A Secret Journey (Rikku's Story)

BY : tuatha
Category: Final Fantasy X > General
Dragon prints: 1082
Disclaimer: I do not own Final Fantasy X, nor any of the characters from it. I do not make any money from the writing of this story.

A Secret Journey (Rikku's Story)

Part Seventeen


We emerged from the pass above Macalania forest onto the crest of a nothern
facing cliff. The plains of the Calm Lands stretched out below us for miles.
On our left was a sloping path that led to the South-west of the plain, and
ahead in the distance beyond the grasslands Mount Gagazet reared toward the
sky, its peak a faded blue outline merging into sky, lost in the haze of
distance.

It had only taken us till mid morning to get here, since our campsite had
been in the northern-most reaches of the forest. I had spent the morning in
a daze, partly from lack of sleep and partly because of the emotional high I
was still experiencing.

Auron and I had snuck back into camp in the early hours, only to find that
all was quiet. Yuna and Tidus had either not returned or had gone to sleep
in the main tent and there was no sign of Kimahri. We crept into the smaller
tent and since we were alone we both lay on Auron's great coat and cuddled
each other back to sleep again. He woke me once more before daylight, his
roaming hands unfastening my clothes and I had to stifle my giggles and my
later breathless exclamations as we made love once more.

So I have to admit I was not particularly observant. Everyone seemed much
the same; and if Tidus was a little less exuberant than usual, his eyes
suspiciously bright, and if Yuna was unpredictably giddy when we emerged to
the panorama that spread out below and before us, twirling upon the grass
and then collapsing breathlessly to gaze up at the sky I thought little of
it.

Most of my attention was on Auron, who outwardly seemed much the same as
always. He spoke little and his serious visage gave few outward clues to
what he was feeling, but my emotional resonance was only on him and in his
expression I saw a contentment and calmness of being that confirmed for me
that on the inside we were as one.

He did not seek me out or constantly look to me for reassurance but when his
gaze did meet mine there was assurance and warmth that made my stomach buzz
and my heart expand and glow. We made our way down the gentle incline that
led to the plaind pnd paused once we reached the level to stop for lunch.

We met some Al Bhed who were using a primitive machina to cross the plains,
scaring off a flock of wild chocobo that had been feeding near the cliff.
They sold us some lnys, a wafer-like bread that would last many days, even a
week if stored correctly, and some cheese, as well as some potions and other
healing items.

After they left we had more of a picnic than a lunch. Tidus and Yuna played
tag, Wakka kicked a ball around and joked and begged until both Auron and
Kimahri joined him in an impromptu game of soccer. They had no goalposts but
plenty of posturing and big talk ensued regardless. I watched Auron, still
stiff and dignified but unbending a little and actually smiling several
times with good natured humour at their jokes.

It was my turn to cook, and we had several birds that Wakka had brought down
on our way through the pass, so I heated a stone in the fire then levered it
out carefully once it was heated through, braising the meat on its surface.
I added some fresh pycem leaves, an aromatic herb that I'd collected on our
way down the hillside. Since I hadn't been foresightful enough to bring
sticks to put the meat on I picked the pieces up with the bread and wrapped
the meat in them.

I called to the others. "Hey! Food's ready!"

I handed out the lnys wrapped meat to everyone, leaving the remainder beside
the fire to stay warm.

"What's this, Rikku?" asked Wakka, examining the contents of his bread. "You
trying to poison us?" I could tell he was joking by his tone of voice, and
the little grin that followed his question.

"Sure am." I took a mouthful of my own portion. "Mmmmm..." gan,gan, then I
rolled over on the ground onto my back and faked the worst rendition of
someone dying of poison, waving my hands and legs in the air in a mad parody
of death throes. Then I sat up again. "Too bad I forgot and ate some myself,
huh?"

Everyone was laughing, even Kimahri's whiskers twitched, although his laugh
sounded like he was trying to cough up a furball. I finished my meat and
bread, although the herb was too strong to eat, so I tossed a piece of pycem
into the fire when I was done.

Tidus was staring goggle-eyed at me when I looked up, and I realised he'd
gotten a large piece of pycem leaf and was eating that too. His face twisted
at the strong flavour and I couldn't help myself and burst out laughing,
rolling on the ground again and this time cackling uncontrollably.

