Title: the king of jump rope and the athlete queen
Fandom: FFIX (OMG A NON-FFVIII FIC. This must be the first fic I've written for IX. So as always, comments are welcome.)
Characters/Pairing: Vivi and Eiko
Notes: For bottle_of_shine's Trick or Treat ficbit meme, prompted by moonphased. This, too, came out of nowhere! Thanks must go to my sister for beta-reading the draft of this story.
One thing Eiko noticed was that Vivi’s movements were getting slower. It was most obvious when he offered her a cup of tea when she came to visit; the kettle on the stove boiled over, sputtering its froth all over the fire and the most he could do was shuffle to it, unhurried and sedate. She was too alarmed and (shamefully) too curious to help; instead, she watched him slowly prepare their drinks with a grandfather’s papery grace. Might it be age? They’re not so young anymore- why, she’s almost as tall as Garnet now, even if Zidane said that she looks and grows like a weed (he got his icky tail stomped on and it served him right!). And Vivi- well, do mages grow?- the point of his worn hat was a few handspans above her own head, so she supposed that if she has grown then he necessarily has, too. And he even has kids so he must have grown somehow, and this conclusion satisfied her. ‘Sides, they left home the day before she came, traipsing all over the world at their father’s behest.
She said in the newly-empty house, “But they’re only nine!” and he just turned the serene glow of his eyes to her, stilling her hand-flutterings and precarious teacup-wavings.
“I was only nine,” he reminded her. He looked down at his hands folded neatly on his lap. Her mouth shut then- they don’t have a lot of time to see things, silly- and was struck with the most peculiar sadness. She gulped down a rock-cake to fill the stretched out silence and Vivi painstakingly poured her some more tea.
They spent the afternoon talking, but Vivi didn’t respond to her usual laughing jibes and shrill arguments quite as enthusiastically as he used to. (Might it be age, a grown-ups’ stillness?) She invited herself over to stay when the angry clouds and the moonless night crept in, citing tiredness and dangerous travelling conditions unfit for a lady. He agreed in his quiet way (but less stammery, less nervous) and when he left to ready a bed for her, her smiling face turned grim at the opportunity to Wait And See.
She wished the kids were around, because there was nothing comforting about a too-quiet house in an already quiet village. The kids filled up any room with their chatter and wide-eyed speculation and best of all, they called her Aunty and it makes her proud. But now it’s only her and the blowsy wind making all the noise in the house. Sure, a nearly-grown-up summoner shouldn’t be scared and all, but the house creaked along with the wind and Vivi moved so slowly that it just wasn’t right. Maybe if she listened hard enough, she would also hear his joints creak as he moves about, like the inner workings of a clock— she stopped there, hating herself for the comparison.
It was unexpectedly hard to shoo the childish thought away, so she summoned up memories of him and herself scratching a hopscotch grid into the dirt of her old village, of him giggling as she jumped rope (one! two! three! four!) and her canary-yellow bow flopped into her eyes, of her cheering when he outran that silly little hippo in the bumpy cobblestone street. It was this last image (the glitter of his eyes, the high whoops of laughter as he caught his breath, the tawny streetdust curling around their dancing feet) on which she meditated as she drowsed.
The walls were still groaning in the night when she felt a leathery hand prodding her awake. “Eiko. Eiko, wake up!” His eyes loomed yellow in the darkness and she shrieked at their closeness. He just kept standing there, the oaf—
“Vivi, don’tcha know that’s scary? Scaring a lady is the last thing you should do!”
“Sorry, I’m sorry.” His hands wrung together (too slow) and even as she rubbed her eyes she knew that something was wrong. It was his unnatural calm that scared her, for waking up in the middle of the night- especially for him- typically involved flustering and panic, and she noted there was very little of it.
“I’m...I think I’m going to Stop,” he said. His eyes looked wide and unholy-bright, but maybe that was her own fear shining in there, not his— oh, she didn’t know anymore. “My heart—” He picked up her hand and held it to his chest. It thrummed a funereal, hidden beat (too slow) and she wrenched her hand back.
“No way you’re gonna stop! It’s too soon, and you’re too young—”
“I-I’m a little bit older than you, actually.” He sounded younger, then, in the way that little boys do when they puff themselves up and trump their tiny seniority in important voices. He reached over and wiped a tear from her cheek.
“But you’re not that much older! You can’t go, you’ve got friends y’know, and even I like you a bit, well maybe a lot, and your kids! They’re out there being happy and living and they’ll come back here to see you, and, oh, and...” Her voice was loud in the room and his hands slowly wound around hers to still her. They were shaking, a would-be warning to tell her that there were things she should be noticing, feelings she should be watching out for but her noisy hiccupping cries didn’t let her do it properly, even though nearly-grown-up summoners weren’t supposed to cry that much.
“Grandfather said...” His voice thinned away. “Grandfather always said...” And she wondered if that was all he was going to say, repeating it like someone stuck in a memory, like a small person trying to make something big come true. He let her grasp at his coat and use it as a great big handkerchief while he put his arms around her in slow-motion. Perhaps he was crying too, but she cannot recall ever seeing him cry, not even when he got back from talking to Mr. 288 for the very last time.
It was minutes later when she scrubbed a hand across her eyes and made him look at her. “Let’s play something!” she said, her eyes glinting with sadness and steel. With his hand firmly in hers, she dragged him outside where the night didn’t feel so scary anymore, not in a way that was important, anyway. It was harder to pull him along now than it was when they were half their size, but that doesn’t mean anything ‘cause she’d be as big as him if he’d just take his stupid hat off once in a while—
She squatted in the dirt near the front door and smoothed it down with her palm. She wore a fierce smile as he searched, fumbly, in his garden for a stone.
(She remembered: Now, y-you gotta make each b-b-box big enough to hop into, see...)
(He remembered: The throwing thing has to be the right size next time, get it right!)
He got it right; and pushed a not-too-smooth, not-too-small stone into her waiting hand. And she tried not to cry, because he once said, ages ago, that this kind of thing was nothing to be sad about; and it can’t be too scary if the original scaredy-pants said so, right? Crouched side by side, they placed their fingers to the ground and slowly, a numbered grid started to grow.