culminated in the downfall of Cocoon and the move to Gran Pulse. That alone wouldn't have been too bad, because Fang could understand how people might want to make a movie about something so important. No, the problem was with the cast of the movie.

For starters, they could have tried a little harder to actually pick actors who looked like them. Fang knew her memory wasn't perfect, but the last she remembered she did not resemble a man in drag. They'd also taken great liberties with the others. The actor they'd chosen for Snow wasn't nearly tall enough, or brawny enough, whereas the actor they'd chosen for Hope was a good deal taller than he should be. And Lightning… Not only hadn't they bothered to try and get the right shade of pink for her hair, but the actress's breasts were entirely too big. Not that there was anything wrong with big breasts – Fang's own weren't exactly small – but she could personally attest to the fact that Lightning's breasts were absolutely fine just the way they were, better than fine, actually. Still, Vanille and Sazh had probably gotten it the worst. The actor playing Sazh had to be pushing seventy and Vanille looked, and sounded, like a twelve year old girl.

"Okay," Fang said as she took the remote for the television and switched the horrid thing off, "It's getting late, so it's about time for all of you to head off to bed."

"But we were watching that!" Averia complained as she squirmed around and tried to snatch the control back.

Fang lifted the remote out of reach. "That thing you were watching didn't get a single thing right," she said. "Besides, it is getting late, so do you want to head up to bed now, or would you rather explain to your mom why you stayed up past your bed time?"

That got the required response, as Averia turned very, very pale. Fang smirked. To the kids, Lightning was like a cross between Etro and the boogieman. Behave, and all kinds of good things were likely to happen like trips to the park, sleepovers with Claire, and even the occasional cake. Misbehave, however, and less pleasant things were likely to happen, things like helping with the chores and lots of vegetables for dinner. Naturally, Fang chose to ignore the fact that she was every bit as susceptible to reinforcement and punishment as the kids, although her reinforcements and punishments were a little, ahem, more adult in nature. Still, Fang's moment of triumph didn't last long, because hardly a moment had passed before she felt a gentle tug on her sari.

"Can we please stay up?" Diana whispered as her big blue eyes, so like Lightning's, shimmered. "Please?"

"Gah!" Fang quickly looked away. She'd never, ever been able to handle that look. She was just lucky that Lightning had way too much dignity to ever try the old 'puppy dog eyes' on her, because if she did, she'd never lose an argument. Diana, on the other hand, was only five years old and she had no qualms at all about using them. It didn't help either that both Averia and Claire had long since worked out Fang's weakness and were forever getting the younger girl to do their dirty work.

Holding one hand over her face to shield herself from 'the look', Fang shook her head. "Okay, get that look off your face, Diana, it's not working this time. Now, all of you, up." She made the mistake of looking into Diana's watery blue eyes and winced. "I suppose, I could tell you all a story or something… it'd be better than letting you watch that rubbish movie that you were looking at earlier."

"Yay!" Diana cheered before she untangled herself from the blanket and latched onto Fang. "Can you carry me up to bed?"

Fang laughed and patted Diana on the head. This sort of behaviour was undoubtedly the product of having two extremely doting parents, a very overprotective sister, and a cousin who might look a lot like Serah but took to fisticuffs like Snow. Diana was spoiled rotten and even though Fang knew they shouldn't indulge her too much, she just didn't have the heart to say no to her. Saying no was more Lightning's thing and although Fang sometimes felt a bit bad at always letting Lightning be the tough one, Fang just couldn't get over the fact that the two of them had kids, two perfect, beautiful, unbelievably wonderful kids. She just wanted to give them the best of everything, to make them as happy as she possibly could. "Okay, kiddo," Fang said as she slung Diana over her shoulder like a bag of rice. "Up you get." She grinned down at Claire and Averia. "You two can walk though."

"Wait!" Diana shouted before Fang could take a single step. "You forgot Mr Snaggles!"

"Did I?" Fang bent awkwardly, somehow keeping a decent hold on Diana as she reached for the Bahamut plush toy on the couch. Holding it up, she couldn't help but smile as she remembered just how Mr Snaggles had come about.

After the downfall of Cocoon, the former l'Cie had kept most of their powers, including the ability to summon their Eidolons. However, summoning Bahamut wasn't something that Fang took lightly. A giant mechanical dragon thingy tended to draw a little too much attention, not to mention, terrify almost everybody. Still, Bahamut did come in handy when the local wildlife got a little too much for the local branch of Guardian Corps to handle.

