Chapter Fifty One

"What can I do for you two tonight?" Her nametag read Philly, she was around 5:2 and wore about twenty different pieces of flare. It was odd though because neither Paine nor Rikku had seen her here before, but it wasn't as if they frequented this diner a lot anyway. Everready was about ten blocks north and had open seats, Rikku just thought it would be a nice change of scenery for the two since today was about doing things different.

Paine handed her the two menus. "I'm gonna have a turkey burger and waffle fries."

"To drink?"

"Water is fine."

Philly turned to Rikku. "Miss?"

"Bacon cheeseburger with an extra pickle please."

"To drink?"

"Um…cold cider?"

Philly nodded. "Alright that will be up in just under a second." She waited for the two to realize it was a joke but got nothing but silence from the table. Philly nodded to herself before leaving.

Paine sighed and rested her arms on the faux wooden table. Rikku shimmied out of her bright colored blazer. "So…"

The silver haired woman scratched the back of her head lightly while watching Rikku get situated. "We couldn't have gone to Eveready?" She felt like she was cheating on this place by coming here.

"This place was closer Paine, we both missed lunch today." Rikku rolled up the sleeves of her blouse a little and tilted her head slightly. "What's wrong with this place?"

"Nothing…"

Rikku nodded once slowly. "How did it go? You aren't saying anything…" Just then Philly placed their drink orders before them. Rikku sipped at her cider as she watched her girlfriend slip open a straw and dunk it into the clear water glass. "Do you want your lemons?"

She shook her head. "No, go ahead."

Rikku reached over with her left hand and pulled the small saucer towards herself. "So?"

Paine shrugged. "It was alright." She took a few long sips of her water. "They had refreshments at the end."

"You didn't spoil your dinner did you?" Rikku asked as she dropped a lemon wedge into her cloudy drink.

"No, but then I didn't know we were going to get something to eat."

Rikku nodded. "Well I figured since its dinner time it would be nice to do this."

Paine nodded. "Yeah, it is Monday after all."

"That's right." Rikku smiled a little and Paine tried to offer her one back but failed miserably. She watched as her girlfriend sighed again. "That bad?"

Paine was about to say something but then she remembered that Rikku was really trying here for her and she should meet her half way or none of this would work out, and Paine wanted it to work out. She straightened herself up a little and cleared her throat. "Um, it's not that it's just that…you know me."

Rikku nodded. "Well it's okay if maybe the first time was a little…different."

"Yeah." Paine nodded optimistically. "I uh…yeah. How did it go for you?"

Rikku fell quiet for a moment and thought back to how she spent the last hour. "It was interesting." She reached for her drink.

"Interesting? Did you… feel you could relate?"

Rikku only shrugged. "I actually didn't realize how hungry I was until I saw that chips and salsa platter walk by." She motioned with her chin to a nearby table.

Paine followed her gaze. "You want to get an appetizer? I'm buying so get whatever you want."

Rikku shook her head at Paine. "You can't and won't buy me anything till like, graduation."

"Why not?"

"You have to go look at those places Pai. Don't worry I've got this one, you have things to pay for."

Paine was going to resist but then let it go. She picked up her water before speaking. "Graduation it is then."

"Mm, let's talk about something."

Paine let herself chuckle. "Weren't we just?"

"Well I mean." She put her glass down. "Something we don't have to think about too hard."

Paine nodded. "Okay um…you looked really nice today, don't think I told you that yet."

Rikku smiled and reached her right hand out to cover Paine's on the table. The cool metal of her grandfather's ring causing Paine to just barely lift her hand and interlace the tips of their fingers. "This is a good thing." Rikku reminded softly. She took her left hand and covered their two hands with it.

They locked eyes and Paine nodded. "I know baby."

"I love you bunches, pypo." She whispered.

Paine let out a little sigh. She wished this table wasn't between them right now. "I love you too, Rikku."

##

"Pops!" A few days had passed and Rikku was getting ready to leave the house for the day but first she needed to find her father. She knew her old man was home. All his stuff was by the door save for his wallet. She stood in the middle of the hallway on the first floor and sucked in a huge breath. "POPS!"

"MILAN!"

Rikku grinned and headed toward the formal living room. She instinctively slowed her step cautiously as a precaution to not knock any glass that was in the usually unoccupied room. She had knocked over a dove once when she was 15 and boy was her father pissed.

There sitting on a cream linen sofa was her father clad in a light blue button down and some gray slacks and Juliann Leblanc dressed in one of her work power suits. She looked a lot more relaxed sitting next to her father like that though, she was barefoot, and her dark rimmed glasses Rikku was sure were just for show were nowhere to be found.

"I don't know why you two insist on living in such a large house without an intercom system, all you do is yell."

Cid caught sight of his daughter and waved Leblanc off gently. "Milan, look at these, look at what I found." It was then that Rikku actually realized what the duo were doing.

She went pale.

"Pop! C'mon!"

Leblanc had to admit to being a little amused at Rikku's response to the baby pictures of her using a bubble bath for the first time. "I wonder if that Kerrigan girl has seen these yet." She found herself teasing. Cid laughed.

Rikku moved to close the book but her father pulled it away. "Pop…."

"Milan there is nothing wrong with these—"

"You're right, except the fact that you're looking at them."

He chuckled again and shook his head before going back down memory lane. "Look here, you in your first pair of jeans." He smiled the way only a father would at the wobbily little girl holding onto a dining room chair.

"Well for a little tike it was difficult to get used to okay?" Rikku crossed her arms.

"Aw look Juliann, Kirill…" Cid motioned to the photo of his son as a little baby.

"He looks so much like you." She mused.

