Fandom: Final Fantasy X-2
Author: owlmoose, a.k.a. KJ
Spoilers: Yes, for the whole game. Also for Final Fantasy X.
Acknowledgments: Many thanks to heyheyrenay for enabling me, to kunstarniki for an early read-through, to delladella for an excellent copy-edit, and most especially to parron for lots of beta duty, general encouragement, and graphic artistry.
Paine and Nooj appear in Final Fantasy X-2 and belong to Spira, a world with some history. As the precursor to Final Fantasy X-2, Final Fantasy X introduced a young summoner named Yuna and detailed her journey to defeat Sin, a giant sea monster that plagued the people of Spira for a thousand years. Though defeated before, Sin always rose again to terrorize the world, and Yuna sought a way to put down the monster for good. But there were those who staked their way of life on preserving the status quo: Yevon, a powerful organization, part government, part military, and part religious order. The military arm of Yevon, called the Crusaders, was decimated by a battle with Sin that turned out to have been a scheme by Yevon's leaders, the Maesters, to test the faithful. The Maesters also tried to stop and even kill Yuna, but with the help of a group of guardians and a young man called Tidus, she discredited Yevon and destroyed Sin permanently. There was a price, though: the life of Tidus, who was a dream, his existence sustained by the cycle that had kept Sin coming back time after time. He faded away, leaving Yuna to rebuild her life alone.
Two years pass between the games. Spira is largely at peace, although the cracks are beginning to show. Yevon has broken into two factions. One, New Yevon, is led by the remains of the clergy and maintains the temples. The organization is headed by a Praetor; the first, Trema, was a former priest who, shortly before the beginning of the game, was ousted and replaced by one of the younger members, Baralai. The other group, called the Youth League, formed to oppose New Yevon and consists mostly of former Crusaders. Mevyn Nooj, a highly regarded Crusader himself, is the founder and leader of this group. Both factions hunt for spheres, recordings that show images from the world's past, but for different reasons: New Yevon wishes to keep them secret, while the Youth League plans to expose the information they contain. A number of independent groups, or "sphere hunters," are out searching as well. As the game begins, Yuna joins one of her former guardians, her cousin Rikku, in a sphere hunting group called the Gullwings. The other members of this group are Rikku's brother, his two friends Buddy and Shinra, their Hypello barkeep, and a woman called Paine. Rikku has been given a sphere that seems to depict Tidus, and Yuna's quest to find her lost love catapults her into another epic mission. She discovers that the man in the sphere is Shuyin, a thousand-year-old ghost plotting to use the super-weapon Vegnagun to destroy the world. With tensions between the Youth League and New Yevon threatening to erupt into war in the background, Yuna confronts Shuyin and stops him, saving Spira for a second time.
Paine is one of the three main characters of FFX-2, a member of the trio at the heart of the Gullwings, the P of YRP. She's a sword-wielder with a sharp tongue, always ready with a quick comeback or a cutting insult; Yuna observes that she "gets all the good lines." Paine's not afraid to start a fight and will stand up to anyone who she thinks is in the wrong. Sarcastic, blunt, and aloof at the beginning of the game, she presents a somewhat mysterious figure when we first meet her. She's closed-mouthed about her history and refuses to explain whenever she's asked about it; such questions often result in a display of her quick temper. Although she considers Yuna and Rikku friends, Paine is something of a loner, tending to hang back and not let anyone get too close. It seems likely that, having once been badly hurt by someone she cared about, she resolved to keep her distance in the future. Slowly, though, she begins to open up to others, both in terms of sharing the truth about her past and of showing her emotions, and we learn that she cherishes her friendships. As the game progresses, the Gullwings find a number of spheres that reveal a key fact about her past: she was once a recorder for the Crimson Squad, an elite military group that Yevon was training to lead the Crusaders. She was assigned to observe a team of three candidates for the Squad, one of whom was...
