Of Sun

"Please understand," Yuna said abruptly, clutching the straps of her bag too tightly before her, halting her walk up the Highbridge, "I'm only doing this for Spira's sake."

Baralai hadn't realized she was going to speak, and had walked on several paces ahead. He turned. He saw the white of her knuckles, the hard line of her mouth, the trembling of her eyes. Baralai rested his hands on the sides of his coat, considered and then smiled, looking past her, avoiding the sharpness of her gaze. "Of course, My Lady. Or course I understand."

That was how Yuna came to Saint Bevelle.

The Youth League had officially disbanded a month prior. 'Officially,' Paine had pointed out dryly, that was the key word. If anything, they were more organized without the name then they had been with. Their Kilika fortress was at last complete, and it was a waste not to make use of it. Nooj had been all too happy to give up the vestiges of politics, but when those former Crusaders that had rallied about him stayed, he resigned himself to a different sort of leadership. Together with the former Knight, Lucil, he organized a haphazard police force to be spread throughout Spira, defending villages from fiends and other such dangers. This suited the former Youth League, made mostly of young men and women that had dedicated their lives to the fighting of monsters, and it suited the villages, which even without Sin to worry about had plenty of other concerns to go by.

The Machina Faction—Cid's Gippal's Nhadala's Machina Faction, Rikku had said, ticking the chain of command off her fingers—was still going strong, but then, it had never meant to be a political group to start with. They were cheerfully expanding, taking advantage of Gippal's newfound celebrity status (damn straight I took down Vegna-whatsit, he'd say loudly, it only being a manner of time before he claimed singular credit). In the desert, according to Rikku, Nhadala was working on building more permanent housing for her diggers, and in Djose Gippal sent out parties of Al Bhed to Luca and Bevelle each week, just to maintain and install the multitudes of machina each city was starting to host.

"The New Yevon group," Nooj said firmly, "must be abolished." He paused as if to see if Baralai would speak, but was greeted only with silence. "It has been agreed that Spira should not be divided by petty political groups, has it not? The Youth League has been disbanded. The Al Bhed were never an issue… and yet New Yevon shows no inclination towards disbanding. We have given you the time you asked for, Praetor. Why have you made no progress?"

"They do not listen to me alone," Baralai replied levelly, "I am merely elected head. There is still the Chairman, as well as the council. Without the agreement of all, I cannot do a thing."

"I think you just don't want to give up the Yevon thing," and the insult was that it was Gippal who spoke up, not Nooj. He drummed his knuckles, bored, on the table. "Face it, man, you like bein' in charge."

Baralai ignored him. "Perhaps I could change the name of our group, like you did yours," he said to Nooj, an accusation wrapped in polite tones. "Perhaps if I started calling myself Praetor of the Bevelle League…"

The former Youth League was now officially known as the Kilika Union. Nooj narrowed his eyes.

"Maybe," Gippal said cheerfully, "you could stick with 'New Yevon' and just start calling yourself a Maester. Has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?" He had never quite forgiven Baralai for rejoining the temples, and had never quite mastered the art of silence. The only thing that kept Baralai from anger was that Gippal casually insulted Nooj just as often, whenever a thought sprang to mind.

"Perhaps," Yuna said quietly, hands clasped. She didn't finish her sentence as, surprised, the three men looked at her in unison—Nooj with suspicion, Baralai with masked politeness, Gippal with boredom. She suspected they had forgotten they were not the only ones in the room, that they had forgotten the Gullwings were mediating the talk—not that it was hard to forget. Rikku had long since abandoned all pretences of attention, instead doodling on scrap paper, and Paine had seemingly decided Rikku's shaky, cartoony sketches were more interesting then the men they represented, watching the paper with interest.

"Perhaps," Yuna said again, "the Praetor is correct."

Nooj didn't hide his scorn. "Lady Yuna, with all due respect, I think you do not understand the issue at hand. New Yevon must be dissolved. There is no right or wrong about it, and as long as Baralai hides behind his council, Yevon will remain."

"With all due respect," Yuna replied, slightly annoyed, "I think I may understand better then you. Without a government, who is to stop someone else to take control? Better to have a leader we can trust then a stranger we do not know… I don't think New Yevon should have this power, either, but I know that until another solution is found it will not let itself be disbanded."

