Unintentional Part 2




Chapter 11 Liberation

These are the days you often say
"Thereís nothing that we cannot do"
We that cannot be of stars
Iíd shed blood for youÖ

Ash Ė Shining Light

Jecht wiped the sweat from his brow, grinning at Auron as he wiped his blade clean. The man stretched cat like, his muscles weary after the intense battle.

"Nothiní like a good fight to clear out the cobwebs, huh?" Jecht prodded the youth; Auron jumped in response, lost in his thoughts. The older man frowned, worried at his young comradeís state.

"Hey, itís ok. Happen Rin just got delayed thatís why he wasnít waiting with news for ya at Djose. Sheíll be fine, Auron. Just you wait, weíll defeat Sin and go back home and have a big party!" The mans hearty laugh echoed throughout the trials, the absence of Braska notable by the silence that followed the chuckles. Auron smiled weakly at his companion, wishing that the answers to his problems were as simple as Jecht thought.

Yevon, what can I do? Braska prays to the Fayth, I have failedÖ

"Jecht, Auron!" The summonerís voice broke through his thoughts.

"My Lord? It is done already?" Auron asked the question hesitantly, fear in his voice.

Braska shook his head, pointing down into the antechamber that held the Fayth. "ThereÖoh, just come and see for yourselves!"

Auron hid his smile from the two older men. So there is still time.

As they reached the bottom of the well Braska leapt from the machina, pointing at the centrepiece which dominated the small room. The strains of the Hymn, distorted almost beyond recognition, made Auron shiver as he took in the dimly lit room.

"This is not a Fayth! Itís a mere statue!"

"You are correct, summoner. That statue lost its power as a Fayth long ago. It is Lord Zaon of the first summoning. But fear not, Lady Yunalesca shall show you the way!"

The group turned to see a wizened old man standing before them. An unsent judging by the pyreflies gathered around his form. Braska cleared any doubts he had about following the spectre and pursued the man as he led them from the small room into the private chambers of Lady Yunalesca.

Auron fingered the hilt of his sword uneasily, his eyes darting around the room to try and ascertain if any threats to his summoner lurked in the shadows. The nervous energy calmed when his scans were completed, yet did not dissipate fully, an ever mindful eye still trained on Braska. He smiled as Jecht looked around the place in child like wonderment, his friend and fellow Guardian still awed by Spira after months on its soils. He wandered over to the man, clasping his shoulder in camaraderie.

"Jecht, I, I thank you for the time we have spent together. I am grateful for what you have done, not only for Braska, but for me as well. You have kept us together through the tough times."

Jecht grinned at the younger man, embarrassed by the praise. "Yeah, tough times I caused!"

Auron laughed, shaking his heads at the truth of the older mans words. "Maybe so, but the journey would not have been asÖinteresting if you had not been with us."

Jechtís smile faded, his features taking on an air of seriousness. "I wouldnít have missed it. When I get back to my Zanarkand, my boyíll be forever bugginí me to tell him the story Ďbout brave Lord Braska and the heroic Auron. For once, I donít think Iíll mind. I know I can be an ass, difficult even, but Iíll never forget the chances you both gave me."

"We both can beÖdifficult."

"Well, at least youíve loosened up a bit, I bet Lescaíll thank me for that!" He punched Auron lightly in the arm, grinning.

"She probably willÖ" Auron replied softly, his eyes taking on a faraway look as he remembered her standing at the temple, smiling beatifically as she agreed to be his.

Why, my love? I know why I love you, but I can be so fastidious, what can you possibly see in me? You areÖtruly special.

A shimmering figure appeared atop the stairs, Auron tensing until he realised whom it was. He gasped, "Lady Yunalesca?"

Jecht grinned at the unsent womanís apparel, nudging Auron indiscreetly. "You think Lescaíd dress like that for you?"

Auron scowled, a blush reddening his face. Lady Yunalesca spoke softly to the assembled group.

"Welcome to Zanarkand. I congratulate you summoner; you have completed your pilgrimage. I will now bestow upon you that which you seek. The Final Aeon will be yours."

Braska bowed deeply, "Lady Yunalesca, it is an honour."

The sceptre shook her head, "No need for such formalities, Braska. You are the hope of the people as was I in years gone by. We are much the same in standing. Now choose."

Braskaís eyebrows knitted together in confusion. "My Lady? I do not understandÖ"

"You must choose the one whom I will change, the one who will be your Fayth."

Auron drew in a deep breath, panicked by Yunalescaís statement. No! This cannot be!

She continued, oblivious to the alarm she had caused. "The bond between summoner and Fayth must be true, such as the bond between husband and wife, mother and child, or between friends. One thousand years ago, I chose my husband Zaon as my Fayth. Our bond was true and I obtained the Final Aeon. Choose wisely, summoner. Come to me with your decision."

As the woman exited, Auron shook his head in disbelief. "My Lord, no! We cannot do this!"

Braska smiled sadly, "It must be done Auron. For the sake of Spira. I have come too far now."

The younger man sliced his hand through the air, venting his frustration. "It is not too late! Let us turn back!"

Braska eyed the young man sympathetically. "If I turn back, who will defeat Sin? Would you have some other summoner and his Guardians go through this?"

He hung his head, before meeting his father in laws gaze defiantly. "ButÖmy lord, there must be another way!"

Jecht, quiet up until this point, stood before the younger man, resignation in his eyes.

"This is the only way we got now!" He turned to Braska. "Fine. Make me the Fayth."

He walked over to the stairs with his back to the others, looking up to the heavens as if seeking an answer. "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."

He clenched his fist, sorrow in his eyes. "But now I know thereís no way home for me. Iím never going to see him again. My dreams never gonna come true."

Jecht turned back to face his comrades, the men he called friend. "So make me the Fayth."

Taking Braska by the shoulders, he looked into his eyes, the sincerity shining through. "Iíll fight Sin with you, Braska, then maybe my life will have some meaning, you know."

Auron cried out in anguish, "Donít do this Jecht! If you liveÖthere may be another way! Weíll think of something, I know!"

Jecht grinned, his eyes belying his woe. "Believe me, I thought this through. BesidesÖI ainít gettingí any younger, so I might as well make myself useful."

He began to climb the stairs toward his destiny when Braska interrupted hesitantly. "Jecht."

The scarred man turned back, rolling his eyes. "What! Youíre not gonna try and stop me, too? Braska, itís him or me, we all know that. I canít go back to my life. Auronís got a job to do, heís gotta look after little Yuna and heís got to take care of his wife. Heís got his whole life in front of him Braska, Iím not gonna rob him and Lesca of their time together. They donít need to suffer like we did."

Braska understood, berating himself silently for forgetting the needs of his children. "Sorry, I meanÖthank you."

Jecht turned to Auron; "Braska still has to fight Sin, Auron. Guard him well. Make sure he gets there.

Auron tried to speak, tried to argue with man as he had countless times before. Only a strangled cry surfaced from his throat, emotion swelling within his chest so he could not breathe. Unshed tears threatened to spill and he turned from the scene, unable to watch.

Jecht watched the boy and he struggled to leave him in his distress. Iím sorry Auron. Itís for your own good, kid.

He addressed Braska softly. "Well, lets go."

They headed toward Yunalesca slowly, every step closer to death before a voice stopped them one last time.

"Lord Braska! Jecht!"

Jecht grinned inwardly; You just donít give up, do you? Gotta admire that! He kept his face straight, punching the air apparently in frustration.

"What do you want now?"

The terror was evident in Auronís eyes as he pleaded with his friends. He held his arms out to them, begging them to listen.

"Sin always comes back. It comes back after the Calm every time! The cycle will continue and your deaths will mean nothing!"

Braska smiled, "But thereís always a chance it wonít come back this time. Itís worth trying."

Jecht tried to calm the distraught youth. "I understand what youíre saying, Auron. Iíll find a way to break the cycle."

Auron looked up, tentative hope beginning to surface. "You have a plan?"

Braska looked confused. "Jecht?"

"Trust me, Iíll think of something." His laughter echoed throughout the grand hall. His chuckles died down and he regarded Auron with a critical eye.

"Can I ask you one last favour? UhÖnah. Never mind."

Auron stepped forward, "Out with it!"

Jecht grinned. "Okay. Listen good. Take care of my son. My son, in Zanarkand. Heís such a crybaby. He needs someone there to hold his hand, see? Take care of him, will you?"

Auron frowned, "How am I supposed to go to Zanarkand?"

The older man laughed, his confidence in Auron obvious. "Hey! You said it yourself! There must be a way to get there, right? Youíll find it. Bring him back here, raise him with Lesca to be strong like his old man."

"All right, I will! I give you my word. Iíll take care of your son. Iíll guard him with my life."

Jecht stepped forward with a sad smile, embracing the younger man tightly. "You were always such a stiff, but thatís what I liked about you."

Auron waited until the men had ascended the stairs to their doom before he sank to his knees, depression overcoming him. He closed his eyes to still the tears, berating himself for his failure.

I am so sorry, I failed you. I failed us. Lesca, forgive me please! IÖwasnít strong enough.

~*~*~

"Have you heard? Lord Braska is summoning the Final Aeon! If you hurry youíll see it from the bridge!"

Lesca whirled around, the excited cries of the marketplace causing her to freeze. She caught the arm of a man running toward the bridge and stopped him.

"What is happening? Tell me!"

He shook his arm free, looking at her in disgust. "Jeez! No need to be like that! Braskaís fighting Sin, you can see it from the bridge!"

He ran off, leaving her to follow dazedly. Her heart thundered in her chest.

This canít be happening! Auron, what went wrong? Oh Yevon, please come home to me safe!

Her feet pounded the concrete as she raced to the bridge, parting the crowds easily when they saw she was Braskaís daughter. She skidded to a halt, a kindly soul catching her arm to ensure she didnít overstep the trestle. A bright light enveloped the sky, a flash of red and thenÖnothing. Sin disintegrated before the peopleís eyes, shouts of joy and cheers rising from the people as they watched the awesome spectacle.

Lesca watched in horror, unable to tear her eyes away as she realised her father had died before her very eyes. She sank to the ground, paying no heed to the tears teeming down her face. She was lifted limply onto the shoulders of well wishers, the air rife with praise for the heroic High Summoner Braska. She shook her head, trying to make sense of her world. A moan began to surface from her throat; building in intensity until it became a scream of pure grief. She stood alone, the only distraught face in a sea of happiness.

You did it. You brought them happiness, you are their light, their hope in you justified. You really did it. A part of me has died with you. Iím proud of you.

~*~*~

Auron pushed past the unsent man who tried to bar his path, his mind clouded with rage and thoughts of revenge, the image of his fallen comrades still freshly burned on his consciousness. Iíll avenge their deaths, for you Lesca. Iíll kill the damn witch!

He entered the great hall he had stood in only days previously, bellowing. "Yunalesca!"

The woman appeared, smiling. "Sin is conquered once more, all is well with Spira. The Calm is upon us once more. The deaths of your friends were more than worth this, were they not?"

Auron shook with rage; unable to believe the words she uttered. He drew his sword, his absolution in the eyes of Lesca fogging his judgement.

"No! Where is the sense in all this? Braska believed in Yevonís teachings and died for them! Jecht believed in Braska and gave his life for him!"

Yunalesca shook her head, "They chose to dieÖbecause they had hope."

The anger consumed him, a red mist settling over him. He let forth a cry of pure emotional agony, charging at the spectre with his sword held high. She tossed him aside easily, leaving the man wounded and broken. He lay, shivering as shock began to numb his body, his right eye closing heavily due to a deep wound. His whole right side began to throb, the fresh abrasions pooling crimson lifeblood around his prone figure. Reaching for his sword, he leaned his full weight onto the weapon, hauling himself to his feet.

The days and nights merged into one endless wretchedness as he made his way painfully toward his beloved, never resting to allow his strength to recover. As the entrance to Bevelle came into sight he grinned, wincing slightly as the pain in his chest grew. So intent was he on his goal, he never noticed the mountain of blue until he collided with it, knocking himself to the ground. He gasped, gripping his chest as he felt his heart struggle to continue. He looked up to meet the inquisitive gaze of a Ronso.

"You are Auron, Guardian to Braska." The sentence was a statement rather than a question and Auron nodded, the small movement taking his strength from him.

"Auron hurt. Kimhari take Auron to healer."

Auron shook his head, feeling the last of his strength ebb away. He let the tears flow down his face freely, his voice hoarse as he addressed the Ronso.

"There is no time left for me, my time on Spira is at an end. Will you do me one favour, my friend? Find Yuna, daughter of Braska; take her to Besaid, as far from this place as you can. Watch over her, please!"

The Ronso nodded, compassion in his feline eyes. Auron hesitated; whispering softly his last request as his heart began to still.

"There is another daughter, my wife, Lesca. Try and persuade her to accompany Yuna, sheís so stubbornÖ" He laughed softly before the pain caused him to cease, his breathing becoming laboured. He gripped the hand of Kimhari urgently, haste of the utmost importance as he drew in his last breath.

"Tell herÖIím sorry. Tell her that I love her and that I am so sorry. IÖnever wanted to hurt her, if I could turn back time IídÖstay by her side, always."

The Ronso felt the weak grip subside, the mans hand falling gently to the ground. Auronís eyes rolled back, his head lolling to one side as his life finally deserted him. Kimhari ran a gentle paw over the warriorís eyes, closing them as a last show of respect for the fallen warrior before making his way to Bevelle.

~*~*~

Lesca awoke with a start, a thin film of sweat covering her brow. She clutched her chest, a sharp pain coursing through her heart.

AuronÖsomethingís wrongÖ

Chapter 12 Sometimes
I miss your warm skin beside me at night,
And I miss your flesh in the dawn lightÖ

Ash Ė Sometimes

She paced the room frantically, her bare feet slapping noisily against the cooled tiled floor. Coagulated blood was caked on her lips from where she had chewed the skin away, the raw tissue showing through angrily. Her heart pounded within her chest, the panic gripping her chest growing with each passing moment. The roar of the celebrating crowds was tumultuous despite the closed windows, a vain attempt on her part to block out the cries of the rabble. She paused for a moment, willing the door to open, her husband to be in her arms once more. No matter how hard she wished, the door remained firmly closed. Lesca ran a hand over her still-taught stomach absently as she stared out of the window at the dancing lights of the city

Where are they?

She turned at the sound of a pair of smaller feet padding toward her, their owner rubbing her eyes sleepily.

"Lescy? Why you up, are you sick again?" The child yawned, her voice clogged with sleep.

"No, Iím just worried for Auron and the others. I thought theyíd have been home by now."

"Daddyís coming home?" Yuna looked up at her hopefully.

Lesca sighed, shaking her head as she watched Yunaís face crumple. "No sweetie. Daddyís with Mommy at the Farplane. Weíll go see them soon. You wanna go for a walk?"

Yuna nodded, sniffling. The older girl bent to her level and hugged her. "Come on then Yunie. Remember, no tears. Make him proud."

The sisters walked silently into the centre of Bevelle, away from the celebrating crowds. Yuna watched as her sisterís face grew darker with each person who approached to congratulate her on Braskaís heroism. Finally, they halted; unconsciously standing at the very place Lesca had watched her father perish. The two stared out over the Calm Lands, the battle site bathed in the silvery moonlight seeming hauntingly beautiful. So lost in their thoughts were they, the stealthy approach of the Ronso eluded their attention.

His voice rumbled lowly, the intrusion making the sisterís jump in surprise. "Kimhari seek daughters of Braska."

Lesca scrutinised the blue mountain before deciding he could be trusted. "Weíre Braskaís daughters. Can I help you in any way?"

The Ronso hesitated slightly, "You are Lesca?"

She raised an eyebrow. "I am. What of it?"

Kimhari nodded, satisfied. "Kimhari take Yuna to Besaid. Stubborn Lesca go with Yuna."

Lesca laughed, surprised by the Ronsoís choice of words. "Stubborn, huh? Who asked you to come here, Kimhari?"

"Braska wish Yuna in Besaid."

Yuna began to weep softly, realising the simple statement meant her father was truly gone. She ran to her sister for comfort as Lesca looked at Kimhari in confusion. "My father took a third Guardian?"

Kimhari shook his head, leaving Yuna to her grief as he pulled Lesca aside. The Ronso spoke softly, his eyes full of solicitude.

"Kimhari no Guardian. Kimhari met Auron outside Bevelle."

The Ronso felt his heart sink as Lescaís face lit up with unfettered joy. She let loose with a rash of questions, excitement taking her firmly in its grasp. "Heís near Bevelle? Praise be to Yevon! Is he well? How long will he be?"

Kimhari shook his head sadly, the smile fading from Lescaís face, mystification taking residence in her eyes.

"Auron gone. Auron wish Lesca go with Yuna. Words of man facing death."

She shook her head a little, stumbling as she backed away from the news. Her eyes, wide in terror, darted unseeing in her state of shock. "NoÖThis canít be! He promisedÖ"

Her legs buckled from under her and Kimhari caught her before she hit the concrete, supporting her until she regained use of her faculties. He looked on in distress as she hugged her knees to her chest, rocking slightly in a nugatory effort to still the agony that was her heart breaking. A claw lifted her chin up, forcing green eyes to meet feline yellow. "Auron love Lesca. Auron sorry, not mean to hurt Lesca. Auron wish Auron stayed."

So do I! Damn you Auron! How do I go on?

She nodded, unable to digest the words of comfort. Her pain was still too fresh. "I, my husbandÖI love him." She whispered, thankful for the heavy paw sitting on her shoulder. She was indebted to the numbness that was setting in. She didnít want to feel, not now.

Lesca strengthened her voice, calling out to her sister. "Yuna, go pack sweetie. Youíre going to Besaid."

Yuna looked up tearfully, running to embrace the last of her family unit. "Why? I wanna stay with you!"

Lesca returned the hug fiercely. "Weíll be together soon Yunie. I just need to take care of some things first."

"Lesca stay here?"

She turned to the Ronso, nodding sombrely. "For the time being. Kimhari, please take Yuna to Besaid. Money is no problem."

