Categories > Games > Final Fantasy 9 > Inochi Wa Tsusuku

Chapter Four

by AccountingNinja 0 reviews

He pulled back to look at her pretty face. He was surprised to find her gaping at him in disbelief. "I-I see it again!" She exclaimed.

Category: Final Fantasy 9 - Rating: PG - Genres: Drama - Characters: Mikoto,Vivi Ornitier - Warnings: [!!!] - Published: 2008-07-16 - Updated: 2008-07-17 - 5622 words

Chapter Four~ Under the Darkness


Winter settled into the Magdalene Forest. The Outer Continent saw its share of biting icy winds, and the winters there could be among the harshest and coldest on Gaia. Thanks to some Genome foresight and neighborly Dwarven assistance, however, the Black Mage Village remained well insulated to the cruelties of the season. There was plenty of food and firewood, and all the villagers holed themselves up cozily.

Mikoto meandered the powdery white roads, clad in a heavy, salmon-colored jacket lined with brown Muu fur. Snowstorms, like rain in the summertime, were rare in these parts. Usually it was just freezing and barren, but a small blizzard had erupted during the night, leaving a few inches of snow blanketing the forest. Mikoto enjoyed the crunching sound it made under her boots. Everything felt so still; so familiar. Of the seasons she had seen here on Gaia, winter was fast becoming her favorite.

She passed the lake, now a slick, glassy plate with frosty edges. The forest was mainly evergreens, and ice clung to the branches, forming gorgeous crystalline sculptures. All sound fell dead into the cushion of snowbanks. She exhaled slowly, watching her breath as it fogged up the frigid air.

So beautiful.

Plus, almost everyone stayed indoors, enjoying the comfort of their hearths, leaving the outdoors quiet and unoccupied. Although Mikoto had grown fonder of everyone in the past few months, she still preferred solitude. Actually, there was only one person she ever really missed when he wasn't around.

When she had taken in her fill of the lovely scenery, she headed to Vivi's small house. Unlike herself, the little Mage did not care for the cold.

She knocked, and didn't wait for a reply before cracking the door slightly.

"Hello, Vivi. It's me. Can I come in?"

A shivery voice responded, "H-Hi, Mikoto! C-Come in, but please c-close the d-door."

She found him huddled by his woodstove, hands outstretched, warming over the fire.

"Stand back a sec," he told her distractedly.

An awesome roar erupted from his gloved fingertips as he fed the fire with his magic. Mikoto startled a bit. She often forgot what destructive powers lay within the small, unassuming boy.

"S-sorry about that, but I think my stove is broken. I keep lighting it up, but it doesn't stay lit. I told B-Blue Water, and he said he'd come look at it for me."

Mikoto furrowed her brow. "You're right, it is cold in here. The vent must not be working properly. Fires go out when they receive insufficient oxygen."

Vivi laughed. "I learn s-something new from you every day."

Mikoto squatted next to him. "Forget about waiting for Blue Water. He is very busy, and you shouldn't have to freeze all day." She had only just started calling the Genome man by the name he had chosen for himself. For the longest time, she had refused to do so. It was hard, however, to hold onto her spite for Blue when he had done so much for the village and the other Genomes, not to mention his work on the new Black Mage children still in progress. Everybody regarded Miss Mikoto as the Genome leader, but it was Blue Water who truly manned the helm of village life.

Mikoto slipped out of her jacket and hung it around her friend's shaking shoulders.

"H-Hey! I can't take this!" Vivi protested.

She held up her hand. "It's quite alright. I just walked around the forest, and I'm even a little too warm now. Besides, I think I like this cold. It's such an odd sensation, being cold."

"Well..." Vivi sighed. "Thanks. It really should be the other way around, though."

"Oh?" She cocked her head to one side.

"Yeah, the boy is supposed to give the girl his jacket. And flowers. And they hold hands. Then the girl cooks dinner for the boy and-"

Mikoto shook her head. "What are you talking about?"

"My friend Eiko told me all kinds of stuff." He clasped his hands together bashfully. "She knows a lot about girls and boys, and how they are supposed to act around each other."

