A/N: Y'know, this was originally supposed to be a two thousand word one-shotter. Now it's the first of three, approximately four thousand-word, chapters. See, it was asking for a little (but only a little, because Rikku's a little young and they've got a pilgrimage to concern themselves with) more in the way of romance, and I didn't think I could do that in anything shorter than that. ^_~ This chapter is more friendship fic than anything, but there will be hints of romance later on. I'll try to update weekly on this one – with the winter break coming up, it should be easy.
The Calm Lands.
He'd never been past them. He could remember his relief, as a younger man, when Father Zuke had chosen not to continue past them. Yuna, he knew, wouldn't change her mind.
Tonight, they were camped under a depression in the eastern cliff face, one that provided shelter from three of four sides. While the others slept, Wakka kept watch just inside the mouth.
He didn't mind that he'd gotten first shift, because it wasn't like he could sleep anyway. He had too many things to think about.
Okay, he'd be honest. To brood about.
Brooding was not something he did very often. It was pretty much a waste of time, ya? You pondered a matter from every angle possible, and in the end, you found yourself more depressed than when you had started. He had managed to grow up parentless and then outlive the brother he'd loved like breath with a minimum of brooding.
He ought to be able to survive having his faith broken without resorting to it.
Yuna had taken it well enough, he thought. Compared to her—well, he had always been with the others, but she had had to face Seymour alone. Next to her, he had nothing to be down about. Hell, why couldn't dead people do like they were supposed to do and let people send them?
Wakka raked his hands through his hair. All right, if he were going to brood, he'd do it thoroughly.
First. Maester Mika was unsent. He hissed irritably, and skipped onto the next point.
Second. Maesters used the same machina the teachings of Yevon forbade. Which meant he would have to apologize to Rikku, unless there was some perfectly logical reason he was missing, as to why the maesters could use forbidden machina and Rikku shouldn't.
Third, Wakka really didn't like to apologize.
It occurred to him that maybe, as part of being on watch, he should actually be looking out for trouble, instead of staring dejectedly at the ground. He stood abruptly, and started pacing.
Fourth, Yuna was going to die. He had accepted that fact years ago. It was almost a relief, you know? Knowing how and when someone would go. It could—and did, too often for his liking—happen any old day to anyone else, but Yuna wanted to be a summoner and make her pilgrimage. Stupid as it sounded to him now, a part of him had always thought that was one less person he had to worry about dying on him, because he refused to believe she could possibly die before she had the Final Aeon. That was just how strong her determination was, that he'd been swept up in it.
Which brought him back around to the fact that Yuna's death was unavoidable, and he had just spent a valuable half hour making himself more depressed.
But, you know, screw that. Because he had a right to brood. It wasn't often one lost one's brother, one's religion, and one's sister all in a row. Yuna was his sister, blood or no blood.
And he would lose her.
Religion. That thought carried him around to the fifth bit. He had tried valiantly to fit the pieces of his shattered faith back together ever since Bevelle.
So the maesters are corrupt, ya? Well, so what. That doesn't mean there's anything wrong with the teachings—
Even as he thought that, he shook his head. It might very well be true. But he didn't have the heart left to try and believe it. His insides were shaking too much from too many betrayals, one after another.
"Damn it!" he bit out, and then looked guiltily at his sleeping companions. Sir Auron, closest to the entrance because he was the strongest in a fight, had sprung halfway to his feet. Seeing this, Wakka scratched the back of his head sheepishly.
"Sorry. Was thinking, you know?"
"Do you always think aloud?" Sir Auron asked irritably.
Wakka shrugged as the older guardian settled back down against the curve of the cave's wall.
Then he froze, the significance of the giggle from the middle of the row of bodies just sinking in.
A particularly bubbly giggle that, he guessed, had been caused by Auron's comment.
The likes of which he had never heard Lulu or Yuna make.
His suspicions were confirmed when he just made out a head-shaped shadow poke up from behind Yuna's shoulder. Standing, the little Al Bhed girl stumbled out toward the night.
"Oops, sorry," she said as she tripped over Sir Auron, who stirred again and frowned a little.
She stretched when she was next to him, flinging her arms up and bending backward. "He~ey," she said, giving him one of those wary glances she reserved for him. Both of them were polite to one another, but nothing more, since the events at the Al Bhed Home. He didn't hold many grudges, but he'd held fiercely onto the one against the Al Bhed.
Now he'd finally let it go, he found himself in the awkward place between hatred and friendship, and not able to find the words to verbalize his changed feelings to her and not sure if he should. So he just didn't say anything.
"Sorry I woke you," he said stiffly. So he wouldn't have to look at her, he devoted his attention to cracking his knuckles.
