Being a l'cie, there's never really any time to spare. There's never any time to goof off, or explore, or, say, wander off, leave the group, things like that… Who would do that? Right?

"This was a bad idea. This was such a bad idea." Hope didn't look at Vanille; he was too busy analyzing the pack of Rakshasa surrounding them. Taking them on as a group was easy, but just the two of them, that was trouble.

"Oh, I said I was sorry!" she moaned.

Theoretically, they should have gone missing for about 20 minutes, just long enough to see the old hunting grounds- well, ancient hunting grounds now. Vanille had been a l'cie long enough to understand she mustn't mess up the group's schedule, and she knew these plains better than all of them - save Fang, of course. This shouldn't have gone wrong, but somehow it did.

"Uhm, how about summoning Alexander? That'd make things easier for us," he proposed.

"No, that might attract the attention of something bigger."

"And I don't know if we can outrun them…" Hope bowed his head in discouragement. "So… we take them on?"

Vanille nodded. "Looks like it."

They both readied their weapons. The familiar clack of Hope's boomerang tensed the air, running like an electrical shock through the pack of daemons, ready to fight.

Electricity it is, he thought, summoning great sparks, stunning the enemies. A rakshasa's only weakness was lightning.

Alright, we can beat them on our own!

"Hope, be careful!" Vanille was having a hard time keeping the enemies off his back, and he soon noticed he was not doing as well as he'd though. His magic was dealing heavy damage, but there were too many of them.

He backed up, closer to Vanille. "All right, here's the plan," he said to her, "We tear a path through them…" He hesitated.

"Easier said than done," she replied.

"I know. We tear a path through them, you slow them down and then-"

"Oh."

"Yeah. Is that good?"

"Good."

She dodged an attack. Daemons didn't exactly give you time to formulate a plan. They had to keep moving while talking, and even so, some scrapes were inevitable.

They did their best to follow the new plan. They moved fast and focused on unleashing their spells. It was difficult. Injuries were piling up. As it started to rain, the ground became slippery and muddy.

"Ugh!" Hope yelled.

The daemon's weapon cut through his flesh. It was a large shuriken, which was used in about the same way as Hope's boomerang.

"Damn it!" Gritting his teeth in rage, Hope unleashed another lightning bolt. The creature only had time to catch its weapon before it dropped dead.

"Vanille! Now!"

"Right!"

One last spell changed the entire group's pace, and the two l'cie ran away, only looking back once to see their attackers clumsily failing to follow.

#

Huff, huff, huff…

Once they arrived at a relatively small cave, they both collapsed.

"So…" Hope said between sighs, "What now?"

"We wait for the rain to stop," Vanille replied.

They listened to the sound of the rain. It was actually more of a storm. The sky was grey and gloomy, and the raindrops were so many. They didn't think they'd make it back very soon.

"That might take a while…" Hope leaned against one of the cave's walls.

Vanille stood up. "Yeah, so we might as well take care of these wounds in the meantime."

Hope groaned in protest, eyes shut, like a child not wanting to get out of bed.

"Don't be a big baby!" she scolded him playfully.

Supposedly, not hurting or bleeding all over would make him feel better, so the boy opened his eyes and, from a distant corner of his mind, brought out the cozy green light he needed to heal his wounds. They'd wasted a lot of energy fighting, and they were exhausted, so the healing process would take more than usual.

Hope looked at Vanille, a rather messy sight. She was drenched, covered in more or less superficial cuts with tiny streams of blood flowing and dripping out of them. Her clothes were muddy, and her skin was covered in dirt. The nicest way to describe her was to say she looked a lot worse than her usual self. Even the look on her face was worried, unlike the usual Vanille, and he wondered if she allowed herself to make that face because she did not see him looking. Or, perhaps she hadn't realized she seemed so out of it. She had a right to be, of course. It was troubling that they slowed the others down, and Lightning's lecture was bound to make them regret it. Heck, Fang might want to chip in a word or two herself.

"Did you and Fang ever end up looking so bad after a hunt?" Maybe he'd be able to cheer her up a little.

She smiled. "Neither of us looked as pitiful as you do right now."

"Hey!" he protested, "Check yourself before you say that! You people ought to have some mirrors on Pulse!"

"Yup. We thought it would be a great idea to stash them in old caves nobody ever walks into!"

"Ah!" Hope felt that argument slip right through his fingers. One point for the red-haired lady in Pulse clothing. "Heh, very funny." He sighed.

Once they were done with this, they sat down next to each other, watching the rain fall. Hope's thoughts wandered off, and his gaze failed to follow, focusing on something far, far away. His mind went through different ideas of what they would have to do to lose those brands, one hypothesis at a time, along with unproductive thoughts that his brain opted to recycle against his will again and again. He wanted to think of something else, of course, but how could he, when they had so little time left. What if he actually managed to figure something out?

His thought process snapped him back to reality when he felt Vanille rest her head on his shoulder. He felt his heart rate go up and he immediately blushed. He started to panic. Vanille was leaning against him. What if he was too stiff or uncomfortable? Or if he moved too much? Why did she do it in the first place?

He tried his best to relax. He spoke, but he failed to make his voice sound normal. "So, do you usually do this, on Pulse?"

Vanille backed up, embarrassed, realizing her behavior was not normal to him. "Oh, sorry…" she focused her eyes on a fixed point outside of the cave. "Yeah, we do."

There was a long pause before Hope spoke again.

"You must miss them…"

"I do." Vanille's reply was so honest and painful, it saddened him a little. And her frown only deepened when she went on.

"You know, Hope, I thought we were alike somehow…" His eyes widened in surprise. "When Fang and I woke up… When we realized where we were and what year it was… We realized we'd lost everyone. Every person we'd known was surely dead. That's why, when you lost your mother… I thought maybe I understood how you felt, even a little bit, since, I lost my mom too… and my dad, and… everyone." Her eyes were watery and her voice shook. The only emotion greater than Hope's shock was his fear of seeing Vanille cry.

"You helped me." He tried to speak –to say anything he felt would help. "I've never thanked you properly. If it weren't for you, I…" He froze, wanting to finish the sentence, but not knowing what else to say. He just listened to the rain, wondering, hoping that what he was about to do would make her feel better and not worse.

Drip, drip, drip.

Slowly, he let his head rest on her shoulder. He felt her twitch in surprise, and she tilted her head, so that soon they were both resting against each other. Drip, drop, drip. He heard her cry a little, felt her shoulders shake against his own, and, since he couldn't think of something helpful to say, he could only hope his presence was not unwanted or bothersome to her.

"I…I'm sorry…" she said.

"It's all right… It's all right."