Baralai and Paine have a chat.
The party continued far into the night, but I just couldn't make myself stay. Gippal had drunkenly insisted that I stay around for a while, but I just left. I heard him stumble as I walked away. I stood on the dock, near a boat that wouldn't be leaving until tomorrow. I didn't know where it would be going, but it didn't matter.
I hadn't had much of an opportunity to talk to Paine since we left the Farplane. I had been surprised that she had rushed to my side as soon as Shuyin released me from his control. She knelt silently beside me, with a hand laid gently on my shoulder. None of us were really in the mood for talking, but Paine walked silently beside me as we made our way out. We parted ways on the airship. I suspect she went to the deck to think. I was deposited in the cabin to rest. If Paine came in, I never knew, because I had been sleeping until we reached Luca.
When we all said goodbye before Nooj, Gippal, and I were to give our speeches, Paine didn't say anything to me. I understood that she was never really the talkative type, but I feel like there were a thousand things I wanted to talk to her about; a thousand things that went unsaid as she boarded the airship with her new friends. I did catch her looking at me before she followed Rikku onto the ship, and I thought I caught the tiniest glimmer of a smile and a look in those crimson eyes that told me we would talk later.
"I thought I would find you out here." The deep voice, the clunk of the cane, and the drag of a useless leg told me that Nooj had decided to join me. Without another word, he came and stood beside me. I glanced at him as he stared over the ocean.
I wanted to voice my concerns. I wanted to ask him if Paine blamed me, or didn't trust me anymore. Nooj caught me looking at him and returned my gaze. He didn't say anything. He returned his gaze to the ocean. I realized that he was silently telling me that if I wanted to talk to him, I would have to speak up, because he wouldn't say anything until I did.
"Nooj," I said simply at first. The other man looked at me again. "Do you think...Paine doesn't trust me anymore?" I wondered. I felt like an insecure teenager. I may be young, but I never thought I would have such feelings. I wanted to know if Paine thought I had betrayed her. I wanted to know if she no longer considered me her friend. I had seen that the two years since we saw each other had changed her greatly. Perhaps she liked her new friends more than the old.
Nooj sighed. "The only person who can tell you that is Paine," he replied. He looked down at the mechanical hand that grasped his cane. Just about the only thing it was good for. "The only way you can ask her is if you go talk to her."
"Maybe she doesn't want to see me," I said softly.
I heard a small chuckle from Nooj. "You two were the best of friends during our Crimson Squad days. Honestly, I think of the three of us, you're still the one she likes and trusts the most." He clipped the back of my knees with his cane. "It's not like you to be so insecure. You're a politician now. Words are your weapon."
"But I don't want to wield a weapon against her. I don't want to use a sharp tongue to convince her that she still trusts me, or if she doesn't, that she should." Nooj shook his head, his bangs moving back and forward, briefly covering one of his eyes.
"Regardless, you're not going to be able to talk to her here. Didn't she go to Besaid with her friends?" he asked. I nodded. "You can wait until she seeks you out to talk to you, which if what you think is true, may be never, or you can take the initiative and seek her out yourself. If you take the latter option, you'll want to leave quickly, before she leaves Besaid and becomes impossible to track down." He turned to leave, but before walking away, laid a broad hand on my shoulder. "Perhaps this is just a misunderstanding. If so, you'll want to clear it up quickly." With that final piece of advice, Nooj limped away with a clunk from his cane and the drag of his foot.
I turned back and looked at the boat. Nooj was right. Nothing would be accomplished by me staying here and sulking. The celebration was meant to last all week, with Nooj, Gippal, and me as the guests of honor, but I didn't think anyone would miss a sulky Baralai. The faster I got this over with, the faster I could return to my normal self. I decided to retire for the evening and ride the earliest boat to Besaid the next day.
Besaid was a small, almost tropical island. The boat let me off at a beach of shimmering sand. The air was warm and slightly humid with the sweet smell of fruit on the air. I got off the boat and stepped onto the small, wooden dock. I figured that on a small island like Besaid, it wouldn't be difficult to find Paine. I stepped onto the beach and spotted the Celsius resting in the water. That was my first indication that the Gullwings hadn't gone anywhere. They were probably still celebrating with the villagers.
The path to the village proper was straightforward enough. I walked bridges that offered a very nice (and wet) view of large, beautiful waterfalls. Besaid was truly a beautiful place, and I wondered why I had never come before, until I realized that after the Crimson Squad broke up, I had gone in hiding, and shortly after I returned to the world of the living, so to speak, I was made Praetor of New Yevon, and was too busy to do anything other than tend to my responsibilities.
I entered the village and saw the small groups of tents lining the way, and the central area where the Summoning must have been performed when Yuna received Valefor. Villagers were ambling about, talking casually to one another and going about their business. I didn't have any idea where Paine might be, or who might be able to tell me, until Yuna emerged from one of the tents.
She turned around and saw me standing stupidly where I was. Yuna smiled. "Hello, Baralai," she greeted. I automatically bowed to her. "No need to be so formal," Yuna laughed, but all the same, she returned my bow. "Is there something I can do for you?" she asked.
