Coming Home

 
 

“Of course I’ll be your Matron of Honor, Yuna!” Lulu said, the delight in her voice obvious. “That is, if you don’t mind me looking very pregnant in my bridesmaid’s gown,” she smiled at the woman she considered her little sister, and her fiancé standing beside her.

“Lulu,” Rikku said, “you barely looked pregnant at all when you were having Vidina. You’ll probably look better than either me or Paine, for Yevon’s sake.”

The gray-haired warrior looked at the little Al Bhed. “Speak for yourself.”

The Praetor of New Yevon tried to hide a grin as she looked around at her friends, all standing in Lulu’s and Wakka’s small hut in Besaid. “As long as none of you look better than me,” she said, “I’m fine with all of you.”

The mage and thief groaned aloud. “Please, Yuna,” Lulu answered. “We’ve seen you in a wedding dress, remember?”

“Yeah,” Rikku continued. “No one in Spira will look better than you.”

Despite the dark memory, Yuna laughed. She took Baralai’s hand and exchanged a smile with him. “I’m hoping things won’t go quite so bad this time.”

“I say we ban all weapons from the ceremony, ya?” came Wakka’s cheerful voice as he ducked into the hut.

“Oh, Wakka, there you are!” Yuna said, turning to face her old guardian. “You heard us?”

He raised his hands. “Four women, talking about a wedding? The fishermen on the other side of the island heard you!”

“Ha, ha,” Rikku rolled her eyes at him. “Hey, where’s Vidina?”

“He’s out stealing blitzballs from the Aurochs,” he hooked a thumb over his shoulder. “You wanna chase him around for a while? ‘Cause you’re overdue on babysitting detail and he’s wearing his father out.”

Paine laid a hand on Rikku’s shoulder to keep her from taking up the offer. “I’ll go,” she said to the big man. “I’m afraid they’re going to start talking taffeta in here.”

“Chicken!” the little thief called after her friend as Paine headed outside.

As Wakka sat down beside Lulu, Yuna smiled at him. “Not afraid of wedding-talk?”

“Nah,” he waved a hand in dismissal. “I been through it once, and it wasn’t so bad.”

Baralai winked at him. “Not so bad.” He dodged a swat from Yuna.

“Besides, I need to catch up with my favorite Summoner — oops, I mean Praetor,” Wakka grinned.

“Oh, stop,” Yuna blushed, “you know I’m always just Yuna to you guys.”

“You’re never ‘just Yuna’ to us,” Lulu said. “You’re our family.”

“Yeah, Yunie!” the Al Bhed echoed.

The High Summoner looked down at her shuffling feet. “I’m glad you feel that way...” she said hesitantly, “...because we do have one other favor to ask.”

“As long as you don’t want me in a bridesmaid dress,” Wakka said, “just name it.”

Yuna laughed at that image, feeling warmth flow through her at how her friends and former Guardians always made her feel at ease. “Well, we were hoping to have the ceremony here, in Besaid.” She gestured over her shoulder. “In the temple.”

“Oh,” Lulu said, her brow creasing slightly.

Wakka exchanged a glance with his wife. “Wow, that’s a lot of people.”

“I know it should be in Bevelle,” Yuna hurried on, “being where New Yevon is headquartered...”

Rikku screwed up her face in sympathy. “But you had a wedding there, and not so good, right?”

The Praetor matched her sad smile. “Not the best memories, no. I didn’t want to have such a direct comparison in the guests’ minds, it wouldn’t be fair to Baralai.”

The silver-haired Chairman of New Yevon opened his mouth to protest, but his fiancée cut him off. “No, we’ve talked about this.” She looked back at Lulu and Wakka, who were still woolgathering. “I know that Bevelle is really my home town, so—”

Lulu looked up at her sharply and cut her off. “Nonsense. Besaid is your home town, Yuna. Of course you can have your wedding here.”

“Oh, yeah!” the big blitzballer jumped in. “We’d love to have it here. It’s just... you’re not getting married next week, are you? ‘Cause it’ll take a while to get a party this big planned, ya?”

Yuna let out a sigh of relief. “Oh, it won’t be that many people that want to come, do you think?”

Baralai smiled to himself and looked at his feet while the other three friends all started laughing so hard that the Summoner could only look between them in dismay.

“Yuna, sweetheart,” Lulu said gently, “just the Hypello who’ll want to attend will fill the temple.”

“Yeah,” Wakka added, “we’ll have trouble fitting all the guests on the island, much less just in the village.”