Kimhari responded by offering his paw to the sniffling Yuna who accepted hesitantly. He bared his teeth in what Lesca correctly assumed to be a smile.

"No pay Kimhari. Kimhari go for Auron, go for Lesca. Kimhari honoured."

"Thank you, Kimhari. Yuna, be good. Iíll follow you shortly."

The little girl nodded, gripping tightly to Kimhari as they set off. Lesca watched until they were safely out of sight before opening the to her torment. Her body shook with the effort of releasing the wrenching sobs, her suffering both physical and emotional. Her wedding ring glinted cruelly in the twilight, reminding her of what could have been. The familiar twinge of nausea returned to plague her and she groaned before remembering the reason for the sickness.

You left me a part of you. You left me hope. Though you canít be here, Iíll make sure our hope shines brightly in your memory.

A dry sob escaped her, the losses she had suffered magnified tenfold by the death of her love and she railed against the fates.

Why did you have to leave? Havenít I suffered enough? If I thought I had endured hurt before I was wrong; this is torment to my very soul. Iíll embrace death when it comes for me; Iíll welcome it. Living is by far the greater torture. Iíll always love you Auron, beyond eternity.

~*~*~

Auron groaned as he cracked open weary eyes. Eye. One eye. He brought his hand up to the unresponsive ocular, feeling the area tentatively with callused fingers. He encountered a deep line running from forehead to cheek passing over the tender tissue of his eye; the lid sealed permanently. He flexed his muscles experimentally, finding his partial loss of sight to be his only hurt. He grinned, marvelling at his fortune.

How did I survive?

He shook his head, pulling out the glasses to shield the tender wound. What does it matter? I live; I have a beautiful, loving wife awaiting my returnÖWhy question a miracle when all is well with the world?

He swayed slightly as he stood, grasping a nearby tree to steady himself. The arm in front of him flickered, the limb becoming transparent as his concentration lapsed. His brows furrowed as he tried to make sense of the strange phenomenon. He swatted a fly away in annoyance, yet it remained hovering in front of him. His frown grew deeper as confusion set in as to why it buzzed around him incessantly, despite his effort to ward off the insect. As the remaining burnished ocular focused on the aggravation fully he gasped, realisation finally dawning on him.

A pyrefly? But that means IímÖ

"Dead."

He slumped to the ground, his usually busy mind stilled by the revelation. An unsent at the hands of Yunalesca. I, I cannot go backÖIt is better that I hurt for an eternity than have Lesca hurt for longer than necessity dictates. She will meet someone new who will ease the pain. Someone who will not hurt her as I have. Someone who will stay. Iím truly sorry, my love, Iíll leave you to live your life without me, it is in your best interests. I hope you do not forget the man I was, or what you mean to me. Iíll love you far beyond the sands of time have run dry. I miss youÖFarewell.

He looked around, at a loss to the direction he should be heading in. He turned, hoping beyond hope that she was at his side, her smile as radiant as it had been when they had watched the sun rise in the few precious days they had spent together. He smiled sadly; remembering her gentle touch, the smell of her skin seemingly infused with sunshine, intoxicating him. A thought struck him. The boy, Tidus. I can make use of my time by fulfilling my promise. Jecht, I will guard your son to the best of my ability. I would offer my life, butÖit is forfeit. She has stolen everything from me. Fuck Yevon.

He laughed bitterly; throwing back his head and letting the pain manifest itself until he was hoarse. Auron racked his brains as to the location of the recovering Sin. The gorgeÖthe Calm Lands. That is the only place it could growÖ

He set off, painfully at first, the movement becoming easier as he progressed. The entrance to Bevelle became increasingly faint and he turned as it disappeared altogether. He swallowed thickly, steeling himself to move onward.

~*~*~

"Lescy!" The tiny blond squealed, flinging herself at the visitor. Lesca grinned, ruffling her cousinís hair while looking about.

"Rao, Rikku. Frana'c Brother yht Ihlma Cid?" (Hey, Rikku. Whereís Brother and Uncle Cid?)

Rikku smiled sweetly, dragging Lesca toward the living room of her quarters in Home. She flung open the door, bounding over to her father excitedly as he fiddled with a gadget of some description.

"Rikku, vun dra cyga uv dra Gods fydlr dra tysh tuun!" (Rikku, for the sake of the Gods watch the damn door!)

Lesca cleared her throat, "ReÖ" (HiÖ)

Cid turned, his face breaking into a huge grin when he saw his favourite niece at the door.

"Lesca? Meddma (Little) Lescy?"

She laughed, "Hud cu meddma yhosuna!" (Not so little anymore!)

He shook his head in disbelief, "Dryd oui'na hud. Fryd ys E tuehk? Lusa eh, kad lusvundypma. Rikku, ku syga cusa day vun ouin luiceh." (That you're not. What am I doing? Come in, get comfortable. Rikku, go make some tea for your cousin.)

Rikku scurried off dutifully, mischief glinting in her eyes. Lesca shook her head; glad it was as she remembered.

Cid watched as she retreated into her thoughts, knowing it was unlike the lively young woman. "Oui ghuf E's drnemmat oui'na rana, Lesca, pid E ryja du ycg fryd pnehkc oui rana. Drec ech'd mega oui, zicd crufehk ib uid uv dra pmia fedr y vnufh uh ouin bnaddo meddma vyla. Ev E lyh damm frah drana'c cusadrehk fnuhk fedr so tyikrdan E lyh cina yc ramm damm frah oui'na ibcad. E ymfyoc cyet oui dfu fana duu ymega, dryd ed't lydlr oui uid uha tyo." (You know I'm thrilled you're here, Lesca, but I have to ask what brings you here. This isn't like you, just showing up out of the blue with a frown on your pretty little face. If I can tell when there's something wrong with my daughter I can sure as hell tell when you're upset. I always said you two were too alike, that it'd catch you out one day.)

A lone tear trickled down her cheek, her face crumpling despite her best efforts. Cid rushed to comfort her, shaking her gently to try and get some answers. "Fryd'c fnuhk? Fryd'c rybbahat? Ed'c ouin tysh vydran ech'd ed? Fryd dra ramm ryc ra tuha huf? Lesca, damm sa!" (Whatís wrong? Whatís happened? Itís your damn father, isnít it? What the hell has he done now? Lesca, tell me!)

She dried her eyes, her face becoming an emotionless mask. "Ra'c tayt. Ra palysa y Summoner, ra jyhxiecrat Sin yht huf ra'c tayt." (Heís dead. He became a Summoner, he vanquished Sin and now heís dead.)

Cid sucked in his breathe sharply though his teeth. "Dryd camvecr pycdynt." (That selfish bastard.) He looked into her eyes, sensing a fresher pain. "Dryd'c hud ymm druikr, ec ed? Drana'c cusadrehk amca." (Thatís not all though, is it? Thereís something else.)

"Oui'na duu kuut yd drec. Ihlma, E's synneat. So ricpyht, Auron, yllusbyheat so vydran uh rec bemknesyka. Huf ra'c kuha duu, E's ymm ymuha...E tuh'd ghuf fryd du tu! E lyh'd nyeca y lremt socamv, Cid. E, E's cu clynat..." (You're too good at this. Uncle, I'm married. My husband, Auron, accompanied my father on his pilgrimage. Now he's gone too, I'm all alone...I don't know what to do! I can't raise a child myself, Cid. I, I'm so scared...)

Cidís face was a strange mix of emotions, sympathy for his niece, anger at her father and ill will toward Auron. "Ouin vydran duug ouin ricpyht fedr res du tea? Ouin ricpyht fahd femmehkmo, ghufehk oui fana fedr lremt?" He growled. (Your father took your husband with him to die? Your husband went willingly, knowing you were with child?)

She shook her head ardently. ""Hu! Ra teth'd ghuf...E teth'd ghuf. Ed'c hud rec vyimd, bmayca tuh'd drehg pytmo uv res! E muja res cu silr; ed vaamc mega so raynd ec pnaygehk. Ed rindc, ihlma. Drec ec ymm E ryja mavd." (No! He didn't know...I didn't know. It's not his fault, please don't think badly of him! I love him so much; it feels like my heart is breaking. It hurts, uncle. This is all I have left.)

The older Al Bhed sighed, encasing her in his arms. "E'mm hud cyo yhudran funt. Ra sicd ryja paah y kuut syh du feh ouin muja yht dryd'c ahuikr vun sa. Oui yht dra pypo lyh cdyo fedr ic, fa'mm dyga lyna uv oui. Drana'c hu haat du pa clynat yhosuna, Lesca. Fa dyga lyna uv uin ufh." (I'll not say another word. He must have been a good man to win your love and that's enough for me. You and the baby can stay with us, we'll take care of you. There's no need to be scared anymore, Lesca. We take care of our own.)

He realised suddenly that his other niece was missing and he panicked. "Frana'c Yuna?" (Whereís Yuna?)

"Ed fyc so vydraníc fecr cra fahd du Besaid. Auron yht E fana sayhd du zueh ran...E kiacc ed zicd fych'd sayhd du pa." (It was my fatherís wish she went to Besaid. Auron and I were meant to join her...I guess it just wasn't meant to be.)

Cid looked into his nieces eyes, horrified that the sparkle had given way to a dull, dead gaze. He rubbed his temples wearily, inwardly cursing Braska. "Vyda ryc taymd oui y lniam ryht, heala. Oui'na cdnuhk, oui femm kad druikr drec frana udranc luimt hud. Fa'na ymm rana vun oui. Drehkc femm kad paddan cuuh, E bnuseca." (Fate has dealt you a cruel hand, niece. You're strong, you will get though this where others could not. We're all here for you. Things will get better soon, I promise.)

He looked over to see if she paid any heed to his words, only to find she was curled into a small ball on the worn couch, her pain etched clearly on her fine features in sleep. He covered her gently with a blanket, closing the door quietly behind him as he exited to let his ill-starred niece rest. Cid looked down just in time to avoid colliding with his small, yet energetic daughter.

"Femm Lescy pa ugyo, tytto? Cra muugat cu cyt." (Will Lescy be okay, daddy? She looked so sad.) Rikku looked up at her father adorably, holding the tea shakily in her small hands.

"Lesca femm pa veha bnehlacc. Ihlma Braska fahd du dra Farplane yht cra'c ibcad, dryd'c ymm." (Lesca will be fine princess. Uncle Braska went to the Farplane and she's upset, that's all.)

He thought it best not to mention Auron or his child to the young girl, tact was never any childís strong point in Cidís experience with children, and this was especially true for Rikku. He reasoned that his niece would tell the others when she was ready.

Rikku tugged at his shirt, "Tuh'd oui ku dra Farplane tytto, ug? E't secc oy!" (Donít you go to the Farplane daddy, ok? Iíd miss ya!)

"E's hud kuehk yhofrana." (Iím not going anywhere.)

Chapter 13 Dream
Safe from harm, was it a dream?
Ash - Candy

I leave Yuna and walk straight into the arms of another hyper kid. Just my luck.

Lesca grinned at the antics of her small cousin, currently doing little spins with her toy claw. She rubbed her back, six months into her pregnancy and she was starting to show only a little. A slight mound visible only from the side was the only indication of her impending motherhood. Never one to be bored, she had taken to educating Rikku in the ways of the world outside of the seclusion of Home. The girl had taken to her teachings like a salmon to water. She impressed Lesca with her constant improvement, absorbing the older girlís wisdom like an eager sponge. Cid had resisted Rikkuís Yevonite language lessons to begin with, but he had soon come around with the duel flutter of long eyelashes from niece and daughter.

"Rikku, come on! We need to head back now, Brother will be looking for us."

The girlís face fell and she pouted. "Lescy, zicd y meddma muhkan!"

"What was that Rikku?" Lesca pretended not to understand, forcing her cousin to use her new language.

"Címon Lescy, just a little longer!"

Lesca took her cousinís hand and led her to her uncleís quarters. "Better, but we canít. We need to get you ready, you have that big party!"

Rikkuís face lit up and she scurried off. "Oh, the party! Iíll go get ready Lescy, donít worry!"

"Iíll be in my quarters if you need meÖ" She called to the retreating figure, rewarded by barely a backward glance and a half-hearted wave. She shook her head, making her way to her room, the journey slower than usual. Her feet and her back throbbed dully and she prayed constantly that the remaining months would pass quickly.

Worse still was the pain that still lingered in her heart, an open wound that refused to heal. Her uncle, thinking a new suitor would solve her problems, had introduced her to several of the most eligible Al Bhed men in Home. She had turned each and every one down firmly, yet politely. She had soon cultivated a reputation as unapproachable and it suited her perfectly. She had no wish to be bothered with mere boys and their trifling affections.

A man looked at her quizzically as she passed him leaning heavily on the railing. She recognised him as one of her early suitors. Sighing, Lesca forced a smile onto her weary face. "Ec drana yhodrehk E lyh ramb oui fedr, cen?" (Is there anything I can help you with, sir?)

The man looked shocked before retreating hastily. She raised an eyebrow before giggling. Surely Iím not that much of an ice queen!

She opened the door to her small apartment, flipping the light switch as she passed. Her room was, as always, a mess. Hands on hips, she blew the air from her cheeks loudly, turning the dial on the music sphere to find a decent song to clean to. The haunting strains of a familiar Al Bhed song began to fill the room and she sat down on the unmade bed, trying to think where she had heard the melody before.

E's cunno, E raynt ypuid dra pyt hafc dutyo
(Iím sorry, I heard about the bad news today)
Y lnuft uv baubma ynuiht oui dammehk oui ed'c ug
(A crowd of people around you telling you itís ok)
Dryd ajanodrehk rybbahc vun y naycuh
(That everything happens for a reason)
Frah oui muuca y bynd uv ouincamv du cusaputo oui ghuf
(When you loose a part of yourself to somebody you know)
Ed dygac y mud du mad ku
(It takes a lot to let go)
Ajano pnaydr dryd oui nasaspan,
(Every breath that you remember,)
Beldinac vyta yfyo pid sasuno'c vunajan...
(Pictures fade away but memoryís foreverÖ)

She gulped, a lump coming to her throat. The tune, an Al Bhed diapason for the bereaved lover had been played constantly in the mourning house weeks after her mother had died.

Yh asbdo lryen yd ymm dra dypmac
(An empty chair at all the tables)
Yht E'mm pa caaehk oui frah ymm so tyoc puem tufh
(And Iíll be seeing you when all my days boil down)
Vun huf fa'mm cyo kuutpoa, fa ghuf ed'c hud dra mycd desa
(For now weíll say goodbye, we know itís not the last time)
E'ja mucd dra pacd bynd uv so tyo
(Iíve lost the best part of my day)
Pid ed'c paddan frana oui'na kuehk yhofyo.
(But itís better where youíre going anyway.)

She grabbed the sphere from the desk blindly, hurling it to the ground. The words rang too true, piercing her heart with each syllable. She blinked back the threatening tears, shaking her head to try and forget.

Not forget, I donít want to forgetÖitís just too painful just now to remember what I had. Safe, loved, happyÖif only for a short while. It seems so unreal, like it was a mere dream.

She finished mentally correcting herself, collecting the pieces of the shattered sphere as she stood. A knock at the door startled her, and she gripped the shards of the sphere involuntarily in response. The serrated edges cut through the tender flesh of her palm, the blood springing readily to the wound. Lesca put the cut to her mouth, trying to stem the flow as she answered the door.

The man staring at her earlier stood on her doorstep and she frowned, unable to think why he was visiting. "Fryd tu oui fyhd?" (What do you want?) She tapped her foot in irritation, looking at her timepiece pointedly.

"Oui, ouin vydran...ra fyc dra syh fru tavaydat Sin? Y Yevonite?" (You, youíre fatherÖhe was the one who defeated Sin? A Yevonite?)

She narrowed her eyes, bracing herself for a barrage of insults. "Ra fyc, fryd uv ed? Ra fyc y kuut yht geht syh, dryd ec ymm dryd cruimt syddan du yhouha." (He was, what of it? He was a good and kind man, that is all that should matter to anyone.)

He held up his hands in defence. "E teth'd cyo yhodrehk! E zicd fyhdat du dryhg oui vun fryd ouin vydran tet...ra fyc dnimo y nasyngypma syh, y syh fedruid bnazitela ec rynt du veht eh draca tyng tyoc." (I didn't say anything! I just wanted to thank you for what your father did...he was truly a remarkable man, a man without prejudice is hard to find in these dark days.)

She wilted slightly, grinning in relief. "Dryd'c dnia, druikr drana yna suna uv dras uid drana dryh oui't drehg." (Thatís true, though there are more of them out there than youíd think.)

The young man puffed out his chest, flexing his muscles in an unconscious attempt to win favour. "Famm, oui'na eh milg. E's uha cilr syh! E fecr du ycg vun ouin ryht. E tuh'd lyna dryd oui'na y rymv lycd, oui'na cdemm y bnewa fundr ryjehk." (Well, you're in luck. I'm one such man! I wish to ask for your hand. I don't care that you're a half cast, you're still a prize worth having.)

She laughed hysterically, his face becoming darker as she tried to suppress the giggles. "Drec Ďrymv lycdí ec paddan dryh oui'mm ajan kad! Fryd dra ramm kejac oui dra nekrd du ehcimd sa? E ryja hu haat uv y puo du synno sa, E's banvaldmo rybbo uh so ufh." (This 'half cast' is better than you'll ever get! What the hell gives you the right to insult me? I have no need of a boy to marry me, I'm perfectly happy on my own.)

"Pid, pid oui haat cusauha du bnujeta vun oui!" (But, but you need someone to provide for you!) The man spluttered indignantly.

"Famm, ed'c hud kuehk du pa oui. E lyh bnujeta vun socamv. Ev drana yna yhosuna mega oui, cyja sa dra ryccma yht damm dras E's hud ehdanacdat." (Well, it's not going to be you. I can provide for myself. If there are anymore like you, save me the hassle and tell them I'm not interested.)

