I think I knew it before I knew it, you know?
But I didn't know for sure until after the Calm Lands, after Seymore and his crazy antics, after Machalania, after we got to Zanarkand.
But when I saw our three predecessors running to their demise, hollow in the light of the pyreflys, and I saw his unscarred face, so alight with hope, and desire, and determination, and loss and fear and all the emotions that you don't see on his face and scarred expression all that often anymore, I realized something life-altering had happened to our Legendary Guardian. Something that maybe he didn't survive.
Oh, I had my theories of course. He in fact hadn't survived the Final Summonings and the Scar, and tried to safe my poor uncle despite the summoner's fate. I can see Auron doing that. I can see him laying beside his beloved summoner, both of them dying together in some hideously poetic tribute to their damned religion.
Or maybe something happened after that. Maybe he didn't survive his trip to Zanarkand. I mean, how do you go back in time a thousand years? Who knows what that will do to a guy.
Either way, I sat there thinking furiously on the dusty Zanarkand city steps, hands on the sides of my fluffy blond head and eyes jammed shut with concentration. Pops was on his way to get us, so we were lounging around with shocked and slack expressions on our faces, dumb with disbelief.
I knewitknewitknewitknew something funky was up with all those undead unsent power-hungry Yevon mongrels. Yunalesca was everything that I despised about Yevon; set in her ways, utterly convinced of her own importance and willing to sacrifice anyone and anything to keep the misery going. So, despite my anger and irritation, I found that beneath it all, I was buzzing with something I'd always wanted to feel;
That was, until Tidus came out of the causeway with man – in – red in tow, looking absolutely miserable with eyes puffy from crying. And you know, that just doesn't compute. Tidus, like me, is all for the pursuing of ways to keep Yunie alive, and like me, should have also been sharing that buzzy-happy- omigod we might just pull this off, goshdarnit feeling. But no, the bleached blond young man moved doggedly over to the edge of the road and sat down with his back to us, staring off into the reds and golds of the dying sunset.
Something was up. I just hoped Auron didn't tell him that the world was in fact screwed and it was all for nothing and that we might as well give up. But then again, I think I started to understand that Auron wasn't hurrying us to Yunie's death, but maybe just to get us here. So that we might change this terrible pattern of death and dying. And for that, I respected him all the more. So what gave with making boy-in-bad-fashion all tears and frowns?
Auron himself sank heavily on the opposite side of the stairway from me, and brought a weary hand to his brow. I frowned. And stood. And bobbled over to him, kicking up dirt and dust from eons past as I crossed the wide staircase to what was now Yunalesca's tomb. I sat cautiously, my green butt descending gently to the spot beside him.
"You ok?" I asked softly. I almost didn't want to disturb the air of emotional exhaustion that had befallen our troop. I frowned when he didn't say anything at first, just continuing to massage the bridge of his nose.
"Hn?" He responded at last, turning towards me and nearly colliding with my nose, as I was bent towards him. I reared back and squinted an eye at him.
"You and Tidus look like your mutual pet dog just died," I surveyed, pointing towards the sullen blond some twenty yards over. The guardian tilted his head towards the boy, and seemed to deflate like a balloon, widening at the base as he lost his air. His broad shoulders sank and I realized oh man, what if they did have a pet dog together –
"It was time he received some unfortunate news."
"Man, that is just one of your best skill sets," I tried to joke, but, as usual, there was no reaction. But wait, yes there was – his shoulders lowered a little more. Damn. I swallowed uncomfortably, scratching the back of my head through the fine blond hair.
"What was it? Are you guys angry at each other or something? Anything I can do?" I offered.
His head tilted just barely towards me, and he regarded me with an almost warm look, as I was close enough for inspection. He looked down again, looking almost depressed, and hugged his arm closer to his midriff within his gi.
"No child enjoys losing a parent, or those close enough to that station. Tidus has done far more than your average share of losing those he cares for. I did not want to increase that burden but…" He looked up at the dying sun again, the light reflecting dully in his glasses, "I am tired."
"What are you talking about? Jecht as Sin? Oh man, I know it sucks, but we gotta do this and take him down, Auron-"
"That is not to whom I referred."
I frowned, brain struggling to connect the pieces. This guy was the king of riddles and enigmas, no wonder pops wanted to ring his neck. Just come out and say it! I wanted to bark, but then… he did. But not with words.
His eye flitted about, as if getting ready to do something bad like steal a cookie before dinner or before mom says you can, and then he brought his bare arm out of the Gi and his hand hovered over my thigh. I thought at first he was going to place it there, warm and comforting like pops would do and I was really concerned that he'd gone all bonkers on me – he rotated the joint until his palm was up, and then…
A pyrefly, beautiful, and a deep hue of green and gold, emerged lazily from his skin. It fluttered there for a moment, investigating the orange fabric of my tummy, touching it hesitantly. It was warm. And then something fell right threw it, onto his palm. Offended at the attack, the pyrefly returned to its owner, but the attack continued upon the man's bared hand.