Cid sighed contently and then looked up at his daughter. She was wearing light skinny jeans and a lime green tank top no longer the little girl playing in bubbles, but a young woman.

Where did the years go?

"What is it Milan?"

Seeing that she finally had his attention she uncrossed her arms. "Well I was hoping you were alone…" Rikku glanced at Leblanc and then shrugged. "But seeing as how you're gonna end up with the old fart I guess its okay." She shifted her weight a little. "Um so you both know how I'll hear back from schools soon and I wanted to start whenever they would take me right?"

Leblanc sat up and Cid nodded.

"Well realistically I can't pay for it on my own, and Pop we talked about that you'd y'know step in and stuffs."

"Of course."

"I first wanted to say thanks, but then I wanted to talk about y'know paying you back." Cid opened his mouth to protest but Rikku shook her head. "Before you say anything I'm not paying back right away, that's unrealistic too, but I wanted Uncle B to put something together saying that I have to, and I want you to sign it okay? I've already decided on this."

"How are you going to afford to that right out of school, Milan."

"I already called Uncle B yesterday and we talked about prices…for my half of the half?"

Cid nodded slowly. "I was hoping you'd hold onto it."

Rikku frowned at his frown. "I know Pops and I…was gonna, but um… I just need to try and make my own name for myself. It's always gonna be or family's business, I mean hell you still work there." She paused. "And I might even buy it back once I'm rollin' in the Gil y'know?"

"Well…If you've made up your mind."

Rikku nodded. "I've just really been trying to focus on something worth my while and I am gonna put all my energy into this thing."

"What about your art darling?" Leblanc asked in her usual tone.

Rikku was a little surprised at the question, especially coming from her. "Gonna give it away to make room for new stuff…I don't think I'm ever going to stop doing it." That seemed to remind Rikku of something. "Oh and Pops I drafted up the margins on your trust."

Cid laughed. "Look at this." He turned to Leblanc. "She'd make a good one, it's just a shame."

"I just wanted to clarify that when I'm twenty seven I'll get access to it."

Cid stood a laugh still in his throat. "You and your brother, but no sooner."

"What! Brother is twenty five though!"

Cid shrugged. "I've allocated an equal amount; don't think of that money though. You won't even see it then." He leaned over and began gathering a few photos. "These will look good in my new office." He nodded showing Leblanc who agreed but made a comment about adding the one with Rikku in the bubble bath too. "Aha, I think I just might."

Rikku rolled her eyes but smiled. "Lemme see those."

Cid handed the few over to her. "Help me load up my car will you kid?"

Rikku nodded and followed after him down the hall as Leblanc shook her head with a hint of a smile.

"So how are things with Paine?" Cid asked as he picked a cardboard box. He now had a total of three offices including his in home one. Life at the ports promised to be a lot more relaxing though.

"Hm?" Rikku looked up from a funny picture of Yuna.

"Paine. How is she?"

"Paine….is, alright, she's doing alright."

"You two done fighting?"

Rikku nodded. "Oh yeah."

"Good." Cid nodded as he opened the front door and began the steps down to the drive. "What do you all have planned for the summer?"

Rikku shrugged as she remembered that she was actually helping him and picked up a box by the door before following after him. "Not much actually. Dr. P has to work, it's gonna suck I'll be bored all day." She pouted just thinking about it.

"Maybe you should consider a little part timer."

"I am, just looking to hear back from these schools."

"Anywhere cool?"

"Yunie had me applying all of Spira!" She handed her father the box. "Like I'd go to Mt. Gagazet!"

Cid laughed. "Is a stretch for a desert girl. I didn't know you were considering leaving Luca though, it could be quite the adventure Milan."

"I wasn't really… I'm just waiting to see what everyone says y'know?"

"Mm." Cid nodded as he closed the trunk of his car. "How is your cousin doing?" His tone softened a bit. Usually Yuna was around more often than she had been.

They walked back inside.

Rikku sighed. "Well I was going to go to the mall but…I can always do that. Take a seat old man."

One and a half weeks later….

"We started meetings… Monday afternoon…6pm." Paine picked at the knee of her jeans. "Separate though, they're separate meetings."

Martha nodded. "How does that make you feel?"

"Well one is for people who love people who are recovering or…not recovering, and then the one I go to….It's all at the YMCA which is convenient I guess. We went for something to eat after…." Paine looked down. "Burgers."

"You don't like going." Martha read.

"It's not that."

"Well what is it then?"

Paine shrugged. "I feel like I don't fit in."

"Hm…"

"I still drink, and I smoke pot from time to time…and that's not sober right? At least that's what they say. I feel dry though, I feel it every day regardless of what I do…I feel it missing." She shrugged."I've just grown used to that feeling, the medication helps some..no one there is on medication … and everyone is missing teeth or children or homes…Tonight I'm a model, and…Well I just don't feel like I fit in."

"True sobriety depends on the individual. Most people cannot handle drinking or smoking after so it became a general rule. You are a special case, but that means you still need to monitor yourself. Addiction has many faces, I'm sure if you went to a meeting in a health facility down the block half the people in the room would be models."

"Maybe."

"What is it?"

"I just feel bad for putting Rikku through this."

"I think she knew what she was getting herself into Paine, and it seems to me that she is planning on sticking it out, I know these meetings weren't your idea. Coming to see me again wasn't your idea. Embrace her involvement; open the floor for discussion….Did you ask her about her meeting?"

"Yeah."

"What did she say?"

"She said it was interesting…I just picture her in that room with all those old fat women and crazy step kids and just….I feel like she'd feel out of place too. And then there is the whole Yevon thing…"

"A lot of these groups believe that a divine intervention is usually the best kind."

"Rikku is very Al Bhed."

Martha laughed a little. "Remind me what that means."

