Categories > Games > Final Fantasy X-2 > Each in the Cell of Himself

Each in the Cell of Himself

by Ikonopeiston 1 review

Baralai and Nooj meet after the defeat of Vegnagun

Category: Final Fantasy X-2 - Rating: R - Genres: Drama - Characters: Rikku, Baralai, Nooj - Published: 2005-05-09 - Updated: 2005-05-09 - 4055 words - Complete

I do not own the characters in this story. They are the property of Square/Enix. I have exploited them for my own amusement.

Each in the Cell of Himself

The area of the city was a blighted one with tumble-down apartment buildings and streets made narrow by trash pushed into the gutters. In the early darkness of the bleak season, it was hard to make out the faded numbers painted haphazardly near the doors. Finally, the searcher, the lone pedestrian visible, peered through the gloom and thought he had found his destination. He climbed the worn steps, kicking aside an empty box, and pressed the button labeled with a name he recognized.

"Yeah?" it was a sullen, high-pitched female voice he almost seemed to remember from a time in his past.

"May I come up?"

"Who you? Whacha want?" The voice was almost obscured by the wail of an infant.

'i want to talk to your husband about something to his advantage."

"He ain't here. Won't be back for mor'n a hour."

"Then please let me come up and wait. I have come a long way." The white-haired man pleaded.

"A'right." The buzzer releasing the lock sounded.

When he pushed the interior door, the slim man realized he could have gone straight upstairs; the lock was broken - apparently long ago. The stairs were sticky-slippery with an indescribable substance and the smell was nearly intolerable.

Fastidiously gathering his robes around him, the priest gingerly picked his way through the debris to the landing on the fourth floor. The door at the immediate head of the stairs was ajar and an eye embedded in a grimy face gazed out from about knee level.

As Baralai walked toward the door, the eye disappeared and the door was pushed closed but not latched. He knocked briskly, noting that the bell push was taped over. The door swung open and a woman stood framed in the gap. She was short with untidy blonde hair escaping from a tangle of narrow braids and a tired, defeated look on her face. The toddler who had peered through the door crack huddled behind her skirts, sucking on a grimy thumb while a younger child, mucous running from its nose, was balanced on her hip. From the way she stood and the curve of her belly, it was obvious that yet a third addition to the family was impending.

She looked up at the visitor dully, "Yeah?"

Baralai stared at her in disbelief, "Rikku! What are you doing here?"

"I live here, whacha think?" She paused and, narrowing her eyes to see more clearly, gasped, "You're not ...?"

"Rikku, I'm Baralai. You remember me. I thought ..." The priest could not believe this exhausted prematurely aged woman was the lively girl he had known at the time of the battle against Vegnagun. Had five years taken so much from her?

The woman shook herself and seemed to realize the impression she had made on the man who had been one of her admirers. "You thought Nooj lived here? Well, he does. We're married."

Baralai tried not to show his surprise. "I had heard he had married but nobody mentioned who his wife was."

Rikku had gathered herself together a bit more and no longer looked quite so beaten and defeated. "Now you know. He'll be back soon. He's teaching at one of the schools the government set up for the people around here. Come on in." She stepped back and gestured.

"I won't pretend I'm not surprised," Baralai said as he followed her into the cluttered over-heated room. "We never expected Nooj to be a teacher. Although I suppose we should have. He was always the one who knew everything."

"Yes," Rikku cleared a chair by the simple expedient of sweeping the mess off the seat with her free hand. "He never did think much about money, just always wanting to do something hard; self-sacrificing - that's our Nooj."

Baralai was becoming more uncomfortable by the minute. This was not what he had imagined he would find at the end of his search. He felt a tug on his robe and looked down to see the older child fingering the elaborate embroidery with his grimy little fingers. As he gently tried to disengage the child's grip, Rikku suddenly noticed and with a practiced move, slapped the hand away, sending the little boy squalling into a corner.

The whining soprano voice of the woman and the sour smell which permeated the room was beginning to give the priest a headache. "Maybe I could go meet him. You did say he was on his way home?"

"If you want to, go ahead. The school's just about three blocks from here and it gets out in about fifteen minutes. Go to the corner to the north and turn left, you'll see it. It's the big building with the barred windows. You think you'll recognize him?" She smiled a remnant of her old cocky grin.

"Yes, I think so. We'll come back here."

"No need to. He doesn't much like to spend time in this place. The kids drive him crazy. Give him a treat and take him out to a bar or something. Tell him I said it was all right." She readjusted the child on her hip.

