Sorry this chapter took so long. I'm pretty slow when it comes to updates. It takes me a really long time to write something satisfactory, and the fact that I'm just a slow writer in general doesn't help matters much. Eheh, so sorry again. Did I ever tell you guys that I'm a giant proof-reading whore? Well, I am.

Anyway, posting a second chapter obviously means that I've decided against the whole "whee, let's make this fic a one-shot" idea. Thanks for all the encouragement, guys! It really, really helped. So without further ado, I present to you the second chapter of The Growing Process!

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

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The Growing Process
By: miyazawa kano

Chapter II: Brotherly Love

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A stray ray of light crept soundlessly (well, duh) across the floor and on to the bed of one very hungover blonde. Rikku grunted as the morning sunshine assaulted her eyelids, pulling the covers high up over her head. It was way too bright for her liking.

It took a moment before her senses were able to sluggishly take in their surroundings. Uh, where exactly was she again? Rikku pulled her blanket away from her face and was instantly greeted by a very unfamiliar ceiling. It was another moment before she managed to recall what city she was in, and why she was even there in the first place.

Right, this is Luca…, the groggy Al Bhed reminded herself. Yunie and Tidus decided to have their engagement party in Luca, and that's why I'm here.

Hm, the engagement party… Memories of the previous night came flooding back. She remembered the throngs of people who had come to congratulate the ex-High Summoner and her fayth-conjured boyfriend. (Not boyfriend. Fiancé.) People they'd met on their quest to stop Shuyin from vaporizing all of Spira and people they'd come across during Yunie's pilgrimage. Oodles and oodles of 'em. Well, first she remembered dancing herself breathless, and then…

She remembered chugging all of that booze.

Which would explain why her head was aching like there was no tomorrow.

And there was something else. Gippal…? Yeah, Gippal. Ooh, that guy really knew how to tick her off. And he knew how and when to enjoy it, too. Dryd zylgycc. [That jackass.] He was always acting like he knew better than she did; always patronizing her. It really made her want to give him a good punch in the arm right then and there.

So what did Gippal have to do with last night, anyway? Everything that happened after she'd knocked back her third drink seemed fuzzy and disjointed.

Aha! Now she remembered. Gippal had put another one of his "I-know-what's-best-for-you" whammies on her. And after she'd – cringe – fallen flat on her face, he'd dragged her out of the party hall and into the streets. At that point, she triumphantly remembered the part where she'd stomped on his feet… and then afterwards, when they'd gotten into that big shouting match.

She also remembered how she'd finally snapped and tackled Gippal and how he'd… he'd…

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Rikku started to panic. Okay, so now she had him where she wanted him. Now what? Gippal's back was still against the wall, but that smug expression of his was already beginning to reappear.

C'mon, Rikku! she urged herself desperately. Think fast! Do… do SOMETHING! ANYTHING!

But it was too late. Her eyes widened considerably as she felt Gippal encircle her in his strong arms, holding her close. "Wh-what the hell do you think you're doing, you big perv!" she wanted to scream at him, only to find that her mouth had become completely devoid of moisture. Gippal had now picked up where she had left off…

Dryd zylgycc. [That jackass.]

DON'T JUST STAND THERE! her mind shrieked frantically.

Rikku felt as thought the sense had finally been knocked back into her. She started to wriggle like mad, deliberately making a show of exactly how much she wanted out of Gippal's sudden embrace.

However, her twisting and turning was soon put to a stop. (Not that it was really doing her any good, anyway.) She desperately tried to cling to something real, but inevitably found herself lost to the swirling depths of Gippal's one-eyed gaze. A gaze that bored into the heart of her very soul and threatened to suck her in at the same time.

Wow, she found herself thinking amidst a swarm of other garbled, less coherent thoughts, for a guy with one eye, he really knows his stuff…

I always knew he was a player!

But soon even her less coherent thoughts were cast aside. Her knees threatened to give way at any given moment. She felt just about ready to melt into a puddle of very spellbound Rikku.

And she hated the fact that all Gippal had to do was look at her.

He had her under his thumb and he knew it, too.

"So are you gonna kiss me or what?"

He was expecting her to come back with something like, "Sicko!" Or maybe even a flustered, "You wish!" She knew he was. And she knew that that was what she was supposed to say… It was like some sort of unwritten rule! Gippal manages to concoct another one of his witty remarks, and Rikku makes (or at least tries to make) an equally witty retort. That was just that way it worked.

But now she was at a loss for words. She didn't know what to do, or what to think. A multitude of different emotions came crashing down on her all at once, jumbled and brimming with uncertainty.

However, despite the fact that her mind was in a state of chaos, one thing soon made itself very clear.

