This was ten years ago. More or less. Like many of the meetings in
the crowded city ("crowded" and "city" only by certain very relaxed
standards) of Luca, it was a chance thing, unplanned and unexpected.
Inside her older brother's little cafÃ©, Kahva leaned on the counter
and stared at the door. She had offered to take care of business at this
late hour so that her brother could go to sleep early--he'd been up and
about altogether too much the day before, putting up with the crowds
brought in by a big game at the stadium. But the people had dwindled to
their usual amount, it was now late, and Kahva was bored. She went on
staring at the door as if willing someone to push it open.
Outside, two men hurried to keep up with another, rather more drunk
one as he wove his way through the various lanes and avenues (he had higher
standards for cities than your average inhabitant of Spira and therefore
had trouble thinking of these byways as "streets"). The one closest behind
him was maintaining a careful composure despite the circumstances--the more
observant, or those that recognized this group, would have called it a
summoner's serenity. The trailing end of the trio wasn't bothering to keep
hold of any such thing, and he therefore fairly radiated righteous
The drunk man stumbled, slammed heavily against a door, and promptly
fell into a quiet little cafÃ©.
Kahva stared at him.
He stared at her. Finally, he said, "Call that a door? In, in
"I did call it a door," Kahva said. "It's missing a few hinges now."
In Zanarkand? The man must be even drunker than he looked. They probably
did have doors in Zanarkand, but they were undoubtedly buried under piles
of ancient rubble and Yevon only knew what else.
"Should've built it better!" The wild-looking man had gotten up from
the floor by now and looked about to try to walk further into the cafÃ©.
Not particularly wanting that, Kahva got out from behind the counter and
started toward him.
"Then you can help us build it a second time. If you can stand up
straight for long enough. Or, better yet, you can get out now and--"
An elaborately-clad figure stepped into the cafÃ©. "I'm sorry if
Jecht is bothering you," he said in conciliatory tones.
"Oh, are you?" Kahva peered at him. She'd seen the face before, in
spheres--he was a summoner, and not a particularly well-liked one at that.
If this was the kind of person he traveled with, Kahva was unsurprised
about his lack of popularity. "What are you doing with...Jecht here, Lord--
um--" It would've been nice to have remembered his name as well.
"Braska," the summoner supplied. "He's with me as a guardian."
"I am," Jecht insisted, trying to back out the doorway and instead
bumping into the wall.
Kahva blinked as she fought an internal struggle between her sense of
drama, which said throw a fit, and her common sense, which said shut up and
humor the obviously crazy summoner. The "throw a fit" option was
dangerously close to winning when she was distracted by a vaguely familiar
voice from just outside the cafÃ©. The words said, "My lord?" The tone
said, 'What has he done this time?'
"My other guardian," Braska said to Kahva. Then, in the direction
of the (now rather skewed) door, he called, "You can come in if you want."
"Not if he's like this guy he--" Kahva began, moving toward the
doorway. She stopped when the third man stepped inside. They both froze.
He looked at her like prey that's just been spotted by a predator and
is now attempting to decide whether to run or stay put in the hopes that
doing so would convince the predator that it had merely seen a statue.
After a delicate moment, he decided on the former option and turned around.
At this point, Kahva's hand snapped out, apparently without consulting her
brain first, and grabbed the long brown braid as it presented itself. She
yanked. He yelped.
"That wasn't very guardian-like, turning around and running--well,
trying to run away," she observed. "I need to talk to you." It occurred
to her, in the part of her brain capable of conceiving either of these two
men as guardians, that she probably shouldn't have done that in front of
Lord Braska. She dismissed the nagging tinge of common sense without much
The other guardian (was he really? It seemed so ridiculous an idea)
fairly hooted with laughter. "Auron's got women problems?"
"Jecht," Auron said, keeping quite still in order to avoid getting
his hair yanked again, "you are very drunk. Please leave."
Braska shot him a questioning glance and got a (very careful) nod in
return. The summoner took hold of Jecht's arm and maneuvered the two of
them out of the cafÃ©.
