Chapter 5: Quality Time

"Ah, there you are, Vynne!"

The young man turned as he saw his mother and father walking over to him. He smiled at them immediately and strode over, bowing lightly to both of them.

"Mother, you look beautiful as always."

Rumminia smiled. Firul nodded and took a step forward.

"You're looking well, Son. I trust that you've already met Cid's daughter?" he asked.

The three of them wandered over to the head dining table and took their seats, attendants already prepared to serve them. A waiter who seemed to be in his early twenties, his blond hair neatly spiked, smiled warmly and went over to them.

"Would you like the special this evening?" he offered.

"Oh, no thank you. Perhaps later," Rumminia replied politely, waving a delicate hand.

Firul and Vynne shook their heads similarly as well. The waiter bowed lightly and stepped aside.

"No, Father. I didn't get a chance to meet her yet," Vynne finally answered, taking a sip from his glass. His father raised an eyebrow.

"Oh, but we saw both of you going into the same hallway just a minute ago," Firul commented.

"Surely you must have at least seen a young lady in a yellow dress?" Rumminia added thoughtfully.

Vynne shook his head. "No, I don't think I did…" He paused. "But maybe it's about time that I do meet her. After all, we are to be married, right?" he laughed, standing from his chair. "Where did she go? The main hallway?" He pointed in the direction of the entrance.

"Actually, Son. Cid hasn't told us what his daughter's…reply was," Firul trailed off, clearing his throat.

Vynne looked back and forth between his parents before sitting back down momentarily. "I guess I can understand. After all, I can't imagine how hard it must be for his daughter to suddenly receive this proposal."

"And, it's okay with you?" Rumminia softly spoke up.

"What's okay, Mother?"

"You don't think this is hard for you, Son? Firul inquired instead, knowing what his wife had meant.

Vynne took his glass and began slowly whirling the deep red liquid absent-mindedly. His reflection stared back at him as he looked down. "An arranged marriage isn't exactly what I had in mind either."

His parents fell silent.

"But it'll help our family. That much I'm willing to do."

Firul and Rumminia watched their son, seeing the expression on his face. He had matured drastically in the last two years. Perhaps too quickly as well.

"Cid carries a good name, Son. This marriage will allow the Al Bhed to confide in us again," Firul said after a few moments of silence had passed.

"I'm just afraid that you may have already had an eye on another young lady, darling," Rumminia sighed, concern causing small wrinkles to form around her bright eyes.


"Gippal, don't you think it'll look a little weird if I approach him first?"

"Nah, it's fine. Just do what we talked about, and it'll be alright," he informed her. Rikku raised an eyebrow. He seemed a little too confident.

They stopped talking for a moment as another couple walked by. Rikku instantly recognized the man as one of her classmates from engineering class. Their eyes met briefly before he glanced over at Gippal.

If she had turned away at that moment, Rikku would have missed the small wink her classmate had given her. Her eyes widened at him as if silently saying that they weren't at the party together. But the twinkle in her classmate's eye easily told her that he didn't buy it. She blushed.

"Who was that?" Gippal asked curiously. He had seen the guy wink at Rikku.

"Just a classmate from Engineering."

"Oh, is that all?"

"What do you mean?" she asked defensively, seeing him smirking.

"Nothing. I just didn't know that classmates made you blush," Gippal said matter-of-factly.

She froze.

Why does he always notice those things!

She was about to retort, but instead glanced up when something caught her eye up ahead. A familiar figure entered the hallway. She cleared her throat and turned away so that she was facing Gippal fully.

"I don't even know why I'm going along with this, but you've made me curious. Vynne's here," she whispered, forgetting what she was about to say to him earlier.

Gippal looked up over her head and nodded. "I'll be around." He turned and walked down the hallway, leaving Rikku alone.

She stalled for a moment, idly walking around as if waiting for someone. Vynne was further down the hallway, but she knew that she was in full view. He couldn't miss her.

