Of Uncles And Nieces

Snow and Diana

Snow liked working with his hands. He wasn't the blockhead that Lightning liked to call him – although the insult was delivered more with fond exasperation now than any real malice – but there was something soothing about getting things done the old fashioned way. Sure, there were machines that could get things done faster, but that wasn't the point. He liked being able to do things himself with nothing more than a hammer, some nails, and a few basic tools.

In years gone by, he'd taken all sorts of odd jobs to make ends meet. As strange as it sounded, the Fall of Cocoon had worked out very nicely for him. He was a good, solid, dependable man, the kind of man who didn't mind rolling up his sleeves and wading into trouble to get the job done. They hadn't needed too many men like him back on Cocoon, but Gran Pulse was another story. He might've been born on Cocoon, but he belonged on Gran Pulse.

When he wasn't helping settlements and expeditions devise their security arrangements, he was making a tidy profit in construction. He liked the work. It was tough, and it kept him in shape. He and Serah didn't talk about it, but he knew how much she liked the way he held himself now. He was proud of what he'd achieved and even prouder of the life they'd built together.

For the most part, Snow had been content to let Serah fuss over the details of their house. But he had insisted on one thing: a large shed in the backyard with space for all his tools and room for him to work on a few of his own projects. Today, the project was a new desk for Claire. His daughter was growing like a beanstalk. It probably wouldn't be too long before she was taller than Serah although Snow doubted she'd ever got close to his size. They could have gone down to the shopping mall to buy a desk, but he wanted to make one himself. Besides, he was certain he could make a better one.

It would also be a surprise. Right now the girls were watching a movie in the living room, so he was confident he wouldn't be discovered. He'd already drawn up the plans. Now, all he had to do was cut the wood into the right lengths and shapes and then put it all together. With a few finishing touches, it would look great.

A small grin on his lips, Snow flexed his hands. Time to get to work.

He turned on the radio, and it wasn't long before the sounds of whistling and sawing joined some of the smooth, easy listening that he liked to work to. He never noticed the door of the shed ease open. Nor did he notice the pitter-patter of small feet as someone snuck up on him. And this someone happened to be very good at sneaking.

Diana poked Snow in the leg. "What are you doing, Uncle Snow?"

"Gah!" Snow nearly dropped the saw. Then he looked left and right and then finally down, way down. Of course, it was Diana. "What are you doing in here, Diana?"

The little girl giggled and hopped up and down in a futile attempt to see what he had on the high bench in front of him. "Averia and Claire liked the movie, but I thought it was boring, so I asked Aunt Serah if I could help her make lunch, but she said I might set myself on fire, and then I asked where you were, and she said you were in the shed, and then I came out here to find you, but there was music, and –"

"Is that so?" Snow grinned. Diana's ability to reel off enormously long, winding sentences without stopping to breathe was truly something to behold. "Do you want to see what I'm doing?"

Diana nodded eagerly and reached up with both hands. The implication was clear: she wanted a boost.

"Come here." Snow lifted Diana up onto a stool in front of the bench. She was so small he could have lifted her with one hand. Even so, he used both hands, and he did his very best to be careful. He knew that his size could be a little intimidating to children, but Diana had never been bothered by it. If anything, she seemed to be delighted by how easily he could lift her up. His lips twitched. He'd probably be giving her piggybacks for weeks at this rate. "Do you know what I'm making now?"

Diana peered at the workbench and then shook her head. "Not really. It just looks like bits of wood and stuff." She tilted her head to one side. "And nails and there's some scratchy looking paper too."

"It's called sandpaper."

"Sandpaper?" Diana leaned forward and lifted up a sheet of sandpaper. "It doesn't look like it's made of sand."

Snow chuckled and ruffled Diana's hair. The little girl gave him what he suspected was supposed to be a venomous look – it looked rather adorable on Diana – and he eased her fingertips down to brush gently against the sandpaper. "See how it feels kind of like there's sand on it? That's why they call it sandpaper. You use it to make things like wood smoother."

"Oh!" Snow could practically see the switch flip on in Diana's head. She grabbed the sandpaper and waved it around. "Can I try it on something."

