Tewnty-Five

Seventeen.

He was seventeen, and had long hair.

He was often complimented on his appearance, especially on his hair, which was long and straight and tied back into a ponytail, so as not to interfere with his work. He tried not to let it inflate his ego. He had a job to do, and egocentricity had no place in the life of a warrior monk. In between training and praying, there was little in the life of a warrior monk. Occasionally he would be sent on a mission, to patrol the streets of Bevelle, or guard a priest on a short Mission. But that was really all there was.

That didn't matter. He had his sword and his faith. That was enough.

--

He was eighteen, and Yevon was testing him.

He remembered the day the Maester had come to him and offered his daughter's hand. That was the way things were done in Bevelle. The offer was as concrete as a promotion. Auron was being offered the life of a Maester. It hadn't appealed to the young man, full of fire, and so he'd remained a warrior monk.

But with that offer, something had changed in Auron's eyes. He began to see the corruption, the lack of piety among the "faithful". There were whispers of the inner circle of the Maester's bodyguards being equipped with Machina.

He left for his patrol, through the rich district of Bevelle. The Warriors of Yevon didn't waste their resources patrolling the slums.

So it was that the young man came across a group of Righteous Citizenry gathered around a house. He wandered over, just in case this merited his attention. One of them noticed him, and spoke.

"Ah! Monk, it is good you have arrived."

"What is it you need?" he inquired softly.

"The man who lives in this house has brought an Al Bhed to live with him!" the man said, spitting venom from his tone. "Right into the City of Saint Bevelle!"

Auron sighed, and spoke up. "All of you, return home. I will deal with this." Despite his youth, his position commanded respect, or at least fear, and his directives were obeyed. As the crowd began to thin, he walked up to the house, and knocked on the door. "By the authority invested in me, open the door."

The door yielded with a reluctant click, and Auron was met with a surprisingly familiar face, although where he'd seen him before eluded him. Oh well, down to work.

"They tell me you are harbouring an Al Bhed."

The man was about to answer when a young woman walked in. "Are they- oh." She froze for a second, locked in the gaze of the stern young man.

She started to back out, but Auron had seen her eyes. Yes. Definitely Al Bhed.

He knew his duty. Al Bhed were an affront to Yevon. That was what the Maesters had always said. They used Forbidden Machina, and thus (so they implied to the mob) brought Sin down upon the world.

But the Maesters were a corrupt and tyrannical regime. The Maesters were using Machina as well. Thus they were no better than the Al Bhed. He turned to the man, and raised an eyebrow in question. The man stood next to the woman protectively.

"She's my wife. We're expecting," he said, possibly in an attempt to gain some sympathy.

Auron was silent for a long time. "Congratulations," he said, and began to walk out of the door.

The man grabbed his bicep. "Please, what is your name?"

"Auron. And I have a patrol to complete."

"Well, let me say this. Thank you, Auron."

Auron nodded, slightly, and left.

--

He was twenty-one, and he was having a crisis of conscience.

He stood stock still, his eyes boring holes into the slip of paper in his hands. Impulsively, he crumpled it into a ball and threw it away.

"You're a fool, you know."

"So they say, Wen."

His friend nodded gravely. "If you don't do it, then some other Captain will. If you lead the strike, then you can at least mitigate any damage."

"But it would still be me doing it. I'm not sure how much my conscience can take."

"But they are enemies of Yevon. It's your job."

Auron snorted. "So say the Maesters. Do you really believe using Machina brings Sin down upon our heads?"

Wen laughed bitterly. "It does seem a little unlikely." His face grew serious. "Think about it, Auron. If, say, Captain Balrin leads the strike, then he's going to be a lot more enthusiastic about it. If you're in charge, you can keep casualties down to a minimum."

Auron thought. Was it better to follow bad orders and limit their impact, or to reject the orders altogether, and let some bigoted idiot run the operation?

After a moment, he made his decision.

"Tell them I'm on my way." He hefted his katana, and began the slow walk to the compound, the orders ringing in his brain.

Captain Auron of the Warrior Monks requested to lead a task force charged with purging the Al Bhed from the Holy City of Saint Bevelle.

--

He was twenty-four, and he was sinking into ignominy.

It had been three years since the disastrous attempt to eliminate the Al Bhed in Bevelle. When Auron had led his force to the areas the informants had specified, they had been uniformly empty. Someone had tipped them off. When word had reached Auron that the Al Bhed were at the docks, attempting to escape by sea, Auron had reacted in a fashion that his superiors had deemed unacceptably slowly, arriving so late that of the several hundred heathens that were reputed to have been in the city, a mere dozen had remained. These prisoners had, of course, been executed in short order, but Auron had become the scapegoat for this disaster, and had been demoted to 2nd Lieutenant, where he was expected to stay for the rest of his career.

Until he had been contacted by Braska. The Summoner had been shunned by Yevon, and as such most professional fighters were reticent about becoming a Guardian for him.

