Beyond Reality

Chapter 14: Lessons in Death

To say Rikku was in a bit of a sour mood was somewhat of an understatement. She liked to blame the fact on everyone else, rather than herself. Auron was hardly any fun to talk to, even if he was more responsive than he had been as an unsent. The Chappu/Lulu/Wakka disaster had the three of them in a constant state of either ignoring each other or excluding everyone else, and Lenne had become less approachable upon Auron's announcement that they—and by they, he'd meant Yuna—had no intention of picking sides. To top it off, they'd been walking through the mountains for four days and Tidus and Yuna still hadn't come back.

The only comfort Rikku really had was that they were finally on more of a downhill as opposed to up. Even the ocean view to the north had begun to bore her. Though it was pretty, the ocean and its sunsets could only distract from everything else for so long.

Kicking a stone, Rikku was content to bring up the rear. Auron was in the lead, Lenne trailing, and the other three some ways after that. Which gave Rikku a pretty good view of them. Despite both Wakka and Lulu's "reasoning" (if one could even call it that), she was still in a perpetual state of distaste. Mostly of Chappu. Sure, she was probably biased because she'd never known him, but she really, really didn't like the idea of him getting between Wakka and Lulu. They'd worked hard to get where they were, and some chump, dead brother/boyfriend shouldn't be getting in the way of that.

No, she shouldn't think such things. Chappu was Wakka's brother, dead or not, and Rikku couldn't even imagine what it must have been like to lose him. She couldn't stand her brother most of the time and still the thought made her upset. Like when she'd lost her mother, or thought she was going to lose Yunie.

It didn't matter how much she disapproved, it was beyond her. The respectful thing to do was watch from a distance. She could at least scowl then, when nobody would see.

"So you're Yuna's cousin, ya?"

Great, now social-butterfly Chappu had come back to bother her.

"Yeah." She nodded, kicking another stone while attempting to sound civil. Wakka and Lulu were ahead still, leaving whatever semblance of a conversation Chappu was trying to start unheard.

"Still kinda shocked she's part Al Bhed." He was scratching his head similarly to how Wakka often did. "Not that it matters to me, you know?"

"Then why bring it up?" She hadn't meant to sound so nasty, but it'd just kind of come out that way. And when he looked away, clearly uncomfortable, Rikku felt appropriately ashamed. "Sorry…"

"'Es okay," he assured, his smile reminding her some of Tidus. Open, and kind, if not a little thoughtless. "I get it."

His implication caused her to furrowed her brows up at him.

"I'm not quite so slow as my big brudda, ya?" He laughed. "I notice you been givin' me the stink eye since I got here. Not that I care, mind ya. Not like I know you or anythin.'"

"Gee, thanks." Rikku rolled her eyes

He laughed harder. "Hey now, not like you rolled out the welcome rug or nothin.'" He seemed to wave the whole thing off. "It don't matter though, I get it. Really."

"What do you mean?" Rikku pouter her lips a bit, supposing that, so long as he wasn't bothering Lulu and Wakka, Chappu wasn't so bad.

"Why you dislikin' me. Not like I didn't figure out about Lu and Wakka, ya?" Much like Rikku had been, he kicked a small stone, his head bowed toward the ground as he shoved his hands in the pockets of his yellow overalls. "I know they're together. Not like they hidin' it or anything. I'm not tryin' to… get between them, ya know? Just tryin' to be with my brother and Lu while I got the time. Not gonna last forever."

"Yeah, I guess… I guess I understand." Rikku was frowning, her previous resentment chipping quickly away. "Sorry. I really didn't mean to be so nasty." Which was true. Even if her efforts in not being so weren't quite as dedicated as they should have been.

"I forgive you." He smiled, the expression wide and goofy, which made it difficult for Rikku to refuse the same in response. She was much better at being friendly than aloof anyway. Unlike a certain legendary guardian she knew…

"You don't got to worry about Lu, though." He got back on track. "She's better with him. I mean, besides the whole bein' dead thing anyway." He shrugged, Rikku's questioning gaze encouraging him to continue. "Bein' dead, you know," he smiled again, but his lips seemed to falter a bit, "really gets a person thinkin.' Thinkin 'bout who they were, an' who they wanted to be. Everythin' they missed."

Rikku stayed silent, intuitive enough to know that, despite his smile, he was being completely serious.

"I'da been one of Yuna's guardians too, if I'd been around. But… I wasn't. And that's my own doin.' I know that. And I think… I think Lu knows that too. I know Wakka does." Bitter chuckling. "I was stupid, and foolish, and I paid the price. Too bad I had to make them pay it too. I thought I was doin' somethin' good, somethin' to try and… change things. Made it was more exciting that everyone disagreed with me." He was looking at Wakka and Lulu. "But there isn't anything gallant or heroic in fightin' a battle ya can't win. I wanted to make a difference, but my death didn't mean a damn thing."

"Chappu…"

"It's true." He nodded toward her, smile bitter. "Didn't even know what I was fightin.' Least you guys had the brains to try and figure it out. Nah, I know my place. I know what I did. 'Sides, even if things could be different, couldn't change how things were before. You know," he side-eyed her, "I used to say to Wakka, 'I'll propose to Lu. Once we win the cup, I'll do it.' Besaid never even won a game! Never. Maybe I meant it, maybe I thought I did, but what do words like that mean, ya? She deserved better. Always did."

"Yeah, she does." Hey, if he was gonna say it, she wasn't gonna disagree.

Her response caused him to laugh. Really laugh, like Wakka did. With his whole body, head thrown back and everything. "Too bad I wasn't around, ya? I bet we'd of gotten along pretty good."

"Yeah, maybe." Rikku was grinning too.

"So, uh, since we'd be such good friends and all," he's leaned a little closer to her, "mind fillin' me in an Sir Grouch-a-lot up there?"

It was Rikku's turn to laugh. "Auron? Oh, that's just the way he is. All business, no play, that sort of thing."

"So… he's a dream, though, right?"

Chappu's question seemed innocent enough, really, but Rikku wasn't as stupid as she looked. Auron's discussion days before still rang fresh in her head and, though he was Wakka's brother, that hardly meant anything to her. She wasn't quite sure what Chappu knew and didn't know, and didn't feel secure in volunteering information. Sure, she let her mouth run sometimes, but she was more aware of herself than she let on. And Auron was an important guy, after all.

"Uh, I don't really know." She shrugged. "He never really tells me anything."

"Oh." Chappu leaned back again. "Just thought it was kinda weird, since he's from Spira and everything."

Rikku didn't tell him that it was the fayth. That they were directly in touch with such things, and favored as well. She knew a weapon when they had one.

So she only offered him a shrug.

"Rikku." It was their topic of conversation that called to her, voice as even and unexpressive as was to be expected. He was watching them, standing further up on the path, and gestured for Rikku to come only slightly. Offering Chappu an apologetic smile, she skipped off, wondering what Auron could possibly have to say to her that would warrant him waiting in the rocky road for her to catch up.

