A/N: It's short, yes, but just an idication that I'm coming back and returning to this fic. I'm sorry for leaving you all to wait, those who read this story, my interest just dropped off...but it's back now and you should be seeing another update real quick, so don't worry. Again, sorry for such a long delay and I hope you enjoy the story. Leave me a few words if you want too, I'll get back to your comments/or/questions =)
Paine found herself returning to the beach. Before she could stop and reassess the decision, she had already reached the sandy support that made up Besaid beach. She was both anxious and a bit excited when she saw the back of Lulu's head in the same place Paine had left her. Paine swallowed her emotions and went to sit beside the black mage.
"Hello Paine." Lulu greeted without turning her gaze away from the tides.
"Lu." Paine simply replied.
"You have questions? I'm sure you do. You don't need to hold back your emotions with me about this." Lulu gave a small, wry smile at Paine's narrowed eyes. "We are of the same blood Paine; I can see you've built up a hard exterior. I did the same thing myself when he left me."
"I don't want to talk about…him." Paine snapped harshly. That was not the reason she came to talk to Lulu. Come to think of it, she didn't really know why she came to talk to Lulu. She'd much rather just be dealing with it alone. She had been right; ignorance was better than knowing. That annoyingly old saying 'ignorance is bliss' was actually pretty accurate.
"I fear I have left you with the wrong impression of your father. He loved you very much, Paine. Leaving you was his hardest decision-"
"Then why'd he do it?" Paine bit off angrily, momentarily letting go of her anger. "He took you around, didn't he? You're not that much older than me, Lulu! If he could take you around and care for you, he could have cared for me just as well! You're not even his daughter!"
Lulu remained silent for an instant, assuring herself that Paine was done with her rant before opening her mouth to speak. "You are jealous of me." It wasn't a question. They both knew it was true. Paine breathed in bitterly and turned away from Lulu, unable to keep her eyes on the woman. It wasn't Lulu's fault that Auron had left Paine and taken her, but at the moment Paine wanted someone to blame. And it didn't make sense that Auron would leave her and not Lulu…unless he was ashamed of her. And Paine could only think of one reason why he'd be ashamed of her at so young. It must have been…her mother. Paine's saintly view of her mother that she had cherished in all the times she felt alone was slowly crumbling before her. "I do not blame you for it, but you should know that I did not have much longer with your father than you yourself did, Paine. He left with Lord Braska only months after he left you. Truth be told, I do not know why he left you."
"Then why give me some bullshit reason that he could not care for me?" Paine knew she was being harsh, but it was Lulu who had spoken the words.
"Because that's the reason he gave me." Lulu replied simply.
"What an asshole." Paine muttered darkly.
Lulu glanced over at her. Paine couldn't hide all the anger in her features, but she could hide the hurt, which she did. She didn't want pity from Lulu. She didn't want pity from anybody. "You should watch the spheres he made for you…they may answer some questions. I am failing horribly at telling his side of the story."
"You're only re-affirming my previous views of him." Paine was silent for a minute. She wanted to ask Lulu about their mother, but then again, did she really want to know? Ignorance was bliss, but now that Lulu had brought up doubts about her as well… No matter how blissful it might be, Paine lived in a world of reality. It was harsh and unstable, and it hurt like hell, but it was better than living in a world of fantasy. Lulu waited patiently for Paine to regroup herself, saying nothing in between. Paine swallowed thickly. "What of…our mother?"
Lulu let herself smile, just a tiny bit. "She was a wonderful woman. You would have loved her. I was only eight when she died, but I remember her well. Mother was always so generous and kind. She radiated a sort of good-nature. She was always helping people, doing everything she could for everyone else…" Lulu's eyes fell upon Paine again. "She looked just like you." She repeated.
Paine shifted her position and her eyes fell on Lulu's. There was something in Lulu's eyes that Paine couldn't place. She had never seen the woman show this much emotion before. Her eyes held a sort of…wistfulness? Concern? Paine didn't know. Lulu seemed to read Paine's very thoughts and a second later, the emotion was gone, hidden once again. Lulu herself seemed to stiffen and she turned away from Paine.