Auron hadn't been concerned about such things for nigh on six years now.

"Will you do it?" Braska asked. He seemed without much hope. Unsurprising, really. Few Guardians survived the pilgrimage, and there were not many people who would risk their lives for a man one small step from excommunication.

Auron stared hard at the man. "I remember you. Six years ago. You were harbouring an Al Bhed woman, weren't you?"

Braska nodded softly at this. "Yes. She has been dead for three years now."

"My apologies."

"You weren't to know," he replied softly, "my daughter is here with me."

Auron raised an eyebrow. Few Summoners had families.

"I'm doing this for her," he said, by way of explanation. "So, are you in?"

Auron nodded without hesitation.

--

He was twenty-five, and unlikely to get any older.

He stumbled down the slopes of Mount Gagazet, his wounds not healing, what little magic he knew not enough to save his life.

He slumped in the snow. He had failed his friends. They had entrusted their children to his care, and he had failed them already.

He heard feet crunching in the snow, and looked up to see a young Ronso walking towards him. Strange. They didn't usually come down this far. The Ronso stared at him for a short while, then lifted him without a word. Auron passed out.

--

He awoke, which was unexpected. He looked around, and saw he was in a shop. Al Bhed, probably. The Ronso was still there. Auron spoke.

"…Listen."

"Kihmari listening."

"…I need you to help me. Go to Bevelle. Find Yuna, daughter of Braska," he croaked out.

"High Summoner?"

"Yes. Get her out of the city. Get her somewhere safe."

"Why Bevelle not safe?"

Because there she would be under the Maester's thumb. The orphaned High Summoner's daughter would become a puppet for the politicians. "She needs a home. Take her to the islands. Kilika; or Besaid." The Maesters never bother with the islands.

The Ronso nodded. "Kihmari will do this," he said without a moment's hesitation.

"Thank you," he said, and closed his eyes. At least I only failed one of you.

--

He is twenty-seven, and he is utterly bewildered.

He stared around at the splendour that was Zanarkand. The locals rushed around him, unconcerned by the man with his gaze to the heavens. Or, more accurately, to the buildings that obscured the heavens.

Shaking his head, he turned back to his search. He had a job to do, and a boy to guard.

At least the son of Jecht was easy to find. It seemed everyone knew the famous Blitzer. Auron was at least given proof that the man hadn't been exaggerating is fame. He may in fact have been understating it.

--

"Whadda you want?" the small brown haired boy sullenly asked.

Auron internally groaned. He'd known the kid for five minutes and already he wanted to strangle him with the kid's own intestines.

"I knew your father."

"What? From the bars?"

"No. I worked with him."

The kid appraised his statement. "You sure as hell ain't no Blitzer."

"No. It was a…side project."

"What?"

Crap. I should have thought of this before I came.

"We sparred. Sword fighting. It was a hobby of his, and I'm an instructor."

"Oh." The kid looked disinterested.

"He asked me to keep an eye on you."

"Really?" The kid looked suspicious.

"Yes. My name is Auron."

After a moment, the kid stuck out his hand. "Tidus."

"I know."

--

He was thirty, and it worried him.

Physically, he looked twenty-five. This was not usually a bad thing, but when you're thirty, it seems suspicious.

He had actually followed through with his lie, joining a dojo as an instructor. It payed his meagre bills, and kept him in practice.

He stared into his bathroom mirror, preparing to rid himself of his last vanity. Scissors in hand, he began to cut off his ponytail. Though it made him look quite dashing, it certainly didn't command respect. Which he needed to do, especially once he returned to Spira. Once the rough haircut was complete, he looked around his dwelling for another way to disguise his appearance. Moving over to his coat, he saw that if you turned the collar up, it obscured the lower half of his face. Perfect.

--

He picked up a pair of sunglasses when he went out. They were expensive, too, nearly two hundred Gil, so they had better be worth it.

--

He was thirty-four, and worrying about his hair again.

Despite his covering up, he still looked too young under all the scars. He needed a way to present a picture of age that didn't rely on his apparel.

So he went and dyed the tips of some of his hair grey. If anyone asked why he was grey at thirty-four, he could say it was stress. The boy was certainly stress enough for anyone to buy that excuse.

He'd taken to carrying a bottle of sake around, as well. But that was more to deal with the stress than provide proof of its existence.

--

He was thirty-five.

Back in Spira, back in the hard conditions of a pilgrimage, his undeath began to take its toll. He found himself drinking more, and sleeping more, because his body was just so tired.

Glancing up, he saw Tidus leave the group. Something he had been told not to do. Sighing, Auron followed him, just in case he got himself into trouble he couldn't handle. Which happened a lot.

There weren't many things in his life he let himself regret. But when he saw what Tidus had found- a figure struggling out of a wetsuit- when the girl shook her head and looked up at the world, he wished, just for a second before bottled it up and he put it on the shelf along with all his other frustrated hopes and dreams and regrets, he wished just for an instant that he was seventeen again, and had long hair.