I have NO EXCUSE and so I won't bother trying to make one. I'm really sorry. But I promised I wouldn't give up, and I won't. Simple as that.
This chapter was mostly written... well, a year ago, so forgive the quality and shortness. My writing has improved a lot in the... year... since, so I promise that the next chapters (yes, there will be more! I swear!) will be so much better. I think there are only three or four left, so. Uh. I hope they won't take me as long as this one to write. Sorry again.
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"So you slept with her." Paine didn't even dignify the statement by making it a question.
Gippal considered this for a moment. "Sorry?" The two friends sat together on the Besaid beach, watching most of Besaid village and the Gullwings erect tents and tables for the later celebration; the three year anniversary of the Eternal Calm fell tomorrow, and all of Spira was preparing for the celebrations. Lady Yuna's presence had been requested in every major town and city in Spira, but she had declined all the invitations, citing instead a desire to spend the day at home, with her friends on Besaid.
"Well. I can't say I'm really surprised. At least now Rikku will have something else to think about," Paine continued, still in an annoyingly calm tone.
Gippal cast her a suspicious look. "You planned this?"
"Planned what?" Paine asked, smirking. "It's not as though I knew Rikku has a crush on you. Or that you liked her back, even though you do flirt with her a lot." She took on a slightly more serious tone. "I hated it. Seeing Rikku like that. I wanted to... help her out. I didn't know she had such strong feelings about Yuna and Baralai. And Tidus."
"Man, what a lame love triangle," Gippal said with half a laugh, a little sore about having been so deftly manipulated by Paine. As he spoke, he drew with one finger a messy diagram in the sand: "Yuna likes Tidus, Baralai likes Yuna, Rikku likes Yuna and Tidus is dead. Maybe it's more like a square. Or—thing."
"I just had the idea that if Rikku had something else to think about, she might lay off obsessing over Yuna so much. She's always been really devoted to her, but this was kinda creepy," Paine said apologetically. "I didn't mean anything by it."
"It's okay. I don't really mind," Gippal said, lying a little bit. Sure, he liked Rikku, and didn't mind the whole sleeping together part (what guy would?). It wasn't even that Paine had interfered—in Gippal's experience, bossing and meddling was how she showed she cared. It was more the fact that he had been so predictable that was bugging him. "Did you mess with anyone else?"
"No," Paine said, looking over at where Yuna and Rikku were trying to help raise a open sided tent. "Just you and Rikku."
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"Yunie! Watch out!" Yuna ducked just as the pole she had just put up slipped and fell to the side, crashing into the sand and taking the tent with it. Brightly colored canvas fell over both girls, and they were silent for a moment—two brightly colored canvas lumps—before bursting out into shared giggles. "Okay, well, we suck," Rikku said loudly, laughing. Her voice was muffled from the cloth.
"I think so," Yuna agreed. The sun shone thickly through the cloth, coloring Yuna's arms blue and legs yellow. It was hot and stuffy under here already, but strangely peaceful all the same. She stifled a giggle, thinking of what they must look like from the outside—two people-shaped lumps in the canvas, unmoving—but made no effort to get up. This was, in a strange way, the first time she had been alone with Rikku since they had arrived, two days ago.
She was just going along with Baralai's plan, really, as uncomfortable as that made her. She agreed with him that it was the best way to do things—to bring all the relevant people together for a party, to bring politics in carefully... all his planning, all his idea. Yuna didn't even know how, exactly, things were going to play out. She had just let him take the lead. So now, while he had gone to talk to Captain Lucil, Yuna had found herself with nothing more important to do but set up a tent.
"Rikku...?" Maybe there was something important she needed to do after all.
"Yeah?" Although Yuna was just sitting still under the canvas, Rikku seemed to be making an effort to untangle herself—to judge by the sounds. Yuna couldn't see her cousin, couldn't see anything but blue cloth lit from the sun. She took a deep breath, stalling. Rikku didn't sound angry, hadn't been acting angry... but... Yuna knew how her cousin had been thinking. That she didn't approve of her and... "Hey, Yunie..." Rikku said, before Yuna could begin to decide on or word her apology. "I'm sorry."
Yuna looked in the direction of the Rikku-lump, surprised. "Rikku, I—"
Rikku interrupted, speaking quickly. "No, really, I am. Yunie. Seriously. I just was—I mean, I know I was being stupid. It's none of my business who you date, Paine said. And then I sort of did something stupid—I mean, not stupid, I mean, I don't know."
This didn't fully make sense to Yuna. "Something stupid?"
