Braska slammed the door to his office shut and tossed the heavy manila notebook down on his desk. He hadn't yet gotten over the anger that rushed through his body.
This case was his and everyone knew it.
"What…are we going to do?"
The seasoned lawyer looked up from the ground and studied his protégée. Over the past four years he had proven himself loyal and especially in this situation loyalty was something Braska needed. He wouldn't say he trusted the man in front of him, then again Braska Shaw trusted very few, but he had gained his respect back, and that was saying a lot considering how they started off.
He pointed to himself. "We do nothing."
Jenkins bit his bottom lip and then rested his briefcase down. "Did you not just—"
"I was there, yes."
He watched as his mentor undid his tie and began to unbutton his stained shirt only to reach for a drawer behind his desk to pull out another of a similar make and fashion.
"I have a plane to catch."
"He wants to see me."
Braska craned his neck to tie his new tie. "You're his lawyer, see him."
"To fire me."
"We knew this would happen."
Jenkins took off his suit jacket and paced the large office. "Yes except now it's happening, and what if he knows that I've been talking to you? All this time? I could get reported and loose my judicial standing."
Braska shook his head. "He knew."
This halted the young lawyer's pace. "What!?"
With a final adjustment to his new tie Braska reached for a small brush and quickly went over his short brown hair. His father hadn't had gray hair till he was sixty five or so, but even now near his temples Braska had noticed a few grays. He chalked it up to the past five years and this one case along with expanding the family business and being a single father to a young woman who wanted to take over the world. "Do you really think a man as calculated as he had no idea? Four years? He knew, he knew and he let me get this far on purpose."
The color drained from Jenkin's face. "What do you think he'll do?"
Braska tossed the brush on his desk and then sighed when he looked at a picture of his daughter and Rikku at their college graduation. "I'll be reachable by phone, but don't call." He picked up his cell phone and then gathered a few papers up on his desk. "My mother in law passed away…"
"We have to say something…to Cid or—"
"We say nothing until I know more."
"You've been saying that for years!"
Braska gave him a warming look. "And in those four years my niece and my daughter have lived happy care free lives. Paine and Rikku just got married, Yuna started a business, do you understand how crippling fear can be?"
The student clenched his jaw. He was right, yet it still felt wrong. Not saying anything about the appeal was probably the only thing they disagreed on. Jenkins picked up his brief case and jacket and moved toward the door. "Yeah but when you tell them, because you have to now, they're going to wish you told them sooner."
Paine peeked over the blonde's shoulder. "Viddy." She recognized the little boy's face on the sketch pad.
Rikku looked up at Paine then and pointed with her thick lead pencil. "See his little smile?"
She nodded. "He smiles like Wakka."
"But his nose wrinkles like you and Lulu's."
Paine shook her head. "That's impossible to know." Rikku raised an eyebrow. "We're assuming Lulu smiles."
Rikku rolled her eyes and Paine chuckled. "Oh stop."
"It looks good." Rikku only nodded and went back to the tedious task of drawing on an airplane. She needed something to focus her energy and thought on; the familiar golden shine of Bikanel peering into the plane from the window seat where Yuna sat reading was distracting though.
She used to always have the window seat.
Now though, the nature of the visit just didn't seem exciting at all. If anything she grew more and more anxious as the time elapsed till their landing. A seasoned traveler from years of traveling with her uncle and father hadn't prepared the blonde for the small sweat at her collar when they took off.
Yuna had been silent the entire trip. Her brunette hair was pulled up and out of her face as she read a book entitled. "Business's Business." It was thick and had the paper cover removed for ease of travel.
The trip to Bikanel was a solid 7 hour airship ride.
They were two hours in and already Paine didn't know what to do with herself. She had traveled with Rikku and Yuna to and from Home at least four times, and all times the journey had seemed to run away from them between sleeping and chatting. Now though, as both cousins turned to solitude Paine found herself restless in the warm cabin.
An hour passed again, and now their complimentary meals were being readied to serve. The false promising aroma of a real peppered beef waffled through the cabin and made Paine's mouth water. It reminded her of her favorite part about coming to Bikanel, and that was the food. A sad thought passed through her mind and she glanced towards Rikku who was studying the menu of two choices with intense concentration.
Who was going to cook?
Rikku couldn't even decide if she wanted beef or cactar.
Facing forward for a moment Paine wondered where her place in all of this was. Was she to stand silently like she was sure Cid would, or was she a Leblanc? Supporting yet not really necessary, the thought took a moment to process before Paine looked up at the standing flight attended waiting on Rikku's order. "She wants the cactar. No pine nuts though."
The flight attendant checked with Rikku first who nodded quickly as if she ordered it herself. Rikku exhaled when she left and squeezed Paine's arm gently before looking to her right at Yuna and saying something.
Maybe she was both a Cid and a Leblanc this trip.
Paine sat back in her seat and nodded to herself. She had more than enough time to think about a million and one things. Work; the apartment; Mackenzie, Judo, Gippal, Vidina. The specifics would take forever to list but she couldn't let that stuff get in the way of this weekend. Paine would admit that at times she felt like she took on a lot and was all alone, especially when Rikku got a new assignment, and essentially that's where the brunt of their arguments came from but they fought, made up, then got engaged, now they were married and though things had changed so drastically in the last twenty four hours she knew Rikku remembered her promise. It was always something with them though; couldn't they stay in their honeymoon a little longer?
Paine slipped into the unfamiliar bedroom and closed the door behind her. "This remind you of something?" She whispered to her wife who was sitting up in bed pulling her hair into a ponytail for the night.
