Categories > Games > Final Fantasy X-2 > Unwavering Symphony

Chapter 11

by animeangelash 0 reviews

"Let's run away." "We can't." "Then let's hide."

Category: Final Fantasy X-2 - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Action/Adventure, Drama, Romance - Characters: Lenne, Shuyin - Published: 2006-06-06 - Updated: 2006-06-07 - 8048 words

Disclaimer: All characters and settings belong entirely to Square Enix. I own nothing, in full or in part.


"Damn it!" Shuyin shouted in frustration, bring his fist down on the keyboard's keys and sending a piqued medley of notes ringing through the apartment. As it bounced amongst the dark, dusty corners and faded away into nothing, he let his own half-growl, half-moan take its place. Dropping his head into a hand, he massaged it fruitlessly in an attempt to ease his aggravation.

There had been time for screw-ups during the first week of teaching himself to play. Though disappointment had begun to settle in even after his first day of practice (which had left a sound similar to that of a dying cat ringing in his ears for hours afterward), he'd still retained the enthusiasm of a beginner; certain that the next time he sat down and played, he'd hear a masterwork instead of the grating shriek of the previous playing session.

However, as time continued to pass far more swiftly than he would have liked, such hope grew steadily weaker, replaced by nearly overwhelming frustration. Despite his constant practice sessions (which, depending on the day, could last several hours), the squeal of incorrect notes and the stabbing silences during moments of uncertainty didn't fade. Even when his life had essentially degenerated into a far more depressing version of his training days several months previous (with his days entirely spent by practicing the song, guarding Lenne in the still unfortunately frequent Bevelle attacks, and spending as much extra time with her as circumstances saw fit) his progress was infuriatingly slow, if not non-existent. He'd hardly managed to play even a quarter of the song correctly, let alone memorize it.

There wasn't time for this anymore, he thought as he tugged relentlessly at his hair, as though that might somehow improve the situation. He only had three months left before the summoners were dispatched to their ruin. In that time, not only did he have to train his clumsy fingers to hit the right keys and learn the entirety of Vegnagun's Ballad, but also figure out exactly how to get out of Zanarkand, how to get into Bevelle, where the weapon was, and how to access it, all without being detected (not to mention figure out what he was going to say to Lenne before he up and disappeared). Every hour that he managed to waste turned into a day before his eyes, which then turned into a week even as he scrambled to use the time to it's fullest.

With that time, he was losing hope. Every failed attempt at playing the song forced it to drift away that much more, until he was holding on with no more than the tips of his fingers. Laying his arm against the keyboard and resting his head on it, he could feel it slipping even further away. He was going to fail. Time was flying by him, and he could do nothing to slow it. He was never going to be able to do everything that he needed to do. There wasn't time.

There just wasn't enough time.

However, before he could sink any further into such destructive and bleak musings, a sharp knock rang through the apartment, shocking him into attention.

"Shuyin?" came a familiar, muffled voice from the other side of the door. "Are you there? It's me."

All but leaping away from the keyboard, he called back, "Yeah. Hold on a second." Swiftly, he unearthed one of the practice books that he had bought to learn notes and clefs (and had not touched since it had fulfilled that purpose), took the pages containing Vegnagun's Ballad, and buried them within its pages. Even if she wouldn't know what the music's purpose was, he thought, it would still probably be best not to take any chances in the matter. She was, after all, far too smart.

After assuring that the papers had been successfully concealed and no lose corners were poking out, he set the book down and started for the door. Then, remembering that she was written into his lock registry (and had been for several months; he was really out of it), he called, "Come in!" before plopping carelessly down upon his bed. The covers were still thrown askew and curled into an awkward pile-the byproduct of his restless sleep-and they pushed against his back and limbs at odd angles. However, he didn't feel the compulsion to move. It'd been a very restless sleep, and as a result probably eliminated any potential comfortable positions now.

A few mechanical clicks of the knob and bolt later, Lenne walked in, the songstress outfit that adorned her in stark contrast to the staff that she had leaning against her shoulder. Upon spotting him, her features almost immediately took on a look of concern. "Are you all right?" she asked, leaning her staff against the wall and walking over to him.

"Hm? What?"

"You look exhausted," she explained. "You're not sick are you?" Before he could reply, she knelt down on the mattress and reached over to him, brushing her hand beneath his bangs to check for a temperature.

"Do I really look that horrible?" Shuyin asked tiredly, chuckling under his breath despite himself.

". . . no, of course not," she quickly amended, sheepishly pulling her hand away after a few moments.

"I'm just tired," he answered, smiling as she rubbed her own forehead in an attempt to test his temperature, while at the same time turning away just enough for him not to notice. Pretending he hadn't, he added, "Didn't get a lot of sleep last night," and threw in a good, feline stretch for effect.