Rikku sighed very loudly. "It's not like I regret it, it's just that I... kinda maybe—Well, anyway, Yuna, if you really wanna... date him. Baralai, I mean, it's okay. It's none of my business. And I'm sorry for... I mean, I know you loved Tidus. So I... shouldn't have..."
"—No," Yuna said. "It's okay. I'm sorry, too." She wasn't sure if she was going to be interrupted again, but after a moment of waiting, Rikku still hadn't replied. Yuna looked down at her knees. "I knew... you were upset. And I knew you would be upset. I should have said something to you. Explained it. Or just tried talking to you. I'm..."
"I still think it's my fault," Rikku said, sounding somewhat petulant.
Maybe, Yuna thought. "No," she said. "I should have been more... forward with you."
"And I should've been less of an idiot," Rikku added with a laugh.
"I..." she hesitated. "What... changed?"
Rikku laughed again, nervous. "I... Gippal said, 'liking isn't the same as love.' and stuff. And then, um, other stuff happened, and then I thought I couldn't really say anything without being kinda a—a hypocrite?"
Yuna had a sudden idea that she knew what was going on; she flushed, just a little bit, under the canvas. A part of her foolishly, nervously, wanted to point out that Rikku seemed to have taken things much farther than Yuna herself had, and yet. "Was it like or love?" Yuna asked, almost to herself.
"Hey, are you two still alive in there?" Paine asked loudly. From the sound of it, she was walking towards the tarp, under which Yuna and Rikku had been sitting still and talking for quite some time now. Paine sounded a little amused. Rather than answer Yuna's final question, Yuna heard Rikku begin to uncover herself from the tent, and she followed suit, gratefully taking a breath of fresh air once in the sunlight again as she stood brushed sand from her dress.
"Eh, more or less," Rikku said, remaining sitting cross-legged. "Hey, Yunie, I know I said I'm over all that stuff, but is it okay if I shove Baralai off the dock at some point?" She nodded her head in his direction; he was standing on the dock, talking with Nooj and someone else from the Youth League that Yuna didn't know. "It's not cuz I'm mad or anything, it's just that he's wearing long sleeves and he has it coming."
Baralai was indeed wearing his favorite green coat, which stood out in contrast to the predominantly short-sleeves and shorts of the others on the beach. "I vote yes!" Gippal said, suddenly coming up on the girls from behind with his arm raised in the air as if he was asking a question in school. "Can we dump Nooj into the water, too?" Rikku seemed to flush a bit; she stood up and moved to stand closer to him.
"I've always sort of wondered..." Paine said idly. "Do you think he just sinks?"
"Because of his arm and leg?" Yuna found the mental image amusing and yet awful at the same time; she couldn't decide whether to laugh or object. Paine nodded.
Gippal considered this. "I dunno, I've checked it out before, and they're made of pretty lightweight metals. And physically he's pretty fit, obviously, so he could probably thrash his way out if he did sink."
"You have?" Paine asked.
"Sure, like, the first day of the Squad," Gippal said proudly. "Actually it was the first night, he was already sleeping, but—"
"Seriously?" Rikku sounded impressed.
"Well, he woke up and nearly killed me," Gippal admitted. "And then Baralai woke up—cause I was sort of yelling—and stopped him from said killing, which was pretty nice of him seeing as I might have called him a few, uh, nasty names earlier in the day—I mean, well, he's a Yevonite, you know?"
"Where were you during all this?" Yuna asked Paine.
She shrugged. "Recorders had their own tent. Why haven't you told me this before?"
Gippal pouted. "It wasn't really my proudest moment." His pitiful look earned him no sympathy, and he dropped it. "Anyway, it's pretty lightweight metal, so he should be able to swim."
"But you know, we should probably find out for sure," Rikku said hopefully.
"And if he can't swim?" Yuna felt somewhat morally obligated to ask.
"Well, we'll be shoving Baralai in the water, too. He can save him," Rikku said.
"...Yeah, let's not count on that," Gippal said, probably joking.
"I think they're starting to leave the docks," Paine said, squinting over at them. "Yuna, go stall them while we finish planning."
"You're really going to do this?" Yuna said, as the two Al Bhed cheered the inclusion of 'Paine-sensei' into their scheme.
"Maybe not Nooj," Paine said, probably out of concern for the hypothetical drowning, "but Baralai pretty much does have it coming. Rikku," she added in an undertone, smiling dryly; Rikku and Gippal had switched to Al Bhed and were planning rapidly, "isn't the only one who feels a little like you're being stolen away."
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