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Whatever Happiness Looks Like

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Whatever Happiness Looks Like
by: mazziemay

When Rikku showed you That Sphere, the only thing that seemed to make any sense at all was to take off.

Something inside you broke - but not as in damage, no, more like… more like the sky broke open. A storm inside of you that had been looming for so long you no longer feared it finally made landfall on your heart, on your mind.

You had no idea you had suffered in drought. The rain - fat drops of longing, excitement, fear, joy, anger, hope - hit with a pat pat pat you could hear inside your head over the stuttering of your heart as you watched That Sphere. You flooded quickly, built for no runoff, these emotions making wide pools to stare back at you.

From the downpour, new things grew. Thoughts and feelings with a particularly desperate, hysterical edge to it - vivid things you wouldn’t have believed present in your nature, and your nature’s vast. You were abloom, mad, fierce, drunk on mystery.

You fled the downpour.

Then, of course, everything else happened after. The dresspheres, the Youth League and New Yevon, the terrible dreams, your dear and poor aeons, purifying Lenne, exorcising Shuyin, and, most importantly, destroying Vegnagun and saving Spira (again). Most most importantly, though, quietly, in your heart, never for anyone to hear, all of that lead to Him. Saying goodbye to Him.

Him?

Come on.

Say his name.

You said goodbye to…?

Tidus.

You said goodbye to Tidus. You told Tidus you love him and you’ll always remember him, always have a connection. You still feel that way. You still miss him, of course, but like with your father, the holes they leave in your life are not as wide but still just as deep.

You’re grateful it wasn’t Tidus on That Sphere. For good reasons, like he hadn’t become enraged and murderous, hadn’t become an Unsent that was bent on destroying Spira. For petty reasons, like he wasn’t on a rampage for the sake of another girl, hadn’t pledge himself to another summoner, a songstress he might have met in Zanarkand. The vivid greens and purples blooming inside you were marked through with brown, channels of water, ugly streambeds reminding you what lies beneath.

What a way to learn you are jealous person.

Jealous of a ghost, of all things.

Even though you went on this absurd adventure to see if it was Tidus (before you’re glad that it wasn’t), even though you missed him every day for two years, even though you wished there had been a way for him to stay, when the Fayth offered you the chance for him to be with you again, you paused.

You thought of everyone you ever lost: your father, kind, your mother, faded, Sir Auron, Sir Jecht - why Tidus?

You thought of Rikku and Brother and their brother, your cousin, killed protecting you at Home, and their mother, your aunt; Paine and her countless comrades too painful to name; Wakka and Lulu and Chappu; anyone who ever lost anybody - why you?

You thought of Shuyin, how he literally moved heaven and earth to be reunited with his love, was bending the cosmos in the name of revenge romance - and how very wrong it was.

You thought of Tidus, and how often he spoke of Zanarkand, how badly he wanted to go home. You remember that you believed deep down he wanted to reconcile with his father and you want to think that he has. That he rejoined his team and is adored by his fans, and has gotten to hug his mother. How could you possibly tear him away from that? For what? To come live on Besaid?

The entire journey had been filled with letting go and acceptance. Growing from pain, embracing it even. Learning to roll with life and loss of life and finding new happiness along the way. To take this gift, this unnatural gift would be a slap in the face to everyone who has learned to pick themselves up. You cannot do that to them, you will not do that to them.

“No,” you had said. You will not do that to yourself.

The Fayth had said nothing, only tilted its head with an indiscernible smile. Then it was gone.

Then Tidus whistled.

Because even though you wouldn’t call him back, you still wanted the chance to say goodbye.

So you did.

Tidus’ arm was ethereal as he held you from behind. There was no weight, there was nothing, but you believed he felt warm. He’s warm in your memories.

“It’s you.”

You surprised yourself a bit when you didn’t cry, though your voice wobbled a little. You didn’t tell him everything because there probably wasn’t enough time for that, but you did tell him the truth.

“You were with me the whole time. I kept thinking you would be, hoping. But you know, I’m not worried anymore. You will always have a place, here in my heart. We’ll always be connected.” And then, you repeated the most important truth of all:

“I love you.”

You saw the pyreflies flutter away after that. Because the visage came and went near identical to the last time as you ever saw him, and this happened on the Farplane, you worry that wasn’t him at all. But you don’t think about that. You said your piece and you want to believe Tidus heard you. So he did.

Simple as that.

#

That was nearly a year ago.

You’re half-retired from sphere hunting now. More than half-retired these days. You spend your time bouncing back and forth between Bevelle and Besaid, High Summoner to Lady Babysitter and back.

Your work in Bevelle may be more important, but being Aunt Yuna to Vidina is your proudest title. You are an absolute disaster of happiness around the little tyke, unable to decide between swelling with pride, bursting with joy or melting from his cuteness. He is your little man, your number one guy, and you are completely obsessed with monopolizing him whenever you’re on the island. You’re already devising plans to toddler proof your suite in Bevelle so you can start keeping him for extended stays when he’s just a touch bigger.

Lulu and Wakka don’t fight you too much on it. There have been a mild reminder or four about who the baby actually belongs to, but they’re open to having their hands freed up.

There’s, uhm.

Trouble in paradise. To say the least.

You would never have said anything to either of them, but your eyeballs about fell out of your head when you learned Lulu was pregnant and Wakka was the father.  When Rikku had asked if you knew they were ‘a thing’ you admitted you hadn’t a clue. Lulu is so deeply private and Wakka so easily embarrassed, you can’t bring yourself to ask.

Bless Rikku. Even if she’s a bit… heavy-handed at times.

“So~ Papa!”

“Huh?” Rikku has dragged him aboard the Celcius to ask about Blitz Ball equipment. You didn’t realize there is any onboard, but now that she has Wakka cornered in the cabin, you think there probably isn’t.

“What’s the deal with you and Mama, huh? Yunie said you guys are in different tents again? What’s up with that?” Having been outed for gossiping, you gasp lightly and drop your head.

“Ah? Ah…” Wakka scratches at the back of his neck. After a moment, “That’s how it’s gonna be from now on.” Rikku lets out a drawn out ‘whaaat’ while you sigh. “Lu an’ me… We were almost family once, an’ after we lost Chappu, we still felt like we were… even though we weren’t. It was a tough time, ya? We just wanted to… take care of each other. For his sake.”

“Uh?” Rikku taps her chin. “You guys had a baby for Chappu?”

“No!” Wakka throws his hands up. “No, no, no! I mean… No!” His sigh is heavy, dramatic, with all of him, and he sits on the bed. You sit next to him, a comforting pat on his leg. He smiles at you, grateful and tired.

He scrubs at the thick stubble on his chin. Well, it’s more of a beard now. When did that happen? “I put everyt’ing I had into pleasin’ Lu. After we stopped Yu Yevon an’ all that, I just… I didn’t know what else to do, ya? Even I can get somet’ing done when I focus on it.” Rikku plops down on the opposite bed. “I dunno when it got all turned around, ya? It started meanin’ somet’ing it didn’t. To both of us. An’ then… Vidina. Not that we regret him, though!”

You’re both quick to agree.

“Of course not.”

“Never!”

He blows out a breath. “Lu trusts me, an’ says we’ll face parenthood together, jus’ not… you know, together-together. Ya?”

“Aww,” Rikku moans with a deep frown.

You dip your head, sympathetic. “I’m sorry, Wakka.”

He waves his hand in admonishment. “Nah! Is better this way, ya? Don’t need that kind of tension around a baby. Their sensitive to that stuff.”

“They are?” Rikku asks.

“Ya. Been readin’ books on it.”

“You learned to read before Vidina?”

“Oi!”

You know he walked into that as Rikku set him up to, but the next little while is filled with laughter. The sky begins to change color, but when you and Rikku stand, Wakka remains seated. Both you girls sense he’s lagging behind on purpose and Rikku skedaddles like she doesn’t notice. You take the seat she had across from him.

You wait. If there has ever been any one thing you’ve learned from Wakka, it’s don’t push yourself. Sometimes you just gotta do things at your own pace and that’s okay. So, you wait. Whatever he has to say, you know he’ll work up to it on his own.

“Thanks, Yuna.”

“Oh?” You aren’t sure for what, but, “W-well, you’re welcome.”

He smiles, looking at his feet. “For takin’ the news ‘bout me an’ Lu so well. We haven’t made some big announcement or anyt’ing, but us living in different homes has got people talking an’ it’s not the nicest stuff, ya?” Your shoulders lift and your hands turn to fists. “Lu an’ me are the same in that we don’t care what anyone says ‘bout us, we just don’t want no one saying anyt’ing bad ‘bout the other. But Lu’s mayor, so, you know, it does matters what people think about her.”