"And did Eiko cook you dinner?" Mikoto asked with amusement. She remembered the loud, horned girl that traveled with Zidane.

Vivi nodded. "Yeah, once. No, twice. Wait..."

Mikoto smiled a little. "Come on, I'll walk you to Mr. 239's shop."

Mr. 239 ran the Weapon Shop, but it was also a place to get any sort of tool or machine replacement. Perhaps he would have a part that would solve Vivi's stove dilemma.

They headed out. Vivi drew in a sharp breath as the freezing wind infiltrated any breach in his clothing. He glanced at Mikoto, who slightly stretched her small body, letting the frost wash over her. Light, fluffy flakes gathered on her mop of fine hair, forming an iridescent aura like a halo. Pink had flooded her lips and cheeks, contrasting with her pale face and lovely blue-grey eyes. /Wow/, Vivi thought, the butterflies dancing wildly inside him. /She looks like an Ice Princess/.

At length, Vivi said to his friend, "Eiko and I, well...we never were...I mean, we were friends. We never did any of...that stuff. And she liked Zidane anyway, not me." He spoke nervously into the ground, as if he wanted to say something else but had not the courage.

Mikoto felt herself flush a little. Maybe Vivi knew more than he let on about such things. Of course, she knew everything about the act of mating, but courtship was a different matter. There had been no courtship on Terra. Most of the time, the Genomes used the pods to create new vessels, but only once, natural mating had been allowed. It had been an experiment to compare pod offspring with the naturally grown, and it had been the original generation of Genomes who did it, well before her time. The pairs were chosen according to their superior genetics, and, although Mikoto herself had never participated in mating, she imagined that it probably was a matter-of-fact affair. Love had no place in Bran Bal.

The young Genome girl had often asked herself if she loved Vivi. He certainly seemed to provoke strange, unsettling emotions from deep within her. Emotions like jealousy, which on Terra had been foreign to her. She found herself plagued by the compulsion to be near him, and sometimes even the desire to embrace him. Yet she had never loved anything before, so she was not sure how it should feel. She continued to analyze these feelings over and over, hoping the answer would jump out at her. Then there was the nagging voice in her head, a remnant of her former self: Keeper of the Vessels.

/Love is irrelevant. It is merely an emotion, which facilitates the breeding instinct, and the survival instinct/, said the Keeper. It clouds rational thought. It makes what should be the objective into the subjective. Why should one life be of more value than any other simply because you "love" the person? All life is equal, in that it is expendable, and ever flowing...

Mikoto pushed the voice away. The restoration of Terra perished long ago, and she was forced to give up that harsh philosophy. But she had gained so many more questions. Whether love served any useful purpose here on Gaia had yet to be determined. Surely, she and Vivi were too young to be mates. Yet they did not have a familial relationship, either. What other kinds of love existed?

One of her many questions crossed her mind: Would she take a mate when she came of age, like Dana? What about Vivi? He was plainly fond of her. But wouldn't a Genome man make more sense, from a breeding perspective? Besides, Vivi was four years her junior; she would have to wait for him. She looked over at him, and she felt strange thinking about Vivi as her future mate, though it was not a bad feeling. She decided to let her feelings for him take her wherever they would. /It will be an experiment/, she reasoned, /to study love and its many applications/...

The Mage was a little crestfallen. He had thrown a line of conversation to her, and was met with her brooding silence.

"Vivi," she said, out of the blue.

Before he had time to respond, she reached over and snaked her slender white hand into his, and clasped his gloved hand firmly. Upon touching him that warm sensation returned to her, and she grinned inwardly.

Vivi could barely contain his anxious joy. The prettiest, smartest, most wonderful girl on Gaia was holding his hand! And she wanted to! He chided himself for being so tongue-tied at this crucial moment. Zidane would say something suave and cool now, and make the girl swoon. In fact, if Zidane were watching he would probably be laughing his tail off. There went Mikoto and Vivi, gripping each other's hands with intensity, each too terrified to say a word.

After what felt like one thousand years, the pair arrived at the Weapon Shop. They disconnected and entered the shop, shaking off their awkward feelings, careful to avoid direct eye contact until the giddy weirdness had subsided.

