Auron was a man without purpose.
After his death, when he had little left of duty but to watch over the son of his fallen friend in a soon to be equally fallen Zanarkand, he learns to appreciate the curve of a hip and the lift of a breast, the bounce of a curl, and the lilt of a laugh. Though he keeps a close watch of the tiny little boy called Tidus, there are times when his hours are his alone.
Later, when he returned to Spira and sought to save the world again, people who placed him on a pedestal and created a legend out of the guardian would forget that he was a man, Unsent indeed, but a man. He had eyes that saw, a mouth that tasted, ears that heard. Blood still ran through his veins, he still hungered and thirsted. He still desired.
And he discovers that he is desired in turn.
Auron learns the things he would have learned in time had his life not been cut so short. He learns that his voice can be smoothed out, lowered, and it makes women catch their breathes in anticipation. He learns that if he hides his scar behind dark glasses, and tucks his weakened arm into his coat, people are no longer repulsed, but are instead intrigued by his mystique. He learns how to flatter, cajole, press and tempt. He learns how to seduce.
But he learns these things too late, and with every body he touches, every mouth he kisses, every gasp he hears, he feels the betrayal of their trust like a knife in his chest, for he is dead, and has missed every chance, and they know nothing of it.
The years pass. Tidus grows. Destiny finds them, the cycle continues, and his time to leave Spira creeps upon him as fast and pulling as quicksand and achingly threatening.
For a time it feels wrong to be back in Spira. Too much, and nothing, has changed. He is a legend now and bears it with little aplomb, little grace. Wherever he goes people whisper his name, awed by the strength of his reputation. It is both flattering and degrading, because they truly have no idea that he fought against his fate harder than he fought for them.
The only thing that gives him purpose is carrying out Jecht's final wishes.
Then a girl arrives into his world in a tangle of silken limbs, strawberry blonde hair, huge green eyes, and youthful impetus.
She is horrifically young – too young – to be sacrificing herself to a pilgrimage, and though he allows her to join because Yuna truly desires it, he is sickened that such youth will end.
Her presence lends a new fervor to the party, her constant verve and spirit more lifting than Holy and more aggravating than a horde of gnats in your ears. With her noisy and unanticipated arrival comes a sense of completion. They are whole now. She has brought them together, despite Wakka's prejudice and her shifty attempts to save Yuna.
Auron is mystified by her, and he does not like being mystified about anything. He studies her as he would an insect in a jar, keeping silent vigil on her every move, her every word. If she notices, she gives no sign. Most likely she is used to being watched by men of all ages, especially when showing more skin than was decent for one so young.
Soon, however, too soon to be anything but hazardous, she ceases to be an enigma he must solve and be rid of, and instead becomes a problem he understands. A creeping awareness begins to consume his consciousness. An awareness of her.
She is everything he has never thought to want.
She is the water and sunlight dripping from her body as she surfaces from the warm oceans of Besaid and throws herself blissfully onto the beach, sand clinging teasingly to her body and leaving Auron's fingers itching with the need to brush it away and feel the grit and grain of it mingling with her skin beneath his ungloved hands.
She is the snow laden winds of Mount Gagazet, quivering upon her lips and dusting silently across her hair as she wades through drifts and scurries forward in her ridiculously inappropriate outfit, leaving him far behind her where he watches in exasperated pain as she gets farther and farther from the party. And he is left with hopeless thoughts as cold comfort for the misery within.
She is the faded grass of the Calm Lands brushing softly against her boots as she scuttles ahead of the party, childishly examining chocobo feathers with the insatiable curiosity of a kitten. He watches her with amused bitterness, his fingers tightening around his massive sword. He feels the pull of the Farplane grow stronger, but resists it all the more.
She is the glittering crystal of the Macalania forest casting gentle rainbows across her cheeks and over the peal of her laughter. The shimmering light of the celestial path drifts eerily over her strawberry blonde hair and her gold skin, the soft glow forsaking Auron and leaving him lusting after her youth and her beauty, aching to drag her body close to his own for wild, traitorous moments.
She is the hot, humid air of the Sanubia desert burning her skin as she runs gracefully across the dunes, sweat gleaming along her flushed body as she exuberantly calls for them to follow, sending Auron into a throbbing frenzy of desperation and anger, for nobody should have such brazen liveliness. Nobody should live as freely and carelessly as she does, for she should not know the gift she has been given unless it is suddenly taken away.
