Disclaimer: I don't own Final Fantasy X or any of its characters and I make no money from writing this story. If I did own FFX, Tidus would just admit he's gay and get on with it already.

Warnings: ...wow, I'm not sure if there are any. Possibly language.

Chapter 19: The Road to Hell...

The Calm Lands were, to be frank, quite boring. That is, nothing happened that Auron hadn't thoroughly expected, and after having crossed the bare expanse of plains once before, they had lost all sense of wonder for the unsent man. Not that there had ever been much of anything too exciting about the place to begin with.

Unlike their surroundings, however, Tidus was turning out to be quite the unforeseen enigma. Ever since their brief stay by Lake Macalania, the boy had taken to following Auron around like a big, blond puppy, sometimes chattering inanely in his childish way, sometimes calmly quiet and reflective, but still always very much there. He was also becoming increasingly comfortable with Auron's touch, often doing his best to initiate the physical contact himself; something the brat had never done unless you counted the seven-year-old hugs to his waist long ago. Overall, it was new and strange. Auron wasn't sure what exactly to make of it.

A part of him was worried. Tidus had quite recently been violated, by a male of superior size, in an incredibly violent fashion. Logic dictated that big males should therefore scare the boy, make him apprehensive, anxious. He should be skittish around Auron, and Wakka for that matter, avoid them, spend his time surrounded by the female members of the group; but not only was he perfectly at ease with the red-head blitzer's friendly backslaps and affectionate hair ruffles, he was all but holding Auron's hand at every given opportunity. If the man didn't know any better, he'd honestly think Seymour's attack hadn't bothered the brat. That just wasn't possible.

"Hey, Auron, have you tried these apple things? They're really good! Kinda sour but..."

The warrior blinked as a pinkish, round fruit was shoved in his face, blue eyes shining at him above a peaceful smile. With a grunt, the man took the 'apple thing', absently wiping it on his red cloak and taking a bite. Tidus grinned, pleased, before taking a seat next to his old guardian on the bench. Auron tried to ignore how there was less than an inch of space between them.

The boy worked his way through his own fruit, attention focused on the fields in front of them, though Auron had a feeling his mind was probably miles away. After several minutes had passed, Tidus laced his hands behind his head, nearly whacking Auron in the face with an elbow and sighing softly. "So how much longer are we gonna stay here? Y'know, before we..." He jerked his head off towards the tall peaks of Mt. Gagazet in the distance.

Auron grunted and awkwardly tried to shift his weight without touching the brat. "The density of the clouds above the peak are a good suggestion as to what the weather's like. As it stands now, there are storms. Bad ones. Trying to climb through them would be foolhardy."

Tidus nodded sagely, as though that's what he'd thought all along. "Right. So that means..."

The warrior's lips twitched. "Another day or two most likely."

"Gotcha." The boy leapt to his feet, cheeky smile in place, eyes full of mischief though Auron was quite sure he didn't want to know why. "I'm gonna go find Rikku. See ya later!"

He dashed away about three steps before stopping and turning back. Leaning down a bit, he wrapped his arms around the bigger man's shoulders in a clumsy hug that was somehow innocently platonic and yet at the same time... just not. Then he turned and was gone, leaving a very confused, frustrated dead man in his wake. Just what was going on inside the boy's head?

~Feel no shame for what you love~

Giggling madly like a pair of children half their age, two blond teens fled the inn at full-speed, hoping no one had seen their departure. Once outside, Tidus collapsed in a heap on the ground, grin a mile wide. "You're sure it'll work?"

"Definitely." Rikku tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear, taking a seat next to the boy, trying to school her smile away. "It really wasn't all that hard, y'know?"

Tidus didn't know, but he nodded all the same. After seeking out the Al Bhed, the two of them had gone to ask Yuna to come play with them. Unfortunately, Yuna was in one of those quiet, thoughtful moods and really wasn't interested in doing anything other than sitting and staring. After they'd made sure she was all right, the two much more hyper teens went looking for something to do. Which somehow ended up with them in Wakka's room, tampering with his shower.