That left Kahva alone with Auron. She resisted the urge to pull his
hair again, just for the sheer malicious fun of it. That was childish.
She was not childish. Usually. Sometimes. "If I let you go, will you
"The correct answer is 'no,'" Kahva prompted. "At least, it had
There was another stretching moment of silence. Auron was an
essentially honest man, and he wasn't sure if it would be a lie to answer
the way she wanted him to. Finally, he ventured, "No." Another pause,
this one quite brief, and she let go. He whirled around, rubbing at the
back of his neck and trying to find his dignity. They looked at each other
warily, not yet saying anything.
Pull back for a moment--
In the weeks preceding what would be known as Lord Braska's Calm
after the summoner in question had defeated Sin, neither of these two look
especially impressive. They're both in their mid-twenties, perhaps,
although elements of the child stick with each.
Kahva is a little below average height and a little over average
weight, with wavy, neglected auburn hair down around her shoulders and wide
but otherwise unremarkable dark eyes. She looks a bit like the one plush
doll that no one ever wanted to play with. There's always a nagging hint
of sulkiness about her.
Granted, Auron is slightly more impressive than Kahva, but that's not
difficult. Trim and tall, he moves and stands like a trained fighter,
which he is. His eyes are the same bright brown color as his hair, maybe a
shade darker, and all the training in Spira couldn't shake the earnest look
of dedication from them. He looks like he'd have a great deal of trouble
simply relaxing and having fun. For all that, though, a boyish sense of
certainty undercuts much of the seriousness he tries so hard to maintain.
Zoom in again.
"Um," Kahva said. "What are you doing here?"
He shifted his weight a little toward the doorway, but didn't try to
escape yet. Instead, he straightened up and answered with an authority
that went beyond mere pride, "Guarding Lord Braska." He was quite aware
that this wasn't the answer she was looking for.
"You really annoy me sometimes," she said. He didn't reply. She
went on, "I thought you'd gone off to join the warrior monks. Protecting
the sanctity of Yevon, that sort of thing."
"I thought you were going to become a healer for the Crusaders."
Auron could be very adept at not answering questions when he wanted to be.
She decided to let him, for now. "They said I don't have the, the
temperament for it, or something. Not serene enough. I annoyed them."
"I can't imagine why."
Ignoring him, Kahva continued, "I was good at figuring out what was
wrong with somebody, but I couldn't fix it. And I'd complain. Too much, I
guess. Eventually they told me this wasn't what I should be doing. I just
wish..." She trailed off, waiting expectantly for a reply.
It wasn't the one she'd been hoping for. Come to think of it, she
wasn't entirely sure what reply she had been hoping for. But it wasn't
this. "I wouldn't know how it feels," Auron said stiffly.
"No," Kahva muttered. He wouldn't, would he? He was out to change
the world, make it better, and he couldn't conceive of a bad situation
without a cure, a problem that couldn't be solved by applying the business
end of a really big sword to the bad guy. Whoever the bad guy was.
Or maybe he could conceive of such a thing, but he refused to. That
was an even less pleasant alternative, but it seemed more possible. Kahva
had known the man too long to seriously believe that his mind was that
simple. He understood more than he let himself know.
"I thought you needed to talk to me," Auron said, impatience edging
Kahva blinked. "Oh, I have a lot of things to say to--"
"Then maybe they can wait." He started to turn around and make for
the exit. "We still have to visit Kilika and Besaid." That wasn't puffed-
up self-importance in his voice (although Kahva suspected at least a trace
of it existed); it was genuine dedication.
"Hey! Don't you dare run away from me again," Kahva snapped.
Auron turned around again. "I'm not running away from anything. I
didn't run away before, either; I just had other things to do, and be.
There wasn't any reason for me to stay."
Kahva tried not to grind her teeth together in frustration. "That
wasn't what I meant. No, there wasn't any reason for you to stay, but you
didn't even--we still--" She managed to cut herself off before she started
going red and stammering, but just barely. "Haven't you ever heard of
something called closure?"
