Locking This Away
by Kitt

Disclaimer: Just penning what makes sense to me, Square. I don't own any of 'em (unless they're original).

Click clack, click clack, click clack, boots upon the stone steps. Lulu had a thing for them, not just for the added height they provided but for the sounds they made on pavement. It was, to her, the sound of importance. She had always associated the clacking of heels with a lady approaching when she was little. It was an impression engraved deeply, an association she couldn't quite dispel.

But she hated it now---the sound, that is. It created a great echo in the chamber leading to the Farplane and it was downright irritating. She didn't want her coming to be marked with noise. The echoes were so loud and she was so deep within herself that it all seemed to be very otherworldly.

She made her way up without breaking the rhythm of her boots on the gray stone. From a distance she must have been quite a sight, black and white, hair and clothing and skin, with eyes the color of hot coals. Her face looked to be chiseled from solid moonlight, pale and cold in countenance. She moved with the preciseness of an Al Bhed machina, but with the glide of something less unnatural.

For the first time in a long time her hair was down. It was left so for mourning, a remarkably dramatic touch. She had it twisted and braided up for what felt like an eternity; it was quite symbolic to let it go now, because she came here with the intentions of releasing much more than traditional appearances.

There was warmth beneath all her outer chill, warmth she kept close to the core, a traveler unwilling to share his fireside with any other. She exposed it once and for that she had no regrets---no, it was the chance to share it again that she mourned now. She was here to pour out all that hidden fire, to unchain the sorrowing demon within and let it stir a bit, free of its shackles. Then she would tighten the locks and fix the restraints and hopefully go on with her life.

When she arrived on top, she noticed that the Farplane was more or less empty. There were only two other people there: two Guado, what looked like a father and his daughter.

She adjusted the black cowl she draped over herself, trying to hide her eyes with shadow it cast. They weren't moist yet, but she had doubted her own resolve and as far as she was concerned weeping was a private indulgence.

She walked further inward and realized just how anxious she was. Now that she was there, alone and more willing than was customary to speak her thoughts, the idea of facing who she came to face made her anxious. She trembled within; no, that one wouldn't appreciate torrents of emotional discord, would he? Despite the fact that he kept that every same thing within himself...

I don't know if I can do this...

Impulsively she bit down on her nervousness.

It would be foolish to turn back.

She walked over to the edge of the plain and stood there, waiting for the pyreflies to weave their magic and make the miracle. She concentrated, conjured up all the old memories she had locked inside. It never took too long for an image to appear.

So her frustration was not without reason when nothing happened right away. She couldn't understand it at first---there was no chance involved in coming to see the dead.

Where are you?

It was like looking for a lost lover in a crowd of faceless strangers. Was it him, personally? Were the pyreflies reacting to one of the strongest qualities he had in life? Ever since Lulu knew him he'd been a latecomer. Maybe in his own mind he was right on time, but to everyone else he was the last one, always.

Because he always walked when everyone else ran.

She sighed; her eyes were getting teary. She boldly met with the vast expanse before her, the Farplane in all its infinite and melancholy beauty, thinking, forcing her thoughts upon those pyreflies. She spoke in her mind as if it were he who was late for a meeting with her. It made her feel better to imagine it so; it made the visit more personal. That in turn made her more willing to open up.

Try to show up while I'm still here. I've held this inside for too long, and it's starting to burn.

She forced herself to swallow. Reflexively she lowered her eyes, almost as if she desired to look upon that which she had hidden away. Would her beastly sorrow snarl at her now, for being treated like an old love letter---something to be stuffed in a drawer, only with significantly less reverence?

I feel like I'm being snubbed.

It would be silly, to think that the pyreflies sometimes laughed at those who depended on them, but Lulu often wondered if that was the case, particularly now.

Sometimes I don't know when to say I care. I never told Chappu those were the happiest days of my life, either. There are a lot of things I never said. I suffer enough with regret; I don't need disappointment to add to the list.

She looked up with some hope this time, but he still wasn't there. A part of her smirked at her own fragile faith; the rest of her grew angry.

Damn you. Show yourself and let me get this over with. It's not like I'm the only one who's got explaining to do... I always wondered what went on in that head of yours. Not that you could ever say it now, but humor me.

He'd been very much like her: closed off to the rest of the world save for a precious few who had the keys to the locks. Coming off as stoic helped keep prying minds at bay, but now Lulu saw its disadvantages. What would have happened had she reached out then? What would have occurred had she let him know then that she was in that same boat with him, in concealing the sadness? She would never know, and that was silently killing her.

Scuffling, off to her right. Lulu turned---there was the Guado girl she saw earlier, sitting on one of the large rocks that fringed the Farplane. She looked to be no older than eleven, twelve at most, but she was tall by the look of her, gangly and long-fingered, violet-haired and marred with the same color on her face. Cruel as it sounded, Lulu always thought the Guado to be ugly. Not an insult in her mind, but a bald-faced fact.

