Gippal crashes the party at Chez Cactuar.
"S-Sir Auron?" Yuna clambered onto his knees, clutching at his belt. "Are you going to make the Lady go away?"
Wakka made a small, strangled sound, shooting a panicked glance at Rikku.
For once, Rikku's inventiveness had exhausted itself, and all she could managed was a strained, "C'mon, Yunie, he's a stranger; he's not gonna understand..."
Auron said nothing, contemplating the small, tear-stricken face before him. Her mismatched eyes were a haunting reminder of Spira's accursed cycles. How often had he tried to push against the spiral of death, only to find fate twisting his efforts to less than naught?
"She wants you to," Yuna said softly. "She feels sick inside. Can't somebody fix her?"
"Yuna," Auron said, choosing his gruff words with care. "Can anyone but the Lady change the weather?"
"Um..." The girl pondered, then shook her head, curls flopping around her ears. "No, 'cause she's the Lady!"
"Then how can we change her? The Lady is stronger than the weather," Auron said. "But if she ever leaves, she will give you a gift."
"Um, Auron," Rikku said, clearing her throat and edging towards her daughter.
"Really?" Yuna said breathlessly.
"Yes," Auron said, stroking the girl's nose with a finger. "But it is your choice. If you wish it, you'll find a way to make gardens grow in the desert."
"Oooh!" Yuna said. "Garden magic? That sounds fun."
"Yunie, it's past bedtime," Rikku said. "Say goodnight to everyone, okay? I'll sing you a lullaby, but only if you come right now."
Yuna set her hands against Auron's coat, raising herself up to kiss the scar on his cheek. "Tell the Lady I said hi." Then she scrambled down and took her mother's hand, waving shyly to the other guests. "Night-night."
Monitoring them until they disappeared around the corner, Wakka turned to Auron with a grudging nod. "We're cool, man," he said. "For now."
"But who is the Lady?" Maroda said. "My brother thinks—"
"I think that we, also, must rest," Isaaru said, rising to his feet and bowing. "Sir Wakka, thank you again for your hospitality. If there is anything you're willing to tell us about the Lady, we would be grateful. But we shall not impose."
"Uh," Wakka said, accent thickening, "I donno what to tell you. Yuna got a bad case o' the toxin, and it's been messin' with her dreams ever since. That's about it. So, anyway...sleep well, ya? We'll make another sweep for your brudda in the morning."
Dawn found Rikku dozing on the couch in the living room, which Auron had finally vacated. As the light grew, a groggy Wakka emerged from the hallway, shuffling over to the petite figure stretched out on the sofa. He lowered himself to the floor beside her, folding his arms on the edge of the cushions and pillowing his face on his forearms. Eventually she stirred, rolled over to check the sphere on the end table, and bumped his cheekbone with her hip.
"Hey," he said, nosing her tummy above her pajama shorts. "You could take that thing back to the bedroom, ya know."
"Didn't want to keep waking you," she mumbled, rolling towards him for a sleepy kiss.
"Mmm. Yeah. I just hate waiting!" She rested her cheek on his arm, stroking his ridiculous crest of red hair. "Are you okay?"
"Ya." He exhaled. "So far, so good. But how long we gotta keep 'em here for, eh?"
"Pops wants me to bring Auron to him once things calm down. Maybe I could—"
A faint buzzing noise outside the house abruptly grew to a throbbing hum that rattled the windows. There was a hollow boom that shook the walls and floor, and the sound faded to a whine, then silence.
"What the—?" Wakka peered towards the front door, hopping to his feet. "Don't tell me Sir Auron crashed the hover."
"That's not our hover," Rikku said, suddenly wide awake.
"I'll go see," Wakka said. He stalked to the door, scooped up a blitzball resting against the base of the coatrack, and reached for the handle. His face relaxed into a goofy grin as the door swung open. "Heee-eeey! Who's dis bum on our doorstep, eh?"
Gippal set his hands on his hips and leaned back, striking a flamboyant pose. "Someone you still owe two hundred gil. Heya, Taboo, Sunshine, how've you been? How's the Cactuar Patch?"
"Doing great," Rikku said, peering past Wakka's elbow at the odd-looking craft parked outside. It was a sled-like vehicle with stubby wings, turbine rotors on the rear and bottom, and a guardrail surrounding four seats clustered in a u-shape behind a windshield. A layer of sand had been blown into the front entryway, coating the outer surface of the door in a fine spray. "Keep your voice down; you may not have woken all of them. Gippal, do you have any idea what time it is?"