Nooj, Meyvn of the Youth League. His nickname is "Nooj the Undying," and he had a legendary reputation among the Crusaders. He lost his left arm and leg in battle with Sin. The missing limbs have been replaced with mechanical ("machina") prosthetics, though he walks with the aid of a cane. Eventually, it comes out that he was once a Deathseeker, actively searching for an opportunity to go down fighting, and that he may still entertain suicidal impulses. Under his leadership, the Youth League hunts for spheres and squabbles with New Yevon, bringing Spira to the brink of war. He comes off as brusque, somewhat arrogant, and a natural leader. Although he is not fond of being in charge, people tend to gravitate to him regardless. We also learn that he is prone to moments of depression and despair. However, discussion of Nooj's personality is complicated by the fact that he is possessed by another character for the first half of the game.
Paine: I've been chasing my past for so long. Sometimes getting it back is all I can think about. Other times, I just want to forget.
Two years before the beginning of the game, concurrent with the events of FFX, Paine was recording the movements of three candidates for the Crimson Squad: the Al Bhed Gippal, the Yevonite Baralai, and the former Crusader Nooj (referred to here collectively as the CS3). In theory, the Crimson Squad was formed by the Maesters in order to train leaders for the Crusaders, but in Paine's recordings (the "Crimson Spheres," collected as part of the game's storyline), a very different picture emerges. In these spheres, we see the CS3 get to a somewhat rocky start; witness a suicide attempt by Nooj, which is foiled by Paine (he tries to walk, unarmed, into the teeth of a fiend, but she shoots the monster before it can get him); see all four teammates bonding and laughing on a ship; and watch as they enter a cave called the Den of Woe to observe some mysterious force. Before long, the candidates are killing one another. The mysterious force, which turns out to be Shuyin, possesses Nooj, shows all three men visions of Vegnagun, and then forces them to point their guns at one another. Paine stops them from pulling their triggers with a shout, and they leave the cave, only to be assaulted by warrior monks of Yevon, who clearly meant this operation to leave no survivors. The true purpose of the Crimson Squad is never really explained, but the obvious implication is that the group was formed entirely for the purposes of exploring this cave. It seems likely that the Maesters were hoping to gain control of Shuyin and therefore Vegnagun.
The Maesters are foiled, though, when the CS3 escape, once again thanks to Paine, who warns the trio to run. The next we see of the crew, they have gathered on the Mi'ihen Highroad, outside the Travel Agency. They discuss the incident and agree to split up to evade capture. As Paine is recording their goodbyes, she captures a shocking sight: Nooj pulling out his gun and shooting his teammates in the back, first Baralai, then Gippal. Then he turns on Paine and shoots her as well.
At the time, this seemed like a shocking betrayal with no apparent cause. Later, Paine describes the incident as "an accident." Eventually, though, a return trip to the Den of Woe proves that Nooj was still possessed at the time of the shooting. YRP confront Shuyin and learn that he was controlling Nooj's actions when he gunned down his friends. Shuyin planned to break up their brotherhood and encourage the CS3 to sow distrust throughout Spira … and it worked.
Paine: This is what destroyed the Squad. Despair strong enough to crush the minds of those it touches.... They felt Shuyin's despair. They went mad, and they died. They killed each other!
Shuyin: But these three lived. [Laughs.] So I decided to use them.
Paine (angry almost to the point of tears): You'll pay!
After leaving the cave, YRP reflect on what they've learned.
Paine: It was Shuyin. Two years ago, the guys encountered Shuyin's memories and learned of Vegnagun. After we escaped, they said they would uncover the truth behind it. But then... Nooj shot us. We thought he'd betrayed us. But Nooj wasn't Nooj. I understand now: Shuyin was using him the whole time.
Yuna: Let's go find him, Paine.
Paine: Agreed. We've got to free him from Shuyin.
