She had a very definite feeling that something was underway between her and Wakka, and the equally sure feeling that she had knocked him off-balance and secured the upper hand in one maneuver.
That pleased her.
She had her long legs kicked up front of her to rest on a console on the bridge, and her arms crossed under her head. Leaning back in the swivel chair, she had a nice view of the bridge. Cid yelling at Brother in Al Bhed provided a pleasant background noise for her musings.
Her mouth took on a slow, lazy smirk, and she laughed softly to herself. Her emotions were in a tangle of bubbly excitement. At the moment, she was besotted with the immediate future.
Like what was going to happen whenever she saw Wakka next. Ooh, she'd really gotten him there, hadn't she? He couldn't deny he liked her like that now. He might be annoyed with her, but that was okay because he really was funny when he was irritable. Either way, she couldn't wait to talk to him again.
"Heh," she said, wrapping a strand of hair around one of her fingers.
The bridge door whisked open, emitting Yuna. "You look happy," she said, approaching her with her hands clasped behind her back.
"Mmmm-hhmm," Rikku acknowledged. "But actually, the word is smug."
Yunie tilted her head. "What?"
"I look smug. Or I should, anyway, because that's how I feel. Rightfully so, too." She flashed Yuna a grin. "Have you seen Wakka recently?"
"No…" Yuna's voice gained pitch before trailing off in a question.
"Oh." Rikku went back to examining the blond lock curled around her finger.
"Why?" Yuna asked upfront, probably realizing Rikku wasn't going to reply to her indirect inquiry. "Did you do something to my guardian, young lady?" she asked, her tone teasing but uncertain. As if she wasn't quite sure if she was allowed to tease Rikku–something she'd have to get the older girl over. Yunie and all her barriers, sheesh. People were supposed to tease their cousins.
But for now—
Rikku's mouth pulled up into another grin. Very deliberately.
"You did!" Yuna said.
"Nothing bad," Rikku promised. Then, because she couldn't resist, she snickered as evilly as she could.
"You did something pranklike to him," Yuna said. Her soft, hesitating voice was entirely unsuited to the stern tone she was aiming for.
"Is 'pranklike' even a word?" she asked.
"Er—no—Rikku, you're changing the subject."
"Yup." Rikku stood, lacing her fingers together, and stretching her arms. Her knuckles cracked. "Don't worry, Yunie. I think he liked it."
With that exit line—and it was a very nice exit line, she thought, turning it over in her head and admiring it—she made for the elevator.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Yunie shrug.
Wakka, she decided fifteen minutes later, was avoiding her.
This took some skill, since she was clever and sneaky (it went with her chosen profession of thief), and as the airship was cramped and very linear in design.
It implied a certain subtlety on his part, one that he'd never displayed before. After all, he was Wakka. She could only think that she must be rubbing off on him, and despite her frustration, she couldn't help but be proud.
She was, however, beginning to second-guess her earlier thoughts, and she felt a strange, worming embarrassment in the pit of her stomach. Pressing her fists to her burning cheeks, she leaned back heavily on the metal wall and slid down until she was sitting with her knees tucked to her chest.
If he was just being contrary—and it was a very probable if—he was going to pay for making her feel like this, she decided.
There was a sudden, noisy clunk-whir that shook the corridor and sent her head knocking back against the wall and then jolted her chin down onto her knees. With a wince, she stumbled to her feet, her mouth spouting off a string of curses in Al Bhed.
"Learn how to drive!" she shouted at the nearest intercom, even though the connection went only one way.
Another tremble ran through the airship. She flung an arm out and braced herself in time to keep from falling. The opposite door opened to reveal Tidus. "What's happening?" he asked.
"My idiot Brother is happening!" she fumed. The floor was behaving normally again, but she didn't trust Brother enough to leave her post by the wall. "My guess is that we're there. He usually manages to steer decently until he has to park it," she added grudgingly.
The intercom buzzed. "Kids–and Auron and Kimahri–we're here. Get your butts moving! The water's littered with ruins, and we don't want to stress the short-distance hovers, got it?"
"Oh, this place," Tidus said, catching hold of a ruined bridge support. Nodding her own recognition, Rikku watched him clamber up but made no move to follow him.
When he had gained the bridge and stood looking down at his summoner and fellow guardians, she cleared her throat hopefully. He reached down and caught hold of her wrist; her fingers locked around his forearm, as she heaved up onto the nondescript brown platform. Wakka, his bill of red hair dripping, boosted Yuna up alongside her. After he had done the same for Lulu, Rikku crouched down above him. Elbows resting lazily on her knees, she offered him a smirk and her hand. Avoid this, 'brudda'.
