Yes! Finally finished! So much care and delicate allusions make up the quality of this chapter, and I wanted to make sure to include everything that deserved to be remembered (since reflections and themes are very important in this story, since it heavily relies on FFX + FFX-2 canon). Chapter 4 is actually 80% done, with a rough draft for Chapter 5 and 6 written out (excluding the first main fight scene; er, that's enough of spoilers out of me!)

Also, I've always wanted this kind of interlude in the aftermath of Vegnagun's defeat before we cut to Luca, and this chapter reflects my headcanon for it (and deepest, heartfelt wish that was never answered).

Sorrow, I hope you are reading this and finding inspiration. :3

Chapter Song: Feel So Close (Tonu Roostalu remix) ~ Artist: Calvin Harris

Main Song: He Films The Clouds Pt.2 ~ Artist: Maybeshewill


Chapter 3–Remembrance {II}


Second Hour

"Thank you."

By the time Baralai departs with such bittersweet sorrow in his gait, Yuna reaches for cold air.

From the foggy abyss, Braska emerges alongside his wife and Guardians.

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Yuna runs. She runs to close the distance, only for history to repeat itself. Reaching out for the ghost of a man she once called father, Yuna feels the familiar cold rush of pyreflies before the harsh impact of solid ground. She hears the echo of heartbreak in the soul fragments that cling to her own, sees the tail end of a lingering memory float before jade eyes. It ascends into the beautiful twilight – like that fateful night on the Fahrenheit.

Yuna knows miracles cannot revive the dead. The Fayth did not come two years ago after she saved the world the first time, did not come after the second time to bring her lover back to life. Yuna had to earn her happy endings, without the people she loved most to stand by her side. This moral lesson emerges from the deep depths of her subconscious, in the form of pain. She picks up the pieces of her dignity, the precious infantile memories of her father, and picks herself up on her feet, turning around to face him. No amount of time or mental preparation can compete with the sudden swell of emotion.

"Father..."

"Yuna." He smiles, a smile so sad, so full of hope.

The same broken smile he wore years ago the day he said goodbye, the day he came back to visit, the following morning he left for Zanarkand, and the evening she saw him in the Farplane many years later. His smile hasn't changed. He hasn't changed.

"You are a full grown woman now. You look... so beautiful, like your mother." And the unspoken apology:

"I'm sorry I couldn't be there to see you grow."

Yuna smiles, conflicted. How long had she dreamt of hearing those same words from the first important man in her life? "Thank you, father. I have always doubted... whether or not your sacrifice was truly a mistake."

"It was not." Braska walks to stand within reach of her, unable to embrace his adult child – not a child anymore, an adult, a young adult now – in his moment of remorse, agony and eternal longing. "It wasn't a mistake, Yuna. Never a mistake. I partook of my pilgrimage knowing full well the injustice of my end, because I had hope. I hoped to give you time, and here you are with all the time in the world. I knew what life had in store for you. I knew, ever since Bahamut refused to tell me the truth."

"What do you mean...?" So many questions still lie unanswered – how much of the grand scheme the Fayth were able to manipulate, and for how long – but Braska puts a stop to that train of thought.

"It's all in the past now. What matters is you are alive in a new world without Sin, and I had died investing in that future. I couldn't be any more happier. Yuna, I would like you to meet someone." Yuna feels the tug of pyreflies surrounding her fingers, guiding her by the hand until it takes her before the blonde woman who shares her face.

"Mother... Mother, it's really you."

Yuna begins to cry, because she can't hold her, can't be held by her, can't remember the last time she felt proud to resemble her mother. Nobody for years would step up to account for her mother's existence before Uncle Cid came along. No one around to point out the traits she inherited and say 'oh, you have her eyes' or 'you have her smile,' or even the classic 'you look like her, you know.' Spira chose to acknowledge Braska and Braska only after the dubious fact he became High Summoner, and he managed to earn that title in death during a time when church and followers alike had forsaken him.

So many things Yuna lost along the way, so many people, friends and family – and she lost them to Spira, the people of Spira Yuna once claimed she loved and would lay down her life for as if to compensate for the short-lived love Yuna received from her own parents. Why does the irony continue to torture her, even after the worst has come to pass? She wishes she can stop crying now in front of all her companions, because she wanted to be strong, not weak.

"...'I don't like your plan. It sucks.' That's a good one." Yuna blushes, embarrassed by the heartfelt sound of her mother's laugh. Its wonderful cadence fills the hole in her heart, echoing within the guarded walls of hope. "You really do have your father's spirit. All goody-goody, and full of stubborn heart."

"I told ya little Yuna could pack some serious ass-whooping."