“That makes me mad,” you tell him. It’s a sudden admission and he blinks at you. “I don’t like that.”

Wakka laughs. It’s a surprised bark, something probably much needed. “Lu said something pretty similar.” He grins at you. “Don’t worry about us, Yuna. We’ve been through worse, ya? We’ve got your support, that’s all that matters.”

#

Back in the village, Lulu follows up Wakka’s point.

“Most couples don’t split,” she says, brushing back braids. “Especially when a child’s involved.”

You sit on the floor with Vidina, who’s wobbling upright between your hovering hands. The home is filled with the warm scent of spiced curry, the sound of sizzling meat constant under your conversation.

“I had the audacity to have a child with my deceased fiancé's brother, out of wedlock, and now we’re not even staying together.” You coo at Vidina and he coos back as his mother is rather blithe about such a taboo thing on the island. “Of course I’m the talk of the town.”

”They liked you enough to make you mayor,” you remind her.

You can hear the wooden spoon being dragged against the pan. “That was before my indiscretions.” Point.

“Well, I think it’s a brave new world,” you say indignantly.

Hah.” It’s a dry sound. “Not that brave, Yuna.”

“And why not?” Vidina takes your hands, trying to toddle around the blanket some. “Everybody’s abandoning every tradition they can think of. It could be a race to the dark ages.”

That’s comes out a little more bitterly than you intend. You are, of course, thinking of Zanarkand when you say it. Your deeply personal memories there aside, the final resting place of countless summoners and guardians being, being… desecrated had being a chilling sight.

It’s not about the teachings of the temples. It was the disrespect. Shawls and bags hung on summer staves; people digging up ‘treasure’ - grave robbing, though you know that wasn’t Cid’s intention.

The only reason anyone is alive today is because of those sacrifices, even if they were built on lies. Respect them.

Isaaru.

Deep breath. Let it out. No one’s there anymore, and no one knows you incidentally chased everyone out with monkeys.

Lulu’s watching you over her shoulder and you flush and shrink, refocusing on Vidinia.

She lets you off the hook. “Matrimony existed before Yevon’s Teachings, you know.”

“You’re just finding other people to be... matrimonious with. So you’re doing it in a different order, so what?”

“You sound like Rikku.”

“So what?”

You both laugh. It’s comfortable after that, Lulu focusing on the rice and sauce, and you standing and walking Vidina around on the tops of your feet.

“Speaking of Rikku,” she asks, setting your plates down for dinner as you tuck Vidina into his high chair.

“Mm?”

“Where did she take off to?”

Vidina giggles at you when you poke his cheek and take a seat next to him. “Djose, I think.”

“Ah.”

#

After the destruction of Vegnagun, for reasons you aren’t party to, Nooj stepped down as mevyn to the Youth League, handing the reins to Captain Lucil - well, Mevyn Lucil now. You’re a pretty big fan of the idea. Even before he was possessed by Shuyin, Nooj struck you as a radical. In his hands, the Youth League was never going to be more than a rebellion; with Lucil at the helm, it can become the cause it wants to be. Praetor Baralai didn’t follow Nooj’s example, instead being the first to extend his congratulations to Lucil, by offering an immediate and transparent partnership.

Lucil agreed, but only if there was a neutral third party to keep them both honest. That’s what they told you and Gippal, anyway, when they invited you both to a summit.

Gippal left before they were done talking, a large, bellowing, ‘Nope’ echoing around the room as he went. Which left any and all hope, and disappointment, with you. Typical.

The Bevelle Underground is vast, dangerous, and full of terrible secrets. It will take both factions working together to slowly and safely dispel and deconstruct whatever has grown in the dark. And, as Baralai said, most members won’t trust one another. The information that is shared will need to come from a verified, neutral source.

Then they looked at you.

Maybe if they’d begged, like you had to do it, you could have told them no. Or if Gippal hadn’t taken off like a shot, you wouldn’t have felt entirely guilty for turning them down. But they didn’t. They just looked at you expectantly, in a brace-for-impact kind of way. What they expected was for you to turn them down as well, though probably in a far more polite fashion than Gippal had.

That cut you deep, for some reason. You’d grown weary of the world’s supposition. You were through with living up to everyone’s ideals. Projecting a certain ideology is exhausting and you’re over it. But never ever had you been presented with living down to someone’s expectations.

Yeah, sure, you were sick and tired of being Spira’s hope, and you’d been dodging that for a while, but what the heck? You don’t like that people are now assuming you will let them down.

It’s an ugly feeling.

So you agree - but only to part time!

They are relieved, grateful, and their smiles are kind. You’re glad Nooj stepped down, and just as glad Baralai didn’t.

The Machine Faction is still an integral part of this grand, daunting endeavor, though.

“Bikanel’s big,” Gippal had said later, waist deep in the guts of some machina. “Go pick a spot and pound sand, princess.”

He was speaking to Baralai, even though you were standing there too.

Enter Rikku. Gippal isn’t willing to travel between Bevelle, Djose and Bikanel, but she is. Mostly a glorified courier, Rikku bounces around as necessary to help you out. You’re incredibly grateful. Both the public and the faction members had a nearly uncomfortably positive reaction to the announcement of your acting liaison position. The less you have to interact with anyone you don’t already know, the less overwhelmed you feel. Besides, if you’re not traveling a ton, it’s not taking away from your time with Vidina.

Besides all of that, you don’t know how well you get along with Gippal. For all the tomb raiding and concert throwing you’ve done over the last little while, there’s a part of you that still cares a bit too much for propriety, and Gippal sure doesn’t. There’s definitely nothing wrong with him, he isn’t a bad person, but you don’t see you two become close anytime soon, if ever. He can be a cad, too sarcastic to be funny, dismissive, unfiltered - and some thoughts should remain thoughts!

You can see why Rikku and Paine get on with him, but he’s certainly not to your taste. Going over progress reports about deconstructing the machina and other tech found sleeping beneath Bevelle sounds like a bore to you, but with Gippal, it could be a real nightmare; he’d probably be difficult just to amuse himself.

You used to feel bad you two don’t seem to click, but the feeling appears to be mutual. Agree to agree that you don’t like each other.

You feel sorry for Rikku, being friends with you both. You don’t bring it up with her and hope Gippal doesn’t either (though you can’t imagine he does; he probably forgets you exist when you leave his line of sight).

You’re a little surprised she never says anything, though.

#

When you’re not an aunt or diplomat, you pretend to sphere hunt with Paine.

The crew of the Celcius has more or less aligned themselves with the Machine Faction. Sphere hunting has died down dramatically now that Truth has been labeled as a burden. Paine is even more adverse to politics than Gippal, and hides out on the Calm Lands.

You’ve never met anyone who tolerates getting grief less than Paine, so her working the gambling grounds as security is a fitting role (for now). There are plenty of places to explore around the scar and up Mt Gagazet still, so you two will venture there for small adventures. She teases you, calls you the Emmissary of Truth and is honored by your presence (how embarrassing!)

It’s always nice to say hello to Kimahri as well, when weather and his time allows for it.

You two stand in the shade of the travel agency. Paine nods in acknowledgement and you wave to Clasko; he’s showcasing some fine birds for private ownership. There will be an auction later tonight, it’s why you’re here: moral support. The rest of the Celcius, including Rikku, will be here later. It’s his first big show, and as is his fashion, Clasko is adorably nervous.

The sun’s setting, but you can still see he’s shiny with sweat.

“Poor Clasko,” you giggle.

“Mm,” Paine agrees. She sounds distracted. You tilt your head.

“Paine? Something the matter?”

She seems like she’s weighing something in her mind. You can tell she’s looking at Clasko, but you don’t know why. Finally, she blows out a nervous breath. You raise your eyebrows high in anticipation.

In a hushed voice, she says to you, “I think the little dweeb’s growing on me.”

A beat.

You gasp in understanding, your hands flying over your mouth.

“Zip it!” she snaps.

You will not! “Gosh! Really?!”

“No!” But then, “...Maybe.” Paine’s sigh is disgruntled. “I don’t know. He’s a wimp. Likes animals more than people. Blood makes him quesy. And he’ll tell you any of that.” She puts a hand on her hip, her other on her forehead. “He accepts who he is, but still knows how he wants to grow. He’s honest. He’s honest with himself, with other people. You know how many honest guys I’ve ever met? He even does honest work.”

