Nine Months
Chapter 57

Pale faces stare back at him when he looks into the mirror, and there's a mutual strangeness between him and them - green eyed here, wild hair there. Glancing away, Gippal finishes rinsing his hands before turning around and giving them all a polite smile.

He knows they aren't furious with him, but he also knows that many aren't particularly thrilled that the friends and family of the deceased Yevonite Faction members chose to hold additional services in Guadosalam. He tries to shrug off the heavy feelings as he steps out onto the streets, loosening his tie.

Ruba's tiny giggles fill the somber space as Yuna leans forward and talks to her in a high pitched voice, lightly bopping her little nose and tickling under her chin. As Rikku watches the two families walking dejectedly away from the Farplane, she wishes she were able to laugh, too. Wishes the relief from all of the services finally being finished would just sweep over her, already. She shivers as a particularly loud crash echoes through the hollow from the Thunderplains.

"How does that still bother you, after living in Djose for so long?" Yuna asks, glancing up from Ruba for a few seconds.

"I don't know... lot's of stuff still bothers me, even if I've been around it before, you know?"

Yuna looks up at her again as she stares at the entrance to the Farplane. "Are you going in?" she asks tentatively.

Rikku can see the swirling pyreflies along the path. They make her nervous. "I don't know." She takes her eyes off of the doorway, glancing down at Ruba for a moment before looking down at the band that is still playing somber music, the crowd that is still mourning as they disperse. "I prefer our services, I think..." she says softly.

Yuna nods, leaning against the railing. "I do, too." She points down into the crowd. "Gippal is coming back."

He's gotten a few of the top buttons loose when he notices Yuna's finger aimed at him and Rikku's slightly amused grin. He smiles back a bit sheepishly as he makes his way to them, leaning down to take Ruba into his arms. "She's been a good little girl all this time, hasn't she?" he says, kissing the infant on her forehead.

Rikku nods with a grin. "Yep yep... quiet as a mouse, and happy, too." She leans back against the railing, watching him hold the baby, smiling at the fact that he no longer attempts to turn his face to the side when he does so, at the fact that he no longer hesitates to pick her up for fear of making her cry. "Which just means she'll probably get mad later when we're trying to sleep."

Gippal's about to tell her that that's only a problem if he and Rikku actually decide to go to sleep tonight, but it doesn't seem like an appropriate comment with her celebrity cousin sitting right next to her. Instead, he lets his eyes wander below at the scattered crowd. "Where's Tidus?"

Yuna cocks her head to the side as she scans the crowd, as well. "I have no idea, actually..."

Rikku shrugs, nodding politely to a passing Guado. "He said something about buying a clue."

Gippal chuckles as he lightly bounces Ruba in his arms. "Well, as long as he's back within the hour. I made reservations at the restaurant earlier; they said we could bring Ruba along." He glances at Rikku momentarily, a nervous smile making its way to his lips but he tries to hold it in. "Then we can just head back to the inn for the night."

She smiles back. "We need to go get her diaper bag from the room before dinner... that way if she gets all fussy we can give her a bottle and they won't have to regret letting a newborn in." With a wink, she holds his gaze for a moment.

Yuna smiles excitedly, reaching up to smooth Ruba's hair. "Have you eaten there before? I heard they have excelle-"

But Rikku isn't listening anymore, because she just spotted someone familiar. His black haired silhouette hurrying past them and into the entryway to the Farplane.


She stares after him for a moment, confused about why he's here on this particular day, going inside at this particular moment when she's standing in this particular spot.

She blinks a few times to clear her head before a determined expression takes over her features, and she pushes herself off of the railing. "I'm uhm... I think I'm going to go. Inside, I mean."

Gippal steps in her way, eyeing her closely. "The Farplane? Now?" He gives her a curious look. "I thought we agreed to go together. Tomorrow," he says in a lower voice.

She nods, looking back at him. "I know we did, I just..." She bites her lip, stopping herself before she tells him exactly why she wants to go now. Because he'd never let her go there now if he knew that Khaled was out there, too. "I just feel like I should go by myself for a few minutes, you know? And I honestly just want to get it over with and stop thinking about it."

Gippal frowns and there's a sinking feeling in his chest. They went over this already. Carefully and thoroughly, they had agreed last week that both of them - him and her - would finally go together inside to see Pimka. What's this all about she feels she should go by herself? Did he not have the right to see the baby too?

He tightens his grip on Ruba as he turns his gaze away from Rikku. Yuna gives him a sympathetic look and so he turns away from her too. "'kay," he whispers quietly. "We'll wait outside."

Rikku looks at his back with a sigh, knowing he's hurt... not wanting him to feel that way. "No, Gippal, I just..." She sighs, touching his shoulder softly. She whispers quietly so Yuna can't hear. "There's just something I gotta do. I won't be long."

He meets her eyes for a brief moment before nodding. It was never really his child, after all... "Yeah, you go," he says, giving her a gentle push toward the entrance. He forces a smile. "I'll be right here."

She shivers as she walks up the stairs, listening to the odd silence that resides around the place. She stares at the barrier that the Guado put up long ago, and she remembers the day she first came here. Sits along the wall where Auron sat as they waited for the others, stalling a little longer, wishing that she had his cool reserve because it might make this whole experience a little easier.

