Myeh. KathleenDee made me feel guilty about not updating and this was almost finished, so I shoved it out. This is for you. Hope you like. -Rissy

Phase 7

Paine sat down on her old blue couch and watched silently as Nooj moved to sit opposite her, leaning over the coffee table slightly as he began to speak, "how are you doing lately?"

"Fine," said Paine and Nooj knew better than to expect an elaboration.

"You're probably wondering why I've come…?" He trailed off but Paine made no reply and he sighed a little. "Well, It's just because… Baralai's been acting a little depressed since last night, and I thought that if he was upset, you might be too. Is there anything I can do to help?"

"No there's not," said Paine, her voice closed.

Nooj frowned- she had denied needing his help, but not that she was in pain. "Did something happen?"

"No. We were just talking and… a bad memory came up."

"What kind of memory?" asked Nooj.

"A nightmarish one…" Paine's voice was soft, but not weak. She had decided long ago that she wasn't going to waste any more tears on him.

"Would that have anything to do with that party Lady Marilyn is throwing this evening?" asked Nooj knowingly.

Paine looked up then, eyes narrowing a little, "I don't need to be counselled by a guy who once thought that death was his only option."

"Well I don't anymore," said Nooj, face darkening, "and I've opened up enough to allow myself to be in love, which is more than I can say for you."

"Wait- you actually like Le Blanc back?" Paine could hardly disguise her disgust in her friend's choice of woman.

"Of course not! I wasn't talking about her!" said Nooj, crossing his arms over his chest defensively.

"What? Noojie's got himself a secret crush? Do tell!" said Paine in a sickly sweet voice that made both of them want to vomit.

"Shut up."

"Hmph. Baralai and I have to put up with being badgered by you lot about our supposed feelings for each other- why not you?"

Nooj didn't reply for a while, but eventually he spoke again to divert the conversation back towards her. "Paine, I know that you're still afraid of what Baralai tried to do to you." The warrior stiffened considerably and he knew that he was right. "But you know, he really does love you- he just doesn't know how to express it… Yevon knows I've drunk myself under the table enough times trying to figure out how to tell Lucil…"

"What- Captain Lucil?"

Nooj bowed his head slightly, "yes, her, but that's not the point. I'm not excusing what Baralai tried to do- I'm just saying that it would be easier for both of you if you tried to get past it."

"We are past it," said Paine determinedly.

Nooj gave her a hard look. "Fine- if you think so, I won't argue," he said eventually. "But I hope you're right. Forgive the intrusion, Paine."

Paine shook her head as he stood, "you're never intruding, Nooj… but out of curiosity- how did you figure out that you were in love with Captain Lucil?"

Nooj gave her a small smile, "it's not a fact, but a feeling," he said, "and I think I've always known it, really. Is that the same way you feel about Baralai?"

"Not a fact," Paine repeated slowly, "…but a feeling…"

Nooj reached down and rested a hand on her shoulder, "Paine?"

Paine stood up quickly and shook his hand away as the doorbell rang, "that'll be Rikku, Yuna and Lulu," she said, glad of the distraction, "we're going out for lunch- I'm sorry. I have to go." She walked over to open the door and greeted her three friends, noting the probing look the three of them sent Nooj as he passed, but dismissing it as surprise.

"Are you ready to go, Paine?" asked Rikku brightly.

"Sure," said Paine, smoothing out her grey skirt a little, "just let me get my bag and we can leave."


"So are you guys pumped for the party tonight?" asked Rikku happily as they finished up their lunch a few hours later. "It sounds like it's going to be awesome fun! Oh, and Paine- I'll be over to dress you up again tonight."

"But you already gave me that hideous red dress to wear," said Paine dully.

"So? I'm talking hair and make up now!" She giggled suddenly. "How about we all meet at Paine's place later and do it together? It can be like a mini sleepover! Just us girls for a bit before we go!"

"Don't you know that it's rude to invite yourself to someone's home?" asked Paine, sighing irritably, though she knew that Rikku wasn't going to be deterred.

"Look, okay… Fine. But if we're late, I'm telling Lady Mar that it was all your fault."

"Absolutely!!" Rikku agreed fervently. "All my fault!! But oh my gosh, this is going to be so fun!!"


Later, as YuRiPa plus Lulu assembled in Paine's bedroom, Rikku chanced bringing up, for what had to be the billionth time, the delicate subject of the older girl's relationship with a certain silver-haired praetor but this time it was neither Yuna nor Rikku who broached it.

"Your feelings for the Praetor are far beyond platonic, Paine," Lulu murmured quietly enough that only Paine could hear it as she arranged her floppy silver hair from behind.

Paine didn't reply, staring ahead determinedly as though she hadn't heard it.

"I feel it every time the two of you are in the room together- how you crave his touch."

A small sigh escaped the warrior's lips unbidden and she tilted her head slightly to give Lulu a tired look. "I do…" she found herself admitting softly, making sure that neither of the other girls heard it. "But I am also afraid."

"The Praetor is so careful with you. He is very afraid of doing something to hurt you… again- am I right?" Lulu's voice trailed off questioningly.

"Yes… Once before he tried to hurt me and I think it scared us both," Paine admitted. "Baralai is not one to be overcome by his desires…"

"I can see that," Lulu agreed, "But because of whatever it is that he did, he will not try to make a move on you any time soon. You must show him how much you love him, or things will never change."

"Lulu, I… Only tell me how and I'll do it!"

The sudden outburst got Rikku and Yuna's attention again and they were immediately all over her with questions. In the midst of it, Paine shot Lulu and pleading look and was relieved to see the older woman nod calmly.

"I near some air," she said loudly, standing and looking down at Paine suggestively. "You're finished getting ready, aren't you, Paine?"

"Sure, I'll come," she agreed instantly and, without giving the remaining two girls time question them, they left.


(Codename: FluffyBunny007 enters the chat)

(Codename: FluffyBunny007 is calling Crimson)

(Codename: Crimson enters the chat)

FluffyBunny007: Lulu??

Crimson: Calling from across the room, Rikku? What is this about?

FluffyBunny007: What were you talking to Paine about earlier?

Crimson: It's none of your business.

FluffyBunny007: Oh, come on, Lulu!! Please??

Crimson: No. And I forbid you to ask her about it.

FluffyBunny007: huffs Fine, fine… So where is she now, huh?

Crimson: I believe she and the Praetor have gone to talk to Lady Marilyn.

FluffyBunny007: looks around Oh, I see… when are the games going to start?

Crimson: Hell if I know, Rikku. Go ask her yourself.

FluffyBunny007: …Okay, I will!! And while I'm there, I may as well drop a subtle hint to Painey…

Crimson: You? Subtle? No way. I forbid it.

FluffyBunny007: Whyyy, Lulu?!

Crimson: Because this is Paine's business. She has to deal with this herself.