As she speaks, your hands fall from your mouth, fingers lacing together and nestling under your chin. You smile and sway.

“He doesn’t flip me crap if I grab colored lip balm. I don’t know. I’m not one of the guys. I’m not one of the girls. I’m not one of his chocobos.” You laugh. “He just… The only time he treated me different was when I bought a chocobo mask for that festival we went to.”

Oh! “I remember that!” you say. Clasko was so stutter-clucked he never got a sentence out. He just stared at Paine all night, and walked into things. Curiously, “Did you do that on purpose?”

She doesn’t answer right away.

“You did!”

“Shut it!”

“Does Rikku know?”

Paine’s voice and stare are flat. “Are you kidding.”

You pout. “Come on. That’s not nice.”

“I’d like him to hear it from me, if he’s going to hear it from anyone.”

“Rikku can keep a secret,” you say.

Paine crosses her arms. “Since when?”

“Since… Well, mm.” She arches an eyebrow. You light up. “Wakka didn’t know she’s an Al Bhed!”

“That would be on Wakka.”

Fair. You nod your concedement to that. To this day you don’t know how Wakka loathed so much without even knowing what Al Bhed looked like. ‘Blind hate’ indeed. Alright, so you don’t have example immediately on hand -

“She never told Him that Summoners die at the end of their pilgrimage.”

You’re both surprised be your admission. You haven’t thought about that in a long time. You would rather not think about it for another long time. Paine, ever the sentinel, protects you from yourself again.

“I stand corrected, then,” she says easily. “Rikku can keep a secret.”

You nod, mutely.

Your mouth is grounded.

It can’t keep secrets, apparently.

#

You don’t go to the Calm Lands for a while after that.

You luck out, getting to pretend that it’s because you get busy and not because you’re too embarrassed to face Paine right now.

Not that you aren’t actually busy. The excavators have unearthed some nightmare treasure trove that requires pretty much a vigil of your presence while it’s torn apart. They’re calling it the Vault.

You think Rikku’s pushing herself too hard, and tell her so.

“You don’t have to carry so many things,” you tell her. You have your own suite in Bevelle. Rikku wouldn’t be comfortable with her own, and so she slumber parties with you whenever she has to stay the night.

“Huh? I barely carry anything, Yunie.” You point to the crook of her neck, flashes of skin revealed when her hair is flipped out of the way as she brushes it.

“I can see bruises, Rikku.” She freezes, hair falling around the marks. They look kind of small, but you’re sure if you got to look at them longer, they’d be bigger. “I know you’re putting stuff on your shoulders.”

Your cousin hunches said shoulders with a nervous laughter.

“The Youth League and Machine Faction are supposed to be doing the manual labor.” If Gippal has her doing heavy lifting, you’re going to be ticked off. Stiffly dropping the brush, Rikku awkwardly pulls back the covers on the overly made cot and weirdly tucks herself into the bed. You watch her lame attempt to conceal the marks. You’ve already seen them; who is she trying to fool?

“Just be careful, alright?”

“Yup, yup, so careful, totally careful, the most careful, you got it, Yunie!” The words are rapid and in forced cheer. She thrusts a stiff arm and thumbs up into the air. “Message received loud and clear! Love you, Yunie, goodnight!”

Rikku then promptly rolls away from you - fake… snoring?

You stare at her dumbly for a moment, before shrugging slightly and turning off the light to go to sleep yourself.

#

“I think we’re out of midnight oil to burn.”

“That’s fine,” you say, though it comes out oblong under a yawn. “It’s long past midnight.”

Baralai laughs. From the floor. You two are holed up in the Praetor’s office, going over this month’s results for the third time. It’s protocol to give the item counts several passes before submitting them to the League, so you can say with all confidence the findings are right to the best of your knowledge. This month’s numbers are especially awful because of the discovery of the Vault. The contents are many, and will spill into next month, maybe the month after next.

Baralai lays on his back, an arm under his head, folder propped on his stomach. Your are curled up in his massive chair behind his more massive desk. To be honest, you haven’t been reading for a while; the numbers and letters on the graphs and spreadsheets devolved into nothing but colors and shapes hours ago.

He sighs heavily and you hum in agreement, eyes threatening to close.

“What time is it?” you murmur sleepily.

“Unholy,” he groans, sitting up with great effort. You straighten as well. “You know,” he says, resting the hand holding the file on his knee. “I think the good mevyn got going before the going got tough.”

You chuckle. “She did!” Lucil had excused herself hours ago. League business, neither of you had asked further. “We’ll need a permission slip next time.”

“Good idea,” he grins.

You think you judged Baralai too harshly. You know you did. He’s formal, but not archaic or stuffy. You think of the trees in Besaid; all the regiment, stiff trunks break in the storms. The flexibles ones with all the give, those are the ones that survive the winds and monsoons. That’s the kind of person Baralai reminds you of.

“She might just sign it herself, though.”

You nod. “Mm. Make it so Nooj has to sign it.”

“There’s an idea,” he says. “Tenure. She’d have to find him first, though.”

“Lucil doesn’t know where he is?” That surprises you. “You don’t know?”

He shrugs with one shoulder, uncommitted. “I could guess. So might the Mevyn, probably. We both suspect Nooj’s leading days are done, however.” The news has jolted you awake, some. Your back aches and your eyes are dry, but you can’t sleep now. Sensing your sudden alertness, Baralai flips the clasp of the folder closed and sets the whole thing aside.

“You likely wouldn’t know this about him, with everything that’s happened, but Nooj knows when to leave well enough alone.” You suspect you look as incredulous as you feel and he chuckles. “He does!” Baralai insists. “He really does. Personal responsibility is something Nooj takes seriously. At this point, he thought he could only do more harm than good.” Baralai leans his weight on his arms, his palms flat. “He thought if the League stayed under his leadership, he’d just keep trying to correct it to death, instead of moving forward.”

You’d rather Lucil be mevyn simply because she is amazing, but you must admit Nooj having the ability to both recognize that he’s no longer fit for the role, and how fit for the role Lucil is, deserves some credit. There is a part of you that feels bad for him. You really only knew him at his worst, and spoke to his more abrasive members first (like the sore and spiteful Beclem), so his image was rather soiled for you from the start.

You can appreciate the concept of the Youth League, but the methods, message and ideology under his leadership did not sit well with you - and that was well before Shuyin took over his body and mind. Still, you aren’t entirely without sympathy. To have his dream corrupted must have been crushing.

At least he found a way for it to go on, in a better way, in Lucil.

“But you don’t see yourself that way, Praetor?”

“I believe you’ve mispronounced ‘princess’.”

Baralai.”

“I much prefer that,” he admits warmly, and you tell yourself it’s the late hour that drops your eyes to your hands.

#

Rikku squeals happily, her tower of shaved ice valiantly keeping shape as she waves her arms around.

“I’m so excited you got a boyfriend!”

“Reel it in, Rikku,” Paine says, hunched over her own dyed cone treat. “We haven’t had the bee-eff, gee-eff talk yet.”

“Oo, yet! Did ya hear that, Yunie?” Rikku nudges your shoulder with her elbow for emphasis. “Yet! Aa!” she sighs dramatically, settling onto the bench next to you. “Our own Dr P, all grown. We’ll be giving her away before we know it.”

“You could certainly stand to grow up.”

“Hey!”

You laugh.

Keeping up with its promises of transparency and keeping New Yevon to it, the League held a large address at Luca earlier today, with you as the speaker. ‘You could tell the people a machina that shoots a shoopuf laser was found and they’d believe you, specifically because you said it.’ That’s what Elma had said. You said that’s too much trust to have in one person. It’s that kind of trust that got Spira in trouble to begin with.

‘Yeah, well,’ is all Elma had said.

That being said, the release went fine. All you had to do was read the results, and a representative from the Machine Faction fielded all the technical question. There was a fluff piece after and, as usual, Shelinda tossed you nothing but softballs.

“I’m happy for you, though,” you say. Rikku hums her agreement, mouth full of red ice. You think about what you said to Lulu nearly months ago now, about unconventional couples and it being a brave new world.

You smile at Paine from across the picnic table.

“Whatever you and Clasko decide to do, I think it’s sweet. As long as you’re both there for each other, and bring each other comfort, I don’t care if you have the bee-eff, gee-eff talk or not.” You hold up your blueberry ice in a toast.

“To your happiness, however it comes! To whomever with!”

Paine blinks. In fact, both your friends are stunned. You don’t waver, though. You keep that cone up high and proud. Paine recovers first. With an impressed scoff and a shake of her head, she lifts her lemon-lime ice.