"What? What's so funny?" Yuna asked, but I couldn't answer, just pointing at
Tidus helplessly until he drew the chewed and mangled strip of green from
his mouth and too started to laugh. I finally pulled myself together. "I'm
sorry, you were just supposed to eat the meat. But your face was priceless."
I chuckled again. "The pycem won't hurt you, but the flavour is pretty
strong."

"Yeah, it is that." He made a face, wiping his hand after tossing the herb
into the fire. He still helped himself to more meat when it was offered,
although he checked carefully to make sure he didn't make the same mistake
again. I'd made some tea which I poured and handed around, finally sitting
down again in my place by the fire. No one seemed inclined to hurry on our
pilgrimage and the shadow of the cliff behind us stretched across the grass
as the afternoon lengthened.

Yuna and Tidus talked softly to each other while Wakka went off a little way
and practiced again and again with his ball, trying to learn the Jecht shot.
Kimahri padded off silently, going up the slope and standing like a statue,
watching the grassland around us and taking in everything with watchful
eyes. Lulu stared into the fire dreamily. I didn't know if she was drawn
deep into the past or the future but there was a dark stillness to her mood
that made me hesitate to ask.

I lay back on the grass and watched clouds form and break into myriad
patterns. Auron's head appeared in my view. He was smiling down at me from
over his shades and I smiled back. I wanted him to kiss me and he recognised
the look in my eyes. He looked around swiftly then bent to me, his lips
pressing against mine firmly but briefly. He lay back in the grass too and I
shifted to rest my head on his shoulder while his arm moved around me to
stroke my shoulder in a lazy caress.

The fire began to die down and the afternoon light began to fade in
preparation for dusk. Auron turned his head, his lips close to my hair.
"Just a little longer."

His arm tightened around me, and I knew that he didn't want to go on, not
really. It was an effort for all of us from then on to continue. No one
spoke of it, our reluctance to reach the end of our journey. It was
something we all knew and shared, but couldn't give voice to.
We had no choice.

His arm fell away and I sat up and blinked. Everyone began to help pack up
our things. Auron spoke. "I think we should move further away from the
cliffs before we set up camp. We don't know what might lurk in caves and
fissures here."

We all agreed and after the fire was doused we set out, walking until just
before daylight faded completely. A new campfire was started and our tents
were quickly raised. Despite my afternoon nap I was still tired from lack of
sleep the night before and yawned before watches were decided.

Out here on the plain we needed two guards per watch, since we were exposed
on all sides to the dark plain surrounding us. Auron asked Tidus if he
wanted to take first watch with Kimahri. We usually kept the same order to
simplify things which meant Lulu and Wakka would take second watch and Auron
and I would be third. Yuna wasn't assigned to guard camp, but when Tidus was
on first watch of the night she would usually stay with him and provide a
third pair of eyes.

It had just naturally fallen that our watches were paired on compatibility
and preference, Lulu and Wakka together, myself and Auron, and Tidus and
Kimahri who both had a close bond of affection with Yuna.

I crawled into the smaller tent and shivered fitfully until Auron joined me.
His cloak around us and his body warming my back helped me drift off quickly
to sleep. When I woke it was too early for our shift so I turned and wrapped
an arm around Auron's chest, closing my eyes but unable to return to sleep.
I tucked the red coat firmly around his side then crawled to the opening.
Lulu and Wakka were sitting by the fire and I was about to join them when I
heardka ska say "It's not just that she's an Al Bhed. Sir Auron is old
enough to be her father."

I stopped in my tracks, floored by his comment. Lulu's quiet remonstrance
was inaudible to me, but Wakka shook his head in negation. Again she spoke
quietly to him and he turned to her in wonderment. "You knew?"

"Shhhhh. Keep your voice down, do you want to wake everyone?"

They both spoke too quietly then for me to hear, and I found myself crouched
on my heels feeling sick at heart because of his words. I squeezed my eyes
shut to force back tears of shame and anger. I'd thought after all this time
I was no longer an Al Bhed to any of my companions but it seemed I was
mistaken. That wasn't the worst of it though. I looked back at where Auron
lay, so recently in my arms, taking and giving comfort as we struggled on
our way to Zanarkand. Wakka's implication was hateful and hurtful, not just
to me but to Sir Auron as well.