With a hasty promise to take her advice, Baralai slipped through the door and back into the fetid hallway. What in the name of all the gods of Spira had happened to do this to Rikku? She had been a beauty with spirit and laughter even though never very intelligent. What had so robbed and drained her? She had even been a possible mate for him, until he had chosen to embrace a form of celibacy within the Church. He smiled with satisfaction as he thought of the short, athletic figure of Gippal waiting for him back at the Temple. He was grateful he had found his happiness there and shuddered at the thought it might have been him living in this squalid slum with this slatternly woman.

Once back in the cold dark street, he drew in a breath of air, grateful for the relative freshness, ignoring the stench of uncollected garbage and the as yet unfrozen small corpses of vermin.

With a determined set to his shoulders, he turned his face in the direction Rikku had indicated. Turning left at the next corner, he saw looming through the miasmic fog, the faint lights of a large building several intersections away. That must be the school, he thought and set his course toward that spot. He had not gone quite half the distance when he noticed a figure approaching. At first, he saw only a shape muffled in a dark mantle but as he drew nearer, he heard the familiar sound of a cane striking pavement and became aware of an awkward gait he recognized.

Baralai drew back into the shadow of a doorway for a moment. He wanted to look at Nooj before he encountered him. Another shock like that presented by Rikku would be more than he thought he could handle without preparation.

As the former Meyvn passed under a street light, the priest could see him clearly. The hood of the cloak was tossed back and the approaching man's head was clearly visible. It was Nooj all right, but with so many differences. His hair was cropped to a length just below the ears, the intricate braids and coilings a thing of the past. Grey had invaded his temples and the skin was stretched tightly over the bones of his face. The spectacles were still the same as they had been, still slipping down the narrow nose but the blankness of expression behind them was new. He carried a worn leather portfolio under his right arm and walked with a stooped tiredness that exaggerated his limp while it disguised his height.

With an inward sigh, Baralai stepped back onto the sidewalk and called softly, "Nooj! Is that you?"

The tall, thin man raised his head like a hunted animal alerted by a sound it did not expect. He seemed, for a moment, about to turn and flee. Then consciously, he caught himself and responded. "Who are you to accost me here in this place? I think I know your voice."

The accent and timbre had not changed. To the great relief of Baralai, it sounded like Nooj. Maybe he had not changed so much after all. "It's Baralai. I've had quite a time hunting you down. When you decide to disappear, you do a damn' good job of it. I want to talk to you."

"Do you now? What about? I can think of nothing I can say which might prove useful to you." Nooj began walking on.

With a few wide strides, Baralai caught up. "At least listen to me. Let's go have a drink together. You can listen to me for old times' sake, can't you?"

"Have you not noticed I have responsibilities now? I am sure you have pried enough to find that out. My budget does not run to drinking parties with old acquaintances." The proud stiffness was the same as it had always been.

"Rikku suggested we have a little time out together. She thinks you work too hard." The priest considered half-lies fully permissible in a good cause.

"Ah, so you have talked to my lovely bride. I thought you must have. Well, if she says it, it must be true. Down this street is a place where drinkable liquors may be had for little geld." Nooj gestured with his cane toward what looked like a small commercial center.

The bar to which Nooj led them was a nondescript place, clean enough and obviously catering to the working classes. They found a table in the back corner and, after ordering drinks, settled down. Nooj laid his portfolio on an extra chair and propped his cane against the table edge. He took a small sip from his glass of brandy.

"All right, what do you want from me? Make your pitch." He finally met the priest's worried eyes with his bleak gaze.

Baralai looked at the man he had thought he knew well. His first impression was confirmed. A bitter nihilism still inhabited his old comrade but there was more now, a loss of will. Nooj had grown tired. And the priest wondered how he looked in his turn. Was that same futility lurking in his eyes as well?

"Gippal and I are trying to bring the four of us back together for a final mission. He's hunting Paine and I have found you. Although, to be truthful - I had thought I would find you and Paine together. When I heard of your marrying, I naturally thought ..." His voice trailed off as he realized what he was saying.

"You're curious because you don't understand why I have ended up like this. It's simple, Baralai. I misjudged something - or, rather, I was careless. I had left the Youth League and ... When I knew the woman was with child, my child, I felt I must behave properly. You see the result." Nooj spoke lightly but his lips tightened.

Baralai looked at the other man with sympathy, "So you married her."

