Hope prodded at the campfire as the sun began to set. He and the others had been on the surface of Pulse for three days. They had erected a workable base camp in that time, but so far, none of their searching had led to anything useful. All Hope had gained were sore feet and an increased appreciation for Fang and Vanille’s knowledge of the locals.
As the pair of Pulse natives crossed his mind, he heard Vanille call out from behind. “We’re back.”
Lighting, seated next to Hope, put her blade-cleaning rag away. “Did you find anything?”
Fang stepped up to the fire and sat on a log. “Nothing that’ll help us with our Focus.” She turned to Sazh. “Well, it’s your turn to scout. Try not to scream too loud when you cry for help. It’ll just attract more attention.”
Vanille sat beside Fang and slapped her on the arm. “Fang, there’s no need for that here.”
Sazh stood and stretched his legs. “It’s all right, Vanille. I’m not going very far, so I should be fine. If anything does happen, I’ll just send the chocobo back for you guys.”
“Sounds good.” Snow waved as Sazh wandered off. “We’ll see you later.” The group watched Sazh leave the camp and then turned their attention back to the fire.
Fang grinned. “Well, with him gone, I figure there’ll be more for us to share.”
Hope prodded at the burning logs with a stick. “More of what?”
“More of this.” She pulled a pair of tall, brown glass bottles from a satchel. “Vanille and I stumbled across an old shipping crate full of bottles like this. We call it Ifrit Liquor.”
Snow raised an eyebrow. “Wait, you brought booze to the camp?”
Vanille shrugged. “Well, we’ve been through so much, we thought loosening up a little couldn’t hurt.”
Lightning gave the bottle Fang held a wary look. “Just how strong is it, though?”
Fang gripped the bottle’s cork tugged it out. “Well, normally, this has some serious kick to it, but this particular batch was left sitting around a lot longer than normal, as you might have guessed. So there’s no real telling—” She sniffed the bottle and her head jolted back. “Oh, yeah. It’s strong. Whew.”
Hope thought Lightning looked annoyed; Fang hadn’t really answered her question. They both watched her take a swig from the bottle, and a second, and a third. The three Cocoon natives stared at her in silence.
Snow leaned forward. “So…is it safe? Does it taste like lighter fluid? Are you dying?”
Fang lowered the bottle. “Yes. I couldn’t tell you, I’ve never tasted lighter fluid. Eventually.” She leaned back and closed her eyes. “Oh, damn, this works fast.” Fang offered the bottle to Vanille. “Here. Have a drink.”
“Wait.” Hope gestured for Fang to stop. “Is she old enough?”
“Of course I am, silly.” Vanille smirked. “I’m a lot older than I look.”
“And even then, Oerba doesn’t have a drinking age.” Fang gestured to the unopened bottle. “You can have some too, if you want.”
Hope shook his head. “N-no thanks. I don’t think I should. I mean, someone has to stay alert for Sazh, right?” He hoped that excuse didn’t make it sound like he was wimping out.
“Your loss.” Fang handed the bottle to Vanille, who took a few gulps before passing it back, eyes wide as she coughed. “Wow, you weren’t kidding. That’s a lot stronger than the usual kind.”
“Told ya.” Fang took another swig, and then glanced at Snow and Lightning. “Either of you two feel game?”
Lightning shook her head. It made Hope less nervous to know that there would be at least one other sober person with him. Snow, on the other hand, agreed with enthusiasm. “Sure, why not?” He took the bottle from Fang and gave it a cursory whiff of the liquor. Hope noticed his eyes water. “Whoa. Well, time to see how well a Cocoon stomach holds up to a Pulse drink. Bottoms up!”
The group stared in startled awe as Snow raised the bottle and chugged half of its contents down. “What the—Snow, you idiot.” Lightning slapped him on the arm. “You’ll kill yourself.”
Snow lowered the bottle and shook his head. “W-wow. That’s strong stuff. Good, though.”
Fang took the bottle back. “Bravery and stupidity do make a good pair.” She took another swig and passed the bottle to Vanille. She took another drink and passed it back to Snow. Hope and Lightning watched in relative silence as the trio continued to pass the bottle between themselves and grew progressively drunk.
“Serah’sh got some strange tashte in men.” Fang’s tanned face grew rosy with laughter.
“Hey.” Snow pointed at Fang and wobbled a bit. “Sherah’sh tashte in men ish—” He hiccupped. “Jusht fine. Better’n yours, I bet.”
