"Whew. Isn't this a blast?" Rikku fanned herself with one hand and took another generous swig of her drink with the other as she dropped down onto her seat next to Gippal.
"Just thrilling," he agreed sardonically. Oblivious to his irritation, she patted his knee jovially, smiling with genuine pleasure.
"This was such a good idea! I've never been to a karaoke bar before. If I had known how much fun it was, I would've come a lot sooner!" She fluttered her fingers at a few other patrons who had joined her in a ridiculously off-key rendition of some popular song.
"They'll be closing soon," he warned. "You'd better get in any last songs while you have the opportunity."
"Really?" She thrust out her lower lip, slumping over her drink. "But it's so early."
"Yeah, that's the point. It's going on three."
"Oh, well," she sighed. "There's always tomorrow."
He sincerely hoped not.
"Well, I'll just head to the ladies' room, and then we can leave, I guess." She slid off her barstool, stumbling a little. "Whoops," she gasped, righting herself. "Guess I might've had a bit too much to drink."
He watched her walk away, glaring a warning to two other men who stared at her backside a little too intently. Then he slid her half-finished drink back across the counter for the bartender to dispose of in case she felt obliged to finish it before they left. God knew he didn't want to have to escort a puking woman home, and he didn't know where exactly she was on the drunkenness scale, but he hoped she fell closer to 'pleasantly tipsy' than 'violently ill'.
She returned a few minutes later, weaving an unsteady path through the tables, stifling a yawn. "Ready to go?" she inquired.
Was he ever. He'd initially refused her request for him to accompany her on her night out, since escorting Rikku to various establishments where she would undoubtedly get hit on and propositioned by all and sundry was not exactly his idea of fun. But when she'd sighed and said she'd just have to go alone, he'd relented. He couldn't leave her to the mercies of whatever unscrupulous men happened to frequent karaoke bars.
And he'd been right – she'd collected several commsphere codes from various admirers throughout the evening, all of which she'd cheerfully brought back to him, and all of which he intended to conveniently 'misplace'. So it had definitely been a good thing he'd decided to come with her – she had a talent for finding a way to get herself in trouble in even the most mundane of situations – but that didn't mean he had to like it.
He tossed a couple of bills on the bar, then shoved his wallet back in his pocket as he stood, following her towards the door. The night was quiet – pretty much everything else in Luca had closed down hours ago, and no one was out on the streets.
Rikku drew a big breath of the cool night air, stretching her fingers towards the black sky as if she were trying to touch a star.
"It's a beautiful night, isn't it," she asked.
Gippal caught her shoulder, directing her away from the flower planter she'd nearly walked into.
"Beautiful," he murmured doubtfully. "You know, maybe we'd better set a two-drink limit for you."
She glared. "I'm not drunk," she said, "I'm…tipsy." She tripped over an uneven stone in the pavement and stumbled forward. "Okay," she admitted with a sigh. "So maybe I'm a little drunk."
"I'll say," he responded, righting her. "You shouldn't go drinking so heavily at bars where you don't know anyone."
She blinked. "You were with me. I knew you wouldn't let anything happen to me."
Her trust in him was flattering, but frustrating. She obviously felt safe with him because they'd been such good friends all their lives. She had no clue that she was in as much danger from him as she was from every other man who'd slavered over her in the bar. If he had been just the tiniest bit less principled, he might've been taking advantage of her.
She sat down abruptly on a large rock halfway down the highroad. "Uh-oh." She sounded genuinely distressed.
"What's wrong?" He really hoped she wasn't about to vomit.
"I can't remember my legs."
"Do you mean you can't feel your legs?" He hoped he didn't look as baffled as he felt.
"No, no, I can feel them. I just can't…I can't remember how to use them." She let out a long-suffering sigh, flopping back on the rock. "Maybe I did have too much to drink. Look, the stars are swirling!"
He tried to tell himself that swirling stars were better than having her upchuck all over him.
"You want me to carry you?" He leaned over her, hoping to draw her attention away from the sky.
"Would you?" She looked up at him gratefully. "It's getting kind of cold, and I'm really tired." She stretched out her arms and he slid one arm under her knees and the other beneath her back, lifting her off the rock. She made a content little sound, resting her cheek against his shoulder.
"Well, I guess I can be glad that you're a happy drunk, at least," he said.
"I'm not that drunk!" She wriggled a little in his arms.
"Of course not. Because forgetting essential body parts is a common occurrence for you," he said dryly. "As is having to be carried home."