"I don't have time for this!"
"Fine!" Kahva gave up. "But when this whole guardian phase of yours--
"Phase?" (She was not-so-secretly rather satisfied with making him
lose his rigid composure to indignation like that.)
"Yeah, when this whole guardian phase of yours is over, you find me,
and we sit down and talk things over. Promise?"
Auron took promises very seriously. In a world where good and evil
weren't always as clear as he knew they should be, a promise was one thing
in which you could find clarity. You just had to keep it.
Kahva watched his face, trying to discern what he was thinking. It
was a lot easier some times than others, and this was one of the times that
wasn't easy. A moment ticked by, and she said, "All right. All right. I
won't push you into making a promise you won't keep." He opened his mouth
to protest, and she hurried on before he could get a word in. "When this
is over, I'll find you. You'd be in Bevelle, right?"
He nodded slowly, reluctantly.
"I'll find you." Kahva hoped it sounded suitably ominous. She'd
always had a weakness for drama.
"If you say so." He turned and started away.
"Don't do anything stupid," Kahva called after him, because it was
the sort of thing you had to say at times like this. She wasn't sure if he
heard it or not.
On reflection, she realized that it really was a rather pointless
comment, regardless of whether or not you had to say it.
* * *
Going after the real enemy once Sin was defeated had been a very
noble thing to do, a very brave and valiant one, but above all, it had been
a very stupid thing to do.
For one thing, he'd been alone. Braska and Jecht had been altogether
too eager to accept Lady Yunalesca's offer of the means to defeat Sin in
return for their deaths. They'd been sure they, unlike every other
summoner and guardian before them in a thousand years, could find a way to
keep it from coming back like it always did. They'd been so ready to die,
Braska because it was what all summoners who defeated Sin did, Jecht
because he was impossibly far from his home with no way of ever going back.
Auron had tried to stop them from sacrificing themselves to the cycle of
death, but it hadn't worked. They'd gone ahead anyway.
And Lady Yunalesca had been so insufferably smug about this lethal
system she'd worked out a thousand years ago.
Maybe if all three of them had gone against her...
But no. And attacking her alone had been stupid. It was a wonder
she'd merely left him to die rather than finishing off the job and killing
him outright. Maybe she hadn't thought him worth her time as anything more
than an irritation to be brushed away with deadly force.
In any case, Auron had managed to find his way back to Bevelle before
collapsing. That was no small feat itself, in the condition he was in.
But it wasn't enough. His flickering attention, divided by pain both
physical and mental, kept coming back to one thing:
He had made a promise.
How was he going to keep it when he was dead?
* * *
When Kahva slid into consciousness, the darkness around her seemed
absolute. In the few moments it took for her eyes to adjust, she started
hearing vague, muffled noises of people moving around and talking at a
distance. Next came the realization that she ached. After that, memory
She had been on a ship bound for Luca. They hadn't been all that far
from the port when something had turned the waters turbulent, driven them
off course, and finally wrecked the ship. Kahva had been below decks at
the time, but the terrified shouts from above had told her what that
Sin. Of course. What else?
Some jaded part of her wondered how that thing managed to have the
time to terrorize seemingly everyone in Spira.
The more pragmatic part of her began reasoning: it couldn't have
attacked us directly, or the ship would've been shattered and sunk, not
beached like this.
She squinted into the gloom. Sunlight filtered in through gaps she
couldn't make out. This seemed to be a torn off section of the interior,
wedged up against a bunch of rocks. She was trapped. At least she had air
and a little bit of light, but still, she was trapped.
Kahva ran her hands carefully along the sandy ground, searching for
something, anything, that might help--
A sharp edge slit into her finger. She yelped and looked down. A
few moments of squinting ascertained that not far from her lay a sword that
was longer than she was tall.