He spread his hands. "Sure do. Do you have any idea that Sin just blew past your house? Damn thing moves faster than I thought. Can I come in?"
"Oh, why not," said Wakka, dropping the ball and nudging it back into place with his foot. "Though we've kinda got a full house right now. But come on in; I'll get you a drink."
"Thanks, but none of that tea crap. Battery acid, please." Gippal sauntered in and threw himself down on a chair, pushing back his goggles. "Seriously. You guys have no idea how glad I was to see your lights on when I flew over. I was afraid I might find a big smoking hole in the ground."
"You flew over us in dat thing?" Wakka said. "We're lucky we aren't a hole in the ground. What'd you do to your old ship?"
"Landed four miles away. That's my new flyer. Like a hover, only it goes up, not just sideways. Pretty spiff, eh?"
"Great," Rikku said, distracted. "You mean Sin came back? Gippal, what's happened to Home?"
"I was just getting to that," Gippal said. "Half flooded, no power, but it's not as bad as it could've been. Sin trashed the old Guado manor, but left most of the new construction intact. Brother and Buddy are babysitting the evacuees on Vrist Island. Elder Cid's back assessing the damage to Home with the salvage teams. We had a full-scale Cid-plosion when my scanners showed Sin headed back your way. He ordered me to get you guys to safety, only Sin outran me." Gippal took the glass Wakka set at his elbow. "Thanks."
"Aww, you were worried about us," Rikku said.
"Damn straight. Two hundred gil ain't chocobo chips." He tossed back the amber liquid and beamed, eyes watering. "And that ain't tea."
"Knock it off with the gil, man," Wakka said, plunking onto the sofa and curling an arm behind Rikku. "You been takin' cheatin' lessons from Rin. Speakin' o' which, I thought you were supposed to be in the Calm Lands fleecin' the Crusaders. You decide to come home an' start makin' an honest living?"
"Oh, things were getting a little hot back in Yevonville. Sin's stirred up, and I figured it was time to clear out of ground zero before summoners start showing up for the big dance."
Wakka shook his head. "Cid tol' everybody to clear out eight months ago, Gip."
"Yeah, well, the Crusaders have been stocking up on weapons since Sin came out of hiding. Rin and I made a bundle."
"Same old Gippal." Rikku said. "By the way, did Pops say anything about our...guest?"
"Actually, now that you mention it—Hey! LJ!" Gippal flashed a thumbs up towards the front door as it swung open. "Speak o' the devil. Still chasing Sin all over Spira?"
"Hmph." Auron stamped the sand off his boots and stepped inside.
"Same old LJ," Gippal said. "Long story, I suppose? Auron only does short ones."
"Yeah," Wakka said, face clouding over. "How'd you know him, anyway?"
"L...J?" Rikku added quizzically.
"Longtime customer. The LJ, or rather, O.L.J., actually. The Original Legendary Jackass. "
"And you're the new legendary jackass, I suppose?" Rikku said.
"You always were the brains here, Rikku." Gippal took another swig and gave Auron a vague wave. "Yo. I think I've got something for you. You lose a sword in Kilika?"
The corner of Auron's mouth twitched. "Maybe."
A slow grin spread across Gippal's face. "I thought it looked familiar. Better quality than anything the Crusaders have. I reckon it'd pull in at least a thousand gil, twenty plus if I hold it until the Calm and get Rin to auction it off as memorabilia. Soooo. How much might it be worth for you to buy it back?"
"Much." Auron folded his arms. "However, it will have to be eighty-four gil."
"Broke, huh? I guess Legendary Jackass doesn't pay well." Gippal slapped his knee. "Nah, man, I'm just pulling your leg. You've got things to do. I heard about that stunt you pulled in Kilika. You're utterly bumfucking nuts, Auron, you know that?"
"What'd he do?" Rikku said curiously.
"Jumped off a moving ship onto Sin's back and stuck a pin in it. And Sin /stopped/. He just about drowned when the thing swam off. They're all yapping about how he saved the town. By the way, where's your shiny new summoner?"
Auron nodded towards the back of the house.
"Hoo boy." Gippal began to chuckle, noting Wakka's long face. "Full house, eh? Well, look. I've got orders to take Auron to Elder Cid. I doubt he wants to give you a hero's welcome, old man, but orders are orders. So if you want, I can take the summoner, too."
"Acceptable," Auron said. "Isaaru wishes to consult Cid."