The young friends came upon Mr. 239 and a Dwarven trader engaged in a heated discussion at the counter.

"Ah tol' ye, Mr. Pyntie Het. We cannae get the parts ye be needin' 'til the frost gooes! 'Tis too dangerous!"

"I have people depending on me, Brian," replied Mr. 239, gesturing urgently. Mr. 239 often grew impassioned when he spoke. He negotiated most of the outside trade agreements, and excelled in the art of persuasion. "You understand that, don't you? People are freezing; they need their stoves fixed."

Mikoto leaned over to Vivi, muttering, "Well, what a coincidence."

Mr. 239 seemed oblivious to the two new patrons. "I already have several volunteers willing to meet with you halfway, plus we've doubled our barter," he continued.

"Ah'm sarry, Mr. Pyntie Het, but Aye-"

"For the love of-! Brian, stop calling me that, all right? I'm Mr. 239: Two-Thirty-Nine! We've been over this."

"Aye, yoor right, Mr. Two Hahndred and Tharty Nyne Pyntiehet. But that's quait a moothful, no?"

"Ah, my head." Mr. 239 put his hand to his brow, as if calling forth extra patience.

Mikoto had been ignored long enough. She cleared her throat.

Mr. 239 gasped. "I'm terribly sorry, Miss Mikoto! Master Vivi! Welcome." He adjusted his handsome coat and bowed.

Mikoto looked to Brian, then to the Shopkeep. "Did I overhear the conversation correctly? Master Vivi needs his woodstove repaired."

Mr. 239 shook his head dolefully. "So do about a dozen others. But Condie Petie feels uncomfortable about transporting a large amount of goods in this weather. But I don't want any of our villagers to suffer..." He always took care to be diplomatic in his speech, never implicating Brian as the guilty party.

The Dwarf pursed his lips thoughtfully. Clearly, he did not want to be the cause of suffering. "Mah arders come from the Council of Eldars. Ah dinnae 'ave much chaice."

Vivi ambled up to the counter. "I'll go get the parts, Mr. 239."

The Shopkeep stared down at Vivi. "I don't think that will work out. You'd have to take a Chocobo cart there, load it up, and then come back."

"It's only a couple of days to Condie Petie and back. It'll be okay," Vivi said. "Besides, you said there are volunteers."

Mr. 239 nodded. "Mr. Blue Water and a few Genome men want to go. But the snow..."

Vivi shrugged. "That's no big deal. My fire magic can take care of that!"

Mr. 239 thought hard. "Huh. Well..."

Vivi puffed out his chest. This was his chance to do something brave in front of Mikoto. He really was the only Black Mage that could do it. The others were much weaker, both in magic power and constitution. None had traveled the world like Vivi had. Also, on a darker note, none of them knew how long they had to live, and they certainly did not want to leave their beloved village and ending up "stopping" in a strange place.

"I'm going to go talk to Blue Water! My mind is made up," Vivi proclaimed.

The little Black Mage turned to Mikoto. She raised her eyebrows in surprise. There it was! Again, she swore she could see his determined face beaming at her: a young boy's face with bright amber-colored eyes and dark hair. She blinked and it was gone, like so many other times before. It had been happening quite a bit lately, and it unnerved her. Was she hallucinating?

"I'll see you later, Mikoto," said Vivi, interrupting her musings. He offered her her jacket.

"O-Okay," she replied, at a rare loss for words. She took her jacket back absently.

The two locked eyes for a moment, then he headed out.

Brian winked at Mr. 239. "Methinks 'e's sweet on the lass, no?"

Mr. 239 laughed. "Oh, they're quite the couple around here. Inseparable."

Mikoto turned scarlet red and hurried outside.



Later that day, a small group had gathered to see the party off. Blue Water put the finishing touches on the cart, making sure everything was secure. A hodge-podge of goods crowded the cart, and these would be used to barter for the parts needed. Bobby Corwen waited patiently, bridled and eager to go. He scratched and the hard, cold ground, shaking off a couple loose feathers.

"Kweeehh!" he squawked.

Blue Water strode up to Vivi and gave him a hearty pat on the back. "You ready, Master Vivi?"

He nodded to the Genome. He felt so excited that he trembled. It had been so long since he had traveled!

