A minute ago I had been beneath Bevelle, a machina pistol in my hand, held surprisingly steady considering that I was pointing the weapon at Nooj's forehead while Gippal pled with us both, pleading by training his own gun on me. And then the Nooj-who-was-not laughing, talking, coming close to some explanation that would make everything clear, that would give me a reason to no longer hate and fear my closest friend.
Not even a minute ago. Now, somehow, I was somewhere else, I didn't know where, slumped on the ground, body aching, soul exhausted for no reason I could explain. Slim strong arms lifted me up, pulling me to safety; I looked up and saw Paine, her eyes filled with relief but also distracted.
"It's okay, you'll be fine, I'll explain in a– oh hell." She tossed a full water skin into my lap and hurried away. I gulped the cool water down greedily, then lay back against– something, something cool and metallic, a surface I didn't recognize, and wondered how I'd gotten here.
Except that was a lie. I remembered it all, I knew exactly where I was, what I had done, what had been done to me. I tried to tell myself otherwise, but I couldn't hold back the onrushing memories. The hatred, the fear, the utter hopelessness, my fingers pounding at the keys of Vegnagun as the monstrous weapon shuddered beneath me, death and annihilation my goal — my own, everyone else's. How could I have tried to destroy all of Spira? I found an answer, and clung to it: I hadn't been me. Someone else had done all those things in the guise of Baralai, wearing his skin, inhabiting his personality, hijacking his brain — as Gippal had so aptly put it two years ago, in another lifetime. Other. Foreign. Separate. Not me not me not me not…
Except it had been me. It was him, but it was also me. I had become him, somehow, his thoughts and feelings and memories merging with mine until I couldn't tell the difference, could no longer feel where Shuyin ended and Baralai began. Some analytical part of me distantly wondered if Nooj's experience had been similar and made a mental note to ask when all this was over. But the rest was still in denial and so I leaned back into the safety of Vegnagun and willed myself to forget. Not forever, just for now.
The girls were fighting. He was fighting them, solid without having to borrow my body — he had drawn all of my strength and all I could do was watch as he tried to kill them. Paine, and Rikku, and Yuna.
Unbidden, thoughts of the Farplane Glen sprang forth, and I remembered. The feel of her in my arms again, the pure joy of looking into her eyes and stroking her hair and laying my cheek against her face. I knew that these emotions were not mine, any more than the hatred and anger and despair had been, that I was feeling Shuyin's passion for Lenne, the release of a love denied for a thousand years, and yet they were my feelings too, for buried deep in my heart were thoughts of Yuna — an admiration sparked, a crush nurtured, a hope cherished. And for just a moment, the dream had become reality as I held her close and she nuzzled into my neck and I was hers and she was mine…
I clenched my fists, burying my fingernails into my palms, and the pain shocked me back to the present, to reality, where Yuna was not mine. Lenne was Shuyin's. That was all.
"Baralai." The voice came from my left, low and concerned, and I looked up to see Nooj looming over me. Disheveled and bruised, presumably from battle, he held out his right hand and I took it, levering myself up as he braced the good leg and the cane against the ground, balancing both of us as I stood.
"We should get out of here," he said. "They'll finish him off."
I turned my attention to the battle and saw him slumping, weary, on the verge of collapse. And then Lenne was there, holding him up, and I noticed Yuna too, the two of them side by side, separate beings. Without thinking, almost idly, I raised my hand to my face and studied it, then looked at Shuyin's hands, no longer a part of me as they wrapped around Lenne's. Suddenly the world shifted back into focus, and I knew who I was again. A living man, here, now, not a memory of a man a thousand years dead, neither a ghost nor a dream. Baralai from Bevelle, Praetor of New Yevon. Me.
With that thought came profound relief, and my strength returned. "Yes," I said, speaking with my own voice for the first time since Shuyin had gained control, and I followed Nooj off the battlefield, heading back towards the places where life held sway.