"Well she thinks New Yevon is full of crap, and I agree with her."

"Hm."

"I looked up Al Bhed meetings for her, but she said she wanted to go to the one where we went before…So I guess that means it's on going."

"And you have a problem with that?"

"I feel like…like I'm disabled."

"In many ways you are."

"I don't want to have to depend on my medication or these meetings or any of that. I feel like I'm too young."

"You were put in the care of the courts at eleven months, you were almost sexually abused at six, I say almost but I know the mental abuse is still there, and then you were put in foster care at the age of seven, and you had a drug overdose at nineteen, you are too young, but that isn't the point."

"What's the point?"

" That you are twenty one, two years clean, and getting all the help you could need. Be patient. You will get there. I think Rikku has figured out when you are weakest which most significant others don't realize before it's too late."

"When is that?"

"At the cusp of any major change. You graduate soon, you're looking at your first apartment, you have a birthday coming up and you just reconnected with your biological mother, you became an aunt too, this is prime time for a relapse and the whole Dona incident proved it. Paine if you didn't have Gippal, and Rikku, and Mackenzie and Vidina to let down I am a hundred percent sure that you would have relapsed already. That's just how it works."

"Rikku sat me down…she was…" Paine sighed and rubbed her hands on her jeans. "I've never seen her so serious."

Martha nodded. "Is this when she asked you?"

Paine nodded. "At first it was…I felt attacked and then it felt like she didn't trust me but…Y'know she just came right and asked me….'Pypo...did I miss count those pills in your room? Or did I count them correctly'…."

Flashback

"What pills?"

Rikku shook her head sadly, but her voice was firm. "The ones you take every night that were scattered on your desk." She glanced at a sheet of paper she printed out at the library. "Naloxone hydrochloride."

Paine just sat there. "What?"

"I counted them."

"Why would you do that?"

Rikku was quiet for a moment. "Did I have to?"

Paine looked around the attic where they had been talking. It was sometime in the evening, they were both sitting on the ground. Rikku was wearing one of her shirts, her toes just brushing the paint stained floor from many months ago. She didn't want to look at her face. "I have five in my jeans pocket for when I sleep over, Rikku."

Rikku took a breath of relief.

"You thought I relapsed….on an opiant antagonist?"

"I didn't know what to think." Rikku noted how hurt Paine looked and sighed. "Don't be mad at me. I love you and I was worried, even if you did I—"

"If I crushed them up? You'd still love me?" Paine didn't look at her. "I was having a bad day—"

"You were locked in your room, Paine. You were angry and confused and you put yourself in a position—"

"What position?!"

"Why else would they be on the desk like that?" Paine fell quiet. Rikku ran a hand through her blonde hair. "Baby…"

"I wasn't going to."

"It didn't help that you were half way there already."

"I wasn't going to!"

"Paine."

Paine exhaled heavily. "Seeing Dona made me sick…It made me physically weak Rikku. I was… I wasn't thinking, and I wasn't me. I trashed my room, that's it."

"Why were they out like that then?" Rikku knew her too well. "For you to be in any kind of situation like that pains me, it really does, but I can't sit here and push and push and push. You have to give me something Pypo, anything. I'm on your team. We have the same goal." Rikku looked like she was going to cry, Paine reached her hand for hers. "Don't do this, please just…." She moved her hand away from Paine's. "Just tell me."

End Flashback

"So you told her."

Paine hand her face in her hands. She only nodded.

"How do you f—"

"How do I fucking feel?"

Martha blinked. "Yes."

"I felt like shit. Like the lowest. Here Rikku is…y'know this beautiful person forced to deal with my bullshit because what? She liked my face? We're too far invested? I saved her?"

"You and I both know that isn't the case."

Paine let out a heavy sigh and calmed down. "It was literally a millisecond of a thought…" She made a motion to scattering the pills on her desk. "I just couldn't do it." Paine fell quiet again. There had been a lot of silences during this session. "I couldn't do it because it wasn't just about me anymore. I wasn't the only one to reap the consequences. I…I went in bed and cried like a bitch because I didn't want to hurt everyone else, and it wasn't fair and I hated myself for even thinking it, for even going there. Two years? For what? I've had plenty of opportunity to, and fucking Dona is what does it?…I was upset with myself…then ten minutes later she showed up. Just like that." Paine fiddled with the Al Bhed beads on her wrist. "She just started cleaning…my mess…my fuck ups….and even though I wanted nothing more to just let her deal with it I…" She shook her head. "I couldn't."

"Did you tell Rikku that?"

Paine nodded.

"What did she say?"

"She didn't say anything… She just kinda gave me this look..this sort of smile. I could tell she was still worried. Then she hugged me so she wouldn't have to say anything."

Martha grew thoughtful. "She knows."

Paine nodded and leaned back in her chair. "I never want to hurt her and that would be like… the worst thing I could possibly do. I know it is."

"And this was a week and a half ago?"

"Yeah."

"Where are you two now?"

Paine calmed down considerably; it was as if she remembered everything they had been talking about was actually in the past and not the present. "We're…really good. I'm trying to focus on her more, building things over and just, taking it easy." Paine paused for a moment. "I love her…a lot."

Martha wanted to smile just a little; she could see a journey had come to an end in Paine's mind. This searching for something that never was, a childhood, a person, it was all in the past it seemed, which was good, only time would tell though. For the sake of professionalism Martha remained neutral. "Good."

"I um….I don't know if this is in light of everything that happened or was happening or is about to happen but I wanted to run something by you." Paine scratched the back of her head. "Y'know make sure I'm not being flighty."

"Okay."

"There is this Al Bhed tradition…."

