AN: Very non-canon. I don't own any of these characters, and am making no dolla dolla bills from this fic. I will within the next few days rewrite a second chapter from Auron's POV, because he comes across as sort of insincere here, which is not my intent.

007 Makes a Bet

"First you must complete the tasks you are given."

--Auron, ffx

They all agree that Tidus would be the easiest, Yuna with a hint of sadness at the bottom of her voice. Tidus's naïveté about Spira could, if you weren't careful, lead you to think he was naïve in other areas as well. Then all at once he would turn to you with a dusky twinkle in his blue eyes and you'd remember that, for all his bumbling, he was a man. A man who had been famous once, girls chanting his name inside the hollow resonance of a blitzball stadium, imagining what his sweat would taste like mingled with the chlorine.

Lulu scoffs when they bring up Wakka, her long fingers elegant in the firelight as she waves her hand dismissively. Wakka is too friendly. Everyone in the world is Wakka's friend, worthy of broad grins and slaps on the back, but not kisses. Trying to imagine Wakka kissing someone is hard. His hands would be at his shoulders, palms out, as if to demonstrate to the world that he had no hand in this situation. His eyes would be wide and shocked, his hair bobbing stiffly with the motion of his head. It would be easy to ambush Wakka, but not easy to get him to really kiss you.

And then there is Auron.

"He deserves our respect," Lulu says. "Even thinking about doing something like kissing him…"

"It would be…strange," Yuna says, trying to be tactful. "Wakka would be awkward, but Auron…"

"I could do it," Rikku says, and they turn to her, surprised crimson and green-blue eyes falling on her, sending a thrill of fear and daring up her spine, into her kneecaps.

______

It has to be a real kiss, not a surprise attack. This is the first rule. The deadline, for so many obvious reasons, is Zanarkand, and it is on the Thunder Plains that the chase begins.

It's going to be more difficult than she thought, that much is certain, especially after her childish display about the weather. Still, when she sits down to sort through the things she has stolen, he sits with her as usual, helping her clean the blood and grime off the spheres and out of the crevices of the screws and weights, clock parts and old broken weapons. She musters up the bravery to sit too close, her hip against his hip. She is sitting Guado-style, and one of her bent knees rests on his thigh. Her lap is full of junk, so he can't ask her to move, but he doesn't shift away either, and during one particularly heated discussion about the use of a tiny, cloudy golden hourglass, she thinks she even sees him smile a little.

_____

"Is it strange, seeing all these things again?" she asks when the two of them are on point through Macalania. The rest of the party has fallen behind to chase butterflies, and they are monitoring the path for any approaching fiends.

"Memories are nice, but that's all they are," he says. "You'd be surprised at how untrue that actually is."

She settles back against the grey trunk of the tree she is propped against and waits for him to continue. There are too many beats of silence for the quiet to be comfortable, but in the end he speaks one more time.

"Jecht stood against that tree," he grumbles. "You don't look much like him, though."

"If only it had been Uncle Braska," she says half-teasingly, trying to figure out whether he has complimented her or not. She has been surprised at how much she wants to win the bet, not only for bragging rights, but because she is curious about how it will be to kiss Auron, Auron who is full of memories up to the tip top. He's practically made of nothing but the past, remembered conversations, other people's stories packed under his skin like the stuffing of one of Lulu's dolls.

She wonders if she will be able to taste him through all those other lives.

_______

He begins to respect her when they are in the desert. She sees his eyes slowly shift from his normal cynical indulgence of her whims to something brighter. There is a flicker of faith in his eyes, and even a small amount of trust. It's the way he looks at Yuna, and at Lulu sometimes when she's being particularly loyal. When they are loading the remaining Al Bhed onto the airship in frantic droves, they all take her orders without comment or question. The absence of Yuna to provide healing and gentle reassurance is a wound that will not stop making itself known, and in her absence it seems they are willing to take Rikku's forced smile, her commands rattled off at super speed.

The frantic rush onto the airship ends with she and Auron dragging a huge box of potions up the gangplank by one rope handle. When they are in, she collapses to the floor, her back against the crate, her eyes unable to focus on anything. The world is a wash of color and shade, no shape or sense.

"You have done well by your people, Rikku Cidolphus," Auron says softly, dabbing potions onto the shrapnel wounds on her legs. She begins to cry for the first time at that, loud ungraceful sobs that echo off the close metal walls with hyper accuracy. Every wet sniff and gasp for air is magnified. When her eyes have finally cleared she sees that he is looking at her measuringly, the respect in his eyes undiminished, but masked by his evaluation.

"I'm gonna find my Pops," she says, loading her belt with potions to hand out along the way. He does the same and escorts her, his presence a reassuring strength at her back.

_______

"You're cheating," Lulu says drily.

"It isn't my fault Tidus has held us up for three days racing chocobos," Rikku says. Over Lulu's shoulder, she sees Tidus racing by a few moments ahead of the chocobo woman, balloons flying up into the sky in his wake.

"You gave him the funds to continue."

Rikku shrugs, trying to look endearing and charming. Lulu sighs and shakes her head.

"One more day, then we move on. There is still Gagazet."

Rikku grins and straps on the Iron Grip, running to join the waiting Auron and Yuna, with whom she has been collecting fiends for three days. Yuna is the perfect third wheel, quiet and calm and willing to make encouraging faces behind Auron's back.

_______

It happens with Zanarkand on the horizon, with fayth twisted at their backs, with both Auron and Tidus doomed, doomed, doomed. Triple doomed. Rikku knows she could just call the bet off now—she can't be expected to kiss an Unsent—but he's standing a small distance apart from the party trying hard to look noble and not forlorn, and she feels an ache deep in her chest that has nothing to do with the altitude or the climb.

She puts her hand on his shoulder to alert him to her presence. He turns, his surprise only half masked by his sunglasses. The setting sun illuminates the ruins of Zanarkand miles and miles below, the glint of metal and warm illumination of stone.

"You're still here, with us," she says, and goes up on tiptoe. The sides of his neck are cold but not stiff, his lips are chilled but soft, as if he had been eating snow. One of his gloved hands moves hesitantly to the small of her back, a polite request that she not move or cease what she is doing.

The small conversation the party was carrying on stills. Wakka gives a low whistle.

"For now," he says when she has pulled away.

________

Rikku falls back to walk down the side of the mountain with Lulu and Yuna, leaving the three men to plow through the fiends ahead.

"Not to gloat, but I told you so," Rikku says. The chill of his mouth still lingers on her lips. She wishes she were strong enough not to talk so she could keep it there as long as possible. She suspects the kiss will not be repeated.

Lulu and Yuna say nothing. Rikku sighs and stares off dreamily into the sky, her eyes distant. Her two companions are glad of this a moment later when, after a swift glance back at the three of them, Wakka and Tidus each drop 50 gil into Auron's stiff, waiting palm.