On one occasion a whole herd of Behemoth Kings had wandered into town and although Fang wouldn't normally have hesitated too much before jumping into the fray, Averia had been with her. Fang hadn't even had to think twice before calling Bahamut. When it came to her family, she was not going to take any chances. The battle that had followed had been short, bloody, and oddly brutal, as Bahamut had torn into the Behemoth Kings with a ferocity that seemed to mirror the protective fury in Fang's heart.

When everything was over, Fang had been stunned to see that rather than being scared, Averia looked entranced. Before Fang could stop her, the little girl had stumbled over to Bahamut and begun to clamber up onto his shoulders. Thankfully, the dragon had taken the whole thing very well, and Fang had darted after her daughter and yanked her off, but not before scolding her in a panicked mix of fright and relief to never, ever jump onto her Eidolon again without asking first.

Lightning, of course, had been absolutely furious, especially when Averia had very loudly demanded that she be able to summon a dragon to stomp on people she didn't like. It didn't take a genius to see that letting a little girl summon an Eidolon would probably be a very, very bad idea, especially a little girl who got into more than her fair share of schoolyard scraps. Pulling someone's hair was one thing, summoning a dragon quite another. Still, Averia had thrown a tremendous tantrum and then sulked for days when Fang and Lightning had told her that no, she wouldn't be getting her own Eidolon. Things had only improved when Vanille, Etro bless her soul, had turned up one morning with a plush toy that looked just like Bahamut. That seemed to appease Averia and as a plush toy, it was considerably less dangerous than the real thing. Of course, Snow had ruined the moment by turning up not ten minutes later with an incredibly realistic plush toy of the Shiva sisters in their gestalt form. Lightning had been forced to explain, with her fists, why she didn't think his plush toy was age appropriate. Naturally, Fang thought it looked wonderful, but she'd been smart enough to keep that opinion to herself.

In any case, Averia had carried the Bahamut plush toy, nicknamed Mr Snaggles, around with her for years. It was only after Diana was born and wanted a plush toy of her own that Averia had given Mr Snaggles up. Just like Lightning, Averia had a hard time saying no to her little sister, and when Diana had shown an interest in Mr Snaggles, Averia had been okay with giving it to her, especially since she was 'a big girl now'.

Shaking her head slightly to break herself out of the memories, Fang handed Mr Snaggles to Diana. "Okay, we've got Mr Snaggles, now let's get you lot into bed."

Upstairs in the girls' bedroom, Fang tucked each of the girls in, and after a not so quiet word from Diana, she also tucked in Mr Snaggles, the plush Bahamut looking oddly serious as she settled him into place beside Diana. Fang's two daughters were sleeping in their own beds, while Claire was sleeping in the spare bed that Fang and Lightning often kept around due to how often Claire spent the night over. This time, Claire was over because Snow and Serah were taking a romantic weekend away, which meant it was up to Fang to watch the kids, at least until Lightning finished her shift with the Guardian Corps.

Once everyone was safely tucked in, Fang pulled a chair over and took a seat. "I said I'd tell you lot a story, didn't I?"

"I'm too old for stories now," Averia said proudly.

Claire nodded seriously. "Me too."

Fang smiled. She could remember when she'd been just like them, trying to grow up as fast as she could. "Is that so?" She pursed her lips and pretended to think very hard. "Because I seemed to remember some people listening pretty closely the last time I told a story, isn't that right, Diana?"

Diana nodded enthusiastically. "Yeah, Claire and Averia were both crying a bit the last time." She looked over at Mr Snaggles and patted the plush Bahamut on the head. "But we didn't, did we, Mr Snaggles?" She giggled. "That means I must be more grown up than them."

"Hey," Averia said. "I was not crying. I just got something in my eye. Anyway, it was a sad story, so even if I did cry, it would've been okay."

"Well, it was a little sad in the middle, but I gave it a happy ending, didn't I?" Fang said.

"I suppose." Averia scowled at Diana who just smiled back happily. "Are you going to tell us another sad story?"

"Maybe," Fang said. "But a lot of really good stories do have sad parts, so there's nothing wrong with there being a little sadness in the middle."

"I think your stories are okay," Claire admitted softly. "Well, they're better than my daddy's."