“However it comes. To whomever with.”

You two share a smile before turning towards Rikku. Her lips are overly red with flavoring, her expression unreadable as she stares at you. It’s a hesitance you don’t associate with her. You give her an encouraging nod, a ‘join us’ gesture. Her face stays blank for a moment more before breaking out into that trademark sunshine grin and grabbing your toasting hand to force it even higher than hers and Paine’s.

“However it comes, and whomever it’s with! Yeah!”

#

Vidina calls you Oon and you feel a mighty need to lay down and cry for the rest of eternity, you don’t think you’ve ever been so happy.

Lulu laughs at you.

“Your motherhood will be a trial.” You can’t argue with that. “That’s a long while from now, though.” You can’t argue with that, either.

You definitely want a family someday - the way you fall to pieces over every completely pointless thing Vidina does tells you that. You definitely aren’t ready right now, though. Maturity level aside, you remember having a parent steeped in responsibility and greatness. You hope to at least be done with your liaison position before you have children. You remember the first seven years of your life in Bevelle.

You won’t be repeating your father’s choice.

“I wouldn’t call it a choice, Yuna.”

You and Lulu sit beneath an umbrella on the sand. Baralai and Rikku staged a break out for a much needed day off, and you’re spending it on the beach. Wakka has Vidina at the shore line, scooping the squealing baby up when the waves come in.

“They looked down on him. Her.” You. “We could have lived anywhere, but he wanted to make a point.”

You’re not disparaging your father by any means; you adore and respect him, and Lulu knows that. Still, it was… exhausting that everything had to be a cause with him. He truly loved your mother, but of course he would fall in love with an Al Bhed woman. Wakka once told you about the idea he has in his head, of his parents who died before he and Chappu could know them, and about the sphere of them Chappu spitefully hid. Truth be told, you think Chappu likely made up the existence of the sphere just to have the upperhand, though that’s neither here nor there…

Wakka had said he didn’t want to see the sphere, worried their real parents wouldn’t live up to the perfect idea in his head. Such a thing never occured to you, in regards to your own mother. Your memories of her are blurry and out of focus, like you know she was there but she’s just out of frame? It’s hard to explain.

It makes you nervous, to have a child of your own. You have so little to go on.

“It takes a village,” Lulu says airily.

“You say it so easily,” you grumble, hugging your knees.

“It’s the truth.” She never takes her eyes of father and son. “Besaid Village raised you, didn’t it?”

“...Maybe.”

Yes,” she chides. “You’re helping Wakka and I with Vidina. You haven’t been alone for a long time now. You won’t be alone, Yuna, when the time comes for that, either.”

Wakka’s voice carries up the beach, Vidina’s laughter familiar.

“He laughs like Chappu,” you murmur.

“He does,” is all she says.

#

“You don’t want to do anything for your birthday?”

A frightening storm has placed two entire dig zones into lockdown. Rikku has taken on a great deal of responsibility as far as the Machine Faction’s role in the Underground’s demolition goes, as Gippal deals with the destruction in Bikanel. Rikku says she’ll tell you later, and you know it’s bad. You hear fearful whispers in Al Bhed; you catch words like ‘fatalities,’ ‘missing,’ ‘wiped out’.

Death has been a large facet of your life, from losing your parents, to Sin attacks, to the pilgrimage and after. Still, having to tell somebody their loved one has died… That is piece of leadership you don’t know if you could ever handle and definitely not for long. As terrible as this time is, you respect him a little more for being able to do it.

You’ve brought the reports and findings to Rikku at Djose, where she’s stayed to ease Gippal’s workload. She looks tired and he looks exhausted. He doesn’t even have the energy for your mutual impoliteness, and you show sympathy by keeping out of his way. That isn’t hard; he barely leaves the upper floors of the temple.

“I do, but I don’t?” You’re standing in the records room off the foyer, the cleric notarizing this most recent batch of papers you’ve brought by. The weather’s turning this time of year along the rocks (it’s absolutely deadly on Gagazat), and you both have on long leggings and big, puffy sleeves. Though Rikku’s knit sweater is cropped with a wide neck. ‘It gets way warm in the engine rooms,’ she said when you gave her a look.

You stuff your hands up the others’ sleeves. “I feel like asking everyone to make time is asking a lot right now,” you say. “I’d be fine with something small, but I don’t want anyone to feel left out. But if I keep trying not to leave anyone out, it gets big, and if it gets big, then we have to coordinate schedules. And then we have to ask people to take time off.”

Rikku scrunches her nose. “Yunie. You’ve been going to too many peace summits. You shouldn’t be so worried about snubbing someone. It’s a birthday party .”

“That dangers of high society living.”

You both turn towards Gippal. He abandoned his shoulder pads and pleats some time ago, as they got in the way of crawling both into and underneath machines. Like Rikku and many Al Bhed, he still favors open collars.

“If Rikku isn’t too busy laying on coals for you, I need her real quick.”

You click your tongue. You haven’t even said anything to him this visit!

“Gippal, come on…” Rikku looks between you two. She never seems to know what to do when this happens. She’s usually a fenrir when it comes people at odds with you: ferociously at your defense. Over time, though, she’s developed a hesitance at intervening when you and Gippal butt heads. You used to think you were being weirdly out of line and weren’t noticing it, and Rikku was just letting him fight his own battles, as he is clearly capable of doing.

You think it’s something else now. You don’t know what. But it’s something else.

Your business isn’t done here, so you’ll wait in the office. “Don’t work her into the ground,” you warn.

His one eye looks down his nose at you. “Wanna do it yourself?”

“Guys!” Rikku whines at you both as you rear up.

There was nothing malicious or challenging about his tone - in fact, there usually isn’t. That’s kind of the problem, for you. He says these barbous, insulting things in these really dismissive, blithe ways. Gippal is very glib, about things you take very seriously, things you take very personally, and he knows you take issue with it.

“L'suh. Damm sa fryd oui haat,” she says to him. It’s quiet, almost a gentle urge. You think he might be feeling worse than you realize, not that that excuses his ever present attitude. To you, she says, “I’ll find you in a bit, Yunie.”

“Do,” is all you say.

They leave.

A second later, someone else opens the door, holds it open for a man with a box.

For just that moment, through the open door and between the passersby, you can see the corner of the stairs, where Gippal hooks his fingers into the waistband of her leggings and pulls Rikku close, her arms go out of view, presumably around his neck, his other hand coming around her waist -

- and then the door closes.

#

“Damn.”

You came up with some lame excuse about having to leave in a hastily written note and made for the Calm Lands and Paine.

You’re now at the ranch. You made good time. Buddy would be impressed. Clasko is spreading his specially made dinner time feed around the birds’ troughs, and you and Paine are standing in a row of already fed chocobo. Your arms are folded atop the door of one stall, while Paine leans her back against another with her elbows placed over the door.

“I know what I saw,” you insist.

“I believe you,” she agrees.

You look over at her, eyebrows nearly to your hairline. “You aren’t surprised?”

“Rikku and Gippal? Nah.” It’s a slight gesture because of her pose, but Paine shrugs one shoulder. “She seemed like she was crushing on him pretty bad the first time I saw them talk.” Well. This is news to you. “After a while, I thought he seemed open to it. This working together all the time stuff gave them opportunity when they already had motive. Boom.”

“That’s for crime, Paine.”

She looks at you. “Are you saying they didn’t commit one?”

You look down at the straw on the stable floor. “I don’t know if hurt feelings is a crime.” You sigh, feeling a little small.

Paine lets out a low whistle. “You weren’t kidding, when you said Rikku could keep a secret.”

“I thought you weren’t surprised,” you mumble against your arm.

“About them being into each other. The already being together?” She shakes her head. “That I didn’t know.”

You rest your cheek against your forearm, looking at her. “Why do you think he didn’t tell you?”

She smirks. “That’s not much of a mystery. Loyalty.”

“Loyalty?”

Paine looks over at you. “Remember when he didn’t admit to knowing me when you met him?” You nod. “Because at the time, he was more loyal to me than he was to you or Rikku.”

“I don’t know if I believe that,” you tell her honestly, doubt clear on your face. “More loyal to you than Rikku?”

“She wasn’t his girlfriend at the time.”

Fair. You concede with a little nod. Neither of you say anything for a while after that. Girlfriend. She’s his girlfriend. Probably. You think about that day in Luca when she was so thrilled for Paine to be in a relationship, and then when she got all weird when you wanted them to be happy with whoever. Was she his girlfriend then? Is that why she was weird? If so, why would that make it weird?