Rikku watched as Paine took the damp towel off her shoulder and draped it over a small wooden chair before stepping out of the pajamas she wore for show. "When we weren't married and you would sneak in here and take off your clothes?"
Paine nodded and put the pajamas on the same wooden chair. It was late at night, the window was cracked and she could feel a late evening breeze hold onto the night. Whisps of desert being kicked up by the night air sprayed the side of the house gently. It had kept Paine up all night when she first visited Solae with Rikku three years ago, now she barely registered the simple reminder of where they were. She stretched lightly exposing her firm belly to the soft light of the window in Cid's childhood room.
Whenever Rikku visited her grandmother she stayed in this room, and Yuna stayed in her mother's room. Kirill had his own room in the old family home.
Paine finished her stretching and yawned before getting onto the full size bed with Rikku.
Rikku smiled at the show of getting comfortable by Paine. "Knyhtsy ehcecdat oui cmaab tufh dra rymm." Now Paine was officially allowed to share a bed with her, little did Milana know that they'd been bedmates since before they were dating.
Paine nodded as she lay in a simple black bra and gray panties above the blanket. "I didn't mind."
"You'd sneak back in here anyway, of course you didn't mind." Rikku was sitting up and looking down at her. She gently pushed at Paine's abdomen. "Remember that time we almost got caught?"
Paine grabbed Rikku's hand and nodded. "Fuckin' you and your big mouth—ow!" She pretended to glare after Rikku pressed down on her stomach roughly but softly enough to show that she were only playing.
"I told you not to do that thing…."
Paine laughed quietly. "You weren't exactly stopping me, Princess." Rikku seemed to be in a better mood, it hadn't been like that all day though which is why Paine was drinking it in.
"Of course I wasn't." Rikku shrugged. Paine sat up beside her. "Hm?" She questioned with a little smile.
Paine lazily leaned forward and kissed Rikku on the bare shoulder peeking out from under her baggy sleeping shirt. "Nothing."
"Oui zicd paehk cfaad uh sa?"
Paine nodded. "You seemed quiet today."
Rikku nodded. Today had been the first part of the funeral process for her grandmother. "Her hand was cold." Rikku looked down to her bare legs for a moment in thought. "They were always so warm and y'know…I can remember holding her hand when I was little." She looked up at Paine. "Never been able to remember that but I could today."
"Today was the hardest part." Rikku nodded.
"She wanted to be cremated?"
"Most Al Bhed are." Rikku explained. "When I was little Pop used to tell me this story about ghosts and he was such a jerk to scare me like that but…" She was stopped by the whipping of some wind and the light almost wave like crashing of desert against the side of the house on the first floor. "You see it's like a reminder, you treat the planet well because you never know where your loved ones are."
Paine had always liked the Al Bhed way of things, she loved when Rikku would explain things to her like this. A thought came to mind then. "You'd wanna be that way I bet; free."
Rikku looked to Paine with a soft smile. "Yeah."
It was the first time in their relationship where the topic of what would happen after they expired came about. It wasn't something Paine liked to think about, and it brought a funny taste to her mouth just then as the wind picked up, but knowing what Rikku would have wanted was better than not knowing and not being able to honor her the right way.
Rikku watched as Paine fell into thought. A weird sort of look crossed her face before she looked at her again.
"I'd be scared." Paine said quietly. "I almost die twice already and I remember being scared… each time." Overdosing and being shot left a few more scars still and probably always would.
Rikku rubbed at her arm gently. "You're never without me, so don't be."
Paine turned Rikku's hand over and laced their fingers together. "You're pretty much stuck with me too so..."
Rikku smiled and nudged Paine in the shoulder. "You've just been following me around for years now, thought I'd put a collar on ya and rub your tummy at night."
Paine smiled a little and shook her head. "Is that what that expensive ass party was for?"
"Well yeah." Rikku grinned and put a hand up to mess up Paine's hair.
Paine ducked her head away and grabbed Rikku fully around her body before dragging her to lay down with her. They settled like that; Paine's arms fully enveloping her bride and Rikku holding Paine's arms in place as she slipped into thought.
An hour passed like that.
Paine picked her eyelids up. "Yeah?"
She gently ran her hand up and down Paine's arm. Her arms felt so strong, yet her skin was as soft as the bedding they were meant to sleep on. "What do you think it was? Her secret, what do you think it was?"
She yawned. "Secret for what?"
Rikku shrugged gently. "For life. She was just so…happy." She turned around and Paine moved her arms so she had room to look at her. "I want that, I wanna be happy like she was." She realized Paine's eyes had closed again. They had a long day and jet lag was surely hitting the inexperienced traveler like her wife. It didn't help that they had only slept in their own bed only for two nights before getting up and going again. "Pai..." Rikku whispered.
Rikku sighed but couldn't help but smiling. It was strange feeling so different every other sentence. One moment she would flashback to when she were just a little pypo and was playing with Yuna and her grandmother just downstairs, and then to the beginning with Paine and she was smiling through the tears because after all they had been through here they were and her knyhtsy had been there to see her stand before everyone and claim her love. Rikku brushed some smoky hair out of Paine's face and leaned forward to kiss her on the lips before backing up a bit and falling asleep facing her.
Maybe it wasn't a secret after all.
Paine watched as Rikku's shaky right hand held her wrist tightly and her left hand carefully emptied half her handful into her own. Some ash slipped away despite her best efforts and whipped around their heads before disappearing amongst the desert with the wind.
It was a golden evening in Solae, the type you saw set as screen savers or the kind you read about. Paine had only been to Bikanel a handful of times before and she had marveled at the utter lack of humanity of the little town. It was only now that she understood that the little town was as populated as her own city. Rich with history and life, how come she hadn't seen it before?