She is the soft, sad pyreflies of the Moonflow that drift in shimmering gasps from the water flowers and over her hair. She watches in simple awe and eagerly follows them with her swirling eyes, leaving Auron to watch, and wait, attempting to see the beauty she so obviously does but finding only death.
She is the twisting, ancient roots of Guadosalam that bend and grow and shelter, her wild, peerless beauty something primal and cruel as she wanders the town of exotic Guado. She is like a bird among insects, eyes wide and alive, leaving Auron to follow her movements with his one, and resent her, and respect her, and revere her.
She is the deep, warm leafs of the Kilika rainforest that sweep over her limbs as she peers up at the canopy above, the humid green darkening her eyes to emerald. And Auron finds himself attempting to catch her gaze like a lovesick boy, until disgusted and shamed with both disgrace and failure, he strides away.
She is the tumultuous electricity of the Djose temple that she eyes so apprehensively, her fear of lightening causing her small frame to shy back a little – behind him, he notices ruefully. She is wildly energetic, crackling with vigor and enthusiasm for the most mundane of things. This pilgrimage is not a chore for her, it is an adventure; a test of her wits as she vainly tries to save her summoner as he had so many years before.
She is the haunting lure of the Farplane as he sits outside the very same, morosely telling himself that he has no place within that mirror of death. He compares them, looking between the shimmering wall and the small Al Bhed, watching them each ripple and pull at the world around them. She is sitting precariously on the edge of the walkway, long legs dangling, small feet kicking, and smiling softly to herself as she looks below. He watches her for a long moment, then turns away.
It is a long time before that image of her fades from his thoughts.
In the middle of his nightmares of Braska's blood and Jecht's transgressions, his mind plays war with his emotions, dragging his restraint and his grief to the brink of the world and back. He sees the girl as he will never see her, her spiraled eyes soft with desire, slim limbs and warm skin open to him, as he runs his rough fingers over and into her body and convinces himself he does not sin. Sometimes in his dreams, she is quiet; secret smiles or tremulous tears spiking her dark lashes, and he goes to her, and speaks to her, and knows her, and she understands. Other times she is laughing, all golden hair and shining eyes, the echo of her merriment bouncing over the corners of his mind. He often jerks himself awake, wondering if he truly imagined her joy, or if she merely laughs at him; knowing the hold she possesses and cursing him for the dirty fool he is.
He finds he cannot keep his one eye from her, trailing over her youthful face and her willowy form; her boundless enthusiasm shining gleefully from her Al Bhed eyes. Her vivacious voice, flirting with his ears like a sirens song that he forcefully turns a deaf ear upon, her breathless smiles, her coltish limbs, her unwittingly sexual posturing, all drive him harder and faster to Hell.
He is sick and wasted inside where the others cannot touch, appalled by his need – his silent obsession, his impassive passion. But he maintains his stoic and reserved bearing with a strength he has not known he harbors. As each day passes and his craving goes unquenched, the realization that he is all his thirty-five years and more, the truth that he is dead and does not belong within the confines of this world – this quest, are thrust mercilessly home.
There is nothing of him here save obligations and dusty promises. There is nothing left in his life to live, and the bitter irony of falling in love – in lust – with a girl young enough to be his own daughter when he is nothing but an unfinished pledge is painful to behold. An unsent soul such as he should not have the capacity to love – he should have been freed from such constraints, such tethers, when his bond with Spira was broken. And the bitterness, the wretched, maddening acrimony, is the truth that had he been young, and had he lived, he could have had her – he could have loved her in every right way possible. It is vanity that makes him believe such, he knows, but had he survived Yunalesca's defense - had he lived through his own impetuousness - she could have been his.
But as it is, all he can do is watch, and see her countless imperfections and intricacies with dazed awe.
She is sunlight and sand, cool water and damp skin. She is the gauche, fluid movements of her victory jumps and the liquid motion of her hips. She is the energetic flashes of her claws in the sunlight. She is the impossibility of her hopes and the flaws of her naïve thinking. She is as young as she is beautiful, as foolish as she is brave, as reckless as she is vibrant, as tactless as she is giving.
She is gauche, foolish, vapid, furtive, deceitful, naïve, young, and weightless.
