A/N: Al Bhed translations are listed at the end. I hope you enjoy the story, despite the cheesy title.

Sealed with a Kiss

Letters. We had always used letters where communication was involved. When I was in the Squad there had been three, four a week maybe. I would wave the mail in an arch above my head, feeling smug, since I was the only one who ever got messages anyway. Of course, this action piqued the curiosity of just about everyone else in the tent, so while I sat down to read, my greedy smile expressedly showing how satisfied I was that people from Home still remembered me, Baralai and Paine were already settling down on either side of me to peer over my shoulders. Nooj had tried to look uncaring, but I knew that his eyes were glancing at us amusedly beneath his tiny purple shades. Of course, my little correspondence was suddenly the most affordable entertainment for the squad, which was saying something as the first few times it had just been a few plays at words between two separated lovers. And Al Bhed have never really been the elaborate sort. We're not naturally good with words like those from Bevelle, having always been more of the physical type. We don't stand around and give orders or write long theories on machina. We go out and fix the machina, or bury it up or take it apart. Sweet talking had never earned us particular favor with Yevon, after all.

Then again, I've always thought Al Bhed to have a natural charm and charisma.

And she was probably one of the most natural charmers I had ever met. It was insane, after all, to say that I had liked her for how she looked at first, because at that time her physical appearance hadn't really been flattering. When she first sent a picture I think Baralai and Paine had been taken aback. "She looks so...young." Our red-eyed recorder had always been quick to detail. "She's got a gap in her teeth, too." I don't think Paine was being particularly mean, but maybe it was because I had always called addressed my little penpal with Hey, Beautiful. "I thought you said she was fifteen?" There was an accusing undertone in Baralai's question, but I knew they were just teasing. "She IS." I said. Then I would whip out my pen and conjure the best reply I could think of, while in my mind I inwardly snickered. Rikku was cute. She did have that gap, though.

Turns out it wasn't just teeth that had a gap at all.

"I'm going to become a Guardian soon. For my cousin Yunie. I told you about her, right? High Summoner Braska's daughter? Pop's sister was her mom, turns out. I can't believe it! I'm going on a Pilgrimage! Gippal, this is going to be so exciting!"

Only I didn't find it anything to be excited about. Being a Guardian was dangerous. Everyone knew that protecting a summoner meant giving up your life for him or her if ever the need arose. Going on a Pilgrimage meant going all over Spira, and who knew what kind of fiends were out there, just waiting to take her apart? Humans were as fragile as machina, maybe even more so. And they were just as easy to disassemble. The only difference is that they're not quite so easy to put back together. Just like our relationship.

"What do you MEAN you don't think I should push through with this? Gippal, if you're forgetting, its the SUMMONERS that only ever brought Calm to Spira! If I could - if I could help Spira attain that Calm, then it doesn't really matter! And anyway I'm doing this for Yunie's safety. I'm trying to save my cousin's life! IF YOU DON'T THINK THAT'S IMPORTANT THEN NOTHING IS! I don't understand why you're so worried, anyway. I can take care of myself.

E's hud y meddma kenm yhosuna."

By that time I think that Paine and Baralai had started to lose amusement in my little saga. Or maybe they were getting more amused, but were smarter than to try and canoe around in my rocky waters. But every so often I saw them glance inquisitively at the letters. We had become a tight bunch and I knew they wouldn't mind if I shared with them my problems, but the Crimson Squad examinations were nearing and I didn't want to clutter up their mind with my teenage love woes. So I started writing my answers in Al Bhed, and I think, although Paine had sought me out once with, 'If you need any help about girls, there's one right in your tent', that they had taken the hint well. Rikku steadily became more spiteful in her letters and I constantly lost my temper in turn. My fingers would be aching by the end of my three pages of ranting and I had done the whole thing in capital so that I had a callous throbbing on my pointer finger. That was another upside of using letters instead of visits or communicating devices. No need to hear the yells. You could just read them. It was harder to lose your cool over a bit of parchment than a real person screaming in your face.

"It's over. I'm tired of being treated like a little girl. KuutPOA, Gippal."