Rikku poked her cousin in the ribs teasingly. “The Al Bhed Airship Shuttle Service is gonna be busy with a capital ‘biz’. I can practically hear Oaka the Twenty-third and Rin fighting over the concessions business now!”

The humble brunette waved her hands at her friends. “Oh, no, it’s too much, you’re right,” she nodded at Lulu. “I wasn’t thinking. We should have it in Bevelle.”

Wakka stood and put his arm around Yuna’s shoulders. “No way! Long as we have time, this is gonna be a fun party to plan, ya?”

“That’s right, Yunie!” the little thief said. “Just leave it all up to us!” Then she amended herself. “Well, not all up to us, I mean, you’ll want to pick out the dresses, and the flowers, and the music, and the date, and the guestlists, and the way the invitations look, and the cake, and the mrphrmrs—”

Baralai’s hand over Rikku’s mouth had abruptly ceased her jabbering.

“I’ll prepare lists of things for you to look over,” Lulu said soothingly to Yuna, whose eyes had gotten very wide at her cousin’s litany. “Since I’ve done this before.”

“Oh that would be great, Lulu,” the High Summoner said with a sigh. “Things are always so busy for me in Bevelle. Even with Baralai’s help.”

A laughing Vidina suddenly ran in to the tent and ducked behind Rikku’s legs. He was followed by a giant Tonberry. A muffled voice emerged from the green beast.

“Vidina, give me back my garment grid!”

Rikku grabbed up the small boy and ran around the hut, escaping the Tonberry’s grasp by ducking around Yuna and Wakka. They fled out the door with Vidina squealing in delight, as Paine’s muffled voice followed, not nearly as effectively as her costumed body. “Rikku! Bring him back!”

As the great green beast shuffled off, Wakka turned to Yuna. “You think you’re busy now? Wait ’til you and Baralai have kids!”

The two lovers could only look at each other in wide-eyed horror.

*   *   *   *   *

The Celsius was docked outside Guadosalam once more, having stopped to allow Yuna and Baralai to deliver the announcement and an invitation to Tromell. The Guado leader, delighted at the news and flattered that the High Summoner would invite him despite the fiasco of the Guado and her first “wedding”, insisted that the couple and the Gullwings spend the night. Rikku’s belly was stuffed with good food from the sumptuous impromptu banquet the Guado had thrown together. Though all that food was making her drowsy, the nearness of the Farplane had proved too powerful a draw, and the little Al Bhed stood in the empty chamber of eternity, occasionally leaning over the rail, both disappointed and hopeful that Tidus would not appear.

“So, Yunie’s getting married,” she told the empty space. “I know, big shocker for you there, since you didn’t even know she was dating. Well, actually, she was on her first date with Baralai when I saw you last. Sort of saw you.”

She shuffled on her feet, glancing around her. At this hour, no one else was there to either mourn or chat up a loved one. Rikku would have felt a little strange chatting up the thin air if there had been, but then it wasn’t like people’s spirits appeared here for real, right? It was just pyreflies that people talked to anyway.

“Yeah, Yunie and Baralai. I knew from the moment we first met him… well, I didn’t know know, since we were looking for you, kinda, but she got this look, and her face got all red, and—” Rikku paused, then cocked her head. “Oh, maybe you don’t want to hear about this. Yunie is pretty closed mouth about the details, but I know that you and her… well, heck, we were searching high and low for you for a year, right? You were pretty special to Yunie…”

She looked at her feet. “You were special to all of us.”

Rikku leaned upon the railing, looking out. “I really miss you, you know that? So much has happened to me… I know I told you that when I told you that, but it’s still true, and I wish you were still here to talk to about it all. I can’t talk to Yunie anymore… well I can tell Yunie, but now instead of listening she is sort of listening while thinking about New Yevon while thinking about the wedding while thinking about Baralai… like if I were to talk to you before an important blitzball game, times a thousand or something.”

She leaned her cheek on a fist. “And I can’t talk to Paine, although she’s way better than she used to be. But she wasn’t with us on Yunie’s pilgrimage, so there’s some things that she just wouldn’t understand. Well, not about the stuff that’s happening now, she’s around for that… mostly, when she’s not off working with the dreaded Leblanc — Leblanc was kind of our arch-enemy for a while. That’s pretty cool, having an arch-enemy. Well, not like a Seymour-type arch-enemy… he was way more scary than cool. Leblanc, she was more annoying than scary. Of course, when Yunie had to give Leblanc a massage, I guess that was scary… wait, what was I talking about again?”

