Chapter XIV - Sors salutis

"Must be strangely exciting
To watch the stoic squirm
Must be somewhat heartening
To watch shepherd need shepherd
But you you're not allowed
You're uninvited
An unfortunate slights"

Alanis Morissette

It was done; she was now related to the vilest unsent man on the face on this wretched globe. What was worse was she couldn't do a damn thing about it. All she did was stand and watch in evident horror, as Seymour placed his grubby lips upon Yuna's, tainting her world a darker shade of black eternally. That Bastard!

"Shit!" She cried, not even bothering to cloak her anger behind her usual coat of the Al Bhed language. She was pissed and swearing in the central language was more gratifying in her present state. Even the ethereal beauty of Macalania was discolored by the same darkness that now shrouded their merry band, turning it into a frozen penitentiary of silence. It was hell; a stunning hell, but a hell nonetheless.

She growled loudly and kicked a foot into the waters, disturbing their tranquil passivity and sending multiple ripples lancing through the previous stillness. There had to be some law against marrying a dead guy, there had to be! He was like ten years older than her…perhaps it was illegal…

"Oh…" She sighed quietly to the silence. Seymour was ten years older than Yuna, but Auron was like twenty years older than her. Perhaps, if she just scratched the last illegal part, that would make everything better. It would make things better in her heart and in her dreams only, but her mind was still left to wonder.

She had never really thought of the age difference before, but now that she did; it merely created another impossibility in their purportedly budding relationship. She must look like such a child to him, with her endless complaints and ceaseless tears. If any he felt anything other than pity for her, it would be on account of a miracle. Perhaps, the occurrence on the airship was out of sympathy, maybe she was just misconstruing his empathy. Goodness, what a fool she felt like now.

She loosed a cheerless sigh and plopped down against a nearby rock, her emerald whirlpools turning toward the heavens. Life was turning into an utter letdown; it seemed no matter how hard she tried she could never come up on top. She would always be that extra girl, who helps every now and then. She was excess baggage, it was just miracle how long she had kept up telling herself she was more. More than a silly girl chasing dreams, more than a failure. Gods, she wanted to crawl into that hole across the way and never come out again. Would anyone even notice? Would Auron even care…?

A stray tear worked its way down her sun-kissed features, clinging desperately to the curvature of her cherry lips. Rikku raised a trembling hand and brushed it away angrily. There she went crying again. She was merely proving a point to herself that she was a infantile weakling who had no right to associate herself with the legendary guardian. She should simply be honored by his show of pity and move on. She would just transpose love into a fleeting emotion such as happiness or sorrow, and send it upon the velvety zephyr; never to be seen again. If only it were so easy…

It seemed such a menial task when she wasn't in the imposing presence of the man. It was so easy just to classify her affection as a childish fixation and push it behind her more prominent troubles; but at the mere sight of him that conception melted away immediately. She was lost and she knew it, and she had a pretty good idea that Auron knew it as well. The question was: Where did the somber guardian stand? Was she just annoying pest, a tolerable aspect to the pilgrimage, or perhaps…something more. Butterflies fluttered earnestly within the catacombs of her stomach, causing her to shift her position, uncomfortable with the strength of the sensation within her. She had never felt this way before. Sure, she had crushes when she was younger, boyfriends even; but nothing even remotely compared to this.

Yet, what was this? It was feasibly love, but it hurt so much at times. Almost like a churning cauldron of every painful and pleasurable emotion known to man thrown haphazardly together. Being with him was like pleasant torture, as wild as it sounded. It was a rush of emotions blinding her and confusing her profusely. But, it felt so right. Falling asleep in his shielding embrace was like a incredible dream turned to reality. The question now was, was she alone? Was this an unrequited love she was doomed to keep pent up within her for eternity, or perhaps he had an inkling of feeling buried deep beyond his rigorous exterior. Could she ever manage to chip away the stone fortifications of his safeguarded heart, or would they float forever in vacillation, not sure whether to step forward or turn back. Ugh, how utterly confusing this thing man called love was…

A faint splash pulled Rikku from her shady thoughts, pulling her attention towards the crystalline lake before her. She could see the source of the sound, but she could hear the vague murmurings of Tidus and Yuna, their interaction forcing a slight smile across her weary countenance. The perfect and perfectly happy couple, despite the tremors of earth about them. Even Yuna's marriage hadn't wavered the palpable bond between the two, it may have even fortified it even more. It was a unpleasant task to mask her evident jealousy of their fulfillment, yet she did it nevertheless. It was the least she could do for her dear cousin; let her enjoy her happiness while she still had time. But, why couldn't she be as uniformly happy about it as Yuna was?