"Actually, yes," I replied. Yuna inclined her head to indicate that I should continue. "I'm looking for Paine. Would you know where she is?" I inquired.
Yuna seemed to think for a moment. "Paine left early this morning, before Rikku woke up," she said with a slight chuckle. "She said she needed to think. I think I might know where she's gone. If you follow me, I could take you there."
"Actually," I said, dipping my head to hide the lower part of my face behind my collar. "Could you tell me? I need to speak with her alone." I was grateful that Yuna didn't ask questions. She simply nodded. She told me that near the area that led to the beach, there was another path that led to an area overlooking a lake. It was a quiet, private place that Yuna suspected Paine adopted as a thinking spot when she needed to be alone. I nodded. "Thank you very much."
"You're welcome," Yuna replied. I inclined my head before turning and leaving her where she was standing. For some reason, I felt tension building in my gut. Was I afraid that Paine would yell at me for invading her privacy? Or was I simply nervous about talking to her? Either way, I strengthened my resolve and went where Yuna directed me.
I saw Paine sitting on the outcropping overlooking the lake. She seemed occupied by her thoughts. So much so, that she didn't notice when I took a seat beside her. At least, if she did, she made no indication that she knew I was there.
Before I had a chance to say anything, she spoke. "Aren't you supposed to be at the celebration in Luca?" her voice was soft and didn't sound angry. It sounded like she was just curious.
"Yes, but I needed to talk to you." For the first time since I invited myself to sit beside her, she turned her crimson gaze on me. Her eyes didn't look hard and she was still relaxed. So far, so good. I thought.
"What about?" she asked.
That was the question. The very issue that has been plaguing my mind since our meeting in the Bevelle underground near Vegnegun's abandoned chamber. I fidgeted a bit with my sleeve as Paine waited patiently for me to tell her what was on my mind. "Do you...not trust me anymore?" I let out, saying the first thing that came to my mind.
Paine seemed taken aback. "What?"
I slowly shook my head. "When we met in the Bevelle underground, you wanted to continue, even after I said that I would protect Vegnegun. Why, if not because you no longer trust me?" I decided not to bring up anything else until we had discussed this issue. It was the thing that was bothering me most. Even more than the fact that she hadn't said a single word to me since we met in the Farplane.
Paine seemed to take a moment to collect her own thoughts. "I don't know what I was thinking," she said. "Maybe I wanted to see it with my own eyes. We were determined to find it at any cost. Believe me, I didn't want to fight with you." She shook her head. "Maybe I listened too closely to Nooj. Maybe I thought you intended to use it."
I was surprised that she said that. "Why would you think that?" I asked. My voice did not raise above its normal level. Really, I wasn't angry with her or anything for thinking that I could turn such a destructive force against Spira, I just wanted to understand.
"I don't know," she replied. "I really don't. I knew it's not in your character to want to destroy the world." She smiled a little at that. I couldn't help but allow a tiny smile to tug at my lips. Paine clapped me on the back, like she did when we were in the Crimson Squad.
"There was one other thing I wanted to ask you," I said, the smile disappearing. She nodded to indicate that I should continue. "Why didn't you say anything to me in the Farplane? Do you blame me?"
Paine shook her head as if to say she wished I would stop misinterpreting her actions. "I just...didn't know what I could say," she replied. "I know what happened. I know it was Shuyin controlling you. I know how that feels." I wanted to ask her how, but she continued. "When we went to the cave in the Den of Woe...where it happened," she didn't need to say what, I understood completely, "Shuyin took over us. It was just like two years ago." She shook her head. "I was powerless. I knew you couldn't resist or fight against him, because I tried." I put a hand on her back. "I don't blame you for any of what happened, just like I didn't blame Nooj when he shot us."
With everything clear between us, Paine and I sat side by side in silence. I felt the camaraderie with her that I felt back when we were in the Crimson Squad together. "Well, Dr. P, you staying here?" I asked after I couldn't take any more silence. Paine smiled at my use of her old nickname.
"Rikku calls me that now," she said offhandedly, avoiding my question. Before I could say anything else, she said, "I intended to stay in Besaid for a while. The Gullwings are breaking up. Yuna and I no longer have any reason to be Sphere hunters." I nodded. "After that, who knows? I don't have a place to settle down. I may just wander Spira or join the Youth League or something."
I almost laughed. "I didn't think you would consider joining one of the groups, but I knew if you did, it wouldn't be New Yevon."
Paine shook her head with a wry smile. "As Rikku once said, 'it's got Yevon in its name. Enough said." I did laugh at that. I knew how much Paine distrusted Yevon and its secrets.
"You don't think it will change with me as its leader?" I inquired teasingly.
"Anything can happen," she said with a neutral shrug.
Author's Note: This was originally going to be a much longer fic, but I think it works just fine as a one-shot. Paine and Baralai happen to be my favorite couple. Mwahaha. Anywho, hope ya like it.