Chapter XV - De Corde Totaliter

"I saw our future in her eyes
We searched for love amidst the lies
I didn't mean to draw her in
To a fight we'll never win
And I sigh as...
She becomes jelly in my hands

She told me things I never heard
And I just drank her every word
We swallow all that love can give
Cause love's the reason that we live
And I cry as...
She becomes jelly in my hands

We crossed our T's with gazing eyes
We knew it was finalized
Built this love on sinking sand
And I'm ashamed that I'm afraid to lend
a hand as...
She becomes jelly in my hands"

"Jelly"
- Blessed Union of Souls

Duel emerald whirlpools, etched with melancholy, scanned the plain with an apathetic gaze. It was the Calm Lands. Their superficially endlessly journey was coming to a quick conclusion. It was almost like the clout of a piquant smelling salt, it was all like such a dream before…Zanarkand a mere image of that dream, that would never come true; never be real. But, it was; and they were nearing it every moment.

Yuna was marching slowly towards her death, that same look of silent resilience plastered eternally across her pretty visage. Tidus followed closely behind his summoner, the faithful, fully aware teenager, that was hopelessly in love with a dead man walking. What a tragic tale of love and loss, seemingly more like a fairytale than reality. But there it was, playing right before her eyes; a twisted version of Romeo and Juliet. Yet, Romeo’s poison was a hoax and he was forced to live on long after Juliet had vanished. Even now, she could feel preliminary crystalline droplets materializing in the corners of her eyes.

She batted the teardrops away with a free hand, refusing to succumb to the inevitable. Yes, the barrage would come sooner or later, that was the unavoidable; whether they came for happiness or sadness, she refused to believe that that was unalterable. There had to be a way to defeat Sin without the sacrifice of countless lives; there was always an alternate route, even if it was hidden beneath the brush. She just had to find and fast.

The group paused before a large Al Bhed shop…the last structure for the final leg of their voyage. Rikku regarded it with a nostalgic gloom, this may be the last time she or any of the guardians saw a building ever again, and it was certainly Yuna’s last hotel visit. Gods, she never thought she would get all choked up about a inn. Feeling rather sorry for herself, she followed in turn behind the rest of the group; her verdant oculars lingering on the plains one last time before she vanished within.

The interior resembled any other Al Bhed lodge, with the gaudy paraphernalia draping the russet walls, and the usual wall stock full of books in various languages on any subject. Rikku exhaled quietly, looking over the place with a certain desolate longing. Never before had she wanted to be home more than right now; cradled safely in her father's arms, with Keyack chortling wickedly about some recent prank he had pulled on Toreck, and the enchanting smells of Majigec’s exquisite cooking filling the air. But, they were gone now, returned to the wasteland that yielded them. What a heartless tragedy that lives barely beginning to live had to be dashed pitilessly upon the serrated rocks of hatred. Yet, all her unbearable thoughts could not change the fact that, in essence, she was dreadfully alone.

The numerous guardians vanished in turn toward their individual rooms of solace. Ready to contemplate their angst-ridden lives further, only to sink deeper into the depths of anguish. Sin had this horrible knack for not only snuffing out lives, but smothering the flickering candle of faith of the enduring, as well. Well, she might as well fade away along with the rest. Sleep was a distant prospect, but hopefully she could reach it before the night was through. But, she wasn’t going to keep her hopes up.

She softly padded across the small room, towards the entry to the latent quarters. The poorly lit corridor was substantially quiet, small snippets of conversation from an adjacent room drifted languidly toward her ears. From the sounds of it, Wakka and some female…low, subdued voice… Lulu most likely, were deep in conversation. A small smile touched the Al Bhed’s lips, perhaps Lulu had finally accepted that Wakka was head over heels for her. Deciding not to pry into the conversation, she continued down the hallway; her footsteps muffled against the deep cerulean carpeting. Most of the doors she passed were shut, enclosing a peacefully slumbering traveler or restless guardian.

The hall ended abruptly, the last two doors shooting from its conclusion. One was wide open; her room apparently. But, the other was ajar ever so slightly; just asking Rikku to peek within and gaze upon the occupants. Rikku, never wanting to disappoint, did just that.