She huffed indignantly. "You make it sound like I'm a habitual drunk. I really don't drink all that often, you know."
"Good." He glowered down at her. "Let's keep it that way. I don't like the thought of you going out and drinking where I can't keep an eye on you."
She brightened. "So you'll come with me again?"
His glower deepened into a scowl. "I didn't say that. I said I don't want you putting yourself in bad situations. Don't go drinking alone, okay?"
"Yes, Vydran," she sighed. Her eyes closed and her lips pursed. He was losing her interest.
"I'm not trying to act like your father," he said, watching her nose wrinkle up in irritation.
"So what're you acting like, then?" The fingers of her right hand traced little circles on his chest, distracting him. He cleared his throat, but he couldn't seem to clear his head. Maybe his own alcohol consumption had affected him more than he'd thought. Then again, maybe it was just Rikku.
"A friend," he said. "I'm acting like a friend. Friends don't let friends get drunk and make bad decisions, right?" He shook her a little, jolting her back into awareness.
"A friend," she yawned. "Right." Her head fell back against his shoulder. "I'm so tired. You think I can crash on your couch tonight?"
"Well, I've got no plans to take you back to your place at three in the morning, and I'm not about to put you on a hover in your condition. So I guess my couch is about your only option." Unless she wanted to stay in his bed. But he wasn't about to ask her.
"Thanks, Gippal." Her arms slid around his neck in an awkward sort of hug, only she didn't let go. A few minutes passed in silence. His arms were getting tired, but it wasn't all that much farther to Djose and he didn't want to put her down, not when she was cuddled up against him so sweetly.
"You know," she said finally, with her head tucked under his chin, "when I was younger, I used to have the biggest crush on you."
"Did you?" Damn it all to hell, how had he not known?
"Mm-hmm. I don't anymore, of course."
"Of course not." He gritted his teeth. He'd never even known he'd had a chance.
"No," she sighed. "I definitely don't have a crush on you anymore. But I think I might be in love with you."
He almost dropped her. "What? Why?"
"I don't know." She shrugged. "I never really thought about it. But my heart beats really fast and my stomach gets all tingly whenever you're around, and I'm pretty sure it can't just be indigestion."
He smothered a snicker. Only Rikku could be so spectacularly unromantic about her confession – she was unique, if nothing else.
"Why didn't you ever tell me?" He figured he might as well get some answers out of her while she was being so chatty anyway. Likely only a surplus of alcohol had prompted her abrupt declaration, and he wouldn't put it past her to deny it when she was sober – unless he managed to get irrefutable proof out of her.
"Well, for starters, I'm not your type," she lamented.
"I have a type?" It was the first he'd heard of such a thing.
"Yeah. You know - big boobs, long legs, tall and willowy super-model types. Long noses, too," she remarked irritably. "I cannot tell you how many times your stuck-up girlfriends have looked down their perfect noses at me because I prefer repairing machines to getting manicures. God forbid I should choose my own hobbies after, you know, saving the world twice."
"Who did that?" Someone had dared try to make Rikku feel insecure? "Why didn't you tell me?"
She snorted. "Yeah, because tattling is so mature." Her voice took on a falsetto tone. "'Gippal, Gippal, one of your girlfriends hurt my fragile little feelings!' How pathetic would that be? Anyway, it doesn't much matter." She heaved a sigh. "I think I'm just destined to get old and bitter. Maybe I'll be a crazy cat lady. On second thought, I'm not all that fond of cats. Maybe a crazy monkey lady? I could move to Zanarkand."
"What makes you think you'll get old and bitter?" He couldn't imagine Rikku old and bitter. She was supposed to have a big, happy family with a dozen bratty kids.
"I hear unrequited love does that to people." She shrugged. "Well, I don't suppose there's any help for it. Yuna's the one who deserves the whole happily-ever-after fairytale ending, anyway."
He arched an eyebrow. "So you don't deserve it?"
"You ask a lot of questions," she complained. "But it's not so much that I don't deserve it as that I know I'm not going to get it. Why wish for something you can't have? You only set yourself up for disappointment." Absently her fingers slid into his hair, stroking the nape of his neck. Her nails scraped delicately across his scalp and he suppressed a shiver at the sensation.
"Maybe you won't be disappointed," he suggested.
She threw back her head and laughed. "Really, Gippal. I'm not stupid. I know you've been going around with that Kilikan girl, Aveya. I'm not jealous or anything." She hesitated. "Well, maybe I'm a little jealous. But I'll get over it eventually."
