Title: Through the Rabbit Hole
Authoress: Tomo Trillions (http://www.hanashika.com/tomo)
E-mail: FonduKnives - at - hotmail.com
Series: Final Fantasy X
Rating: R - for language. Lots of language.
Warnings: Somewhat humorous angstfic. No, really. Zanarkand Spoilers.
Pairing: Implications of Jecht-and-Auron shounen ai. Sort of. Almost. Maybe?
Disclaimer: Square's. insert witty disclaimer remark here>
Notes/summary: I'm really proud of the characterization here, and the shounen ai -- it's really an undertone, and maybe not even there. In my imagination, definitely--read the fic and figure it out for yourself. I don't think either Jecht or Auron is the sort of person to be ruled by their relationship, so this fic is more general than yaoi/slashy. Woah. I wrote a(n almost) GENFIC. o_o S'been a while...

Yes. I love writing from Jecht's point of view, even if it does require some colorful language.

~Tomo
http://knivesnomiko.pitas.com
http://www.hanashika.com/tomo

~~~~~~~

"Thank you, Jecht. I didn't even see it coming. What a close call..." It had been a normal afternoon -- fiends had swept down across the docks, and Jecht had performed as a guardian should, with perfect precision and accuracy. Even Auron had found no fault in his dealings, a rare thing indeed. The mutual approval puffed up his battered sense of pride, and he grinned unabashedly at his companions over the table. Braska seemed tired, his eyes baggy, his face pale and decieving - one would not expect a minute man like himself to hold the power of aeons... the soft, half-light of the ship's hull brought out every crease and line in the summoner's visage.

Satisfied for the moment, Jecht toasted - water - and laughed heartily. He didn't notice the way Auron winced, pressing his lips together firmly.

"Yeah, well. You gotta get back home in one piece, yanno. He's gotta deliver little Yuna her souvenirs!"

However, he didn't miss Braska's faintly sad smile, the way his face lit up but his eyes did not. A small nothing within Jecht's mind stirred, knowing that something was out of place with his summoner, but having no way to pin exactly what it might be - he only knew that the depth of knowledge in Braska's eyes was nearly frightening. "...I do indeed...."

And Auron broke in, concerned, overprotective as he always was and had no right to be. As if he thought Jecht might break his precious glass summoner... "Lord - "

But Braska would not be coddled that evening, and stood, hands pale against the table - the ship creaked and rocked, and the young man smiled gently at the two of them. "I'll retire to my quarters for the evening. Auron....I believe this would be the correct time. …Jecht," he bowed, smiling serenely, "- please, sleep well."

And he'd turned and gone, leaving them alone at the table, just like that.

"So," the blitzer had asked, blankly, "....what's eating him?"

Auron said nothing in reply, no snappish remark, no sigh or shake of the head - he only looked empty, and Jecht watched with some concern as the guardian stood, then sat again, eyes shifting about the room—glancing anywhere but Jecht.

That was a shame, because Auron's eyes were undoubtedly his most sympathetic feature. Jecht wondered what was wrong.

The sound of blitzball meeting wall was a solid, consistent pulse, like the beat of a heart or footsteps in the darkness. It raced in his mind, it was the only thing, it was real and tangible and there. He threw himself forward in a vicious lunge, knocking the ball back, twisting and catching it then with his foot, barely recoiling. Absorbing the shock, rather than let it push him back.

To allow yourself to be knocked aside in the water by the momentum of another was a calculable mistake, to lose your breath occasionally fatal, to err was to lose, and Jecht did not lose.

He had never been patient, he had never been weak, and he would be damned if he started now.

The blitzball slammed into the wall once more.

They had lied to him.

Lied.

They had built his world around something unsaid - something unbearable - and he'd been working so fucking hard and trying his goddamn best and all they'd never said was all that really mattered, and -

"Jecht...there's something you should know, I think, before we reach Bevelle again..."

Pressure, building in his temples, his aching jaw, his red-tinged vision, unbearable tension that had to be released somehow - and the ball bounced, and he hit it, and his voice was raw and furious.