It took me a sec to realize they were my own tears.
I'd kind of known it, suspected it, and hoped ever so much it wasn't true.
Auron withdrew his hand, and tucked it again securely within the crimson of his coat.
He was leaving. He was on borrowed time. He was as unsent and as illegally parked in the living world as every other Yevonite who broke the laws of nature.
I couldn't make my throat work well enough to speak his name. I scrubbed my eyes violently, trying to stem the flow of hot warmth, but it wasn't working very well. When had grumpy pants gotten under my skin? I didn't want him to go. I didn't want him to go.
A physical response to my unhappy thoughts, I reached right into his personal space and grabbed his gi, the part of it covering his arm, and I held it gently, but tightly, as if I could tether him to this world with my bare hands. He didn't look at me, though he did turn towards me a fraction of an inch.
"Don't go," I whispered hoarsely, giving the fabric a little shake. Under my knuckles, I could feel the muscle of his arm. My voice gave way to little more than a croak and I begged again, "Don't go, Auron."
Silent as usual, he didn't say anything. But he didn't slap me away like you would a mosquito either. He turned his head towards mine ever so slightly as if to whisper a secret in my ear, though he remained ever quiet. And so there I was, bent over like those wire toys I had when I was three, my hands in a death grip on his arm and tears just not stopping no matter how hard I tried. I felt his breath on my cheek, and he just sat there, slumped on those steps, head turned towards me but not touching. It was the closest I'd ever been to the Legendary Guardian Smardian of Spira, and I mourned him even with him sitting next to me.
And I realized that he was warm. Warm like a living person. Breathing like a living person. Only, not. He smelled like… he smelled like something that's been in the cellar too long and you've set it outside to dry, freshened but still musky. It was fitting of the man, I thought, as I rested my brow on the hard bone and joint of his shoulder, trying to block out the light.
And then, the ship came. He stood slowly, and I let go. I didn't want to.
Three days later, we were on Besaid. Pops was right; with the airship, it was as if the whole of secrets Spira had to offer had been placed before us on a silver platter. All we had to do is find those secrets. I'd gotten my GodHand yesterday, and today we were running around the ancient ruins and beaches of Bikanel, with a little personal time for Yuna, Wakka and Lulu to converse with whomever they pleased. Why not? Who knew what was going to happen. We might never come back. Heck, the world might end.
I was feeling more grave than I had in my whole life. I didn't even have the energy to be optimistic, I was thinking so damn hard all the time. First plan; get every weapon on the whole planet. Then, smash Sin to bits. It was a good plan! This plan allowed for Yuna to be saved, and all of us too. She wasn't dead yet, right? That was progress, right? Where would be look next? Brother and I had seen that small island off Luca once, when on our first speeder boat. Maybe there? And in the snow of Gagazet! Maybe there were big Ronso secrets for us to find! Big Ronso secret weapons, that is.
So, just inside the tree line on Besaid, we were sitting around the dying fire and I was hunched over as I had been, typical Rikku, for most of the journey. Trying to think of ways to save my friends. As dusk fell and it was just Kimahri, Tidus, Auron and I, it was only logical for Tidus to ask;
"What the heck are you thinking about so hard, Rikku?"
"Indeed," Auron mused as stabbed the embers with a stick, "You'd assume with a new airship to play with and all of Spira to use for treasure hunting, she'd be more chipper." All grumble and rumble and teasing to his voice. Normally, I'd probably be irritated. It was what Auron did best.
But when you realize that he wasn't going to be around to bug me after this was over, it just took the life out of a rebuttal, you know? I glanced up at him and I felt that unpleasant painful feeling gurgle to the surface of my tiny Rikku body. His russet eye caught mine and I looked away quickly, not wanting my downright unhappiness of his lack of mortality to show.
"I'm ok," I chirped as best I could, "Though I think I'm gonna go on the beach for a few. Look at the stars, be all girly. Call me if you need me!" I sprang to my feet and fled.
Besaid's sand is not as fine as Bikanel's, but it wasn't too sharp. I took off my boots, and then my socks, and stuck my feet in the granules as I wandered the beach, the night air cool and the tide rhythmic. I didn't go too far – no reason to get squashed by some big ugly fiend so close to end game. I was probably pacing. I've always paced – since I was about three, pops says. When I get nervous or excited or anything in between; or especially when I have eighty bajillion thoughts in my head about the end of the world and Yunie and Auron and all of us and Home and Treasure I just don't know what to do with myself to burn off the energy. So, I pace. And when I pace, I really super totally lose track of time. Pops thought I did it to be snotty when I was younger and skip dinner because I was being a silly kid. In fact, I was just so worked up about something I was building, or more likely taking apart, I was totally inept to the fact that there was dinner. I like dinner. Really.