A customary Al Bhed burial consisted of two steps. Paine had always known that through her schooling but to actually be here now. To feel Milana Bayla in the palm of her hand, to have the wind pick up and cause her wife's long blonde hair to tickle her arm at this altitude, the subtle kiss of heat from the sun on her pale skin, it all just felt so much more important than those textbooks allowed her to feel.
It was unreal.
The sullen plateau overlooking Home was where they decided to say their goodbyes. On the way up Cid told her the story of coming up here with his parents as a young boy. His tone had been steady this whole trip until now. Paine could imagine how he must have been feeling having sent a father, a sister, and now a mother. He was the only left of his clan and though he stayed steady for his children Paine caught a look in his green eyes when they made it to the top of the hill.
Kirill had yet to say a word to Paine or anyone else for that matter and trailed behind in his own thoughts. Yuna's face had yet to really change and even now with a glance to her far left Yuna stood on her own, chin to the wind, empty palm suspended in air. Braska a small step away watching the city with his hands in his linen pockets.
To her immediate right Rikku stood looking off into the horizon with this far away look on her face. Her bright eyes were moist and she was holding her fist close to her chest.
Paine looked down at her hand balled up to maintain the inner contents until she said her goodbye.
She wasn't expecting this at all. She wasn't expecting to get the chance to do this and on some level she didn't feel worthy. This was a woman who had essentially raised her wife, a woman who had raised her father in law… a woman who had hadn't questioned Rikku's choice in her as a mate, not once. Paine felt her chest tense a little at the thought of how she had said goodbye to people in the past. How she tried to just get it over with, how she decided not to feel a thing and just go about her life. She realized that she never took as much time as she was now.
Maybe this goodbye could be for all of them too.
Kirill, Yuna, and Rikku eventually came together at the near edge of the cliff. Brother wrapped his arms around them both and just stood there for a long moment. No prayers were said, no hymn chimed or murmured, just their silence.
That night, over a dinner of cactar noodles and pork Rikku sat in silence as her father and Leblanc spoke pointlessly over the state of the Al Bhed government. Braska strangely remained quiet to Yuna's left. Paine could tell it annoyed Kirill by the way he moved his noodles about the plate without really eating anything across from her. His stare intense.
"And then the taxes brought about—"
"Are we just going to pretend like she's not here already?"
Kirill had finally spoken after days of silence.
Cid sighed quietly and brought his napkin to his mouth. "Hu cuh"
The blitzer motioned to the food. "Well then why are we talking about politics at the table. Dryd fyc y nima"
Yuna nodded. "He's right."
Milana had certain rules to ensure all family gatherings were peaceful ones. When it came to sit and eat with one another they were not allowed to talk about politics. It was hard when both her son and her son in law loved to debate, but when it came time to sit as a family She didn't want anyone getting upset or riled up. They could do that enough throughout the day. Family time was peaceful time.
Paine glanced at Rikku as her father in law apologized and opted to change the tone of the conversation. "You okay?" She whispered. None of the food on Rikku's plate had been touched. It had been like that since they arrived. She would normally wonder what her wife had been eating to sustain herself, but that was answered when she found Yuna and Rikku in the kitchen eating the last batch of caramel nibblets that their grandmother would ever make.
Rikku laid awake with a stomach ache for the majority of the afternoon.
The blonde flashed her wife a tired sort of smile before picking up her fork. She knew Paine would worry if she didn't eat anything, and she had already been caught red handed eating junk a few hours prior. Tomorrow morning they would leave, and for that Rikku was grateful. Being in this town, this home without Milana felt strange, it suddenly felt foreign even though she knew all its secrets like the back of her hand. She wanted to get back to practical things, things where emotions weren't the main things to be dealing with. Paine nodded at her beginning to eat and focused back onto her own plate of food. Al Bhed food was Paine's absolute favorite and she was starving after the long day they had. Somehow eating fast didn't seem appropriate though. Paine forced a slow thoughtful mouthful of noodles into her mouth and reached for water.
"Paine, Rikku, darlings, how was the honeymoon?" Leblanc ventured when she realized her husband was crashing and burning hard on the subject of sports with his son.
The two newlyweds perked up at bit and glanced at one another. "Good." "Cool." They said in unison.
"Cool?...Cool.." Leblanc chose Paine's response to focus on. "The fair is cool, a honeymoon? Really though." She looked to her husband for support.
Cid merely shrugged. He knew what happened on honeymoons, he himself having been on two. He didn't want to think about Paine doing anything but hugging his daughter. "She said it was cool, leave her."
"We hiked some of Gagazet and…we ate in Macalania, where did we go Ri?" Paine tried as she looked to her wife.
Rikku opened her mouth to say something but Leblanc cut her off. "Now you see that sounds nice, did you take pictures?"
"Some." Paine nodded.
"The wedding was beautiful." Juliann motioned to Kirill. "I caught a few people shedding tears."
Kirill shrugged. "She's my baby sister…"
"We'll have to see them, the pictures, do you have them with you?"
Paine nodded. "Yeah Rikks brought them. We wanted to get one framed with sand crystal so..."
Paine sighed. "Baby I don't see what the—"
"I don't feel like sitting around and talking about how much fun we had! I sent my knyhtsy today. Does that mean anything to her!?"
Paine was sitting on the bed in her father in laws old room while Rikku stomped around looking for the pictures they brought with them to get frames for. She knew her wife was emotionally drained, had a tummy ache, and was above all cranky for the lack of sleep she had been getting in the last month, but Leblanc was only trying to help.
"She's just trying to help."
"Whose side are you on anyway?"
