Silver Wings 3: Back Into My Arms

By: AJay James

DISCLAIMER: I do not own FFX, FFX-2, FFVIII or any of the characters and locations affiliated with it.  I do, however, own the story “Silver Wings”, “Silver Wings 2: 1000 Confessions” and all references to dialogue not originated by Square-Enix.

 DO NOT COPY MY STORIES!!

If anyone wants to post this story or “Silver Wings” or “Silver Wings 2: 1000 Confessions” anywhere else, please just ASK and then give me credit for writing it.  Email yugiohyamimarik@yahoo.com with any requests.

Author’s Notes:  This story contains some direct dialog from FFX AND FFVIII with some changes toward the end of the FFVIII dialog to fit in with my story. 

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

Chapter One: The Cry

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

It was like he was falling through his own memories for wherever he looked; he saw faces of his friends and heard their voices calling to him.  Every time he saw her face, he’d reach out to touch it and she’d vanish just as quickly as she’d appeared.

“Don’t tell anyone you’re from Zanarkand, okay.  Yevon says it’s a holy place.  You might upset someone.”

Rikku…

"All right, back to practice!  I'm Wakka, coach and captain of the Besaid Aurochs, brudda."

Wakka…

"What are you doing here? Didn't think we'd be able to handle it?"

Lulu…

"I've done it. I have become a summoner!"

“YUNA!!” he screamed as he saw her beautiful face again, struggling to remain near her even as he fell further away and saw her face become smaller as the distance between them increased.

Before Tidus knew it, he was floating above Zanarkand just as he had been after Sin’s attack.  He saw groups of people standing around and talking.  The groups grew excited at the announcement of a man but Tidus couldn’t hear what he said to invoke such enthusiasm.

He tried to follow them, but was held back by an unknown force as he saw the Bevelle Fayth.  Tidus gasped, “Hey, you!” he cried out, but the boy didn’t seem to hear him as he kept walking and then vanished before Tidus’ eyes.

“Wait…this is a dream.”

“Precisely.”

“A dream?  Are you crazy?  I don’t have time to be dreaming now!”

“You’re wrong. It’s not that you are dreaming.  You are a dream.”

Tidus slammed his lids over his eyes and tried to focus his energies.  He had to have hit his head.  He wasn’t really back in Zanarkand; he was standing feet away from Yuna in the Chamber of the Fayth.  Everything was fine.  Everything was fine.

He opened his eyes tentatively and realized he wasn’t floating above Zanarkand anymore, but he was still in Zanarkand.  Instead of floating, Tidus found himself standing behind himself.  It was a strange feeling to watch yourself interact and do things that you had done before.

“Can you sign this?” a child asked as Tidus watched him hand a blitzball to the ‘dream’ Tidus in front of him.

"No prob!"

"Please!"
 
"Alrighty."

"Me, too!"
 
"Take it easy."

"Can I have your autograph?" a female asked next.
 
"Of course!" said the flirtatious version of himself that had died the moment he’d laid eyes on Yuna, however this Tidus hadn’t seen her yet. 

"Good luck tonight!" said the other girl.
 
"Nothing to worry about!" the flirtatious Tidus said, spinning the ball on hi finger, "Oh, if I score a goal...I'll do this.  That will mean it was for you, okay?"

Tidus rolled his eyes at the asinine way he saw himself behaving.  How stupid was that?


"What seat?"

"East block, in the front row!"

"Fifth from the right!"
 
"Got it!"

“Is he dead?”

“I don’t know.  Let’s get him to the palace.”

The voices echoed from around him and yet the visions he was watching didn’t hear them.  Tidus found himself falling again, screaming out for help as the roof of the building he had been holding onto became a distant memory to his fingers.

“YUNA!!!” he shrieked just seconds before he slammed into the cement and the world went white.

---------------------.

“I’m home.” Announced Quistis Trepe as the beautiful 18 year old Garden instructor entered the spaceship, Ragnarok. 

Squall Leonhart, her 17 year old student, turned and focused his cobalt eyes on her, “How did you get here?” he asked.  The last time he had seen her was when they had gone to outer space to take Rinoa Heartilly to see Ellone in the hopes that she could pull Rinoa out of the coma she was in from being possessed by the evil sorceress Ultimacia.

“Well, a lot of things happened.” Quistis admitted, “I was unconscious for a while after the escape pod touched down.  When I came to, it was just me and Piet.”

Squall frowned.  Piet was the man that had escaped with them when the Lunar Cry had begun, but if he was the only one with Quistis then that meant…

“Ellone wasn’t with us anymore.” Quistis continued, “Not only that, there were signs of a struggle.  I hope she’s safe.  The Esthar rescue crew brought me here.  The rescue crew told us about this ship and that you were all safe.”

“I see.”

“Squall…when you jumped into space, you didn’t think about anything else, did you?”

Quistis was right about that.  Squall’s feelings for Rinoa ran deeper than feelings he had for anyone else ever.  The thought of losing her filled him with dread.  When she had become possessed again and directed into space to free Adel, Squall had panicked and went after her, afraid that she’d die out there.  She almost had died.  He had wanted to be with her, but now… “That’s right.” He said, interrupting his own thoughts.

“I wonder if there’s anyone who’d do the same thing for me.” Quistis muttered to herself, “Oh well…” she smiled, “So where’s the princess that changed the ever-cautious Squall?”

Squall was grateful, for once, for the appearance of Zell Dincht, Irvine Kinneas, and Selphie Tilmitt whose presence filled the entire cockpit.  Zell bounded up to them and slapped him playfully on the shoulder, “S’up Squall!!!  So glad you’re safe!  I hate to tell you this now, but we’ve got major problems down here.” He took a deep breath, “Well, here it goes!  Some big thing called Lunatic Pandora came out of nowhere.  Matron couldn’t achieve what she set out to do because of it, which is okay.  Matron’s not a sorceress anymore.  Matron gave away her power to someone without realizing it.  And, ah…Oh yeah, the Galbadian military is controlling Lunatic Pandora.  They excavated it from the ocean where Esthar sank it years ago.  Inside the Lunatic Pandora, there’s this thing called a Crystal Pillar.  It calls monsters from the moon.  The monsters came falling from the moon.  Total panic down here.  It wasn’t just monsters that came falling down.  Sorceress Adel came down with the machine that confined her.  I guess the stream of falling monsters engulfed the machine.  Lunatic Pandora caught Adel from that stream!  Dr. Odine thinks that may have been Galbadia’s true intent.  Meaning…”

“Zell,” Squall interrupted, raising a hand, “that’s enough for now.”

“But Squall!”

“I know.  I know we’ve got problems.” Admitted Squall, “but I can’t think right now.”

“What’s wrong?” asked Quistis.

Squall sighed, “Rinoa is a sorceress now.  She received Matron’s powers.  An escort from Esthar came to pick Rinoa up.  Rinoa’s in Esthar now.”

Selphie squealed, “We have to go get her!” as she and Irvine left.

The group barely noticed the young couples exit as Quistis stepped forward, “Was she taken by force?”

Squall shook his head, brown locks falling in his eyes, “No.  It was Rinoa’s decision.” He admitted, “She was scared about being a sorceress.  Scared of being feared, hated.  Scared that no one would want to be around her.  She said she couldn’t handle that.”

“Didn’t you try to stop her, Squall?” Quistis asked her tone almost accusatory.

“It was Rinoa’s decision!” Squall snapped back, “What right do I have to object?”

The blonde shook her head, “Oh stop that!  What are you talking about?!”  Why did you go all the way out into space to save Rinoa?  To hand her over to Esthar?  So that you might never see her again?!  No, right?” she asked angrily, “Wasn’t it because you wanted to be with Rinoa.  You’re a fool.”

“Seriously.” Zell agreed.

Squall sighed, “…Maybe.” He admitted.  What was he doing?  Was he never going to hear her voice again?  But then again, what could he do?  Go and get her?  Yeah…why not??

“Have you decided?” Quistis asked.

“Heading to Esthar, right?” questioned Zell.

“Pandora whatever and Sorceress Adel are out of my hands.  I don’t even know where to look for Sis.  The only thing I know is Rinoa.  The only thing I want to do for sure is for Rinoa.  We’re going to get Rinoa back!”  He made his way toward the elevator to the bridge when the entire ship began to shake around them.

“Ahh!  Excuse me, we’re flying!” Quistis squealed.

Zell cried, “I hope this ain’t the case but, I can picture Selphie in the pilot seat and…”

“Selphie screaming, ‘Woo-hoo, we’re flying!’” finished Quistis.

The trio ran as fast as they could to the bridge only to find that their worst fears were realized.  Squall frowned, “You sure you can fly this thing?” he asked Selphie.

She nodded, “It just kinda took off!  I don’t know.  It’s pretty easy.  I think I’ll be fine.  But there’s no guarantee it won’t crash.” She admitted.

Squall shrugged.  No one could predict the future of course.  He pointed toward the far building, “Selphie, head for Esthar.  She’s probably at the Sorceress Memorial.  We’re gonna go rescue Rinoa!”

--------------------

It was cold.  So cold.  Rinoa hoped they’d get the carbon freezing done quickly so she didn’t have to feel so cold anymore. 

A clattering caught her attention and from the darkened corner of the room she saw a familiar face.

“Rinoa, hold on!  I’ll get you out in a sec!”  Squall cried, punching at the confinement until he got the idea to hit the wires with his gunblade.

The wires split and Rinoa found herself able to escape.  Without thinking, she lunges for Squall, desperate to wrap her arms around him if only for a second and he returned her embrace until she realized what she was doing and drew away, “Squall, don’t!  I’m a sorceress.”

“I don’t care.” He replied firmly as their friends called their names.  Embracing her one last time, he grabbed her hand, “Let’s go.”

She was still rather embarrassed by the time they reached the cockpit of the Ragnarok.  She sighed, “I was so set on staying in Esthar.  But then, when you guys rescued me…it made me so happy and...”

“There’s no need to be embarrassed.” Irvine said.

Selphie nodded, “Yeah, happy is good.

“Thanks…everybody.” Rinoa said, gazing shyly at Squall who was brooding in the corner.

“Squall, you’re awfully quiet.  What’s up?” asked Zell.

Squall didn’t respond and Quistis tapped her face thoughtfully, “As an expert Squall observer,” she began, “He’s thinking, what do we do now?  Blah, blah, blah.  If you think and worry too much, everything tends to turn out bad.  Squall, why don’t we just picture a brighter future?”

“…Whatever.” Squall muttered.

Zell scrunched his nose, “But serious, what do we do from here?” he asked, “I’m not really sure, but, don’t we have to do something about that Lunatic Pandora in Esthar?  After all, the Galbadians are controlling it which means Seifer is behind all this too, right?”

“Seifer is…Ultimacia’s puppet.” Squall said, thinking for a moment about the 18 year old blonde who used to be part of their orphanage group.  Although Seifer had a tendency to get himself into a lot of trouble, turning to the side of evil was something new.

Zell groaned, “Yeah, and that Ultimacia!  We can’t let that sorceress from the future mess up our world!  Let’s go kick her ass!  We’re SeeDs!  We’re here to destroy the sorceress, right?!”

“ZELL!” cried Squall, afraid that his friend’s foible had insulted Rinoa.

“S…Sorry…”

Irvine was quick to change the subject, “So Squall, where are we goin’.”

Rinoa gazed up at him shyly, “Um…” she whispered, “Can we go to the orphanage you guys were talking about in Trabia?  I want to stay away from places where there are lots of people.  I’m a sorceress.  If Ultimacia possesses me again…”

Squall interrupted her, not wanting to hear her finish her sentence, “Let’s go.  Head to Edea’s house.”

---------------------------

After dealing with teasing from his friends, Squall was left alone with Rinoa.  He had never felt this way about someone in his life and didn’t really know how to interact with her in a way that would show his feelings.  A silence permeated between the two of them until she smiled at him, “Can I tell you a story?” she asked, “and I had a dream.  It was a scary dream.  We make a promise.  We promise to see shooting stars together.  I get dressed up and put on your ring, but the thing is I can’t remember where I’m supposed to meet you.  I start to panic.  I really want to see you, Squall, but I don’t know where to go.  I start running through the mountains, the desert, and the plains.  Through Timber, Balamb, and Galbadia.  When I realize I can’t run any longer…I…I just want to see you so badly!” she paused, wiping a tear from her face, “So I scream ‘Squall, where are you!?.  Then I woke up.  I was crying.” She stopped and stared into his eyes, “I’m sorry, you don’t have to say anything.  I just felt like I had to tell you.”

Squall gave her a half-smile, “It was just a dream.” He replied, trying his best to brush it off and make her feel better which was a foreign concept to him, “It doesn’t mean anything.  Don’t worry about it.”

“…I guess you’re right.”

“How about this,” he suggested, “I’ll be here.”

She stared at him, “…Why?”

“The reason why you couldn’t find me was because we haven’t promised yet.”

“Promised?

“I’ll be waiting for you.  If you come here, you’ll find me.  I promise.”

Rinoa grinned, “I’ll be here too!  It’s a promise!” she cried, “Thanks, Squall.  Next time we’ll meet for sure!”

Squall and  Rinoa stared into each others eyes for several seconds, each oblivious to the sound of footsteps approaching until Zell Dincht was firmly in their peripheral vision, “Whoa!” the martial artist said as he turned, embarrassed, and finished his speech with his back to them, “Sorry to interrupt, but it’s an emergency.  We got radio contact from Esthar’s Presidential Palace.  They have a plan to defeat Ultimacia.  They want to hire SeeD to execute it.” He said, glancing over at them, “and they said that there’s a survivor from A-East that Squall should meet.”

--------------------

“Tidus!”

He tried to open his eyes, but it was like they had developed a mind of their own.  He couldn’t force the lids open. 

“Are you sure he’s not dead?”

“Of course I’m sure!  Vat do I look like?  An idiot?!”

With the effort of ten men, Tidus forced his blue eyes open and was immediately blinded by a large overhead lamp that was shining down in his eyes.  His head was pounding and it felt like he’d been beaten with several bats. 

“Holy Hyne, are you okay Tidus?”

He stared at the person in front of him with spots of light in his eyes.  He couldn’t focus very well, but there was something about that person that seemed familiar.

“Are you okay?”

Tidus nodded a little, trying to blink away the spots forming in front of his eyes until long dark hair came into view.  Slowly the person in front of him became more clear and Tidus swallowed hard and stifled a gasp.

“Laguna?!” he choked out.

Tidus felt his heart beating faster in his chest until he was sure he couldn’t take it any longer.  How did he get here?  What was going on? 

Why was in back in dream Zanarkand?

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

Chapter Two: When a Lovebird Dies

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

Days passed quickly.  All Yuna remembered was a blur of people coming in and out of the Celsius crew quarters to console her as she sat amongst his things.  She didn’t eat, sleep, or shower.  She showed no emotion.  It was as if all energy had been drained from her beautiful body.  She just sat.

She hadn’t been able to force herself to perform the sending for him.  She wasn’t even sure if her friends had gotten another summoner to do it.  Part of her wanted him to become a fiend so that he could kill her.  She didn’t want to live without him.  He had gotten her through so much.  She had only survived the past two years because she knew deep in her heart that there was a way to get him back, but now she knew there wasn’t.  He was gone from her forever.

If only she had realized Shuyin’s plans earlier.  If only she had been smarter.  She would have been able to save him if she had figured everything out sooner.  She silently cursed herself for being so stupid.  Tidus needed her to be smarter and she wasn’t. 

She had failed him.

At midnight on the third day after Tidus’s death, Yuna walked out of the Celsius which was parked just outside of Zanarkand.  She felt the need to be near him and felt that downtown Zanarkand was the best place to accomplish that.  He had loved this city with a fire and magic she only wished she could feel.  She could almost see his heart breaking when they had arrived there on her pilgrimage and he had realized that Zanarkand was, indeed, destroyed. 

Yuna slipped her shoes off and walked down to the docks, letting the water play against her skin as the wind whipped her hair.  She wished that the memories if their brief time together would just leave her alone.  Everywhere she looked was something that reminded her of him.  His presence was everywhere and it wouldn’t leave her alone.  The pain in her heart was too real to ignore and she felt like she could die at any minute.  She stopped after a few steps and stared out into the blue-green water – the same color as Tidus’s eyes.  The thought of those eyes made Yuna start to cry.  It wasn’t a brief shedding of tears like she had been doing since her shock over Tidus’s death.  It was a gut-wrenching sob that caused her to kneel in the ground and pound her fists into the wooden dock.

“You promised me!!!!” she screamed into the air.  She repeated it like a mantra over and over and over again until she felt she would go hoarse. 

He’d broken his promise to always be there. 

He had lied. 

She hated him.

She loved him.

Yuna rocked back onto her heels and then planted her behind hard on the dock, fingering the necklace that he used to wear.  It had survived the fire somehow and she felt closer to him wearing it.  She didn’t even care that it was big and bulky.   

She was sure she wouldn’t have survived her pilgrimage without him.  They had comforted each other during the trials of that long and arduous year.  He had held her while she cried and she had comforted him after the battle with Jecht. 

He has captivated her imagination from the first moment she had seen him.  He was so full of life and he made her smile without having to even try.  He was so passionate about everything – especially Zanarkand – and she couldn’t help but get caught up in his love for that great city.  But now…

Now she was left alone in Spira.  She didn’t have his positive outlook on life.  She couldn’t hear his laughter or sweet words of wisdom.  His face haunted her as she tried to sleep and she could swear she heard his voice in the winds around her. 

It was becoming increasingly difficult for her to believe that he was really gone.  She kept thinking she’d roll over in the middle of the night just to feel his breath on her neck or his arm around her waist.  She couldn’t convince herself that he was dead; that she’d never see him again.  Her heart still beat with the hope that she’d find him again one day, but she knew that wasn’t true. 

She was alone and she always would be.

“You promised me.” She whispered, “You promised me and then you broke that promise...twice.” In a rapid motion, she ripped the necklace from her neck and threw it into the ocean with all of her strength and watched it sink below the surface.

“That’s what I think of your promises, Tidus!” she shouted, her face bunched up in rage, “It was supposed to be our turn at happiness!  We were going to live happily ever after…always.” Yuna grabbed a fist full of dirt and flung it, sputtering and cursing as it blew back into her face, “I don’t have anything anymore!” she wailed, dropping to her knees and letting her shoulders heave with her sobs, “I don’t want to live without you…”

Yuna took off in a run as if trying to escape something.  She bent her head low and ran as hard and fast as she could until a constant smacking against her legs caused her to stop.  The bright blue blade made her smile slightly and then frown.

She had forgotten that she had his sword…

She sat down cross legged in the middle of a cracked road that once went through the bustling metropolis of Zanarkand and stared at the blade.  It glittered in the moonlight as she held the blade gently.  This sword had belonged to Chappu and when he died, Wakka had given it to Tidus. 

Was this sword cursed?  Was every person who wielded it destined to die?

Yuna sighed and lay back, releasing her grip on the sword and letting it slide down her leg as she stared up at the stars.  A sharp pain in her ankle caused her to sit up and sigh.  She had forgotten to put her boots back on and the blade had cut into her skin with its sharp edge.

“Shoot.” She said as she lifted the sword by the handle and laid it to the side so that she could wipe the blood from the small cut with her finger. 

Was this how Shuyin felt?  He was separated from Lenne for 1000 years and went insane.  Would the same thing happen to her?  Yuna wiped a stray tear from her face and nodded in answer to herself.  She knew that she would eventually go crazy with grief, if she wasn’t already there. 

If only she could have seen his body.  Maybe his death would have sunk in.  She had heard what Gippal has said to Rikku when they thought she wasn’t listening.

“He’s firewood…There’s nothing left.”

It must have been like what Tidus’ mother had gone through.  Jecht just vanished and there was no proof of what had happened to him.  Yuna sighed.  What had happened to Tidus’ mother?  He had told her once. 

"Wait. No one ever performed the sending for her."
 
"She must've accepted death while she was still alive."
 
"Whoa there, that's my mother you're talking about."
 
"Oh, I'm sorry!"
 
"It's okay.  I think I just figured something out."
 
"What?"
 
"Why I hate my old man."

"Whenever my old man was around, my mother wouldn't even look at me.  Maybe that's when I started to resent him, even hate him.  When he left us...Mom just lost her energy."
 
"The old lady next door told me...when a lovebird dies, the one left behind...It just gives up living so it can join its mate.  It was just like that.  I hated my old man even more…"

When a lovebird dies…

If losing energy causes a person to die, then Yuna should have been dead two years ago.  She hadn’t moved for almost a month after Tidus faded and she had barely eaten.  When she had gotten up, her clothes were too loose and it was almost 6 months before she could fit into them again. 

And if two years ago wasn’t enough then she had barely moved for the past three days. 

There was enough time for her to be without energy.  She should have just died then.  She didn’t want to wake up every morning and not be with him.  She didn’t want to live another day without him by her side. 

She didn’t want to wait to die…

No…when a lovebird dies and the other wants to join its mate then it should be in a more hands on way.  Her eyes flashed to the blue crystal blade again and she gently reached for it, casting a look toward the Celsius to make sure her friends weren’t in view. 

She knew that they would be sad.  She knew Spira would mourn for her, but she wasn’t thinking about that anymore.  She wanted to be with Tidus and if this was the only way then so be it. 

A small smile formed on her features as she placed the blade at her wrist, "The people and the friends that we have lost, or the dreams that have faded..." she whispered, "Never forget them."

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

Chapter Three: Dream or Reality

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

“Tidus, are you okay?” Laguna Loire repeated.  Tidus stared at him, unable to form words and barely able to breath.  He thought his heart was going to beat out of his chest.

The strange little man next to Laguna groaned, “Vat is vrong vis zis one?”

“Tidus…” Laguna said, gently placing his arms firmly on Tidus’ shoulders to keep the blonde from quivering, “What’s wrong?”

Tidus didn’t know how to respond.  Millions of thoughts were flying through his head but none were making any coherent sense to him.  How did he end up back here?  More importantly, where was Yuna?  Was she here too?

“Yuna…” he choked, sitting up forcefully, “Where’s Yuna?”

Laguna seemed perplexed and turned to a tall black man that Tidus hadn’t noticed before, “Kiros was anyone with him when you found him?”

Kiros shook his head, “No, he was alone.” He replied, smiling at Tidus, “I haven’t seen you in a while, Tidus.  I’m glad you’re okay.”

“Where is Yuna?!” Tidus asked, more forcefully this time as he shoved Laguna’s hands violently off of him, “What did you do with her?”

Laguna shook his head, “Tidus, we didn’t do anything with anybody.  Kiros and Ward found you after the stadium was destroyed.”

Tidus drew a sharp intake of breath.  The stadium was just destroyed?  How was that possible?  It had been destroyed at least three years ago – one for the pilgrimage and two for the time he was in the Farplane.  There was no way that it was just destroyed.  Auron found him afterward and took him to Spira…


"Auron!  What are you doing here?"
 
"I was waiting for you."
 
"What are you talking about?"

Right?!?!?!?!

Tidus felt himself on the verge of hyperventilation and tried to calm himself down but nothing was helping.  He gripped the sheets of the bed he was sitting on tightly until his knuckles turned white.  He was back in dream Zanarkand just like he had wanted to be so badly during Yuna’s pilgrimage, but now he didn’t want to be there.  He didn’t want to be a dream anymore.  He wanted to exist.

“Shuyin…” he whispered, suddenly realizing who might be able to help him.  He jumped to his feet and smacked himself on the head, “Shuyin!  You in there?!”

Ignoring the odd looks he was getting from Laguna, Kiros, Ward, and the short little man, Tidus smacked himself again, “Shuyin!” he shouted, poking himself in the chest repeatedly whilst chanting the name in a mantra that threatened to continue until Laguna grabbed his wrist violently.

“What is wrong with you?!”

Tidus ripped his arms out of Laguna’s grasp, “For your information, I am trying to talk to the man inside of me.”

Laguna cocked an eyebrow at Tidus and then another and appeared about to respond when six people who appeared to be about Tidus’ age walked into the room.  The one with a violent scar on his face spoke to Laguna, “What’s going on?”

"Hey there!" Laguna said with a grin, "Been waiting to meet you guys!  You guys are the ones who were inside my head, right? Ellone told me.  It was like there was some kind of waves running through my head.  They gave us so much power during battle.  We thought they were some kind of faeries flying over us." He extended his hand, "So I'm Laguna.  President Laguna Loire of Esthar.  Pleased to meet ya." He pointed to Tidus, “This is Tidus.”

Zell grinned, “Heard you survived the A-East destruction during the Cry.” He said to Tidus.

Tidus was now more confused than ever.  What was the Cry?  Why wasn’t Shuyin responding?  Had Shuyin planned this?  He had been very careful about not letting Tidus hear his plans and ensuring that he was asleep during most of the time after his confrontation with Yuna on the Celsius.  Was that when Shuyin had put this together?  But why would he?  He wanted to be with Lenne.  He wouldn’t want to be in dream Zanarkand where Lenne didn’t exist, right?

He barely listened as the six in front of him quizzed Laguna on his life.  Apparently they had all been inside of his head but he didn’t know how that was possible and didn’t really care.  They wanted to know how Laguna became president and what happened to Raine, but Tidus already knew the answers to those questions.  He could have told them the abridged version, but they asked Laguna which meant they would be listening for quite a while. 

“How do you two know each other?” the brunette called Selphie asked after Laguna finished his long stories.

Laguna replied, “Tidus is the son of Raine’s sister, Brooke and her husband Jecht.  I guess you’d say that makes me his uncle although we’ve never been a tight knit family.” He nudged Tidus slightly, “He always loved living in A-East and playing blitzball with the Zanarkand Abs.”

“Abes…” Tidus corrected sharply, “Zanarkand Abes.”

“No need to get touchy.” Laguna said back.

Tidus glared at him, “I’ll get touchy if I want to.  You still haven’t told me where Yuna is.”

Laguna groaned and ran a hand through his hair, “Like I told you, Tidus.  There wasn’t a Yuna with you when you were found.  You were lying outside of the remains of the stadium alone.  Besides, we’ve gotta find Ellone before we worry about your girl.”

“That is not possible!” Tidus argued, “I was with Yuna and Rikku and Gippal and Nooj and LeBlanc and they were trying to stop Shuyin and when he let me have control again, I somehow ended up here.”

“Right…” Laguna said, brushing him off and turning back to the six teenagers, “Now I’ll let Odine here explain the mission to defeat Ultimacia.”

"Sorceress Ultimacia comes from ze future to possess ze sorceress of present day.  Meaning she leaves her body in ze future and sends only her consciousness here.  Does zat sound familiar to you?"

"It's like when Ellone sent out consciousness back to the past." Squall answered.

"You're a smart one!  My first guess was zat someone in ze future with an ability like Ellone was sending ze sorceress back here to our time.  But no! Zat is not ze answer." He grinned maniacally and Tidus shivered, "So how does ze sorceress come back to this time...?  You vant to hear now?"

The teenagers nodded in unison.

"Eghhhhhh!" Odine squealed happily, "I kept this a secret to surprise you...It iz because of me, Odine!  I researched Ellone's power long ago.  I made out a pattern from ze electric current running through Ellone's brain.  Once ze pattern was determined, it was easy to mechanize.  It may only be a toy right now, but in ze time of Ultimacia, it iz an impressive working machine!" motioning wildly he continued, "Which means there iz a machine which imitates Ellone's power. It iz I who made ze first model of zat machine.  I named ze machine 'Junction Machine Ellone'!  It iz a wonderful thing to know that my invention is used in ze future!"

"Junction Machine Ellone." Repeated Squall.

"That's about it." Laguna said.

"So Sorceress Ultimacia came to know about Ellone, from that machine.'

"And Elle became Ultimacia’s target.  You can't blame Odine. It's useless." Laguna said with a shrug.

"You vant to go outside!? You vant to fisticuffs!?" squealed Odine, "Ok, we continue the story!  Let's see...There iz only one way to defeat Ultimacia. You must kill her in ze future.  There iz nothing we can do unless we go to ze future.  There is no way to jump to ze future under normal circumstances. But there iz still a way!" he said happily, “It iz because Sorceress Ultimacia plans to compress time. Compressing time with magic...Vat good will it do for ze sorceress to compress time? There may be may reasons, but it doesn't matter. Let's just figure out vat Ultimacia iz up to.  In order for Ultimacia to exist in this time, she must take over ze body of a sorceress from ze present.  But ze machine must have a limit. Ultimacia probably needs to go back further in time to achieve time compression."

He paused as if for dramatic effect before continuing, "Only Ellone can take her back further into ze past. Zat iz why she iz desperately seeking her.  We must take advantage of Ellone's power.  There are 2 sorceresses in our time. Sorceress Rinoa and Sorceress Adel.  Of ze two, Adel has not awakened yet.  Once regeneration is completed, neither Laguna nor I will be safe.  Sorceress Adel is probably in ze process of awakening inside Lunatic Pandora.  Ultimacia will want to possess Adel, if Adel wakes up.  Zat vill be a horrible event. Adel iz a horrible sorceress.  If Adel's consciousness wins over Ultimacia, Adel will first destroy this era.  So we must use Sorceress Rinoa to inherit Ultimacia’s powers.  Zat's all for ze mission briefing.  First, go to Lunatic Pandora. Ellone's probably being held captive inside, so rescue her first.  Then kill Sorceress Adel before ze awakening process is completed.  Now, we're left with Rinoa as ze only sorceress of this era."

"Then wait for Ultimacia to possess Rinoa.  When Ultimacia arrives, it's Ellone's turn.  Ellone will send Rinoa back to ze past with Ultimacia.  Ellone will have to send Rinoa and Ultimacia inside another sorceress she knows in the past.  Edea or Adel...Zat's up to Ellone.  Once Ultimacia iz in ze past, she'll use ze time compression magic. We will see some influence here.  I don't know vat kind of influence, but once Ellone feels it, she'll cut Rinoa and Ultimacia off from ze past.  Rinoa will come back to this world. Ultimacia also goes back to her own world.  Vat would be left is ze time compressed world.  Past, present, and future will all get mixed together.  You will keep moving through ze time compression toward ze future.  Once you're out of ze time compression, zat will be Ultimacia’s world.  It's all up to you after zat."

Tidus burst into uncontrollable laughter at the serious expressions on the faces of each person in the room, “You guys actually buy into this stuff?”  He asked with laughter seeping out between each word, “You have got to be kidding me!”

Laguna turned and stared at him with an indiscernible expression, “This is serious stuff, Tidus.  If you aren’t going to help, then at least be quiet.  Lives are at stake here.”

“None of us can die.” Tidus said smugly, “None of us exist in the first place.”

All eyes were on him and all looked at him like he was insane.  Laguna cocked an eyebrow at him, “How hard did you hit your head?”

“I didn’t hit my head.” Tidus replied, “It’s true.  We’re all dreams of the Fayth...well, I’m not anymore.  Yuna’s love made me real.”

“Uh-huh.” Selphie muttered.

Laguna stared at him, “Okay, I’ll bite.” He said, “What exactly do you think is going on?”

“It’s not what I think…it’s what I know.” Tidus corrected before taking a breath and diving into the long story, “What just happened outside has nothing to do with that Ultimacia person and everything to do with Yu Yevon.  He created Sin and Sin attacked Zanarkand and destroyed it 1000 years ago.  The Fayth preserved it in a dream – this place – and created people to live in it like you and me.” He paused, “My old man was the first dream to venture from dream Zanarkand into the real world and he fought alongside Braska and Auron to defeat Sin and he ended up becoming that monster.  Then when Sin attacked dream Zanarkand I was taken to the real world by Auron and that’s when I met Yuna.  I didn’t know I was a dream right away and Yuna and I fell for each other during her pilgrimage to get the final Aeon and defeat Sin and be killed herself.  But when I found out, we figured out a way to really defeat Sin permanently instead of just for a while and save Yuna’s life in the process but I was sacrificed when the Fayth stopped dreaming.”

He sighed, “Then after two years Yuna asked the Fayth to bring me back and he agreed and I was sent back to real Zanarkand but that was when Shuyin took over my body.  Shuyin is the guy who I was based on.  He was the star Blitzer in real Zanarkand and he was killed by Bevelle soldiers after he and his girlfriend were shot.  She was killed right away and then they locked him in a cave and let him starve.  Yuna is her reincarnated and he took my body over and came up with this insane plan to turn Yuna back into his girlfriend so they could live happily ever after but at the last minute he grew a conscious and changed his mind but right when Yuna and I were going to be reunited the entire place we were in kind of exploded and I ended up reliving the last few hours of my time here in dream Zanarkand before I ended up here talking to all you guys.” He smiled, “So the attack outside was just Sin attacking Zanarkand again and Auron isn’t here to save me cause he’s dead...well…he was dead to begin with but now he’s in the Farplane.”

Gape-jawed faces stared at him in stunned silence for several minutes after Tidus’ long winded speech ended.  It was only as the minutes ticked on that Tidus began to realize just how ridiculous he had sounded.  Laguna stared at him for a few more minutes before he said, “Just how hard did you hit your head on the pavement?”

Tidus sighed, “I know it’s hard to believe, I mean, I didn’t believe it at first either,” he admitted, “but it’s true.”

“Sounds to me like you had a pretty wild dream,” the girl called Selphie said with a grin and a giggle.

“But it wasn’t a dream!” Tidus insisted.

Laguna sighed and placed his hands on Tidus’s shoulders, firmly planting the young man back onto the bed, “Tidus, you hit your head pretty hard and you were out for about three, maybe four hours.” He said, “You just dreamed the whole thing.”

“But…!”

“I know it seems real,” Laguna continued, “but it wasn’t.  There is no way that any of that is true.”

Tidus scoffed, “Oh, and a sorceress from the future…that’s real?!”

“Yes, it is.”

“Yuna is real too!” Tidus insisted, “And Wakka, Lulu, Kimahri, Rikku…”

Laguna groaned, “Do you have any proof?  A picture, a letter, something to prove they exist?”

Tidus shook his head, “No, but I know they are real.”

The handsome older man sat down next to Tidus and put an arm around the Blitzer’s sagging shoulders, “I know you want to believe that, but it’s just not true.  It was a very vivid dream that felt real at the time, but now you are back in reality and you’ve gotta go on with life.  Now, we’ve got to go over more of the battle plans, are you going to be okay?”

Tidus nodded and watched as Laguna led the march of the stoic teenagers out of the room.  Once alone, he let himself fall backward onto the mattress and stare at the watermark on the ceiling from the last leak.  Had he dreamed everything?  It had seemed so real…

It was so real!

Yet…

Was it?

He wasn’t even sure if he remembered what Yuna’s voice sounded like, or the touch of her skin.  He couldn’t remember whether it was her right eye or her left eye that was blue.  Why couldn’t he remember?  Was the power of persuasion that powerful that he could be made to forget something so quickly if someone else suggested it wasn’t real? 

Or maybe…

Maybe it really wasn’t real at all.  Maybe he did dream up Spira and all the people in it. 

Tidus scratched his head and stretched his body across the bed.  He could still see Yuna when he closed his eyes, but she seemed to be getting further and further away.

Or was she ever there in the first place?

Author’s Notes:  Nothing to say about this chapter, really.  I think its pretty self explanatory.  It’ll be the starting point of some new twists and turns in the story.

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

Chapter Four: Just In Time

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

It was strange to wake up in the same room where his best friend was murdered, but Gippal reminded himself as he rose from the bed that this was a different day and the threat to Spira was over.  Unfortunately, that also meant that Tidus was gone too. 

The room was empty as he pulled a shirt on and yanked his pants over his hips and he gave a half-smile to the emptiness.  Yuna had risen at some point and he was glad of that.  Rikku had been really worried about her and it was making a relationship between himself and the beautiful blonde practically impossible while her cousin was mourning.  Gippal knew he should be more understanding of Yuna’s pain, but he couldn’t stop himself from wanting a relationship with Rikku.

Padding quietly out to the bridge, he saw Rikku sitting cross legged on the floor organizing a massive collection of spheres and muttering to herself.  He stood over her and smiled, “Good morning, gorgeous.”

She looked up at him, her green eyes sparkling, “Good morning.” She replied, motioning toward the spheres, “I am trying to find some of the spheres I took during the pilgrimage.  I thought when Yuna was up to it, she might like to watch some of them.”  She sighed and stretched her long legs, “Is she up yet?”

Gippal cocked an eyebrow, “I thought she was with you.  She’s not in the crew quarters anymore.”

“Oh…” muttered Rikku, “Well, she must have just taken a walk.  She does that sometimes to clear her head.”

“Well good.” Said Gippal as he sat down next to Rikku, “Because I wanted to talk to you about something.”

The female’s eyes connected with his and she smiled, “What’s up?”

“Well, two things actually.” He admitted, scratching his head, “First, I wanted to check with you to see if you think Yuna would mind if we kept up with the rebuilding.  I wasn’t sure how she’d feel about it.”

“I think it’ll be okay.” Rikku said with a sigh, “although it just won’t be the same without Tidus, but I know Yunie would want to finish what he had wanted so badly.”

Gippal nodded, “That’s what I was thinking too.”

“What’s the other thing?”

Gippal felt butterflies forming in his stomach and he thought he could lose his nerve.  He’d never been this nervous before asking a girl out before.  He didn’t understand why he was behaving like this.  It was Rikku!

“Um…” he stammered, unconsciously backing up from her a bit, “I…well…maybe we could…um…”

“What?” asked Rikku, playfully, “Just spit it out Gippal!”

“Did you want to…um…go out sometime?”

He waited for her response but as the seconds ticked by, he began to realize that she was going to say no.  Taking a deep breath to relax his frazzled nerves, he laughed it off as a joke, “Never mind.  No biggie.”

“Gippal,” she said softly, “It’s not that I don’t want to.  It’s just that I don’t think its right what with Yunie having just lost Tidus and all.”

Gippal was stunned and lifted his eye patch to scratch the lid of his dead eye before replying, “What does Tidus dying have to do with us?”

“Everything!” she practically shrieked, moving her arms excitedly to explain her point of view, “I mean, Yunie lost the love of her life and the last thing I want to do is rub it in her face that you’re still around!”

Gippal shot to his feet and threw his hands in the air, shouting, “So now we’re supposed to walk on eggshells just because Tidus died and Yuna is mourning?!” he groaned, “In case you have forgotten, Rikku, he’s been dead before and she got over it.”

“He wasn’t dead!” the girl retorted, “He was a faded dream!  There’s a difference!!”

Gippal rolled his eyes and stalked toward Buddy’s seat, slamming his rear down hard and glaring down at the map in front of him, “Where shall we go today?” he asked sarcastically, “I heard Bevelle is nice this time of year.  They like to lie to themselves too!”

“Oui ycc!” she shrieked.

“Dygac uha du ghuf uha!” replied her adversary in an equally bitter tone.

Rikku’s hand slammed down hard on the back of his head and she shrieked, “You just can’t stand it when you don’t get your way!!”

“I’m not getting my way because you’re being stubborn and stupid!” Gippal shouted back at her.

“I am not!” shrieked the incensed female, “I am thinking about someone else instead of myself.  It’s something I learned from Yunie!  Maybe you should try it too!!”

“Are you accusing me of being selfish?!” Gippal asked angrily as he turned in the chair to glare at Rikku with his good eye. 

The blonde nodded, “That’s exactly what I’m doing!” she shrieked, “Maybe if you weren’t so selfish and arrogant then…then…Baralai would still be alive!!!”

She slammed her hand over her mouth as soon as the words were out but the damage had already been done.  Silence permeated between them and Gippal was grateful that she wasn’t trying to take it back.  He needed to know how she truly felt. 

She did blame him for Baralai’s death; she just didn’t think he killed him anymore. 

He turned his back to her.  He didn’t know whether to be furious or sad as he let himself relax in the chair.  Her hand on his shoulder caused him to tense immediately and he felt her pull it away, “Gippal…I…”

“I don’t want to hear it, Rikku.” He said, calmly at first but then he shouted it, “I don’t want to hear it!!!”

The man rose to his feet and made to spin toward her when something from the window caught his eye.  His ire with the female faded as he narrowed his eyes to see the figure in the street better, “What is that?” he asked, pointing to the prone shape lying in the middle of the road below.

Rikku scooted into the tight space between the chair and the desk next to Gippal and leaned forward a bit to get a better look, “Is it a fiend?” she asked.

“No…” Gippal replied, “It sort of looks like…”

“That kinda reminds me of…”

Both Al Bheds stared at each other and gasped, “Yuna!”

-------------------------------

Tidus sat up suddenly, gasping for air and trying to calm himself down.  Something was wrong.  He could feel it.  Yuna was slipping away from him.

Dream or not, she was leaving him and he didn’t want that.

He jumped to his feet and ran to the window on the opposite end of the spacious room, flinging it open with all his strength to look down upon the city below. 

"Hey, use that if we get separated.  Then I'll come running, okay?  Well, guess we should just stick together, then, till you can do it?"
 

She wasn’t a dream, no matter what anybody said.  She had been real.  She was real and she needed him.  He was going to find his way home, but for now he needed to let her know that he was still there. 

Placing two fingers in his mouth in their strategic locations, Tidus let out a shrill whistle that echoed against the buildings outside of the window, “Hang on Yuna!” he shouted, “I’m coming back!”

----------------------------------

Yuna felt like she was swimming in a sea of tranquility.  The pain in her wrists was subsiding and she felt surrounded by warmth as if she was back in Tidus arms again.  If she had only known that the pain of her loss could have been subsided so quickly before, she would have committed this action much earlier – two years earlier to be exact. 

Life wasn’t flashing before her eyes like she had heard it would and she was grateful for that.  She didn’t want to have to relive losing him in order to die.  She just wanted to be with him again.  She wanted to hear his voice and know that this time, always was a possibility. 

Her life giving blood was seeping out of her now and she knew that it would only be a matter of time until it was gone forever and she could drift happily into the Farplane to be with the man she loved. 

“Yuna!”

A familiar voice invaded her thoughts and forced her eyes open roughly.  Her vision was blurred and she weakly struggled against her would-be savior.  She didn’t want to be saved.  Couldn’t they see that?

“Yunie!”

She tried to focus in on the person in front of her, but she was having more and more difficulty keeping her eyes open.  She was just so tired.  As she felt herself once again drifting away to the quiet place, a shrill whistle pierced her subconscious mind and she shot her eyes open.  The blurry figure in front of her took shape. 

It was a man.  He had blonde hair and was trying desperately to stop the bleeding that was profusely draining her life energy at her wrists.  She heard a tear and saw him ripping off a part of his shirt to wrap tightly around her wrists, “Go and get some help!” he shouted at the blurry person next to him.  That person jumped to their feet and was off like a flash leaving her alone with the blurry man. 

“Hang on Yuna!  I’m coming back!”

She stared at the blurry man in front of her as he gently slapped her cheeks, “Stay awake, Yuna!” he said to her, shaking her gently, “Stay awake.  Help’s on the way.”

She lifted a weak hand to the man’s cheek and smiled slightly as she whispered, “Tidus…”

-------------------------------

AL BHED TRANSLATION

Oui ycc – you ass

Dygac uha du ghuf uha – takes one to know one.

Author’s Notes:  A little more character development and a twist that I’m sure nobody was expecting.  I hope you all like it!

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

Chapter Five: The New Yevon Praetor

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

His back was visibly tense as she approached him.  He always seemed to know when it was her coming near him and not anyone else.  She didn’t know what to say to him.  She had insulted him in the worst way and she didn’t know how to make him see that, though she felt terrible about the accusation, she wasn’t entirely sure if she didn’t believe what she had said. 

“Buddy says that Yunie is stable.” Rikku said as she took another step closer to him.  Buddy had been in contact via radio with boy genius, Shinra, and together they had taken care of Yuna and gotten her to relax and calm down.  She had been pretty upset when her vision cleared enough to realize that Gippal wasn’t Tidus.  The way her cousin had looked at Gippal while she was delusional had made Rikku jealous for reasons she didn’t understand.  It was ridiculous to be jealous of a look that her cousin was giving Gippal, especially when he wasn’t even hers to be jealous over and when her cousin thought he was someone else.

She waited for him to respond, or to at least look at her, but when he didn’t she tried again, “So…” she began, taking a casual step toward him, her hands behind her back, “How’s it going?”

Gippal turned toward her with a steady and even gaze, showing no hint of emotion in his visible eye, “What do you want?” he asked.

“I…I…” she stammered, unsure of whether to come up with something stupid to say or just admit the truth.  Finally the truth won out and she whispered, “I’m sorry about what I said.”

“You should be.” He replied, turning his back toward her again to stare out the window.

Her ire rose and she threw her hands onto her hips, “Why should I be?  Maybe I’m not!  I mean, it was ultimately your fault Baralai got killed anyway!”

Gippal spun to face her, his eyes aglow with rage, “And how do you figure that?”

“If you hadn’t hit him then he wouldn’t have run away!” she snapped.

Gippal leaned in until his mouth was inches from hers.  His breath was hot on her face as he whispered, “The only reason I hit him was because I was jealous of his attentions toward you.”  With a glare and a sneer, he hissed, “So if you want to point fingers, Rikku, you might want to start with yourself.”

Her green eyes flew wide open as she gasped and took a step back from him as if she had been struck, “Why do you say that?!  I didn’t do anything!”

“You flirted with him…” Gippal said with a shrug, “You did something to make him think he stood a chance which made me jealous.” With a sneer he turned his back to her, “That is why it’s ultimately your fault.”

“Gippal!” Rikku cried, “That’s not fair!”

He turned to look at her, “And accusing me of being the cause of my best friend’s death is fair?”

She didn’t know how to respond.  She wanted to tell him that she really didn’t think it was his fault, but she couldn’t.  She wanted to blame him for Baralai dying, but she couldn’t.  All Rikku found herself able to do was stand in silence as the man she loved turned and walked away from her in disgust. 

-------------------

The long red scratches along her wrists would be a reminder of how stupid she had been.  Thankfully, neither Buddy nor Shinra thought that they would be permanent.  Yuna had been confined to bed and told that she was not to rise for any reason whatsoever until further notice.  She longed to stretch her legs, but decided that she would listen to her friends.  She didn’t want them to worry about her any more then they already had.

She had insisted upon awakening that they put her into another bed.  She didn’t want to spend several days in the bed she had shared with Tidus – and then Shuyin.  She didn’t want to have to wake up without a warm body next to her night after night.  Although it was still difficult to be alone, she found it oddly easier in a different bed.

“How are you feeling?” came Gippal’s voice echoing up the stairs as he approached her. 

She shrugged, “As well as can be expected.”

“Translation…” Gippal said with a grin as he sat down on the bed next to her, “Life sucks, right?”

“Absolutely,” Yuna agreed, “but thank you for saving me just the same.”

“Sure thing.” Gippal said with a smile but Yuna could tell there was tension hiding behind his well shaped mouth and she cocked her head to the side.

“What’s wrong?”

He groaned, “its Rikku…”

“What about her?”

“Where do I even begin?” he asked rhetorically before squirming to sit cross legged before her on the mattress.  His beautiful companion did the same until they sat with their knees touching; a thin sheet as separation between them, “You know, I seriously thought she’d gotten over the whole Baralai thing.  I mean, she busted me out of jail so I didn’t think she thought I was responsible anymore.”

“She thinks you killed him still?”

“No…” Gippal replied with a shrug and a sigh, “Not really.  She just thinks that I’m the reason he was alone to begin with.  Like, if I hadn’t hit him then he never would have died.”

Yuna let the sheets fall to her waist as she struggled against the mound of pillows to find a comfortable sitting position, “You can understand where she’s coming from, though, right?  You did hit Baralai and he did leave because of it.”

Her blonde counterpart frowned, “I suppose it is technically my fault, but she still shouldn’t have said it.”

“You’re right.  She shouldn’t have.  She’s being naïve and a little stupid.”

Gippal smirked, “Naïve and a little stupid…basically she’s just being Rikku then, right?”

Try as she might, Yuna couldn’t fight off the smile that was forming on her features at Gippal’s little joke and for the first time since Tidus’ death, Yuna laughed.

“So you can laugh!” Gippal said gleefully, “Let’s keep it going!” and before Yuna could react he had her pinned down on the bed, attacking her sides with the most ferocious of tickling fights she’d ever been in.

He learned quickly that she was most ticklish on her hips and took great joy out of making her squirm and giggle maniacally until she begged him to stop so she could catch her breath.  The Al Bhed released her gently and rocked back onto his heels on the bed and laughed at her expression and bed hair.  She feigned an angry expression, “That wasn’t very nice, Gippal.”

“You liked it.” Her counterpart said with a grin, “Admit it.”

Yuna laughed again and shrugged, “I suppose I did.” And then she paused, fingering the Zanarkand Abes necklace that was still firmly around her neck, “I shouldn’t have, though…”

“He wouldn’t want you to live life like a priestess, Yuna.” Gippal said, “Tidus loved you and he’d want you to be happy and go on with life.” He wrapped a muscular arm around her shoulder and pulled her closer to him, “One of these days, a hot and hunky guy is going to walk by and you’re gonna want a piece of that and it’s going to be okay.”

Yuna smirked a little at Gippal’s interesting choice of wording before shaking her head, “I’m never going to love anyone but Tidus.  Never.”

“Who’s talking about love?” asked Gippal, “I’m talking about sex!” 

Yuna collapsed back onto the bed in a fit of giggles that continued until she had to hold her chest to keep from hurting herself, “I should have known that’d be the only thing on your mind.” She admitted, “Paine told me you were quite the horn-dog.”

The Al Bhed grinned proudly and winked at her, “And if you ever need relief, you know just who to call.”

Yuna rolled her eyes at Gippal’s offer and relaxed back on the mattress, staring up at the Al Bhed’s profile silhouetted in the light from the nearby window.  She felt bad for not believing in Gippal’s innocence before and she couldn’t understand why Rikku still thought he was responsible for Baralai’s death.  More than likely, Baralai would have left even if Gippal hadn’t hit him. 

Gippal turned to look at her and for the first time she noticed that his good eye was as green as her eye and it also matched the green of all Al Bhed eyes.  She smiled at him, “Is there something in the genes that make all those with Al Bhed blood have green eyes?”

“I think so.” Gippal replied, rubbing at his eye patch.

Yuna propped herself up on her elbows, “Can I see your other eye?”

Gippal looked surprised and opened his mouth to respond when Paine came into the room below, “Nooj and LeBlanc are here.” She called up the stairs, “They want to know if you’re up for a visit, Yuna.”

She called, “Send them up!”

-----------------------.

Nooj followed Paine to the crew quarters with LeBlanc by his side.  LeBlanc had asked him recently if there had been anything between himself and Paine to which he had replied with a profound no.  He’d lied to her and he felt terrible, but he felt like he had no choice.  She had been traumatized because of Shuyin and he didn’t want to add to her worries and fears.  She had seemed to believe his lies, but he could tell that she was still concerned by the way she hung close to his side and hadn’t let go of his hand in Paine’s presence.

That was why he was extremely grateful when Paine pointed up the stairs toward Yuna’s bed and then left the room.

Gippal jumped up from the bed as if burned by something when Nooj and LeBlanc arrived on the landing.  Nooj had noticed Rikku’s angry expression at the mention of Gippal’s name so he figured the two of them were fighting about something.  Was Gippal venting to Yuna…or making a move on her?  With his friend, he could never be sure.

“Yuna, love, are you okay?” LeBlanc asked as she rushed to Yuna as if the two had been best friends for years.  It really amazed Nooj that the two were getting along as well as they were.  Thanks to Shuyin, they all knew that in past lives the two girls hated each other – LeBlanc had even been responsible for Yuna’s death – so seeing one so concerned for the other was surreal.

Yuna nodded, “Yeah, thanks to Gippal and his quick thinking.”

For a split second Nooj thought his usually cocky friend blushed, but he quickly dismissed the thought as lighting.  Smiling at Yuna, he said, “You gave us all a scare.  Don’t ever do that again.”

“I won’t,” the ex-summoner promised, “I was just in a weird place and did something stupid but it won’t happen again.  Tidus wouldn’t want me to do something like that.”

“You’re absolutely right.” LeBlanc agreed, “He wouldn’t.”

Stretching her legs in the bed, Yuna smiled at Nooj, “So, what is new in Spira these days?  Any evil I can vanquish?  I really need a distraction.”

Nooj laughed and pushed a stray strand of brown from his eyes, “No evil this time, Yuna.  Business as usual in Spira.  I’m working with the new New Yevon Praetoress.  We’re picking up where Baralai and I left off.” He sighed, “It’s weird to go over stuff with someone else, but I can’t let that stop me.”

LeBlanc scoffed, “Well, the Praetoress is weird too.  I’d like to know just where she came from.”

“What’s weird about her?” asked Gippal.

Nooj shrugged and playfully poked LeBlanc in the side, “This one here just doesn’t like her because she’s eternally youthful.”

“She is?!” cried Yuna, “How is that possible?”

Gippal nodded, “Yeah!  And how old is she really?”

Nooj shrugged and looked at LeBlanc, “How old would you think that she is?” he asked her but his lady just shook her head and shrugged.  Nooj thought for a moment, “Well, she looks like she’s only 17 or 18, but I’d figure she’s got to be about 1000 years older than that.”

“Why?!” asked Yuna.

“Well,” Nooj began, “1000 years ago was the age of sorceresses – early forms of the fayth – and the Praetoress is a sorceress.  She’s probably the last of her kind since most of them died in battles over the years.”

“She’s weird…” whispered LeBlanc.

Nooj laughed, “Yes, she is a little strange….”

“Strange is putting it mildly, love.” Interrupted LeBlanc as she whispered to Yuna, “The woman has this weird machine that she hooks herself up to and she zones out for hours on end.  We were over there one day and Nooj was going over stuff with her when she said she needed to take a break.  She went away and I followed her and saw her get hooked to this machine!”

“You shouldn’t have done that,” Nooj said to her, “We discussed that.”

LeBlanc waved his words off, “Spira needs to know if they have another loony like Seymour on their hands and I think they do.  I just hope this time poor Yuna doesn’t have to marry her.”

Yuna laughed at the thought, “I hope so too!”

Gippal scratched his head, “What do you think the machine is?”

“I don’t even know if there is a machine.” Nooj said, and glanced at LeBlanc, “I was behaving myself and not spying on our hostess at the time.”  His girlfriend stuck her tongue out at him and he laughed, “Very mature, darling.”

“What’s her name?” Yuna asked, “Maybe I’ve heard of her.”

“That’s another weird thing…” LeBlanc said, “Her name is Rinoa Heartilly, but she insists that everyone call her Ultimecia.”

Author’s Notes:  This chapter changes the end of FF8 but for those of you who have not seen the actual ending there may be spoilers.

I have received a few questions from people who haven’t played Final Fantasy 8 yet and want a storyline explanation about the game.  Therefore SPOILERS will be present in the following information.

BEGINNING OF SPOILER!!!

 

The main character of FF8 is Squall Leonhart who is a stoic and introverted 17 year old guy.  His arch enemy is Seifer Almasy.  In the opening sequence you see both men fighting and they wound each other with similar scars between the eyes.  Then you find out that they both live in a military academy called Balamb Garden (there are several such Gardens all over their world) and they are training to become Balamb’s elite force SeeD.

While on a routine SeeD mission (after becoming SeeDs that is) Squall and his friends have their first “dream world” sequence in which they see a scene from the lives of three men, Laguna, Kiros, and Ward.  The first scene involves Laguna and his major crush on a lounge singer named Julia.  The second sequence involves him falling off of a cliff.  The third involves his relationship with a woman named Raine.  The last involves him being held prisoner in Esthar.  (Although the game never comes right out and says it.  It is pretty obvious that Julia is Rinoa’s mother and Laguna/Raine are Squall’s parents.  Raine dies at some point – supposedly while having her child (Squall) – and this is why Laguna ends up in Esthar.)

To make a long story short, a sorceress named Edea comes on the scene and manipulates Seifer into joining her to fulfill his “romantic dream” of vanquishing evil and saving those in need.  Throughout the story this “dream” of his becomes warped. 

The player soon finds out that Edea is the wife of Balamb Garden’s headmaster, Cid and that she ran the orphanage where Squall, Seifer, and his fellow fighters (excluding Rinoa) grew up.  (The reason they don’t remember her initially is truly ridiculous and I don’t want to get into it.  Haha!  Just suffice it to say, they don’t realize until around disk 3!!). 

And just when you think there can’t be any more twists, you find out that Edea isn’t evil at all!  She was being controlled by a sorceress from the future named Ultimacia.  When the teens fight Edea for the last time (at the end of disk 2), Ultimacia flees Edea’s body and possesses Rinoa turning her into a sorceress (and a coma as well) and sending Squall into a tailspin since he’s madly in love with her. (Rinoa, not Ultimacia.  Haha!). 

Squall is desperate to save his lady love so he wants to find Ellone (whom he affectionately refers to as “Sis”.  (Whether she really is his sister or not is up to the player to decide.  Laguna refers to Ellone’s parents in one of the dream world sequences as both being dead although the popular consensus is that Raine is Ellone’s mother and therefore Squall’s half sister but one never knows.  Ellone also refers to Laguna as “uncle” and if she’s also Squall’s half-sister…well, my head hurts just thinking about it.  Haha!)  “Sis” has the power to send people’s consciousness into people in the past (AKA: The “dream world”) and that was what she had been doing to Squall and his friends when they would witness episodes from Laguna’s life.  Squall wants to be transported back to save (or at least warn) Rinoa, but the problem is that Ellone can only do this for people she knows so Squall has to drag poor unconscious Rinoa to the space station that Ellone is in. 

Of course, while he’s chatting with Ellone, Ultimacia possesses Rinoa again and makes the girl leave the space station to release the carbon frozen Sorceress Adel who everybody fears.  (It’s explained later that Laguna became president of Esthar after he tricked Adel into the carbon freezing to save Esthar from the tyrannous sorceress).  It’s after this that Rinoa is in control of her own body again, but she’s also left in space with little oxygen.

So what does Squall do??

You guessed it!  He jumps into space too (only after Ellone manages to send him into Rinoa’s past and we find out that she’s had a thing for him for most of the game (not that it wasn’t totally obvious anyway.)  The two manage to get onto a spaceship that is just luckily floating around with fuel and everything (where is the crew, I wonder?!) but the catch is that they have to fight monsters and kill them according to their color.  Once that is done there’s this cute little scene between the two on the ship (*mush mush*)

The final battles are in the following order:

Raijin/Fujin (Seifer’s friends – his “posse”)

A robot

Seifer

Adel

A bunch of random sorceresses

A bunch of random “bosses”

Ultimacia

To fight Ultimacia, the group has to go through “time compression”.  To do that there must only be one sorceress in the present so they have to kill Adel, but before they can do that, Seifer tries to feed Rinoa to her!  Adel joins with Rinoa and you have to fight her without hurting the captured heroine (and I use that world loosely.  The girl is captured more times then you can count on one hand during this game!!  She’s like “Princess Toadstool” from Mario!!  Haha)

Anyway, after Adel is beaten then time compression can start and the group makes their way toward Ultimacia.  Then you fight her and the game is over…or is it?! 

You think Squall is dead but if you watch through ALL the credits, you see him and Rinoa “smooching” at the end. 

END OF SPOILER!!

 

Sorry if that sounded too much like a walkthrough then an explanation, but I hoped that helped those who were confused.  I am going to be omitting and changing a few parts here and there (like, when Rinoa/Ultimacia remembers stuff it’ll involve Sin, not Ultimacia. The versions that Tidus is with are the dream versions so they are dealing with Ultimacia.)  This chapter, as stated above, changes the ending slightly.  Well….it actually adds more after the final FMV (full motion video). 

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

Chapter Six: Origin of Evil

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

Dark and dreary days and nights had become home for her in the years that had passed since the sorceress Rinoa Heartilly’s youth.  This was why the dreary and dank atmosphere of the temple of Bevelle had appealed to her so much.  She could hide in its many shadows and remain hidden away from prying eyes to continue with her plans. 

Rinoa had never been one to believe in time travel or true and pure evil, but she did now.  Tragedy – not just in the form of Sin – struck Rinoa and she had developed what the doctors called Multiple Personality Disorder.  She still wasn’t sure what that meant, in truth.  Although she had another ego – Ultimacia – Rinoa was fully aware of what her other persona was doing and 99% of the time, it was precisely what Rinoa would have done if she had the nerve.

As an early form of Fayth, sorceresses possess the same, if not slightly less, power then the charming children that created the dream world.  Rinoa didn’t know the place existed until Summoner Yuna defeated Sin and her guardian faded as the Fayth stopped dreaming.  It was then that Rinoa’s – no, Ultimacia’s – plan had started to formulate.

She wanted to end the pain that was no doubt devouring Yuna as well.  Rinoa wanted to stop hurting.  She still remembered the last few moments of her true sanity.

-----------------

The night was the most gorgeous one Rinoa Heartilly had remembered ever seeing.  The stars shown brightly and the music from the party behind her made the night feel almost magical. 

Glancing at the handsome man beside her, Rinoa smiled.  It was a magical night.  They had survived the first of what most believed would be many of Sin’s attacks.  They had survived being shot into space.  Together, they had even survived her becoming a sorceress herself.  That was how Rinoa always wanted them to be.

Together.

---------‘

“Irvy!  Look at me!” Selphie Tilmitt shouted at her boyfriend, Irvine Kinneas as she jumped in front of the camcorder the young cowboy was holding. 

“I am darlin’.” Replied Irvine as he casually moved the camera’s focus over to a group of attractive SeeD females sitting at a table across the room.  They waved at him flirtatiously and he waved back but Selphie’s angry face in the camcorder stopped him from going to talk to them. 

Selphie was jealous whenever her flirtatious boyfriend would speak to any other female.  Irvine loved Selphie but the girl just didn’t seem to understand that flirting was his nature.  He was going to have to do something about that.

“Hey!  Don’t touch that!”

Selphie turned at the sound of Quistis Trepe, the 18 year old ex-Instructor turned SeeD, reprimanding one of the junior classmen who had lifted Irvine’s rifle from the ground to look at it.  Selphie ran over to the child and removed the gun from his hands, “That’s loaded, honey.  Don’t touch.” She said.

“Sef…” Irvine called in a hushed whisper, “Will ya look a’ that.”

Selphie turned and followed her boyfriend’s line of vision.  He was staring at something intently through the camcorder’s lense and doing so with a smirk, no less.  She glanced out onto the balcony and that’s when she saw it. 

Squall and Rinoa…kissing.

------------

Sam knew that just because he was a junior classmen, those SeeDs thought he couldn’t handle a rifle.  Stupid SeeDs…what did they know anyway?  The group that had reprimanded him was now looking intently onto the balcony so he snuck behind them and grabbed the rifle before running into a corner just caddy-cornered from the balcony. 

It was the coolest rifle Sam had ever seen in his life and he’d seen many.  His father used to hunt before he died so Sam had grown up around guns, though he’d never actually handled one.

“Loaded…right!” whispered Sam as he looked through the viewer.  He didn’t believe that a SeeD would bring a loaded weapon to a dance.  That would be the stupidest move ever.  Sam laughed quietly and put his finger on the trigger.

------------

Squall’s lips were soft and smooth as they caressed Rinoa’s gently, almost hesitantly.  Rinoa didn’t ask but she figured this was probably one of Squall’s first kisses – if not his actually first.  Since he had been so introverted his entire life, she doubted he had much dating experience and instead of that being a turn off, she really liked it.  It was because of that that she felt confident in their love. 

She knew he loved her.

He pulled away slowly and looked into her eyes, “I love you.” He whispered.

“I love you too.”

“Rinny,” he said to her.  She loved the nickname he’d suddenly started using for her that day.  No one else called her that and she’d never let them from this day forward.  It was the nickname Squall had invented and therefore only Squall could use it. “You have no idea what you mean to me.”

Rinoa smiled, “You mean the world to me too, Squall.” She touched his face gently and ran her thumb over the scar that ran between his eyes courtesy of her ex, Seifer Almasy,

“Will you promise me something?”

“Anything.”

“Will you always be here for me?  I don’t think I could survive it if I lost you.”

Squall’s blue eyes bore into her brown ones, “I promise that I will always be here for you.  Nothing can take me away.”

His lips reconnected with hers for a moment before she heard what sounded like a gunshot.  Then a scream that sounded like Selphie. 

Rinoa spun her head to the dance to see a deathly pale junior classmen holding Irvine’s gun.  She tried to push Squall up but he continued to lean against her, “Squall, we’ve got to see what’s going on.”

No response.

“Squall?”

No response.

Selphie, Irvine, Zell, and Quistis were suddenly on the balcony with her.  Selphie looked like she was crying but Rinoa didn’t know why.  She tried to push up on Squall again but this time with more force.  He seemed to stand for just a moment before he collapsed on the ground.

Looking at her hands, Rinoa saw blood and she started to shake.  She was almost afraid of what she would find if she looked to the ground but her eyes were drawn there as if by their own desires.

The bullet looked as though it had gone straight through Squall’s head.  Blood was coming out of both sides of his skull.  It must have happened fast because he still wore a slight smirk on his handsome features.

No words formed.

No shrieks sounded.

Rinoa stood frozen staring first at her hands and then at the man she loved lying crumbled in a heap on the floor.  She felt Selphie and Quistis put their arms around her and vaguely saw Cid escort the child away.  Zell and Irvine helped Dr. Kadowaki move Squall but Rinoa stayed where she was.  She stayed staring at the last place Squall had been for a long while after they had moved him.  The blood from his wound still lay on the balcony and as the tears finally started to flow, Rinoa noted that the red liquid formed what appeared to be a broken heart.

----------

All Rinoa wanted was to wipe away that memory and start fresh, but no matter where she looked she saw his eyes, cold and senseless.  She could still see his blood on her hands, staining her.  She had tried to move on.  She had tried to live without him, but she couldn’t.  He was her world and he was gone and something inside her snapped. 

When she had found out about the dream world, she knew exactly what she needed to do.  When she had become a sorceress as a teenager, she had been so afraid that she had made him swear on his life that if she ever became out of control that he would kill her.  She knew now that she was out of control, but he wasn’t there.  He couldn’t fulfill his promise unless she went to him and that was precisely what she was going to do.  Squall Leonhart was going to kill her, and Rinoa Heartilly would be watching from both sides. 

Author’s Notes:  This chapter was one that I had in mind since the beginning of this story so it was relatively easy to write.  I hope everyone enjoys it!

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

Chapter Seven: Sudden Realizations

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

"Alright!!!" Tidus heard Laguna shout from just outside of the room.  That man always was just a tad too loud. "Let's go! We'll get aboard Ragnarok!  Let's do the final briefing in there!  I always wanted to ride that thing. Plus the name sounds so cool!"

Ragnarok?  What the hell was a Ragnarok? Tidus narrowed his eyes in confusion as he slowly rose from the bed upon which he had been lying.  Shrugging to himself, he meandered out of the room and fell in step behind the group that was quickly making their way out of the presidential palace. 

For the first time he really started to pay attention to the people around him.  Each and every one of them was a dream, but who were they based upon?  Had Shuyin known any of them?  As strange as it was, Tidus was beginning to miss Shuyin.  He really wanted to talk to someone who believed what he was saying. 

From the swagger of the guy with the cowboy hat to the sullen strut of the one with the scar, each and every person Tidus was with had a distinct personality.  He smiled to himself as he tried to imagine which ones Yuna would like and which she wouldn’t.  He wasn’t allowing himself to entertain the possibility of Yuna being the dream anymore.  It simply wasn’t true.

Tidus had forgotten how long the trip to the airship hangar was.  He was getting ready to suggest they stop for food and water when he finally saw it.  It had to have been what his uncle had called the Ragnarok.  It took up almost the entire hangar and Tidus noticed that it had a space insignia upon its side. 

“This is a spaceship!” he said, suddenly gaining the attention of those he had followed.  Judging from the looks on their faces, none of them had realized he was behind them.

Laguna nodded, “Yes, Tidus.  It is a spaceship.” Running a hand through his long, black hair, Tidus’ uncle stared at him, “Can we help you with something?”

Tidus shrugged, “I want to come along with you guys.  Is that cool?”

Squall Leonhart rolled his eyes, “What do you know about fighting evil?”

“I’ll have you know,” retorted Tidus angrily, “That I was part of the group of guardians that defeated Sin!”

“…Whatever.” Replied Squall as he turned back to Laguna, “Let’s just get this over with.”

Tidus glared at the back of the brunette’s head as he followed the rest of the group onto the ship.  He already didn’t like the sullen teenager that appeared to be the leader of the operation.  He knew Yuna wouldn’t like him either.  Maybe when he got back to Spira, he’d just leave Squall Leonhart out of the stories he told her.

If he got back to Spira…

-------------------------------

“Why don’t you just talk to him?” Yuna asked her cousin, Rikku, as she, Paine, and Rikku meandered down to the pavement of Main Street in Zanarkand.  Yuna had quickly recovered from her suicide attempt and was in much better spirits.  In fact, when Gippal had approached her about continuing the rebuilding, she didn’t even have to think about it.  She knew that would be what Tidus wanted and so it would be done.

Rikku shook her head firmly, “No, he tried to blame me for Baralai!  I won’t talk to him until he apologizes.”

“But you blamed him too…” Paine pointed out.

The blonde stuck her tongue out at her friend before crossing her arms over her chest violently, “That still doesn’t excuse what he said to me.  He’s a big meanie!”

Yuna shrugged and strolled a little ahead of her friends.  She didn’t understand Rikku holding a grudge.  At least Rikku still had Gippal.  Yuna would give anything to just fight with Tidus again. 

The trio carried with them some food and drinks for the Al Bhed who were working on rebuilding the blitzball stadium that lay in ruins at the center of the once massive city.  Yuna knew that the very streets their feet were walking up also held the long forgotten footsteps of Shuyin and Lenne.  Although Yuna didn’t have a living memory of her life as Lenne, she felt in familiar surroundings by just being in Zanarkand.  This place, more than any other, felt like home to her.

Yuna sighed and continued her trek across the rocky roads.  She could see the blitzball stadium far in the distance as the group passed what used to be the presidential palace.  Her eyes wandered the tallest of the ruins as she contemplated what it might have been.  She wondered if Tidus would have known.

“I want to come along with you guys.  Is that cool?”

Yuna froze in place.  Her eyes widened and she spun around in a circle, searching frantically for him.  She felt Rikku’s hand on her shoulder, “Yunie, what’s the matter?”

“Didn’t you hear him?!” Yuna cried, searching her cousin’s eyes for some sign that she hadn’t imagined it, “Didn’t you hear him?!”

“What do you know about fighting evil?”

Yuna let out a yelp.  She didn’t recognize that voice.  Who was he talking to?  Where was he?  Paine was next to grab her wrists, “Yuna, we didn’t hear anything.”

“But…” Yuna stammered, “His voice is as clear as day!”

“I’ll have you know that I was part of the group of guardians that defeated Sin!”

“Tidus!” Yuna shrieked, wrenching her hands away from her friends to run closer and closer to the tallest of the ruins.  The closer she got the louder his voice became until it was pounding in her ears.  He was so close.  She could almost feel him again.

“…Whatever.  Let’s just get this over with.”

Her foot caught upon something buried in the ruins and Yuna found herself sprawled out on the ground with her face in dirt and debris.  Spattering and wiping herself clean, she slowly rose to her feet and listened. 

Nothing…

“Yunie!” screeched Rikku as she and Paine joined her, “What has gotten into you?”

“Didn’t you hear him?” Yuna asked, her voice quivering, on the verge of tears.

“We didn’t hear anything.” Paine said again, patting Yuna’s hand gently.

Yuna cast her eyes downward and sighed.  Of course they hadn’t heard anything.  Tidus wasn’t there and never would be again.  Her mind – and her ears – were playing tricks on her.

Taking a deep breath, Yuna forced herself to smile, “I’m sorry.  I’m just out of it right now.  Let’s keep going.” And without giving her friends a chance to respond, Yuna took off toward the stadium as if trying to leave the ghosts of the past behind her.

------------------------

"Alright!  Everyone!  From here, we go straight to our final target, Ultimacia!" announced Laguna once the group had gotten aboard the Ragnarok and were settled in the cockpit, "Let's go over the plan again.”

Everyone in the room listened intently with a serious expression upon their faces – except Laguna and that girl with the yellow dress who were always smiling.

“First, enter Lunatic Pandora and rescue Ellone!  Next, you fight Sorceress Adel! It'll be a surprise attack. Show no mercy.  Now, here comes the tricky part!  Adel will need to pass on her powers before being defeated. Rinoa, will you be willing to accept them?"

"Yes!" replied the brunette female that always seemed to be by Squall’s side.  Her back was always facing Tidus but there was something about her….

She seemed familiar.

"Good!" Laguna said, shooting a smile at Rinoa, "Next, we wait for Sorceress Ultimacia to possess Rinoa!  This'll be hard on you, Rinoa, but will you do it?"

"...Yes." said the girl after a long pause.  Squall took a step closer to her and Tidus smiled to himself.  Maybe this Squall guy and he had more in common then he thought.  Both of them had to risk losing the women they love to stop evil.  Granted, the evil Squall was trying to stop didn’t really exist, but they didn’t know that.

"That's the spirit!" Laguna said, jovially, "Then, Ellone sends Rinoa and Ultimacia to the past!  Ellone brings back Rinoa!  Then, head to the future through compressed time!"

“Compressed time?” Tidus asked incredulously, “What is that?!”

Laguna narrowed his eyes at him and continued, "Ultimacia lives far in the future where none of us can technically exist.”

Tidus smiled a little.  It sounded like his experience in Spira the first time.  He couldn’t technically exist there, but he did. 

“There's only one way to make yourself exist in a world like that!  As friends, don't forget one another! As friends, believe in one another!  Believe in your friends' existence! And they'll also believe in yours.  To be friends, to like one another, and to love one another…You can't do these things alone. You need somebody. Right, guys?"

Everyone nodded and Laguna continued, “What place reminds you of your friends?  Imagine being in that place with all your friends.  Once time compression begins, think of that place and try to get there! That's all!  That place will welcome you. You'll be able to get there no matter what period you're in!  You need love and friendship for this mission! And the courage to believe it.  It's all about love, friendship, and courage!  I'm counting on you guys!"

Everyone except Squall and Laguna left and Tidus didn’t know whether to do the same.  He hung back by the door and watched the interaction between the two men.  Squall looked a lot like Tidus’ aunt, Raine. 

"Love and friendship and all that sounds corny, but everyone seems to be up for it." Said Squall.

