Like all heart-pounding, nerve wrecking stories, it started with tea. And like all good stories, it didn't just start with tea. To be precise, it started with really good tea: imported exclusively from a treacherous, mountainous area somewhere far to the north of Eden, and sold through only the strictest regiment of a franchisee selection process, ensuring that every store an identical layout, identical smiling highly-qualified, trained employees, and of course, an identical, exclusive fragrance. And like all good tea, it was all very vague – overpriced leaves sold to gullible customers in the guise of free-trade and frock wearing royalties with bad teeth.
To be more precise: it started with two cups of tea made by tea leaves that were of the exact same type to Such and Such's infallibly overpriced brand, despite originating from the Tsubaddran Highlands and costing almost nothing but the sweat on one's brows and a few miles of arduous trekking. It was lovingly handpicked and brewed by one of Oerba Dia Vanille and presumably one of Hope Estheim.
And more precise still: a cup of said tea was in a danger of being tossed into the lake – painstakingly crafted animal skull cup and all – by an extremely annoyed pink (or pale red, if one valued having all limbs intact over the truth) haired woman.
"This is getting ridiculous," Lightning said, angling her cup towards the light. She shook her head in disgust. "I won't even bother with guessing."
"Aphrodisiac? Love poison?" said Fang without looking up from the old newspaper she pilfered from Sazh. "A traveling circus in Palumpolum. Pity we were too busy being l'Cie; Vanille's always said she wanted to see one ever since we saw the flyers. She loves bears."
And what kind of love, Lightning wondered, thinking about her the pelt she wore even to sleep. But that wasn't the point.
"Look," she said, bringing the cup closer to Fang. "Green flecks."
"You Cocoonians. Phone sex chatlines? No wonder Hope still gets mistaken as a girl."
"Fang. Do I need to remind you that it is my sister that was crystallised because of you?" The sentence was said in a very even tone.
Hearing the implication behind the words (and if you continue to ignore me, I will use that as an excuse to tie you up with your own fabric and drop you down the lake), Fang paused from her newly acquired hobby of culling through various bits of any salvageable Cocoonian literature to mock the absurdity of its culture – and finally looked into the cup. "Just green?" she said after a moment or two, "you're being a bit too optimistic, Light."
"I'm not comprehending."
"It's Hooker's green."
"A colour you get from mixing Prussian blue and gamboge."
"Right," said Lightning, who didn't know the difference between navy and beige. She wanted to know where Fang had learned the archaic terms and what they represent, but decided against it. It might be common knowledge, she thought, and she loathed to embarrass herself. Such nitpicking of the smallest of details were of no use when she wasn't a soldier anymore. But old habits die hard, that she knew as well as anyone.
She looked up to see Fang smirking – an action she decidedly did not like. The Pulsian was too easily amused at the expense of another's discomfort; a fact she had learned from too many sessions of idle talk. It did that to you, the vast expanse of gently rolling hills; the seemingly boundless blue sky; the absolute lack of nothing else to do but fight and run to whichever direction they thought Orphan's Cradle lay. And the next thing she knew, she was having friendly chit-chats with the likes of Fang. A less optimistic view: she was becoming the butt of Fang's jokes.
"I'm not," she said.
Fang ignored the statement. "Prussian blue is this," she lifted a section of her sari, uncrossing her legs to reveal tantalizing amount of thighs. Lightning tried not to watch as she ran a hand slowly down the length of her thigh. "Gamboge is that girly yellow Hope wears, and."
And suddenly she was leaning close to Lightning. Too close, because Lightning couldn't stare anywhere but into the other woman's eyes. She felt a calloused fingers gently trailing down her cheek. The warmth of Fang's breath against her lips. The way the woman was staring at her with dilated pupils.
Knowing that any further action might encourage Fang, she stayed in her position and said merely: "you're not going to say what you're going to say next."
Fang paused, fingers halfway down Lightning's cheek. "About my eyes..."
"Being Hooker's green."
Fang leaned back and laughed. "Well, there goes to ruining the humour; lighten up, Light."
Choosing the ignore the incredibly lame pun, Lightning threw the contents of her cup onto the ground and set it aside. "What is it?"
"A strong Oerban aphrodisiac," Fang said lightly. "Usually used to enhance an inadequate male's virility; makes him a raging beast or some sort. It was banned by the elders ever since an incident involving a man, a lot of women, and a flock of sheep."
Lightning refrained from asking, feeling that she really didn't want to know.
"Not gonna ask?" Fang smirked, rightly interpreting the scowl on Lightning's face.
"Well, your loss then. Still, it's not that bad," she said, finger tracing the rim of her cup. Then, bringing the cup closer to her lips: "quite delicious, in fact."
Lightning watched in horror as she drowned her tea in a single gulp.
"You– what. Why did you–"
"Waste of perfectly good tea," she said, licking her lips. "Now then, sunshine." She tossed the newspaper and the cup carelessly down. "Gonna find me some Vanille to play with."
And then she was off.
Lightning tried hard not to imagine the implication behind Fang's parting words. Sighing, she went to her knees and started gathering Fang's discarded mess.
Vanille decided that they were oblivious to the point of being bullheaded.
"You've got a potty mouth there, kid," Sazh said. "So. What did you do?"
She tapped her finger on her lip and thought. "Well, I..."
Stole their clothes when they were bathing. Sent love letters in each other's name. Used Hecatoncheir and Alexander to trap them inside a cave with a boulder. Pushed Fang on top of Lightning. Spiked their tea with Oerba's strongest concoction of love potion.
"Not much, really," she said, then went back to squinting through the binoculars.
"The way grumpy looks at you? Why don't I believe that?"