To her surprise, his face flushed again. She felt her mouth tug into a wide, involuntary grin, and suddenly felt much friendlier toward him. Any trace of doubt was removed. "I'll have to remember how easily you blush," she teased, "for devious purposes in the future."
He brushed a hand over his face, as if to wipe the red from his cheeks with the icy water. "Hhhmph." His eyes lingered on her proffered hand, until she thought he wasn't going to take it. But then his larger one encompassed hers. Bracing herself, she tugged to help him up—
—and, with his sudden evil smile her only warning, was yanked off-balance, the rough textured stone grating against her shoes as she was dragged forward. She went back down into the water with a splash and a yelp that gulped the frigid liquid into her lungs. Fumbling instinctively for a hold, she caught a handful of his blitzer's vest and another of his hair. There was the press of his torso against hers, his legs tangling with hers. She wondered if he was blushing now, but was too busy, you know, drowning, to be amused.
But not too busy to feel a little physical twist of interest.
Still, drowning was incredibly unsexy, so words burbling from her mouth, she kicked free and up until her head broke the surface. "You—you little—"
One problem—his entire head was still underwater. Meaning that his ears were below the surface and she had been on the verge of wasting the little breath she had regained. At that moment, he jerked underneath her, his arm hooking around her neck to help him drag his face to the air, and back under she went. She squirmed her way out of his grasp. Just before she emerged again, she glimpsed, through the foggy blue of the water, his feet gain purchase on the courtyard's submerged floor. Moments later, his face came up alongside hers.
Their gasps for air mixed with his rueful laughter. Laugh, will he? she thought, reaching out to grab hold of his hair and dunk him.
"Wakka, stop…playing," Lulu called. Rikku reluctantly halted her revenge mid-gesture.
"Hey! Klutzes, you sure you're up to fighting a nasty fiend? In the water, I mean?" Tidus demanded.
Rikku glanced around worriedly.
Tidus gave a shake of his head. "Nah, not there. Hurry up."
Once she had finished hacking the water from her lungs, she scaled the short distance from the water to the bridge. She trotted alongside Wakka, trailing behind Tidus until they stood above a deep chamber, one that was almost completely flooded. She could make out deep shadows that might have been the entries to off-shooting halls and rooms.
Tidus did a lazy dive; she and Wakka followed with twin cannonballs, almost colliding mid-jump.
"Whassup? Something here?" Wakka asked, treading water to her right. She prepared for the inevitable long swim by taking a series of deep breaths, expanding her lungs with each.
"I almost got eaten by a fiend here," Tidus told him. "Payback time!"
Wakka nodded. "I get the picture. Let's go!" The three of them exchanged a high five, Rikku inhaled as much air as she could hold, and then they all plunged under.
She burst from the water with an accompanying spray of water, gasping in mouthful after mouthful of sweet cool air. Her chest was burning from prolonged time underwater, not to mention one hell of a battle. It was really enough to kill a girl, no matter how strong a swimmer she was.
As her rapid panting began to slow, she staggered up into the long, dimly hall. Swiping matted blond hair away from her eyes with one hand, she dug wearily in her satchel for a potion with the other, wondering what effects protracted use of the healing drugs had on a person's body. Despite the wonders of magic and medicine, there was no true replacement for time and rest. Sometimes she could feel the strain of it, like she was being held together with cheap glue.
"I hate fish," she heard Wakka say as he waded up into the chamber. He had a hand clamped to his shoulder, and blood oozed out around his flexed fingers.
"What's up with these weird statues?" Tidus called, poking one quizzically. Behind each, a glyph shimmered. Changing tints of blue, purple and orange shifted across each magical projection like they were strewn there by the wind.
"Come here, kid. Lemme see that arm of yours," she said to Wakka. "If you don't know what it is, don't touch it," she added to Tidus, who ignored her and continued to investigate the row of seated, animal-headed figures.
"Kid?" Wakka asked, through his teeth.
"Didn't you hear? Everyone in our group except for Auron and Kimahri is a kid." She pushed his hand away from the wound. She prodded it gently, earning a curse from her patient. It went deep, a long red trench ripped from shoulder to elbow. Her guess was that a good-sized chunk of muscle had been torn free.
It'll need a Cura, she decided.
"Yeah, I heard your Dad's commands. But if I'm a kid, you're a baby, ya?" Suddenly, he hissed in pain and batted her hand away. "Shit. You're supposed to be healing me, ya? Not stabbing at it with your fingers."
