Title: Of Bad Gil Pieces and Airships
Challenges: grease, lace, whisper and strand(s), sand, kiss
Summary: After four years apart, he comes to her with a proposition.
General disclaimer: Rikku, Gippal, or Spira don't belong to me. Property of Square-Enix. Lina is my own character though.
Great. The one time he decides to show up, I look like crap, Rikku angrily thought, trying her best to ignore the temptation of swiping at her already dirty face with equally dirty hands. Like a bad gil piece, Gippal had an innate talent for popping up when she least expected him. Being up to her elbows in machine parts was not the most ideal situation she wanted to greet her once-crush in. She thought that she'd be safe here; he'd never shown any interest in coming back to the desert in years.
She couldn't see him from her work station, but she recognized the laid back, easy drawl of his voice. She grit her teeth – just hearing him again was enough to make her arms break out in gooseflesh, even in the sweltering heat of the workshop. Four years hadn't changed it much, but there were tiny differences; it had a deeper pitch than he had at eighteen and there was a more authoritarian sound to his words, like honey slathered over steel. He was talking with some of the other technicians, laughing as if they were old buddies. She guessed that they might be, what with people coming and going from Bikanel to Djose whenever they wanted. Not that she had. She'd been far too busy with her own projects. There was Home that had needed to be rebuilt, a cousin newly turned mother to visit, spheres that weren't going to hunt themselves, and a vast assortment of other things that took precedence over stopping at a certain temple-turned-faction base.
At least, that's what she always told herself. The honest truth would be that she couldn't stand to see Gippal flirt with other women while she stood there at his side, forever cast into the role of the friend; the girl that was always good for a laugh. Each smile, each gesture that wasn't meant for her cut her just a little bit deeper as the days went by. So one day she just stopped dropping in. She kept in touch with him via the commsphere network for a few months, but then even those slowly became few and far between until she stopped them altogether. She backed away, as if she'd never been a part of his life to begin with. It was better for her that way. She could get over him.
She hadn't done a very good job of that though. Sure, she dated a few men, and they had all been very nice, but they never made her nervous or tingly the way that he had made her feel. Guess I'm not destined for that sort of thing, she thought, going back to tinkering with the engine she was working on. My story might not have romance, but it's still mine to tell. Maybe if she kept her back to him, he'd overlook her. She'd changed somewhat since the last time he'd seen her; maybe he wouldn't recognize her.
No such luck. A tall shadow fell over her workstation. "Hey there, Cid's girl." Her fingers slipped and she let out a quiet curse as her knuckles scraped against engine parts hard enough to split skin.
She took a deep breath before straightening out. Wiping her hands on a nearby rag, she tried her best to appear calm and collected. "I have a name."
Gippal hadn't known what to expect when he got off the hover at New Home. The name wasn't all that original, but the building under constant construction was pretty impressive. The feel of the hot sun at his back and the crunch of sand under his boots made him remarkably glad to be home. He liked Djose well enough, but there was something to be said about the open, seemingly endless expanse of desert that tugged at his heart. It made him want to ask Cid if he could expand the Machine Faction's branch here, which would be more practical for the dig sites.
And it would give him a chance to see Rikku again. He felt…well, he didn't know what he felt when it came to her exactly. When she was a kid, she was always underfoot, following after Brother and Keyakku like a little hyperactive shadow. And since he was always hanging around the two of them; consequently, she was always tagging along with him as well. They got along okay and he always treated her as if she were a younger sibling. He'd never had a sister before, so she fit the role nicely. As the years went on and both Brother and Keyakku decided they were too old to play at children's games, Gippal and Rikku had stuck like glue. Pretty soon it became hard not to mention one name without saying the other on the next breath.