"You think it'll succeed?" asked Laguna.

"We'll try." Replied the stoic teenager.

---------------------------

“Is it hot out here?” asked Yuna, fanning herself with her hand. 

“No,” Paine replied, “In fact, it’s a little chilly.”

Yuna wasn’t surprised by Paine’s response.  It was almost November, after all.  But why was she so warm?  Ever since the trio had arrived at the reconstruction site and she had said her hellos to Gippal, she’d been warm.  Was she coming down with a fever?

“Pah!” scoffed Rikku, bringing Yuna back to her senses.  Her cousin was still in an angry fit with Gippal and hadn’t even spoken to him when they had arrived.  And he hadn’t to her either, “Look at him.  He’s such an idiot.  Strutting around like he’s Yevon’s gift to women!”

“He is attractive, Rikku.” Paine admitted with a shrug.

Yuna tentatively raised her eyes to gaze across the road at Gippal.  He was working hard with his fellow Al Bhed’s with the heat of the sun beating down upon his naked torso – his shirt tossed to the side and forgotten.

Yuna suddenly realized the source of her warmth as she felt the heat in her cheeks rise again at the sight of Gippal’s long and muscular torso.  His sweat from the sun beaded across his skin and glistened in the lowering light.  No matter how she tried, Yuna couldn’t force herself to look away.  She wanted to, desperately, but her eyes seemed stuck on his flexing muscles as he continued to work the sledgehammer he held tightly.  She felt like she was cheating on Tidus and her cousin at the same time.  She felt terrible and bad and…

“Definitely attractive…” she murmured in response to Paine. 

 “Eh…he’s cute all right, but I’m so over that.” Said Rikku, and for some reason, Yuna was glad to hear it.

---------------------

The Ragnarok had a definite draft, but Tidus figured that everybody else was more concerned with defeating this Ultimacia person then that so he kept his mouth shut.  Each and every person aboard the ship seemed to have someone to lean on. 

Irvine and Selphie…

Zell and Quistis…

Laguna, Kiros, and Ward….

Squall and Rinoa…

Rinoa…

He hadn’t been able to stop watching the beautiful girl in the blue duster since they had boarded the ship.  There was something about her.  He knew that he knew her.  But from where? 

Maybe she was a blitzball fan?  She might have been one of his lady fans that threw their panties at him after games, although she definitely didn’t seem like that type.   No…he knew her from something more recent.  He’d seen those chocolate eyes before.  He’d seen her smile and the curve of her face. 

She turned slightly toward Squall and the sunlight from the window reflected off of her necklace, blinding Tidus for a moment. 

"That's a Guado, right?"

He stopped breathing for a minute.  A memory, faint as it was, began forming in the back of his mind.  That wasn’t the first time her necklace had blinded him…


"Who could it be?"


"Isn't that... Maester Seymour?"

When Seymour had gotten off of the boat surrounded by his followers, it hadn’t been just Mika that had caught Tidus’ attention that day.  There had been a woman, following quietly behind the two men that he had noticed as well.  Her necklace had reflected the sunlight and she had caught Tidus’ attention for just a moment.  Her beauty stunned him even then, but before he could ask anyone who the girl was, Mika and Seymour had regained his attentions.


"People of Spira, I thank you for your generous welcome.  Rise, Maester Seymour.  And all of you as well.  I present to you...the son of Maester Jyscal Guado, who departed for the Farplane a fortnight past.  As some of you already know, he has been officially ordained a Maester of Yevon."

"I am Seymour Guado. I am honored to receive the title of Maester.  In life, my father Jyscal worked to foster friendship between man and Guado.  I vow to carry on his legacy, and to fulfill my duties as Maester to the best of my abilities."

Rinoa Heartilly looked at Tidus then, smiling slightly, “Are you okay?” she asked him, “You look like you’ve just seen a ghost.”

“I…I’m fine.” Tidus stammered as he quickly averted his eyes.  How was this girl in the dream world?  Wasn’t she in Spira?  But…if she managed to be in both then that meant…

There was a way for him to go home.

Author’s Notes:  Okay folks, some brain growing in this chapter.  No Tidus but there is some Rikku/Gippal and Yuna/Gippal interaction that will become much spicier in the next couple of chapters so stay tuned!

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

Chapter Eight: Only The Dead Appear In The Farplane

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

Early the next morning, Rikku awoke to a muffled curse that was coming from just outside of the crew quarters.  Flinging a robe over her Chocobo nightgown, Rikku padded softly down the stairs so as not to wake her friends.  As she opened the door, her eyes were greeted with Gippal, hunched over in pain as he rubbed his foot, still cursing under his breath. 

“What happened to you?” she asked, closing the door quietly.

He looked up at her, his jaw tensing visibly.  It was obvious he was still angry with her and it only made her angrier with him.  He snorted, “I stubbed my toe on that damned door-jam you have sitting out here.” He said, pointing violently toward the tiny metal Chocobo that served as a way to keep the crew quarters door opened during the day.

“What did you go and do that for?” she sneered, trying to keep her angry hiss down so as not to wake her friends.

“It’s not like I did it on purpose!” he hissed back at her, glancing down at her nightgown, “Steal those from Shinra?” he asked her.

She scoffed, “I really doubt that Shinra wears nightgowns, you idiot!”

“Maybe not,” Gippal conceded, “but I also doubt that he’d be caught dead in a Chocobo nightie and he is more age appropriate for it.”

“And what is that supposed to mean?”

Gippal sighed and shook his head, “When are you going to grow up, Rikku?” he asked her with a frown, “No man in his right mind is going to want to baby-sit you for the rest of their lives.  Especially not me.”

Her fury rose as she watched him wander down toward the elevator.  Balling her fists at her side, Rikku shrieked, “I don’t want you to!!”

Her voice echoed along the walls of the thin corridor as Gippal’s face disappeared behind the closing elevator doors.  She cursed to herself.  She hated that he could get her so angry.  She was sure she had woken her friends up – and became certain when she heard footsteps from inside the room. 

Sighing, she let herself back into the crew quarters and let the door slam shut behind her, “Sorry guys…” she said to Yuna and Paine as the duo came down the stairs. 

“I needed to get up anyway.” Yuna admitted with a yawn as she worked on buttoning her shirt as she came down, “I have to meet Nooj today.  We’re going to speak with Praetoress Rinoa.”  Yuna hugged her cousin and smiled, “I’ll see you when I get back.”

“I’m actually going out later so I might not be back tonight.” She smiled at Yuna’s questioning gaze, “There is just something I have to take care of.” She said, mysteriously.

“Okay…” Yuna murmured, not entirely convinced that her cousin wasn’t up to something bad.  Grabbing her guns on her way out, Yuna said, “See you later.”

“Watch out on the bridge…” Rikku warned, “Gippal the Idiot is in there.”

Rikku thought for second she saw her cousin blush but she left the room before Rikku could be sure.

----------------

His broad shoulders were the first thing that caught her attention.  As her eyes wandered downward along his back, Yuna wondered how Rikku could bring herself to stay angry at him. 

The entire night she had been plagued by a gnawing feeling of guilt that was boiling in her stomach and threatening to eat her alive.  Her heart belonged to Tidus and always would, but she was becoming increasingly aware of the long and cold nights that lay ahead of her without him.  She missed the feeling of a living, breathing, hard –bodied man lying next to her – and on top of her. 

But this was Gippal!  He was Rikku’s boyfriend…well, sort of.  She had to stop this sudden lust she felt deep within herself.  Just because he looked nice in a pair of slacks and his muscular torso filled out that shirt didn’t mean…

Oh, who was she kidding?  Just the thought of that tight body made her knees quiver.  She had felt it even before Tidus had come back.  When she had first met Gippal that day at Djose Temple he had managed to make her knees quake.  She had attributed it to her nerves then, and to varying degrees since, but deep inside of her she knew it wasn’t nerves.

“Oh, hey Yuna.” Said Gippal as he turned slightly to see who had entered the bridge behind him.  He smiled at her and motioned toward the window, “Nice day, huh?  We should get a lot accomplished with the rebuilding today.”

Yuna nodded and rung her hands behind her back, trying to quiet her growing nerves, “Yeah.” She replied quietly.  She took a few steps toward him in an attempt to feign nonchalance, “You’re up early.”

“I wanted to get an early start today.” He said, “We’ve made some progress but not as much as I’d like.  I want to have the stadium up and running in another month or so.”

Yuna gazed out at the remnants of the blitzball stadium to which the Al Bhed beside her was referring.  With the help of an army of Al Bhed with their Machina, as well as Nooj and his Youth League followers, the stadium was about halfway complete in a short amount of time.  However, she wasn’t sure if it could be completed in another month.  There was still quite a bit left to do.  She looked up at his profile and noted with some surprise that the expression upon his face made him resemble Tidus more than she had realized.  She knew she had thought he was Tidus during her brief moments of delirium when he had brought her back from the brink of death, but she hadn’t realized that there was a reason behind it. 

“Is something bothering you, Yuna?” Gippal asked her.

She jumped a little at the realization that he had put a hand on her shoulder and she backed away a bit, “N…no,” she stammered, “I just was wondering where Nooj was.  He’s supposed to pick me up.”

“Going to meet the Praetoress?”

Yuna nodded, “She apparently has wanted to meet me.” Shrugging, Yuna said, “I guess she’s anxious to talk to the person who saved the world what…three times already?”

Gippal laughed, “You’ve been busy!” he said, stopping for a moment to point out the window, “Here comes Nooj.”

“Oh yeah,” said Yuna, “Guess I’d better get going.” She stopped and looked at Gippal, smiling a little, “Nice talking to you.”

“Nice talking to you too, Yuna.”  Said Gippal, “See ya later!”

-----------------------

Rikku was thankful she managed to sneak out of the Celsius without having another encounter with Gippal.  She didn’t want to deal with him at the moment.  Things between them had snowballed and she wasn’t sure if they were ever going to be okay again, but at that particular moment she didn’t have time to worry about it.

She had made arrangements with her father to borrow one of the smaller Al Bhed airships for the short trip she felt it necessary to take today.  Something had been nagging at her since Tidus’ death and the young woman decided to return to the scene in the hopes of discovering something that would explain this strange feeling she was having that something wasn’t quite right.

There was still quite a bit of debris in the Chamber of the Fayth when she arrived, taking a few tentative steps into what was once the most sacred of places.  The monkeys made it their home now, but Rikku still felt a chill in the air as she entered, almost as if all the souls of the departed haunted its walls. 

It seemed to happen in slow motion.  Rikku saw their fingers grazed each other as the earth cracked between them and flames shot up around him, forcing Yuna backward to tumble head over heels.  Rikku could hear his cry get fainter and fainter until it died out and, just as quickly as it happened, the earth stopped moving and the flames vanished leaving silence in their wake. 

Yuna scrambled to her feet and made her way over the remaining rocks and boulders that had fallen to where Tidus was last standing.  She scrambled on all fours around the area, searching desperately for him.

“Tidus!” Yuna shrieked as she saw sword lying under a pile of rocks and boulders that had formed behind where she’d last seen him.  She pulled and tugged at the rocks and boulders, oblivious to the pain as each ripped at the delicate skin on her hands. 

“Hold on, Tidus!” Rikku cried as she in turn joined Yuna, followed by the others – except Gippal, all digging frantically through the rubble to reach him. 

Gippal wandered over to the only fire still burning, a small bonfire ignited at the center of the chamber.  His eyes caught on something fanning those crisp, clean flames and he felt vomit forming in the pit of his stomach, “He’s not over there.” He managed to mutter.

Yuna turned and stared at Gippal, “What are you talking about?  How do you know that?”

He pointed a shaking finger at what had caught his attention; a pair of sneakers – Tidus’s sneakers, some cloth from his clothes, and his Zanarkand Abe’s necklace that he never went without.  Each glowed brightly in the flames as Yuna stared, her hands shaking at her sides.  She took a cautious step closer to the flames and as she did an explosion rocked the chamber again and the flames burned higher and brighter then before, practically destroying the shoes and cloth before Yuna truly had a chance to realize that they were, indeed, Tidus’. 

“Yunie…” Rikku began but Yuna violently threw her cousin’s tender hand off of her shoulder and made a mad dash toward the flames.

“TIDUS!!!!!!!!!!!”

Rikku trembled and shoved the memory from her mind.  Hearing the pain in her cousin’s voice was something Rikku didn’t want to remember, but she hadn’t been able to shake the feeling that there was more to this than they had seen.  Everything seemed far too convenient for it to have just been a coincidence, but if it had been planned then why?  Why would Shuyin plan for Tidus’ death?  It would have meant his death as well!  It just didn’t make any sense.

Dropping to her knees, Rikku bent to examine the floor that surrounded her from which the flames had shot up.  Something just wasn’t right.  Her fingers gently caressed the cracks and ridges of the stones and she bent until her nose was practically implanted on the ground.

“Hello Rikku.  It’s been a long time.”

Rikku jumped up and screamed, spinning frantically to see who was behind her.  Her jaw dropped as her sight focused on the familiar form of Tidus’ advisor and the former guardian to Lord Braska.

“Auron!” Rikku cried, excitedly jumping up and down, “What are you doing here?  Shouldn’t you be in the Farplane?”

Auron shrugged, “I heard something happened here and came to check it out for myself.  Do you know what it was?”

Rikku looked at the apparition before her and more confusing thoughts entered her mind.  The one question, though, that plagued her most was…

Wouldn’t Auron know Tidus was dead?

“Rikku…?”

Shaken from her thoughts, Rikku replied, “Tidus died here, Auron.  I thought you’d know that.”

It was the apparition’s turn to appear bemused.  During the entire pilgrimage, Auron hadn’t shown much emotion, but if there was the slightest sentiment on his face it was that of confusion, “What are you talking about, Rikku?  Tidus was given a second chance several months ago.  I thought - we all thought – he was with Yuna.”

“You mean…you haven’t seen him in the Farplane?”

“No.”

Rikku felt a sudden surge of excitement flow through her.  If Tidus wasn’t in the Farplane, then maybe…

“I’ve gotta go, Auron!” she called to him as she made her way quickly passed him, “See you later!” she cried over her shoulder, but the apparition had already faded as quickly as he had appeared.  Fairly flying out of the Chamber of the Fayth, Rikku made her way back to the airship with the intent of going directly to Guadosalam.  The Farplane held the answer she was seeking as to whether Tidus was alive or dead and she knew just how to find out.  She’d call him there and see if he came to her. 

“Only the dead appear in the Farplane…” she whispered to herself, “So please don’t be there, Tidus….for Yunie.”

Author’s Notes:  No Tidus again in this chapter (except in flashbacks so SPOILERS FOR FINAL FANTASY X will be around), but he’ll be in the next one.  Do enjoy the twist at the end of this chapter.  There will be another one in chapter 10. 

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

Chapter Nine: The Praetoress, the Farplane, and a Beet Red Summoner

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

“Kome in…” came the new Praetoress’ soft voice, accenting hard “c” sounds from the darkened entranceway as Yuna and Nooj walked slowly and cautiously inside.  Yuna couldn’t fight the uneasy feeling that was bubbling up in her stomach at the thought of meeting this woman.  The stories she had heard about her strange behavior was enough to make even the former Summoner uneasy.

Rinoa’s shadowy figure appeared to Yuna’s right and she had to force herself to not reach for her guns in an act of self defense.  Yuna nodded politely toward the woman, “Hello Praetoress Rinoa.  It’s a pleasure to meet you.  My name is…”

“Yuna…” Rinoa said in a voice barely above a whisper, “I am aware of who you are, my dear.”  She walked ever closer to Yuna, but still remained hidden in shadow, “I, however, would prefer you kall me Ultimacia.  I’m sure your male kompanion informed you of this.”

Yuna took an unconscious step backward, slamming into Nooj’s chest and smiling up at him apologetically.  She turned back to Rinoa, “I am sorry, my lady.  I forgot.”

“It’s quite all right.” Rinoa said.  The shadow of her slim figure nodded curtly toward Nooj, “If you wouldn’t mind, I’d like to have a quiet konversation alone with the summoner.”

“I…” Nooj began, but then appeared to think better of it.  Nodding his agreement, he said to Yuna, “I’ll be waiting for you on the boat.” 

“Okay,” Yuna said, wishing that Nooj wasn’t going to leave.  Although the ship the duo had arrived on was docked very close, Yuna couldn’t help but fear that it wouldn’t be close enough.

When the man had left their presence, silence permeated between the two women until Rinoa spoke, “You seem unkomfortable, dear.  Why is that?”

“I’m sorry, Lady Ultimacia, it is just that I am uncomfortable with the fact that I have yet to see your face.”

The shadow nodded, “I understand that.  Allow me to turn the light on.”  A shadowy hand reached toward a table and with two sharp clicks, light illuminated the small room the two women were in. 

The first thing that struck the former summoner was the youthfulness of the face that stared back at her.  She found it hard to believe that she was 1000 years old like most people suspected.  Her hair was still black and had a healthy sheen to it.  She wore it pulled back sharply in a tight braid that hung to the small of her back.  Her small, pert nose contrasted sharply with the rounded features of the rest of her face and her brown eyes seemed to wait for some reaction from the woman who was perusing her features so carefully. 

“Do you recognize me, Mrs. Guado?”

Yuna gasped and took a step back.  Recognition dawned upon her as sure as if she had been struck by lightening.  It seemed ages ago when she had first set her eyes upon Seymour Guado and his posse of followers that day in Luca.  She barely remembered the lovely female that had followed behind the pack, but she did now.

“You worked for Seymour!” Yuna choked, taking another step back and putting her hands on the butts of her pistols, “What do you want from me?”

“I think we kan help each other, my dear.” Rinoa said, calmly, “No need for firearms.”

Slowly, Yuna loosened her grip on her weapons and gradually allowed her arms to drop to her sides.  Fixing an uneasy stare on the female before her, Yuna whispered, “How do you figure that?”

“We both know what it feels like to lose the one we love.” Rinoa began.

“I didn’t love Seymour!”

Rinoa nodded, “But the one kalled Tidus…he has your heart.”  Yuna nodded her agreement, not entirely shocked that the woman knew this.  Everyone knew of her love for Tidus and their sacrifices for each other.  Still skeptical, but nonetheless interested, Yuna allowed the woman to continue, “I know how to get your love back.”

The words seemed to echo in Yuna’s brain before taking shape and becoming a coherent thought.  How was that possible?  The woman was a sorceress, but was she powerful enough to bring someone back from the dead who never really existed in the first place?

As if sensing her questions, Rinoa continued, “The one you love is in limbo between this world and the next.  He is not dead, but he is not alive either.”

“What do you mean?”

A smirk formed on Rinoa’s face, “Have you heard of a place kalled the dream world?”

Dream Zanarkand was the first place that flew to her mind and Yuna took a step back from the woman again.  Her eyes narrowed to a glare, “What kind of fool do you take me for?” she fairly wailed, “Dream Zanarkand or the ‘dream world’ as you call it, is gone!  The Fayth stopped dreaming and everything faded away!” 

“They had stopped, ruining my plans, until a certain blonde haired youth convinced them to dream again, for a time frame of three months.”  Rinoa paused, scratching her chin as if thinking of something before she said, “His name was Shuyin…”

Yuna blinked back the tears that threatened to flow.  How dare this woman throw around public knowledge and twist it to give her false hope.  Yuna glared at the woman and hissed between clenched teeth, “I don’t know what kind of game you are playing, but you’re wrong.  I saw him die so there is no way what you say is true.  None!”

“Are you so certain of that?”

She was certain.  She was positive.  Right…?  Yuna swallowed hard, trying to fight the sudden surge of hopefulness that was forming.  She couldn’t bear to have her hopes dashed again.  He had died – burned to death – right in front of her…right?  She had heard his screams of terror as they faded into oblivion.

Faded??

His screams did seem to fade away as if he was getting further away from her.  Wouldn’t they have – shouldn’t they have just quieted? 

Shaking her head violently, Yuna reached for her pistols, bringing them upward to ward off her counterpart, “You lying bitch!  I don’t believe you!”

Rinoa simply smiled, “When you kome to realize that I am telling the truth, then we kan talk about how you kan help me in return for Tidus’ safe return.  Though, not too late, I hope.  I am working on a time constraint.” Her wrist flicked quickly and the lights disappeared from the room, “Good day, dear Yuna.”  Her voice said as the shadowy figure disappeared.

---------------------------------

The Farplane was much like Rikku remembered it from her last visit several months before with Gippal.  However, this time Baralai’s ghostly presence didn’t join her.  She made a concerted effort not to call forth any entities until she was completely prepared for them. 

Fear trickled down her spine as she stood quietly in the middle of the Farplane.  Although she had gotten over her Al Bhed fear of the place, Rikku still didn’t like it.  She still firmly believed in the old Al Bhed motto.  The one she had told Tidus that day which seemed so long ago.

"You're not really going to see the dead, more like your memories of them.  People think of their relatives and the Pyreflies react to them.  They take on the form of the dead person--an illusion, nothing else."

"Hmm..."

 "Well, have fun!"

"What, you're not going either, Rikku?"

"I keep my memories inside."

"Huh?"

"Memories are nice, but that's all they are."

Rikku glanced around the Farplane furtively.  She had thought of Tidus and he hadn’t appeared.  Thinking that it was just a fluke and wanting to further investigate, Rikku closed her eyes.

"It's 'cause you eat too fast!"

"Hey!  Hello there. What is your name?"

"Rikku."

"Whoa! You really do understand! Why didn't you say so earlier?"
 
"I didn't get a chance to!  Everyone thought oui were a fiend."
 
"Uh..."we"?"
 
"Oh, "oui" means "you"."

Rikku opened one eye slightly, then another eye.  There was still nothing and hope filled her chest.  However, she felt it necessary to try just once more.  For all she knew Tidus might have been busy and was taking a little time getting to the Farplane to visit her.

"Rikku! You're Rikku!  Hey! You're okay! How you been?"
 
"Terrible!"
 
"Yeah, you don't look so good. What happened?"
 
"You beat me up, remember?"
 
"Oh! That machina... That was you?"
 
"That really hurt, you know. You big meanie!"
 

"W-Wait! But you attacked us!"
 
"Nah-uh. It's not exactly what you think."

When Tidus didn’t appear or the third time in a row, Rikku felt jubilant.  Crying out her thanks to whoever might be listening, she bounded toward the exit of the Farplane.  Armed with the knowledge that Tidus was alive somewhere, Rikku was going to immediately report to her cousin.  YRP would rise again and search for a certain blonde haired man that had the worst tendency to die – but not really be dead - repeatedly.

-----------------------

Yuna was tense and annoyed when she returned to the Celsius.  Nooj had dropped her off and hadn’t asked about her visit.  She assumed that he could tell by her sour mood that it wasn’t a positive experience.

What angered Yuna the most was the fact that the woman had instilled in her a hope that Tidus was alive somewhere even though she knew it wasn’t true. 

Storming angrily toward the crew quarters, Yuna thrust open the dresser and grabbed a towel, deciding that a hot shower would ease her aching and tense muscles.  It barely registered with her that the light to the closest bathroom was on until Yuna had already opened the door. 

Gippal had just stepped out of the shower, his body still glistening from the water he hadn’t had the chance to dry off.  He hadn’t had a chance to reach for a towel to cover himself before Yuna stood gaping in front of him.


"Damn it, Yuna!" he cried, grabbing frantically at the towel closet to him and pulling it tightly about his waist, “Why didn’t you…?” but Yuna didn’t stick around for the end of that sentence.  Just as quickly as she had entered, Yuna ran from the room trying to push the sight of Gippal’s naked body from her mind.

How could Rikku stay angry with him…?

She felt her face flush crimson as she reached her bed in the crew quarters and stopped.  She was mortified beyond believe and it wasn’t even her fault.  It was not like she had intended on seeing him like that! It was a pure coincidence that she wanted to shower too.  She didn’t realize he was already in there.  He should have been working in Zanarkand until dusk like he had the day before.


"So... did you like the view?” Gippal asked as Yuna heard the door to the bathroom shut behind her.  Tentatively she turned and was relieved to see that he had dressed before coming out.   

"I... I didn’t mean to! I ...I didn't know someone was already there!" She tried to explain.

Gippal chuckled, “Don’t worry about it, Yuna.  Its not like you’ve never seen a naked guy and it’s not like you’re the first girl to see me naked.” He scratched his head and shrugged, “It’s actually kinda funny when you think about it.  Don’t you agree?”

“If you say so,” Yuna said, still blushing feverishly, “but I’m really embarrassed by the whole thing.”

“Why?” Gippal asked her, stepping closer to her until his face was inches from her own, “Did you see something you liked?”

Before Yuna could react, Gippal’s lips pressed against hers in more than just a chaste kiss between friends.  Swept up in it, Yuna lifted her hands to his hair, running her long fingers through his silky locks.  Her mouth opened slightly, allowing him entrance.  His tongue played with hers, daring her to attempt to take control.  Yuna pressed her body against his and made the kiss more aggressive.

Gippal placed his hands on her hips and pulled her closer to him, making her fully aware of his arousal.  Gippal’s right arm snaked around her waist to keep her pressed against him as he abandoned her mouth to move hot kisses down her neck. 

In one swift motion, Gippal swept Yuna up into his arms and lay her down upon the bed, crawling slowly over her body until he lay over her, lust evident in his eyes.  With her help, Gippal quickly doffed the clothes he had so briefly been wearing before turning his attentions toward her clothing.

“This needs to come off…” Gippal whispered, hoarsely as his hands made slow and languid work of her clothing.  He seemed bent on torturing Yuna with his slow movements and grinned as the girl beneath him squirmed in an attempt to make him move faster.

With clothes discarded, Gippal moved to seal the joining of their bodies getting a moan of approval from his female companion.  Her nails raked his back gently, causing the man to whisper softly, “Yuna…”

“Yuna…”

“Yuna…?”

Yuna snapped back to reality to find herself standing in the crews quarters with a confused Gippal staring at her.  The blonde lifted an eyebrow in confusion, “Did you hear what I asked you?  I asked if you agreed that what happened a second ago was funny.”

“Uh…umm…yeah…ye…yeah, sure.” Yuna stammered, spinning on her heels and running from the room leaving a very confused Gippal behind.

Author’s Notes:  Yuna uses direct lyrics from Evanescence’s song, “My Immortal” in this chapter.  I don’t own that song (although I wish I did because it’s my favorite!).  Tidus is in this chapter too so there will be more FF8 direct dialog so beware of spoilers. 

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

Chapter Ten: Startling Revelations

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

Tidus felt much like he had in Spira when he was swept up in something he didn’t understand and was just going with the flow.  He didn’t understand how Rinoa could have been in both dream Zanarkand and Spira.  He didn’t understand who this Ultimacia person was or how she came from the future when dream Zanarkand had no future.  He didn’t even understand how dream Zanarkand came back into existence in the first place.  What he did understand, though, was that there was definitely a way out of his current prison and he was just going to follow everybody else until he figured out what to do.

Sighing and stretching his legs, he noticed with distain that Squall had taken that opportunity to sit down next to him.  The blue eyed leader of the gang of teenagers with whom Tidus found himself unwillingly attached looked at him, “Don’t get in our way when the time comes.”

Tidus sneered, “Time comes for what?  For you to learn some manners?”

“In my line of work, manners are a liability.” Squall replied, letting his eyes wander toward Rinoa who was standing in the far corner talking to Selphie, “So are emotions…” he whispered so low that Tidus almost didn’t catch it.

Tidus felt sorry for Squall in that instant.  He definitely knew where the solemn 17 year old was coming from.  Tidus had felt that same fear and uncertainty when he thought Yuna was going to die.  With a sigh, Tidus asked, “What would you do if something happened to her?”

Squall’s eyes flashed and he growled low in his breath, “I’d kill whoever was responsible.”

“I feel the same way…” Tidus whispered.

“About that Yuna person?” Squall questioned, cocking an eyebrow, “Does she really exist?”

“Yes.”

Tidus smiled, “She’s absolutely amazing.  The most beautiful creature I’ve ever laid eyes on and she’s got a fantastic personality to go with it.”

“Do you think you’ll ever see her again?” Squall asked, before clearing his throat and amending, “N…not that I believe you or anything…”

Tidus tried to hide a grin that threatened his features.  Maybe this Squall guy wasn’t so bad.  It was pretty obvious to Tidus that he believed him.  Maybe Squall could be trusted…

“Yeah,” Tidus said, “I think so.”

“What do you think she’s doing now?”

Tidus shrugged, “I don’t know…”

“You don’t think…” Squall muttered, “…that she’s with another guy or something?”

That thought hadn’t occurred to Tidus.  If Yuna thought he was dead, she might have begun to move on already.  Although, she hadn’t moved on while he was missing for two years.  But then again, maybe after waiting for two years, this extra month felt like agony to her.  Maybe she didn’t want to wait for him and pine over him.

Did he really want her to be in pain?

“We’re here!” Selphie chirped.

"Here we go! Let's bust in there!" Zell cried.  The martial artist always showed too much enthusiasm for Tidus’ liking.  Although he seemed like a nice guy, his loud and obnoxious ways got on Tidus’ nerves. 

Squall rose from his seat and gave Tidus a half smile, “Nice talking to you.”

The ever lovely Quistis muttered, "I wonder if we can get through."

"Ahh, don't worry about it." Said the cowboy, Irvine.

"Are the machine guns and main cannon ready?" Quistis questioned.  Tidus noticed that compared to everyone else, Quistis was the one who always seemed 100% prepared for anything that might happen.

"Rrready!" said Selphie, "Let's just fire like crazy and make a big hole, BOOM!"

Tidus held onto his seat tightly as the Ragnarok rose, firing its machine guns rapidly.  The Lunatic Pandora stood in front of them and it appeared as though they were going to crash into it.  Tidus squinted his eyes in fear as the spaceship rose in the air, shooting at the shields of the Pandora.  Ripples appeared in the shield surrounding the huge building until the Ragnarok plunged into the shields and was repelled backward.

"Shields!" Irvine cried.

Selphie yipped excitedly, "WHOO-HOOOO!!!"

The nose of the Ragnarok pushed through the shielding.  Selphie continued to pummel the Pandora with gunfire until holes started to tear through the outside.  A flash of light caught Tidus’ attention as Selphie shot a laser beam into it.  A hole large enough for the Ragnarok to fit into appeared and Selphie quickly flew the ship inside, landing – rather bumpily – amidst the mess.

"We sure made a huge mess." Irvine said, noting the disaster their less than quiet entrance had left.

Quistis shrugged, "Let's go."

--------------------------

Yuna had fled the confines of the crew’s quarters and rushed out into Zanarkand, tears streaming down her face.  She felt like she was going crazy.  The wind whipped her hair as she stopped on the hill that overlooked the ocean.  It was the last moment she spent with Tidus before Shuyin began to mess with their lives.

“I got a theory. I think the Fayth gathered up my thoughts and put 'em together to bring me back. Maybe. Something like that.  Or maybe…I’m still a dream.”

 “Wait!  So you’ll disappear?”

“Cherish me, Yuna.  And I’ll cherish you.  All right?  We gotta stay together.  That’s what we have to do.” 

“Is that what the Fayth told you?”

“Nah, but I like it.”

She wiped a stray tear from her cheek and sighed, letting herself sit down and dangle her long legs over the side of the hill, “If you have to leave, I wish that you would just leave. Your presence still lingers here and it won't leave me alone.” She whispered to no one in particular and yet to Tidus completely. 

Yuna ran a finger along the symbol for the Zanarkand Abes which ran between her breasts, “Tidus…” she breathed, “you used to captivate me by your resonating life.  Now I'm bound by the life you left behind.  Your face haunts my once pleasant dreams.  Your voice chased away all the sanity in me.”

That was what was happening to her.  She was going insane.  She missed him so much and yet she couldn’t seem to get this sudden infatuation with Gippal out of her system.  Maybe it was because Gippal reminded her of Tidus in some ways.  Maybe it was because she just missed a man in her life.  “I've tried so hard to tell myself that you're gone…” she whispered, “but though you're still with me, I've been alone all along.”

Yuna heard his footsteps before he had intended to make his presence known to her.  Gippal approached her cautiously.  He understood why she would have been embarrassed about walking in on him, but he didn’t get why it was getting her so upset.

“Yuna…”

“I’m sorry for running away.” Yuna whispered without turning to face her company, “I just needed to get away for a minute.”

Gippal shrugged although the female in front of him hadn’t turned around to see it, “That’s okay.” He said to her, “I just hope you aren’t too embarrassed about the whole ‘seeing me naked’ thing.  It’s really not that big a deal.”

Yuna turned her head as Gippal took a step nearer and, grinning a little sheepishly, stood a mere foot behind her. The bright sun shone on his familiar blonde locks and Yuna felt her heart beat faster. 

“Gippal…” she whispered.  Impulsively throwing her arms around his neck, Yuna hugged him close to her.  She felt tears welling up behind her tightly shut eyelids. Gippal’s arms circled her, pulling her closer, and gripping her in as if afraid she’d disappear.

”Gippal…” she repeated softly, burying her face in his neck. Her heart was hammering as her tears spilled from her eyes and onto the shoulder of his shirt.  She didn’t understand her feelings for the man she now held close to her.  She loved Tidus with all her heart, but could not help hating him for leaving her alone in Spira with no one to depend on.  She couldn’t help but wonder if the roles were reversed, what Tidus would do in a similar situation.

“Yuna,” Gippal mumbled, his voice sounding parched, “Are you okay?  You’re acting really strangely.”

“It’s nothing…” Yuna said, pulling away to look into his face.  His bright green eye watched her closely as if searching for a sign she was going to have a nervous breakdown in front of him.  She studied his innately masculine face before her eyes went to the patch he always wore, “What happened to your eye?” she asked him.

Gippal released her waist and scratched his head as if afraid to answer her question.  He was afraid to a degree.  He knew that Yuna wouldn’t use the knowledge against him, but he didn’t want to risk the other Al Bhed finding out.  However, as he looked into Yuna’s duel colored eyes, he replied with a bite of his lip, “My eye is fine.”

His female companion looked instantly confused, “Its fine?” she repeated, dumbly, “Then…why do you…?”

“Why do I wear the patch?” he finished her question.  Yuna nodded.  Gippal said, “The Al Bhed like to spout a lot of shit about equality and whatnot when the Yevonites were dismissing us like we were garbage, but we do our fair share of hating too.”  He groaned and turned his back to her, staring out the window, “If you had grown up with the Al Bhed, you would have been ignore and horribly mistreated because you have the blood of a Yevonite in you.”

“But what does that have to do with the patch you wear…?” Yuna asked, although the answer was beginning to form in the fog of her mind.

From her perch behind Gippal, she saw him lift the patch covering his eye slowly, letting it drop to the floor as if with some great effort.  With the slow shuffle of feet, Gippal turned to face her with his eyes on her.  One green…one brown.

--------------------------

"Big sound, this way. It's probably them, ya know?"

"THEM? NO, IMPOSSIBLE."

The teens that Tidus had followed seemed to recognize the voices that were coming from just outside of their Ragnarok parking place.  He followed them, wishing he had his sword with him as he noted that everyone else gripped a weapon firmly in their hands. 

"Ahhhhhh! It IS Squall, ya know!?" shouted a buff black man who was wielding a giant stick which looked like a thick tree branch.

"SHOCK." Said his gray haired companion who instantly reminded Tidus of Yuna’s friend Paine, "GOOD. CONVENIENT."

"That's right. Hand over Rinoa, ya know!?" demanded the black man.

"No! I'll never hand over Rinoa!" announced Squall, heroically, "And we're taking Ellone!  I won't let you resurrect Adel, either!!!"

"You're greedy, ya know! Not fair, ya know!?" said the black man, frowning at his inability to convince Squall to give up.  Tidus had to smile a bit in agreement with the man.  Squall was being rather greedy, although Tidus couldn’t say that if he was in the brunette’s shoes he would have done things any differently.  Tidus tended to want it all as well. 

“Excuse me,” Tidus whispered to Quistis who was directly in front of him, “Um…who are these guys?”

Quistis shot him a nasty look and hissed, “Raijin and Fujin.  They are working for the bad guys.  That’s all you need to know.”

"PERSUASION, USELESS. SEIZE." The Paine look-a-like ordered.

"She's right, ya know!? Let's go!"

Tidus fell behind like a frightened child as the group went after the evil duo with relish.  Clanking of metal and the glistening of sweat accompanied the battle.  Tidus wished he could join in, but without his sword he was useless to them. 

"See, just like I said, ya know?" Raijin panted, lifting his giant stick in the air to ward off one of Squall’s attacks.

His gray haired companion didn’t reply as she threw a spell of Aero at Rinoa, flipping the brunette’s hair all about and knocking her to the ground.  Tidus had never seen so much magic being thrown around by both parties.  Were they all black mages like Lulu?  Tidus knew that not all Zanarkand residents had the ability to use magic.  He certainly hadn’t.  What made these teens so different?

"Not bad, Squall!" Raijin complimented, "I see why you're Seifer's rival!"

"DECISION." Fujin said monotonously, "DESTROY. HELP, SEIFER."

As the battle raged around him, Tidus began to fear for his safe return.  What if he didn’t make it back to Yuna?  As spells and weapons clashed around him, he began to wonder if maybe Squall was right.  What if Yuna had moved on already? 

"I...I lost again, ya know..."

"CALLOUS..."

Voices and the lack of fighting commotion shook Tidus out of his thoughts as he watched the duo of enemies running like frightened animals, "RETREAT. TEMPORARY."

"R-R-Right! We're not through yet, ya know!"

----------------------------------------------

Yuna stared at Gippal with her mouth agape.  She found herself unable to form words as she stared at his duel-colored eyes, “H…H…how…?” she stammered.

He laughed a little to ease the discomfort of the situation, “The usual way, I suppose…”

“B...but…I thought you were…I thought you were an…Al Bhed.”

Gippal shrugged and leaned down to replace the patch over his eye, “I am an Al Bhed.” He replied, “At least, as much of an Al Bhed as you are.”

“Does Rikku know?  Or Cid?”

“No…” her blonde counterpart replied, “I would have been kicked out of Home for this.  That’s why I’ve worn this patch ever since I was a kid.” He grinned a little, “Everybody thinks I poked it out with a pencil when I was two.”

Yuna frowned and shuffled her feet, “Why did you let me in on your secret?  I’m the one that wanted to see you hanged for Baralai’s death more than anybody else.”

“You won’t use it against me,” he said in response, “I trust you.”

“So, which of your parents is the Yevonite?”

“My father.” Gippal replied, “My mother told me that he was an upstanding citizen in the Yevon order.”

Yuna bit her lip, “Do you know his name?”

“Lord Kaus…”

Yuna gasped and gaped at Gippal.  She lifted a hand to her mouth and then lowered it again before repeating the procedure.  Taking a deep swallow, she whispered, “That’s Baralai’s….”

“Baralai’s father, I know.” Gippal said with a nod.

“Then that means you and Baralai are…”

“Brothers…” Gippal said, “I know that too.”

“Did Baralai know?”

Gippal shook his head, “I didn’t know how to tell him.  He always thought his father was perfect and I didn’t want to destroy that.” Gippal shrugged, “I mean, the guy knocked my mother up with me when he was still married to Baralai’s mom.  That would have kinda blown the whole ‘perfect dad’ thing out of the water.”

“Yeah…” Yuna whispered.  This sudden revelation was almost as shocking as finding out that Shuyin had been masquerading as Tidus both in and out of bed with her.  She looked up at Gippal, “Do you wish you would have told him now?  Do you wish the two of you could have been brothers?”

“…Absolutely,” he replied quietly.

---------------------

AUTHOR’S NOTES:  Before I get questions, I just wanted to clarify that I double checked in the FFX-2 handbook.  Baralai was 20 and Gippal was 18 in the game so making the two of them brothers would definitely work.  That idea actually came to me while writing this chapter

Author’s Notes: This chapter is one I have been toying with for a while.  Its an idea that blossomed into something completely out of control and this chapter is the result.  I hope everyone enjoys it because its bound to get more dramatic and angsty later.

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

Chapter Eleven: Caught In The Act

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

"Why the heck do I have to take orders from some kid?" came a voice echoing from just past the sight of the most recent battle that Tidus had witnessed.

"Well, he is our superior..." came the reply.  Squall's face hardened as did everyone else's and Tidus made the only logical guess that he could.  This kid they were talking about must have been that teenager that they all hated.

Seifer…

"Don't you think I know that!?" snapped the first voice, "I chose the wrong career. Being ordered around by some punk..."

"Ha ha ha! That's pretty funny." Replied the second, "Then why don't you quit and find another career, sir?"

The teenagers crept a little closer until the men were in plain view.  The larger one seemed to consider the smaller one's suggestion until the little one laughed, "Ha ha ha! Just kidding, sir."

"You're right!!!" the big one bellowed, "You're absolutely right! I QUIT!!!"

The smaller one's mouth gaped and Tidus had to stifle a laugh.  It was pretty obvious that this wasn't the smaller one's intention.  The big man smacked him on the back good-naturedly, "Wedge, let's go home and have a drink."

"Oh...What!? cried Wedge, "Me, too?"

"Of course. Now, come on." The larger one's voice bridged no objections and the smaller frowned deeply

"But, but...what about our salary?" he murmured as he followed the larger man out toward what Tidus could only assume was an exit.

Tidus wanted to join them, but it wasn't in his future for the teenagers he was with proceeded to stalk quietly up the stairs the duo had just been guarding and into a long hallway that reminded Tidus of Macalania Temple.

Their silent footfalls seemed to echo loudly no matter how quietly they tried to move and Tidus gripped his belt loop nervously.  If only he had his sword then he could be of use to the group.  Squall, as if noticing his nervousness, dropped behind the group a bit, "You can draw some magic from me if you think it'll make you feel better."

"Draw?" Tidus repeated dumbly, "What's that?"

Rolling his eyes, Squall sighed, "Never mind.  Just stay out of the way then." And he quickly ran back to the head of the pack.  Tidus growled low.  Just when he thought Squall was going to be an okay guy, he turned back into a giant ass.

"We meet again, ya know!? We'll take you on, ya know!?"

"NOW, NO FIGHT, NEXT TIME."

"That's right! We have a surprise, ya know!"

Tidus didn't like the 'surprise' that the duo had planned for them as the teens met with their rivals.  He found reason for hating the 'surprise' when a giant robot dropped from the sky and appeared determined to destroy them.  Groaning in annoyance, Tidus dove out of the way and silently prayed he'd survive this latest battle.

---------------------------

The Celsius was quiet when Rikku returned.  Her jovial emotions simmering to a gentle happiness as she searched the ship for signs of her friends, "Paine?!" she called, "Yunie?!" and in something slightly higher than a whisper, "Gippal?"

Where was everyone?  She had returned with the hope of sharing the great news and celebrating the impending return of Tidus – hopefully for good this time.  She knew that Yuna was going to meet the Praetoress, but she figured that she would have been back by now.  Gippal was probably working out in Zanarkand.  Where Paine was, Rikku could only guess.

With a sigh and a frown, Rikku trudged back down onto the ground.  Her only hope of finding where at least one of her friends might be was to ask Gippal, so with a heavy heart she went to find him.

------------------------

Tidus hadn't seen Ellone since he had been transported to the dream world and even then it hadn't been for years.  She was still as pretty as he remembered her being although the feelings of the childhood crush that had plagued him so often had dissipated. He had longed, however, to see her again but in her current predicament Tidus began to wonder if his wish was granted with the most evil of repercussions.

Ellone was gripped heavy handedly by Raijin and Fujin while a tall blonde man with a scar matching Squall's stared on – an evil glint in his eyes.  Squall matched that glint with a heroic one of his own, "We've come to take back Ellone."

Seifer stepped down from his podium with a slow and deliberate gait, "Looks like we got company." He said to his friends, motioning with his hand, "Show'em your hospitality."

Raijin's advance on the group was halted only when Fujin spoke, "RAIJIN, STOP!"

"What's up?" Seifer demanded his voice harsh and cracked.  Tidus noted his tattered trench coat and felt pity for the man before them.  Aside from the evil glint in his eyes which seemed to wane with each passing moment, he seemed listless.

"We've had enough, ya know..."

Fujin released her hold on Ellone and shoved the girl forward gently, "GO."

Ellone didn't need to be told twice.  Glancing her thanks to Fujin and Raijin, she ran over to Squall before smiling at Tidus, "Hello…" she whispered to him.

"Wait outside." Squall said to her, "Laguna should be here soon."

Nodding, Ellone made her way passed Squall and toward the door but she gripped Tidus' sleeve gently and pulled him with her for a few steps, "You shouldn't be here…" she whispered, "But don't worry…I'll make sure you get back."

Tidus gasped but didn't get a chance to ask for further information when Seifer's rough voice interrupted his thoughts, "Hey, hey...Come on people."

"Seifer, we're quittin', ya know?" Raijin said, "Don't know what's right anymore, ya know..."

Seifer glared down at them, "Exactly my thoughts. I thought we were a posse."

"POSSE..." Fujin repeated as if testing the word out in her mind for the first time.  She took a breath and a step toward the towering hulk of man before her, "We are. We always will be." She breathed.  Tidus was shocked.  He didn't realize the woman could say more than a few words at a time, "Because we're a posse, we want to help you.  Whatever it takes to fulfill your dream, we're willing to do.  But...You're being manipulated, Seifer.  You've lost yourself and your dream. You're just eating out of someone's hand.  We want the old you back!  Since we can't get through to you, all we have now to rely on is Squall!" she frowned deeply until the crevices in her face threatened to remain forever, "It's sad...Sad that we only have Squall to rely on...Seifer! Are you still gonna keep goin'?"

Seifer shrugged at his friends then raised his hand in a mock salute, "Raijin, Fujin! It's been fun!" he said, watching his friends leave.  Tidus couldn't help but wonder what Seifer was feeling at that moment.  Was he feeling as alone as Tidus was?

Jumping down from his platform, Seifer cleared the distance between himself and Squall in a matter of moments.  Squall watched him coolly, "Are you going to continue with this knight thing?"

"The knight has retired." Seifer replied with a smirk.  Tidus was about to let out a breath of relief when the tall blonde continued, "I guess you could call me a young revolutionary."

"What do you think you're doing?" demanded Squall, lifting his weapon from its holster at his hip.

"I've always gotta be doing somethin' BIG!" cried Seifer, repeating Squall's action with his own weapon, "I don't wanna stop. I'm gonna keep running!"  His eyes wandered the group until his eyes rested on Rinoa, "I've come this far...I'm gonna make it to the end, to the goal!" he spoke softly, staring at the girl but obviously his words were still directed at Squall.  Slowly, he moved his gaze back to his rival and hissed, "There's no way I'm sharing it with you!"

The clash of weapons echoed in Tidus' ears as he dove to avoid one of Seifer's crushing blows.  It amazed him how the man stood up to an attack of six on one so well.  Squall's sour face frightened Tidus and he scrambled further away as the brunette closed his eyes for a moment as if channeling all his energies.  The wind picked up around them and Tidus let out a scream of horror as a huge being appeared from the wall.  Riding a horse with six legs was a man who looked more like a zombie than a man.  As the monster made his way toward Seifer at an alarming rate, the blonde held up his gunblade and the two collided.

Tidus slammed his eyelids down and covered his ears.  He didn't want to hear the screams of pain coming from the man they were fighting but after a few moments, he slowly opened them.  The dust was clearing from the collision and everyone let out audible gasps.

"Odin...!?" Squall murmured.  It was obviously the strange being's name.

Seifer grinned wickedly, "Hah, I won't go down that easy." He announced, raising his gunblade high again, "Show me what you got, Squall!  Let me add another scar for ya!"

Tidus was truly amazed by the power this teenager wielded and began to fear again for his life and the lives of those around him.  He didn't have to fear for long, though, for with a final strike of Squall's weapon, Seifer collapsed in exhaustion, "Is this...the end...?" he muttered.

"Seifer..." whispered Rinoa, her eyes staring into Seifer until Tidus shivered a little.  There was definitely something about that girl that he didn't trust.  As she left, obviously upset over something, Seifer stood.

The blonde man sheathed his weapon with a glare at his enemy, "Not yet!" he cried, "It's not over yet, Squall!!!"

The man ran passed the group in a blonde flash only to be followed by another blonde, Quistis, who had an expression on her face that indicated she trusted Seifer as much as the rest did.

Squall sheathed his weapon with a deep frown on his features and turned to the remaining group standing behind him.  He opened his mouth to speak when a shriek came from back where they had fought and defeated the huge robot.

"Squall!!!"

Squall's eyes darkened, "Rinoa!?"

Quistis' hair was disheveled and her eyes had a look of panic as she ran back into the room, "Squall!" she wheezed in a panicked whisper, "S-Seifer took Rinoa!"

--------------------------

Gippal waited for Yuna's response, but when none came he started to regret having told her about his lineage.  He hadn't wanted to tell anyone for fear they would use it against him.  A half-blood was often used as target practice with the Al Bheds.  His entire life he had never felt like he truly belonged anywhere.  Gippal had honed all of his anger into an arrogant swagger that made even the hard-heartiest woman swoon. But when he met Yuna he realized that half-bloods could belong if they had tried.  Yuna was a half-blood but she had saved the world, earned respect, and had found true love.

That gave Gippal hope too…

As he gazed into Yuna's duel-colored eyes, he noticed for the first time how beautiful she truly was.  He had noticed certain features of her beauty before.  Her butt being his favorite part to admire, but he hadn't noticed that she was the entire package.  She was everything a guy could have wanted.  Yet here she was, alone and hurting.  It just didn't seem fair to him.

Rikku had dismissed him without a second thought.  Tidus was dead and had left a hole in her heart.  She was as alone and lonely as Gippal was.  He looked at her for a long moment, his eyes burning into her until he felt completely out of control.  Without thinking, he leaned in and pressed his lips against hers gently, but quickly he deepened the kiss until she gripped him around the neck and pulled him closer to her.

She responded eagerly, letting out a little moan as he lowered his lips to her neck.  His hands trailed a path over every inch of her body, kissing her with an intensity he feared had died when Rikku had shut him out.  The pair kissed each other greedily; pouring all the frustration, guilt, loneliness, and heartache that was welling up inside of them into each melding of mouths.

It was Yuna that pulled him down on top of her.  The hill wasn't the most comfortable place, but Gippal was beyond caring at the moment as he covered her body with his own.  His tongue played at her mouth until she allowed him entrance and gave him an approving moan.

He felt her hands on the buckle of his pants and almost stopped her but his conscience was overthrown by her hands venturing far below his waist.  He lowered his face to her shirt, spreading the fabric apart with his hands and showering her with soft kisses along her stomach.

Her hand brushed boldly against him and he moaned softly in her ear.  So caught up in feelings that neither heard the sound of footsteps approaching from just behind the hill that kept them invisible to oncoming traffic until their visitor was gaping down at them, letting out a furious scream.

They jumped apart, struggling with loosened and missing clothes until Gippal looked up.  The sunlight was setting behind her but even in the dimming light, Gippal could see the fury on Rikku's face as she shrieked, "What the hell is going on?!"

Author’s Notes: Internet issues postponed this latest installment, but it's finally here and hopefully my Internet connection won't die on me again.  Rikku's pissed and what she does sets up the rest of the story.  Enjoy!

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

Chapter Twelve: Hell Hath No Fury

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

"What the hell is going on?!" Rikku shrieked again, fury rising in her body like a tidal wave threatening to destroy all that lay in its path.  Her eyes focused in ire on the two figures struggling to make themselves presentable and scrambling to their feet to face her.

"Uh…Ri…Rikku…well, we…uh…" Gippal stammered, spinning to his side slightly.  Rikku heard the unmistakable sound of a rising zipper and shrieked in fury again, throwing a handful nearby pebbles at the tall Al Bhed who tried unsuccessfully to dodge them.

"Slut!" she screamed at him, running down from the hill, kicking at his shins with her small feet, "Man whore!!"

"Rikku!" Yuna cried, taking a step toward her cousin as she continued to take out her fury on Gippal's shins.

Rikku spun in anger at her cousin, her eyes wide with rage.  Waving her finger in Yuna's face like a weapon, she hissed, "And YOU!  I thought you were better than this!" she motioned wildly at Gippal before shouting, "He's not Tidus!  He's just a man whore who couldn't keep it in his pants if his life depended on it!"

"Hey!" Gippal retorted, "I sure as hell kept it in my pants with you!"

Rikku sneered, "Only because I made you!"

"Rikku…" Yuna whispered quietly, regaining her cousin's attention, "Things just got out of hand with us, but we didn't mean to…"

"Oh, you didn't mean to!" Rikku said sarcastically, "Well that just makes it all better then!"

"I was upset!"  Yuna continued, desperately, "The Praetoress tried to convince me that Tidus was still alive.  She was playing on my emotions and offered to help me get him back in exchange for my help.  I was just upset."

Rikku shook her head, "Excuses again, Yuna?  You were upset?!"  Rikku stood facing her cousin, arms akimbo, and said, "What was your excuse when you slept with Shuyin?  Was it because he was doing such a good Tidus impersonation that you couldn't see past the end of your nose?" she narrowed her eyes, "And just what were you doing with Seymour while we were all at Home watching it get destroyed?

Rikku saw her cousins' lower lip quiver but instead of feeling immediate remorse, Rikku felt triumphant.  Yuna opened her mouth to speak but Rikku silenced her with a motion of her hand, "I don't want to hear it." She announced, her eyes traveling from Gippal to Yuna in sheer contempt, "You two deserve each other.  I'm just glad Tidus isn't around to see this…"

Without listening for their replies, Rikku turned and stalked off toward the Celsius, anger still boiling in her veins.  She needed to calm herself down and think about her next move.  If Yuna didn't want Tidus back, then to Hell with her.  Rikku had liked Tidus once, but she'd lost him to Yuna.  She had stepped aside when she saw how much he loved Yuna and Rikku believed Yuna loved him in return, but now she wasn't so sure.  Tidus deserved better than Yuna and she deserved better than Gippal.

"What was all that screaming?" Paine asked as she made her way down the plank and onto the Zanarkand streets.

"Where were you earlier?" Rikku asked.

"I was at the stadium helping with the rebuilding." Replied Paine, "So tell me, what was that shouting about?"

Rikku took a breath and retold the tale of her day – excluding the part about the Farplane -  until she reached the part where she caught Yuna and Gippal together.  Paine let out an audible gasp and Rikku nodded, "My feelings exactly." She said.

"But why would Yuna…?"

"I don't know…" Rikku whispered dropping to a sitting position on the ground and letting her mind wander back to her happy intentions upon leaving the Farplane.  She was going to tell Yuna and then YRP was going to find Tidus and bring him back to live happily ever after with the woman he loves.  Now…

"The Praetoress tried to convince me that Tidus was still alive.  She was playing on my emotions and offered to help me get him back in exchange for my help.  I was just upset."

Rikku's eyes flew wide and she stood up just as suddenly as she had sat, "I've gotta go!" Rikku cried, running in a mad dash toward one of the smaller airships that the Al Bhed workers used.

-------------------------.

Sorceress Rinoa Heartilly paced back and forth in the main room of the Bevelle temple with a scowl on her face.  She had hoped that Yuna would return quickly.  The time for her plan to come to fruition was within the hour and for the first time; Rinoa was beginning to wonder if she would be able to succeed in her efforts.

Rinoa's long flowing robes trailed the ground and her hair was pulled up tightly beneath a pointed hat that clung tightly to her head.  She didn't want Squall to recognize her.  Even though her Squall was dead, this Squall was an exact copy of him in every way.  If she looked too familiar, he'd realize it.  His heart would tell him that it was her and he wouldn't kill her.  That just couldn't happen.

She made her way down a twirling set of stairs that led into an underground castle beneath even the deepest reaches of the temple where Vegnagun had been housed.  Being built on the edge of the Farplane had distinctive advantages.  Rinoa knew that she wouldn't have far to go when her time came and for those SeeDs she destroyed in her effort to die by Squall's hand, they wouldn't have far to go either.

All was in readiness for the final battle.  She just needed to wait for the connection with Ellone to begin.  Ellone didn't want to help her, just as she hadn't wanted to help Shuyin but the girl was going to nonetheless.  In the end, Ellone was a fayth that wanted the best for all involved and she knew that the ultimate death of the sorceress was in the world's best interest – both the real world and the dream world.

Rinoa cursed silently as she made her way back to the upper level of the temple.  Yuna wasn't there yet.

"Where the hell is she!" Rinoa cursed to herself as she paced back and forth.  She needed Yuna.  Yuna would bring Tidus back and that needed to happen.  Death wasn't the end of Rinoa's plans.

Death was only the beginning…

--------------------------------.

Seifer Almasy's hand was firmly gripping her hip and his other held the shimmering gunblade menacingly at her neck.  She didn't want to struggle too much for fear of rising his ire further.

This wasn't the 18 year old she had spent a summer with.  This wasn't the guy with the hope of vanquishing evil and saving those in need.

She didn't know this man at all…

"......Seifer." she whispered, her eyes connecting with the figure that lay ahead, "No more...Please?"

He seemed to react slightly to her as he stopped in his rapid movement toward the awakening sorceress, Adel.  He held his head close to hers and smelled the fragrant scent of her hair, "Rinoa..." he whispered, quietly, loosening his grip on her ever so slightly.

"Seifer!!! NO!" came a voice tearing through the silence that was starting between the two.  She felt his hand tighten its grip on her as she recognized Squall's voice and realized Seifer had as well.

Seifer's face hardened as he saw his nemesis and the other teens storming in to save her, "Rinoa and Adel! The sorceresses as one!" Seifer shouted, "Watch closely, Squall!"

She felt force at her back as Seifer tried to shove her toward the sorceress who was still in the confines of her tomb but rapidly engaging in her escape.  She tried to prevent it.  She planted her feet firmly on the ground and pushed back on him just as hard as he pushed on her, but it was for nothing.  His last shove forced her to her knees in front of Adel.

As Adel began to move and force the walls of her tomb to break around her, she stared in slack jawed fear.  She found herself unable to move as the hands of Adel, with claw-like nails, ripped through their confines and came toward her.

"Gotta save Rinoa!" she heard Zell shout as Adel began the merger between the two of them.

"Just go for Adel!" Squall commanded.

She could see her friends bracing themselves for the battle, weapons glinting in the light as Adel finished junctioning her.  Irvine aimed his gun straight at Adel and all Rinoa could do was scream.

-----------------------.

"Hello?!" Rikku called, her voice echoing along the walls of the Bevelle hallway.  Her footsteps seemed to pound down the hall as she walked stealthily along.  She wasn't really sure why she was there and at the same time she knew exactly what she was doing.

"You are not Yuna.  Who are you?"

Rikku stopped in mid step and stared at the shadowy figure that stood several feet away from her in the narrow hall.  Trying to quell the quiver in her voice, Rikku said, "My name is Rikku.  I'm Yuna's cousin.  I'm here about…Tidus."

"Why hasn't Yuna kome?"

"She doesn't believe you…" Rikku whispered in response, "but I do.  He wasn't in the Farplane when I visited."

The sudden onset of light in the enclosed space blinded Rikku temporarily and when she regained her vision, the Praetoress was practically on top of her, "She knows he wasn't in the Farplane and yet she still doesn't believe what I tell her?"

"She doesn't know about the Farplane…"

"Why not?"

Rikku narrowed her eyes at the memory of Gippal and Yuna in a coital position on that hill in Zanarkand.  Tidus was still alive and thinking that Yuna was this wide-eyed innocent that loved him more than life.  Rikku had once believed that too, but no more.  And it was time that Tidus knew the truth too…

"Enough about Yuna…" Rikku said, "She told me that we can have Tidus back in exchange for us helping you.  I'm here to do whatever you want."

The woman raised an eyebrow at the thin blond in front of her as if weighing her options.  Rikku didn't know who this woman really was or how she came to know where Tidus was, but she didn't care at the moment.  Her main concern was getting to Tidus and saving him from whatever fate had befallen him.  After several moments, the Praetoress smiled, "Very well.  If you wish to replace Yuna then so be it."

"What do you need me to do?"

The dark eyes glowed with an evil glint as she stared into Rikku's green orbs, "We will be traveling to the dream world where I will see my beloved again.  It is there that we will find Tidus and he will be returned to you.  After my plans come to fruition, I will need a host.  Will you be that host?"

Rikku wrinkled her nose in confusion, "What's a … host?"

"Swear to be my host…" said the Praetoress, ignoring Rikku's question, "Swear or this deal is off."

"I swear…"

"Very well then," the Praetoress said, turning on her heels to backtrack down the hallway she had just come up, "Let us be going."

---------------------------------.

With the battle between the teens and Adel finished, Tidus felt immense relief.  Seifer was sitting in a solemn state at the corner of the room guarded by Zell and Irvine and Squall practically tripped over himself to reach Rinoa who had begun to collapse as a result of her interaction with the defeated sorceress but after a few moments, she regained her ability to stand by herself and stood swaying in confusion for several moments as the rest mulled about waiting for something to happen.

As was usual, Laguna had the perfect timing to show up after the important things had been completed.  It'd been that way since Tidus was a child.  He couldn't remember a time when Laguna was actually around for an important event when it was actually happening.

"Ellone, now's your chance!" Tidus' uncle shouted at the girl who had followed him in.  Tidus watched as Ellone closed her eyes and focused her energies which made Rinoa faint dead away to the floor.  He saw concern crease Squall's brow but it was quickly nullified with Laguna's next demand, powers on Rinoa. Rinoa faints. "Ok, Ellone. Just get Rinoa back."

"I...was inside Adel..." Rinoa whispered as she regained consciousness, "The young Adel..."

"Ultimecia's inside Adel. Exactly as she wanted." Laguna said with a smile, "Ok, this is the showdown folks! Time compression is about to begin.  Love, friendship, and courage'! Show'em what you got!"

Laguna turned to leave but was stopped by Ellone's grip on his wrist.  He waited a moment as she walked over to Tidus and touched his face tenderly, "I'm so sorry for what I did…" she whispered to him, "but you'll be home soon and it'll make up for my being too weak to go against him."

Him?  Tidus was confused for a moment until he realized who Ellone was talking about.

"Shuyin?" he whispered to her and she nodded.  He gave her a half smile, "It's okay.  Whatever you did, I understand."

"Thank you…"

Ellone turned and made her way toward Laguna who nodded at Tidus with a smile and turned to escort Ellone from the room but it must have been too late for that.  Tidus let out a horrified scream as the room began to melt around him.  His feet lost their grip on the ground and he slipped back and slammed into Seifer who subsequently slammed into Squall as the group tumbled head over heels into a hole in the floor.

"W-Where do we go!?" Irvine shouted.

"Yo! Where are we supposed to go!?" screamed Zell.

The melting room was quickly replaced by a pool of water and for the first time since ending up back in the dream world, Tidus felt at home.  He swam along easily, helping a few of the stragglers who were having more trouble, including his illustrious uncle who didn't seem happy to be there at all.

Rinoa's voice quivered as she spoke, "I'll...Probably disappear..."

Tidus seconded her thoughts with quiet ones of his own.  He barely knew these people.  His only hope was that he already knew that he didn't exist so maybe that made things better.

"Just stay by my side." Squall said to Rinoa, "I won't let you disappear!!!"

--------------------------------.

"Rikku!" Yuna shouted as she and Gippal stormed onto the Celsius after deciding just how they were going to calmly speak to Rikku about what had transpired between the two of them.

"Rikku!" Gippal called in echo to Yuna's shout.

Paine appeared in the doorway of the elevator with a frown on her face, "She's not here." She replied, "And even if she was, I don't think she'd want to see either of you."

Yuna frowned deeply, "She told you then, I guess."

"I just can't believe it, Yuna.  How could you do something like that?" she asked her friend, then she cast a look at Gippal, "You I can believe, but not Yuna…"

Gippal sneered at her, "Gee…thanks."

-----------------------.

Tidus gaped at the huge building that lay at the end of their massive journey through compressed time.  They had called Ultimecia's home a 'castle', but this wasn't a castle.  This place was anything but a castle.  At first glance most would assume it was a castle, but Tidus recognized the patterns that played in the sky above it.  That wasn't sky, though.  That was a floor.  Staring hard through the clouds, Tidus saw the pathway he had taken to help Yuna get Bahamut during her pilgrimage.

"Bevelle Temple…" he whispered to himself, a grin broadening on his features, "I'm home…"

"Ultimecia's reign...We have to end it now." Squall said, oblivious to Tidus' epiphany.

Tidus barely listened as Squall started barking orders to those nearby.  He just stood, staring at the sky with a silly smile on his face.

He was home…

Suddenly, and with no warning, Tidus let out a shrill whistle that brought the entire entourage to a silent stare.  Squall glared at him and then smacked the back of his head, "Do you want to get us killed?!"

Tidus spun and grinned, "I'm home!  This isn't a castle!" he cried, "This is Bevelle Temple!"

"Whatever…" Squall replied, rolling his eyes.

"Hey, guys…" Selphie began, "…where's Seifer?"

"Maybe he gave up after we beat his ass, again!" Zell said triumphantly, punching the air a few times for good measure until Seifer emerged from the nearby bushes, causing a frown on the martial artist's face.

"I had to take a leak.  Is that okay, Chicken-Wuss?" asked Seifer, using the nickname that annoyed Zell to no end.

Squall glowered at the blonde and then looked at Laguna, "Do you have your gun with you?" he asked the older man.  At his nod, Squall nodded in return, "Keep an eye on him.  He's wanted for questioning when we get back to Garden." Then turning his attentions to everyone else, "Whatever Tidus says is inconsequential right now.  Be this Ultimecia's castle or Behell Temple…"

"Bevelle!"

"…Whatever…" Squall replied, "It doesn't matter.  What matters is that Ultimecia is in there and we're bringing her down."

"Yeah!" came the cheers from the group as they made their way toward the doorway, but Squall stopped them sort.

He smiled slightly at Tidus, "If you're so sure that you know this place…" he said, "Then lead the way…" and with a sweeping motion of his hand, he allowed Tidus first entrance.

Author’s Notes: We're getting to the meat of the story now.  I've finally decided exactly how I'm going to end this too.  I was on the fence for a while with a bunch of ideas floating in my mind, but I've narrowed it down to one that I think will be great.  A huge twist, if you will.

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

Chapter Thirteen: Time To Find Another Praetoress

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

Tidus wearily lead the teenagers through the underbelly of Bevelle Temple.  He wasn't sure where he was going.  He had never been this far below the surface before, but he managed well enough by keeping his eye upon the pathways of the Cloister of Trials above.

Squall's hand landed harshly on his shoulder after Tidus had lead them all over the 'castle' and came upon a large wooden door with a knocker upon it.  He didn't have to utter a world for everyone seemed to know what he was thinking.

This Ultimecia person was in this room.

"Everybody…" Squall said after a moment of silence, "This is it.  Ultimecia is here.  Let's get it over with and fight her now."

Nods came from everybody but Tidus who shook his head in rapid succession, "Hell no!" he said, "I am not going to die when I'm so close to being home!"

Squall frowned and scratched around the scar on his head, "What do you suggest then?"

"How about I go and you guys finish up here?" Tidus said.

Shrugging, Squall replied, "Well, do what you want but we're going in."

Tidus stood and watched as his companions made their way toward the large door and began to pull it open.  Light leaked through and lit the small stone walkway where they stood.  Tidus could distinctly hear voices from within as he watched his companions struggle to open the door the remainder of the way.

"So…what exactly are we waiting for?"

Tidus gasped and grabbed Squall's shoulder, shoving him to the side to peer into the crack made by the door.  She was standing beside the one he assumed was Ultimecia with her hair in the same haphazard style it had been the last time he had seen her.

Rikku…

"What's the deal?!" Squall hissed, pushing Tidus back against the wall, "Are you trying to mess this up for us?"

"T..tha…that's…Rikku!" Tidus responded in a hushed whisper.

"Like…who's Rikku?" Selphie asked.

Tidus sighed, "She's Yuna's cousin!  I knew I was home!  Rikku's here to get me!"

Squall stared at him with no emotion on his face until he whispered monotonously, "Why is your girlfriend's cousin here to get you and not your girl?"

Tidus felt sure that Squall had stabbed him in the heart with those words.  He hadn't thought about it like that.  Where was Yuna?  Why wasn't she there to get him?  An even better question…was Rikku even there to get him?  How would they have known he'd be coming this way?  And…why was Rikku with Ultimecia in the first place?

Summoning up all his courage, Tidus rose to his full height before Squall, "I don't care about that right now.  Rikku is in there and she's going to take me home.  Everything else is inconsequential." And with a quick turn on his heels, Tidus pulled the door the rest of the way and marched into the room.

-------------------------.

"Please, tell us where Rikku went." Yuna begged Paine, gripping her friend's hands tightly in her own, "I need to talk to her."

Paine pulled her hands away in an act of disgust and shook her head at Yuna, "Even if I knew, I wouldn't tell you, but I don't so this discussion is pointless anyway."  With a last sneer directed at Gippal, Paine turned on her heels and left the Celsius, making her way through the sand toward Home.

Yuna's shoulders sagged tremendously and she let a tear fall from her eyes, "Where could she be…?"

"I don't know…" Gippal replied.

Yuna spun to him, fire in her eyes as she pounded her fists on his chest angrily, "This is all your fault!"

"My fault!" Gippal screamed, appalled at her accusation.

"Yes!" Yuna insisted, pounding harder until he caught her fists in his hands and pushed her away from him, "You kissed me!"

"You kissed me back!"

Yuna wiped her mouth violently with the back of her hand, "And it was disgusting!!"

"You didn't seem to think so then!"

Yuna glared at him with her arms akimbo before dropping them to her sides and sighing dejectedly, "What will Tidus think?"

"Maybe you should have thought about that before you grabbed my…" Gippal said, letting the sentence trail off with the unspoken innuendo hanging in the air.

Lifting her eyes to connect with his, Yuna hissed, "And it was barely there!  It felt like limp spaghetti!"

"Maybe that's because you're not hot enough!"

Yuna growled low in her throat, "Ooo!  Rikku was right!   You are a man whore!!" she seethed, kicking out but missing his shins as he jumped out of the way at the last moment.  She spun on her heels to avoid him when she suddenly stopped in her tracks as a realization dawned upon her.

Yuna had told Rikku about Ultimecia's prediction about Tidus…

Spinning back to Gippal, all trace of her previous anger gone, she whispered breathlessly, "Rikku went to get Tidus back…"

--------------------------.

Tidus' first glimpse of Ultimecia nearly stopped his heart.  The resemblance to Rinoa was uncanny but Squall didn't seem to notice.  Nonetheless, if Tidus didn't know any better, he'd swear that Ultimecia was Rinoa…but that just wasn't possible.

Was it…?

However, there wasn't time to ponder those thoughts when Rikku's shrill voice rang clear through the room, "Tidus!!!!!!!!!"  The blonde bounded from her perch next to Ultimecia and leapt into his arms with the same gusto Yuna had exhibited when he had first come back.

Slightly blown off balance, Tidus scrambled to remain standing while the girl frantically hugged him as if making sure he was really there.  With gentle hands, Tidus removed her from his person and smiled at her, "Nice to see you too Rikku."

"You're back!" she shrieked, jumping up and down excitedly before spinning back to Ultimecia, "Thanks so much!"

"She helped you?" asked Squall as he lifted his gunblade in the air menacingly.

Rikku nodded, "She's the one who told us that Tidus wasn't really dead, just back in the dream world."

Squall groaned, "Enough with this 'dream world' crap." He said to Rikku before focusing his cobalt blue eyes on Ultimecia, "We're here to stop you…"

"...SeeD..." Ultimecia said with a half smile on her face, "SeeD......SeeD......SeeD, SeeD, SeeD!" Standing suddenly, she raised her long hands in the air above her and dragged them down her body in a slow and provocative manner, "Kurse all SeeDs.  Swarming like lokusts akross generations. You disgust me."

"What's going on…?" Rikku whispered to Tidus, gripping his shoulder tightly.

"I don't know…" Tidus whispered back, "but I think we should back up…"

"The world was on the brink of that ever-elusive 'time-kompression'." Ultimecia continued, never breaking eye contact with Squall.  She pointed a long finger at him which was bejeweled with nails grown to three inches and filed to sharp points, "Insolent fools!" she shrieked, "Your vain krusade ends here, SeeDs.  The price for your meddling is death beyond death.  I shall send you to a dimension beyond your imagining.  There, I will reign, and you will be my slaves for eternity.

Tidus grabbed Rikku around the waist and flung her over his shoulder as Ultimecia's evil cackle grew louder and louder.  Finding a relatively good place to hide behind a gargoyle statue, he dropped her on her behind and hissed in her face, "We're going to stay here.  This doesn't involve us."

"Yes it does!" Rikku cried, "They're going to kill that nice lady!"

Tidus did a double take, his mouth hanging open until he questioned, "Nice lady?"

"Yeah…the Praetoress.  She's the reason I found you."

"Praetoress…?" Tidus was incredibly confused and rocked back on his heels, rubbing his head as the first strains of a migraine began to play between his eyes.

"Whom shall I exterminate first!?" Ultimecia asked, slowly trailing her claw over her chest before pointing, "I'll start with you three!"

Rikku jumped to her feet and squealed, "We can't let them kill the Praetoress!"

"Rikku!" Tidus cried, grabbing the blonde before she ran headlong into the ensuing battle, "Stop it!  That woman is an evil sorceress who is trying to kill them!  Not the other way around.  Now, I don't know why she helped you find me, and that doesn't matter right now."

------------------------------------.

"We can't let them kill the Praetoress!"

Gippal stopped in his tracks as the voice echoed along the corridors of the Cloister of Trials.  Yuna stopped too and listened.  The sound of clashing weapons and cries of anger and pain echoed along with Rikku's pleas and Gippal dropped to his knees to listen closer to the ground.

"What are you doing?" Yuna asked him as he crawled between her legs to another location on the ground.

Gippal didn't reply for a moment as if trying to decide whether what he thought was a possibility or not but when he decided it was, he stood quickly, "She's below us…"

------------------------------.

"Hey!  Hey come back here!"

Tidus spun at the sound of his uncle's voice and ducked further behind the gargoyle as Seifer – who his uncle was supposed to be protecting – and Laguna ran through with the latter man frantically trying to catch the former.  Seifer ran toward Squall who was busily trying to ward off Ultimecia's attacks.  The man unsheathed his weapon and Tidus saw his intentions in that instant.  Forgetting that he was unarmed and seeing only that a life was in danger, Tidus jumped from his space and tackled the taller man in one move, rolling and punching until his gunblade fell free from his hand.

