Author's Note: This is my first fanfic ever, so please be kind. Not too kind, of course -- constructive criticism is certainly welcome. This story will be complete in three chapters; it's just broken up for length.
This is set immediately following the "good ending" of Final Fantasy X-2.
Disclaimer -- All characters, locations, and concepts copyright Square Enix. If you recognize it, I don't own it.
"Hey! Paine! Are you even listening to me?"
"Ow!" My gaze into the fire broken, I rubbed my arm, then glanced down in my lap to see the kupa nut that Rikku had grabbed out of her stew and thrown at me. "Sorry," I said, looking over at her. "I was thinking about something else. What were you saying?"
"I said, what do you think will happen to the Gullwings now?" Rikku asked. "Yunie's found her man, Shinra's got a new gig. That's two of the team gone. Plus, will anyone even care about spheres now that New Yevon and the Youth League aren't competing for them anymore?"
"Hmm." I thought for a moment. "I think so. There's still a lot of mystery in Spira's past, many spheres to be found. I'd like to keep at it -- just because I found the missing pieces of my past doesn't mean I see no value in searching for other spheres. But whether the Gullwings will survive, I can't say. "
Rikku took a bite of her stew and stared into the fire. "Maybe Yunie will stay with us, bring him along. I bet he'd enjoy it, seeing more of Spira, adventuring again." Then she looked back to me and grinned. "Brother sure wouldn't love it, though. So much for his obsession with Yunie, right? Plus there's no way he'd be happy sharing leadership duty!"
"Her boy's a natural leader, huh?"
Rikku nodded vigorously, her blonde braids bouncing in the firelight. "Oh yeah. You should've seen him, Paine -- making tough decisions, inspiring us to go on, standing up to Auron and Lulu and Seymour. He was great. He'd make an excellent sphere hunter." She frowned, thinking again. "But maybe he'd rather go back to blitz, lead the Aurochs to the championship. Or I suppose he could go join the new government, although he doesn't seem the political type really. Whatever he decides to do, though, I'm sure Yunie will be there with him." She sighed. "So romantic! Reunited, after all this time."
I looked over at Yuna and smiled. She was standing on the other side of the fire, her head resting comfortably on her lost love's shoulder as he chatted animatedly with Wakka, his arm around her waist. The joy didn't just show on her face; it seems to suffuse her entire body. And everyone else seemed so happy to see him, too -- Wakka, Lulu, the blitzers, even the kids who should barely remember his previous visit. Whereas every time I looked at him, I saw Shuyin, the enemy we had just spent weeks fighting, the villain who had changed my life forever and who would have destroyed the world if we hadn't stopped him. I realized that I felt oddly out of place, a stranger at a family reunion. Suddenly and with a sharp ache, I thought of Nooj, Gippal, and Baralai, plotting out Spira's future with their lieutenants in Luca, and missed them desperately, despite everything that had passed between us. Much as I liked Rikku, Yuna, and their friends, I'd never really felt like a close part of their gang.
"Yeah, and whose fault is that?" I muttered, putting down my half-empty bowl.
"What?" Rikku asked.
"Nothing." I sighed, then stood up and stretched. Besaid Village is a pretty place, but the ground is as hard as it is anywhere. "I'm going to take a walk."
I found myself hiking up the hill, away from the village. Getting away from other people is always my first instinct; maybe I'm a little too fond of solitude for my own good, but I do my best thinking alone, in a high place, overlooking the world. The moon shone in a clear sky, and insects chirped in the background. I paused at the summit and took in the view of the village, where the fire still burned merrily. It was a cheerful party, and I wondered how my mood had turned so melancholy. Then I snorted. "You know why," I said out loud. My mind had turned back to the guys. To Gippal, and to Baralai, and to Nooj. Always, always to Nooj. I sat down on the ground. "Why?" I whispered to myself. "Why is it that I can't just get over him?"
Then I heard footfalls coming from behind me. Instantly I leaped up, ready to draw my sword -- Besaid fiends tend not to be active at night, but you never know when one will decide it wants a midnight snack. I turned around, then quickly dropped my hand from the hilt. "Oh, hi Lulu."