Nooj nodded, "There seemed no other alternative. And, before you ask, yes - the babies kept coming. There didn't appear any reason for her to make an effort to prevent them since there is little likelihood our condition will change and she likes children. When there is no hope for escape, why not take what comfort is possible?" He looked down at the glass, held loosely in his hands. Without warning, the left hand - the machina one - tightened and the glass broke with a muffled pop like a bubble imploding on the surface of a viscous pool. Liquid flowed through the black gloved fingers and puddled on the table. He did not seem to notice when Baralai signaled the bar maid for a fresh drink.

With a sudden flash of inspiration, the priest responded coldly, "It's like you to give up so easily. You've always had that habit. You were ready to give up when you faced Vegnagun - finding it easier to die than to fight. When I first met you, you had given up on living and were hunting a convenient place to die. Have you given up on that now? Have you found dying too hard as well? What will you give up on next?"

Nooj turned even paler than he had been. He had always looked older than he was and, now, he seemed to have aged far more than the five years which had passed since they had last met. He stared into the distance like a statue of despair, worn and eroded.

"I deserved that. No, I am still a Deathseeker. My sense of duty is at war with my desire for termination. I am unwilling to leave Rikku to cope with her brood on her own and am thus trapped in this cage you see. Another mission? I am not fit for a brisk walk down the street. It has been years since I have held a sword or a gun - I would be of no use to you and the others." He started to rise.

Baralai caught his sleeve, "Sit down. We have a great deal more to discuss. It looks like you have finally encountered reality in full spate. Nooj, have you considered that it is not Rikku's brood alone? That you have some small responsibility for the extra lives catapulted into the world because of your relationship with the woman? And that the situation is not hopeless? There is a way out of the trap you feel yourself to be in."

"I am only too aware of my part in this disgusting mess. I resolve not to father another of her children and then she wheedles and whines and cries and ... Stop! This is too bitterly humiliating. I am not accustomed to discussing this sort of intimate concern with an outsider. I repeat, the idea of my undertaking another mission is not feasible." Nooj dropped his head into his hands to shield himself from the truths the priest spoke.

The white-haired Yevonite was tempted to pat the shoulder of his old friend but dared not take the liberty. He remembered anew that it was hopeless to try to tease Nooj. With no sense of humor, the man always took everything with complete seriousness. The little quip about joint responsibility had not gone over as it had been intended. Nooj yet retained the distant aura he had ever owned. So the other contented himself with persuasion. "I have seen you bring yourself back to full competence more quickly than anyone would have thought before. This mission can wait half a year. Will you join us if you are assured Rikku and your children will be cared for and not want?"

"Is there an answer? What are you proposing?" Nooj raised his eyes, eyes which for the first time held a glimmer of hope.

"The temple sponsors families when it is necessary for the principal provider to be away. We have many such under our care and they want for nothing. We have villages for those who want to live like that or apartments for the more urban. We can find a suitable place for your family."

Nooj winced at the term; it was obvious he was not yet resigned to viewing himself as pater familias. "Are you proposing that I accept the charity of the Church? Have you forgotten I am a heathen?"

"You won't be required to pray. It's a way out, Nooj. And it's not really charity. It's a way we can free you to help us complete a mission of great value to Spira as a whole."

"Do you ever intend to describe this mission you keep bathering about?" The dark man asked wearily. "Have you discovered another Vegnagun hidden away in those endless sub-basements under your temple?"

Baralai grimaced, "Nothing so simple. Gippal was poking around on the Old Highway and found dozens of mutant animals swarming there, some carrying dangerous toxins and diseases, some rabid and others just horrors. He searched and located a cleft in the wall, near the place where the hover was wrecked that time. You remember. The creatures seemed to be coming from that general area. So he naturally thought of the four of us - you, me, Paine and himself - as a team to go into the cleft, pinpoint the source of the mutation and wipe it out." He finished with less of a fanfare than he had intended and looked earnestly at Nooj.

The latter burst into a loud explosion of rough laughter. "Mutant animals? Clefts in a rock wall? Four intrepid individuals going inside to explore the causes and save the world! Where do you get your ideas - from pulp writers? This is not fiction, Priest. This is the real world and we have to learn to live in it."