"Yeah," he said dryly, "when you move to Zanarkand to be old and bitter with your hoard of monkeys." He resisted the urge to point out he'd thrown over Aveya more than a month ago.
"Don't make fun of my monkeys," she huffed. "It's your fault I'll end up old and bitter, anyway."
"Really. My fault." He was thrilled to note that they'd made it back to Djose – he had only to cross the courtyard and open the temple door.
She sighed. "You're right. You can't help who you love. Or don't love, I guess. Just…just forget it, okay?"
"But I don't want to forget it." He dug his keys out of his pocket, shifting her in his arms a little as he opened the door. "No, I think I definitely want to remember this."
"I'd rather you didn't." She was too annoyed to realize that he'd started climbing the stairs, bypassing the couch entirely. "I think it might make your girlfriends hate me more than they are naturally inclined to do."
"If it helps at all, I think they all hated you because they felt threatened by you." He dropped her on his bed. She bounced once, and then came to rest sprawled out across his covers. He rummaged through his drawers, searching for a suitable nightshirt for her. He found a large, soft t-shirt, tossed it on the bed beside her, and took hold of the hem of her shirt. "Arms up," he instructed.
Compliantly, she lifted her arms over her head while he peeled the shirt off of her and tugged on the oversize t-shirt he'd picked out for her. Then he helped her wiggle out of her skirt and pulled off her shoes.
She kicked one foot in the air, exposing a fair amount of her smooth, tanned thighs as she did so.
"I always thought my feet were kind of ugly," she said, wiggling her toes. "What do you think?"
"They're adorable," he assured her, digging a pair of pajama pants out of his dresser. "I'll be right back. Don't go anywhere."
"Okay, I won't." She still seemed to be contemplating the attractiveness of her toes, so he wasn't too concerned about her getting into any trouble.
He changed in the bathroom and brushed his teeth, then filled a glass of water and retrieved a bottle of aspirin. Maybe she was one of those lucky people who could spend a night drinking and completely escape a hangover, but he wasn't inclined to take chances.
She was almost asleep when he returned, her face buried in his pillows, snuggled up in the very center of his bed, wrapped tightly in his covers. She stirred when he sat down at the edge of the bed, stretching sleepily towards him.
"Hey. Take these." He slid a couple aspirin into her hand and offered her the glass of water.
"What is it?" She popped them into her mouth and swallowed a healthy amount of water.
"Aspirin. Call it preventative medicine."
"Thanks." She flopped back down, hugging his pillow. "This bed is really comfortable. Can I sleep here?"
"It's my bed," he said. "But you can share it with me, if you want." He nudged her over a little.
Her lips pursed petulantly. "What would Aveya say?" She inquired.
"Nothing, as far as I know. I haven't seen her since I dumped her a month ago."
"Oh." She was ridiculously pleased by that. Wiggling a little, she jerked the covers over her head until only a small sliver of her face peeked out from beneath the covers. "Gippal?"
"Do you think that maybe – just once, just so I know what it's like – you could…kiss me?" She squeezed her eyes shut, waiting for his answer.
"I suppose I could." He watched her eyes pop open in surprise. "But you'll have to come out of there."
She threw off the covers, scrambling up onto her knees to face him. "Um." She bit her lower lip. "How does this work?"
She was so anxious she was trembling. He slid his hand into her hair, cupping the back of her neck and bringing her a little closer to him. He could feel her breath coming in quick, nervous pants against his cheek.
He stifled a laugh when he slid his hands down her arms, feeling the tense muscles. "It wouldn't kill you to relax a little, you know. I'm not going to bite you."
"I-I know that," she said. "I just can't help it."
"Well, then, close your eyes at least. You look petrified." He stroked his fingertips over her eyelids, feeling the tickle of her eyelashes as they closed. Then he cupped her chin, tilting her face upwards towards him. It was a little reassuring that she couldn't see him – he didn't know what sort of face he'd be showing her, and he definitely didn't want to scare her away.
He brushed his thumb over her lips, hearing her breath catch in her throat. He imagined he could hear her heart pounding furiously in her chest.
He leaned in to kiss the delicate skin just beneath her ear, feeling a small tremor run through her, hearing her surprised gasp.
"Relax," he said into the soft, fine hair at her temple, where he placed another kiss. Then he caught her lower lip gently between his teeth, tugging lightly.
"You said you weren't going to bite me." She whispered it almost as if she were afraid to break the quiet intimacy of the moment.