The girl studied Lulu for a moment or so, unreadable save for a blend of sadness and edginess in her purple eyes. "Hi."

Lulu scowled slightly, then turned away. Beat it, she thought.

The girl recoiled, but wasn't completely put off. "Why are you here?"

Why are you talking to me? Lulu faced her again. She had an answer in mind, but it fled her then. "Why are you here" on the Farplane translated to "who are you visiting", and Lulu didn't have a name to put to that. Who was she visiting, generally speaking? Not a former boyfriend this time, not a parent, not someone who filled a specific role in her life. She was visiting a lost opportunity, a possible kindred, but that wouldn't make a good answer.

She settled on "I came to see someone I knew..."

"But they're not there---"

"I can see that."

She came off sharply again and again the Guado girl looked hurt. "I'm sorry," she mumbled. "I'm just curious. I never really talked to a human before."

Lulu gazed at her from the corner of her eye. "We're not much different than you."

At that the Guado girl said nothing, just shifted where she sat.

Now it was Lulu's turn to feel edgy. Her reason for coming not appearing wasn't the business of anyone but herself, yet here was someone making that their business. She grew bitter, now angry at multiple things, including her idea to come.

Am I cursed? Or have the pyreflies lost their touch? This isn't lateness, it's some kind of punishment. This never happened before.

The Guado girl tapped the rock she was on with her heel, drawing attention to herself once more. Lulu got the impression that she hadn't been talking because she was curious about a foreign race. She was hiding something, or perhaps more accurately, trying to avoid it. "The person you're here for," she resumed suddenly, "is it a man or a woman?"

At that Lulu's lips twisted into an expression lost between a smile and a smirk. "Oh, he's very much a man." A man that had walked among boys.

"Your father?"


"Anyone in your family?"

Lulu shook her head. "No, just someone I wanted to...know a little better." She paused temporarily, wondering how much she could say without telling the whole tale, something that would make an end of the brief exchange. "Someone I wanted to say something to, but I never got around to doing it." I was hesitant. I was unsure. He was unreadable. And apparently those are crimes somehow, because I'm doing time for them. Maybe that's why the pyreflies won't hear me.

Could it be that I'm here atoning? And Yunalesca thought humanity couldn't reach such purity. I have a mind to prove her otherwise, even if it's just with me.

Atonement. Lulu spent the greater part of her life hearing that word, and now it was starting to annoy her, just like the girl sitting across from her making this unwanted conversation. How long would her strength last before she snapped her head off? She sat down on a rock opposite the young Guado, feeling emotionally drained. She gave her cowl another tug forward and raised her eyes to the girl. If I can't beat you, I'll join you. "Why don't you tell me why you're here?"

At being questioned the Guado girl seemed bothered. She frowned and lowered her gaze. "My dad made me. We come here every week." That last sentence was spoken in mockery, perhaps of something her father drilled into her head often. She drew her long legs up and hid her face behind her knees. "I don't like being here."

"Oh" was all Lulu said at first. Then, "Why not?"

"Because I don't want to see my mother. My dad always tries to make me." A thoughtful pause. "He's always talking about her." She raised her head and pointed to a spot far behind Lulu. "Look."

That Lulu did, over her right shoulder, and found the second Guado she saw earlier, staring out at the specter of another of his kind. Lucky him. I remember when I used to visit this place with no problems. Lulu faced the Guado girl again, mildly curious and willing to put off her own unhappiness, if at least for a short while. "Why won't you go see her?"

The girl shied away from a direct answer. "Because."

Lulu raised a brow. "Because?"

"Just because."

A while passed and no one spoke. Yet the quiet was awkward, not the kind Lulu wanted, and she suddenly found the greater part of her thoughts to be focused on getting the Guado girl to leave. She stole another glance at her unwanted companion and found her with arms resting on her knees, head atop them. Her eyes shimmered behind a veil of tears. Whatever she was holding back, it was wearing down her resistance.

She caught Lulu's eyes then and that was all it took. The dam was broken. "I hate this place. I hate coming here. I wanna be back home. But no, my dad keeps telling me we have to come! I don't want to talk to my mother!" Her frown deepened and her face turned red. "She left me! She left me and my dad and now he's sad all the time! I hate her. I hate her so much..." She buried her face completely in her arms. Her body shook with sobbing. Eventually she raised her head, looking in the direction of her father with glazy eyes. There was a little pause before she cried "No! No!" and lowered her head again.

That tugged at Lulu's curiosity. She threw another glance over her shoulder and found the girl's father beckoning her. Her mother's image was still there before him, as if in waiting.