Apparently, it was a piece of cake for Rikku to adjust the temperature controls, since it was just a primitive piece of machina. Whenever the older man went to use his shower, it would stay nice and warm for approximately two minutes before the water went cold. Really cold, like liquid ice. She furthermore fixed it so it would ignore his commands when he went to shut it off. Now all they had to do was wait for Wakka to return and the show to start.

"So whatcha wanna do now?"

Tidus lifted his eyes at the girl's question before shrugging, unwilling to admit he already wanted to leave her company in search of someone else's. Someone specific. "Dunno. Whatever you want."

Rikku narrowed her eyes shrewdly, carefully examining her friend. He'd been acting a bit strange lately, ever since Bevelle, and a part of her was worried. He seemed okay, like his usual, playful self, but there were just some things... Like the way he would randomly become so quiet, withdraw into himself and think. A lot. He never used to do that before.

Then even more obvious was the way he'd suddenly started hanging onto Auron, sometimes literally. She figured this was a good thing, what with the way Auron felt about him and all, but that didn't change the fact that it was very abrupt and very different from the blond's usual behavior. She couldn't quite figure it out.

Tidus noticed her staring and tried not to be bothered by it. He knew he wasn't quite himself; he just wasn't sure he liked his old self better than this slightly altered new version. Besides, it really was only slightly. "Go ahead, Rikku. Ask whatever is you want to." Because no matter how subtle, Rikku had obviously noticed.

What he got in response to that was a worried gaze full of big green eyes while the girl chewed her bottom lip raw. Finally, "You okay?"

The boy chuckled softly, though there wasn't much real humor in the sound. "Yeah, Rikku, I'm okay."

She tilted her head in inquiry, curious. "Then what's up? You're a little different, y'know? Something happen?"

He smiled bitterly, trying not to think too hard on that subject. "You could say that."

"Something bad?"

Tidus looked away as he literally felt the blood drain from his face. Even his lips must be paper white. "You could say that too."

She nodded, eyes somehow widening further. "But you're okay?"

The blitzer brought his knees up to his chest, resting his cheek on them lightly. Was he okay? After everything since being brought to this crazy world, was he really okay? "Maybe not completely; but I will be." He gave her a sly look. "Y'know?"

"Hey, you can't take that! That's my thing!"

Laughing genuinely now, he ducked the playful punch she sent towards his head and reached out, deftly wrapping an arm around her middle to tug her down with him. The two of them rolled around in the grass a bit, the bigger, stronger male purposely letting the little girl get the upper hand before turning the tide and pinning her with ease. After a round of mild hair pulling and vicious tickling, the blonds finally collapsed in a panting heap, Rikku resting comfortably on Tidus' chest, both staring in companionable silence at the wide blue sky and gently rolling clouds above them.

The boy grinned a pointed. "That one looks like a decapitated chocobo."



The girl propped her chin up to look the boy in the face, her expression calm and softly serious, enough so to make the boy alert. "Do you like Auron?"

The blatant, venomous denial was on the tip of his tongue, ready to be spat out as it had been before, the habitual response to that very question. Instead it got stuck somewhere around his teeth, before being swallowed heavily back down the bobbing tan throat while other words crept up to take its place. "Can you keep a secret?"

"Honestly?" She raised her eyebrows, face still deadly sincere and completely open. "As long as it's not something that can get you hurt, y'know?"

He pondered that before nodding understanding and agreement. It made sense. And what's more, he really did believe her, no matter how often she made a habit of chattering away. Just because she talked a lot didn't mean she couldn't keep her mouth shut when she had to. "Then yeah. I've liked Auron for a while now; and I know it's weird and wrong and all that, so..." He shrugged, as though he didn't care while his heart beat a steady tempo against his ribs. Would she turn away in disgust? Would she see how much of a freak he really was, liking someone not only so much older but who had once been his guardian?

