Avast sea monkies! I bet you thought I'd abandoned you faithful readers! Fear not! Cap'n Tagg is still at large and still writing. I've been working hard on a whole lot of stuff and hope to get this thing rolling again in the upcoming weeks.

I don't own FF X-2 or anything belonging to Square Enix. Just my little plot bunnies.

The noise was nearly unbearable. The roar of swirling water drowned out any voice that called out to him, including the woman he was desperately trying to hold on to. Rikku's lips were moving, tears streaming along her face, both hands had a death grip on his but they kept slipping away. No matter how hard he held on, her fingers slipped further and further out of his grasp. She tried to speak again, to tell him something, but he still could not hear. The pull on her increased, and he watched in horror as her fingers slid away. Nearly in slow motion, she disappeared down the dark watery tunnel.

"NO!" Without thought, Auron ran forward, into the now shrinking tunnel that went to a place he did not know. All he knew, or hoped, was that she would be at the other end. The water turned to mist, blinding him as he ran, calling her name, straining to hear her voice.

Auron woke with a start, sweat dripping down his face and neck, heart thumping loudly in his chest. It took conscious effort to remember how to breath. He closed his eyes, setting his feet on the floor and tossing unneeded blankets aside. His hands, slick with sweat, felt entirely too much like they had in his dream. He stared at them, wondering how he could have let Rikku slip away from him like that.

' Am I so weak that I can't save one woman?'

"Auron?" A small whisper from Rikku startled him. She was kneeling in front of him, wrapping her small hands around his, eyes looking up with deep concern. Briefly he saw her face as it had been in his dream, and with it the terrible sinking feeling of never being able to see her again closed on his heart. Auron slid off the bed, joining Rikku on the layered rugs, gathering her close. His hands were no longer treacherous, holding her, stroking her hair and skin, they brought a feeling of comfort. Rikku, not understanding what was wrong but knew something had upset him, snuggled closer, burying her head against his neck. Auron could smell the flowers in her shampoo as he kissed her hair.

"I'm sorry."

"For what?"

"...not now. Later. I promise."


He held her long after she fell back asleep, afraid to let go. Finally, Auron placed her back in bed, carefully settling the blankets so she would not wake. It was well into the night before he himself fell asleep, head and arm resting against Rikku's bed. Djose Temple only had several small beds in several small rooms instead of private rooms. Braska was occupying the second bed on the far wall. Auron woke a short time later with a crick in his neck from sleeping in that position. He groaned softly, wincing at the pain movement caused. The dim lighting of the room gave no clue as to the time, but his internal clock told him it was morning. There had been no nightmare this time, though the memory of it made his heart and stomach twist. Seeing as there was no reason to wake his companions, Auron dressed and exited the room quietly. He made sure the door was locked behind him before venturing into the temple courtyard. Every temple had a practice area for the guards and Crusaders to use that was fenced and signed to make sure no one ventured into dangerous weapons practice.

The practice ground was deserted, something he was grateful for. He wanted to be alone, and as far away from his thoughts as he could get. Sword practice usually allowed him to distance himself from the immediate world and concentrate only on the flow of one sword form to another. There was no leaping about or dramatic slashes at the air, these movements served no purpose but to calm the mind. Losing concentration while performing the more elaborate moves was foolhardy; someone would end up injured. Each form was slow and graceful, leading into another and another until the mind had no focus but the next form to go into. Only, Auron's mind refused to settle. Visions of Rikku being torn from his life surfaced at random times, making it impossible to relax. His arms and shoulders, already tense from a bad night, ached from holding the great sword steady through the forms. With a sigh, he lowered his sword, allowing the point to rest on the packed dirt of the practice ground.

"Trying to get a grasp on yourself, boy?" Auron turned quickly, finding an old man shuffling his way to a nearby bench. He used a tall walking stick to move, limping on the right leg. His hair was still full, but stark white against his tan skin. "It's hard sometimes. Some things you just can't escape." The old man sat down slowly, sighing with relief. "Especially the things in your own mind." He patted the bench beside him. "I've had my fair share of those thoughts. Come, humor an old man and sit and talk a while. About all I can do nowadays." Auron remained standing, partially due to physical exhaustion, but also due to a dull curiosity about the man. "Is the old man crazy, or just nosey? Heh heh, you don't have to say anything boy, but you'd probably feel better if you did." He looked around, apparently remembering a time when he had been here before. "Still looks the same...been near twenty years since I practiced here. Guess they don't redecorate much."

"You were a Crusader." It was not a question.

"Aye, and a good one. Would have made captain if not for this leg. Funny, if I hadn't been injured, I wouldn't have met my wife. We were coming back from an exploration of the wasteland beyond the Green Plains when we were attacked by a band of outlaws. Killed our healer and two others before we beat 'em."

"You're wife was an outlaw?"