Lulu inclined her head slightly. "Paine. Sorry if I startled you." She walked up beside me and looked out over the view. "Lovely, isn't it? It's nice to see the village and the seaside together. It reminds me of just how small our island is." Gathering up her skirts, she sat down on the edge of the cliff. I joined her, my legs dangling over the ledge.
"Where's the baby?" I asked.
"Sleeping," she replied, and smiled a little. "It's nice for a new mother to get a little time to herself every once in awhile, and I thought it would be a good time to take a small break from the party. He'll be fine with Wakka for a little while."
"Ah." I nodded slightly. We sat in silence for a few moments, drinking in the sight of moonlight on the ocean.
"So," said Lulu after a time. "How does it feel to have saved Spira?"
I glanced sideways at her. "Are you expecting the standard answer -- proud, relived, humbled, happy to be of help -- or do you really want to know?"
She returned my look, one eyebrow slightly arched. "Whichever you want to tell me."
Suddenly I realized that she'd been in this position, too -- a hero, savior of Spira. Maybe she'd experienced similar conflicted emotions. But how far could I trust her? "To be honest, I haven't thought about it much," I replied. "I'm pleased, of course -- it's always good to win a battle, especially an important one. But I didn't go out there looking for battles. I certainly wasn't expecting to go save the world! I don't think any of us thought things would get so heavy."
"What were you expecting?" asked Lulu.
"Well, that's an interesting question, I think. All three of us were out there looking for something different. Of course, we all know what Yuna was looking for," I said, waving my hand over the village.
"Yes." I could hear the satisfaction in Lulu's voice. "And there's not much doubt that she found it."
I peered at the tiny figures below us. I could just make out two people sitting by the campfire, completely wrapped up in each other; her dark head next to his bright one, glinting in the firelight. I suddenly felt a lump in my throat, part happiness, part jealousy, and I swallowed hard. "As for Rikku, she was looking for adventure, and companionship, and ways to help people. A basic quest, easily fulfilled."
Lulu nodded. "That's Rikku in a nutshell." She looked toward me again. "And you? What were you looking for?"
I drew my legs up and folded my arms across them, resting my chin on my knees, gazing off into the starts. "Answers. About my past. Something happened to me a few years ago, and I wanted to know why." I stopped short for a moment, considering what to say next. Could I really tell her the truth? I barely knew her. But Yuna thought so highly of her -- maybe that was enough. "Has Yuna told you anything about me?"
"Not really. Just that she likes you and considers you a close friend, that she wishes you would open up to her more but understands that you're a private person." She smiled at me. "And that you remind her of me in that respect. Whatever you tell me, Paine, is in the strictest confidence. I won't even tell Wakka. But if you don't want to talk about anything, that's fine, too."
"Thank you," I said, surprised. Whatever I had been expecting, this wasn't it. But I suddenly realized that I was gratified to have an opportunity to speak freely. "It's a long story, but I'll give you the short version: Not long before you guys defeated Sin, I was with the Crusaders as a recorder for the Crimson Squad. I followed a small team of candidates, recording their actions for later review. We all became very close friends. Then a training exercise killed most of the candidates. My team and I were the only ones to survive, but we were separated -- betrayed, I thought. I wanted to discover the truth about the accident and learn why we were able to get away. And I did: it was all because of Shuyin. He was the cause of the deaths, and the instrument of our escape and betrayal."
"Really." Lulu regarded me, thoughtful. "It must have been very satisfying to finish him, then."
"No argument there," I said. "It was for Spira, but it was also for me, and my friends, and everyone in the Crimson Squad."
"Of course." Lulu paused. "So that's it?" she asked. "Was finding and defeating Shuyin your answer? Did you discover all the truths you were seeking?"
"Well." I thought. "Well, no. I didn't. " And as I said it, I realized it was true. That's why I couldn't stop thinking about Nooj and the others -- I still needed some answers, answers only Nooj could give me. I'd found closure on the events of the cave themselves, but not for everything that came before and after. I didn't speak for a long moment. Then I turned to Lulu. "How would one book passage from here to Luca?"
"Is that where your answers lie?" she asked.
I nodded. "Yes. As a matter of fact, I do believe that's where they are."
She stood and, reaching her hand down to me, helped me to my feet. "Come on," she said. "The ferryman is probably still awake. Let's go talk to him."