Children

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Children are the world.

The world is made of children.

It's an interesting thought, and one she doesn't have to think on too much to find truth in. Rikku likes the rhythm it creates in her head like silver chimes or the ring of metal.

Rikku is a child, too, and she clings to it - adulthood isn't about responsibility or duty, because children have things to do, too. Adulthood is forgetting everything about being alive and living. It's an iron-flavored thought: children experience it yet don't understand it, and adults understand all too well but can't feel it for the life of them.

So she sees the world with rose-tinted glasses, and she is eleven and promises herself that she won't ever forget. Rikku ties a bead to the love-rope that her mama gave to her before she died especially to remind herself.

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Children are the world.

But the world isn't made of children.

The beat that makes her move is still there, back and forth and side to side in a fast-paced dance, the epitome of Rikku, and she likes the rhythm it creates in her head like golden sunlight and swirling sand, gritty and beautiful like the Al Bhed.

Rikku's still a child, even if she's thirteen now. She doesn't forget and carries the old knot with her everywhere. The world isn't made of children because children don't forget when everybody else does, but she's starting to suspect that maybe 'everybody' does include even them. The world isn't quite like she thought it was, and this is the last time she will visit her cousin for a long, long time - the sting of the angry Yevonite's slap in the city of the damned (they're all damned, we're not, they are, Pops says again and again as he bandages the bruise, and you just have to keep on believing it, kid) burns on her cheek, throbbing and red.

But she doesn't lose hold of it, not for a second, and she slips off those glasses to see the world for what it really is.

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Children are not the world.

The world is made of children.

But children aren't the world. Rikku is fifteen now, smarter, more or less an adult in her own culture - but when no one looks, she dances like a wild child with dandelion fluff in her hair and she loves life hard and fast, finding joy in every day no matter what. The world is made of children and there the beat is, fast like life and fast like Rikku, because she's happiest and most alive when she's moving, running fast like a speed devil with her lungs on fire, sparking up to her eyes. She likes the rhythm that sounds like adrenaline with the starry night sky and the sound of the sea, crashing against rubble and dreams of places long since dead.

The world is made of children because everybody is young compared to the world, something she didn't quite realize before. But children are not the world because they don't matter to anybody anymore, and she may be the only child left.

That's a lonely thought, and she is fifteen so she tries to shrug it off but only feels better after running straight across Bikanel Island to dive into the oasis of mirages and make-believe.

.

Children are the world.

The world is made of children.

The knot is five years old: a little ratty, a little beat up, but nice to look at. The bead from her mama's hair is the prettiest, and Rikku sits at Home on the beach – a far stretch from the oasis, and the magic is different in both places – and looks out to sea, twining that beat piece of love rope through her fingers.

Rikku is almost-sixteen and she wonders about a boy whom she had met for a day, a friend she had lost. It's unfair because it's always exciting to meet someone new, almost like earning a clean slate to make up for the dozens she's lost. Which is like poking her fingers in their eyes, she knows. Nobody can make up for everybody. That makes sense. Because recently, even more recently, she lost a hundred friends. Gone like little pyreflies from broken bottles, quick out like a light, and she wasn't even there to help them, and she wasn't there, shewasnt—

That hurts, too. She dumbly wishes that the boy hadn't fallen into the sea and probably been eaten by Sin like a sardine sandwich.

It's still unfair, and she wants to throw the knot into the sea and thinks on it hard, thinks how it would feel - like a release or a prison, and would she go sprinting after it? - how she would scream out that all she would want was for Sin to find it and choke on it, choke to death and then she could prove to all those stupid people who shove away their summoners like sacrifices that anybody could do it.

But anybody can't do it and she can't let it go, and the glowing sun bears down on her hard. She's used to it, because it is a part of her, woven into her bones and hair and skin like a love knot.

And then she realizes how stupid she is.

"I forgot," Rikku shouts. Her palms got sweaty and her grip loosened to the point that she almost fell off. She almost forgot.

She is still a child. She can't let that go, because of all the things in the spiral of death that is Spira, that is the one thing that may be the most important.

Rikku is five years old again and she cries, snot-nosed and red-faced. She's not very sentimental, but in a way, it means the world to her. She doesn't always understand it herself, but it keeps her going. It makes her alive. It makes her remember life when - when so many other people just -

So she just cries now, because it's easier this way. When the sun sinks low in the gold-orange sky and her eyes are pink and her nose is red, she loosens one of her braids and pulls the bead off, knotting it into her rope. It feels warm in her palm.