"How come?" she asked, her eyes curious as she sat down beside him and scanned his frame for any other signs of fatigue.

"Uh. . . nothing really. I think the heat just got to me," he answered casually. In the back of his mind, he could hear piano chords echoing about as if to call him on his fib.

"Ah," she responded with a nod of acknowledgement. "Well, are you up to coming with me today?"

"Huh? Coming with you where?"

"To the temple, remember? For the next aeon."

Almost immediately, the memory of their arrangement came back to him, and it was only by sheer force of will that he didn't flinch. She'd told him a week or so ago that she was going to try and obtain the aeon in the northeast temple today-the second to last aeon. In a matter of hours, she would be that much closer to completing all the things necessary for her departure, and that was hardly something he wanted to think about.

Still, no matter how much he wished to divert her attentions by whatever means he could, his resolve to do so had slipped away before he even began a distraction. He was in no position to try and combat her ingrained steadfastness, as the past few weeks had taught him. So, instead of throwing out something about the ridiculously increased price of good epoxy resin, he said, "Oh . . .oh yeah. I remember now. Was that really today?"

"Yes," she said with a nod. "But if you're not up to it, it's all right. You don't have to go."

"No, I want to," he responded, lazily pushing himself up and settling into a sitting position. "It's my job after all. What kind of guardian would I be if I left you hanging?"

"I'm just going to the temple," she pointed out, absently brushing a few creases out of his sleeve. "You don't necessarily have to be there if you don't want to be. I won't be in any danger."

"You never know. You might get mobbed by people on the way there," he said humorously, though in truth he was only half-joking. "Gotta protect you for those adoring fans."

"Oh, they aren't that bad."

". . . can't say I agree with you there."

"They aren't. They just like my music. It's a compliment."

"But they like you too," he said, smiling as he casually set his chin in his palm. It felt good to smile, given how he hadn't had much to do so about during the time he spent in solitude. She, thankfully, was remarkably good at bestowing him with such reason. "Can you blame them?"

"Well isn't that sweet of you?" she said, shaking her head though she was seemingly unable to keep a smile of her own from gracing her lips.

"I try," he said nonchalantly, chuckling afterwards. "Besides, I'd never hear the end of it from that clergy if I didn't go with you," He was tempted to make a comment about the stiff old fogies already hating him enough, but decided on the more courteous wording of, "They don't seem to like me too much as it is."

"They like you," she assured, waving a hand to refute his claim. "You just . . . don't see eye-to-eye on some things. That's all."

"You always know how to put things nicely," he complimented, grinning, before getting to his feet and stretching like a spring relieved of burden. "Well, I'd better get dressed then. Don't want you to get in trouble for being late."


In the past, Shuyin had had the summoner's cycle of aeon obtainment explained to him in vivid detail by Lenne. The least powerful aeon-a minute creature that wouldn't come past the average person's hips if not for its ears, and does little more than cast Mirror on its respective summoner-had its fayth housed in the southeast temple. From there, the fayth at each temple provided an increasingly stronger aeon each time, the strongest of all safely tucked away in the eastern temple.

Knowing this, Shuyin was easily able to deduce that the temple they were visiting-the northeast temple-was home to the fayth that bestowed upon the summoners their second-most-powerful aeon. However, he wasn't able to register the formidability of it until he accompanied Lenne there for himself, her leading him on a weaving path beyond the edges of the city and though Gagazet's tightly packed foothills, where the temple was securely nestled.

"What's that thing?" he asked as they entered the ramshackle, tent shaped building, his eyes trained upon the floor. Though the tiles that comprised it were dusty and chipped in some places, he could still clearly make out a depiction of what appeared to be a giant cave encompassing the entire floor. In the picture, smoke rose in strings from inside the cave, and something glowed brightly from within its depths.

"Oh," said Lenne, glancing down at the floor herself. "That's the aeon I'll be attaining."

"What?" asked Shuyin blinking in surprise and looking over the illustration again. At first glance, it had looked like no more than a simple cavern, not particularly threatening even with the smoke and light. However, now that he knew what it was, he quickly became aware of the many sharp, pointy teeth that lined the lip of the cave, as well as a decent amount of the space within. "This isn't to-scale, is it?" He asked a bit uneasily, his gaze running across the area that the mosaic filled. His entire apartment could have fit inside.

"No," she answered, setting her staff down against the stairs and sitting down beside it. Pulling her hair back behind her hair and pulling out a ribbon with which to tie it back, she added, "It's a lot bigger, actually. I've never really seen this one for myself, but I've been told it's the size of all the temples put together."

Suddenly, Shuyin fully understood the aeon's intimidation factor.

