"What was that?"
-Return to the Celsius-Behind these Hazel Eyes-Kelly Clarkson-
"Hey, Yuna?" Paine's boyish alto rang out as I stepped out of the portal and back into the world of the living. "What took you?"
"Ooh!" Rikku squealed, pawing at the air as was her way when she got excited, "Did you see someone special?"
I froze, rooted to the floor, the color draining from my face. How could she? I looked at Rikku, stricken.
Rikku's hands fell to her sides. "Oh," Paine was staring at my cousin as if she had never seen her before. The paralysis lifted and I strode past her towards the cabin.
"Well that isn't very nice!" Rikku exclaimed, "I thought for sure the Fayth would bring him back when they found out how much you had gone through, Yunie!"
"Rikku!" Paine said harshly, trying to silence her.
"Please don't," I murmur. I speak not as Yuna of the Gullwings but as High Summoner, defeater of Sin who saw her lover die on the day of her greatest victory. Rikku hears the change in my voice and knows what it means. Could she hear the tears as well? A little farther, I'll be alone soon. "Don't bring up that subject. The Fayth cannot raise the dead."
My steps echo in the hollow cabin. Nobody is there, not even Barkeep. I feel the pressure begin to build behind my eyes and each breath is forced through my constricting throat. Every movement is leaden; I hardly have the energy to make it to my own bed. To simply collapse here on the floor would be so easy. Now I can't even see anymore anyway, everything is blurred around me like a painting that has been splashed with water; all the colors running together, dripping to the floor. I stumble and somehow manage to collapse onto one of the beds. It is not my own, yet the smell is familiar. Gel, scentless soap, and steel: Paine's smell. I take a few more shuddering breaths and close my eyes, forcing out the thick sheen of water. I can feel the hot tears scald my face, cooling as they meander towards my throat. I grab the pillow, desperate to hold onto something and bury my face in the down until it nearly suffocates me. For the first time since I was seven I truly let go, crying until there were no tears left. It felt as if every painful drop was carrying with it a piece of my sorrow but the moisture dried up long before the pain inside.
All I could see was your face; all I could feel was your arms around me, a mixed memory between that last embrace two years ago and the warm mist of your phantasmal arms on the Farplane. Outside my window I can feel the darkness of night descending upon my skin and occasionally I hear the patter of footsteps up the stairs. At one point Paine calls out softly that they will be going to a party thrown by Nooj in our honor, if I wish to come. The receding sound of her heels clacking on the steel floor is my only answer.
"Hey, where's Yunie?" Rikku exclaimed, snapping out of her early-morning daze. The party the night before had been a blast but now everyone was feeling the aftershocks.
"Still asleep maybe?" Buddy said as he resumed his place in the navigator seat, cracking his knuckles noisily.
"No," Paine sauntered through the bridge door which shut like a trap behind her. "She's not in the cabin."
"WHAT?! Yuna is missing?!" Brother exclaimed, "Where has she gone? We must search the area! We'll question anyone who might have seen her! If anything has happened-!"
"Its unlikely that anyone kidnapped Yuna," Shinra's misty, lisping voice chimed in. "To do so they would have to know all the ships codes and defenses, have disabled all the cameras, and…" he pushed himself up out of the chair and leaned against the back facing them, "they'd have to get past me. Which is impossible," he hopped back down and back typing vigorously into the central database. "Not to mention I have sphere cameras set up in all the hallways and I usually skim them for anything unusual at the end of the day. Yuna was alone when she left."
"And you wait until now to tell us this?" Brother demanded, beginning to assume an 'I'm the captain' edge to his voice.
"Yeah, why didn't you say sooner that she left?" Paine added.
Shinra shook his head, "It didn't seem important. All Yuna did was leave the ship carrying a bag. I thought she was going to the party."
Rikku rolled her eyes at the boy-genius' excuse when what he had said hit her like a rock between the eyes. "She left with asuitcase?"
"Mission time, Gullwings!" Brother cried, leaping into the cockpit, "Full speed ahead, we must save Yuna!"
Four pairs of Al Bhed eyes swiveled in Paine's direction. "What do you mean no? Yuna is gone! We must bring her back!" Brother said.
"Why?" Paine said calmly, advancing on Brother in a manner that was not intentionally menacing but could easily be mistaken when it was coming from the pale, crimson-eyed warrior. "It was her decision to leave. Why should we chase her down as if she has done something wrong?"
"Yeah, but Painey," Rikku said in a small voice, suddenly bereft of her usual chipper bravado, "What if she was in trouble? She was acting strange all last night, remember?"
Paine slowed her advance and turned to Rikku, thereby missing Brother's sigh of relief, "You're right, it is unlike her to leave without a word to any of us…. Has anyone checked for a note?" she puffed a sigh of disgust at the startled look on all their faces and stalked back to the cabin
Paine ran a black-gloved finger along the length of the bar, scanning the walls and floors almost lazily with her crimson eyes. It was the only way to hide her discomfiture. In the time she had known Yuna she would never have expected the High Summoner to purposefully cause her friends to worry. Not that her goody-two-shoes questing didn't cause migraines all around, but Yuna had a good head on her shoulders, hence Paine's certainty over the note.
Shinra had gone down to the engine room, in case Yuna had pinned her farewell letter to the hatch while the rest of the Gullwings combed the cabin, the last place Yuna had been seen. With an angry shout Rikku slapped Brother's hands away from Yuna's drawers, admonishing him noisily in Al Bhed before beginning to rifle through the drawers herself. Brother spared a moment to pout before moving on to the beds.
By now Paine was sure that the first floor was well searched and so she sauntered up the stairwell and leaned against the rail, regarding the yet untouched beds. Brother had already torn apart his own bed and Rikku's to no avail; though Paine wouldn't have been surprised if he had destroyed the note as well. Just as she was turning away to head back down the stairs, something caught her attention and her eyes flickered to her own bed and narrowed. The coverlet was rumpled and there was a slight indentation in the pillow that she was certain was not caused by any of the other 'detectives'. Crouching beside her bed she ran one long-fingered hand beneath the folds of cloth then casting dignity aside fell to all fours, ducking underneath.
"Heya! Dr. P!" Paine started then winced as her leg banged hard into the nightstand. Glancing back in annoyance she allowed the full force of her irritation be packed into a single word. "What?"
Rikku remained blithely oblivious. "Didja find anything?"
"No-" Paine stopped. A tiny scrap of paper fluttered to the floor from her nightstand. There was a faint rasp as her gloved fist closed over it and she emerged from beneath the bed. She carefully opened it and saw what was unmistakably Yuna's handwriting:
Ever since I allowed myself to cry that night, I have found myself unable to stop. It was as if behind the wall of strength I have forged over the years there had been a lifetime of tears built up that all at once decided to break free. Few would recognize me as I am now, the High Summoner and twice savior of Spira sniffling beneath the hood of my white mage dresssphere, my face red and blotchy and my eyes swollen with tears.
The Mi'hen Highroad was filled with south-bound traffic as everyone traveled to Luca for the celebration, the likes of which had not been seen since the defeat of Sin two years ago. But it was not because of the traffic that I kept to a small path that ran adjacent, hidden by the long grass, but rather because I knew that the Gullwings would soon be on my trail and then even my disguise would not hide me then. They would poke and prod me, asking me questions, admonishing me as if I were a child running away from home.
But that's what I'm doing, right? Running away from home.
I had to get away, to go somewhere where no one can find me.
Author Note: Please drop a note if you're interested in seeing more of this story! I'm currently in the process of publishing a lot of my older works. This one is over half complete and is being posted for posterity, if you're interested in seeing the whole story please make your interest known!