SPOILERS for the end of FFX and the good/perfect ending of FFX-2. One of my first attempts writing for these characters, so please tell me if I've got them all wrong.

I so don't own FFX or X-2.


Distance

Unable to help herself—and wanting some sort of confirmation—she reaches out with trembling fingertips, just brushing the rough fabric of his worn red coat before recoiling as if stung. It's warm and smells faintly of sandalwood, sake, and sweat; she can tell it's real, just by the scent. How long had she tried (and failed) to conjure that same smell, that same warmth, after he had gone—lying awake at night, listening to the roll of thunder pounding in her ears, trying to remember how exactly he smelled, so that maybe her heart wouldn't ache quite so much.

He stares at her, taking a step forward, but she skips back another three and shakes her head, no. The beads in her hair clink together lightly, and she shivers.

The child she carries is not yet matured enough to make the swell of her abdomen obvious—only two people know the planes of her stomach well enough to tell the difference: she and her husband. Still, she lays a hand carefully over the nearly nonexistent bulge, silently reminding herself of the responsibilities she carries. The loyalties she has.

Those loyalties had changed in the five years he had gone, and she wants to show him that.

"Hello, Auron," she whispers, looking at him with her swirled green eyes, voice a little hoarse and detached. A weaker man might flinch at such a greeting, but he has weathered harsher things.

He just continues to stare, sweeping his gaze up and down the length of her figure. It is different than it had been when he'd left—it is leaner, longer, and more developed; he can see the outlines of toned muscles, the pale little scars left over from battles he had not been able to witness. They are two strangers now, and the thought makes her eyes prickle with unshed tears.

He nods at her in return, saying in his gravely voice, "Rikku."

The dam bursts—gives away entirely—and leaves her shaking with strangled sobs. Memories of stolen glances, secret kisses in the dark, and warm embraces return, unbidden, to the forefront of her mind, and she is hard-pressed to keep them at bay. Again he moves forward, reflexively, and again she dances and twists away from his arms.

"No," she gasps, choking on her tears. "No." Even as she says it, a horrible, traitorous part of her mind wants to run the tips of her fingers over his face, his arms, his chest just to prove once and for all that yes, he is real.

Then she hears the sound of a baby crying, loud and slicing through the humid island air like a bullet, and though it isn't hers, it makes her remember that silly, almost-not-there little bump.

"I'm married," she says suddenly, darting her gaze to meet his shade-obscured eye. It's sudden, blunt, and completely tactless, but she knows it gets her point across when he takes a little step backward too. As if to drive the blade a little deeper—to increase the literal and figurative distance between them—she elaborates. "And pregnant."

She feels a little foolish, standing there as she is in her miniskirt and bikini top, still playing the part of a teenager even though she's a married woman now. His answering "I know" only compounds the feeling and makes it more substantial.

Her exotic Al Bhed eyes—jade-colored with a dark green-black swirl in place of a pupil—are red and swollen, and she feels another sob rising in her throat. This is the Thunder Plains all over again, she thinks to herself belatedly; I feel like such a fool. Absently, she touches the golden lightning bolts emblazoned in ink on her collarbones; her husband's personal sigil, made to coalesce with the swirling orange flames he had tattooed across his shoulders—her orange flames.

Somehow, under his gaze, they seem less beautiful and more unnecessarily gaudy, and instead of wearing them as the trophy she usually saw them as, she finds herself smoothing her hands over them, hiding the markings from sight. She has never been ashamed of them before, but suddenly…

"Rikku," he repeats, voice reproachful. He peels her fingers away from the tattoos, looking down and examining them carefully. It makes her start so badly that she nearly wrenches out of his firm grip again—inadvertently this time—and he has to adjust his grasp to keep her standing still. When had he gotten so close?

The calluses on his hands are so terribly familiar that it makes her ache. Her lungs contract and she shivers, trying to keep herself from bolting away. She doubts she would make it far anyway.