"And the others?" Wakka said, leaning towards Gippal with desperation in his eyes. "Gip, we're up to our ears in Yevonites, and Yuna's got a crush on Auron."
Gippal cuffed his shoulder. "No problem. I'll take them all off your hands."
"Oh, really?" Rikku snorted. "How much?"
"Oh." Gippal folded his arms behind his head and leaned back. "I reckon two hundred gil should cover it."
Happily, Isaaru's offer to pay their travel-fee out of Yevon's coffers tickled Wakka's sense of justice. Maroda was all for it, once Gippal explained that the sensors on his ship could scan the whole island on the way out. So, after a quick meal, they prepared to leave. Elma's scruples put up a brief stumbling block when she saw the small craft parked outside.
"Wait, is that thing...machina?" She gave Maroda a lopsided grin. "You couldn't arrange something a little more appropriate for a maester, eh?"
"A maester? Man, Elder Cid's gonna love this," Gippal said. "Look, lady, all the ships off this island use machina, so you're gonna be stuck here a while."
"Er," Rikku said, scratching her cheek, "actually, so does the shower I showed you last night. And our water supply. And the toilet. Come to think of it, that outfit you're wearing—"
"Oh, no." Elma looked down with genuine alarm at the clothes she had borrowed, a loose-fitting pair of cargo pants and a midriff-baring tank top, the only option since she was a good five inches taller than Rikku. "Don't tell me there's machina in it!"
Rikku grinned. "No, no, it's just artificial fabric. Never mind. It won't eat you, I promise."
Elma reddened. "Sorry, it's just—"
Gippal snorted. "Enh, you sound just like Taboo when he first got here. Machina this, forbidden that. You'll get over it." With a shrug, he jogged towards the flyer and swung himself up by the handrails of a short ladder in back, affixed between the tail rotors. "So, is this everybody? Hop on. You comin' with us, Sunshine?"
"You got room?" Rikku looked at the small craft doubtfully. "I want to check on Pops, but..."
"No prob," Gippal said, sliding into one of the front seats. "You and Yevon-lady don't weigh more than a chocobo. Just sit in my lap."
"Kweh!" Mbela said from the cluster of heads peeping around Wakka's legs in the front entryway.
"Nice try," Rikku said, wrinkling her nose. "I'll sit on the floor, thanks."
"Don't push it, Gip," Wakka said. "Rikku, I still don't think—"
"I'll be back before you know it, hon!" Rikku said, bouncing over to him and cupping her hands on his shoulders. "Anyway, I gotta make sure Pops doesn't get sweet-talked by Isaaru into doin' something stupid. Right?"
"Okay, okay," he said, sounding slightly dazed by her jiggling. He hauled Rikku in for a fierce kiss that left the children giggling behind his legs. They crowded out of the door around their parents. Rikku dropped to a crouch to draw them into a wriggling hug. "Zap Dad for me," she said, ruffling Etta's hair.
"Oh," Wakka said, disentangling himself with reluctance. "Almost forgot. Isaaru, uh...this is a sphere we found in Zanarkand. It'll answer some o' your questions." He fished out a sphere, cradling it in both hands as though it were a precious heirloom, and slipped it into the pouch strapped to her hip.
Rikku's eyes darted from her husband to Sir Auron, who had stationed himself on the rear deck like a mast. "Hoo boy."
"We are in your debt," Isaaru said, bowing his head towards the family. "Thank you, Sir Wakka."
"So, are we leaving, people?" Gippal said. "Hop on. Wakka, you'd better get the gaggle inside so we don't sand-blast you on lift-off. Be good, kiddies!" He waggled his fingers towards the children.
Yuna, scooped up by her father as he herded the children back indoors, began to cry.
"I'm going to regret this, aren't I?" Elma said cheerfully, belting herself into the wing-seat opposite Maroda's.
"Just think of it as a very large chocobo," Maroda said, tucking his spear under his feet.
"Kweh," she said sarcastically.
"Ready when you are, Gip," Rikku said, crouching behind Gippal and Isaaru and gripping the backs of their seats.
"Hang onto your jock straps, ladies and gents," Gippal said, flipping a switch. The deck trembled as the engines whined to life. There was a puff of dust, and the craft rose to the level of the treetops, swaying slightly. "The Gippal Express is ready for launch. Next stop: Home sweet Home."
Elma's heartfelt Oh, Yevon was lost in the drone of the rotors as Gippal slammed his foot on the throttle. With an unsteady lurch, the flyer catapulted forward, crested a dune by inches, and shot off across the desert sands.