The man smirked, looking at her rounded stomach. "Oui cruimt pa knydavim dryd cusauha ec femmehk du dyga uh oui yht dra pycdynt knufehk fedreh oui!" (You should be grateful that someone is willing to take on you and the bastard growing within you!)

Her hand came up quickly, connecting with his cheek in a resounding slap. The skin burned a bright red as she shoved her left hand in front of his eyes, the gold band glinting in the artificial light of Home.

"E ghuf uv hu pycdynt aqlabd oui. So lremt fyc luhlaejat drnuikr dra muja padfaah so ricpyht yht socamv! Dra ricpyht E mucd du so vydraníc bemknesyka. Ev oui ajan cimmo so hysa, un dra hysa uv so vysemo ykyeh, oui fuh'd meja du naknad ed." (I know of no bastard except you. My child was conceived through the love between my husband and myself! The husband I lost to my father's pilgrimage. If you ever sully my name, or the name of my family again, you won't live to regret it.) She hissed, pushing him roughly as she slammed the door in his face.

She leaned against the door, examining the hurt on her hand that had been forgotten during the encounter. She tore a strip from a nearby towel and wrapped it roughly, watching through unseeing eyes as the blood soaked through the makeshift bandage. Her blood stained the floor, pooling in interesting patterns around her feet. She swayed slightly as her head became lighter, staggering over to the bed as if she were a drunkard. She sprawled on the soft covers, rubbing her nose with the blankets for comfort. The crimson began to seep onto the bedclothes, her eyelids feeling unusually heavy. She gave in to the waves of sleep rolling over her and drifted off soundlessly. The ever-exuberant Rikku bounded in and began shaking the stilled Lesca, trying to wake her.

"Lescy! Lesca?"

The girl withdrew her hand, gasping in horror when she saw the blood her cousin lay in. She began to scream, panicked by the sight of unmoving, pale woman. "Tytto! Tytto! Lusa xielgmo!" (Daddy! Daddy! Come quickly!)

Cid burst into the room, cursing good-naturedly as he took in the mess. His eyes travelled from the crimson stained floor to his niece, uncomprehending until he saw the vermilion tide spreading from her hand. He scooped her up, running the short distance to the medical wing. He flung open the doors, barking at the staff. "So heala, cra'c rind! Ramb ran, huf!" (My niece, sheís hurt! Help her, now!)

The woman at the reception tried to get Cid to remove the prone Lesca from the gurney. "Cid, fa'na duu pico nekrd huf, ed'c zicd y vmacr fuiht, cu..." (Cid, weíre too busy right now, itís just a flesh wound, soÖ)

He slammed his fist onto the counter, growling at the woman menacingly. "Oui femm ramb ran yht oui femm ramb ran huf. Ran fruma vilgehk nuus ec lujanat eh ran pmuut! Cra'c bnakhyhd, cra'c rind. Ev oui tuh'd syga ran paddan, E'mm rind oui. Tu E syga socamv lmayn?" (You will help her and you will help her now. Her whole fucking room is covered in her blood! She's pregnant, she's hurt. If you don't make her better, I'll hurt you. Do I make myself clear?)

The woman nodded hastily, gulping as she tended to the wounds. "Lnocdym yc ymfyoc, Cid." (Crystal as always, Cid.)

"Kuut." (Good.)

~*~*~

Auron looked around, awed by the tiny pinpricks of light that emanated from every dwelling. The noise rivalled the bustle of Bevelle, though this city was more magnificent in its machina induced splendour. He began to despair of ever finding the boy; his own Zanarkand had been but a mere shadow, a skeleton of this vibrant city.

It is too big! How am I meant to find a seven-year-old in the midst of this chaos?

He looked up at the skyline, jumping slightly as he saw the image of Jecht projected onto a large screen. The hologram of his friend smirked down at him as he shook his head, berating himself for his stupidity.

Of course, he said he was well known for his sport. The Zanarkand Abeís? Someone must know where he resided.

He stopped a scantily clad woman who looked at him like a dog would regard a bone. "UhÖexcuse me miss? Do you know where I can the home of Jecht?"

She ran a finger lightly down his arm, making him pull away slightly. "Sure, everyone knows where Jecht lives! You just new here then darliní? Why donít ya come home with me instead? I can fix you right up!"

He raised an eyebrow, "Thank you for the kind offer, but I have to meet my wife at Jechtís, so if you could kindly point me in the right direction?"

She looked down her nose at him, sulking. "Hn. All the best ones are always taken. Jecht lives right over there, donít know if they found him yet though."

She pointed to a nearby house on the water and turned on her heel. Auron looked over at the domicile, noticing a small boy sitting forlornly at the boy.

Well, he certainly looks like a crybaby. That must be the son of Jecht.

He made his way over, stopping to tower over the sniffling child. Definitely him. The boy looked up at him suspiciously, attempting to wipe away his tears furtively. "What do you want?"

Auron hid a smile. So much of Jecht in himÖ

He cleared his throat. "You are the son of Jecht, correct? You are Tidus?"

"Yeah, so? Whatís it got to do with you?"

Anger flashed in Auronís eyes as he tried to remind himself this was only a boy, a boy who had lost his father. "I knew your father. He isÖHe sent me to watch over you and your mother."

Tidus looked up at the scarred man, his face unreadable. "Heís not coming back?"

Auron simply shook his head, unable to provide words of comfort for the child. Tidus looked thoughtful before gesturing to the door. "Well, you better go tell my mom then."

He led the way inside, pointing to a frail looking woman. He ran over to his mother, shaking her gently. "Mom? Thereís a man here to see you, he knows dad."

The woman lifted her head slightly to look at Auron, a faint glimmer of hope shining in dying eyes. Her voice cracked, the vocal cords straining from not being used for some time. "You know Jecht? Where is he?"

Auron hesitated. How do you tell someone their husband has become Sin?

The woman shook her head, unruly locks of dirty, uncombed hair falling into her face. "Heís dead, isnít he? Goddamn you, Jecht!"

Auron watched as she sobbed, acutely aware he had some part to play in her distress. He turned to the boy who was trying to comfort his mother. "Is there a healer that you could bring here?"

Tidus pulled a face, "Donít you mean a doctor? You speak funny."

Auron rolled his eyes, So I need to speak differently too? Thank you Jecht.

"Yes, a doctor. Go fetch one, boy. Has she eaten since Jecht left?"

The boy shook his head before running to do as he was bidden. Auron turned back to the distraught woman, sighing as she continued to wail. "What is your name?"

"Serene." She sniffled. Auron snorted derisively. Serene? Hah!

"I am Auron. You need to pull yourself together for the boyís sake, Serene. Jecht asked me to watch over you, but I cannot take care of two infants."

"You donít know what itís like! Youíre a mere boy yourself! How can you know what it is like to loose the one you love?" She shot back, rage making her words sharp.

He shook his head sadly. "I do know. I was married little more than six months ago. My wife is gone, Iíll never see her again and I didnít get to say goodbye, tell her I love herÖMy greatest regret is that I didnít stay by her side. I should have stayed."

"That may be, but me and Jecht, we had a bondÖI canít live without him!"

I am not living without Lesca.

He chuckled, his bitter thoughts threatening to consume him. Tidus came back with the doctor who began to fuss around the hysterical woman. Tidus clung onto his leg as Auron looked down at him. He sighed, looking heavenwards.

I cannot deal with children! If Lesca were here, she would know what to do, know how to comfort him. But she is not and I must try my best. What would she do?

He patted the childís flaxen locks awkwardly with a gloved hand, satisfied when the vice-like grip loosened a little. I can do this. I hope.

~*~*~

Lesca stirred, opening her eyes groggily to find herself in her uncleís chambers. She frowned, confused as to how she got there. She lolled her head to the side, meeting the worried gaze of Cid.

"Fryd dra ramm fana oui drehgehk? Fryd tet oui ku yht lid ouincamv ib vun? Drehg ypuid dra pypo, Lesca! Fryd tu oui drehg fuimt'ja rybbahat ev drec ryt paah yho suna caneuic?" (What the hell were you thinking? What did you go and cut yourself up for? Think about the baby, Lesca! What do you think would've happened if this had been any more serious?) He smoothed her hair from her face, his harsh words merely showing his concern.

"Fryd tu oui sayh? E hajan sayhd du rind socamv! E csycrat dra cbrana, frah E belgat ib dra cryntc E kud rind. Cusauha lysa du dra tuun yht E vunkud ypuid ed, dryd'c ymm. E ryjah'd kud y taydr fecr." (What do you mean? I never meant to hurt myself! I smashed the sphere, when I picked up the shards I got hurt. Someone came to the door and I forgot about it, that's all. I haven't got a death wish.) She rolled her eyes, perplexed by her uncleís thoughts.

He looked relieved, the scene he had witnessed tied in with her explanation. "Kuut. Lesca, E fyc funneat vun oui, oui'ja paah drnuikr cu silr nalahdmo yht E druikrd...ed tuach'd syddan fryd E druikrd. Oui'na ug yht dryd'c ymm dryd syddanc. Ruf muhk huf ihdem oui'na tia?" (Good. Lesca I was worried for you, you've been through so much recently and I thought...it doesn't matter what I thought. You're ok and that's all that matters. How long now until you're due?)

"Zicd ihtan drnaa suhdríc. E lyh'd fyed, so vaad yht so pylg yna gemmehk sa." (Just under three month's. I can't wait, my feet and my back are killing me.)

Cid laughed heartily, "Ouin sudran yht knyhtsudran cyet aqyldmo dra cysa drehk! Famm, ouin nuusc nayto frah oui fyhd du rayt pylg. Ev oui haat yhodrehk, Rikku ec fyedehk vun oui ujan drana yhofyo." (Your mother and grandmother said exactly the same thing! Well, your rooms ready when you want to head back. If you need anything, Rikku is waiting for you over there anyway.)

She caught his arm as he made to leave. "Dryhg oui vun ajanodrehk, Cid." (Thank you for everything, Cid.)

He waved her thanks away. "Tuh'd dryhg sa tynmeh', oui'na vysemo. Dryd'c fryd fa'na rana vun." (Don't thank me darlin', you're family. That's what we're here for.)

Chapter 14 Slipping
The hardest thing is watching you slip awayÖ
Ash Ė Sometimes

A groan surfaced from her throat and she massaged her back, pacing the floor impatiently. Her small body shook as another contraction wracked her body, her face contorting in pain. She stopped her movement, leaning heavily on the bed as she tried to catch the breath the pain had stolen from her. The doctor gestured to her to keep moving and she narrowed her eyes, growling. "Donít you dare tell me to do anything! Stupid, stupid man. You donít have a fucking clue!"

The doctor looked at her uncle, unable to understand the words when spoken at speed. Cid grinned nervously, shrugging off her torrent of abuse. For her to not even attempt at her mother tongueÖshe must be hurting.

He cleared his throat, the words feeling thick and foreign as they rolled off his tongue. "Lesca, how you doing there?"

She glared at him with the hate only a woman in pain caused by a man can muster. "How the fuck do you think Iím doing?"

He pulled at his collar, chuckling tentatively. "Uh, not good I guess? Do you want some ice, honey?"

She sighed and began her pacing afresh. "I would love some damn ice."

He returned moments later, handing the ice to her before she grabbed it from his fingers. She shoved a cube into her mouth greedily; grinning weakly as the ice began to melt, cooling her throat. The joy was short lived and the agony crossed her face once more, spasms again making her double over. The doctor looked at her and nodded to Cid. He lifted Lescaís chin to meet her frightened eyes. "Lesca. Itís time. You want me to stay with you?"

She shook her head, trying valiantly to climb onto the bed. Cid grinned, hoisting her up in a most undignified manner. "If you need me, just holler. Iíll be right outside, donít you worry. Soon itíll all be over."

He planted a kiss on the top of her head, thankful to be escaping the girlís wrath. Cid grinned as he exited, shaking his head. He had experienced this twice with his wife and came out with a broken hand both times. He didnít really fancy making it a third time.

Lesca eyed the doctor warily. "Better take good care of meÖ" She stated menacingly.

~*~*~

Cid strode the halls frantically. The labour had been ongoing for over ten hours so far and there was still no news. The waiting became unbearable and he gave in to impatience, striding over to the door of the medical wing and rapping loudly. The doctor appeared, the worry on his face immediately apparent. The blood in Cidís veins froze and he snapped.

"Whatís wrong? Whatís happened?"

The other Al Bhed spoke hesitantly in Yevonite. "SheÖit doesnít go well. She is too petite for the birth. We could loose both of them. We have to make a choice, to try and save the child or the mother."

Cid collapsed weakly on a nearby chair. "Shit. Save her. Sheís young; there will be more children. A child cannot survive without its mother. Save my niece." Cid looked into the eyes of the doctor, pleading with him. The doctor nodded in comprehension before heading back to the surgery. Lesca, delirious with the pain of the birth caught snips of the conversation.

Doesnít go wellÖtoo petiteÖ

LooseÖbothÖ

ChoiceÖchildÖmother.

Her uncleís voice cut through her fevered thoughts, "Save my niece."

She called out hoarsely. "I donít wanna be saved! Let me dieÖ"

She was vaguely aware of a prodding at her stomach, moaning at the discomfort it caused. The discomfort was replaced by searing pain as she felt a tear between her legs. She grabbed the collar of the doctor, panting with exertion. "I swear if he werenít already dead Iíd kill the bastard with my bare hands!" She growled before collapsing back on the bed, whimpering intermittently. The doctor shook his head; she was too far-gone. The surgery could not be performed; nature would have to take its course. He braced himself to tell Cid the bad news.

As expected, Cid did not react well. He flung the man against the wall, his breath hot on the doctorís face. "What do you mean, sheís gone too far? How could you put her in danger like this? Stay out of the way; donít even think about coming back in. Iím going to see my niece."

He let the man fall to the ground as he rushed to Lescaís bedside, horror at the sight of her making him recoil sharply. Her face blended easily with the stark white of the pillows she lay on, a thin film of sweat covering her face. She tossed uneasily, her eyes wide and unseeing as they darted in her delirium. She mumbled incoherently, reaching out to an invisible ally only she could she. The words he could make out from the babble chilled him to his core.

"DeadÖdead! Itís all goneÖIím going to join him."

The blood pooled around her loins and he gagged, never had he seen this volume of the red liquid. The births he had attended had been some time ago admittedly, but he knew this was not normal. He stroked Lescaís head lovingly, the cool clamminess revolting to the touch.

"Itís ok now, Lescy. Unky Cidís here to take care of everything." He reverted back to the name she called him when she had been much younger, trying to soothe her.

She looked into her eyes, the fever breaking momentarily as she whimpered. "Unky Cid? Iím so scared."

His heart felt as though it was being ripped in two and he smiled weakly at her. "I know, honey, but itís ok. Everythingís ok. Unky Cidíll make it all better."

She tried to grin but the expression emerged as a grimace. She gasped slightly as another wave of pain consumed her, the strength to scream having long deserted her. He held her hand, Lescaís grip becoming weaker with each passing moment.

"Come on, Lesca. Give it all you got!" He encouraged her.

She began to weep gently, shaking her head. "I canítÖI failed again."

Cid steeled himself and looked below the covers, relieved to see the crown of the childís head showing. He grinned at his niece, "Youíre nearly there, the headís showiní! A few more pushes and youíll have your kidÖbe strong, Lesca. You can do this!"

Lesca gritted her teeth, bearing down as she used the last of her strength to push her child into the world. Cid caught the child, a boy, as he slid out easily. He cut the cord expertly as the boy began to cry heartily, wrapping him in a towel before handing him to his exhausted mother. She smiled weakly, her pain forgotten as she held her perfect son in her arms, a rush of overwhelming love threatening to consume her. He calmed immediately, looking up at her with the burnished bronze eyes of his father. She looked at him quizzically, she could have swore there was a hint of a frown on the new-bornís face as if he was studying her. I thought all babies eyes were blue to begin with?

A mop of thick, ebony hair stood in spiky angles from his head and she smoothed it lovingly, becoming lost in her sonís eyes once more. She subconsciously counted the fingers and toes to make sure none were missing and heaved a small sigh of relief. Her own verdant eyes became heavy as sleep began to take her in its grasp. Cid took the boy from her, admiring the child with a keen eye. "Good looking little mite, heíll be a heart breaker one day, mark my words. What you calliní him?"

"Auron?"

He looked over at her lazily before propping himself up on an elbow, resting the remaining arm over her torso lightly. He raised an eyebrow, grinning at her. "Yes?"

She caught his lips in a quick kiss before lying back down, looking into his eyes deeply. She loved looking into those eyes, she would have given her soul and happily drowned in them for the chance to be so close to him. "If we had a child, what would you name it?"

He laughed a deep, rumbling laugh that tickled her ear as she lay on his chest, listening to the comforting rhythm of his heartbeat. "We were just married this morning, my love! There is plenty of time to think of children when I return from the pilgrimage."

She grinned, clambering atop him and pinning him to the bed. Auron smiled, having no wish to protest. "But, there is a chanceÖAuron, I want to give you a son. Many sons! A whole room full of them!" She swept her arm grandly to illustrate her point and he chuckled again, pulling her close to him.

"I would be just as happy with a daughter who was the image of her mother. It matters not to me as long as the child is healthy, happy and we are together." He murmured into her hair, kissing her softly.

"Well, what name do you like?"

He thought for a moment, stroking her hair absently. "Aleron."

"Aleron? Isnít thatÖ"

"Al Bhed? Yes. It meanís "knight"."

She giggled. "My son the knight. Aleron, son of Auron. Hey, I like it!"

"That is because I have impeccable taste darling."

She hit him lightly before silencing any protest with a kiss. "Shut up."

"Aleron."

Cid blinked. "Youíre giving him an Al Bhed name? I canít say Iím not thrilled, but I thought youíd name him for his father."

She looked over at her son being cradled by her uncle. "Auron wanted him to be named Aleron." She stated simply.

