The Ties that Bind

Author's Note: This is a continuation of what I had intended to be a one-shot. I was reading through The Ties that Bind the other day and I just couldn't help but feel as though this story wasn't quite finished yet. I got a bit more angsty than normal when I was writing that piece and I feel like it is only fair to you all that I try to tie up some loose ends and maybe take away at least a little bit of the initial bite of the last piece. I can't promise a happy ending, but I can promise a better one. And who is to say that bitterness doesn't mean happiness on some strange, alternate level? Now I'm just rambling; please read and enjoy! And maybe leave a little review if you feel so inclined. I do appreciate constructive criticism.

Disclaimer: I don't own the characters, the setting, nothing. I'm borrowing them for a bit of time and shall return them, for the most part, unharmed when I am finished. Please allow me this liberty and enjoy the story I have created!

She was at the very bottom when she realized that there were places for her to go to make herself feel better about everywhere she'd been. It had taken her a while to get to the place she found herself now but it hadn't taken her long at all to leave everything she'd come from behind. And sure, she did have her fair share of regrets about leaving the last true home she could remember, but who would have ever expected her childish fears to lead him so quickly into the arms of another woman?

But Rikku was getting ahead of herself.

It was something she found she did far too often lately because she'd been away from him, from home, from everything for far too long to really remember the facts in a cohesive order. Frowning, she crossed her arms over her chest as her sea green eyes scanned the darkened horizon and eventually met the familiar sight she had crossed so many miles, fought so many battles within herself, to see.

It had been four years ago on a rather warm evening that he'd asked her. Gippal had gotten down on his knee with the sun setting behind him. She remembered how gently he had taken her small hand in his own to ask that maybe, just maybe, if she wanted to, Rikku might let him keep her forever; take care of her in the ways that only her husband should. But there was something in the way he looked at her. There was something different about the sound of his voice.

Apprehension.

Uncertainty.

Hesitation.

It was a moment that, despite her inhibitions and discomfiture, she had to admit she had only thought would ever occur within her fantasies. Gippal had been on his knee in front of her, his eyes staring into hers, searching for something that Rikku had childishly misinterpreted as vacillation on her own end of the encounter. She loved him. There was no stretch of truth that would have led her to admit anything otherwise. Perhaps he loved her, as well; he was asking to keep her forever, or for as long as forever could possibly mean to Gippal. But the apprehension, uncertainty, hesitation… Oh, that damn hesitation.

She was gone by morning.

There are people that might have called it running away. But she wasn't running away like some fugitive, lost and confused about everything she'd done to bring herself to that point. And, even when she did happen to find herself running, she knew she wasn't trying to get away.

She was trying so desperately to get back.

There was something a little bit like responsibility in her decision; something reminiscent of maturity and akin to protection. It was something that no one else was able to understand because they only ever thought what they wanted, be it fact or fiction. But this time it was something more, something different.

And she knew that this was her only choice just like she knew that she'd never know another love, there was never going to be that feeling, a fullness; not with anyone but him. So it hadn't surprised Rikku in the least that her feet seemed to know exactly the way to go, even if her heart was still too stubborn to admit the truth. She'd decided miles ago that she wasn't going to fight something that seemed so natural and felt so right.

Rikku still couldn't understand, though, why her feet suddenly stopped just before the familiar shadow of Djose temple and seemed to want her heart to lead her the rest of the way home. It wasn't as though it would have been difficult, what with the distance she had already traveled and the unbearable closeness of her final destination, for her tired feet to finish their journey.

But the apprehension, uncertainty, hesitation … Oh, that damn hesitation.

She hadn't noticed him the first time he emerged from the comforts of Djose Temple; undoubtedly tired, as he'd walked right past her, as well. But she'd felt him; like a stray wind, his very presence could still send chills down her spine even after all the time that had passed them by. And even still, she couldn't remember a time when those feelings didn't take up so much energy.

It was easy at first to pretend, to shake off the knot, like a ball of yarn, in the pit of her stomach. But it got harder and harder as she grew capricious, just being so close to him, and eventually minutes turned to hours and hours became days, and in the prolonged minutes of her reverie she found herself wondering when, exactly, she'd fallen for him.

There were things about him that she could never love, Rikku justified leaving in her mind, and it was likewise, she understood. He said it so often himself, shaped his lips around the words, not unlike a serpent squeezing the life from its prey: "You could never love all of me, but I know you're going to try." It was honesty in all of its brutality because she was vulnerable in her naivety; naive enough to have seen the beauty in everything. Not gullibility because, when she was younger, love had been, to her, synonymous with acceptance. And acceptance had been second nature to her.

There were things she loved and things she loved less about him. Rikku was sure that there would still be those things.

She loved the way he whispered her name at three am, like she was the only thing that mattered; how he pushed back her hair so that he could drink in her entire face, how he looked into her eyes when he spoke to her with his words like knives. She loved how different and thoughtful he was when it was just her and him, and guiltily, she loved that she was the only one who saw past his hard mask.

The things she loved about him less: how he would so often become detached and distant within the company of his employees, the brush of his skin that would only leave her feeling empty and worthless. The "You could never love all of me, but I know you're going to try."

Gippal wore his pride like a crown, his crown like an anchor. She hated that he, even still, had so much control over her; that his only import of bliss came by the way of bloodstream intoxication and arbitrary lovers. She knew that she could never find happiness at the bottom of a bottle; in the arms of another lover. But that was just a testimony to how different they both were and how much his actions had hurt her since she'd been gone. She hated how quickly and easily she used to submit to him; she hated that he hated how she saw inside of him so much of what he wanted to hide away from the rest of the world.

In his mind, sometimes she could have sworn that she was only a non-entity.

Only a fight to be victored.

Another machina to be repaired.

One more glass to be emptied.

Only ever the rock to be anchored.

And it was there, watching him finally return to Djose Temple that she knew her heart was still too hurt to lead her any closer and her feet had already done enough work. She wasn't in a place to get any closer to Gippal; she wouldn't move any nearer to her destination.

Rikku was gone before Gippal had even had time to register that the familiar chills that rushed down his spine could only mean that she was somewhere so close to him. But still outside of his reach.