Lulu began getting to her feet. "Watch the spheres." It wasn't a question, but it wasn't a demand either. With that, Lulu turned and left, leaving a confused Paine in her wake.
Paine had about twenty seconds to herself to dwell on what she had learned and what just happened before a familiar form dropped down beside her. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing." Paine sighed, turning her gaze away from the sky to study the newcomer. It was Nooj who sat beside her, watching her with soft, comforting eyes.
Nooj gave a sad smile. "You never used to be distant with us. That was my job."
Paine could detect the notion of the joke, but it made her sad to hear the words. She had become distant with the gang. Ever since that day when Nooj—no, not Nooj, when Shuyin had shot them, they had formed a wall between each other. Paine had grown guarded over the course of events and had yet to take her shields down. It was hard, considering how she'd been hurt. She'd been alone for so many years, when she had met the guys she was reluctant at first, but after they had become friends, it had been so hard to let them go. Having them back again was wonderful, but Paine's heart had taken a beating in the process and retreated inward. It was going to take awhile of convincing and coaxing to let it back out again. From her reaction, Nooj seemed to understand what she was thinking about. "Whatever it is, Paine, its okay if you do not wish to tell me. I know it will take some time to rebuild the trust."
"It's not that—" Paine objected. "I trust you." Nooj gazed at her with those sad eyes, smiling lightly at her words, but the smile did not reach his eyes. It was as if he was thanking her for being kind enough to lie about it. "I'm not lying, Nooj. I do trust you. It's just…" Paine didn't know how to finish her sentence.
"I understand." Nooj helped her. He didn't need to make her suffer by saying the words. "We'll wait for you, Paine. I won't let anything separate our gang again, I promise." Even though the words could be broken, Paine appreciated Nooj saying them. It was a start, however flimsy or weak.
Paine shook her head slightly. "Oh Yevon. Rikku, what is so important that you must scare half the beach of beach to tell me?"
Rikku's eyes fell on Paine as she heard her voice and she dashed over as fast as she could run. Instead of stopping in front of Paine, Rikku lunged at her and tackled her further away from Nooj. She had little beads of sweat on her forehead and was breathing hard, suggesting that she'd been looking for Paine for quite some time. "Paine, tell me it isn't true?!"
A grip of fear clasped around Paine's chest. Did Rikku know about…Paine had asked Lulu not to tell anyone. Why would she? Before Paine could dwell too long on these fears, Rikku blurted. "The whole gang has seen you naked, Paine?! Tell me it isn't so!"
"Would you mind getting off me, Rikku?" Without waiting for an answer, Paine pushed Rikku off to the side. Rikku tumbled sideways, but then quickly got up again and clung to Paine's arm.
"Is it true?!" She asked again.
"Gippal has a way of twisting the truth."
Rikku breathed a sigh of relief. "So it's not true then?"
Paine frowned at her. "Of course it's true. We lived together for a long time, so yeah; sometimes we walked in on each other."
Rikku's eyes bulged. "What?! How are you so casual about this, Paine? This is even more revealing than your kissing history!"
"It wasn't a big deal, Rikku. Accidents happen. It's not like I let the guys just stare at me when it did. You need to settle down." Paine pushed Rikku off her shoulder and the girl plopped down in the sand on her butt.
Rikku paused for half a second to take a breath. "Wait…you said 'walked in on each other. You've seen them naked too?!"
"Rikku, you're really getting too excited about this."
"Paine, this is important!" Rikku seemed to notice, for the first time, that they were not alone. Her eyes lit up upon sight of Nooj, who, to Paine's dismay, was slightly colored. "Nooj! Look, Paine; Nooj is blushing! It was a big deal! I've never seen Nooj blush before! Not even from LeBlanc!"
Paine sighed and dropped her head into her hands. Another familiar voice floated over Paine's head. "Rikku, there you are!" Gippal showed up on the scene. Paine gave him a withering glare.
"Did you have to tell Rikku everything?"
Gippal gave his customary smile. "Who said I told her everything?"
Rikku's eyes alighted. "There's more?!"
Rikku fixed her gaze on Paine. "Why haven't you ever told me any of this?"
Paine raised an eyebrow. "Because I knew you'd act like this about it."
