Okay everybody! Like so many others I am crazy about Auron, and I wanted to have fling at his and Jecht's and Braska's pilgrimage. While, of course, it's fun to start at the beginning, too many people start there and never reach the end, so I decided to begin with Jecht becoming the final Aeon, then go through the fight with Sin and Auron's subsequent fight with Yunalesca and death, and, if I can, his plans to travel though Jecht (aka Sin) to the Modern Zanarkand and his meeting up with Tidus and his mom. By the way, does anybody know the name of Tidus's mom, or isn't her name mentioned?

Anyway, I hope you'll like it. Please, please comment!

DAYS GONE BY

1.

 As they entered the stadium, Jecht tapped Braska on the shoulder.

"Hey, Braska."

"Hm?"

"You don't have to do this." Braska smiled.

"Thank you for your concern." He kept on walking, using his staff to flick rubble out of his way. Jecht shrugged.

"Fine," he growled, throwing up his hands, "I said my piece."

"Well, I haven't!" Auron halted and waited until the other men had caught up with him. He took a deep breath and pleaded, "Lord Braska, let us go back!" He nervously pulled a few strands of hair from his lips. The breeze kept blowing his hair in his face. "Please, my lord…I don't want to see you...die." Braska sighed. His fingers briefly touched the younger man's bare arm, the one clenching the grip of his sword.

"You knew this was to happen, my friend." he said softly. His friend pressed his lips together to a thin, pale line.

"Yes, but I..." He looked at Braska's head ornament, at the wall, everywhere but the man's face. "I cannot accept it." Braska laughed, a warm, easy chuckle. It was the first stress-free sound all three men had heard that day, and Jecht gazed him with something that came very close to awe. It's so easy to forget that this man has more courage than the both of us, Jecht thought, studying the slender man in front of him. Sure, we've got brawn, and I'd like to think we've got some brains too, but Braska…He's got spirit. Without him, we'd have long gone back. And yet, Auron, who had been pushing for speed from the outset of the journey, now finally had reached the point where his heart caught up with his brain, and realised that he WOULD lose his best friend, and that no matter what happened afterwards, whether peace would truly come, or Sin would return, Braska would be gone. In front of his Lord and his hard-begotten friend from another age, Auron's composure was melting, no matter how hard he tried to keep it intact. Braska shook his head, his smile softening, but not disappearing. Once again he touched his guardian's arm, squeezed the muscled shoulder with his slender fingers.                       

"Auron," he started. "I am honoured that you care for me so. But I have come to kill grief itself. I will defeat Sin, and lift the veil of sorrow covering Spira." His fingers buried in the younger man's flesh. "Please understand, Auron." Auron, as meekly as Jecht had ever seen him, nodded, once.

"I know…my Lord. But it's…" The other wagged his finger in front of his nose.

"Now, now, you will not sway me with your eloquence, Auron!" Jecht snorted, startled into mirth by this unexpected reply. Auron smiled as well, but it was little more than a quirk of the corner of his mouth.

"Let us go, then, my Lord," he said softly. "Before my eloquence chances to attempt to sway you again." He turned brusquely, and strode towards the stairs at the end of the stadium. Jecht and Braska followed.

"It's weird, really," Jecht thought aloud. "To see this place like this. It's almost impossible to understand that it's really Zanarkand…my Zanarkand. So destroyed. Hell, I used to walk here every day, when I was younger and still played from the Abes full-time. That dead end over there? That was the cafeteria. I used to take Tidus there and buy him ice creams…" his voice trailed off. Even better than when he first saw the ruins of Zanarkand, he realised how far away from home he actually was.

"Braska?" The man's clear green-blue eyes flashed up to him from the half-dark—almost the same colour as the pyreflies drifting to the ceiling.

"Yes, Jecht?"

"If we've beaten Sin…it won't change anything, right?" His words were cryptic, but the Summoner seemed to understand immediately. He shook his head, twirling his staff between his hands.

"I wish I could say that you are wrong, but…no. It won't change anything."

"I won't be able to go back."

"Were you still hoping that you could?" Jecht kicked a piece of stone to the side.

"Well," he smirked, "I guess I can get quite stubborn when I've got something in my mind, you know? But," he sighed, "yes. I was still hoping I could get back. Through Sin, like I came. I don't know. But somehow, walking here…It may look like superstition, but I don't think I can go back to MY Zanarkand now that I've seen yours." He flexed his shoulders as if to throw something off his back. "So. Auron'll have to take care of that, now." Braska made an inquiring noise, but Jecht gave him a friendly pat on the back and followed the other Guardian up the stairs.

