It's crazy, really, it's insane and A Very Bad Idea, capitals included, and it's also never been done before – but they do it. They do it, and at the end, they stand there and watch her fade away, and nothing has ever felt better in Rikku's life. Part of that feeling of accomplishment, utter triumph, and pure joy comes from knowing that Yunie won't die now, and nothing and nobody can make her die. The other part of it, though, the one that's harder to admit, comes from knowing that they've destroyed the woman who killed Auron with a wave of her hand. In fact, that part feels so doggone great, she honestly would like very much to stamp over there and grind Yunalesca's face into the dirt with a hand or a foot, she's not picky, just to say "so there."
Of course, she's not supposed to know Auron's dead, but she's figured there was something fishy going on from the beginning. Nobody's that serious all the time, all contemplative and straight-edged – even Kimahri cracks a smile sometimes. After that, it was just a matter of putting everything together and sorting it out. Seymour (that low-down, no-good, dirty, blue-haired jerk) said that he smelled like the Farplane, he couldn't be around Yuna when she sent anybody, and really, Rikku couldn't remember a single other guardian surviving the pilgrimage. Seeing Yunalesca knock him down sort of just confirmed her theory, but knowing for certain is a big difference from merely speculating.
Now, when she looks at him, she has a whole host of emotions competing for her attention, including the recent additions of Mr. Pity and Ms. Wonder. Dr. Confusion and Intrigue Jr. have been hanging around for a while.
It's impossible not to be intrigued by him. He seems to carry it around with him, in his big Coat of Secrets and in the way she can never see his face because he wears that stupid cowl and she's too short. It's even in the way that if he's not being quiet, he's either scolding, lecturing, or "Hmm"ing at every single thing anyone says. He's so darn intriguing, she barely – barely – feels any shame in studying him privately, while he walks up in front and leads the way. When that gets boring, she skips forward and does her best to make him socialize, creating charts in her mind of "Things That Make Auron Mad," "Things That Eventually Make Auron Mad," and "Things That Auron Probably Likes Even Though He'll Never Admit It."
Right now, she doesn't know which chart this should go on. She's seen him thoughtful, and she's seen him when he's angry, and she's seen him indifferent – but she's never seen him sad. He stares at the spot where Yunalesca used to be for a minute, his eye only just peeking out from above his sunglasses, and in that eye she can see way more emotion than she ever thought he had. It feels almost like an intrusion, especially paired with all those definitely private memories and emotions they saw while coming in through the Dome.
For only a second, his gaze flashes from emptiness to her, and she feels like she's been petrified. He's probably caught her staring at him – he does that a lot, enough for her to maybe-sorta-kinda-not really consider stopping. This time, though, she keeps looking, and she feels like maybe he's trying to have a wordless conversation with her. There's definitely something in that look, but he turns away too quickly for it to register and his eye is gone, but she still feels like she can't move. It's only when everyone starts to move away that she convinces her legs to move, and the levity from before comes back enough that she skips forward to grasp Yuna's hand and swing it around exuberantly.
Later, after Kimahri (like a total genius) proposes they go beat an idea out of Mika, and after she (and not Wakka) came up with a strategy against Sin, none of them really want to go to Bevelle right away. It's been a long day as it is, and even though Auron bristles and tells everyone that waiting even a minute is a ridiculously huge mistake, Cid makes the executive decision to wait until tomorrow morning, so that everyone can get a few hours of sleep – and on a bed, not in a cave, or in the dirt, or up a tree. She didn't know how badly she needed a nap until she wandered into a room, pulled off her armor and shoes, and crashed on one of the cots, waking up what felt like seconds later to realize that either Auron had teleported in while she wasn't paying attention, or she'd been out for a while.
"What time is it?" she asks right away, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes.
"Late evening," Auron replies, turning toward the wall as if there's a window. "There's time."
"Phew!" There's still time to relax – it isn't time to go back to Bevelle. Taking a deep breath, she flops backward onto the cot and stares up at the ceiling for a few seconds before shooting upward again. Auron's standing across from her, his arms folded across his chest and one leg up against the wall. His left arm is bare, dark, and it draws her attention for a moment – she probably shouldn't stare, not right now, but it's so, so, so, so hard. "Shouldn't you be resting, too?" she asks, tearing her gaze away to look up at where she assumes his face is, seeing as how she really kind of can't see it.
"I am resting."
His tone of voice demands finality, but she's never listened to that, so instead she folds her legs and plants her hands on them, sitting straight up and wondering half-heartedly if she's ever going to have a figure like Lulu. Probably not.
"What's everyone else doing?"