"Sir Jecht!"

Yuna recognizes the bright orange and red sash that flares around his right leg, recognizes those endless scars of untold tales on his burly tan body. The black tattoo emblazoned on his muscular chest mirrors the Zanarkand Abes insignia Yuna wears between the open neckline of her halter-top – a memento of Tidus, his blitzball team and his father's. It reminds her of their final battle within Sin when she had to strike him down, singing the Hymn, praying, dancing to his demise, watching him kill her Aeons and incapacitate her friends until he summoned a broadsword of demonic proportions from his gargantuan chest as if the insignia itself had been the contract. She will forever associate that symbol with an abusive father whose own son hates him, because in her broken dreams she never stops dancing as they die, loving each other, fading away together – and she stands alone on the deck of an airship.

These are the thoughts and memories Yuna experiences in the single moment it took to register Jecht's presence. "For the longest time, I... I've been wanting to tell you that... I'm truly sorry." Yuna bows low, biting back the tears. "I never wanted to fight you. I-I never intended to hurt you. If I had known sooner, maybe..."

'I would have found a better solution,' Yuna doesn't get the chance to say once a chill squeezes her bare shoulder. She knows his hand rests there, trying to convey reassurance.

"Oh, don't be apologizing for that!" he says, awkward at the receiving end of her huge apology. "You did what you had to do, right? No hard feelings." Yuna straightens herself, struck wistful by the sight of Jecht scratching the back of his head. Now she understands where Tidus got that nervous habit from. There hiding in Jecht's shadow, his wife steps forward to greet her with a timid smile.

"Hello, Yuna. Jecht told me much about you. Thank you for taking care of my son."

Yuna remembers seeing her once, the image of a plainspoken and pretty woman. The same woman who, on all accounts, ignored her child to the point of neglect for her husband's attention. A woman who wallowed in depression after the sudden disappearance of her spouse, and later took her own life. Yuna frowns, feeling a shiver deep in her bones.

"The old lady next door told me that when a lovebird dies, the one left behind... it just gives up on living so it can join its mate. It was just like that."

Tidus had told her that sad story in this very realm, after he conjured the unconscious image of his mother in a fit of old resentment, and this startling parallel hit too close for comfort. Had Yuna not also done the same, anguishing for more than two years over the loss of her true love and considering the value of her own life?

'Do I really want to continue living like that? Delirious with unfulfilled hope?'

Yunalesca comes to mind, the first High Summoner whose name she inherited, and her temporary solution to a permanent problem. Death and sacrifice quelled Sin, but never for long. Yunalesca knew this, but duty forever bound her to a hopeless cause. For the sake of her father, for the sake of Dream Zanarkand, and for the sake of Spira's children. Hope and sorrow twisted her soul until Yunalesca could no longer hope for change in this sorrowful world.

There were several others who remained in the mortal realm after death; Auron clung onto the living memory of a promise; Seymour Guado desired to liberate the world from its eternal suffering; Jecht couldn't escape the spiral of death he wanted to end, nor could he stop his drive to preserve its cycle; Yo Mika spoonfed the people lies, secrecy, and false hope in order to keep Yu Yevon alive; Belgemine redeemed her failures in life by training fledgling Summoners while Ginnem became a monster consumed by wrath, summoners who perished during the course of their respective pilgrimages; Wen Kinoc and Jyscal Guado could not answer the call to heaven pass the crimes they committed as sinners; Lord Zaon refused to depart for eternal rest without his Lady Yunalesca by his side; and Trema dwelled in the undergrounds of his new organization, singing to the pyreflies a Hymn for all the memories he burned to ashes.

Even Maechen the scholar had accepted his fate after he remembered the thousand years spent learning the world and telling old tales. Lenne and Shuyin's story had been the most tragic one of all, the ghosts of lovers past unable to find each other for centuries; but Tidus wouldn't stay. He fulfilled his purpose in life, and disappeared. He never became a malevolent Unsent like Shuyin, or a benevolent one like Lenne. He's been resting in peace ever since she last saw him, and that revelation pains her more than if he were a ghost.

So many others have come and gone, but why did it have to be him?

"He was someone very precious to me, and I... I cherished him as much as I could even after the end."

Yuna bows again to obscure the incoming tears. Maybe it would be for everyone's best interest, and of course her own, to put her long-lasting grief for Tidus to rest. "Thank you for bringing him into my life. Without a mother, he would never have been born, able to live or learn to love." The absence of blame and pity made the melancholic woman smile in gratitude.

"Yuna."