Gippal had piqued her curiosity when they had been talking earlier. If Vynne had been watching her, perhaps he was just seeing what she was about. It didn't really surprise Rikku that Vynne hadn't approached her immediately. Maybe he really was trying to find a more appropriate opportunity to introduce himself.

But of course, Gippal didn't buy it.

He had reasoned that as her bodyguard, his senses were more refined than hers. According to Gippal, Vynne had apparently been staring at her a little too intensely.

"A glance would've been alright. But this guy had his eyes locked on you, Rikku."

She couldn't help but shiver a little at that. The thought of a complete stranger watching her was more than just a bit unnerving. It was downright…creepy.

"Excuse me…Rikku?"

Turning around slowly, she looked up at the young man.

Dark green eyes sparkled curiously under blond bangs. His sun-kissed skin contrasted a white suit, and Rikku had to swallow in an attempt to ignore the word that she had been ready to utter.

Whoa.

"Um, Miss?"

She blinked, smiling apologetically and composing herself. "Oh, sorry."

"You're Rikku, right?" the man asked, studying her.

Slightly surprised at his forwardness, she played along nonetheless. "Yes, and…you are?"

"Vynne Yuvera. I'm sure you've already heard about me," he said, standing with his hands behind his back. He smiled gently.

Although they had only just met, Rikku was startled at how kind his words were. He wasn't at all forceful or creepy as she expected he would be.

So much for stereotypical rich boys. Heh.

"Are you enjoying the party? You seem a little…lost?" Vynne asked hesitantly, chuckling a bit at her silence.

Rikku giggled, shaking her head. "Oh, no, no! It's a great party. I um…I was just taking a walk."

He nodded. "So you met my parents already?"

"Yeah, I did," Rikku replied, smiling. "They were really nice."

Vynne raised his eyebrows in disbelief. "Oh, so you…came by yourself?" he continued, wondering why she had been taking a walk alone.

She was instantly reminded of the scene from earlier in the courtyard with Kai. He had asked her the same question before Gippal had showed up.

Rikku knew that Gippal was presently listening to their entire conversation.

"U-um, yeah. Sorta," Rikku responded, turning herself more fully towards Vynne.

He tilted his head curiously. "Oh?"

"I don't have a…date or anything. That's all," she clarified, waving her hands in front of her.

He began nodding in understanding. "Oh, well, neither do I."

They both laughed softly at that, Rikku awkwardly looking down at her shoes, and Vynne looking everywhere but at her.

"W-well, I should head back. I left my dad back there…" Rikku spoke up first, beginning to turn away. They had obviously run out of things to talk about, and frankly, Rikku didn't really want to entertain him further.

"Of course," Vynne nodded. She sent him a short wave before walking away.

He stood still, debating with himself for a few seconds before taking a step forward.

"Rikku!"

She paused as he called out to her.

"Maybe you'd like to go out to lunch sometime?" Vynne began hesitantly, looking away. She didn't reply at first. "To talk about everything, I mean," Vynne added, scratching the back of his head slowly. She knew that he meant the marriage proposal.

Rikku looked past Vynne and saw Gippal standing a few feet behind him, leaning against the wall. She smiled apologetically.

"I don't know if that's a good idea right now." She paused, seeing slight disappointment flash on his face. "I mean…! I…still have a few things to talk to my dad about. Sorry…" she said. Rikku decided to leave out the part regarding her final decision. She really didn't have any intention of marrying Vynne or anyone her father chose for that matter. Not after Cid had told her that he could have easily just sold the plans instead.

"Forgive my inconsideration, Rikku," Vynne replied. "Maybe some other time then?"

"Sure," she said quickly, not putting much thought into it. Rikku figured it was just a formality. Of course he wouldn't try to pursue her further.

Right?

Waving one last time, she turned and headed back into the ballroom, figuring that Gippal would meet up with her eventually.


Seeing Rikku finally leave the hallway, Gippal pushed himself off the wall and hurried after her.

He went the opposite way down the hall and turned the corner, heading into the back doors that led to the ballroom. Looking around momentarily, he quickly spotted her sitting alone in one of the tables away from the crowd. He slowed down, walking over to her.