"I'm not sure how long I'll be," she said, tying the ribbon around her hair and giving it a good tug to assure that it would stay in place. "Are you sure you don't mind waiting?"

"Of course not," Shuyin responded with a wave of his hand. Casting one last, nervous glance at the mosaic beneath his feet, he moved over to the stairs as well, propping himself on the stone balustrade like some sort of unusually colorful gargoyle. "Just try not to be in there too long." Slowly, he let his eyes drift about the temple, looking at its other occupants. There were only two of them: an elderly looking man who Shuyin recognized as a priest, and a summoner slightly older than Lenne. They were conversing in the corner, most likely scheduling the summoner's own date to obtain the daunting aeon. "I have a feeling someone would end up mad at me if I busted in to see if you were okay."

"That probably wouldn't be the best thing to do," Lenne admitted with a chuckle. Picking up her staff and getting to her feet, she tapped the end of it gently against his head.

"Hey!" he protested, one eye instinctively shutting against the pressure above it.

"You don't have to worry about me," she said with a playful smile. "I've had plenty of practice at this. I can handle it."

"I know you can," he conceded, pushing the staff off to the side and brushing his hair out of his eyes. "But I'm just restless by nature. I can't help it."

"I'll try to hurry then," she replied. Giving him one last tap on the shoulder, she quickly scaled the steps, waving farewell to him as she reached the top and disappeared through the entrance to the Chamber of the Fayth.

He waited for the heavy stone door to close behind her, then heaved a mighty sigh and laid back again the thick banister. Almost instantly, his mind had returned to his current predicament, bringing with it the sound of misplaced sharps and two notes being played when there should only have been one.

What was he going to do? The plan to use Vegnagun was all but out of the question, since the likelihood of its success seemed entirely too slim now. A low growl rumbling in the back of his throat, he covered his eyes and tugged at his bangs in frustration, cursing his incompetence. While it never would have been an easy task, it could have at least been possible had he had the capability to follow through with it. Now, he was once again at a loss for what to do, his options depleted all over again.

Banging his fist against the stone in frustration, he tilted his head to the side, eyelids drooping in tired hopelessness. Absently, he wanted as the summoner and clergy member that he'd spotted before bowed to each other and parted, though he saw them more as indistinct mixes of hues blended unevenly into the background rather than people. Though the red and blue blotch that was the summoner quickly disappeared through the entrance, the door closing with an echoing thud behind him, the green splotch of a priest stayed in view for a bit, wandering unhurriedly toward the other end of the temple.

As he followed the man's progress, Shuyin raised his head, focusing more precisely upon the man until he was finally no longer a splotch against the far wall. He could feel the metaphorical click of gears as they started up inside his head, a train of thoughts slowly beginning to form.

He'd never really stopped to consider what power the clergy held. After all, it was never particularly important in his mind, given his lack of fondness for them in general. However, as he sat there grasping at straws for a way to bypass his ineptitude, he started to wonder. If he remembered correctly, they reported directly to the emperor. What if they had some kind of official influence?

Rolling off of the balustrade just as the priest reached the other side of the temple, Shuyin watched as he reached forward, pulled open a door so well concealed that it looked to be no more than another piece of wall, stepped through, and shut it behind him. Pausing for a moment, Shuyin glanced up at the door atop the stairs, considering it. Then, he slowly turned and headed toward the door that the priest had disappeared through. He guessed that Lenne would be in the chamber for a few hours at least, given the power that she was trying to obtain. Taking that into consideration, he concluded that he should have all the time he needed.


Upon quietly pushing the door open and clearing his throat to get the priest's attention, Shuyin got a response that wasn't exactly welcoming, yet not at all unexpected. "Oh, no," the priest muttered in dismay upon spotting Shuyin. "Yes? What do you want, boy?"

Though the urge to respond with something particularly mocking was strong, Shuyin fervently reminded himself that however much he disliked the notion of it, he needed this man's attention and help (honey and vinegar and whatnot). So, taking a page from Lenne's book, he instead said, "Can I speak with you a moment, your grace?" The words felt swollen and foreign on his tongue.

The priest must have thought the same thing, for his eyebrow quickly rose in skepticism. Nevertheless, he gave Shuyin a cavalier nod before turning away, consulting a few slips of paper in his hand.

Stepping inside and shutting the door behind him, Shuyin took a look around the room, which was in truth no bigger than the average closet. Shelves lined the walls, all variety of potions and healing items sitting upon them. Meanwhile, several boxes were packed tightly beneath the bottommost shelf, some open and half-filled with those same items that adorned the shelves.

"This is our stock of medicinal items," the priest explained curtly, writing something down and clicking his tongue dolefully. After muttering something about running low on Phoenix Downs again, he turned toward Shuyin, holding the papers loosely at his side. "You wanted to speak with me?"