"What do you-"

"Look." He pointed down the path, Rikku finally thinking to glance around as she reached the crest of the hill upon which he stood. Wakka and Lulu had already made their way down before him, Wakka "whoaing" as they peered out beyond the edge of a cliff, below which was a sparsely tree-spotted plain, also littered with sharpened rocks jutting up from the dirt.

But what was truly fantastic was the sight beyond the plains.

"That," Lenne explained as Rikku hopped down the hill to stand beside her, "is Remiem."

Gaping, Rikku squinted out at the landscape, aware of the way Auron had come up behind her, yet far too distracted to care.

She'd never seen such a city before. It wasn't small or patched together, like villages of Spira, and it wasn't littered with machina like the other dream cities. No, this place was totally different. Steepled roofs encroached on the plain, colored with orange and red, faded tiles. Their corners turned up, and they were stacked up in layers. Great stone arcs towered above, twining back and forth over the landscape. Behind, they could see the glittering green of the sea, the city seeming to topple and disappear behind the cliffs on which it was built. Above them, only a few airships soured, too far away to make out clearly.

"That… that a machina city?" Wakka had turned to Lenne to ask, his attention quickly returning to the city a second later.

"Remiem is no machina city," she explained, crouching down as she peered out across the plains. "Remiem is an old city. It and its sister city, Baaj, are said to have been the first settlements humans made on Spira."

"So then," Lulu started, having hidden any of her surprise, had she felt it in the first place, "this is a city untouched." Untouched by Sin, by machina. Though there were plenty of other vices that humanity could posses, to those raised under Yevon's false precepts, this was something purer than any of them had ever witnessed, or even dared fathom existed.

"It is a city that seeks to preserve the past," Lenne continued to explain. "There are strict regulations about trade and what technology is allowed in, as well as how it's used. The close-knit buildings hardly allow for vehicles, and no air traffic is prohibited. Though it is a city seemingly frozen in time, its people are proud. And unaccepting of change. They are seekers of peace, and reject any who intend to disrupt that."

"Sounds like a rather isolated existence," Auron commented dryly, seeming the least impressed with the scene.

"Perhaps." Lenne stood again. "They did trade with Zanarkand, to the north. And with Baaj, to the south, which is more open to goods from Djose and Luca. But—and I'm repeating this from what little true history I was taught as a child—their war-ravaged past with Baaj, their now closest ally, has made them wary of conflict."

"Hmph," Auron snorted, Rikku glancing back at him. "They were likely completely and totally unprepared for Sin."

"Yes." Lenne nodded, sighing shortly. "And were likely one of the first casualties in Sin's initial trek from one side of Spira to the other."

And though the city was a pretty sight, Rikku felt her mood dropping by the moment. This place no longer existed in the real Spira. Like Zanarkand, it was probably just a pile of rubble, abandoned even by summoners and untouched for a millennium. Perhaps she should be thankful she got to see it at all, but even this was only "supposed" to be temporary, so, once again, it'd all be lost.

"Come, let's move on," Auron decided, the others sparing only one last look at the city before they continued down the path away from the mountains and into the valley. Skipping ahead of where she'd been previously, Rikku came up beside Auron, who was once more at the head of the group.

"You didn't seem that impressed with it," she commented, once again looking out in the direction of the city as it slowly vanished behind the cliff.

"A city is only a city, no matter how it looks or where it's from. It has all the same people, and all the same secrets."

"Gee, how optimistic."

"You'd do good to view things the same."

"I try not to pre-judge something before I know it."

Auron pursed his lips, not seeming impressed with her logic. And perhaps he may have continued, had Lenne not come up on their conversation.

"He's right," she agreed as she came up on Rikku's other side, though she offered a small smile despite her negative words. "These are people that are accustomed to peace, and are far more focused inward than anywhere else. They watch out for their own interests above all, because they are not used to having to think beyond such things."

"Yeah, but that doesn't mean they're all bad…" Rikku was frowning.

"No, but I think it will be a very different place than you imagine," Lenne continued. "I know it surprised even me, the first time I visited. Zanarkand, though it's a place also secluded, is far more open in comparison to Remiem. We have our own rules, of course, but Remiem thrives on such things. It keeps their lifestyle afloat, even if it is sometimes suffocating to those looking for new opportunities. Yunalesca was of Remiem decent." This drew both Auron and Rikku's curiosity, though the latter showed it far more readily. "Her mother, a high born here, married Yu Yevon while his own father yet ruled Zanarkand. It was a… political arrangement."

Auron snorted again. "And so the world goes 'round."

Shaking his head, he went on ahead, not bothering to address the curious looks both Lenne and Rikku were casting after him. And as usual, Rikku felt her annoyance rise at his behavior, grumbling some to herself as she crossed her arms over her chest. It wasn't until she noticed the downed look on Lenne's expression that she wiped her own grumpiness away.

"Hey, don't let him get to you," she said, a bright smile creasing her lips. "Auron's always like that." But Lenne gave her no response. Rikku, however, wasn't one to give up. "Really, I mean it. Like about what he said before, about us not taking sides," this pulled in Lenne's attention, "he's just being careful. That's the way he is."

"I understood what he was saying," Lenne replied. "He's right, I suppose. I don't… I don't know."

"We just want to know the whole story, you know? Yunie, she… she went through a lot because she didn't know everything. And I think Auron's been through that too. That's better, right? Being able to make an informed decision after having all the information? Or, at least, as much as we can get."

"Yes, I suppose that is better."

"I just don't want you to think we don't like you, or that we don't understand where your side is coming from," Rikku replied, reaching up and linking Lenne's arm with her own. The friendly gesture seemed to take Lenne by surprise, but she didn't object. "It's not like we have anything against the dead or the dreams or anybody. We just don't know enough to really trust one group over another. That doesn't mean we have anything against you, just…"

"The organization of it all," Lenne smiled softly again. "Yes, I understand that. I understand that perfectly." She'd believed in a cause and, as a result of not truly understanding, had everything ripped away from her. "What… what happened to Lady Yuna? That you mentioned before?"

"Mmm, well…" Rikku was pondering whether she should really say anything at all, but ultimately decided she didn't have to give out all the details. "Yunie was… a lot like you, I guess. She had a 'cause' and trusted that everyone would help her accomplish it. That everyone wanted the same thing. But someone she thought she could trust betrayed that, and everything that she thought she knew turned out to be a lie. Turned out that not everyone in Spira had the same goal. Defeating Sin wasn't the most important to everyone. And lots of people died because of that difference."

"Sin." Lenne took a deep breath. "I was part of Sin for a very long time, but I don't know much about it, really. I know it was terrible, and that it destroyed anything that got in its way. It's hard to believe, really, that people could be bickering about something else when the whole world is at stake."

"Yeah, but I guess greed will do that." Rikku was suddenly sad, remembering those painful parts of the pilgrimage. Usually she was better at forgetting, but talking about it always brought those memories back. "This person, a man, actually, that betrayed Yunie. He did… many horrible things. He murdered almost all the ronso, chasing us down. And he… he destroyed my people's home, looking for Yunie. So many people died, and it wasn't even Sin that did it."