"What," he hissed, teeth clenched solid-tight, "You DIDN'T THINK I'D WANT TO KNOW?"

The blitzball rebounded, the dark, angry thunk-thunk serving as his only response. Jecht clenched his fist tight until stubby nails bit into his palm, and he slammed his knuckles straight into the wall. His hand ached, and he felt certain he'd broken something in his fury.

Satisfying, that.

"It's...Braska."

"...huh?"

And his knuckles had split, and they were bleeding faintly, and he didn't care. But fuck, it hurt. It hurt so bad, to know that they'd... they'd taken him on, and led him on, and he'd thought he had friends in these two, but they'd been using him—

"There's something we haven't told you about the Final Aeon."

He hadn't known. He never knew, never even suspected! He was deaf and blind, and hadn't opened his eyes to the signs, it had been so obvious in retrospect that death was all that awaited his summoner in the hallowed walls of Zanarkand, the city that had never been sacred.

Zanarkand. God, he was homesick. Shit.

He just... wanted to belong again, wanted a world where everything operated on a level he understood, a world with its own sort of Sin and Zanarkand. He wanted the familiar world of lights and sound, he wanted -

- Zanarkand, the sleepless city, filled with thousands of twisting, glittering lights of blue-and-green-and red neon, electricity crackling through the air in arcs of advertisements and the hum of slick, fast-moving vehicles. Darkness was nothing but an alteration in atmosphere as the forbidden came forth, and in the shadows the underworld came to life, beautiful women walking the streets, sports fanatics grouping in bars and gambling dens, the great stadium with banners flying serving as a sort of temple around which all life could not help but rotate. The city, angry and alive, writhing like a nest of ants in the void of nighttime filled with lithe women and men, pulsing with an inner rhythm and he loved it and he had lived it and it had loved him more sweetly than any woman, any man ever could, the acrid taste of recycled stadium water and the silver bubbles that rose -

Damn it, he'd known everything, there. He'd had everything. The world had loved him and he had loved it, he had filled himself with the game, with drink and company, taken lovers and left them, he'd been worshipped by a timeless city that never ended. He'd had a family he had no use for, but missed oddly, just the same.

And yet here, in Spira, he knew nothing and nobody told him anything -

"The final aeon is...is powerful."

"I know that. Whaddaya take me for, anyway, Auron?"

"Please. Jecht, this is important. Let me speak. The aeon is strong enough to battle Sin and win, strong enough to ... you see, Braska has to join with it, to obtain the power needed - or else the final aeon is just another summons. His spirit and that of the aeon must meld, and in that - "

And he'd broken for a moment, unable to speak, and Jecht had watched as his mouth grew strangely dry and his heart fairly stopped beating.

He was sick and fucking tired of never knowing what was going on.

Of being lied to.

And he'd realized.

And he'd understood.

The blitzball was one he'd bought in Luca their first time through, and now he stood onboard the deck of the passenger ferry that ran between Besaid and Kilika, the ball rebounding off the cabin walls in a steady, drumming rhythm. As they'd walked the islands he rolled it from palm to palm, spinning and balancing it, tossing the ball cheerfully to Braska and Auron as they went—then it had served as something to pass the time and an easy distraction from how thirsty he was. And now, it was a distraction, the biting hurt - anger - homesickness -

He'd kept the ball and his hopes, while nobody had told him that in doing his best he was sending the only man in this world who'd given him a chance to certain death.

"Fuck." The blitzball bounce-rolled to a shaky stop, leaving Jecht alone in his silence. He pressed the palm of his unhurt hand up against his thin mouth, fingers spidering out across eyes and scarred cheekbones. He... he just - ...slowly, Jecht slid to the ground and let his shoulders sag in, empty.

When the hold door opened, Auron found him just like that.

"The pilgrimage is a fucking suicide mission..."

"Not suicide. Sacrifice. For the...for the greater good." Auron had stressed the words carefully, looking away.