Dana, now extremely pregnant, kissed her mate tenderly. "You be careful, love."

Blue whispered something hotly into Dana's ear, which made her giggle and blush.

Mikoto lingered around the crowd, waiting for an opportunity to say goodbye to Vivi. She hugged herself, trying to understand why she felt so sad and worried. Probably because it was the first time Vivi had left the village since he and Zidane had journeyed together, she reasoned. She searched for him again, wanting to speak privately with him, but people kept beating her to it. Now he stood by Dana and Blue Water. /Damn/, she thought.

Blue Water noticed Mikoto's serious face peeping up from behind everyone. He nudged Vivi. "Hey. I think Miss Mikoto wants to talk to you. Why don't you say bye to her before we shove off?" He practically pushed Vivi in Mikoto's direction.

"Y-Yeah. Okay."

Good! Mikoto thought. /Here he comes/. She swallowed her worry.

They met apart from the crowd, in a small, snow-capped circle of hedges, so that they would be alone.

Vivi blinked at her. "Are you alright? You look worried."

Mikoto shook her head vigorously. "No, no! Not at all. It isn't a long trip."

"Right. Only a couple days."

The wind rustled through the icy branches overhead.

"You've...never been gone that long," said Mikoto in a small voice.

Vivi stepped closer to her. Tentatively, he touched her hand. "I...I'll miss you a lot, Mikoto."

She knelt before him and they embraced. On her knees, Mikoto was a tad shorter than Vivi. She rested her head on his shoulder. She realized then that he had grown an inch or two since she met him. For a moment she enjoyed the warmth of his body, and the lulling sound of his heartbeat. He nuzzled into her hair contentedly. She squeezed him a little tighter.

"Oi!" They heard a voice calling. "Vivi! We're shoving off! Get the lead out."

They parted without a word, and emerged to join the others. She watched as he climbed onto the front of the cart. A Genome called Timothy mounted Bobby Corwen, and the three other Genome men, along with Brian the Dwarf, hopped onto the cart.

"Goodbye! Safe journey!" Everybody called after them, waving.

Mikoto said nothing. She and Vivi only gazed silently at one another as the cart disappeared into the forest.

With Vivi in the party, the trip had taken far less time than was anticipated. Vivi and Blue Water walked ahead of the party. The Mage used his incredible fire magic to literally blaze a trail through the snow. Blue Water marveled at the boy's skill and his ability to so carefully control his power. Vivi took extra care not to set any of the trees and plants on fire. He also kept his travelling companions warm by igniting a small flame in his hands, so they could stand near him as they would a campfire.

"I don't know why you even need a stove," said one of the Genomes, Daniel. "You could just use your own fire like this."

"Actually, I can't feel my own fire," Vivi said. "That way I can't be hurt by it. But I can't keep myself warm with it, either."

The men were interested. Another asked, "So if you light a fire, you can't feel it?"

The Mage shook his head. "If I light something else on fire, like wood, then it can burn me. It just won't hurt me as I cast it. I don't really know why, though. But I'm not complaining!"

"Your gift is like art, Master Vivi," Blue Water told him right before they reached Condie Petie. "How lucky you are."

Vivi pondered for a moment. "I never really thought of it that way. A lot of times, I wished I didn't have it."

"It's good that power like that is in your hands," Blue continued distractedly. "You are a kind person. I'll bet a lot of people out there would love to have your gift, but they don't at all deserve it." The Genome fixed his eyes straight ahead, his face a mask of concentration.

It was not too often Vivi had seen the Genome look serious. He did not have a reply.

The party stayed a night in Condie Petie, planning to head out at first light. Their cart had been loaded up with the parts for the village stoves, and Bobby Corwen enjoyed the royal treatment the Dwarves always afforded Chocobos. Business had been taken care of, and now the visitors from the Black Mage Village enjoyed their mini vacation in the quaint and friendly Dwarven village before they had to head home at first light.