"You're home?"

"The Al Bhed's home," she explained. "We weren't much liked in Spira before Sin was gone. A lot of people still hate us, actually. So we lived away from everyone else. We didn't follow their rules, I guess you could say, and we wanted to do things differently. And so kidnapping Yunie was used as an excuse to invade our home. We still haven't rebuilt, and even though my dad—he's the leader of the Al Bhed—tries to keep us together, it's hard, when we have no place to go."

"I'm sorry, Rikku."

"Don't be, it's not your fault." She smiled wide, pushing the negativity away. "But that's why I know Yunie will want to know everything before she decides what to think."

"So… what about him?" Lenne nodded to Auron, who was a fair distance ahead of them. "You mentioned that something similar happened to him."

"Yeah. I don't know a whole lot about any of that though. Auron doesn't talk about it much." Should Lenne know Auron's story? She wasn't sure. And she wasn't sure it was wise to reveal such things. Lenne knew Auron was a dream, but did she know anything beyond that?

No, it was probably better not to mention any more. Like she had with Chappu.

"He seems to talk to you a great deal."

"Ha, yeah, because I make him!" Rikku shook her fist threateningly in his direction, causing Lenne to laugh. "Auron doesn't like to talk about his past though, so I don't like to push that subject. Tends to make him grumpier than he already is."

Lenne smiled and said nothing more. Instead, her focus turning to the horizon, she spotted the faraway figures approaching in the same moment that Auron seemed to. He'd stopped ahead of them, his shoulders tensed defensively. Lenne and Rikku came up beside him, going no further, and soon the other three were there as well.

"They're coming for us," Auron said after a moment, as it was clear that the group of six had turned purposefully in their direction. "Do you know them?" He had turned to Lenne.

"I wasn't expecting anyone to come meet us," she replied.

"Then we'd best be on our guard." And so, hands never too far from their weapons, they moved on ahead with Auron. They directed their path at the group, intending to meet the threat head on, if there was one.

When the other group was finally within range of clearly being seen, Wakka gasped, drawing everyone's attention.

"Is that… Is that High Summoner Ohalland?" His question caused them all to do a double take, Auron squinting at the group if only to try and verify if such a thing could be true.

"And High Summoner Gandof," Lulu added, her lips hanging open and awed for only a moment before she snapped them shut again.

"A party of high summoners," Auron said shortly, looking once again to Lenne. "Are you sure you knew nothing of this?" She was clearly as stunned as the rest however, her mouth opening and closing some before she finally found any words.

"The high summoners, Ohalland and Gandof, they're our leaders. The prime summoners. I've… never seen them in person before." She wasn't high enough up on the totem pole. It was only their exploits and their reputations that she was familiar with—much like she had been with Yuna.

"Ah, it is them!" Chappu was gaping outright. "I never met the prime summoners either! I knew who they were, but…"

"And they've come all this way to meet us," Auron grumbled as the groups grew closer. "How generous."

"How'd they know we were coming?" Rikku muttered beside him, not nearly as impressed as everyone else. But Auron merely shook his head, having no answer.

Continuing across the plain, they met the group of six about halfway. There was a soft breeze whistling off the tops of the grass stalks, smelling of salt and fish, and the sun shone down through a hazy layer of light cloud cover.

Upon meeting, the two high summoners, as well as the six soldiers that had escorted them, bowed in the traditional way that followers of Yevon would have been expected to. Lenne was on her knee, doing a rather elaborate prayer—much like she had with Yuna—and, despite the shock of everyone else, Chappu was the only other in their party to return the gesture.

"Come to welcome us, have you?" Auron asked a moment after the formalities were over, his voice cold and undecipherable.

"Of course." Ohalland, behind his white beard and dated, green tinted clothing, smiled. There were crinkles around his eyes, and laugh lines drawn down from his nose. Gandof, by comparison, was a stone statue of complete seriousness. He stood stock-still in his thick, square-shaped, multicolored robes. His lips seemed to be pulled into what might be a permanent frown.

"Word of your coming was sent to us via, the, ah," Ohalland seemed to be searching for the correct word, "the, ah, the…"

"Telephone," Gandof's deep voice offered.

"Ah, yes, the telephone." Ohalland smiled. "Amazing contraptions, really. Who knew machina could be so useful?!" Rikku pursed her lips. "Ah, well, yes, anyway. We were told High Summoner Yuna was on her way, and so we've been watching out for you. Came down to meet you as soon as we spotted you at the edge of the cliff, there. Saw you through the, ah, the… What's it called?"

"Telescope," Gandof replied.

"Ah, yes, the telescope. Funny, these contraptions. Telephone, telescope. Goodness, names."

It didn't take a genius to figure out who must have spread the news. Likely Belgemine had made sure to send word ahead. Unfortunately, or so Auron was thinking, these "primes summoners" were in for a rather rude awakening.

"So, which one of you do we owe the thanks of us all? For ridding Spira of Sin forever?" Ohalland was looking from one of them to the next, Rikku biting the inside of her lip as she toed at the ground.

"I'm afraid to report that," Auron took up the mantle, "the High Summoner has taken leave as of the moment." This was clearly surprising to both Ohalland and Gandof, some of their guards also appearing somewhat taken aback.

"Leave? My, where to?" Ohalland asked.

"Personal business," Auron explained. "She intends to meet us in Remiem when she's finished."

"You're her guardians." Ohalland's expression became shrewd, any of it's previous openness seeming to vanish.

"She elected to take one of her guardians with her," Auron lied, aware of the way Lenne was looking somewhat nervously between the high summoners and their group. After a moment, however, she bit her bottom lip and turned her attention to her boots. But, Auron supposed, he couldn't stop her from elaborating later. "She asked that we move on to meet you."

"I see." Ohalland didn't appear totally convinced, but some friendliness did begin to leak back into his expression. "And you must be Sir Auron, then?"

"I am."

"Quite different than I expected," he replied with a light chuckle.

Auron narrowed his eyes, brows furrowing, but didn't have the chance to question the comment further.

"And I assume that you must be Madam Rikku." He nodded his head in Rikku's direction, the blonde straightening some at being addressed. "The Al Bhed guardian." He made no further comment, Rikku assuming much the same expression Auron had adopted. "And then, of course, Madam Lulu and Sir…Wakka?" He was looking between Chappu and Wakka questioningly.

"Uh, my Lord." Wakka bowed awkwardly, as if unsure how to make his identity known.

"Right. And the two of you?"

"Chappu, Sir." Chappu saluted, hand going to his chest. "Member of the Crimson Squad, Djose, Sir."

"Lenne, your grace." Lenne did another prayer, though this one less elaborate than the last.

"Ah, yes, Lady Lenne, the guide," Ohalland said jovially, seeming to completely bypass Chappu. "You seem to have lost your ward, Lady." He'd winked at her, but the message hadn't gone unnoticed by any of the rest of them.

"I…" And Lenne didn't have any idea what to say.

"But let us not focus on such things," Ohalland continued. "If High Summoner Yuna had personal business to attend to, then certainly she very well should do so. Come," he gestured back toward the city, "let us move on. We'll wait for her in the comforts of Remiem, yes?"