Rikku at fifteen proved that she was definitely not related to him. She had caught his eye in that gangly, yet somehow graceful way that girls that age had. Her face was just starting to show the promise of future beauty and it was enough to put her brothers on alert whenever they caught Gippal looking at their little sister that way. Keyakku was pretty laid back about it, only giving Gippal the "you hurt her and you die" speech once, but Brother was another matter. If Rikku so much as sneezed while in Gippal's presence, he automatically went on the defensive. If looks could kill, Gippal would have been dead many times over. He'd been in love with her then, or as in love as a sixteen year-old boy could be. Part of the reason he had left the desert in the first place was that he had wanted to protect her, wanted to show her that he was able to keep her safe. Of course had been a moot point when she hurled herself into Sin's path willingly as a guardian for her cousin. He could understand why she had done it, but he'd had a hard time forgiving her for running off where he couldn't follow to watch her back.
At seventeen, Rikku was all show; the tiny skirt and barely there top showing off curves that hadn't been present when he had hugged her goodbye before leaving for the Crimson Squad two years before. He had definitely still been interested, and if he had read her correctly, she had been interested in him as well. Before he left Home two years ago, he hadn't told her how he had felt about her, and it seemed as if the perfect opportunity had arrived. But her signals changed before he could make a proper move on her. Deciphering her body language was confusing, to say the least. Before his seemingly unwanted advances lost him her friendship, he retreated into the friends only stage.
It nearly killed him. She would stop by and hang out for a few days, tinker in his workshop alongside him, then leave only to come back in a few weeks to repeat the process. They worked great together, but the stop-go-stop signals she was broadcasting wrecked havoc on his hormones and overall sense of well-being. So he decided that if she wasn't interested in him, he would start seeing other women.
That was when she just stopped dropping by. She used New Home's construction as an excuse and promised to keep in touch with him via commspheres. Then even those calls stopped and it was as if she had stepped off the face of the world. It pissed him off at first, how she could act as if their friendship had never happened. He'd wanted to confront her on it, but then decided that it was probably better to give her some space.
It felt weird. The temple had seemed colder, emptier than it did when she was around. He missed the constant stream of conversation, the stupid in-jokes that they only laughed at, the feeling as if they were a team. The one thing that he missed above all else was her friendship. He had a few guys to hang around and throw a few drinks back with, but he'd never really be one of the guys with them. As good of company as he was, he was still their boss, and they still treated him as such on an unconscious level.
He never really could open up to the women that he dated. They had all been nice in their own ways, but they had never made him feel a tenth of what he felt for Rikku. They liked him for his looks, his status as faction leader, his role in bringing down Spira's latest threat of world destruction, but they never just liked him for himself. So what, he thought with a shrug. Some people just don't get that kind of affection. I'll take what I can get.
As it was, Rikku was the reason he was in Bikanel. She'd helped on two projects that were similar to the one he was currently working on and he needed her expertise. He'd been rehearsing what he was going to say to her after four years' absence, but one look at her and all thoughts flew out of his mind. He'd been practicing what to say to the Rikku he'd known when she'd been seventeen, the woman that stood before him – and even though she had her back to him, he knew it was her - caught him off guard.
The pale orange halter top she wore showed the jagged scar she had received when she was ten. It had been his fault; they had been horsing around by the scrap heap like usual. He had playfully given her a rough shove when she lost her balance and fell backward. She managed to avoid the majority of the metal lying around, but her shoulder snagged on a long piece of rebar, cutting her from the rounded curve of her left shoulder all the way down to the bottom of her shoulder blade. Cid had chewed them both up and down for playing in an area they weren't supposed to be in, but his bellowing had paled in comparison to the job Gippal's mother had done. She never laid a hand on him; she did something far worse. She had told him in that quiet voice she had whenever she was disappointed in something how easily Rikku could have been hurt worse than she had been. It had made him sick to his stomach to think about it and he had avoided talking to Rikku for a week, guilty about hurting her. He could distinctly remember how that scar felt under his fingertips, and how she used to shiver whenever he accidentally brushed his hands over it.