Paine sighed. "My wife's usually, but right now she's cranky and hasn't eaten anything really in two days. So her reason isn't all there." Paine called her out.
The glare she got in response was enough to let Paine know exactly what Rikku thought of that last comment.
"Rikks." Paine tried as she stood.
Rikku shook her head and finally found the small book and pushed it in Paine's hands. "Fine you go down there and laugh about it."
Paine shook her head. "You say it like it was such shit."
Rikku narrowed her eyes. "Paine."
Paine inhaled to calm herself down a little. "So then what is the fault in trying to just not think about today?"
"I wouldn't expect either of you to understand." Rikku mumbled as she closed her suitcase back up.
"And what in the fuck does that mean?" Paine demanded.
Catching herself Rikku shook her head at her comment. She was really losing it. "Pai I'm sorry."
Paine huffed. The topic of her not being Al Bhed had never been an issue. It's how she really knew Rikku was just tired. "Take a second to see how she feels…how I feel. What the hell are we doing here Ri? We don't know how to…" Paine fell silent. "I don't know how to be here for you."
Rikku was ready with a response but somehow something stopped her and just like that she began to cry. Paine quickly put the pictures down and wrapped her arms around her shaking body. "Ed fyc cilr y meddma ped uv ran...ec dryd ymm fa'na natilat duu? Frana fyc ran sasuneac yht...tet Oihea ryja dras? Tet Pnudran? Tet E ryja ran dua un...ec dryd ed? Y pihlr uv cyht?!"
Paine knew she was referring to the ash that was left over from cremation. The blonde had been so calm the night before, this morning, even on the plateau overlooking Home. Maybe it all really just hit her that in the end her grandmother was just ash and nothing more. Paine could imagine how that must feel. Milana had played probably the hugest female role in Rikku growing up. All of those memories or lazy summers, where were they? Did things like that mattered when reduced down we were just sand….
"Those things don't get Sent Princess." Paine rubbed Rikku's shoulders soothingly. "They stay with us." Rikku shook and Paine held her tighter. "It's a good thing, even if that's just all they really are, memories."
When Paine got downstairs to the kitchen with the pictures the only person she found was Kirill, and a bottle of aged Al Bhed rum.
He looked up from his glass and flashed her a tired smile. He had his thoughts about Paine, most positive, some unsure even now after so long in knowing her as his sister's girlfriend. Seeing her now a bit apprehensive made the smile a little easier.
He still had the big brother fear going for him.
The kitchen was silently dimmed, there was a wad of dough sitting tucked under a damp cloth beside him. He had been cooking a lot, mainly because he had always enjoyed that part of living so close to his grandmother. The bread was for them to take home with them tomorrow. He probably wouldn't sleep, the rum helped.
"You gonna just stand there?"
"Trying to decide." Paine admitted.
Kirill polished off the bit of rum in his glass and went to fetch one for Paine. "Where's Lil B?"
"Sleeping." Paine stepped into the kitchen and rested the pictures down before accepting the glass of amber liquid. It was then that she realized she really needed a drink. "Where's everyone else?" She leaned her elbows on the counter and poked at the dough once before taking a sip.
Kirill leaned again the counter as well. "Well Yuna, she's probably off somewhere sitting alone. She likes it that way." Paine nodded having learned over the years how Yuna dealt with tragedy. "Pops is with Uncle Braska and Leblanc in the study, you're here, and Milan is sleeping…" He took a sip of his drink. "Why didn't she come down?" He remembered hearing his sister's elevated tone. It sounded like they were arguing.
"She was upset." Paine answered simply.
"We all are."
Paine nodded and played with the wedding band on her left hand. She was still getting used to it. Kirill saw this and stretched the small distance between them to grab hold of the pictures. The first was of Rikku at the airport looking excited and holding up her boarding pass.
"So it was cool?"
Paine didn't know why but she chuckled. The sound startled Kirill a little but he soon found himself smiling. "Yeah, pretty cool."
"You ride chocobos?"
"Yeah they had this feeder thing and Rikku stole the foder and put it in her pocket, her ride was a little bumpy to say the least."
Kirill laughed and shook his head. "Was it cold?"
"Only at night."
A half bottle of rum later Paine staggered gracefully in the dark into the room she and Rikku were sharing. The air was colder than in the hall and it caused her to take a cool refreshing breath in as she searched for the source.
The window was open.
"I can't sleep."
Paine looked over to the bed where Rikku was lying on her side facing the other direction.
"How'd you know it was me?" Paine whispered back as she went over to the bed and placed a knee on it, not yet sure what mood Rikku was in.
Rikku turned over onto her back. "I know you're walk." She patted the bed when she noticed Paine hadn't moved yet.
Paine pulled her shirt off and her pants and pushed them aside before getting onto the bed and being pulled into a tiny apology kiss. She had learned to categorize Rikku's kisses. This one was soft and short, and it said she was sorry. Rikku looked at Paine for a second after they pulled apart when she tasted the distinct taste of rum on her lips. "You were drinking?"
Paine got comfortable at Rikku's side. They weren't touching at all but she was as close as she could be. "Yeah."
"Are you drunk?" Paine shook her head no. "Ok."
"Tell me why you can't sleep." The taller of the two asked as she adjusted her pillow to lean on and look over at Rikku with.
Rikku shrugged. "I can't find quiet."
"The window is open." A small sandstorm was brewing outside causing the usually tame sounds of the night to be elevated.
"I opened it."
Paine nodded. "Are you ready to leave?"
Rikku looked to Paine and nodded quickly. "I just don't know what to do with myself here."
"Yeah?" Paine draped her arm around her stomach lightly.