"Rikku!  Grab it!" he shouted back at the blonde girl still hidden in shadows.  A bolt of lightening flashed next to Tidus and he jumped, realizing he'd narrowly missed being the unwelcomed recipient of a thunder spell.  Rikku bent to retrieve the gunblade and made to hand it to Tidus but the man refused, "No.  I've gotta keep him down.  Get her!" he shouted, motioning toward Ultimecia.

"I am Ultimecia." She was hissing, "Time shall compress...All existence denied." Another spell flashed, narrowly missing Rinoa and Selphie, "Reflect on your...childhood..."  A blinding white light surrounded Tidus and he struggled to maintain in control of the struggling man he held to the ground.  The sound of a gunblade clattering to the ground was his only connection to reality.

"Is she all right?"

"Why should you care?"

"If she dies, I wouldn't know what to do."

"Don't say Mom is gonna die!"

"I apologize."

"Your sensation..."

"Dad?"

"Yeah?"

"I hate you."

"I know, I know.  You know what you have to do."


"Yeah."

"Your words..."

"And I've been telling Yuna 'Let's go to Zanarkand together!'  I told her all the things...we could...we could...But Yuna, she'd...just smile."

"Your emotions..."

"Yuna, I have to go.  I'm sorry I couldn't show you Zanarkand.  Goodbye!"

"Hey!"

"We're gonna see you again...?"

"Yuna!"

"I love you."

"Time...It will not wait...No matter...how hard you hold on.  It escapes you..."

"Hey! Can't we rest a little?"

"No need. We reach the summit soon."

"I know, that's why I want to stop for a bit.  Soon means that... there's not much time left."

"Rikku..."

"Fine. I'll think on the way."

"Hey, come on, let's go."

"We are almost there, aren't we?"


"And..."

"Stop it!!!!" Tidus screamed, flying to his feet in a fit of rage, tears streaming from his eyes.  Grabbing the gunblade from the ground, he plunged it through Ultimecia's stomach in one quick thrust, watching as it entered and protruded from the other side with the thick crust of blood upon it.

Ultimecia's eyes glazed over as she stared down at the gunblade in shock.  Tidus backed off suddenly, afraid of himself and what he'd just done.  Seifer opened his eyes as if seeing him for the first time as he slowly rose to his feet as well.  The teens who had been fighting stared with mouths agape at the sight they saw before them.

Rikku tripped backward, landing firmly into Zell's arms as a low hum began to form from Ultimecia which grew louder and louder.  Her head snapped up suddenly and her eyes focused on Rikku.

"You…promised…" Ultimecia moaned at Rikku as the hum grew louder and louder until it became deafening and the woman's body exploded, shooting body parts everywhere and onto everything.  A breath of white wind flew from were Ultimecia had been standing and seemed to jump into Rikku's open mouth, having hung agape from her screams.

Then the girl collapsed…

Author’s Notes: This was probably the hardest chapter I had to write.  I suffered from some writer’s block and couldn’t get the words out.  I knew what I wanted to do and to have happen, but it was the process of getting it out that was difficult.  Fortunately, I think that I succeeded in my endeavor and I hope everyone enjoys this chapter.

 

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

Chapter Fourteen: The Truth Shall Set You Free

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

An explosion shook the floor of the Cloister of Trials forcing Gippal and Yuna to the ground.  Covering their heads with their arms to prevent falling debris from connecting with their skulls, the duo squirmed on all fours to an over hang to wait for the shaking floor to calm. 

“Are you okay?” Gippal asked Yuna.

Yuna nodded, “I…I think so.” She returned, “What was that?”

“I don’t know…” Gippal replied, slowly rising to his feet, “I just hope that Rikku’s okay…”

Falling in step together, Yuna and Gippal continued their creeping along the Cloister until they discovered a pathway that led below.  The path twisted and turned and seemed to go on forever.  Yuna was beginning to wonder if they should go back for help when Gippal suddenly dropped to his knees and started pawing at a wall.  Raising a skeptical eyebrow at the man, Yuna knelt down beside him, “What are you doing?” she asked.

He turned to her, shocked at her close proximity that led to their lips being mere inches apart.  Backing off slightly, Gippal faked nonchalance at her presence and replied, “There’s something here.”

“What is it?”

Gippal worked his fingers into a crevice in the wall and bit his bottom lip, “Give me a hand with this, Yuna.  I think it pulls open.”

Tentatively, Yuna dug her fingers into the crevice just above Gippal’s hands and the two braced themselves to pull together.  The wall creaked and groaned but moved relatively easily and the duo found themselves staring down at a darkened corridor with a set of stairs that led to a lower level than Yuna had ever knew existed.

“Is this another way to Vegnagun?” Gippal wondered aloud as he rose to his feet and took a step toward the stairs.

Yuna grabbed his shoulder, “Maybe we should go back and get some help?”

Gippal shook his head and hissed venomously, “If you’re scared than stay behind, but I’m going down there to find out what the hell is going on!”  He disappeared into the darkened abyss of the corridor leaving Yuna no other option but to follow behind him wondering if she was making the right choice. 

Yuna’s eyes tried to focus in the darkness but all she could see was shadows against the wall.  She wasn’t sure how they were getting there since there was no light, but there was something about this place that seemed to defy normality and the laws of nature.  Reaching out, she placed a hand on Gippal’s shoulder and the man in front of her paused and let her catch up.

“Stay close…” he whispered to her, lacing his fingers through hers and gently tugging on them to let her know that he was moving forward again.  Hand in hand, the duo continued their careful trek down the stairs that curled around the walls that surrounded it. 

“Where are we, Gippal?” she asked him, leaning forward to whisper the words in his ear.  

Gippal stopped suddenly and his body pressed up against hers.  He placed his free hand over her mouth and indicated for silence.  Yuna strained her ears to hear what Gippal was hearing and she thought it sounded like whispering.  He let go of her hand and leaned in close to her, “Stay here and stay quiet.  I’ll be right back.”

She felt his presence leaving her side as she waited.  She didn’t like that he had left her alone in this dark and dank place.  After several minutes, Yuna became fed up and worried about Gippal.  Reaching out with her hands, the brunette carefully continued down the stairs in the direction that Gippal had traveled.  A breeze circled up the stairs before her and Yuna wondered if there was some sort of trap that Gippal had fallen into.  The voices got louder the further she traveled, but she still wasn’t able to make out what they were saying.  The thick stone walls were seeing to that. 

A light flickered ahead of her and she wanted to call out for Gippal but she was worried.  What if someone had taken him hostage?  She didn’t want to make herself an easy target.  Firmly planting one of her hands on her gun and the other on the wall to hold her steady, Yuna continued to blindly stumble along the path as the light and the breeze became more prevalent.  The voices were also beginning to take shape.  Some were distinctly male while others were distinctly female.  All of the voices sounded upset and angry.

“….she….ake?”

“I….ow.”

Yuna stopped and pressed her ear against the wall.

“Don’t move her!” shouted a voice.

“I didn’t!”

Yuna took a few more steps toward the light ahead of her with her ear still firmly planted against the wall.  Someone was hurt.  Was it Rikku?

“Geez dude!” scolded one of the voices, “You were pretty wild with that gunblade.  What were you thinking anyway?  You could have gotten your girlfriend killed!”

“She’s not my girlfriend…”

Yuna stopped in mid-step, her breath caught in her throat.  Her heart pounded the blood between her ears until the only sound she heard was that sentence repeated ad infinitum in her mind.

“She’s not my girlfriend…”

“She’s not my girlfriend…”

“She’s not my girlfriend…”

“Tidus…” Yuna breathed, positive that the voice belonged to her former guardian.  Without much of a care in the world, Yuna began to bound down the stairs toward the small flicker of light that grew larger with every step she took.  She was moving so quickly and with such determination, she barely noticed a second set of footsteps approaching her or a shadowy figure coming toward her from the light until she slammed right into the muscular chest of Gippal.  The thud of their heads connecting caused grunts of pain from the two of them.  Yuna tried to grab onto something, but the force of her body shoving against his caused Gippal to lose his footing.  He kicked out and his foot wrapped itself around Yuna’s leg, pulling the brunette down with him as they tumbled the remaining few feet down the stairs and rolled into the large room that was lit from the overhead lamps where they stopped with Yuna and Gippal sprawled out on the floor, dazed and confused.

-----------------------.

The first thing Tidus realized was that two people had fallen head over heels into the room.  He could see long limbs, blonde and brown hair, and hands groping around trying to figure out how to untangle themselves from each other. 

The next thing Tidus realized was that he recognized one of the legs.

“Yuna?!” he cried, momentarily forgetting that her cousin was lying unconscious on the floor.  The leg he recognized straightened instantly and suddenly the other person was shoved violently away.  Tidus recognized Gippal then. 

Yuna jumped to her feet and jumped into his arms, spinning the both of them around in her haste.  Her lips crashed down upon his in a fury as her arms wrapped tightly and possessively around his neck and his own around her waist.  They stood there, embracing and kissing, for several seconds until Gippal tapped them on the shoulders, “Um…sorry to interrupt, but what did you do to Rikku?!” he asked, rather sarcastically.

Tidus reluctantly pulled away from Yuna, “She passed out after we killed Ultimecia.”

“You did what?!” Yuna shrieked, a hand coming firmly to stop over her mouth in a look of surprise.

“We killed Ultimecia.” Squall supplied.

Yuna wrinkled her nose at Tidus, “Why did you do that?!  She’s the New Yevon Praetoress!”

“What?!”

“She was Baralai’s replacement.” Explained Gippal, “Why’d you kill her?”

“She was trying to destroy the world!” Selphie chirped, swinging her nunchaku around her head in her excitement.

“Tidus…” Yuna whispered as she leaned her head closer to Tidus, “Who are these people?”

Tidus cleared his throat and introduced each person in his entourage to Yuna and Gippal one by one.  Hand shakes and one big hug were given by Zell, Quistis, Irvine, Laguna, Ellone, Rinoa and Selphie.  Curt nods came from Seifer and Squall.

Yuna stared at Rinoa for several seconds as did Gippal.  Neither said a word, but looked at each other in mute surprise.  Tidus cocked an eyebrow at her, “What is it?”

“N…nothing…” Yuna said, tearing her eyes away from Rinoa, “Y…yeah, i…it’s nothing.  Just a trick of my mind.”

“So who are they, Tidus?” Squall asked sarcastically, “Or do you want us to guess…”

Tidus glowered at Squall and them motioned toward Gippal, “This is Gippal and this is Yuna.” He smiled triumphantly at Laguna, “See, she does exist!”

Laguna shrugged, “Still doesn’t mean I believe this whole ‘dream’ nonsense.” He said in reply before motioning down at the prone Rikku, “I think we should do something about her.”

Nodding his ascension, Rikku was gently lifted into the air and held carefully in Laguna’s arms as the group made their way back to the top of Bevelle Temple.  Yuna gripped Tidus’ hand tightly as if trying to make sure he was still there as she leaned in to whisper, “Everybody is going to be so thrilled to see you!  We’ve got to go to Besaid!”

---------------------------.

The trip back to Besaid took longer than anyone had expected.  Rikku lay with her head on Paine’s lap as the gray haired woman dabbed her forehead with a damp cloth.  Gippal knelt down beside her and gently played with a stray strand of hair until he caught Paine’s glare, “What are you doing?” she hissed.

“I…I was just…”

“Don’t you think you’ve done enough?” she spat at him, catching the attention of everyone on the ship.

Tidus looked at them, “What did he do?” he asked.  Tidus didn’t notice the pained and desperate Yuna shot her friend, nor did he see her silently mouthing ‘no’ toward her.

“It’s nothing.” Paine said to him, “Just something between Gippal and me.”

Tidus was placated with that explanation and the rest of the trip back to Besaid was silent.  Tidus wrapped an arm around Yuna’s shoulder and didn’t want to let her go.  Although he was back from the dead again, he couldn’t fight this feeling creeping up his spine that he wasn’t out of the woods just yet.  His gaze wandered from Rikku over to the corner where Rinoa was standing silently with Squall and he frowned, casting a covert glance to Yuna before focusing back on his hands.  Yuna was going to say something about Rinoa.  Did she recognize her from Seymour’s group too or was it something else?

He’d have to ask her later.

Rikku’s sudden squirming brought attention of the entire ship settling down upon the Al Bhed – except Buddy who was busy piloting.  Reluctantly unwrapping Yuna from his arms, Tidus crossed the room, knelt and nudged Rikku gently, “Rikku…?” he whispered, “You awake?”

Bloodshot eyes with a faraway glaze over them shot open at that second and shocked Tidus back to his butt on the ground.  The girl took several deep breaths and then rubbed her eyes gently.  The redness and glaze vanished almost instantly and Tidus wondered if he had imagined it, but upon closer inspection he saw that the red was still there, just not as obvious. 

“Are you okay?” Gippal blurted, rushing closer to Rikku and staring into her eyes.

She looked at him blankly for a moment as if trying to place where she knew him.  Her eyes traveled his length and then focused one by one on everyone surrounding her.  They boldly grazed Squall before she turned back to Gippal and smiled, “I’m just fine.”

-----------------------.

Nobody was happier that Tidus was back than Yuna, although Wakka gave her a run for her money when he squeezed the newly returned so tightly that Tidus turned various shades of blue.  She watched him as he interacted with the residents of Besaid and the people who had come from miles around just to see if the rumor they had heard was true and she didn’t bother trying to hide her love and admiration for him.  She heard him recanting his adventures as he introduced his uncle and the other teens to each and every person one at a time. 

She was so happy…

The only thing that marred that happiness was the memory of Rikku’s face earlier in the day.  Her cousin had been furious and hurt and it had been all Yuna’s fault.  Even though she had blamed Gippal, she knew in her heart that the blame was hers and hers alone.  Rikku wasn’t acknowledging Yuna or Gippal.  In fact, her normally outgoing and rambunctious cousin was sitting alone off to the side of the party watching Squall and Rinoa covertly.

“Hey beautiful…” came Tidus’ whisper in her ear.  She hadn’t noticed that he had snuck away from his group of followers and she smiled broadly as she turned to face his handsome countenance. 

“Hey yourself.” She said, letting herself become wrapped in the strong embrace of his arms.

Tidus kissed her lips tenderly and began to pull her toward him as he backed off slightly.  He took several more steps, leading her with him until she noticed the half leering grin he was giving her and she blushed, “Just what are you thinking?” she asked, knowing full well what was on his mind.

“I was thinking…” he said in a hushed whisper as he pulled her close to him and whispered in her ear, “…that maybe we could have some private time on the Celsius while everybody is out here getting drunk…”

Yuna stifled a giggle of glee as she nodded and let Tidus lead her quietly up into the abandoned ship that was parked several yards away from the party.  The ship was incredibly quiet as they wandered up the stairs that lead from the bridge to the elevator leading to the crew’s quarters.  She felt Tidus’ hand snaking around her waist and she twisted out of his grip, giving him a mock look of shock, “Felt up in public!  The audacity!” she said with feigned appall. 

Tidus grinned at her and elbowed the button to open the elevator while his hands slipped around her and swept her rear possessively, “I intend to feel you up in public and in private for many years to come…” he said.  The dinging of the bell indicated the opening of the elevator doors and the young couple entered.  Tidus pulled her to him and whispered hoarsely, "Yuna,” as his hands cupped her face, kissing her passionately.

She wrapped her arms around his neck and hitched her legs around his hips as he slammed her back against the wall of the elevator.  His fingers fumbled at the fabric of her half-skirt, finally letting it fall to the ground as the doors opened again. 

Without breaking contact, he half carried; half pushed her down the hall toward the crew’s quarters with his lips touching her skin at every opportunity.  They stopped as Yuna’s back made contact with the door that kept them separate from the bed.  She pressed her lips to his roughly, tongues dueling with passion as Yuna reached behind her and forced the door open. 

With great gusto, Tidus rushed forward.  Yuna tightened her legs around his waist as he made his way up the stairs, never letting his lips leave hers.  Tidus tightened his grip on her before setting her on her feet at the edge of the nearest bed.

Tidus smiled at her, “I love you…” he whispered.

“I love you too…” she replied as she let him lower her to the bed.

-----------------------------------.

It was dark when Tidus awoke.  He smiled when he saw Yuna still sleeping soundly next to him with a small trace of a grin on her beautiful face.  He sighed quietly.  He was really thirsty.  Slipping his naked body out from the sheets, he felt around in the dark for his boxers before padding quietly down the stairs.  He had taken note that no one had joined them in the crew’s quarters for the night. 

They must have known they wanted to be alone…

Slipping quietly out of the room and closing the door silently behind him, Tidus made his way toward the tiny kitchen that was sheltered in an out of the way room just south of the crew’s quarters.  It was no larger than Wakka and Lulu’s hut but it served the purpose well.  The light that illuminated from the open refrigerator did enough to tell Tidus that there was someone else in the kitchen and judging from the long blonde hair that cascaded down the person’s back, he was willing to guess it was Rikku.

“You thirsty too?” he asked.

Rikku stood up straight, obviously startled by his presence but she quickly smiled at him, “Have a good reunion with Yuna?”

Tidus was glad it was dark or else Rikku would have seen him blush, “Yes…”

“Good…” Rikku said and there was something in her voice that made Tidus shiver slightly.  The girl walked away from the open fridge for a moment and reached for a glass.  Tidus couldn’t help but watch her with barely concealed awe.  There was something different about the way she was carrying herself.  She seemed more…

Mature.

“So I suppose you and she had a long talk about what happened.” Said Rikku suddenly.

Tidus cocked an eyebrow, “About what?”

Rikku turned to him slowly and a sly grin was on her features but at his shocked look, she quickly erased it and took a step closer to him in the darkened room, “So you didn’t talk about it…?”

“Talk about what?” he asked, instantly regretting that he had.  There was something in Rikku’s demeanor that was making him uncomfortable.  Her hand was a little too familiar upon his knee, her face just a tad too close to his own. 

“I think it’s time you know…”

“Know what?”

Rikku leaned in so that her lips gently caressed his ear as she spoke, “I think it’s time you know what Yuna was doing while you were gone…”

Author’s Notes: Sorry this update was a little late.  Lightening struck in my backyard and busted my modem but I got it up and working again (stupid dial up!) so it's all good.  Anyway, this chapter is what a lot of you have been speculating about since Yuna and Gippal "got busy" a few chapters ago.  Rikku told Tidus at the end of the last chapter and now he knows and this chapter is about his reaction to it.  The next chapter will begin the next phase of the story but you'll just have to wait for that.  Until then, here's chapter 15!

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

Chapter Fifteen: This May Be Our Last Chance

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

The bed was cold beside her when Yuna woke early the next morning.  The sheets were still turned down and his pillow was dented but Tidus wasn't there.  Slipping from the bed and gathering up the clothes that had been thrown haphazardly about the floor, Yuna grabbed a fresh outfit from the dresser.  From the window she saw that Besaid was already active with people going to and fro amidst their every day lives.

Her eyes caught his silhouette standing to the side of the temple, staring off into the distance.  She smiled and slipped a pair of sandals onto her feet as she made her way out of the crew's quarters.

Rikku's back was the first thing she saw as she entered the bridge.  Her cousin was staring out toward Tidus too and as Yuna approached, she turned with a wicked grin upon her face, "Sleep well?"

"Yes…" Yuna replied, wearily, taking a few more steps toward her cousin, "Are we…okay?"

Rikku's eyes stared into Yuna's and she replied with an eerie calm, "I think you should be wondering if you and Tidus are okay."

Yuna's eyes widened and she gasped, "You didn't!"

"I did…"

Yuna's eyes traveled between Tidus' silhouette and Rikku's menacing smile before she took off in a run down the plank and onto the path that led down the center of Besaid.  Rikku just couldn't have told Tidus.  Her cousin wasn't so malicious.  Rikku had to have been making Yuna think she had told him just to scare her.

Right…?

She could almost see the tension in Tidus' back as she approached with a feigned casualness about her.  Wakka and Lulu were outside with Vidina.  Brother, Buddy, and Gippal were talking to Shinra through the commsphere.  Things seemed to be normal.

Except for that tension…

"Oac, ra'c pylg" Buddy said.

Gippal nodded, "Ech'd ed knayd?!"

"Cdibet, Tidus." Brother grumbled, curling his legs beneath him.

Her sandals slapped at her heels as she approached Tidus.  The sun was reflecting off of his blonde hair and she would have thought he looked incredibly handsome had it not been for the fact that her stomach was coiling inside of her.  Taking the few more steps it took to clear the distance between them, Yuna plastered a smile on her face, "Good morning, handsome." She said as she reached out to touch his shoulder.

Tidus twisted out of her reach before she made contact.  He glared at her from over his shoulder and hissed, "Don't touch me."

Yuna felt sure that her stomach was officially in her toes.  He knew.  He knew everything and she needed to make him understand.  Taking a breath, she whispered, "So, I guess you talked to Rikku."

Tidus turned his back to her and stared out into the sky, "You should have told me."

"I was going to…"

He shook his head at nothing in particular, "No you weren't.  Don't lie to me."

"You're right," she admitted, "I wasn't going to…at least not yet."

He growled low in his throat and turned to face her suddenly.  It was in that instant that she saw the anger and pain that was welling up deep inside of himself, "So when were you going to tell me, Yuna?  On our golden anniversary?!"

"Can we please go and talk about this privately?" Yuna begged in a hushed voice.  Besaid residents were becoming drawn to the obvious argument that she and Tidus were having and she didn't want to air their problems in public, especially with Gippal just yards away.

"Privately?!" Tidus shrieked, "So now you want to be in private!  Privacy was the last thing on your mind yesterday apparently!"

She heard footsteps closing in on them and she felt her heart start to pound in her chest.  Yuna took a step to him and he took a step back, "Tidus…please…"

Tidus sneered at her and then motioned behind her, "Here comes loverboy to the rescue." He said sarcastically.

"Hey, you guys okay?" Gippal asked as he stopped a few feet to the side of Yuna, "We heard yelling."

"Yeah," Tidus said, glaring into Yuna's eyes, "We're done here."

He made a move to swerve around her but Yuna was quicker and grabbed his bicep, holding on for dear life.  Tears started streaming down her cheeks as she begged, "Please, will you let me explain?!"

He wrenched his arm away from her, "Explain what?!  Explain that you and…" he motioned toward Gippal, "…Mr. Wonderful here got busy while I was gone?!"

The Dream Zanarkand group started to make their way towards them now, each with a different look upon their faces.  Laguna's was of concern.  Squall's and Seifer's were of indifference.  Irvine's and Zell's were of interest.  Quistis, Selphie, Rinoa, and Ellone's were of sadness.  Yuna barely noticed, though, as the tears blinded her to anything but Tidus.  She heard Gippal gulp as he backed off, "Um…I'll just be…going now…"

"Is everything okay over here, Tidus?"

Tidus nodded at his uncle, "Yeah, Laguna.  Yuna and I were just finishing up."

"Tidus…" she squeaked out.

"There's nothing else to say, Yuna." Tidus murmured sadly, "I trusted you and you broke that trust.  First with Shuyin and now with Gippal.  Makes me wonder what you were doing with Seymour…"

"That's not fair!" Yuna cried, "I didn't know it wasn't you with Shuyin!  And…Seymour?!  You think that I….!" her mouth gaped open in shock as she hissed, "You know that isn't possible considering that Macalania was after the Seymour thing."

Tidus shrugged, "I don't know anything anymore."

"You know that I love you."

"Do I?" Tidus asked, "Do I really?!  I don't know about that.  If you really loved me then you wouldn't have picked the one place that should have reminded you of me to mess around with your cousin's boyfriend!"  He stomped his foot like a naughty toddler, "I mean, damn it Yuna!  You cheated on me in Zanarkand!!  Zanarkand!!  Why not just fuck him in Macalania and get it over with?!"

"I didn't cheat on you!"

"Then how do you put it?!  Were you honoring my memory by putting your hand down Gippal's pants?!"

Gippal bit his lip and took a step closer, "Listen…I think that I should…"

"Shut the fuck up!" Tidus shrieked, "I don't give a flying fuck what you think!  Stay out of this!  You've done enough!"

"Don't talk to him like that!" shouted Yuna, suddenly furious for no reason other than the fact that Tidus was furious.  She raised her arms akimbo, "We didn't do anything wrong!  You were dead!  What did you expect me to do?!  Did you want me to be a nun?!"

"You could have at least waited until I was cold!" raged Tidus, "I mean, not only wasn't I dead for a week but you screwed with your cousin's boyfriend!"

"He's not her boyfriend!"

"Close enough!"

"Guys!  Guys!  Calm down, ya!" Wakka cried, trying to calm the fires that threatened to consume the young couple.

Piercing blue and green eyes focused on him as the duo screamed, "Stay out of this Wakka!"

"Don't yell at him!" Tidus screamed at her, waving his arms around maniacally, "He didn't do anything wrong!"

"Neither did I!"

Tidus sneered, "Oh, sorry…here I was thinking cheating was wrong!"

"I didn't cheat on you!" Yuna shrieked, now completely oblivious to the crowd they were forming, "I thought you were dead!  We both thought you were dead!"

"And you didn't wait until I was cold in the ground first?!"

Yuna glowered at him, "This isn't about you, Tidus.  This has nothing to do with you.  You have no right to be angry with me.  This is between Rikku, me, and Gippal.  You have no right to be angry with me."

"Oh really?!  I have no right to be angry with you?" he asked, fury seeping off of every word he uttered.  He glared at her and spat, "So I have no right to be angry that my girlfriend turned out to be a slut?!"

Her hand, after seeming to grow a mind of its own, flew up from her side and connected with his face with a deafening smack.  Silence followed as Yuna dropped her hand to her side, panic rising up in her chest.  She stammered, "I…I…I'm…"

"Save it." Tidus spat back at her, rubbing his cheek with one hand and pointing furiously at her with the other, "I don't want to hear any of your shit.  You cheat on me, and they you hit me?!"  He scoffed at her, "I don't even want to look at you anymore."

And Yuna watched dejectedly as Tidus stormed away from her.

----------------------

AL BHED TRANSLATION

Oac, ra'c pylg: Yes, he's back

Ech'd ed knayd:  Isn't it great?!

Cdibet: Stupid

Author’s Notes: This chapter has some violence in it so be warned toward the end of the chapter.  It’s nothing too descriptive, but it is there.  There is also some sensual dialog and action.  Again, nothing descriptive, but it is there.

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

Chapter Sixteen: Descent Into Nothingness

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

Gippal didn’t know what he was doing.  All he knew was that he was possessed by a desire to set things right between Tidus and Yuna so he now found himself walking quietly up to Tidus on the shores of Besaid beach. 

The water lapped gently at the sands and Gippal barely came within feet of Tidus when the blitzball player asked, “Are you here to try and get me to forgive and forget?”

Gippal shrugged, “I just want to try and make you understand.”

“There’s nothing to understand,” Tidus replied, turning to half face Gippal in the sunlight, “It seems pretty cut and dry to me.”

“That’s not true.”

“How do you figure that?”

The taller blonde took a few steps further and stood next to Tidus with a few feet separating them.  Both stared off at the lapping ocean waters before Gippal responded, “She didn’t consciously cheat on you and that’s the one thing you have to understand.  I kissed her.  She was upset and I took advantage of that.  If you should be mad at anybody, it should be me.”

Tidus chuckled, “Trust me, I am pissed at you.” He stated firmly, “but you didn’t force Yuna to kiss you back, or…you know…do that other stuff.”

“True…” Gippal conceded, “but Yuna loves you and you know that.  It never would have happened if she had thought you were still alive.”

“Honestly, Gippal, this whole incident is just one in a line of incidents that…” he sighed, “…I just don’t think I can trust her anymore.”

“Are you talking about Shuyin?”

Tidus nodded, “Shuyin…Seymour…you…” he groaned and ran a hand through his hair, “Every guy that I know has spent more time with her than me!  I mean, hell, I’m even jealous of Kimahri!”

“She hasn’t done anything with Kimahri!  I can promise you that!”

Tidus burst into hysterical laughter at that thought, “Oh…oh…oh…I know that!  Trust me!”

“Good…”

A calm settled between them as they continued to stare into the ocean.  Gippal didn’t know what else to say.  When he had kissed Yuna, he hadn’t considered the fact that Tidus might come back from the dead again.  All he had thought was that Rikku was furious with him for reasons still unknown and that Yuna was crying and needed to be comforted. 

“You know what bothers me the most about it?” Tidus asked out of the blue.

“What?”

He took a ragged breath and whispered, “With Seymour, Yuna did what she had to do for Spira and we weren’t involved so I had no real right to be jealous at all.  I mean, besides, she didn’t even do anything with Seymour besides kiss him.  With Shuyin, she thought it was me…” he stopped and Gippal saw a tear drip from his eye before he said, “With you…she knew it wasn’t me and she did it anyway.”

Gippal was silent.  What was he supposed to say to that?  He agreed with Yuna that Tidus didn’t have a right to be angry, but for the first time he was seeing that the man wasn’t angry…

He was hurt.

“I didn’t sleep with her.” Stated Gippal, hoping to assuage Tidus’ belief of that.

The blitzer nodded, “I know that.” He replied, “But you would have had Rikku not interrupted.  Am I right?”

Gippal was quiet, biting his lip and turning away from Tidus, ashamed of his answer.

“I thought so.” Tidus said, nodding.

Footsteps echoed from behind them and both turned to face the intruder.  Yuna’s hair shimmered in the sun but her eyes were puffy and red from the stream of tears that had run since her argument with Tidus.  Gippal took a step away from the duo to give them space but Tidus shook his head, “Don’t bother Gippal.  I have nothing to say to her.”

“Tidus…” Yuna squeaked.

The blitzer frowned, his lower lip quivering as if he, himself, was going to cry as well, “I don’t know you anymore, Yuna.  I don’t think I ever did.” And with a nod in Gippal’s direction, he walked off back toward Besaid town.

----------------------

After another argument with Yuna about how he had messed up her life, Gippal meandered back to the Celsius with the intention of taking a long, hot shower – after, of course, locking the door. 

This had been, by far, the worst few days of his life – except when Baralai had been murdered and he’d been framed for it – and Gippal just wanted things to go back to normal.  Unfortunately, normal seemed to be a thing of the past.  With Rikku acting so strangely, and Tidus’ dream Zanarkand friends wandering around Spira things were bound to get much more strange. 

With a grunt, Gippal shoved the door to the crew’s quarters open and let it slam behind him.  Making his way up the stairs, he pulled his shirt over his head and let it drop in a pile on the floor.  He stripped out of the rest of his clothes as he walked into the bathroom and as soon as the hot water connected with his bare skin, he felt himself relax.  Hot showers always had a way of calming him even when it felt like the entire world was going to shit around him. 

He stood under the spray for several long moments until he heard something from the crew’s quarters.  The last thing he wanted was for Yuna to walk in on him again, so he quickly turned the spray off and wrapped a towel firmly about his waist to investigate the sound. 

Cracking the door slightly, he poked his nose out, “Yuna?  I just got out of the shower!  Do not look!”

No answer…

“Is there anybody there?”

No answer…

Intrigued and just as confused, Gippal opened the door a little more and took a step out, startled by the sudden feeling of cool air against his still damp skin.  Glancing down over the railing that looked over Barkeep’s area, Gippal called out again, “Anybody in here?”

No answer…

Shrugging to himself, Gippal made a move to turn back into the bathroom when his foot caught on something on the ground.  He looked down at what his toes had wrapped themselves around and gasped.

A bra…

That certainly hadn’t been there before! 

His eyes traveled further along the floor where they caught on a pair of panties and shorts, all leading to one of the beds along the far wall.  His eyes flickered upward and stopped in shock on Rikku, laying on the bed provocatively with a grin on her face, “I was wondering when you’d notice me.” She said.

“R…R…Rik…ku?” Gippal stammered, unconsciously pulling the towel tighter around his waist. 

Rikku rose from the bed and sauntered toward him as if completely unaware of her lack of clothes, “Good to see you too, lover.”

Gippal tried to focus on anything else besides Rikku but felt his body beginning to betray him as she came closer to him.  He could feel her breath against his chest as her hands trailed along the muscular ridges of his torso.  He straightened his back and took a deep breath, “W…what are you d…doing?” he stammered, still unable to completely make himself at ease.

“I’m really sorry about what a bitch I’ve been.” She replied with a smirk, “I’m here to make it up to you.”

“H…how?”

She grinned and, with a snap of her wrist, pulled the towel from his grasp and flung it across the room.  His eyes widened in surprise and he backed away from her only to find himself pinned against the wall by her body as her mouth attacked his own.  This wasn’t the Rikku he had grown up with.  His Rikku never would have done something like this.  He wanted to stop her, but his mind was losing to his body as she trailed her hands down…down…

Down….

A daze descended upon him and all he heard was Rikku’s lilting giggle as she whispered, “My, my, my.  It’s been a long time since you’ve been with a girl, hasn’t it Gippal?”

Red suffused his face as he darted away from her and grabbed the towel from the floor, replacing it around his waist.  He backed away from her approach until his back was bracing him against the railing of the stairs. 

“I suppose Plan A is out the window for a while.” She said with a smile as she began to gather her clothes from the floor.  Gippal watched with barely concealed confusion as she began to dress again, stopping only a few times to make sure his towel was still secure.

“Plan A?” he managed.

Rikku nodded, “Yes, lover.  Plan A was to seduce you and then after you fell asleep, I was going to clunk Yuna over the head and stick her in bed with you.”  She shrugged and stepped closer to him, “Unfortunately, I don’t have time to waste.  So my only option is to go with Plan B…a decidedly less attractive option for you admittedly, but I have no other choice.”

Gippal swallowed hard and swerved to his right and took a step backward down the stairs, “You’re not Rikku…” he whispered.

“Very good, lover.” The woman wearing Rikku’s skin replied.

“What do you want?”

The fake Rikku leaned in closer to him, “I need to weaken Tidus’ psyche.”

Gippal stared at her, “His what?”

“His psyche.” Replied the woman, “His mind.  His awareness, if you will.”

“Why?”

“Well, that’s for me to know and you to find out, isn’t it Gippal?” she replied with a smile, “But now, I’m afraid it’s time for Plan B.”  She took another step toward him as Gippal took another step down the stairs.

“What is Plan B?” he asked, trying to summon up all of his courage but failing miserably.

She smiled, “Well, I’ll be happy to show you.” And with a quick movement, she pushed hard against Gippal’s chest until she felt his feet slipping from the stairs of his precarious perch.  Gippal realized he was falling and tried desperately to stop it, but couldn’t.  His head smacked against the stairs a few feet down but he didn’t stop.  Instead, his feet went up over his head and he flipped down and then back over finally landing hard on his back at the base of the stairs. 

He saw her approaching him, but the pain beating down upon him was more than he could bear and he couldn’t focus on her.  She came closer, straddling him and squatting down so that she was right in his face as she whispered, “Plan B has a part two as well.  Except this doesn’t involve Yuna naked next to you.”  She grinned broadly and hissed, “See, I have all of Rikku’s memories and thoughts and an interesting detail came to my attention as I was planning my next move.”

“W...w…wh…at?” Gippal gurgled, blood forming in his mouth and beginning to block off his oxygen supply.

“See…you were such a tough guy when they accussed you of attacking Baralai.” The female grinned menacingly, “Do you think Tidus will be just as tough or do you think he’ll just cave in immediately and give me what I want?”  with a concescending pat on Gippal’s head, she rose and stepped away from him, “I guess we’ll just have to see, won’t we?” 

She rose from her perch over him and meandered toward Barkeep’s bar, pulling a wine bottle from behind the counter and coming back over to him.  Popping the cork, she chugged down for several moments before tipping it and dumping the rest down upon Gippal’s face and neck, laughing as he coughed and spat up blood and wine, “What’s the matter, Gippal?  Don’t like that?”

Gippal glared at her as the last drop of wine landed on his nose, “Wh…wh…why?”

“You helped me of your own free will when you kissed Yuna.  That caused the break between Tidus and Yuna, but I need to ensure that it will remain there.  I think Yuna would be able to tell that something is different with her lover – especially the second time around.”

Gippal stared at her wide-eyed, “S…Sh…Shu…”

Nodding her answer, she shrugged and gripped the nose of the bottle hard in her right hand, squatting down next to him again, “I told you Plan B wasn’t a more attractive option for you, but you just had to go and ruin Plan A so quickly.” She shrugged and lifted the bottle high above his head, “Just hope that you die quickly, Gippal, because if you wake up and spill what I just told you then I’ll make you wish you had never been born.”

And darkness covered over him as the bottle connected with his skull and shattered around him…

Author’s Notes: The title of this chapter means "Children of the Fate" and it's from a Latin chant that is featured in Final Fantasy 8.  I have the full translation of the entire chant below.

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

Chapter Seventeen: Liberi Fatali

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

"Tidus!" Yuna called after him as he tried desperately to get as far away from her as Besaid would allow.  It was a problem, however, that she grew up there and knew everything there was to know about the island.  This left him with very few places to hide.

"Leave me alone!" he shouted over his shoulder as he made a beeline for Wakka and Lulu's hut.  He knew that Wakka would give him the solitude that he needed.

She didn't listen to him, though, as he heard her footsteps continue to echo behind him even as he made a dash through the door of the hut.  Wakka opened his mouth to speak to Tidus when he saw Yuna stride through after him, tears still streaming down her face.  Lulu looked at Wakka pleadingly so her husband rose and walked over to the duo.  Tidus had his arms crossed and his back to Yuna.  Yuna was crying quietly and wordlessly pleading for him to speak to her.  The tall, red-haired man touched shoulders on both of them, "We need to talk, ya."

Tidus gritted his teeth, "There's nothing to talk about."

"Oh, but there is, ya." Wakka said, gripping Tidus' wrist and pulling the man to the sofa and forcing him to sit and then doing the same with Yuna until the young couple was seated directly across from him, Lulu, and little Vidina who was napping peacefully in his mother's arms.

"This is ridiculous…" Tidus muttered, scooting away from Yuna on the sofa.

Wakka rolled his eyes, "No, what is ridiculous is the way you been acting, ya!"  he motioned to Yuna, "You love this girl and she did somethin' stupid, but that don't mean that you got the right to be angry with her, ya!"

"She cheated on me and then she hit me Wakka!"

Wakka grimaced at Yuna, "Yeah, that was pretty stupid, Yu…" he said, but turned his attentions to Tidus again, "However, that don't change the fact that you love her and she loves you and you don't purposely hurt the people you love."

Tidus sneered, "Yeah, I'm sure her hand just accidentally went into Gippal's pants."

"I told you that I thought you were dead!" Yuna cried.

"Like that's supposed to forgive it?!"

"It should!"

"Both of you be quiet!" Lulu shrieked suddenly in a high pitched cry that awakened Vidina and shut up the quarreling duo.  She rose to her feet and crossed the room to place Vidina in his basket before turning back to them, "The entire time I saw you two falling in love on the pilgrimage, I was against it because I knew that one day you'd be at each others throats." She shrugged, "Of course, I figured it'd be Tidus doing the cheating, but in the end I suppose it doesn't matter."

"Why would you think I would…?"

"Did I say you could speak?" Lulu asked, her arms akimbo as she glared at him menacingly.  Tidus shook his head in silence and Lulu nodded, "That's better."  The darkly beautiful black mage sat down next to her husband again.  She propped her arms onto her knees and cradled her head in her hands as she gazed at the couple before her, "Yuna was wrong.  She was wrong to be with Gippal and she was wrong to hit you.  However, Tidus, she didn't cheat on you.  She thought you were dead, therefore her being with Gippal has nothing to do with you.  Its between her, Rikku, and Gippal.  As for the hitting part…you shouldn't have called her a slut."

"Oh…so it's all my fault." Tidus asked, sarcastically, standing and making his way toward the door, "Thanks for enlightening me, Lulu."

"Did I say you could leave?" Lulu asked.

Tidus shook his head, "No, and frankly I don't care.  I just want to be alone."  He stared pointedly at Yuna, "And tell your little boyfriend that this applies to him too.  I may have made nice with him earlier, but it ends now.  The next time he crosses my path, he's dead meat."

"I took care of thing with Gippal…" Yuna said to him but Tidus just scoffed and made his way to the door.

"We heard shouting.  Are you okay?" Squall asked as Tidus stormed out of Wakka's hut, letting the door slam behind him.  The blitzball player barely noticed the SeeD commander was there until he slammed into him with his shoulder while trying to make a left turn.

"Sorry…" Tidus muttered to the brunette as he continued on his path.  He thought he heard Squall call after him, but Tidus didn't hear what he had said.  His mind was too full of thoughts to comprehend anything else.

Tidus continued along the rocky path that led back to the beach, passing Besaid residents and 'dream world' visitors left and right until he reached the waterfall and stopped.  The water beat down upon the rocks below and Tidus stood, staring at it as if mesmerized by it.

How could things have gone so wrong?

When he came back to Yuna and Spira things were supposed to be happily ever after.  They had so many plans for their future together.  What happened?

Tidus glared at nothing at all.

Shuyin had happened.

Tidus' hands were covered with the blood that Shuyin had spilt.  Shuyin had used his body to kill Baralai and Tidus had to live with the fact that the last thing Baralai saw in this world was his eyes staring, his mouth smiling as he died.  Shuyin had wreaked havoc on Tidus' relationship with Yuna and Gippal had continued the trend with such finesse that Tidus wasn't sure he and Yuna could bridge the gap that had formed between them.

Tidus continued along the rocky path letting the waterfall be a distant reminder at his back until he could no longer hear the water rushing to the earth below.  Two blond heads were seen in the distance and as Tidus got closer he recognized Quistis Trepe and Seifer Almasy standing with their backs to him engrossed in a conversation.  Quistis saw him first and smiled at him, "Hello, Tidus."

Tidus nodded at her and then at Seifer who turned to see who Quistis was speaking to.  His green eyes connected with Tidus' blue ones and Tidus saw then how similar both were.  Both of them knew what it was like to be forced to do things against their wills by forces more powerful than themselves.

"Still fighting with your chick?" Seifer asked with a tone in his voice that sounded more like he felt he had to ask rather than being actually interested in Tidus' answer.

Tidus shook his head, "I don't want to talk about it."

"We understand," replied Quistis who then glanced pointedly at Seifer, "And women are not chicks."

Seifer shrugged, "Whatever you say, Instructor..." replied the man as he turned his back to her again.  Quistis appeared ready to speak to him again when Seifer suddenly dropped to his knees, clutching his head and letting out high pitched shrieks of pain.

"Seifer!" Quistis squealed, dropping down next to him.  Tidus was there in a second as well and both tried to calm Seifer who seemed on the verge of hyperventilation.

"Calm down, Seifer!" commanded Tidus.

The blonde rocked back and forth on his knees, squeezing his head like a vice and whispering barely audible words under his breath.  Quistis ordered Tidus to stay with Seifer while she ran for help.  Tidus nodded in agreement and continued to try and calm the man but to no avail.  He simply kept whispering to himself.  Leaning in closer, Tidus strained to hear with Seifer was saying…

"Fithos…lusec…wecos…vinosec…"

"What…?"

"Fithos…lusec…wecos…vinosec…" repeated Seifer, the words like a mantra as he stared blankly out in front of him.  His green eyes seemed to look right through Tidus as if he wasn't even there.

"Seifer…?"

"Fithos…lusec…wecos…vinosec…"

"Come to me, little one…"

Tidus's head perked up at the familiar voice that echoed in his ears.  Seifer had quieted and was no longer whispering to himself, though he still stared blankly forward.

"Come to me…"

Tidus turned to face the Celsius that was just barely visible over the tree tops.  For some reason he knew the voice was coming from there.  But why did it seem so familiar?  Did he know the person this voice belonged to?

"Yes…" The voice in his head answered.

Tidus thought his heart had stopped.  Whoever this voice belonged to, they could read his thoughts.  The only person able to do that was…

But no…this voice was feminine.  It couldn't be Shuyin.

Then who was it?

"Come to me…" the voice repeated and Tidus found himself unable to resist any longer.  Suddenly forgetting that he had promised to stay with Seifer, he started to cross the distance between himself and the Celsius.  He could have stopped if he wanted to.  It was this fact that made him realize that Shuyin was not controlling him.  This person was giving him the will to choose but was making the temptation to go to the Celsius so great that Tidus found himself uninterested in resisting.

He wanted to go.

As soon as he stepped on board the ship, the doors and windows closed, barring his exit.  His hand went to his sword holster only to discover that he didn't have it with him.  Then again…why would he?  He'd lost it somewhere.

He swallowed hard, suddenly realizing that he was in an abandoned ship, unarmed, with a strange voice calling to him and beckoning him to come closer.

And closer he went…

Keeping his eyes open for sudden dangers, Tidus made his way to the back of the bridge and the elevator that was housed there.  Without thinking, his fingers pushed for the level of the crew's quarters.  Deep inside, he knew that's where he'd find his quarry.

The door to the quarters was cracked open and he saw a shadow move along the far wall as he pushed the door open fully.  The first thing he saw was a trail of bloody footsteps all around the room but before his mind could wonder where the blood was coming from, he saw it.

Gippal…

"Shit!" Tidus cried, falling to his knees and crawling over to Gippal as quickly as he could, "Gippal!  Wake up!" His hands felt for a pulse and, upon finding a faint one, he began to rip at pieces of his clothing and Gippal's to make bandages.  The blood was seeping violently from Gippal's face and head until the man was almost unrecognizable.  Every time Tidus would wipe away blood, three times more would appear until he was certain Gippal would bleed to death.

"Now…I might be wrong, but I think this might seem a bit familiar to you…"

Tidus stopped what he was doing and turned to face the intruder.  Her blonde hair and striking green eyes gave her away instantly as she sauntered nearer to him in her usual attire, "…Rikku…?"

"You see…Gippal thought that too, until I shoved him down the stairs and beat his brains out with a wine bottle."

Tidus squirmed to Gippal's other side, cradling his bloodied head in his lap as he continued to attempt at stopping the blood.  He stared at the girl, "…Not Rikku…"

"Very good…"

"…Ultimecia…?"

Ultimecia nodded, Rikku's hair falling into her eyes as she grinned, "…Excellent…"

Tidus' hands started to shake until he could no longer hold Gippal's head up for fear of dropping it.  Gently as he could, he laid it back down on the floor and stood, wiping blood onto his pants absently, "W…what do you want?"

"Doesn't this look familiar to you…?" Ultimecia asked him, taking a step closer, "This is where Baralai died by your hand, isn't it?"

Tidus felt like his insides were caving in and he backed up another step.

"Or maybe the blood reminds you more of Lenne…" Ultimecia suggested, "When she was attacked by Allyn's hired thug?"

Tidus stared at her, "How do you know that?  Who are you?"

"I know all and I see all.  I am Ultimecia," the woman replied, "but before that, I was a young lady not much younger than Yuna is now.  I loved a man with all of my heart and soul and I knew that if I lost him, I'd go insane.  And I did lose him.  I saw him die before me and it drove me insane."

"What does this have to do with me?!"

"Nothing…" Ultimecia replied, "Nothing at all."

"Then…why…?"

"Yuna was turned back into Lenne.  I want to turn my love back into the person he used to be instead of the spineless dream he is now."

Tidus stared at her, unable to speak.  She advanced toward him and he retreated until his back was firmly against a wall.  She was so close to him that he could feel her breath against his face, "…You need Shuyin…" he replied as the realization hit him.

"Yes…"

"How do you know he'll help you?"

"I'll make him an offer he can't refuse." She replied, "I'll give him back Lenne, if he gives me back Squall."

Tidus's eyes widened, "Squall!"

Ultimecia didn't reply to him.  Her hands waved in front of his face as her words echoed in his head as they had before, only this time there were in a language he didn't understand.

Excitate vos e somno, liberi mei
Cunae non sunt
Excitate vos e somno, liberi fatali
Somnus est non.

Tidus tried to escape her, but found that his limbs didn't want to cooperate.  He was entranced by her lilting voice in his head and her eyes that dared him to stare into them.

Surgite
Inventite hortum veritatis

In her eyes he saw strange sights.  The destruction of Zanarkand – both real and dream.  His first kiss with Yuna; her kiss with Gippal.  The death of his mother; the death of his father.  Baralai's last breath; Gippal drowning in his blood.

Ardente veritate
Urite mala mundi
Ardente veritate
Incendite tenebras mundi

"I'm going to make you crack, little one." Ultimecia whispered to him, waving her hands about his head one final time.

Valete, liberi
Diebus fatalibus

Fithos lusec wecos vinosec

Fithos lusec wecos vinosec

Fithos lusec wecos vinosec

--------------------------.

Author's Notes:  The words that Seifer and Ultimecia say in this chapter is a Latin chant called "Liberi Fatali".  The translation is as follows:

Succession of witches

Succession of witches

Succession of witches

Arise from your sleep, my children
Your cradles shall no longer exist
Arise from your sleep, children of Fate
Abandon your cradles

Arise
Discover the garden of Truth

Brilliant truth
Burn the heavens of evil
Burning truth
Set ablaze the heavens of darkness

Prevail, children
Fated day

Succession of witches

Succession of witches

Succession of witches

Author’s Notes:  Normally by this point in the story I’m beginning to wrap things up to work my way toward the end but this time around, I’m just getting to the good stuff so this story will be longer than the previous ones in this trilogy.  I hope you all enjoy chapter 18. 

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

Chapter Eighteen: Between A Rock and A Hard Place

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

She was staring at him when he opened his eyes, unsure of his surroundings.  The hard ground at his back made it uncomfortable for him to stay lying where he was and he carefully rose to a sitting position, but never once did her eyes waver from his visage. 

He cleared his throat uncomfortably and feigned a smile, “Hello, Rikku.”

She grinned broadly, “It worked…”

“What worked?” he asked, suddenly very unsure of what she was planning to do to him and equally unsure of how he got here in the first place.  Wasn’t he supposed to be gone…?

She rose to her feet and extended her hand to help him to his.  Taking it carefully, she pulled him to a standing position and then stared at him again, “You don’t know who I am…but I know all about you.”

He cocked his eyebrow, “I…don’t know you?”

She shook her head, “We never met before, although I dated your cousin for a while.  I came to know more about you, however, through your adventures here a few months ago.”

Backing up cautiously, he glared at her, “You stay away from me.”

“Oh come on, Shuyin.  Don’t be such a baby!”

Gasping in shock, he gaped openmouthed at the girl in front of him, “Who are you?!”

She smiled at him and turned around slowly as if modeling her clothes, “Well, I’m obviously not Rikku.  My name was Rinoa Heartilly but nowadays I go by Ultimecia.”

“And you say you dated my cousin?”

“You know…Squall...” she said sarcastically before sobering, “I was with him for a while.  We helped Zaon and Yunalesca defeat Sin but…”

“Did he die?”

She nodded, “But not from Sin.  He was killed afterwards, right in front of me.”  She stared at him, “He was recreated in the dream world along with everyone else – including me.”

“Well, it makes sense seeing as how you’re dead.”

She rolled her eyes at him, “I’m not dead, you idiot.  I’m a sorceress and as such, I am immortal.  I can, however, switch bodies and possess when I want and that’s what I’m doing with Rikku.  The stupid girl swore to be my host without even questioning what that was.”

“So you have to get permission?”

“No!” Ultimecia snapped, “but I do sometimes so that I can have something to look back on and laugh about.”

It was Shuyin’s turn to roll his eyes at her.  He didn’t need this crap.  If she could possess anybody then what did she want him for?  She already had a body.  She didn’t need his...-er…Tidus’…- anyway.

“I’m out of here.” He said with a wave as he turned away from her and saw suddenly that she meant business.  Gippal’s crumpled body on the ground was lying exactly how he remembered Baralai’s laying except Gippal’s was covered in thick, red blood.  Without taking his eyes off of the man, Shuyin whispered, “Is he dead?”

“He wasn’t a few minutes ago,” she replied, “but anything could have happened by now.”

“What do you want from me?  Why are you doing this?”

Ultimecia took a place beside him and stared at Gippal as well although Shuyin was certain she was marveling at her handiwork rather than basking in the dread that was bubbling up inside of his stomach.  She glanced at him askance and replied, “As much as I loathe admitting it, your evil matches mine and I need your help in order to complete my plans.”

Shuyin shook his head violently, “I’m not evil.”

“What…?” Ultimecia asked sarcastically, “Are you just confused…?  In love, maybe…?” she scoffed at him, “What you did was evil – plain and simple – and I find myself admiring that trait in you.  Sleeping with another man’s girlfriend, killing an innocent, threatening the life of said girlfriend, sending your alter-ego back to where he came from…” she grinned, “Brilliant…”

“I only did it because I was going to vanish!” he cried, “I couldn’t deal with that, but I got over it and…and…” he stopped, staring into her eyes, “How did I get here?”

“I told you before that I’m a sorceress,” she replied, “A little wave of my hand and I can bring anybody back that I want.  Zaon…Yunalesca…Skirpa…even your precious Lenne.”

“How do you know all this?  How do you know about them?!”

“I know all…”

Shuyin stared at Gippal, his hands starting to tremble, “Why did you do this to Gippal?”

A wide and evil grin spread on the face of the woman next to him as she replied, “I needed some insurance.  Either you do what I want you to do willingly, or I make you…”

-----------------------------.

“He’s over here!” Quistis shouted behind her as she – along with her fellow dream residents, Yuna, and Wakka ran to where she had left Seifer with Tidus, “I left Tidus with him.”

Yuna stopped, “Maybe I shouldn’t go then….” She suggested but Wakka just shook her head and pulled her along.

“This isn’t about you guys right now.  That Seifer guy might need your help, ya.”

“Right…” said Yuna with a nod. 

The group continued along the rocky path, past the waterfalls and the shrine to which travelers prayed for safe passage until they reached the overpass where Seifer had been left.  Quistis saw him, still squatting where she’d left him, but…

“Where’s Tidus?” asked Squall as he looked around.

“I don’t know…”

“It doesn’t matter right now!” Rinoa said, running toward her ex-boyfriend until she was a few feet behind him, “Seifer…are you okay?”

Seifer looked at her and smiled, “Hey, Rinny.  Why wouldn’t I be okay?”

“Quistis said you…”

“You started screaming like you were in pain!” Quistis interrupted, stalking toward him, “Was it just an act?  And what did you do with Tidus?!”

Seifer sneered, “I didn’t do anything with him instructor.  I haven’t seen him.”

“Where did he go?!”

Seifer shrugged and squinted his eyes in confusion, “I don’t know…Everything’s really fuzzy right now.”

Yuna nervously played with her fingers as all around her Tidus’ dream world acquaintances argued and pointed blame for Seifer’s strange malady and Tidus’ disappearance.  Finally, she had enough and shouted, “Will you all just shut up?!”

The silence was such that a pin could be heard slamming against the ground as all eyes focused on Yuna.  With a sigh, she said, “I’m sure Tidus just wandered off by himself seeing as how Seifer is fine.  He’s probably on the Celsius or by the beach or something.”

Seifer made an arrogant gesture toward Yuna and said to Quistis, “See…she’s not worried.”

Quistis sneered, “Well, why don’t you tell me why you can’t remember where he went then?”

Seifer shrugged, “I don’t know why I can’t remember.  I just don’t, but I’m sure Yuna is right.  Tidus probably just wandered off.”

“Exactly,” Yuna said in response, nodding quietly as if trying to convince herself that the growing worry in her stomach was something she could ignore, “I’m going to go and find him.”

“I’ll come with you, ya.”

“We’ll go too.” Squall said, speaking for his group and before Yuna could say another word there was a procession forming toward the beach and she found herself forced to keep moving or be lost in the fray.

--------------------.

“How do you intend on making me?” Shuyin asked after several moments of silence.

Ultimecia grinned and stepped over Gippal’s blood soaked body, sauntering confidently toward the bar to pour herself a shot of bourbon, “Tidus is just so angry at Yuna and Gippal these days.  Imagine finding his way back to her only to be told that she was messing around with her cousins’ man…”  Ultimecia turned back to him and used Rikku’s mouth to form a grin, “How horrible!” she said, feigning horrification.

“Yuna wouldn’t do that.” Shuyin said simply.

“Oh yes she would,” Ultimecia replied, “and Tidus knows it.” She stopped and stared at him for a moment, “Do you remember what I told Tidus or can you not access his memories anymore?”

Shuyin glared at her, “What I remember is really none of your business.”

“So you can’t access them…” answered Ultimecia of her own question, “No matter.  It’s not important.  You’ll still do what I want you to do.”

“And why are you so sure of that?”

Ultimecia stepped toward him again, letting her foot slam into Gippal’s left hand.  Shuyin cringed as he heard bones cracking beneath the weight but the man didn’t move and he felt a lump forming in his throat. 

Was Gippal dead…?

“Tidus is so angry at Gippal.  Tidus blames Gippal for the rift between him and his beloved.” She let her eyes wander Shuyin’s form before she grinned and whispered, “Now Tidus is found alone in a room with Gippal’s bloody and decrepit body…” she hissed, “Do the math…”

“Tidus?!  Are you in here?!”

Shuyin gasped and backed up but Ultimecia was right in front of him, pinning him to the wall, “Don’t be in such a rush there, handsome.” She whispered in his ear like a lover, “Playtime is just beginning.”

“What do you mean?” he choked back, his eyes torn between Gippal’s body and the eyes that Ultimecia used to peer at him.

“You can’t get away with this without my help.  You’re covered in his blood and you’re in the room with his body.” She stared at him, “Everyone will think you are guilty.  It’s a much more foolproof plan than when you framed Gippal…”

“I didn’t mean to…”

“Hush yourself.” She ordered, “I will help you get out of this if you promise to help me.”

”Tidus?!”

The footsteps were getting closer now and Shuyin found it hard to breathe, “What do you want me to do?”

“We’ll worry about that later.” She replied, releasing him, “For now, just know that as long as you play my game I’ll get you out of here a free man and, providing you play your cards right, I might be of a mind to give you your girlfriend back too.” She held his gaze for several seconds, “Do we have a deal?”

The doorknob slowly began to turn and Shuyin fixed a panicked stare on it before looking back at Ultimecia.  He was stuck between a rock and a hard place.  If he said no, he’d be sent to jail for a crime he didn’t commit.  Even worse, he could be killed by the furious people about to storm in.  If he said yes, he stood a chance and – no matter how many times he tried to convince himself otherwise – the chance of having Lenne back was quite a tempting bargaining chip.  Swallowing his pride, he nodded hesitantly in agreement, wishing with all his might that he was back in Zanarkand with Lenne before all of this shit started to happen in the first place.

Why did this always happen to him?!

“Excellent…” Ultimecia whispered as a pale white light started to form around Rikku’s body, “Then I’ll see you soon, dear Shuyin…”

And it was almost surreal.  The door flung open and Rikku’s limp body slammed into the floor at the same time as all eyes stared at the sight before them.  Gippal’s bloody body, Rikku’s thin form, and a trembling and crying blonde blitzball player covered in blood, knowing that he’d just made a deal with the devil.

Author’s Notes:  Poor Shuyin…first he dies, then he messes up trying to get Lenne, then he “dies” again, and now he’s got Ultimecia to contend with.  Unfortunately for our little “anti-hero”, this isn’t all he has to deal with.

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

Chapter Nineteen: Fool Me Twice, Shame on Me

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

“Arrest him!”

“Bastard!”

“Son of a bitch!”

“How could you?!”

Shouts, pokes, prods, and angry hisses came at him from every angle but the reaction that affected Shuyin the most was Yuna’s.  She stood quietly in the corner, wringing her hands together and letting silent tears fall from her eyes and pool at her feet.  Her eyes flickered over his for a brief moment before they fell away again.  He wanted to tell her that he didn’t do it.  He wanted to tell her that not only was Tidus innocent, but he was as well.  He wanted to tell her that he wasn’t Tidus, but he thought better of it.  They wanted to draw and quarter him as Tidus.  If they knew he was Shuyin, things would only get worse.

Wakka’s fist connected with his skull first followed by the red-head’s foot, “We trusted you, ya!  How could you do something so stupid?!”

Squall’s eyes flashed as he pulled his gunblade on him.  Shuyin hadn’t seen his cousin in years and, although this was a dream version, everything about him was the same as his introverted cousin. 

Especially his gunblade…

He knew that Squall didn’t mince words.  With one sweep of the blade, Shuyin knew he’d be dead and he closed his eyes to accept his fate when he heard a small whisper, “Don’t…”

It was Yuna’s voice and it was weak with her tears, but she stepped forward bravely and placed two fingers on Rikku’s neck, and then on Gippal’s, “They aren’t dead.” She said finally.

Rinoa stepped next to Yuna, “Shall we?” she asked and at Yuna’s nod the two women released cure spells simultaneously.  Shuyin still felt his cousin’s gunblade at his neck but he realized that Squall was watching the show before him, his eyes firmly glued on the beautiful brunette beside Yuna.

His mind flashed back to the last time he had seen his cousin. 

It was a few months before he had met Lenne and Squall had just become a SeeD.  In celebration, Shuyin had attended the party afterward and was leaning against the wall with Squall watching the girls – although he doubted Squall was doing much more than staring into his wine glass.

“You want some more?” he had asked and Squall had grunted in reply and handed his glass over.  Shuyin hadn’t really wanted another drink.  He’d actually wanted to talk to the pretty waitress that was handing them out and he used the excuse to his advantage. 

The music changed while he was talking to the girl and when he’d cast a glance back over to Squall he saw that his cousin was being dragged onto the dance floor by a beautiful girl in a gold dress who had vanished into thin air moments after the song ended.

It was the same girl who was casting spells with Yuna.

Rinoa Heartilly and…

Ultimecia…

Rikku stirred slowly after a few rounds of cure but Gippal remained motionless and he felt Squall’s gunblade pressing more firmly into his neck.  He leaned down and his dream cousin hissed, “I should kill you now, but for some reason I can’t.  I guess I’m just getting soft…”

“Call Cid.  Get help.” Yuna ordered Wakka and the red-head ran to carry out the command.  She cleared the space between herself and Shuyin in a moment and raised her hand to Squall’s wrist, pulling the blade slowly away from Shuyin’s neck.  Squall backed away obediently and let Yuna kneel before Shuyin.  Her eyes delved into his as if searching for some hidden truths that Shuyin desperately wished he could give her but knew that – for her own sake and his – he couldn’t.

“Cid will be here soon.” Wakka said as he came back into the room, “He’s with Shinra picking up some things in Kilika.  Buddy and Brother are going to get them.”

Yuna nodded, but didn’t remove her eyes from Shuyin.  There was a slight flicker in her eyes that Shuyin didn’t remember seeing before and she rocked back on her heels ever so slightly before a strange expression manifested itself on her features and then vanished just as quickly.

A smirk…?

…No…

It couldn’t be…

Could it…?

Shuyin figured that he must be losing his mind.  Or maybe he’d lost it long ago.  He just didn’t understand what was going on and why shit always seemed to happen to him.  When the fayth had told him he’d merge with Tidus and vanish, they hadn’t said there was an out for him.  They hadn’t said that someone with power could bring him back.  Why didn’t they?  Didn’t they know that could happen?

But they had to have known!  They were fayth!  They created dream Zanarkand and Tidus along with it.  They had to have known all the loopholes that came along with that.

Right…?

And who was this Ultimecia person?  The girlfriend standing across from Squall now seemed like a nice girl.  Shuyin would never guess that under that beautiful exterior beat the heart of an evil witch.  Of course, that evil wasn’t there yet.  Squall hadn’t died and so Rinoa hadn’t become Ultimecia.  Shuyin couldn’t wrap his mind around any of this. 

With a little wave of her hand, she could bring anyone back…?

Was that even possible?  Was she telling him the truth?  Was she lying?  Was she trying to trick him into helping her or was she offering him Lenne for real?  And if it was true, was she referring to Lenne or was she talking about someone else…?

What was Ultimecia planning…? 

 

"Frana yna drao?"

“Uncle Cid?!” Yuna called at the recognition of her uncle’s voice.  Her eyes never wavered from Shuyin’s, “We’re in here.”

Cid came storming in and brushed violently passed the teenagers that stood in his way.  He was followed closely behind by Brother, Buddy, and Shinra.  Shuyin tried to slide away from him on the floor but Squall was quicker and grabbed the neckline of his shirt, pulling Shuyin to a standing position just in time for Cid to punch him hard in the gut, “You damn bastard!” the elder cursed, slugging him again for good measure, “I could just kill ya for what you’ve done, but I won’t.  Yuna wouldn’t be happy with me if I did.”

Shuyin’s eyes were watering as he caught sight of a streak of black hair running passed the room in the corridor and then turning in his tracks upon realizing he’d missed the room.  Laguna didn’t look any different than he had in the real Zanarkand except that this uncle was staring at him like he’d never seen him before.  Shuyin supposed that was true.

Tidus had never killed anyone…

“H…h…how…?” Laguna stammered.

Squall shook his head at Laguna and pressed his gunblade more firmly against Shuyin’s neck, “Don’t waste your breath on him.” He ordered Laguna before turning his eyes to Cid, “You seem to be the law around here.  What do you want to do with him?”

Cid grunted, “I’m not the law around here, but I sure as hell won’t let the attack on my daughter and her beau go unpunished.”  Turning to Brother, Buddy, and Shinra the quartet spoke in hushed voices.

“Fryd cruimt fa tu fedr res?” Cid asked.

Brother shouted loudly, pointing with wild gusto at Shuyin, “E cyo fa gemm res pavuna ra gemmc ykyeh!”

“Fa cruimt mad dra zicdela cocdas tu edc zup.” Came the calm voice of Shinra.

Buddy cocked an eyebrow, “Cu, oui drehg fa cruimt ynnacd res?”

Cid grunted again and turned back to Squall and Shuyin, “It’s been decided.” He said, stepping closer to Shuyin and glaring down at him.  He motioned for Squall to back away which the brunette did with the utmost caution as the elder stood staring down at Shuyin.  The blitzer wanted to back away but found himself stuck between the angry Al Bhed and a wall. 

Cid leaned down and grabbed Shuyin by the shirt, lifting the man to his feet and spinning him around so his face slammed hard into the wall, “I may not be a recognized law official in Yevon territory,” Cid whispered into Shuyin’s ear, “but I don’t think anybody is going to mind if I take you into custody myself.”  With a hand firmly placed on the back of Shuyin’s head, Cid pinned him against the wall, and forced his hands behind his back where Cid firmly held them both within his iron grip. 

“Tidus Rayor, you are under arrest for the attempted murder of Rikku Denel and Gippal Liton.  You have the right to remain silent. You have the right to an attorney…”

As Cid spoke, Shuyin’s mind wandered.  He couldn’t believe the situation he was in.  He hadn’t done anything wrong (at least not lately) and here he was being arrested for trying to kill two people when in actuality the one person wasn’t hurt at all because it was she who had shoved the other guy down the stairs while possessed by a sorceress who was supposed to be dead.  They had to be told!  They had to believe him!

What was he thinking…?

He didn’t even believe it!

“Uncle Cid…” Yuna spoke after Cid had finished going on about what Shuyin was allowed to do, “Shouldn’t we tend to Rikku and Gippal first?”

Cid paused and frowned down at his daughter and Gippal who were still in their positions on the floor.  Rinoa, Quistis, and Selphie were tending to them as best as they could, but they really needed a doctor.  Without releasing his grip on Shuyin, Cid turned to Buddy, “Call Tony.  Tell him we need him here as fast as he can.”

“Who’s Tony?” Yuna asked as Buddy ran to do his task.

“He’s an expert Al Bhed doctor.  He’ll have them up and walking around in no time.” Cid replied, but with a tone that led Shuyin to believe he was trying to convince himself of that.  Cid wrenched Shuyin around to face the doorway, “And as for you, you’re coming with me.”

Shuyin didn’t even want to fight it anymore.  He was going to take the fall for this and even if Ultimecia did come to help him, it wouldn’t matter.  She was only going to force him to do something even worse – of that he was sure.

Squall’s gunblade was still in his hand at the ready and Shuyin briefly wondered if he should just impale himself on it and end this misery quickly, but before he could make that decision he heard Yuna’s weak voice again, “Uncle Cid…”

“Yes girl?” Cid questioned.

“I’d really prefer it if you’d take care of Rikku and Gippal first,” she explained.

“And what about Tidus?”

Yuna sneered at the blitzer in her uncle’s captivity, “Just leave…Tidus…with me.  I’ll watch him.”

“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Yuna…”

Yuna put her hand up to silence any complaints, “I insist on this.  I need to talk to him alone and I’m fully capable of taking care of myself should the need arise.”

Cid looked around the room as all eyes focused on him for the final decision.  Gruffly, he nodded his ascent and threw Shuyin back down onto the floor, “You touch a hair on her head and you won’t live long enough to know what pain feels like.”

Shuyin nodded dumbly and watched in muted awe as several of the men carried Gippal and Rikku out of the room while the rest followed single file out the door.  Yuna followed them most of the way but stopped short of walking through the portal and Shuyin watched as she took a ragged breath and closed it quietly.  She let her head land gently against it in almost a forlorn expression of lost hope.  He wanted to run to her and tell her that everything was okay, but he couldn’t. 

He knew Cid would kill him if he touched her…

“Is he okay…?” whispered Yuna, so low that Shuyin almost couldn’t hear her.  He didn’t respond and instead stared at the lovely lines of her neck until she lifted her head and turned slightly to face him.  With a deep breath, she asked a little louder, “Is he okay…?”

Shuyin instantly felt his hackles rise and he wasn’t sure why, but he felt like he needed to protect himself from an attack he felt was eminent, “Is who okay…?” he asked cautiously.

“You know who I’m talking about…”

Shuyin let out a sigh of relief.  He should have known Yuna was worried about Gippal – especially after what Ultimecia had told him transpired between the two.  He still found it hard to believe that Yuna – his Lenne – would do something like that, but he supposed that he’d have to believe it.  He wasn’t sure what Ultimecia had done to Tidus because he hadn’t heard from his body-mate since he’d suddenly woken up in the Celsius, but he knew that Tidus firmly believed what he’d been told about Yuna and Gippal. 

Tidus wouldn’t believe something about Yuna that maligned her character unless there was reason.

“You said yourself that he’s alive.” Shuyin replied to her.

Yuna shook her head and her brunette locks brushed her cheeks softly, “I’m not talking about Gippal…”

Shuyin froze and Yuna took a step closer to him, followed by another and another until she was mere inches from him.  He could feel his hands starting to tremble as she knelt in front of him, “W…wh…who are you talking a…a…about?” he stammered.

“Don’t play dumb with me!” she suddenly shrieked, slamming her hand into the wall above his head so hard he was afraid she’d broken it, “Just tell me if he’s okay!”

“W…w…who…?” he asked again, although he was relatively sure he knew who she was referring to now.

Her lower lip began to quiver and she reached forward to grip his shirt in her fist, pulling him closer to her until he could feel her ragged breath on his face, “Stop the games, Shuyin.” She hissed, “Is Tidus okay?”

------------------------------.

AL BHED TRANSLATION

Frana yna drao?: Where are they?

Fryd cruimt fa tu fedr res?: What should we do with him?

E cyo fa gemm res pavuna ra gemmc ykyeh!: I say we kill him before he kills again!

Fa cruimt mad dra zicdela cocdas tu edc zup.: We should let the justice system do its job.

Cu, oui drehg fa cruimt ynnacd res?: So, you think we should arrest him?

Author's Notes:  All I'm going to say is this...Remember how Gippal is half Yevonite?

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

Chapter Twenty: An Eye Opening Event

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

She had called him Shuyin…

She knew…?

How…?

His mind was swimming and his hands were shaking.  Neither of them spoke.  The silence between them was permeating every crevice the room had to offer and still it continued until Shuyin could take it no longer.  The morbid curiosity had gotten to him and he whispered, "How did you know…?"

Yuna stood before him and scoffed, "Whenever there's a murder around here, it's usually got your name on it."

"But…I didn't…"

"Shutup!" Yuna shouted, effectively silencing any retort he had in mind, "I don't want to hear your lies!  I just want to know if Tidus is okay and what you did with him!"

"I didn't do anything to him!" Shuyin replied, "I swear!"

Yuna sneered at him, "Then where is he?  Why is he gone?  Why are you here?  Why are there two unconscious people in need of medical attention?"

And so Shuyin began to talk…

He told her about his intent to send Tidus back to the dream world in his anger at the thought of vanishing, then his sudden change of mind at the end.  He told her that he blanked out shortly after letting Tidus take over and the next thing he remembered was waking up in that very room.  He told her about how Ultimecia was possessing Rikku and she is the one that had attacked Gippal in her plan to regain her lover.

Yuna stared at him for several minutes after Shuyin had stopped speaking.  He wasn't sure what her reaction was.  She was wearing an indiscernible expression on her pretty face.  She blinked sharply several times and then finally whispered, "So you're telling me that my cousin is possessed by a psychotic sorceress determined to retrieve her lost lover and that you're just an innocent victim in all of this?"

Shuyin squinted as he waited for the explosion that he knew was about to occur.

He didn't have to wait long…

"Do you think I'm some sort of an idiot?!" she raged, rising to her feet and stalking around the room in a fury, "The only psychotic dead person here is you!"

"B…but…!"

"I don't want to hear it.  Don't you think you've done enough to me?  To everybody?!" Yuna seethed, storming toward the door and laying a hand firmly on the knob, "I'm going to tell them who you are.  Then we're going to get Tidus back and make sure you never get free again to cause more pain and destruction." She narrowed her eyes and lowered her voice, "But if, for some reason, you do manage to get back, I swear to you this Shuyin…I'll make you regret it."

------------------------.

Panic had set in on the streets of Besaid as the injured were carried to Wakka's hut to await medical attention.  No one said anything, least of all Seifer Almasy.  He felt responsible for what had happened.  It was his fault that Tidus had managed to get to the two Al Bheds so easily.

If only he hadn't been so spacey.

Why couldn't he remember what happened?

It was as if his mind was a sieve and all logical thought and comprehension was falling through the cracks.  He'd never felt this way before.  His mind had completely closed him out and it was a frightening experience to lose time the way he had.  What had transpired in the black abyss of his mind between the initial conversation with Tidus and coming to only to find Rinoa's concerned eyes looking back at him?

He had to remember…

Though the only person with the guts enough to admit it was Quistis, he knew that everyone else from Balamb Garden thought that he was responsible for this act of violence.  Seifer was used to being the black sheep of the group.  He'd grown up dealing with that.  Squall was the hero and Seifer was the enemy.  That was how it had always been between them and how it was always to be.  Only this time Seifer was innocent and he didn't know how to prove it.  He couldn't remember what had happened and judging from Squall's ice cold cerulean stare, that just wasn't a good enough excuse.