"Oh no, I've been awake for forever," Rikku said, shrugging. "It's so hot in there. Anyway, I just didn't want to wake anyone up, so I stayed put."
He snorted. "So that's why you—"
"Well, you'd already done me the favor of waking up everyone who I would've woken up—that is Kimahri, Lulu, and Sir Auron—so I decided I might as well come out." Boosting herself, she sat on one of the pieces of rock that jutted up randomly from the plains, and let her legs dangle down.
"Oh," he said because he couldn't really think of anything better to say. He continued his pacing while she swung her legs. The silence stood uncomfortably between them, and the apology he ought to be making stuck in his throat. He wished she'd go crawl back inside and go to sleep.
Wakka grunted irritably. "Hey, y'know, I think the only one I woke up was Auron," he said finally, just for the sake of saying something.
"You're noisy," she told him with a distracted shake of her head. "I can take this shift, if you want to get some sleep," she offered after a moment.
"Uh—" Wakka chewed on his bottom lip. "I think I'd better take it, you know? It's—"
"Shut up!" she burst out, suddenly fierce. He frowned at her, trying to figure out why she was so angry. He was being polite and not too protective—after all, she was the youngest and weakest of the guardians.
"How can you keep on with that? It's just dumb, because it should be obvious by now that I'd never let anything bad happen to Yunie!"
Oh, so that's why.
She reminded him, with her intense eyes that were green and strange—though he couldn't make out their color in this light—and her golden hair and tawny skin, of an sleek, angry cat. Chappu had a cat once, he remembered. Ran away and probably served as a fiend's midnight snack, but while it lived, it had lived as irritably and regally as possible, and once when he'd tried to move it out of his bed, it had swiped a chunk of meat out of his nose.
Wakka folded his hands behind his head. "I know that," he said with an annoyed huff of air. "Calm down, ya? I meant because it's dangerous."
"Sure," she said. "Why can't you just let it go? I mean, it's been forever that you've been going on like this! You liked me before."
"Yeah, well—" He wasn't quite sure what to say to that. Well, actually, he knew that he should say, "I'm sorry, I was wrong" or a variant thereof, but apologies never came easily to him, and especially not when he was getting accused of something.
"I liked you before too," she continued in a heated whisper. "Then you had to go and turn all pigheaded and stuff, and then you just had to go and say that about Home—'pretty fireworks, ya?'" she mimicked, her voice cracking.
He winced. She was really just a kid compared to him, not that anyone could make it through fifteen years of life with a child's vulnerability, and never mind that he had considered himself a man at her age. Sometimes he forgot, but she was six or seven years younger than him, and she'd just lost her Home to boot.
So he kept a tight hold on his temper, even though the line she had brought up was nothing more than a clumsy attempt to comfort her. Call it a faltering attempt to make things even a little right, as he had fumbled to offer…something in the immediate aftermath of the whole utter wrong of Home's destruction. It had got him in the gut, like another betrayal, though he wasn't the victim this time around. Somehow it was like he had betrayed her, as ridiculous as that thought was. Now, the hurt in her voice made him want to duck his head in shame. "Yeah, well, maybe that was kind of a shoddy way to phrase it, ya?"
"No kidding." She crossed her arms over her chest, and blew a few pieces of blond out of her eyes with a puff of breath.
Damn it, he'd just apologized, or come close to it, even if it wasn't for exactly the right thing. And she either hadn't noticed or was holding out for a better one.
He mirrored her, crossing his own arms over his chest, with his blitzball tucked under his elbow.
He wasn't about to let go of his pride a second time over. It wasn't as if he actually cared what a stubborn, too-cheerful Al Bhed girl thought of him.
Well, maybe he did, because she was right that he had liked her, and as he thought that, he decided he still did, it had just got muddled up in the hate earlier.
But he wasn't going to—
He bared his teeth at her and expelled air noisily from his nose. All right. This shouldn't hurt too much more than getting gutted by a fiend, and Yuna managed to put me back together after that.
"I was wrong. Now go to bed, or else you'll regret it in the morning when you have to convince Tidus to share the coffee with you."
"You—" Rikku stopped. "Well…I'm not weak, you know?! I've been training up recently and Sir Auron is right there."
Another argument, he thought. Apparently he'd been exonerated of accusing her of being a risk to Yuna, only to get growled at for something else. This really wasn't worth the effort.
"But—" There a pause, in which he could feel her quick, searching eyes on him, even though the thick shadows hid her exact expression. "But, I'll wait to yell at you until the morning."
And as she curled up opposite Sir Auron inside the entrance, he was left with a distinctly anticlimactic feeling. That's all?
A high-pitched screech from the Dual Horn as it attacked—dodge to the right—shit, it was going right—
The ground chose that moment to slam into his chest and knock the wind out of him, but his inability to breathe was of little concern next to the hot, wet agony in his right side.