With sheer force of will, she pushes herself off the wall and up the last few stairs, taking hesitant steps toward the barrier. She closes her eyes, walking forward, and she feels it as she passes through, a slight misty chill on her skin - and then she's warm, again. She keeps her eyes closed as she stands just inside, because it's her first time here, after all. Her first time seeing the Farplane from this angle. She can hear the waterfalls below, the sounds much more faint than they were while they walked through the fields of flowers. The platform is warm and welcoming, but too calm, she thinks, too stagnant.

She opens her eyes slowly, adjusting to the bright golden hue of the platform, the clear air that reaches out into the open abyss. Pyreflies... she can see them, occasionally floating near the wall, can hear them as they gather in the endless flowerbeds below. The sound is unnerving, as always. She looks around, noticing that she isn't too close to any of the walls. Glad she isn't too close because now that she's here she realizes that she doesn't want to get any closer. Not without Gippal by her side.

Khaled's the only person inside, besides her. The large crowd of mourners for the Faction workers have already gone, and their images have faded. She knows she can call them up again, if she wants to, though she's not sure just how it works. Only three people are hovering before him. She's too far away to see features, but she recognizes a man, a woman... and a smaller shape.

"Khaled," she calls softly, keeping her eyes to the ground. Averted, so she won't see anything until she is ready to see it. He turns around and looks at her for a moment. The images burst into pyreflies and the ghost of fear runs up her spine at the thought of being alone with him. She brushes it aside as he approaches her slowly.

"Rikku," he says calmly, looking at his feet for a moment before he looks up. Catches her gaze. And she considers his eyes... there's something there that's unfamiliar. Something there that she hasn't seen before.

Something like regret.

"Hey," Yuna says softly, causing him to break his stare from the Farplane entrance. "You're alright?" She's not sure if that's an appropriate question to ask after his and Rikku's private discussion. But she also knows it's not good that he's staring off blankly when he's got a little infant in his arms. "You want me to hold her?"

Gippal shakes his head, smiling sheepishly. "It's alright. I was just... It's alright." He glances down at Ruba whose hands have started to shake around excitedly. She lets out a vibrant giggle, and he feels glad inside that his mere glance could get such a reaction of her. That is, until he notices her arms reaching out to the side for someone else...

Gippal sighs as Yuna grins. "Hey, Tidus."

"Why are you - uhm... here? Today?" she asks hesitantly. She drags the toe of her shoe over the floor.

He's quiet for a moment, blinking as he stares into her cool green gaze. "I heard about what happened at Djose. I wanted to come for the service. I come once a month to see my family, too, you know. That's- well, that's how we met, anyway." He gestures uncomfortably with his hands, motioning toward the wall where he'd been standing.

She nods, scuffing her shoe some more as the silence goes on. She looks up again after a few moments, confusion on her face. "Why did you come for the service? It's not like you knew anyone." And she knows she's being a little rude, but she doesn't really care.

"Because of the principle of the thing," he says softly. "Because - because it was wrong, what those men did."

She scoffs lightly. "Yeah? Since when did you turn into an activist against racist attacks? Apparently it was after you threw me down some stairs and into a wall, hm?"

The regret in his eyes only grows more tangible as he hangs his head a bit, hesitating. And if she wasn't able to see it with her own eyes, she wouldn't believe he was feeling it. "Rikku, I..." He gestures again, nervously. She knows the feeling, needing to have something to do with your hands. "I never should have hurt you. I was wrong... more than wrong, I was an animal. And I know sorry doesn't cut it, not even close, but I am. Sorry, I mean. I am sorry." She's silent as she stares him down, forcing him to look into the green swirls that he never really bothered to look into before - when it mattered.

She falters a bit when she sees that he's vulnerable. That he means what he's saying. When she realizes that she might have been right at some point, being with him... that there's good in him, even now. She nods, and he takes a few steps closer. "It was my fault that you lost the baby, I think. When I..." He gestures again as her face hardens once more. "I did that. It - it was my fault, and I've been feeling so guilty for it. It was like... I didn't stop to think that maybe I would have wanted it until after it was gone. And after I'd messed everything up so bad there was no hope of making it right." He shakes his head, and she wonders why she's never heard him speak in this earnest tone before, talking quickly like he's been longing to get it all out.

She blinks swiftly to clear her eyes, though she doesn't hide the fact that they are misty from him. "Why didn't you come to the Djose services?"

He shrugs, shaking his head. "You honestly think that if Gippal saw me there I would've been able to stay?"

She bites her lip to hide a smirk at that comment. "You have a point."

He's quiet for a moment as they look at the floor. "Your daughter... she's beautiful. Really small... she's got your nose." He explains before she can even ask the question. "Yuna was holding her while you and Gippal stood for the speeches, and she walked past me with her."

"Why don't you get your own baby?!"

Yuna and Tidus both look at him. Even Ruba's silent for a short moment, her fingers frozen on Tidus's chain as she stares a little wide-eyed at her father's outburst.