For some reason, she had imagined Auron to look different – younger, without the telltale sunglasses, grey streaks gone and the left arm no longer slung in the obi of his coat. She expected him to have reverted to his physical appearance once he reunited with Jecht and Braska, a soul stuck at the age of twenty-five like the time of his initial death in the beginning of Braska's Calm. And yet, Auron looks the way he always did to her, wise, forlorn, and strong – a father figure. He would walk ahead or stay by her side, back so broad she always wanted to lean on it, knowing she felt safe. Yuna will never forget the look of pride on his grim face as she performed the Sending for him on the eve of Yevon's ultimate defeat. That night, she gave more goodbyes than smiles.

"It made me proud to see you fight out there."

"Thank you, Sir Auron. Your words... and everyone else's, they encouraged me. I don't think I would have been able to push through without your support. Your voices reminded me of the sacrifices you all made to ensure my success."

"Searching the past to find the future..." Yuna looks away, forlorn. "You know better than anyone, I believe, the futility behind such a pilgrimage. Hold your head high, and look towards the future. The past has nothing left to offer you."

"Kimahri... said the same thing. And Wakka, too, in their own ways. Everyone has been able to move on. Even Lulu, and Cid... pretty much everyone I know. I'm the only one..."

And then it hits her: 'I am no different from Shuyin.'

Yuna spent two years doing what Shuyin had done in a thousand: regret.

Yet Yuna became a sphere hunter for the same reasons Paine did: to find answers.

No one can understand her position better than Paine, because she knows how it feels to cling onto a broken dream. Her romance belonged to three men, their wish to pilot an airship and the everyday sight of all their cheerful faces on the deck of SS Winno. Who knew that Paine could be so social, or Nooj could crack jokes? Gippal looked so precious beside his first Spiran friends, and Baralai – he surprised her most of all! She had never heard him laugh before, or even smile like... such a boy. Yuna saw his eighteen-year-old face, witnessed a silence break apart between the open smiles and boisterous laughter of his friends, and his own.

His vengeful heart lies trapped in the past, like his happiness in the collective film of sphere waves. Hell bent on revenge, he turned to Seymour after he had lost everything, because he had no one else. Yuna had her friends, her Guardians, but he had no one he could trust. She and Baralai were the only ones who couldn't move on, except he managed to follow and lead the world at large in the capital of corruption while Yuna wasted away at the beach of her childhood home. Every day looking at the ocean, waiting for a sign...

Yuna comes to a heart-pounding epiphany. 'This has to stop.'

Her father's voice anchors her to the present. "Is your friend alright?"

Braska glances at the comatose Praetor and Jecht scowls, rolling the imaginary kinks from his shoulder. "Put up a real fight, that one..."

"I think so," Yuna says, managing a smile, "He just needs some proper sleep."

"I hear ya." Jecht steps closer, kneeling to get a better view of him. "Hey, Braska, maybe you should check on him. Make sure he won't rampage on the living. I bet everyone's had enough of ghosts and possessions in this lifetime."

"Good idea, Jecht. Everyone, allow me to take a look into his psyche."

"You can do that?" Gippal says, crossing his arms, concerned for his friend. Braska smiles to disarm his skepticism.

"Why, yes, but it's not a popular practice. Summoners are taught the ability to dream-walk following their apprenticeship."

"I've never heard of this. What, you can just 'walk' into someone's mind? Weird stuff."

Nooj harrumphs, hiding his worry. "It sounds dangerous. Think of the secrets you'll discover about a person."

"It is dangerous, in theory, since it's very difficult to open your mind to another, let alone share dreamscapes. We learn to dream-walk in order to understand the world around us, to heal those unable to recover by physical means alone. Those who show the proficiency to dream-walk are the priests and priestesses tasked with treating those infected by Sin's toxin."

"Do you know how to do this, Yunie?"

"W-Well... I do, actually... but only once have I done it outside of practice."

Thank goodness Rikku allows the matter to rest, and Yuna wonders if she did so out of assumption that she performed it during her pilgrimage. Yuna knows her cousin wants no reason to dredge up sad memories, but what would her friends think if they ever found out she prodded into Baralai's mind? Rikku will never let her live it down, and Aniki will be heartbroken for weeks.

"I will return with your friend. Pray for my success."


Baralai shoots out of slumber, startled.

Now the time has come for him to make his move, yet why does he hesitate?

He senses someone's eyes on him, though he dismisses it as a feeling often associated with spying. Paranoia has become an unlikely ally during his days on the desert, serving him well thus far. Though he wonders how long can he continue this charade without upsetting the whims of Lady Luck. Painstaking effort extracts the blanket he shares with the others. Gippal snores and moves around a lot, unlike Paine's convincing impression of a log and Nooj's tendency to play dead. Baralai smiles, stifling his laugh. 'But now's not the time to get sentimental. I need to focus.'