"Yes, your gr-," Shuyin started.

"Don't speak so formally, boy," the priest interrupted, raising a hand to silence the blonde. "It doesn't suit you as it does your Lady."

"I'll keep that in mind," Shuyin responded tersely before he could stop himself.

"You were saying?" the priest prompted, rotating his hand in a gesture of impatience.

Though outside the small closet it had seemed that bringing up the subject in question would be easy enough, now that he was inside, Shuyin was having trouble forcing the words from his tongue. Awkwardly, he scratched the back of his head and leaning against the shelf behind him (to the apparent disquiet of the priest, particularly when an Elixir bottle came dangerously close to falling from the top shelf as a result of Shuyin's movements). "The summoners . . ."


"They . . ." He started, though his anxiety continued to hold him back. Shaking his head to dispose of the encumbering emotion and taking on a more steadfast tone, he said, "We can't just send them off to die! There has to be something else we can do, right?"

Letting out a sigh seemingly mighty enough to make the potions shake on their shelves, the priest put a hand to his wrinkled forehead, massaging it gradually. From the look on his face, one could guess that this wasn't the first time he'd been asked such a question. "I wish there were," he said dejectedly, lifting his list up again and going back to his work.

"How do you know there isn't?" Shuyin countered, his voice a mix of desperation and viciousness. "We could find another way, I know we could! If we just thought a little more about it, came up with a plan-"

"That's not my decision to make," the priest said, scanning the shelves and checking something off on the list. "The verdict belongs to Emperor Yevon. When his decision is made, it is not our place to go against him."

"Why not?" Shuyin shouted back, the priest's apparent indifference to the situation pushing him ever closer to becoming irate. "Yevon's decision is going to get the summoners killed! It's-it's-!"

"I'd suggest you be careful what you say next, boy. It does not do well to speak so disrespectfully of the emperor," the priest said, his voice low. "I also suggest that you quiet that slandering tongue of yours," he added, soft venom coating his words, "unless of course you want to make receiving the aeon harder on your lady summoner?"

Gritting his teeth with enough force to crack more than a few of them, Shuyin glowered at the other man. At his sides, his fists shook like live grenades, and it took every ounce of his will to keep himself from beating the living daylights out of the old man right then and there.

Apparently satisfied with Shuyin's few moments of silence, the priest said, "Emperor Yevon has given this organization much. Before his reign, we had no financial aid from the government, and to get by on our own. Most of the money for medicinal items and temple maintenance came out of our own pockets. As you can guess, that was hardly enough. Many of our summoners were wounded beyond repair, simply because of a lack of materials. To say the least, those years without support were difficult.

"However, Emperor Yevon was a summoner before taking office, and he knew the organization's sorry state of affairs. So, he began providing us with the finances we needed to keep going. In return, he was appointed as the leader of the organization. Now, in exchange for his continued support, we are to carry out his orders. Engaging Bevelle is one such order, and therefore we must follow it."

His mouth hanging open slightly, Shuyin stared at the priest as his mind condensed the man's exposition into a far more manageable-and enraging-explanation. "Yevon bought you?"

"Bite your tongue!" the priest snapped, whirling around to face Shuyin, briefly stunning the blonde, and making him recoil into the shelves. After a fearful pause as the two waited for one of the bottles to come crashing to the ground (which, thankfully, none did), the two turned back to each other, both shooting the other a death-imposing glare.

"It is a summoner's duty to protect the people of Zanarkand," the priest hissed dangerously. "That has been so since the creation of the very first fayth a dozen or more lifetimes ago. As of now, there is one way, and one way alone for them to do their duty, and that is to follow the orders of Emperor Yevon." Pulling back slightly, the priest put a bit more distance between himself and Shuyin, though his eyes still continued to bore into the blonde's with unnerving steadiness. "What, exactly, would you have them do instead?"

Slowly, Shuyin let his gaze slide from the priest's face to rest on the tiled floor. Desperately, he wracked his brain for a satisfactory response to the man's question. He had, of course, had one in mind for quite a while. However, he doubted that the priest would find, "Not die," to be a suitable answer.

After a long, charged pause during which the tension in the room was heavy enough to drown in, the priest calmly shook his head with a sigh and returned to his list. "Go back outside, boy," he said, moving on to the next page and not so much as glancing at Shuyin. "Lady Lenne will be most perturbed if you are not there when she emerges." Then, shaking his head once again as Shuyin made for the door, he added, "I haven't the faintest idea what she sees in you."

"I could say the same for you," Shuyin muttered snappishly in response, pushing the door open more forcefully than he really needed to.