So Gods know how long I was out there, grumbling to myself and skittering around like a nightbug, but the moon did rise and trek quite a ways before I yawned, burnt out. I hadn't been sleeping well. I had been sleeping by big red though. It was hard to fall asleep knowing you won't be seeing someone again, and soon – so I guess I just wanted to be close while I had the chance.
Still shoeless, I fumbled back to camp like a drunk person, all wobbly from pacing and not enough rest, probably. The fire was about dead and it took me a few minutes to find it again. It was Tidus's snoring that was the real homing beacon. Though he was no rival to Wakka. I shudder. Auron was still up, sitting cross legged and sipping whatever was in his jar. He didn't say anything as I tiptoed back to camp. I suppressed a sigh as I unrolled my sleeping cloths onto the ground just behind him, and curled into a ball of blond and blankets.
"You didn't have to stay up for me, I was ok," I whispered.
"Hn," he grunted softly, plugging his Toukiri and setting it aside. "What makes you think I need sleep?"
I winced and felt that unhappy feeling again.
"That's not funny." I rolled over and tried really really really hard to stop thinking. A difficult task, when you've been thinking all day. I'm like a well oiled machine. Its hard to stop the engine sometimes.
"I did not realize this would upset you so. I… apologize, Rikku," he said quietly from somewhere behind me.
"How could you not?" I said quietly. "It's just like Yunie. I don't want anyone to die."
He didn't say anything more. The night bugs chirped on and off and the tide crashed back into the sea.
"I don't want you to be just a memory. They're nice-"
"But that's all they are," he finished, his voice a soft rumble. I nodded, staring straight ahead and feeling those Gods damned tears start up again.
"Its – its not like we would be best friends or anything, you know, if you stayed and had a longer lease on Spira, but-" I tried to explain, still staring straight ahead, "I guess despite how big of a royal pain in the-"
"Really? I dunno, Auron. I'm feeling like the emotional teenager here." I sniffled and cursed, and tried to bury myself in the blankets. "I wish I could be like Yunie and be strong and accept it all. But – I can't! I just can't," I deflated.
I thought he wasn't going to say anything more. But I heard a rustling, and then a large hand gripped my shoulder, above the blankets.
"You are not weak, Rikku," his voice came, startlingly close to my head. "You stand up for what you believe in, and question things that don't make sense, no matter what the opposition. You stand stronger than all the monks and priests and people who accept things for what they are. You try to change the world for the better. That… is true strength."
I sniffled, and rolled onto my back a little but was stopped before I could rest on my spine. I felt pressure from above the blankets – he was lying behind me, a wall I'd run into. I couldn't see him, but I whispered with an uneven voice-
I swallowed hard, and nodded.
"And when I'm gone, you keep doing that, Rikku. Don't ever stop."
I was finding it hard to keep my lips from quivering, but I nodded again. A solemn Al Bhed oath.
He moved to get up, and I made a noise of protest.
"I don't mean ethereal ghostly unsent stuff, I mean right now, dummy!" I hissed, curling up on myself again in embarrassment. "I don't want my last memory of you bursting into a cloud of pyreflys while I watch and keep all my memories in, ok?" I swallowed, and fisted my hand. "It's going to hurt us to lose you."
He was quiet, and then, "I didn't realize it would matter so much."
"Ugh," I groaned, "You are not good at this game, Mr. Legendary Pain in the Butt."
I heard him chuckle quietly. Then, I felt the pressure return to my back as he settled down again, and heard the soft words near the crown of my head-
"Stop thinking and get some sleep."
And I guess with the crashing waves all rhythmic and soothing, and the even breaths of a bear of a guardian behind me, the well oiled gears that are Rikku's brain could take a break for a while. I was hovering pleasantly in limbo between consciousness and dreams when I felt a rumble against my back. My brain screamed Thunder!!! In bright bold letters and my eyes snapped open and my heart pounded. I froze. Had I imagined-
No, there it was again, a slight rumbling against my shoulder blades, accompanied by a warm breeze on my earlobe.
The legendary stealthy unbeatable guardian snores. Not the all barrels exposed hacksaw going-to-make-Lulu-cast-fire-on-you-to-shut-up snoring, but a tiny little snore, like one you'd expect out of a sleeping cat as it mewls and rolls over in the sunlight.
Memories are nice, and we should keep them inside. But some memories bring me a little more of a smile than others. And when Auron was gone, and the world saved, it was that pathetic little breathy noise, and the conversation we had that night, that gives me strength and brings a smile to my face.
And I always keep my promises.