A sudden burst of energy allowed her to free herself of Gippal. She scrambled around the corner of the building, not wanting him to see what it was she was about to do next. Rikku's stomach convulsed one last time before she doubled over and barfed her brains out.

But whether it was because of all the alcohol she'd drank or because of… something else, she couldn't be sure.

It was only a few seconds more before she blacked out completely.

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Her recollection made her sit up straight. If there was ever a memory that Rikku wanted to repress, that was it. How could she face Gippal again after that? He wasn't ever going to let her live it down; it made her want to go find some corner to die in.

And what was it that she had felt last night? There were no words she could find to describe it. Except maybe… exhilarating. (Well, before the part where she started throwing up, anyhow.) Which made it all the more confusing. Trying to make sense of it only made her head hurt more than it already did.

She had just begun to ponder exactly how it was that she had come to be in her own hotel room after blacking out when she was interrupted by a soft knock at her door.

"Rikku?" she recognized her cousin's voice instantly. "Rikku, are you awake?"

"Yunie!" Rikku piped jubilantly, only to be surprised by the scratchy sound of her own voice. "Uh, hold on, let me get the door!"

She flung the covers aside, leapt out of bed, and had just started to bound towards the door when she suddenly came upon a full-length mirror hanging on the wall, positioned just to the right of a spacious walk-in closet. She paused, intending to only spend a few seconds on her hair before answering the door.

"Man… I look AWFUL," Rikku squeaked, horrified by her own reflection.

Her eyes were bloodshot, which unhelpfully emphasized the dark circles that loomed just beneath them. Her hair was sticking out in every direction possible and clothes looked, and obviously were, slept in. She used one of her hands to comb through the tangles in her hair while the other worked at smoothing out the wrinkles in her clothing.

"… Rikku?"

"S-sorry! I'll be there in a sec!"

Rikku took a step back from the mirror to evaluate the efforts of her makeshift grooming. Not much of an improvement, she realized bitterly.

"Okay, I'm coming!" Rikku called out, hoping beyond all hopes that Yuna wouldn't notice her dishevelled appearance.

"Oh, Rikku! Are you alright? Gosh… you look terrible!" her cousin exclaimed worriedly as soon as the young Al Bhed had cracked the door open.

… Oh, poopie.

"N-no, I didn't mean it like that!" Yuna explained hurriedly, after seeing the look on Rikku's face. "I just meant that… that you look really tired! You know, not in a bad way… just that–"

Rikku placed a comforting hand on her frazzled cousin's shoulder. "Chill, Yunie. It's okay."

Yuna gave her an apologetic smile. "Sorry."

"I already said it was okay!" Rikku reassured her, smiling. "So what's up?"

"I just wanted to make sure you were alright. Everybody was really worried when we heard about how you passed out like that."

"Huh? Who told you about that?"

"Gippal, of course. He's the one who carried you back here and–"

Rikku couldn't help but jump at the sound of his name. "He what?" she interjected.

"He carried you here," Yuna repeated, surprised by Rikku's sudden change in demeanour.

"Oh." Well, that explains how I ended up back in my room.

"You really ought to thank him. Anyhow," Yuna changed the subject, "I was just about to go thank Rin for letting us stay at his new hotel. Don't you think that this place is just gorgeous?"

"Yeah, it is," Rikku absent-mindedly agreed, having not paid much attention to what Yuna had said. Her mind was pre-occupied with images of Gippal lugging her down the streets of Luca.

"… Everyone's already waiting for us downstairs. You coming?"

"Uh… hey, do you think you guys could wait for me a minute? I need to, um… do something first."

"Oh, I get it," Yuna grinned, taking the hint. "Gippal's room is that one, just four doors down."

"Hey!" Rikku's first instinct was to defend herself; she didn't like that devious tone in Yuna's voice. "I'm just going to thank him for bringing me back here! It's not like I'm gonna throw myself at his feet or anything."

Throw myself at his FEET? She immediately wish she could've taken that last part back.

"Oh, come on, Rikku. We all know that you've had a little crush on Gippal since way back when."

"A crush? On Gippal? Maybe if I had a thing for cocky dorks who always smell like they've just jumped into a tub of motor oil," Rikku scoffed loudly. "Which I don't," she added quickly.

"If you say so," Yuna replied skeptically, clearly unconvinced. "Well, we'll all be waiting for you down in the lobby. Don't take too long, okay?"

Rikku made a point of sticking out her tongue at her cousin's retreating back. But still, she had to admit that Yuna had saved her the trouble of having to find out which room was Gippal's. She walked a short ways down the hall and stopped at his doorway, but suddenly found herself hesitant.