"What do you expect to happen?"
"With us, with life…I never got a chance to ask you because of this but…what do married people do? I don't know…This is not how I'm supposed to be feeling and…I feel bad."
"What do you mean?"
"I'm supposed to be over the moon, with you."
Paine sighed. "Give yourself a break huh?"
Rikku nodded. "I know I know."
"We'll be okay."
Rikku nodded. "It just…" She sighed. "I'm just real sad." She looked at Paine with a confused honesty that made Paine sad herself. "Then I see you and I'm happy, but then I feel bad for being happy and it's just…" Rikku shrugged tiredly. "Confusing."
"I know." Paine hugged her from the side then kept her arms around her. "Do you want to talk about something else then?"
Rikku paused. She had been thinking a lot about this while Paine was downstairs with her brother. "Paul."
She could feel her hot breath exhale heavily against her neck.
Rikku looked to her side at Paine's face that was hiding behind her hair. "Will you promise me that you will go talk to Keira about it then?"
"I promise baby."
"I love you, I just don't want you to regret things…I mean, look what happened here….she just up and left and yeah I guess we had that little time at the wedding to have that talk but there was still so much we never said…and with him…you never know."
Paine lay there in silence for a few minutes. Her wife was right, but a very strong part of her still after all these years just didn't know how to deal. "I will."
Rikku nodded and felt Paine's lips on her cheek briefly. "Are you leaving me?" The blonde asked just below a whisper.
An exhausted Paine nodded shortly. "You're hair smells to good to stay awake."
The silly comment brought the thinnest of smiles onto Rikku's face. "Okay."
Paine tightened her half hug a little. "I'm listening though…"
Rikku smiled a little more and just began to talk about everything that was on her mind. Paine had fallen asleep some time in, but with her just being there Rikku felt safe enough to talk, saying things aloud helped her.
The next morning Rikku woke before Paine to a quiet house. The mini sand storm from the night before had died down and nothing was left but the subtle light blue in the sky promising a bright and wind free day. The blonde pulled herself from under the warm blankets and took a second to look over at Paine's sleeping features before quietly grabbing some sandals making her way down the hall to the bathroom. Once the basics were taken care of she pulled her long blonde hair into a ponytail and stared at her reflection for a moment. She was twenty four, and a newly married young professional, and yet what she saw here in the quiet morning of her birth city was a little girl. The little girl she had always been. It felt strange.
On her way back to her room she peaked to see if her cousin was awake yet. They had exchanged few words since arriving and she wanted to see where Yuna's head was at since everything had happened. The small room was empty, the bed was made and a packed suitcase sat on top ready to be hauled down by Brother after breakfast.
It was still rather early though.
Paine was still in the same position as when Rikku left. Though she had been getting better sleep she still slept like the dead; hardly a sound or a movement, Rikku got good at straining to hear her slow breathing. Oddly enough on the nights she woke up with the rare nightmare it was this slow breathing that helped her calm down and find rest soon after.
Rikku changed into a pair of cloth shorts and a top that showed off her midriff. She ducked out of the room and headed down to the first level of the big house first taking a detour from the delicious hot chocolate she smelled coming from the kitchen to dip into her grandmother's room. She wasn't at all surprised to find her older brother fast asleep in the bed there.
With a mental note to check up on him later Rikku quietly made her way to the vanity mirror and picked up a bottle of perfume and sprayed herself with it before putting it back in its rightful spot on the dresser. She wanted to leave this place, but it wasn't because she ever wanted to leave her grandmother. The iconic scent would comfort her on the long flight back to New Luca.
"I heard you come down." Yuna motioned to a small cup of homemade hot chocolate. "I poured you some." Yuna was wearing a simple cotton dress, her hair was up as well save for that one long braid that followed her around.
Rikku made her way to the central square island slash dining table in the large family style kitchen. There were a few things on the stove, the oven was on too. It was as if Milana hadn't left at all.
"Well?" Yuna pressed after she watched Rikku take a sip.
They stared at one another for a while before speaking in unison.
"I want to get pregnant." "I'm still in love with him."
They both blinked at the others comment then both took a long sip of their heated beverage.
Rikku shrugged. "This could use a little more spice too." She motioned to the hot chocolate,
"You're twenty four."
"I think you two should talk."
"I think you should wait."
"He told Wakka he's coming for Vidina's birthday in a few weeks."
"Have you told Paine?"
"Do you think he will show?"
They fell quiet again before reply at the same time again into their mugs.
They sipped on their drinks and munched on some of the warm bread that was there, both reflecting on what the other had said.
Yuna spoke first. "Is it because she's gone?"
Rikku nodded but then shrugged. "How do I tell…I've wanted this with Paine, obviously it's not going to be tomorrow but…"
Rikku looked away. "I'm not even going to bring it up Yunie."
"I don't think you should."
Rikku looked back at her cousin. "And what about Tidus?"
Yuna sighed. "He might be getting traded."
"To New Luca?" The brunette nodded. "Would that change all the rumors though?"
"Well they are rumors right?"
Rikku shrugged. "I don't know. Paine thinks he's being honest, but men…I don't know."
"You want a baby?"
Rikku nodded but picked at the bread on her little plate. "Paine would have a heart attack. Die, and then come back simply to have another heart attack."
"It's a little early don't you think?"
"I don't think, I know, but honestly Yunie I don't know why I feel this way. It's just after that fight with Paine everything changed."
"Does Paine even want kids?"
Rikku nodded. "Deep down I know she wants a family."
"You just got married."
Rikku smiled a little. "Relax it's not happening anytime soon. It's just an idea I had…." She played with the edge of the ceramic plate, then her wedding ring. "Among others…"
Yuna actually smiled. "Do I want to know?"
