Characters: Paine, Gippal, Rikku
Spoilers: For Paine's backstory
Notes: Written for friend_fic. The challenge was to write about a male-female friendship. Naturally, my first thought was of Gippal and Paine. Many thanks to parron for an invaluable beta read.
"Hey Paine!" Rikku looked over at me as I entered the cabin of the Celsius, where my new teammate sat with my old one, the remains of lunch on the table in front of them. "Gippal was just telling me about all the stuff you guys did during the Crimson Squad training. Did he really put a snake in your boot?"
I took a seat as the accused tipped back in his chair with a satisfied smirk, propping his feet on the table, then crossing them. "That and more," I replied dryly. "Quite the prankster, was our Gippal. He knew the desert much better anyone else, and he never hesitated to take advantage of that. Ever."
"Aw, c'mon," Gippal said with a laugh. "I wasn't that bad, was I?"
"Please." I leaned forward, elbows resting against the table, chin in my hands. "Do you really want me to start telling tales? Where shall I start? Let's talk about the time you hid all my spheres in a sand dune and wouldn't tell me which one. That was a fun afternoon of digging. Or the day you stranded me and Baralai in that ruin. Or how about the time you gave Nooj an Al Bhed potion and told him it was water?"
Rikku cracked up, and I shot her a look.
"Sorry, sorry," she gasped, still giggling. "I was just imagining his face. Stern and sober ol' Nooj, doing a spit-take and then getting all high."
I couldn't help smiling at the memory. "Okay," I admitted. "That one was pretty funny. But still, Gippal, you have to admit, you were a troublemaker."
"Hey, at least I never pretended not to know who you were." He grinned at me, but I couldn't return the smile. The twinkle in his eye was genuine, I could find no malice in his words, but they still stung. I could feel my face falling, and he must have noticed, because he shifted suddenly, swinging his feet back to the floor, returning the chair to its proper upright position, and sitting straight up.
Rikku glanced at Gippal, then at me. "Ummm. Well, uh, Brother's getting back soon. Gotta get ready. See you later!" She scrambled up and made her escape, the sound of the door sliding closed behind her almost deafening in the sudden awkward silence.
Gippal looked straight at me, expression sheepish. "Sorry," he said. "I. Uh. I didn't mean..."
"No." The need to interrupt him broke my reverie, and I took a deep breath, shuddering with it. "I'm sorry. I... I've been wanting to apologize for how I reacted then, when we met again at Djose. It was stupid of me. But..." I dropped my eyes to the table. "I just, I wasn't ready to deal. I would've had to explain to Rikku and Yuna right then and there, and I couldn't bring myself to face it. Or you."
"Hey. Dr. P." I risked a look up, and he was looking back at me, seriously, all the cockiness drained from his manner. "Look, don't worry about it, all right? You went through a lot; we all did. Important thing is that we got it all straightened out. Right?"
I decided it would be easiest and most satisfying to believe him, and so I answered with a reluctant nod.
"Okay." He laid his hands flat on the table and then stood, his usual mischievous gleam already returned. "Now, there's something I want to take care of before Brother gets back. Any idea where he hides the flashbombs?"
Shaking my head, I got up and followed him to the door, mood lightening with every step. "You. Are hopeless. You know that?"
He grinned and slapped me on the back. "Aw, admit it. You wouldn't have me any other way."
The smile I had been holding back finally forced its way forward, and I punched his shoulder affectionately. "Guess not. Okay, I'll get you in the armory. But if anyone finds out I was the one to let you in..."
"Oh, I know," he chuckled. "I remember a little something about how you take your revenge, Ms. 'I-Didn't-Know-the-Camera-Was-Still-Runn