He runs his ruthless gaze over her, the soft skein of her golden hair flashing playfully in the light. The indecent amount of leg she shows is maddening, emerald shorts edged with dirty fantasies of mint lace and golden skin. He is thankful for the gloves he wears, for they divert his senses from imagining how soft her skin is. The laughter in her eyes in distracting, and he knows, that if he had known her when he was young, and beautiful, and alive, he would have been a tongue tied, weak kneed fool. He would have stumbled over his words, and been distracted by her glow, but at least he would have had a chance to be with her – to give himself to her. As he is now, he can offer her nothing. He is an unsent. His chances were forfeit ten years ago.
She would have been five. He loathes himself.
But it haunts him, and he tortures himself, burning to feel the heat of her skin against his lips, an ache so fierce he can imagine the ghost of her touch like a brand upon his mouth. He is desperate to hear her say his name as if there was something between them. He longs to taste her, touch her, tease her, torment her…
A part of him is glad that there is so much standing between them, for he can never be satisfied with the things she would give. He would never be sated. Even if his pledges and promises became hers, even if his duty became her, he would not be fulfilled. Even if she gave him her love, her body, he would not be content once she was tasted. He would devour her, gorge himself on her, swallow her whole and then seek more. He felt the yearning in his misted blood; the burning, scarring desire to take her, and take her, and take her, and never allow her a moments respite.
Auron knows that there is no place for such emotions between them now, but Rikku never was a sensible girl.
He first becomes aware of her budding attraction to him – her girlish adoration – as they walk down Mi'ihen Highroad.
He aches to catch the blue fabric of her outfit in his hands and keep her close to him, bound to him, as she hops forward and scoops handfuls of daisies from the grass. She idly weaves them into airy chains and drapes them over the party, giggling at Kimarhi's lack of expression, or Wakka's irritated swatting. Tidus laughs and helps her wind one over Yuna's staff, while Lulu merely watches drolly, but does not remove the one wrapped over her wrist. And when he, Auron, is the only one without one and he tells himself such foolishness means nothing to him, she races over, nearly tripping on her long legs, and reaches her slim arms around his neck. Her breasts push against his chest and his spine stiffens. She fastens the chain of flowers around his neck, her warm breath brushing his sensitive skin as she draws away.
"I wouldn't forget you, you know" she chirps, and a heady emotion darkens his amber eye and confuses them both.
He says nothing, and even when the chain of flowers wilts and drifts away, he carries the memory of her skin and her scent, of her words and her warmth, with him.
It is the start of something hideous and pure.
"It isn't as if I can't do anything! Just because I can't hurl a ball like I'm a cannon, and I don't heft a sword the same size as me around, doesn't mean I'm not capable!"
Auron remains silent, watching the small Al Bhed fuss and hiss at Wakka. She wheels on him, finger pointed, eyes narrowed.
"And you! You're the one who let me come! You, I mean, I didn't… It's not as if… And I - oh!"
She continues her tirade, tripping and skipping over her own words until she throws her hands up in frustration and stomps up to him, all five feet three inches of tiny fury.
"Just wait Mister Mean," she waggles a finger beneath his nose, "some day, I'll be just like you."
She had meant it as a challenge, that one day she would have his strength, his wisdom. One day they would be equals. But Auron saw it as a threat. He wanted nothing to taint her joy of living, least of all him, the miserable dead.
"You little fool…" he murmurs, his voice a husky rumble in his chest. "You'll never be anything other than what you are."
She looks hurt, offended even, and grimaces slightly. Her nose wrinkles, and she opens her mouth to protest.
"Which is fine."
He looks at her silently, and turns away.
She looks uncertain, fingers trailing lightly over her lips, feeling as if she has just been touched.
Catching sight of Rikku's writhing, girlish victory dance, Auron's eye narrows and he murmurs to the girl.
"Rikku, do not allow your triumph to blind your vision. Always be on guard."
She doesn't understand that behind the honest advice is the desire to take being quelled. Her body is a subtle weapon, all long legs, curving hips and tiny waist, and Auron is hard pressed to keep his mind clear. Planting her hands on her hips, she deliberately wiggles again, and grins.
"That's why I love you Auron, you're always there to burst my balloon when it gets too big."
She sticks her tongue out, winking playfully, unaware of the wounds her words have inflicted upon him. He hefts his sword higher onto his shoulder and turn from her. Every stretching, bunching, bouncing inch of her mocks him with its vulnerability and sheer love of life. It is an impossibility that she could be any more different than he.