"I'm at the top end of toddlerhood, at the least," she corrected absently, extending her mental grasp to dip into her mana stocks. Biting her lip, she carefully siphoned just enough—couldn't waste it, not in a strange place like this, not when she was the only white mage of the trio—and cast the spell. With meticulous care, she guided the wash of white magic, knitting bone and muscle and skin with far more precision than she could have managed on the battlefield. There, amidst the chaos and rapid-fire pace of a skirmish, the most she could do was throw a spell in the general direction of the wound and hope for the best, knowing it would at least dull the pain and flood the body with fresh energy.
His stark, pained expression relaxed as she worked. When she finished, she handed him a clean rag from her supply kit. "Clean up the blood, kid."
"Baby," he returned.
She smirked. "Sweet-talking is cute, kiddie, but it won't get you anywhere."
A look of surprise crossed his features, before he got it. Shaking his head, he took the cloth from her and swiped haphazardly at the red stain that went from shoulder to forearm. When he tried to pass it back to her, she scooted away. "Gross!"
He shrugged, and tucked it in a pocket.
"Will you stop flirting with Rikku already and take a look at this?" Tidus grumbled.
"I'm not flirting with Rikku," Wakka said.
"I'm not flirting with Rikku," she added. "So divide your plural 'you' into—"
"It's not plural. Wakka's more competent than you," Tidus said. Snorting to express her annoyance, she contemplated several possible revenges. Then she carefully sidled until she was so near his smell—salt water and coppery blood and fish guts—filled her nostrils. Her nose scrunched up delicately, although she probably didn't smell any better herself. He was bent over the first of the right row of statues, tracing a chiseled cutout with his finger. "Looks familiar, doesn't it?"
She waited—careful, careful, can't let the target know too soon—and then pounced, her hands darting under his vest and then up, her fingers tickling over his ribs. He yelped with laughter, trying to catch her hands with his. "St—stop, Rikku, that—tickles damn it—"
"That would be the point," she said.
"It's my turn to say it: stop flirting with Rikku already," Wakka grumbled.
"Jealous? If you want, I can tickle you too." But instead she released Tidus. She took a few steps and began examining the heavy sculpture. "Think it's a fayth or something? I mean, probably not, since there's six of 'em..."
"Six Cloisters of Trials," Wakka pointed out.
"Yeah, yeah. Didn't you two hear what I said before?" Tidus jammed a shoulder between them and tapped the base's inset design with his forefinger. It was a bit blurred, as if time and weather had worn away at the finer details, but she could still tell it was the sharp-beaked profile of a bird. "There."
Wakka nodded. "It's an outdated Besaid brand," he said. "You can still find it in some parts of the temple—it's Valefor."
Tidus shook his head impatiently. "You're missing the point. You know, that one Rod of Wisdom I found in Besaid Temple, when I was messing around on my own?"
"The weird, kind of broken one?" she asked. "The one that won't take modifications very easily?" She had a bit of an ongoing grudge against that weapon of Yunie's—it wasn't very old, but something made it almost incompatible with the newer modification techniques Rikku used. Machina or magic, it had stubbornly fought each new skill she had tried to add.
"Yeah. We didn't throw it out, did we?"
"No-o, I don't think so," she said slowly. "We decided to keep it because it came from the temple. And it's got that weird device on it—like, oh. Like Valefor."
She dipped a hand into the satchel she wore over her shoulder. "I think I'm the one who kept it," she added. "Hhhmm." Her fingers sifted through medicinal flasks, gems, scrap metal, finally brushing against a cool, smooth curve. "Ah, here it is." She brought out the luck sphere. "Sir Auron wouldn't let me use it," she added. "Because it's from Macalania Temple and all, and see, here?"
Fumbling her hands over the sphere's surface, she found the raised symbol and showed it to her companions. It was an icicle crossed with a spear, with a lock of braided hair twined around both. She examined the statues carefully until she found a corresponding brand. Kneeling, she clicked the sphere into place.
A humming filled the air, setting her teeth on edge. The glyph flickered rapidly in and out of existence before it faded away entirely.
"Sure, trigger the-whatever-it-is without a warning, ya?" Wakka complained, raking a hand through his hair. Tidus adjusted his grip on his sword, shoulders tensed and face alert.
Rikku stuck out her tongue, but she was waiting just as warily for something more to happen. Her gil was on a pissed off fiend busting out of the statue any moment, spraying them with shards of stone and dust. But an uneventful minute dragged by, and then a second and a third. She breathed a sigh of relief. "See? Everything's fine."
"For now. But you got to take it back," Wakka said. "Who knows what'll happen then? Maybe they're all nice as long as you're giving them goodies and slit your throat only when you steal them back."
"Take it back?" Rikku wrinkled her nose. "Why?"
"Six statues. Six Cloisters. We only recovered items—keys if you will—from five. You wanna lose this one to some Al Bhed treasure hunter while we're in Zanarkand?"
"Good point," Rikku conceded.