She yawned, letting the fatigue claim her as the pillows cradled her head. "Aleron, son of AuronÖhas a nice ring to itÖ"

~*~*~

"What do you mean sheís sick? Is she all right? If somethingís happened to herÖI donít know what Iíd doÖ"

Auron burst into the living room of Jechtís former home, searching the dimly lit place with a trained eye for Serene. Tidus was sitting at the door, tears leaving there tell tale trail down his fair cheeks. Auron shook the woman roughly, trying to wake her. "Serene? Serene! Answer me, damn you!"

She choked a little before grinning. She used her final breath to mock him. "Iím going to be with him now, Auron." The life slipped away from her, her eyes looking at him with the glassy stare of the dead.

He sat down heavily, cradling his head in his hands, venom in his thoughts. Bitch. Leaving me to care for her child, mocking me with the fact sheíll be with Jecht soon and Iíll never see Lesca again. He felt the wet face of the boy snuggle under his arm and he sighed, allowing him the small comfort. Bitch. Evil, selfish bitch.

Tidus looked up at him, lower lip quivering. "Auron? Whatís gonna happen to me? Are you gonna leave me too?"

Auron looked into the boys cerulean eyes, seeing there an image of Yuna. Lesca wouldnít leave Yuna to fend for herself and I wonít leave Tidus either.

He cradled the boy awkwardly; "Iím not going anywhere, Tidus. I was sent here to guard you and thatís what Iíll do. You have my word."

Tidus nodded, apparently satisfied with the answer. "What happens now? Are you moving in?"

Auron groaned lightly, he hadnít thought this through. "Yes. Iíll move in."

The child smiled brightly, jumping up and claiming Auronís hand. "Great! We can have so much fun! You taking me to blitzball practice now then? I gotta hurry or Iíll be late, the coach donít like me being lateÖ"

"Doesnít like you being late."

Tidus shrugged, "Yeah, doesnít, donít, who cares?"

Auron sighed in exasperation. "Itís bad grammar, donít you want to learn anything apart from how to take a knock to the head in the sphere pool?"

Tidus grinned sunnily, "Nope. Canít say I do."

"Youíre going to drive me mad, boy."

The boy winked and started to run away before Auron could catch him. "Wonít take much though, will it? Youíre already half way there old man!"

Auron stopped dead, contemplating what the boy had just said. A range of emotions ran through him before he settled on amusement. He chuckled lightly and began the long walk to the stadium.

Old man, eh? I suppose youíd agree with that, Jecht. What was it you used to call me? A stiff? Ah well, there are worse things than being old in the eyes of a child.

Like being dead.

Chapter 15 Alone
Donít you know itís all right to be alone?
You can make it on your own.

Ash Ė Candy

Aleron snuffled slightly in his sleep, his tiny eyes cracking open slightly before he settled back to his peaceful slumber. Lesca let the breath she had unconsciously been holding out, her face relaxing slightly. She had been recovering in the medical ward for little over a week; her wounds healing nicely while her love for her infant son grew at what she deemed must be an unnatural rate. She felt consumed, suffocated by the unconditional adoration she held for the boy, the affection that though he could not yet tell her of, she knew he returned. She was still pale and drawn to the casual observer, yet the peace which exuded from her made her radiant even now. Her uncle entered the room with yet more presents for the mother and her child.

"Lesca, how are you feeliní today sweetheart?" He peeked in at the cot, blushing when she gestured for him to lower his voice.

"Iím good. I canít wait to get out of here though." She wrinkled her nose in distaste while Cid chuckled quietly. She had never been one to lie around.

"Well, the doctor says you can get back to your place when youíre ready. We got it all set up for ya."

She looked around the room before turning her gaze back to Cid. "Whereís Rikku? I thought you said youíd bring her some time this week?"

Cid scratched the back of his head, looking slightly sheepish. "Yeah, wellÖshe wanted to go to the mainland for some more schooling. I decided with circumstances being what they are it was a good idea. She doesnít know about the little fella yet, sheís too young to know what to make of it with all thatís led to this. Sheíll be back in a few years, but you can send her and Yuna spheres until you sort everything, you know?"

Lesca looked aghast, "A few years? Cid, what were you thinking? Sheís only a child!"

"I know, but itíll do her good. Sheís away with her brother and some others; theyíll take care of her, teach her how to fend for herself outside of Home. Itís for the best."

Lesca crossed her arms, looking over at her son. "I canít imagine letting him leave my side. It feels like heís filled a bit of the hole that Auron left, you know? That, and his own special nook heís created in my heart."

She sighed, shaking her head slightly. "Heís all I have left now, heís the only link I have to the one time I was truly happy. Sad, isnít it?"

Cid tried to grin in attempt to lighten the mood and failed miserably. "Itís sad, but not because itís wrong to feel this way. Itís sad that you have to experience it at all."

She cocked an eyebrow. "I just noticed, why are you speaking Yevonite? I thought you hated "them and their damn language"!" She finished the sentence with an impression and giggled.

Cid blushed, "Well, the boys gotta have a proper education, know about both lines of his heritage, just like you. Besides, Rikku needs some practice too and I canít let her see me struggling on the sphereís I send her because I let myself get rusty."

"I suppose."

Aleron stirred, mewling for attention. His mother responded instantly, leaping from the bed to her sonís side. Lesca picked the dark haired infant up, cradling him gently while crooning a soft lullaby. Cid watched her, a smile playing on his lips. The young woman was a natural mother, the childís wailing calming as she rocked him in her arms. She coloured slightly as she turned to her uncle. "Cid, will you help me with my things? I want to get settled before I feed Aleron."

He heaved the bag that had been sitting ready for days and led the way. "No need to ask, Lesca. No need to ask."

~*~*~

Lesca sat on the rocking chair donated to her by Cid, her aunts from when Rikku and Brother had been but babes in arms. Aleron looked up her with the gaze he shared with his father, his wide eyes seeming to search Lescaís face. She stroked his hair, lightly kissing him atop his head. "What is it you think youíll find in my eyes, darling? All that lives there now is my love for you and sorrow. I could not stop them, they all went to their deaths."

She smiled sadly, running a finger over his downy cheeks. "You want to hear about your family?"

Aleronís finely etched eyebrows seemed to lift a little and she shook her head, grinning. "Well, havenít I got a smart son? Where to beginÖ"

She fished in the drawer beside her and pulled out the sphere Auron had sent. She set it down on the table and switched it on, letting the image repeat itself. As her husband professed his love, promised he would return to her, she held back the tears. She pointed to the image, not caring that the child wouldnít understand. "Thatís your daddy. His name was Auron. He could be a bit grouchy sometimes, but never with me. I know heíd have adored you like I do. You have his eyesÖ"

The sphere shifted to show Braska a little and she touched the image lightly. "That man there, thatís my daddy. He was High Summoner Braska; he defeated Sin for the whole of Spira! He did it for all of us.

Grandpa Braska was a good man. He was kind and gentle, and though we didnít always see eye to eye we still loved each other with all our hearts. Your daddy went with him to defeat Sin; they both died in the name of peace. I hope Sin is an evil you never have to experience, Aleron. Never forget these men, they were brave, strong and loyal. One day, youíll be just like them, I know."

Cid listened outside as she regaled her son with stories of their family, his lineage and smiled. He leaned against the doorframe, sighing.

She shouldnít have to do this, not by herself. She has to though, she can do it.

~*~*~

"Címon, Auron! Wake up!" The pleading was accompanied by a tugging on his coat.

"No."

Auron could hear the mischief in the youngsterís voice as he attempted to rouse the sleeping Guardian once again. "Please?"

He cracked open his good eye to glare at the child. "No."

He settled back into the warmth of his cocoon, feeling slumber begin to claim him once more. Tidus stood, eyeing the mound that was Auron thoughtfully. A wide grin spread across his face, replacing the pout as he ran out of the room. Auron smiled slightly, shifting his weight to get more comfortable as he heard the patter of the boyís feet exit the room. He drifted off lightly, the rare peace in the household a melody soothing to his soul.

Tidus returned and poked his head around the door, smirking when he saw the man was sound asleep. He tiptoed into the room, his tongue sticking of out the side of his mouth as he concentrated on relaying his precious cargo to its destination. The bucket shook in his small hands, water sloshing over the sides and onto the wooden floor. He slipped a little, grinning when he managed to maintain his balance. He placed the bucket next to the bed carefully before sliding a chair soundlessly across the floor so it rested next to the head of the prone Guardian. Tidus clambered atop the furniture, perching precariously as he brought the bucket up beside him. With a snigger, the bucket was held high above the young boyís head before being dumped unceremoniously over the slumbering Auron.

Auron sat up immediately, unable to understand what was happening in his state of semi consciousness. He blinked as the water soaked through the layers of cloth, turning slowly to meet the sight of Tidus desperately trying to contain his laughter. He glowered at the boy, moving slowly and deliberately as he swung his legs over the side of the bed.

"Tidus?"

The boy nodded; fits of giggles rendering him near helpless.

"Iím going to give you to the count of tenÖif youíre not out of here before I reach ten, I swear Iíll wring your scrawny little neck." Auron growled, trying his best to look menacing. The effect was somewhat diluted by the wet hair obscuring his face.

The boy grinned at him, laughing off the threat. "Ah, come on Aurie! You know and I know that you couldnít hurt a fly!"

Auron looked at Tidus, slack jawed. He, the great warrior monk who had helped to vanquish Sin. He who had fought side by side with great warriors to send fiends to the Farplane. He, the fool who had dared to face Yunalesca alone and had earned a death for his troubles, unable to hurt a fly? Auron shook his head and sighed heavily.

"Donít call me Aurie. My name is Auron, as well you know. Iím too easy on you, boy. Iím going to have to toughen you up. If you think I canít fight, you are very much mistaken."

The statement piqued the boyís interest and he watched as Auron took off his coat, wringing the water from it with distaste. It was perhaps the first time Tidus had seen the man without the garment and he studied the bulging muscles of Auron with interest. His glasses lay discarded on a side table along with his glove and for once he looked something other than impenetrable.

"You know, you have bigger muscles that my dad did."

Auron chuckled, studying his reflection in the mirror. A few strands of grey stood proudly against the ebony and he groaned. Heís making me grey. The boy is actually making me grey with stress. How the hell did you cope with this, Jecht?

"I wield a heavier sword than Jecht did. He attacked with speed and cunning. I use strength. I think you would fight in much the same way as he did."

Tidus jumped on the bed excitedly; stopping only when shot a warning glare. "Whereís your sword? Will you teach me?"

"Iíll teach you when the time is right. And my sword is away from the prying eyes of nosy children."

Tidus pouted momentarily before the grin worked its way back onto his face. "Whereíd ya get all your stuff? Itís pretty cool, for you anyway."

He tried the glasses on and struck a pose. The scene reminded Auron of the day heíd received them and he retrieved the spectacles gently.

Just so I always know these eyes are alrightÖ

He touched his scar unconsciously before putting the glasses back on. "My wife gave me my glasses and my gloves. She helped pick out everything else."

He spoke softly and Tidus cocked an eyebrow. "Your wife? You have a wife? Why are you here instead of with her?"

"SheÖit is none of your concern. You ask too many questions, Tidus." He turned from the boy abruptly.

"Do you love her still?" Tidus pressed on, oblivious to the hurt he was causing.

Auron choked a little as he remembered her face. "Yes."

The boy put an arm around the warriorís shoulders, uncharacteristically serious. "Youíll see her again I bet. Itíll be ok, Auron."

Auron turned his head and looked into the boys wide blue eyes that shone with the hope and innocence of youth. He patted the small hand. "I hope youíre right."

There was a rare moment of silence before the questioning started again. "Auron?"

"What?"

"You got any kids?"

Auron grinned, shaking his head. "No. Though if I did, Iíd hope they were nothing like you."

Tidus crossed his arms, sulking. "Iím insulted."

"Well, be insulted somewhere else. I need to go and get a haircut. If you plan on drowning me every morning I wonít get up when it suits you, Iíd like to be able to see so I can hunt you down."

The boy giggled nervously, "Ah, come on! You donít mean thatÖ"

Auron raised an eyebrow. "Donít I?"

Tidus rolled his eyes, as if exasperated by the man. "No, you donít!"

He reached out to touch Auronís scar, surprised when his wrist was caught roughly and thrust away.

"What happened to your eye?"

"What happened to your manners?" Auron responded tartly.

The boy shrugged and smiled at him. "Iím just curious."

"Impetuous more like. I fought a great adversary, that is what happened and that is all you need to know. Subject closed."

"Did ya win?"

Auron shot him a glare that clearly told him to shut up. He shrugged into the damp coat, sliding his hand into the cool leather of his glove. Tidus watched as the swordsman buckled a belt around his middle swiftly, picking up an earthenware jug as an afterthought. Auron took a deep swig from the jug, shaking his head as the bite of the alcohol burned its way down his gullet, before attaching it firmly to his hip.

"Whatís in the jug?"

Auron gritted his teeth. "Sake. You make me grey and you drive me to drink. You should be very proud of yourself Tidus, not even your father managed that feat."

He strode out the door, the boy at his heels. There was silence for a moment as they walked down the promenade and Auron began his familiar routine.

One, two, three, four, five, six, sevenÖnow.

Right on cue, the child high voice piped up. "So, Auron, do you blitz?"

Tidus stopped in his tracks as he watched the man walk away from him, laughing huskily at apparently nothing. The boy shook his head, muttering. "Heís crazy. My old man sent a loon to watch out for me."

~*~*~

"I wish you could see your son, Auron."

Lesca sighed. She knew that addressing the morning sky would ultimately prove fruitless, but it comforted her to believe that he was watching over her. A soft cry from Aleron disturbed her musings and she picked up the infant, whispering words of comfort to him as she rocked the child gently. Her sonís whimpering quietened as she cradled him to her bosom, her heartbeat soothing to him. She shifted his weight onto one arm, the other limb manoeuvring her chair quietly to the window. The mother sat down carefully so as not to disturb her son, freeing her breast from its confines and offering it to the boy. Aleron latched on greedily, his eyes closing as he began to feed.

Lesca let herself become lost in thought once again, staring out of the window toward the horizon. The sand glittered as the early morning sunlight arose to dust the world with its mellifluous fingertips, the sky already a collage of bright and brilliant blues. The sunlight streaming through the window warmed her cool skin, bathing her in honeyed hues. She turned her attention back to her son; his eyes closed in contentment as he suckled happily. The dawn light cast shadows on his face from his long, fine eyelashes, his eyebrows knitted together in concentration. His ebony tresses shone brightly and she felt overwhelming peace as she looked down at her infant son, inhaling the intoxicating scent of him; milk and powder mixed with the aroma she couldnít put her finger on, a fragrance that only babies possess.

His eyes opened lazily and she felt herself melt as he looked into her own verdant gaze. He yawned, the sound little more than a squeak, and covered the russet oculars with his eyelids once more. His tiny hand grasped her finger as he fastened himself to her breast again and she watched in wonder. This perfect, tiny person is my son. My son.

A ghost of a smile played on her lips and she turned to the window once more, watching as the heat rose from the floor of the desert as a haze. She felt some of her old spirit return to her, her strength bolstered by her sonís love.

"I can do this. I can make it by myself." She murmured, rocking slightly on the chair as she observed the clouds racing sluggishly across the sky.

I just wish I didnít have to.

Chapter 16 Stolen
Never got the chance to go that far,
His life was stole, now weíll never knowÖ

Stole Ė Kelly Rowling

In the three years that had passed since Aleronís birth nothing much had changed. The sun continued to shine, Spira continued to drift lazily through the cosmos. Sin reappeared. Home was rife with rumours of disharmony buzzing through the ranks of Yevon, the scrambling for new summonerís had began in earnest according to the reports. It did not impact on the lazy pace of life for the Al Bhed people; they had never shown an interest in the workings of the false religion and the latest revelation was no exception to the rule. Once the gossip had been handed on it was forgotten, the murmurs dying within weeks. Lesca for her part pointedly refused to be drawn into any discussion on the state of Yevon, politely declining the offers of snippets of information. She had no desire to be drawn into an argument involving a subject long dead, in her mind at least.

The passing years, though few in number, had been good to her. Where she had once been slight, almost painfully thin, she was now slender and curved. After the birth of her child she had retained her fuller bust and obtained a curve to her hips where she had previously been straight, her taught stomach coaxed back in the months following the arrival of Aleron. She had finally filled out fully into womanhood and she looked the better for it.

At just over twenty years of age, Lesca was a devoted mother. The little that Aleron could speak was in both the languages of Yevon and Al Bhed, and his curiosity as to the workings of the world and enthusiasm for knowledge never ceasing to amaze Lesca. The lad adored his mother, hanging on her every word as she imparted her wisdom unto him, listening in rapt attention as she told him of his father and his heritage. She often worried he was too serious for a child of three before remembering Auron and his unfailing sobriety.

The boy was so like him in so many ways it sometimes hurt her to look at him. His russet eyes as he gazed up at her lovingly were the biggest reminders of what she had lost. The silky midnight hair that tickled her nose as he snuggled up to her, the funny little quirk with his finely defined eyebrows if he was questioning herÖ the full list was endless. Lesca sighed as she contemplated the turns she had taken through life. She had no regrets about her chosen path, but still she wished and prayed he were by her side. Lesca relished the rare silence, looking out of the window at the familiar scenery, watching as the waves lapped gently against the shore in the distance. Somewhere, blue merged into gold, the exact point obscured by the slight haze lying heavily between the heavens and earth. The young woman absently rubbed in the cream Cid had given to her to ward off the heat of the rays, deciding on a whim to take Aleron to the beach. She was still staring at the beauty of the horizon when the door burst open, Aleron rushing over to her and looking up at her adoringly.

She ruffled the short, ebony locks and kissed his forehead before looking up to find her uncle. She grinned at the older man as he struggled to reclaim his breath. "Hey, Cid. Has he been good for you today?"

"Heís always good, Lesca. Heís started on making you a present, ainít that right kiddo?"