Rikku shrugged. "Paine got me a honeymoon, she wouldn't let me touch or spend a thing on it, she said that it was her wedding gift to me….So I've been sketching and this area opened up in a nice part of town…"
Yuna caught on before Rikku could say anything else. "You're building her a house."
"Renovating." Rikku corrected, "The whole baby thing well that's just a fantasy but this is something I can really do…"
Yuna shook her head with a small smile as she reached for another piece of bread. "Where?"
"It's in the city still, just in a quieter part of Little Besaid."
"Only the best for my bride."
Yuna chuckled. "Just don't spend all the baby money on it."
The joke brought an honest laugh out of Rikku. "I know her, it's not going to be a mansion, maybe won't even be two stories, but it will be perfect."
They smiled but then fell quiet again.
"I miss her." Yuna admitted. She hadn't really spoken about how she was feeling with anyone yet. "I woke up searching for her down here and…" She shrugged.
Rikku looked over at her cousin and nodded sadly. "Me too Yunie."
"It doesn't feel real."
"Can we promise something?" Yuna nodded. "Can we not sell this place?"
"And that we'll make time to come here, when we're old ladies even….I know she'd like that." Their grandmother loved keeping traditions, it was only right that they continued to in order to honor her.
Rikku nodded and then sighed. "Making plans like this…"
"Doesn't it make you feel old?"
"Kirill, I worried about him."
"He's just sad, Yunie. And he doesn't like to show it." She already knew how her older brother got.
"I know." Yuna took another sip of her drink.
"We should plan a trip, the three of us."
"She'd want us all to spend more time together, she always had."
Rikku nodded knowing it was so. "She'd want you to stop cutting your hair too."
Yuna chuckled softly and absently brought a hand to her head. "Milana D. Bayla wanted a lot."
Rikku chuckled a little too but then grew thoughtful. "Yunie, what do you think her secret was?"
"Secret for life?"
Rikku nodded. "She seemed so happy."
Yuna put some real thought into the question. Rikku's observation had been so true. It only seemed weird now that she thought back on the years. She never saw her grandmother sad, or even mad at anything. If she were ever that then she did well to hide it from her grandbabies. "I think cause she had us to raise…maybe she was just too busy to give in to stuff that didn't make her time worthwhile."
"Look there." Rikku pointed as she zipped up her winter coat. "Baggage Claim 35A…35A."
Paine nodded as she hiked her backpack carry on onto her shoulders and bent down to pick up Rikku's purple and yellow carry on. "Ok so what do you want to do? We can eat here or go home and have something."
Rikku looked around the bustling airport. "All these pleases are expensive for nothing. Let's just go to the grocery store, we have to go shopping anyway now that we're back."
Paine agreed. "You're coming back tonight to pick up Yuna right?" They began walking toward baggage claim.
"Tomorrow night after work."
"What do you want to do tonight? I should get back from Big Mack's thing a little late; when she wins I'm gonna take her for food since Joyce is doing a late shift."
"Listen to you. When she wins." Rikku shook her head.
"Well I trained her so…"
"What's going to happen since you missed the exam?"
Paine sighed. "I have to wait for them to review my file and standing again."
Rikku looked over at her wife. "How long does that take?"
"Half a year."
Paine shook her head. "It's okay, now that I'm married I have other things to focus on." She offered her a smile.
"You're not quitting Judo."
"No, I'm not doing that." She didn't know what she would do if she couldn't train, over the years it had been one of her greatest outlets. "I just…" Paine shrugged not really knowing what to say. "I needed to be there with you, that's all."
Rikku nodded and took her free hand. "I'm not taking lead on this next assignment."
Paine looked at her briefly. "No?"
Rikku shook her head. "Luce is, so we'll both have more time."
Paine nodded. "Are you going to paint more?" The skill had sadly fell behind as Rikku got more invested into architecture.
"That would mean I'd have to visit Pops more."
Paine shook her head. "Well what was I thinking?"
"I don't know, you get these crazy ideas sometimes."
Paine smiled to herself. Boarding the flight had been hard for Rikku, but Paine had noticed that once they touched down in New Luca the blonde was slowly coming out of her shell and was taking practice to become her usual self again.
Paine waited with her arms crossed, a very proud smile on her face.
A lanky brown girl the age of thirteen jumped from the heightened platform with the blue ribbon bouncing against her developed chest. She made her barefooted way to her Guardian. Her curly brown hair was tucked away and made her large brown eyes seem even bigger.
"You made it!"
Mackenzie Joel Tilly stopped herself from pouncing Paine and stuck her hand out with a grin.
They shook hands after every fight because it showed professionalism, a big celebration was gloating and unsportsman like. That was the first lesson Paine had taught her. Staying humble was key.
Paine laughed and shook her hand. "1st place, not too bad kid."
"Thanks coach." Big Mack was really growing into her own, Paine wasn't surprised at all that her personality was turning out to be something akin to Rikku's. She supposed she just attracted outgoing people since most time she'd be perfectly content not saying much. She was still rather short, but had hit a bit of a growth spurt in the last few months. She was hardly the little girl Paine first met that day Joyce brought her home from the hospital.
They stared each other down for a moment. Both trying to decide if the other were an enemy or not even worth their time.
It was around two in the morning and the little girl with big brown eyes and fitted pajama bottoms was clutching her teddy bear under her arm and holding an empty cup.
Paine was clutching the sheets on the lumpy sofa of Joyce's living room, sweating heavily from withdraws.