"Sure." Diana was always fun to have around. He just had to make sure she didn't get hold of anything sharp. He handed her a wooden doorstop that he had almost finished. It was fashioned into the shape of a duck. "Here," he said, rubbing the sandpaper along the wood. "You do it like this."

"Cool." Diana all but attacked the doorstop with the sandpaper. "Like this?"

He chuckled. "Not quite. It isn't a race." He showed her again. "Do it smoothly, like this, and take your time. It's better to take a little bit longer and do something right the first time than it is to rush and have to go back and do it again."

It took a lot of frowning and brow furrowing, but Diana eventually settled into a more sedate pace. Once she did, her small hands actually gave her an advantage since she could get into all the nooks and crannies. While she worked, she looked at the material on the bench again. "What are you making?"

"I'm making a desk." Snow grinned. "But it's a secret, okay. You have to promise not to tell anyone."

"Is it a present for someone?"

"Yes, and you'll spoil the surprise if you tell."

"Okay." She made a zipping motion over her mouth. "I won't say anything." She looked around furtively and then spoke in a conspiratorial whisper. "Aunt Vanille tells me lots of secrets. We're always plotting and stuff, and I never tell." She giggled. "She says that no one ever suspects the little kid."

"She's right." Snow made a mental note to keep an eye on Vanille. Most of her plotting and scheming was aimed at Lightning and Fang. He wanted to keep it that way. "But make sure you keep the desk a secret, okay?"

"I will. How do you make a desk?" Diana kicked her legs back and forth on the stool, and Snow shifted to stand behind her in case she tipped over.

"Make sure you use the sandpaper on the whole doorstop. To make a desk, you need to think about what you need. How much space do you have for a desk? How many drawers do you want it to have? You need to think about all of those things before you start. After that, it's usually a good idea to look at some other desks."

"Like studying?" Diana pursed her lips. "Like when you watch those cooking shows on TV?"

"Kind of, yeah. You want to see what works and maybe combine a few things you like. Once you've done that, then you need to draw up some plans, or at least a few sketches. Never start cutting the wood without a plan."

"Like blueprints?" Seeing Snow's surprise, Diana added, "Aunt Vanille draws those all the time, and so does my mom. They say it's really important when you're building guns and robots and stuff."

Wondering, and not for the first time, what Lightning talked about with her kids, Snow nodded. "Yes, it's like that. See these?" Snow pointed to a few sheets of paper nearby. "These are my blue prints. They're going to tell me how to cut all the wood I have on the bench."

"How do you cut the wood? Do you have a sword? Or maybe we could get my mom's gun blade. It's super sharp. This one time, she let Averia and me throw fruit at her, and she cut all the fruit up before it even hit her or the ground. It was awesome."

Snow bit back a chuckle at the image of Lightning using her gun blade to perform what were essentially party tricks. Oh well, she was a bit of a softie when it came to her kids. He'd be sure to mention it the next time he saw her. "Normally, I use a saw." He picked up his saw. "It's not as sharp as your mom's gun blade, but it's what you use to cut wood properly."

"Could I try?"

Snow looked at Diana and winced. The saw was almost as big as she was. "How about you watch while I do the cutting?"


Snow didn't know what was so interesting about cutting wood, but Diana's enthusiasm was infectious. She greeted each successful cut with a high five, a cheer, and a litany of warnings to the other pieces of wood about their 'impending doom.' Halfway through, she handed back the doorstop, and he was pleased to see that she'd done a good job of it. Her reward was a chance to hop onto the bench and observe the next few cuts from close range.

"Once you've got everything cut," Snow said as he gestured at the pile of neatly cut wood. "Then you can start putting everything together."

Over the course of the afternoon, Snow put the table together and started the process of staining it. Diana paid close attention to each step, and she even managed to help when it came to the last part.

"We should make everything," Diana said. "This is way cooler than going to a store." She dipped her paintbrush back into the can of wood stain and got to work on the top of the desk. Snow had been worried that she might have trouble with the smooth, continuous brushstrokes required to properly stain the wood, but Diana was surprisingly good at it. It must come from all the drawing and painting she did at home and at school. Or maybe she'd traded some of her height for artistic skill.

