Started in 2006, this truly is my longest (and longest-running) fanfiction ever written. I dropped it after having children, but picked it up again in 2016 to wrap it up. I only worked occassionally with betas up until Chapter 30, so you should notice a marked improvement in grammar / sentence construction from that point on. My deepest thanks to the betas who have helped make this work less of a disaster than it really should be: Fwe (ca 2006-2008) and Ciesste (2016-), and of course to rr1963 who unwittingly birthed the plot bunny for this fic with his own epic work, "Soldier of Spira."
When I started writing this, I originally dedicated it to two friends who passed before me. Since then many other inspirational figures have moved on to greater things, and some of them have had a direct influence on this work. So for Liz, Val, Monty, David and Prince - this one's (still) for you; nothing's ever in vain.
The story starts sometime after the events of FFX-2, which would make Rikku around 20 years old. I really hate translating fake-language dialogue, so if you suspect something italicized is being said in Al Bhed you're probably right. Finally, I don't speak Latin (no one does, really) but I believe Memento Vivere roughly translates to "Life Reminder," or "remember that you have to live."
As of June 2016, I've been rewriting chapters 1-27 to close plot holes left by eight years of dust and to improve the quality of the writing, especially of battle sequences. Updated chapters will be marked as such.
1: Where's My Happy Ending?
Rikku was feeling cheated. She sprawled herself messily over the deck of the gently humming airship and let the wind wash over her face. It was a beautiful day; then again, almost every day in Spira was beautiful since both Sin and Vegnagun had been defeated. People were so wildly happy that Paine would often be heard groaning about how all the good cheer and smiles made her want to break a few teeth. While usually Rikku was content to let herself be a part of Paine's problem, today was different. Sure, it was just as beautiful as any other day in Spira, full of smiles and happiness and song and dance, but something was off. Something besides the fact that Yuna and Paine were no longer travelling on the Celsius with her, nor had they been for almost half a year.
With Tidus' return, Yuna was content to settle in Besaid for a much-deserved rest. Paine, on the other hand, left to serve under Nooj once more, as had the rest of the boys from their close-knit Crimson Squad circle. It was in fact their group that was largely responsible for maintaining the peace and stability that Spira currently enjoyed. And that left Rikku with Brother, Buddy and Shinra on the Celsius; they were still the Gullwings and still involved in the never-ending hunt for spheres, even if their numbers had thinned.
Rikku knew she should be happy, satisfied with her lot in life. It wasn't everyone who got a chance to save the world, and she actually had done it twice in a row! Still, she felt as though something was missing; adventures were well and fine, but Rikku wanted to do more than just save the world. Or more accurately, she wanted to do less than save the world for once. She wanted to find that little niche of contentment that both Yuna and Paine had managed to carve for themselves; she wanted to belong somewhere, with someone. And while she didn't doubt that Brother would manage to make a complete mess of things if she wasn't around, spending the rest of her life with the Gullwings was not Rikku's idea of a good niche. At that moment it seemed more like an unavoidable pitfall. Closing her eyes, Rikku took a deep breath and examined the little ball of discontent in her stomach closely: Yep, a slight constriction in the chest, a sense of restless boredom and a sudden need to sit up and scream loudly.
"Whoa, everything all right up there?" Buddy's voice spilled out over the intercom, and Rikku shut her mouth and blinked.
"Oops, I really did that?" she giggled nervously to herself. Then she scowled in the direction of the huge hatch of the airship, waving a vaguely rude gesture towards the speakers. "I'm fine, fine!" she hollered. "I thought I told you that I wanted to be left alone!"
"Hey, don't chew my head off," Buddy answered almost immediately. "Brother's the one who wanted to check up on you. Blame him!"
"Uuh," Rikku replied, dropping her head into her knees with a low groan. "Why can't he keep his nose in his own business?" she muttered loudly.
The response was almost inevitable: "RIKKU! I HEARD THAT!" Another loud crackle erupted from the speakers, probably Buddy managing to wrest the intercom out of Brother's angry grasp.
"We're just worried about you. So are you gonna come in anytime soon?"