Baralai flushed a painful shade of scarlet. He stared at his hands and muttered, "I know life from fantasy. And this is a real mission. If the diseases and toxins ... " His voice died away and he was quiet for a while. "Oh, hell, we're bored. Gippal and I have been trying to adjust to the peacefulness of the world since you rescued me from Shuyin and we fought Vegnagun. It's damn' dull. I have the running of the temple and all that to occupy me and Gippal plays at controlling the Machina Faction, but it's no use. There's no conflict and no real need of leaders of our sort. We weren't made for these times. Nooj, we're out of our proper niches. You know that. You can't tell me you're happy teaching snotty nosed little bastards in an impoverished school. You, who were Meyvn of the Youth League and an inspiration to the disaffected." He gripped the metal arm as though to draw the other man back into his dream.

"Oh, such an inspiration!" The other sneered. "Happiness has never been my goal. I am doing this to provide for the family I so improvidently produced. It would have been better had my tastes run along the same lines as those you share with Gippal but they do not. If you are offering me freedom, let it be to seek my long sought goal, not to engage in a game of make-believe adventure." He took a long swallow of brandy and leaned back against the chair with a sigh of utter depletion. "I'm not a boy anymore; I doubt I ever was one really. And now I have duties and no stomach for them."

The priest brushed his fingers through his cottony hair, dislodging the band which held it in place. "There honestly is a bunch of mutants down there and they are dangerous. Maybe not as bad as I suggested but it would be a sort of last outing for us. Then we could all go back to our work and settle down. Just one last fling - what's wrong with that?"

Nooj smiled without mirth, "We have all grown older. I have changed the least of us it would seem. Maybe because I always expected less. You, Gippal and Paine thought a world without great monstrous enemies such as Sin and Vegnagun would be a paradise, a kind of carefree playground in which you would be required to do nothing you didn't want to do and would bask in the praise of an eternally grateful populace. You never factored in boredom. You did not recognize how much of who you were was shaped by the the actions required of you. Now that your prime profession is gone, you are left naked and unappreciated by a world which has moved on to other things."

"Even if you're right, and I do not for a moment concede that, what's wrong with wanting to help your world and have a final adventure at the same time? You can't pretend you're satisfied with your life. What sort of existence is living in a grubby slum and teaching brats for a man like you?" Baralai was truculent.

"A man like me?" Nooj gestured with his right hand to indicate the totality of what he was. "I am unique, yes, but in the most negative way possible. I am making the best of what fate has meted out as my share of the great pie. You know if I had any choice in the matter, I would have been swallowed by Nothingness long ago. It is the colossal joke of whoever, if anyone, runs this universe that I still live. Yes, Baralai, I accept your offer. I will fling myself on the mercy of the Church and permit it to care for my wife and children, even as a charitable act. I will bend my one knee and pledge allegiance to your God. I will do whatever you ask if you will free me to go hunt my extinction where I may find it with honor." He slapped his machina hand down on the table, making the glasses dance and rattle. "But, that isn't what you're asking, is it? You want me to humble myself and join your boys and girl adventure society, help you others amuse yourselves for a fleeting period of time and then come back to what you see as my dismal existence content to have been of one last use to my former comrades. I do not think I will do this, priestling."

The Priest ordered fresh drinks with a raised hand and turned back to the morose man across the table. "Then, since we are being so brutal with one another, I will make you a firm deal. The Church will take in your family without any cost - financial or spiritual - to you. You will join Gippal, Paine and me in this final geste and at its conclusion, you will be free to do as you please, unencumbered by any responsibility to any person other than yourself. Will that satisfy you, Taydrcaagan?"

"I wondered when you would drag out Gippal's name for me." Nooj snarled. "So you are proposing to rent me for a while until you have had your holiday excursion and then loose me to follow my own course once it is done?"

"If you want to put it that way, yes." Baralai was exasperated as he recalled he had so often been when talking to the former Meyvn. "I had thought to appeal to you on the grounds of friendship but if you would rather, I'll make it strictly a mercenary arrangement.'

After some thought, Nooj responded, "I think it would be better that way. I'm afraid I have no particularly happy memories of the time the four of us spent together - aside from my liaisons with Paine, ... He paused and seemed to look inward. "I would rather not be obligated to any lingering affection some of you might have for me in the arrangements regarding Rikku and her children. Yes, I think your way is the best we can hope for. Now, will you spell out what you want of me and what you are offering for my services?"

The priest looked at his companion and sputtered with laughter. "You're right. You have changed the least of us. You never did have any time for the purely sentimental or emotional. You were always set on your own path and paid service to the group only when it was required or when it fit your own agenda. No, I'm not going to specify what I'm hiring you to do. I am going to make this as palatable to you as I can but I am not going to let you throw away all the good things we shared because you decline to admit there were any. Noo
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