He shrugs, rolling his shoulders gracefully and drawing her attention back to his bare skin. It's so rare that he shows anything of himself. All that's ever revealed is his left arm, but only when there's danger, so seeing him so… uncovered, in a moment of tranquility – it's a rare sight, and she treats it as such.
Thinking about being uncovered brings to mind that look, the look he gave her when their eyes met over where Yunalesca had died, and the way he roared in despair while he tried so hard to destroy the image of a weaker, younger, nonexistent self, and suddenly she feels guilty for taking advantage of how unguarded he is. He must notice her quick, subtle change in demeanor, because his body shifts toward hers and his fingers tighten, preparing himself.
"I'm… really sorry," she tries, knowing this doesn't come close to saying exactly how she feels about the whole thing, but it's got to be worth something. "You had it tough." He doesn't say anything, probably still digesting her words, taking them for what they're worth or ignoring them totally, but in the face of Awkward Silence, she finds herself continuing. "It must be hard, everyone going on about how 'legendary' you are, when… you know." When you've got that hanging over your head, that you're the only one of your friends who made it out alive. She knows how to say it, just not… how to say it. For some reason, she can't come right out with it. It's too important for that.
For a few moments, Auron stays quiet, but his hands unclench and he sighs quietly, something she hasn't heard before. "You get used to it," he says, his voice even and mellow. She appreciates this, too, because it's so rare that he speaks to her kindly. In fact, she still remembers the first time he praised her, when he stuck up for her outside Macalania Temple. It was a definite shocker, after all the times they'd argued, and she'd called him a big meanie, and he'd insinuated she was a brat, and she never really expected that they'd ever get along. No one else had, either, and it made her sputter like an idiot when Tidus had off-handedly commented on how great it was that they'd finally worked out their differences.
Really sincerely hoping that the warmth she feels in her cheeks is not a blush, because if it is she hates every blood vessel and each inch of skin betraying her, she picks at her fingernail polish while she talks. "Can I ask you something?" she said, refusing to look up at him until he'd said yes and she wouldn't have to feel guilty about it.
That's as good a "yes" as she's going to get, so she smoothes out the rumpled polish with a thumb and looks up with as serious an expression as she can muster.
"…What's it like, being an unsent?" His body gives an involuntary jolt. It looks as though he doesn't know what to say, or do – he probably thinks he's an expert secret-keeper, and the idea of someone figuring him out is preposterous. She did figure him out, though, and if anything confirms it, it's the way he takes short, heaving breaths, and the way he stands there and doesn't move even an inch. Finally, he talks, and it startles her, because since she can't see his face, she really can't expect anything, but it doesn't keep her from feeling a little silly for jumping.
"…I shouldn't be surprised. Tidus has never been able to keep anything quiet." Rikku blinks, tries to decipher his meaning, and then shakes her head.
"No, he didn't tell me. I sort of… guessed?"
He is silent again for a moment, and she can almost feel him sizing her up, trying to decide whether or not she really did guess, or if she's trying to cover for Tidus. In an attempt to look open and honest, she twists her hands together in her lap and sits straight, keeping her gaze at least somewhat pointed in his direction.
"You guessed," he deadpans, sounding much closer to believing than he was before, but still unsure. Rikku gnaws a bit on her lower lip and attempts a sheepish smile.
"Uh… yeah. Sort of put two and two together, you know?" Yes, he does know, judging by his sigh. Surprising her, he moves away from the wall to the cot next to hers, not more than six feet away, and sinks to the floor – not without creaking bones, and a few strain-y, old person noises, but she makes noises like that too sometimes, and she's more preoccupied with the fact that he's sitting so close to her, close enough that she could reach out and poke him, if she wanted. That, and she isn't sure if she's ever actually seen him sit. He crouches, sure, but he never actually… relaxes. At least not visibly.
She can see his face from here, too. It's a nice change of pace, since she's used to holding her one-sided conversations with a blank slate, and from here, she can see his eye slowly flicking, back and forth, documenting his inner thoughts. He really is… well, she can't think of a word, but she can understand the stories she's heard about all the girls being in love with him back when he was younger. She's seen Tidus's spheres, of course, so she knows that he really was kind of cute, but she thinks she likes him better like this, anyway. It's a real bummer, about his eye, but the scar suits him. A little too well.
Rikku is definitely not liking this train of thought, so she bounces a bit in place and runs her hand along the thin sheets, leaving creases behind.
"So… you really are…?"
He looks at her briefly, a little peeved – probably thought he'd dodged a bullet, no more questions, but he should know her better. Any peevishness disappears quickly, though, and his gaze slips away. "Yes, I am," Auron says. She knew, of course, she just told him she knew, but hearing it from his mouth is almost like a kick in the stomach. "I have been for ten years."