Nodding, Auron accepted the invitation on behalf of them all—despite the heavy feeling hanging in his gut.

oOo

"Everyone was so happy. 'Great job, Yuna. You did it. You saved us all.' There were too many smiles to count... and I know that I was smiling, too. But now... when I look back... The people who should be here aren't. The ones who should be smiling with me aren't here.

"'We had no choice.' Always 'we had no choice.' Those are our magic words. We repeat them to ourselves again and again. But you know... the magic never worked. The only thing we're left with... is regret." Yuna had pulled her hand up to her chest, gaze falling to the metal platform beneath her feet as she did. Those with her were silent, listening as she spoke. As intent as she wished everyone would be.

"No, I don't want this anymore." She shook her head, trying to push the pain, the agony over everything she'd lost, back into the hole where she'd buried it. Hidden, where she didn't have to feel it. "I don't want friends to die… or fade away. I don't want battles where we have to lose in order to win." She didn't want a world where the unknown was around every corner, and where understanding was a distant idea. Was it so much that she wanted to live in a place where she could simply be? Where she could see her loved ones every day and not have to worry that they'd be ripped away the next moment? That was possible, wasn't it?

If she was determined enough, then wasn't that enough?

"And the cycle went on." Auron's broken, defeated voice echoed around the cloister, all of them staring on with bated breath as the memory of his past faded. He stood with his back to them at the base of the temple stairs, a heavy silence beginning to descend on them all.

Until he interrupted it.

Determined, he drew all their attention as he spoke—with more certainty than any of them had ever truly had. "We'll break it."

"But how? What, you got a plan now?" Like what he said was something completely unfamiliar, Wakka disregarded him, almost seeming to snort his derision. Yuna could find nothing to say. Rather, the weight of the world seemed to crush any voice she may have had.

"If one of us has to become a fayth… I volunteer." Lulu completely ignored Tidus' comment.

"Me too, Yuna!" They went on as if he'd never even spoken.

"That still won't change anything, you know?" But he forced his way back in. He hadn't lived in their world of uncertainty and constant fear, and desperation. He could see the light where the rest of them were blind. "You'd bring the calm, and then what? That won't break the cycle."

"Listen…" Patronization—like they'd actually known better. "You wanna defeat Sin and keep Yuna alive… You don't want Sin to come back, ya? That is just not gonna happen, brudda, you know?"

"If you want everything," Lulu shook her head, "you'll end up with nothing."

Yet Tidus was having none of it. "But I want everything!"

"Now you're being childish!" Wakka's frustration was bubbling over. It was so much easier to just push on. To walk a single line and not think about anything else. It was so much harder, and hurt so much more, to think that—if they'd only consider—there might be another way.

"I give up. So what would an adult do, then?" Tidus huffed. "They know they can just throw away a summoner, then they can do whatever they like! You're right, I might not even have a chance. But no way am I gonna just stand here and let Yuna go!" Yuna had glanced up then, perhaps, truly, for the first time. "And what Auron said about their being a way? I think it's true.

"'You'll think of something?'" Rikku practically begged.

"Yes."

He'd think of something. Somehow, some way, he'd convinced them to put their faith in what he was suggesting. That the circle dragging them, chained, endlessly could be broken. Yuna had found new resolve then, realizing that, perhaps, they were fighting for the wrong thing.

Maybe they didn't have to settle.

Maybe they could have everything.

"Guys. This is the last time we fight together… okay?"

At first, none of them had known what to make of what he was saying. Was this the last battle, the last of their struggle? Was that what he'd been referring to? Yet, somehow, when Yuna had taken in the cracking expression that he'd been trying desperately to hold together, she'd known that wasn't it.

"What I'm trying to say is…" A deep breath, "after we beat Yu Yevon, I'll… disappear."

"What are you talking about?" Lulu's voice had been short, snappish. Yuna wondered, sometimes, if they'd all experienced the same kind of chilling, heart-stopping realization then. That, somehow, he'd been one-step ahead of them all the time. Leading them on. That, perhaps, that was what he'd been there to do in the first place.

They'd never found his Zanarkand—never found his home, his world. For a while, Yuna had just assumed that, after she was gone, they'd have set out to find it. But sometime between Gagazet and Sin, that notion had become muddled. Because he was connected to their world. His father had been Sin, and the fayth had spoken to him as Yuna had never imagined they'd have spoken to anyone.

And he'd acted like it was nothing unusual. There'd been so many signs, but she'd willfully failed to see any of them. Signs that there was more going on, that, maybe, him showing up in Besaid hadn't been an accident at all.

"I'm saying goodbye!"

No, she didn't want to remember this. She didn't want to be here. It was too hard. She had to forget. If she could only do that, then maybe…

Maybe she could live in peace.

"There is no such thing as a battle without loss." Who was he? She didn't know. The man in the red suit, with the mechanical arm and leg. Like so many others, he'd been in her dreams over and over and over again, for months. Longer even—since they'd defeated Sin. "It's incarnate in the definition. If there was no threat of loss, then there'd be no battle to fight. To walk into conflict demanding everything…" He was shaking his head, Yuna knowing despite how she refused to look up. Despite how she crouched down in the middle of the glowing platform, Vegnagun hovering beyond. "That's a suicide mission.

"Your guardian knew that well enough."

"No! That's wrong!" Yuna was unwilling to accept it. She wouldn't have it. Even if that meant having nothing at all.

"We all end up with nothing eventually." A softer voice. One that belonged to the pearly-haired man. She'd known he was there too, like all the others. Like they always were. "I don't want to fight either. I don't want to see the pain, and the suffering. Why can't we simply live in a world without such things? Why can we not… simply exist?

"But I know where that path leads. I've seen it. The consequences of turning away. History tells us as much, that turned backs are the most vulnerable. We'll burn for it."

"No, that can't be!" Yuna was shaking her head, unable to drown out their voices despite how she covered her ears. "That can't be right!"

"There's no right or wrong about it." The seemingly easy-going words of the Al Bhed man. "That's human nature. You decide to fight and you lose. You refuse and you get a dagger in your back. Peace… Even if it lasts millennium, it'll never last forever. People die no matter what we do to try and stop it; kingdoms fall at the hands of their own undoing. The road to hell is always paved with the best intentions.

"And intentions… They're nothing more than wishful thinking. Attempts to stop the evil before it exists. Worse, perhaps, than facing the threat when it truly comes. More often than not, when we try to predict the worst, that's what makes it come true. A self-fulfilling prophecy."

"I have no intentions!" Yuna claimed. "I didn't ask for this! I just… I just wanted to be allowed to live in peace with the people I love…"

"This is life, Yuna." She'd never met this woman—in all her black leather and silver-gray hair—but she'd come to Yuna in dreams. Just as they all had. Figments of her imagination? Perhaps. "This is your life. There's no such thing as living in peace. And those that strive for that ideal will be forever disappointed. You have responsibilities—to the people depending on you and the rest of the world."

