"Well, I'll be going now." She heads towards the door, back stiff and straight. He's in the middle of throwing his gear in a worn satchel, and he knows she's mad at him, but he doesn't know if he can spare the time to walk her back home.

"I'll stop by on my way out of Bikanel tomorrow. To say goodbye." He's a little frustrated, because she's not making it easy for him to leave, but then, when has anything ever been easy with her?

"No, don't do that."

"I want to." He glances over at her, and she's stopped by the door, one hand wiping the sweat from her forehead, not looking at him.

"I don't want you to." She doesn't say it angrily, but he can tell she wants to. She wants to shout at him. She wants to vent her own anger and frustration. "Just say goodbye now and go. Just leave. It's easiest."

"I want you to see me off." He reaches for her, but she shifts away.

"I won't." She looks past him, through him, anywhere but at him. "I want only happy memories. I don't want to be sad when you go."

"I'll come and visit," he says, "it's not going to be goodbye forever." He wonders why she can't understand that he's going for her, to show her, to show her father, to show everyone that he can protect her, that he's worthy of her.

"Don't visit." She pauses, one foot out the door. But she doesn't look back at him. Not once. "Don't come back unless you're back to stay. I won't say goodbye to you again." And that's his last sight of her for two whole years, just the back of her, her unbound blonde hair swishing down her back as she rushes off. Because in the morning, when he goes around to her place, she won't come to the door.

They meet again for the first time in two years when he's not expecting it. And it takes him by surprise because he knows she knows where to find him, but he figured she'd be waiting for him. And when she shows up she looks so different and so not the girl he knew that he doesn't recognize her for a moment. But the whole time she's looking at him all cool and collected and he wants to ruffle her just a little bit. So he musses her hair, and tells Yuna what a couple they made, watching her face redden. And she's just so beautiful that for a moment he's swept away to two years ago, and how hard it was to leave her.

And even though she's berating him for embarrassing her in front of her friends, he can tell she hasn't forgotten him, hasn't forgotten what they were, what they'll always be, no matter how many years pass or how many miles separate them. He knows that even though she's pretending indifference, she's drinking in the sight of him as surely as he's taking in the sight of her. Because it's been so long, and they've been starved for one another. But there's nothing they can do, because now she's finding herself and her way just like he had to find his. And he's got his faction, but Rikku's never done anything by halves, and she's just got to go rush off and save Spira all over again.

It hurts a little bit, because by now he's learned that now matter how much he wants to keep her safe, she'll just rush off and do whatever she wants anyway. And he's starting to realize that maybe that's why she'd been so angry when he left for the Crimson Squad. Because she knew all along that she had no intention of letting him protect her from life, but she couldn't make him see that it was a futile endeavor.

And still he knows that the moment she takes off, he's going to go grab Nooj and Baralai and try to save Spira himself because he can't stand the thought of her putting herself in danger again, and he's just got to try to help.

She hangs back a little as they head back towards the airship. For a moment he thinks – hopes – that she'll tell him she's still his girl. But she waits until the other girls have turned their backs, and then she hauls him down to her, pressing her lips to his for one brief moment, and it's just this side of heaven for him. And then she looks him squarely in the eye, jaw set stubbornly like he remembers so well.

"I'm not going to wait for you," she says quite clearly, and then she turns her back on him again and runs after her companions.

But he just laughs, because he knows Cid's girl, and he knows it's a lie.

He sees her again in the Farplane, just as he expected to. He got a bit of a head start, and he's tired because he's been battling his way through the fiends on his own, but he knows that if he just waits, she'll be around soon. Because Rikku never gives up, not on anyone, not for anything. She knows he's there, and she'll come running.

And sure enough, when they arrive, looking disgustingly chipper and none the worse for the wear, he has to remind himself that his girl battled Sin and Seymour and lived to tell the tale. She's strong – so much stronger than he is. How could he have ever hoped to save her from her own foolhardiness?

But it's nice in a way, because she's there and all at once her irritation melts away and she's his fussy girlfriend again, determined to nurse him back to health. He knows that they'll get through it, that losing was never an option. But the best he can do is to back her up.

"Hey, kid," he says softly, just to her. "I wanna tell you something."

"What?" She's fiddling with his armor, tucking spare potions into his pockets. She's not really listening. He covers her hand with his, pressing it over his heart.

"When this is over, I'll come back for good."

For a moment she says nothing, her face shows no reaction. Then, finally, her lips tilt up just a little at the corners, a secret smile just for him.

"Sure," she says, resuming her preparatory packing for the coming battle. "Okay."

But when it's over, there's so much to do and so much to say to so many people that he doesn't get any time with her at all and before he knows it, she's on her way back to Besaid with Yuna.

He doesn't worry, though, because he knows she'll be waiting. She's Rikku, and despite her flighty nature, she's patient when it comes to things that matter, and he knows that he matters the most to her. She'll wait for him.

He spends a couple of weeks fixing up the temple for her, because he knows it's going to be their home, and he wants her to love it. He hires some extra workers to pick up the slack while he's gone, and finally, finally, he's off to Bikanel.

It's night when he arrives, but she's still in the workshop, fixing up some machines. He knows she's heard his approach, he's certain she recognizes the sound of his boots on the floor. She's facing away from him, laying half under a machina, tightening some bolts. She's got grease all over her, and her arms are covered in dirt, but she's still the most beautiful girl he's ever seen.

"Took you long enough." The wrench makes a clanking sound as she tosses it carelessly aside. She sits up, and he admires the smooth ripple of muscles in her abs. She watches him watch her for a moment, and then all of a sudden he's across the floor, jerking her up into his arms.

He doesn't care about the dirt and grease, and neither does she. Her arms slide around his neck, lifting herself to receive his kiss.

And it's like they were never apart.