The Adjacency of Ones

Maybe it was the very namesake which defined the times now that caused her to feel so distraught. It certainly wasn't her style. Rikku certainly could have renamed the Calm with a far better adage. 'The Boring' came to mind. Maybe that wasn't entirely fair to Spira, however, though the only thing that existed in the moments between silence was the self, bold and proud. Not only had Sin been cast away into memory, but also Vegnagun even before the people knew of it. Once again Spira was carefree and open, save any more secrets which could be buried within the bowels of Bevelle and New Yevon. Still, there was something to be said about having a purpose in life.

Having nothing to do was torture.

"Ugh, whaddya mean they're gone? You mean to tell me that I can't even get a ride home now? Brother's priorities are a little funky, if you ask me!" Rikku bawled and stomped her fury into the dust of the Mi'hen Highroad, her face twisted in disgust for her brother's inclination to do anything Yuna asked. It was those typical Al Bhed eyes which revealed just how artificial her anger was, for she could never truly be angry with her friend.

Paine could see through it without even looking. "Yuna's been pretty excited to see all of Spira lately. I guess they didn't want to wait," she lulled in indifference. Unlike the others, she didn't know much of anything about the young man who had come out of nowhere and back into Yuna's life. It was puzzling, even after Rikku's best attempts to explain it, but there was little need to worry. Though he looked like Shuyin and even managed to impress her with his skills, Paine had a feeling that there was nothing to worry about anymore. Plus, Yuna appeared to be happier than she ever had been before.

Even through the sin of being left behind, Rikku managed to pump her legs in a frustrated dance, mimicking all the many times she had done so before though this time fueled by her annoyance with Brother. 'He' came back, just as Yuna had wanted, and they were quite the couple now. The High Summoner, or rather the former High Summoner and her mysterious companion from nothing but dreams created quite a spectacle wherever they went. That was one of the reasons Rikku was so irked. She was being left behind time after time, it seemed. "Oh, I bet they're partying even as we speak! That's so mean!" she bawled again but earned no sympathy from the other part of the infamous Gullwings. By this time, her complaining had taken on a very sincere pout.

Despite their standings on transportation, there wasn't much they could complain about. The Mi'hen Highroad was enjoying a very mild spring in the following of the continuation of the Calm, setting the precedent for which all other seasons would be judged upon. Chocobos had even returned the highroad, traveling in flock without fear of fiends and elating the hundreds of visitors which traveled from Luca to the Mushroom Rock Road. Rin was sitting at the top of the world and could not be seen without a smile on his face. However, this world was still not without danger. Fiends still roamed about, though due to the efforts of the world's most well-known figures, they were becoming less and less of a danger to everyday life.

But they left their mark on the world.

In the midst of Rikku's wailing and Paine's lack of sympathy, a single machina strode by them both in a very unusual manner. This machina was like nothing they had ever seen before and it snared both of their attentions like a mighty trap. "What is that? I've never seen anything like that before!" Rikku burst out in amazement while single-handedly following the machina like a wayward puppy. She was crawling on her hands and knees through the dirt in an effort to unlock the mysteries of the thing, drawing some strange glances from travelers passing by.

However, Paine could not hide her interest either. "It must be a new model. It has an insignia on it," Paine replied and tilted to the side to get a better look. Though Rikku was far too interested in the mechanics of the thing, Paine's reading of the insignia froze her investigation and recognized the emblem with a surprised voice, "The Machine Faction?"

The name automatically caused Rikku to straighten her back and stop in her tracks, giving herself a base to twist and turn as she tried to locate something – or someone. The small smirk which Paine reacted with was not because of her actions, but the look in Rikku's eyes as she searched the area. There was no mistaking that look. The intricate web of past and present which wove all of them together made Paine truly the only person who could have said what she said next, "I doubt Gippal would have come out here himself, Rikku. If you want to see him, we can always go to Djose temple." Not even Paine could hide a grin of satisfaction as Rikku turned to her with shades of red bronzing across her cheeks.

"What! What are you talking about!" Rikku cried as she quickly turned away and aimlessly cuffed her hands together.

"You certainly jumped into search mode when I said where it was from. You hardly hide it whenever he's around either," Paine replied.

"H-h-hide what? I don't know what you mean!" said the greatly embarrassed Al Bhed.

Rikku's quick escape by turning her back on Paine was all the more proof of her guilt and they both knew it. Yuna was the one who usually chided Rikku about her flirtatious behavior around the leader of the Machine Faction, but this time Paine had to go about it in her own way. Her way wasn't nearly as subtle as Yuna's but it did seem to generate the same effect. "Whatever. I want to know what these machina are so I'm going to go talk to Gippal. Stay here if you want," Paine said flatly. There was no room for debate as she turned and started towards the nearest hover, leaving a flustered Rikku standing on her knees in the highroad, her face still trying to iron out the wrinkles of embarrassment laden on it. Paine was heartless when it came to Rikku's plight.

Gippal.

