The café is more alive than she has ever seen it. Throngs of high school graduates fill the chairs and stand on sore heels to watch the band play. They sway to and fro with their summer stretched in front of them, the sea breeze wafting through Rikki's and filling the air with the scent of freedom. Rikki drinks and laughs and mingles with her fellow graduates, teasing Will who stares at his girlfriend onstage with an embarrassing mix of awe and concentration, the atmosphere electric as the sky grows inky black.
Pride swells in her chest as she eyes the happy customers, their smiling faces and loud chatter filling the café. She quashes the feeling, however, once she remembers that the café is no longer hers. Making her way towards her friends, she wonders if she is imagining a pair of eyes on her from behind the counter, and does not dare to look and confirm her suspicions.
"It's good to have you back, Lewis." Rikki grins as she takes a seat. "How long will you be attached to Cleo's tonsils?"
Lewis chuckles in response. Since his return from university abroad, his girlfriend had hardly left his side, much to Rikki's amusement. "Well, I'm off now until next semester," he says. "I'll probably stay for, hmmm, at least a few more hours."
Cleo giggles at his jibe. "I'd hope so," she laughs, leaning in to brush her lips with his once more.
"Cleo!" Rikki cries. "Can I talk to my friend, please?"
She disentangles herself reluctantly, grumbling under her breath. "He's my boyfriend," she says into her fruit smoothie.
Looking towards the crowd again, Rikki absentmindedly twirls her straw in her drink. Pairs of her now-former classmates dance to a slow number played by the band. She seems to search for him without realising, but for once he is not there, and she forces herself back to the conversation, chastising herself for her own naivety.
"Hey, you guys will never believe who I ran into in New York," Lewis says. He turns his phone towards the girls, who gather around it to peer into the screen. They recognise her almost immediately, standing with one arm looped around his shoulder, as they pose with matching grins at Times Square.
"No way!" Rikki sings.
"Emma!" Cleo says, turning to Lewis with a flash of indignation in her eyes. "You didn't tell me."
"I wonder why," Rikki mumbles. "The guy's hardly had a chance to breathe since he got back."
Cleo rolls her eyes, but otherwise chooses to ignore her friend's comment. "Has she any plans to come home over the summer?" she asks.
Lewis casts his eyes away unsubtly. "Uh, no, not that she mentioned," he says.
"I see you didn't learn how to lie any better in the States?" Rikki teases.
He still refuses to meet her gaze. "Pardon?"
"Lewis," Cleo warns. "You wouldn't lie to me, would you?"
"I'm not lying!" he insists, before conceding defeat with a sigh, returning his phone to his pocket. "Fine… she'll be home in a week. But you didn't hear it from me!"
Rikki grins and resists the urge to squeal in glee. "You're kidding!"
"For how long?" Cleo asks. Lewis mimes zipping his lips, but her smile only grows wider at the thought of seeing her friend, her sister, Emma again. "This is amazing!"
They pause to cheer the band. Bella gives a small bow on stage, the applause reaching a fever pitch before the music starts up again. "Yeah, she would not shut up about Mako when I saw her last," Lewis says. "I know she's dying to get back to the moon pool."
Rikki's heart drops. "That might be a problem."
"Why, what happened?" Lewis looks between the pair, searching for answers, and an unspoken conversation passes between them.
"It's a long, Zane-related story…" says Cleo with a grimace.
"Zane?" Lewis echoes. "He told me he was going out to Mako an hour ago."
Somehow, Rikki's heart sinks further into the floor. She is on her feet before she can even register the movement, a mix of anger and grief and disappointment fuelling her, feelings all too familiar when it comes to Zane Bennett. Barely aware of her friends' protests as she mumbles a response, she makes her way towards the café's exit as fast as her legs will carry her.
"Rikki—" Cleo protests, but she is gone long before anyone can stop her.