When I got that message it was the dawn of the day Operation Mi'hen was supposed to take place. I knew that our anger had escalated with each new letter, but I hadn't expected anything like that. And in just three lines, too. I had been feeling queasy for a week already just thinking about the squad examinations but that brief dumping completely upturned my insides. I hadn't been able to give it much thought afterwards, what with entering the Den of Woe and getting shot at by soldiers subsequently. By the time Paine had found us stranded on the shore of beach I had been much too surprised to remember anything that had really happened that day. Much less opening an insignificant letter in the morning, when I had almost lost my life in three different situations all within twenty-four hours. It could slip the mind of anyone, couldn't it?

And I know girls to be particularly sensitive, but she didn't exactly help me to remember when she remained dead quiet for several months on end.

After the Highroad incident a lot of things happened. I heard of the demise of Home and, without anything much to do and way too much time on my hands, went back to Bikanel (even if it was filled with terrible memories of our training) to help sort things out. I was still hanging around there when news of Lady Yuna successfully completing her Pilgrimage came about. The Eternal Calm. No more Sin. Nothing more to threaten the existence of Spira. And oh yes, machina was back in action. The Al Bhed could finally walk through a town without feeling like losers or freaks.

I wanted to stay at Bikanel, though. My old Uncle Cid was there on again, off again. He hinted at Rikku being well. I remembered Rikku, but something in me was a bit numb to the memory of her already. In my mind she had become a sepia photo, a cute little girl with a mass of blonde hair, dimples and a gap between her teeth (I really couldn't stop referring to Paine's comment). She had been my girlfriend, right? Or at least we had gone on a couple of dates before I decided to leave to try and become a Crusader. Enough dates to be considered 'going steady', at least, and that had been built up on a childhood of memories. All the Al Bhed kids had hung out together since we knew we were the outcasts. There was me, Rikku, her obnoxious brother Brother (and didn't that git just love getting mad at me just because I was younger, handsomer and more popular with the ladies), a friend of Brother named Buddy (don't ask me where their names come from), a girl a bit older than us named Nhadala (she had been a bit of the bossy type and was constantly chatting with the adults about gil) and a few others that, as I learned eventually, had all been killed in the Guado raid. Keyakku had been one of them. I had been friends with him for some time, but that all ended when both of us made the move on Rikku. We ended up fighting about her. It sickened my conscience to know that he was gone now, and the last thing I had ever said to him was "Cra'c so kenm, oui zang!"

Especially since she wasn't my kenm, anymore.

As for other girls, oh I did have a few flings. My tongue had learned the complexities of flattery and something about turning 17 seemed to make me suddenly all the more attractive. Or maybe it was how muscled I'd gotten working for Yevon. I wasn't a complete package like Nooj, but then I wasn't a stick like Baralai. In between suited me just fine. I even got together with bossy old Nhadala for a bit, though she turned out to be a great business partner and friend rather than a potential lover. I was looking for attraction and charm, somebody who was comfortable with my constant flirting and chatter. Enough spunk and fun to rival my own. Someone who didn't roll her eyes whenever I would call her beautiful. Which would be often, since I can't help but ladle on the icing for any girl. (Except Paine, of course. And I'll always love Dr. P in a sense, but I think that if I ever even hinted for a romantic relationship with her, she'd have the hilt of her sword up my butt in no time for even thinking something so ludicrous.)

Ambition won over my desire for a better half in the end. Spira was restless with nothing to do. Home II was just a dream Cid had fabricated from his attachment to the desert. It wasn't much use hanging around the area without a purpose. I remembered the thing I had seen in the Den of Woe. Vegnagun, was it. I knew a lot about machina and Yevon knew a lot about lying. I figured putting the two together would mean something bad, and that apparition hadn't been good. Wrap it up in all of Bevelle's secrets and drape a bow over it spelling caution, and you have a mass-destruction weapon with a card saying FOR SPIRA'S DEMISE. Sin was gone, the Calm was here, and nobody was supposed to be frightened anymore. But I still was. And I was pretty certain that Nooj, Baralai and Paine were too. What we had seen hadn't been normal. I was still waiting for love, of course, but there was a whole life to go before that. Take charge, Gippal, and do the good thing.