Her verdant oculars peered beyond the deep mahogany entry, the dimly lit innards negating any hope for a detail inspection of its confines. Yet, an easily decipherable figure sat near the room’s stern, his raven-haired head placed emotively in his powerful hands. A disquieting depiction of the formidable guardian; who, not even an hour before, single-handedly brought down a Chimera. His scarlet coat hung passively from the back of his chair in one of the rare moments Rikku had seen him without his ostensible appendage. Her heart went out toward the disparaging guardian; his pain was so apparent underneath his various layers of fortifications, but he had grown to hide it with well; almost too well.

Rikku edged the door open a few more inches and stepped quietly within. Auron made no movement to give off his awareness of the young Al Bhed, but Rikku knew better. He had probably known she had been peeking within the doorway. He may be in a bad way, but he’s still one of the best damn guardians there ever was; disheartened or not. Nevertheless, she inhaled deeply to alert him of her presence just in case. She had no desire to have her throat slashed by a guardian caught unawares.

“I knew a man once. He was a stubborn and rowdy character, and never stopping once to question his actions. Yet one day, while we stood within a temple, Macalania, I believe, he stood toward the side, gazing quite intently at a stained glass window. I was a bit taken aback by his silence and when I ask him of it, he replied rather oddly. People are kinda like these stained-glass windows, ya know, he said. They sparkle, shine, and look all pretty, when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there light is from within. I thought that this was just another of his drunken ramblings, but strangely enough I could never dismiss those words from my mind. I think, after all this time, I finally realize the message he was trying to express,” Auron shifted, turning his body completely around to face Rikku. She was gawking at the older guardian, awed into a silent stupor. This was probably the first time she had ever heard him speak more than a sentence or two. That alone warranted her silence and her stupor.

Auron rose from his seat, his crimson jacket falling limply to the floor from the action. He offered the fallen adjunct a wistful gaze, but soon returned his lone russet orb to focus upon the Al Bhed girl before him. His eye contained a mixture of diverse emotions; ranging from gloom and antagonism, with a touch of reminiscence on the side.

“My whole life was a picture filled with the simple black and whites, completely uniform and authoritarian. I never strayed from the path that had been carved for me, doubting and questioning nothing. Yevon was the way, the truth, and the light. Only now do I see the absolute folly in my action. Braska and Jecht should be canonized for dealing with my austere attitude. I may have been a picture of perfection when the lights were on, but turn of the lights and all there was, was blackness…”

“Auron…” Rikku stepped forward hesitantly, placing an assuring hand upon his brawny forearm. Auron shook his head and proceeded to collapse back onto the chair. He swallowed heavily and placed a hand upon Rikku’s smaller one.

“No, no matter what you say, you can’t amend the past. My life is a riddle of mistakes and shattered dreams. I can neither escape it or alter it. That man was trying to warn me before it was too late; before I transformed into this…this thing that I am today. I’m surprised you even see me worth your time…” Auron released a painstaking sigh, burying his head in his mighty hands.

Rikku’s eye’s widened unmistakably at his discourse, astounded that such words would come from the mouth of the unyielding guardian. Yes, he had revealed bits and pieces of his shattered interior to her prying eyes before…but, nothing like this. Here he sat, open and unbound, broken and bleeding from the jagged rock of reality; and all Rikku could do was stand and stare. What did one say to such confessions? Oh, it’s okay, I know exactly how you feel. Wasn’t that the customary reply? But, the truth of the matter was…Rikku had no idea as to the inner turmoil brewing within the guardian. Her largest problem had probably been whether to wear the green wetsuit or the red one…well, prior to this guardian business anyway.

Rikku knelt down on one knee, her hands pulling one of his own hands away from his face.

“Auron, you’re more than just worth a bit of my time. I actually do like spending time with, no matter how weird it may sound to you. You’re not a failure, you’ve accomplished far too much to be seen as that. Look at how many people look up to you, even if you don’t feel it’s deserved, they do. Your perseverance, strength, and valor have influenced an entire nation whether you like it or not. It’s an honor to be in your presence, Auron, not an offense,” Rikku forced a fragile grin, her verdant orbs seeking out his lone ocular. His eye was trained upon the azure carpeting, unmoving and ever-so poignant. He released another sigh and looked up, tarnished russet meeting unsullied emerald. Within that moment, that single locking of eyes, she realized everything her friends had ever said about love was absolutely…wrong. It wasn’t about looks or popularity. Hell, it wasn’t even about age, even. It is about those moments when you can look into someone’s eyes and it’s as if you were looking into their very heart. It isn’t two eyes joining…it is the joining of two hearts; two battered, bruised, and bleeding hearts that needed another shower them with the love and affection they had starved for their whole lives. It is looking within another self and see every tear, every confession, every laugh reflected ten fold in their own eyes. Love is a discovery of one’s self in another’s eyes.