##

Paine waited outside of Martha's office for Rikku to pick her up. Her car was giving her some trouble so she was planning on looking at it if she had time after she and Rikku visited Gippal in rehab.

Rehab

When Paine got the call from him saying that he had checked himself in she was filled with mixed emotions. One she couldn't be happier for her best friend, he seemed so optimistic which was good, but this was before the withdrawal really kicked it. She had never considered rehab, probably because almost dying was way more powerful than any twelve step program could be. In Paine's eyes she had gotten very lucky, and with that luck she had to change the way she lived or she would certainly be in the ground before she were thirty, and now with Vidina around, and Mackenzie, and Rikku playfully pressuring her about babies or puppies or chocobos or whatever it was this week, Paine really knew she had to make it.

She didn't tell a soul that this was in her plan; surviving.

Rikku pulled up just then in her preppy white car. The blonde had her hair up in a choppy pony tail with her bangs out framing her pretty face and was wearing sunglasses. She lowered the music and smiled as Paine approached the car.

"Looking for a good time?" Paine asked as she leaned against the car.

Rikku laughed. "Would you get in the car already? Fa'ja kud drehkc du tu!" She watched Paine walk around and then hop into the passenger seat. Rikku put her car in drive. "I was gonna get tacos for lunch but then I saw the line and…" She gave Paine a double take. "How did it go?"

Paine nodded. "It was…good."

Rikku eyed her before nodding herself. "Good… Are you ready for tonight?"

Paine shrugged and picked up the water bottle she left in Rikku's car earlier. "I have to be at the venue by four."

"I can GPS it. Yunie is already there, can you believe that?"

"Clocking in hours."

"Yeah I know, I'll drop you and then come back home and start getting ready and then meet up with everyone at Wakka and Lulu's and head over with them."

"Sounds good."

"Have you decided what you wanted to do after?"

"I don't think I'm gonna be up for much, we have to look at places tomorrow morning remember? Isn't Wakka gonna watch some game or something?"

"The Beasts vs The Abes in a pre season scrimmage. Yeah he invited everyone back over for that. He said he'd DVR it, but I don't think he knows how."

Paine laughed. "Probably not, Lulu has it set I'm sure."

"I'm excited, Brother has been texting me all hyped up about the season. He said he's saving us some tickets for when Luca goes against the Psyches."

"Nice."

"The pre scrimmage games are with the veteran players so that's why Wakka doesn't have to be there but hey listen we'll go for the first two quarters and then call it a night huh?" Rikku placed a hand on Paine's thigh. "You're not nervous are you? I mean you've done this before."

Paine sighed and took her hand for a moment and then let it go. "I'll be in it when the time comes."

Rikku nodded. "I told Yunie that Tidus would be there tonight."

"Oh yeah?"

"Yeah she seemed…I don't know what's going on with her lately, well I know, it's just there is nothing I can do. Maybe another ladies night or something?"

Paine laughed. "Maybe."

"So do you want to eat first or go see Gippal first?"

"Well you said you were hungry right? Plus I don't think I'm going to want to eat after seeing him."

"You think it will be that bad?"

Paine shrugged. "It's been a week." She took a sip of her water.

"You talked to him on the phone this morning right?"

"For two seconds, he sounded sleepy."

"Well we'll eat first. We can stop somewhere or…eat at my place or..hm I wonder if that taco place delivers."

"I wanna get a nap in before we leave to see Gippal too."

"Okay so we'll go to mines then." She glanced at Paine. "You feelin' okay?"

"Yeah." Paine drank some more of her water and relaxed back into her car seat. Rikku wasn't driving like a maniac today which was nice.

"I'll stop asking you that if you want."

Paine smiled a little. "I like when you ask me things."

Rikku glanced at her and smiled before looking back to the road. "We need to get you in the sun; you're looking a little pale."

Paine chuckled. "Winter dose that."

"What's the temperature?"

"Huh? Now?"

Rikku shook her head at herself. "It's this thing Yunie and I do, I forgot that I barely knew you this time last year. Whenever it changes to a warmer season Yunie and I set a temperature, and whenever it hits our mark, no matter what we are doing, we drop everything and go to the beach."

"What if you're taking an exam?"

Rikku laughed. "Yunie has made up family emergencies."

"Wow."

"So….what is it?"

Paine stretched a little. "Mmm, seventy six….yeah."

"How do you figure?"

"Well the water has to be at least sixty something, maybe."

"Swimmable."

Paine nodded. "Exactly."

Rikku nodded to herself. "Seventy six…"

##

She climbed onto her bed beside Paine who had yet to fall asleep but had her eyes closed. "So kenmvneaht ec cu bnaddo." She whispered making Paine smile a little. Having her girlfriend's face so close always made Paine want to smile just a little.

"What time is it?"

"A little after one."

"I should get up…"

"No no, rest up. You don't have to get till I say so. We'll make it there on time. Trust me."

Paine settled back down. "So have you heard back from anyone yet?"

Rikku shook her head no. "No, I'm trying not to think about it."

"You can still be my leachy girlfriend."

The blonde laughed. "Thanks, but I'm still going to try and get in somewhere."

"I have no doubt that you will, babe."

Rikku curled a short tassel of Paine's hair. "Aw."

Paine suddenly picked her head up a little. "Have you and Yuna started looking at places…?"

Rikku shook her head no. "I don't think Yunie wants to rush it, and I don't blame her, we'll get there."

"Oh." Paine nodded. "Well I mean, if you guys don't…and you don't wanna live here anymore…" She glanced about the room. Who wouldn't want to live here?

"What?"