She feels—suddenly—like a childish version of herself, after being caught filching mechanical supplies from her father's office. An excuse builds reflexively in her throat, and she almost wants to say, "It wasn't me!" The look in his one good eye makes her feel like he's weighing his options, trying to figure out the best possible punishment for her crime of infidelity.

Then, as she thinks about it—as she feels his gaze on her, staring at her marked clavicles—she realizes that she hasn't committed any crimes at all.

"You're dead," she whispers, body tensing. "You're dead and you left me. I used to hope you'd come back, like Tidus did, but…" She shivers, thinking of her cousin's lost love. They've been standing there on the beach for hours, and the sun oozes down beneath the horizon, making it cold. "You didn't. I waited two years, Auron. You're dead."

He doesn't argue with her, doesn't try to deny any of her words.

With a shuddering gasp, she continues. "You lied to me—to all of us! I told you everything, and you lied… How could you not…?"

She dissolves into tears again, and he releases her. True to form, he doesn't try to offer her any comfort, but rather looks at her in his usual flat way, observing.

"I trusted you!" she nearly shrieks at him, and suddenly her fists are beating against his chest in futility, trembling with rage. "How could you not tell me you were dead?"

In response, his image flickers around her fists, breaking and reforming in little flashes of light. Pyreflies, she thinks disdainfully—memories of the dead made solid and substantial, able to make them walk the earth even when they should be Sent to the Farplane. She presses both her open palms to his chest and shoves him away, swatting at the pyreflies that detach from him and drift around her arms.

Finally, the one thing that had gnawed away at her mind for the five years he'd been gone escapes her. "Just because we weren't Braska or Jecht," she snarls, "doesn't mean we were of any less value, Auron!"

They both take a step back.

She's spent the last five years resenting him for leaving her—for lying to her—while he's been watching her from afar in the Farplane. Loving, maybe Part of her wonders what might have happened if he'd returned to her a few years earlier, before she'd fallen in love with her childhood friend, before she'd promised to marry him and be faithful to him forever, before she'd had two of his children and gotten started on another. Would she have welcomed him back with open arms and an open heart?

Maybe.

"Goodbye, Auron," she says flatly, one hand pressed to her abdomen and the other to her right collarbone. She turns on her heel and stalks back toward the village, not even needing to see him burst into a thousand sparks of light to know that it's exactly what he's doing.

Every step makes feel a little wearier, and by the time she's standing outside the hut she and her husband share (one of many homes they have around Spira), she has to clutch onto the woven fabric of their vividly colored tent in order to keep upright. She wants to be sick, and doesn't know if that's the pregnancy or the fact that she has that blasted smell of sandalwood and stale liquor clinging to her like a second, unwanted skin. Just when she's thinking it might be better to go visit her cousin—to tell her about Auron and ask her for some healing potions—the tent flap is peeled away and she's staring up at her husband.

"Riks?" he asks, blinking at her lazily with his uncovered eye. The patch he has protecting the other one reminds her distantly of a different one-eyed man. "Hey, hey Princess, what's up?"

He coils his arms around her and the smell of machine oil and sharp spices washes over her like a cleansing wave of comfort and rightness. His fingers are callused too—from working on machines, excavating in the desert, and years of playing soldier—and they brush over the back of her neck lightly.

She lets him hold her, and it is one of those rare moments where they aren't bickering playfully or looking after their children; they're just standing, alone and quiet, in the dark. Just being.

And even though she's never been much for idleness—even though she'd much rather be off doing something most of the time—she rather likes the refreshing restfulness that accompanies being steady and still and in his arms, listening to crickets chirping and ocean waves rolling in the background. He runs his fingers through the mop of blonde braids both on and dripping off the top of her head messily, plants a brief kiss to her forehead, and drags her cautiously back into their tent.

A few hours later, as she lies beside him and listens to his steady, even breathing, she thinks that maybe there is room in her heart for forgiveness—both toward Auron and toward herself. She feels a bit lighter with the realization, and sleep comes to her easily.

For the first time in just over five years, her dreams aren't littered with the image of red coats dissolving into pyreflies.