(A/N): This took too long to get out, and this came out slightly different than what I expected (which makes all the difference in this story's direction, really), but I'm just glad I got this posted. There are so many feelings and frustrations associated with this chapter, that I can't really express how much this chapter means to me. Except that it's "the beginning of the end."
This was supposed to be longer, but I cut it down to two (maybe three) parts. Chapter 3 is halfway done. :3
Sorrow! Delight in this new addition!
EDITED as of 02/22/2014.
"This moment's enough. I don't need anything else."
And the two star-crossed lovers depart for eternal rest.
Yuna's the last to leave after lingering pyreflies dispel the loving, illusionary embrace. Her fists clench due to unbidden envy. Deceased Lenne may be, but her emotions mature still. Such courage it took to admit the reality; to let go of what they had for the sake of rest.
Descending the crooked path to where everyone's gathered, Yuna almost gasps at the sight. Surrounded by friends and loved ones, his body looks so broken, and it frightens her to face him after all this time.
Handsome politician by trade, a silver-tongue, someone cold-hearted, calculating, and compassionate; his hypocrisy does his golden heart injustice.Beneath the grounds of Bevelle, Baralai fought the Gullwings to safeguard a secret; to spare them from certain doom. That encounter taught her how hands meant to hold pens and important papers can break bones and brandish guns; eyes meant to charm friends and disarm strangers can freeze bodies and stop hearts; words meant to exude confidence and emphasize humility can weave perilous spells and swear impossible pledges.
Remorse had gleamed on the pistol then, and she had beaten him to the trigger. He never meant to kill, but only protect, and Yuna wonders if that ever reopened the wound of his betrayal. Yes, she knew. She knew about it even though he never told her; never entrusted his secrets to anyone, but she knew. Her memories with Baralai are few, yet intimate knowledge surpassed her expectations.
In the Crimson Spheres, Yuna saw a different side of him: a dynamic young man, a team player, and most of all a very sensitive soul. Baralai cracks jokes when he's about to die. Baralai proves himself open-minded to change and steadfast in his broken beliefs. Baralai doesn't hesitate to take prudent risks; to seek support in corruption to fulfill his own agendas. Beyond the heartfelt salute, the laughter, and the blood-curdling screams, Yuna saw a human being; not a shepherd who sows the seeds of Yevon.
Humble, benevolent, and dignified, he's a man just like her father. Maybe because of the resemblance, Yuna had feared losing him. He shouldn't die for the consequences of others. He still has so many years to live; so many more days to cherish alongside friends. Now that they've managed to maintain the Eternal Calm, Baralai has a new life to look forward to, unburdened by past injustices. 'Wake up, so you can see Spira again.'
It startles her to feel the fond smile on her face, and she lifts a hand to touch her cheek. For a fleeting moment, Yuna wonders if Tidus had thought the same in his final hours and wished for her happiness.
Clasping her hands together, she approaches the unconscious Praetor, whose serene smile does not belong in the grey landscape of glowing clouds and wild thunder claps. What will she say to him once he wakes up? What will he say to her? So much has happened since they've seen each other last, but every time they stood at opposite ends. Yuna can only recall one instance where they stood side by side as friends, and she had felt very attracted to him then. Now, even that feels like a distant dream...
Rikku stands by her side, while the others bicker about who should carry Baralai, and yet she tunes out everything around her. Weary from the fight, the aftermath provides reprieve from the previous chaos, and Yuna contents herself with silence. No words can begin to describe how she feels right now. She just wants to return home, back to Besaid, where life held sway for the future, as much as that scares and comforts her.
Nooj staggers, foregoing his cane to gather Baralai's limp body in his arms. Paine and Gippal exchange skeptical looks, shaking their heads at his stubbornness before moving to help. Baralai's arms hang around his neck, head drooping on his shoulder, while Nooj hoists his legs around his hips. Steadying him on his back, the four depart, followed by LeBlanc and her goons.
"C'mon, Yunie, let's hurry. This place will probably collapse in any minute!"
And at Rikku's prompting, Yuna descends musical platforms and unstable gateways to reach the portal Shuyin had erected. She soon steps foot into mist after exiting Vegnagun's nest, and squints to see everyone stopping to place Baralai down on the flowerbed. Closing in on them, Yuna gapes and feels the tears well in her eyes.
How did she not notice sooner, how his clothes are scorched and torn beyond recognition and soaked to the bone with blood? Yuna recognizes broken bones around the damp areas of his knees, and the head injuries which have bled out into blue cloth, now dyed purple. Paine helps Nooj remove layers off his robes to assess the damage, while Gippal tends to him at once with a screwdriver drawn from his belt to extract a bullet lodged in his shoulder. When they discard his tunic, dread clogs her throat to see bruises litter almost every centimeter of his torso.
Minuscule lead soon drops from inside the wound and Gippal sighs, wiping his forehead. Nooj pulls up his pants to check for inflammation and Paine holds his head on her lap, watching him concentrate on his task. It mystifies Yuna how they move in sync, communicating without the need for words.