"You're unusually quiet," observed a gruff voice from just behind the ruminative Al Bhed. Rikku lurched from her seat, defaulting into battle mode due to the unknown incursion of her privacy. An amused grin crept across her assailants face, as he materialized from the shadows. Rikku released her attack stance upon sight of the intruder, her heart proceeding to skip a few vital beats. Oh gods, of all the human beings to show at this time, it had to be Auron. What ruthless irony.

Rikku smiled sheepishly and quickly returned her anxious gaze toward the serene waters, hoping to sponge a bit of its equanimity to quiet her hammering heart. Words were fleeting rapidly from her tongue, abandoning her with aloof silence, as she apprehensively shuffled her feet against the smooth ground. Gee, she was certainly playing the part of the taciturn idiot quite well at the moment; her anomalous silence seemingly estranging her from the beguiling guardian further.

Heavy footfalls signaled that, despite her silence, the guardian had no intention of receding. Rikku merely sighed and closed her emerald oculars, allowing the cool breeze to assist in consoling her rampant heart. Oddly, it felt extraordinarily soothing with the gentle wind caressing her tired muscles and toying with an awry strand of flaxen hair. The restful presence of the reticent guardian only added to the heartening ambiance of the night air. It was times like this that made life worthwhile; a gentle moment in the desperate roiling of the spiral. It was worth a thousand pains to experience at least a succinct moment of rest; and Rikku was going to relish every moment of it.

She opened her eyes slowly, the compelling figure of Auron looming silently in her peripheral vision; keeping her mind at rest. A content smile drifted across her face, as she raised it toward the dazzling empyrean above. The obsidian velvet of the night sky was sprinkled with the sparkling diamonds of the heavens, exuding a mystical radiance upon the terrain below. It made Macalania Forest appear more like a vision of Elysium than a plain forest. The star flowers sparkled more vibrantly, as if they were putting on a dazzling spectacular just for the weary eyes of the guardians to partake upon. It was utterly beautiful.

"Auron…" Her grin grew as she addressed the noiseless man beside her, her silent thoughts causing her to almost erupt into giggles. Auron merely grunted faintly in reply, symptomatic of attention.

"Have you ever wished upon a star?" She asked, this time lowering her gaze to look at him. Auron quirked an ebon eyebrow, as he in turn looked at Rikku. Rikku giggled subtly, and widened her eyes, as if expecting a logical response to her illogical question.

"Perhaps…when, I was younger…" He answered softly, striving to not disturb the sublimity of the forest. Rikku giggled again, pulling another confused gaze out of the older guardian. She twirled around and faced him directly, a smile almost as radiant as the stars shining brightly upon her fiercely attractive features. Her jade eyes sparkled with an easily discernable emotion, betraying her inner sentiments immediately. Auron quickly shifted his gaze away from the girl, his eyes trailing toward the effervescent waters.

"I have…well, actually I still do. It may not be that productive, but it's a comfort I like having, you know. Just knowing that perhaps wishes may come true…well, I'd like to think wishes can come true…" Rikku paused looking over at Auron. Gods, she was rambling and he was ignoring her. His lone ocular was trained upon the silent waters, portraying the man as impassive. This wasn't going as she had planned…

"Life is challenging, people always look for an escape route. Sending hopes and desires toward unearthly beings is only natural…"

"…but you think it's pointless," Rikku finished for him, her hands now placed upon her hips. Once more, the cold and practical Auron had to mask the compassionate man underneath. Why did he create such a horrid barrier over himself, when an amazing individual lay struggling to break free within.