"I mean-" Gippal scratches the back of his head as he turns around. His hand tentatively rests on the rail as he looks down below at the people passing by. "-I think you two'd make great parents. Rikku thinks so too." He nods over at Ruba in Tidus's arms. "I mean, look at how naturally you hold her." He turns to Yuna. "And I know you sure as hell want a kid."

Yuna blushes as Tidus faces her. The two exchange a shared glance before Tidus glares at Gippal. "Hey! This is kinda a private matter..."

Gippal crosses his arms with a smirk as Tidus stands up to bring Ruba to him. The couple leaves to talk a few seconds later, telling him they'll be back in time for dinner.

With a sigh, Gippal settles down on a nearby bench as he rocks his little girl in his arms, staring after the two love birds. He thinks he's just sold Tidus and Yuna the best 'clue' ever - better than any old innkeeper can offer them. A clue that's useful and on a topic that they've both been struggling to discuss in the open. The return to Gippal himself? Ruba's drool on his new tie. And really, he wouldn't have it any other way.

Rikku watches Khaled's expression for a long moment as she lets everything he's said sink in. Nods in thanks as he mentions Ruba. Bites the inside of her cheek hard enough that she thinks it might bleed. With a shake of her head, she motions to the wall, glancing toward it hesitantly. "Who were you... who did you come to see?" she asks quietly, her voice only loud enough to reach his ears.

"My mother and my uncle... and the baby. Always the baby, when I come." He sees the shock in her gaze and shrugs. "I deserve to feel guilty about it. Especially after I realized what could have been, you know?"

"I know."

"I felt bad at first, I mean... what right did I have to come and look at him? You're the one who wanted him." He watches her eyes as they drift upward at his words.

"It was a boy?" she asks, her voice heavy with emotion that she's struggling to keep in. Emotion she doesn't really want to shed in front of him.

He raises his eyebrows in surprise, beginning to take a step toward her - stalling as he realizes she might not want his comfort. "... you didn't know?"

She shakes her head, looking down again as she brings a hand up to her face to brush her hair back. For something to do with her hands, she thinks, watching as he twists his own rather nervously. "I've never been here before. I - I wasn't ready, 'til now. Gippal and I were going to come and-" she waves her hand around a bit "-you know, do the whole Farplane thing. Tomorrow morning. But then I saw you walk past and I wanted to... well, I don't know what I wanted to do..."

He sighs heavily, looking out at the swirling pyreflies. "Rikku... I'm sorry, I didn't know. I assumed you would've come long before now." He looks at her for a moment before he smiles a bit sadly. "But that was stupid of me, wasn't it? You don't come to the Farplane very often..."

She shakes her head, laughing at bit as the tears threaten to spill over. "No, not often at all. Not unless forced, usually, and even then, never here."

He smiles a bit at that, reaching out to touch her shoulder lightly as he looks down at her. "He would've had your nose, too. And your eyes," he says softly. She meets his gaze, and doesn't pull away from his touch. He squeezes her shoulder gently, comfortingly. And she's amazed as she stands there with Khaled, letting him comfort her as she struggles to keep herself composed.

"Khaled, I... I hope you understand, but I don't want to see him right now. With you, I mean." She bites her lip, preparing to see hurt or anger in his gaze. But there is none.

He nods, understanding. "Yeah. You should wait for Gippal, if that was your plan. That baby was more his than mine, anyhow. I just... I just wanted you to know that I think about it. All the time." He shrugs. "And you... I was worried about you when I saw him talking about the explosion on the news. Saying 'no comment' with that scared look on his face every time they asked about you."

She stares at the ground uncertainly as he takes his hand away from her shoulder. Awkwardly slips his hands into the pockets of his jacket. "W-why were you worried about me?"

Khaled just looks straight at her, his expression full of guilt. "I just was, that's all." He shrugs again, glancing at the barrier uncertainly. "I'm glad you're okay. And you've got the life you wanted... and you're happy with him. He deserves you, you know? I'll admit that, now."

They are quiet for a long, silent moment, just staring at each other. "I'm glad we got to talk, Rikku," he finally says, his voice quiet and breaking a bit.

"Me too," she whispers.

He can feel a faint tremble in Ruba's limbs as they walk through the tunnel to the Farplane, and he holds her closer to his chest, shushing her soothingly. Rikku's been inside for nearly twenty minutes now, and although he respects her need for womanly personal space, he can't help but become worried. She made it sound as if she was only going to be in there for ten minutes, and considering she's more afraid of the Farplane than lightning these days, he thinks he's justified in feeling concerned.

Ruba makes a nervous sound as a few pyreflies dance around them, and Gippal tries to brush them away with his arm as they near the barrier. As the pyreflies get closer and closer to his baby – dead things getting closer and closer to his little baby – and suddenly he's feeling a bit scared himself.

He stops at the bottom of the steps to the barrier. He doesn't feel comfortable taking Ruba inside, even though he's unsure of how Rikku's doing in there. Wrapping his arm tighter around Ruba's small form, he takes a seat on one of the steps, turning his head upward in waiting. A colorful door that separates life and death…

Maybe he can give Rikku another ten minutes, he thinks, as he eyes the pyreflies gathering around them.