"Haha, no boy, she was part of a chocobo caravan. Said she had some training as a healer, offered to haul me along in her wagon 'til we reached a travel agency. The whole way I was berated for being foolish enough to get hurt out in the middle of nowhere. Beautiful girl she was...and gentle hands to go with her sharp tongue. Made me feel a fool more times than I care to admit but she was worth it." The old man shook his head at the memory. "Only apologized to me once the whole time I knew her."

"For what?"

"Said she was sorry she didn't have magic to heal me with, else my leg would've been healed fine and I could have been a captain." Auron chuckled, making the man look at him with an eyebrow raised.

"Sounds like someone I know."

"That pretty girl you and the summoner came in with?"


"She's the reason you're out here swinging that monster of a sword around I take it."


"It's alright, you don't have to say anything. Women tend to make men think in ways and about things they aren't accustomed to. Try not to dwell on it too much."

"I have no choice but to dwell on it."

"Well, if you dwell on it, you lose time with her. All the worry in the world won't do a lick of good when she's gone. Settle down, start a family, be happy."

"Is that what you did?"

"Yep, it was. Best thing I could've done, too. Missed out on so much in life until Lara came along...ah I miss her still."

"And when she died?"

"...I think I went a bit mad then, or so my son tells me. Life without her was empty, meaningless...then my granddaughter was born, and damned if she didn't smile just like her grandmother." The old man nodded toward the temple. Auron found a couple walking toward the practice ground with a child running out in front. "That's her now."

"Grandfather! Grandfather, it's time for breakfast!" The girl said, stopping at the edge of the practice ground. She turned to Auron and said "Oh, and the mage inside said it was breakfast time for you too."

"My thanks, lady." Auron bowed, making the girl giggle. "Good day to you, sir."

"Aye, it will be. Take care, boy."

Auron did not have much time after breakfast to think on his dream or about the old man's words. The trials in Djose were tricky even with Rikku setting and changing spheres for them. She and Braska were unusually quiet throughout the trials, as though they sensed his mental and physical exhaustion. Rikku was silent even after Braska entered the chamber of the fayth. He watched her walk softly to lean on the wall next to him, but he stopped her before she reached it with an arm around her waist. Auron removed her hat as he pulled her close, burying his hand in her hair.

"You left." Rikku looked up at him, confused. "In my dream, you left me behind. I couldn't tell if it was because you wanted to or not, I couldn't hear what you were saying, I couldn't even hold onto you." He spoke in a whisper to her hair, unable to look into her eyes and find out the answer to what he was not asking. "It frightened me."

"Do you think I'd ever leave you cause I wanted to?"

"I..." Auron finally looked into her eyes, unable to read them. "I hope not."


"Because I want you here, with me."

"Then I won't go home without you."

"But your family, your friends..."

"I don't even know how I got here, let alone the way back. I might not be able to go back...and I won't go home willingly if it means leaving you behind. So you're stuck with me, got that?" Rikku poked him in the chest for emphasis. All Auron could do was breath, resting his head against the wall. "Hey Auron?"


"I'm glad you want me around."

Auron and Braska fell asleep as soon as their heads hit the pillow, neither had bothered to change out of their clothes or to even pull back the blankets. In Auron's case, one foot and the leg it was attached to were not even on the bed. Upon waking, he found if odd that not only had his leg found a way onto the bed, but his coat, boots and weapons were not on his person. He was also under the blankets. Braska, waking at nearly the same moment, was in the same situation.

The smell of food was what woke both men up. Before either could voice the suggestion of searching for the source of the smell, the door opened, and in came a tray bearing Rikku. She kicked the door closed with a foot and set the tray down on a convenient table.

"Wakey, wakey boys! It's dinner time. And dessert time."

"I hope it isn't ice cream again..." Rikku gave Auron a 'look' that made Braska cough softly behind a hand. "Thank you, Rikku."

"Yes, thank you. I fear I wouldn't have the strength to complete the quest for food at the moment."

"You give yourself too little credit, my Lord." The summoner gave him a smile for the comment.

"I figured as much, so I went and got some din-dins for us. I fully expect to be compensated for it though."

"I think I will leave that task to Auron if you don't mind."

"That's not really fair, making him work twice as hard..."

"I have no objection to that. Do you Auron?"

"That entirely depends on the task given." He said this straight faced and with complete sincerity. If it meant spending time pleasing Rikku, he would happily agree.

"Well," Rikku sat with her chin in hand, fork hovering over her plate. "How much time can we spend at the Moonflo?"

"There's a nice inn there, very cozy. The perfect romantic get-away. You could take a stroll along the banks of the Moonflo as the pyreflies float around you."

"Lord Braska."

"Yes Auron?"

"I will agree under one condition."

"And that is?"

"You pay for the rooms."

"Very well. I will. I may even throw in some goodies while I'm at it...you never know what creative uses people have for honey and whipped cream."

"You can stop now."

"Oh, but you're only just the slightest shade of red my friend."

"You can still stop now."

"Spoil sport."

"Don't you start Rikku."