"Do you think I am unaware of this?" Nooj replied, "do you think me a fool? Of course I am aware that Spira needs leaders—but we are not they. And if one of the factions was to take control, it certainly should not be Yevon. Have you already forgotten how you yourself threw its shadow from Spira? You of all people should know that we cannot allow them to have power."

"Even so, I'd rather have a corrupt government with experience in running a nation over a bunch of half-drunk hooligans!" Yuna snapped, surprising herself as well as everyone else. "Last time the Youth League was left to their own devices, they nearly declared war on Spira—lest you forget, Nooj."

She dropped the honorific, an insult. Nooj regarded her carefully, eyes narrowed, mouth thin, but said nothing.

"Can see why she got to be High Summoner," Gippal remarked.

Yuna felt almost ashamed. She had tried so hard to keep from aligning herself with either side—kept her opinions to herself, even when Rikku and Paine argued—Paine was Youth League if anything, Rikku sided with the Al Bhed, and they had on occasion debated for hours the point to New Yevon. Better the enemy you know, that was how Yuna had always reasoned it. She knew Yevon, and distrusted it enough to feel safe within it. You always knew what Yevon was going to do. They were predictable. The Youth League had always made her wary, even though she had given the Sphere to them when given the chance. To need to fight was one thing, but they all were so enthusiastic about it, so filled with the desire to hurt and kill and destroy… between ice and lava, Yuna would rather freeze.

Baralai said nothing, merely sitting in his place, hands on the table before him. He hadn't moved since Yuna and Nooj had begun to argue, and waited until he was certain no one else was planning to speak before speaking himself. He glanced at Nooj—stormy—and Yuna—blushing. Rikku and Gippal and Paine carried various degrees of interest on their faces, with Rikku's the least hidden and Paine's the most reluctant.

"I think that New Yevon should disband as well," he said carefully. Yuna looked almost offended—having just sprung to his defense in that manner—and Nooj, damn him, was smug. "I just do not have the power to do so myself."

"If the leader of Yevon doesn't, then who does?" Rikku wondered aloud, tapping her lip with one gold-painted fingernail. It was a fair question. Gippal raised his hand like he was a student in a class.

"The answer is 'Lady Yuna,' right?"

"You don't really have to do this," Paine pointed out, "Seriously, Yuna, just because the guys can't handle it on their own…"

"Yeah, just take a break for once!" Rikku finished, bouncing on her heels anxiously, "I mean, this is Bevelle. I mean—that's like, super Yevon…"

"You heard," Yuna said, rummaging through the trunk at the foot of her bed at the Celsius for clothing, "what Gippal said." She examined a white blouse before tossing it onto a pile of clothing already resting on her blankets.

"Yeah, but he's Gippal," Paine said patiently, "you can't believe half of what he says."

"He was right," Yuna said, standing up and dusting her knees. She looked around the landing absently, preoccupied with packing. With an impatient huff, Rikku flopped down on her bed, the far right.

"Its not that big a deal. I'll go stay in Bevelle for a few weeks—helping Baralai… it's not like the ends of the world. You can still visit," Yuna said, a twinge of nervousness creeping into her voice all the same as she began to pack clothes into a carpetbag. No, this wasn't what she wanted—"I don't have anything better to do, anyway," she added, not realizing what she said until it was too late.

Yuna froze, shirt in hand. Paine's arms were folded over her chest, and she gave Yuna a thoughtful glance. Behind her, Rikku stopped bouncing on her mattress. "I didn't mean that," Yuna said quickly.

"You did, that's why you said it," Rikku said quietly. "Yunie…"

"Maybe," Paine interrupted, "it would be a good idea for you to quit sphere hunting for a while." The other girls looked at her questioningly, and Paine frowned slightly—a reflex more then an expression of feeling—before finishing. "Its only been a few months since Shuyin, and you haven't taken a break since."

"Neither have you," Yuna said weakly, folding the shirt she held and putting it in her bag, resuming her packing.

"No," Paine admitted, "but Shuyin didn't look like my dead boyfriend." To call her blunt was a slight understatement.

Rikku's mattress creaked as she stood up and hurried to Yuna's side, thin arms wrapping around Yuna before she could even process them, Rikku always knew when Yuna needed comforting, even when Yuna herself didn't. "I miss him too, you know?" she said soothingly.