"It doesn't matter how I'd act about it! We're your friends; you're supposed to tell us stuff like this!" Paine winced. Rikku's comments hit a little too close to home. Rikku appeared not to notice. "We're going to have a loooong talk, Painey. You're going to tell me and Yuna everything!"
"What happened to care-taker Rikku? I think I liked her better."
"You're not injured anymore." Rikku replied simply. She turned to Gippal. "Once Paine tells us everything, you're to verify. Okay?"
"Sure." Gippal smiled easily. Paine narrowed her eyes at him. "In any case," Gippal continued, changing the subject. "We have a mission to do."
"A stress signal from the Celsius?" Paine asked, eyes still narrowed.
"Yeah, it's coming from that cave at the bottom of the gorge in the Calm Lands."
"The Cave of the Fayth?" Paine asked suspiciously.
"That mighta been it." Gippal shrugged. "I don't know the name of it."
Paine pondered this for a minute. "That cave is near the Ronsos…" She said quietly.
Rikku significantly brightened. "We can go visit if you want!" She glowed, anxious. "And you can tell us things on the way! Maybe we'll even learn something about you growing up with the Ronsos!"
Paine shook her head, exasperated. "You are much too anxious about this."
"You would be too, in my position!" Rikku claimed, bouncing excitedly. "Well---Gullwings…" she glanced over at Gippal. "And Squad. Let's go!"
"Have you ever…you know?" Rikku chuckled childishly, awaiting the answer with a hyper glow in her blue eyes.
Paine frowned and lifted an eyebrow at her. "Have I ever?"
Yuna shifted nervously on the bed and caused a ripple to bounce the other two girls on the water-filled mattress. Rikku chuckled again and gave Paine an innocent smile. "You know…" She urged Paine with her hands, as if the answer should have been obvious. Paine continued to stare at her in an oblivious manner and Rikku broke out into another fit of giggles.
"I'm going upstairs." Paine announced, standing. Rikku was acting weird, which wasn't unusual, but the hyper girl was being especially strange today. Ever since the discovery of Paine's less-than-perfect moments with the Crimson Squad, she'd been acting all fidgeting and giggling in that high pitch, hyena-like manner.
"No you don't!" Rikku squeaked, grabbing Paine's arm and pulling her back onto the bed.
Paine slapped her hand away. "What is up with you?"
Rikku giggled again and Paine gave her a belittling glare. Through her laughter, Yuna spoke, as Rikku was unable to do so. "She wants to ask you more about the Crimson Squad." Yuna answered her with a sigh. "She's been this way since Gippal told her about you walking in on—"
Paine rolled her eyes. "Oh, Yevon. Rikku, you're so childish."
"It's a big deal!" Rikku attempted to calm herself down enough to speak. Once she had done so, she looked up to Paine to say something…and broke out into another fit of laughter.
Paine shook her head. "My respect for you is draining by the second."
Rikku straightened suddenly, looking alarmed. "How many points do I have left?" She asked anxiously.
"Two." Paine stood up to leave again, but Rikku pulled her down once more.
"No! No! I'll be serious this time, I promise!" Rikku tugged on her arm, whining. "Come on Painnney, I didn't mean it!"
"Call me that again and you'll lose those fingers." Rikku released Paine's arm and settled back down onto the bed. Paine eyed her wryly. Rikku scrutinized her, squinting. Paine shifted.
"Nothing." Rikku answered evasively, biting down on her bottom lip coyly.
Paine sighed deeply. "Rikku, what is this about?"
Rikku sucked in a breath and hesitantly started. "Well…you know the other day when you said you'd kissed your whole squad and others…" Paine kept her expression emotionless. "…and I said I never…did."
"Yeah?" Paine asked skeptically, raising an eyebrow. "What of it?"
"Well…" Rikku rushed on, suddenly in a hurry to get it out. "I think Gippal's gunna kiss me sometime because he was hinting at it when I was chasing him and I want my first to be special and perfect, you know? So I wanted…"
"Gippal already kissed you, remember?" Paine pointed out.
"Yeah, but that one didn't count because…well, I didn't know what he was doing. So it didn't count. But anyway, I wanted to know…"
"Just spit it out Rikku!" Paine growled.