She closes her eyes as she walks back through the barrier. Feels that cool mist on her skin once more and takes a calming breath of the air on the living side of the barrier. Air that doesn't feel stagnant and almost too warm, but rather... lively. With a sigh, she opens her eyes, looking down at the stairs below as Khaled follows her out of the Farplane. Her eyes are wide in shock as she rushes down the stairs to her boyfriend and her daughter, both of them with uncomfortable looks on their faces. "Gippal! What... are you okay? Is she okay?" she asks, running her hand gently over the baby's forehead to smooth her flyaway blonde strands.

"Are you okay?" Gippal shoots back, the pyreflies scattering when Rikku had rushed down to greet them. He leans in to kiss her briefly. "What were you doing in there? You were gone fo-" He suddenly stops. He suddenly frowns. He suddenly clenches his teeth as he fastens his hand around Rikku's wrist. "Rikku... why's he here?"

She reaches up gently to run her hand soothingly through his hair, glancing up at Khaled as she wiggles her wrist around until she can grasp Gippal's hand, instead. "We were talking. He came for the service." She catches Gippal's eye to ensure him that nothing is wrong. "I'm okay..." With a sigh, she reaches down to soothe Ruba. She notices that Gippal is holding her tightly and securely... and being this close to the Farplane, she can't say she blames him.

Khaled takes a few steps down toward them, looking uncomfortable.

"Well, the service is over," Gippal says bluntly, glaring directly at the man.

Khaled stands a little straighter and sets his jaw, though he doesn't glare back. "Yeah, I'm leaving. I just had some people to visit."

Rikku sighs, squeezing Gippal's hand comfortingly as she wiggles Ruba's tiny arm to distract her from the pyreflies. "It's fine, Gip," she says softly.

"Rikku... I'm..." Khaled clears his throat, glancing uncertainly between her and Gippal. "I'm going to have your stuff shipped to you in Djose, if that's alright. You left a lot in Bevelle and you never came back for it, so..."

She nods, shocked that he held onto her things for so long. Even though she's acquired plenty of new possessions since she left, she would like to have her old ones back. "That would be great."

Gippal's glare remains fixated on the man, but it's starting to get a little harder now to be mad at Khaled when he's talking like that and Rikku's soothing voice is like so. This is the same man, isn't it? The same man that'd driven Rikku away, and then dared to come back to Djose for more. The same man Gippal had swore he'd pummel into the deep side of the Farplane if he ever saw his bastard of a face ever again... This is the same man!

And yet…

Gippal glances at Rikku, who doesn't seem too pleased with his behavior. How could it be that in the span of twenty minutes, she made her peace with him? Gippal is confused, and doubtful, and… hurt when he finally pieces Pimka, Rikku, Khaled and Farplane together. When he thinks he understands why she'd so suddenly taken off from him and Yuna to come in here.

He turns his gaze to the ground uncertainly, his hold on Ruba strengthening protectively. He has nothing to say to Khaled.

She watches Gippal worriedly for a moment before she gives a pleading look to Khaled. He nods, taking the few steps more to pass them and walking toward the exit. She knows she'll probably never see him again, after this... but she's okay with that. She's had her final say, and she's heard all she needs to hear from him. Accepted his regret and his apologies for what they are. And now she can really move on, move past all of it. Now it won't be lurking in the back of her mind, won't be popping up in her thoughts when she's least expecting it.

"Goodbye, Rikku," he says calmly, nodding to Gippal.

"Bye," she says back, watching him walk away for a moment before she turns back to Gippal. Sits on the stair below his as she looks up into his face uncertainly.

He's quiet for a long moment before he looks at her. Feeling a bit betrayed, a bit wounded, but he'll never tell her that. She had a relationship with that man whether he likes it or not, and it's not his place - he has no right to keep her from getting her closure.

Gippal sighs inwardly, turning down to look at Ruba's calm face for comfort. "So what'd you... What'd you two do in there?"

She reaches for his hand absently. "Just talked. I was mean to him. He was nice to me. And that was that."

Gippal's expression remains unchanged as he feels her touch. He knows he's being stubborn, but they had an agreement. "I mean... Who did you see...?"

She shakes her head, understanding why he's being so quiet all the sudden. "No one. I barely went two feet inside the whole time." She points up at the barrier. "I was standing right there, you just can't see through that thing."

He follows the direction of her finger, and a small smile makes its way to his lips upon hearing so. "Yeah? You and him... You two didn't..." He shakes his head, meeting her gaze momentarily before letting his smile erupt. His voice is low and soft. "Thanks, Rikku."

"You're welcome," she says softly. She thinks she'll keep the fact that she knows a little about the baby now quiet... let him find out for himself in the morning. "Pimka was ours, really... it's only right that we go together, y'know? And we said we would, so..." She nods.

He sighs a little in amusement, wondering how he ever doubted her. Guilty that he had. He plants a few quick kisses on her lips as he tries to carefully balance Ruba in his arms. They're soft, gentle kisses, small and special like the pyreflies floating around them. And he thinks, in that instant at least, that maybe it wasn't such a bad idea joining up with Rikku in here. Having their family in here all together... sort of... They're still one member short...