Clasko finishes his rounds. You and Paine insist on helping him carry his empty feed buckets back to his equipment shed. He tells you girls to go on ahead while he stays at the shed to rinse the buckets out. You can’t help but smile, watching Paine wipe at a smudge of gyshal green on his forehead before heading out.

He and you wave at one another - “Good night, Lady Yuna,” - before you and Paine depart.

“Loyalty,” you wonder out loud. “Rikku’s loyal to us. Why wouldn’t she tell us?”

Paine shakes her head.

“I’d think more about her loyalty to you.”

#

“Hm.”

You are trapped, once again, in Bevelle. You’re thankful that this time the hour is more reasonable, and that you two are proofreading in the temple solarium.

You two.

Lucil is in Kilika. At first you were suspicious of how she’s always found herself absent for the wordier documents, but really, what limited traveling you do is exhausting; you don’t envy the mevyn’s near constant state of being abroad. The last time you spoke with Lucil, she was debating on not renewing the lease on her apartment, that’s how often she isn’t home.

That must have been a tremendous strain on Nooj.

You and Baralai share a couch with a seat open between you, files and binders spread out across a low table. The work is long abandoned, however. He had commented that you seemed distracted and asked if something was troubling you. Apparently that’s all it takes these days and you told him everything about Rikku and Gippal, and how you’ve been avoiding her a week. You justify this by saying that he’s friends with Gippal.

You are a gossip and a bad cousin.

You say so, groan it into your palms, head face down in your hands.

“It seems no trouble in Spira is too small to be addressed by Lady Yuna.” You lift your head only enough to look at him pitifully over your fingers. He smiles at you with sympathy. “If I may, what part of the secret is troubling you?”

Your brow furrows. Sorry?

“Ah, let me clarify.” He shifts forward on the couch. “Is it that Rikku’s secret lover is Gippal? That she has a secret lover at all? That she’s able to conceal such a large aspect of her life from you?”

Oh. You sit up, shaking your head. “No. No, that’s not it.”

“Then what is it?”

“It’s...” You push yourself up, standing, hands coming together as you pace. “I don’t get along with Gippal, but that’s why he’s not my boyfriend! She can date whoever, as long as they’re good to each other. She’s her own person, she has own life!” Baralai watches your quick movements. It’s clear to you both you’re still working this out. “She doesn’t have to tell me everything, of course! And, I mean…! Anyone can have secrets, I think? But this shouldn’t be one them, you know?”

You stop pacing, look at him. “Well?”

He clearly didn’t realize that wasn’t rhetorical. “O-oh, yes?”

You begin to pace again. “And, you know, the last people I knew who got together and didn’t tell anyone? They had a baby on accident and now they’re not together anymore and things are tense.”

“Oh dear.”

“Yes! Oh dear!” You sigh heavily as you fall back into your seat. Suddenly, you know what it is. You know what it is that’s worrying you about this whole thing. You turn to Baralai, and he gives a bit of a start at whatever expression you’re making. Maybe it’s just because it’s late and you’re hungry.

“I’ve seen how Rikku is, whenever other people fall in love,” you say softly. You tell Baralai about it. About how she screams and squeals and waves her arms. How she teases them, and sighs, and makes up nicknames by pushing their names together. “She calls Paine and Clasko ‘Plasko’.” Despite the moment, Baralai has to swallow a laugh. You and Tidus were ‘Tuna’.

“But it doesn’t look she’s done any of that for her and Gippal,” he finishes, following your train of thought.

“No,” and it’s pretty much said in defeat.

“And you haven’t just asked her?” It comes as an easy scold, something you’d expect from Sir Auron or Tidus.

‘You could just ask her, Yuna.’

‘Ah, just ask her already!’

You shake your head. Baralai nods in considering. “Well, I think I may be able to shed some light on that aspect, at least.” You lift your eyes to his, a hopeful, confused tilt to your head. “I can’t say I know Rikku all that well, but I do know Gippal. I know he’s taking the loss of the Southern Expanse camp very hard, like everyone within the Faction. Outside the Faction.”

You nod solemnly. They are incredibly rare on Bikanel because of how dry the island is, but with the unusually cold air flow passing over the hot desert, a tornado was produced. It’d been mistaken for only a tropical storm, and the muddy, rain-wrapped tornado was upon the camp before anyone had a chance. The tents and hovers offered no protection, all of four survivors from the entire camp, and you didn’t read the rest damage report. It’s still being updated anyway.

With the sand drying and the wind blowing it out of the way, they’re still finding victims and debris.

The storm, sans-tornado thankfully, continued west. Only medium damage there, and few inuries.

“Now isn’t the time for waving arms and squeals and… Rippal .” He says it lightly, and you feel bashful and a little silly. “I believe their relationship was casually inclined before.”

“I know they’re friends,” you say.

Baralai’s ears tinge pink. “No, ah. Mm.” He nervously runs his hand over his knee. You just watch him. “What I mean, Lady Yuna, is… Their relationship was more rooted in, uhm…” Oh. The blush is showing through his dark cheeks. “Physical intimacy.”

“Oh.”

A beat.

Oh!”

Your hands fly to your mouth, thinking of the bruises on her neck and her bizarre behavior regarding them. They were - he was - they - oo!

Rikku,” you chastise against your palms, embarrassed and annoyed. Brave new world. Brave new world.

Baralai clears his throat. “I was the one delivering such documents,” he gestures to the table, “to the Faction on behalf of the Temple, when you were unavailable. I saw her with him often.”

A light goes off in your mind. “Is that where she got the idea to courier for us?”

He says nothing, but his shrug is guilty enough. You groan. You suppose the inspiration shouldn’t matter. If her intention is to give her an excuse to spend time with you and Gippal under the guise of helping, while actually helping, then, well.

“I don’t know much more than that,” Baralai tells you, placing his hands in his lap. “But knowing him, and knowing how much he likes to coast? Gippal was likely just fine with the way things were between him and Rikku. Until that terrible storm.” You follow his easy stare beyond the glass, out into the starry dark. “He’s candid and unfiltered, but also selectively private. I wouldn’t at all be surprised if he sent everyone away but her. However he grieved the loss of his people, it was for her eyes only, Lady Yuna.”

He looks at you then. There is a simple kindness in the explanation he gives of his friend, and it’s something you like. You like the way he talks about his friends, about others, about anything really. You’re pretty sure you envy his natural talent of acceptance. ‘One thing at a time,’ mm?

You give him a small, closed-lip smile, but lace your fingers over your knee. “That might be why she didn’t celebrate it,” you say. “But I still don’t know why Rikku never mentioned it at all.”

“You’ve got me there,” he admits. “I am but a Praetor; I hope for miracles, I don’t grant them.”

You laugh.

#

Forty-six.

Forty-six people were killed by the tornado. Cid and Rin have orchestrated a large outdoor… Mm. You don’t want to call it a vigil, but. Wake? A gathering along the cliffside boarding the Mi’ihen Highroad near one of Rin’s travel agencies. Your uncle may no longer have a Home to preside over, but he stepped up quickly when news of the storm spread to the mainland. Rin, of course, made himself and his assets available in a hurry. Mi’ihen offers the most open space.

And there’s no arguing with the view.

Hundreds of people, and not just Al Bhed, have turned out for this, and the show of compassion has tightened your throat twice today already.

You summoner instinct is to wonder a bit about the burials, but you’ll leave that to the senders. Not that you think Cid hired any. Not that you think he needed to. Fiends grow from angry, scared, resentful deaths. While what happened in the Southern Expanse was terrible, everyone died too fast to know it was going to be terrible; you’re certain all of them were gone before they realized what was really happening, and however somber it might be, you’re glad for it.

The speeches are given in Al Bhed, something you can only somewhat follow along with, but that’s alright. Rin gives a brief welcome, then Cid, followed by Nhadala and Gippal and some other Machine Faction higher ups you don’t know. Rikku and Brother are near the stage as well, though you aren’t sure if they’re there as Faction members or Cid’s children. Maybe both. Neither sibling speaks.

Without further adieu, the festivities start.

The Al Bhed have always been more focused on celebrating someone’s life over mourning their death, and you weave your way through the crowds beneath the strings of lights hung between the statues and the rocks. It’s not exactly a party out there, but you’ll hide out in the travel agency all the same.

It seems you aren’t alone in that idea.