Not again, he thought while his lungs fought to fill with air and black dots fought with dirt and grass over which would feature most prominently in his field of vision. If anything important—say an organ or two or three—that belongs inside is outside, I'm going to lie here and pretend like I'm dead until they finish them off and put me back together.
He didn't, of course. Instead, he shoved a fist into the earth and pushed himself to his knees. Nothing flopped out, so he judged the gash as being relatively superficial and heaved up onto his feet in time to launch his blitzball at the second fiend.
Alongside him, Rikku shouted, "Hey, let's give this spell thingy a try!" There was the shimmer of white magic, followed by the wash of Cura over him.
"Didn't know ya'd learned that," he said, giving her a grin because it felt damn nice when one stopped spewing blood all over the place. Tossing his blitzball from hand to hand, he watched Tidus slice his sword across a fiend's eyes. Seeing the in left by Tidus' attack, he fired the ball hard and brought the remaining fiend down.
She'd have healed him before, if they'd been on the field at the same time—something that had rarely occurred in the past few weeks, either by fortunate accident or subconscious avoidance on their part—but it still felt like a bright shining sign that things were all right again.
So afterward he chose to walk alongside her instead of Tidus or Lu, his usual companions of choice. "You're learning white magic?" he said, feeling a little silly but trying to ignore the feeling.
She combed her fingers through her sweat-damped hair. "I have been for a little while now, y'know," she drawled.
"Uh—I didn't notice." He adjusted his grip on his blitzball, trying to ignore the way he seemed to be slipping from silly to stupid, at least in his own estimation.
"I know that," she said.
They had talked before, hadn't they? About little nothing things, about how potions and remedies left a bad taste in your throat for days, about fighting techniques and blitzball.
Yeah, he could remember several different conversations distinctly. So this shouldn't be so damned awkward.
"You know, I haven't forgiven you yet," Rikku said, as if she could hear his thoughts.
Oh. Right. He'd forgotten—blame it on his tendency to steer clear of the concept—that there were two distinct elements to a successful apology.
"I apologized, ya? What more am I supposed to do?" he protested anyway.
"You sort of apologized. But you don't need to do anything more—well, except give me time and all that. It takes a little while, you know? And I got a lot on my mind anyway!" She chewed on her bottom lip, her eyes focused on some point in the distance.
He could feel his own expression darken at the thought, but he quickly shoved all thoughts of Yuna's approaching death to the back of his mind. As he'd proved last night, brooding over things didn't make one iota of difference. He'd deal with it after it happened.
"Well, don't take forever. I'd like it before I die." Only after he said that did he realize just how depressing that statement was, because how often did you hear of a guardian outliving his summoner, with the exception of Sir Auron? Maybe he wouldn't have to come to terms with Yuna's death because he'd be dead too. "Of old age," he amended hastily.
She gave him a sad smile that looked out of place on her face.
Yunie was going to die.
It was stuck in her head like the refrain to the catchiest, most morbid song ever. She couldn't so much as hear herself respire without thinking it over and over in time to her breath.
It was even worse if her companions were breathing too, which was the way she preferred them actually. Even Wakka. Then it was Yunie-is-going-to-die in seven different rhythms, like a chorus from the Farplane.
It had been catching up to her, dogging her heels ever since Yuna had casually mentioned to her, one summer when they were both curled up together lazily under a slim patch of shade, that she was going to become a summoner once Sin came back. Rikku had been giddy all that summer because Yunie was at Home on a rare visit. She could still remember that Yuna had had a book held loosely in one hand, and kept reaching back to twirl a finger in her mousy hair.
And until Yunie had to open her mouth, it had been perfect, in the way a moment can only be on reflection after it gets broken apart.
Now it had latched onto her, the realization finally hitting home.
Yunie was going to die.
Unless she and Tidus pulled some magic solution out of a hat before Zanarkand, but with every step that looked more unlikely.
That left her with two options. Try to kidnap Yuna again (and for some reason that course of action never worked) or else stand by her like a good guardian and watch her sacrifice herself.
No, not a chorus from the Farplane, she thought. A hymn of Yevon. The name changed from summoner to summoner, but the verses were always the same, and Spira sang it with the same damned fervency every time around.
Spira is a summoner-killing machina, she wanted to yell at Wakka.
Not that it was really Wakka with whom she was so frustrated with that she could scream. No, he was just the only zealous Yevonite at hand. Possibly former zealous Yevonite, she thought with a considering frown. Even someone as stubborn as Wakka had to break eventually when the cold hard truth was brought crashing down on his head by his own religious leaders.
Not that the specifics mattered.
She could just cry with helpless anger. She wouldn't, of course, because it wouldn't serve any purpose except to give her a headache, but she could feel the prickling of hot tears anyway.
