what might have been


The crickets hum.

The fire crackles, and they sit close to it as the only two still awake. It warms weary bones because these bones have been so cold lately. Plainly, Rikku doesn't have enough meat on her, and Auron sometimes has to rub his limbs to stop the numbness from escalating to rigor mortis. Being Unsent is not as kind to him here as once in Zanarkand.

The camp is set up along the bank, the ship too far to return to for the night. The trees whisper, black shapes against the inky sky, and the water slowly ripples. The crickets hum.

"Back at the Moonflow," she says. In the spirit of camaraderie, her mouth moves often and quickly. In the times Auron finds himself alone with her, he ceases to mind. "Always pretty."

He observes that she has her back to it and probably doesn't mean that if she isn't watching it, and tells her as much. Rikku scrunches her nose at him and scoots slightly back from the fire. The wind is favorably warm, but the fire still crackles because she understands. Sometimes at night, when everyone else is asleep, she creeps over to him and rubs his arms until her own hands burn from friction. It's been more often, lately.

"I like it and I don't," she says conversationally, picking at grass and throwing it in the flames. It makes her nostalgic. It isn't welcome right now. Auron dips his head.

This journey is full of nostalgia and memories, even for someone as young as Rikku. He prods for elaboration unconcernedly, one arm slung inside his battered coat and the other resting against his drawn leg. Rikku stretches her arms and throws the grass she was holding to the wind.

The pyreflies reflect from the water. She turns half-way, a small figure against the unusually bright night, and she stares at it from her peripheral view.

"It bounces everywhere and it turns me upside down." Rikku fiddles with her weapon before pushing it aside.

"Not always about just what I've lost. About what I might've had – not in the way that I wanted it, either. I mean – just – let's say I was seven and I learned how to speak Hypello instead of working on my pops's ship. I wouldn't be here because I wouldn't be strong enough to be any kind of guardian. I'd be working the shoopuf system or something. What if I had pointed out that Sin would be stronger than any ray we made, no matter how big we build it? Or let's say I - what if I had captured Yuna right off the bat, would she be here anyway? Would I? I start thinking and I get mixed up sometimes."

The water has that effect, he concedes. They lapse into silence like the waves going in and out, back and forth. Auron tells her that he almost quit being a monk to join a traveling group of musicians. He could play something, once. Rikku hasn't heard of the instrument and doesn't contemplate.

She asks why he didn't instead. He doesn't know. Auron says duty, but he wonders if he just hadn't known how to follow them. The water hushes, the wind swirls, the crickets hum.

"I was supposed to be married, you know," Rikku breaks the quiet again, her voice very naked, and she smiles lopsidedly. This startles him.

"I'm not so young." She spreads her hands, which are contrarily very young. "A while back. Before the Guado went full-time Yevonite, my pops wanted to ally with them. I don't blame him, he just - it was the idea of somebody with their own brain, you know? I don't blame him. I was… I was maybe nine. I was a kid then, yeah. Seymour was around twenty."

Auron pulls up his jug for a gulp to swallow down the concept with.

"I know things are maybe different in Bevelle. They can afford waiting, probably. Zanarkand probably could, too. The rest of the world is pretty different." Rikku cuts what Auron thought he knew out of his brain, maybe to show that he really doesn't know so much. "It was supposed to be… probably the minute I turned fifteen. I guess. I'm not really sure when it fell out. I remember running into his room and ripping up his robes when we visited." She grins, but avoids looking at him.

He asks if she wondered what it would've been like.

"Sometimes." She pokes at the dying firewood with the toe of her boot. "I hated – I hate him. He taunts me with it. What a bastard child it would have been, and I agree. But I wonder. Things sure would've been easier."

Auron shifts quietly.

"I was afraid," he offers. Rikku picks over the rocks and dying flame to sit beside him.

"I don't like the Moonflow sometimes," is her response. What is right now and what can be glows at them from the water.

"Sometimes," he says, and that is that as she wriggles into his coat to rub his arms, and they try not to think in that context for themselves.

The crickets hum.