Cid had stepped into the role of substitute grandfather with relish, providing the male influence Aleron needed and the comfort of a friend and family to his mother. Aleron grinned up at his mother sweetly. Well, at least thereís part of me in there somewhere! But then again, Auron smiled like that at me tooÖmaybe heÖI donít know anymore.

She must have looked lost in her thoughts as her son began tugging at her skirt. "Mama, Unky Cid helped me!"

She scooped him up, hugging him fiercely. "Really, darling? Thatís great, what a clever boy! Did you say thank you to Uncle Cid?"

The boy buried his face into her shoulder, inhaling the comforting scent of her. "Fank yoo."

Cid and Lesca grinned at each other as they listened to the muffled thanks. Lesca sat on her chair, gesturing for Cid to take a seat also. The boy clung onto her, entwining her hair in his tiny fingers as he looked up at her. She raised her eyebrows, smiling at him before turning back to her uncle. "Do you have any plans for today?"

He rubbed his rough chin thoughtfully as he mentally checked his schedule. "Nope, canít say I do. Iíve sent off those spheres to Yuna and Rikku so I think thatís me for the day. Do you have something in mind?"

She gestured to the window, "Itís such a beautiful day, I thought Iíd take Aleron to the beach. Give him a bit of freedom away from the confines of Home, yíknow?"

"Sounds like a plan. Tell you what, Rinís here with some supplies. Weíll pick up something from him and head on down from there, what do you say?"

Lesca grinned, lifting Aleron from her lap as she got to her feet. "Great! Where has Rin set up the stall, weíll meet you there in ten?"

Cid pointed down the hall in the general direction of the trade centre. "Heís down at the market, Iíll see you then."

As he left, Lesca found her son looking up at her expectantly. She rolled her eyes good-naturedly and tickled him, joining in with his giggles as he wriggled under her grip. "So, would you like to go the seaside today? We can take a picnic and go swimming, what do you think?"

The boy nodded, smiling brightly at his mother. "I wanna go the seaside!"

"Well, we better get changed then, huh?"

The boy nodded sagely and scurried off to get suitable beach attire. He returned seconds later, holding out the clothes he had picked for her approval. She grinned and dressed him quickly in the small black shorts and red T-shirt, slipping his tiny feet into the sandals he handed to her. She stepped back and scrutinised him, her heart leaping into her mouth as he grinned up at her. Auronís eyes twinkled back at her, his full lips smiling at her lovingly, his eyebrows knitting as he wondered what was wrong.

She shook her head clear of the thoughts and kissed her son. "You look very handsome."

His lower lip quivered as his bronze pools eyed her sadly. "Why yoo sad?"

Lesca sighed and pulled him close. ""Iím not sad honey, you make me so happy. Itís justÖsometimes you look so much like your daddy, itís like having him back here with me. Youíre so like him, right down to your mannerisms. I love you with all my heart Aleron and so would daddy. You could never make me sad. Do you understand?"

The lad grinned, nodding. He noticed the worn band of gold on her finger and pointed to it. "Whatís that?"

"Daddy gave it to me. Itís my wedding ring. One day, when youíre older and you meet someone, youíll pass this ring onto your wife."

The boy frowned, digesting the information. "Why yoo still have it if daddyís gone?"

She smiled, remembering back to her wedding day. "Because I still love your daddy."

The timepiece hanging on the wall caught her eye and she gasped at the time, "Oh, gods weíre late and Iím not even dressed!" She pointed at her son; "This is your fault mister!"

"Uh uh. Unky Cid says yoo always late."

She pulled on her other skirt and top hurriedly, hopping as she slipped on her own sandals. She slung the boy over her shoulder as he giggled at her haste and ran down to the market. Lesca skidded to a halt in front of Cid, smiling sheepishly in apology.

He shook his head, addressing the boy she had just set down. "What did I tell ya kid? Your mom is always late!"

Aleron laughed as Lesca pouted. "Not fair Cid, thatís two on one. Whereís Rin then? I still have to thank him."

He looked at her with interest. "For what?"

She tapped the side of her nose. "Ah ha! Something he done for me years ago, thatís all."

Cid led the way to the small store, waving as he spotted the man he sought. "Rin! Over here!"

The blonde Al Bhed turned toward the voice, nodding as he recognised Cid. He walked over to them, shaking Cidís hand firmly. "Ah, Cid. It is nice to see you again. I see Home has reached completion."

"Yup, itís taken a while but we got there." Cid puffed out his chest proudly as he looked around Home, realising what an accomplishment it had been.

Rin noticed the young woman beside Cid with the child hiding behind her legs. He recognised her as the young woman he had been entrusted with delivering a sphere to, the wife of Sir Auron, daughter of High Summoner Braska, niece of Cid. It was an impressive list of credentials.

"Lesca?"

She smiled at him warmly, "Hi Rin. Itís been a while."

"It hasÖ" He studied the child at her side, barely containing his shock as he noted the resemblance to Braskaís trusted Guardian. "The child, he is your son?"

She smoothed the boyís hair as he clung to her leg, peering out at Rin suspiciously. "He is, his name is Aleron. Sweetie, say hello to Rin."

The boy shook his head stubbornly, still trying to make up his mind as to whether he liked the strange man.

Rin chuckled at the ladís wilfulness. "How old is he?"

"Three."

Rin raised an eyebrow, "Then he is the son of Sir Auron? He bears a strong resemblance to your husband."

Pain flashed in Lescaís eyes briefly before she managed to lock it away, "He is and he does. I assume you know about Auron?"

Aleron watched his mother with confusion before Cid led him away gently by the hand, not wishing the boy to witness his mother upset.

Rin frowned. "I saw him at the foot of Mount Gagazet after the battle with Sin, I tried to offer my assistance but he would have none of it. Sir Auron did not wish to hinder his progress back to Bevelle. What has happened?"

Lesca bit back the threatening tears. "Heís dead. He died at the gates of Bevelle. I, I never saw him again."

Rin took the young womanís hand, offering what little comfort he could. "I am sorry. He was a great man."

She looked at the ground, her hair obscuring her face. "He was."

"Did he know of the child?"

She shook her head silently, a single tear staining the ground as it rolled down her cheek. Rin hesitated before embracing her. "That is perhaps for the best. I apologise, I know it is of no comfort. If you ever need a job, a friendly ear, anythingÖseek me out."

He left her as she wiped away the tears and replaced her cheery mask as she turned to Aleron. "Well, come on then! We have a beach to get to."

~*~*~

Lesca leaned back onto her hands, tilting her head up to the sun as she savoured the suns rays warming her skin. Every now and then Aleron would pad over to her with some treasure or another, eager to please his mother. He handed her tiny pebbles, rounded to perfection after centuries of being dashed against the rocks by a turbulent sea. She grinned up at him, closing her eyes as he kissed her cheek sloppily. "I love yoo mama."

"I love you too, sweetie."

He ran off, leaping in the breaking surf with glee as she watched over him with a motherís ever-mindful eye. "Donít wander out too far, stay close to the shore Aleron!" She called, shaking her head as she received but a wave in response.

"Heís just like you were at that age you know."

Lesca turned to Cid, peering over the top of the sunglasses she had perched on her nose. "He is? I had given up on finding any part of myself in him. Heís too much like Auron, Cid." She sighed, fiddling with the pebbles at her side.

Cid nodded slowly as he chose his words. "He may look like him, he may even act like him most of the time but when he letís himself go and enjoys himself its pure Lesca."

"Really?"

"Really."

They sat in companionable silence; Aleronís giggles being carried on the slight sea breeze. Lesca shivered despite the heat and froze, her instincts taking over as she sensed that something was not quite right. She scanned the surrounding dunes for fiends, the edge of her fear dulling slightly when she realised the area was clear. She tried to relax, but she could not shake the feeling that something was wrong. She glanced over at her son, gasping as she noticed a black mass in the water rapidly advancing toward him.

She scrambled to her feet, stumbling in her haste to reach her child. Her legs pounded the sand, her throat hoarse as she called out to him. "Aleron! Get away from the water! Aleron!"

The wind whipped her voice away and he continued to smile and wave, oblivious to the danger he faced. Cidís eyebrows knotted together in incomprehension, the threat still not visible to him. As the hulking form of Sin began to rise from the ocean his eyes widened in horror and he ran toward the child, yelling at him to run to safety. Aleron turned to see the destructive force that was Sin bearing down on him and froze. Lescaís heart pounded against her chest as she willed her legs to go faster.

Damn it! Movemovemovemovemovemove! Too slow, hurry up!

Lesca began screaming as she realised that he was paralysed with fear. "Aleron, donít just stand there! Move, get away!"

The beast reared back, harnessing its energy to attack the small island. Lescaís panic reached new heights as she struggled to reach him, her feet sinking into the soft sand hindering her progress. Her mind became focused as she called upon long forgotten spells, casting the hexes with reckless abandon in a vain attempt to sway the harbinger from its course. The roar of magic slicing through the air pierced her heart as Sin let loose a devastating attack, an assault that Aleron stood directly in the line of. She reached the boy as the full force hit him, the energy of the blow tossing her aside as if she were but a mere rag doll. Lescaís hand flew to her mouth, terror in her eyes as she watched the body of her son shake, the power ripping through his tiny body. A dreadful silence replaced the thunderous horror and Sin submerged back into the depths of the brine. She crawled towards Aleron, shaking fitfully as she prayed to whomever may be listening to spare her son.

She shook him slightly; his body limp and unresponsive as she choked out the words. "Aleron? Aleron sweetie, itís time to get up now. Come on, donít tease mama like thisÖAleron?"

Lesca cradled the boy to her chest, whimpering. "Oh gods, no. Not himÖnot my son! Heís just a childÖDarling, wake up, donít leave meÖ"

Cid put a hand on her shoulder, the tears coursing silently down his weathered cheeks. "Lesca? Is heÖ"

Lesca began to sob, rocking her child slowly in her arms. "Theyíve taken him as well. Why me, Cid? What have I ever done that was so bad, so fucking terrible that I deserve this? Iíve lost everything. Everything."

He said nothing, holding her close to him was the only comfort he could offer. The pyreflies began to dance around Aleronís body as Lesca watched dully, comprehension eluding her in her grief. His body dissolved completed in her arms leaving the flickers of light to shine brightly in his wake.

I let him die. Our hope has faded to nothing and itís all my fault. Iím so sorry.

Chapter 17 Sorrow
Nobody said it was easy,
Nobody said it would be so damn hard.

The Scientist Ė Coldplay

Lesca stood watching the ceremony dully, the numbness she felt helping her to deal with grim reality. Cid drew her close to him as he wept softly, the small gathering feeling the pain of the man who had never before shed a tear in the presence of others. She just stood, her grief raw and her tears spent as they lit candles in memory of her son, her ray of hope. The light had been extinguished.

She ran on instinct, eyes unseeing, ears unable to hear the condolences or soothing words. After what seemed like an eternity it was over and they filed out, leaving the bereaved to suffer the hurt in peace. Her footsteps echoed in the dim room as she walked over to the small plaque they had erected in her sonís memory. Lesca ran a hand over it lightly, the bronze metal stabbing at her heart as she burned the image into her mind. She had to remember until the end, until welcome and invited death came to swallow her sorrow. Cid watched as she cupped her hand around the candle, blowing it out gently. As the candle flickered, flaming intensely for an instant before dying completely, the sob caught in her throat. Just like this, I let his life be snuffed out. He burned brightly, for such a short time. Itís all my fault, Aleron and I am so sorry my darling. I shouldíve been able to protect you; I should have been able to keep you safe from harm. I failed. Though it is no consolation I will never forgive myself. Iíll be with you soon, sweetheart.

She sank to her kneeís, keening quietly for her child as the numbness subsided to leave her at the unforgiving mercies of guilt and grief. Cid knelt beside her, a soothing hand rubbing tiny circles on her back. Lesca leaned against him heavily, allowing him to help bear her burden if in only this small way.

"Why did he have to go?" Lesca choked out the words, the tears leaving tell tale lines on her pale cheeks.

Cid shook his head, stroking her hair as her father had once done. "I donít know, Lescy. Some say "only the good die young". Maybe he was too good for this forsaken world."

"It hurts so much." She whispered.

He sighed, the words hard to form. "I know. But you will get through this. Youíre still so young, thereís plenty of time for more children."

Lesca laughed bitterly. "Not on the path Iíve chosen."

The older Al Bhed pulled back from her slightly, searching the verdant eyes. "What do you mean?"

She looked distant; almost dreamy as she announced her intentions so softly he had to strain to hear. "Iím going to follow in my fathers path. Iím going to become a summoner."

Cid narrowed his eyes, unable to believe the words even as they left her lips. "What? You have to be jokingÖ"

"You think I would really joke on today of all days?"

He cradled his head in his hands as he tried to understand the workings of her mind. "For the sake of the Godís, Lesca! Did Braska breed his death wish into you as well?"

Lesca smiled sadly. "I always said I understood why he did it. I canít go on Cid; Iíve lost everything. My husband, my childÖhe was the only thing that kept me going. Now that heís been taken from me too, I donít want to cope with the pain of living anymore.

I long for death; do you know what that feelís like? Itís shit and I hate myself for it, but I canít help it. I want to die. I want revenge. What better way to achieve my only goals in what remains of my pitiful existence than to defeat Sin? That way, Spira gets its calm once more and I achieve my dreams."

Her uncleís eyes flashed angrily and he sliced his hand through the air. "What about Yuna? What about Rikku, Brother and me? You still have a responsibility to your family, Lesca, whether you like it or not!"

"Iím still going, whether you like it or not. Iíll go with or without your blessing, uncle. Iíd rather go with, but if it comes to it Iím prepared to die in disgrace."

Cid pulled her toward him, hugging her fiercely. "Youíre a damn fool."

She nodded her head, chewing her bottom lip. "I know. Cid?"

"What?"

The younger woman hesitated, fearful to ask the question. "Will you, will you be my Guardian? I want you to be thereÖuntil the end."

He gritted his teeth, exhaling loudly. "How can you ask this of me? I canítÖIÖIíd be honoured."

His shoulders sagged as he realised he had just committed his niece to a death sentence and she was happy about it. She grinned for the first time in a week, some of the familiar sparkle returning and he felt his heart ache. My niece is ecstatic at the prospect of untimely death. Thereís no mistaking itís a sad world we live in.

~*~*~

"What the hell are you doing?"

Auron surveyed the room in horror. Foam covered the sink; blood mingling with the creamy white substance as it ran freely from several minor abrasions on Tidusí face. The boy eyed him in the mirror, not even bothering to turn round as he took the razor to his chin again.

"What does it look like Iím doing? Iím shaving." Tidus rolled his eyes as though it was perfectly normal for a ten-year-old boy to be shaving a hairless face.

Auron advanced on the boy, snatching the razor from his hands before he could do any more damage. He spoke softly, the tone belying the danger Tidus faced. "Why are you shaving?"

Tidus pointed proudly to a single hair on his cheek. The older man peered closely at it, before plucking the eyelash from the skin. He held it up for the boy to survey, raising an eyebrow as he did so. Auron rubbed his own chin, grimacing at the stubble that had grown since he shaved that morning. He cursed the child, wishing his own face were still as smooth as when he had first arrived in Zanarkand. Tidus crossed his arms sullenly as Auron dabbed at his face with a towel, removing the last traces of froth.

"Itís not fair! I need to learn how to do this stuff and you wonít let me!"

Auron gritted his teeth, trying to ignore the boyís tone. "Iíll teach you when you actually need to know how to do it. Youíre still a child, stop trying to grow up so fast."

"What age are you now anyway, old man?" The boy sneered.

"I turned twenty one a few months back."

Tidus grinned at him with a worrying glint in his eye. "Youíre not even old enough to be my dad! I donít have to listen to you!"

Auron rolled his good eye, cursing Jecht yet again. "Yes, you do. I might not be old enough to be your father, but Iím still older than you are. Iíve had a hell of a lot more experience than you have; I know how the world works. Donít question my judgement, boy."

"Donít call me that!"

"Fine. Tidus, youíll be ready to learn many things soon enough and youíll have to pick them up quickly. But, for the time being, be happy with your life; enjoy your childhood. You wonít get this time again. Donít throw it away." Auron sighed softly, remembering the hard lessons he had been taught at Tidusí age.

"Auron, tell me about yourself. Please?"

"You have Blitzball practice now."

The boy puffed out his chest. "Ah, I can miss one night. I am better than any of the rest of them."

Auron walked to the living room with Tidus hot on his heels. He sank into a chair and glanced at Tidus who was looking at him expectantly. He chuckled lightly. "What do you want to know?"

"WellÖwhat were you like at my age?"

The warrior stretched out, feeling the knotted muscles groan in protest. "I was quiet, nothing like you. I was in training to become a monk."

Tidus considered the statement. "Where?"

"A place far from here, you wonít know of it. Bevelle."

The blue eyes regarded him quizzically. "Youíre not used to talking to kids, are ya?"

Auron shook his head. "No, Iím not."

"But you were a kid too!"

"I wasnít good at being a child. I much prefer being an adult."

Tidus giggled, the older mans statement ringing true. "How did you meet your wife?"

Auron looked at him in shock before composing himself. "I didnít think youíd remember about that. I told you so long ago, I thought youíd have forgotten.

Tidus raised an eyebrow. "Why?"

"Well, you canít even remember what you had for dinner last night."

"Well, I only remember important stuff. Tell me, where, when, who!" Jechtís son rubbed his hands together gleefully.

Auron hesitated, the pain flashing in his eyes briefly as he began to speak. "Her name was Lesca. I, I met her in Bevelle. She was mourning the loss of her mother; I was considering a proposal of marriage. She swayed me from what would have been the biggest mistake of my life." So I made a bigger mistake that led to my death.

He grinned, remembering the scrap of paper that had changed his life. "She asked why I would throw my life away on a loveless marriage. She said I was too youngÖ" He laughed lightly. "We got married a few days later. It was kismet. I accompanied her father on a journey andÖI could not return to her. The last time I saw her was the morning after our wedding. I decided to fulfil my promise to your father and guard you until you could fend for yourself. Thatís why Iím here, thatís my story."