Kicking a clump of grass because if she didn't do something she would go crazy, she sent up a flurry of dust that left her coughing (Yunie-is-going-to-die, hacked her thoughts) and earned her a frown from Sir Auron.
She shot him a scowl right back. He'd walked this path with a summoner—both of them her kin—not once, but twice. Two summoners he'd worked to keep alive long enough so they could die on schedule.
He assumedly had reasons, but she couldn't imagine why someone would want to put themselves through this hell twice.
Except that she did understand once. If she couldn't stop Yuna from dying for Spira, she would stand by her as guardian and friend and cousin until the end. It would hurt like a barbed knife slipped between her ribs and then twisted, but if she didn't, she would never forgive herself.
Looking away from Sir Auron, Rikku's gaze skimmed over their intended destination—Rin's shop, to pick up supplies before they moved on to Mount Gagazet. She could only be thankful that they'd released their chocobos earlier, so that they could walk and benefit from the experience of fighting fiend after fiend. Their slower pace on foot gave her time.
Time to save Yunie. In theory. In practice, it seemed more like time to formulate wild plans only to discard them for their impossibility and time to worry so intensely that she couldn't sleep some nights.
She was still able to keep up her upbeat outlook on the outside and even on the inside more often than not—though never during the night, then worry wore on her like a, a parasitic thing gnawing on her stomach—but it took effort and coffee.
She pursed her lips. What she could use right now was an argument with a pigheaded Yevonite—something that would make her mad enough that she could forget about Yunie briefly.
And of course he'd had to go and (kinda, sorta, and not very gracefully) apologize last night. A pigheaded blitzball player who'd argue over plays and team histories, or a pigheaded warrior who'd argue against the value of machina weaponry, might do just as well, but she hadn't yet forgiven him and didn't want to give him that impression by going to him for a friendly quarrel.
With a sigh, she went to go pester Tidus again. Surely he must've thought of something by now.
To forgive was a sacred action. Yevon was not a god, and the Al Bhed didn't have any deity they worshipped in his place. She had never felt any religious longing. There was no God, and if somehow the Yevonites were right, well, she quite frankly didn't want anything to do with him.
But some things were sacred and received due reverence. Magic, whether white or black, was; priests who didn't waste their position and power on themselves were; and forgiveness was the most sacrosanct of all. You couldn't just toss it out without meaning it.
So she had taken the time she had told him she needed, yanking her thoughts away from Yuna, and reached a point where she meant it. Because his words, I'd like it before I die - minus the of old age that made it an everyday, insignificant hyperbole - had stuck in her head, playing harmony to Yunie is going to die. She knew, and was annoyed by that knowledge, that he hadn't intended to guilt her into anything. That just wasn't a tactic Wakka would take. He wasn't subtle enough for it.
He had drawn the third watch that night. As he and Lulu switched off, she remembered what he'd said to her a handful of nights ago. Oh right, I need to talk to him about that one. I'm improving, I've taken the occasional watch before, and that sort of protectiveness isn't exactly necessary.
Still, it was kind of sweet.
She stepped carefully over Auron's outstretched legs, not wanting to trip over the gruff guardian again.
"He~ey," she began nervously. The sky was overcast tonight, and she could barely make out his subtly darker shadow against the thick black of the night. She stuffed her hands into her pockets.
"He-ey," he mimicked. In two syllables of singsong, she could tell he probably sang painfully flat.
It was surely a sign of madness that she found that endearing. Of course, the mimicry itself was mildly annoying.
"I stayed up just so I could talk to you, and you ought to be appreciative."
He mumbled something.
"Mmm-hmmm. Now say it so I can understand it."
She was getting the impression that he had a hell of an aversion to the word 'sorry.'
"That was dumb of you. If I wasn't on watch, I'd be sleeping, ya know?"
She tapped her foot pointedly, before she realized he couldn't see it in the dark and the plains muffled any sound. "Hhhmph!" she said instead, and reentered their shelter. This time, she made an effort to trip over Sir Auron so she'd have a reason to talk ("Oh! Sorry, Sir Auron"), which would guarantee Wakka realizing she had left.
"All right—sorry about that," he called after her.
She came back. "So 'sorry' really isn't a dirty word back in Besaid."
"I forgive you," she said, suddenly uncomfortable with the formality of the phrase. Then, chewing her lip, she darted forward and hugged him, awkwardly because his crossed arms and blitzball were mashed up between them.
And he breathed in her cool distinctive scent, like licorice, only more feminine, and felt her hair tickle against his nose, and thought that maybe this apology business wasn't as painful as he'd previously thought.
Of course, then she started to tell him off for being overprotective. But that was all right too, because it told him uneasy silences were a thing of the past.