Rikku blinked. And blinked some more. And once more. Then, with an absolute scream of frustration, she sat up, bringing a small, clenched fist down straight onto the blond's exposed stomach, turning her back to him as he curled up into a ball, winded and coughing. "Stupid boys! Why do you make it all so complicated? If you would just— uh! Ev oui fuimt zicd dymg fedr aylr udran yht pa ruhacd vun uhla, oui fuimt caa oui pudr vaam dra cysa fyo. Pid huuuu, oui ryja du ku yht pa ymm cdibet yht cdippunh yht cdibet yht— I hate men!" (If you would just talk with each other and be honest for once, you would see you both feel the same way. But noooo, you have to go and be all stupid and stubborn and stupid and—)

Tidus' eyes were the size of saucers as he attempted to follow along with the tirade of Al Bhed. He definitely caught the word 'you' in there, along with 'and'... and he was pretty sure 'cdibet' translated to 'stupid'. Now if only he could figure out what the rest of the words meant...

"Tidus, you and I are a lot alike, yeah?"

The boy blinked at the sudden change in topic. "Uh, yeah, I think so."

"Then please, please explain to me in some way I'll understand why you don't just tell tall, red, and scary that you like him."

Internally, Tidus snorted, very nearly doing it out loud as well. That was a really 'cdibet' question. There was a whole giant list of reasons he shouldn't tell Auron, not the least of which being that it may very well make the man hate him and push him away for good. Why risk that for nothing?

Sensing she wouldn't get the explanation she so desperately craved, Rikku sighed and hid her face in her hands, part of her wanting to just blurt out to Tidus that Auron liked him too. That would clear up this whole mess nice and quick, right? But something stopped her. Some part of her warned that this was not the best way to go about it, and she knew it. If she told Tidus the truth now, there was a good chance he wouldn't believe her, and if Auron got wind that she had spilled his secret, he would never speak with her again. Too risky. Now, how to go about convincing Tidus to do something that would then force Auron to verbalize his feelings, leaving no question as to how the big man felt, thus forcing the little blond to do the same...

Tidus watched his friend warily, not liking the look she was getting in her eye. It was true they were indeed very much alike, and one of their similarities was their open and honest faces. Very expressive, Auron had said, making it easy to read what their true intentions were; and at the moment, he wasn't entirely sure Rikku had the best of intentions in mind.

Rikku, of course, was thinking almost the same thing. Except she knew her intentions were good, she just didn't really like what she about to do to make those good things happen. It seemed mean, playing on another's weakness, and it was something she'd be loathe to do with anyone, had definitely never thought to do with a friend; but if it was really the only way (and by this point she really thought it just might be)... "Why don't you just, y'know, sleep with him?"

Tidus just about choked on his tongue. "Excuse me?"

"Auron," Rikku clarified, though it was completely unnecessary. "If you like him so much, you must be attracted to him, right? I mean, I can't really blame you for that." She really couldn't. Auron may be quite a bit older than her personal tastes called for, but she could still see why Tidus would want to jump him. "So why not sleep with him? Y'know, for fun. You sleep around, right?"

"I— yeah. You know I do." What the hell was the girl trying to achieve with this? "Auron would never sleep with me." The moment he said the words, he wondered just how true they were. Auron had let him such him off that one night... but the man had been drunk. Surely sober he would never...

"I dunno about that," the Al Bhed said with a shrug, as if this was all just random conversation and she wasn't sweating bullets from nerves. She only had one real shot at this. "I mean, he likes girls, but I know he likes some guys too. Plus, I've seen the way he stares at your ass." And that wasn't a lie either.

Tidus jerked like he'd just been shocked. "Auron stares at my ass?"

"Well yeah, all the time." Now to go for the kill... "If you like him so much, you should... I dunno, seduce him or something. Then at least you'll be able to have sex with him. Better than nothing, y'know?"

The boy let that roll around in his mind, turning it over and examining it carefully from all angles. First of all, Auron apparently stared at his ass. Meaning, if nothing else, Auron was at least physically attracted to him. The man had also, drunk or no, engaged in physical relations with him once before in the past. Lastly, the man knew he was a sex addict, meaning he knew he slept around (Tidus was still hoping he didn't know just how much), meaning he could probably guess at just how good Tidus could be in bed. Auron liked to be dominant, Tidus was naturally very submissive... it was perfect. He could never actually like Tidus back or anything, but he could easily see him as a whore, probably already did; and Rikku was right. Sleeping with him at least once would be better than nothing.