There are a number of canon indications that Nooj and Paine were involved during the Crimson Squad training and still harbor feelings for one another. Not every hint and suggestive moment is listed here; I chose these scenes because I think they present the strongest evidence.
1. On the last of the Crimson Spheres, as Paine approaches the CS3 on the Mi'ihen Highroad, Nooj greets her.
Nooj: I'm glad you're all right.
Paine: You're not mad?
Paine: I kept you from dying.
Nooj: You can owe me one.
Their tone and Nooj's body language (Paine is recording and therefore not visible), during this conversation and afterwards, is casual and familiar, suggesting that they are close friends at the very least, and quite possibly more than that.
2. The first meaningful in-game interaction between Paine and Nooj happens in Chapter 2, when YRP meet Nooj in front of the sealed entrance to the Den of Woe. If you gave the sphere stolen from Kilika Temple to the Youth League, Yuna and Rikku have a conversation with Nooj in which they offer to find the rest of the Crimson Spheres. Nooj agrees, then offers a sphere to Paine.
Nooj: Perhaps this is fate?
Paine: I don't think so.
She takes the sphere; he holds her gaze for a few seconds, then turns and walks away; she watches him go.
If you gave the Kilika Sphere to New Yevon, Nooj is rather hostile to the Gullwings, but he still hands Paine the Crimson Sphere. "Never thought you'd end up a sphere hunter," he says. "It's yours. Happy hunting."
In both versions, everything about the encounter -- postures, facial expressions, voice acting -- reeks of tension. Rikku and Yuna pick up on this vibe and, as soon as Nooj is gone, demand to know what they just saw.
Rikku: Whoa, whoa, whoa! You know him?
Paine: Why should you care?
Rikku: Come on, there was something between you two, right?
The other girls continue to press for answers, and for the first time we see Paine get angry and defensive about her past, to the point of telling Yuna that she'll "lose friends" if she pushes too far. Accordingly, Yuna and Rikku let the matter drop. Whatever Paine's not telling them, she makes clear that it's painful and of great significance to her.
Even if there were no other evidence for the pairing, this scene alone makes a persuasive case for a past romantic history between Paine and Nooj.
3. The next key moment happens beneath Bevelle during Chapter 3, when Paine, Rikku, and Yuna witness Baralai's confronting Nooj about the shooting on the Highroad. While YRP watch from the shadows, the CS3 recreate the incident in the Den of Woe, pointing their guns at one another. Shuyin makes his presence known, brags that he forced Nooj to shoot the other three on the Highroad, and leaves Nooj to possess Baralai. Nooj collapses to the ground as Shuyin, in Baralai's body, levels his gun at Nooj and prepares to shoot him. Before he can fire, Paine bursts from hiding.
Nooj: Paine! Get out of here!
Paine's tone is panicked and desperate; Nooj has real fear in his voice as he orders Paine to protect herself. But YRP are set upon by a fiend before they can reach the CS3, and by the time they defeat it, the three men have escaped. Once again, the encounter raises questions about Paine's past that she declines to answer in full, although she's not quite as hostile this time. She admits to having known the CS3 and to having been shot by Nooj. (Note: This is before YRP understand the truth about the Shuyin possession.)
4. Paine and Nooj don't meet again until the Farplane, right before the final battle with Vegnagun. When the solution he offers for stopping Shuyin requires him to sacrifice his life, the two other girls shake their heads and say no, but it's Paine to whom the camera slowly pans. She takes a step forward to confront him.
Paine: But... you're our captain.
She says nothing more, turning her back on him, but the tension between them is back. After Yuna talks him out of the suicide attack, everyone splits up to fight Vegnagun in small groups. As Nooj is about to leave, he pauses, and turns back. "See you later," he says gently, with a wave and an expression that's almost a smile. We zoom in on Paine, who nods.
This is the last direct interaction between them in the game, and it speaks volumes. There is no mistake that Nooj is promising Paine that he will come back; the implication is that he intends not only to survive this battle, but to seek out Paine afterwards.