Seifer stopped just outside of the hut and let the others pass him by, including Rinoa who seemed lost in her own world.  He knew that he wouldn't be welcomed in that hut.  The shadow of doubt had descended upon him and only he was going to be able to lift it.

The question was how…

Since walking had always helped his thought processes, Seifer made his way down the dusty path that led to the structure that seemed to have the entire town built around it.  Everyone had referred to it as a temple and it did appear to be a place of some sort of religious worship, but he hadn't seen anyone inside – or around it for that matter – worshiping anything.  As he got closer, he saw cobwebs beginning to form around the entrance in the upper corners as if it had been ignored for quite a while.  There were people mulling about outside of it and even a few who had dared enter, but the place seemed to have remained relatively abandoned.

He was inexplicably drawn to it, much like a moth to a flame.  The tattered remains of his gray trench coat whipped at his heels as he sought shelter from the breeze inside the temple.  The stone entranceway gave his feet ample room to echo.

Seifer didn't realize that the entrance to the trials was barred since Yuna had defeated Sin.  He wasn't aware that someone was to be guarding the door against trespassers, therefore when he saw no one there he didn't think it would be wrong of him to enter.  It is, of course, where he wanted – needed – to go.

He let the door close quietly behind him as he made his way along the stone pathways that made up the Cloister of Trials.  They had not been reset since Yuna's passage through so he made his way back toward the Chamber of the Fayth with relative ease, barring a few fiends he had to battle along the way.  He arrived at the Chamber of the Fayth within the half hour and opened the door slowly to allow himself entrance.

"I was hoping you'd come at my call…"

Seifer spun around toward the voice that came from behind him and saw Ellone garbed in her usual attire.  His emerald eyes widened, "Sis?  What are you doing here?  I thought we'd lost you…"

"I am a fayth," Ellone responded, "but that is inconsequential right now.  What is important is that lies have been told and they must be set right."

Seifer's hand went to the handle of his gunblade unconsciously, "What lies…?"

"Questions were asked and lies were told to cover a truth that would cause more pain." Ellone explained, "The truth seems more of a lie than the lie does, and that is why my fellow fayth told it.  He created a new story to explain that which he knew Yuna and her companions would never understand.  You must help me set it right, and in exchange I will let you and your friends stay…"

Seifer scoffed, "Is this more of that 'dream' shit that I heard Squall talking about?  I didn't believe it then, and I don't believe it now."

"But you must believe it.  In three weeks, you and your friends will disappear…"

Seifer sneered, "So some other guy told a fib and you actually think I'm going to help you fix it?"  he laughed, "You're talking to the king fib teller, Sis.  I've got my own issues to worry about."

"You must help me…"

Seifer groaned, "Just what do you expect me to do?  I don't even know what the hell you're talking about!"

"You are important, Seifer." Ellone insisted, "She will use you again and you must be prepared for it.  Only you know who she is!  Once you figure this out, you will know the rest of her plans."

Seifer lifted a hand to his head, "Wait a second…" he said, "just a minute ago you were talking about how you want me to help you fix a lie and now you want me to figure out about somebody's plans…?  What are you talking about?!"

"I want you to do both…"

"Why me, Sis?" Seifer asked with a roll of his eyes, "I'm the black sheep…"

"True," Ellone conceded, "but if you do this then you will become the hero."

"Fine…tell me what you want me to do."

Ellone cocked his head to the side, "I wish I could tell you exactly what to do, Seifer, but I can't.  I shouldn't even be doing this.  The lie is, perhaps, best for everyone and interfering with the fate of Spira is strictly forbidden."

"Then why are you doing it?"

"I don't want to watch any more pain…"

"Why me…?"

Ellone walked forward and touched his cheek gently with an outstretched hand and replied with a smile, "Because I have faith in you.  I know you'll be able to do this, Seifer.  Everyone is depending on you."

"So…what now?"

"I'll give you two hints.  I know you'll be able to figure it out from them." Ellone said with a smile, "Hint number one is about the lie.  Yuna and her friends think 1 plus 1 equals 2, but in reality 2 becomes 1."

Seifer cocked an eyebrow, "What the hell…?"

"Hint number two is about the person who will use you again.  A blind lion catches no owl."

"Sis!  That doesn't make any sense!" Seifer cried as Ellone started to fade into the light that began to surround her.

"Think, Seifer.  The answers are before you.  Do this, and you can stay!"

-------------------------.

Her face felt damp and clammy.  Her entire body ached as though she'd just suffered a horrible beating.  She was tired…

So infinitely tired…

Slowly opening her eyes to the world that surrounded her, Rikku first noticed that her vision was blurred and the world around her seemed to be spinning.  The group in the room hadn't noticed her awakening.  They were too focused on whoever was in the other bed.  She heard demands for a doctor and orders for hot water and bandages.  Someone asked how long Yuna was going to be.  Someone else suggested going to see if she was okay.  Then another said that Tidus should die for what he'd done.

Rikku squinted.

What Tidus had done…?

What was going on…?

She tried to sit up but it was an unsuccessful attempt.  It did, however, draw attention to the fact that she had awakened.  Her father rushed over to her, "You okay, girl?"

"My head hurts…" Rikku replied, rubbing her temples softly as she squinted against the light, "What happened?"

"We were hoping you could tell us that, ya." Responded Wakka, "We've got our suspicions, ya, but we were hoping you could verify them.  Don't want another false accusation like the Baralai thing."

Rikku instantly perked up and, sitting cross legged on the bed she found herself perched upon, gazed wonderingly at Wakka, "A false accusation of what…?"

"Attempted murder."

Rikku gasped and lifted a startled hand to her mouth.  Closing her eyes for a moment, she tried to remember what had happened to her but there was nothing.  Only blackness surrounded what had happened between Tidus killing Ultimecia and her waking up here.

Wait...!

"Is Tidus on trial for killing that sorceress person?!" Rikku cried, lifting herself onto her knees to kneel on the bed before her father and friends, "He saved us all!  You can't hold him accountable for that!"

"This isn't about Ultimecia." Squall said, motioning for Rinoa and Quistis to step away and give Rikku a view of Gippal, "It's about him."

Rikku gasped and fairly flew off of her perch and to Gippal's side.  The wounds on his face had been cleaned and cared for to the best of Quistis' and Rinoa's abilities, but his face was still bloodied and swollen from the attack.  His hair was dried and matted with blood and some of the more superficial scrapes were crusting over with a mixture of scab and dried blood.  She ran her fingers tenderly through his hair.  She knew she should have still been mad at him, but she couldn't really figure out why.  Why did it even matter what he had done with Yuna anyway?  She wasn't with Gippal at the time.  She had no right to be jealous or angry.  She loved Gippal and that was all that mattered, especially at that very moment.

"Gippal…" she whispered, lowering her lips to his ear, "Wake up…"  He didn't move even though she gently cajoled him every so often with whispered words of encouragement.  Finally, she lifted her eyes and asked, "What happened to him?"

"Frana ec dra bydeahd?"

Cid patted his daughter's head gently and then walked to the door of Wakka's hut to answer the voice that was heard outside.  Rikku hadn't seen Tony – the Al Bhed's best doctor – in several years, but she recognized him instantly.  If anybody could save Gippal, Tony could.

And she silently prayed that he could…

Tony walked over toward Gippal and gave Rikku a tight smile from his pursed lips before motioning for her to move from her place beside him.  He placed his large, black duffle bag in her place and began to root through it until he pulled out a stethoscope, some rubbing alcohol, bandages, and a small flashlight.

While Tony worked on Gippal's wounds, Rikku walked over to her father, "What happened to him?" she asked again, this time determined not to be interrupted.

Cid lowered his gaze, "Tidus…"

"What about Tidus?"

"Tidus…tried to kill him." Cid said, lifting his eyes to gaze into Rikku's, "He tried to kill him…and you."

Rikku's legs started to give out from under her and she stumbled but was caught in Buddy's firm grip as he jumped to ensure she didn't fall to the ground.  Lifting a weak hand to her forehead, Rikku whispered, "Tidus…he…he wouldn't!"

"But he did." Cid insisted.

Rikku shook her head more firmly this time.  She had to convince her father that there was some sort of mistake.  Pushing herself to a standing position free from Buddy's helping hand, her eyes searched the room for Yuna.  Yuna would make Cid understand.  Yuna would convince him.

But Yuna wasn't there.

"Where's Yuna…?"

"She insisted on speaking to Tidus alone on the Celsius." Replied Cid with a shake of his head, "I just hope that girl's okay alone with him."

Rikku shrieked, "Why wouldn't she be?!  She's been alone with him hundreds of times!  He'd never hurt her!!"

"Well if you listened to Yuna, he wouldn't hurt anybody but he sure as hell hurt you and Gippal!" shouted Cid, motioning frantically toward Gippal, "And if he dies, I'm going to make Tidus wish he'd never been dreamt up!"

Tony turned to them and glared, "Stop the shouting.  It isn't helping anything."  The doctor flicked the knob on the flashlight and shone it at Cid and then Rikku before motioning down toward Gippal's face, "Was his eye injured or does he wear the patch all the time?"

Rikku shrugged, "Why don't you know that?  Aren't you his doctor?"

Tony shook his head and replied arrogantly, "I'm the best doctor in Home.  I'm not cheap.  He probably couldn't afford me." Then he sneered, "Are you going to answer my question or not?"

"He's worn it as long as I've known him." Rikku replied, pushing a stray strand of hair from her eye, "He said he poked his eye out with a pencil as a toddler."

"Very well." Tony replied, opening Gippal's free eye and examining it thoroughly with the flashlight, "Then it won't hinder his recovery if I take it off to examine his other eye."

"Why bother, though?  It's a dead eye.  What's it going to tell you?" Cid asked.

Tony stared at him without emotion, "Don't ask questions.  I work, you pay.  That's the way of it."

Rikku wandered a little closer.  Curiosity was getting the better of her.  She'd never seen Gippal without his patch and it was an opportunity she couldn't pass up.  Watching as Tony's fingers lifted the elastic band and slowly pulled the patch from Gippal's eye, she smiled.  Gippal managed to always look handsome, even when he was covered in dried blood.  Rikku giggled at her own ridiculous thought.  Handsome…in dried blood?  Wait till she told him that one when he woke up.  He'd think it was just as funny as she did.

Tony slowly lifted Gippal's long closed eyelid and Rikku's smile faded just as slowly, as if she was caught in the slow motion section of a movie.  Gippal's eye wasn't damaged.  Gippal's eye was in perfect condition.  In perfect condition…

And brown…

AL BHED TRANSLATION

Frana ec dra bydeahd?: Where is the patient?

Author’s Notes:  Dun…dun…dun…da dun!!  Okay, that’s it for my attempt at dramatic music.  You might not even think that this chapter is overly dramatic.  I mean, maybe you think I’m dragging stuff out, but if I am it’s only so that things are more heightened with drama when everything finally comes to a head so bear with me.  (Oh, and in case you’re wondering – the beginning of this chapter overlaps with the end of the last chapter so if you see things repeating themselves that is why)

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

Chapter Twenty-One: Eyes On Me

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

She swung the door open in her quest to tell Cid about Shuyin and completely forgot that the man was still sitting on the floor behind her.  She spun back around and glowered at him, “Get up and come with me.”

“You have got to believe me…” he whispered.

“No I don’t.” she replied, angrily, trying to hoist him from the ground but finding that he was a lot heavier than he looked.  Her feet slid out from under her on an especially hard tug and she ended up flat on her bottom in front of him with her legs spread.  She reddened as she realized her provocative positioning and noted that Shuyin noticed it too.  Squirming to her feet again, Yuna struggled to remain composed even though the nearness of him was making her question her sanity. 

As if she wasn’t doing that already…

“Come on!” she cried, exasperated, “Just do something nice for me for a change and come willingly!”

He stared at her using Tidus’ eyes which were an exact duplicate of his own.  It was a strange reality that Yuna found herself in and she found herself vaguely wondering if Tidus was looking out at her too when she realized that Shuyin was rising to his feet, “I guess there’s no convincing you, huh?”

“I’m not as dumb as I was before.” She stated simply, grabbing his wrist roughly and pulling him toward the door.  She was surprised that he was coming willingly.  She thought she’d have to fight him more on it.

Maybe he had changed…

She shook her head at the crazy notion.  He’d just tried to murder her cousin and Gippal.  He hadn’t changed at all.

“I never thought you were stupid.” He said after a few moments of silence. 

Yuna cast a glance over her shoulder at him and found him looking back at her and he gave her a small smile when he caught her eye.  She frowned a little and ripped her gaze from him and back onto the elevator doors that were getting closer with each step, “Well, I thought I was…” she whispered.

“What’s with the wrist bands…?” Shuyin asked of her as they walked down the plank to Besaid beach.  Yuna lifted her free hand into her eye line and looked down at the black cloth wrist bands that she had there.  She had almost forgotten she wore them.  Tidus certainly hadn’t mentioned them.  Of course, they hadn’t exactly been on speaking terms for 90% of his return. 

She knew the scars on her wrists were still there, though not as prevalent as before.  She was just afraid to look at them.  She saw them as a sign of her slip into madness and as she glanced at Shuyin again, she knew for certain that she was going insane…

If she wasn’t already there…

“No more talking.” She said finally, “I just want to get you to my uncle so that you’re no longer my problem.” And to Yuna’s surprise, Shuyin didn’t utter another word as they went along the paths that led past the waterfall and into the town of Besaid.  She saw Seifer vanishing into the temple just ahead and Rinoa wandering toward the forested area next to the temple wondered what they were doing, but knew that worrying about him was not the most important thing right now.  She needed to deal with the matters at hand first. 

“I won’t help a Yevonite!” a voice came from inside Wakka’s hut, “He’s a mixed breed!  Let one of his Yevonite friends help him!  The Yevonite’s have treated the Al Bhed terribly for decades.  I won’t help to save one!”

Yuna looked at Shuyin and he at her before both looked at the door to see it swing open and a very angry Al Bhed with a doctor’s bag walk out followed by her uncle who was pleading with the man in Al Bhed to come back. 

“Who’s the Yevonite he’s refusing to help?” Shuyin asked, “Ultimecia hurt two Al Bheds…right?”

Yuna ignored his reference to Ultimecia for the moment as a sudden sense of dread filled her.  Rikku was as pure blooded as they came, but Gippal…

“He saw his eye!” Yuna suddenly cried, grabbing Shuyin’s wrist and breaking into a run to clear the distance remaining between them and the hut.

“Who’s eye?!” shouted Shuyin, struggling to keep up with her.

They both burst through the door together and she saw Squall’s hand instantly go to his gunblade but she shook her head and shoved Shuyin into a corner, “Stay.” She ordered with a point of her finger.  He nodded, but his eyes weren’t on her.  They were on the girl in the corner who was staring at them.

“Rikku!” howled Yuna, running to embrace her cousin in a tight grip. 

Rikku smiled at Yuna and then glanced over at Shuyin who was in the corner, “Why do they think Tidus tried to kill us?”

Yuna opened her mouth to respond but was interrupted by a slamming door and her uncle’s curse, “The damn bastard left!”

“Uncle Cid…” Yuna whispered, “We can get another doctor.”

Cid seemed to notice her for the first time as his head shot up and a smile formed on his wrinkled face before it disappeared, “Where is he?!”

Yuna pointed to Shuyin, “We had a very enlightening little chat.”

“What did you find out?” asked Squall.

Shuyin’s eyes bored into hers and seemed to ask her not to tell.  They begged for her to stay silent but it was something she could not do.  She averted her eyes from Shuyin’s gaze and stated, “Tidus is innocent.  The man sitting in the corner is Shuyin.”

------------------------------.

She’d seen more violence in the last few days than she’d seen in her whole life – even when fighting for Timber’s independence.  When she’d suggested in Trabia before meeting up with Tidus that the group try to find another way to end the Ultimecia conflict, Rinoa had truly hoped they’d take her suggestion to heart. 

She was scared…

She didn’t want to admit it out loud.  She didn’t want Squall to look at her like a fragile china doll.  He’d done that when they’d first met.  He had looked like he was scared to break her.  He still did that sometimes, but she’d proven herself capable of handling herself in different situations with varying degrees of danger.

But what she’d just seen was something she couldn’t wrap her mind around.  How could someone try to kill another human being simply out of anger or a desire to get even?

And why did a part of her like what she saw…?

As she strolled along the outer rim of Besaid, Rinoa gripped the small Griever ring that hung loosely from a chain around her neck.  When Squall had given it to her, she never imagined that the ring would come to be so important to her.  It had even saved her life when she was stranded in outer space without a hope in the world.  Seeing it had given her a reason to hang on and it had given Squall just enough time to reach her.

Her blue duster whipped in the sudden breeze that came around her and as she rounded the temple to a quiet and secluded spot just behind it, she noticed how dark it had become almost as if a storm was approaching.  Then she noticed that the darkness and wind only seemed to affect her immediate surroundings.  It was bright and cloudless just a few feet away from her on either side. 

My last night here with you…

Same old songs, just once more…

Rinoa spun in circles as the voice echoed around her, singing her mother’s song “Eyes On Me”.  It was a song that always reminded Rinoa of Squall, but now it filled her with dread as she recognized the voice singing it as her own but realized that her lips were not moving in time with it. 

My last night here with you…

Maybe yes; maybe no…

“Who’s there?!” Rinoa called out, her spinning starting to make her dizzy.  The wind was picking up and she found herself tangled in strands of dark black hair and her own blue duster but she kept spinning, hoping to catch a glimpse of the intruder into her thoughts. 

As the winds died down, Rinoa smoothed her hair back into submission and caught sight of a silhouetted figure standing a few feet in front of her.  She took a step closer and then another but as she made to take the third, the figure spun around and Rinoa gasped.

The woman was her…

It was her, only older with a few more lines on her face.  The circles under her eyes foretold of a future Rinoa wasn’t sure she wanted to know about.  As Rinoa took a step back, the woman took a step toward her and their dance continued until Rinoa found herself backed up against the wall of the temple.  The woman grinned at her, “Maybe yes; maybe no…” she whispered.

Rinoa opened and closed her mouth like a fish.  She didn’t know what to say.  She was seeing a duplicate of herself and it was making her blood run cold.  Finally she managed, “Who….?”

“I am you.  You are me.” The older Rinoa replied, her grin replaced with a look of seriousness, “Only I am the real one.  You are the dream.  A dream born of fayth who wanted to fix the past by creating a new present.  I am using this to my advantage.”

“What…?”

The older Rinoa reached forward and gently played with the ring that hung from the younger’s neck.  She was thoughtful for a moment and then continued, “Zell never did make me a version for myself.  I ended up having Squall’s ring until the day he died.  Then I buried it with him.”

Rinoa’s eyes shot open, “He…died…?”

“Shot in the head at the celebratory party for the defeat of Sin.  He died in my arms on the balcony where we shared our first kiss.” The woman lowered her gaze back to the ring and then up into the wide brown eyes of the young lady in front of her, “I am here to fix the mistakes of the past by taking full advantage of the fayth’s dream residents.  You have my body and you have dream Squall’s heart, but that will soon change.”

“What are you going to do?”

The older woman frowned a little, “Well normally, I’d just wave my hand and my Squall would be back and then I’d erase you and your pathetic friends from the face of the world.  Unfortunately, for some reason Squall is inaccessible to me.” She shrugged, “I’m not sure why, but it won’t be an issue for much longer.”

“Why…?”

“Well, that’s none of your concern dearie.” Said the older, condescendingly, “All you need to know is that I need my original body back to get close enough to your Squall so that when I bring back my Squallie, he’ll have a place to go.  Shuyin will be helping me with that…”

“Who’s Shuyin?”

“Never you mind, dearie.” she shushed, removing her hand from the ring and placing it over the younger woman’s eyes, “Now close those pretty brown eyes and take a deep breath.  This won’t hurt a bit…”

Author's Notes:  Yuna will probably seem a little out of character in this chapter (you'll know the part I'm talking about when you get there), but considering everything she's gone through, I think it shouldn't be much of a surprise.

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

Chapter Twenty-Two: I Remember You

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

They had carted him off faster than Yuna had a chance to blink.  They hadn't even followed the simply rule of non-violence toward prisoners.  They'd beaten Shuyin to within an inch of consciousness before dragging him by the ankles out into the streets of Besaid to await a prison transport.

They being Cid and Brother…

She and the others stood back and watched it unfold before them.  Squall had shown the briefest hint of pity when he had thought the blonde before him was Tidus, but now that emotion was replaced by indifference as he played with the blade of his weapon.  The rest seemed completely confused – Selphie asking if Shuyin was Tidus' twin brother.

"Sorta…" Yuna had responded with a whisper as she watched them beat him repeatedly.  She didn't have the heart to stop them, even though it was Tidus' body they were abusing.  She was numb.  She didn't know what to feel.  She knew she should be furious with Shuyin.  Gippal was still laying behind her fighting for his life with Rikku gently massaging his forehead and whispering things to him in Al Bhed.  It was Shuyin's fault that things were like this.  She kept telling herself that, but for some reason she couldn't completely believe it.

Something just didn't ring true…

And now Yuna found herself standing outside the entrance to Luca's small holding cell – the closest thing to a prison near Besaid - unsure of whether she wanted to go in or not.  Maybe she'd go and visit him later, when he was moved to a prison in Bevelle or Home after his trial.  Maybe she'd wait and give him a few days to get used to his new surroundings.  Maybe she'd just never visit him and try to move on with her life.

Or maybe she'd just take a deep breath and go in there…

There was no one around besides the guards that watched her every move as Yuna made her way toward the small holding cells that were located in the basement of the Luca blitzball stadium.  If it hadn't been for Shuyin, she'd never have known these things were there.

What was she doing this for?

"I'm here to see the prisoner." Yuna said to a guard standing watch just outside of Shuyin's cell block.

The guard nodded, "At once High Summoner." He replied as he reached behind him and lifted the key to Shuyin's block and opened the door.  The guard valiantly motioned with his hand for her to pass in front of him while he held the door and Yuna smiled demurely at him.

"Thank you very much, mister…" she began, letting her sentence trail off so that the guard would reply with his name.

"Vengo, my lady, Maurice Vengo."

Yuna turned in the doorway to face the man fully and put on her most flirtatious smile.  Having never done this before, she wasn't sure if it was working until Maurice straightened to his full height.  Yuna instantly noticed that he was even more unattractive while trying to look attractive than he had been before.  Stifling a groan of disgust, Yuna said with a smile, "You're such a gentleman, Mr. Vengo.  I really do appreciate it."

"Anything for you, Lady Yuna." The man replied with a smile of his own – exposing his missing teeth and orange gums.  Yuna felt herself shudder, but Vengo didn't seem to notice.

What was she doing this for?!

"Would it be all right if I have some time alone with him?" she asked sweetly, batting her eyes up at the man who towered over her by at least a foot, "I think he'd be more open to listening to me if we didn't have an audience."

Vengo frowned, "That's against the rules, ma'am."

"But…couldn't you bend them just for me?" she asked a little more sweetly, "It'd be our little secret…"

Yuna hadn't had much practice at flirting in her almost 20 years on Spira, but she could tell that whatever it was she was doing was working.  Vengo visibly softened to her pleas, "Well…as long as my superiors don't find out then I don't see the harm in it."  He grinned at her and motioned with his hand again, "I'll even keep the door unlocked for you in case you need some help." The man continued, following her down the corridor and to another doorway that he opened with the same key on the chain.

"He can't escape the cage, can he?" Yuna asked, feigning nervousness.  In reality, she wasn't scared of Shuyin at all.  Although he was a cold-blooded killer, she knew he'd never hurt her.

"Absolutely not, m'lady." Replied the guard, obviously taking great pleasure in soothing the concerns of the woman at his side.  He jangled the key on the chain in front of her, "This key unlocks and locks everything that leads to him – including his cell.  He can't get out without this."

"Interesting…" Yuna replied as the guard unlocked the final door leading to Shuyin's cell.  He swung the door open for her to enter.  It was a tiny room with a bench and a window on one side and his cell lining the other wall.  The entire room was no bigger than the broom closet aboard the Celsius.

"When you're ready to leave, just knock m'lady.  I'll be waiting over here."

Yuna nodded and watched as the guard shut the door.  She heard the click of the door and turned to find blue eyes staring at her from a darkened corner of the prison cell.  She connected her eyes with his and watched as he cautiously crept forward until she could see him in the light of the prison window, "What are you doing here?"

"I'm here to talk to you."

He sighed and sat down cross-legged on the floor in front of her, "No," he replied, "you're here to try and get me to confess to something I didn't do."

"But you did do it, Shuyin." Insisted Yuna, "Nobody else would have!"

"No I didn't!" he cried, rising to his feet and gripping the bars before him, "I swear to you, I didn't do it!"

Yuna rolled her eyes and turned her back to him, groaning in frustration, "I don't know why I even bothered!  I don't know why I'm here!  Uncle Cid would freak out if he knew I was here."

"They don't know you're here?"

"No," she replied, "I told them I just needed some air."  She shrugged and turned toward him, crossing her arms over her chest, "I don't know what made me come here.  I should have known you'd never admit what you've done."

"I didn't do it…" he replied with a forceful whisper.

"And I don't believe you…" she whispered back.

They stood staring at each other for a while as the sun settled in behind the buildings of Luca.  Yuna watched the face she knew so well and tried to read what Shuyin was thinking, but she kept getting distracted by his deep blue eyes that seemed to be memorizing every inch of her features.

Finally, he spoke in a whisper, "Do you remember me…?"

Yuna rolled her eyes, "Of course I remember you.  You took over Tidus' body, killed Baralai, pretended to be Tidus so you could sleep with me, tried to kill LeBlanc, and now made an attempt on Rikku and Gippal's lives.  Do you honestly think I'd forget you?"

"That's not what I'm talking about…" Shuyin replied, sticking his face between two of the bars and staring at her more closely, "Do you remember the way I was…?  The way we were…?"

Yuna lowered her eyes from his gaze and shuffled nervously on the cement floor, "Yes…" she whispered.

"You do?"

Her head shot up and she glared at him, "Yes, I do!" she shrieked, "Ever since the last time you put that damned ring on my finger I've had her memories flooding my brain!  Do you realize how disconcerting it is to hear voices?!"

"Yes, I do…" Shuyin said, in all sincerity.

Yuna scoffed, "Pitfalls of possessing innocent people…"

"I've never possessed him, Yuna."

"Forget it." She said with a wave of her hand, "I don't know why I even came here."

Yuna turned and took a step toward the door to knock when Shuyin asked, "Why didn't you mention the voices…the memories…before?"

Yuna placed her forehead gently against the door and sighed, "I'm supposed to be tough.  I'm the High Summoner.  I've always put on a brave façade and I saw no reason to break it." She turned her head to look at him, "I didn't want to disappoint anyone."

"You could never disappoint anyone.  You never disappointed me…"

She glared at him, "Who cares whether I disappointed you or not?!   Its your fault that this is happening to me anyway!"

"I didn't mean to hurt you, Yuna." Shuyin replied, "I never meant to."

"But that's just it!" Yuna shrieked, feeling tears starting to form in her eyes, "When you try not to hurt me, you do the exact opposite!"  Ripping the wrist guards from her arms, Yuna thrust her wrists in front of his eyes, "Look what I did to myself!  Look what I did when I thought Tidus was dead!  Look what I did when all I could hear was your voice in my head!"

Yuna knew without looking that Shuyin was examining her wrists.  The scars were there and would always be, although the reddening had lessened dramatically.  But they would be constant reminders of how her weakness had shown through once.  She'd never let it happen again.  She felt his finger trace the line of one scar slowly before withdrawing, "I'm sorry…"

"You should be." She spat.

His eyes flashed for a second and he spat back, "You know, maybe you should start taking responsibility for your own stupidity for a second instead of blaming your problems on everybody else."

"You're one to talk!" she shouted back, "Why don't you admit what you did?!"

"Because I didn't do it!" he groaned and let his head slam against the bar in front of it, "What do I have to do to make you believe me?"

"Tell the truth…"

He lifted his eyes and stared into hers, "You said you remember me…"

"What about it?"

"Then you remember the time we fought over my supposed flirting with my cousin."

Yuna frowned.  She did remember that…

Saying their goodbyes to Yunalesca and Zaon, the duo started to walk down the park street and was no more than two yards from their friends when a voice echoed and Shuyin turned his head, "Shu!!" Lenne felt Shuyin release his grip on her and face the girl.  She appeared to be about 16 and was very pretty.  She had blond hair that hung to her shoulders and bright green eyes.  She held out a blitzball to Shuyin, "Could you sign this?"

"Sure thing." Shuyin said smiling, "Who am I making this out to, cutie?"

The girl laughed and smacked Shuyin playfully, "Sidney."

Shuyin laughed and looked at the girl as if making sure before shrugging, "Okay, Sidney it is."

Lenne felt her fury mounting as Shuyin signed the ball and gave it back to the girl who promptly kissed him on the cheek and ran back across the park to a girl who didn't look much older than 10.  Shuyin turned to her with a smile and said, "That was…"

"What the hell was that?!"  Lenne shrieked.  For a moment she didn't even sound like herself and Shuyin took a step away from her as if frightened of her sudden angry display. 

Yunalesca and Zaon were there in a second and Lenne felt Yunalesca's arm on her shoulder, "Lennie…that was…" she began.

Lenne cut her off and hissed at Shuyin, "Don't you have any decency at all?!"

"Decency?  I didn't do anything wrong!" shouted Shuyin. 

Zaon stepped between the fighting pair with his hands raised, "I think we just had a misunderstanding." He looked at Lenne, "Lenne that was…"

"I don't recall asking you to butt in Zaon!"  Lenne shouted before turning her attention back to Shuyin, "You shamelessly flirt with another girl in front of me and then say you didn't do anything wrong!  You really are a fiend!"

"I wasn't flirting!" Shuyin insisted loudly before taking a breath and lowering his voice, "Lenne, if you would just let me explain…"

"No!"  hissed Lenne, "I won't listen to your explanations.  Something told me not to trust you and no it wasn't Yunalesca.  It was my own gut instinct this time.  Are you sleeping with that girl?"

Shuyin's look was of shock and disgust at the thought and for a second Lenne thought she might have overreacted but just as quickly his look was replaced with one of anger.  He leaned closer to her and whispered, "Are you saying that you think I'm cheating on you?"

"Yes…" Lenne replied.

It was Yunalesca's turn again to attempt an interruption.  She spun Lenne around and said, "Honey, I'm not a Shuyin fan but I can tell you that you are overreacting this time.  That was…"

Shoving her friend's arms off of her, Lenne turned back to Shuyin, "Yes, I do!  You couldn't possibly be happy without sex in a relationship and yet you seem to be so you must be getting it from somewhere!"

Shuyin's look was as cold as ice as he murmured, "So that's what you really think of me?"  Lenne nodded and Shuyin glared at her, "Then maybe we shouldn't do this anymore."

"Maybe we shouldn't!"  Lenne agreed, although the tears beginning to form behind her eyes seemed to be screaming for her to apologize to him and make it better.

"Fine." Said Shuyin, monotonously.

"Fine." Lenne said.

"Fine!" shouted Shuyin.

"Fine!" Lenne screamed. 

The two of them continued screaming 'Fine' at each other for another minute before both spinning on their heels and storming off in opposite directions. 

"What about it?" Yuna asked, shifting her gaze from his eyes to the floor and back again.  The entire conversation was making her uncomfortable.  She didn't like remembering her past with this man.  It was a lifetime ago – literally – and she just wanted to forget it.

"And you must remember what happened afterward…"

"You sleeping with Allyn?" Yuna retorted, "Yeah, I remember that."

"No." Shuyin replied, shaking his head, "After that…when I came to see you."

The uncomfortable silence between them was something Shuyin didn't think he'd ever get used to and hoped that he'd never have to.  Lenne rose from her seat and walked a little closer to him, "Hi there." She whispered, her voice sounded hoarse and he noted the stain of freshly spilled tears on her cheeks. 

"Hi." He replied, reaching out despite himself and taking her hand.  She didn't pull away and the two stood staring into each other's eyes for several minutes.  Just when he was starting to relax, though, Lenne pulled her hand away and backed off toward the sofa again.  Lenne said nothing and seemed terribly uncomfortable.  Shuyin hated knowing that she was unhappy and that he'd done it to her.  He hoped to make things better, but he knew they were going to get worse first.

 "What are you doing here?" Lenne asked as she busied herself cleaning the dishes from breakfast from her coffee table.

"I wanted to apologize." Shuyin replied, "I'm so sorry for what happened yesterday."

Lenne gave him a weak smile, "Yuna told me that the girl was your cousin.  I totally overreacted." She sighed, "I didn't think I'd ever see you again."  Shuyin's mouth opened and closed like a fish.  He was relatively sure that after he told her about Allyn, she'd never want to see him again.  The blitzer was about to confess when Lenne rushed into his arms and buried her face in his chest, "I missed you so much."

"I missed you too."  Replied Shuyin as he returned her hug.  The two stood holding each other for what felt like an eternity before Shuyin decided it was best to get it out in the open before he lost his nerve.  Holding her away from him by the shoulders he said, "I have to tell you something."

"Whatever it is, I don't care." Lenne replied, trying to restart the hug he had ended.

Shuyin shook his head, "You need to know this."  Shuyin took a deep breath and tried to figure out the best way to break the news to her before deciding that it would be best to just say it, "After our breakup, I went to Irvine's Tavern.  It's where I go sometimes to just cool off after a rough day.  Normally I go home right after, but last night…" he paused and looked into her brown eyes.  They were so trusting and he was about to shatter that trust completely with his next words, "I slept with Allyn."

"Why are we discussing this?" Yuna asked, "It was forever and a day ago, Shuyin.  It doesn't even matter anymore."

"It does matter!" he insisted, reaching out for her but she dodged and he missed his grasp.  Groaning, he stared at her, "Yuna, do you remember what happened after I told you about Allyn?"

She was silent.  It was almost as if the words hadn't completely sunk in.  Lenne turned away from him and started for the kitchen, "Did you want something to eat?" she asked.  Her walking was a little stiff and her voice seemed detached. 

"Lenne."

She turned quickly at the sound of his voice and watched as he took a few tentative steps toward her.  She didn't move and, after a few minutes, he didn't either.  They stood staring at each other, both not knowing what to say, when Shuyin whispered, "You're mad at me....huh?"

Lenne's eyes fell to the floor. They'd never really had an argument before – especially not about something like this.  She'd wondered and been jealous but when Yunalesca had told her that the girl he'd been 'flirting' with was actually his cousin, she'd calmed down.  She knew she'd overreacted and just hoped that he'd forgive her.  Now after his confession, she didn't know what to say.

Her lack of an answer caused him to say, "I suppose that is a yes."  He took a step closer to her, "I can try to explain if you'll listen to me."

Her anger rushed into her and reached the boiling point quickly, "No!" she screamed suddenly, throwing a nearby coffee cup at his head and narrowly missing contact, "I won't listen to you!" she began walking closer to him, and Shuyin took a step back.  She glared at him, "How could you?!" she bit out.  Her fist connected with his chest forcing the air from his lungs as she continued to beat him with her tiny hands.  She wasn't hurting him physically, but his heart was breaking knowing that it was his fault that she was this upset.  Tears were streaming down her beautiful face as she continued her assault, "Why wasn't I enough?" she asked finally, her fists falling dejectedly at her sides.

"I was stupid, Lennie…so stupid."  He pulled back, grabbing her by the shoulders. "Lenne, look at me."  She did and he saw her red-rimmed eyes and tear stained cheeks.  "I came here to fix things and make this right.  I know what I did was really stupid and if you don't forgive me, I'll understand but I really hope you do."  His words became chocked in the sobs that were forming in his throat as he grabbed her hand and whispered, "I love you…."

Shuyin didn't know if she was going to believe him, but she hadn't let go of his hand which was a good sign.  He wasn't sure, but he was hoping that despite her anger and uncertainty, she felt like he did.  Time seemed to stand still as he waited for Lenne's reaction.  The songstress stared into his blue eyes that were pleading with her to forgive him; to believe him.  His hand was trembling but hadn't let go of hers and she saw in his eyes the raw emotion that made him come here and tell her the truth when he could have easily kept his mouth shut.    

He loved her…

She tightened her grip on his hand and touched his face with her free hand, "I believe you," she whispered.

"Do you remember that look in my eyes when I told you?" he asked, "It was a look of sincere honesty.  I'm not a good liar, Yuna.  If I was then you never would have realized I wasn't Tidus in the first place."  He sighed and stared into her eyes again, "I'm giving you that look now.  I swear on Lenne – on you – on our love that I'm telling you the truth."

He wasn't sure if she believed him.  She just stood there staring at him for several minutes after his words had been spoken.  If it hadn't worked, then there was no convincing her of his truthfulness.  But he couldn't blame her if she didn't believe him.  He'd lied to her too many times to be trusted.

She turned away from him and knocked at the door to be let out.  He sighed.  She didn't believe him.  She must have been so disgusted with him that she didn't even want to be around him anymore.  She didn't want to bother giving him an answer.

Then it happened…

The big, ugly guard answered her knock and opened the door for her, bearing a practically toothless grin at her.  Yuna smiled demurely at him and then proceeded to send her knee flying upward into the nether regions that caused Shuyin pain just by looking.  The huge man fell to the ground in agony and Yuna used that opportunity to cast a sleep spell on him.

Shuyin watched in sheer awe as she pulled the key from the door and started to fiddle with the locks to his cage.  The click of an unlocked cell was music to his ears, "Why…?" he asked her.

"I left Gippal to rot for something he didn't do and I regret it." She explained, "I don't want to do that again."

He smiled at her, "Does this mean you believe me?"

"Lenne believes you, and for right now that's good enough for me." Yuna said as she pulled the cell open and motioned for him to exit, "We have to move quickly.  I wasn't planning this so we'll have to think while we move."

Shuyin grinned broadly, "Thank you so much!" he cried, excitedly, lifting her up in the air and spinning her around before pressing his lips to hers in a kiss that made her knees feel weak.  Suddenly realizing himself, he released her and took a step back, "I…I'm sorry about that." He said apologetically, "I wasn't thinking."

She looked right into his eyes, "Don't do that again or Vengo won't be the only one meeting my knee."

Author’s Notes:  Spoilers from FFX (if you haven’t gotten to Bikanel Desert) and FFX-2 (if you haven’t done the “monkey love” side mission) are in this story.  I don’t think it’s anything too bad, but if you don’t like spoilers than you have been warned.

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

Chapter Twenty-Three: Good Morning Sunshine!

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

As time ticked on, Squall Leonhart began to have a feeling he wasn’t accustomed to – worry.  It had been almost a half hour since Rinoa had left saying she needed some air and she hadn’t returned yet.  Where was she? 

“I’m going to go and check on Rinoa.” Squall said to Zell Dincht who stood at his right.  Zell nodded and Squall reciprocated the gesture before making his way out of the building.  He was tired of the displays of emotions in that room anyway.  Things were just too confusing for him.  He wasn’t stupid, not by any stretch, but he preferred things that were easy to understand.  He was a military man and he wanted commands and orders – things he could understand.  All this ‘he’s possessing him’ stuff was getting to him.  Maybe that’s why Rinoa left?  Maybe it was getting to her too?

Even if that was the case, though, he had expected her back by now.  She hadn’t been there when the reveal that some guy named Shuyin was possessing Tidus.  She had been gone when the two Al Bhed guys when insane and practically beat the Shuyin guy senseless.  She hadn’t been there when they had dragged Shuyin off in handcuffs or when Yuna had left saying she too needed air.

His black boots kicked the dust up in the streets of Besaid as he made his way back toward the temple that everything seemed to be built around.  It seemed like as good a place as any to start his search.  Ignoring the looks he got from the residents, Squall walked into the temple door and looked around.  It reminded him of the strange tower where they had received the Odin guardian force before meeting up with Tidus.  It was just as dark and dreary but it also had statues of strange people surrounding the outer walls.  Each person’s statue was almost twice as tall as Squall was and seemed as though it was something to be worshipped. 

“Lord Braska…” Squall whispered, reading the plate underneath the statue of a man with long hair and a tall stick, “Wonder what he did that made him so special…”

He continued his meandering around until he came to the final statue, “Lady Yu…” Squall shot his head up and stared at the familiar features of Yuna.  Although her statue was bronzed, he recognized her instantly and cocked an eyebrow, “Why did she get a statue too?” he wondered aloud, “What did these people do?”

The sound of a door opening caught Squall’s attention and as the door slammed shut again he recognized Seifer Almasy as the man who was exiting that door and coming down the stairs toward him.  Seifer seemed lost in his own thoughts and barely noticed Squall until the brunette was practically upon him, “Holy Hyne, Squall!” Seifer cursed, putting a hand to his heart as if to slow its beating, “Sneak up on a guy, why don’t you?”

“What were you doing in there?”

“Looking around, same as you.” Seifer replied with a shrug, “What do you care, Leonha…” he stopped in mid-sentence and thought for a moment.  Squall stared at him and then Seifer whispered, “Leon…lion…hmm…blind lion…”

“What are you mumbling?”

Seifer looked up again, “Don’t worry about it.  When I figure it out, I’ll let you know.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?!” Squall shouted after Seifer who was already halfway out of the temple.  He didn’t even flinch at the words.  Groaning his annoyance, Squall turned and followed the blonde out of the temple but Seifer was moving too fast for him and Squall gave up trying to catch him as he watched Seifer disappear behind a grove of trees just outside of the Besaid town limits.  Spinning on his heels, Squall meandered around the corner of the temple and out toward the back, keeping his eyes peeled for a sign of Rinoa. 

A crunch beneath his feet caught his attention and sent his eyes traveling downward toward his booted feet.  He lifted a leather clad foot and saw something gleaming in the light.  His outstretched hand lowered to retrieve it.

His Griever ring…

“Rinoa!” Squall shouted, retrieving the ring from the ground and walking with a new quickness in his step as he continued around the back of the temple, “Where are you?  Answer me!”  He heard his voice crack – the sign of his nervousness – but he was too worried to be embarrassed about it.  Something was very wrong and he wasn’t going to be okay until he saw her again.

“Rinoa!!”

“I’m right here…” he heard her voice from behind a small patch of trees to his right, “Don’t get your panties in a twist.”

“Rin…”

With the setting sun just behind her head, Squall thought for a moment that she had to be an angel.  He felt a great weight fall from his shoulders as he sighed in relief and handed her the ring, “You dropped this…”

Rinoa took a step toward him, and another.  She gently took the ring and replaced it on the chain around her neck and then stepped toward him again and placed her palms against his chest.  He was surprised to see tears form in her eyes and she whispered, “It’s been so long…”

Squall raised a questioning eyebrow, “Not really…just a few minutes.”

“Believe me,” Rinoa insisted, “it’s been a long time.” And to Squall’s eternal surprise, she kissed him…

-----------------------.

“Are you coming or are you going to stand there like idiots?!” LeBlanc shouted at Ormi and Logos as her two servants struggled with her large trunk of luggage.

“Yes, boss.” The two of them replied in unison.  Logos took the upper hand of the trunk while Ormi took the bottom and tried to make their way up the plank of the Youth League airship with the most amount of finesse they could muster.

LeBlanc watched them with distain, briefly wondering why she bothered with them at all.  They really were quite useless to her.  A hand gently brushed wisps of hair from her nape and kissed her neck gently, “Why are you so mean to them?”

“Noojie!” LeBlanc turned and said with a smile.  She wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed his lips softly, “I’m only mean to them when they deserve it, love.”

“And they deserve it now?” Nooj asked with a questioning eyebrow raised, “Somehow I doubt it.  Struggling with your trunk of ‘necessities’ should warrant them a statue in their honor.”

“You don’t mean that!”

“Don’t I?”

LeBlanc laughed heartily at him and shrugged, “Come on.  We’d better get to Besaid.  You want to be there when Gippal wakes up, don’t you?”

Nooj nodded, “I still can’t believe it’s happening again…”

LeBlanc understood exactly how Nooj was feeling.  When Cid had called to tell him of the attack on Gippal and Rikku in the crew’s quarters, it was like a horrible feeling of déjà vu had descended upon them.  The first thing out of Nooj’s mouth was to ask if they were all right. 

“Rikku is,” Cid had replied, “but Gippal hasn’t woken up yet and the Al Bhed doctor we brought won’t work on him.”

LeBlanc had heard it but still didn’t believe it.  Gippal was half Yevonite.  Why hadn’t he told anyone?  Nooj hadn’t even known.  Did Paine know?  Had Baralai known?  Why wouldn’t Gippal tell his closest friends about his heritage?

Then Nooj had asked the question that had been on LeBlanc’s mind since the beginning of the phone call, “Where was Tidus when this happened?”

“Tidus is Shuyin again…”

And that was where they were.  They had thrown some belongings in a trunk and fueled up their airship to fly to Besaid and be by Gippal’s side – no matter the outcome.  Nooj didn’t want to let another of his friends die without being able to say goodbye.

LeBlanc just hoped for Nooj’s sake that it wasn’t the last time he spent with his friend.  Loosing another might destroy Nooj.  Although he’d held up well in the aftermath of Baralai’s murder, she’d seen in his eyes a pain that had never been there before.  Baralai, Paine, and Gippal were his family. 

She prayed he didn’t have to lose another person he loved.

----------------------.

The gentle rocking of the boat had sent Shuyin into a sweet world of dreams that he was reluctant to awaken from, but Yuna was persistent and continued to shake him violently until he finally cracked an eye open and then the other, “What…?” he whined, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.

“We’re here.” She replied, slipping the rope from the boat around a pole on the dock and securing it with a knot. 

Shuyin gaped at the sight around him.  He was certain he’d managed to travel back in time.  Everything was as he remembered it.  Well…almost everything.  It was obviously not finished yet, but the progress that had been made astounded him.  He sat up in the boat and smiled, “Zanarkand…”

Yuna grunted what sounded like a yes and hauled herself out of the boat and onto the dock, “Coming?” she asked Shuyin, placing a hand on her hip and extending the other to help him out.  He took it gently and rose from the ship as well to stand beside her on the dock.

“They really came a long way on this.” He stated as he fell into step behind her on the wooden dock that lead to a cement walkway.  Yuna grunted something indiscernible again and continued walking.  Shuyin sighed and raked a hand through his hair, “You’re angry at me, aren’t you?”

Yuna stopped and spun around, glaring at him through her duel colored eyes.

Shuyin lifted his hands to ward her off, “Okay, stupid question.  I admit it!  I’ll keep quiet now.”

“You’d better…” Yuna finally hissed, spinning back around.  Her long braid whipped with her and smacked him across the face but he kept his mouth shut, rubbing his sore cheek in silence.  As they walked, Shuyin tried to figure out why Yuna was mad at him this time.  He hadn’t technically done anything wrong this time and she had to have believed him because she busted him out of jail.  Maybe she was angry at him for that?  But, he hadn’t made her do that! 

Groaning inwardly, he continued to follow Yuna along the road, focusing mainly on the ground he walked rather than her.  He didn’t want her to get angry at him for looking at her. 

“We’re here.” She said to him.  Shuyin lifted his eyes and gaped in awe at what was to be his ‘home’ until things could be figured out. 

“Lenne’s house…?” he whispered to himself, scratching his head.  It looked exactly the same as he remembered it.  He looked at the house next door and smiled.  Zaon and Yunalesca’s house was the same too.  And up the hill, he saw his house sitting proudly under the setting sun.

“Yes,” Yuna replied, “Lenne’s house.  Do you have a problem with that?”

“No…”

“Good.  Let’s go then.” Said Yuna, walking up the front walk and opening the door quickly and quietly.

“No lock?” he asked, dumbly, not sure if he was allowed to speak again or not.

Yuna shot him a nasty glance over her shoulder, “Obviously not.”

The inside wasn’t nearly as clean as the outside.  1000 years of dust and debris still cluttered the floor and as Shuyin glanced around he noticed a rat run from one corner of the room to the other and then hide under a pile of broken picture frames.

Great…

“I see they were more concerned with outside appearance at this stage in the rebuilding.” He muttered sarcastically, running a finger across a filthy wall in distain.

Yuna rolled her eyes, “You’re dead.  You don’t need to be in the lap of luxury.”

That was the last straw with Shuyin.  He spun around and glared at Yuna, “What is your problem?!”

“You!  You’re my problem!  You’ve always been my problem!”

“I didn’t ask you to get me out, Yuna!” Shuyin screamed, waving his arms around for extra emphasis, “That was your own brilliant idea.”

“And I wish I hadn’t done it!” she shouted back, “Because now I put myself in danger for the man who didn’t care whether I lived or died just a few months ago!”

“That is not true!  I never wanted you to die!”

“You just didn’t want me to live…” Yuna replied in a whisper, turning her back to him and stalking over toward the kitchen.  Shuyin followed her silently and watched as she bent over to dig in the cabinets, “Looks like you need some utensils.” She stated, as if completely forgetting that they were arguing before, but as she looked at him he saw in her eyes that she hadn’t forgotten it at all. 

“Yuna…I…”

“Don’t.” she interrupted, raising a hand to silence his comeback, “I’m going to go back to Besaid to get you some food.  I’ll be back when I can sneak it out again.”

She brushed passed him without a word and was halfway to the door when Shuyin spoke again, “I meant what I said, Yuna.”

“And what was that?” she asked, turning slowly to look at him, “That you didn’t want me dead?”

“That’s true, but that’s not what I was talking about.”

“Then what were you talking about?”

Shuyin took a step toward her, “Do you remember what I said to you when you were holding your guns on me?  Right after you realized I wasn’t Tidus?”

“You said a lot of things.” Yuna replied, waving her hand as if trying to brush the conversation away, “What makes one thing any different?”

“It was the one thing you never wanted to have me say to you.”

Shuyin stared into her cold eyes, searching for any hint of warmth.  With a frown, he said, “You’re so much like Lenne and yet so different.  I was meant to be with you in this life and to love you in this life and – although it’s later then the fayth had planned – our fate has been completed.”

“What are you talking about?!”

“I’m saying that…I love you, Yuna.”

“Do you remember?” he asked her again.

Yuna nodded stiffly and took a step back toward the door, “What about it?”

“I meant it.” Shuyin said simply.

Yuna trembled visibly and took another step away, “Don’t be ridiculous.” She said, trying to sound as confident as possible, “You love Lenne.”

“And you are Lenne…”

“No I’m not!” shrieked Yuna, “Maybe I used to be, but I’m not anymore!”

Shuyin shrugged, “Either way, it doesn’t change that I meant what I said to you.”

“Why are you telling me this now?” she asked, “What possible difference could it make now?”

Shuyin shrugged and turned away from her, “I just thought that you should know.”

“Why?” she asked again, tugging at her short brown locks and letting out an exasperated sigh, “Did you want to make me more confused than I already am?!  I don’t know what I’m supposed to be feeling right now!  I don’t know what I should be thinking or doing!  Ever since you came into my life, I’ve done things I never would have done under normal circumstances and I just don’t understand…”

“You mean, the thing with Gippal?”

“How do you know about that?”

Shuyin shrugged, “Ultimecia told me that she had told Tidus about the whole thing.  She seemed pretty convinced that he believed it.”

“He did believe it…” whispered Yuna, but she quickly lifted her eyes to Shuyin and spat, “But Rikku is the one who told him because Rikku is the one who caught us together.  Ultimecia wouldn’t have even known!”

Shuyin lifted his hands up, “Hey, I only report what I was told.” 

Yuna rolled her eyes and turned away from him, stepping over a pile of tools that littered one section of the floor and making her way toward the door.  She pulled it open and looked over her shoulder, “With Gippal out of commission the rebuilding has been permanently put on hold.  You won’t have to worry about any workers discovering you, but if a search party should come by you can just run next door to Zaon’s and hide from them.”

Shuyin nodded to her, but as she took a step out the door he spoke again, “Why did you…?”  she turned and lifted a quizzical eyebrow.  Shuyin sighed, “You know…with Gippal?”

Yuna shrugged and let the door shut again as she turned to look at him, “I don’t know.” She replied, leaning back to brace herself against the knob, “Lonely, I guess.  Lonely and a little stupid…”

“It’s gonna be okay, you know.” Shuyin said, walking toward her and squeezing her left hand softly, “We’re going to figure out what is going on and fix it.”

“You’ll disappear if we do that…” replied Yuna, not sure if she was happy or sad about that fact.

Shuyin grinned, “I shouldn’t even be here anyway, but Ultimecia sure knew how to change that in a hurry.”

Nodding, Yuna slowly retracted her hand from Shuyin’s and made her way toward the remnants of what had been her furniture.  What could be salvaged had been covered with plastic during the renovation, but she noticed that quite a bit was gone. 

At least she still had a sofa…

And that was what Yuna sat down upon at that moment.  She said, “Will you tell me what it is you think happened?  Maybe we can make some sense of all this.”

Shuyin sat down on the sofa next to her and leaned back.  He scratched his head and said, “I’m not really sure.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well…” he began, “I was in this really dark place.  I’m not sure where.  Occasionally, I’d hear what sounded like voices but they were always really muffled and I could never make out what they were saying or who they were.”

Yuna bit her lip, “You must not have been in the Farplane then.  Do you think that you were inside of Tidus all along?”

“Maybe…”

“But the merger said that you’d disappear.  Why would you have been kept in limbo instead?”

“I don’t know…” Shuyin admitted.

“Go on.”

He sighed and leaned his head back on the sofa, “Well, the next thing I remember is waking up in the Celsius and finding out that Rikku was possessed by Ultimecia who just wanted to get my cousin back and she had hurt Gippal as some sort of means to an end.”

“Your cousin?”

Shuyin nodded, “Yeah.  You’ve met him…sort of.  The dream version anyway.” He grinned, “Squall Leonhart.”

“That’s your cousin?!” squealed Yuna, sitting up straight as an arrow and staring at him, “But…but…but…I just…I don’t…I thought your cousin was Sidney!”

“She was, but so was Squall.  Sidney’s my mom’s niece.  Squall’s my uncle’s nephew.  Laguna’s his brother. Anyway, Ultimecia told me that the real Squall died after defeating Sin the first time with Zaon and Yunalesca, so I suppose it would have been a little bit after you and me.  This guy is just a dream.  I don’t know what Ultimecia wants with him or what she needs me for.”

Yuna was having a difficult time wrapping her mind around what was going on.  Nothing was making any sense.  If Shuyin’s cousin was Squall and Tidus was based on Shuyin then that would make Squall Tidus’ cousin too.  But Tidus didn’t seem to know anything about that.  And why would the real Rinoa Heartilly want to have the dream Squall back?  Why not the real Squall?  And what was going to happen to the dream Rinoa Heartilly?  It was all these questions that Yuna voiced to Shuyin and to each one he simply shrugged and said, “I don’t know.”

“Well, did she tell you what she wanted from you?”

“No…just that I’d find out in good time.”

Yuna sighed and ran a hand through her hair, “There’s got to be more that you’re not remembering.  Some trigger that she used to bring you back.”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know…something…anything.” She looked into his eyes, “Try and remember.  What was happening before you woke up on the Celsius?”

Shuyin groaned.  He didn’t remember anything.  There was nothing to remember.  He had been stuck in a dark place since he’d given Tidus his body back.  It was like that cave when the darkness came and he had to sit in the dark and hear strange noises from rats and fiends around him as the gnawing hunger ate at his insides like a disease.  All he could do then was thinking about Lenne and how he’d failed her and all he could do while sitting in his most recent darkness was think about Yuna and how he hoped that he had made up for all the failings he’d done to her in the past.  All he ever heard was muffled sounds.  Sometimes he could tell what Tidus was feeling, but only when it was a powerful feeling like…

A thought came to him like a bolt from the blue and he looked at Yuna, “He was scared…”

Yuna’s eyes widened, “He was scared?!  Of what?!  What was happening to him?!”

Shuyin bit his lower lip pensively as he tried to remember more.  He had heard muffled shouting and then nothing for a while.  He assumed that Tidus was alone.  Maybe he had been walking to the Celsius at that time?  Then Shuyin remembered hearing muffled voices again.  He closed his eyes and squeezed them tightly, trying desperately to remember something…anything.  He wanted to know what was going on as much as she did. 

Possibly more…

Fithos…

Shuyin’s eyes popped open and his jaw dropped to the ground.

Lusec…

“What is it?” Yuna asked, excitedly, “Do you remember something?”

“Fithos, lusec, wecos, vinosec.” Stated Shuyin, his excitement growing until he started giggling idiotically.

Yuna stared at him questioningly, “Fithos what…?”

“Fithos, lusec, wecos, vinosec.” Shuyin replied, “That’s what I heard before I woke up!  She was chanting it and it kept getting louder as I started to feel myself being pulled up.”

“What does it mean?” asked Yuna, playing absently with her long braid that she draped over her shoulder, “I’ve never heard it before.”

Shuyin sighed, “That’s just the thing.  I don’t know what it means either.  It sounds like another language maybe.” He took in a sharp breath and leaned toward her, “Is it Al Bhed?”

Yuna shook her head, “No…it sounds more like Latin.”

“Latin?” Shuyin wrinkled his nose, “How would you know Latin?  It’s been dead for ages.”

“It’s a secondary thing that all summoners had to learn in Zanarkand.  We still do to a degree now, but it’s even more unimportant.  Learning the art was more important while we had Sin to combat but back in Zanarkand there was more time for studies.”

“Why Latin, though?”

Yuna replied, “Latin is the root of all magic – at least, that’s what we were taught.  It’s the original language of the original fayth that populated Spira.”  She grinned, “I think we may be onto something.  The original fayth were lesser beings known as…sorcerers.”

“So Ultimecia is a fayth?!” Shuyin practically shrieked.

“Not exactly,” Yuna explained, “She’s not as powerful as a fayth and she certainly doesn’t look like a child, but this would help explain why she could bring you back so easily.”

“But why would she need me to bring back her boyfriend if she’s that powerful?”

Yuna shrugged, “Maybe he’s here on Spira again…like me?”

“But if that’s the case, then who?”

“That’s what we need to find out.” Concluded Yuna as she stood and brushed herself off.  Making her way to the door, she stopped again and looked at him, “I’m going to see if I can find out what that chant means.  I’ll be back with food and information as soon as I can.”

Shuyin jumped up, “Wait!  Just where are you going to find information on an ancient chant that may or may not be Latin?”

Yuna smiled, “I told you, it’s taught in some minor summoner basic training.”

“So…?  You also said that it was secondary to learning the art since you had to defeat Sin.”

“Just trust me…” Yuna replied with a grin, “I know who just might have the information we need.”

----------------------------.

Everything ached, but especially his face.  It felt like he’d been hit with a two ton machina right on the nose.  He’d never felt this way in his life.  It was difficult for him to open his eyes but he did so slowly anyway.  The light blinded him and his vision was blurred…

Had the glass hurt his eye?

No…things were starting to clear now.  The first thing he noticed was that he was alone in the room.  He recognized it as Wakka and Lulu’s hut in Besaid.  The second thing he noticed was that he was using both his eyes to look around.

Where was his patch?!

He sat up quickly and then immediately regretted it as a surge of agonizing pain shot down his back and he let out a cry that he tried his best to stifle, but it was obvious that someone had heard it.  Footsteps were approaching him now. 

“Thank goodness.  You’re awake!” Paine said with what appeared to be almost a grin as she closed the distance between them and sat down on a chair next to the bed, “We’ve been so worried about you.”

“How long have I been out?” whispered Gippal hoarsely.  His throat was parched and his voice came out in a ragged whisper. 

Paine poured him a small glass of water from the pitcher on the table next to him and handed it to him as she replied, “A couple of days.  It only seemed longer to us.”

Gippal self consciously put a hand to his brown eye, “Where’s my patch…?” he asked.

“Over here.” She replied, reaching into a drawer and retrieving it to him.  Gippal quickly replaced it on his face, carefully avoiding the bandages that lined his cheeks and chin, “Why didn’t you tell us?”

He didn’t respond as he saw a perky blond head running frantically into the room.  He could still see her eyes dancing down at him as the bottle slammed into his face.  The thought made him shudder.

“You’re awake!” she cried, excitedly, as she rushed over to him and kissed him on the forehead gently, “I was so worried about you!”

“You were…?”

“Of course I was!” she replied, “Even though you didn’t tell me about the whole brown eye thing!  Didn’t think I could handle it?”

Gippal shook his head, “It wasn’t that.  It was just that I would have been seen as a traitor to the Al Bhed if I had revealed it while we were still at odds with the Yevonites,” he explained, “and after not saying anything for so long, I realized that I couldn’t because if I revealed it now than your pop and everybody would wonder why I had hidden it for so long…”

“Well, Pop already is wondering.” Admitted Rikku with a shrug, “But let him wonder.  Everybody knows that we can trust you.  No question about that!”

“I’m just going to leave you two alone.” Stated Paine, standing and starting to walk out.

Rikku grabbed her arm, “Nah, keep him company.  I’m going to get Mr. Sicky here something to eat.” She grinned at him and kissed his forehead again, “You stay here and be good and I’ll be right back.” And with a quick wave, she darted out of the hut again.

“She’s not mad at me anymore…?” Gippal asked quietly.

“I think she came to the realization that one little mistake shouldn’t ruin what you guys have.  It’s too special…”

Gippal stared at Paine, “What we have…?” he asked, feigning confusion.  Was he being that obvious about his feelings?  He’d have to be more careful in the future.

“Oh please,” said Paine, rolling her eyes, “You know what I’m talking about.”  Gippal watched as Paine stood and walked to the far end of the hut and then back again.  She seemed troubled by something as she glanced at the small clock on the wall and then back at Gippal, “Yuna’s been gone for a while.  I wonder where she is.”

“You don’t know where she went?”

Paine shook her head, “She said she was going to get air, but it appears that she left Besaid.  I just hope she didn’t do anything stupid, like going to confront Shuyin.”

Gippal’s mouth gaped open and he stopped breathing for a fraction of a second.  He slowly raised himself to a more straight sitting position, “Shuyin…is back?”

“Oh no…don’t tell me you have memory loss.” Paine said, sitting down next to Gippal again, “We were counting on your testimony at his trial.”

“Testimony…?  Trial…?  What did he do this time?”

Paine put her head in her hands and sighed, “You do have memory loss.”

“No I don’t.” retorted Gippal as he scratched his head thoughtfully, “I just don’t know what Shuyin did.  Why is he back?  What happened to Tidus?”

Paine said, “If you don’t have memory loss, then why can’t you remember what Shuyin did to you?”

Gippal was simply dumbfounded.  He sat there for several minutes thinking about what he remembered.  Rikku had been intent on seducing him and when that didn’t work she shoved him down the stairs and beat him with a bottle. 

Where did Shuyin fit into this…?

“Shuyin didn’t do anything to me.” Gippal said to Paine.

Paine seemed a little surprised, “But we found him in the room with you and you were practically dead!”

“But he didn’t do anything to me.”

She sighed, “Then who shoved you down the stairs?  Who broke a bottle over your face?  Who would have done something so heinous?”

Gippal bit his lower lip until it started to bleed, then he stared into Paine’s crimson eyes, “Rikku pushed me…”

---------------------. 

Cid was angry.  He stormed into his office at Home and slammed the door behind him, but that only caused the ceiling to crack and more curses to fly from his mouth.  Home wasn’t completely rebuilt yet and there were definitely things the Al Bhed were going to have to look into…

Like the shoddy workmanship on the ceilings.

Cid sat down in his chair behind his desk and slammed his fists down on the wooden object before him.  If only there were fiends prowling around.  He could take his anger out on them.  Or maybe Zanarkand…but Yuna had told him off about that and the monkey’s now ran it. 

He didn’t have anything to take his mind off what was happening.

The boy he’d thought of as a son for almost 20 years had been lying about what he was for that same amount of time.  Cid had always felt sorry for Gippal.  His mother had told them that his father had died before the two of them had moved to Home.  Cid had taken care of Gippal and his mother, Cubrea, like they were his family.  He’d even fancied himself in love with Cubrea after Rikku’s mother had died, but had only been on, what the Yevonites called, the rebound.

And in all those years, neither had told him of Gippal’s heritage!  They’d gone about pretending that Gippal was a full-blooded Al Bhed when he was nothing more than a Yevonite’s bastard child!! 

And now Cid’s own daughter was madly in love with the ingrate and Cid himself had let it happen when he thought that Gippal was the best Al Bhed he’d ever come across.  The best person in Spira. 

“Shit!” cursed Cid, slamming his fists into the desk again until his knuckles cracked and began to bleed softly.  For years he’d let Gippal in on secret Al Bhed information thinking that he was one of them and for years Gippal let him spill classified information.  The damned fake had probably run the information right back to the Yevonites!  Maybe that was how the Guado found where Home was! 

“I’ll be damned if I let him get away with helping the enemy!” Cid shouted, “Treason is against the law!!  He’ll pay for this!”

The door to Cid’s office opened slowly, “Excuse me, Cid.” Whispered the young Al Bhed woman, “You have a phone call from Luca.”

Cid grunted and the girl walked out.  Grabbing the receiver roughly, Cid hissed, “What…?”

“Sir,” came the voice on the other end.  The man sounded strained, “My name is Maurice Vengo.  I am a guard at Luca prison.”

“Yeah, what about it?”

“I just wanted to inform you that your prisoner escaped several hours ago.”

Cid’s head just about exploded.  He shot out of the chair and leaned over his desk as if doing that would make things better, “What?!  How the hell did that happen?!  He was supposed to be heavily guarded!!!!!”

“He was sir, but he had help in his escape.”

“Who?!”

“The High Summoner, Yuna.”

Author's Notes: Sorry for the lateness of this chapter. With the site down for a few days and me just being generally busy, I got a little behind in posting but it's here now and I hope you all enjoy it. Spoilers for "Gippal's Sphere" in FFX-2 (although the part with a certain baddie from FFX is made up…). If you haven't gotten it then you will be surprised!!

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

Chapter Twenty-Four: Grilled Cheese

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

 

It was certainly not the person Dona or Barthello were expecting to find on their doorstep in the late evening. The High Summoner looked flushed and extremely tired, but her eyes were surprisingly alert as she smiled, "Hello Dona. Hello Barthello. May I come in for a moment?"

Dona stepped aside for the petite female to walk in, "To what do I owe the honor?" she asked, her eyes never wavering from Yuna's form even as the summoner glanced casually around the room and accepted the proffered water that Barthello had run to fetch.

"As I recall," Yuna began, "I noticed quite a nice book collection the last time I was here."

Dona nodded, "What about them?"

"Do you happen to have one on ancient Spiran languages?" the summoner asked, taking a sip of the water and sighing contentedly, "Preferably one on the Latin language."

Dona stared at her guest. Why on Spira would Yuna want to read up on a dead language? And a boring language at that! Sashaying herself toward the window, the tan skinned woman replied, "I have a few books on ancient languages. It depends on what you're looking for."

"Well, I'm actually looking for a specific Latin chant."

Dona raised an eyebrow and looked at her guest, "Why? It wouldn't be worth its salt these days. Those spells are out of date."

"They may be out of fashion, Dona, but magic spells can never be out of date."

Dona rolled her eyes, "Whatever you say, dear." Flicking her wrist toward the bookcase, she said, "What you're looking for should be on the bottom shelf somewhere. I haven't looked for them in a long time, but I think that's where I saw it last."

Yuna walked over to the shelf and dug around for several minutes through romance novels and murder mysteries until she came across a book that had several years of dust on it. Dona sure wasn't kidding when she said she hadn't looked at it in a long time. Hoping with all her might that this is what she was looking for, Yuna opened the book called 'Ancient Spiran Languages, Vol. 2' and scanned the table of contents.

"Here it is!" Yuna cried, happily as she spun around and faced Dona and Barthello again, "Could I borrow this for a while? I'll have it back to you when I can."

Dona shrugged, "Keep it. I don't need it."

"Thank you, Dona."

"Don't mention it." She replied.

Barthello stepped forward and spoke for the first time, "Might the lady Yuna be interested in joining us for supper? I've made more than enough."

"Thank you, Barthello, but I really must be getting back." Declined Yuna with a smile.

"But…"

Dona groaned at Barthello's attempt to change Yuna's mind, "Be quiet!" she hissed at him, "Barthello, she's leaving."

And with one more smile, Yuna did just that…

------------------------.

"Rikku pushed you?!" Paine said in what almost sounded like a squeal to Gippal's ears.

Gippal nodded first, and then shook his head and finally shrugged, "Not really…" he finally admitted, "I mean, it was her body, but it wasn't Rikku."

"What on Spira are you talking about?"

How was Gippal going to explain this? He didn't even truly understand it himself. He bit his lip, "She wasn't herself. Someone was controlling her."

"Controlling who?" came Rikku's lilting voice from the doorway. She was carrying a tall glass of water and a small cup of soup and she crossed the room to Gippal quickly. Placing the glass in his hand and the cup on the table, she sat down beside him on the bed, "What did I miss?"

Paine smiled at Rikku and then Gippal, "I'll talk to you later. I'm going to let you two talk some more." She looked knowingly at Gippal, "I think I understand what you were saying. I'm going to look into it."

The two blondes sat in an awkward silence as their friend left the room. Gippal self consciously pulled the sheet up to his neck and then felt immediately ridiculous and let it fall to his waist again. It wasn't like Rikku had never seen him without his shirt on before. Rikku, however, didn't seem to be plagued by the bout of self consciousness. She was as perky as ever and showed it by bouncing up and down on the bed a few times before turning and saying, "I'm sorry I was such a meanie about the whole thing with Yunie." She twisted one of her long braids around her pointer finger, "I totally overreacted. I mean…we're just friends so you can mess around with whoever you want to and Yunie was totally within her rights since Tidus was…ya know…dead-ish and all."

"Dead-ish?" asked Gippal with a raised eyebrow.

Rikku smiled impishly, "Well, yeah. He's never really been dead. He's always been just dead-ish…"

Rikku's insane way with words was one of the things Gippal lov…er…liked – (in a totally platonic way!!) - most about her. And she was right…they were just friends. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Oh who was he trying to kid? She was the only girl in the galaxy that could make him feel self-conscious just by looking at him in her own special way. She wasn't judging him. She was just looking at him and she somehow managed to make him feel like he was worth something when his entire life he'd known that he really wasn't. He wasn't anything. He wasn't Al Bhed. He wasn't Yevonite. He was just somewhere in the middle – caught between two worlds and never truly belonging to either one. And she was just Rikku – the girl he used to torment while growing up just so that she'd notice him. The girl he used to sit and play dolls with for hours just so that he could spend time with her. The girl who made him want to be a better person when they had kissed under the bridge that day.

She was the reason he'd joined the Crimson Squad. He wanted to save the world and prove to her that he was worth taking a chance on. He'd made it out of the cave and onto the Crimson Squad only to find himself in the line of fire, running for his life with his friends away from Maester Kinoc and the Yevon soldiers. And when he'd woken up after Nooj has shot him, he'd been called to Maester Seymour and given his first – and as it turned out, only – order as a Crimson Squad member.

Kidnap the summoner Yuna and kill her guardians…

But killing her guardians would have meant killing Rikku. He couldn't bear the though of Rikku with a hangnail, let alone with his sword in her stomach or his bullet in her chest. That was why he'd warned Auron that day in the Bikanel desert. He had to let someone know what was going on and who better than the legendary guardian himself?

"Whatcha thinking?"

Rikku's cheerful voice interrupted his thoughts and Gippal sighed. He was thinking about how madly in love with her he was, but he certainly wasn't going to admit that to her so instead he said, "Nothing really…just thinking."

She smiled, "Do you accept my apology?"

"Of course I do."

"Good!" she squealed excitedly, crossing her legs underneath herself and tilting her head sideways, "So what were you talking to Paine about? Who was Shuyin controlling this time?"

"Shuyin wasn't controlling anybody that I know of." Replied Gippal, "Shuyin didn't do anything to me and that's what I was telling Paine."

"Than who was? Who hurt you?" Rikku asked, leaning in closer to him, "I'm gonna kick some serious hiney!"

Gippal sobered and gently stroked her closest hand with his finger, "Rikku, you were the one who hurt me."

He watched as Rikku's eyes widened in shock and she pulled her hand away from him, backing up on the bed but never breaking eye contact. She gaped at him, her mouth opening and closing like the Macalania fish that inhabited the spring in the middle of the now dying forest, "…what…?" she breathed.

"Someone was controlling you." Explained Gippal, "Don't ask me who. I don't know. But whoever it was is who made you try and kill me."

"…why…?"

"She said she needed to weaken Tidus' psyche. Whatever that means…"

Rikku licked her lips in thought, "How do you know it's a she. It could still be Shuyin…"

Shuyin wouldn't have tried to seduce Gippal. He wouldn't have been as blatantly sexual toward Gippal as the person inhabiting Rikku's body had been. Whoever it was was accustomed to feminine wiles. It was definitely a woman. However, Gippal didn't want to mortify Rikku by informing her that he was now familiar with every freckle on her body, so he simply said, "You could just tell, ya know?"

Rikku let a tear fall from her eyes as she cast her gaze downward, "I don't remember anything you're talking about. The last thing I remember is passing out after Tidus killed that praetoress." She sighed and gazed up at him cautiously, "Do you know who was controlling me?"

Gippal shook his head, "I'm afraid I don't, but if it's the last thing I do I intend on finding out."

"So do I." Nooj said as he walked into the room followed behind by LeBlanc, Ormi, and Logos. He smiled at his friend, "It's good to see you awake, Gippal."

----------------------------.

The S.S. Liki was still in service even though most people traveled by machina now. Yuna had been fortunate to catch the last ship out of Kilika Harbor and was happy to see the beaches of Besaid come into view. The book she'd borrowed from Dona was still clutched in to her chest, but Yuna had been afraid to look at it. She was afraid of what she'd discover on its pages.

What if the spell erased Tidus entirely? Maybe that was why he wasn't communicating with Shuyin. Or maybe Shuyin was just lying to her about it. Maybe Tidus really was screaming out for her and Shuyin was ignoring him…

Yuna shook her head and sighed. Shuyin hadn't been able to ignore Tidus before. Tidus had goaded him and Shuyin would smack himself and respond to whatever Tidus had said as if he was right in front of him. She doubted that Shuyin could turn off his natural reaction of response and even if he could, why would he do it? There was no saving him and he knew that. She'd have Tidus back eventually and Shuyin would be no more.