Vivi, however, sat alone atop the kirkboat after most everyone had retired for the night, lost in melancholy. Not only did he miss Mikoto terribly, but also he slowly realized that this trip was turning into a huge disappointment. He did not anticipate how much he missed traveling, and thought that perhaps he could recapture the same delight once more. Instead, he felt a void within. It just was not the same anymore. Zidane, Dagger, Eiko, Freya, Steiner, Quina and Amarant; he had not seen them in so long. Zidane he probably would never see again. Dagger, most likely, was Queen Garnet by now. Steiner went back to Alexandria as well, by his Queen's side. Eiko lived in Lindblum, with her new family. She became a "princess", just like Dagger. The Burmecians were busy rebuilding, and Freya with them. And who knows where Quina and Amarant lurked about these days?

Vivi had been exchanging letters quite often, especially with Eiko. Lately, however, there had not been much mail. Was everybody forgetting him?

Then there was Mikoto. His nascent love for her made his heart ache. He felt her absence most profoundly. He wanted to travel again sometime, but she had to come with him. Otherwise he would miss her too much. Vivi surprised himself by thinking how much he loved Mikoto. Does this mean I'm growing up? he thought. In love for the first time, at the tender age of almost-eleven. What am I thinking? I'm too young to be feeling like this.

Vivi heard footsteps approaching. Uh-oh! Maybe it was a Dwarf, come to scold him for loitering on the sacred kirkboat. He started to get up, when he heard a familiar male voice.

"Master Vivi, there you are." Blue grinned dashingly in the moonlight. "Hey, I know that look!"

"W-What look?" Vivi asked, perplexed.

"Yessir, the ol' 'I'm feeling sorry for myself' look. Been there before, you know."

Vivi sighed. "I know, I should just stop thinking about it, right? I shouldn't feel sorry for myself, because it won't help anything, right?"

Blue chuckled. "Absolutely not. Everyone has a right to wallow in self-pity now and then. Besides, who am I to tell you how you 'should' feel? I don't know what you're feeling."

Vivi stared into the pool of water below. "Hmm."

Blue Water leaned on the railing, folding his arms. "Man, I miss Dana," he admitted. "But we couldn't both go. Obviously."

Vivi remembered how pregnant Dana looked. He laughed a little. "She's gonna have the baby soon?"

Blue Water nodded happily. "Yes. I can't wait. It will be great, being a father." He deeply inhaled the crisp night air. "I remember when we all evacuated Bran Bal. We took that airship. That was when I really noticed Dana. It's like we looked at each other, recognizing each other as separate individuals for the first time. Like...coming out of a daze. We held each other on the ship, because the sounds of Terra's destruction outside frightened us. After that we always hung around together. And after a month or so of living in our new home and devouring all the knowledge of Gaia we could find, we...consummated our love, and from that moment on she was my mate."

Vivi listened nervously, wondering how in-depth Blue Water would get. Thankfully, the Genome spared him the details.

Blue Water's face grew solemn. "Is there anything troubling you? Anything you wish to talk about?"

"No, I just..," Vivi began, searching for the right words. "I guess I miss a lot of people lately. All my old friends, and..."

"And Miss Mikoto?" Blue Water ventured.

"Yeah. It's stupid. I mean, it's only a couple of days."

"Maybe you're just tired. Problems seem smaller in the daylight, I always say. Besides, you can't help but sulk about it when it's so dark and quiet, and all you can hear is your own brain overanalyzing everything."

"Yeah," agreed Vivi. He yawned and stretched. "I guess you're right, I should get to bed."

"Oh! I almost forgot!" exclaimed Blue Water. He leaned in conspiratorially, whispering, "Did you know that Miss Mikoto's birthday is in two days?"

"Really?!" the Mage answered, very surprised. "I didn't know Genomes, you know, thought that was any big deal. Mikoto never mentioned it."

"Well, it never was a big deal, until we came to this planet. Maybe you should get her a gift while you're here? The Dwarves carry lovely jewelry. Girls love the jewelry, so I've heard. Oh wait, what do you know!" He reached into his pocket and pulled out an exquisite pendant, handing it to Vivi. His eyes sparkled mischievously.

The Mage stuttered, speechless.

Blue leaned in closer. "I'm trying to help you out here. Give that to her!"

Vivi found his voice. "I can't accept this! I-...Wait a minute. Is it really her birthday?"