"If you're going to fucking say that, don't look like you need to convince yourself! What the hell is wrong with you? Hell, you're letting him kill himself!"

And now Auron was standing in the hold's doorway, one hand resting against the frame to steady himself against the faint rocking, his robes tight about his body, fighting off the cold's silent onslaught. "Jecht..."

"Go away," Jecht mumbled, and wished his voice held more power. It was as shaky as his breathing, which could barely be heard over the whisper of waves—but he couldn't help it. He didn't want to see Auron, he didn't want to talk to that bastard.

It had never occurred to Jecht to lie to them. He did a lot of things, he'd been a lot of places—but he wasn't a liar. He hadn't lied once since he fell into this miserable world, though life might have been easier were he more keen on lying.

After a moment of silence, he worded his thoughts out loud, voice a bit stronger in the comfortable word. He was used to insults, even if he wasn't used to lying. "Bastard."

Immediately Auron stepped forward, speaking clearly over both breeze and waves. "I won't leave."

Jecht heard the door close softly, and footsteps - bare, which meant Auron had returned to their room and waited alone (cross-legged on the bed, cleaning his weaponry and glancing up ever so often, indecisive - go to Jecht? Leave him be?) while the blitzer pounded out his anger on the deck. He felt rather than saw (don't meet those eyes) Auron come to his side and settle down, legs folded placidly - and he could feel the other's gaze raking his own figure, searching for some words of explanation.

But Jecht didn't want explanation. He didn't want anything at all. He was tired and aching, and he had never been good at accepting his own weakness or the comfort of others - comfort was a shade too close to pity for him to handle. He hated pity.

"I don't - ...leave me alone."

For a moment there was silence, long enough that Jecht wondered if Auron would take his demand seriously and go—but then the young guardian spoke in measured tone that set Jecht's nerves on edge. Leave it to Auron to be so condescending when he should be apologizing, the stuck-up prick... "Jecht—I care about Braska, too," For once the monk left off the honorific, and the lack of a title made Jecht look up, meeting Auron's eyes for the first time in the evening.

The moon was very bright overhead, and the waves soft. Auron's face was pale, emotionless in the darkness, and Jecht desperately wanted to hit something. Anything. Mostly Auron.

"Don't fucking say that, you know? Shut up. You're letting him throw his life away! I.... He's a father - and a summoner - and a damn good person, and you just - just - " There were no words. How could he tell Auron that Braska was the only one to give him a chance, that if Braska were gone, all the people that needed him - because Jecht felt sure that the world must need him - would have nobody to turn to when their hopes were exhausted? Braska had been the only one who believed him about Zanarkand, he had believed Jecht when the blitzer had given up the drink, he'd never doubted Jecht in any way; and while there were many people back in Zanarkand (home) that had always believed Jecht was invincible, Braska's trust was important, because Braska knew him and simply seemed to know Jecht's abilities ... and that somehow, the not-young-any-longer blitzball player turned guardian had started to believe that if Braska could succeed for Yuna, he himself might be able to return home and be a decent father to his own kid....

"I have to," Auron admitted, and Jecht knew the veiled sadness in his voice was not faked. "Spira... is.... Spira revolves around the summoners. It's an honor to die for your people and your world."

What kind of world was that? What kind of people lived off the lives of others? It was disgusting. Jecht glared hard at Auron, desperately wanting to wipe the forced understanding from the other man's expression. He was certain Auron didn't believe it—he wouldn't be Auron, otherwise.

"Braska...Braska has many reasons for this... he's thought carefully about it, and he knows that if he succeeds, Spira will have years of peace, happiness. Yuna will get a proper childhood.... I've pledged my life to his service, if this is what he desires, I will do what he asks."

Auron's voice wavered, and Jecht glared hard at him, voicing his own misgivings into the chilly night. "You don't believe that." He knew Auron, he knew how the monk idolized Braska, respected and nearly worshipped him - it was incredible that he would feel all that and then let the summoner throw himself away in some wasteful excuse for a solution, one that wasn't even permanent.

