Land of the Living



Halfway through a sip of sake, he heard voices, Yuna's and Wakka's, worry but no clear words, and then a few tense murmurs, and then the door hissed open and shut and Tidus edged his way into the compartment behind the bridge, holding himself like a wary, cornered fiend--and the change in body language almost, almost wrenched a bit of pity from Auron.

"Auron." Tidus slunk into an alcove, braced himself with a heavy-gloved hand on the wall. His voice was a low, strangled mutter, startling change from his usual uninhibited, outspoken self. "If you knew about Zanarkand, about what I am, why didn't you tell me?"

Auron took a deep breath, let it out, screwed the top on the bottle, slung it back on his belt.

"You had to find out yourself. I knew you would when you got to Gagazet. Better you learn it from the source than have me break it to you." He paused, looked at Tidus over the tops of his glasses, the flat world, dimensionless, and dark in the innards of the airship, cut in half by the out-of-focus shadow of the frames, lost in shadow beneath the lenses, and the drawn, pained face of his best friend's son, blue eyes burning bright. "Wakka and the rest weren't the only ones who wanted to let you live in hope."

"Damn it," Tidus hissed, and punched the wall with a jingle of chains and buckles, and he was, Auron thought, so good at hiding this. So filled up with love that he'd take his inevitable dissolution to the day of his death rather than bothering Yuna with it. It suited his purposes, but he owed old Jecht an apology for thinking that way, when everything was done and through.

"You're not going to tell her," he said, without bothering to make it a question.

"No," said Tidus, not looking at him anymore.

"Why not ask me about it earlier?"

Tidus gritted his teeth for a moment. "I...'cause it didn't matter." He looked up at him now, raw pain in his eyes. "I didn't care. She was still going to die." He closed his eyes, opened them after a long while. "Being around her...she's been walking towards death, in joy, all this time. And because of her, I can do it too."

"It runs in her family," Auron murmured.

"But I don't want to face my dad. I could do everything else. Even--even leave her. I just hope she'll be okay without me. But, damn it, everything else--" His fist slammed into the wall again.

Wordlessly, Auron unhooked the bottle again, uncapped it, held it out to the boy. Tidus looked down at it for a long, long time before he took it. Probably thinking about Jecht, and how much he hated him. But they really did, Auron thought, have so much in common.

Tidus coughed and held the back of his hand over his mouth as the sake burned its way down. They were silent for a long while, his sneakers scuffing on the deckplates, the engines and circulation fans whirring around them--an ever-present thrum of machina neither of them had felt since leaving the dream.

"She doesn't know about you, does she?" Tidus asked quietly.

"No." Auron narrowed his eye. "It pulls at me, every time she Sends before me. But her concentration is too strong for her to notice." Concentration not just on the Sending, but on Sin. Anybody perceptive enough would put two and two together eventually--he had no fear of Wakka, and the little Al Bhed wouldn't bother herself with metaphysics, and Tidus had been too concerned with Yuna's fate. Though he had his suspicions as to what Lulu might know.

Kimahri would never speak of it, even though he'd first burst his skin to pyreflies in the Ronso's lap.

"I won't tell her. About either of us."

"Good," said Auron, and took another swig himself. "She has better things to worry about than the two shadows dogging her footsteps. Like killing a god."

"We'll both be gone when she does, won't we?" Tidus said softly.

"The Calm is coming. Let Spira be a land of the living."

"I still don't want to have to talk to my dad." His voice strangled itself again.

"You'll have to."

"I know."

He suited his purposes. Everything had fallen into place. Even if he had to dissolve an entire city to do it, condemn a pure-hearted boy to the life of an unliving ghost, drag the daughter of a man he'd loved by the chains of hope to the ends of the world--Yevon would fall. Yevon would fall. And the dead and dreams would all take care of each other, and leave the rightful living to their world.

Tidus had turned away in profile, head bowed and gloved hands like claws against the steel bulkhead, and he caught the slight, crystalline glint of water on his eyelashes.

"I'm gonna die," he whispered.

Jecht would be so proud of him. And he owed him an apology, for using his only son like this. So, so much of an apology.


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