Rikku fidgeted, obviously uncomfortable. "I know! I know! Just wait…I'm trying to think how to say it."
Yuna nodded patiently. "It's okay Rikku…go on."
Rikku breathed in again. "Well…you've kissed Tidus, right? And Paine's kissed a lot of people…"
Paine scoffed. "Just because I've kissed someone doesn't mean I've kissed everybody. You're making me sound like a whore."
Rikku flinched. "Sorry, I didn't mean—"
Paine waved her off. "Now—you were saying?"
"Well…you guys have experience and I was thinking…maybe…" Paine didn't like the sound of where that was heading.
Yuna bowed her head lightly. "Maybe…"
Rikku bit her bottom lip. "Maybe Paine could practice with me—"
Paine's eyes widened and she moved back on the bed, away from Rikku, giving her a mortified stare. "What—"
"Please Paine, please?! It needs to be perfect and I'll probably suck at it and I can't let my first kiss suck because it'll ruin everything and Gippal won't like me anymore and he'll know how inexperienced I am and he'll—"
"Rikku." Yuna interrupted gently. "Gippal wouldn't respond like that."
"No, it has to be perfect Yuna, you don't understand! I mean, you and Tidus had that great thing in Macalania woods while in the water and he kissed you and it was perfect and I'm sure Paine's was awesome too and I won't compare and I—"
"I am not kissing you." Paine stood abruptly and tried to get around the thief, but Rikku blocked her way and grabbed her arm desperately.
"Paine, please! It'll kill me if I can't—"
Paine yanked her arm away and pushed Rikku back onto the bed, stepping away. "No, Rikku! That's—I don't kiss other girls—and you don't either."
Rikku went to jump up again, but Yuna gently laid a hand on her shoulder, stopping her. "Rikku, you shouldn't be so scared about it. You'll do fine."
Rikku's sighed deeply. "I just want it to be special."
Paine shook her head. "You'll be fine. Nobody 'practices' this stuff, it just comes to them when they start. You'll see."
Rikku looked defeated. "Well…could you at least tell me about how your first kisses were?"
Paine looked distinctively uncomfortable. "What's to tell?"
"Where was it? Who with? How did it go? What happened after? How did you kiss them—everything! I need pointers, guys!" Rikku turned to Paine again. "I totally was watching Yunie's first kiss—"
"What?!" Yuna chirped, alarmed.
"But what about you?" Rikku continued obliviously. "Tell me how yours happened."
Paine looked decidedly frustrated and…a little nervous? Yuna squinted at the strange expression on Paine's face. "Paine?" She probed, curious now where she wasn't before. Paine was fearless, the strength of the Gullwings; Yuna had never seen her look so unsettled before.
"I…I can't remember my first." Paine lied. Yuna read through it, but Rikku was oblivious. Her eyebrows raised in surprise and she gave Paine a shocked look.
"Can't remember?! Yevon, Paine! How many people have you kissed?!" The desperation crept back into Rikku's voice as she turned to both of them. "See, Paine forgot hers! That means it wasn't special enough! Gippal's totally gunna forget kissing me too! You guys have to help me!"
Paine gave Rikku an irritated, sarcastic look that seemed more natural to her person and stood up. "We're gunna hit the caves soon. I'm going to the cabin."
"But—wait, hey!" Rikku watched Paine hop down from the ledge with growing despair. "I'll give you a thousand gil if you help me!" There was no answer except the swish of the elevator doors closing behind her. Rikku turned to Yuna helplessly. "Yuna? How about it? A thousand gil?"
Yuna rolled her eyes. "You already owe me a thousand gil, Rikku. I told you Paine wasn't Ronso." Rikku sighed miserably as Yuna, too, stood up and dropped off the ledge.
She slumped on the bed. "Won't anyone help me?" This is kinda sad. Aren't friends supposed to help you with this kinda thing? Is there nobody willing to kiss me—not even for gil? Let's see…a thought suddenly struck Rikku. Oh! But could I…Rikku jumped up from the bed, her determination renewed as she scrambled down the steps. "Hey Barkeep! I've got a proposition for you…"