"Alright, I'm coming already, don't get so excited!" Rikku shouted, springing to her feet. She gave her tiny skirt a few cursory pats and turned towards the hatch. The Celsius was flying low today and not particularly quickly, but even so the rush of the wind was incredible, whipping her messy blond hair into her face. "Oww," Rikku hissed, pushing away some of the braids and beads that slapped at her cheeks. "Maybe it's time to cut the mop again!" She stomped towards the door, the wind stinging her face. It didn't help improve her sullen mood. The hatch slid open smoothly and the ever-comforting rhythm of machina at work greeted her, and soon she was riding the large steel platform back down into the heart of the airship.
The Celsius was Brother's pride and joy; custom rigged and lovingly cared for by both himself and Rikku, it was quite possibly the most advanced airship in all of Spira - and definitely the best looking, in Rikku's personal opinion. After their first Home had been destroyed, it became the closest replacement they had found for the original. If she was honest with herself, Rikku loved the airship just as much as her brother did; just being inside of it usually comforted her. Not on this particular day, however; the normally-pleasant whirr of machinery was grating on her nerves and made her feel jumpier than usual.
"Where is it, anyway?" she grumbled to herself, crossing her arms and pacing impatiently across the platform as the elevator was lowered. "Where's my happy ending?" She closed her eyes and blew out a loud breath. The jolt of the platform coming to a stop shook her out of her contemplation, and Rikku scowled into the empty corridor. "Happy endings don't just happen, Rikku!" she scolded herself out loud. "You have to make them, right?" And if I'm not finding them here, then maybe…
Like with most of her ideas, Rikku grabbed onto the nascent thought and ran with it before it was fully formed. "Besaid?" she mused out loud. "Naw, Yunie and Tidus probably don't want me hanging around and bugging them again so soon." She strode into the elevator quickly and slammed the button for the cabins, mumbling to herself the entire way. "Bevelle? Nu-uh, no way! I still hate that place! I don't see how Paine can stand it there!" She barely gave a wave to the barkeep as she skipped up the steps and over towards her bed. "Maybe Mount Gagazet. I haven't seen Kimahri in a while…" She checked her thought and looked down at her skimpy clothing, wrinkling her nose. "Then again, it's always snowing there. Brrr, I'm getting cold just thinking about it!"
Sitting heavily on the bed, Rikku rummaged through the mess in her drawer, humming absently to herself as she picked out a small selection of spheres and shuffled a few garment grids through her hands. Before they had parted ways, the three girls had split the collection of small, stone-like tablets between themselves as mementos of their adventures together. Though she hardly needed them for anything other than basic self-defence against the usual run-of-the-mill fiends on the more perilous excursions, Rikku found herself wearing them often out of habit, almost like jewellery. She had even begun to tool up fanciful belts to match the patterns inscribed on the varying tablets. Quickly sorting through her haphazard collection of spheres and grids, she settled on one and began to ornament it with the spheres she had chosen. "Always gotta remember to accessorize," she announced proudly when she was finished, snapping the belt into place. As soon as she did, she closed her eyes and sucked in her breath sharply at the tingle of electricity that raced up her spine; equipping the magic-imbued grids was always a little bit uncomfortable at first. Lulu had tried her best to school Rikku in the ways of black magic during Yuna's Pilgrimage, but apart from the most basic of the elemental spells, the complexity of higher magic had always eluded Rikku's grasp. Wearing the Conflagration Grid was like slipping a pair of magnifying glasses over her magical nerves, bringing her limited capability into painfully sharp focus and augmenting it with a burst of artificial power. After a few seconds, her fingers stopped tingling and she opened her eyes.
"Whew, what a rush!" Rikku yelled, forgoing the stairs in favour of leaping down from the balcony. Barkeep eyed her suspiciously from behind the counter; at least, as suspiciously as any hypello could manage to appear.
"Mish Rikku, are yoo planning another trip?" he asked placidly, slapping his long fingers together.
Rikku flashed the little hypello a wide grin. "Yep! There's something I gotta do, and I've been putting it off for long enough. But don't worry, I'll be back lickity-split! I bet you guys won't even notice that I'm gone!"