"Hoodlum," the priest retorted, his hearing obviously better than his age implied. Just before Shuyin slammed the door behind him with a bang and returned to his spot on the banister, he heard the priest say, "Really, she is far too fond of you for her own good."


Shuyin was left to stew in his own bitterness for nearly three hours after that before Lenne finally emerged from the chamber, sweat-streaked and feeble. The severity of her fatigue was made quite clear when, as he was coming up the steps to meet her, she tripped over her own two feet and crashed into him, nearly knocking them both down the entire flight of stairs (though ending up in a tangle of limbs near the top wasn't particularly comfortable either, it was much better than the more painful alternative).

"Are you sure you're all right?" she asked for roughly the fourth time when they arrived at his apartment, glancing about his frame for any new bruises that she hadn't spotted before.

"I should be asking you that," Shuyin responded in place of his usual, "I'm fine." Shutting the door behind him, he leaned over, brushing a bit of sweat-glossed hair from her eyes. "You look like you're about to faint."

"Oh, its not that bad," she said, waving a hand as if to brush the suggestion away. "It was just a little tiring is all. Nothing as bad as that."

"You keep saying that," he teased, moving past her and plopping down on his bed. "You can wash up if you need to," he said offhandedly, rubbing his eyes. "Looks like you got quite a work-out."

"Oh hush," she responded, though the direction of her footsteps was enough to let him know that she had accepted the offer. "Really, you're making too much out of it."

A hum of concession as his response, Shuyin kicked off his shoes and flipped over onto his side, leaning back and staring absently at the wall behind him. As much as he joked about it, seeing her as exhausted as she was when she emerged from the Chamber of the Fayth was more than a little unsettling for him. Given that this was his first time accompanying her to obtain a fayth, he could only guess now many of the other fayth had had the same effect on her. He really didn't like it, what these fayth were doing to her. And, as always, she didn't feel any need to complain about it. She was always so selfless.

Selfless until the end.

"You play the keyboard?"

"Hm?" Shuyin responded, having been so lost in his thoughts that he hadn't noticed Lenne reenter the room. Turning over once again, he spotted her studying his keyboard where it was haphazardly shoved up against the wall, running her fingers gently over the keys. "Oh. Yeah. Just something to keep me busy. You know, 'til blitz starts up again."

"Ah," she said, pressing down on a few of the keys at random and letting the resulting sound ring through the apartment. "Do you think I could hear you play?"

"I don't think you want to," he responded, chuckling at his own ineptitude. "I'm not very good."

"That doesn't matter," she encouraged. Turning, she walked over and took a seat beside him, the bed dipping slightly from their combined weight. "I'm sure it would still be nice to hear," she said, smiling cheerfully. "If you want to, I mean."

Humming in contemplation, he let his head bob back onto the comforter, his half-closed eyes trained upon the ceiling. "All right," he said with only a bit of reluctance now, languidly sliding to his feet and heading toward the keyboard. "I can't promise your ears won't bleed though."

"Well, I live for the risk," she countered playfully, sliding her boots off, pulling her legs up onto the bed with her, and resting her chin upon them.

"Oh yes," he said as he sat down. "You're quite the dare-devil." Fiercely batting away the unpleasant thoughts that such an assertion brought, he thumbed through his practice book, taking great care to keep the page containing Vegnagun's Ballad concealed.

Nervously, he wondered if there was even another song he could play. Since he'd learned the basics of key navigation and reading notes, he hadn't so much as glanced at anything else besides the ballad. Now, the more he looked, the less confident he became that he'd actually be able to play anything well enough to be convincing.

Unfortunately, with Lenne's eyes trained upon him, he hardly felt that he had a choice in the matter. So, resigning to the idea that he probably wasn't going to find a song that he could by some miracle play well, he abruptly stopped on a random page before setting the book in front of him to reach the keys. After briefly glancing over his shoulder at Lenne (who was still watching him expectantly, chin propped up on her knees), he turned back to the music and, after one last deep breath as a means of encouragement, started to play.

It took only a moment or two for him to hit a wrong note. Wincing as an F sharp rang out in place of the E sharp that was displayed in the music, he inclined his head a bit to catch another glimpse of Lenne out of the corner of his eye. Though he had expected some sign that she had noticed his slip-muscles tensing up, a twitch of her brow, eyes wandering away to avoid witnessing such embarrassment-he found none. Instead, she merely continued to watch him, leaning forward some now in expectation.

Quickly, he turned back to the keyboard and resumed the song. It was a rather nice song, he realized about a minute or so in. That is, it would have been, had it not been repeatedly blighted by his clumsy playing. However, though Shuyin was sure that she noticed them (her being as well acquainted with instrumentals as she was and the errors being so glaringly obvious), not once did Lenne stop him to point it out. So, he continued on with the song, which he soon noticed was agonizingly long in addition to being well composed. G sharp, A sharp, B, (another botched note, a flinch). B and G sharp at once, F sharp, C sharp, F sharp, F sharp, F sharp . . .