"Help me grow," Rikku says to nobody. Maybe the knot overhears her, though, because when she's walking back Home, the rhythm comes back to her head, and what's funny is that she didn't even realize it was gone in the first place.

.

And-

She's two days off sixteen when she joins a doomsday march of seven.

Rikku spends more time focusing on the present and less time climbing trees. She doesn't forget, but she isn't reminded as often. There are days she doesn't know where she shoved her little knotted rope away, and she's scared until she finds it stuffed away in her shoes, in her shirt, in her big pockets.

She likes the rhythm that's still in her head anyway and she can be happy, maybe because a death march is just the time to cut loose like they'll live forever. She won't ignore it, but Rikku steadfastly refuses to let it take her over life the rest of them. Of anything, she knows that she has to live, because what else could she possibly do? She loves the beat like bongos and drums and rainmakers, a wild harmony beating through her body that makes her want to jump off a cliff for the rush.

Why not?

She cries out that she'll scout out ahead and meet the rest of them at the bottom of the cliff - she runs off and just up ahead, out of sight, she twirls around leaps. She lands on her feet, shrieking with laughter, walking on water for a split second before the ground shatters and vivid blue ocean swirls above her head.

The road to Guadosalam is a long one, and she dries off in the sunlight until her party catches up with her. They continue on, and later, Lulu is worried: "why did you do that?"

Rikku twists the rope through her fingers and says it made her feel alive. Wakka ruffles her hair and calls her crazy as he passes them, but Lulu's eyes hesitate on Rikku, uncertain.

She watches her mog doll before she glances curiously at Rikku and back, and slowly, she smiles.

Tidus catches her eye and Rikku only gives a good-natured shrug, and that's all that needs to be said. Of anyone, maybe Tidus understands the most, because he understands with a wordless smile and jogs ahead to walk with her aunt's little girl. He's neat like that, she knows, and it's funny in a morbid way that these things can feel so lighthearted while they're waiting for Yuna's sand clock to stop.

Despite the sun and the song, Rikku is thinking and thinking hard because time really is running out for her cousin.

And it-

So sweet and so gentle and so young, Yuna loves like Rikku does but keeps it to herself, Rikku thinks. But more than anyone Yuna lives to enjoy the moment, even the thunder and the lightening. The summoner takes it in like breathing. There are still children. (And later Rikku murmurs this into Yuna's hair inside the agency as they huddle together, both five years old again and little girls allowing themselves to be afraid of the world for just this once.)

When they march on to the Macalania Woods - unearthly and ethereal as the air is silk through her fingers - maybe everyone is a bit of a kid again in the hush and the fairy lights. Rikku likes the rhythm that strums through her head, peaceful like rain tapping pitter-patter on a pond.

The blue butterflies bring fortune, the butterfly woman says softly, but the red ones bring bad luck.

That's unfair to the red ones, because Rikku has never been one to be superstitious and she watches the scarlet butterfly as it watches her until she cups it in her open hands. Its wings flap slow, like feather down, and it kisses her nose before fluttering away. The air is fresh.

"The red butterflies are said to bring ill fortune," a voice tells her, but Rikku says that the red ones are the nicest.

And Auron asks why she thinks she's just a child, and the world is children.

Because some people forget, but they're children, too, she says, and that's that.

And it really is.

.

Children are the world, and the world is made of children.

The group of people (and that is all they are, in the end) reach Mount Gagazet too soon. The hush of rock and snow in mighty glory, tall ahead of them like a giant, strings a pulse through Rikku's head that sounds like proud warriors and broken promises.

Rikku knows she will add more beads to the knot. One for every time she forgets and then finds it again.

She hopes, stupidly and wisely, that she'll never stop adding beads.

There are three beads on her knot, and she tells herself there won't be another one, but it's getting harder as they keep going and the grunge grows bolder and the light gets weaker. She breathes life into it by dancing in the snow and holding Yuna's hand and jumping on Wakka's back, but it's getting harder. She moves to the rhythm with a hoarse, worried voice.

When it really does feel farther away, she thinks of home on Bikanel, of diving into the oasis and the mirages she once would laugh with as the sun dried her skin and the grit turned her into a sand-girl. Sometimes these thoughts hurt the most but keep her going.

Summoners are often lost here, Lulu murmurs.

Maybe in more ways than one, which is even worse, Rikku thinks. Her knot digs into her hip almost painfully from where she jammed it into her shorts earlier.

