I groaned a little in my sleep.
I opened my eyes, sleep making my vision bleary. I blinked, shaking the sleep off and focusing my gaze on Tidus who looked at me with worry.
"Hey, you're up," I smiled, sleepily.
Tidus grinned. "I should be saying that about you."
I looked around and saw that we were still in the cave. Not that I thought otherwise. The fire I had going all night was now a heap of burning embers and ash. I shed the sweater that was draped across my shoulders and tried to stand up. A quick sharp pain from my ribs quickly grounded me and I swallowed a small cry.
"Take it easy," Tidus said, quickly coming over to help me stand. He grabbed the sweater and handed it to me.
"Are you feeling better now?" I asked, taking the sweater and draping over my shoulders again. I didn't want to strain putting it on for fear of upsetting my ribs.
He nodded. "I'm fine. Thank you for before."
I smiled and looked out to see that the storm was now gone. I walked on out of the cave to continue our journey down the trail.
"Are you sure you should be moving? Shouldn't you rest a bit?" he asked, stopping me at the exit.
I shook my head. "I'm fine," I said. "We should take advantage and go down the trail now before another storm hits."
I didn't wait for him to protest as I walked down the mountain trail. It was a more difficult trek now with fresh snow on the ground.
"You gave me quite a scare back there," I said after a moment of silence.
Tidus looked down as he feet as he walked.
"I'm sorry." He looked like a child being scolded.
I shook my head. "Don't," I reassured. "It's not your fault."
"But it is," he said, stopping in his tracks. "I don't want to be a burden to you."
We stared at each other then, our breaths clouding before us from the frigid cold.
"I promise that I'll get stronger." He licked his lips. "For you."
"No, be strong for Yuna," I corrected. "She's the reason why you're here." I smiled.
He opened his mouth as if to protest the request, but quickly shut it when I smiled. He sighed, walking ahead of me.
"For Yuna…right," I heard him mumble under his breath.
We walked down in silence again, and the burn in my ribs began to flare up into a searing pain. It was getting difficult to breath and it didn't' help that we were still at such a high altitude. Tidus looked over his shoulder and noticed the long distance between us we traveled in different paces. He backtracked towards me and I stopped, using him to hold onto as I caught my breath.
"We should find somewhere for you to rest," Tidus began, holding onto me. "You've done so much for me Rikku. I don't want you to wear yourself out."
I swallowed thickly, pulling away from him now.
"Don't worry about me," I said. The pain was a bit sharper now with every breath I took. "Come on, I'll heal us before heading down some more."
I tried summoning some magic, inhaling to perform a cure spell. I groaned as the pressure of my lungs expanding only made the pain I felt worse. I dropped to my knees, eyes brimming with tears as I choked on a cry.
I barely registered Tidus's grip on my shoulders as the pain nearly blinded me. My head swam as if recovering from being clocked on the head. I panted hard, the dizzying feeling getting worse to the point of nausea. I eventually emptied my stomach of its contents, the smell of bile only making me feel worse.
"Rikku!" It was the last thing I heard before I blacked out.
I woke up to look at a marble rock ceiling. Were we in a cave? I shifted in the warmth of fur sheets. I was in bed and from the feel of things, a hard bed. I tried to sit up, groaning as I did so when a pair of hands shot out to my shoulders.
"Hey! Take it easy!" Tidus gently pushed me back down.
I tried to remember what happened before I black out and my mind registered that I had puked my brains out before passing out. I made a face. I hoped Tidus wasn't grossed out by my blowing chunks his way.
I licked my lips. "Where are we?"
"We're with the Ronso."
I noticed a Ronso guarding the entrance with his arms crossed over his chest. He seemed to notice me looking at him because he grunted and left the room.
I turned my attention back to Tidus. "How did we get down here?"
"You got sick and passed out. I carried you the rest of the way down." He stopped to wince. "And at the bottom we were stopped by the Ronso. They weren't too happy to see me."
"It's been four years. I bet you gave them a heart attack." I smiled, trying to make light of the situation.
The former guardian rolled his eyes and snorted.
"It doesn't help that I look like this. I was almost torn to shreds!" He got up and retrieved a cup of water from a pitcher on the far side of the room. "I showed them that you needed help so they let me in." He helped me sit up and I hungrily drank from the cup, liking how the cool liquid traveled down my throat.