Obviously, this is some kind of bizarre sharing time, because he hasn't said more than three words to her about himself, and she's crazy if she wastes this opportunity to learn everything she can about him. "…What's it like?" she asks. He passes a hand over his face, itches that certain spot that seems to bug him under his collar, and she's pretty much given up on getting an answer before he looks over at her.
"Long. Tiring, sometimes."
"How come you never told anyone? Nobody would've cared." He snorts, almost humorously, the closest thing to a laugh she's ever heard from him, so she rethinks the last sentence as she taps a finger against her chin. "Well… maybe Yuna," she adds. This time, he raises an eyebrow. She rolls her shoulders and her eyes as she gives up. "And it might've upset Tidus. And Wakka would've probably been grossed out, but he doesn't count, anyway." So much for that argument.
"I wanted to be seen a certain way. Telling my story would mean casting doubt on Yevon, and they wouldn't have wanted to hear it… not at first." Definitely true. Judging by Wakka's rather stinging hatred of her when he found out who she is, even though up until that point they'd even been something like friends, anything that made Yevon sound even remotely bad would've thrown him into an apocalyptic fit. Then there was Yuna… if anything, it was kind of polite of him not to shatter the one thing she had to cling to. Okay, so none of the others really would've been okay with any of that, but then…
"You could've told me," she says, pretending to sound a little bit hurt. "I wouldn't have minded, really."
Is he smiling? She must be imagining that. There's no way the corner of his mouth is even the slightest upturned, no way at all, she's crazy… But either way, Auron sounds (at the least) amused when he says, "Maybe. But you're terrible at keeping secrets."
That had to be a joke. He just made a joke. Her mind is reeling so heavily that it takes her a few seconds to reply with a Less Than Sophisticated, "Yeah." He either actually hadn't made a joke, or he doesn't care that she didn't respond appropriately, because he turns his gaze to the wall and seems to be completely lost in thought. Rikku falls back on the tried and true method of staring at him while he's staring elsewhere, looking him over for a few minutes. "Auron?"
He doesn't even start, just turns his head back so that he can see her again. "Yes?"
"What do you think is gonna happen? I mean… Nobody's done this before, you know?" The next part slips out before she can stop it, and she absolutely hates herself for admitting as much to Auron, of all people. "It's… kind of scary…" The second she's alone, she'll be beating herself over the head for that.
Auron seems to think for a moment, seriously considering her, before he shakes his head and looks down at the floor. "It's impossible to know. But we have to push forward. Quitting now would be cowardice." That word stings, cowardice, because even though she knows she's Brave and Good, if somebody were to offer her a way out of this right now, she isn't sure she wouldn't take it. She rumples her hair, playing with the feathered braids, not looking at him just as he isn't looking at her.
"Yeah… I guess you're right." He must not have been expecting that. He looks up and raises an eyebrow, almost gloating, so before he can start saying things like Why-Rikku-I-Never-Thought-I'd-Hear-You-Agree-With-Me or Yeah-I-Know-I'm-Right-Thanks-For-Pointing-It-Out, she turns a little bit and flops back onto the cot, thinking aloud. "And it isn't just about us anymore, is it? It's about everyone. It's about saving everyone, not just the summoners… I hated even thinking about Yunie sacrificing herself… But if we defeat Sin, nobody will ever have to sacrifice themselves again, right?"
For a second, Auron is silent, choosing his words carefully. "There is always sacrifice. However, if we succeed…"
"The sacrifices won't be pointless," she interrupts, and he shows how proud of her answer he is with a single nod.
"…Still, I can't help but… feel afraid, you know."
"You'd be a fool if you weren't afraid. Jecht isn't someone to be taken lightly."
"Were you afraid?"
"…Yes. Not at first… but eventually."
She can't stand it anymore. He looks practically miserable, and who can blame him, a few hours ago they were all witness to his worst memories, and he had to relive the pain of his best friends dying, and come to terms again with the fact that he's dead himself, and then he murdered his murderer and now he has her asking a lot of probably painful questions. It's been a hard day for him, a really hard day (a really hard past couple of days, even, ever since they reached the peak of Mount Gagazet), and he's been alone for so long that she wants him to know that he isn't, he has her, so she stretches out an arm – not touching him, but close enough.
"Look, Auron, just because you're… you know… It doesn't mean–"
"You ought to go look in on Yuna. She might need you. We're still guardians."
Complete and utter deflection. She frowns, puts her hand on her hip, and glares down at her fingers. She was trying to say something honest, something kind, make him feel better, and he shoots her down with the lamest excuse she's ever heard.
