The Echo
Chapter 1: The Breakdown

I walked down the highroad, the cold wind hitting my face, biting me like a thousand tiny needles. I pulled my jacket closer around my body, seeking what shelter I could from the cold.

I wanted to pack my things once more and leave this place, this weather that so clearly reflected my current state of mind. I wanted to emerge into the sunshine once more, to catch a boat to the islands… to be with my family once again. I was lonely, miserable, with only my workers for company. But my wants were only wants. No matter how much I wanted to go to Besaid, to follow… I couldn't. She didn't want me there.

I stopped when I reached the first bridge that spanned over the tidal pools and leaned against the cold, ancient stone. The waves were crashing against the rock outcroppings just offshore, sending cold spray into the air in huge white spurts, a momentary blizzard of ice cold sea water. The ocean here was so different than it had been back in Luca. Whereas the ocean in Luca had seemed forgiving, the waters here were dark and angry, never calm, never warm… it only furthered my constant melancholy.

I watched for a long while, not noticing as the clouds opened up and rain began to pour from the heavens. A branch of lightning struck an outcropping far out in the bay, and I was startled out of my contemplation. With a sigh, I jogged across the bridges and into the temple courtyard, which was empty. With a final glance at the sky, I pushed open the heavy doors. It was quiet inside the main room of the temple. A few Al Bhed workers were talking softly near the statue of High Summoner Braska. Adena was standing just inside the door with a towel, and I grinned at her dispiritedly as she handed it over.

"Oui ghuf sa duu famm." I wrapped the towel around my neck as I removed my dripping jacket. Hastily, I entered the small mudroom just off the entrance, one of the many add-on's that we'd made to the temple, and hung the jacket in the corner.

Adena glanced at me with both amusement and concern. "Famm, ev oui ynah'd ehceta fungehk ouincamv du taydr, oui'na uid drana dnoehk du vnaawa ouincamv." As I towel dried my hair, we walked up the stairs toward my office.

"You have a visitor waiting… I hope you don't mind that I let her in." Hope filled my mind as I quickly opened the door, looking inside.

It was gone as soon as it had come, though. It was only Paine, and though I was glad to see her… she wasn't Rikku. "Thanks, Adena." She nodded and closed the office door as I walked over to Paine, uncharacteristically quiet. "Hey, Dr. P."

"Hey." She was sitting in the chair in front of my desk. I was a bit nervous, seeing her here. "Nothing's wrong, Gippal, if that's what you look all scared about."

I grinned slightly. "You know me too well, too."

She nodded, the hint of a smile on her lips. "Yeah, I do." She thought for a moment, gazing out the small window behind the desk. "I might as well just tell you why I'm here." She pointed to the desktop, and I hesitantly sat in my chair. "I made a sphere for you."

"Of what?"

She was silent for a moment. "Rikku and Telan. I've been making it for a long time, actually. But I knew you'd want to see them, and I knew you wouldn't defy Rikku's idiotic wishes and come to Besaid."

The little blue sphere sat on my desk. I hesitated for a moment, meeting her bright red eyes. She held my gaze for a moment, and then looked back toward the window. Then, I picked up the little blue ball and closed my eyes before starting the playback.

The first shots were of Rikku, apparently just after she'd arrived on Besaid. She wasn't yet showing. I watched as she lay back in the sand with Tidus, staring up at the sky as they talked quietly; as she sat around the bonfire in the middle of the village, staring into the flames distractedly; as she sat at the edge of the dock with Yuna, swinging her legs back and forth.

As I continued to watch, I noticed the small changes in Rikku's body as the pregnancy began to move forward. I laughed as she modeled for the camera, showing off her swollen belly and laughing.

Tidus and Yuna were chasing each other across the beach, and then, the camera turned on Rikku. She was holding little Vidina, sitting in the surf, and looking very awkward, her middle defying the logic of her otherwise tiny physique. She was wearing a ridiculous floppy hat, until the toddler threw it into the water, letting loose strands of hair blow about in the ocean breeze. When Yuna took the little boy into the deeper water, Rikku stood and watched, her hands on her abdomen. "Yuna, c'mere!" she called out. After Yuna and Vidina had felt the baby kicking, Yuna and Rikku splashed about in the water. When she finally came back onto the beach, someone put the ridiculous hat back on her head, and she laughed and looked toward the camera, making a face as pieces of sand and drips of water fell from the brim of the hat.

She sat on the dock, watching as two dolphins swam about the cove, a sad expression on her face. As the sun began to go down, she laboriously pushed herself to her feet and walked slowly down the beach toward the village.

I knew the next images quite well. She was in the hospital, yelling loudly as she clung to Tidus' hand. Tidus yelled loudly too, and I chuckled a bit. The next shots were of an unconscious and pale Rikku. I looked out the window for a moment as well.

And then came the shots of Telan, mostly as she slept or cooed up into the camera. A soft smile made its way onto my face… I missed my daughter, now that I knew about her. I hated not seeing her every morning, rocking her to sleep in the evenings. I held her, in one of the screenshots, lovingly rocking the little pink bundle. During the time spent in Luca, I'd never realized just how bad I had looked, myself. My skin was pale as Rikku's, the bags under my eyes dark and heavy.