I noticed that I was dressed in the bare minimum. Having been stripped of all my dresspheres, I was left in my yellow and pink cotton pajama shorts with the same colored tank top with white trim. My chest was heavily bandaged from my rib injury. They didn't hurt at all at the moment.
Tidus seemed to notice me looking down at myself.
"You were fighting an infection and you re-fractured your ribs. You've been out for a week now."
My eyes widened in horror and I threw the fur skins off me and swung my legs over. I winced; the abrupt movements disturbing my ribs, making a sharp pain emerge.
"Hey take it easy!" Tidus chided, stopping me in my tracks. He helped me back in bed. "You're in no condition to go anywhere."
I couldn't believe we lost so much time, especially when I had a mission to accomplish.
"But we have to—"
"No," he commanded sternly. "You've done enough Rikku. It's time to rest."
He got up again to get me more water.
"You didn't have to push yourself with healing me in your condition," He said, eyes dark and serious.
I took the cup and looked at the way the water rippled. "I didn't want to lose you," I said softly, after a short silence. I didn't want to look at him. I didn't want to see his reaction to my words. Maybe it was because it was true, and I was embarrassed and ashamed to admit that he was my one chance at setting things right.
The sound of heavy foot steps cut the awkward silence short. I looked up to see Kimahri at the doorway, his tall statue already imposing an air of strength and seriousness as he walked in.
"I should get you something to eat," Tidus stammered, standing up. He walked past the Ronso, who watched him with piercing yellow eyes. I wasn't sure if Kimahri trusted Tidus yet. After all, the man did sort of just poofed into existence.
"Is Rikku better?" Kimahri finally asked once Tidus was gone.
I smiled, nodding.
"I feel a little sore," I said. "Thank you for treating my wounds and taking us in."
"At first Kimahri thought he hurt you."
I shook my head vigorously. "Oh no! I was injured before I found him."
"He told me the story."
There was a pregnant pause in which I took a sip of water and Kimahri crossed his arms over his chest.
"Is it really him?"
Kimahri looked at me, his face a wall devoid of any emotion. "It smells like him, but different."
The Ronso put his arms down to his sides. "It is Tidus and something more, Kimahri not too sure. It might be time. He is mature now." He paused as if thinking. "But I smell no malice. I smell no darkness. He means no harm."
I let out a breath I didn't realize I was holding and nodded.
"But Kimahri think you should be careful, just in case."
"Does Yuna know?"
"No." He shook his head. "Ronso wanted to make sure first. After female ronso heal Rikku, Tidus never left Rikku's bedside. Kimahri not sure back then, so Kimahri kept ronso guard to watch him."
"And did anything happen?"
Kimahri shook his head again. "He just stayed by Rikku's side."
There was a small silence again.
"Should I call Yuna?" I asked, looking up to him. I wanted to know how quickly I should move into the nest step.
I blinked, a little aghast about his answer.
"Kimahri thinks you should call Cid first. Rikku should be responsible daughter."
I pouted. He did have a point. Pops and Brother were probably worried about me.
"Does he know I'm here?"
"Yes. Kimahri called to let Cid know Rikku was injured, but safe. Cid let Rikku stay to heal."
"I'll call him. Then I'll call Yuna."
"Do not call Yuna," Kimahri said, with a bit of a growl in his voice.
"But why?" I asked, a little stunned that he would be angry at the prospect of Yuna knowing.
"Kimahri think it's best to not let Yuna know now. Yuna busy and will stress. Tidus is real. But we should all make sure he is real, for Yuna's sake."
I chewed my bottom lip and nodded. He was right. I just found Tidus and if I told Yuna and for some reason, Tidus ended up disappearing again before he got the chance to meet her, I wouldn't know how to handle the guilt of getting her hopes up. I would rather keep Yuna ignorant than make her go through Tidus fading away again.
"So what should I do? Should I risk taking him home to Besaid? Or should I just take him home with me?"
"It not for Kimahri to decide."
I looked down at my water. "Do you think Yuna wished him back?" I asked softly.
I was met with silence again.
"If Tidus is back," I heard Kimahri speak again. "He is back for a reason."
I let myself softly smile at that. If I could take away anything from that comment, it was the fact that Kimahri probably believed that Tidus was back for Yuna.
I opened my mouth to agree with Kimahri when Tidus came in with a tray.
"Hey, I hope you're hungry," the blonde said, bringing the tray over. Kimahri watched him as Tidus set everything up.
"Eat and rest Rikku," the Ronso said before turning around to make his exit.