Then, stalling for a moment as he flipped to the last page of music, he heard another sound, one much quieter than the keyboard's dominating chime. It was a soft hum, one that matched the tune of the instrument's dying reverberations almost perfectly.

Glancing over his shoulder to investigate the source, his eyes fell instinctually upon Lenne. She remained as still has she had been when he'd started playing, though her posture displayed a few subtle changes that hit him almost immediately. Unlike before, when she sat straight and at-attention, she was now slouching over her knees, her entire body as tranquil as standing water after a rainstorm. Her face was equally serene; eyes closed with a soft smile adorning her lips. For the first time in quite a while, she seemed truly at peace, no troubling thoughts of duty or secrets or disturbing information plaguing her mind. Something about the look of her right then was enrapturing, and just the thought that he might have had some effect in making her as she was was enough to knot his stomach.

At some point, his fingers ceased in their playing, obviously somewhat hampered by the absence of his attention from the task. The resulting few seconds of silence apparently more jarring than all the wrong notes that he had played in the past few minutes, Lenne stirred, a fleeting look befuddlement on her face. "Oh, sorry," she said, rubbing an eye and smiling sheepishly at him. "Was I being too loud? I didn't mean to distract you."

"No, no you weren't," he assured after a few minutes, once his wits had returned to him. "It's actually really nice. I haven't heard you sing in a long time."

"Yes, that's true," she acknowledged, nodding as she stared at the base of the table that the keyboard was sitting up. "But I am going to be having another concert soon."

"Really? About time they scheduled you again."

"I'm grateful that they did. I really miss singing for a crowd. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and all," she said, shrugging her shoulders slightly. With a chuckle, she added, "You never know. Maybe saving up my voice for so long will help me sing better."

"But you couldn't resist singing some for me?" he asked with a smile.

"I wasn't singing," she pointed out jokingly, waving a finger at him. "Just humming."

"Close enough."

Shaking her head with a chuckle, she leaned forward, resting an elbow on her knee and her chin in her corresponding palm. "You should keep playing," she urged, nodding toward the keyboard, where one of his hands still idly sat. "It didn't sound like you finished the song."

"Only if you keep singing," he replied before quickly adding, "Sorry, 'humming,'" complete with a quotation mark hand gesture. "If you do it loud enough, you might be able to cover up my screw ups."

"What screw ups?" she asked, tilting her head a bit at him and smiling sweetly. "I didn't hear any."

A soft chortle and knowing glance as his response, Shuyin turned back to the keyboard, quickly scanning the music sheet in order to reorient himself. After briefly muttering how he would try to find an easier song to play next, he adjusted his fingers to their correct positions, and started playing once again.


At its very least, the day had been a very strenuous one for Lenne. Though the fayth at the northeastern temple was thankfully more straightforward and patient than the one at the north, attaining the aeon from it had still been a arduous task, and had unfortunately taken more out of her than she thought it would. Even with her prior knowledge of how the difficulty of the attainment increased with the power of the aeon, she still wasn't prepared for just how draining the task was going to be. By the time she had emerged, nearly all of her strength had been sapped away, leaving her with only the tiniest reserve, as well as an awful headache. Even a half-hour later, when she was finally far from the temple and was able to rest, she temples still throbbed horribly, each tremor of theirs sending a new rush of pain through her head.

Trust Shuyin to fix all that. Where no more than an hour before she had been a complete mess, his playing (as flawed as he saw it to be) had done quite a job of soothing her, her overall discomfort being washed away by the keyboard's gentle chimes. In addition, their tranquil hum worked as a wonderful lullaby, leaving her feeling of warm, comfortable drowsiness, like taking a hot bath to the sound of driving rain outside.

As she listened, every once in a while presenting Shuyin with a few subtle (and, in some cases, not so subtle) compliments, the various songs he played continued to slowly coax her into an ever-sleepier state. Even as she did her best to stay conscious and sing along with the songs (as per Shuyin's request), this soon enough became too much for her tired mind, forcing her to resign to simply swaying along with the melody. Even the music itself seemed to be working against her state of consciousness, their gentle reverberations through the floor working upon her like the rocking of a mother's arms upon a child.

Regardless, she continued to press herself to stay awake, forcing her eyes open and her body straight when either began to descend a bit too far. She would just listen to one more song, she told herself. Just one more, and then it would be time for her to go. Then, one more became two more, and two more became three more, as the last of anything is wont to do. She only became fully aware of the passage of time when Shuyin paused in his playing and moved across the room, flicking on one of the room's softer lights.

