A/N: This is a stand-alone one-shot. Thanks to Hini-chan for the plot bunny.
Disclaimer: As always, characters, settings, and concepts from Final Fantasy X-2 are copyright Square Enix.
The sun shone down on the cliffs of Mushroom Rock as the members of the Youth League celebrated their new alliance with the Gullwings, but Nooj felt no desire to join them. He wanted to spend more time studying the sphere the girls had snatched from Kilika Temple and then returned, looking for more clues to the location and proper operation of Vegnagun. Everything else was secondary, and besides there were complications downstairs. Complications whom he would rather not face right now.
He watched the sphere for the dozenth time, examining the symbols in the background, the placement of the machina, the young man who was both a stranger and as familiar as the face in the mirror. Was he really noticing something new and different with each viewing, or was he just fooling himself? He clicked off the recording with a sigh, rubbing his forehead. His headaches had been getting worse lately, popping up daily and sometimes even more often. He hadn't always been so prone to them. Only for the last two years, only since...
As always, he shied away from the memory. He found it made the headaches worse if he thought too hard about that day.
"Yes Tal, what is it?" Nooj looked up as his aide poked her head into his office.
"The Gullwings are demonstrating their dresspheres, and Commander Lucil asked me to find out if you'd like to come and watch."
"No. I have other duties at the moment. Please ask Lucil to pass on any information that she thinks might be useful."
"Aye sir." Tal saluted before disappearing.
Nooj contemplated the sphere again, then placed it in a secret drawer, which he closed and locked. No one would ever steal it from him again. Then he picked up his cane and made his way to the balcony. He did not want to risk another confrontation with her, but her pull was irresistible, the prospect of watching her unseen impossible to pass up. He stood in the doorway, half-hidden in the shadows, and located the sphere hunters on the parade ground, surrounded by a crowd of soldiers.
There she stood, in the center of the group, flanked by the High Summoner and their Al Bhed partner. Paine. Nooj could not wrench his eyes from her as she pulled out a complicated net of spheres. She pressed some buttons in sequence and was then enveloped in a swath of light that changed her: black leather turning blue and red, her sword transforming into a mage's staff, a floppy hat appearing on her head. The Youth League members all gasped and applauded as she swept the staff through the air to cast thunder, a bolt of electricity first lighting up the sky and then striking its target, a dry bush that promptly caught fire. She immediately followed it up with a water spell, which doused the flames and crushed the charred remains of the plant under its weight. Nooj was impressed; he had never known Paine to have much talent for magic, so her newfound skill must be tied to that sphere. As the applause died down, she activated the net again and, with a gesture, returned to normal. His chest tightened as she bowed with a small smile, then glanced up and around as if looking for someone.
He slammed down the surge of emotion, banishing it from his heart and mind. That would be too much to hope for, considering what he'd done to her. Better for her to have moved on; he ought to do the same.
Paine stepped aside and Yuna took her place on center stage. With some effort, Nooj switched his attention to the other woman. He found himself rather curious about the changes in appearance and physical capabilities caused by switching dresspheres. He supposed the transformation was mostly cosmetic, but if there were some deeper alteration at work... But then all practical thoughts were erased as Yuna's outfit turned into a flowing blue gown and she began to dance.
She was the most beautiful woman he had ever seen.
His heart pounded in his breast and his natural hand gripped the door frame for support as he started to tremble. How had he not seen it before? This figure of perfection and grace was the only woman who could possibly be deserving of his love. Nooj took an involuntary step forward to get a closer look, captivated by her radiant smile as she sang a song of darkness, the spell weaving itself around the closest group of League members, and around him as well. He was blinded to everything but her loveliness and the desire it stirred in him, along with an overwhelming need to protect her. More than anything, he wanted to gather her up in his arms and keep her safe from the vicious attacks of Bevelle. The thought of his old enemy pulled forth a smothering rush of hatred almost as powerful as the tenderness that had possessed him only seconds ago, and he growled under his breath. Bevelle, home of vile treachery. He would not rest until it was stopped.
"Please." The voice whispered to him, desperate, pleading. "Please, I have to go to her. It's been so long... I need to see her, to hold her. I have to save her!"
Slowly, as if in a dream, Nooj started backing away from the balcony with every intention of running downstairs as quickly as his lame leg would allow. Yes. He would stop them. He would save her. It was the only thing that mattered. The League, the spheres, even Spira itself were all irrelevant, next to Lenne.
He shook his head sharply as he corrected himself. Yuna. Lady Yuna, formerly High Summoner and now a sphere hunter. His mind cleared along with his vision as she switched dresspheres and reappeared as herself after the customary burst of light, firing a gun into the ground and then blowing away the smoke with a grin.
Nooj quickly slid back into the shadows and attempted to refocus. Why had he thought of Yuna by another name? It had just popped into his head, whatever significance it held already fading. He looked at her again, standing with Rikku and Paine, and she no longer seemed transcendent to him, only normally beautiful. Next to Paine-- but no. With some effort, he swept that thought away. Paine was lost to him, thanks to his own actions; it was time he accepted that. He could no longer remember precisely why he was so drawn to Yuna, but he had good reason, he was certain. She seemed curious about the identity of the man in the sphere; perhaps if he helped her, it would provide an opportunity to get to know her better. LeBlanc had recently sent an insistent message about some major find of hers. If it were relevant, he could show it to Yuna. Give her a reason to come back again.
Yes, Nooj thought as he summoned Tal to make arrangements for a brief trip to Guadosalam, his plans were all coming together perfectly.