So why wasn't she happy?

It was a feeling that had been plaguing Yuna since the moment she'd realized Shuyin was inhabiting Tidus' body again. For a split second…a moment frozen in time…she'd been happy. Yet just as quickly, the feeling had faded and sheer fury had taken over and she'd been going on that emotion since then – except when she'd had moments of weakness and did stupid things, like busting him out of jail.

"That was really stupid, Yuna…" she muttered to herself, turning from the deck and making her way down into the cabin to await docking. She was aiding and abetting a criminal, and even though she believed that he was innocent, it didn't matter. He was still considered a criminal and she was still helping him. Yevon help her if her Uncle Cid ever found out.

The docking at Besaid went smoothly and it brought a smile to her face as Yuna remembered the beginning of her pilgrimage. She had thought she'd never see her beloved home again, but somehow having Tidus standing near her had gotten her through it. She'd felt close to him even then. She had always wondered why, but it was so clear now. They were fated – soul mates – and nothing, not even some black magic from a deranged witch, was going to keep them apart.

As Yuna stepped into the village, the first thing she noticed was that the only hut that seemed still active was Wakka and Lulu's. Then she noticed Squall and Rinoa walking hand in hand out from behind the temple. Although they were too far away and it was too dark to get a close look, Yuna noticed for the first time that there was a resemblance between Squall and Shuyin…

"Squall and Tidus…" Yuna reminded herself, "Shuyin's cousin is dead."

"Good evening, Yuna." Squall said to her as they connected in front of the door to the hut, "You've been gone for a while."

"I needed some air." Replied Yuna with a smile, clutching the book closer to her under Rinoa's scrutinizing stare, "What have you been doing?"

Rinoa smirked at Yuna and then grinned up at Squall, squeezing his hand tighter, "We were just spending some quality time together."

Yuna smiled back and looked up at Squall. In the moonlight she was startled to see just how much he did resemble his cousin. His eyes were especially obvious. They both had the same kind of striking blue eyes. Yuna was surprised she'd never noticed before. Squall tilted his head a little and Yuna's eyes traveled down his face a bit until… "Are you wearing lipstick?" she asked him, incredulous.

His gloved hand instantly went to his mouth and Yuna saw Squall turn more shades of red than she knew existed. He wiped furiously at his lips and muttered, "…whatever…" under his breath as he stalked into the hut followed closely behind by Rinoa.

Yuna sighed with a wistful smile upon her face as she looked up at the moon shining brightly down on Besaid. She had been that embarrassed when Tidus had first kissed her in the spring that night, but her embarrassment had vanished and when things took a decidedly more physical turn hours later, she didn't even care that what they were doing was frowned upon by the priests of Yevon. For the first time in her life she'd been a carefree teenager doing what she wanted to do and she realized that this must be how Squall was feeling now. He reminded her of herself at his age. He was 17 with the weight of the world on his shoulders. Sure, maybe he wasn't certain of his own death when he faced Praetoress Ultimecia, but he was still charged with 'saving the world' – although just how the Praetoress was threatening his world, Yuna was unsure of.

It didn't matter anymore, though. Things were different for everyone now. Reality and dream had molded together to form an alternate reality in which anything and everything was possible. As Yuna clutched the book tighter to her chest, she thought briefly about Shuyin and realized just how quickly things can change…

She pushed the door to the hut open and was greeted by, quite possibly, the most beautiful sight Yuna had laid eyes on in a long time. Gippal was sitting up in his bed, eyes wide and alert, trying to keep Rikku from force feeding him chunky potato soup from a nearby cup. Letting out a shout of joy, Yuna bounded over to her cousin and Gippal, "You're awake!" she cried, "You're alive!!"

--------------------------.

He had cracked the telephone receiver after slamming it down, but Cid didn't care at the moment. Things were going to shit and he wasn't going to worry over the little things right now. First he finds out that Gippal wasn't even an Al Bhed and then his little Yuna was helping the guy that had tried to kill her cousin and his daughter!!

"Kad dra tyshat yencreb nayto!" he shouted at a nearby engineer, "E's kuehk du Besaid!"

The trip was short, but with Cid's mood it felt like an eternity had passed until the airship landed quietly on the shores of Besaid beach. Cid didn't even bother waiting to see if any of the ships attendants were going to join him. His feet hit the sand and he took off running before anyone had even realized he was gone. There was no time to waste. Shuyin was free, Yuna was helping him. Hell, Gippal was probably in on the whole conspiracy too!

That was it! Cid stopped in his tracks and cursed his stupidity. How could he have not seen this?! Gippal and Yuna wanted to be together, their messing around on the Zanarkand docks had only proven it, and the only way to do that was to get rid of Tidus and Rikku! They are the ones that brought Shuyin back and they staged Gippal's attack to make it look like he was innocent! This was all so that they could be together! It all made so much sense now and Cid found himself filled with a new sense of rage. How dare they do that to his little Rikku?!

Cid continued forward at a quickened pace, making his way along the path that led to Besaid. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, but Cid knew better. Cid knew the sinister machinations that lay in the hearts of his niece and her lover! He stormed up to the door of the hut and stopped. Voices were coming from inside. It sounded like Yuna, Rikku, and…

"The bastard is awake…" Cid muttered to himself, "I'm surprised he could fake a coma for so long. Impressive."

Cid put his ear to the door and listened quietly. Yuna gasped, "Wait…so you're saying that Rikku is the one that pushed you?"

"Well, not really Rikku. It was somebody controlling her."

Rikku's cheerful voice came next, "Yeah, and he swears that it couldn't have been Shuyin. He said it was obviously a woman controlling me."

"….Ultimecia…." Yuna whispered.

"That praetoress?" questioned Gippal, "But she's dead…"

Cid scowled and burst in the door, waving his arms frantically before him. While the trio had been the only ones talking, Cid was quick to note that they weren't the only ones in the room. Nooj, LeBlanc, Wakka, Lulu and the baby, and a few of the dream folks that Cid hadn't bothered knowing by name were there as well. It was the perfect audience for his one-man show, "I won't hear any more of this nonsense about Rikku pushing Gippal or some dead lady controlling her!" he shouted, running forward and grabbing Rikku by the arm, pulling her toward him, "Come with me and you'll be safe. They've been trying to kill you!"

Rikku stared at him, "Have you lost your mind, pop? Nobody's been trying to kill me."

Cid shook his head, "They have been!" he said again, pointing at Yuna and Gippal, "They had a plan to kill you and Tidus so they could do the hanky-panky and nobody would be there to stop them! They used Shuyin to make it look like she and Gippal were innocent! Everything was planned right down to the final detail. Why, I bet part of the deal was to give Shuyin his freedom. Am I right?!"

"What…?!" asked Gippal, incredulous.

"Shutup you…you…you criminal!" Cid stammered, his anger causing his voice to reach high pitches and crack on every other word.

Yuna stepped forward, "Uncle Cid, this is ridiculous. Gippal and I have done nothing of the sort."

"Yeah!" Rikku agreed, ripping her wrist away from her father and sticking her tongue out at him, "You've just cracked your head, pop."

"Oh really?!" Cid stated, his nose high in the air as he prepared to deliver the final crushing blow of evidence against Yuna, "Then explain to me why Yuna helped break Shuyin out of jail this afternoon."

The silence that followed was enough to put a smug smile on Cid's face. Everyone in the room seemed shocked and looked at Yuna for some sort of denial, but his niece simply stared him down until Cid felt his smile crumble. She was defiant and strong. It was the same look she had when she had insisted on continuing her pilgrimage even though she knew it would mean her death.

"Yunie…" whispered Rikku, "Tell him he's crazy…"

Cid sneered, "She can't Rikku. She did it. She's guilty." He formed a stern look on his face, "Aren't you?"

"I wasn't about to stand by and let you condemn another person without the slightest bit of reasoning or evidence." Yuna stated simply, sitting back down in the chair she had vacated and taking a long, leisurely sip from the glass near her.

"No evidence?! No evidence?!" Cid shouted, "He was found with the body! But of course, Gippal and you had planned the whole thing so he was fine, but my little Rikku certainly wasn't!!"

"Pop!"

Yuna lifted her hand and shook her head, "It's okay, Rikku. He's just angry because I outsmarted him."

Rikku looked at her cousin, "Did you really bust him out?"

"Yes, I did." Yuna sighed, "I was going to deny it and hide it for as long as I could, but since Cid has come up with these ridiculous accusations, I think it's better if I just set the record straight on why I did it." She turned and looked at her uncle, focusing both her eyes onto his, "Before I was even born you were practicing your racism and hatred on those around you. You stopped speaking to my mother simply because she fell in love with my father and married him. You had no interest in my life until we met up on my pilgrimage and even then it was only to boss me around and tell me how to live my life."

"How to end it was more like it…" scoffed Cid.

Yuna rolled her eyes, "Maybe, but it was my decision, not yours. I had truly hoped you had changed, but then you turned on Gippal without a shred of evidence. You through him in jail for Baralai's murder on circumstances that could have easily been explained away…" she sighed, "and I let you. I sat back and let you throw him in jail."

"You let me?" Cid asked, "Correct me if I'm wrong, girlie, but I'm the law in Bikanel."

"And I am the High Summoner." Replied Yuna, "What's your point?"

"Why you little…!"

Yuna smiled stiffly and continued, "Yes, Shuyin killed Baralai. Yes, he tried to kill me and Rikku and practically everyone else in this room. But he didn't do anything wrong this time and I wasn't about to let him be punished for someone else's actions. I wasn't going to let him rot away in prison, especially when he's still wearing my boyfriend's body."

Cid's mouth dropped, "So that's what this is all about?! You want Tidus and Gippal!"

"I don't want Gippal at all!" cried Yuna, pulling at her hair and spinning around.

"Then why'd you make moves on him? Hmm…?"

Yuna turned and glared at her uncle, "I didn't, but even if I did it isn't any of your business, so butt out!"

Cid returned her glare with a colder one of his own, "Where is he, girl? Where'd you stash Shuyin?"

"I will never tell you, Cid." Yuna replied, "You will never find him."

--------------------.

His stomach was screaming for attention, but Yuna hadn't come back yet and Shuyin began to wonder if she ever was going to. Maybe she was going to let him starve to death there. He couldn't imagine his Lenne letting him starve to death again, but Yuna…

Well, one never knew with Yuna.

That was the one thing he liked most about her. She was completely unpredictable. One minute she'd be furious and the next minute she'd be your best friend. Funny one minute, angry the next. She was great like that. He loved not knowing what to expect. It made life interesting.

When she came back, he wondered what her mood would be. Would she be happy, sad, angry, indifferent? His answer came quicker than he had expected as the front door slammed open and then slammed shut and he heard her pounding footsteps in the hall. Shuyin jumped up from the bed in the back and met her halfway. Her hair was wild and her eyes on fire. She was obviously really mad about something, but he didn't get a chance to ask before she said, "I got the damn book and your damn food. Cid found out about my helping you and the only reason he let me go was because he's hoping I'll be stupid enough to lead him to you. I had to spend two hours dodging his trackers just to get here. My friends think I've lost my mind for helping you and I am seriously starting to question my sanity too! I hope you appreciate all I'm going through for you!"

"I do…" he said, and she seemed to mellow a little as she lugged the small bag of food into the kitchen and sat it down on the remnants of the kitchen table. The first thing she pulled out was a box of matches and she started a small flame in the stove and put a pot down, "All I managed to get was some bread, fruit, and cheese, so I hope you don't mind grilled cheese sandwiches."

Shuyin smiled, "Sounds good." He replied, coming toward her with a grin on his face, "Say, Yuna…do you like cheese?"

Yuna tired not to laugh but ended up snorting as she tried to hold her mirth in. There were times when remembering her past life weren't so bad. She had had a few good laughs as Lenne…

Lenne decided to quickly change the subject and shouted from the kitchen, "What are you in the mood for?" She felt a blush creep into her cheeks at the sudden realization that the different ways you could take that simple sentence and she reworded with, "What would you like to eat?"

Shuyin was suddenly poking his head into the kitchen and Lenne felt like a deer caught in headlights – bright, blue headlights. The blond smiled at her, "Whatever you were going to make for yourself is fine with me."

"A grilled cheese sandwich it is, then." The songstress said.

The blitzer left the room and she could see in the reflection from one of the pots that he was sitting on the sofa again. She let out a slight sigh and then immediately realized that she had to keep the conversation going or else he might leave. Her mind spun with different things to say to him but none of them seemed right and as the time went by, Lenne panicked and said the only thing that came to mind, "Do you like cheese?"

As soon as the words were out of her mouth, Lenne seriously considered summoning Bahamut to put her out of her misery. She felt a groan forming in her throat at that stupid sentence. Instead of saying something witty and charming, she had asked quite possibly the most attractive guy she'd ever seen if he liked CHEESE!

She waited and fully expected to hear the door slam behind his retreating form, but to her surprised she just heard a little chuckle as he approached her and responded with, "I like cheese, but I really love bread."

He was standing behind her now, offering if he could help her with anything and she immediately relaxed. Maybe he wasn't as bad as Yunalesca seemed to think. He was offering to help her cook. Yunalesca tried to make it sound like he would rather starve to death than lift a finger to do anything other than his "willing" fans.

"No, I've got it." She said finally. She almost regretted saying anything. She liked the way he was standing behind her. She could feel the heat radiating off of his body and once those words were out of her mouth, he backed away and she felt cold and alone.

He reentered the living room and the two made idle conversation while she made the sandwiches and silently prayed that she wouldn't burn them.

She never was a very good cook.

Luckily for her, the sandwiches turned out fine and she filled two glasses with water and joined Shuyin in the living room with their lunch. He smiled at her when he took the plate, "Thanks, Lenne."

"You're welcome, Shuyin." She responded. She loved the way he said her name. It seemed to roll off of his tongue. It sounded like a dream coming from his mouth. All of his words sounded like a dream – slow, languid, and deliciously wonderful.

He had gotten unexpectedly close to her during her reverie and when she turned her head she realized he was only inches away from her. He stared at her with Tidus' eyes, but she knew that it wasn't Tidus looking at her. She could feel the difference in the way Shuyin and Tidus gazed at her. There was a hunger in Shuyin's gaze that made Yuna feel nervous and giddy all that the same time. His eyes were just so blue and his hair was just so soft and his lips….

His lips were just so…

"I've gotta go!" cried Yuna, shoving Shuyin away from her as quickly as she could and getting around him and out toward the door, "Keep the food."

"Yuna!" Shuyin shouted after her. She heard him coming but she didn't stop moving until she opened the door and let out a curse. It was pouring. It looked like the clouds had just given way. There was no way she could make it back to Besaid in weather like this.

"It's not safe for you to go back tonight." Said Shuyin as he came up behind her and closed the door quietly, "Besides, I doubt the ships are going to be in service anyway."

"You're probably right…" admitted Yuna, trying to fight the shiver of pleasure that he invoked as he bumped her arm gently while shutting the door. Something was seriously wrong with her. Why was she acting like this all of the sudden? It just had to have been that soup Rikku made everyone eat. It hadn't tasted very good…

"Come on…" Shuyin said, "You can take the bed. I'll sleep on the floor."

Yuna shook her head, "No, you take the bed. I can take the couch. I don't want to inconvenience you."

Shuyin looked over at the couch and made a face, "You sure you want to sleep on that…?"

Yuna followed his gaze and saw that several of the rats had decided to make the remnants of her sofa into a restroom facility while she had been gone. She felt herself gag and looked at him, "The bed is better?"

"I guarded that with my life." He announced proudly, a smug grin on his face.

"Then I shouldn't deprive you of it…" insisted Yuna, "I'll take the floor, you take the bed."

Shuyin sighed, "No…you take the bed."

"No, you take it…"

"You take it…"

"You!"

"You!"

"You!!"

Shuyin raised his hand in submission, "Look Yuna, we're both adults here. Why don't we just share the bed? You take one side, I'll take the other and we just agree not to invade the other's personal space?"

Yuna's inner voice was screaming at her. Telling her that it wasn't a good idea to play with fire like this, but she was tired and ignored it. Nodding solemnly, she followed Shuyin into the bedroom and watched as he built a little "fence" out of a blanket. She smiled, "These sheets are pretty clean…"

"I washed them in the river this afternoon after you left." He said with a smile, "Then I build a fire and dried them out myself."

"Mr. Homemaker…" she teased.

"Aren't you impressed? I never used to be able to do laundry, but I'm learning."

"Very impressive…" she admitted as she kicked her boots off and climbed into her side of the bed, pulling the sheets to her chin. She watched as Shuyin finished the fence between the two of them by tying one end to the footboard and the other to the headboard.

"There…" he said, patting his handiwork, "Now you don't have to worry about me ravaging your body in the middle of the night."

"I wasn't worried about that…" Yuna whispered.

"Good…" said Shuyin with a smirk, "Cause this wouldn't really stop me if I had wanted to…"

Yuna laughed and rolled her eyes, "Maybe Yunalesca was right about you after all. You are bad news…"

"Guilty as charged, m'lady summoner." He replied, pulling his shirt over his head and tossing it at the foot of the bed. Yuna's eyes widened and she quickly averted her gaze as he climbed into bed beside her. She simply adored Tidus' physique and coupling that with Shuyin's unrivaled self confidence….well…

It was going to be a long night…

-----------------------------------,.

AL BHED TRANSLATION

Kad dra tyshat yencreb nayto!: Get the damned airship ready.

E's kuehk du Besaid: I'm going to Besaid.

Author's Notes: Prepare to be confused until the end of the chapter where (hopefully) everybody will understand at least part of what’s going on. But don’t feel bad if you don’t get it. Everything will be clear by the end of the story. (Just how much longer there is, I have no idea. Lots to accomplish still…) Some minor spoilers for FF8 from disk one so if you don’t want to know how Squall meets Rinoa (for the second time) than avoid the italicized writing in the second section. Also, thanks to Jenn once again for the blitzball idea. I took her idea and twisted it to work with where I wanted the story to go, but the ultimate inspiration is from Jamie. Thanks again!

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

Chapter Twenty-Five: Otherworld

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

“Hi there…” came a sweet and sultry voice from next to him. Shuyin rolled toward the sound in a half asleep daze, eyes still closed and sighed. His head slid down the pillow until it gently made contact with the head next to him. He felt soft hair tickle his cheek as the warm body twisted in the sheets and snuggled up closer to him. Shuyin felt completely relaxed and at ease and felt himself drifting back off to sleep when the feeling of a hand creeping up into his boxers brought him to full awareness. Just before the hand claimed him, Shuyin squirmed up and out of the bed, grabbing his pants from the floor.

Funny…he didn’t remember taking them off…

“What’s wrong with you, Shuyin?”

He froze in mid-zip, his back tensing involuntarily at the sound of the voice from behind him. That wasn’t Yuna’s voice. He looked down at his shirtless body. His muscles were larger and more well-defined – the way he remembered them being. His hair was falling in his eyes the way it always used to. Even his baby toes were back to being the tiniest that anyone in Zanarkand had ever seen before.

Shuyin spun around and held in a gasp that threatened to fly from his lips as he stared into the brown pools that he used to get lost in. Long brown hair hung loosely over her bare shoulders as she rose to her knees and held out her arms to him, “Are you okay, baby?”

“…Lenne…” he managed to whisper.

“Yeah?” she asked, finally realizing he wasn’t going to fall into her arms. She rose up and he watched her with unabashed amazement as she walked across the room without a stitch of clothes on and gathered up a small silky robe from the closet.

Her closet…

Shuyin ran a hand through his hair and gaped at where he was. He was in Lenne’s house. That hadn’t changed. What had changed was the girl. Where was Yuna? Why was Lenne there? Why was her house exactly how he had remembered it when he had gone to bed that night and had it be completely destroyed? What was going on?!

“You’d better get dressed. You’re gonna be late for practice.” Lenne reminded him with a grin and a kiss on the lips, “And Wargna would kill you if you were late again.”

“Wargna…?” Shuyin repeated, feeling dazed.

Lenne laughed, “Yeah, your coach.” She sighed and went into the bathroom, “I’m just gonna change and then we can go. I’ve gotta practice today too.”

Shuyin stood dazed in his spot and didn’t realize time had passed until Lenne came out of the bathroom. Her long hair pulled up into a ponytail and her body clad in gray sweatpants and a blue tank top. She came up to him with a smile on her face and reached down, zipping up his fly. He blushed, “Thanks…”

“Sure thing.” She said, “I didn’t want Skirpa and Bruttam to think you’d gone mad.”

“They’re…” he whispered, “…okay…?”

Lenne raised an eyebrow at him, “Of course they’re okay. Why wouldn’t they be?” she shrugged, “You’re acting weird this morning. You okay?”

“…yeah…”

“Then come on. We can’t be late again!”

She grabbed his hand and Shuyin followed her out the door and onto the streets of Zanarkand. The fully populated, brightly lit streets of Zanarkand…

“It was a dream…?” he whispered to himself as he followed Lenne down the block toward the blitzball arena that had seemed to magically rebuild itself over night. He felt Lenne’s hand slip from his own and that pulled him out of his reverie as she began to run faster and faster. Shuyin struggled to catch up but she kept getting further and further away until panic began to set in, “Lenne! Don’t leave! Slow down!!”

But Lenne didn’t slow down and Shuyin watched helplessly as she disappeared into the blitzball arena. He managed to make it to the door moments later, but it was eerily quiet. It didn’t seem like anybody was there as he made his way back toward the locker rooms. The only sound he heard were his feet slapping against the cement floors. Pushing the door open, Shuyin gazed into the locker rooms. Not a person in sight, not a towel on the floor, not a shower stall filled. No one was there.

“Lenne?!” he shouted, hoping his voice would reach her. Maybe she was just playing hide and seek – although, Lenne was never much into that sort of thing. When she didn’t answer, Shuyin decided to press on and as he made his way down toward the blitzball sphere, he started to hear the dull roar of a crowd through the double doors just ahead of him.

“Lenne…?” he asked, stupidly, knowing full well that Lenne never sounded anything like 1000 people shouting, but he didn’t know what else to say. As he reached the doors, he pushed them open and was immediately surrounded by screaming fans and the flashbulbs of the paparazzi cameras. He shielded his face from the lights and his ears from the screaming as he spotted Wargna amidst the confusion, “Where’s Lenne?!” he shouted to his coach as he made it to him.

“She just went on!” Wargna shouted back, “And where the hell were you? You’re late again, Bacohl!”

“Sorry coach…”

“Don’t apologize to me!” the coach shouted, “Get out there and show your fans that you were worth the wait!”

“Yes coach!” Shuyin shouted, diving into the sphere pool with ease. He hadn’t played blitz in a long time – or at least it seemed like it, but since things seemed to be back to normal he must have been dreaming.

Right…?

Skirpa punched him on the shoulder gently and smiled as if to say, “Where have you been?” to which Shuyin replied by shrugging and smiling back. The buzzer sounded to start the match.

Shuyin didn’t even know who the match was against, but he didn’t care. Blitzball was a part of his soul and he gave it everything he had with ever move he made.

The crowd roared as Shuyin caught the ball and shot it back to Bruttam who was floating in the middle of the pool waiting. Bruttam narrowly avoided a tackle from the opposing team and managed to pass the ball to Skirpa who swam in for a goal. Shuyin saw the opposition closing in on Skirpa as his friend swam frantically toward the opposing team’s goal and Shuyin wasn’t about to let this man tackle Skirpa. Shuyin’s speed gave him advantage over the other and before he realized it, Shuyin had rammed the man from behind – forcing him out of the sphere pool and into the stands. His act had surprised Skirpa and allowed him to be tackled by another player, but the ball had floated away from that man’s hands and Shuyin smirked at the crowd before swimming to retrieve the wayward ball.

As the replacement player entered the sphere pool, Shuyin caught sight of Lenne in the stands and smiled to himself. He was finally home. All these years of wondering and waiting and missing her and he was back. It had all been some sort of horrible dream. It was all…

He stopped in mid swim, his eyes catching sight of something far above the crowd. It looked like…a man? Nah…Shuyin decided, shaking his head and focusing back on the game. Nobody was allowed in the catwalks except personnel and all the personnel were enjoying the game from VIP seating.

He shook his head again and focused back on the game, instantly noting that his team had formed the swimming pattern suitable for his bicycle kick. Skirpa winked at him and then proceeded to kick the ball with major force high up into the air until it broke through the sphere pool and out into the open atmosphere. Shuyin followed behind it, breaking through the pool and performing a flip backward in the air. Normally he remained focused on the ball, never letting anything distract him, but this time something caught his eye. Just beyond the ball was a giant ball of water – larger than the sphere pool – and it was coming toward the stadium. Shuyin’s mouth dropped as he felt his body begin to do the same. The ball of water shot three missile-like objects from itself and as the screaming began, Shuyin realized that he wasn’t the only one who saw the creature.

As the sphere pool was hit, the mechanism shut it down prematurely and a huge wave of water from the sphere encompassed the stadium and started rushing people out of the building against their will while the huge creature shot more water missiles toward them, shattering stone statues like they were nothing. Shuyin felt himself beginning to plummet to the ground and reached out to grab whatever he could get his hands on which turned out to be the cement backing of the sphere pool. Shuyin tried not to think about his friends – about Lenne – still running for their lives and he tried to focus on getting himself to safety. Swinging his body with all his might, Shuyin reached for the cement backing with his other hand, but his gloved hand slipped and he found himself falling and falling and just before he hit the ground, everything went white.

“I was waiting for you…”

Shuyin felt like he’d been run over by a car, but managed to open his eyes. A strange man garbed in red that he’d never seen before was standing before him, lending him a hand. Shuyin accepted it and rose to his feet, finally realizing there was fleeing and panicked people all around them.

“What are you talking about?” he asked the man, but he didn’t answer and Shuyin found himself with nothing to do but follow him.

“Hey wait!” he shouted, breaking into a run as the strange man continued his quick paced walk down the long main highway, “Hey, not this way!”

“Look.” The strange man ordered, pointing at the ball of water that Shuyin had seen before, “We called it Sin.”

“Sin…?” Shuyin whispered, his mind reeling. That was what Yuna and Tidus and the others had defeated? That huge machination was what Yunalesca’s father had called to destroy Zanarkand and stop the war?!

The thing called Sin dropped several pods down onto the road before them which quickly sprouted wings and turned into a demonic sort of butterfly. Shuyin felt panic set in as the demonic monsters started closing in on him. The man next to him stood there and watched as Shuyin tried to kick and bat the creatures away with his bare hands, but it didn’t help. He silently cursed the strange man. If he wasn’t going to help him, then what the hell was he standing there for?!

Suddenly, the man thrust a sword out and under Shuyin’s nose, “Take it.” He ordered. Shuyin tentatively accepted the sword, “A gift from Jecht.”

“Who…?”

“I hope you know how to use it.” Stated the man, as he watched Shuyin fall under the weight of the sword. He had never used one before. He was a blitzer, not a fighter. He swore he saw the man grinning from under his serious façade as Shuyin attempted to chop off the head of one of the monsters.

“These ones don’t matter.” The man announced, “We cut through.”

Shuyin groaned. Cut through, huh? He just wanted to find Lenne and get the hell out of here. He just wanted to know what was going on. He was so confused. What was going on?! His body seemed to take on a mind of its own as he cut through the monsters by following the elder’s example. Shuyin felt his anger and annoyance rise as more and more of the monsters appeared and he kept attacking as he felt his exhaustion set in. The tall man shouted, “Don’t bother going after all of them! Cut the ones that matter and run!”

As they ran along the broken streets of Zanarkand, Shuyin and his strange partner came across a giant version of the strange little butterfly monsters they had been fighting. Shuyin stopped and started shaking his head, “Oh hell no! I am not fighting that thing! You can forget it!” and Shuyin took off running, slicing through the smaller butterfly monsters in his quest to get around the larger one. He heard the strange man’s footsteps behind him, but Shuyin kept running. This guy was getting him no where fast. He needed to find Lenne. He didn’t have time to be messing around with this Sin thing.

“We’re expected.” He heard the man say suddenly and it was only then that Shuyin realized the guy moved faster than he had expected. He also realized that the guy knew what he was talking about. Hundreds upon hundreds of the pods containing those monsters started falling in front of, and behind, them until Shuyin started to feel real true panic set in. The man thought for a moment and said, “This could be bad.”

“Yeah, no shit Sherlock!” shouted Shuyin, gripping the blade harder, “Any bright ideas?!”

“That!” the man said, pointing toward a large piece of machinery at the side of the road, “Knock it down.”

“What?!”

“Trust me. You’ll see.”

Shuyin didn’t know why he went along with the man’s plan, but he did. With each smack of their weapons he was certain he was taking a step closer to his death. The machine crackled with energy until finally it exploded, falling into the ravine below the road and taking the bridge with it.

“GO!” he heard the man shout. Shuyin didn’t need to be told twice. He took off running faster than he ever thought he could. He could hear and feel the bridge collapsing beneath his feet and took one giant leap forward, grabbing onto another bridge that was just above his head.

He saw the man appear above him and briefly wondered how he got up there, but he didn’t concern himself for long when he saw the thing called Sin appear above his head. It no longer looked like a giant ball of water and more like a rather large rock.

“Hey, guy! Help me!” Shuyin shouted.

The man ignored him briefly, gazing upward into the giant hole that was sucking everything up into Sin, “You are sure.” He said to the creature. After appearing to get a response, he gazed back down at Shuyin, “This is it. This is your story. It all begins here.”

The man reached down and gripped Shuyin by the collar, tugging him upward with one hand toward the giant hole in Sin’s body. Shuyin started screaming wildly, flailing his body as if getting away from this guy and falling hundreds of feet to his doom was preferable. A hand appeared over the strange man’s shoulder and tapped harshly, “Um…excuse me, Auron.”

The strange man – whose name apparently was Auron – stopped lifting Shuyin momentarily and gazed over his shoulder at the person. Shuyin couldn’t see who it was. Auron’s shoulder blocked his view. He tried to squirm a little to see who it was and at the same time get his feet closer to solid ground but it didn’t work. As Shuyin hung their helplessly, the hand became an arm, and then a shoulder, and finally an entire person and Shuyin felt an involuntary gasp come from his lips.

“Tidus?!”

Tidus looked at Shuyin and then at Auron, “This is my story.” He said, glaring at Shuyin suddenly, “Why are you trying to steal my story?!”

“Trust me!” shrieked Shuyin, “You can have it!”

Tidus looked at Auron, “You heard him. This is my story.”

“Very well.” Auron said, lifting Shuyin effortlessly and placing him on the building roof where Shuyin watched in shock as he grabbed Tidus by the collar and dangled him over the edge of the building.

“H…hey! What are you doing?!” Shuyin cried, grabbing Auron’s arm in an attempt to pull Tidus to safety, “Let him up here! You’re gonna drop him!”

“This is your story.” Auron started to say, staring into Tidus’ eyes, “It all begins here…”

-------------------------.

Squall was sitting quietly in the darkened corner of the guest hut in Besaid and hadn’t said much since the altercation between Yuna and Cid. She supposed he was upset that Yuna was protecting a killer or something like that. Whatever it was really didn’t matter much to her. This Squall was such a moody son of a bitch. Granted, her Squall was pretty moody too, but she had forgotten just how distant Squall had been with her early in their relationship. All she remembered was how they had been later – when he couldn’t keep his hands off of her. This Squall, however, hadn’t spoken to her since she had kissed him. It had been really stupid of her to kiss him so suddenly, but she was dying for some physical contact and had been surprised to find how he kissed exactly like the real Squall. His lips had the same soft and pliable texture that she remembered, and his tongue….

She grinned to herself. Until she found where her Squall was, she could have fun teaching this one the ways of the world. Taking a seat next to him, she spread her blue duster flat beneath her and leaned her head on his shoulder, “Whatcha thinking about?”

“Why did you kiss me…?” he asked her, staring at his feet as if they were the most interesting things on the planet.

“Didn’t you like it?”

“I didn’t say that.”

She grinned, “So you did like it. I figured you did.”

Squall sighed and lifted his head to look at her, “Rinoa…will you answer me?”

“Because I wanted to get it out of the way.” She replied, throwing her hair behind her shoulders, “I just wanted us to get passed that and onto more important things.” Squall raised a questioning eyebrow and moved slightly away from her on the ottoman they were sitting on, but she quickly closed the gap again and pressed her breasts against his arm, “Don’t you find me attractive, Squallie?”

Squall’s mouth opened and closed like a fish and it didn’t take her much to realize that this Squall was as much an innocent as her Squall had been. It’d be strange for her to teach the same man twice, but it’d also be fun. His eyes slipped shut in a quiet ecstasy as she slowly trailed her hand up his inner thigh and over the bulge between. Her tongue worked his earlobe where she gently dragged her teeth over it, her hand still moving steadily where it lay.

“Is this where the guest beds are, love?”

“I think so…”

Squall jumped up and away from her wandering hand, shyly making sure his zipper was still in place as their guests walked in. She recognized them from the altercation, although their names escaped her at the moment.

“Oh, sorry loves. We didn’t know anybody was in here.”

Squall turned a panicked eye on them, “We weren’t doing anything!” he practically shouted, them slammed a trembling hand over his mouth. She noted that this Squall was even more of a baby than the last one. Her Squall wouldn’t have reacted like that.

The handsome dark-haired man nodded, but it was obvious that he didn’t believe the younger man, “Uh huh…” he smiled, “Well, even if you were it’s none of our business, right LeBlanc?”

“Right, Noojie.”

Nooj turned and gave her a half grin, “Rinoa, right? I’m Nooj. I don’t believe we’ve formally met.” He extended a hand to her and she wasn’t at all interested in making nice with these people. Yet, if she didn’t, it would send up red flags so she tried her best to conceal her disgust and accepted his palm. She had expected it to be sweaty and disgusting, much like the entire population of Spira as of late, but was surprised when it wasn’t. He had a strong grip and a nice, soft hand.

She’d felt that handshake before…

"YEEESSSS! SeeD is here!” Rinoa had shouted, jumping up from the bed and running toward the boy happily. She wrapped her arms around his neck in a furious hug with such force that he spun a full circle before putting her down.

"Take it easy." He admonished her.

"It's just that, I'm so happy!” she replied, “I've been sending requests to Garden forever, but nothing...I'm so glad I spoke to Cid directly!"

The boy seemed almost disappointed by that, "Oh...So you were looking for the headmaster at the party?"

The truth was, she hadn’t been. She had been looking for her ex-boyfriend, "You know Seifer?"

"...Yeah."

"Well, he's the one who introduced me to Cid. Cid is such a nice man. I really didn't think SeeD would come out to help a measly little group like us. But after explaining our situation to him, Cid gave the go ahead right away! Now that you guys are here, we'll be able to carry out all kinds of plans!"

"I'm goin' back to the others.” He said suddenly, as if the mere mention of Seifer had sickened him to the core and he couldn’t stand to be near her anymore. It hadn’t bothered her at the time. All she wanted to know was about Seifer.

"Ok, let's go!” she had announced, “Umm, Squall. Is 'he' here?...Seifer."

“......No, he's not a SeeD."

"Oh yeah, my name's...Rinoa” she said, realizing she hadn’t introduced herself to him yet. She extended her hand to him and Squall tentatively accepted it, squeezing it firmly.

"Very pleased to meet you, Squall.” She said, leaning in toward him and winking, "SeeD members dance quite well, don't they?"

"Approach your target inconspicuously at a dance party..." replied Squall, and Rinoa was unsure of whether he was joking, but his serious attitude led her to believe what he said was in all seriousness, "There may be missions requiring this sort of subterfuge. It's expected of SeeD to learn various skills."

And she didn’t bother to hide her disappointment at the thought, "Ohhh...So it's work related. That's too bad..."

“…Squall…?” she whispered, staring into Nooj’s eyes.

“What is it?”

She was shaken out of her daze by the sound of dream Squall’s voice from behind her. She regretfully released Nooj’s hand and said to Squall, “Have you met…Nooj?”

“I don’t think so.” Squall said, nodding at Nooj, “Nice to meet you.”

LeBlanc grinned at him, “Nice to meet you, love. I’m LeBlanc.”

Squall nodded curtly and then turned to her, “I’m gonna take a walk. I’ll see you later.” And she nodded back at him as he walked out of the room.

LeBlanc said, “I hope we didn’t interrupt anything.”

“You didn’t.” she replied, still watching Nooj carefully out of the corner of her eye. So that was why she couldn’t find her Squall. He had been recycled back to Spira. Even in this different form he was very handsome. But who was that girl with him? Was he involved with someone else?! He couldn’t possibly be. Squall had sworn to love her and only her forever. But of course, this wasn’t Squall. She was dealing with Nooj. He had a whole new set of memories and a whole new set of priorities. This wasn’t what she had planned at all. She had thought this was going to be easy, but it was looking more and more like it wasn’t going to be at all. Now more than ever she needed Shuyin to assist her, but the damned bastard had gone running off with Yuna to Yevon only knew where and she didn’t have time to hunt him down. Even with all her powers, she didn’t have a tracking system built in and finding him would take time. So she needed to make him come to her.

And she knew just how to do it…

-------------------.

Even though Yevon had been all a lie, Paine still found herself drawn to the temples. She had never been a religious person no matter how you stretched it, but she had found that she thought best when surrounded by statues of those who had given their lives in the quest for the Calm. She needed that opportunity to think now. Something was seriously wrong. Shuyin was back but for no apparent reason. Yuna was helping him. Cid was on the rampage. Dream people had invaded the real world. The only thing that was normal was that Rikku and Gippal were back to pretending that they aren’t madly in love with each other. It was the only bit of comfort Paine got from this whole mess.

She heard footsteps behind her and turned around. Speak of the dream people…, “Seifer, wasn’t it?” she said to the tall blonde as he approached.

“Yeah, Seifer Almasy. What was your name?”

“Paine Lerif.” She replied, “Just call me Paine.”

Seifer nodded and walked over to the base of Lady Yunalesca’s statue, “What’s the deal with all these statues in here? And why is it all men except for the half finished one of Yuna and this half naked lady?”

“That’s Lady Yunalesca,” Paine replied, trying to hide a smirk at the ‘half naked lady’ comment. She wondered how the priests of Yevon would react to hearing such blasphemous comments, “She was the first person to defeat Sin and so on down the line until you get to Yuna. She defeated Sin permanently.”

“Good for her.” Seifer replied, “But, uh, what’s Sin?”

So Paine explained it all. She told him what she knew about Sin and Yuna’s pilgrimage to defeat it. She told him about Seymour and the unsent priests and how in the end Tidus sacrificed himself for the good of Spira. She related Rikku’s story of how Yuna ran right through Tidus and landed face first on the ship. Yuna had never wanted to talk about it…

Then she explained about how she joined up with them and how Yuna became determined to find Tidus again after the sphere was found. She told him that the sphere contained an image of Shuyin, not Tidus, but Yuna didn’t realize until they were already so deep into the situation that they had no choice but to see it through to the end and as a reward, the fayth gave Tidus back to her.

Then she recounted the tales of what had happened over the last few months, with Tidus’ possession, Baralai’s murder, and Tidus’ journey to the dream world and back again. Seifer stood and listened as Paine went on and on until the sun was almost up and then he said, “So Tidus is some sort of copy of Shuyin?”

“A dream version. When Zanarkand was destroyed, the fayth saved it in a dream and recreated it. Tidus is dream Zanarkand’s version of Shuyin.”

“See…that’s what I don’t get.” Said Seifer, scratching his head and taking a seat at the base of the stairs leading to the Cloister of Trials. Paine sat down next to him, “Why would there be any sort of merger at all if they are two separate entities? I mean…twins don’t merge together!”

Paine bit her lip. She hadn’t thought about that. Why would there need to be a merger? Shuyin was dead. Shuyin was defeated. Why not just send him to the Farplane and leave Tidus alone? Why did he keep coming back? And if he wasn’t coming back of his own will, then why was he coming back at all?

Seifer sighed, “I want to tell you something. Maybe you can make more sense of it than I can.”

“Go on.”

“I went into that room up there,” Seifer began, pointing toward the door to the Cloister of Trials, “and I ran into Sis…I mean, Ellone. I don’t think you met her. Apparently she’s one of these ‘fayth’ people you were talking about, but in my world she’s just this girl I grew up with.” He stopped and took a breath, “Anyway, she gave me all sorts of weird clues. She said there’s two things going on. One of them involves somebody that will use me and that clue is ‘A blind lion catches no owl.’. Than the other clue is about this lie that was told to all of you. That clue is, ‘Yuna and her friends think 1 plus 1 equals 2, but in reality 2 becomes 1’.” He stopped and looked at Paine’s reaction, “Any ideas?”

“Two become one? A blind lion?” she smirked, “Sounds like the plot of a really bad movie to me.”

Seifer laughed, “True, but do you have any idea with she might have been talking about?”

“Who did she say was lying to us?”

“Her ‘fellow fayth’.” Seifer replied, “Whatever that means.”

Paine nodded, “Than I need to talk to our dear friend Bruttam and find out what he was lying about.” She said, standing up and motioning toward the door, “I’m going to the Farplane. Wanna come?”

“What’s the Farplane?”

Paine smiled, “You’ll see when we get there. Come on.”

---------------------------.

A hand smacked into Yuna’s forehead, bringing her to a sudden awareness. She didn’t remember where she was initially until the realization that she’s spent the night with Shuyin dawned on her.

Shuyin…

Why was he flailing like that?

Yuna jumped up from her side and ran around the bed to Shuyin. The blitzer’s hair was matted to his forehead in sweat and he was flailing his arms and legs, “My story….my story…” he kept muttering. Yuna gently placed the back of her hand against his forehead and then pulled back quickly. He was burning up and she estimated his temperature to be well above normal.

“Damn it!” she cried, rushing into the remnants of the bathroom, “Of all the times for him to get sick!” She tried the taps but it became obvious quickly that the Al Bhed hadn’t gotten around to fixing the plumbing just yet.

“…MY STORY…!!!” he shouted from the other room.

Yuna groaned and ran back to him, pulling the sheets from around him and fanning him as best she could with her skirt. She needed help. She needed to get him to some help. Biting her lip, she ran into the living room and then outside in search of something. She wasn’t sure what, but she’d know it if she saw it.

As she rounded the corner at the end of the lane, she saw a wheelbarrow filled with rocks sitting near one of the work sites. She rushed over to it, dumping it onto its end and spilling its contents onto the sidewalk, and then she rushed back to Shuyin and pushed the wheelbarrow into the bedroom, stopping it next to him. He was still muttering, but the flailing had stopped and that made Yuna’s job easier. He was heavy, but she moved him one half at a time until she had him lying – albeit uncomfortably – in the wheelbarrow.

“Now what…?” she asked herself. She hadn’t thought through that stage of her plan yet. She needed to get him some help, but how? Where would she take him? Besaid seemed to be the best answer and, although Yuna didn’t like it, she realized that Besaid was her best chance of getting him help. There would be cold water and ice there. Access to doctors if necessary. Her friends didn’t like that she had helped him, but she knew that they wouldn’t sit back and let him die. At least, she hoped they wouldn’t.

Balancing him carefully on the barrow, Yuna pushed it down the slight incline outside of the front door and down to the dock where she had her small boat waiting. As long as Shuyin didn’t flail too much there wouldn’t be a problem with the boat tipping over. She was sure that the S.S. Liki crew would wonder why she was carrying “Sir Tidus” in a wheelbarrow when she boarded in Luca, but she’d worry about that when the time came. Getting him to Besaid was the most important thing.

-----------------------------.

“Eat some more!” Rikku demanded, trying to force soup into Gippal’s tightly closed mouth. It was a good thing Wakka and Lulu weren’t around to see her trying to feed him like he was a child. They had decided to take Vidina and stay in Keepa’s hut next door to give Gippal some quiet space to rest, “You need to get better!”

“And you think eating stale potato soup is going to make that happen?!” Gippal retorted, immediately regretting it as Rikku stuck a spoonful of said soup into his mouth.

“Maybe if you ate it, it would!”

“It won’t make me better Rikku!”

Rikku stuck her tongue out at him, “You know what they say, ‘feed a cold, and starve a fever’!”

“But I don’t have a cold or a fever!” Gippal replied, crossing his arms and turning his head from her, “And I won’t eat any more of it!”

She pouted, putting the spoon into the bowl, “I just wanted to help.” She said, putting her hands on her hips, “What can I do to make you eat it.”

“Flash me,” Gippal replied, sarcastically.

“Okay.” Rikku said, and to Gippal’s surprise, she lifted her bra top for a fraction of a second and then replaced it, “Now you have to eat it.”

Gippal’s mouth hung open in surprise and Rikku used that opportunity to shovel spoonful after spoonful of the soup under his tongue. Gippal gagged, but a promise was a promise and so he ate it without further complaint until the bowl was empty.

“See, that wasn’t so bad, was it…?”

Gippal smirked at her, “The only reason you got me to eat it was because you showed me your boobs. I was in shock.”

“Imagine what I could have gotten you to do if I had let you touch them.” She replied with a wink.

“Can I?” he asked, and Rikku wasn’t sure if he was serious or not, but didn’t have time to ask him when the door to Wakka’s hut flung open and Yuna came rushing in pushing Shuyin in a wheelbarrow.

Gippal and Rikku stared at the sight for a moment and then looked at each other before looking back at Yuna. Gippal asked, “Um…Yuna…what is with the wheelbarrow?”

“He’s sick.” Yuna replied, her voice cracking. She was obviously very upset, “There was nothing for me to use to get his fever down and I could only think of getting him here. You’ve got to help me!”

Rikku rushed over to Shuyin and put a hand on his forehead, “Holy moly! He does have a high fever. I’ll get some ice!”

“And I’ll get some water,” Gippal announced, rushing off into the bathroom.

Yuna wheeled Shuyin over to the bed and used all her strength to pull him up and lay him onto the mattress just in time for Rikku to arrive with a washcloth full of ice cubes. Gippal was next with water that he carefully poured over Shuyin’s face and arms. Yuna took another washcloth and dabbed his damp skin with both the ice and the cool water while fielding question from her friends. What happened? Where were you all night? Where are you keeping him? Since they were helping her, she decided to be honest.

“I’m keeping him in Zanarkand.”

“Zanarkand?” Gippal replied, “Isn’t that a little obvious?”

“That’s what I was hoping.” She admitted, “I hoped it was too obvious for Cid to look into, and I guess I was right.”

Rikku walked to the head of the bed and placed a hand on Shuyin’s forehead again, “Well, it looks like his temperature is going down a little.” She said, “So when he wakes up maybe he can tell us exactly what he’s doing here.”

“He doesn’t know.” Said Yuna, “But we do have a clue.”

“Really?” asked Gippal.

“Yeah, this chant he heard just before he woke up in the Celsius.” She groaned, “But I left the damn book in Zanarkand. I’ll get it later.”

Shuyin groaned softly and his eyes flittered open and then closed again. He slowly opened his eyes and adjusted them to the light. Yuna moved closer to him and squeezed his hand softly, “It’s okay. You’re okay.”

“…Yuna…?”

“Yep.” She replied, running her free hand through his hair, “You got sick, but Rikku and Gippal helped me and you’re going to be fine.”

“How did I get here?”

“I took you. I had to get you out of Zanarkand. I couldn’t help you there.”

The blonde squinted up his face in confusion, “How did I end up in Zanarkand? And why are you touching me?” he asked, squirming away from her and shooting her a nasty look, “I’m still angry at you, you know.”

Yuna froze and she saw Rikku and Gippal do the same thing. Ocean blue eyes stared into hers, but they didn’t hold the warmth they had seen there just hours before when Shuyin had teased her about sharing a bed. These eyes held an anger that threatened to consume the owner and that anger was directed solely at her. Her throat suddenly felt parched, but she ignored it. She couldn’t let anything distract her from the answer to the question that was forming on her lips before she had a chance to realize it.

“…Tidus…?”

“Yes?” replied the blonde, “What do you want?”

Author's Notes: I don't get it. Whenever the website does some updating, I always end up with problems. Anyway, for some reason my "scene break" marks aren't showing up so I had to do put "end scene" at the breaks to let you know. Just be forewarned. Anyway, I'm sure the interaction between Tidus and Yuna will have you going "What the…?!" and if it does, than I'll have done my job.

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

Chapter Twenty-Six: Explosive Reaction

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

It had been a long night and an even longer day that followed. Tidus hadn't wanted her anywhere near him and had even gone so far as to lock her out of the guest house. He'd only unlocked the door when a crowd of angry people had formed because their guests didn't have anywhere to sleep. She hadn't bothered to try and talk to him. She knew he didn't want to discuss anything with her at the moment and she wasn't about to force the issue. She just hoped that he'd calm down in the morning. They really did need to talk.

In the mean time, Yuna had resigned herself to sleeping on the floor of Wakka and Lulu's hut next to Rikku while Gippal recuperated in the bed and the couple and their son stayed with their neighbor. She wasn't thrilled with staying on the floor. She would have much rather talked through the issues with Tidus and see if they could go back to the way things were. However, that didn't seem like a possibility that night, so Yuna wandered out toward the beach where the Celsius was sitting. Brother and Buddy had returned after getting the airship serviced at Home. Yuna was grateful for their silence regarding the situation with Shuyin and Tidus. Their information was also greatly appreciated. Cid was now apparently determined to prove that Gippal had a violent history that could prove his ridiculous theory about Yuna and Gippal planning the deaths of the two blondes in their company. He was now going so far as to research Gippal's whereabouts before, during, and after the attack on Home by the Guado.

Once again, he was trying to frame Gippal for something he didn't do…

"Don't mind me." Yuna said to Buddy and Brother as she walked into the bridge and made her way back to Shinra's area, "I just need to use the computer."

"Yuna!" Brother cried, excitedly running up to her, "How are you?"

"I'm fine, Brother." She replied, only half meaning it. She really wasn't fine. Why would she be? Tidus wasn't speaking to her. Shuyin had vanished again, and with him went answers. Cid was bent on dragging her and Gippal through the mud on his quest for revenge.

Why would she be okay?

Brother smiled, "I'm glad to hear that, Yuna."

"What do you need to use the computer for?" Buddy asked her.

"I don't really know yet." She admitted, taking a seat and turning the machine on, "but I thought I'd do some research on Squall Leonhart."

"The guy from the dream world?" asked Buddy.

Yuna shook her head, "No, the man from real Zanarkand – Shuyin's cousin. This thing is hooked up to the database of all the old Spiran newspapers, right?"

"Yeah. You'll be able to see anything that was published by pulling it from the archives. It'll just read what you want to search for and pull up all articles involving that." Buddy said, grabbing Brother's arm, "Come on. We've got work to do in the engine room."

"Bu…but!"

"No buts. She needs peace and quiet."

Yuna smiled to herself as Buddy dragged Brother by the arm out of the room and down the hall. Brother certainly had changed since her pilgrimage. He was so protective of her now. She wondered briefly why, but then turned her attentions back to the computer screen in front of her. Without Shuyin to give her any more clues, Yuna was on her own to solve this mystery. She sighed, remembering the almost overpowering sense of sadness that had washed over her when she realize that the blue eyed blitzer that stared back at her wasn't Shuyin anymore. Why had she felt like that? Tidus had returned to her and all she felt was disappointment.

"Maybe because everything that has happened since he came back the first time had been a disappointment…" she stated aloud, sighing at the truth of her words. Losing him once had been painful enough, but to have him wrenched from her arms over and over again was numbing. Every time she thought they'd have a chance at a future, he'd been taken away and she had been crushed, destroyed…disappointed. And now he was back, and it was almost as if he wasn't there at all. His body wasn't pressed up against her in a passionate embrace or even the most platonic of cuddles. He wasn't whispering his love for her in her ear just before she fell asleep. She wasn't waking up to see him watching her. She was sitting in front of a computer screen trying to figure out what she wanted to search for while he was hold up in the guest room refusing to see or speak with her.

Yeah, that was true love…

Searching for Squall seemed like the most logical choice, but as Yuna's fingers touched the keys another name appeared on the screen.

Shuyin Bacohl

She stared at the name, her finger braced over the backspace button and she hadn't realized she'd started the search until an old newspaper article appeared in front of her.

Girlfriend of Abes' Player Attacked

Lenne Fetmar, girlfriend of Zanarkand Abes star player Shuyin Bacohl and famous songstress, was attacked inside her home late Wednesday evening by an unknown assailant. Fetmar was stabbed numerous times on the upper body and was left for dead in the living room of her home on Windham Court. Bacohl returned after blitzball practice and was the first on the scene to find Fetmar and was followed after by Zaon Shindly, Yunalesca Yevon, and fellow Abes' players Skirpa DeNardy and Bruttam Starla. Currently Fetmar is in intensive care at ZanarkandMemorialHospital where she is being treated for her wounds. The prognosis for her recovery is good. Anyone with information regarding her attack can call (800) 555-5783.

Yuna scanned the article again, feeling a coldness over take her. It was strange to read about something that had happened over 1000 years ago and yet be able to remember every detail so clearly.

Shuyin had been gone for about a half hour when the doorbell rang. Lenne thought it was Yunalesca and Zaon although when they'd asked if she wanted to join them for a walk near the blitzball stadium she'd declined. Maybe they were there to try and change her mind.

Lenne reached for the door and opened it while saying, "I told you guys that I'm not interes…." The person before her wasn't Zaon or Yunalesca. Whoever it was, was wearing all black – including a ski mask – to hide their features. Their hands were covered in leather gloves but it was the knife in the person's hand that sent alarm bells off in Lenne's head. Instinctively, Lenne made a move to slam the door but her unwanted visitor was faster and forced their way inside, brandishing the knife like it was a toy.

Her assailant kicked the door closed behind her as Lenne made a dash toward the kitchen in the hopes of getting a knife for herself but her assailant was faster and grabbed the songstress's hair, pulling her backward until Lenne lost her balance and fell to the ground. Lenne saw the knife heading toward her and she turned on the ground as quickly as she could but the assailant's aim was true and the knife penetrated deeply into Lenne's left arm.

Lenne screamed out in pain and was just dazed enough to not see the next attack until the knife was firmly in her left side. Her scream seemed to echo off of the walls as the attacker continued to cut and stab her. Finally the assailant backed off. All Lenne could feel was the pain as her blurry vision tried to find where her assailant had gotten to. She saw the person throwing some old vases into a bag before he stared long and hard at her photographs that were lined neatly. There were a few of herself with Yunalesca and a few of herself with Zaon. The man ended up grabbing the one of herself with Shuyin and throwing it into the bag. Lenne tried to say something but all she got for her trouble was the realization that blood was coming from her mouth as well as the other wounds that had been recently inflicted.

"Still alive, are we?" her assailant hissed. It was a man's voice but it wasn't one that she recognized. He leaned down closer to her face, "Well, you won't be for long. You'll bleed to death long before anybody finds you."

Lenne coughed the blood from her lungs and let out one final scream before the man balled his hand into a fist, and smacked her hard against the temple and Lenne's world went black.

Shuyin had saved her life then. He'd felt that something was wrong and he'd come running to her. She didn't have to whistle for him. He just knew when something was wrong. But Yuna doubted that even if she did whistle for Tidus he would come. He was so angry at her now. She felt empty when she thought about him. It was strange, but when she thought about Shuyin, she felt an aching – a longing that she hadn't felt since she lived life as Lenne.

"It's just because Tidus is angry at you." She reasoned with herself, "You just need someone to pass that attachment onto, but things are going to be fine. You'll see…"

Backing up to the previous screen, Yuna typed in the name Squall Leonhart and did another search. She hoped to find some information on Squall that would help explain some of the weird stuff that was going on. For some reason she just knew that it all tied back to him somehow. Call it dumb luck, call it instinct, but Yuna knew that if she figured him out, she'd know the answers.

SeeDGarden Commander dead at 17

Squall Leonhart, 17, was pronounced dead at the scene after a fatal shooting during BalambGarden's celebratory ball in honor of the defeat of Sin. The rifle owned by Leonhart's friend, Irvine Kinneas, was accidentally set off by 13 year old Sam Mathers striking the 17 year old in the temple. Leonhart was part of the group that joined High Summoner Yunalesca and her husband, Lord Zaon, in their quest to defeat Sin. Leonhart's cousin, Shuyin Bacohl, and Bacohl's girlfriend Lenne Fetmar also recently died, victims of the Bevelle Empire. In light of both recent tragedies, funeral arrangements for Leonhart are private. Contributions may be sent to BalambGarden, c/o Headmaster Cid Kramer.

Yuna felt a tear fall down her cheek. So that was what happened to Squall. She vaguely wondered if things had been different, would she have been helping Yunalesca and Zaon? Probably. She wouldn't have had it any other way. And she knew Shuyin would have tagged along because he wouldn't have wanted her in danger. He was always worried about her like that.

Victims of the Bevelle Empire…

She had died instantly, but Shuyin…

She sighed, "Shuyin had been left for dead. This article was printed, and he was struggling to survive inside that cave…"

Taking a deep breath, Yuna backed up on her search and scanned down the page for more articles. There had to be something else. There just had to be.

Lady Yunalesca and her guardians – the Children of the Fate

Yuna paused and mused over the title, "Children of the Fate…?" The article opened almost instantly and her eyes glanced along its columns. It seemed to focus mostly on the members that made up Yunalesca's guardians – all of whom were represented in current Spira by their dream counterparts.

Even Seifer…

That intrigued Yuna because she was under the assumption that he was the "bad guy" in the dream world. Apparantly he wasn't in real Zanarkand.

The article went into more detail about each member, starting with Yunalesca and Zaon until they got to describing her entourage of guardians. It was quite a motley bunch, much like Yuna's own guardianship had been, and she smiled thinking that her old friend would have found the similarities funny.

Squall was like Auron, Selphie was like Rikku, Irvine was like Wakka, Rinoa would probably have been like Lulu except with more of a smiling personality, Zell and Seifer…well she wasn't sure, but they probably would have been like someone. Maybe Zell reminded her of Tidus – at least, the way he was when he spoke to her.

Yunalesca's defeat of Sin comes at a sad point in her life. Her best friend, Lenne Fetmar, and Zaon's best friend, Shuyin Bacohl, were felled by Bevelle bullets no more than a week ago while trying to penetrate Bevelle's defenses from the inside. Yunalesca, however, feels the need to go on.

"I'm doing it for Lenne and Shuyin." She said in an interview shortly before beginning her journey, "They would have done the same for me."

So, accompanied by Shuyin's cousin, Squall Leonhart, and a group of the best SeeDs from Balamb Garden – nicknamed the Liberi Fatali, "The Children of the Fate" because of the SeeD belief in being destined to defeat the ultimate evil, Yunalesca sets out to defeat Sin.

Yuna's eyes locked with one small sentence and gasped. Liberi Fatali…Children of the Fate. That was the name of the strange chant Shuyin remembered hearing. So it was connected to Squall. She smacked herself lightly on the forehead, "Why did I leave that book in Zanarkand?!" she asked herself.

Well, there was only one thing to do now and that was go to Zanarkand…

END SCENE

"So where exactly are we…?" Seifer asked as he followed Paine into a strange looking town with the ugliest people he'd ever seen. It looked like veins were popping out of their faces. They were really creepy…

"This is Guadosalam." Paine explained as she led Seifer up a sharp incline toward a strange cave-like structure that lay a few yards ahead.

"I thought we were going to that Farplane place."

Paine stopped and pointed toward the cavernous opening, "That is the Farplane. It's a place where the dead are sent to rest in peace. The Guado that live in Guadosalam take care of it."

"Wait just a Hynedamn minute!"

"What's Hyne?"

Seifer shrugged, "Just a deity…don't worry about it. Anyway, you're going to take me into some place where dead people live?! I don't think so!"

"It's not haunted by ghosts or anything," replied Paine, "You can speak to those who pass, but only if you call them to you. If you don't, they don't come."

Seifer still didn't budge. He hated to admit when he was frightened, but he was. If this dream thing was real (and that was a really big if in his opinion) than couldn't he technically…

"Couldn't I summon myself in there if I'm really the dream everybody thinks I am?"

Paine nodded, "That's true. You could technically summon anybody that came with you, but you won't as long as you don't think about them."

"That's easy for you to say…" he muttered as he begrudgingly followed Paine toward the cave. She spoke quietly with the Guado standing guard until the man stepped aside and allowed them both to enter.

The Farplane was by far the strangest place he had ever been. Ultimecia had taken him to strange places and had made him do even stranger things, but the Farplane was nothing like them. The walls shimmered and yet it appeared as if they didn't exist at the same time. Paine seemed to know just where she was going and Seifer just followed along behind her. As they stepped through a portal, he found himself on a giant floating rock in the middle of nowhere. While it was an incredibly cool sight, Seifer suddenly remembered with startling clarity that he was petrified of heights…

He felt his breath hitch in his throat and he grabbed Paine's arm like a sissy, "Can we make this quick…?" he asked, breath sounding raspy in his own ears, "I…I don't like heights…"

She stared at him, incredulously, "You don't like heights?" she repeated, "And you're supposed to be some big tough knight…" she snorted derisively and pulled her arm away from him, "This will only take a minute."

Seifer adamantly hoped so. He liked to keep his feet planted on solid ground and the only time he remembered not being afraid of heights was during Ultimecia's control, but he wasn't afraid of a lot of things back then. He wasn't afraid of Squall's gunblade, or Irvine's gun. Selphie's nunchaku didn't concern him, and neither did Zell's self-proclaimed "fists of fury".

Shit!

Seifer tried to erase those thoughts from his head but it didn't help and he watched as slowly each of them appeared in front of him.

"I thought I told you not to think about them!" Paine cried.

"I…I couldn't help it." Seifer admitted, wishing that he hadn't done it and yet immediately intrigued. So everyone was a dream. The real people were dead. Then that meant…

Seifer stared into the eyes of his arch enemy, but Squall didn't seem to notice him. Seifer took a breath, "Seifer Almasy…" he whispered.

And to Seifer's horror, his image appeared in front of him. He swallowed a lump that formed in his throat, "So I am a dream…" he muttered.

Paine nodded, "Apparently so, but let's just leave them alone. We came here for a purpose."

Bobbing his head in agreement, Seifer turned his back on the haunting images but noticed out of the corner of his eye that they faded back into the fog from whence they came. Paine stepped toward the fog and said a simple name, "Bruttam…"

END SCENE

Tidus heard footsteps behind him but didn't turn to face the intruder until Gippal was had taken a seat next to him on the cliff overlooking the lake. He glanced askance at the man, "I came here to be alone."

"I know that." Gippal replied, stretching his legs out in front of him and letting them dangle over the cliff's edge, "But I think that you and I need to talk about the stuff that's happened."

"Yuna sent you?"

Gippal laughed, "No, actually Rikku did. It was either that or she'd force me to eat more of that horrid potato soup she's been making me munch on since I woke up." Gippal waited for Tidus to smile or smirk or give some sign that he was the Tidus that Yuna loved more than her own life, but he gave none. He didn't even look at Gippal. He continued to stare out over the cliff, lost in his thoughts. Sighing, Gippal said, "Look, I know you're still pissed about the whole thing with me and Yuna but…"

"I could care less about that." Stated Tidus suddenly.

Gippal stared at the blitzer, "But I thought you were still mad at her. Isn't that why you're not talking to her?"

"I am mad," Tidus admitted, "but not about that."

"About what then?"

The blitzer's blonde hair swept against his cheeks as he lowered his head and stared down at his feet as if they were the most interesting things he'd ever seen, "Have you ever felt consumed by an anger that threatened to devour you, and you didn't know why?"

Gippal swallowed uncomfortably, "Um…no." he replied, dumbly, "Can't say that I have."

Tidus sighed, "I'm angry at everyone and everything and for no reason at all that I can think of."

"Well, there has to be a reason…"

Tidus shook his head, "There isn't one. I know there isn't one." He groaned and let himself fall back onto the soft earth behind him, "Maybe I'm just losing my mind."

"I don't think so." Replied Gippal, "You've been through a lot. It's natural to be angry and want to blame someone. That's probably all it is."

"But why would I blame Yuna…?" asked Tidus, but he didn't really expect an answer. There was no reasonable explanation for his blaming Yuna. He was angry at everyone, but he was the angriest at Yuna. He was afraid of what he'd do to her. So afraid that he didn't want to be around her for even a moment. He just needed to hide until he figured this out.

"Do you?"

"Yes."

"Maybe you should talk to her," Gippal suggested, "It might make things clearer for you."

Tidus sat up suddenly and glared at Gippal, "Maybe you should mind your own damn business!" he spat, shoving Gippal violently away from him, "Get the hell away from me you damn nosey bastard!"

Gippal jumped to his feet and stared at Tidus, "What is the matter with you?!"

Tidus forced himself to take a deep breath and rose to his feet slowly and unsteadily, "I…I don't know." He admitted to Gippal as he took a step away and another, "But…but just leave me alone."

He could hear Gippal calling after him, but Tidus didn't stop to listen. He just took off running and made his way down to the beach. Water always cleared his head. If he could just dive in and forget everything for a moment than maybe things would start to make sense. He couldn't remember ever being this angry or feeling this out of control. Why did he snap at Gippal like that? What had he done to deserve it besides try to help? Besides, maybe he should talk to Yuna. Maybe it would make things better if he told her that he was avoiding her for good reason. That he still loved her. That he'd always love her.

Why was he angry at her in the first place? He didn't even care about the thing with Gippal anymore. That was water under the bridge and he was over it. So why was he still so angry at her? What had she done?

"You must stop! That's enough!"

Tidus blinked harshly and took a ragged breath, "She stopped me…that's what she did." He hissed under his breath. Then he bit his lip, "Stopped me from doing what?" he asked himself, "What is going on!"

"Tidus…?"

He spun around at the sound of his name and his blue eyes fixed on hers as she stared at him. She must have come up behind him while he was deep in thought. He hadn't heard her approach. He felt a mixture of emotions at seeing her standing in the moonlight looking more beautiful than he had ever seen her before. He felt the deepest kind of love he'd ever known, and he also felt the deepest kind of hatred.

"Were you looking for me?" she asked him, and he noticed that she took a step back rather than forward like she used to.

Had he been looking for her? He wasn't sure anymore. He shook his head, "No."

She nodded stiffly and took a sidestep to get passed him, "Well, I've got an errand to run, so I'll see you later." Tidus made no move to stop her but after a couple of seconds her footsteps in the sand stopped and he felt her eyes on him again, "Do you want to come with me?" There was hope in her voice. He knew that she wanted things to be the way they were. He wanted that too; more than she'd ever know.

"I don't think that's a good idea." He replied honestly. He still wasn't sure what had made him go off on Gippal like that. And he was equally unsure of why the rage he felt seemed to boil over when he was around her.

He could feel her disappointment before she even voiced it. It was strange how well he knew her. She sighed, "I wish that you would talk to me. We have a lot to discuss."

"Okay…" he said without thinking. His mouth had responded without his mind's agreement and he found himself unable to change his mind. He wanted to talk to her. Maybe she could help him figure out what was going on.

Her hand gently touched his shoulder, sliding down his muscular arm to his gloved hand which she gently squeezed. He squeezed her back softly and she whispered, "Let's go talk on the ship. It's quieter in there."

Neither spoke as they slowly made their way up the gangplank and into the crew's quarters on the ship. So much had happened in that very room. He'd made love to Yuna, been possessed by Shuyin, been forced to watch through his eyes while Shuyin pretended to be him in and out of bed with Yuna, and – more recently – stumbled upon Gippal's bloodied body and not knowing why.

Yuna sat down on the corner of the nearest bed to the stairs and Tidus took a seat at the bed opposite her. She bit her lower lip – a move she made when she was extremely nervous – and finally spoke, "I'm going to apologize again for what happened with Gippal. It was wrong and I'm sorry that I hurt you…"

"I don't care about that." Tidus interrupted her, raising a hand to silence her words, "I'm not angry about that."

"Then what are you angry about?"

"I…I don't know."

He could read her expression before she uttered a word. She was confused and she didn't understand what he meant. He felt the same way and told her as much. He was furious with her for reasons he couldn't comprehend, but it didn't make the feeling any less real.

"So I'm being punished for something I didn't do?"

"Decency? I didn't do anything wrong!"

"I think we just had a misunderstanding. Lenne that was…"

"I don't recall asking you to butt in Zaon…!"

Tidus felt his ire rise, "Sucks doesn't it?" he spat at her, rising to his feet and standing over her until he saw in her eyes that she was intimidated by his physical presence.

"What are you talking about?" Yuna asked, standing herself so that their eyes were on the same level.

"So Shuyin was back, I suppose." Tidus continued, ignoring her question.

Yuna nodded, "What about it?"

He glared at her, "Did you fuck him again?!"

"No…" replied Yuna.

Tidus faked a shocked look, "What?! You mean, he wasn't pretending to be me and you weren't stupid enough to believe it!" he placed a hand over his heart and gasped, "I'm shocked!"

Yuna's lower lip quivered but she held firm and narrowed her eyes at him, "I don't know what your problem is," she whispered quietly, but with a serious tone in her voice, "but I won't let you talk to me like that…"

"You won't let me! Who in Spira do you think you are? You can't tell me what to do, Shuyin!"

"You are my girlfriend! I don't want…Lenne, I don't want to lose you! I almost lost you and I couldn't deal with it if I actually did. I think I'd go crazy!"

"It's my job, Shuyin. You left me to go to your job and I was attacked! Is your job more important than mine?"

"Wait just a second! Are you saying you blame me for your being attacked?"

"Maybe if you'd have been here the attacker would have just had two people to stab. Then again, maybe if you'd have been here, I wouldn't have been hurt! We'll never know, will we?"

"I can't believe this! You blame me! You're trying to make me feel guilty so that I will let you go to war!"

"I'll go to war whether you let me or not."

"Oh no you won't!"

"Oh yes I will!"

Tidus felt an uncontrollable rage form in him then, "You have fucked up everything for both of us for the last time you snotty little bitch!" he shrieked, grabbing her by the shoulders and shoving her up against the wall so hard that the vase on the nearby bed stand fell the floor and shattered.

"Tidus…!"

He ignored her cries, slamming the back of his hand against her cheek with a force that caused her head to spin to the side, "Shut up!!" he shouted, smacking her again with his other hand.

He saw Yuna's tears as she lifted her hands to try and shield herself from his attack, but he was blinded with rage and didn't react to them. Why was he so angry?!

"Tidus! Stop it!!" she cried as he hit her again.

"Stop it! I don't want to hear it anymore, Shuyin! I understand that you don't want me to go, but the fact is I am going! Get used to it!"

It wasn't until he saw blood coming from her delicate nose that Tidus fully realized what he had been doing. He had been hitting the only girl he'd ever loved and now she was staring at him like she'd never seen him before. Fear was shining in her eyes where love used to be and Tidus took a step back, fearful of himself too at that moment. What was he? Some sort of a monster? Yuna's nose was bloodied and her cheeks were red and would probably be bruised by the morning.

"Yuna…" he whispered.

"…don't…" she choked out, raising her arms in front of her to ward him off, "Leave me alone."

"Yu…" he managed, but backed away nonetheless. She had ever right to be scared of him. He was scared of himself. Why was he feeling like this toward her?

Why?!

"He doesn't suspect anything."

She had betrayed him. That was why…

"Well where is he now?"

"He's out getting food."

"Gippal's anxious to end this, Lennie. Should we send in the troops now?"

"No, not yet. I still haven't found out what his exact plan is yet. We need to know just in case he escapes."

"When do you think you'll know?"

"Soon, I hope. But…I just hate doing this to him Rikku. No matter how much he deserves it."

"I understand."

"I'll call back in later. He'll be back soon."

"Okay. We'll be waiting for your next call."

"Hi there…Shu…what…"

"I heard you…I trusted you. How could you do this to me?"

"Shu…I can explain

"I love you Lennie. Really, I do, but I don't want to hear your excuses."

"You betrayed me…." Tidus said quietly, feeling that now familiar flame of anger burning inside of him again. He took a step toward Yuna and then another until she could feel his breath on her face.

"Tidus…" she whispered, warily.

"BITCH!" he shouted suddenly, his fist flying toward her face. Yuna closed her eyes to prepare for the impact, but all she heard was the sound of crunching and a loud bang. She opened her eyes and found Tidus' hand wedged inside the hole it had created in the steel wall of the Celsius mere inches from her head.

END SCENE

Finding a spare minute for herself had been difficult, but Rinoa finally managed it. The perfect place to hide was directly behind the temple. She knelt and closed her eyes. She needed perfect concentration. It was absolutely imperative that this go off without a hitch. Not only would it distract the do-gooders for a while, but it would also pull Shuyin out of his little hiding place. She assumed that wherever Yuna was keeping him wasn't far because the girl was in and out of Besaid more often than not. In fact, she had been around for going on three days now.

Wherever Shuyin was, he must be getting hungry.

Shaking her head, she went back to focusing on the task at hand. This incantation needed to be recited perfectly. One minor mistake would ruin her chances. She'd never done anything like this before and wasn't sure if it would work, but she was willing to take her chances. She needed something to distract Yuna and her friends while she forced Shuyin to help her and she couldn't think of a better option…

END SCENE

Paine watched as the fayth child, Bruttam, appeared before her. He nodded at her and Seifer, "Can I help you?"

"What did you lie to us about?" Paine demanded. She was never one to beat around the bush. She had always thought something was off about Bruttam's easy explanations concerning everything, but had shrugged it off. Maybe if she hadn't, this wouldn't be happening now.

If the fayth had pigment, she would have sworn she saw Bruttam pale at the question. He didn't answer for a moment but when he did his voice took on an almost angry tone, "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Yes you do." Seifer snapped, "Ellone told me that you lied to Yuna and her friends and we want to know what you lied about."

Bruttam frowned, "Ellone told you, hmmm…?"

"Yes."

"Well," replied the child, "she was mistaken."

Paine scoffed, "Somehow I doubt that. Just tell us so that we can fix this." She pointed at Bruttam and waved her finger, "Shuyin is back and Tidus is gone. Someone possessed Rikku and made her try to kill Gippal. Just tell us what you lied about and why."

The fayth child stared deeply into Paine's eyes, "I didn't lie." Bruttam insisted, "but I did stretch the truth. If I had told everyone exactly what was happening, it would have caused much pain." He sighed, "The lie was better for everyone." He stopped and looked at Seifer, "What did Ellone tell you?"

"Yuna and her friends think 1 plus 1 equals 2, but in reality 2 becomes 1." Seifer repeated.

Paine asked, "Does that mean the merger is continuing?"