The little girl watched the other woman carefully. Momma had told her that she was bringing someone from the hospital home with her today, but she had been passed out from playing all day and missed the grand arrival. The sweaty girl looked more scared than she did, and so it was then out of nowhere that she decided to be nice and friendly, after all that's what they had learned the other day in second grade.
"Do you like hippos?"
Paine for the life of her couldn't remember what a goddammned hippo looked like all of a sudden. "What?"
"Hippos…" Mackenzie moved to show the new comer her teddy. "He's Gilbert."
"Aren't you supposed to be asleep or something?" Paine asked as she eyed the youngin'. "How old are you?" It came out a little harsher than she expected for the little girl pulled Gilbert close to her chest again and said nothing for a while.
"I'm seven, and I'm not little."
"I didn't say you were."
"You im…imp…imfyed it."
"Implied it…I implied it."
"Yeah dat's mean." She pointed a little hand at Paine.
Paine quirked an eyebrow. "Well you aint big…"
"Neither are you…and you're all sweaty…why?"
Paine looked down at the tank top she was wearing, the weight she had lost was obvious. "I went working out."
"Momma said you died and den came back."
Mackenzie nodded. "She fixes peoples and….she fixed you?" The little girl took a curious step forward.
Paine thought for a moment. "Yeah, I guess…."
The dark living room fell quiet.
"What do they call you anyway?" Paine asked when the little girl just stood there staring at her.
"Momma says it's for Mackenzie."
"Ah." Paine shifted awkwardly. "I'm Paine."
The little girls eyes grew wide and she turned quickly. "We gotta wake Momma!"
"What?" No wait, I'm Paine…like that's my name."
Mackenzie paused in her frantic state. "Why?"
Paine shrugged. "Dunno. Why are you Mack?"
She shrugged and there was something so studied about it that Paine knew she had copied her. "Dunno."
"Go back to sleep." Paine motioned to where the little girl emerged.
Mackenzie shrugged. "Nightm…m…"
She nodded. Mackenzie took a few more steps toward Paine as if remembering for the first time why she was out here. Her mother's room was across the living room and she was scared and thirsty, but something about this new comer felt safe. "And I'm weel small so…monsters look for small things."
Paine was about to roll her eyes until she noticed the real and very related expression of fear in the little girls big brown eyes. "I mean you're pretty big compared to dream things so…" She was at the couch now right in front of Paine at her eye level.
Paine shushed her gently with a look. "I guess." After checking if Joyce had woken Paine looked back to Mackenzie. "Look you can be big if you want…."
"Oh no no, I don't know…"
"I was little, then I thought big and now…" Well now look where it got her. Sweating all the fluids in her body out as she tried to calm a seven year old down when she herself didn't know if she'd make it through the night. Mackenzie waited for her to get over what she was thinking about. "You can be big." Paine just decided on saying. "Like an airplane or a chocobo or a—"
Paine actually cracked a little grin. This kid was funny. "A Big Mack…yeah, okay."
"Rins sells dem."
Paine waited for her to say more. "What you want me to get you one?"
"No, you're a stranger."
"Pick up your bag." Paine motioned.
Mackenzie quickly did as she was told as she followed her trainer out of the dojo. "I was good right? I was good?"
Paine nodded. "You did really well."
McKenzie nodded to herself. Making Paine proud was half of what felt good about this. She didn't know why but in a lot of ways she was like her older sister. She wanted to do everything she did and she wanted to do it just as well.
"Do you think I'll be ready to test out soon?"
Paine chuckled. "No, stay in this league, it will be good for you." They neared the exit and paused at the entrance to suit up for the cold that lay before them.
Paine rolled her eyes and helped Mackenzie into her over coat, no matter how big she got her overcoats for some reason were way bigger.
"I'm beating everyone."
"Right now you are, the next league is tougher I want you to be ready."
Mackenzie sighed heavily. "But I'm ready now."
"Have you been eating your peas?" Paine raised an eyebrow when she got no answer. "What about math? How is that going?"
"That teacher hates me."
Paine opened the front door for her and shook her head as Mackenzie led the way into the parking lot. The skies were dark and it was late. She had work the next morning and all the traveling made her dizzy. "Well until you start eating peas, and until she starts liking you—"
"That's never gonna happen!"
Paine pulled her car keys out of her pocket. "Big Mack you need more time, and that's that. Get in."
Mackenzie huffed the way thirteen year olds did and jumped into the passenger seat of Paine's supped up two door she got as a birthday gift a while back. She and Gippal had been working on it a lot more recently and replaced the engine and converted it to a manual transmission. It was faster and was better on gas which Paine liked because better on gas meant better on wallet.
"Fine…" She settled on after they had been on the road for five minutes. Paine was the queen of silent treatment, Mackenzie was realizing that no amount of pouting would work on her. "Where's Rikku?" She looked around as if the blonde would pop out of nowhere.
Paine shrugged. "I dunno."
"Aren't you guys married now, shouldn't you know?"
Paine thought about it. Rikku was feeling a bit better, but still a little down, understandably so, but she figured some space was what the blonde wanted. Maybe it wasn't, maybe Mackenzie had more insight into marriage than she did. "Her grandma passed away. That's why we left."
"And you missed your exam."
Paine nodded. "It was sad…"
"You should buy her chocolate."
Paine chuckled. "Jelly beans maybe…"
"Why did she die?"
"It was her time."
"But if people really miss her than maybe she should have left at a different time, like later…."
"Well we don't really know when it's our time."
"Yeah, that's what Momma said."
"She's a smart lady."
"She smells like hospital."
Paine nodded and focused on the road for a moment. "She saved my life, your mom. These next couple years you're gonna turn into an ass, but just remember that's what she does on the daily."