He only half heard what some of the other mechanics were saying, choosing to pay more attention to Rikku instead. Rikku at seventeen might have sparked an intense interest where Rikku at fifteen had only gotten his attention, but at twenty-one, she stole his breath away. There was something about her, a certain confidence that she'd never had before. His eyebrows rose in pure male appreciation as she bent over the engine she was working on, the hem of her already abbreviated shorts inching up tan, lean legs. He wondered if she had a boyfriend – how could she not, she was gorgeous. She'd kept her hair long, the sunny strands sliding over her shoulder and trying to escape the ponytail she had put it in as she tried to wrestle with her project. He grinned when he caught her muttering a few choice words under her breath and wondered just how in the hell he was going to convince her to help him out.
"Hey there, Cid's girl," he drawled, coming up behind her. She gasped and her hand slipped. He winced, knowing exactly how it felt to have engine grease kiss scraped knuckles. He was looking forward to the obligatory "I have a name" reply she always gave him, but nothing could have prepared him for the cool way she delivered those four words. He firmly clamped a hand down on the panic that started welling in his gut, wondering if he had given her too much space over the years.
"How've you been?" he asked, rounding the table to inspect the work on it. She'd been working on a sand-clogged hover engine, it seemed. Little pieces of desert debris littered the workspace and a broken fan belt threatened to slide off the table.
"Good. I've been good." She looked him over. His shoulders were broader; his arms looked more muscular. He still had the tall, lanky build he always had, but the fit of his shirt said that he hadn't spent the last four years sitting idle behind a desk. He's let his hair grow out, she thought. The careless, slightly mussed look suited him; his sun-bleached hair falling artfully in his face in such a way that made her fingers itch to brush it out of his eyes and run all the way down to where his hair touched the collar of his shirt. "You?"
He shrugged. "Same as ever, I guess."
"How's Lina?" Rikku had always felt close to Gippal's mother. When her own mother had died, Lina had taken Rikku under her wing. It made the whole "birds and bees" speech several years down the road a lot easier to handle. Flustered, Cid had just shoved his daughter over to Lina, who had explained everything frankly and a whole lot better than Cid would have been able to.
"Mom? She's okay. She's still setting up agencies with Rin like usual."
Rikku smiled. "They'll never give up, will they?"
He shook his head. "Nope. I think their goal is to have a spot everywhere in Spira."
There it was, that awkward lull in conversation. She bit her bottom lip and looked around, trying to act casual. "If you're looking for Pops, he's in his office."
"I know; I spoke with him before coming here. I…" He stopped himself before he could say, "I speak with him a lot more than I do you."
"Actually," he said, clearing his throat. "I need to talk to you."
"Me?" Her eyes went wide, white framing bright green in a way that he thought was absolutely adorable.
"I have a favor to ask."
She took a step back. "What kind of a favor?" She hadn't been expecting that. If anything, she had expected him to ask her why she had suddenly dropped out of touch.
"Is there anywhere else we could go? Someplace quieter?" While the din of the shop was familiar, he'd rather talk to her where there weren't so many distractions. Or so many eyes. He looked over his shoulder and several mechanics were suddenly very interested in the items on their tables, more so than they had when he had first walked in the building.
"Let's go outside," she suggested. "I need some fresh air anyway." She hadn't been able to stop herself from reaching out and tugging on his hand. It was an age-old habit she had and it wouldn't have seemed right to lead him out of the shop any other way.
"Cid's done a great job," Gippal commented, looking at the exterior walls of Home.
"Yeah. At first, we weren't sure that anyone would show up, what with everybody finally finding homes of their own. People come and go as they please, but at least Home is still here whenever they want to stay." She hadn't been sure that she'd stick around to help her father either. At first, they got into constant fights that always left the other sulking for a while. Cid hadn't really been much of a father figure after her mother's death. He'd withdrawn from everyone and tried to keep them at arm's length. That distance grew even greater after Keyakku had died. It wasn't until recently that Rikku realized just how much losing his wife and son had hurt him. Cid, as cantankerous as he was, was still family. Rikku was determined to heal the rift she had between her father and herself. She was hoping that Brother would follow suit, but she wasn't going to hold her breath waiting.