"There is no merger." The fayth child said, "There never was…"

"Wha….?" Gasped Paine, stepping forward to ask another question when a strange sound echoed over the Farplane. It sounded like…a voice.

Redivivus advocatus diaboli…

"What is that?" Paine asked, spinning around only to find that Bruttam had vanished. Seifer pulled out his gunblade as the ground began to shake more violently.

"It sounds like…" Seifer squinted, "…Rinoa…?"

Paine pulled her sword out as well, "Baralai!" she shouted, "Baralai, can you hear me?"

"Please don't call anymore of your dead friends!" Seifer shouted, "We've got enough problems."

Dixi et coniunctis…

"Paine?" came Baralai's voice. Relief washed over Paine and she spun to face the ghostly image of her friend.

"What's going on?!" Paine asked.

"I don't know." Replied Baralai, "We're looking into it, but you have to get out of here for now."

"Maybe we can help." Suggested Paine.

"No." Baralai insisted, "The Farplane's instability is being maximized. You need to get out while you still can."

De profundis resurgam…

Seifer was in no mood to let Paine continue to argue with the ghost friend. He grabbed her wrist and began to pull her toward the exit, "Let's just listen to the nice dead guy and get the fuck out of here!" he shouted over the groan of the Farplane floor.

A laugh echoed off the walls and by the time the two reached the exit to the Farplane it was too late. A swift breeze came from behind them and blew past them, causing the walls to vibrate with a dramatic intensity. Stones and boulders fell from out of nowhere and he heard Paine scream in terror as the walls of the Farplane came crashing down around them.

And then there was nothing…

LATIN TRANSLATION

Redivivus advocatus diaboli dixi et coniunctis de profundis resurgam: Come back to life, the devil's advocate, I have spoken. And with united powers up from the depths of misery I shall rise again

Author's Notes: Don’t want to give too much away about this chapter. It’s just weird, but I’m sure by now you’ve realized that practically all my chapters are weird.

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

Chapter Twenty-Seven: Strange Conversation

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

The guests hut wasn’t the most comfortable place to stay, especially with that strange Rinoa woman staring at him, but Nooj decided that any hardship was worth it for Gippal. He was glad that his friend was okay. In fact, he had been well enough to run off with Rikku a few moments earlier.

Nooj grinned to himself. Gippal would never admit how crazy he was about Rikku, but it was pretty obvious to anyone who looked at them. Then again, Nooj didn’t have much room to talk. He hadn’t admitted how much he cared about Paine until it was too late to change the distance between them. He had sworn he wouldn’t do the same thing but he’d almost pushed LeBlanc away with his ‘deathseeker’ mentality. Thankfully she had been persistent and hadn’t given up. Although he found the “Noojie-Woojie” thing a bit annoying, he knew that it came from a place of love so he got over it.

LeBlanc…

She had fallen asleep in his arms on one of the beds after they had stayed up all night talking about the Crimson Squad. He hadn’t talked that much about his memories with his friends in a long time. She’d listened attentively and had eventually fallen asleep to the sound of his breathing when he’d become silent and pensive. He liked her when she was asleep, probably a bit more than when she was awake. When she was asleep she showed him a vulnerable side she hid with a vengeance while awake. Her vulnerability made her more attractive to him than any of the low-cut robes in Spira could have done. She thought her provocative dressing was the way to keep him interested – and it was to a degree – but he also needed to know that she loved him.

Listening to him speak of his friends without a complaint was one of the ways she unwittingly let him know.

He kissed her forehead gently, “I love you…”

Her eyes fluttered open and she blinked in the light that streamed in through the windows. She smiled sleepily at him, “I love you too, Noojie.”

Lacing his fingers through hers, he squirmed into a sitting position and pulled her with him, “Sleep well?”

“Uh huh.” She replied with a nod and a yawn, “I didn’t mean to fall asleep in the middle of your story, though.”

“You didn’t.” he replied, “I was finished.” Her eyes connected with his and a devilish smirk formed on her features. Her fingers silently trailed down his chest, down, down….down. Nooj laughed quietly, “Bad girl…”

LeBlanc nodded, “Yep…”

He leaned in to kiss her gently, rolling her beneath him with his good arm while she continued to play beneath his belt. His lips trailed from her mouth, across her cheek and down her neck, finding the clasp that held her loosely fitting robe together with his hand and releasing it with a quick snap. He spread the fabric folds apart when an annoying ringing sound came from the table next to the bed.

“Ignore it.” She ordered, unhooking his pants expertly and ensnaring his lips with her own.

Nooj felt his back tense with annoyance as the phone rang again and on the third ring he growled angrily and reached across her prone form to grab her phone that lay inside the drawer, “What?!” he shouted at the person on the other end.

“Sorry, sir.” Came the voice of a fem-goon, “Could I speak with Ms. LeBlanc, please.”

He sighed in frustration and handed the phone to LeBlanc, “It’s one of those bimbos you employ.”

“Remind me to fire them all…” she whispered with a wink as she lifted the phone to her ear, “This had better be good.”

Nooj lifted his body from hers and zipped his pants up, having lost the mood entirely at the interruption. He rose from the bed and crossed into the bathroom, cupping his hands under the water and lifting some to his mouth. It wasn’t like there wouldn’t be other chances. LeBlanc was insatiable. And he was used to these annoying interruptions. It was practically impossible for them to have some private time at the chateau. Someone was always interrupting – mostly Ormi and Logos – but the fem-goons did it as well. Nooj was actually surprised Ormi and Logos had left them alone for the most part. They had actually listened when LeBlanc told them to stay with their airship and to not step off no matter what.

“Noojie.” Came LeBlanc’s voice at the doorway. He turned to see that she had straightened her robe up and looked a little upset, “We have to go back to Guadosalam now.”

“What happened?” he asked her, concerned.

She shrugged, “She didn’t want to say over the phone, but she insisted that we come back. She said it’s important we come back.”

“I wonder what happened.”

“I don’t know,” Replied LeBlanc, “but I think we should go. You can call Gippal and let him know what’s going on when we find out.”

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Rikku had been horrified about what Gippal had told her about his interaction with Tidus and how the blitzer had physically threatened Gippal. Rikku had immediately insisted that she and Gippal go to the Celsius and tell Yuna. Something was wrong with Tidus and they needed to do something about it before he did something horrible.

It was then that they heard a shriek. Rikku’s heart started pounding and she stopped in her tracks as the scream sounded again. It was someone saying ‘stop’ and it sounded like…, “Yuna!”

Rikku’s feet seemed to grow a mind of their own as she and Gippal ran up the gangplank and into the bridge. She took the steps to the main hall two at a time and was closing the door to the elevator before Gippal reached it. He had to slide in quickly so as to avoid being shut out. Rikku was incredibly impressed that he could keep up with her. He was still recovering, but with Yuna’s cure spells he was doing remarkably well.

But that didn’t matter now. What mattered was the fact that another shriek from Yuna was echoing along the walls as the two blondes exited the elevator and ran headlong into Buddy and Brother who had heard the screaming too. Brother’s eyes showed his sheer panic as he cried, “Where’s Yuna?!”

Rikku ignored him, grabbing Gippal’s wrist and hurrying into the crew’s quarters followed by her brother and Buddy. The quartet made their way into the crew’s quarters and up the stairs only to stop in their tracks at a loud bang that almost rattled the walls.

The screaming stopped…

Silence took over…

And Rikku couldn’t believe her eyes…

Tidus had Yuna pinned against the wall by sheer physicality. His right hand was buried up to his wrist in the wall mere inches from Yuna’s head. Her cousin was trembling and cowering against the wall, tears streaming down her cheeks which were now beginning to show the starts of bruising.

“Yuna…” Tidus whispered so quietly Rikku almost didn’t hear him. He was visibly trembling and he reached out with his left hand to touch Yuna’s hair but her cousin slapped his hand away.

“Don’t touch me...!” she choked out, pushing him away from her. His hand was wrenched from the hole it had created and Tidus let out a pained howl as he stumbled backward and landed on the bed.

Gippal was on him almost instantly, making quick work of tying up the hand Tidus had punched the wall with to the headboard with a bedsheet. Tidus didn’t even seem to notice. He kept staring at that hand and breathing heavily through his mouth. He didn’t even seem to notice Brother’s enraged form approaching him with balled up fists.

“Cuh uv y pedlr!” he shouted, “Ruf tyna oui red Yuna!”

Gippal looked up at him with a stern face, “Mayja res ymuha. Oui lyh gemm res mydan.”

“Yunie…” whispered Rikku as she came closer to her cousin. Yuna hadn’t moved since she had shoved Tidus away from her. She stood staring at the hole in the wall and shaking. Rikku placed a hand on Yuna’s shoulder and felt her tense up but then relax when she realized it was Rikku that was touching her, “Are you okay?”

“That could have been my…my face…” she stammered, still staring at the hole but alternating between that and Tidus every couple of seconds.

“Don’t think like that.” Scolded Rikku, gently.

“He tried to kill me…”

Rikku shook her head vehemently, “No he didn’t.” she said, although there was no other way to explain his actions, “He didn’t…”

“He tried to kill me…”

“Yunie…stop that.” Her cousin was obviously in shock and Rikku didn’t know what to do except keep trying to convince her that Tidus hadn’t meant to kill her. She wasn’t sure how, though.

Tidus…

She had almost forgotten that he was even there. She glanced over at Gippal who was securing the knot that connected Tidus with the headboard. The blitzer hadn’t stopped staring at his hand since the last time Rikku looked at him and it was at that point that she realized it had started to swell up.

Gippal noticed too. Without much experience around accident victims, Gippal didn’t know what to do, so without thinking he grabbed the aforementioned hand. Tidus reddened, paled, and – if Rikku thought it was possible – turned an odd shade of green before letting out a painful squeal. Gippal dropped the hand quickly which proceeded to slam into the bed before Tidus reacted to it being let go. He let out another horrible scream on contact and Gippal turned to Rikku dumbly, “I guess it’s broken…”

“Ya think?!” snapped Rikku back, sarcastically.

“I’ll get ice for the swelling.” Offered Buddy, turning to make his way down the stairs but Brother grabbed his shoulder roughly and pulled him back.

“Ra rind Yuna! Mad res civvan.”

Buddy shook his head in blatant refusal, “Sorry, Mr. Leader, but I’m not in the habit of letting people suffer, even when they deserve it.”

Rikku hugged her cousin from behind and forcibly turned Yuna away from the hole that she kept staring at. Rikku smiled half-heartedly at Gippal, “I’m gonna take her back to the village. She needs to rest.”

He nodded, “I agree.”

“I’m fine…” Yuna whispered, freeing herself from Rikku’s grip, “And I don’t appreciate being talked about like I’m not here.” Yuna took a deep breath and forced herself to stand with pride although inside she was crumbling. Pushing a stray strand of hair behind her ear, she said, “I left something important in Zanarkand and I was about to go there when Tidus…interrupted me.” She stopped and bit her lip, the memory of his fists against her cheeks burned in her mind, “I’m going to go ahead with my plans.”

“Not tonight, you’re not.” Stated Gippal simply, standing and joining Rikku by Yuna’s side, “You’re going to stay here and let Rikku force feed you potato soup for a while.” He leaned in and winked at her, whispering, “Get her off my back for a while…”

Yuna smiled in spite of the circumstances and then shook her head, “I’m sorry, but I have to. It’s imperative that I get this…”

“It obviously wasn’t important enough for you to leave a few days ago. What’s another night?” Rikku asked.

Before Yuna could respond she saw movement out of her peripheral vision. Tidus was squirming on the bed, cringing whenever his hand brushed against anything. She wanted to heal his hand, but stopped short. He didn’t deserve her pity. Not after what he did to her…

“What’s the matter with you…?” she heard him mutter to himself. That was a question she certainly would have liked an answer to and stepped toward him tentatively when he replied to his own question, “I don’t know…”

Yuna felt Rikku’s hand gripping her shoulder and backed away from him as her cousin silently suggested. Even though he was tied up, Yuna knew she shouldn’t feel safe. If he was capable of hitting her, he was capable of anything. She turned to look at Brother, “Go and get Lulu. She can fry him with flare if he tries anything.”

Brother grinned, “Yes, fry is ass!” he shouted, pumping his arms in the air excitedly as he bounded down the stairs to gain his quarry.

“You broke your hand…” Tidus muttered again, staring at his swelling hand questioningly. He squinted, “Did I…? Yes you did…”

Gippal elbowed Rikku gently, “What is he doing?”

“I don’t know.” Rikku replied, “Do I look like a mind reader? It’s like he’s talking to himself or something…”

And he certainly was. He was carrying on an in depth conversation with himself and Yuna wasn’t sure why. It was almost as if he wasn’t sure what had happened so he had to remind himself.

“Why’d you do that to Yuna?” was Tidus’ next question to himself. He bit his lip until a little trail of blood wandered down his chin, “She deserved it. Don’t think otherwise.” He shook his head, “No, she didn’t deserve it. Don’t listen to that! She didn’t deserve it.”

“Maybe we should tie up his other arm…” Rikku suggested, “Just in case…”

Yuna stared at her, “Just in case what? Just in case he tries to hit us with his broken hand? If he does, he’ll just end up in more pain than he is already.”

“Are you feeling sorry for him?!” cried Rikku, indignantly.

Yuna shook her head, “No…”

“Why didn’t you finish her off? It’s her fault things are like this? You should have finished her off.” Tidus hissed, his breathing starting to get heavy and labored. Yuna’s hackles rose when he said that. He had meant to kill her. She wasn’t wrong about that. She felt Rikku grip her wrist tightly and she realized her cousin knew it too. Tidus started panting, “I…I…I love her…” he said between breaths, “No you don’t! She doesn’t deserve it. Look what she did! It’s her fault things are like this for us.”

Lulu’s elegant form appeared at the head of the stairs and the confusion on her face was obvious, “Is he talking to himself?” she asked, turning to face Yuna. She gasped, “What did he do to you?!” she fairly shrieked, rushing to the high summoner’s side and gently brushing her cheeks.

“I’m fine, Lulu.” Yuna insisted, “Really…”

“It’s him we’re not so sure about.” Continued Rikku, pointing to Tidus who was now curling up in the fetal position and shaking violently.

“Stop talking to me. Leave me alone!” he muttered, tears starting to flow from his eyes, “You already are alone. She doesn’t love you. She never did. Nobody loves you. You’re nothing but a crybaby!” he wiped furiously at his face, “You’re not a crybaby! Don’t listen to that! Sit up and be strong!”

“Tidus…” Yuna whispered, taking a step closer.

Tidus sat up suddenly, staring at her with imploring eyes, “Help me…” he begged, reaching with his good hand for her but pulling it away just as suddenly, “Don’t ask her for help!” he shouted to himself, scooting backward on the bed until he was flush against the headboard, “She’s just a stupid bitch!”

Yuna felt tears forming in her eyes. Why was he being so horrible to her? What was wrong with him. She turned to look at her friends and Gippal grabbed her arm and pulled her toward him, “Leave.” He ordered, pointing down the stairs, “Get out of here. Don’t think about him. Don’t worry about him. Just get out of here.”

“I’m not leaving him until I know what is wrong.”

Gippal’s face got serious, “I think I know what’s wrong and there’s nothing you can do for him. Just get out.”

“I agree, Yuna.” Said Lulu with a nod, “Let’s just go. Let Gippal handle him.”

“No.”

“GET OUT OF MY HEAD!!!” Tidus suddenly shrieked, pulling at his hair violently with his good hand. He slammed his head against the headboard violently, cursing under his breath and shouting incoherent sentences, “Will you calm down?! We’ve gotta work together to get out of this.” He said, taking a breath, “Just stay calm and it’ll be fine. It got to me too. Just keep fighting and it’ll be okay.”

Yuna stepped closer, “Fight what, Tidus? What’s the matter?”

“Tell her!” he shouted to himself, “She’ll help us!”

“Yes, tell me. I want to help you.” She said, taking another step toward him. She heard Rikku, Gippal, and Lulu tell her to back off but she didn’t listen. She just needed to know that he still loved her. She needed to know this was some mistake.

“Tell her!” he screamed again but then he suddenly went silent. His breathing returned to normal and he didn’t make sound.

“Tidus…?”

“Yuna, get away from him.” Ordered Gippal, “Just back away.”

“Not until I know he’s okay!” she snapped back, stepping closer again. She reached forward to touch him, “Tidus…?”

It happened so quickly. He snapped up at her touch with a fire in her eyes that she’d seen only while he was hitting her so violently. He grabbed her wrist roughly and twisted it until she let out a squeal, then he shoved her to the floor like garbage. Gippal made a move toward him but Yuna raised her hand, “Don’t get near him.” She ordered, rising to her feet and staring at him with anger in her eyes, “What is the matter with you? What did I do, Tidus?!”

His lips curled up in a devilish smile, “Tidus is sleeping…”

Yuna heard Lulu and Rikku gasp and Yuna felt herself pale. She barely noticed when Gippal snuck down the stairs. She was too overcome. This couldn’t be happening. Shuyin had tricked her again! How? Why? Why was this happening again?! He had been so nice to her. He’d been so caring and understanding. She’d bonded with him. She’d…she’d even…those feelings…how stupid was she?!

“No…” she whispered, “This isn’t happening…not again.”

The glint in the blitzer’s eyes made Yuna shiver, “Oh but it is…”

A slight creak in the wooden floor was the only giveaway that Gippal had returned, but Yuna didn’t even bother to look at him. Her eyes were focused entirely on the man glaring at her from the bed. There wasn’t even the slightest sign of love in his eyes. But of course there wasn’t. Shuyin didn’t love her. He’d been lying to gain her trust.

But wait…

If he wanted to gain her trust, why would he destroy it by giving himself away so easily? That didn’t make any sense. He had been so desperate to keep it a secret before that he’d killed.

Her hands were trembling as she took a step away from him. His eyes were so hateful. She barely noticed Lulu and Rikku coming to her side, each taking an arm as if to pull her away from him, but Yuna stubbornly remained in her place. She wasn’t leaving until she had answers. She took a breath and forced herself to connect eyes with the vicious man in front of her who only wasn’t attacking her because he was tied to the bed. She glared at him, “Why are you doing this Shuyin?” she demanded, just now noticing that Gippal had gotten the bat Barkeep always kept beneath the bar.

The blitzer grinned at her even broader, “He’s asleep too…” he replied just before Gippal slammed the bat into his head, knocking him out.

AL BHED TRANSLATION

Cuh uv y pedlr! Ruf tyna oui red Yuna!: Son of a bitch! How dare you hit Yuna!”

Mayja res ymuha. Oui lyh gemm res mydan.: Leave him alone. You can kill him later.

Ra rind Yuna! Mad res civvan.: He hurt Yuna! Let him suffer.

Author's Notes: wicked laughter Not gonna tell you anything!

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

Chapter Twenty-Eight: Your Hope Ends Here

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

“What did you do that for?!” Yuna shrieked, wrenching the wooden bat from Gippal’s hand and smacking him in the shoulder with it, “How do you like it?! Huh?! How do you like it?!”

Gippal raised his arms to fend off her attack, “Okay! I’m sorry!” he shouted until she stopped her vicious attack and practically threw the bat at Rikku who sat it quietly in the corner and wisely didn’t say a word. Gippal sighed, “Geez, Yuna. What the hell is your problem? I’d think you’d be grateful.”

“Grateful!!!” Yuna cried, practically breaking the sound barrier by Gippal’s estimation. He even saw Lulu cringe at the sound of her voice, “Why would I be grateful for you clonking my boyfriend over the head with a baseball bat until he fell into an unconscious state?!”

“First,” began Gippal, lifting his hand to count off the reasons, “I only hit him once. Secondly, he said specifically that both Tidus and Shuyin were ‘quote, unquote’ sleeping meaning that whoever that was, wasn’t your boyfriend.”

Yuna groaned in aggravation, “Minor details…” she muttered, wandering over to the unconscious blitzer that lay sprawled across the bed. She wished she knew what was going on with him. Why was he acting like this? Who was that person that had spoken to her before Gippal hit him? That certainly wasn’t Tidus and it lacked any discernible Shuyin quality.

But…

Whoever it was did seem vaguely familiar. There was something recognizable in the way those eyes looked at her. It was as if they had looked at her before. But if whoever it was had been inside of Tidus watching, then they had looked at her before. She shivered slightly. It was bad enough knowing that Shuyin was capable of possessing Tidus, but if an unknown force could do it too…

Snapping out of that thought process, Yuna put her hand on Tidus’ forehead and frowned, “He’s really cold.”

Gippal shrugged, “He’ll live.”

“How do you know that?” Yuna snapped, lifting her eyes to stare at him, “How do you really know that for sure? What if he doesn’t?”

“Then Baralai is avenged…” replied Gippal plainly.

Yuna felt the small flicker of anger in her stomach fan into a wildfire and her eyes flashed as she shouted, “Oh that’s it, is it? You want him to die, don’t you?” she scoffed at him, “That’s not going to change anything, Gippal. Baralai will still be dead.”

“Well at least Tidus…er…Shuyin…er…whoever the hell killed Baralai can’t do it again!”

“How do you know that he would?!”

“How do you know that he wouldn’t?!”

Yuna stomped her foot like a petulant two-year old and shouted, “Damnit, Gippal. No matter what you do, Baralai is dead. Your brother is never coming back!”

“….what….?” came Rikku’s tiny squeak and Yuna realized what she had said. Judging from the almost murderous look that Gippal shot her, it was obvious that he hadn’t gotten around to telling Rikku that part of his heritage yet. Her blonde cousin shared an equally shocked look with the beautiful black mage standing next to her but it was Rikku who spoke first, “Baralai…is…your brother?” she asked Gippal, speaking slowly as if to test the words in her mouth before saying them.

Gippal glared at Yuna before turning to face Rikku, “…yes.” He admitted quietly but he raised his hand to fend off further questions, “I’ll explain later, Rikku. This isn’t the time or place to get into it now.”

“Gippal is right.” Agreed Lulu, pointing at Tidus, “We’ve got to do something about him first.”

Rikku swallowed hard and took a deep breath as she went along with the change of subject, “Let’s take him back to town. We can take care of him there.”

“I agree.” Stated Yuna, turning to stare at Gippal with a hard expression, “Well…?” she asked, motioning toward Tidus, “What are you waiting for?”

He raised an eyebrow at her, “What do you expect me to do?”

“You’re the one who knocked him out. You carry him.”

Now maybe it was the fact that he hadn’t had a reason to laugh in a long time. Maybe it was the look on Yuna’s face. Maybe it was the simple fact that he just wanted to laugh at something. Whatever the reason, the entire situation struck him as absolutely preposterous, and Gippal found himself laughing hysterically at Yuna’s demand for several seconds before the stern look on her face made him stop and gape at her, “You’re not serious, are you?”

“Do I look like I’m kidding you?”

Gippal shook his head and shot a pleading look at Rikku who shrugged, “You did knock him out.” She said, proving once and for all that she wasn’t going to help him. And with Lulu obviously not planning on using Flare to defend him from Yuna anytime soon, Gippal found himself meandering over the unconscious psycho-killer and lifting Tidus over his back to carry half the blitzer’s weight on his back and half the blitzer’s weight on his front. He instantly felt like his knees were going to buckle between him and he silently swore to himself that if he made it down to Besaid without dying, he’d personally see to it that Tidus be made well aware of just how heavy he was!

As Gippal struggled to follow the girls down the stairs, an annoying vibration rattled against his right leg.

He silently cursed the Al Bhed for the reinvention of the cell phone.

Gippal stopped as he straddled between two stairs, sweat popping from his brow under Tidus’ weight, “H…hold up. My phone’s ringing.”

“I got it.” Rikku said, rushing up the steps two at a time and reaching into his pocket to retrieve the phone. If he hadn’t been so focused on not dropping Tidus down the stairs, Gippal would have found the fact that Rikku’s hand was in his pocket, dangerously close to his inner thigh to be very appealing. She pushed a blonde strand out of her face and spoke into the machina, “Gippal’s phone. This is Rikku!”

“Rikku. Can I speak to Gippal please?”

“He’s kinda busy at the minute, Nooj. Can I take a message?”

“I really need to talk to him.”

Rikku shrugged, “Just a sec.” she said to Nooj. Cupping her hand over the mouthpiece, she said, “Nooj needs to talk to ya. Why don’t you put down sleeping beauty?”

Gippal didn’t have to have it suggested twice before he was backing slowly up to the nearest bed and dropping Tidus firmly onto the mattress. He caught a glare from Yuna – no doubt over how he had so callously dropped the blitzer, but he didn’t care at the moment. He accepted the phone from Rikku and said, “You know you’re lazy when you don’t even walk to the ship to talk to me in person.”

“I’m in Guadosalam.”

Gippal bit his lip, “Why?” He swore for a moment that it sounded like Nooj’s voice caught when he tried to respond, but that was impossible. Nooj was never upset. He was the captain. He was the rock. He was the deathseeker for Yevon’s sake! But when he heard a ragged breath on the other end, he immediately realized something was very wrong. He turned his back to Rikku, Lulu, and Yuna and whispered, “What’s wrong?”

“I got some really bad news, Gippal.”

“What sort of news?”

Rikku stormed over to him, “Put it on speaker!” she demanded, ripping the phone from his hand and pressing the speaker button.

Gippal silently cursed the Al Bhed for the reinvention of the cell phone with speaker option.

A cold sense of dread came over him as Nooj explained about the call that he and LeBlanc had received and how the Syndicate didn’t want to tell her what had happened over the phone.

“What did happen?” asked Gippal.

“The Farplane…imploded.”

Gippal took a sharp intake of breath, “Imploded?”

“It collapsed in on itself sometime last night. All that’s left is cinder and soot – the remnants of a fiery explosion that severely burned the Guado that was guarding outside.”

Yuna walked a little closer to the phone, “Does the man need to be healed, Nooj?”

“No.” came the man’s reply, “He’s going to be fine. LeBlanc had learned a few spells so she took care of him. He was able to talk to us just a little bit ago.”

“And what did he say?” asked Gippal.

Nooj was silent for several minutes before he finally said, “That’s where the bad news part really comes into play.”

“…what happened…?”

“He told us that…that there were two people inside the Farplane when everything happened.” He paused and to Gippal that silence was even more telling that his previous silences. He waited for Nooj to say who the victims were, but judging from the fact that there were two people that he hadn’t seen since the day before, Gippal wasn’t surprised when Nooj said, “Seifer and Paine.”

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Waking up with a smile on her face was something she hadn’t done in quite a while, but something she thought she’d be able to start doing more often. Of course, Nooj leaving with that blonde bimbo hadn’t been in her initial plan, but he’d be coming home to her soon enough.

She slipped out of the sheets of her guest house bed and padded across the room to the dresser, pulling her robe out and slipping it over her shoulders. It was only a matter of time until they met her…surprise. A surprise that was going to really rock everyone’s world.

And she couldn’t wait…

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The vibration was annoying. It shook him out of his world of dreams when he wasn’t interested in leaving just yet. He wanted to sleep forever. Stubbornly refusing to give into consciousness, he began to roll over when he felt a sharp and stabbing pain run the length of his hand and he jumped up, shouting in pain. The hand was swollen twice its size and was quite obviously broken. How had that happened?

Pounding footsteps told him he had alerted someone to him, and that was when he noticed where he was.

Yuna ran up to him, “Are you okay, Tidus?”

He blinked back a little annoyance and replied sharply, “My name is Shuyin, thanks. And I’m fine, aside from my hand.”

“Oh,” she said, “Sorry, I had healed it a little but I guess it didn’t work as well as I had hoped.” She sighed and sat down across from him on the little bed, “And I’m sorry for calling you Tidus.” She said, “I just, I mean…that’s who was here for the last few days so I just figured…” she sighed and reached for his hand, “Don’t worry about it. I’ll just heal this up a bit more.”

As a cool feeling traveled through his fingers, Shuyin lifted his eyebrow at her, “What happened to it?”

“You broke it.”

“Thanks for that.” He replied sarcastically, “but how did I break it?” Shuyin leaned in to the girl close enough to notice rather large bruises on her cheeks which she had tried to cover with makeup, “What happened to your face?”

Yuna backed up sharply, dropping his hand but it didn’t hurt this time. She raised her own hand to her cheek and muttered, “Nothing…”

“Yuna…I asked you a question.”

“Shuyin…” she whispered, “You’ve had a tough time. I don’t want to bore you with the inconsequentials of my life.”

“What happened?” he asked again, more forcefully, anger piercing through him at the thought that anyone would hurt her. Then his eyes focused in on a hole that was in the wall, a hole that wasn’t there before. His eyes snapped back to her and he frowned, “Did Tidus hurt you?”

Yuna shrugged, “It doesn’t matter anymore.” She replied with a sigh, “It really doesn’t. I’m fine, you’re fine. Everything is just fine.”

“Did he hit you?” demanded Shuyin, ignoring her silent plea for the dropping of the subject, “Did he?”

Yuna nodded slowly, “Yes,” she admitted, raising her hand to silence his angry retort, “but I’m fine. I’m fine, I promise.”

Shuyin lifted a finger to gently trace her jawline, trying to quell the anger that was boiling in his stomach at the thought that Tidus – anyone for that matter – would dare hurt such a beautiful creature, “Yuna....” he whispered. Yuna trembled a little under his touch as he leaned closer to her, pressing his lips against hers gently and then, when she didn’t deny him, more passionately. Her hands slipped around his neck in a motion that seemed oddly natural to her and she pulled him close to her to feel his body heat through her clothes. His mouth left hers and traced a warm path over her cheek to her ear, touching it gently with his tongue. Without truly thinking, Yuna pulled him down upon her on the bed and moaned softly as his lips traveled down her neck to her collarbone.

Shuyin had given up logical thought as soon as Yuna began responding to him. It wasn’t the first time he’d been with her like this, and it certainly wasn’t the first time she’d kissed this body, but it was the first time that she knew for certain it was him and she wasn’t pushing him away.

But…she did know it was him, right?

“Yuna…” he muttered against hoarsely in her ear.

Yuna turned her own head against his and whispered, “Don’t stop…please don’t stop.”

He didn’t want to. It took all his strength to raise himself up on his arms and look into her eyes. Those eyes, now smoldering with passion, stared at him with such want that he felt his knees turn to jelly. He could just ignore the guilt he was feeling and take her the way he wanted to. But he’d never be able to live with himself after that. He gave her a half smile and said, “I think we should stop before we do something you’ll regret.”

“Don’t stop…” she whispered again, her hands trailing along his muscular stomach.

He fought the urge to do exactly what she requested as he said, “I can’t…”

“Why?”

His blue eyes connected with hers as he said, “I’m not Tidus. I never will be.”

“Don’t you think I know that?” she asked, cupping his face within her hands and gently stroking her thumbs over his cheeks, “I’m not stupid, you know.”

“I never said you were.” He replied with a soft smile, “I just don’t want you getting a little carried away again…”

She frowned, “Like I did with Gippal, right?”

He nodded, “Yes, but it’s not just that.” He admitted, rising to his knees and rolling onto his back to lay next to her, “I just get the feeling that you’re doing this to try and forget something.” He paused and looked at her, “Did something happen that you’re not telling me? Besides Tidus hitting you, I mean.”

Yuna wanted to tell him about the mystery third person who had controlled the blitzer’s body for a few moments, but the words caught in her throat. Was he going to think she was insane? Maybe that person really was him. Maybe it was Tidus. Maybe she imagined the whole thing. The group had already decided that they weren’t going to mention it again unless something happened to make it come up. Lulu had returned to Besaid and only Gippal and Rikku had accompanied Yuna on the trip to Guadosalam along with the unconscious blitzer – who now, of course, was awake. If Yuna just kept her mouth shut, than no one would ever mention the issue again and they could go on with a semblance of normalcy.

And besides, if she mentioned it than he’d spend all his time worrying and not nearly enough time with those beautiful lips on her body…

Yuna rolled onto her side, “No…nothing happened.” She replied, a simple lie that put an end to a conversation she didn’t want to have anymore. She smiled at him as she remembered the way he used to make her feel as Lenne on those long Zanarkand nights and she decided that she wanted to feel that way again. She kissed him this time, and smiled to herself when she felt him instantly respond, his tongue touching hers. She took his hand in hers and trailed it up her hip until she laid it deftly on her ribcage, silently daring him to go further.

He shook his head and pulled his lips from hers, “Yuna…I think we should…stop…” he said in a breathless whisper, but his mouth said one thing and his body said another as he lifted his hand to her breast moving the other to make quick work of the threads that held her shirt together. His mouth moved upon the now bare skin and Yuna let out a sigh, running her hands slowly through his blonde locks and down to his shirt, lifting it from the bottom up over his head and discarding it into a crumpled pile on the floor.

A crackling noise caused them both to stop and look around for the source.

“Yunie…we’re almost at Guadosalam so get up here and prepare for the landing.” Came Rikku’s voice over the loudspeaker, effectively ending any remnants of the mood that had swept them up just moments before.

Shuyin guiltily climbed off of her and retrieved his shirt from the floor, replacing it on his head as she tied the cords of her shirt. He was disappointed to have been interrupted and yet grateful to whatever god happened to be in place at this point for the interruption. He and Yuna were friends and he didn’t want to ruin that. She’d just hate him and he couldn’t bear it. He glanced up at her out of the corner of his eye and saw her watching him as she chew nervously on her bottom lip.

“I’m sorry…ya know…that I…um…” she stammered, “I came on too strong. I’m sorry.”

Shuyin shrugged, “I’m the one who should apologize. It was my fault…”

She sighed and released her lip, “Well, I better get to the bridge before Rikku has a coronary. I’ll see you later.” She said, giving him a sincere smile before turning and walking out of the crew’s quarters.

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“Where are you going?” asked LeBlanc, trying to sound as confident as possible to hide the fact that her insides were quaking with fear. She hadn’t felt this uncomfortable in her home in…well…ever.

“I’m going to go look at the site and see if I can help the Guado with anything.” Came Nooj’s reply as he gently stroked her shoulders, “Gippal, Rikku, and Yuna are on their way. They should be here at any time.”

“I’ll come with you, love.”

Nooj shook his head, “No, LeBlanc. I want you to stay here. Lock the door after I leave and don’t open it for anyone.” His expression grew dreadfully serious and he whispered, “I mean it, LeBlanc. Do not follow me. I know you don’t like orders, but if you don’t obey me then I’ll drag you back here and lock you in a closet.”

“You wouldn’t!”

“I would.”

LeBlanc pouted but she knew that Nooj wasn’t joking and although she didn’t relish staying in the chateau with only the Syndicate, Ormi, and Logos to look after her, she conceded to his wishes. Locking the door immediately after Nooj left, LeBlanc meandered up to her private bathroom and decided that relaxing in a hot tub was just the remedy she needed. She waited until the water was steaming before shutting the door and stripping her clothes. She climbed in, the hot water instantly making her aching muscles feel completely better. She hoped that Nooj would come back soon, and with information about why the Farplane fell in on itself. Her Noojie was hiding how truly upset he was over Paine’s death, but she knew better than to push. He’d come to her when he wanted to talk about it. She was just grateful that Gippal was coming. Nooj needed his friend with him now. There was only so much that she could do.

A creak caught her attention and LeBlanc opened her eyes. The bathroom door was swinging open slowly and she was laying completely naked for anyone to see. She reached quickly for the towel she left draping over the side of the tub and covered herself, rising to her feet and walking slowly to the door to peer out. A sudden sense of dread overcame her as she jutted her head around the corner, “Anybody here?” she asked, praying silently that no one would answer and letting out an audible sigh of relief when that prayer was granted. She groaned to herself, “Honestly, LeBlanc, you’re beginning to lose it. It’s just a drafty old house with bad doors.”

Still, the mood for the bath had vanished and LeBlanc let the water out of the tub and replaced the towel with a pair of purple pajama bottoms and a white sweatshirt. Granted, it covered a bit more than her usual attire, but tonight she just wanted to curl up in something comfortable and relax. Maybe when Nooj got back she could convince him to lay back and watch the sphere with her for a while. She wanted to try to get his mind off of everything.

LeBlanc padded her way barefooted out of her bedroom and rounded the corner to the stairs. A breeze whipped past her and she paused, wondering where the draft was coming from when she saw it. The front door was hanging wide open. Stifling a yelp, LeBlanc ran down the stairs the rest of the way and slammed it shut, locking it again. She knew she had locked it the first time. Maybe Nooj was back? Or maybe Ormi and Logos were just stupid enough to have opened the door. The latter was much more realistic.

“Hello…?” she called, walking quietly back to the dining room. The door to the secret passageway was open and she searched her mind to remember if she had left it like that, but she knew she hadn’t. She silently prayed that Ormi or Logos had. LeBlanc reached for the fireplace poker as she made her way down into the passageway.

Fear in her own house – or fear in general – wasn’t something she was used to, but she felt in then in every step she took. Her heart was pounding so hard she was sure that others could hear it and the whole time she kept telling herself that she was acting stupid. She was certain that Ormi or Logos were just playing a prank on her.

Right…??

A light flickered in the room at the end of the hall and LeBlanc quietly made her way toward the door but paused just short of the threshold. If (and she prayed it was a small if) someone was in there, she was hardly in a position to defend herself with a mere fire poker and her bare feet as her only weapons. She decided at that moment that she would go in swinging and whoever was in there would just have to deal with a head wound.

But…as LeBlanc made her way inside she realized that there was no one there. The light had been a candle fighting for its last breath of oxygen before dying. LeBlanc let out a little laugh at her own stupidity and set the fire poker down against a nearby wall. With everything that was going on she was just getting paranoid.

While she was down there, she decided that she might as well gather up a few books to read just in case Nooj kept her prisoner in her own house for a while. She kept her secret stash of naughty romance novels inside one of the trunks for just such an occasion. As she made her way to the trunk, she felt something wet and sticky under her toes and she paused and looked down.

“What the…” she muttered, squatting closer to the substance. It looked almost like…blood. She shook her head at the ridiculous thought. It had to have been paint. There would have been no explanation for such a ridiculously large amount of blood seeping out from under the bed.

And yet…

As if her hand had grown a mind of its own, LeBlanc found herself lifting the ruffle that lined the bottom of the bed and allowing her eyes to make contact with what remained of Logos, stuffed in an impossible position, blood seeping from his eyes and throat with a horrified look frozen on his long and serious face. LeBlanc let out a terrified scream, backing away as quickly as she could, her feet not working with her body. She tripped over the blood-soaked carpet and stumbled, grabbing onto the closet door for support, but found none when it swung open and she found herself pinned beneath Ormi and felt a warm substance flowing from his head onto her body.

“Ahhh!!!” she shrieked again, squirming as best she could to remove herself from Ormi’s girth. It proved a difficult task, but she managed, grabbing the poker and running as fast as she could out of the room and back down the hall, slipping on the stones as her blood-soaked feet made contact with the freshly polished stones.

She broke into the dining room with the fastest speed she could attain but her slippery feet tripped her up and sent her sprawling face first onto the carpet, giving her a view of the underside of the table and the fem-goon laying beneath it. She let out another horrified scream as she scrambled to her feet, forgetting the poker and concerned only with getting out of that chateau. She saw the door standing open just a few feet away and then saw it slam shut before her and it took her a moment to realize why.

Long fingernails, connected with tapered hands that led up to a muscular torso and a face with an evil grin greeted her. Hidden behind the door, she hadn’t seen the intruder before but LeBlanc saw him now and she felt her voice catch in her throat. It was impossible and yet…obviously it was possible. It was happening, was it not?

He stepped forward and gave her a chilling grin, “The chateau hasn’t changed much.” He stated simply, taking another step forward while she took another back. He reached for an apple that was sitting on the table and took a long and leisurely bite before he said, “Aside from the rather tacky hearts and the large painting of your lover in my bedroom, it’s exactly the same.”

“Y…y….you’re….” stammered LeBlanc, trying to get her heart to calm its erratic beating so she could think.

He stepped forward and a grin spread on his face that made LeBlanc shudder from head to toe, “I believe the name you are searching for,” he replied, “is Seymour…”

Author's Notes: MAJOR computer issues. I’m going to have to do a major overhaul on this thing, so if I’m a little late with the next chapter you’ll know why. Hopefully that won’t happen, but we’ll just have to see. Anyway…it seems that most of you are pretty happy that Seymour is back. I had been wanting to bring him back since Silver Wings 2 and I finally figured out the perfect place for him. I have also noticed that some of you are pretty concerned with the Yuna/Shuyin angle I seem to be going for in a story that, up until now, always seemed to be a Yuna/Tidus pairing. Well, I never actually said that it would be a Yuna/Tidus and I also never said it would be a Yuna/Shuyin. Heck, maybe I’ll go for a Yuna/Seymour and really throw everybody off!! Haha! J/J, I won’t do that to anybody! I don’t want to give away where I’m going, but I will say this. I think that everybody will be happy with the way this story will end. Now…on with the show!!!

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Chapter Twenty-Nine: While Visions Of Evil Maesters Danced In His Head

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“So…when are you going to explain about Baralai?” asked Rikku, as she peered over Gippal’s shoulder to the landing strip he was aiming toward setting the Celsius on.

Gippal turned his head to look into her eyes, “Later.”

“When later?”

“Much later.”

Rikku pouted at him and made a little whimpering noise, but didn’t push for any further information. She knew better than to push Gippal. He’d tell her when he was ready, but she certainly hoped he would be ready soon. She didn’t know how much longer she was going to be able to wait to find out how long he’s known he was Baralai’s brother and if Baralai knew and how it all came to be.

There were so many things Rikku wanted to say to Gippal. She wanted most of all to apologize for doubting him so many times, but she decided it was best to let the past stay in the past. There was no reason to dredge it up again when they were getting along so well now. Sneaking up behind him, Rikku wrapped her arms around his waist and gave him a tight squeeze and when she felt Gippal’s fingers meshing with her own, she knew he didn’t want her to let go so she didn’t.

“Do you think Tidus woke up?” he asked suddenly, a frown forming on his features, “Is that why Yuna’s taking so long to get down here?”

Rikku shrugged and put her forehead against his back, “I don’t know.” She admitted with a sigh, “but she knows we want her up here so she’ll be here as soon as she can.”

“Yeah…” he replied quietly.

Rikku wanted to keep talking to him. She wanted to find out what was on his mind since it was obvious that he was troubled by something and she didn’t think it had to do with Paine, but she decided to let it wait. They needed to deal with one thing at a time. Rising onto her toes, Rikku planted a soft kiss on the nape of his neck, “You know I’m there for you if you need me, right?”

He turned his head a little and gave her a small smile, “I know.” He replied, “Thanks.”

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“What is wrong with me?!” Yuna asked herself in a harsh and hushed whisper as she let the door to the crew’s quarters slam behind her. Her footsteps echoed down the empty hallway leading to the elevator but she barely noticed. Her mind was focused on how she had acted just a few moments ago.

Why was she doing this again?!

Hadn’t she gotten herself into enough of a situation with Gippal?!

“I’m just stupid. That’s all there is to it.” She decided as she entered the elevator, “There’s no other explanation.”

In fact, it did seem like the logical conclusion. She was acting out and rushing into the arms of other men all so that she could avoid the question that seemed to perpetuate these actions. Did she really love Tidus at all? That question had plagued her on and off again during their separations. She couldn’t help but wonder briefly if the thrill of their adventure together had made her think she loved him. Her sudden lust for Gippal was another thing that made her question it, but it was her undeniable connection with Shuyin that was really straining her mind. Shuyin was the one that the fayth had destined her for but a twist of fate had sent Tidus to her instead. Now Shuyin was back and she couldn’t help but wonder if being with him is what the fayth would want her to do.

She groaned…

Nonetheless, no matter what the fayth wanted it was her heart she had to follow. She just wasn’t sure where it was leading her. Tidus was her poster-child for tender, sweet love until recently when he’d beaten her until she bled. Shuyin was her poster-child for mentally disturbed psycho-killer until recently when he’d shown her a side of himself she hadn’t seen in 1000 years.

In fact, she hadn’t acted like such a hopeless tramp around him in 1000 years. Not since their first date when she’d tried to jump him in her living room and he’d politely turned her down.

The elevator dinged when it reached the bridge and Yuna made her way down the hall with her mind still reeling from her sluttish actions just a few moments before. She was determined, however, to put on a brave face when she saw her friends. They would flip if they knew what she had just tried to do.

“Where are you going to land?” she asked as she made her way down the six steps that led to the main floor of the bridge.

Rikku pointed toward a section of the Moonflow that was unused by anything but the Shoopufs, “He’s gonna park her there so we can walk to Guadosalam.”

“Sounds good.”

Her cousin released her grip on Gippal’s elbow and meandered toward Yuna with a question on her lips, “Is sleeping beauty awake?”

Yuna nodded, “Yeah, and I finished healing his hand so he’s good to go.”

“I don’t know why you healed it when he beat you up.”

“It’s Shuyin,” Yuna clarified, “not Tidus.”

“Him again?!” Rikku squealed with an exasperation heavily lacing her voice. She yanked sharply on her hair with both hands and moaned, “What is up with that? Did you ask him about the other guy? Does he know what Tidus did? Details!!”

“I don’t know what’s up with that.” Yuna answered, “I didn’t tell him about the third person. He knows what Tidus did but only by guessing.”

“Big giant bruises on her cheeks kinda gave it away.” Came the blitzer’s voice from the landing. If Yuna hadn’t known better, she could have let herself be convinced that Tidus was standing there talking to them. When she had last seen Shuyin he had been wearing the clothes Tidus had put on after waking up in Besaid – faded jeans and a white t-shirt that said, “Yuna defeated Sin and all I got was this stupid T-Shirt.”. She had laughed when Wakka had bought it during the Calm and had laughed even harder when he insisted on getting the size that was obviously too small for him. Lulu had told him he’d gotten fat but Wakka didn’t believe it until the shirt clung to every roll on his pudgy belly and had ended up with a permanent home in the closet. Now, though, Shuyin was wearing the standard Tidus clothes and had even found the old sword Wakka had given him at the start of her pilgrimage. She thought she had lost that after…

Yuna glanced down at her wrists and then guiltily looked away again. No need to dwell on the past. What’s past is past and that’s all that mattered anyway. She smiled at Shuyin and opened her mouth to speak when Rikku beat her to it, “Where’d you find that sword?” she asked, her eyes narrowing suspiciously, “You’re not planning on killing us all are you?”

Shuyin rolled his eyes at her, “Even if I was, do you honestly think I’d be honest about it?” and when Rikku didn’t respond, he nodded, “No, I’m not going to kill you. I just found it in the closet where I found these clothes and they seemed to go together so I went ahead and put it all on.”

“You’re wearing Tidus clothes, ya know.” Snipped Rikku, waving a hand in the air as she spoke, “Who are you trying to kid anyway?”

“Nobody.” He replied, “I just found them and put them on. I didn’t really think about it.”

“Maybe you should have.” Came Gippal’s biting retort from the control panel. He hadn’t even bothered turning around to look at Shuyin.

Yuna put her hands up to placate the growing tension, “Look, maybe this is a good thing.” She stated, looking from each person slowly before continuing, “The Guado don’t know about Shuyin. This way we don’t have to answer questions and we can just focus on finding out what happened with the Farplane.”

“You can’t honestly be suggesting that he pretend to be Tidus?!” shrieked Rikku, her eyes wide with surprise, “Yunie…!”

“He’s done it before.” Replied Yuna, “and we all know he’s good at it. Besides, it won’t be forever. Just while we’re in Guadosalam. It’ll just make things easier.”

Gippal grunted, “I suppose you’re right.” He said but quickly added, “Just don’t expect me to pretend that ass is my friend.”

Shuyin smirked devilishly and whispered to Yuna, “Don’t you love it how they talk like I’m not here…”

“I wish you weren’t.” snipped Rikku as she sauntered back to Gippal and kept her small nose in the air while Gippal landed the plane on the Moonflow.

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LeBlanc didn’t know if she should be grateful to still be alive or eternally regretful that she wasn’t given a quick death. However, tied by the wrists to the railing in the entryway wasn’t exactly the most comfortable thing. Yet, she wasn’t prepared to face the wrath of the once alive, then dead, now alive again former Maester of Yevon. He was sitting with this back from her on a chair not far from her simply staring at the portrait of his father. She couldn’t see his face, but considering that Yuna told her he had killed him, she assumed the expression was one of contempt.

She briefly wondered what he wanted her for and then quickly squashed the idea. He had killed Logos, Ormi, and her best Fem-Goon. He was going to kill her. She just wondered why he hadn’t done it already.

“I’ll bring her to you.” Seymour suddenly said and LeBlanc realized he hadn’t been staring at Jyscal at all. He was talking to someone, “So the exchange is still on? Her for my bride. Excellent. I’ll bring her to you now.” He turned and fixed his eyes on LeBlanc and a slow and leisurely grin spread on his features, “The plans have been made, my dear. You’re no longer my concern now.”

As he reached for her, LeBlanc tried to hide her face behind her arms, “P…p…please don’t h….h…hurt me.”

“Hurt you?” asked Seymour as he pulled back and looked at her as if trying to see if she was joking, “If I hurt you then the deal I’ve made is off. I’m going to deliver you to someone who will take great delight in hurting you.”

“Please don’t…” LeBlanc begged as he untied her, but kept a firm grip on her hands with his long fingers, “I…If you want Yuna. I know where she is…”

Seymour stopped and stared at her, “How do you know that I want Yuna?”

“Y…you said your…your bride. You married Yuna…”

He nodded, “I’m impressed.” He said, but then he shrugged and pulled her along again, “She’s with her lover, I’m sure, and the only way to get her away from him is to make the trade for you.”

Seymour reached for the front door and cracked it open, wanting to see if he could sneak out as he had snuck in, by pulling the hood over his head and moving quickly out the front of Guadosalam. The coast seemed clear initially as he lifted the hood but then he cursed his bad luck. He saw Nooj descending from the Farplane platform after waving to someone and Seymour’s eyes followed his line of vision and saw his bride, her lover, the sissy little blonde girl, and…

“Gippal Liton…” he muttered to himself.

“You know Gippal?”

Seymour shot her a look to silence her and then shut the door, replying with a whisper, “I gave him one simple task and he didn’t do it. Maybe I could get revenge on him while I’m at it…”

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“I’m glad you guys are here.” Nooj said as he met the quartet at the base of the Farplane platform, “I haven’t been able to figure anything out on my own. The Guado are busy trying to re-establish stability and haven’t been much help. I’m just glad to have some more eyes looking this over.”

“Where’s LeBlanc?” asked Yuna, “Why isn’t she helping?”

“I told her to stay in the mansion. I’d rather know she’s safe and sound with the Syndicate. It’s one less thing I have to worry about.”

“Makes sense.” Gippal admitted, nudging Rikku, “I kinda like the idea of that myself.”

She frowned, “You are not going to make me stay away from this. I can take care of myself, mister!”

Nooj smiled a little and then connected eyes with Shuyin, “Which one are you today?”

“Shuyin…” he replied quietly, “but I’m undercover as Tidus.”

“Why?”

Yuna replied, “I thought it’d be easier than trying to explain to all of Guadosalam what was going on.”

“Make sense…”

“Oh, Sir Tidus. It is you!” came a voice from across the Farplane. Shuyin turned his head and saw a rather tall Guado coming toward him at a quick pace. His skin was a pale shade of green and he looked generally like an alien – much like the rest of the Guado Shuyin had seen in his lifetime.

He felt Yuna nudge him slightly as the man closed the distance between their bodies. She leaned her head to him and whispered, “That’s…”

“Tromell…?” the name came to Shuyin out of nowhere, but he knew he was right even before the man smiled happily at being remembered.

He knew this guy.

"We have been expecting you, Lady Yuna. Welcome to Guadosalam. This way, my lady. This way."

"Whoa, whoa, whoa!"

"Oh, I beg your pardon. I am called Tromell Guado. I am in the direct service of our leader, the great Seymour Guado. Lord Seymour has very important business with Lady Yuna."

"Business with me? Whatever could it be, I wonder?"

"Please, come inside the manor. All will be explained. Of course, your friends are also welcome."

“It’s so good to know you remember me, Sir Tidus.” Tromell was saying when Shuyin’s mind stopped wandering and returned to the conversation. The Guado was grinning broadly, “Lady Yuna was very sad with you missing, but I had heard you had once again returned to Spira and we are happy to see the lady is smiling again.”

Shuyin smiled back at the Guado, “It’s good to see you too, Tromell. It’s been too long.”

“Well, I must return to my post and help with the Farplane situation.” Tromell said, squeezing Shuyin’s hand tightly, “It was very good to see you again, my lord. Lady Yuna, a pleasure as always.”

He felt Yuna’s questioning gaze on him and turned to her as she whispered, “How did you know his name?”

Shuyin shrugged, “I’m not sure…I just did.” He paused and bit his lip, “Who’s…Seymour? Why does Tromell and that name seem to fit together in my head somehow?”

“Seymour is a bad guy.” Replied Rikku, “Much like you are.”

“Rikku…” Yuna reprimanded her cousin before turning back to Shuyin, “It’s a long story about Seymour. I’ll explain later. But…suffice it to say, he was one of the bad guys.”

"Truly, it is good to have guests again. Since Lord Jyscal passed away, these halls have been too quiet."

"The death of Lord Jyscal was a great loss for all of Spira."

"Was this Maester Jyscal really such a great guy?"

"He brought the teachings of Yevon to the Guado. He was truly a great man."

"Truly, a loss for us all. But now a new leader, Lord Seymour, has come before us. Lord Seymour is the child of a Guado and a human. He will be the tie that binds our two races together. But that is not all, I think. Lord Seymour...He will surely become the shining star that lights the way for all the peoples of Spira."

"That is enough, Tromell."

Shuyin squinted against the sudden memory in his head, “Are you sure he’s a bad guy? He was supposed to be the tie that binds…” he stopped and shook his head, “Never mind. I think I’m losing it.”

“We can discuss everything in more depth at the chateau.” Nooj suggested, “I promised LeBlanc I’d be back twenty minutes ago. She’s probably going to kill me so I’ll need protection.”

Shuyin’s mind was running a mile a minute as he walked with the group down to the chateau door, but even still he instantly noticed the front door shut quickly and a sense of dread went up his spine. He fingered the sword at his side and watched closely for more signs of movement but there were none and none of the others seemed to notice.

Maybe he was losing it…

“Hopefully she won’t be too mad.” Said Nooj as he twisted the knob and pulled, but the door didn’t open. He jiggled the handled and tried again. Still nothing. Frowning, he pounded a fist against the door three times, “LeBlanc…I know I’m late but that’s no reason to lock me out. Everybody is here. Let us in!”

When there was no answer, Shuyin grasped the handle of the sword tighter in his hands. Gippal went with Nooj and called in to LeBlanc but there was still no answer. Before Shuyin knew it, everybody was pounding and shouting but there was no answer from the inside except for silence.

Until…

A muffled scream came from just behind the window. Shuyin was at first convinced that only he had heard it, but then he noticed Nooj’s head perked up and he put an ear to the door. The cry came again this time, louder and more defiant.

“LeBlanc!” shouted Nooj, slamming his good side into the door with all his strength, “Are you all right?! LeBlanc!!”

Without really thinking about what he was doing, Shuyin strode forward and ushered the others away from the door. He pulled the sword from its position holstered at his hip and jammed the blade between the doorstop and the door itself and twisted. It gave just enough for him to pry the door open the rest of the way with his fingers.

The group poured into the entranceway. LeBlanc was tied hands and feet on the floor with a sock stuffed in her mouth. Nooj made a move toward her, but Shuyin stopped him with a hand when he saw something moving from the landing above their heads.

Not something…

Someone…

“Hello, Lady Yuna.” Came the voice from above them in the shadowed area. Yuna visibly trembled at the sound and Rikku let out a muted gasp. The figure stepped into the light slowly, inch by inch, until he was totally revealed. Tall, muscular, blue hair and tattoos over his body. Shuyin had never seen him before and yet he instinctively knew who he was.

Seymour Guado…

“My dear lady Yuna.” Seymour said, coming slowly down the stairs toward them. Yuna took a step back and hid herself behind the safety of Shuyin’s arm, gripping his elbow tightly, “I had thought I’d have to wait for quite a while to see my darling wife.”

Shuyin turned his head at Yuna, “You’re married…?”

"Lady Yuna, we've been expecting you. We were surprised you decided to come so soon. Pleasantly surprised, of course. Lord Seymour sends his apologies for having left without notice."

"It's quite all right. I have one question, if I may, sir."

"My lady?"

"I want to keep journeying, even if I marry. Do you think that Maester Seymour would let me?"

"But of course, my lady. Lord Seymour wishes nothing else, I'm sure."

He stopped and frowned, “I knew that…”

Turning his attentions back to Seymour, Shuyin found himself staring into the eyes of a man with a smirk of arrogance plastered on his face, “Just a little confused there, Tidus?” he asked, leaning in close to him and staring in to his eyes. As he did so, the smile faded and was replaced with one of quiet musing, “…not Tidus…interesting…so the rumors were true…”

“Rumors?” came Yuna’s question, speaking for the first time since seeing Seymour.

“Yes, my lady. Rumors floated amongst the evil-doers in the Farplane. Rumors that a victim of Bevelle was determined to destroy Spira.” He smiled back at Shuyin, “It did my heart good to know that there was still evil ruling the planet.”

“I’m not evil.

“I know that.” Replied Seymour smugly, “If you were you wouldn’t be with this motley crew of do-gooders. You just have some…” he pointed to his head, “…issues.”

“Never mind that.” Snapped Shuyin, “What do you want?”

“Me?!” Seymour replied, feigning innocence, “I just want what any man wants. I want my wife back. I want my life back.”

“What does taking LeBlanc hostage have to do with anything?” demanded Nooj.

Rikku nodded fiercely, “Yeah! How’d you get here anyway?!”

“One question at a time please!” Seymour requested, pacing in front of them slowly and then making his way to LeBlanc, lifting her roughly from the floor to stand next to him, “I was brought back. I walked through the front door and I killed the guards protecting her. I need her to seal the deal I made with the person who brought me back. Once I deliver her safely, then I’ll be a permanent resident of Spiran society again.”

“Nobody would help you.” Spat Yuna, “You’re a murderer…”

Shuyin frowned, wondering where Yuna was getting that from. Seymour was definitely evil; he could feel that in his bones, but a murderer? That seemed a little harsh. He remembered all the wonderful things Tromell had said about Seymour in comparison with his father, Jyscal.

Jyscal…


"We saw Jyscal's sphere."


"You killed him."

"What of it? Lady Yuna, certainly you knew of these things, did you not? Well then, why have you come here?"

"I came...I came to stop you!"

"I see. You came to punish me, then. What a pity. Ah, of course. Protect the summoner even at the cost of one's life." The Code of the Guardian." How admirable. Well, if you're offering your lives, I will have to take them."

"Maester Seymour. I trust my guardians with my life. But they are also my friends. I will not stand by and watch them be hurt. I will fight you, too!"

"All right!"

"Maester Seymour!"

"So be it."


Shuyin staggered back slightly, his mind reeling from the sudden onslaught of memories that weren’t his. What was going on? Why was he remembering this now? Was Tidus trying to warn him, or was it something else? He felt the sword slap at his thigh and his mind flashed to the final time the group had seen Seymour alive, just as Tidus had shoved a sword into his gut.

"Yuna...you would pity me now?"

"Lord Seymour! What happened here?"

"What...what have I done?"

"Wait a minute! It's not our fault at all! Seymour struck first! He's the bad guy!"

"You did this?"

"Yuna. Send him."

"No, stop! Stay away from him, traitors!"

Shuyin hadn’t even heard half of the talk the group had engaged in with Seymour. He didn’t even care. For some reason he knew that Seymour liked to talk and talk and talk and yet never really said anything of importance. Shuyin’s mind kept repeating the same image in his head again and again. Tidus’ sword swallowed up in Seymour’s gut.

Well, it worked the first time. Why not again?

Without a word or a sound, Shuyin pulled the sword from its holster at his side and lunged, slamming it through Seymour’s gut. He waited for a second for Seymour to crumble to the floor in agony, prepared to die for a second time, but the blue haired former maester just stood there, staring down at the sword with a bemused look on his face.

He glanced up with a frown, “Well that wasn’t very nice.”

“Wha…?” came Shuyin’s startled and confused reply as Seymour slowly pulled the sword from his stomach without so much as a wince.

“You can’t kill the dead.” Said Seymour with a wicked grin when, as quick as lightening, he flipped the sword in his hand and penetrated it deep within Shuyin’s stomach. The pain nearly split him in two. He vaguely heard the screams of those around him; Yuna’s being the loudest, as he keeled over onto his back, the force of the fall pushing the sword out of his gut a little and wrenching more pain from his middle. His vision began to blur but he distinctly saw Seymour wrench LeBlanc toward him and rush for the door before anyone had the chance to react. He saw Yuna crying above him, casting spells left and right and was left with the vague feeling that this might be the last time he ever saw her. This might be the end for him.

And then the world went black…

Author's Notes: Sorry for the delay for this chapter. Computer problems kept me off of my PC for a few days longer than usual. Turns out I need memory, but I should have it by Wednesday so it’s all good. Anyway…I’m a huge fan of Evanescence and so this chapter’s name is from their CD “Fallen” and it fits the way I’m going with this story. For those of you familiar with the song, you may be able to guess where I’m going before I get there but for those of you unfamiliar, I’ll include the lyrics at the end of the chapter and hopefully by then you’ll have figured out exactly where I’m going since it’ll be pretty much spelled out.

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

Chapter Thirty: Hello

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

“I hate hospitals.” Cursed Gippal as he slouched further down on the rock hard waiting room chairs in Luca General Hospital.

“Me too,” Rikku agreed, squirming in the chair next to his, “but we’ve gotta show are support for Yunie and Nooj. They’d fall apart without us.”

“Yeah.” Gippal agreed, nodding at Rikku and then glancing sidelong at Nooj. His friend had taken Gippal’s cell phone and had spent the better part of two hours calling every possible person he knew hoping against hope that someone had seen Seymour with LeBlanc, but so far there had been no luck. Gippal didn’t want to admit it, but he doubted Nooj would ever see LeBlanc alive again. After what Seymour had done to Ormi, Logos, and Yasmina – the fem-goon under the table – he didn’t even want to imagine what he would have done to LeBlanc.

“This whole thing is just so crazy.” He heard Rikku say, “I mean, Seymour’s alive again and he took LeBlanc of all people and then he…” she paused and frowned, glancing up at the door to Shuyin’s hospital room, “I wonder if he’s gonna be okay.”

Gippal shrugged, “I don’t know. If there’s anything that can be done for him, this place is the one who’ll be able to do it.”

Rikku squirmed a little more in her seat and finally scooted closer to Gippal, laying her head on his shoulder and smiling up at him, “What are you thinking?”

“It’s nothing…”

“Tell me.”

He sighed and lay his head down against Rikku’s, “Something Seymour said is bothering me…that’s all.”

“Seymour said a lot of stuff and all of it bothered me.” she replied with a grin, “Anything in particular bothering you?”

“What he said about Tidus…er…Shuyin…”

Rikku twisted her head to gaze up at him with her large green eyes. She frowned a little in thought, “About him being nutsy? Like, we already knew that! He did try to vaporize Spira.”

Gippal lifted his head from hers and focused his gaze on the emergency room where Shuyin was currently being operated on. Yuna had been allowed in with him only because she was the High Summoner. He bit his lower lip and nodded, “Yeah,” he admitted to Rikku, “but for some reason I think there’s more to it than that.”

“How so?”

Gippal shrugged slightly, “I don’t know.”

“Well, I think you’re being a little nutsy yourself.” She said, lifting her head and sitting cross-legged on the chair to face him, “But who can blame you. After everything that’s been going on with you. I mean, you were almost killed, had Paine up and die on you, LeBlanc’s probably dead, you were accused of murdering your own brother…”

“Stop it.” Gippal demanded, scowling at Rikku through his furrowed brow.

She stared at him, “What did I say?”

“Stop chattering like a ninny. This isn’t the place for it.” Gippal had no idea why he snapped at her, but before he could stop it the words were out of his mouth. Her lip quivered and he knew he’d gone too far but before he could apologize, she rose defiantly from the chair and stormed across the waiting room to a bench as far away from him as she could get. Gippal cursed to himself and rose to follow her, “Ree…” he whispered, using a nickname he hadn’t used since they were children, “I’m sorry…”

She looked up at him with a strange expression – not quite angry, not quite sad – and snapped, “Well you should be. That was totally unnecessary.”

Sitting down next to her, Gippal pulled her hands into his own and put his forehead against hers, “I’m an ass and I’m sorry. I just…this has been tough for me…for all of us…” he sighed, “I guess I just don’t want to think that all these people are dead…not yet.”

Rikku’s eyes lit, “So you think Baralai might be back too?!”

Gippal rocked back in his chair, stunned. He certainly hadn’t thought about that. Just because Seymour was back didn’t mean that Baralai was certain to follow. He stared at Rikku for a moment, assessing whether she was being serious or not and then gaped, “Wha…?”

“Well, I just thought that with the whole Farplane thingie that maybe all the dead came back to life or something.”

“Wha…!”

“Although, that probably wouldn’t be too good.” She continued, as if she hadn’t heard Gippal’s interjection, “I mean, it’s pretty obvious that Seymour isn’t dead, but he sure isn’t alive either.”

Gippal nodded, “Yeah, but what is he?”

Rikku thought for a moment, letting all the various options go in and out of her mind until one stuck. Her eyes lit up and she squealed, “He’s a zombie!”

“A…zombie…” stated Gippal in a monotonous tone of disbelief.

Rikku nodded her head wildly like a bobbing-head doll and squealed excitedly, “It makes total sense. Zombies aren’t dead, but they’re not alive either. That explains why he didn’t even react when Shuyin stabbed him!” she paused and frowned, “…but…”

“But what?”

“Well,” she began, biting her lip uncomfortably, “I just really hope that only Seymour is back then.”

“Why?”

“See…zombies…they.” She stopped and thought a moment and then whispered, “Zombies eat the flesh of the living. I mean, I don’t want Baralai to eat you or anything. That’d be a little weird…”

Gippal let out a laugh and put his forehead back against Rikku’s, “A little…? How about a lot?”

“Yeah…” she laughed back, twisting her head upwards a bit until their lips were inches apart, “I’d still like you even without skin…” she breathed.

Her warm breath touched his lips and he closed the gap between them a little more, “Me too,” he whispered back.

“Gippal…” came her hoarse voice that seemed loud in the empty waiting room. She lifted her eyes from his lips and stared deeply into his own gaze, “I…um…” she paused, biting her lip and backing away from him a little. It was only then that Gippal realized how secluded they were in this corner of the waiting room. He couldn’t even see Nooj anymore.

“What is it?” he asked her.

She sighed, “You know what…I’m just gonna go and blurt it out. I’m tired of being scared. Tonight taught me something. Life is precious and you gotta take chances…”

“What are you talking about?”

She scooted closer until their knees touched, “I love you.” And as soon as the words were out of her mouth, Rikku’s eyes widened in panic, “A…a…and it’s okay if you don’t feel the same way, you know. I…I mean, no pressure.” She stammered, “Because I certainly wouldn’t want you feeling like you had to…”

Impulsively Gippal leaned forward and pressed his lips to Rikku’s like he’d been wanting to for the last two years. Her hands crept up around his neck and pulled him closer to her as their lips continued to battle for control. His mind flashed back to the last time he’d kissed her like this – just before she’d run off with Brother to go hunting for the airship on the trip that introduced her to Tidus. It felt like nothing had changed from that moment to this one. She still fit perfectly in his arms and he took advantage of her position to pull her closer to him. He never wanted to let her go.

Of course, one must always let go and Gippal’s time to release her came when Yuna barged into their quiet little world, obviously not realizing she was interrupting something as she said, “Rikku, I’ve been looking all over for y…” Rikku and Gippal pulled away quickly, color flushing the former’s cheeks as Yuna gave a half smile and said, “Sorry to interrupt.”

Gippal smirked at Yuna and then Rikku, “I’ll just leave you two ladies to chat.” He said as he rose from his chair.

Yuna shook her head, “No need. Rikku just wanted me to give her an update when I knew how he was.”

“How is he doing?” asked Rikku.

Yuna sighed, “Well, he’s out of surgery now. They’ve got him recuperating.” Yuna took a seat near the two blondes and continued, “They said that the cure spells I cast on him are the only reason he’s even still alive…”

Rikku patted her cousin’s shoulder, “Do they think he’ll be okay?”

“They don’t know yet,” replied Yuna, “but I hope so.”

Gippal sat back and listened to the girls discuss the intricacies of Shuyin’s surgeries. He was really surprised that he had survived, but then again Shuyin had come back from the dead so it really shouldn’t have surprised Gippal at all about the guy’s longevity. Plus, those curaga spells from Yuna were powerful. Gippal was alive today because of them.

“The doctor’s say that his brainwaves are strong. I think that’s a good sign.” Yuna was saying when Gippal decided to pay complete attention to the conversation again.

Gippal shuddered a little, “Brain waves…?” he repeated, “That’s my cue to exit…”

“Why?” asked Rikku, grinning up at him with shining green eyes.

He kissed the tip of her nose, “Makes me uncomfortable.” He turned to Yuna, “Have you seen Nooj?”

“He was still using your phone when I came out of Shuyin’s room.”

Gippal nodded in understanding and left the girls to talk about whatever girlish things they talked about. However, he was pretty certain that Rikku would be the one doing girlish talking and Yuna would be pouting over Shuyin. He truly didn’t get her. She seemed more concerned about Shuyin surviving. It was like she couldn’t care less whether Tidus lived or died. Wasn’t Tidus supposed to be her boyfriend? He shook his head as he made his way to Nooj.

It wasn’t any of his business anyway.

Nooj turned at the sound of Gippal’s approach and his friend had to fight back a shocked gasp. Nooj looked like he’d aged 100 years in the few hours since they’d spoken. Dark circles lined his blood-shot eyes. His hair was hanging limp around his face and his mouth was pursed in a line of concentration. Nooj’s voice cracked as he spoke, “How is it possible that no one has seen her?” he asked Gippal, heaving a heavy sigh, “I called everybody I know, and you know that I know a lot of people! Lucil, Elma, and Clasko promised to keep a lookout, but nobody has seen her. How is that possible?!”

“I’m sure someone will find her.” Replied Gippal, unwilling to tell Nooj that LeBlanc was probably already dead.

Nooj slumped dejectedly onto the floor and let the phone slip from his fingers to the linoleum, “Why is this happening to us…?”

“I wish I could answer that for you, but I can’t.” Gippal responded, sliding to the floor next to Nooj and putting a comforting arm over his shoulder.

Nooj inhaled weakly, “It’s like someone is trying to rip us away from the people we care about.” He whispered, putting his face in his hands and letting a few tears fall from his eyes, “Tidus and Yuna…, me and LeBlanc…, Baralai…, Paine…” Nooj pulled his head up slowly and looked at Gippal, “Am I imagining it or is their some sort of conspira…” he paused and looked inquisitively at Gippal’s mouth before his eyes flickered up to meet Gippal’s gaze, “Are you wearing lipstick?” he asked.

Gippal quickly raised his hand to his lips and wiped, grinning as he did so, “You were saying…?”

Nooj gave him a small smile, “It’s about damn time, buddy.” He said quietly, a sad look in his eyes.

“This isn’t the time to talk about me and Rikku. Finish what you were saying.”

Nooj ran his good hand through his hair, pushing stray strands from his eyes, “Promise me something.”

“Anything.”

“Don’t let Rikku out of your sight.”

“What? Why?”

Nooj grew serious, his tone low, “Doesn’t it seem like someone is trying to tear all of us apart?”

“You’re being paranoid. We’ve just had a run of bad luck.”

“You’re right. That’s probably all it is.” Replied Nooj, “But nonetheless, I don’t want you to feel what I’m feeling right now. I feel helpless and pathetic. I can’t do anything to save her and I feel like less than a man right now.” He stopped and frowned, “I love her and I don’t want to admit what my head already knows…”

“Nooj…”

“I know in my head that she’s dead, Gippal. There’s no need to sugar coat it. I just…” he whispered, “I just want to hope for a little longer.”

000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000

Darkness was engulfing him and he fought his way to the surface, knowing he was dreaming but not entirely sure why. He didn’t really remember what happened. Things were foggy and dreamlike. He just remembered this feeling of pain shoot through him and fear that he’d never see her smiling eyes again.

Then he was here…

Wherever here was…

He walked through the darkness, arms outstretched to halt his movements should he come across a wall. He listened intently for any sounds that would give away his location, but there were none. It was silent. Deadly silent.

“Hello…!” he shouted.

“Hello…” came the response and Shuyin whirled around to find the person who had spoken but he couldn’t see anything in the blackness.

“Who’s there?” this time no one answered and Shuyin began to think he had just imagined the entire thing. With everything that had been happening, a weird dream was not outside of the realm of possibility.

He started walking again, figuring that it was better than standing and doing nothing. The surface beneath his feet wasn’t telling him where he was. It felt like any other surface. He continued to walk. He began to think that maybe if he walked far enough he’d figure out a way to get out of this psycho dream and back to reality.

Then he paused…

What if it wasn’t a dream? What if he was dead and this was his home for all of eternity? He’d heard that there was a dark place in the Farplane where only the most evil of Spirans went to spend eternity. Was this that place?

He heard a soft laugh from just ahead and broke into a run, “Who’s there?” he shouted, “Where am I?”

A shadowed figure became visible just ahead of him and with him, a small flicker of light. Shuyin made his way tentatively toward the figure, “Who are you?”

When the figure turned to him, his face was covered in blackness, but Shuyin saw that he dressed similar to the way he had during his life in Zanarkand. The figure took another step toward him, “You know who I am…”

“Tidus…?”

The figure scoffed, “He’s not allowed here. This is our place. You created it for us. You were here recently, remember?”

Shuyin did remember a dark place he had been just before Ultimecia had awoken him. So this was that place? However, he certainly didn’t remember this strange shadow that was there now.

“You do remember…I can tell.”

“I don’t remember you, though.”

The shadowed figure didn’t say anything. Instead, he motioned with his hand for Shuyin to follow him. The blonde tentatively did so, feeling his hands trembling as he held them firm at his side. This place seemed so familiar to him, and yet Shuyin felt nothing but fear as he walked passed the shadowed figure. Light began to engulf him; bright white light and Shuyin heard the sound of footsteps.