"Not pointless, just not imperative. Wishing for relief clouds reality and the task at hand. It may convey momentary respite, but nothing last forever…even dreams must come to an end someday," Auron mused forlornly, his gaze shifting back toward the tranquil waters. The ethereal lagoon seemed the only tranquil entity at the moment, Auron's statement striking closer to home than he had an idea of. He was right, Rikku's world of fantastical dreams was an gaudy fabrication that was going to break down around her someday. Sooner or later, she'd have to fess up to reality and leave her glittery imaginings behind her. It was a poignant thought, but a bitter veracity nonetheless.

Why did Auron have to always take the gloomier scope of the scale? Why did he insist on remaining in his closed world of constancy and melancholia? Rikku instinctively moved closer toward the angst-ridden soul she pondered over, a delicate hand resting upon his folded arm. He lurched vaguely at the unfamiliar contact of the girl, but remained in place nonetheless. He wanted her comfort, but he couldn't allow himself to succumb to it. Something within him was determined to restrain him from happiness. And Rikku was bent on conquering this invisible demon, and freeing the disconsolate man underneath. The only question was how?

"Auron…life doesn't always have to be black and white. Dreams don't have to end…not unless you want them to. Why won't you let yourself live, Auron? What is it that you're so afraid of?" Rikku was before the man now, the cool waters sloshing against the heels of her shoes. Two hands rested gently upon his concealed arm, coaxing him to let loose of not only his physical, but mental binding as well. Auron deliberately avoided Rikku's seeking gaze, his eye still perusing the stilled waters.

"Some lives aren't worth living, Rikku. Your veneration is uninvited and groundless. My dream ended a long time ago…there is no use to dwell in the past," His russet eye caught hers with his last utterances, locking with the two profound emerald orbs firmly. Rikku's eye's widened in surprise of his disheartening statement, but her hands did not sway from their resting place.

"No, it may not be useful to dwell in the past. But, to completely give up all hope…Auron, that's horrible," She stated, the slight precursors of tears welling up in her verdant oculars. It made no sense that the man she perceived of being so strong and so sure, had quite the opposite opinion of himself. What had happened to his damaged spirit to make him give up all hope…?

Rikku shifted one of her hands from his arm to his face, her thumb gently caressing his bristly cheek with a cadenced orbit. At an almost unexpected alacrity, Auron's own mighty hand enclosed Rikku's upon his face. His calloused fingers wrapping about her hand and clutching onto it tightly. The intensity of his lone ocular seemed to increase to a nearly painful strength, burning viciously into her placid orbs of green.

"My faith vanished with another imperative element of existence, Rikku…"His voice trailed off, as the ferocity of his stare wavered; flashes of uncertainty and unfathomable grief dashed through his solitary ocular shortly, but retreated as quickly as they had materialized, leaving a vacant sentiment in his eye. Rikku subliminally squeezed his hand, urging him to continue his admission of despondency despite the grievous margin effects that may occur subsequently.

"I…I'm unsent…" He confessed softly, his voice fading completely at the end. Rikku's eye's widened incredibly, as she drew her hand away from his face, disentangling her fingers from Auron's. He was dead; the man she loved with every fiber of her being…was lifeless. Yet, in further pondering it all made such perfect, but cutting sense. Oh how cruel the fates were, you either received all or lost all. It seemed that Rikku had been placed in the shoddier fraction of the spectrum.

"Oh…," She whispered quietly, customarily to herself, in a desperate attempt to sound accepting. If destiny was going to deal her all the low cards, she may as well play them to the best of her ability. He may be unsent, but he was here at the moment. Even if time was narrow, wasn't it then worth living it to the utmost?

Auron had turned away from her now and it seemed he was making a hasty retreat from the area. Rikku stepped forward quickly, grasping onto the yielding cloth of his scarlet coat, and halting his withdraw indefinitely. Auron did not turn however, yet remained with his back to her, his head bowed in melancholic sentiment. Rikku loosed a hushed sigh and let go of his lengthy scarlet coat.

"Auron…don't leave," She beseeched softly, hoping that he may turn to face her directly. Auron's back shifted, as he sighed briefly. Slowly, he turned toward the Al Bhed, his russet ocular glancing down at her with a sentiment of pure despondency lingering within. Never before had Rikku imagined that she would ever have to be the stronger one in the presence of the elder guardian. Yet, now the weight of the task was rapidly shifted onto her slender shoulders in an almost mocking fashion. She would have grunted beneath the credence in any other circumstance, but not now. He needed her, no matter how much he may try deny it; and she was going wasn't going to fail him.