“What? Ya think I like men?” Fang laughed. “C’mon, you can’t be that denshe.”
Vanille finished taking a drink and giggled. “Fang’sh…she’sh with me.”
“What?” Hope watched as Vanille leaned against Fang. “You mean you and her are—?”
“O’coursh we are.” Fang grinned. Her body swayed as she leaned forward and Vanille almost didn’t lean with her. “Me and her are real closh.”
“Real closh.” Vanille giggled again. She leaned up and pecked Fang on the cheek. “Heeey, Faaang, i’s been forever shinsh we had fun.”
“Wait.” Hope raised a hand. “What kind of fun are you talking about?”
Lightning palmed her face. “Think about it, Hope.”
“What?” As realization dawned, he blushed. “Oh. Right.”
Fang staggered to her feet. She waved the bottle in her hands, letting the remaining contents slosh around as Vanille clung to her. “We’re gonna go find ush a quiet placsh to fuck.” She grinned at Hope. “Yer welcome ta watch, kiddo. Ya might learn shomethin’.”
Hope froze. “I’m fine, thanks.” He paused as the two Pulse natives weaved their way toward a secluded part of the camp. “See you in the morning…I guess.”
“Hmm?” Snow stared at the bag Fang had left behind. “There’sh still a shecond bottle here.”
Lightning grimaced. “I think you’ve had enough, Snow.”
“Oh, really?” He grinned. “Ya know, you could learn some thingsh from Sherah.”
“Like when to say when?”
“Nah, I mean. How ta pleash a guy.” He leaned over and barely managed to hold his balance as he retrieved the second bottle. “She’sh great in bed, lemme tell ya.”
Lightning glared. “Snow, I don’t want to hear it.”
“Then maybe the kid will.” He opened the bottle and gestured at Hope. “I mean, we haven’t fucked, if that’sh what yer thinkin’.”
“Then, what have you been doing?” Hope glanced at Lighting and prayed she wouldn’t kill him for asking.
Snow took a drink. “She’d shuck me off…and I’d eat ‘er out.” His voice sounded drowsy. “Ya gotta give it if ya want it.”
Lightning groaned. “I said I don’t want to hear this.” She yanked the bottle from Snow’s hands. “And I told you that you’ve had enough.”
“I’m jusht shayin’ it like it ish.” Snow lied down and yawned. “Ya know, Sherah tashtes kinda like—”
Lightning sputtered with anger, drowning Snow’s words out. She looked at the bottle and took a deep breath. “Fuck it.”
“Wait, Lightning.” Hope felt his stomach drop out. “Don’t—”
She raised the bottle to her lips and chugged. After three audible gulps, Lightning coughed and looked as though she were about to vomit. “Disgusting.”
“O’coursh, yer shister said I tasted like—”
Hope watched in fascinated horror. It was rare that he was ever around adults when they drank strong liquor. But he had never seen anyone down so much so quickly. Lightning pounded down even more than Snow. The next few minutes passed as Snow continued regaling the others with tales of eating Serah out. Lightning continued to drown herself in booze in order to drown out the graphic details; she began to sway as the alcohol took its effect on her.
After what seemed like an eternity to Hope, Snow fell silent. He noticed that his eyes were shut. Then Snow began to snore.
“Great.” Hope sighed. “Now I’m the only sober one here. I really hope nothing attacks us.”
Lightning grunted. “Shut up.”
“Sorry.” Hope looked again at Lightning and realized she was still focused on Snow. “Wait, but he’s aslee—”
Snow snored again.
“I shaid shut up.”
Oh, great. “Lightning, he’s asleep.”
“He sharted it, talkin’ ‘bout Sherah like that.”
“But, they’re going out, right?”
“I don’t wanna hear it. Shnow doeshn’t know what girlsh want.”
Hope recalled the rather vivid highlights of Snow and Serah’s bedtime fun. “But they seemed to be pretty even.”
Okay. Gotta get her mind off of Serah. “Well, haven’t you ever done it with anyone?”
Lightning gazed at Hope as though she were having trouble understanding what he said. “Done it? What’sh it?”
“You know. Sex.”
“What, did ya think I wash a virgin?” Lightning wavered as she glared at Hope.
“No. I mean, it didn’t really cross my mind until now.” Sazh, where are you?