"Oh," she said aloud, "that's really convenient." In these days when
Sin's attacks grew more frequent and more devastating, merchants stocked
more and more weapons, and more and more people bought them. It was
useless, really--normal weapons wouldn't do much against Sin. They were
helpful against the fiends that had been plaguing even the most often-
traveled highroads of late, but only in the hands of someone who knew how
to use them. (Kahva herself preferred bare hands; it required more
creativity and less mess.) After a moment of consideration, Kahva decided
that this sword had probably belonged to someone who knew how to use it. A
novice would have a hard time just lifting it.
She considered yelling. It would be the most sensible thing to do,
but she seethed at the thought of getting other people to rescue her. She
considered the walls around her: the metal of the wrecked ship and the rock
of where it had landed. She considered the sword. No good; she probably
wouldn't even be able to do more than lift it, anyway. Still, she had to
She knelt down and started digging in the wet sand. There was a lot
of it piled up against the trap she was in, she soon realized.
The noises and voices from outside were getting closer.
"--could be someone in there?"
Kids' voices. Teenagers. Kahva mentally ran through a list of the
passengers she'd seen. There'd been an overeager group of wannabe
blitzball players who had spent the trip concocting an elaborate plan to
get themselves signed by the major teams after the tournament. This had to
be them. She vaguely remembered a few merchants as well, but the rest was
a blank. She'd spent most of her time below decks, and she hadn't really
bothered to look at the people. This was unusual for her, but she'd been
in an introspective mood.
The voices weren't far now. "Anyone in there?" someone called.
"Yeah," Kahva called back. "Over here."
"We'll get to you in just a minute," one kid promised.
"Well, eventually," added a more honest one.
Kahva grinned despite herself and settled back for a wait. She was
bruised and it wasn't pleasant, but she'd been in far worse straits before.
This one was only so annoying because she couldn't do anything to make it
better. She hated waiting passively.
After a while, the scratchy sound of moving sand and the intermittent
chatter of teenage voices stopped. One of the diggers knocked tentatively
at the metal side. "It's metal," he announced astutely. "Covered in sand,
but metal. How're we gonna get her out?"
Kahva frowned thoughtfully at the walls. One of them was
suspiciously sand-colored even from the inside. She touched it: glass. A
window. She was fairly sure it was large enough for her to climb through
if she was careful, too. But how to break it? She glanced down at the
sword. It was large enough, anyway. She tried to lift it and managed, but
it was immensely awkward, especially in this cramped space. No. It'd have
to be something else--
"Move away from the window," said a new voice from outside, deeper
than those of the kids. It buzzed worryingly at recesses of her memory.
Still, with a tinge of resentment, she obeyed it, dragging the sword
with her as she moved to the side. "Done," she said.
There was a long, still moment. Then the window shattered violently.
A rock came sailing through. Oh. That had been simple enough. Not that
she'd had any rocks with which to do that in the little compartment. She
inspected the jagged edges of the glass, then squeezed through, dropping
the sword for convenience.
A forlorn sight greeted her outside once she adjusted, squinting and
blinking, to the light. Kahva couldn't tell where exactly they were, but
it wasn't good. A thin, rocky beach stretched away to the horizon in one
direction; in the other, it ended quite nearby as the cliff wall that
bordered it curved around to meet the sea. Parts of the ship were
scattered about the area; the main bulk of it had just barely missed
smashing into the cliff. A few of the chocobos that had powered the ship
ran around making fretful squeaking noises. The rest were huddled
miserably in a group; Kahva was no chocobo expert, but some of these looked
badly injured. The woman in charge of them seemed to agree, for she was
absorbed in tending to the birds despite sporting a couple of nasty bruises
So did some of the people. The four teenagers seemed to have come
out okay except for some bruises, although they still looked as miserable
as the chocobos. Some distance away, a merchant was huddled against a
scrap of the hull, looking bleak. He'd probably lost his entire stock.
Kahva wasn't too sympathetic--he was lucky to be alive. From the look of
things, not everyone who'd been aboard the boat still was.
The man who had thrown the rock through the window of her trap was
watching her thoughtfully. Or at least, Kahva was fairly sure he was.
Dark glasses made it hard to tell. There was something about him...
