Notes: I sincerely lost interest in this story after the previous chapter. I was going to leave it as that, but now that I've received a few more reviews, I realize that we still need some closure. So, on with chapter 9...


Chapter 9 - Therapy For Weary Souls

The thunder had stopped. It was dark but warm, safe...the scent, somewhere comforting. A mattress beneath, blankets above, and bandages on healing wounds...the battle now over, resulting in neither victory nor defeat.

A single eye fluttered open, the other still inhibited from years of scar tissue. The dim light of a nearby lamp was the single source of illumination in the room, yet it was still enough to cause a moment of shock as the eye adjusted. After orientation to the surroundings, the eye connected the mind to its location. The ceiling it now stared at was that of one of Rin's Travel Agencies. The body lay resting on a soft bed. The body...his body. The mind connected with the flesh, animating it to the point of sensation, and all at once the pain, the fatigue, and the relief hit deep. An audible groan escaped the lips, his once again...Auron had returned to his own body. Slowly, as the built up pain impulses subsided, his mind relaxed and re-synchronized with his newly returned frame. It was only a matter of moments before he was sitting up on the bed, reacquainting his soul with its physical home.

His charred garments had been removed and most likely discarded after they were damaged in the battle. In their place was a light pair of pants, Al Bhed in style, and an open shirt much like Rin was normally seen sporting. As Auron stood, he realized he was not alone in the room; another figure was huddled beneath the blankets of the adjacent bed. He stepped closer and found a familiar shock of blonde hair peeking out from the top. She stirred a bit, mumbling something incoherent in her slumber. As he watched, she began thrashing about more violently, limbs flailing from beneath the covers. An arm managed to connect with Auron's thigh and he finally shook her from whatever sort of nightmare she was having. She slowly calmed down, her mumbles of protest softening into slight whimpers as she slowly came out of her dreaming. Rikku's swirly green eyes fluttered open slowly as she regained consciousness for the first time since the battle with Chappu. She too was dressed in traditional Al Bhed-style clothing, a long shapeless dress that served to cover her body and nothing more. Her left ankle was tightly bandaged to the point of immobilization, a large patch of cloth was secured over her swollen cheek, and her right shoulder felt as if it had been ripped from its socket and replaced in an awkward position.

She pulled back, taking a moment to realize who was standing before her, then a look of relief washed over her face. She saw that his wounds were properly bandaged, large strips of cloth running from his shoulder to his abdomen with a similar dressing upon his cheek. Suddenly, she panicked. What if this was still Chappu? He saw her expression change for the worse and slowly drew his hand up to her chin. She recoiled at the touch, still unsure of who was sitting at her bedside at this time. Sensing her discomfort, he brought down his hand and clasped it over her own. "I don't know what exactly happened to him, but Chappu's gone from my body now. You freed me from him...thank you." Her eyes welled with tears and she collapsed against Auron's chest, sobbing into the blanket she held before her face. "I was so worried," she cried, "that we'd never get you back. If you weren't with us...I don't know what-" He held up his hand and silenced her, "You all would have continued on without me. I am a guardian, nothing more. Yuna and the others are strong enough to continue, as are you." She shook her head, "I'm not strong enough...I depend on you, Auron."

These last words drove a twinge of guilt and pain into his heart. "Don't say that..." he pleaded silently within his mind. Before returning to the company of others following his death at the hands of Yunalesca, Auron had resolved himself to keep his relationships with the living as sterile as possible. His duty was to protect Braska's daughter and Jecht's son, nothing more. There was no room for friendship, hatred, or love in this mission, as all three would only slow his journey to the farplane to share the news of Sin's defeat with his previously fallen comrades. Yet there he was, sitting beside a young girl who was making his promise harder and harder to keep.

He stood from the bed, "Rikku, I am not deserving of your trust. I failed my comrades once before, and now I'm trying to set things right for once. Having you depend on's another life I have the potential to bring sorrow to." She shook her head, tears flowing freely, "I don't care if you're me, you're just as alive as any of us. You can love someone even in death, don't you understand? That's why Chappu came back...he loved Lulu that much. It doesn't matter if one of the two isn't living, love is stronger than that!" The word 'love' registered in his mind more than once, but rather than let his own emotions be stirred by those four little letters, Auron hardened himself to the girl's obvious frustration and confusion, as he deemed it. Looking down on Rikku, he realized the poor girl was laying her emotions out before him and all he could do was say no. "I don't want you to waste your time on a hopeless cause, once we reach the end and put a stop to the madness of Sin, it's over. My purpose for existing on this plane will have ended, and I will return to the farplane for good. I don't want to leave here with any regrets." She looked up and wiped the tears from her eyes, "So you're telling me to forget you, is that it? You want me to throw away the months of trust and admiration I've built up? So when you're gone, it won't hurt? Do you think running away will make it hurt any less? Am I going to be just a regret to you?"

He took Rikku back into his arms and held her to his chest. She slipped her arms around his waist and buried her face into his shoulder to quiet her sobs. They sat there for some time, both not saying a word. She understood. She was selfish to try and keep him there any longer than he needed to. After years of wandering as a lifeless soul, kept from the farplane only by his duty to finish what he had begun to fight while still in life, he was on the road to ending his journey. She was an obstacle along this path that he need not deal with, lest it keep him from achieving his own eternal calm. "I wish," she broke the silence, "I wish that I would have been around when you were alive." His expression softened slightly, "I would have enjoyed that...meeting you in my younger years." She laughed a little, "You don't seem that old to me, Auron, except when you lecture us." He scowled a bit before his expression calmed once more, "That is one of my duties as a keep the lot of you from troubling Yuna." This forced a smile to Rikku's lips, "Really, we aren't that different...the whole 'keeping the summoner from having to die' idea. But, I hope I don't end up going through what you did..." Auron closed his eye and looked out onto the barren land of the Thunder Plains, "No, you won't have to," he began, "as long as I have a say in it, the suffering ends here." With that, he released the girl from his arms and stood, taking hold of his sword. As he walked out of the room, he muttered to her, "We can't wait around here much longer, time waits for no one..."


And that, as they say, is that. I've come a long way on how I view their relationship from when I first started writing this. Originally, it was to be a total romance fic and was actually going to become a lemon around this point. However, after much analysis, I've come to the conclusion that they're not a romantic couple, and I shouldn't force that issue. So, it ends on a happy yet serious note...I think this is a bit more closure for the two than just leaving it at chapter 8 would have been.

- Karista N.

February 29, 2004 10:26PM EST