"Itís not happy, is it?"

Auron shrugged his shoulders. "Not all stories have a happy ending. I hope that your story does."

~*~*~

Lesca savoured the sights and sounds of Bevelle, the drug that was city life intoxicating her. She caught sight of the temple, steeling herself to enter as she stared resolutely at the cobbled stones.

Cid noticed the hesitation as she neared Yevonís sanctum and took her arm. "You donít need to do this you know? Nobody will think any less of you if you quit this foolís path."

Her reply was simple and eloquent. "I want to."

She entered the monument, smiling at the sight of her fatherís statue. A priest approached her, a frown on his face.

"Can I help you?"

Lesca nodded, pointing to the representation of her father. "Iím the daughter of High Summoner Braska. I wish to follow in his footsteps and become a summoner. I want to rid Spira of sorrow."

"You understand that the training will be arduous before you can even attempt to bond with your first aeon? You must learn the skills of the white mage, the use of weaponryÖ"

"I know and I am willing. I want to give my life for the greater good. Please, train me."

The priest sighed. "Very well."

~*~*~

"I donít want it." Lesca folded her arms, refusing to touch the proffered item.

The monk entrusted with her training, Kinoc, rolled his eyes. "You need a weapon Lesca. This is the weapon of the summoner."

She pouted, muttering darkly. "I donít want a damn staff."

Kinoc flung his arms in the air. "You cannot rely on the aeons entirely! What are you going to do if you cannot summon? Attack the fiends with your rapier sharp wit?"

The woman grinned. "Well, it can cut you to the quick. Whatís wrong with my fists?"

"It is not becoming for a summoner to pummel a fiend with her limbs."

He offered her the staff again and she snatched it, grumbling at the indignity. He laughed before composing himself. "We have some weak fiends in the training room. Let us see how you fare."

A wasp buzzed in front of her menacingly and Kinoc watched in interest to see how she would combat the threat. Cid pulled at his collar, unsure as to whether he should intervene. He nudged the monk who looked at him in irritation. "Do ya do this to every summoner?"

"We do. The summoner needs to learn to defend themselves."

Cid scratched his head. "Isnít that what the Guardian is there for?"

Kinoc sighed in annoyance. "Your job as Guardian is to make sure the summoner completes the pilgrimage by safeguarding her from great danger. Lesca can only really fight using the aeons; staff users are notoriously weak against fiends. Other than that, she will only be able to heal. If you are incapacitated, she has to defend herself until you can take up your duties once again."

"Oh. Right."

Lesca looked at the staff in her hands, swinging it experimentally to get a feel for the weight and balance of the rod. She rushed toward the fiend, lifting the staff over her head and bringing it down heavily on the wasp. It burst into brightly coloured pyreflies as Kinoc looked on in amazement.

Cid whooped, punching the air. "Thatís my girl!"

She sauntered back, the staff resting on her shoulder. "You know, itís starting to grow on me."

The monk shook his head, grinning. "Well, I guess youíre ready to pray to the Fayth. Thereís nothing more I can do with you. Thank Yevon."

Lesca pinched his cheek, wrinkling her nose in amusement. "Ah, Iíll miss you too, Kinoc!" She walked toward the antechamber, Kinocís voice echoing behind her.

"Go on, away with you Lady Lesca. Yevon, I wish Auron were still here! He wouldnít have known what to make of you."

Green eyes turned to him. "You knew Auron?"

Cid placed a hand on her shoulder, "Come on, Lesca. Leave it."

Kinoc raised an eyebrow at her query. "I did. He was in the order with me until he was excommunicated. He was meant to marry the maesterís daughter, fast track to promotionÖHe gave it all up when he met a woman. He fell in love and he was punished for it. The last I heard he accompanied your father on his pilgrimage, heís not been seen since. I guess thatís how you know him?"

Her eyes twinkled as she laughed at his naivetť. "You could say that. I was the woman. I was his wife."

Kinoc was left to stare at the retreating figure of his friendís wife. Auron, you dog!

~*~*~

Lesca settled down to pray, concentrating fully on her task was proving difficult. Her mind was plagued with thoughts of Auron and Aleron, of how life could have been. She didnít even notice the small boy Fayth as he appeared in front of her.

"Hello."

She looked up, startled. "Uh, hi."

"You seek my power?"

Lesca nodded, embarrassed that she had been so preoccupied. "I do. I wish to become a summoner."

"Like your father before you. You are troubled, why?"

She hesitated, unsure as to whether she should bear her soul to a Fayth. "I have suffered a lot of pain in my life."

"You wish to be free of the pain, that is why you chose the path of the summoner. I understand. Iíll grant you my aeon, you are worthy."

She frowned in confusion. "Donít I need to prove my devotion to Yevon?"

The Fayth grinned and winked at her. "We both know youíd fail that test. You are pure of heart and your goal is one with which we can empathise. I hope you find the peace you seek."

The boy bonded with her, the power of the aeon flooding her veins. She staggered to her feet, leaning heavily on the staff she had received mere hours before. Now I know why summonerís have staffs; itís so they donít fall on their ass when they receive a new aeon.

She slowly made her way to the door of the chamber where Cid looked up at her expectantly. Lesca smiled weakly. "Iíve done it. Iíve become a summoner."

He returned the smile, helping her to a seating position as her strength deserted her. Oh Gods, no. Not her too.

Chapter 18 Beliefs
Guilt and pain pulling me everyday,
Crushing me and I canít get away,
Killing my heart and soul.

Nicole Ė Ash

"Where do you think the temple is then? Itís gotta be around here somewhere, right?"

Lesca held her hand up, shielding her eyes from the sun as she squinted around the small island. Long, lush palm fronds swayed gently in the slight sea breeze, the salt air cooling sun kissed skin. She took off her boots, wiggling her bare toes in the sand as she had done a lifetime ago. The ocean lapped softly at the delicate flesh as she sat heavily on the golden beach, savouring the moment. She was imprinting every experience onto her mind; she wanted to have happy memories as she gave her life. Cid walked over to a nearby townsperson to ask for directions and she discretely pulled the sphere from the pouch at her hip.

The images sprung to life one by one, the only picture of herself and Auron she had, taken on their wedding day by Braska at the Via Purifico. She chuckled at the look on his face; the meeting with Jecht had reversed his previous smile of joy back into the semi permanent frown. A still she had recovered from the sphere sent to her by Auron where he was yet again scowling at Jecht. Herself and Aleron, two hours after she had given birth. She winced at how awful she looked and quickly moved onto the next depiction: Aleron with Cid, his first steps, and her sonís first tooth. She smiled as she remembered his first word; Mama. Lesca wished sheíd had a proper recording of the moment, one with sound as well as film. Second birthday. Third birthday. Aleron. Aleron. Aleron.

She sighed; the dreaded last picture came too soon now. The morning heíd died, sheíd taken his picture on vagary before sending him off to see Cid. It was a fit of whimsy she had regretted in the time immediately after his passing, but one which had been a great source of comfort to her in latter months. His russet eyes, so like Auronís, gazed up at the sphere. His arms held out to her, a grin on his face. That was how she wished to remember her son on his last day on Spira. Not watching his helpless body shake as Sinís attack racked it. Not the disintegration of his form into the cacophony of pyreflies. Lesca nodded slightly to herself, placing the sphere back in the sac as she stood to dust the sand from her skirt.

"Lesca!"

She turned to face Cid who had a youth in tow. She grinned at the teenager, not much younger than herself, towering over her. "Hey, whatís your name?"

The lad winked at her, pushing unruly, spiky hair from his eyes. "Chappu."

The Al Bhed gestured to Chappu. "Kidís gonna take us to the village. Thatís where the temple is. He knows Yuna too."

She smiled, addressing the young man. "Well, Chappu. Lead the way."

He eyed Lesca with interest. "So how you know Yuna? Sheís High Summoner Braskaís daughter, ya?"

Lesca chortled as Cid fell behind, cursing as a wasp buzzed around him. "Sheís my sister."

Chappu stopped for a second to contemplate the new information. "Her sister? Whyíd you not come to Besaid with her?"

She hesitated. "I hadÖother things to attend to. Iím here now."

The youth shrugged. "True. I got a big brudda, his nameís Wakka. One day, me aní him, we gonna be the best blitzerís in da whole of Spira! Hey, thereís Besaid. You want me to go get Yuna for you?"

"Please, Chappu."

Cid caught up to her, muttering darkly in Al Bhed about being left behind. She rolled her eyes and grinned at him. They studied their surroundings with appreciation and Lesca thanked the Godís that Sin had not visited Besaid in some time. The beauty of the island was unparalleled, a stark contrast to the urban magnificence of Bevelle. A piercing shriek broke the lazy peace of Besaid; the cry quickly followed by a flash of blue that wrapped itself around Lescaís waist. Chappu and two other teenagers, a man she guessed to be Chappuís elder brother and a young woman, looked on in amusement as Lesca tried to disentangle herself from the vice like grip.

"Yunie? Hey honey. Itís been a while, huh?"

The girl looked up at her, joy and anger fighting for precedence. Anger prevailed. "You said youíd be here soon! Itís been four years Lescy!" Yuna stated accusingly.

Lesca scratched her head. "Iím sorry. I got caught up at Home, things happened. I sent you spheres; youíve made friends... I couldnít have looked after you the years Iíve been away Yunie. I didnít have the strength."

Kimahri walked to Yunaís side and nodded to Lesca. She smiled at him warmly. "You stayed with her? Thank you Kimahri."

"Kimahri want to know where Lesca been, Lescaís reasons."

She waved off the demand with a flick of the wrist. "Later, not here. Tonight."

Lesca turned back to her sister who still looked at her with disdain. "Yunie? Look, Iím sorry, I truly am. I shouldíve been there for you and I wasnít. Iím being quite selfish as usual Yuna, but Iím here for two reasons. The first is to see my darling little sisÖ"

Yuna couldnít suppress the smile that worked its way onto her face, the smile that quickly disappeared as Lesca announced the other purpose for her visit.

"The second is to obtain the aeon from the temple. Iím a summoner, Yuna."

"So youíre going to leave just like daddy. Iím never going to see you again."

"Iím sorry. I need to; youíll understand one day. Please forgive me, please tell me you donít hate me." Lesca whispered, stroking the young girlís hair.

"I donít hate you Lescy, I just wish you didnít have to go." Yunaís lower lip trembled and Lesca put a finger under her sisterís chin, forcing her to look into her eyes.

"Remember what I said all those years ago? No tears, Yuna. Make him proud."

She nodded and smiled, placing a mask of happiness over a troubled heart. She noticed the older man and frowned. "Whoís that?"

Lesca grinned, "I forgot youíd never met. Yuna, this is your Uncle Cid, momís brother. Heís my Guardian."

Cid embraced her tenderly, ruffling her hair. "Hey kiddo. Good to finally meet ya."

She bowed deeply and much to her uncleís distaste made the sign of Yevon. "It is an honour to meet you, uncle."

"Yeah, wellÖ" He scratched his head, overwhelmed by the Yevonite influence on his youngest niece.

Lesca sensed Cidís discomfort and addressed Yuna. "Arenít you going to introduce me to your friends?"

Yuna clapped a hand over her mouth before gesturing to her friends to join the small gathering. "Lesca, these are my friends. Chappu youíve met, his older brother Wakka, and this is Lulu."

The woman waved at the assembled group a little sheepishly. "Hi!"

She received a mumbled reply in return as the teenagers tried to decide what to make of her sudden appearance. Her tongue darted out, wetting her lips nervously and she grinned at her younger sister. "So, you wanna meet me later on? We can do some catching up before I leaveÖ"

Yuna thought for a moment. "Well, Iím going to watch Wakka and Chappu blitz just now, but Iím free after that."

"Thatís great, Iíve got to go to the temple anyway, so itíll be perfect timing. Um, Iíll meet you here?" Lesca was taken aback by her own nervous enthusiasm.

Her sister bowed once more and smiled genteelly. "I canít wait. I missed you Lesca."

She moved to her friends and the adolescent giggling was carried back to Lesca on the breeze as they left. Lesca turned to Cid, a ghost of a smile on her lips. "The best thing that ever happened to her was coming here. Iím going to have a look around."

She left her uncle peering into the workings of something he claimed to be an ancient machina while she explored the tiny village. People smiled warmly at her as they passed, while greetings and gifts were proffered to Spiraís new hope. The temple dominated the small town, towering above the ramshackle dwellings with marbled splendour. She tapped her staff idly against her leg as she entered the cool building, blinking as her eyes adjusted to the gloomy interior. The young summoner could not help but feel awed by the statues bathed in flickering candlelight, the forefathers of Yevonite devotion smiling down upon her. Lesca sensed the presence of someone behind her and she spun round, knocking the man off his feet. She shrugged apologetically and offered him her hand to help him up.

As the flame haired man stood he began to speak softly. "You are the Lady Lesca, are you not?"

"Just Lesca, but I am the one you speak of." She replied.

"I am Luzzu. I heard of your pilgrimage, my Lady." He bowed deeply and she blushed.

Lesca stifled her giggle as one of the priests glared at her. "Thereís no need for such formalities, Luzzu. Are you of the temple?"

The red head bobbed in acquiescence. "A newly minted warrior monk, Lady Summoner. I hear you have but one Guardian?"

She cocked her head to the side, eyeing him quizzically. "Thatís correct."

"I wish to offer my skills on behalf of Yevon, my Lady. The temple has blessed my Guardianship provided, of course, that you have need of me."

"I, are you sure? I mean, it would be an honour to have you join us Luzzu, truly." Lesca stammered, unsure as to how to reply to such an offer.

He bowed once more, offering up a prayer. "The honour is mine. Praise be to Yevon. May I accompany you through the trials just now, or would you rather wait until the other Guardian were present?"

She thought for a moment. "Well, I should really wait for Cid, but heís probably caught up in something or other. If youíre willing we could go now."

"Iím more than willing, my Lady."

The summoner rolled her eyes and entered the cloister, her new Guardian in tow.

~*~*~

"You made a bad call. Your team lost because of you."

Tidus scowled at the man through the mop of flaxen hair. "So? Whatís it got to do with you?"

Auron paused; trying to articulate the newly acquired knowledge into something the boy would comprehend. "The time is coming where you will need to know which path is the right one to choose, only the right decision will mould your story appropriately. In life, there are no second chances; your life and the life of others will depend on your actions. Make the right call."

"I donít understand, Auron! Why you gotta be so damn cryptic?"

Auron threw him a warning look over his shoulder as he left the house. "Watch your mouth."

He flung open the door, inhaling the scent of the twilight Zanarkand as it surrounded him. One foot in front of the other, he moved steadily toward nowhere, the journey so ingrained onto his psyche he didnít need to think of the path. Long, even strides made short work of his small pilgrimage, the red coat swaying gently with his steps and the biting sea breeze. Auron shivered a little, gathering the robe tighter to his body as he mused on the irony that death was no release from the discomforts the living endure. The collar he had bought that morning offered some protection and he fastened it to his apparel, the warmth slowly but surely flooding back into his chilled bones. He sighed, his breath becoming suspended in a fog of dewy droplets; the only thing that reminded him of his still living death.

He was still acutely aware of his untimely demise, careful to the point of obsession to hide the condition from the son of Jecht. His body, knowing it no longer required the meaningless action of a heartbeat had shut down the heart and other useless organs all those years ago in Spira. He smirked as he recalled comforting Tidus on one of the many nights he was crying, the cerulean eyes widening in shock as he realised there was no pounding of relentless, rushing blood through the veins of the Guardian. The sheer panic at possible discovery had stirred the organ back into use and the boy had relaxed, the comforting rhythm lulling him to sleep in Auronís arms. In time, he had realised he could use the functions of the living as he willed. He clung on to what remained of his mortal life with a terrifying ferocity, forcing food down his gullet and air into his lungs in his battle to remain unsent and human. The pull of the Farplane was great on his tumultuous spirit even here.

The warrior sighed, his mind troubled by the revelations of the previous night. This spot had become something of a comfort to him in recent times; the rare, unparalleled view of the stars from the usually bustling Zanarkand metropolis soothed his tormented soul. He imagined at times that he could hear the voice of his beloved calling to him from across the serpentine waters, before disregarding the thoughts as ludicrous, dangerous flights of fancy. Last night, Sin had appeared in the brine to shock Auron from his reverie of the heavens. Sin was Jecht. Jecht had come home, if only for a short while. The red cloaked ronin had felt the desire of the man within the beast to take his son far from the dream he inhabited, give the boy a chance at the life he had experienced in Spira. Auron remembered shaking his head, whispering to the hulking form. "Not yet, he is but a child. Give me more time, heíll be ready then, we both will. Iíll free you from this nightmare, Jecht."

It had paused before sinking back into the turbulent depths from whence it came, Auron exhaling a breath he hadnít realised heíd been holding. "Jecht, Iím sorryÖ"

~*~*~

Luzzu supported the summoner as she exited the temple, the staff trailing in the dirt as she struggled to maintain her tremulous grasp on consciousness. Cid rushed over to the pair, glaring at the man who dared lay a finger on his niece.

"What have you done to her? I swear Iíll ki - "

Lesca looked up dazedly, waving a hand weakly to ward him off. "Cid, heís done nothing wrong. Heís my new Guardian. We canít complete the pilgrimage with only the two of us. We need a third person. Luzzu offered his services."

The new Guardian nodded in agreement before assisting her to the inn, settling her as he braced himself to face Cid. The Al Bhed eyed him suspiciously, the red headed man nodding coolly as he approached the older man. "My name is Luzzu, I am a warrior monk here in Besaid. The temple has allowed me to help you and the Lady Summoner on the pilgrimage."

"Luzzu, eh? The nameís Cid." The elder man walked toward the younger, scrutinising him until they were nose to nose. "I can see it in your eyes, boy. Donít get any ideas; she doesnít need anymore hurt, especially from another damn monk. Sheís as good as dead anyway. Keep yer hands to yerself and yer eyes on the road ahead." He emphasised his drawl, knowing it made him sound more intimidating.