"Um," one of the teenagers said as Kahva oriented herself. "Do you
know where we are?" He looked in the middle of the group's age range--
fifteen, perhaps, or sixteen. The youngest, who couldn't have been more
than thirteen and was probably less, clung nervously to the oldest, who
looked like he was her older brother.
"Not a clue," Kahva said, staring around her. "Wait...no, I
think..." She pointed at the scraggly forest atop the cliff. "Far enough
inland and we'd probably be near the Moonflow or the Djose Highroad. Not
sure which; it'd depend on which way we go."
"We're not going anywhere," said a boy, alarm filling his voice.
"There are fiends out there. Lots of them." He fought to keep his tone
under control. "If you look up there for long enough, you start to see
shapes in the trees--"
"That's called hallucinating, Zan," said an older girl. She slouched
with her back against the compartment from which Kahva had emerged, trying
to hide bewildered terror with sullen bravado.
"Nori, shut up," said the oldest of the kids sharply. "We have to do
something, though, don't we?" This he addressed to Kahva. "We can't just
stay here forever." He cast a nervous glance up at the cliff and its fiend-
harboring trees. "Someone needs to go and find help."
"And a summoner," said the other man. He hadn't spoken since Kahva
had been freed, and now he was over by the shattered window, pulling the
huge sword from the shards of glass. "Only about half the people on the
ship are accounted for. There are enough fiends here already without
adding the newly dead to that number."
"I'm the only surviving crewmember," the chocobo handler said softly.
"There could be more," protested the youngest teenager. "Trapped,
"Then keep looking for them." The man stood up and slung the sword
around so it rested over his shoulder, not quite on his back. Kahva stared
at him, trying to remember how she knew him. She had the worst memory for
faces and voices. "I saw a way up the cliff not far from here. I'm going
to find help."
"We could all go," Zan suggested, "if we ride chocobos."
"The chocobos are in no shape to be ridden right now," the handler
snapped. "Some of them won't be ever again. A couple of them are dead.
Anyway," she added as an afterthought, "they're not trained to be ridden,
they're trained to provide power for ships."
"Oh," Zan said.
"I'm going," the man repeated. "Everyone else stay here until I come
back with help."
"What gives you the right to order us around?" Nori demanded, but he
was already heading away.
"If he's who I think he is," the oldest boy began, then looked away.
"I mean. Never mind."
The man stopped. "Who do you think I am?" He sounded faintly
amused. Kahva caught a glimpse of a smile partially obscured behind a
stiff, overly high collar.
A haze in her mind cleared with typical abruptness. Memory:
A young man, or boy, not yet twenty, on a rooftop in the outskirts of
Bevelle, following the rather more nimble Kahva. "We shouldn't be doing
this," he said.
"And you know that's what makes it fun," she said happily.
"Is that the only reason we're--"
"No. Look." She ducked around an edge, fell a short distance, and
landed on a small, ignored balcony. He followed, then stopped.
The great city of Bevelle spread out before them, curling around the
central temple of Yevon. They watched it all like secret gods.
"And nobody knows we're here," Kahva said.
"How'd you find it?"
"You shouldn't have..." But he trailed off, taking in the view.
She grinned at Auron. He hesitated a moment, then smiled back.
"Sir Auron," said the teenager (seventeen years later, in the present
"And if I am?"
"I was almost nine at the start of the Calm." He spoke carefully to
keep his words from coming out in a rush. "I saw news and pictures on the
spheres. You don't look exactly the same, but--"
"It's been nearly ten years," Auron acknowledged.
"Tavien used to make me play pretend with him," the youngest teenager
chimed in. "I always had to be the summoner, 'cause he wanted to be the
guardian." She looked smug for revealing one of her brother's embarrassing
"Thanks a lot, Lika," her brother said through gritted teeth.
"Anyway, what I meant was, if you're Sir Auron, you ought to be able to
find help for us, no problem."
"Yes." His tone was amused. "But thanks for the support." He
turned around again and started walking away.
Kahva finally found her voice. "I'm going with him." Before anyone
could protest, she broke into a run to follow.