Crawling over to his pile of clothes, Baralai slips on his pants, before sliding his feet inch by inch into the boots. Once he finishes tying the ribbons of his trousers around them, he dons his green vestment, breathing to control his nerves. His razor rod lies propped on the sand near him and he moves to retrieve it; after a moment of consideration, Baralai decides to leave his gun behind. He doesn't want to risk detection, even if it may cost him his life against fiends.

He had come this far without thinking twice that he never really thought about failure until now. The possibilities are endless and frightening, and he foregoes the rush to depart. Baralai shifts to sit down, clutching his staff close for some semblance of physical comfort. For the past week, he had studied his team's sleeping patterns; how Nooj sleeps like a warrior, allowing for the slightest disturbance to awaken him. Gippal takes the longest to fall asleep, probably out of discomfort to be within proximity of Spirans, and Baralai counts on his nervous energy to exhaust him before he begins to snore. Paine's the toughest to gauge for her quiet breathing. It took days for him to determine the difference between calm and unconscious with her; unless lying next to Nooj, her thoughts won't run her into the night.

During the few hours he sacrificed each night to observe his surroundings, his mind would multitask between his fellow candidates and the patrolmen outside. They tend to dowse the torches once everyone accounted for retired early. Those drafted for night watch were instructed to defend the perimeter at four designated points in pairs, much more concerned about the monsters who prowl past midnight than misconduct among recruits. If Baralai decides to break for the north, he would only have to contend with two people. Sleep spells will do the trick, but he must keep in mind the dosage of mana necessary to knock them out longer.

Sudden jerk of movement startles Baralai out of his thoughts. Gippal mumbles and smacks his lips, rolling over to fling his legs out, and Paine stirs. He sighs in relief when neither of them rise. Baralai questions why he accepted this suicide mission in the first place. There are others more suitable for this field, people much more capable and professional than himself, a mere amateur in comparison. Baralai never fancied himself a spy before, and he wonders if he can even pull this off. He had always wondered why...

Baralai takes a deep breath, banishing the thought. Too late to retreat now when he has already dug his own grave. He made sure to claim the far end closest to the opening of the tent after three nights worth of roshambo, somehow managing to eliminate any form of suspicion. Yet when the time has come to prove himself, the insinuations of every sound surrounding him tests his patience. Even his own pronounced breathing threatens to incriminate him.

Baralai watches his team rest in makeshift cots that resemble the symbol for river, counting himself absent from the picture-perfect misfit family willing to share the same space. This sense of loneliness and belonging reminds him of the childhood memory he dreamt upon dozing. It must be a sign, but of what? Baralai reaches over towards his traveler's pack, sifting through the contents until he unearths sentimental value. It somehow gives him strength, stroking the foreign lines of a phonetic language. Baralai stores the tablet inside his robe and stands, grabbing the binoculars, too, which now hang like a noose around his sweaty neck.

Baralai pulls the tent flap open a crack and slips through without looking back, blessing the night for casting invisibility on his rebellion. Those on watch are faced away, and unaware of his silent approach. Sneaking within range, Baralai licks his lips and mouths the spell, smiling when he sees them slump forward with their heads hanging down.

He sprints for the dunes, hoping to reach the hill in time before someone sees him. Hustling to climb the semi-steep incline, Baralai jumps over the peak, body slamming the sand only to roll down in the most undignified manner possible. Once at the base, he sits upright and huddles to his knees, waiting for his heartbeat to regulate and breathing to normalize before standing. He hoists the binoculars at eye level and scans the kilometers ahead, counting the dark spots that move in the distance. Fiends roam more in the desert when the sun doesn't exist as their enemy, but at least he won't have to contend with the almighty Zus. Avian fiends don't function well due to their poor night vision, but in case he ever had to face them, the most effective way would be to ground one using gravity and behead it before it can take flight again.

The presence of machina units, however, confuse and concern him the most, but are easy to dispatch with Thundara spells. Machina, though? Way out here in the middle of nowhere? Were they designed by the Bevellian army as part of their training? Gippal didn't question it, yet had no problem pulling them apart with his clever thieving hands. Baralai's basic knowledge of machina dictates they will not last long operating on their own in the elements, unless are kept operational under constant maintenance...

And only one group comes to mind. Baralai lowers his binoculars, swallowing his dread. For the past week, he recalls how Maester Kinoc seemed intent on shepherding everyone in this general direction, marching further and further into the heart of the desert. What if the Maester has been using this militaristic stint as a veil for his true motive? Whatever Kinoc hopes to find, Baralai must find it first.