The clerk is absent, and perched at the far end of the counter is Rikku, her legs criss-crossed where she sits. You know it’s her, from all her hair, but most of her is hidden by Gippal’s frame, who’s stepped right up to the counter, one palm flat by her thigh, the other down her back, well below her waist; her fingers are pulling on his shirt and he squeezes her -

You gasp and duck your head.

Rikku shrieks your name in confusion and you wince because it sounds like she just shoved Gippal into a magazine rack.

“Luimt pahlr bnacc y cruubiv,” he grumbles.

Rikku doesn’t care. “Yunie!” she scrambles over. “YunieYunieYunie! It was nothing! Nothing was happening!” She grabs you by either side of your head, forces you to look into her panicked eyes. “Noth. Ing.”

You flinch your lips. You don’t know about that.

“Do I look happy to you, Miss Celebrity?”

Head still in Rikku’s trembling hands, you roll your eyes over to where Gippal is still attempting to detach himself from from the wire rack that’s latched onto his shirt. He pauses to give you a flat stare with his eye. “I do not. So no.” He gestures out with his free arm. “Nothing happened.”

“We make it a point to be unhappy in the same room together,” you remind him.

“Fair,” Gippal admits with a lifted tone. He returns to trying to rescue his sleeve. “That being said, unrelated unhappiness.”

Obviously: you’re at a mass wake. You don’t say that, of course.

Rikku wimpers. With a small puff and smile, you take her hands in yours, pulling them from your cheeks but not letting them go. You give them a comforting squeeze with an encouraging nod of your head. She can be a little flighty. You don’t want her spooked. If you can keep from running out of the room after walking in on… that… you hope you can keep her here to finally talk.

You think you’ve avoided each other long enough.

The easing moment is immediately over, interrupted by an Al Bhed swear and tearing fabric. Gippal’s arm is free, it would seem, at a cost.

“You ladies powwow,” he says, sauntering past, heading for the door. “Get me another shirt from our room, would ya?”

Your room?” you prompt, now alone, and Rikku winces. You tut gently. “I’m trying to give you an opening, Rikku.”

“I know,” she mumbles, head hanging. “Just feels like if Paine were here, I’d be losing respect points.”

“If Paine were here, you’d be in the negative.”

“Yunie!” She palms at her eyes. “Don’t say it!”

You laugh against your hand. “The truth?”

“Sheesh! When’d you get so harsh?” she pouts.

Hands on your hips, you arch your eyebrows. “The same time you started making out on counter tops?”

Rikku’s spiraled eyes pop out at you. She thrusts her arms forward, waving her hands in your face, like she can wipe the words out of the air with some invisible erasers. “Don’t talk like that! That’s not what happened!” You are not convinced. “It wasn’t!” she insists. “Really! Seriously. We were just talking.”

You purse your lips. You’re not very experienced, but you’re not ignorant.

Rikku brings her hands in, one palm to her chin, one to the other’s wrist. “Really really, Yuna. Me and Gippal just get all close and -”

“Handsy?” you offer.

Yes,” she hisses. “Close and handsy when we talk sometimes. When did you even learn a word like ‘handsy’, huh? What are they teaching you in Bevelle?”

You fold your arms across your chest, leaning in to erase the already invisible inch of difference between your heights. “Probably ‘Rikku Got A Secret Boyfriend’ o’clock.” You know you’re pretty much reusing the ‘time’ line you just made, and in the span of minutes, but you’re really proud of it, and this version is better than the first.

With an awkward, guilty laugh, Rikku scratches at her cheek. “You gotta show me where you get your clocks.”

You shift your weight, waiting.

Rikku sighs. Well, that didn’t take long. As she reaches across the top of her head to sweep her hair back, you wonder how much longer she’ll let it get. During your pilgrimage, she often commented on how cool she thought Lulu’s hair was. She only has a little ways to go, now, if she wants to match that length.

After you left the Gullwings, Brother, like many sphere hunters, decided spheres can be more trouble than they’re worth and stepped out of the business. Paine left, and the Celcius threw in with the Machine Faction. Officially: to play to their strengths; though mostly for Brother to socialize, and Buddy and Shinra to get their hands dirty again. The three big players may have been setting aside their politics, good for Spira, but for the Al Bhed it was really just opening up huge opportunities for machinists to explore and expand on some wild tech.

So with you mostly wrapped up with baby Vidina or locked in a tower on high in Bevelle, Rikku tried to find something to do when the Celcius was docked. Usually at Djose, because that’s where the hustle bustles.

She can be easily excited and even a klutz, but you’ll never doubt Rikku’s skills as a chemist or an engineer. From budget grenades to pantry elixirs, Rikku has jerry rigged and concocted things on the fly that determined whether or not you continued your pilgrimage with one less guardian - or at all. If she got any kind of special treatment for being Cid’s Girl, it was that Gippal dumped more work on her than anyone else.

It kept her there late, often, and with Gippal.

“Which, was, you know, whatever,” she says. You two have sprawled out on the bed in her and Gippal’s room after helping yourselves to the normally guarded snack bar. Their fault for leaving it unattended, really. “You can’t hear anything over the machina.”

And not just in the engine and repair rooms. Even on the ground floor in the records room, you can still hear the drills and grinding through the walls, and the lightning and cracking boulders outside. In Gippal’s office, he’d have the sound system blaring. That, you already know. You can hear the shrill guitar riff from down in the lobby and you don’t know how he gets any work done in there.

Then he started turning the music down, leaving his door open while she worked; eventually turning it off altogether and taking a seat near her station to read his reports.

“Then it was ‘I’m hungry, what’d’you want?’ and ‘You’re closer, you pick the music.’ He never lets anybody pick the music. It’s ‘you touch that dial and you’ll have as many hands as I have eyes,’ you know?” You fold and crease your empty chip bag into a thin tube. Rikku is both shy and giddy as she speaks, it’s cute, you wish you weren’t hearing this story so long after it happened.

“Then I, uh. One night I told him it was kind of late for me to walk back to the ship.”

You tilt your head. “It was?”

“Nope.” She pops the ‘p’ and smiles, ducking her head. “I just decided that was the night it was too late. He asked if I was alright staying there by myself, and I said uh-uh. ” It takes you a second, but then you slowly tip your head up in understanding.

“I see!”

“So…! So, yeah. That’s where that,” and she waves her hand around, a non-committed gesture to Something, “started.”

You lift your rolled chip bag and tap the back of her hand with it. “You could have told me about it then, you know.”

Rikku wrinkles her nose. “Could not.”

“You could have told me you started seeing Gippal.”

“Negative, Yunie, come on.” Her look is apologetic and pleading. “I couldn’t tell anybody we were…” and uses the same hand gesture again, “Staying the night at his office sometimes.”

Despite yourself, you grimace a bit. Ee. Yeah. That may have been a hard sell at the time. Especially with Wakka and Lulu’s romance having deteriorated by then.

“See? See?!”

“Yes. Alright,” you concede. And then, “...His office?”

Rikku drops her head to the mattress, her forehead thumping when it connects. “Only the first couple times,” is her shameful, muffled assurance. Turning her head to look up at you from the corner of her eye, “We’re at his place now.”

You remember what Baralai said, about the Bikanel tragedy being what pushed them out of what was likely a safe, fun and physical arrangement, into a riskier but emotionally supportive relationship.

“Gippal needed more than a friend, after the storms, didn’t he?”

She’s clearly surprised by your guess, but roles onto her side to tell you about it. It lacks the detail the earlier story held, and you think she’s protecting Gippal’s privacy. You don’t mind that at all. When the storm had been confirmed to pass but there was no communication with the camp, other dig sites sent excavators to check on it, and that’s when reports of the devastation started coming in. It was a long, horrible night, that was only going to pale in comparison to the next day - sunlight would reveal the true level of drustruction.

It got to the point where all they could do was wait for sun up.

“It was a rough couple of hours,” is all Rikku says.

You know he isn’t, but you think maybe Baralai should be a betting man. He certainly knows how to call it.

She went with Gippal to both assess the damage and assist in rescue efforts, but by the time they got there, it was pretty clear anyone that could be saved already had been. Before they came back to the mainland, she and him had been standing outside the loading zone, exhausted, bloodshot and bleary-eyed, when he kissed her. It was the first time he’d done so beyond closed doors, even if no one was looking.

‘Wouldn’t be much of an upgrade,’ he said. ‘Hell, you might even think it’s a downgrade. But how opposed would you be to shifting from Cid’s Girl to My Girl?’

If Gippal weren’t one of the more blithe, heavy-handed, unapologetic, sarcastic techno-jocks you know, that might melt your heart. It almost does anyway.