By the time they were done for the day, they were both a little messier than when they'd started. Diana was all smiles though, and Snow even gave her a piggyback into the dining room. She was always complaining about being short, so it couldn't hurt to let her feel tall for a while.

Dinner was waiting on the table, and Diana scrambled down from her perch.

"Not so fast, kiddo." Snow smiled and gave Serah a quick kiss on the lips. "You need a bath. Serah, do you think you could give her a bath? I need to tidy a few things up in the shed."

"Was she helping you make something?" Serah asked.

"It's a secret." Diana froze as two pairs of interested eyes homed in one her from the dining table. She'd forgotten about her sister and cousin. "Uh…" Quick, she had to make something up! "Uncle Snow was teaching me how to make this thingy that you use to stop a door closing, and then he let me sandpaper it. It was shaped like a duck and stuff." It wasn't a lie – he had done that – and Averia and Claire went back to discussing the movie.

Snow grinned and Diana grinned back.

"Good work." Snow bent down and gave Diana what had to be one of the most unusual looking fist bumps ever. "If you want, you could always come back and help me again."

"I will." Diana nodded quickly. "Maybe next time we could make a robot or something."

Snow chuckled. "You can't make a robot out of wood, Diana."

"We could try."

"Yes, I guess we could."

Naturally, the next time Diana showed up it was with Vanille. The red head had a set of intricate blueprints with her. Apparently, it was possible to build a robot almost entirely out of wood.


Hope and Averia

"You know, glaring wastes valuable energy."

Despite the fact that her Uncle Hope was right, Averia continued to glare. Of course, she didn't really have any right to glare. She was the one who'd asked to go with him on his Saturday morning run. Normally, she'd have gone jogging with her mom, but her mommy had just come back from a fortnight long expedition and that meant they would be staying in their bedroom until at least lunchtime.

However, it was a little aggravating to see how much farther she had to go. They'd been running for a while now, but her Uncle Hope looked like he could go for hours more. She was already struggling, her stride getting choppy as she fought to catch her breath.

"All right." Hope nodded at a nearby park bench. "We'll take a break over there."

"No," she gasped. "I can keep going."

"Why do I have a feeling you'd be saying that even if both your legs fell off?" Hope sat down on the bench and patted the spot beside him. "Come on, sit down. Your parents are not going to be happy if I bring you back half dead."

Averia slumped onto the bench. She managed to look calm and composed for all of three seconds before she gave in and hunched over, dragging in deep, noisy breaths. "I still have a long way to go, don't I?"

"Are you kidding? You're doing great for a kid." Hope chuckled at the offended look she gave him. "And you are a kid, Averia, even if sometimes you act more grown up than your Aunt Vanille and your mommy." He handed her a bottle of water. "You're doing well, but you're still growing. It's not good to push yourself too hard when you're still so young. Trust me." He leaned back. "I remember when I was your age, I wasn't even thinking about the future, never mind the Guardian Corps."

"What were you doing then?" Her Uncle Hope was one of the most responsible people she knew. "This was before your journey, right?"

"Yes. Back then… let me think. I was doing kids' stuff. Cartoons. Toys. School." Hope's lips twitched. "I was happy living day-by-day. It was nice. But I do remember feeling like I was definitely going to die a few times when I got older."

"Was that during your journey?"

Hope shook his head and laughed. "Oh, the journey was tough, but I'm talking about something scarier. I meant when your mom was training me for the Guardian Corps. Compared to that, the journey was the easy part."

"She trained you?" Averia scowled. She should have known that already. Hope was practically a little brother to her mom even if they weren't related by blood. "When did you know that you wanted to join the Guardian Corps?"