Didn't Sin always come back?

It was impossible. Jecht reached up and twisted his fingers into Auron's dark robes, eyes narrow. How much of this was Auron saying to reassure Jecht, and how much of it was meant to remind himself of why they were here? "Do you?"

After a measured moment, in which the waves lapping softly against the hull of the ship and the wind whispering through the rigging was the only sound, Auron spoke again. "No," the dark-haired guardian looked down. "I wish Braska would turn around, everyday I wonder how I might convince him to go back—but he won't listen. The least I can do to keep him safe on the road.

"…If he's bent on giving himself up, nothing will stop him."

"We could - "

"But he wouldn't thank us, Jecht—he wants to make Spira safe for Yuna, and to be honest, he..." Auron's words tangled in on themselves—it seemed difficult for him to articulate, and he looked down. Jecht tightened his fingers against the fabric stretched across Auron's chest. "...I suspect that he misses his wife. I know he longs to see her again."

Jecht stared, point-blank, into Auron's eyes—they were focused elsewhere, looking back on a memory or a reflection. "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard."

"He loved her. More than anything, and he'd do anything to keep part of her alive - Yuna is all that's left of that woman, you see. I think... I think that even if he doesn't say so, he's doing this for her. Getting rid of Sin out of…well…"

"Love?" Jecht stared at Auron, lips half curled. To die for 'love' was just...god… laughable. Like something out of a fucking storybook! Braska was better than that! He ought to know better than to throw away his life for some half-formed emotion – "Huh," he resisted the urge to spit. "He's crazy, you're crazy - this whole damn world is insane, you know that? Nothing makes sense. I hate this place."

And it was bitterly, definitely true. He wanted a drink.

"..."

"I really do. I fucking hate Spira and everything about it. Everyone in it."

He raised one arm and gestured out to sea, clenching his fist against the starry sky. "It's all about death and love and maesters and fayth... this place is awful."

"Jecht - "

Auron smelled good, Jecht realized, his hair was wet though his heavy red robes still lingered with sweat. He hated it.

"You..." He hated Auron, for being so damned confident, for knowing so much about everything and never giving Jecht a chance. "...and Braska..." For promising that things would be alright when they wouldn't be. For giving false hopes. For lying. "…and that fucking pansy Al Bhed, what's-his-name, and the maesters, and the weak fucking blitzball teams...and Luca..."

Everything for not being Zanarkand, everything for being so new and unknown.

"...and fiends....and Sin... and everything..." Everything for making him weak. Everything for being so damned frustrating -

- and for bringing up the hard, burning behind his eyes, the wetness of exhaustion and anger, and -

Fuck, he hated crying.

He really hated it, even more than he hated the entire fucking world he'd been dumped into out of the blue. And he hated the instant warmth of Auron's arms around his shoulders, the feeling of hands spread against his back and the comfort they brought - somehow the younger man had brought him up close, was cradling him like some fucking little kid... the bastard.

But...

Jecht found himself pressing his face against Auron's warm neck, seeking skin-on-skin contact, his lips working helplessly in what was half an explanation, half an apology and part—something else, he wasn't sure and didn't want to know. He closed his eyes and wished silently for the light at the end of the miserable rabbit-hole he'd been thrown into to shine through.

Even death might be preferable to this eternal confusion and weakness.

When his shoulders stopped shaking (long minutes later, when his breath was even again, his heartbeat slow) and he pulled away, scrubbing at his face with the back of one hand, Auron seemed - well - indecisive, really.

The dark haired man looked as if he wasn't sure what to say, as if he wanted to make amends, if for once he was sorry he hadn't given Jecht that all-important first bond of trust at the beginning of their journey. For all the good it did, Auron seemed to regret… something… "Jecht... I'm sorry...that we didn't tell you about the… final aeon."

Great. Auron was sorry. Give the man a fucking prize.

"Yeah, well." His voice was still crackling—he needed a drink, but reached for the blitzball instead. "You should be."