"I didn't ask for them!" She shouted, finally standing as she faced them, turning around and around, surrounded. "I never wanted any of this!" They tried to say something else, she knew they did, but she wasn't standing for it anymore. Covering her ears yet again, she screamed.

Louder and louder, harsher, until her screams seemed to echo from one side of the chasm to the other. Until it was doubled by the screams of others, a high-pitched song that she knew was playing even as she pretended it wasn't. They tried to break in, they tried to get to her, but she only screamed louder. She pushed them back.

Until, finally, she was the only one screaming once again.

Alone.

Gasping, Yuna felt her eyes bulge as her lashes fluttered open. The stinging brightness of the day struck across her vision rather violently and she cringed while trying to sit up, but as she did, her whole body seemed to turn on itself. Her arms were shaking and sweat soaked through her clothes and screened her face. Despite how she tried to blink the fogginess away, it remained, the landscape of choppy rocks and thin trees seeming to sway and blur.

Despite her attempts, she ended up laying back once again, closing her eyes in an attempt to quell the nausea that was trying to tip her on her side. It'd been a few days, she thought, since she'd left her friends behind. And all the while, she'd been feeling worse and worse. She'd managed to make her way through the thickest parts of the forest, until she'd been climbing along the gravelly meanderings leading up into the colder parts of the cliffs. She was nowhere near the peaks, which weren't even visible inside the cloud cover, and she wonder, fleetingly, what she was even trying to do.

She was never going to find Leviathan. At this rate, she was going to die—either of starvation or sickness.

Trying to sit up again, she found some leverage on a boulder beside which she must have collapsed the night before. She didn't remember doing so. The last thing that came to mind was the sight of the clouds encroaching on the stars. That, and the dream. She was beginning to feel that her dreams were becoming clearer than the time she spent awake, searching.

How many times had she had the same dream? Hundreds of time. Every night, she felt like, since they'd defeated Sin. Even if she was only then beginning to remember everything with stark clarity, she knew these visions were familiar.

This other Yuna, this woman who lived life with the intention of getting it her way, and demanding that it be so. That up and took adventure when she wanted it, searching for something and always managing to find it. Even when the way in which it was earned had no clear connection, no real substance. But that was the luxury of dreams, wasn't it? That the happy ending always came, no matter how impossible or unexplained.

Yet, gradually, other facets had begun to encroach upon her reveries. Controversy where she didn't want it, people that she didn't know. Voices that she'd never heard. Always she'd fought against it, or so had the Yuna in her head. The Yuna she'd wanted to be, maybe. Who could solve problems with something as simple as a song and get back what she'd lost without fearing the loss of something else.

Even she'd begun to lose, however. The happy endings stopped coming before she awoke, and those in her dreams had begun to question what they'd once silently listened to and abided by. Her recent experiences were beginning to encroach and sometimes there were so many voices that she could no longer drown them out.

It occurred to her, as she tried to lift herself into standing and failed, yet again, that someone—something—was trying to get her a message. It didn't come as a great shock, or some awe-inspiring revelation. Rather, as she leaned her throbbing head against the stone, she realized it was more as though she was merely accepting something she'd already known.

Something she hadn't wanted to deal with before.

Because she knew that the only things capable of communicating with her in such a fashion were fayth. When she'd first arrived in Zanarkand, the fayth had said they'd been trying to contact her, but she hadn't realized then that the reason she hadn't heard their calls was because she hadn't wanted to.

It'd been so hard, when she'd had to give them up. She'd never wanted to feel that way again, and so had rejected them in her own hurt and confusion. But now… now, as she reflected back, she began to realize that perhaps doing such had been a grave mistake—even if she'd been unconscious of it. If she'd been open, if she'd listened, then maybe Tidus wouldn't have become Leviathan. Maybe they could have dealt with this whole situation before it'd gotten as bad as it had.

Part of her kept trying to argue that it wasn't her responsibility, that she'd done her part, but more and more—as her head grew heavier and her body echoed of chills—she was wondering if perhaps that, too, was a lie. Maybe it wasn't her responsibility, but if she couldn't help, then who else would? Who else could the fayth contact? Other summoners, perhaps, but none of them knew what she did. None of them knew the truth about Sin, or the dream.

She could hear their screams echoing in her head now, their desperation to be heard. They weren't screams in the traditional sense, not as she herself would scream. But she could feel it—like nails scratching down the side of her skull. She didn't know how many there were, or why they were tied and trapped, forced into literal silence despite how she registered their resistance.

As she'd already predicted, someone, or something, was holding them prisoner. Forcing them to dream.

But how was she even supposed to help? She wasn't a summoner anymore. She couldn't even help Tidus. Or maybe that, too, was simply an excuse she fed herself. To keep the world shut out, and her heart safe from the agony it'd already been dealt.

That woman, that forest spirit, had said she'd blinded herself. That she couldn't help Tidus unless she helped herself first. Was this what she'd meant? But, even so, even if she came to realize her own cripple, how could that possibly lead her to Leviathan?

It didn't make any sense.

Head still leaning against the stone, she closed her eyes. Maybe she was feeling her own willing defeat, or simply wallowing in the pain and agony she'd tried so long to turn against. There were tears—she made no attempts to quell them. She couldn't bring herself to care anymore. Lulu had always said she was strong, that it was what allowed her to keep going. But she didn't want to be strong. She just wanted to be at peace.

But peace didn't come the way her dream self wanted. It didn't come from stubborn belief that if she wanted something bad enough, she could get it. She had to pay for it. Desires weren't handed over on silver platters; that simply wasn't the way the world worked.

Maybe she had to pay more than others, or maybe she just wanted more than what most were willing to ask.

And perhaps, because she wanted more, she was expected to fight harder.

It didn't seem like much, to want to be allowed to simply be with the man she loved. But her whole life had always been tied up in something bigger than herself, and maybe his had too. Baggage, perhaps, that neither of them wanted, but was strapped to their very existence.

Maybe there was no gain unless she accepted that it could end as horribly as it had before. But that begged the question of whether she was willing to put herself, put both of them, through that agony.

"If I could have one day, I'd take it."

Those had been Lulu's words. And Yuna had thought she'd been taking her day. But maybe, really, all she'd been doing was waiting for the other shoe to drop. Standing back and playing nice, and acting when life or death were the only options. Yet, that wasn't living, not really. Sin had taught them that there was only one extreme or the other, but what she wanted was something no one on Spira—on her Spira—had ever had. It was something they'd all dreamed of, but never experienced. A life without worry, without care, where they were simply allowed to be what and with whomever they wanted.

But if that fight wasn't over, then that reality didn't exist. And perhaps, now, Yuna had to decide whether she wanted to keep fighting or give up.

She'd seen what the result was if she did. If she plugged her ears, closed her eyes, and ignored it all. She'd end up alone. The only safety in that was knowing she'd be alone.

If she took a chance, if she really tried, then all that fighting could be for nothing. And that terrified her. That, perhaps, they'd find a way to fix everything, only to have the rug ripped out from under them once again—have her heart torn from her chest as it had been before.