Enter the Machine Faction.

So it went. The whole deal became surprisingly popular. Lots of people turned up for the digging bit. Lots of people needed cash. I allowed Nhadala to spearhead the operations in Bikanel and do all the financial stuff, while I took up the empty Djose temple and handled all the technical difficulties. Dig, find machina, and put together parts. I was working on a big secret weapon. The Machine Faction's Trump Card if anything. And I was earning a decent amount too. Searching for a girlfriend took a backseat to saving Spira. Didn't it?

Then I came across one of her letters in between copying a draft for finalization into a model. The one with her picture. Accidentally. It wasn't in sepia, either.

"We're just doing random stuff. Salvaging wrecks. Snatching summoners. Been in action lately, come to think of it. A funny man came onboard a few days ago but we lost him to the sea. I don't know, he just fell. He was blonde but he wasn't Al Bhed. And he was cute, too.

But you know that I don't find anyone half as cute as you, and you know I'll be expecting you to say the same for me.

Muja oui Mudc,

Rikku

P.S. I know the photo isn't much, but give me a few more years. You'll see. J

Years had passed since then. I was waiting to see.

-xx-

I'm through thinking over this long-dead romance, of course. My silly little life, bits of it chronicled in letters. One end in the hard scraps of paper that the maesters gave us to spare, the other all done up in cute stationary. With tons of hearts and a flourished signature. I read that letter feeling funny. I hadn't remembered our relationship to be like that. I thought it was something much more easy, more of really good friends that had a few kisses thrown in for good measure. But skimming through that bit of parchment and seeing her face again made something bubble up in my stomach, expand in my chest and grow fat. I think, at that time, I had really loved that girl. And I could still feel snippets of that emotion in me, even if that version of that face was at least two years old. She had been the sweetest thing and I had really truly adored her, something I hadn't felt in the twenty-something dates I had had since her last letter. What if, what if, what if. Could either of us possibly bother trying to re-ignite those ashes? Would I ever even see her again? I hadn't heard anything since my last encounter with Cid, and that had been in Zanarkand six months ago on an expedition to salvage wrecked machina parts (only the tourists there didn't like the idea of taking bits of their beloved dead city for our own selfish reasons, so I came back empty-handed).

Then I see her again and I'm dead shocked, because she's looking all grown up. A few years certainly did wonders for her appearance.

But from the scraps of the dialogue we squashed together that day, she hasn't changed a BIT from the same lovable old Rikku.

Only now I'm the head of the Machine Faction. I'm a bachelor and I'm not at war with any party. The followers of my group don't have to hate New Yevon or the Youth League to take part in things, they just need to be physically able and a little willing to throw in a bit of fiend-slaying for a chance at extra gil. It wouldn't do to lose my cool in front of the High Summoner that vanquished Sin and my former Team member, whose crimson eyes could not betray the familiar recorder even if she had gotten herself a new set of leather and a new attitude to match. I played Daddy Cool and smirked, tried to act like I was into Lady Yuna, didn't hide my surprise at seeing Paine (although she shot me a very meaningful glare. I think that she noticed my reaction to Rikku, though, and something was a little inquiring about her vicious little dagger-stare, like ohmygod, don't tell me THATS the same gap-in-the-tooth-Rikku from your letters?), only sparing her maybe a notion or two. Enough to make it clear that I was just a charming little devil, and that seeing her again didn't really matter to me. Playing the role of childhood-friend-turns-flirty-playboy to perfection. Even she didn't see through my act.

Then in the tide of things that have happened I realize that she's till there for me. And I still want her. Even when the letters drove us apart.

And I think about that as I pick up my pencil and a fresh sheet of paper. Drawing machina can wait. My heart yelling raucously cannot.

If I play my cards right properly I can probably win her over again. The problem is, I haven't written a letter in a long while.