Luzzu gulped, smiling nervously to show his agreement. The Al Bhed grunted and walked off, leaving the monk to contemplate his words. The blue mountain that was Kimahri stopped the older man in his tracks.

"Lesca receive visitors?"

Cid rolled his eyes. "No, sheís not receiving any visitors. It takes a hell of a lot outta her to go through those damn trials. What do ya want with her?"

Kimahri looked down at the Al Bhed who refused to be intimidated by the man-beast. "Kimahri guard Yuna. Yuna missed Lesca. Why Lesca not here?"

"Well, it wasnít through choice. Iím Cid, the girlís uncle. Lescaís been staying with me."

"Why?" The Ronso asked simply.

Cid sighed and began to tell the Lescaís tale of woe, the hurt that had led her to the point of impending death. As he finished, he recognised compassion on the rough features of the gentle giant and he pleaded with Kimahri. "Keep it to yourself, no one else need know, especially not little Yuna. Let the ghosts of the past rest in peace."

Kimahri nodded. "Kimahri not tell. Cid has Kimahriís word."

~*~*~

Lesca looked down at the tear stained face of her sister and tried to keep her own tears at bay by biting her bottom lip, the metallic taste of blood invading her senses. She choked on a rising sob, smoothing Yunaís hair awkwardly.

"Yuna, please go! Weíll see other again some day, Iíll be watching over you from the Farplane. I, I canít bear seeing you like thisÖ"

Yuna wrapped herself around Lesca, refusing to let go. "Then donít leave! Stay here with me Lescy!"

She shook her head sadly. "No. Yuna, be strong. No matter how sad you feel, remember that my Guardians and I do this for all of Spira. WeíreÖkinda like Spiraís ray of light yíknow? We have to be happy on our journey because that happiness helps the people. You have to help me by being my Guardian here, keeping a smile on your face no matter what will ease my passage. Promise me youíll smile for me."

"I, I promise. Always."

Lesca nodded, kissing the top of Yunaís head before running up the gangplank. "Farewell, Yuna. I love you."

She allowed a tear to spill as she heard her sisterís cry from the dock. "I love you, too! May Yevon bless your journey!"

Yevon? Fuck Yevon. My Guardians and myself will ensure the success of this pilgrimage, not some phoney deity who has taken everything from me.

She didnít dare stay on deck to wave to the masses as she departed; it had been too hard to leave Yuna once. To leave her twice would have broken her resolve to journey on to her doom. Instead, she wandered into the power room, losing herself in the motions of the wheels being turned by the chocoboís. She rested against the sweet smelling hay, closing her eyes as she hummed the Hymn of the Fayth. Even now it soothed her, invoking memories of happier times. The door to the room closed with a quiet click and she opened one eye to meet the nervous grin of Luzzu.

"My Lady, I was wondering where you got to."

She rubbed her temples. "Please Luzzu, itís grating me already. My name is Lesca."

"Very wellÖLesca. I was pondering why one such as yourself would throw your life away, may I ask your reasons?"

Lesca smiled. "Trying to get to know your summoner a little better, eh? Ok. Iíve got nothing left to live for thatís all. Itís not so complicated."

"But why? Youíre young, beautiful; you have a great life ahead of you as the daughter of the High Summoner. How can you possibly have nothing to live for?"

"I have lost those whom I love. I died with them; just now I only survive. This isnít life, I crave my release. I want a proper death instead of this cursed half life."

Luzzu hesitated before taking her hand as she looked at him in confusion. "I can offer you the love you desire. I donít want to see you go to your death."

She frowned. "Youíve just met me, yet you claim to love me. You donít know me, but you donít want me to die. I donít understand."

"Do you believe in love at first sight?"

Do you believe in love at first sight? That there is only one person, a soul mate for everyone and when you find them youíll know from the second you see them that this is it, this is meant to be?

Lesca withdrew her hand, wincing as his face fell. "I doÖbut you arenít him. I met my soul mate. I married him. I lost him. I lost myself and I lost my way. Iíve found my path again, Luzzu, and it leads straight to him, to the Farplane. Iím sorry."

"Itís quite alright. It was presumptuous of me. I still do not wish you to die, Lesca." Luzzu blushed.

"We donít always get what we wish for. Itís sad fact of life. If you mean to disrupt the pilgrimage, try to hinder me, please leave us."

He shook his head, pulling himself up to his full height. "I will aid you. Anything I can do to make you happy shall be done, even if it means leading you like a lamb to the slaughter."

"Thank you."

I believe in love, in fateÖis this meant to be? I believe so.

Chapter 19 Haunted
She is my Christ, she is my redeemer
Architect of my dreams, sheíll stay with me forever.

Ash Ė Stay in Love Forever

Luzzu chuckled quietly to himself, watching in unfettered amusement as Lescaís nose wrinkled in distaste upon entering the Guado metropolis. She rubbed at her arms absently, trying to ward off the cool air blowing in from the Thunder Plains as she looked around the place apprehensively. He too felt a certain unease in Guadosalam, though what led to the discomfiture of himself and his summoner he couldnít place a finger on. Cid hung back from the two, eager to reach the Al Bhed inn and see a friendly face. There werenít many that favoured the company of an Al Bhed, especially not one as prickly as Cid, even when in the fellowship of a summoner.

Lescaís forehead creased and she turned to her Guardians. "Is it just me, or is it creepy as hell here?"

The younger Guardian laughed outright, "Itís not just you, I feel it too! It isÖuncomfortable. Stifling, do you agree?"

She nodded; her attention distracted by one of the great maesterís of Yevon himself, Lord Jyscal Guado. He caught her eye, tipping a nod in her direction as he consulted with one of his men. A younger Guado caught the silent exchange and smiled at the summoner before making his way toward her. He was much taller than she was; even Cid and Luzzu were dwarfed in comparison to the blue haired man as he bore down upon them. He bowed deeply to the assembled travellers, the gesture returned by all after a discreet, well aimed kick at Cidís ankle by Lesca.

The Guadoís voice was soft as he began to speak. "The Lady Summoner. It is an honour that you have chosen to stay awhile in our humble municipality. I extend the hand of friendship to you on behalf of the Guado."

Lesca blushed at the flowery compliments. "I thank you, sirÖ?"

"Please forgive me. Seymour, son of Maester Jyscal."

She stammered, embarrassed at her indiscretion. "Please forgive me, Lord Seymour! I had no ideaÖ" She trailed off, at a loss for words.

He smirked slightly, running a clawed finger down her pale cheek. She suppressed the shudder of revulsion that rose within her, unable to shake the feeling that things werenít quite as they seemed in the city. "No need for such formalities. Seymour is perfectly adequate. You are the daughter of Lord Braska?"

"I am, it is an honour to meet you." She bowed once more, earning his gentle laughter.

"Well, Lady Lesca, is it not?" She nodded as he continued, "Would you and your Guardians care to join my father and myself tonight? It is not much, but the least we can do is offer a summoner and her Guardians the hospitality of our abode."

"I, we, would be honoured. Please excuse us for the time being though, my Lord. I have business to attend to."

Seymour raised an eyebrow. "As you wish, we shall await your arrival. You intend to visit your father, I presume? He was a fine man, well liked and respected during his short stay with us here."

"He was liked by most, he was an amazing man. I take my leave of you for the moment, my Lord. As you said, I wish to visit the Farplane." She gestured loosely to the beckoning entrance of the resting-place of the dead.

"Of course." Lesca began to walk away, before being stopped in her tracks by the call from the maesterís son. "And you will give my regards to your husband? I was saddened to hear of his loss, Sir Auron was an exemplary Guardian."

She clenched her fists, nails biting mercilessly into the soft flesh as she called woodenly over her shoulder. "I shall."

~*~*~

Auron tossed fitfully in his slumber, the cold sweat making his skin clammy to the touch. His eye snapped open, darting in confusion as his mind struggled to swim through the fog of unconsciousness. He grabbed blindly at the other side of the bed, feeling for the wife that was never there. As he woke fully from the nightmare he sighed heavily in relief. It was all too frequent now, the incubus that haunted him. The same phantasm replayed itself time and again in the troubled sleep of the Guardian. He, who feared no fiend, feared the night and the dreams that came with it. It should have been pleasant, he should have been grateful that his consciousness saw fit to grace him with the visions. The comfort it should have afforded only brought forth pain and regret.

Lesca stood, watching the busy metropolis of Bevelle still as the hours wore on into twilight. She was waiting for him, shivering as she had the first moment he had laid eyes on her. He felt the smile work its way onto his face and he decided not to call, to let her explore her thoughts for moments longer as he stalked toward her silently. He studied her figure, marvelling that she had waited all these years for his return. Wondering at what he had done to please the Godís so, that they would bless him in this way. She looked older; the painfully thin body had filled out and given way to sensuous, womanly curves. He swallowed thickly, trying to quiet the nagging voice in his mind that told him to rush to her, take her there and then.

The prolonged wait was sweet agony, a feeling he wanted to keep and end all at once. Would she still want him? Would she accept an unsent as her husband, as her lover? So many questions that only she could answer and yetÖhe waited. His uncertainty made him clumsy and a stone was disturbed underfoot, the small scuffle alerting her to his presence. She turned, verdant eyes shining with barely contained joy when she saw it was he and no other. She ran to him, stumbling into his arms in her haste. Auron embraced her fiercely, the peace washing over him as she pressed herself close to him, moulding her body to his own. He inhaled her scent deeply, flowers and sunshine reminding him that she was here, he was home. He kissed the top of her head lightly, savouring the silken touch against his cheek and lips.

Lesca caught his hand, pressing it to her cheek as if to make sure he was really there. She closed her eyes in contentment, smiling as she felt the calluses on his fingers caress her fair skin with infinite tenderness. He claimed her lips, grinning as his kiss was returned with fervour. As the clinch ended, she searched his face, frowning at the injury there present. He shrugged slightly, inclining his head to stop the inquiries relating to the scar at least for just now. He wanted to keep the moment as it was. She smiled gently, nodding to show she understood. Her eyes sparkled as she explored the russet pool with her own jade oculars, looking for answers to questions she didnít know how to ask. He felt her penetrate his soul with the inquisitive gaze and he let her continue, the scrutiny welcomed. She rested her head on his chest once more, curiosity apparently sated. He caught the end of a muffled question mumbled into his chest and he squeezed her closer, hoping the gesture would indicate he had not heard her.

"Where have you been, Auron? Itís been four years, I missed you so muchÖ"

"Zanarkand, my love. I was fulfilling a promise to Jecht. Iíve been guarding Tidus, his son."

"Youíre back now though? Forever?"

"I think so. I hope so." He sighed, watching as the skies began to shine down upon them.

"You donít know for sure? Why?"

"Jecht is Sin. He brought me here, he may take me back to Zanarkand."

"B, butÖyou canít leave me again! I wonít let you be taken! Iíll become a summoner, we can defeat Sin together!" Lesca cried, her voice shrill as she clutched at straws to try and keep him near.

"No! You canít do that! I wonít allow you to throw your life away as we did."

"Youíre unsent." It wasnít a question; the statement was made with a sad finality as she studied him.

"I am. Iím sorry."

"I donít care. Donít go. Is the boy here? We can raise him together. Me, you, Tidus and Yunie! A family. Jecht would allow that, he was reasonable. Surely that will still be present, if only a little?"

"I donít know! I want this, more than anything, butÖI know this is a dream, Lesca. Weíre not really here, for all I know you remarried, you may not even think of me anymore, let alone love me."

She looked at him, uncharacteristically serious. "I will always love you, Auron. Forever. Donít forget that. Donít ever doubt my feelings."

"Iím sorry. I love you so much, I miss youÖI donít want this to end."

Lesca began to fade and he grasped at her, howling in frustration as he grabbed thin air. "Everything must end."

As the dream ended he was left feeling empty, a white light leading him back to consciousness as he struggled to bring her back, keep them both here in his dream world. It was futile, he knew. It was meant to keep him sane, it was meant to console him with the thought that she awaited him, still loved him. It was bittersweet torture. What good is the love of your soul mate when you cannot relish the company of one another? And so he dreamed the torment nightly, wishing reality and fantasy would interchange. Auron railed against the fates that had led him here, sent him to his doom and cursed him to serve out his death in a nightmare. He laid his head back against the pillow again, trying to keep the barricades holding his emotions in check intact. Auron stopped and examined his sorrow, realising it overwhelmed him. He mourned the chances heíd lost, the life he had sacrificed in a moment of rage. More than anything, he lamented the sacrifice of his love. For the first time since his demise, he wept.

~*~*~

"Go on, get in there! They wonít bite." Luzzu encouraged.

Lesca chewed at her lip, a bad habit that was becoming increasingly worse. "I donít knowÖIím scared."

"A bit of fear never hurt anyone. Iíll tell Cid you were too chocobo shit to go inÖ"

She grinned, punching his arm lightly. "You know, thatís the first time Iíve heard you curse? I like it. Cidíll wet himself when I tell him what a good influence heís had on you."

Luzzu looked nervous. "Donít tell him. Heíll tease me for days."

"Ok. Iím going inÖ" She looked decisive and he applauded her sarcastically. She stuck her tongue out at him before entering the Farplane.

The haunting beauty of the last resting-place for departed souls took her breath away. The young summoner composed herself before walking over to a quiet corner, thanking the Godís that she had not yet had to send anyone on her pilgrimage. The fear of seeing one she had sent would have plagued her. She looked into the tinted pink fog, watching as her mother and father appeared in front of her in line with her thoughts. They look so happy, so peacefulÖI canít wait to be here with Auron. She shifted her daydream to encapsulate her husband, frowning when he didnít appear in front of her. She tried again with the same result, her heart skipping a beat. Why isnít he here?

The realisation nearly knocked her from her feet and she grasped a nearby rock for support. There was no summoner, he wasnít sent. Heís become a fiend. Oh Godís, no.

~*~*~

Seymour looked at her with the guise of concern. "You havenít eaten at all, Lady Lesca. Are you well?"

"Iím fine. Iím just not hungry, I apologise."

"No matter. Did you see your loved ones on the Farplane?"

She narrowed her eyes slightly, a look that Cid and Luzzu caught while Seymour didnít. "I did."

"It must have been a comfort to see Sir Auron after all this time." The Guado simpered.

"He wasnít there." Lesca retorted sharply, not caring about her tone.

Seymour hid his smile. "I see. A shame that the legendary Guardian had to become a fiend."

Cid felt the restraining hand on his arm as Luzzu saw the Al Bhedís temper boil. He nodded gravely at the younger man, thankful for his intervention. Despite initial differences, the two had become firm friends. Lesca shook a little as she attempted to quell her own rage bubbling within her. "That it is. I no longer wish to speak of it. Whatís done is done."

"Let us hope you do not face the fiend that was once your husband in battle. I cannot imagine the anguish it would cause to you if you had to kill the one you loved."

Seymour jumped a little as the summoner slammed her fist on the table, the plates and glasses shaking from the violence of the action.

"I donít care whose son you are, you will not talk like that in front of me. Do you understand? No more." She hissed, storming from the mansion. Luzzu smiled apologetically at the Guado as he and Cid rushed after the retreating summoner.

Seymour sat and contemplated the effect his words had had on the Lady Lesca. He realised he was more than a little shaken by the force of her anger and he grinned, relishing the remnants of his fear. He had not felt so alive since his own pilgrimage; the fear and anger had spurred him on. He wondered briefly if he could use her turbulent emotions for his own gain before deciding against it. No, there will be other summonerís to pass through here, ones more easily manipulated than she; I will bide my time for nowÖ He stood and thought where she could be, deciding to check the inn of the heathens first of all. He had a feeling that he would need her in the future, that their paths would cross in later years despite the fate awaiting her in Zanarkand.

He opened the door to the travel agency to find the air thick with hostility. He hid the smirk and found Lesca watching him, not bothering to disguise her mistrust now.

"I apologise, my Lady. It was insensitive of me to talk like that. Please, let us put it behind us. A fellow summoner should realise the burden I carry with my aeons."

She looked at her uncle nervously before addressing the Guado. "Fine, I forgive you. Youíre a summoner?"

He smiled at her, still aware of the hate filled stares directed at him. "I am. My mother became my final aeon, Anima, when I was but a child."

"Then why not defeat Sin?"

He shrugged his shoulders. "My place is here, the Guado need me. I will become a maester with the death of my father; I cannot abandon that duty. I perform the sendingís for the whole of Guadosalam as well. Very few summonerís stop here."

She smirked. I wonder why? "I see. Well, we have a long day ahead of us, Seymour. Good night."

The none too subtle hint was taken and he left, leaving her Guardians to look at her in wonder. Cid cleared his throat. "That was kinda rude, Lescy."

She laughed. "I know and I donít care. He deserved it."

"Okay, but donít come running to me when the whole of Yevon turn against us cause of something you said."

"I wonít. Iíll run to Luzzu."

The younger man blushed. "Iíll be there, Lesca."

Lesca smiled sadly. "I know."

~*~*~

"Auron! Auron, wake up!"

Auron sat up, rubbing the sleep from his eye. "What is it? Whatís wrong?"

Tidus looked at him fearfully. "You had that dream again, you were yelling. It woke me up."

It came flooding back to him and he groaned despite himself. "Iím sorry. Go back to bed, itís still early."

"Canít sleep now."

Auron rolled his eye. "Try."

"Have tried. Canít."

The man briefly considered giving the boy a swig from his jug to knock him out before deciding against it. "Well, go do something productive. Clean that sty you call a room."

The boy crossed his arms defensively. "Itís not untidy. I know where everything is. Why donít you come play some ball with me?"

The Guardian looked over at the bedside clock. "Because itís three in the morning and I want to sleep."

"Tough. You woke me so youíre getting up."

"You forget that I can and will make you regret this."

Tidus grinned. "Weíll see. Get up."