All right, so 'think of Rikku like a sister' was probably out of the question. Probably. It was best not to discount any possible armor, when one was fighting off a surprisingly stubborn crush.
All he had to do was replace Rikku with Yuna mentally, and then he'd be sufficiently guarded against anything resembling lust, infatuation, and etcetera. Except that Yuna was not flirty and blond and did not kiss people to prove a point. But that was unimportant, really, and—
Okay, so that wasn't going to work. Then he'd replace Rikku with Yuna, and himself with Tidus. If Tidus let Yuna flirt with him and give him a pouty smirk, or watched her long lean tanned legs and the wiggle of her hips as she jumped up and down in adrenaline-fueled glee…well, he'd have to go and 'talk' to his friend. So he had a responsibility as one big brother to another to go and let Brother beat him up.
Basically, that means getting beat up by an Al Bhed with a mohawk who can't fight worth beans, ya?
…Which was a really unappealing thought. And that was why he was going to continue to avoid Rikku.
The way he had when he had yanked her on top of him into the water earlier. Riight.
Well, he couldn't let her have the last word, you know? He had just neglected to think the action through to the end. He would just have to remember to do that in the future—think, that was.
Okay, it's decided, ya? Stop thinking about it. Crossing his arms over his chest, he dropped from a seated position to a laying one, his back and shoulders against the cold metal of the airship's outside prow. He concentrated on the fierce rush of moist air on his skin, the brilliance of the unobscured night sky above him.
He had to admit, he was almost fond of Rikku's father's airship. He had taken to spending time on the nose, and it had a certain appeal—something about the speed or maybe the dropped-stomach sensation that went with being thousands of feet from the ground and staring down at it—that natural forms of transportation couldn't compete with.
He was probably doomed. If her damned machina were starting to grow on him, he didn't stand a chance against Rikku herself.
And he should feel guiltier that that thought made him glad. Glad that he could run his thoughts in circles and brush it off as nothing, really all he wanted, but he'd end up giving in all the same.
Pushing that train of thought aside, he brought his attention abruptly back to his surroundings by rolling over onto a new, colder patch of airship.
It would be…interesting…to see Zanarkand again, he told himself. Most guardians only lived long enough to see it once. Successful summoners only saw it once. And—
Y'know, he might as well cut the 'thinking in circles' crap now. He was good at that; maybe being a Yevonite was some kind of training camp for it. But hey, if the end result was going to be the same…
(mouth on mouth, her hair loose and spilling down in a blond curtain, warm browned skin on skin, her tank top pulling taut over her front as her back arched, her pretty hipbones peeking up above her shorts)
He hissed. Yeah, Brother ought to be allowed one or two good shots at his mug. But he was going to be selfish and not let him have them.
And he would do things right—y'know take her to dinner and kiss her on the second date and meet her family in a proper way, rather than the damned Al Bhed heretics glowering kind of way—once this was over.
Speaking of her family, he probably ought to apologize to them before he even mentioned Rikku. That would be good, he thought, flushing with shame. Not just to get in Cid's good graces for—what had Rikku said earlier?—for devious future purposes; he'd really made an ass of himself.
He winced. Apologies were a torture like none other. Why hadn't he realized that before he opened his mouth?
Oh, and he would stop avoiding her. That might be a good step to take. So she didn't think he was indifferent.
After a trip to Zanarkand's Cloister of Trials, they went on a cross-Spira hunt to locate the trader O'aka. It had come to light that Wakka had sold him the red armlet they found in Kilika Temple a few months prior when money had been tight and their packs had been weighted down with too many weapons. Wakka grinned sheepishly and scratched the back of his head, an expression and gesture that Rikku found endearing. She resolved to embarrass him sometime in the future so he'd do it again.
It was only after they recovered the Kilikan key that Rikku had time to reflect back on her little ongoing…um, flirtation?...with Wakka. It dawned on her that everything had pretty much fallen back into its usual place. But that was okay, she decided. It felt as if she had set aside a project for later, rather than been forced to send it screeching to a halt. He had given up any attempt to avoid her (which coincided with her discovering his hiding place out on the outside bridge) and they still talked and joked and flirted. She could sense the undercurrent of interest. It was just that they had this guardian job to do, so it stayed comfortably below the surface.
But on their second trip to the ruined temple, she decided she might as well give him a casual reminder. Just so he didn't forget or anything. She darted forward and caught the underside of his jaw with her mouth, in what was probably the sloppiest kiss ever. "Oops," she said, fiddling with her hair and offering him the most innocent smile possible. "I, um, tripped. Heh."
"The all purpose excuse," Tidus said from behind her. "Kiss them or kill them, it's all good if you tripped before doing it."