I buried my head against my knees and tried to push the feelings deep
inside. When Lulu whispered from near the tents opening I answered calmly
enough. "Coming."

Then I moved to Auron, brushing my hand against his shoulder, leaning in to
whisper in his ear to wake him. He grumbled assent and I left him to rouse
himself, climbing out and shivering in the cool air. I went to the fire on
the opposite side of wherkka kka and Lulu were waiting for us to take our
turn on watch. When Auron emerged Lulu wished us both a good night and
entered the tent. Wakka did the same but I didn't speak, instead gazing into
the fire in what I hoped was an adequate cover for my inability to answer
him with anything approaching normality.

When we were alone we walked the camp perimeter, checking for movement and
allowing our eyes to adjust to the light level. When we returned we sat near
enough to the fire for some of its heat to reach us but not so close that it
would blind our night vision. Auron sat facing in one direction and I
nestled close to his side facing the other.

We were quiet, both observing the night around us. I rested my head against
his bicep, and after a few minutes he nudged me. "You're not falling asleep
are you?"

I shook my head. He turned his head to regard my profile. "Is there
something wrong?"

"No." I answered too quickly for it to be true and could have kicked myself
for the mistake.

"Oh?" He didn't have to say anything further, his disbelief was
self-evident. But his mind was working overtime. "Something happened."

"I can't..."

"Tell me." he insisted.

I looked around for some means of escape, but there was none. I didn't want
to think what he would do or say when I told him, as I assuredly must. I
gulped and caved in to his will.

"Wakka said something...about us."

His stillness was somehow terrifying, my heart began to pound in my chest.
"Rikku, what did he say?"

I shook my head. "I don't want to tell you."

He was silent for a long time, then his hand came up and carefully stroked
my hair, caressing the back of my skull. "I took a vow. I take such things
seriously."

I squeezed my eyes shut and nodded. I knew how serious he could be.
"Please...don't..."

He sighed. "It would be better if you told me now, don't you think?
I will find out, and it might be safer if I don't hear it from him with my
sword in my hand."

"It hurts."

"I know. Tell me."

"He said...'it's not just that she's an Al Bhed. He's old enough to be her
father.'"

It all came out in a rush, miserably as I hung my head in shame. His muscles
coiled and anger radiated from him. He sprang to his feet silently and paced
away, turning suddenly and holding himself in check with visible effort.
Then he breathed out, a long exhalation that allowed him to regain some of
his composure.

He stared fitfully into the fire, then added some more of the brushwood that
we'd collected. It had burned down during our watch but began to flicker
more brightly with the additional fuel. The activity seemed to calm him and
he returned and settled at my side.

"I am very glad you told me now."

He leaned back to look at my face, tilting my chin up with a finger. "Put it
behind you. That you are Al Bhed does not matter to me. As for the other,
you are not too young, and you make me feel, at least, that I'm not too old.

"Now if he had said you were too pretty for an ugly old man like me I would
have been hurt."

I snorted a little in laughter, an effect I'm sure he intended.

I smiled at him. "You're wonderful, you know? I was afraid..."

"Tell me you didn't believe that what he said was true."

I shook my head. "I didn't want to. It just..." My hands had crossed over my
chest, and my fists clenched in an unconscious gesture of how it had
squeezed my heart. "...hurts, you know?"

He patted my head. "Yes. It does. But in the morning we will avenge this
slight to your honour and mine."

I nodded and rested my head against his shoulder once more. Light filtered
across the mountains, and I had to blink frequently to keep sleep from
creeping up on me. I raised my head to see his face, grimly settled in an
abstracted look. I ran my fingers through his hair and waited while he
looked at me, his expression lightening. He glanced down at his shoulder.

"I think you drooled on me."

"I did not!" I tried to sound outraged at the implication that I had fallen
asleep but it was difficult through the broad grin I wore. I set water on
the campfire to heat in preparation for our morning ablutions and set some
lnys on the stones that were set around the fire, waiting for everyone to
wake.

End of Part Seventeen


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