It wasn't until they were well clear of the others and starting on
the narrow path up the cliff that either of them spoke. "I hope you know
how to defend yourself," Auron said. "I'm not your guardian."
"I've had some experience," Kahva said.
"There are a lot of fiends up there."
They said nothing more until they reached the top of the cliff, at
which point the fiends started coming, which made it rather difficult to
talk then, either. When the faint path was clear once more and any
fiends that remained lurked uneasily in the trees, Kahva said, "I did look
for you, you know."
Auron quickened his pace and disappeared around a bend in the path
instead of replying to her. She ran to catch up with him. "Don't you dare
ignore me now!"
His expression wasn't quite a smirk, but it was too close for Kahva's
Pause a moment to get a good look at the two of them:
These days, they actually are at least a little impressive. Kahva
wears an air of solid self-confidence along with her down-to-earth clothes.
Her auburn hair has become frizzy now, so she ties it back, except for
those few strands, including one or two gray ones, that always escape to
frame her round face. She walks with an absolute sense of purpose, as if
expecting everyone else to get out of her way but if they don't that's not
If only one of them could be impressive, though, it would be Auron,
no questions about it. He looks his age, these days. In fact, at first
glance he looks older; his hair is graying rapidly. The earnest, boyish
enthusiasm of ten years ago has been utterly replaced by a world-weary air
of having been through the worst the world has to throw at him. Not that
he's unscathed by whatever he's been through. His left arm is held
gingerly beneath his coat as if once subjected to a particularly nasty
break, and his left eye is sealed shut with a perfectly vertical scar.
Tinted glasses hide the worst of this.
(Kahva, with her psychological inclinations, wonders about this. It
could be just because he's always been a little bit vain, and the glasses
look better on him than an eyepatch would. But he also seems to be rather
fond of obscuring himself now. What with the glasses and the too-high
collar of his shirt hiding his chin and mouth, it took her quite some time
to recognize him. But then, she does have a bad memory for faces and
Back to the present.
Kahva lengthened her stride to keep up with Auron. "After I heard
that Lord Braska had defeated Sin, I left Luca for Bevelle and--"
"Were you surprised?"
"What do you mean?"
He was smiling again. It wasn't quite the same as the smile she'd
seen on him seventeen years ago, Kahva was beginning to realize; it was a
subdued, wry thing, a quiet acknowledgment of some unspoken irony. "The
outcast summoner, the drunk who claimed he was from Zanarkand, and the
warrior monk who'd been kicked out of his order. Back when he first asked
Jecht to join us, Braska said it'd be funny if such an odd group succeeded
in defeating Sin..." The smile had faded now.
"Not really," Kahva said. "I root for the underdog. And you're
changing the topic. Stop trying to walk faster than me! You know I can't
keep up if you go all out."
He slowed down, but said nothing.
"Thank you." She was silent for a while, then she said, "I couldn't
find you anywhere. I heard that this Al Bhed merchant had seen you, and
"Rin, and Kimahri. Yes."
"But I couldn't find either of them."
"They wouldn't have--" Auron cut off as fiends leapt into the path.
Kahva couldn't read his expression, but she suspected he was relieved.
The fiends were a mere distraction, though, and easily dispatched.
"They wouldn't have what?" Kahva asked when they'd started walking again.
"Known where I was."
"Where were you?"
He didn't answer. Instead he busied himself hacking at some
undergrowth that had gotten in the way of the path. Either of them could
have stepped over it with only a little difficulty. Kahva tapped one foot
impatiently. Finally, he said, "Remember Jecht?"
"All too well."
Auron half-grinned. "He wasn't as bad as he seemed, in the end."
Something that ached flitted through his voice, then was gone. "I made a
promise to him. I was keeping it. I still am."
"I asked where were you. That's what you were doing, not where you
They walked a little while longer as he tried to decide how much to
tell her. Finally, he said, "I promised to look after his son. In
"I take it you mean the Zanarkand of a thousand years ago, not the
Auron shook his head. That he wasn't going to tell even to Kahva,
and he'd already told her far more than he'd tell most people.