"If we were smart, we'd have tripped before we killed Seymour," Wakka suggested. She felt him thread his fingers into her ponytail.
"Nah, Guado traditions are different. We'd have had to accidentally somersault backwards for that one," Tidus explained.
"Don't mess with the hair," Rikku warned, reaching up and snaring Wakka's hand with her own.
"You messed up my beard, ya?"
"That is not a beard. That's a set of five hairs that happen to be on your jaw."
She looped her right arm casually around his neck and propped her opposite elbow on Tidus' shoulder. "So, what's the plan?"
The three swimmers were going ahead to investigate the statue-filled hallway and unlock the whatever-it-was. Yuna and the others would wait until they returned with definite information, since it would be risky to escort what amounted to four noncombatants through the submerged hall with just three guards.
"Try to avoid battles the way there at any cost," Wakka said. "So we'll be whole, just in case we free something really nasty, ya know?"
"And then try to do clean up on the way back?" she suggested. "So there's fewer fiends around when we bring everyone on through? I'm guessing there's a fayth back there, so we'll have to guide Yuna there, at the least."
Tidus shrugged. "Sounds good."
Rikku poked Tidus in the side with her elbow. "Do you think we're ready to defeat Sin now?" she asked in a low tone. Yuna was kneeling in front of them, her shoulders trembling as she recovered from her assimilation of the aeon Anima.
His mouth was pursed, his eyes distant. "Probably," he said after a moment. "You'll want to talk to Auron, of course…but he'll probably say we are."
She frowned. "What's wrong?"
He shook his head. "Nothing really. Just thinking about stuff."
Yuna staggered to her feet at that moment. So Rikku shrugged, deciding to take him at his word. At least for now. She dashed forward to help her cousin.
They were back in Bevelle, quite possibly the last place he had ever wanted to see again. Machina fixtures provided puddles of artificial blue light to illuminate the chamber of the fayth; musky incense tinted the air. He guessed the latter was pumped there by some kind of machina, because he didn't see any burners.
Yuna and Tidus stood before the small cloaked fayth, talking softly. Despite their low tones, he could make out the words exchanged. He listened intently, because he was sick of lies, weary of ducking from the truth or even digesting it in small, palatable pieces. Might as well rip away the last shrouds to reveal the reality underneath, in all its harsh glory.
It didn't even hurt this time. Maybe it ought to, because (Yu Yevon was once a summoner, long ago. He was peerless. Yet now he lives for only one reason: to summon. He is neither good nor evil, he is awake yet he dreams) left no ambiguities he could piece back into some semblance of a religion. Maybe it would sting later, when the full significance sunk in.
And maybe he had expected something like this ever since Yunalesca's words. Maybe he had, at the very back of his head, hoped for it. Even prayed for it, as ironic as he knew that was. The revelation left him feeling drained and empty, but somehow it was better to be hollow than to drown in a hundred thousand what-ifs.
After the fayth had disintegrated into a scattering of pyreflies, and the rest of the guardians had left the chamber, he stood for a moment looking at Bahamut's stone fayth. Then, stuffing his hands in his pockets, he went to catch up with the others. He had all the answers. That had to be enough.
It was much harder apologizing to Cid than it had been with Rikku. It felt like everyone on the bridge was watching him, as he stumbled over the words he'd rehearsed on the way out of the Bevelle Temple. But it was still kind of a relief, ya? It was best to get that off his chest now, just in case he died—the whole clean conscience thing, you know.
And then Cid located Sin with the ship's sensors and they were on the way. To defeat Sin, to kill Yevon, to bring the Calm. He wondered if they were making history or if they would fail, and their only place would be as the idiots who offed Yunalesca and took away the Final Summoning.
Not that it mattered. Nothing mattered, except that he was sticking by Yuna's side and not running, that adrenaline was flooding his system, that his blitzball was in working order, and that he was going to kiss Rikku before they left.
You know, just in case he died. Or—
—Nah. No need to consider that. The only possible outcomes he would contemplate in the name of being balanced and realistic was that they might all come out of this, worn and bloodied and maybe a little broken, but still alive; or that they'd all die.
(Not that Rikku…or you know, anyone else…would die and he'd still be alive.)
Because that wasn't fair. Life wasn't fair but he wanted to pretend that it was, at least for a little while.
She was in the 'suite,' packing her battle bag. Her bottom lip was caught between her teeth. As he walked in, she used the back of her hand to swipe hair out of her eyes. "It helps if you put it all back in the ponytail, you know," he told her.
"I know that. This part's too short." She stretched to reach their supply cabinet. "Um…is this our last mega-phoenix?" she asked, pulling the item out.
"Yeah. We only had two, you know."