Barkeep nodded and blinked at her; she knew that it was his own hypello-version of a smile. "Maybe yoo should tell the others," he added diplomatically as an afterthought.
"Of course I will! Somebody has to fly me there after all!"
"Fly you where?" Buddy walked in and crossed his arms. "Brother sent me to find you, he wanted you up on the bridge five minutes ago."
Rikku only rolled her eyes and huffed, stomping out the door. She heard Buddy's footsteps echoing behind her and slouched against the wall of the elevator, waiting for him to follow.
"So… are you gonna tell me about this new plan of yours, or you just planning to break it to Brother once we're up there?" Buddy sounded vaguely amused, but there was a hint of concern underneath the question. He held off from hitting the panel that would bring them towards the bridge as he waited for her answer.
"Well…" Rikku began, fidgeting. She hadn't planned much of anything yet, in reality; she was still silently debating where she wanted to go to begin her journey. All she knew was that wherever her happy ending was hiding, it wasn't going to be found on the Celsius in the company of her friends. "I just feel like I need to go off on my own for a while," she finally admitted. "You know, spread my own wings, that sorta thing!"
"Huh," Buddy replied, scratching the back of his head and sounding unconvinced. "You always do your own thing whether we're around or not anyway," he informed her. Seeing her fidget nervously and remain silent, he shrugged in defeat and smiled at her. "Alright, you don't have to spill if you don't want to. Just tell me this. Are we gonna regret letting you do whatever it is you're planning?"
"No!" Rikku replied, falling into a sulk instantly. "Why do you guys always assume the worst about my plans, anyway?"
Buddy laughed, shaking his head. "Because you're Crazy Cid's kid. Because you're related to Brother. Because you know I'm right. I can list specifics if you want. Oh, like that time you wanted to try introducing Chocobo Racing into Bevelle to 'loosen them up' …" he began, holding out a hand and ticking off a finger. Rikku scowled. "Or how about when you took us snowboarding at Lake Macalania?"
"Listen! That was a perfectly fine idea until those fiends showed up! How was I supposed to know the ice was so thin?"
Buddy only shook his head again and shrugged. "See what I mean?"
Rikku rolled her eyes and slammed the button for the bridge with an impatient huff. "I'm NOT going to get you into trouble this time, I swear! I just …" she looked down and rolled on the balls of her feet uncomfortably. "I just need some time for myself, you know? There's some stuff I gotta find, and I don't think you guys can help me with it this time."
"Hmm," Buddy said, regarding her thoughtfully. "We've all noticed you've been kind of ornery the past few weeks…"
"ORNERY?" Rikku yelled shrilly, balling her hands into fists. "What's that supposed to mean, huh?"
"… tense, I mean tense," Buddy corrected immediately. "Maybe you're right, though. I guess we could all use a little vacation every now and then." The elevator pulled to a stop, and as the doors opened they could hear the loud cries of Brother leaking through the heavy metal bulkhead of the cockpit as he argued with Shinra. "… maybe this isn't the best place to do some thinking anyhow." The walked out into the corridor, but he paused once again before they entered the bridge. "But you know, Rikku … we'll always be here for you if you need us. You're a Gullwing, after all. That means you're family."
Rikku blinked unexpectedly; Buddy was far more observant than he usually let on. She could see he was concerned for her, and felt a vague stab of guilt that she was planning on leaving them so unexpectedly for an uncertain purpose and with no real goals other than to 'find herself.' "Family," she repeated faintly, giving him a thankful smile. "Don't worry so much, I'll be back as soon as I've figured out what it is that I'm looking for."
Buddy gave her a short nod. "We trust you," he said simply, and then opened the hatch.
"RIKKU!" Brother's head shot up immediately as she stepped onto the bridge. "There you are! What took you so long? We have sphere waves coming in from –"
"Well they're gonna have to wait!" Rikku said immediately, holding up a hand and silencing her sputtering brother. "There's somewhere I need to go before I can do any more sphere hunting for the Gullwings!"
"WHAT?" Brother yelled, throwing his hands up into the air.