Auron grunted, sitting upright and scowling at the lad. The look which had once terrified Tidus now had no effect as he grinned back at the man, winking as he spun the blitzball on his finger. The older man felt his spirits deflate as he resigned himself to his fate. He hauled himself to his feet and dressed quickly, growling as Tidus began to giggle.

"What?"

Tidus smirked. "Didnít have ya pegged as a boxers man."

"Shut up."

"Embarrassed?"

"No, but you will be when I tell your little crush about your soft toy you need to get to sleepÖ"

The boyís eyes opened wide in horror. "You wouldnít."

Auron grinned evilly, "Oh, but I would."

"My old man sent you here to torment me, didnít he? None of this guarding crap." Tidus grumbled.

"Indeed. You finally saw through my innocent faÁade." The words reeked of sarcasm.

Tidus glowered at his fatherís friend before blushing. "Howíd you know about her anyway?"

Auron shrugged. "What kind of a Guardian would I be if I didnít know about your childhood sweethearts? Jecht never told me that children had romantic endeavours here too."

Tidus rolled his eyes. "Oh jeez, Auron! Itís cool to have a girlfriend, but then you wouldnít know, would you? Youíre such a stiff."

"Youíre only eleven."

"Your point being?"

The man sighed. "You should respect your elders."

Tidus looked at him earnestly. "I do respect you. Youíre a pretty cool dad."

The boy ran out, leaving Auron to follow at a leisurely pace. He tried to call to the lad, "Iím not your father!" but he was too far away.

I wonder if weíd have had children? Would I have been a good father? He shook his head, clearing the musings. Iíll never know; thereís no point in tormenting myself with what ifs. Whatís done is done and I canít change a damn thing.

Chapter 20 Futility
You opened my arms to a million scars,
You took my heart and you tore it apart.
No regrets, nothing remains,
I turned away and I canít stay.

The Sweetness of Death by the Obsidian Knife - Ash

As they emerged from the caves of Gagazet, blinking in the rising sun, a gasp of awe arose from the trio. Zanarkand lay before them in ruins as the legend decreed. Still, the beauty of the great Machina City could be seen, eerily exquisite as the mellifluous fingertips of the dawn stroked the smooth, unblemished surfaces. Luzzu simply gaped, unable to do anything other than look over the debris-ridden plains. Cid wiped away a lone tear; the emotion at seeing the city that had been part of the fairy tales passed down through the generations overcoming him. Though this had been the city of the summonerís, he still felt a strange connection to the wreckage. Lesca surveyed the scene wistfully, wondering absently how her father had felt when he had looked over the remains of Zanarkand. Had he felt soÖsad? She couldnít place the reason for her sorrow, each step she took now brought her closer to her goal of death, her own destruction.

She should have felt elation at the thought of being reunited with her family on the Farplane, but he wasnít there. Aleron had appeared with her parents on that fateful day in Guadosalam, looking almost seraphic, happy and loved by his grandparents while he awaited his motherís arrival. She remembered the ache of her heart when her husband didnít appear beside them, looking down lovingly on their son as she had expected. From that day on, she had flung her expectations to the wind; they only caused her pain, she had reasoned after an internal battle with herself. The serpentine waters winding around the corpse-like buildings sparkled as the sun rose higher in the sky, and she shivered despite the warmth being exuded from the orbís breath.

She twisted the ring on her finger as she continued to ponder her fathers pilgrimage. JechtÖHad he broken down at the sight of this Zanarkand, the alarming contrast of his home so full of life and this city of ghosts perhaps too much for the self-assured blitzer? She shook her head, a slight smile tugging the corners of her mouth upwards. The Great Jecht? I donít think soÖbut he must have hurt. I hope they helped him through it. Did Auron and Jecht resolve their surface differences? In the sphere she clung to there had been hints of a budding friendship, and she prayed it had blossomed for both their sakes. In their hearts, they were near identical, though neither would have cared to admit to it. What happened to Jecht? She could only assume he had followed the other members of the pilgrimage to his death, but she hoped he had made it back to his Zanarkand.

Her inner monologue tired her and she stopped thinking, concentrating instead on the sensations her body was experiencing. The luminary warmed her skin; the slight dusting of tan she had acquired in Besaid had all but faded now. The delicate breeze blowing in from the Zanarkand waters carried on it the whispers of the dead intermingled with the sweet salt scent of the ocean. Beautifully horrifying. Straining her ears, she could just about make out the soft splash of the waves lapping against the mounds of rock that protruded from the ocean. Lescaís tongue darted out to wet her lips, her fine eyebrows shooting upwards in surprise when she tasted the salt there present. She was shocked to find the tears running freely down her face without hindrance. The summoner wiped them away quickly before her Guardians caught sight of the inexplicable grief and worried.

A cry disturbed her thoughts and she spun round, the small hairs on the back of her neck prickling in anticipation. Cid and Luzzu turned also, stealing a look at the summoner before scanning the area for the source of the shriek. A man appeared from the ruins, carrying in his arms a young woman. His anguish was palpable as he lamented her obvious death. The two Guardians lowered their weapons which had been cocked and ready, to ascertain the mans intentions. He approached them; his eyes red rimmed from the caustic liquid streaming from his tear ducts.

His eyes pleaded with them. "Please, the LadyÖshe has fallen. We were so close to the end of the pilgrimage! Only to fail in Zanarkand." He shook his head, before taking in the staff at Lescaís side. "You are a summoner also?"

"I am." She stated hesitantly.

He laid the cadaver on the ground gently before taking Lesca firmly by the shoulders. "Please! You have to send her, I couldnít bear it if she were to becomeÖ"

Lesca nodded sadly. "I know. Iíll send her. What are your names?"

"I am Zuke. This was the Lady Summoner Sedan. So closeÖI swear, if I make it back to Besaid, my training will begin immediately. I will become a summoner in her place; Iíll avenge her death. I will defeat Sin. Damn the Sinspawn to hellÖ"

He slumped to the ground, defeated by the horrors he had experienced. Lesca looked at the man before walking away from the group, pausing momentarily to gather her thoughts and run through the ceremony in her head. Slowly, tentatively, she began to dance. The Guardians watched on, her staff slicing through the air in elegant motions, her feet seemingly not touching the ground. This person is dead. A step, a simple movement of her wrist sending the staff spiralling in yet another harmonious revolution. Her soul depends on me for its salvation. Another tread as she swooped low before returning to the tips of her toes, spinning in loose circles, letting the grace of her movements take over her body.

It consumed her now, the dance. She didnít have to think of her next step as she let herself be carried by the breathless song of the pyreflies escaping from the other summonerís body. She closed her eyes as she gave herself to the summonerís ballet; tears escaping her as she contemplated her loved ones deaths and her own fate. She pushed the selfish thoughts from her mind, instead concentrating fully on the soul of the departed, commending her silently to the Farplane. May you find peaceÖThe final fluid inclination of the stave and the ritual was complete. She smiled weakly at the man, relieved to see the body had dissolved completely into a chaos of light. Luzzu caught her arm as she stumbled, his eyes voicing silent concern as she leant on him heavily.

She looked up from the tuft of grass she had been staring blankly at and regarded Zuke. "You will be alright?"

He nodded, relieved that his summoner was safely in the Farplane. "I will. May Yevon bless you, thank you." He walked off toward his home, leaving the summonerís party in silence.

Cid walked over to where Lesca still stood supported by Luzzu, using a gentle thumb to rub away the remaining tear. "Itís ok. You did good."

"I, I hope we donít meet anyone else like that. I donít want to do it again." She stammered, embarrassed.

"I know. Itíll be over soon, Lesca. You wonít have to worry for much longer."

She sighed and took one last look at the desecrated city before her. "Itíll soon be over. How right you are."

~*~*~

She shook her arm free of Luzzuís tremulous grasp. "Please, Luzzu. Let me go. The Fayth awaits me."

"Why should I let you go to your death?" He raged.

She smiled sadly, running a soft finger down his cheek. "Because I ask it of you. I told you not to accompany me back in Besaid if you meant to hinder us. Why did you not heed my warning?"

He flung his arms in the air, frustrated at her inclination toward a futile death. "I thought you would change your mind! I thoughtÖ"

Cid prised him away gently. "I know what you thought, kid. I told you it wasnít gonna happen. We have to resign ourselves to it, ya know? Let her go, donít make it harder for any of us."

The younger man slumped, defeated as Lesca descended into the chamber of the Fayth. He looked up to the Al Bhed, clenching his fists to try and make physical the emotional pain. "Youíre her uncle! Dissuade from this foolís path!"

Cid laughed. "A monk of Yevon shouldnít be saying things like that!"

"I donít give a shit what I should or should not say! I care for herÖ"

"So do I. Sheís family, but that means sheís got our will of steel. I tried to discourage her from this course months before we met you, to no avail. You think I didnít try? I tried till I was blue in the face. I said to you that she was as good as dead, to keep your mind off of her, didnít I? I know itís not that easy, but I wish youíd listened. For her sake and yours." The older man sighed, rubbing the back of his head.

Luzzuís head snapped up. "She has feelings for me?"

"As a friend, nothing more. She still loves him, she mourns him daily. What do you think the reason for this damn pilgrimage is? Itís so she can be with him and their son. Death is her release from the pain of living."

"Cid! Luzzu!"

The cry interrupted the heart to heart and they descended into the chamber without a second thought. As their eyes adjusted to the light, they made out the figure of the kneeling Lesca beside the Fayth. She looked up at them, panic stricken. "This isnít a Fayth! Itís a statue, the stone has no power!"

The Guardians tried to contain their joy. "So there is no Final Summoning?" Luzzu asked hopefully.

"I, I donít know."

A man appeared in front of them surrounded by pyreflies. He lifted Lescaís chin up to meet her eyes. "Your eyes tell me you have journeyed well summoner, you have completed your pilgrimage. This statue lost its power as a Fayth long ago; it is Lord Zaon of the First Summoning. But fear not! Lady Yunalesca will surely bestow upon you that which you seek. The Final Aeon will be yours."

Cid helped his niece to her feet as they entered the hall of Yunalesca together, bowing as the woman herself descended into their presence. Lesca bowed deeply once more, making the gesture of prayer to the legendary summoner. "Lady Yunalesca, I am honoured."

The ghost smiled. "Welcome to Zanarkand, summoner. I extend to you my congratulations; you have successfully completed your pilgrimage. I will now confer to you that which you seek; the Fayth of the Final Summoning will be yours. But first you must choose the one whom I will change."

The young summoner frowned. "What do you mean, my Lady?"

"You must choose which of your Guardians will become the Fayth for your aeon. There must be a bond between summoner and Fayth, for that is what the Final Summoning embodies. One thousand years ago, my husband, Zaon became my Fayth. Your father, Braska, chose the Guardian Jecht as his Fayth. Come to me with your decision, summoner."

The sceptre left the room as Lesca reeled from the revelation. She looked up at Cid; her eyes bright with unshed tears. "I, I canít do this! I wonít!"

His face was like granite, hard and unwavering. "You can. You must. Lesca, Iíll do it. Make me your Fayth."

She shook her head vehemently. "No! What about Rikku? She needs her father!"

"You need me more. Her brother will watch over her."

She turned to leave, her path barred by her uncle. "Donít be a fool! I donít want you to die! We leave now. I rue the day I contemplated this death." She hissed.

He stared her down. "You think all this time on the pilgrimage I was happy escorting you to your death? I donít want you to die either, Lesca, but you yearn for it. It will consume you."

Lesca scuffed the ground, the hair falling over her face hiding her tears from the men. "Youíre right. I want thisÖUncle, thank you." Just like my father before me, I sacrifice one I love for my own selfish desires.

Luzzu shook the older man in anger. "Cid no! You canít do this! Lesca, Sin always comes back, this is foolish! Donít do this!"

Cid chuckled softly. "We have to. Youíll understand one day, kid. I guarantee it. Now, you coming in to say goodbye or what?"

Luzzu hung his head as he followed the two into Yunalescaís chambers, glaring at the unsent woman from beneath his brow with undisguised hatred. She looked up, nodding in satisfaction as Lesca entered. "You have chosen your Fayth?"

Lesca hesitated before nodding. "My uncle. Cid."

The woman lifted her hand to send the man his death. He closed his eyes, bracing himself for the end that never came. The Al Bhed cracked open an eye to squint at the woman. She had paused. Yunalesca looked at the young summoner curiously. "Lord Braskaís daughterÖyou were married to one of his Guardians, correct?"

Lesca tapped her foot anxiously on the floor. "I am, was. Auron was my husband."

The woman gave a laugh. "Ah yes, I remember him well! He loved you very much, his mind was consumed with thoughts of you, you know. Alas, he was young and impetuous. I had hoped he would have returned to you, but I suppose all is for the best.

If he had not died by my hand you would not have undertaken the pilgrimage, correct? At least one of the two of you had sense, you saw the futility in the sorrow and pain that is life on Spira and decided to end it conventionally. Not as an assault on the one person who offers Spira hope."

Lesca blinked slowly as she tried to make sense of the words. "What did you say?"

"AuronÖhe tried to avenge your fathers death, the death of Jecht. He tried to lay me to rest. Futile. He fell by my hand, I cannot allow the Final Summoning to be lost to the winds of time because of one mans foolish, romantic delusions."

The younger woman felt the temper rise within her. "You killed my husband?" She whispered in disbelief.

Yunalesca shrugged. "I believe so, he left Zanarkand badly wounded. I doubt he still lives. After all, he never returned, did he?"

Lesca dropped the staff that she had been grasping so tightly her knuckles were as white as the peaks of Gagazet. It bounced slightly as it hit the ground, rolling on the craggy floor toward Luzzu with the soft grating of metal against granite. She stumbled as she tried to remain upright, her knees weakening from the shock. Her thoughts came in a jumble as she shook her head, trying to make sense of the last few moments her cursed life had slung at her. SheÖdead. Auron! Cid put a restraining hand on her arm and she shrugged it off with a force that surprised him. The gloves, which for months had served only to keep her hands free of frostbite, groaned in protest as she flexed her fingers within their confines, feeling the old muscles sing with joy as glowered at the woman. Incantations and hexes swam through her mind as they had what felt like a lifetime ago, the power warming her to the core as it coursed through her veins. She bent slowly, retrieving her stave. She turned it loosely in her hands as she looked at the woman, calmly, coolly.

Lesca spoke quietly, repeating her question. "You killed my husband?" Bitch.

Yunalesca nodded silently. Amoral, depraved, fiend-like bitch. Lescaís eyes burned as she tried to contain her rage. "You deprived my son of his father, you deprived me of my life, my happiness for four years?" Iíll make you pay for this.

Again, a nod before she smirked at the young woman. Iíll kill you! The rage descended upon her, a light fog that clouded her thoughts, turning her toward the path of revenge. She unconsciously muttered for the aid of her aeons while Cid and Luzzu took up their places at her side, glowering at the very woman who had turned Lesca onto this road. They fought for Lesca; they fought to abate their own rage against Yunalescaís past indiscretions. They fought for every fallen summoner who had sacrificed a loved one for naught and received a death for their pains. They fought because they cared. Bahamut roared as he launched an attack on the unsent, his swipe cut short as the woman banished the dragon to oblivion. The trio looked on in confusion, Lesca shaking her head before gathering her thoughts enough to call upon Shiva. Yunalesca laughed at the pitiful efforts of the three as she banished aeon after aeon from her sight.

"Pathetic fools. You would rather destroy yourselves than live in woe? Iíll give you the death you so crave summoner. You can join your husband on the Farplane, reminisce with him about what an honour it was to die by my hand."

The wavering restraint Lesca had been grasping to snapped, and she dashed toward the woman who had caused her grief, screaming in protest against the wrongs that the spirit had committed. Her fists connected briefly with the sceptre's torso, scoring a single, glancing blow before Yunalesca tossed her carelessly aside. Lesca landed heavily, the wind knocked from her lungs as her back rasped agonisingly against the cool, pitted rock. She gasped in agony as she felt the tender flesh rip from her body, a deep wound in her chest slowing opening before her horrified eyes to reveal a twisted distortion of bloodied muscle. Her body retracted on instinct into a foetal position as her two Guardians watched on in horror, unable to move their feet to help her as she lay there, broken and bleeding. She scrunched up her eyes, not wanting to watch as her destroyer neared her. The room was still, the only noise the shallow, ragged breaths of the injured woman, punctuated by low, intermittent whimpers.

Yunalesca moved toward her, her slow, deliberate steps sounding like a death knoll in the hush. The unsent looked down upon Lesca with contempt. "I expected better of you. Too much like your husband." She shook her head, dismissing her with a wave of the hand. "May you find your salvation on the Farplane."

She eyed Cid and Luzzu with distaste. "And as for youÖ" The sceptre narrowed her eyes before turning her back on them. "You are not worth my time or my effort. You will die by your own misery soon enough. The cycle will continue." Yunalesca walked away, leaving the fallen summoner struggling for breath on the ground.

Lesca cracked open her eyes sluggishly to stare in horror at the pool of blood surrounding her. BitchÖIím going to die and Iíve accomplished nothing. Nothing. Oh, tytto, youíd be so ashamed of meÖMy life has been a waste. Did you feel like this too, Auron? When you died in vain at her hand? Weíre both fools then. Idiots with romantic delusions, just as she said. I die for youÖI die for us.

The Guardians shook themselves out of their reverie, Cid the first to reach her, clutching her to his chest as her life ebbed away. "Lesca! That, I, Iíll kill her! Oh Gods, no, donít go!"

Her eyes closed heavily, his voice sounding distorted. "IÖcanít stay."

"Heal her, for Yevonís sake! Use an ointment, a potion, anything!" Luzzu entreated the Al Bhed desperately.

He shook his head. "Itís too late for that, we need to get her to a city. Only a summoner can undo this type of damage."

"We might find one on the way, Godís I pray we doÖbut if not? Where do we go from here?"

Cid frowned, looking at his niece as she struggled to draw breath. "Thereís only one place we can go. Guadosalam. Seymour can help, heís our last chance."