She drew closer to him once more, her hands grasping onto his ebon-gloved hand and bringing it before her. The dainty fingers of her right hands gently entwined with his own, her left hand attempting to enclose the two. Auron gazed down at their clasped hands, no emotions betrayed by his lone russet ocular. Rikku gradually bent down, her tender lips of cherry brushing against the calloused skin of his stalwart hands. Auron briefly closed his eye, reveling in the sweet sensations surging through his veins, lifting him temporarily from his unrest.

"Auron, I don't care about any of that…all I care is that we're here now. That's all that matters now, you know. That we're here together…" She whispered tenderly, her gentle voice blending with the dulcet zephyr of the sparkling coppice. In the end, that was all that mattered, right? That one had lived life to the fullest and clutched tightly to every opportunity that fate had apportioned them. The gruff touch of a calloused hand surprised Rikku. She looked up, realizing Auron was now only inches away from her face, his intense ocular scrutinizing her face meticulously.

Rikku released his hand from her gently grip, placing it by his side once more. Her hands now moved toward his collar, unfastening it from the thick brown buckles that pinioned it in place. Auron made no movement to stop her proceedings and simply observed her striking visage. Once removing the collar from it's bindings, she slipped it over his head and dropped it lazily toward the smooth cerulean flooring, it's muted cry ignored by the two enchanted individuals. Rikku looked over his startlingly arresting features, despite the ugly gash that lanced through his bronze skin. His unshaven face and strong jaw line made for an antagonizing rugged look, that was as endearing as it was intimidating.

A demure grin slipped across Rikku's claret lips, as she realized she was unreservedly gawking at the man. She lowered her eyes, like a child who had been caught disobeying her parents, and shuffled her sneakers quietly against the earth.

"I suppose you're right…I'd rather wish on stars, than plunge slowly into misery," Auron whispered warmly, placing a hand beneath Rikku's chin and raising her face to meet his own. An oddly genuine smile spread across his handsome countenance, his brilliant alabaster teeth sparkling like stars in the shimmering radiance about them. A similar smile reflected upon Rikku's face upon sight of Auron's foreign grin. It was amazing how life could deep so low and suddenly shoot all the way up to cloud nine in a matter of moments.

"I…" Rikku opened her mouth to articulate something, anything, but a single finger pressed against her lips halted her attempt immediately. She quickly locked eyes with his own lone ocular, her eye's wide from the intimate contact between them. She could feel her heart thudding wildly against her chest, and she inwardly begged it to shush, lest Auron learn of her evident anxiety. She couldn't help it though; the man she hungered for mere iota's away, his tender finger pressed sensuously against her lips. It was enough to drive her mad!

"Shhh…" he hushed her in a gentle tone, pulling her towards him in a sheltering embrace. Rikku melted into him upon contact, her dainty arms wrapping about his neck amorously. His lips brushed against her ear, purposely or not, it sent a fervent shiver rippling down her spine. He was inadvertently torturing the Al Bhed, the simple way his arms encircled her tiny body and crushed her against, the way an awry silvery hair tickled the side of her face, and the way his slow even breath beat ruthlessly against her ear. She was plummeting deeper into the depths of desire, her sense of reason being thrashed mercilessly upon the jagged nadir.

She pulled her face away from his potent shoulder, her lips placing a tender kiss upon his exposed collarbone. She could feel his grip tighten around her waist, as she continued her trek along his strong neck. Rikku paused upon reaching the crook of his neck, and pulled away looking up expectantly at his face. His russet eye was slowly opening, a fog of subdued emotions glazing over his ocular. He looked down at her, a hand wandering from around her waist to her cheek. Rikku uttered a succinct sigh of contentment, followed by a gasp of surprise as Auron lower his face closer to hers. Her gasp faded instantly upon the contact of his astonishingly soft lips as they meshed with her own.

She closed her emerald whirlpools in ecstasy, reveling in every moment of their intimate contact. She could see flashes of her previous dream clipping through her mind, as she eased into utter bliss.