Loud footsteps…

Coming closer…

Suddenly Shuyin found himself standing before the colossus, Vegnagun, like he had done so long ago. Lenne was by his side, staring pleadingly into his eyes. Shuyin turned sideways and saw the barrels of the guns facing them. He panicked, not sure if he was dreaming, and tried to move Lenne from the line of fire but found himself unable to move. Everything seemed to be in slow motion as he heard the sound of the gunshots and felt Lenne being ripped from his arms. He heard her scream and felt his own leaving his throat and then everything went black.

“She’s not breathing…” came a whisper that sounded much like the shadowed figure. Shuyin realized that he was squeezing his eyes shut and carefully opened them. He was back in the dark place and he looked at the figure again, “Neither of them are…”

Shuyin raised a questioning eyebrow at what the figure was talking about when he pointed toward a section of the darkened place that was slightly lit. Shuyin rose to his feet and slowly made his way toward the figure that was partially revealed in the light. Dark blond hair came into view first, head sprawled at an odd angle. Another head was nearby, a hole straight through the forehead. Shuyin gasped and took a hobbled step backward.

“All…” he panted, feeling panic taking over as he tried to force himself to calm down, “This is just a dream…” he said to himself, “Allyn and Reiber are dead…have been dead…this is all in my head…”

“Of course it is.” The figure replied with the hint of a smile in his voice.

Shuyin turned, “Who are you?”

“You were so lonely…all by yourself…” the other said in a whisper, “You were angry too…furious at losing everything you’d worked to get your whole life.”

“I know that.” Snapped Shuyin, “I know that!”

“Didn’t you ever wonder how you could have done all those horrible things you’ve done?” the shadow asked, “Didn’t you wonder how you could have killed the Crimson Squad, or tried to use Vegnagun, or slaughter Baralai in cold blood…?”

Shuyin felt himself tremble and backed away. He wanted to get away from the bodies that lay next to his feet as if it were 1000 years before. The shadow followed him, silently beckoning his answer. He had never really thought about it before. He never questioned why he did the things he did. He just did them. It was almost like he had no real control but he knew what was going on. He felt nothing but remorse for his actions, but at the time they seemed like the logical thing to do. His blue eyes fixed on the faceless being before him, “No…I never wondered…” he replied, “I just…I’m evil, I guess.”

“No you’re not…” came the reply, “I am…”

000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000

“Home sweet home.” Said Rikku, “At least for now…”

“This is only temporary.” Gippal replied as he followed her into the entryway of the town home in Luca where Nooj insisted they stay. Gippal was surprised to learn that his friend actually owned a house – much less in Luca – but it turned out it’d been in Nooj’s family for a while and his friend insisted that Gippal and Rikku make use out of it while he continued his search for LeBlanc and Yuna spent her time at the hospital. Gippal had to admit that he was grateful for the opportunity to sleep in a real bed and not on hard hospital chairs.

Rikku sighed and plopped down on the sofa, “Well, I don’t care how long we’re here. I’m just glad to be out of that hospital. I just hated it there. Nothing but death…”

“Yeah.” Gippal agreed, sitting next to her.

Rikku grinned and twisted in her spot, lifting her legs to rest over his and placing her arms around his neck, “Kiss me…”

Gippal was more than happy to comply as he leaned down and pressed his warm lips to hers. She responded eagerly, trailing her fingers through his hair and pulling him closer to her. He tilted her until his torso was covering her on the sofa. Rikku moaned in his mouth a little and squirmed until found himself cradled between her thighs. Regretfully, reality returned and Gippal forced himself to retract back onto his knees, “I think we’re going a little fast, don’t you?”

“Fast?” asked Rikku, “We’ve been wanting to do this for, like, two years now.”

Gippal was silent for a minute. He wasn’t sure what to say. The girl did have a point. And she looked so damn sexy…

“Too fast.” Stated Gippal again, more firmly this time. He grinned at her, “Don’t get me wrong, I love kissing you but I think we should slow down the Couch Olympics a little bit.”

Rikku pouted, “Just a few months ago you wanted to get in my pants in the girls restroom and now you want to slow things down…”

“I was not trying to screw you in the girl’s rest room!” cried Gippal with a mischievous grin on his face, “I didn’t even realize where we were…”

Rikku rolled her eyes, “Likely story.” She teased, rising up to kiss him again.

Gippal felt himself getting swept away and before the desire to be a good man vanished all together, he pulled away from her and stood up, “Too fast…” he said, shaking his finger at her in a mock scolding. He ran a hand through his hair and straightened his shirt, “I’m gonna go out for a little bit. There’s something I want to look into.”

“Want me to come with you?”

“No,” he replied, “Stay here and stay safe. I won’t be long. I just want to run to the library.”

Rikku raised an eyebrow, “The library? You can’t read…”

He rolled his eyes at her, “Yes I can. I just don’t usually exercise the skill. That doesn’t make me illiterate…”

She giggled, “You know what I meant…”

“Yes I do.” He said, kissing her swiftly, “I’ll be back in about an hour or so.”

“I love you…” she whispered in his ear as he pulled away from her.

He smiled back at her, “I love you too…”

Her excited giggle was enough to make him laugh out loud as he waved goodbye to her and exited the front door. The Luca Library was two blocks to the east of the town home they were staying in and Gippal made it within twenty minutes. Rikku had been right about Seymour having said a lot of things, but Gippal really believed that one thing Seymour had said had unwittingly given Gippal a clue into what was wrong with Tidus.

And with that in mind, Gippal meandered over to the reference section of the library.

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AUTHOR’S NOTES:

Did you guys figure it out yet? Still stumped? Don’t worry, if you are Gippal’s research will be revealed in the next chapter and it’ll all be out in the open. But if you’re interested in giant hint…the lyrics to Evanescence’s “Hello” are below. I’m sure you’ll figure out where I’m going if you read them so don’t read if you want to be surprised.

Hello

By Evanescence

Playground school bell rings again

Rain clouds come to play again

Has no one told you she's not breathing?

Hello I'm your mind giving you someone to talk to

Hello

If I smile and don't believe

Soon I know I'll wake from this dream

Don't try to fix me I'm not broken

Hello I'm the lie living for you so you can hide

Don't cry

Suddenly I know I’m not sleeping

Hello I’m still here

All that's left of yesterday

Author's Notes: Gippal's theory on Shuyin's behavior is revealed in this chapter. Will he be right? Who knows…? I do not own any information that Gippal brings with him in his theory. Also, no offense is meant just in case this theory hits home with anybody.

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

Chapter Thirty: The Squeeze

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

She was waiting impatiently at the designated meeting place for Seymour's arrival. He was late and she didn't like that. There was simply no excuse for it. He had one simple task to accomplish and – being the psychotic man that he was – it shouldn't have been that difficult to do. It had taken her practically all morning to sneak away from Squall and his roaming band of dream-creatures long enough for the private interlude with Seymour. She had actually thought they'd show a little more emotion about Seifer's Farplane incident than they did, but the only one who had shed a tear was Quistis, and even then it had only been one tear.

She stomped her foot impatiently and continued to pace back and forth. If it wasn't for the fact that she needed him to complete her plans, she would have just killed him then and there. Sent him back to the Farplane where he belonged.

She saw his blue hair before she saw the rest of him as he came up the hill in front of her. She scowled at him, "Took you long enough."

"Don't start with me." He snapped back, massaging a fresh scratch on his cheek, "She's a hell-cat and you should be giving me more than you are for having to deal with her."

"And did you deal with her?"

"Yes. The job is done."

"Good." She stated, feeling a weight lift from her shoulders. Step one was accomplished. Step two would be much easier and step three – simple. Soon her plans would come to fruition and her beloved Squall would be in her arms again. She looked at Seymour, "The next step won't be as difficult."

Seymour shook his head, smirking, "Next step? I don't think so. I'm done with you."

"Excuse me?!" she fairly shrieked, stepping toward him and hissing, "If you don't help me, the deal is off and you'll never find your wife."

"I know where she is." Stated Seymour simply, a sly smile on his face, "She caught me with LeBlanc. She was with her lover too, although it wasn't her lover. It was that Shuyin wearing his skin." Seymour shrugged, "I think I made a lasting impression on him…"

Rinoa narrowed her eyes, "What did you do?"

"It's what he did to provoke me. The bastard tried to kill me, so I shoved his sword through his stomach." Seymour paused, feigning a look of nervous upset, "You aren't…upset, are you Ultimecia?"

She shrugged, "It doesn't matter to me. He was supposed to help me and then went all noble. That's the only reason you're here. I was going to have to kill him eventually anyway. You just saved me the bother."

"Glad to be of service, m'lady, but I really must be going. I'm sure my darling wife will need comforting when her lover dies…if he's not dead already."

"You're not going anywhere." The sorceress before him stated, her eyes forming a glare that would have killed him if he wasn't already dead.

"And why not? The deal was that after I helped you, you'd give Yuna to me. I already know where she is. Now I don't have to help you."

"I think you're forgetting something."

"What?"

"I brought you back to Spira." The woman replied, "I can send you away again. You're not alive, no matter what you think. Yuna can still just send you and considering the lack of love between the two of you, I think she'd do just that especially if Tidus dies."

Seymour was silent and it was obvious that what she said was making sense to him. It was the truth – what she knew of the truth since she hadn't spoken anything resembling it in over 1000 years. The blue haired man was pensive for a moment and then frowned, "Fine…I see your point." He admitted, "What do you want me to do?"

000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000

He was a little nervous. He knew she wasn't going to like his theory or the proof he had to back it up. It was, however, the only logical explanation for everything that was going on. So, with a knotted stomach, Gippal walked slowly into Shuyin's hospital room. Yuna was leaning her head upon his thigh. Her body was silently shaking and Gippal knew she was crying. For which man, he wasn't so sure anymore. But…he supposed that didn't really matter anymore with the information he was bringing her.

"Yuna…" he whispered.

Yuna's head shot up and she fixed her bloodshot eyes on his face. Wiping at a few stray tears that betrayed her upset, Yuna gave him a brave smile, "I thought you'd be with Rikku."

"There's something you and I need to talk about…can't wait."

"Okay." Yuna agreed, tenderly straightening the sheet cover the blonde blitzer before following Gippal out of the room.

Gippal wasn't sure where would be a good place to have this conversation, but since he wasn't sure of her reaction he thought a public location would be best. He chose the waiting area which was still relatively abandoned but out in the open enough to stop her from doing anything drastic if she became furious with him. He sat the books he had brought on the table in front of him as he sat across from Yuna on the hard sofas. He didn't quite know where to start, but figured the beginning was the best, "Do you remember what Seymour said to Shuyin…? About him having…issues?"

Yuna shrugged, "He implied that Shuyin was crazy…" she smirked a little, "Takes one to know one, I guess."

"So you think he's crazy too?"

Yuna seemed taken aback by his question and frowned, "He seems perfectly sane to me." She replied, sharply.

"Oh yeah," Gippal snapped back, "Sane people always go around killing and pretending to be other people."

"You don't know anything about it!" she shouted back at him.

"Why are you defending him?" asked Gippal, lowering his voice a little in the hopes that she'd do the same.

She did, and replied, "Why do you care? What is this all about anyway?"

Gippal thought for a moment that he should back out while the backing was good. Her reaction to just the mere suggestion was making him nervous, but he had come this far and he knew she deserved to know the truth. It might make all the difference. He reached forward and lifted the books from the table in front of him, "I went to the library today. What Seymour had said and Shuyin's behavior was really bothering me." He paused and made sure she was paying attention, "Psychology always interested me. If things had been different for Al Bhed, I might have wanted to study that."

"What do your interests have to do with Shuyin or Tidus?" Gippal didn't respond with words. Instead he handed her the two large texts that he held in his hands. Yuna lowered her eyes to gaze upon the titles and Gippal could see her spine stiffen. Her jaw set in an angry gaze and she lifted her eyes to glare at him, "Is this some kind of a sick joke?"

"No."

She slammed the books down on the table in a fury, "He is not insane!"

"It's not insanity." He replied, trying to calm her by keeping his words calm, "It is a mental condition that is perfectly understandable considering everything he's gone through."

"You're telling me that you think he's crazy!"

Gippal shrugged, "If you want to think about it like that then go ahead. I just want you to know what I think we're up against. It's perfectly curable and it's a hell of a lot better than the other things it could have been."

"Having…what was it…?" she asked, looking down at the books again, before glancing back at him, "Multiple Personality Disorder…that's better?!"

"It's curable."

"He's not crazy. He never has been and he never will be! He was just angry but he's better now and I won't listen to this anymore!"

Yuna rose to her feet in anger and tried to walk past Gippal, but he grabbed her wrist and turned her toward him, "It explains everything, Yuna! The sudden twists in behavior, wanting to be called by different names, the strange third person that spoke to us and then vanished just as quickly. Don't you get it? It's the only explanation! Shuyin is one personality. Tidus is another. And the third person is the final one. The third person is the evil one who is probably responsible for everything else!"

She sneered at him, "I liked psychology too, Gippal, and I recall one major factor that blows holes in this theory of yours." She stared at him confidently, "Sufferers do not remember what happened when the other personalities were in control. Shuyin remembers everything."

"I'm sure there's an explanation for that. The merger maybe…"

She rolled her eyes, "Face it. You don't have a leg to stand on."

"Yuna…I really think I'm right about this."

"Well, I think you're really wrong." She replied, pointing toward the exit, "I don't want you here. You'll only upset him if you go spouting off at the mouth when he wakes up. Just…leave."

"Fine." He said, "But think about what I said."

Yuna glared at the back of his head until Gippal was out the door and beyond her view. She plopped back onto the sofa and laid her face in her hands. What was Gippal's problem? Did he want to upset her? His theory made no sense at all. There was no way it was true. The fayth had told her that that Tidus was a dream and that Shuyin was the reality but the two began to merge blending that line together. That was why things were going haywire. It wasn't because of any mental condition. There was just no way it was true.

Her frown deepened when she realized Gippal had left the stupid books on the table in front of her. She had the overwhelming desire to throw them away and let Gippal deal with the library fines, but her hands grew a mind of their own and pulled the largest one into her lap.

"Symptoms of Multiple Personality Disorder." She read aloud, letting her eyes scan the pages, "Loss of Time/Blackouts."

FLASH

"What is my name, Tidus?" Yuna asked again as she took a step closer to him.

Tidus looked at her confused. He didn't know where he was for the second time that day. He looked at her in abject confusion, "Your name is Yuna." He replied, "And…uh…where are we?" he asked before dizziness overtook him and he passed out again.

FLASH

"Trance states/Talking to oneself."

FLASH

"You broke your hand…" Tidus muttered again, staring at his swelling hand questioningly. He squinted, "Did I…? Yes you did…"

FLASH

"Why'd you do that to Yuna?" was Tidus' next question to himself. He bit his lip until a little trail of blood wandered down his chin, "She deserved it. Don't think otherwise." He shook his head, "No, she didn't deserve it. Don't listen to that! She didn't deserve it."

FLASH

"Why didn't you finish her off? It's her fault things are like this? You should have finished her off." Tidus hissed, his breathing starting to get heavy and labored. Yuna's hackles rose when he said that. He had meant to kill her. She wasn't wrong about that. She felt Rikku grip her wrist tightly and she realized her cousin knew it too. Tidus started panting, "I…I…I love her…" he said between breaths, "No you don't! She doesn't deserve it. Look what she did! It's her fault things are like this for us."

FLASH

"Stop talking to me. Leave me alone!" he muttered, tears starting to flow from his eyes, "You already are alone. She doesn't love you. She never did. Nobody loves you. You're nothing but a crybaby!" he wiped furiously at his face, "You're not a crybaby! Don't listen to that! Sit up and be strong!"

FLASH

Tidus sat up suddenly, staring at her with imploring eyes, "Help me…" he begged, reaching with his good hand for her but pulling it away just as suddenly, "Don't ask her for help!" he shouted to himself, scooting backward on the bed until he was flush against the headboard, "She's just a stupid bitch!"

FLASH

"GET OUT OF MY HEAD!!!" Tidus suddenly shrieked, pulling at his hair violently with his good hand. He slammed his head against the headboard violently, cursing under his breath and shouting incoherent sentences, "Will you calm down?! We've gotta work together to get out of this." He said, taking a breath, "Just stay calm and it'll be fine. It got to me too. Just keep fighting and it'll be okay."

FLASH

"Insistence on referring to oneself by a different name."

FLASH

Nooj smiled a little and then connected eyes with Shuyin, "Which one are you today?"

"Shuyin..." he replied quietly, "but I'm undercover as Tidus."

FLASH

"Who are you?!"

"Shutup Tidus!" shouted Shuyin, smacking himself in the head as if the taunting voice would vanish with that maneuver.

Yuna took another step back, "Where is he? What did you do to him…Shuyin?"

FLASH

"What is the matter with you? What did I do, Tidus?!"

His lips curled up in a devilish smile, "Tidus is sleeping…"

"No…" she whispered, "This isn't happening…not again."

The glint in the blitzer's eyes made Yuna shiver, "Oh but it is…"

"Why are you doing this Shuyin?" she demanded, just now noticing that Gippal had gotten the bat Barkeep always kept beneath the bar.

The blitzer grinned at her even broader, "He's asleep too…" he replied just before Gippal slammed the bat into his head, knocking him out.

FLASH

"Forgetfulness…"

FLASH

"Can you do the Jecht Shot for me?"

Her fears could be thrown out the window if Tidus successfully performed that shot. She wouldn't have to worry anymore. Her worries and sudden suspicions could be forgotten. She waited for Tidus to suddenly smile with the confidence she was used to seeing, but instead he got a confused look on his face.

It was almost as if he didn't know what she was talking about…

"Jecht Shot?"

Yuna thought for sure her heart stopped. She had died right there, she was sure of it. The man treading water in front of her wasn't Tidus. She was sure of it now. He wasn't Tidus…

But…no. He had to be Tidus. Who else would he be? He had Tidus' pear shaped birthmark on his hip. He had Tidus' goofy smile. Tidus was just having an off day. That's why he didn't know what she was talking about.

Right???

"Nevermind." Yuna said, "It's not important.

FLASH

Yuna slammed the book shut with a shaky hand. She forced herself to breath calmly and think rational thoughts. It was just a coincidence. It was those coincidences that caused Gippal to believe the nonsense. It just wasn't true. There was no way!

Right…?

000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000

Squall stretched out on the bed, staring at the ceiling. He wondered where Rinoa had gotten to. He didn't like her being out of his sight with everything that was going on. That Wakka guy was going on and on about some Seymour person being back. Squall got the gist that Seymour was bad news. He offered his services to Wakka and the other Besaid residents, but they didn't want to take him up on it. Wakka said they dealt with Seymour once and they'd do it again – so that was the end of the conversation. Then they'd found out about Seifer and Rinoa had seemed…odd about the whole thing. Squall didn't believe her tears and upset were true, but why fake it? He certainly hadn't been upset about it. Was Rinoa using it as an excuse to get away from him?

He rolled onto his side and saw a figure move in the darkness. He jumped, reaching for his gunblade when he recognized the curvaceous body of Rinoa, smiling down at him, "Jumpy, aren't we?" she teased, leaning down and running her tongue along his ear.

Squall released the gunblade and nodded, "Where were you?" he asked.

"I had to be alone for a while." She replied, sitting down next to him on the bed, her hand creeping down his chest, "But I'm back."

He let a small smile for on his features as she leaned in to kiss him gently. He felt her hand sliding down along his thigh to his knee, working its way back up gently, "What are you doing…?" he asked her, between breathless kisses.

"Seymour's dealt with a hellcat already tonight…" she whispered, "…He doesn't want to deal with a lion…"

Squall's eyes widened, "Wha…?"

Rinoa's eyes glowed with a fiery purpose as her hand closed over him and squeezed…

Hard…

Squall let out a cry which she quickly muffled with her mouth, whispering against it, "I need you to be silent, my little lion." She hissed, squeezing harder until she saw tears forming in his eyes, "I'm sorry to do this to you, but you'd fight me if I tried to take you any other way. You're too stubborn to fall to my spells without being weakened first." Squall let out another muffled shriek as she squeezed one final time and the whispered against his temple, "Sleep…" to which he could do nothing but comply…

Author's Notes: I'm winding this story down. It should be finished within two (possibly three) more chapters. I'm outlining a new story that I hope to begin on as soon as this one is complete. Thanks to all my reviewers!

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

Chapter Thirty-Two: The Beginning Of The End

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

Rikku was awakened from her mid-day nap on the sofa by a slamming door and muffled cursing. She languidly rose from her perch and went to investigate, finding Gippal glaring at the wall in the entryway of the small house, muttering about Yuna's stupidity under his breath.

She frowned, "Why are you talking about Yunie like that?"

He seemed surprised to see her and guiltily ran a hand through his hair, "She and I just had an argument, that's all. Don't worry about it."

"What did you fight about?" she pressed as he tried to walk around her. Her hand grabbed at his wrist but missed as he twisted to keep her from touching him.

"It's not important."

"Obviously it is," she insisted, "because you wouldn't have fought otherwise."

She could see that he saw the wisdom of her words and shrugged, wandering aimlessly toward the living room she had just vacated and lowering himself into the nearby chair, "She just didn't like my theory. That's all." He sighed, "I can see her point. It really doesn't make much sense when you think about it."

Rikku knelt down in front of Gippal and lay her head on his knee, gazing up at him adoringly, "Does this have to do with you going to the library?"

"I always liked psychology…" he muttered, not really answering her question, "And when I really thought about everything, it started to make a lot of sense to me."

"What made sense?"

Gippal ran his index finger along her jaw line, smiling at her, "You're so beautiful…"

She grinned and then stared at him accusingly, "You're changing the subject, mister."

"I know." He replied with a smirk. Gippal hooked his arms under hers and lifted her onto his lap, firmly wrapping his arms around her waist once she was seated. He kissed the tip of her nose, then her lips, "I told Yuna that I think Tidus has multiple personalities."

"What?!" shrieked Rikku, pulling away and staring into his eyes. She couldn't believe he'd just come right out and say that to anybody but especially to Yuna. He had to know how she'd react to it. She leaned in, "Why'd you do that?"

"Because, that's what I think his problem is. There's really no other explanation that makes any sense."

"What about the merger?"

"What about it?" Gippal asked her, "If it was the merger, don't you think he would have merged by now?"

"So you're saying the fayth lied to Yuna…to all of us?"

"Everyone else related to Yevon lied," stated Gippal, "What makes the fayth so special?"

Rikku didn't quite know what to say to that. He was right. She had never been a firm believer in the faith due to her upbringing as an Al Bhed, but she had known enough to be shocked when everything turned out to be a lie. She remembered the look in Yuna's eyes when her beliefs turned out to be nothing but lies. She couldn't believe the fayth would knowingly shatter Yuna's belief in them as well. They just couldn't do something so heartless.

"Why would the fayth lie?"

"Why wouldn't they?" retorted Gippal, "I mean, Rikku, think about it. Would Yuna have really fought Shuyin all these times if she knew it was Tidus?"

"No…"

"Exactly. The fayth had to lie in order to get her to protect Spira again. I mean, the fayth never would have told her that Tidus was a dream and that he was going to vanish. Tidus is the one that told her! The fayth would have kept it a secret so that she'd fight."

Rikku nodded, "You're right. You're absolutely right."

"And I think Paine was onto it."

"What?"

Gippal sighed, "Some Besaid residents told me that they saw Seifer leaving the Chamber of the Fayth in the Besaid Temple muttering to himself. He seemed really distracted. Paine was last seen with him and they both left in a hurry."

"…and went to the Farplane…" Rikku whispered the finish to his thought.

Gippal nodded, and patted her thigh gently, "Exactly. Why would they do that? It doesn't make sense…unless there was something they needed to ask the fayth."

"I wish we could know for sure." Rikku said in a whisper, laying her head on Gippal's shoulder, "I wish she was still alive…"

"Me too…"

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

"You're evil…?" Shuyin repeated to the shadowed figure that he knew instinctively was staring at him though he couldn't see his face.

"Of course. I have to be in order to do the things you created me to do."

Shuyin swallowed hard, "What things…?"

"Killing the Crimson Squad…, possessing Nooj and Baralai…, destroying Spira with Vegnagun…, changing Yuna back to Lenne…, killing Baralai…, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera…"

"Get away from me!!" Shuyin shouted, backing away from the figure before him. This had to be some sort of a sick dream. It just had to be. There was no way that any of this was true.

"Why are you acting like this, Shuyin?" the figure asked, "I'm freeing you from your guilt. You didn't do any of this. I did it. I thought you'd be happy."

"Who are you?"

"Whoever you want me to be." Came the reply, "You created me, but you never named me. I was just there to do your bidding. I came out when you were too scared to. I did the things you wanted to do but didn't have the guts."

"I didn't make you…"

The shadow continued to stare at him, taking steps toward him slowly and deliberately, "Yes you did. Your anger and guilt created me. I even remember the first words that I heard you say… 'I'll make them pay, Lennie. They'll regret what they've done to us.'"

Shuyin stumbled backward, letting out a startled cry as he did so. The figure seemed unfazed as he stepped closer, reaching a hand out for him, "Come with me, Shuyin. Your second chance is in shambles because of him. Come with me, and we'll erase him completely. It'll be like he never existed."

"Who…?"

"Tidus…"

Shuyin didn't move as the figure touched his hand. It was a cold shock that went through him and yet Shuyin didn't move. It all was Tidus' fault. If Tidus didn't exist then he'd truly have his second chance. He wouldn't be living until Tidus came back. He'd have Yuna all to himself – his precious Lennie – and there would be nothing and no one to take her away from him. She'd love him again. He'd see to that. All he needed to do was go with this figure that seemed so familiar and yet so alien to him. Tidus would be gone. Yuna would never know the difference…

"Shuyin!"

Shuyin's mind was ripped from its reverie as he heard the shout of his name. He turned his head and was blinded by a bright light forming just beyond the darkness, "Tidus…?"

"Ignore him!" the figure demanded, gripping his wrist harder, "Come with me…he'll only take everything away from you."

Tidus was running toward him, extending his hand, "Come with me." He called, "Don't go with him. He'll just destroy us both!"

"He'll destroy you!" the figure shouted, pulling Shuyin into a standing position and pulling him deeper into the darkness.

"Think of Yuna!" shouted Tidus, "Don't do this!"

Shuyin stopped. If he went with the shadow, he'd be rid of Tidus, but Yuna would never forgive him. He couldn't convince himself otherwise. If he went with Tidus, at least he'd have a few moments with Yuna before Tidus took over again. He'd be able to say goodbye. He wouldn't have the overwhelming guilt that he'd had for over 1000 years. He'd be doing the noble thing for once.

Shuyin wrenched his hand away from the shadow and took off in a run. He heard the shadow screaming obscenities from behind him but he kept running. Tidus was waving him closer and closer to the light. Shuyin reached out, and accepted Tidus' hand.

Sunlight shone in his eyes as he slowly lifted his lids. Yuna's smiling face was looking down at him. She gripped his hand and kissed it gently, "Good morning, sleepyhead."

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

"One…two…three!" the trio of Guado called out unanimously as the final boulders blocking the entrance to the Farplane were removed. Tromell watched, waiting until the entrance was clear to rally together with the other Guado.

"Now we can see what the damage is." He said, a hint of sadness in his voice. Just the thought of damage to the Farplane upset him. Even though the Guado were powerful when he came to the preservation of the Farplane, there was only so much their race could do. He dreaded seeing the results of the implosion. It would tear him up to have to ban visitors, but if the Farplane was no longer safe for the living, he'd have to do just that. He couldn't risk allowing those who wanted to visit passed relatives, come to require the Farplane themselves.

He told the trio behind him that he wanted to enter by himself first, and if he deemed it safe he'd call for them. He didn't want to risk more lives than necessary until he was certain all was safe.

The main hall leading to the Farplane was relatively undamaged. The only evidence of the implosion were the charred walls that lined the formerly immaculate entrance. The stairs leading to the entrance were also charred, but withstood his weight easily, giving him hope for the rest of the Farplane.

The doorway's force field was still working, but seemed to lack some of the power it had before. Tromell quietly muttered a few words to strengthen the spell over it, and then peered closer. Rocks barred the path from the inside, but it didn't look like anything he couldn't handle himself.

Bracing his feet firmly on the ground, Tromell pushed his hands through the doorway and pushed against the largest of the boulders. It budged slightly, so he increased his efforts and to his surprise, found it moving easily away. It was almost as if he'd gained quite a bit of strength in his old age. He repeated the effort with the next boulder and it moved just as quickly, as did the last one. Taking a deep breath, Tromell stepped through the portal and onto the rock surface of the Farplane.

Then he screamed…

"Shut up, old man. You're giving me a headache!" spat a tall blonde man with a scar.

An attractive girl with gray hair slapped him, "Be nice. I'm sure he's shocked to see us."

Tromell stared, mouth agape, pointing and trembling. It was Yuna's two friends who had been assumed dead in the implosion. He noticed the man's muscles and suddenly realized why the boulders moved so easily. Seifer had been helping from his side of the blockade.

Paine stepped toward Tromell who promptly stepped back. If these two were back, then they must be like Lord Seymour, he reasoned with himself. That frightened him beyond reason. Paine appeared unconcerned with his fear as she stepped another pace closer to him, "Listen, Tromell. You need to tell me where Yuna is. It's imperative that I speak with her."

"I…i…if..thi…this…is about…L…Lord Seymour." Tromell stammered, "She already knows…"

Paine's eyes flashed, "Where is she?"

"P..probably at the h..hospital."

"Why?" asked Seifer.

"Seymour didn't hurt her, did he?" demanded Paine, both closing in on Tromell.

"N…no." replied Tromell, shaking his head, "He k…kill…killed, er…tried to…Tidus."

"He tried to kill Tidus?!" Paine turned to look at Seifer, "We've got to get out of here."

Tromell took a deep breath, "How did you survive?" he asked, managing to control his stutters.

"Don't worry about it, old man." Snapped Seifer, trying to pull Paine along with him, but the woman refused.

"Seifer, he deserves an explanation." Paine hissed, pulling her arm away from him and looking back to Tromell, "A friend of ours…Baralai…pulled us into the Farplane Glen with him during the implosion. We only just left because we weren't sure of the damage out here. We were spared due to Baralai's quick thinking, but that's also when we came to know that Seymour had been freed. And that Tidus…" she sighed, "Well, one problem at a time."

"Come on! This century, please Paine!" shouted Seifer, impatiently.

Paine nodded, "Coming."

"Wait!" called Tromell, halting the two in their steps, "Everyone thinks you're dead. You'll be raising quite a few eyebrows and might even be warning Seymour. He might do something drastic if he feels threatened."

"You're right…what do you suggest?" asked Paine.

Tromell thought for a moment and then grinned, "Come with me. I think I have an idea."

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

He didn't like being blackmailed into helping her, but Seymour had to admit that the woman did have a point. He had to be alive before he could confront his bride. Otherwise she'd just send him and he'd be right back where he started. He had to be more careful this time. He had to play things Ultimecia's way for a while. Then he'd be in control of his own destiny again, and he'd make Yuna pay for what she'd done.

The alleyway was dark as he waited. Even in the middle of the day, this alley was as dark as night and it was perfect for what he had in mind. He still found it humorous that Nooj believed he was a person with information on LeBlanc. He couldn't believe Nooj was that crazy with grief that he'd meet a perfect stranger in a dark alley while his girlfriend's captor was on the loose.

Well, Seymour supposed that it didn't matter. As long as Nooj showed up and didn't struggle too much he didn't care what Nooj thought or did. This was his last errand for Ultimecia and Seymour just wanted it to be an easy one.

He heard muffled footsteps behind him and quickly adjusted his hood to hide his blue hair. He didn't want to give Nooj any warning until he was ready to show himself and by then it'd be too late for escape.

"Are you the one who called me?" came Nooj's voice from behind Seymour. Although he hid it well, Seymour could sense the fear in Nooj's deep tones. It warmed his heart to know the man was terrified. He hadn't frightened people in a long time. He missed it.

Seymour didn't turn, but nodded in affirmation. He heard Nooj take another step toward him and knew that if he turned now, Seymour could grab him easily and without needing to take a step toward him, but he continued to wait. He didn't want to rush this.

"Do you really know where LeBlanc is?"

Seymour nodded again, and he heard Nooj approach again, another step and then another. Nooj was just a few inches away from his back at this point.

"Where?"

"Do you really want to know that?" Seymour asked, turning around and displaying a wicked smirk. Nooj gasped, stumbling back and dropping his cane as he did so. Seymour didn't have to move quickly to catch up with the man. He gripped his hair firmly in his hand and pulled him back against his chest, "No running away, Nooj. Don't you want to be with LeBlanc again?" he asked, smirking broadly as he pulled Nooj further down the darkened alley.

The brunette struggled, but Seymour was stronger and definitely more limber than the man he held in his arms. Without his cane, Nooj was nothing. He could barely move his mechanical arm and leg and his good side was held firmly in Seymour's grip. Seymour felt something jabbing into his leg, and reached down to retrieve Nooj's cell phone from his pocket, "Thanks!" he said with a smile, slipping the phone into his own pocket. Nooj bit down on Seymour's hand in retaliation but Seymour just laughed, "Your blonde friend stabbed me, remember? What makes you think a few teeth marks are going to do anything?"

The hideout Ultimecia had deemed worthy to host her diabolical plot was only a few yards away from the place he had decided to meet Nooj. He figured that the police would be too stupid to look for Nooj so close to the last place he was known to be. Besides, Zanarkand was abandoned anyway…

Why Ultimecia had insisted on having her hideout in the Zanarkand blitzball stadium ruins was beyond him. He figured she was just a big fan of the game. It didn't really matter to him anyway. He just wanted to get this over with. Nooj was really putting up a struggle and all Seymour wanted to do was kill him, but Ultimecia would have flipped out so he had to endure it.

With the struggling man, Seymour managed to make his way into the underbelly of the Zanarkand blitzball stadium and to the Chamber of the Fayth where Ultimecia was waiting. He heard Nooj gasp when he saw her, but the woman ignored him for the moment and focused on Seymour, "You can throw him into the room downstairs until I'm ready for him."

"Did you finish up everything on your end?"

"Yes, what do you think I'm stupid?!" she spat, glaring at Seymour and then smiling politely at Nooj before turning her attentions back to the blue haired man, "They'll just think that Squall and I vanished along with Nooj and LeBlanc. It'll be a mystery!" she said with a giggle, spinning around happily, "I just love this. It's been too long."

Seymour nodded, "I can agree with that." He said, tightening his grip on Nooj, "I'm gonna dump him downstairs, then we can finish up our discussion."

"Before you do that," Ultimecia said, "I want to ask Nooj something."

Seymour released his grip on Nooj's mouth and hissed, "Don't bother screaming. No one will hear you."

Ultimecia grinned at him, "Is that blitzer alive?"

"Yes." Replied Nooj.

"Pity…" said Ultimecia, frown.

Seymour sighed, "We'll deal with him later, Ultimecia."

"Yes we will. Now take Nooj downstairs."

Seymour nodded and did exactly that. He dragged Nooj into the underbelly of the chamber and stopped outside of a small door, reaching into his pocket with one hand to retrieve the key. Nooj struggled against him until his mouth was free, "You won't get away with this." He spat, "My friends will figure it out."

"Oh really?" Seymour replied with a smirk, "You mean, Yuna – whose just a bit distracted now. Or Tidus – whose just a little injured. Or maybe Rikku – whose as dumb as this door here."

"Gippal will figure it out. He's not stupid."

"No, he's not." Replied Seymour with a smile, "but he'll soon have his hands full. I've got some unfinished business with him."

"What are you going to do to Gippal?!"

"I'm not going to do anything." Seymour said, swinging the door open and throwing Nooj to the floor just inside, "Cid is."

The door slammed before he could hear Nooj's response but he didn't feel like he was missing something. He didn't care what inanity Nooj was going to blurt out in retort. Seymour dropped the key back into his pocket and retrieved the small phone he had stolen from Nooj. He glanced down Nooj's speed dial list until he came upon the name he wanted, and then listened as it rung…

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

Cid glared at the man, the deep scowl forming a crease on his face that seemed only to deepen with the lengthening time, "What did you say?" he asked, in heavy, angry tones.

"I saw your daughter and Gippal." The man replied, "They were at the hospital in Luca…kissing."

Cid struggled to maintain his composure as he asked, "Why were they at the hospital?"

"I believe Yuna's boyfriend was injured. I'm not sure to what extent, though sir."

Cid tried to focus on the fact that Yuna was hurting and that he should be doing the 'good uncle' thing and comforting her, but he couldn't help but remember what the little tramp had done to hurt Rikku. And then for Rikku to…

He snapped the pencil he was holding with one hand and glared up at the now trembling Al Bhed man. He was relatively certain that Bhaden wished he hadn't snitched on Rikku and Gippal now, but it was too late for that. Cid stood slowly, "You will speak of this to no one." He said, his words measured, "You will go back to your business and forget what you saw. I will handle it."

Bhaden didn't need to be told twice and he was gone before Cid had a chance to blink. This left Cid alone with his thoughts, and his anger. How dare Gippal use his daughter like that. How dare Rikku allow herself to be used by that…that liar.

Cid felt helpless to stop it. He hadn't been able to prove his belief that Gippal is the reason Home was attacked or any of his other theories. Without proof, Rikku wouldn't believe him. There had to be something.

The phone on his desk ran loud and clear, pulling him from his thoughts. His caller ID showed Nooj's number and he frowned. What did Nooj want? He lifted the receiver to his face, "What is it Nooj?"

"Do you want to know who lead the Guado to Home?"

The voice wasn't Nooj's but it did sound oddly familiar to Cid. He just couldn't place it. He did, however, desperately want the information, "Yes."

"Then talk to Tromell Guado. He worked for Seymour and knows who Seymour gave the job to."

Cid quickly scribbled down the name of his contact and then asked, "Who is this? How did you get Nooj's phone?"

His questions were answered by a dial tone.

He instantly thought of calling Yuna to tell her of the mysterious phone call. With LeBlanc's disappearance, the fact that someone else was using Nooj's phone would be a major concern, but he decided to wait for a while. He needed to find out what this Tromell man knew before he confronted Gippal with his accusations. Besides, Nooj probably just lent his phone to a friend. It was nothing to be concerned about.

Author's Notes: Okay, I know I said the story would be over in one chapter after this one, but I was wrong. So here’s how it’s going to work. This chapter is part one of the end. The next chapter (which I’m currently working on) is part two. The chapter after that will be the final chapter. Which brings me to another important piece of information. There will be TWO different endings to this story. I had these two in my head from the moment I started this story, and I figured that once I got to this point it’d be easy to choose between them, but it’s not. So therefore I will post both of them on the same day and you can read them both and decide which one you like best for yourselves. Sound good? Good! Thanks for your support and your reviews. I love you all!

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Chapter Thirty-Three: Awakenings, Reunions, And A Vengeful Al Bhed

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With Gippal’s ridiculous theory and the doctor’s less than enthusiastic outlook on his recovery, the fact that his blue eyes were gazing into hers gave Yuna a real reason to smile. He seemed a little confused, but she was expecting that. Without his prompting, Yuna explained everything that had happened – omitting Gippal’s outlandish theory. He leaned back onto his pillow and seemed to be digesting everything. She kissed his fingertips gently, “You’re gonna be just fine, Shu.”

He looked at her with almost a startled look but it was quickly gone. He gave her a weak smile, “I guess you saved my life, huh?”

“Yeah,” she replied with a light blush. She hated when people made a big deal over her actions. To her, she was just doing what anyone with her ability would do if they were put in her shoes, “I used Curaga on you several times. The doctors said that’s probably what kept you alive until we got you here. It also helped to heal the organs that were damaged.”

His eyes scanned the room and finally fixed on the window at the far side. The sun was shining through the blinds that were half opened to allow in the daylight. He took a deep breath, “When do you think I’ll be able to get out of here?”

“I don’t know.” Replied Yuna as she got to her feet, “I haven’t even told your doctor you’re awake. I’ll go do that now. The sooner we get you out of here, the better. We need to handle Seymour as soon as possible.”

He didn’t say much while the doctor probed him and poked him. He just allowed the examination, never once taking his eyes off of the window. Yuna began to notice that he seemed to be avoiding her gaze. She tried to convince herself that it was just her imagination, but when she stepped into his line of view for the fifth time and for the fifth time he looked away, she realized that it wasn’t a coincidence.

Something was wrong…

“You’re in surprisingly good shape, Mr. Rayor.” The doctor said, catching Yuna’s attention as he spoke, “I’d like you to stay for observation, though.”

“Do I have to do that?”

“No.”

“Then I’d like to leave. I’ve got some things that I need to take care of.”

The doctor frowned but nodded, “If you insist. Just don’t aggravate the wound. I’m surprised it healed as quickly as it did. Must be Lady Yuna’s magic that caused that.” The doctor smiled at Yuna, “I’ll have his release paperwork ready within the hour. I’ll need it filled out before we can let him go.”

Yuna nodded at the doctor as he walked out of the room. Blue eyes focused on her for the first time in over an hour, “Did you register me as Tidus Rayor?”

“Yes,” Yuna replied, “I figured there would be less questions asked. It would be a little strange to say that Shuyin Bacohl is currently inside the body of Tidus Rayor and they’ve been stabbed…” she giggled a little to herself, “It was hard enough explaining what happened without mentioning Seymour.”

“Why didn’t you mention him?”

“I didn’t want to start a panic.” She responded, sitting down on the mattress next to him, “Rikku’s already going on about flesh-eating zombies. I didn’t want the entire world to start thinking like that.”

“Understandable.” He replied, eyes focusing back onto the window.

Yuna frowned and scooted closer to him on the mattress, “Shuyin, are you angry with me?”

His eyes flickered over her face for a brief moment before going back to the window, “No.”

“Then what is it?”

“I’ve just got a lot on my mind.”

“Tell me. Maybe I can help.”

He shook his head, “No you can’t. I don’t even understand it myself.”

Yuna knew when to stop pressing for information. Shuyin was closed off to her for some reason and she’d have to be patient. He’d come to her when he was ready to talk. Until then, she’d have to just wait.

It certainly wasn’t going to be easy, though. Something was obviously bothering him, but instead of talking to her, he shut her out leaving her to assume that whatever it was involved her in some way.

Was he upset because she hadn’t told him about Seymour? Was he upset that she was – although only in name – married to the blue-haired devil?

She sighed and stood, “I’m going to go and see about your release papers. If you’re up to it, I’d like to go to Zanarkand and get the book I borrowed from Dona. I’m hoping it might explain why Seymour is back.”

He nodded, taking his eyes from the window long enough to ask, “Where are my clothes?”

Yuna had forgotten he was currently clad in a standard issue hospital gown. His clothes had been badly bloodied in the aftermath of his stabbing. Gippal had taken them to see about getting the stains out. She walked to the closet and pulled the spare clothes that Gippal had dropped off for Shuyin to use in lieu of them, “You’ll have to borrow these until we get the stains out of the others.” She replied, laying them at the foot of the bed, “Gippal’s a bit taller than you so they’ll probably be long, but they should be okay otherwise.”

“Thanks.” He replied softly. She could feel his eyes on her as she walked to the door and as she touched the knob he suddenly asked, “If Tidus never came back, would you be happy?”

She spun on her heels, eyes wide with shock, “What kind of question is that?”

“Just answer it.”

“I’d be heartbroken.” She said, honestly, putting a hand over her heart, “He and I may be having our problems, but I still love him.”

He smiled warmly, “I was hoping you’d say that.”

“Why? I mean…I thought…” she stopped, biting her lower lip as she did.

She stood frozen in place as he gently slid himself out of the bed, placing his feet firmly on the floor. He gripped the table for support as he rose slowly and stiffly. He shuffled toward her until he was mere inches from her. She could feel the heat radiating off of his body, his breath gently caressing her face. He trailed his fingers softly through her hair and along her cheek and jawline. Lips touched lips gently at first, and then more demanding as he pulled her body taut against his own. Yuna didn’t respond at first, but soon found it beyond her to deny him. His heart pounded in time with her own and she found herself caught up in the kiss.

Then suddenly his lips were gone from hers. She opened her eyes slowly to find him backing slowly back to the bed and sitting on the edge. His eyes seemed to probe into her and she suddenly felt as though he’d seen all of her secrets. For having wanted to avoid her for so long, he was certainly making up for lost time. His eyes flickered from her lips to her eyes several times before he whispered hoarsely, “Are you sure you love him?”

Yuna’s spine stiffened, “Of course I’m sure.”

He shrugged in a nonchalant way and leaned back on his elbows, “Okay.” He said, “Don’t you have some paperwork to fill out?”

Yuna frowned, but didn’t reply. She didn’t trust what she’d say. As angry as she was by his audacity, she was afraid that she’d unwillingly admit what he had been implying. It was a feeling she’d been trying to hide deep inside of herself for the past few months. She wasn’t about to admit it now. Once this mess was solved, Tidus would be back with her and this thing with Shuyin could stay buried.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

Clunky green hands and feet.

A big fake green head.

Paine stared dejectedly at Tromell’s “idea”. For some reason he thought a dime-store Guado costume would fool the people she and Seifer would have to pass on their way to Yuna. She desperately wanted to thank the man, but turn down his idea. However, the thought of tipping Seymour off frightened her. She couldn’t risk that mad-man doing something drastic.

And so she would suffer the costume. If only her counterpart was as diplomatic.

“You’ve got to be joking!” shrieked Seifer as he gawked into the mirror, “I look like fiend vomit!”

“Nobody will suspect you.” Tromell retorted, motioning toward the other costume in the corner, “Or would you rather go as a moogle?”

Seifer frowned in thought for a moment, “I suppose vomit isn’t too bad…”

“I thought so.”

Paine sighed and took the mask off to get a clearer view of Tromell, “Are you sure Yuna is at Luca hospital?”

“As far as I know. That’d be the closest hospital to take Tidus to. If she’s not there, you might want to check around Luca. I know Nooj has a town home there. They might be using that.”

“Lord Tromell…” came a sheepish voice from the doorway. A young Guado woman was standing there, ringing her large hands together in nervous consternation, “The Al Bhed leader, Cid, is here to see you, sir.”

Tromell nodded, “Tell him I’ll be with him in a few moments.”

The girl nodded and left the room. Paine slipped the mask back on, “I think we’d better get a move on. Cid will squeal if he sees us and that’ll just give Seymour a heads up.”

Seifer glared at the mask in his hands before sliding it over his head, “Let’s go. The faster I get out of this thing, the better.”

Tromell said his goodbyes to the duo of faux-Guado and then buzzed the young woman, “You can send him in, now.”

Cid sauntered into the room like he owned the place. Tromell wished that he was living in a larger home instead of the small three room house just northwest of Lord Seymour’s old home and LeBlanc’s current chateau. However, there was nothing he could do about it at the moment so he resigned himself to accepting the man’s less than impressed glances about the room. Tromell rose to greet his visitor, “What can I do for you today, Cid? You don’t usually come to Guadosalam.”

Cid snorted, “With good reason. You destroyed Home and killed my brethren.”

“Then why are you here?”

“Gots a question for you.” Cid replied, spinning the chair in front of Tromell’s desk and sitting down backward upon it. Tromell sat down in his own chair across from Cid and waited for Cid to speak. It didn’t take long, “I got a strange phone call earlier.”

“What does that have to do with me.”

“Well, I’m looking into finding out who’s behind the attack on Home. I know the Guado carried it out, and that Seymour came up with the idea, but there had to be someone who gave them directions to Home.”

Tromell’s hackles rose and he leaned back in his chair, “What do you want?”

“The person who called said you could tell me who it was that led the Guado to Home. Is that true?”

“Perhaps.” Replied Tromell. He was trying his best to be evasive in the hopes that Cid would give up. It wasn’t Gippal’s fault that Seymour had the Guado follow him. Gippal hadn’t done what Seymour had demanded. Only Tromell and Seymour knew about the order which meant that Seymour was the one who called Cid. Of course, Tromell couldn’t tell Cid that.

“Who was it?”

It was a direct question. Tromell’s first instinct was to lie, but then he’d have to come up with a name and when Cid went after that person, Tromell would have to deal with the guilt that came from framing an innocent person. Yet, if he told Cid the truth it would destroy Gippal’s life. Tromell didn’t know Gippal well, but he knew him enough to know that he was a good person and one of Nooj’s closest friends. Tromell swallowed hard, “I’m afraid that’s classified information.” He replied, hoping that would be enough.

It wasn’t.

Cid leaned in closer, tilting the chair up on its hind legs, “It was Gippal…wasn’t it?”

That was something Tromell wasn’t expecting. Cid had figured it out on his own. He didn’t know what to say. His mind was racing wildly. It wasn’t until Cid stood that he realized his chance to deny the accusation had passed him.

His silence had condemned Gippal.

Cid twisted the chair back to its original position, “Thanks for your time, Tromell. I found out all I needed to know.”

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

Nooj’s head was pounding, but he found strength enough to stand and try the door. It was locked just as he knew it would be, but it had been worth a try. The room was dark but he thought he could hear breathing, “Is anybody there?”

A small gasp, followed by some scuffling and the sound of chains connecting with the stone walls answered him. He saw a shadow move, “Noojie…?”

“LeBlanc!”

“Noojie!”

Nooj bounded toward the sound of her voice and fell to her knees before her, reaching out in the darkness to touch her hair and face. He pressed feverish kisses along her forehead and cheeks, “I was so worried…I thought…”

“Another guest for the party, I guess.”

Nooj spun to the sound of the voice and saw another shadow, “Who’s that?”

“Squall.”

“What are you doing here?”

Squall’s shadow shrugged in the darkness, “I don’t know. Rinoa brought me here. Psychotic bitch.”

“Rinoa?”

LeBlanc touched his arm gently, “She’s working with Seymour. Seymour brought me here under her orders. She got Squall and then Seymour, obviously, got you.”

Nooj felt the chains on her feet and wrists as he kissed her again and he frowned, “Are you chained up too, Squall?”

“Yep.”

How was he supposed to get them out when he was the only one not chained? He didn’t have a key or anything to pick a lock with. This wasn’t looking good. He asked, “Can you guys free yourselves?”

“Don’t you think we would have done already if we could?” snapped Squall. He growled in his throat, “Sorry, I’m just edgy right now.”

“Understandably.”

“So what do we do, Noojie? We can’t just sit here and wait for them to finish with us.”

Nooj nodded, “That’s true. I’m not sure what to do, though. I don’t have my cane and Seymour stole my phone. Even if he hadn’t, I doubt I’d get service down here. Shouting wouldn’t work.”

“So we’re stuck, then?” Squall stated, the chains clanging as he squirmed.

Nooj thought for a moment, “We can just wait until they come for us. They’ll need to untie you in order to move us. We’ll make our move then.”

“And if they just kill us without unchaining us?” questioned Squall.

“Let’s just hope that doesn’t happen.” Nooj replied. He could feel LeBlanc tremble against his elbow and he wanted to comfort her, but there was nothing he could say that would take the fear away. He was afraid too…

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO

Gippal sighed, “Are you sure, Wakka? Okay. Thanks.”

“What is it?” Rikku asked as Gippal hung up the telephone and collapsed on the sofa, “We can add Squall and Rinoa to the missing and presumed dead list.”

“Oh no…” Rikku wailed, sitting down next to Gippal and putting her head on his shoulder.

“And nobody has been able to get in touch with Nooj for the last three hours.” Continued Gippal, “So…”

“We don’t know for sure what happened. He might just be taking a well deserved rest.”

“Or Seymour got to him…”

Rikku frowned and pulled her knees to her chest, “This is freaking me out, Gippal.” She whispered, hoarsely, “It’s like Revenge of the Body Snatchers or something!”

Gippal smiled at her, “What is it with you and horror movies lately?” he asked, “Zombies? Body Snatchers? What’s next, Dracula?”

“Are you making fun of me?” she cried, feigning a wounded expression.

“Never m’lady!” joked Gippal.

“Good!” she announced triumphantly, curling up closer against his body. He wrapped a protective arm over her shoulders and she sighed contentedly. If things weren’t so messed up, life would have been perfect. But, it was as perfect as it could be at this point so she was willing to take what she could get.

A pounding at the door ruined the mood and Gippal removed his arm from Rikku and rose to answer it. He raised an eyebrow at the sight of two grotesque Guado staring past him and into the house, “If you’re planning to case the place, it’s usually done when the residents aren’t home.”

The smaller of the two Guado’s head shook in disagreement, raising the large hands to lift the head off. Gippal was about to let out a shriek when a familiar shock of gray hair caught his attention. The taller Guado did the same – but this time it was blonde that seemed familiar.

“OMIGOD!!!” came Rikku’s shout from just behind him as she shot passed him and jumped into Paine’s arms, embracing the girl in the tightest hug Gippal had ever seen in person. But just as quickly, Rikku pulled away and backed up to Gippal. She eyed Paine, “You’re not a flesh-eating zombie, are you?”

It was then Paine’s turn to eye her friend strangely, “What?”

“Ignore her.” Gippal said, reaching out to poke Paine’s arm, “I can’t believe this…”

“Believe it. You can thank Baralai for us not being burnt to crisps.”

Rikku asked, “What did Baralai do?”

“He pulled us into the Farplane Glen when everything started to explode around us,” Paine explained, “We waited out the situation down there.”

Seifer leaned against the doorframe, scowling he asked, “Can I get the fuck out of this suit or am I going to have to be a Guado forever?”

Without waiting for an answer, Seifer marched into the room and stripped out of his Guado costume in the middle of the floor. Gippal was eternally grateful he wore clothes under it. Otherwise that image might be scarred into his memory, and not in a good way.

“So, care to tell me why you went to the Farplane in the first place?” Gippal asked Paine once she had taken off her costume as well and was sitting across from him and Rikku.

“Well…” Paine began. It was an exceptionally long story, but she knew he needed to hear all of it. She explained about Seifer’s cryptic message from the fayth and their need to discuss things with their fayth, “He said the merger wasn’t real. That there never was a merger. Then we heard this strange chanting and Baralai pulled us into the Glen.”

“No merger?” whispered Gippal, “Then what’s going on?”

Rikku rolled her eyes, “What, already given up on your theory?”

Gippal opened his mouth to retort when Paine interrupted, “What theory?”

“Gippal thinks Tidus has multiple personalities!” she sighed, “Isn’t that stupid?”

“Not at all.” Paine replied, “It’s actually really close to what’s going on.”

“It is?!” cried Rikku, shock in every word she uttered as she stared wide-eyed, first at Gippal and then Paine and then back to Gippal again.

Paine nodded, “The fayth didn’t want to talk to us, but we kept going at him until he finally relented. He explained that the “merger” we thought was occurring isn’t exactly what’s going on. There is a merger, but it isn’t between Shuyin and Tidus and it has nothing to do with their souls.” She paused, squirming to get more comfortable, “1000 years ago when Lenne was killed, Shuyin was thrown into that cave and left to die.”

“And he got pissed and tried to destroy Spira…we know that already!” interrupted Rikku, “Tell us something we don’t know.”

“I’m trying to!” Paine snapped, effectively quieting her disruptive friend. She sighed and continued, “It turns out that Shuyin didn’t do anything to us. He was in the Farplane the whole time. Jecht, Auron, and Braska backed that up. All three of them met Shuyin quite a long time before Vegnagun was activated.”

“Then what happened?” asked Gippal, “Who was the guy that activated Vegnagun?”

“The fayth says he doesn’t have a name. He’s the shadow.” She looked pointedly at Rikku, “Do you remember just before we reached the Glen, the fayth spoke to Yuna and said that Shuyin’s feelings began to act on their own and that he’s now only a shadow?”

“Yes.”

“It was the shadow that we were fighting.” She explained, “The fayth said that when Shuyin was trapped in the cave, he was so angry and guilty and upset that he forced himself to forget everything that had happened so that he could focus on trying to survive. However, those feelings had to go somewhere so the shadow was created in the deep recesses of Shuyin’s mind.”

“Like another personality…” Gippal spoke, quietly.

Paine nodded, “Exactly, but it’s not another personality. This shadow only feels anger and guilt and hungers only for revenge. When Shuyin died, his spirit went to the Farplane, but the shadow stayed behind – bent on getting that revenge.”

“So it wasn’t Shuyin that attacked us in the cave that day…” whispered Gippal.

“No, it wasn’t.”

Rikku bit her lip in thought, “So…then Shuyin is Tidus?”

Paine shook her head, “Not exactly.” She stopped to think for a moment before continuing, “Tidus is a dream of the fayth just like we were told. That wasn’t a lie. He was created with the intention of defeating Sin because by that point Sin was the biggest threat to Spira. The shadow wasn’t. The fayth said that if Shuyin hadn’t died, he would have been the one to defeat Sin. He and Lenne’s original destiny was to face Sin and defeat it, but hardheadedness and stubbornness changed that so they had to do it again 1000 years into the future.”

“But I’m still confused.” Said Rikku, “How come Shuyin killed Baralai? How come he knows about all the stuff the shadow did while he was in the Farplane? Why is he inside of Tidus’ body? Why’d they create Tidus instead of just bringing Shuyin back?”

“I wondered that too,” admitted Paine, “but it actually makes a lot of sense. Shuyin was destined to defeat Sin, but Shuyin was split into two – the good Shuyin in the Farplane, and the shadow. The fayth knew that there would be too many problems bringing Shuyin back at that point. He’d merge with the shadow, remember Lenne…it just wasn’t something they could deal with at that point. Sin needed to be defeated first. So they created Tidus as a duplicate of Shuyin. This way he was fulfilling his promise to Lenne as well as completing Shuyin’s destiny without screwing anything else up.”

“Then what happened?”

“When Sin was defeated, the fayth stopped dreaming and Tidus disappeared. It was then that the shadow started to really act up. When we defeated him, he calmed at the sight of Lenne since both he and Shuyin feel the same way about her. Then he went to the Farplane and he also merged with Shuyin. This way Shuyin was complete again. Shuyin then remembered all the things the shadow did and convinced himself that he had done them. He hadn’t, but he thought he had.”

“But wouldn’t Shuyin be able to remember Tidus’ stuff too?”

“Well, no…” explained Paine, “What happened was that when Yuna asked to have Tidus back, he was sent almost immediately. Shuyin, at this point, hadn’t met the shadow and didn’t really care but once the merger with the shadow had take place, that evil part of him was furious that Tidus was getting to live again. The shadow was the one in control of Shuyin’s body when he was doing all those horrible things, but the difference was that this time Shuyin was consciously aware that he was doing these things, he just didn’t know why. He couldn’t control himself.”

“So Shuyin did kill Baralai…” Gippal muttered.

“Indirectly, yes.”

“And that explains why he’d want Yunie turned back into Lenne.” Stated Rikku.

“Well, Shuyin would have wanted that too, but he wouldn’t have done anything about it. The shadow would have. The fayth said that the shadow did the things Shuyin didn’t have the guts to pull off himself. It’s his…his evil side. We all have one. His just manifested itself into something he simply can’t control.”

Seifer cleared his throat and spoke for the first time since this conversation had begun, “Why don’t you tell them the really fun part?” he asked, sarcastically.

Paine sighed and frowned, “Oh yes. The shadow is becoming stronger than Shuyin and Tidus combined. The fayth said that he wouldn’t be surprised if the shadow overtakes Tidus eventually and makes him do things he wouldn’t normally do.”

“…like hit Yunie…” Rikku said in a whisper. She blinked firmly several times and leaned back against the sofa cushion, “This explains so much…”

“He hit Yuna?” Paine repeated, as if testing the words for truth, “I’d say that was definitely the shadow’s doing.”

“Is there a way for them to overpower him?” Gippal asked.

“The fayth said that only Shuyin can defeat him. He exists because Shuyin can’t forgive himself for what happened to Lenne. He’s there because deep inside Shuyin wants him to be there. He has to forgive himself, or the shadow will remain and will keep getting stronger.”

Rikku wrinkled her nose, “Well that’s just dumb. I don’t like that ending! I was hoping for some serious blood-shed!”

Gippal laughed, “Now we’ve entered the genre of action movie…”

“Meanie!” Rikku cried, sticking her tongue out at him.

Paine laughed at her friends and then nodded, “I agree, Rikku. I don’t like it anymore than you do. I’d like it a little more cut and dry, but look at it this way. We still have good old Seymour to deal with.”

Rikku grinned broadly, “Blood-shed here we come!”

Author's Notes: Pretty long chapter, but necessary since this is the last chapter before the duel finale. Thanks to all my loyal reviewers. I appreciate it so much! I'm hoping to have the first chapter of my next story posted by next week as well. Anyway, here is chapter 34!

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

Chapter Thirty-Four: Three's Company

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

Are you sure you love him?

His words rung in her ears in a mantra as Yuna and Shuyin made their way out of the Luca Hospital and to the ship bound for Macalania. They rung in her ears as they made their way unhindered through the abandoned woods and into the Calm Lands. She heard them as they crossed Mt. Gagazet and finally reached Zanarkand. She wished they had just taken the airship, but she wasn't quite sure where Gippal had put the keys and she wasn't about to waste time looking for them. It only took a few more hours anyway, but it was a few more hours in which Shuyin could pointedly ignore her – favoring, instead, to play absently with the blade of Tidus' sword - and Yuna was forced to hear that scathing suggestion repeating over and over.

Are you sure you love him?

Two years ago, she would have said yes without a second thought. She wouldn't have ever questioned it. Yet, with everything that had happened since her pilgrimage, she wasn't so sure anymore. She missed him desperately and yet she was scared of him. She was scared of what he'd do to her if she saw him again. Her hand unconsciously went to her cheek where the bruises were fading fast. The last time she saw him, things didn't go so well. Maybe that was when she had started questioning their love.

And yet, she knew she loved him. Deep inside, buried deep down under her disappointment, her anger, and her resentment she knew she loved him. She loved his crooked smile, his bright blue eyes that were filled with the kind of life she had always longed for. She loved how he crinkled his nose when he laughed and how in the right sunlight his light splattering of freckles lit up on his cheeks. She wanted to see that now, but whenever she looked over all she saw was Shuyin. It was Tidus' body, but it wasn't Tidus. She didn't even see Tidus next to her anymore. Whenever she looked at the blonde next to her, her mind's eye flashed to a tall and muscular blonde that she knew so long ago. The same blue eyes, but minus the freckles. A bit taller and a lot more conceited, but with a kind gentleness that had forced her to ignore the former. She didn't even see Tidus anymore…

And that's what scared her.

Would she ever see him again, or would she forever be haunted by the visage of Shuyin Bacohl even after he went to the Farplane to rest?

Lenne's house was in the distance, and Yuna silently trudged toward it. Shuyin was a few feet behind her, but he might as well have been a few miles. It was strange to have gone this long without a word, but she knew instinctively that he was angry with her. She just didn't know why.

"Where'd you leave it?" he asked gruffly as he followed her into the house.

Yuna bent down to retrieve it from the floor where she had dropped it in a panic just a few days earlier, "Here it is."

"Fine." He snipped, "Let's go."

Yuna frowned. She'd had enough of this. She didn't know what his problem was, but she was determined to find out, "What is your problem, Shuyin?"

He didn't reply, but she saw him tense even though he didn't face her. His back muscles tightened and she swore if it was possible, steam would have come out of his ears.

What was wrong with him?

"Shuyin…? I asked you a question." He still didn't reply and she took a deep breath and spoke again, "Shuyin…"

"STOP IT!!!" he suddenly shrieked, spinning around wildly. Yuna jumped, afraid he was going to hit her but then she noticed tears hiding in his eyes that he was afraid to let fall.

She frowned, "Stop what?"

"Stop calling me Shuyin." He hissed, stuffing his hands in the pockets of Gippal's pants and frowning.

Yuna raised an eyebrow, "What do you want me to call you?"

"How about my name?" he snapped, sarcastically.

Yuna gasped and took a massive step back. She eyed him in shock, staring at him until she noticed that she wasn't breathing, "…Tidus…?"

"Are you disappointed?"

"No, of course not!"

Tidus shrugged and gave a disbelieving grunt. Yuna watched him as he turned from her and suddenly everything made sense. She suddenly knew why he had asked her if she'd be upset if Tidus never came back. She knew why he had been ignoring her during their trip.

She stifled a gasp. That was why he had kissed her.

Are you sure you love him?

"Tidus…" she began, stepping toward him.

He lifted a hand to keep her away, "Just leave me alone, Yuna. I'm really…confused right now."

She didn't listen. She just started speaking without thinking, "If you would have just spoken to me. I mean…it's not like I wouldn't have known. I'd know you anywhere." She giggled uncomfortably, "Well, unless someone is doing a really convincing job of being you. But you do a convincing job of being him too. I especially liked the angsty part. You could be an actor. I mean, I would really…"

"Stop it." He ordered, firmly but quietly. He looked at her then and she felt even more stupid for not realizing the difference. Even through it all, Shuyin's eyes still shown with this confidence that never faded. Tidus' eyes always lacked it. They lacked it even more now.

"Tidus…I'm sorry for not realizing."

"It's not your fault." He replied with a sigh, "I didn't even realize it at first. I'm still not quite sure."

Yuna bit her lip, "I'm sorry, but I don't understand."

He pointed to the front door, "I was looking for Zaon. You had just moved in here and let me come in. We hadn't seen each other since their wedding where I'd made such a mammoth fool out of myself with those two girls but you let me in anyway. Then you asked me if I liked cheese…" he smiled a little and the sighed.

Yuna let her mouth fall open but she didn't say anything as Tidus began to pace around the room. He stopped in front of the sofa, "You jumped on me here after our first date, but the first time we actually…" he took a ragged breath, "Allyn was spying on us."

"…how…?" managed Yuna.

"I don't know." He replied, "I know more than that. I know about a life I don't think I ever lived. The life of the guy I'm based on."

Yuna just stared at him as he continued to pace, but say nothing. None of this made any sense. Was Gippal right? But that was impossible. Maybe the merger had completed? That had to be it. There was no way Gippal was right. That would be too ridiculous to comprehend.

She was shaken back to reality by the realization that Tidus was talking again, "The last thing I remember clearly is trying to find Shuyin. I could sense that something bad was happening, but I couldn't find him in the dark. I heard him shouting at something and I followed his voice to find him yelling at this dark figure that was trying to convince him to go somewhere. I was so scared for you, so I screamed for Shuyin's attention. He ran to me and when our hands touched, I woke up."

"You woke up remembering his life…"

"Yeah." Tidus said, lifting his eyes to hers, "Do you think the merger happened? Do you think it's all over?"

Yuna shrugged, "Maybe, but that doesn't explain that figure. Do you know who it was?" she silently hoped that he did but when Tidus shook her head she frowned, "Gippal has this theory…" she began quietly. She hadn't wanted to tell him or Shuyin about this, but if it was true than they deserved to know.

"So do I…"

Yuna was surprised by this, "What's your theory?" Maybe it made more sense than Gippal's?

"I remember that I…" he paused with a frown, "Shuyin was really upset. He couldn't deal with everything that had happened so when he was alone in the cave, he started talking to himself. He would plan out the perfect ways to get revenge once he got out of the cave. The one he really liked was using Vegnagun to blow Bevelle away. He thought it'd be really funny irony for him to destroy them with the weapon they'd killed Lenne to protect. He thought of it as a way for Lenne to get her revenge too."

Yuna nodded, "That would have been ironic…but where's your theory?"

"I'm getting there," Tidus said in a half tease, allowing his mouth to form a small smile before returning to it's frown, "I remember that I…Shuyin over the few weeks he was trapped started to talk – not only to himself – but also to Allyn and Reiber's corpses. Finally, he started hearing this voice in his head. This voice telling him that all he needed to do was say the word and it'd be done. There were times after that when he'd pass out in one place and wake up what felt like moments later in another. And when he died, it felt like half of him was missing when he crossed into the Farplane." He stopped and looked at her, "What's Gippal's theory?"

Yuna's eyes widened in surprise, "I thought we were talking about your theory."

"But I want to hear Gippal's first."

She frowned but answered, "Multiple Personalities."

"I think so too."

Yuna wanted to scream at him but realized that if Tidus believed it too, than there had to be a reason. She stifled her urge to shriek and simply said, "Gippal thinks you're just one of the personalities."

"Well, we both know that's not true. I'm a dream of the fayth." He answered simply, "I was the fayth's answer to his promise to Lenne." He reached for her hand and pulled her close to him, "This is what I think. Shuyin couldn't deal with it and created that other person – the guy he was yelling at – so that he could hide away and not have to deal with anything. When he died, the guy didn't go along because he wanted to do what Shuyin had only dreamed about doing. The fayth made me to send to you because Shuyin was only half a person and they couldn't send broken goods to you." He let out a pained smile and then continued, "I'm the dream of Shuyin before everything went to hell and back. Before he couldn't deal with it."

"But that doesn't explain how Shuyin knows the stuff that he did. How he killed all those people. Or how you know Shuyin's life!

"Well, we know from what I told you that the guy Shuyin was yelling at is back in his head. It'd stand to reason that Shuyin would suddenly "remember" doing all those things, even though he didn't. Kinda a 'mini-merger'." He shrugged, "And the same goes for him and me."

"So now you remember three different lives?"

"No…I don't know anything about that guy. Just Shuyin and me. I know the stuff that guy made Shuyin do and what Shuyin thinks he did, but anything that Shuyin doesn't know, I don't know. Like, I don't remember that guy coming into existence, but I remember the Crimson Squad massacre like it was yesterday."

"Did that guy control you?" she asked, immediately wishing she hadn't. What if he hadn't been controlling Tidus? What if Tidus had hit her on his own? She wasn't sure if she wanted to know that.

Tidus frowned, "Yes." He admitted, "I couldn't control myself and all I felt was this horrible sadness and this uncontrollable anger." He reached out to touch her cheek gently, "I'm so sorry…"

Yuna collapsed into a heap on the floor, more out of exhaustion than relief and Tidus sat down next to her, "This is just so confusing…" she whined, rubbing her temples firmly to forgo the headache that was beginning between her eyes, "I just…I don't understand this. Why is Seymour back? Why is this happening to you? Why?"

"Asking why is pointless." Tidus said with a tender smile, "We've got to focus on how. How are we going to make this mess go away?"

"Can it?"

He shrugged and kissed her forehead gently, "I love you," he replied quietly, "So yes…it can. We can do anything if we do it together."

000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000

Rikku jumped up excitedly, "Let's go kick some Seymour booty!"

"Not yet, Polly-Anna," Gippal teased, pulling on one of Rikku's braids gently until she plopped back next to him.

"Who's Polly-Anna?"

Paine grunted in annoyance, "That's not important right now, Rikku. What is important is trying to figure out who brought Seymour back. Even if we beat Seymour, this person would just be able to bring him back again if we don't take out the source."

"We've got to get some help." Seifer stated simply, scratching his cheek in thought, "As much as I hate to admit it, Puberty-Boy and his motley crew are good. We should get their help."

"Puberty-Boy?" Rikku asked, "Who's that?"

"Squall."

Gippal frowned and lowered his voice, "I hate to tell you this, Seifer, but Squall and Rinoa have gone missing."

Raising his eyebrow, Seifer asked, "Gone missing? How? When?"

"We're not sure. Wakka just called and said that Zell, Quistis, Irvine, and Selphie can't find them anywhere. There are signs of a slight struggle where Squall was sleeping, but nothing else."

"Just a slight struggle?" asked Seifer, suspiciously. He shook his head firmly, "Squall would have put up more than a slight struggle if some 'bad guy' tried to take him out." He ran a finger thoughtfully over the scar that went between his eyes, "Trust me…I know…"

"Well, I'm just delivering the facts."

"And I'm telling you that there's more to this than an abduction." Seifer stated, "Squall had to have been taken by surprise. By someone he trusted. And he certainly wouldn't have let someone hurt Rinoa without putting up a major fight." He sighed, "He's got a one track mind when it comes to that gi…"

Seifer sat up suddenly, jaw dropping. He lifted his hand to his mouth in shock. It suddenly made sense. Paine stared at him, "What?"

"I know who's behind this…"

It was Rikku's turn to sit up suddenly, "You do?!"

"I can't believe I didn't realize this sooner…" Seifer hissed quietly, shaking his head as if to curse his own stupidity. He lifted his eyes to the group, "I always thought Ultimecia seemed familiar to me. When she had me under her control, I felt like I knew her. I think that's why I went with her so easily. Normally I'm a stubborn son of a bitch but for some reason I wasn't that time."

"Who is she?" asked Paine, completely ignoring Seifer's admission and going straight for the heart of the matter.

Seifer questioned, "Do you remember what I was told? Not about Tidus, but about the blind lion?"

"Yes."

"The blind lion catches no owl." He sighed, "When I first met Rinoa, she was working with a resistance group called…The Forest Owls."

Rikku squealed, "Rinoa is Ultimecia!!"

"I think so." Seifer said with a sigh, "And Squall is the blind lion. He can't see what she is. Well," he paused with a smirk, "Considering the fact that she probably kidnapped him, I'm sure he sees now."

"We've gotta find Yuna and Shuyin...er…Tidus…er…the blonde guy!" Paine said, tripping over not only her words, but Gippal's sneakers which were strewn in the middle of the room, "They've got to know about this. If Ultimecia took Squall, there's got to be a reason."

"Do you think it's the same reason she took LeBlanc?" asked Gippal as he stood up too.

"Maybe…"

The quartet rose to their feet. Gippal quickly pulled his sneakers on and then they walked to the door, "We'll contact Kimahri. Maybe he's seen her."

"If not, we'll try Tromell." Suggested Rikku.

Gippal nodded and reached for the doorknob, "And if that doesn't work we'll…"

"Murderer…"

Cid was staring menacingly at Gippal. He was accompanied by four burly Al Bhed men. The five of them were standing on the doorstep, obviously just about to knock when Gippal opened the door.

"Pop!" Rikku shrieked, "We don't have time for this right now. We have to go!"

Cid raised an arm to stop her escape. His eyes traveled to Paine and Seifer and opened in surprise but then he focused back on Rikku, "You and…the undead…" he said, motioning toward Paine and Seifer, "may go. Gippal cannot."

"And why not?" Rikku demanded, arms akimbo.

"Because he's under arrest."

Gippal felt a sense of cold dread go down to his toes at the look in Cid's eyes as he said those words. It was a sense of triumph. He had found something out and the only way that was possible was if Seymour had talked. Tromell wouldn't have willingly ruined him. He couldn't speak, but Rikku certainly could and at that present moment was making full use of her vocal abilities.

"Are you insane?" she asked her father, pushing at his chest to clear the way, "We've got more important things to worry about than your pathetic grudge."

