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Rikku sighed as she wandered aimlessly down the beach, digging her toes into the cool sand in relief. Between the sheer number of people and the bonfires, the hard packed dirt of the village had become too hot, and she'd kicked off her boots as she walked away from the crowds. She scratched under her light shirt as she considered the reason she had left the gathering. Though she had fought to save all of Spira twice now, sometimes Rikku still felt the distance that being Al Bhed put between them. Aside from the members of the Gullwings, Gippal had been the only other Al Bhed at the party in Besaid. It was telling of the still present divide that so few of her people were invited.

Shivering a little in the breeze off the ocean, she considered turning back, but her sense of distance hadn't yet faded. If she'd still had her garment grid equipped, it would have been a simple matter of changing into something like her Alchemist or White Mage garb, but somehow the magical clothing always itched at her. It always felt a little like she was naked, like the fabric had no real substance. Rikku had relished the opportunity to change into something more like she had worn on Yuna's pilgrimage. Ah well, a little chill wasn't that bad.

Eyes adjusted at last to the dim illumination provided by the night sky, she froze when she saw a dark shape at the water's edge.

And almost jumped out of her skin when a male voice greeted her in Al Bhed.

“Ajahehk, Rikku. Drao kad duu muit vun oui, duu?”

It seemed two years...wherever he had been hadn't dimmed Tidus' hard-earned knowledge of her language. She snorted to herself that she had just been thinking how out of place she felt. With a thief's silence, Rikku padded over to her rediscovered friend and flopped down beside him.

“Nah, figured I'd come see what has you all mopey. I thought you'd still be with Yunie?” Her problem could wait. The feeling would fade, as it always did; but the Tidus she'd known would have welcomed the rowdy celebration. “After two years, I thought you'd be stuck to her side.”

The moonlight glittering off the waves granted her enough light to see his wry grin. “It's the 'two years' part that's the problem. When I left you all...I would have given anything to be celebrating.”

“But...?” Rikku asked when minutes passed with no sound beyond the jungle at their backs and the sussuration of waves on the sand.

“I don't know where I was for that time, but to me it feels like I fell asleep after jumping off the Celcius and woke up two years later. I was part of Spira for such a brief time, hardly anyone remembers me. And the people I remember – two years has changed a lot for you. The Yuna I knew would not have been able to defeat the machina that was supposed to equal Sin with just you and Paine by her side.”

Rikku reached out to rest her hand over her friend's comfortingly. “Yunie did it all for you, you know. We never would have found out about Vegnagun if it weren't for that sphere that sent us looking for you.”

Tidus laughed softly, and Rikku was shocked to hear the notes of bitterness in it. She never thought Tidus, of all people, would lose his optimism. It was his confidence that they would find a way that had kept them all going, confidence he kept even after he knew he would disappear.

“That's the irony though. Yuna doesn't realize it yet, but she doesn't need me any more. Your journey changed that for her. I'm a blitz player for a team that only existed in a dream, and she's the High Summoner. So I guess I came out here to figure out what to do when she does realize she's grown past what we had.”

“Come back to Bikanel with me,” Rikku startled herself with the impulsive offer.

“What?” Tidus' blue eyes were blown wide as he stared at her.

“Obviously you're wrong about Yunie, she missed you a lot while you were gone; but if I'm wrong, you'll have time to talk things out with her. I'm not leaving for awhile yet. If you're wrong, fantastic. But if you're right...” she started babbling, but warmed to the idea as she continued, “it'll be perfect. If it weren't for the blue eyes, you'd look Al Bhed already. You can speak the language, Pops likes you, and you already know about machina from your Zanarkand. I know our blitz team would love to have you too. And since you're kind of not Spiran, you never believed any of that muck the Yevonites spewed about us. Like I said, perfect.”

Tidus was still gaping at her, and Rikku could almost see him struggling to process her lighting quick speech. “...I am right,” he insisted at last.

She opened her mouth to protest, but he cut her off. “If I wasn't, she'd be out here instead of you. So...alright.”

“Alright?” It took Rikku a beat to realize his agreement, still marshalling her argument but admitting on some level that he was probably right. When it registered, she was on her feet punching the air.

“Yes! I am a genius!” Her victory dance was cut short when she stumbled over Tidus' out-stretched leg and tumbled into his lap, sending them both sprawling in the sand with a chorus of 'oofs' and giggling.

When they finally got their limbs sorted out, she moved only enough to roll onto her back beside him, enjoying the warmth of him against the cool island night. “Y'know, you were the first Spiran to know I'm Al Bhed and not look at me like I was diseased,” Rikku found herself confessing. “I think that was really why I helped you when we met.”

Tidus laughed a little, softly. “Even though I had no idea what 'Al Bhed' even meant?”

Her pointy elbow found its way into his side. “You were adorable, all wide-eyed and confused from 'Sin's toxin'. I couldn't let them hurt you, it would have been like kicking a puppy.”

He grumbled a little, but it was familiar teasing. Tidus wasn't just the first Spiran not to glare at her, he was also her first and closest friend on the pilgrimage. Yuna had her own preoccupations, and becoming her Guardian had been the first time Rikku had really met her cousin. She and Tidus had both been outsiders, and that brought them close.