Rikku was awfully sick of having Gippal show up in dreams. Usually when she dreamed about him, her dreams involved him and her and relatively little clothing and some kind of delicious dessert topping. Most often whipped cream, sometimes honey, and strawberry preserves once or twice.
But this dream was weird. Really weird. And he wasn't even naked. Colors shifted strangely, swirling in bizarre patterns and bleeding into the blackness that blurred the edges of her vision. Sounds faded in and out, sometimes clear, sometimes low and fuzzy. She couldn't seem to lift her cheek from where it was pillowed on his chest, even though the fabric of his shirt was itchy against her face. She felt the harsh, jarring motion of his step as he took the stairs two at a time. Her elbow banged the wall as he took a turn too wide. It hurt - a sharp stinging sensation.
"Damn. I'm sorry. Are you okay?" His voice was husky, somewhere near her ear.
"Notta dream." Her throat felt scratchy, and her voice wouldn't do what she wanted it to do. Her mind was still foggy. She was vaguely aware that where ever it was that she was supposed to be, it wasn't with Gippal.
A door closed. Her back touched something cool and she felt Gippal's fingers on her face, brushing away her loosened hair. Sheets rustled, and she felt the soft fabric slide up over her. A bed. She was in a bed.
"Can you open your eyes?"
Had she closed them? She hadn't noticed. It was difficult, but she forced them open. Everything was still blurry, and the room spun crazily. She closed her eyes again, turning her face away from the light that streamed in the window. He patted her cheek.
"Can you speak, kid?"
"Hurts." She flinched away from his fingers. She wanted to cover her eyes, to keep out the burning glare from the sun, but her limbs were dead weight. She couldn't move them.
"What hurts?" There was something in his voice – worry or apprehension or something. She didn't want to think about it.
"Rikku, what hurts?" he prodded, shaking her a little. She wanted to sleep. She didn't want to talk – especially not to him, though she couldn't exactly remember why.
"Rikku. Talk to me. Tell me what hurts."
She sucked in an annoyed breath. "Everythin'." Her fingers were tingling – she could flex them. But trying to move was still too hard, too tiring. And her head ached. Something hard and warm slid beneath her back – Gippal's arm, making her sit up. He pressed something hot to her lips.
"For your headache. Drink."
How had he known she had a headache? The ceramic cup clinked against her teeth, but she sipped obediently. The warm tea, coupled with the cool, smooth taste of peppermint was soothing. She hadn't realized exactly how thirsty she was, but all too soon the tea was gone.
"Can you sit on your own?"
She didn't know. She tried to shake her head, but it seemed he understood.
"Hold onto this." He wrapped her hands around a plastic bottle. "Go ahead and drink. It's water." Her trembling fingers shakily lifted the bottle to her lips. His arm wasn't behind her anymore, but both of them were around her waist, gently pulling her back against him. Her back touched his chest. She was cradled against him, practically in his lap. The bottle wobbled dangerously, but he steadied her grip.
"Careful." He helped her lift the bottle to her lips, holding it still until she was done. Then he set it aside, on the nightstand beside the bed. His fingers slid into her hair, gently massaging her aching head. Her head dropped back onto his shoulder. "How's your headache?" The words were soft and warm, whispered right next to her ear. Goose bumps rose on her arms, and a shiver worked its way down her spine.
"Better." Her voice wasn't so dry now that she'd had something to drink. "What happened?" She didn't really want to know. She wanted to sleep. It was so warm and comfortable here, and his fingers in her hair were just so soothing.
"Do you remember Besaid?"
Besaid? Besaid. Besaid. Besaid and Yunie. And Tidus. And the door with the lock. And Gippal. And the sleep powder. Her eyes opened wide and she shoved herself away from him with trembling hands. And her head throbbed with pain.
"Whoa, careful." His hands caught her by the arms, gently restraining her. She couldn't make her body fight off his hands, and she could have cried in frustration.
"You drugged me."
"Yeah. I'm sorry. I'll make it up to you."
"Go away!" She wriggled futilely.
He snorted. "Like hell I will. Someone's got to take care of you."
"I can take care of myself."
"Kid, I don't think you could do so much as to stand up by yourself right now. So just shut up, will you?" He pushed her down on the bed, holding her down easily with one hand. "Look, you'll feel the effects of the sleep powder for a few hours yet. It'll get worse before it gets better, so get comfortable, okay?"
"I don't believe you," she hissed, "you're just saying that to-"
He clamped his hand over her mouth. "Kid, I'm not going to lie to you. They pelted us with that stuff back in the Crimson Squad to see how we'd take it. It was painful even to me, and believe me, I've developed a fairly high tolerance for pain." He indicated his eye-patch. "Coming off of it hurts like a bitch. It's my fault, so I'm going to help you through it. Want me to tell you what to expect?"
Wide-eyed, she shook her head. He uncovered her mouth, sliding his hands into his pants pockets. He really did look remorseful, but whether it was for drugging her in the first place, or deliberately frightening her, she didn't know.
He turned away, heading towards the door. He hesitated on the threshold, quickly crossing the room to drop to his knees beside the bed. He pressed his lips to her forehead, smoothing her hair back on the pillow.
"You'll be fine," he said. "I promise. Don't be scared. I'll be back in a few minutes, okay? Try to get some sleep."
He closed the curtains on the window, shutting the light out of the room on his way out the door. Her headache receded a little – just enough for her to finally fall asleep.
She didn't know how long she slept, but when she woke up, she felt like she was on fire. Her lips were cracked, her throat dry and scratchy, and her whole body ached.
"Gippal?" Her voice was a tiny, whimpering plea. The room was pitch black.
"Shh. I'm here." She heard a wet, crackling sound. Ice in water? A cloth slid over her bare back, cold and wet. It felt like heaven to her scorched skin. He slid the cloth up her neck, then down her spine, over her rear, all the way down to her feet.