"Not so many fiends in this place, huh?" Jecht said, looking around. "Though there seem to be an awful lot of these pyrethings, as you call them."

"We call them pyreflies, actually," Auron automatically corrected with his usual irritability, but his heart didn't seem into it. "This is the end of the Dome."

"Are the Trials ahead?" This time Braska took the lead.

"Probably." The man yanked at his hair in desperation. Jecht did not particularly enjoy figuring the way through the Cloisters. Metaphysical thinking and sphere testing weren't high on his list of favourite things to do. Then again, even Braska almost lost his patience in Macalania Temple, and his patience Jecht considered legendary. Strangely enough it had been Auron who had found the way, travelling the platforms with their machina origins as often and easily as a child on the moving stairs in Jecht's Zanarkand. However, the idea alone of another set of Trials like that had Jecht bristling like an angry cat.                     

"Here too, huh? Gimme a break." he exclaimed, and then, accusing, "I was expecting, you know, parades and...fireworks! You said there would be great parties when we got here. I got the sphere to prove it."                        

"If you trace your memory, you will remember that I said that they would hold parades after we came back." Braska chided. "You can ask for them after I defeat Sin."

"Let's go," Auron snarled hoarsely, and all but ran into the first chamber of Trials.

Compared to the last two Cloisters, the Trials were childishly simple. It took them less than ten minutes to form the required figures on the floor, and the platform to the hall of the Final Summoning rose from the depths of gliph-enlightened darkness.

"The final Aeon," Braska whispered, looking wide-eyed at the platform. "Finally." Then he shook himself and turned to his companions.

"Auron. Jecht. You must wait here while I receive the final Aeon. I'll be with you as soon as possible. Wait here." He hastily performed the sign of prayer, more out of habit than anything else, and stepped onto the elevator. "Wait here!" Beneath his feet, the gliph came to life, and he slowly descended, leaving his two mismatched Guardians standing at the edge of the shaft.

"He's pretty excited about that Final Aeon thing, isn't he?" Jecht murmured aloud. Auron nodded.

"You have seen what an Aeon can do. Valefor is reputed to be one of the weaker Aeons, and you've seen how easily it beat that Keeper. Imagine, the Aeon of all Aeons, the strongest Aeon of all…it must be enormous." He fingered his sword. "Though I must say I find this lack of response worrisome…" At that moment Braska's voice floated up from below. The distance robbed it from most of its warm, light timbre, but even now Auron thought he detected an unusual clipped quality.

"Auron…would you come down?"

A few moments the three of them were standing in the Chamber of the Fayth, looking down on the statue that should have held the Final Aeon.                                            

"Huh?" Jecht asked stupidly. "What do you mean no Final Aeon?" Braska tapped his staff against the statue's head in a gesture as close to disrespect as Jecht had ever seen.

"This statue, it isn't a fayth, just an empty statue. It holds no power." And with a sudden savage sweep of his clenched fist, "without a fayth, I cannot obtain the Aeon!"

"Wait a moment," Auron laid a calming hand on his friend's arm. "This must be some mistake. The Aeon should be here. Perhaps this is the wrong Chamber. Perhaps…" He stopped, and his hand flashed for his sword as he detected a movement behind him, but Braska pushed him aside.

"Wait. It's the unsent from the entrance of the Dome."

"How do you know…" But he closed his mouth as the old man passed through the wall that had one moment before sealed the passage way that now blinked through the shimmering field of the wall.

"That statue lost its power as a fayth long ago." The man said, pointing at the fayth's shape.

"It is Lord Zaon, the first fayth of the Final Summoning. What you see before you is all that remains of him."

"Zaon?" Auron interrupted, surprised. "Lady Yunalesca's husband? This is Lord Zaon?"

"His shell, yes. Lord Zaon's soul has departed a long time ago."

"Wait a minute," Jecht said, with that waving movement of outstretched arms that Auron had always found so annoying, but which now seemed to reflect his own feelings quite appropriately, "What you're saying, actually comes down on the fact that there is no Final Aeon? Is that what you're saying? You mean we've come all this way for nothing?"

"Jecht." Braska admonished. The old man smiled.