The corners of her mouth tilted up in a small smile. "Well, don't bite too –"
He didn't let her finish. He sealed his lips over hers while her lips were parted, sliding his tongue into her mouth. He could taste her surprise at the sudden invasion. A little whimper rose in her throat, her fingers reached for him and clutched his shoulders desperately. Her mouth softened under his, learning the taste of him, the arousing motions of his tongue stroking hers.
A few dizzying moments later, she felt herself being lifted. Then his arms closed around her, and she realized that he'd pulled her into his lap. She locked her arms around his neck, pressing herself as close to him as she could get. It wasn't close enough. She didn't think she could ever get close enough to him.
It was only when he realized how far up her thighs he'd managed to slide his hands that he came to his senses. He wasn't sure if she hadn't minded or if she hadn't noticed that he'd shoved his hands beneath her nightshirt, but he was definitely treading dangerous ground. Reluctantly he drew back, settling his hands on her waist, outside her shirt this time. She whimpered a little when he broke the kiss and wouldn't be coaxed back.
"No more," he said. "You said you wanted a kiss."
"I did." She bit her lower lip. "I do."
"Uh-uh." He pulled her arms from around his neck as she tried to tug him back down to her. "Any more of that and I'm afraid it won't be just a kiss anymore, and you are in no condition to consent to that. So cut it out." He rolled her off of his lap and back onto the bed. "You can take that side," he said, nudging her towards the wall. "I don't want you accidentally falling out of bed. You'd probably bust your head open and then I'd be stuck explaining to Cid why you were in my bed in the first place."
She snickered, sliding under the covers beside him. "He'd probably kill you."
Gippal snorted. "There are worse things than death." Angry, over-protective fathers just happened to be one of them.
"Well, he probably wouldn't kill you, now that I think about it," she said, yawning. "You make him a lot of money, you know. I don't think he could find someone who's got enough business sense to take over the Faction if he killed you. That makes you pretty indispensible. He'd probably just hurt you a little."
If Cid ever discovered the kind of raunchy thoughts Gippal was entertaining about Cid's little girl, Gippal could personally guarantee that Cid would do a little bit more than just hurt him a little.
She turned her face into the pillow, curling up so tightly in his covers that he doubted a grenade would dislodge her. He was strangely irritated that she could go to sleep so easily when he was horny as hell. It just wasn't fair. He folded his arms beneath his head, scowling at the ceiling.
"Hey, Gippal?" She wiggled close enough that he could feel her warm breath on his arm.
"Thanks. For everything. Taking me out. And letting me stay the night. And, you know, for…humoring me."
Humoring her. She thought he was humoring her. That he'd given her some sort of pity kiss. He closed his eyes, gritted his teeth, and prayed for patience.
But she kept talking. "It was really nice of you. I mean, you didn't have to, and…and I'm sorry if I made you uncomfortable. I won't say anything about it ever again, I promise."
"You didn't make me uncomfortable." It came out a little more brusquely than he'd intended.
"No. Now shut up and go to sleep already." Before he could do something stupid, something Cid really would kill him for.
"Okay. Sorry." She squirmed around for a moment, trying to get comfortable. Shortly thereafter, he heard her even breathing and knew she had fallen asleep.
His hand brushed her forehead, jolting her into wakefulness. "How're you feeling, kid?"
"Okay, I guess." She sat up slowly. "I think I have a bit of a headache. And I'm a little dizzy."
"Considering how much you drank last night, you got off easy," he said dryly, handing her a cup of orange juice.
Feeing terribly dehydrated, she gulped it down.
"Careful with that," he said, "I'd rather not have to clean up after you if you have to throw up. But, in the event you do, if you could direct it away from my bed, I'd be appreciative."
She choked. "Your bed? What am I doing in your bed?"
He lifted the empty cup from her hands, setting it on the nightstand. "I figured it was a safer place to put you than the couch. Do you remember anything about last night?"
Uneasily, she shifted a little away from him, dragging a hand through her disheveled hair. "Um," she ventured, "…no?"
"Nothing at all?" He fought a grin and failed. "You were pretty talkative. Surprisingly so, I might say."
The color drained from her face as she considered all the thing she could possibly have said to him. Immediately memories assailed her, and she covered her face with her hands, groaning. What had she done?
He gently pulled her hands away, watching emotions ranging from shock to embarrassment to terror play across her face.
"I was drunk! I didn't know what I was saying," she cried.
"Oh, I think you knew exactly what you were saying," he countered. "I just don't think you'd ever planned to tell me."