Rikku stood back up straight and waved her arms at the open space beyond the railing. “See? I get all confused when I’m talking to you but aren’t talking with you. Why did you have to go and—” her voice caught unexpectedly on her. “—and, and, disappear on me?” She took the end of her scarf in her hands, running one thumb over the fabric, remembering when Tidus had done the same. Almost Tidus.

“You just had to dive off the Fahrenheit and disappear. No warning or anything.” Her voice was very small. “Couldn’t you have told me the truth? That you were just a dream? Prepared me just a little?” She rolled her head back and looked up at the ceiling or sky or whatever passed for up here in the land of the sent. “No, maybe you couldn’t. There’s been this big hole in the world, in my world, ever since you’ve gone. If I knew it was coming, had just an inkling of how hard it would be to face every day… maybe I wouldn’t have wanted to defeat Sin so badly. You couldn’t know how much it hurt me to lose you Tidus, but beating Sin was the right thing to do, and that’s what you always wanted, to do the right thing.”

She closed her eyes. “I just wish I could talk to you again, even just for a little while. I’d even take a little more of what the Fayth gave me, knowing it wasn’t really real. Just to open my eyes and find you there… how I wish… I wish I wish I wish…”

And she opened her eyes. But he wasn’t there. He was unsent.

*   *   *   *   *

Paine could hear the distant rumble of thunder as she emerged from the former inn at the bottom of Guadosalam. The Sphere Appraiser had agreed to pass on word that there was a buyer available for old sphere recorders. She still didn’t know why she was taking this Sphere Museum consultant thing so seriously, but after six months of doing it she no longer worried about the why. It was just an interesting hobby, that was all. And in the name of business, Leblanc was doing an excellent job of becoming a serious sphere historian.

Paine still wasn’t sure that she could admit to liking Leblanc, but actively disliking her was becoming harder to justify.

Anyway, with Yuna gone, a lot of the wind had gone out of Gullwings’ sails with her. Before Yuna had joined, the search for spheres had been new and exciting. The Praetor né Summoner had brought a new purpose, and one that had unraveled the mysteries of Paine’s past as well with the defeat of Shuyin. So she supposed that now she was seeking something new that felt as fulfilling, and in a way the Sphere Museum could be that. It was attempting to finish what The Seekers had started before Trema had stolen their treasure and descended beneath Bevelle: discover and reveal Spira’s past. The Gullwings had pursued the discover part, as had New Yevon and the Youth League, before each had moved on. Now the Sphere Museum could complete the reveal part. Paine liked being part of that.

As she headed back up the tree to the mansion, from the corner of her eye she saw Rikku heading towards the upper levels of the city. At this time of night? She couldn’t help but be curious. After ascending Guadosalam’s twisted trunk, Paine saw the little Al Bhed slip through the entrance and into the Farplane chamber. Now she was very curious: Rikku had expressed dislike for few things more so than the Farplane.

Still not close enough to shout and catch her attention, and unwilling to do so at so late an hour, Paine kept following. She passed through the doorway and towards the Farplane chamber herself. It was quiet and deserted at this time of night. She walked the passage and headed towards the stairs.

“Warrior,” came a small voice from behind her. Paine froze, hand slipping easily to the hilt of her sword. She turned efficiently about to face a diminutive figure a short distance behind her. Her eyes darted about to see where he might have been hidden, as she’d heard no footsteps before he’d spoken, but she could see nothing that might have concealed the small boy whose helmet-like hat concealed his eyes.

“You’ve nothing to fear from me, Paine,” he said.

Her eyes narrowed. “Fear, no. But I’m curious as to how you know my name.”

“You may not have quite the fame of the High Summoner or the Al Bhed princess,” he spread his hands, “but surely much of Spira knows you.”

“Knows of me, perhaps,” Paine’s hand didn’t leave the sword hilt, “but doesn’t know me. And I don’t know you.”

“Indeed,” a small grin touched the boy’s lips. “But you know of me. I am a Fayth.”

Paine blinked at him, then tilted her head, eyes flicking over him head to toe. “Is that so?”

The Fayth tilted his head back just slightly. Paine still couldn’t quite see his eyes, but could interpret his expression as one of resigned irritation. “Consider my size deceiving,” he said.

“I’d have to,” she countered.

He shook his head and sighed. “Gullwings,” he grumbled to himself.