What was it about him that stirred her up? Was it his voice? Maybe it was the way he went about every thing; so cocky and cool. He ran the entire Machine Faction and even helped defeat Vegnagun. He was smart and a born leader. It was no wonder he had the respect of the Al Bhed and even evaded bad tidings from Rikku's father. But the efficiency at which he could embarrass or enrage Rikku put him in a class all his own. With a single gesture, he could make her burn red in the cheeks or go white in the knuckles.

She hated that about him. She also loved it.


By the time Djose temple was in sight, Rikku was taking two steps forward and one step back. The swirling of stone on arc was something that left a certain awe with people, but Rikku's nervous wringing of her hands was more in fear of the beast inside rather than the crackling fury of the rocks. It was still nothing compared to how her stomach was twisting inside of her. Saving the world was an easy excuse not to think about him.

Maybe there was a downside to defeating Vegnagun.

The usual foray of guards and mechanics dotted the clearing outside of the temple but none of them were the dreaded Gippal. Rikku felt relieved and crouched into a ball, hugging her knees while she inspected yet another example of the Machine Faction's new machina. Anything was better than giving in to her desires to watch Paine find Gippal. Maybe she was being a little childish about this all but everything was beginning to change for Rikku. Yuna was euphoric in her love with Tidus. New Yevon and the Youth League were now working together to find the sparse fragments of Spira's past. Even Leblanc was a totally different person as she stuck to Nooj's side.

While everything changed, Rikku managed to stay the same. The world was stagnant for her. Still, she was getting older now and there were not many fiends to fight; even less pockets to pick! She actually had to behave now and that made her sigh while she ran a finger over the shivering machina, mindlessly imagining it was something else. The vibration numbed her finger slightly and caused a quiver to run through her, making her eyes dull and her mouth hang slightly open. Even her vast experience eluded her as her guard dropped to her emotional menace.

"You wanna take it back to your place? I didn't design it for that, but the great thing about machina is you can change them to do anything," said a voice suddenly.

With her heart seizing in her throat, Rikku toppled over on her side with a shrill yelp, putting herself in a quite undignified position to the smirking Gippal. That only made him laugh heartily and stand straight, putting his hands behind his head and making no effort to hide the grin on his face. As he had noted time and time again, Rikku was always good for a laugh.

Rikku was beside herself in embarrassment and threw a fit on the ground, burning in embarrassment and also anger at being teased by him incessantly. It was only after the initial shock did she focus enough to glare her assailant with eyes both guilty and mad. "Gippal! Don't sneak up on me like that! And whaddya mean do I want to take it back to my place?" she roared. Her fury was a mask upon her blush, both for the disgusting remark and her own knowledge of what she had been daydreaming about.

Gippal set his hands on his hips and roared in laughter as he looked down upon the young girl, very pleased with himself and his task of making Rikku flail about. He was still chuckling as Paine strode onto the scene and could only guess how this had come around. Even though she was tempted to interrogate Rikku about it, she instead looked to Gippal and hugged herself casually, ignoring the flustered Al Bhed girl. "Hey, I see you've been busy," she said, ignoring Rikku's tantrum.

"Well, well, if it isn't Doctor P and her partner in crime. What brings you to my little corner of Spira?" he replied and shifted his attention from Rikku as well, which of course didn't go over with since her whole tantrum was for his benefit. Her pout muffled her ranting about his perverted sense of humor. Paine was too busy wondering about the machina.

"We saw a machina like this on Mi'hen. It's a little stupid to ask if they're yours," she said.

Gippal gleamed brilliance and threw a thumb across his nose, smiling proudly as he marveled in the accomplishments of his faction. There was great pride when he replied to her, "The first of our new models after digging in Bikanel. Thanks to your help with our Experiment, we were able to make a revised, more versatile version to patrol Mi'hen and Djose. Whaddya think? Aren't they impressive?"

Paine took a moment to look around at all of the new models around them, each a smaller version of the Experiment the Machine Faction had built and slightly differing from one another in form and function. She was impressed, though one could never tell by her expression. She had always admired Gippal's ability to build and repair, but now she had to admire his ability to design as well. "You always were one to show off when you did something," she said.

Her traumatic experience had seemingly been forgotten and Rikku was sitting on the ground at their feet, leaning back on her hands and looking out over the variety of machina. 'Gippal did all of this?' she thought as the peered about. It was amazing, but she felt a bit indignant as well. That's all she needed – another reason to admire him.

Just as their reunion was veering from formality, one of the technicians can running to Gippal and began talking excitedly to him. It was obvious by his quivering hands and sweating brow that his emergency was not positive. Though Gippal was getting the general idea of what was going on, the tumbling Al Bhed which he was hearing was starting to get on his nerve. With a single hand, he cut the technician off with a silencing order. "Cmuf tufh ymnayto!" he snorted and the technician did exactly that, slowing down and taking a breath for a moment. Though Paine and Rikku both understood Al Bhed perfectly, Gippal wanted the older man to think before speaking so he set the precedent for his report. "Now tell me what's going on and don't mumble," he ordered sharply.

"We were able to open the secret door in the 'I' section of the temple but there was a fiend there! As soon as the door was open, it grabbed one of my men and sealed itself back into the room! What am I going to do?" the technician howled.