Being alone was easier. It was safer. And she already knew the guarantees. But she knew that wasn't what she really wanted, even if her fears tried to persuade her otherwise. She wanted things to be the way they had been before. No, the pilgrimage hadn't been easy, but it'd been direct. She'd known what she was after and thought she'd been certain on how to get there. And even though the nights had sometimes been cold, or wet, or without cover, he'd been there. He'd been around to make her laugh, to comfort her when she was down (even though she'd tried to hide it), and fight for her when she hadn't known how.

But that world was gone—she'd set out to make it so. And there was no going back. She was different now, and so was he. That old world no longer had any answers. There was no path upon which they were being baited, no road to follow. Yuna would never forget how helpless and ignorant she'd felt when they'd deviated from the Final Summoning. When they'd decided to hatch their own plan and do things their way.

His way.

She'd never come back from that. The world was new and she was just as ignorant. There was nothing to fall back on, nothing to guide them. Like walking around on a cliff edge with a blindfold, every step they took could be the wrong one.

Could lead them down a road they'd never come back from.

No, they were already there. The farplane was unbalanced and it'd probably continue to leak into the real world if left alone. Maybe it'd take millennia, but eventually there'd be too many souls. And Tidus—there was no going back for him now. He had the scars enough to prove that. If she abandoned him, if she turned away, then he was left at the mercy of forces none of them could understand.

No, she couldn't leave him.

She couldn't be like this anymore.

How had she become so selfish? There'd been a time, once, when she'd have given up her life to save a single soul. But maybe it was easier to give up one's life than it was to live on in the wake of death. Perhaps Yunalesca, and Seymour, had been right in claiming that death was an easy escape. Because living in a world ravaged by sorrow was so much harder.

But she knew it was worth it. She couldn't continue to allow her fears to control her. Lulu, the woman in the woods—they'd been right. It was better to live, even for a short while, with what you could have than die and have nothing. Perhaps some things were worth dying for, but there was always something worth living for.

She would live. She'd decided to live. She wasn't going to be afraid anymore. She wasn't going to allow the past to decide her future. The past should be learned from, and memories were nice, but, in the end, they were made up of nothing substantial. She'd never have her old life back and wishing she would served no purpose.

No longer would she be idle. No longer would she demand that which couldn't be.

The world was a harsh place, and it could change, but only if someone started that change. She'd wanted to, once. She had. And so she'd do so again.

Maybe she would lose friends along the way, but she'd never lose herself.

Never again.

Forcing her eyes open once again, despite their heaviness, she gripped steadily at the rock before finally managing to pull herself into standing. Her legs shook and her vision blurred, but she pushed her way through it. She'd been through worse, and she had a job to do.

She had to find Leviathan.

She had to find Tidus.

Because the two weren't separate things. She'd tried to divide them, to find in him his "humanity," or, rather, what she'd remembered of who'd he'd once been. Leviathan, however, was merely a manifestation of what he already was, just as all aeons were. There was no monster or human division—nothing was ever that clear cut. He would never be the Tidus she remembered, not totally, but so she would never be who she'd once been either. Change was inevitable, and fighting that change instead of working with it would get them nowhere.

Leviathan wasn't evil, wasn't dark or dangerous. Not with intent. Aeons couldn't think that critically—they were merely emotions incarnate. Human souls turned inside out, that was all. And rejecting them, favoring one part of who they were over another, wouldn't allow Yuna to ease their mind and calm their insanity. One didn't get to pick and choose the parts of a person they wanted and those which they didn't. Tidus had taken on this burden, just as she had when she'd become a summoner. And so she'd accept that, even if she wished he hadn't—even if she wished things could be different.

This was their reality. It was what they had. Maybe it wasn't much, and maybe a lot of it was broken, but it was theirs. Leviathan, Tidus, whoever or whatever he was, she would support him. Just as he'd done for her.

She'd accept him, no matter the cost.

She wouldn't say it was a realization that brought her to her solution. It'd been more like the last step—the last door she'd had to open before finally reaching her destination.

Lenne had said that when a summoner succeeded in calling their aeon, it was because they'd managed to take the soul of another into their own body and warp the physical left behind. They weren't separating one body, but combining their own with the essence of someone else. Yuna saw that now. And just as the fayth had left some of themselves behind inside of her, so too had Tidus the one time she'd succeeded in guarding his soul.

That was why she was sick. Why it'd become harder to keep going. It was difficult for him too, and his soul, the imprint of it that was left inside her—that connected them to one another—was screaming to be heard, was shaking the bars and begging for her to listen.

Now she could hear him.

Now she could call him back.

It hadn't been necessary for her to search the mountainside in order to find him—he'd been with her the whole time. Always, just as he'd promised.

Without her pushing him away, she could feel that familiar weight. The nausea began to dissipate into something warmer. Something she hadn't allowed herself to feel in over a year. But even though it was familiar, it was also different. Because this was Tidus. She wasn't simply a filter for his soul to pass through as she had been for other aeons, but that which was supposed to protect it entirely. An intimacy she'd been too afraid to acknowledge before.

She smiled, just barely. Sitting back on the rock, she allowed the final wisps of sickness to leave her. Eyes closed and back straight, she waited. And the closer she knew he was, the stronger she felt.

Time was no object. When the sun set, she paid it no mind. She felt no exhaustion, and was able to remain still and focused even as evening darkened the sky. The glow of the stars, the stark trees, and the choppy landscape kept her company. Until, the air around her seeming to ignite and spark, his giant, dark shadow descended into the clearing.

There was no aggression in his posture, his neck curling as his big blue eyes blinked. They were feral, slitted, but not volatile. Not fueled by fear, as they had been before. The constant weaving of his body was calm, though he didn't approach. He didn't flinch away when she stood.

Lips pursed, Yuna stared evenly back at him for some moments, heart beating hard as the words she knew she needed to speak pushed their way up her throat—like heavy bricks.

"I'm sorry." So simple, and meaningless if used improperly. But Yuna meant those words then, more than she ever had before.

She didn't have to say why. She didn't have to explain away her behavior. He knew. He'd been trying to get to her just as well as the fayth had been. No, they couldn't read each other's minds, but if they wanted to, if they looked close enough, then there was understanding between them. A stronger link than any they'd ever had with anyone else.

Leviathan growled softly, a growl that became a soft purr. Gulping—more so out of guilt than nervousness—Yuna walked toward him. He didn't shy, didn't hesitate. He simply stood. A pillar of strength that, when she could protect him too, was mightier than they'd ever been apart.

Without pause, Yuna reached out to him. She cradled his scaled head in her hands, pulling him toward her until she was resting her forehead against is own, burningly cold as it was. His purring increased, his nose nearly brushing the ground. He was monstrous—teeth the size of her arms, body as wide around as she was tall. But guided and protected and in her secure embrace, he was finally safe from himself.

"I'm sorry," she said again, only momentarily aware of the tears that were once again streaking down her cheeks. "I'm so sorry I left you."

Holding him tighter, she allowed his power to course through her, back and forth between them. And as before, she pulled him into her—all of him. She wrapped him in a soft, protective embrace, shielding that which was most delicate from the outside world.