The first time that Rikki returns to Mako, she goes alone. Her home and her safe space is ruined. She is called to this place irrevocably, this place that gave her faith and magic and family and more than she ever thought could be possible. It had always been easier for Rikki to swallow the lump in her throat than to truly face her feelings, but the havoc wreaked in the moon pool, her home, is nothing short of devastating. Innumerable rocks and debris are scattered on the ground, and where her tail once stretched to meet only seawater are piles upon piles of rocks. The cave walls are demolished, and even the floor juts out at unnatural angles, deep fissures embedded in the stone. In short, it is in ruins.
Still, the second time she visits, the moon pool nonetheless holds its enchanting beauty. She surfaces and lets out a breath, leaning against the edge of the pool to hold her head in her hands. Pure white light filters through the vent, starlight illuminating the water, as well as a shadowy figure in front of her. He is cramped with his knees to his chest between two broken rocks, a toolbox by his side, scrawling messily on a notepad.
"I can't believe you, Zane." Rikki's tone is scathing, but he does not seem to be listening, his eyes remain on the paper. "After everything you've done to this place you'd really come back and—"
"Nice to see you, too," he mumbles.
She snatches the pad from his hands. "What's this?"
"What does it look like?" Zane retorts.
Rikki frowns. The page is filled with messy diagrams, bullet-pointed lists, doodles and inkblots and crossed-out sentences. It is messy, even for him. Zane's handwriting has always been impossible to decipher, but she squints and manages to make out a few words: clear debris — need wheelbarrows; repair fissures in ground?; waterfall?
"It looks like plans to fix this place," she realises aloud.
She plants her hands on the edge of the pool to lift herself out. Even with years to grow accustomed to her tail, the weight of it is staggering, and she frowns in concentration. At this Zane leans toward her and gently pulls her from the water. The intimacy of the act is enough for her to cast her eyes away as a flush creeps up her cheeks.
"You want to tell me what this is about?" she asks as she balances on the unsteady ground, closing a fist to steam her tail dry.
Zane lets out a heavy sigh and scans the caves. "I know I've hurt this place a lot," he says, "and I know nothing can make up for it, but at least this is a start."
His tone seems almost genuine as he rakes a hand through his hair, and she ponders this as he looks around, mentally noting the mess he left with that geologist and that… Rikki scoffs and shakes her head.
"So this is how it's gonna go?" Rising on two feet again, she places her hands on her hips, levelling her stern, unwavering gaze on him. "You mess up, fix it, I forgive you, and you never actually learn anything?"
"What?" he cries. "No, of course not. Mako is important to you, to all of you, and…" Zane stands to gaze at the rock wall, his face paling almost imperceptibly. A stream once trickled down the rubble, a waterfall with magical properties, but not anymore. "This is my fault."
Her brows draw together in suspicion. "What's in it for you?"
"Nothing!" assures Zane.
For the first time since their awkward exchange earlier in the night, Rikki truly lets herself look at him. He stands mere feet from her, the moonlight illuminating the sincerity plain on his face as he holds her stare, but the look in his eyes makes her want to run. Makes her want to stay. She does not know which would be more dangerous.
"If this is one of your games, I'm not playing," she says cooly.
He opens his mouth to protest, snapping it closed just as quickly, measuring his words for once. "Look, if you want me to leave, I will. This is your place after all." She raises a brow skeptically. "But I can't tell you how sorry I am for everything. I just want to fix it."
"You can't," Rikki growls, her icy eyes blazing with intensity. "We're over, Zane."
He further closes the gap between him, and she folds her arms cross her chest. "Rikki... I want to fix Mako," he says softly.
"Wait, so you're not trying to get me back?" Rikki confirms, taken back almost to the point of offense. There must be some ulterior motive...
Zane's sarcastic smile is infectious. "I know, I was surprised too. As if I could do something good without looking for anything in return!" he says.
"Well, what if I don't want you here?" Rikki argues, turning away from him to wander around what is left of the moon pool. She takes care not to trip up on the fallen stone and begins to wonder, against her better judgement, if it is possible to restore the magic here.
"Then I'll leave." He leans against the wall, crosses his arms. "But it'd be a real shame, after I decided to sell the café and everything."
"You're selling the café?" she snaps. "Why?"