"I think Tidus is plenty enough company for her."
"All the more reason you ought to go check." It's hilarious that Auron is suggesting that he's worried about her virtue, of all things, because he pretty much raised Tidus (judging by the stories he told her when he was feeling nostalgic, which alternated roughly between All The Time and Never), and part of her is pretty sure they wouldn't try anything too crazy in an airship full of people, including Yunie's crazy Try Anything And I'll Rip Your Balls Off uncle, but she recognizes a dismissal when she hears one.
"…I guess. Where is she?"
"Two doors down. She and Lulu are sharing, but I imagine Lulu is somewhere else at the moment." Rikku grimaces at the idea of Lulu and Wakka off sucking face somewhere, which, okay, yeah, they're cute together, but it bugs her a bit that since Lulu and Wakka are officially Some Kind Of Couple and Tidus and Yunie are definitely A Couple, that leaves her and Auron and Kimahri out of the loop, although Kimahri probably has his own things to worry about and Auron probably doesn't mind (she saw how he kept trying to push Tidus and Yuna together, everybody saw it, they aren't blind), so it's just her who's bothered by it. Awesome. Try explaining that to anybody.
"Yeah, I bet," she grumbles, and only slightly resents him for kicking her out of the room. After all, they did just have a rather friendly conversation, and a lengthy one at that, so as the door whooshes open and she steps out into the hall, she throws behind her shoulder a quiet, "Thanks." He doesn't reply, or maybe he doesn't reply in time, because the door whooshes shut again and she's heading down to where he said Yunie would be, whether she likes it or not.
She doesn't walk in on a heated make-out session, which really is a huge relief, because she doesn't know if she could handle the embarrassment, but Tidus is there. At first, she feels severely unwelcome, but after a minute they are all smiling, and in the shallow but sincere conversations, they feel something like a family. After what feels like five minutes but really must have been an hour or two, Wakka pokes in his head, informs them of the time, and insists Tidus accompany him back to another room ("Don't want you getting any funny ideas."). Lulu arrives shortly afterward, and Yuna asks Rikku if she wants to stay and sleep in there with them, but it doesn't feel right, three girls in one room, three boys (counting Kimahri) in the other, and Auron… all alone. Especially after everything that happened today.
Assuring them she doesn't mind, she gives her standard Goodnight Hugs before slipping out again and plodding back down the hallway, almost afraid to get too close to the room. Still, without her permission, and much louder than it really needs to be, the door whooshes open and he's already laying down, his collar and coat removed, turned on his side to face the wall. She definitely doesn't think he's really asleep, because his breathing isn't very deep and he's way too still, but there is no way she's going to instigate conversation now. Instead, she heads back over to her cot, flops onto it, and stares at the ceiling, trying very hard not to look over at her roommate. Forcing her thoughts to stay away from him, of course, only makes them come back even more, and she can't resist for too long, especially since he's tied to everything else she could possibly be thinking about.
The last time anybody challenged The Way Things Are Done (not including them, of course, because what they did this morning was completely unprecedented and she loves that word, unprecedented), it was Auron, and he'd wound up dead and scarred and alone in the world, completely miserable for the rest of forever. What if what they're doing doesn't solve anything? What if they try to beat Sin, and fail, and the cycle doesn't end and summoners just keep having to go back and get themselves killed for no good reason? What if the Hymn doesn't work, what if Mika can't help them, what if the airship crashes, what if someone gets hurt, what if Yuna dies, what if Tidus dies, can he die, can he go away, what happens when it's over?
What if it's never over?
Where there was nothing there is suddenly a heap of questions, doubts, and fears, crushing her under their weight. All the comfort and confidence she built up spending time with Yuna and Tidus has completely disappeared. She's only left with a horrible feeling sitting in the pit of her stomach, one that she's become very familiar with during her time on this pilgrimage, but now it's stronger than it ever has been before, and she has so many feelings that they're flooding her and spilling out through her eyes, leaving tears gathering and pooling down her cheeks. It's all too much, it's all too big, it's more than she can handle.
His voice is so low and quiet, gentle even, and it just makes things worse. She rolls over to face the wall, curls in on herself, and tries to keep her shoulders from jumping. Maybe if she tries hard enough, he won't think anything of it and go back to sleep; it's embarrassing enough that she's laying here crying, when just a few hours ago he told her it was okay to be afraid, but it's not. It's not okay. She's supposed to be Happy and Bubbly Rikku, always smiling, always making jokes, so that if someone else is scared, they can look at her and think Fearless and feel better.