Rikku could feel her heart fluttering rapidly against her svelte chest, threatening treacherously to break free. Every feeling was rushing throughout her like a frenzied river coursing relentlessly towards oblivion. The muted sounds of the Calm Lands became muted further, as her heart beats echoed stridently within her ears. She was losing herself once more to the daze of rapture. It was almost derailing, the extent that a single stare from the guardian could rend her helpless. All he had to do was ask her to jump, and she reply quite eagerly “How high?”

“Why are you here?” Auron asked awfully softly, to an extent that Rikku even had to strain to hear. He stood abruptly, retreating hastily from Rikku’s soft and alluring touch. He turned his hulking frame away from the tiny Al Bhed, his solitary ocular gazing pensively out the window. Rikku rolled her head back, her emerald eyes glaring irately towards the glaring white-washed ceiling. Whenever things began to boil down, Auron had to always stand up and churn the pot once again.

“Why do you think I’m here, Auron?” Rikku grumbled in reply, frankly annoyed by his sudden change in behavior. She, too, shoved off from the plush carpet, her hands coming to rest upon her hips the moment she reached a stable standing position. Her sea green eyes glared daggers at Auron’s back, well aware that probably had no clue that he had royally pissed her off. That man, one moment he could have her oscillating on the brink of seventh heaven and the next he could have her spitting fire. Perhaps, love had it’s little assemblage of pluses and minuses, as well.

“Rikku…what happened before…”

“It was a mistake…right?” Rikku spat before Auron could finish. The man glanced askance at the fuming girl, his eye’s discerning no answer, be it positive or negative. Rikku let out a brief sigh, riddled with exasperation.

“That’s what you were going to say, wasn’t it? Hm, figures,” She growled, this time she turned her back on the guardian. Not out of anger, but to hide the sudden swell of emotions bubbling towards the surface. She wasn’t sure whether was going to scream or burst into sobs. Frankly, if he replied that it was indeed a mistake, she may have to find the nearest shoopuff and order it to step on her. A blow like that was not something one should take lightly. It was not only an assault upon one’s pride and self-esteem, but it was a direct attack upon the heart. A barrage of undetected assailants heading straight for the place where all emotions reside. Straight for the heart. But, could the hardened guardian possibly comprehend the depth of her feeling, or was he too far gone to even care?

“It wasn’t right, that’s what I was going to say,” He answered softly, his sonorous voice drifting pleasantly toward her ears. Rikku wanted to bat the agreeable sounds away from her, to reject that deep soothing effect his voice had upon her. She wanted more than anything to retain her anger towards the man. But, it was a futile battle from the beginning, and Rikku was always destined to lose.

“Everything was going contrary to the way things had been planned. Everything was so…wrong. At the time, my sensibility told me that letting go of inhibitions was perhaps the right thing to do. Yet, after the fact, perhaps…it was the most prevalent wrong of them all…” She could sense him directly behind her now, his frame looming over her rather diminutive one. She released a shuttering sigh and closed her verdant orbs. Did it really matter if it was wrong or right now? It was in the past, done and said. Nothing they could do now was change. They could either accept it or reject it. But, unlike Auron, Rikku could not simple dismiss it to the winds. She had wanted him to kiss her, more than anything on this damned planet. She had wanted to feel his arms wrapped protectively about her, feel his breath upon her skin. And now…now he wanted her to forget it all like it was a passing dream. And Rikku couldn’t…wouldn’t do that for all the money in the world.

“Auron, life isn’t something you can just dismiss. Things happen for a reason. Maybe we’ll never find out why, but maybe…just maybe, it wasn’t wrong, after all,” She turned slightly, but did not look at him. She didn’t want to see what emotion he held in that fathomless ocular.