It was quite the tale, but Gippal listened to it with his thumb cradling his chin. A fiend? They were still finding a few since the aeon had reappeared, but nothing that could frighten one of his workers this bad. It was annoying, but a smile suddenly tweak his features; a smile that mad Paine scowl due to its obvious intent. "How convenient it is to have the Gullwings here," Gippal commented and turned his eye to Paine, noticing the look of anger flash over her face. Paine was easy to get to, just like Rikku was, though it took a distinctly different approach and a great deal of personal danger. He was lost a moment in his ability to get her like that, but something had to be done about the matter. Sincerity had been masked by smiles. "How about it, Doctor P? It's not exactly digging, but you're still on the payroll, right?" he asked.

The further scowl across her face made him laugh even more and shrugged, hiding what expectations he had with his artificial sigh. "I know a certain someone who isn't going to get a raise. All right, it's my problem anyway," he quipped and nodded the technician to lead the way. It was well-known that Gippal could take care of himself and that getting the Gullwings to do the work was just a product of his laziness. He had just wanted to see Paine glare at him. But he would handle it without their help just as easily, for even when he was alone, Gippal had the spirits of Paine, Nooj and Baralai with him.

In that sense, he was never truly alone.

"E fyhd du ku," said an unexpected voice.

His heroic odyssey into the jaws of danger was halted by the timid Al Bhed which caught all of their ears. Being even more than Paine, Gippal turned to Rikku and was actually speechless, looking at the almost serious look on her face. She had clamored to her feet and stood with her chest heaved up, trying to put on her most serious face to him. It was something that actually got his attention. She reveled in that for a moment.

"You want to go?" he echoed.

"That's what I said," she said smugly, "Got a problem with that, oh mighty leader of the Machine Faction? You don't even know what's down there!"

Taking a moment to stand in front of her and settle a hand on his hip, Gippal managed to get Rikku to lose her stone jaw a moment, but her eyes told him of her determination. He knew Rikku better than most anyone else, but she did have the ability to surprise him every once and awhile.

Still, despite her surprising him like that, he still laughed softly and strutted back to her, pushing her headband down over her eyes like a teasing older brother would despite her squirming and objections. "Huh, I guess Cid's little girl is growing up after all. I can't argue with your talent, though. Follow me," he said and turned back to the temple.

Gippal was unique in the sense that he rarely let anything stand in the way of truth – not pride or fear. When he thought something, he said it. When he knew it to be true, he accepted it. Whether or not getting help from Cid's quirky daughter was commercially cool, he knew that she was adept, being one of the few people that actually helped defeat Sin and Vegnagun. Those kind of credentials went far with him.

Although his voice sounded different in Rikku's ears, she still heard the same thing. Even as he walked towards the temple, she threw her arms down and shouted out after him, if only to grab his attention one last time. "I have a name!" she cried. He never seemed to change. His tormenting of her had stretched back into the very depths of her memories and she remembered hardly anything else about him from their childhood. There were other things, dark and scary things that she would rather forget, but the teasing was always foremost in her mind. It was his banner, but also the one thing that allowed her to be close to him.

Pulling the band from her eyes, she was instantly drawn to look at Paine, smiling a bit sheepishly at the expression on her face. The dark sword-bearer was smirking at her choice and even had a rare and devious smile to show, revealing that she knew more about the decision than Rikku cared for. But the Al Bhed was justly sheepish and chuckled lightly, rubbed her neck to try and brush away the embarrassment. "Eh heh, it's just that it could be a really nasty fiend or two fiends and maybe it could be guarding a sphere or some other kind of treasure!" she said, trying to justify her actions by the creed of the Gullwings.

Paine was not convinced.

To that, Rikku suddenly changed gears and snorted, looking away indignantly and kicking her feet through the dirt. "Ugh, what's wrong with wanting to help Gippal stop a fiend anyway? It's not like it could be anything worse than Vegnagun," she said while she tucked her hands back behind her head and marched after Gippal. Even if Paine was right, that didn't mean Rikku would acknowledge anything in sight or sound. But it was as if she wasn't just trying to convince Paine of the innocence of her actions, but rather someone much more personal.

Paine watched a moment, then gave her last bit of advice through a half smile, "I don't think it's the fiend you have to worry about, Rikku."

Though Rikku didn't stop to dignify the remark, her steps slowed and her mind began to work against the tickling feeling she felt on top of her stomach. Paine had already turned to leave Djose, truly leaving Rikku alone with one of the most chaotic parts of her life and heart.

Alone.

Alone with Gippal.

Alone with Gippal where no one would be able to find them for awhile.

Alone with Gippal where no one would be able to find them awhile and the thrill of a fiend lurking over their every moves like a shadow, making blood pump hard and skin grow cold at the mere changing of the air.

Alone with Gippal.

What was this feeling which prickled her skin and thrilled her? Why did it slow her steps and make her far more weary of the friend than the fiend? What would happen once she was alone with him?

It was embers in her mind. She would have to face them alone and truly test her merit when it came to this powerful influence in her life. Whatever was to happen, she felt deep inside that this would change something between her and Gippal, for better or for worse. She didn't know which it would be, but she knew that she would move to find out. Silently, she disappeared into the temple.