Hi, everyone! Just a little AN before I get started.

Title is definitely subject to change… I just couldn't come up with anything better. Feel free to suggest one, if you like. This is supposed to be a Rikku x Gippal (otherwise known as "Rippal") fic. I've been reading so many lately that I had just had to write my own. You guys probably know what I'm talking about, right?

Oh, and please forgive the fact that my writing style here may be a little lax… I was just feeling sort of lazy, but I think it suits this fic alright.

Hm, okay, that about wraps it up. Happy reading! I hope you like it.

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The Growing Process
By: miyazawa kano

Chapter I: A Lesson Learned

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"Thisstuff iss sooo greeeat," she hiccupped. "Gimme anothurr one, Barkeeeep! Hahaha!"

"Mish Reekoo, yoo've alreadiddy had five in a roow, yesh? Yoo shood shlow dooown?"

Barkeep's feeble attempt to stop her only seemed to make her laugh harder. Suddenly, everything seemed a whole lot funnier. The whole room danced before her eyes, swaying back and forth and back and forth. That was funny, too.

"Aww, yoou pardee-poopurr!" the intoxicated blonde pouted. "I jusswant one mooore! C'moon!"

Rikku hauled herself over the counter and began to swipe greedily at the bottles lining the wall behind it. Alcohol was really, really fun. And she was only discovering this now, why? Pops had always told her that she was too young to drink… So she was too young to drink, but old enough to save Spira? Twice? At that point, Rikku resolutely decided to stop thinking. Had thinking always made her head pound like that?

"Sh-shumbudee doo shumshing…!" Barkeep yelped frantically, his blue arms beginning to flail.

It's not like I'm gonna hurt him or anything, Rikku thought resentfully, still reaching for the nearest bottle. I'm just helping myself, that's all…

"Whoa, slow down, princess," she heard someone say. A pair of strong hands gripped her waist and pulled her back down into her seat. "Maybe you'd better ease up, huh?"

"Whoo asked yoou, Gippull?" she demanded angrily. At least, she thought it was Gippal. He looked a little blurry, but that was no doubt his hair. "E'mm cdubb frah e's kuut'h naytto! [I'll stopp when I'm good'n readdy!]"

He playfully pushed her head down with one hand. "You'd better hope you're dad doesn't find out that his little girl's been drinking."

Rikku swatted uselessly at him. Why was everyone always being so overprotective? It was so unfair. She stood up hastily and whacked away the offending hand. "Xied dnaaydehk sa mega cuusa rambmaccc get! [Quit treeating me like soome helplesss kid!]"

Even as she spoke, she could feel her stomach lurch precariously. Rikku laid one hand on the countertop to steady herself, while the other massaged her now-throbbing temple. The background din she had only been mildly aware of before began to sound deafeningly loud. Maybe alcohol wasn't as fun as she had originally thought…

"Hey, are you feeling okay?" Gippal asked, his voice betraying a hint of concern. "You're lookin' a little green."

"Gippy… I don't feel so good…" she answered lamely as her gut experienced another sickening heave.

"Yeah, I can tell" Gippal said slowly, as if he were contemplating something. He looked her up and down, with a hand to his chin, before continuing. "Sorry, Rikkster, but I'm taking you back to your place…"

Fume.

"… Right now."

Glare.

"Whether you like it or not," he added firmly.

"I don't needjoo to walk me home, yanno," she protested weakly.

As a testament to her self-reliance, she turned on her heel and tottered unsteadily towards the large double doors that would help her to escape a certain overbearing Machine Faction leader. And it would have been a good testament, too, if she hadn't tripped over her own feet and fallen to the ground in a heap. Rikku's face gladly welcomed the cold of the marble floor, which helped to soothe her burning cheeks.

Gippal suppressed an outright laugh as he trotted over to where Rikku still lay sprawled. He bent down to look her straight in the face as she rolled onto her back… None too gracefully, he duly noted.

"You were saying…?"

"Shut up."

Without warning, Gippal used one hand to sling her arm around his neck, while the other grabbed hold of her waist. He hoisted the both of them back onto their feet. "Don't mind us," he said to the small crowd that had begun to generate, flashing a toothy grin in the process.

