Rating: PG (for death/suicide references)
Characters: Nooj (Paine/Nooj)
Notes: Written for the second round of trope_bingo. The tropes used were deathfic and reunions, although it plays pretty loose with the latter. I don't usually warn for character death, but since that's the entire premise of this fic, I'll go ahead and put it out there this time. (I think I owe the world some fluff after this.)
Also on AO3
The aide stood at the door to Nooj's office, her tanned skin ashen, her eyes over-bright with the terrible news: the Celsius had spiraled into the ocean with all hands aboard. He took a deep breath and forced his shoulders to relax, his next words to be steady. "So the rest of the crew was rescued?"
"Yes, sir. The Al Bhed got the distress call and went out there with a salvage ship. The High Summoner is unhurt, and the other Gullwings escaped with minor to moderate injuries. But Paine...." She bit her lip, and shook her head. "I'm sorry, meyvn. They couldn't get to her in time."
"I see." Beneath his desk, his good hand clenched into a fist, nails digging into the pad of his thumb. "Was she sent?"
"Lady Yuna attended to her, yes." She lowered her eyes. "It was-- peaceful. Or so the message said."
Nooj nodded. "Thank you for telling me. Dismissed." He formed the words automatically, not looking at her as he gave the order, not even really registering her salute or her footsteps receding into the distance. Across the room, the commsphere crackled with the static of an incoming call, but he ignored it. Gippal, probably, or Baralai, ready to offer sympathy, company, a shoulder to cry on. The last thing he wanted right now. Instead, he stood up from his desk and walked away from the call, out onto the balcony that overlooked the Youth League training grounds and the Mushroom Rock Coast below.
The sky had been a dingy gray all day, heavy with oncoming rain. He let his cane clatter to the wooden deck as he gripped the balcony rail with both hands. Leaning over the edge, he looked over the bluffs and down to the beach: jagged rocks on the shore, pounded by waves from the oncoming storm. He had almost died fighting Sin on that beach, years ago. Dozens of Crusaders had died that day, and he should have been one of them, but he wasn't. Not on that day, nor on any other. So many times he had cheated death -- or been cheated out of it. And for what? For this? To be standing here, alone in the rain? For the privilege of outliving Paine?
Paine. He tipped his head back, closing his eyes to shut out the memory of her voice, her sword flashing in the darkness, the deft touch of her hand on his arm, her dark red eyes--
Ever since Shuyin, since Vegnagun, since becoming himself again, he and Paine had danced around each other, dealing with their relationship by avoiding the subject completely. Too much to do, he'd always told himself; he needed to focus on holding the League together, on aiding in the endless negotiations with New Yevon, the Guado, the Ronso, the Al Bhed, on ensuring that Spira never again grabbed its own annihilation by the throat. Whenever he'd thought about Paine, Nooj expected they would have time to talk it all through, to figure themselves out later. Later, always later. Now later had vanished forever, with no warning. There would be no later, not in this world.
But if he jumped, later could be now.
How long had it been since he'd last courted death? Months, at least. Perhaps even years. But the thought slipped in like an old friend, like a mug of warm milk on a cold day. He opened his eyes and considered the rocks again, the salt spray swirling around them, smoothing the jagged edges, endless kisses with a fist. An updraft riffled through his hair, and he imagined the fall, the wind rushing past, the waves crashing louder, and then... silence. Scattered into pyreflies, returning to the Farplane, where Paine...
Where Paine would be waiting on a field of flowers, eyes flashing, arms crossed, foot tapping with frustration and anger. Despite the tightness in his throat, he smiled at the image. "Don't you dare, Nooj. Not for me. Not after all I did to keep you alive."
Turning away from the rocks, he looked to the sky, and blinked away the raindrops that pelted his forehead and trickled into his eyes. Two years ago, he might have felt differently, but Nooj the Deathseeker had been a different man, and that man had died with Shuyin. So he would carry on. For Paine, for Spira, for himself.
"All right," he murmured into the air, moving to face north, willing the words as far as Guadosalam. "See you later." The Paine in his mind smiled, nodded, then faded into pyreflies. Nooj swept his hand over his face to wipe the rain from his cheeks -- just rain, nothing more. He retrieved his cane and walked back into the office, leaving the temptation of the cliff behind him, not a glance over his shoulder. Instead of returning to his desk, he took a seat by the commsphere. He punched in the keys that would connect him to Djose Temple, and the land of the living.
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