Taste of Dust
Auron POV, spoilers of FFX up to and including post-Yunalesca.

There is the taste of dust in his mouth, of cotton and sour spit, life gone wrong and past its due.

He never was the type to touch, and so when the stranger had thrust forth his hand like a lion's paw with claws still sheathed, Auron had assumed similar intent with it and had taken a step back. The stranger had not taken offense; rather, he had laughed, the sound strong and boisterous, much as he was.

Memory serves to insert the line of something involving a pansy here, and Auron lets it.

Later he learns names from this man: Tidus, Jecht. Some are familiar, such as the Zanarkand which neither can agree upon until Braska puts an end to their accusations of the other's state of sanity with one of his gentle reprimands. They never seemed like an order until you realized you had obeyed even before thought of rebellion could sprout. Braska, with his endless patience and humor, smiling as many Summoners do to the joke only those willingly destined for death can see. They were allowed. They were on their pilgrimages.

He wonders if Braska would still be laughing the same way now if he were with him, and he feels the loss of the man most cleanly in how the body of his charge should be two feet to the left and several in front. That would place Braska with his toes in the surf, but Auron knows the man would stand there anyway and never lose that smile. If he were here, the guardian reminds himself--yet then that would make a pair, and then there might be reason to give in to amusement anyway. They would go scrape up Jecht from wherever trouble had dragged the man, and then go out again.

It didn't matter the destination, or the morning. They would be on the road in a moment's notice and gone, and only the echo of their bantering to be left behind for others to remember them by.

Now there is not even that, save in what Auron can create himself to cycle through his mind's ear. In the waves, he can shape what voices are not to be heard again. Apart from the addition of time, dying in of itself hasn't been so much of a change for him. You could've been dead all along by the way it was always duty for you, Aur, never just you. More anticlimactic, perhaps, a cool reminder to him as to how it solved no questions of duty for the self-disciplined. You shouldn't be so serious, Auron, you only live once, right?

Ice water for the overly idealistic. That was death.

But you both love people and still you're leaving them behind, he said one night when he'd still been thinking about impossibilities to keep himself from thinking further--or did he dream it all, one night when memory had been filling in friends rather than the precise method of how to breathe air as if he was not drowning in it. And Jecht, it must have been Jecht, laughed and tossed back, We do, but damn boy if you don't ever learn how to smile someday without it being an accident.

But love didn't work like that in the guardian's lexicon. It was formal, clean and clear, there or not there and one could understand it as perhaps a fork next to a spoon, or how to sharpen your sword just so for the edge to not be too brittle. And the other two had laughed and Braska with the shake of his head and return to the private thoughts and then Auron remembers that Braska had never been there to begin with, it had all been Jecht. It had been the blitzball player being too serious and too silly so that the guardian's head had been tangled between what was really being said, and with more than a little suspicion that the other man would do it all on purpose just because composure was only another thing for him to play against.

His mouth tastes of bitterness and it should taste of salt, because he is standing here at the edge of the sea and watching the waves roll over themselves, puppy-like. Unlike young dogs, they groan with a deeper register, like the sounds that those older make when they are so deeply into sleep that they do not remember their voice's restraint, much like humans do when they think they are alone because they have forgotten even themselves. Whales. They should taste of salt as well, he thinks, with rubbered skin slick from the water so that you could slide your hand down their sides too fast to stop yourself when you slice your palm across the barnacles, and that, too, is salt.

Everything is death in Spira, which now he agrees to; yet death is a gentle thing that is closer to a dream if you ask him now, closer and yet one you can never quite wake up from. Like a dream, spending too long inside starts to make everything lose its perspective while claiming that it's been clearer from this side all along.

Sometimes his body doesn't understand what he wants it to do anymore; it remains put when he tells it to stand upright, finally resorting to orders and then sheer will alone, moving only by virtue that his spirit is pulling itself along and threatening to leave the facsimile behind if it doesn't follow. It is confused, too confused, and cold. It didn't feel at home here among the mass of warmer-bloods; he forces it to the habits of life so that fewer will suspect, takes meat and drink and ignores how they roil in a stomach that wants neither. He is lucky--people can expect reclusiveness in a man scarred from one pilgrimage that bears the mark of success. He's gone grey from the trials and from standing by the sea.

He's gone grey from tasting dust, from the dirt that should be grave-loam and is only the sediment of the road he is walking down yet again, and yet again he is alone this time.

At the end of this will be Braska again, and he will bring Jecht with him from whatever trouble the man's become entangled in this time. He will have attended to his vows to them as best as he can, because they are still more important than his own desires, and that order of the mind and heart is what he knows best.

Sometimes he even misses memory of what desire is, but mostly, he misses water.