"I only…" she swallowed hard. "I was just drunk. You can't take anything I said seriously. It was the alcohol talking." She fisted her hands in the covers, offering meekly: "Can't we just forget it ever happened?"
He placed one fingertip on the center of her forehead, pushing gently. Already dizzy, she fell back easily, gasping as the ceiling spun above her.
Then he was leaning over her, hands braced on either side of her head as he looked down at her.
"I don't want to forget it," he said. "I can't just pretend it never happened."
"Why not?" She looked dangerously close to tears, terrified that she was going to lose her best friend. "It's not…it's really not a big deal. I'll get over it."
"Rikku," he sighed, "it is definitely a big deal. You asked me to kiss you, if you'll remember. And you didn't want me to stop."
"I was drunk. It won't happen again, I swear." She squeezed her eyes shut, willing away the situation in which she found herself. Maybe if she wished hard enough, it would all just go away.
"Are you sober now?"
"Are you sober now?" He repeated patiently.
"Yeah. I mean, I've had better days, obviously, but I'm not drunk anymore."
"Good," he said, and bent his head towards her. She had only a fraction of a second to wonder what he was doing before his lips touched hers. She gasped her surprise, and he took the opportunity to deepen the kiss. He shifted to the side so he could wrap his arms around her without crushing her beneath him, and she ended up pressed flush against his chest. Tentatively, her hands slid up over his shoulders, fingers gripping desperately. He knew exactly what he was doing, alternating between delicate teasing touches and deep, satisfying strokes.
She shivered deliciously, and she couldn't even bring herself to be ashamed that she had melted against him so easily. Maybe he was just proving a point, but to her it was a dream come true, and she'd had precious few of those in her life. She intended to make the most of this one.
It wasn't until he'd worked one of his legs between both of hers and she was making small, pleased mewling noises as he peppered her throat with tiny kisses that he was satisfied. He knew she would be unable to deny or discount her feelings after responding so readily to him, and it thrilled him that she was as passionate now as she had been when all her inhibitions had been dropped.
"You're not going to get over it," he whispered against her collarbone, pressing a kiss there.
"I know," she choked, forcing her fingers to detach themselves from his shoulders. "I'm sorry." She took a shuddering breath, hating reality for crashing down around her too soon. "You don't have to…to pretend anymore." It was a little cruel of him to taunt her with the unattainable.
"No." He grabbed her fingers, pulling them back to rest on his shoulder. "You don't understand. I don't want you to get over it."
"Wh-what?" It was like something out of a dream – or would it be a nightmare? She didn't know.
"You said you loved me," he said. "So stay in love with me."
Her brows drew together in confusion. "But…why?"
"Because I love you." His fingers skimmed over the small of her back caressingly.
The words didn't sink in – they buzzed around her head, and she was unable to catch them, to hold onto them. She shook her head to clear it, regaining her bearings.
"Sure, okay. Since when?" She asked doubtfully.
She didn't believe him. Gippal gritted his teeth in frustration. "Since we were kids in Bikanel. Since I can't remember when. Since…" He wracked his brain for that one moment when he'd realized that he loved Rikku, but it seemed like he'd always known, that there had never been a specific point in time when he'd realized it – he'd just always been in love with her. "Since forever," he concluded.
Her lips pursed thoughtfully. "You never said anything."
"Neither did you," he countered swiftly.
"You've had plenty of girlfriends."
"Replacements for you," he said. "And they all knew it. That's why they always resented you." Somehow, they had always figured it out, despite his best efforts to keep it a secret. He sighed, pushing her bangs away from her face. "I brought you to my bedroom last night – instead of leaving you on the couch – because after I found out how you felt, I never had any intention of letting you leave Djose. Maybe it won't exactly be a fairy-tale ending, but I can promise you a happily-ever-after."
"Oh." She sniffled. "That…that sounds…really nice."
"Yeah." His forehead touched hers. "I think so, too."
Her fingers tightened on his shoulders. "Gippal," she whispered. "Is Vydran supposed to stop by Djose today?"
"Huh? Yeah, he's picking up an order and going over our current stock of parts. He's not due in until five or six, though." He nuzzled her throat, dropping a soft kiss near her ear.
"Oh," she said weakly. "Well…he's early."
"Gippal, get your goddamn dirty mitts offa my little girl!" Heavy footsteps thundered towards the bed.
Gippal winced. "Happily-ever-after," he insisted in a whisper, "Provided your old man doesn't kill me first."