"You…okay?" he asked hesitantly. She looked up as he approached and nodded.

"Yeah, I'm fine."

Gippal sat down in the chair furthest from her and leaned back, studying her expression.

"…What?" she asked after some time had passed between them, noting his eyes on her.

"Nothing."

"You heard the whole conversation, right?" Rikku asked, glancing up momentarily to see if Vynne was around. He wasn't.

"Yup, but I was a little disappointed," Gippal admitted, waving a hand in the air.

She sighed. "He didn't mention anything about Kai. You know, what if they're just friends. That is possible, Gippal."

"Yeah, but something just doesn't feel right," he said, leaning towards her and shaking his head.

Rikku laughed. "So suddenly you're an expert at this stuff? Aren't you better at being a leader?" she asked him while crossing her arms, referring to his old position as leader of the Machine Faction.

Gippal shrugged. "Doesn't mean that I can't sense when something's not right, y'know," he told her calmly, smirking.

She sighed again, resting her chin in one palm and looking away. "This whole thing's a mess. I should just go to the Yuveras, tell them 'No' and then tell Vynne that I don't want anything to do with him," Rikku said quietly.

He suddenly let out a short laugh. "What's this? Are you admitting defeat? Damn, didn't know you had it in ya!"

"Hey, what's that supposed to mean?" Rikku demanded, returning to a sitting position.

Gippal shook his head in amusement before his expression turned serious again. "You're not even a little curious about any of this?"

She simply looked back at him in silence.

"At first, Cid says that he wants you to marry this guy so some plans can get sold. You figured out that you weren't really needed since those plans could easily be sold without you," he paused for a moment, seeing Rikku paying attention to him fully now. "I'm still being paid to be your bodyguard, even if both you and Cid know that without you, this whole New Home plan can still go through."

Rikku nodded in silence, his words echoing in her mind. Why was Gippal still around? Once Cid told her that she wasn't really necessary, he should have called off the whole bodyguard thing. So, why put it off?

"I dunno 'bout you, but all this just seems strange to me," he finished, leaning back again.

"But…why? Why go through the trouble? I mean, why doesn't Pops just sell the plans and get it over with?" Rikku asked.

In reality, Gippal was just as confused as she was. He looked around the ballroom. He spotted the Yuveras dancing gracefully in the middle of a small crowd of people as everyone clapped and laughed. Moving his gaze through the area, he spotted Kai sitting at a table with another man in the dark corner. He paused on him for a moment. Gippal strained his eyes in an attempt to get a better look at the other man. It was Vynne.

"Gippal…what if I'm just being used to help the plans get sold faster?" Rikku spoke up, drawing his attention to her again.

"Huh?"

She shook her head slowly. "Think about it. The original package included me and the plan. If the Yuveras assumed that I wouldn't agree to the proposal, they would tell my dad that the plans were enough. My dad, being the dumb dad that he is, would agree to sell right away…"

"…so that he doesn't seem like the bad guy to you anymore, and so he can score big with the higher-ups no matter what. I get it now…" Gippal finished, realization crossing his features. He glanced up at where Vynne and Kai were, suddenly feeling suspicious of their surroundings. Rikku still didn't know that the other two men were sitting together across the ballroom.

"Gippal, I don't know what's going on but—"

"Hey, let's go somewhere," he suddenly interrupted, rising to his feet. Walking over to her, he gently took hold of her arm and pulled her up as well, not waiting for her reply.

"W-wait, why?" she protested, looking up at his face.

He said nothing, a firm hold on one of her wrists as he led them out. She noticed how he had deliberately avoided the main crowd and took the back route out of the mansion.

Rikku struggled to look into his face while they walked quickly down the hill and into downtown, but his expression was unreadable. Finally, she felt his pace slowing until they were walking casually. He let go of her.

"What happened? Why'd we leave so fast?" she asked. It was the first thing either of them had said since rushing out of the house.