Blue nodded, with tongue-in-cheek sincerity. He clutched his chest. "I swear on the memory of mother Terra!!"

Vivi inspected the pendant. Mikoto never wore much jewelry, and she definitely would not like anything large or gaudy. This necklace was small and delicate, with a coral pink stone set on a thin golden chain. Vivi knew that pink was her color of choice. It was perfect.

"I have to pay you for this," Vivi said. "Otherwise it won't be really from me."

The Genome nodded. "If it makes you feel better, give me 5 gil, but don't worry too much, I won it in a bet. But, I can't give it to Dana, because she doesn't approve of gambling...I'd be in the Chocobo stable for sure."

They both laughed. Vivi could hardly wait to get home now. But most of all, Blue Water had cheered him up. He looked up at his friend. "Thanks."

"Don't mention it, Master Vivi. Now get some sleep. We'll be riding all day tomorrow, since this load is heavier."

The Mage nodded, and headed to the inn.

"And don't lose that!" Blue called after him.

Vivi smiled to himself. Blue Water surely reminded him of another special Genome.

It was the second day since Vivi and the others had left. Mikoto dallied by the lake in the late afternoon. The snow had all but melted under the constant, bright sun. However, it was still cold. Mikoto broke the dead reeds as she wandered about, bored out of her skull.

She missed Vivi.

She thought about the very first time she had noticed him, so long ago, on Terra. All of Zidane's friends had looked so strange, so all she did in the beginning was study their odd appearance with disdain. Vivi had been one of the first to catch her eye. She had never seen a Black Mage like him before, and knew for sure he was not of Kuja's design. He was dressed far too shabbily, for one! It had been quite amusing, a true testament of the Terrans' superiority.

Her opinion began to change when she overheard the Mage boy talking to a Genome boy near the still water. She listened to the Mage's calm, friendly voice. All the others had managed to do was run around shouting like idiots at the vessels. But this boy was different, and he was the only one who had gotten a vessel to respond in any significant way. What sort of special person could reach a soulless vessel?

When the citizens of Bran Bal had evacuated aboard the Invincible, she had watched the fiery destruction, in shock, through the eye of the ship. Some feet away, the Mage stood with her, watching also, not saying a word.

Some time later, after she had left the Red Rose to go look for Zidane at the Iifa Tree, Vivi had been the only one who had noticed when she left, and run after her. That was when he told her his name, and offered to help her. She grudgingly accepted, secretly surprised that he would even care about her welfare.

When they both finally settled down in the village, they found themselves always in each other's company. Vivi was the only person who did not tire her. In fact, being with him felt so natural, so pleasant. It was never a chore to talk to him.

Slowly, she had grown to need him. This absence only proved the obvious: she must love him. Perhaps love was the proof of a soul.

Maybe it's not that you need a soul to feel love. Maybe once you love, you earn your soul...

She often checked the village entrance to see if they were back yet. So far there had been no luck. Evening fell, and Mikoto headed back to her two-room home on the line between the old and new parts of the village. She brushed her teeth and washed up for bed. (The Genomes had introduced the Black Mages to the wonderful world of indoor water pumps. No more traveling to the lake to bathe and gather water!) She slipped into her nightclothes: a soft, cotton, light orange jumper. Mikoto did not keep her stove lit, because she enjoyed sleeping in the cold under her large blankets.

She was just about to settle down with a book when a loud knock sounded on her door.

"Mikoto! It's me, I'm back!" came that marvelously familiar voice.

She sprang up and flung the door open.

They hugged briefly and happily. "I missed you!" they each told the other at the same time.

Vivi noticed Mikoto's clothes. "Gee, I'm sorry. I didn't know you were sleeping!"

"No, I wasn't. Don't worry about it. Come in."

They sat side by side on a small couch stuffed with Chocobo down. Vivi chatted briefly about the journey, and what he did in Condie Petie, which, as it turned out, was not much at all. "It was really boring without you, Mikoto," he told her.

She smiled, somewhat shyly. "Likewise around here. I just hung around by myself, mostly. It was so quiet."

Neither said anything for a moment. Vivi started to shiver a little. Then he said, "I forgot how cold you like it when you're sleeping."

