Characters: Nooj, Rikku
Notes: I left this off the JaNoWriMo to-do list, but only to preserve a little surprise; I intended from the beginning that this would be the first thing written and published. Happy Birthday yesterday to heyheyrenay!! Written to the prompt "Rikku, Nooj: change is the law of life", one of her unfilled requests from "Trick or Treat 2008" and chosen in part because it gave me the opportunity to use a line that's been floating around in my head for years now. Hopefully they are a good fit.
It was rare for Nooj to get a little time to himself, especially while visiting Luca on business, and he had chosen to eat his dinner in a pub well off the beaten path in hopes of maximizing the opportunity. The last thing he'd expected to see was Rikku, greeting him with a cheery wave as she clambered up onto the barstool beside him. He laid his sandwich on the plate and fixed her with a glare. "What are you doing here?"
Rikku signaled the bartender. "Special delivery." She handed over a sheet of paper, folded in thirds and sealed with an unmarked blob of wax. "Your aide offered to hold it for you, but I didn't want to give you any excuse to leave it unopened on your desk."
Nooj broke the seal and opened the note, scanning its contents. Then he looked up, brow furrowed. "How did you find me?"
"It wasn't too hard." The bartender set a glass of something cold and sparkling in front of Rikku, and she took a sip; the ice clinked against the sides. "League Headquarters told me you were negotiating some trade thing with the Guado. When you weren't in the Luca office, I called Gippal and asked for suggestions. He sent me here."
"Hmph." Nooj nodded at the bartender, who replaced the empty mug of ale with a full one. "I can blame him for that much, then. But not for hatching this scheme in the first place. Did you really think I would accept?"
Her eyes widened, making her smile seem more innocent than ever. "It's her birthday. How can you not be there?"
"Rikku." Nooj looked straight at her, and she squirmed a little, her grin finally starting to fade. "You may enjoy playing the fool, but give me a little credit. This isn't her handwriting." He shook the paper at her until it rustled, then tossed it onto the bar. "This wasn't her idea, it was yours."
Rikku swiveled back and forth in her seat. "A girl only turns 19 once. And she wants all of you there." Nooj intensified his glare; she stopped fidgeting and met his narrowed eyes in open defiance for a moment, then flicked her eyes to the side, guilt admitted. "All right, fine, she said she wasn't inviting you. But she doesn't really mean it. At least not if you apologize."
"Apologize." Nooj snorted, then shook his head. "She doesn't want an apology. She wants me to be something I'm not."
A light of annoyance came into Rikku's eyes as she rested her hands on her hips. "Oh please. How long have you been hiding behind that excuse? Everyone can change, even people as stubborn as you and Paine."
He shook his head. "The world has changed a great deal in the last few years. Or so they say. But do people ever really change?" He shrugged. "I am what I am, Rikku." He turned back to the bar and lifted his drink to his lips.
"Change or die. People say that, too." Rikku leaned an elbow on the bar, inserting herself in his field of view, and cocked an eyebrow at him. "So, how's that dying thing worked out for you so far?"
Nooj almost choked as he swallowed his ale. Setting down the mug, its clank against the bar louder than he had intended, he turned and stared at her, shocked into silence by her forthrightness.
She held his gaze, then quirked her lips into a half-smile. "Uh huh." She jumped down to the floor, then met his eyes once again. "Just something for you to think about. But don't think too long. I don't know how much longer she's gonna be willing to wait." She winked, then sauntered out; Nooj watched her go, her parting words ringing in his ears.