"Of course you do," Yuna replied, mechanically, her fingers twitching under the folds of a skirt she was arranging.

"I thought it was him, too," Rikku continued, arms tight over Yuna's arms and back, "I really did. And it wasn't—not even a little—I know you're so sad, Yunie…"

Paine stood on the other side of the bed, and between her and Rikku Yuna felt surrounded. "I saw a fayth," she said suddenly, thinly, "on our way back up. Bahamut. He said—he asked if I wanted to see him, one last time. A ghost. He was dead all along," Yuna said quickly, admitting the incident for the first time. Rikku had been chatting away with Gippal at the time, Paine helping Baralai—still weak—and Yuna had fallen a few steps behind the group. He had appeared, just briefly, just a shape, just a ghost. Dead. Gone. Proof.

Before, she could just—just hope that there was a mistake, he was back in his Zanarkand, in a sphere of Bevelle—but only the dead appeared on the Farplane. There would be no more hoping.

Paine took the skirt from Yuna's shaking hands and folded it herself, messily, resuming Yuna's packing. Yuna wanted to tell her not to—that she was capable of doing it herself—but she had frozen, somehow. Rikku's arms were blazing hot.

"Crying's okay, you know," Rikku whispered.

"I'm not," Yuna said.

Maybe, she thought, as she watched the Celsius fly away, a violently red dot on the horizon, maybe Paine was right. Maybe she did need to get away from spheres for a while.

"Lady Yuna," Baralai called from behind her, and she turned to see that he has come to greet her, personally. Yuna might have felt flattered, but the very nature of her visit was one of being used. She was whoring herself out to Yevon, flattering them with her fame, tempting them into doing what she wished. Yevon was using her, would be using her for these next few weeks.

"It's good to see you," Baralai said politely, glancing down at Yuna's remarkably ugly bag. "Shall I take that for you?"

"I've got it," Yuna said thinly.

Baralai seemed to debate this for a moment, before pointing in the direction of the Highbridge. "Well, your rooms have already been set up. Come with me, I'll take you to them—do you need to be shown around?"

He was always this polite, Yuna knew, but something about it now was vaguely offensive. But she was the one being unreasonable, she knew—"I was born here," Yuna said, instead of the polite reply she had intended.

"Ah, yes, I see," Baralai replied, inclining his head, "I had forgotten. Very well then, Lady Yuna, please follow me."

She did, feeling slightly ashamed by her rudeness. But at the same time, Yuna was pleased by it, almost—pleased that she was not just lying down, letting Yevon do what they liked in her name. She would be their pawn, yes, but Yuna intended to make it clear that she was only their pawn because she wished to be… but was such a thing possible?

Baralai walked alongside her, a step ahead, and she watched him from the corner of her eye. In truth, she liked him best of the three faction leaders—Gippal was alright, she supposed, when he wasn't being an arrogant fool, and Nooj bordered between stoic and irritating—but Yuna was well aware that most of what there was to like was just a carefully constructed act, a façade meant to promote trust. The real Baralai could be far, far worse… but could he really be that terrible? Yuna wondered, objectively, how well one could hide their true self beneath a mask. She was a terrible liar and couldn't fathom such a thing.

"Lady Yuna," Baralai said, breaking the silence, "you know, I really am glad you are here."

"Thank you," Yuna replied, "I hope that my stay will be successful."

"Well," Baralai said, "you are High Summoner—I doubt the council can ignore your words. But I meant more…" he trailed off thoughtfully, silent for a moment before adding, reflectively, "I'm just glad you're here, Milady."

Yuna glanced at him sharply, stomach plunging, but said nothing, walking silently for a moment, thoughts wrestling in her head. She was making a big deal over nothing—she knew that—she was just being silly, but…

"Please understand," Yuna said abruptly, clutching the straps of her bag too tightly before her, halting her walk up the Highbridge, "I'm only doing this for Spira's sake."

Baralai hadn't realized she was going to speak, and had walked on several paces ahead. He turned. He saw the white of her knuckles, the hard line of her mouth, the trembling of her eyes. Baralai rested his hands on the sides of his coat, considered and then smiled, looking past her, avoiding the sharpness of her gaze. "Of course, My Lady. Or course I understand."

That was how Yuna came to Saint Bevelle.