Rikku watched the blitzer apprehensively, knowing her words would bring quite a few self-depreciating thoughts to the forefront of his mind, but it had to be done. If Tidus did indeed try to seduce Auron, Auron would be forced to react. Even more, if Tidus tried to seduce Auron as a quick one-night stand because the blond thought that was all he was good for... she shuddered just thinking about the big man's reaction. Some truths would have to come out.

"I'll think about it," was the boy's final verdict, and Rikku nodded, knowing Tidus would be thinking about little else.

Sudden, high-pitched shrieks broke through the stillness of the peaceful afternoon, making both teens jump like startled cats and scramble to their feet in alarm. It only took a moment for both of them to recognize Lulu's voice, and only then did they realize the horrible mistake in their ultimate, master prank plan. If Wakka and Lulu were sharing a room, they were also sharing a shower; and who was to say Wakka would be the one to use the shower first?

"Oh hidc," Rikku rasped. "We're dead." (nuts)

Tidus actually had little time to ponder Rikku's suggestion that particular evening. He was too busy playing hide-and-seek with a very, very angry mage.

~Feel no shame for what you love~

Snow was clearly a force of evil, brought down upon the earth by Sin itself. Oh, it might seem harmless, looking soft and pretty, nearly enticing in its purity, but it was all lies. Every last bit. Really, the stuff was freezing cold, much dirtier than you thought when you look closely, and, worst of all, wet. It soaked into your shoes (even if they were heavy, garishly bright yellow boots), into the rest of your clothes, it felt like it soaked straight into your very skin. So what could possibly be worse than traveling through a mountain trail covered completely in the secret Sin spawn? That's right, doing it in an outfit completely inappropriate for said climate.

Wrapping his arms firmly around his chest in a self-hug and praying his toes weren't falling off, Tidus had to wonder just why no one bothered to inform either Rikku or himself that snow was so damn cold. The whole party knew it was the first time either of them had seen it in real life, let alone touched it, yet no one had said boo when Auron announced it was time to get underway. Yuna had a thick, woolen cloak-thing wrapped around her shoulders, as did Wakka and Lulu, and the blitzer had even traded in his trademark sandals for something with a little more coverage; but had anyone taken half a second to tell the two blonds? Noooo, of course not. Which was why if he and the Al Bhed didn't succumb to hypothermia by nightfall, it'd be a miracle.

"Auron!" the very girl he'd been thinking of whined, plaintively tugging at the big man's sword as she trudged along behind him to stay in the path he cleared.


"Auron, it's cold!"

"Snow usually is."

Tidus scowled at the back of his guardian's dark head. If his fingers weren't frozen stiff, he'd have lobbed a snowball straight at it. See how 'cold' the man thought it was.

"Stupid Mr. Meanie," but her voice came out weak, like she just didn't have the energy to put any fervor behind the insult. Maybe that was what made Auron grunt and in a single, fluent motion, remove his familiar red coat, handing it silently out to the small girl. Rikku looked ecstatic.

Tidus looked desperate. "Hey! Hey, I'm cold too!"

Auron gave him that look he always had when he thought the boy was whining too much and should just suck it up. "I only have one coat. You should have dressed warmer."

Oh, now that was just not fair. "I would have if I'd known it would be so cold!"

The bigger man just shrugged. "You should have listened to Lulu when she told you."

"When she—" Tidus stopped, trying hard to remember when the woman had told him about the snow. Shooting a glance towards Rikku, the other blond shook her head, just as confused, and when he looked towards the mage herself... oh. Lulu's smirk said it all. Payback's a bitch.

What's that? Yes, it is quite short and not much actually happens. What else? It took me less than a month? Yes, I noticed that too. Quite shocking, isn't it? I should warn you now, this doesn't mean you'll be getting regular updates or anything because... well, because the chances of that happening are about the same as a snowball's chance in hell; but I'll do my best.

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Thank you so much for your reviews last chapter despite my tardiness. Again, I know there isn't much going on in this one (it's building up towards it, I swear), but if you could just let me know what you think anyway... pretty please? You're all freaking awesome!