"You could always… um…get a place of your own." Paine chickened out. What was she thinking? This was a huge question to ask Rikku, she couldn't just casually bring it up, and besides Paine didn't want to make it seem like she couldn't do something on her own. It was just that ever since Rikku pointed out that their stuff was all over the place Paine had been trying to rationalize it being in one place. With graduation approaching she couldn't help but feel like they needed to make some sort of step in a new direction. She reminded herself that they were still young though, and the step she had in mind would be big enough. Besides maybe Rikku wanted to do other things, and maybe she did too. Paine sighed mentally at herself and laid her head back down on the pillow. Rikku opened her mouth to say something but Paine cut her off. "Nooj has a girlfriend."

"What?"

"That's why he cut his hair, why he's been missing, we figured it out."

Rikku laughed. "Well who is she?"

"Some little tree hugger." Rikku laughed again. "Hope Blossom is her name or something…she's a nudist too."

"You're making that up."

"I swear I'm not."

"Hope Blossom?"

"Something like that."

"She walks around nude?"

"Does she." Paine nodded suggestively. Rikku nudged her and the silver haired woman laughed and rolled onto her back. "I'm just kidding!"

"I don't think you are Paine Kerrigan."

Paine grinned lightly. "I am, I am, we haven't even met her."

"Wait a minute so how do you know she exists?"

"Cause he talked about her the other night and Em says he's acting like me."

"What does that mean?"

"Well I'm the only other person in the house with a girlfriend, apparently I've 'changed'."

Rikku giggled. "For the better."

"I think so."

"The world agrees."

"But uh, thanks." Paine nodded seriously. "For being so…you and stuff lately." She remembered what Martha had said today. "I couldn't have done any of this without you. Um.." Paine blushed a little. She didn't know why, she just did.

Rikku smiled back at her before leaning in for a small kiss. "Don't ever thank me again, I love and you love me and we gotta do things for each other ."

Paine nodded. "We're buddies."

Rikku giggled. "Yeah." She hopped up of the bed so Paine could rest. "Twenty more minutes."

Paine got comfortable. "Okay."

Rikku went downstairs and finished off her lunch. She was really excited about tonight. Even though Paine played it off as nothing major it was actually kind of major. She was so happy for her girl and her cousin. Yuna was doing what she loved to do and it was kind of inspiring when everyone around you started to take positive steps. Rikku finished cleaning up and then went upstairs into the attic. She had been working on this one piece for Yuna's graduation present and she knew that her cousin would just love it once it was finished. Careful not to get her clothes stained Rikku picked up a paintbrush and dabbed it into the murky water she was using earlier before she had to go and pick Paine up.

Paine, she easily consumed Rikku's thoughts. Whether it be her smirk, or her breasts or her devilishly long legs. Usually it was just her though. Just Paine. Her thoughts and her aspirations, her faults and her insecurities. She could honestly say that the last week and a half had been so good for them. Hell the last three months had really put them to the test as a couple; there were times where she was simply at a loss for what to do next. Times where she was angry at herself for not being able to comprehend, times she was angry at Paine for the exact same thing. Rikku definitely felt the pressure to grow up a little. There was a world out there, one where people had problems that just didn't go away, even if she closed her eyes tight and counted to three. She was maturing, and for once Rikku was confident that things were going to begin to smooth out. Paine was doing her part. It was odd though, when she thought about it the people she was closest to she had known her whole life. Paine she had known a few months over a year. It wasn't very long in the grand scheme of things. It was hard to get a grasp on how fast time flew when you were in the thick of it feeling everything there was to feel.

Rikku Bayla a year and a half ago couldn't do anything Rikku Bayla could today.

She was proud of herself, of her girlfriend. Paine always hated when Rikku "focused" on her too much, but what the silver hair beauty didn't realize is that it was by focusing on Paine that Rikku was able to realize a whole lot about herself. It also gave her a chance to change without being afraid. If Paine could do all this then why couldn't she?

Twenty minutes.

"Paine." Rikku called into her shaded room. "We gotta go now." She stepped in and sighed, she really didn't like to wake Paine up for anything. She barely got sleep as it was because of her insomnia reaction to the medication, that, and she looked so damn cute when she was sleeping all cuddly like this. Her strong arms were wrapped around Rikku's pillow and she was holding it close to her chest as if someone would take it away from her once she closed her eyes.

So much for a badass. Rikku though with a little laugh. "Pai c'mon, get up." She rocked Paine's shoulder lightly. "Babyyyy."

"Mmph."

"We have to go visit Gippal."

##

"Spread your legs."

"For fucks sake she's wearing a dress." Paine glared at the female officer who was body checking Rikku.

'Paine its fine." Rikku nodded back at her.

"It's just standard procedure Ms. Kerrigan."

Paine crossed her arms. "Yeah yeah."

Once they were cleared Rikku picked up Paine's leather jacket and then grabbed her arm. "C'mon you, before you cause any more trouble with these nice people."

Paine huffed and let herself be tugged along. "Oh yeah their nice now huh?"

Rikku laughed. "You are incorrigible."

##

"Still spend every day feeling like I wanna throw up."

"…That never goes away."

"I didn't know it was this bad."

They fell quiet.

"You almost died P." Gippal examined Paine's profile. "I never saw it like that until I got in here and heard everyone else talking about friends they lost and shit…When it was my turn I couldn't…talk about you like that….I talked about Shu instead." Gippal looked away out onto the serene field of grass that was the Mi'ihen highroad. "All the things they wanted to hear…I fucking hate these meetings."

Paine glanced at him. "It helps."

"How did last Monday go?"

"Besides the New Yevon bull it was actually okay…I mean I didn't say anything of course."

"Of course."

"But I y'know…I guess I get the point of them."

Gippal dipped his hands into his pocket as a chill took over for a moment. Paine watched it pass and waited for him to get used to that queasy feeling. "What's that?"