"No arguments there," Fang muttered. She'd heard from Serah exactly what kind of stories the blonde told and although there was no faulting Snow's enthusiasm when it came to storytelling, he was probably better off sticking to storybooks. The stories he made up tended to be a little over the top. Even little kids had a hard time believing Snow's epic tale of the brave and noble hero who had not only rescued his beloved but also defeated something close to a thousand – the number rose with each telling – fal'Cie singlehandedly. "So, why don't we get started?"

Diana grinned. "Okay." Beside her, Mr Snaggles bobbed his head up and down in agreement.

Fang took a moment to gather her thoughts. Contradictory to common belief, she didn't just make things up entirely from scratch. After all, she had a whole stack of Oerban legends to draw upon. She also had a knack for improvising – although Lightning often used a far less complimentary term that involved bovines defecating – which meant that she often took a legend or story she'd heard before and tweaked it into something she liked better. As she looked at the girls in front of her, two of them hers and Lightning's, the other Snow and Serah's, a slow smile spread across her face. The three of them were like sisters and she knew, deep down inside, that no matter what the years brought, they'd look after each other. Yes, she had just the story.

"My story is about two sister who lived on Gran Pulse –" Fang began before she was interrupted.

"Your stories are always on Gran Pulse," Averia grumbled.

But before Fang could say a word, someone else decided to straighten Averia out.

"Don't say things like that!" Diana wailed, somehow squirming out from under her covers and throwing herself onto her sister's bed. Once there she proceeded to whack the older girl over the head with Mr Snaggles.

Fang bit back a chuckle as Claire entered the fray, joining Diana on Averia's bed and trying to pull the little girl off, but with very little success. Diana was cute most of the time, but she could be pretty difficult to deal with if she got annoyed enough. The fact that Averia couldn't even really bring herself to fight back against her little sister just made things more humorous. Eventually, the trio settled down, and Fang coughed to get their attention back.

"Well, that's about enough out of you three," Fang said. "Now quieten down while I tell the story, otherwise I'll get the real Mr Snaggles over here to sort you three out." She grinned. "And he'll probably be hungry too."

Needless to say, all three children immediately quietened down.

"Now," Fang said as Diana brandished Mr Snaggles at the other two girls and whispered something about horrible, dragon-based death, "As I was saying, my story is about two sisters who lived many, many years ago on Gran Pulse. The two sisters were named Serra and Éclair and they lived all on their own."

"Why were they all alone?" Diana asked, big blue eyes wide. "Where were their parents?"

Fang smiled faintly. These kinds of interruptions she didn't mind. In fact, she almost expected them. Back in Oerba, telling stories had been almost like a ritual, with the storyteller leaving specific gaps and pauses for the listeners to ask questions. It didn't even matter if the listeners had heard the story before, asking questions was just another way to connect to the story, to connect to the storyteller.

"Well, the reason that Serra and Éclair lived all alone was because when they were younger, their parents became very sick. Although they asked many doctors for help, none of the doctors could cure them and so Serra and Éclair's parents passed away," Fang paused. "Éclair, being the elder sister, had no choice but to look after her younger sister."

"That's so sad," Diana said. She looked at Averia and Claire. "That's sad, isn't it?"

"I guess," Averia said, huffing slightly, but Fang could see that she was sad, as well. Claire, who wore her expressions as openly as her mother, was also easy to read.

"Because they didn't have any parents, Éclair had to work very hard to support herself and her sister. Lucikly, Éclair was a skilled seamstress and many people from the town they lived in came to her to have their clothes made. When Serra got older, she too worked, but unlike her sister who was a skilled seamstress, Serra's talent lay in cooking, and so she worked in the town's inn, making meals for the townsfolk and the travellers that passed through. And because both of the girls were very hard working, very kind, and very beautiful, the townsfolk grew to love them very dearly and for a while, they lived well." Fang made a sad face. "However, things changed when the mayor of the town, a man named Galeth, decided to try to rid the town of the haunted manor that lay in the woods near the town. To get rid of the haunted manor, the mayor called in many soldiers. One of those soldiers was a man named Ice. Now, Ice was a good young man, a bit silly perhaps, and not particularly bright, but he had a pure, kind heart and he was brave and loyal to his friends. Because there weren't enough houses for the soldiers, Ice ended up staying at the inn where Serra worked and the two of them quickly fell in love."