"I can never seem to get him to warm up to me," Tidus said, looking at the door way.
"Don't worry about him."
He turned to look at me with a grin. "I got you some soup and some fruit."
I immediately dug in, the sight of food making my stomach rumble.
"So we've been here a week?" I asked in between spoonfuls.
Tidus sighed and closed his eyes as if trying to find the strength to deal with something. I giggled at his melodrama. He peeked from one eye to look at me, and smirked.
"It's been interesting," he said, turning his attention onto me.
"Ooooh, do tell."
"Well," he scooted his chair a little closer. "I had to show them I came in peace. So imagine me offering them to take a whiff."
I couldn't help but snort a laugh.
"So when they did, I thought I was in the clear. But boy was I wrong."
"I was black listed from everything the first couple of days. They had you in a separate room, healing you. I demanded to see you and got rough with one of them."
"And you're still alive?" I asked in awe.
He laughed. "Yeah, I wasn't really thinking about that. I wanted to see if you were okay."
I finished my soup and drank some water.
"They finally let me in on the third day, but only with another ronso here since they didn't trust me. I've been here ever since."
"You didn't have to do that you know."
Tidus shook his head.
"I wanted to, because that's what friends are for."
I smiled, picking at a grape as my cheeks warmed a bit. I looked up at him to see him smirk and tossed a grape his way.
"Hey!" he managed to catch the grape and pop it in his mouth.
"So what now?"
I frowned after popping in a grape of my own and then groaned as I chewed.
"I have to call pops!"
Pop yelling at me through a comsphere wasn't any different from Pop yelling at me in person. He was still as loud and as acerbic as ever.
"I sent you out on an errand missy! I didn't send you to run around Zanarkand!" Pop bellowed.
"I know! But Buddy heard sphere waves and we decided to—"
"I don't give a damn what Buddy heard," he growled. "He could've heard Yevon was having a second coming! You were to go to Gippal and come straight home!"
"I know and I'm sorry."
"And you're hurt! Out of all the times to get hurt!"
I frowned. "Gee Pops, thanks for the concern. It's not like I could have stopped the dark bahumut all by my self or anything," I said dryly.
"Don't get fresh with me," he snapped. "You know why I'm angry Rikku. We're still in the process of building the city and you have too many projects going on to get careless."
"I know that okay!"
"Now I have some idiot who doesn't know the difference between his head and his ass taking over your projects!"
"Then get someone else!" I yelled, my eyebrow twitching.
"And to top it all off your brother's ship is on the fritz. The ship I gave him! My baby!"
I blinked, remembering how my radio and comphone got fried too.
"It happened the day you disappeared. Buddy says it was some type of electrical storm. The ship went haywire. They barely made it out of the mountain on time."
Crap. That did not sound good.
"By the time they got home, the ship's computers were failing. It was miracle they just didn't fall out of the sky."
I winced. "How bad is it?" I asked, hoping that Brother didn't have a hernia. He loved that airship.
"Bad enough that even Shinra doesn't know what exactly happened. The boy rounded up a team to help fix it. It's the entire ship. Computers, engines, everything's gone to shit."
"Brother and Buddy are helping in fixing it. When are you coming home?"
"Wait, so you're not sending someone to pick me up?"
"What the hell? No!"
"But I'm practically an invalid!" I whined. "Are you going to leave your baby girl alone to fend for herself?"
"You were a big girl when you were dilly-dallying in Zanarkand!"
"Don't you pops me! Everyone is tied up with building home and fixing the ship."
"How long will the ship take to get fixed?"
"A long ass time," he snipped, grouchily.
"But how am I supposed to get home?" I asked, doing my best wounded puppy dog look.
It didn't seem to work with Pop because he just scowled even harder, if that was possible.
"If you're so desperate for a ride, bum one off! Or buy a ticket home in the first city you hit," he suggested.
"But I don't have any gil!"
"You're a thief! Steal some! Yevon knows you stole gil from me all the damn time when you were a kid!"
"Fine!" I growled.
"Kimahri told me how hurt you were. Stay as long as you can to get better and then try to get home. I know there's a lot of work to be done here what with building and the airship going to crap, but I don't want you rushing to get here when you're injured. A cripple does us no good for work."
"You know pops, you had me with the tender moment until you called me a cripple."
"Yeah well, it's not like I can change ya. I would if I could. But as of now, be it cripple, stupid, ugly—"
"—I love ya just the same."