“Is there something you wanted?” Paine asked. “I—”

“You’re here to look after your friend,” the Fayth finished her thought. “Which is why I approached you.”

The warrior frowned. “What do you know of Rikku?”

“As I said, the Al Bhed princess is quite famous in Spira,” his lips twitched to their enigmatic smile. “But also, we’ve met.”

“A Fayth?” Paine snorted. “She would have told me.”

He spread his hands. “Open as she is, even Rikku has things she doesn’t share. Sometimes even with herself.”

She turned her head to look up the stairs, brow furrowed, considering.

“Shall I show you?” the Fayth asked.

Paine only nodded in reply. The Fayth walked past her and turned, offering his hand. With great hesitation, the warrior took it, and they ascended to the chamber above.

Rikku was alone in the cavernous room, directly ahead, her back to them. She bounced on the balls of her feet, and chattered away in half a conversation. Paine looked about nervously. “I don’t want—”

The boy’s voice was comforting. “She can’t hear or see you. We don’t want to interrupt her.”

Paine was skeptical, but as the Fayth drew her forward Rikku turned their way, still talking, then away again. She took no notice of them.

The warrior relaxed slightly, then frowned. She hadn’t spent much time here herself. She was almost afraid to, fearing that if she came and allowed herself the slightest thought of the trauma with the Crimson Squad that the space beyond the rail would crowd to overflowing with pyrefly images of the men she’d known. But now as she focused on Rikku, Paine realized there was no one at all in the space before the Al Bhed.

“Who is she talking to?” she asked the Fayth.

His voice was almost sad. “The one she loves.”

“Loves?”

“This would be her dilemma. She feels her days with the Gullwings are numbered. The High Summoner has found a place in New Yevon and one to stand by her side.” He looked at Paine. “You have wrestled your demons and now seek a new purpose of your own. One that doesn’t involve flying about Spira in an airship.”

He turned back to look at the oblivious Rikku. “While she sees a future planned out for her by her father. She wrestles with it, with her duty, fearful that — as it has for her father — it would leave her always alone, never to find someone to love.”

Again Paine snorted. “Someone to love? Ridiculous. Have you seen her?”

A barely perceptible grin. “Could I miss her?”

“Exactly. She’s brighter than the sun. Men from around Spira would line up for Rikku. She could have anyone she wanted.”

Again his tone played a note of sadness. “Therein lies the problem. She wants the one she cannot have.”

The warrior puzzled, then she thought back to an afternoon beneath Bevelle, a conversation in the Gaol. After a moment Paine nodded in realization. “Tidus.”

“You see what she does not. Or will not.”

Paine chuckled. “She can be dense.”

“Indeed.”

The warrior watched her friend forlornly for a moment or two. “But what can be done? We searched every clue we could find, all over Spira. We spent a year or more searching for some sign of Tidus, but never found any true leads.”

“They exist, buried deep and strewn wide,” he answered. Then the Fayth’s voice turned grave. “But many, so many, have been scattered to the winds. Yet…”

He paused long enough for Paine to turn a puzzled look on him.

“…they can be caught.”

The warrior frowned. “Leads?” He nodded. “Spheres?” she cocked her head.

“Yes.”

“What do you mean, scattered?”

He spread his hands. “Just as I said.”

“But—” she started, then stopped as a thought hit her. “You mean Via Infinito, don’t you?”

The Fayth smiled just slightly.

“We can recreate those spheres? The ones that Trema destroyed?”

He nodded once more.

“How?”

“I do not have all the answers,” he shrugged, “I simply know that memories such as those are never truly lost. Memories and dreams can be eternal.”

Paine looked then to her friend before them, the little thief still chattering away to the empty chamber. “And what can I do to help Rikku?”

The Fayth reached out to take the warrior’s hand, and she looked down at his upturned face. “Remind her that a dream needs a dreamer.”

*   *   *   *   *

“How many levels have we come down?” Shinra asked, his voice a little strained and squeaky.

Paine’s eyes never stopped their sweep of the corridor, constantly on the lookout for fiends. “Thirty seven.”

“And how many levels are there again?” he asked with a swallow.

“One hundred,” Rikku answered, sympathy thick in her voice. She thought the boy’s goggles seemed a little fogged. He must be sweating heavily behind them.

“Terrific.”

A strong hand squeezed the boy’s shoulder reassuringly. “I think we can probably make this the last level for today,” Nooj told him, “don’t you think guys?”

