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Reluctant Guardians

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"So, um... how'd you get to be Yunie's Guardian, anyway?" Rikku kicked her legs restlessly under the fallen log where she had alighted, peering sidelong at the reserved woman looming beside her.

They made a rather incongruous pair of sentries. The Al Bhed girl floated from perch to perch, a splash of orange in the dim flicker of the fire's embers, while the mage stood motionless, arms folded, all black shadows apart from her pale face and neck, just one more treetrunk at the fringe of the clearing. Of course, Rikku had not made the mistake of perching on Lulu.

Lulu was Scary.

Tidus had already told Rikku all about it this afternoon. But Rikku knew something Tidus didn't, so she wasn't really scared of any black mage, except the way you're extra-careful with a quirky machina that needs a tune-up. See, Lulu was cool. She'd shooed off that blitz player with just one word, invoked a "girls only" meeting, and curtly explained that Wakka would super-freak if he knew what she was, but Lulu didn't mind, because she knew about Yunie's mom and all.

"If you're here to help us look after Yuna, then that's fine."

Lulu didn't have to add the "but if not..." part, either. She had fixed Rikku with a stern look like Brother sometimes tried to pull off when he was bossing her around. Only Lulu wasn't trying to make herself look important. She was simply letting Rikku know in a friendly way that a mountain would fall on her head and squash her flat if she did anything to Yunie. Which was fair enough, although they might have a few arguments down the road about the best way to protect her.

"Well," Lulu said carefully, after one of those thoughtful silences that drove Rikku a little nuts, "I didn't actually want to be Yuna's Guardian. We tried to talk her out of it."

The Al Bhed pricked up her ears, trying to keep the quiver of hope out of her voice. She wasn't supposed to give away Pops' latest crazy scheme. "Really?"

The somber woman shook her head, gazing fondly towards the slim figure curled in the crook of Kimahri's arm close to the fire. "Yuna was adamant. We kept telling her that someone else would take care of Sin before she was old enough, but she said, 'I know... this is something I have to do.'" The older woman's voice lifted and softened in a very credible imitation of the young Summoner. The mage sighed. "So that was that."

Rikku stopped picking at the bark and slid down off the log, pacing. "So then you became her Guardian?"

"Yes and no. After she started her apprenticeship, I joined another Summoner's pilgrimage." Lulu hesitated before adding, "I had... hoped... I might save Yuna the trouble."

"But--?" Rikku prodded, and then her mouth formed an "O" as she put two and two together. The girl turned away and kicked at the ground irritably. "Oh. I'm sorry."

Lulu raised her head, calm and remote. "I was too inexperienced. So I trained for another year and watched Yuna's progress. When another Summoner sent word around to the temples that he was looking for a guide, I talked Wakka into coming along too. It was... difficult for both of us. Father Zuke turned back three quarters of the way to Zanarkand."

Rikku grinned a little in spite of the somber narrative; one of Lulu's understated pauses had hinted that Wakka, rather than their fickle Summoner, had been difficult. "Well, turning back isn't so bad. At least you were all okay! And now you know a lot more, so Yunie's got super-duper Guardians!"

Lulu gave a quiet chuckle. "I hope so." She gave Rikku a measuring look. "You do understand: as far as I know, Sir Auron is the only Guardian who's ever survived a successful pilgrimage."

Rikku could feel the color draining from her cheeks as those strange eyes fixed on her. "Yeah," she said dropping her gaze. "I know." How could Lulu be so calm about it? This was Yunie and all her friends she was talking about! "So, it's a good thing we have him with us, right?" the girl rallied, plopping down on a pack.

Lulu didn't smile, but there was a whisper of warmth in that dusky voice. Suddenly Rikku thought maybe she sounded just a little sad, as if it wasn't just Yunie she was feeling protective over. "Yuna is fortunate in her Guardians," she murmured. "We shall see."