"Oh," she said in surprise as she turned toward the window, finding the area beyond it to be black as ink.


"I didn't notice how dark it was getting out there," she clarified, rubbing her eye, which had become blurry from disuse.

"It's been getting dark for a while," he responded, raising an eyebrow. "How tired are you?"

"Oh, I'm fine," she lied, sitting up straight in an attempt to convince him. Unfortunately, the look on his face illustrated rather clearly that he saw right through her charade.

"Why don't I believe you?" he teased, walking over and plopping down beside her.

"Because you're too skeptical," she responded, doing as she had done that morning and acting as if their proximity didn't make her anxious in the slightest. Conceding only the slightest bit to her more indulgent side, she let one of her hands settle upon his shoulder as a smile spread across her lips. "You really need to learn to trust me more."

"Once you stop making things up so other people will feel better, maybe I will," he responded, pointing a finger mock-accusingly at her.

"I don't!" she said, shaking her head. Taking hold of his hand, she curled the digit back into place, her stomach roiling a bit even as she did her best to look casual about it.

With a chuckle and a shake of his head, he replied, "Whatever you say." Smiling keenly at her, he got to his feet and headed back to the keyboard to resume his playing with the same vitality (and dissatisfaction with himself) as before. In turn, she returned to her previous state of near-sleep.

After a while, even the music itself began to seem more like a distance echo than anything else, in one second sounding as if it were a croon in her ear, only to seem miles away in the next. Every now and then, Shuyin's voice would bring her somewhat back to consciousness, mentioning to her the titles of some of the named songs only for her to forget most of them a moment or so later (though she did recall hearing something about light and water and remembering something). By then, the thought of simply flopping down upon Shuyin's bed, curling up in his blankets, and falling asleep as he continued to play became more and more appealing.

"I should go," she said finally, having very little trust in herself not to do exactly that. "It's getting late."

"Oh. Yeah," Shuyin responded, his words laced with a bit of disappointment. "Good point."

"Thanks for letting me stay so long," she said as she groggily got to her feet, reaching her arms out above her head in a cat-like stretch. "I really had a good time."

"Couldn't have been that good," he answered, pushing his chair out and getting to his feet. "Not when you had to listen to that,"-he gestured vaguely in the direction of the keyboard-"the entire time."

"You really don't give yourself enough credit," she started, though she was interrupted halfway through by a yawn. Shutting her eyes, she rubbed one with the heel of her hand, trying to force herself to return to an attentive state.

"You know," said Shuyin after a short pause. "You could stay the night if you like. Like you said, it is pretty late."

"No, that's all right," she answered sleepily, holding her hand in front of her mouth as she yawned again. "I've already imposed on you enough. Thank you, though."

"You weren't imposing," he replied, and Lenne felt a small, disbelieving smile begin to turn the corners of her lips.

"All the same, thank you," she said, finally looking up. Almost immediately after setting eyes upon him, her smile fell away, replaced by a look of surprise and concern. Though his voice had sounded casual enough when she was looking away, the look of him was something different entirely. He was gazing distantly toward the music book he'd been using, his eyes glazed over from thought. Beneath that, he looked incredibly crestfallen, the emotion translating into both his expression and his somewhat deflated stature.

"Shuyin?" she said, the surprise in her voice evident. Apparently startled by her voice's intrusion in his thoughts, he quickly looked up at her, blinking in surprise. As an afterthought, he quickly wiped the dejected look from his face, forcing a nonchalant expression into its place. However, Lenne could still see traces of it lingering in his eyes, even as hard as he tried to hide it (and even if he had been completely successful, the damage had already been done). "Are you all right?" she asked, walking up to him. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," he said, a bit to hastily to be believable. "I'm just fine. Why?"

Unconvinced by his feeble attempt at assuring her, she took another step forward, ducking a bit to see his face and bypass the slight incline of his head. "Shuyin, are you okay?" she asked, brushing a bit of his bangs away from his eyes as to better see them.

"Yeah," he said, carefully putting a hand over hers to move it away from his face (and, despite the situation, her stomach still felt like it was beginning to twist itself into a cord at the touch). Slowly, his gaze dropped to the floor, drifting about aimlessly. "I was just-I was just thinking about, you and the fayth and . . . you just seemed so put out today and . . . you really don't have to do that to yourself, you know."

With every word of his short, rambled discourse, Lenne felt her heard sink a little further in her chest. She'd thought they'd been done with this subject weeks ago, after he had tried to convince her for the second time, met her resistance once again, and then up and disappeared without a word. Sufficed to say, it was an incredibly unpleasant week for her, and she hardly wished to repeat it. Unfortunately, if Shuyin's words were any indication, he was not so willing to cease discussing the topic as she.