To someone who didn't understand, it wouldn't be simple. But to Yuna, no longer weighed down by her own doubts, it was merely a matter of belief. Belief that became action. Glowing, Leviathan's body began to shatter, breaking into pieces as pyreflies shifted and surrounded them. As though a balloon popped with a needle, the shimmering paused for only a moment before bursting forth. And, left in its wake, was a man—soulless for only a moment before Yuna unleashed the wrapping that had held his body and spirit separated.

She didn't hear the singing, or see the way the sky ignited. All she knew was blue blinking back at her—calm and unwavering.

"I'll never leave you again," she promised. "I'll be with you.

"Always."

oOo

He was uneasy. Which made Rikku uneasy. Biting the inside of her cheek, she finally gave in to her anxious fidgeting and stood. Wakka, Lulu, and Chappu watched her for only a moment from where they were sitting at the small card table, their game only pausing for a moment before they continued. The whole room—gracious and grand—was dampened with their waiting silence. A gold-trimmed grandfather clock ticked in the corner, and as Rikku headed across the burgundy rug toward the tall windows, she had to pass directly under a large, overly zealous crystal chandelier.

Auron was leaning against the window trim, arms crossed as he stared out at the city. Rikku came up beside him, taking in the scene as well. It was impressive, no doubt about that, and they had a nice room. Whatever means they had aside, the prime summoners had put them up in a penthouse apartment near the center of the city. It was high enough that they could see the ocean, all lit up with lanterns strung across the dragon-wing sails of small boats. They shifted in the waves even as the night grew deeper, people and human-powered carts railing and running on in the stone streets below. Rounded lanterns of all colors hung from windows and the corners of roofs, sparkling into the distance. A truly magnificent sight, especially with the lights that were strung across the great stone arcs over their heads, somehow managing to accent the stars instead of drown them out.

A pretty picture. Too pretty, perhaps.

"I can tell something's bothering you," Rikku muttered after a moment, eyes going to Auron almost hesitantly. "You're doing that brooding, contemplating, silent thoughtfulness thing that you do when you're not happy about something." He "hmphed," but said nothing. "C'mon. If you're bothered, then we're all bothered."

"Are you really so dependent that you can't even function properly unless I approve?"

"You know that's not what I meant." She stuck out her tongue. "I don't like being here either, but… you're better at this kind of stuff than me. So, what is it?" She wanted to know. She wanted to be prepared.

He didn't answer right away, instead looking once more to the city as he considered what to say. "We're not what they want," he finally said, Rikku listening in all seriousness. Sure, she could be a goof a lot of the time, but she knew when it was okay to act out and when it wasn't.

"They want Yunie, right?"

"Yes." He nodded once. "And we're bait to bring her here."

"Bait?" Rikku hadn't meant to sound skeptical. But bait implied imprisonment, and she wasn't too apt to give into such a notion all that easily. "But they left us armed, and this place isn't exactly cell block number thirteen."

"They're playing nice," he continued. "The question is, for how long."

"But we could leave if we wanted to."

"And go where? We were escorted into the city, taken by cart. Not even I could keep track of the streets we took. And even if we were to leave, to head in the direction of the plains, they'd find us and bring us back before we could make it out. Dreams or not, at odds with them or not, I'm sure there are eyes all over this city." As if to make a point, Auron glanced back, his gaze landing first on Chappu, who was looking bored at the table, before going then to Lenne, who was sitting on a windowsill on the other side of the room, her head against the glass as she watched the city as well.

Rikku pursed her lips. "You're kind of paranoid."

The look she got in return was so scathing she almost shied away. "Well, excuse me," he said quite coldly, the sharpness in his tone near good enough to cut her skin.

"I'm not saying you're wrong," Rikku tried to amend, her voice quiet. "I'm just sayin' you don't need to be suspicious of everyone in the room, okay?" She could see his logic, but that didn't make Lenne and Chappu suspects. And even if it did, why did it matter? Not like they were planning to make an escape in the next five minutes.

"Some of us prefer to be prepared for anything."

"I like to be prepared too," she countered. "Hence," she gestured toward him, "I'm talking to you." Still, they kept their voices down. The room was large enough that the others couldn't hear. "I, however, also value others feelings toward me. Personally, I like it when they're of the warm, fuzzy nature, not the cold, prickly kind."

"Being friends with everyone isn't going to save you when they betray you."

"Um, wow, jaded much?" She scoffed. "And that really does go to show what you don't know anything about diplomacy." He was giving her the unimpressed, judgmental, "I don't think you know what you're talking about" look, but she having none of it. "My dad's leader of the Al Bhed, you know, so I've seen this stuff. And acting like an adamantoise with a burr under his shell isn't exactly the best way to preserve good public relations." Leaving it at that, she turned back to the window, satisfied she'd made her point.

Auron stared at her a moment longer, as if considering what she'd said, before quietly "hmphing" once again and returning his attention to the window.

"Why are you so jaded anyway?" she started a moment later. "I mean, I get the whole Yevon is a lie, Sin is a lie, people always lie thing, but, I mean, I knew that already and I turned out just fine."

"I thought you were claiming to be good with people?"

"I'm asking, aren't I?" She raised her eyebrows hopefully, smiling some. "That's what concerned friends do, right?"

He scoffed. Then, taking a deep breath, he actually started to explain. "There's a difference between betrayal and common knowledge. Maybe these things were always clear to you, but some of us had to learn the hard way. That is the difference."

"Hmm, yeah. I guess I kind of knew that." She was cocking her head in a rather exaggerated manner, smiling wide.

"Then why'd you ask?"

"Just wanted to hear you say it." He was clearly not impressed with her reasoning. "Oh c'mon, don't you see what I did there?" Leaning over, she tapped him on the shoulder. "Got you to tell me things you wouldn't normally, and all without being a total grouch about it. Diplomacy."

Always with the derisive snorting. "While you may congratulate yourself on your supposed victory, you should know that I was in no way fooled."

"Oh, I know that too." She rocked back on her heels. "But see, thing is," she winked, "not everyone's as smart as you and me."

He chuckled, and Rikku silently congratulated herself on that victory.

"Like I said before," she went on, tapping the side of her head, "not as stupid as I look."

"And as I recall, I made it quite clear that I never thought such things." Pause. "You do make me question whether having any trust in you is really very wise, however. I didn't know you had such a conniving nature."

"Ugh, mean!" she said a little louder than she'd intended, a few in the room looking up only to realize it was one of her typical outbursts. "I'd never lie to you, you know that." He raised his eyebrows. "Or any of our other friends either," she tacked on lastly.

"I don't know," he sighed. "My confidence is shaken." So dry, so straight, but Rikku knew better.

"Now you're just teasing me," she pouted.

"I'd never do such a thing."

"Yeah, okay." She rolled her eyes.

"When I have I ever?"

"Um, try all the time. Like, every day. Like, every time we talk. Don't even- I know-" She squinted, hands going to her hips. "I'm on to you, old man. Your mind games don't work so well as they used to."