“I know, right?” Rikku sighs. Her hands are tucked beneath her head, dreamy smile on her face. “Anyway,” her delivery becomes flippant and flat, lifting a hand and flipping it this way and that. “I told him I wasn’t joining his harem. He said he was flattered I thought he had one. I said I was serious. He said so was he. Once I was super sure Nhadala or whoever didn’t get the My Girl line, I was completely in.”

How would they get the My Girl line? She’s Cid’s only daughter.

”I dunno! He’s really smooth, okay?!”

You double poke her with your chip bag.

“Hey!” she whines.

“You definitely could have told me about that!”

“Uh-uh! Not a chance!”

Wha - why the heck not?

Head still on her hand, her eyes slid towards the comforter, lids drooping. “I dunno.” Rikku. “No, I mean…” She sighs and scrunches her eyes tight.

“I dunno know how to be with a guy in front of you.”

A beat.

You’re so stunned, you sway. Her words, the meaning behind them, press against you, the weight of them a physical force.

“Rikku?” Her name comes out confused, as if you’re asking if she’s there. You’re looking right at her, but you’re not sure.

She takes a deep breath, letting it out in a rush of words, racing to get past her teeth. Stumbling over each other, like they’re trying to outrun something inside of her.

“You had the most epic romance, and with a really great guy, and then He died - kind of? Went back to His super awesome home where He’s famous and stuff - and whatever, He left, right? And that hurt you so bad, Yunie. You know?” She peeks at you with one eye, her frown deep and wobbling. “It hurt you so bad, you totally flipped your lid at the chance of Him even being on a sphere, and you went clingy jealous girlfriend and started yelling on the airship just ‘cause you thought maybe He mentioned another girl, and -”

You remember.

‘Who the heck is Lenne?!’

Ugh.

It’s now your turn to blush scarlet and lay face down in shame.

“- And you’ve seemed cool over the last, year and some change now, but it’d been almost two years when you saw that sphere of Shuyin and went bonkers in the name of love, so -” she takes a large gasp for air, finishing pathetically, “I don’t want set you off again?”

You hold up your index finger before turning your head to look at her. “First of all, I thought He was back from Zanarkand. That is a much larger priority than an ‘epic romance.’” Which may be true, but from the look Rikku’s giving you, you both know it’s something that occurred to you long after you saw that sphere. “Second, it didn’t bother you any when Paine told us about her and Clasko.” That is a very real point.

“That’s different,” she says. Her voice is getting small again.

“Why is that different?”

“Because.” Because why? “Because Paine wasn’t there… before.”

You push your bangs out of your eyes some, trying to understand. “Because Paine didn’t know Him?” Rikku doesn’t say anything. “That doesn’t make any sense.” She rolls over onto her stomach, hiding her face. “Rikku.”

She may occasionally step in it from time-to-time, but Rikku doesn’t have a history of making life hard for herself for the heck of it. Most, if not all, of her hardships have been for the sake of others - most often, for the sake of you.

‘I’d think more about her loyalty to you.’

That’s what Paine had said.

Dr P’s orders, that’s what you try to do. What would Paine gain from being a newer friend? ‘Before’ was during your pilgrimage, which featured your ‘epic romance’ and that obviously includes Tidus. Rikku’s only ever done anything to help you, heal you, protect you…

Oh.

Oh dear.

You scooch over to her, laying your cheek near her ear and hugging as much of her as you can while you’re both on the floor.

“Rikku,” you ask her gently. “Are you worried about hurting my feelings?” She gives no reaction. “Do you think it’s okay that Paine falls in love because she ‘doesn’t know better’?” Because Paine wasn’t there to see you fall in love, and didn’t see you lose that love? You can feel her tense a bit; you think she’s trying stop herself from moving. “And, because you were there, that means you do know better, so you’re not allowed to?”

If you weren’t as close as you are now, you likely wouldn’t hear the tiny little sniff.

“That Wakka and Lulu didn’t work out, because they also ‘knew better’ and tried anyway?” It takes a couple of tries before you’re able to force her to roll over. Rikku immediately covers her face with her hands, but those hands are small and you can see her dimpled chin beneath her hiccuping frown.

“I know that’s dumb,” she mumbles. Like you, Rikku tries to avoid sadness by keeping her voice soft. Like you can avoid waking the crying.

“It’s a little dumb,” you agree, gently teasing her. Your eyes are misty.

Gippal has commented before that Rikku lays on coals for you, and you’re reminded it’s not just when you’re looking. You were never looking for any thanks, that’s not why you became a summoner (you weren’t supposed to live to receive any), but Rikku struggles with it. Has always seemed uncomfortable having when you have not. A lot has to be in solidarity. If she’s having fun, you need to, too. If you’re angry, she’s angry.

These are rules she imposes on herself, however. You’ve never begrudged her for being her own person - not that you’ve never envied her. The proverbial grass will always have greener patches. 

“More importantly, though, that’s not how I feel.”

You gently take her wrists to pull her up into a hug.

“And,” and now you’re whispering through a tight throat as well. “Tidus wouldn’t feel that way, either.”

The hushed voices don’t work and the crying happens anyway. That’s alright, you think; it seems like you both need it. The two of you sway and hold each other on the bed for a little while, hugging and weeping it out like idiots. When you’re done, you look at each other’s messy faces and laugh.

Later, Gippal leans against the door frame, arms crossed, under the guise of wondering where his shirt is and not checking on you two, smirking at you both.

“Hot.”

“Do not.”

“Shh.”

“Check a mirror right now, ladies. Definitely didn’t mean it.”

#

Clasko’s first auction was a success, and everyone has turned out for a second.

And you mean everyone.

Shelinda is interviewing the proud but deeply nervous breeder. You hope he doesn’t get sick on camera. She seems like she’s being gentle with him, but Clasko’s always been bad with attention. Paine’s just out of shot, an encouraging presence for her green gilled guy, and an imposing reminder to anyone else not to screw with the merchandise.

Wakka and Lulu have brought Vidina to meet his first chocobos today! Clasko gave them a tour of the stables earlier, Vidina hanging onto Wakka’s beard the whole while. You asked, and Wakka said he thinks he’d like it a little longer (“It’s really growin’ on me, ya?” You groan and Lulu tells you with a smirk this is why she threw him out), and while you think it does age him a bit, it still somehow suits him. Lulu will not be cutting her hair in contrast, but all her braids are twisted up on top of her head to keep Vidina from yanking on them.

After the tour, you tickled the baby with feathers and could have fainted from his cute laughter. They’ve turned in for the evening at the agency; the little guy tuckered himself out, and, even though they’re no longer a couple, Wakka and Lulu still get along well enough to travel together and share a room. They were happy to punch out right after their son.

Mevyn Lucil and Elma are seated for the auction. Using machina to haul parts in the lower levels of Bevelle is the safest option, but the cleared out and fumigated upper zones would create some economic ease if the League could use labor chocobos within them.

You wave to Elma, who enthusiastically waves back. The meyvn gives you a friendly nod. You spoke earlier in the day. She ultimately decided to give up her apartment. Something about that makes you sad, but you’re sure it’s the best decision for Lucil.

The auction is still a little bit aways from starting, but you still hope Gippal and Rikku aren’t late. You saw them earlier at the Sphere Break tables. Rin just opened an indoor Sphere Break hall behind the travel agency and with the season closed in Luca, high rollers are slinging credits around the room with scary abandon. Rin was excitedly explaining to you that since it’s credits being used and no betting on league tournaments, it isn’t illegal to play the game out of season (and for profit!). You think it sounds more like some kind of legal loophole, if only for how pleased with himself he seems over it.

You and Baralai decline to join any tables.

“Is a Praetor even allowed to gamble?” you ask.

You two, instead, have taken your seats early at the VIP box. The view is lovely at twilight. Even the Scar manages to be beautiful.

“Oh, probably not.”

“You don’t know?”

“There’s an awful lot of rules, Lady Yuna, and I only just got the job.”

You laugh against your hand. Your time as public liaison is coming to an end. At least, as an actively serving one. If anything serious needs to be delivered, you’ll do it, but as it stands now, it doesn’t look like there’s many dire secrets left to share. The Youth League and New Yevon will continue to clear out what few floors are left, and then the Bevelle Underground Project will wrap. New Yevon, of course, will continue on, with its teachings of history and the need to keep faith (though not Fayth).

The Youth League hasn’t made any declarations about their next endevours.