"Fear not," he hushed, holding out a soothing hand to Jecht, who immediately took a step backwards, "Lady Yunalesca will show you the path. The Final Aeon will be yours." And specifically to Braska, "The summoner and the Final Aeon will join powers." Turning around he made an inviting gesture at the shimmering wall. "She waits for you inside. Please, go in."

"Thank you." The summoner bowed, and received the sign of prayer. "Auron, Jecht."

"I shall go first," Auron said. His friend smiled. No matter what happened, no matter where they were and who they were visiting, Auron would never change.

"Very well. Jecht, if you'd care to stay behind me…?" The man nodded. A shiver past along his frame, leaving his skin pebbled with goose bumps. "Are you afraid?"

"Me? Afraid?" he laughed, just a little too loudly. "Nah. It's all these damn pyrethings. They suck all the warmth from this place. I shoulda kept my cloak when we entered Zanarkand." He gazed at Auron's perfectly straight, red-clad back, briefly wondering whether the other Guardian felt as uneasy as he did, then gave the summoner a little push.

"I'm fine. Let's go, before Auron starts hitting on this Yunalesca-babe inside." Braska let out an uncontrollable bark of laughter.

"I do not think you quite understand who Lady Yunalesca is, my friend. Or the nature of my youngest Guardian." Chuckling softly, he walked after Auron. "Although it might not at all be a bad thing if you're not suitably impressed." He flashed Jecht a wide grin before stepping through the barrier; the blue of his robes was vaguely visible even through the sparkling surface. As Jecht joined his Spiral friends, Braska looked as serious as Auron. They were standing in a large room that had been spared by the destruction.

"So," he asked, "Where is this Lady?" Auron smirked.

"Resolved not to be impressed, Jecht?" He pointed his chin towards the staircase on the other side of the room. "There she comes." In the middle of the sentence, his voice became softer, as if here were afraid the woman would hear him.

"Huh? All I see is pyre…Damn!"

Pyreflies. The air was filled with their light. Even though their flight was soundless, their sheer quantity caused the whole room to hum and shimmer—rather as if they had suddenly entered a Blitzball sphere. From the middle of the cloud of pyreflies, a woman's figure walked down the stairs. She seemed to float, merely grazing the steps with the tips of her bare toes as she descended. Like an angel in the water, Jecht thought, awestruck. Yunalesca, whoever she was, was beautiful. She was clothed in little more than what Jecht identified as a bikini with a few trailing bits of gauze flowing from her hips, but her long, silver hair covered her like a cape, floating around her body in the breeze. When she spoke he actually started. Women this beautiful were not supposed to be able to speak.

"Welcome to Zanarkand." Her voice was low and musical. Auron and Braska bowed like marionettes, both going through the ritual of prayer, their hands moving in perfect unision.

"Lady Yunalesca."

"Lady." She chuckled, a kind of throaty chuckle that reminded the man from Zanarkand painfully of his own wife. Not suitably impressed, eh? My girl laughs the same way, when she's in a flirty mood. Maybe it's because I don't know your history, lady, but for all I care you're still a woman. Nevertheless he took care to bow too, be it not as gracefully.

"Rise, summoner, Guardians. I congratulate you for completing your pilgrimage. Not many have reached my abode these past years…and even fewer have been able to leave it." Auron stiffened. Braska shot him a meaningful look.

Keep your mouth shut! Auron frowned.

She's threatening us, my Lord! Can't you see? But he clenched his jaws together and said nothing. Jecht, standing near him, could feel the tension radiate off him like heat from a campfire. What is it you feel, Auron? Why are you so jumpy about this chick?

"I will now bestow you with that which you seek," Yunalesca went on. Her eyes, Auron noticed, were as red as those of a fiend. Somehow, he did not trust her at all. She was supposed to be the holiest of holy, but her smile seemed cruel, and her eyes were hooded. He had to suppress the urge to shield Braska's body with his own, to keep from grabbing his arms and drag him away from this woman. It's a trap. Yevon, it's a more intricate trap than I've ever thought…

"The Final Summoning will be yours." She closed her eyes and smiled serenely, and for a moment her face was as peacefully beautiful as those of the many statues Auron had seen of her. He relaxed a little. Yes. Give us the Final Aeon. Give us…

"Please, make your choice." Braska raised his eyebrows.

"Excuse me?" His voice, as always, was calm, but Auron breathed in sharply, face paling with sudden realization even before she replied.

"Choose the one whom I will change to become the fayth of the Final Summoning."