"I learned a lot on my journey," Hope said. "Especially from your mom. I was… I was really, really angry for a while. But when I didn't have anyone else to turn to, your mom looked after me. And when I was going to do something stupid, she knocked some sense into my head." The idea of hating Snow was completely foreign to him now, but back then it hadn't been. He'd blamed Snow for a lot of things that weren't his fault, but at least he'd gotten over it. Snow was a good man, and Hope was proud to call him his friend. "After Cocoon fell, things were tough. A lot of people needed help adjusting to life here. That's when I realised I could do something to help. I'd survived out here, and I still had my l'Cie powers. I wanted to make a difference, and the Guardian Corps was one way of doing that."

"But you still had to take the exams and everything, right?"

"Of course. It's one thing to have powers, but it's another thing to know how to use them well. I knew how to fight, but not properly. And the Guardian Corps does a lot of things besides fighting. We help do scouting, research, and even construction when we need to."

"So my mom trained you?

"Oh, yeah. She ran me ragged for months, and when she wasn't beating me up she was forcing me to study." Hope chuckled. "I don't think I've ever gotten so fit so fast or learned so much so quickly – your mom can be very convincing with her gun blade."

"I know." Averia giggled. "You should see my mommy run whenever my mom starts waving it around."

Hope smiled. That sure brought back some fond memories from their journey. "By the way, don't your normally run with your mom on Saturdays?"

"Yes, but my mommy came back from an expedition yesterday. They're sleeping in."

Hope had a feeling that they were doing the complete opposite of sleeping. But Averia didn't need to know that. "Oh. Well, I don't mind having you around." He smirked and took a page out of Vanille's book. "You are my favourite oldest niece, you know."

Averia rolled her eyes and then smiled anyway. "I am your only oldest niece."

"Even so, I don't mind the company, and your Aunt Vanille sleeps like a log on the weekend. She might as well be a rock."

Averia giggled and then sighed. "Um, Uncle Hope, about before. I'm sorry." She made a face. "I mean when we went to Aunt Vanille's apartment. You were in her bedroom, and then mommy asked me to get her a wrench to kill you with since mom said she couldn't spear your or anything…"

Hope shrugged. "It's okay. Your mommy was going to find out sooner or later." He smirked. "Actually, I was lucky you were there. She couldn't murder your favourite uncle in front of you."

Averia grinned. "Is that why you didn't want me and Diana to leave?"

"Pretty much. If that didn't work, I was going to use your Aunt Vanille as a human shield and jump out the window."


"It's better than facing your mommy when she's mad." Hope stood up. "Feeling better?"

Averia nodded.

"Okay, let's jog back now. Remember, this isn't a sprint, Averia. You don't have to go so fast. What's important is pacing yourself. When you're running long distances, you need to find a rhythm. Everyone's is different, but if you can find yours, you won't get as tired. One, two. One, two. Find that rhythm and then run to it. And remember to watch your stride. You want to have a nice, smooth stride. Don't step down too heavily – you're not trying to stomp something to death. Take it nice and easy."

Averia nodded and bounced on the balls of her feet. "All right. Let's go."

They made good time back to Averia's house, and Hope knocked on the door. There was a bit of scrambling before a young voice answered through the door without opening it.

"Who is it? If you're a stranger, go away. I'm not supposed to talk to strangers."

"We're not strangers." Averia scowled at the door. "It's me and Uncle Hope. We went jogging, so open the door."

There was a rustle from a nearby window as a familiar head of dark hair appeared. Diana took a good, long look at them and then tromped back to open the door.

"Good morning." Hope waved at Diana. "Are your parents up yet?"

"No." A hopeful gleam filled Diana's eyes. "I'm watching Gary. Do you want to watch it with me?"

"Uh…" Hope loved Diana, but the thought of spending the next few hours watching a bright orange gorgonopsid traipse around on television was horrifying.

"How about you, Averia?" Diana tugged on her sister's hand. "We can watch together!"

Averia and Hope shared a look. "Do you want to go jogging for a little bit longer?" Averia whispered.

"We can jog back to the park, and then I can show you some of the other exercises we do in training." Hope did his best to ignore the adorably cute smile on Diana's face. "Maybe we can get breakfast on the way back too."

"Okay." Averia raised her voice. "Uh, Diana, we were just stopping by to see if you were okay. We still need to do a bit more exercise."