“Hey, I know I’m not as wise and as smart as you. Hell, I’m not even as old as you. But, you know what I do know? I know when something feels right, even if it’s not knowingly, that it’s just meant to be. Something’s in life I know I’ll never be able to control; like what happened to Home and Keyack dying. But, there are a rare few things that I know I have control over. Like what’s happening between us now…and frankly, I don’t know about you, but I don’t want this feeling to ever go away. No matter what pains it brings to me sometimes, the joy far outweighs any of that,” She turned to him now, directly facing him and standing before him. Her eyes once more journey far above to connect with his own. He was gazing at her with a somewhat shocked expression rested upon his handsome visage. She took his hands in hers and held them tightly to her chest.

“Auron, we can’t control what’s gonna happen in the future…but, we can control what’s happening right now. You know what I think…it’s all up to you now. Are you going to forget it all like some nice dream, or are you going to accept the fact that, perhaps, someone likes you, for you,” Rikku stated quietly, her eyes not leaving his for a moment. His eye darted toward the blasé ceiling, as if he was attempting to collect his inner thought and emotions. Now, the contest between the apathetic Auron and the emotive one began. Rikku could only pray and hope that Auron was not as thick-skinned as he made out to be. She wouldn’t be able to live with herself if he rejected her now. She had just laid down her feelings for him, even if it was discreet. The moments between confession and reply are perhaps the longest and most anxious of one’s whole life. One’s whole heart laying limply upon the jagged line, ready to fly or fall at any moment; at the simple utterance of a few unadorned words.

Auron did the oddest and most unexpected of things next. One moment he stood towering above her ominously, the next he knelt before her, lowering himself below her in one graceful motion. Rikku’s eyes widened at the act, surprised that he would lower himself beneath anyone. His hands gripped hers ever the more tightly, as a thumb reflexively stroked her small hands.

“Rikku…I…” He inhaled deeply and exhaled the same, the sheer effort of releasing his emotions far outweighing any grueling battle or journey. He could handle a Behemoth easily, but a woman…gods, was he at an absolute loss.

“I can’t deny that my…feelings for you run deep. I would be lying if I said, thus. But, it’s a fruitless game we are contending in. I can say nothing for what may happen in the future, either for you or me. We do not know who will return for that desolate city. I understand what you mean, now does matter, but the future does as well. You deserve more that a few rushed moments, just for the sheer experience. You deserve a man that can promise you a future…something more than a few days of satisfaction. I…” He was interrupted by the blockade of two dainty fingers upon his lips. He hadn’t even noticed she had pulled them from his vice-like grip. Rikku, herself, knelt down as well. Her poignant eyes beating down mercilessly upon his own. Why couldn’t he understand? Why was it always reason and common sense with him? Couldn’t he think with the heart and not the reasoned mind for once?

“Wasn’t it you who said, that he would rather wish upon stars than fall gradually into despair? I may deserve a man like that, but I don’t want a man like that Auron. A man like that would have to be awfully lackluster and regular, and I would probably throw myself off my father’s airship rather than spend my life with him. Besides, he wouldn’t be able to hold a candle to you,” She said with a small, but hopeful, grin. She didn’t want to lose him yet, not while he was still here, standing before her. He was right, no one knew he was going to return from Zanarkand; but, unlike what he said, a few days with Auron would last Rikku an entire lifetime.

Auron chuckled somewhat uncertainly, his gaze retreating towards the plush carpeting. Rikku had to stifle a giggle; his apprehension was so unlike him it was almost endearing. He was usually so calm and collected, but here he was, practically trembling in her hands. He looked almost…cute, with his lowered eyes and timid smile; she couldn’t bear it. Her arms roughly encircled his neck, the sheer impact of her body pouncing up his sending the two hurtling backward. Auron hit the ground with a soft “oomph”, but Rikku just kept on cuddling. Her face nuzzled itself in the crook of his neck, and she released a contented sigh. Auron’s arms hesitantly enclosed around Rikku’s lithe form, as if afraid she may shatter upon contact. He, too, released a sigh, his eye focused upon the uninteresting ceiling. Perhaps, this battle was futile for the callous guardian, as well. Perhaps, from the beginning he was meant to stumble and. Perhaps, those small hands were destined to reach down and aid him along the way. Maybe, just maybe, love was not such a foreign thing after all.