Averia made a face. "Ewww…"

Fang couldn't help herself – she laughed. "Anyway, eventually the day came when Ice and the other soldiers went into the deep, dark woods to try and get rid of the haunted manor. However, the monster that lived there turned out to be very strong and all of the soldiers were defeated, some never to be seen again."

"What happened to Ice?" Claire asked. "Was he okay?"

"Well, he wasn't okay," Fang said, "But although he was very badly hurt, his love for Serra was so strong that he managed to make it back to town where doctors were able to save him. However, the attack on the haunted manor had made the monster very angry and it sent a message to the town: They would have to sacrifice one of their own people and send them to stay with it at the manor, otherwise, the monster would come and destroy them all."

"That's mean!" Diana cried. "If only they'd had Mr Snaggles!" For emphasis she waved her plush toy around, the little Bahamut looking less than menacing as it swung through the air.

Fang nodded. "I guess you're right, if the real Mr Snaggles had been around, the townsfolk wouldn't have been worried at all, but in any case, he wasn't, so they were very worried indeed." She made a sad face. "For several days, the townsfolk talked amongst themselves about who they would send to the monster but no one would volunteer. Eventually, the monster sent another message to the town and told them that they had one more day to decide who would go, but still they couldn't agree on who should have to go. Finally, fearing for her sister's safety, Éclair said that she would go, so long as the townsfolk and Ice promised to look after Serra and make sure that she would always be safe and happy. Serra begged her not to go, but Éclair knew that if she didn't then no one would go and then all of them would be destroyed by the monster.

"So, the very next morning, Éclair set off into the deep, dark woods, following instructions that Ice had given her that would take her to the haunted manor. She walked for a long time, and finally, just as the sun was about to set, she reached the haunted manor, but instead of a scary, creepy looking place, she found the most beautiful place she'd ever seen, with lush green grass in front of a big, well-kept manor. There were also beautiful flowers everywhere and brightly painted fences. There was even a small lake with lots of fish in it." Fang smirked. "It was nothing at all like Ice had said it would be, and for a while Éclair wondered if Ice had given her the wrong directions, or if she'd gotten lost."

"Was she at the wrong place?" Averia asked. "Because it doesn't sound like a place where a monster would live."

Fang laughed. "No, it doesn't, does it?" She smiled. "But sure enough it was the right place, because when Éclair reached the gates, she was welcomed by two servants, a young woman named Apple and a young boy named Faith. They welcome Éclair to the manor and told her that it was indeed the monster's manor. Naturally, Éclair was very surprised, not only by how the manor looked, but also by the fact that she was being welcomed. In fact, she'd expected the monster to just jump out and eat her or something. As it was, Apple and Faith explained to her that the manor was magical and for those who were welcome, it would always look good, but for those who were not welcome, it would always look gloomy."

"Wow," Diana whispered. "That is so cool."

"It sure is," Fang said, "But that's why it was a magical manor and not just a normal one. Anyway, Apple and Faith asked Éclair if she was hungry and when Éclair said that she was, they told her to get ready, because they were going to make a wonderful meal and she was expected to be there. As Apple went off to get dinner ready, Faith led Éclair up to the finest room in the whole manor. He told her that from now on it would be hers and he showed her a fine dress – the finest dress that Éclair had ever seen – and told her that she should wear it to dinner.

"When Éclair was finally ready for dinner, Faith led her to a big dining room lit by a huge golden chandelier and there, on the dining table, were all kinds of food, from fruits, to sweets and breads, and finely cooked meats. Éclair sat down at the table and was about to start eating when the doors on the other side of the dining room opened and in stepped the monster."

The children all waited with bated breath for Fang to continue, Diana holding Mr Snaggles close.

"The monster looked just like Ice had said it would," Fang said. "It looked kind of like a woman but with a long tail, and instead of normal skin, its skin was grey-black in colour and its hair was like living flame. Most people would have tried to run away, but Éclair was very brave and she knew that if she wanted to keep her sister safe, she had to stay with the monster, so instead of running away, or screaming, she thanked the monster for the fine meal and started to eat her dinner." Fang grinned. "Of course, the monster was very surprised – most people ran away the moment they saw it – but when it saw that Éclair seemed unafraid, it laughed and sat down to eat its dinner, as well."

"So, the monster didn't eat Éclair?" Averia asked.