"Oh." Diana shrugged. "More Gary for me then." The first strains of the Gary theme song came from the living room as a new episode started. "Cool, a new episode!"

Averia watched her sister leap onto the living room couch and went back out the door with Hope.

"She loves that show way too much."

"I know." Averia shuddered. "Last week, she made me watch it with her. It goes on for hours."

They broke into a light jog and headed toward the park. They may also have been jogging a bit more quickly than usual too. Gary was the sort of thing people needed to run away from while they still could.

"By the way, Uncle Hope." Averia let a hint of a smirk play across her lips. "When are you going to propose to Aunt Vanille?"

It was more luck than skill that kept Hope from tripping and going head first into a garbage can when he stumbled over his own feet. "Who told you I was thinking about doing that?" He looked back and forth, half expecting Fang to leap out from behind some bushes to spear him. "And have you told anyone else?"

"It is kind of obvious." Averia frowned. "You are going to ask her, right?"

Hope made a face. It was like being interrogated by a mini Lightning. "Well, yeah." Hope had stopped running. "I'm waiting for the right time. I don't suppose your mommy has said anything about she'll do to me if I ask, has she?"

"I don't think she'll spear you. Much. I can go with you if you want."

Hope chuckled. "No, I'll manage." He smiled. "But if you see me running away from your mommy, can you do me a favour?"


"Grab onto her legs. It'll give me time to escape."

Averia giggled. "I will."


Sazh and Claire

"You know what the nice thing about chocobos is?" Sazh asked.

"What?" Claire reached into the bucket of grain she had and tossed some into the chocobo stall in front of her. They were almost halfway through this set of stables, and the chocobos had already learned to hustle over to the front of the stall when she got close. A curious look or two could lead to an extra few handfuls of grain for the day.

"They never to lie. If a chocobo doesn't like you, it lets you know. It might poke you or peck you, but it always does something. If it likes you, then it'll do something different. Either way, you always know where you stand with a chocobo. People are a bit trickier."


Sazh looked back at Chirpy who had been following them around the ranch. "Okay, maybe some chocobos are tricky too. Like you."

"Kweh. Kweh." Chirpy rolled his eyes. "Kweh."

"Yeah, yeah, you can say you're innocent all you like. I know who put all those pranks into Dajh's head when he was a kid, and it wasn't Vanille." Sazh patted Chirpy on the head and then leaned over to pour some seed into the stall of a large brown chocobo. "Ah, nothing like a bit of work to wake you up." He glanced at Claire. "And speaking of work, why are you here? Not that I mind."

"I need to do a project for school, and I thought I'd do it on chocobos." Claire giggled as a large reddish chocobo leaned over its stall and tried to stick its head into her bucket of grain. Chirpy gave the chocobo a glare, and the two exchanged squawks before it backed off. "I couldn't think of anyone who knew more about chocobos than you, and I wanted to write about the ranch as well."

"A project, huh? I remember when Dajh had to do those for school. It's been a while. So, what do you want to know about chcoobos?"

"You know. Stuff." Claire shrugged and moved over to the next stall. They were almost done now. "Maybe… what are chocobos like? Most people don't know much about them at all."

"They're a lot like people, actually." Sazh chuckled. "Some of them are nice and some of them are nasty. Get twenty chocobos together, and you'll get twenty different personalities. On the upside, chocobos are usually easier to read than people."

Chirpy nodded. "Kweh."

"Yeah, yeah, you're a paragon of virtue." Sazh grinned. "Your average chocobo is easy going. If you treat them right and come with something nice to eat, they'll usually be happy to have you around."

"Mommy told me that not all breeds of chocobo are nice."

"She's right." Sazh led them out toward some of the pens. "Most golden or yellow chocobos are friendly. That's why we have so many of them – they're great for beginners and children. Brown chocobos are usually pretty nice too. They won't go out of their way to make friends with you or anything, but they won't try and peck you to death either."

"Mommy said Hope almost got pecked to death by a chocobo once."

Sazh chuckled. "I remember that. It was pretty funny." Claire stared. "And we should never laugh about it."

Claire giggled. "But Aunt Vanille laughs about it all the time."