"See that you pay more attention in the future, Rikku," he says coldly, and walks away.
"I will, Mister Tall Dark and Sour! See if I don't!" she hollers after him, bouncing on the balls of her feet in order to better shake her fist at him.
He lusts for her. He loathes her. He loves her.
They finally come together on the air ship, where Auron flouts propriety by taking the daughter of their captain away from prying eyes and ruthlessly making love to her. His time is running out, and he wants Rikku terribly. It is out of character for him, and so undeniably wrong, but he has never had anything just for him. Shouldn't he have one thing? Just one bite of happiness after so much sorrow? Should he not be allowed one freedom after a life of chains?
There is no need for words, for explanations. They are together – two ships in a storm – and they have now.
Her eyes follow him everywhere, skittish and excited by his merest movement.
He draws her away from their companions, and enters an empty cabin without a word. He shrugs off his massive sword, then his red jacket, and stands, eyeing her, in his black shirt and pants.
There is a command in his voice, even now, and she obeys.
She scrambles up to him, eyes dark with want and alive with happiness, and he goes to her, and together they are rash and wrong and wonderful.
His fingers are grasping, tangling in her hair as he aches, and aches, and aches, desperate to find the wholeness within him that he once wasted so foolishly. He drags his mouth across her warm throat and over her collarbone, listening to her surprised gasps of pleasure and excitement, convincing himself that there is no wrong in his actions, for he is scarred and dead and lost, and she is clean, filled with hope and beautiful. He brushes his hand over her breasts, feeling her jerk beneath him, gasping, and he suppresses an exasperated smirk, and kisses her once more.
When he enters her body, rending the barrier of her virginity obsolete and capturing her whine of pain against his mouth, he chuckles slightly, and she falls back against the bed roll in a gasp of blonde and naked skin.
"Braids, bows and beads, such things of beauty," he murmurs, voice shaking as he fingers a messy braid, and she eyes him curiously, then reaches up to wrap her slim arms around his broad shoulders.
"You're such a strange thing, you know?" she smiles, but later, in what seems like a life time away, she will cover herself in white bow sleeves, strawberry blonde braids, and a hundred clinking, pretty beads in silent homage to his desires.
He groans softly, shifting within her when he senses the pain has abated, and the elusive wholeness he has searched for for so long tickles the edges of his empty heart. He moves, pushing into her and watching her spiraled eyes widen at the remaining ache, and the awakening tingle of pleasure. Her smell – desert lilies and wind – mingles pleasingly in his nose, and he drinks it in, swearing to himself that when his body disappears, he will carry the memory of her smell and the look in her eyes with him to the Farplane.
His body is betraying him from its long state of misuse, and he cannot last as long as he once had, and he cannot bother to try for she is so lithe and warm beneath his hands, and her body is gripping him to her sinfully, and he is filled with the flowery scent of pyreflies and lust, and gasping, he climaxes.
As they approach the end of their journey, a sad shadow begins to enter his soul, nudging open the bleak passages and slinking into the open wounds it causes.
The Farplane is reaching out to him.
A niggling fear begins to poison his mind, as he wonders if Rikku really cares for him, or if he will be tossed aside as soon as he is out of sight; as soon as he is Sent. Perhaps she is just a foolish child after all. Perhaps he is being cuckolded by his own desires.
He eyes her heatedly, pained, as she skips around their camp, cheekily looting Wakka's pockets when he isn't looking and handing the goods to Lulu. His hand curls agitatedly around his sword handle when she happily hits Tidus's shoulder and skips away from his fond swatting. He looks away when she catches his eye and smiles slightly, the tilt of her lips snagging on the thorn of a confused frown.
Later, when they have caught a moment alone together beneath the cobalt sky that winks with gauzy stardust, and she leans contentedly against his shoulder and plays with the silver streaked locks of hair that curl softly against his neck, Auron is immobilized by love, and fear, and the knowledge that the call of the unsent is touching him with chilled fingers. His thoughts are darker, more dangerous. Every moment he remains is a moment he could become more monster than man.
He fears for her.
"You were watching me again, you know," she whispers.
"You are soothing to watch," he replies.
Such lies. Watching her is like watching sunlight, it glimmers and flickers and flashes, but it is impossible to catch in your hands. It enrages him.