Sitting cross-legged beside them, Gippal pokes his face. "He sure looks happy."
Paine rolls her eyes and scoffs. "I think it's obvious why."
"Yuna, could you heal him for us?" The glare in his glasses conceals his emotions, but not the concern in his calm voice. "I doubt we have enough time to wait until we reach the surface to give him proper medical attention."
"Sure, of course." Looking at him now, Yuna sulks in the ocean of her sympathy and sets herself to work. Sphere waves coalesce into white robes, and her gloved hands hover over his breast. His heart beats stronger after each dose of healing energy she pours into his bloodstream.
Gravitating to his cranium, her chaste ministrations flow with her smooth breathing. She seals cuts on her way down his face, his shoulders, his arms, his entire torso, and the whole length of his legs. Yuna frowns, sensing something amiss in the process. An abundant amount of mana still remains in her inner reservoir and, upon closer inspection, she finds no broken bones where there should be.
"He's sustained no mortal injuries. I don't understand this."
"Oh, that," Gippal says, nonplussed. "He probably did some of that complicated magic again. I always thought he was trolling us when he refused to heal us back then. Especially after we came close to death many times."
Paine and Nooj raise an eyebrow at this new slang – trolling.
"Apparently he could cast Regeneration spells, but not Cure spells," Paine says. "I don't get it. Shouldn't it be the other way around?"
Nooj chuckles. "I had asked, and he told me 'simple things are hard' with such a straight face I actually laughed."
"You, the Nooj, laughing? Ha. You make me laugh, Noojster. You really do."
Yuna watches, fascinated by this real scene of friendship, despite the weary enthusiasm behind the humor. Instead of witnessing clips of the past, she sees them together in the flesh, alive and well, and wishing for a celebration in the name of their tense reunion.
Rikku and LeBlanc seem to belong just fine among the hilarity –
"What're we going to do with this chump? He's still sleeping. What if he's not right in the head after he wakes up?"
"I thought you liked pretty boys, LeBlanc," Rikku says, giggling at the woman who huffs in denial at the silly assumption.
"I like my men manly, and Noojie-Woojie has this most Godly smile..."
Paine scoffs, crossing her arms; spies an opportunity for payback. "Your hostility towards Baralai makes me suspect you two have a history. He did mention an opera singer one time..."
"...'A flighty lady that would not stop pestering me to marry her.'" Gippal sings the words, snickering, and Paine smirks. "Your love for spotlight and exposure sure fits the bill, sweetheart."
"And your voice. Ugh..."
LeBlanc shrieks, unable to form coherent words.
And Yuna smiles, resigned to stay by his side until they return to see the sun again. Dry blood stains her white gloves once she removes his bandana, placing her palm flat on his feverish forehead. She wishes she had Lulu's tender precision for the mildest blizzard spell to soothe him. What more can she do for him after he has endured so much? Because Yuna had been looking, she notices the rapid eye movement behind his closed eyelids. 'He's dreaming... I wonder what he's dreaming about.'
Yuna could always dream-walk into another person's mind, as per the final requirement of completing one's training in the Summoning arts, but she never dared to consider the thought outside of practice, since it requires an intimate invasion of another's privacy. But to do so out of curiosity, without permission? What a disrespectful thing to do! But still, she faces temptation. She wishes to learn more about him beneath the deeper layers of his shell and, to reassure herself, check the state of his mental well-being.
Yuna imagines someplace where they have both been at least once in their individual lives. Bevelle? No, too much unpleasant history. Sanubia Desert? Yes, the searing dunes she had to tread on foot alongside her Al Bhed captors, alone and brave without her Guardians. That had been right before the Guado invaded the Al Bhed city under Maester Seymour's command. Yuna blamed herself for that incident, because she served as the catalyst for Home's ultimate demise. Redirecting her mind from this dreadful line of thought, Yuna imagines Baralai walking the same trails of endless sand during his Crimson Squad days.
Two years ago, sometime before the start of her pilgrimage, an acolyte enlisted his hopes on this new military project. Yuna dream-walks through the earthen borders of his mind, her boots passing the reaches of reality and into the reemergence of a sunlit memory.
His first day of training. 'My first day of reconnaissance.'
Her surprise shifts the hot atmosphere into a whirlwind of pure emotion. Yuna finds him standing tall against the elements, scanning his immediate surroundings. Baralai shields his eyes from the sun, hand outstretched to cast shade. The look in his eyes, which shine bright with unmistakable innocence, holds a sense of greater purpose. Even in his teen-aged years, Baralai had strong direction, and that has not changed about him, despite the years subsequent to Nooj's betrayal.
'Maester Kelk Ronso entrusted me an important task of utmost secrecy, an honor for a humble priest such as myself. But how am I going to keep tabs on Maester Kinoc if he continues to insist on special treatment? I must learn the true aim of this exhibition.'