-xx-

Hey Gippie,

Man, this is weird. I find we haven't written in ages. And to think that the usual letter had been twice, thrice a week before – a little funny isn't it? Or maybe I just have a lame sense of humor. Whoops, I'm going off topic! It's because of Paine. She keeps looking over my shoulder. You didn't…let her READ your letters before, did you! Okay. Whoops. I'm going off topic again. Well, what I want to say is, um, yeah. I got your letter. Well of course I did cuz I wouldn't be replying without something to reply to in the first place, right?

Ugh. Sorry. I must sound really immature, or something.

Incidentally, I was just going to write you one too. Seeing as I can't shakey shake to Djose Temple any time I like, with you suddenly being a big-time leader guy, hmm? Since when did you get yourself so popular? Well anyway I'm not jealous. I'm a member and CO-FOUNDER of the Gulwings and I've been guardian to the summoner who vanquished Sin! Yeah! Well my point there is that I'm not a little girl anymore. Which is what you seemed to think when I went on Yunie's Pilgrimage. Which was totally unfair, since you were a LITTLE BOY then and I let you go off to become a Crusader, didn't I? Yeah, I bet you're feeling guilty now.

But when I think about it, that was totally sweet of you. I guess…well, no, I know you were just worried. (That doesn't mean I DON'T think that you should still apologize. Because I do). I want you to understand, though, that I'm NOT a little girl like you think I am. You've given me a few more years and I think I've changed enough for you to know that I can do my own thing too, okay? Which is why you should start calling me Rikku, instead of Rikster.

Not that I prefer that over Beautiful, of course.

Oh, and you're not looking too shabby yourself either. But don't get all bigheaded just cuz I said that, okay!

So here's my yes, I will meet you on Friday. Definitely.

Rikku

P.S. Nasaspan drec?

-xx-

"Rikku! Smile!"

There was a flash and a stunned expression crossed the young girl's face, which quickly turned into one of anger. Her hand crept out and seized boy that had taken the picture by the ear. "How could you surprise me like that! Don't you know how afraid I am of lightning? You were there when Brother zapped me, you should know!" She grabbed for the device in his hand, still little more than just upset. "What is this, anyway? You didn't come up with something new did you? Some whacked-out contraption that causes thunder?"

The boy poked a finger to her nose playfully. "It's called a camera. I've been working on it for months of end and I only got it to work today. It's supposed to refract light onto something called film and produce a portrait of whatever you focused it on. That wasn't lightning you saw, it was just light to make the image come out clearer." He opened the machina and pulled out a sheet of paper that fit into his palm. There was a bright picture on it of the blonde girl wearing an expression halfway between a grin and a gasp.

"I do NOT look that bad! Give it!" She reached for the paper and he held it out of her grasp, laughing. After a few more failed attempts, she drew back, pouting. The boy grinned, suddenly feeling pitying at her display of annoyance. He handed her the image, much to her surprise. "Fine, you have the photo. But promise to send it back to me when you've grown more beautiful, all right?" He pushed his face close to hers.

"Wait for me when I'm in the squad. I promise I'll write you letters." He grinned.

"Caymat fedr y gecc."

Cid didn't give the boy any dinner that night.

"NOBODY KISSES MAH DAUGHTER WITHOUT MAH PERMISSION, YOU DANG-BLASTED PUPIL-MISSING GREASE-SNIFFING SHOOPUF!"


A/N: It's more of Gippal droning on about his life story, I suppose, but it's the closest thing to a Gippal/Rikku I could manage. That's not even my favorite pairing, but I hope I did it justice. It's been a while since I played the game, so I doubt there was any real reference to them exchanging letters before, but I'm quite sure they had at least something going on. :D

Written for A as a birthday gift last 2004.


AL BHED TRANSLATIONS:

E's hud y meddma kenm yhosuna - I'm not a little girl anymore

KuutPOA - GoodBYE

Cra'c so kenm, oui zang - She's my girl, you jerk

kemn girl

Muja oui Mudc - Love you Lots

Caymat fedr y gecc - Sealed with a kiss

Nasaspan drec - Remember this