The storm roars and bites and shrieks, sending howls whirlwind across the rocky crevices while the emptiness of the fiends' pinprick eyes curdle Rikku's stomach in the frost. The mountain is a force of nature that is not calm, does not rest, does not love - it's bitter and has a spirit cold as the stone that covers it. Some of them aren't prepared for it, and she's not afraid to admit how out of her comfort zone she is, her shorts too short, her shirt too thin, her neck too bare.

No matter how unforgiving the mountain is, it is Kimahri's mountain, and he understands it in a way Rikku knows Bikanel's unrelenting sand and sun, harsh in the heat and grit she is in love with. He says that it's time to stop because the storm is getting worse, and his voice rings across the wind and the snow that make him alive, she realizes.

"Let's stop over here!" Tidus calls out. He leads the way to a low, icy cave - beaten and bruised, they crawl in to lick their wounds. They're tired, but there's no giving up. Not after coming this far, which is a cruel thing as her cousin's sand starts turning to dust before Rikku's very eyes. She sits at the front of the cave, away from the tiredness and the sleep.

It's cold, she thinks, and a wicked chill eats into her.

The rustle of heavy, warm cloth makes its way to sit beside her to counter it. Auron lays his sword on the ground and rests with one knee drawn and the other leg sprawled in front of him. They've reached an understanding where Auron isn't a legendary guardian or an old man and Rikku isn't an Al Bhed or a stupid girl. They're only them.

Right now, they're only tired.

They're all tired, and some of them have forgotten, if they ever knew at all. His breath sends puffs through the air.

"Why are you a child?"

The question doesn't register at first until the dig in her hip bone wakes Rikku up again.

"Because I remember what everybody else forgets." Rikku finds she likes the rhythm inside her head that sounds like pyreflies floating and whispers of the fayth. He tilts his head, wooden-brown eye hidden by his sunglasses.

"It's not really about children at all, when it comes down bare bone to it. It's their eyes, it's - I just remember when I laugh. And Yuna remembers when she just stops and takes in everything, y'know? And everyone else forgets."

He looks at her and his eyebrows raise as his mouth untightens. He rubs his eyes with one hand, the other resting inside his red coat, and she thinks maybe he can understand.

"You don't look like a child," he murmurs, and he is so tired, she can tell. But there's something else there, too. She takes a chance and stretches out on a proverbial limb, hazy mind full of softly fluttering red wings, and tells him,

"You do."

He is silent, good eye closed, until his lips quirk. He chuckles wryly, and it's a dry, raspy sound.

"I've never tried," he says mirthlessly.

Rikku stares at him until he shifts with a sigh deep enough to pop his lungs out. Sighing herself, Rikku moves to crouch in front of him, placing her small palms on his cold cheeks very seriously. Her eyebrows are pulled firm and he watches her, surprised.

"You forgot." She punches his shoulder and twists a blue bead off a sun-dyed yellow braid along with the knot from her shorts, the chocobo feather from her hair falling to the ground. She holds up the bead between them and clutches the rope.

"One," she says, "for every time I forget, because I remember. You can remember. It never had to be about Spira's spiral of death."

"Then what is it about?"

"You decide."

His eye snaps to her. She wonders if a lightning bolt crashed into his head as he stares until he hesitantly reaches up, and she places it in his big gloved hand. He holds it in front of his good eye, pulling his glasses and then his glove off to feel the glass between his fingers. His laugh is hoarse.

"I feel like I'm twenty again," he says, rubbing his eyes again and leaning his head back against the cavern wall. He asks her to, and she links the little bead to the chain on his shoulder guard, comfortable on its own small knot with her feather.

"It's a good thing." Rikku sidles back to rest her head against his big arm and heavy coat, freezing as warmth whirls inside her chest and head. The rhythm rocks her to sleep like a lullaby as the man next to her breathes deeply.

.

Children are the world.

The world is made of children.

It's a thought she doesn't have to think on too much to find truth in as they make their way to Zanarkand, beautiful city of the dead. Rikku likes the rhythm it creates in her head like silver chimes or the ring of metal.

They're on their way, and that's scary. They are only people in the end, tired but not beat, and they start to settle for the evening as twilight begins to stretch over the expanse of gold sky above their heads.

"Look!"

The cliff is inviting and reaches to the sun. She smiles before twisting around and running right off the edge, whooping, landing with a crash of sea and a rush of life to her veins. Surfacing, she calls out and he stands on the edge, looking down, wondering if he should jump.

He steps.