"Not all monsters eat people, you know," Fang replied before she continued. "After they had eaten dinner, the monster explained to Éclair why she was there. It turned out that the monster possessed a great treasure, one worth more than a thousand times as much as the whole town and everything in it. According to the monster that was the real reason that the town's mayor, Galeth, had sent the soldiers. That was why the monster had asked Éclair to come to the manor. She was to be the monster's hostage so that the townsfolk would never attack the manor again. Fortunately, the monster was not cruel, so while Éclair could never leave, she could live well at the manor, eating fine food and wandering its many gardens and rooms."

"That still seems sad though," Diana said.

"It was," Fang agreed. "But Éclair did her best not be sad. After all, the townsfolk and Ice had all promised to look after Serra and so long as her sister was happy, Éclair had no regrets. But because she could never leave the manor, Éclair decided to try and be as happy as she could there. So, as the weeks passed, she made friend with Apple and Faith. She also explored the manor and the gardens around it and got to know them as well as she'd known the town. She even started talking to the monster and before she knew it they were friends as well, because even though the monster looked scary, it actually turned out to be pretty nice. After a while, the monster even agreed to let Éclair write to her sister, to let her know that she was doing well."

"That was nice," Diana said.

"It was, and eventually after several months had gone by, Éclair finally asked the monster about something that had been bothering her for a while," Fang said.

"What was it?" Claire asked.

"Éclair wanted to know about the treasure that the monster had," Fang said. "She didn't want it for herself or anything, but she did want to know what could possibly be so valuable. It took days of pleading, but finally, the monster relented. It had come to trust Éclair and so it took her to the most secret part of the manor and showed Éclair its treasure. The treasure was a beautiful rose made out of purest crystal and looking upon it, Éclair could easily believe that it was worth one thousand times as much as the whole town and everything in it. At first when Éclair asked the monster where the rose had come from, the monster did not answer her. Finally, the monster explained to her that it hadn't always been a monster. In fact, the monster had once been a beautiful woman called Ragna who had lived in the manor with her two most trusted servants, Apple and Faith. One day an evil wizard named Baldanders had come to the manor and demanded that Ragna marry him and when Ragna had refused, Baldanders had put an evil curse on her. The curse turned Ragna into the monster and created the crystal rose. According to the curse, Ragna would live forever and ever, hated by all until either the day the crystal rose was taken from her, which would kill her, or the day the crystal rose turned into a real rose and she was set free. Unfortunately, Ragna didn't know how to turn the crystal rose into a real rose, so she had lived in her manor as the monster for years and years all alone with no one for company except for Apple and Faith."

"That stupid wizard!" Averia growled. "Ragna should have eaten him or something when he turned her into the monster."

Fang chuckled as Claire rolled her eyes. "He probably used his magic to make it so she couldn't do something like that."

"Does Ragna change back?" Diana wanted to know. "It would be horrible if she had to stay a monster with everyone hating her just because of that evil wizard."

Fang smiled. "Well, keep listening to the story and you'll find out." She paused. "A year passed and Ragna continued to let Éclair write to her sister because she saw how happy it made Éclair. However, one day, the mayor of the village found one of Éclair's letters and when he realised that the monster was not as scary as he first thought, he began to tell the townsfolk that the monster was doing all sorts of horrible things to Éclair. Because the townsfolk loved Éclair, and because they were so ashamed of sending her to the monster in the first place, they became very angry and the mayor led all the townsfolk and more soldiers back to the manor to try and take the crystal rose."

"But why didn't Serra tell them that Ragna was being kind to Éclair?" Diana asked.

"Because sometimes people believe what they want to believe," Fang said softly. "It didn't matter to the townsfolk that in her letters, Éclair said that the monster was treating her kindly. When Serra did tell them, they just said that the monster was forcing Éclair to lie, because to them all things that looked ugly like the monster just had to be evil."

"That's not fair!" Diana cried.

"No, it's not," Fang replied. "And it's a good lesson too – just because someone is ugly on the outside doesn't mean they're ugly on the inside. The opposite is true too. Someone can be beautiful on the outside but ugly on the inside." She grinned. "Of course, you three are beautiful on the inside and the outside, so you don't have to worry.