Drawing back, he searches her eyes, the question clear in his gaze but he doesn't dare ask it aloud. Could it be that they're being too paranoid about the whole thing? After all, he's brought Ruba in here and she's still kicking and drooling in his arms like always, pyreflies or not.

She looks back at the barrier for a moment, taking a deep breath as she thinks. And then she looks down at Ruba, who is reaching out her little arm to try to touch a pyrefly, a tiny smile on her lips. And there's a vibrancy in her gaze, in her little limbs, that makes Rikku feel calm. A vibrancy that's there thanks to fast action, and medicine, and doctors... a vibrancy that they haven't had to question at all since they left Luca. She smiles softly as she watches the baby, as the pyrefly glides off past her shoulder and brushes lightly against her outstretched arm. Her innocent giggle and the sight of her wide eyes following the glowing entities with complete attention... nothing is going to change that

She meets his eyes with a small nod. "Tidus went in once. Yuna doesn't know, but he did. And he's fine. She'll be okay, too, if we take her." She nods toward the barrier. "We're here already, after all."

He stands up slowly, keeping his gaze locked on his daughter's face as he readjusts the thin blanket around her. "You... You think it'll be okay?" And for a short moment he feels quite silly, because Rikku's the one who carried Pimka inside of her, and yet he seems more uncomfortable about this whole matter than she is. He gently grasps onto Ruba's small fingers, as if to make sure she isn't just an illusion in his arms. He doesn't plan on letting go. "It's up to you, Rikku," he tells her.

She smiles and stands as well, taking a step up so she's equal with his height. "We won't stay long," she says with a tiny nod.

With a final look at Ruba, he clasps his hand around hers and turns to Rikku. "Yeah, alright." He lets out a slow smile, absently hoping Ruba will forgive him for it. "Let's go in."

She smiles a bit too before she turns around and walks back up the stairs and through the barrier. Going in first to give him the option to turn back if he still feels unsettled.

But he isn't - not as much as before, anyway - as he follows closely behind her. He keeps his gaze on Ruba as they step through, a shiver sweeping down his body as the strange sensation of the barrier surrounds them. And when he opens his eyes, and still feels the familiar weight in his arms, suddenly the place doesn't seem so scary anymore. In fact... it doesn't feel all that different from outside.

He stays close to Rikku as they step away from the entrance and move closer to the edge of the platform. There's no one around, no sounds but their footsteps on the stone floor and a soft rumble that seems to echo from every corner of the Farplane. Ruba wiggles excitedly in his arms at the sudden burst of colors that's entered her vision.

He glances down at Rikku with a small smile. "I'm... kinda nervous, y'know?" he admits to her quietly. "We were supposed to come here tomorrow but now..." He shakes his head quickly before he accidentally brings forth Pimka too soon. "Are you ready?" he asks with a shaky grin.

She gives him a thin smile in return, watching Ruba as she squirms. She's quiet for a few moments as she stands close to him, leaning her head on his free shoulder. "Yeah..."

She looks straight out into the colorful glow that emanates from every bit of the Farplane. Watches the groups of pyreflies as they hover near the waterfalls, as they swirl among the flowers far below. And what are they, anyway? She's always wondered that... if they are just like the oil and grease that help the machines to work, or if they are the machines themselves. If they can feel and think.

If they can see what she's feeling, and hear what she's thinking.

But still, she doesn't think about it. Doesn't think about anything because honestly, she's nervous, too. Nervous and dreading, because she's got this image of Pimka in her imagination, and she knows that really seeing the baby... it won't be the same. She doesn't know what she'll see, doesn't know what the reality is. But at the same time, the image in her head isn't at all solid, because it's not like Ruba. It's not a picture she's been able to hold and memorize with her eyes and her hands... it's just what she imagines. And she half wishes she'd just stayed away from this place, like she's done all her life, and that she'd let her image and her memories be all she needed.

But her other half wishes that she had come here a long time ago. Because all she really has is that false image in her head. And having no real memories of a thing... of a life... that's no way to remember it right. That's just make believe.

He glances uncertainly at her when he notices her sudden silence. "Hey," he says softly, nudging her shoulder. "You sure?" He hopes she's not getting cold feet. Not now when she's finally managed to get him in here. When he's got Ruba all safe and secured in his arms, and the anxious feeling that's about to burst inside him.

She nods again and takes a deep breath, closing her eyes tightly. Forcing herself to think, to remember. Ignoring the majority of the memories that were traced with uncertainty and fear, even pain... Concentrating instead on those few times when Gippal had tickled or touched her abdomen and said something about the child inside. When he'd said congratulations and she'd smiled. When she'd sat by herself all day, working on a machine as she concentrated on possible names.

"...Can you see?" she asks hesitantly, unwilling to open her eyes until she knows she won't be disappointed.

He touches his forehead gently against hers, his arms unable to move from holding up Ruba. "I'm not looking until you look," he whispers like a secret. "Don't be afraid, Rikku. I think... we owe Pimka this visit." He's quiet for a moment as his mind drifts back to that awful night so long ago... Rikku's cries, the doctor's voice, and then the silent ride home. The heavy atmosphere that sank into the temple in the following days, and Rikku's sickly face, her frown, her tears... his tears... "Let's smile for the kid, yeah?"