"All right…that's it for the medicine, then. Now for my mix goodies." She went back to the cabinet, withdrawing little packets and boxes. Each had been carefully labeled. As she sorted them into her bag, she talked to herself or maybe to him. "Let's see, I'll put elemental gems in this pocket…probably can only fit one or two spheres in here…hhhmmm, we should've stocked up on stamina-springs…"
How to do this? "You done?" he asked, scratching the back of his head.
"Almost." She crammed another box into the main pocket, and then zipped it shut with a flourish. "There."
"You know, how 'bout—for luck, ya?"
She cocked her head to the side, confusion creasing her brow. "Uh-huh?"
He felt clumsy and silly, in sharp contrast to her easy confidence. It wasn't something he was used to. 'Smooth' he had never been, but in spite of that, he hadn't ever felt much embarrassment about it. But around her, whenever things went beyond friendly conversation and casual flirtation, he seemed to be swimming in it. He reached out anyway and gripped her shoulders, brushing his thumbs over her skin.
Feeling awkward as hell, he leaned closer. Just then the puzzlement lifted from her face. She said, "Oh. For luck. I get it. Hee." She flung a hand up and caught the back of his head, crushing his hair flat. As she brought her mouth crashing up toward his, he smashed his against hers, in a frantic attempt to beat her to it. After all, he couldn't let her have the upper hand again.
The kiss was an awkward wrestling match for the first two seconds. But he quickly figured it out, drawing heavily on the memory of the few times he and Botta's sister had messed around behind his and Chappu's hut. He traced the top of Rikku's lower lip with his tongue, and her mouth parted agreeably.
He guessed that she tasted the way sin and heresy and transgression must taste, like licorice and strawberry and the mediciney aftertaste of potion. Her mouth was warm and enthusiastic against his, her small capable hands tangled roughly in his hair. He was an addict, he thought. A Yevonite hooked on a pouting smirk and the shine of blond hair in the sun and green Al Bhed eyes. There had to be some decree against this, some church ordinance that declared her mouth and skin an illegal substance. He wanted there to be, because he wanted to break another nothing-law from his nothing-God.
A damned summoner, he thought bitterly, the anger finally breaking through the indifferent dam he'd built up. But then she trailed her calloused fingertips over his collarbone. As interest jumped to an intense yearning want, he lost the train of thought. A strand of her hair was in his ear and it tickled damn it but he'd have to take his hands away from the curve of her spine to deal with it, and well, he didn't want to do that quite yet.
Because there might be nothing left of him but a Farplane memory this time tomorrow. Of any of them. Of her, his mind finally getting out what he hadn't wanted to think about earlier.
He should have her take a final inventory of his weapons and make any last minute modifications to the three he intended to take with him, instead of this. So he broke it off reluctantly, batting her hair away from his ear and brushing a strand of saliva from her mouth with his thumb.
"Yeah, you're right. Enough luck for anyone there, huh?" She reached back to fix the snarled mess he had made of her ponytail. "What were you doing with my hair? It's like I was in a windstorm or something."
"It looks fine to me," he said with a shrug, even though it didn't, and leaned back against the wall to watch her brush out her hair. He wanted to stretch out this last guaranteed hour they had, make it last an eternity and a half, so he could kiss her and tease her; talk to Tidus about blitzball and tell him to treat Yuna right and joke around with him and Rikku like they were all immature kids; go and rib Lu a while and receive a caustic comment for his efforts; stand comfortably with Yuna and Kimahri, not talking about anything really, just enjoying the familiar presence of a pair of old friends; and maybe he should give Sir Auron a nod or something like that: a wordless acknowledgement that while they had never been even casual friends, he respected the older guardian. He thought about these seven people he had spent the last six months of his life fighting and walking and living with, these people he trusted utterly, even when he'd been at odds with them, because you had to trust the man or woman guarding your back or else you were screwed.
He wondered what came next. Death, maybe, but what happened if they won? Would they scatter across Spira? Tidus would stick with Yuna—Kimahri too—but would Yuna return to Besaid?
Would Rikku and he fall apart like the dissimilar people they were?
There's a reason why I don't like to think about this type of stuff. With that thought, he started talking 'shop': his blitzballs, her selection of wrist blades, armor.
His arms and legs were churning through thick molasses water. Tidus swam alongside him. "Gonna pass it?" Tidus demanded, the words clear and distinct despite the surrounding water. He brandished Chappu's sword in the loose ready pose he preferred.