"Anyway, the townsfolk and the soldiers attacked the manor and this time there were too many for Ragna to fight off. Apple and Faith were put in chains and the town's mayor, Galeth, broke into the secret room and took the crystal rose. As soon as he put his hands on the crystal rose, Ragna fell to the ground and began to die but Éclair snatched the crystal rose back from Galeth and gave it back to Ragna. Unfortunately, it was too late, and even though Ragna had the crystal rose in her hands, her breathing began to grow fainter and fainter and her heart began to beat slower and slower. Éclair had come to care very deeply for Ragna and when she saw that Ragna was still going to die, she began to weep and as her tears fell onto the crystal rose, something incredible happened." Fang smirked. "Can you guess what?"

"Just tell us!" All three children shouted.

Fang laughed. "Okay, okay. So… as Éclair's tears fell onto the crystal rose, a miracle happened. There was a great whoosh and the crystal rose began to glow. A second later, the crystal shattered and in its place was a single real rose, and it was most beautiful rose that anyone had ever seen. When Éclair looked back at Ragna, she no longer looked like a monster. Instead, she was a woman again, young and beautiful and very much alive." Fang grinned. "When the townsfolk saw what had happened, they were amazed. They asked Éclair and Ragna to explain and when they found out that Ragna had been cursed and that the mayor had lied to them, they were angry again, but not at Ragna, instead, they were angry with the evil wizard Baldanders and the mayor, Galeth."

"What did they do to the mayor?" Averia asked, a little too gleefully.

Fang smirked. "They drove Galeth away and he was never heard of or seen again. As for the evil wizard Baldanders, people say that when Éclair's tears broke the spell he'd put on Ragna, his own magic turned on him and he himself was turned into a monster, to be alone and hated until he too could finally find someone who loved him enough to cry for him." She laughed. "Although it wouldn't surprise me if he was still stuck alone and as a monster even now." She smiled broadly. "As for Ragna, Éclair and the others? With the curse broken, the forest was no long dark and gloomy and Ragna became good friend with all the townsfolk. In fact, she even invited Ice and Serra to live with her, Éclair, Apple, and Faith at the manor, and there they all lived very, very happily for a long, long time."

"Happily ever after?" Diana asked.

"Yep, happily ever after," Fang said. She glanced over at Claire and Averia. "So, did you like the story?"

Averia nodded. "It was okay. I like how they drove Galeth away, although maybe they should have fed him to a monster or something."

Claire seemed to agree. "It had a good ending."

Fang stood and smiled down at the three children. "I kind of agree with you on that one. Now, why don't you three get some sleep? Tomorrow, I'll see if we can't go to the park or something, maybe even have pancakes for breakfast." The kids grinned. "Now, hurry up and sleep. The faster you fall asleep, the faster you can wake up and eat pancakes."

With the kids asleep for the night, Fang headed back down to the living room to wait for Lightning. Out of morbid curiosity, she turned the television back on and she wasn't sure whether to laugh or put her fist through the television screen when the movie showed her and Lightning engaged in a torrid love scene in the ruins of Oerba. Honestly, if she and Lightning had done that in Oerba during their journey as l'Cie – and so noisily too – there was no way that the others wouldn't have noticed.

The front door opened and Fang smirked as she heard Lightning mutter a curse once the other woman walked into the living room and saw what was happening on the television screen.

"We did not do that!" Lightning growled, slumping down onto the couch. "And there is no way that my breasts are that big!"

Fang eyed the breasts in question with a contemplative look. "How was your shift?"

Lightning reached for the remote and turned the television off. "Terrible. One of the new recruits seemed to think it would be a good idea to wedge his head down the throat of a gorgonopsid."

"Ouch." Fang made a face. "He's alive, right?"

Lightning made a disgusted sound. "Of course. Nobody dies on my shift. Still, it took us an hour to get the thing's jaws off from around his head. Messy too." She paused for a moment and sniffed the air. Her eyes narrowed. "Fang…"

Fang reached over and tugged Lightning into her lap. Time to lay on that old Yun charm. "Don't worry about it, Lightning, just had a big of trouble with the popcorn."

Lightning sighed, but wrapped her arms around Fang. "Please tell me you didn't set any of the children on fire."

"Of course not," Fang said. "Even I'm not that bad. In fact, all three of them are upstairs in bed right now sleeping." She tilted Lightning chin up and ran one finger along her cheek. "Speaking of which, how'd you like to head upstairs, as well, for some… sleeping?"

Lightning looked at Fang sceptically. "Sleeping? I don't really do much sleeping around you, Fang." She smiled softly. "Although I can't say that I mind." She wrapped her arms around Fang's neck. "Carry me upstairs?"