"I-" She pauses, biting her lip hard before she nods. "Okay." She puts on a tiny grin and faces forward, slowly opening her eyes. Looking straight ahead.

There's a cluster of pyreflies, all of them emitting that high, ethereal sound that they make, the sound that's always made her a little bit uncertain. They are moving quickly around each other, back and forth, up and down... Her smile fades a bit.

"I don't... I don't see anything."

He watches the little sparks carefully, confused as to why they seem to just be a clustered mess. Why some of them are moving erratically while others look frozen. "You... you're thinking of Pimka, right?" he asks a bit stupidly as he continues to stare. "I mean, that's how this place works, right?"

She nods in confusion, squinting at the cluster a bit as she moves closer. "Yeah. And you are... right? I mean... thinking of Pimka?" She glances uncertainly back at him.

"Of course," he answers quickly as he glances down at her. "Then what's going on? Why isn't this working?" He's feeling a bit of a panic in his chest and a slight frustration. They've been planning this visit for some time now, their decision based on whether or not either one of them felt ready to meet Pimka yet... Neither of them had considered the possibility that Pimka would not be ready to meet them, as it now seems.

"I-I don't know!" she says, shaking her head a bit. "I don't understand-" She cuts herself off before she says something more. Before she gets angry and upset that Khaled can see Pimka, but they can't.

The pyreflies slow down a bit, not quite as frenzied, and for a moment she thinks she sees something... but then it's gone, and she just closes her eyes again, before she starts imagining things again. With a deep breath, she listens to Ruba's comforting baby chatter and ignores the prickly feeling at the corner of her eyes.

Gippal frowns when he notices Rikku has seem to already given up, and he adjusts his grip on Ruba as he nudges his girlfriend's shoulder gently. "Hey, don't – don't cry, Rikku. Pimka's just… We're just…"

He turns his gaze back to the crowd of erratic specks glowing in front of them, and he sighs a bit. This isn't what he had imagined at all. He was thinking of Pimka… and he knows Rikku was too… they both were! – They both are! Thinking of Pimka, of their short time with the baby that they'd never met but had undeniably loved and cared for, had cried for, had longed for... It's not fair that just because they've never seen Pimka that the Farplane decides it's a lost memory… While the little child wasn't a visual memory, I'd been an emotional memory for both him and Rikku, so why couldn't they… why didn't the pyreflies react to them?

Ruba's stirring brings a new explanation to his mind, and Gippal swallows guiltily as he glances back and forth between Ruba and the cluster of pyreflies before them. But before he's able to press the thought any further, a flicker of an image suddenly becomes apparent in the otherwise nonsensical clutter… and it's almost as if he sees… as if he can almost make out a… "Rikku, look…"

"Look at what? There's nothing th-" But there is. Something that's not quite clear, something that reminds her of a CommSphere losing its signal... but it's there. Green eyes and sandy brown hair, and then it flickers out again. She's frozen as she stands, looking at the confused cluster of pyreflies once more. "Come back," she whispers, feeling a bit foolish for trying to coax them to show her once more.

For a moment, he thinks the pyreflies have heard her as the image flickers alive once again... but it quickly disintegrate a few seconds later and the pyreflies scatter in all directions like his emotions. He sighs inwardly as he leans down toward Rikku.

"At least... at least it was something for a little while," he says.

She nods, looking down at her feet. "But only a little while," she says softly, trying to register facial features from her miniscule glimpse. Trying, like she did with Ruba during that first hectic day, to remember something she didn't see long enough to commit to memory. "Not long enough."

"Maybe if we just wait... and think really hard, it'll come back." He pauses for a moment as he watches the tiny lights. "But... It looked kinda like a boy... did it?"

She looks back at him at that statement, and she doesn't know why, but she suddenly feels... excited. "Yeah... yeah, it did. He did." She steps back toward him and leans against him once more, her new excitement fading a bit as she thinks, and thinks...

Gippal smiles at her confirmation. "A boy," he repeats before chuckling a little as he shakes his head. "So... like a son." He tests the word on his mouth. "Son."

Suddenly, Gippal feels very old, but he relaxes a little when he feels Rikku's weight on his shoulder, and Ruba's fingers grasping lightly onto his tie. Maybe not necessarily, 'old' but older. He nudges Rikku slightly. "He would've made a great son, yeah?"

She grins up at him, a little bit sad, but a little bit happy too. "Yeah, he would've. Would've been brand new right around now, too..." She nods and leans her head on his shoulder, glancing at Ruba for a moment before she looks back at the pyreflies. "Maybe he would've liked the machine mobile better than she does," she says lightly, watching the cluster carefully.

Gippal shrugs hesitantly. "Maybe..." He decides not to remind her that Pimka had Khaled's genes, not his. "But Ruba might too. She might just grow up to be like you, y'know?" He shakes his head, turning down to face his daughter. "Or whatever. She's still young. Maybe we should get her more mobiles... see what else she could like." As if on cue, Ruba's eyes wander around the Farplane scene, making Gippal sigh in amusement. "She seems to like all the colors and lights in here."