Mackenzie grew thoughtful. "Maybe I should buy her chocolate too."
Rikku looked up from the last minute sketches Lucil express mailed over to the apartment when she and Paine were in Home. "Pypo." She greeted. Paine walked over the small distance to the couch and leaned over to kiss Rikku on the cheek before dropping a small bag of jelly beans on her lap and then disappearing. Rikku smiled a little at how Paine's quiet nature came out at times. She must be tired. "Paine!?"
"Did she win?" Rikku got up from the tiny loveseat and abandoned her work to go into their room. Paine was in the process of changing into some long baggy sweat pants and a tank top. "Did she do well?"
Paine nodded. "Yeah."
"I'm just tired babe." Paine admitted.
Rikku nodded. "So she won?"
Paine nodded and walked over to Rikku. "She's good and she knows it."
"Mh, I wonder where she picked that up."
Paine shrugged. "What are you doing?"
"Sketching. Do you want to see? It's for downtown." Rikku led the way into the living room and Rikku laid against Paine as she showed her all the intricate details of the designs Lucil had been primarily working on since they left.
"I thought you weren't taking the lead on this one?"
Rikku shook her head. "This one has been open for months, I'm just making some adjustments."
"What's that?" Paine asked motioning to a certain area.
Rikku loved when Paine asked questions because it meant she got to share what she was learning and had learned. It got to help her justify what that rocky patch in their relationship had created, an education she was proud of. "It's a garden."
"In an office building?"
"Well yeah, who wants to stay inside all day anyway?"
Paine nodded. "True true…What about here." Paine motioned to another nearby area.
Rikku chuckled. "That's the bathroom pypo."
Rikku turned slightly and stole a kiss from her wife before looking back to her work completely missing the little blush the kiss had caused Paine. "Here is the staircase, I wanna make it huge but y'know budgets and stuff."
"We all can't have rich daddies."
"Or daddies in law." Rikku corrected. "Let's face some facts pypo, you're spoiled."
"Me?" Paine laughed. "Did we really need to get olive oil mayo?"
"And organic lemon aid?"
"Or whole wheat—"
"Are you going to keep talking while I try and school you on basics of building a bathroom?"
Paine chuckled. "Ah, no sorry."
"Good." Rikku grinned. "It's easier if we build one in the same place on every floor…" She pointed to an area.
She nodded. "Mhm. Anyway William wants this in tomorrow finished on his desk. I'm almost done."
"You're wearing your shortest skirt tomorrow right?"
Rikku rolled her eyes. "You wearing your tightest work outfit right?"
Paine chuckled but then thought of something. "Are we still going to the bank at lunch?"
"Yeah, I'm picking you up after my meeting so bring a change of clothes."
Paine yawned. "Okay."
Rikku turned to look at Paine resting her back on the couch more. "You wanna go to bed?"
Paine opened an eye. "Mmm. "
Rikku rubbed her arm. "I have to finish this."
Paine sighed heavily and moved to sit up. "Yeah."
Rikku shook her head. "Hold on."
Paine shrugged. "I'm sorry." She realized she wasn't really being fair.
Rikku put her sketch pad down. "Play me something." She clasped her hands cutely. "Pwease pwease pwease."
Listening to Paine play piano had become her favorite evening activity as she relaxed with some wine and her sketch pad.
The piano Paine had gotten as her graduation gift sat cramped next the door of the apartment and was seldom played by Paine when anyone was here. She found that picking up the skill again hurt a little more than she thought. It reminded her of being a child and sometimes she didn't like feeling that lost. Everything just came back. Rikku loved it though and Paine loved her wife.
Paine sat down on the dusty stool and opened the case hiding the ivory and looked to her right when Rikku came to sit beside her. "What do you want to hear?"
Rikku shrugged. "Anything." A smile grew when she heard the start of one of her favorite songs. "Moon River." Paine nodded. It was a romantic melody, and also a sleepy one. Paine played it slower than usual, a product of her own fatigue, but she had to admit that nothing really mattered except the next note when she played.
Eventually Rikku got up from sitting beside her and went back to finishing up on her leftover work. She had promised Paine that their time would be theirs; all she needed to do was finish this project till the end of the year and hopefully a promotion was in order, which meant a little less take home work and a nice bonus. She never saw herself as the workaholic type, hell she hated college until she started taking Art classes. Maybe it was because this didn't seem like work to her. She measured a few areas and checked some notes Lucil sent her then rolled everything up and put it in her blueprint tube near the door that was readied for the next morning.
Paine looked up from what she was doing when she felt hands on her shoulders.
"I hate how you're so good at things." The blonde admitted with a small smile as she watched Paine end the song gently.
Paine stopped playing and stood, but not before covering the ivory back up. "I started really young." When she picked it up again a few years ago it just came back like riding a bike.
Rikku nodded motioning to one of the pictures that were framed sitting on top of the piano. It was the only one she had of her wife as a youngster. She was sitting on a piano bench smiling in a pair of overalls with a band-aid on her knee. It was her favorite picture of Paine. "I know you were so cute."
Paine rolled her eyes. "Bed?"
Paine let Rikku go ahead while she busied herself with turning lights off and making sure doors were locked. She found Rikku in the bathroom mirror two minutes later. "What?"
"Do you think this is a wrinkle?"
Paine chuckled and turned the light off on her before heading into their room.
AN: The song "Moon River" Is from Breakfast at Tiffany's. I suggest you listen to the piano arrangement, throughout this fic Paine will play songs that directly represent her mood so I strongly recommend you listen to 'em when they come about. Anyway you're reviews have been so great and encouraging, please continue.