And finally, there were pictures of Rikku and Telan on Besaid, presumably shot in the week and a half since we'd left Luca. I stopped the playback as tears threatened to fill my eyes.

"How could she do this to me, Paine? I want to be there. I want to be with her, with our daughter." I was silent as I ran a frustrated hand through my hair. "I'm miserable without them."

"They're miserable without you, too. It may not look it, but… Telan cries a lot more often, lately. And she won't quiet down for Rikku, not like she quieted down for you." Our eyes met again, and I could see the unasked question.

"I can't, Paine. I have to hope that when she's ready, she'll want me around. It's killing me to do it, but if she doesn't want me there, then I won't go."

Paine stood and shook her head as she walked toward the door. "Both of you are too stubborn for your own good." When she was gone, I looked down at the little sphere in my hands, and carefully tucked it away within a drawer. I walked to the tiny window and looked out at the angry waters again, trying to drive back my own frustration.

I was too angry to control myself, and I kicked the wall, leaning my forehead against the cold stone wall of the temple, regretting the fact that I didn't have the courage to follow her… regretting that I hadn't followed her back when she'd wanted me to do so.

"Can I have her for a few minutes?" Her eyes were guilty as she met mine, hastily avoiding my gaze.

"Yeah… yeah, go ahead." She carefully passed Telan to me, avoiding touching me at all costs. I looked over at the ship that was almost ready to depart, and reached for her hand. Her shocked green eyes met mine as I squeezed lightly.

"I just need a few minutes." My voice was quiet. I could see Yuna staring at Rikku in disbelief from across the platform. Rikku glanced over at her and quickly pulled her hand away, grabbing her bags and staring down at the ground.

"I need to… go and load this stuff…" She stepped away hurriedly, leaving me alone with our daughter in the center of the dock, surrounded by our friends. The situation was almost embarrassing, but I didn't care. I slowly strolled off the dock, out of the line of sight of the others.

As I felt Telan grab a fistful of my shirt, the familiar motion I'd come to love and cherish, I lost hold of the calm I'd maintained since the night before. My eyes filled with tears as I took a seat on a lonely bench, propping her in front of me, my hands supporting her head and back. I looked into her blue-green eyes, now more green than blue, as she wriggled around in my grip. I smiled at her and ran my thumb along the back of her little hand.

"I want you to know something, Telan. I know you can't answer me or anything, but you've been really good at listening this whole time, and that's all I need you to do, okay? I love you. You're my girl, and I want to be with you and mommy forever. I never, ever want to leave you, angel. You're my world, sweetheart, and I'm going to come and visit you soon. Mommy just needs time right now, time to spend with you, without me around. I'm always going to be there for you, sweetie…" A tear fell from my cheek; I shuddered and pulled my daughter close, draping her little body over my shoulder as I'd so often done, smoothing her angelic blonde hair back into place. "I know you probably don't know what's going on, but… I want you to know that I don't want to go home. It won't be home without you and your mother…"

I cried for a moment, holding her softly. "I don't want to leave you, angel, I love you." I heard a small sob, and looked up to find Rikku standing not far away, her face in her hands. I stood and walked to where she stood, reluctant.

I placed a hand on her shoulder. She looked up at me, tear-stains running down her cheeks, her beautiful green eyes washed out. "Gippal-" she began. I shook my head and smoothed Telan's hair once more, suddenly uncomfortable. "Don't tell me it's okay… please don't."

"I wasn't going to. Because it isn't okay, Rikku… this is not okay." I was crying again, and I was angry. "You never told me about her in the first place, and I've been here for almost two weeks, scared to death that you were going to die… I took care of her, I loved her the moment I saw her, the moment I found out she existed, and you are taking her away from me and that is not okay!" I hadn't realized that I'd raised my voice until Telan began to cry. Rikku and I both stared at her, and I bounced her softly.

"I know." She was staring at the floor again.

"Rikku, look at me." She didn't move. "Please." There was a hesitation, but then she looked up once more. "I want to see her. I want to be part of her life… and yours." She closed her eyes, as if in pain, and I lovingly traced her cheek with my fingers. "I'll always be there when you need me. I'm just a call away, Cid's girl. I know you don't want me to follow you, and I won't. But when you need me, you know where I'll be, and I'll come running if you ask me to." Her tears were flowing freely, as mine were. "I love you, Rikku… I always have, and I always will, no matter what happens. And I know that somewhere in that confusing heart of yours, you love me, too."

I kissed Telan on the forehead and passed her gently to Rikku. She began to cry, that painful cry that had only come once before. I remembered the nurses saying something about that kind of cry, and how babies could sense it when something was wrong. "It's okay, sweetie, go with Mama now…" Rikku bounced her and patted her back in an effort to calm her, but she only cried louder.

"It's okay, baby, it's okay…" Rikku looked at me, tears still in her eyes, and I looked away. I walked the two of them back toward the dock and bid everyone farewell, my heart breaking as Telan continued to cry. Once the others were on the ship, I gave Telan one last kiss, and gave Rikku a tentative hug.

She boarded the ship, and within moments, it was moving away from the dock. Telan cried even louder as the ship moved away, and Rikku stared straight at me, rocking Telan back and forth as she did so. I stood in the center of the dock until the ship was out of sight.

I hope all of you enjoyed this first chapter! Thanks for reading! Thanks to FairyIce for betaing.

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