Under the illumination of the moon, she could see him clearly now. "You need to watch out for Kai."

His sudden statement caught her off-guard.

"Gippal…! How can you say that? Don't just make accusations based on something we don't even know is going on yet!" she exclaimed, a little perturbed. Although she didn't even know Kai that well either, Rikku didn't particularly like blaming people that fast.

"Sssh, keep your voice down," he bade her quietly, raising a finger to his lips.

Rikku paused, blushing with slight embarrassment. "W-well, at least tell me why you brought Kai up then," she said, her voice barely above a whisper.

"I saw him with Vynne again," Gippal said calmly, shrugging. He raised a hand to his hair, suddenly feeling a cold drop of water hitting his scalp. Looking up, he could see angry dark clouds quickly engulfing the pale sliver of the moon.

Rikku followed his gaze up and groaned. "Oh, man. Please don't say that there's a storm coming?"

Gippal barely had the chance to reply before a crashing sound pierced the air and they saw the first flash of light. The rain began falling in torrents almost immediately.

Squealing, Rikku broke out into a run in the direction of the houses, Gippal trailing behind her chuckling.

They stopped just outside an armor shop, the short covering just barely keeping the water away. Rikku tossed away a large chunk of dripping hair as Gippal stopped beside her. He watched as she bent down to remove her heels.

"You think it'll stop soon?" she asked him breathlessly, a hand to her chest.

He tossed his own bangs out of his eyes and shrugged. "Doesn't seem like it."

Rikku groaned again and looked up at the sky. Thick gray clouds could be seen all the way across the horizon. "Ugh, this sucks."

Gippal watched as she rubbed her arms up and down briefly before bending down in a crouching position. She remained there for a moment, rocking slightly. He removed his jacket and put it over her shoulders.

Looking up, she smiled shyly, a little embarrassed. "Thanks…."

"Yup," he replied simply, putting his hands in his pocket and turning away from her. In just his pants and button-up shirt, he peeked at the sky again. "Well, we can't stay out here. Your house is still pretty far, too," he added.

Rikku stood up, clutching his jacket around her. The bottom just barely reached her knees. "Yeah, but I should be able to make it if I run…" she trailed off, a sneeze suddenly escaping her.

He raised an eyebrow, trying to prevent the corners of his lips from curling upward. "Uh-huh."

"Shut up! I'll be fine!" she protested.

Gippal let out a laugh. He leaned on the post behind him. "My house isn't far from here, you know. Just come over and get changed. The rain'll probably be gone by then," he added, taking one last look at the sky.

She paused for a few seconds, wondering if that was such a good idea. She mentally went through the facts.

He was her bodyguard. So doing this was part of the job.

He didn't seem to be interested in her. She couldn't honestly say if she was interested in him either.

He's a guy. Guys have needs.

The last statement caused her eyes to widen.

Of course he's a guy, you idiot! And what the hell are you thinking, Rikku!

"Whaaat…? Afraid I'll try to jump you or something?" Gippal laughed as if reading her mind, seeing her hesitation. "C'mon. Let's go."

One other thing. I picked up few moves from Paine. One false step and he'll really get it.

As she told herself that, she suddenly felt a little more assured. Plus, her dress wasn't exactly the thickest of materials. It clung to her hopelessly, and the fabric would have given Gippal quite an eyeful if it weren't for his jacket that presently covered her.

"Fine, but don't try anything sneaky! I'll—"

"You'll what…?" he challenged with a grin, enjoying the shock on her face.

Deliberately ignoring his question, she suddenly stepped into the rain past him, calling out. "Hey, hurry up, will ya?"

He watched as she began jogging up the hill, not bothering to wait for him. Gippal shook his head again, a smile tugging at his lips as he followed after her.

"Heeey…! Do you even know how to get to my house?" he called out.


End of Chapter 5.

I think I like the pace of this story. I'm going to try not to rush things since character development is something I'm going to emphasize this time around. Unlike my previous fics with this pairing, I want to really take my time.

Thanks for reading, everyone! See you in the next chapter!