There was a blitzball tucked under Wakka's arm. He didn't dare pass it, for fear their side would lose it. For some reason, he couldn't get his mouth to work; couldn't tell Tidus, could only propel himself forward in painfully slow motion. He had to get it through the goal in the next ten seconds or they'd lose the game and Yuna would die. But there was something against his side, and something that felt suspiciously like a pair of elbows digging into his chest, keeping him from rolling over which was an important maneuver because he had to dodge Sin—
He woke up with a shout, disoriented and panicked, his body jackknifing to get—whatever the hell it was—away. His forehead slammed into someone else's. He snarled from the white implosion pain, the other person's answering hiss dimly registering in his mind.
A pair of icy hands latched onto his shoulders, pinning him back against the cot. "That hurt. And you sure take your sweet time waking up."
"What the hell—"
All the pieces finally made their way through the thick sleep-fog clinging to his mind. Rikku was sitting on his cot, limiting the already small space it offered. Sin was gone; so was Tidus. Yuna was safe, and he'd repossessed the Brotherhood for a second time. Shit, he hated that. What use did he have for a sword? Tidus had had to go and just, vanish into nothing on him, leaving behind a crying Yuna and that damned sword.
"What the hell are you doing?" he demanded.
"Having a conversation," Rikku replied. "You've been all weird lately."
"It's called 'moping.' Everyone's entitled to do it once in awhile." He reached for her wrists, tugging her hands from his shoulders. "If your hands are freezing cold damnit, keep them to yourself."
With a sniff, she pulled free. Immediately after, she slipped her frigid hands under the blanket, planting them on his bare abdomen. He hissed, sucking his stomach in involuntarily. "Stop that already."
"All right," she agreed, with a movement that felt like it might have been a shrug. The icy fingers retreated from his flesh.
"What do you want?" he grumbled, rolling over onto his side and propping his head up with his hand.
"Cid's talking about…rebuilding Home," she said with a sigh. "I don't know what I want to do, and I want to talk to you about it."
"Have you talked to Yuna?" he said, feeling a strange twist of worry.
"Yes, of course. I won't leave her for another three months, at the least—things are just barely beginning to settle, and she thinks it'll help future sentiments toward the Al Bhed if one of us is there with her…"
"So—uh—you could stick around for longer than that, ya?" He rubbed his jaw thoughtfully.
"I guess. But I'd like to be there when we begin digging. It would—help it feel like Home, I think." She flopped backwards onto his stomach, making him expel an involuntary oomph of air. "I miss the old Home so much sometimes," she whispered, her breath warm on his skin.
He weaved his fingers into her loose hair in a gesture of casual affection. They'd never really sorted out their relationship in a conversation or anything; somehow it had smoothly gone from friendship to flirtation and then stalled on its way to 'something more' after all the recent upheaval—both personal, due to Tidus and Auron's abrupt departures for the Farplane and…wherever, and political. It felt…comfortable, but he liked things to be laid out the way they were supposed to be.
"Wanna go get dinner sometime?" he said.
"Are you changing the subject, Wakka?" she asked, playfulness edging her voice.
"Because if you are, well, that was the least subtle excuse for a subject change I've ever seen. Really, you got to ease into it. Have to coax the subject change, tease it—"
"That sounds dirty," he said uncomfortably, suddenly aware that her mouth was practically against his lower abdomen.
"Pervert," she accused cheerfully. "And yes."
"Yes, I want to go get dinner sometime. Now, about my original subject—y'know? What do you think?" She shifted her weight, one of her elbows digging into his ribs.
There was a long pause. "Hey, I ain't gonna stop you or anything—"
"You're a smart man sometimes," she put in, tracing his bellybutton with her finger. It tickled in a vague, interest-inducing kind of way.
"—And maybe, yeah, I'd rather you stuck around, but then again, you can come and visit and maybe if I figure out how to conjugate your damn Al Bhed verbs, I can visit you there, ya?"
"Sounds good to me." Her fingers inched over the indents of his clenching stomach muscles.
"Rikku, your hands are cold," he reminded her.
"Hhhmph, you're no fun." She laced his fingers with hers. "C'mon. Let's go somewhere."
"Didn't you say you'd take me to dinner?"
"It's—" His eyes sought out the red glow of the machina clock. "Three in the morning," he protested.
"All right, let's go get breakfast then." She tugged on his arm. "I'm sick of this, almost. All these robes, all this ceremony that comes with defeating Sin and negotiating with Yevonites and everything—let's go swimming or fight fiends or something. I've got the worst case of cabin fever."
That was when he realized it might be best for her if she did go. He had been so caught up in his own thoughts that he hadn't noticed that. "You know the way out of this stupid city? We could go to Macalania Woods—"
Home sweet home.
Home is where the heart is.
Home is where you hang your hat.
You can never truly go home…
Was the last one an adage? She wasn't sure. Either way, it was the truth.
Shifting her heavy pack from one shoulder to the other, Rikku made a little sigh. Her companion gave her a glance.