"Want some water?" He gently turned her and tilted a bottle against her lips. She drank, each cold swallow was soothing, easing the pain and the panic that had gripped her.
He was absorbed in keeping her cool and comfortable. Without him, she would have been miserable. She knew it now even if she hadn't realized it when they'd been arguing earlier. With him here, whispering soothing words, stroking that cold cloth down her back, keeping the room cool and dark, it was almost…pleasant. Certainly not the horror she had imagined.
He made a harsh sound, self-loathing. "This is my fault," he said. "It's my job to fix it."
She didn't really like being termed a 'job', and would have told him so if he hadn't spoken first.
"I'm sorry, Rikku." His lips touched her shoulder. "This was stupid of me. I shouldn't have drugged you. It was wrong."
She couldn't remember him ever having apologized for anything before. It was strange, that he'd apologize to her after she'd stranded him on Mount Gagazet and blown up his temple on multiple occasions. She didn't know what to say to him. Suddenly, the cloth on her back was too cold. She shivered. A fine sheen of sweat coated her body.
"That's it." He tossed the cloth away, and she heard a wet splat somewhere across the room. "The fever's broken. You'll start to feel better now."
She did feel better. He pulled the covers over both of them, and she settled comfortably back against his chest. Her head found that perfect spot on the pillow, tucked beneath his chin.
"Gippal?" She yawned.
"Yeah, kid?" His voice was warm, his arms curled protectively around her. She felt safe and cared for.
"Why did you come after me?"
He sighed. "Wouldn't you rather talk about it in the morning?"
"You're assuming I'll still be here in the morning."
"Gimme a break, kid. If you go traipsing off all over Spira, you know I'll just chase you down again."
"Yeah, but who knows how long that'll take. So tell me now."
"Fine." He turned them a little, so her head was pillowed on his chest, his fingers threaded through her hair. Her fingers drummed against his chest expectantly. "I wanted you to know that you're not allowed to do anything that might end in explosions ever again."
She winced. "I'm really sorry. You know I didn't mean to blow up your temple, right?"
"Kid, I don't give a damn about the temple." He squeezed her tightly. "You have no idea how lucky you were that you weren't seriously injured. I can fix the goddamn temple. People aren't always so easy to repair." His lips brushed her cheek, her forehead, her nose. "Besides, I can't lose the one person in Spira that really loves me."
"I don't love you." It was an automatic response. She was glad he couldn't see her blush.
"You do, too," he countered. "You gave me your virginity, Rikku. It meant something to you. You wouldn't just throw it away; you wanted your first time to be special, to be with someone you loved. And that's me."
"No." But just because she didn't want it to be true didn't mean it wasn't true. She did love him. She'd loved him for a long time. She swiped away silent tears. "Besides, you don't love me."
"Of course I do, you idiot." He sounded offended, irritated.
"You do not."
"I do, too!" He flicked her forehead. "Stop arguing with me!"
"Stop lying," she countered, rubbing the little wounded spot.
"Do you think I would have wasted this much time gallivanting all over Spira for someone I didn't love?" He asked. He rolled her beneath him, pinned in place. "It took me a while to realize it. I didn't like the way you made me feel. I didn't like thinking that anyone but me had any control over my happiness. But I was miserable without you, kid. And by the time I realized how much damage I'd done, you wouldn't have anything to do with me." His breath sighed out heavily, as though a huge weight had been lifted from his shoulders. "I want you to stay here in Djose with me."
"Sure. And my father will kill you for dishonoring his little girl." She snorted.
"Maybe we'd better get married, then." He sounded perfectly serious.
"Are you crazy? We can't get married."
"Why not?" He seemed calm and rational, completely unperturbed by the thought of marriage to her.
"Because we never get along. We fight all the time."
"A lot of married couples fight all the time."
She sighed. "Why do you want to marry me?"
"It feels right," he said. He dropped his head onto the pillow beside hers. "Can't you feel it?" He took her hand, placing it on his chest over his heart. "I know it sounds stupid, Cid's girl, but all I want is you. Just you. However I can get you, in whatever capacity you like. Just…stay with me."
"Well, aren't you going to tell me you love me or something like that?" He sounded confused, like he wasn't sure exactly what had happened.
"Nope." She suppressed a grin.
"Well, why not?" He was definitely confused. She smiled, looping her arms around his neck and arching up to kiss him.
"You've got to earn it."
"Rikku, you are running that man ragged." Paine managed to sound both reproving and impressed. They both watched as Gippal searched through box after box of machina parts. "What did you do to him?"
"I just asked him to find a certain gear for me." Rikku blinked innocently up at Paine. "There's only one gear in stock right now, and it's small, which will make it very difficult to find."
"Where is it?" Paine asked.
"Right here." Rikku opened her palm, revealing a small silver gear.
"Then why is he looking for it?"
Rikku wrinkled her nose. "Payback," she said. "Don't worry, he'll figure it out any minute now."
As if on cue, Gippal turned to face them, glaring in Rikku's direction. She dangled the part in question.
"You!" He marched forward, prepared to launch into a lecture, but Rikku turned big, tear-bright eyes up to him. It stopped him in his tracks. He hesitated, then steeled himself against the puppy-eyes.
Her lower lip trembled.
"Damn!" He shook a finger at her. "Don't you think for one minute that I don't know what you're up to," he said.
"I love you, Gippal," she smiled, fluttering her fingers at him. He melted, leaning down to kiss her briefly, before sauntering back to the workshop.
"I never thought I'd see the day." Paine whistled. "You've got him trained."
Rikku shrugged, kicking back in her chair, grinning brightly.
"You say 'trained', I say 'in love'. It's subjective!"