She was beginning to realize this, too. She couldn't help but try to
pry further. "Why are you here now?"
"It was time," he said simply.
"I see you've been taking lessons in pretension." He didn't rise to
the bait. "Are you going to stay?"
He hesitated for a moment, then, just when she thought he wouldn't
answer at all, shook his head.
"Where are you going afterwards?"
Auron broke into a near-run, distracting himself and (he hoped) Kahva
by slashing at a fiend that had been shadowing the two of them for a while
It didn't work. Oh, the fiend was gone, but it hadn't really been a
threat in the first place, and now Kahva was even more curious. But,
somehow sensing the delicacy of the topic, she let it go. Almost. The one
she picked up was nearly as bad. "What happened to you?" she called from
He slowed down, but said nothing.
"You don't want to talk about it."
"I'd like to hear about it."
He turned to face her. "Most of us," he said quietly but sharply,
"don't get what we'd like."
Maybe it was something in his tone. She stared at him for a long
moment, then said, "Ten years ago, in Luca. I said something about being
able to see problems and not fix them, and you said you wouldn't know how
that feels. You...you know better now, don't you?"
He stared back at her through the dark glasses for a moment, then
"Still sure that all problems can be solved with a big sword?"
"I never thought that way," he said, annoyed.
"Of course you did." They stood there, neither moving, until she
asked, "Still a true follower of the teachings of Yevon, after seeing and
beating our great punishment, our Sin for our sins, up close?"
He turned and started walking again. "You should've been a poet,
"I tried. I've tried most things. And you're avoiding my
Auron came to a stop on a small ledge of ground and peered forward.
"That's the Djose Highroad, near where it forks between the Djose Temple
and the Moonflow."
"I know perfectly well what that is. I travel a lot." Kahva walked
over and stood on a flattish stone next to him so that she was almost at
eye level with him. "We still haven't talked," she said quietly.
"Then what have we been doing?" he asked dryly.
"Well...talking. But not about what I wanted to talk about in the
He looked away for a moment, then back at her. "Whatever happened
between us--and it wasn't much--has been over for more than fifteen years."
"If you say so." Kahva wasn't herself entirely sure what she'd
wanted to talk about. It had been so long ago. But she'd had a feeling
that there should have been closure, and there hadn't been.
And this was not the same man as the one she'd known in Bevelle and
met briefly in Luca. Oh, he had the same more-serious-than-thou mentality,
the same penchant for not giving answers, the same smug and mostly
justified self-confidence, but there was something different. A knowledge
of the world, a maturity that twenty-five-year-old Auron had not possessed.
And something she recognized, because she'd harbored it herself for years:
the secret burning hurt of knowing that things were wrong, and you couldn't
A rather worrisome thought flitted through her mind: she'd never
quite managed to fall in love with the Auron she'd known once, but it would
be dangerously possible with this man.
Old, never entirely conquered impulsivity pushed her to act before
consulting the more rational parts of her brain. She reached out, pushed
his collar aside, and, before he could step away, kissed him.
It lasted several moments. Then he managed to regain control of
himself, and he pulled sharply away. For the first time since she'd seen
him on the rocky beach, she had an almost clear view of his face. His
glasses and collar were askew, and his expression was a mix of startled
bemusement and regret so profound it hurt to see.
Regret? Why regret?
Then it was gone. Auron straightened out the collar and pushed his
glasses back into place. "There's no time for things like that," he said
sharply. "We're supposed to be finding help."
"When will there be time for things like that?" Kahva called after
him, not yet moving from the stone she stood on.
"For me?" He didn't look back. "There won't be."
* * *
"Are you sure?" Kahva asked, standing at the steps of the Djose
"Why shouldn't I be?" Auron asked. "The summoner and the other
volunteers will take care of everything. No need for me to go back."
Kahva managed to stifle an impulse to accuse him of avoiding her.
She'd only sound petulant. "Why the rush to leave?"