"She does, does she? Reddish chocobos can be quite short-tempered. The one you met back in the stables was one of the nice ones. Some of the others, well, they'll have you running for your life in a few seconds. We only let more experienced riders onto them, and if you ever see one in the wild be careful."


"Yes, they can be jerks sometimes." Sazh nodded at one of the nearby pens. "Then you've got your silver chocobos and your black chocobos. Most black chocobos are even tempered. It takes a lot to stir them up, but if you do… start running. As for the silver ones, they're pretty aloof. They don't like hanging around with others too much."

"Wow. You can tell a lot about a chocobo from its colour."

"Sort of." Sazh nodded. "Different breeds of chocobo tend to have different temperaments, but a lot of it – maybe most of it – comes down to how you raise them. It all starts from when they hatch. If you want a chocobo to like people, then you need to raise it with people right from the start. You need to be kind to it too." He pointed at Chirpy. "Chirpy here has been hanging out with people since he hatched. Sure, a lot of those people were strange, but they were nice to him. That's why he's such a nice guy."


"And smart too."


"The point is, if you want a chocobo to be good, then you have to raise it right." Chirpy gave Sazh a wry look, and he laughed. "Yes, Chirpy, I'm sure you would have turned out perfectly on your own."

"Aunt Lightning said something like that about people. She said that people don't really get born bad or anything. They become that way."

"She's probably right, and not just about people. Chocobos are like that two." Sazh sobered. "If you're going to write about chocobos, then there's something you need to know. I think that you're old enough to hear about it too. But if you start getting scared or worried, say something, all right?"

"Uncle Sazh?"

"You know how the ranch brings in chocobos?" Claire nodded. "Not all of them are wild. Quite a lot of the ones we bring in used to belong to people. And a lot of them weren't treated right."

"What do you mean?"

"You're a good kid, Claire. Tell me, if you had a chocobo, would you ever treat it badly? And I don't mean getting annoyed at it sometimes. I mean would you ever hit it or starve it or something like that?"

"No!" Claire shook her head. "I'd never treat a chocobo like that!" She glared. "How could you even ask me something like that?" She wrapped her arms around one of Chirpy's legs. "Chirpy is one of my best friends, I'd treat every chocobo like I treat him!"

"Easy there." Sazh patted Claire on the shoulder. "I know you'd never do something bad to a chocobo. But the thing is, there are people who would." He and Chirpy shared a glance. The chocobo nodded. "Let's go this way."

Sazh led them to the other side of the ranch. Claire had never been to this part of the ranch before – usually she went where Chirpy was. The pens here were smaller with fewer chocobos in each one. A few of the ranch people seemed surprised to see her there, but then they went back to talking to the chocobos in soft, gentle voices.

"What is this place?" Claire moved closer to her Uncle Sazh. The chocobos here all looked scared, and some of them even looked hurt. One was missing a wing and another one had a big scar on its side. "What happened to them?"

"See that one?" Sazh pointed at one of the other chocobos. "His owner couldn't be bothered paying for a properly fitted saddle. That's how he got those scars. And see that chocobo over there? He used to belong to this farmer, but when he broke his leg, the farmer left him out in the field to die." Sazh's fists clenched. "He said it was too expensive to pay for a vet. That chocobo was out there for two days before one of my employees managed to get him back here for treatment."

"That's awful." Claire sniffled.

"It is, and I'm sorry if it makes you sad. But I know you would have found out about it sooner or later. I want you to understand that sometimes people aren't very nice to chocobos." He smiled softly. "But most of the time these chocobos do get happy endings."

"What do you mean?"

"Whenever we find a chocobo that's been hurt or treated badly, we bring them here and fix them up." Sazh opened one of the pens and led Claire over to one of the chocobos. "We give them a place to stay and get better. But more importantly, we treat them the way they should have been treated. It's tough sometimes, but some of these chocobos are the gentlest and friendliest you'll ever meet."

"That's really nice."

"We try our hardest." Sazh waved the chocobo over. It was a big, imposing looking brown chocobo, but it gave a gentle murmur as it limped over. "This guy is really friendly – he got hurt because his owner wanted him to fight another chocobo and he wouldn't."