“Shure I’ve done it.” Lightning giggled in a way that Hope never thought he’d hear from her when she was sober. She leaned forward and grinned. “Hey, ya ever play ‘pin the tail on the chocobo’?”
“Well, yeah. When I was seven.” Where is she going with this?
“In the vershion I played, I wash sha bird.”
Hope blinked. “Wait, what?”
“Yeah, my boyfriend, he’d plug it right in. Big yellow feathersh ticklin’ my butt.”
“How does that—”
“And the bootsh had shiny talonsh on ‘em.”
“Oh. I think I’m starting to get the picture now.”
“And the harnesh had thesesh wingsh that shtrapped ta my armsh.”
“Yes, it’s becoming very vivid. Oh my god.”
“The bit hurt my mouth after a while, though.” She hiccupped.
“And you thought Snow’s description was worth getting drunk over?”
Lightning glowered. “Shut up, kid.”
Hope scooted away from Lightning as she leaned toward him. He pictured her wearing all the parts of her costume; the boots, the winged harness, the bit and the tail. It was a picture he wished he could wipe from his mind. He poked his head. “Esuna.”
“Thanks.” Hope sighed and rubbed his forehead. The picture was still there. Taunting him. He could see her standing in a stable. Warking. It was worth a shot, anyway.
“Yer lookin’ a little pisshy there, Hope.” Lighting slid along the log. She nearly fell off it three times within the short distance she moved to press herself against him. “Ya need shomethin’ ta cheer ya up?”
Hope froze. He didn’t know how a drunken Lightning would respond to a sudden retreat. “Like what?”
Lightning grinned and waved the bottle in her hand. Its remaining contents sloshed against the glass. She laughed.
“No. I’m not gonna drink that.”
“Lightning, no.” She leaned further against him. He could smell the alcohol on her breath. “No, I don’t—”
Geez, what’s it gonna take to get her off me? Hope pushed back against Lightning to little effect. “No. Lightning, no. Stop it.”
Lightning shoved Hope. He fell to the ground and rolled on his back as she climbed on top of him. “Thish’ll looshen ya up nicesh an’ good.” She hiccupped again and lifted the bottle toward his mouth.
No. Oh no. Hope tried pushing Lightning away, but she was too drunk to cooperate. “No, Lightning. No.” Liquor splashed on his face as she pushed the bottle’s lip against his cheek, well off mark. “Lightning. No. Bad. Bad chocobo.”
Lightning pulled the bottle away. She gave Hope a plaintive look. “Aww.”
Oh god, it worked. Why did that have to work? “Now, would you get off, please?”
Lighting rolled off Hope and onto her back. “Wark.”
Hope sat up. Did she just—This is the worst night ever.
The alcohol appeared to have finally taken its toll on Lightning as she stretched out on the ground in front of the fire. Her snores were louder than Snow’s. Hope sighed, relieved. Finally. He pulled the bottle of liquor from her hand. “If this is what happens when people get drunk, I’m never—”
“Hey, kid. Everyone else already asleep?” Sazh stepped back into the camp and approached the fire. He glanced at the passed out Snow and Lightning. “Odd place for a nap. What happened?”
“This.” Hope raised the bottle. “Courtesy of our friends from Pulse.”
“Oh, I see. You haven’t been drinking at all, have you?”
“No, but everyone else has.” Please don’t ask for a drink. Please don’t ask for a drink. Please don’t ask for a drink.
“You mind if I try some of th—”
A rush of fear gripped Hope. He turned and flung the bottle. It landed with a dull thud behind a bush. Vanille’s voice chirped from behind it. “Ow.”
“Hey, there’sh shome more boozsh here.” Fang’s comment was met with drunken oohing from Vanille. “Thanksh.”
“Who’s to thank?” Hope rubbed his temples. “It’s your fault.”
Sazh turned his gaze between Hope, the bush hiding the Pulse natives, Snow, and Lightning. “Sounds like I really missed a party.”
Hope groaned. “You didn’t. Trust me.”
Lightning’s snores paused. “Kweeeeh…”
“No.” Hope gritted his teeth and jabbed a finger at Lightning. “Bad bird. Bad. Stay.”
The chocobo chick flew out of Sazh’s hair. It fluttered in front of his face and tweeted inquisitively.
“No, not you.” Sazh allowed the chick to perch on his hand. “Something tells me we’re better off not knowing.”