Buddy only shook his head tiredly, giving Rikku a cursory pat on the shoulder before taking his post at the helm. "I think Rikku wants a little vacation," he said cautiously.
"We just came back from that vacation in Besaid two weeks ago," Shinra piped up, looking over his shoulder at the others. "Why do we need another?"
"EXCELLENT QUESTION!" Brother yelled, circling his hands even more wildly above his head. "Though… if you mean to say you want to go back to Besaid to visit Yuna …" he began thoughtfully.
"Hey!" Rikku yelled, jumping up and down angrily. "I need a vacation! Not you guys! Me! Me only! And I'm not going to Besaid!" she added, causing Brother's face to fall.
"Me me me," he mimicked, sneering at Rikku. "That is all you ever think about. What about our treasure hunt? What about the Celsius? What about Yuna?" he added, the last question coming out a bit mournfully.
"Ugh, this is why I don't talk to you," Rikku replied, rolling her eyes. "I'm going on a vacation by myself, and that's final! You guys will just have to learn to live without me. Terrible, I know!" she added with a grin.
"Hah!" Brother replied, glaring at his sister. "This is just another one of your last minute ideas to get out of sphere hunting, isn't it? I bet you do not even know where you want to go!" He crossed his arms and waited with a knowing smirk.
"Hey! That is so not true!" Rikku yelled angrily, stomping over to the control panel. She pulled up the spinning hologram of the world map and stared at it blankly for a few moments, feeling Brother's eyes boring into her. Think, Rikku, think! Squinting, she trailed a finger over the continent trying to pick a destination, when inspiration suddenly struck her. "For your information, I'm going to Guadosalam!" she informed them triumphantly.
Silence fell as everyone spun around to stare at her then.
"Why?" Shinra finally asked.
Yeah, why? Rikku repeated to herself nervously, feeling their eyes on her. Guadosalam had nothing but bad memories for the Al Bhed; from boasting the location of the Farplane, to being the former home of the people who had destroyed their own, to the simple fact that the LeBlanc Syndicate still practically owned the town. "I just do. Don't ask, okay?" she answered with a snap, feeling defensive.
"You really mean to do this, Rikku?" Brother asked, narrowing his eyes at her. He was annoying, and loud, and he had a tendency to overreact to the slightest provocation, but in the end he was still her brother. Rikku smiled and gave him a small nod, and his expression softened minutely. Then he drew his face into a hard scowl. "Fine. But you will owe me big for this, you understand?"
"Yeah, yeah, whatever," Rikku replied, sticking her tongue out at his back. "Thanks," she muttered under her breath, but he gave no indication of having heard her.
"What am I doing here?" Rikku mumbled, staring at the swirling pool of light that marked the entrance to the Farplane. She thought her adventures with Yuna would have cured her of her reluctance to enter the Farplane, but now those days seemed like a lifetime ago, and all of the old fears were quickly resurfacing.
The Al Bhed didn't fear the Farplane; they did scorn it, however, or at least scorn those who considered it to be a gateway to communicate with the dead. "Everything has a simple explanation, and if it can't be explained, it just hasn't been studied enough yet." That motto definitely applied towards pyreflies and the visions they formed when one entered the Farplane. It was the explanation Rikku liked to rely on when trying to explain why she didn't enjoy visiting it. It wasn't the truth, however, at least not her truth.
Truth, for Rikku, was that she was scared of the things she thought she might see on the Farplane. She wanted to keep her memories of the people she had lost frozen inside of her head, trapped in happier times; letting the pyreflies project those thoughts for all the world to see felt not only like a violation of her privacy, but also a release; that somehow, they would steal her happy memories away and leave her alone with only the sadness.
She paced outside of the gate of light nervously; the last visitors had long since exited, and considering the late hour it was unlikely that any more were going to come through that night. Not that anyone could ever tell what time of day it actually was in Guadosalam; the underground community was perpetually lit with a sleepy evening atmosphere, while the Farplane was bathed in an eternal sunset.
"Ohh, stop stalling and just do it!" she told herself, grabbing her head and whipping her braids around. Then, biting her lip, she screwed her eyes shut and threw herself through the barrier. A brief, misty sensation of coldness passed over her skin, as though Shiva had blown her a gentle kiss. It faded, though the cool air did not, and cautiously Rikku opened one eye.