"Yeah, she does." Her breath catches as she looks up again and the image is there. A bit more solid. And she can see that Khaled was right about Pimka having her nose and her eyes. Is proud that his hair is on the lighter side of brown. Closer to her own golden blonde shade. She keeps her eyes glued to her son, committing his slightly fuzzy features to memory. Wishing she could count fingers and toes, touch his face...

It flashes out once more, and the pyreflies swirl again. She rests a little more weight on Gippal's shoulder. Watches as Ruba's eyes move from color to color, shape to shape.

Gippal's quiet for a moment, something inside of him telling him that that's the last image of Pimka they'll see for the night. "I'm... glad we came," he says softly. He notices the pyreflies beginning to scatter outwards. "We should come back another time."

With a nod, she looks up at him. Gives him a soft smile. "Yeah. That would be nice." She notices that his grip on Ruba is still just as steady as it was when they came in, and her smile grows a bit wider. With a glance toward the scattering pyreflies, she nods a bit. Thinking three little words that she hopes they can hear and understand.

There's a cool brush on her cheek, and she starts a little, looking to the side. Sighing in comfort as the familiar glow leaves her vision and slides up against Gippal's cheek, as well. It makes her wonder why pyreflies ever made her nervous, because it didn't feel anything but friendly. And she watches as it circles Ruba's head, as she giggles and tries to grab it, and bites her lip with a grin. Thinks her three words a little louder.

And as it flies off to rejoin its fellows... she feels calm, again.

It's Wednesday.

They had settled comfortably in the restaurant he'd picked, their table right next to the fountain and overlooking the streets below as he had requested. Wide, clear floors as he had expected. Lanterns strung above their heads throughout the small restaurant, colors reminiscent of the Farplane.

Their menus were being handed out to them as Rikku fastened Ruba into the baby seat, the little girl having just been woken up from her rather short nap, only to meet an especially attentive and contemplative Yuna and Tidus staring straight at her.

Five minutes later, Ruba decided she didn't appreciate all the attention, and she let out a burst of tears and screams that drove the four of them out of the nice little restaurant. He later openly blamed the incident on Yuna and Tidus, unable to resist throwing a smirk their way. And he would've teased the pair further if Ruba wasn't trying to showcase her wide vocal range to civilians of Guadosalam. Rikku thought it would be best if they returned to the inn.

Now, with a faint smile, he watches as Rikku slowly lowers Ruba into her crib. He keeps his hand over the pocket of his pants for a bit longer than necessary before finally standing up from the chair.

Rikku sighs contently, raising her eyebrows at Ruba a bit as she keeps her hand on the whining baby's body, massaging her lightly to settle her down now that she's in her crib. "Lookit, baby, you're home now and Auntie Yuna isn't bugging you and everything's just fine... ssshh..." She looks up at Gippal's slightly absent gaze.

"Loverrrr," she says softly, grinning a bit as she beckons for him to come over to her.

He folds his arms across his chest, giving her a playful smile. "You seem to be doing just fine with her." He pauses. "Loverrr."

With a soft giggle, she kisses the corner of his mouth. "Yeah, she's just cranky." She sinks back off of her tiptoes as she turns back to Ruba, leaning against Gippal's chest and placing her head on his shoulder as she holds the baby's little hand between her thumb and forefinger. "Thanks for dinner... the place was so nice, I was really sad when we had to leave..."

He shrugs with a gentle sigh, resting his hand on her shoulder as he watches Ruba slowly calm down. "Yeah, me too," he says, hoping she doesn't notice the hint of relief in his voice. "At least Ruba seems happier now than before."

She grimaces a bit with a groan. "I wish she'd gotten happy before we left the restaurant!"

He leans down to plant a kiss on her nose. "If you miss it so much, we'll go back for breakfast, okay? Y'know, after we sleep and stuff," he says with a quick grin.

She pulls away for a moment to tuck a blanket around the now drowsy infant. "And stuff," she repeats, glancing back as she smiles facetiously.

He nods firmly, sliding an arm around her waist. "I like doing stuff with you."

She turns around to face him, leaning her head onto his shoulder again as she kisses his neck lightly. "Like what kinda stuff?"

He makes a soft murmured sound as he brushes his mouth against her cheek. "I dunno... You were the one with all the 'stuff' ideas last time we were here."

She feels her cheeks get a little hot as she blushes. "Yeah, well... it's your turn to have the ideas, now. So ha."

He chuckles into her ear as he feels her shrink slightly in his hold. Well, he had an idea, back at the restaurant. Back in Djose. Back when he was staring at his calendar. Back when he'd been kicking rocks and stuffing his fists into his pockets as he spoke to Cid about emeralds and steps. But the chance has already slipped through his grip. He'd planned it all perfectly, and now that there's a hole in his plan...

He traces his fingers over the exposed skin of her back as he pulls her closer to him. "But what if you don't like it? My idea?"

She shivers a little, leaning into his touch with a lazy smile on her face. "You always have pretty good ideas, you know. So I think it's pretty likely that I'll, ya know... like it." She winks up at him, her blushing cheeks getting a bit darker.