"I'm sorry I couldn't have helped out more." He'd sent people out to Bikanel to help Cid, but he never personally went out to do any of the work. He'd figured that Rikku wouldn't have wanted him there.
"No! It's okay, really. We wouldn't have gotten as far as we have without the Machine Faction's help." She jumped when he reached out and held her right hand. "What?"
"Your hand is still bleeding. Must sting like hell." He pulled out a handkerchief from his pants pocket and gently dabbed her injured skin. Her knuckles really weren't bleeding much; in fact they had already stopped. It just gave Gippal an excuse to touch her, which he had missed doing for so long.
Rikku looked down at her hand and couldn't help but notice the small scallop of lace that edged the handkerchief. The design still managed to look masculine and the heavy material it was attached to felt cool against her hand. "Thank you," she whispered, somehow unable to pull her hand free from Gippal's. The old attraction she thought she had buried reared its head. Why did he have to be so nice, she wondered. Why couldn't he at least pretend to be angry with me? It would make this a lot easier to handle.
Unable to resist, Gippal reached out with his free hand and rubbed at the dirt smudge on her cheek. "I found an airship," he blurted.
She pulled back slightly. "Did not." When she wasn't busy helping out in Bikanel or visiting her brand new cousin in Besaid, she spent her spare time scouring old texts for mentions of a ship she could call her own. So far, she hadn't found anything.
He grinned. "Did too." He finished wrapping the handkerchief around her fingers and stepped back. "And it was in my own back yard, right under my nose."
"The Moonflow is a lot deeper than everybody always thought it was. Remember the ruins underneath it?" He tucked his hands into his back pockets and leaned backwards. "It's not as big as the Celsius or the Fahrenheit, but she's something."
His grin was infectious. "Have you salvaged it yet?"
"No. I wanted to run it by you first."
She blinked. "Me? Why?" In truth, she'd only been partially involved with either airship salvage teams. She'd helped on the Fahrenheit until word had gotten out that Yuna had started her pilgrimage. By that time, they had still been scraping off barnacles and replacing rusted out bits of metal. She hadn't been around to see the finished product. She'd gotten more experience with the Celsius, coming in right after Brother and Buddy realized that they were going to need more people to help out if they were ever going to get their ship off the ground. They'd done the preliminary refurbishing, but she got to help with the electrical rewiring and major engine re-haul work. It had been mostly grunt work where she had earned her share of cuts, scrapes, burns, and bruises, but she had loved it.
Gippal rubbed the back of his head. "Because…" Because there isn't anyone else I'd rather discover things like this with than with you. Because it'd be just like old times. Because I just miss you, damn it. "Because you're the number one person for the job," he said instead. "I want to do this right, so who better to ask than somebody that's done this twice already?"
The smile he gave her made her toes curl in her boots. She suddenly felt like she was seventeen all over; awkward and tongue-tied whenever it came to dealing with him. She didn't want to feel this way again; she'd been there, done that and only wound up with a bruised heart for all her efforts.
But still…she wasn't going to lie to herself and say that she hadn't missed being around him. It wasn't just the whole crush-thing either. They'd been friends for years and he was really the only person that she could really confide in without having to worry about saying anything stupid or wondering if she could have rephrased anything in a more tactful manner. She had friends here in Home, sure, but no one that ever came close to Gippal.
Plus, there was the lure of finding an airship. He wanted her to do this. It wasn't exactly the same as working on her own ship since at the end she'd have to hand it back over to him, but while it was being worked on, it would be hers.
"So what do you say?" he asked. "Give a guy a break and help him out?"
She tilted her head. The promise of buried treasure won out against the awkward girl inside Rikku that still giggled and blushed whenever he said her name.
"Sure. Count me in."