"More important things that seeing that the man who destroyed home suffers for what he's done?"

Rikku groaned in exasperation, "Gippal didn't have anything to do with that!"

"Actually, he did." Cid said, smirking triumphantly at Gippal, "I received a telephone call today telling me that if I wanted to find out who lead the Guado to Home, all I needed to do was talk to Tromell." Rikku paused and Cid continued, "Tromell didn't oust Gippal on his own, but when I asked him if Gippal was responsible, Tromell's silence spoke volumes to me."

Rikku's momentary silence was gone as quickly as it had come, "You're being stupid. Gippal wouldn't do anything like that." She grabbed for Gippal's hand and pulled him a few steps forward, "Tell him he's being ridiculous!"

Gippal wanted so badly to lie. He wanted to deny the accusations until his last breath. But he couldn't. The more he lied, the worse it would be when the truth came out. He hadn't meant for anything to happen. It just had. He sighed, "It's true, Rikku. I led the Guado to Home."

He heard Paine's gasp and Rikku's yelp as she wrenched her hand from his as if it was burnt. She fixed her wide green eyes on his, "…what…?"

"He just confessed, Rikku." Cid stated, motioning toward his burly Al Bhed, "Arrest him, boys."

Gippal raised his hands to ward them off, "Wait a minute Cid." He said, causing the men to pause, "We've got the potential end of the world on our hands. We're just going to try and find Yuna and Tidus. Seymour is back. So is this psycho sorceress. We've got to deal with that first."

"You deserve prison time!"

Gippal shrugged, "You've waited two years. What's a few more hours?"

Cid was thoughtful for a moment and then he called his men off, "On one condition, murderer. We come with you and arrest you as soon as this is over."

"Deal."

"Well then…" Cid said with a smug smile, "Let's go."

Paine and Seifer followed Cid and his burly men out but neither Gippal nor Rikku moved at first. She was still in shock and Gippal saw that, but he also knew if she would just let him explain then everything would be okay. He reached out to touch her shoulder, but she backed away, lifting tear-reflected eyes to his, "Please…don't touch me…" she whispered before she turned to follow the others out of the room leaving Gippal no alternative other than to do the same.

000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000

Light shone into the small room and awakened Nooj abruptly. He felt LeBlanc stir beside him but he gently put his finger over her mouth to keep her silent. The outline of Seymour was blatant and behind him was Rinoa/Ultimecia.

"Wakey wakey!" the female said in a Rikku-esque voice, oozing perky out of every word, "It's almost time! We've got to get the three of you ready!"

"Ready for what?" Nooj demanded.

She stared at him in the dark, "You don't remember me, do you?"

"Should I?"

She shrugged, "No matter. You'll remember me – and our love – soon enough."

Nooj seriously doubted that. He'd never seen this woman before in his life. Yet…maybe she wasn't referring to this life, but another. It didn't really matter, though. Nooj wasn't going to leave LeBlanc and shack up with a lover from a past life. It just wasn't going to happen.

As Seymour made his way toward them with the keys to release Squall and LeBlanc from their bonds, Nooj waited for his chance to strike out and carry out the plan the three of them had laid out.

Their escape depended on what was going to happen within the next few minutes.

Seymour stopped just short of Squall, standing an equal distance between the former and Nooj and LeBlanc. He looked over his shoulder at the woman behind him and she nodded, lifting her hands, "Sleep…sleep….sleep…." she chanted quietly.

Nooj wanted to curse loudly at his bad luck, but instead he felt his eyelids drooping and he couldn't fight to keep them open. He sank into oblivion…

The next thing he remembered was feeling his arms and legs in shackles. He lifted his lids to find that he had been chained to a wall. He quickly located Squall and LeBlanc – both starting to wake up – chained to two cement slabs that lay in the middle of the room. The next thing Nooj realized was that he was in the Zanarkand Chamber of the Fayth. He didn't have time to figure out how they had gotten there or even where the cement slabs had come from. He didn't even think much when he saw Seymour come around the corner wielding a gigantic sword, twice his size. Ultimecia was behind him, but she wasn't carrying anything. Yet, her presence was even more frightening than the sight of the sword.

"Why are you doing this to us?" LeBlanc shrieked, squirming against her chains.

Ultimecia smirked and walked toward her, "Shut up, or I'll have Seymour dice you before it's time for that."

"If you're going to kill me anyway, why should I be quiet, love?" snipped LeBlanc back.

"Because, when I plan on killing you it will be swift." Replied Ultimecia, "If you make me have him cut you now, it'll be slow and tortuous so that you'll die exactly when I need you to."

LeBlanc wisely shut her mouth.

Ultimecia went to Squall then, and ran a hand gently over his face, "I always loved your face. So handsome…" she whispered and then sighed, "It's too bad your soul isn't the right one. We might have had some fun if it was."

It was in that instant that Nooj realized what was going on.

LeBlanc and Squall weren't going to make it out of this mess. But he was. Because he was the soul she longed for. He should have figured it out long ago. Everybody else seemed to have a past life. Now he realized that he did too. And Ultimecia was going to sacrifice the two people before him so that he'd get that life back.

With that realization, Nooj realized that he needed to distract her. There had to be a way to keep her from carrying through with her plans until his friends could find them. He knew that they must be looking for him. He just needed to give them more time.

"How did I die?" he asked her, quietly. He was trying to give the impression of suddenly coming awake after a long sleep. He wanted her to think that he was beginning to remember. When he saw her eyes light up, he knew he was doing a good job.

"Are you beginning to remember me, my love?"

Nooj kept himself from cringing at the 'my love' remark and forced himself to nod, "I'm not sure. I think so…"

It seemed to be working. He was so grateful that she had momentarily forgotten about everything else, but he had forgotten about Seymour. The man grunted gruffly, "You've got to be joking. You can't honestly believe him. He's just trying to get you to let them go."

Nooj wanted nothing more than to jump down the man's throat, but to his surprise Ultimecia did it for him, "Don't talk about him like that!" she shouted, "You don't know what he's remembering and what he's not remembering."

Seymour threw the sword on the ground, "I won't watch you do this. You're just throwing everything away and I won't be a party to it!"

"Fine, go! I don't need you anymore anyway!"

Seymour glared at her, "Fulfill our bargain, and I'll be happy to go."

She groaned and lifted her arms to him, "Fithos…lusec….vecos…venosec…." she hissed quietly, her fingers moving in time with the words. Nothing appeared to happen and yet Seymour smiled.

"Thank you." Seymour said, touching his chest in an almost reverent way, "Now that I'm back to normal, Yuna will pay for what she's done."

"Go." Ultimecia stated, pointing at the door, "I don't want to look at you anymore."

He shrugged, "Fine by me. But don't say I didn't warn you. He's a shrewd one."

"Go!"

Nooj said a silent thank you as Seymour stormed from the room. Now he only had to convince Ultimecia to let him go and that'd be one problem out of the way. She pressed her body up against his and Nooj stifled a groan of disgust. She ran her tongue over his ear, "Tell me what you remember…"

Nooj cursed in his mind. He didn't remember anything. He was making it all up. He stared at Squall in panic, pleading for help. Squall nodded and mouthed two words. Nooj quickly said, "Falling stars…"

Ultimecia pulled back and smiled, "The falling stars on the night we met. It was so romantic."

"Absolutely."

"Anything else?"

Nooj decided to push the envelope a bit and leaned in to whisper, "Release me, and I'll show you…"

Ultimecia pressed eager fingers against his waist, "I don't need to untie you for that."

"But it'd be better, don't you think?" he hissed back, trying to hide his disgust, "I want to touch you, hold you, hug you…"

"Do you remember the first time you hugged me?" she asked as she let his arms loose.

He peered over her at Squall, but this time she noticed and spun in time to see Squall mouth the word 'Timber'. Her eyes were flashing in fury as she turned back to Nooj, "Seymour was right. You are lying to me!"

Nooj was in a panic. He felt his heart was going to beat out of his chest. This was not good! He opened his mouth and stammered, "It's not like you think, my sweet. Squall was just…helping me…supplying me with the …uh… information so you wouldn't be disappointed."

Her fury calmed for a moment, "So you do know who you are…?"

"Yes!" he cried, pouncing on that hope, "I just am a little rusty on the details."

She gave him a weak smile, "Well, once this is over you won't be rusty on any details."

"What are you going to do?"

"You're going to be getting your body back once I perform the chant and stick a sword through this little bitch's gullet." She turned to walk away from him, but Nooj grabbed her arm. She turned her angry eyes on him, "What are you doing?"

Nooj put on his most disarming smile, "Let's wait for that for a little while." He suggested, "I just can't wait another minute to touch you."

He saw jealousy flash in LeBlanc's eyes but had to ignore it as Ultimecia came sauntering seductively toward him, "You really can't wait just a few more minutes?"

"No…"

She was within his reach now and he grabbed her with both arms. His first instinct was to snap her neck, but his legs were still in shackles and the key was on the other side of the room. He needed her alive to reach it. So, stifling a groan of disgust, Nooj pulled her into a passionate kiss.

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Tidus held Yuna firmly in his arms for several minutes. It was almost as if he was afraid of letting her go. Yuna was content to be in his arms again. It felt like an eternity since he had held her like this.

She looked up into his eyes and answered his smile with one of her own. She still wasn't sure what was going on. Tidus was holding her, and yet Shuyin was holding her as well. Inside Tidus' eyes she could see the pain of two lifetimes, although he hadn't lived one of them. So, in some strange way Lenne had gotten Shuyin back.

"What are you thinking?" he asked her.

She nuzzled his neck, "How much I love you."

"I love you too." He replied, pulling her closer to him and kissing her neck softly, "So much…"

Reluctantly loosening his grip on her, Yuna gazed up into his eyes, "This isn't over yet, you know. We still have to deal with Seymour." She grinned, ruefully, "Not to mention that I have a few choice words for a certain fayth…"

Tidus laughed quietly, "Eh, leave ol' Bruttam alone. Everything'll be fine. He can't change what's passed."

"But look what he's done to us!"

"But we're together again." He retorted, "It's all worked out okay."

Yuna nodded, "We are together…but for how long? An hour? A day? A week? When will I lose you again?" she sighed and stood, stretching her long limbs against the growing tenseness, "We need to get rid of Seymour if I'm to ever stand a chance of having you forever."

"I know we need to get rid of Seymour," Tidus conceded, rising with her, "but he's not the reason this is happening again. Ultimecia is the one that brought Shuyin back. The shadow did it the first time, but Ultimecia did it this time. She's the one we need to get rid of."

"But…she's dead!" Yuna cried, turning in frustration and pulling on her hair, "Shuyin was saying the same thing to me, but you killed her. I just don't understand."

"Yuna…we both know that the dead are capable of controlling the bodies of others."

Yuna nodded, "I know you mean Rikku. I mean…it makes sense, I just don't know who she'd be using now. Or what her plan would be."

Yuna sighed again and sat down on the arm of the sofa. Her mind was going a mile a minute and showed no signs of stopping. She just wanted this to be over, but knew it wouldn't be until she could unravel this mystery. Her mind traveled back to when she had met Lady Ultimecia for the first time in Bevelle. The woman had made her uncomfortable, mentioning Tidus like she knew what it was like to lose someone.

Yuna remembered seeing Tidus kill her. Rikku had passed out just seconds afterward, so it stood to reason that it was then that Rikku was possessed. Yet, Rikku was fine now. Everybody around her seemed fine. So who was Ultimecia using? Was she using Seymour? Yuna shook her head in answer to her own question. Seymour wasn't the type to be used. If he was helping her, he had his own reasons for it.

Why would Ultimecia want LeBlanc…? It just didn't make any sense. She was obviously from the dream world, so why didn't she take Squall, Rinoa, Zell, Selphie or any of the others…?

Rinoa…!

Yuna gasped. Why hadn't she realized it before? She had noticed the startling similarity between the two, but had pushed it from her mind without really thinking about how strange it was. She turned her eyes to Tidus, "Rinoa…"

"Rinoa? What about her?"

"I should have paid more attention to it." Yuna replied, standing and walking toward him, "They look so much alike…like…they're the same person."

Tidus lifted a brow, "The same person?" he frowned in thought, "I remember seeing her with Seymour back during your pilgrimage when we were in Luca. I thought Rinoa looked like her too the first time I saw her." Then he paused, "Shuyin…Shuyin saw her too…"

"He did?!"

"He saw her briefly at a party for Squall. Squall was dancing with her."

Yuna bit her lip and began to pace. She had long since noticed that pacing helped her think and she employed that practice now, "Bear with me. I'm thinking out loud." She said to Tidus as she began to talk, "If Shuyin remembers seeing Ultimecia with Squall, then that means that Ultimecia is from real Zanarkand and is over 1000 years old!" she stopped, "But that would mean that Squall is 1000 years old too…"

"Not necessarily." Tidus suggested, "Maybe the Squall we know is a dream of the one that lived a long time ago. That's what I always thought."

"You're right…" Yuna said, shaking her head at her own stupidity, "I looked Squall up. He and all the other people you were with are dreams of the original group. They were Yunalesca's guardians when she fought Sin."

Tidus smiled, "Quite a crew."

"Quite…" Yuna agreed, continuing her pacing, "So then Ultimecia never died? Maybe being a sorceress gives you that ability. She never died, but Squall – her love – did."

"And she is back to get him back!" Tidus finished her thought with relish, pumping his arms in the air, "I think we got it!"

"I think so too." She said, happily, but sobered, "But how is she going about it? Why not just take Squall and go? Why do all this?"

Tidus frowned in thought, "She wouldn't want the Squall we know. He's not the man she loves. He's a dream. He's different. She'd want the one she fell in love with and she'd also want to look the way he would remember her. So she must be controlling Rinoa's body. And she would need Squall's body."

"And she needed Shuyin because he knew how to bring souls back…"

"Exactly…"

Yuna bit her lip, "But he didn't help her."

"So she got Seymour…"

"But what does Seymour know about this?" she asked.

"Probably nothing," Tidus replied, "But all great evils have a Plan B. He was probably hers. I mean, maybe with Shuyin's help the switch would have been clean, but now it has to be messy."

"Maybe…" conceded Yuna, "but the question now is, who would Squall be in this time?"

Tidus leaned back against the wall and sighed, "Well, considering that both of us ended up being very similar to the way we used to be, I'd wager that it'd be the same for him. Squall is a quiet…"

"So was Baralai…Nooj is that way…Gippal definitely can be when something is bothering him…Brother…Buddy…"

"Squall is a loner…keeps his thoughts to himself mostly…"

"That fits Nooj, Buddy…heck, even Isaaru!" she sighed in exasperation, "We need to go about this another way. Everybody has at least one of Squall's characteristics and the person with none of them just might be the guy we're looking for."

"Who says it's a guy?" teased Tidus.

Yuna glared at him good naturedly, "You really want to make things difficult, don't you?"

He came toward her and pulled her into a tight embrace, "I'm just trying to make the best out of a bad situation." He replied, kissing the tip of her nose gently.

"I know…"

He pressed his lips gently against her own and Yuna stifled a moan as a loud curse echoed just outside the house. Tidus and Yuna dropped to their knees and crawled silently to the window, peering carefully out.

Seymour was bending to lift an errant boulder which he had slammed his foot against in his hurry across the road. Yuna bit her lip. He certainly seemed angry, but she couldn't figure out why. Had he been dismissed by Ultimecia?

He cast an angry glare back in the direction of the old blitzball stadium before continuing his angry pace up the hill and out of their sight.

Tidus looked at Yuna and she at him before they both smiled. Tidus grabbed her hand, "I think we know where to find our sorceress…"

"I think so too." She replied, turning and quickly retrieving the borrowed book she had come to get. She grinned at Tidus, "Just in case we need it…" she explained and at his nod, she followed him quietly out of the house and toward the stadium.

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It was a tense hour in the cockpit of the Celsius. Cid's burly guards kept their guns focused on Gippal's head as if afraid that he'd suddenly attempt to run. It wasn't like he had anywhere to go. Without wings, he'd just plunge to his death. He'd rather take his chances in the Al Bhed court than die a coward.

He tried to catch Rikku's glance, but she kept her eyes firmly away from his own as she sat stiffly on Shinra's chair. Her back was ramrod straight and her face was partially masked by a shadow that cascaded across her right side, but Gippal could see that she was struggling not to cry. He hated knowing he'd upset her. He wanted nothing more than to rush to her and explain it all away, but he didn't think she'd listen.

And even if she did, he'd be shot before he could get up…

Why hadn't he just told her before? It was a question that had been plaguing him since they had boarded the Celsius to search for Yuna. But it had the same answer as the question about his parentage…because he was scared. He still hadn't discussed how he came to be Baralai's brother or who his parents were. That too hung between them in unspoken question. He had to make things right…

Without paying much heed to the burly Al Bhed, Gippal leaned forward, "Rikku…" he whispered to gain her attention.

Cid glared at him, "Sit up! Leave her be. You've done enough."

He caught Rikku's eyes and pleaded silently for just a moment of her time. He just needed to explain, and then if she didn't forgive him he'd understand. He just didn't want her to damn him without an explanation. She stood slowly, her eyes never wavering from his own, "It's all right, Pop. I think he does owe me an explanation."

Cid glowered at Gippal but told his men to let him stand. He pointed a finger in Gippal's face and Gippal had to stifle the urge to bite it, "I'll be right here. Don't think I won't hear her scream."

"Do you actually think I'd hurt her?" retorted Gippal, more stung by the accusation than angered by it, "I love her…"

"Bah!" was Cid's response. Gippal didn't even bother to continue the argument. The man was incorrigible and it was best to just let the subject drop. The person he needed was Rikku. She was the only one whose opinion mattered.

He followed her silently up the stairs and into the hall just beyond the bridge where she stopped. The look in her eyes told him that she wouldn't deal with any bull-shit. She wanted the truth and that's just what he was going to give her.

"I know what you must be thinking…" he began.

She shook her head, "No. I don't think you do."

"You think I'm a killer…" he continued, frowning as the words poured from his mouth, "A liar, a fraud, a user, a cheat…"

Rikku shook her head again and then, to his surprise, took his hands in her own, "I'm thinking that you're the man I love." She said, gently, "I'm thinking that I'm furious with you for not telling me, but I figured it was the same as your being half Yevonite. You were ashamed of your part in it." She touched his cheek gently, "I know you wouldn't have done it on purpose. Seymour had them follow you, didn't he?"

"Yes." He admitted quietly, lowering his eyes as shame took over him at the memory of that horrible day. He had to tell Rikku the whole truth before it burned a hole inside of him, "It was my first – and only – assignment as a Crimson Squad member. I was to intercept Yuna and her guardians as they made their way through her pilgrimage. I was supposed to kidnap Yuna and take her to Seymour, then…" he paused and swallowed hard, "…kill her guardians."

"Kill…?"

Gippal nodded sadly, "I said I'd do it, but realized as soon as I walked out the door that, order or no order, I couldn't kill you or anybody else." He sighed and leaned his weight against the nearby wall, "I made my way back to Bikinel and when I got to the Moonflow, I felt like I was being watched. I stopped and looked around, but saw no one and kept going. I think that's when they started following me."

"Probably…"

"I spoke to Auron at Bikinel and told him what I'd been ordered to do. Then on of the panicked workman came running up, shouting that Home was under attack."

Rikku took in a ragged breath and leaned into his chest, her forehead firm against it. He felt her shake her head, "I can't believe Pop is determined to get you for something you didn't do." She said, "You couldn't have stopped them from following you. They would have found us anyway if they were determined." She sighed and looked up at him, "We should just tell Pop what you told me. He just has to understand."

"He won't, Rikku." Gippal replied, pushing a stray strand of her blonde hair behind her ear, "We both know he won't."

"So we're just going to let him arrest you?"

"Let's just get this whole mess taken care of first, and then we'll deal with your father."

Rikku groaned but nodded, "I suppose you're right. One thing at a time…"

"Exactly."

"Hey you two!" Paine's head shot in from the door, "We're over Zanarkand. Yuna and Shuyin or Tidus or whoever are heading toward the blitzball stadium."

"Let's do this." Rikku cried, "Time for some bloodshed!"

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"Shhh!" came the hissed command and the rest of the group was silent. Crouching down low, he peaked his head into the stadium entrance and saw nothing but black. He turned back, "They must be in the Chamber of the Fayth." He whispered, "We've gotta be quiet and quick about it."

The woman next to him nodded, "I agree. We have to take them by surprise if we're going to save the victims."

Footsteps came from just beyond the hill and he pulled on her hand and waved for the others to follow. Rushing quietly into a corner, they waited in the dark for the intruders to show themselves. The sunlight was shining from their backs, but he distinctly saw a blonde head, followed by a brunette. His eyes caught on shining light from the hip of the blonde and he gasped.

Chappu's sword…

His brother's sword…

Tidus and Yuna made their way down the rocky incline, holding onto each other for balance. The small group was still hidden in the darkness and it was obvious to him that they hadn't noticed. He stood slowly and made himself known to them.

Yuna gasped, "Wakka! What are you doing here?"

"We could ask you the same question…" came Lulu's response as she extricated herself from the darkness as well. Behind her, slowly and almost hesitantly, came Irvine, Selphie, Quistis, Laguna, and Zell – the remnants of Tidus' dream world residents who weren't missing and presumed dead.

Wakka eyed Tidus suspiciously, "Eh…which one are you now, ya?"

"I'm back to normal, Wakka…" Tidus replied with a grin, "Well…mostly."

"What do you mean mostly?" asked Lulu with a raised brow.

"He remembers being Shuyin, which is weird but then again, I remember being Lenne." Answered Yuna.

Laguna shrugged, "I don't know what's going on." He said, "All I know is that I want to get this mess over with." He lifted his gun and Irvine did the same, "Let's get going."

"Are you sure they were heading this way?"

"Yes!"

"Well I don't see them."

"Will you shut up?!"

Yuna spun around, the sound of the voices shocking her when she recognized the stern tone of Paine. Her eyes had to adjust to the light, but she saw her then. Paine – looking no worse for wear than she had been the last time she'd seen her. Just behind Paine was Seifer and Yuna could tell from the shocked gasps, that the dream residents had held about as much hope for Seifer as she herself had done for Paine.

Rikku, Gippal, Cid and two Al Bhed's she'd never seen before completed the ensemble. She grinned, "Reinforcements…"

"Yunie!" shrieked Rikku as she fairly flew the rest of the way and held her cousin in a tight hug, "I'm so glad you're okay. We didn't know where to look so we started flying everywhere and then we saw you and Shuyin heading this way so here we are!"

Yuna extricated herself from the hug, "It's not Shuyin…" she said with a huge smile, "It's Tidus."

Rikku gaped at the blitzer, "For how long this time?"

"Hopefully it'll be permanent." He replied, giving her arm a squeeze, "I'm much like Yuna now. I remember Shuyin's life so hopefully he won't be taking over completely anymore."

Yuna tuned out the rest of the conversation as she slowly approached Paine and Seifer. For having been 'dead' in the Farplane for over two weeks, her friends looked surprisingly good. Yuna stared at them and then finally managed, "…how?"

"We've got Baralai to thank." Explained Paine, "He got us into the Glen just in time."

"But…why were you…?"

"We wanted to talk to the fayth. And we did. We found out some very interesting information about Tidus and Shuyin, but it can wait. We've got to deal with the end of the world as we know it first."

"I think Rinoa is Ultimecia." Yuna said.

Seifer shrugged, "Then that makes two of us."

Yuna hugged Paine, "I'm so glad you're okay. You too Seifer." She smiled and then turned to Wakka and Lulu, "So how'd you two end up here?"

Wakka smiled, "Lu's pretty smart. Just told her what we knew, and she figured it out all by herself."

"Impressive, Lulu."

"Thanks."

Yuna gazed from one face to another. The old, the young, and the in-between. All of them had come for one purpose and for one purpose only – to stop Ultimecia from doing whatever she planned to do. Yuna felt like laughing. Every time she saved the world, she had a bigger group of people to rely on. What would happen the next time? Would she have an entire city?

She hoped she'd never have to find out.

She took a deep breath. Everyone was looking at her expectantly. It must be the time for her 'let's go get 'em' speech. She spoke slowly and determinedly, "We don't know what Ultimecia's plan is. We don't know what Seymour's plan is. We don't know if the missing people are alive or dead? We don't know if Rinoa really is Ultimecia or if it's just a coincidence. Heck, sometimes we barely know one another – or ourselves. But we do know one thing…" she grinned and gazed from one face to another once again before she finished, "It ends here."

Author's Notes: Okay, here’s what I’m calling the “Happy Ending”. To answer a few questions, my next fic is an AU in which Yuna is sent back to Zanarkand and not the other way around and, no, I’m not planning on doing a Silver Wings 4 at this point. I think I’ve driven this idea into the ground. I don’t even know what I’d do with a Silver Wings 4, but I won’t write it totally out just yet. You never know what may come around the corner. Anyway, thanks to my reviewers. I hope you like the endings and my new story!

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Chapter Thirty-Five: The Moment You’ve All Been Waiting For (Ending One)

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Though she understood why he was doing it, watching her Noojie kissing the woman who was determined to kill them all filled LeBlanc with blinding white rage. She strained against the ropes that held her bound to the cement slab and, to her surprise, they loosened a bit. Ruefully, she realized that Seymour must never have been very good at taking hostages. He probably preferred killing them instantly instead of having witnesses.

She turned to Squall and whispered so low it was almost silent, “I think I can get loose.”

Squall nodded his understanding and kept one eye trained on Nooj and Ultimecia while his other watched LeBlanc. The blonde struggled silently against her the ropes, the twine burning into her wrists and ankles. She tensed against the pain and continued her maneuvering. With a stifled yelp, her left hand was wrenched from the ropes.

“What are you doing?!” Ultimecia’s shriek echoed in the room. Nooj saw instantly what LeBlanc had managed to do, but grabbed at Ultimecia’s wrist to gain her attention before she could see.

“Why are you pulling away?” he asked sweetly, pulling her closer to him by the waist, “I’ve missed you.”

Ultimecia smiled at him, giving LeBlanc enough time to slide her wrist back into the loose rope before the probing brown eyes were back upon her. The woman wearing Rinoa’s skin eyed her suspiciously before turning back to Nooj, “I’m sorry, my love. I’m just a little suspicious of her. She does think she’s your girlfriend after all, and jealousy can cause a woman to do stupid things.”

Though it killed Nooj to say so, he spoke, “She’s a fool. I’ve never loved her.”

He saw LeBlanc’s eyes moisten over Ultimecia’s shoulder, but she nodded her understanding of why he said it. He pulled the brunette closer to him, holding her close against his chest. Over Ultimecia’s shoulder, he mouthed, “I love you.” to LeBlanc.

“I know.” She mouthed back, removing her wrist from the rope again and proceeding to untie her right hand.

Nooj pressed his forehead against Ultimecia’s to ensure he had her full attention, “So what’s the plan, darling?” he asked, hoping he was giving LeBlanc enough time to free herself and Squall. He didn’t dare glance up to see how they were doing. He didn’t want to tip Ultimecia off.

“All we need to do is sacrifice the stupid girl and then you will have your body back.” She grinned up at him, “Although…I do like this body too.”

With her feet freed, LeBlanc silently slid off the cement block and released Squall who crept just as quietly behind her. Their weapons had been taken, so they had to do this by hand. Going against a powerful sorceress with just their bare hands wasn’t something they relished, but they figured that they must do what they must do.

“So…” Ultimecia was saying, “How stupid do you really think that I am?”

Nooj froze as did LeBlanc and Squall. Ultimecia freed herself from Nooj’s grip and turned to stare icicles into the two formerly tied individuals behind her, “Did you actually think that I didn’t realize what you three were planning?”

“Don’t pull me into this, sweet.” Nooj started in an attempt to salvage some of their escape attempt.

Ultimecia turned and snapped, “Don’t even start with me. I’ll get even with you later.” She threatened, slapping him hard across the face, “But that’ll just have to suffice for now.”

“YOU BITCH!!!” shrieked LeBlanc. The thin blonde lunged at the shorter brunette, knocking her to the floor and rolling her underneath. LeBlanc punched her hard in the face before she felt herself being lifted by unseen hands. Ultimecia’s hand was extended ahead of her and Nooj realized she was some sort of spell to lift LeBlanc in the air. He went to lunge for Ultimecia himself but realized that he was still chained by the feet to the wall.

Squall took a step toward her and Ultimecia glared at him, “I wouldn’t do that if I were you, pretty boy.” She hissed, lifting LeBlanc’s whimpering form higher, “I’ll drop her if you do.”

“So what?” asked Squall, hoping a bluff that he didn’t care would make Ultimecia look for another way.”

She saw right through it and flipped her wrist, causing LeBlanc to spin so that her feet were above her head, “Do you still not care?” she asked, lifting LeBlanc another five feet from the ground.

LeBlanc sputtered, unsure whether she was furious at the way she was being treated, or mortified that her lacy pink panties were now in view. She struggled to hold her purple robe in place but then decided that it would be better to be mortified now and still alive than dead. She needed her hands to cushion her fall if Ultimecia decided to drop her.

The cock of a gun echoed in the silent room. All eyes turned to the door to find the dream crew, Lulu, and Wakka standing at the door. Irvine’s gun was trained on Rinoa’s form, “I’d put her down if I were you.”

“I’d definitely listen to him” came Yuna’s voice as she, Tidus, Rikku, Gippal, and the trio of Al Bhed bound through the door. She grinned at Ultimecia, “I’ve heard that he’s crazy…”

LeBlanc hissed angrily, “Um…hostage still floating in mid-air!”

Attention was brought back to Ultimecia and LeBlanc. Irvine’s trained eye was still focused on the woman in Rinoa’s body, “Put her down, nice and gentle-like and you won’t get hurt.”

“Why not just shoot me?” questioned Ultimecia, her lip curling into a sneer, “Oh, why that’s because if you did, I’d drop the prissy little bitch on her head and the dream bitch I took this body from would die as well.” She smiled triumphantly and lifted LeBlanc ever higher, “I’m the one in control, Irvine.” She stated simply. Imitating his slow drawl, she said, “So why don’t you put the gun down, nice and gentle-like?”

Irvine did so, holstering the weapon and glancing askance at his friends as if to ask, “What now?”

“I told you not to trust them…” came Seymour’s voice from the entryway. He marched right passed the group of do-gooders and toward Ultimecia, “Didn’t I?”

“Are you here to rub it in, or help me?”

Seymour shrugged, “I suppose I’m here to help you.” He replied, turning to gaze at Yuna, “I saw my lovely bride heading this way, so now I figure I can do both things at once.”

“First things first.” Ultimecia hissed, using her powers to maneuver LeBlanc over the slab she formerly inhabited. She let the girl drop onto it, temporarily shaking the girl up so that she couldn’t move, “Tie her up.” Ultimecia ordered.

Irvine made a move for his gun, but the sorceress was quicker, using her powers to yank the gun from his hands and throw it across the room. It cracked into several pieces against the wall just above Nooj’s head. The broken pieces bathed him in a shower of metal. Ultimecia flicked her wrist and Yuna found herself dangling above the group she had just momentarily been ensconced in.

Tidus jumped to grab her ankle but missed, “Yuna!” he shouted, trying again and again to get to her.

Ultimecia laughed, “Don’t be pathetic. Do you actually think you pulling on her ankle would bring her back down?” she winked up at Yuna, “Just a little insurance, dearie. No hard feelings?”

Yuna spat down, the liquid landing on Ultimecia’s nose and trailing down her cheek. The sorceress glared up at her, “Fine.” The snapped, spinning Yuna several times in the air, “You want to play rough, you little bitch? Then we’ll play rough!”

Seymour’s hand on her shoulder stopped Ultimecia’s next move, “Leave my wife alone. I’d like to take care of her, if I may.”

Seymour nodded and grabbed Yuna’s arm as Ultimecia lowered her. He pulled Yuna hard against his chest and hissed in her ear, “Soon, darling, you’ll know the price for betraying me…”

Ultimecia retrieved the huge sword and walked toward LeBlanc menacingly. She glared up at Nooj and then back at LeBlanc before hissing in the blonde’s ear, “Don’t worry about this traumatizing him. He won’t remember you in a minute.”


Ultimecia’s chants started low and grew louder and louder. Nooj felt strange but not nearly as strange as Squall must have felt. The man had collapsed to his knees, wheezing as if he couldn’t breath. Nooj bent down, hoping to unclasp his legs, but found that the chains were firmly in place. There wasn’t anything he could do.

Seymour held Yuna firmly, a small blade nudged at her hip. That fact didn’t escape the blitzer who was watching fiercely – so fiercely that Nooj realized Tidus was once again inhabiting his body.

There had to be something he could do…

There was…

Nooj let out a pained scream and clutched his chest, letting himself collapse into a heap on the floor. Ultimecia stopped her chanting and dropped the sword, rushing toward him and rolling him over, “Oh no!” she shrieked, “Not now!”

“He’s faking it!” Seymour shouted, pushing the sword a little harder against Yuna’s hip. The girl moaned in pain.

Ultimecia ignored Seymour and quickly released Nooj’s feet. With his feet unshackled, Nooj just waited for the perfect moment. He stayed completely still as Ultimecia lay her head against his chest. He felt her breath a sigh of relief when she heard it pounding steadily. Her body moved higher until he could feel her breath against his cheek. He knew she was close enough to grab now, and that’s what he did. Lunging with a massive power, Nooj gripped the sorceress’ neck in a vice-grip and forced her to her feet.

He looked at Squall, “What do you want me to do?”

Squall inhaled sharply. This wasn’t the woman he loved, but there was a chance he could still get her back. Yet, at what cost? Would his Rinoa become an evil sorceress down the road or was this just a chance encounter never to be repeated?

Rinoa had made him swear once that if she needed to be killed, it would be done only by him. The least he could do was obey her wishes. He walked toward her.

Seymour felt like his world was shattering as he saw Squall stepping toward the sorceress. It would only be a matter of time until he killed the sorceress and all of Seymour’s plans would go up in smoke. Taking a breath of courage, he hissed, “Not so fast there.” He pushed the blade a little harder into Yuna’s hip. A trickle of blood escaped just past the hip but Yuna’s mind was made up. She squirmed slightly to gain access to her holster in which she had wedged the small book.

Seymour didn’t notice her maneuvering. His focus was on the man standing mere inches from Ultimecia. The man who was reaching for the sword the sorceress had dropped to use in lieu of his own. Seymour glared at him, “Don’t even think about it.”

Yuna reached the book and moved as quickly as she could manage. Stopping her left boot down hard on Seymour’s foot, she was released just enough to elbow him in the face and run back into the safe embrace of Tidus’ arms.

Seymour’s nose was gushing blood and he shouted obscene words at her, moving lightening fast to grab the weapon from Squall’s hand. He stalked toward Yuna, his intent clear in his eyes, but she just smiled calmly and pulled the book from its hiding place. He stopped, mouth gaping, as she opened to the page she and Tidus had found earlier.

“Discedo antiqua tempastas.” She said, grinning at Seymour before turning her duel colored eyes at Ultimecia.

Seymour turned to follow her gaze and saw terror in Ultimecia’s eyes. He gaped at Yuna, “What are you doing?”

She smiled again, “It’s an incantation I found. It sends dead sorceresses back where they came from.”

Seymour didn’t know what to do. He had to think quickly. He hadn’t used his own powers in quite some time. He just hoped they still worked. His eyes connected with Tidus’ as he repeated the incantation Ultimecia had taught him, “Excitate vos e somno, liberi mei. Excitate vos e somno, liberi mei . Cunae non sunt. Excitate vos e somno, liberi fatali. Somnus est non. Surgite. Inventite hortum veritatis.”

“Don’t listen to him.” Yuna commanded as she tried to find her place in the book again.

Tidus glared back at Seymour but didn’t rise to the bait. Seymour was getting frustrated. It should be working by now. Maybe he just wasn’t powerful enough. Yet he couldn’t give up. If he gave up, he was as good as dead and so was Ultimecia.

“Ardente veritate. Urite mala mundi. Ardente veritate. Incendite tenebras mundi. Valete, liberi. Diebus fatalibus.”

“Ignore him!” commanded Yuna again as she finally located her place in the book, “Vocatum spes, beneficium…”

Tidus put a hand over the book, blocking her view of the words, “Stop.”

“What?!”

Wakka groaned angrily, “Gimme the stupid book. I’ll do it!”

Seeing his goal getting closer, Seymour stretched his arms wide and completed the chant with relish, “Fithos lusec wecos vinosec. Fithos lusec wecos vinosec. Fithos lusec wecos vinosec.”

Something flashed in Tidus’ eyes as Wakka reached for the book. He quickly grabbed the blade of his sword and swung up, slamming the handle down upon Wakka’s outstretched fingers. The book slipped from Yuna’s hands and the group gaped at him.

“What are you doing?” Yuna demanded.

“Come here, boy.” Came Seymour’s voice from where he stood, his arm outstretched toward the blitzer, “Join us and we’ll make sure your suffering wasn’t in vain.”

Yuna’s panic rose to new heights as Tidus nodded and walked to Seymour. She took a step toward him, “Tidus!”

He stared at her without a readable expression. Seymour grinned at her from over his shoulder, “My, my, my how the tables have turned.” He said with a smirk, “Even with your gaggle of do-gooders, there’s nothing that can stop us. You won’t risk killing either him, LeBlanc, or the body Ultimecia is possessing.” He placed a hand on Tidus’ shoulder and pulled him backward, using him effectively as a human shield. Tidus had no emotion. He was almost robotic in his movements.

Yuna wanted to cry. What had Seymour done to him? It certainly wasn’t Shuyin that he had conjured. The shadow even had more personality. Then she saw it…

A wink…

Tidus had winked at her!

She had to stifle a cry of glee and maintain her fearful face as she waited to see what Tidus would do. Seymour stopped when he was within reaching distance of Squall. He relieved the young man of the sword he was holding and pointed it at Nooj’s face, “Let her go.”

Nooj glanced around uncomfortably, unable to make a decision about whether to listen or not, but when Seymour placed the point of the blade mere centimeters from his right eye, the decision was made. He released Ultimecia slowly and she drew away from him, fire in her eyes as she kneed him in the groin. Nooj doubled over in pain but she just glared down at him, “After this, I don’t know if I even want you back. Maybe I should just let you die. Of course, I’d have to let you watch your precious blonde bimbo die first…painfully…bloodily…agonizingly…”

“There’s time for that.” Seymour said, motioning toward Tidus, “I’d like my revenge first if you don’t mind.”

Ultimecia smiled, “Not at all. After that impressive display with the chant, I’m willing to let you have your way.”

To Yuna’s surprise, he handed the blade to Tidus. She had feared he’d lunge it through his chest. Tidus held onto it, still maintaining his robotic stance. Seymour bent to hiss in his ear, but instead spoke in normal tones. He pointed directly at Yuna, “Kill her.”

“NO!” Rikku shrieked, running up to cover her cousin, “Tidus don’t!”

“Rikku!” Gippal cried, trying to reach her, but Cid’s hand was there.

“You stay away from them.” He hissed, “I don’t want you dying now. I want to watch you rot in jail.”

Gippal glared at him, “Is that all you can think about right now?”

“Yes. It’s all I’ve thought about for two years.”

“Well keep thinking about it.” Gippal retorted, pulling away from Cid and joining Rikku in their blockade of Yuna.

Ultimecia laughed and took a stand next to Seymour. Without breaking a sweat, she used her powers to push Rikku and Gippal aside and pull Yuna forward, mere feet from Tidus, “There you go.” She said sweetly.

“Do it…” Seymour commanded.

Tidus’ eyes flashed – with excitement or sadness Yuna couldn’t be sure – and he lifted the blade. For a brief moment she thought she’d imagined the wink. She was certain she’d lost him forever. Certain that he’d plunge that dark blade into her chest and end her life. But just as quickly as he’d lifted the blade, he twisted it in the air and plunged it backward under his arm and into Seymour’s chest with a furious crack. Ultimecia let out a shocked cry and was quickly gathered in Squall’s arms and held firm. Tidus smiled down at Seymour as the blue-haired devil gasped his last breaths, “The bleeding nose told me you were very much alive. So…tell me…does it hurt?” he sneered down at him and as Seymour took his last breath, Tidus blew him a condescending kiss, “See ya later, asshole!”

Yuna wasted no time retrieving the book from the ground. She paged quickly until she found the chant she needed. She was unsure whether she could continue where she’d left off or not, so she started from the beginning.

“Discedo antique tempastas. Vocatum spes, beneficium, et probitas servatum.”

Ultimecia’s body began to jerk violently in Squall’s arms. He struggled to hold on, but in a flash of bright, white light he was forced to let go. She was wheezing on the ground when the lighting returned to normal and Squall eyed her suspiciously, “Rinoa…?”

Brown eyes gazed up at him adoringly, “Thanks, Squall. How many times are you going to have to save me anyway?”

“No more if you stop being stupid.” Came Seifer’s nasty reply as he stalked over to them, “I mean, how many times are you going to do something dumb and almost get yourself killed? Hmmm…?”

Squall glared at him, “This is really none of your concern.”

“The hell it is!” cried the blonde, “Not only does she almost destroy our home, but she almost gets all these other people killed too!”

“It wasn’t her fault!”

Seifer grunted, “Oh, and my being under the sorceresses’ control was?!”

Squall frowned and shrugged, “No…maybe not.”

Tidus slipped into the middle of the argument and smiled, “Guys, there’s no need to fight. We just saved the world. It’s time to celebrate!”

A derisive snort came in reply to Tidus’ proclamation. He turned to see Cid slipping handcuffs onto Gippal’s outstretched hands, “Speak for yourself.” The Al Bhed leader was saying as he snapped the cuffs in place, “I’m gonna have a ton of paperwork to do after this.”

“What are you doing?!” Yuna cried as she rushed over to Cid. She violently pushed his hands away from Gippal and pulled the taller man toward her and Rikku, “What’s the matter with you?! Can’t you just get over this?”

Cid glared at her and yanked Gippal back toward him, “He’s under arrest for the destruction of Home.”

Yuna rolled her eyes and pulled Gippal toward her again, “No he’s not! He didn’t do anything!”

“Yes he did!” shouted Cid, yanking Gippal backward.

Yuna yanked him forward, “No he didn’t!”

“He confessed!” Cid shrieked, pulling Gippal with all his strength and forcing the blonde off of his feet to land on his bottom at Cid’s.

Yuna gaped down at Gippal, “Did you?”

He nodded softly, “Yes, but I didn’t mean for it to happen. They followed me.”

Cid scoffed, “Sure they did…” he replied in a condescending manner. He motioned toward his guards and each took their places at Gippal’s elbows, lifting him easily off of the ground and to his feet. He nodded at the dream crew, Tidus, Wakka, and Lulu who were watching the exchange in silence. Then he turned and nodded at Yuna, “I’ve got a job to do. High Summoner or no High Summoner, you’re not stopping me from seeing a criminal get what’s coming to him.”

As he turned to leave, he saw a small trail of tears leaving his daughter’s eyes and he stopped, “Rikku…” he whispered hoarsely, reaching to touch her only to have her back away before he could make contact. He stiffened his spine, “One of these days you’ll understand. I can’t make special exceptions…no matter how you or I may feel about it.” And with that, Cid turned and led this men and Gippal out of the room.

000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000

The cell Gippal found himself in was the same one he’d been in after being accused of killing Baralai. He found it ironic that both times he’d been accused of crimes he didn’t commit, he’d find himself in the same cell. What were the odds of that?

Then again, what were the odds of being arrested twice for two different crimes of which you were innocent?

Pretty good, obviously…

Gippal’s mind traveled to that horrible day two years ago. Arriving at Home had mixed feelings for him then. He was relieved to be back where he belonged, and yet was filled with this mixed sense of duty. If he fulfilled the order he was given, he’d kill the only girl he’d ever love. If he went against it, than what had he suffered for all those months in Crimson Squad basic training?

He’d ended up defying the order. He had to. It just wasn’t in him to heinously kill for no reason other than to satisfy an order. He’d left the morning of the attack after hearing that Sir Auron and the other guardians had been spotted on Bikinel. And after he’d told Sir Auron of Seymour’s order…

He sighed and stretched out on the hard cot. He didn’t want to think about it anymore. If he was meant to live out the rest of his life in here, so be it. At least Rikku knew how he felt…and at least she felt the same way about him. That was something to live for.

A distant squeaking was Gippal’s only warning that he had a visitor on their way. He sat up quickly and ran a hand through his tangled hair. He figured it wouldn’t take long for Rikku to come and visit him. Even though he couldn’t look his best, he could at least look presentable when he saw her.

Yet it wasn’t Rikku that appeared in front of his cell…

“Cid...” it was a statement, not a question. Cid stepped closer to the cell and frowned at Gippal. Gippal didn’t know what to say. It made no sense to him that Cid would be there, unless he was there to gloat. That was probably it. Gippal sneered at him, “Gloating isn’t very becoming, you know.”

“I’m not here to gloat.” Cid’s voice was raspy and hoarse as though he’d come down with a bad case of laryngitis.

“Then what are you here for?”

“Rikku came to see me.” Cid admitted, pulling a nearby chair toward the cell door and sitting down to face Gippal. He rested his head on his hand, “She made me listen to her and what you say happened that day.”

“Yeah…and…?”

“I’m willing to admit that I may have acted a bit…hasty.”

Really?” was Gippal’s disbelieving reply. Cid never admitted when he’d done something wrong. What was he planning?

Cid nodded, “Yes, really.” He sighed and leaned back on the chair, “Look, when I found out you’d been lying about being a full Al Bhed, I started wondering what other things you may have been lying about and, I’ll admit, I got a little blind. Blind to the fact that you’ve been nothing but a loyal Al Bhed for as long as I’ve known you. Blind to the fact that you love my daughter and she loves you. Blind…to a lot of things.”

“Yes, you have been blind.”

“I just wanted to say that I’m sorry.” Cid said with a heavy sigh as he rose from his chair, “I’m sorry, and I’ve decided after a lot of soul searching – and some threats from my determined daughter – not to press charges.”

Gippal’s eyes widened in disbelief as Cid raised the keys to the latch and opened the door to the cell. He motioned with his hand, “Go on. Get out of here.”

“You mean it…?”

Cid nodded and smiled as Gippal walked out of the cell. He shut the door quietly behind him and spoke again, “This is the second time that I’ve arrested you when you haven’t done anything wrong. This is the third time I’ve arrested an innocent person. Quite frankly, I’m tired of looking like a moron.” He grinned and slapped Gippal good-heartedly on the shoulder, “I don’t approve of you lying. I don’t approve of you breaking out of jail the first time. I certainly don’t approve of your even considering doing what Seymour had asked of you. But if Rikku trusts you…” he shrugged, “…then I guess I’ll trust you too. What do I have to lose?”

000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000

One Year Later

It had been a long time since Yuna had felt safe and contented enough to relax and let her guard down. Yet that was exactly what she was doing at that moment. Tidus’ arms were wrapped tightly around her and her head lay gently on his shoulder. This was how it was meant to be.

The year had been an uneventful one and for Yuna that meant everything. After Cid let Gippal out of jail, he and Rikku had set about finishing the rebuilding of Zanarkand while working on their relationship. It was odd at times. The two fought constantly, but in the end they always made up. Gippal didn’t want the last words he spoke to her at night to be in anger. Deep inside he still felt guilty for having the last words he’d spoken to Baralai in the mortal world be that.

LeBlanc and Nooj had gone back to Guadosalam, but had soon discovered that they couldn’t live there anymore knowing what had happened. They were currently living in their townhome in Luca. Nooj was still working with the former members of the Youth League and New Yevon and formed a joint coalition that was currently running Spira through free elections.

The fayth had kept his word to Seifer and had given the dream crew the option of staying in Spira. It took some soul searching. Their first instinct was to go home to a familiar world, but in the end they had decided to stay. Squall told Tidus one night a few weeks ago that his decision was made when he saw how happy Tidus was in Spira. Maybe, Squall had thought, just maybe he could be happy there too.

Wakka and the Aurochs were currently working on teaching them the basics of blitzball…

Tidus kissed her cheek and shook her from her thoughts. She turned her head and smiled up at him. His hand trailed a path slowly from her shoulder to her forearm and wrist until finally it slid over the small diamond and matching band that adorned her left hand. She ran her thumb over his matching jewelry and smiled, “I still can’t believe we actually did it…” she muttered.

“It’s about damn time.” He admitted with a grin, “I’m just glad they weren’t too mad at us for running to Luca.”

“Rikku was beside herself. Gippal had to console her. Wakka and Lulu were upset they missed it. But I promised I’d let them throw us a huge party once we’re all moved into the house.”

“Sounds like a plan to me.”

Yuna sighed and leaned back upon him again. She still couldn’t believe how lucky she was. Her 1000 year wait was over. Everything had come full circle and for the first time in her life she felt complete. She didn’t feel as though she was missing something. She wasn’t waiting for the other shoe to drop. She wasn’t scared anymore of what may be around the next corner.

All that mattered was her…and Tidus…and the life they were building together. The shattered life they had in Zanarkand 1000 years ago was just a memory, but it was a memory worth keeping. Neither wanted to part with it completely. So, when Gippal and Rikku had presented a newly restored home to them as a wedding present they had accepted wholeheartedly. Shuyin’s house sat quietly beside the docks of Zanarkand. It held the ghosts of a past long gone and yet they weren’t bad ghosts. They were memories of a life that had promise, but was snuffed before its time and yet was given another chance. Tidus had said it perfectly when he had told Yuna that this was their chance to make right the mistakes of the past.

That’s exactly what they were going to do…

Later…

Right now, Yuna just wanted to enjoy being in Tidus’ arms and watching the beautiful sunrise that graced her with its presence on the first morning in their new home.

“The city lights go out one by one…” whispered Tidus, “The stars fade…then the horizon glows, almost like it’s on fire.” He kissed her ear gently, “It’s kinda rose-colored, right? First in the sea, then it spreads to the sky, then to the whole city. It gets brighter and brighter, till everything glows. It’s really pretty…” he winked at her, “I knew you’d like it…”

Yuna smiled and turned her head to whisper in Tidus’ ear, “I told you that I wanted to see it one day.”

“Yes you did…” he replied with a smile. Tidus ran his arms under hers and pulled her closer to him, cuddling her around the waist. He nuzzled her neck gently, “I want to stay like this until the stars fade and the world collapses around us. I want to stay like this until my last breath.” He kissed her softly, “I want to stay like this until time stops…until the end.”

Yuna shook her head, “Not till the end…” she whispered, twisting her head to gaze into his blue eyes, “Not till the end…always.”

Tidus grinned at her and kissed her softly. He pulled away and ran a hand slowly through her silky brown locks as he gazed lovingly into her eyes, “Always then…” he replied with a wink as he kissed her again.

THE END

LATIN TRANSLATION

Discedo antiqua tempastas. Vocatum spes, beneficium, et probitas servatum: Go away ancient tempest. We call hope, kindness, and honesty to save us.

Author's Notes: Okay, the beginning of this chapter is almost exactly like the beginning of the other chapter. There are definite changes so I recommend you read the entire thing again. Otherwise you might get confused. This ending is one that I really liked and thought it would be cool to end the story like this, but at the same time I was afraid that not everybody would agree with me. Therefore, I decided to give a "normal" happy ending and this one which – quite honestly – can't be called "happy" but it can't be called "sad" either.

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

Chapter Thirty-Five: The Moment You've All Been Waiting For (Ending Two)

~~~~~*~~~~~*~~~~~

Though she understood why he was doing it, watching her Noojie kissing the woman who was determined to kill them all filled LeBlanc with blinding white rage. She strained against the ropes that held her bound to the cement slab and, to her surprise, they loosened a bit. Ruefully, she realized that Seymour must never have been very good at taking hostages. He probably preferred killing them instantly instead of having witnesses.

She turned to Squall and whispered so low it was almost silent, "I think I can get loose."

Squall nodded his understanding and kept one eye trained on Nooj and Ultimecia while his other watched LeBlanc. The blonde struggled silently against her the ropes, the twine burning into her wrists and ankles. She tensed against the pain and continued her maneuvering. With a stifled yelp, her left hand was wrenched from the ropes.

"What are you doing?!" Ultimecia's shriek echoed in the room. Nooj saw instantly what LeBlanc had managed to do, but grabbed at Ultimecia's wrist to gain her attention before she could see.

"Why are you pulling away?" he asked sweetly, pulling her closer to him by the waist, "I've missed you."

Ultimecia smiled at him, giving LeBlanc enough time to slide her wrist back into the loose rope before the probing brown eyes were back upon her. The woman wearing Rinoa's skin eyed her suspiciously before turning back to Nooj, "I'm sorry, my love. I'm just a little suspicious of her. She does think she's your girlfriend after all, and jealousy can cause a woman to do stupid things."

Though it killed Nooj to say so, he spoke, "She's a fool. I've never loved her."

He saw LeBlanc's eyes moisten over Ultimecia's shoulder, but she nodded her understanding of why he said it. He pulled the brunette closer to him, holding her close against his chest. Over Ultimecia's shoulder, he mouthed, "I love you." to LeBlanc.

"I know." She mouthed back, removing her wrist from the rope again and proceeding to untie her right hand.

Nooj pressed his forehead against Ultimecia's to ensure he had her full attention, "So what's the plan, darling?" he asked, hoping he was giving LeBlanc enough time to free herself and Squall. He didn't dare glance up to see how they were doing. He didn't want to tip Ultimecia off.

"All we need to do is sacrifice the stupid girl and then you will have your body back." She grinned up at him, "Although…I do like this body too."

With her feet freed, LeBlanc silently slid off the cement block and released Squall who crept just as quietly behind her. Their weapons had been taken, so they had to do this by hand. Going against a powerful sorceress with just their bare hands wasn't something they relished, but they figured that they must do what they must do.

"So…" Ultimecia was saying, "How stupid do you really think that I am?"

Nooj froze as did LeBlanc and Squall. Ultimecia freed herself from Nooj's grip and turned to stare icicles into the two formerly tied individuals behind her, "Did you actually think that I didn't realize what you three were planning?"

"Don't pull me into this, sweet." Nooj started in an attempt to salvage some of their escape attempt.

Ultimecia turned and snapped, "Don't even start with me. I'll get even with you later." She threatened, slapping him hard across the face, "But that'll just have to suffice for now."

"YOU BITCH!!!" shrieked LeBlanc. The thin blonde lunged at the shorter brunette, knocking her to the floor and rolling her underneath. LeBlanc punched her hard in the face before she felt herself being lifted by unseen hands. Ultimecia's hand was extended ahead of her and Nooj realized she was some sort of spell to lift LeBlanc in the air. He went to lunge for Ultimecia himself but realized that he was still chained by the feet to the wall.

Squall took a step toward her and Ultimecia glared at him, "I wouldn't do that if I were you, pretty boy." She hissed, lifting LeBlanc's whimpering form higher, "I'll drop her if you do."

"So what?" asked Squall, hoping a bluff that he didn't care would make Ultimecia look for another way."

She saw right through it and flipped her wrist, causing LeBlanc to spin so that her feet were above her head, "Do you still not care?" she asked, lifting LeBlanc another five feet from the ground.

LeBlanc sputtered, unsure whether she was furious at the way she was being treated, or mortified that her lacy pink panties were now in view. She struggled to hold her purple robe in place but then decided that it would be better to be mortified now and still alive than dead. She needed her hands to cushion her fall if Ultimecia decided to drop her.

The sorceress grinned broadly upward and then turned back to Nooj, "You might as well just sit back and enjoy the ride. My backup should be here any minute."

Squall rolled his eyes, "We all saw Seymour leave in a huff. What makes you think he'll be back?"

"It was part of the plan…" replied the woman with a devilish wink.

The cock of a gun echoed in the silent room. All eyes turned to the door to find the dream crew, Lulu, and Wakka standing at the door. Irvine's gun was trained on Rinoa's form, "I'd put her down if I were you."

"I'd definitely listen to him" came Yuna's voice as she, Tidus, Rikku, Gippal, and the trio of Al Bhed bound through the door. She grinned at Ultimecia, "I've heard that he's crazy…"

LeBlanc hissed angrily, "Um…hostage still floating in mid-air!"

Attention was brought back to Ultimecia and LeBlanc. Irvine's trained eye was still focused on the woman in Rinoa's body, "Put her down, nice and gentle-like and you won't get hurt."

"Why not just shoot me?" questioned Ultimecia, her lip curling into a sneer, "Oh, why that's because if you did, I'd drop the prissy little bitch on her head and the dream bitch I took this body from would die as well." She smiled triumphantly and lifted LeBlanc ever higher, "I'm the one in control, Irvine." She stated simply. Imitating his slow drawl, she said, "So why don't you put the gun down, nice and gentle-like?"

Irvine did so, holstering the weapon and glancing askance at his friends as if to ask, "What now?"

"Now you will die…" came Seymour's voice from the entryway. He marched right passed the group of do-gooders and toward Ultimecia,

"Yes, that is true."

Seymour shrugged, "Time to finish this, Ultimecia." He replied, turning to gaze at Yuna, "I made sure my lovely bride would make it here so that we can finish all of our lose ends together."

"First things first." Ultimecia hissed, using her powers to maneuver LeBlanc over the slab she formerly inhabited. She let the girl drop onto it, temporarily shaking the girl up so that she couldn't move, "Tie her up." Ultimecia ordered.

Irvine made a move for his gun, but the sorceress was quicker, using her powers to yank the gun from his hands and throw it across the room. It cracked into several pieces against the wall just above Nooj's head. The broken pieces bathed him in a shower of metal. Ultimecia flicked her wrist and Yuna found herself dangling above the group she had just momentarily been ensconced in.

Rikku jumped to grab her ankle but missed, "Yunie!" she shouted, trying again and again to get to her.

Ultimecia laughed, "Don't be pathetic. Do you actually think you pulling on her ankle would bring her back down?" she winked up at Yuna, "Just a little insurance, dearie. No hard feelings?"

Yuna spat down, the liquid landing on Ultimecia's nose and trailing down her cheek. The sorceress glared up at her, "Fine." The snapped, spinning Yuna several times in the air, "You want to play rough, you little bitch? Then we'll play rough!"

Seymour's hand on her shoulder stopped Ultimecia's next move, "Leave my wife alone. I'd like to take care of her, if I may."

Seymour nodded and grabbed Yuna's arm as Ultimecia lowered her. He pulled Yuna hard against his chest and hissed in her ear, "Soon, darling, you'll know the price for betraying me…"

Yuna struggles only caused Seymour to press the knife harder into her hip. Blood began to leak out and stain her half-skirt while trailing slowly down her thigh. Ultimecia smiled blandly at her as she leaned down to retrieve the sword from the floor. She lifted it high above her head as she began to slowly chant.

Ultimecia's chants started low and grew louder and louder. Nooj felt strange but not nearly as strange as Squall must have felt. The man had collapsed to his knees, wheezing as if he couldn't breath. Nooj bent down, hoping to unclasp his legs, but found that the chains were firmly in place. There wasn't anything he could do.

There had to be something he could do…

There was…

Nooj let out a pained scream and clutched his chest, letting himself collapse into a heap on the floor. Ultimecia stopped her chanting and dropped the sword, rushing toward him and rolling him over, "Oh no!" she shrieked, "Not now!"

"He's faking it!" Seymour shouted, pushing the sword a little harder against Yuna's hip. The girl moaned in pain.

Ultimecia ignored Seymour and quickly released Nooj's feet. With his feet unshackled, Nooj just waited for the perfect moment. He stayed completely still as Ultimecia lay her head against his chest. He felt her breath a sigh of relief when she heard it pounding steadily. Her body moved higher until he could feel her breath against his cheek. He knew she was close enough to grab now, and that's what he did. Lunging with a massive power, Nooj gripped the sorceress' neck in a vice-grip and twisted.

The silence in the room spoke volumes. Seymour's eyes widened in shocked horror as the body slumped to the floor in a crumpled heap. Seymour felt like his world was shattering as he saw Squall stepping closer to him. It would only be a matter of time until he struck out and all of Seymour's plans would go up in smoke. Taking a breath of courage, he hissed, "Not so fast there." He pushed the blade a little harder into Yuna's hip. She squirmed slightly to gain access to her holster in which she had wedged the small book.

Seymour didn't notice her maneuvering. His focus was on the man standing mere inches from him. The man who was reaching for the sword the sorceress had dropped to use in lieu of his own. Seymour glared at him, "Don't even think about it."

From the corner of his eye, Seymour saw a blonde head approaching and turned to find the point of Tidus' blade pointing toward them. The blonde smirked, "Let her go, Seymour." He turned to Squall, "I've got this. Give me the sword."

Squall had a flash of doubt but suppressed it as he handed the large sword to Tidus. The blitzball player brandished both weapons like toys and to Yuna's surprise, Seymour didn't fight the order. Instead, he released her waist and took the knife from her hip – gently letting her free. Tidus looked at her, "Walk very slowly toward me, Yuna."

Yuna trembled in every step, but did exactly what Tidus had requested. She didn't want to risk giving Seymour the upper hand. Wakka made a move toward her but Tidus saw it out of his peripheral vision and hissed, "Stay where you are! Everybody!"

"Tidus…" Yuna whispered… "We can do this together now. You don't have to take him on alone."

Tidus turned to her, taking his eyes off of Seymour. The blue haired man, surprisingly, didn't move. Yuna was beginning to get confused. What was going on? His blue eyes connected with hers and he gave her a weak smile, "You know I love you, right?"

"Of course I do…"

"Then I should apologize." He whispered, "Because the fayth isn't the only one who has lied to you in the last few months…"

"What…?" Yuna's voice cracked with the question.

Tidus ignored her, turning to Seymour and sighing, "I still can't believe the mess you got yourself into. You really are helpless." He groaned and handed Seymour the large sword he had taken from Squall, "Try not to screw it up this time."

"What the hell?!" Cid squeaked, storming to the front of the crowd, "What are you doing?!"

Tidus' eyes flared, "Shut up! Get back where you were and nobody gets hurt!"

"Nobody…?" Seymour asked with a feigned pout.

"Well…" replied Tidus with a smirk, "Almost nobody…"

Yuna's mouth had been hanging open for the last minute and a half. This couldn't be happening. This wasn't real. This couldn't be real. Tidus and Seymour moved quickly – with Ultimecia gone, Yuna quickly realized that their plan had changed. Nooj and Squall were forced to stand with the rest of the group as was LeBlanc when she was released. Tidus reached to Yuna's hips and pulled her guns from the holsters. She caught his gaze, "Why…?" she managed.

His eyes reflected sadness for just a moment but he didn't reply. He cocked the guns and motioned with them for Yuna to move with the others. She slowly did, so never taking her eyes from his. There had to be a good reason for this!

"Okay, Bruttam. We're all set."

The fayth child appeared then, in a bright flash of light that caused Yuna to shield her eyes. He seemed smaller and sadder than she remembered. What was he doing? Why was he helping them do this? The fayth's brown eyes stared pleadingly at Tidus, "Shu…I don't want to do this."

"Did I ask what you wanted?" he snapped, "Just do what you were told."

"Shuyin?!" Yuna shrieked.

Cerulean eyes caught her gaze and he smiled. Bending low in a mock bow, he said, "Allow me to introduce myself, m'lady. My name is Shuyin Tidus Bacohl and before I get any questions, no I am not under the control of the 'shadow' or any other entity. I simply allowed myself to merge with it." He shrugged and winked at her, "I finally realized that I can't deny what is in my nature to do any longer."

"Shuyin…Tidus?"

"Yes."

Yuna pulled at her hair as if it would make this horrible nightmare go away, "I don't understand."

"I don't expect you to." Was the blonde's reply, "But let me see if I can make this easier for you. When I realized that getting Lenne back was fruitless because you loved that damned dream so much, I set up this remarkable plan with Bruttam and Seymour – both of whom I knew from the Farplane. I sent that stupid dream into the dream world, knowing full well that he'd be determined to get home and as a result would bring the dream crew with him. I also knew that once Rinoa's body was in the real world, Ultimecia would go after it."

"How…?"

"Easy, really. I knew Rinoa from Zanarkand. She had dated my cousin. Granted, I had only seen her once, but Squall used to talk about her all the time. From that, I was relatively certain I was correct. There was a chance for failure, but I didn't think it was something to worry about. She loved Squall and would want him back – and from the Farplane, I knew Nooj was my cousin.

Cid growled, "Now listen here you! I demand we be let free!"

Shuyin laughed, "You demand? You aren't in the position to make demands, old man."

Shoving Gippal out of the way, Cid plunged his hand into his pocket and pulled out a small gun and raised it to Tidus' chest.

BANG

The smoke hadn't even cleared from the barrel of Shuyin's gun when Cid collapsed into a bloody heap at Rikku's feet. No one moved. They all stared at Shuyin, waiting to see what he'd do next. With a condescending smirk, Shuyin blew the smoke away from the gun, "Any other takers?"

No response.

"I didn't think so." He turned to Seymour, "We should probably get this done with."

"Not yet." Yuna spoke, taking a tentative step forward, "I want you to finish explaining this to me. Where is Tidus? Why are you doing this?"

Shuyin sighed and bit his lip, "Okay. If you want to hear the rest." He put the gun gently into the pocket of his pants and sighed, "Ultimecia was just a means to an end. We let her think she was in charge, but she actually wasn't. I was pulling the strings the whole time. Tidus meandered back to Spira and I simply waited for the right moment to strike. I made him pick those fights with Gippal knowing what had happened to Gippal with the Baralai fight. Then I waited. I knew Ultimecia would use that to her advantage as all true evils do. When she did, I took over but I let her think she did it with that ridiculous chant."

"So the chant didn't do anything?"

Shuyin laughed, "Of course not. Its outdated magic. She was a fool to believe it was going to do something. Yet, it was fortunate for me that she believed it. I knew that she knew about my attempts with the ring so it stood to reason she'd want my help to get Squall back. I also knew that Seymour was the only other person in the Farplane that was evil enough to serve as a backup when I refused to help her." He shrugged and smirked, "So here we are."

"But…" Yuna stammered, "You…you seemed so…innocent during all this…"

Shuyin shrugged at her, "I'm a good actor, Yuna." He replied with a smirk, "You should know that by now."

Yuna stiffened her lower lip for fear of it quivering, "What does the fayth have to do with this?"

"I needed him to keep up my story. I needed him to back up the whole 'Tidus is going crazy' scenario I was trying."

"And where is Tidus?"

"Tidus is me. I am Tidus. He's here. I remember his life as well as mine, so I wasn't lying to you when I told you that there was a merger. I just told it from his perspective instead of my own. Tidus is gone, and yet he is here. Everything worked out perfectly."

"So this was your plan all along…" gulped Yuna, "Everything has been a lie…"

Shuyin shook his head, "No, not everything." He replied quietly, reaching for her only to have her shy away from his hand. He frowned, "I do love you. Both Tidus and I love you very much. However you and I can never be happy here on Spira, Lennie. We both know this. We'll be happier in the Farplane…together. You'll see…" Shuyin turned to Seymour and nodded. The blue-haired man stepped past Shuyin and grabbed Yuna's hand, pushing her into Shuyin's arms. Yuna tensed as she watched Seymour pull out the huge sword he was wielding.

Yuna turned to Shuyin, "Please…don't hurt them!"

"You don't want to watch them die?" he sighed, "I figured as much, love. Even though I'm doing what's best for all of us. Seymour was right. The only way to end all pain is through death. Don't you see that? Yet, I knew you'd be too good to want to witness it." He smiled and kissed her lips gently, "Don't worry." He whispered as he pushed the barrel of the gun against Yuna's chest, "You won't know what hit you…"

BANG

"AHHH!"

"Yuna! What's wrong? Calm down!"

Yuna clutched her chest and patted it down, confusion surfacing on her features. She'd just been shot. Hadn't she? She looked over and saw the familiar features of Tidus staring at her with concern in his eyes. She backed away quickly, unconsciously reaching to her hip for her gun, but realized it was missing. She looked down. She was wearing a nondescript white nightgown.

Her nightgown…

"Babe…?" came Tidus' voice as he gently ran a hand softly through her hair, "Bad dream?"

She trembled against his hand, but willed herself not to pull away. If she was sitting in the bed with him and not in the Chamber of the Fayth in Zanarkand, then it must have been a dream. She gazed into his eyes, "I…guess so."

He smiled at her, "Well, the alarm is about to go off anyway, so we might as well get up." He stretched and slid out of the bed, pulling his shorts over his narrow hips, "At least your dreams have the decency to wake us up when we're supposed to get up anyway." He said with a grin, leaning over and turning off the alarm that had just begun to chime on the table next to the bed.

"Yeah…" Yuna agreed quietly as she watched him. She pinched herself softly and didn't wake up. Was this reality? Was that really just a horrible dream? But…it had seemed so real.

"Are you okay in there, Yunie?! We heard screaming!"

Tidus padded down the stairs and opened the door. Yuna's cousin bounded up the stairs and rushed to hug her, "What's wrong?"

"She had a bad dream." Came Tidus' response, "Woke up clutching her chest like she thought her heart was gonna beat out of it."

"Poor chicky." Gippal said as he stepped in behind Rikku, "Bad dreams suck. I hate them too."

"When do you ever have a bad dream?" Yuna gasped. That voice…that face! She stiffened as the handsome, tanned platinum blonde came into the room. He smiled at her as he wedged himself between Rikku and Gippal, "You okay, Lady Yuna?"

"Baralai…?!"

Baralai smirked, "Last time I checked. You look surprised to see me. Why?"

Yuna's shocked expression changed into a look of sheer joy as she jumped out of the bed and wrapped her arms around Baralai's neck, embracing the taller man tightly against her. She didn't care that everyone was staring at her like she was insane. She didn't care about anything except for the fact that Baralai was okay. Somehow…someway…he was okay.

"Yunie!" Rikku hissed, pulling her cousin's arms from around Baralai's neck, "You're gonna strangle him, and even if you didn't I don't think Tidus likes this sudden display of affection."

Yuna pulled away sheepishly, "I'm sorry…" she whispered, "I just…it was my dream. It was weird and felt really real. And…in it, Baralai was killed…"

Baralai lifted an eyebrow, "You're dreaming about me being murdered?" He laughed, "Great…"

"Everybody wants to dream about that." Gippal teased, punching Baralai gently on the forearm, "You're such a pain in the ass after all."

Realization dawned on Yuna and her grin spread into a full out smile. She gazed at Gippal, "If Baralai is alive…then that means you and I didn't…" she let out a happy shout and hugged him too. Her eyes shined as she backed away, "This is just the greatest news ever!"

"Ooookay…" was Gippal's response.

Tidus wrapped his arms around Yuna from the back and spoke over her shoulder, "Well, Yuna and I need to get dressed. We'll meet you guys on the bridge in a few minutes."

"Sounds good!" Rikku chirped.

"Okay. See you in a few." Replied Gippal as the trio descended the stairs and left the room.

When they were alone again, Yuna tried to gather her clothes but Tidus' unrelenting gaze was making her uncomfortable. She looked at him over her shoulder, "Yes?"

"You dreamed Baralai was killed? What other weird stuff were you dreaming about? You seemed really upset when you woke up."

Yuna shrugged, "I dreamed Shuyin was possessing you and you killed Baralai and brought Seymour back and then killed me and that Cid was trying to pin the attack on Home on Gippal and that you shot Cid and…"

He held up his hand to stop her. His eyes were wide with shock, but he grinned anyway, "What did you eat before going to bed?"

She smiled, "I don't know…" she sighed and sat down on the bed, "Where are we going? I'm a little confused."

"Don't you remember? Last night you okayed the rebuilding of Zanarkand. Gippal wants to be in charge so he needs my input on how things used to be."

Yuna's eyes widened. She shook her head violently, "I changed my mind. I don't want to rebuild!" she shrieked, "In fact, I don't want you anywhere near Zanarkand. That's where it all started!"

"Where what started?"

"In my dream…in Zanarkand you started to succumb to Shuyin and…"

Tidus lifted his hand to her mouth to quiet her. He shook his head slowly as he caught her gaze, "Sweetheart," he whispered, "It was a dream. It wasn't real. It's not going to happen. You were just scared something would happen so your subconscious came up with that outlandish story, but we both know that is what it is. Outlandish."

He was right. Yuna knew that. Obviously it was just a dream. Baralai was alive. Rikku and Gippal didn't appear to be in a relationship. Cid wasn't beating the door down to arrest him. Tidus was acting like himself. Of course it was a dream. She sighed and nodded, "I know I'm being silly. Forgive me?"

"There's nothing to forgive." He replied, "You have every right to be nervous, but it's going to be okay."

Yuna smiled, "So…I guess Rikku and Gippal haven't admitted their madly in love yet? That was what was nice about my dream. They did."

"Well that is nice." Tidus conceded as he pulled his sneakers on and tied them, "but it's only a matter of time. Those two belong together."

"Yeah." Yuna agreed as she quickly dressed and then turned to Tidus, "Okay, let's go."

He laced his fingers through her own and together they descended the stairs. He reached for the door and at that moment Yuna realized he was singing to himself. She listened intently as the whispered tune became clear to her…and she thought her heart was going to stop.

"…and a thousand words….call out through the ages…they'll fly to you…"

"Stop it." She snapped, more forcefully than she wanted to.

He stopped in mid stride and stared at her, "What's the matter with you?"

"How do you know that song?"

He shrugged, "I don't know. I think I heard it somewhere, but I don't know where. What's wrong? Don't you like it?"

How was Yuna going to explain the feeling of dread boiling up in her stomach? It was a dream. So what if he knew that song? Shinra had probably just shown him the sphere of her performance. But wouldn't he remember that if he had? Yet…in her dream Shuyin gave no clue as to knowing the song. So why would Tidus know it now?

He was waiting for a response and Yuna knew she had to give him one. She held his hand tightly, "No, I don't like it." She replied, squeezing his hand, "And promise me that you won't mention it – or anything related to it – ever again."

Tidus cocked an eyebrow at her, "Okay…" he replied.

"And another thing." She said as he started for the door.

He stopped, "Yes?"

"If you start hearing voices, I want you to tell me instantly."

"Um…Are you okay?"

Yuna sighed and averted her eyes from his. Her gaze traveled down to her chest and she clutched at the fabric between her breasts tightly. Taking a quick intake of breath, Yuna nodded, "I'm just fine. It was all a dream after all. No reason to be afraid…"

And yet, her mind was remembering another dream she had thought wasn't real and turned out to be…two people running from Bevelle guards…running for their lives…

This wasn't like that.

Was it?

THE END