"You give me far too much credit. Who's paranoid now?"

"You are, as we've already established."

"I suppose I can't argue that."

Their conversation lulled some then, Rikku crouching down at the base of the window to watch the city for a few moments before continuing.

"Hey, Auron?" He didn't have to respond for her to know he'd heard. "What did you mean earlier, when you said that Spira just keeps going 'round? I mean, I know what you meant, but what did you really mean?"

She didn't have to question whether he even remembered saying it. She knew he did. Auron didn't bother saying things he wouldn't remember.

"I simply meant what I said."

"Auron." She said his name in a scolding fashion as she looked up at him, frowning some. "I'm not asking you because I need to. I really want to know." Honestly, with no ulterior motive. She wasn't sure why his words had stuck with her, but they had. They'd been knocking around in the back of her head all day.

Despite her friendly nature, his expression never cleared of that blank defensiveness, Rikku's mood sinking all the while.

"Fine," she huffed, when it was clear he wasn't going to respond. "I get it. You don't have to trust me." It was a petty comment and they both knew it, but Rikku didn't care.

"It isn't a matter of trust," he said after a moment, that he'd bothered replying at all snapping Rikku's attention to him. "Sometimes the past is simply too difficult to talk about." And, whether intended or not, his explanation left Rikku in a state of shame. Shoulders dropping, she peered out the window again, trying her best to ignore how her ears burned.

"Trust is a much more complicated concept than many people seem to think." He was continuing, which surprised Rikku further. Staying silent, she listened, even if she didn't look back up at him. "Those who have the most trust may say nothing, while those with the least may say the most. Simple-minded people would never know the difference."

He wasn't implying that she was simple-minded, she knew that. Rather, he was saying the opposite, once again giving her a warning.

"You would also do good to remember that desperation will make even those we think we can trust act in ways we wouldn't expect." He'd shifted, looking back into the room before turning his attention fully on her, pulling her eyes his way. "The dead, Rikku, are always desperate." She didn't have to look back at Chappu and Lenne to take his meaning. "It's incarnate in walking through death. Only the strongest feelings allow a person to do so, and only relieving that will allow them to rest.

"All dead want to rest, and fulfilling that which will allow them to do so is always at the forefront of their minds."

She dared to ask. She knew she probably shouldn't, but she took the chance anyway. "Is that the way you were?"

Breaking eye contact, he looked to the window again. It took a moment to respond, but he did. "You already know the answer to that question. So long as Yuna journeyed, I didn't care what else happened."

"Yeah, but, you took care of Tidus, and you watched out for all of us. You can't really be saying that, through all of it, you didn't actually care."

His gaze fell to the ground, his eyebrows knitting just slightly. "If caring gets a person where they want to go, then does that mean it was sincere?" He shook his head. "I don't know. Being between life and death is a foggy, imprecise place. Sometimes things are clear, and you know who you were, and other times all you can feel is the regret. Like nausea, pulling your forward even when all you want to do is collapse." His attention flicked up again, looking over the rooftops beyond. "I try not to think about it."

Standing straight again, Rikku bit the inside of her cheek before deciding on what to say. "Hey!" Leaning over, she tapped him on the arm again. "Maybe it was like that, but it's not anymore. You're you again, huh? Yeah, and you still care, so you must have really cared before."

"Me 'again?'" He snorted. "I suppose."

"Suppose all you want, but I know." She smiled up at him. "Like I said, I'm good with people." He hardly appeared convinced, but, then again, that was how he always looked, so Rikku didn't place much weight in it. Instead, she distracted herself with the scenery once again.

If Auron had been going to reply, he didn't get the chance. Attention shooting upward, the two were both distracted by the abrupt flash that had surged through the sky. Gaping, Rikku pressed in on the window as they watched, even Auron uncertain what to make of it. They'd never seen anything like it in their lives.

The shining show seemed to have flashed up from the mountains, as that was where the blue and silver lights—mixed with other colors at smaller degrees—seemed to be most concentrated. Like thin waves dancing amongst the heavens, the arms spindled out, their echoes reaching for the sky was they wavered back and forth, twitching sometimes, but igniting the heavens for miles around. The display could probably be seen from Bevelle, as it continued to stretch, seeming to exist just above their heads.

"What… what is that?" Rikku asked, clearly shocked as she gaped.

"That's a Calling," Lenne explained, coming up beside them. She was just as transfixed by the scene as they all were, the other three having come to the glass to see as well.

"What's a 'Calling?'" Auron asked darkly, demanding both Lenne's attention as well as answers. She looked over at him quickly, as though to acknowledge she'd heard him, before looking once more to the sky.

"A Calling is that which occurs when a summoner and partner finally perform a successful Joining," she explained. "When the soul is removed and an aeon is summoned, before that soul is released, once the summoning is dismissed. It's the final right a summoner must go through—is proves that they are successful in taming their aeon, and in keeping the soul of that aeon safe in return. The soul is kept enclosed in either one body or another, but allowed to be free. Tethered, perhaps, and so it sings."

"It sings?" Lulu asked.

"Like the fayth in the temples," Chappu deduced. "When a summoner prays."

Offering no further answers, Lenne walked swiftly along the windows. Until she reached the glass doors that would lead them out onto the balcony. Pushing her way through, she released the seal on the world outside, all of them gaping as the voice hit their ears. Following her example, they went to the edges of the balcony, continuing to watch through wide eyes.

"It sings," Lenne repeated.

The voice wasn't articulate, and it sang no words, but it seeped up from the mountains nonetheless—like the very glow that accompanied it. Each fayth had had it's own unique voice, and this one was no different. Not deep, but male, perhaps, and familiar—if the ghosting echo of a singing fayth could be familiar.

"Then…" Lulu said breathily. "Then she found him."

Yuna had found Leviathan.

oOo

He sat straight in the chair, despite how the back leaned, with his fingers twining in his lap. Eyes narrowed, he watched as the sky danced. Watched in silence until, finally, the woman behind him could wait no longer.

"What are we to do, my Lord?"

He didn't answer immediately, as if mulling it over before replying. "Take the boy," he said after a moment, "and go to Bevelle. I will meet you there."

"Are you sure, my Lord?"

"Yes." He finally turned to look at her, expression straight enough that it visually unnerved her. "Don't fail me, Freeya. I expect everything to go according to plan."

"Y-yes, my Lord." She bowed, quickly backing out of the room before closing the door behind her.

Taking a deep breath, he tapped his fingers in his lap before turning once more to glare up at the heavens.

"I won't be stopped by you," he murmured, "High Summoner, Final Defeater of Sin."


A/N: OMG ANOTHER UPDATE! AMAZING! I'm not going to comment much on this chapter—I'm much more interested in knowing what you guys make of it. There's a lot beginning to happen, and things are starting to get exciting /suggestive eyebrows.

So PLEASE leave reviews—you all know how much I need your words in order to survive (and keep writing, which is probably more in your favor than mine).

Also, subtle critiques of ffx-2 in this chapter, yeah, not sorry… ALSO, FOLLOW ME ON TUMBLR! Skaylanphear, yeah!