"This is it," she breathed softly, climbing the stone steps and taking in the endless sky and swirling clouds that surrounded the platform. The Farplane was as breathtaking as she remembered it; beautiful and cold and so very, very empty. The quiet song of the pyreflies filled the air, and Rikku shivered convulsively. "Creepy!" she yelled loudly, mostly in an attempt to instil herself with courage and chase away the gentle sighs of the pyreflies. "This isn't as bad as thunder," she told herself, grinding her fingers into her palm and stepping forward stiffly. "Time to face some old fears.". She approached the edge of the stony plateau resolutely and looked into the mists below. Color and light filled the air, along with the dull roar of falling water. There was something achingly beautiful about the Farplane, and yet sad … for all the beauty there, it was still barren and empty. "What good are flowers if nobody sees them bloom?" Rikku asked herself softly, settling along the edge of the rock and letting her feet dangle over the drop. A few pyreflies gathered around the tips of her boots, and Rikku watched them swirl there with detached fascination. Hard to believe fiends are made out of these little guys, she thought to herself. Not only fiends, she remembered. The pyreflies twirled away from her boots and swirled in front of her, and Rikku swallowed thickly.
"Mom," she said softly, looking at the figure that slowly faded into view. Unexpected tears stung at her eyes; it was her mother, floating before her in much sharper clarity than her fuzzy memory could recall. "A-are you really here?" she whispered, reaching a hand out towards the image. But the image simply smiled at her, floating there, strangely alive and yet never changing, never acknowledging her presence with anything more than a soft smile. Rikku let her hand drop. "Just a memory after all, huh?" she whispered, wiping at her eyes angrily. "We're right, aren't we, mom? This isn't a gateway to the past, it's just one big fat sphere for broadcasting your own memories." She felt foolish for her brief moment of wild belief, that it might against all odds actually be her real mother standing there before her. When she looked up, the image was already fading from view.
"Just memories of the dead," she repeated. The pyreflies swirled and twisted again, and Rikku smiled at the man floating before her. "Hey, Keyakku," she said, blinking back another wave of tears. "Long time no see. Father and Brother miss you, ya know. Not like they'd ever say it." He only looked back at her, an almost-smile playing across his face, the same one she had seen on her mother. "Me too, I guess," she added softly. She was glad that he wasn't wearing his goggles this time; she had almost forgotten the green of his eyes. "You always were the responsible one. So be sure and look after mom for us till we get there, will you?" she whispered, giving him a little wave. The pyreflies swirled around him and he disappeared.
"It's not so bad," Rikku reasoned to herself with a small sigh. "I guess… it is sort of nice to be able to say goodbye." She smiled hesitantly to herself. "I wonder if it really is like a sphere projector …" Closing her eyes, she thought hard. Then she cracked them open and let out a small squeal of delight. The pyreflies had reformed, and she smiled at the figure before her. "Hey, Jecht! I hope Tidus doesn't mind me seeing you here," she said as she waved. Not surprisingly, he didn't reply. "I guess I don't know you all that well, but I was just a little curious to see if I could get you here since we never really met in person. Uh, well, unless you count the time that we helped kill you with Tidus … but you weren't really yourself then so that doesn't count!" she finished with an embarrassed rush. She knew he wasn't really there, but it still felt awkward to be saying it out loud. "Sorry about that anyway," she added with a tiny wince. I don't know why I'm feeling so guilty about this. He wanted to die, after all, he practically asked Tidus to kill him! Besides, if you wanna get technically technical about it, you could say Yunalesca killed him …
The pyreflies reformed, and Rikku froze in terror. "HOLY MACHINA!" she screamed, nearly losing her balance on the stone. Yunalesca only smiled back in response, her long hair swaying in the non-existent breeze. After a few seconds, Rikku's heart fell out of her throat and she regarded the bikini-clad woman cautiously. "Geez, you're just as creepy dead as you were alive! Or, uh, undead, or whatever you were. Why don't you just … shoo! Go away!" It wasn't working; the more Rikku tried to NOT think about Yunalesca, the more solid her image seemed to become.