"People don't like to feel alone." She leaned forward and started to retie her shoe strings. "People…like to feel like they have other people worse off than them, it makes sense really, and there is always someone worse off y'know?"

"Yeah…I guess so."

Paine sat back up and enjoyed the small breeze. "This place is relaxing as fuck." She watched a group a little ways away dressed in light blue shirts were practicing yoga in the sun.

Gippal laughed a little at her. "I sleep all the time yo, it's no good."

Paine chuckled and gave him an encouraging look. "It's gonna be hard."

"Ay what do you know about it?" He teased.

Paine smiled at her best friend. He already seemed lighter if that made any sense. Sure he had lost weight, his hair was cut short void of product or spike, and his usually vibrant green eyes were a bit foggy, but he already seemed lighter, and it was that absences of weight that would help him lift off. "I guess not much, but the whole process, the biology…it's gonna suck."

"I get these night sweats…like I'm drenched when I wake up, and that's if I fall asleep…." Gippal looked away. "So you got this thing where it y'know prolongs healing?"

"PAWS."

"Do you still get night sweats?"

Paine thought about it. "Sometimes."

Gippal rubbed his hands together and tucked them closer to himself, another chill passing him. "And all the other stuff too?" Paine nodded. He looked like he was about to say something serious but he held back. "Shit you better marry that girl for dealing with cleaning up all that." He joked shakily.

Paine laughed a little. "Rikku's alright.. and women don't sweat as heavily as men do, naturally." She added as an afterthought.

Gippal nodded. "I'm happy for you." Paine looked at him then. "I think you should go for it."

Am I wearing a fucking sign or something?

They sat there in silence for another ten minutes just watching the high grass in the distance sway, the yoga session had finished and the recoveries had scattered. Paine watched one man in particular. He was sitting under a tree and was staring at something in his hands. A picture maybe? His kids? Or maybe it was scripture verse, maybe it was just a piece of blank paper, but he watched it with such an earnest hope that Paine knew it had to be something of a lost memory.

"Clasko is a dumbass." Gippal broke the silence by saying. "You'll go check on Lap when you have a minute right?"

Paine nodded. "Of course."

##

"Well if it isn't Dr. P and Cid's girl." Elma smiled as she was getting searched while Paine and Rikku were leaving.

Paine smiled. Seeing Elma would cheer Gippal up for sure. "He's all yours—"

"—But we already knew that." Rikku finished.

"Nice." The two exchanged a little high five at their joke.

Elma made a face. "See that's when you know you spend way too much time together."

Paine laughed. "See you at Wakka's?"

"For sure."

"Did you see how pretty she looked?" Rikku nudged Paine in the ribs as they walked through the parking lot. "I wonder if they have conjugal visits in rehab."

Paine laughed and put her arm around Rikku's shoulders. "Elma wouldn't do that."

"Aw Pai, you think they are gonna get together?"

Paine shrugged. "That's dependent on a lot of things."

"Well I mean did Gippal say anything?"

Paine chuckled. "We should mind our own business."

"He did! He did say something!" Rikku grabbed onto Paine's jacket.

"No don't do that, I can't tell you."

"What do you mean you can't tell me?"

"Exactly what I said."

"Is this one of those Bro's before Hoe's things?"

Paine laughed and kissed her on the side of the forehead. "You really need to stop watching so much TV."

Rikku wrapped her arm around Paine's waist as they walked. "Well if my girlfriend would pay more attention to me…."

Paine laughed. "Maybe if my girlfriend wasn't so high maintenance…."

"Well maybe if my girlfriend weren't such a meanie."

"Well maybe if my girlfriend weren't so sensitive."

Rikku looked up at her from her side. "I am not sensitive!"

Paine only laughed as they continued to walk. "He seems better than I thought he would."

Rikku nodded adjusting quickly to the shift. "Yeah, I like his hair like that."

"He wore it short like that when we were little."

"I mean, he had more time then you did y'know? You just quit cold chocobo. "

Paine nodded. "He's slowed down but it never really stops unless he does something like this…" She thought moment. "He won't tell me why, but do you think that matters?"

Rikku shook her head no. "Maybe it was just his time."

"Maybe."

##

Rikku swore her heart was going to burst at how cute Vidina looked. "Where in Spira did you find a bowtie that small!"

Wakka chuckled as he fixed his suit jacket. "Lu made it, it's cute ya?"

Rikku put her glass of juice down and adjusted it for him. "Oh my goodness." She pulled out her phone to send a picture to Paine and Yuna. Little Vidina was wearing a tux onesie with a bowtie and everything. His hair was even slicked and styled just like Wakka's was.

"He's gonna get all the babes for sure." Tidus nodded.

"Dat's right, y'know why right? Cause he's a D'Autry. We always get all the babes."

"Excuse me?" Lulu asked as she entered the room in her deep purple evening gown. "What babes are you getting Wakka?"

Wakka sheepishly looked around. "Uh…"

Lulu shook her head at him and he smiled charmingly back at her. He was lucky he looked so handsome in a suit Lulu reasoned. "Are we all set to go?" She asked making sure she had everything in her clutch. "Wakka bring the diaper bag please."

"You got it." Wakka went into their room and came out with a black diaper bag. He didn't understand why they needed two, one for the day and one for the night, but it worked with his suit he supposed.

"I'll hold him." Tidus said picking up Vidina's little car seat that he was in.

Rikku crossed her arms. "Fine."

Tidus sighed. "Are you going to be mad at me forever?"

"Just about, yeah." Rikku nodded pretty sure that at the moment she was supposed to be upset with Tidus. At least this was until Yuna gave her instruction not to be. She walked off to help Lulu with something leaving the boys in the living room.