Maybe he's already left Luca, she thought to herself. After all, he IS the leader of the Machine Faction. He's got stuff to do, right? But it couldn't hurt to knock… just to make sure.

Why am I being so weird about this? Is it because of last night? Wait, what am I thinking?! Just knock on the freaking door, Rikku!

After taking a few seconds to build up her courage, she balled her hand into a tight fist and rapped sharply at the door.

"It's open," a lazy voice called out from inside the room. There was no doubt that it belonged to Gippal, Rikku realized as a feeling of dread began to settle at the pit of her stomach. For some reason, she suddenly didn't want to have to face him.

She wordlessly turned the doorknob and peered cautiously into the room, just in time to see Gippal pull his shirt down over his muscled stomach.

"FOR THE LOVE OF SPIRA, GIPPAL!" Rikku cried shrilly, quick to shield her eyes from a sight that she couldn't help but think of as oddly appealing.

She nearly choked on her own spit at the very thought.

"I never told you to come in," Gippal chided her playfully, wearing his usual boyish grin.

"It's the same thing, you big dummy!" Her reasoning was met with a good-natured chuckle.

"So," he continued, ignoring her angry complaint, "you're looking sober."

"Mm, yeah… about that…" Rikku stuttered a little awkwardly, "I just wanted to thank you for taking me back here…

"… And for not leaving me out on the street like some hobo," she finished suddenly, trying to make her gratitude towards the other Al Bhed sound less personal.

Rikku's glaringly obvious state of uneasiness only provoked Gippal into teasing her further. "And you should be thankful, too," he droned carelessly. "You know you're not as light as you look. Have you put on a few pounds since you quit spherehunting?"

"Well, if I'm so fat, maybe you should've just left me there!" she pouted irately, resisting the urge to stamp her feet. "It would've saved you the trouble of having to haul my big shoopuf-butt back here!"

… Am I overreacting? Rikku questioned herself as soon as the heated words had left her lips. Usually, she always felt comfortable in Gippal's presence… but now something just felt… Well, something felt off.

Gippal gave her a sidelong glance, stretching his toned arms out in front of him with his hands intertwined. He looked at her thoughtfully for a few seconds more before he closed in on her, leaving only an arm's length to separate the two of them. He smiled warmly; a smile Rikku was unaccustomed to seeing on Gippal's face. She stared blankly at him, only mildly aware of the fact that he had placed an affectionate hand on top of her head.

"You'd better listen good, 'cause I'm only gonna say this once," he told her amiably. "I care about you, Rikku. You know that, right? I look out for you. Hell, I've always looked out for you. Even if you do weigh as much as a shoopuf.

"… You're like the little sister I never had." With that, he pulled her towards him and into a friendly hug.

And all the while, Rikku confusedly battled with her own emotions. She knew that she should've felt happy… For once in his life, Gippal had actually been open and honest with her. She's always thought that he'd deemed himself "too macho" for displays of actual affection. But here he was, telling her that he cared about her.

That he thought of her as a sister. He thought of her as family.

The thought of it caused a lump to form in Rikku's throat. Her breath began to catch. Just like the little sister he never had. It was something to be happy about, right?

… Right?

But somehow, Rikku realized somberly, somehow it just isn't enough.

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I know that this chapter ended kind of weak… I didn't like it much while I was writing it out. Um, but it'll get better, I promise!

killkikyopeople: Hehe, well, I do plan to have them together a lot in future chapters. I hope this one was alright!

Black Mamba BWA: Thanks for reviewing!

Master Thief: I hope this chapter wasn't too anti-climatic for ya. Thanks for the review!

Unknown Yuna: Thanks for the review!

me! -: I read lots of Rippal stuff, too. I hope this fic is up to par! Don't wanna make anyone sad, hehe.

i won't tell: Aw, thanks for the encouragement! I haven't planned on an actual number of chapters yet. Honestly, I don't usually plan that far ahead at all when I write fics… eheh, oops. This might be a short one, though! I hope I can finish it.

DarkAngelius: Haha, yeah, I knew it would be a bad way to end a one-shot. But I figured that it would be better to leave it at that if no one was really interested in reading it. But I have decided to continue, so yay!

XxRinoa555xX: Yup, I'm continuing! Thanks for the review!

kingleby: Hehe, thank you! I hope I can keep Rikku and Gippal in character.

xX AnimeAdictt Xx: I'm glad you thought it was funny! Hopefully it wasn't too over the top, haha.

Bulaklak Girl: Thanks for reviewing!

reviewer: Hehe, yep, this story shall go on! Thanks for the encouragement.

Thanks so much for all the reviews, guys. It means a lot!