"...Braska... you know... talking about it just makes it that much closer, that much more real. So... we don't. It makes life a little easier if some things just remain unsaid... For Braska to admit to you that he was giving his life up... I think he just wanted you to enjoy the journey for as long as you could." Now Auron was looking down, his face half-shadowed. Overhead, a lone bird cried out in the night - Jecht searched the sky for a moment, wondering where it might be flying, but Auron's voice anchored his wandering thoughts back to the deck. "It made him happy to see you happy - ...it...it cheered us all up, when you were happy."

In Luca, when they first visited, Jecht had made a bee-line towards the downtown area, stopping briefly at almost every stall on the way. Any doubts Auron had harbored about the sincerity of Jecht's claims about Zanarkand were slipping away with the sight of the blitzer's flat out fascination with the most trivial things about their world... and the stadium, though it was magnificent, could not satisfy him.

"You should see Zanarkand," he'd boasted, earning wary looks from those passing. "We have the biggest damn stadium - it's huge, all these columns and statues, and the lights are brilliant....they come on all at once, and they announce every move... You should see it. I owned that stadium...The Sublimely Magnificent Jecht Shot Mark III! That was my top move. Everyone loved me."

"And so modest, our Jecht," Braska laughed, while even Auron had smiled at both of them. And Jecht found, to his surprise, that there was satisfaction to be found in being 'theirs'.

Time, though, numbed the ache in his chest and the burning behind his eyes.

"You still should have told me. You lied."

"I never meant to upset you like this. I thought was for the best."

For a moment the silence stretched out into the night, broken again by the persistent breeze - it was picking up, cool though not yet biting, and Jecht pressed closer against Auron (why not?), who shifted slightly at the touch - insecure. The moment of weakness gone, his normal mentality was reasserting itself, shaming him for letting his facade slip (especially in front of Auron, how stupid could he be?) – Jecht halfheartedly raised a suggestive brow at Auron's expression and grinned in the darkness. "Is there anything else I ought to know about you and Braska?"

It wasn't quite appropriate, but seemed like a natural 'Jecht' sort of question. Auron's response was dry. "Not really."

"So… you're single?"

"Jecht..." the tone was a warning, and Jecht sat up entirely, shivering at the sudden lack of Auron-related body heat.

"What? I was just asking. I was curious, anyway, you turned down that priest's daughter's hand in marriage, so..."

Click went the locks on Auron's inner person. The young guardian rolled his eyes and stood, not even offering Jecht a hand. The coldness that normally held him was firmly snapped back into place, and this Auron was all work, no play. Jecht oddly regretted the change. "That was years ago, and none of your business. Let's go inside. We reach Luca in the morning."

"Auron..."

It was late, well after midnight out on the boat's deck, the moon was sinking overhead though the horizon had not yet begun to glow with sunlight. These were the hours in which Zanarkand had been the most alive, he remembered, lost hours of morning when anything was possible. Jecht shook his head, steeling off another wave of homesickness as he stood, leaving Auron's name hanging in the air.

"I...uh..." Shit, great. "Well…"

Auron raised a brow, his arms folded across his chest. Jecht felt his confidence drain out through his body, but he didn't bat an eye—just shifted his weight and tried to appear as he normally did.

"I really.....you know... liked talking to you tonight." Obviously the monk hadn't expected that (he blinked, lips twitching upwards at the corners)—Jecht felt a surge of pleasure at the element of surprise. He took a step forward. "I mean, not being mad or anything, but I'd rather get along with you than fight with you, yanno?"

"Well..." Auron was giving him an odd look, then shook his head, as if to clear his thoughts away. "I'm just glad that you're not going to give up the pilgrimage. Braska would be very upset."

"Only Braska? Not you?"

Auron stared at him.

"I wouldn't quit, anyway...." As he said it, Jecht realized it was true - if he 'belonged' anywhere in Spira, it was next to Auron and Braska. "It's not like I have anywhere else to go...or anyone else to be with... I don't know anything about this stupid world. So...er. I'm really kind of stuck here, aren't I?"