Fang grinned. "You're just like Diana, you know." Lightning smiled as Fang lifted her up bridal style and began to head toward the stairs. "Only you're a bit heavier than her – ouch!" Fang rubbed jaw. Honestly, how had Lightning managed to get any leverage on that punch from her position?

"What was that?" Lightning asked, a playful scowl on her face. "And don't think I'll forget about the microwave either. If we have to buy a new one…"

Fang smirked down at Lightning and started up the stairs. "What makes you think you'll have the energy to do anything about the microwave once I'm through with you?"

Lightning's eyes flashed. "Is that a challenge?"

"Damn straight, sunshine."

X X X

Later, much later, Fang was lying half asleep, her limbs entwined with Lightning's.

"Did you tell the kids a story today?" Lightning asked quietly.

"Huh?" Fang struggled to stay awake, no easy task with the way that Lightning was gently running her fingers through her hair and pressing soft, gentle kisses against her throat and chin. "Story? Hmm… I guess I did." She opened one eye lazily. "You want to hear it?"

Lightning chuckled softly. "If you're not too tired out."

Fang shifted a little, stroking the small of Lightning's back. "Too tired? Not a chance. Besides, I think you'll like this story."

After Fang had finished telling the story, Lightning chuckled. "That's quite a story, although you're just lucky they didn't see right through you. I mean, Ragna? Ice? Éclair? Serra? Really, Fang."

Fang grinned. "I know."

A mischievous smile crossed Lightning's face. "Although I don't think I'd have called the lady of manor Ragna." She pressed her lips against Fang's. "I think Mrs Snaggles suits you much better."

X X X

Authors' Notes

As always I neither own Final Fantasy, nor am I making any money off this.

Okay… after writing Princess Yuffie and the Demon, I had originally intended to work on some of my other longer stories, but this story just kept beating me over the head until I eventually had no choice but to write it (or face the wrath of Mr Snaggles). Like Princess Yuffie and the Demon, this story is a mishmash of references to traditional fairytales, Disney movies and Final Fantasy.

For those of you who are curious, Fang's fairytale is loosely based on the Disney version of Beauty and the Beast, what with the magical rose, the person transformed into a monster, and all that jazz (I'll leave it to your imagination to assign the various characters to their corresponding roles), mashed together with the plot line of FF XIII (the older sister sacrificing her chance at a normal life for the younger sister, the young man and the younger sister falling in love etc. etc.). Naturally, rather than using the original Disney characters, Fang chose to insert her fellow FF XIII characters instead, but after a few name changes (and with some minor tweaking to the plot). That said, I think the name changes might need a bit more explaining.

Essentially:

Éclair = Lightning

Ragna = Fang

Serra = Serah

Ice = Snow

Apple = Vanille

Faith = Hope

Galeth = Galenth Dysley

Baldanders = Barthandelus

Éclair was chosen as the name for the "Lightning" character in Fang's fairytale because it was the named used for Lighting during the development of FF XIII and indeed in the Japanese version, as well. Ragna is a contraction of Ragnarok, who Fang transforms into (at least partially, anyway). Baldanders is apparently the name used for Barthandelus in some versions of the game and Galeth is a corruption of Galenth. Faith and Ice are, respectively, words closely related to Hope and Snow. The link between Apple and Vanille is a little bit more obscure, but Vanille's Crystarium crystal is in the shape of an apple, so there you have it. The least obvious link is between Serra and Serah – in fact it's not even a link based on FF lore. As a matter of fact, I chose Serra not just because it sounds like Serah, but also because I believe Serah shares many of the same personality characteristics as Serra, a famous planeswalker from the trading card game, Magic the Gathering. Both are considered "white magic aligned" in so far as they are kind, gentle, and basically really good, caring people. If you managed to work that out ahead of time, then I tip my imaginary internet hat to you.

Finally, the names of the children… Averia was chosen on the basis that it was one of the names originally mooted for Lightning's real name. Claire is, obviously, Lightning's real name and I don't think it is that unlikely that Serah would name her daughter after Lightning, and Diana is named the Roman goddess of the hunt, which I think is quite appropriate, given whom her parents are.

Writing this story was good fun, although I would appreciate your feedback on whether or not it's a vein worth exploring. By that I mean, whether or not you'd be interested in hearing what stories the other characters might have to tell the kids.

As always, I appreciate feedback. Reviews and comments are welcome.