Mikoto reached over to his large, pointed hat, and removed it. Vivi's instinct was to protest, but he waited to see what she would do. She gathered up one of her large blankets and draped it around the both of them, and then drew him to her, resting his head on her shoulder. He settled into her, relaxed. She felt the hair on his head tickle her cheek. "Your hat is big, and gets in the way. Are you warmer now, Vivi?"

"Yeah," he answered in a sleepy, raspy voice. He pulled back to look at her pretty face. He was surprised to find her gaping at him in disbelief.

"I-I see it again!" She exclaimed.

"I've seen you look at me like that before. What's the matter?"

"Don't move," she muttered, and leaned closer to him, eye to eye.

Vivi's heart pounded. Was she going to kiss him?

"I can really see you! I can see your face, Vivi! Usually it goes away after a second or two, but this time, it's staying!" Her voice quavered with excitement.

"Are you sure?" His dark eyebrows furrowed.

Mikoto nodded silently.

"So, what do I look like?" asked Vivi softly, perhaps afraid to know. He, of course, could see his own face, but he was nervous to learn how she perceived him.

"You look like you. You look like how I imagined."

He smiled timidly. "That's not very descriptive."

He had an honest, soft face; a very kind face. He had shaggy black hair, making his fair skin look pallid. He had large, round expressive eyes, somewhat sad, framed by delicate lashes and somewhat thick brows. The intelligence and depth in those amber eyes belied his age. He had a long, slightly prominent nose and a small mouth that turned down at the corners, which, along with his eyes, gave his face a perpetually melancholy look. Mikoto described the details as best she could, never taking her gaze off him. Vivi began to feel a little self-conscious, but he was happy that her description was mostly a flattering one.

Mikoto brushed back a stray strand of blonde hair. "I wonder...why? Why can I now see you?"

Vivi shrugged, blushing. Their faces were still close together, and he could not take his eyes off her pink lips. He thought for an instant that he would just kiss her, quickly and sweetly. In the end, he could not make the move, but the pink of her mouth reminded him of the reason he so wanted to see her.

"I have something for you," he said quietly, almost whispering.

Her expression grew curious. "Something for me?"

Vivi reached into his pocket for the pendant, and gently placed it into her hand. "I know it's tomorrow, but here's an early present. Happy birthday, Mikoto."

Mikoto's face fell open in shock. "What the-? Who told you that?" Vivi wrung his hands and did not answer, and Mikoto wryly thought of a certain Genome man who may have had a hand in this. Of course, it was not her birthday; that had been more than a month ago. She never thought to mention it. But she did not have the heart to tell him. "Oh, Vivi..." She fondled the tiny pink stone. "It''s lovely. Nobody has ever given me anything like this before."

Vivi gasped involuntarily as she craned over and kissed his cheek softly. "Thank you," she murmured in his ear. Her lips lingered on his earlobe, and for a moment she so wanted to shower him with kisses and hold him tight. The passionate wave passed, and she could not find the courage.

She clasped the pendant around her neck, and admired it for a moment. Vivi sat, dumbstruck and euphoric.

She then stood, and offered him her hand. As if in a daze, he took it.

"It's getting late, Vivi," she said gently. "Let's meet tomorrow."

Vivi slowly nodded. "Uh huh." He almost forgot his hat. He put it back on, tugging the brim down tight.

"I'll walk you out."

They parted with a hug, and Vivi's stomach did flip-flops all the way home. He floated through his front door. His elation soon turned to annoyance, entirely at himself. So far, Mikoto had been the one to initiate most of the affection between them. He glared into the little mirror on his dresser. Why was he such a chicken? Surely the monsters and ghouls he had faced on his quest with Zidane and the others were more fearsome than his best friend.

"That's it!" He said aloud, not meaning to do so. He promised himself that he would build up the courage to tell Mikoto that he loved her.

He practiced in the mirror. "I love you, Mikoto! When we grow up, I wanna marry you."

He winced. Maybe he wouldn't say it like that.

After he washed up, he crawled into bed and spent a long time looking at the ceiling. In a few short months, their kids would be here. He had to talk to Mikoto before then.
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