"I must admit, I had my doubts about your decency when we first met. I neither liked nor trusted you...but you've proved me pleasantly wrong."

"Hell, yes. Everyone likes me," Jecht flashed Auron a grin, and felt the young man warm slightly in response. He'd always been charismatic, even his worst enemies had admitted that... though he seemed to be less effective in Spira, he fancied that slight, rough charm was what Braska had seen the first time they met. Auron shook his head at Jecht's antics, a faint smile across his face.

"Why is that?" he asked, shaking his head. "You're uncouth, sarcastic, annoying, im-"

"-hey!-"

"-impatient," Auron rolled his eyes, "yet you grow on every person we meet."

Jecht grinned. "Including you?"

"...yes, including me. I'm beginning to think you're contagious." Again, that absurd pleasure filled Jecht's mind, and he sauntered over to Auron, sliding an arm around the monk's shoulders. In the darkness, he might have imagined the shocked expression on Auron's face, though the faint tingle he felt when their bodies made contact could not be ignored.

"I'm gonna take that as a compliment. So...thanks."

For a moment, Auron's mouth was upturned and Jecht caught his eyes, seized with the overwhelming urge to seal their conversation with a kiss (he was all alone here, he might never get home, it wasn't as if he 'd ever been faithful!) - but the younger man turned away slightly, and Jecht found himself feeling remarkably foolish. "Thanks, Auron."

"...you're welcome. Let's go inside, now, before it gets any colder. If you get sick and hold up the pilgrimage…"

They moved, Jecht letting his hold on Auron slide away, vaguely embarrassed that he'd needed the physical comfort of another's touch in the first place. Together, the pair walked down the deserted stairwell and passed the dining room, weaving their way in the silence to the passenger quarters at the back of the ship, passing Braska's room, where both glanced across the doorway as if they suspected him to greet them (wasn't he good at surprising them?) somehow, and then found their respective room.

And when they reached their own room, Jecht declared he'd be bathing before sleep. Auron shrugged carelessly and began stripping down, peeling his long robes from his body with practiced ease.

Jecht nearly fled to the bathroom, turning the faucet on to the hottest water he'd felt in a long time. Steam clouded the mirror in no time flat, and he dressed down, leaning against the sink with a sigh.

So. Braska wanted to give his life for Spira, for all the people they'd met along the way... No wonder he'd asked Auron to bring Yuna to Besaid. No wonder he'd been neglected souvenirs for his daughter—he wouldn't be returning home to bring them to her, and it would be so very cruel to send trinkets back in place of the father that would never return?

Auron cared about Braska more than almost anything, Jecht suspected as he ran his fingers through thick, dark hair. He himself was loyal to the summoner, but Auron was... devoted. Because, Jecht supposed, dunking his head beneath the waterspout, Braska had also given Auron a chance....

They lied, but only because they cared. Jecht hadn't ever experienced that before.

"Spira is messed up," he told his reflection in the mirror, then turned and sank into the tub.

It he couldn't stop Braska from traveling (and he couldn't, he would never be able to stand up against that kind, powerful smile) to certain death, he would have to take on Auron's view, despite how he hated it. He would have to simply make sure that Braska's death was going to save Spira, he would have to cover his back on their journey, he would have to do his best to keep them all safe until Zanarkand and the final fight. It was all he could do.

And maybe after it was all over, he would find his way home. Maybe he could bring Auron, show him Zanarkand, and let him see the blitzball stadium... Let him meet the family?

The thought of Auron in Zanarkand—his Zanarkand, the real one—was amusing. Things would have come completely full-circle if he were the one showing Auron around a brand new world…

"Hah." A sigh puffed out in the steam of the bath.

… if a way to get home couldn't be found, he would just have to stay here and enjoy the Calm they'd earned.

Jecht reached out and twisted the water off, silence crashing in on the tiny room. He leaned against the warm porcelain tiles, closing his eyes and breathing deeply. A warm bath had never felt so good.