He shrugs noncommittally. "Because I need the money to fix this. Besides, that place has too many bad memories attached to it. Good memories, more like," Zane adds, more to himself than to her.
"This is insane." She searches his face with a sideways glance. "Have you thought this through, at all?"
"Yeah. I made a diagram, see?" Zane reaches for where she discarded the notepad, turning a few pages before handing it back to her. The diagram is at least somewhat clear, arrows connecting the various tasks: sell café, kill Sophie, fix the moon pool, grovel to Rikki until we're 40.
Rikki smirks in spite of herself. "Kill Sophie?"
"She's been getting on my nerves anyway," he laughs.
She shakes her head for the umpteenth time and begins to pace once more. "You definitely are gonna be grovelling to me for the next twenty years," she says under her breath. "Particularly if you want to stay here all summer."
"Then let this be the first apology of many." The tension between them is palpable as he dangles the proposal in front of her. He wonders if she can hear how loud his heart beats in his chest when he meets her cool blue gaze. "So, what do you say?"
It takes a moment for her to concede, defeated, with a sigh. "Well I'm not letting you do this alone," she says. "I won't have you mining for moonstone behind my back."
He looks affronted, but nods. "I deserved that," says Zane.
"How long do you think this will take?"
"A couple months, at most." Zane looks upward toward the volcano's opening, and the black sky seems close enough to touch. "It'd go faster with more people working on it."
"Emma is coming home soon, Lewis is here, Cleo and the others…" There is a slight probability, the smallest chance, that this could work. This sliver of a possibility is big enough for Rikki to leap at the opportunity. No matter what, the moon pool is special, and she will do anything to restore the magic here.
He seems to have read her mind. "It's doable," he says.
When she turns to him once more, she has to resist the urge to stand on her toes to reach his height, holding her hips with a stern look. "But you're not selling the cafe," she orders.
"Don't 'Rikki' me," she says. "I'm not having you throw away all our hard work."
He pinches the bridge of his nose in frustration. "Then how are we gonna fix this place? We're flat broke. We can't even afford to run the café as it is, let alone any of this mess."
Her eyes stray to the walls of the cave. She makes a decision, a hasty one at that, but one that might just work. "We'll sell the crystals, like you were going to."
"If we mine anymore it'll be the end of Mako." His gaze fall to her neck. She plays with the moonstone, an offering. "No. You can't sell yours."
"I'll get Cleo on board, too," says Rikki, ignoring his comment. "Then you can keep the café open."
Rikki knows that she can argue him out of this as she stubbornly sets her jaw. "My name is still on that lease," she reminds him. "I have a say in the café, too. I say it stays open."
Zane appraises her, standing there a whole head shorter than him with her narrowed eyes and furrowed brows and stiff posture, and his heart tells him that she has won. "Alright. Let's make this clear: we keep the café, fix Mako, I grovel for a few decades… no strings attached, no secret ploys, not ulterior motives." He salutes theatrically. "Scout's honour."
And then she says the most wonderful five words.
"Fine. Now, where do we start?"
a/n: hello everyone! thank you for joining me on the zikki journey. i cannot tell you how excited i am to be finally be sharing this with you guys! this is my first h2o fic and i hope you all enjoy. these notes are gonna be all over the place but to summarise, season 3 made an ooc mess of zane (and various other plot points but…..….. i digress) and the only way for me to remedy that is to write this yoke. idk who that dude in season 3 of h2o was, but it sure as hell was not zane Bennett. zikki forever yall
real talk, i have no idea how earthquake damage repair works, as well as anything science-related, so im just gonna improvise on the front. honestly the damage didnt seem too bad, given the amount of fics ive seen that claim the moon pool never returned to normal, so i exacerbated some of it for storytelling purposes. i will be calling the moon rock/crystal stuff 'moonstone' for simplicity's sake also.
ooo fyi, this is not going to be will/bella endgame. sorry! i dont dislike them but i just want to take this thing in another direction. I know its a super popular ship but there are better, more realistic things to come. thats all ill say for now!
thank you thank you thank you for reading. i love writing this, i love reviews and i love you a whole bunch for even getting this far!