Rikku struggled, though in vain, trying desperately to loosen the firm grip he had on her. Stupid Gippal. Did he always have to make her look (and feel) like such a brainless ditz? Her futile resistance continued until the older Al Bhed had guided the two of them out of the room, down a long stretch of corridor, and out of the building itself. By then, Rikku had miserably concluded that no matter how much she wriggled, Gippal wasn't about to let her go. That, and the fact that she was having trouble even remembering which hotel it was she was staying at.

She mentally slapped herself. Okay, Rikku… Lesson learned: You and booze do NOT mix.

The gentle sea breeze swept unhurriedly past the two of them, taking with it the last of Rikku's fighting spirit. Her head drooped lazily as she allowed Gippal to drag her back to her hotel room. Wherever that was.

"So," Gippal drawled casually, the corners of his mouth beginning to twitch, "I see you've finally decided to cooperate."

Rikku resisted the urge to give him a good pinch. She manoeuvred her head to look him straight in the face. "You're jusslucky that I'm feelin' kinda tired."

"Okay, wow… Did you know that your breath really stinks?"

She stared at him a moment before she felt the blood rush to her cheeks once more. "I… YOU… WHY… ARGH! You… BIG… MEANIE."

The small blonde deliberately bit out her last few words, as she used her feet to stamp on Gippal's with a vengeance. As gratifying as it was, her actions caused the both of them to fall to their knees with a resounding smack. Embarrassment quickly gave way to anger, and Rikku promptly used her renewed clarity to take advantage of the situation. Before Gippal had a chance to collect himself, she had freed her limbs of him, jumped to her feet, and stalked off in a huff. She didn't know where she was or where she was going, and she didn't care either. As long as it was away from him.

It wasn't long before she felt a hand grab her wrist. "And just where do you think you're going?" Gippal questioned her, irritation beginning to mar his normally relaxed expression.

"Who cares?" Rikku snapped at him. The effects of the alcohol were beginning to wear off. "Anywhere but here! As long as it's away from you, that's good enough for me!"

The exasperation was now evident in his voice. "Jeez, Rikku, why are you so mad? I was only joking!"

"It's not just that! I don't need you to look after me, okay?! Now let go!" She tried to pry his fingers off of her wrist, but he stubbornly tightened his grip.

"You'd only get yourself lost without someone there to hold your hand!"

"Would you just stop? E's hud y meddma kenm yhosuna! [I'm not a little girl anymore!]"

"Ur, oayr? Drah bnuja ed. [Oh, yeah? Then prove it.]"

Before she could stop herself, Rikku had pinned Gippal against the nearest wall, her hands firmly planted on his broad chest. She stared at him defiantly, as if daring him to provoke her further. One look at Gippal's stunned visage caused a triumphant smirk to curve her lips. She had finally, finally managed to one-up him. However, Rikku's victory was soon forgotten as an uncomfortable silence began to pass between the two Al Bheds.

Once he had realized that Rikku had no idea what to do now that she had the upper hand, Gippal gladly relieved her of it. He snaked both arms around the small of her back and pulled her close, her body pressed up tightly against his own. Rikku's quickened breaths were hot against his skin. She immediately began to squirm under his strong hold, but stopped dead as soon as her swirling green eyes locked with Gippal's one. His penetrative gaze pierced her like a knife through warm butter.

"So are you gonna kiss me or what?" he asked teasingly, a devious grin beginning to form.

Gippal searched her face for some sort of reaction. He watched as a number of different emotions crossed her features. First it was shock, then aggravation, then confusion, and then it was embarrassment; maybe with a bit of revulsion mixed in. She has always been so easy to read.

Rikku abruptly broke away from his passionate embrace and scrambled around the corner of the building. Gippal cringed. She was out of sight, but not out of earshot. He listened as Cid's little girl threw up what had probably been about two days worth of food.

It was at that exact moment that Rikku resolved to never experiment with alcohol ever again.

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I'd originally planned to explain their whereabouts and such in the next chapter… But now I'm actually beginning to think that this fic would work better as a one-shot. What do you guys think? If you'd like me to continue, feel free to tell me so. R&R very much appreciated, as always.

DISCLAIMER: Final Fantasy X-2 belongs to Square Enix.