It startles her to feel his thoughts flow inside her mind, feeding her an incredible detail of his life beyond her wildest imagination. Yuna should have expected the possibility of stumbling upon truths best kept secret, especially secrets belonging to a man who would eventually become the Praetor of Yevon's splintered children.
Yuna watches him unravel a map of continuously-shifting geography, watches him watch candidates expel nervous energy by milling about and pitching up tents. Explosions and gunshots resound beyond the dunes, out of sight and out of mind, until sudden bombardment raises the sand, lacing the desert heat with combustion and insidious smoke. Yuna coughs and crouches to her knees, covering her ears from the chorus of a thousand shells firing, head pounding to the merciless rhythm of their detonations.
Everything around her seems to slow down, carrying the sound of combat and sharp gunfire in the echoes of stagnancy, but Baralai just stands there, unmoving in the midst of chaos. Yuna focuses on this surreal sight, of the map shredding into pieces, becoming pyreflies that are overshadowed by the sun before they come back together to create the solid likeness of a gun. He holds the object of sacrilege in all his innocent glory and youthful flaws. The square barrel feels alien in his bare hands, hot metal imprinted with the uniform Crimson Insignia. His fingers are shy of the trigger, fearful of the heavy clip loaded with death's favorite lead.
Yuna perceives the gravity of his sacrifices, which no doubt hadn't crossed his mind until this put his religious tolerance to the test. 'Am I allowed, no, expected to use this?'
Feeling an overwhelming desire to walk towards him and clutch those hands that touch the taint of metal, Yuna understands at least an inkling of how he must have felt. Aniki gave her the Tiny Bee double pistols as commemoration of her initiation among the Gullwings; he even had the clumsy care to teach her how to wield them. Yuna counts her blessings it had been her choice during the time of Eternal Calm, unlike Baralai, to whom Yevon had promised chapters of glory on par with Crusaders, while Sin haunted everyone in their sleep.
"Is there a problem?"
Startled by the stern rhetoric, Baralai turns to regard the plump man who challenges the desert in orange robes: Wen Kinoc, a Maester of Yevon and the Commander of Bevelle's army. "Man up, soldier. You're not in Bevelle anymore."
"Maester Kinoc, sir." Baralai stands straighter, body stiff as he bows to show his respect. "Thank you, for your... strict words."
"What are you doing standing around for? Report to your station!"
"I... Of course, sir. Right away, sir!"
Baralai runs to find his team and Yuna watches him go, scared of the consequences. She knows exactly where this will go; Baralai will walk the road to Hell paved with good intentions, into the jaws of New Yevon. Everything started on the day he met Nooj, Gippal, and Paine, before he entered the Den of Woe, before Baralai went to Seymour for revenge – causing the catalyst for Shuyin's machinations. If she lets him walk away now, will he relive the past two years of his suffering in dreamscape? Two years spent researching forbidden archives, playing at politics, and spinning nefarious plots?
'Why do I feel dread? Surely what already happened in his life... can't happen again, right?'
Dreams are not real; not anymore. Not when the power of the Fayth no longer exists, and Summoners can never again summon. Yet, Yuna recalls the voice of her father, as if his insightful words are trying to quell doubts already expunging the dry roots of her fractured faith.
"But dreams, they feel real while we're in them, right? Dreams may disappear when we wake up, but they always carry hidden messages of truth."
Somewhere in her heart, she knows –
Watching his back recede into the distance, she gives chase.
Yuna crosses the distance to clutch his sleeve, because if she lets go now –
'I might just lose you.'
He halts in his tracks and turns around, confused. Their eyes connect and she smiles, a smile so short-lived, it comes apart at the seams. His eyes are looking through her, not at her, searching for her presence. Does he not see her, or does the past conceal her behind the film of his memory?
"Baralai... Baralai, Baralai! It's me! Can't you... see me...?"
Does he really not hear her? Yuna frowns, flustered.
This sudden sense of urgency and desperation, she has no reason to feel this way. Not when their lives are no longer on the line; when Baralai will wake up from this nightmare anyway. She shakes her head and tries to smile at her foolishness before stepping back. Touching his sleeve where her hand once laid, Baralai won't budge in his contemplation, not even when a Warrior Monk orders him to get moving. Something compels Yuna to stay long enough to see the smile form on his face. 'Huh? Why is he looking at me like that?'
'Why do his words...'
"Yunie! Yunie, Yunie!"
"Hey, Yuna, stop daydreaming."
'...sound so familiar?' And by the time Baralai departs with such bittersweet sorrow in his gait, Yuna reaches for cold air. The warm sound of Rikku's voice in her ears and the soft touch of Paine's gloved knuckles on her head brings her back to reality. Back to the sight of Baralai's peaceful smile frozen in slumber, surrounded by the people important to them both.
Rikku grins, bouncing to the beat of her hyperactive energy. "Guess who's here!"
From the foggy abyss, Braska emerges alongside his wife and Guardians.