"Oh." Claire reached up and let the chocobo sniff at her hand. It made a happy sound and, after a quick look at Chirpy, it bent down to nuzzle her arm. "He is friendly."

"Yep." Sazh nodded. "Once he's all healed up and ready for it, I'm thinking of letting him handle some of the tourists. I have a feeling he'll like being around people, and he's strong enough to pull a wagon full of kids."

Claire smiled. The chocobo had started to sniff at her pockets. It could probably still smell the grain she'd been carrying. "Are there a lot of chocobos like him?"

"More than there should be." Sazh glanced at the pens around them. "That's why I have people here who are specially trained to try and fix them up again." He patted the chocobo on the back and then led them out of the pen. "Everyone at the ranch loves chocobos, and we all want to see them happy. The thing is, Claire, people don't always want to hear about the bad stuff."

"Because it makes them sad."

"Yeah." Sazh nodded. "But sometimes you need to know about the bad stuff."

"So you can make it stop." Claire looked around. "My daddy said something like that once. Sometimes you have to face up to the bad stuff even if it's scary."

"That's right." Sazh nodded. "Do you want to go back to the other part of the ranch now?"

"No." Claire shook her head. "Can you tell me about some of the other chocobos in this part… I… is there anything I can do to help them?"

"I guess I could tell you a few things." Sazh smiled. "I'm proud of you, you know. A lot of kids wouldn't want to stay here any longer than they had to."

"I'm not like most kids." Claire grinned. "And Chirpy is one of my best friends. If something happened to Chirpy, I'd want someone to look after him."

"All right. If you want to help, here's what you can do…"

Over the next few hours, Claire learned a lot about chocobos. She already knew most of the good stuff – like how fast a chocobo could run and how much it could carry. Now, she learned about some of the bad stuff too. She was pretty sure her Uncle Sazh wasn't telling her everything about how some of the chocobos ended up at the ranch, but he was telling her enough. A lot of people weren't nice to chocobos and that didn't seem right to her at all.

But he did more than tell her sad stories. He told her all about the different ways the ranch helped chocobos. He taught how to approach an unfamiliar chocobo and win its trust even if it was scared. It was tricky, but it was something they needed to do a lot since some of these chocobos had been hurt so much they didn't know if they could trust people anymore. He also taught her all about first aid for chocobos. She also learned a lot about how to help a chocobo if it got more seriously hurt.

By the end of the afternoon, she was helping her Uncle Sazh and Chirpy as they went from pen to pen and helped some of the newer chocobos get adjusted. It was scary at first, and some of the chocobos looked so frightened, but it felt really nice to see them open up and get friendly again.

"They like kids, I think." Sazh smiled as Claire offered one of the chocobos a bucket of grain. She was moving slowly, exactly like he'd taught her, so that she didn't startle the animal. "It's usually adults that hurt them. Most kids like chocobos too much to be mean to them."

Claire let her fingers run through the chocobo's feathers. It gave a low trill and nuzzled back against her hand. "I hope they get better."

"Most of them do." Sazh grinned. "And while a lot of them stay here, quite a few do end up with new owners – owners who'll treat them right."

"I wish we had a chocobo." Claire grinned. "I'd definitely treat it right." She sighed. "But chocobos like big places where they can run, and our backyard isn't that big."

"Well, you're always welcome to come here." Sazh offered her another bucket of grain for the next chocobo. Even these skittish chocobos had taken to her quickly. She was a natural. "You'd have to be supervise the whole time, but I could talk to my staff."

"You mean it?"

"Sure. I'm always glad to help another person who likes chocobos." Sazh looked up at the sky. The sun was starting to set. "I'd better get you back home before your parents start to worry."

"Can we stay a little bit longer?" Claire begged. "I haven't finished feeding all of these chocobos yet, and it took ages before they felt ready to come over here and take the grain from the bucket."

"I guess we can."

"The world can be a pretty bad place sometimes, can't it?" Claire whispered.

Sazh opened his mouth to reply, but Claire pushed on.