"But What About..."
No evidence specifically contradicts the idea that Nooj and Paine were once involved, but there is one canon obstacle to the pairing's going forward, and that's Leblanc. The head of the Leblanc Syndicate, another group of sphere hunters, Leblanc spends a great deal of the game chasing after Nooj; she sighs over him, calls him her "Noojie-Woojie," follows him to Bevelle and then the Farplane when she thinks he's in danger, and seems to believe that he returns her feelings. Does he, or is she in denial about a one-sided infatuation? The evidence is not clear in either direction. Also unclear is how much Shuyin might have influenced Nooj's relationship with Leblanc, as canon has little to say about how much control Shuyin exerted over Nooj on a day-to-day basis. In my opinion, Leblanc is probably some sort of factor in Nooj's life and so can't be completely dismissed. However, I believe that the evidence, particularly the scenes before the final battle, suggests that, whatever Nooj might feel for Leblanc, he cares more about Paine in the end.
The first time I played FFX-2, I immediately took to Paine. She's tough, funny, intelligent, and seems somehow older and wiser than her teammates. Unfortunately, I missed several key scenes the first time through, so I didn't really notice the Paine/Nooj implications until my first replay. But on that replay, the possibility grabbed hold of me and would not let go. The first time I noticed their potential as a pairing was during the meeting in front of the Den of Woe. It was the less-evocative New Yevon version, but I was still caught immediately by the suggestion that Paine and Nooj might have once been lovers. Several months and another replay later, my brain was hijacked by what might have happened between them after the game. I wrote down the idea, expanded on it, and before I knew it, I had written my first fanfic. I doubt I would have ever found fandom without my interest in this pairing.
The Crimson Squad mystery is one of the most well-developed facets of the game. The themes of lost friendship and trying to recover the past resonate through the history of this quartet, and I find the suggestion of a Paine/Nooj relationship adds depth and poignancy to that part of the story. There's also the fact that a past relationship is so well supported by canon. Never explicitly stated, still the game drops all kinds of hints, sub- and not-so-subtext. They look at each other a little too long, speak to and about each other a little too carefully, in ways that read as unresolved sexual tension. Most of the cues are subtle, but they're there and almost impossible to miss.
But, most importantly, I find the relationship compelling because of all the issues raised by their history. How do you love someone who tried to kill you? How do you love someone who wants to die? How do you begin again after a two-year separation marked by betrayal and loss? These questions provide the hook for a lot of story-telling potential. Because their relationship is left vague, with no clear picture of what it might have been like or whether they reunited after the game, canon leaves a lot of gaps to fill. Paine/Nooj is not a light, fluffy, skip-to-the-happily-ever-after-part pairing, but that's why I love it. It's dark and difficult and very real.
The Paine/Nooj fandom is small in comparison to the FFX-2 fandom. To my knowledge, there are no communities dedicated to it, although there is a C2 on Fanfiction.net. (In the interest of full disclosure, I should say that many of the stories in that C2 were written by me.) There is a fanlisting, but most of the sites linked to it are dead or general fandom sites. So this section will be, of necessity, a bit thin. For general resources on the Final Fantasy X-2 fandom, check out the Final Fantasy post on newbieguide (http://community.livejournal.com/newbieguide/14808.html).
"The Warrior and the Deathseeker" - a FF.net C2 maintained by yuna_flowering:
"Blurring the Lines" - a short story by The Jack of Spades. Set during the game, showing a moment that captures their tangled and painful history.
"The Confessional" - a four-part multi-chapter story that tells the story of the Crimson Squad from the point of view of each of the participants. All four pieces touch on the Paine/Nooj relationship, but of course the Nooj version (http://www.fanfiction.net/s/2424223/1/) (by Ikonopeiston) and Paine version (http://www.fanfiction.net/s/2485491/1/) (by me) focus on it most closely. Also Gippal/Baralai.