"Ahh! I have to stop thinking about dead people!" Rikku shouted, grabbing her head and shaking it wildly. "Think of the living Rikku! How about … uhh … Gippal! Yeah, think of Gippal!" She focused on his cocky grin and his wry smile, and sure enough, the pyreflies slowly dissipated. Unfortunately for Rikku, she now had one highly annoying and still living Al Bhed on her mind. Why does he have to be so cute? she thought to herself in annoyance. There was a time when Rikku had feelings of more than friendship for him; she still found herself getting flustered in his presence much too easily, a fact that he obviously delighted exploiting. "I can't believe I still have a crush on that dork Gippal. I mean, he flirted with Yunie the first time he met her! He flirts with everything that moves!" She crossed her arms over her chest and slumped over. "I don't like people who flirt! Well, okay, so I do, but I don't like GUYS who flirt! They never take anything seriously!"
Rikku suddenly straightened up as the words left her mouth. "That's it!" she mumbled, staring blankly ahead of her. "That's my niche. I'm looking for someone who'll take me seriously." She furrowed her brows, trying to recall the last time that had happened. "Sheesh … when have I not been the resident comic relief for everyone?" she wondered. Then she doubled over and snickered loudly. "When we were on pilgrimage with Yuna, that's when. Tidus was clueless enough to take the load off of my shoulders sometimes! Hee hee … I kinda miss those days." She refocused on the swirling pyreflies as she spoke, and the smile slowly slid off of her face. "Oh, it's you," she said finally.
Auron looked back at her impassively; she noted with a faint sense of amusement that even his pyrefly image didn't have the same half-smile as the others. That's Sir Auron for you. Scowling even in the afterlife, Rikku thought to herself with a grin. It quickly faded as she studied his face; familiar tufts of grey at his temples, the jagged scar running across one eye and the high collar of his cloak obscuring his expressive lips. She almost wished that it wasn't there so she could see his face in its entirety; the pyreflies, however, formed images out of memory, and she couldn't recall a time when he had ever let his guard down enough to show her his entire face.
"This isn't fair," she told him, pulling her knees up under her chin and wrapping her arms around her legs. "Yunie got Tidus, and Paine got Nooj. Well, I guess that means she got LeBlanc, too, so there's some kind of justice in that, huh? But she also got Baralai and Gippal. And what do I have? Brother, and Buddy and Shinra. I guess they're not bad, but … I'm beginning to think I don't have a knight in shining armor waiting for me anywhere, you know?" Rikku rolled her eyes upwards, not that this Auron could actually see the gesture and appreciate it. "That's a real confidence booster."
Auron said nothing; in that sense, the image was very much in keeping with the man she remembered.
"Ugh, I feel stupid, talking to myself like this," she told him conversationally. "It's easier to say it now that you're sorta here, though. That's what I really came for, I guess. To deal with my … issues." She laughed lightly, trying to avoid the inevitable. That, of course, only made his image sharpen and solidify even more.
Contrary to popular belief, Rikku wasn't stupid. There was a reason there were no knights in shining armor waiting for her, and she knew perfectly well why as she looked at it. It was the same reason Paine teased her for stubbornly using her samurai dressphere despite the fact that she had no upper arm strength worth speaking of; the one that she was fairly certain Yuna knew of by the red cloth that cloaked her every time she activated it. Yuna had spent her time carrying Tidus' sword, and Rikku … she had chosen to carry Auron's. "No one even comes close," she told him with a wry smile. "I guess it is kind of hard to compete with a dead legend." Her face fell, and she wished more than ever that she could reach out and touch him, that he would be real.
"Why'd you have to be the first one to really see me? To see I wasn't just some idiot girl and take me seriously? Why'd it have to be someone like you?" she asked him. "And why'd you have to die before I could even tell you how I felt?"
The image was silent, unchanging except for the phantom breeze that ruffled his hair. This Auron had no answers for her; she could easily hear what he would say, had he still been there.
There never was a chance. I was already dead, long before you came.