“The meyvn has a lot to think about,” Baralai says when you inquire what he thinks. “The Youth League was built on unearthing the Temples’ greatests secrets, and I am open to that. Starting with Bevelle, however, may have been unwise. We couldn’t have known that, of course,” he adds quickly. “That is where Vegnagun was, so that’s where we went. I’ll be stunned if that’s not the deepest hare hole, though.”

You hum in understanding. “There is not much left to do. Djose has already been stripped. Kilika is half emptied. Macalania is gone.”

“Hah.” Baralai tips his head. “Or that’s the hole they work on for eternia: pulling Macalania from the lake.”

”I actually had a thought about that,” you say. “About what the League might do.” Your eyes flit about slightly, unable to focus on any one thing but you refuse to stare at your hands.

When you don’t go on right away, Baralai chuckles lightly. “Must be a terribly good idea, if you can’t come right out with it.”

You shake your head. “Nothing like that! I just haven’t discussed it with Lucil yet, that’s all.”

”Oh?” He leans forward, placing his forearms on the banister on the VIP box and folds his hands. His Praetor’s robe is carefully folded on the back of his seat as the Calm Lands are much warmer than Bevelle’s shadowed streets, and you don’t look at his arms. You’ve long given up pretending you don’t notice them. 

(You’re still accepting you like them.)

”I’m humbled you would seek my consoul.”

”Mm, more like a reality check.” You finally look at him, clasped hands beneath your chin. “What do you think of... an orphange?”

He blinks. “An orphange?”

”Mm-hm,” you confirm. “I think you’re right. I think the Youth League continuing on with its original ideals just isn’t possible. But I don’t think that’s any reason to just dissolve it. There are still a lot of ugly truths about Spira - a chief one being: Sin tore countless families apart and many children are growing up alone. I don’t think that’s right. Not when they don’t have to.”

It takes a village,’ Lulu had said. 

Baralai nods to himself, mulling that over, not saying anything. You’re glad he doesn’t laugh at you, but the lack of immediate feedback is a bit nervewracking, too.

”What reality am I checking?” he asks, looking out over the slowly filling seats. “None of what you said is untrue. It will be generations before there are lives untouched by Sin.”

”We are a world divided. Even when our enemy was the same, we found the time to fight amongst ourselves,” you say, Baralai agreeing with ‘we certainly did.’ There is a tinge of despaire at the edge of your voice. “And without a great pressure, we fractured further. Are my hopes to come together for something so important too high?” You sound like you’re pleading. “What do you think?”

”I think,” he says after a moment, “you’re coming for my job.”

Huh?”

The confused sound is blurted loudly as you lean toward him in your chair. Baralai chuckles, looking back at you over his arm. “I think it is the most gernerous and saintly idea to come out of our little committee. My contribution to our efforts are going to come into question.”

”I don’t want to be Praetor,” you tell him with a shy laugh when you realize he’s only teasing you.

”You’re right,” he sighs, pushing himself back into his seat. “They’ll probably come up with something new and even more grand for you.”

”I don’t want that, either.”

Baralai shrugs. “Be that as it may, Lady Yuna. Such is the will of the people.” His smile is patient, but you know he’s telling you that you should know better. “That life of peace and quiet you speak of will be elusive, if not a fable, once you bring this to the meyvn. Who - for the record - I expect will adore this.”

And now comes the part you are feeling most worried about. You shift nervously in your seat before forcing yourself to look up at him through your lashes. 

“Which is why I thought maybe...you would tell her, Baralai.”

Well. If nothing else, after tonight, you can say you’ve seen Baralai honest to goodness gobsmacked, if nothing else. 

It takes him a few tries, but he finally manages to get his thought out. “I couldn’t take credit for your idea!”

You wince. “But I’m asking you to!”

”Out of the question.”

Your shoulders slump. “It’s not taking credit,” you try. You’re not particularly coniving, but you’ll go for another route. “You’re just delivering the idea.”

He’s not having it. “While leaving your name out.”

”Only slightly?”

His sigh is shallow but exasperated. “I understand why it would need to come from me,” he says. “But that’s if they agreed to it.” Because if the idea for a League-run orphange came from New Yevon, they wouldn’t want to talk about it much. It wouldn’t be a secret, but they would want sole control.

If the idea came for Lady Yuna, however, it’d be on every banner, poster and flag they could paint it on. You’d never get away from it. Once again, your entire sense of self and your life would be swallowed whole by a cause. One you certainly believe in, you just...

You want to be involved, not consumed.

Of course, Baralai’s other point is also correct: they’re more likely to listen to your suggestions than Baralai’s. Lucil may be mevyn, but she’s still one person in the League. A large reason the Bevelle Underground Project even got off the floor was because you agreed to it and the faction members like you.

”I know most people would tell me, ‘That is what Lord Braska would do.’ And he would. He believed in digging for water so the thirsty could drink. I’m not my father,” you tell Baralai honestly. “I’ve learned that sometimes it’s better to just go look somewhere else for easier water. I can’t live my life from cause to cause.”

You haven’t chosen saving Spira as your life’s work.

”I want to do good, but I want to - I need to be open. To do other things. If that makes me a -“

“You are not a bad person,” Baralai interrupts you. Gentle, firm. “Of all the things you are, certainly you aren’t that.”

Surprised, you scoff softly and smile. “I was going to say free spirit.”

He gives a silent, “Oh,” with raised eyebrows.

”But I’m glad you don’t think I’m a bad person either.” His shrug is slight and he looks sheepish and you laugh at him. He’s adorable to think of you like that, to comfort you. “The children of Spira shouldn’t have to wait for me. And they won’t...” you urge.

”...Should I speak with the mevyn,” he concludes, look and tone both reluctant but considering. You spend the seconds stubbornly in his eyes, and Baralai relents. “I can’t promise to keep your name out of it. Discretion is my only offer.”

It’s honestly a better deal than you should get, and you really do think you have too much sway in this world. This time, it’s okay. Especially as you agree and he smiles, and something in your chest flutters.

”May your wonders never cease, Lady Yuna,” he tells you after you’ve both agreed to discuss the orphange later. The rows of seats beneath you are murmuring as they fill.

”Just Yuna.”

“I stand by my statement,” he says after a moment. Baralai is obviously pleased at the offer to drop the title, but not ready to do it. You like that a year into getting to know each other, you’re still leaving each other shy. “Always a gift to give.”

You lace your fingers over your knee. “That’s a little impossible, Baralai.”

“And you should know all about Impossible,” he jokingly chides you. You shrug innocently. “Speaking of impossible, Yuna.” There’s a lift to both your lips. “I’ve received a wedding invitation.” You raise your eyebrows. “For Nooj. And Leblanc.”

“Oh!” Your hand is quick to your mouth. “You’re joking!”

“I’m sure Gippal laughed.”

Baralai.” It’s an empty scold. You lean back in your chair, a weird wonder in your belly. Two people you don’t particularly care for, finding the one thing you wish for everyone: happiness. Huh. “That’s wild,” you finally say. “How nice for Leblanc.”

“I hope it’s nice for Nooj, too.”

“Well, of course!”

Baralai places his elbow on his arm rest, propping his chin in his hand. “You know, I checked the back for a ‘help me’ note -” you call him terrible, but you laugh, so what does that make you? “- and there wasn’t one. It does have space for a plus one, however. If you’d… be interested.”

You tilt your head, rolling your shoulders forward. “You want me to be your guest?”

Baralai takes a breath but doesn’t answer right away. You lift your eyebrows slightly, a small ‘well?’ gesture. You hope it’s their happiest day, but you also expect that wedding to be at least slightly ridiculous. For a rare moment, you see his stare falter before he meets your eyes again.

“I’d be honored if you were my guest.”

You smile. “I -”

“- But I’d be thrilled if you were my date.”

It’s moments like these you tend to overthink. It is embarrassingly easy for you to get up in your head, lost in possibilities and branching paths. You miss that, just a little, about the Old World. When everything was one way, someone else had already decided it, and even if it was hard or sad, it definitely wasn’t complicated.

You could analyze a load of stuff. Now that the threat of Sin isn’t hanging overhead, does that redefine what you consider chemistry with a guy? Does it apply with him? You turned down the previous Praetor’s son, should that be considered? What a statement, a first date being at a wedding. He’s taller than Tidus. You think your parents would like him. You think Cid won’t like him. You’re not joining New Yevon. You like his arms. You have no idea what you’re doing anymore.

You could do that. You could very easily do that.

But you won’t.

You’ve had your epic romance.

It’s been three years. Maybe you’re ready. Maybe you’re not. Find out.

Go on a date.

“Yes.”