"Soothing? What do you mean, silly?"
"You soothe me."
"It's something more than that. I wasn't born yesterday, you know!"
But she could have been, for all her play at the world of theft and gambling.
He turns on her in a flash, gloved hand closing over her arm, bare fingers clenching her shoulder tightly. She doesn't cry out, only looks at him, with confusion and hurt and tenderness pouring from her spiraled eyes.
"Will you love me?" he whispers harshly. "Past sorrow and pain and death? Will you love me when I am gone?"
"Auron…" she murmurs, and there is a panicked sort of plea in her eyes.
"I am an unsent, Rikku," he hisses, baring the truth brutally with amber eye burning. "Do you love me still? Will you love me when I am released in a burst of pyreflies? When you are still young, and hopeful and beautiful? Will you still love me when there is nothing left of me but old swords, dusty footprints and stale memories?"
She gives a sorrowful cry and throws her arms around him, surprising him with the quick movement and breaking free of his grasp. She clumsily catches his lips with her own as her small frame surges up to meet his and he nips at her lips in return because he hates that it has come to this, and that she knows now, and that he can do nothing but wonder about her future, knowing that he will have no part in it.
At the end of all things, when they have defeated Sin and uncovered the peace so long hidden from them, Auron's ending has come.
Even though he had told her he was unsent, he had not told Rikku he would want Yuna to send him. He had not told Rikku that not only would he allow it, he would desire it.
Rikku is lost and confused and betrayed and sullied, but mostly in love, which is worst of all. He made a mockery of their stories! He was a ghost of a man fighting beside them for a future he would have no part of! She can't wrap her young mind around such selfless, selfish, foolishness, and all she can feel is the pain of his choices, and the bitterness of his deception.
He deceived them – he deceived her. He used them – he used her. He doggedly pushed on their pilgrimage, forcing them forward, carrying them onward, when all the time… He was a shell, a charade, an unsent, and she knew, and thought it wouldn't matter.
He had never meant to stay.
She feels the tears pushing hotly at her eyelids, and she catches her lower lip in her teeth and winces. He is disappearing, a misty maze of glittering pyreflies that had once been a man. He had held her! He had touched her! He had made love to her!
She can feel the choking sob welling up in her chest, and draws in a gasping breath to try to calm the burn of betrayal that is blackening the edges of her heart. He is disappearing! He is disappearing! He is disappearing and there is nothing she can do because he Wants this, and he's Tired, and he's Given Up.
Even she is not enough to keep him in Spira.
The realization dawns slowly, bleakly, and at the last moment she turns away, for she cannot stand to watch him drift away into the sky in a sea of color. Seeing him Sent is saying good bye. She's not ready yet, and she never will be ready, because this is her only chance and she's missing it.
But he is watching her, drinking in her pale green eyes, her golden skin, and remembering a myriad of her poses and postures, the light scent of desert lilies and wind that clings to her hair, the warmth and beauty of being inside her body, the ridiculous wild, girlishness of her laughter, the constant exuberance of her stance. He takes what he can, savoring her youth and her beauty, and knowing he does the best thing for both of them by letting go of her now.
Let her have her life. Let her have her Eternal Calm – her Spira.
Her freedom from fear, her light and her laughter… These are what he fought for during his second chance to make things right. These are what he won.
And as he begins to feel the chains of life leave him, as he releases his soul in a slow drift of pyreflies, he remembers the chain of daisies that she strung around his neck for a soft, sad moment. And his last thoughts in this world are of the sound of her coquettish voice proclaiming that she would be the merriest of them all, and the shine of her Al Bhed eyes, rife with apprehension, as he gazed into them for the first time.
And when there is no more of him to glitter and shine before her eyes, Rikku finds them spilling their tears. She can hear Yuna sobbing quietly behind her, and the others gathering close to offer comfort and to grieve, but they weep for Tidus, not Auron.
They weep for the boy they lost, not the man who was already gone.
Wakka is looking at her, tears streaking wetly down his face, and he holds out an arm to her. She cannot resist crawling into his brotherly embrace, burying her face within the crook of his muscular chest and sobbing, because she has no choice but to go on like he knew she would. She scrabbles at the brawny man, fingers digging and pulling, because she can't climb out of her own skin and escape her sorrow.
He left without promises. He left without lies.
Auron was a man without purpose, because his purpose had been fulfilled.