He must be right behind her. She peeks over her shoulder, and he is, crouched on the floor next to her, and his ponytail is draped over his shoulder and his eye is sealed shut with an angry red scar, and he is painfully handsome, painful being the operative word, so she rolls back over and buries her face into her hands.
This time, he's a little more forceful, even a bit stern, in the same tone he once used to command her to "Look At Him," but this time she doesn't comply. For a moment, she thinks maybe he'll give up and go back to bed, but then. Then.
His hand is on her shoulder. Warm. Huge. Rough.
She gives up trying to be quiet and starts to cry even harder, shuddering against the comfort he offers, and when he asks her what's wrong, she manages to choke out a response.
"I'm so scared."
Her knees are pressing into her arms pressing into her chest, tighter than she thought she could get, shivering and shaking with hiccupy sobs. Even with his hand on her shoulder, she feels utterly and hopelessly Alone, miserable and frightened. He can't help, she thinks, no one could ever help her, she'll feel alone for the rest of her short life, and when she dies fighting Sin she won't go to the Farplane, she'll wander around Spira forever as some kind of awful monster terrorizing everyone until someone kills her, and then she'll just recollect into some other fiend and go through the same process, again and again.
"It's all right."
His words cut through her fog of fear and imagination, bringing her solidly back to her cot, to her body, to his hand still on her, and with a deep breath, she uncurls and sits up. He pulls his hand away but stays, facing her, sitting on his heels with his legs folded under him, the most serene look she's ever seen on his face. Everything clicks.
She isn't alone. Everything that could have possibly went wrong with Auron's pilgrimage did: he lost both his friends in one awful moment, he tried and failed to destroy the cause of his suffering, he died, no one there to comfort or love him. But he isn't a fiend. He isn't a monster, doomed to reincarnate again and again as something worse each time. He managed to stay himself.
Couldn't she do the same?
"Auron," she whispers, tears still flowing down her cheeks, still occasionally leaping with faint hiccups. He hums, hesitates for a moment, and then leans forward to brush her cheek with a thumb, wiping everything away. The touch is infinitely welcome, and even though he withdraws immediately after, it gives her the courage to look into his face and ask him, "Could I do what you did?"
This time, there is no hesitation. He shakes his head, but before she can protest or feel the crushing fear of dying come back, he adds, "Don't trouble yourself with that. It won't happen. It won't happen to anyone."
There is a promise in what he says. It's a promise to everyone, a vow that they won't have to suffer what he did, but right now, it's meant solely for her. His only eye, resolved but soft, bores into both of hers, emanating seriousness. Auron believes every word. He never says anything he doesn't mean. He never fails to keep his promises.
Rikku falls forward and throws her arms around him, only vaguely worried that he's going to pull back or force her to let go, knowing that right now, more than anything, she has to thank him for being him, for being that solid rock everybody leans against when he must have so much hurt deep inside. He doesn't, though. Her head winds up against his chest, her arms wound tightly around his back, and she clings. She can't say thank you, can't force words out of her throat, but he seems to understand. A gentle weight rests on her back, so she buries deeper into him, finally feeling some sort of comfort, of peace, of assurance.
If Auron promises that everything will be okay, then it will, won't it? He doesn't make promises he can't keep. He wouldn't do that to her – to them.
There's another feeling settling into the bottom of her stomach, not quite so familiar as fear, but recognizable. It's similar to the twist in her heart when Auron meets and holds her gaze, glancing at her beyond the others, no one around in her mind but them, but she doesn't have to worry about that now. If Auron keeps his promise, if everything turns out right, then she'll have a whole life ahead of her to work out these feelings and decide what she wants them to mean.
For now, she clings in the closest thing to a hug she'll ever get from him, comforted by his confidence. She has a lifetime. They'll all be around for much longer than tomorrow.
AN: The only fan fiction I've been doing lately (if you can say lately) is Sazh/Vanille (don't judge, you're reading an Aurikku fic), and I got kind of tired of that, so I decided to return to my super-mega-ultra OTP, just for grins and giggles, because I haven't written anything for them in a long time. And this came out. It's long and kind of rambly and disjointed, maybe, but I wrote it to be that way, and I kind of like it. Sometimes it's nice not to worry about making everything sound like it came straight out of Hemmingway, you know?
Anyway. I was replaying Final Fantasy X, and after you defeat Yunalesca the timeline starts to get really fuzzy, and I figured Auron was pretty bummed after a very tough couple of hours, because seriously, if that had been me I would've been a catatonic sobbing mess, so I decided to play around with his and Rikku's relationship. Even though they really are my OTP to beat all other OTPs, I think in the actual game she had a huge crush on him, and his feelings are left pretty much ambiguous. So this kind of plays up that angle. Or at least, I intended it to.