I pouted again. Despite us fighting ninety-percent of the time I still loved the man.
"Are you planning traveling alone?"
I shook my head.
"I met up with a friend."
Pop raised an eyebrow, his lips frowning. "Who?"
I had to choose my answer carefully since Pops looked so suspicious. "An old friend, Clasko."
"You mean the chocobo punk? You might as well as travel alone!"
"Pops!" I complained with the nasally voice I knew grated on his nerves. "He's not a chocobo punk!"
"Whatever," he grunted. There was the sound of a crash from near by followed by people screaming "get out!"
Pop looked away from the comsphere, cursing in Al Bhed at someone.
"Listen, I gotta go. Some idiot managed to drive a tractor into a sinkhole. Call me as soon as you're better to tell me your travel plans."
"I will Pops," I said, nodding.
"Damn it! Don't go in to help him! Make him climb out!"
"Love ya Pops," I said, but the transmission ended before he got to hear it. I looked at the blue semi-sphere imbedded into the ground and sighed.
"So, my name is Clasko and I'm a chocobo punk?" Tidus asked, as he leaned against the mountain wall.
I looked up and laughed, nodding. He immediately came to help me stand up when I made an attempt to do so.
"Yup! That is your secret identity until I figure out how to get us home."
"I'm guessing Cid isn't happy about picking you up," he said wincing.
"Nope." I wrapped the fur skin tightly around me as we began to slowly walk around. Even if we ended up walking around in circles, I didn't care. Being bedridden for a week had made my body very soft and I wanted to stretch my legs a bit.
"It seems that the airship that I was riding on to get to Zanarkand hit the fritz after an electrical storm. My brother and his friend, Buddy, barely made out."
"That's really weird, I'm glad they made it out safely."
"After my battle with Bahamut I noticed my own stuff was on the fritz too. I thought that it was just my things because of the battle, though I have no real clue if he was responsible for the electrical storm that almost took the ship down."
"Maybe he was. You said he blew up right?"
"Yeah, but we were deep under ground."
Tidus shrugged, putting his hands behind his head in his trade mark pose. "It's a mystery then," he sighed.
I didn't like the way he was so nonchalant about it. It rubbed me the wrong way that he would take such a serious manner so easy, especially with how weird it all was. He didn't show any concern and for a moment I thought maybe he was the one behind it all. From those mysterious sphere waves that brought me to Zanarkand to the oversouled Dark Bahamut himself, they could have all been orchestrated by Tidus in some way.
"Is something wrong?"
I didn't notice that I'd stopped walking until Tidus was way ahead of me, looking back with concerned eyes.
I shook my head, bashing those thoughts. "I'm fine," I said, smiling.
"So what's the next step?" he asked.
"Well, I have to heal up," I said, catching up. "Pops wants me to get better before going home. If I went home now, I'll just be in everyone's way."
"What's going on back at home?"
"Well, remember when I told you about Sin destroying our home? We're rebuilding it now, hoping more Al Bhed will move back. We're sort of spread out now, settling in different areas."
"Sound like you guys came a long way."
"I guess we have." I shrugged. "People are a bit more tolerant than before, but it doesn't mean we're still not hated."
We fell silent as we walked towards the exit of the mountain.
"So you're going home when you're done healing?" Tidus asked, chewing his bottom lip.
"No, we're going home after I'm healed," I corrected. "I'm not leaving you behind."
"Figured out a way to get home? Cid sounded pretty much against picking you up."
"Well, I'm pretty much broke since I lost all my gil and airship tickets are pretty expensive." I sighed. "We're going to need to get to Belleve and figure out a way to earn some money for them."
"Or, if you're feeling better and are up to it…" He looked at his feet, shuffling at some rocks. "We can just hike back home."
I raised an eyebrow, my lips curving upwards in a smirk.
"F-forget I said anything!" he sputtered, his cheeks reddening. I couldn't help but laugh as he groaned at my amusement.
"You mean going on a pilgrimage, like way back when?"
He shook his head. "It's a dumb idea, I mean, what if you're not healed and something happens and I can't heal you and I can't—"
I cupped his face with my hands. "Tidus. I'll be fine," I softly said.
He inhaled sharply, deep blue eyes looking at me with a mixture of doubt and concern. He grabbed my wrists and let his hands side down my forearms before dropping his hands down to his sides in defeat.
I let him go.
"We should head back," he said quietly, walking past me to go back inside the compound.