"What?!" Jecht exclaimed, and heard Auron groan like an echo. What the hell…? But Yunalesca brushed his disrespect away like a fly, explaining with tape-recorder-like patience, "There must be a bond, between chosen and summoner, for that is what the Final Summoning embodies: the bond between husband and wife, mother and child, or," she gestured at Jecht and Auron, "between friends." Her red eyes focussed on Auron, pinning him to the ground. "If that bond is strong enough," she continued meaningfully, "its light will conquer Sin." She looked away, and Auron staggered a little. Small drops of sweat beaded on his forehead.

"A thousand years ago," Yunalesca went on dreamily, "I chose my husband Zaon as my fayth. Our bond was true, and I obtained the Final Aeon. We defeated Sin, and were victorious." Again she turned to Auron, whose face had regained a little colour. "There really is nothing to fear, Guardian. You and your summoner will soon be freed of worry and pain. For once you call forth the Final Aeon, your life will end. Death is the ultimate and final liberation." This time even Jecht noticed the cold, unfeeling quality of her features, and he realized with a shock what Braska and Auron had known from the start: Yunalesca was dead, just like the woman that had attacked Braska in Bevelle and later again on Mount Gazaget—because she got away because he had to take care of me and he couldn't send her. Hell, she's a human fiend. A holy fiend! She may look human, act human, wear her name like a legend, but she's completely devoid of compassion. And with a look at Auron, He can't handle that. He won't be able to go on with this.

Yunalesca snapped her fingers. Apparently he hadn't been the only one whose attention had wavered.

"Choose," she said. "Come and see me when you have chosen. I will be waiting for you." She turned and drifted back up the stairs. Soon all that was left were the clouds of pyreflies, slowly dissipating the air.

"Hot damn," Jecht muttered, and wiped his face. He was surprised to find his hand wet with perspiration. Now this is a bitch you shouldn't cross! He shot a look at Braska. The summoner looked composed as usual, but his eyes were helpless. He hadn't expected this either, Jecht understood, and his heart ached for both of his friends. For Braska, because he had to sacrifice so much more than he had imagined, and for Auron, because he was so visibly falling apart in the face of losing his best friend. At that moment he made his decision. Whatever would happen, he knew what to do. And he would do it.

"It is not too late." Auron's voice sounded strained but determined. His eyes were flickering feverishly in his pale face. "We still have a choice. Let us turn back!"  Braska sighed. He pushed back his heavy head-ornament and combed his fingers through his hair.                  

"If I turn back, who will defeat Sin?" he asked tiredly. "Would you have some other summoner and his guardians go through this?"

"But...my lord, there must be another way!" I cannot do this. I cannot go through with this. I can't bear to see you die…Jecht though he could almost hear the words, even though it was his own imagination that supplied them. He knew it was the truth. Auron could not go on, and Braska, no matter his resolve, could not do it on his own. So that left him.

"This is the only way we got now!" He gave Auron his roughest glare. "She wants a fayth? Fine. Make me the fayth." And when neither man said anything, he went on, "you see, I been doing some thinking. My dream is back in the other Zanarkand. I wanted to make that runt into a star blitz player. Show him the view from the top, you know." A shrug. "But now I know there's no way home for me. I'm never going to see him again. My dream's never gonna come true." He smiled to take the sadness out of his words. Braska tentatively smiled back, understanding and grateful and accepting. Damn, I love this man. "Make me the fayth, Braska. I'll fight Sin with you. Maybe my life will have meaning that way, you know." Auron stared at him, eyes wide with growing panic.

"No!" he cried. "Don't do this, Jecht! If you live…" he shook his head. "There may be another way! We'll think of something, I know!" His friend combed his hair out of his face, shocked his shoulders and began to walk towards the staircase.

"Believe me," he said over his shoulder, "I thought this through. Besides, I ain't getting any younger, so I might as well make myself useful."

"Jecht." He shut his eyes as the summoner called his name, suddenly afraid that he had been wrong, that Braska wouldn't let him go. If he were forced to reconsider, he wasn't sure he would be able to make this decision again.

"What! You're not gonna try to stop me, too, are you?" Braska hid his hands in his sleeves.