"I think the people I'm looking for are in Luca. I need to get there
It was a satisfactory explanation. Kahva didn't move. After a
moment, she said, "I'll be in Luca a bit later. Will I see you?" She
suspected she knew the answer.
"No." I hope not was the obvious unspoken addition.
Kahva took a deep breath and started counting to ten.
"What are you doing?"
"Trying to keep myself from exploding in pent-up frustration at you,"
Kahva said, her voice carefully level. "I haven't seen you for ten years; I
haven't had a decent conversation with you in fifteen years. When I
finally do see you again, you're completely changed."
"Not completely," he murmured.
"No. But close enough. And you won't tell me a thing! You've never
been much for explanation, but you weren't this bad when I knew you!"
"When you knew me," he said sharply, "I was an overenthusiastic boy
eager to save and change the world."
Kahva fell silent. That peculiar regret had colored his tone for a
second there. Finally, she said, "I liked you. You were impossible to
deal with, but I liked you. You're still impossible to deal with, but--I
could like you a lot more."
"Don't fall in love with me."
"What?" Kahva couldn't quite stop her face from going red.
"It'd be a mistake," he said quietly.
It was too much. She reached out, snatched his glasses away, and
paced around on the steps until his collar no longer obscured her view of
his face. "Stop hiding from me!"
He stiffened in anger, but controlled himself. For a second Kahva
was worried that he would simply turn around and walk away.
In fact, he did entertain that idea, but he resisted the temptation.
He looked away, not wanting to meet Kahva's gaze. Then--
Like most people, Kahva knew only a little about pyreflies. She knew
that they had to do with spheres, with captured memories and events for
later viewing, that they had to do with fiends, that they had to do with
aeons, and that they had to do with the dead.
The glow they produced glittered around Auron for a split-second,
then vanished. He looked up at Kahva, standing on the steps above him,
reached out, took his glasses from her hand before she dropped them in
shock, and put them back on. "Satisfied?"
She said a word not appropriate for polite company. He turned and
started away at that irritating speed that only the long-legged can claim
isn't exceptionally fast. She had to run to catch up with him. "You're
dead?" She spoke as if by saying it she might convince reality that it
Auron ignored her and kept walking. She drew to a halt, watching him
go. He stopped a few feet away, then, with a visible sigh, turned around
and headed back to her.
"Why are you still here?" she asked quietly.
After a brief hesitation, he said, "I told you: I made a promise. I
keep my promises. Alive or dead."
Kahva stared at him. "That's quite a way to keep a promise."
"It was the only way." He looked away from her. "And I'll be
finished soon. Whether it ends well or not, for me it will end."
"I think it's more than that," she said.
She spoke slowly, not sure exactly of what she meant. "You...there
was something you wanted to change. But you couldn't. And it's too late
now to try again yourself. But you can't just let it be. You can't just
give up. So you're making sure someone else gets a better chance to try,
succeed, and survive than you did."
He gave her a startled look. She smiled--sadly, of course.
"Sometimes I wish I was less perceptive."
Auron smirked. "And you accuse me of being pretentious." A beat.
"If you're so perceptive, you should've figured out that I'm...unsent on
"It's not the sort of thing you figure out." There was another
pause, longer this time. "I'm sorry," she said, finally, and immediately
wished she hadn't. It was a stupid thing to say.
"So am I," he said. That regret was back on his face, although his
voice was cool and level.
She tried to laugh. It didn't work too well. "We're both
"I wish..." Kahva didn't know what she'd been planning to say after
that, but (fortunately) it turned out to be a non-issue, because at that
point Auron leaned down and kissed her. It lasted a bit longer than the
one she'd initiated a little while ago, and by the time it was over they
had their arms around each other. When he pulled away, they stared at each
other for a moment.
Then he turned and walked away.
Kahva didn't run to catch up with him this time. It would have
ruined a good moment, and that good moment was all they'd ever have. She
just watched him until he was no more than the flicker of a red coat
against a green and brown landscape. Then she started on her own way.