"You mess wit one of dem, you mess wit all of dem." Wakka nodded.

"I thought I was doing the right thing." Tidus sighed and looked down at Vidina.

"Don't matter brudda."

"Thanks for inviting me over tonight, but you know I'll probably just head home after saying hi to Dr. P."

"What? Nah what about the game?"

"I DVR'd it too." Tidus looked into the kitchen where Lulu and Rikku were talking. "Lulu doesn't want me here."

"Aye stop dat, she doesn't really mind you."

Tidus laughed a little. "Yeah well if it's Yuna or me I think she's going to go with Yuna."

"Yuh Viddy's god father too, I wasn't just the one to decide on that. Lulu said she liked you."

"Yeah, this was before I broke up with Yuna and ruined everyone's plans." Tidus said growing a little frustrated. "She won't even look at me, Wakka. I see her all the time at school now and she won't even look at me."

"Well I don't know what you were expecting."

Tidus shrugged. "I don't know either."

"She's hurt ya? But give her time."

"Well I have until the end of June."

Wakka turned to the kitchen. "We gonna get the car ready!" Lulu nodded from a distance. "C'mon ya?" Wakka motioned to the door after picking up the diaper bag. Tidus grabbed his suit jacket that was still on a hanger in one hand and Vidina's seat in the other. They took the elevator in silence and made it to the first floor. That's when Wakka decided to say something. "So what's your plan?"

"What's my plan?"

"For Yuna."

Tidus sighed as they walked out into the parking lot. "There is no plan man, she wasn't happy with me."

"Dat's where yuh wrong."

"What do you know anyway man?"

"I'm engaged to her best friend brudda, I know a lot about a lot." Wakka nodded as he approached Lulu's black car. It was a lot more spacious than his old beat up sedan. He was glad the blitz deal went through and they wouldn't have to sell it after all. He pressed the unlock button and opened the back seat to situate Vidina in the middle seat. "You gonna go over there and get tail thrown at you left and right, I ain't gonna judge you if you take advantage of it, I'm just saying."

"What exactly?"

"If you love her, you know what to do." Wakka said as he took Vidina and his seat from Tidus and began to hook him in. "I know buddy, yuh don't like this thing, but you wanna be safe right?" Wakka tried to ease the newborn down, he hated being clicked into the car.

Tidus put his hands in his suit pockets. "Should I ask her to marry me?"

Wakka hit his head on the roof of the car when he heard that. "What!? You just broke up wit her!" Vidina began to fuss. "Aye sorry, daddy's sorry for yelling, it's just dat yuh Tidus here is a moron."

Tidus sighed at Vidina's giggling. "Don't tell him that."

Wakka stood from out of the car and sighed. "Look you jumped the gun and made a mistake, just tell her that, women like to hear that we have faults, especially in a heterobinary society where we're said to be superior. I can't make a baby wit my body; I know dat brudda, can you? No, so we gotta just admit when stuff goes wrong."

Tidus raised an eyebrow

Wakka shrugged. "Gotta take one more humanities class to graduate on time…pretty interesting stuff ya?"

The blonde shook his head. "You forgot the part where she doesn't look at me, that kinda means she doesn't talk to me too. How am I supposed to tell her that I've been a total butt?"

"Send her a text."

"Send her a….what?" How come he didn't think of that before?

Wakka shrugged. "Lu got pregnant, so I never go the chance to apologize for the stuff that I did the right way. We just kinda…skipped that, we had to. So you can skip that if you want and leave like you planned or talk to her about it and leave like you should."

##

"Shaw!"

Yuna tripped over herself. "Coming coming!"

"Why on Spira are these over here! This is for the third not the fourth! Do I need to fire again?"

"No no no I've got it."

Paine shook her head with a little laugh as someone pocked high end make up onto her lower back.

Yuna was getting her ass handed to her and for some reason she found it very amusing. Her girlfriend's cousin was usually so in charge, put together and so…well, Yuna. Right now she resembled something akin to a crazy person. She had been here since nine in the morning and it showed. Her usually well kept brown hair was in a messy bun, her long brain coiled up to secure it, and she was sweating, like a lot. Paine went to get her a water bottle at one point but one of the thin nosed bitches she worked with kindly informed her that those waters were only for models not the help.

Well little did they know Yuna was training to be their boss.

The show was set to start at six for the spring collection from Shark and Muli Fashions; a friend of the modeling agencies owners. Paine was briefly introduced to them during one of her fittings. They seemed nice enough to be fashion designers Paine supposed. They had a little dog that reminded her of Ifrit. Paine wondered what else she could be doing right now. As a person who was seldom stationary she really didn't like sitting around for too long. She checked her phone to see if she missed a call, but nothing.

Flashback

"You always do things so last minute Paine!"

Paine rolled her eyes. "Rikku."

"Okay okay so not all the time, I don't understand you sometimes though. First you're all 'oh I don't know, I'm doing it on my own time.' Then you're all 'Okay yeah', pid drah oui zicd lryhka ouin seht ykyeh!"

She was getting yelled at; it was okay though because Rikku was walking around her room in her underwear looking for something to wear.

"Ed'c veha frah fa'na dymgehk ypuid fryd du ayd vun tehhan un fryd oui fyhd du tu vun dra tyo, veha, pid frah oui haat du ehjeda cusauha du cusadrehk oui keja dras desa, huf ev cra lyh'd lusa oui'na kuhhy pa ymm lnyhgo..."

Paine sighed. "Well I'm going to call now so….shut up."

Rikku rolled her eyes with a laugh. "Fydlr ed,"

Paine gave her a little smile to show that she was just being playful.