"Just your imagination, pop," she said, trailing off as she inched closer towards the edge of the cliff, going as far as she could without risking death by falling.
Batting stray leaves out of her way, she aimed her binoculars down and adjusted the gain. It was beautiful, she thought, spotting an adamantoise in the distance peacefully chewing on grass. Her beloved Gran Pulse. It would have been a scenery fit for a painting if a flan hadn't just wandered underneath a humongous raised foot. Or Hope and Snow entering the picture, taking the beast down and then immediately gutting it without further ado. Well; that's dinner, then. She offered a silent prayer of sympathy.
She readjusted her aim and zeroed in on her two favourite people: Fang and Lightning, both sitting cross legged by the lake eating breakfast – cup of tea in hand and in Fang's case, Sazh's crumpled newspaper. Vanille nearly squealed in delight, the scene being all too domestic – all too romantic.
Yes. The tea. Lightning was facing another direction, but she could see the way she held the cup in her hands. She was going to drink it. Now, Fang; now, Vanille urged in her mind, willing Fang to drop her obsession with mocking Cocoon for once, and get on with her love life.
"Hey, Vanille. Pulse to Vanille."
A tap on her shoulder, and suddenly the binoculars were wrenched away.
"Lemme see what you're seeing," said Sazh, aiming at the same general direction. "What are you..." He whistled. "Fang and Lightning, huh?"
"What are they doing now?" Vanille said, peering into the distance with his shoulder as support.
"Nothing. Talking. Drinking the usual mandatory morning tea."
"Drinking! They're drinking?"
"What? What are you gonna use a cup of tea for but to dri- whoa, wait a minute." He lowered the binoculars, eyes narrowing. "What did you put in them?"
"Nothing!" she said a trifle too fast. "Give me it back, please?"
It was out of reach as soon as she grasped for it, and not for the first time in her life, she wished she had Fang's legs. "Sazh..."
"No you don't. Out with it or ol' Sazh's confiscating this."
"I..." Vanilled glanced away.
"You..." he echoed. Then his eyes widened in realisation. "Damn. You didn't."
She nodded, eyes fixated at the ground. "I did."
"You do realise that miss tea-sipping there? She's gonna kill you, right? What in hell spurred you to do something like that?"
"Oh, Sazh, I just want them to be happy. They've both been through so much; there's already so much pain and I... I thought that if they could find love in each other then everything will be alright again. Is it so wrong for me to think that way?"
And it was true; Fang had sacrificed so much for her, did so much in her stead to ensure Vanille's own happiness. Just once, just for once, she would like to do the same. She wasn't strong nor fast enough to protect Fang as Fang protected her, but if she was able to do it differently, to make Fang happy in a different way – to re-pay her kindness, she would. That was what she was doing now. She told Sazh as much.
"Is it so wrong?" she said again once her monologue was over, staring at Sazh – as if daring him to contradict her views.
"Well..." Sazh scratched the back of his head, uncomfortable. "I understand what you mean." He must be thinking about Dajh, Vanille thought, then felt a fresh stab of guilt at the memory. "But don't you think it's wrong, forcing them like this?"
She shook her head. "Nope," she said. "Not for the sake of love. And happiness."
"Aand sugars. And rainbows." Sazh sighed. "Look, kid. I'm not saying that I don't want our death machines to be together and happy ever after, but spiking their drink with a date rape drug is going way overboard."
"No one's raping anyone," Vanille said, aghast.
"I'm not saying– oh look, kid." He bent his knees and let his body fall backwards – settling on a small rock with an 'omph!' "The adult world just doesn't work that way. Making two people have se– intercourse ain't gonna make them fall in love with each other just like that. Like, like–"
"Sugars and rainbows?"
"Yeah. Sugars and rainbows. But– oh hell." He threw his hands up. "Don't give me that look. Fine fine. Since you've went and done it, here." He extended the hand holding the binoculars. "Take it. Use it. Go do your... whatever you do. Just don't blame if anything goes wrong and Lightning comes storming by. Any sign of trouble, I'm out of here."
"Oh Sazh... thank you!" She moved forward to give him a hug, which he reluctantly returned. "I'm glad you're being supportive."
Satisfied with his noncommittal grumble and a muttered getting too old for this, she turned back towards the view of the plains and re-focused on the women.
"They on to each other yet?"
"Not yet... oh!"
Lightning just poured her tea onto the ground. She couldn't see her face but she– what did she do wrong? She did everything perfectly following the book – it was grind to near dust, Hope kept his silence, and no one was supposed to notice the finely blended herbs in there. How did Light– Fang, what was she do
She watched in horror as Fang drowned her tea in a single gulp.
And then, just as sudden, Fang went off her sight, bounding away in large strides. Vanille swung her binoculars to the right and followed Fang's figure as she reached a set of massive stones, jumped onto them, and then used her lance as a leverage to leap onto a cliff– and that was when she noticed her sight was getting blurry. Which meant the gain was off. Which meant Fang was getting closer. At a tremendous speed.
"Sazh; Sazh! I think Fang is– is–"
"She's coming here!"
Just then, the sky toppled sideways and all she could see was blue and black.
There ya go. An attempt at a happy-go-lucky romance full of humour. Or maybe no romance at all. But I hope not. This fandom needs the humour with a dose of romance, me thinks. There's a fine line between humour and crack, and I'm trying very, very hard not to cross it. Or maybe I just did. FF XIII just begs to be cracked. Hard. Well. It's okay as long as the characters remains relatively IC. Yeah. Pat self.
R&R, people! Constructive criticism, especially, is very much so appreciated. Taking anything I can to grow as a writer. Flames however, will be promptly purged from memory.
p.s. Love Sazh and Vanille's pseudo father-daughter relationship in-game. So adorkable.