Still seated, Lulu turned away, trying with every ounce of effort she could summon to ignore the Guado girl's weeping. She felt her own tears welling up again. How did I get dragged into that? I have my own problems. I want to be left alone.

She went back to waiting, but still nothing appeared before her. She tried to focus on the fact that this was beyond late now, but she couldn't entirely put her mind to it. She felt bad for the stubborn Guado girl who refused to see her mother. She left you? She must have died suddenly, then.

She heard the girl slide off the rock, leaving her alone at long last. Footsteps sounded and Lulu turned to watch as the girl walked over to her father and sat down beside him. She still refused to see her mother: her back was to the image, her legs drawn up again.

You just wanted to get your mind off things, didn't you? She blinked away a few stray tears. Like me, right? But other people come here to do the same thing, and they don't want to be bothered...

You shouldn't be so upset. You're young yet. You'll get over it. One day you'll come back here and be able to face your mother. Me... I'm not a child. I'm not going to pout and then get over it quite so fast. I'm too stubborn to let that happen.

Funny, but that suddenly Lulu felt much older than her twenty-two years.

Grief ages people...

Thoughtlessly she pushed the cowl back so that it rested like a hood behind her neck. She ran a hand over her hair mechanically, as if to assure herself that it really wasn't done up elaborately as per normal. For a moment nothing seemed to be real; everything required proof.

For the umpteenth time her eyes gazed out to the far and yonder. The pyreflies weaved trails of light around each other but still brought forth no familiar sights. The one Lulu had come to see did not appear, and her frustration mounted into another tier of anger and sadness.

She cursed silently. You... Sometimes I feel like I hate you. And I shouldn't, I know I shouldn't, but I want to place the blame on something, and I have enough to carry myself.

In a few moments Lulu's solitude was complete---the Guado girl and her father left the Farplane. Whether or not the girl had bothered to confront the ghost of her mother would never be known, but really, it mattered little. Lulu was starting to understand how she felt.

I think I do hate him...and myself for letting him slide through my fingers. I was a fool.

How can I make that up to myself? How can I get over it if he won't appear and give me a chance to get this out in the open?

Her eyes felt hot. A single tear escaped her eye and snaked a heavy trail down her pale cheek. She wiped it away miserably. That was the last straw.

"You still won't see me, even now?" she said aloud. "This shouldn't happen. It's not right. I've never come up here and had to wait so long for someone to show like this. This is all just an illusion! It isn't real! So why won't you come to me? Why won't these things listen?" A small sob interrupted that last word, but she bit her lip and remained insistent upon not crying, even if there was no audience to watch. "I miss you, damn it. More than you'll know, I suppose. And it'll all stay inside of me forever now, and for that I do hate you. As childish as that sounds. I... I'm just talking to myself."

She forced herself to sigh, hoping that would rid her of that awful urge to bawl her eyes out, but it didn't work. It was an invitation for another sob and she gave into it. She buried her face in her hands.

I hate you. I hate you for leaving. I hate you for not telling me you were unsent. Oh, sure, I had an inkling since the last time I came here, but it's not the same as being told. Instead I find out at the last minute. You can't imagine how much that hurt, seeing you... I don't want to think it over.

But I can't wholly blame you, can I? Who blew their chance? Who didn't answer when opportunity knocked? And who regrets it all now? I want to put the blame on you, but really...

A single pyrefly flitted past her nose. She trailed its course with her eyes for a time, turning a thought over and over in her head.

Hmmm. I think I see now. This wasn't entirely in vain. I see what I must do.

She slid off the rock and got to her feet, drawing herself up straight and prim. She spurned her tears with words one last time. "They never knew. But you know now, or at least I want to think you do. You heard me, I know you did." She fought down a lump in her throat. "And you can hear this too: I'm never going to tell anyone. Ever. It'll be my secret." Again she paused, but this time to absorb the magnitude of her decision. And let it burn inside for as long as I live? "Yes. That's what I'm doing. This is my affair, my mistake, the only thing I have left of you. What good would it do to make it open? I might forget you that way. No, it stays inside, no matter who comes into my life next or where they take me. I'm keeping it." Let it burn forever.

She turned smoothly and began to walk away. She was nearly out of the Farplane when she caught something on the light breeze: the scent of his coat. But it was a fleeting sensation.

You stopped walking, but I'm left running still. Don't worry, I'm used to being left behind.

There was a gathering of pyreflies then, many of them drawing to a certain point, and they seemed to call to her. They were beckoning in the chambers of her mind as the Guado girl's father had done with his daughter, and like that girl Lulu resisted. She had found her closure; going back might mean losing it.

She sniffed and raised her head high, but did not turn around. Her voice was low when she spoke, softly but chidingly, "You're late as always, Sir Auron."