"But it can be a really good place too." Claire smiled. "There are lots of good people in it doing lots of good things. People like you and my parents and everybody."

"You think pretty highly of me, kid." Sazh patted Claire on the shoulder. "But I'm not a hero like your dad or your Aunt Lightning. I'm retired. All I do is fly freight around and hang out with chocobos."

"Well, you're a hero to me and these chocobos." Claire giggled as Sazh gaped at her in surprise. "Okay, I think I'm done now."

As Claire walked out of the pen, Sazh shook his head and smiled. Kids these days. It was nice to know the world was in good hands.


Author's Notes

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

Once again, we've got the girls hanging out with their relatives. Last time it was their aunts, and now it's their uncles. The groupings in this chapter aren't a coincidence. Snow is probably Diana's favourite uncle (it helps that she thinks of Sazh as her grandpa), Hope is Averia's favourite uncle, and Sazh is Claire's favourite uncle.

I've always found Snow interesting as a character. In many ways, he is an old-fashioned man, and Cocoon had no need for old-fashioned men. The fal'Cie gave them everything (although it was all a lie). On Gran Pulse, he can put his skills to work, and courage and tenacity are much more important than on Cocoon. In my head, he is the kind of man who'd like working with his hands. Diana, of course, likes fiddling with things and that's part of what makes them get along so well. Plus, Snow is quite easy going and that meshes perfectly with Diana's personality.

In Hope and Averia, we have two of the saner characters (at least when Vanille and Diana aren't around). Averia wants to grow up right away, but Hope is smart enough to know that growing up often sounds better than it is. A child should have a chance to be a child, and the last thing he wants is for Averia to grow up too quickly. But he does all of this without talking down to her or making her feel stupid. That's one of the reasons she likes him so much – he's sensible, and he treats her like the intelligent child that she is.

I didn't plan on having the Sazh and Claire section take such a dark turn. I had originally intended to have her do a few chores around the ranch and so forth. But the bit about Sazh's ranching rescuing mistreated chocobos kind of developed on its own, and I decided to go with it. You might think that what Sazh did was cruel, but he had his reasons. Claire is a smart girl – if she digs for information about chocobos, she's going to come across the fact that a lot of them are mistreated (if the people of Cocoon are anything like us, there are going to be people who treat animals very badly for no good reason at all).

Rather than letting her stumble across that on her own, he decided to do it himself. This way, she can learn the facts but in a safe environment. He also thinks that she's ready to learn about this darker side of life. Claire is at that age where children start questioning the world around them. Rather than dressing it up and lying, Sazh decided to tell the truth, but in a controlled way. He was also banking on her optimism and positive attitude, which does come through in the end.

Where I am, it's Father's Day this Sunday, so you can consider this chapter as being related to that.

Also, I now have two stories up on Amazon, and you can find links to them in my profile. If you're interested in fantasy, you might want to look at "The Last Huntress." If you're interested in a paranormal Western, you might want to give "The Gunslinger and the Necromancer" a try. You won't be disappointed.

Finally, I now have a preview for my next original short story up. It's called "The Lord of Dark Waters" and it's the follow up to "The Last Huntress." If you like fantasy with a good dose of action, you'll probably enjoy it. You can find a link to the preview in my profile, but here is the blurb:

Scarlett is the last of her line – a huntress sworn to kill all monsters

Rose is a girl searching for the power to take back her homeland.

In the frozen wastes of the north, Scarlett confronted the dark truth of her origins. Now, she journeys south with Rose, desperate to leave the horror of the north behind. But the past is never far away, especially when they are drawn to the Swamp of Darkwater to hunt down a rogue vampire.

There, amidst the cursed, whisperings waters filled with muck and memories, Scarlett and Rose will have not choice but to face an evil far greater than they imagined. For the swamp is an old place, filled with old evils. It is a place where the churning waters hide the ruins of a cruel legacy centuries in the making.

The Lord of Dark Waters has awakened, and they are the only ones who can stop him. If they fail, then all of the south may fall, drowned beneath the dark, hungry tide of an ancient evil.

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