"You okay?" Wakka asked.
"Yeah, I'm fine," she said. That was the truth, too, more or less.
"Well…uh, yeah." He scratched the back of his head.
A pause. "Good-bye," he said at last, shoving his hand out to her. "Not for good, ya?" he added uncertainly, as if he were making sure.
With another adjustment of her pack, so she could take a free up an arm without falling over backward, Rikku caught his larger hand up in her own and shook it. She shook her head emphatically. "Of course not for good! I'll come to visit in Besaid in a month or two."
(And Yuna would be solemn and sad, and Tidus would still be gone, and there would be villagers who stared at the green-eyed Al Bhed heathen and she wouldn't enjoy it much at all.)
But maybe he would come to Home first. She thought that she'd like that.
"Yeah." He broke their handshake and mussed her hair affectionately. "Later, then," he said, gesturing out the window. They were clearly descending toward rolling dunes that stretched in every direction. When she squinted, she could make out the dark rock jutting out of blond sand in the distance. It was a foundation suitable for tunneling into. So that's our new Home.
"Good luck," he added quietly. "With Home and all, ya?"
Rikku nodded solemnly.
He raked a hand through his hair. "Uh—don't go off and get married to some Al Bhed kid while you're here, got that?"
She giggled. "I'll invite you to the wedding."
He snorted. "I mean it."
"I mean it, too. Buy me something expensive and pretty for a wedding gift."
"Ya…" he sounded melancholy.
"Oh, come on, you know I'm just kidding." She rocked back and forth on the balls of her feet.
"I know that. It's just—ah, never mind. You know?"
"Yeah," she said, because she did understand. "Same goes for you, you know. Get married to Lulu or Yunie or some cute Besaid girl and I'll be irritated."
He did laugh then, almost in spite of himself. "Gotcha."
She rested her forehead comfortably against his shoulder, enjoying the last few minutes as they ticked rapidly by. The whole pilgrimage had left a bittersweet imprint on her mind—Yuna's life and Tidus' death (or whatever), the heated post-Sin conflict, the grudging acceptance of the Al Bhed running side-by-side with a fervent reemergence of the old hatred, revived by stubborn Yevonites. And then there was this, Wakka, and the thing that might-be-could-be something like love or at least enduring friendship and lust…
"Come with me," she said impulsively. "Pack up your things and give it a try for a week."
But he had started shaking his head when she first opened her mouth.
"A week," she continued anyway. "Is a week going to kill you?"
It was nearly a month past her unsuccessful attempt to get him to come with her when she heard a thick Besaid accent butchering Al Bhed, followed by the throaty chortle of her Brother and then the first voice griping at Brother in the common tongue. She stopped dead in her tracks, toweling off the sweat from her latest patrol with Lissa and Tonnell around the perimeter of New Home, taking out fiends in their shift of a never-ceasing watch. It would be like this until they got decent defenses up.
Then her legs started churning underneath her. She turned the corner to the main hall, boots skidding on the powdery rock-and-earth mixture covering the makeshift sheet flooring. "Wak~ka," she sang out happily, catching him around the waist in a bear hug. One of his arms circled over her shoulders.
"I decided you were right. A week can't kill me, ya? Though I might end up killing your Brother, but that's a different matter."
"You can't kill him, 'cause then I would have to avenge the family honor and whatall," she said, the words muffled against his bright yellow blitzer's vest. "Besides, he's our only pilot. Essential personal."
"I knew there was probably a catch." He scuffed the toes of his sandals against the floor. "Um, so where should I stow this stuff?"
"Not in Rikku's room," Brother said in Al Bhed.
Rikku elbowed him sharply. "Hey! C'mon, this way." Wakka followed her, his eyes scanning around as if he felt distinctly out of place. She supposed she'd owe him a trip to Besaid after this.
A/N: I know it isn't a definite ending, in the 'I-love-you' sense. But I've already done much more romance than I planned for when I originally started writing this, and I think it's clear enough that there will be a 'happy ending' of a more definite sort three-five years down the road for Rikku and Wakka. Obviously, it goes AU from the end of FFX, unless you really want to pretend it matches up with canon and we have Wakka/Lulu and maybe Rikku/Gippal in the future. :P I'm sticking with my happy-AU. If any of this chapter feels choppy, let me know. It got reworked extensively a few times, which is why it's much later than the promised 'one week' and that might have caused some choppiness. I'm not catching it, but it's one o'clock in the morning. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed it and I may write a one-shot sequel (of the gratuitous happy fluff kind, or maybe even of the plot-with-incidental-gratuitous-fluff kind) if I get enough scene ideas pieced together. We'll see. Thank you for reading and thanks to everyone who reviewed.