"Yes I do, Shuyin," she said plainly, her voice soft and poignant. Her fingers curling slightly, she looked at the floor as well, absently shifting about on her bare feet. "Please, let's not talk about this anymore, all right?"

"But Lenne-"

"Please," she bleated, distraught. Bowing her head further, she clamped her eyes shut in an attempt to channel her distress. If only he knew how hard it was to tell him no. If only he knew how much harder it got every time he asked.

After a moment's pause, probably due to being taken aback by her reaction, he shakily spoke. "Lenne," he repeated. "I-I didn't mean . . . I just . . ." She felt one of his hands hovering about her shoulder then, flinching about nervously before finally coming to rest near the downward curve of her arm. "Lenne, I . . ."

Slowly, she shook her head, gulping back her previous dismay (or at least trying to). "It's all right," she said, finally, lifting her head to look at him. "But, let's not-"

Suddenly, he seemed a lot closer than he had been before. So close in fact, that her nose almost bumped into his when she looked up, leaving her blinking in confusion for a moment. When she fully regained her wits, however, she felt a pang of embarrassment shoot through her stomach, and her first reaction was to step back and restore an appropriate distance between them. However, in truth, the will to do so stopped with her instincts. The rest of her had less of a problem staying in such close proximity to him, and evident by her apparent lack of ability to move.

Additionally, Shuyin was apparently going through the same rapid spat thoughts as she was, if the look in his eyes was any indication. At first, it looked as if he might recoil in mortification, just as she had thought to do. Yet, after a moment, the initial shock of their awkward situation seemingly wore off, though the anxiety that replaced it wasn't much better. However, there seemed to be the slightest bit of audacity in him too. This became evident when he let his eyes slide halfway shut, tilting his head to the side and leaning in a little bit more . . .

However, his reserve apparently kicking in, his eyes widened impressively and he quickly withdrew. Stepping back a few paces, he turned away from her, rubbing the back of head bashfully. "Uh . . . sorry," he said, glancing down at the floor once again. "Got a little too into that. You know, never mind me. I'm being stupid. That's what you get for running off three hours of sleep, right? You can go if you want. Don't let me keep you."

That reply was supposed to be humorous, she supposed. However, she saw nothing of the sort, since none of the essential jesting could be found in his voice or stature. In its place was uncertainty and poignancy in such obvious quantities that Lenne had to turn away at first, staring at her hand as it twitched and curled into a fist at her side.

But as much as she'd been willing to before, she didn't go. Instead, she looked back at him, reaching a hand out and attempting to say his name. However, the word died away in her throat, and the hand fell some with it. Then, taking a deep breath, she stepped forward, resting her still partially extended hand upon his shoulder and squeezing gently.

"Shuyin," she finally managed to croak, receiving a hesitant, sideways glance in return. Doing her best to gulp back her ingrained caginess, she walked around to stand in front of him, her fingers dancing about his shoulder but never fully leaving it. Then, before the gall that she had built up left her completely, she took a step forward to lessen the gap between them, and pushed herself up on her toes.

During the second that the warm weight rested upon their lips, she groped about clumsily for the hand that hung at his side, though it found hers first. Even when the moment was over and she stood flat-footed once again, his hand was still tightly clasped in hers, albeit a bit awkwardly.

The dejection that had only a moment before occupied his eyes had been replaced by shock, though by no means the sort that accompanies rejection. Slowly, he turned those eyes downward, glancing at his and her entwined hands as if the sight was utterly inconceivable to him. For lack of a better thing to do, she gently ran her thumb along his, feeling the dry, chapped skin along his knuckle.

"When I leave," she said carefully, her own eyes trained upon their interwoven fingers, "don't forget this, okay?"

His only response was to let his eyes slide shut, the skin around them wrinkling as he clamped them tightly closed. Then, he relaxed, letting his head bob some until his forehead gently came to rest against hers. "Let's run away," he murmured almost dreamily, though the shadows of melancholy and weakness could still be heard in his voice.

"We can't," Lenne answered, smiling sadly even though he couldn't see it.

"Then let's hide," he responded in the same voice, carefully snaking an arm around her shoulders and drawing her closer to him. "Just for a little while. I don't . . . it probably won't interrupt anything." He paused for a moment, and then even more quietly, so much so that she had to strain to hear him, he whispered, "Please?"

"Sure," she answered after a short pause, moving her hand from his shoulder and once again trying to brush a bit of hair from his eyes, though her own forehead trapped it in place this time. He really had a beautiful face, though she much preferred it when it held even the shadow of a smile. Anything was better the weariness that was there now. Maybe, she mused as she traced her fingertips along the side of his face, she could bring that smile back. "Yeah. We could do that."

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