The party of warriors, nearly a score of New Yevon’s and the Youth League’s finest, sent mostly grateful glances the Meyvn’s way. Only Ormi raised a nervous protest.

“I think the boss was hoping we’d get to level forty…”

Logos turned a withering stare on his longtime partner. “I think the boss should be down here if she wants to give orders.”

Nooj hid his grin, but was proud of the lanky man’s newfound gumption — albeit not displayed in front of Leblanc. Paine walked by the two and gave the rounder flunky a friendly nudge of reassurance. The Meyvn guessed that the cynical warrior’s attitude was starting to rub off on Leblanc’s cohorts since she had spent so much time with them in the last few months.

The Youth League leader did his own visual sweep of the motley party that was the main force of what he’d taken to calling The Bevelle Project. Paine teased him that rather than becoming a ship’s captain, he’d ended up a civil engineer, his desk at Youth League headquarters stacked with files labeled Calm Lands Venture and Macalania Lake Revitalization Proposal. But all in all, he didn’t really mind; for one who’d been a Deathseeker, Nooj marveled that he now spent so much time thinking about the future.

Paine had developed this idea herself: locate pyreflies that had been part of a destroyed sphere, trap them, and recreate the spheres. She had worked with Shinra and Rikku to build a machine that could do that, and then approached Nooj about assembling a team that could bring the device to the place it could be most effective: Via Infinito.

The party he looked over now included Paine, Rikku and Shinra from the Gullwings, Logos and Ormi from the Sphere Museum, Baralai and a team of New Yevon guards, a smattering of Al Bhed from the Machine Faction, and Elma, himself, and a half-dozen soldiers from the Youth League. In support on the surface were Leblanc, Yuna, Brother, and Gippal, processing their finds and tending the wounded… although Nooj knew for a fact that Brother was spending a great deal of his energy keeping Gippal away from Yuna. Not that Gippal minded; he was fine spending his time flirting with Leblanc.

“I’m getting more and more impressed,” Nooj’s voice snagged the gray-haired warrior as she passed him, walking a perimeter.

Paine raised an eyebrow at him in response, the model of suspicious curiosity.

“Hardened Crusaders I’ve fought alongside since Sin nearly panicked and bolted when we started this two days ago, and that was on the uppermost levels,” he said.

“They weren’t that frightened,” she shrugged.

“That’s charitable of you,” Nooj smiled. “But yes they were. And yet you, Yuna, and Rikku made it all the way to the bottom.”

And defeated Trema,” Rikku said in a drive-by. “He was worse than Vegnagun!”

Paine frowned after her. “He was not.”

The Meyvn grinned slightly. “I believe her.”

The gray-haired warrior just shrugged, looking at Rikku, now standing by Shinra. The thief winked at her, and Paine rolled her eyes.

“Not bad for Spira’s most famous recorder,” Nooj teased, and Paine sent him a look that would melt rocks, but couldn’t maintain it for sharing his smile.

Rikku knelt down by the Gullwings’ boy-wonder and peered at the viewscreen of his latest contraption from over his shoulder. “How’s it going?” she asked.

“I’m not having much luck identifying pyreflies with sphere-residuum here.”

“Are you sure you have the high-pass filter set right?”

Shinra turned his featureless goggle-gaze on her, but said nothing.

She pointed at the screen defensively. “Hey, we’re not even completely sure what constitutes the complete signature of ‘sphere-residuum’, so don’t give me that look. You’re new at this too.”

The boy shrugged. “We did plenty of experiments.”

“Not on thousand-year-old spheres we didn’t,” she answered. “Leblanc would kill us if we destroyed a really old sphere just to analyze the radiological footprint of the pyreflies it gave off.”

He sighed. “I’ll play with the settings more.”

The little thief stood up, but patted the boy’s shoulder. “Better than having to come down here again, right?” She could feel him shudder through her touch. “That’s what I thought.”

There was suddenly yelling from beyond where the corridor curved out of sight to her left. Rikku grabbed the daggers from off each hip and took off after the sound, skidding around the corner to find Baralai and half a dozen soldiers pinned down by an Elder Drake.

“Oh, man, I hate these things!” the Al Bhed said, searching her garment grid for her Dark Knight dressphere. “Paine!” she yelled loudly over her shoulder, securing her daggers and getting mentally prepared for the sphere-change. “Stop flirting and get your butt over here!”

She knew she’d pay dearly for that later, but couldn’t help herself.

Unsent: Chapter 4