"But you were still real," she protested helplessly. "Now you're just a memory, like mom and Keyakku, too dead to love me back but still alive enough to make me miserable." She sighed bitterly and dropped her forehead into her knees, blocking his image from her sight. "Better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all, they say," she choked out. "Not like I'd know, huh, Auron? Seeing as how I'm landing face-first into that never loved at all crowd."
Rikku kept her head planted firmly in her knees and thought about crying, but the tears wouldn't come. Five years was a long time to spend weeping over unrequited love, and Rikku wasn't the moping type. Instead, she was filled with a bitter sense of injustice. She wanted to spring to her feet and scream that it wasn't fair, that she deserved another chance, or at least the opportunity to have caught her heart and brought it back safely before Auron could carry it away, dissolving it with his measured steps and his pyreflies and his refusal to look back just one last time, please!
When she felt certain that she was finished with not crying, Rikku lifted her head and looked up warily. He was still there, unmoving, unchanging, though at least the image had fuzzed slightly. She could see the bright specks of light shining through his heavy read coat, lazily twisting through his chest, sometimes brighter, sometimes almost completely obscured by his figure. "I guess I have to leave you first this time," she told him apologetically.
Tucking her feet in, Rikku pushed off the ground and rolled into a standing position. Afterwards, in the brief moment between her rational realization of gravity's consequences and raw panic, she had time to analyze what caused her to trip. It might have been because she was sitting in the same position for so long that her legs fell asleep. Or it might have been the sudden, unexpected gust of wind that swept across the still plateau as she rose. The way she had situated herself directly on the edge of the rock certainly didn't help at all. Or maybe, just maybe, it was the fleeting feeling of being pushed, ever so gently. Whatever the reasons, she was falling in a bundle of flailing limbs and flying hair, watching the plateau grow smaller with each passing second.
Rikku had always imagined she would have something witty to say just before she died. "Banzai!" perhaps, or "So long, nice knowin' ya!" or maybe even "If I'm going down, you're coming with me!" Instead, all she could do was gasp soundlessly and make a futile grasp for the safety of the stone that disappeared into the mists far too quickly for her liking.
This is not my happy ending! I don't want to become a fiend! Wait, can you even become a fiend in the Farplane? Maybe I won't need to get sent because I'm already here, so everything will work out just fine. Well, except for the fact that I DON'T WANNA DIE OH GOD OH GOD OHGOD—
Everything went white. Or perhaps it was always white; the living were cautioned not to spend too much time in the Farplane because things were different there; time and space melded together. The Farplane was the realm of the spirit, and did not follow the rules of logic and flesh; those who tried to stay there would go stark raving mad, or so they claimed. Though she couldn't remember having had the time to fall asleep, when Rikku woke she realized that she was no longer falling. She wasn't standing on solid ground either, however; she was floating weightlessly, surrounded by cool white mists.
"Am I dead?" she asked herself breathlessly. Is this what it's like to have died? I don't feel any different. Experimentally, she held her hand in front of her face and squinted at it. It looked solid. Impulsively, she brought her fingers to her lips and bit down hard.
"OWW!" she yelled, drawing her hand away and shaking it out rapidly. Small flecks of blood were welling underneath the bite marks, and it stung painfully. "Feels like I'm alive," Rikku muttered cautiously. Raising her hand again, she tried one last time. Pyrefly-pyrefly-pyrefly! she instructed her fingers sternly. They remained solid no matter how much she tried to convince them to scatter. After a few more attempts punctuated by grunts, Rikku gave up and decided to assume that she was probably not dead.
"Where am I?" she asked, twisting around and trying to make out anything in the thick mist.
"You're in the Farplane," a voice answered, and Rikku yelped and spun around to face it.
"You… don't I know you from somewhere?" Rikku said uncertainly, eyeing the strange boy who was floating before her. His eyes were hidden by the heavy purple hood that was pulled low over his head. A slight smile twisted at his lips and he nodded at her.
"Yes," he told her. "We've met." He turned his back to her and Rikku's eyes were drawn to the elaborate wheel pattern embroidered on the back of the boy's shirt.