 "Sorry," he muttered, "I mean…thank you." Auron said nothing, but his face was blank with shock. Damn, the kid looks as if he's about to faint on the spot. It suddenly occurred to him that Auron was precisely that, a kid. How old was he anyway? Twenty-three, twenty-four? Way too young to have been placed in such a situation. The way he acts…he seems much older. But he's just a kid. Jecht's rough voice softened as he spoke to the other Guardian, "Braska still has to fight Sin, Auron. Guard him well. Make sure he gets there." Then he turned abruptly, unable to keep looking at that shattered figure, and unwilling to find out whether he would cry or not. If there was one thing he didn't want to see, it was Auron cry. "Well," he said gruffly, "let's go." And he swiftly began to climb the stairs. The summoner, after a quick glance at Auron's face, walked after him.

"Lord Braska! Jecht!" Please, Auron, give me a break.

"What do you want now?" Auron was standing at the foot of the stairs, staring up at them. Two bright red spots of colour were burning on his cheeks.

"Sin always comes back." he said. "It comes back after the Calm every time! The cycle will continue and your deaths will mean nothing!" Braska smiled down at him.

"But there's always a chance it won't come back this time." His whole figure radiated confidence. "Don't you understand, Auron? There's always a chance. And no matter how slim, that chance makes it worth trying."

"But…"

"I understand what you're saying, Auron," Jecht added. "But I'll find a way to break the cycle." Auron's expression lifted.

"You have a plan?" Braska, too, looked up at him, his feathery eyebrows doing that weird dancing thing they always did when he was curious.

"Jecht?"

"Trust me, I'll think of something." He laughed, a sunny, optimistic laugh, and quickly took the last few steps to the second landing. Braska followed him.

When the last slip of his robes had disappeared, Auron, at the foot of the stairs, thought a piece of his soul had disappeared with them. Suddenly his knees buckled, and he slammed down on the floor. Braska! Jecht! Come back! Don't do it! There is no other way! You'll die, and I…oh Yevon, Braska, I don't want to see you die! I don't want to see you die…For a moment he thought he would choke on the pain in his chest, and then he took a deep gasping breath, and breathing out he sobbed, and with that one sob the pain in his chest grew so sharp it forced tears out of his eyes. Braska, my Lord…Jecht…I can't…But then he shook himself. Jecht. You are from another world, another age. You were never trained or fit to be a Guardian. Yet for all your drinking and bragging, you are so much better at it than me. A bitter laugh crawled through the lump in his chest to his throat, escaped like a sob, but rendered him calmer, and he hastily scrubbed his eyes. You told me I should guard my summoner well, and here I am, making him wait for me because I'm too cowardly to accept his decision. He wiped his eyes a final time, unwittingly spreading dirt all over his face, and rolled to his feet. I will guard you, Braska, my friend, and I will guard your back too, Jecht. He thought as he bounded up the stairs. I will not fail you again. If I can't stop you, I shall give you all the support I can give.

When he caught up with the other two men, who were still standing close to the stairs and quite suddenly began to walk towards the glittering figure of Yunalesca in the distance, his eyes were still puffy and his nose was red, with a black smear running from above his left eye across the bridge of his nose to the middle of his right cheek, but he returned Braska's apologetic smile with a nod.

"My Lord…forgive me. I did not mean to make you wait." Jecht smirked and slapped him on the back.

"Never mind, Auron, we all have our bodily functions to take care of, right?" Auron managed a disapproving glare, and the other man had to bite his lip to keep from laughing aloud. Nerves, okay, I know. But damn, he looks like a raccoon!

"What's so funny," Auron said testily.

"Nothing, nothing."

"You have some dirt on your face," Braska said innocently. Then his face split in a wide grin, and he burst out laughing. Jecht followed promptly, bent double over his knees and guffawing helplessly while Auron forgot his grief and began to rub his face like a madman, flushed bright red with irritation and emotion.

"Trust you to turn this into a circus," he snapped furiously. But he had to laugh as well. Here we stand, at the beginning of what is going to be the greatest tragedy of our lives, laughing our heads of. In front of Yunalesca. He chuckled.

"I do not think the Lady Yunalesca approves," he said. Braska wiped his streaming eyes. Surely, the Lady was looking at them with a sour expression on her face.

"To hell with her," shrugged Jecht. "She's gonna turn me into an Aeon. I have the right to have a good laugh before I go." He touched Auron's –now clean- face with his knuckles. "A good final laugh at you." In the distance, Yunalesca began to tap her foot on the floor.

"The Lady awaits," Braska said. He pulled a serious face again, but every once in a second his mouth quirked up with mirth. "Let us go."

To be continued…

Tell me what you think! Chameleon@kitty-oosten.demon.nl or Chameleon@freeler.nl!