The dial tone dragged on and on until finally Paine got Keira's voicemail. She tried to ignore the "I told you so" look on Rikku's face as she began to talk. "Keira Hi, its Paine. So I know this is last minute…very last minute, but um I have this show tonight, the new job? It's um..well I'm walking as a model for some spring collection or whatever. It's at the Portland arena at six and I thought about we were saying about trying and…you can come if you want. Bye."

"You can come if you want?"

"Ri—"

"Really!?"

End Flashback

Keira hadn't called back or texted or anything and Rikku was right, Paine was getting cranky.

I don't get cranky…

The word just reminded Paine of an old person somehow. Old people got cranky when they couldn't watch their shows. Paine preferred the word irritated. She was getting just a little irritated. She had no reason to be irritated though, it was just what she was feeling. It could have also been because of the lady and her cold hands poking at Paine's scar with a cue tip.

"Shaw!"

"Coming! I'm coming!"

##

"Just leave it Wakka."

"Aye Lu, it's buggin' him. Let's just take it off."

"Then he won't be in dress code."

"He's a baby!"

"My son will learn these things from small so he doesn't end up like his father complaining about itchy suits all the time."

"Oh ya, well maybe if they weren't made out of itchy material—"

"You guys shush, it's starting." Rikku whispered at the two. She turned to her left at Baralai who was being the perfect date as always and waiting quietly. He cleaned up so well and had this formal tact that reminded Rikku so much of her uncle. It always tickled her that he and Paine had been something at some point. Baralai Montgomery was a good guy, and she was glad they had become friends. "You think that she made it?"

"Paine?" Lai asked.

"No no Keira." Rikku began to look around in the steadily increasing darkness. "I have no idea if she made it, I know Paine's gonna be wondering if she did…"

"Too late to tell now." Lai motioned to the illuminated catwalk and Rikku faced forward in her seat.

##

Rikku's eyes grew wide and she was pretty sure she were drooling just a little bit. "Oh my god that's my girlfriend." It was Paine's final walk and they were doing swimsuits slash shawls; a little play on winter turning to spring and wow did these chicks have some amazing bodies. Rikku was basically gawking at Paine though. I mean she kissed that body, she snuggled it and she caressed it and she was good to that body, so why did it seem so mysterious up there? The blonde grinned at the realization that all these people were staring at something only she could touch. As Paine turned to head back down the catwalk with her exaggerated badass walk Rikku made her conclusions.

She was tapping that tonight for sure.

##

Paine wiped at her face with a rough wash cloth. It was the only kind to be able to get the expensive foundation off. She had already gently rubbed off the makeup on her back and was now covered in a plain gray Judo work out top. She had washed her hair and slicked it back all the while ignoring her reflection in the mirror. She had just wiped off the last makeup and then stared down at the check in front of her. It was definitely a lot more than she was expecting, the night had went well enough aside from the bright bright lights and her extremely sore feet to make this kind of check doable in the future. Still, that wasn't what was really bothering her. Paine was sure she was just in one of her moods, but she couldn't help but feel just a little like a sellout. The door knocked to the private room all the models were given after such a long night of exposure. "Come in."

"Pypo!"

Paine smiled to herself before turning to greet her girlfriend. She was momentarily stopped by how gorgeous she looked in her caramel colored dress. It was almost the color of her skin and brought out her spirally green eyes. "Wow Rikks."

Rikku waved her off before hugging her tightly. "You were so great! I brought you flowers, see?" She motioned with her chin to her full hands.

Paine smiled and took the purple and white flowers after their hug. "I almost tripped toward the end."

"No one noticed." She assured her smiling all the while like a little kid.

Paine nodded and then looked down at the flowers. "You didn't have to get me flowers, babe."

Paine never knew how to take Rikku doing things like opening doors for her and giving her flowers. It was cute how she shied up like this. "Course I did, my pretty girl gets pretty flowers."

Paine leaned down and pressed a kiss onto her waiting lips. "Thanks."

Rikku nodded and rubbed at Paine's arm. "How much longer do you need to stay here? Yunie was saying she'd show up after they were done breaking down and everything. We can wait with her and go over with Lai, he drove here."

Paine nodded. "We can wait for her, if you'd like. I'm done here."

Rikku nodded and sent Paine a little smirk. "Un fa lyh zicd ku rusa..."

"Mm." Paine chuckled and wrapped her arm around Rikku's waist. Nothing but mischief playing in her auburn eyes when she realized they were very much a lone. "C'mere."

##

"Back here?" Keira asked.

Yuna nodded. "Paine yes."

Keira nodded. "Thank you, uh.." She recognized the young woman but had yet to learn her name.

"Oh!" Yuna shook her head at herself and outstretched a make-up stained hand. "Yuna Shaw, Rikku and I are cousins."

Keira smiled. "Nice to meet you Yuna, this was amazing tonight. I almost didn't make it on time."

Yuna smiled. "All in a day's work. Let me know if you need anything else."

"Thank you." Keira turned back down the hall of tiny changing rooms for the models. Paine was the second on the right. She took a second to compose herself and then knocked.

There was some muffled noises then a very distinctly Paine voice. "Fuck off!"

"Paine." Another lighter voice scolded quietly.

"What? We're busy…." Some more noises were made. "Lai go away!"

"Bid ouin crend pylg uh, lnywo."

Paine came to the door a second later in nothing but her bra and her jeans. "I'll be out soon so chill ou—" She paused when she noticed she wasn't talking to Baralai, but her mother.

Keira raised an eyebrow. "I made it."

Paine's face paled a little before turning red. Keira wanted to laugh but as Rikku pushed her way out of the room with a darker blush she decided not to. "Hi. Bye." She mumbled before scurrying down the hall. Paine glanced down after her but then looked back to Keira.

AN: So…. Thoughts? :)

KathleenDee