"You're a Fayth!" Rikku blurted out suddenly, covering her mouth with her hands. "You're—"
"What do you want?" Bahamut turned and regarded her silently.
Rikku balked and gaped at the phantom child. "I dunno, like, maybe not to die?" she yelled in frustration.
"All living things die. That is how it should be. Anything else would be cruel," Bahamut told her reasonably. "What do you want?" he asked her again.
I must be hallucinating, Rikku thought to herself hazily. Maybe I landed in that huge field of flowers on the bottom and hit my head or something. She rubbed her fingers together and winced at the sting of her bite wound. "I think I want to wake up," she said out loud.
The boy sighed softly and shook his head at her. "If you don't want to dream, then why did you come here?" he asked.
Dream? Rikku thought, confused. "I don't know why I came here in the first place," she said defensively. Liar, she admonished herself guiltily.
"Liar," Bahamut echoed. "You're just afraid of your dream."
"Well he's kind of a scary guy, don't you think!" Rikku blurted out, exasperated. "Even if he is… dead," she added more quietly, feeling her heart constrict in her chest.
"What do you want?" Bahamut asked her again patiently.
Rikku closed her eyes and let herself float in the mists. "I want…" She took a deep breath and tried to chase away all the worries and distractions that were clamouring for attention in her head. Keep it simple, she told herself sternly. Why did I come here?
"I want my own story."
"Hmm," she heard Bahamut say; it sounded like he was laughing with the light, carefree melody of a child. Yet underneath she heard a low rumble, a growl from the mouth of a dragon. And suddenly his voice seemed too old despite its youthful tone. "I can only open the door. You will still have to find your story by yourself."
Rikku craned her neck towards the voice, but her eyelids were too heavy to open; she was still floating, but her body felt like lead. "Why are you helping me?" she struggled to ask. "I'm not Yuna. I'm not even Paine! I'm just Rikku."
"Rikku is Rikku. That should be enough," she heard him say.
Or wasn't it Kimahri who told me that? On Yuna's Pilgrimage … Rikku made the effort to pull her lips into a slight frown. "I … don't want … another … adventure …" she murmured, fighting to stay awake against the oppressive heaviness.
"What do you always say Rikku?" she heard Keyakku tell her teasingly as he handed her a wrench. "Three's a charm."
"Not … again … !"
Yuna was peering at her anxiously, worried by what she had seen after Rikku first activated the dressphere. "Do you really love him?" she asked her cousin softly.
"Who?" Rikku whispered, barely conscious.
"You know who," he answered, and she snapped to attention, struggling to stay awake.
"Auron?" Rikku asked, but her eyes wouldn't open.
"Did you mean what you said, about loving and losing?"
She could almost feel his breath on her face; breath? Had he even breathed when he was not-alive? "Auron … don't go," she cried. "Don't leave again, at least not without looking back." She let out a small whine of dismay as she felt his presence fading away.
"You'll have to choose what you love more in the end … Are you sure?"
"Choose? I just want to see you again," she mumbled. "See you really, not just my own memories. Even just … to say … g'bye." Her words slowed and slurred together as she lost control of her tongue.
"Remember your words," Rikku heard Bahamut say faintly. And then she felt as though she was being pulled apart, lifted, and she could feel her bones separating, and she didn't think bones could feel and it hurt so very much and it tickled all over and even if she knew she wasn't dead she sure as hell couldn't be alive to feel this and then—
Suddenly Rikku knew she was falling again, falling through the Farplane like before, the mist rushing past her ears and whistling through her hair, and that this time nothing would stop her. She was going to land in a field of flowers and die a messy, splatty, ugly death without ever having said anything cool before going, and nobody would even take the time to send her because she was already in the home of the dead.
A tickling in her head, a reminder … Bahamut's childish voice intruded on her thoughts again; he sounded almost urgent.
How can I jump? I'm already falling! Rikku mused wildly, flailing her arms out.
"You must not fear your dreams. Jump."
"Things are different in the Farplane."
That was me, Rikku thought with a start. That was what I told myself earlier! Time is different here. Space is different here. She turned herself into the wind and spread her arms.
And hope… that's also different here.