He can't help but sigh in amusement at her innocence. The fact that she hasn't the faintest clue. And a part of him had thought that he wanted it that way. Surprise her and make her smile. Make her heart melt with his words, her body melt in his arms. But maybe... perhaps it's about time.

How long has he planned this for? He doesn't remember exactly. The image of the little velvet pouch in his pocket throbs in his mind as she stares up curiously at him.

Maybe it doesn't have to go exactly as he planned it. After all, since the day she arrived, things haven't exactly gone according to any preplanned agenda. And everything turned out just fine.

"Rikku," he starts, her name coming out as soft and subtle as his breath on her cheek. "Do you know what today is?"

She senses a strange shift in his attitude, hears a lower tone in his voice, and that makes her hesitate for a moment. "Uhm... Wednesday?"

He leans his head forward, his lips grazing her cheek warmly. "It's kinda a special Wednesday..."

She closes her eyes, enjoying his soft kiss even through her confusion. Remains quiet for a moment as she thinks about his statement. While she makes sure she didn't forget about some kind of holiday. "Special Wednesday... as in its delivery day at the temple and for once we're not there?" she asks tentatively, pulling back a bit to look up at him questioningly.

He frowns slightly, pulling back. He doesn't blame her for not keeping track. For not even thinking about it, because it's not the kind of anniversary that couples typically celebrate. One month, one year, ten years. Those are the major ones. And those ones he knows she'd remember.

But it's because of Pimka and Ruba that he chose today of all days. It's because he wants to surprise her that he planned so hard these past few weeks and has been waiting so anxiously. It's because of her and the babies that he's experienced all that he's ever wanted to experience in life in just these past nine months.

…And it's because he loves her, that he doesn't need a fancy restaurant, a large audience, a shiny waxed floor and rainbow colored lights, to tell her so. He didn't need it the first time, and he doesn't need it now.

"R-Rikku," he starts again, his voice faltering for a second as he lifts his hand to the simple silver necklace decorating her neck. "Today is the ninth month, since you came to Djose." With a faint smile, he reaches around her and unfastens it. "Do you remember now?"

She reaches up absently to try to keep him from taking off the necklace, because she never takes it off, feels naked without it. And it buys her time to think.

It's because she doesn't quite know what to do with nervous Gippal that she starts to get nervous, too. Because she hasn't really seen him like this before. He remembers the important stuff. Remembers how long it's been since they became an official couple, even though it just sort of happened without any nervous, cryptic, and mushy declarations. Remembers exactly how old Ruba is, right down to the hour, because she's his little princess.

But this? A mundane date in time... the date she arrived in his temple, in his room, without an invitation. The night she snuck in the door and crept under the blankets of the cot in the corner. The night she complicated his life immensely - he's remembering that?

"Yeah... yeah, I guess it is..." she says with a tiny, confused smile.

He manages to take it off, the three little rings on the necklace collapsing into her palm as he gives it to her. Grinning slightly, he reaches into his pocket, pulling out a small, purple, velvety pouch. He lets her stare at it curiously for a few seconds before untying the thin string around it, and pouring a handful of little diamond studded rings into his hand.

"…just, to help you keep track of time," he says with a faint smirk, as he picks up one end of the necklace. He begins to slide each ring onto the chain, counting in a low whisper as he goes. "Four, five, six…"

"Gippal!" she protests, staring down at the sparkling rings he is adding to her necklace. They must have cost quite a bit, she knows, since the original three and the chain were so very expensive. "I was fine with my three!" she exclaims, though it's a weak sort of indignation she's feeling. Because she can't fight with a gesture that sweet, no matter what the circumstances.

She looks down at all the rings in her hand, each one connected by the simple silver chain hanging through the center. She brushes her fingers over them gently, remembering the day he bought her the original three. Thinking about how she would never have expected him to put so much thought and meaning into a necklace. Nine rings for nine months.

She separates each ring with her thumb, counting them slowly. Remembering. And she stops after a moment, looking down at the floor quickly to make sure she didn't drop one. "There's only eight here," she says softly, looking up at him. Meeting his gaze as she clutches the little rings in her fingers. And suddenly she wonders if it was intentional, because something in his bottle green stare makes her a tiny bit suspicious.

"Yeah, well... the ninth one doesn't exactly go around your neck..."

And he can't help but smirk a little as he tells her so, as her hands flutter over her mouth and she swallows a gasp. Because for once in his life, if only once in his life, he has a second chance of being part... of a family.

And he's not gonna let another nine months pass before he takes it.

the end.

Thank you to all our readers and reviewers for your tremendous support, and we hope that you've enjoyed the conclusion to this story! Although we do not plan on creating a sequel, we had a lot of fun writing this story, and recommend other authors to experiment with collaboration/RP as well. We learned a lot from each other as well as from the process, and it has been a valuable experience on this end. We hope that the process of reading it has been valuable for you! Thanks again, and well wishes to all of you!

If you would like to check out a rough illustration of one of the scenes in this chapter, you can find it at (take out the spaces): community . /quitethecouple/ 92038.html